Disclaimer: Mirage of Blaze belongs to its creator, Kuwabara Mizuna. Which is not me.
Acknowledgements: Written for starsandtildes' request for a Takaya and Yuzuru story. Many thanks to Asphodel for her translation of Takaya's back story!
Happy Belated Birthday to my beloved Takaya-san! Apologies to starsandtildes for taking so long to fill her request. Chapter 2 is complete and in editing, so I promise I will post it before I go on vacation at the end of this week.
For those of you who saw "Mittsui" and went "Huh? Where's 'Mittsui' in the anime?", he's not. This fic is set after Takaya's back story, "Itetsuita Tsubasa," which explains how Takaya and Yuzuru met in Junior High. It is part of the side story between volumes 5 and 6 of the novels. You can find it at Asphodel's Haven here (.com/translations/view/novel/mirage_sa/07) starting in the middle right after "Saiai no Anata e."
Dark for Dawning
Yuzuru told himself that he should just be grateful Takaya was warming to him, if the cessation of actual threats on his life could be called "warming." He did feel that they had made some major strides. They had met several times now, sometimes staying close to Yuzuru or Takaya's home, sometimes eating out, usually Yuzuru's treat. Once, he had managed to coax Takaya into his house to play video games. Three times, Yuzuru had been on his way home from band practice when Takaya had "bumped into" him. Yuzuru had to wonder if Takaya had known how obvious he was being, and exactly how long Takaya had waited around that corner for Yuzuru to come walking by. From the cold Takaya picked up the third time, he suspected quite a while. As terrible as it was, it made Yuzuru…a little happy.
Yes, there was much to be thankful for in the events of the past few months. Yuzuru knew that he did not have the right to feel impatient, especially about something so relatively small.
Takaya still wouldn't talk to him at school.
He made no effort to seek Yuzuru out or acknowledge his presence at all, even though they were in the same class. If Yuzuru tried to approach him, Takaya would leave. If he couldn't easily leave, Takaya would stare through him in a way that caused Yuzuru's friends to pluck anxiously at his sleeves until he came away.
"Jeez, Narita, you're nice to everyone," Yuzuru's friend Lee groused after the latest attempt. "Can't you see that guy's no good? Being nice to a person like that is just a waste. Worse, it makes you a target."
Yuzuru wasn't sure how to defend his new friend's character without breaking confidence. It didn't seem like Takaya wanted people to know that he was any more than the thug his classmates took him for. And Yuzuru was still trying to figure out how much of Takaya's punkish exterior was camouflage and how much really was just Takaya.
While Yuzuru was certain now of Takaya's essential goodness, his stability was another matter. Takaya was frighteningly unpredictable. It made Yuzuru wary of making assurances to his friends about Takaya's future behavior.
All of which meant that Yuzuru stayed silent, but wondered if he was betraying Takaya by doing so. Was Takaya aware at all of these exchanges? There was something about Takaya's dark eyes that gave the impression that he knew everything that went on at school. Of course that couldn't be true, but Yuzuru wished he knew what the other boy was thinking.
How do I look to you? What am I to you?
The clink of dishes in the sink brought Yuzuru back to earth with a start. He gathered up the glasses and brought them over to where his mother was washing up after dinner. He turned to go to his room, intending to study for his English test the next morning. All this daydreaming had to stop. It was ridiculous to be spending so much time thinking about someone who, from all appearances, spared little thought for him. His mother's voice stopped him.
"You've been seeing a lot of that Ougi child lately."
"Is that alright with you?"
"Of course." His mother sounded surprised. "It's obvious that boy could use a good influence. And your friends are always welcome here." She hesitated. "I'm glad that you want to help your classmate. But…"
She wrung out the dishrag slowly, thoroughly.
"Are you sure that he wants the same thing you do?"
"What do you mean?"
She smiled at his reflection in the kitchen window.
"You're such a good boy. You always see the best in others. That makes it possible for you to be on good terms with all kinds of people. But just because you want to be friends with someone doesn't mean they want to be friends with you. There are many reasons someone might not reject your kindness."
"Are you trying to say that Takaya is just using me?"
Yuzuru surprised himself with the edge in his voice. He didn't get angry very often and not usually with his mother. Theirs was an affectionate and relaxed family. Yet anger was undeniably what he felt now, blooming suddenly in his chest, uncomfortably hot and tight. He didn't like it.
Is this how Takaya feels all the time?
