Type: RP Thread
Character(s): Sonohara Anri, Ryuugamine Mikado; brief mention of Kida Masaomi
Disclaimer: I own only the part that I played in this.
Note: Thread continued from the NIGHT IN JAIL MEME over at bakerstreet.
Dedicated to: My love for them. ;w;
He watched her go in an almost suffocating silence. Not the silence of the room -- people and voices and objects still sounded and moved, heedless of the exchange between one young man and woman -- but the silence that Mikado himself maintained out of pure willpower. He didn't ask her to stay a little longer; he didn't throw out any last-minute, impulsive words that would likely make things harder on both of them.
He just watched her go, still smiling, still quiet.
The instant Anri was out of sight -- gone, for another month -- Mikado felt something inside him shift. Whatever soft spot of his that she had touched and melted and used to revert him back into his younger days of teenage innocence, it was already freezing over again. It wasn't like before, that frigid disregard for anyone and everyone, but it was still a hard, cold feeling that the prison's presence wasted no time in restoring.
He didn't like the sensation, especially so soon after seeing her, but he knew he needed it. He had to start somewhere to get through this, like he promised, and steeling himself was as good a place to start as any, if not the best.
For the next month, after all, he was on his own.
Mikado didn't expect it to be easy. He was right.
He could have had it worse; the prison systems in other countries were notorious for high violence and death rates among inmates, after all, and had he been in either of the Americas, there was a better chance that he would have been killed before his sentence was up. That fact wasn't any actual help to his predicament, though -- neither was it any comfort whenever other prisoners found an opportunity to come down on him. In the first six months, Mikado was cornered and attacked just as many times. It was always by a group -- as if they needed the advantage of numbers -- but not always someone he recognized.
Whereas they'd been smart at first, hitting him in ways and places that didn't necessarily leave evidence, they either lost their touch or stopped caring after a while. The staff weren't exactly friendly, but the sight of Mikado's black eye here or busted lip there soon prompted questioning -- and each time he would patiently tell them that he hadn't seen who it was, or that he didn't remember. Some of these men already hated him, while others just preyed on him because he was easy and never fought back. Either way, he didn't want to add more personal grudges by tattling. After a while, the guards were forced to leave him to himself.
But that much was also according to plan.
Mikado did want to keep personal grudges to a minimum, true, but that wasn't the only reason for his silence. He didn't plan to just take these beatings for another two and a half years, maybe even getting killed in the process.
To the prison staff, he was already questionably pitiful: a kid compared to the rest, a brief record of bad choices and minor felonies thrown into the mix of violent gangsters, rapists, and more than a few killers. He never fought, never complained, never even seemed to acknowledge his injuries. He was obedient to the guards, polite, even talkative when they allowed him to be, and did his work without incident. He wouldn't go so far as to say that any of them liked him, but they clearly, vastly preferred his easy company to the rest of the prison population.
It took Mikado seven patient, painful months to get to that point.
In the eighth, he finally took a chance. Inmates weren't allowed to so much as touch a computer, unsurprisingly, but Mikado only needed a couple glances and some audible frustration from the staff to determine that their system was an outdated one. He'd figured that much out in the first week. Now, eight months in and generally tolerated, he finally spoke up when, sitting in the medical office one afternoon to get some fresh cuts and scrapes dressed, he heard one of the male nurses cussing out a program as it froze on him again.
"Um... do you know what's wrong with it? I might be able to help."
It was almost too easy from there. After relieving the medical staff of their computer frustrations, and continuing to do so whenever they needed the hand, Mikado didn't have to wait long. The prison, he knew, had no official, appointed IT employee -- which, the nurse grumpily informed him, led to a lot of system downtime, data loss, meticulous paperwork, and wasted time.
Three days later, sooner than expected, Mikado was summoned by the chief of security and offered a deal. Instead of manual labor on the production line, he could work on the prison's computers -- primarily managing the data system and network, as well as anything else that came up. Besides being something Mikado was good at -- and a favorable alternative to factory work -- his hours would be a little different compared to other inmates. He would see less of them.
That was the first, and easier, half of his plan to survive this place.
