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The first time Kinzo sees Shishimaru, he's seven years old and struggling to put his world back together after, from his small vantage point, everything has been torn apart. It's only two weeks since the rainy night his parents left him at home and never returned, a little over one week since, dressed all in black, he was forced to say goodbye to them in a way he can only barely comprehend, a few days after sitting in a room surrounded by adults using big words that he doesn't understand, words like "next of kin" and "legal custody" and "foster care," before finally being informed that from now on, he'd be living at a "group home." The first time Kinzo sees Shishimaru is the day that he learns that there's no one for him in this world anymore, not the teachers from his elementary school who'd whispered about him as he sat alone in a corner of the staff room on the first day after the accident or the distant relatives who wanted nothing to do with him at the funeral or the government people in fancy suits who'd hidden the truth from him in difficult vocabulary and legal jargon, the day that he learns that if he wants to be taken care of, he needs to take care of himself. It's not really an easy revelation, nor a comforting one, but in his seven-year-old mind, it's simple and straightforward and the truth.

And so after two weeks of feeling helpless, Kinzo arrives at the orphanage with a small bag of personal belongings and a stack of paperwork, and despite the fact that he's been dumped in an unknown setting with no one to turn to, somehow, he's strangely unafraid. Perhaps it's because Kinzo has always been resolute, has never been one for waffling or indecision, but perhaps it's because no sooner has he put his things into the cubby now marked with his name than heard shouting and crying from the next room. Kinzo has never been good at avoiding conflict, and before he even really thinks, his legs are moving for him, and then he's there in the doorway, eyes widening in horror at the scene that's playing out before him. Five older boys, maybe ten or eleven, crowd around one tiny form in the center, and from the size of the crouched figure, Kinzo thinks the boy must be only five or six years old. He can't see the boy's face, but he can hear the way he's crying, can practically feel the way he shrieks shrilly as the older boys kick him in the sides, grabbing for something small and white that he has clutched in his hands. Kinzo has no idea what's going on, who this boy is or what he's holding, but he knows what he has to do, and so without any warning he stalks over to the biggest of the older boys and shoves him as hard as he can.

Kinzo is a little big for his age and a little tougher than average, having grown up on the wrong side of town, but most of what gives him the courage to charge is sheer adrenaline, the rush that surges through him with an intensity that he doesn't understand when he sees that small boy looking so helpless. He doesn't even know who these boys are or what's going on, has barely been in this building for ten minutes, but even when the boy glowers down and him and shoves him right back, one glance at the small boy's quivering form is enough to let Kinzo know he's not backing down, enough to give him the confidence to look the boy right in the eye before slugging in the face.

Maybe it's because of the adrenaline, or maybe it's because he has no idea what he's doing, but whatever the reason, Kinzo doesn't remember any of the fight afterwards. It's a little like waking up from a dream when suddenly, the older boys are making a break for it, and Kinzo stands there panting for a moment, in a daze. Somehow, despite the fact that it all went by in a flash, in that moment, with his heart beating out of his chest and his arms shaking and bruises forming on his face and shoulders and chest, Kinzo feels more alive, more like he exists in this world, than he has in the past two weeks.

But before he can think about it for too long, a whimper brings him back to reality, and he turns to find the small boy looking up at him with wide, watery eyes. Kinzo's never exactly been a "kid person," never joined the girls in his second-grade class in fawning over the the kindergarteners who came to visit in preparation for starting first grade and cooing over photos of younger siblings, but there's something about this boy's small, round face, streaked with tears and stained with blood from his split lip and blotted with bruises forming blue and purple where the older boys were kicking him that makes Kinzo feel as if his heart is squeezing in his chest. Before he knows what he's doing, he finds himself kneeling in front of the boy, brushing back his hair to make sure there's nothing more serious than a few bruises. The boy flinches at first at the touch, making Kinzo recoil as well, but after a moment, the boy reaches out to him, tugging at the hem of Kinzo's shirt and pulling him closer.

