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Title: Between the Lines
Fandom: K Project
Rating: T
Pairings/Warnings: Fushimi x Yata-ish
Summary: The first time Yata saw him the kid was sitting in the corner of the cafeteria all alone with his bought lunch spread out before him, painstakingly picking out the vegetables and stacking them according to color and size.
Notes: So, um, yeah. I wrote a K fic. I don't even know. Random pre-series thing that gave me a bug and wouldn't leave me alone 'til I wrote it. First part's Yata's side (aka the happier part), Fushimi's will be up eventually whenever I finish editing it.



The first time Yata saw him the kid was sitting in the corner of the cafeteria all alone with his bought lunch spread out before him, painstakingly picking out the vegetables and stacking them according to color and size.

“Hey. Who’s that guy?” Yata nodded towards the kid as he leaned in closer to his current lunch partners Wakui and Moriyama. “I haven’t seen him before.”

“No idea,” drawled Wakui as he shoveled food into his mouth. “I didn’t know anyone like that was in our class.”

“That’s because you just transferred,” Moriyama said with a shrug. “But you should remember him, Yata. He’s been in our class all year.”

“He has?” Yata chewed on his food thoughtfully as he watched the weird kid continue to pick at his vegetables. Just eat them already, Yata thought irritably even as he tried his best to slide his milk off his tray.

“Fushi…Fushi-something, that’s his name,” Moriyama said. “He’s absent a lot, that’s probably why you don’t remember him. Anyway, he’s weird. He doesn’t talk to anyone and he eats alone like that all the time, playing with the vegetables. What is he, a grade schooler?”

“Right, right,” Yata laughed distractedly and pushed his milk a little farther off his tray. A few inches more and it would tip over onto Wakui’s tray and then maybe Yata could convince him that it had been his all along.

“I don’t want your milk,” muttered Wakui, pushing it right back at him. Yata made a face, glaring down at the milk. Stupid milk.

He glanced back at the weird kid, Fushi-whatever. He had finished most of his food and was now alternating between reading a book that he didn’t seem interested in and pushing the vegetable stacks around with a finger. They looked like little buildings like that, all pressed together. The leaning tower of grated radish, the cabbage skyscraper, all about to topple as soon as the kid got up the energy to actually throw the damn things away.

Speaking of which, the milk was still staring at him. Yata cursed and stood, grabbing the carton roughly in one hand.

“I”m throwing this away,” he stated, ignoring the way Wakui and Moriyama snickered behind their hands. Yata snorted and tried his best to raise his head proudly — it added an extra inch to his height when he did that anyway and damn it, he needed that inch — and strode towards the trash can.

He reached the can at the same time as the weird vegetable kid, who looked up from his tray as Yata approached. Of course the kid’s eyes were drawn straight to the milk in his hand.

“It’s spoiled,” Yata stated gruffly, tossing the carton into the trash.

“Ah…oh.” The weird kid looked a little surprised and a little bored, as if he wasn’t quite sure that Yata was talking to him. Not many people seemed to talk to him, apparently. All around the cafeteria his classmates had spread out and were eating in groups of threes and fours, all except the vegetable kid. The kid seemed to wilt slightly under Yata’s stare, as if he was waiting for some kind of reproach, averting his eyes as he began to empty the remains of his lunch and his little stacks of vegetables into the trash.

“Why did you even buy that lunch if you’re not going to eat half of it?” Yata’s mouth spoke before his brain could catch up.

“I…” The kid shifted uncomfortably, as if not sure what to say. Yata cocked his slightly and suddenly noticed that the lunch looked awfully familiar to his own bought lunch.

There was nobody home ever to make him a lunch, not like other people had. Yata didn’t want to bother getting up early to do it himself so he had to buy. There were choices, of course, but Yata always bought the same one.

Oh. That was it, then. It was the cheapest lunch.

Yata suddenly felt a little spark of kinship with the weird kid.

“What’s your name?” he asked bluntly. The kid still had his eyes averted even as he answered.

“Fushimi…Saruhiko.”

“Fushimi, huh?” Yata held out a hand. “Yata Misaki.”

“Misaki…?”

“No!” Yata said quickly. “Yata, you can call me Yata! Anyway, were you always in this class?”

“Yes.” The timidity seemed to be fading, only to be replaced by extreme boredom. Really, there was something in the kid’s face that made it seem like boredom was more of a state of being than an emotion.

“I don’t remember you,” Yata said, feeling strangely awkward all of a sudden.

“Most people don’t.” Fushimi shrugged and scraped the last sad slice of radish into the trash can. He immediately began to walk back to his corner as if Yata wasn’t even there.

“Vegetables are good for you, you know,” Yata muttered at his retreating back, annoyed at being ignored.

“Milk helps you grow.” The words were so quiet he almost didn’t hear them.

“What the hell did you just say?!” Yata said sharply.

“Hmm..?” Fushimi turned back to look at him, face blank. “Nothing.”

“Hmmph. I thought so.” Yata snorted and strode past him, back towards his own seat. As he passed he couldn’t stop himself from glancing back one more time at Fushimi, who had retreated back to his own corner as if nothing had happened, staring down at the book he never seemed to read.



“Spoiled again?” They were back at the trash can again, Yata with his milk and Fushimi with his stupid damn piles of vegetables.

“Eh?” It took Yata a moment and then he caught on, nodding quickly. “Um, yeah! Yeah, spoiled. Totally.”

“These were too,” Fushimi said calmly, scraping the vegetables in one by one.

“They look fine to me,” Yata challenged. Somehow the look on the other kid’s face just annoyed him.

“Everyone else’s milk is fine,” Fushimi replied, not missing a beat. Yata glared at him and Fushimi looked back down at his vegetables.

“You were out yesterday,” Yata said after a moment.

“Hm?” Fushimi looked surprised and it was strangely gratifying to see an actual expression on his face. Anyone not paying attention would likely think that Fushimi had only one default emotion: boredom. For his part, Yata was starting to think that people might do well to pay more attention to Fushimi.

“Sick?” Yata asked.

“No.” Fushimi didn’t look at him and suddenly Yata felt like a jerk for asking. They were both cheap lunch partners together, right? Yata knew his reasons why, who knew what Fushimi had going on. Their school wasn’t in the best of areas, after all. Plenty of kids transferred in only to transfer out just as quick (Wakui was already gone, having transferred out without so much as a word two days prior) or just stopped coming to school all together. Nobody asked any questions because they all knew what kind of place they were in.

Fushimi turned to walk back to his corner and Yata suddenly grabbed his arm, face averted in slight embarrassment.

“…Sorry,” he said quietly.

“For what?” The kid was too weird. For what? Anyone would know what.

“Nothing,” Yata said at last, annoyed. “Never mind.”



“You could just eat them, Fushimi,” Yata said, watching as perfectly good vegetable after vegetable fell into the garbage can.

“You could drink your milk, Misaki.

“Don’t call me that,” Yata grumbled, crossing his arms. He didn’t know why Fushimi insisted on using his first name all the time. “Anyway, that’s different.”

“How?”

“Vegetables all taste different,” Yata stated. “You have to like some of them.”

“I don’t like these,” Fushimi said.

“What kind do you like?”

A pause.

“Not these,” Fushimi said at last.

“What the hell kind of diet do you have?” Yata asked. “You’re going to get sick.”