Part two was trickier -- because unlike computers, this was something Mikado had zero skill with. Even if he spent less time among other prisoners, he still spent some time with them, and that was enough to be targeted for a new reason: now they hated him for getting out of the hard work and, as they saw it, winning the guards over. Fortunately, Mikado had started making plans for that shortly after Anri's first visit.
Among the variety of inmates, some were pretty tolerable like himself. Mikado didn't go trying to make friends or anything like that, and no one wanted to risk being close to the guy who was so often the target of violence. In the open, that was fine.
In private, there were three others whom he came to (almost) trust. It was a simple arrangement: using his access to the facility computers, Mikado transmitted (smuggled, really) messages to outside contacts (nothing highly illegal; one of them just checked in on his family now and again), and a couple of times asked Masaomi and Anri to bring a requested item (nothing illegal there, either, which Mikado was absolutely adamant about. Just a favorite food here and there.).
In exchange, those inmates taught him what he needed to know. It wasn't easy and it wasn't fast; Mikado wasn't about to reveal his trump card before the time was right, which meant he still didn't fight back when a group caught and beat him. If he felt any anger or frustration, he didn't show it to his enemies. He just worked that much harder.
Fourteen months after he first set foot into the prison, Mikado finally, effectively stood up for himself. It was none too soon, either: they were really out for blood this time, and if this had been a year ago, he probably would have had at least one arm broken on top of God knew what else. When the leader of this pack made a grab for him, though, Mikado did something none of them had ever seen him manage.
It was fast, sudden, and on top of that the look on his face was almost bored. That only angered them further, of course, and someone tried to grab him from behind. Missed. There were four of them, but none laid a hand on him before he turned and bolted.
Even now, Mikado was no fighter -- but he could defend with the best of them, and within a month it was known that no one in the prison had managed to so much as touch him ever since he suddenly acquired a talent for dodging. The coincidence hadn't gone over his head, of course; that there would not only be three people present who could teach that kind of talent, but three people who would? Mikado suspected outside interference and had a good, if not certain idea of who was behind it, but he never asked. He'd deal with it later, if he had to.
The one and only time he lashed out at someone, he got lucky. It hadn't taken long for his back-story to get around, the identities of his most frequent visitors and the nature of their relationships to him. Anri drew a lot of attention in particular, and while little was said while she was there -- there were always guards present at visits, and they didn't stand for conversations between inmates and anyone other than their personal visitors -- Mikado would catch the brunt of it afterwards. He would never repeat the things that were said -- and forced himself to forget them immediately after, if only to try and avoid harboring too many deep grudges.
But as good as his memory was, there was only so much that he could forget and borderline forgive.
It was during mealtime one evening, a holiday weekend when the watch was particularly slack. Mikado sat alone, as usual, ignoring the verbal slings thrown at his back -- until one man, one bastard in particular who'd been after him since day one, dropped into the seat beside him. He didn't come with a group this time, even if others were watching; he probably figured he was safe, considering Mikado had never thrown a punch at anyone. He was probably aiming for a reaction, to either prompt Mikado into what would likely be an easy fight or just frustrate him if he was too fast to take any blows now. That was why he started talking about Anri.
Mikado's silence only prompted him further. The comments -- the threats -- got worse, but not even a glance was thrown the man's way. That was because Mikado's attention was focused on the single guard in the doorway. Waiting.
The guards changed shifts fifteen minutes before the hour. There would be a window of a few seconds.
The instant the guard turned to be relieved, reaction snapped in Mikado's mind even as the man beside him spit out something particularly crude -- and there was a fleeting, inconsequential realization in that half-second.
This man's name...
Ah, right. Horada.
Mikado never bothered to remember names.
One second, Mikado was still sitting there, taking the verbal onslaught. In the next he was on his feet, kicking the chair out from under the inmate beside him and using a light hand on the man's back to only just guide his face into the table's edge. It was over in a blink, and by the time a reaction had erupted among the onlookers -- surprised cries, startled snarls, unsympathetic laughter -- Mikado was already halfway across the room without looking back. He didn't even realize that those sounds and looks were directed at him as much as the man rolling on the ground with a bloody nose; he didn't notice the way some of the inmates were staring dumbfounded at the icy, apathetic look on his face.
