A/N: It's been forever and an age since I read the manga, so I don't remember a whole lot from that. But I recently found the anime! It breaks off sort of somewhere in episode 13—he gets to keep his sword. Also, characters might be out of character, but whatever. And, yeah, I don't like Yukio much.

CW/TW for suicidal thoughts


Rin wasn't as stupid as everyone thought he was, okay? He wasn't! Sure, he could barely read, but that wasn't his fault! It wasn't his fault that the words didn't stay still. It didn't make him stupid. As his old man used to say, it was just another challenge he had to face, like his anger issues.

But he wasn't stupid.

It was just...

People hated him less if they thought he was.

OOOOO

He was young—he couldn't remember exactly when, but it was right after that first fight when he had broken the old man's ribs—when his dad carefully cradled Rin against his side and imparted some wisdom on him and asked him to do something that would be the hardest thing he would ever have to do. It was well after dark—everyone else in the monastery had gone to bed hours ago, but Rin... Rin couldn't sleep. He was so worried for his dad and he snuck into his room—just to check on him!

The old man had been awake, smiling that calming, hopeful smile that always set him at ease. He had patted the spot next to him, and Rin was quick to clamber up to snuggle with his dad. But he was careful as he settled down, scared of hurting him further.

"I'm okay, Rin," he said, voice deep and calm and soothing and loving.

"But I hurt you."

"And I forgive you." Dad placed a hand on his head, pulling him closer with his other arm. The fingers in his hair started carding through the strands. It felt so good. If he could purr, Rin was sure he would have. But then the fingers paused. "Rin?"

"Yes, daddy?"

The old man sighed and continued running his fingers through his hair. "I'm going to ask you to do something. I know it will be hard, but I know you can do it."

Rin carefully sat up. This sounded like a serious request, and he wanted his dad to know he was going to put his all into obeying. "What is it?"

Dad's much larger hand cupped his cheek. He looked so sad. Rin didn't really understand why. "You're such a smart little boy, Rin," he started. His thumb rubbed soothingly over his cheek and Rin leaned into it. "So smart. But... Maybe the kids will call you a 'demon child' less if they thought you were dumb."

Rin's little brow crinkled in confusion. "I don't understand."

"Demons are... smart, yes? They would need to be, to be conniving and sneaky, right?"

"I guess..."

"And we will work on your anger, too. And then they would have no reason to call you a demon child."

"But that's lying! You said lying was bad!"

"Sometimes..." Dad sighed and closed his eyes. Rin would have sworn he saw tears catching on his eyelashes. "Sometimes you have to lie. To protect yourself or someone you love from serious harm. It's not bad if you're doing it to protect. If you lie about being smart, you're protecting you from being called a demon child, and then that protects them from your anger, right?"

Rin looked away to think. While that was true... "But what if I get mad about them calling me stupid?"

"Would you rather them call you demon child, or stupid?"

"Well, neither..."

Dad sighed again and gently pulled him close. "I know it's asking a lot of you, Rin. But sometimes... playing the fool is better in the long run. I can't explain now, but... I promise it will make things better for you in the long run."

Rin contemplated the request for a long, long time. So long that dad's breathing grew more even and the horizon started to turn pink with the impending dawn.

As the sun crested the horizon, Rin gripped his dad's shirt and whispered, "Okay. I'll try."

A kiss landed on the crown of his head. "Thank you. That's all I ask."

OOOOO

It actually wasn't that hard to pretend he was stupid.

A few weeks later, he started seriously falling behind in school. They were learning how to read, but—Rin just didn't understand. Not even the simplest of words! All his classmates were starting to read simple books and he didn't understand how they could read words that moved around the page.

"He's not even trying," his teacher had told his dad as they stood in front of her desk. She sounded exasperated. "During lessons he's just staring off out the window or turns in scribbles."

"We'll work on it," dad promised. He guided both him and Yukio out of the school, remaining quiet during their walk back home. Once they got to the monastery, he bid Yukio to go get a snack and gently guided Rin to their room.

"When I asked you to play dumb, I didn't mean for you to purposefully make yourself dumb," he chided once the door was closed.

"Well maybe I am actually stupid," Rin grumbled as he threw his backpack on the floor and tossed himself onto his bed.

Dad sat next to him, placing a gentle hand on his back. "Why do you think that?"

"Everyone else can read the moving words! And I can't!"

The hand stilled it's gentle, soothing motion. "What do you mean?"

Rin pounded his fist on the bed. He was just so frustrated! He wanted to hit something until it broke into satisfying tiny pieces. "I don't understand how everyone else can follow the words. How are they able to follow them when they move and wiggle?"

"Rin..." Dad sounded hesitant, unsure. "The words don't move around. They stay still."

"No they don't!" Rin screeched, shooting up with tears in his eyes. "They move and they wiggle and I can't read them!"

Dad laid a heavy hand on his head and ruffled his hair. "We'll figure it out, okay, kid? Now, let's try those breathing exercises..."

The next day, after school, dad sat him down at the table with a wide spread of books and papers. "Rin, it seems like you might have dyslexia..."

OOOOO

That power of yours, use it for someone else... use it to be gentle to them.

He could be a gentle, loveable, fool.

It didn't take him very long to figure out that people liked him better when they thought he was naïve; a gentle, yet clumsy, too-eager fool.

But he'd rather be that than a demon child.

OOOOO

Dad was dead.

