Title: Hinge
Author: SunMoonAndSpoon
Characters: Shou, Judai, Kenzan
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 3,757
Summary: Shortly after returning from being lost in the woods, Judai catches a cold. Shou fusses over him and attempts to take care of him, but Judai doesn't want or need him to do it. Conflict arises.

"Well, this sucks."

Shou looks up from the scattered mess of papers on his desk, and turns his head toward the doorway where his aniki is standing. He almost asks him to clarify, but what his aniki is talking about is obvious the moment he sees him. Wadded up tissues poke out of each of his nostrils, his skin is skim-milk pale, and his bloodshot eyes are ringed with black. Shou isn't immediately sure what his disease is, but whatever it is, it definitely looks like it sucks.

"Are you okay?" Shou asks, walking toward his aniki and peering up at him with furrowed eyebrows. "You look sick...you should probably sit down."

After a brief coughing fit, he tells Shou that it's nothing to worry about, but he's definitely getting a cold. "It's not really surprising," he croaks. "I spent I don't know how many days out in the woods without food. I guess I really wore myself out."

This worries Shou more than it would have if he hadn't explained. A cold is an annoyance to be endured, but a cold caught due to days of starvation seems, somehow, far more sinister. Shou has seen his aniki sick before, and he's certainly worried about him, but he's never felt dread snake down his spine. His chest rattles with ice, his hands are numb, and for a few seconds Shou is sure his friend will die.

He snaps out of it, kills the fear with a condescending smile. "Aniki, you should have known better then to go off by yourself without food. If we'd known you hadn't even brought any supplies we would have called the police to look for you." Judai shrugs his comment off, sits down on Shou's bed and digs the filthy tissues out of his nose. He sniffs violently, stuffs the garbage into his pocket. "You shouldn't have even come here if you're not feeling well," Shou says. He gets up from his desk and walks toward his aniki, goes closer than he knows he should if he doesn't want to get sick too. "You could have just called and said you weren't up for it today."

They had been planning to practice their dueling that day. Usually, practicing together is an exercise in ridiculousness, since his aniki's skill exceeds Shou's own by far. Judai asks regularly in an attempt to boost Shou's confidence, but Shou rarely agrees. This time, however, practicing was an obvious excuse for him to show off his new Neo-Spacian cards, so Shou decided to sacrifice his pride to see them in action, and to see his aniki excited about something. Apparently though, today isn't a good day for it. "We can reschedule," says Shou. "You should really get some rest so you can go to class tomorrow."

"Nah, it's cool," says Judai. He coughs into a tightly curled fist, and grins. "I'm up for it. You've got to see Air Hummingbird in action, I think you'd really like him. He's kind of cartoony…reminds me of your vehicroids, except, y'know, a bird."

Whether Judai is up for it or not, Shou isn't. Though he cherishes each moment spent with his aniki, the last thing he wants is for his illness to worsen because he exerted himself on Shou's behalf. He tells him as much, and Judai whines a bit, argues aimlessly until he's cut short by another coughing fit. After the fit he rubs his throat, coughs again and says, "okay, I give up. I'm really not all that sick, but it's not like I want you to catch it from me, and I guess I wouldn't mind resting up a bit. I'll see you later, okay Shou?"

Shou nods, and opens the door for him. The hinges don't squeak like they do in the Red Dorms, and for a moment he finds this extremely depressing. He doesn't want his aniki to walk all the way across campus to his room. It's exhausting to walk so far when you're sick, and anyway it's a stab in the heart every time they have to separate. Shou doesn't want his aniki to leave. "You could stay here," he mumbles, too fast to be heard. "I'm not kicking you out or anything, I just didn't think you should duel. It's too strenuous. But we could watch videos on my laptop, or talk, or just, you know, whatever you want."

"I didn't catch all of that, but I'm going to take a wild guess and say you don't want me to leave." Judai laughs, rubs furiously at his nose, and then sits back down on Shou's bed. "Don't blame me if you get sick, though. We'll be right next to each other if we're on the computer, so I'll be breathing germs right in your face. Sure you want to risk it?"

"Of course!" shouts Shou, elbows bent upward and fists balled in front of him. "I wouldn't make you walk all the way back to the Red Dorms when you're sick—I wouldn't let you! I wouldn't even let you sleep there, because the Red Dorms are filthy. Especially our old room, that's the dirtiest one of them all! Going back is just going to make you sicker, so there's no way I'll allow it."

