When they walked past, they ignored me. That was how it'd always been.

If Mom brought me outside when I was young, I wouldn't talk to anyone. She would see someone she knew and we would cross to the other side of the street. Even if she stopped to talk, that person didn't ask about me. They didn't even look down.

Look at me!

I used to sneak to the telephone and dial numbers until I could hear a voice on the other side, even if they were speaking gibberish. That stopped when Mom saw the phone bill for that month.

Speak to me!

After Shishou let me stay with him, and I went to an Outside school, I would go to recess and talk and none of the others would hear.

Listen to me!

And Akito, when I was allowed in the Main House, used to pass me in the hallways and walk into me, as though I was just a ghost.

I didn't exist.

Acknowledge me…

The need to be, to affect the world in some small way, became a living thing. Always, my mind churned out ideas that would get me noticed.

Sometimes, the ideas were harmless and silly, like painting myself green and or dancing around with underpants on my head. But, more and more, the ideas were bad, dark, black. Things like breaking stuff, or smashing another kid's face with the kickball he wouldn't let me play with.

I went with the middle ground, just yelling a lot. As I got bigger, and everyone else got bigger with me, it led to fights, and… I don't know if I'm remembering right, but I think I did smash that kid's face, but with a wall, and seven years after the first impulse.

And I made life hell for Shishou, because he would come to school and bring me home and sit me down no matter how much I struggled and we would Talk. The Talks were quiet, usually, until I got worked up, and lasted all night sometimes. They rambled comfortably from the best ice cream flavors to something very nearly touching on Mom.

My favorite time of all of them was this once, when I was ten and we were both camped out under Shishou's covers. I had a sore lip from where a push had become a shove and I had bitten it. We had been talking for hours by then, and I was sleepy and heavy and warm, and didn't think twice before asking:

"Shishou, what if I'm broken?"

He didn't say that I wasn't broken, or that it was bad to even think that, but his eyes did, because they cared and they hurt every time I tried to hurt him. "Broken how?"

"Inside. What if the part that makes a person a person isn't in me? What if it just doesn't exist?"

His eyes were like chocolate, oozy and too sweet. The blankets tented over his head was making his hair stand up weirdly, because he'd taken it out of the tie. "There's no part of you that doesn't exist."

I tugged at a hole in my pajama pants and studied the way the threads came apart when I messed with them. To get my attention back, Shishou shined the tiny, yellowish flashlight in my face. I squinted and asked, "You know how in movies, when girls and boys get all gross and kissy?"

He tried to smile and make a disgusted face at the same time, and lost the full meaning of both. "Yeah. I've even experienced it first-hand. It's more fun that way, but it's still pretty awful."

I rolled my eyes to show that I was mostly sure that he was making fun of me, and pressed, "You know how they live happily ever after?"

"They fall in love," he translated. "Yes. I've done that, too, once or twice."

"What if..." I couldn't figure out how to ask it in 'what-if' form, which was a small tragedy. Possibilities were my primary mode of conversation. "I don't think that'll work for me. I can't get along with anyone for long. Not even you."

"Oh, Kyo," he murmured, mostly to himself, and he touched my hair and his eyes were worry mixed with a hopeless sort of hope. "We survive. Even when you say certain words to me, I can tell when they're not true."

We never ever talked about whatever was between us during our Talks, because our Talks were the way we fixed us when it didn't work right. But his eyes, right then, changed to something understanding and constant and patient and they stared right at me.

And, for right then, they pinned me down like a butterfly and examined every inch and I was real and I meant something and Shishou looked and spoke and listened and I was.

I wasn't anything in particular. I just was.

That night stayed with me for a long time. Sometimes the person part of me would break and I would wind up staying up all night for a Talk, but he never went any closer to defining that weird warmth and nearness and loneliness and cold all at once that was between us.

It took me a long time, but I finally figured out that it was love. And it was love that made me real.

And I don't know how I'll ever give Shishou what he gave me – a grounding point, a way to diffuse, a reason to stay sane – but sometimes I remember his eyes, the way they shone with a hopeless kind of hope and then he told me he loved me and they were soft again and happy and good.

And I get this vague, growing feeling that maybe I've already paid back my debt, a little bit.

This has lain unfinished and directionless and forgotten in my computer for about six months. A friend ordered me to finish it, so I went in a Shishou direction, because he's just basically awesome. Hooray. Review if this was worth your time.