Kitayama might be taking a picture of this (mousapelli) wrote,
Kitayama might be taking a picture of this
mousapelli

Fic, Prince, Cold Hands, Warm Heart, Part 2

Title: Cold Hands, Warm Heart [Jinguji/Genki]
Rating/Warnings: R for scariness, see below.
Summary: The third floor bathroom is supposed to be haunted, but all Jinguji finds in there is Genki.

See part one for full notes/warnings.

Back to Part 1


*****

During what Jinguji could only assume was the coldest January in human history, Jinguji's university entrance exams loomed large, taking up all of his time with cram school and practice tests and his mother's harassment, until Jinguji thought not infrequently about slipping through the gap in the chain link fence on the roof himself.

"I don't even care if I pass anymore, I just want it to be over," Jinguji crabbed to Genki during lunch, happy to escape fro his stupid, loud classroom where everyone felt annoying. The dimness of the bottom of the stairwell during a gray, snowy day felt much more suited to Jinguji's mood.

"Mm," Genki said, staring at nothing out past his sneakers where his feet were stretched out in front of him. He was always quiet when Jinguji brought the topic up; Jinguji always figured that he was worried about his own exams, plus he knew Genki wasn't happy about Jinguji missing school off and on.

"I'm sick of thinking about it." Jinguji scrubbed at his eyes. "Hey, when are yours? You haven't told me where you're trying for."

Genki turned his head and kissed Jinguji suddenly, and Jinguji gave in easily to the change in topic.

Reia and Shintarou weren't much better for commiseration, Shintarou studying for the same test as Jinguji with about as much success and the added frustration that his mother would not shut up about how well his older brother had passed his exams, and Reia, who had always had the best grades of the three of them, trying for Keio.

"Shut up, you'll be fine," Shintarou said, flicking an eraser across the library table at Reia. It bounced off Reia's forehead, but he didn't even blink. "Goody two-shoes honors student class council representative."

"Those aren't insults," Reia said tiredly, turning a page in his practice test book. "This is an insult: maybe gorillas would have a better chance of attending university if they didn't spend all their time thinking with their banana."

"Go fuck a textbook," Shintarou sneered back, making Jinguji crack up and getting them kicked out of the library for noise and profanity.

Somehow Jinguji limped past the finish line, and a few weeks later he nearly cried with relief when his results came back as a pass. The next morning at school he was desperate to find Genki to tell him the news, but searched all the usual places with no luck, and Genki as usual wasn't answering his text messages.

The very last place he checked was the roof, because who would be crazy enough to hang out there when it was below zero and the sky was heavy with snow clouds, so of course that's exactly where Genki was, sitting on the ground with his back against the wall.

"There you are!" Jinguji exclaimed, coming to crouch in front of him. He had no idea how Genki could be sitting on the cold, wet ground. "Are you crazy, sitting out here? It's freezing."

Genki shrugged a shoulder.

"Hey, guess what?" Jinguji asked, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. "I passed! I passed my exams!"

"Oh," Genki said, which was not exactly the reaction Jinguji was looking for. He was too excited to take much notice, though.

"It's such a fucking relief to have it settled," Jinguji carried on his one-sided conversation. "It's crazy, right? How soon we'll be graduating. I can barely imagine what it'll be like to not come here every day."

"Stop it," Genki said quietly.

"What's the matter? Are you worried about yours?" Jinguji finally noticed the tense set of Genki's shoulders, and the way he was staring down, hair hanging in his eyes. "Did you…fail yours? It'll be okay, I promise. I'm not going away or something, so we can still see each other all the ti—"

"I said STOP," Genki shouted, making the hair on the back of Jinguji's neck stand up, and then Genki gave Jinguji a vicious shove that sent him sprawling on the wet concrete, scraping his palms. Genki curled into a miserable ball, arms around his knees. "I don't want to talk about this."

Jinguji picked himself up and sat next to Genki, rubbing his back and trying to figure out what to say, but nothing seemed right. They sat there until Jinguji was intensely late to first period and half-frozen.

