Oh look, I made a chapter.

After 5+ months of game-playing/reading manga/uselessly procrastinating and putting off this stupid thing as long as possible, I actually made a chapter.

...Yeah. Even when you read it, it's clear that this thing was a beast to churn out. I tried my best to make the narrative seem slightly less choppy than it did during first edit, and I'm too sleepy to care how good I did. Do me a favour? Can you please send me a message if you have some doubts/wanna clarify anything/have some spelling or grammar errors? Here or on tumblr if you don't have an account. Check my profile for it, mmkay? :)
AlsomytumblrisoneofthereasonsIvebeenputtingthisthi ngoffforsolongFRIZZBLAB

So yeah, I'm not proud of what I did. Just upping and leaving when I left you a previous chapter like that and coming up with...well, this after so long. Unfortunately, the plot depends on this filler chapter, and this is the best place to put it. Sorry.

IlltrynottotakesolongwiththenextchapterIpromise

Anyway. Review reply GO!

Aemilius95 : Wow, thank you! I'm glad you think this is interesting to read :D I hope this chapter lives up to your expectations~

princess123897: Ah...it's not exactly a speedy update *headdesk* But I hope you like this!

Jennicds[anon] : *internal screaming* Ah, uh, ah, um *blushes like crazy* Imsohappyyouthinkthisisawesomeasdfghjklthankyou O :D

Kittens Kat : Oh no, please, thank you for reading all my stories! Thank you for giving all of them a chance! I hope this chapter lives up to your expectations!

Guest[anon] : Of course there will be another chapter -itwilltakeaboutfiveplusmonthsthough- this story will always keep going for awesome people like you! :D

randomlycandy4life : I'm happy you liked the last one! Hope this one lives up to its expectations :D

animegirl516: Here's chapter 7~ Read and tell me how it is, ok? *wave* *smile*

Lady of the Shards : Ah...sorry about that. *scratches head* Unfortunately, with the way this story is going, this is hardly the last of the cliffhangers. *raises hands* I'm sorry _

Black Romeo[anon] : Heh, yeah, that last part took a lot of plotting. Worth every minute though~ Oh, don't worry, I'm getting much better sleep these days though :D Thank you so much for your concern! Hope you like this chapter too~

Sakura Zuzumiya : Ah, yeah. I suppose this would be mega-confusing for the reader at this point. I'm being deliberately cryptic though, for the plotline. It will all be explained in later chapters, if the story sticks around for that long. If you have any major concerns though, you can message me and I'll try to answer as best as I could :D Thank you for the encouragement! For sure, I'll continue the story for amazing readers like you.

Snickerdoodle22 : YouhadtowaitalongtimeImsorry Thank you very much! I'll keep doing my best as usual, to write good chapters for you all! *bows*

Madoka Bakarich : Thank you so much! For sure, this story can be a real bitch to write, but it's worth every minute of it! I'll keep on writing for you all~

c-leeqa : Bad shit happened to little Teito, for sure D: And I'm afraid, it'll only get worse before it gets better...

Smarty D : *tackles* *hugs* Don't cry, dahling, please, your writing is just as fabulous Icannotemphasizethisenoughok And for sure, I won't ever stop writing! I'll always keep writing to try to deliver 'quality' chapters to you all.

AnimeLover4211 : Ittookmefiveplusmonthsbutlolhereyougo Hope you like it~

dark24971 : ...I'm sorry? Imnotgomenatalllllll~ *shot* Uh, eh, um, thank you *blush* I'll try to update faster now that I have enough time...

Muzuki-chan : Ittookmeevenlongerthistimewhoops I'm so sorry about the cliffhanger ;o; But it had to be done for the plot, waaaah...will this chapter be enough to like, hold off the suspense? A little?

mirror-bluemoon : I'll always continue-thoughnotalwaysalmostneveratthespeedoflig htImgomen. Unfortunately, it may take a little while for Frau and Teito to fall for each other-feelings gotta develop and all that-so yeah. It'll take a while. I'll keep the story going with as much fluff as I can, I promise! And don't worry, English isn't even my first language, I won't judge XD Your English is really good though~

Bocchan832 : Yup, poor Teito indeed D: Drama is needed for this story though, and this boy is ideal drama-fodder *shot*

ninjastasia : asdfghjkl Thankies you TOT I'm so happy you like this story!

