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The Loading Dock
or should I say Unloading dock
Loveless - Call Me Anytime 
17th-May-2019 10:02 pm
So here it is. My unfinished multi chapter fic for Loveless. Why post this now? Why DIDN'T I ever post this back then? I guess, at the time, I wanted the entire thing done and edited before putting the "final" version here. And I guess, right now, I'm just feeling kind of nostalgic and looking to put all of my writing (good or bad) in one place. How about this, if Yun Kōga ever (finally) finishes the manga then I will (finally) finish this story.

LOVELESS is a perpetually unfinished manga series by Yun Kōga. But she did eventually finish Earthian!

Title: Call Me Anytime (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
Wordcount: ~6500
Characters: Soubi, Ritsuka, others
Note: When I started this I had no idea where it was going, and I still don't. So. Fair warning. This also needs a trigger warning because Ritsuka is an underaged abuse victim and Soubi is a creep and abuse survivor, canonically.




PART ONE


Soubi stared at the ceiling, wondering why he'd woken up.

...only's Ritsuka's calls were programmed to ring with that tune.

Suddenly much more alert, Soubi sat up and half-turned to face the dresser, legs still under the sheets. Groping for his cellphone with one hand, he pushed his glasses on with the other.

"Yes, Ritsuka?"

"...come pick me up."

Soubi reached back for the light switch before consulting the digital clock on the wall above his desk. It was three in the morning. But had he not told Ritsuka to call at any time?

"I'll need to borrow a car. Hold on."

"Okay. Just don't take forever."

"And I'll need to get dressed. I sleep nake-"

It is physically impossible to violently hang up a cellphone, but Soubi nevertheless got the impression that was exactly what Ritsuka had just done. He sighed and hit re-dial.

"What?! Soubi."

"You need to tell me where you are," Soubi said patiently.

***

"Where you are" was halfway to Nikko, huddled on the side of one of those scenic mountain overpasses with his arms wrapped around himself. Ritsuka didn't say anything when Soubi pulled the car up, just crawled into the back seat, shivering a little. He was in his pajamas, with no jacket. Soubi used the observation area to turn the car around -- the road was narrow -- and discretely turned up the heat.

At least he was wearing shoes.

"What happened?" Soubi asked. He kept his eyes on Ritsuka's reflection in the rear view mirror. In the backseat, Ritsuka was leaning against the window, seemingly asleep, but his ears were up and his eyes opened slowly to meet Soubi's in the mirror. There was something like loneliness or longing in them, although it was hard to tell in the dim lighting. Not for the first time, Soubi wished that...

"Don't look at me, keep your eyes on the road!"

Soubi obediently shifted his gaze away. He could still feel Ritsuka's eyes on him. He wondered if he should repeat his question, although he was pretty sure he knew the answer.

"...Mom woke me up and said we were going to visit Grandpa."

Bingo.

"She said I shouldn't pack anything, we'd go shopping once we got there. But I had to come out to the car right away because otherwise we wouldn't be on time to see the sunrise over the mountains. She was really excited. She started talking about how much I liked Grandpa and how much fun it would be to go fishing together again, just the three of us, and she was just...really happy."

There was a sound like Ritsuka sliding down to curl up on the seat; Soubi resisted the urge to check the mirror again.

"Do you like fishing?" he asked.

"I don't know. Maybe."

Ah. Soubi signaled his change onto the expressway, even though they were the only car on either road. In the backseat, Ritsuka sighed a little.

"You're a much better driver than Mom. She was all over the road."

"Is that so?"

"It was making me sick, but I didn't want to say anything because she was so happy. It got really bad when we left the highway for the mountains, though, so I asked if we could stop for a minute, and she got really upset and asked if I was carsick. I didn't want to say anything but she was really insistent so I eventually said a little, and then she got really upset and said I couldn't be, Ritsuka loved car rides and he never got sick."

"That sort of thing can change."

"Mmm." Ritsuka sounded like he didn't believe it. "I lied and said I was fine. I was feeling really nauseous, but I didn't dare lie down or open the window... My head was pounding. I could taste McDonald's cheeseburger in the back of my throat and it was suddenly really gross-"

"McDonald's cheeseburger is always gross."

