Falling from the Moon

A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic

By Natalie Baan


Chapter 10.5



Jinpachi opened his eyes, slowly realizing he was awake. He must have dozed off for a moment: not enough sleep, the night before. Rolling half over onto his side, he nestled his cheek against the pillowcase--and then froze up all at once as he remembered.

That hadn't been--oh god, yes it had. He was. Shirt unbuttoned down to--all the way down, and pulled out of his pants which were--where was the damned belt?--well off his hips and he'd--

He hadn't.

He had.

Oh god.

He wondered if he could make it to the bathroom before Issei came back.

Scrambling up onto his knees, Jinpachi started fumbling his clothes into some sort of order, then paused as he noticed the finger bowl and small towel set out on the nightstand. Puzzled, he stared at them for a long time, trying to remember if they'd been there before, and couldn't recall. As he looked at them, though, one thing was gradually becoming clear to him.

Either Issei'd been miles ahead of him and prepared for all contingencies, or he'd been out of it a whole lot longer than he'd thought.

Jinpachi shook his head. Quickly he climbed off the bed and got more or less presentable--except for his belt, which definitely had decided to go missing, and his hair, which felt a little wild. No mirror to check that in, though. Oh well. He ran his fingers through it a couple of times and decided that would have to do. There was a cautious knock on the door and Issei walked into the room: immaculate, damn it, not a hair out of place. He closed the door behind himself and leaned against it. Hands behind his back, he glanced once at Jinpachi, then dropped his eyes, a slight smile hesitating across his face as if not quite sure that it should be there. "Hi," he said in a small voice, really quiet.

"Um," and Jinpachi made himself concentrate on which end of the towel went with which, rather than look at Issei and think uncomfortable thoughts. He got the corners wrong at least once before managing to line them up and fold the towel into something resembling a square. He laid it down gingerly on the nightstand.

"Okay?" Issei asked, and the uncertainty in that one word made Jinpachi swallow hard.

"Yeah," he mumbled, and Issei nodded, eyes lowering again.

"Do you--do you want to stay for dinner?" he offered. "It's all right with my mother, and my father won't be home."

If Jinpachi had to sit downstairs for the next hour or so and pretend that things were normal, he thought that he might just snap. "No, I need to get home. They're expecting me, and I'm--" Late? He looked at the clock. "/Really/ late."

"All right." Issei seemed pretty calm about that and moved aside, stepping out from between Jinpachi and the door before he even started to head for it. That was a big relief. He really didn't want complications or a big emotional display right now, and he figured that maybe Issei didn't either. He just wanted to go home and process this and try to put the pieces of his world back together.

Not really a whole lot to ask.

He'd just put his hand on the doorknob and was breathing a sigh of freedom when Issei called his name. It gave him a moment of panic. Jerking around, he saw Issei fishing his belt out from underneath the bed. Issei held the belt out, trying unsuccessfully to keep off his face the grin already dancing in his eyes. "Here," he said, almost playfully, "I don't think you want me to bring this to you in school."

"Uh, no! I mean, yes--I don't. Thanks." Jinpachi grabbed the strap and started threading it through his belt loops. Stupid thing--got itself twisted--he fumbled at it, and Issei, who'd been watching, stepped close, put hands on him and he didn't jump, not really, only jerked his arms up high and clear as Issei slipped fingers underneath the belt and turned it right-side out for him, as though it was something only natural to do. Issei stepped back, leaving him to pull the end through the last loop and fasten the buckle himself. Jinpachi made himself busy with that, head down so that his bangs fell over his face and maybe hid some of his embarrassed blush.

Everything about this was just so damned weird.

He managed a little better on the way out, calling out a quick hello and goodbye to Issei's mother in the kitchen and giving Issei's little sister an absentminded pat on the head. Issei slipped on shoes to follow him out to the sidewalk. It had gotten nearly dark, only a slight purpling of the sky and a faint glow over the westernmost buildings remaining from the twilight. He really had been asleep for a stretch.

"Jinpachi," Issei murmured as they reached the end of the front path, "are you sorry?" And he had to think about that for a long time, resting his hand on the half-open gate and watching a faint star or two struggle to send light through the city's glare.

"No," he answered at last. It came out kind of soft, and he didn't know if Issei'd even heard him. "I'll see you in school tomorrow," he added, a little louder, because maybe Issei would understand that. It had been a promise when Issei'd said it to him earlier, and it was a promise now: no matter what happened, life went on. He might be confused at the moment, filled with regrets and yearnings that he didn't know what he should do about, but he wouldn't make Issei carry the burden for any of that.