Shion Shi-chii : Ohwhoopslollateupdate Ah yeah. Thanks for the compliment! I try to make it as fluffy as I possibly can though, with this storyline...yeah. Not too easy. I'm glad you think it's interesting though.

kitty-ally-93 : As much as I love torturing my characters, Teito is a main character and the story hasn't progressed far enough for the main character's death to be a solid link in the story. So yeah. For the time being, he will survive, but of course, there are far worse things than death out there to be afraid of...or suffer...

EchizenRyomaLover : *shrieks* *flops around* OMFG, thank you so much~~! I'm sorry-nonotatall *shot* -you're drowning in feels because of me and yeah, it's only gonna get worse from here on out I'm afraid. The question is: gonna get worse for whom though...the title? Oh, y'mean Downward Spiral? Yeah, took me quite a while to come up with that one...eheh...glad you liked it :)

Moonttje : Ohwhoopslateashellhaha Yeah, sorry about the cliffhanger...yeah, the anime reference was a bit oblique last time...the reference here is Maya from the Persona 2: Innocent Sin game. Kinda oblique like I said before, so yeah.

Reina Ariadne : *cries* Imsosorry-noImnot *shot* It's for the plot...

XxxDarkLoversxxX : Y-eah, sorry. That cliffhanger was totally mandatory, I swear...I'm happy you like it though! :D

Disclaimer 1: The cover of this book/fanfic/desperate vent for my insane fantasies does NOT belong to me. It's actually a random pic I found on tumblr. All appreciation and critique should go to the original artist(s).

Disclaimer 2: The characters of 07-ghost DO NOT belong to me. They belong to Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara. Major kudos from me to them, because if they hadn't drawn it, I wouldn't be able to play with the characters so much. :3 A world without 07-Ghost...*shudders* me sooo no want to imagine that...

Warning! : This chapter contains gore, swearing and hints of one of the characters committing the act of homicide. Viewer discretion is advised.

Major thanks once again to the awesome silence of winter! :D You guys really have to check their stories out, they write really good! You're missing out if you don't read it y'know~

But yeah. Thanks a lot. You helped me out a lot, even when you didn't realize it :)

Papercuts

Chapter 7: The Space Between

"Look at her".

No.

The word was but a mere whisper in the confines of his mind, but something on his face must have given it away. Cold eyes traced his figure, one pair after another, taking their turn in this sick, twisted game.

A brief flash of pain, before it dulled into the continuous ebb and flow of agony flooding his body.

"Look".

The word was a constant murmur in his mind, even when its echo had long faded into the silence of the new-moon night.

But still he desists, clenching his teeth and keeping his head bowed, focusing instead on the red that covered his arms, his legs, his neck, his entire body covered in sticky almost-warmth.

Pain would not force him. Pain would not motivate him.

Pain was theirs to inflict through their puppet's hands. Pain was theirs to see, to revel in through the eyes of their little toy soldier.

They play with his strings to make him dance, with the cruel single-mindedness of a child curious to see how much he could play with his toys before they fall to the ground and break into a thousand pieces.

It wasn't too difficult to do that, when the toy was already broken to begin with.
His fingers gripped harder at the blood-soaked ground, as fire tore through his limbs and throat. His mouth fell open and his ears heard the hacking coughs that tore through his body, thrumming through the aches and pains that resounded through his entire being.

The warm feeling of liquid on his flesh, a bright, fresh splatter on the drying blood on his skin, dribbling down his mouth.

Fire fighting fire, destroying the wielder, burning him alive.

Shrill screams pierce the silence.

Eyes meet eyes and the woman screams again, as she sees the monster look at her.

Because what lay in front of her was just that.

A monster. Not a man.

"Finish her."

No.

No.

No.

"...Yes, master."

And as the earth sways off its axis, and the screams fell away into the dark silence, the monster stands in the moon's cruel, gentle light, wiping the last flecks of blood on its face away. It feels their gazes burn its back, as it looks away in silence, from the fresh corpse at its feet, from the mask-like faces that sweep the arena, equal parts curiosity and disgust.

Looking away from the bitter truth it cannot escape.

"You are mine."

You are mine.

Mine.

Mine.

Mine.

The monster is not so far gone that his thoughts have disappeared. Not yet anyway.

And unwillingly, the last remnants of a once-human mind finishes the sentence whispered in its ear, with a final certainty that breaks its fever-dream.

And no-one will ever save me.