“You’re going to stay a midget.”

“Say that again, I dare you,” Yata warned.

“I eat plenty of food,” Fushimi said. “In the long run, vegetables aren’t really that important. There are plenty of ways to get around eating them. With dietary supplements--”

“With what now?”

“Never mind,” Fushimi said with a sigh. “Isn’t milk a more essential part of a growing boy’s diet, anyway?”

“Says who?” Yata glared at the offending carton in his hand. “I’ve been growing just fine without it.”

“Define ‘just fine.’”

“Who asked you anyway?!”

“You did.”

“Shut up.” Yata turned to throw the carton in the trash and Fushimi suddenly reached down and took it from him. “Hey, what…?”

Ignoring him, Fushimi opened the carton with an air of slight annoyance, as if he was doing Yata a great favor that required large amounts of effort to complete, and in one move downed the entire thing.

“There.” He tossed the empty carton back to an open-mouthed Yata, wiping his mouth on his sleeve as he spoke. “That wasn’t so hard, was it Misaki?”

Without another word Fushimi turned and walked back to his corner, leaving Yata staring behind him.



“All right, give them here.”

“Hmm?” Fushimi looked up curiously from his seat as Yata leaned over him. It was lunchtime again and Fushimi was eating in his little corner by himself. Again. He had a book open in his lap and hadn’t turned the page for at least three minutes. Yata’s milk carton was sitting opened and half empty in front of him.

“I said, give them, here.” Yata repeated. “The vegetables, I mean.”

He was gratified to see Fushimi’s expression change into one of absolute bafflement.

“Well, you’ve been drinking my milk for me, right?” Yata muttered, trying to sound as if it was all no big deal. He roughly pushed his tray up next to Fushimi’s, nearly knocking the other boy’s tray into his lap, and grabbed a nearby chair, sitting in it backwards so that he could lean his arms over the back. “Give them here.”

“Oh…” Fushimi dutifully placed a small stack of green peppers onto to Yata’s plate, still looking confused.

“And you can come eat with me, you know,” Yata added. “I mean, me and Moriyama. It’s dumb to sit here in the corner all by yourself.”

“I’m fine.” The usual impenetrable wall immediately re-formed itself in Fushimi’s eyes. “I don’t need you to do me any favors, Misaki.

“Well…stay here and be weird, then!” Yata snapped, standing up abruptly, temper flaring. Fushimi had already looked away from him, staring back down at his book. There was something wavering behind his eyes that made Yata’s anger deflate like a popped balloon.

Idiot. What was there to be afraid of, from just a suggestion like that?

“I’m still eating your vegetables,” Yata declared and swept all the little stacks up in one hand, dumping them onto his tray before stomping back over to where Moriyama was staring at him as if he’d grown a third head. “You hear that, idiot monkey? I’m eating your vegetables every day, how do you like that?”

Fushimi ignored him and continued to stare at his book, but this time Yata thought there might have been the slightest of smiles on his face.



It was raining and Yata had forgotten his umbrella.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. He hadn’t really had time to forget the umbrella, he just didn’t have one. The sky had been mostly clear after school, the slightest of clouds only just beginning to form as he walked home. He’d gotten inside the building before the sky had turned completely gray and he’d been walking up the stairwell when he’d heard the first distant rumble of thunder.

As he dug his keys out of his school satchel and reached for the door of his apartment he was suddenly aware of the sounds of voices from within. Yata’s heart dropped as he pressed a hand against the door. Unlocked. A familiar gruff voice floated in from inside.

So the old man was finally home. It had been at least three weeks this time.

An unfamiliar voice answered and Yata sighed, letting the door swing closed. If there was someone he didn’t know in there it meant his dad had a ‘client,’ and Yata knew well enough that anytime that happened it meant he should make himself scarce.

Stupid old man. Yata kicked the wall as he strode down the hallway back towards the stairs. He didn’t know what his dad did for a living and he didn’t want to know. It wasn’t like it mattered anyway. Going off all the time, for days and weeks and leaving Yata by himself in the dingy apartment, wondering if the old man would remember to at least send some money for the rent this time. Wondering how long it would be until the day he didn’t come home for good and Yata was all by himself, scrambling for a place to live and food to eat.

He exited the building just as the rain began to pour down and Yata cursed again. His umbrella was inside the apartment and damned if he was going back in there right now. He stood awkwardly in the doorway for a moment and then finally ran out into the rain, cursing his own stupidity. What was he, a little kid? He didn’t need a stupid umbrella. He’d walk to the game center in the rain, that would show the old man. He slowed down into an angry stomping walk. That was right, he’d walk in the rain. He wasn’t a little kid, afraid of a simple rain shower. He was fine like this.

He was so busy focusing on slowing his feet that he almost didn’t notice the figure huddling under a nearby overhang until he nearly ran into him.

“Watch where you’re walking.”

“Ah, sorry, sorry — wait, Fushimi?” Yata’s surprised face was met by a pair of bored blue eyes peeking out from under drenched bangs. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for the rain to stop.” He said it in tones that suggested even an idiot should be able to tell that.

“What were you doing at a--” Yata paused and glanced at the shop behind them. “A flower shop?”

“Making a delivery.” There was the slightest hint of defensiveness in the statement.

You were delivering flowers?” The entire idea of it made Yata laugh. Fushimi glared icily at him.

“They were paying me, Misaki.” He took a slow step to the right away from Yata’s shoulder, eying him with distaste. “You’re soaked.”

“I forgot my umbrella.” It was partially true, anyway.

“Tch. Me too.” Fushimi looked away from him again, back up at the sky.

“So…do you want to come to the game center with me?” Yata wasn’t sure why he said it. There was just something in Fushimi’s expression, something lost and cold like a hazy mist in a rainstorm that made him speak.

“It’s raining.” Fushimi arched an eyebrow at him.

“I can see that,” Yata huffed. “It’s not far. We can run.”

“I’ll catch a cold.” Fushimi shrugged.

“We could catch a cold, and who cares?”

“You won’t.” The implication was clear and Yata glared at him.

“Fine. Stay here and deliver flowers, then.” Yata turned to go.

He was stopped by a hand on his arm. Yata whirled, surprised.

Judging from Fushimi’s expression, the only one more surprised by the action than Yata was Fushimi himself, who was staring at his arm as if it belonged to someone else. He immediately pulled his hand back as if burned and looked away quickly without a word, making that stupid ‘tch’ sound with his tongue like he always seemed to do.

“Come on, let’s go.” Yata grabbed Fushimi’s hand and dragged him forward into the rain. “Race you, okay?”

“You’re an idiot,” Fushimi muttered but did not pull away.

“And you’re a jerk,” Yata answered with a shrug. “Shut up and let’s go, we’re gonna get soaked.”

They ran all the way to the game center and collapsed in the doorway, red-cheeked and wet-haired and laughing as the people around them stared, and somehow Yata found that he didn’t even care that he didn’t have an umbrella.



“It’s a stuffed green pepper.” Yata sat across the table from Fushimi, watching in strange fascination as the other boy doggedly dug the insides out of his lunch. He wasn’t really sure when they’d started eating together every lunch period. Moriyama had stopped coming to school and Yata had found himself gravitating to Fushimi’s previously lonely corner of the cafeteria. The atmosphere wasn’t as lively as it had been with his previous lunch partners, but there was still something comfortable about it when it was just the two of them.

