You've never really been here before.
Torn and broken in many places, on your back, in a place you seldom pay attention to and hardly ever visit. The rain carves out a cradle for you in the dirt.
The rain washes.
Everyone else has gone. The playground is deserted. It must be late, you think - if someone were waiting for you at home, this person would be worried sick by now.
But fortunately, you're all alone. There's just you, and the sound of water falling all around you.
The cold has made you numb. If you're still wounded, you no longer feel it. If you never move again, maybe you'll never feel pain.
Hey. Kid. You okay?
You open your eyes and they meet the voice of the rain head on.
You squint and blink the water out of your eyes; that wasn't very smart. This would probably be funny if it were somebody else in your place, and the shadow peering into that somebody else's face was yours.
...Guess not, huh?
Surprisingly small, surprisingly warm hands slide between you and the earth. A hiss escapes you, as the pain returns.
You struggle, but the small, warm hands are surprisingly strong and they slide back out from under you to hold you down.
Cut it out, the rain says. I'm trying to help you. Your back isn't broken, is it?
Your arms are still too numb to effectively swing, so you contemplate spitting up into the face that's impudently close to yours, the face you can barely see, as it's against the light and the wide open sky.
But before you can do anything, this person is already picking you up. His small strong hands are propping you up and drawing you close.
Then you're on his back, your arms draped over his shoulders and your bare legs locked in his arms. You couldn't attack him or get away even if you wanted to. He's already taking you out of your cold, wet cradle and bringing you to shelter.
Trapped like this, you realize you aren't hurt, not really - it would take a lot more than the beating you just went through to incapacitate you. You're almost eleven years old and you're much, much stronger than anyone you know.
You're just tired. And the warmth that emanates from the back of this person with the voice of the rain tempts you to sink into it.
What happened? Who did this to you? Was it more than one guy? Do you remember their faces?
He doesn't totter under your weight. He doesn't bump into things or lose his way. He doesn't seem like he's hurrying, either. Before you close your eyes again, you take a moment to acknowledge that he's being careful, very careful, not to get you any more hurt than you already are.
It barely registers that this person holding you up, ferrying you to dry land, is only a little taller than you are.
What's your name?
"What?" Your eyelids fly open. Did you pass out after all?
"I said what's your name."
You sit up. You should not have done that. Something stabs at your side, forcing you to be absolutely still for a second. Your eyesight starts to twist everything into weird shapes.
"Don't move around too much!" the very young voice says to you. A shadow appears, kneeling by your mattress. "I think you broke a few bones or something... and you got this big nasty bump on your head. Just... don't move around."
This isn't your room. The smell is different. The mattress underneath you is harder, lumpier, more used. There also seems to be too little by way of empty space. There are more things.
Your swimming eyesight is just starting to focus, when the moron in your presence turns on the overhead light. Open wounds or no, you wince.
"Sorry," he says. "I thought I heard you say something, so I thought you were awake. I guess you were dreaming?"
Shielding your eyes from direct light, you look at him. He's just a kid - a lanky kid, with scruffy black hair and a ridiculously open face.
He seems to be around your age, though the naked cluelessness all over him is probably some sort of indication that he's younger.
You seem to be in this kid's bedroom. You ponder punching him unconscious and fleeing the scene - except you realize quickly enough that you aren't in the best shape to knock out a boy who looks bigger and stronger and far healthier than you do. Also, that your clothes are nowhere to be found, you're not wearing any underwear and some parts of your exposed skin are covered in bandage and salve.
"Surprised?" the boy chirps. "I'm really good at patching up." - This isn't exactly what you'd call "good at patching up." You feel like a damn voodoo doll, all safety pins and rags. Still, the dumb kid looks mighty pleased with himself. - "My dad always freaks out when he sees me bleeding... and it's hard not to get beat up now and then when you play baseball, so..."
Even if you're interested in anything he has to say (which you're not) you find it much more interesting to lie back down until the room stops spinning.
"If you're still feeling bad by tomorrow, I'm going to tell my dad about you and - and we're going to take you to the hospital. But you heal really fast, don't you? I do, too, so... so what's your name?"
You ignore him and take as many notes as you can. There are sports medals and trophies on display in a corner. There's a baseball bat and a mitt somewhere close to the foot of the bed. Worse comes to worse, you could grab that bat, hit the kid over the head, and make a run for it. Somehow, though, you doubt you'll have to go through the trouble.
There's a large window nearby, looking out at the bleak night sky, and some tree branches swaying lightly in the downpour - it's safe to say you're not on ground level.
You aren't lucid enough to calculate if those branches outside can support your weight when you're ready to get the hell out of this place - but you're definitely taking your chances.
