endless_scrolls: (Breathless)
endless_scrolls ([personal profile] endless_scrolls) wrote2013-12-01 09:16 pm

Conjugal Visits Aren't Until After Nine

Title: Conjugal Visits Aren't Until After Nine
Type: RP Thread
Fandom: AU!Durarara!!
Character(s): Sonohara Anri, Ryuugamine Mikado; brief mention of Kida Masaomi
Pairing(s): Mikado/Anri
Warning(s): None
Disclaimer: I own only the part that I played in this.
Note: Thread taken from the NIGHT IN JAIL MEME over at [community profile] bakerstreet.
Dedicated to: My love for them. ;w;

All around her, she heard the hum of conversation, drifting in and out of focus as she walked along to her designated table. Every now and then the young student caught the usual whisper of comments, some directed towards her, some standing completely separate. And then there were the catcalls from the more vocal attendants speckled sparingly among the crowd. All of it came together to create a very familiar and alienating feeling.

It reminded her of the cafeteria of Raina Academy, groups of people huddling together and existing in their own little bubbles while the world continued to turn. And much like her, they were simply trying to find some semblance of calm and normalcy.

Because similar or not, there was no forgetting that she was walking through the visitor's yard of a prison.

She came to their designated table without problem if not with only a brief moment of nervous anxiety, clutching the handle of her schoolbag for comfort while her mind tried to work over the events that led her hear. That led him here. Because Mikado couldn't be the villain they were making him out to be by sending him here. Surely, he was still the innocent young man she once knew...

As soon as he'd heard he had a visitor, Mikado's first reflex had been to hope that it wasn't her.

He viewed outside company as a bittersweet, unwanted-but-wanted kind of occurrence, both a breath of fresh air and a wistful reminder of everything he'd left behind. Depending on who it was, it could be one more than the other; Masaomi only invoked the latter when the day was done, and Anri... Mikado hadn't been forced to put up with that jab to his conscience. Not until today.

He was glad they didn't do anything as dramatic as lead him over in handcuffs. Only the worst cases required that, and all things considered, Mikado generally wasn't too high up on the threat level list. Even so, there was a frigid moment when his eyes went straight to her from the doorway, his heart seeming to drop out of him entirely.

Why was she here.

It was no mystery, of course. She was here because of him, for him, all because he'd messed up and dragged everyone else down with him. Not as far as he'd fallen, but far enough.

As he approached, Mikado shot glances around the room, hoping he'd see Masaomi catching up -- not because he wanted to see him as much as he wanted to know that Anri surely hadn't come here alone...

...but she had. Because she would. For him.

At the table, he gave a brief half-bow -- stiff, but no less polite than it had ever been. It wasn't until he was seated that he made eye contact, but just for a moment before his gaze settled somewhere around her neck instead, obvious shame in the motion and on his face.

"Sonohara-san." Even now, even after everything, he went back to her surname. It was respectful, but it was also routine, familiar -- and a little distant. "It's good to see you. Did you wait long?"

"Um... no. Only a few minutes, really." Only a few weeks since you disappeared, really. But that was hardly anyone's fault.

For a while, she'd put off visiting. At first it had been at Kida's insistence. - Mikado needed time to adjust. He was a bit too embarrassed to face her. Prison was no place for someone like her to be. - But as time moved on, life simply settled into a new routine; one that had taken him out of the picture. And for some time, she had started making up her own reasons not to go, each day simply just hoping that Mikado would suddenly show up at school or on their walks around the district as if nothing had changed. As if they were still first years finding their own way in the world.

Then her birthday had passed by without fanfare, and she'd found that there seemed to be a hollowed emptiness left behind where something whole and pure once was; a weight that simply could not be be shouldered for much longer if she wanted things to continue on with some semblance of peace. And in that moment, Anri made the decision to do something for herself instead of relying on the strength of others.

In that moment, with Saika's whispers swirling around her head, Anri grabbed control of her life and gave in to her own impulses.

Drawing on that same resolve, the young student idly fixed the tightness of her scarf and carefully - nervously - tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before setting her gaze on the object of her affectionsconcerns; the only person who could fix the odd hole he'd left behind with his confinement. "How... how are you doing, Ryuugamine-kun?"

Good, she hoped, even despite where he was, now...

The saving grace about her visit was that Mikado had had time to heal up. He hadn't been in the best condition when arriving in the first place, but a few days in he was jumped by several guys -- four? Five? He couldn't even remember. -- at least one of whom had been familiar. They'd wisely kept visible injuries to a minimum, lessening the odds that the guards would notice and get after them for it; by now, Mikado's face and arms were fine again, but his ribs were still various shades of black and blue. He was honestly surprised nothing had been broken.

At her question, his eyes went up again, to hers, just long enough to try and be convincing. "I'm--" Fine wouldn't cut it and he knew it. "--getting by."

He looked away again, staring out across the room, but he had eyes for nothing but the young woman across from him. He didn't want to look at her too long, afraid of seeing a difference in the way she looked back at him, if anything had changed since last time. By all rights, it should have. The things he'd done, directly and otherwise, all while hiding everything from her... she should hate him. She didn't, and that much was obvious, but it didn't mean she wasn't disgusted by him. Disappointed in him.

"Sonohara-san... you shouldn't--" Mikado cut himself off, forcefully. He'd been short with her before -- just once -- and he wouldn't do it again, or even come close. She was different from everyone else; even when Masaomi visited, there had been some heated words in the aftermath of everything that had happened, that had caused this, but with Anri, it was always different. Maybe that was selfish of him, putting her before others in select ways, but... he owed her that much.

"...You didn't have to come," he tried again. "I mean -- you don't have to force yourself. I know this isn't..."

