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i crawled out of the world

Chapter Text

“Ventus and Vanitas. Kind of a mouthful, aren’t they?”

“I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but don’t pester them about their names,” Riku quips. “Besides, we’ve seen worse. Remember the first chair violin, Strelitzia?”

“Hey. Anyway, sure I do. It’s hard to forget about the perfect angel who left us too soon. The band hasn’t been the same without her.”

Luckily for Riku, Kairi isn't looking at him when he's rolling his eyes. “She didn’t exactly die, Kairi.”

“Leaving for college qualifies!” Neither Sora and Riku are entirely impressed with this outlandish concept. Unashamed, Kairi shrugs. “Though! We need to get back to the more important stuff. Namely, who’s got the soph and who’s got the senior out of you two?”

Sora raises his hand, “Sophomore’s mine! I guess Riku being a junior makes him more qualified to explain things to a senior?”

“I. I, don’t necessarily agree with that, but alright.” He ignores the pout he gets from Sora. “To be perfectly honest with you, Kairi, we don’t actually don’t know which one is which yet.”

Kairi blinks. “You’re kidding.”

The pair nods, in sync. Gravely. “All too real,” and Riku lightly smacks his handful of paper. “Everything about this transfer has been rushed. Elrena said, and I’m quoting, ‘it was a nightmare to parse through,’ and the more I look at their schedules the more I understand.”

“Seriously, so dramatic… alright, go ahead and explain,” she says.

“Well, for starters, Ventus has homeroom with Ansem. The other Ansem.”

“Why.”

“Y’know, I keep wondering what did Ventus do in a past life to deserve this. Like, even Riku had to get taken out of his class after two weeks.”

Before either of them can continue down that train of thought, Riku quickly interjects, “Topic change. The question we should actually be asking is, what kind of strings did the family have to pull to get this approved so last minute? The staff’s making it sound like they had barely any time at all.”

“But we did talk to Elrena,” Sora admits. “And she always makes things sound bad.”

“It’s a talent of hers,” Kairi sighs, in understanding. “But things are gonna get pretty ugly if you two don’t head out.”

Riku squints at her. “Why’s that?”

“I’m pretty sure I can see Trouble and Maker, and they’re standing in the entryway.” She makes a shoo-ing noise and flaps her hand. “Go, go, I don’t wanna have to deal with your strays.”

“Always so encouraging." Still shameless as ever, Kairi blows a raspberry at Riku. “Alright, we're leaving. Sora, you got everything for yours?”

“Mhm!" 

“You gonna get your head lost in the clouds again?”

“Nyuuuh," he whines. “I can be diligent!”

The look between his friends speaks volumes. Who taught him that one? A totally rude question - Sora is capable of not drifting through English, thank you. He merely prefers it, rather than paying actual attention. 

In truth, the first entrance is kind of terrible. Poorly located at best. Both student and staff prefer to use the doors opening into the hallways rather than directly into the building. Pretty much anyone who goes through the front is either late, new, or a parent who doesn't know better. A few upperclassmen will linger by the doorways prior to lunch, eager to use their half-hour outside, but that's basically it. 

Thus, it's only a couple of teachers who give the newcomer duo a once-over; the shouldn’t you be in class is an obvious question, but the two transfers are apparently oozing fresh meat. Wearing that colorful eyesore of a lanyard - and holding out the map between them. Although, the blonde is busily scrolling through his phone, completely disinterested in whatever his brother is telling him. Upon noticing this, the brother scowls and begins to fold the map.

Sort of an intimidating gesture? At least they’ve got some personality.

“Hey there,” Riku calls over. The blonde glances away from his phone, questioning. “You two are the transfers, right?”

“Oh, that’s us! Hi!” He waves the proctors over.

On second glance, neither of them are particularly scary. Not entirely average heights, only decent for high school age, and the black-haired boy has some ample roundness to his face. Baby fat. In contrast, his brother is pretty much all meat and bones, lanky. As for similarities, their eyes and noses are the same shape if the black-haired boy nose’s has some crookedness to it.

Must’ve not healed totally right, Sora thinks. It’s kind of charming?

