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and whatever a sun will always sing is you

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[now]

“And then we —”

“I think we should break up,” Ryoga says, and the words come out all wrong, without his permission, after three months of holding them in, after three months of lacking the courage to dull the light in Yuuma’s eyes —

Here he is. Yuuma looks at him, his eyes wide with the hurt, one hand outstretched. He was probably going to touch Ryoga; now, he never will again, Ryoga realizes. He should feel something, but he’s numb. He’s just told Yuuma half the truth, because yes, Ryoga thinks they should break up, but not because he doesn’t want Yuuma like he wants the stars to go on shining.

It’s because Yuuma doesn’t even know what he’s giving up, being with Ryoga, and Ryoga can’t bear to take it away from him.

“Bye,” he says. Ryoga takes a step back, and then another, and then he turns around and walks, not runs to his bike. He gets on. He drives away.

He pulls over three blocks down and takes off his helmet and cries.

[then]

Yuuma finds him on the first day of his renewed life.

Ryoga is walking down the street — the lights of Heartland City are surreal, too bright and too alive for someone like him — when he hears the slap of Yuuma’s sneakers against the pavement, and he turns around, and then it’s too late to run away.

Yuuma slams into him so hard he staggers backwards and his shoulders scrape the wall of the nearest building. Yuuma’s arms come up around his neck and the buckles on his vest are snagging the fabric of Ryoga’s jacket and his eyes are brimming with tears.

“How could you?”

How could I what, Ryoga thinks, I’ve fucked up everything, Yuuma, you’re going to have to be more specific —

“Never kill yourself again,” Yuuma says, and he’s crying.

Ryoga realizes he’s cringing against the wall, tentatively putting his hands on Yuuma’s back; he expects Yuuma to flinch away, for some reason, but Yuuma collapses into his arms instead.

He says nothing, lets Yuuma cry, lets Yuuma hold on to him. He’s not sure what he could say; there are things Ryoga regrets, but deciding not to kill Yuuma is not one of them.

“What were you gonna do if I couldn’t bring you back?” Yuuma asks, his voice muffled by the threadbare fabric of Ryoga’s jacket. Ryoga can feel the wet patches where his tears and possibly his snot are soaking in.

“I was dead, Yuuma, I wasn’t planning on doing anything.”

“You’re dumb.” Yuuma clings to him. Ryoga can feel both their hearts pounding. Yuuma’s so close. “I thought you were gone.”

It didn’t matter then. It sort of hurt, dying, but there was the hope of being reunited with his loved ones on the other side, the knowledge that there would be a little less blood on his hands. He trusted that Yuuma would find a way to solve everything.

But it obviously matters to Yuuma a lot, since he brought him back to life. Ryoga lets himself hold Yuuma a little tighter, until he stops crying and wipes his face with his shirt and stands there, awkwardly, while passersby give them odd looks.

“I have to go to the doctor,” Yuuma mumbles. He’s rubbing at his eyes. “Shark —”

“I’ll call you,” Ryoga blurts out. He’s not even sure that he has Yuuma’s number, but Yuuma’s face lights up when he says that, probably because Ryoga is shitty at any gesture of friendship that doesn’t involve him going to the hospital, and it’s almost worth it, later, when Ryoga has to suck it up and call Kaito to ask.

+++++

Ryoga meets Kazuma three weeks after the War ends.

Life is hectic. Ryoga has so much to do: fellow Lords who need places to live and paperwork forged and help understanding modern plumbing and the internet, schoolwork to catch up on, and conversations. On his first night home, all the others asleep on the living room floor of his and Rio’s little apartment, it hits him that he has not really talked to Durbe in years, or sparred with Alit, or complained with Mizael about how everyone else is dumb.

With so much to do, it is easy to refuse every time Yuuma asks him to come over for dinner. And Yuuma asks every day, unbothered by Ryoga’s rejection, until it is clear to everyone (well, clear to everyone but Ryoga) that Ryoga isn’t needed twenty four hours a day to supervise his fellow Barians and Rio grows tired of watching Yuuma’s face fall and accepts the invitation on Ryoga’s behalf.

“Dad said he would cook,” Yuuma explains on their way to the parking lot.

“I didn’t say I’d come.”

“But Rio said!”

“Yeah, yeah, come on.” Ryoga hands Yuuma the spare helmet. He hopes all the trains are late for Rio, just so she can suffer as much as he no doubt will. He’s not good in social situations and he’s terrified of Yuuma’s family, and Rio knows both these things, and she told Yuuma Ryoga would come home with him anyway.

Oh, please, like you could have held out against Yuuma for more than a few days, he can hear her teasing, and she’s right, but that doesn’t mean Ryoga likes it.

The drive over and Yuuma’s arms tight around his waist do nothing to calm his nerves.

Yuuma grins and tells him he’s told his parents all about him while they’re standing on the front porch, waiting, and Ryoga wants to bolt right then and there. But Yuuma takes his hand.

Running away would mean letting go, so Ryoga lets Yuuma usher him into the house, into the living room where drinks and snacks and his parents are waiting. They invite him to sit down, and they are smiling, and on the surface it seems like a normal conversation. Just a couple, trying to get to know their son’s friend, only the story of Ryoga’s life is full of pits and traps to fall into, and they’re hard to climb out of.

“What do your parents do?”

“They’re dead,” Ryoga says carelessly, chopsticks halfway to his mouth, and then he realizes he’s rendered the room silent. He shoves the food in, and it takes him too long to swallow. “The plague — I mean, car accident.”

“The plague,” Kazuma repeats. “Or a car accident.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Mirai says. Ryoga wonders if she’s going to pinch Kazuma under the table. Nasch’s mother used to do that, even during important royal functions.

“Which, exactly, was it?”

To Ryoga’s relief, before he can spit out the answer — “Both, because I’ve had two sets, because I’m a rock alien,” — Mirai cuts her husband off.

“Where do you live?”

“…downtown.”

Yuuma pipes up. “He has this huge fishtank, and shark wallpaper, and —”

“It’s in one of the complexes near the city center.” Ryoga remembers suddenly he showed Yuuma his extensive knife collection and decides that yes, Yuuma would totally mention that to his parents. His and Rio’s condo is perfectly normal, and there must be something he can say, but all Ryoga can envision is the way he’s inserted shark memorabilia into every part of the house and how incredibly lame that is.

“You have that giant blender that Mom wanted,” Yuuma reminds him. “It was really cool! Alit made me a protein shake but it was gross, he should just eat rice balls and —”

“Alit?” Kazuma doesn’t miss anything. Ryoga meets his stare.

“My housemate.”

“You have housemates?” Kazuma blinks.