It felt somehow lonely.
Yuzuru's mother's lips tightened at his tone but she did not back down. She turned around and met his sharp look, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Maybe. Sometimes if a child learns he has to take everything because nothing is ever given, he goes through his whole life that way, always taking, never able to understand another way. Even if he isn't consciously taking advantage of you, you may be the first person to be kind to him in a long time. A hungry man might eat food given to him, but that doesn't mean he cares for the provider of the meal."
Yuzuru actually trembled with the force of his anger. He knew he had to get away before he said something he'd regret.
"I just don't want you to be hurt, Yuzu-chan," his mother said softly.
"You don't know anything about him."
"I know. But can you honestly say you do?"
Yuzuru stormed from the room.
Between classes, a change came over the student body. The normally obedient and orderly students loosened their collars and fell into noisy chatter. The girls huddled in gossip circles while the boys engaged in more rowdy play.
Takaya might have been expected to participate in the latter, being rougher in nature, as the large bruise under his eye and split lip could attest. But he rarely did, tending to hold himself aloof from his classmates. Or perhaps they were too afraid to approach him, it was difficult to tell. Either way, no spit balls or paper airplanes came his way and no one tried to put him in a headlock.
Braver than the others, Kayama came close enough to lounge against the wall by the chair Takaya was tipping back. Takaya ignored him.
"Damn, does that kid ever stop clicking his pen? How can you stand sitting next to him all the time?"
Takaya gave the barest indication of a shrug. His eyes roamed lazily beneath lowered lashes. He almost looked like he was falling asleep, causing the other boys to roughhouse carelessly nearer than they normally would. Kayama observed the steady gleam beneath those heavy lids and thought that only a fool would believe Takaya ever rested.
Suddenly one of their classmates stumbled backwards from a push, knocking the desk of the pen-clicking boy into Takaya's chair. Takaya was caught off-balance and clattered with his chair to the floor. The boy who had stumbled, Daijiro, looked ridiculous trying to shove his glasses back into place and gaping at Takaya with horror on his long, horsey face.
Takaya didn't bother to get up immediately. He favored Daijiro with a menacing stare from his sprawl on the floor. As he climbed slowly to his feet, he never once broke eye contact. Neither did Daijiro, though it seemed like he wished he could.
"You have a problem with me?"
"It's bad manners to start without introducing yourself. Don't you even know that?"
No introductions were really necessary, since the two had been in the same class for long enough to know each other by sight. Takaya was referring to the usual protocol for a fight between two delinquents. Daijiro paled.
"I didn't mean to. I swear I didn't!"
"Didn't mean to what? Didn't mean to throw yourself at him? You expect him to believe that?" Kayama interrupted eagerly.
"It was an accident! Hiroshi pushed me and I couldn't stop!" His friend Hiroshi shook his head frantically and stepped away as if Daijiro had contracted a contagious disease.
"What the hell? Aren't you even going to apologize?" Kayama snarled with obvious relish. Irritation clouded Takaya's face and he narrowed his eyes at Kayama warningly. Kayama was too excited to notice.
"He could have broken something with a nasty fall like that! How are you going to take responsibility?"
Caught in the middle, Daijiro and Hiroshi glanced rapidly between the pissed-looking Takaya and the aggressively grimacing Kayama. No path of escape was evident.
"What do you want?"
"Well, for starters…"
Kayama shut up, belatedly aware that he had overstepped his boundaries.
Takaya snorted and dropped into his chair. He tipped back again and crossed his legs on top of his desk, daring anyone else to try and knock him over.
"All I want is for you to leave me the hell alone."
Daijiro dipped his head repeatedly in relief, backing away. Hiroshi stayed where he was, perhaps thinking to resolve the issue while in a public place rather than risking retribution meted out later.
"Please, won't you accept our apologies for troubling you?"
"Didn't you hear him? Get lost!" Kayama couldn't resist snapping. Takaya rolled his eyes, then looked at Hiroshi, considering.
"Well, if you really regret it…now that you mention it, I'm kind of hungry."
"Hungry? Well, I…I don't…"
"What? Did you not mean what you just said? Didn't you say that you wanted to make it up to me?"
This was not in fact what Hiroshi had said, but he could not think of how to deny it without making the situation worse.
"I hate insincere people more than anything. They make me sick."
"No, we are sincere. Definitely sincere!"
"Really? That's good to know. Then, I noticed they had some Miso bread today. Bring me some during lunch hour and we'll forget all about this."