After that, he didn't bring up graduation with Genki again. He kept thinking, eventually Genki would be ready to talk about it, but that moment never seemed to come.


*****

After the rooftop incident, Genki was moody for a few weeks, by turns distant and then clingy. Jinguji just tried to take it all in a stride and be supportive, since he often saw other couples in the hallways having equally dramatic scenes. Sometimes it was perplexed guys with distraught underclassman girlfriends, and other times it was frustrated girls trying to shake off boyfriends who thought they should drop everything to make some last-second memories.

"He wanted to do it in the library," Jinguji accidentally eavesdropped on a pair of girls as he strolled by, and he had to muffle a laugh at the scandal dripping from the girl's every word. "I was like, buddy if you won't even spring for a love hotel, then good luck with your obligation chocolates this year!"

Jinguji barely made it around the corner before he had to lean against the wall, shaking with laughter. Maybe Genki was a handful, but it sure seemed preferable to whatever was going on there.

Genki seemed more or less back to normal by the time Valentine's Day rolled around, and he was certainly pleased with Jinguji's gift of a silver ring. He'd tried to find one that matched the ring he wore all the time, and if it wasn't exactly the same, he thought he'd done well enough.

"You know, since you don't eat chocolate," Jinguji explained, cheeks hot as he handed it over. "Or anything. I thought about getting a chain for it, since that's how you wore this one, but…do you want one?"

"This is fine," Genki said, sliding the ring on. It fit fine, another thing Jinguji had been fretting about, and Jinguji breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Genki slid his hand into Jinguji's, the metal of his ring cold between Jinguji's fingers. "It's perfect."

Still, sometimes Genki was still a little too weird even for Jinguji.

"His face was like…" Genki mimed the wide-eyed panic for second, then laughed. "He curled up on the ground like a turtle. Like a stupid turtle."

"Jesus, Genki!" Jinguji interrupted. It always made him feel uncomfortable when Genki laughed at other kids behind bullied. "How can you laugh at that? Why didn't you do something?"

"Do something?" Genki's eyes narrowed. "What could I do?"

"I don't know, something!" Jinguji exclaimed. It was rare for him to lose his temper with Genki, but he'd done poorly on a science test that morning and been lectured by his homeroom teacher for falling asleep, so Jinguji's patience was at an end. "Push them! Go for help! You were standing right there, if you saw his face. Why do you hang around and watch? Don't you wish somebody would help you?" Jinguji reached to brush a bruise on Genki's cheek, always a new one, but Genki pushed his hand away.

"Nobody ever helped me," he snapped, eyes dark.

"So it makes you feel better to watch other guys get hurt too?" Jinguji demanded. Genki didn't exactly look like the answer was no, and that made Jinguji feel even more unpleasant. "Never mind, don't answer that. But instead of just watching like a creep and then laughing about it, maybe if you actually did something, things would change."

"They won't change," Genki said, voice flat. "I couldn't do anything anyway."

"That's because you never try," Jinguji told him, and Genki was quiet after that.

*****

The next morning they had an unexpected self-study period before lunch, and by the time lunch happened, the story had spread all over school that a second year student had been found unconscious in the bathroom and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Reia gave them three guesses which bathroom it had happened in, and the first two didn't count.

"What was he even doing in there?" Reia grumbled, voice low. The three of them were picking at their lunches around Reia's desk, much more subdued than the last time Shintarou had gleefully shared some weird bathroom happenings. Jinguji's relationship with them had repaired somewhat over the winter, and if it they seemed like they were tiptoeing around him in conversations sometimes, Jinguji had been way too tired to argue about anything with them.

"Roughing up Inoue-kun again," Shintarou said tersely. He was checking his phone, messages dinging regularly from friends in other classes. Easy to approach and gregarious in the hallways, Shintarou had more friends among the lower classmen than either Reia or Jinguji. "Hashimocchan told me the other week that a couple second years were messing with him every time they caught him alone. He said they like that bathroom because nobody goes in there."