It’s all affected, Ryoga thinks, and he answers. “I have four. Five, I guess, if you count Rio.”

“That’s some living arrangement for someone your age.”

“Pretty sure Yuuma did something with the Code to expand the building a bit,” he says, casually before he feels Yuuma flinch beside him and shit. I shouldn’t have brought that up, how much do his parents know?

Yuuma is clutching his chopsticks so tightly his knuckles are white. He’s not smiling. He takes a deep breath, and then another; Ryoga tentatively touches his shoulder. The chopsticks clatter to his plate.

Yuuma bolts. Ryoga moves to follow, and can’t; Mirai’s got her hand on his arm, while Kazuma rushes out of the living room. I didn’t mean to, Ryoga thinks, and then berates himself because what does it matter what he meant, if he can still wound Yuuma like this, after Yuuma has done everything for him. He wants to leave, and he wants to push away Mirai’s hand and go to Yuuma, and he does neither. He sits there.

Eventually Kazuma and Yuuma come back. Yuuma’s eyes are red.

They finish eating. Ryoga answers a few more strained questions. He offers to help clean up, but it is getting late, the Tsukumos say, shouldn’t he be getting home? Ryoga looks at Yuuma’s downcast face and would stay, if he were asked, but Yuuma says nothing. So Ryoga goes home.

+++++

One can tell a lot about a man by the way he behaves out in the wild.

That’s what Kazuma believes. So after the debacle that is dinner with Ryoga Kamishiro, he takes them camping. Yuuma is bouncing off the walls with excitement when Kazuma suggests it one morning — “I’ll ask him right now!” — and while he calls Ryoga and Ryoga grumbles at him for waking him up early on a Saturday, Mirai looks sharply at him.

She agrees with him, but she still doesn’t want him to interfere. You’ve done enough, she’s been telling him. Kazuma doesn’t think there is such thing as enough when his son is concerned.

They go up into the mountains with only their packs and their wits. Yuuma is stronger than he looks, and faster; Kazuma feels a burst of pride. He carried Yuuma up these mountains last time, on his back, the child asleep on his shoulders.

Ryoga never falters, or pants. He hardly even sweats.

Kazuma points out the wildlife to them, the signs of other campers and hikers left behind, the rock formations that have old legends attached to them. Yuuma watches the animals with interest, and listens intently to the legends. He likes to learn. Ryoga listens to the legends, but Kazuma can tell he’s bored by the other things, and he eyes the animals too closely.

Ryoga takes his share of camp-setting duties without complaint. He starts the fire. He helps Yuuma with the tent. He watches Kazuma spoon out stew made from their rations into the camping bowls while Yuuma flops back on the ground and points out the constellations.

“You’ve gone camping before?”

“Not for a long time.” Ryoga shoves a spoonful of stew into his mouth. “And it wasn’t this nice.”

So he considers having a tent and food ‘nice’.

“You know your stars.”

The Barian Lords are named after an asterism, but Kazuma doesn’t know the significance of that. Ryoga glances upward, though, towards the place where the seven stars shine. They look no different from any other stars.

“Shark says they sing to him,” Yuuma says.

Ryoga ducks his head when Kazuma looks back at him. He doesn’t explain, so it must be personal.

“What do they say?”

“They don’t say anything. They’re stars,” Ryoga says. He frowns into his bowl, and then hands it, half-full, to Yuuma, who happily starts finishing it.

“Something wrong with the food?”

“No.”

“What kind of rations do you usually bring with you?”

“We used to just hunt.” Ryoga looks like he’s trying not to grind his teeth. He’s easily agitated, too easily agitated, Kazuma thinks. “Or fish. It was easier.”

Yuuma winces. Kazuma has offered to show him how to make emergency traps, to catch small animals in an emergency, but he’s always refused. He’s bothered by the idea of killing to eat. Obviously Ryoga doesn’t have any such qualms.

“What?” Ryoga asks, when Yuuma makes a face at him. “You eat meat, don’t you?”

“It’s different when you kill it yourself,” Yuuma mumbles.

“It keeps you from starving to death just the same.”

Kazuma disagrees. It takes a certain kind of temperament to kill.

He tells the two of them to clean up after dinner themselves, joking that he’s too old to do it, and Yuuma laughs and plays along. Ryoga looks discomforted, which tells Kazuma what he wants to know.

Yuuma is thorough, even though he’s out of practice. He whistles while he works, and he splashes water everywhere while he cleans, and he whines when things are too hot or too difficult or too heavy. In contrast, Ryoga works almost in silence, except when he’s alternately fussing over or mocking Yuuma; he does everything mechanically, precisely. Something about it bothers Kazuma. It’s that he doesn’t look like he is enjoying himself, he thinks, he looks as though camp clean up is life or death.

Ryoga doesn’t complain about anything. He’s too somber for a boy on a camping trip with his boyfriend. It’s abnormal.

There is a brief, awkward conversation about sleeping arrangements, because Yuuma clearly wants to sleep next to Ryoga and Kazuma is not leaving them alone together in the tent, but in the end Ryoga volunteers to sleep outside, alone, under the clear sky.

Ryoga is lying there awake when Kazuma does his final check and follows Yuuma into the tent. He can see the whites of Ryoga’s eyes before he turns off the lantern and lets the flap fall closed behind him.

The sound of a struggle wakes him up from a deep sleep.

Yuuma doesn’t stir, and Kazuma moves silently out of the tent. He can see a dark shape rolling back and forth on the ground — Ryoga in his sleeping bag — and he crouches down to stop him from moving. In the dim moonlight, he can see that Ryoga’s face is screwed up in pain, and his eyes are still closed.

A nightmare, then. Kazuma feels a stab of pity. He tries to shake Rygoa awake.

Ryoga grabs him by the arm, throws, and rolls onto him. His elbow drives down into Kazuma’s chest hard, right against his breastbone, and he nearly bites through his own tongue in pain. The force of it is such that he can’t sit up, and he’s got both hands around Ryoga’s arm but there’s no moving it.

“What the fuck,” Ryoga gasps.

Kazuma makes a strangled sound. His heart is pounding, even though the danger is past. He can’t quite breathe. Ryoga is strong; he could have killed him easily.

What if Yuuma heard him, and tried to wake him up?

His elbow is still digging into Kazuma’s chest, and he looks down at it in confusion before he pulls away, out of Kazuma’s grip. He slumps down on the ground beside Kazuma, half out of his sleeping bag, his hair in disarray.

“Don’t sneak up on me,” Ryoga says.

“You could have killed me.”

“You’re fine.” Ryoga shudders. “I woke up.”

“You are dangerous.”

