A/N: Welcome to my first AonoEx fic! This story was inspired by "That Darkest Feeling" by MyDarkestDesire. I liked the idea behind the story, but my biggest problem with it was how Fujimoto and Yukio reacted. I understand that in the situation shown, Rin would likely flee, but I don't think that Fujimoto especially would react that way. So this story is my version of what would have happened-and it's long, so I hope you enjoy it.
This will be a multi-chaptered fic. I don't know how many chapters, but I'm going to try to stick to the original plotline fairly closely-it's a school situation, after all, so not much will have changed.
This fic will also be updated, at best, on the last Friday of every month. You guys have to understand that I am going to Germany for about eleven months in about thirty-four hours. I have started the second chapter and will work on it further to get ahead, but I may not have time. Plus, this helps me keep behind the manga a bit better. I will do my best to make that month-long wait better with longer, more detailed and edited chapters.
I would like to, at this point, give my thanks to my sister, Oreramar, for beta-ing these chapters. Her help was necessary to this story, and I wouldn't have gotten as far as I have without her. Plus, the quality would be worse. She has helped a lot. She also draws all my concept sketches, which is nice.
Well, enjoy the first chapter of Veraenderung, which means 'Shift' in German. Chapter titles will also be translated.
Chapter One: Das Blaue Feuer
(The Blue Fire)
Rin sat on a stool in the corner, brooding and kicking his little legs back and forth. His classmates, however, were laughing and doing their special weekly art class. Crossing his arms, the messy-haired boy obstinately glowered at the wall to his left. He couldn't tell how much time it had been since he had been put in time out. It felt like ages already, far longer than the allotted time he'd been sentenced. When would the teacher let him rejoin the group?
His teacher hadn't been able to contact his father, so she had no choice but to break up the fight herself. Even though his father told him not to fight a year ago, that he wanted him to be nicer, he couldn't help it! Why was he in such trouble? The others started it, they were picking on Yukio!
His lower lip jutted out and he kicked his legs a little harder, lowering his gaze to the floor. He stopped when she told him to and really was sorry that he'd lost it again. He'd even apologized over and over to the teacher, but she just shook her head and firmly set him in the corner.
"Rin-chan, you shouldn't do that. Fighting is a mean thing to do. You hurt Chiaki-chan so much that he had to go to the nurse! His wrist is sprained—it isn't working right and it hurts to move. Now, I'll come back here in ten minutes and let you participate, but I want you to apologize to those three boys after school. Okay?"
Rin stared sullenly at the floor, shifting his feet a little as he tried to stare a hole into the carpet below him.
He let out a huff and resisted the urge to turn around on the stool to see how much time had gone by. The teacher didn't want him turning around—she told him that she'd add a minute every time he did, and Rin knew better than to test that threat. He bore with it, even though it was completely unfair.
"But why aren't they in trouble too? They were sayin' mean stuff to Yukio!"
"They didn't punch Yukio-chan, Rin-chan. I'll talk to them about bullying, but you shouldn't have hurt them. Next time somebody starts being mean like that, you need to tell me or another teacher or your father. You can't just lash out at them, Rin-chan, even though you were just trying to protect Yukio-chan."
"Why not?" he whined as he got on the stool. "They're hurting him, so why can't I hurt them back?"
"That's just not how the world works, Rin-chan."
She patted him on the head before leaving to supervise the rest of the class, complimenting a few of them on their pictures.
He uncrossed his arms and looked at his hands, slowly clenching and unclenching them as he remembered the feeling of punching Tsutsui in the cheek. He remembered hitting Noboru on top of the head and then lashing out at Chiaki, who tried to catch it but screamed when the blow simply made his hand snap backwards. Come to think of it, that punch was probably what made the other boy's wrist hurt.
Rin remembered how his father, a long time ago, hurt his ribs trying to make him see sense. How his glasses fell and broke, and how he had to buy some replacements.
Because of that incident, Rin didn't want to hurt people anymore. He wanted to help them, and get lots and lots of friends and be cool, just like his daddy. But then he found Chiaki and Tsutsui and Noboru teasing Yukio, making him cry. And there was no way he was going to help them instead of his little brother! He didn't want to be alone, but…if it meant his brother was safe, then he didn't care.
If they said mean things about him, he would ignore it. But if they kept being mean to his little brother, then he wasn't going to take it lying down. It was one of the simplest, most fundamental self-imposed rules of his life, and he would follow it even if it meant breaking other rules to pieces in the process.
"Rin, would you like to join us now?" The teacher called. With one quick nod, he spun around and made his way over to an empty easel. He felt a little better once free of the corner, but a faint, lingering mood of disappointment and sulkiness hovered over him for the rest of class.
The teacher made the four of them stay back after school. The others shuffled their feet and flicked their gazes around the room nervously, but Rin faced the other three and stared them straight in the eyes.
"Chiaki-chan, Tsutsui-chan, Noboru-chan, you shouldn't say mean things to others. What you say may hurt them very, very badly, and hurting others, in any way, is wrong."
They nodded glumly, but even at a glance Rin could tell that Chiaki wasn't particularly afraid of the teacher. Rin understood—Chiaki's dad was the master of a dojo, and looked far more intimidating than their teacher could ever be, or so Rin thought from the few times he'd seen Chiaki picked up after classes. Still, as tall and scary-looking as Chiaki's dad was, Father Fujimoto was a thousand times worse when in the middle of a lecture.
"Rin-chan, I believe you have something to say to your classmates?"