"Okay, um..." Weariness and surrender have crept into the other boy's voice. "I'm going to let you rest. I'll be right here, so don't worry about a thing, okay? Wake me up if you need anything, okay? There's a glass and a pitcher of water right beside you and... I'll make you something to eat if you're hungry."
You lie still, training your face toward the window, tensed up in case he tries anything stupid like touch you or pull the blankets up around your chin.
He doesn't do any of that, just turns off the lights again. He curls up on the floor somewhere next to your mattress, and in just a few minutes, you start to hear him breathing regularly. You relax.
The rain doesn't seem to be letting up. It probably won't be smart to go back out into the dark, slippery streets in your condition. In a few hours, you guess, it's going to be dawn, and you're going to be well enough to go your own way again.
As if you were never here.
The first thing you do when you wake up is find your clothes. The idiot kid has washed the blood from them and left them to dry in his private bathroom. They aren't dry enough for you, but they're just fine for wearing out of that place.
You still feel sore in many places, but you can think more clearly now. You can think, for example, of how you shouldn't ever be found here, lest you be reported to your parents and your teachers and entirely new scandals are attached to your name.
(It's not that you're scared of what other people will think; it's just that talk is annoying and know-it-all adults tend to hover over you trying to "fix" you and generally being inconvenient. A little damage control is in order.)
You take another look at the boy who might have saved your life, to see if he's awake. He doesn't seem to be.
So you make a jump for it.
The branch holds; it is surprisingly strong. It can probably hold three of you. The boy who's sleeping peacefully on the floor in his own room has probably used this branch to sneak in and out a number of times.
You don't really care.
And then you hunt down the high school dropouts who beat you up.
Other people can put it mildly as "giving them a dose of their own medicine." The only way you can put it, however, is "biting them dead."
The sad thing is, they're not dead, not really. They just won't be hanging around causing trouble in the Namimori Central Park playground anytime soon - although to you, that's the next best thing.
It has to rain tonight, too. It's strange, you realize, how you're perfectly all right just standing like this. Letting the vicious earth drink the blood dripping from your hands.
The rain washes.
When the torrent stops, there won't even be any footprints here. The water would erase the tracks and the blood, would bury the tatters and bits of hair and teeth and skin. As long as it's raining, you can get away with anything. The rain is on your side.
There's something lying on the ground. You pick it up. It must have fallen from one of the youths who had attacked you.
It's a leather wristband. Simple and sporty, the kind lots of young athletes wear these days; probably owned by someone who used to be in a high school varsity team.
It's intact. It's drenched. And it's yours now. You know exactly what to do with it.
Amazingly enough, the first thing he says when you hold out the wristband to him is not "Wow, I've always wanted one! Thank you! I might have saved your life and you gave me a cool wristband, now we're even!"
It's "Let me see your hands."
He takes both of your hands in his and brings them up close to his eyes.
"You're bleeding!" For the first time, he sounds angry. And older. And somehow not the same idiot kid you fled from just a few hours ago. "Who keeps doing this to you?"
You take back what's yours. You drop the wristband on the floor and clench your fists and get ready to punch him in the face for his tone of voice alone. Your knuckles might have been torn open in your latest encounter with the scum of Namimori City, but you won't let him get away with talking to you as if he's someone who fucking knows you.
But when he says "Come here," you stand still. Something keeps you still. He grabs your arm and pulls you into the bathroom so he can clean your hands first... then he gets some salve and some bandages and carefully, methodically, patches you up, just like he must have done the last time.
Such small hands. Just as small as your own. But so sure of what they're doing and so intent - even if the bandaging is crooked and you can still see slivers of broken skin peeking out the gaps when you flex your fingers.
You doubt anyone could have handled you with that much need to make sure you feel better.
"Why..." he asks, trying to catch your gaze. "Why are you always getting hurt?"
You don't have to answer that. So you don't. You stand up. Without looking at him, you take the wristband you've brought and you get ready to leave out the window again.
But something happens. You're not sure what. You decide to leave the wristband behind. You toss it toward him, and he catches it, and before he could toss it back at you, or throw it out after you, you've gone.
Why are you always getting hurt?
The question is something no one's ever bothered to ask. This is why it's going through your head right now, though you're barely aware of it.
"Why?" There's no reason. There never is.
People always just assume you're a troublemaker, a bad weed, born under a bad sign. They leave you alone - or they worship you and promise you all their parents' money, plus their firstborn - because they're scared of you. You live by your own rules and those rules are going to kill you someday.
In a way, they're right. You know they are. There's a fire, a need to feel the blood rushing through your veins, and it drives you on to live. No one else has it, and it burns. It fuels you.
