XI.


Hiro woke and saw an empty room. He pushed himself up onto his elbows. He couldn't drag his eyes away from the black rectangle that was the open door. An empty room, and silence drenched in underwater greys and blues. A breeze was stirring the curtain by the window. It took a long time for Hiro's breathing to subside.

He pulled on his dressing gown and padded barefoot into the hall.

His steps were slow. A hallway of closed doors on either side of him stretched out and disappeared into a tunnel of black. He walked it drawn by distant sounds, a boy's low laugh and the echo of drowned voices. Hard to breathe underwater.

Rika's hair was spilled across the floor, his eyes open but not sightless. Hiro dropped to his knees beside him.

"You shouldn't be out alone at night." A murmur on Rika's lips.

"Shut up," said Hiro, angrily. His hand was shaking as he reached out.

He ran his palm up Rika's thigh, past the hand-print. Rika lay beneath his touch unmoving. His paralysis was psychosomatic, like Hiro's cough. With enough time, it would wear off.

"I'm not paralysed," said Rika. "I'm just letting you."

Hiro jerked his hand back as though it had been burned.

Beside him, Rika sat up.

Hiro had turned his head away. He shrugged off his dressing gown and handed it to Rika without looking at him. He heard the slide of fabric against skin. "Why didn't you call for help?"

"Help?"

"Anji's supposed to be looking out for you."

The light turned Rika's glasses opaque. There was a curve on his lips, but Hiro couldn't see his eyes.

"Anji's not the only one looking out for you." Hiro didn't want to see Rika's face looking like that, so he closed his eyes; he said the words helplessly, his brow creased, still angry.

"I'd never do something like that to you, Hiro."

"Something like what?" His eyes opened. Wide.

"Ask you to save me."

Rika stood and looked down at him.

Hiro was on his knees, almost on all fours, one hand braced against the floor, coughing.


<<= index || end