If Horada told on him, he never knew. Either the guards didn't believe him, or there was some attempt at salvaging his pride by not admitting to the prison-wide rumor that he'd been owned by the skinny kid who never fought back.
With that much established -- a preferable workload, necessary ties, and a way of staving off getting hurt or killed -- that was how Mikado's three years passed. It was still slow, still agonizing on the days following Anri's and Masaomi's visits, but it was bearable. When his friends came, Mikado never said a word of what he did to get by; he only smiled a genuine smile, his old smile, and told them that he was doing fine, which was no lie. He was sure he didn't ease all their fears -- Masaomi in particular knew the nature of some of the other inmates -- but he did what he could, and after a while he didn't feel like they were scrutinizing his words and searching for a lie. The fact that he stopped attending their visits with bruises probably helped.
When they were there, things were almost normal; and while those visits were fleetingly, painfully brief at first, Mikado's good behavior eventually lengthened the permitted hours. They still seemed to end as quickly as they'd begun, but every minute meant the world. With Anri, especially, those meetings only seemed to get better; any displays of affection, on either side, never escalated beyond what they had been in that first visit, but that didn't limit what Mikado felt, and what he felt was nothing short of increasing adoration for her -- love, simply put. It was like he'd picked up where he left off amid his mess with Blue Square -- a chance he didn't deserve, but they were past that, and he only refused to dwell on it because he promised that he wouldn't. He began to live each month with feeling of doing so only to see her again, and it wasn't a bad way to live. Having hope, and love, wasn't a bad way to be.
Mikado was originally scheduled for release at the end of November, and he'd taken to counting down the days long before then. Two months before the date, however, he was summoned by the chief again and given a sudden message: due to his behavior and work ethic, his sentence would end a month sooner than originally slated. It was something he'd hoped for, but hadn't tortured himself with expecting, and for the first time since coming here -- for the first time outside of visiting hours -- Mikado was genuinely happy.
He didn't say a word to his friends when they visited the following week; he had a reason for that, and another thought -- another, final plan -- forming.
October 30th came. It felt beyond strange, walking out the front doors, and without an escort -- but he did. He was free to go. Naturally, he kept to his manners and bid farewell -- even thanked -- certain staff members on the way, looking nothing like someone who'd just been through three years of prison, of slowly and painstakingly making a tentative place for himself in a world he had no business being a part of.
His first business once out was to contact Masaomi -- and while Mikado did have money saved up, he had no home to go to in the city, no material possessions to speak of, so he simply dropped by his best friend's place unannounced. The exchange was warm, but brief, as Masaomi managed to catch him by surprise (of course he would, even now. Some things never changed.) by bluntly asking what Mikado was doing there. Half an hour later, Mikado was all but shoved onto the porch with an encouraging word and abruptly left to do what he had been planning, anyway.... just not this soon.
On the way over, doubt gnawed at him. Sure, he'd just seen Anri a couple weeks ago and he was sure nothing had changed between them since, but... visiting him in prison was one thing. Facing him in-person, alone... that was another. What if surprising her was a bad idea? What if she wasn't ready to be alone with him yet? If he met with her and there was even a hint of something negative in her expression -- uncertainty, maybe even fear -- he wasn't sure he could handle it.
By the time his insecurities had piled up enough to be convincing, he found himself at Anri's apartment complex, staring up at her door. If he turned back now, she'd find out about his early release eventually either way -- and what would he tell her then? He contemplated coming back tomorrow, but that, he was well aware, was her birthday, and if things went badly, he didn't want to ruin it. Plus he might miss her if she went out for any reason, or other friends dropped by.
