Masuda spends his lunch break sulking.
This isn’t particularly normal for him. Usually his lunch break is devoted to play time and entertainment (after, of course, he’s eaten his lunch and checked very carefully to be sure that he hasn’t left any crumbs behind), usually in the form of shrieking and laughing and running and rough housing, as all little eight year old boys are wont to do. But today, he sits quietly on the colorful swing set of the school’s playground, head low, lips pouted, the toe of his sneaker digging into the ground. He can’t have fun while he’s sulking –it’s a rule of some kind, he’s sure—so he doesn’t swing at all. Just sits there, looking quite miserable.
And it’s all Tegoshi’s fault.
Granted, it isn’t really fair of him to blame Tegoshi, and a certain part of him –the same part that makes him clean his room obsessively every weekend without having to be asked and finish all of his vegetables at dinner— reminds him of that several times.
He should be glad that Tegoshi is making new friends, that mature part of him says, in a voice that reminds him suspiciously of his mother. Because, after all, Tegoshi is shy –at least to anyone he doesn’t know, anyway— and even though it’s been six months since he and his family moved here, the only friend he’s really made is Masuda. And, according to the rules of the playground, that doesn’t even count, since Masuda is older than Tegoshi by two years and is in a different class.
So, really, he should be happy for the younger boy. It’s nice that he’s finally getting along with his classmates.
Except, Masuda can’t quite shake a certain amount of heartache from bubbling up when he sees the little six year old smiling brightly at someone else, talking animatedly with another boy and not paying any notice to poor, lonely Masuda. And that’s not fair, because Tegoshi is supposed to be his best friend. Best friends are supposed to notice these things, right? But Tegoshi hasn’t. And that, according to Masuda’s childish logic, entitles him to sulk as much as he likes.
So he does.
He’s not long into it, however, when he feels a pair of tiny arms worm around his neck and a familiar weight bear down on his back.
“Massu~!” Tegoshi chirps, cheerful and bright. “Come on! We’re gonna play tag!”
Tag is Masuda’s favorite, because he’s the fastest runner in the school, and nobody can ever catch him. For a moment, Masuda considers abandoning his swing and forgetting his sulking in favor of something much more fun, but then he reminds himself that he’s mad at Tegoshi, and he shrugs the younger boy off of him rather pointedly.
Because Tegoshi is standing behind him, Masuda misses the crestfallen look that passes over the younger’s face.
“But… how come?” Tegoshi scoots over, around the side of the swing, so that he’s standing in front of Masuda. The older boy makes it a point to avoid looking at his face. He knows that if he does, he’ll give in, because Tegoshi has those big eyes and that pretty face –even with that bandage on his cheek, likely the end result of yet another door smacking him in the face. Really, Tegoshi is such a klutz— and Masuda is kind of a sucker for his smile, and everyone knows it.
But not today.
“What do you care?” It comes out harsher than he’d intended, and Masuda would have to be blind to miss the hurt expression that Tegoshi takes. Stubbornly refusing to admit that he might be a little bit wrong here, the older boy looks away.
“Of course I care!” Tegoshi sounds honestly upset. “Massu is my friend!”
That alone is enough to make Masuda want to apologize. Tegoshi looks like he wants to cry, and Masuda feels instantly guilty. But he’s upset –upset and lonely and jealous— and he’s not ready to let it go just yet, not until Tegoshi realizes that he did something wrong.
So, somewhat snidely, he grumbles, “Well, why don’t you just play with your best friend over there? You were having so much fun before.”
He nearly misses it; the look of revelation that passes over Tegoshi’s face as he finally realizes what’s really bothering Masuda. For a moment, Tegoshi looks honestly shocked. And then that shock shifts into confusion, anger. And then, before Masuda can even think to apologize for it, the younger boy is surging forward, hands landing on Masuda’s chest as he pushes with all his might.
Masuda tumbles right off of his swing, landing hard on the ground, hands bracing his fall, dust scattering up from the dry earth below him at the impact. He stares up at Tegoshi afterwards, eyes wide in surprise, until he becomes aware of a horrible stinging coming from his palms. He lifts them up, finding them caked in blood and dirt, and tears come to his eyes. “Ow!” He looks back up with a glare. “Tegoshi, that hurt!”
“You’re an idiot!” The younger boy counters heatedly, but oddly enough, he softens a second later, nudging the swing that Masuda has just been sitting on aside as he drops to his knees. He takes Masuda’s scraped hands gently, and the look he gives Masuda makes the older boy immediately abandon any hard feelings he may have had. “Stupid,” He mumbles, brushing away the dirt from Masuda’s wounds and then dropping a sweet, childish kiss there, somehow apologetic.
“Massu is the only one for me.”
To say that Yamakita is a small town is a gross understatement; with a population just barely brushing the triple digits, ‘village’ might be a more appropriate title. Admittedly, the town is really just an offshoot of a larger, more city-like cousin some twenty odd miles north, but that doesn’t really change the fact that the place is tiny and probably won’t be growing larger anytime soon.
