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Candlelit Dinners and Hand-Holding

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It starts with the cake.

Actually, no, that’s inaccurate. It actually starts with the principal not knowing when to leave his fifteen year old son to stew in his own rage and comes up, lays a pseudo-understanding hand on his shoulder, and says, with a voice oozing false sympathy, “Asano-kun? Is something the matter?”

As if he didn’t know. The cake -a spectacle of bright pinks and whites, and the most insulting thing was that it looked pretty good- was sitting right there, mockingly, right in the middle of the dining table.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Gakushuu mumbles from his face-plant into the desk.

“Now, now,” says the principal; he’s not even trying to hide how much he’s enjoying this. “Asano-kun, as an elite member of society, you must learn not to let trivialities bring you down.”

Fuck him and his stupid smirky voice. Gakushuu thinks very seriously about flipping the table over, cake and all, but reconsiders grudgingly. It wouldn’t look very good in court, and if there’s anything that’ll appease him right now it’s an avalanche of cash hard-earned through setting his father up. 

“I’m fairly certain it’s neither of our birthdays, however?” The principal’s tone is puzzled and curious. “What a lovely cake.”

“Isn’t it just,” Gakushuu grits out.

The principal steps forward to look at it closely, and Gakushuu hears the inhale as he reads the pink icing message. “Ah,” he says cheerfully. “I see that Karma-kun dropped by.”

Gakushuu finally raises his head and says, in a voice as flat as cardboard, “He baked that thing. He bought the ingredients, took the time and effort to learn the recipe, and made that.” His eyes land on the cake-message again: CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING NUMBER TWO, and a bunch of emojis and exclamation marks everywhere.

Gakushuu feels like setting something on fire.

“Ah, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” says the principal. He prods at the pretty strawberry designs and looks pleased. “As the top student of our great school, Karma-kun is quite right to show a diversity of skills."

Gakushuu honestly can’t tell who seems to enjoy rubbing his face in those three missing points more, the principal or Akabane. He’s never been backed into a corner like this before. He supposes he should treat it like an educational experience and not murder either of them. Even if he couldn’t be convicted -of course he wouldn’t, as if he’d commit a crime unprepared- but the bad publicity was unavoidable and potentially harmful to his budding conglomerate. 

“Nonetheless, I’m not certain how I feel about this whole affair, Asano-kun,” says his father in tones of great confidentiality.

“What affair, Principal?” he asks. 

The principal looks fond when his voice cracks.

“This,” he says, glancing at the hellcake. “Our school’s number one courting you.”

“IT WAS ONE TIME,” Gakushuu growls. “HE HAD THREE STUPID-  wait, what?”

His father -his mentor, his rival- eats bite-sized morsels of decorative strawberry and makes contented noises. “Akabane Karma as a son-in-law is not an unattractive prospect.”

Gakushuu ungrits his teeth with difficulty. “Principal, Akabane isn’t courting me. This isn’t what courting looks like. Courting is the furthest thing from our minds.”

“I suppose you have something by way of candlelit dinners and handholding in mind.” He sighs; heavily, as if Gakushuu has just handed him a great burden. “My methods of education have mighty flaws indeed if your approach to romance is so stale, Asano-kun.”

Gakushuu takes a moment to shut his eyes and think about all the cliffs in the world, all waiting for him to push his father and Akabane over them.

The principal takes his speechless fury as supplication. “In the act of courting, one must adhere to the broad theories of romance, but be flexible in the execution. When dealing with a specimen as difficult as you, Asano-kun, Karma-kun has surveyed the field and come up with a winning strategy to keep your interest. And I commend him for it. His great aptitude marks him out as the greatest in a school of champions.”

The last needle barely registers. Gakushuu’s too busy staring at him in a mixture of horror and calculation. “You’ve finally lost it,” he notes. “Unless this is a foundation towards pleading insanity in the upcoming trial. If so, let me tell you right now-”

“Believe what you will, Asano-kun,” his father hums. He pops a final strawberry in his mouth, and stands up. “Please remember that he’ll have to keep his perfect scores if the two of you wish to receive my blessing.”

Under Gakushuu’s fingers, the table splinters. The principal walks away whistling.

*

Asano seems weirdly calm when he strolls up to Class E. Nagisa -who else, but Nagisa- seems to sense his killing intent instantly, and sighs.