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'Aaaaah...such a beautiful day. '

Arms stretched out towards the sky, sunlight peeking through the gaps between interlocked fingers. A yawn worked its way through him, a tired grin following shortly after.

"Feels so good to stand out here after so long."

'Thwack!'

"Wha-owwww!"

A hand flew to his head and a hiss rose to his lips as his fingers probed at the tender spot where he was struck. "Owowowow...that hurt!"

"It was supposed to hurt." A voice informed him in a listless monotone. The grass underneath rustled dryly , informing him of a presence next to him, "You have exams coming up in a few days, for which you haven't prepared for in the least and yet I find you sitting out here, wasting time that you don't have."

He turned around to protest at the not-entirely-baseless accusation, but stopped when he saw the object responsible for his now-aching head "...Did you just hit me with my own sketchbook?"

"It was the only thing here I could hit you with."

"You could have just not hit me at all!"

"Idiots can only learn life lessons if they hit them in the face."

"You hit me on the back of the head!"

"Same principle applies."

"So mean..." He pouted, "I need to spend some time in the sun after staying indoors for so long..."

"And whose fault was it that you had to do that?" The bite of the rebuke was softened by an exasperated sigh.

"...I'm sorry."

Genuine surprise colored the words that followed, "For what?"

"You came all the way out here to see me and I end up having to take re-tests because I failed by one stupid, stinking mark." Fingers curled into a fist that pressed softly into the ground, "And when I finish, you'll be going back to the Seventh District...and I can't see you."

"You do realize I'm staying over at your house, right? We'll be seeing each other everyday before I leave."

"Yes, I know! I know that but it's...it's not the same. We won't be able to go to that new cinema theatre together, see the seals and all the other animals at the zoo, go to the gaming arcade together or that impossibly swanky bar-turned-breakfast diner, or..."

"Oi, oi...how much exactly did you plan to show me in one week?"

"I won't be able to do any of those things now...and I won't be able to spend any time, really spend it with you. We haven't seen each other in years and when we finally meet, this happens. I'm sorry, Teito. I..."

"I don't need to do all those things to enjoy myself."

"But still-!"

"There isn't anything you have to do to show me a good time or make me feel at home." Teito looked somewhat uncomfortable with the turn the conversation was taking. He fidgeted before he continued in a low voice, "I don't waste my time with people I don't like. And it doesn't feel like I'm just wasting my time when I spend it with you. So it doesn't matter to me whether we go out or just meet at the dinner table , I'm kept busy enough as it is making sure you actually study and not just goof off. Or running away for hours on en-oof!"

Teito's sentence was cut-off abruptly as arms wrapped around him, and he was thrown to the ground. Breathless, happy laughter reached his ears as the arms tightened their hold on him, ignoring the boy's protests, "Teito!"

"Wha- hey, Mikage! Get off!"

"Teito Teito Teito!

"Let go of me already! Come on!"

"I'm so happy!" Mikage said, finally drawing back from Teito enough that the boy could see the proclaimed ecstatic expression on his friend's face, "It's the first time you've ever told me something like that to me! I'm so happy that I think I could die!"

"Stupid! Don't say something like that! Let me go!"

"No." Mikage stretched the word, making it sound like it had ten syllables instead of just one, as the idiotic grin shone at Teito with the splendor of a thousand golden suns.

"Mikage, come on..." Teito pushed at his friend, trying in vain to push himself out of the Mikage's arms, "Get off."

"I'm glad that you're my friend."

"Are you an idiot?" Teito sighed. Mikage merely hummed in response. He still hadn't let go of Teito, and the boy had to wriggle around in Mikage's choke-hold of a hug to sit up and look at him.

"Move."

"No."

"Mikage."

"Not yet."

Teito looked off to the side again, but even then, Mikage could identify the sudden shift in Teito's mood. Mikage finally scrambled back to a sitting position near Teito just as the boy's muttered words reached his ears.

"Why me?"

The question...was soft. Soft both in the sense that it was barely audible-Mikage had to strain his ears to catch the words, almost melding into Teito's breath-and also, the words trembled at the end. Trembled.

Mikage had known Teito for a short while, admittedly. But it had been long enough for him to know that Teito was strong. Physical strength aside, the boy had a will of steel-it wouldn't be an understatement to say that nothing short of death threats would sway him from his decisions.

He'd never heard Teito as he was now.

Child-like and vulnerable.

"Teito?"

"...We should get going now. We have to get you back, so you can catch up on studying today's portion."