And from the look in Issei's eyes, he figured that Issei /did/ know what he'd really intended to say.

Wandering through the streets after that, Jinpachi found himself heading for the park instead of his home. It didn't make any real difference; he was already so late. He might as well get a lecture on top of everything else. Turning in through one of the side gates, he let his feet continue to carry him aimlessly. There were still a few people wandering around the place: strollers, people coming home from work or shopping, young lovers--

Jinpachi sighed heavily.

It hadn't been--it didn't really count, did it? Just a lot of kissing and rolling around together and touching. It wasn't the real thing, not the way it would be with--someone else.

Wasn't that right?

Then why did he feel so strange--as though there wasn't enough room inside to hold everything that had happened, as though a part of him had started to learn something that the rest of him didn't want to know. He didn't--he hadn't wanted--not the first time.

Not like this.

/Then how?/ The thought was insistent. That and:

/He loves you./

Jinpachi stopped by the koi pond. Couldn't see any fish in the dark. He leaned on the low, wrought-iron fence anyway, putting one hand up to cover his face. Sahjareem...he should get a wish of his own too, shouldn't he?

He just didn't know what to wish for.


* * * * *


/Do you want to talk about it?/

Jinpachi finished puzzling out the alien script on the note that had been passed hand-to-hand across the room, then glanced at Issei, two rows over, who was watching for his response. He shook his head once: /No./ Issei looked down at his desk, and Jinpachi, cursing to himself, managed to pull enough of that other language out of his memory so that he could scrawl a quick reassurance on the bottom of Issei's note.

/I'm al right./

He handed it back to the girl next to him and gestured toward Issei with a scowl when she gave him a funny look. Finally she shrugged and passed it on. They couldn't do this too much more or they'd get caught by the teacher, or, worse, the other students would start to wonder what was up. Sure enough, the next guy over was taking a quick look at the inside of the note. At least they had an unbreakable code. Issei hissed softly and glared until the note landed on his desk at last, just as the teacher turned from explaining something at the blackboard. Luckily, the man missed the exchange. Feigning an intense interest in his text book, Issei propped it up and looked at the note behind it. He glanced at Jinpachi again, and Jinpachi drew a finger across his throat in the cutoff sign.

/Finish this later./

If only, though. He'd love to have this straightened out and done with. To have it /finished./ He hated the uncertain ground they were on right now, hated not knowing what he ought to be feeling. It should be simple, when you really were in love with someone. All this time, he'd thought that was what love was all about. Just knowing, with perfect clearness, that you and the other person were this thing that would last forever.

And Mokulen--that was what he saw in her, that clarity, that eternity. As though she was part of something that always would be there, that would never change, would never go. Something that would never leave him--although Mokulen had left in the end, had chosen to go with Shion, the way they always did. But if she didn't, if he could only break through so that she knew how much he needed her....

If she would only stay....

God, he shouldn't be thinking about this, especially not after last night. He threw a quick look at Issei, who was turned profile to him, gazing dreamily into the space above the teacher's head. If Issei was actually paying any attention to what was going on the board, Jinpachi thought, it would be a real surprise.

He was not in any way in love with Issei. He just wasn't. He was in love with Sakaguchi-san and had been for a long time. Issei knew that damned well--after all, Jinpachi'd only told him so a couple of dozen times.

But it wasn't so simple, was it? He remembered the feel of Issei's thoughts in his mind last night, remembered how very much hurt and loss and love was there. Somehow it changed things, knowing that. He tensed a little then, thinking about those things, about the gentleness in that gesture with the belt, and then about...about....

No! Jinpachi sat bolt upright in his seat and focused his attention on the teacher's droning voice.

/Don't/ go there.

Still, working his way back to his original train of thought, he hadn't been at all fair to Enju on the moonbase. He did know that. And he thought he understood, now, why Sakaguchi-san had refused to break off her engagement with Rin. It was a different kind of love, just doing what was right.

He hadn't been very fair to her either, he realized.

And Issei, who was part Enju and part not--because he couldn't imagine Enju pouncing on him like that, had enough trouble with the idea of Issei doing it, and that had actually happened--was Issei happy? Had he finally gotten what he wanted?

The teacher called for answers to something, and Issei's was one of the hands that immediately went up.

Wherever Issei was concerned, Jinpachi decided, he was just going to have to give up being surprised.


