warnings: depression, thoughts of suicide, blood, misogyny and crude language (thanks haizaki), disassociation, violence

dying fucks you up basically.

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VI

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You have bad days.

They go like this: You fall asleep. Dream about dying, about vanishing into nothing. Dream about the loss of everything you've ever loved or hated or felt anything for. Dream about a dark place, soft and peaceful. Peace without ending, peace without pain.

Dream about dreaming.

Wake up.

Peace vanishes like smoke. The loss feels like being punched in the throat, like the kick of your heart is a siren in your head. Understand, again, how much you've lost; how much you've changed. You stare at the ceiling, eyes and mouth dry and you don't care.

Death scrubs you clean. People, places, promises - in the dark, they mean nothing.

Repeat a word often enough and it loses meaning. Relive a memory too much and it frays.

You brought a piece of the dark place out into life. Sometimes it swallows you until everything seems ...pointless. At the end of this life, you'll be dead again. You were an older sister once. Their faces are still sharp. The only thing left is the echo of a thought. A grief you don't feel.

(Nothing matters when you're dead.

You miss it.)

Your door creaks open. "Hanacchi, you up? You're gonna be late."

It takes one long moment to recognize the voice.

Kise.

You wait for the sting of his voice to set in, the regret for making him worry. You haven't spoken more than three words to Kise in the past few mornings.

It doesn't matter.

Kise knocks a few more times before the door creaks open, lets in a sliver of light. "Hanacchi? Are you awake?"

Turn your head. Talk to him.

You roll over and stare at the wall instead. Your face feels like a whiteboard wiped clean. The body you're stuck in feels heavy, sluggish, disconnected. The heart is too loud.

"Hanacchi? Are you... awake?" He tries again. "Are you sick? Is it that time of the month?"

Silence. Your eyes are heavy, so you close them.

Eventually, Kise leaves for school.

You don't know how long you stay in the dark. Your curtains are heavy enough to block the sun. You sink down, further into the numbness. Even breathing takes effort, almost more than you have in you. Nothing you do matters in the end - so why do anything at all?

Things move on the edge of your vision - a flash of yellow. Food appears in your room that you don't eat. Water you don't drink. You don't sleep, you don't speak, you don't blink.

You just… don't. For a long time, you don't. You can't.

It's a phone call that pulls you out. The jaunty, ear grating tune drags your attention to the nightstand. There - next to the bowl of cold rice. Your mother's face lights up the lock screen. Three minutes later, it goes dark only too light up again instantly.

Maybe she'll stop on her own.

She doesn't.

You just want quiet. Peace. Moving your arm feels like lifting a mountain; you do it anyway. Hit talk, put the speaker on.

Kaede Ryugawa's voice is calm water in a river bed. She has dark, short hair and perfect makeup. Professional. Her mouth is pulled into a frown. "Ryouta called me."

Words… you search for them, but words are always the first thing to go. "Mom." You say, voice a croak.

Her frown deepens. Finally she speaks. "Ryouta wasn't wrong. You look terrible. Are you sick Hana-chan?"

You've already run out of words, so you nod instead.

Her perfect brows furrow. "I can be on the next plane home in three days."

You shake your head. "M fine."

"You are certainly not fine, my dear."

"What about your clients."

She waves her hand, manicured nails flashing in the light. "They can certainly wait. Nothing is more important to me than you. You'll always come first, Hana."

You close your eyes.

She's not joking. Kaede Ryugawa never joked about anything. If you asked, she'd drop anything and come make sure you were fine.

"Mom, I'm fine. It was just a … stomach bug. I'm going back to school today."

Kaede searches your eyes, loving mother replaced for one moment with the number one lawyer in Japan, possibly the world. You don't look away.

"I love you. You know that right, Hana-chan?" Kaede asks.

"...Yeah."

You know.

Finally, she smiles, and it's like the sun comes out. Her entire face goes soft. "Good. Go to school. Eat something. Take a shower. Drink some water. You're going to be fine." She says. "I love you."

"Bye. Love you." It's even true, most of the time.

After the call ends, you stare up at the ceiling, face blank. A bubble of resentment forms in your throat. Sometimes… you wished she loved you less, just so you could go back to the peaceful dark without the guilt. You can't. It would destroy her.

You don't even have the energy to be frustrated at yourself. At this life, for making you exist again.

At your parents for making you want to try.

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You drag yourself to school, step after heavy step. Noon has come and gone. You left your camera at home and your hands feel empty. There's no one at the gates. The white surgical mask itches against your face. You lean into the wind and let it blow the hair out of your eyes.