The old man, who was such a steadfast part of his life, always full of love and always cared for him, was dead and it was all Rin's fault. He had let his anger get the best of him and—

And now he was dead.

And he was the son of Satan and then he was being shipped off to Yukio's smart academy and—

He had a heavy promise to keep.

OOOOO

It was, frankly, way too easy to fool his classmates. Embarrassingly easy.

The saddest part was that his brother even still believed it.

But Rin persevered, because by this point being dumb was sort of a habit. And the old man had been right—it was much easier being called dumb than a demon. Because he could laugh, privately, to himself, when people were surprised if he made a smart comment or he was able to sneak something by them.

But one boy stood out in particular.

Suguro "Bon" Ryuuji.

There was... something about him. Something in the way he looked at Rin that made the flames in his gut ignite. He tried his hardest to ignore it, tried to focus on Shiemi, tried to focus on the tricks dad had taught him to study better. But it was hard. There was no one there to help him focus, to help him when he didn't understand, to help him calm down when he got too frustrated.

But messing with Bon was fun, and funnily enough helped him calm down to some degree. It wasn't a great cure, but it helped take his mind off things for just a moment.

It was difficult, staying awake during lessons. The teachers weren't very enthusiastic with him to begin with, even when he had tried to take them aside to explain his dyslexia. They thought he was being lazy, wasn't willing to put in the work—even his brother accused him of it. Not like he hadn't heard it before, but... It hurt worse, this time. Maybe because dad wasn't there to soothe the hurt, and would never be again. It dragged him down and he felt so heavy every time he was admonished in front of the others for things he couldn't help.

Stupid. Fuck up.

Rin sighed and tapped his pencil against his desk. Class had just let out and the others were packing their bags to leave and enjoy their weekend. Rin just sat there, staring at the board, trying to make heads or tails of the notes his brother had made during his lecture. None of it made any sense at all and the words were all too happy to wriggle around. He laid his head on his desk, trying to will away the headache starting to bloom behind his eyes. Months of this, and he was seriously thinking about quitting. They only had a few weeks left before the end of the semester. What was the point, anyway? He was never gonna pass anyway. The alternative was to die, but...

Now there's an idea.

Before his thoughts could spiral into something darker, something kicked his desk, jolting him. He sat up, ready to spit out an insult, but it withered away when he saw the concerned look from Bon.

"Why are you so down?" he asked accusingly.

"Huh?"

"You're not your usual annoyingly chipper self." Bon glared at him, as if he could parse out his secrets through mind reading.

Rin pouted and shoved his things into his bag. "What do you care, anyway?" he asked bitterly. He wasn't in the mood for a fight. "Not like we're friends or anything."

Bon seemed surprised at that. A flash of hurt crossed his eyes before disappearing that made Rin wonder why he would have been hurt by that in the first place. "You don't think we're friends?"

Now Rin was confused. He stuttered, fumbling over his words. "I—I wanted to be, but you always brushed me off and stuff... I thought you hated me. Because I'm stupid and unmotivated and ruin everything and I'm a fuck up."

Shit. He hadn't meant to say all that. He looked away, not wanting to see however Bon would react, didn't want Bon to see how just voicing that aloud made his chest hurt. No one else was in the classroom with them, fortunately. Rin didn't think he could handle others listening in on this type of conversation. And none of this was helping his headache, either.

But Bon wasn't saying anything. He was just staring at him when Rin finally looked up to see why he was so silent. Bon's face was blank; his fingers tapped idly at his side. Finally, he frowned and cocked a questioning eyebrow, as if confused.

"Why do you say all that?"

"Huh?"

With a sigh, Bon moved to sit in Shiemi's seat. Alrighty, then. Apparently they were going to be there a while. "Why would I hate you for being stupid and unmotivated and for ruining everything and that you're a fuck up? What makes you think I think these things?"

Now Rin really didn't understand. "Everyone says so."

"So that means I think these things, too?"

"You've said those to me before." Bon, apparently, didn't have a response to that, so Rin crossed his arms over his desk and hid his face in them. "I told you—everyone thinks that."

Why wouldn't the roosterhead just leave him alone? Why did he even care in the first place?

"I know for a fact Shiemi doesn't think that of you."

"Huh?" Rin sat up, surprised.

Bon was looking at him thoughtfully, head tilted just slightly, as if the different angle would help him understand Rin better. "I know Shiemi doesn't think that. And I don't, either. I'm sorry that I did, and—"

Something hollow and sharp pierced his chest. "That's not true!" he shouted, standing, stupid sword holding his stupid powers clutched tight in hand. How could—How could Bon lie to his face like that? He moved to leave; he didn't want to be there anymore. "I know you think that—You tell me almost every day—"

"I know you're not stupid." That stopped Rin in his tracks. "An idiot, maybe, but not stupid." A pause, then, "I used to think you were—I used to think all those things, but..."

"But what." Rin couldn't turn to look at him. His fists clenched and trembled at his side as he waited. He could feel the blue flames flickering just underneath his skin, ready to erupt if his emotions got too high. But he couldn't—he couldn't expose his secret, couldn't put Bon in danger like that, couldn't couldn't couldn't.

"I can't figure you out, Okumura," Bon finally said after too long of a pause. "No one is that bad at schoolwork."

"You are if you're too stupid to read."