"Assholes," Reia grumbled. "Why do we even HAVE bathrooms here? Nothing good ever happens in one!"

"Maybe not to you," Shintarou chuckled, making a kissy face. His amusement faded when a new message chimed on his phone. "Shit."

"Hashimoto?" Reia and Jinguji leaned closer to see. "What's he say? Does he know something?"

"Inoue was in the bathroom with him," Shintarou reported, eyes darting back and forth as he read quickly. "Hashimoto's in the nurse's office with him now. He says that right in the middle of messing with him, the guy started choking and scratching at his neck, like he couldn't breathe, and then he just dropped to the floor, out cold. Official story is that he had an asthma attack, but…"

"But what?" Jinguji asked.

"But Inoue said he had a bunch of marks around his neck, like bruises." Shintarou grimaced.

"He said he was scratching at his neck," Reia offered, sounding unsure. He reached up to his own neck, miming a tight grip. "Like that?"

"No." Shintarou reached over to flip Reia's wrist over, fingers across his windpipe, thumb in the back. "Like that. You wouldn't grab yourself like that, right? But Inoue is sure there wasn't anybody else in there with them."

The three of them fell silent for a long minute. All of them jumped when Jinguji's phone rattled against the desk suddenly.

"Sorry," Jinguji said, flipping his phone over to find a message from Genki. Jinguji had texted earlier to ask if Genki was okay, but hadn't gotten an answer. Thumbing his phone unlocked, a new picture popped up. Despite everything, Jinguji chuckled quietly at Genki's usual terrible photography, and only after turning the phone at an odd angle did he recognize the back of Reia's head, his own elbow, and Shintarou's hand waving his phone around, his case a red blur. "He must be outside."

Dropping his phone, Jinguji hopped up to throw open the classroom door, wondering why Genki never just came inside like a normal person. Out in the hallway, Jinguji frowned when he found nobody except Kishi from the class next door, strolling back from the water fountain.

"Hey, man, did you see Iwahashi-kun out here a minute ago?" Jinguji asked. "He was just here, did you see which way he went?"

"Nobody's been out here," Kishi answered, glancing over his shoulder.

"What? He was just here!" Jinguji protested.

Kishi shrugged, slipping his hands into his pocket. "Sorry, man, I swear, I'm the only one out here. Hey, did you hear? They can't wake that asthma kid up. I just heard a couple teachers whispering about it outside the faculty room, he's in a coma or something."

"That's terrible," Jinguji said, but it was autopilot, preoccupied with where Genki had gone. He went back inside, sliding the door shut behind him, and found Reia and Shintarou both looking at his phone with unusually serious expressions. "He's gone. Guess he didn't want to…what are you two looking at me like that for?"

"Jin-chan, I don't think Iwahashi-kun took this picture," Reia said.

"What? Of course he did. That's his number." Jinguji rolled his eyes as Reia and Shintarou exchanged a glance. "Seriously, knock it off."

"Look, just come here a second," Reia said, motioning for Jinguji to sit back down. Jinguji obeyed, letting his face say how dumb he thought they were. "Okay, look, we're here, Shin-chan across, and you on the left, right?"

"Duh," Jinguji said.

"But from the doorway, you'd be on the right." Reia chewed on his bottom lip. "Jin-chan, for this picture to put you on the left, it'd have to be taken from behind us. It'd have to be taken inside the classroom."

Jinguji looked from the phone to the doorway and back again. "But…" Jinguji shook his head. "That's crazy. I'm looking right at the door, I'd have seen him come in!"

"The rest of them are weird too," Shintarou added. "Like the water fountain picture, even you said you'd have to be on the floor for it to look like that."

"No," Jinguji shook his head. "This is crazy. He's just like…you know, a bad photographer."

"Let's go see," Reia said, standing up. "Prove me wrong."

"Hey, we're supposed stay in here," Shintarou protested.

"Fine, let's go," Jinguji agreed. "Kishi-kun said all the teachers are in the faculty room having a meeting, so no one will yell at us."