His answer does little to alleviate her concerns, knowing and suspecting just how harsh jail life could be with their strict rules and regulated daily activities. And the idea of it - that he would hide the extent of it from her - only makes Anri worry even more. It had probably been some stroke of luck that she had even been allowed to see him. But did he even have a choice on the matter? Or were these meetings a one-sided deal where the inmates simply showed up whenever a visitor came calling? If that were the case...

Mentally shaking away such thoughts, the young woman took a quiet breath to steady her nerves. Now was not the time for doubt, not when he was so close and looking so lost; looking just like how she felt. And even if he was saying, in his own way, that he wanted her to stay away from him, Anri knew that she wouldn't.

"I wanted to come." He should know better than anyone that she can't. She just couldn't. "I... I wanted to see you."

Whether he chose to look at her then or not, Anri, at the very least, lifted up her eyes to the possibility of meeting his gaze. Because there was a weight to those words she hadn't exactly intended. But that didn't make them any less true. It didn't make this air between them any less than what it was. Three years of history, dancing around each other like fireflies in the dark could not be erased so easily.


"I should've come sooner. I meant to." They had been patient and considerate. They had waited for the day that Kida was done running away and came home, all the while knowing that they should've been more; more than this and more than who they were. And somehow, between then and now, it all went so terribly wrong. "But you were... you were dealing with a lot - I didn't want t... to bother you..."

"You're not bothering," he said quickly -- a little too quickly, maybe, because Mikado seemed to wince after it was out. That would have been enough to put some color in his face once, or at least make him stutter, but after everything, with her and otherwise, it felt so minor. As if that innocence had ended more years back than he'd even been alive, or had just been in another life altogether.

The weight in those words were noticed, enough to make him look at her again. Despite his discomfort, Mikado didn't look away.

"...I just -- it's not fair, making you come here." But that was his own fault. The fact that he'd ended up here in the first place aside, he could have called her; he'd considered it, several times, but always lost his nerve. Maybe it was something selfless, not wanting to keep her attached to him, or maybe it was just that same fear of discovering how much he'd changed in her eyes.

"But -- how about you, Sonohara-san? How have you been?" It was an abrupt change of subject, the note of enough about me unspoken but implied. Even so, it wasn't just a topic shift. Mikado had had other worries since being incarcerated -- since his relation to the Dollars was made public -- and now was as good a time as ever to find out if any of them were grounded.

"It was my choice..." You weren't... making me do anything.

The voice was small and the comment mumbled softly under her breath with the intent of having them only reach her ears. But if Mikado happened to still hear it, well... there was very little she could do to change that. And she wouldn't want to, really. Because this was important, and so was he. And because of those reasons, what he thought difficult or unfair for her meant very little by comparison. The need to see him had outweighed it all.

Still, she felt no closer to an answer or any sort of comfort than before the visit began.

Fingers fidgeting with the handle of her schoolbag, she shifted her glance to the side in thought, sorting through the catalog of events that had happened since his incarceration. Not that there was much to tell, otherwise. With the exception of Kida and Mikado - and the occasional cameo from Celty and Shizo - there were very few other people in her life.

"Ah. I've been... managing." Which was vague enough to hold an entire host of possible reasons, both good and bad. On top of this matter concerning Yellow Scarves and Blue Squares and remnants of the Slasher faction, she had her final year of school focus on, and apprenticeships to consider for afterwards. "A lot different from when we were First-Years."

He probably deserved that; a vague answer for a vague answer. Like most things -- anything -- he couldn't hold that against her.

Mikado nodded, more an automatic gesture than any form of agreement. "Y-Yeah... things have really... changed." That was the understatement of the year, and his self-reproachful frown suggested that he realized it.

"Then there hasn't been any trouble or anything?" He might as well be direct; he had nothing to lose by doing so. "For you and Masaomi, I mean... since I came here." Any backlash in their direction was his first concern -- someone angry enough to take out old rivalries on his friends when they couldn't reach Mikado himself. He watched Anri directly as he asked, searching for a hint that she was hiding or downplaying anything.

But some things, though; they stayed the same.

Mikado's concern over his friends was one that she welcomed whole-heartily; like a warm blanket on a cold winter morning. It assured that a part of his old self was still there, deep inside under all of the calculations and dark dealings. That the boy who used to stutter and fidget and blush whenever she smiled - who fought for the possibility of happy endings - would still be there waiting for her on the other side of this ordeal.

Anri, at the very least, hoped for it.

For now, though, she would treat him as the adult he'd become while she'd been too concerned over the wicked suggestions whispering in her ear. And that meant telling him truths that the young woman wanted nothing more than to gloss over and hide. Months ago - a lifetime - she might still have. But the time for vague answers and dancing around the subject had come to an end.

Sighing softly, she decided to take the honest route, knowing that he'd be able to see any lies or half-truths she told. This far down the line, there was very little that they could hide from each other. This far from grace, he deserved no less. "There was some, in the beginning, but... Kida-kun said he took care of it."

It didn't surprise him, necessarily -- Mikado had a much better idea of how the world worked now than he had three years ago, and that included firsthand experience in how everything a person did always, always had an effect somewhere, on someone -- but her confirmation sent a vein of anger through him all the same and something in his face darkened at it. Everything he'd done, the sacrifices he'd made, and in the end he'd only left them to clean up his messes. He had a better idea now more than ever of how capable his two friends were at handling themselves, Anri especially, but that didn't make it any less wrong.

It was enough to make him wish that -- well, it didn't matter what he wished, because he was here, effectively cut off from everything he'd known. Except during times like now, anyway, and if Anri could see the things flitting through his mind, thoughts triggered by the developed impulse to plan a solution in the only way Mikado knew how anymore -- through power and violence and fear -- he didn't doubt that she would be disappointed in him.