* * * * *


"Hey, Jinpachi!" Jinpachi turned, and the basketball promptly hit him on the side of the head. God damn it! He rubbed the spot and glowered at everyone within range. One of those people happened to be Issei, who was standing behind the school yard's high chain fence, his fingers threaded idly through its links. Turned out that he was the one who'd yelled, which didn't improve Jinpachi's mood.

"What?" he grumbled, the question coming out more peevish than he'd meant it to. One of the guys he'd been playing with started jeering at him for not getting out of the way in time. He shot the guy a dirty look, and just to be annoying he picked up the ball and took it with him as he walked up to the fence. When he got there, Issei gave him a tiny, apologetic smile.

"Sorry, Jinpachi."

"What is it?" Jinpachi asked sharply, and then felt kind of bad when Issei got that hurt look again. It really wasn't his fault, though--not when he'd had enough shocks in the past few weeks to last a lifetime, and now had to deal with trying to figure out how to fit this weird, new thing that was lying unresolved between them into his life. One could expect a guy to be a little preoccupied. Still, maybe he shouldn't have been quite so snappish with Issei, who was probably messed up enough as it was. Jinpachi tucked the ball underneath one arm and leaned against the fence, trying not to look nervous.

"Are you almost done?" Issei asked. "If you are, maybe we could walk home together." He looked like he was about to say something else, then bit his lip. Putting his head on one side, he smiled instead, hopefully, managing to look winsome and vulnerable and just as anxious as Jinpachi felt all at the same time. It made Jinpachi feel even more like a real, genuine heel.

Uneasily he glanced at where the other guys were waiting. It would figure that Issei was already ready to go. Both of them had signed up for this informal after-school athletics club, which was really just an excuse for guys to jog or chuck a ball around and then have it go down on their school record as an activity, but Issei had been halfhearted about it from the start and usually didn't hang around one minute longer than was necessary. Jinpachi rolled the basketball on his hip and tried to decide if he should stay. Oh, hell--it was too damn hot outside anyway. "Okay," Jinpachi said, and dropped the ball, booting it toward the guy who'd been demanding it most persistently.

Walking back toward his family's apartment, sweat trickling down his neck and making his gym clothes stick to him uncomfortably, Jinpachi kept sneaking little looks at Issei. Issei strolled along next to him, seeming blissfully unconcerned about anything. He was looking up toward the brilliantly blue, cloudless sky, a slight, almost catlike smile on his face--he was somehow managing to give the impression of a person humming to himself without even making a sound--and the closer they got to home, the more uneasy Jinpachi started to become. Because they both knew his parents weren't going to be home at this hour, and what if....

What if Issei was thinking about doing /that/ again?

Immediately a strange kind of heat flashed over Jinpachi. Not exactly unpleasant, but-- He snatched his eyes away from Issei and looked down at the ground in horror. No, he didn't have any business thinking about that, because one time he could chalk up to being a friend to Issei and not wanting to hurt the guy's feelings, but if it happened again, if it got to be a regular occurrence--

What the heck did that say about /him/?

Although, a rebellious corner of his mind piped up softly, looking back on it all, it hadn't been /that/ bad.

Kind of nice, actually.

If anything, that made him more upset up than ever.

He was so distracted that he almost walked past his apartment building without even noticing it. In fact, Issei had to cough discreetly to remind him that they were there. He blushed and wondered if he could make some excuse not to have Issei come in, but for sure Issei would know what was going on then and he'd seem like a wimp who was scared to be alone in the same room with his best friend. No, he'd let Issei come in and hang out for a while, and if Issei offered up anything he didn't feel like doing, well, he'd just play it real cool, that was all....

Grabbing the mail from the downstairs box, he flipped through it on the way up in the elevator. It was cold, damnit; the apartments' supervisor always over-air-conditioned the public areas of the building. It made the sweat turn clammy on him, and he was relieved to get into his own apartment. His mother, who had some ideas about protecting the environment and anyway thought that cold air was unhealthy, always kept the AC turned down except on the most brutal days, and usually opened the windows instead to catch whatever breezes there might be. Jinpachi kicked off his shoes in the entryway, dumped the bag with his school uniform in it next to a chair, and then collapsed into the chair himself, closing his eyes. Issei'd left his own gym bag resting neatly near their shoes and was poking around in the distance somewhere behind Jinpachi's chair. Hearing him move made little tremors prickle up and down Jinpachi's spine. He strained to listen harder, trying to guess at what Issei might be doing, and couldn't quite figure it out--and now, he realized, they were both up here together with the rest of the afternoon stretching out before them.