Out in the hallway, even though Jinguji announced that it was entirely unnecessary, Reia had to be flat on his stomach on the floor, Shintarou looking down at him in mild horror, to take the same picture as Jinguji already had on his phone.

In the stairwell, Reia flicked through Jinguji's pictures until he got to the one of the top landing. Some of the stair railings were blurry but evident in the foreground of the picture. It was one of Jinguji's favorites, because the sunlight was slanting through the window on the third floor to make a pretty halo, and also because the top landing was one of his favorite places to sit with Genki. Jinguji had always assumed that Genki had taken it just standing much lower on the staircase, phone pointed through the gaps in the metal railing.

Halfway between the second floor landing and the bend in the staircase, the angle was almost right, but no matter how far Reia stuck his hand out between the slats of the rail, he couldn't duplicate the shot.

"You try, then," Reia said, handing his phone to Jinguji when Jinguji protested that Reia had short arms. Jinguji and Shintarou both tried with similar results. "See? You'd have to be much further over to make it work."

Both Jinguji and Shintarou looked to the left, where the only thing that separated the two sides of the staircase was two meters of dead space and a long drop to the first floor.

"The roof next," Reia said when neither of them answered. He seemed weirdly cheerful about this, as if they were on a creepy field trip.

"How long have you creeps been thinking about this?" Jinguji grumbled as they climbed the staircase.

"Longer than you, clearly," Shintarou retorted. "Also you really need to go back to soccer conditioning, because we've climbed up not even two flights of stairs and it sounds like YOU'RE about to go into an asthma coma next."

"Not cool, dude," Jinguji huffed.

Out on the roof, it became immediately obvious that nobody could have taken that picture standing on the surface of the roof. Even with Reia sitting on Shintarou's shoulders, the angle still wasn't high enough to get the deep view down through the chain fence, the corner of the roof, and some of the courtyard below, stretching to the front gate. Even Jinguji didn't have a flip answer for that, feeling more and more unsettled, shivering as the barely-spring wind whipped over the exposed roof, tugging at their hair and and hands. When Reia handed Jinguji back his phone, he could barely close his fingers around it and it slipped out of his hand, clattering to the ground.

"Show him the other one," Shintarou said as Jinguji was straightening up.

"Shin-chan," Reia murmured, but Shintarou crossed his arms stubbornly. Reia sighed.

"There's one more," Reia said. "It's not a picture on your phone."

Jinguji followed Reia and Shintarou back down the stairs, anxiety twisting into a tight knot in his stomach. What could possibly be weirder than a picture taken from a stair that didn't exist, or from someplace higher than the roof? At every turn on the staircase, and then every corner they turned in the hallways, Jinguji wished desperately that Genki would appear and offer him an explanation, anything at all.

Reia stopped in front of the door to the faculty room, sliding it open just enough to see what was happening inside. "It's okay, their meeting is over. Come on."

Inside, some of the teachers were at their desks, but most where in a knot in the corner, whispering. Jinguji wondered if there'd been any more news since Kishi had overheard them talking, and if the hospital had told them anything else. No one paid them any mind, all busy with either their thoughts or what they were doing.

Reia led them along the wall, until they came to the are where framed photos of the school's winning sports teams were mounted in neat rows. Jinguji glanced idly across soccer, baseball, and kendou teams, the oldest of the pictures so faded with age that nearly all of their colors were gone.

Reia was pointing at one closer to the end of the rows, where the photos were more recent. "Here." It was a baseball team, apparently prefectural champions, and Reia was pointing to one of the students kneeling in the front row. It was Genki, of course, his face serious and familiar even under the shadow of his baseball cap.

"So what? He said he played baseball," Jinguji said. "Did you think he was lying?"

"The date, Jin," Reia said gently. He slid his finger down the glass, to where the plaque the center two players were holding quite clearly said "2006."

