Waking from a hateful sleep, it was now the third dream he'd had about his father that week. Every night it would be so realistic that it would fill him with hope that his death had only been a mistake and that this was reality instead.
Sadami ruefully lied still for a moment until he surmised he had to get up. He didn't realize how late he'd slept in until he saw Tobi was already awake and making tea at the keurig, Howl, as he had been for the week he'd been living with them, was at Tobi's ankles, wagging his tail and scampering at his side, "Someone slept in on their day off." They took turns on 'dog duty' every morning, as in who would take the dog all the way outside to relieve itself so it got the idea that outside was its toilet, not the floor. Howl now even had a collar that made his white fluff of fur poof around his head like a lion's mane; he turned to Sadami and jumped up on his back legs, happy to see his second littermate awake. His collar jingled as he bounced towards Sadami, who knelt slightly to scratch him while he tried to climb up his legs.
"Hey fluffy, good morning."
"Oh okay, ignore me." Tobi said with a grin.
"I was talking to you." The redhead chuckled, "Nice bed hair."
"You want some tea?"
"No, it's fine." He reached for a water bottle in the fridge, "At least neither one of us have class for a bit; the university's having a few planning days and I have no work I need to catch up on."
"I can tell… you've been sleeping in a lot lately, I thought you were staying up late working or something."
"No, I'm just having a hard time falling asleep is all." He stopped to think for a moment, "I've been thinking about my birthday."
"You mean the one you don't have to worry about for two weeks?" Howl followed the two to the counter.
"It's my first birthday without my dad, Tobi. I'm just wondering what if I have some weird breakdown when it happens."
Howl's yipping kept from there being an awkward silence while Tobi tried to respond, but that didn't make the situation any less uncomfortable, "The first year is the hardest… but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a good time; sixteen!"
"It just doesn't feel right without him."
"Trust me, I know the feeling; Christmas won't feel right without him either, neither will New Year's… but he'd still want you to have a good time." Sadami went silent and gulped his water — he didn't want to talk about it anymore, "How about we get through today first, huh?"
"Sure… anything good on T.V.?"
"Not sure, Blondie was taking a look." They peaked out to see Chikako, aggravated, looking between the television guide and the screen.
Sadami, "You find anything good?"
Sadami turned to Tobi, "How long has it been since we played a good video game?"
He gave the most rational response, "Since we never brought over any of your gaming stuff when we moved."
Sadami's face fell, "Damn…" and this was coming from the young man wearing his Keep Calm and Finish Him shirt that he'd slept in, "Well, you hate going out places, what are we going to do on our time off?"
Chikako smiled, "We can always find something to do here!" She picked up Howl who was begging to be held, "Or we can go see Asami."
"I love my mom, but I've been put out on how much we've been visiting her and taking meals from her; it's been making her feel like we can't take care of ourselves." Sadami admitted, seeing as Asami had been 'hinting' that he can come home whenever he wants, "It's one less thing I want her worried about."
"Well there's not much else to do unless we go out the house." Chikako rebuked, nuzzling Howl's tummy.
"I'm not the one who's against going out." He gave Tobi his guilty stare, but it never worked on him.
"And I'm not the one who made society brand me a freak."
"Tobi," these were one of the things Sadami could find fault in with Tobi — overly peculiar about leaving the house. He understood being protective, but to this extent even when he was bored? "can't you make an exception just once? We don't even have to go in somewhere, we can just take a walk."
Chikako leapt up, "I bet Howl would love that! He hasn't been on a real walk yet," she turned to his curious fawn eyes, "haven't you?" He vocalized an appropriate response.
Sadami scooted closer to the unamused Tobi, "Come on, just today? It's nice and cool too!" He looked at their puppy eyes… Sadami and Chikako's; Howl's weren't even that pitiful. Giving in, and feeling stir-crazy himself, he gulped the rest of his tea.
"Just let me take a shower." He proceeded towards the bathroom while Sadami raised his arms.
