it was haru, of course he was staying

“Haru has really nice eyes, don’t you think?” Kohana comes out with, the next day, at lunch this time.

“Sure, yeah,” Kai mumbles, trying to enjoy his sandwich.

“And he has a well-shaped mouth, right? Pouty, nice colour, and such.”

“Uh huh.” Kai takes another bite of his sandwich, savouring the flavour of perfectly-cooked bacon.

“And you don’t mind his bad leg, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” Kai snaps, defensively. “Where are you going with this, Kohana?”

“So, basically, you think he’s pretty hot, am I wrong?” Kohana declares. She says it as if she’s won something.

Kai sighs at her. “Anyone can see that, Ko.” He takes another bite and chews, methodical.

They stare at each other for a while, Kohana’s eyes narrowing.

“So you wouldn’t mind if I told him you think he’s hot?” she eventually asks.

“If it makes him feel less self-conscious about the leg, then by all means.” Kai shrugs. “He could use it.”

Kohana looks at him, utterly dumbfounded, then her expression clears. “Unbelievable. You two are truly unbelievable.”

“Like the blind leading the blind,” Asuka says, nonsensically, from a vent. Kohana doesn’t seem surprised in the least to hear her, even though Kai jumps about ten feet in the air.

“Exactly!” Kohana agrees fervently. She raises her arms in the air, as if to say “I’m done!” and struts off.

“She’s probably going to tell him,” Asuka points out.

“Okay.” Kai shrugs again. “I said she could anyway.”

“Kohana told me you said I was hot,” Haru says, as they’re watching another movie.

“Yep. That’s about what I said.”

“She also said that you don’t mind the leg.” Haru’s looking kind of suspicious at this point.

“Of course I don’t mind your leg, Haru. We’ve known each other for years. Do you really think I’d care about that?” Kai levels him with a stern look.

Haru sits there, entirely confused.

“You’re kind of perfect, aren’t you?” he says, after a pause.

Kai’s eyes widen.

“How do you feel about actually consummating this relationship?” Haru asks.

“Are you asking us to fondue?” Kai tries to appear as innocent as possible. “We haven’t even had our first date!”

“Oh my fucking god,” they hear, from the vents above.

“Holy shit,” comes Kohana’s voice, clearly next to a certain bird above them. “Also, Asu, you owe me twenty ryou.”

“Fucking hell,” Asuka swears. Then they shuffle away.

Kai never gave up. He never quit and he never backed down. He knew the better part of valour only in that he’d quoted it to an enemy once or twice, mostly to see if they’d do what he wouldn’t. He fought every battle the way any decent operative did; with everything he had until there was nothing left. He never gave up.

But sometimes there was no fight. Sometimes there was nothing but your best friend freezing himself to death in the snow, trying to keep you from doing the same. Lucien hit his back and Kai hit the ground, catching himself badly on numb forearms. Wet snow stung frozen skin, grinding into slow-bleeding scrapes with the fine precision of a senbon needle. Lucien’s arms wrapped around him once more, pinning him with all the tenacity of an angry python. His knee was digging into the back of Kai’s thigh, and his breath was the only warm thing in the world as it clouded the air next to Kai’s face. He wasn’t letting go. He wasn’t going away. He was staying.

In the midst of everything Kai found a splintered little knot of laughter that broke in his chest. It was Lucien, of course he was staying.

Sometimes there was no fight. Sometimes there was just the aftermath of one. He could still hear the children scream.

Kai stopped moving, turned his head away, and quietly fell apart.

When Kai finally stopped fighting, he stopped everything. The tension went out of him, the anger and the fight, and he was limp for a moment in Lucien’s arms. Then a different tension took over. A shaking, shuddering tension that rose and fell with Kai’s breaths. Breaths that weren’t really breaths so much as sobs — dry, tearless, broken weeping.

Lucien didn’t let go.

Instead he rolled to his side, slipping off Kai’s back and tugging his friend closer to him in a real embrace now. Kai didn’t resist, he just buried his face in the loose, damp fabric of Lucien’s too-big hoodie, resting against Lucien’s shoulder. Lucien held him, feeling him shake, listening to him not cry, and when his arm started to cramp rolled onto his back, pulling Kai with him again, so that the other man lay curled and shaking across his chest, wrapped in his arms.

He didn’t let go.

