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you've haunted me all my life

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It starts on a night when he is young, naive, and restless; he has not yet felt the pain of loss, the pain of regrets. Then he is free, then he is just a child.

Satoru Mashita sees, from the corner of his eye, a man he does not recognize. The man is indistinct and far away; all he can make out is thin legs and a trench coat. When he turns, the man disappears. But from that day, the phantom appears and reappears, seemingly at random. He is never far away, but never close enough to get a good look.

Years pass and the man does not leave. As he grows up, the man does not age; he seems frozen in time, tall and willowy, but never frightening.

The world seems to stop when he sees a person in front of him that almost looks like the shade that haunts his vision, but it was imprecise. The tangible being in front of Mashita was shorter, not as thin or gaunt. He becomes a detective anyway; the figure does not leave the corners of his vision.

Still, he forgets the man, in time. There are many shadows that pass the corners of his vision, now. Are they victims of crimes unsolved? Are they people he arrested that were later convicted? He does not have the answer. He learns to ignore them, and the clouds left on his vision. The man is among them, clearer than the others; and yet, brushed aside regardless.

His mentor falls victim to a cult, leaving nothing behind but a coat and an apprentice with a penchant for a particular brand of cigarettes and whiskey. The man in Mashita’s vision grows clearer- not to the man he expected, of course. Instead of his mentor standing behind him, it is a stranger. He wishes he could turn and get a better look, but when he tries, the shadowed figure disappears again, just as it always does.

Even as he is thrown unwillingly out of his career, the figure does not change to the man Mashita anticipated (and privately wished for), but instead begins to fade. He is left to wander the halls of an abandoned elementary school alone, inner wrist burning indiscriminately.

He does not recognize the corporeal form of the phantom when it falls into the basement of the school. He does not know that he has forgotten that such a phantom existed at all. Even still, he learns that the shadow is named Yashiki.

Later that same night, when the monster is gone and his memories begin to return, he sees the shadow in his vision again. There is a difference: when he turns to look, this time the shadow does not leave. And in that moment, it begins to make sense.

Maybe that is why he does not leave with the children in the morning- after two decades of haunting his vision, Mashita is almost desperate to learn why.

He does not find an answer in that forest where his mentor died. In that forest are only more questions, more curses, and more pain. The morning on the third day, he leaves. Not forever, he promises silently to the rangy man he has come to know. He does notice, however, that the shadow has disappeared from his vision once more. This time, it’s likely for good.

Months pass; there are no good excuses to stop by, so Mashita doesn’t. As it is, he finds that he is busy most of the time with cases, none of which seem to lead him back to that mansion. Until, of course, the fortune teller appears at his office.

“I have a job for you,” she says. “There is a spirit in K City.”

Whether he believes in it or not, he does not hesitate in taking the case. He also does not hesitate in heading straight for the mansion.

His breath catches ever so slightly as he steps inside, though he is not sure from what. Mashita stares across the familiar front hall and into the face of the man who haunted his vision for most of his life; it is somewhat less gaunt than he remembered, his eyes not as hollow and lifeless. 

Mashita hears the sound of his own voice telling him about the potential spirit. He falters for only a split second- he wants to ask for a partnership in the investigation, but refrains. He asks for Yashiki to take care of it. He may not admit it, but a lingering fear remained in regards to spirits and purifying them.

“Come with me,” Yashiki tells him.

“Meet me tomorrow at 8,” he replies.

He does not go into the hotel for two days. Partially it is fear; most of it is other work. He does run a full agency, after all.

The two enter the abandoned hotel. There is silence except to point out the unusual amount of cobwebs in the building. Mashita feels an urge to reach for his partner’s hand; he doesn’t give in to it.

He mostly watches as the other man investigates- he’d never been particularly good at determining which pieces of debris would be useful (as it was literal garbage in almost every case). Still, he is validated once when he slaps the man from the panic, and a second time as the unruly high schooler from the second night appears and nearly severely injures them both.

Mashita is worried as they carry the now-unconscious teenager out of the building and to his car. He has mentioned several headaches, and another one strikes as they prepare to leave. He knows that the teen needs medical attention, and anything else would have to be taken care of later.

“Go home,” Mashita commands him.

He doesn’t argue.

The worrying feeling does not dissipate as he drives to the hospital and leaves the younger one in the care of the previously-marked doctor. He begins to drive home, but the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up. Almost without thinking, he drives to the hotel.

The stairway to the sixth floor is nothing in his rush of adrenaline; the elevator wouldn’t come when called, so he takes the stairs two at a time. He didn’t know what was wrong, exactly, but he knew it was something.

He burst into the room just in time to see Yashiki being pulled out the window by the neck from some invisible force. He couldn’t hear anything but the blood that pounded in his ears- in three strides he is at the window, grasping tightly to the man’s wrist.

“You stupid idiot!” he shouts. His teeth gritted, he hauls his partner back through the window, desperately clinging to the remnant of the haunting shadow.

“Mashita,” he says between ragged gasps. “I understand now.”

They are leaning against the wall in a dingy, spider web-filled room underneath the window where Yashiki nearly fell to his death. The room is dark, only barely lit by the lights of the city outside and the soft glow of the moon. Mashita wants to chew him out- why did you disobey my orders, what were you thinking- but there is something in Yashiki’s eyes as he speaks, and at once, Mashita understands, too.

And yet: “Understand what?”

“Why I recognized you when we first met.”

“I didn’t recognize you.”

Yashiki shrugs. “Effect of the Mark?”

Mashita just shrugs in return.

They never really say it directly; it’s Mashita looking the other way as Yashiki picks up the spider that was once the spirit in the hotel, or Yashiki barely taking time to think before agreeing to be his partner at the agency. Perhaps later there would be real words, or a conversation, but for that night, this unspoken agreement is enough.