The hit that struck Kuro’s cheek felt like cement against his face. Before he could feel the pain, he was on the hard ground of the schoolyard. Four sets of feet were within his line of sight when the pain hit.
Silas knelt before him, “you shouldn’t have walked away from us, worm.”
Fear had him scuttling away.
But a fifth set of feet stood behind him. He looked up. Faces he recognized but didn’t really know. All of them bullies, they’d kept away from Kuro because he had once belonged to Silas and Bryson.
The one at his back looked down, “your stupid club is making things harder for us.”
“I told you before,” from folded arms that rarely did the work themselves, Bryson gave the reminder, “it sucks not having your lacky nearby. Thanks to you, our lackies are starting to be hard to find.”
It was the reason for the others to be here.
“Pick him up,” Silas instructed as he stood up.
The one behind Kuro lifted him by the hair. Desperately, Kuro pulled at the hand causing pain. He was helpless to stop this.
“We’re not doing this here. Let’s take him down to the weir. See if our little worm can swim.”
Kuro’s eyes grew wide, “no!”
“What’s the matter?” the one at his back asked. “Your boyfriend’s already there. You gonna make him swim alone?”
All color washed away from Kuro.
The others were laughing as Silas taunted, “you too conceited to think that what you do doesn’t have consequences?”
“Dasai,” his voice broke!
“Shouldn’t have let him get involved with you, worm,” Bryson’s pleasure held a cruel edge. “Isn’t it better to suffer alone than to bring someone else in?”
“Now what happens to him is your fault,” Silas continued the thought.
“Maybe, maybe if you end this stupid little club of yours, we’ll rethink you taking a swim,” one of the others said.
The one holding his hair, “too late for your boyfriend though.”
But it was all he could say before Silas slammed his fist into Kuro’s stomach. It would have been enough to send him to the ground if not for the hand in his hair.
“You know,” Silas looked so smug, “I’m not feeling very forgiving. That asshole, psycho can swim alone. Worm here can go dig the grave he’s responsible for.”
“By hand,” Bryson laughed!
“Only one problem with your little scheme,” Tam stood before them as they turned. She was leaning against the side of the school, resting upon her shoulder blades and her folded hands behind her back. Next to her, her team moved in to create a barrier. She looked cool and collected as her head tilted towards them.
Two heads connected with an audible crack sending both crashing to the ground. The one holding Kuro by the hair was taken out at the knee and elbowed in the face as he fell.
Tam finished her thought, “you forgot how many friends Kuro and Dasai have.”
Kuro was pulled to the side as Tam spoke. Tears poured from his eyes. Pressing hands to lips, Kuro closed his eyes as Dasai held him.
Dasai addressed Silas and Bryson, “I warned you.”
Tam stood upright, “don’t bother yourself, Dasai. Let us show these two how a real crew handles things.”
When Dasai let him go, Kuro looked around. The entire shop class was here! He felt himself stepping back. Vince’s hand upon his shoulder had him jumping. The smile was warm and friendly, mean to reassure him. If they hadn’t…
Dasai walked over to Bryson and Silas. He had a hold of the ring finger of Silas’ dominant hand. Before he could flinch, Dasai snapped the finger back dislocating it. Silas scream rang through the school grounds!
With a cruel edge, Vince spoke up, “looks like you’ll be sitting on the sidelines of the big game this weekend. Too bad because I heard scouts will be there.”
When Silas moved to attack, the others closed in. They weren’t going to let Dasai get hurt.
Released from the hand upon his shoulder, Kuro ran! It wasn’t that he was scared of what Dasai had done, or of what the shop class would do. Even if he should, Kuro wasn’t about to try to stop any of it. He was running from the only thing that actually terrified him.
His feet sounded loud to his ears as he ran up the street. That and the pounding of his heart were the only sounds he heard. He hated this reaction, and himself for having it. An apology stammered out as he rushed past people he couldn’t properly see. He didn’t know where to go, but his feet seemed to know.
They took him to a bus stop. Blindly reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his wallet. Change for the bus was in hand as it pulled up. Following the others on, he let the change clatter loudly into the receptacle. Then, he claimed a seat at the front where only one other person sat. Keeping his head down kept anyone from making eye contact with him. He didn’t want to explain these tears or fight through them. The back of his wrist ran under his eyes.
