There was something off putting to Keiji about sitting alone with Sou in the art gallery. Kurumada and Hinako were investigating a room over, getting a little impatient with this game, since they had an impending time limit. Keiji had found Sou like this, staring at the portrait of Midori with an intensity he had never seen from the other man before. That’s when he had sent Kurumada and Hinako off towards the elevators, after promising the former he’d get Sou moving.
So there they were. Keiji leaned back on the sofa, head resting on the backrest as he looked over at Sou, whose legs crossed over one another and looked distinctly lost in his own mind. Keiji wanted to decipher the mysteries of what was going on in the other’s head. Reach out and grasp his heart and learn everything he could about the stress lines under his eyes and the way his jaw tensed with unspoken trauma.
Keiji’s gaze traveled towards Sou’s hand, resting at his side and hesitantly hovered his own above it. He thought about time spent sitting behind the rest of the crowd, hands linked behind their backs in secret. He thought of small touches and soft words shared behind closed doors. He thought of Sou’s genuine laugh, loud and breathy, and how he would shyly cover his mouth each time. He wanted to know Sou better than he knew himself. A desperate, selfish desire.
Except he couldn’t. Not anymore.
He drew his hand back and rested it on his neck. The Sou he had only just been starting to know was gone. Lost in the second main game, as he watched Kanna die and something malicious and spiteful replaced everything he had once been. The walls around his heart were thicker than ever before, and his defences far more dangerous.
Whatever there had been between them had been completely severed after Kanna’s death. Sou had turned away from them, and what had finally turned back was pure hatred wearing that same mask. Their jabs had become sharper and more poisonous, no longer a playful undertone of two people unable to communicate honestly. There was intent to hurt now more than ever, because how could Sou ever forgive him? How could Keiji let him. Hating each other was the far simpler option.
But still, Keiji couldn’t leave him like this. It was for everyone’s survival, if anything. They all needed to work together, and Sou obviously knew more about Midori than he was letting on. There was a history that was haunting him, and maybe looking further into it would be the best option for all of them.
“What was the real Sou Hiyori like?” Keiji finally spoke up, and Sou turned those distant, empty eyes on him. “You two seemed pretty close.”
Sou blinked just barely processing what Keiji had said. His mind was too busy grappling with current events, stems and thorns piercing through Kanna’s body, and events long in the past. Seeing Midori had brought them rushing forward, and it was a struggle not to regress back to himself before the game. Back to when he was Shin Tsukimi and Sou Hiyori was alive and well and his closest friend.
Back to when he spent every single day afraid.
Shin’s mind was back in locked bathrooms, leaning against the door and covering his mouth to muffle the sobs. The only sounds that could be heard were his ragged breaths and his heart beating so hard in his chest that the blood pumping in his ears was roaring. He didn’t want to leave, he didn’t want to go back out there where Sou was waiting but he couldn’t hide here forever. Sou would wonder why he was taking so long and he didn’t want to explain his moment of pathetic weakness to that smiling face.
It was stupid, anyways. Sou hadn’t done anything, Shin had just been getting overwhelmed by everything. It was just, sometimes his friend would jokingly poke at his insecurities with a smile on his face. He’d laugh at how Shin struggled to make friends and how pathetically shy he could be. Other times, he would ignore Shin’s boundaries, sitting too close or physically grabbing his arm to stop him from leaving. What had set him off this time was when Shin had been trying to figure out a new program and Sou had slammed his computer shut to get his attention.
The way his smile widened like it always did when Shin flinched or showed any sign of distress had left him feeling shaky and he was overcome with the desperate urge to get out of there.
“I need to go to the bathroom!” He cried out, voice cracking at the end.
Sou’s fond expression as he looked at Shin’s trembling form hadn’t left his mind. Even when he had finally collected himself and left the bathroom to Sou waiting patiently with a smile and a wave. To be honest, it never truly did.
And then abruptly, he remembered the feeling of a knife against his neck. The Death Game hadn't been the first time he'd been afraid he was going to die. The cold metal sent chills through his body and Shin was afraid to even shake in case it’d dig into his throat by accident. Sou had leaned in closer, enough that the cold was replaced with the feeling of his warm breath against Shin’s face. His expression was blank, mouth a neutral line and his eyes piercing, and Shin didn’t know what was going through his friend’s head. In this moment, he was fully willing to believe that Sou would slit his throat and watch him bleed, just because he could.
Shin had begged and cried until Sou finally pulled away with a laugh. His smile was back and he closed his eyes with mirth.
“Don’t worry, Shin. I was only teasing you.” Sou said, tapping Shin on the nose in a playful manner. “Though I am hurt. You really think I would kill my beloved Shin just like that?”