"Hey! Don't interrupt!"

Soubi didn't say anything.

"...anyway, I thought I could stand it but after maybe half an hour I threw up all over the dashboard." Ritsuka waited, and when Soubi still didn't say anything he harrumphed.

"I might throw up in this car, too, you know." He said it like a challenge.

Soubi smilied. "I don't mind. It's not my car anyway."

"...you're so weird."

"Thank you."

"It's not a compliment! ...anyway, that's what happened."

"Thank you for telling me, Ritsuka."

"Eh."

"I love you, Ritsuka."

Dead silence.

***

They'd almost made it back to his house before Ritsuka noticed.

"Soubi."

"Mmm."

"Where are we going?"

"Home," Soubi said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Yes. Whose home?"

"There's no one at your house right now," Soubi said reasonably. "Mine is closer."

"That has nothing to do with it!"

"Do you want to go home, Ritsuka?"

"...not particularly," Ritsuka admitted. There was a thump as his tail lashed against the door. He was nervous, how cute. "But that doesn't mean I want to go to your place! Besides, my Mom might be waiting for me at home."

Soubi kept his thoughts on the likelihood of this to himself.

"Or what if she comes back during the night?" Ritsuka continued. "I need to be there in case she does. Take me home, Soubi."

"Is that an order?"

"Yes!"

***

It was six thirty in the morning by the time Soubi pulled up to Ritsuka's home and parked. Ritsuka stepped out of the car, then hung on the door like he wasn't sure what to do next.

"Thank you," Ritsuka said.

"Call me anytime," Soubi said.

"Goodnight," Ritsuka said.

"At this point it's closer to good morning," Soubi said.

"Good morning, then," Ritsuka said, and for the first time he smiled -- not the wide fake smiles in the photographs, but a small, secret smile that lifted the corner of his mouth. He probably didn't know he was doing it.

"May I come in?" Soubi asked, before he could think about it.

Ritsuka's tail lashed, and his eyes widened. The sun was rising over the townhouses across the street and in the cool dawn light Soubi saw that his eyes held that mixture of joy and terror that always made him want to pull Ritsuka down by the ears and ravish him.

"Sure," Ritsuka said.


*****

PART TWO

*****

Ritsuka stood in the entrance way, more unsure than ever. "So..." he began, then trailed off. He avoided eye contact, but kept sneaking glances at Soubi's hands or chest or feet. His back was a mess of tension, while his ears twitched forward in nervous suspicion.

As if he expects that in the next second, I'll jump him, Soubi observed. The thought was tempting; but Ritsuka also looked like he might, in the second after that, fall over.

He's had a long night, Soubi thought generously. I'll let him sleep it off.

"I'll make tea," he offered. "Which way is the kitchen?"

"You don't know?" Ritsuka asked. A tiny bit of confidence returned to his posture.

Soubi didn't know, but he could guess: it wasn't a large house, and there were only two doors leading away from the front hall. Ritsuka looked happy to have found an advantage, though, even if it was only knowing where the kitchen was when Soubi didn't. Soubi decided to let him have it.

"This is my first time seeing the ground floor of your house," he said.

"...kitchen's through here," Ritsuka said, and turned to lead the way. "Should I show you where the tea things are?"

"Please." Ritsuka's pajama top rose up when he reached for the topmost shelf. Setting a dusty tea tray next to the pot and kettle on the counter, he swayed slightly.

Soubi reached out from behind to steady him, a hand curled around either shoulder. "You should get some sleep," he said, bending forward to whisper in Ritsuka's ear. "You must be very tired." He turned his cheek to brush the fine hair on the back of Ritsuka's neck.

Ritsuka shuddered. "But I haven't gotten out the tea yet," he said.

"I'll manage," Soubi breathed, and steered him to the futon in the living room. He wrapped an arm around Ritsuka laying him down, then moved a hand to cup his cheek. Ritsuka batted it away. "Don't get any funny ideas," he warned.

"I'll be good."

"You'd better be. If you do anything while I'm asleep, I'll know."

Soubi doubted it. "Yes, Ritsuka."

"As long as we're clear." Ritsuka settled down into the futon, his tail wrapping around his legs. Curled up into himself like that, he looked smaller than ever. He was asleep in moments.

