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a thousand times over

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i.

After coming to, Yuuji says exactly what’s on his mind, a short and simple “um.”

Sure, there were other things he could’ve said first like ‘what the heck?’ or ‘holy shit’ or maybe even a solid ‘huh?!’ would’ve been good. Especially since here, sitting at his bedside, in which Yuuji can only guess is college’s infirmary if the beaded curtain is anything to go off by, is… is...

“What are you doing here?” Yuuji asks abruptly, blinking at the guy that tried to kill him oh, he doesn’t know, like not even a whole day ago . Just—“How… why… what? ” 

It’s that guy! That guy with the twin buns and black boots that almost actually killed him. Does he still want to kill him? Yuuji doesn’t remember, the last bits of his memories are overwhelmed by the chaos and adrenaline of the whole Incident. The only parts that make sense was nearly dying like three more times and, and—

Yuuji doesn’t realize he’s shaking until a hand rests along his upper back, soothing small circles up and down his spine. It grounds him, has him blinking past the memories that try to surface up and past the dampness collecting in his eyes. The guy—now that Yuuji actually thinks about it, does he even know his name?—had scooted closer, sitting at the edge of his chair until his knees knocked up against the infirmary mattress. “It’s okay,” he says, softer than Yuuji expected. “You’re okay now. Your big brother is here. I’ll take care of you.”

Yuuji snorts, a little breathlessly, at the weirdness of it all. Just, what’s with these people and thinking they’re related to him anyways? Last he checked he’s an only child, unless there was something Gramps forgot to tell him. 

“What’s wrong?” The guy asks—he should really ask him for his name—which makes Yuuji drop his frown and his thought process of his parents potentially having secret love-children (maybe that’s what Gramps wanted to tell him? But that’s crazy).

“Er, nothing…” 

He looks unconvinced but doesn’t press more, thank god. Instead, he rises from his seat. Yuuji watches him as he moves across the room and picks up a white kit off the bookshelf. It’s then he notices that the large window is shuttered close, only slivers of sunlight treading through. Now that he thinks about it, most of the room is closed off and shut tightly when it’s usually more open than this. 

Yuuji eyes the door. 

They should be in the college, right? That’s what this room is, it’s the college’s infirmary. And beyond that door should be everyone. Fushiguro, Kugisaki, Sensei—

His breath catches in his throat. 

“It’s time to change your bandages,” the guy said, sitting back down at Yuuji’s bedside. He pops open the first-aid kit. “Do you think you can sit straight?”

They’re okay, he thinks as he nods, trying not to flinch as he sits as straight as he can. If I’m here now resting at the college, then they have to be okay too. 

In the meantime,

“Can I ask you something?” Yuuji asks, wincing when the other touches him. Yeesh, his hands are cold!

“Anything,” the guy said.

“Why are you doing this?”

He doesn’t hesitate to answer, “You’re my little brother. It’s my duty to take care of you.”

“But,” Yuuji tries. It still doesn’t make any sense. “But I’m not…?” 

Half of the bandages around his sides and torso have already been delicately peeled off him when he leans closer, a hand cupping around Yuuji’s neck, pulling him gently toward him. “We’re brothers,” he said simply. “That’s the truth, nothing more than that.” 

Before Yuuji could open his mouth, he let him go, continuing to remove the rest of the old dried bandages. 

Yuuji blinks. This guy is just as stubborn as Todo. 

“A lot of things have happened that night,” the other says, finishing up removing the last of them, “and I’m the one at fault for forgetting about you. You forgot me too, because of that. But it’s okay. We’re together now that’s all that matters.”

And probably even crazier than Todo, Yuuji thinks, a little awed. 

They don’t say anything as the other cleans and redresses Yuuji’s injuries. Maybe it should worry him more but exhaustion had been weighing down on him and soon enough, when the other had finished the last of it, Yuuji had trouble keeping his eyes open. He was only somewhat aware when the guy led him back down to lay. 

“Rest now,” he said quietly—oh is he tucking him in? Yuuji hears a laugh, “Yes, of course I am.”

That’s nice… Yuuji lets himself settle as he hears a quiet, ‘I’ll be here when you wake up’ as he drifts.



ii.

Yuuji learns his name. 

It’s Choso.

(“But you should call me ‘big brother’,” he said in seriousness, pointing a finger at himself like he was making a point. 

“I’m not going to call you that!”)

He’s still a little weary of him (because who wouldn’t be) but he’s alright. For now. Yuuji half expected to be pillow suffocated in his sleep like in those B-rated horror movies, if he was entirely honest. But when he woke up the next few times, still in one piece, well, he guesses Choso is good in his book. 

“Hey, Choso,” Yuuji says, glancing up from his hand of cards. “Got any sevens?”

Choso frowns, picking through his own card deck one-by-one to evaluate each one. “No, I don’t. What am I supposed to say again?”

“Go fish.” 

Choso nods. “Go fish.” 

“Dang.” Yuuji pulls a card from the pile sitting between them on the bed and his shoulders slump again. Not a seven either. He sticks it at the end of his hand. 

This is how they’ve been passing time for a while now. The old card deck Yuuji stashed away here back during the exchange event is still here, if not a little dusty from when it was last used. It turns out Choso didn’t know a single card game but knew how to play Monopoly, for some reason. 

“Do you have any Queens?” Choso asks.

“...I do.” Yuuji hands his two over. Double dang. 