Karma is, well, a little disappointed. He’s seen the way Asano moves - Karma’s lighter on his feet, but Asano’s limbs are longer and if it came to an actual fight it’d be interestingly close. And after he went to all that trouble to leave his favorite baseball bat lying around near Class A, too. That was the catch when baiting Asano- sometimes he really did come at you with real killing intent, but sometimes he paused long enough to calm down and do his grating I-am-a-born-leader-of-men thing that makes Karma want to squirt wasabi in his stupid face.

Out on the training grounds, Asano and Nagisa are still smilingly sizing each other up. It’s a little chilling to watch; Asano’s got a personality like ground-up glass but Nagisa isn’t backing down. The other students begin to cluster around them like inquisitive pigeons.

Karma’s hands itch towards his firecrackers, but he resists.

Finally, Nagisa says something that doesn’t carry over to where Karma’s perched, high in the trees. It makes Asano tilt his chin up, but then he seems to think better of it and inclines his head instead. Nagisa’s smile goes sharper, but his posture relaxes. Two seconds later, they’re chatting away while the rest of Class E flock some more.

“You should go talk to him,” says a quiet voice and Karma nearly kills one of his precious classmates on reflex. Whipping around, he finds that Isogai has managed to sneak up and is looking at Karma with a soft smile on his face, and whoa, he looks extra-perfect today.

Karma raises a hand to shield his eyes. “Easy on the sparkles, Isogai-kun. If you kill me with your ikemen powers you won’t have a safehouse from the fans anymore.”

The shape of his mouth goes rueful. Before Class E and Isogai’s puppy eyes, Karma had no idea that he could feel remorse on this level. “Don’t even joke about that, please, Karma. We should all be focusing on graduating in full health after a successful assassination.” 

“You make having a refreshing personality look so boring, Isogai-kun.”

He knees Karma in the head for that, and because he’s Isogai he obviously gets away with it. Karma has a private theory that Isogai could probably take over the world if he sparkled at the right people. “Don’t insult trained assassins, Karma, you’re just asking for trouble.” He pats Karma’s head. “And if you find me so boring, why don’t you go pick on Asano like you always do? It’s you he’s here to see, anyway.”

Karma must’ve made a weird face, because Isogai laughs. “Stop sulking, Karma, you hardly look like the cool type if you throw a tantrum.”

On ground level, Asano is sketching something furiously while Maehara and Kataoka argue over his head. Karma raises his eyebrows. Eventually, Asano stops drawing and sticks the notepad in their faces, and they cross their arms to squint at it. Their suspicious expressions are replaced by confusion, and then a slow-dawning understanding. Asano looks triumphant.

Karma shoots a look at Isogai, who scratches at his cheek sheepishly. “Okay, so maybe he had his reasons for coming here other than seeing you. I think he’s going on the offensive against his dad.” Isogai looks at the sky, filtered through cracks the size of thumbprints in the foliage. “He and the principal have this rivalry, right? I don’t really get it, but I think Asano’s planning on using our success as ammunition.”

 Karma hums. “That so.”

Isogai snaps to attention. He looks warily at Karma. “Karma, I can tell you’re planning something. Please don’t make trouble.” He seems to realize what he’s saying and slumps a little. “I mean, don’t make too much trouble. As little trouble as possible.”

Karma sticks out his tongue. “Aye aye, cap.”

Isogai sighs, like he doesn’t believe him.

*

After the assembly, Gakushuu stumbles away from the main hall to catch his breath and stare blankly at the forest for a while. Ren looks like he’s going to say something as he passes by; then he takes a look at Gakushuu’s pale face and reconsiders.

Class E has no such qualms.

“Well done, Asano!” screams Maehara, right next to Gakushuu’s ear. “I don’t know how you pulled it off, but this is awesome!”

The two class reps smile at him. Isogai looks genuinely happy, which is a step up from how Isogai usually looks at him, which is like he watched Gakushuu toss five hundred kittens out into the rain.

Gakushuu’s soul -that shy coltish thing that rarely, if ever, shows its face- dies a little. He sways on the spot.

It’s not every day that he gets the rug pulled out from under him like this. He knows the scope of his father’s creepy centipede influence, and works his way around it with the diligence of a slightly smaller, more enterprising centipede. But the principal’s decision to have every student take the high school entrance exam, no exceptions, and to have the top ten tutor all the classes was an act of atonement, and basic human decency notably isn’t something Gakushuu could’ve ever predicted from his father.