Soubi virtuously returned to the kitchen. He looked at the tea tray with a critical eye. It was covered in dust. Ritsuka's never had company over before, he realized. I'm the first. Suddenly much more cheerful, he filled the kettle and set it to boil; then he dumped the tray in the sink and reached for the detergent, humming a little.

***

Ritsuka couldn't say at first what woke him. It wasn't the sun -- the curtains were drawn as they always were, with the shades pulled down besides. In the deep gloom, Ritsuka couldn't tell what time of the day it was. He guessed around noon: with Soubi in the house, no way he'd have been comfortable enough to sleep longer than that. It would be mid-afternoon at the latest.

As his eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness, he picked out Soubi silhouetted against the front window, barely standing out in a grey sweater against the heavy, grey curtains. Or no: Soubi had just tied one side back, and was pulling down on the Venetian blinds to peer outside. Now he stood out clearly, outlined by the edges of the light coming in through the blinds, parallel lines of light that cut off in the shape of Soubi.

He was speaking softly into his cellphone. Soubi glanced towards the couch, and Ritsuka hastily shut his eyes and ducked his head. Then, to mask the movement, he pretended to turn over on his side, until he was facing the back of the futon. He forced himself to relax, so that it would look like he was still asleep.

There was a pause, and then Soubi resumed his conversation. Good, he'd bought it. Ritsuka strained to listen. He could just barely make out...

"Mmm. No. I'm not. ...Why?"

Pretending to be asleep, Ritsuka actually did fall back asleep.

***

"You aren't doing anything to him, are you?" Kio asked.

"Mmm." Soubi said. He was looking at the couch, where a slight movement had caught his eye just a moment ago. Turning to look, he'd seen Ritsuka duck his head, then turn over. Now he was trying to feign sleep, but he couldn't hide his cat ears, which were swiveling back and forth, straining to catch Soubi's voice.

He's so cute.

"Soubi! Are you listening to me?"

"No," Soubi said.

"Ah, Sou-chan, you're so mean!"

"I'm not." He was watching the tip of Ritsuka's tail as it flipped, first one way, then another. Adorable.

"You are! I bet he feels safe there, a big strong guy like you around. His white in knight in a borrowed car -- and when are you going to return it, anyway? -- come to save him from the wicked witch, and now he's back in his own home, nothing to be afraid of...well, he should be afraid!"

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why! Because you're there! It's a false sense of security! Every second he spends only with you, he's in danger! If the worst thing that happens is that he loses his ears, he'll be lucky!"

"Don't exaggerate," Soubi said.

"It's not exaggeration, it's the truth! ...by the way, why are you being so short with your answers? Is he listening? Don't you want him to know what you're really like?"

"I always talk like this," Soubi said. Actually, Ritsuka had fallen back asleep several lines ago, but telling Kio that would only encourage him.

"Liar!" Kio screeched, and Soubi changed the volume on his cellphone from "soft" to "barely audible". Now that Ritsuka was asleep again, it would be a shame for Kio to wake him up.

Soubi would be the one to do that.

He hung up.

***

"Liar!" Kio screeched. "...well, okay, maybe it is true, a little. But seriously, Sou-chan, you shouldn't take advantage of him when he's like this. Even ignoring the part where he's still in elementary school -- which I don't forget for second, by the way, and you shouldn't either -- consider the situation. You said his mother left him there? I know it's summer, but it gets cold in the mountains at night, and he was outside for more than an hour waiting for you. He's gotta be feeling vulnerable right now. I bet he only let you in because he didn't want to be alone -- yeah, that has to be it, why else would he invite a pervert like you into his house? I bet he was afraid you'd abandon him! Listen, Sou-chan, if you do anything to him when he's like this, it won't count as consensual. It'll just be manipulation. Okay?"

The other end of the line was silent.

"...Sou-chan? Hello?"

Kio checked his cellphone to see if the call was still connected. "Call ended 00:05:02" blinked innocently on the display screen.