Ryoga doesn’t argue, and Kazuma tries to compose the words in his head. Now is the time to say what needs to be said, while Yuuma isn’t listening, while Ryoga is disoriented and less likely to lose his temper.

“I want you to stay away from my son.”

“But —”

“Ideally, I want you to leave the country and never come back, but I’ll settle for you keeping your distance.”

“But —”

“A centuries old alien warlord has no business being with my thirteen-year-old son. Even if you don’t mean him harm.”

“I’m still mostly a human being.”

“Mostly isn’t good enough.”

Ryoga, in a surprising display of self-awareness, doesn’t argue. He just hisses through his teeth. That pisses Kazuma off, that Ryoga knows what he is and yet he still hangs around Yuuma. Like a weed seeking sunlight in a garden. How dare he?

"When does he get to live his life?" Kazuma asks. "When will you let him move on?"

"Move on." Ryoga repeats.

"He wakes up in the middle of the night screaming about you."

Kazuma watches Ryoga swallow, expression twisted. Good.

“…I love him,” he says, very quietly.

And he means it, Kazuma thinks.

He needs Yuuma too much and he holds Yuuma back and Kazuma is afraid of him, for Yuuma, but…

Ryoga does make Yuuma smile. And if Yuuma was not so attached, if they were just friendly, if Ryoga had not just nearly cracked open Kazuma’s ribcage — maybe things would be different. Because to separate them will hurt him, and Ryoga has already suffered terribly.

He must be lonely. He was not supposed to exist here, and yet here he is, in all his misery.

But this is about Kazuma’s son. For Yuuma, there is nothing he would not do.

"The war is over, Nasch. There’s no place for you here, with Yuuma."

There’s no response.

"I just want him to have a normal life. He resurrected you, after everything you — isn’t that enough?”

"Okay."

Ryoga says it like it’s the last word he’ll ever say.

+++++

Yuuma comes home one afternoon earlier than expected. He fakes a smile and flees upstairs.

"Yuuma, weren’t you with Ryoga?"

"He didn’t feel like hanging out," he says.

Kazuma watches him go. It’s been three months. He’s surprised it took this long.

[now]

“Yuuma, is something wrong?”

He wishes people would stop asking him that. He’s not good at lying, and everything is wrong.

If Astral were here, he would know what to say, to make Yuuma feel better, but Astral is not here anymore. Yuuma keep forgetting this, keeps turning around and being surprised to see only his shadow, only empty air, only the pavement. His dad and mom are here, and he thinks that that should be more than enough, but something has changed, and Kazuma can’t make him feel better so easily anymore.

Maybe Yuuma has changed. Maybe he is the thing that is wrong, because the sun is shining and everyone is alive and yet he is miserable and Shark doesn’t like him anymore.

He goes up to his room — the bedroom, because the attic is still too much Astral’s place for him — and tries to do his homework. There’s a half-rearranged deck on his desk, for a match against Gilag he’s supposed to have tomorrow, but he doesn’t want to touch it; his friends invited him out, but Yuuma couldn’t stomach going anywhere. Shark hasn’t been at school in the past week, apparently sick at home, but maybe it is because of Yuuma.

Everyone keeps telling him that everything is fine.

He lies down.

He sleeps.

He dreams.

Everyone is dead. Astral is a flickering, screaming blue blur that never quite reaches the bliss of oblivion. Kotori and Tetsuo and the class rep and Tokunosuke and Cathy are bloodstained and broken, a pile of corpses left like so much trash on the side of the field. On the other side there is Don Thousand, and he is huge: the size of a mountain, with laughter that makes the earth shake, and at his feet there is a naked figure in chains, a duel disk covered in thorns dug into his arm.

It is Shark, with hair so bloodstained it is almost black; he’s far away, but Yuuma can clearly see the dead look in his eyes. His drawing hand is mangled so badly his fingers are nothing but exposed, cracked bits of bone, but he is taking his turn.

Instead of monsters on his side of the field, there are Barians, each of them more beaten than the last. Alit’s hands have been cut off, Durbe’s eyes gouged out, Rio’s knees have been bent backwards, Mizael has a hole in his chest from which the viscera hangs, and Gilag has no limbs at all, just a stick between his teeth to use to leverage himself.

And on Yuuma’s side of the field he has Kaito. The three Arclights. And one empty space.

Kaito is blind and on his hands and knees, crawling around on the ground, and he makes terrible pathetic noises, like a wounded animal. IV is hanging from a wooden cross by shining iron strings that slice into him, made into Yuuma’s puppet, and III is impaled on his own sword, and V is trapped in a machine, white and silver, with horrible steel teeth that are gnawing him apart.

It is his turn now, and he must summon a monster to win the duel. Yuuma looks everywhere but at the cards in his hand. The sky is red and fractured by bright green lightning. The ground is muddy from all the blood that has soaked into it. Don Thousand’s body extends around the field, in long shadowy tendrils, so that there is no relief from the gore and destruction.

Yuuma tries to stall. He doesn’t want to see how his deck has betrayed him, but the longer he waits, the more creative Don Thousand becomes with his torment of poor Shark, his vessel, and finally Shark’s weak little screams are too much and Yuuma looks.

Haruto, sitting on his bed in Heartland Tower, waiting for his brother to come home. His parents, in a blue desert that must be Astral World, looking up at the sky. Akari, at her desk, pen in hand.

Astral, mouth open in an endless wail. Yuuma glances at Astral’s writhing, transparent ghost beside him. It occurs to him that if he plays Astral and Astral dies, well, it can’t get any worse for him. It might be merciful.

Then he feels sick, like his stomach is trying to spare him by eating itself alive. He can’t kill any one of them by bringing them here, onto the field, to defend him — he’s the one who is supposed to be protecting everyone — but if he doesn’t summon one of them, Don Thousand will win and destroy the whole planet. Billions of people, not just the ones Yuuma knows, will die.

“What do I do?” he asks. “How do I protect everyone?”

No one answers him. There’s no one left to answer him.

“There was…something…I had a plan…” The cards blur together in front of him; he is a child again, learning to play for the first time, trying to remember all the rules. “Hope! I should summon Hope!”

But when he reaches for his Extra Deck, it is empty. No, not empty — there is a void inside — a black nothingness, cold as ice. There’s no Hope there, no light, no card he can call to his aid.

He is alone, and he is useless, and now the time has come for someone to die, and Shark and Kaito and Astral are screaming at him, decide decide decide decide —

Pain flares up his side as Yuuma tumbles out of the hammock and lands hard on the ground. He gropes around until he finds his phone, and he smashes the speed dial button over and over, until the familiar sound of the phone dialing anchors him.

He’s panting.