He kicked at the carpet with a bare foot, scowled, and managed a grudging "'M sorry."
The teacher prompted, "For…"
"Punchin' you. And makin' your wrist hurt."
Even though they deserved it, though Rin was at least smart enough to leave that part unsaid.
The teacher sighed and stood straight. "All right, Chiaki-chan, Tsutsui-chan, Noboru-chan—you can go home now."
Rin looked up sharply, opening his mouth to ask why his name wasn't in there, but stopped as the teacher gave him a look. He began scowling at the ground while the other boys gathered their belongings and headed out the door.
There was silence for a moment before the teacher spoke up. "Rin-chan, I called your home again. Your father answered."
Cold, solid guilt resumed its grip on his gut, and he glued his gaze to the floor. The scowl between Rin's eyes lost some of its force, softened by worry and momentary regret.
"He said that he wouldn't be able to pick you up today, but wanted to talk to you when you got home."
Rin stayed quiet, once again fearing the disappointment of his father. He shifted, then gritted out a reluctant "'kay," when he realized the teacher wanted some form of acknowledgement.
The teacher patted him on the head. "I just wanted to let you know, Rin-chan. Go on home."
He nodded and assembled all his things in the little bag he brought to school with him before exiting the room. All the while, the guilt in his gut refused to subside.
The moment the outside door opened, Yukio lurched up off the bench he'd been waiting on.
Rin swallowed his true expression to grin widely at his little brother.
They walked out of the school together, briskly at first since Yukio seemed in a hurry to get home. Rin, wanting to prolong that same walk, suddenly found himself doing something to his twin which he'd never even imagined.
Yukio stopped, blinking large blue eyes.
"I gotta be at the park in a bit—d'ya mind going home without me?"
His brother looked at him and asked innocently, "Why do you need to be there?"
"S'nothing," Rin said, looking away. It was suddenly very hard to meet that trusting, open gaze. "Just somethin' I gotta take care of…won't be too long. Promise."
Yukio hesitated, then nodded. "Okay."
At the next corner, Rin grinned and waved at his brother as Yukio walked straight on, following the trusted path that would lead him home.
Once the light changed, Rin turned left and crossed the street, confident that he would find his way. He went down another block and turned left again, then made a few more turns and then found himself completely and utterly lost.
The buildings in this area were dingier, taller, and placed closer together than he was used to. The apartment two stories up on the other side of the street had a scraggly little flower garden growing, and the one next to it was decorated with grungy old wind-chimes that clinked and clanked eerily in the slight breeze. Most, if not all, of the apartments seemed empty and devoid of noise. Then again, the work day wasn't over, so it was fairly understandable.
Rin, despite the hairs raising on the back of his neck, found a bench and sat down to regain his breath. He shifted his bag off his back and set it beside him before leaning back onto the concrete wall behind him. Just as he was about to get up and leave again, movement flashed in the corner of his eye, and he moved his head up and tilted it a little to the right.
Across the street, hanging around an alleyway, were a bunch of older kids. Four of them each held a can of something, one of them with a cigarette between his fingers. Two of those four were on the ground, rolling a couple of dice and exchanging money. A boy and a girl weren't drinking anything but were slouched on the ground playing a game of cards.
One of the dice-rollers, who had looked up, caught sight of Rin. A lopsided smile found its way onto his tattooed face, and he swayed unsteadily to his feet. "Hey, kid, what're you lookin' at?"
The others looked at Rin, just having noticed his presence.
"Hey hey, where're your parents, huh?"
"Wanna come and join us 'n a game? We play nice."
"Yeah," one started giggling uncontrollably, "We don' bite too hard!"
Rin put on his bravest face and turned his head away from them, hand snaking to grab a hold of his bag. "Go 'way, I don't want to play with you guys."
One, with spiked-up black hair dyed bright electric blue at the tips, stuck his tongue out at Rin. Something on it glinted. "What, 'choo a scaredy cat?"
"Yeah, you a wimp?" another with a stud of metal in his eyebrow sneered at the small boy, nearly falling over before he found the wall to brace himself with.
Rin stood up abruptly and found himself stalking over to them, irritated that they would call him such things. Once on their side of the street, he took a breath and said very loudly, "I'm not a scaredy cat, you jerks!"
For some reason, they found that very funny. All of them collapsed into roaring fits of laughter. Rin began to feel a bit uneasy, and his hands clenched into fists
"Aww," the sole girl in the group cooed, fingernails long and painted a metallic dark purple, "isn't he so cute?" She stood up and reached over to pat him on the head, sniggering as she did so.
Rin batted the hand away. "Shut up, you old hag!"
They started laughing again.
"Heh, Koneko, he called you a hag!" guffawed the one who'd been playing cards with her.
She turned around and kicked him with a leather high-heeled boot. "Shut up," she snarled at the brunette, and kicked him again for good measure. It seemed to Rin that these kicks were light, and she had a smile on her face. Older people were weird.
Rin suddenly found himself pulled against the jeans of the blue-tipped boy. "Hey, we jus' wanna play, kid. C'mon, it'll be fuuuuun!"
Panicking a little, Rin managed to squirm out of the boy's hold, but tripped over his own feet trying to get away.
He hit the ground hard, scuffing up a knee and the bottom of one hand as it instinctively shielded his face. Rin whimpered a little, and felt tears form in the corners of his eyes.
The older kids kept laughing, louder than ever before. I won't cry in front of them, he told himself. I won't cry.