This doesn't make sense and Shou knows it. It's always more comfortable to be home when you're sick, and the Red Dorms aren't that bad. He suffered through the flu there himself during freshman year, and he was fine. But the idea of Judai taking off again is too much for Shou to bear, so he sits on the bed with him and gently pushes him prone. "You need to get some rest," he says. "After what you put your body through, running away like that without any food, walking for days and scaring the rest of us half to death, you have to."

"Come on Shou," Judai says. "I'm not that sick."

Maybe not, but that doesn't matter to Shou in the slightest. "Lie down," he says. "I'll get you some tea."

What Shou wants is for his aniki to stay in bed until his symptoms disappear. His aniki, however, has a different idea. He drinks the tea quickly, forgoing the matcha powder collecting at the bottom, and plunks the mug down on Shou's dresser. After emptying his nose into a tissue that is so ratty and broken that he gets mucus on his fingers, Judai chirps, "I'm feeling much better now, thanks. That tea really helped. So, let's not sit around anymore. I slept for like nine hours last night, I don't need any more rest."

"I'm not going to duel you!" Shou snaps, surprised at how angry he is. His bones are molten with it, and if that rage didn't drain out of him as quick as it came, he might have actually hurt his aniki. "I thought we agreed that you were going to rest."

"I guess, but all I needed was the tea, Shou, I'm fine. I don't feel sick at all anymore, so there's no point in just lying here, is there? Isn't that a waste of time?" He swings his legs over the side of the bed, springs up, and sneezes violently into his sleeve. He does this three times. Smiling sheepishly, he apologizes and says something inane about how someone must be spreading a rumor about him.

Shou gets his yellow jacket and shrugs it on, fumbles with the buttons as he tries to think of a way to win this argument. In the end he settles on this: "You're going to need some more tissues, unless you think streaks of snot on your shirt is some kind of fashion statement. You might need some aspirin too…I don't know if you use Nyquil or anything like that, but either way, I'm going to go to the store to get some things for you. Please at least wait here until I get back."

Judai shrugs and says he had no intention of leaving. Shou checks his wallet to make sure the ¥3000 his mother gave him is still there, and then heads for the door. As he opens it, he wonders what he has to do to make the hinges squeak again. It just isn't the same without all that noise.

The school store doesn't have a lot of variety. They have cough drops, but they only have cherry cough drops, and Shou knows for a fact that his aniki hates the taste of artificial cherries. He won't even suck a cherry lollipop, so there's no way he'll like these cough drops. There is no cough syrup, and while Shou finds cough syrup to be vile, he thinks his aniki might feel differently, and it does work better than cough drops do. The only tissues are made from rougher paper than Shou thinks is comfortable—his aniki's nose is already looking a little raw, and blowing it on rough paper will only make that worse. There's only one thing he has any choice about, and he doesn't know which one to pick. There might be a small but critical difference between ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen, but Shou has no idea what that might be. He also wants to buy nasal spray, but they don't have it. He wants to buy Nyquil, but he wouldn't use it himself and he isn't sure whether or not his aniki would, and anyway he only has so much money. This is far more confusing than Shou had anticipated, and making a mistake seems apocalyptic.

He hovers nervously by the sales counter, watches Tome-san chat with Asuka about an upcoming school assembly. He wants to ask her what the difference between the three drugs is, but he's reluctant to interrupt their somewhat inane conversation. In the end he picks ibuprofen, because he heard somewhere that aspirin gives you some terrible syndrome he doesn't know anything about , and that acetaminophen can damage your liver if you're drunk or a baby. Shou's aniki isn't a drunk baby, but he chooses ibuprofen all the same.

Asuka exits, waving to Tome-san and apparently not noticing Shou. Tome-san doesn't notice him either, until he walks up to the counter and lays down his armful of provisions. If his aniki were here, they might have noticed him, and he might have been able to greet Asuka, or say anything to Tome-san besides a brief thank you. But Shou is standing alone without his aniki, clutching at the collar of his yellow jacket, and trying to ignore the empty house that is his heart.

When Shou returns with his bag full of comforts, his aniki's cold has worsened slightly. Shou is relieved where he ought to be worried. Judai's voice is clotted with congestion; he coughs and sneezes more than he had. Shou thinks he might have a slight fever, but he forgot to buy a thermometer, and when he puts his hand on his forehead, he can't tell if it's warmer than it ought to be or not. The dirty wads of toilet paper underneath the pillow, on the floor, and in Judai's pockets, shouldn't make Shou happy. He ought to be disgusted, or at least a little more worried. Judai's increasing disinclination to get out of bed ought to worry him too. But these things mean that Shou won't be losing his aniki any time soon. He won't go traipsing off on some crazy adventure and getting lost for weeks. As long as he doesn't get too sick, this reads as a good thing. And that makes Shou feel reprehensible. How could he possibly be happy that his aniki is ill?