Distance and the rhythmic motion of the bus combined to calm his fears. It didn’t calm the voice inside. He let it drone on, repeating the same words over and over. Even if there were times when he believed he deserved peace, the truth was inescapable. Shouldn’t he know that by now? And no amount of running was going to change his truth.
He made a transfer. By now, he knew where his feet had been taking him. It was a long way from home. A long way from Dasai. And a long way from where they started as far as time went. So, why wasn’t the truth far away too?
Late afternoon sunshine hit him when he stepped off the bus. The bus drove away as he stared ahead, down the street. Memories calling to him made it difficult to move his feet. Children’s laughter, an active spray park, parents encouraging; it was all so normal. And something Kuro had only ever glimpsed from the outside. Something he didn’t deserve.
“Just like I don’t deserve him,” he felt the tears falling with those words. “My inner voice is stronger than me right now.”
He set foot upon the grass-filled park. He moved past young trees that hadn’t been here when they were kids. A dog ran after a ball, bits of grass flying up behind him. A baseball game was in full play in the distance. Even from here, the cheering could be heard. He stopped walking to watch as children played excitedly within the spray park.
“You’ve got a fucking lot of nerve running away from me like that.”
Dasai’s voice spun him about in surprise! Wide eyes were buried into the warm chest that he was pulled into. The world, so cruel and heartless, couldn’t reach him here. And for a moment, Kuro let himself cling to that protection.
“How did you know where I was? I only just figured it out,” he sobbed!
Dasai’s hand smoothed his hair, “I know you. Someday, you’d better realize I’m the only one that gets to punish you.”
He nodded, not at what Dasai said but at what Dasai had understood about him. Face turned down, he did his best to push Dasai away. He turned, “get away from me.”
Arms moved protectively over his stomach. Dasai would chase him down if he tried to leave. So, he needed Dasai to understand. The ground was in focus because he wasn’t strong enough to say this to Dasai’s face, “GO!”
Perhaps it was only because of the unexpected ferocity of the word that he was letting Kuro walk away.
“You have to get away from me,” Kuro’s voice pled over his shoulder. “I can’t…”
“Kuro,” he had a hold of Kuro’s arm.
He pulled at fingers, trying to break the hold, “Dasai!”
He couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
“Please just leave me,” the plea was soft and broken.
There was only silence from Dasai. Yet, Kuro could hear every word that wasn’t being said. Holding onto the fingers he was trying to pry off, Kuro caved. Slowly, he turned back.
Wrapped within Dasai’s embrace, Kuro pathetically clung to him, pressing his face to Dasai’s chest. From the safety of that chest, he whispered, “I can’t protect you.”
“Who the hell said I wanted you to?”
“I heard what they said,” Dasai softly cut him off.
“Please protect yourself because I can’t! Just leave me behind,” he couldn’t stop sobbing!
“Is that really what you want?”
“What I want…” Kuro trembled. A stuttering breath shook his shoulders and his voice, “what I want, is for you to be proud of the person standing next to you. I want that person to be strong, like you. To be who you need so that you can smile because you look really good when you smile. And I want…”
“Yah?” the word was whispered into his hair.
“I want that person standing next to you to be me,” was his broken confession.
“So, what about what I deserve?”
He hiccupped, looking up at Dasai.
With the cuff of his sleeve, Dasai wiped at his tears, “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to have the things I want in life. I deserve to be true to myself and not someone else’s ideal.”
“I don’t understand,” softly his head shook negation.
Dasai smiled tenderly, “course you don’t, trash. For all these brains, you miss the obvious.”
He tried to see Dasai’s truth for himself. But his mind came up only blank.
Warm fingers slid into his hair to pull their lips together. He couldn’t fight because he selfishly wanted Dasai. Their lips embraced just as Kuro’s hands slid around to Dasai’s back. Eyes closed they took in the familiar sensation.
Holding their faces close, Dasai explained, “I’m a better person with you next to me. I have someone special to share my art with. Someone who takes away my anger. And who I want to be a better person for. You don’t ask me to change. You just ask me to be the best version of myself. I never feel like I’m enough, except with you.”
Kuro’s thumb gently brushed away the tear resting in the corner of Dasai’s eye.