Looking back, he couldn't pinpoint exactly when he'd made something of a reversion -- "improvement," arguably, recovering a good deal of his old self, his original self, even if now and again the two sides spilled over onto one another. It might have been before he ended up here, or maybe right after. A lot of those memories were a black and white blur.

"...Sorry." The apology was sincere, even if his suddenly flat tone didn't sound like it. Even if the apology was virtually worthless. Anri might have helped Mikado hold the balance better than anyone else, but under the weight of everything now, not even her presence could keep him from slipping. "I really am useless to you... now more than ever."

Just how specific that "you" was, he didn't make clear, but she was obviously a large part of it. After the hole he'd dug himself into, he couldn't face the repercussions directly; his closest friends had to deal with that. Prison dangers aside, Mikado was still, in a sense, safe here while an affected world moved on outside.

He couldn't even suffer from his mistakes correctly. He really was a failure, in every sense of anything he'd ever tried to do.

The shifts in his face were subtle - almost unreadable. But there were only two people in this world who knew him best and could read the hidden meanings in his actions.

By some stroke of luck and fortune, she had become one of them.

But there was no disappointment - never for him or who she'd help him become - only concern and fear. Because Mikado was intelligent and resourceful. And with those abilities, it was very easy for him to take things too far to a place where even Kida - where she - couldn't follow. If he hasn't already.

"Please. Just leave it be. Kida-kun took care of it." And with those words, it was a tentative shift to reach out her hand towards him. Where years ago, she might have hesitated and only made it halfway through the gesture before retreating, now Anri was bolder and more confident. Now she had a reason to be.

Because she had stood by long enough, just watching and waiting with false hope as he slowly spiraled down to this darker version of himself that landed the young man here, in incarceration. When she should have done something to stop it then. More than his parents - more than Kida, even, maybe - she could've been the one person to stop it all from going so badly and so far down this road. If she only had the strength to face it, then.

"We're both fine," - They were free, living both their lives as they should be, on the outside. - "It's just... you. Now."

Because they were a matched set. Because they needed nothing else in the world as long as they had each other - her, Kida, and Mikado against the world. And until he was back on the outside with them, there would always be a part of her that seemed incomplete. Didn't he understand that?

And now, on top of everything else, he was predictable. Then again, when a person hit rock-bottom... wasn't that a definition of predictable, in a way? Always resorting to the same bad choices, the same desperate maneuvers, never able to see a better way and climb out of that hole. That was probably how addictions worked, and in a sense, that was what had landed Mikado here. An addiction to control, to always pushing things one, two, three steps too far, not caring how much it hurt himself or, after a while, those around him. The very reasons for his self-proclaimed mission had been forgotten over time, and then there was nothing except that need to keep going and finish what he'd started. Even if he'd managed it, that wouldn't have been the end of it, though. He wouldn't have settled for idleness after all that.

The movement of Anri's hand earned a look, a blink, as if Mikado couldn't quite understand why she was reaching for him. After a pause, he set one arm on the tabletop, hesitantly returning the gesture -- only to stop just short of making any contact.

Masaomi had taken care of it. Mikado wanted to ask, but he was afraid to -- and that was assuming Anri herself even knew the full details. Just what had he pushed his best friend into? What lengths had he gone to in order for them to just live their daily lives?

At the very least, Mikado could appease her with this, a simple promise not to attempt anything. It wasn't as if he could in his present circumstances, anyway. He nodded stiffly.

"Just me," he echoed, but that frost in his voice was lukewarm now. "It... It'll be three years, but... don't--" His frown deepened. He couldn't tell her not to worry. "But I'll make it through."

Much like he had, Anri's eyes zeroed in on the shift of Mikado's arm as it slid over the table top, unknowingly waiting with bated breath as it mimicked her gesture. And when he stopped just short of touching, she found herself breathing a soft sigh of disappointment before hardening herself to the matter. Before deciding to do something about it.

Here, there was a moment of hesitation before the young girl swallowed her fears and doubt, reaching across that gulf of empty space between them; that had separated them these last few months while he took his silent promise far beyond what anyone anticipated. And with a stuttered breath, she glided her thin and nimble fingers over his, feeling the rough skin and recognizing it as something that was wholly and completely his.

"I know you can." Deep brown eyes darted up towards his, hidden flecks of red almost sparkling with hope and encouragement. "That's not the problem. I'm... scared you might not be the same person when you do."

Despite that Mikado reflexively watched her movements, it was the actual touch itself, the sensation of contact, that clicked first. He blinked, again seeming momentarily at a loss -- until the look softened, and for an instant he appeared all of fifteen again: it wasn't the usual hot blush in his face, but a light dusting of color high on his cheekbones that, if anything, added a little life to that previously empty air.

"I think... I think that's inevitable. Changing, I mean." In a place like this, you changed, either for better or worse -- and really, could Mikado get any worse?

The answer to that was instant. Yes. Even now, he hadn't lost everything. Retained some, recovered others, but he wasn't as entirely lost as he could have been; he'd seen people both here and outside who arguably were, and he...

He still had people close to him. He still cared. He still felt, he could still love and did, just like there was no doubt in his mind or anywhere else that he still loved this girl whom he clearly didn't deserve. Who was so obviously hurting for him out of worry.


It's just you now. Mikado was the only one still living -- still dealing -- with his mistakes, the only one of the three that Anri was this worried about. Even if he'd largely given up on himself, she hadn't -- neither had Masaomi -- and if Mikado still cared, if he truly still loved them both... didn't he owe them to try?

Slowly, he responded, his hand turning over just enough to receive hers more comfortably. A moment more and then he gripped back, carefully. Decidedly.