“I know that.” Fushimi didn’t even look up.

“The whole point is that it’s a vegetable.”

“I don’t like green peppers.”

“But it’s a stuffed green pepper,” Yata said, as if it would matter.

“So I’ll eat the stuffed part.”

“I’ll give you a hundred yen if you eat the green pepper.” There was something Yata found mesmerizing about the way Fushimi, a person who normally avoided doing anything requiring effort at all, could be so determined to eat a lunch that was entirely devoid of vegetables. Fushimi paused momentarily in his scraping.

“You don’t have a hundred yen.”

“When I get it, I’ll give it to you,” Yata said. “Come on, just try it. Why even get it, if you’re not going to eat the green pepper part?”

“You get milk every day.”

“Only because that’s all the cafeteria has.”

“All right.” Fushimi slid the milk carton towards Yata. “Drink that, and I’ll try the green pepper.”

“Wait, that’s playing dirty!” Yata objected.

“It’s not hard.” Fushimi held up the carton and dangled it in front of Yata’s face. “It’s good for you. It’ll help you grow, Misaki.

“And how many times do I have to tell you to stop using my first name!”

“I’ll stop calling you Misaki if you drink your milk like a good boy,” Fushimi said.

“Stupid bastard.” Yata leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Fine. I’ll drink the milk. But you eat the vegetables first.”

“Drink first. How else can I trust you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I’m way more trustworthy than you!”

“Then drink.”

“After you.”

“At the same time, then.” Fushimi lifted a bite of pepper to his mouth as he stared at Yata out of the corner of his eye.

“Okay, on three.” Yata shuddered as he picked up the milk, staring at it as if it would bite him. “One, two…three!” He closed his eyes and took a gulp.

The milk barely touched his tongue before he spit it back out again, hacking dramatically.

“I can’t do it,” Yata coughed. “It’s…no. I refuse!”

He gave another pathetic wheeze and glanced up at Fushimi, who was watching him with thinly-veiled amusement, green pepper utterly untouched beside him.

“You…” Yata glared at him and Fushimi shrugged.

“You really are simple-minded, aren’t you?”

“I hate you, Saruhiko.”



“I hate these stupid tests.” Yata threw his paper to the ground. Saruhiko, sitting on the roof beside him, gave him a look of mild disinterest before resuming his prior activity of moving vegetables from his tray to Yata’s. It had grown colder out but even so it felt nice to sit up here, just the two of them. “Who needs to know stuff like math anyway? It’s not going to get us out of this crappy place any faster.”

Saruhiko gave a noncommittal shrug as he took a bite of his lunch.

“What about you?” Yata eyed him suspiciously. “Hey. Saruhiko. What kind of grades do you have, anyway?”

“Why does it matter?” Saruhiko replied.

“Why don’t you want to tell me?” Yata gave a vicious smile. “It’s worse than mine, isn’t it? You keep saying ‘simple-minded’ this and ‘single-cell’ that, but I bet you’re worse than me!”

“It’s just a test.” Saruhiko shrugged again. Yata stared at him for a moment and then pounced.

“W-what are you--” Saruhiko squawked indignantly. “Misaki, you dolt, what--”

“A-ha!” Yata stood back, triumphantly brandishing his captured treasure — Saruhiko’s math test. “Now, let’s see…”

“You’re an idiot, you know that,” Saruhiko muttered, readjusting his glasses irritably. His face was flushed.

“I’m the idiot?” Yata said with a smirk. “Me?”

“Yes, I think we’ve established that,” Saruhiko said with exaggerated patience.

“Oh yeah? Well, what about this?” Yata pushed the test into Saruhiko’s face. “What is this, huh? It looks like twenty points less than mine. So, who’s the idiot now?” Saruhiko ignored him pointedly and Yata continued, flipping through the test proudly. Finally, he’d gotten Saruhiko! There was no way for the bastard to get around this: hard, cold numbers! Proof of Yata’s superiority, in black and white!

“It even says to see the teacher after school,” Yata snickered, flipping through another page. “You know, Saruhiko, if you need a tutor I could—wait.” He stopped at the last page.

The final question had been a hard one. The teacher had made it multiple choice, but even then Yata had found it way above his head and had spent more time trying to figure out which letter seemed more appealing than attempting to calculate out the actual answer. In the end it hadn’t mattered — as he’d handed out the tests, the teacher had announced that the final question hadn’t counted because the book had the answer wrong and none of the given answers had been correct anyway.

While the rest of Saruhiko’s test had been barely filled out, this question was filled with scribbled calculations that Yata couldn’t even begin to follow, including a circled answer and a curt note pointing out that none of the supplied answers made any sense and perhaps the teacher should do the questions himself rather than blindly copying from the book.

“Saru…” Yata muttered through gritted teeth.

“Hmm?” Saruhiko raised a bored eyebrow. “That?” He shrugged. “The rest was boring.”

“Hey.” Yata glared darkly at him. “You’re some kind of weird genius, aren’t you?”

“Eat your vegetables, Misaki.”

--

It was raining again and it seemed as if class had been going on for hours, and Yata was passing the time by watching Saruhiko out of the corner of his eye.

He really didn’t understand Saruhiko at all. The guy was apparently a damn genius and yet he was somehow doing worse in school than Yata because he just didn’t care. Yata had tried to pry it out of him a few times, as they sat on the roof during lunch (it was cold and getting colder, but Yata liked the roof and though Saruhiko always complained, he never refused) while they went over the day’s homework and Saruhiko tried to explain it in a way that made sense.

“It’s boring,” was the answer he always received, with the same apathetic shrug every time. Sometimes it seemed like Saruhiko thought everything was boring.

Yata wondered if Saruhiko thought he was boring.

“…ta-kun. Yata-kun!” The teacher’s sharp voice shocked him out of his thoughts and Yata sat up stiffly.

“Y-yes,” he stuttered out. Some of the other students snickered behind their hands. Saruhiko didn’t even look up.

“Since you’ve been paying so much attention, Yata-kun, why don’t you come up here and answer this question for us?” the teacher said coolly.

“Uh…right.” Yata stood up miserably from his desk. The numbers on the board in front of him seemed to be moving in a mocking dance, taunting him for his own stupidity. Behind him the rest of the class was laughing again and Yata felt his hands clench into fists.

There was the sound of someone else standing up and Yata didn’t even realize who it was until Saruhiko walked calmly past him, placing a hand on Yata’s shoulder and gently pushing him back down into his seat as he went by before continuing on to stand in front of the board.

As Yata stared open-mouthed, Saruhiko proceeded to not only answer the question in front of him, complete with detailed if curt explanation and shown work, he also finished off the two remaining problems on their worksheet. Once finished he clicked his tongue and walked back to his seat as if nothing had ever happened.

“Eh…” The look on the teacher’s face suggested that he had possibly just seen a unicorn. “Th-thank you, Fushimi-kun. Now, um, on to the next problem…”

The teacher turned back to the board, having utterly forgotten Yata’s presence entirely. Yata risked a glance back towards Saruhiko, who had gone back to studiously ignoring everything. Saruhiko’s eyes darted briefly to meet his and Yata gave him a wide smile. Saruhiko made a quiet ‘tch’ noise and looked away, but Yata had seen the brief spark in his friend’s eyes.

