Like a sly and clever creature, the mind can be trained to respond to commands. One can encourage in it certain predilections, instruct it to perform certain tasks, and forbid it certain subjects so strongly that it recoils from them, turns from them, and eventually forgets that they exist.
It will do so for as long as the organized awareness of the conscious higher mind remains vigilant.
Like a dog left alone in a room with a bone to worry, as soon as its master drifts off into the oblivion of sleep, it is subject to temptation, and forgets all of its hard-won lessons, returning to the objects of waking censure in dreams, there to riot and revel in the otherwise taboo...
Izo startles awake in bed with the scream and the gunshot still ringing in his ears.
It is the fifth night of these nightmares. That they vary little in scope or content does not decrease their impact on him; repeat viewings serve only to reinforce his dread.
No reason to prolong this than what's necessary. Besides, I'm not done with your baby sister....I was about to try and find out how tight that little asshole is. Sorry, Imaizumi.
A finger tightens over a trigger.
"It ain't anything personal."
Ten minutes later he's washed the sweat from his face and the back of his neck and pulled on fresh clothes in the brackish dark of his apartment. The clock reads 3:26am. Rain is drooling down his window, creating wormy shadows on the walls. He tugs on a hoodie and steps out into the jungle heat and humidity of the night, hands in his pockets, rolling the folded piece of paper between his fingers.
He'd told himself that he wouldn't. The less contact they had with him, the better. If he really wanted to keep them safe -- them, and himself -- he needed to stay hands-off. He'd already done enough damage.
The inside of the phone booth is miserable: wet, hot, oily air that stinks of cigarettes and sake. The receiver is greasy when he picks it up out of the cradle, holding it, hovering, near the side of his face while his heart pounds.
If anything had happened to them, Masahiko would have said so. He knows that. Part of him knows it -- the part that doesn't spend all day worrying about whether or not his mother is really slumped against that wall with a hole in her forehead. The one that doesn't believe his sister really is being--
Some part of him isn't as sure, though. The part of him that dreams, he supposes...and the longer he goes on having these dreams, the less steady he gets...the more his judgement suffers.
The phone is already ringing. Someone is already picking up.
Her voice cracks his ribcage wide open. Izo closes his eyes, forgetting to be repulsed by the phone. It sags against the side of his face. He tilts his head forward, crown to the scuffed-cloudy plexiglass.
For a moment he thinks she'll hang up, but then--
Breathless, hushed, almost afraid?: "Izo?" He hears sheets stir in the background, can picture her slender figure in silhouette sitting up beside her window, that stupid poster of Hyde, from L'Arc-en-Ciel (or would it be someone new, now? The tastes of girls change so much, so quickly).
Certain, now. "Zo-kun."
His heart cramps around the sound of his name, like a muscle flexed around a jagged piece of shrapnel. The phone booth creaks as he presses against the sidewall, tension coiling in him with the effort not to speak. He doesn't know whether or not they're being observed, he doesn't know if it's secure enough.
They stay that way in silence for seconds that feel like minutes, neither of them willing to speak, until he supposes that his silence, her unwillingness to hang up, would be confirmation enough for whomever may be listening. Still, he cannot speak.
She sniffs wetly. After the silence it is deafening. "I know you must have a reason to have left," she says, her voice small, shivering across the line like a frightened animal, muffled by the cup of her hand over mouth and receiver. Against the patter of rain on the booth he has to strain to hear her. "But you could have taken me with you."
That had always been the plan. The things he did, the things he became -- Izo always had his reasons for everything, and she had always been chief among them, or so he'd told himself. It gave him courage when he was green, and in doubt; later, it mitigated the guilt of enjoying it.
And then everything had changed. But she didn't know that. None of them knew that. He was afraid to wonder about what they thought they knew, and now she was crying, and his throat constricted around barbed wires of shame.
"I keep telling myself that you're just trying to protect me from something, but it gets...really hard, to keep believing that. Just being here by myself. And dad is so angry. Did you get tired of waiting? Did you just...have to go?"
He hears the little girl in her voice. The one he took fists for, and pulled the pigtails of; the one he played a stupid game of Persona for, humoring a little sister who needed comfort, never once believing it was anything but an urban myth for little kids. She's afraid and lonely, hurting, and is he imagining that sound of abandonment through his own guilt, or does she already despair of broken promises?
"Did you meet someone? A girl?" She's crying and laughing at the same time, but her humor sounds sick. "I won't tell Mari, if you answer me. She was even angrier than dad. She's dating some guy with a missing finger, now."
All of her humor is gone, now. Despondence sets in, alongside the realization that he isn't going to say anything -- or maybe it's that she's no longer sure he's there. They share a powerful intuition, but intuition is a spark, not a flame.
"I miss you, Zo-kun. If you...if you can. If you can please...come and get me. Please. You're going to be poor from buying food, you need someone to cook for you. I won't get in the way. I can stay in my room when you bring girls home. And you can stay in your room when I bring boys home!" The last is a joke, he knows -- she's always been adamant about her studies first, and he'd never had to scare off pursuers the way most older brothers do -- but it causes the image of her lying there on the floor at a man's feet to rise up unbidden, until his head is full of the sound of his gritting teeth, a sound so loud that he almost misses her last whisper: "You promised."
And then, after a silence, she hangs up abruptly. The sound of the line going dead unstrings him as though he were a marrionette and someone had cut his master cord; he exhales in a burst and sags, exhausted, against the booth wall. The world beyond it comes flooding back in: a drunk couple standing at some remove, watching him. He must look innebriated.
He stands up, hangs up the phone with grip-numb fingers, and nods at the waiting pair as he exits the booth, dizzy.
They giggle intimately, nose to nose, and pile into it. He doesn't think they intend to use it to make a phone call.
By the time he gets back to his apartment, he's made up his mind.