“Fine,” he breathed a mimic of Dasai, “I guess if you’re happy with trash at your side.”
Dasai’s hand in his hair pulled Kuro’s head back so that his face was turned up. A hungry grin brought a sparkle to his gaze, “I told you, no one gets to call you trash but me. That especially applies to you.”
Kuro lightly chewed on his bottom lip.
“Insatiable,” Dasai chuckled.
Kuro turned up a watery, innocent expression, “it’s not my fault you’re sexy!”
There was a clammy feeling growing as they held hands, but Kuro didn’t want to let go. Truth was, he never wanted to let go. In desperation he’d tried to send Dasai away to protect him. He should have known that Dasai wouldn’t allow that.
“So,” Kuro hesitated as they walked up to the house, “what happened to Silas and Bryson?”
There was a vicious grin, “they got to experience the race track up close and personal.”
Probably would be better not to dissect that too much. “Will they try to hurt you again?”
Unamused was the look cast down. Seeing Kuro’s fear, Dasai responded, “we’re almost done school. Soon we’ll never have to see them again. We’re just making sure those two remember this lesson going forward.”
He quickly put it together, “you’re making sure they don’t bully someone else!”
“Don’t,” angry was the warning. At Kuro’s grin, Dasai pulled him close, stopping just before the front door, “I don’t care about anyone else. And you’re already in trouble with me, so don’t push it.”
The grin that emerged held a note of excitement.
That grin had Dasai reciprocating, “don’t get your hopes up. You’re not going to like this punishment.”
His grin vanished, “why?”
“Because,” Dasai leaned close, “I don’t want to encourage that kind of shit behavior.”
Kuro felt his face fall and a pout emerge. Dasai only chuckled mercilessly at him. The door opened and he was pulled inside. Their shoes found their usual places on the rack. Still hand in hand, Dasai propelled him into the living room. Disappointment grew.
Expecting this reaction, Dasai turned his head to enjoy the moment. Kuro’s pout was beginning to turn sour. That look remained as they walked into the kitchen and right through it. They walked outside to the patio where Dasai’s mom was reading a book. Her cell phone was sitting on the table next to a glass of iced tea.
She glanced up with a smile seeing her boys, “you’re home.”
“Thanks for ditching work,” Dasai’s words were surprising. Kuro was directed into the seat next to Dasai’s mom.
“I will always ditch for my boys,” she laughed softly. “So, what’s going on?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Kuro stated petulantly with a glare he was tossing to Dasai.
That look was ignored as he explained, “Kuro tried to run away after some school bullies threatened to hurt me.”
The book she held was closed and put on the table next to the glass and phone.
Kuro shook his head in fear, but no words were able to come out.
She took his hands, “Kuro, I wish I could tell you that bullies are something that you’ll only have to deal with in high school. But the truth is, bullies are everywhere. Especially with the internet being what it is.”
“But I just…”
“I want you to read a book with me,” earnest was the look she held that he couldn’t refuse. “We’ll work through every page together. I know it will help you navigate through life.”
Feeling his senses returning, he turned a slow boil glare towards Dasai. This guy was absolutely diabolical at times! Delighted amusement shone back, which didn’t help!
“And after that I have another book that I think you’ll find helpful,” she was excited. “This will be something the two of us will get to share!”
“But what about Dasai,” he tried in vain.
Stern was the expression that crossed her features, “Dasai reached out for help. You keep everything inside. That behavior stops now.”
What could he possibly say to that?
She made a decision for them, “we’ll take every Wednesday evening to work through a section.”
“But we already have Monday’s and you have work and friends. You won’t have any time to yourself now,” he tried to weasel his way out. He could feel Dasai laughing at him.
She touched a finger lightly to his chin. It had the effect of forcing him to make eye contact. Without a word spoken she clearly communicated to him.
“Yes ma’am,” he sighed in defeat.
Satisfied, she released his chin and took up her drink.
Pouting, he said, “told you there’s more of you in Dasai than you know.”
Neither party was insulted, and seemed rather pleased!
The gymnasium was alive with a different energy today. There was a class dance tonight and things needed to be done in preparation. On paper that’s what had brought Emmett here today. It also brought Darcy, Kuro, Tam, and Vince among others. Watching Vince as he moved the helium canister for someone brought out a smile in Emmett. Off paper, his reasons to be here were purely selfish.