"That's not right," Jinguji said, feeling like all of the air was leaking out of his lungs. "That's…"

"I saw it a few weeks ago while the student council was choosing pictures for the festival display," Reia explained. He dropped his hand and reached out to touch Jinguji's wrist. "I'm sorry, but I didn't know how to tell you. I thought you'd get mad."

"I AM mad," Jinguji hissed, yanking his hand away. That wasn't quite the emotion roiling in his chest, but it felt good to take it out on Reia, whatever it was. "This is crazy! That's ten years ago! I saw Genki yesterday! He must…I don't know, have a brother or something." He looked up, away from the awful picture, clenching his fists because all he wanted was to rip it off the wall and smash it on the floor. Shintarou and Reia were both watching him, sad and sympathetic, and it made Jinguji furious. "You can't be suggesting that Genki's…what, even?"

"You'll have to ask him," Reia said, crossing his arms in front of himself as though he were cold. "I hope for you sake he'll tell you the truth."

They left him alone, shutting the door quietly behind them, and leaving Jinguji glaring at the photograph as if he could erase its existence with the power of his mind.

Unable to cope with going back to his classroom, Jinguji went up to the third floor landing and sat on the top step. He knew if he waited long enough, Genki would show up eventually. Sure enough, when all of the other students had gone home and the gray winter daylight was starting to dim, Genki sat down on the step next to Jinguji as if he'd been standing on the landing the entire time.

"So you know," Genki said quietly.

"No, I don't know," Jinguji said, frazzled from sitting and thinking about it in an endless, anxious loop for hours. "I don't understand anything that's happening! Reia said you…he showed me this picture of you…"

"Jin-chan, you already know," Genki tried to interrupt, but Jinguji shook his head as if shaking off his words.

"The pictures you've been sending me," Jinguji changed the subject, latching on to something more concrete. "How are you taking them? Why are they so weird?!"

"I don't take them." Genki scuffed his sneakers against the sharp corners of the steps, head ducked. "Sometimes I think about stuff. Then they just appear." Jinguji opened his mouth but no words came out. Genki kept on talking, almost more to himself than to Jinguji. "Like this stairwell. I like it here. People come here to be alone, like couples or best friends. I think I used to have a best friend." Genki's voice grew fainter, indistinct. "It's so hard to remember things."

Jinguji was flipping through the pictures, and realized that some of them, the ones that Jinguji wasn't in, told a kind of story. "They're like memories, aren't they? Of things that happened to you. Like you'd have to be on the floor to look up at the water fountain like that. Someone shoved you down, right?"

"They dropped me when they got bored," Genki answered. "I could hide in the bathroom sometimes, but sometimes I wasn't fast enough. Sometimes they trapped me in there."

"So you came up here," Jinguji continued, flicking to the next picture. "And then…" The next one was that bizarre shot of the roof they couldn't duplicate. "You went outside? On the roof?"

"I heard them coming. I just wanted to hide, but there was a hole in the fence, and I thought…" Genki sounded distant, as if squinting to see something far away. "I didn't matter though. It didn't make it stop."

"What are you…" Jinguji cut off as his phone buzzed with a new picture from Genki's number. To Jinguji's horror, the new picture was also of the courtyard, but flat along the ground, the school gate looming high overhead. Only someone pressed flat to the ground, or crushed, could get an angle like that.

A horrible clarity came over Jinguji as he looked at Genki as if seeing him for the first time. His pale skin, almost translucent, and the coldness of his hands whenever Jinguji touched him. The outdated phone. The bruise on his cheek wasn't from a series of beatings, but always the same exact bruise, smudged across his cheekbone. Even the last of the winter sunlight coming through the window seemed almost to pass through him, and against the wall Genki didn't have a shadow sitting beside Jinguji's.

"See?" Genki asked sadly. "You already knew."

"No!" Jinguji protested. "You can't be…you can't! I've kissed you! We've—"

"You thought you could touch me, so you could," Genki shrugged. He reached for Jinguji's hand and his fingers passed right through, turning Jinguji's blood to ice for a second. On the second try, Genki's fingers bumped into Jinguji's, curling through them. "You should go. Away. You're going to leave."