Mikado stood there for about ten minutes -- he likely would have hesitated longer, except he earned looks from passersby and quickly decided that he didn't need to get arrested a second time for looking like some kind of trespasser. So, inhaling deeply once and feeling a kind of nervousness that he hadn't in years -- as if prison had been a bad dream and he was still the self-conscious, innocent, and defenseless teenager of years ago -- Mikado moved up the stairs, to her door, and forced himself to knock before he could change his mind. He'd cleaned up at Masaomi's, showering and changing into a fresh set of (casual) clothes that he'd picked up on the way, so at a glance, he looked pretty much the same as he ever had, just older. Those who knew him would know better, though, and pick up on the difference in his air.
So he waited there, hands at his sides and occasionally tightening and loosening in growing anxiety.
On the surface, things seemed to only get better from that moment on. Even though there lingered a small little clench around her chest as she walked home that afternoon, her steps had still been lighter; her head held a little bit higher. The picture frames in her mind were filled with clarity for the first time in years. And with that realization, the young girl's smiles became more genuine, though still rather faint and soft. But what was once a life lived in darkness and bitter regret became one that she began to look forward to, again. And her visits to Mikado turned into something that she would wait for in anticipation, every month and more once his good behavior allowed for more visits.
Finally, the peaceful life Anri had always dreamed about started to be a fathomable reality.
Granted, there were still bumps along the way - there were still times in the following months where it was clear that he was keeping secrets from them; not dark ones, in a sense. But there was a bit of evasion and half-truths, still; specific wordings that brought into question their true meaning. She was a very observant person, afterall, and after spending a good majority of her time with Celty and Shinra, she had learned to pick up on little telltale signs of things others might normally overlook.
They were hard to notice at first, but once she focused on the things he would say - subjects and topics he would subtly ignore or avoid - she slowly started to see past the facade into the things that he didn't. And for a brief moment in time, Anri was afraid as well as wary of where this path would lead them. The young woman feared that he was spiraling back down to that place where she and Kida could not follow. That his way of dealing with problematic individuals would result in drastic retaliation. And that only stood as a gateway back to the world that had landed him in prison to begin with.
But there was one clear difference between the person he had been then, and the young boy he was now - one thing that he had now that he hadn't then: Mikado still kept them as a major fixture in his life. In fact, as the months ticked by, he started to draw them in closer and closer until their friendship became something akin to how it had been before - never the same again, but something similar; something better. Whether as a point of focus or a means to keep himself in check, he openly welcomed the visits in his not so ordinary daily life. And eventually, he sought out further contact in the only way he knew how.
Imagine her utter surprise, one day, when she received an invite to a private chat room from a very familiar handle.
Eventually, to her great relief, things only got better. That sense of foreboding and suspicion became less of an issue. The tough outer shell started to be real instead of some feigned attempt to hide his hardships for their sake, which showed promise in the idea that the young man really was doing fine, now, for whatever reason. More importantly, Mikado began to smile more often; would argue and fight goodnaturedly with Kida, and stammer through a quiet conversation with her like they used to back when the world was still new and innocent. Encouraged by the continual finger brushes and shy hand holdings that came with it, that part was a favored change.
Rinsing away the suds from the pan, the thought of it brought a soft smile to her face, a soft blush heating up Anri's cheeks at the idea. In a month's time, such things would be behind them. Mikado's prison sentence would be complete and he would be allowed to continue on out in the world once more - free to forge his future for the better. And maybe, perhaps, they could finally start to look forward...
That was her state of conscious as all attention went to the door and the soft knock that rattled against the wood from just beyond the other side. Pan still in hand, she went to answer, wondering just who could be stopping by at this hour in the day. Past experiences should have told her to be wary of such visits. But after Mikado's incarceration and Kida's permanent return, those sort of things were a scarcity. So there was no thought placed the act of sliding out the chain lock and opening up the door to the new arrival.
A moment later - after realization and shock finally settled into the picture frames of her mind - all that could be heard echoing through the apartment was a soft gasp and the resounding clatter of the pan as it dropped to the floor. Followed soon after by one, quietly simple yet weighted breath of a name.
Due to the hard-earned reflexes that Mikado had been relying on for the last couple years, his first instinct, before he'd even really looked at Anri, was to make a grab for that pan as it fell. He missed, but being halfway crouched, he went ahead and retrieved it, anyway, standing straight with an entirely polite, entirely uncertain smile.