The gate is locked, but you pull yourself over the wall like it's nothing. Sometimes, it's like controlling a video game character.

No one tries to speak to you. You listen to the other students chatter like a radio you can't quite tune into. White noise distracts you from how little you feel about anything.

The body wants to live. So it eats and it sleeps and it breathes without any imput from you.

Your heart is slow in your chest. Insistent.

Too loud.

You slump over your desk, head cradled in your arms.

Classmates whisper. There is the girl who flinched when you looked at her, the boy who keeps glancing at you, people you've shared a class with for the last six months - and if they died tomorrow you wouldn't miss them. Do you even know their names?

The day passed in snatches, until the bell goes off, and you move blindly with the crowd. The majority of students pull ahead of your slow, careful pace. Listening to teenage chatter has given you a low, insistent headache. It's like a second heart throbbing in your temples.

Too loud.

You want to sleep for a week.

A pair of feet enter into your view, and you ignore them - only they don't move and you stop just short of walking into the owner of the feet. You look up, a tiny spark flickering to life in your wasteland of a head.

"Heading home, Hana-chan?" The grey- haired boy says, flashing a smile he must think is charming. "I'll go with you! I could never let a girl walk by herself."

You stare blankly up at the person blocking your way. "Do I know you?"

His smile flickers like a candle in a gale. "Are you serious you bit-" He clears his throat and pastes the smile back on. "That's mean Hana-chan. I know we got off on the wrong foot last time-"

You brush past him.

Too. Loud.

A bruising grip jerks you around, throws you up against low brick wall surrounding the school grounds.

The boy's smile is gone. "That's rude Hana-chan."

He's a foot taller than you, and heavy with muscle. There's no one around. The other students are long gone.

If you were anyone else, you might be afraid of the threat in his eyes. It's not a look that belongs in a middle school student; one that said 'I see your fear, and I enjoy it'.

Nothing much scares you anymore.

Your heart and your head throb, loud, deafening. Your teeth are bare, behind the white mask. "Let go."

He sneers and his grip tightens. "Maybe you should ask nicely, whore. Not that I'd want Ryouta's leftovers. What, you couldn't fuck him good enough to make him pay attention to you anymore?" He leans into your face, bracketing your body against the school gate. "You're not even worth trying to seduce. "

You tilt your head, wrist on fire. Grounding. "Maybe you should work on hiding your jealousy better." Your voice is foreign, full of a smiling violence.

Haizaki's - you remember now - face goes blank. "What the fuck are you talking about."

"How long have you been gagging after Kise?"

His eyes go pinched. Wary. "What the fuck are you talking about."

You shrug, blood singing. "It's sort of... obvious. Ryouta this, Ryouta that - You should give it up. I don't think you have a chance with him." You meet his eyes. "It's not because you're a guy. It's because your personality is awful."

Your eye explodes into fire and you gasp, like you've been holding your breath for a long time. You touch your face and you - feel.

You feel.

The world is back in color again. Everything is sharper; everything is clear. Copper on your tongue. You touch your face and feel the blood smeared across it.

It's warm.

You look at him from the corner of your eye, keeping your head tilted. "Ow."

The nasty grin falters for one moment. That's not the reaction from a girl he's just punched in the face. Then the smirk comes back full force and he crosses his hands behind his head. "Gonna cry to your boyfriend, bitch? Oh wait - would he even care?"

You smile. "Jealousy is so ugly."

He grabs your shirt and lifts you up from the ground, eyes murderous, fist cocked back again. "I'm going to enjoy this."

"Truth hurts." You say, and knee him in the balls.

Haizaki drops you with a small wheeze.

You land on your feet and brush off your uniform. "You wrinkled my shirt."

He glares at you. "I'll kill you."

"Sure, sure."

Haizaki isn't a pushover. With a snarl of rage, he swings a fist like he's been doing it all his life.

Fast.

You tilt your head and let the fist pass by harmlessly.

Not fast enough.

You kick out again, but he pulls back just in time. You push off the wall, settle into a kata. Kise joined the Judo club in elementary school and you let him practice with your sometimes before he moved on to soccer. The stance feels just as familiar now as it was three years ago.

You tug the surgical mask down so he can see the teeth in your smile. "You wanna go? Let's go."

Haizaki growls and lunges -

- and a hand catches him mid lunge, stopping him cold.

You blink slowly, following from hand to wrist, from wrist to arm. Up and up, until you're looking into Murasakibara's unsmiling face.