"What—"

"I can't read, Suguro," Rin bit out, still turned away, still trembling. He was so fed up, so tired, so done. "I can't fucking read, okay? I'm too goddamn stupid. And—And nobody believes me—none of my teachers, so I'm not getting any help, and—" Fucking fuck. He couldn't hide the sob as months of tension and stress and anger and sadness finally crashed down around him. "Not even my own brother believes me. I try so fucking hard and I have nothing to show for it! I'm just—"

"A fuck up," Bon finished when Rin cut himself off.

Rin collapsed back into his seat, drained of any energy he might have had. "A fuck up," he echoed hollowly.

They were quiet for a moment. Rin contemplated if he even could die, if that might just be better for everyone—

"What kind of help do you need?" Bon asked suddenly, pulling Rin from his dark thoughts.

"What?"

"Did you have help before you came here?" Bon tapped his finger on the desk in thought. "Is there something I can do to help you?"

"Why would you—"

"We're friends, Okumura. Rin." Something warm and pleasant bloomed in his chest when Bon called him by his name. "Maybe—" Bon heaved a great, weary sigh, pulled directly from the depths of his soul. He rubbed his hands over his face, suddenly looking tired. "Maybe I should have been a better friend to you. Maybe that's why you're so goddamn suicidal."

Ice struck Rin's chest. How did— "How did you know?" His voice was smaller than he intended. Was he really that transparent? And even if he was, how come no one had reached out to him? Did they—Did they want him to die? That had to be it—

Bon jerked and looked down at him with wide eyes. "I meant how you were too self-sacrificing in the field and always going off by yourself, but—Rin, are you—" He lifted a hand but hesitated, as if unsure what to do with it. After a moment, he placed his much larger hand over Rin's. Bon was shaking. "Are you really suicidal?"

Rin could feel his bottom lip trembling. Water pooled in his eyes. He hated lying so much, and—he was tired. He wanted to be truthful about one of his secrets. "It would just be better for everyone." It made his heart squeeze painfully to finally voice his thoughts out loud. But... No one would have to be frustrated and annoyed at him anymore, Yukio wouldn't have to constantly be afraid of him, no one would have to worry that he would go berserk and threaten everyone, he wouldn't constantly be fucking up everything around him—

"No," Bon said decisively. "It wouldn't."

"You don't know anything—"

"I know you're the kindest, most selfless person I know," Bon interrupted, gripping his hand tighter. "Sure, Shiemi is, too, but she's nothing compared to you. You try so hard and you take all these harsh words and turn them into something positive. You don't let them get you down. You're so willing to do anything to help anyone, no matter how awful they are to you. Sure, you might screw up sometimes, but that's part of being human!"

Laughter bubbled in his throat. It escaped, hysterical and high-pitched and probably somewhat frightening, if Bon's expression was anything to go by. Rin was a demon. And here Bon was, telling him he was human. He wished he could tell Bon, so he could see the irony in his words. But he couldn't.

Tears streamed down his face. He used his free hand to wipe them away and grin. His chest felt lighter than it had in months, like some weight had been taken away. Not all of it, but... It was easier to breathe.

"Thanks, Bon." Rin sniffled into his sleeve. "That made me feel better."

Bon still looked a little wary, but nodded. "Good." He tugged him up so they could leave, still keeping Rin's hand clasped tight in his as they walked out of the classroom. "Are you getting any help? For... For being suicidal?"

"No one knows."

"Not even your brother?"

Rin shrugged. "He's... never said anything to me about it, so..."

Bon grumbled under his breath for several moments, squeezing his hand off and on as if wanting to make a fist and only just remembering he was still holding Rin's hand. Finally, once he was done griping, he asked softly, "Promise me that if you feel like... feel like killing yourself, you'll come to me?"

His breath caught in his throat. There was someone who actively did not want him dead. That would change, most likely, if he ever found out what Rin was, but...

"Yeah," he choked out. "Yeah, I can do that."

For now, Rin could delude himself into believing that wouldn't change.

Bon kept his hand tight in his even as they left the cram school and walked through campus. There were odd looks thrown their way, but no mean whispers or jeers. It was... sort of nice, Rin thought. It made the flames in his gut dance around happily, wishing that that was something he could do with Bon all the time. But, he knew it was only temporary, that Bon just wanted to show that he was there for Rin.

"So how can I help? With studying and homework?" Bon asked as they neared Rin's dorm.

"Oh, well." Rin gave him a sad smile. "My dad helped me. I'm not that great at memorizing, but, like, practical application worked best? I learn best as I go—like out on the field or something. Something I can touch. But," he added, frowning, "My dyslexia also means that I'm not too great at writing, so like tests and stuff are really hard."

"And no one believes you?" Bon asked, sounded angry. "Even after a whole semester of you failing?"

"Gee, thanks," Rin said blandly as they entered his dorm. Bon still held his hand, looking somewhat apologetic, even as they climbed up the stairs. They paused at the sink before heading to his room so he could splash some cold water on his face to hide the evidence of his cry fest. Bon took his hand again as Rin guided him to his room.

Yukio was hanging up his overcoat as they walked in. He raised an eyebrow at their entwined fingers. "Nii-san...?"

Bon tugged Rin towards his side of the room. "Rin's coming over to do some homework and study some verses and will probably spend the night." A quick look told him that anger was simmering just underneath the surface—not his usual grumpiness and strictness, but close and somehow deeper all at once. Was he mad at Yukio for some reason? For—For ignoring his dyslexia? His suicidal thoughts? Yukio was busy—he didn't have time for Rin's shenanigans all the time. He had other things to worry about.