"Um..." Amid all the doubts and worries he'd had on the way over, not once had he stopped to think what he would actually say once he saw her. He realized that awkward flaw now, and it cost him a few uneasy seconds as he tried to think of something and not be distracted by the fact that he wasn't entirely sure what to make of her expression.
It was like a dream, seeing him standing tall and so strong at her door. Because as far as Anri knew, Mikado should have still been behind bars and counting down the days until he would be released.
A month from now.
So there was no helping the mix of emotions that flooded and engulfed her in that moment, confusion stood at the very forefront of the young girl's thoughts. Right underneath was shock, fear, and wariness as the very real possibility of an unplanned escape filtered through her thoughts. But those concerns were quickly brushed aside at the sight of Mikado's clean and pressed closed - far from the simple grey and orange of prison uniforms.
And right at the very center of her conscious - of her heart - there bloomed a warm feeling of relief. Because for whatever reason, he was free. He was home.
N-not that she considered her apartment his home. She only meant - that is... he was back in Ikebukuro. And he had thought... to come see her.
"What..." Realizing her informality at his sudden appearance at her door, she "M-mikado-kun, what are you doing here?"
He still couldn't read her, not for certain, so Mikado's eyes lowered to watch as he distractedly rotated the pan in his hands.
"I, ah... I was released early. For good behavior. I just got back this afternoon." He let that sink in for a moment before hastening to add, "Um -- I'm sorry I didn't tell you. If it fell through, I didn't want to get your and Masaomi's hopes up or anything. I mean--" Raising his eyes again, Mikado looked sheepish, but there was no bright blush burning his face like there would have been once. "I mean I -- I didn't want to -- waste your time, or anything. Um..."
That previous insecurity reared its head again. "I-If now's not a good time, I can come back... or if you'd rather meet up with Masaomi together, then..."
And in that moment of pause, her eyes moved down to watch the nonsensical spin of the pan in his hands. It was a nervous tick and an old habit that she could hardly even begin to break. But it was enough to ground her, and enough to make sense of the information he was giving.
They had let him out a month ahead of schedule. Mikado was free. And they had informed him of this possibility... weeks ago.
From a logical standpoint, it made sense to hold out on the news until things were certain. They had all been waiting years for this moment - for the day when the three of them could move on from the past that shouldn't have been and finally start over. Finally pick up where they had intended. Still, there was no helping how Anri felt at him keeping such a secret from them - from her. Even if it had been an uncertainty... didn't he realize by now?
All they had were each other. All Anri had was the family she had created because of them. And Mikado had chose to face this unknown by himself. Again. Just like before...
"...N-no, it's fine. You just... caught me by surprise. That's all." Which was true enough. It had been a rather unexpected shock to see him suddenly appear at her door. The rest of it, well...
But however she was feeling - however conflicted her thoughts ran - it didn't change how happy and glad and warm she felt to have him here. To know that, from now on, it would be the three of them against the world again. Coming to that conclusion, Anri held on to that notion, letting it push out the doubts and concerns to fill her whole heart... and pull a soft smile across her face. "Um... would you like to... to come in?"
The relief that her smile and those few words incited was almost unbelievable: it felt like the world had been lifted off of Mikado's shoulders, all of that doubt and insecurity presently done away with. He returned the expression, as warm and affectionate as it had ever been, and this time he didn't double check with her, didn't ask to make sure that he wasn't intruding or imposing or any of that. He knew her by now, and knew that he wasn't.
"Yeah. I'd like that."
Once inside, he set the pan beside the sink, glancing over the place just long enough to get slightly familiar but brief enough to keep from looking nosy.
"It... looks like you've been doing well," he commented as he turned to face her again, moving as well as he could to the side to keep out of her way. "How have you been the last few weeks?" Old habits were hard to break, or maybe Mikado just wasn't sure how fast things should be changing; even if he was free, the line of questioning and commentary was almost identical to what he'd always greeted his friends with back at the prison.