"You bastard, Soubi!" Kio kicked Soubi's coffee table in frustration, knocking over an empty coffee cup, which rolled in a short circle on the floor. After a minute, he bent down to pick up the cup and brought it to the sink. Soubi's apartment didn't deserve his anger; Soubi did. It was nice appartment, very tastefully decorated. Soubi was not nice at all, although he did have good taste... in everything but the company he chose to keep.

Kio excluded, of course.

"Soubi hung up on him!" a voice crowed.

Another voice joined in. "He did! But he didn't even notice, and kept talking anyway! Isn't that funny?"

"It's funny."

"Really funny."

Zero laughed. How much had they heard? Kio felt himself blushing. Damn, being hung up on was embarrassing enough without those two around to make fun of him for it. Who were they to Soubi, anyway? Why were they staying at his apartment?

"You guys..." he said.

"If it had been us, we'd have noticed right away" Youji said.

"Because we're connected," Natsuo said.

"Right, because we're Fighter and Sacrifice."

"You guys are awful!" Kio said, stormed away. He gave the apartment door a vicious slam on his way out -- he'd been stupid to be careful before, after all these days Soubi's place was their place as well. Zero looked at each other curiously.

"Why was he so upset?"

"We were only being honest."

"Maybe he was jealous."

"Of Ritsuka and Soubi? He shouldn't be."

"Right, because Ritsuka and Soubi aren't a real Fighter/Sacrifice pair."

Natsuo and Youji took each other's hand, then leaned forward to press their foreheads together. "So there's no way they'd have the same kind of connection," they said.


****

PART 3

****

Ritsuka turned around and around, trying to orient himself, but the forest didn't have anything that could be used as a landmark, just an endless number of trees in every direction. The sun was already down, even the twilight was fading, and meanwhile the moon hadn't yet risen. When the last of the light faded, he wouldn't even have the trees for company: just himself, and the darkness.

He tried not to panic.

Where was Mom? He hadn't come here alone, he'd been following her, but sometime in the last few minutes he'd lost sight of her. If he'd only walked a little faster. Then he wouldn't be lost, alone, in the woods, at night...Ritsuka could feel the sky darkening with every quick irregular breath he took, and it was only with a supreme act of will that he forced himself to breathe deeper.

He had to think. Maybe it wasn't too late, and he could still catch up with her. He looked down -- there was a path. Relief surged through him. If he followed the path, he'd surely find Mom at the end, waiting to welcome him back home. His eyes on his feet on the ground, Ritsuka started walking.

And walking.

And walking. Mom was around the corner, behind the next tree -- somehow he knew this, although he didn't know how he knew. He came abreast of the tree, passed it, and...

She wasn't there. That was fine: she was behind the next tree.

She wasn't there either. Ritsuka broke into a run. The trees began to blur, until they were a solid line of black on either side, then a tunnel with only a small circle of dark grey sky in front of him. Ritsuka ran faster than he ever had, so fast he was nearly flying, but no matter how fast he ran he wasn't fast enough. He ran for what felt like hours, and when he finally stopped he wasn't in the woods anymore, he was standing by a scenic mountain overpass.

He padded to the guardrail, then leaned over to look down. Below was only an endless, aching darkness, and Ritsuka pulled back, horrified; but it didn’t matter, somehow he'd lost his balance and he was falling end over end into nothingness...

Warm arms wrapped around him from behind. "It's alright," Soubi said, and Ritsuka believed him.

He stopped falling.

***

His face was pressed into the back of the couch in a way that was sure to leave a mark.

A dream, Ritsuka realized, then corrected himself:

A nightmare.

Relief loosened every muscle in his body; his spine turned to rubber and toes throbbed. Soubi had been the one to wake him, and Ritsuka had never loved him more than he did at at moment -- but in a minute he'd have to open his eyes, and then the feeling was sure to fade.

So he kept his eyes closed, because he could still feel Soubi's arms around him.

Soubi's hold was loose, and his breathing was even. His chest rose and fell at Ritsuka's back with reassuring predictability. Ritsuka could almost imagine that he could feel Soubi's heart beating, exactly sixty beats per minute like a metronome. With his face pressed to the back of the couch, he wasn't getting enough air, so Ritsuka turned until he could tuck his head under Soubi's chin. He kept his hands limp at his sides -- if anyone asked, he was still asleep.

