The mere idea of alcoholism has never made sense to Byakuya Togami. Of course, he knows the medical definition of the term: a severe dependence on alcoholic substances that causes withdrawal symptoms when you stop suddenly.
But, to him, alcoholism has never been about that; alcoholics are the people who sit on sidewalks drinking cheap bottles of wine, the people who end up in hospital because they binge drank and developed alcohol poisoning, the people who drink methanol and end up going blind… they are messy, they are weaklings—they are the dregs of society. They are not part of his world.
So, yes, Byakuya has of course drunk alcohol in his life. When he was fourteen, he began to drink quite a lot, stealing expensive wine and gin out of his father’s wine cabinet—and drinking a lot more than his young body could handle.
The Togami family is incredibly rich, you see, and being the child of a rich person means you end up being put under a ridiculous amount of stress. People expect the world of you. People talk about how you may become the next successor of your father’s empire. Byakuya has had to fight with his siblings (all half siblings, of course because his father doesn’t do parenting the normal way) to get to a point where his father will even acknowledge his existence.
And that was when he was fourteen and got amazing grades in his final exams at middle school—his father was amazed and sent him to an amazing high school. And when Byakuya got scouted for Hope’s Peak Academy, father was ecstatic, so that is where he went for his high school days. But that place had incredibly high standards. The stress he was put under at a private middle school was nothing compared to this. He had to work incredibly hard, and… the thing is, under stress, even a Togami will eventually snap.
He won’t admit it, of course he won’t; he would never even dare talk about this with another human being without threatening to get them killed if they spoke of that (and, yes, he knows assassins because his father is ridiculously powerful. Because you can’t be the son of a Togami and part of a multi-billionaire social group and a success if people know that when you were fourteen you started drinking quite a lot to cope with the stress.
He’s twenty four now and has drunk every day for that entire time. He never gets drunk-drunk, the sort of drunk when people can tell there is something seriously wrong with you, the sort of drunk that gets you arrested on the streets or pulled over for drunk driving. Even when he drinks a lot, he never flushes (thankfully he doesn’t get the alcohol flush reaction like a lot of his family members) and as long as he takes small amounts all throughout the day, the most he might get is slightly shaking hands and a headache. He drinks a lot of water too, so never wakes up with a hangover—and if he does, the best way to get rid of a hangover is to drink alcohol.
Of course, none of this makes him an alcoholic; he doesn’t care what a doctor would say if he went, he is NOT an alcoholic. He is a Togami. He is Byakuya Togami and he is not an alcoholic.
The problem is, damned commoners don’t see it that way.
Kyouko is away. His girlfriend is a detective, part of the Kirigiri family, one of the most famous groups of detectives in the entire world. So she frequently travels across the prefecture or across the country or sometimes even across the planet to solve cases, leaving Byakuya and Makoto at home.
That doesn’t bother Makoto; to be honest, he gets sad in a common way that Kyouko’s gone, but he’s fine—he’s a teacher, so he goes to work at school and comes home and Byakuya’s always there because Byakuya works from home and they work well that way. They get on very well, Makoto and he, although Kyouko sometimes does seem like the glue that binds the three of them together.
But, this time, without Kyouko here, the stress seems to build up. Byakuya knows stress well—it’s his worst enemy—he hates stress, he hates stress, he hates being stressed, he hates that knot of anxiety in his guts and chest that’s so tight and a pain behind his eyes that won’t go away no matter how many painkillers he takes. Kyouko… helps him. He works from home, learning so much. He studies and studies, reading endlessly. He is twenty four and already has three degrees and he plans to get more; needs as many qualifications as he can so when his father eventually retires he will pick Byakuya over his siblings. He has to get this.
But he’s working so hard and Kyouko isn’t here and she’s often the one who will come to him and tell him to go to bed (Makoto never does because he actually gets a bit scared of Byakuya when he’s in a mood whereas nothing intimidates Kyouko). So without Kyouko here to tell him to get the hell out of the study several times a day and actually drink anything (that isn’t any of the secret stash of alcohol he keeps in his desk, locked, that the other two don’t know about) and whilst Makoto does check in on him, he doesn’t have that same level of control over Byakuya.
So in the few days Kyouko is gone, he starts to spiral downwards somewhat. He wouldn’t say he’s having a relapse, but this may be like when he was seventeen and he was really, really, really struggling with his college entrance exams and he was drinking more and sleeping less and he just felt so ill and eventually one of the family’s servants noticed and Byakuya begged them not to tell—and Byakuya Togami doesn’t beg, so he knows it was serious. But he doesn’t talk about it.
But perhaps it’s like that. Whatever the cause, all he knows is that he starts drinking more, tipping more than just a single cap full of gin into his coffee each time. After three days with no Kyouko, Byakuya actually drinks half a bottle of gin in one go and starts to feel very, very ill. As he sits at his desk, his vision flickers and he groans, resting his head in his hands. He needs a drink of water, but he ran out a while ago. But Makoto might notice his drunken state if he goes into the kitchen now—and Makoto can’t see this, he just can’t. Byakuya stands up, hating the way the room spins slightly. He hasn’t got drunk like this for a long time.
He can count twice the times he got this drunk. The first being when he was drinking for the first time at fourteen and realised how much more drunk you get from spirits than wine and got so drunk he ended up vomiting. And the second time at seventeen, when that servant caught him drinking too much. He’s good at regulating himself, but not always. Not always.
So despite his fear, Byakuya walks out of the room, catching sight of his reflection in a mirror in the hallway. His eyes look bleary and his face clammy, he wipes his face with his handkerchief, and finds his hands shaking slightly. And his foot catches the carpet and nearly sends him falling when he walks. He really is drunk. This was a stupid idea. This is probably qualifies as binge drinking if he were to use such a common term to describe it.