Sora’s mind inevitably trails, and it’s a wake-up call when he hears someone mention his name. “My name’s Riku, and we call this daydreaming tag-along Sora.”

“Do you have to do that every time?” Riku tries, and fails to suppress his grin. “Agh. Well, yes, I am Sora! It’s a pleasure to meet you guys!”

“Haha, thanks. I’m Ventus. But call me Ven.” Ven pockets his phone and extends his hand.

They exchange handshakes - Sora winces to himself, because boy does he have a mean grip - and small smiles between the group. Although his shadow and fellow transfer has little to say and remains on the sideline throughout the ordeal.

Upon noticing this, Ven sighs. “Ah. This is my brother, Vanitas.” Said brother glances away from his shoelaces to Ven. Ven chuckles, kind of nervously, “Don’t mind him. He’s pretty shy, and a little overwhelmed right now. We didn’t think he’d change schools after only one year.”

Riku noticeably perks up. Privately, Sora's floundering, because that means the dark shortstack is his. “You’re the senior, then?”

“Yep! Vanitas here is the sophomore.” Who clearly could care less about the comment, if his quiet scoff is any indication.

“Alright, so you’re going to be heading with me. Sora, you think you can handle it on your own?”

Naught one to be phased, Sora elbows Riku playfully. “You? Worried? C’mon, Riku, who do you think you’re talking to?” He loudly thumps his chest. “But c’mon, you already know that you’re talking to the best proctor ever.”

“…right. Well, if you need any help, we’ll be in C Hall. Follow me,” he addresses to Ven.

Ven nods, but briefly stays behind as to mutter something to his brother. Be polite, it sounds like. Huh. But the two of them hurry away and Sora can hear Riku eagerly infodumping Ven in regards to their school.

“Riku, always quick to explain,” Sora laughs to himself. Vanitas has yet to say a word, but hey, no pressure. First day of high school and they’re freshly minted at that. Must be rough. “So, you got a nickname like your brother?”

“No.” He does talk!

“Dang. But hey, I’ve got an idea. What do you think about Van?” Almost immediately, Vanitas’ mouth twists in disapproval. “Okay, yeah, that one was pretty bad. I thought it’d be cool to match… maybe Vani?”

“If you insist,” he grits out. Sora’s about to backpedal, but Vanitas beats him to the punch. “Shouldn’t we have left by now?”

Ugh. Prickly. The best kind of new student behavior.

“Okay!” Sora forces the enthusiasm. “We can walk and talk. Have any questions?”

Despite being a stranger to the school, Vanitas walks at a pace faster than Sora’s. Sora has to quicken his steps, almost like a lazy jog in order to keep up. “Not really.”

“That’s fine. It’s a lot to take in! At least lunch is soon, right?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Plowing onward, because Sora truly doesn’t know when to quit, “I do! It’s next period for sophomores and juniors. Freshmen and seniors eat right after. We get you guys late in the day, to try and make sure you transfers don’t starve. Oh, uh, Vanitas, it’s actually a right here…”

With some degree of difficultly, Sora manages to wrangle Vanitas in where they’re supposed to go. The details, otherwise, are vague. It’s largely Sora directing the conversation, too, with Vanitas either responding via a one-liner or staying eerily silent. Definitely not the smoothest introduction he’s ever had, but it could be worse. Hopefully it's never worse than this.

Sora presents him to the locker with a jazz hand motion; only the one hand, because he’s still got an armful of papers.

“Oh! And here’s your locker combo! Don’t worry, I didn’t look, I was respecting your privacy.”

Totally gently, Vanitas snatches the paper out of Sora’s hands. Sora bites back a retort, whether it be a hey or a you’re welcome, because he watches the color drain from Vanitas’ face in real time. Guilt, he presumes, and is content to leave it at that.

He gives Vanitas some space, stepping to the side as he occupies himself by giving a glance over to Vanitas’ schedule. Neglecting Ansem’s homeroom? Possibly most unfortunate is his biology session, because Vanitas has gotten himself assigned to Zexion. None of the rooms are particularly far from each other, and the extracurriculars really aren’t remarkable. For whatever reason, he’s chosen a study hall and a secondary P.E course, two classes they definitely won’t share. Sora himself takes Music Appreciation, largely due to the fact it’s one of the few classes he and Riku can both be in, and Culinary Essentials as to truly hone in his skills alongside the little chef.