For once, Murasakibara's not holding any sort of snack in his hands. His eyes are hard and sharp behind his bangs, so far from the normal boredom. "Haizaki should stop. Hitting girls isn't nice." His voice is low and serous. Deeper. "Even that one."

Not Haizakichin?

"Murasakibara." You say, for lack of anything better. "Akashi. Don't you have basketball?"

The red head gives you a polite smile. "Hanako. We finished a bit early. Kise and the others are still working." Than he looks at Haizaki and his eyes are cold and very, very angry. "Shougou, how nice of you to show up. You missed practice."

Haizaki freezes for one second before sneering. He jerks free of Murasakibara's grip and leans into Akashi's face and sneers. "Fuck off, Akashi."

"I beg your pardon?" Akashi says. Cold. Brittle. "I don't think I heard that right."

Haizaki laughed, short and bright. Scared. "Relax, captain. Me and Hana-chan were just having a little chat. I wanted to apologize for losing my temper last time."

Akashi looked at you, red eyes flicking from your eye to the blood crusting on your chin. "And the blood?"

"Just a little roughhousing between friends. Isn't that right, Hana-chan?" He flashes you a fake smile. "Sorry about that. Forgive me?"

You stare at him. Did he really expect you to get him out of this?

"No. I don't." You say. "We're not friends. You attacked me."

Murasakibara tilted his head. "Haizaki is a liar."

Akashi smiled. "I see."

Haizaki dropped the smile for an offended look. "What, you're going to believe her over me?" He looked at Murasakibara. "You don't even like her!"

"I don't." He agrees.

Haizaki gestures at him like that's proof. "See? Murasakibara agrees-"

"Hanachin isn't a liar, though." Murasakibara says.

You… don't know how to respond to that. So you don't. Now that the threat of violence is gone , the brief surge of emotion is wearing off. You still feel a little numb, but not like you were.

Your heart isn't as loud.

Luckily, Akashi is does. "So. A member of the basketball team attacked a female student. Your laps are triple for the rest of the school year." His tone is subzero and his face is stone. "Starting today, you are no longer a starter."

Haizaki stared at Akashi, mouth opening and closing. "What? That's bullshit!"

How many girls had he menaced like this, without consequences? Your grip on your bag goes tight at the thought.

Akashi gives him a look. "Quadrupled. I'll speak to the coach."

"You can't do that. I'm one of your best players!"

"You seem to be laboring under a misconception, Shougou. You are not irreplaceable. Ryouta, in fact, is ready to take a bigger role in the team."

Haizaki's face is the picture of rage. "Fuck you, Akashi. I'm tired of your holier than thou act. You're nothing but a spoiled rich kid who sucked Nijimura's dick to get where you are. I'll quit if you give it to him."

Murasakibara stares at Haizaki, than steps back next to you. Out of Akashi's line of sight. "Haizaki is dumb."

"I'll second that." You say under your breath without thinking.

The two of you look at each other, startled. You scowl and look away.

Agreeing with Murasakibara, gross.

Akashi's voice comes out mild as milk. "Is that so? I'll file the paperwork. Goodbye, Shougou. The teachers be informed of your... actions today."

Haizaki blinked. "W-what?"

Akashi turns away from him, looks at you. "Hanako, are you alright? I must apologize for taking so long. Let's get that looked at." He gently steers you away from the gate.

You glance over your shoulder at the stunned Haizaki. Than you shrug and let Akashi lead you. "Sure."

Actions have consequences.

You don't owe Haizaki shit.


The two of you are quiet on the way home. Murasakibara made a face and wandered off towards a convenience store somewhere on the way.

You look up at dark windows in your apartment building.

"Ryouta stayed late to practice with Daiki and Tetsuya." Akashi says.

Your eye throbs. "Oh." You walk up the stairs.

The stairwell is empty at this time of day. You open the door, hands steady, and turn to look at Akashi.

The two of you regard each other for a long moment.

"You're not going away, are you." You say.

He gives you a smile. "And leave a delicate girl like yourself alone? I would never."

You roll your eyes, enter, flick on the lights. You leave the door open behind you.

Akashi follows.

The house is large for two high-school students, especially in Tokyo. The front door opens into the kitchen and beyond that is the living room with it's massive TV. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms. There's a third bedroom you commandeered to act as a dark room. Your parents spared no expense. Most of the walls are covered in photos you liked enough to print out and hang up.

You catch Akashi glancing at the photographs. "What?"