Byakuya makes it to the kitchen without falling on his face, and pours himself a drink of water. As he guzzles the water, trying to drink as much as possible to flush the alcohol out of his system, he hears footsteps and flinches.
Makoto walks into the kitchen and stares at Byakuya’s back. He doesn’t turn, he doesn’t look, but he knows it is Makoto—it could be no one else.
“Hey Byakuya,” Makoto says, taking a few steps into the kitchen. The kitchen is large, thanks to his and Kyouko’s masses of money, so it seems like Makoto is very far away but yet at the same time he can feel his presence, feel those eyes burning into him; he just damn well knows Makoto knows something is different.
But don’t you dare say anything, Makoto Naegi, you damned commoner, he thinks.
He gulps his water and put down his glass, but his shaky fingers slip and Makoto sees. Byakuya grits his jaw, wanting to yell but just standing there as if Makoto might vanish if he doesn’t move, as is Makoto were a ghost or something ridiculous like that. Why does he start acting like a plebeian when he’s drunk; this was such a stupid idea. And Makoto is so damn inquisitive as well.
“Byakuya?” he says again. “Are you okay? You’re a bit…wobbly.”
And Makoto is right, he does sway slightly where he stands, the alcohol really affecting his sense of balance. He remembers this too, remembers how he fell onto his backside and nearly broke his coccyx back when he was seventeen and was drunk. Thankfully nobody saw and he never talked about it.
He still doesn’t turn around, staring at the wall in front of him, tracking the patterns on the wallpaper.
“Go away, Makoto,” he says. His voice thankfully doesn’t slur… but it sounds weird. Maybe some of his stress leaks through into his tone. Whatever it is, he doesn’t like it. And, of course, Makoto Naegi picks up on it.
“Byakuya, are you okay?”
“Go AWAY, Makoto.” Byakuya says.
“No, there’s, there’s something wrong, I want to help—”
Makoto walks closer and Byakuya just stands there, tense and trying to stop his hands shaking, stop his body swaying, stop everything going wrong. He’s hidden this alcohol secret of his for ten long years. Makoto is not going to find out now—he can’t.
“Byakuya?” Makoto looks him up and down, his eyes scanning him, and Byakuya has never felt more conscious of a man an entire foot shorter than him. “Are you… are you drunk?”
Fuck, is all Byakuya can think, a single curse word fluttering around in his brain.
“No,” he says.
“I, I don’t believe you. Why are you drunk, Byakuya, I thought you were meant to be studying—”
“I am NOT drunk.”
“Y-You are, you’re drunk. Look… You are.” Makoto steps closer and stares up at him, and Byakuya wants to fucking punch him in the jaw for this.
“I am NOT drunk, you common fool. Fuck off!”
“B…Byakuya?” Makoto says, stammering badly. It’s rare for Byakuya to swear aloud. He thinks it’s crude—which it is, to be fair. “Seriously, what’s the matter? Why are you acting like this? Is your work hard, do, d-do you want any help—”
“You don’t own this kitchen, Byakuya. I want—”
“I was the one who paid for the house, you damn common fool!”
“Byakuya! Stop it… What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Leave me alone.” He says, pronouncing very syllable with venom in his voice. “Go away, Makoto.”
“B-Byakuya, why are you…”
Before Byakuya can react, Makoto gasps, a sharp hitch of breath. He glances at Makoto and sees sudden paralysing fear written across his partner’s face.
“O-Oh, Byakuya, please don’t say…”
And before he can even process Makoto’s terror, Makoto flees. He hurtles out of the kitchen the way Byakuya came. Even though he’s drunk, even though he’s stressed, and even though his anger at his partner’s compassion makes his brain addled, Byakuya realises what Makoto is doing.
Oh shit, he thinks.
“Makoto!” he bellows, hurtling after his partner, his legs wobbling slightly in his drunken state. “Don’t you DARE go into my study!” he says, but Makoto doesn’t turn around, and he’s at the top of the stairs by the time Byakuya reaches the bottom of them. “Fuck!” he mutters to himself.
Makoto worked it out. Oh shit.
He hurries up the stairs and finds Makoto—oh shit—he finds Makoto in his study, kneeling by the bottom draw of his desk—the open draw full of bottles of hard liquor. Makoto stares at them, at the half-full bottle of gin on the desk. His eyes are wide, his mouth in an O-shape that makes him look like a goldfish.
Please don’t put two and two together, you commoner, he thinks, begging his thoroughly average boyfriend to not notice the situation. But Makoto may be average and only got into their prestigious private school out of sheer dumb luck, but… he’s an infuriatingly intuitive person.
Makoto stands up when he hears Byakuya enter.
“Get out of there!” he says, shoving Makoto roughly. Makoto staggers backwards and bangs his head against the wall, but Byakuya doesn’t look, shutting the draw and turning the key in the lock. “Get out of my study this instant! This is a violation of my privacy.”
“But, but,” Makoto gets back to his feet, rubbing his head. Pain and anger flicker in his eyes, and part of Byakuya wants to apologise. But he can’t he can’t he can’t. “Byakuya, you’ve got so much alcohol in your study.” Makoto says, a slight quiver to his voice. “Are… are you an alcoholic?
There it is. Byakuya wants the floor to open up and swallow him whole. His secret…
“No, I am not an alcoholic,” he says.
He will never admit it, but he knows if he was ever dragged to a doctor, he would fit the medical criteria for the term. His secret is out.
“No, Byakuya, I… oh God, I…” Makoto’s voice cracks and he stands up straight, running his fingers through his hair and making his stupid ahoge twitch. “I… wh-why didn’t you tell us? We could help… Byakuya?”
“Get out now!”
“No. you, you’re an alcoholic, Byakuya. How long has this… how long have you been living like this? I wanted to help you. Why d-did you suffer in silence?”
“I’m not suffering. I am not an alcoholic. Leave me alone, Makoto.”
