"Don't say that about him, desu!"
Akutsu heard Dan before seeing him. A short way off the path, Dan stood, his chin tilted angrily, in front of three local high school students � tennis club regulars, by the labels on their jackets. Akutsu's old green sweatband, that Dan still persisted in wearing, slipped down over one of Dan's eyes. Dan pushed it up without shifting his glare from the high-schoolers.
"Tch." Akutsu continued along the path through the park, heading for the train platform. It would serve the brat right if he got his head knocked in for talking to his betters that way.
"Only wusses quit," one of the high-schoolers said. "He was probably afraid to go against real competition in high school." The other two laughed.
"Akutsu-senpai quit because he's already played the best, desu. Why would he waste his time playing you?!"
"Why you�" Akutsu turned as the smack reached his ears. He should've known Dan was talking about him, considering that's all he seemed to do. Akutsu saw Dan on the ground, with a hand pressed against his cheek. He frowned in annoyance. He didn't have time to play rescuer and, really, he couldn't be assed about it, either.
"Apologize for that comment."
Dan scrambled to his feet and raised his fists. Pride warred with the desire to smack Dan himself, because the high-schoolers weren't going to let Dan's defiance go. "I will not apologize for telling the truth, desu!"
As predicted, the tallest of the high-schoolers hauled back and punched Dan. What Akutsu hadn't predicted was the rage inside him when he saw blood explode from Dan's nose upon impact and heard his cry of pain. With a beastly roar, Akutsu charged the high-schoolers. He threw his bag at one and leapt into a flying kick at the guy who had hit Dan. Akutsu jumped on the guy as he crashed to the ground and pummeled his face. "Never-never-never-never-never-never-never-never�"
"Akutsu-senpai, please, stop! Ahh�"
Dan's yelp broke through the pounding rage and Akutsu's head whipped around. Dan was crumpled on the ground, holding his ankle. Akutsu turned back to the beaten guy under him, lifted him by the front of his shirt, and hissed in his face, "Never touch him again."
Dropping him back to the ground, Akutsu hurried over to Dan. The other two high-schoolers had run off. Akutsu's book bag lay discarded in the grass. Crouching, Akutsu put his finger under Dan's chin and tilted his head up. Dan's cheek and nose were swelling rapidly and blood smeared his face. Akutsu used his sleeve to wipe some of the blood away, uncaring of staining his white school uniform. Dan flinched. "Ow, ow, ow."
"Idiot." Akutsu's anger shifted to Dan, though it lessened considerably. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
"They were making fun of you, desu." Dan winced and tried to pull away. Akutsu gripped his chin tighter and checked to see if Dan's nose was broken. "Ouch, that hurts, desu."
"I'll hurt you even more if you don't hold still." Akutsu continued to press along either side of Dan's nose until he was satisfied. "It's not broken. Go home and put ice on it."
Akutsu scowled and released Dan with a little shove. His fists ached to hit someone again. He grabbed his school bag, intending to find a fight. Dan's gasp of pain made him stop with a frustrated grunt. He turned around. Dan was rubbing his ankle tenderly with fat tears running down his cheeks, leaving streaks in the blood.
"Damn it." Akutsu stomped over to him and scooped him up with a surprised squeak from Dan.
"Shut up," Akutsu said. Dan went to say something again, but Akutsu's sharp look made his mouth snap closed. With an arm under Dan's knees and the other behind his back, Akutsu carried him out of the park.
Dan fixed the sweatband that had fallen over his eyes and then wrapped his arms around Akutsu's neck. He laid his head against Akutsu's shoulder and sighed in soft relief. "Thank you, Akutsu-senpai," he said quietly.
Akutsu wanted to dump him in the nearest trash bin. He also wanted to wrap Dan in cotton to keep him safe. The conflicting feelings were annoying. With anyone else, he wouldn't have helped to begin with, let alone take the person home with him to be patched up. But seeing Dan being hit again in his mind's eye made Akutsu tighten his hold and glare murderously at anyone looking at them on the train. He kept Dan cradled in his lap as the station stops passed one after another.
He carried Dan to the rundown apartment and juggled him to unlock the door. His mom, thankfully, wasn't home. Depositing Dan in his spartan bedroom, Akutsu shed his bloodstained uniform and fetched the first aid supplies from the bathroom. Dan resembled a beaten up kitten sitting in the middle of the mattress on the floor. Akutsu dropped a wet washrag on his head. "Clean your face."
"Yes, Akutsu-senpai, desu."
Akutsu knelt and dampened a cotton swab with disinfectant. He'd gotten into enough fights that he could play doctor relatively effectively. With the blood gone, the bruises blooming on Dan's face were vivid. Akutsu's anger returned swiftly. "I'm going to kill them."
Dan's eyes widened. "You are?"
"Maybe." Akutsu cupped Dan's chin and dabbed the swab gently over his wounds. Dan hissed through his teeth and tears of pain filled his eyes. "Hey, none of that weepy shit. You're a man. Act like one."
"Sorry, desu," Dan said, and made a valiant effort to suppress the tears. One escaped to slip down the curve of his cheek.
"You're one brave brat, I'll admit." Akutsu wiped the tear away with the pad of his thumb. "Stupid, but brave."
"They were wrong about my Akutsu-senpai," Dan stated, a defiant fire flaring in his eyes. "You would never quit because you were afraid."
Akutsu snorted softly. "Your Akutsu-senpai?"
Dan's blush was hidden mostly by his injuries. The sweatband slipped down over one averted eye. He shoved it up and then his hands fidgeted in his lap. "Um, desu� you are my senpai and your name is Akutsu, desu."