Soubi slid his hands over Ritsuka's pajamas until they came to rest at the small of his back, right over his tail.

Ritsuka kept his eyes closed.

Soubi kissed from the top of his forehead to his human ear, small light kisses in quick succession.

Ritsuka held back a twitch, and kept his eyes closed.

Soubi's hands found the boundary between Ritsuka's pajama top and pajama bottom; one hand slipped between to his bare skin, and spread, the fingers splayed over half his lower back.

Soubi's got big hands, Ritsuka thought distractedly. He kept his eyes-

"You're awake," Soubi said. His fingers flexed staccato, and the odd sensation traveled all the way up Ritsuka's spine, a shivery, shuddery feeling. Ritsuka's breath caught. Before he could decide whether the feeling had been good or bad, Soubi followed it up by mouthing one ear.

That was just weird.

"S-Soubi!" Ritsuka brought his hands up to Soubi's chest and pushed, which had the unfortunate effect of bring his hips even closer to Soubi.

Soubi smiled. "Good morning, Ritsuka." His arm at Ritsuka's waist, if anything, tightened.

A small noise escaped from Ritsuka's throat. He couldn't breathe. "Don’t 'good morning' me, what do think you're - ah, s-stop that!"

Soubi pulled his mouth away from Ritsuka's collarbone, leaving a small wet spot on the skin. "No?"

"No! Get off!"

Soubi sighed and shifted away, and Ritsuka fought himself to keep from following. He followed Soubi with his eyes as Soubi very slowly stood up. His hand at Ritsuka's back stayed there until the end; Ritsuka watched it retreat. With his other hand, Soubi picked his glasses off the armrest. He started to put them back on.

"Wait," Ritsuka said.

Soubi waited.

Ritsuka pushed himself up with an elbow until he was sitting, not lying, on the couch. The change made him feel a little less vulnerable, but only a little. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. "Don't go away, because I don't want to be alone," he didn't say. "Stay, because I don't want to be abandoned again," he didn't say. He stared at Soubi's chest, two feet away.

Suddenly two feet felt like an ocean. Even losing his ears would be better than drowning.

"...let me hold you," he said, finally

"Yes," Soubi said, and took his glasses off again.

As Soubi sat beside him on the couch and leaned in, Ritsuka reasoned that he was only going a little further than he had before; and if he allowed this, Soubi wouldn't have any reason to leave.

***

He intercepted Soubi's kiss with one hand. "Before you get any weird ideas...there's a rule." He swallowed.

Soubi met his gaze calmly, but with obvious interest. If he'd still had ears, Ritsuka thought they might have pricked forward. His face burned, but he doggedly continued, "You're only allowed to kiss me, okay? Just kissing, absolutely nothing else. Got it?"

"Yes," Soubi said, and something about the tone...

With one hand, he tilted Ritsuka's head up for a kiss, full on the lips. The other hand slipped down - "

"Mmph!"

"I'm only kissing," Soubi murmured against his lips. "This is for balance."

Ritsuka wasn't sure he believed that. But, well, it was true that in their current position -- half twisted towards each other, but with their legs dangling over the edge of the couch -- there was only Soubi's arm at his back to hold them together.

It didn't need to be so low, though. Soubi's fingers brushed the base of his tail and Ritsuka shuddered. He mewled. This wasn't how it supposed to go! This was just like before, Soubi always acting and Ritsuka always reacting.

Before he could change his mind, Ritsuka swung himself around until he was straddling Soubi's waist. "M-My legs were falling asleep," he said, defensively, when Soubi raised an eyebrow.

Soubi just smiled. Ritsuka clutched at his shoulders; Soubi moved both hands to Ritsuka's waist. His head dipped low, until his lips were at Ritsuka's throat. His breath was warm, and his kisses went lower and lower...

The shirt is in the way, Ritsuka thought, but he didn't move, just tilted his head back to stare unseeing at the ceiling. His grip on Soubi's shoulders tightened. Soubi sucked at his collarbone, and Ritsuka's back arched; only Soubi's hands at his waist kept him from tumbling backwards onto the floor. Then Soubi's head came up and they kissed lip-to-lip again, deeper this time.

With a sudden, disorienting rush, Soubi lifted, twisted and leaned, changing their positions from vertical to horizontal mid-kiss.