But it's only the fact that you don't see it in anyone else that makes it hurt.
Who keeps doing this to you?
You shut your eyes. You let the words slide off you. You don't need to care about it, so you don't.
But there's no explanation for why you keep finding yourself back here.
All you know is that you need to just be close by - to watch him cleaning up, doing his homework, gabbing on the cell phone, getting ready for bed.
And wearing the leather wristband you gave him - still a few years too big for him, held in place by a lame rubber band, but there.
Sometimes you make yourself known. You stand on the large branch just outside the big window, and then look at him as if you're expecting him to welcome you. And he does.
(Are you hungry? I got some sushi left over from tonight's meal. Come in and have some!)
And sometimes you just don't bother. You watch him from the shadows of the tree in the yard, as he stands or sits by the big window near his bed - looking around, sometimes, waiting for something. Then when it gets too dark or too dangerous, because people are starting to notice, people are starting to worry - why are the lights in Takeshi's room still on so late? what's Takeshi doing by the window, he'll catch a cold in this weather - he'll shut the window but not lock it, turn around, turn off the lights, and vanish.
Takeshi. His name is Takeshi. He always leaves the window unlocked. He sees to the latest wounds you've incurred - the only things that could ever make him angry. He makes the bed so it's always clean and ready in case you need a place to rest.
He isn't asking for your name anymore. He never will again.
Takeshi is a popular boy. In the grade school he attends, everyone knows his name - "Takeshi! Come here! I want you to introduce you to somebody!" "Takeshi! Great job on your last game! Good luck on your next one!" He answers every greeting with a wide open smile - stupid from a distance, but quite powerful up close, infectious and overwhelming.
Of course you know this. You know this because you take time off to stalk him. You don't make yourself known, of course, that would defeat the purpose of "stalking" - and if anyone knew, it would certainly be disastrous for him. Imagine, being stalked by a disreputable older student from another school.
You're not sure why you care. But you don't know what it would benefit you either, if you don't.
In my yard, there is a stray cat. English class. He has to write a few sentences and read them aloud, in front of everyone.
He's never been good at academics, but he doesn't have to think too hard for this; the task is simply to "write about one of your favorite things."
Sometimes I give him food because he is hungry. I talk to him, but cats do not talk. He climbs the tree outside my room. He sleeps on my bed. His eyes are very beautiful. That cat, I very much like.
A bunch of his classmates hoot and make fun of him because his eyes light up as he talks about the "cat." They're sure he's not talking about a real cat - what else would make him blush like that?
He laughs and plays along and says I'm blushing because English is HARD, okay, shut up, you pervs. And he sits back down and covers his face with his no-longer-so-small right hand and waits for the color on his face to go away.
He pretends to duck his head in embarrassment, but that hand ends up resting on the back of his neck, and he turns his head so that some part of that wristband lies flat against the side of his mouth, his right cheek.
From a distance it's nothing - just an awkward kid with a wristband. But from up close - the precise distance of an evening, say, when he's lying on the mattress just beside you and his face is up close to yours, and you're sharing breath and that hand with the wristband is moving through your hair, your collarbone, the back of your neck - it's him saying "I like you" even without knowing you can hear him, placing your bruised fingers against his lips, watching over you while you sleep. It's him pretending to be dead to the world while you slip out, careful not to be seen, careful not to leave a single trace.
(Look, he says, raising his hand a bit, showing off the wristband that's being inevitably deformed by the tight band keeping it from sliding off, it almost fits me now! I'm growing bigger, did you notice? Soon it's going to fit just right.
(You say nothing. You have noticed. He's almost 11 and you're almost 12 and he's still awkward, still thin, but you believe him when he says it's going to fit soon.
(When he says it, it's a promise.)
You're almost 12 and he's almost 11, and he touches his lips to stolen leather and from a distance, makes you feel like no one ever has - like you're home, you're all right, and there's no need for the fire: he's there, always, waiting for you, keeping you from burning up.
His name is Takeshi. He never locks the window in case you come. And there are nights when you just enter and when your feet are solidly on the floor you get on your knees and you crawl under the blankets, seek out his heat and the sound of his voice saying You're late falling on the leaves, on the rooftops, wrapping around you and holding you close and warm and safe.
You've never really been here before.
Cut open and poorly patched together and vulnerable like this.
That's why you've made up your mind to stay away from him.
You want to be strong.
Stronger than anyone.
No addictions. No attachments. Nothing that forces you into feeling normal, into feeling all right, into feeling something.
