Disclaimer: I own very little.

A/N: I'm playing a private RP with my friend, one we've lovingly named "Captain Meeting from Hell." Basically, there's a meeting for captains and vice-captains, mostly from Kantou area, which is interrupted by a group of violent kidnappers. To get their demands through, the kidnappers kill one of the boys every day, starting from the poorest ones. Which, obviously, leaves Atobe in something of a difficult situation, watching people fall around him one by one.

Warnings: Darkfic, character deaths.


Bearing the Blame

To say that Atobe was distressed was not putting it mildly. It was completely, entirely, absolutely understating the state he currently was in. Lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, he couldn't make any sense of the jumbled mess his thoughts had become over the last few hours.

The most prominent thing in his mind was red. Red, like Kamio's hair, spread on the floor as Fudoumine's little vice-captain lay on the floor, void of life. Red, like the blood pouring out of his wound, soon seeping into the black t-shirt, down on the ground, red red red…

Kamio was dead. The idea was… difficult to grasp, still.

It wasn't like they were close or anything, obviously. This, however, didn't mean Atobe wasn't shocked. He'd seen people get hurt before, had seen them bleed, even lose consciousness. Nevertheless, never before had he seen someone get shot. He'd never seen someone die before his eyes.

He felt sick.

Tachibana had completely lost control then, Atobe recalled. It had taken three of the strongest guys around to hold him back, and even then they had only barely managed to keep him from rushing forward and getting himself killed. And afterwards, he'd been in a shock so deep, nothing seemed to shake him from it; Atobe really wasn't sure whether his mind had been entirely all there. At the very least he'd seemed quite absent as Atobe had left him in his room, still disguised with the Hyoutei jacket.

Atobe wasn't exactly sure why he'd thrown the jacket over Tachibana, himself. At the moment he hadn't been thinking much; all that had registered in his mind were the men's words, the situation just then, the confusion and shock and anger. How being from a poor school had meant Kamio was expendable, how Tachibana had been wearing the very same tennis uniform as Kamio, how – how he hadn't wanted to see Tachibana dead, too. The next moment he'd known he'd already had his jacket off, wrapping it around Tachibana. Fortunately none of the kidnappers had seemed to notice anything before he had already managed to zip up the jacket to hide the Fudoumine t-shirt, desperately hoping nobody would make note of their slightly different track pants.

Tezuka had noticed, he remembered, looking at him briefly, nodding without a word before going back to calming his own distraught vice-captain. He hoped Tezuka wouldn't ask for an explanation, as he wasn't sure he could give one even if he tried, not when he couldn't entirely explain it to himself. Sure, he didn't want Tachibana to die, but he had no idea why that was, why Tachibana would be important in any way, why he would take any risks to protect him –

Images flashed through his mind, Tachibana smiling, Kamio shouting at him, himself raising his eyebrows as he said something. Tachibana asking him to join them at the lunch table, sitting down next to him, ignoring the others' comments about flirting as though he found nothing wrong with the idea. Kamio shouting, telling the kidnappers they had no right, absolutely no right to do anything, hurt them, looking so angry he might burst any moment… The way Tachibana looked as he realized Kamio was dead.

Atobe rolled onto his stomach, hiding his face in a pillow. He almost wished Kabaji had been there, right by him as always, always agreeing with him no matter what he did or said. Yet he also was glad, in a way, glad Kabaji wasn't there, that Kabaji and everyone else was outside, safe from this madness.

He was glad he had no vice-captain, or there was no way he could have hidden Tachibana in plain sight as he had.

Catching a somewhat coherent thought flying through his mind, Atobe wondered whether Tachibana would agree to continue wearing the Hyoutei jacket. Perhaps even Atobe's spare uniform… probably not. He probably had not protested only because he'd been too stunned to say much of anything, because he had hardly even noticed Atobe was there, never mind the jacket.

Had Tachibana woken up yet? Atobe had no idea. Hopefully he had, and found the sandwich, too, and the note. Hopefully he'd do as instructed. Tachibana starving himself would do little good to anyone, after all – and Atobe would not allow Tachibana to die, if only he could do anything to help the situation.

The problem being, he had no idea whether there was anything he could do.

Clutching the pillow to himself, Atobe suddenly felt something under his fingers. Something he was sure he recognized. Throwing the pillow aside, he stared. Somehow, one of his cell phones had made its way there.

Atobe stared at the phone for a second before flipping it open. It had perhaps half of the maximum charge left, the screen bright and clear before his eyes. It was one he didn't use much, which was probably why hadn't noticed when it had been missing from his bag.

All the cell phones that had been in his bag were confiscated now.

After a second's thought, he pressed the power button for a couple of seconds, watching the closing animation impassively. Prepared for only a short stay, he had no charger with him; there was no sense in wasting the remaining charge needlessly. If he could figure out how to use the phone to help them in any way… well, then perhaps he could convince himself to turn it on.