Ritsuka's hands landed on either side of Soubi's head. He stared down, incredulous. Soubi just smiled and reached up to place a hand on either cheek.

"I love you, Ritsuka," he said, and before the words could affect him the way they usually did -- before they could cause that painful little stab in his chest -- Soubi pulled him down and kissed him again.

Which was probably why he didn't hear the front door open.

***

"Ritsuka! Ritsuka! Are you home? I was going to visit Grandpa, but I couldn't leave without --"

Masaki paused at the entrance to the living room. From his position underneath Rituka, who had been wriggling a moment ago but now looked ready to go into shock, Soubi had an excellent view of her silently opening and closing mouth. Whatever she was trying to say, it seemed that her vocal chords were not cooperating.

Maybe it ran in the family.

"Mom!" Ritsuka said, horrified, after he'd finally managed to recover somewhat. He scrambled off Soubi, adjusting his pajamas. "Mom, it's not what it looks-"

"...not my son," Masaki said. Ritsuka's mouth snapped shut, a pained expression passing over his face. Soubi took his time sitting up.

"Not my Ritsuka," Masaki went on. "He would never." Her fingers tightened around the keys in her right hand, the knuckles turning white. "Never." She slowly raised her hand -- it was shaking -- and there was a glint in her eye that Soubi immediately disliked.

He stood, deliberately, and her gaze shifted from Ritsuka, who was drooping so low he was almost melting into the floor, to him.

"What are you doing in my--"

"An invisible fog descends on your thoughts," Soubi said. "You become insensible to your surroundings."

The effect was instantaneous. Masaki trailed off, her eyes going wide and vacant. Her hand dropped, the fingers loosening until her keys dropped through them to the floor. She stood diffidently, looking at nothing in particular.

Soubi had lost the knack for anger a long time ago, but he was definitely annoyed. It was an annoyance that bordered on rage -- but out of respect for Ritsuka, who for some reason cared about her, he didn't give voice to any of the several thousand extremely painful punishments he could imagine inflicting on this woman.

Instead he said, "Your most recent memories are fragile glass beads, they shatter into ten million pieces," and had the satisfaction of seeing something die deep in her empty eyes, and knowing she wouldn't be using what she'd seen to hurt Ritsuka.

Who was staring at him with an expression ten times more horrified than the one he'd had for his mother a moment ago.

***

Ritsuka looked at Soubi and saw someone completely different person from the cheerfully perverted University student who'd come to pick him up in a borrowed car. Someone completely terrifying. Soubi had just used Words, without even declaring a battle.

He'd used Words on Ritsuka's mother, and he'd made her forget what had just happened.

Voice shaking, Ritsuka said, "Undo the memory loss."

Soubi's face showed confusion, then a dawning realization.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but that Spell is irreversible."

It was like something snapped. As Soubi looked on in concern, Ritsuka went from shaking to completely still.

"Wake her up," he said, in a flat voice.

Soubi snapped his fingers, and Misaki blinked in confusion.

"Now leave," Ritsuka said, "and don't ever come back."

"Ritsuka..."

"Get out. Right now."

Soubi left.


****

PART FOUR

****


On Monday, Ritsuka went to school because it was better than staying at home.

He didn't want to talk to anyone, so he was glad when no one talked to him. He practiced his thousand-meter stare: just look past them as if they don’t exist. Shinomine-sensei left him alone, and his classmates all took the hint. Except...

"Ritsukaaaaa. You haven't said one word all morning, are you ignoring me?" Yuiko bent over to peer down at him, paying no attention to her low cut shirt and what that looked like from his perspective.

Ritsuka ignored her. He had other things to think about.

"Hello, Ritsuka?" She set her lunch -- a convenience-store boxed lunch like his -- on the closest desk, then dragged a chair over sat sideways facing him. "I'm going to sit next to you, okay?" she said.

He considered telling her off, but -

"Do what you want." She probably wouldn't have left anyway.

Yuiko smiled as if this was the best thing anyone had ever said to her. It was amazing how little encouragement she needed. ("Stupid people are always happy," Ritsuka had said once, but that wasn't it, exactly.) He hoped that this time, she'd know better than to talk to him.