Three weeks later Yata stood dutifully outside of the classroom, awaiting punishment for a fight he’d started on the steps earlier that morning (it wasn’t his fault, the guy had been saying crap about Saruhiko and it wasn’t like Yata could just sit by and let that go unpunished). From his spot by the door he could hear the math teacher talking with another faculty member in hushed, reverent tones.

The tale of The Time the Class’s Resident Lazy Genius Actually Did Something was apparently fated to endure for the rest of the school year.



“Good to see you again, man!” Yata waved to Kamamoto as the older boy turned to go. He would be running late now, but Yata didn’t quite mind. It was nice to see old friends again, with the way people seemed to disappear all the time around him. Half his class from his elementary school years had already moved, transferred or stopped coming to class entirely.

Saruhiko had been coming to class more often, but Yata didn’t really think much about that.

Giving Kamamoto a last wave, Yata turned to continue his walk to school only to nearly run over Saruhiko, who had silently and swiftly appeared directly behind him.

“Who was that, Misaki?” Fushimi’s voice was as calm as always, but Yata thought there was an edge to it.

“Huh? Oh, Kamamoto.” Yata shrugged. “I used to hang out with him all the time in elementary school, he’s a year ahead of us. There were some jerks who were always picking on him until I taught them a lesson.” Yata smiled proudly.

“You’re going to be late for school,” Saruhiko said shortly, grabbing his arm. “Come on.”

“Why are you in such a bad mood?” Yata asked, pulling his arm away irritably.

“This is my usual mood, Misaki,” Saruhiko said pointedly.

“You know, Kamamoto always called me ‘Yata-san,” Yata grumbled. “I keep telling you to stop using that name.”

Saruhiko said something in answer but his voice was so quiet Yata couldn’t even understand the words at all.

“Huh? What’d you say?”

“I said, you’re an idiot and need to walk faster,” Saruhiko said tersely. “You’re going to get in trouble again for being late.”

“So are you,” Yata said. He paused suddenly. “Wait, why are you even here anyway? Shouldn’t you be at school already?”

“You were taking too long to get there.”

“How do you even know where I live?” Yata wondered. Saruhiko shrugged and didn’t answer, expression looking stormier by the moment. “Seriously, Saruhiko, what’s your problem? You’re usually not this grumpy.”

“I’m not grumpy,” Saruhiko said smoothly. “I just came to keep you out of trouble.”

“I don’t need your help for that,” Yata stated.

“I beg to differ, Misaki.”

“Stop calling me that before I beat you up, seriously.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

--

Yata walked home with his hands in his pockets, in a foul mood. Saruhiko had skipped school for the first day in a long while and it had made Yata feel bored and twitchy all day long, as if he was missing an important part of himself. To make matters worse he’d failed two quizzes and got into another fight, resulting in a black eye for himself and broken nose for the other party.

And worst of all, his dad still wasn’t home. Normally, that would be something to be thankful for. He could do just fine without the old man there, that was for sure. But it had been well over two months now, and the rent was due in two weeks.

The old bastard was welcome to stay away as long as he liked, but Yata was going to need money soon and there was no way a punk kid like himself was going to be able to come up with that much cash in only two weeks, not without drastic action (and it wasn’t like he wasn’t considering those, but he was starting to have recurring nightmares of himself being bailed out of jail by a gloating Saruhiko and that was not a desirable outcome at all).

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” Yata was jolted out of his thoughts by a rough jostling at his shoulder that nearly knocked him to the ground.

“You watch it, asshole!” Yata barked out automatically, whirling around to glare at the person who had just bumped into him. His brain took a moment to catch up to his eyes and he cursed internally.

“Well, well, if it isn’t little Misaki-chan again?” The kid who had run into him taunted. He and his two companions were all tall and sharp-faced and wearing the uniform of a nearby high school.

“You’re the one taking up the entire sidewalk, Tomino,” Yata spat. “Get the hell out of my way.”

“Shouldn’t we be telling you that?” Tomino sneered. His cronies both snickered at him behind their hands. “The elementary school’s that way.”

“Don’t make me kick your ass again,” Yata growled. He was not in the mood for dealing with trash like this.

“Ooh, we’re scared, aren’t we guys?” Tomino laughed and his cronies joined in. Yata snorted at them and turned to walk away. Jerks like that weren’t even worth the time it took to beat them up.

“Where are you going, midget?” Another one of the high schoolers moved so that he was neatly blocking Yata’s path.

“I’m not in the mood to deal with this crap today,” Yata warned.

“So baby’s running home to daddy, huh?” Tomino said. “Hey, Misaki-chan, I heard you’ve been hanging out with that weird genius kid. He paying you to be his pity friend or something?”

Yata froze, his boiling anger suddenly going ice cold.

“What did you say?” he growled low.

“I remember hearing about him in middle school,” Tomino continued in a lazy drawl. “Everyone said he didn’t have any friends because he’s such a freak. He’s supposed to be so smart but he never did anything in class, so he wasn’t even worth cheating off of. Figures a brat like you would start hanging out with him. Losers get drawn to losers, right?”

“All right, bastard, you asked for it,” Yata said, glaring sharply at him. “Say one more nasty thing about Saruhiko and I’ll beat that smile off of your face.”

“You know we ran into him last year too,” Tomino continued, undaunted. “Roughed him up pretty good, didn’t we, guys? You should have seen him Misaki, crying like a little girl--”

Anything else he might have said was cut off by Yata’s fist slamming into his face. Tomino stumbled, swearing, as the other two boys immediately surrounded Yata.

“You stepped in it now, you little shit,” Tomino growled, clutching at his face. There was already a large bruise forming around his eye and Yata smirked proudly. “We’re going to make you wish you’d begged for forgiveness when you had the chance.”

They backed him into the nearest alley and Yata grit his teeth, fists clenching. Like he was going to be taken this easily.

One of the boys aimed a punch at him and Yata blocked it with one arm, trying to maneuver himself so that they couldn’t get him penned against the wall. He managed to get in a few good hits, but Tomino and his cronies were taller and heavier than he was and there were three of them to his one. In no time Yata found himself pressed against a cold brick wall, breathing hard as he tried his best to dodge the punches being thrown his way.

“Ready to apologize yet?” Tomino gloated as one of the other boys punched Yata hard in the stomach. Yata fell to his knees, the breath momentarily knocked out of him. He managed to shakily raise his head and give Tomino a fierce smile.

“Fuck you,” he hissed.

“Guess you still need to be taught a lesson, huh?” Tomino took a step closer, smiling cruelly.

“Leave him alone.” A voice from the mouth of the alley caused everyone to turn. Yata froze. He knew that voice.

Saruhiko stood there, glaring coldly at the three high schoolers. It was an expression that Yata had never seen from him before and fervently hoped to never be on the receiving end of.

“Come to save your little friend, freak-boy?” Tomino turned away from Yata to give Saruhiko his full attention. Yata immediately tried to rise and was grabbed by Tomino’s two friends.

“Get out of here, Saruhiko!” Yata yelled helplessly, struggling to escape from their grip.

“I’m fine right here,” Saruhiko said evenly. He didn’t even flinch as Tomino strode up to him, even though the high schooler had at least two inches and thirty pounds on him.