“No, please.” Makoto steps closer. “Please, Byakuya, y-you’re an alcoholic. Please say it. Please—”
What should he do? They cannot argue like this forever? He has to shut down Makoto’s line of inquiry lest he never leave Byakuya alone over this. Even though his head pounds, he begs himself to think of something. Eventually, he gets an idea.
Byakuya sighs. “Alright, I’ll prove it to you, Makoto.” He says, spitting his words out. “Alcoholics get withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking, right?” The venom in his words actually makes Makoto step back slightly. Good.
“Y-Yeah, that’s true,” Makoto says, clearly remembering biology classes from back at Hope’s Peak. “I just…”
“You do not understand. I am not an alcoholic and I will prove it. Here, have the damn key,” he says, tossing the key towards Makoto. “Take them and pour them all down the damn drain. I’ll do the same with the wine cabinet.”
“Wh-What?” Makoto splutters.
“I’ll get rid of everything alcoholic, every single drop of alcohol in this house. And then nothing will happen to me. Thereby proving I am not an alcoholic. OKAY?!”
“Uh, uh… these must be expensive…”
“So what? I’m a Togami, you commoner.”
Makoo flinches. “You… you’re such a jerk, Byakuya.”
“You’re only just now realising that?” he says. “Go on, take it. I’ll prove that you’re wrong.”
Byakuya stalks out of their room, winding through the hallways of their large house. His head pounds and he wants to vomit or scream or do something. This is ridiculous; Makoto actually discovered his secret alcohol stash. He noticed Byakuya was drunk. This is horrific. Makoto was right, the alcohol was expensive, but Byakuya was also right, and he can easily buy more.
But for now, he has to get rid of it all. Then he will not get withdrawal symptoms and prove to Makoto his theory was wrong, and then he will buy more alcohol and be far more secretive in the future and everything will go back to normal.
At least, that is the plan… although plans made when you are drunk, angry and panicked never end work out well.
Makoto stands by the sink, focused on the bottle in his hands. He never noticed how cold glass feels before, and wonders why the hell his brain decides to focus on that right now. He sighs and swallows hard, but the lump won't leave his throat. And his hand shakes as he unscrews the cap and upends the bottle over the basin.
He watches the clear liquid pour down the drain, running the argument through his mind again and again. He and Byakuya have argued a lot (everyone argues, and when you're partner is someone as prickly as Byakuya Togami, rows are pretty normal), but they've never had a fight like that. Byakuya was terrifyingly angry as he yelled at Makoto, and his head still throbs from when Byakuya pushed him, making Makoto trip and smack his head against the wall. And it was all because Makoto saw Byakuya drunk.
It really is true, isn't it? Byakuya is an alcoholic and has struggled with it for God-knows how long, managing to keep it a secret from him and Kyouko—and how did he keep it a secret from a fucking detective? Why has he hidden this? Is he ashamed? Or is he just totally in denial?
Makoto knows Byakuya has struggled in his life, that his family’s reputation and rather messed-up hierarchy (Byakuya has something like fifty half-siblings, all because his father thinks having children with as many women as possible will create the best heir) put Byakuya under horrible pressure from a very young age. He knows Byakuya fits all the criteria for severe, chronic depression, his mental health in tatters—not that Byakuya would ever see a doctor about it. He knows Byakuya is stubborn to the point of ridiculousness, and never opens up about his problems until Kyouko forces them out of him. He knows all of this—and as terrifying as it sounds, it all fits.
Byakuya had the perfect upbringing and has the perfect type of brain to get alcoholism. He hides alcohol from him and Kyouko, getting through large quantities of spirits, judging by how many bottles were in that draw. When he reacted with such aggressive denial, it really sunk in; Byakuya wouldn’t have acted that way if he wasn’t an alcoholic. It’s all so… horribly perfect.
Makoto sighs shakily, putting the now-empty bottle down on the counter with more force than necessary. Twelve empty bottles sit beside it, bottles that surely cost tens of thousands of yen each, because Byakuya is fucking rich and snobby about everything he buys.
On the other side of the house, Byakuya must still be making an exaggerated display of emptying the wine cellar—or, to be more specific, ordering their housekeeper to do it for him (Makoto reminds himself to apologies to her, certain Byakuya is being a jerk). The wine cost even more, and Kyouko contributed to that collection too. She’s going to be so mad to know he’s throwing away that wine she bought when they went to France three years ago. Although, when she finds out about this full stop, she’ll probably forget about that in favour of dragging Byakuya to see a doctor.
Okay, that’s all the bottles.
But the alcohol was never really the problem. How is he going to deal with Byakuya going cold turkey, whilst also being even more of a jerkass than usual?
Shit, he wishes Kyouko was here.
Byakuya won’t even look at him. All day, he blanks Makoto when he looks in his direction, his posture tense and his jaw clenched. When night time finally comes around, Byakuya doesn’t even enter the bedroom the three of them share, stalking off to one of the many spare rooms on the floor above. Makoto doesn’t sleep, hating being alone in such a huge bed.
The next day, the silent treatment continues. After breakfast, he enters the kitchen to find Byakuya brewing coffee, and wants to talk about yesterday—well, not really, but he kind of has to—but has no idea how to bring it up. All he can think about is how Byakuya trembled and yelled, drunk and angry and so unlike his normal calm self, and the bruise on his head aches.
“I know you’re there,” Byakuya says.
Makoto jumps, but doesn’t retreat. Byakuya doesn’t turn around, just like yesterday, but continues brewing rather than freezing in place.
“Leave me alone, Makoto.” His voice is still and clinical, like the way a doctor talks to you at the hospital. But such venom lurks behind his words, and Makoto shivers.
He wants to snap, but keeps his mouth shut. Arguing back will just cause a repeat of yesterday, and he can’t cope with that again. “I, uh, I’m not gonna argue with you. I just wanted to say… sorry for upsetting you.”
