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Title: Between the Lines
Fandom: K Project
Rating: T
Pairings/Warnings: Fushimi x Yata-ish
Summary: People didn't like Fushimi Saruhiko.



People didn’t like Fushimi Saruhiko.

It was something he had always known and it had never bothered him much. It was like a simple fact of the universe: the sky was blue, the sun was warm, people didn’t like him. It was just the way things were and would always be.

His parents didn’t like him, or so he assumed. He’d never actually met them but Fushimi imagined they must not have liked him much since they’d dropped him off at a relative’s house when he’d been very young and he’d never heard so much as a word from them forever after.

His relatives didn’t like him either. They always tried, at first. When he’d been small it had been easier for them, because it was a simple thing to smile and talk kindly to a little abandoned child with messy hair and wide eyes that stared up owlishly behind thick-framed glasses. It became less easy once they brought him inside, when he proved to be gloomy and standoffish and wouldn’t play the games normal children did or be amused by the things normal children would, when he would simply sit and quietly stare at them. “It’s creepy,” he’d overheard an aunt say once, when he’d been about five or so. “I can’t take it when that child looks at me that way.” Like everyone else, the relatives he stayed with would eventually stop even pretending to like him and he’d find himself sent away again. There would be another aunt, another grandparent, another distant cousin, and then eventually there was only himself and an empty apartment (there had even been rent, until there wasn’t -- a great-uncle balancing the finances and wondering what that little notch in the budget was or a cousin taking stock of a deceased grandparent’s assets and being completely confounded by that little payment to a run-down apartment complex and then shrugging and stopping payments without another thought, and no one remembered the little boy with the thick glasses and the creepy stare).

His teachers didn’t like him. He found them boring and their lessons boring, and his grades were never anything much to speak of. His teachers would always eventually realize that he was smart and then for a brief shining moment he would be the golden student, the prize genius of the classroom, until they realized he was too smart and would like him even less than they had before. Fushimi didn’t see how any of that was his fault, but it was just as well. The lessons were always too easily understood and therefore not worth his time, the same as everything else. Any problem he could solve inevitably became boring in the answering and not even worth lifting a pencil for.

His fellow students definitely didn’t like him and the feeling was mutual. Fushimi had tried to befriend them, of course, when he was younger and didn’t realize that he wasn’t made to be liked. He’d joined in games with the other children but they’d all been so boring he’d never been able to keep up any interest in them for very long. He couldn’t help it. The other children didn’t understand him and he understood them both too well and not at all. By the end of elementary school Fushimi had already been branded an outcast.

Fushimi might have cared about that at first but by middle school it had all become simply something that was. He ate his meals alone, walked to and from school alone, never stayed late for clubs or teacher conferences or even school festivals, and every day passed more boring than the next. Everything was gray and dull and uneventful and at some point Fushimi simply accepted that this was the way the world would always be for him. Gray and flat and alone. Something that might have hurt once but had long since ceased to do so.

And then one day an idiot named Yata Misaki talked to him about vegetables over a trash can at lunch.



Fushimi had never paid attention to who was in his class in any given year. He supposed some of them must have been in class with him before and might have known his name or at least his face, but he never bothered to memorize any of theirs. They would all be going their separate ways eventually and none of them would ever so much as think of him again, so why bother to expend any effort on them?

Fushimi always ate alone in the corner of the cafeteria. Sometimes he brought a book, though there really weren’t many books he liked. It just gave him something else to focus on while he ate. Lunch itself was always the same too: whatever was cheapest on any given day. He kept himself fed and clothed by doing odd jobs on days he didn’t feel like going to school (there was no one to force him to go, after all, and no one at school to care whether he was there or not) and though he did have some food at home he could never quite manage to get up the energy to pack his own lunch in the morning.

The problem with buying, of course, was the vegetables. Every single meal, without fail, there were vegetables. Fushimi wrinkled his nose as he slowly began to pick them out of his food, idly stacking them by color and size. Lunch period always seemed to go on forever but this helped to make the time go just a bit faster. Fushimi never understood why all his classmates got so excited at lunch time. There was nothing to do but eat dry tasteless school food and talk about boring, trivial things. It was worse than class.

The vegetables were bothering him now, so he finally stood and went to throw them away. He reached the trash can at the same time as another student, a short red-haired kid with a carton of milk clenched in his hand so tightly Fushimi wondered idly if it had offended him in some way.

“It’s spoiled.” The other boy had apparently noticed Fushimi’s staring.

“Ah…oh.” He hadn’t really expected to be talked to and Fushimi wasn’t even certain how to respond. He didn’t really care, in any case. It wasn’t any business of his if the midget didn’t want to drink milk, and it wasn’t like the kid had to justify himself to Fushimi, of all people.

The other boy was staring at Fushimi’s stacks of vegetables now and Fushimi looked away from him. He hoped the red head would take the hint and leave, quickly. It was awkward, standing there, and even the thought of starting up a further conversation made Fushimi feel a little ill. No one talked to him, ever. It was the way things were. He didn’t like it when people disrupted the way things were, because then it made him think and Fushimi had found that sometimes when he started to think, to really think, it made his entire chest feel like it was on fire.

