Chapter 1


"And this is where you'll be staying." Bankotsu nodded absently as the elderly female doctor had an orderly who looked about his age open a door. He kept feeling like this was all a dream, and that he'd wake up to find himself at home, in his own bed, nowhere near this hospital or this woman who ran it. "You can see that you'll have a roommate. I believe Jakotsu is in this room, is that right?" she tilted her head slightly in question and the orderly nodded.

"What did he do?" Bankotsu heard his voice as if from outside of his own body. The numbness was so complete, he couldn't feel his hands or feet at all, and the sensation was beginning to make him nauseous, making him wonder if he'd been drugged at all.

"Now then, don't worry about that." The old woman smiled in a way that Bankotsu thought was probably reassuring to people who could be affected by such a simple thing as a smile. He wasn't personally falling for the kind grandmother act. Anyone who ran a juvenile asylum like this had to be hard as nails. "You have nothing to worry about here. You're safe from everything that was hurting you out there, and in time, we hope that each and every one of the children here are able to be rehabilitated, to leave a happy, productive life. What you did was wrong, but that doesn't mean you should be separated from all human contact. I hope that you and Jakotsu can be friends, and that you can help each other."

It was a sign of how sluggishly his mind was working that he couldn't think of one smart ass retort to her idealistic speech, and by the time she had swept out of the room with the orderly, he was still struggling to concentrate on his situation enough to figure out if it was real or just a dream, as he was hoping. He felt faint, and he sat down on the neat, clearly unused bed that must be meant for him, trying to get a grip on himself. He lay down, breathing deeply and closing his eyes, counting his heartbeats backwards from one hundred. When he was much younger, his mother had taught him this trick for when he had nightmares.

"When you open your eyes, you'll see all the monsters are gone. Don't be afraid, sweetie. I would never let something hurt you."

He could see her face in his mind so clearly, the way it had looked then, serene and reassuring and wise. Since then…things had changed. When he'd seen her last, she wouldn't meet his eyes, and when she did, she looked much older than the years could explain, her skin lined and drawn, a few streaks of grey in her thick black hair. And he thought she had looked afraid.

Now I'm the monster. She must be glad I'm gone…if only she knew the truth.

He continued to count, and when he reached zero, he opened his eyes to see that nothing had changed. Everything he remembered, as horrible as it seemed, had been real. Mother couldn't protect them from everything, it seemed, and he felt tears prick at his eyelids as he thought of his little sister. Would she understand?

This is a pit. They've hidden me so that everyone in the real world will forget me. That woman says they want to make me better, but there's nothing to fix! I'm only sixteen…I wanted to do so much, but it's over now. I'll be locked up for the rest of my life.

He wondered how long before his friends and teachers forgot him. His mother and sister, the rest of his relatives, until even if he was ever released from this place, they wouldn't recognize him. He wondered if his mother would even visit him here, or if she was too afraid of him, of what he might say. He felt like he was suffocating, and he realized that he would be alone for the rest of his life, a phantom.

"Well, well, I don't remember ordering room service." A young woman entered the room as he lay alone agonizing about all that had come to pass, and Bankotsu swiftly sat up, swiping at his eyes to be sure there was no sign of tears. "I must have been very good!"

"Wh—who are you?" he felt strangely exposed by the way the teenager was looking at him, almost like he was a piece of meat and she was starving.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" the voice was lilting and hypnotic, and in any other circumstance, Bankotsu thought he would find her very attractive, but as it was, she seemed dangerous. When she stepped inside and shut the door behind her, his heartbeat sped up so rapidly, he felt like he would pass out from the intensity of the panic that was washing over him. "This is my room, after all. Did Ren get you in here?"

"Y—you're Jakotsu?" Bankotsu asked, taking a moment to locate the name in the flood of information he'd been exposed to in the past few weeks. "Are you…are you…"

"Going to be gentle?" the smile was wicked as Jakotsu climbed onto the bed and crawled toward Bankotsu like a cat getting ready to pounce. "I'll try. Unless you like it rough?"

"What…what are you doing!" he whimpered, paralyzed as Jakotsu hovered over him, their bodies coming into contact, and despite himself, he realized that the loose shirt was letting him see… "You're a man!" he tried to back up, but realized he was against the wall already, and there was really nowhere for him to go.

"Of course I am," he chuckled and reached forward, "what else would I be?"

"But you look…you look…" Bankotsu realized this weird…thing was going to touch his face, and somehow that was worse than him being draped all over his own paralyzed body, it was more real. He remembered suddenly the last person to touch his face was his mother, and this…this wasn't like that, and he didn't want this weird girl-boy touching him anywhere! "No!" he didn't realize what had happened until the haze lifted from his vision, and he saw Jakotsu on the ground, rubbing his rump and smiling slightly as he stood.

"So you do like it rough." Jakotsu came at him again, but the confusion had cleared, and this time, Bankotsu was ready. He pulled at the lamp next to his bed, yanking the cord free with one hand and yielding it with the other.