Somebody hoisted him up by the arm, sounding a little concerned underneath the slur of the words. "Hey, kid, y'allright?"
Tattoo-face grabbed him from the concerned one. "Hey, hey, I got a game! Koneko-chan, catsch!"
Rin was shoved in a direction unknown to him, and it was all he could do to stay on his feet. His shoulders were gripped by thin fingers, the nails digging into him slightly. "Why'd you pass him t'me, Manato-kun?" she whined, before snickering and pushing him in another direction. Instead of resisting, he went with the flow and stumbled towards the next person, stud-brow, with a tiny fist cocked back and ready to strike.
Before he could make contact, a hand was holding his forehead and preventing him from getting anywhere near the target. "Hey, spi'fiaaaaa, easy!"
The laughter was loud, ringing in his ears and making him angrier and angrier. He kept trying to lash out, to punch somebody, but he was never able to hit.
Suddenly, he was shoved from the side, and the hands that were supposed to catch him were never there as he tipped over and hit his head on the sidewalk. The laughter ceased.
"Hinata-kun, y'were s'pposed t'catch hiiiiiiiiiim…"
"Shut uuuuup," one drawled, "'S'not my fault."
His head and heart pounding, Rin shifted and pushed himself up into a sitting position, looking dazed.
"Seeeee, he's fine."
A couple of them started chuckling a little, comparing the look on his face with something else, and Rin saw blood.
He didn't want to hurt people. He really didn't. But they were being mean and hurting him and then laughing. He could fight back, couldn't he?
"Poor lost little brat, with nowhere to go to. He's gonna start spouting water next!" the girl said, and started laughing.
"Hey, that's goin a bit too far…" Rin dimly heard one of the older kids say, but he was gone at that point. His head had already snapped over to the girl, his eyes were wide and his pupils had contracted.
They barely noticed it before he was in front of the girl and punching the one thing he could reach—her stomach.
Rin barely noticed her eyes go wide and spit fly out of her mouth before he was hit in the cheek, causing him to fall down again.
"You little—" the guy who'd been playing cards with the girl swore at Rin, standing over him with something glinting in his hand. The laughing had stopped completely.
"Kichirou-san, dat's goin' too far!"
"SHUT UP! I'm GONNA KILL HIM!" the brunette roared, stabbing down at Rin's head. A hand pulled the knife out of its dangerous path, but it still sliced a long gash through Rin's upper right arm. Rin screamed, tears flowing out of his wide eyes.
He's going to kill me.
"Kichirou! I know yer mad 'n all, but that's illegal!"
"Get off of me! That brat coulda killed our kid!"
A blue-spikes and his buddy, stud brow, tried to restrain the furious teenager, but he was obviously strong and they were having a lot of difficulty.
He's going to kill me.
The girl was retching in the corner, her brow furrowed in pain and her hands holding her barely bulging stomach.
He's going to kill me.
Rin started hyperventilating and made a few motions to get out of the way, the others trying to drag him back with them.
Seeing this, the brunette wrestled his arm away from the others, and before they could react, he'd stabbed the knife downwards again.
Rin screamed and held out his hands, turning his head away as something primal inside him pushed its way out and suddenly there was light and surprised gasps and screams and all other sound stopped.
"God, he's burning!"
"Let's ge' outta here!"
The teenagers ran away, tripping over themselves in their haste and leaving cards strewn all over the place.
Rin blinked and then looked up at his hands in wonder.
Blue flames were running up and down his arms, winding around his fingers and licking at the air. He stared at them even as they slowly disappeared with his slowing breath and heartbeat, and stared at his hands long after they were gone.
Shakily, he stood up and went over to his bag, hoisting it up with trembling arms and feeling like he had when he'd run all the way home, once.
In a daze, his arm throbbing even worse than his scraped hand and knee, he went over to ask a nice old lady who'd come out in the commotion where the park was. He hid the gash on his arm by holding his bag over it, and she only looked at his scrapes and shook her head before giving him the directions.
Once at the park, his head was significantly clearer, and he sat on the swings, staring at his hands. After he got over the terror of the situation, he had to admit that the flames were cool and that he wanted to see them again.
He wanted to be able to control them. He wanted to show Yukio and Daddy and everybody else what he could do, that he was really special.
Of course, he couldn't show them if he couldn't make the flames come back again.
Rin squeezed his eyes shut and pursed his lips, straining with all his might to make the fire come back.
For the next five minutes, he tried to make the fire appear again. He gave up for a while, and then was at it again for another five minutes.
Rin had completely forgotten why he hadn't wanted to go home that evening, and it was a slightly worried and flustered Fujimoto Shiro that found Rin looking at his hands with his bangs obscuring his eyes.
The boy looked up quickly, surprised at seeing his father in the park. "Daddy!" Rin hurriedly hopped off the swing and picked his schoolbag up off the ground.
Fujimoto reached Rin quickly and crouched before him, having seen the bloody tear through the sleeve of his son's T-shirt. "Rin, are you okay?"
Rin cocked his head at him, blue eyes wide. "Huh?"
"What happened?" Father Fujimoto gently touched the skin above the gash. "I know you've been in a fight, but I doubt those children had a knife with them. Where were you today?"
The six-year-old shuffled his feet and looked down a little. "…I got lost."
"There were these older kids, and they were actin' real funny. They were drinkin' somethin', but it smelled nasty." Rin wrinkled his nose at the memory, but looked back up at Fujimoto.