“Hello?” Shark answers on the second ring, voice groggy with sleep. “Yuuma?”

“Hi,” Yuuma whispers. He doesn’t have anything else to say. He just needs Shark’s voice, because that’s proof that it was only a dream.

“…hey.” Shark sounds odd. His voice is a little hoarse.

“I’m scared.”

“Don’t be.” There’s rustling as Shark moves around. “You did the right thing, okay? No one is dead. You can go back to sleep.”

Yuuma makes himself look at the family portrait on the windowsill while Shark talks into his ear. His voice is halting, and he’s not saying anything, really, just repeating that everything is fine over and over again, but it makes Yuuma feel safe again. Shark is a great boyfriend, he thinks, and then he remembers.

“Oh,” he says, cutting Shark off mid-sentence. “I forgot.”

“Yuuma —”

He hangs up before Shark can say anything else. It’s three am, and he woke his ex-boyfriend because he can’t stop dreaming that everyone is dead, because he’s stupid. No wonder Shark sounded weird on the phone. He was probably wondering why Yuuma hadn’t found someone else to call.

He blinks, and realizes that he’s crying, that the soft sound of sobbing is his own.

“Yuuma?”

In the gloom, Yuuma can only just see Kazuma poke his head into Yuuma’s bedroom.

“Dad?”

“Why the long face, son?” He’s trying for jovial, but it’s not convincing enough to make Yuuma feel better.

“How long were you listening?”

Kazuma comes into the room and closes the door behind him. He sits down on the floor beside Yuuma, pausing only to snag the blanket off the hammock and offer it to him.

“Is that what you usually do?” Kazuma asks. “Call Ryoga?”

“He makes me feel better.” Used to, Yuuma thinks. He used to make him feel better.

“I didn’t know you had nightmares.”

“Sorry.”

“No, don’t apologize! I’m just surprised.” Kazuma rubs Yuuma’s back.

He’s still kind of crying. He’s too old to cry in front of his parents.

“You can wake me up, you know. If you need anything.”

“I know.” Yuuma lies. They wouldn’t understand, he thinks, and he doesn’t want them to. He pulls the blanket around himself, and looks down. Kazuma sighs beside him.

Yuuma’s cell rings. It’s Shark.

“I’ll let you get back to sleep.” Kazuma ruffles his hair on his way out the door. “Goodnight, Yuuma.”

“Goodnight, Dad.” Yuuma is hardly listening as the door clicks shut. He cradles the phone in his hands, trying to decide whether or not to answer. He doesn’t want to talk to Shark, but he also does.

Shark’s contact photo, where he’s scowling, flashes onscreen and Yuuma gives in. He mashes the phone against his ear.

“Oi,” Shark snaps. “Are you there? Yuuma?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t hang up on me like that, I thought —” Shark stumbles over his words. “Are you okay?”

“I won’t call you anymore.”

“You can call me whenever you want.” Shark sighs. “I’m not a complete asshole.”

“Sorry.”

There’s nothing else to say, but Yuuma lingers on the phone for a few minutes more. He can hear Shark breathing. It makes him feel alive again.

“You should sleep, you’ll get detention if you’re late again.”

“Yeah. Goodnight, Shark…”

“Night,” Shark mumbles, and he hangs up.

Yuuma crawls back into his hammock. He doesn’t dream of anything while he sleeps, but he still feels sad when he wakes up.

+++++

The cold hit him only hours after he came home, after sitting out in the rain and crying and reliving Yuuma’s punched-in-the-stomach expression.

Ryoga hates being sick.

Nasch’s parents died in their beds, coughing up blood and whitening until they were the color of their sheets, and lying in bed always reminds him of that period. And Durbe and Rio remember, too, and they hover over him, like bees over an open flower, buzzing at him about his temperature and his cough and his medicine.

And when he’s alone in bed, wheezing, he thinks about Yuuma and it hurts in a way that has nothing to do with his infection.

He doesn’t go to school — even if he wanted to, Rio would never let him — and the others take turns staying with him.

“I don’t need a babysitter,” he protests when Rio tells Mizael it’s his turn for Nasch Watch. Mizael looks like he agrees with Ryoga, but he’s not going to cross Rio when she makes that face. He stays home and dutifully shoves nasty cough syrup down Ryoga’s throat and gives angry commentary while they watch Duel Network.

Watching people duel makes Ryoga think about Yuuma. But everything makes him think about Yuuma, makes him feel guilty and longing all at the same time.

There’s no hiding things from Rio, who has an almost supernatural way of knowing what Ryoga is thinking, and so he tells her about Kazuma, and Yuuma, and how he’s doing the right thing, really. Isn’t he?

She squeezes his hand. “You should ask Yuuma what he wants.”

The others seem to understand he doesn’t want to talk about it. No one asks him to his face where Yuuma is.

Over the course of the week, his cough gets worse and worse. He starts staggering when he walks, off balance. His throat feel raw, his chest aches, nothing tastes good. He takes the medicine and he drinks so much soup he feels nauseous, but he doesn’t get any better.

It’s hard to breathe now. He lies on a pile of pillows, wheezing, while Durbe sits beside him and reads.

“I can call Yuuma.”

“Don’t.”

This isn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation — Durbe was the one who found him lying awake after that three am phone call, Yuuma crying over the phone, the tension so thick Ryoga choked on it — but his answer remains the same.

Yuuma loves his dad and missed him, so Ryoga isn’t going to fuck that up for him. Ryoga once murdered several of Yuuma’s friends and in general is a bad person, so he’s not exactly boyfriend material. And maybe Kazuma is right, and Yuuma can’t escape the nightmares, because when he opens his eyes they are still there, alive and well, Barians all around him.

“I’m fine,” Ryoga says, and then he starts hacking. Durbe hands him a tissue.

Later that night, after Durbe has left a jug of water and pills and instructions to not suffer anything in silence, Ryoga lies there alone. One week. It’s been an entire week since he broke up with Yuuma.

It feels like an eternity. It feels like no time at all.

He closes his eyes to the darkness, listening to the sound of the clock ticking, the pipes gurgling, footsteps in the hall. It’s getting late. Maybe Yuuma will call him again tonight.

But I don’t want him to call me because he’s upset…

Someone knocks on his door.

“Dammit, Durbe, I said I was fine,” Ryoga says. He pushes himself upright to glare at the open door.

The hallway light is off, but he recognizes the glint of the Key around his neck, the wild curve of his bangs.

“Yuuma?”

+++++

The TV is on downstairs; Yuuma can hear it from his bedroom while he struggles through his math homework. Kazuma is watching the History Channel. He invited Yuuma to sit and watch with him — Mirai is on a business trip, and Haru is on vacation with Obomi, so there’s no one to nag Yuuma about being responsible — but the documentary he’s watching is about some ancient war.

