"What the fuck do you mean two men were reported dead?"

"Actually, Chief, one man was reported dead, found murdered in his cabin. The two I mentioned are still missing. They're sweeping the area—"

"What were the details on his body?" Kurosawa cut him off. He was pacing back and forth behind his desk. Fireworks were popping in the sky since it had just struck midnight minutes ago.

"W-what do you mean?" Mitsuru shivered from the cold.

Tomotsu stopped and leered at the man whose IQ seemed to drop each passing day. "The death report! What did they say the cause of death was?"

"A lot of claw and bite marks." He answered nervously, "They think some wild animal must've eaten him. But animal attacks are rare these days."

"Humph." Tomotsu felt a little more at ease and he sat down. "Police these days never need to know the real answer. They just want an open and shut case."

"But they're still looking. These men were reported missing over a month ago." His chief didn't respond. He went deep in thought. Mitsuru knew better than to interrupt him when he was thinking, but something was making him itch. "What's the big deal? These men are irrelevant to us. And it couldn't have been Number One's doing. It's not like New Humans to leave the body fully in-tact like that."

"It's not that, Mitsuru." Kurosawa looked out at the ocean – it would always be the most calming presence during these times. There was a reason he chose to purchase land out in the water: no matter the predicaments they might face, the tides rolled without fail. They did not surrender to any obstacles. The waves crashed through them.

"I don't think I ever told you about how I worked in a lab up in Yamanashi."

Mitsuru's brow went up, "No, you didn't." He said almost accusingly. Tomotsu ignored his tone.

"Well, before I came out here to work on my own, I worked with a few men in a makeshift lab, if you will. It was an abandoned hospital in the mountains we fashioned up into our little research facility. But the place was falling apart and the weather was god-awful, so we forsake that idea." He scoffed at his much younger, more foolish self.

"How long have you known about New Humans?"

"This was before New Humans, Mitsuru." He looked out at the Osaka cityscape. "Back when we just wanted to experiment on mixing up DNA and seeing if we could implement a new species ourselves." He chuckled. He hadn't a clue what Mitsuru was thinking. "It was amusing. They did it for research and just to see what would happen if say we mixed a frog's DNA with a turtle's. I never found it useful, but I made sure we were a secret and that they all kept their mouths shut." Something occurred to him. It almost made him flinch… almost. "Shit." He whispered calmly.

Mitsuru still heard him clearly even with the cracking of fireworks. "Sir?"

"Let's just hope those two men are dead. I'm hoping what I'm thinking isn't true. But if it is, then the only way they'll keep quiet is if they were killed."

"What do you think's happened?"

"Let me worry about that. You're dismissed." Mitsuru swallowed thickly and turned to the elevator. While Tomotsu thought his lap-dog was becoming dafter, Mitsuru felt that his master was growing more secretive — and that was saying a lot. "Actually," he stopped, "bring Frederick Kappel up here. I'd like to have a word with him."

"Yes, Sir."

"Mitsuru."

"Yes?"

"Happy New Year." There was a smirk in his voice, but Mitsuru didn't see it; he was watching the fireworks. 2029 was here.

"You too, Chief." Mitsuru let him be and went back down to the lowest corridor.

Kurosawa took a deep breath as the reflection of the colorful lights danced off of the water's reflective surface. He cared nothing for the New Year's celebration. He began to mumble quietly:

"The day of wrath, that dreadful day, shall heaven and earth in ashes lay, as David and the Sybil say. What horror must invade the mind when the approaching Judge shall find and sift the deeds of all mankind… Now death and nature with surprise behold the trembling sinners rise to meet the Judge's searching eyes."

While Mitsuru followed his orders and went to find Frederick's bunker, he noticed one of the lounge light was on. When he peered in, he saw Akiko trying to get the coffee maker working.

"Midorama?" He startled him. "What are you doing up?"

"I was up late finishing paperwork… and I swear those damn fireworks are amplified down here." He looked pale, there were dark lines under his eyes.

"It's been a rough winter."

"Not that we'd know. We've been cramped in here the entire holiday… All I got to do was send my brothers an email." Akiko paused. "How long has it been since you've seen your family, Mitsuru?"

"My family? Hell, I don't know… I haven't actually spoken with them since the summer. Kurosawa's rules with outside contact are the same with me as they are with anyone else."

"I wonder if that bastard has his own family he's cutting off…" Akiko had wondered it many times. If this heartless man had a child, or even a grandchild. Perhaps that would evoke some sympathy into him. Mitsuru awkwardly shrugged his shoulders. "Anyways, just ignore me. You probably have something you need to do." He turned away and reached for one of the mugs.

"Actually, can you make me a cup?"

Akiko looked at him, quite surprised. "Sure." He handed him the first cup he got his hand around. "How do you take it?"

"Light and sweet." Mitsuru then watched Akiko gingerly make their drinks. Mitsuru, even with the amount of time he'd known his colleagues, never really developed any sense of socialness or skill in making conversation. He stood quietly before he nervously blurted out: "How old will you be this year?"