"Yes! You're awesome, Tobi!"
"Yeah, yeah." The door shut behind him. Right on cue, though, there was a knocking on the front door.
"Coming!" Sadami had a keen idea of who it might be, in fact he was hoping so. Chikako snuck off around the corner but Howl jumped from her arms and squirmed out the door that was cracking open, "Wait, Howl!" Sadami went to grab him, but he was already sniffing and pawing Chiharu's legs, bare from the knees down since her skirt was just long enough. A smile and blush crept on Sadami's face while Chiharu's jaw dropped.
"Ohhh! How cuuute!" She bubbled, not even hesitating to reach for his snout and rub all over, "You didn't tell me you had a dog when we last hung out." They were both kneeling by the Spitz's side.
"I didn't have a dog when we last hung out." A night out for tea and sweets was their last friendly get together. Sadami didn't even comment on how she ate like a pig with how starving she was… not that he should judge anyway considering what he was like when he was hungry, "His name's Howl."
Chiharu raised a brow with a smirk, "You mean Howl's Moving Castle Howl or 'howl' like Aroooo!"
'Awooooo!' Howl suddenly sang, rearing his head into the sky. Sadami simpered, making Chiharu blush with his outright handsome grin, and she laughed, "I think he answered my question." She made Howl live up to his name once again, "It's a good thing the landlord here is an animal lover." Unlike her own, but it's not like Chiharu could afford a pet anyway.
"Well, he was a stray. He seems healthy though… I guess someone abandoned him." Howl suddenly bounced and rushed back in the apartment, "So, what's up? Chiharu was wondering what the cotton ball was yipping at behind the corner.
"I think your dog sees something." She noted, pointing him to where a pair of hands were forced to pick up the poor thing, "Huh?" Chiharu blinked, "Is someone else here?"
"Yeah, my cousin. Chikako!" The blonde jumped a little when she heard her name, "Come say hello." How bad could it be if she met Tobi already? And she didn't have to know she was staying with them or that she was an 'invention.' Chiharu was taken aback when she saw the elegant blue-eyed teenager step out.
"Wow, which side of the family is she from?"
"My dad's." It wasn't technically false. Chikako was close, so she smiled and bowed.
"Nice to meet you, my name's Chikako."
"Chiharu. I haven't heard about you yet."
"Well, that's because she's visiting from Saitama." It was odd how easily he could bend the truth without falter, but he was using real facts about his family at least, "I was actually just about to show her the sights." The blonde nodded to confirm.
"I was going to ask you if you wanted to spend the day in town." Sadami was suddenly invigorated.
"Really?" Third get together in a row? Maybe he had his father's charm after all! "Today? Because it'd be great if we all went." He was forgetting a certain someone though. Chiharu admittedly wanted alone time, but she had an idea.
"Sure; I can show Chikako some of my favorite spots." Feeling playful, she walked her fingers up Sadami's chest again, "And maybe I'd treat you this time for something special." While she'd meant food or even just a soda, his mind went to praying for something more. Her lips had never seemed so desirable at such an inappropriate moment, but he contained himself.
"And me!" The childish woman inadvertently ruined the moment.
"But of course; you're the guest." She said politely, hiding her slight frustration, "So, when did you intend on heading out?"
"Well I'll see you later then, I'll be downstairs." She caressed his chin, clearly toying with him. But he didn't care, he watched her walk down the hall until she turned to reach the elevator.
"She's pretty, no wonder you like her." Chikako said admirably.
"Well, you don't like a girl just because she's pretty. She's gotta be smart, funny, and nice… but being pretty doesn't hurt either." He said heavenly, still stung by the aroma of Chiharu's sweet-smelling perfume. Now here came the hard part… explaining to Tobi who was already dreading their day out.
