Lazily Rei's eyes scanned the school grounds below, watching from the window of the light music club room. He was sat by the window alone, lights turned off to minimize the strain of any brightness.
Undead wasn't having any practice that day and the Aoi twins were also off somewhere else, so it was just him resting in the comforts of the club room that had almost reached the status of a second home.
Normally he'd be asleep in his coffin around this time of the afternoon, but he had been resting for most of the morning, so he felt energetic enough to at least watch what was going on outside. What caught his eye quickly was the Track and Field club, not an unusual thing for him considering fellow unit member Adonis was part of it and he could observe easily from this place. More often than not it was only Adonis and Ra*bits' Mitsuru racing down the tracks, though this time none other than the club captain himself was present, Madara Mikejima. Arashi was nowhere to be seen, but Rei remembered Adonis mentioning that both Madara and Arashi had inconsistent appearances, so it wasn't concerning to see the club incomplete.
And so he watched the three members present, engaging in their club activities with motivation and energy that made rei shudder. Running so much under broad daylight and warm temperatures would surely be a fate worse than death for a vampire like him.
Well, fortunately for him he was tucked away safely and could simply enjoy watching these kids enjoy their time.
Something was off, however, he quickly noticed.
It was barely noticeable, but the young man was shifted to the right awkwardly with an inconsistent step, looking like he would trip and fall any second. He still kept up with the other two as they were competing (of course, letting them get ahead at the end ever so slightly so they'd score a win), but this behavior still raised Rei's concern. Once the race was over, Mitsuru and Adonis were engaging in some sort of conversation, taking their eyes off Madara, whose face fell almost immediately. He seemed to be quite out of breath for his standards and began clutching his side, which Rei began to assume to be the result of something worse than just having a stitch.
The second Mitsuru turned around towards his captain, however, Madara regained his composure, shooting the younger an enthusiastic smile. Oh, Madara was definitely hiding something from the other kids.
The youngest of the bunch made a few wild gestures, tugged at the hem of Madara's shirt, and then dragged the other two back onto the tracks for what Rei assumed to be another race. Of course, Mitsuru would ask for another one, not only was he still such a young child full of so much energy, but he'd also lost the previous round to Adonis by the split of a second, a loss he couldn't just accept without demanding a rematch. And, of course, Madara agreed to it, despite how his face was twisted in pain mere seconds before.
What a fool, always happy to please others first without looking out for himself once in a while.
Ah, well, Rei couldn't exactly frown upon him for that, as he was guilty of this habit himself most of the time.
Still, he couldn't help but worry as he watched them. Madara was prone to do anything in other people's favor even if it was hurting him, and he wasn't likely to stop unless someone outright told him to (and even then, Madara rarely listened when he was being told what to do). The younger athletes didn't seem to notice anything, though, and Rei was too far away to do anything but watch. Sometimes looking at Madara felt like looking at his old self from the year before, the only difference being that Rei might be able to prevent Madara from suffering a cruel death as he had experienced himself.
His attention was brought back to the outside when a mop of red hair came into view, waving at the club members. Ah, the youngest and most recent member of Knights, Tsukasa Suou. The kid made his way over to Madara specifically, though Rei was unable to hear what prompted his hasty appearance as he explained something to the leader of MaM. Madara then bowed his head to the rest of his club and took off with Tsukasa shortly, disappearing out of Rei's sight as well.
Madara was most likely called to help out with something regarding Knights, he did so a lot, considering he was particularly close to Leo and desired to protect the units as a result, whether his friend was present or not. It certainly came in handy for Rei, who was usually ushered to leave by his brother if he came around. Rei may see his old self in Madara, but he was quite certain that the other boy could at least do a better job at protecting Ritsu than he had done in the past.
Still, this meant Madara was going to continue running himself ragged even though he looked like he really needed to take a break. He could never say no to anyone from Knights, though, so he'd push through any of his own pain if it meant they wouldn't have to take another blow like they had a year ago.
With a sigh, he turned away from the window, no longer in the mood to continue watching his peers. Instead, he finally retreated back into the comforts of his coffin, hoping that some more rest would wash away the irritating feeling festering under his skin.
Once he awoke from his slumber yet again, the sun had begun setting, illuminating the club room in soft shades of orange. He was still the sole presence in the room, but as the day was coming to an end, he decided to rise from his resting place and step out into the halls. He didn't have any particular business to remain in school, yet he didn't feel like returning home either. Maybe he would be able to find Madara, who certainly wouldn't leave before he really had to.