“Why did you even buy it if you’re not going to eat half of it?”

“I…” Fushimi shifted uncomfortably. An empty apartment flashed through his mind and he felt something inside him clench in the way it did when he thought too hard.

“What’s your name?” the red-haired boy blurted out.

“Fushimi…Saruhiko.” Why ask his name? It wasn’t like it would ever matter. Fushimi didn’t even know why he answered.

“Fushimi, huh?” The other kid held out a hand as if he expected Fushimi to take it or something, which was just ridiculously stupid. “Yata Misaki.”

“Misaki…?” It sounded like a girl’s name and Fushimi wondered if he had misheard.

“No!” Yata said quickly, as if embarrassed. Fushimi decided at that point that the other boy was certainly an idiot of the highest caliber and there was not much point in engaging him further. “Yata, you can call me Yata! Anyway, were you always in this class?”

“Yes.” This was familiar, now. He began to toss the last few vegetables in the trash can, in the hopes of ending the conversation quicker.

“I don’t remember you.”

“Most people don’t.” Fushimi shrugged. That was the way he liked it, after all. He turned to go back to his seat without another word, trusting Yata to take the hint and do the same.

“Vegetables are good for you, you know.” The voice was muttered and barely heard, and Fushimi made an small annoyed ‘tch’ sound with his tongue.

“Milk helps you grow,” he replied without even looking back.

“What the hell did you just say?!” Yata yelped behind him. Fushimi had the sudden uncharacteristic desire to see his annoyed face and so he turned back to look.

“Nothing.”

“Hmmph. I thought so.” Yata raised his head and snorted as if he’d somehow succeeded in accomplishing anything at all as he strode past Fushimi towards where he had been eating. Fushimi didn’t even bother to watch him go, making his way to his usual solitary corner.

Somehow, lunch period seemed shorter than usual that day and he wasn’t really sure why.



Fushimi assumed that the encounter with Yata Misaki during lunch would be both the first and last time he spoke with the other boy. After all, he was a disliked person. It was a law of the universe. People didn’t talk to him, he didn’t talk to them, and the world turned on as normal.

Therefore he was more surprised than anyone when the next day and the day after and the day after that, Yata continued to talk to him. In that time, Fushimi came to several conclusions.

The first: Yata Misaki was a hot-headed moron. He got irritated easily, didn’t like people to use his given name, and refused to drink milk. Judging from the occasional bruises on his face, he likely got into fights a lot. He ate the same cheap lunch as Fushimi.

The second, and this was the one that Fushimi simply couldn’t understand: Yata Misaki didn’t seem to dislike talking to him at all. He would act like it sometimes, of course, sharply answering Fushimi’s dry remarks about the relationship between his height (or lack thereof) and his refusal to drink milk, would snap and lose his temper and complain and shoot comments back, but then he would be right back at the trash can the next day, talking to Fushimi as if nothing had happened.

The third, and the one that worried him the most: Fushimi was possibly actually beginning to enjoy talking to Yata every day. He was almost looking forward to the conversations by the trash can.This was, of course, unacceptable. It was only inevitable that eventually Yata Misaki would prove to be as boring as everyone else and then they wouldn’t be able to talk anymore and he might actually miss it.

The thought was intolerable, so Fushimi did what he decided was the only sensible thing: he started to drink Yata’s milk. After getting his lunch he would swing by Yata’s table, take the milk carton with barely a word, and go back to his usual corner. There was no more need for conversations at the trash can and his world went right back to the safe gray place it had always been.

Then Misaki sat across from him and demanded to eat the vegetables from Fushimi’s lunch, and Fushimi found himself forced to come to a fourth conclusion that he had not expected at all.

He liked Yata Misaki.



“Let’s go onto the roof.”

“Hmm?” Fushimi looked up at Misaki uncomprehendingly. They had been eating lunch together for nearly a month now. He had no idea what had happened to Misaki’s usual lunch partners and honestly didn’t really care.

Misaki was staring down at him with his ridiculous moron grin, his eyes alight with the usual thoughtless enthusiasm. Fushimi didn’t even know how it was possible for someone to function with so little brain activity at any given time.

“The roof, the roof!” Misaki said, as if Fushimi had somehow failed to hear him.

“It’s cold out,” Fushimi pointed out. It was nearly winter. Only a pair of idiots would go eat lunch on the roof on a day like this.

“I know,” Misaki said, sitting down beside him. “But it’s too…I dunno, stuffy in here today. And besides, I bet that means no one else will be there. We’ll have it all to ourselves, it’ll be great!”

Fushimi could think of several adjectives for what eating on the roof on a cold day could be, and none of them were kind. He didn’t really see what the difference was between the cafeteria and the roof except that one of them was colder.

And Misaki was going to eat on the roof, so one would have Misaki.