If only keeping Tobi appeased was the hardest part, but it was having to keep Chikako from not paying attention to what Howl was doing as she and Chiharu chatted away about girl topics; more like Chiharu talked while Chikako awkwardly shook her head and smiled. While he earned many coos and hand sniffs, he had also attempted to turn around and chase a much bigger dog as they walked. Luckily he was on a leash, and he was still a tiny thing.
They wouldn't have much longer until they'd wake up one morning and he'll have grown from a cotton ball to a cotton field.
"I like your hairclip." The blonde pointed out; today a shiny pink gemstone hairclip was what held up Chiharu's ponytail.
"Thanks," she rubbed her finger over the surface, "pink's my favorite color. I like your bangs, they look cute on you." She referred to the girl's childish fringe as to Chiharu's more womanly, side-swept due. Chikako looked away in humility and thanked her.
Chiharu kept smiling back at Sadami and trying to avoid staring at Tobi, hidden under his hood and with his hands in his jacket pockets, "Why does she keep smiling at me like that?" Sadami whispered to Tobi, "You think she likes me?"
"She's making sure I don't kill you for bringing her along." He said in a murmur.
"Come on, it's not that bad. When we get to wherever she's taking us, we can split up if you want."
"Ditching brat up there sounds nice… but I don't trust her with princess." He finished with a snide tone and glare from behind his mask, "What if she says something?"
"She's been doing great so far. Chikako's smarter than you think, you know." They looked ahead of them and saw Chiharu whispering into the blonde's ear, holding up her hand so the boys couldn't read her lips; giggling soon followed, "She's better at socializing than we are." Sadami pointed out, somewhat ashamed.
"Better than you are; I don't socialize at all." Tobi reminded. Finally, they stopped. Chiharu presented them their destination, an outlet mall. Normally she hated shopping outdoors, but at least today it was cool and overcast. Sadami looked around, overwhelmed, and Tobi was disillusioned, not even an understatement, "…You're kidding me, right?"
"What's wrong? I know boys are allergic to shopping." She said, trying to feel less on edge around the man who wouldn't look at her straight on; his hood made it easier for him to hide from the general view of people, but not like he was about to rob the place.
"He just hates big crowds… maybe we can leave him with Howl and we can go in?" Tobi's eyes widened and he yanked Sadami away from the two. The girls watched as they stepped out of earshot while Howl pulled and pulled to be near Tobi.
"What are you doing?"
"You said you didn't want to socialize."
"I didn't mean leave me alone!"
Chiharu turned to the blonde, who was oddly comfortable with the masked young man, "You seem to be okay with Tobi."
"He's my friend." She smiled, it shone with a deep tenderness, "You have to get to know him if you want him to like you. He's the smartest, most handsome person in the world." Chiharu could disagree, having already met a certain schoolboy of the description herself, but both of her brows went up in surprise.
"You mean he actually lets people other than Sadami look at him?"
"Yeah." She nodded, "He's okay as long as we're at home." She was starting to say too much, and Tobi could hear it. He told Sadami 'Just go!' and pushed him towards the two.
"Okay!" He said in a sudden manner, "Tobi says he'll wait out here with Howl so let's not be long." Howl was smarter than most Japanese Spitz, and that was saying something. He seemed to recognize his favorite master's name and he tugged out of Chikako's hand and jumped up on Tobi's dark blue jeans that went well with his ink-black jacket. Sadami, now wanting to hurry so Tobi didn't become too bored, pushed them ahead into the outlet. Chiharu linked her arm around Sadami's with her hand on his shoulder again, playing her little game. Chikako simply followed, looking back to make sure Tobi would be fine. He nodded to reassure the brat.
As Tobi found a bench to sit at with Howl in his lap, he snorted slightly; he didn't realize how short princess was compared to Chikako, even to Sadami. Chiharu was only five-foot-one. On a good day, five-foot-one and a quarter.
