It’s a sunny day, which is a fun surprise this season. It’s been nothing but clouds for weeks now, but the sky has cleared up enough for the sun to peak through. So obviously he’s outside enjoying it, running through the grass, playing tag with Kyo and Momiji. Rin doesn’t like tag, so she isn’t around.
Kyo is it, and he’s yelling about it, and it gives Haru the opportunity to turn the corner and out of sight.
The sun lights up everything, pouring into every open window except, somehow, the one at the far end of the courtyard. Haru remembers yelling at it. He remembers Yuki standing there and letting him do it, and he sees him now, arms tucked under his chin on the windowsill, elbows spilling over. Haru feels his day get even better than it was before.
“Hey,” he calls, jogging over. Yuki’s head jerks up like he was sleeping, even though Haru saw him staring off. “Yuki.”
“Oh,” Yuki says, voice soft like Haru remembers, “Hi, Hatsuharu.”
“Haru,” Haru corrects as gently as an eleven year old can.
“Hi, Haru,” Yuki amends, and Haru smiles. He smiles so easily around Yuki, pulse speeding up whenever he smiles back, lips twitching and hesitant like he’s not sure how to do it.
“The weather’s super nice, isn’t it?”
“The sun is out,” Yuki agrees, “I haven’t felt the sun in forever.”
“Yeah, it’s been super cloudy,” Haru says, even if it doesn’t sound like Yuki’s just talking about the clouds.
He feels like he’s repeating himself, but Yuki just smiles at him. “What’re you doing? I saw you running.”
“Oh, we’re playing tag! You wanna come play with us?”
“I can’t,” Yuki said, with his big sad eyes cast down, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not allowed.”
“To what, play?”
Yuki shrugs, “I can’t leave until Akito says so.”
Haru, young as he is, doesn’t understand yet. Can’t understand yet. He does understand that Akito is important, and if Akito said that Yuki couldn’t leave that lonely looking room, then there was nothing Haru could do about it. Nothing Yuki could do about it, either.
“Are you in trouble?”
Yuki frowns, lips trembling before he presses them together in a line far too serious for a twelve year old. “I don’t know.”
“Please stop,” Yuki’s voice was sharper than Haru had ever heard it, before he smoothed it out, “asking questions. You should leave before Akito gets back. You might get in trouble.”
Haru wants to tell him that he was already kind of used to getting in trouble, and that they could be in trouble together, but he doesn’t think Yuki would want to hear that. His eyes are back to being blank and unfocused, like Haru’s already gone. It could be hours until Akito gets back. Yuki looks so sad, and so pretty, and so incredibly alone. Haru’s young, first-love-struck heart speeds up.
“I wanna keep talking to you, though.”
Yuki blinks back into himself, eyebrows furrowing together. “What?”
“I, um, I wanna keep talking to you.”
“Don’t you wanna keep playing with your friends?”
Haru shrugs, doing his best to seem nonchalant, “I can do that any time. I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Oh,” Yuki says, very softly, like he isn’t used to people choosing him over something else. Which is weird to Haru — he’s the rat. People love him. People must choose him over other kids all the time! But it doesn’t seem like it, then.
“Do you mind if I stay until Akito gets back?” He asks.
Yuki blinks down at him with his big, surprised eyes. “You’ll have to run,” he says eventually, “He might get mad if he sees you. I’m not supposed to talk to anyone.”
“I’m a super fast runner,” Haru says, “I even beat a junior high kid the other day.”
Yuki smiles at him then, something small and kind of shy. Something real. It makes Haru all warm inside, knowing he’d made Yuki not sad for at least a second or two.
“Okay,” he says. He puts his little elbows back on the windowsill and leans forwards again. “What do you wanna talk about?”
Haru’s first day of high school, and Akito shows up. Part of his had been expecting something to happen soon, after Yuki and Kyo both hadn’t shown up for New Years. Akito had been pissed, even if he hadn’t been too obvious in front of everyone.
He knows, and Yuki doesn’t, so Momiji says they should go tell them, to warm them, let them know. To prepare, if you can prepare for something like that.
He doesn’t follow Yuki out when he leaves.
He runs into Tohru afterwards, who looks like she’s in a daze — I can’t believe I pushed him, she says, and Haru is impressed. And worried. She says she thinks Yuki might’ve gone to the bathroom, and that they’re gonna play tennis later and that Haru can come if he wants to.
He finds him in a bathroom on the second floor, locked in the last stall down. There’s a dude washing his hands. Haru waits for him to leave. The dude looks at him for a few seconds, like he’s waiting for him to say something, and then dries his hands when he doesn’t.
“Sick hair,” he says on his way out.
“Thanks,” Haru says, and when the door swings shut, Haru locks it. “Yuki?” he asks.
There’s a long moment, where Haru wonders if he’s got the wrong bathroom, before Yuki says, “Why’d you lock the door?”
“So no one’ll walk in.”
“Can you lock it on your way out?” Yuki’s mouth has gotten smarter as he’s gotten older, grown out, away from all of it.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Yuki is quiet, like he used to be.