"Twenty-six." Akiko replied. Mitsuru whistled. "Heh, I know. Not until June though."

"I see…" That was the best at small-talk as Mitsuru got, but all of his social skills had been drained from him in his years spent on Tomotsu's leash. All he did was get information and deliver it. In a way, he felt as though he was breaking the rules at this moment. He was supposed to be fetching Frederick Kappel. Akiko handed him his cup. "Thank you…" he looked into it as though he were fascinated by the steam pouring from the liquid. Akiko could tell he had something more to say, but didn't bother egging him on.

He didn't really want to talk to anyone himself, he just wanted something to make him feel (literally) warm.

"You know, Number Two turns eleven on the twenty-first."

"So he does…"

"Yeah… I can't imagine growing up not knowing the outside world." It was almost as though he was trying to make Akiko feel somber, but it was just his lack of tact. Akiko didn't reply and he slurped his coffee. "To be honest, I don't think he'd be able to handle it if he got out there at this point."

Akiko blinked, interested. "What do you mean?"

"Think about it logically — Noboru grew up in isolation. He has no peers, never learned real communication skills… on top of that, he'd be sensitive to sunlight. His immune system, I dunno. We've worked it up all these years, but it's different when you're exposed to new things."

"He interacts just fine with me."

"That's because he knows to obey. Obeying is different than acting on free-will."

Akiko tried to hide his scowl, "Not true." Mitsuru looked at him oddly, "Noboru's not daft. He's just as self-aware as any of us… he has emotional intelligence, they all do… a sense of right and wrong, a sense of kindness and brutality—"

"Akiko, these are test subjects you're talking about here."

"All of which were humans like us at one point, genetically modified or not!"

"Why do you insist that they haven't had their humanity stripped away from them yet?" Now he'd said something damning. Akiko arched a brow and Mitsuru realized he was caught. "I know some of the things we've done is unethical… but it's in the name of research. We're doing it to find a cure!"

Akiko almost snapped — he came this close to revealing Project Dawn. But then what would happen to the boy who hadn't gotten to do any of the things a boy at his age should have by now? He bit his lower lip to hold his temper. But he did say: "I believe that good will always triumph, that morality always finds a way."

Mitsuru nodded, "Keep it to yourself, then. I don't want you to be in any trouble with the Chief again." He replied truthfully. "I've put off my orders for a little too long now. Get some sleep, Midorama." Mitsuru left with his mug to go down the right corridor.

Akiko went the opposite way towards his own bunker. The makeshift bedroom and office that was always dark, always lonely. He looked up at the vent to see it hadn't been tampered with. Noboru wasn't visiting him tonight. Considering how hard it must have been the first time, Akiko didn't mind.

Akiko put his mug down and sat on the bed… all of the wonderful things Noboru could have experienced, should have experienced.

His parents walking him to his first day of school. Doing school shows. Playing with other children. Having a best friend to grow up with. Getting to ride on his father's shoulders, flying kites with his mother. Having 'the talk' with them. His first crush…

And then came the things he would miss: getting his license, school prom, graduating high school, getting to go to college… marriage… a family of his own.

They had taken everything away from him. From all of these people. And Akiko blindly sat there and let it happen for so long. Everything was taken from him as well.

He knew what it was like to be one of them…

In the dark quietness of his room, Akiko started sobbing into his hands. The cry that had waited ten years when his parents were stolen from him. The cry for what he had done.

...

Tobi had forgotten about the journal he'd stolen from the abandoned hospital. It sat buried in his suitcase while they spent their Christmas and New Years in Yamanashi.

It wasn't until when he finally got home and he instinctively unpacked everything that needed to be washed that he found it. It somehow hadn't been ruined from being jumbled around in his mess of clothes. It then sat on his nightstand, untouched for few days. It was never that he forgot about it, it was that he was somewhat afraid to touch it.

What if what was in there royally fucked him up even more? He was sure nothing in there could be worse than what he'd seen. What information he could learn in there was just too tempting, and he finally just had to know so that… well, he could know!

When Tobi opened the first page, there was nothing. Nothing but an old, bent, torn photograph of a family taped to the front.

His heart sank, Tobi found himself shutting his eyes and taking a moment before he turned to the next page.

July 14: Meisa was proud today when I told her the news. The boys and I down at the lab made a fascinating breakthrough when we mixed a lizard's DNA rat. The rat actually regenerated its limb! Sad that we had to break it's arm to find out, but at least we rescued it. A week later, it's still functioning like normal! I've thought about making a similar antidote for humans in need of amputation… if only it didn't require so much coding and testing. We can't just give them dose of lizard DNA and tell them they're cured; you know? Even the big guy on campus Tomotsu was impressed!

It's really hard to faze that guy. Nothing interests him unless it's useful. He said if we came up with the human equivalent of this miracle vaccine, we'd all be rich! Ha, too bad self-proclaimed scientists can't make that kind of money without representation. People would try to take credit if he showed this to anyone, I'm sure. Sucks that Tomotsu is moving out of town, though. He's the one with the head on his shoulders and keeps us all on planet earth.