In other words: Class A is fucked.

“What are you talking about, Maehara-kun?” sings a new voice and that’s exactly what any awful situation really needs: Akabane Karma, boy genius and ruler of all nine circles of hell. Gakushuu’s hackles rise on instinct, but he’s still too much in shock to really get into it. “Of course this isn’t what Almost Perfect-kun had planned. He wanted all of us in servitude, not to be in the same level as us.”

Gakushuu bares his teeth at him. “I’d settle for being on the same level, but I know my father. He’s planning on turning the tables on us to get rid of our weakness. Class A can expect college level curriculum from now on.”

Rather than look smug, a ripple of dismay passes through Class E. “Won’t we get the same treatment?”

“You’ve proven your strength,” Gakushuu says grimly. “The principal’s days of persecuting you, the top students, are over. Ours have just begun.”

There’s a silence.

“Well, you deserve it,” says Akabane. “For being such a crappy leader, I mean.”

Isogai grabs Gakushuu before he can go for Akabane’s eyes with his pocket stapler. “Karma,” he says reprovingly. As expected, his grip is strong but inconsistent. Gakushuu goes very still to wait him out. “Asano just stopped wanting to bring us all to the ground, don’t make him want to try again.”

“As if anyone would fail after we tutored them,” Akabane says. He sticks his tongue out, and Gakushuu blinks, not understanding. “As if we’d let that creepy old man do the same thing again.”

He strolls over -strolls, in his flashy meandering way that makes him look like a cat watching pigeons and flicking its tail- to where Gakushuu’s being restrained by Isogai. The rest of Class E has begun to smile and roll their eyes, which confuses Gakushuu further. Number Three in the rankings has pulled out her phone and is snapping pictures.

“We’re not useless like you,” Akabane says, flicking something bright and shiny into his hand. “We can beat some sense into those Class A wimps and take down the director once and for all.”

Gakushuu leans forward so that their noses nearly brush. He’s responding to the tone more than anything else; Akabane has perfected a way to make his voice sound as lazily condescending as possible. “Bring it,” he hisses, mouth hiked up in a sneer.

Akabane grins back, all sharp teeth and flashing cat’s eyes. It’s so- he’s so frustrating, like a careless strike of lightning, all that potential and grace offset by inherent chaos.

“Are they going to kiss,” asks Number Three -Nakamura- with interest.

Gakushuu grimaces and pulls back. “Isogai, let me go. It seems I have plans to make.”

Isogai seems reluctant. “Will those plans involve manipulating people into doing things they don’t want?”

“Probably.”

He sighs. “I wish you didn’t pick such strange times to be honest, Asano.” He lets him go anyway. “Mail me when you get the schedule?”

Gakushuu nods. “Well then.”

He glances around Class E and nods. “I look forward to working with you.”

They smile back, and Gakushuu feels a little better. Less like he’s going to throw up than before, anyway.

He looks down at the plastic still in his hand -a bright little badge reading #2- and stops feeling better immediately.

*

Karma watches that skeevy Class A goon attempt to hit on Kanzaki and get angrily shushed by the librarian. It was funny the first time, but now it’s getting depressingly boring. If you’re a moron, you should at least be an entertaining one. Even Terasaka would have learned better by now.

 It’s actually a real shame that Terasaka isn’t here. Karma’s confident he could’ve nudged him into causing a massive ruckus, thus freeing Karma from the clutches of Captain No Fun Allowed himself.

Said Captain looks up when Karma fidgets. “I was under the impression you were going to beat some sense into me, Akabane.”

He’s such a smug bastard- even whispering, he sounds smooth, a little husky, and his gaze is even and calculating. Spinning behind those violet eyes is Asano’s deft spider brain, and not interesting is probably the only complaint Karma doesn’t have against him. However, there’s no helping it when Asano’s in No Fun Allowed mode- if Karma says something when he’s like this, instead of flirting along, it’s most likely Asano will shut it down fast enough to make Karma’s head spin.

But then again, Asano’s a control freak; he liked making lessons plans. People like Karma weren’t entertained so easily.

Karma leans back in his chair with a yawn. “Hm, I dunno. If dragging all that Class A dead weight was too much for a super ace like you, So Close Yet So Far-kun. Maybe the non-elites shouldn’t even be trying.”

“Right,” Asano, instead of hurling vitriol, just lifts his eyebrows. “So you’re backing out.”

