At the door to one of the classrooms on the first floor, he waved a reply to the teacher’s thanks for his help. Some of the younger students were having troubles with basic cooking skills. Kuro had offered to lend some of his free time to tutor them. With the next class about to start, he was off with a sprint.
The hallways of the school were busy with kids running between classes. Kuro was a part of that crowd. And for once, he actually felt like he was. A small smile danced within his eyes. Social Studies was next and they had a group project. Normally, that would have been a terrifying scenario. Today, he was all smiles!
Around the corner though, his feet came to a stop. The smile was gone.
Silas and Bryson were ahead toying with their newest victim. Guilt had Kuro watching. The kid was younger than they were. Someone Kuro didn’t know. Someone who was even slighter than he was. In so many ways, they were very similar.
Kuro looked around. Others saw. They saw and they did nothing. Just like he’d experienced, no one was going to step in when bullies were involved. The kid’s back hit the lockers hard because of the shove received. Kuro winced in sympathy.
“I’ve got Dasai,” he whispered to himself.
Hands trembling, Kuro moved. There was nothing he could do. He wasn’t Dasai, he didn’t have that kind of presence or strength.
Bryson laughed as Silas pushed the kid again. This time, there were no lockers behind to stop the fall. Kuro’s arms caught the trembling shoulders, stopping the imminent fall. Pale blue eyes sparkled behind tears.
Silas was pissed as he muttered an expletive.
Despite his fear, Kuro addressed the kid in his arms, “are you okay?”
People around them watched furtively, giving them space in case this turned into a brawl. Knowing that it would if Dasai were around had Silas thinking before acting.
The kid nodded. Pale, blush colored lipstick brought subtle focus to plump lips. Charcoal mascara and eyeshadow accented those pale blue eyes. Long hair was curled cutely around round cheeks. The skirt showed off knobby knees that struggled to find the strength to stand. The blouse, that was pulled partially open with Silas’ rough handling, revealed a flat, young, male chest. Kuro helped fix the clothing.
“Piss off, worm,” Silas growled at him.
Not long ago, that snarl would have been enough to send Kuro running. But not long ago, it would have been Kuro receiving the brunt of Silas’ anger and Bryson’s cruelty. It wasn’t okay for him to hide behind Dasai at the expense of someone else.
“This little he-she is ours now,” Bryson tried to sound tough.
Strangely, he no longer did. Kuro turned to the kid, “my name’s Kuro.”
“Um, Santanah,” was the timid reply that reminded Kuro so much of himself.
“May I ask what your preferred pronouns are?”
To the side, Silas and Bryson stared with skewed expressions. Some of the people around them were slowing down and taking note of the exchange.
“It’s strange hearing the conversation from this side,” Kuro smiled brightly.
“What side?” Silas found himself pulled in despite himself.
Kuro addressed Silas with that same smile, “from Dasai’s side.”
Silas turned a shade lighter.
He turned back to Santanah, “I’m a lot like you when I talk to other people. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone. But, hiding how I feel only annoys him. So, he pushes me to say things out loud. Could you tell me your preferred pronouns?”
Santanah looked dazzled, “she/her.”
Kuro turned to Silas and Bryson, “this is Santanah, and she prefers to be addressed with those pronouns.”
“Listen worm,” Silas’ fist had a hold of Kuro’s shirt, tossing him into the lockers. Silas leaned in close, “you can hide behind that psycho Dasai. We’ll let it happen. But you interfere again with our business, and he’ll be too late to stop what we do to you.”
Kuro removed Silas’ hand, “I hope that you’ll be Santanah’s friend and not her bully. But she’s my friend now, so I’ll know how you treat her.”
Silas’ fist shook. On his face, conflicting emotions were at war as Kuro walked away.
“Come on,” he touched Santanah’s shoulder. “I’ll walk you to class. What grade are you in?”
“Uh, ten,” the breathless reply came out.
They walked off, leaving Silas and Bryson behind. Kuro didn’t look back as he walked his new friend to class, so he wasn’t sure what was going on. But, maybe it was best not to look back.
“They tend to hang on, like a dog with a new chew toy,” Kuro explained. “Don’t be alone. That’s how they get you. If you’re going to be late or alone in anything, just give me a call. Here’s my number.”
He wrote it down on Santanah’s book.
“If I can’t come, I’ll send a friend.”
With Santanah safely at her classroom, Kuro moved with haste to find his own. Taking the most direct route, he raced up the back stairs. When he walked through the doors, the first person his gaze spotted was Dasai. He was standing outside the classroom talking with Emmett and Darcy.
