Michael reflects on his situation and Sakaki offers him hope. Light shonen ai.
"Any plans for the weekend, Miho?" Michael heard Robin ask softly as he paged through the nightly backup logs.
"I was thinking about heading to the beach," Karasuma answered with a slight giggle. "Lying on the sand, relaxing with a trashy romance novel sounds like heaven to me."
"Eww, you read those silly books?" Doujima broke in.
"As a matter of fact, I do," Karasuma stated proudly. "It's nice to live vicariously through someone else's life. Especially since my own social calendar seems to be lacking. Hey, you two want to come with me? We can have a girl's day out."
The hacker did his best to drown out the conversation happening behind him. Every Friday it was the same thing. What are you doing this weekend? I'm going...blah, blah, blah. He knew they didn't do it on purpose, but once, just once, he would like for them to remember that he didn't have the same freedom to come and go as they did. Maybe they wouldn't be so flippant with their remarks if they knew that it had been over a year since he stepped outside these walls.
"How about you, Sakaki?"
Michael heard a soft squeak as the boy in question swiveled his chair around to face the three girls. "I was going to take my bike up to the mountains. There's this awesome stretch of road that doesn't get much traffic, so I can really open her up and see what she's got."
Doujima gave a derisive sniff; he could hear the roll of her eyes. "Boys and their toys."
"Ah, what do you know?" Sakaki said dismissively. "You haven't lived until you've had the wind blowing through your hair at one hundred and twenty miles per hour."
Wind. Michael couldn't remember the last time he felt the wind blow through his hair. Thanks to the climate control system in the building, all the windows were sealed shut. He couldn't so much as get a nice breeze. Back home, in the apartment he used to share with his mother, he would keep his bedroom window open quite often. Even in the dead of winter the sharp bite of frigid air was a welcome scent. In the spring and summer, his mother would grow herbs out on the fire escape. When the wind blew in the right direction, he was able to smell the fresh basil and parsley.
Three months ago, through an online archive of his hometown newspaper, he found out that his mother had remarried. James, the same man she had been dating back when he was still home. Michael liked him; he was a kind man who told outrageous stories and was a lot more fun to be around than his dull, workaholic father. He was happy for her. He could only imagine what it must have been like for her to deal with his untimely "death." But it still hurt. She had moved on, maybe even forgot about him. So many times he wanted to call her just to hear the sound of her voice again. He reached up and ran his fingers along the chain around his neck. The metal collar felt so heavy, pulling him down.
A pang of homesickness seized his lungs. For a moment he couldn't breathe. Michael stood abruptly and excused himself. He caught Sakaki's surprised expression out of the corner of his eye. Walking as nonchalant, but as fast as he could, he raced towards the restroom.
"Idiot!" he hissed at his reflection, voice echoing off the tiles. "This was your choice. Stop doing this to yourself."
It was a mantra that he had repeated over and over to himself thousands of times before. But it never seemed to dull the little voice in the back of his head that would always ask: Was this the right choice? Would I have been better off dead?
It was best not to even attempt to answer those questions. It only made it that much harder to look into the haunted eyes that stared back at him. Michael bent down over the sink to splash cold water on his face, berating himself for dwelling. The longer his thoughts lingered, the longer the stabbing pain in his stomach would ache. No, he would do what he always did; go back to his desk and bury himself in his work. It was best to keep his mind occupied on less troubling matters.
Feeling somewhat composed, he headed back into the office. There were reports that needed to be run and data that need to be cataloged. If he was lucky, it would last the weekend. As he rounded the corner, Michael was surprised to see Sakaki still seated at his desk when it was clear that the others had already left.
"Oh, Haruto. What are you still doing here? I thought you had the open road calling you." Michael didn't mean for it to come out as sarcastic as it did, and felt bad when the other teen frowned.
"I just wanted to apologize," the blond-haired boy started cautiously. "I- we all forget sometimes that you don't have the same luxuries we do. I didn't mean to rub it in your face."
"You didn't. Don't worry about it," Michael dismissively, trying to get the subject dropped.
Sakaki looked down at his hands and mumbled, "A nice day like this, I would hate to be stuck inside."
"Yeah, well it's not like I have a choice in the matter," he snapped, angry now that he was unable to escape the conversation. "This is my punishment, so I have to deal with it. I don't need you or anyone else to pity me."
Sakaki's head shot up. "I'm not," he said defensively.
Michael walked past the semi-circle of desks and over to one of the large office windows. Looking down at the traffic below, he sighed heavily. "Go home, Haruto. We don't get many weekends off, so go enjoy it while you can."
"But-" Sakaki started.
"But what? I can't leave," he stated simply. He heard the soft footfalls as Sakaki came up behind him. Michael resisted the urge to turn around. Out of everyone, Sakaki was the only one who he would consider more than a co-worker. While the others were all nice and he got along with them, there was never any deeper connection than that. But with the hotheaded blonde, it was different. He had someone who stuck around after hours to play videogames or watch movies. He had friendship. Sakaki would understand better than anyone how Michael was feeling.
"It's been over a year since I felt the wind," Michael said softly.
"What?" Sakaki said in disbelief and placed a hand gently on the other boy's shoulder.
Michael turned his head to meet Sakaki's pale violet eyes. "The last time I was outside was the night they brought me here. I haven't been outdoors since."
"But you said you haven't felt the wind in a year. What does that-" The blonde cut himself off when Michael turned back to the window and rapped his knuckles against the pane.
"The building is climate controlled," he informed. "All the windows are sealed so that it will remain at seventy-two degrees year round. That means no fresh air for me."
Sakaki slumped in disappointment. "Oh, I didn't know."
An awkward silence lapsed between them as they stared out the window, watching the rest of the world go by.
"Hey, Michael," Sakaki asked suddenly. "Why don't you ask Zaizen if you can have a day off...er, out? I mean, it's been a year, maybe he'll let you have some time because you've been a good worker."
Michael's eyes went wide. Could it be that simple? Not once had he ever entertained the idea of walking up to the boss man and asking to be let out. It just wasn't done. But if he did, what would happen? He looked over to the other boy's smiling face.
"The worst he could say is no, right?" the blonde said, giving Michael's shoulder a friendly pat.
Yes, he could do this. He could ask Zaizen. It was a daunting prospect, but he had to give it a try. Slowly, a grin crept across the hacker's face.
"I've never ridden on a motorcycle before. If he lets me out, can I go riding with you?"
Michael had never seen Sakaki smile that brightly before.
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