"...I couldn't become someone else even when I tried." Different, even unrecognizable, but he was still himself. Didn't this moment prove it? "So... if you're afraid of that, Sonohara-san, then I won't let it happen." Words from him might not have had much value anymore -- not after all the lies he'd spun and acts he'd put on -- and he wouldn't blame her if she didn't take that kind of promise at face value.

But here, as he was, words and sincerity were all he could give her.

And despite herself or the situation, Anri found her cheeks buzzing with a familiar heat as well, remembering how it had been in the beginning - how good it was despite the awkwardness of it all - and feeling that welcomed spark that had always existed between them. Almost as much as her relationship with Mikado (for lack of a more fitting label), it was like an old friend; like an old embrace she'd missed in the last few months. And when he turned his hand to cradle her palm in his, there was no helping the light pull on her lips in reaction.

If she closed her eyes, it would've been almost perfect.

But even now, she could smell the sharp hint of metal and heated concrete; could do little to drown out the rough voices echoing against the walls from the other tables of inmates and visitors. And all too quickly, Anri was reminded of just where they were and how things had gotten this far out of hand.

Squeezing at his hand without conscious thought, the young woman didn't fight the wave of sadness that washed over her, then.

"There's change and there's..." Well, the metamorphosis he'd undergone. "And even though you're yourself, now... you were someone else, then, as well."

Someone who hadn't known when to stop; who couldn't find the strength to stop. Even when she had pleaded and Kida had begged, in his own way, things just continued to escalate to a point where it seemed like there would be no turning back. And Anri's heart had broken at the thought of it.

Remembering it, deep, dark eyes darted up to meet his, still so trusting and hopeful of the boy she once knew and still cared for. But knowing better for all the events that led up to this moment. To him in his metaphoric chains and her standing on the other side of the proverbial fence. "He's the one I'm afraid of."

The hint of a smile wasn't without effect, even now. Mikado was still in no mood to manage a smile back, but all the same he felt a small lift that was almost automatic. It was a warmth that he never grew tired of feeling, one that Anri alone had ever managed to cause.

The effect didn't last long. More than any guilt Mikado had felt so far, more than any regrets, more than his downfall at the end and even his current situation, her words struck him hard and deep enough to actually, physically hurt: his heart skipped a couple painful beats before it caught up again, striking against his chest with what felt like enough force to bruise.

She was frightened -- by him. Just a part of him, but that part, however opposite and unlike the him she knew, was still him; and even if Mikado wasn't sure whether that fear was with regards to herself directly or just concern over what more it could do to him... that didn't change the fact.

He scared her.

His grip abruptly loosened, but he didn't let go. "I..."

There was no reason to tell her she shouldn't be afraid, either. After everything, they both knew better, and Mikado respected her too much to lie and was too tired of everything to deny it inwardly. There was nothing he could do about what was already done.

"...I don't think... that this is a place for that kind of person," he said finally, eyes on their joined hands but without really seeing. He'd picked up that much in his time here, and he was certain of it -- he knew because he'd tried. He'd done his best to hide behind the apathy, the indifference, the complete lack of interest in anything but his own intentions.

It hadn't lasted long. The personality Mikado had taken on was meant exactly for how he'd used it: manipulation, deceit, and sacrifice. Here, those things meant nothing. Here, you got by through proving yourself, by being useful or dangerous or most likely both. The person Anri feared was fit for the outside world, where options were only as limited as his creativity and willingness to take risks -- not here, where every freedom he'd abused was stripped away.

"No," he corrected after a moment, "I know it's not." There was a slight frown as he said it -- not in frustration, not even disappointment, but in a look of serious consideration. That being said, Mikado himself didn't stand a chance, either. Not as he was. Change was indeed inevitable, as he had told her, and he just had to figure out what kind of change that meant for someone like him.

"So... whether it's here or when I get out, you won't have to see it again." His eyes narrowed slightly. He meant it. By all rights it should have been too late to make amends -- she should have moved on -- but it wasn't, and he was going to make the most of it just as thoroughly as he had anything else. "I promise."

Relief washed over her at his words, prompting Anri to cradle his hand between the both of hers. Even if she couldn't trust that he would be able to keep his word - even if that other person inside of him resurfaced without contest - she was content enough knowing that Mikado would at least try to hold back that side of him. For her and for Kida. And maybe, even, for himself.

She, more than most, knew and understood how difficult it could be to have another voice whispering from the darkness.

"Good. Because I don't fight Saika's control for him." She does it for you, little prince.

For him, she'd give all the chances he would allow or ask. For Mikado, Anri could forgive a lot of things if it meant that she could have an opportunity to remind him the whys behind the what and hows that ran through his analytic mind.

Then, almost as if suddenly realizing just how close - just how raw - they were, Anri turned her head away, bowing it slightly to hide the soft bloom of color that heated her cheeks. Still, she kept her light hold on his hand, even going as far as to turn it against her palms. Because as embarrassed and nervous as she was, there were no regrets in her actions. And there shouldn't be any in Mikado's either.

"You... you and Kida-kun are important to me."

What's done was done. And while it was heartbreaking to watch him spiral down this dark hole, he was better for it just as long as he learned from the experience.

Mikado still didn't smile -- not directly -- but the look in his eyes softened, like it would have if he did smile. Once, hearing something so bold from her would have shocked him out of coherency, probably, not to mention made him light up. But he didn't try to respond yet; he just watched her, and then their hands. Maybe that boldness of hers was catching, because after a moment he reacted, his fingers tightening around hers again in another grip. This time, his thumb swept lightly over her knuckles.

Something about that -- that simple, new gesture -- hit him in all the wrong places and the fleeting look faded. He'd taken her for granted for the last couple years, more than she ever deserved to be. Something like this, just holding hands... why didn't he ever do half as much for her?

Even if he was important to her -- more important, maybe, then she'd been to him in the darkest of months -- after the way he'd been...

