Fujishima hesitated as he pulled into the empty schoolyard. He checked the time on his PDA, his face taking on a worried cast. It was only a minute past the time he had arrived yesterday.

Had Eric left without him? Shizume City wasn't the safest place. In fact, most would consider it overly dangerous and even cruel. Fujishima could never gauge Eric's opinion of him but hopefully it wasn't so poor he would have gone on alone.

No, he was being foolish. School had probably just not let out yet.

ØØØ

At the touch of a hand to his shoulder, Fujishima's eyes snapped open. Flames nearly singed the person unwise enough to wake a Red Clansman before he recognized a swatch of blue out of the corner of one eye and reigned them back in. Eric.

"I'm done," Eric said with a one-shouldered shrug.

The area around the school was full of departing students. While waiting for Eric, Fujishima must have fallen asleep against the handlebars of his bike. His actual bike, because Eric didn't like his motorcycle. He thought it too noisy and riding on it made him dizzy.

He took Eric on his bike once. Much cajoling and wheedling was needed for Eric to even consider approaching the loud thing, but Fujishima got him on it in the end. The experience wasn't amazing or wonderful, or anything, mundane really, except for the part where Eric stopped trying to choke all the air out of him and relaxed. He had pressed his cheek against Fujishima's shoulder; his eyes scrunched shut and his blond hair whipping about when Fujishima looked back. For a moment, he pretended; then, he pushed that line of thinking away and enjoyed what he had, which was a very attractive blond clinging to him as they roared down the city streets.

"How was it?" Fujishima asked, pushing his bike along as they made their way to a convenience store on the west side of the city. He would have taken Eric back to the group home where he was staying- it wasn't that much farther- if Eric hadn't made it clear that he didn't want Fujishima anywhere near the place.

"Fine."

Fujishima didn't press further. If Eric didn't want to talk about his day, he wouldn't make him.

It had been difficult finding a school that was both appropriate for and tolerable to Eric. Not too many places were willing to take a taciturn teenager with no legal guardian who read at a third grade level, which, incidentally, was the last time Eric had been to school.

Honami, Anna's aunt (who for some reason couldn't take care of Anna- Kusanagi and Totsuka hedged about the specifics), had introduced them to this place. A school for Japanese as a second language, they got Eric in with lies. Kusanagi had obtained very official-looking if very false paperwork for Eric. The official story was he'd spent the past seven years at an international school in Kanagawa Prefecture that taught exclusively in English.

So far, Eric had been here three months, and he seemed to like it. He didn't really talk to Fujishima about it. Fujishima guessed that, like the group home, he was too embarrassed.

Eric didn't want pity- indeed, he wouldn't have accepted it- but he would take charity when he had no other option. He was a runaway, technically legally bound to Hikawa. If Kusanagi messed up the paperwork in any way, he would be returned to the gang. Of this, Fujishima was very certain.

Fujishima would do anything to make sure Eric wasn't forced back into captivity. He still didn't know what Eric wanted out of life, but there were basic human rights and needs that Hikawa had denied him.

Sometimes, Eric got mad at him. He would get huffy and not tell Fujishima why until he finally snapped and yelled, "I'm not some pet project for you to play around with in your spare time!" It hurt when Eric said that, mostly because of the emphasis on pet. Fujishima didn't want Eric to be his pet. He didn't really even have pets. He mostly cared for strays until they got healthy and then found a secure home for them. Only the really sick ones stayed with him for a long time. But what really made the words sting was that helping Eric wasn't a completely altruistic act.

Fujishima liked Eric a lot- too much, in fact. So much that Chitose and Kusanagi-san teased him about it when Eric wasn't around to hear. They were careful to keep silent when Eric was around, however, because no one knew how the blond, captivating, traumatized foreigner would react if he overheard.

Like all the abused animals, Fujishima had ever cared for, Eric was at once fragile and wildly temperamental. The slightest things resulted in a variety of unpredictable emotions. But Eric was no pet. Fujishima had no intention of turning Eric into one, merely teaching him a few manners and guiding him back to who he had been before Hikawa. Because Eric was a gorgeous, melodramatic teenager with blue eyes and long, blond hair who Fujishima could barely reach but would give anything to keep trying.

An easy silence settled between them as they walked down the street. It was cool out, the beginnings of autumn turning the leaves and the air. Fujishima wondered if he should look into finding Eric longer pants. His ankles were very nice and well worth showing off, but they had to be cold.