“And just what were you planning on doing, freak?” Tomino taunted. He reached out and grabbed Saruhiko by the chin, forcing his face upwards. Saruhiko’s cold gaze didn’t waver. “I thought you were supposed to be smart. Remember how we handed you your ass last year?”

“That was at school,” Saruhiko said. “This is different.”

“I don’t think it’s gonna be much--” His words were drowned out by a sharp screech as Saruhiko nonchalantly drove his knee straight into Tomino’s crotch. Tomino went down, howling in pain. “You….little…bastard!”

Yata could only stare wide-eyed as Saruhiko easily avoided Tomino’s grasp and dived into the alley, slamming into one of Yata’s captors. The high schooler fell backwards and Yata immediately sprang into action, aiming a punch straight for his remaining captor’s eye. The world was a sudden whirl of adrenaline and fists as Yata fought his way free, aware of Saruhiko at his back as the two of them made a run for the mouth of the alley.

“You little brats!” Yata heard Tomino growl and suddenly Saruhiko wasn’t behind him anymore. He turned just in time to see Tomino grab Saruhiko by the arm and slam him hard into the brick wall. Saruhiko stumbled dizzily, nearly losing his glasses, and Tomino pressed an arm against the other boy’s throat.

“Let him go, bastard!” Yata ran forward and was suddenly tackled to the ground by Tomino’s two friends.

“Shut up, you,” Tomino hissed. His voice was strained with pain. “I’ll take care of you in a minute. But first….I’m going to take care of this little fucker.” He pressed his arm down on Saruhiko’s throat and the younger boy gave a strangled gasp. Yata tried to run towards him again and was roughly dragged to his feet by Tomino’s associates, arms held tight in their grasp.

“Think you’re gonna be a hero?” Tomino taunted Saruhiko, who was looking slightly blue in the face. Yata struggled wildly against the two boys holding him, desperate to get to his friend. “Gonna save your little freak friend? Too bad for you, huh. And the best thing is, nobody’s even gonna care. I could kill both of you little shits right here and no one would even notice. Just some more trash from the streets gone missing. How’s that feel, huh? Knowing no one gives a crap about whether you live or die?”

“Damn it!” Yata kicked and bit at his captors. “Saruhiko!”

Tomino’s laughter was suddenly abruptly cut off. He straightened, his movements stiff as he backed away from his victim. Saruhiko slid to the ground, coughing.

“Tomino…?” one of Yata’s captors ventured, loosing his hold just slightly. “What’s wrong?”

Tomino’s hand was pressed against his stomach as he slowly turned to face him. Yata’s eyes widened as his brain finally processed what he was seeing.

Saruhiko was crouched on the ground with a pair of blood-stained knives in one hand, and there was blood spreading on Tomino’s shirt.

“What the hell?” one of Yata’s captors swore, staring. “The little shit’s armed!”

Their grip had weakened and Yata didn’t wait around to think any further about what had just happened. With a burst of strength he broke away from his captors and ran over to where Saruhiko was still on the ground, breathing hard. Yata grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him up, barely even slowing down.

“Come on, Saruhiko!” The two of them turned and ran as fast as they could away from the alley.

Yata wasn’t sure how long they had been running before he finally became aware of the fire burning in his chest and the soreness in his whole body. Behind him he could hear Saruhiko’s wheezing breaths as the other boy stumbled along, Yata still holding tightly to his wrist. Yata skidded to a stop, breathing hard as he rested his hands on his knees, letting go of Fushimi’s wrist at last.

“Man…that was…close,” Yata panted. He risked a glance up at Saruhiko, whose head was down. “Whew. You okay, Saruhiko?”

“You should be worried about yourself.” Yata abruptly found himself pressed up against a wall for the second time in one day as Saruhiko’s hands unexpectedly pressed against his bruised face. “You hot-headed idiot.”

“Me?” Yata squawked, slapping Saruhiko’s hand away. “You’re the one who challenged them! I would’ve been fine!”

“They had you cornered in an alley,” Fushimi shot back. It occurred to Yata that this was the most emotion he’d ever seen from Saruhiko.

“I could’ve taken them,” Yata argued, crossing his arms with a slight wince.

“And you were doing such a good job when I showed up.” Saruhiko gave him a flat look. “You’re covered in bruises.”

“I was just waiting for the right time to counterattack,” Yata muttered. He suddenly realized that he wasn’t the only one injured — a nasty-looking dark bruise was spreading over Saruhiko’s throat. “Aw, dammit, Saruhiko, what were you thinking?” He pressed a hand against the wound and Fushimi froze like a deer caught in headlights. “He almost…” Memory rushed back, of a pale-faced Saruhiko squirming under Tomino’s grip. Yata felt an uncharacteristic spike of fear. “Dammit, Saruhiko…” He rested a clenched fist against Saruhiko’s chest. “You almost…”

“It’s fine.” There was a strangled note in Saruhiko’s voice that Yata couldn’t quite place. He rested a hand awkwardly over Yata’s fist. “It’s all right, Misaki. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, but…” Yata stared down at Saruhiko’s hand and his mind suddenly registered the blood on it. His head snapped back up as he remembered the rest of what had happened. “And since when the hell do you carry knives?

They were still in Saruhiko’s hand, covered in Tomino’s blood.

“Since always.” He said it in such a way that implied it had never quite occurred to Saruhiko that there might be people who didn’t carry knives up their sleeves.

“You never told me,” Yata said, staring down fixedly at the knives. Somehow he thought that the scene didn’t quite fit, that the Saruhiko who refused to eat his vegetables and slept through half the school day also apparently routinely walked around armed. “How come you didn’t tell me you had knives?”

“You never asked.” Saruhiko shrugged. In a single movement so quick Yata didn’t quite follow it the knives disappeared back up Saruhiko’s sleeves.

“Yeah, but…why do you walk around with hidden knives?” It just seemed so weird, Yata couldn’t quite wrap his head around it.

“Protection.” Saruhiko’s voice had gone completely cold, but not the way it had been when he’d been threatening Tomino. This voice was….flat. Emotionless. Dead.

It made Yata’s chest hurt, and he placed a hand on Saruhiko’s shoulder without really knowing why.

“Misaki…?”

“Nothing.” Yata shook his head and managed a weak smile. “Man, we look a mess, don’t we? We should probably put some medicine on these bruises or something.” He paused, looking around. “I don’t even know where we are right now.”

“Three blocks from the school, two streets away from the game center, there’s a pharmacy on the first left,” Saruhiko said, almost without thinking. It was his usual voice: a little bit bored, a little bit annoyed, and it made Yata’s chest feel a bit lighter to hear it.

“I’d take us back to my place, but we’ll have to go back the way we came and those jerks might not have left yet,” Yata said thoughtfully. “What about your place? Where do you live, anyway?”

“I don’t have any bandages,” Saruhiko said dully.

“Well, never mind, then.” Yata grabbed his wrist again and tried not to think about the fact that any sudden movements could possibly discharge a knife or two. “You said the game center’s not far, right? We’ll stop at the pharmacy and get bandages and then just fix each other up at the game center. Come on.”

Saruhiko paused for only a moment before nodding, a slight smile on his face. They walked on together, Yata holding tightly to Saruhiko the entire time as if he was afraid that if he let go the other boy might disappear behind him without a trace.

The next day, Yata stopped on his way home and bought a baseball bat. Just in case.