Of course, Makoto knows the apology is needed—he accidentally caused Byakuya’s illness to get outed without his consent—but an apology in return would be needed even more. But he doesn’t push it, simply stating his apology and standing there.
Byakuya doesn’t reply. After four minutes of horrifically awkward silence, Makoto realizes the reply is never going to come.
He sighs as he walks away.
On day three of Ignoring Makoto, Byakuya doesn’t get up at his usual time. Concerned, Makoto heads to the room Byakuya has made his own, and knocks.
“Go away,” comes Byakuya’s voice.
Makoto considers opening the door and demanding an explanation, but gives up. He retreats, that lump in his throat aching when he swallows.
Two hours later than normal, Byakuya gets up. Immediately, Makoto notices something isn’t right; Byakuya’s hands shake like they did when he was drunk, and his face is clammy, covered in a film of sweat. His eyebrows pinch into a frown, and his eyes seem weird in some way.
Is he getting sick?
Alcohol has withdrawal symptoms, right? Makoto doesn’t want to cause a fuss, but he should keep a close eye on Byakuya. After all, those symptoms can get really nasty.
Of course, Byakuya might just be sick. Or Makoto might be imagining things.
But he can’t get rid of the doubt, the pain that has been there ever since the moment he walked in on Byakuya in the kitchen. Kyouko should get home soon; hopefully she’ll know what to do.
But… if Makoto tells her, what will Byakuya do? Is it right to reveal something like this?
Shit, he doesn’t know!
His head hurts so badly, but painkillers won’t make it stop. His hands shake so much he can barely button his shirt. Sweat coats his skin, making him feel slimy and disgusting. And at totally random moments—
Get off of me!
Terror screams in Byakuya’s head and he has to bite his lip to stop it coming out of his mouth. Insects are crawling all over his legs, swarming his skin, and such horrific panic grips at his chest, suffocating him, as he reaches down—nearly falling over—to roll up his pants and get them the fuck off of his skin—
But there is nothing there. Byakuya tries to calm his breathing, feeling like a fool. Just what was that?
Is he hallucinating?
What is happening to him?
As Kyouko’s car drives down the long driveway, Makoto darts into the hallway, ready to greet her. Byakuya joins him, face waxy and a weird stiffness to his stance. He has his hands in his pockets, something he never does—he says it makes you look ‘common’—so it has to be to hide his tremors.
“Makoto,” Byakuya says, and even his voice sounds weird, thicker somehow. “If you over-blow our little spat to Kyouko and make wild accusations about my health, I will…” He trails off, and Makoto knows countless threats that could fill the gap.
Makoto swallows, his guts twisting into a knot. What should he do? Beside him, Byakuya dabs his face dry with his handkerchief, but he doesn’t look any better for it.
After what feels like forever, Kyouko approaches the house. Makoto tries to mask his discomfort, and plasters a grin on his face as he flings open the front door. “Kyouko! Welcome home!”
Kyouko gives one of her small smiles, pressing a quick kiss to his lips. “Thank you. It’s good to see you.”
Her behaviour doesn’t change, but Makoto senses something in his girlfriend; her detective senses are whirring in her brain—has she already noticed the horrible tension in the air. She approaches Byakuya, who gives her one of his best sneers—something he always does and they all know are affectionate—but his waxy skin and weird eyes ruin it.
“Good… afternoon, Byakuya,” Kyouko says, hesitating for just a second before returning to normal. Yeah, she knows.
He looks down at her, not moving. Makoto soon realises his problem; Byakuya always greets Kyouko and Makoto by putting three fingers under their chins to tilt their heads up, a surprisingly gentle action that makes it easier to kiss. But to do that, he’d risk showing her his shaky hands. But to not do it will make their detective girlfriend notice he’s trying to hide his hands. Either way, he’s screwed.
“Oh, apologies,” Byakuya says. “It’s good to have you back, Kyouko.”
She stares at him, frowning. “Are you sick? You look clammy.”
For a second, panic flickers in his eyes, but Byakuya manages to regain his composure. “Of course not. I simply didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
She doesn’t believe him. But Kyouko, apparently able to read the mood better than Makoto, doesn’t say anything. Perhaps she wants to wait until later? Makoto wishes he understood them both better.
“Oh,” Kyouko says, reaching into the stylish purple bag by her feet. “I brought you both a gift.”
And, to Makoto’s horror, she pulls out a bottle of posh American gin. He flinches, and even Byakuya’s face twitches. But they both mask it instantly, thanking her for the gift. Kyouko stares at them, and Makoto wants to hide.
Kyouko stares at them both, before heading upstairs to unpack. Makoto exhales shakily, and Byakuya looks like he wants to be sick. And he shoots Makoto a glare—and then Makoto’s the one who wants to throw up.
With Kyouko upstairs, Makoto gives Byakuya a terrified look before scuttling off after her. The moment he is alone, Byakuya’s façade cracks.
He unlocks his knees and his legs buckle, muscles shaking with effort. He sinks into a hunched position on the stairs, letting out along, shaky breath. His heart flutters even faster, and he gulps down fast, jagged breaths. With Makoto and especially Kyouko there, he had to force himself to breathe normally. But now he can breathe the way he needs to, and his headache eases slightly. But only slightly.
He can just about hide it from them, but for how long? He has never felt like this, and it hurts in ways he never knew possible. He awoke to palpations and shaking this morning, drenched in sweat, and he couldn’t get out of bed for hours, only dragging himself up when Makoto got suspicious. His hands shake violently, something he can’t hide without putting his hands in his pockets like a commoner. And at random moments, the skin on his legs starts to crawl—and for a few terrifying seconds, he thinks bugs are swarming all over his skin, before pulling up his pant legs and wanting to kick himself, because it was obviously just a hallucination.