“All right, all right.” Fushimi sighed. He didn’t really know why he was giving in, but Misaki’s smile made the whole idea suddenly seem more interesting than it had been before.

And when they both fell asleep in a patch of sun with their backs leaning against each other, oblivious to the cold and the class they were missing, Fushimi had to admit that perhaps, for once, Misaki had been correct about something.



“It’s not hard.” They were on the roof again, with the day’s math homework spread out before them. The wind was strong that day, so they’d anchored the papers down with Yata’s milk and Fushimi’s vegetables. Fushimi was trying for what had to be the tenth time in one week to explain how math worked.

“Yes it is,” Misaki replied, irritated. “All these stupid….numbers, and shit. Like this one,” He jabbed a finger at one offending problem. “How the hell is anyone supposed to know the answer to that? I mean, what the hell is that stupid symbol thingy supposed to meany anyway?”

“21.5,” Fushimi said with barely a glance at the problem.

“How do you do that?” Misaki demanded. “Seriously, Saruhiko…what’s your secret? How do you know this stuff?”

“Just a simple application of rocket science,” Fushimi replied calmly.

“Huh?” Yata stared at him as if he’d just said aliens were feeding the answers straight to his brain. “Wait, really? Is that what we’re learning?”

“I’m kidding, you simple-minded idiot,” Fushimi said. Really, he didn’t understand how someone could be such a complete moron about so many things. It never failed to be amusing.

“I knew that,” Yata muttered, looking away. “And who are you calling simple-minded?”

“The person who still can’t get better than a 60 on any given test.”

“Says the guy who gets worse grades than me,” Yata said. He paused for a moment. “Say, Saruhiko…why don’t you do any better on tests?”

“What sort of question is that?” Fushimi reached for Yata’s milk, upsetting two worksheets.

“I mean…you’re like a genius, right? You can answer stuff like this without even trying. You should have the best grades in the class!”

Fushimi shrugged, looking down idly at the papers fluttering in the wind.

“It’s all boring,” he said at last.

“Boring?”

“It’s not even worth lifting the pencil,” Fushimi said honestly. He wasn’t sure why he even said it, because it wasn’t any of Yata’s business. He’d just gotten used to answering Misaki’s questions by now. “Everything is too easy, and so it’s boring. It’s such a bother, I’d rather not do it at all. People always think that because I can find the answer that must mean I like things like this, tests and schoolwork. But in the end, it doesn’t catch my interest at all. There’s nothing satisfying in getting perfect scores or showing off, so why even waste my time on it?”

“…Right.” Yata actually looked somewhat thoughtful at that. “I sorta…I kinda know what you mean. About feeling…unsatisfied, I guess.” He paused. “But still, you’re showing me what to do and everything. Isn’t that boring too?”

“That’s different.” It was never boring, helping Misaki. It made the homework and tests seem almost worth it, when they got to sit here on the roof like this. Fushimi almost wanted to tell him that, but his voice wouldn’t come and so he just continued to stare down at the blank papers in front of him.

“It is?” Misaki looked oddly pleased at that.

“Tch.” Fushimi made an irritated noise. Only an idiot would be so easily mollified by that simple an answer.

“All right!” Yata’s energy seemed to have returned full force as he rolled up his sleeves and scrambled for a pencil. “Explain it to me one more time.”

Fushimi glared at him but reached for the papers anyway.



Misaki wasn’t in class today and the day had never been longer.

Fushimi felt as if he’d been sitting there at the desk for years, growing older and more withered with every second. The voices of the teachers and his fellow students were nothing but an annoyance, hollow echoes in his ears that wouldn’t go away. He sat in the corner of the cafeteria at lunch and tried to read a book, but the words danced away from his eyes and he couldn’t concentrate.

I should have skipped too. It had been a long time since he’d done that. Ever since he’d started eating with Misaki every day and hanging out with him after school and waiting for him every morning, school had begun to seem ever so slightly less like an annoyance. Without Misaki, everything felt the way it had before, when he’d had just himself and the corners of his mind for company.

He scribbled lines idly on his worksheet and leaned his head on his palm, eyes staring dully out the window. There was no help for it on a day like today. The world was gray and empty, and he didn’t even want to think about why.

Fushimi Saruhiko was a person other people didn’t like and that had always been fine with him. Loneliness was just another of the bothersome things he endured, no different than school or vegetables. But somehow the world seemed different now and he wasn’t completely sure if he liked it. The days before he’d met Misaki had always been gray but it had at least been a familiar color. He’d almost gotten used to it. He’d almost made it to a place where he could be satisfied with always being unsatisfied, where he could tell himself that just breathing was enough.

Fushimi stared out the window and thought that, perhaps, if this was actually the way the world looked without Misaki in it then maybe he didn’t really like it much after all. If this was the way the world without Misaki was going to look, then he’d be happy enough to let it break and bleed into nothing.

--

Misaki was late. Fushimi chewed on his lip and shifted irritably in the doorway to the school. Usually Misaki was there early and they could walk to class together, but today he was late. Fushimi wondered if Yata was going to be off again today and the thought made his skin itch.