/So, what do you want to do now?/ Jinpachi pictured himself asking.

/Well,/ Issei purred in reply, /I've got a few ideas./

/We could do /this.//

And /then/ they might--

"Hey, Jinpachi." Issei's voice shattered his imaginings into jangly little bits. "Want a towel?"

"Huh? Ah, yeah." Jinpachi's eyes popped open, and he turned to see Issei wandering out of the back hall with a towel slung over one shoulder and another in hand. "Thanks--uh, hey! Waitaminute! How did you know where to--?"

Issei just laughed. "Duh," he said teasingly. "/How/ many times have I been over your place? Of course I know where your mother keeps towels." He dropped the towel on top of Jinpachi's head. "Here."

"Oh," Jinpachi said from beneath the towel, and blinked. He'd been to Issei's house at least as many times, and couldn't have said where the towels were to save his life. Sighing, he rubbed the heavy cloth over his face, leaned forward to towel his hair and the back of his neck, then found himself being pushed backward again by the feather-light pressure of a hand coming to rest on his shoulder. The towel was flipped off his face as Issei's lithe weight slid into his lap. Issei's arms slipped around his neck, and Issei was leaning against him, forehead touching his--they were so close, wrapped around each other, skin touching skin on their bare legs and arms, and only the thin material of gym shorts and tank tops preventing them from touching all the way down--

Jinpachi's whole body went stiff as though hit with an electric shock. He yipped in terror.

"What?" Thank God, Issei leaned back a little, blue eyes vaguely puzzled. "What's wrong?"

"What're you doing!"

"I--" He could see Issei start to lose it immediately, crumbling from confidence into confusion, and it was a shock almost as big as having Issei come onto him like that, because the two things didn't make any sense following one after the other. "I thought you wanted--you were thinking about--oh." Issei put one hand over his mouth. Above it, Jinpachi could see his eyes clouding up with sadness and pain, the blue getting darker in that way it had when Issei was feeling something so strong, and Jinpachi could only gape at him, stunned, because Issei wasn't to blame at all.

It was him.

He'd been thinking about what had happened so hard and so much, and Issei, somehow, had been picking up on it all along. Issei was a /telepath,/ Jinpachi reminded himself, feeling cold inside and all over outside too--Issei could /feel/ that kind of thing from other people. Only Issei had mistaken the rush of anxiety for a different kind of excitement, not least because Jinpachi himself was confused all to hell about it, and the two of them had fed back and forth off each other's signals, getting caught into a vicious circle. Not that Issei wasn't /interested/ in that way, even without Jinpachi's thoughts to influence him, but Jinpachi realized he had to take responsibility too. Because what he did could cause a lot of pain--pain that he found he couldn't bear to see.

He opened his mouth to say something. Issei's eyes went wide over the protecting hand and a key rattled in the door's lock, the two things so close to simultaneous that Jinpachi had no idea whether Issei'd sensed the presence of the person outside or just had better hearing than he did. Issei vanished off Jinpachi's lap and across the living room so fast that Jinpachi could've sworn he'd teleported. Jinpachi was still sitting there, a towel half-covering his head and his mouth hanging open, when the lock clicked and his older brother walked into the apartment.

"Hey, little bro. Is Mom home?"

"Of course not," Jinpachi said. He snatched the towel off his head and into his lap. He didn't think he was about to embarrass himself, but the thought of what might have been was still so fresh in his mind that he didn't want to take any chances. From beside the glass door that led onto the balcony, Issei glanced at his brother, nodded politely, and then turned to look outside again, fingers messing nervously with the edge of the curtain. Jinpachi wrenched his attention back to where it ought to be. "There's mail for you on the counter," he pointed out.

"Mmm." His brother slung a huge bag next to the counter and looked through the pile of envelopes. "You'd think they'd stop sending stuff to me here. I just came by to leave my laundry for Mom. One of the giraffes is about to drop her calf, so I'll be on the late shift tonight. Tell Mom and Dad I'll come to dinner this weekend, okay?"

"Yeah, sure." His brother grinned and snagged an apple from the fruit bowl.

"Well, I've gotta get back again," he said. "See ya." He tossed the apple in the air and sauntered out the door. It closed behind him and Jinpachi let out a huge, whooshing breath, sagging back into his chair. Of all the people in the world that he did /not/ want to see him in an embrace with another guy, his brother had to rank somewhere in the top three. That had been a bit too close.