But as the day has passed, it has all gotten so much worse, the tactile hallucinations almost constant and the tremors and pounding heart so severe he can’t even try to suppress them. And, most infuriatingly of all, irrational and pathetic anxiety clenches at his chest, and he doesn’t even know why he feels anxious. All in all, he feels truly dreadful.
Of course, Byakuya isn’t an idiot; he knows what these symptoms are from. But if he admits it, he will have to admit to being an alcoholic. Besides, plenty of people survive this, and he is a Togami, so he will be fine. He thinks.
He just has to keep it hidden from his partners. So, despite wanting to stay sat here forever, he forces himself to his feet and takes slow, laboured steps towards the kitchen. Sweat runs down his back, making his shirt stick to his skin, and Byakuya is very glad he chose a black shirt today.
When he makes it to the kitchen, he grabs the counter and bows his head, trying to catch his breath. His legs tremble, muscles burning, and the crawling starts again. Byakuya shudders, desperate to remind his idiotic brain that they are just hallucinations and—why won’t they get off his skin?!
Byakuya gasps, forcing the irrational thoughts away. It isn’t real. It isn’t real. It isn’t real.
The anxiety builds up, and it feels as though a vice crushes his chest.
Why won’t this end?
He’s a Togami. This. Doesn’t. Happen…
His knees give way and Byakuya falls, smacking his chin against the edge of the counter. Pain flares through his jaw, and he curls up on his side, clutching at his face.
What has he become? How can a Togami be slumped on the kitchen floor, nursing a bruised face as his body breaks down over nothing?
This is pathetic.
Makoto follows Kyouko into their bedroom, the knot in his stomach getting tighter and tighter. Byakuya looked so sick, and Kyouko noticed. Will she try to force it out of him? Should he tell her?
He still holds the bottle she brought, and all he can think of is all those bottles in the locked draw of Byakuya’s desk.
Kyouko sets down her bag on the bed and turns around. “Makoto? Are you all right?”
He flinches. He… can tell part of the truth, right? That’s not a lie, is it?
“Um… not really. Me and Byakuya… we had an argument, and he’s still being an ass about it,” he says, chuckling awkwardly—it’s horrifically hollow and he stops as soon as he starts.
Kyouko looks at him, studying him, and tilts her head slightly. “Makoto, Byakuya looks very unwell. Do you know something about his condition?”
His guts twist and cramp. He shakes his head.
She steps closer. “Are you telling the truth?”
“I…” Makoto swallows. “I—”
He gets cut off by a loud thud and a strangled yelp coming from somewhere downstairs. They both freeze, recognising the voice.
“Byakuya!” Kyouko says, and she hurries out of the room.
Makoto follows after her, almost tripping as he runs down the stairs, only to smack into Kyouko in the kitchen doorway. She stands totally still, and doesn’t flinch when Makoto collides with her.
“Whoa!” he splutters, but Kyouko throws up a hand to silence him.
He stares past her hand, and freezes too.
Byakuya lies in a heap on the kitchen floor, hands shaking violently as they prod at a large red patch on his chin. The sweat is back, coating his sallow face and he hunches in on himself, trembling. But, most disturbingly of all, his face is contorted into a horrific mix of pain and terror, eyes wide as his feet rub against the shins on his other legs, like he is trying to scratch himself. What the fuck…?
“Byakuya,” Kyouko says, keeping her voice soft as she approaches him.
Byakuya flinches, turning his head. “Get out.” His breaths come out as rough, jagged gasps, making him sound like someone who just went for a run.
“No, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing. I simply…” As if to prove his point, Byakuya shifts and tries to get to his feet, but he can’t even stand, his legs too weak—probably after forcing himself to walk around as normal all day. “Shit!” he gasps, and it’s still weird to hear him swear.
“Stay down,” Kyouko says, putting one hand on the small of his back and the other on his chest, trying to ease him back onto the floor.
But he swats at her, his fingers making hard contact with her gloved hand; however, it doesn’t hurt Kyouko at all, instead bending his finger backwards hard enough to make him grunt in pain.
“Byakuya, calm down,” she says, still trying to lower him but coming up against resistance.
“You’re the one m-making assumptions,” Byakuya says, and he actually stutters.
Kyouko stares at him. “What assumptions have I made? Please enlighten me.”
“I, you… stop acting like I’m s-sick,” he says—fuck, another stutter! “I simply fell over.”
Byakuya glares at her, and Kyouko continues to study him.
And then, without warning, Kyouko gasps. “Oh no…”
“What?” Makoto says.
“Makoto, call an ambulance.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Byakuya says, but he can’t stop shaking and shaking.
“Makoto, do it. I think he has delirium tremens,” she says, and there’s another brief flicker of terror in Byakuya’s eyes.
“O-Okay,” Makoto says, running out of the room. Those words ring a bell somewhere in his mind—but only as he dials the number for the emergency services does it hit him.
That’s the full name for the DTs, that thing that alcoholics sometimes get when you withdraw.
Makoto holds the phone to his ear, requesting an ambulance.
It can kill you.
Is Byakuya going to die?
And if he does, it is Makoto’s fault for keeping this hidden?
Shit shit shit!
As Makoto hurries out of the kitchen, Kyouko’s gaze returns to Byakuya. Her face stays calm and controlled, her mask still in place, but her heart pounds and cramping nausea rolls in her guts. She doesn’t show it, but she’s freaking out inside. And the thing is, how can she not freak out? Her partner, her stoic, grumpy and somewhat aloof partner, is slumped on the kitchen floor, sweating and shaking as what can only be the delirium tremens attack his body.
Byakuya’s bangs stick to his forehead with sweat, his shirt clings to his body, and his toes keep scratching at his legs, all whilst his hands shake and the most horrific panic contorts his clammy face into a grimace of pain and fear.
How is she supposed to cope with this? If this is indeed the DTs, then Byakuya is an alcoholic going through sudden withdrawal. And that raises so many questions—
How long has Byakuya been an alcoholic?