"...Why." The question was out before Mikado could really think about it. His eyes stayed on their hands, although his had fallen still again. "During everything... you had Masaomi. You always have." His eyes narrowed. There was nothing negative in the look -- no anger, no jealousy, none of that. If there was, it would have been at himself; so much of what Masaomi did had been for them, one way or the other, while Mikado... Mikado had thought too much of himself. That was what had caused the ultimate result of all this, even if he had started it while claiming good intentions. Maybe his intentions had been honestly good, back in the beginning, and then just rotted along the way. It was hard to remember these days.

"You could have left me. Both of you. I'd have deserved it. So why..."

He didn't finish it, but he didn't think he had to.

Slowly, she felt her lips press together, steadily coming to the realization of his words; at the weight and meaning behind them as he spoke. And even though the gesture was light and sweet and everything she'd grown to expect and care about in him, it paled in comparison to the aching bloom in her chest from what it meant. Because the question that followed after hit Anri hard, even more than seeing his expression centering only around his eyes.

In that moment, she understood and felt just how much they'd lost in those years while he'd been running around with the Dollars and the Blue Squares and anyone else that had been worth his time.

But despite all that, she knew; he was still there. Underneath the surface, Mikado was still as kind and sweet and considerate as he'd always been. But it wasn't enough to know that he laid hidden behind this new face, under all the manipulations and dark deals made in the shadows. He had to believe it too.

So it was with a heavy sigh that the young student matched his grip and gave him all the support that she could convey in that one gesture before responding. "...If you have to ask that, then you've fallen a lot further than I thought."

Her answer stilled him in an instant, his eyes widening slightly before narrowing again. Mikado wasn't sure what he'd expected her response to be, but he hadn't anticipated something so... direct, and without hesitation. He didn't doubt Anri's honesty -- that was how she was, and besides, she had no reason to lie to him at this point -- but all the same he could only immediately wonder if that could really be true.

Once, it would have been a skepticism towards people that would have prompted the doubt. Now, at the end of all things -- an end that was slowly starting to feel like more of a new beginning -- his hesitation to believe stemmed from something else. A fear, or something like it, of getting his hopes up only to have them slip right through his fingers, like so many things seemed to have done lately.

Everything except her and Masaomi.

"...What, then..." His eyes still didn't rise. "What would it take... to make you..." It was an unfair question and Mikado knew it -- even so, it wasn't asked in bitterness, so there was none of that in his tone. It was an almost desperate curiosity, formed from habit, maybe, of wanting -- needing to know, maybe just for curiosity's sake...

...or maybe because the smarter part of him -- the planner, the strategist -- wanted to avoid that possibility at all costs.

She can't help but feel just slightly alarmed at the question. Because Anri wasn't quite sure how to interpret it, whether it was an inquiry to see how much they were willing to forgive, or if it was an underhanded means to mark just how far he would be allowed to push their friendship before it cracked under the pressure.

More times than one, he had certainly brought them to their limits.

Either way, the young woman refused to answer outright for fear of which road it would end up taking them. Giving his hand another squeeze, she tried to draw his attention up to meet her gaze, wanting the message to get through to him and for it to be perfectly clear.

"Nothing you've done so far."

Which was a lot if he stopped to really think about things. Mikado had been a completely different person in those days. He had been sent to jail as a result of it, now. And all it showed - all it meant - was that there was a lot of room for more mistakes of the same severity. But if he ever stepped past that line, well...

"It would take a lot... to do worse than what's already been done." And there might be no turning back from the path if he ever did manage it.

Mikado immediately realized how his question might have sounded; Anri's delay, the grip of her hand, the way she phrased her answer... it prompted a pained look as he lifted his eyes again, regret at having caused her -- again -- any kind of distress.

"I'm sorry." It was an automatic response, but that didn't make it any less genuine. "I didn't mean it like..." He relaxed a little after a moment, and then nodded. "That won't be the case," he said finally, solemnly. "I promise you that, too. I just..."

Yet another pause, but he forced himself to finish the thought.

"...That was... what I wanted to hear, really. I didn't want you to say that there wasn't a limit." That much -- it wasn't about what Mikado did or didn't deserve. "I guess... I want to remind myself of just how close I came." And why, among many reasons, he shouldn't chance it again. "Just in case."

He almost didn't add that last bit, but he was done with hiding. He was done with secrets, however ugly they were, and even if it might have lowered him in Anri's eyes even further, he had to be honest about that. He would turn away from what he had been, but that didn't mean that other half wasn't still a part of him. The only difference now was that he wouldn't embrace it.

There was an uncertainty in his last statement that spoke volumes more than anything he had ever said to her in the past few years. It was honest and pure and painfully raw in a way that seemed almost refreshing compared to all the lies he'd created in his rise to the Blue Squares. And in hearing the unspoken confession about his fears and doubts, the young woman was struck with a heaviness that should have been a burden to her already stressful life.

But for Anri, it came as a relief. Because he was being truthful and not simply saying what she wanted to hear. It was enough to garner a faint smile and a glimmer of hope for all their futures before it dissolved back into nothingness with a soft sigh.

The hard part was only beginning.

"I won't let it happen again." Her tone is low and nearly even. If not for the little inflection in her voice, the statement could stand as potential show of support. Instead, it sounds like a carefully veiled threat. "It can't."

Mikado didn't miss the insinuation -- but he was glad for that, too, and maybe just for that reason, or another one entirely, he couldn't help... liking it, that side of her, if that was the right word.

It was a fleeting thought, though, and then he was back in the present, back in their conversation.

"...I think... I'll need that, too." It was a difficult thing to admit -- which was why he pushed himself to go all the way and added, "I don't want to ask you for so much after everything, but... I can't... do it alone. I know that now."