Still rather in awe of the situation, she quietly watched his every move from her side of the hall, silently closing the door with a soft click and letting the lock slid into place with a resounding clunk. Because Anri remembers a time when the end seemed like an impossible feat; when the light at the end of the tunnel was nothing more than the hopeful sentiments of foolish teenagers who had grown up in a dark world where such things never existed.
And now, here they were, standing at the finish line, better people than who they were. And ready for whatever the future might throw their way.
Still, in that moment, it was like none of that had ever happened. Dollars was still a thriving and colorless gang. And the events of that Golden Week were nothing more than a nightmarish dream. Because Mikado - who was leaner and taller than she remembered, and who had all the markings of a fine and upstanding young man - was still the same boy that jumped out of those picture frames in her mind and made Anri live in the moments that made up her life. He was the same boy who made her realize that there was still an existence and a world to fight for.
So it was more than easy to fall back into the routine, answering his usual questions as honestly and gently as she could - ignoring, at least for now, the real issue of his release until the moment became more opportune. "I've... been fine. My studies are going well - " And here, she'll add in an extra quirk of her lips at the thought. " - despite Kida-kun's efforts."
In that moment, it really was like nothing had ever changed -- excepting how the shadow of uncertainty on Mikado's part was less flustered affection, like in the older days, and more serious and deep-rooted as he continued to wonder in the back of his mind just how to address what needed to be addressed. For now, however, things were as casual as could be hoped for. Mikado gave a knowing kind of smile and a brief, even more knowing laugh.
"He... hasn't changed, huh." Pocketing his hands in his jacket, Mikado might have been surprised if he could see how casual and relaxed he looked right then. Not just because of his present company, but also because it wasn't a stance he had been allowed to take in prison; he hadn't dared to lower his guard around fellow inmates, and even most of the staff had demanded more respect than that, whether directly or otherwise.
"I, ah, just saw him, actually," Mikado admitted, although he half-figured Anri might have guessed that much. "But I hope he didn't give you a hard time while I was gone." It was mostly a joke -- Mikado had depended on Masaomi and Anri both the last few years, needing them to look out for each other when he couldn't. Still, he'd seen for himself that his best friend's personality hadn't changed a bit during that time, and as much of a relief as that was... well, they were talking about Masaomi.
It was no surprise, really, the fact that Mikado had gone to Kida first. Rather, Anri would have been more surprised - embarrassed and almost flattered - if he hadn't. The two of them were childhood friends, after all. And no amount of time they might have spent apart and at odds with each other could erase that fact. Certainly, she expected that their yellow-haired friend would be the young man's first stop. Still, part of her felt almost bad and intrusive to have taken away from their time together.
A smaller, more selfish part of her... was rather honoured that he would even think to come see her his first night out instead of spending it catching up with his best friend. But then, a lot had changed in the three years since Mikado first went into incarceration. And not just in his life.
None of them were really the same.
Still, there was something to be said about how things just seemed to slide right back into place, regardless. As if the pressure of having him standing there in front of her, free and real, meant nothing at all... when in fact, it meant everything and more. So there was no helping the smile that just would not leave her face. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Anri was simply too happy to really contain herself.
"Not... any more than usual." Which was barely at all, really. There wasn't much that ever could bother Anri and Kida was only half as boisterous in his actions or gestures without Mikado around to embarrass. "But he wouldn't be Kida-kun if he were any different... right?"
Mikado's smile stayed, growing perhaps a hint more wry -- or something like it.
"Yeah, that's true," he admitted, not sounding troubled or annoyed by that fact in the least. "I'm glad none of us have. Ah, changed, I mean." There was a pause, and then he turned his gaze away from where he'd been glancing absently over Anri's desk. His smile lost a shade or two of that cheerful warmth, but only to grow a little more serious, nothing else. "Well... I know we have, some, but... a lot's still the same." And he was grateful for it, if his tone was any indication. More than he could express.
"But, um... it's -- it really is good to see you, Sonohara-san," Mikado went on abruptly, if a little haltingly. His smile brightened again, not quite giving away how unsure he was about expressing this next part -- but dancing around it wasn't right, it certainly wasn't fair to Anri, if she felt half as strongly as he did, and it hadn't been Mikado's intention in coming here, anyway. He could have waited, if that were the case. "I..."