"Back the fuck up," his voice only trembled slightly, and he scrambled to stand up so that he could be on better footing if this came to blows. Jakotsu was maybe half a foot taller, but he probably had at least a fifty pound advantage on this freak. "Good, don't move, and I won't crack your skull open." He warned, trying to find the confidence he used to feel. Back in the real world, before everything had happened, he'd been one of the toughest guys in his school. He used to get teased for his long hair, but once he hit puberty, that pretty much put an end to it. He wondered with a feeling of trepidation what sort of teasing this guy must have had to endure. Maybe he was stronger than he looked.

Bankotsu gulped, tightening his grip so his knuckles stood out white on the hand clutching the lamp. Jakotsu had stopped moving forward, but it was clear from the way he was still smiling, from the way he licked his lips, that he was not in the least bit intimidated by Bankotsu's show of force.

He's fucking crazy.

Weird. Imagine meeting a crazy guy in a damn asylum.

"So…Ren didn't bring you, did he?" Jakotsu asked, his tone hopeful, and Bankotsu scowled, trying to cover his confusion by looking as scary as possible. "Are you my new roommate, then?"

"I…just got here." Bankotsu found himself at a loss as Jakotsu shrugged, and as if they weren't in the middle of a stand-off, plopped down on his bed, pulled up his legs and crossed them while reaching for the end table. He opened a drawer, and Bankotsu tensed, wondering if there was a knife or something in there. He imagined that sort of thing was banned, but he was sure people made shanks or stole them or something, and this Jakotsu seemed like he would know how to get a knife if he wanted one.

"Well then, sit down." Jakotsu smiled in a way that was completely different from before as he produced a comb from the drawer and proceeded to take down his hair. Suddenly he looked a lot less scary, and despite the gender confusion that was still making Bankotsu glance at his chest as though breasts would sprout there, he seemed like he might be a normal guy. If only the last ten minutes had never happened. "Sorry for the confusion, but today's my birthday, and I thought Ren might get me a piece of ass or something nice like that."

"Um." Bankotsu was not at all sure what to think. He sat down on his bed, carefully setting down the lamp so he could try to gather his thoughts. "Who is…Ren?"

"Oh!" Jakotsu rolled his eyes upward in a distinctly feminine fashion, tilting his head to one side to help him comb out his hair more easily. It hadn't looked that long when it was pulled up, but Bankotsu could see it just seemed that way since it was finer than his. He could see that it went nearly halfway down his back, and although Bankotsu's own hair was quite a bit longer, it was odd how Jakotsu's looked so…well, girly. "He's another guy who lives here. We're kind of friends."

"Kind of?" Bankotsu wondered if Jakotsu had been serious when he had approached him in such a manner, and was hoping that they could pretend that had never happened. Mentally, he told himself that they could start over right now. He found that he wanted to like this person, though he couldn't help being wary of anyone he met in such a place…but before Jakotsu had come in the room, he'd been listless and depressed. Now, at least, the other young man had made him snap out of his stupor.

"Well, I just don't really trust him, you know?" Jakotsu explained, running fingers through his hair before expertly twisting it back up and pinning it in place. "I mean, he seems friendly sometimes, but I think he just wants to sleep with me. Plus, he's so weird, always obsessed with like lighting things on fire and doing elaborate escape plans that never work. I mean, he seems smart, but if he really is so smart, then why'd he ever get caught? And why is he still here?"

"Oh." Bankotsu attempted to process all this and found it quite difficult. "He's…um, he's gay too?"

"Totally." Jakotsu nodded firmly. "He's sleeping with his roommate, everyone knows, and his roommate is a total weirdo, so Ren is clearly just taking advantage, and I mean, it's clear he's trying to prey on me because I'm a nymphomaniac, but I'd get in so much trouble with my doctor, and he's really not that good looking."

"Oh." Bankotsu gulped as he was reminded of what had just happened. "So…is that why you're here? Because you like to…um…"

"Sort of." Jakotsu shrugged and giggled. "We'll say that's the short version."

"Are there lots of other…um…" Bankotsu found he couldn't even say what he was thinking, and he flushed, feeling unaccountably foolish.

"Gays?" Jakotsu asked. "Pshaw, I wish. There's this one orderly…oh man, what I wouldn't do to tie him up…" he sighed, and clasped his hands together, looking strangely innocent after what he had just said. "One day, maybe. No, there's not that many that I know about. Why, are you gay?"

"No!" Bankotsu answered immediately and he flushed deeper when Jakotsu started laughing at the vehemence of his reaction. "I mean, no, I'm not gay."

"Too bad," Jakotsu sighed as he stood and patted his hair in the mirror. "But I really shouldn't be surprised. That old bat wouldn't give me a nice sexy roommate unless he were straight as an arrow, just to torture me."

"Do you mean the…the director?" he struggled to find her name in the recesses of his mind. "Dr. Fuyu?"

"What, didn't she ask you to call her Kaede?" Jakotsu turned and snorted, rolling his eyes. "She's always trying to be all friendly, like we can't tell she can't wait to retire and forget about this house of freaks forever."