Dasai spotted him. Narrowed eyes pierced Kuro with accusation. Still, Dasai’s arms moved to hold him without a thought as he approached. He loved that!
“Strike one, trash” Dasai interrupted himself to say that.
Succumbing to the anxiety he’d been repressing, Kuro nestled his face against Dasai’s shoulder, hiding his expression away from them all. The response was instant as an arm moved around Kuro’s back, with a hand sliding into his hair to hold the back of his head closer. Silent was the reassurance.
“Are,” Emmett hesitated half a moment. “Are you two finally dating?”
“This conversation has nothing to do with you.”
From the protection of Dasai’s shoulder, Kuro smiled, “we talked about it.”
“You talked,” Dasai sounded annoyed.
Kuro looked up. There was a silent question lifting his brows. Dasai gave back scowl of warning for saucy inquiry. Kuro sucked in his bottom lip.
Releasing the lip, he turned around, “do we have any idea what the group project is going to be?”
“Hey,” Emmett whined!
With a soft snort of cruel laughter, Dasai walked Kuro into class.
The class was split up into groups of their choosing. Desks were pulled together to give the groups a chance to talk things out.
“A social experiment,” Darcy was giving this some serious consideration. “That’s not very clear.”
“I have an idea,” Kuro spoke up softly.
Darcy, Emmett, and Dasai were looking at him.
He brought up his courage to express an idea that had only today popped into his mind, “I want to start a club here at school.”
“Not interested,” Dasai put his chin into the palm of his hand. His eyes were staring off through the window. Likely, his mind was at the beach or the workshop.
“Dasai,” Darcy chided him.
“Too much work,” he shrugged without interest.
Kuro chuckled, “actually, I don’t think it would require a lot of setup. And you only need to help with the theoretical. That’s the assignment.”
“But you want to put it into action?” Emmett saw this. “What’s your idea, sweetie?”
“I want to create an anti-bullying group here at school.”
Dasai looked sidelong at him. Suddenly, the look shifted indicating that the train of thought had changed course. He couldn’t stop the blush that surfaced, which amused Dasai.
Oblivious, Darcy was already onboard, “that’s a wonderful idea! And a great social experiment. If we actually put it into effect, we could change the way our school is!”
“How does this club look to you?” Emmett inquired just before taking a loud bite of a raw vegetable.
“Well, I think anyone should be able to join. It would be a safe place for people to get to meet others who might share their experiences.” There was a slight hesitation through the next words, “I think having a diverse group would be best.”
Dasai’s gaze narrowed.
“People who understand the perspectives of..those involved in bullying,” his hands fidgeted.
Seeing through the veiled words, Dasai slammed his fist onto the desk frightening Darcy and Emmett. Kuro looked down nervously.
“Hell no,” his command was low and absolute!
“They could offer…”
“Don’t give a rat’s ass if they could. They’re not,” Dasai looked fierce.
“If it could help others,” Kuro kept trying, but the strength of his voice was diminishing.
Dasai slammed his open hand onto the desk as he stood up.
“Guys,” Darcy was concerned.
Kuro’s eyes glimmered up at Dasai.
Emmett sat back, enjoying the show as he nibbled on his snacks.
Intimidating was the glare Dasai cast down, “get up.”
Kuro did as ordered. He was having a hard time tempering his excitement with the sense of duty he was self-imposing. “There will be others like me. Like Santanah.”
“Move it,” Dasai was already walking away.
“Kuro?” Darcy was watching them.
“It’s okay,” he smiled reassurance at her as he stuffed books into his bag. “I really want to go with. We’ll figure the rest out later. How about supper tonight? I’ll make it!”
“But?” Darcy was worried.
Bottom lip between teeth, Kuro ran off.
“I love watching those two,” Emmett laughed.
“Why?” Darcy was lost. “What’s going on? Why is Dasai mad? Kuro didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I wonder who Santanah is?” Emmett picked up another baby carrot.
Frustrated she gestured at him.
Looking her way, he grinned, “they left to go make out.”
“Wha..?” she blanched. “You don’t know that.”
“Everyone but you knows that,” their classmate next to them informed, eliciting a laugh out of everyone around.
“Can we talk about it?” Kuro followed Dasai up the stairwell.
“No,” the reply was final.
“But what if bullying can be stopped at the source just by opening up communication?” perhaps Dasai just didn’t see his plan.
“I want to help others,” he continued anyhow.
“Find a better way,” he shrugged.