--

Yata stared down at the money neatly arranged on the rooftop.

There was snow on the ground and Saruhiko was absent again, and Yata had approximately a week and a half to scrounge up rent money. He’d given up on the idea that his dad might show up at the last moment and help him. The old man was probably lying dead in a ditch someplace or holed up in some dark bar drowning in alcohol. He probably didn’t even remember that he had a son anymore.

“Damn it.” Yata rested his arms on his knees, irritated at the universe in general. He was cold despite his coat and he wasn’t even sure why he’d come up here. It wasn’t the same, eating on the roof without Saruhiko. His milk was already taunting him with its existence.

He stared down despondently at the money again. It definitely wasn’t enough. Even if he didn’t eat anything for a month besides Saruhiko’s vegetables, it still wouldn’t be enough. Yata sighed and flopped onto his back, staring up at the cloudy sky.

Sometimes he liked to think that maybe something would happen and everything would be better. If life was more like TV, someone would have already swept in and picked him up and taken him along to somewhere warm and bright, where he didn’t have to worry about stupid things like milk and rent and fathers who never came home. It would be nice, to have a place like that, to have a person like that. He had Saruhiko, of course, but that wasn’t quite the same, because even though Saruhiko never talked about his home life Yata was certain that his friend was in the same place Yata was.

Yata closed his eyes and let his mind wander. Life really needed to be more like TV. Then a hero could come in out of nowhere and take him along somewhere — and Saruhiko too, because of course they would go together — and there would be more to his life than a dingy apartment in the bad part of town, more than going to school and eating the cheap lunch and carrying a baseball bat just in case some of the other street punks dared to harass him.

Something warm fluttered over him and Yata’s eyes opened. Someone had laid their school jacket over him. He sat up quickly.

“Did you need a nap, Misaki?” Saruhiko was sitting next to him, idly drinking Yata’s milk.

“Saruhiko! Where the hell have you been?” It made the day seem a bit better, now that Saruhiko was here.

“I overslept.” Saruhiko shrugged. “I would’ve been up here sooner but the counselor wanted to talk to me.”

“The counselor? About what?”

“High school entrance exams.”

“…Oh.” Yata mentally added ‘high school entrance exams’ to the list of things his perfect TV world would definitely not have.

“He wanted me to try for some prestigious school somewhere.” Saruhiko took a long drink of Yata’s milk. “I don’t remember the name, I stopped listening by then.”

“You could probably get in, if you tried.” Yata wasn’t sure where the words came from. He looked down at his paltry collection of money, still lying on the rooftop. “You’re a genius, Saruhiko. You already know more stuff than I could ever learn. You could go to one of those big fancy schools with the fancy uniforms and get out of here.”

Saruhiko stared at him flatly for a moment before standing up and smacking Yata lightly on the head.

“Hey! What the hell was that for?!” Yata demanded, clutching at his head.

“Tch. Idiot.” Saruhiko crossed his arms. “What makes you think I would ever be interested in a place like that?”

Yata stared at him in confusion for a moment before a smile began to spread over his face.

“Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t.” The thought of Saruhiko in one of those places really was ridiculous, now that he thought about it. Not his Saruhiko, who couldn’t even be bothered to finish half his tests because they were too boring to be worth his trouble. “So, where will you go for school?”

“I don’t know. Wherever you go.”

“I don’t think I’ll go anywhere,” Yata admitted. “I’m probably too dumb to get into any of those schools, with the exams and all.”

“Probably,” Saruhiko agreed without missing a beat.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to agree with me!”

“But it’s the truth, Mi-sa-ki,” Saruhiko said with a smile, stretching out the syllables of Yata’s first name in the way only he could.

“Bastard,” Yata said, but he was still smiling. With a sigh he reached out to gather up his money. Saruhiko was looking at him curiously and Yata suddenly felt embarrassed for keeping things from him. “So, Saruhiko…you, um, you have side jobs sometimes, right? Like the flower delivering thing?”

“Yes.” Saruhiko looked at him curiously.

“Do you think you could…get me a job somewhere? Maybe?”

“Why?”

“Well, the thing is…” Yata laughed nervously, feeling embarrassed without knowing why. “Okay, so, well, my old man, you know, he’s kind of a loser and all and he doesn’t come home a lot. And he’s been gone for a few months now and he stopped sending rent money, and I’m kinda out on the streets if I can’t find some way to get more money than I’m making now with the little stuff I do for people around the streets.”

“You could stay with me.” From the look on his face, Saruhiko hadn’t expected the words to come out of his mouth any more than Yata had.

“Wait…really?”

“…Sure.” Saruhiko seemed to come to some kind of agreement with himself as he nodded. “We could…share the expenses at my place. If you want to.”

“That’s perfect!” Yata wrapped an arm around Saruhiko’s shoulders. “You’re the best, man. This’ll be great. You and me, sharing a place…”

“Right.” There was a small, sincere smile on Saruhiko’s face and a slight flush to his cheeks.

“So, what kind of place to do you live, anyway?”



Yata followed Saruhiko down the winding streets, dragging a duffel bag stuffed with everything he owned. He stared around at the surrounding buildings curiously as they walked.

“I didn’t know you lived so close to my place,” Yata said. “You should’ve invited me over sooner, Saruhiko! You never told me you had your own place.”

“You didn’t ask.”

“Well, I thought you’d get mad,” Yata muttered. Saruhiko had always been purposely vague about his living situation and he didn’t seem to be getting any more forthcoming even after asking Yata to move in. In retrospect Yata supposed he should’ve guessed something was weird when Saruhiko just trotted out the invitation with no mention of clearing things with parents or guardians in any way.

“Here.” Saruhiko stopped in front of an old-style brick building. It was, if possible, even worse than Yata’s old place had been. The bricks were old and crumbling and half the windows were blocked with wooden beams. There was a sign dangling off its hinges in front of the double doors and the old fire escape that ran up one side of the building looked ready to collapse any moment.

“All…right.” Yata tried to keep up his enthusiasm. He stepped towards the door and Saruhiko grabbed his arm, pulling him towards the fire escape.

“Not through the front door,” Saruhiko said, like it was the most natural thing in the world. “This way.”

“Wait, why can’t we go in the door?”

“The landlord…doesn’t exactly know I live here,” Saruhiko admitted, looking about as close to sheepish as he ever had.

“Wait, what?” Yata stared at him. “Saru! You’re—you’re a delinquent, aren’t you!”

“So are you,” Saruhiko said, irritated.

“Yeah, but that’s different,” Yata insisted. “I always thought you were…I dunno, respectable. Or something like that.”

“That’s why I say you’re an idiot,” Saruhiko said. “How exactly did you think I was affording rent on an apartment all by myself? By delivering flowers?”

“I thought maybe your parents or someone was paying for it,” Yata said. Saruhiko’s face went suddenly blank and he turned away.

“Idiot. As if I had anyone like that. Come on.” He began to climb the creaky fire escape and Yata hurried after him.

“Saruhiko!” Yata grabbed his arm. “Hey, I didn’t mean--”

“It’s fine,” Saruhiko said. “Just come on, before we’re seen. Watch your step.”

He began to lead Yata slowly up the fire escape, the ancient metal creaking with every step. Yata supposed it did add a certain spice of danger to everything, having to risk your life every time you wanted to go home. Maybe that was why Saruhiko spent so much time with him after school. No point in bothering to make the climb more often than needed.