Yuuma can’t watch battles anymore. It all looks too much like the flashes of the Barians’ past lives. He knows it’s just a reenactment, but watching people die, even onscreen, makes him panicky and nervous.

He can’t explain that to Kazuma. He doesn’t know how to, without making his dad feel like Yuuma is a weakling. After all, Kazuma gave him the Key so he could save everyone. He believed that Yuuma could do it.

Yuuma doesn’t want to disappoint him.

The math homework is only half finished, but Yuuma has gotten distracted mid-problem and he’s forgotten what he was doing. He sighs and shoves it into one of the desk drawers. He’ll do it later.

Instead he picks up his tablet and flips idly through the news, looking for the latest in competitive dueling. Yuuma likes to read the strategy column, even if he doesn’t always quite understand every nuance; he and Astral used to do it together. This is the best way for me to teach you, Astral said.

Yuuma loves to duel. It’s not a hardship to learn.

He reads the headlines of the Heartland City news as he scrolls. New subway line being constructed, new exhibit at the museum, elections coming up at the end of the year, mysterious attack on duelist —

He stops. A local celebrity duelist, one of the elementary school prodigy kids that’s always on TV, has been attacked. He was found two blocks from his regular dueling spot, unconscious, and when he woke up…

…when he woke up he didn’t remember how to duel.

Yuuma’s blood runs cold. There were articles about an epidemic of comas when Kaito was hunting. Whole nighttime news segments about the mysterious gravitational changes in the city during Don Thousand’s brief reign. Even Orbital 7’s attack on his school had garnered a mention in the local paper.

“It was supposed to be over,” he whispers. “But…”

If something is going on in Heartland, something to do with dueling, then it’s his responsibility. Yuuma has the power to fight. It’s wrong to leave people who need help behind.

That’s what Yuuma tells himself, but his heart is pounding and he’s sweating and he doesn’t want to fight, not for any real stakes, not if people might get hurt, not without Astral —

And will the Barians even help him now that he and Shark aren’t together? Of course they will, Yuuma tries to reassure himself, but he has the nagging thought that he did something to make Shark mad, and he doesn’t know what it is but he won’t be forgiven. Maybe he’ll be alone.

He swallows and puts the tablet down. The TV clicks off downstairs, making him jump in the sudden silence. Kazuma’s footfalls are heavy as he comes up the steps, to his bedroom. Yuuma could go to him, right now, and tell him something is happening and Yuuma isn’t ready.

Kattobingu, Yuuma! Be strong! You defeated the last foe, didn’t you?

His dad thinks that Yuuma is strong. He won’t understand.

Who will? Yuuma looks around the room (not for Astral) for a distraction, and he sees a corner of purple fabric sticking out from the bottom dresser drawer. It’s Shark’s coat — Yuuma was wearing it on their last date — and he couldn’t give it back, could he, since Shark wasn’t at school.

But Shark is sick now. Probably, he needs his coat. Yuuma should go give it back. And warn him, maybe something is going on — that’s alright, isn’t it? He’ll just say that and come home again. That’s fine. Yuuma doesn’t need to see Shark to feel better. He doesn’t suddenly need to be reminded he won.

He pulls the crumpled coat out, and folds it, and puts it in his backpack along with his duel disk and his wallet. Then he goes up the ladder, climbs out the attic window, and takes off for the subway.

+++++

Yuuma steps into the room and closes the door behind him.

Ryoga makes himself sit up all the way, and he yanks at his tshirt before he remembers it’s dark, and anyways they’re broken up, so it doesn’t matter if Ryoga looks like shit right now.

He’s got something in his arms — Ryoga squints and sees that it’s his jacket, from when he and Yuuma — that he folds carefully and sets on top of Ryoga’s dresser. Then he comes over and stands awkwardly beside Ryoga’s bed.

Ryoga folds his hands on top of the covers, so that he doesn’t give in to the urge to reach out and touch him.

“Hey.”

“I heard you were sick.” Yuuma rubs the back of his neck. “And…I thought maybe you needed your jacket, so…”

“It’s like two am,” Ryoga says. “Why are you really here?”

He regrets the words at once; they are too harsh, and make it seem like he doesn’t appreciate Yuuma coming over at all. But it hurts to see him, more than it hurt to not see him, and he knows that before, Yuuma would have come at any time if he thought Ryoga needed him, but now…he doesn’t know what Yuuma could want from him.

So he sighs. He pats the edge of the bed, and Yuuma sits down. Ryoga waits.

“Did you see the news? A duelist got attacked yesterday. And now he forgot how to duel and it might be a new enemy and —”

The words spill out of Yuuma in a rush. His eyes are wide, and he leans in and grips the blankets just an inch from where Ryoga’s hand is. Almost there, but not quite.

“What if we have to fight?” Yuuma asks, voice hushed.

Ryoga hasn’t heard anything about a duelist getting attacked. But he shrugs.

“Then we’ll fight.”

“…I don’t think I can.”

Yuuma leans in even closer, and Ryoga has to pull back because he can feel Yuuma’s breath, his warmth, and it’s too much. He wants to say I take it all back and beg Yuuma to forgive him.

Instead he grits his teeth while Yuuma pours out his heart.

“I don’t want to. What if I can’t do it? What if I mess up? Everyone is relying on me…”

“Yuuma…”

He’s so young, Ryoga thinks. He forgets that not everyone was raised for battle, that not everyone had a weapon in their hand as soon as they could walk. Yuuma is so powerful that it’s easy to forget.

“Look, don’t worry about it.” He fumbles for words. “I — we’ll take care of it, okay? The other Barians, and Kaito, and me, we’ll fight. You don’t have to.”

“But…”

“But what? No one is going to make you. You already —” Ryoga has to stop to cough. Yuuma rubs his shoulder while he hacks, and he sounds like a dying goose. “You don’t have to fight. I’ll protect you.”

We’ll protect you, he meant to say, but the truth slips out.

“Okay.” Yuuma nods. His grip on the covers loosens. “Okay!”

He smiles weakly, and Ryoga gives in and pats him on the arm. He feels suddenly tired again, and his chest hurts from coughing. He doesn’t want to close his eyes, though. He wants to keep looking at Yuuma until he leaves.

“You look tired.”

Ryoga doesn’t say anything.

“Here.” Yuuma tugs the covers up over him, and Ryoga lies back against his four pillows and lets himself be tucked in. Yuuma climbs onto the bed beside him and leans against the headboard, arms around his knees.

“You should go home,” Ryoga says hoarsely.