They made it up to the roof. The heavy door banged shut behind them, but there was no worry about it locking. On a constant basis, the kids at school tampered with it.
Kuro took a hold of Dasai’s arm to pull him around. One hand took a hold of Dasai’s shirt near his throat. The other landed upon his neck to pull the two of them together. Their lips eagerly met. There was a sigh that whispered out of Kuro’s nose. He needed Dasai’s strength to help hold him up. Dasai’s fingers slid up under the hoodie.
“Thought you wanted to talk?” Dasai asked between kisses.
“I’m sorry. Is this okay?” the strength and courage Kuro’d summoned for this exchange vanished when confronted.
Dasai’s eyes glimmered. At the elbows he brought Kuro’s arms up, pinning him to the outer wall of the stairwell outcrop. Leaning in, he touched his nose to Kuro’s neck, “if you want something, take it without apology.”
With Kuro pinned, he could take as he wanted. Pulling kisses and biting at his neck. Kuro tried his best to engage, but Dasai was now in control.
“You guys were gone all class,” Emmett pointed out with amusement.
They were walking home together as a group. Seemed to happen more often now that Kuro was a part of it.
“This one’s a talker,” Dasai cast Kuro a look. “But I think we worked out the tension.”
Without missing a beat, Kuro responded, “might need to talk more later.”
Dasai gave in with a sigh, “all night if you have to.”
Emmett looked upon the two of them with a suspicious gaze. But both Dasai and Kuro were composed.
“It’s so good to hear you two working things out like adults,” Darcy approved. “Emmett seems to think you two left to kiss.”
“Make out,” Emmett corrected. He readjusted his bag to fit more comfortably on his shoulders. “That’s what couples do.”
“Who the fuck said we were dating?”
“You did,” Emmett’s hands came out of his pockets to gesture helplessly.
Kuro added casual insight, “I only said we talked.”
“And I didn’t say anything at all,” Dasai shook his head.
Emmett glared petulantly, “you two play way too well off each other. Suddenly, I’m not sure I do want you dating.”
Deciding not to play into this, Darcy carried the conversation in a new direction, “what time do you want us over tonight, Kuro?”
Dasai pointed out with boredom, “I don’t.”
Emmett held a vicious grin, “Kuro made us a promise.”
Kuro could only shrug.
“It’s gonna put a hold on that talk,” he pointed out.
Kuro nodded, “tomorrow then guys.”
Dasai disguised a snort of laughter by turning it into a cough.
“No way!” Darcy was obstinate, “you promised us. Besides, we need to talk about the project. And by the way, I don’t want tacos one more night. My family’s on a weird kick.”
“Too bad, ‘cuz that’s what we’re making,” Dasai told her.
“It is not,” she refused to fall for it. “We’ll be over for seven. Text if you want us to bring anything.”
“Isn’t it good manners to bring something when intruding?” Dasai questioned.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a rule,” Emmett nodded. “At least, that’s what my nan used to tell us.”
“Kuro?” a soft, timid voice had them all turning around.
In the bright afternoon sunshine, a young girl in a gym uniform stood alone. Fearfully she clutched notebooks to her chest. Tears were in the large eyes that were locked upon Kuro.
“Santanah,” Kuro moved towards her. “What happened?”
“They took my clothes during gym and cut them up. They said I can’t wear skirts anymore ‘cuz I’m not…really…a girl.”
“You can wear any clothes you want, you’re still a girl,” Kuro stood before her.
Shocked at the simple statement, Santanah stared with an open mouth.
“It’s who you are inside, right?” he questioned with a gentle smile.
She nodded softly.
“Guys, this is Santan…ah”
Dasai was standing before him. He gripped Kuro’s chin in his hand, forcing Kuro to look up at him. In his other hand, he snatched the notebook out of Santanah’s hands. Kuro’s phone number in Kuro’s handwriting stood out.
“You’re going to do a hell of a lot better than ‘uhm’, you little shit,” Dasai warned him.
“She just needed a little help earlier, and…”
“Strike two,” Dasai wasn’t letting his chin go.
Santanah reacted with fear, “K-Kuro was helping me, that’s all. Two big guys were pushing me and he stepped in. He just wanted to be sure that I was okay if I found myself alone. That’s why he wrote his number.”
“Two guys?” Dasai questioned him. Kuro winced.
Emmett groaned, “you didn’t!”
Kuro’s voice was timid, “no one else was helping.”
“That’s strike three, trash,” the threat came across low and cold.
“Can we help her first?” Kuro was nearly breathless.
“Stalling for time isn’t going to make it easier on you later.”