If Misaki was sick, Fushimi would need to go look in on him this time. That was a thing friends did, wasn’t it? And besides, Misaki was such an idiot he’d probably managed to defy all common sense and idiomatic sayings and had probably gotten all the colds in the world and was trying to treat them by doing stupid things like taking cold baths and sleeping with wet socks. Someone needed to keep an eye on him and inform him of what a nuisance he was being by not coming to school.

Something in the back of Fushimi’s mind suggested that perhaps this line of thinking was not quite healthy, but by then he was already walking towards Misaki’s apartment. Yata had never told Fushimi exactly where he lived, of course, but Fushimi had long ago figured it out. He’d followed Misaki part of the way once, and then there’d been the time Misaki had run into him standing in front of the flower shop with his hair and clothes all wet but not in the least out of breath, meaning he couldn’t have walked far. It was an easy thing to triangulate a possible location for Misaki’s apartment based on the available information (sometimes he hated the analytical part of his mind, which never stopped thinking and couldn’t be made interested in anything, but there were times it came in handy not being able to ever completely turn it off).

“Good to see you again, man!” The sound of Misaki’s voice made Fushimi’s feet stop.

Misaki was standing a few feet away, waving to another boy who looked to be at least a year or so older than them. His voice when he spoke was easy and familiar, and the other boy waved back with the same casual air, like two people who knew each other and were happy to meet.

Something in Fushimi’s chest felt tight and his vision blurred for a moment.

Certainly it was all right for Misaki to have other friends. Most people had lots of friends, after all.

Fushimi had only one friend.

Yata turned around and started in surprise upon seeing Fushimi standing there.

“Who was that, Misaki?” Fushimi heard the edge in his own voice and ignored it.

“Huh? Oh, Kamamoto.” Misaki shrugged, as if it had been nothing. Because it was nothing, of course. It was something normal, nothing to be worried about. The weight in Fushimi’s chest wouldn’t go away. “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.”

“You’re going to be late for school.” Fushimi grabbed at Misaki’s arm, dragging him forward. “Come on.”

“Why are you in such a bad mood?” Misaki asked, pulling his arm away, and Fushimi felt a sudden rush of annoyance towards everything and nothing.

“This is my usual mood, Misaki.” Fushimi stretched the name out in just the way he liked best.

“You know, Kamamoto always called me ‘Yata-san,” Yata said. Fushimi didn’t even look at him. “I keep telling you to stop using that name.”

“I like the sound of it.” He wasn’t even sure he’d said it out loud. Fushimi bit his lip and made a small sound of annoyance, trying to walk faster as if he could pull Misaki away from everything and everyone who wasn’t himself.

“Huh? What’d you say?”

I said I like the way your name sounds when I say it. I like that only I can say it, and no one else.

“I said, you’re an idiot and need to walk faster.”



“Let me go, Saru! That guy needs to learn a lesson!”

“Don’t be such a hot-headed moron, Misaki.” Fushimi held tightly to the back of Yata’s shirt collar.

“Didn’t you hear what he said?” Misaki demanded. His hands were balled into fists and he kept trying to pull away.

“Tch.” Fushimi rolled his eyes. How this idiot had ever survived this many years of school without someone to grab him by the collar and stop him from getting into stupid fights, Fushimi didn’t know.

“You can’t just let guys get away with saying crap like that about you!”

“It doesn’t matter,” Fushimi said, yanking Misaki back a couple more steps.

“Yes it does,” Yata insisted. “Damn it, Saruhiko! Lemme go! Are you going to drag me all the way back to class or something?”

“If I have to,” Fushimi replied calmly, continuing to pull him down the hall. “Don’t you ever get tired of being an idiot?”

“I’m not being an idiot,” Yata said sulkily. He gave an irritated growl. “Oh, all right! I’ll leave him alone. For now. So let me go.”

Fushimi raised an eyebrow but let go of Yata’s shirt collar anyway.

“I don’t get why you just let guys say stuff like that about you,” Yata grumbled as he stomped angrily towards the classroom. “Doesn’t it ever just piss you off, Saruhiko?”

“Not really. Just ignore it, Misaki.

“I can’t.” Yata paused and turned to face him. “Someone’s gotta stand up for you, right?”

Fushimi’s eyes widened slightly. He was always aware of what people said about him. Unkind things, hurtful things, often said straight to his face, sometimes accompanied by shoves and kicks and the usual things children did to those who were outcasts. It was one of the things that he’d long ago accepted as part of the world that had no more use for him than he had for it.

Misaki shifted nervously, looking a bit embarrassed at his own outburst, and Fushimi couldn’t help the small smile that wound its way across his face.

“You really are an idiot,” he said at last. Yata smiled back at him anyway and they walked into the classroom together.



“S-S-Saruhiko…” Misaki’s face was ashen as he walked over to Fushimi’s desk, holding a pink envelope between two fingers as if he thought it might explode at any time.