Kuro lifted a box onto the stage, then he jumped up to sit next to it. Before him, Darcy was curtly giving directions. One after another, students came to Kuro to collect something that came from the box. Beneath the ballcap brim, there was a light sheen of sweat on Kuro’s forehead. He’d been working harder than most to help Darcy out.
Darcy floated by, noticing nothing. Probably because she was in project mode. From the box in her arm, she passed over a sheet, “Tam, will you get up on stage to help? They’re hopelessly lost but I don’t have the time to hold their hand. Vince, grab some help and put these streamers up.”
“Emmett, you busy?” he tossed one of the streamers over.
“You got me,” he was happy to oblige.
He followed Vince to the ladder.
Looking up, Vince asked, “you think we should use tape on painted walls?”
“Not like these walls haven’t seen better days,” he shrugged. “I say we use what we got and forgo caution.”
Vince turned a wicked grin his direction, “hopefully this is the only time you use that philosophy.”
The gym door flew open with a bang. Dasai had shown up.
The grin was returned, “use it in every aspect of my life except in love!”
“Less yapping, more hanging,” Darcy was sailing on by. “Dasai, it’s about time. Go grab something and help out.”
Vince shot Emmett an amused look just before climbing the ladder. Emmett watched Dasai walk over to the stage. Honed muscles propelled him easily up. Kuro was on a bench, stretching the limits of his reach to help hang a banner. As his foot inched along, the bench became more unstable as a perch. They all saw the potential for a fall!
Dasai’s hand found something to grab. Wide eyes slowly glanced down.
“Uhm, hi,” Kuro faintly smiled.
Dasai steadily held his gaze.
Kuro’s blushing smile grew.
Using the back of Kuro’s pants as a handle, Dasai pulled him down off the bench. The banner fluttered slowly down next to them. Fingers slid into Kuro’s hairline tipping Kuro’s hat and leaving Dasai’s palm to rest lightly upon his forehead.
Holding the ladder, Emmett watched with growing interest.
Darcy was walking by when she faintly snarled, “Dasai, Kuro gave his word to help us out. If you’re going to be in the way, I’d prefer it if you left.”
The briefest look was exchanged. Kuro closed his mouth. Dasai’s head turned ever so subtly to the right in silent question.
“That’s not how that works,” Kuro spoke softly as he stood properly upon his feet.
“What?” Darcy was only partially pulled back in. Her tone was a warning.
Kuro looked to Dasai, hoping for an assist. Not that Emmett blamed him! Darcy was clearly in a mood today, and he wouldn’t want to face her either.
“You wanna be strong enough to be my boyfriend,” Dasai claimed a seat on the bench, “deal with this.”
Kuro’s lips closed slowly. The tiniest spark of challenge shone deep within golden eyes.
“What’s going on?” Vince stepped off the ladder.
Emmett shook his head. Nearly breathless, “I’ve no idea.”
The ballcap Kuro wore so well came off. He set it upon Dasai’s head. A deep blue gaze stared out from under the rim. Slowly, Kuro’s chin rose.
“I swear those two can have whole conversations without a word being spoken,” Emmett leaned closer to Vince to breathe this.
Vince smiled, leaning closer to Emmett.
Kuro seemed to mouth something to himself. But to Dasai his words seemed to challenge in a cryptic way, “our relationship, our rules.”
Then Kuro turned to face Darcy.
He told her, “I’ve done a lot of work today. So, I’m going to leave with Dasai now.”
“We have work to do yet,” her words dismissed him.
Though nervous hands twisted, Kuro kept his head up to face her, “I’ve done plenty. So, right now it’s about what I want. And if you say I can’t earn it, then I’m going to take it.”
Behind Kuro, Dasai held a grin of approval.
“I don’t care to deal with this new attitude of yours.” she snapped in frustration.
“Tough,” Dasai muttered, his focus solely upon Kuro.
With a nod, Kuro seemed to steal himself.
“I’ve done my share here, and now I want to go home with my boyfriend. I deserve to take a break and to call it quits when I need to. And as a friend, I deserve to have your support.”
“Excuse me?” she was stumped!
Kuro grinned, “you’re smart enough that I don’t need to dumb that down.”
Dasai laughed sardonically.