“Yuki,” He says, softer, “Do you want me to come in?”
“We’re in a public bathroom in the middle of the school,” Yuki says, voice strained and shaky. “I don’t want you to come into the stall with me.”
Because Yuki has been taught to keep it together and Yuki has been taught to not make a scene. Yuki has been taught to press his hand against his mouth and dig his nails into the skin of his palm. Haru doesn’t much care what the other students think of him, but he knows Yuki does. He knows Yuki places weight in it, even if he also know Yuki hates the persona they’ve created for him. He sighs instead, and leans back against the stall door.
“Fine,” He says. “It’s okay to still be scared of him. It’s... it’s understandable.”
Yuki doesn’t say anything. Haru hears him sniff, the sound heavy and wet.
“Did he do anything?”
“No,” Yuki says eventually.
“Did he say anything?”
Again, Yuki says nothing, and Haru doesn’t push it. Pushing won’t do any good right now, not with Yuki.
“Sorry,” Yuki says after a while. Haru almost jolts in place at the sudden sound, but then remembers he’s in high school now, so he’s too grown up for that.
“You don’t need to be sorry.”
“I do,” Yuki insists in that soft way of his. “I’m not a child anymore. I shouldn’t be acting this way.”
Haru wants to tell him that Yuki has hardly ever acted like a child — pressing his hands against his mouth while they sat in the hallway long before he left the main house. Akito taught him to keep out of sight, out of mind, locked up tight and quiet. But he knows Yuki won’t hear it, not really, so he doesn’t.
“Yuki,” He says, and for a moment doesn’t know how to continue. “You don’t have to be sorry. Akito’s a scary person. We’re all a little scared of him.”
“Ayame isn’t. You’re not.”
Is he scared of Akito? Haru wonders. He’s scared of what he does to Yuki. What he did to Rin, or Hatori.
“I am,” He says softly. “And that’s okay. He’s gone now.”
“He might be back.”
Haru turns, presses his temple against the cool stall door, and imagines curling his pinky around Yuki’s like he did when they were kids, imagines curling his arm around him while he slept like he could protect him.
“Yeah,” he admits, “He might be back.”
He visits him a lot, when he can. Sneaks in at night, or early in the morning, or when Akito is sick or after Akito is really mad. Rin comes with him sometimes, but she never comes in, and Haru never pushes her to.
Instead, he creeps in and finds Yuki, wherever he is — Yuki’s favorite spot is the loveseat under the window, where he sits all the time, but when it’s a bad night, Yuki’s in the corner.
When they can’t sneak out together, like they have once or twice, they just talk. It’s mostly Haru doing the talking, but that’s alright with him. He never feels stupid, saying what he thinks with Yuki listening, not like he does at school or with the adults. Yuki talks to him like what he says is important, and makes Haru feel like what he says is important,
Sometimes Yuki talks more. Once, he let Haru lace their fingers together to calm the shaking in his hand. He looked up at the ceiling while Haru looked at him, and said that he felt like his life was a cycle of hurting and waiting, and that sometimes he felt like he would never do anything else. Sometime he says things, sounds so sad that Haru has to push his anger down. He hates getting mad around Yuki, after that first time. He’s changed his mind, since that first time.
“Maybe the rat didn’t trick the ox into carrying him to the banquet,” he tells him one night, whip marks curling around Yuki’s ankles (he couldn’t sneak out to go to the park today, had slid his feet under his chair like he was trying to hide them and said sorry), “Maybe the ox let him ride, because they were friends. Because he loved him, and the rat had super short legs, right? So he prob’ly would’ve been the last one there without help.”
It makes Yuki smile, even if he hides his face in his hands, like what Haru said is just too much for him to take, too embarrassing or too heartfelt or too something else that Akito and Yuki's mother hate.
“The ox wasn’t stupid,” Yuki finally says, voice small and soft the way it was back then, before he found his voice. “He was just helpful.”
He could be talking about the legend or he could be talking about, right now. Saying that Haru is helping, even if all he does is talk to him. He knows it’s more than most people do. The adults don’t do shit, and that includes not making Yuki feel like a human being.
“Yeah, exactly,” Haru says, chest all warm, “He was giving his friend a ride. Hey, one day I’m gonna get a motorcycle.”
“What?” Yuki’s eyes scrunched up all cute at the sudden change in topic.
“A motorcycle, like the ones on TV. They’re super cool, and I could get the gloves and everything. I could give you rides all the time.”
“Rides to where?” Yuki asks, but he sounds interested, and that’s enough to make Haru feel like he’s not just a stupid kid. His parents don’t like his motorcycle idea.
They still don’t like it years later, and he has to get a bicycle instead. Yuki's at Shigure's house by then, and Haru talks Yuki into letting him give him a ride, has him plant his feet solid on the spokes of his back wheel and hold onto him. It’s a balancing act, and Yuki’s fingers dig tight into his shoulders like he’ll go flying off if he lets go. He doesn’t go flying off, but Haru does feel like they’re flying; he hears a snatch of Yuki’s soft, soft laugh before it gets swallowed up by the wind, and he decides that a normal old bike is fine, too.