It took all his power to stop himself from saying, "I am?" Instead, he grinned at his brother as he dumped out what he didn't need onto his bed and stuffed his clothing and toothbrush and anything else he thought he needed into his bag. "Yup! Don't wait up."

"Rin—You know the rules. You're under supervision."

Yukio's voice sounded cold, calculating, hard.

Right. He was under constant supervision because he was dangerous—a threat—

"No offense, sensei," Bon said, voice hard. "But Rin doesn't exactly need your "supervision." He's not as stupid as you think he is. And besides—he'll be with us three the entire time. We can "supervise" him well enough."

And Yukio couldn't exactly say that it wasn't because he was stupid. He stood there silently, watching them through narrowed eyes.

They took that as their cue and hurried out, Rin's hand clasped tightly in Bon's once again. He waited until they were well away from his dorm before he asked, "So what was that about?"

"Your damn brother," Bon growled, clenching his hand a little too tight. He apologized and loosened his grip when Rin hissed. "He blew you off about needing help and apparently doesn't care. And he obviously thinks you're too stupid to function, or something. And he apparently either didn't notice or doesn't care that you're suicidal."

"He... cares," Rin tried to defend his brother. "In his own way." By not murdering him in his sleep, he thought bitterly.

Bon grumped, but didn't argue further. Once they got to his room, he strolled in and deposited Rin at his desk. Only then did he finally—reluctantly, it seemed—drop Rin's hand to grab Shima's empty chair. His two roommates looked on, confused, but didn't question his actions as the chair landed next to Rin.

"Alright." Bon pulled out his homework. "We're going to do as much as we can in an hour, okay? And then we'll take a break for dinner."

"Yes, sir!" Rin saluted, grinning brightly.

Bon just rolled his eyes, but Rin could still see a tiny smile.

OOOOO

"We could go back to my dorm for dinner?" Rin suggested, stretching as the hour was finally up. The study session hadn't gone too terribly bad, all things considered. It was actually... kind of fun? And he probably retained some of it? "Ukobach loves to cook and always makes extra. Koneko and Shima can come, too!"

Bon looked between his two innocent looking friends. They were grinning entirely too innocently. "I suppose so. They can help us with verses! Your dorm will be perfect for that."

"Eh?" Shima scrunched his face in displeasure. "Learning? On a weekend?"

"Rin needs help with learning the verse for the final," Bon replied, standing and offering his hand to Rin. Once he was standing, Bon entwined their fingers. The flames danced once again in his belly. Bon's roommates blinked down at their hands, but didn't say anything. "And learning in a practical environment seems to work best," he added as he lead them out of their room. "So, since we're friends, I figured that Shima can pretend to be the demon that resides in his soul—"

"Hey!"

"And Koneko can work on his weapons training while I help Rin with the verse."

Glancing back, Rin saw the other two give each other confused looks as they fell into step behind them. "I... suppose..." said Koneko after a moment, "that makes the most sense."

Yukio never came down for dinner, and Rin was concerned—his brother overworked himself too much sometimes, but... He tried not to feel bitter, tried to push the negative feelings away. He cared about his brother—loved him entirely too much, despite how much Yukio seemed to hate him.

But...

"Oi, oi, Rin." Bon nudged him with a grin. "Ukobach really is a great cook!"

The tiny kitchen demon squeaked out his pleasure and preened happily under the praise from the kitchen. Rin shared his sentiments—it really was nice to be acknowledged for good food. He couldn't help the gentle smile at the thought. "I'm sure he's pleased you like his food."

Even Kuro was happily feasting on the leftovers Ukobach had laid out for him.

The four students made quick work helping Ukobach clean up to thank him for the food. The little demon was entirely too happy, which made Rin smile even brighter. Usually the demon was sort of gruff and grumpy looking, but... It seemed that the praise really did make him much more compliant and happy and willing to get along with humans.

After cleaning up, the four found a large room to practice in. It took them ages of arguing before they figured out how they would try to get this done.

In the end, they decided that Koneko would borrow Shima's staff to ward him off while Bon would recite a simple verse slowly for Rin to listen to. They were starting simple, just to see if their method would work before they tried to go for the one they were supposed to memorize for their final in a few weeks. It took them several false starts, since Rin would start giggling at Koneko and Shima pretend fighting. Shima was having entirely too much fun with making weird faces to get Rin laughing again after Bon had got him settled down. Eventually, Bon grew fed up with their shenanigans and threw his jacket over Shima's head to obscure his features. That helped a little, at least. Shima couldn't distract him with weird faces anymore, but his noises were just as comical.

After a few rounds of that and they finally stopped laughing, Bon requested that Rin repeat each line after him. But it was too much, and Rin kept getting flustered and confused. A chair may or may not have ended up smashed to pieces against the wall before Bon suggested they go slow enough that he repeated only a few words at a time.

That was a little easier, at least.

And then it was whole lines, then whole sentences, and eventually he was reciting along with Bon as Koneko and Shima panted and grumbled and collapsed at the end.

"I'm dead," Shima groaned. "You've defeated me."

But Koneko was beaming up at him, panting from his exertion, and Bon was grinning proudly, and—

And Rin didn't feel like the failure he was.