Fortunately for Rei, he was just coming down the stairs when a familiar presence rushed by the hall below.
"Mikejima-kun!" Rei called out, skipping a few steps down, satisfied to see the other man had stopped in his tracks at the call of his name.
"Rei-san! It's good to see you! I had nooo idea it was already getting this late, haha~!" cheered Madara in his usual, unnervingly loud voice, as if nothing was wrong at all. He smiled and laughed like he always would, spreading positive energy wherever he went, even though Rei knew it was a façade.
"Say, do you have a moment? I wish to talk to you."
"Awe, I'd loooove to have a chat with you, but I promised Chiaki-san to help Ryuseitai with a few preparations for their next show, so I reaaaally have to get to the gym right now! We can talk after I'm done, though!"
This was getting ridiculous. As far as Rei could figure, Madara had been running errands all afternoon and continued doing so well into the evening, all the while being in no state to do so. Rei wanted to scold him for such foolish behavior, but he knew it wouldn't get them anywhere, so, instead, he resigned.
"Very well," Rei sighed, crossing his arms over his chest, "meet me in the light music club when you have finished. I shall be waiting."
"Awesome! I'm gonna give it my all so that you don't have to wait for too long~! See ya!" Madara half yelled, already picking up the pace, and then he disappeared around the next corner.
Rei sighed again. At this rate, he wouldn't be able to save Madara from himself.
The second Madara left the gym, he nearly doubled over, leaning against the wall for support as he tried to catch his breath. This was getting bad. He hadn't meant to push himself too far but somehow one thing led to another and there was no way he could turn down anyone in need, so now he had to reap what he sow. That was fine. He'd be fine. He just had to regain his composure, waiting for the searing pain in his side to subside at least a little.
The last thing he had to do now was meet up with Rei, which was both a blessing and a curse. He was always happy to spend time with the other, but Rei was also way too perceptive and Madara wasn't sure if he would be able to hide his current predicament from him.
Well, there was no use dwelling over it, so he simply began making his way back to the main building, slow in his steps in order to not aggravate his injury any further. Luckily almost everyone had already returned home by this time, so he didn't catch anyone's suspicious attention on the way to the club room where Rei should be waiting.
When he arrived, he took a deep breath before knocking on the door and immediately making his way in. "Coming in, Mikejima Madara, at your service☆"
"Goodness, you're loud as ever. I am not yet hard of hearing, so there is no need to yell at me," grumbled Rei in return, seated on his coffin as he was sipping on a box of tomato juice.
"Sorry, sorry! You know it's a habit," his disguise seemed to be working well so far, he noted, closing the door behind him before he approached the vampire. "Sooooo, what do you need me for? I hope I didn't leave you waiting for too long!"
Rei shook his head in response, "No, it is quite alright, don't worry. Actually, I had been wondering what you have been up to recently."
Huh, that was random. Usually, if Rei called for him, there was something he needed from him, but this?
"Oh, you know, this and that! I'm staying here in Japan for a while, so I thought I'd use the time to check up on my fellow students of this school! Everyone's quite busy, huh? It sure never gets boring here!"
Rei didn't answer immediately. Instead, he stared at him intently, piercing red eyes causing a shiver to run down his spine. "Say, are you hiding something? Perhaps....an injury or something of the like?"
Madara stared back. Shit. He wasn't being this obvious, was he?! How did Rei figure that out so quickly?
"I don't know what you're talking about! C'mon, why did you really call for me? Surely not just to ask me that," Madara replied quickly, trying to sound as composed as possible. He already had a feeling he wouldn't be getting away with this one, but he didn't want to concern Rei any further, so he could at least try.
"I did, in fact," stated Rei, narrowing his eyes as he leaned forward. "I saw you at the Track and Field club earlier and you were clearly showing signs of discomfort when the others were not watching you."
Seriously?! "You were watching us? Hey, that's kiiiiinda creepy, Rei-san!"
"You're dodging the question," pressed Rei further, driving Madara into a corner.
"I'm not, though? I told you, I don't know what you're talking about! Your eyes must've tricked you from all the way over here!" he continued to defend himself. He couldn't always just rely on Rei if something was wrong, the vampire himself often bore too much weight of other people on his shoulders and Madara loathed adding onto that when he was supposed to take some off.