He held Kai, feeling the cold that their struggle had driven away seep back in, soaking wetly through his clothes, until he was shaking as much as Kai was, teeth chattering together in uncontrollable little taps. He rubbed a slow circle against Kai’s back, felt the new bruises Kai had given him blooming, listened to Kai not-quite crying, and watched the snow drifting down from the sky in slow hypnotic waves.

It was the cold that finally drove Kai back into himself, as the snow settled over them both and leeched even the little bit of heat that shared body warmth could offer. The bare skin of his arms was white — whiter against the black of Lucien’s old hoodie — and edged in blue where his frozen fingers curled into the cloth. They were both breathing too hard, too fast and too shallow, neither one of them drawing a decent amount of air. Kai’s lips were cracked bloody, ice freezing at the corners of his mouth. He was almost glad not to be warm.

He couldn’t hear the children anymore, not over the sound of Lucien’s heartbeat in his ear.

At some point Kai knew he was going to burn up with shame over this whole ordeal. For breaking and for running, for dragging Lucien out in the middle of the night to run and freeze and bruise because he was an asshole who punched his friends before he cried on them. For not being strong enough. But for now all he felt was profound relief to be alone in his own skull.

The world was quiet again, out in the snow. Kai let out a raw exhale and closed his eyes, not caring he was shaking hard enough to hurt.

There was a change in the tension Lucien felt from Kai. A shift as he let the last piece of something go, and his shivers turned from choked back tears to the more mechanical efforts of a body whose temperature had dropped too far to warm itself up again.

“Kai?” he asked, and felt his own shivering now too, now that the spell was broken. “You wanna g-g-go b-b-b-back-k t-to my p-p-p-place and g-get some t-t-tea?” He had to chuckle at how ridiculous that sounded, and even his laugh was stammered out, as the shaking turned more violent.

The snow under them had melted a bit, making it even more effective at soaking into their clothes. But the snow had slowed, so now only few lazy flakes drifted down from the low-hanging clouds. With no wind, the silence around them was profound.

For a long moment Kai was quiet, then finally he moved, lifting his hands to get them underneath himself. He didn’t push up, not quite yet. “Only you,” he murmured finally, locking his jaw against the shudder that wanted to tear his words into fragments, “Would think about-t t-tea at-t a t-t-time like this.”

Sometimes Lucien was a gift.

“I’m c-c-coming,” muttered Kai, trying hard not to stagger, “I’m c-coming. Witness me c — no, wait. I d-didn’t say that.” For a moment Kai was glad he was mostly frozen; he didn’t have enough blood close enough to the surface of his skin to make a decent blush.

He turned his attention to the ANBU HQ building looming in front of them like a very welcome monolith, and focused on staying on his feet — foot — long enough to make it to the doors. They were both shaking hard enough to jar each other off balance, both as white as their masks. The blood seeping from cracked lips was the only colour that stood out, almost garish against corpse-pale faces. Lucien’s eyes looked bruised, normally sleepy lids stained purple with fatigue and pain. The mark on his throat was almost black.

I am very stupid, thought Kai with more then a little self-hatred. Very stupid. Worthless idiotic dead-brained excuse for an agent that drags his friends out into the snow…

He wanted to talk, but talking was hard through the shivering. And sleep was pulling at him seductively. The lethargy of hypothermia was a danger in the field, but now they were in bed, indoors, bundled together. Surely giving in to the temptation to sleep now would do no harm. As long as Kai didn’t leave. He tightened his arm around Kai’s waist. “S-s-stay here. Kay?”

Kai let go of Lucien only long enough to grab the pillow he’d been looking at and pulled it down to tuck under his head, easing the stiffness of his neck. It was a bizarre sort of comfort, but it helped. He wrapped his arm back around Lucien’s shoulders and shifted slightly, dragging cold limbs around until Lucien had a pillow of sorts on his biceps. Probably not as comfortable, but better then nothing. The weight of blankets was finally starting to do the job as both of them shook harder. But that was how it worked; you shook, you shook harder, and then one way or another you stopped. This was the better way.

Lucien’s hold tightened around him, an entirely different one from the grip he’d used to keep Kai down in the snow. The meaning was still the same: Don’t go. Stop running. Don’t fight anymore. Stay here.

Warmth would bring pain, Kai knew. Pins and needles of the worse kind as their hands and feet thawed. His ankle would be wretched. Frostbite would hurt, and they were both probably going to have wicked colds.

Lucien’s hands would be a nightmare for him.

Kai sighed softly and licked cracked lips. “Y-yeah, I’ll s-stay.”

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