"Did you take these?"

"Yeah."

"They're… very good."

People always sound so surprised when they say that. You have no idea why. It's not like you're shy about how good you are.

"I know." You say.

For some reason that makes Akashi smile. It's a strange, sweet thing. "Indeed. Do you have a first aid kit?"

You do. You grab it from under the bathroom sink and Akashi takes it. He sits on the ugly couch and looks expectantly at you.

You don't move from the doorway. "I can do it myself."

He tilts his head. "I know."

Maybe he's just trying to manipulate you into helping him out with the dating thing. Maybe Akashi really is just concerned about a girl he saw get punched. Maybe Akashi has plans you don't know about.

After a second you slump down on the couch, facing him.

You're tired of being alone.

Neither of you talk while he bandages the scrape you don't remember getting on your knee and the cut under your eye. They sting but you don't make a sound. Your face throbs and you revel in it. Pain is the only thing that seems real right now. Precious red hot points of life on this foreign body, marking it as yours.

You exist.

Here and now, you are alive.

You lean back against the wall and tilt your head up, close your eyes. The sun is a warm hand across your forehead.

Finally, Akashi puts first aide kit down. "That's as good as it's going to get, I think. Your eye will swell up. You'll need to ice it."

"The girlfriend thing." You say, eyes still closed. "I'll do it."

You can feel him pause. "I - oh. What made you change your mind?" He asks.

You shrug. "Masochism?"

"Hanako."

You open your eyes with a shrug. "It's something to do."

Akashi studies you for one long moment. Than he offers you his hand. "A deal, then."

You shake it.

You only realize how tense he is when the line of his spine relaxes and he gives you a small, real smile. "That's a weight off my shoulders."

You shrug again. "What are the parameters?"

Akashi crosses his legs. "Boundaries, you mean? For this to work, we'd have to be close. My father often has my activities monitored. He wouldn't be fooled by a weak show."

"Your dad spies on you." You say. "That's messed up, Akashi."

"Like that. You need to call me by my first name -" He paused. "Your parents don't have bodyguards to keep an eye on you?"

"No. They trust me to tell them I need help."

Akashi's clearly ...didn't.

Akashi's brows draw down, confused. Then he shakes his head and changes the subject.

Whatever. Akashi the elder's shitty parenting isn't your problem.

Yet.

Eventually you hash out all the details. He would introduce you as his girlfriend tomorrow. Any dates that took place would have to be planned at least a week in advance. Your photo-shoots came first, his basketball practice. You would hang out with him in public areas where any spys his father had would report back. Neither of you would attempt anything more physical than holding hands without asking for consent first, except in emergencies, whatever they may be.

He leaves two hours later with a promise to come pick you up tomorrow in his car.

The apartment is quiet, except for the ticking clock in the kitchen. Kise still isn't home. You glance at your phone. The last text is two weeks ago, from your dad.

The dark, quiet place in your dreams is a siren call.

You grab your coat and camera. Shut the door and lock it behind you. Head off into the dark.

Sleep would be a bad idea.

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Dating Akashi is like kicking over a beehive. Full of honey, but liable to get your stung. You don't realize just how many people know him, or know of him until you show up in the same car. He helps you out of the front like a gentleman.

People pointed to you in the school now. Especially the girls.

It's worse than grade school.

The miracles reactions are funny though.

"Are you serious?" Aomine demands.

"Quite." Akashi - Seijuro replies.

You take one of the carrots out of his bento. The crunch is loud in the flabbergasted silence.

Hilarious.

Murasakibara recovers first. He whips his head around to stare at Akashi. "Akachin, no. No."

Midorima looks like the entire world offends him.

You're in the cafeteria again, sitting at the same table. The generation of Miracles are creatures of habit.

Kasumi always sends you designer makeup, even though you never use it. For once it comes in handy. All of the evidence of yesterday is hidden away, like it never existed.

Seijuro continues to ignore them, face serene. It's only the corner of his eyes that give away how amused he is. You lean against him casually, pick at his lunch. You don't have much of an appetite lately.

Murasakibara stares at the two of you with a deeply betrayed look on his face. "Akachin, don't date her. She's gross."

Seijuro merely smiled. "That's a matter of opinion, Atsushi."

You give him the peace sign.

Murasakibara makes an appalled noise.

Aomine is still staring. "You're dating Akashi?" His voice is two parts shocked and one part impressed - like you punched him but it looked too cool to be mad about it. "But you won't play me in basketball?"