Maybe down the road he'll be a renowned neurologist or something. Who knows? He was nice enough to get my daughter a gift when I said her birthday was coming up… a really great guy. I wish for the best for him.

September 30: We might have to change locations. The building is getting old and is falling apart. On top of that, rangers have been inspecting the area for trespassers since hikers and campers don't seem to get what 'stay on the trail' means… well, neither do us scientists, so I can't judge. We haven't made much progress on this regeneration antidote… to be honest, I'm starting to lose interest. My wife's been complaining about how my day job as a store clerk isn't making enough. I might as well use this as a hint to try and do something practical with my skills. On top of that, I'm getting sick of staring at laptops and taking blood from reptiles, rats, and amphibians all day and night. Maybe I'll go back to school and start a medical program. I don't know. I'll figure it out once we get all of our things out of the building.

The door came open and Tobi flinched. It was only Chikako letting herself in, "Hey."

Tobi switched out the diary for the book Sadami had gotten him. "Hey." He saw she still had on her necklace; she hadn't taken it off since Christmas eve. "What is it?"

"It's just that, um… I can't sleep." Tobi looked at the clock; it was only eleven.

"It's still pretty early if you ask me."

"I mean, I don't know. I guess I still think about what happened when it gets dark."

"Yeah, I know what you mean…" He saw that Chikako wanted to come in, but she was too nervous. "You can come sit down if you want." Chikako nodded and sat on the edge of his bed with him. She saw what he was opening up, the Divine Comedy.

"You haven't started your new book yet." She pointed out, surprised by the fact.

Tobi smirked. "I was saving it for when I had no distractions. Meaning you, Sadami, and Howl." He meant it with good intentions, and Chikako smiled.

"Is this a Russian book?"

"No, it's Italian. Well, it was originally. It's actually an epic poem." He opened it up to show her the structure of it, "See? It's told in verses and cantos and things like that. It uses symbols and kennings."

"Kennings? What are those?"

"They're kind of like nicknames. You know, using other words to describe some things. Kind of like how I call you 'brat' or 'blondie.'"

"Or when you call Howl 'fluffy.'" Tobi grinned at her; she was getting it! On top of that, she'd just made a joke to him! His smile faded when he caught sight of the cuts that were still visible on her shoulder and chin.

"Do they still hurt?"

"No."

"That's good…" He saw her expression become solemn, "You were really brave out there, you know that?"

"What do you mean? All I did was scream and try to hide."

"You didn't fall apart though. You stayed strong."

Chikako looked into his eyes for a second — the contact was making him uncomfortable and he was about to turn away, "Why did you both come after me like that? You could've died trying to find me."

"I already told you why."

"I mean why do people do that?" Tobi arched a brow, "When someone they know is in trouble, and they know they could die trying to get them back, why do they do that? Why do people sacrifice…? It makes no sense. They do it so they can be with that person and yet one of them ends up dying anyway—"

"People just do!" Tobi asserted to shush her, "You did it for me when that creature attacked me back in fall."

With glittering eyes, she sighed. "You were like family to me then…"

Tobi licked his lips, took a deep breath, and said: "And you're family to us." Chikako seemed unresponsive, "We'd never let anything happen to you." When she failed to answer him, Tobi, with careful and possibly even nervous hands, touched her hair to move it behind her shoulder. It was so soft.

Chikako looked bothered by the touch but in reality, she was stunned that he made contact. Tobi took this to really look at her for the first time. He never appreciated what fine work Asa did on her — making it so easy to forget she was something created, not born. Of course, nothing so perfect is ever born. Chikako was looking at Motoka's portrait as this was going through his head. "Tobi? What's it like to have a mother?"

He blinked, "A what?"

"A mother." He looked at Motoka, forever content in her picture frame. "The way I see Asami talk to you or Sadami, it just seems so out of reach. How do you get that sort of bond?"

Strange, even painful feelings were surging through him. Tobi started to feel light-headed. "You just— F-Find—" It seemed like his neck twitched and he halted himself abruptly. Chikako worriedly looked at him and watched it happen.

In one simple blink, Tobi's entire expression changed. Frustrated, like his head was throbbing in pain, his eyes had a darker light. He looked around as if he had no idea where he was. The blonde was tremendously uncomfortable; the atmosphere had shifted. "Tobi…?"

He ignored her. He stood up and went for the door. Why did he always end up back there? Chikako followed and called to him again.

One thing that was new was the dog; it turned its head to him and its ears went up and turned to look at him. He stopped and looked at the animal… even Howl knew the difference. His ears went to their sides and he growled, baring his fangs at him.

"Howl?" Chikako caught up to him.

Howl leapt to his feet and stared into the demon's eyes. His head low, growling and snarling with no end nearing.

"Jesus Christ!" Sadami opened his door, "What's wrong with Howl?"

He'd had enough and he left the apartment with his two roommates utterly baffled.