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A Routine Procedure

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The walk-in clinic had a large sign on the front, which was lined entirely with windows and had no visible door. For a moment Akoya thought hopefully that they might not be able to get in, and he would have to leave without getting a shot. Then Arima called to him from around the side of the building, and Akoya went grudgingly to join him.

“If I’m okay afterwards, can we watch videos of people dancing when we get back?” Akoya asked weakly. He had trouble getting people to do this with him for more than an hour or two, so he usually ended up watching them by himself.

“It’s going to be okay,” Arima said. “It’s completely routine for them. They must do this with hundreds of people all the time.”

Akoya had asked for reassurance so many times on the way over that he was sure he must be getting annoying. The problem was that none of the reassurances took away the fact that he was going to have to go through with this, and what he really wanted was to get out of it. They did, however, make him feel less alone, and he was grateful.

Arima opened the door for him and Akoya walked in, willing himself to just keep moving forward, not think about it, just keep taking the next step in the process. He went up to the front desk and told them why he was here.

“What’s your name?”

“Akoya…”

“Full name?”

Internally he gritted his teeth, hating to say it; he still had to go through this every time. “Gero Akoya.”

“Please fill out this paperwork.” The receptionist handed him a clipboard. “Take a seat and we’ll call you when it’s time.”

Akoya sat down on one of the little chairs in the waiting room, crossing his legs and twirling his hair nervously. Arima sat down next to him. The room was empty and sterile; there were three people waiting ahead of him. They stared at their phones; a video was playing somewhere, filling the background with inaudible voices. The receptionist was talking to someone else. He didn’t know how long he would have to wait. On one hand, he didn’t want to do it right away; on the other hand, the hollow emptiness of this room was giving him nothing to do but dread it.

He had thought of sending a text to Kinshirou before coming. I have to get a shot. I’m scared, so please wish that I’m still beautiful afterwards, okay? He had typed it out, with a little crying face, but then deleted it. Kinshirou would probably get irritated with him for making such a big deal about nothing and not reply. Akoya hadn't wanted to end up feeling foolish, but now he wished he had sent it; the room was silent and Kinshirou didn’t even know what was happening, wouldn’t even have the chance to care or say anything encouraging at the moment that he needed it.  

Akoya filled out the form, hovering over the blank line for his signature of consent. “I haven’t signed it yet,” he said to Arima pleadingly, feeling as if this was his last chance to back out.

“You’re going to be okay,” Arima said. “This is all totally normal. It’s going to be fine.”

Akoya grabbed for his hand and Arima held it, the warmth seeming to keep him steady. He signed the form with his free hand, the curls of his name sweeping and flourishing. His family name was not part of his signature. A little pair of wings framing it at either end was.

He turned in the form and sat back down, beginning to shake with nervousness. Arima put an arm around him and asked, “What are the videos you wanted to watch after this?”

Akoya brightened immediately. “I found out there’s a musical version of a show I used to watch. Everyone sings and dances around in costumes.”

“Really? That sounds like it must be beautiful,” Arima said with interest, intentionally dropping Akoya’s favorite word. “What show is it?”

Akoya beamed and began telling all about it, about which were his favorite costumes and favorite characters. The people who had been waiting ahead of him began to disappear into the office, until a nurse called, “Gero Akoya?”

Akoya turned pale again and rose slowly, not wanting to leave. Arima stroked his shoulder reassuringly and let him go.

The nurse led him down a narrow hallway and into a small room with a doctor’s chair. “You can have a seat there.”

“I can sit down here?” he repeated, to make sure.

“Yes, right there.”

Akoya sat down on the edge of the chair, barely touching it. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to inject a little bit of substance into your arm. It’s just going to sting for a moment.”

“Can I tell you which arm?”

“Yes, you can.”

Akoya rolled up his sleeves and examined both of his arms—they were both gorgeous and perfect—and tried to decide which he would mind more if it ended up developing a scar. He finally presented one of them. The nurse asked him to turn it over so his palm was up.

He couldn’t believe it, that now she was just going to do it, he couldn’t delay it any longer. She came towards him and he instinctively pulled his arm back.

“This is an alcohol swab,” she explained, holding up a fluffy cotton ball. “I’m just going to clean it.”

“Oh.” He waited while she swabbed his skin; it felt soft and cool. Then she unwrapped a needle, and he tensed. Now he couldn’t delay any longer.

She brought the needle towards him three times, and he withdrew his arm three times, curling it towards himself.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said faintly. “I just don’t like it.” It was a defensive instinct. True, he could use a sword, but generally when one uses a sword, one dashes and dodges brilliantly in the face of danger; one does not simply hold out part of the body and wait for it to be stabbed.

“Relax your arm. I need you to keep it still and not move it.”

It was not relaxed. Akoya wanted to pull it back again. He fought the urge to do so and held it out, trying to let the muscles go limp, as she lowered the needle towards it. A moment and it would be over. Just follow the instructions and wait for it to be over. Don’t move, just don’t move, just hold it there—a sudden sting, there it was. They always say it only stings for a moment, but it’s actually slightly longer than a moment; they have to hold it there. The sting dragged on, the needle pressed under his skin; he didn’t dare move now.

Then finally, suddenly it was over. “Do you want a bandage?” the nurse asked.

Akoya accepted the bandage, not because he thought he needed it, but because it was comforting to have something wrapped over his skin, a visual representation of the ordeal. He followed the narrow corridor back out to the waiting room, still too busy processing the anxiety of it to feel relief.

Arima was still sitting in the same chair as before. He waved, and then Akoya felt relief.

“How did it go?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, it’s fine.” Akoya felt sort of shaky and not fine yet, but it was over. It was over. “Can we watch dancing videos now?”

“Yes, as soon as we get back. Show me the whole musical.”

Akoya beamed, immediately beginning to replay the songs in his head, looking forward to Arima's reactions to the show. The sting was fading already.