Pausing, he decided to change course slightly, and went on in a quieter voice.
"It's... diffferent, isn't it. From the visits -- but... it's different from before, too." For a lot of reasons. Not least of all the one that hung between them right now, unspoken, unaddressed, but there all the same.
For a long moment while he spoke, all she could do was watch him - every step and idle sway of his body - captivated her attention. In her mind, there was a constant juxtaposition between the young boy and the young man. And Anri found that it was true; nothing much had changed at all. Yet everything had. The smooth face of innocence was hardened by experience. The long and lean limbs that might have once made Mikado look weak had a distinct if not only slight shape to them that told a story all their own. They would hold under pressure.
But more importantly, there was a glimmer of difference in the eyes. Though still bright with wonder of what the world had to offer, there were years hanging around the edges that aged him beyond his nineteen years.
"It's... it's good to see you too... Mikado-kun. Especially..."
Still, it was a wonderful sight. And one she could hardly believe was true.
And despite herself or the nervousness that was like a well-worn jacket of comfort, there was no helping the small little smile that threatened to tug at her lips. Because, once upon a time, the thought of even using anything but his family name had been unthinkable. Now, though, it was starting to feel like second nature. Which meant... so much more than anything that anyone could ever understand. For reasons that... only one other person would.
After years of waiting, that same person was standing here in her home, solid and very real. As if to confirm it for herself, Anri slipped off the rubber gloves she wore while washing the dishes. And with long, delicate looking fingers, she... reached out to gently glide them across the back of his hand.
Warm to the touch and rough with the hardships that had molded him in his years of incarceration, she carefully hooked her fingers with his, sliding them her own. And with the familiar weight of his palm against hers, Anri trailed her gaze upwards in search of that same wonder that... had always drawn her from her world outside of the picture frames. That innocence that had always been reserved for only her. Because the other stuff? - They could talk about and discuss those, later.
Now, though? Now was for the things that had shouldn't be left unsaid. "So... I-is it true? Are you really...?"
Mikado's smile faded at the touch, but only in surprise -- a second later it returned, a gentler look, and he moved to return the light grasp. It was surprisingly easy now, compared to a few years ago; he was used to it, but that didn't take away from the gesture at all. If anything, somehow, the familiarity just made it all the more meaningful.
Moving his gaze from their hands to Anri's face, Mikado let his curiosity show.
"Am I... what?" It could be any number of things that she was referring to, so he wouldn't assume the right answer.
It was sometimes difficult for Anri to put her thoughts into words. With an entity like Saika constantly vibrant with life and with her own feelings slowly rising to the surface above the white noise of it, it became a chore to even separate the two. Making sense of them enough to voice aloud sometimes seemed impossible. But still, she tried. Because now was not the time to hide inside of herself or her mind. It was time to be part of the world outside of the picture frames.
If not for his sake, then for her own.
So it'll take her a moment to find just the right words, turning the options around in her mind before settling on the purest statement that resonated from her heart. "...Are you really... free?"
It was something he could answer without a doubt -- without regret, without uncertainty -- so Mikado's smile became an easier, more relaxed one, even as his resolve became a little bolder.
Turning to face her, Mikado reached to gently join their free hands, as well, his grip just as slack and gentle as the other.
"Yeah. I'm out." His gaze dropped again to their hands, briefly and distantly thoughtful as he tried to think of how best to put his own feelings into words. It felt like there were too many of them to fit into something as simple and everyday as speech, but he tried, anyway.
"And... I'm not going back. I'm done." With Blue Square, with toeing the line just to see how far he could push his luck -- with putting his friends second.
Mikado met Anri's eyes again, and while there was still a shy, somewhat sheepish quality to his tone and his expression, his eyes and his hold on her hands gave off a confidence that the rest didn't.
"I'm back... to stay. I'm not leaving you again."