“Misaki?” Fushimi raised an eyebrow at him and Misaki gingerly laid the envelope on his desk.

“It—it’s--” Misaki stuttered nervously and Fushimi gave an extravagant sigh as he picked up the envelope and opened it.

“It’s a letter,” Fushimi said flatly.

“From a girl,” Misaki said, as if this was somehow impressive. “A girl, Saru! A girl wrote me a letter.”

“Yes, I can see that.” Something twitched in Fushimi’s mind and he tried to ignore the feeling, tearing idly at the corners of the letter. It had apparently been coated in some kind of perfume and the smell was making him feel sick.

“S-so…what should I do?” Misaki’s face had gone from deathly pale to bright red.

“What kind of question is that?”

“It’s a love letter!” Misaki said, and Fushimi could have sworn that his voice had gone up a couple octaves. “A-a confession! I got a confession letter, Saruhiko!”

“So?” Fushimi shrugged. “Don’t be such a virgin.”

“Who are you calling a virgin?” Misaki snapped. “I-I’ll have you know that I’ve talked to tons of girls before. Hundreds. Thousands of them.”

“Name one.”

“I-I’m not going to betray their trust by saying,” Misaki said. Fushimi slid the letter back over to him and he yelped and fell back as if burned.

“Thousands of girls, huh?”

“Who are you to talk anyway?” Misaki muttered. “How many girls have you talked to before?”

“Probably more than you.” Which was technically a lie because Fushimi didn’t talk much to anyone who wasn’t Misaki, girls or no, but Fushimi wasn’t going to tell him that.

“Anyway, never mind that.” Misaki tried to regain his composure, which was a losing battle if Fushimi ever saw one. “Saruhiko…what do I do?”

“You send a reply, idiot,” Fushimi said, disgusted.

“A reply, right…” Misaki stared at the letter and bit his lip. “Hey. Saruhiko. Could you…write one for me?”

“What?”

“A reply,” Misaki said. “I’m not good at this kind of stuff. You could write something good for me, couldn’t you? I mean, you’re all smart and stuff. You could probably write something good.”

“I’m not your secretary,” Fushimi said darkly. Misaki gave him a pitiful look and Fushimi gave a sigh of long suffering. “Really, you’re such a virgin.

“But you’ll do it, right?” Misaki prompted.

Fushimi rolled his eyes but nodded anyway.

“All right! You’re the best, Saruhiko.” Misaki clapped him on the back and hurried back to his seat as the teacher walked into the room.

“Tch.” Fushimi unfolded the letter and let his eyes wander idly over it. He didn’t see why his classmates got so flustered over stupid things like love letters and confessions. They were all pointless things, anyway. They were middle schoolers, it wasn’t like any of them were ever going to see much of each other again after graduation (though it was different with him and Misaki, of course, but that went without saying). Doing things like making lunches for each other or going on dates seemed like such a boring waste of time.

And if this girl liked Misaki she’d want to do that sort of thing with him, too. The type of girl who would like Misaki, Fushimi couldn’t even think of what sort of person she would have to be. Misaki was completely unsuited for spending time with girls, he’d probably make a fool of himself right away. It was best to spare him that kind of humiliation, certainly. As Misaki’s best friend, Fushimi couldn’t let him spend time with someone who had to be completely wrong for him.

If this girl liked Misaki she would want to spend time with him, and only him. She would want him to look only at her, all the time.

Something dark and heavy settled in his chest and with a scowl Fushimi crumpled the letter up into a ball. Then he pulled out a piece of paper and began to write.

Two days later at lunch Misaki slammed his tray down on the table, leveling Fushimi with an accusing stare.

“Hey. Saru.”

“Hmm?” Fushimi barely looked up.

“You didn’t write anything weird, did you?”

“What?” That was right, the reply letter. Fushimi shrugged. “Only what I thought would be the best answer. Why?”

“Because all the girls keep acting weird around me,” Misaki said, looking uncomfortable. “It’s like they don’t want to talk to me or even look at me or anything. Like—like there’s something wrong with me.”

“Probably because they can tell you’re a virgin who can’t talk to girls,” Fushimi said, reaching for Misaki’s milk carton.

“I’m fine talking to girls!” Misaki said.

“So go talk to one. Right now.”

“I-I don’t want to bother anyone.” Misaki snorted and started digging into his lunch with somewhat more vigor than usual. “Anyway, I don’t need to talk to girls. They only want to talk about stupid lovey-dovey crap anyway. We don’t need that kinda stuff, right? You and me are fine by ourselves.”

Fushimi nodded and took a long drink of milk in order to hide his smile.

--

They ran through the streets, Misaki holding tight to his hand, and Fushimi’s lungs burned. Behind them he could hear the high schoolers who had been attacking Yata yelling something but for the moment no one seemed to be following them. Even so, they kept running.

The knives were still clutched tightly in Fushimi’s hand, and he didn’t let go of those either.