Howl was panting with his hanging jaw in a smile as Tobi put down his hood. Oh how pleasurable the sensation was; feeling the cool breeze on his face. He closed his eyes and let the wind brush through his hair a little. No one was paying attention to him, so he relished the moment. Howl bleated, pawing his shoulder and reaching to lick his cheek. Tobi allowed him once but he wouldn't stop going for kisses with his slobbery tongue, "Okay, okay. That's enough." His deep voice was authoritive to his puppy hearing and he sat in place next to him on the bench, like a good dog. Tobi chuckled in his throat and gave him a smile, keeping his head low so no one would take a close look at him, "Furball."
"Can I pet your puppy?"
The voice of a boy, maybe seven or eight, pierced right behind Tobi's ear. He just barely turned to get a peak at a boy wearing some sort of field trip shirt was leaning on the bench's arm. Tobi turned back; who knew such a small thing could seem monumental when you were him, "Uh… Sure." He gently placed Howl on his lap, keeping his head turned in the opposite direction as if he were looking for something. Howl panted as he sniffed the boy's hand and got his head pet, ears going side to side.
"I wish I had a dog. What's his name?"
Tobi took another minute to respond, his heart was pounding, "Howl."
"Hi Howl, my name's Nao." His innocence was… sickening. It reminded him of Chikako. And no, he refused to say he now found her endearing, "What's your name?" Tobi kept quiet, Howl even turned to him as though he were thinking 'Hey, he asked you a question.'
"Didn't you ever learn not to talk to strangers?" He said with the back of his head facing him.
Nao grimaced, "If you tell me your name we won't be strangers anymore." He sounded so cute. Why couldn't Tobi have grown up with that sense of trust? But trust was for fools. This boy sounded desperate for some sort of attention.
"Tobi." He replied uncomfortably.
"Now we're not strangers!" Tobi kept his head turned at an angle; his neck was starting to hurt.
"Shouldn't you go find your mom or dad?" He said, almost begging.
"I don't have a mommy or daddy." Tobi almost turned to look right into his eyes, but rationality kept him from doing so. That didn't mean his heart had just been struck with a cold blade, "I live in a foster place with a bunch of other boys. We're here to see a movie. But I didn't wanna see one, so I snuck out." Some guts this kid had… and the way he described his life, it was like absolutely nothing was wrong.
"Where are your mommy and daddy?" Again with the sword, sinking deeper and colder into his chest, "Or are you a grown-up and don't live with them anymore?"
"I'm a grown-up." He did not see that Nao was now grinning.
"I can't wait till I'm a big kid. I'm gonna move out and make sure little kids all have homes." Tobi, just allowing his head to come back keeping focus on Howl in his lap, grinned.
"That's what you wanna do?"
"Yeah, like a superhero, they help people." Tobi almost forgot he hated children. Why couldn't he have been that innocent? It wasn't fair, "Ow!" Tobi saw that Howl thought it was a good idea to teeth on the boy's finger. Howl gagged itself on the boy's digit and Tobi grabbed him away by the scruff of his neck.
"Hey! Bad dog!" His voice bellowed with authority, but they locked eyes when he'd hurried to see what happened to the boy. Tobi froze with fear like a deer that was stunned by headlights. So was Nao, who jumped away.
"Whoa…" He came closer again; Tobi made sure no one else was paying attention, "Are those your real eyes?" What other answer could he give him? Tobi remained silent and nodded… please don't attract attention. Of course he'd just now scarred this kid… but maybe he'd be different like Sadami or Vincent. He gazed at him for another moment.
Then suddenly, "Freak!"
Nao ran off, not even caring about the scratch on his finger. No one seemed to care and Tobi quickly bowed his head to anyone who suddenly looked in his direction. That boy was no different
It wasn't fair; that Nao still had his childhood innocence while all Tobi had was childhood memories. Petting the sympathetic Howl behind his neck, Tobi realized he was truly alone for a minute, feeling the cold air on his cheeks and hair with people walking by instead of staring. That word though, the word had triggered it all.