“I don’t deserve this bad attitude, Kuro,” she snapped!
Oddly, Kuro was blushing, “what I-I deserve, is to have Dasai’s hand holding my…cute ass.”
“He’s so adorably embarrassed by his own words,” Vince whispered, leaning closer.
Standing up, Dasai’s hand followed Kuro’s request. Golden eyes looking up, danced as though he’d won.
“Unbelievable you two! You go from being a friend to being a brat just because he’s here? Nice influence, Dasai. Kuro, I’ve got a big issue with whatever’s gotten into you,” Darcy’s hands landed firmly upon her hips.
Embittered was the grumble that came out of Kuro, “I’d say the issue’s more about who’s not in me because we’re still having this conversation.”
Behind him, Dasai snorted a laugh. Around the room some coughed to cover their laughs, some pressed hands over their mouths. Vince turned his face away, using the excuse to touch a hand to Emmett’s shoulder. Emmett silently cheered his friend on!
“Kuro,” Darcy blanched!
He opened his mouth to reply.
With a pointed finger, Darcy cut him off, “I don’t want to hear it.”
“That’s okay, because I’m saying it for him,” Kuro smiled shyly up at Dasai.
Dasai let Kuro know, “you’re done talking now.”
Gruff words poorly concealed care. He sounded exactly like the Dasai they all loved. But none more so than Kuro, who was melting in bliss.
Vince commented very quietly, “if Kuro had a tail, it would be waging right now.”
Emmett stifled a chuckle.
“You act like you like being controlled by him or something,” Darcy wanted to be right in this moment. “You can be your own person, Kuro. Not his clone, and not his property.”
“But I am his,” Kuro looked pleased. “He labelled me!”
“It’s washed off since then. Maybe we should get it tattooed?” Dasai suggested with a mock thoughtful expression. Idle fingers ran over Kuro’s chest.
Kuro fed in with a smirk, “you really want someone else touching me there?”
“Hmm, you’re right. I’d have to kill them.”
“Healthy and mature,” she snarled as she turned away. “If neither of you are going to help, you can just leave.”
“Finally,” amused confidence shone.
“Move that cute ass, trash.”
“This is what you like? Really, Kuro?” she’d turned around long enough to try and get in a final word.
“I only like being treated like trash by Dasai,” Kuro was smiling. “And I like when you protect me from anyone else who tries.”
Emmett’s slow smile of understanding surfaced.
Vince looked puzzled, so Emmett offered, “it’s actually a cute story.”
“Wanna tell me over supper?” Vince made the suggestion.
Eyes dancing in delight, “I’d love to!”
Kuro had eyes only for Dasai, “I said what I wanted.”
“You did,” Dasai acknowledged with approval.
“I thought I was gonna pass out,” Kuro looked like he still might.
The back of Dasai’s hand touched Kuro’s glistening forehead, “you can blame that on the fever.”
“Fever?” Darcy choked on the word. “You’re sick?”
“Doesn’t take away from what was said,” Dasai firmly warned her. He looked at Kuro with tender amusement, “doesn’t take away your point either.”
“Point?” Vince asked quietly.
Emmett could only shrug at a loss.
Kuro boldly claimed his win, “which means you make supper and I get to choose.”
“Oh, I’m making supper while you rest alright. But the bag of goodies is mine to choose from,” Dasai’s fingers pulled at Kuro’s hair.
“That point is mine,” Kuro’s fists wound into the fabric of Dasai’s shirt. But he’d lost all tones of authority.
Dasai removed Kuro’s ballcap from his head. It landed back upon Kuro, “and this?”
Kuro struggled between a pout and grin, “might need an apology.”
“What the hell was all that?” Tam demanded an explanation around a laugh.
Kuro gave that, “Dasai demands I make atonement for my actions when I do something he says is wrong.”
“You little shit,” Dasai was laughing. He was holding Kuro’s willing body close, “you wanna try that a second time?”
“I’d rather go home,” he grinned mischievously upwards at Dasai.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done here,” Darcy was perturbed!
Dasai cast a warning glare.
“We should bail too before she notices us,” Emmett whispered.
In agreement with that suggestion, Vince led the way.
“So, what’s this bag of goodies? Do you know?” Vince asked Emmett.
“Do I?” he laughed. “I’m the cause of it.”