Shame and guilt swirled inside Shin’s gut in an upsetting cocktail. Of course it was just a trick, Sou’s jokes were often morbid and a little intense. He should’ve known better, Sou wouldn’t actually hurt him. He was his friend, the only person who took interest in him and invited him to his house every day. No matter how pitiful and awkward Shin was, Sou didn’t mind, he stuck around anyway.
So Shin plastered a shaky smile on his face, but he didn’t have the strength to laugh along. The sick feeling in his stomach was too strong for that.
Then, late in Sou’s life and close to his eventual death, there were the points where Shin would just emotionally shut down. He had known Sou for a long time now, and he had never gotten better at handling him. It got to the point where Shin would feel terrified even just seeing his face. It was all so much that the last resort his body had was to go completely numb, and feel slightly disconnected from reality and far away. Sou had hated that reaction most of all.
Even through the haze in that moment, he could recall Sou tightening the hold on his wrist, digging his fingernails painfully into his skin. Sou hand yanked him forward roughly, his expression without it’s usual smile, and distantly, he knew that meant danger. That he had done something to upset Sou, so he had just resigned himself to his fate. It was easier to wait it out.
He was not expecting Sou to loosen his grip, letting go of his wrist entirely to instead gingerly cup his cheeks in both hands. Sou’s face had fallen to an expression Shin was not used to ever seeing on the other’s face.
For the first time since Shin had met him, Sou Hiyori had looked sorrowful.
“Do you hate me, Shin?” Sou had asked, and that had sent Shin violently crashing back to reality.
Panic wasn’t a new sensation to Shin, but this felt different. Frenzied and desperate, like there was more at stake here than ever before. All the times before had just been due to him getting worked up over small things that built up, and being too sensitive. Now, he had been the one to hurt Sou, and that feeling was suffocating and horrible.
“No! No, I could never hate you!” Shin’s words tumbled out into a desperate mess. “I’m sorry Sou. You’re the most important person in the world to me.”
In his panic, he had ended up clinging onto Sou’s wrists, from where his hands still rested on his face. His throat felt tight and his eyes stung. He cared about Sou, he cared about him so, so much. Even the thought of hating him left Shin reeling.
He didn’t know what he’d do if Sou left him all alone.
After a few agonizing seconds of silence, Sou finally smiled at him, and light returned to Shin’s world. Sou removed his hands from Shin’s face, loosening the grip on his wrists, and then interlocking their fingers together. Shin took in all the comfort he could from the gentle action, from the warm feeling of having another person hold his hand and ground him from his rising breakdown. This was the softest Sou had ever been with him, and Shin felt like a starved man finally being given food. Sou leaned forward and touched their foreheads together, and that contact was like a physical lifeline.
“That’s good to hear.” Sou had finally said, before letting go of their hands and turning away.
Shin could still feel the lingering heat on his skin. Proof that Sou really did care about him, despite everything A building desperation for that kind of comfort ached in his chest, but he ignored it. Instead, he trailed after Sou obediently, willing to follow him to the ends of the earth.
Sou Hiyori was the most important person in the world to him.
But thinking back on all of it, those memories had a sour taste to them. Shin curled his fingers into fists, and his hands shook from the force of the action. It was certain that his knuckles were white and he must have broken skin with his fingernails but he didn’t care. He couldn’t care about anything like that.
He hated Sou Hiyori. He hated him so fucking much that it swirled deep and sickly inside him and festered in his mind like a long dead corpse. He wanted so badly to be the person to kill him.
He knew Sou Hiyori was cruel and cunning, and he had come to terms with how manipulative his old friend could be. Shin Tsukimi was kind and stupid, and it made sense why he was doomed to die. That’s why he had been forced to become like Sou, no matter how sick the thought made him. That was his decision.
Midori had not given it to him. He had taken the name Sou Hiyori because he chose to, and that alone.
With those thoughts driving him, he finally managed to force his mind to the present. His eyes looked over Keiji’s face, and he felt something akin to rage building inside him. He could make out what almost seemed like worry in Keiji’s face. He didn’t need or want anyone’s pity, least of all him.
“He’s no one.” Sou responded through bared teeth. “Just another obstacle in the way.”
Keiji raised an eyebrow at that. Hiding his building concern with casual disbelief and curiosity. He could see the way Sou’s face had shadowed over, a dangerous look in his eyes. It felt unsafe, even cruel, to keep pushing him, but he needed to know more, to understand what Sou had been through and what they were dealing with.
Or maybe need was too strong of a word. Maybe he just wanted to.
“We all have to deal with him now.” Keiji said, not letting Sou avoid the question. “The more we know, the easier it will be for all of us.”
At that, Sou had suddenly gotten to his feet and turned on him. His smile was wide and disturbingly fake, and there was a manic energy in his eyes.. He uncurled his fingers and gripped his scarf with a new kind of desperation, before violently tugging it against his own throat.