How did he manage to hide it from her, a detective?
Why didn’t he feel like he could tell her and Makoto about his problem?
Why did he stop drinking so suddenly when everyone knows going cold turkey is bad for you?
Is this what Makoto was trying to keep hidden from her?
—Questions that clutter her brain until she can’t think properly and she wants to scream but she doesn’t know how to, and even if she could she wouldn’t because she has to stay calm and care for her seriously sick partner.
Kyouko takes a slow breath and steadies her hands, not wanting them to tremble and give away her fear. She stares down at Byakuya, and tries her best to give him a small yet reassuring smile.
“Byakuya, an ambulance should be here soon,” she says, just about able to hear Makoto frantically babbling to someone from the emergency services on the phone in the hallway.
“I don’t…” Byakuya’s voice comes out stilted, the shaking even making his voice hitch. He speaks slowly, like a person who just suffered a head injury and now deals with concussion. “I don’t… need an ambulance…”
Kyouko swallows hard. Even in this state, Byakuya won’t admit it.
“You do. Byakuya, do you understand the situation you’re in?”
“D-Don’t patronise me,” he mutters, glaring at her. “I—” Byakuya cuts himself off with a yelp, his leg jerking as though a bug just landed on his foot. He gasps for breath, such raw terror in his shuddering breaths, and Kyouko can’t stop staring at his wide, panicky eyes. “Shit!” He hisses. “G-Get off…!”
“Byakuya?” Kyouko says, and as she follows his stare to his shaking legs, she understands. There is nothing on his leg, but Byakuya seems to genuinely feel it. When she read about the DTs once, she learned that many people going through it develop tactile hallucinations, most of which are reported to feel like bugs crawling on their skin. “Byakuya, there’s nothing there. Please calm down.”
Byakuya’s head snaps to stare at her, and he glares. Swallowing hard, he stops scratching at his leg with his foot, and mutters, “I, I knew th-that!” But his voice lacks its usual venom, and he just seems… pitiful. “A-Anyway, I’m not g-going to the hospital.”
“This isn’t up for discussion, Byakuya,” she says. “You are seriously sick. Delirium tremens can kill you. You need intensive treatment.”
He deepens the glare, and opens his mouth to speak when—
“They said they’ll be here in twenty minutes!” Makoto cries, running back into the kitchen. He drops to his knees beside Kyouko, and joins her in staring at their very sick partner. “Oh, sorry, did I cut you off?”
Byakuya just keeps glaring, but then sighs and gives up. Wait—gives up? When does Byakuya ever drop an argument?
He stops trying to prop his head up and slumps fully on the ground, the back of his head resting against the cold tiled floor. His glasses sit askew, but he doesn’t correct them. “N-No.”
“Thank you for phoning, Makoto,” she says.
Makoto stares at Byakuya, clasping his trembling hands together. “H-How’re you doing, Byakuya?”
Again, Kyouko expects Byakuya to argue with her, but he simply glares at Makoto before closing his eyes. Is he too tired to argue? Is this even anything more than stubbornness? Or has something distracted him from his petty spat with Kyouko?
“Byakuya?” Makoto says, tilting his head slightly.
Byakuya swallows and moistens his lips, the entire action slow and clearly expending much of his limited energy. “I heard you. Sh-Shut up.”
Makoto blinks, and glances at Kyouko. She sighs and puts her hand on Makoto’s shoulder, trying to explain Byakuya’s behaviour without speaking. Judging by Makoto’s continued confusion, it doesn’t work.
“Were you two fighting?”
“Oh for…!” Byakuya hisses, his eyes snapping open. He tries to sit up, swatting at her when Kyouko offers assistance, but ends up propped on his elbows, grimacing with effort. Sweat trickles down his cheeks; you could mistake the drops of sweat for tears. “Shut up, M-Makoto.”
Makoto gulps, clasping his hands together. Kyouko stares at him, watching him fight back an outburst before letting out a long sigh. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but Makoto has always been very good at giving in when people are mad at him.
Byakuya sighs shakily, letting his eyelids droop. He pants for breath, and his upper arms start to tremble, tired muscles overworked from propping him up. Certain he will smack his head against the floor, Kyouko darts closer and cups the back of Byakuya’s head in her hands, taking the surprisingly heavy weight for him. He stiffens, but gets distracted from yelling when his arms go and he slumps heavily back to the ground; Kyouko supports his head as he smacks his shoulders against the floor, letting his head rest carefully against the tiles.
Only once she has let go does Byakuya snap at her. “D-Don’t touch me! I can…”
Byakuya trails off. At first, Kyouko thinks he simply forgot what to say, but as she stares at him… she hears the sharp, shuddering intake of breath. And when she glances at Byakuya’s face, that expression of terror is back, only this time he clumsily rolls onto his side and curls in on himself, a hand braced against his chest.
His already shallow, jagged breaths become even more erratic, and Byakuya screws his eyes up, rasping when he inhales and spluttering when he puffs the air straight back out again.
“Byakuya?” Makoto says, tentative.
“I…” Byakuya gasps, and his hand moves with surprising speed, lashing out blindly. He locates Makoto’s arm and clamps his hand around Makoto’s wrist, squeezing hard enough to make Makoto wince. “I… don’t want to d-die…”
He’s shuddering and gasping and shaking, drenched in sweat as his hands tremble and heat radiates from his feverish skin—and he clings to Makoto’s wrist as though Makoto will vanish if he dares let go.
“B-Byakuya?” Makoto whispers, shooting Kyouko a helpless glance.
“I… I’m g-going to d-die,” Byakuya mumbles, bringing his knees up to his chest until he curls into a ball—well, a ball with his arm outstretched, holding onto Makoto with enough force to bruise. His normally well-spoken and somewhat pretentious style of speech has vanished, leaving him stumbling over his words, barely able to speak a few words before having to heave in another ragged breath. “I… I…”
At a loss for what to say, Kyouko shuffles closer to Makoto and slips her arm around his waist. Helpless, he stares at her with tears in his eyes.