Most of the people who live in Yamakita have done so since the day they were born, and Masuda Takahisa is no exception.
His family, now reduced to just his father and little sister after his mother’s passing three years earlier, lives in the residential area of town, but Masuda is 18 and therefore too old to be living at home (not to mention the fact that two mouths are a lot easier to feed then three on a grocery store manager’s salary, although Masuda would never tell his father that) so instead he makes his residence at the one and only motel in town, room 16. It’s not particularly glamorous, and it’s certainly not what he’d had in mind when he’d decided to move out, but the town is too small to warrant an apartment complex, and Masuda can’t afford to rent a house on his paycheck.
And it’s not like the place is without its perks. The rent is cheap, the manager is pleasant and friendly, and while the room is small, that just makes it easier to keep clean and tidy. And the quiet is nice; the motel is empty most of the year aside from him and a few other people in similar circumstances, so there’s rarely anyone around to make trouble.
Masuda sometimes wishes he has more time to spend there.
His job keeps him away most days, and his days off often get monopolized by either his family or friends. Usually, he gets home mid-afternoon, giving him enough time to make a quick dinner and relax for a bit. But today he had a double shift, it’s almost midnight, and all he wants to do is pass out as soon as he gets home.
He pulls his car into the parking lot with a heavy sigh, moving into his usual parking space easily before shutting off the engine and slipping out, pausing only to grab his backpack and lock the doors. It’s only when he’s just a few feet from his room that he realizes there’s someone there, curled up in front of his door, head bowed low.
Masuda could recognize that mop of dark hair and petite figure anywhere.
“Tesshi?” Tegoshi jerks, startled by the noise, and Masuda wonders just how long he’s been sitting out here. Kneeling down beside the younger, Masuda reaches out for him, and when Tegoshi finally lifts his head, he curses. “What happened?”
It’s a stupid question, one he already knows the answer to. His suspicions are confirmed when Tegoshi’s bottom lip quivers and he half-whispers, “Massu…”
Masuda’s hand brushes his cheek, thumb dragging lightly under his eye, mindful of the ugly purple bruise marring the boy’s face. Despite the gentleness Masuda shows, Tegoshi still winces, and the older of the two feels an uncomfortable clenching at the sight. He pulls Tegoshi close, lets the younger bury into his chest, whimpering and trembling, and sighs softly. “Oh Tesshi… what was it this time?”
Tegoshi doesn’t answer, just shakes his head. Masuda takes that for all the answer he needs, and for a few moments, they just sit there together, Masuda rocking Tegoshi gently back and forth, rubbing his back soothingly. After a bit, the younger starts to squirm, and it takes Masuda a few seconds to realize that he’s trying to shift enough to stretch out his legs. He pulls back to give him the space he needs, and it’s only then that he notices it: a dark stain, brown in the bad lighting but no doubt red in actuality, splashed across the bottom cuff of Tegoshi’s left pant leg. Masuda doesn’t need to look closely to know that it’s blood.
“Tesshi?” His voice is gentle, and he reaches down, gingerly brushes the spot through the fabric. Tegoshi jerks and hisses, telling him what he needs to know. Carefully, he pries the sticky fabric up and gets as good a look as he can, grimaces at the sight.
The cut is clearly deep, and there’s something glimmering in there; probably a left over piece of whatever caused it in the first place. His first instinct is to drag Tegoshi to the car and drive the local hospital. But he bites it back; his Tesshi is utterly terrified of doctors, and doing so will just make the younger boy angry and pout a lot.
Instead, Masuda stands; Tegoshi makes a noise of protest, scrambles to clutch at his shirt, but he catches his hands and smoothes down the younger’s hair affectionately to quiet him down, smiling comfortingly. Digging through his pocket, he pulls out his room key and unlocks the door, opening it a crack. And then he re-shoulders his backpack, crouches back down beside Tegoshi and slips an arm under the younger boy’s legs and one around his shoulders. Lifting him up is easy; Tegoshi is underweight, far too light for his own good. Masuda barely feels him at all.
Inside, he sets Tegoshi down on the bed. The room is like any other motel room, or at least Masuda imagines it is. He doesn’t have much experience to tell him otherwise, anyway. It’s a single room, plain wallpaper and cheap carpeting, a bed taking up most of the space. There’s a dresser, table, and microwave, all of which Masuda has added himself. The bathroom is just barely big enough for the shower and toilet.
It’s not much, but it’s home.
From the dresser, he pulls out the first aid kit that he keeps there, moves to kneel down in front of Tegoshi. The younger boy is sniffling, but quiet, and makes no protest when Masuda moves to roll up his pant leg.
In the better lighting, he can make out the edge of a shard of brown glass. Masuda sighs to himself, glances up at Tegoshi with a frown. “He was drinking again?” Tegoshi nods wordlessly, and Masuda shakes his head sadly. Tegoshi’s father is no less cruel to the teenager when he’s sober, but the beatings are always more brutal after a few beers. Reaching up, Masuda touches Tegoshi’s cheek kindly. “This is going to hurt,” he warns the younger, and doesn’t wait for a response as he digs through the kit, pulls out the bottle of rubbing alcohol, bandages, gauze.