"Eeeeeeeeh?! Whyyyy..."

"Because you shouldn't fail again, since it would be a black mark on your record and you would have no hope of becoming a Begleiter?" Teito mock-asked, giving Mikage an incredulous look.

"Come on, Teito, I'm not that bad..."

"Anywhere near the passing/failing mark is bad for the military academy and you know it!"

"I can't help it! My class is full of nerds! And besides, cramming up stuff won't do any good in the actual battlefield!"

"First off, it doesn't matter if you have nerds in your class, their marks don't affect the pass/fail mark. Their marks affect the average." Teito shot back, "And you need to understand at least the basic theory here, if you want to be a successful Begleiter. Successful meaning not getting yourself killed in your first year."

Mikage pouted, and the childish expression pulled at Teito's lips, trying to make him smile, make him laugh.

It didn't. But Mikage's worry ebbed slightly when he saw that the comical expression had at least taken Teito's mind off whatever was troubling him.

"I got it, I got it." Mikage said grumpily, pushing himself back up to his feet. He thought he saw a brief flash of relief on Teito's face, but it disappeared before he could comment on it, reverting instead back to its normal grouchy look.

"Come on then. We've got a lot of work to do before the sun sets."

Mikage blinked, "We?"

"Yes, 'we'." Teito said, looking impatient, "I'm going to be there, making sure you study whatever your supposed to be studying and drill it into your thick skull."

"Aaaah, scary." Mikage said, only half-jokingly, "So, the topper of Barsburg High is going to be my tutor? I'm honored."

"Topper...what nonsense are you babbling now?Let's get going already." Teito grumbled, the tips of his ears turning red. Mikage grinned again, stretching his arms behind him.

His head throbbed dully from where Teito had hit him, his body ached slightly from where he'd tackled Teito, not to mention that his skin was heated, his body spent from laughing and rolling on the grass like children, his cheeks red, his breath coming out in huffs.

He wouldn't give up this feeling for the world.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

He wouldn't give up this feeling for the world.

The snip-snip-snick of twin blades, smooth rings of metal against his knuckles, the soft flesh of his fingers.

The metal gleams and flashes a threatening silver.

His eyes glow cold fire, colder than the steel in his hands

He felt his mouth stretch into a gaping hole, before it angled itself, tearing at his cheeks, revealing gleaming teeth.

He felt no warmth.

Not any more.

...Any more?

Snip-snip-snick.

No.

Perhaps he'd never felt it in the first place. Maybe, he'd mistaken vague, fleeting illusions of security for warmth, convinced himself into thinking that even.

Snip-snip-snick.

He dived forward suddenly; the sudden rush of air raising goosebumps against his skin, his heart pounding against his ribs, his breath trapped in his body.

The sound of glass shattering, windows breaking, fell on his ears. Faded into the background, radio noise.

It was there and then it wasn't.

Just like the warmth he had supposedly felt.

He shook his head. Long strands of hair, dirty and unkempt, fell into his eyes. They stung.

He shouldn't hope for something that never existed.

For him, anyway.

Yes.

Radio noise.

He shouldn't hope.

He shouldn't feel.

Radio noise.

He shouldn't feel. He shouldn't.

A scream. Single, drawn-out, a woman's, the woman's, a woman he kne-

Radio noise.

Because the only warmth that he could feel.

Was the warmth that he had to steal.

The scissors glinted dully in his hand, reflecting its twin, reflecting flesh so pale it was almost white.

The contrast of red splatters on his skin, on the steel, against the white of his being was stark and almost frightening.

The red was so warm.

But it would fade to cold.

And this fleeting warmth is all he could have.

For as long as he was warm, he could feel.

And he wouldn't give up this feeling. Not for anything in the world.

This feeling, this shadow, this warmth would never touch him for long.

But he'd learn to live with the cold.

After all, it was all he had to live with.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x- x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

It was something he'd learnt to live with, he supposed.

The rain poured onto the earth relentlessly, but the sudden downpour was not unexpected. This sort of weather was the norm in the Seventh District; freak thunderstorms were mere summer showers to the inhabitants.

When the Oak family had shifted Districts, Hakuren Oak, then 7'years of age, found the weather there much different than the sunny shorelines of the First District.

Of course, he'd expected as much.

The sky roared; a low, ominous growl. Hakuren frowned.

