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“Gareki!”

Outside, Gareki could hear Nai scratching at the door to his room—literally. The image of a little animal trying to claw its way in came, unbidden, to Gareki’s mind, and it was hard to shake the thought. Damn the boy’s rabbit-like nature.

“Gareki!” Nai called out again, sounding more pathetic by the second, and the whimper in his voice was almost enough to get him to open up. Almost.

Instead, Gareki sighed, turned over, and smashed a pillow over his ears. He’d had several people knocking at his door, trying to get him to come out and mingle—Yogi, Eva, even Tsukumo at one point—but none of them could even hope to match Nai’s single-minded persistence. It might almost be endearing, if it wasn’t so frustrating.

It wasn’t that Gareki didn’t want to come out, exactly. It was just that… Gareki frowned and clenched the pillow more tightly over his ears, not wanting to think the words.

Yotaka is dead.

Gareki clenched his teeth, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood. It was in the past already, there was nothing he could do to change it, and he certainly wasn’t going to cry over it like some scared little kid who’d never seen anyone die before. He was big, right? He was strong now, strong enough to handle anything.

He had to be.

But still, strong or not, it was easier to stay in here. He liked the people he’d met during his journey with Circus—endlessly cheerful Nai, playful Yogi, and even the quiet Tsukumo.

That was the problem.

When he lived on his own, stealing and scavenging and scrounging up whatever he could find, he never had to worry about how others thought of him. He could be the most miserable-looking person in existence and absolutely no one would care. Here, if he walked outside right now, with his face pale and his eyes red (though not from crying, of course) they would care. Nai would look at him with that pathetic-kicked puppy look, Yogi would fuss over him incessantly, and Tsukumo— okay, he wasn’t actually sure what Tsukumo would do. But he’d hate to make her worry, nonetheless.

It was better to stay in here, until he could talk to them and not feel like throwing up. Until the memory of Tsubame’s bloody fingers and Yotaka, inhuman wings spread and a sword pinning him to the earth, was something he could slide into the back of his mind.

He’d be okay soon, and then he’d come out and join them. After all, Nai couldn’t keep this up forever.

---

Four hours later, Gareki snapped. He dug himself out of the nest he’d made on his bead—blankets, pillows, even bathroom towels piled high in a futile attempt to block out the noise—and strode over to the door.

“Okay!” he said, voice a hoarse whisper. “Nai, I’m here, okay? You can stop, I’m here.”

“Gareki!” Nai looked up at him from his spot on the floor and smiled like the world had suddenly decided to grant him his every wish.

Well, at least he was using words again. Somewhere around the two-hour mark, Nai’d given up on whining Gareki’s name and switched to just plain whining—some sort of high, wordless, bestial yelp that went on and on and also apparently had the power to pierce walls, blanket fortresses, and eardrums.

“Um,” Gareki said, “Hi?” He hadn’t really planned out what he was going to do beyond ‘making the noise stop’. Part of him was tempted just to turn around and head back inside, but he wasn’t that cruel. (And anyway, he knew full well that Nai would just take that as a cue to start right back up again.)

Nai had no such reservations, apparently. He grinned again, even brighter, and latched himself onto Gareki’s legs in a fierce hug.

“Nai! Get off!” Gareki only barely managed to stop himself from falling over.

“Okay, Gareki!” Nai said and, letting go, bounced to his feet. “But you have to come to the parade with us, okay?”

“The parade?” Gareki frowned. “Did Circus do a raid while I was…”

Locked in my room, his brain helpfully supplied.

“…Gone?” he finished, awkwardly.

“I don’t… think so?” Nai wrinkled his nose. “But there’s going to be one anyway, Yogi said so. And he said we should come! You don’t want to make Yogi sad, right?”

Nai made those eyes, the ones that made him look like a kicked puppy. And no, Gareki didn’t want to upset Yogi, more than he cared to admit. But still.

“Nai,” he said carefully, trying not to crush the other boy’s hopes, “I don’t think…”

“No!” Nai said sharply, cutting Gareki off. “I can tell you’re sad, Gareki. I don’t…” here his face turned down, thoughtful, “…I don’t really understand everything that happened in Karasuna, but I don’t have to, Gareki! I know that when you’re sad, you should tell someone about it! Me and Yogi and Tsukumo and Eva and everyone else in Circus care about you, and that means we want to be with you even when you’re sad. We care about you, so you don’t have to be so hidden! ”

“Nai,” Gareki started, then gulped, unsure how to continue. He wasn’t used to this anymore, this whole idea of sharing feelings and letting other people see your emotions.
Not since Tsubaki died.

“Gareki?” Nai asked with open curiosity. “Are you crying?”

“No!” Gareki rubbed at his eyes furiously, brushing away the wetness there. “I just have, um, watery eyes.”

“Oh, okay!” It was a testament to Nai’s, well, Nai-ness, that he didn’t question that statement at all. “Will you come, then?”

“Yeah,” Gareki said, and sighed heavily. “I’ll come.”

“Yay!” Nai lept for joy (literally), and gave Gareki a joyful smile that scrunched up his eyes and showed all his teeth.

There was no way not to react to a grin like that, and Gareki couldn’t stop a small smile from slipping across his face. It was weird, the idea of having people who cared about him, weird and terrifying, but fantastic too.

And this time, he would manage to keep them all safe.

“C’mon, Gareki,” Nai urged, tugging on his sleeve and breaking him out of his thoughts, “We’ve got to get changed! Yogi picked out an outfit for you and everything!”

Yogi picked out an outfit for me?”

Nai nodded happily, oblivious to the sudden look of horror making its way across Gareki’s face.

Maybe, Gareki thought desperately, visions of frills and lace and cat costumes dancing through his head, It’s not too late to turn around and spend the rest of the month in my room.

FIN.