"Great," Hiroshi said, heart sinking. He had only brought enough money for his lunch and he knew that Daijiro had done the same. "You're too generous."
"Yeah, I know," Takaya said. "Anyway, get out of my sight until then, okay? I'm tired of looking at that stupid face of yours."
The two scrambled to get back to their own side of the classroom. To have escaped unscathed from the boy who intimidated even the yankee* crowd was practically miraculous, as far as they were concerned. They really considered Takaya to be such a dangerous person.
Kayama's laughter was grating, low as it was. Before Takaya could say anything, another voice cut in.
"Ougi-kun. Could I have a word with you?"
Takaya and Kayama glanced up and saw Narita Yuzuru in the doorway next to them. His face was unusually stern. No, more than that. He was well and truly angry. It should have been funny to see evidence of a temper in those large, round eyes, thinning that soft mouth. Kayama shivered and looked nervously at Takaya, expecting him to refuse. Instead, Takaya got to his feet and walked past Yuzuru out of the classroom.
Takaya walked ahead, taking long enough strides to make Yuzuru struggle to keep up, without making himself look hurried. He resisted the temptation to look back. He could hear Yuzuru's uneven footfalls behind him as he descended the stairs; there was no reason to think he hadn't followed.
Takaya swung over the rail, dropping the last few feet in a crouch behind the staircase. The shadowy niche afforded some privacy. No one could look into it without first being seen by its occupants. Graffiti on the underside of the stairs and cigarette butts littering the floor testified that they were not the first to take refuge there.
Yuzuru showed the patience that Takaya lacked, walking down the last few stairs and taking the sharp right under the staircase without hesitation. The transition from fluorescent lighting to dimness was sudden enough that for a few moments the only thing he could clearly see was the glimmer of Takaya's eyes, swallowing up what little light there was. Cheshire-like, Takaya's shadowy outline gradually took on substance and clarity around them.
"Well? What do you want?"
Takaya's arm froze mid-raise, reacting to Yuzuru's sudden forward movement. By now Yuzuru's eyes were sufficiently adjusted for him to fully appreciate the look on Takaya's face as he took in the money in Yuzuru's outthrust hand. After Takaya closed his mouth, his lips drew a decidedly less comic line.
"What is this?"
"You're hungry, right? Take this and get something. You don't have to steal."
Takaya didn't bother to deny the charge. Even if he had tried to argue the point, both of them knew he had not shrunk from extortion in the past.
"I don't need your handouts."
"When was the last time you ate?"
The anger Takaya had seen earlier had completely disappeared. There was only compassion in Yuzuru's eyes, a blatant, shameless compassion that made Takaya feel almost more humiliated for Yuzuru as the one revealing it than for himself as its object.
"That's none of your business. I can take care of myself. I was just messing with those morons. Cute little rich boys like that can easily get more where that came from."
"That's a big assumption you're making. Do you know all about their circumstances, to make a judgment like that? And what's so fun about picking on guys who are weaker than you are? That's the sort of thing cowards enjoy. I don't believe you're a coward, Takaya."
"Hiroshi is taller than me and a lot heavier."
"I didn't say physically weaker."
"Who the hell do you think you are, lecturing me?" Takaya seized his collar, snarling into his face.
"You've got to be kidding me! Fuck off!"
"What's going on here?"
Their heads whipped around at the deep voice. They had been so distracted that they hadn't noticed the approach of the man now silhouetted at the entrance.
"Get over here, both of you."
Takaya cursed inwardly. Of all people, it had to be Oonuki the guidance counselor. The stupid ape already had a smug smile on his face. He had been looking for an excuse to screw with Takaya for a long time and now he thought he'd caught him red-handed. Glancing from Takaya to Yuzuru, his brows raised.
Staring into Yuzuru's calm face, Oonuki appeared to be reevaluating the situation. Takaya could practically hear the rusty gears turning in that thick head.
"Alright, Narita, you can go." Oonuki turned dismissively.
"What about Ougi-kun, sir?"
The big man glanced back in surprise.
"That is none of your concern. You get back to class before your teacher counts you absent. It would be a pity to tarnish your perfect record."
Torn, Yuzuru hesitated, gazing at Takaya over Oonuki's retreating shoulder. Takaya stared back forbiddingly. Yuzuru's shoulders straightened.
To be continued…
*Yankee = Japanese term for delinquent youth.