'So much for clear, sunny skies.' But then he didn't trust the weather forecast here anyway. To say the changes in weather patterns were unpredictable was putting it mildly.

His fingers played with the curtain as he stared out the window, letting the sound of thunder wash over his ears. A strange shiver flitted through him, goosebumps rising on his arms.

'Strange. Is the radiator broken?' He wondered.

Before Hakuren could dwell more on the issue, there was a knock on his door.

"Master Hakuren."

"Come in, Annika."

The maid stepped inside the room. She sank into a curtsy, head bowed and said, "Master Oak wishes for your presence in the dining hall."

"Father does?" Hakuren sounded a touch incredulous, but with good reason. To say that he wasn't on the best of terms with his father would be putting it mildly.

The maid's pretty face clouded, as she unaware of the details, Master Hakuren, but...there seems to be a dignitary of sorts coming to visit later and Master Oak wishes you to be present when they arrive."

"Isn't the party scheduled at 8 this evening?"

"Yes, it is."

"...Very well. I will be downstairs shortly."

"Yes, Master."

"Annika

"Yes, Master?"

"Regarding..." Hakuren cleared his throat, "well, regarding the subject we spoke of earlier..."

The maid's face cleared and she smiled, sinking into another curtsy, "I will attend to it, as commanded."

"Thank you. You may go now." He turned back to the window, as the door closed behind her, the groaning of hinges loud in the silence that followed.

"And I was hoping for some quiet before the next public show of humiliation." Hakuren took one last look at the window, before pulling the rope beside him and watched the curtains fall, cutting him off from the view of his last, final sanctuary.

It was funny, in a way.

Ten years ago, he didn't even like rain.

A flash of light barely made itself known through the gap in the curtains, and another roar of thunder followed, drowning out the sudden sounds of glass breaking, the dim, faraway sound of pounding and the voice of someone he barely knew, hushed for a second, then high-pitched and anguished the next.

Ten years ago, anyway.

He supposed that he should probably get going. His Father was a lot of things, and a patient man was not one of them.

He opened the door and stepped out of the room, into the wide, spacious hallway. No-one had bothered to turn on the lights; probably Father had all the servants running ragged with

preparations for the last-minute party.

'If he expects to have guests over, then Father should at least make the house look hospitable. Better to greet guests in something that resembles a house more than a dungeon.'

Then again, with the reputation surrounding his family name, Hakuren often felt a dungeon more suitable to host social gatherings.

"...Let's just get this over with."

"You could at least make an effort to pretend to be enthusiastic."

Caught breath.

Frozen heart.

A trail of ice kissing the line of his spine.

"Will you stop doing that?" Hakuren's voice stayed calm. He rubbed his hands over his arms and glared at the figure that peeked out from the shadows.

"My apologies. I assumed that the sentence from before was meant for me." The voice was warm, the words rife with the sweet tones of laughter, making the speaker sound younger beyond his years.

Admittedly, the age gap between them was almost non-existent, but it was almost too easy to forget that.

Hakuren hated forgetting things.

"I was talking to myself." Hakuren replied shortly.

"I see. Again, my apologies." The servant stepped into view, dipping into a bow.

"...Where's Liam?" Hakuren asked finally.

"Liam is with Oak-sama right now. He will be serving the guests this meeting, while the other servants attend to the party arrangements. I was sent to call on you."

"It's hardly been five minutes."

"I am aware. Annika informed Oak-sama that she had informed you of the meeting." This time, Ouida allowed a small smile on his face, "...I may or may not have excused myself from Oak-sama's presence,

under the pretext of calling you." He saw the expression on my face and laughed a little, "It's not my place to say this, but...well, Oak-sama seems a little more uptight than usual."

Hakuren rubbed his eyes wearily. "I didn't even think that was possible."

"As did I. At any rate, I felt that I should warn you."

"I didn't need it."

Ouida's smile dropped down a few notches. "No. You didn't." He looked behind him, as he continued, "May I take my leave? I have to check on Liam."

"You don't have to ask."

"Well then. I'll take my leave now, Hakuren-sama."

"I told you to stop calling me that."

"Yes." With that vague answer, Ouida turned on his heel and walked off.

For someone who's a servant of the Oak family, Ouida is remarkably carefree.

And he wouldn't have accepted anything less.

Hakuren walked the rest of the way in silence, with only his thoughts to keep him company.

As always.

His feet feel leaden, heavy, his thoughts cloudy.