"You hear that?" Eric asked suddenly, whirling around.

"Hear what?"

But Eric just shook his head.

He was edgy after that, looking over his shoulder every few minutes. For his part, Fujishima didn't notice anything unusual. Of course, he wasn't expecting to. He'd encountered enough abused animals to know they often jumped at nothing. Eric wasn't an animal, but Fujishima was more interested in veterinary science than human psychology and there were a lot of parallels, anyway. At least, in watching Eric, Fujishima had come to find a lot of parallels.

They hurt you at first, abused animals. They're scared; they think you're dangerous, out to hurt them. You couldn't blame them for the scratches or the bites.

Eric still carried that pocketknife. He'd used it since. Fujishima felt almost certain he wasn't going to use it now against a foe that was more memory than substance. He really didn't know with Eric, whether he was dangerous or not. He wasn't healing as fast as a stray animal would. He wasn't healing the same way, either.

Eric said it was because he was mutter, mutter, something in English. Kusanagi couldn't give Fujishima an explanation when he repeated it to him, only told Fujishima his pronunciation needed work.

So there was that.

ØØØ

Fujishima had always been good with animals, instinctively knowing how to deal with stray dogs and cats, even horses. Be calm, kind, gentle. Give them something to eat, somewhere warm and dry to sleep. Make them feel safe. Let them come out of their shells slowly.

He knew how to take care of all sorts of creatures, knew how to give them what they needed.

He had no idea how to make an animal human.

So he helped Eric however he could- a lesson in manners here, a new pair of pants there- always futilely hoping for a sign that Eric wanted to be around him, too.

Sometimes, Fujishima couldn't be around the bar. He had school, family, responsibilities. It was hard enough keeping the fact that he was a Clansman from his family. He couldn't exactly bring Eric around for Sunday dinner. Normal people didn't carry enormous knives in their pockets.

He worried when he couldn't be there. So long as Eric was quiet, Izumo would let him sit for hours without offering him anything to eat or even noticing him. Their King didn't acknowledge his Clansmen most of the time. Anna kept to herself. Dewa could be a jerk, though he was rarely around. Kamamoto would do little more than watch quietly and intervene when Yata got too heated.

Surprisingly, Fujishima didn't worry about Yata. Eric loved antagonizing Yata. Fujishima didn't know why, but each little flare-up offered a glimpse of the personality Eric had hidden somewhere. If they ever did get into a fight, Eric had that knife.

Yata had never been good at dodging knives.

ØØØ

When they reached the konbini, Fujishima hung around for a few minutes. Eric seemed to be waiting for him to leave, but Fujishima didn't want to, not that he had a good reason why. He decided he needed to do some deep soul-searching if that was the extent of his self-awareness.

"Okay, see you," he said finally, feeling acutely awkward.

After staring at him for a few seconds with an expression that might have been amusement as much as disapproval, Eric shoved his hands deep into his pockets and walked away. Fujishima tried not to feel too disappointed because, wow, apparently he didn't know what he was supposed to be disappointed about. Soul-searching was definitely in order.

With a confused expression covering his face, Fujishima mounted his bike and set off. It was getting late; he should probably start on his Parasitology paper when he got home. It was due at the end of his week, and his professor didn't offer extensions lightly. Why had he decided to wait for Eric again? He absolutely hadn't had the time.

Eric could use someone to walk him home, a niggling voice in his head said, nearly making Fujishima turn around. He barely left the compound for seven years. He doesn't know how dangerous it can be.

It sounded nice, but that was a load of bull. Eric could take care of himself. More importantly, Fujishima was almost certainly less capable of defending Eric than Eric was. Fujishima wasn't a cautious person or even a necessarily sensible one. He didn't carry weapons or any sort of protection other than his Aura, which he wasn't comfortable using lightly. But Fujishima had grown up in Shizume City. The soiled, poorly lit streets instilled no fear in him; he had walked them so many times. He trusted that they wouldn't turn on him for…really poorly fleshed out reasons, honestly. It wasn't like he picked fights or insulted people or had anything about himself that would cause people to particularly notice him. Animals liked him, and people looked past him. There was little for him to fear.

Accordingly, he wasn't expecting a group of four full-grown men to jump him in broad daylight when he placed his bike on the ground and followed pitiful mewling down an alleyway.