Right now, the patient is playing video games on Shou's bed. He kicks up his feet, expecting to find the bottom side of the top bunk to rest them on, but finding nothing, his feet settle on the floor. He is talking to his digital opponent, calling him names and threatening to chop him up and bake him into a cake. This means that he's probably playing Zombie Bake-Off, the game Shou got him for his birthday the previous year. He smiles, briefly, and tries to busy himself so that he doesn't feel tempted to start a conversation. His aniki being here and not talking to him is even lonelier than his being away in the Red Dorms. Though of course, Shou is the one who went away.

He stays quiet for a while, writes a few lines of an essay due to Professor Chronos on Friday, then switches to culling the Internet for songs about elephants attacking people—something he and his aniki had discussed last week. After finding a few, listening to them, and then losing at Minesweeper three or four times, he's bored. He wants to talk to his aniki again, but he doesn't want to bother him or make him speak. Eventually though, his aniki says something, himself.

"I just won the cookie-making competition…killed 47 zombies while I was at it. That's a new record, you know. Last time I only killed 32." His tone is cheerful enough, but his voice is wrecked with disease. It sounds like he swallowed a carrot peeler, and based on his wincing, it probably feels that way, too. Shou opens the yellow plastic bag and digs out the cough syrup, tosses it wordlessly toward his aniki. Though he flails about dramatically, he fails to catch them, and they land on the floor beside the bed. When he says, "thanks, man," Shou can hardly understand him—it sounds more like "thags bad" than anything resembling words.

After being dramatically disgusted by the taste of the cough syrup—gagging, sticking his tongue out, and saying that it takes like a used condom crossed with a rotting deer corpse—Judai does what Shou has been wanting him to do all day—he peels the blankets from Shou's bed, lies down, covers up, and shuts his eyes and goes to sleep.

"What's going on in here? You guys are hanging out without me?"

Tyranno Kenzan is standing in the doorway of Shou's dorm room. Being a rather enormous person, he fills up most of the space in the doorway, and lets very little of the light from the hallway in. His words are barked rather than spoken, and just now he's seriously getting on Shou's nerves.

"Shhh!" Shou puts his index finger to his lips, and tiptoes toward Kenzan. He plants a palm on the intruder's chest, and pushes him out of the doorway."Aniki's taking a nap. He's sick right now, so we need to be quiet and let him rest. Why did you come here without asking me first, anyway? This is my room, you can't just show up without warning."

"You're always running into Aniki's room with no warning," says Kenzan, folding his thick arms and scowling. He roots himself to the ground, refusing to give in to Shou's attempts to eject him. Shou gives up after one more shove, realizing that his scrawny self is no match for the well-muscled Kenzan. If he doesn't want to leave, he isn't going to leave. Kenzan's face softens though, and he stares down at Shou with concern. "Aniki's sick? What's wrong with him? I hope it isn't too serious…after his being in the woods for so long I wouldn't be surprised if it was."

"I think it's just a cold…but who knows, maybe it's something horrible like malaria, or dysentery, or tuberculosis, or probiotics, or…" Shou trails off, flaps his hands in a panic. Kenzan puts a hand on his shoulder.

"Okay," Kenzan says. "I'm pretty sure the last one is yogurt, not a disease. And there's no reason for him to get any of those other things. If it looks like a cold, it's probably a cold." He walks past Shou like he's a door swinging open, and then walks over toward their aniki. "Yo!" he shouts, hovering over Judai and tapping on his chest. When that doesn't work he shakes his shoulder, shakes him until his eyes creak open like old, rotting windows. "Wake up!"

"Don't wake him up!" yelps Shou, knowing all the time that he's even louder than Kenzan. "Aniki, ignore him, just go back to sleep!"

He doesn't go back to sleep. Instead he sits up slowly, greets Kenzan with a limp wave. "Hey, what's up?" he mumbles, searching underneath the disheveled blankets. Eventually he finds a used and crumpled tissue stuck between the mattress and the bed frame, and before he can use it Shou hands him a clean one.

