Disclaimer: It's Toei's sandbox. I just play here because it's fun.

Author's Note: This is set during Task 45 (the Most Evil JakuuRyuu), while Masumi is cleaning.

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LIFE IN BOXES

By Etcetera Kit

Masumi had always hated cleaning, for as long as he could remember. He wasn't adverse to washing dishes or keeping a bathroom tidy—in other words, he didn't mind cleaning when his lack of cleanliness might affect the health of another person. But his own, personal space, he hated cleaning. Not for the dusting or the vacuuming or making his bed… but because he always found mementoes under the strategic piles of stuff. He tried to separate items into trash, charity and keepsakes. The keepsakes pile was always the largest.

Now, he had to clean his dorm room before Souta started vociferously complaining about the stench. Masumi had the room on the end of the hall, and Souta was next door. Better than Akashi, but problematic since Souta didn't like weird smells. Just like a girl. Good thing the girls lived in a different wing of the dorm. Despite being the one to remind him to clean, there wasn't much that Makino-sensei could do if he didn't do the chore.

He yanked open the bottom drawer of his nightstand—the repository for junk that didn't have an otherwise obscurely assigned home. Part of him was surprised that the drawer opened at all. The top was a jumble of papers—duty rosters, memos, letters, and even a few postcards. Most of it was garbage… or belonged to Natsuki. She tended to leave her things in his room, although, unlike the others, she knew that there was little chance she'd see it again.

Natsuki… he opened the only letter addressed to him. A smile spread across his face. Natsuki had written him the letter shortly after she found out about her Lemurian heritage. He would never know what prompted her to write him a letter—then put a stamp on it and mail it. Probably so Makino-sensei could announce that Masumi had mail, for the first time in his life.

The gist of the letter was Natsuki thanking him for not giving up on her, and saying that her parents would have liked him too.

He snorted.

He seriously doubted that her parents would have liked him.

Masumi had been a thief his entire life. He'd started out as a pickpocket on the streets to Tokyo, moving up to bigger and better things as he got older. Soon, he'd lost his taste for simple till robberies, banks and jewels. He wanted something more. He'd ended up turning to treasure hunting… and Natsuki had landed in his life in the process.

Natsuki was still a mystery to him. He didn't understand how she could love him unconditionally. Why did she always stick with him? Why did she even like him? He was a loner, someone almost predestined to be without close friends. And then when she found out she was a princess, no less, she didn't change, didn't abandon him. For her, that knowledge was incidental. Lemuria had fallen long ago and her parents wanted her to be happy in the here and now. A request she could easily comply with.

He put the letter in the keepsake pile.

Under the papers was a pile of knick-knacks—cheap toys from carnivals, a small stuffed rabbit, the pictures from the one time Natsuki had managed to get him in a photo booth, even a few fortunes saved from fortune cookies. He picked up the rabbit. When he and Natsuki had first met, she didn't sleep well, plagued with constant nightmares that left her sobbing and terrified, unable to wake up. In many ways, then, she had been a small child. Not knowing what else to do, he took her into Tokyo to a toy store and let her pick out whatever stuffed animal she wanted, praying that would help.

Miraculously, that cheap, rather ugly rabbit worked. Natsuki slept.

A few months later, she didn't need to rabbit and gave it to him to give away. He couldn't bring himself to part with the toy. It had meant so much to her… so he kept it.

Another item for the keepsake pile.

Masumi sorted through the cheap riffraff. He picked up a lime green, rubber dinosaur, so small it had to have come from a vending machine. He closed his eyes. He and Natsuki weren't often in big cities, since most of the treasures were to be found in the countryside. They must have been in Tokyo or Yokohama or Hokkaido… Natsuki had never seen such a vending machine before—the little plastic bubbles with cheap, gamble toys. He'd given her fifty yen to try one. The rubber dinosaur had been the result. He'd then had to explain what dinosaurs were, almost enough to make him regret giving into her fascinated mewing. Almost. But not quite.

Natsuki could have asked him for anything and he'd have given it to her. He wasn't sure why—a part of him knew that she'd never ask for anything he couldn't give.

The dinosaur joined the keepsake pile.

He reached to the back of the drawer, pulling out a small jewelry box.

His heart sped up when he remembered what it was.

Letting out a long breath, he leaned against his bed. For a long time, all he wanted was more treasures, more money, thinking that would make life marginally better. But he never found what he was looking for, until… All he really wanted anymore was Natsuki.

He closed his eyes. He was terrified that she'd reject him. What if all she wanted from him was companionship, a brother? What if she didn't want something more?

Perhaps that was why the small box was lost in the sty of his room, shoved into the back of a drawer, covered with stuff and forgotten. It was better to believe that he was just her friend, weave that pretty lie until he almost believed it.

There were other reasons the box needed to join the trash. Yami no Yaiba's proclamation that there was darkness inside him. He didn't know what that meant and it had been so long ago… but that prediction stayed in his mind, niggling, not settling down. He was afraid of starting something, making promises that he couldn't keep. Natsuki would laugh about that… would she understand that he didn't want to hurt her? He didn't want to hurt her, but he said things without thinking.

Besides, he was lucky the cops hadn't swooped down and caught him already. He had to have a rap sheet miles long… and no one needed to be involved with someone like that.

But still…

He shoved the jewelry box under his pillow.

He picked up the stickers from the photo booth. There had been two sheets—Natsuki insisted that he take one when he told her she could keep them both. Guys put stickers of their girlfriends on the backs of their cell phones. He had always thought that was stupid. What if they broke up with the girl? Did they attempt to peel the sticker off? Cover it up? Buy a new phone? Seriously, the practice made marginal sense.

And yet…

Masumi stood up, still holding the stickers, and went to his desk. His cell phone was in the charger. No one called him, except for Natsuki and telemarketers. He took his cell phone out of the charger. Quickly, he decided which sticker he liked the best, peeled it off and put it on the back of his phone. A stupid thing to do.

At least that made him as stupid as other people.

He set the extra stickers on his desk and replaced the cell phone on the charger.

There were still piles of stuff all over the room and he had yet to identify where the slightly acrid smell was coming from. He glanced at the little pile of knick-knacks on the floor. Sighing, he scooped them up and put them back in the drawer.

He hated cleaning.

It brought back too many memories.

The End

3 February 2007