Nobody's supposed to know. Nobody except Take, Tsucchi and Hyuuga, and they're happy to pretend not to know, so they can't answer any questions when some stuck-up jerk in 3-A makes a smart-alec comment about how Yabuki Hayato and Odagiri Ryu seem to be getting along much better lately, and isn't it nice how the most mayhem-inducing pair in the school are too wrapped up in each other to cause chaos?
The teachers definitely aren't supposed to know, not even Yankumi. The last thing they need is the principal making a call to Ryu's dad, full of "concern", which will eventually lead to Ryu being kept out of school again, maybe sent off to the oft-threatened military school.
They shouldn't be doing this. They shouldn't be getting in fights, either - not if they all want to graduate together - so when Jounan Tech's Kirishima finds them in the game centre one night and threatens to take his cell phone into Kurogin and show the pics around unless they agree to a fight with his school, all looks lost.
Hayato wants to fight him then and there. Pin him against the machines and beat the living daylights out of him till his phone crunches right along with his bones. Not allowed. Ryu holds him back with a warning hand on his arm, pointing out that Kirishima would've mailed the pictures elsewhere, wouldn't risk having them just on his phone. Not unless he really is that stupid, and they know from past dealings with him that he's not a complete idiot.
Reluctantly, Hayato lets him go. Kirishima smirks and says he'll be in touch with the time and place for the fight.
"We should've taken his phone anyway," Hayato sulks afterwards when the five of them are hanging out in the park, he and Ryu on adjacent swings while the other three occupy the bench.
"And what good would that do?" Ryu says. "Those won't be the only pictures."
"But just in case..." Tsucchi flips his fan closed, revealing the stolen phone underneath. "Swiped it from his pocket when he was trying to get money out of the pinball machine."
He chucks the phone to Hayato, who immediately starts flicking through the photos, scowling when he finds ones of himself and Ryu. He holds one up for Ryu to see.
Ryu shrugs. "So we're sitting together. It's hardly a scandal."
"Is that the one where you're resting your heads against each other?" Take asks, sounding a little embarrassed. "That one wasn't too bad. You can't help how you fall asleep, right?"
"I think it's the one where we're hugging on the roof that he wanted to flash around," Ryu says, and Hayato's cheeks darken under the streetlight, like he's embarrassed that anyone managed to witness him doing something as sappy as embracing his best friend. It was supposed to have been a quick, reassuring squeeze, a moment of comfort after hearing how Ryu had argued with his dad again, but somehow they'd never quite got around to letting go.
"How did he get up there anyway?" Hyuuga asks. He looks embarrassed too, can't stop fidgeting with his collar, but he's still there. "It's our school roof."
"Not like we can get him done for trespassing," Tsucchi says. "Not when that phone's the only proof we've got."
"How about Yankumi?" Take suggests. "Maybe she could help?"
Hayato doesn't think much of that. "We can handle it ourselves. What's she going to do about it? Convince Kirishima he's really a nice but misunderstood guy who'll be ruining his life forever if he insists on blackmailing us?"
"Sounds like her style." Ryu leans over just enough so Hayato's the only one who hears his voice. "It could be worse. Be glad Kirishima didn't see what happened after school."
After school, after hugging on the roof was a distant memory, they'd gone back to Hayato's place. Taku had been spending the night with a friend; their father had been on the road, not due back till morning. Hayato had offered much more in comfort then and Ryu had welcomed it, both of them hungry and rough around the edges till exhaustion had smoothed them out, left them soft and sated, a little bruised but unbroken.
Kirishima doesn't know about that. Neither does anyone else. Take, Tsucchi and Hyuuga don't need the details, don't want to know that their friends are doing more than messing around, and Hayato would be mortified if word ever got out. Ryu likes his private life to stay private, where his father can't disapprove of it.
If this gets to the principal, it'll make its way to Ryu's father. And if that happens...
"That creep, following us around," Hayato says, scuffing his feet on the gravel. "Some kind of stalker. Who'd do something like that for a fight?"
"Someone who wants us to agree very, very badly," Ryu says. "But we're not fighting."
"We're not fighting," he says again, because sometimes it takes a few tries to get Hayato to see it his way. He always comes around in the end, though. "There's no point. And do you want to give that guy what he wants? I don't."
This isn't just about their promise to Yankumi. Take shoots him a grateful look. No more fights, if they can help it. Ryu can't do much for his friends, but he doesn't want them to get hurt because he didn't think to check the roof for potential stalkers.
"Then what do you want to do?" Hayato asks. He hands Ryu the phone; Ryu looks at the incriminating photos, trying to gauge what an outsider, what someone who didn't know them would think. Their world's full of outsiders - their teachers, even their families, for the most part.
Sleeping on each other on the grass - not so strange, really, because delinquent high-school students will sleep anywhere. Hands brushing near enough for outstretched fingers to touch as they walk down the street - pavements are crowded, they don't have the space for distance. Hayato's arm around Ryu's shoulders as he outlines some crazy scheme which Ryu's opinion will make or break - easy to explain. They're friends, after all.
But the picture of them together on the school roof encompasses far more of their relationship than mere friendship. Ryu's heart aches, staring at himself in miniature, head tucked between Hayato's jaw and shoulder, looking for all the world like he's trying to give him a love bite. He's got his arms wrapped around Hayato's back, holding him tight enough to crack ribs, allowing himself to melt for a moment into the warmth and support being offered. Hayato's eyes are closed; one of his hands is working its way under Ryu's uniform jacket. They look like it would kill them both to separate.
That's exactly what will happen if Ryu's father sends him away. Ryu will freeze, becoming an ice statue with a heart that can't melt, till the day comes when he can no longer survive the cold. Hayato will blaze, temper flaring in a rage till he burns himself out and only ashes remain.
"I don't know." Ryu snaps the phone shut, wishing he could do the same to its owner. "I don't know."
Tsucchi tucks his fan away and rises from the bench to stand behind the swings, where he can put one hand on Ryu's shoulder and the other on Hayato's. He's tall, solid - always dependable. He's got their backs. Take and Hyuuga look at each other, then get up to join him, one on either side. They're shorter, less sturdy, but they're just as important. Five friends, together through thick and thin.
"We'll figure it out," Tsucchi says. "Kirishima won't be showing anything to anyone." He rubs a comforting hand over Ryu's shoulder. "Nothing's going to get to your dad."
Later, when the other three have gone their separate ways, Ryu pushes Hayato on the swing and listens to his promises not to fight. Hayato's frustrated, he gets that. Hayato thinks they can make this problem go away by scraping his knuckles on Kirishima's face, and being threatened means he's spoiling for a fight.
But Hayato also keeps his word, and he trusts Ryu to find a better way. That's how they work, ice and fire in perfect balance. Sometimes Ryu loses his temper too, and sometimes Hayato can be logical. When Ryu fights, he's the best they've got, even if Hayato's reluctant to admit it, but he's smart enough to pick his fights.
He's opting to walk away from this one, so Hayato will walk with him. Even if it means walking into trouble.