Finally Misaki seemed to have decided that they had run far enough and he stopped, letting go of Fushimi’s wrist as he wearily dropped his hands onto his knees. Fushimi was out of breath and his throat hurt, but he didn’t really think much about that. His eyes were focused solely on Misaki and on the bruises all over his face. The knives felt cold in his hand.

Someone had hurt Misaki. He knew that this wasn’t a new thing — the idiot got into fights all the time unless Fushimi managed to stop him — but this was different. There had been three of them and they’d had him cornered. When he’d seen them Fushimi had felt something like a fire boiling in his heart and he hadn’t been able to stop himself from intervening. When he’d stabbed the one boy, he hadn’t even been thinking about himself. He’d only been thinking about Misaki, held in the grip of the other two and yelling his name.

Misaki was saying something now, and it took Fushimi a moment to register it.

“You okay, Saruhiko?”

“You should be worried about yourself. You hot-headed idiot.” Fushimi suddenly felt annoyed with everything, with Yata and with the people who’d attacked them and even with himself, and before he’d even thought about it he found himself pressing Misaki close against a nearby wall, checking him over for injuries.

Anything could have happened, if Fushimi hadn’t been there. He could’ve been hurt worse, could’ve been killed. The thought was like a black hole in Fushimi’s chest.

“Me?” Yata swatted his hand away irritably. “You’re the one who challenged them! I would’ve been fine!”

“They had you cornered in an alley,” Fushimi shot back. Anything could have happened. If he hadn’t been there, anything could have happened. His mouth felt dry and it hurt to breathe, and Fushimi thought dimly that he hadn’t felt this angry in a long, long time.

“I could’ve taken them,” Yata stated, and Fushimi rolled his eyes.

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

“I was just waiting for the right time to counterattack,” Yata said. Fushimi was about to reply when Misaki’s hands on his throat made him freeze. “Aw, dammit, Saruhiko, what were you thinking? He almost…damn it, Saruhiko…you almost…”

Misaki’s fist was pressed against his chest and for a moment Fushimi felt like he was drowning. His tongue felt thick like tissues in his mouth and his heart was beating so fast he thought for certain Misaki must be able to feel it through his chest.

Misaki’s face was pale and Fushimi wasn’t even sure if he knew why. No one had ever acted like this towards him. No one had ever cared like this for him.

“It’s fine.” He barely managed to get the words out as he rested a hand awkwardly over Misaki’s fist. “It’s all right, Misaki. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, but…” Misaki looked down then and finally seemed to notice the knives Fushimi was still clutching tightly. “And since when the hell do you carry knives?”

“Since always.”

“You never told me. How come you didn’t tell me you had knives?”

“You never asked.” Fushimi shrugged and returned the knives to their usual hiding spot in his sleeves, since they seemed to be upsetting Misaki so much.

“Yeah, but…why do you walk around with hidden knives?” Yata was staring at him and Fushimi didn’t quite know what to say.

—too many nights walking home alone in the dark and the cold, and people calling from the shadows, ‘come closer, we won’t hurt you, pretty little thing’ and ‘what are you doing all alone, little boy?’ and knowing, knowing with every fiber of his being that if he followed he’d never be seen again and no one would care no one would notice he just wouldn’t be there anymore and it would never register to anyone that he’d ever been in the first place—

—because those who are alone are weak and the weak are weeded out as children, are ripped apart and swallowed up and the thought made his heart seize and his skin itch and he couldn’t take that thought, couldn’t be one of the weak ones who got eaten by the world, so he needed claws and teeth to fight back against it—


“Protection,” Fushimi said, because he couldn’t say anything more. Misaki was staring at him with that ridiculous open face again, the expression too easy to read, looking as if he might cry any moment and it made no sense at all. Fushimi had never found anything in his life that made less sense than Yata Misaki and that was why Misaki was the most precious. “Misaki…?”

“Nothing.” Misaki shook his head but his expression didn’t clear. They took quick stock of their location and then Fushimi let him lead the way to the nearest pharmacy for some bandages.

The knives up his sleeves felt cold against his skin but Misaki’s hand on his wrist was warm, and that was enough.



Some nights they shared a blanket.

Yata had been living with him for nearly two weeks now and somehow the cramped apartment felt larger with two people there. The garbage was still piling up, but Fushimi supposed one of them would get around to taking it out eventually and besides it was their garbage, not his alone, which made all the difference in the world as far as Fushimi was concerned.

Sleeping arrangements had been a bit of an issue. Fushimi had always been fine sleeping on the floor in the corner with his two blankets and his lumpy pillow and at first Misaki seemed to regard the whole thing as an interesting new adventure in living quarters. He’d brought his own pillow but no blankets, so Fushimi had given up one of his. They’d scraped together enough money to buy an extra, but the problem was who got the third blanket on any given night.

Misaki’s original insistence was that, being as it was Fushimi’s place and technically Fushimi’s blanket, Fushimi should therefore use the third blanket. But as the nights grew colder it was harder and harder to stay warm with only one blanket and Fushimi could only take so many nights of seeing Misaki shiver while he slept. So then Fushimi had simply given Misaki the blanket without so much as another word, an arrangement that had lasted until the first time Misaki awoke in the middle of the night and spotted Fushimi shivering while he slept. At that point Misaki had stubbornly refused to use the extra blanket himself unless Fushimi used it too.