Fujimoto already knew this wasn't going to end well.
"And, and they were teasin' me and called me a wimp and a scaredy-cat, and I told them that I wasn't. They said they wanted to have fun and I was being pushed around over and over and they kept laughin'."
Rin went quiet and started staring at the ground again. Fujimoto sighed, but slowly pulled the kid into a hug. They were both silent for a few moments before Rin started speaking again, bolstered by the physical contact.
"…I got real mad. I punched a girl in the stomach. It looked like it hurt her a lot. I didn't want to hurt her, I promise!"
Fujimoto squeezed Rin for a few moments, then released the pressure as he said, "I believe you. It's okay."
His son was quiet for a few moments before continuing. "…and one of them went crazy. He was screamin' at me about killing a kid and he tried to hurt me in the head with a knife, but somebody stopped him and told him no. That's where I got hurt here," he gestured to the gash in his arm. "He wouldn' stop, Daddy. He kept screaming, but…"
Rin hesitated, but continued after seeming to mull things over. Fujimoto wanted to see his face, but he knew that making sure Rin knew he wasn't in trouble for this was far more important than maintaining eye contact.
"But the others kept him away from me and let me get away. I asked an old grandma where the park was and jus' stayed here."
They stayed there for a while longer before Fujimoto Shiro held Rin out at arms length, careful to keep Rin's eyes on his, and began to explain things.
"Rin, did that lady—the young one— look a little fat around here?" He gestured to the stomach.
The six-year old looked upward in a thoughtful matter. "I guess…"
"That means that she's making a baby."
Rin's eyes snapped back towards him and his mouth made an 'O' shape. "What 'bout the crazy man?"
Fujimoto nodded. "He was probably the daddy, and was very upset that you hurt her because he loved her very much. The way you punched her, Rin," he said solemnly, "might have hurt both her and the baby she was making."
Shuffling his feet, Rin looked down again. When he looked back up, there were tears in his eyes. "Did I…did I really hurt them bad?"
"Nah, I doubt it," Fujimoto said lightly. "You don't punch that hard. But still…"
At his father's suddenly more serious and scolding face, Rin gulped.
"Punching is not the right way to go about things, no matter who it is. The fact that you sprained your classmate's wrist only makes it worse."
"But they were teasin' Yukio!" Rin burst out, eyes passionate. "I'm not gonna stand 'round and do nothin' when they do that! I'm gonna protect him!"
Despite himself, Fujimoto felt his face start to soften, but became stern once more. "Rin, even if your motives are in the right, your actions were in the wrong. Were the others punching or kicking him?"
Rin opened his mouth to argue back.
"Rin! Answer me."
"…no." Rin sullenly replied.
"Then why did you punch them?"
"'Cause I wanted to make 'em stop!"
Fujimoto shook his head. "Rin, when somebody does something you don't like, you can't use violence to stop them. It would have been better had you told a teacher before taking the situation into your own hands—they might have gotten a harsher punishment for bullying."
Rin looked down at the ground again and scowled. "But I don't like it. I don't like not being able to make sure that they hurt as much as Yukio did inside."
"The ends don't justify the means, Rin."
The six-year-old looked at him in confusion.
"It means that even if you want to do the right thing, you can't do wrong things to achieve that right thing." Still seeing confusion on the child's face, he continued on. "Like…if you wanted to get a special gift for Yukio, you wouldn't go stealing money to get it, right? It's a nice thing to do, but you did the wrong things to do it, so it isn't nice any more."
The Paladin saw Rin's face light up in understanding. Letting out a small sigh and a smile, the elder man shifted backwards a bit. "Do you understand now?"
"Yeah…" Rin said, abashed now that he saw the point. "Are…are you mad at me?"
He barked out a short laugh. "Mad? Nah, you couldn't make me truly mad."
"A little," he said softly, "but I believe that you'll make the right choices now."
Fujimoto Shiro was rewarded by a small grin from his adopted son, and chose that moment to groan. "Ooooooooh, these bones aren't as young as they used to be, I'm getting stiff!"
He proceeded to stagger upright and make a show of stretching his arms out. Fujimoto did almost crumple over when he cracked his back, causing Rin to cry out in shock.
"Daddy, are you okay?"
"Never better," he laughed with eyes closed. Squinting one open, he asked, "What, did you think your Daddy would be defeated by a simple stretch? Huh?"
Rin shook his head furiously. "Nuh-uh!"
"All right, then!" Fujimoto exclaimed, turning around and squatting. "What do you say to a piggy-back ride?"
The boy yelled excitedly, grabbing his bag and then literally jumping onto Fujimoto's back. He winced, but laughed all the same as Rin's thin arms wrapped around his neck, hands holding the bag that was now draped over his chest.
"Up we go!" Fujimoto shot up and pretended to stumble to the side, causing Rin to shriek in laughter. It wasn't until they left the park that Fujimoto stopped staggering and instead adopted a smoother, more normal pace.
"Hey, Daddy?" Rin ventured after some time had passed. The streets around them were becoming familiar; home wasn't far away.
"I'll do it. I'll stop hurting people. Promise."
"That's good, Rin. You just remember, men keep their promises. Always."
"Mm!" He felt Rin nod against his shoulder enthusiastically, and smiled. They returned home without a word further.
Rin never forgot about the blue fire. He never stopped practicing when he was alone, so that he'd have a surprise for Yukio and Daddy.
