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Word on a Wing

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Jotaro Kujo was angry.

He was angry about a lot of small things that added up to one large feeling of dissatisfaction, the sense that he didn’t quite fit right in the world, that something along the way had gone horribly wrong. And the idea of not fitting wasn’t just metaphysical, he had shot up fifteen centimeters in a late growth spurt over the past year and had gone from being the tallest kid in the senior class to being the tallest person anywhere he went. His mother said that he was living up to his heritage, that his grandfather and his father and grandfather had all topped out at nearly two meters, but all it meant to him was that he had to replace his school uniform twice (and the jacket still didn’t fit right), and that chairs were uncomfortable, and that he stuck out wherever he was.

And he was sick of it. He’d already felt out of place in a society that valued conformity, with his half-Western heritage and his dislike of group activities. Going through the motions and following all the petty little rules at school seemed increasingly to be a waste of time; he’d been a good student in the past, but the joy of of learning wasn’t worth all the hassle any more. The guidance counselor was pressuring him to take college entrance exams, his teachers were warning him that his grades were starting to slip, and all he wanted to do was to stay home and be left alone.

His friends had been getting on his nerves as well.They used to have individual interests and activities they enjoyed, but now the interests were Girls and the activities were Going On Dates With Girls. He’d joined them for a while and found the whole thing tedious: the narrow range of “couples activities” they were supposed to enjoy, the fact that the girl took it as a license to keep making empty conversation and to hound him for the next date, and, though he was a little uncomfortable admitting it, the kissing. It left him cold, and he was frankly a little disgusted by it, to the point where he worried that something was actually wrong with him, that whatever bodily process had increased his height had also somehow shut off his hormones.

There was talk for a while of him finishing out the school year in America. His English was good enough and he could stay with his grandparents, and for a while he was looking forward to the idea, but then the drama regarding his grandfather had emerged, and everything was put on hold. His mother had been in charge of these arrangements, partially because it was her parents and partially because his father had been on tour at the time. And was still on tour. It had been eight months, and Jotaro was beginning to suspect that there hadn’t been a tour in the first place, and that his parents were lying to him about their separation.

So he went through life feeling generally pissed off, uncomfortable and dissatisfied. The day his life was to begin changing started like any other, with him oversleeping and his mother chirping gooey sentiments at him anyway, as if everything wasn’t a complete mess. The vice principal told him to button his jacket and as always, he ignored him, and continued on to ignore the hordes of screeching girls trying to get his attention. He ignored everyone in his homeroom and slumped in his desk, long legs splayed out and arms crossed, and ignored the introduction of a new student. There were too many other students around as it was.

At least today, he had Biology, where they’d been dissecting sharks, an activity that he found interesting and strangely meditative. Plus, he’d been the odd man out and had thankfully ended up without a partner, and could proceed at his own pace. He was set up his tools and notebook and was preparing to cut when the teacher’s voice distracted him: “Kakyoin, you can look on with Kujo for now.”

He looked up and actually saw the transfer student for the first time. Tall, but not nearly as tall as him. Skinny. Real button-down honor student type, though he’d let his bangs grow out longer than the rest of his hair in kind of a New Wave look, and his ears were pierced. Still wearing the uniform from his old school; Jotaro knew how much of a pain in the ass it was to get a new one. Angular face, thin lips, polite expression. Jotaro decided he was right to ignore him the first time, but half shrugged him over to the lab table anyway.

“We’re supposed to draw and label the organs,” he explained to the new kid, handing him the worksheet that had been distributed in the previous class. “I guess you can do that, unless you want to dissect.”

“This is fine,” replied the kid in a deep, even voice. He accepted the worksheet and readied his pencil. “Just tell me what to write when you’re ready.”