His hand tightened gently again, but this time he slipped his fingers between Anri's, linking them. Next to confessing out loud, that was as much of a declaration as anything that could be expected from Mikado.

"So... I'm asking, Sonohara-san. That you watch me -- both of you. And if I can't do it..."

He stopped there, but intentionally. Let her fill in the blank with whatever she could or was willing to do at that point, because it wasn't as if he would really have a say that far down the line, anyway. More than that, though, he trusted her. He trusted her a lot more than he did himself anymore.

For more time than she was willing to admit, all of Anri's attention had been drawn to the soft squeeze of his grip and the purposeful glide of his fingers in between her own. Because it had been years since he had been able to make her feel this way, young and shy and unsure with a warm bloom of heat to mark the sweet blush that spread across her cheeks at the gesture. Not since Kida had left on his journey; not since they were fifteen and a young wallflower had unintentionally stumbled across this confession of sorts in front of the entire country in a string of nervous babble. And now, here he was, still able to make her feel like that girl, despite everything they had been through. Maybe even because...

Bowing her head, Anri gave a soft exhale of breath, cupping around the back of his hand with her other one and drawing the little warm tangle of fingers in. For one split second in time, it looked as if she would bring the jumble to her lips, soft and pink with life and hope. And if she were any other girl, the young Raina student just might have. But now more than ever, Anri could be nothing more - nothing less - than herself. And in true fashion, she felt the small crease between her thumbs against the tip of her nose and center of her brow.

"That's something you don't need to ask from me," came her response, soft and almost tender in a way that only she could say in that quiet voice of hers while pulling away from such an intimate gesture. "I can't see you like that again."

It hurt to much, far worse than it would be if she had to end his second reign.

And, indeed, it might become the last straw that would allow Anri to fall down the rabbit hole and forsake all humanity for the will of the Demon Blade that resided inside of her. By which point, no one would be safe. "But I... I need you to be strong, too." And not just for himself. "For Kida-kun and... a-and for me."

Somehow, everything just seemed to make more sense, in a way. Mikado had been assuming up to now that so much of his predicament revolved primarily around himself -- that his friends were involved mostly by way of sentiment alone. But while Anri didn't say what she did as directly as she could have, Mikado caught the hint well enough, and in a different mood he could have laughed at his own ignorance.

Of course. Didn't he know by now? Everything and everyone was connected in this odd city; constant cause and effect. Even if he'd forgotten that, he still should have known better -- because he knew her better.

That knowledge should have made things more difficult, what with the added responsibility and pressure, but it did just the opposite: it made his goal feel easier. Knowing he was doing this for others, not just to redeem and save his own sorry ass, added an element of necessity. He wasn't opting to do it; he had to.

So that's how it was. Not just for himself, not even only for sentiment. Mikado would do everything he had to, then -- if he had to adapt and evolve again, so be it. He liked to think he was good at that much by now.

He watched every movement of hers with that attentive expression, if with a little something like tension when she drew their hands so close. When she went to pull away, there was an instant that felt like half an hour -- everything he'd ever felt for and towards her tumbled over one another, and all he could think was that he was sitting here resolving to do everything, anything, to accomplish something he wanted...

...but there was more that he wanted, too. And here and now, abandoning dishonesty and uncertainty with the mind to undertake the impossible, when acting like he had anything left to hide was just wasted effort -- he could do a little more, couldn't he?

So when their joined hands started to lower again, Mikado resisted -- just enough to gently hold Anri's where they were.

"I'm sorry." He was smiling, though, and even if it had a shadow of apology, it was still genuine. Their fingers were intertwined, but his thumb was free enough; he reached up, and as lightly as though pressing too hard might cause her to break, he swept a brief touch along the bottom of her cheek. Gone as quickly as it had started. "I guess... we've both gone and gotten a little dependent on each other."

Hence the apology -- but if that smile looked happy because of it, that was why. Not the dependency itself, but having someone he could trust that much, and being that valued himself.

"But I will," he said more seriously. "I think... that with you both behind me... I'll be okay. Even if it takes a while." Even if he would have more challenges to face than he ever had.

It was the core of his belief and his nature: the need to protect his friends. And by some miracle or stroke of good fortune, she had managed to be included among the small few, for good or for ill. Because while it was a quality that endeared him to her, it was also the foundation that had initially led Mikado down the path towards becoming the leader of the Blue Squares. And by the time their safety had been assured, the original intent had been warped beyond what his darker half ever cared to uphold. Friends and family were of little consequences compared to a life without predictability.

So to hear him proclaim such a promise was like a double-edge sword, standing as both a relief and a warning. But then, Anri had been a different person in those days as well. Emotionless and a parasite to all those around her, the young woman hadn't thought to be concerned over his transformation until realization and truth came barreling through her conscious like a sledgehammer to the brain; until it had been almost too late to bring him back.

On that matter, she still blamed herself. With Kida gone to parts unknown, the responsibility had been left to her to safeguard Mikado's trek through the muck and darkness. And Anri had failed.

But not this time; never again.

For now, though, she would do her best to watch over him. She would do better this time, vowing to visit often in between studies now that the initial contact had been established. There would be no excuses, not when she had a better reason to allow herself to actually feel...

It was a small tick of motion that lifted her head from where she was watching the tabletop. To anyone else, the soft little brush of his thumb against her skin might have gone unnoticed, even ignored. Small shows of affection, even playful ones such as that, were normal in everyday interactions. But for the history that existed between them, it was rather profound.

Enough to highlight the way her chest felt suddenly heavy. Enough to see a spark of something she couldn't exactly place.

"Mikado..." Her breath caught, a little flustered at having used his name so informally. And the instant realization of it caused her to stumble a bit with her words, barely managing to correct herself before it became too awkward to continue. "...kun. I..." Sighing softly, Anri took a brief moment to gather her wits enough to continue more calmly. "I know you will be..."