Kinzo doesn't know how to describe the feelings that seem to be swelling inside of his chest, bigger and bigger until they feel like they'll burst, but for right now, he knows that that's not what matters. His throat feels tight, but somehow, he manages an, "Are you okay…?" which is stupid, because clearly, the boy is not okay, but right now, Kinzo is so overwhelmed that he doesn't know what else to do.

Despite his cuts and bruises, though, the boy struggles into a sitting position, looking up at Kinzo again with those big eyes and nodding. "…they wanted to take Mister Bun," he explains in a small, wavering voice, gesturing to the white thing in his hands, which, Kinzo realizes belatedly, is a well-worn, limp, stained rabbit stuffed animal. The boy gazes down at the toy for a moment before adding, "But he's my only friend…"

And something about the heaviness of his voice, something about the way he looks so listlessly at the toy, something about the way his tiny battered and bruised body seems to sink a little with every passing moment somehow simultaneously breaks Kinzo's heart and and gives him a sense of strength that he's never felt before. Before he even knows what he's doing, he's wrapping his arms around the boy, pulling him close, maybe close enough, he thinks, to ease the pain, to soothe the trembling. "I'll protect you," he murmurs as he feels the boy, toy still in his arms, curl into his embrace in a way that only strengthens his resolve, "No matter what happens." Maybe he's only been in this building for less than a day, maybe he's still adjusting, himself, to being an orphan, maybe he doesn't even know this boy's name, but regardless, he knows that somehow, he'll hold on for the both of them, he'll pull them both through.

The last time Kinzo sees Shishimaru, it's in the front entrance of the orphanage at dusk, the setting sun casting a yellow and orange glow down the long, dusty halls and stretching out Shishimaru's shadow on the well-worn linoleum floor. Shishimaru has always been tiny (always been the perfect size to fit into Kinzo's arms, ever since that very first day), and the shadow looks somehow strange and foreign not like the boy whose existence has filled every cavity of Kinzo's heart, whose presence has filled up every moment of Kinzo's life for the past seven years. It's appropriate, Kinzo supposes, because everything about this moment feels foreign, from the way Shishimaru's gakuran is buttoned all the way to the top in an attempt to look his very best to the way they're standing across from one another rather than side by side, the way they've always been, together, to the two people by Shishimaru's side, the middle-aged man and woman who look so clean cut and average and like parents that Kinzo can't find it anywhere in his heart to distrust them, no matter how much he wants to.

He wants to so badly, wants to think the worst of them and refuse to let Shishimaru go, to steal him back and hold him tight and protect him just like he always has, ever since they were mere children, wants to follow his instinct and pull Shishimaru close and never let him go, never. But he knows that while that may have worked when they were children, while protecting Shishimaru with his body, his warmth, his embrace might have warded off the older boys during the day and the nightmares after dark, now, things have changed. Because now, bullies and bad dreams aren't what Shishimaru needs protecting from-- the times have changed, and, Kinzo thinks, throat tight and face hot at what he hates but recognizes is the truth, he can't give Shishimaru what he needs anymore. He can't pay for an expensive education or cram school, he can't provide good food or trips to foreign places or anything that will help Shishimaru grow as a person and get ahead in the world. He can't take Shishimaru out of this little run-down orphanage where he's currently stagnating, and as much as he wants the world for Shishimaru, there's nothing he can do about it.

But these people, this boring, average-looking middle-aged couple can, and so as much as Kinzo wants to be selfish, wants to keep protecting Shishimaru himself, he knows he can't, knows that doing so would be tantamount to hurting Shishimaru in the long run. When negotiations suddenly open up for foster care or the possibility of adoption, Kinzo bites his tongue and looks the other way and tries his best to change the subject whenever Shishimaru brings up his hopes that it will all fall through, tries not to lose all his self-control whenever he looks up at Kinzo with those wide, heartbreaking eyes and says I want to be with you, Kin-chan. It's hard, it practically hurts, but he holds out, because in the end, all that matters is Shishimaru, and Kinzo will hold back on his own desires forever for Shishimaru, even if he can't help but hold on a little tighter as their nights together in the futon they've shared for the past seven years dwindle down.