Until then, though, he'd have to hide both the cell phone and its very existence. He wasn't sure if it would be of any help, but if it could… he couldn't lose it. It just might be important, it just might be able to help, help him and Tachibana out of there alive, unharmed and alive…

Well, he could always hope, right?

After stuffing the cell phone between the wall and the edge of the bed and making sure it was out of sight, Atobe stood up from his bed. He would get nothing done sulking by himself, he decided. Sure, he couldn't leave the dormitory any more than any of the others could, but perhaps he could find someone to talk with. At least it might aid him in organizing his poor, chaotic mind…

He didn't even get out into the corridor. As he opened his door, he found himself staring at Tezuka. Tezuka stared back at him, hand raised as though just about to knock.

After a moment, Tezuka let his hand fall. "Atobe," he said. "I came to… talk."

"By all means." Atobe stepped aside to let Tezuka in. "How is your vice-captain? He looked rather… out of sorts."

"He's… asleep." Tezuka sighed, briefly rubbing the bridge of his nose as though trying to ward off a headache. "Thankfully. Oishi's usually able to stay calm even in the worst of situations, but now he was just so shocked, he couldn't get a single sensible word out."

"Ore-sama… can't really blame him." Closing the door, Atobe wandered back into his room, sitting down on the edge of the bed and looking at Tezuka. "Rather, ore-sama would wonder if someone was entirely untouched by the incident."

Tezuka raised his eyebrows. "You certainly seemed calm enough," he pointed out. "At least you probably saved Tachibana's life back there."

Atobe laughed bitterly. "I did nothing," he claimed. "You and the others holding him back were what saved him. They wouldn't have killed him anyway unless he caused trouble, not yet, anyway."

"They won't kill him if they think he's from Hyoutei." Tezuka eyed Atobe pointedly as though to draw attention to the fact he was only wearing a t-shirt instead of the jacket he'd still had in the morning. "By the time I even thought of anything like that, you'd already given him the jacket."

Atobe shook his head. "It was more of a desperate wish than any kind of actual thought," he admitted. There weren't many people he would have ever admitted any kind of weakness to, but he figured that under these circumstances, to Tezuka, it was all right just this once. "And that one jacket won't help him much if he refuses to wear it once he's thinking straight again." Which Tachibana just might, given both his stubbornness and his love for his team…

"Nevertheless. You've already given him more of a chance than any of us others could." Tezuka's lips twitched with some emotion. Atobe was rather certain he wasn't trying to smile.

"And without ore-sama here, there never would have been any need for such actions." At least that was how he concluded it in his mind. Though not everyone else at the meeting was poor by any means, he was the richest without a question. Without him, the risks would have overruled the possibilities of gain by far.

"Don't you dare blame yourself." Tezuka gave him a sharp gaze. "Atobe. None of this is your fault."

"Perhaps not ore-sama's fault, exactly, but certainly it has a lot to do with me." Atobe raised his eyebrows. "Or would you like to try and deny that claim?"

"…You know very well I can't." Tezuka sighed. "Just… it's not your fault. None of this is."

"…That remains to be seen." Suddenly, Atobe felt very cold. He told himself it was simply because he wasn't wearing his jacket anymore. "Let's see if we get out of here for ore-sama's birthday… it's only a few days more."

Tezuka raised his eyebrows. "And if we're really unlucky… we'll both turn fifteen here."

Two days later, still a couple of days short of fifteen, Atobe found himself looking at Tezuka. The usually so indifferent face was for once twisted with grief, glasses folded away as Tezuka tried in vain to stop tears from flowing. Atobe found himself swallowing back tears, too, not about to show such weakness here but it was hard, so very hard…

It was almost ridiculous, he mused, how people could turn into such heroes when faced with the worst of circumstances. First Saeki's little act of bravery and now… this. He almost closed his eyes but he knew it would have been no use, the image would only be clearer in his mind's eye, the image of Oishi standing at the front of the crowd of captains and vice-captains. He'd tried to plead with the kidnappers, don't do this can't you see we're all just children, just frightened children who want nothing but to go home.

And the sound of the gun, again, as the pleas fell to deaf ears, but at least Oishi had succeeded for a day, one more day for those unfortunate enough not to have wealthy parents, one lousy day…

Somewhat hesitantly, Atobe reached out his hands, grasping on Tezuka's shoulders and drawing him closer. "Still not blaming me?" he asked quietly, almost fearing his own words.

"…I'm not." Tezuka stayed close only for a moment before drawing back, putting his glasses back on, forcing himself to appear calm even as the tears had streaked his face. Just children, Oishi's words kept running through Atobe's mind, we're all just children… Even Tezuka was but a child, he was only fourteen wasn't he, not much different from Atobe himself…

Atobe smiled, but his smile was not a happy one. "You are an idiot, Tezuka," he said softly.

Then he turned around and walked away, inwardly preparing himself for yet another night of nightmares.