He coughed. The harsh sound echoed through the hallway, grated on his ears. Made the skin of his neck prickle.

Only vaguely was he aware of the sweat trickling down his forehead, only the burning in his chest and throat. Only the slow thoughts in his head, trickling like sand in an hourglass, slow but continuous, occupied his attention and before he knew it, he'd lost sight of the hallway entirely. His eyes closed, opened, closed, opened, closed, opened, blink, blink, closed, opened, closed...opened...closed. Opened.

...Closed.

...Opened.

...Closed.

...

Opened.

He rubbed his eyes, his hand leeching the heat from behind his eyes.

His eyes...his eyes...

"HAKUREN!"

"...!"

His breath returned to him in a sharp gasp, his heart hammering against his ribcage, his face and body drenched in sweat.

His eyes flew open.

...Open?

They were closed before?

...Was he lying down?

Hakuren sat up.

He stared at the white sheets blanketing his legs, covering his stomach, cool to his fevered touch.

Fevered? He touched his forehead and found that he was dripping in sweat. Odd. Wasn't he shivering like a leaf earlier?

...When exactly was 'earlier'? And how did he get here anyway?

"You're awake."

Hakuren looked to his side to see the slim figure of a young boy standing near the window-somewhere, he realized abruptly, near where he was standing before while he watched the rain. He tugged at the rope, letting the curtains falling back to earth almost immediately, as if he were caught doing something that he shouldn't have.

Well, he was trespassing in Hakuren's room and seeing as Hakuren had no idea who he was...

"I apologize for the intrusion." He continued calmly, as he switched on the lights.

"What..."

"You had fainted in the hallway outside the dining hall."

"I did?"

He nodded, "You 're running a high fever. I suspect that you may have caught the flu that's been going around recently."

Hakuren frowned. It was possible; he had been feeling under the weather for a couple of days now. And this morning, he did feel the beginnings of a fever coming on. It sounded plausible.

What perfect timing. Hakuren chuckled. At least it wasn't his fault he'd fouled up his old man's plans yet again.

The boy stared as Hakuren laughed, then looked to the side as if the display had put him off somehow.

"So you were the one who found me there?"

"Yes."

"Then I must thank you."

"There's no need." The boy said uncomfortably, "I just did what anyone else would in this situation."

"Don't be so sure of that." Hakuren said grimly. Fatigue was pulling at the back of his mind, demanding his attention, and slowly he was giving in to it. But he wasn't exactly comfortable with the idea of sleeping with a stranger in his room, even a well-meaning one.

"...Do you have an ice-pack?"

"Hm?"

"Or something that can help bring down the fever?" He clarified, as he looked around.

"Ah...no. I don't."

The person nodded to himself, before murmuring, "I suppose I'll have to make do." He made his way to the bathroom.

Hakuren leaned back against the headrest, assessing his condition. His throat hurt, his nose was stuffed and a lovely shade of mottled red, his head felt like it was full of air, his body was drenched in sweat, crying miserably for cooler air, his neck and shoulders hurt-although that may be because of his unfortunate unhealthy habit of sleeping on the desk-and his body felt somewhat light and shaky, which may be

All in all, it wasn't too serious, but he wasn't going for any marathons any time soon.

He was surprised he hadn't caught the flu sooner, considering his poor sleeping habits and his unfortunate tendency to overwork himself. Of course, he could have contracted the flu earlier at school and it simply manifested while he stayed at home, and he was too oblivious to his deteriorating condition to notice. His symptoms seemed a bit extreme to assume that he'd just caught it today or even yesterday.

As he let his mind wander, it occurred to him that his Father may be more than a little furious that Hakuren would not be able to attend the pre-party meeting or the party itself.

Well, it's hardly my fault if I fall ill.

Something cool touched his forehead and he opened his eyes to see the same stranger leaning over him, carefully placing a wet towel on his forehead. Noticing the stare, the stranger said somewhat grumpily, "...These were the only things I could find."
"No, it's fine. Thank you."

He placed a bowl of water and a box of tissues on the bedside table, before moving away, back towards the window. His face was blank, his steps careful but light, almost as if he were drawn to the chaos of water and wind and light outside.

"The storm's still going strong...huh..."

"It's supposed to be the worst storm this season."

The boy blinked and looked over at Hakuren as if he'd forgotten that he was there.

"This season? I thought the only weather we had over here was rain, rain and more rain."