Choso sets down the four-of-a-kind with a satisfied smile. “I’m winning, little brother.”

Maybe he regrets teaching Choso how to play cards. Just a little.

As they start a new round, Yuuji finds himself glancing over to the door again. It hasn't opened once since he first woke up. He hasn't even seen another person since he first woke up.

Yuuji jumps when a hand rests over his knee, snapping his head back. Choso looks at him with worry. Yuuji lowers his eyes.

"Sorry," Yuuji says, meaning it. "Sorry, it's just... I just..."

Choso only takes the cards out of his tight fingers, careful not to bend them, and collects the rest between them. "You must be getting tired," he says, straightening the cards in his hands. "Rest. We can continue our game later."

The mattress dips only slightly more before rising as Choso slides out, leaving Yuuji alone in the bed.



iii.

"You never answered my question."

"Which one?"

"The one about," Yuuji says, awkwardly, "what you're doing here?"

"I did. I'm here to take care of you."

"No like—how? 'cause, you were an enemy, but now you’re not… ? Unless you broke in, that would be freaky if you did—oh my god, did you break in—” 

Choso is smiling as Yuuji keeps going—why? He just found out he’s with a crazy person! This is no laughing matter! 

“I didn’t,” Choso cuts in when he showed no sign of stopping, but still smiling. “The woman let me be here.”

The way he says the woman makes Yuuji pause, blink a few times at him, before he asks, “Who?”

“The woman,” Choso repeats. “The reverse technique user.”

“Ieiri-sensei?”

“If that’s her name, then yes, her.”

“Oh.” Well, that makes sense. “Okay.”

Choso hums in agreement. 

“So… does that mean you’re our ally now?”

“No, just your brother.”

“Thought you’d say that again…”

 

iv.

His ears still ring, even after Choso shook him awake.

“It’s only,” Yuuji tries, heaving air. “It’s not…”

Choso doesn’t reply, instead soothes his hand up and down his shoulder, arm steadily around Yuuji, supporting him up. His stomach churns as his blood thumps, beating up against his skin in rushing successions. Yuuji tries his best to breathe in through his nose, out through his mouth, but his limbs still twitch. His body still thinks it's caught, burnt stinging his lungs, as—Na—To—Ku—

In through his nose, out through his mouth. 

His hand soothes up and down his shoulder, the weight of his arm across his back, heavy and grounding.

Even as his body begins to settle, he can’t stop thinking

“It’s only a nightmare,” Yuuji mumbles, pushing it down.

“Yes,” Choso says, just as quiet. “It’s only that.”

They stay like that for a little while longer—him leaning against Choso’s side. He belatedly realizes they’re rocking slowly, steadily, more on-par with swaying than anything. It makes Yuuji feel like he’s small again. The repetitive motion calms him.

When Choso begins pulling away in order to lay him back down, Yuuji finds himself holding at the hems of sleeve. 

“Can you…”

Choso nods and climbs in at his side.

There’s nothing when he dreams, only the warm weight next to him that keeps it all away.

 

v.

Yuuji wakes at the slight creak of the door. 

He blinks past the sleepiness as he hears a quiet ‘oh my’. He tries shifting his stiff limbs but the arms around his middle tighten, tug at him closer.

“Should I come back later?” Ieiri-sensei asks, leaning against the door frame. 

Yuuji’s face flushes. 

“It’s fine,” he replies quickly. “This isn’t what—it’s not—”

“Nothing I haven’t seen before, Yuuji-kun,” she said, amused, shutting the door behind her. She takes the seat at the bedside, the same one Choso had been in the first time he woke up. “It’s good you’re awake now. You’re going to be executed soon.”

Whatever grogginess he had had disappeared, replaced with a deep falling in his chest, as if it was caving in, tight, hot, and smothering, with the only air left in his lungs little and thin. But Ieiri-sensei continues, he can feel her watch him carefully as he looks away toward the floor.

“They'll probably sentence you tomorrow.”

Yuuji tries to steady his breathing, tries not to breathe too deep or else it’ll hook and tear something in him. “I… okay.”

It’s what he deserves, anyways. It was stupid of him to think that, maybe— maybe, it was—

“I really messed everything up, didn’t I?” Yuuji asks watery. “This is all because of me, that...” He has to seal his own throat, in case it all comes out. In case it grows its legs after it eats him right through. 

Ieiri-sensei had leant back in her seat as she waited for him to recollect. 

Choso’s slow breathing against his back helps him swallow it all down. 

Yuuji asks, once he knows his voice won’t catch, “What’ll happen to him? 

“Study specimen. It’s what he agreed to.” 

It’s numb when he nods. So that’s what he meant. 

Then, Ieiri-sensei stands with a light sigh, saying, “Though it would’ve been fascinating to study him, the morgue is still full tonight.” She looks at him over her shoulder, at the doorway. The lighting makes her eyes darker, nearly bruised, on her face, before saying, “I’ll be there all night. Goodbye, Yuuji.”

He stays like that, listening to her steps recede. 

Ieiri-sensei had left the door open.

 

0.

“This is War.” 

Choso frowns, looking down at the deck. “I thought we were playing cards?”

“No, we are but,” Yuuji tries to explain, shuffling his half of the deck between his hands. “Look, that’s just what the game is called.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

The wind sounds harsh outside, but in this building’s lobby they’re in for the night, it’s calm. Yuuji sees how Choso’s brows furrow and he laughs, saying, “Here, I’ll explain again.”