He watched her closely during and after the contact, looking for a hint of anything -- of dislike, of discomfort, maybe even unease after all that had happened and everything that he'd been -- but as paranoid as he was for a fleeting instant, he didn't pick up on any of that. He wasn't positive she liked it, either -- her little bit of flustering made it hard to tell -- but the use of his name, his first name, was... definitely not a bad thing, and the way it made his heart skip a surprised beat, a sensation he hadn't felt in a long time, convinced him that they were okay.

Still, he didn't try it again or push his luck; he lowered their hands to the tabletop, nodding as he forced himself to keep his eyes on her face and not look away in his own passing bit of uncertainty.

"Then... please -- just keep watching me." Again, his hold on her fingers tightened -- still gentle, not at all rough, but there was something almost like a plea in that light grip. Mikado needed this, and while he hated to keep asking for help, he wasn't too proud. Not when his choices affected more than just himself.

He didn't care that they were in public -- he didn't care that others in the room might have seen them or saw them now, that he could be targeted by other inmates later for coming off as softhearted as this. It was okay. He would have to learn to get by in here sooner or later, preferably sooner, and the better the reason driving him, the better off he would be.

That was why he had to ask.

"Even if... having faith in myself gets hard... knowing that you do makes a difference." All the difference. "That's..."

His eyes did drop, then, to their hands.

"...that's all I need to do this."

The insinuation in his words was even bolder than his actions just now; all he needed was her belief in him, someone to guide his footsteps if only with her presence. That was more than enough when a person loved another, after all -- and while his feelings had gotten convoluted at times, they hadn't changed.

All he needed was her belief in him, because he loved her too much to disappoint her again.

And it was as if the rest of the world didn't matter. It couldn't when so much was being felt - was being said - in the empty space between their silences. That was something she had always appreciated about their friendship. They were similar beings in both personality and nature. And through that, there existed an understanding no one else could ever come close to touching save for one. And even then, he had chosen to disappear for months uncounted, leaving Mikado and Anri to build a bond that stood a little separate from the rest.

They were the wallflowers in a sea of social butterflies. They were the oddities in an all too ordinary world. And, perhaps, there was a part of her that found a comfort in that. Because it was only with him that she managed to make a connection so deeply and desperately strong. It was only with Mikado - for him - that she could test and surpass all of her limits; that she was willing.

Still, there could be moments like this where the young girl found herself at a loss, dazed and confused over what to say or what to think. The link between them could only reach so far, intimate as it was.

What if she was wrong? "I will. I always have... even though I might not have known what to do..." But more importantly, what if she was right?

"And you have it." Breathing a heavy sigh, Anri swallowed her reservations and plowed forward as best as she was able. "My faith and belief."

My trust... Plus so much more than she could quite put into words, dipping her head down even as her voice softened further under the scrutiny of the world. Even if he didn't want it. Especially if he did. My... love.

"F-for what it's worth..."

Closing her eyes to the overwhelming feeling, Anri clung to the light squeeze of his hand as if it were her lifeline to the world. And in a way, in that moment, it was. Because he was asking a lot of her - almost too much. It was more trust and hope than anyone had ever placed in her hands, and with it came the choking fear that she would simply crush it in all its splendor.

"I just hope that... that I don't disappoint you. Or that I fail you... again." She had once, already, after all. And all it took was one misstep for it to happen a second time. And then they would be faced with entirely new problems.

Even if he'd already known she would agree -- she already had, really -- Mikado felt a surprisingly uplifting sense of relief at that. It was far too soon to be thinking this way, he knew, but all the same it felt as if he'd already won half the battle just because of this. Because of her.

That's all I need. He'd meant it, honestly and entirely.

That brief bit of something-like-elation quickly faded, however, at Anri's last words, and his frown was in nothing but concern as he leaned forward a little.

"N-No -- you didn't -- none of it was your fault, Sonohara-san. Even when you tried to help, I wasn't..." Of course, by the time even she had fallen low enough on his priority list to be ignored and disregarded, that was well past the prevention point. Biased though he was, Mikado could see where she would find personal fault in that, and that, like so many things coming back to light, only increased his frustration with himself.

But none of it came through in his words or his expression or the easy grip of his hand; there was concern, only concern, with a bit of guilt returned in kind.

"You were always there -- I just couldn't see it. I stopped trying, eventually. So... so please don't think any of it was your fault. It was just... a lot of things. And I didn't care enough to see through them all to what mattered."

He watched her for a few more seconds, thinking, wanting more than ever to put all of this behind them -- but for her more than himself.

"But... we're moving forward now. Whatever did or didn't happen... it won't matter, where we're going. All I have to remember is what not to be. And I can do that now, without regrets."

His words filled her with a hope that she hadn't felt for a long time, chest swelling - bursting - with feelings and emotions that had always been so foreign for a majority of her life. Not since their days as first years just starting out as Raira students had Anri ever even come close to living - and loving - without regards to the consequences. Without fear over how Saika would twist it and turn it into something ugly or dark; she had more control, now, and more reason to maintain it should the Demon Blade prove to be advantageous during these moments of vulnerability.

For the first time since his induction into becoming the leader of the Blue Squares, the possibilities seemed limitless. Even despite the fact that he would be serving out a three-year sentence for his convicted crimes, Anri felt a smile gently tug on her lips at the thought.

So overcome with this sandstorm of feelings, there was no helping just how incessantly they pushed and pulled at her thoughts, feeding in actions and debating over which course to take. And before long, her fingers were already lifting from the bundle of warm palms and slender digits, encouraged by his brief touch earlier and reaching out towards the smooth curve of his cheek to return the gesture with a light brush of her own brush along the skin. It was a motion that was both intimate and open, telling in a way that required no words to be spoken. And yet, it said so much more than she could ever muster.