He sat up again and swiveled around in the chair to look at Issei, who still had his back turned. Issei's head was tucked down, and he'd dropped the curtain to wrap both arms around his chest. "I'm sorry," Issei said, his voice fragile and slightly cracked, "I'm so sorry." Jinpachi watched him for a few more moments, and then blew out his breath in a little sigh. He pushed himself out of the chair and walked up behind Issei, who twisted his head aside as Jinpachi got nearer, like he was trying to keep his face out of sight. Jinpachi reached out and put his arms around Issei, and after an instant's shocked stillness Issei just melted back against him, so fast and complete it was almost scary. Turning his face to the side, Jinpachi laid his cheek against the back of Issei's head, the fine hair like spider silk as it brushed his skin. "Don't be sorry," Jinpachi said, watching the short strands stirring with his breath. "You don't have anything to be sorry about." He sighed again. "I'm an idiot."


"It's just--" Jinpachi got lost for a moment in what he was trying to say. He fumbled after it. "It's just that I love her. I can't stop thinking about her." He found that he'd tightened his arms about Issei and made himself relax again. "So to do that with you--it'd be really wrong. It'd be just like using you, or something."

"But aside from that, you don't mind it?" Confused, Jinpachi remained silent, and then it was Issei's turn to sigh. "Jinpachi," he murmured, "I've known all this time that you're going to meet someone and get married. That's just the way things are. Even your brother," and Issei gave a little almost-laugh, "even he's going to get married someday, I guess. You'll find somebody and then you'll settle down and have a family. And whoever it is, it isn't going to be me."


Issei put one hand on Jinpachi's. "I never expected it to be me," he said, with that same slight catch that could've been a laugh or something else. "I didn't come back as a guy by accident, Jinpachi." And as Jinpachi was laboring to understand all the implications of that, Issei added quietly, "I'd figured that if we were both friends as guys, it wouldn't matter who you found to marry. We'd still always have a friendship together, no matter what. And we wouldn't have to part for anything." His fingers moved across the back of Jinpachi's hand. "I just--I didn't take into account how strongly I felt for you. I don't think I even imagined that I could feel like that in this life."

Instead of being scared, Jinpachi found he was sorry for the poor guy: sorry for the way Issei'd gotten so tangled up between what he wanted and what he couldn't have. But in this case, being sorry wasn't going to be good enough. "I don't know what to do," Jinpachi admitted with some frustration. "I don't know how to make you happy without betraying my own feelings."

"Does it have to be one thing or the other?" Issei twisted in his arms, looking blue-eyed and earnest into Jinpachi's face, and Jinpachi tried very hard not to gawk like an idiot and show how thoroughly he was at sea in this whole situation. A month or two ago he wouldn't have even believed that such a conversation could be possible between the two of them, let alone their current position, which he'd just been reminded of by Issei's sudden movement. "I mean," Issei hurried to explain, "I meant what I said to you last night. I'd be--oh, it sounds stupid to say it out loud, but I really would be anything that you wanted. Just as close as you wanted to go." Lifting up his other hand, he ran the back of it along Jinpachi's cheek, touched fingers to Jinpachi's hair, a look in his eyes that was so sad, so yearning. "Can't this be just a different way of being friends together? Just for now, and with no obligations for anything more?" Jinpachi stared into Issei's eyes, seeing the mist of feelings that had risen there, and he wasn't at all sure which one of them had started trembling first, but it probably didn't matter. He swallowed hard.

"Where's the line between friendship and love, Jinpachi?" Issei asked him. "I don't know, and I don't think you do either. But do you trust me to stop when you ask me to, to let you go when it's time? In the end, that's the only line that really matters." And how could Issei be smiling like that, fragile though the smile was, enough like glass that it let all the old sadness show through from underneath? "If you don't want to go even that far, I'll understand. And it's all right with me. But if you do, it doesn't mean you have to change. It doesn't mean that you'll have to give something up; it doesn't even have to mean that you're gay, or anything like that. Because believe me, I know you're not." Issei tilted his head a little, looking amused and kind of bittersweet, and Jinpachi started, wondering if that meant Issei /did/ think of himself as gay instead of simply gender-confused. And was that important? "It's another way of being friends," Issei was finishing. "That's all."