“Have you ever thought that you don't have any right to know, Keiji?” Sou said, tinged with hysterics. “I don’t owe any of you anything! ”
Keiji didn’t have any response to that. He just stared dumbly, taken aback by the intensity in Sou’s words. There was something all too familiar about how broken Sou sounded that struck a chord somewhere deep inside him. Anger. Frustration. Hatred. It’s what had pushed him to watch Megumi die.
Guilt buzzed through Keiji’s skin, and an apology was sitting at the tip of his tongue, but he bit down on it. There was no point in even trying, Sou wouldn’t want to hear it anyways. The two of them stayed like that for what felt like an eternity. Sweat uncomfortably rolled down Keiji’s neck, and he could see Sou shaking.
All of a sudden, Sou bolted. Like a cornered animal he made a beeline for the nearest exit, the boxing ring. Practiced instincts were the only reason Keiji reacted in time, and he threw himself out of his chair towards him. He grabbed Sou’s arm, stopping him before it was too late.
“Let go of me!” Sou cried, thrashing violently in his grip but not able to put up much of a fight.
“Sou, remember the dummies.” Keiji said in a forceful voice, dragging Sou back into the room. “Kurumada will die if you go that way.”
“I don’t care! I don’t fucking care!” Sou cried out, still struggling. “I need to go to the bathroom. I-I need to get out of here!”
Sou dropped to his knees, and Keiji let go of him in surprise. Sou buried his face in his hands, and Keiji watched as his body trembled. A sob tore through him and filled the silence between them in the empty art gallery. That’s when Keiji realized he had gone too far.
Crouching down, Keiji gently rubbed Sou’s back while he cried. He traced gentle, calming circles into his jacket while Sou’s body wracked with sobs underneath his hand. Watching the other break down left something feeling raw and painful in his heart, but he pressed it down until nothing was left. Now wasn’t the time, he’d deal with it later.
“I hate him. I hate him so much.” Sou snarled to himself in his shaking voice. “I’m going to fucking kill him.”
And then, without warning, he turned that glare on Keiji. A cold fire burning behind his eyes that froze Keiji in place and filled his veins with ice. It had been so long since he had felt this much hatred directed at him, and he had never expected it from Sou of all people. That somehow made it hurt more in a way he didn’t want to admit
“I’ll kill you too.” Sou said with words dripping with so much venom it made Keiji’s skin crawl.
Keiji’s hand dropped from Sou’s back. It took a few seconds for him to recover, to be able to ignore the way his body felt like he was dying. An easygoing smile spread across his face, and he rubbed his neck like always. Sou hated him, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t.
“That’s not very threatening from the guy with a zero percent win rate.” It’s a low blow, but an easy one. Anything to not feel crushed under the weight of Sou’s words.
Though, for something that had caused Sou so much distress from day one, he barely reacted. There was something empty behind the burning hatred in his eyes. Like he was no longer afraid to die. Maybe wanting to make them all suffer was the only thing keeping him alive at this point. It was a sad thought, but not one he could afford to dwell on.
Keiji watched as Sou got to his feet after that. He wiped dust from his pants and turned away from Keiji to wipe at his eyes. After that, he squared his shoulders and gripped his scarf in a familiar way. Turning around, he faced Keiji with a friendly smile that couldn’t be anymore fake and placed a hand on his beanie. It honestly made Keiji feel sick.
“I’m willing to play nice for now, though.” Sou grinned, still not able to hide the dangerous look in his cold, blue eyes that made the exhausted bags seem all that much deeper. “Don’t worry about Midori. Just leave him to me.”
With that, Sou turned around and walked towards the direction of the elevators, leaving Keiji all alone. Getting to his feet, Keiji looked at the paintings adorning the wall, ignoring the red, distorted hand that reached for him out of the corner of his eye. At first, he took in the picture of Midori, but then his eyes traveled to the happy, smiling picture of Sou from when he was still Shin.
He put his hand against his face and laughed. It was his usual deep laughter, mixed in with a bit of hysterics. He laughed and laughed because it felt like if he stopped, he would start crying and he couldn’t do that, not now. He could deal with it later.
Not for the first time, he wished he could have met Sou before the Death Game, but that was pointless. He could wish all he wanted, that he had never pulled the trigger, or never even became a policeman in the first place, but that wouldn’t change reality.
He took a deep breath and didn’t think about the cold hands slowly wrapping themselves around his throat. Instead, he concluded that it’d been long enough for Sou to have left with Kurumada, and went towards the elevators as well, where Hinako was waiting. He could deal with all this later, right now they had a trial to complete.
…And while writhing on the ground as his past catches up to him, and he threatens to drown in his memories, he looks up from his hands and knees directly into Sou’s eyes. This is when he finally understands. He learns what the real Sou Hiyori was like, and it adds to the fury burning through him like the white hot ache in his chest in between gasped breaths.
He was going to fucking kill Midori.