“The efforts don’t match the reward, though,” Karma says thoughtfully, pretending he didn’t hear. “All of Class E’s blood and sweat, hammering this into those heads. Time we should be spending,” he pauses, and Asano’s eyes narrow, “doing other things. These things need to be recompensed, you know?”

Isogai and Kataoka will probably get him for this, but that’s nothing he can’t handle. He probably shouldn’t be baiting Asano about Koro-sensei either, but fuck it, there’s no one more important than the enemy in front of you, after all. Or something.

Asano looks desperately like he wants to chase down all the open avenues of Karma’s little speech. His eyebrows draw together, and for a second, Karma’s certain he got him.

But then Captain No Fun Allowed takes back over, and Asano looks back at his work. “As if, Akabane. I don’t know what your class has against the principal, but you want his face in the mud as much as I do. Besides, wasn’t this whole thing supposed to be about building bridges between the two classes? Goodwill and friendship and flowers, Isogai’s religion.”

Karma huffs a sigh through his teeth. Well, so much for that.

This little exchange manages to tide them over the worst of the afternoon. It’s slow, hard work, especially when neither of them are a realistic representation of the student body in general. Karma plays it by ear, shifting the educational matter according to their schedule, while Asano refers back to exam papers for time allocations.

At around five, Karma’s just about had it. He leans back with a loud yawn, not letting his exhaustion show. “Well, this has been fun, but-”

Without looking up, Asano reaches into his bag and tosses something at Karma -a juice box, his favorite kind. “Ten minute break,” Asano says, even as Karma gapes at him. His mechanical pencil scratches along the page without stopping.

Karma recovers. “Ne, Washed-Out Ace-kun, how many poisons in this?”

Asano taps his pencil, once, against the book, looking satisfied. He isn’t ignoring Karma on purpose; today Karma learned that, despite his devil genes, Asano Gakushuu is a bit rubbish at multitasking. “There. All done,” he says, and Karma tries not to snicker.

It’s a while before the question properly registers. When it does, Asano’s purple eyes come up to his, his smirk pasted firmly on. “Just one or two,” he says breezily. “Can’t have them nullifying each other.”

Karma tosses the juice box up and down, listening to it glug. Of course, there’s a rule against food in the library, but he can’t imagine them getting into trouble over it, and obviously, neither can Asano. “But what about your perfect record if you’re connected to the murder of a student, Almost Perfect-kun?”

Asano rests his face on his palm. “Good thing those will only give you a stroke, especially when you have a family history, Akabane. And how can I possibly be blamed if I, in my ignorance, tried to help but made it tragically and fatally worse?”

Karma doesn’t hide how delighted he is, and even Asano cracks a smile. “But I can’t not drink something a dear friend offered me, now can I?”

“It would hurt my feelings if you didn’t.”

 “Friends share, though, don’t they?” Karma tosses it over, and Asano tilts his head.

There are a few ways Asano can dodge this with ease, but after a moment, he looks up. His violet eyes flash. “If I half-die in your stead, will you stop with the unoriginal nicknames?”

Karma’s a little startled despite himself. Bitch-sensei sometimes said things like set up a precedent of having the higher ground, which sounded obvious when she said it but seems scarily relevant now, with Asano’s pretty, pretty eyes skewering into him, his hair falling into his face, that expression-

“Sure thing, Asano-kun,” he says. His voice sounds a little dry.

Asano winces. “Gakushuu.”

There’s something definitely wrong with Karma’s throat. “Uh. Whatever you say, Gakushuu.”

Asano nods. There’s something sly and amused in his eyes, but then there’s a foreign heat as well, and he takes a little sip and Karma very deliberately doesn’t watch his mouth.

“I look forward to dying together, Akabane,” Asano says, passing it over without breaking eye contact. There’s a dusting of pink on his cheeks, spreading slowly downward. Karma’s lips twitch. It’s still a little funny.  

He takes his juice, and something ridiculous about indirect kisses floats through Karma’s mind. “Karma,” he corrects.

Asano -Gakushuu- smirks with his stupid white teeth. Thankfully, it’s as irritating as ever. “Karma it is, then.”

*

Three days after the lesson-plan-planning session, Gakushuu looks at his schedule and finds that he’s double-booked.

Storming up to administration and tossing a few glares around is enough to make a cowering clerk handle it. ‘Handling it’ means getting an unsuspecting Koyama to fill in for him in Class D while he trudges up for a closed-room session in Class E.