OOOOO

Rin did end up spending the night with the guys. And it was fun. He'd never had friends like this before, friends he could just hang out with and joke with and read manga with and just have fun with. It had been years since he and Yukio had messed around like that, or tried to elbow each other playfully at the sinks as they tried to brush their teeth or made silly verbal jabs at each other as they showered.

And Rin had expected some bedding on the floor for him to sleep on. He didn't expect Bon to push him into his bed and crawl in after him to wrap an arm around him and set the flames in his belly roaring like a bonfire at the close touch.

It was—it was nice. It was nice to be held so close to Bon's large chest, held close like he was precious, important, wanted. It was probably because Bon was trying to comfort him, didn't want him to be suicidal, or something, but Rin was happy enough to delude himself into thinking it was because Bon liked him, too.

"Hey, hey," Shima warned. "You're not going to have sex with us in the room, are you?!"

"What?!" Rin was sure his face was bright red. He could feel the heat as he buried his face in his hands. Bon shot up, standing and probably posing intimidatingly in front of his friends. "No! We—We're just—"

And why was Bon having such a hard time with this? Why was he stuttering and failing to find excuses?

Did he—

Rin sat up and spun around to see Bon shaking before him. He could just see the confused, angry scowl on his face, hands clenched tight at his side. Koneko and Shima stood across the room, just as flabbergasted as Rin felt.

"Bon... Ryuuji," Rin said quietly, pulling himself up to his knees and reaching out. It was embarrassing, doing this in front of the others, but... He needed to know.

Ryuuji stiffened, back taut with tension as Rin's hand landed on his elbow.

No one spoke for a long, tense moment.

Finally, Ryuuji sagged, the tension melting from his shoulders as he sat on the bed and put his head in his hands. The moonlight cut across his features, bathing him in a blue-ish light that looked good on him. "I can't... hide it anymore. I'm sorry, Rin. I understand if you don't—"

"You like me too?" Rin whispered, scooting forward a little too eagerly. He ignored the other two whispering furiously at each other. Ryuuji liked him, too! It was quite the surprise, but a much welcome one. "Since when?"

"What?" Ryuuji lifted his head, wide eyed and scowling adorably.

"I've liked you since we first met!" Okay, that was probably a little too eager, but—someone actually liked him. Like, probably wanted to be in a relationship with him and kiss him and cuddle him and—Rin could hardly contain himself. It made him giggly and bubbly and the fire in his belly crackled pleasantly up to his chest. "I thought you were so cool!"

"Tch, that long?" Ryuuji teased. He was blushing, though, and Rin thought it looked good on him, paired with that shy smile that was so... opposite of how he usually was. "I think I started liking you after our Exwire test."

Rin wanted to throw himself into Ryuuji's lap and hug him, but he held back, aware that Shima and Koneko were watching the drama unfold. Instead, he gave Ryuuji's cheek a quick kiss and tossed himself back onto the bed so they could cuddle again. Tentatively, Ryuuji lowered himself back down and pulled Rin close to his chest, caging him in his arms protectively. Rin snuggled closer, uncaring that their friends were witnessing Ryuuji being so tender to him. He just felt... safe. Something he hadn't felt in a long time.

"We'll talk in the morning," Rin promised.

The tension finally left Ryuuji at that, and Rin felt him bend his head low to breathe into his hair. "Okay."

OOOOO

There really hadn't been that much to talk about, come morning. Shima and Koneko were already gone, leaving Rin and Ryuuji to bask in the warm sheets. Rin was too content to move, too happy, too warm, too sleepy.

But Ryuuji was apparently ready to talk.

"So does this mean we're... together, then?"

Rin cuddled impossibly closer. "I'd like that, I think."

"What about Moriyama?"

He stilled, unsure of what to say. "I'm... bisexual," he said into Ryuuji's chest. "I like pretty much anyone, but—but I'm monogamous, I promise!"

"I believe ya." A large hand ruffled his hair. But then it paused, and Ryuuji's breath caught. "I think I'm asexual."

"Eh?"

"I don't... like sexual things," Ryuuji admitted quietly. "I like kissing, and cuddling, but..."

Rin tried to burrow himself even closer. "That's okay."

"But—"

"We're only fifteen anyway. Sixteen, whatever."

And that was that. They decided that they wouldn't announce it to the world, but they wouldn't hide it, either. If people asked, they'd be honest. And they took things slow, which Rin didn't mind one bit. They kissed in private—nothing like heavy making out or anything, since it made Ryuuji uncomfortable, but they cuddled when they could after studying and held hands on the way to class.

They never said anything to their friends, but they didn't hide it, either. They still sat separate during class—it was just a habit, by that point, and they didn't mind being separated. Their classmates questioned them after class their first day—Koneko and Shima wearing smug smirks as they had known well before the others—and Rin was only a little flustered as Ryuuji shrugged and slung an arm over Rin's shoulders to lead him away.

Yukio never asked about it—didn't even seem to realize anything was happening.

Rin never offered.

OOOOO

"Okumura, your turn."

Rin stood with a confident tilt to his chin. He had this. He knew it! The others had helped him practice and practice and practice until he and Ryuuji were hoarse. He couldn't let them down! His hands trembled, and he clenched them to hide his nerves.

Right. Ryuuji said to find his rhythm.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Tap tap taptap tap. Tap tap taptap tap went one hand against his thigh.

But he couldn't find the words.

"Eh, excuse me, sensei?" Rin jerked around to see Ryuuji with his hand in the air. "Can I try something to help him?"