“But if she’s alone, they’ll do something worse.” Kuro cast an imploring look upwards, “please!”
Dasai and Kuro held each other’s gazes. Silent communication was exchanged, leaving it up in the air as to who would win.
Darcy stepped in, “I’m Darcy and this is Emmett. Don’t pay any mind to these two. We’re headed home. Would you like to walk with us?”
“Is that okay?” Santanah glanced at Kuro in question.
With his chin still in Dasai’s grip, it looked silly asking him for confirmation. Still, Kuro grinned assurance. Dasai let his chin go, and tossed the book back at Santanah. The group began to walk with Santanah safely tucked in between the four of them.
Kuro took it upon himself, “Santanah’s in grade ten. Her preferred pronouns are she and her.”
“Oh, transitioning maybe?” Emmett was alight with interest.
“My uncle is trans,” Emmett shared. “Took him forty years to figure out that his depression had so much to do with him not being able to be true to himself. Is your family supportive?”
Again, she nodded, “they’re very supportive.”
“That’s good,” Darcy smiled. “How about your classmates?”
“They took her clothes and destroyed them,” Dasai pointed out.
“Oh yah,” she grimaced. And then defended herself, “but that wasn’t all of them! A few bullies don’t make up the class. Is there anyone that’s supportive?”
Santanah shook her head.
“What about your teacher?” Darcy was hopeful.
The downward cast gaze told them the answer.
“Maybe they just need some education,” that hope wasn’t vanishing. Darcy’s eyes lit up, “we’re starting up an anti-bullying group!”
“It’s just an idea, Darcy,” Kuro hesitated.
Dasai snickered at his expense. Kuro cast up a dry glance.
“It’s a great idea,” she endorsed. “And we’re going to get it up and running. Santanah, why don’t you join us? We’re headed to Kuro’s tonight to talk it over. Come with!”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” she held her hand. “Kuro said it himself; the more diverse our group is, the stronger it’ll be. I’ll walk you home today, and then I’ll know where you live so I can come pick you up before we go over. Oh, I’m so glad we have another girl in our group.”
“Well, we’ve established that you’re a part of our group now no matter what you wanted,” Emmett chuckled good-naturedly. “So, do you have any questions for us?”
“Um, do each of you have preferred pronouns?” Santanah wondered.
With a smile, Kuro looked at Dasai, “his.”
“Nice try, but not enough to get you off,” Dasai grinned.
Kuro bit his lip, giving his predicament thought.
“You should just ease up,” Darcy sighed. “Kuro didn’t do anything wrong. He helped Santanah. You should be praising him.”
“He knows what he did,” Dasai had his gaze locked on Kuro. “And he’ll figure out what he needs to do to correct it.”
Keys came out of Dasai’s jacket pocket. He began to break off from the group.
Kuro looked hopeful, “are you going to…?”
“Told you,” Dasai gripped Kuro’s chin to give him a passionate kiss. Kuro was puddy in that light grip.
“I knew it! You two are dating!” Emmett was vindicated.
On that passionate note, Dasai continued his thought, “you haven’t done enough to get off yet. So, you can walk it off now.”
“Dasai!” A pout was met with cruel amusement.
“I feel like that was a lot of inuendo,” Emmett smirked at the two of them.
Dasai walked off leaving the four of them to carry on without him. Kuro watched. His pout turned into focused determination.
“I caused you trouble. I’m sorry!” Santanah’s brows knitted with worry.
“Don’t worry,” Emmett had his arm on her shoulders, “Kuro likes it.”
“But?” she hesitated.
Kuro was back. He grinned with a rarely shown confidence, “it’s okay. Dasai sucks at punishments.”
“I don’t understand,” Santanah admitted. They continued walking.
“Neither do I,” Darcy let out her frustration on a sigh. “Boy, it’s nice to have someone who understands how hard it is being surrounded by these idiots.”
Santanah looked dazed.
Kuro kept pace with Emmett as they walked home. Though Emmett’s chattering did have a calming effect, Kuro wasn’t listening at all. Something important was weighing on his mind and he wasn’t sure how to approach it.
As they neared the corner that would separate them, it was either now or not at all. His hands balled into fists as he lifted his head with an intake of breath that shored his courage. Silently, he told himself that he could do this.
“Emmett?” he stopped walking.
Emmett stopped too, looking at him. Patient as always, “what’s up, sweetie?”
“I want to know,” he gathered the courage to make eye contact, “what sex is like.”
Emmett stopped breathing.
“And I’d really like to do it well,” fear-touched hope shone in earnest eyes.