"When have your lies ever been effective on me, Mikejima-kun?" Rei simply continued asking, not willing to give in and let Madara off the hook.
Madara could play this game too, though. "Rei-san, I'm not-"
Or maybe not. With one swift movement, Rei stood before him, which caused Madara to take an instinctive step back. Big mistake. He accidentally shifted his weight onto the wrong side, a jolt of pain wracking his body so that his legs gave out for just a slight moment. Rei caught him just in time, then slowly lowered both of them to the ground.
"Fuck," Madara grit out, holding onto the other man, "that was uncalled for."
"I apologize. Though it did not have to come to this if not for your stubbornness," Rei responded before he let go once they were seated. "Will you let me look at it now?"
"Ugh, fine, I get it. Won't happen again, boss," Madara grunted in response, then lifted up the shirt of his school uniform, revealing the way almost the entire left side of his upper body was covered in dark bruises.
Rei's expression stayed neutral as he spoke up again, “How did this happen?”
Madara looked away. Rei knew it could realistically only be two things, yet Madara still hesitated to admit it out loud. If he just stayed quiet, then maybe he could pretend this wasn't his reality.
“Your parents, then, I assume? What was the cause this time?” Of course, Rei needed to hear no words to understand. Still, he continued his interrogation, making it impossible for Madara to resist spilling things any longer.
“Oh, you know, the usual...” he started, rubbing at the back of his neck awkwardly, “they were displeased that I decided to stay in Japan for a while since they believe I'm just gonna mess with their stuff again. Guess it kinda escalated from there last night...I spent the night at school instead and was kiiiinda hoping I could just sleep this off but, uh, that didn't work out so well, huh?” he tried to laugh it off, as he did with most things, but Rei was having none of it, still wearing that serious expression in concern for his friend.
“And yet, even in this state, you still lend a helping hand to everyone wherever you can. Do you know how foolish that is? You will only hurt yourself in the process.”
That struck a nerve with Madara, not least because Rei was quite one to talk. “So what? It's the least I can do!”
“The least for what?”
“For you, for everyone!” Madara nearly yelled, stopping himself for a second to keep it cool. “Last year, I couldn't do a single thing. I merely watched as everyone I cared about died a cruel death, and I was the only one who came out completely unharmed. Shouldn't you know better than anyone?”
Finally, he met Rei's piercing gaze once more, only to be affirmed in what he said. After all, looking at Rei now was so much different than the year before, as if he was a completely different person taking the same name.
“So that is what this is about?” the vampire questioned once more in an attempt to have Madara unravel completely. “You feel guilty about the incidents of last year, and now you will do anything in your power to prevent another death, even at the expense of your own life?”
“I'd deserve it. When have I ever done right to anyone? My own family hates me and the people I care about, I couldn't protect. If I had to give my life to save at least one of you in the future, then so be it.”
Rei just about heard enough. He moved closer again, until his face was mere inches away from Madara's, placing one hand on the other boy's cheek and forcing him to look Rei in the eyes. “Mike- no, Madara-kun, no one wishes for you to do such a thing. No one is blaming you, either. I, at the very least, would despise to see you end up like me. Allow yourself to rest easy, and let yourself be cared for. It would be such a shame for someone as radiant as you to lose that light.”
Finally, Madara cracked the faintest of smiles, soft and genuine as Rei's words reached him. “You're a real smooth talker, Rei-san,” he returned, placing his own hand on Rei's before lowering them into his lap and moving his head to rest on the other's shoulder, leaning against him. “Thank you.”
Rei wrapped an arm around Madara in return, careful as to avoid the injury. “You're quite welcome, though there is nothing to thank me for. It is simply my own, selfish desire. We would all be lost if you weren't able to shine this brightly, despite the hardships you, as well, have to face.”
Madara merely hummed. He really, really wanted to believe him.
“Shall we head home to my house soon? You do need to rest up and I would be contented knowing you get to do so in a safe place,” Rei asked after a moment of silence in which they merely relished in each other's presence.
“Yeah, that...sounds nice, actually. Just give me another moment...like this.”
Madara closed his eyes, shifting more of his weight against the older man. Truly, Rei was like a saving grace for him.
He hoped that, maybe one day, he could return the favor and leave his guilt buried in the past where it should belong.