Looking into Issei's dark, wistful eyes, just a few inches from his own, it occurred to Jinpachi with brilliant clarity that if he had more than two brain cells to rub together, he'd know enough to tell his dear but almost totally screwed-up friend /No/, very gently but firmly, and then he could go someplace really far away and join a monastery or something.

Telling himself that wasn't working, though.

And for an instant he wondered if it had to do with Issei being a telepath and having managed to get inside his head in some way, but that twitch melted into nothing like a thin covering of frost on a window pane vanishing beneath the touch of one finger, letting you see right through where it had been. Because the only real question was, did he trust Issei, and when he looked deep down inside himself, beyond the skittishness and flashes of fear that chased each other across the surface of his mind, he did. He had a trust in Issei that went down into places no one else had ever been, he cared about Issei that much, and so whether that persistent tug at his heart that pulled against the greater tide of longing was really his own desire or not didn't matter.

It was all right.

Very slowly he pulled Issei closer. With a faint inhalation, Issei buried his face in Jinpachi's neck. He hugged Jinpachi, turned his head and touched lips to the top of Jinpachi's arm, a whisper of contact just where the sleeveless tank top left the skin bare, and Jinpachi shivered--it felt kind of good. He put his chin over Issei's shoulder and sighed again. They were standing where the late afternoon sunlight fell in through the glass door and made a long rectangular pool of warmth for them to be in, and Jinpachi looked at the falling light and felt a little bit happy, a little bit sad, with Issei a different kind of warmth against him.

"You won't tell anyone?" he asked hesitantly.

"Mm-mm." Issei moved his head in a "no."

"Not even Shusulan?"

"Not even Shusulan." Issei's fingers shifted against his back reassuringly. "You can trust me, Jinpachi."

"Yeah." Jinpachi admitted it aloud at last. "Yeah. I know." Around them, dust motes shimmered in the still summer air. He closed his eyes tightly, but behind them there was still that vague, dim sparkle of light.

"There won't be any regrets," Issei mumbled against his shoulder. "I promise. No regrets. Not ever...."


* * * * *


Jinpachi banged back the door of his gym locker. "Where the hell's my shirt?" He wasn't speaking to anybody in particular, and so of course no one bothered to answer. Not that he'd expected they would--but it just didn't make any /sense./ He moved his gym bag and school satchel for the third time but the shirt still wasn't there, and there wasn't anything else it could be behind or under. Jinpachi sat back on his heels and scratched his head.

"Jinpachi, I'll see you in class," Issei said, passing somewhere just behind him.

"Yeah, yeah," Jinpachi muttered. He was leaning forward to peer into the empty locker and wondering whether the back could be loose and the shirt could've slipped down inside somewhere, when something caught his attention. He glanced briefly after Issei. Something was strange about Issei's expression--about the shirt hanging just a bit too loose off his shoulders, the cuffs dangling free unbuttoned. "Hey!"

Issei laughed and then ran.

Jinpachi had just enough presence of mind to grab his satchel and slam the locker door shut before lighting out after Issei. He hurdled one of the locker room benches and blasted out the door in time to see Issei in full flight down the slate-floored hall. Jinpachi pounded down the corridor after him, hit the stairwell door only a few seconds behind, but lost a moment trying to figure out whether Issei had actually gone up the stairs or out the fire door. Hearing the telltale running footsteps, Jinpachi raced up the steps, taking them three at a time. He crashed out the door at the head of the stairs before it had even swung shut--looked right, left, then bolted down the school's crowded main hall after that fleeing dark-haired figure. For some reason there was a lot of shrieking and yelling going on, but he didn't have time to look or he'd lose Issei for sure. The guy was just too damned fast. Somehow Issei melted through the throng like it wasn't even there, kited around the corner, and disappeared. Swearing, Jinpachi lowered his head and sprinted through. He caromed off something that started to shout in a loud, deep voice, saw a flicker of white shirt vanish at the next corner, and dashed after it. He whipped around the corner and into a quieter hall.

No Issei.

Shit, where--? Feverishly Jinpachi looked around. There wasn't much in this hallway, just the band room and the door that led down to the boiler--which wasn't quite shut all the way. Jinpachi grinned fiercely. Ducking through the door, he pulled it closed behind him as soundlessly as he could, then peered down the stairs into the murky half-light. Ugh. He wondered if Issei was really hiding down there after all. Still, right or wrong he'd committed himself, so he at least had to look. Creeping down the steps, Jinpachi tried to figure out where the heck Issei might be hiding, and couldn't even begin to guess. He stalked down the center of the room instead, looking into corners and the gaps between pipes, shelves, and incomprehensible lumps of machinery. A loud hissing and banging practically made him leap out of his skin before he realized that it had to be the boiler warming up after its long summer sleep. The thing gave a final, dismal groan and then fell silent. A shadow flickered somewhere at the end of a passage. What was that? Jinpachi took a couple of steps forward, staring hard into the dimness to his right, just as a pair of arms reached out from the left and dragged him back into a passage.