“I’ll wait until you fall asleep,” Yuuma says, and he moves closer.

Ryoga nods, and closes his eyes and tries to breathe evenly. He knows there’s no hope, though; he’ll stay awake, listening to Yuuma beside him for as long as he can, for the last time, because Yuuma too is a star, close and warm like sun, and he has his own song.

+++++

His dad is yelling.

Yuuma wakes up at the sound and rolls off the bed. He covers Shark back up — he’s finally drifted off for a bit — and refills the glass of water on the bedside table.

He comes out into the living room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He woke up every time Shark coughed, no matter how much Shark tried to muffle himself, no matter how many times he murmured that it was fine if Yuuma left.

Kazuma is standing at the entrance to the apartment, Rio in front of him, and Yuuma ducks down behind the sofa — he’s not supposed to be here.

He can’t see Rio’s face, but his father looks worried, and Yuuma doesn’t want to get in trouble yet, so he listens.

“…if he is here.”

“I haven’t seen him.”

“Where is my son?”

“Probably with my brother. You may have heard that he’s ill.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“No.” Rio’s voice is suddenly cold. “I don’t think you are. He told me what you two discussed.”

Kazuma doesn’t say anything, and Yuuma doesn’t know what Rio is talking about. What Kazuma had discussed with Shark? What would they have talked about that could make Rio so angry?

“It’s not that you’re wrong. You’re right. We’re too old, too broken, too inhuman. Perhaps we shouldn’t be here after all.”

“That isn’t what I —” Kazuma raises his hands placatingly.

Rio’s fingers dig into the door’s frame so hard the wood cracks loudly.

“I have to remind myself I shouldn’t hurt you, Kazuma Tsukumo. Because you’re right. I’m not a normal girl. I could.”

“I—”

Rio cuts him off. Her voice cracks around the bitter syllables as she speaks; all of the icy calm she’s displayed is shattered.

“And considering you had no qualms about having Yuuma release Don Thousand, despite the fact he was planning to kill us, kill everyone, how dare you even —”

“This isn’t about Don Thousand, though. Is it.”

Rio sucks a breath, like she’s preparing to scream, but there’s the sounds of a scufle from the hallway behind her. She turns around.

Durbe appears in the doorway. “He’s coughing up blood.”

“What?” Yuuma says, and Rio says it too, at the same time, before she snatches a set of keys out of a bowl on the coffee table.

“We’re going to the hospital now, I don’t care what he says,” she barks. Durbe nods and leaves, to go back to Shark’s side, and Rio tugs at her own hair in aggravation as she waits.

“Is Shark going to be okay?”

“Why don’t you ask your father, Yuuma, he seems to think he knows everything else about him,” Rio snarls. She’s practically vibrating with tension, and when she stomps out of the room, keys jangling loudly, Yuuma can feel the tension in the room lightening.

“Why is Shark’s sister mad at you?” he asks.

Kazuma doesn’t answer him.

Yuuma thinks about the awkward dinner, the uncomfortable camping trip, the way Kazuma stared at Shark. He feels something cold in the pit of his stomach.

“Dad?”

“It’s nothing.”

“She wouldn’t just be mad at you for no reason…”

“We’re going home now, Yuuma. And you are grounded — sneaking out like that — do you have any idea how worried I was?”

“Sorry.” Yuuma hadn’t even considered his curfew last night, consumed as he was by thoughts of Shark and impending doom. He lets Kazuma drag him out of Shark’s home, even as he keeps looking over his shoulder to where Shark must be.

They go home in silence. It’s been a long time since Kazuma has been mad at him; Yuuma wonders if it was scarier when he was a child, or if he’s just become a lot braver.

When they get home, Yuuma is still thinking, about Shark coughing up blood and Rio’s face pinched with fury, and he goes up to his room as ordered. Akari asks him if he’s alright; he nods.

He does his homework and redoes his deck and plays Pokemon for an hour and doesn’t think about the fact that Kazuma never really answered his question.

+++++

Something is up with her dad.

Akari chews on the end of her stylus. She has an instinct for secrets, and her dad is obviously concealing something from them all. First Yuuma started moping around and his boyfriend vanished off the face of the Earth (or at least the face of the Tsukumo household), then suddenly Yuuma was sneaking out at two am and getting grounded.

The sneaking out wasn’t new, exactly, but Akari doesn’t think he would be grounded if he was sneaking out to save the world again.

Her dad has changed, or maybe she has, but Akari finds it difficult either way to completely trust him. She’s too used to being in charge. And she still resents her parents, now that she has most of the story, for going off to another universe and leaving Yuuma the Key with no idea of what was going to happen. Protect him, they’d said, but she wished she had known from what.

So she waits, and she listens.

“…absolutely not.”

“But Dad!”

“Yuuma, this isn’t a discussion. Go to your room.”

“But he’s in the hospital!”

“Yuuma, don’t argue with me!”

“Fine!” There is stomping, a slammed door, and then silence.

Her dad sighs deeply, and she judges that now is a good time to try and get the scoop, while he’s tired and his guard is down.

When she comes out of her office, Kazuma looks weary. And guilty.

“Akari?”

“Is he okay?”

“He can’t just sneak out of the house whenever he likes and not expect any consequences. Something could have happened to him.”

“He’s young.” She shrugs.

Kazuma just shakes his head. He stands there as if he’s lost, even though he’s in his own home, and Akari doesn’t say anything more; she just lets him lose himself in thought.

“I’m not being too hard on him, am I?”

Ah, Akari thinks. There it is. The guilt. Yuuma is just like him, I swear, I could get anything out of him just by letting him sweat a bit.

“Seems pretty serious if Ryoga’s in the hospital.”

“Maybe.”

“I can drive him, if you don’t want him going alone.”

“No, he’s staying here tonight.”

“He’ll just be sitting up there and worrying.” Akari holds up her hands. “After all the…the stuff that happened, he’s not used to asking before he goes out, you know? I wasn’t exactly accommodating when he wanted to go to another universe to fight aliens.”

At the word ‘aliens’ Kazuma winces.

“He’s not fighting now,” he says. “He’ll…he’ll readjust better if we give him some structure.”

He sounds more like he’s trying to convince himself than he is Akari. Readjust, Akari thinks, like Yuuma is a screw that’s come unscrewed, a piece of furniture in the wrong place. She remembers distantly that there was a time when she believed her dad was always right.

Now she wonders if he understands Yuuma at all.

Akari’s started reading about PTSD. About trauma in children and how they heal, about how routines and normality might help Yuuma feel safe, about how it might be a long time before he is completely okay again.

Her dad sounds like Yuuma is acting out, or throwing a tantrum.