She has vague memories about reading about an ‘impending sense of doom’ that can hit people suffering the DTs, but as Byakuya panics and Makoto fights back tears, Kyouko realises it would be futile to voice this.
So she just stares at Byakuya and holds Makoto close, longing for the ambulance to arrive.
He drifts in an out of consciousness, floating in a sea of nothingness. He’s so hot, disgusting sweat making his skin damp and his clothes stick to him. Tremors wrack his body, his hands shaking. Horrific panic stabs his chest, and he keeps getting horribly strong thoughts about how this is the end and he is going to die and…
People talk to him, but he doesn’t recognise the voices…
Something sharp stabs the back of his hand…
It’s so bright, the light attacking him even with his eyes shut…
He’s so groggy…
He shakes and shudders and panics…
Where is he?
Where are Makoto and Kyouko?
What is happening…?
Makoto has always hated waiting rooms. He hates the stress, the lack of privacy, the boredom… all aspects of sitting in a hospital waiting room both infuriate and terrify him, and he never knows what to do with himself.
And, of course, that applies right now. As he and Kyouko sit in the waiting room in the hospital’s emergency department, he smacks a magazine he was attempting to read back onto the table, unable to concentrate on it. Letting out a shaky sigh, Makoto sits back down beside Kyouko, who writes something in her little black notebook. He doesn’t want to pry, so Makoto just slips his shoes off and tucks his feet up onto his chair, trying to get comfortable. It doesn’t help.
It can only have been forty minutes since he last saw Byakuya, but it feels like forever. When the ambulance arrived, Kyouko shoved Makoto towards the ambulance they were loading Byakuya onto (he looked half dead as he slumped on the stretcher, weak and floppy and shaking); he followed her plan and climbed in after his partner, and rode in the ambulance beside Byakuya. Throughout the journey, he became more and more groggy, but he couldn’t stop panicking and only calmed a little when he grabbed Makoto’s wrist again.
When they arrived at the emergency room, Byakuya had fainted, and he looked so horribly still as they wheeled him away. Kyouko, having followed the ambulance in the car, arrived soon after, and slipped her arm around his waist when she saw how wobbly he was. And she took charge, talking to the staff at the desk to inform them she and Makoto are his next of kin, before leading Makoto to a seat before he could collapse.
And he’s been here ever since, wondering if it’s possible to have a heart attack when you’re only twenty four. There has to be a cause for the horrible pain in his chest.
Makoto stares down at his wrist, where Byakuya’s incredibly tight grip left bright red marks when he let go. Even this soon afterwards, Makoto can see the beginnings of bruises, and he pulls down his sleeve to hide it.
He can’t stop thinking about what started this whole mess: Byakuya being drunk. If Makoto hadn’t confronted him and caused an argument, would this even have happened? Was this all his fault? His breathing hitches, and Makoto wonders if he’s going to puke.
“Makoto…” Kyouko says, her voice soft. As though cutting through the tangled thoughts inside his brain, she clasps his hand and squeezes gently. He can’t meet her eyes, but he just knows there must be a soft smile on her face to match her tone. “I think you need to tell me the full story of the argument you had with Byakuya.”
Makoto flinches, something cramping in his guts. Can she read minds? “Wh-What?”
“You told me Byakuya was acting strangely because he was angry with you. But given what has happened to him, anger couldn’t possibly be the only thing wrong with him. Makoto, please tell me.” Ignoring a scathing look from a woman on the other side of the room, Kyouko places her fingers under his chin and tilts his head up, just like Byakuya always does. “Whatever happened, I promise I won’t be mad.”
He stares at her, crumbling under her gaze. Makoto swallows and sighs, hugging his knees to his chest. “I… We did argue, really. I… I just went into the kitchen three days ago and I realised Byakuya was a bit drunk—just trembling and a tiny bit groggy, but it stands out with him. I asked if he was drunk but he kept denying it and then it hit me—was he an alcoholic and why did he hide it from me and he was so pissed off but I was just so scared.” His eyes fill with tears, a painful lump forming in his throat. “I, I ran into his study and the locked draw was open and he had so many bottles of spirits, and then he came in and shoved me and I hit my head on the wall and I said he’s an alcoholic but he kept denying it a-and…”
Makoto trails off, his voice cracking. He blinks, and tears dribble down his cheeks.
“Take your time,” Kyouko whispers, offering him a tissue.
He knows other people are staring at him and can see him crying, but Makoto can’t bring himself to care. He sniffs, wiping his eyes with the tissue.
“He said he was gonna prove he’s not an alcoholic b-by throwing out all our alcohol and not drinking—‘cause if he was an alcoholic, he’d get withdrawal symptoms, right? He made me pour all his spirits down the drain and our poor housekeeper threw out all our wine on his orders. A-And then he stormed off and ignored me for three days.”
When he mentions the wine, Kyouko’s eyes widen slightly; she’s probably devastated to lose their collection, but pushing back those emotions to worry about the bigger issue right now.
“I… see,” Kyouko says.
“Today he got up late and… well… you know the rest,” he says, offering a weak chuckle as more tears run down his face.
“Thank you for telling me that, Makoto,” Kyouko says, squeezing his hand.
He sniffs. “It was my fault, right?”
Kyouko hesitates. “I suppose… technically, you were the instigator of this incident—”
Makoto gasps, face contorting as he lets out a sob.
“But!” Kyouko adds, her free hand moving to press a finger to his lips. “You need to remember he is an alcoholic, Makoto. At any given time, anyone could have caught him drunk and started an argument. This would have happened at another time, so… you can’t blame yourself. Besides… if this happened at a later date, he… might not be so lucky.”
“H-Huh?” Makoto says, sniffing.
“Do you know much about delirium tremens?”