"Suguro, you know we don't tolerate cheating—"

"It's not cheating," Ryuuji denied. "Rin learns better hands on, and he learned it as if he was actually doing it. You want him to succeed, don't you?" He stood, then, and pulled Koneko out with him. He crossed the room to stand in front of Rin and held out a fist. Rin was just quick enough to catch the beads he dropped. "Just like we practiced, neh?"

The teacher stood flabbergasted at the front, but seemed to give in with a large exhale. "Alright. We'll try this once."

"Great." Ryuuji clapped his hands before shedding his jacket and draping it over a protesting Koneko to hide his face. "Alright, Rin! You got this! I'll fend off the ghoul while you recite the verse, okay? Find your rhythm."

Rin only stared at Ryuuji for a moment. What was the fool doing? But... It was helping, as Ryuuji pretended to fight off the ghoul and Koneko made pitiful ghoulish noises. But it was helping, and the words were flowing from his tongue, easy, simple, like it was Ryuuji reciting confidently instead of Rin, as if he had been made and molded to recite Fatal Verses as he clutched the beads in one hand and tapped his leg in rhythm with his other. He finished with gusto, and Koneko let out a hearty wail as he 'died' and sprawled over the floor, twitching and groaning in his death throes.

And then Ryuuji was next to him, giving him high fives and congratulating him with a wide grin. "Good job, Rin!" he said proudly. Proudly. He was proud of Rin! It sent a whole plethora of eager fire through his belly as he copied Ryuuji's grin. "I knew you could do it!"

And he did do it, didn't he? Rin had actually perfectly recited something for once! "I did it!" he cried out, jumping on the spot and just so, so happy. He'd finally been able to recite something without stumbling over his words, or trying to cheat by scribbling illegible notes on his hands. All thanks to Ryuuji, this wonderful human being who believed in him and listened to him and helped him. "Thank you, Ryuuji!" He rushed forward, squeezing his arms around the much larger boy for just a moment. Rin let go before he could combust, and the others gathered around him to congratulate him on finally getting a recitation correct.

Over their heads, Rin saw their teacher give him a small, proud smile.

OOOOO

"I heard you had a perfect recitation for your verse final."

Rin startled at his brother's comment. They had just gotten back to the dorm after finishing the final for Yukio's class. It had been difficult—the words wiggled around too much and no matter what he did he couldn't get them to sit still long enough for him to properly read them. Ryuuji had tried so, so hard to help him study for it, too, but Yukio wasn't willing to give him extra time or a different way to take the test, no matter how much he had pleaded. Looking at the pictures and having Ryuuji describe what they were and what they did didn't help him retain the information very well, but he had come up with a system involving drawing little flashcards with each plant and then drawing on himself a "wound done by a demon" and asked Rin what would help best. By the end, he was completely covered in ink that wouldn't go away for several days, but he was smiling proudly at Rin all the same. Rin hated that all of Ryuuji's hard work went to waste.

"Oh, yeah." Rin grinned at the proud feeling that bloomed in his chest. He dropped his bag by his desk; he could take care of it later. "Ryuuji was a lot of help. He came up with a different way for me to learn it—and it worked!"

The look Yukio gave him was... disapproving. It made something sting in his chest at the look. Rin tried to keep up his bright grin, even as Yukio said, "So you were just too lazy to do it on your own and made him help you, is that it?"

"What?" What the fuck? "No!" he denied, honestly hurt by the accusation. "I learn better hands-on—you know this—and he actually believed me when I told him I'm dyslexic!"

Yukio flinched at the accusation. "No, you're just being lazy, and—and stupid, and—"

"Then how come I had a perfect recitation after Ryuuji helped me learn differently, huh?" He could feel the blue flames licking just underneath his skin, ready to jump out when his anger overtook him. Rin clenched his eyes shut and breathed deeply, trying to remember the old man's breathing exercises. He needed to calm down. There was no use getting angry over something so stupid.

There was a quiet click in front of him.

When he opened his eyes, Yukio had his gun pointed directly at his head, not even three feet away.

His chest squeezed, cutting off his breath and making his heart stutter. "I'm not going to lose control," he said quietly, unable to hide the hurt from his voice.

The gun didn't lower.

Rin could feel his lower lip trembling. "So this is it, huh? You're just going to shoot me because I'm a little upset that you don't listen to me? Can I at least say goodbye to my boyfriend before you kill me?"

Perhaps he was being a little too bitter, but—his brother had a gun to his head for no reason.

At least Yukio's surprise made him feel some sense of satisfaction.

The gun lowered, just slightly, only to point down at his chest. "Boyfriend?" Yukio asked, brow drawn together, confused. "Since when do you have a boyfriend?"

Rin shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. If it infuriated Yukio, all the better. "Two, three weeks?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"We weren't hiding it." Rin tilted his head up, smirking. "You know him, too. Ryuuji? Yeah, he actually likes me and listens to me." He shouldn't have been trying to antagonize his brother, but the dude just infuriated him to no end. He didn't trust Rin, didn't listen to him, didn't even seem to care. The old man would be so disappointed that Rin wasn't being kind, but it felt so good to finally let his bitter feelings out. Sure, he loved his brother, would do anything for him, but...

The gun drew back up to his head as Yukio's eyes narrowed and became harder, cold, unyielding. "Did you tell him?"

"That I'm Satan's son? No. I'm not stupid."