“So how do you live here without anyone noticing?” Yata wondered, trying his best not to look down.

“The landlord keeps a record of the tenants and their rent payments on his computer,” Saruhiko said.

“So?”

“He needs to work better on his password protection.”

“Wait. You…”

“At the moment he thinks my apartment is owned by a seventy year old woman who already paid her entire year’s rent in January even though he can’t really remember if she ever gave him a check,” Saruhiko said with a nod. “But if it’s in the computer, he thinks it has to be true. He’s even more simple-minded than you are.”

“So you can do that kind of computer stuff too, huh?” Yata whistled, ignoring the slight. “You’re cool sometimes, Saruhiko.”

“I don’t need compliments from you.”

“I knew you were a geek all this time,” Yata added with a snicker.

“Better a geek than a single-cell idiot,” Saruhiko said, not slowing his steps even slightly.

At last Saruhiko stopped, right in front of a boarded-up window. He pressed on a couple of the boards and they moved aside easily, creating a small opening just big enough for a skinny middle schooler to crawl through.

“Send your stuff through first,” Saruhiko told Yata as he began to heave himself inside.

“This is kinda neat,” Yata admitted as he pushed his duffel bag through the hole. “It’s like we have a secret base.”

With only slight difficulty Yata climbed through the hole and landed with a grunt on the floor beneath. He sat up to get a good look at last at the place Saruhiko lived.

There was stuff everywhere. Old newspapers, schoolbooks at least two or three years old, empty take-out boxes stacked one on top of each other. A ratty couch sat like an island in the the middle of a sea of food wrappers and there were two knives stuck into the wall inches from the top of the television. The entire place looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in months, if not years.

“You’re…” Yata could only stare. “You’re a slob!

“Hmm?” Saruhiko had already dropped his own school things haphazardly in a corner. He looked around coolly at the trash surrounding him and shrugged. “I’ll take out the trash later. I don’t feel like it right now.”

“Do you ever feel like it?” Yata gave the rest of the apartment a quick once over. The single bathroom was, mercifully, mostly clean even though Saruhiko’s towel had been tossed on the floor and clearly forgotten about. There was also a small kitchen with a couple cupboards, a microwave and a mini-fridge. Yata took a moment to dig through the contents of Saruhiko’s food stores. “Geez, Saruhiko, what do you eat? There’s barely anything in here!”

“I can always get take out.” Saruhiko had picked up a book from somewhere and was flipping through it idly.

“We need to get you some real food whenever we have extra money,” Yata said. “I’m gonna do something about that crappy diet of yours for sure this time.”

“I don’t remember getting married to you,” Saruhiko said blandly and Yata stomped over to glare at him.

“Maybe you’d be less crabby if you ate better,” Yata said, pointing down dramatically at him. Saruhiko rolled over onto his back and held up his book like a shield.

“And you’d be less of a midget if you drank milk.”

“That’s a cheap shot! I can still grow, you know!” Yata crossed his arms and looked pointedly away. “So, where am I staying? I didn’t even see a bedroom…”

“Over there.” Saruhiko pointed to a lump of blankets and something that might have been a pillow all mashed up in the far corner of the main room. Off Yata’s open-mouthed look, he added, “I can buy you another blanket.”

Yata gave a groan that was half a sigh and sat down next to Saruhiko.

“So this where you’ve lived this whole time, huh? By yourself?” he said after a moment.

“That’s right.” The book masked Saruhiko’s expression and his voice was completely flat.

Yata looked back down at him, then around at the apartment. It wasn’t as nice as his old apartment had been — for certain values of ‘nice’, at any rate — but it wasn’t like he was in a position to be choosy. And anyway, this was his best friend’s place and somehow that made even the dingy apartment feel warmer and more inviting than his ever had.

Yata dug his game system out of his duffel bag and flopped down on the floor beside Saruhiko. Saruhiko looked sidelong at him over the sides of his book and Yata smiled at him. Saruhiko looked away again almost immediately, but Yata had seen that slight pleased flush in his cheeks again.

It really was kinda cool, after all.



“Hey, Saruhiko, get up!” Yata waved at the blanketed lump in the corner as he peered out the opened hole in the boarded window. “Look at all the snow out there.”

“Mmmph,” was the reply.

“Lemme find my PDA, I bet there’s a message that school’s canceled.” Yata dragged himself over to the couch and dug around through the remains of last night’s takeout (he really had meant to take the garbage out, really, but it was more of a task than he’d expected and if Saruhiko didn’t mind, why rush?). “Even if it’s not, we should stay home anyway. I don’t wanna walk in this, it’s gotta be freezing out. What do you think, Saruhiko?”

“Mmph.” The blanketed lump rolled over and turned pointedly away from him, as much as a pile of blankets could do anything pointedly. Saruhiko seemed to taken advantage of Yata’s absence beside him to absorb the spare blanket as well.

“We could probably get out to the game center,” Yata continued. “Or see if someone needs a walk shoveled or something, I bet we could get some cash that way.”

The blankets didn’t respond and finally Yata sighed and made his way back over to give his friend a good shake.

“Hey, Saruhiko!”

A pillow flew in his general direction with knife-like accuracy and Yata had to scramble back to avoid it.

“What the hell was that for? Come on, get up already!” Yata grabbed Saruhiko by the shoulder and to his surprise was roughly smacked away.

“Go ‘way.” Saruhiko gave him a bleary-eyed glare before disappearing back under the blankets.

“Are you gonna sleep all day?” Yata demanded, rubbing irritably at the spot where Saruhiko had hit him. Saruhiko gave a muffled grunt in reply and in exasperation Yata grabbed at the blankets, trying to extricate Saruhiko bodily out from under them. Saruhiko gave an indignant growl and immediately fought back.

An arm jabbed weakly into his stomach and Yata suddenly found himself lying on top of a very red-cheeked Saruhiko, their faces inches apart.

Yata opened his mouth to say something and then suddenly realized that there was a strangely glazed look to Saruhiko’s eyes and that his face was flushed from more than just exertion.

“Saruhiko…?” Yata pressed a hand against Saruhiko’s forehead and was weakly slapped away again as Saruhiko tried to gather up his blankets. “Hey, you’re burning up!”

“I noticed,” Saruhiko grumbled thickly as he began to cocoon himself back beneath the thick blankets. “All your yelling is giving me a headache.”

“I wasn’t yelling!” Yata insisted. “And I wouldn’t have had to yell if you’d just told me you weren’t feeling well!”

“It’s nothing,” Saruhiko muttered. “Just a cold. I’ll be better tomorrow, as long as you go away and let me sleep.”

“But you feel really hot,” Yata said, clambering back up next to him. “Shouldn’t we find a doctor? Hey, should I call the hospital?”

Saruhiko gave him a look that was more frigid than someone with sweat-soaked hair sticking to his forehead should have been able to manage.

“It’ll be fine. Just shut up for once and let me sleep.”

Yata leaned back on his hands and bit his lip thoughtfully as Saruhiko closed his eyes and curled back up into a blanketed ball. He seemed to fall asleep within moments and Yata found himself staring down curiously at Saruhiko’s sleeping face.