There’s still the proctor power hour, though. It’s currently cutting into Vanitas’ English class.

And speaking of Vanitas, he is —

Struggling? No, it’s not a question, he is definitely struggling. Instead of going counter-clockwise for the second number, he repeatedly turns to the right. And, as if noticing this mistake, he attempts to clear the lock… with three turns to the left. How many times has he done this? With each passing second, the expression on his face hardens. But it’s not an angry scowl, Sora realizes; he’s embarrassed.

“Vanitas?”

“What.”

“Can I get that paper from you?”

“Thought you said you were respecting my privacy or whatever.”

“This is me respecting your privacy,” he says, softly. “I am asking, aren’t I?”

Whatever glimmer of emotion that was in Vanitas’ eyes just then, it’s impossible to decipher. Nonetheless, he does surrender the paper. He steps away from the locker in question as well, keeping a good distance between the frail metal and his fist. And the combination isn’t unnecessarily hard, either. The directions are correct. How come Vanitas couldn’t remember the sequence?

Unless that’s the problem. He can’t memorize it.

Oh. Sora frowns to himself. “This isn’t working, huh?” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Vanitas stiffen. “No- not you! Just this whole number thing, right?”

“Ugh. What’s it matter to you?”

“Because, it’s a problem. Your problem, really, but being your guide means it’s my problem too. Eugh,” Sora gags, which manages to get Vanitas to crack a small smile. “But it has an easy fix! I’m pretty sure if I went to the office and asked super duper nicely they’d be able to get you a locker that opens with a key instead. How does that sound?”

“Better than this,” he grumbles. Vanitas is flushed, with pink spreading over his cheeks. Internally, Sora kicks himself. He’s got to get his mind of the gutter sometime today.

Sora claps his hands together, expelling those thoughts. For good. Maybe. “Okay! Then how about I go do that for you. You can chill out here, right?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Somewhat half-heartedly, Vanitas waves him away. Somewhat more friendly than Kairi's expulsion, earlier. “Go on. Pester the staff.”

“Eheh… I wouldn’t say pester, ‘cause that’s my job and all.”

They’re barely apart, definitely still within hearing range. Which Sora is grateful for; he immediately stops when Vanitas speaks up. “Hey. Sora?”

He turns on his heel, rocks on it playfully. “Yeah?”

Vanitas opens his mouth, closes it. Apparently, his initial thought was dismissed. “…thanks,” he decides. “Just don’t tell anyone I said that.”

“Alright, I got it.” Exaggeratedly, he winks and leans in. In a whisper, “Vanitas, you’re welcome.”

“Uh. Why exactly did you say that so quietly?”

Sora sways on his feet, hands resting behind his head. “You don’t want anyone to know, right? So it’s gotta be a secret.”

Vanitas laughs to himself - and something stirs within Sora when it recognizes it as genuine cheer. “Fine. Whatever, man.”

For small, dark, and edgy, Vanitas has got the most characteristic chuckle. And given how fluttery he’s feeling right now, Sora must be grinning like an idiot.

Hm. He’s absolutely screwed, then. This is, undeniably, going to get weird.

“I’ll be right back,” he says, mouth dry. “Don't move!”

Chapter Text

It is raining.

Vanitas squints through the blinds. Tonight’s storm is exceedingly temperamental, fluxing in between of a state of near calm into catastrophe within minutes. There had been hail earlier, and it was bad enough to warrant Braig leaving the house to move the car into the shade of a tree.

“Hey. Better leaves than dents,” he had explained, when he came back inside sopping wet.

Although Vanitas is doubting the alleged safety of the trees, too. The wind is so violent it’s audible despite both the window and its shutters being closed; the high-pitched sound cuts through everything, whistling loud and clear within the house. He jolts away from the plane due to an unexpected crack of thunder. Worried, Vanitas abruptly turns to Braig. Who is thankfully changed, and entirely dry.