He takes a moment, pours some of the alcohol on his hands. It stains his carpet in the process, and doesn’t really count much for sterilization, but it makes him feel better about what’s coming next. And then he goes to work, pinching the edge of glass and pulling.
It makes a sickening sort of sound as it slides out from under Tegoshi’s skin, and Masuda cringes the whole way through. Tegoshi tenses, eyes squeezed shut, but to his credit he doesn’t let a single sound escape, regardless of the pain. It isn’t until Masuda dumps the rest of the alcohol on the wound that he lets out a half sob, contorting forward, doubling over where he sits. Masuda looks at him apologetically, wants to reach out and hold him until the stinging passes, but holds back, instead moving to bandage the cut up.
It’s wrong, he thinks, that he’s gotten so good at this. He’s had so much practice that by now, taking care of Tegoshi’s injuries is just second nature.
He finishes quickly and doesn’t bother to put away the kit or clean up the mess he’s made, instead sitting on the bed beside his friend and draping a comforting arm around the younger boy’s shoulders. Tegoshi leans into him, head falling onto his shoulder, and nuzzles his neck almost plaintively. Masuda wishes he knew what to do to make him feel better..
“What was it this time?” He repeats his question from earlier, not really wanting to know but understanding that Tegoshi needs to talk about it; to get it off his shoulders.
The younger hesitates, as if debating whether or not to bother explaining it, and then after a moment wiggles just a bit, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a crumpled piece of colorful paper. He unfolds it and passes it to Masuda without a word. It’s a flyer for an entertainment label, he realizes. A notification of auditions being held in the area.
“He found it in my backpack,” Tegoshi tells him softly, sounding a little bit heartbroken. “They were passing them out at school. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took one.”
Masuda suspects it’s a little bit more than that; he knows Tegoshi’s fondness for music, and it’s not like the younger boy doesn’t have any talent in that area. He’s a wonderful singer, and he’s often told so by anyone lucky enough to catch him with a tune in his head. It doesn’t surprise Masuda that something like this might catch his interest.
“Were you thinking about auditioning?” He asks, glancing down at Tegoshi. The younger boy frowns and nibbles on his lower lip thoughtfully.
“I… maybe?” Tegoshi doesn’t seem sure. “I mean… I thought about it. But… tomorrow’s the last day, and…” He crumbles, just a little bit, getting upset, and Masuda slides his free hand into the his hair, gently playing with the strands. When Tegoshi starts crying, he sets the flyer aside and pulls the him into his lap, lets him curl up there and press his face into his neck with a whimper. “I was just trying to be polite,” it comes out choked. “And when he found it, he…”
“Shh…” Masuda hushes him softly, not wanting to hear the rest, knowing where it will go. The story is always the same, anyway; the only thing that ever changes is what starts it. He drops a kiss to his hair, and they sit there for what feels like hours after that, until Tegoshi doesn’t have anything left to cry out and Masuda can’t think of anymore consoling things to say.
Afterwards, Tegoshi doesn’t move from his spot, just rests there with his head on Masuda’s shoulder, occasionally sniffling. “Can I stay here tonight?”
Masuda knows he should say ‘no’. If Tegoshi doesn’t come home tonight, his father will throw a fit when he finally does come back. And his mother will worry, no doubt. But Masuda can’t bear to hear that tone in Tegoshi’s voice; so tiny and vulnerable, looking for sanctuary, if only for the night. It breaks his heart.
It only takes a few minutes for them to get ready for bed. Masuda forgoes brushing his teeth or making any sort of dinner; he doesn’t have much of an appetite anymore, anyway. Instead, he changes into a pair of sweatpants and gives Tegoshi one of his larger t-shirts to wear, and then they slip under the covers of his bed. Tegoshi doesn’t hesitate to scoot close, and he nudges at Masuda until the older boy finally relents and lifts his arm, wrapping it around the younger’s shoulders and letting him cuddle to his heart’s content. Tegoshi has always been clingy, and it doesn’t really bother him much, anyway.
They lay awake for a while, after that. Masuda doesn’t want to sleep until he’s certain Tegoshi has drifted off, but the smaller boy just lays there, eyes open, fingers absently playing with the ring that Masuda wears on a chain around his neck. It was his mother’s wedding ring, one of the few pieces of her he has left. Tegoshi has always had a certain amount of fascination with it, ever since Masuda started wearing it, and Masuda can’t count the number of times he’s had to swat the younger’s hands away when he’s in the middle of something and trying to concentrate.
Tonight, though, he lets Tegoshi toy with it as much as he likes, until finally he reaches up and takes the boy’s hand, wrapping warm fingers around his palm to still the jittery movements. He pulls him close, arms circling his smaller form tight, and he murmurs softly, “Go to sleep, Tesshi.” He adds, a moment later, as though he knows what the younger is thinking, “I’ll be here tomorrow. I promise.”
And Tegoshi sleeps.