"Mmph!" Jinpachi exclaimed as those arms wrapped around him, pulling him further into the shadows and right up against a slender, familiar body. Then a pair of lips found his, cutting off whatever else he'd been going to say. After a second of wild, pulse-rattling shock, his nerves settled, and the movement of that other mouth against his got pretty irresistible. He kissed back, hard, feeling rather than hearing the little moan that the kiss half-muffled, his own arms coming up around the other person and his hands knotting in the cloth of the shirt. The momentum of the whole thing carried the two of them back between the pipes and shelving, until they came out in a narrow rear passageway that ran down the length of the basement. A single bare light bulb threw a thin light over them both. Jinpachi got his catch pushed up against the wall (although it was a question as to who'd caught who by now), took the kiss about as far as his air would hold out, his body pressed against the other's, pinning him against the cinderblocks, and then he let the kiss finish out slow and lingering before finally pulling back and taking in a long, much-needed breath. He straightened and looked into Issei's laughing blue eyes.

"I don't believe," Jinpachi groaned, covering his face with one hand, "that I just chased you across the whole damned school. In my undershirt."

Issei's shoulders lifted shruggingly. He leaned against the wall, his hands tucked casually behind his back. "Sorry, Jinpachi," he said, but he wasn't one bit sorry, not if the impish smile tugging at the corner of his mouth had anything to say about it.

Trouble was, Jinpachi found that he wasn't really upset. Sure, he'd done something dumb, but even being embarrassed about it he could see it was pretty much harmless: just a couple of guys horsing around, nothing unusual. Issei might drive him crazy sometimes, being the world's most godawful tease; he might pull a stunt like this and make Jinpachi's heart pound with terror at just how close they were to crossing the line and being found out; but Issei was also careful, even when doing something totally and classically nuts. All this time, they hadn't had one slip.

He leaned back a little to give them both breathing room, and to push aside the inevitable temptation to go on from where they'd started into further and more interesting territory. Actually doing something like that at school was far beyond what he was willing to risk. It shocked him enough, when he stopped to think about it, that he'd even consider such things--that he'd gotten as comfortable as he had with Issei's touch and kiss and the other things they did in private, so that his body and his imagination ganged up against him at times like these with crazy inclinations that he had no intention of following up on.

/Definitely/ not.

Issei smiled a little and dropped his eyes. He began undoing the buttons on Jinpachi's shirt, unfastening them quickly and efficiently, then whipped the shirt off and handed it over. Bending, he pulled his own shirt out of his satchel and shook it out before starting to put it on. That was a really nice thing about Issei, Jinpachi thought, as he pulled on his shirt and began doing up the buttons, and whether it had to do with Issei's being telepathic or just a good friend, Jinpachi wasn't quite sure, but up until now the trust he'd put in Issei had never once been compromised. Issei had never asked for more than he was willing to give. Teased him once or twice into more than he'd known that he was willing to, but that was something different. Issei had been as good as his word, faithful to everything that had been promised.

Just about.

And as he did every time he thought about that, Jinpachi felt a tiny, stinging pang of guilt and sadness.

Tucking his shirt in, he did up the buttons on his cuffs. They'd just started fall uniforms again. Hard to believe it had been almost three months since that day. Three months he'd spent getting closer and closer to Issei, so it was like he knew the guy better than he'd ever known anyone, like he could sometimes almost tell what Issei was feeling, though there were still plenty of times when Issei startled the heck out of him or made no sense at all. Three months moving closer in one direction, and farther away in another.

Damn. He shouldn't be thinking like this.

"You've got cobwebs on your shirt," Issei told him suddenly. "Turn around."

"Whose fault is that?" Jinpachi grumbled, trying to see over his own shoulder and failing, and finally having to let Issei get at him anyway. Issei snorted.

"You're the one who pushed me up against the wall." Issei's fingers moved deftly across Jinpachi's back, while Jinpachi put his hands on the cinderblocks and thought dutifully about geometry problems and really unappealing teachers. Something else along the same lines came drifting through the fog of memory, and he groaned.

