I.

500 students entered the Barsburg Empire Military Academy with Teito Klein that week, and he would have been quite content to ignore every single one of them.

His instructors, however, didn't seem to have his happiness in mind; his very first day, they'd shoved the students into groups and forced them through dozens of pointless "team-building" exercises. What did it matter, anyway? They were supposed to be training for the army; this wasn't a playground, nor was it some social event. At least he'd found an empty table for his lunch break.

"Hiiiiiii! Mind if I sit here?"

Teito suppressed a groan as a taller boy leaned across the table, the small x-shaped scar on his chin only inches from Teito's face. "Thought I'd give you some company!" he continued, sitting down without waiting for an answer. "What kinda person eats by himself, anyway? We were in the same group earlier, remember?

Right… how could he have forgotten? The boy had barely closed his mouth the whole time. Teito frowned vaguely. "It's… Mikage, right?"

"See? You do remember!" Mikage looked absolutely delighted at this; at least, he rocked back and forth a little on his chair. "Which is good, 'cause I kinda thought you weren't paying attention before. Hey, are you gonna eat that? Can I have some anyway? You don't really need that much food, right? I mean, you're practically a speck!"

500 students entered the Barsburg Empire Military Academy with Teito Klein that week, and he would have been quite content to ignore every single one of them. Unfortunately for him, Teito was never the type that could be easily ignored.

II.

By the end of his first week, Teito managed to alienate everyone in his class.

It was a delicate process. He alienated everyone he spoke (or didn't speak) to, looked at, or even passed in the hallway, and those students didn't hesitate to warn their new friends and acquaintances the moment he was out of sight. Before long, every recruit knew all about this new haughty, stuck-up first year who seemed to think he was God almighty just because he tested out of a few simple classes.

So they dealt with it as only children could. They made things as difficult for him as humanly possible. This was how he found himself exiting class one day, only to hit a wall of strategically-placed, conversing teenagers.

"Excuse me," Teito muttered, clenching his first when he wasn't acknowledged. "Excuse me," he repeated, louder and more self-important. Nothing. Just as he took a deep breath, ready to shout for them to move, a pair of hands slammed onto his shoulders.

"LISTEN UUUUUUUP!"

It took a moment for Teito's heart to start beating again. Once he was sure he could breathe again, he turned around to see the familiar, usually-jovial face, now grim and solemn. "M-Mikage? What are you—"

"Disgraceful!" Mikage bellowed. "Obstructing the hallway like this… don't you know Master Klein is coming through? Come on, to the side, make it fast! He's killed people for less, you know!" As he steered the smaller boy forward, Mikage bent down to whisper in his ear. "Your face needs to be intimidating. You're making me look bad."

Barely knowing what he was doing, Teito somehow forced the deer-in-the-headlights expression off his features, affecting a bored scowl. Slowly, the pair began to part the hallway in two; the recruits looked skeptical, but not so much that they would risk the wrath of "Master Klein."

"I suggest you don't hesitate there, sir," Mikage continued gravely. "I don't suppose you've heard of the incident? No? That's good, then… it's best that you don't… no one should know of that day…"

As they reached the lunchroom door, Mikage swung around, dragging Teito with him. "Master Klein will forgive you for today," he announced. "But tomorrow, he may not be as magnanimous! Isn't that so, Master?"

"… yes," Teito managed, trying to deepen his voice. "I trust that you all—"

Before he could finish his speech, Mikage swung him around again, pushing him through the double doors. Teito let himself be shoved along for a full thirty seconds before he realized that Mikage hadn't yet released his shoulders.

"Hey… you can let go now," he mumbled.

"Are you kidding?" Mikage dropped the solemn expression, beaming. "You're coming with me. I'm getting free seconds today."

Teito stared up at him, open-mouthed, completely at a loss for words, but not from annoyance or exasperation. In a few seconds, this strange kid hadn't just gotten himself a quick walk to the cafeteria, or extra food. He'd declared his allegiance.

III.

They began sitting together at lunch every day. It wasn't something Teito realized for a while; he'd tell himself that if Mikage was so determined to sit with him, it couldn't really be helped, could it?

Until he found himself seeking out the taller boy on his own one day.

Eventually, he began to encourage conversation, just a little. He'd make eye contact, he'd nod, he'd occasionally make a short comment here and there. But Mikage didn't need any encouragement, the boy just never ran out of words. Especially where his family was concerned, and especially when he had visual aids.

"And this is my little sister's birthday… doesn't she look so old for six? Adorable, huh? She's gonna be such a heartbreaker when she gets older… and don't even think about it, even if we are friends." Mikage pointed out a tall, smirking boy in the background. "Older brother. Total asshole. You don't have to meet him. Not until I leave him crying in a gutter, anyway."

"I don't have to meet anyone," Teito said with a shrug. "It's fine."

"You at least have to come for dinner! A few times. Maybe you'll pick up some body weight or something." Mikage chuckled. "So, what about your family?"

Teito bit his lip, not as exasperated with the question as much as the response he knew was coming. "Don't have any."

And here it comes, he thought. The awkward apologies, the questions, the prying for every bit of information he didn't actually know. But Mikage's expression was far from sympathetic. Actually, it was vaguely contemplative.

Suddenly, he slammed his open palm on the table, pointing to Teito with his other hand. "It's decided, then!"

"Wh-What?" Teito stammered. Decided? They hadn't even discussed.

"That I'm adopting you, of course!" Mikage announced.

"… Mikage… you can't be my mother…"

"Of course not!" He sounded vaguely affronted. "I'm your cool older brother, of course."

"We're the same age."

"We're going by height."

"Fine," Teito sighed, giving up. "We're twins, separated at birth." When Mikage looked at him flatly, he added, "Fraternal."