"Could have fooled me." His voice was even harder. The gun never trembled, though, even as Yukio clenched his jaw. "Do you know how stupid that is? What, you're just going to lie to him? And what if he finds out, huh? You think he's still going to want to be with you? You're putting everyone in danger!"

He couldn't do it. He couldn't stand there, listening to his brother's hate. Trying to appear unaffected—he had to be the naïve, stupid fool, after all—he hitched his sword more securely over his shoulder and turned to walk out.

"Don't take another step."

"Or what?" Rin asked, shooting a grin over his shoulder. "You'll shoot me?" He took another step anyway. There was no way his brother would—

A shot rang out. He felt the bullet nearly graze his ear. The door splintered from the force of the bullet passing through.

Rin could hardly believe it. He felt... empty, hollowed out, like someone had scooped out all his guts with a garden rake and dumped them at his feet. His own brother had just tried to kill him—had just barely missed—

He turned, trying to make his gaze as lighthearted as he could as he eyed his younger twin. Yukio appeared steadfast, unwavering. The fool really was willing to kill him. With a laugh, Rin spread his arms. "You missed, brother-dearest. Really, with my fat, stupid head, you shouldn't have been able to miss."

"Are you crazy?!" his brother shouted, gun still pointed at Rin's head, eyes narrowed. "Do you have a death wish?"

Maybe his gaze was a little too crazed, because Yukio finally wavered, blinking owlishly at him as he started to laugh. He felt outside of himself as he stepped closer, closer, until the gun was pressed to his chest. He lifted a hand, sliding this thumb to rest against Yukio's finger on the trigger.

"Do it," Rin whispered, feeling a feral grin overtake his lips. He felt feral, felt wild, felt the blue flames pulsing and dancing beneath his skin, begging to be released and cause destruction. But he kept them at bay, tamped them down until they were just embers. He pressed the gun harder to his chest—the metal was still warm from firing off just a moment ago. "It would solve all your problems, wouldn't it?" But Yukio looked—scared, unsure, for once. "Or is it different because I want to be dead? It wouldn't be as satisfying to kill me if I want it, would it?"

Yukio's eyes widened and the gun dropped to his side. "Rin—"

"Fuck you."

Turning quickly, he strode from the room with that grin that still felt a little too crazed. He felt so much lighter as he jaunted through campus to find Ryuuji. His boyfriend was probably packing up, preparing to go home to Kyoto for the summer break or preparing for their class camping trip. People gave him a wide berth, looking frightened, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. What was the point, anyway? They didn't know him, probably didn't give a shit about him.

He paused in the middle of the sidewalk.

No one gave a shit about him. He was alone. And it would solve so many problems if he just—if he just—There were tall ledges, or maybe just a knife would work, because surely drawing the sword and releasing his powers would keep him from dying like on the rooftop last time, or—

No. No.

Ryuuji cared, or at least pretended to. But Rin suspected the other boy wouldn't bother pretending about anything, especially regarding his feelings.

Ryuuji had said to come to him if he wanted to kill himself. What, so he could convince him not to? So he could comfort him?

Rin bit his lip. He wanted to see Ryuuji anyway...

And then he was in front of Ryuuji's door, not quite sure how he had gotten there. But he was there, and he was shaking, the adrenaline apparently wearing off and he felt cold, tired, shaky. Had he really almost—

"Rin?" Had he knocked? Apparently so. "Rin, what's wrong?"

"I—I almost—"

Ryuuji swore with worried breath, pulling him into the room and clutching his shoulders. His worried gaze raked over Rin, trying to find some wound or evidence of whatever Rin would have done. "How—"

"Yukio. H-His gun," Rin replied, closing his eyes. He tipped forward until he was cradled against Ryuuji's chest. "He—He had his gun pointed at me, and I—I told him to—to just do it, make his life easier." His breath hitched and he clutched at Ryuuji's shirt. Knees shaking, he started to sink, but Ryuuji helped him move over to the bed to collapse on instead. "It—It was against my chest, and he—and he had his finger on the trigger, and I—I put my hand there, too, and tried to make him—"

Ryuuji shushed him, swaying side to side and running his fingers through Rin's hair. "It's okay, Rin. You're okay. You're still here."

They didn't speak for long time, as Rin sobbed into Ryuuji's chest. Ryuuji just kept him held close, rocked him, made him feel loved and warm and safe. But of course that couldn't last.

Ryuuji eventually drew away to stare down at him in confusion. "Why did your brother have a gun pointed at you in the first place?"

Realizing how much he had fucked up, Rin froze and tried to come up with a plausible excuse. But nothing was coming to him. Absolutely nothing. "D-Did I say that?" he tried to laugh off, pulling away. "I misspoke—"

"Rin."

That tone of voice did not allow any room for argument. Rin slumped, still pulled away and drawing into himself. Once his arms were clasped tight around his legs, face buried in his knees, he said, "I can't say. You'll hate me, too."

Ryuuji seemed to respect that Rin didn't want to be touched at the moment. He pinned his hands between his knees. It was only then that Rin realized that they were alone in the room—maybe the other two were down at dinner, or something. He didn't really care, to be honest.

"Is it that bad?"

"The literal worst," he tried to joke. It fell flat. "I'm... not allowed to say."

"What if I guess?" Ryuuji asked quietly. "Then you're not saying it."