Stupid cattle enjoy too many things they don't need. They revel in their little comforts and their little reliefs, never thinking ahead, never watching their backs. Worrying about pathetic temporary things like "love" or "money" or "fame," never knowing that these could be snuffed out at any minute.
You don't live in their world. You live in the shadows people don't even want to look at, much less venture into. Your dreams, if you dream at all, involve you standing in an endless battlefield, a lone survivor in a sea of corpses.
You are thirteen years old and you've just made your first kill.
The man is lying on the ground, face twisted into a mask of pain, belly down and ripped open. This swift death is a mercy, considering that in his overlong lifetime he had killed innocent children of Namimori, who would have wept in fear at the sight of the man at this moment.
The pleasure you suffered when you tore him apart was exquisite. Blood coats your hands and nails, a deeper shade of red than the rain can wash off.
And still, the rain falls.
It's furious. As if by giving its all, it will erase what you've done. As if it can bury an entire adult human body like it has buried tracks and hair and teeth before, has made things easier for you even without you asking.
Look, you suddenly want to say to someone, anyone, This is for you.
But the rain doesn't answer.
You're in the same school now. You're bigger and older and supposedly a lot wiser. You hope against hope that you also look different - that you've lost many of the things he recognizes about you.
So you pretend not to notice him when you pass each other by on a deserted corridor.
You have a split-second, however, to catch up on things and look him over: he's grown. He's taller, his shoulders are broader than you remember. While he's still lean, his whole body is heavier-set.
The leather band on his right wrist fits just right now. One promise kept.
His face somehow seems sleepless and sadder and at the same time more clueless - how much could have happened during your long absence?
His eyes turn wide. The light in it swallows him whole, almost as any of his ordinary smiles would - only, the expression on his face is a bit scared and a bit shocked and a bit unsure of what else to feel.
His greeting falls on deaf ears. He's stopped walking, but you haven't.
It's not that you're ignoring him...
It's more like you don't give a shit even if after two whole years, he's finally standing within reach.
(You're never going to stop getting into trouble, are you...)
You walk on. You don't have to look back, so you don't. He makes it easy for you; he doesn't run after you or try to call you by some stupid name he's made up, like "Cat." Or "Insensitive Jerk." He doesn't call you anything.
You hope he, too, has walked on. And you struggle to drive the image of the sad, sleepless, older boy from behind your eyes.
(But you'll always be fine, I know you will, because it's you. Besides... you'll always come back here, right?)
You turn a corner and all of a sudden, you feel heavy. Like something is on your back. Something that shouldn't have been picked up out of the earth, one rainy evening, then brought home and patched up and warmed up and waited for.
You wish you could just dump it somewhere and leave it to die. But it's too late now.
You hear he's doing badly in his classes. That because of this, he might be kicked out of the baseball team. That he isn't at all as spirited as he used to be in grade school, when everybody knew and loved him and adored the goofy grin that was permanently plastered on his face.
You hear things are getting bad for his family financially, and that he's working hard to stay in school because he needs to be on a professional baseball team someday. He needs to be scouted and recruited so that it will all be worth it.
You tell yourself you don't care. You aren't obliged to go to him and ask if there's any way you can help. If there's anything (or anyone) that needs "taking care of."
You don't need him. You're not responsible for him, or anything about him, least of all his happiness.
The fire inside you has sustained you for this long. It grows as you grow. There are so many words for it that don't fit - words like bloodlust, instinct, rage.
It is not a sickness. There is no cure for it. If you ever wanted it to end, you would just stab yourself in the heart and wait.
You don't need anything washing you clean. You don't need anyone encouraging you. Or patching you up, or calming you down, or smiling at you every time he sees you, like you've just made everything better, like you're his only reason to live.
You don't need all that.
You don't know what you need.
"Yamamoto's going to jump off the roof!"
These words aren't supposed to affect you. And yet your heart skips a beat, your fists clench.
And before you know it, you find yourself dropping everything you're doing and racing to the rooftop, shoving everything and everyone out of your way.
There he is.
Far in the back of the crowd of students, you can see the tall and not-so-awkward boy holding on with one good hand to the wire fence at the rooftop.
One of his arms is in a sling. He's not wearing a wristband now.
Is he really going to jump? You try to catch a glimpse of his face. You wait for him to look back at the crowd and see you. He never does.
But he's smiling. Some strange how, you know it.
You've never really been here before.
You don't know what to do.
You take a few steps forward, trying to tell yourself it doesn't matter... that nothing you can say could turn back time or make him feel better. All you have to do is grab his hand and pull him back into safety, pretend it's just your job, pretend that he's just anyone and you can't have "anyone" dying on your grounds. And not say a word to him.
Except there are a hundred thousand words trying to leap out of your throat right now.