"I…" Jinguji wanted to argue but all the words stuck in his throat, eyes still locked on Genki's bruise.

"When it's graduation, you'll go away and I won't see you anymore. But I'll still be here." Genki shrugged one shoulder. "This is where I belong."

"You came to my HOUSE," Jinguji blurted. "We went out, we…the ring," he realized, looking down at the spot where the ring was hanging under his shirt. The metal always felt cool against his skin, but Jinguji hadn't thought anything of it until now. "It's because I had your ring with me, so you could follow me?" Genki nodded. "So I'll just keep wearing it! I'll…I'll just…"

"I can't. You shouldn't." Genki tried to shake off Jinguji's hand, but Jinguji hung on. "I didn't mean to, but you were so…nice. To me. The only one. But I shouldn't have because now you'll have to go, and it'll be just the way it was before!"

"It doesn't have to be," Jinguji argued, gripping more tightly as Genki pulled back. "I'm right here! I can—"

"Stop!" Genki snapped, shoving Jinguji backwards hard enough that he nearly slid off the steps. When Jinguji looked back up from the forbidding slope of sharp edges stretching down and away from them, heart pounding, Genki was standing over him. His eyes were black, as if his pupils had swallowed the brown of his irises. "You aren't like me and you can't stay! You have to GO. Go AWAY, get OUT!"

His last shriek made Jinguji cringe, the pitch of it inhuman, and then Genki was gone, just gone as if he had never been there.

Heart still skipping every other beat, Jinguji grabbed for his phone with fumbling fingers and texted for Genki to come back, that he wasn't going anywhere dammit, but the message bounced. The error said that it was undeliverable, the red exclamation mark hovering just under the last picture, the one of the courtyard.

"FUCK," Jinguji yelled in frustration, his curse echoing off the walls, and then he threw his phone as hard as he could and listened to its clattering, jarring fall almost the entire way down the stairwell.

Some horrible part of him, hurt and cold and so, so tired, whispered that Jinguji could do the same thing as Genki. The roof was right there, after all, just behind him. Genki had said it didn't hurt anymore, right? Then he could stay with Genki, couldn't he? If they were the same.

"Shut up!" Jinguji shouted, voice cracking in the middle, and then he sat on the top step and cried for he had no idea how long, because he felt alone and small and stupid, and too much of a coward to even do something about it, so instead he was sitting in the dark yelling at himself.

"Jin-chan?" a soft voice asked, a hand shaking his shoulder, and when Jinguji peeled open his sticky eyes, it was Reia. Jinguji realized he must have fallen alseep, curled in a miserable ball right there on the landing. Reia and Shintarou were kneeling next to him, their flashlights sending strange, sharp shadows up and down the stairwell. "Oh, thank god. You weren't moving. I thought you were—" Reia cut off, shaking his head.

"You weren't answering your phone. We found this at the bottom of the stairwell." Shintarou held up Jinguji's phone, screen a spiderweb of cracks, case split open at the corner. "We were afraid he might have taken you away."

"No, he left, he," Jinguji couldn't go on, throat closing up against the words. Shintarou grabbed jinguji by the forearms and hauled him up from the chilled floor, hugging him tightly. Shintarou was so warm, solid in a way that couldn't be mistaken. Jinguji fisted his hands in Shintarou's shirt and tried to just breathe.

"It's all right," Shintarou told him, rubbing hands up and down Jinguji's back. "Let's get you home."

*****

For the last two weeks before graduation, Jinguji was little better than a ghost himself. He refused to get out of bed the morning after the stairwell, and the next, until on the third day his mother put her foot down and dragged him out of bed by the ear.

Even at school he shuffled from place to place, or simply sat or stood still if left alone, staring into the middle distance and not bothering to fake interest in anything anyone said to him. Reia spoke to him gently, coaxing, as if afraid Jinguji might shatter, while Shintarou tried unsuccessfully to joke Jinguji back closer to normal.