“If something happened to Ryoga, Yuuma would be devastated.”

Kazuma shakes his head again. His mouth thins. “He is not going to see him.” He hesitates.

So it’s about Ryoga, huh? Akari frowns. She knows her dad disliked the poor kid at their first meeting, but she hoped he’d get over once he realized how pathetic he was about Yuuma. It was hard to be mad at him, she thinks, when it was clear to her that he cared, a lot, and probably would not ever stop.

She isn’t going to get the whole story out of him — she’s his daughter and that means there are things he just won’t admit — and her mom is still out of town.

Which leaves only one person she can ask. Akari grabs the car keys off the rack by the front door and slips on her boots. She can’t get grounded for going out at night, after all.

Ryoga’s ward at the hospital has open visiting hours, so Akari signs herself in at the front desk and goes upstairs, the plastic visitor’s bracelet scratching at her wrist.

One of his friends is there, the one with all the muscles and the protein shakes, sitting in one of the terrible chairs at Ryoga’s bedside and playing with his phone.

Ryoga is awake, but he’s staring up at the ceiling dead-eyed. He may as well be at the gallows.

“Yo.”

“Nasch, it’s Yuuma’s sister,” the Barian hisses.

“Alit, go home.”

“I can’t go home. Merag will cut my head off.”

“She just says that to fuck with you.”

“No, she says that to fuck with you. She’ll actually kill me.”

“Can I have a word with you, Ryoga?” Akari asks.

Ryoga nods. He pokes Alit in the thigh with the end of the remote hanging off his bed.

“I’m coming back,” Alit warns Ryoga, but he’s smiling as he steps out of the room. Akari takes his seat.

“What kind of bike do you drive?”

“What?”

“You have a motorcycle, right?”

“Can’t legally upgrade to a real one until next year.”

“The new Tenjo ones are nice.”

“I’m not buying anything Kaito helped make,” Ryoga says indignantly. “Look at Orbital 7!”

Akari laughs, and Ryoga relaxes; his hands on the covers unclench, and his expression looks less severe. She leans back in her chair, surveying him so she can tell Yuuma he looks fine truthfully when he asks.

“Can’t one of your friends let you drive theirs?”

“The last time I let Durbe drive anything, he broke the wall.”

“Where —”

“It was a shopping cart. We were buying groceries.”

He’s sitting all the way up now.

“He sounds like a dangerous dude,” Akari says, and immediately regrets it when Ryoga’s mouth twists unhappily. “…not that I think he is.”

Ryoga remains silent.

“Is that it?”

“What?”

“Did my dad tell you you were too dangerous to hang out with my brother?”

“…no,” Ryoga lies, badly. Akari rolls her eyes.

“Your fingers twitch when you lie.”

“Shut up,” Ryoga says. He folds his hands, though.

“I don’t think you’re dangerous. And neither does Yuuma, for the record.”

“No offense…” Ryoga looks down. “But Yuuma is kind of dumb.”

“He is,” Akari agrees. “But he likes you, so stop being stupid and talk to him.”

He doesn’t respond for a long time. He’s thinking, Akari guesses, from the way he bites his lips and stares off into the distance, seeing things she can’t, before he finally speaks.

“The first time I ever killed someone, I was thirteen.” He holds out his hands in front of him. “We were overrun by bandits. It was my first real expedition with the rest of the knights.”

Akari only knows vaguely about the Barians’ past lives.

“They were all proud of me.” Ryoga snorts. “I threw up, afterward.”

“It was hard.” Akari offers what comfort she can, but she’s thrown by the change in subject, by the way Ryoga suddenly looks ten years older.

“No. It was easy, after that.”

Akari swallows. That is frightening. But she didn’t come here to get scared off by a fourteen year old stuck in the hospital.

She finds the words.

“If you really cared about him,” she says slowly, “you wouldn’t run away, just because you were worried you might be bad for him.”

“I —”

“Do you really think my dad knows more about you than Yuuma does? Than your friends do?”

He doesn’t answer.

“You shouldn’t let anyone else decide for you.” She picks up her bag. “Good night.”

She leaves him there, looking thoughtful, and feels worry gnaw at her gut — now that she knows, she can’t not tell Yuuma.

She worries it about it all the way home. She nearly misses her turn on the freeway, the car skidding angrily around the corners, people honking at her as she guns the accelerator and speeds back toward the house.

Yuuma’s light is on when she pulls up in the driveway. She passes her closed office door, pausing only to look longingly at it, before she squares her shoulders and goes upstairs. He is still living in the bedroom, not in the attic, so she knocks.

+++++

“Come in!”

Yuuma shoves the backpack under the bed and sits down in front of it. It’s mostly full — he added a sleeping bag, just in case he got grounded again, he could just stay in the hospital — and he sits with his legs crosses underneath him in the vain hope of blocking it.

Akari comes in. She closes the door behind her. She looks around, at the backpack strap poking out from behind him, at the open, empty dresser drawer, at the neatly counted money on his desk. She raises an eyebrow at him.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Uh…”

“I went and saw Shark, so you can relax. He’s fine.”

Yuuma sighs deeply in relief. He hasn’t been able to get a hold of Rio or Alit on the phone. He leans back against the bed.

“Is he gonna be okay? Are they taking care of him?”

“He told me he’d be home tomorrow.”

“That’s good. Thanks for going to see him, sis.”

Akari nods absently. She sits down beside him, and props her chin up with her fist. She looks at him seriously.

“Ryoga told me something I think you need to hear.”

“He…did…?”

Akari takes a deep breath. She puts her hand on his shoulder firmly.

“Dad told your boyfriend he needed to break up with you, because he was too dangerous.”

Yuuma yanks her shoulder out of her grasp. “Dad would never do that —”

But she said Shark told her that. Shark wouldn’t lie, Yuuma thinks, not to Akari, not about this, and yet his dad — his dad wouldn’t…

His stomach turns over. Kazuma never told him about the Key, and what it contained. He never told him about Astral or Barian Worlds. Yuuma thinks about how things might have been, if he knew in advance what was coming — could he have spared everyone? Could he have kept them from sacrificing themselves?

This is Dad, though.

“I know Dad tries,” Akari gingerly touches him again. “But…he’s not always right about everything.”

“He never liked Shark,” Yuuma mumbles. He turns over his D-gazer in his hands. It is easy to misjudge Shark, he thinks, who is sharp-tongued and angry and doesn’t want to be vulnerable, even when it might make him feel better. But Yuuma believes in him; Shark is kind if you know how to look, if you look at what he does, not just what he says.

“I figure you should know.” Akari gets up. She hesitates. “If you need anything, I’m downstairs, okay?”