Sometimes, it got really hard to do this, especially as Yukio didn't want him going anywhere without him and Daddy arrived every day to pick them up from school. Even if he was busy, the older man would stop what he was doing to ensure they got home safely. Rin's incident with the teenagers seemed to have made him a little less lax on the walking to-and-from school issue. If he went on an overnight trip (as he was prone to do every once in a while), Rin and Yukio would find one of the clergy waiting for school to get out.
But Rin kept at it, stealing time away when he was in a little-known corner of the playground at school, at night under the covers of his bed while Yukio was fast asleep—when he was desperate enough, he even took a few extra minutes in the bathroom to practice. He was determined to be able to show this cool talent off to his father and his brother, and there was nothing stopping him.
It was weeks later when the first little flicker of blue passed over his fingertips, while he was crouched behind a stack of boxes that were full of items that had been donated to the church. These items were going to a nearby orphanage which had had funds cut a little too tight for their own good.
He was so startled that he jerked backwards, stumbling into another group of boxes, which were filled with clothing for all ages of children. One toppled over when he hit it with his head, causing a crash to be heard and his head to start aching.
Rin had been told that while his offer to help was kind, he really needed to work on the homework over Kana that had been assigned. With that, he was chased off.
A few days later, he was seeking refuge in the cellar of the monastery from all the little bugs that seemed to have multiplied by the thousands in the past month. There weren't any down there, and the church was full of people after the weekly Sunday session. He wouldn't be missed, not with the crowd, so he took advantage of this opportunity to try again.
This time, he concentrated as hard as he could, eyes open and straining at his fingers. Sweat had started to bead at his forehead before one flicker slowly formed in the center of his palm. He was taken with surprise, but when the flicker began to die out his determination not to let it go out spiked. The fire grew and spread, coating his hand with the flames. Rin left it to burn for a few moments, then let it go slowly, little by little. A small little bit of it stayed for a moment, and then blew out suddenly.
In that instant, he felt exhausted, his legs shaking and his arms feeling as though they had no bones inside them. His chest heaved as he tried to recover from the stress of making the fire return, and he had to lean back against the cool concrete wall of the cellar to keep his torso above his legs.
Rin stayed there for a long, long time, fighting against the urge to sleep before he finally succumbed to it. It didn't seem like much later when he was woken up by a yell.
"He's down here!"
There were footsteps that seemed disjointed from the real world as he woke up, still half-asleep and sore from resting in such an awkward position.
It was a few moments before his father's face appeared in his blurry vision. "Rin! What are you doing down here?"
The boy blinked a few times before sluggishly wrinkling his nose. "Too crowded. Sleepy." He then held his arms up in a silent plea.
His father's eyes widened a little in surprise. "You're not usually this tired, Rin…" He extended his arm out to touch Rin's forehead, and murmured something about it being clammy.
Next thing he knew, he was being carried up the stairs and then tucked into bed after being given some medicine.
The next two days, he missed school and was kept in bed, sick.
On Wednesday, he was taken to school with a slightly worried Yukio, but Rin had insisted on going to class. Once they were let out for a fifteen-minute break, he played a little on the swings before vanishing into his corner to try to conjure the fire again.
He managed it, but was still very tired once he finished. Rin ended up falling asleep in class, and was taken home early.
That night, while very sleepily trying to stay awake, he heard his father come into the room. Yukio was sleeping on a futon in the priest's room as to not be infected by whatever Rin had caught, so being bed-ridden was even more boring.
"…Daddy?" he asked blearily, blinking at the dark figure of his father shutting the door of the room.
His father didn't answer. He silently crossed the room and knelt down by Rin's bed. A hand slid up to check his forehead, and it was wonderfully cool. Rin closed his eyes, then pressed his head into the hand, a little smile of contentment on his lips.
The hand was taken away, and he frowned, opening his eyes into lazy slits to blearily glare at his caretaker.
Fujimoto's face, a little unclear in the dark, still formed itself into a recognizable smile before folding itself into worry. He stood, tucked the sheets firmly around Rin's shoulders, and then bent down to ruffle the boy's hair gently.
"Get better, Rin," he said softly. "It isn't the same without you running around."
Rin managed to get out a little hum of agreement before his father straightened up and then quietly left the room.
Despite being so tired, Rin couldn't wait to practice again, so he kept himself up through pure will and excitement for about fifteen minutes, before he loosened the covers and ducked under them.
The flames came much easier, and he held them as long as he could stand before they abruptly blew out. It was all the little boy could do to pull his head from under the covers and let it hit the pillow, feeling much colder than before.
The rest of the week, he was kept home from school, no matter how much he contested it, which admittedly wasn't much. He was too tired from practicing, and that on top of his original sickness. That Saturday, he spent half the day sleeping, and his father was getting more and more worried.
When Rin overheard his father talking about possibly taking Rin to the hospital on Sunday, the boy knew that he had to just rest for a bit. Taking a break from practices was better than being in a hospital, he thought. Besides, he'd been getting less and less tired every time he pulled the fire out—if he got back to normal, maybe he wouldn't be so sick the next time he tried.
Rin rested for a few days at a time before practicing, ensuring that he stayed out of the hospital and under the 'overly-concerned' radar that his father seemed to have suddenly manifested. The progress he made was slow, slower than he would have liked and he came close to simply practicing hours in a row several times. In fact, he'd started to do that once, frustrated to no end, and heard one of the clergy commenting on how Rin seemed to be going under the weather again. Needless to say, he proceeded with far more caution from then on.
Rin wanted this surprise to be completely unexpected. He wanted to see Yukio's jaw drop and his father's face filled with pride and awe. It was worth the long wait if he could see those reactions, he thought.
It was about a week later that he was able to practice a total of a half-hour every day without getting overly exhausted.
A week after that, he showed nearly no signs of fatigue after an hour of training interspersed throughout the day.
The next day, he was ready to show his family.
Fujimoto had noticed the excitement in Rin's actions that morning, how bright and enthusiastic he was about going to school. He didn't know if something special was going to happen that day, but he certainly suspected it.
As he watched his son bounce up and down in his seat while waiting for his breakfast to be finished, he recalled the long week of illness half a month ago, and frowned a little. It was still confusing and a little suspicious that Rin would be sick so long; generally, the child tended to be violently sick for about two days, if that, before suddenly getting better.
Sick days didn't happen often, either.
"Daddy, what's wrong?"
Shiro looked down at his youngest before adopting a smile. "It's nothing, Yukio. I'm fine."
Yukio looked to the left furtively, where his oblivious brother was vibrating with energy, and then looked back at his father. "…Does it have to do with Rin?"
The man let out a sigh. "You're too smart for your own good, Yukio. And that's a good thing," he added with a grin, pitching his voice so that it would now carry to Rin, "seeing as your brother has more than enough energy to make up for the both of you. It's only fair that you get his share of the brains."
Rin spun around from where he was watching the food, a little glare in his eyes. "Hey! I'm smart too!"
Fujimoto grinned and leaned over the table to ruffle Rin's hair. "I'm sure you are, Rin. It's just a different smart."
A thickly-built clergy member with a large stomach chuckled in the corner, where he was cooking up the rice. "A different kind of smart indeed! Maybe if you spent half the time Yukio-chan does on his schooling, you'd be doing better!"
Though the comment was worded harshly, it was said in a light, jesting tone. Despite this tone, Rin hunched his shoulders and crossed his arms defensively across his chest. "Shut up."
The priest chuckled, but was unable to tease Rin further as the food had finished. Rin's eyes lit up, and suddenly Fujimoto could tell that the world consisted of only Rin and Rin's food. Shiro ducked his head and grinned, catching Yukio's eye and winking. Yukio stared shyly back at his father before giving a passive smile in return.
Rin was a bundle of energy on their walk towards school. While Yukio was content to walk by his father's side, Rin kept running about, often times trying to drag both Yukio and Fujimoto along with him. The man was so engrossed in the elder twin's actions that he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary until he left them at the school.
He had turned back to wave one last time when he saw, while Rin was waving back, the same boy suddenly have a flash of irritation cross his face. In the next instant, Fujimoto watched as Rin waved away one of the Coal Tars that had been hanging around him.
Before he could call out to Rin, the twins had already waved one last time and had entered the building.
Fujimoto was home much, much sooner than usual that day. He'd burst into the house, entering the room where the chest of drawers was kept before swiftly taking the Kamikakushi key off his neck. In one smooth movement, he'd stuck it in the keyhole of the third drawer up from the bottom of the case and turned it. He wrenched it open, almost afraid of what he would see in the container.
And there it was. The crossguard, glinting just a little too much on one side to be earthly, made him stand stock still for a moment before mechanically closing and locking the drawer again. He removed the key and placed it back around his neck before slowly turning and sliding down the front of the chest bonelessly.
"It wasn't supposed to happen so soon," he said quietly, leaning his head into a hand and staring at the floor. "He's only six. Why so soon?"
If Rin had been older—much older, around ten years older—he wouldn't be so worried. He could simply explain the situation to Rin and, if the flames of Satan manifested themselves, sent him off to Mephisto quietly. But now…he was just six. You don't tell a six year old that he's actually the son of the most evil, most powerful demon in history.
All Fujimoto could do was keep a careful eye on Rin and keep him away from any Exorcists that might be able to tell the difference between a little boy and the son of Satan. He wouldn't stand for anybody trying to kill a sweet, good-hearted six-year-old boy just because of who fathered him. The fact that he was Paladin didn't help at all in this case—he might have been able to get away with harboring a son of one of the eight demon kings, but the son of Satan? The Vatican would take Rin—take both Yukio and Rin—away from him without a word in their defense.
Fujimoto's left hand clenched and his jaw tightened. The best he could do now, he reminded himself, was watch and keep Rin safe from both Demon and Exorcist.
Shiro looked up at the clergy member standing in the doorway. "Yes?"
The man scratched the stubble on his chin before asking, eyebrows furrowed, "Is everything all right? You came in here rather suddenly…" he took note of the chest of drawers Fujimoto was leaning against, and his eyes widened. "Is Rin…"
"It seems as though he's awakening a lot sooner than we thought he would…" Fujimoto leaned forward and sighed. "I don't know if he's manifested his flames yet, but we need to watch him more carefully."
The clergy member nodded. "I'll tell the others. Sir, you have a mission request in a few hours…it's supposed to be an overnight thing. They said that while they don't need the Paladin, it would certainly make the mission a lot easier."
Fujimoto stood up. "Who's on the mission?"
"Mainly middle- to high-class Exorcists. So far, it's a party of about five. Two Dragoons, an Aria, an Exorcist doubling in Aria and Tamer, and a Doctor."
"They've received sightings of the King of Rot in Nagasaki. People there are getting a lot sicker than usual, and the Coal-Tar count has increased to an all-time high. Ghouls have also increased in number."
The priest thought about it, but shook his head. "They've covered almost all the bases, and I specialize in Dragoon and Aria to begin with. They'll be fine."
"I'll send the note out." The clergy member bowed his head slightly and left the doorway.
Fujimoto Shiro rubbed the back of his head and sighed before moving to follow his subordinate. At the doorway, he paused and looked back at the innocent-looking chest of drawers. After a long moment, the priest faced forward again and left the room, ready to tackle the abbey-related paperwork in his room.
He hoped, if only for Rin's sake, that there wasn't anything wrong.
That day, Rin had been absolutely unable to focus on anything that resembled schoolwork. He shifted, fidgeted, and was incapable of staying still for more than ten seconds at a time. The teacher took note of it and warned him several times, but even then he only stilled for a minute at best before reverting to his hyperactive self. As the day wore on, he became more and more excited, so much that by the end of school, Rin was very nearly vibrating in his seat.
The very moment the bell rang, Rin was out of his seat and had grabbed his bag. The moment after, he was out of the room and bouncing up and down outside Yukio's classroom with a wide smile on his face.
The door opened and children streamed out of it, but none of them were Yukio. Even after the door had closed again, Yukio was not out of his classroom. Curiosity bettered Rin, and he opened the door tentatively.
Yukio was being talked to by his teacher, who was kneeling on the ground in front of him. They were conversing quietly until the squeak of the door caused them both to turn their heads in Rin's direction.
The first thing Rin saw was the small bruise on Yukio's right cheek. The second was the tear tracks that lay on his cheeks.
That's all he needed to go to his brother's side.
"Yukio, what happened? Tell me who did it, I swear I'll bea—talk 'em into cryin'!"
The teacher shook her head at him. "No, Rin-chan. I'm going to be talking to your father—could you go get him for me? He should be waiting outside for you two."
Rin opened his mouth, but then closed it at the look in Yukio's wide eyes. With a quiet that went completely against his actions of the day, Rin nodded and left the classroom as quickly as his little legs could move.
His father was waiting on one of the benches outside the school. When Rin pushed open the door of the school, Fujimoto looked up and rose with a small smile on his face. "Rin!"
"DADDYYYYYY!" Rin yelled, racing over to the bench.
"What's wrong?" Fujimoto stood abruptly, just in time to catch a desperate bundle of six-year-old boy between his arms and his stomach.
"Yamauchi-sensei wants to talk to you – it's 'bout Yukio. He looks like he got hurt today!"
Fujimoto was quiet for just a brief moment. Then he ruffled Rin's hair and gently guided him to one side, opening a path between himself and the doors. "Thank you for telling me, Rin."
Rin grasped Fujimoto's right arm and began tugging the man toward the school entrance. "C'mon! Just hurry!"
"Of course. Now stay here until we come back, all right? Good boy," the old man said, gently extracting his arm from Rin's grip before striding away, vanishing into the school.
Rin watched him disappear before turning around and making his way over to where his father had been sitting. Angrily shooing a small bug out of the way, he sat and set his bag down beside him.
And then he waited.
It was a long while before Yukio and his Daddy came out of the school, with Yukio holding onto Daddy's hand with his left and carrying his bag with his right. Rin brightened up a bit before grabbing his bag, hopping off the bench, and running over to them. He slowed down and took his Daddy's bigger hand with his small one, content this time to simply walk with his family. Nevermind that some stupid bully had hurt Yukio and made him cry. Daddy was sure to fix it somehow, if he hadn't already.
They walked in relative silence for the first couple of blocks before Fujimoto started explaining to Rin what had happened.
"Rin, do you remember those boys that were teasing Yukio a couple weeks ago?"
Rin looked up and nodded. "Yeah."
"Well, today they decided that they wanted to be mean. They wanted Yukio to give them something, but he refused to, which made one decide to punch him."
The little boy stared up at his father, mouth open. "They punched him?" he squeaked out, and out of the corner of his eye he noticed Yukio grip their father's hand tighter.
Fujimoto nodded. "They got in trouble with the teacher, who's going to talk with their parents tomorrow morning."
Rin nodded decisively. "Good." He then looked at Yukio from around their father. "You okay, Yukio?"
"…Mm." Yukio quietly intoned.
"I hope they have to stay home forever," Rin said vehemently, "'Cause they're…they're jerk-faces." He somehow refrained from mentioning that if they did go back to school, he would be real quick to punch them back for Yukio.
Yukio gave a small smile at this, and they were quiet until they were about a block from home.
"Hey, hey…" Rin said, a little louder than he'd been talking before. "Can I show you guys somethin' cool?"
Fujimoto raised his eyebrow at Rin. "Like what?"
"Like I've been workin' and workin' on it for weeks cool!" Rin's grin widened and he looked first at his father, then at his brother. "Promise, it's real cool!"
There was a strange look that flashed across his father's face when he looked up at it again, but it passed quickly into a smile. "Okay, I'll see it. Is that okay with you, Yukio?"
His brother looked torn by something, but then gave a quiet smile. "Okay."
This gave Rin the energy and confidence to then drag Fujimoto and Yukio home as fast as he could, chattering on and on about how cool this thing was and how they'd really, really think that it was awesome and doing his best to make Yukio smile. He pulled them past the open gates and to the front door, pausing only to open it and then drop his bag in the doorway. By this time, his father was chuckling and his brother had a little grin quirking at the edge of his lips.
He danced from foot to foot by where the cellar was, waiting for Yukio and his father to finish saying hello to all the clergy members. "Come ooooooon!" he whined, his patience past wit's end.
"Why do we need to be down there, Rin?" The priest asked, a grin on his face.
"'Cause it's a secreeeet! Hurry uuuuuup, pleaaase!"
Fujimoto, still laughing lightly, opened the cellar door for them both, Rin pounding down the stairs in an instant while Yukio took each step one at a time, wary of the darkness. Pausing only to flick on the light switch and grin at the clergy members behind him, Fujimoto followed.
Once down in the underground room, Rin told them both to sit down and be amazed. As they did so, he lifted his right hand, palm up, and concentrated very hard.
Blue flames appeared on his hand, licking at the air and crawling over his skin. Rin then looked up, a bright expression on his face that faltered a little when he saw the look on his father's face.
It was something like dread and astonishment mixed in one. Yukio looked just a tad frightened.
"…Daddy?" Rin asked, voice unsure and hand lowering just a little.
Fujimoto startled out of whatever he was thinking about, looking now at Rin's face instead of the flames. Something softened in his eyes, and he rose to his knees.
"Rin, that is a very amazing thing you can do. How did you figure it out?"
Still unsure and feeling his stomach tie itself in knots, Rin answered, "Well, y'know those older kids 'bout a month ago? I was gettin' really really scared when the crazy-man kept saying he wanted to kill me and he'd gotten away from the other older kids and was going to hurt me again when I held my hands out and the fire stopped him. They ran 'way after that."
Yukio looked more upset now. "…somebody tried to kill you?"
Rin let the flames out and looked to the side nervously. "…yeah. 'M sorry I didn't tell you earlier."
The younger twin shot to his feet and then launched himself at Rin, who found himself in the middle of a very unexpected hug.
"You idiot!" Yukio berated, sounding like he was in tears. "You idiot! I'm supposed to be there with you when bad things happen!"
Rin looked down at Yukio's shoulder, eyes wide. "Yu…Yukio?"
Yukio squeezed Rin even tighter and sniffled. "You're not supposed to be in danger when I'm not 'round. You're always helping me – why can't I help you, too?"
Fujimoto looked at them and smiled a little before something struck him. "Rin, you said you'd been working on this for weeks…how did you work on it?"
Yukio let go of his brother slowly and cautiously before sitting back down next to Fujimoto, wiping tears out of his eyes and sniffling every so often.
Rin shuffled his feet and laughed nervously. "Um…I kept tryin' and it worked once for a little so I went down here that Sunday and made it last longer…"
Father Fujimoto did not have a good feeling about this.
"An' after that, that day I went back to school, I did it again 'cause I wanted to show you guys sooner and I needed to practice. An' after that I kept doin' it under the covers, but stopped 'cause I…I kinda heard Daddy sayin' something 'bout the hospital if I didn't get better soon…"
The twin's father sighed and pushed his glasses up to rub where they pinched the bridge of his nose. "Rin, I'm going to say this. It's dangerous to push yourself so far as to be that exhausted. You might have actually gotten sick—you were making your body unable to fight off infection and weakening it too much."
Rin's nervous smile dropped and he looked down at the floor.
"I'm not saying you can't practice any more," Fujimoto said as he leaned forward, putting his hands on Rin's shoulders, "But I want to be there every time you do so. I'll get a room together and everything, but you can't practice without me."
Rin's grin, resurrected by the earlier words, faltered a little, but he nodded.
"Also, Rin, you cannot show anybody else those flames. Do you remember what those older kids did when they saw it?"
The six-year-old's head nodded. "Yeah. They ran away screamin'."
"Yes. Some people will be really scared of you when you do that. Others may get really mad and try to hurt you. Others," Fujimoto lowered his voice and stared at Rin seriously, "the weird-looking ones, will try to take you away somewhere."
"But…I don' wanna go nowhere!"
Yukio nodded furiously. "I don't want him to go anywhere else!"
Fujimoto smiled and gestured for Rin and Yukio to come closer to him. Once they did so, he hugged them both and ruffled their hair. "He's not going anywhere else, because I'm going to make sure he doesn't. But he has to not use the fire outside of the room I'm going to prepare for him. Okay, Rin?"
Rin nodded against his chest. "Promise."
Fujimoto's eyes softened. "I believe you."
"Can…can I be there when Rin practices?"
The priest hesitated, rational thought saying that the flames were too dangerous for another person to be in the room. He was an Exorcist—he had the ability to avoid those flames and douse them if need be.
But another part of him said that Yukio needed to be in the room—needed to be a part of this, needed to be included.
So he nodded at Yukio's falling face. "Yeah. But I need you to stay by me, okay?"
The younger twin's face brightened and he gave a wide, close-lipped smile. "Mm!"
"Pinky promises?" Rin offered, extending the said finger. Chuckling, Fujimoto accepted it a heartbeat after Yukio did.
Their fingers hooked.
"It's a promise."
Use of Japanese will be as sparse as I can make it. After struggling through not using suffixes in the first draft of the chapter, I couldn't stand it any more and put the suffixes in. Why? They're an integral part of the culture. However, other than that, I'm going to keep all Japanese to the minimum-likely, the only things you'll see in the language are untranslated names, nouns, and suffixes. I will not be using things like Kuso! or Matte kudasai!. For the English reader not accustomed to the language, the suffixes are pain enough.
If anybody needs me to, I can explain the rudimentary knowledge I have of the suffixes.
Thank you for reading!