"No regrets..."

No fear - no holding back. They were all beyond that by this point. And with that thought in mind, she... let her touch linger just a moment more against his cheek, catching the flicker of something in his eyes while feeling a heavy pressure forming in her chest.

"...It'll be different, this time. I'll be there - We both will."

That gentle smile of hers was enough to calm his anxiety, smoothing it away with surprising ease -- like it had never existed in the first place, like there was absolutely nothing wrong at the moment because she looked happy, was happy, and that was all that mattered right then. That was all his world consisted of.

Her touch was secondary, but it meant so much more -- because Mikado knew what it meant, both the gesture and how open Anri was being with it. All of his anger and doubts and uncertainty were overshadowed and forgotten, because the two of them had something better. Something they could both depend on to get through the difficult next few years, and after that...

After that...

He would be free to really make things up to her, however he could and however she wanted. He would make good on his promises, the ones now as well as any he made after today. Honestly, his time here might have been a good thing in that regard; he would learn to appreciate what he had, what he'd almost lost, even more, even if waiting for it would well drive him crazy in the meantime. But he would manage. With her.

Gently, he reached up to touch her wrist. Not holding her hand in place, but just a brief, appreciative touch to say he knew and understood, as did the easy smile he gave back.

Mikado didn't want to take his eyes off her at all then, let alone do something as depressing as look at the clock; but he knew it was getting late, and the scrape of chairs around them said other visitors were already taking their leave. It was an unpleasant jolt of reality, but inevitable, and he wasn't about to let her see just how much the thought depressed him.

"I know you will. And that... means more to me than anything." His touch lifted slightly -- not yet breaking contact, but preparing to all the same.

"So -- until next time, I'll be waiting. And you and Masaomi have each other, so... I know I have nothing to worry about." The two of them would be there for each other where Mikado couldn't; not only in the way that Masaomi had managed to protect them both so far, but emotionally speaking, too. Waiting on him would be harder alone, and he could only count himself luckier than he deserved to have two people who cared about him and each other that much.

Of course, there would be roadblocks and bumps along the way. To think that life for them - all of them - would be simple from now on was naive. It took work and effort and sacrifices to simply run through the gauntlet of everyday living, facing up against challenges on a daily basis in order to survive to see the next morning. Even Mikado, who wished and believed in happy endings, could understand that they had to be earned through hardships. That they were maintained and preserved in trust.

And love...

And the three of them were far from seeing the end of the long tunnel.

Even now, in the midst of silent declarations and determined promises that filled them both with hope, she could hear the soft whispers of the Demon Blade in her ear, speaking half-truths and twisting around words until all that came from it was something dark - misguided. Until it became difficult to believe in anything but the shadows that surrounded them. Because a blade, enchanted or not, could neither understand the human capacity for emotions, nor possess the ability to express it properly. And that was an obstacle Anri struggled with, still, to this day; moreso now, as she came to slowly acknowledge her own growing feelings for the boy seated on the other side of the table.

With the touch his hand against her own, though, the Raira student could find strength enough to fight it off, ignoring the voices and the urges the spirit invoked. At least for one day more.

But much too quickly, their time was out. Even as the words fell from his lips, she could hear the loud scrape of chairs and the rustle of footsteps as the other visitors began to leave. And while the young woman was reluctant to follow, Anri knew that, eventually, she would have to depart. Better to do so now under her own insistence than to be forcibly removed by the guards. Regardless, there was no helping the way her fingers lingered a moment more against his cheek before she gave one final squeeze of his hand.

"Take care of yourself... Mikado-kun..." Sad and wavering, the smile remained. "We'll come see you, again, in a month."

A month. He had a month to get by on his own, a month to make this meeting and everything it meant last until he could see her -- them -- again. A month to adjust, to start on the promises he'd just made. A month to figure out how he was going to get by for the next couple years. A month to get himself together so his friends could rest a little easier.

Mikado returned her gesture with a gentle squeeze of his own, and was reluctantly the first one to break contact by letting his hand fall. "I will. And... you, too."

Pushing his chair back, he stood up out of respect, but stayed where he was with the table still between them. He kept his warm smile, and while he really was dreading the next few seconds of watching her go, none of it showed. He'd wasted enough time wallowing in regret; if he did so again, it would be after she was gone.

"And... the next time you see Masaomi... tell him what we talked about. Please." His expression softened. "I know... he'll be glad to hear it."

Intentionally or not, Anri knew that she would be counting the days as well. Because life was simply not complete unless the three of them were together. All those months when Kida had been gone, and all that time where Mikado had delved deeper into himself, her life was simply not the same. For so long, her life had been just as it had those few years following the death of her parents - empty. And while all the young woman ever wanted was a peaceful life, experiencing the fullness that both boys had brought just by being with her...

It made Anri realize that a peaceful life did not mean a life spent in quiet solitude.

"I will." So there was no arguments in the boy's request. Even if Mikado had not asked it of her, she still would have shared the events of this visit with the other. Because they were the best of friends, the three of them. Because they were family. "After I go to thank him... for this."

And with that, she took up her school bag and gave one last, parting nod - one last smile - before hesitantly turning to leave. And in the next few breaths that she took, Anri felt the tightness of anxiety return to her chest and to her limbs, her hands shaking under the tension. Not until she reached the door did the young girl realize just what that feeling was. Even then, she could only find a soothing comfort in her rattled nerves.

Looking back over her shoulder a final time, she drank in the sight of him still standing at the table. Watching her leave. Just... watching her, always. And in that moment when their eyes met across the room, Anri understood...

Because promises weren't made in the words they said to each other. They were in the vows that resonated in their hearts.

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