"Hn. My name is actually Jin." Akutsu was amused, which usually only happened when someone was being humiliated. He fixed the dumb sweatband and thumped it with his fingertip. "And doesn't this mark you as mine?"
Dan lifted his gaze and stared at Akutsu in wonder. It made Akutsu uncomfortable. "What at you staring at, you little turd?" he said.
Dan suddenly threw himself at Akutsu. Akutsu jerked in surprise and caught Dan around the waist. The bottle of disinfectant was knocked over and spilled on the bare floor.
"Jin-senpai," Dan breathed in Akutsu's ear, and something warm pooled in Akutsu's belly. Irritated by the feeling and by Dan's presumptuousness, he hauled Dan back by his collar.
"You listen here, brat," Akutsu began. Their faces were inches apart, and Dan was looking at him with such happiness that it made him pause. The warmth grew. So did his discomfort. He shifted on his knees, beneath Dan's weight, and scowled darkly. "Stop looking at me like that."
"Like what, desu?" Dan said, tilting his head slightly.
"Like that! Like I like you or something."
"I already know Jin-senpai likes me, desu." Dan smiled, though it was lopsided from the swelling. Akutsu could feel fingers playing with the hairs on the nape of his neck. "I like Jin-senpai, too."
The name on Dan's tongue sounded intimate and curled around Akutsu like an embrace. Akutsu growled and bared his teeth. Dan only laughed, a light sound that trickled along Akutsu's spine and pissed the hell out of him. "You�"
"Taichi," Dan interrupted, and his cheeks colored again. His gaze lowered bashfully. "Please call me Taichi, desu. I would like that, desu."
Taichi. Akutsu hated the way he immediately wanted to use Dan's first name. The brat had gotten under his skin, though he should've known by his reaction to Dan getting punched. "I can call you whatever I want, runt. Don't tell me what to do."
"Okay, Jin-senpai," Dan said, peering up at him from beneath long lashes. Even with Dan's busted face, Akutsu's gut clenched. What was Dan doing to him?
Akutsu blew out an exasperated breath and looked anywhere but at Dan. "Rotten kid."
Dan leaned in and quickly kissed Akutsu's cheek, surprising the fuck out of him. "Taichi!"
A smile spread across Dan's lips, even as his face reddened fully. "Yes, desu?" he said, sounding all too pleased.
Akutsu felt his own face heating. He sought for the anger or disgust he should be feeling, only to find it missing. Instead, he felt nervous, which was annoying, and the desire to return the kiss � and not on the cheek.
Dan was watching him with guileless eyes and his heart on his sleeve. "Damn you," Akutsu growled, cupped his hand behind Dan's head, and pressed their lips together. His stomach flipped on contact. Oh fuck, it all made sense now, why he let Dan trail after him like a puppy instead of kicking him to the curb, why seeing Dan get hit had filled him with so much rage, and why he'd taken Dan home with him afterwards.
He shoved Dan away abruptly, tumbling him onto the mattress as he rose quickly. Akutsu crossed to the far side of the bedroom and stood with is back to Dan, trying to gain control of the emotions churning inside of him. His hands shook and he clenched them into fists with a curse.
He heard Dan limping behind him and then a tentative hand on his back. "Jin-senpai?"
Akutsu closed his eyes. He cleared his throat, but found he didn�t have the words to speak.
Dan's arms slipped around his waist from behind and said it for him. "That's how I like you, too."
Akutsu laughed hollowly and leaned his forehead against the wall. Shit, just what he needed: to be queer, and liking a first year. If it wouldn't be one, it would be the other people would talk about; who'd tell him it was disgusting or improper.
But he allowed nobody to tell him what to do.
He reached around behind him and half-dragged, half-urged Dan to move. Trapping Dan between his body and the wall, Akutsu opened his eyes and looked down into Dan's trusting, bruised face. He really did like the brat. "Stupid, but brave," he told Dan, and tugged the drooping sweatband back into place.
Akutsu traipsed over to the tennis courts after school, because he had nothing else to do. Practice was already underway and he leaned against a tree on the outskirts of the courts. He scoffed at how bad his former teammates were. It was a good thing he'd quit, or they'd be dragging him down.
"Jin-senpai!" Dan's voice carried clearly across the grounds and Akutsu tensed when everyone looked at Dan and then in his direction. It was the first time he'd seen Dan since yesterday, as they had classes in separate wings. Shouting his name like that was like broadcasting their status with each other over a loudspeaker. Nobody but his mother called him by his first name.
"Shut up, brat. You're too loud," Akutsu said, when Dan skipped close enough. He cuffed him across the head. The swelling had reduced with ice, but the bruises were an ugly purple-black color on Dan's face. He touched Dan's cheek lightly. "You get any flack for that?"
Dan shook his head and lost one of the tennis balls piled in his arms. "My parents were worried, but I told them you stopped it from being worse, desu."
Great, now even Dan's parents knew he had a soft spot for the kid. "I'm going to Nanji's. Meet me there after practice."
"Okay, desu." Dan smiled and hurried back towards the courts. Akutsu noticed the fallen tennis ball by his feet and picked it up.
"Taichi!" Dan turned, as did everyone else, at the call of his name. Akutsu kind of enjoyed the perplexed or horrified looks from the others. He tossed the ball to Dan and watched as he lost all the others in order to catch it. Akutsu could hear the buzz of gossip from his ex-teammates and could tell one thing for sure already: going with Dan wouldn't be boring.
Laughing as Dan scrambled to pick up the balls, Akutsu swung his bag over his shoulder and walked away.