Which left only one logical answer, which was sharing.

“You keep stealing the blankets,” Yata muttered.

You keep kicking me,” Fushimi replied calmly. They were lying back to back with only a few inches of space between them and Fushimi thought for the first time that the room felt too close.

“Your feet are cold.” Misaki tugged the blanket closer to his side.

“Because it’s cold out,” Fushimi shot back, pulling his side of the blanket just to be contrary. He was actually feeling rather hot, but somehow letting Misaki take the blanket felt too much like losing to tolerate.

“This is weird,” Misaki grumbled after the silence between them had stretched on too long.

“What’s weird?”

“Sleeping this close.”

“How is that weird?” Fushimi felt Misaki tug on the blanket again and he pulled it back towards himself with an irritated ‘tch.’ He didn’t even want it anymore, he was just getting annoyed at Misaki’s usual stupid brainless stubbornness.

“Guys shouldn’t sleep close like this.” The words were said in almost a mumble and Fushimi rolled over to stare at Yata’s back.

“You can leave if you want.” He said it with no emotion whatsoever. It was no business of Fushimi’s where Misaki chose to sleep, after all.

Don’t leave.

“I didn’t say that!” Misaki rolled over suddenly and then they were face to face. Fushimi’s face felt hot and he was glad Yata couldn’t see him well in the darkness. “I just said…it’s weird. That’s all.”

“Stop complaining.” Fushimi felt exasperated by something he couldn’t name and he abruptly moved away, letting Yata take the last of the blanket. “Here, just take it. You need it more than me anyway, since you’re so much smaller.”

“What did you say, asshole?!” Misaki snapped. Fushimi suddenly felt the blanket draped over his head as Yata slid over so that they were nearly touching.

“What now?” Fushimi didn’t trust himself enough to move and face him.

“You have to take the blanket too,” Misaki said in an annoyed voice.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re already shaking.”

Fushimi was, and he wasn’t certain that it was really from cold.

“I’m fine,” he said again because he didn’t dare say anything more. He could feel Yata’s breath hesitant against his back. “I thought it was weird like this?”

“It is,” Misaki mumbled drowsily, already falling back asleep. “But it’s warm.”

Silence fell over them then as Yata slowly dropped back to sleep. Fushimi stayed awake, the blanket heavy over his shoulders and Misaki pressed close against his back, and listened to Misaki sleep.



They were sitting facing each other in front of the television with two opened packages of take-out between them when the power went out.

“What the hell?” Yata cursed as a bolt of lightning briefly lit the room. “What happened?”

“What do you think?” Fushimi said irritably. He had accidentally eaten one of the bamboo shoots out of the sweet and sour pork and was feeling more annoyed at the world than usual. “The power’s gone out. It happens a lot here during rainstorms.”

“It’s barely raining,” Yata insisted, walking over to the boarded window to look out even as another rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. Fushimi shrugged.

“Faulty wiring,” he said calmly. “It’s an old building.”

“Hmmph. That’s stupid,” Yata declared, crossing his arms as if the lack of power was a personal affront. “You should tell the owner of this dump to fix it up.”

“He doesn’t know I live here, idiot,” Fushimi reminded him, fixing Misaki with a cold glare that he supposed the other boy could barely see in the darkened room.

“Oh. Right.” Yata laughed nervously and sat back down on the floor, staring disconsolately at the remains of their dinner. His portion of the meal had suddenly gained twice as many bamboo shoots and lost about half the meat. “So now what? Do you have flashlights or anything?”

“I did. I’m not sure what happened to them.”

“They probably got lost because you’re a slob, Saru,” Yata muttered under his breath, picking at his food. When Fushimi didn’t reply, he groaned and flopped over onto his back. “So now what?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, what do you do when the power goes out?”

“Do?” The thought hadn’t even occurred to Fushimi and he wondered not for the first time how Misaki’s tiny brain worked. “Usually I just go to bed early and it’s back by the time I wake up.”

“That’s boring,” Misaki sighed.

“I know.” Fushimi shrugged. “What else is there to do?”

They ate in silence for a few more moments before Misaki spoke up again.

“Saruhiko…you said this happens a lot, right?”

“Right.”

“So, before I moved in…what did you do?

“Tch. I told you, I went to sleep,” Fushimi repeated, annoyed.

“Well, wasn’t it…y’know…creepy?”

“Don’t be a moron.”

“I mean it.” Yata sat back up suddenly. “The power went out one time when I was home by myself in the middle of the night and I started to hear stuff and I couldn’t even get back to sleep!”

“Is your brain as underdeveloped as your height?” Fushimi asked. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just darkness, that’s all.”

“I-I’m not afraid!” Misaki snapped quickly. “I was just…wondering, that’s all. There could’ve been robbers or-or something like that. That’s all.”