Kuroko doesn't roll his eyes but it's clear he wants to. "Those things have nothing to do with each other, Aomine-kun."

This time, Aomine only jumps a little bit. "They do too! It's not like she's scared of me, if she's dating Akashi."

Kuroko ignores him. "Congratulations, Akashi-kun."

You hum under your breath, just a noise to acknowledge you're listening.

Kise still hasn't said anything. He stares down at his tray, face blank.

"This is a surprise." Midorima says, tone making it clear it's an unpleasant one. He adjusted his glasses. "When - how did this happen?"

"Yeah." Kise said, voice quiet. The air went tense. "I'd like to know that too."

And he sounded… hurt.

A seed of irritation flared. What right did he have to sound hurt? Like he's spoken more than two words to you in the past five days.

You lean against the table, head on hands. "You were busy." You say. "I'm telling you now."

Kise meets your eyes for one long moment. Then he looks back down at his tray, mouth pulled tight. "I see."

No one speaks.

"Wait," Aomine says. "I thought Kise was dating Hana - ow!"

Kuroko withdrew his elbow from Aomine's stomach, face blank. "Aomine-kun needs to learn to read the mood."

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Nijimura find you on the roof one day when the whispers get too annoying. You lay out in the sun, your blazer behind your head. You can almost feel the irritation radiating off him like the rays of the sun.

He stands over you. "Skipping again, Hana?"

"Not on your team. Not your problem." You say without opening your eyes.

"So what? What kind of upperclassmen would I be if I let you just do whatever you want?" He nudges your bare legs, hard. "Stop being a brat. Go back to school and do something about Kise. He's moping and it's weird. He keeps getting mobbed in the halls."

You scowl. "Get Kuroko to do it."

Nijimura sighs. "Kuroko is busy."

"I'm busy."

He snorts.

There's a quiet moment.

Finally you hear the rustle of fabric as he sits down. "So. You and Akashi, huh?"

You finally open your eyes. There's something in his voice… something you can't read in his tone. "Yeah."

"How'd that happen?"

You shrug. "He asked."

He looks up and you can't see his expression. "Just like that."

You look at him. Watch the way his shoulders tense. His back stays straight. His white-knuckled fists. "You're angry at me."

Nijimura hesitates a beat to long. "I'm not."

That was convincing. You raise one brow.

He - sighs, one long breath that drains the tension from his body. "Sometimes," he says, voice quiet enough the breeze almost carries it away. "It's like everything I want just… falls into your lap. Makes it hard to like you, Hana."

Inhale. Exhale. "You expecting an apology?"

"No!" Nijimura ran a hand through his hair. "It's just - I'm just being petty. Sorry, Hana. Forget I said anything."

You didn't asked for this.

The words are bitter, on your tongue, in your throat. Because - you didn't ask. Existing is so, so difficult. Your heart is still too loud to sleep sometimes.

People, gone. Places, gone. Your face.

All gone.

Inhale. Exhale. Let it go.

You sigh. "Graduation in three weeks."

Nijimura takes the subject change with good grace. "Yeah. Akashi will do fine, even if I'm not here." He pauses.

"What?"

"The offer you gave me. Is it still open?"

You tilt your head. Offer?

Oh.

"You want the job?"

He crosses his legs. "I don't have any better offers; well, not legal ones."

"Alright. I'll set up a meeting for you."

He blinks. "What, just like that?"

You shrug. Life's too short to hold grudges.

He pushes himself to his feet, and holds out a hand to you.

You let him pull you up.

Nijimura ruffles your hair, smile on his face. "You're a good kid."

Scowling, you bat his hand away. "And you sound like an old man."

He laughs. "Respect your elders, you brat."

Three weeks pass in a blink, and then Nijimura is gone, diploma in hand. Your dad agrees to take him on a trail basis, but you don't have any doubts about Nijimura's work ethic. He'll be fine.

You spend the summer with Kasumi in America. Making connections. Making plans. Taking photographs.

It's fun. You feel lighter, younger.

Returning to Japan feels like putting on a shirt you outgrew a long time ago. You almost turn around and book another flight.

The passport is heavy in your bag.

You'll go back, you promise yourself while staring out the taxi window. Eyes on the horizon. You'll go back, and further still. All the places you never had a chance to see before.

For now, your third year at Teikou begins.

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alright, i finally got my ass in gear and finished this thing. I deleted like five thousand words just to make this mess readable.

UP NEXT: 11-111.

questions? comments? criticisms? I read em all, don't be shy.