The smile she gave came naturally if not shyly. Because despite everything - whatever confidence she might have gained through the years or assurance she had given herself in all her endeavours since - Anri was still the same quiet girl who hid behind a shell and had no understanding of emotions beyond fear and nervousness. She was the same girl who found friendship and family - who found love - in the eyes of a boy who was, in every way, her equal. And while she still feared the part that Saika might play in their relationship (for lack of a better term because to assume anything even now without being absolutely sure, gave her a sense of unease), they had already wasted years of uncertainty and fear.
There was no more time for doubt in this. She, at least, had promised herself that after that first visit to see him. Seeing him fall so far from grace and feeling the ache of of watching it all unfold and crumble under his feet had forced her into realizing the truth of the matter.
The only real obstacle standing in the way of that happy ending he always wanted to fight for... was her.
So, with the same hesitation that guided her life, the young woman lifted her eyes from where they rested on their joined hands. And through the fringe of uneven bangs, Anri met the other's gaze, fingers giving his a soft little squeeze.
"Good." Taking a quick breath, she did her best to straighten up her stance, only encouraged by his actions. And after a moment or two of debate, Anri allowed a soft smile to grace her lips as one of his hands dropped from her grip... in favor of reaching up very carefully to touch at the soft curve of his cheek. "I'm... I'm glad to hear that..."
Once, that gesture would have stunned him, undoubtedly inciting a startled fluster and a nervous, stammering attempt of a reaction.
But things were different now -- for the worse in some ways, but definitely for the better in others. Contact between them had remained mild over the last couple years, but it had still been contact nonetheless; Mikado knew the feel of her hands, if only fleetingly, so there was nothing new there.
And yet, things were different now. This wasn't the prison -- they weren't restricted by rules or time or modesty (not as much, anyway). There was nothing holding them back, nothing keeping him from finally, fully being open with how he felt -- how much she meant to him.
The gentle touch to his face earned a smile: a true, honest smile, not fake, not even reflexively polite. It was the start of something long delayed, tonight was their beginning and Mikado wouldn't back down from that -- not after waiting this long. Even so, he kept his response simple, because he was starting to find that simplicity, at the end of the day, wasn't always a bad thing.
"Then... I'm glad, too. And I'll do everything I can to keep things that way. For both of us."
There were no illusions in this. Despite everything that had been set in motion after her first trip to the prison, they still had a long way to go. Because for them, time progressed at a different pace than it did for others. After all, it had taken the two of them this long to even reach the point of being comfortable enough for such small gestures as a touch of a hand, or a gentle caress of a cheek. For either of them to admit, even without words, that there was much more between them than a mere friendship.
That it had been this way for years before Mikado even agreed to lead the Blue Squares.
But however long it would take, at least there was an assurance of a light to greet them at the end of this long tunnel. A... chance for a happy ending.
That he didn't turn away from her touch, here, in the privacy of her home without prying eyes or an ever plotting best friend... she took it as a good sign and a step in the right direction. Because, once upon a time, they could hardly look at each other without stammering through a conversation in the middle of Ikebukuro's busy streets. And one bold move deserved another, didn't it?
"You... you will?"
Things were different now, after all. And without a little bit of change, things wouldn't - couldn't - progress forward, would they? So it was with a self-affirming hum that Anri took her chance.
Her hand dropped from where it curved against his cheek to retake his discarded hand, another moment's pause passing before she takes a tiny step in. And then he'll feel the heat of the young woman's body pressing lightly against him, the weight of her head coming to rest on a slender but strong shoulder.
"Then... so will I."
It was, perhaps, not as grand a gesture as others would consider. But for Mikado, and especially for herself, it would convey every unspoken word they were too scared to say aloud. For them, it would be enough.
That was considerably bolder, for sure, and despite all the changes during his incarceration, Mikado was still caught off guard. For a moment he didn't respond, didn't even react at the surprise gesture.
...And then, slowly, he leaned forward just so, not touching her any more beyond what she'd established but still bringing himself closer.
Small steps, for sure. But that was their relationship summed up.
"O-Okay. Together, then."
A bit of a stumble, but not in a bad way. The silence after that was welcome -- as was whatever else happened. They would do it together, be together, and with Masaomi, too.
Cliche, maybe, that kind of happy ending -- but Mikado had always liked his cliches.