‘Closed room’, in Class E terminology, apparently means students lounging like monkeys in the forest throwing books and snacks at each other. They call out to Gakushuu as he passes; little friendly greetings that he returns with his most sincere smile. They seem slightly freaked out, but ultimately pleased that he’s behaving himself, and Isogai looks like a proud dad.

Even weirder is the massive yellow shigaraki tanuki sitting in the middle of the lawn. It’s got scaredy-cat! scribbled in permanent marker on its cheeks, and Gakushuu recognizes Karma’s handwriting. He pauses to survey it with deep mistrust. The tanuki actually seems to shiver.

“Hm? Oh, if it isn’t Gakushuu-kun,” chirps Karma, coming up from behind their creepy class mascot. He stands next to Gakushuu, and he eyes him as well, equally mistrustfully. “Like it? We got it because of how pervy it looks. Our very own beloved pervert octopus- ah, no, I mean tanuki.”

“Right,” Gakushuu says, bemused. The tanuki has begun sweating and shaking even worse than before. “I got a bunch of books Chiba asked for, but I didn’t see him. Pass them on for me?”

“Sure.” Karma begins guiding Gakushuu inside the classroom. Their shoulders brush as they walk, and Gakushuu has a hard time not focusing intently on that. “Nothing for me?”

“No.”

“Way to make me jealous, Gakushuu-kun,” Karma says flippantly. He leads the way into a room, and, whoa, is that a kitchen?

Noting his incredulity, Karma sighs happily. “Surprised? We of the End Class don’t let you elitists get the better of us, you know. Smoothie?”

Gakushuu watches him fiddle with the blender. “What? Yeah, sure.”

He’s a little distracted- there’s something poking out of Karma’s off-regulation blazer, something green and pointy and vaguely familiar. It looks…significant?...no, more than that. Like a key to something he’s missing.

Gakushuu steps forward and reaches out, careful-

-just as Karma turns around, smirk hitched high on his face.

Gakushuu’s eyes widen. Karma’s smirk drops, and they seem to realize it at the same time: they’re standing very close.

Karma’s gaze drops to where Gakushuu’s hand is, and his face changes. Gakushuu feels like apologizing, but for what? Class E has a secret that he’s been trying to find out for almost half a year, and there’s no way Karma doesn’t know that. It’s part and parcel of who Gakushuu is, of his power struggle with the principal.

Karma knows that. Has to.

Gakushuu’s breath gets stuck in his throat all the same.

When Karma speaks, it’s in a small, hopeful voice. “When the time comes, I’ll tell you.” He thinks for a bit. “Maybe.” He thinks some more. “If I feel like it.”

He’s definitely laughing now. Gakushuu rolls his eyes, and the moment passes. “I’ll find out on my own before that, obviously.”

“Show more respect to the top student, Number Two,” Karma says, and he grins. He’s really good-looking. It’s really annoying. Gakushuu is annoyed. “This school needs to promote strength more- oomph.”

Karma’s lips carry the faint hint of strawberries on them, the same taste as his favorite juice. They’re warm, and are still quirked in a half-smile, and Gakushuu thinks that he can almost feel the mischievous, reckless core of him, flickering wild and bright.

After a beat of frozen silence, Karma laughs against Gakushuu’s lips and kisses him back, sugar-sweet and a little dangerous. Gakushuu feels little thrills of electricity along his spine as Karma’s hands travel up and finally settle on his shoulders. They kiss until Gakushuu begins to pass out, and when he pulls back, Karma makes a soft noise of yearning and follows.

Once they finally catch their breath, they grin at each other, victorious.

“My father’s going to be impossible,” Gakushuu mumbles inanely, still leaning into Karma’s warmth.

“Sensei,” Karma groans, which makes no sense but Gakushuu’s glad he’s sharing in the mood. “Hey, does this mean we’re on the same side now?”

Their eyes gleam. “Think of the possibilities,” Gakushuu breathes. “We could take over the world.”

“Not right now, though,” Karma says lazily, kissing the corner of Gakushuu’s mouth. His lips are soft, and fit against Gakushuu’s like a dream. Gakushuu melts, which is inconvenient and embarrassing. “Maybe tomorrow.”

Gakushuu considers this. “Maybe tomorrow,” he allows, and focuses on perfecting this kissing thing.