No such luck.

"Yesterday I went with some friends to see this movie, House of Stairs, have you heard of it? It's about a ghost that lures people into this house full of stairs, and then feeds off their, what's it called, their fear and anger. The house is full of traps, I forgot to mention that, and there isn't enough food so everyone is always fighting for it, and then some of the people kill some of the other people, and then the dead people's ghosts go out to bring in more people and it happens all over again. Anyway I thought it sounded reaaaaally scary, so I didn't want to go, but Mayumi said it wasn't that bad so I went. It was SO SCARY I thought I was going to die."

"I don't care," Ritsuka said. "Could you just keep quiet?"

"And then Mayumi and Naoko and Masumi all started laughing at me and -- what?"

"I don't care," Ritsuka repeated. "Is there something wrong with your ears? Also, it's really pathetic when you want to be with your friends so badly that you keep letting them hurt you. I can't stand that. I-"

Do the exact the same thing.

Yuiko looked at him uncertainly and a little tearfully. "Ritsuka?"

"Don't talk to me," Ritsuka said. "I'm not in the mood." He picked up his lunch and moved to another desk, tail lashing behind him. Yuiko looked after him like she was going to cry.

But she didn't. Class started again, and Ritsuka stopped thinking about whether he'd been too harsh. Yuiko hadn't deserved that, but that was life. He'd make it up with her next time.

With Yuiko, there would be a next time.

I don't want things to stay like this. I don't want to stay dependent like this. I want to call him. I don't want to call him. If I don't call, I'll never see him again. I'm afraid.

What am I afraid of?

Thinking through what had happened, Ritsuka realized that he hadn't really been scared when his mother had driven away. He'd been hurt, but at the same time, he'd known there was someone who'd pick up when he called. (Next time, there might not be.) The memory thing was harder, but he was willing try to let it go -- to try, at least -- if Soubi promised not to do it again. He didn't know whether he could trust Soubi but that didn't matter, because he already did. It was frightening, though, because there was so much he didn't know and he had the vague idea that theoretically, there were some things you weren't supposed to forgive.

In the end, none of mattered. Not forgiving hurt too much.

On the other hand, just because he'd decided to forgive Soubi didn't mean that he had to do it right away. At the very least, Soubi should have to suffer a little first.

Even if that means I have to suffer, too.

***

"If you suddenly had a hundred thousand yen, what would you do with it?"

Soubi added another dab of blue paint to the canvas in front of him. "A hundred thousand yen isn't that much money," he said. "It isn't even enough for a down payment on a townhouse. Don't you mean a hundred million?"

"No, a hundred thousand is more exciting. If it's a hundred million, you'll just buy a fancy car or open a grocery store or something." Kio leaned over his shoulder. Soubi was painting a perfectly normal vase of blue roses, how boring. His trademark butterfly was absent; he always added that last.

"Most people would say they'd invest it."

"Ugh, you're so boring! Why I am even friends you!"

"For my looks," Soubi said automatically. He mixed a little red and black in with the blue on his palette, and mechanically began to shade the inner edges of the petals purple.

Kio watched for a little while, but it really was a very boring vase of roses. "Don't you want to know?" he asked.

"Know what?"

"What I'd do with the money."

Soubi said dutifully, "What would you do with the money?"

"I'd take two weeks off from school, and go on a motorcycle tour of North Japan. I want to go all the way up, past Hokkaido, and then try to sneak into Russia without a passport. I know some Russian drinking songs, the peasants will all love me. Russians and Ainu are the best alcoholics in the world."

"Is that right?"

"That's right."

Soubi rested the palette at his side and looked at the canvas measuringly. Or maybe just blankly. "I suppose I'd eat at five or six expensive five-star restaurants. Try out a few chefs."

Kio made a face. "They'd have to be really expensive, for six meals to cost a hundred thousand yen."

"Twelve. I'd take someone else. You can't eat at those kinds of places alone."

"I suppose you'll take the shrimp," Kio said, with the air of the long-suffering.

Was it Kio's imagination, or did Soubi look wistful? "No, Ritsuka wouldn't appreciate the food. It would only go to waste."

Ah, that made -- wait.