“So you’re afraid of the dark?” Fushimi laughed.

“I am not!” Misaki insisted. “I was just making sure you weren’t, that’s all.”

“I’m used to it,” Fushimi said without looking at him. “It wasn’t not much different whether the power’s on or off. It was just quiet and dark, that’s all. I was fine by myself. I wasn’t afraid.” The night wasn’t any longer. The world wasn’t any hollower. “I wasn’t…I was fine.”

“Saruhiko…” Misaki was looking at him, Fushimi was sure of that, and he stared down fixedly at the floor. The food suddenly tasted dry in his mouth and he stood.

“I’m going to look for a flashlight.”

“Saruhiko--” Misaki grabbed his wrist and he stopped.

“I’m fine,” Fushimi repeated. “Don’t worry, Misaki. I’ll protect you so you don’t have to be scared.”

“Who are you calling ‘scared,’ you bastard?!”



“Are you going to the graduation ceremony?”

They were lying back to back on the roof of the school again, staring out at the afternoon sky.

“Everyone’s expected to go.” Fushimi shrugged in response to Misaki’s question.

“I don’t want to go,” Misaki muttered sulkily. “It’s just a stupid piece of paper. It’s not like it means anything.” He paused. “Saruhiko…what are we going to do after graduation?”

“Sleep in,” Fushimi said, unruffled. He didn’t really care what happened after they left school. The teachers were all being so annoying now, lecturing about careers and futures. Fushimi didn’t need any of that. As long as he was with Misaki, things like high school and jobs weren’t worth his time to think about.

“I’m not going to high school,” Yata announced.

“I already knew that,” Fushimi said, his voice sounding less annoyed than he’d intended.

“We need to think of something to do,” Misaki said. He sounded uncharacteristically thoughtful. “Saruhiko…what are we gonna do? We’re just kids. We can’t just keep going like this forever. What if the landlord at your place finds out we’re living there and we get kicked out, or the place gets condemned or something? What if we can’t find any place to work or afford food or--”

“We’ll manage.” Fushimi shrugged again. He wasn’t really thinking about any of those things, either. Misaki’s back felt warm against his and it made him feel drowsy and almost content.

“I hate this place.” Misaki’s voice was low and filled with frustration. “I want to get out of here.”

“Then we’ll leave. No one will care if we skip the rest of the day.”

“I don’t mean the school,” Misaki said. “I mean, kinda, but not right this minute. I just hate…all of this. Being on the streets, never knowing what’s going to happen to us. I want…I want to get out of here. It’s like, if this were a manga, this would be when a hero would swoop in and save us, you know?”

Fushimi thought about that for a moment and his face clouded. He wanted to tell Misaki that he didn’t need any of that. He’d already learned long ago that heroes didn’t exist. But Misaki, Misaki existed, and that was enough. The two of them were together. That was all Fushimi needed. There was no need for heroes as far as Fushimi was concerned, as long as he had Misaki beside him.

“Tch,” was all he said instead, because Fushimi could never trust himself to say anything else.



Suoh Mikoto extended his flame-covered hand and somewhere, Fushimi thought he heard something break.

He didn’t like this place or these people. He hadn’t wanted to follow them at all in the first place — Fushimi knew too well, the type of people who would stop on the street and try to get him to follow them. That was why he had his knives in the first place, after all. But Misaki’s head had been full of stars after the man who was called the Red King had displayed his power to them, and as they’d walked Yata had recognized one of his old friends amongst the king’s followers. So he’d insisted they go where the Red King led and where Misaki went, Fushimi went.

They’d been taken to a bar and brought upstairs and told briefly of things that made Fushimi’s head swim, about kings and powers and clansmen. He didn’t like any of it. He wanted to take Misaki by the collar and drag him away, but Misaki was excited and had already pulled away from him.

Misaki had taken the king’s challenge easily, so easily. He’d taken Mikoto’s hand without a hint of hesitation.

Fushimi stared at the flames and tried not to show any reaction. His skin was tingling with an unpleasant feeling and his head was pounding so hard it was difficult to think. His gaze wavered from the king’s hand to where Misaki stood a few feet away, talking animatedly to several of the other red clansmen, staring at the hand that had touched Mikoto’s with the sort of reverence most people normally reserved for sports stars and idol singers.

The entire time they’d walked to the bar, Fushimi had been a few steps behind Misaki. And the whole way there Misaki had turned around again and again to be sure that Fushimi was still there, to yell at him to keep up or urge him on or tell him excitedly how great the whole thing was going to be. Even though he’d looked forward towards Mikoto constantly, he had never stopped looking back, to look at Fushimi and smile at him and be sure that he was still there.

Misaki had passed the Red King’s test and now he hadn’t even looked back once to be sure that Fushimi had done the same. Something deep inside Fushimi cut so painfully he thought for sure it must have drawn blood. Fushimi clenched his fist and steeled his will.

He reached for the Red King’s hand and as the flames touched his skin Fushimi was certain he heard something break.

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