"Lots of people break up at graduation, right?" Shintarou asked, grin fake and bright. "Completely normal. Better a clean break, you don't want him popping out at people in the bathrooms at your university."

"Shin," Reia said reprovingly

Jinguji snorted softly, turning to stare out the window. Reia and Shintarou bickering was a pleasantly familiar background noise, and Jinguji didn't need to pay it any attention. He tried to think about walking through the gates for the last time, knowing he was never coming back, and Jinguji couldn't imagine it.

He hadn't gone looking for Genki, doubting that he could find him even if he tried. For the first few days he expected to see Genki's face at his shoulder every time he looked up from the bathroom sink, or feel a light touch on his shoulder whenever he turned a corner, but there was nothing. Once or twice it felt like eyes were on him, but Jinguji was reasonably sure it was either wishful thinking or just his mind playing tricks on him. He spent an entire afternoon on the roof watching the baseball team below scrimmage over regulars' spots, and the only touch he felt against his hair or fingers was from the wind whispering over the concrete. They'd fixed the hole in the fence, Jinguji noticed idly; he wasn't surprised when two days later the hole was back.

The morning of graduation was cold but clear, all the stereotypical trappings present from the cherry blossom petals swirling on the wind to the tearful goodbye speeches in their homeroom. Jinguji felt detached from it, as if he was watching a school-setting drama on TV. The only thing that seemed real was the ring he kept twisting on its chain, the metal cool against his fingertips.

By the time they all stood up to bow to their homeroom teacher the final time, Jinguji had already decided what he was going to do.

He slipped to the back and stayed just inside the doorway as everyone else headed out of the classroom, knowing the bustle of the students in the echoing hallways and the confusion of being sorted alphabetically would keep Reia or Shintarou from noticing right away. Yanking off the first and third buttons of his uniform with a twist of his wrist, Jinguji put them on Reia and Shintarou's desks and paused for one last second, looking at their trio of desks, then around the rest of the classroom.

"I hope you understand," he said. The hallway was quiet by then, and Jinuji slipped out before anyone came back to find him. He headed the opposite way from everyone else, up the back staircase to the third floor, because there was only one place that Genki would be hiding.

Of course the bathroom seemed empty when Jinguji pushed the door open, but Jinguji knew better.

"I know you're here," he called, voice echoing off the tile as the door swung shut behind him. "Please come out." The third stall door was closed; Jinguji put his palm flat against the steel, the chill of it making him shiver. "Genki, please, it's me."

Nothing happened, the quiet thick and heavy like a blanket, like snowfall, and Jinguji tried to remember the story about how you summoned Hanako, or whatever other toilet ghost. He knocked on the door gently with his knuckles, one two three.

The stall door swung open, with nothing inside. A loud sniffle echoed behind Jinguji. When he turned around, Genki was sitting on the floor, arms around his knees. He looked just like the first time Jinguji had seen him, uniform disheveled, bruise livid and ugly against the paper-white of his cheek.

Jinguji couldn't help but smile. "Found you."

In a blink Genki was standing in front of Jinguji without seeming to move, mouth twisted in a snarl, eyes that dangerous black. "I told you to go away! Get out!" He went to shove at Jinguji, Jinguji grunting at the strength behind it, but he grabbed Genki's wrists and held on tight. It was just like Genki had said: if Jinguji believed he could hold on, then he could.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said calmly, voice somehow even despite the way his heart was hammering in his chest.

"Yes you ARE," Genki howled, digging his fingers into Jinguji's forearms, his nails improbably sharp, like claws. The skin stretched tight over the bones of his face, eyes sunken, teeth sharp as he snapped them. Like this Genki looked barely human, looked like what he was, a dead thing clinging to a place just so he wouldn't blow away. His voice was the screech of a stuck faucet handle, the creak of branches in the wind. "Look at me! I'll hurt you like I did to them! Until there's even less of you left than there is of me!"

Icy cold spread out from Genki's hands up Jinguji's arms, stealing his breath, creeping towards his heart, but Jinguji wasn't afraid. He couldn't be afraid of Genki, in the end.