"Hell. I think I ran into Principal Sato while I was chasing you."

"Did you? I thought I heard him shouting." Issei swept his hand once more down Jinpachi's back. "There, you're done. Did he recognize you?"

"Dunno. Somebody probably did, though." Jinpachi heaved a sigh. "It means cleaning classrooms for sure."

"Yeah, for both of us," Issei agreed. "Say, what's this?"

"Huh?" Jinpachi turned around. Issei was picking up a piece of paper from the floor and unfolding it. For a moment Jinpachi drew a blank, and then he flushed and clapped one hand to his shirt pocket. Shit--it must have fallen out in the exchange. "That's mine!"

"Poems?" He grabbed after the paper, but Issei switched hands and held it away from him, fending him off with an outstretched arm. Issei's eyes skimmed swiftly across the characters, and Jinpachi cursed the fact that he'd actually printed them out with slow, painstaking neatness, instead of his usual scrawl. "Jinpachi, you never told me that you wrote poetry."

"They suck! And they're not done." He lunged for the sheet again, and Issei twisted, bending away from him so that he couldn't quite reach it. "Issei--!"

"But these are pretty good. Hey, you should submit something to the school literary magazine!"

"Give me that!" Issei had turned his back to Jinpachi, laughing, and Jinpachi flung both arms around him. One got pinned immediately under Issei's elbow but the other Jinpachi extended to full stretch, fingers flailing after the paper. The two of them staggered forward a step or two, before Issei braced his feet against Jinpachi's push.

"I don't see--" Issei began, and then stopped--really stopped, and as Jinpachi stopped too, surprised by Issei's sudden freeze in the midst of their struggling, he looked over Issei's shoulder and realized where Issei's gaze had fallen. He couldn't even say a word for a moment--just sucked in his breath with the shock of knowing what this meant and how bad it was. Then he got his wits back under control.

"Issei," he said, wanting to explain even when there was no explaining, and Issei turned around, slipping free of his loosened grip. Issei was looking down at the slightly oily cement floor, but then he let his shoulders drop and brought his head up again--and he smiled, the smile Jinpachi that had seen before but still didn't understand.

Even when Issei'd been hurt, how did he manage to smile like that?

"These /are/ pretty good," Issei remarked. He shoved the paper against Jinpachi's stomach, and Jinpachi's hands curled reflexively around it. The smile turned teasingly wicked. "I'm going to tell Yoshitada-san about you."

"Don't you dare!" God knew she'd try to suck him into her after-school poetry club, and then he'd never be seen or heard from again. Jinpachi took a breath to say something else, and then held it as the door at the top of the basement steps crashed open. Issei and he looked at each other, eyes wide. From the stairs, the sound of harsh adult voices blared out, echoed into gibberish by the metal pipes and machinery.

"Shit!" Issei hissed. He grabbed his satchel, caught Jinpachi by the arm, and started to run. Jinpachi got about two steps before he remembered his own satchel; pulling free, he lunged back after it, seized the handle, and then bolted in pursuit of Issei. They pelted down the narrow passage to the far end of the basement, whipped around the hard right turn into some kind of storage area, and there was a door for them. /Not/ locked, not from inside anyway, thank God, and they hustled out through it, letting the heavy weight slam shut behind. The shock of sunlight made Jinpachi blink.

"Jinpachi, come on!" They were on the game courts behind the school, and Issei was already scrambling up the steep hill that would bring them around again to the main floor. They were going to catch it from the school administration anyway, Jinpachi realized, and all of this was just delaying the inevitable, but what the hell. It was better than giving the principal the satisfaction.

"Hey, wait up!"

He chased Issei up the slope, his feet almost sliding out from under him on the slick grass. He shoved the paper he was holding into his back pocket so that he'd have a free hand to help claw himself up. The two of them reached the top of the hill and vanished around the corner of the building, Issei laughing helplessly and Jinpachi's complaints finally disappearing into the silence they left behind them.

Something white fluttered on the hillside, where it had fallen unnoticed to the ground. It fluttered again as the wind caught it, then began tumbling across the grass. Swirling about, it fetched up at the foot of the building, its face briefly visible to the sky before those same contradictory air currents carried the first yellowing leaves of fall to cover it over.


I don't look at you,
but I think of what I'd see there:
Always that season,
and those pale, pale pear blossoms floating
in your long dark hair.



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