He didn’t look well and Yata didn’t like it at all. He looked peaceful, though, curled up on his side with his hands clenched into fists around the blankets like a little kid. With his glasses off he looked almost…vulnerable, somehow. Yata supposed that anyone who didn’t know Saruhiko who saw him like this would probably think that he was a sweet kid. The thought made Yata laugh quietly. Saruhiko was lots of things, but definitely not sweet.

Yata sighed and glanced back out the crack in the window. Well, even if there was school today he definitely wasn’t going anywhere. He knew how much it sucked to be home sick with no one to take care of you. As Saruhiko’s best (only) friend, it was Yata’s job to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t die of a winter cold or anything like that.

Yata’s stomach growled and at last he got to his feet. They didn’t have much in the way of groceries and Saruhiko was notoriously picky, but Yata was pretty certain that he could find something to make Saruhiko for when the other boy woke up.

It was a few hours later when Saruhiko finally emerged from his cocoon of blankets. His color seemed a little better but he barely seemed to have the energy to drag himself to his feet and was noticeably unsteady.

“Saruhiko!” Yata immediately looked up from where he’d been playing with his game system on the ratty old couch. “Are you feeling better? You’re not gonna die, right?”

Saruhiko fumbled for his glasses for a moment as he stared at Yata as if trying to remember who he was.

“Misaki…?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here.” Yata vaulted over the back of the couch and hurried to Saruhiko’s side, nearly falling over a pile of newspapers as he went. “Do you need anything? More blankets? Juice? I can get juice. Oh! And I made something to settle your stomach, hold on, I’ll go get it.”

“You don’t…have to be my nursemaid,” Saruhiko said irritably, leaning heavily against the wall and apparently doing his level best to be the usual Saruhiko despite the obvious redness of his face and the hitches in his breathing. Yata ignored him and made his way back to the kitchen, grabbing the food he’d set aside for Saruhiko and heating it up in the microwave for a moment before returning to present it proudly to his friend. Saruhiko gave him a withering look. “You made that?”

“Yup,” Yata said proudly. “Didn’t know I was a great cook, did you? Unlike some people, I can do more than use a microwave on a frozen dinner.”

“It looks like something died in it,” Saruhiko said bluntly.

“It doesn’t matter how it looks,” Yata argued. “It’s taste that’s important, taste! And anyway it’s good for you!”

Saruhiko’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and Yata had the sinking feeling that he’d just said something taboo.

“Are there vegetables in there?”

“There should be, but there aren’t because we don’t have any. Someone throws them out all the time like a pouting little kid.”

“You’re the last person to be calling someone else ‘little.’” Saruhiko seemed to sway for a moment and then he abruptly sat down, head in his hands. Yata immediately set down the food and crouched down beside him.

“Saruhiko! What happened, did you faint? Are you okay? Hey, Saruhiko…” He nervously shook Saruhiko by the shoulders and was pushed away.

“You’re noisy,” Saruhiko muttered in a faint voice as he dragged himself to his feet, half-stumbling, half-crawling towards his abandoned bed. “Useless and…stupid and annoying…” He shook his head and suddenly his legs didn’t seem to want to hold him anymore and he fell into a heap. In a flash Yata was at his side again.

“Hey, Saruhiko. Saruhiko.” Yata shook his friend nervously and felt something inside him clench when he got no response. “Hey, Saru! Come on, you’re freaking me out. Saruhiko!”

“…Noisy…” Saruhiko muttered vaguely, eyes fluttering. He stared up blearily into Yata’s worried eyes. “Misaki…what…?”

“You…fainted, or something,” Yata told him, ignoring the strained tone of his own voice. “Um…maybe I should get you back to bed?”

“Yes, that’s probably…” Saruhiko tried to stand, winced and fell back onto the floor. He was shaking slightly.

“Here, I’ll help.” Yata reached over to take his arm and was ignored.

“I can do it.” Saruhiko forced himself up onto his arms and then to his feet. He swayed dangerously for a moment before Yata ran to his side, taking him by the shoulder and steering him towards the makeshift bed. “I said, I can do it. I don’t need you to…”

“Who’s the idiot this time, huh?” Yata said gruffly, not moving. “You shouldn’t have gotten up in the first place.”

Saruhiko looked up at him in surprise for a moment before managing a shaky smile.

“Probably not.” He sighed heavily and let Yata half-carry him back to the bed.

“You sure I shouldn’t call…somebody, or something?” Yata asked nervously as Saruhiko lowered himself back down into the blankets.

“It’ll be fine.” Saruhiko’s voice was oddly calm. “I just need to rest.”

“I could go down the store and buy some medicine, I think we’ve still got some cash left after last night’s dinner.”

“No, it’s fine.” One of Saruhiko’s hands reached out weakly to grab onto the end of Yata’s shirt. “Just stay here, Misaki. With me.”

“A-all right.” Yata was taken momentarily aback. It wasn’t like Saruhiko to say something like that so straightforwardly, and looking down at him Yata felt a sudden rush of affection for his friend. “All right, Saruhiko. Don’t worry. I’m here. I’ll stay here, okay? So get some sleep.”



“What are you doing?” Saruhiko grabbed his arm as Yata rose to his feet.

“What does it look like? Let’s go after them.” Yata glanced from Saruhiko’s worried face to where the red-haired man and his friends were disappearing into the crowd.

“Are you crazy?” Saruhiko seemed worried and maybe a little angry, and Yata wasn’t sure why. Hadn’t he just seen what the same thing Yata had? The thing that guy had done…. It was like he had some kind of magic power. And he’d even had a bunch of guys with him, following him close like he was some kind of king and they were all his subjects.

Yata’s heart was pounding with an excitement he couldn’t quite name. He wasn’t really sure what had just happened, but he knew that it was something big. Something big had finally happened to them. Something like in those stories he’d long ago dismissed as impossible.

“Come on, we’ll lose them.” Yata was already going after them when Saruhiko pulled him back again. “Aaah, Saru, what’s your problem? They’re getting away!”

“Good,” Saruhiko said flatly. His eyes were flashing irritably behind his glasses. “Don’t be such an idiot, Misaki. We don’t even know who those guys are or what they want with us. What if--”

“Didn’t you see what that guy did?” Yata argued. “We can’t just let something like this go by. They invited us to come along. How often does something like that happen? Let’s at least go see what they were talking about.”

“Tch.” Saruhiko always made that noise when he was annoyed but not willing to say why. Yata gave an irritated groan and slipped out of Saruhiko’s grasp.

“I’m going,” he announced. “If you’re so scared, just stay here alone.”

He regretted the words almost as soon as he said them. Something dark flashed through Saruhiko’s eyes as he looked away. His face seemed paler than normal.

“Come on.” Yata reached out then and grabbed Saruhiko’s wrist, pulling him forward. Saruhiko didn’t resist this time, and soon he was following along behind Yata without being pulled.

After a moment Yata spotted the red-haired man in the crowd and ran forward after him. As he got closer, he stopped only once to turn back and be sure Saruhiko was still following.

Whatever had just happened, whoever these people were, whatever that power had been, he knew that it was something big. Something that he’d been waiting for. And if it was something like that, he had to be sure Saruhiko came along too.

Yata had been waiting all this time to be saved, and he wasn’t going to let it happen without Saruhiko by his side. They were together. It felt like they had always been together.

They would be saved together. He was sure of it.

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