Mikage frowned thoughtfully. "… okay. Fraternal sounds good.

IV.

Training was brutal. And not just in the arduous, painful way, either; the instructor considered it a personal affront if his students still had the energy to stumble out of the classroom. They weren't trying hard enough, he said.

Teito dragged his legs down the hallway, too tired to lift his feet into the air. Normally, he handled physical stress quite well; he wouldn't have lived too long if he hadn't. But he hadn't slept in three days, hadn't eaten in one and a half, and he'd been marching to the same chant all week.

"Gonna die… gonna die… gonna die… gonna die…" Mikage groaned with every step. Teito longed to point out that at least he had the energy to announce this, but that would've required catching his breath, first.

Finally, he gave up, slumping against the wall and letting himself slide to the floor. He leaned back, letting the sweet, blissful release from his weight course through his legs, not even caring that Mikage had stopped his death cries to stare.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," Teito managed. "I'll catch up later."

"Huh?" Mikage cocked his head to one side. "Isn't that uncomfortable?"

"It's fine. See you tomorrow."

"… Teito…" Mikage sighed. "You can't get up, can you?"

"Shut up." Teito waved him off. "Don't wanna hear it. Just go."

Mikage stood above him, his expression caught between exasperation and amusement. Then, in one quick movement, he stepped forward, grabbed Teito by the elbow, and slung him over his shoulder.

"H-H-Hey!" Teito jerked to life, attempting to escape the taller boy's grasp. "Put me down!"

"Ahhh, what was that? I heard a very small sound coming from somewhere!"

"Quit it, Mikage!" He scowled. "You're tired too, aren't you?"

"… nah, it's nothing." Mikage grinned. "Besides. You're such a shrimp, I could bench press you with one arm."

"… you realize I can't let that go."

"Yeah, yeah. You can give me what for tomorrow. Now stop squirming."

V.

Mikage's outgoing nature didn't protect him from scrutiny for very long. Eventually, there were as many rumors about him as there were about Teito, and considering the subject, they almost seemed more mean-spirited.

But he didn't let it bother him, most of the time. He prided himself on never falling to that level, and he took the various levels of verbal abuse the best he could. People like him dealt with people like that most of their lives. They knew what to expect.

What he didn't expect was the third party that stepped in to take a swing at his tormentor's nose.

Instinctively, he grabbed his shorter friend in an awkward headlock, restraining him as he flailed and kicked and shouted threats, each of which Mikage committed to memory in case he ever needed some quality blackmail. "Sorry about this, sorry about this!" Mikage yelled over Teito, directing an apologetic smile to his bleeding tormentor. "If you'll excuse us for now, we'll get out of your hair!"

He pulled Teito into an empty classroom, spun him around, and gave him a few firm shakes to make sure he was listening. "Teito?"

The boy stopped his struggling, the anger rapidly draining out of his frame, leaving embarrassment in its place. Mikage knew instantly that teasing him right now would just be low of him; someone like Teito, who put so much energy into acting unaffected, was probably not used to getting caught up in the heat of the moment. Yes. He was going to be good.

"I didn't think it was possible, but even your angry face is cute!"

Mikage quickly learned that it wasn't nearly as cute when it turned on him.

VI.

For every emotion, there was an appropriate reaction. Teito found a much easier way to deal with this fact: he responded to criticism, praise, admiration and rejection with an equal measure of annoyance. Nothing to keep straight that way; he didn't have to pause mid-conversation to think of the right response.

"I'm serious!" Teito frowned back at his friend as he trailed after him. "If you sit with me, people're just going to give you a hard time again."

"And if I let that control me, the enemy wins," Mikage replied smugly. "Besides, it's you they don't like."

"Mikage."

"Okay, fine, so that's not true. But what does it matter? This is temporary." He clapped Teito on the shoulder. "Pretty soon, we're gonna be in the army, and the chicks'll be all over us. 'Uwahhh, Mikage-sama, Teito-sama! Have my babies!' That kind of thing."

"… uhhhh… we can't have their babies, Mikage," Teito said awkwardly. "We're guys."

"It's an expression! Besides, it's not like we're actually gonna… yeah. We don't have the time for 'em, you know?"

"Yeah, maybe you." Teito shrugged. "No one would say that to me."

"'Course they will!" Mikage laughed. "You'll have to build a concrete fence to keep 'em all out."

"I don't think so."

"Yeah, right, don't pull that modest crap." Mikage beamed so widely that the younger boy almost stopped short. "Why wouldn't they?"

Eventually, Teito would figure out how he was supposed to respond when Mikage said something like that, what he was supposed to say back. Until then, annoyance was a pretty good standby.

IIV.

'Curfew' was not part of the language that rapidly developed between them. They spent the later hours huddled in one of their bunks, talking or not talking. Whatever suited that night better.

That night was a little of both; Mikage talked, while Teito stared off into space, listening to the cadence of his friend's voice more than the words themselves. As the sound trailed off, Teito turned around, blinking the trance out of his eyes. "Mikage?" The only reply that met him was a snore.

That guy… he fell asleep in mid-sentence?

"Mikage… c'mon, Mikage, this is my bed…" Teito gave the boy an ineffectual shove, not quite having the heart to wake him up. He glanced at his friend's position on the bed, noting (to his own discomfort) that there was still enough room for him. Well… as long as I wake up before him…

Awkwardly, he lay down, wincing as he had to sprawl across Mikage's outstretched arm to reach the pillow. He curled up, using Mikage's upper arm to support his head instead, and finally relaxed, listening to the sounds of his fellow students stirring in their sleep.

This… he admitted inwardly, is sort of comfortable.