"It's a plausible assumption. But no. There is a very brief dry spell in the middle of winter that lasts for about a month. Admittedly, there isn't much sun then, given it is winter, but at least it's long enough to consider it a season. I think."

He just nodded absently at that; his gaze had gone back towards the window while Hakuren was talking.

Hakuren fixed his towel absently, feeling his eyes grow heavier with each second. As much as he didn't want to fall asleep in this stranger's company, his tired, worn body, weakened by the fever, was slowly being tempted into sleep.

"Go ahead."

Hakuren's eyes flickered back to the stranger briefly; he was too tired to turn his head.

"I'm not going to slit your throat while you sleep. You can relax."

Hakuren laughed again; this time a short, tired bark of laughter, "There's a comfort."

He didn't see the boy's response to that. His eyes had already closed, his mind lost in a sea of fog, his senses slipping to black.

Before he slept though, he heard that voice again, almost drowned in the wail of the rain.

"I haven't seen the sun since I first came here. And I don't think I ever will."

It was strange.

Ten years ago, Hakuren didn't even like rain.

Ten years ago, Hakuren had uttered more or less that very same sentence. In that very same spot, looking out into the grey-white of the sky, groping blindly for the last few rays of sunlight that never existed.

Ten years later, sick in bed, sicker at heart, Hakuren was staring at his own reflection. In the flesh-and-blood body of another, he saw the same etches of loneliness in his eyes, the same tightness in his lips that spoke of anger barely reigned in, the same posture; spine straight, head held high, as if he dared the people around him to do the impossible. To try and break something that was already broken.

Ten years later, Hakuren had found someone who could possibly understand what he had gone through, someone to talk to, someone he may even call a friend one day.

Teito Klein.

Ironic that it would be the one who, if he was in his right mind, would hate with every fiber of his being.

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Contrary to general opinion, Castor was not an early riser.

If anything, the man would be more than happy to stay asleep till one in the afternoon at the very least.

But then, as reality had been kind enough to point out at every instance of his life, his wish was no-one's command.

He yawned as he pulled into the school's parking lot, automatically turning to the section reserved for the faculty and teaching staff. As he scanned the area for a free parking spot, he occasionally glanced up at the academy building with something close to loathing.

At the risk of sounding like one of the little brats that often visited Lazette's cafe during Strawberry Sunday, he really did not want to be here today.

Hell, if he had any sense at all, he would probably be in the Sixth District by now, braving hailstorms, tornadoes or whatever else the storm of the week was.

He finally spotted a gap in the rainbow of metal on either side of him and swerved to the left. It was quite a ways off from the entrance, but he preferred it like that. The walk up would give him time to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his head.

He parked the car and stepped out, into the sea of frigid-cold air. The mist seemed to be back with a vengeance after yesterday's unexpected, brief sunny reprieve.

Castor smiled. Lazette had managed to beg her boss to let her off for half an hour so that she could spend some time outside. She loved spending time in the sun and valued every minute of it, especially now that she was staying in a district where one could count the number of sunny days a year on your fingers and still come up short.

Sometimes...he'd wished that there was a better alternative for her than just staying with him in this nowhere town.

Castor sighed as the beginnings of a headache bloomed somewhere near the bridge of his nose. I need coffee. The first of many through the day, as always.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It had gotten to the point where the man felt that the academy should invest some of the school budget into extra coffee pots for all of the teachers to carry around. It would certainly be less of an expense than some of the other, more...conspicuous ideas Headmistress Lalonde had, at the very least.

He fumbled in his pockets for his keys as he walked, cursing the overtly-thick gloves Lazette had insisted he'd wear. Well, more like she'd taken one look at the weather outside and moved to step between Castor and the front door, gloves in hand, and that same look in her eyes Castor had seen too many times to ignore.

...She shouldn't even have stayed long enough to see him go.

She shouldn't be staying at home.

Not now, not when her life had finally acquired some semblance of normalcy.

His fingers finally managed to find purchase on steel and he pulled out the keys just as he reached the door. He stopped in front of the door and touched the handle as the hand with the keys moved towards the keyhole...only for the door to slide silently away from his touch, stopping when the gap had widened about the fraction of an inch.

Castor stared mutely as the light that flooded from the office within and into the outside world, before allowing himself another sigh and pushed the door wide open.

"What's wrong now?"