"That thing's falling apart," he says. "You'll get snot all over your fingers if you use it. You should really go back to sleep." Judai assures him that he's feeling much better now, and that all he'd needed was a nap. "That's what you said about the tea," Shou says, gritting his teeth as he speaks. "It takes more than a day to get over this kind of illness. You're probably not feeling any different than you were before. I don't appreciate being lied to, Aniki."

"I'm not lying." Judai stands up, stretches his arms and rolls his neck. "I feel fine now. My nose is still stuffed up, but I don't feel sick or anything. Stop worrying so much—too much stress and you'll probably get sick yourself." Kenzan nods knowingly, as if this has something to do with him. Shou doesn't really care if he gets sick, so this doesn't sway him. All he cares about is whether or not his aniki gets well, and that isn't going to happen unless he cooperates.

He won't cooperate. Instead he gets out of bed, smiles broadly, and asks Kenzan if he wants to duel. "Shou keeps saying I'm too sick and won't duel me, but I've got to show off my Neo-Spacians somewhere. Do you think your dinosaurs stand a chance?"

"Aniki!" Shou shouts, grabbing for his arm. He glides away from him, leaving Shou with only the air to hold onto. "Showing off your new cards isn't more important than your health. You're overtaxing yourself and you know it—you got sick because you were out half-killing yourself because of these cards, and I was so…" So, what? They're students at one of the most prestigious dueling academies in the world; of course dueling is going to take precedence over everything. It isn't reason that's driving Shou's words, just the lonely, grabby part of him that wants his aniki all to himself. He's being selfish, ridiculous. There is nothing left to say, so he closes his mouth and lets Judai drift out the door with Kenzan. They talk animatedly about the Neo-Spacians and how they're the most amazing things ever created and how Shou should come watch too. He shakes his head, shuts the door, and sits on his bed with salty tears streaming down his heated cheeks.

His aniki is gone again. His aniki has left the safety of Shou's dorm room to go play with Kenzan. Shou speaks his name in a voice as weak as spider webs, and tries to resign himself to both the fact that Judai doesn't need Shou at all, and that one day, maybe soon, Shou's aniki will die.

Shou's worries bear no fruit. Judai recovers from his cold with little trouble. If he'd ever had a fever at all, it disappears as quick as it came. He doesn't come back to Shou's room except once, to pick up some things that he had left there, and to ask Shou once more if he would like to see the Neo-Spacians. As his aniki truly does seem healthier, Shou duels with him, losing brilliantly within three rounds. He only sees Air Hummingbird and Glow Moss in action, but his aniki happily shows him the rest, crowing the whole time about how amazing they are and how happy he is to be able to add them to his deck. "I'm so glad I could show them to you," he says, grinning widely and rubbing his nose. He always does this, even when he isn't sick, but the gesture makes Shou wince all the same. "You don't seem very excited," he says. Judai's bright smile turns into a frown, and Shou doesn't know what to say or do next. He wants to act just as he has, but he feels irrelevant, beside the point. Not worthy of calling this cheerful boy his aniki.

"I think I might be getting sick too," Shou says. This is a lie. His immune system is fairly sturdy, and aside from his bad mood he feels fine. Still, it's a good way to explain his distant and irritable behavior. He doesn't want to make his aniki feel bad about leaving for weeks, even though he should never have done something so stupid and dangerous in the first place, and Shou had been so shot through with worry that he'd hardly slept or eaten food. He knows he couldn't have reasonably expected his aniki to stay in bed all through his cold, and he knows that he's being absurd. Judaiwould probably hate him if he knew what he was thinking, so he fakes a cough and says, "that's probably it. Your Neo-Spacians are fantastic, so I'm sure I'd be much more excited if I wasn't getting sick."

Judai frowns, and places a cool, dry hand on Shou's forehead. "You don't feel warm or anything, so that's a good sign. I'm sorry I got you sick, man, that sucks. Is there any way I can help you out? I think I used up all the tissues you bought for me, do you want me to pick up some more?"

His first instinct is to tell him not waste his money—after all, he isn't sick and he doesn't need them. But without thinking too hard about it, he squashes that instinct. It's a little too far to take the lie, but Shou can't bring himself to care. For the first time in a long time, Judai is being considerate. He's treating Shou like the little brother he so desperately wishes to be. And so even though it's a waste of money, he can't say no. Instead he smiles as widely and warmly as he possibly can and says, "thank you Aniki, that would be wonderful."

This time, when his aniki leaves, he slams the door so hard that the hinges squeak.