“Not really. Just that… alcoholics get them when they go cold turkey. They can kill you, right?”
“Yes. However, if the person is not taken to hospital, the death rate shoots very high. Because of the circumstances this time, we managed to get him to hospital. However, if he went into the DTs when alone…”
Makoto shivers. “He’d die?”
“The chances would be very high,” she says, nodding. “And even if he didn’t go into withdrawal, alcoholism can kill. In a roundabout way, causing all of this now means Byakuya’s alcoholism has been exposed at a very young age. He will probably never get long term liver damage, for example. Makoto… everything about this is distressing, but… I want you to know that you should not blame yourself. Promise me that.”
He stares at her, at the way her eyes shine with suppressed tears and the tension in her face and the way her hand trembles slightly against his own. Tears stream down his face, and his breathing shudders as he whispers, “O-Okay.”
And the thing is, when Kyouko says it, he knows it’s true. Everything is going to turn out okay, he just knows it.
It has to.
Kyouko holds Makoto’s hand, walking with purpose as he drags his feet. After over two hours, a nurse came to tell them Byakuya is stable and conscious (but he’s sedated so very, very groggy), and gave them permission to visit him. And of course he wants to see Byakuya… but at the same time, his feet drag and anxiety stabs at him and part of him wants to run away. Kyouko reassured him he didn’t fuck everything up, but what if Byakuya hates him now?
Still, he can’t run when Kyouko grasps his hand so tightly. Makoto swallows hard and, when Kyouko opens the door, he follows her.
Byakuya is in a side room, all the lights switched on to make the room almost painfully bright. Their partner lies on the bed, an IV stuck into the back of his hand, electrodes stuck all over his bare chest and his glasses not on his face. Most of the sweatiness has gone, but his hair still sticks to him, clumped together with dry sweat, and the trembling hasn’t stopped either. His eyes look weird without his glasses on, and for a few seconds Makoto finds himself wondering just how bad Byakuya’s vision is without him, before getting over such a stupid thought.
Kyouko approaches the bed and sits on a plastic chair, gesturing for Makoto to do the same. He sinks onto the uncomfortable chair, still holding her hand. “Byakuya? It’s Kyouko and Makoto.”
Slowly, like he’s moving underwater, Byakuya turns his head in their direction. His eyes are half shut, eyeballs glassy and unfocused; the nurse wasn’t lying when she said he had been sedated.
But he doesn’t question it; earlier, when he asked Kyouko what this treatment entailed, she explained it to him. So he learned that the patient gets sedated to help them calm down from their fear and tremors, that they keep the room bright to help avoid visual hallucinations, and that they give the person IV fluids to help hydrate them. And… they just play a waiting game until the patient’s body goes back to normal.
So he understands why Byakuya looks so sleepy… but it’s still a bit odd. Even when he’s nearly falling asleep watching TV with him and Kyouko, Byakuya never looks quite like this. They must be powerful drugs.
Byakuya exhales slowly and, when he speaks, his tongue flops about inside his mouth, making it very, very difficult for him to form words. “K-Kyouko…” he mumbles, voice thick and very, very quiet.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
Makoto expects a sarcastic, scathing response, but Byakuya simply makes a vaguely affirmative murmur. Perhaps he’s too tired to get grumpy with her?
“Byakuya, I don’t want to do this when you’re so unwell, but I need to bring this up as soon as possible. I apologize.” Kyouko sighs, leaning closer to Byakuya.
He frowns, confused. “H-Huh…?”
Makoto stares at Kyouko; is she really going to bring this up now?
“Byakuya, you are an alcoholic, correct?”
Byakuya lets out a small gasp, screwing his eyes up.
“It is nothing to be ashamed of, and we’re not angry with you,” Kyouko says. “But… you need to tell me the truth. No matter how much you want to, you can’t deal with this on your own anymore.”
“H-Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this now?” Makoto suggests.
“I know how you feel, but we need to. Byakuya, please, open up to us.”
Again, Makoto expects to snap or sneer or tell her to fuck off, just like when Makoto brought this up with him three days ago. But Byakuya simply lets out a slow, shuddering breath, not opening his eyes.
“Byakuya?” Kyouko says.
“You… you’ll n-never let… this go, c-correct?” Byakuya mutters.
“Huh?” Makoto says.
“I…” Byakuya sighs heavily, turning his head away from them. “I… give up.”
Makoto’s eyes widen. That went so much easier than he thought.
Kyouko nods despite Byakuya not being able to see. “Thank you for telling us. May I ask… how long this has been going on?”
Byakuya swallows, frowning. “F-Fourteen.”
“Fourteen?” Makoto mumbles, confused. And then it hits him. “Ten years?!”
“Shh, Makoto,” Kyouko whispers, squeezing his hand. Raising his voice, she says, “Byakuya, thank you. Now… When you’re feeling better, would you be open to a discussion about… therapy?”
Byakuya flinches slightly, but sighs again. His eyes flicker open, heavy eyelids drooping, and manages to look at them. His frown deepens, but he just looks… weak. “I… suppose s-so…”
Kyouko smiles, and Makoto finds an embarrassing grin crossing his face.
“You’re so brave, Byakuya,” he says. “I’m proud of you.”
“F-Fool,” Byakuya mutters, but his voice lacks any venom. “Now… I need to sleep.”
And he closes his eyes and is asleep in less than a minute. Makoto takes his gaze from his sleeping partner and stares at Kyouko, squeezing her hand.
“Is he… gonna be okay?” he whispers.
“He promised to think about therapy, and his treatment is going well…” Kyouko smiles. “I think it will be slow and difficult… but a positive end might be in sight.”
Makoto’s eyes sting, and he gives Kyouko a kiss. When the tears spill over, he buries his face into her neck, sobbing in sheer relief.
The last three days have been horrible, and Byakuya is seriously sick, but… everything really is going to be okay.