Otherwhere, Neverwhen

Hakuba is drifting again.

Not like last week, when he'd nearly taken his chair to the centimeter-size spider on Keiko's desk—until he'd actually seen the thing and then very carefully put the chair down with a white face and quiet apology before pulling out a tissue and neatly eliminating it. No. Then, at least, Hakuba's eyes had been clear, if a bit confused.

Today, he's consumed three of his peppermints himself in the breaks between classes, he's been vague to Aoko, and he's currently ignoring the teacher drone on about verb agreement in English in favor of hunching over his notebook. There is something that Kaito does not like about the way Hakuba's pen is moving. He also doesn't care for the way Hakuba's hand keeps drifting up to his hair, not to neaten it, but as if to verify that some hurt lies only in memory.

Kaito hasn't had a chance to confirm anything because Hakuba has been just lucid enough to close the notebook during breaks, even as he spends them staring into some middle distance. Consequently, the second the lunch bell starts he springs to Hakuba's desk before Hakuba can react, an effort made easier by the fact that Hakuba has been responding more slowly to the environment as the morning wears on.

Hakuba ignores him completely.

The notebook is open to a double-page spread, covered in a handful of pen sketches. The top leftmost is hardly even a sketch, but somehow the bare lines still give an impression of cold stone and dim light and the ruins of a forgotten age. Below that lies a more complete sketch of a broken statue, beside an excruciatingly detailed statuette of a horse. The other page is incomplete, but a handful of rough lines rise into a series of progressively more detailed towers, stone seeming to shine from a source of unseen light. There are vague shapes on the spires, progressing in clarity until the rightmost one bears a band of nearly-distinguishable sigils. Below the tower, Hakuba's pen is re-etching the symbols in worryingly meticulous calligraphy.

Kaito's eyes widen, recognition stirring uneasily in the back of his mind as he counts the glyphs without thinking. The shapes are less eye-searing here than in impossible memory, but their sharp precision wakes the echo of an ache behind his eyes, an overpowering sense of dread and rage. The count abruptly registers—six shapes already twisting stark and black across the page—and his hand lashes out to catch Hakuba's wrist tightly before the pen can complete its downward arc to begin the seventh.

Hakuba blinks at the grip on his wrist, but doesn't react beyond vaguely trying to pull free.

"Not here, Hakuba-kun." The reminder is as quiet and gentle as Kaito can manage in the face of stomach-twisting revulsion and alarm. Potential fiery disaster or not, the last thing they need right now is to create an obvious spectacle. Kaito is all for spectacle in its proper place; this isn't it. "It's lunchtime. Did you bring a lunchbox today?"

Hakuba blinks again, slowly. "Lunch?"

"Yeah, y'know, that thing between breakfast and dinner." Kaito keeps gripping Hakuba's wrist in the hope that it will be enough to ground him, because much beyond it with everyone around would be awkward beyond even Kaito's usual pranks. Kaito hasn't been on speaking terms with embarrassment for years, but Hakuba holds onto his dignity with an iron grip and Kaito wants to still be on speaking terms with him after he comes back to himself. "Why don't you close the book and check? I'm sure your housekeeper made you something tasty."

The saving grace of today's mess is that Hakuba doesn't seem to have left Tokyo completely, or to have been trapped in horror. He just acts as if he's been insulated from the real world by some obscuring fog. Judging by the rumble Kaito hears as Hakuba dreamily tucks the notebook away before pulling out his packed lunch, his stomach at least is still firmly in this reality. Kaito risks letting go long enough to retrieve his own bento and settle back in Kitiyama's vacated chair in front of Hakuba's desk, checking Hakuba's eyes as he does so. They're... better, actually focused on the lunchbox he's opening, but there's still a lethargy dulling his habitually precise movements.

Kaito chatters as they eat, trying to keep Hakuba's attention in the here-and-now with assignments, gossip, and anything else he can think of that is uniquely here, all the mundanities of life in present-day Tokyo. Hakuba appears to listen and makes the occasional one-word response, but he seems primarily focused on wolfing the meal. It's not until Kaito catches Hakuba surreptitiously eyeing Kaito's own lunch that he realizes Hakuba has just eaten every scrap of food he'd been given, down to the last grain of rice and several slices of mushroom.

"Still hungry?"

Hakuba's cheeks redden faintly. The odd behavior notwithstanding, he looks nearly back to normal as he quickly stands from the desk. "I seem to be unaccountably peckish today. I'm going down to the cafeteria."

As Hakuba goes, Kaito is too busy trying to figure out why that particular phrasing makes ice run down his spine to follow.

Players of Fallen London will recognize the Correspondence and Peckish plot elements. Please review!