"Wait, does that mean you'd take me? Sou-chan!"

"You, or a girl. It really doesn't matter."

"I always knew you loved -- what?"

"I'll memorize the flavor," Soubi said, "so that I can cook it for him myself." His smile was wistful.

***

He was out of his seat and headed for the classroom door before the bell rang, pulling his school bag across one shoulder as he went.

"Ritsuka! Wait!" Yuiko tried to follow him, but her hastily closed bag caught on the back of her chair and spilled open, papers and notebooks scattering across the floor. Ritsuka, already halfway into the hallway, pretended not to see her distress.

"Yuiko didn't mind! They were only teasing, friends are friends!" he thought he might have heard, but by then he was already a dozen meters past the door; by the time he had connected her words to their previous conversation, he was squeezing through the main doors with a hundred other students, all just as eager to leave.

Was she thinking about what I said this whole time? That's-

Pathetic, he decided. It wasn’t anything else but pathetic.

Which made him the most pathetic person of all.

He walked faster.

***

Soubi set his brush aside. "Finished," he said.

Kio looked up from his own painting. "Already? We're only halfway into our studio time. I know you work fast but-"

"I don't work fast. I work steadily. And-"

"And you don't make mistakes, I know. It's unfair, that's all I'm saying."

Soubi finished gathering his things. "Perhaps." He was almost to the door when Kio called after him.

"Hey! Is it alright if I stop by later? Since your squatters left last week, I thought I'd keep you company. I can bring dinner and-"

"It's not a good time," Soubi said. "Sorry."

"Awww, that's too bad."

Soubi shrugged, and left without incident.

Which had been the point.

***

Ritsuka was taking the long way home. This meant that although he normally walked through only quiet residential neighborhoods, today he was passing through a busier shopping district. Surrounded by people, high school girls mostly, he found that no one paid any attention to him. There was something comforting about that. Feeling calmer now that he'd made a decision (even if it was only the decision to put off dealing with what had happened for a little while longer), he even stopped to peer into a few windows.

The face that looked back at him from the glass was somehow very young. He narrowed his eyes at it, which helped, but the effect was ruined by his ears -- they were large, which made his face look smaller.

Oh, well. There was nothing he could do about it, anyway.

He was calculating the longest he could stay here and still make his curfew when he noticed two adults, a man and a woman, standing behind him. He watched their reflections in the storefront window for a moment to make sure they were really looking at him, then turned around, smiling broadly.

"Hi," he said, as cheerfully as he could manage. "Can I help you with something?"

Say no.

"Yes, er, actually, we were wondering...that is, I was wondering, and my wife suggested we ask you since you seem to be about the same age-" the man seemed taken aback by Ritsuka's forwardness, which had been the idea.

His wife smiled ruefully and elbowed him into silence. She crouched so that her eyes were level with Ritsuka's. "We're sorry to bother you, but we're looking for a gift for the son of my husband's boss. It's his tenth birthday. We don't have any children ourselves, and we're a bit stumped when it comes to the latest trends in toys. This might be forward of us, but we’d like to ask your advice."

"I'm thirteen," Ritsuka said.

The man winced, and the woman froze. "I see," she said faintly. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I didn't mean to offend you, please accept my apologies. We'll ask the store owner, sorry again." Her husband nodded along behind her.

What strange people. Quick to apologize, careful not to give offense...they reminded him of Shinomine-sensei.

The thought made him smile. "No, it's alright," he said. "I know exactly what to get a ten year old."

His mother treated him like he was eleven, but this was close enough.

***

Soubi stopped on the way home to buy cigarettes. Pausing outside the shop to light up, he considered the walk home. Zero had been gone from his apartment when he'd woken up this morning, and although they hadn't left a note, something about the way their bed had been provocatively left undone told him that they didn't intend to come back. He hadn't told Kio yet.

That would have been too much like trying to start a conversation.

Still, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that they'd be there when he went back. Soubi ground out his cigarette and lit another. It was possible that a little company would help to take his mind off Ritsuka. That was the way it usually worked, after all.

Soubi knew better.

Looks like I won't be going home, he thought, and headed back into the store to buy another pack of cigarettes.


the end... or is it?
roses (by iconz_kthx)
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