“Do you think there’ll be a power outage?” Vanitas asks.

Braig, loudly, snorts. “Nah. The storm’s gonna be in the next town before we know it. Come on, pick up your feet, dinner’s getting cold.”

Vanitas does straighten up and follows, although he keeps looking over his shoulder to watch the outside brighten and fall.

Dinner is an overstatement, given that it’s merely some chicken nuggets and fries. Finger food. Vanitas doesn’t complain, and actually even pinks at the mere thought. This is Braig being considerate, something that always surprises him. They quietly split the ketchup between them, and Braig vigorously shakes the bottle when it’s still making air in Vanitas’ hand. Outside, the storm continues to rage.

“So,” Braig starts, around a mouthful of fries. “How was the first day of school?”

He ponders. Talkative is not a very fitting adjective to describe Vanitas, and the day was coarse by itself. Rough, around the edges. Internally he knows that Braig is asking, more or less regarding how the whole people situation went, and Vanitas flounders still at the concept. Today? Well, Ven was in one of his fouler moods, the silver-haired proctor seemed eager to leave him, and the boy named Sora was equally perplexing and irritating.

“…interesting,” he offers, rather than address any of that.

“Interesting, huh. What, did somebody pick on you or something?”

Vanitas shakes his head. “No. It’s just that, it was jarring to see Ventus adjusting so quickly,” he says. “While I had to get accommodations.”

“Already?” Braig grunts, still fixated on his share of the food. “What happened this time?”

“It was the locker code. I couldn’t…” He trails off, somewhat ashamed. His gaze drops to his plate and Vanitas silently picks up a nugget to munch on.

“Fried your brain, did it? Too many numbers at once?”

“Maybe,” he grits out.

“Oh, come on. Throw me a bone every once in awhile, would ya?” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Braig rest his chin on his hand. “So you got stumped by something. Big deal. Shouldn’t you be used to it by now?”

He frowns. His stomach flips at the idea. “I don’t like it.”

A flash of lightning illuminates the nearby living room. Yet, the thunder and the rain manage to seem so far away. It’s hardly like the kitchen walls are thick; more or less the storm has become muffled, receding into an afterthought.

Braig chews as he thinks. He swallows down his last share of the nuggets, and shrugs. “Your old man didn’t, either.”

“This isn’t about Xeh—” Nearly placating, Braig raises his hand up. Vanitas does bite down the following retort, because if there’s anyone else in the world who understands his father other than Ven…

Just, why did it have to be Braig. For so long, Vanitas addressed him as 'Dad's annoying coworker,' and watching him upgrade to 'that annoying boyfriend' was awful. Of course, the final blow was the worst. Watching him sign the legal guardian paperwork hurt Vanitas inside. 

“I don’t want to hear his name. Not under my roof.”

It’s a mumble, albeit loud enough to carry. “Whatever you say, Luxu.”

“Hey.” The genuine anger in his tone almost makes Vanitas’ gut twist in guilty. Almost. “Look, it’s your surname too, if only you’d change it. Courthouse is a walk down the street and everything. ‘Til then, behave and shut your mouth.”

“Yes, sir.”

“For the love of… Vanitas. Vanitas, stop ignoring me. Kid, what did we say about eye contact?”

“Chin up, eyes forward, look at who’s talking to me. I remember.” In the manner of compromise, Vanitas does raise his head and chooses to merely focus on the peeling wallpaper near the sink.

Braig sighs, but doesn’t seem to be in too much of an argumentative mindset if he’s letting the attitude slide. “This isn’t your father’s house. I’m not expecting please or thank-yous or whatever crock of shit behavior he drilled into you. What I want is for you to act like a normal kid for once in your life. Sounds good?”

Vanitas flinches as his teeth snag on the interior of his mouth. Several of the sores have not yet healed - it’s terribly relevant, as this entire conversation is a sore spot. “If you wanted normal, then you should have taken Ventus,” he says, tasting copper on the tongue.

“As if. Your brother is another cocktail of crazy all by himself.” There’s a hole, a lacking in reaction where fury should be.