"Might count anyway." But Rin was so fed up, so done with keeping it a secret. Especially with how close he was to Shiemi, and now Ryuuji. What was the worst that would happen, anyway? They would hate him? They would stop talking to him, stop being his friends, demand he leave the cram school? He'd die, be executed, either by his friends or by someone higher up, like his brother?

Not like he didn't want to die anyway.

Rin breathed out, letting out every drop of air as he squeezed his legs closer to his chest. It hurt—It hurt so much. He was so tired—tired of lying, tired of hiding, tired of—tired of living and trying and—

Mind made up, Rin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Even if everyone thought he was stupid, he knew that he couldn't keep this secret from Ryuuji. Not now, not after it was half out of the bag anyway. He knew the consequences—there was a high chance of death if he told. A high chance of losing his relationship—friendship and otherwise—with Ryuuji if he kept it secret. But it was almost guaranteed that Ryuuji would leave him, anyway...

He took another deep breath. "I'm the son of Satan. He pointed his gun at me because he thought I had lost control."

And with that, he felt so much lighter despite how much dread it filled him with. But he couldn't help giggling, even though the situation wasn't funny at all.

"What—"

"I didn't even know until right before I came here," Rin barreled on, hoping an explanation would make Ryuuji hate him less. He kept his head hidden, not wanting to see Ryuuji's face at all, not wanting to see the hate, or if he was going to hurt him. It helped to hide his tears, anyway, even though his voice wavered as his giggles died off. "Shiro raised me as human and—I'm half human, anyway. It's just that I heal quickly and I have a tail and pointy ears and teeth and sometimes erupt into blue flames. My only options were to come here and learn to defeat Satan, or die.

"I wish I had picked death instead."

Okay, and maybe emotional manipulation was bad, but... Maybe if Ryuuji felt sorry for him and if Rin looked more human, expressed human emotions, Ryuuji would hate him less.

"Rin."

Rin flinched at his name. But that was good, right? That Ryuuji wasn't—

"Rin, please look at me."

And maybe it had worked, somewhat. When Rin looked up, Ryuuji looked... scared, almost, but also concerned. Ryuuji still brushed away his tears with a scowl, thumbs caressing his cheek as his large palms tenderly held Rin's face. "So you're the son of Satan, big deal," he said, voice only wavering slightly. "Yeah, it's a little scary, but... You didn't ask to be born. And—And maybe if we weren't as... close as we are, I'd be a lot less accepting." Ryuuji tried to smile, but it missed the mark a little. He seemed to realize and stopped trying, instead adopting his usual scowl. It was softer, somehow. Gentle, not directed at Rin. "But like I said before—you're the kindest, most selfless person I've ever met." But then he frowned, thinking. "Wait, were you laughing that day because I called you human?"

A chuckle fell from his lips. "Yeah, I was."

Ryuuji scoffed. "Idiot..." But it was said affectionately and with a tiny smile he reserved just for Rin. That fell, too, though, as another thought came to him. "Is that why Okumura-sensei has to "supervise" you? Wouldn't he also—"

"I'm the one who gained the powers, not him."

"Ah." Ryuuji studied him for a moment, searching him for—something. Rin wasn't sure what. "Come here." Strong arms pulled Rin close to Ryuuji's chest, surrounding him with warmth and comfort that he gladly sank into. "I'm glad you're alive."

The breath hitched in his chest as his heart squeezed painfully. "But—"

"I said," Ryuuji interrupted gruffly, squeezing even tighter, "that I am glad that you are alive."

"Okay, okay," Rin wheezed with a laugh. "I get it."

There was no guarantee that things were going to be okay, but...

Just for a moment, he believed they were.

OOOOO

Rin stayed the night with the other boys as one last celebration for finishing the semester. Koneko and Shima were all too gleeful to tease the two about being affectionate towards each other, but they took it in stride and it only encouraged Rin to be more obnoxiously affectionate. It was his last chance before Ryuuji went back to Kyoto for the summer and Rin would be stuck at the school, since they weren't entirely sure what the camping trip would entail. Ryuuji was less than amused, scowling and grumbling about the entire cuddling business in front of his friends, but he never pushed Rin away.

He even cuddled Rin again in his bed, holding him close despite the other two's snickers.

"You'll call me?" Ryuuji asked, pulling him impossibly closer sometime after the other two had finally fallen asleep. "If you need to? If you feel like...?"

"I don't want to bother you..." Rin squeezed his eyes shut as tears unexpectedly gathered in the corners.

"You won't," Ryuuji promised. "Even at three in the morning."

"Okay."

"And maybe..." He heard Ryuuji gulp nervously behind him. "Maybe you can come up for a few days?"

"I'd probably have to bring Yukio."

"That's—fine, I suppose."

Rin chuckled quietly. "You're not happy about that at all."

"Well, no," Ryuuji answered truthfully. "But I suppose I don't really have a say."

"Heh. Probably not."

It was easy, falling asleep in Ryuuji's arms. He always felt so safe and warm and wanted when those strong arms circled around him, even if Ryuuji was being grumpy about cuddling in front of others. Nothing else mattered in the world, as long as Ryuuji was there with him. And Yukio had been wrong, anyway. Ryuuji still wanted him, still liked him, even though he knew. Rin didn't think the other boy had it in him to be deceptive. He was similar to Rin, that way. Just like they were so, so similar in almost everything.

And in the morning, if he had to wake up and hurry to pack for the camping trip with Ryuuji at his side to scoff and complain and help him?

Well.

All the better.