Jotaro nodded and continued where he’d left off. The shark’s skin was rough and cold under his fingers as he folded it back and took mental inventory - he’d finished the respiratory system last class, time to start on the digestive. He took the scalpel in hand and prodded at the viscera; the activity was engrossing enough that he nearly forgot he had a lab partner until it was time to label the kidneys. He looked up again to see that not only had the kid drawn over his rudimentary outlines with more realistic depictions, but he’d added Jotaro’s own hand with the scalpel in the corner of the page, including even the scar on one knuckle from the time he’d fallen off his bike as a child.

“That’s pretty good,” he said, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be in a bad mood.

“Thanks,” the kid replied, with a smile that spread across his face but only turned up slightly at the corners. Friendly, but guarded. “I’m hoping to join the art club, if it’s not too late.” Jotaro briefly wondered what he was doing here as a transfer student when the year was already underway, but didn’t want to come off as too interested in socializing.

“Mm,” he nodded, and went back to work. The rest of class was routine, Jotaro slicing away at the shark and identifying organs to Kakyoin, who dutifully illustrated and labeled them. And the remainder of the school day was just dull, the same routines and obligations, and he drifted through it until it was time to leave. On the way home, he stopped by the convenience store to check out the new magazines, and then rounded the block towards his house and there was the new kid again, cornered by that asshole Nakamura and two of his idiot friends.

Jacket open, roughed up, hands balled into fists - they’d obviously jumped him, they were always up to some stupid shit like this. Kakyoin fixed a murderous glare on Nakamura, who looked pretty angry himself.

“Homo,” he sneered. “You were watching me change after gym, weren’t you?”

“Fuck off,” spat Kakyoin, and the three of them were on him, kicking and hitting; he was actually doing pretty well for himself but the odds weren’t very fair. Normally Jotaro would have kept walking, but this kind of thing really pissed him off. Ganging up on some kid on his first day, bunch of fuckign cowards. He strode into the brawl and started pulling people apart, cognizant that if he threw a punch, he could actually do some serious damage.

“Oh fuck, it’s Kujo,” said one of the flunkies, and the three of them scattered. There were some advantages to being this huge, after all. Jotaro let them run, they wouldn’t be back, and turned his attention to Kakyoin. His nose was bleeding now, dripping on his shirt, and his top lip was split open. His eyes boiled over with murder and he looked back at Jotaro with fury.

“You didn’t need to help me.”

Jotaro shrugged. “I live around the corner if you want to get cleaned up.”

“No.” Kakyoin wiped his nose with the back of his hand, noticed the smear of blood with disgust. “I have to catch a bus.”

“Don’t be stupid. That’s going to stain, my mom can clean it-”

“See ya.” He picked up his discarded schoolbag and started to walk away.

Jotaro rolled his eyes. “Dumbass.” Why was he making this so difficult? He overtook Kakyoin and crouched down, surprising him by hefting him over one shoulder with ease.

“Kujo, what the fuck?” What the fuck indeed, he wasn’t entirely sure why he’d done it himself, but now that he had, he might as well follow through. He headed towards his house to the chorus of angry cursing from the boy slung over his back.

“Asshole. Fucker. Cumstain.” Cumstain? That one was pretty good. “Dipshit.” The polite honor student had a scrappy side, it seemed. Jotaro fumbled with the doorknob and pushed his way in, deposited Kakyoin on the floor and yelled “Hi, mom.” The other boy froze; Jotaro’s theory that Kakyoin wouldn’t be that vulgar around an authority figure, especially someone’s mother, seemed to be correct.

“This is Kakyoin,” he said to his mom, who had dutifully appeared at the door, carrying a plate of cookies. Her domestic side seemed to have gone into overdrive since his father had left, as if parenting twice as hard would make up for the absence. “He got in a fight.”

“Oh, honey!” she cooed, leaving the plate on the dining room table and turning her motherliness on full blast towards the slightly dazed and bloody kid in the entryway. She gave him a handkerchief from her apron pocket, and, to Kakyoin’s further shock, began to unbutton his shirt. “Let me take care of that for you, I’ll have it clean in no time.”

“That’s uh,” he stammered, trying to stem the trickle of blood from his nostril. “Um, you don’t have to-”

“Oh, it’s no trouble. I’ve had plenty of practice with this one!” She smiled at her son, who at least had the grace to look slightly embarrassed.

