Sagara had looked forward to meeting his new kohai ever since he was assigned a
first year. At
information packet Kei had received indicated his first year, Taichi Dan, had
Kei puffed proudly and with a Best Senpai Ever smile on his face, knocked on the partially open door and stuck his head inside room 209. “Hello? Dan-kun?”
A tiny person with tanned skin, scraped knees, and a mop of untidy black hair held out of his eyes by a faded green headband bounced to his feet amidst a pile of opened cardboard boxes. “I’m Dan! Hello! Nice to meet you, desu!”
Kei liked Dan immediately. He sketched a polite bow. “I’m Sagara. I’ll be your senpai during orientation.”
“That’s great, Sagara-senpai!” Dan beamed happily as he bowed in return. “Please take good care of me.”
“I will do my best,” Kei said. He glanced at the unpacked boxes and suitcases. “Would you like some help unpacking?”
Kei heeled off his shoes and stepped onto the wood floor. Dan’s dorm room had the opposite layout of Kei’s, with the bunk beds on the left and the wardrobes on the right. The two desks were similarly placed, flanking either side of the single window. The brown and white checkered curtains over the window matched the privacy curtains around the beds.
Dan dove back into a box and began chattering animatedly. “My mom packed a lot of stuff for me to bring, desu. I’ve never been away from home before, except for tennis camp and school trips and sleepovers and stuff but this is different. My mom almost didn’t let me come, but Yuuki-chan told her not to worry since I won’t be here by myself. My dad said that was what the problem was, which was really mean, desu! But I stood up to him and told him that was the best part and not to be mean, and that I was going to Hirabashi no matter what, desu. And here I am, desu! I’m so excited! I can’t wait for classes to start, and I’m going to try out for the tennis team. I hope I make it, desu!”
Kei could hardly keep up with Dan, or get a word in, but that was fine. He remembered how excited he was when he’d first arrived at Hirabashi, and now he could recall how patiently his senpai had listened. Kei was emulating his great senpai already!
“I like our uniform, desu,” Dan said, hanging the brown uniform blazer on the rack. “My old one was white and I was always getting it dirty—oh!” Dan’s stomach growled loudly and he ducked his head sheepishly. “Excuse me!”
Kei looked at his watch and was surprised to see it was so late. Dan’s exuberance had been infectious and Kei hadn’t noticed the amount of time that had passed. “The cafeteria is open now, if you want to go.”
“Yes, please,” Dan chirped and rubbed his belly. “I’m a little hungry.” His stomach rumbled again in agreement.
“Should we move these first?” Kei asked, pointing to the two bags on the lower bunk. “In case your roommate comes?”
“He’s not coming until Sunday night,” Dan said, slipping on his shoes by the door.
Kei frowned. A freshman shouldn’t miss orientation, but Dan was his assignment, not whoever his roommate was, and so Kei didn’t say anything more.
Monday morning, Kei stared, horrified, at the Beast in the doorway of room 209.
“What?” the Beast growled, demon eyes narrowed into slits.
Kei gulped. “D-D-D-Dan-kun?”
Dan popped up from beneath the Beast’s arm, buttoning his uniform blazer and dragging his school bag over his shoulder. His damp hair was combed back and curled around his ears. “Good morning, Sagara-senpai, desu!”
The Beast grunted and retreated from the doorway. Kei used the stay of execution to grab Dan’s elbow and flee.
“Sagara-senpai, why are we running?”
“I’m sorry, Dan-kun,” Kei said, running for the cafeteria where he knew the Resident Advisor would be. “It’s my fault. I should’ve said something about your missing roommate during orientation and I could’ve saved you! Hopefully, there’s still time and rooms available. If not, you can have my bed. I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“Sagara-senpai, you’re not making any sense,” Dan said. They stumbled to a halt outside the dorm cafeteria.
Kei bent double, hands on his knees, out of breath. “Your roommate,” Kei panted, “is Jin Akutsu!”
Dan cocked his head quizzically. “Yes.”
Kei flapped a hand fretfully. “We have to get you moved. Akutsu’s a Beast! He’s the scariest and meanest student at this school. He’ll kill you in your sleep!”
“I don’t think he’ll kill me in my sleep, desu,” Dan said, bemused.
“What do you think happened to his other roommate?” Kei had heard Akutsu hadn’t had to share a dorm room since orientation his first year, when his roommate left school under mysterious circumstances. “Come on.”
Kei latched onto Dan again and pulled him through the busy cafeteria. Dormitory students gathered at long tables, eating breakfast before classes began. Silverware clinked on western style plates and in cereal bowls beneath the hum of conversation. Kei spotted the RA, Tsubaki, sitting with his third year friends near the coffee urns. “Tsubaki-senpai.”
Tsubaki stopped speaking and turned to Kei and Dan. “Sagara-kun, right?” he said. “And Dan-kun.”
Kei nodded. “Yes. Good morning. Dan-kun needs a new room.”
“I do?” Dan said.
“His roommate is Jin Akutsu!”
Two third years passed behind Kei and Dan, carrying mugs filled with coffee. Tsubaki’s friends listened with interest as Tsubaki addressed Dan. “Are you having trouble with Akutsu? I was worried about putting you two together, but since I received matching requests…”
“There’s no trouble,” Dan said. His confusion was evident. “Why would there be any trouble, desu?”
“Because Akutsu’s a monster!” Kei exclaimed loudly, turning other students’ heads in his direction. His cheeks heated at his outburst.
Dan’s shoulders stiffened and his lips thinned. “You’re wrong.”
Tsubaki held up his hand before Kei could convince Dan that Akutsu was evil incarnate. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “Dan-kun, if you have problems with Akutsu, let me know and we’ll see about getting you another room. Okay?”
“Okay, desu.” Dan tilted his chin mulishly. “But I won’t be moving.”
Kei opened his mouth again to protest, but a look from Tsubaki quelled him. “Fine,” he agreed, even though he didn’t like it. He’d learned about Dan’s friendly optimism during orientation, he just didn’t think it should apply to Akutsu. But since Dan had put his foot down, Kei would have to find another way to prove that Akutsu was a Beast.
Proving Akutsu was a Beast was a lot harder than it should be, for someone so violent. Kei couldn’t follow Akutsu if Dan was with Kei, so getting Dan in the right place at the right time to witness an incident was nearly impossible. Kei had thought that perhaps Dan would be a victim himself, because Kei, while spying, had spotted Dan running right up to Akutsu and bouncing around him like an eager puppy. Everyone knew to steer clear of Akutsu whenever possible if you didn’t want a fist in your face. Akutsu hadn’t hit Dan yet, but Kei knew it would happen, or something worse, if he didn’t do something to prevent it.
“Sagara, get the door for me, will you?” