Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Tachibana Higuchi. This story is mine.
Warning: There are spoilers in here from chapters 101 to 116 of the manga. If you haven't read those and plan to, do not read this.
Dedication: MiladyQueenMab and Indigograpefruit. Because the former is obsessed with side characters and the latter told me it was okay to have commitment issues in regards to my other stories. :) This has plagued me for the past week and I had to succumb to its demands. This is Izumi Yukihira in five scenes.
Grey Hour Dreams
Twenty years old
It's dark and he's lying on his back.
He doesn't know what's going on, exactly, but he can hear his breaths coming out in short gasps, his heart is ramming viciously against his chest and there is a dark feeling at the base of his throat that both thrills and excites him.
What did I just do?
"He's crazy!" There's a flash of pain against his face and it takes him a while to realize his face has been pushed roughly to the side. When he opens his eyes angrily, it's to see his best friend Seiji grinning down at him with bright brown eyes. "It's official, man, you are not right upstairs," Seiji guffaws loudly before fisting a hand into his jacket. The next thing he knows, Izumi is back up onto his feet and the world is spinning.
The only words he can force out are, "Did you just slap me, you stupid bastard?"
There is a loud ring of raucous laughter that causes his head to soar, but it doesn't last, especially when his friends all gather around him with congratulatory slaps on his back and arms that hug his head in affection. Maybe falling wasn't so bad after all. Judging by all of the arms pushing and pulling at him, nothing hurts too bad.
"I can't believe you did that jump, Izu," purrs a sultry voice from his left.
Seiji immediately detaches the arm that's thrown over his shoulder and makes room for the beautiful black haired girl that immediately takes his place. He can feel a smug grin appear on his face as she presses her mouth against his neck with a hum and then grabs his chin to lay a wet kiss on his lips.
When they part, he looks at her underneath his eyelashes. "Hey Yuri. You liked that?"
"You were so cool," she nods with a seductive grin on her lips. "Wanna check to see if your bike made it, babe? It hit the ground pretty hard."
Izumi winces automatically and probes at his arm for a second to feel the bruise that he knows will be there when he takes his shirt off for the night. He peers over at the rest of the gang who are doing slow rounds around the junkyard. They had lined up ten cars and hooked up two ramps on either end to see if he could make the jump with his motorcycle. He'd almost made it, too, but he'd landed all wrong; the wheels of his bike couldn't grip the loose gravel.
Izumi hopes his baby made it all right. He can't stand the idea of having to fork over a ton of cash for another bike if it's broken beyond repair. The guys at the shop always charge a ton for repairs as it is. When he strolls over to check on the bike, two of his friends are already looking it over. The tires are beyond dirty and there's a fresh, huge scratch on her side but otherwise—
"—she works fine, man," nods Kanou, towing his baby over to him. "You're lucky you didn't break her back. This girl's pretty faithful to your sorry ass."
"Yeah, yeah," he says distractedly, grabbing her by the arms to survey the damage and running a hand along her flank to feel the scratches she's endured for him. "She's something else all right."
"Are you up for a few drinks or are you done for the night?" somebody yells from behind him.
There are a few great yells of approval and he's definitely up for a few rounds of celebratory drinks but Yuri comes to run a hand down his chest before she says silkily, "Are you up for drinks tonight, baby?"
He's never liked that term of endearment. Baby? Who the hell actually likes being called that? Not the leader of this motorcycle gang. He scoffs before giving her a quick peck on the cheek and turning towards the other members of his gang. It's a great group of guys, friends he's known ever since his elementary school days. At the ripe ol' age of twenty, with a group of friends that share a love for motorcycles and alcohol, and a beautiful girl at his beck and call, there's nothing more he can ever ask for.
He feels a slap on his back from Seiji, his right hand, who grins. "I'll buy you a drink, you crazy, little shit. It's cheap on Thursdays."
Thursday? The second Thursday of the month?
He can feel himself brighten at that and Seiji immediately catches it. He thinks for a moment before a loud snort escapes him. "You're getting another letter from your brother today, huh? If I didn't know better, I would think you had a massive, incestuous bromance going on with your bro, bro."
"Well it's a good thing you know better, huh?" Izumi shrugs the arm off of his shoulder and dismisses Yuri in favour of throwing his leg over his bike. "I'm going to head home. I'm kinda sore anyway."
"I'll come with you," Yuri says low in his ear.
"One drink," Seiji says, easily talking over the girl practically attached to his hip. "Just one drink and you can get back to your little love letter. Deal?"
Izumi rolls his eyes and thinks, why not? He might as well. "Deal," he raises an eyebrow. "But you're buying. One drink," he says sternly, kicking up the kickstand and starting up his ride to a beautiful purr.
"Selfish bastard," Seiji immediately grins and jogs over to his own bike.
When he throws on his helmet and looks back up to Seiji, it's to see that Yuri is still standing beside him with a coy grin on her face. "Can I go for a ride?" she purrs lowly. The obvious double entendre makes him want to grin and roll his eyes at the same time. He nods over his shoulder and as always, she doesn't go for the helmet under her seat because she's afraid it will mess up her perfect hair.
"Just put the damn helmet on."
"No," she grins over his ear, hugging his body close and resting her chin on his shoulder. "If I die, we go together."
"If that's supposed to be romantic…" he starts.
Yuri merely laughs and he kicks his bike into motion to head to their bar. It'll be a good night. One drink with the guys and then he'll go home to a sweet letter from his unknown older brother. His brother… he can't believe sometimes that he has a brother. To think they'd gone decades without knowing each other all this time!
Kazu is his complete opposite.
He's smart, composed and reliable. Izumi has no doubts that when they finally meet, they will become the best brothers. Kazu has told him a great many things about the world, about alices. He still doesn't quite understand the concept of alices, but they sound like superheroes. Perhaps this next letter will tell him all he needs to know about it. Kazu is a brother, a parent… he is family. Izumi forgets what it feels like to have family.
The idea of having a brother is still spell-binding.
Kazu is eighteen years older and is bound to have a ton of sweet tricks up his sleeve and Izumi can't wait to learn them. Too bad that might not be for a while yet, since his job as an annual academy principal does not allow for days off and visitors.
When he returns home that same day, though, the beginning of Kazu's letter is: "How would you like to be a teacher at Alice Academy?"
Twenty-two years old
It's light and he's lying on his back.
His eyes are closed and he can hear rustling papers in the background as his heart thrums easily in his chest and every breath tastes like a fresh start.
"—and… I bet you're not even listening."
He blinks slowly before he sits up and drapes an arm over the back of the couch in Kazu's office. It's a nice place with a bookcase full of… well, books, and a really nice, dark brown wooden theme all over. Kazu is leaning against his oak desk with his arms crossed over his chest and an eyebrow raised sternly. Vaguely, he wonders if he looks as cool as his brother with his identical blond hair and grey eyes.
Kazu sighs, "Where did I lose you this time, Izumi?"
He thinks about it for a moment. "The part where I have to teach kids?"
Kazu looks like he wants to hit him in the face. "You weren't listening this entire time? Why'd you even agree to come here if you have the focus of a five year old?"
It's so obvious, he can't help but look at Kazu to see if his question is serious. "I wanted to see you, brother!"
"Do you even want to teach here?"
The question is a good one and it makes him shrug with indifference. "I dunno. I've never taught anybody anything other than riding a motorcycle. I don't think that's a class, huh?" he grins at the twitch in his brother's lips. He thinks about it for another second before the honesty spills from him. "It can't be so bad if you like it, right? I want to spend time with my brother. I don't have anything holding me back with the gang and—" he shrugs again, suddenly nervous, "—you're family. You're much older and wiser and so cool—"
Kazu snorts a laugh. "Shut up, Izumi," he rubs at his temple with a wry grin as if he is embarrassed.
He can't help the laugh that escapes him as he leans his head back so that it rests on the back of the couch. "It's true," he says, looking back at his brother. Then a thought occurs to him that makes him grin widely. "Plus, I'm a superhero. Girls would love that."
Kazu eyes him sternly, half-amused. "The only girls you're going to be surrounded by are students and if I hear anything about you fooling around with—"
"—wait a second!" He cuts in abruptly, sitting up in all seriousness. "Are you telling me there are only male teachers at this school?"
"Of course not," Kazu says with a sigh. "There are female teachers too. I'm just telling you that, though I want you to build good relationships with your students, you cannot do anything inappropriate to the younger females. If you do, I will kill you, Izumi."
The threat is said lightly but he doesn't doubt it for a second. "I'm not that desperate for female attention to go after a student, brother," he says with a scoff. "Believe it or not, I am very good with the ladies. I think they like the motorcycle and the leather jacket."
"Izumi," Kazu says sternly. "Declaring yourself a ladies man—or a manwhore—is not the best way to convince me you're ready to be a teacher."
He mock-salutes his brother before a laugh escapes him once more. "Female teachers," he whistles brightly. "I have so many in-school fantasies, brother, you don't even know. Perhaps teaching here won't be so bad after all."
"Please reign in your biological urges when teaching, Izumi," Kazu says evenly, moving to shift some papers around on his desk. "I'm pleased to hear you enjoy female attention but Alice Academy is a rather strange place as it is. I'm afraid you'll end up doing yourself more harm than good."
The formality makes him laugh again before a sobering thought occurs to him. "I'll probably be a terrible teacher."
Kazu stills before he turns slowly to face him and Izumi can't help but look at him sheepishly. "Izumi, I wouldn't have recommended you be a teacher here if I didn't think you would be able to make a difference," Kazu says patiently with kind, though stern, grey eyes. "You'll be good for the kids. They aren't allowed to leave the academy until they graduate and some students become wild and depressed at the thought. The teachers here… they tend to be hard on the students. You… when I first found out I had a brother, when we began to speak, I realized you are the outside world. I've only ever known the academy but you… I've learnt a lot from you and I hope the kids here will be able to learn the same. You are life, Izumi. I think you'll be a burst of fresh air."
He pauses and gazes at Kazu thoughtfully before a wide grin pulls at his lips. "You think I'm cool, huh? Because I'm not a hard-ass like your friends?"
Kazu rolls his eyes and the immature reaction makes him grin. "My 'friends' are your colleagues and they'll end up being your friends too. I'm sure talking about them like that will make your time here smooth," he says sarcastically. "What I mean to say is, you'll be able to bring about a new way of teaching—"
"You're saying I can be the 'cool' teacher," he grins at the annoyance in his brother's eyes. "I can deal with that. They'll see me as the younger, cooler, better-looking version of you. All right!"
"Izumi," Kazu pinches the bridge of his nose. "Get out of my office."
He stands up with a laugh and strolls to the door. With the doorknob in his hand, the laugh settles in his stomach and the doubt lingers. "Do you really think I'm going to be a good teacher here, brother?"
"If you're fishing for compliments—" Kazu warns, but he merely looks at him anxiously. Kazu sighs. "Don't doubt me, Izumi. The students are going to love you." He pauses for a beat before continuing lightly, "—Just not that way."
The joke makes a laugh bubble in his throat and a warm feeling of reassurance spreads through his veins. "Don't worry, brother. I won't make the students fall in love with me." He grins and tugs the door open. Before he leaves, he turns back and smiles. "Thank you, brother."
Twenty-two years old
It's dark and he's lying on his back.
He doesn't know what's going on, exactly, but he can hear breathing and doesn't think it's his. His heart is thumping rhythmically in his chest and there is a dark pain against the back of his head and shoulders.
What the hell just happened?
There is a distinctly feminine moan from above him and his eyes snap open in time to see the buttons of a shirt in front of his face. The memories rush back to him like a crashing wave. Where is his megaphone?
"Oi, escaping little kid," he had called, after being informed that Yuka-chan had tried to escape once again. What was up with this girl and escaping? He would have thought dragging her away from the academy wall, ladder and all, the last time would have deterred her for a while and yet not two weeks passed before she was at it again.
He had looked and called out for her until there was a loud crack and he had turned in time to see her fallingfallingfalling from the electric barrier around the school. He didn't think there was ever a time his heart had felt so much like a huge, lead weight in his chest until then.
The heaviness of her weight in his arms when he caught her had caused his knees to buckle and here they were, him lying underneath her.
He sits up quickly, which effectively puts his face very close to her chest, and lifts her by the armpits away from his body. "Now look at what you've done," he winces at the knot in his shoulder. Stupid kids…
She tries to make a break for it and he can't believe this is the sort of crap he has to go through as a teacher. He finds a newfound respect for his teachers in the past because he thinks he must have been a right shit to them when he was little. With one last burst of energy filled with anger, annoyance and agitation, he grabs her by the shirt and shouts at her. "You damned brat!" The insolence of this child, really— "You… always trying to be the center of attention. What's so great about it huh? Does risking your life and making others worry make you satisfied! Well does it?"
She pushes his arms away and scrambles back until she's sitting on the ground, on her legs, with one hand on her thigh and the other dashing the tears away from her eyes. He's ready to half-smack and half-comfort the kid but her eyes are fixed on her thigh and her fists are gripped so tightly over the material of her skirt that her knuckles have turned white.
Her voice is choked and bitter. "Y-You don't understand. This academy is like a cage. My alice… nobody understands. Nobody knows. I'm… I'm the only one in class that never gets letters so my parents… they're sick!" There's a tremble to her bottom lip and it tears his throat up knowing her parents abandoned her… she will never get letters.
"That's the only reason they couldn't write me letters and… and if my parents are sick, then who will take care of my little brothers? I'm the big sister. I need to take care of them."
She's crying softly and the anguish in the furrow of her eyebrows and the tremble in her small body makes his heart drop to his feet because this… he doesn't expect this. Not from her. She has this kind of thing in her? He has sorely underestimated the kids at this academy.
"You… you wouldn't understand!" her voice is childish and bitter. "I have to go to them! I have to take care of them. I have to—"
She's half-delusional from being electrocuted by the school's electric barrier and she's still half-talking about escaping to get to her sick parents and to her vulnerable siblings… and Izumi merely looks at her with a heavy heart and a rock in his throat because she's kneeling on the ground with blood on her knees, scratches on her cheeks, tears still spilling from her eyes and an exhaustion around her eyes that no ten-year old should ever wear so early in their lives.
She's so pitiful and strong and defeated and beautiful.
He tastes surrender in his mouth as she collapses in his arms in a dead sleep. Looking down at her, he thinks, I will do it, Brother; I will take up your challenge and keep the light in these children burning. I will never let it die out.
As he starts the slow walk back to the academy with Yuka Azumi still strapped to his back, he thinks he will do anything to protect this girl and the kids at this academy. He will do it with everything he has.
Twenty-nine years old
It's faintly light and he's lying on his back.
She smells sweet, like flowers, and it makes his heart thunder in his chest until he can feel it in his throat. She is still breathing heavily and her skin feels like the softest rose petals in the world. He wishes they could stay like this, forever, but it won't last. He's being thrown out of the academy and they won't be able to see each other again, not for a while. But he does not feel sorry for confessing, because he has never pretended to be strong and he certainly isn't strong enough to deny his true feelings.
He looks down at her. Her head is lying on his arm and she's looking up at him with large, bittersweet brown eyes. She really is beautiful, inside and out. "I'm not your sensei anymore," he laughs softly, as his hand travels the length of her smooth back. "I wouldn't be able to do that with you if I was still your sensei."
She blushes and closes her eyes with a glow to her cheeks, despite the dim moonlight streaming through his windows. "Let's make a promise, sensei," she says softly as she grabs him by the hand and presses a soft kiss to his palm. "Let's take care of ourselves… and when I graduate, we'll be together again."
They are simple words, but the enormity is in the frantic beat of his heart.
"To make your dream come true?" he asks softly, remembering how much she wants a family of children who will never feel the loneliness she does. She nods slightly and he kisses her on the forehead. "For that, I'll definitely promise you."
She hums in her throat and it's a sweet, innocent sound. "As long as I have you… as long as we can live together," she's lost in thought. "Just to live with the person I love… we'd have kids and they would never be lonely, never want for anything, and we would always be by their sides, always together, always happy. That's always been my biggest dream… to have a family like that." She laughs into his arm, suddenly shy. "It's so silly."
"It's not silly." Not if you want that with me.
Yuka looks up at him with a small, tired smile. "What's your dream, sensei?"
Her eyes are drooping and she looks like she's already asleep. When he tucks a strand of her brown hair behind her ear, she cracks a brown eye open and nudges him to respond. He merely laughs softly. The answer is simple. "You're my dream, Yuka. I just want to be with you."
The biggest, sweetest smile crosses her lips. "Then let's hope both of our dreams come true."
The handful of words makes his heart stir in his chest and desire course through his body. He presses a kiss against her soft lips and she blinks at him in surprise before another blush steals across her cheeks. He kisses her again before he lets his lips press against her collarbone. "Once more," he says softly, his voice heavy with desire he's never felt with anybody else, "Let me have you once more, Yuka."
She cups his face in between her small hands, looks him in the eye and kisses him softly on the lips. "Sensei, I love you."
Twenty-nine years old
It's dark and he's lying on his back.
There's a dark itch, a foreign kind of pain, that spreads from his arm to his chest and vaguely, he can hear his harsh breathing in his ears and the crescendo of his heart reaching its peak. Vaguely, he knows what's happening but in the back of his mind, he thinks it isn't supposed to be like this. He has plans, plans with Yuka, plans for their kids, plans to fulfill their dreams together.
He promised, dammit!
He feels like he's cheating by leaving her when she needs him most. He promised her, didn't he? He said he would protect her. He said he would always be by her side. He said they would have a family together. He said they would meet again outside of these academy walls to make their dreams come true. He said so many things… he wanted to follow through. How could this happen at a time like this?
She is already going through a tough time, and yet he…
Yuka, I'm sorry.
He pictures Yuka saying those words, but when he finally cracks his eyes open, it is Rei with terror in his eyes and the Principal is standing behind him with cold indifference in his. He can't feel a thing in his body, but his heart fighting weakly in his chest, and feelings of anger, bitterness and disappointment twist inside him so ferociously, he can barely breathe. All of his dreams, all of his plans… they are reduced to nothing at the hands of a man so greedy and selfish and wrong in more ways than he can count.
"You…" he spits with as much fire and disgust as he can muster. "You won't get your way."
His vision blurs for a second before it clears. He looks at the ceiling with Rei's voice just a distant sound at the back of his head. Vaguely, he thinks the ceiling is different than the one two hours ago as he lay with Yuka, warm and real, in his arms. He feels the warmth of her smile and pictures those last moments with her, together so perfectly, and feels his dying heart warm for just a second when he remembers the vision of a girl with brown pigtails and eyes like Yuka's calling out to him.
It's ridiculous, but he sees that girl and Yuka and pictures them to be the perfect family, wishes they could have been like that… the perfect family Yuka always dreams about. As his vision blurs, he closes his eyes and sees that image, bright and real against his eyelids, and pretends with his very last breath, that that could have been them, a dream come true.
Sensei, I love you.
With his last breath, he sees Yuka, and it makes him want to smile.