“Thank you,” said Kakyoin, still slightly unsure, as she left him standing in his undershirt. Jotaro, in the meantime, lumbered towards the dining room for a snack and to leaf through the pile of today’s mail. Bills. A postcard from his father, from Singapore, which Jotaro flipped into the wastebasket. A package also from his father, addressed to himself; Jotaro opened it and found, as expected, a record. He was always mailing them home from tours, he’d spend what little time he had in each city seeking out obscure music stores and rifling through the bins. This find was Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue; his father already had a copy of it, but he’d sometimes collect different pressings of works he was particularly a fan of. Jotaro took off the shrink wrap and put the record on the turntable.

“Have a seat,” sang Holly, returning from the laundry room, having made a detour through the kitchen for a hot pot of tea. “Kakyoin, sweetie, it shouldn’t take too long for your shirt to dry, if you’d like a snack in the meantime.”

“Thank you, Kujo-san,” Kakyoin answered, following her into the dining room and taking the seat opposite the one Jotaro had slumped into.

“Oh, no need to be so formal. You can call me Seiko.”

Kakyoin raised an eyebrow. “Seiko-san? If you’ll pardon my saying so, you don’t look at all Japanese.” Jotaro rolled his eyes. Polite mode Kakyoin wasn’t nearly as much fun as the other one.

She laughed, lapping up his overly-courteous bullshit. “No, no, I’m American. My real name is ‘Holly’, but people here find that hard to pronounce.” She poured him a cup of tea and pushed the cookies towards him.

“Holly,” he said thoughtfully, with a reasonably good accent. “Like, ‘Holly and the Ivy’?”

Yes! Jotaro, I used to sing that when you were little, remember?” Jotaro grunted. “How did you know that, dear?”

Kakyoin looked down at the table, embarrassed. “I read a lot,” he explained.

“You boys are so smart,” she grinned, crossing to pour Jotaro’s tea. “Honey, I’ll leave you alone with your friend for now, okay?” And glided out of the room, oblivious to Jotaro’s lack of response. The two of them ate, unspeaking, the music filling the space between them.

Finally, Kakyoin cleared his throat. “Thanks,” he said, a little sheepishly.

“No problem,” Jotaro shrugged. “Nakamura picks fights with everyone, don’t take it personally.”

Silence. The first song ended and Jotaro absentmindedly drummed his fingers to the intro of the second.

“He’s right, actually.”

“Hm?” Jotaro looked up from his snack at Kakyoin, broadshouldered but skinny in his undershirt, looking back at him with an expression somewhere between defiance and anxiousness.

“About the gay thing. Not the looking at him part, I’m not attracted to him.” He briefly twisted the corner of his mouth in a grimace of disgust. “I’m not attracted to you, either, if you’re worried about that.” Again in a marginal area, between challenge and fear.

Jotaro felt strangely stung by the last part, but shook it off and shrugged again. “I don’t care. My dad’s a musician.” Kakyoin looked at him questioningly. “Half of the people he works with are gay.” He hadn’t realized that anyone considered it out of the ordinary until he started going to school.

“Ah. Is this him?” he asked, cocking his head towards the record player.

“Nah.” Jotaro slid the record sleeve across the table.

“Hm,” said Kakyoin, studying the track listing. “This is good. I don’t listen to jazz much, mostly rock. A lot of post-punk lately.”
“Really?” The kid was full of surprises. “You don’t seem like it.”

“You don’t seem like a delinquent,” he countered, with a more genuine smile than Jotaro had seen off of him. I’m not, he wanted to say, I don’t know what I am, but this was already the longest conversation he’d had in months, so he just grunted again.

Holly came back in with Kakyoin’s shirt, “See? Good as new!” and he put it back on, thanked her and politely excused himself. “Come back any time!” she called after him as he closed the door.

Weird kid, Jotaro thought, but was struck with the sudden realization that he hadn’t minded talking to him.