Previously, hearing anyone talk about his brother that way would’ve sent him into a nervous fit; Ven being sick was one of those taboo subject matters with their dad. Sure, one could watch Ven in action, if not outright forced to witness one of his explosions, but at the same time nobody was allowed to comment on it. For years it went on without a name, and post-diagnosis had been a peculiar evening of seeing Ven cry. In relief, admittedly, but.

And here goes Braig, grumbling freely about it. The disease, Ven's disease. Meanwhile, Vanitas is as hollow as can be. “God, in one afternoon alone with him you know I can’t keep up with the moods. You, at least, are stable.” Braig waves a fry in his direction. “Somber! But stable.”

“What was that, a name of an awful band from your adolescence?”

“Hah. I would love for you to listen to some of those awful bands. Would be kinda fun to make your ears bleed.” The two of them share a toothy grin. Vanitas isn’t sure when Braig managed to divert his attention away from being a brat, but it’s nice to have a smile directed at him. “So your brain’s janked.”

Vanitas frowns. “Ugh. Never say that again.”

As to be expected, Braig continues without so much of a pause. “No, you’re missing some screws internally. I’m not your therapist. Hell, you refuse to even go to therapy. I’m not gonna be just, suddenly be able to tell you what’s wrong with you. Besides oh-so-helpfully point out that you’re not all there. Unfortunately, you are kind of stuck with me until your eighteenth, so I guess we’re just gonna have to make do.”

If Braig expects Vanitas to reply, he's out of luck. Realistically the two of them are used to it. It's almost familial like that. Braig pokes at an old injury, one that hasn't quite healed or even scabbed, and Vanitas silently bleeds out over the wooden kitchen table. 

Something something - having to air the wound out. Yeah, right.

For Vanitas, supper is finally finished with little fan-fare. Braig’s portion of the food is largely consumed, and whatever remains must be chilled by now. Nevertheless Braig is addressing him, completely disregarding the whole cold dinner thing he was whining about earlier.

"Van," he prompts. 

When Braig initially extends his hand, Vanitas’ immediate response is to twitch backward. It’s subtle; if one wasn’t fine-tuned to such minuscule reactions, it would go by unnoticed. Nonetheless Braig stills, and when Vanitas’s hackles lower he puts his hand on Vanitas’ head.

And he has the audacity to ruffle his hair. Braig laughs at the scowl on Vanitas’ face.

“I’ll clean the dishes tonight, as a treat.” If they got along better, Braig might’ve pinched his reddening cheeks. Cooed at the sour expression. Vanitas is glad that there's still some degree of separation. “You head on to bed. Got any homework?”

“It was only the first day of school.”

“Again. Got any homework?”

“…yes. Math equations.” Braig makes an over-exaggerated ‘eugh’ sound, and Vanitas is inclined to agree.

“Oh, that’ll be fun. You go make do with that. Wake me up if you need anything.” 

Which, he won't, not even if Vanitas was on the edge of failing the class. To be fair, Braig sleeps like the dead and it's as though only fatalistic injury will stir him into action. Going to sleep with two eyeballs in their sockets and waking up with one was 'an experience,' as Braig defined it, and he never chose to explain it further. Even for Vanitas, it would be impolite to badger. 

For the first time, Vanitas lingers in the hallway. Their bedrooms aren't but a yard apart from one another. Ven likes to remind him - whenever Ven is in a charitable mood, that is - that spending quality time with his new... sorry, adoptive father has been a great help. "The road to recovery doesn't have be lonely," or whatever other kind of bullshit Ven is parroting from his psychiatrist. 

Braig had taken him in, at least, when no one else was willing. Throughout all the legal proceedings, in and out of the courtroom, Eraqus refused to acknowledge Vanitas' existence. At least with Braig, he has a bed and warm food. Asking for anything else - that's just silly. 

Thus, he inches his way into his room. Thanks to the rain, it's hard for Vanitas to settle into rest. His nerves are akin to live-wire. Constant, and sharp, with the pinpricks edging into his skin. Eventually, Vanitas falls asleep, alone as always.