"I know what you mean." Suddenly Bankotsu felt that Jakotsu was not that different from him, even though seemed strange at first. He's probably afraid of being trapped here forever, too. He had been scared of Jakotsu at first, but it turned out that he really couldn't help it, since it was some sort of compulsion. Bankotsu wasn't really sure how that worked, but he felt like compared to what he had done, if one of them had reason to be afraid, really, it was Jakotsu. And now that he understood that Bankotsu wasn't interested in anything like that, surely that would be the end of it. He felt a sudden surge of hope that maybe everything wouldn't be as bad as he thought. Everyone else might forget them, but maybe they could be friends, and they would remember each other.

"Come on, then," Jakotsu beckoned. "It's dinner time. Stick with me and you'll be fine. I know that was a little weird before, but I think we could be good friends." Bankotsu scrambled to follow him, and when they found the dining area, he was reminded oddly of a cafeteria. Yeah, if everyone's uniforms had been like this instead, it could almost be like high school. Most of the people there appeared to be about his age, and the fact that they were all wearing the standard grayish blue shapeless outfit the inmates were all issued, it was almost as if they were in fact wearing uniforms. It's like high school…or maybe like prison. That thought depressed him further and reminded him all over that these people were all criminals. All of them had done something to warrant being locked away in an asylum. He wondered if anyone had done anything as bad as him. "Oh, yeah, I know, I hate when they have mashed potatoes here. They can't make them right at all. But the pudding is pretty good. I think they're trying to fatten me up." Jakotsu had clearly misinterpreted Bankotsu's suddenly depressed look, but it did make him smile to imagine the wiry youth next to him worrying about his weight. He followed Jakotsu, grabbing the servings of food set out for them until they reached the end of the line where a nurse was handing out tiny cups of something…

"Pills?" Bankotsu frowned as Jakotsu accepted his with a broad grin.

"You must be our new patient." The orange-haired nurse scanned a list she apparently used to know who got what. "Nothing for you, yet. Pleased to meet you!"

"Yeah, just ignore her, she's a freak." Jakotsu scowled at the young woman as if she had mortally offended him by opening her mouth at all. "Honestly, and they lock us away. Drug pusher." He shot a nasty glare at her and then turned, almost running straight into a pair of female patients. "Hey, watch it!" he hissed, and Bankotsu noticed that suddenly Jakotsu's pills were missing. When they sat down next some other young men who were already eating, he felt he should point this out.

"That girl took your pills." He whispered, and Jakotsu chuckled. He had a very nice laugh. It made him sound as if he knew something no one else did.

"Kagura? Yeah, she gets things in exchange for them and gives them to me. Plus, I don't want those pills, they make me weird." Jakotsu explained. Bankotsu bit back the urge to say that maybe with those pills, he wouldn't be jumping all over total strangers. He had a feeling Jakotsu did not find that sort of thing to be a problem he would want to prevent at all.

"Are you the new guy?" a young man across the table with a shaved head asked, and Bankotsu nodded. "Good luck living with Jakotsu."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Bankotsu asked as Jakotsu pelted the speaker in the head with his dinner roll.

"Well, do you value your chastity at all?" the young man asked, raising his eyebrow in a way that somehow struck Bankotsu as arrogant. "Then again, he's already had an hour alone with you. Is there anything left to defile?"

"Shut up, Ren." Jakotsu stuck his tongue out as though he was five years old, and Bankotsu's mind clicked with recognition over the name that had already come up.

"I have asked you repeatedly to call me Renkotsu." the other man narrowed his eyes in clear annoyance. "I do not approve of nicknames." He turned back to Bankotsu then. "Listen to me. I once had to live with him, and he was climbing on me every chance he got. If I were you, I'd request a room change. He's nice enough, but he simply can't be trusted to control himself."

"Shtrue." a broad-set young man with wild hair sitting next to Renkotsu nodded with his mouth full of food.

"Now, what you really need is someone who can help you understand the ropes of this place, and I'm perfect for that." Renkotsu explained, meticulously buttering his roll while his eyes bored into Bankotsu as though this were really a staring contest of some sort. "Most everyone at this table has been here long enough, we can teach you who and what to avoid. For instance, drug-smuggling trash like that Kagura should—"

"You're just pissed she won't get you matches 'cause your pills suck." Jakotsu interjected, and a couple of the other young men laughed at this, including the broad-set young man, who immediately began choking on his food.

"Ginkotsu!" Renkotsu slapped his back until he regained himself. "Are you alright?"

"Ignore him, he's just jealous." Jakotsu hissed to Bankotsu, letting his hand rest on the shorter man's arm just long enough to be noticed, but not so long that Bankotsu became uncomfortable. "So these are the closest thing to friends I have in this place." He indicated the whole table. "That's Mukotsu, Kyoukotsu, Ren you've met, his roommate Ginkotsu, and last but not least, that moper right there who looks ready to go write some emo poetry is Suikotsu."

"Now that you're here, maybe he'll stop trying to seduce poor Suikotsu." Renkotsu pointed out. "Honestly, Jakotsu, you're nearly as bad as Naraku."

"And you're even worse." Jakotsu retorted, sticking his tongue out again. Bankotsu decided that maybe he should just eat and hope for the best. It was almost nice listening to them argue like they were just normal teenagers.


To be Continued…