"I won't go," Jinguji told him, calming welling up inside him, more of it the more that Genki struggled and raged. "Listen to me, I won't leave you. They don't need me, out there. My parents and Shintarou and Reia, they love me, but they don't need me. But you do, right?"

Genki went still, between one blink and the next he changed, no longer the horrible thing, just Genki instead, pale and sad and bruised. His face was plaintive as he looked up at Jinguji, and Jinguji had the feeling that if ghosts could cry, Genki certainly would be.

"I don't understand," Genki said, still pushing at Jinguji weakly, but it was like Jinguji had sapped away his energy for once, instead of the other way around. "You're supposed to leave."

"I don't care." Jinguji let go of one of Genki's wrists to yank off his second button, the most important one. He pressed it into Genki's palm and curled his hand shut around it, his own hand curled around Genki's cold fist. "Accept my feelings already, because even if you don't, I'm staying. So that you won't be alone."

Genki's lower lip trembled, and then he collapsed against Jinguji's chest, shaking as Jinguji hugged him tight. Finally Jinguji thought, resting his cheek against Genki's hair and closing his eyes. He took a deep, slow breath, and then another, rocking Genki back and forth a little as his heartbeat eased up, slower and slower.

And then it stopped.

*****

"Jin-chan!" Reia hollered as he slammed open the door to the bathroom, Shintarou hot on his heels. "Jin-chan, are you here? Please be here!"

"We're so stupid!" Shintarou growled, both of them furious at themselves for not noticing right away that Jinguji was missing, not until they called his name for his diploma and nobody came to the stage. "Jin!"

"He's not here," Reia said, looking around helplessly. "What should we do?"

"Give him back!" Shintarou yelled at no one, getting no answer except the echo of his own voice making fun of him.

Reia kicked something with his foot, making it skid over the tile. He bent to pick it up, holding it out for Shintarou to see.

It was a necklace, the long silver chain with two rings dangling at the bottom, both silver with a simple wave pattern etched around the outside.

"What does that mean?" Reia asked, voice hushed. Shintarou shook his head. Reia started to cry, and Shintarou pulled him into a hug, the only thing either one of them could do.

"You could at least have said goodbye, asshole," Shintarou grumbled. The touch of a palm against his back, between his shoulders, was definitely too light to be anything except his imagination.

*****

"Dare you to go into the third floor bathroom," Haba teased, shoving.

"No way," Takahashi shoved back. "You do it. Inoue-senpai says it's hauuuuuunted."

"Haunted?" Igari asked, frowning. Takahashi nodded, grinning as he leaned in to share the juicy details with his scaredy-cat classmate.

"Sure, yeah," Takahashi told him. "Hashimoto-senpai told me too. He said if you go in, there's a kid in the third stall crying, and if you knock and ask him what's wrong, the door swings open and—"

"Pfft, don't be ridiculous," Haba laughed, patting a wide-eyed Igari on the shoulder. "I was in there last week and believe me, nobody was crying in the third stall."

"Oh yeah?" Takahashi asked. "What did you hear?"

"A lot of whispers and shuffling and…you know." Haba wiggled his eyebrows. Takahashi laughed and Igari wrinkled his nose. "I don't know about ghosts, but seems like some upperclassmen might be having an awfully good time in there…Igari-kun, what are you making that face for?"

"I just got a weird text message," Igari reported, frowning at his phone. "It's a picture from an unknown number…I think it's the top of the staircase? You know, on the third floor?"

"Ehh, just delete it," Haba advised. "Probably somebody just messing with you. Come on, we'll be late to practice."

Igari paused, looking over his shoulder, back towards the stairwell. A breeze ruffled his hair, and for just a second it felt like sometime was brushing a fingertip along his cheekbone. Stifling a yelp, Igari turned and dashed to catch up with Haba and Takahashi, keeping himself firmly tucked between the two of them until they made it to the club room to change.

Igari hoped high school baseball would be as fun as middle school.
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