“Thanks.” Yuuma curls up against the bed. He flips the D-gazer over, thinking about Shark’s first duel against him. I’ll remember you, Yuuma Tsukumo.

He wonders if Shark is thinking of him now. He could call, but that seems impersonal — he wants to touch Shark, look into his eyes while they speak.

Yuuma wants to go see him, right now.

And then he feels the first burst of anger. No wonder Rio was angry with Kazuma. She must have known what Kazuma said. Shark would have told her.

But not him — Shark of course would try to protect him —

Kazuma doesn’t understand Shark at all. Even though Yuuma cares about Shark so much, Kazuma didn’t even try.

Yuuma gets up.

He goes to his parents’ bedroom and stands outside the door. Part of him want to open it and yell at Kazuma. Another part of him wants to grab his backpack and go see Shark, right now, and refuse to come back no matter how mad Kazuma gets.

In the end he does neither.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Oh, Yuuma. You’re up late.”

“I’m going out.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m going to the hospital now.”

“Yuuma —”

“While you were gone,” Yuuma begins, and the words come from somewhre inside him and he feels sick saying them, “I had to fight.”

Kazuma nods, confused.

“Shark supported me.” Yuuma swallows. “You shouldn’t call him a monster, Dad. Without Shark, I might not be here right now.”

His heart is pounding. His dad loves him, he thinks, and wants what’s best for him.

But Kazuma hurt him, too, by vanishing and by keeping secrets and by trying to chase away people Yuuma cared about, without asking, without considering what Yuuma wanted. He doesn’t want to be mad at Kazuma.

He is. He thought that Kazuma thought he was strong — but no. Kazuma thinks he’s too weak.

“Yuuma.” Kazuma gets up. He reaches for him. “You’re suffering. I’m just trying to help you.”

He grabs onto Yuuma’s arm.

“I just want things to go back to the way they were before.”

The way they were before, Yuuma thinks, when he had never seen death or known real fear. And then he thinks, when there was no Shark or Astral, no Kaito or Arclights or Anna or Haruto or anyone else, back when Yuuma was a mediocre duelist whose biggest fear was being left alone.

“I don’t want to go back,” Yuuma says. “It was all worth it.”

And he feels lighter. It really was.

+++++

When Ryoga wakes up, Yuuma is there again, and for a moment he thinks this is another dream, a good one this time.

Then he sees that Yuuma is reading a book — PTSD In Children — and knows this must be reality; Ryoga’s imagination isn’t that brand of depressing. The IV in his arm hurts, and his lungs still feel like they’ve been stuffed with cotton balls, and the hospital smells terrible, like antiseptic and cleaning solution and plastic.

But Yuuma is holding the book in one hand and Ryoga’s hand in the other. So maybe this is a good dream, after all.

“Hey,” he croaks. His voice sounds ugly and awful.

Yuuma smiles at him. His clothes are rumpled and there’s a backpack on the table behind him, with a rolled-up sleeping bag sticking out of it. Ryoga wonders if he slept here, if he held Ryoga’s hand all night long.

“My sister gave me this book.” Yuuma holds it up so Ryoga can clearly see the smiling little girl on the cover. “…she gave my dad one too.”

Ryoga nods. Kazuma could probably use the education, he thinks. He’s never seen anyone die. He has no idea.

“Do you want one?”

“No,” Ryoga says. “I already….we used to see a therapist when we were little. After the accident.”

It seems like ages ago that his parents died, but Ryoga still remembers the sound of the accident. His eyes ha been closed, but the screeching of metal and his parents’ cries is burned into his brain. It took two years before he and Rio didn’t have nightmares about it regularly.

Maybe he should give Yuuma his old therapist’s number.

“Oh.” Yuuma squeezes his hand. “Did it help?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s good.”

Ryoga nods. He squeezes Yuuma’s hand back and then remembers he can’t do that anymore. He waits for Yuuma to pull away.

Yuuma doesn’t.

The sun is coming up outside; the light is slanting in through the blinds covering the window. Ryoga can hear a bird singing. Yuuma is pretending to read his book, but his eyes keep darting to Ryoga and their linked hands.

Ryoga closes his eyes like a coward, rather than talk and risk ruining the moment.

You shouldn’t let anyone decide for you.

Maybe it’s not wrong, Ryoga thinks, if he still wants me.

“Hey, Shark.” Yuuma puts down the book. “The school festival is coming up, right?”

“I guess.” Last year’s festival ended with Ryoga having to join Sanagi-chan’s band and Yuuma tag-dueling with some chick (Ryoga was not in any way jealous), so e’s not exactly eager to repeat the experience.

“Wanna do a matching cosplay?”

A matching cosplay. That is the stupidest, most embarrassing thing Yuuma has ever suggested they do.

Ryoga’s stomach flips over in excitement.

You broke up with him, he reminds himself. He’s just being friendly.

“I…”

“There’s gonna be a couple’s tag duel tournament this year, too.” Yuuma ducsk his head. He’s blushing a little. “We could enter that. You know. If you wanted.”

Friendly. Right.

Ryoga should say no — he’s being telling himself all week that he can’t — but he wants to, and Yuuma is just looking at him, hopefully, and Ryoga hates disappointing him.

He opens his mouth to answer, with no idea what he’s going to say, and Yuuma leans over and kisses him. His mouth is soft and his lips are chapped and Ryoga realizes two seconds in he has a lung infection and shoves Yuuma off of him.

“Idiot,” Ryoga grouses. “I’ll make you sick.” I’ll ruin your life, somehow.

Yuuma shrugs. “We’ll be sick together,” he says solemnly, and then he kisses Ryoga again.

Ryoga is selfish. This time he lets him.

[after]

“Boys? It’s dinner —”

“Shhh,” Ryoga hisses.

Kazuma stops on the ladder, body halfway through the trapdoor. The two of them are sitting against the wall, surrounded by a set of playing cards and bowls of snacks. Yuuma is fast asleep, his face mashed into Ryoga’s neck and shoulder. He is snoring softly.

Ryoga is holding him. “He’s asleep,” he whispers.

Kazuma nods, but Ryoga isn’t even looking at him; his eyes are fixed on Yuuma.

This is the first time Yuuma has brought Ryoga over for dinner since that disastrous first meeting, so Kazuma doesn’t tell him dinner will get cold or wake Yuuma up himself. Instead he starts to go back downstairs.

Then he stops. He swallows, hard.

“For what it’s worth…” Kazuma shrugs. “You make him happy.”

Ryoga’s mouth drops open, and he slams it closed again and scowls fiercely to cover his surprise. He shrugs..

“I try,” he says, and Kazuma thinks he does, really, so he leaves them alone.