A funny-looking boy flies through the crowd, almost as if tossed into the wide open space between Takeshi and everyone else.
The funny-looking boy tries to convince Takeshi that, of all things, he's no good. And then tries to run away.
You can't believe you're standing around for this freak show.
It's almost as if you know what's going to happen. Takeshi reaches out for the funny-looking boy and loses his balance.
The fall is much faster than you are. They both drop out of your sight.
And when you get to the edge, ahead of everyone else, you see it - the strange thing that happens, the funny-looking kid tearing his clothes off in a heartbeat and the hair on his head changing shape. The naked boy grabs Takeshi and bounces off the floor; the both of them are unharmed and whole.
Then, you realize you can breathe again.
You burn the image of the funny-looking boy into your brain. You're not sure why exactly - maybe it's just because people whose heads change shape need to be noted down.
And after a while of waiting for the taller boy without the wristband to catch his breath and regain the color on his face, you step away from the edge.
You're sure no one has seen you. Most of the people in the area are fixated on the boy who was about to jump, and the boy who had torn off his clothes just to rescue him. Unobserved, you leave.
He looks stunned. He's heard that name before, but he's never associated it with you.
You almost hear him saying it aloud. Tasting the name on his lips, his tongue.
Hibari Kyouya. I'm glad I finally know that! He'd be saying that if he wasn't busy getting knocked out. By you. Along with his little cattle friends.
"Are you injured? You seem to be protecting your right hand."
The comment catches him off-guard. For a moment he looks like he wants to say something. Something spiteful and angry and long-bottled up.
He lands on his back, close to his silver-haired friend and the funny-looking kid with the SHITI'MGONNADIE expression. Out of commission so soon? You're disappointed. Perhaps you were hoping he'd be tougher, or more agile at least.
He's just cattle, after all. That makes everything a lot easier.
Instead you focus on the two people who grab your curiosity: the baby and the funny-looking kid, who suddenly strips to his underwear and survives you. You're used to strange things (some of it is even your doing), but talk about something you don't see everyday...
You just want to grow stronger. And in order to grow stronger, you have to fight stronger people.
Only stronger people matter. The rest have to be kept in their place.
He's not worth your time if a broken heart and a broken arm are enough to kill him.
You're in the same school. Almost in the same year level. Encountering each other is unavoidable. It's also perfectly possible to come across each other in a completely deserted corridor more than once.
You feel his eyes on your face. You shoot him a bored glance and then look straight ahead.
He stops walking. At first you think he's going to make a grab for your hand or do something equally stupid; you're prepared to send him flying through the air, out the building, in case this happens.
But he doesn't do anything. You pass him by.
"Your name's Hibari," you hear him say softly, "isn't it?"
Despite yourself, you stop walking too. You just don't look back.
"Hibari. My name's Takeshi." He's smiling; you can hear it. "And it's okay."
Then he walks on.
It is okay, isn't it?
He has friends now. Good friends. You watch them from the rooftop, from the window of the disciplinary committee office, from a distance, in crowded places.
The silver-haired smoker punk makes Takeshi laugh, and his laugh rings true and clear. The funny-looking kid - Takeshi lights up when he's around.
Your sources say his name is Sawada Tsunayoshi. And this gains him instant respect among your followers... because you never ask for anyone's name, unless he or she interests you in some way.
And the baby - no question about it, he's strong. He's watching over Takeshi, saying he wants Takeshi to be part of a "family."
This is a good thing, for him. Cattle move in herds, they protect each other and make each other strong.
He won't be jumping off any rooftops again anytime soon.
This is a good thing, for you, too. He doesn't need you anymore.
He's wearing a wristband, but it's not the one you gave him.
He's not waiting for you by the window. Or lying awake sleepless because he's wondering why you haven't come back. Or blushing in class because it's still hard to talk in English about a nonexistent cat.
He's not here.
It's been years. The lights are off in his room. Tonight you're sitting in this tree, in the rain, for no good reason.
For some faint hope that maybe, if you sit here long enough, the lights are going on and the window is going to open and he's going to look out and find you, because he's been waiting and waiting.
The rain washes.
He will forgive you everything.
So, numb from the cold, and later heavy with sleep, you stay.
This isn't a dream about battlefields or corpses. In this one, a window opens. Light pours out of it onto your face and wakes you up.
A little boy with wide eyes peers out through the heavy curtain of water falling from the sky and sees you, beams at you and waves.
He's saying something - maybe something about leftover food, or about getting sick if you stay out in the cold too long. You don't care, you're on your way over to him anyway.
Come inside, the rain says, and his palm against the small of your back is warm.