And Kinzo hates himself for the way he can't help but feel his heart sink into the pit of his stomach when it's announced that Shishimaru will be moving out before the end of the week, but he can't do anything besides grit his teeth and bear it, besides try not to let it show. Besides, Shishimaru gets upset enough for both of them, cries and carries on and even tries to run away, and it breaks Kinzo's heart to see him this way, but he knows that in the end, it's what's best for Shishimaru. He tries to stay strong, but he's never been good in the face of Shishimaru's tears, and in the end, he finds himself pleading with Shishimaru to understand, because Kinzo couldn't live with himself if he tied Shishimaru down to this place, if he pulled Shishimaru down with him into the murky, hopeless future destined for unwanted children. Shishimaru is bright and talented and amazing, though, Shishimaru isn't unwanted, and just knowing that Shishimaru has this chance to make something of his life is enough to make Kinzo happy. He doesn't know if, after all the tears and the emotion-laden words, Shishimaru understands any better, but he follows Kinzo back to the orphanage without another word.

And then Shishimaru leaves him, just like that. As much as he's tried his hardest to stay strong this whole time, the moment after he watches Shishimaru walk out the door with his new family, pausing in the doorway to look back over his shoulder at Kinzo one last time, the wide eyes so full of hurt and sadness, Kinzo can't hold it together anymore. He's never been one to let weakness get the best of him, never been one to wallow when he could push forward, instead, but now that Shishimaru is gone… well, what reason does he have to hold out anymore? And so, five minutes later, he finds himself out on their hill, the place they'd gone to be alone together for years now, only now Shishimaru is gone and Kinzo really is alone, and he can't stop the tears. It's so stupid-- he hasn't cried since he was seven years old and his parents died, and Shishimaru definitely hasn't died, is off living a better life now, and Kinzo ought to be happy for him… but somehow, all he can think is that there's nothing tying Shishimaru to him anymore. He's always wanted what's best for Shishimaru, wanted the world for him, but somehow, the whole time, some part of him has always wanted to be the one to give it to him.

But this is for this best, this is what Shishimaru needs, and so Kinzo pulls himself together after an hour or so and trudges back to the orphanage where he eats his dinner and goes to bed in sullen silence. The room he used to share with Shishimaru is empty for the time being, and so at the very least, he doesn't have to worry about dealing with any of the others, but somehow, even just the sight of their futon, the one they'd shared despite it being against the orphanage's rules for the past seven years makes Kinzo feel weak again, and laying in it alone is just too much. It's too cold, too big, too empty without Shishimaru, and Kinzo has always prided himself on his ability to survive, his ability to push through, and yet here he is, completely unable to sleep without Shishimaru in his arms.

He feels pathetic, utterly helpless as he watches the hours tick by, midnight, one, two, but sleep evades him. All he can see when he closes his eyes is the look on Shishimaru's face in that last second, and it feels as if his heart is breaking over and over. Eventually, it feels easier just to leave his eyes open, and so he stares into the darkness, around the room that he's shared with Shishimaru for most of his life now, at the sparse, shabby furnishings and the small closet, and the bag he had with him on the day he came, empty now except for a few old childhood toys neither of them have ever had the heart to get rid of. It makes Kinzo remember, for better of for worse, that first day, when he'd first met Shishimaru, when he'd first decided to protect him…

It feels as if his legs are moving of their own accord, because before Kinzo can even really think it through, he's on his feet, moving over to the bag and then rifling through it in the dark before returning to the futon. He stares at what he's uncovered: a ratty stuffed rabbit toy, the toy Shishimaru'd had that day, his most treasured possession in his childhood, his "only friend" before Kinzo. It's so stupid, but somehow, it feels as if this toy is the only little part of Shishimaru that Kinzo has left and so, clutching it against his chest, he lays back down, letting his eyes fall shut once again. Now that Shishimaru's gone, now that Kinzo is all alone again, this is all he has to hold onto.