His question hung listlessly in the empty air, devoid of noise save for the rapid, steady breathing of the man sitting on the sofa where Castor's clients usually sat. Parallel images, yet absolutely identical, even down to the sitting posture. Back bent forward, elbows propped on knees, forehead propped on joint fingers, eyes turned away from the light.

They were similar even at psychological levels. Because if they had it their way, this office would be the last place they would come to.

Even if the fact wasn't flattering, it still was that. A fact. And Castor had long ago learnt to come to terms with it just by being friends with the man who looked trouble straight in the eye and flipped it off, while insulting it in the most offending way imaginable.

Because there were some things even Frau couldn't face alone.

"You're going to catch something if you sit here dressed like that." Castor said, taking in Frau's trademark blue overcoat and gloves, which while sufficient in skin coverage, even with the man's height, lacked in the insulation area, "At least put the heater on if you plan on hiding here all day."

Still no response. That was expected though.

Castor pocketed his keys and hung his coat on the coat-rack before flipping the heater switch on. The familiar mechanical whirring that every citizen in the District had come to associate with warmth broke the silence, filling the room along with the heat.

"Did you even go home last night, Frau?" Castor continued, as he made his way towards the small area where he stocked the coffee powder and checked the electric water kettle.

Still no response.

"I'll take that as a no." Castor pulled out another cup from the cupboard and continued, "You still take your coffee black, no sugar?"

"..."

"You need to consume something other than cigarettes and alcohol, Frau." Castor said, as he scrutinized the other cupboard he'd dubbed the office pantry for something decent to eat.

Not a fruitful search, admittedly, but he'd settle for anything edible. Frau most likely hadn't eaten since lunch. He finally settle on somewhat-stale sandwiches he'd bought from the convenience store, picked up a steaming mug of coffee and shoved it at his friend.

"Eat."

Frau didn't move.

"This'll make it easier on both of us Frau. Lab's already busy enough as it is, he does not need to explain how the corpse of what once was a teacher had come about."

Frau did look at him then, eyebrow raised slightly.

"Take a look at yourself in the mirror. It's not in my habit to exaggerate. That's your job." Castor said, as he settled down in the chair near his desk, "That and, may I remind you, taking German classes for high-school students."

Frau's fingers twitched. The motion was infinitesimal at best. Most people wouldn't even have noticed the slight changes in the man's statue-like demeanour. But then, Castor was not most people.

"So it's one of the students then. What happened?"

Frau's reaction was slightly more obvious this time. He froze abruptly, then took a sip of coffee.

If Castor looked close enough, he could just see slight tremors in the man's frame, the skin acting as a living conduit for the rage that slowly broke through the cracks in Frau's expression.

"Frau, you have to tell me eventually. Isn't that why you're here?"

Frau said nothing and Castor pursed his lips. He'd been in this situation enough times to know which direction this conversation was going. And he didn't like it.
No matter what kind of trouble Frau had gotten himself in, he still managed to retain a few shreds of his carefree, I-don't-give-a-fuck exterior, the attitude that people in his life had come to recognize as his own, to associate as Frau's.

But the wordless anger in his friend's eyes was pure. Unadulterated.

He'd seen that same anger a few times before. And the circumstances during those instances had been far from kind to them both.

"...ng."

"What?"

"Nothing." Frau said, and the bite in his tone was almost lost in the hoarse rasp of his voice, "Absolutely nothing. That's the fucking problem."

"...What?"

"You heard me." Frau looked up at Castor, the anger showing openly in his face now, "There is nothing that's wrong. Why should there be anything wrong? This town is fucking perfect, isn't it?" That question seemed to be rhetorical, as Frau didn't wait for Castor's reply before continuing, "There isn't anything wrong, because everything is hunky-fucking-dory. And the people..." A scathing, humourless laugh, before the mug was slammed back onto the table, "Well, they certainly live up to their name as the children of the town of God."

...This isn't what you're angry about. Frau was stalling for time. Time for him to think, sort out his emotions.

Something he hadn't done since he left town. Something he hadn't found himself in the need to do since he left.

"...Tell me what happened, Frau. Exactly what happened."

Frau didn't seem to hear him, however. He answered with a question of his own.

If Castor could call it a question, that is. There wasn't a trace of uncertainty or doubt in his voice, nor curiosity or dread in his words or bodily actions that suggested that he was asking something of the school counsellor.

No, his tone...blank, flat and matter-of-fact clearly stated that what Frau asked of Castor was something that the man had to answer.

"I want to know everything you know about Teito Klein."

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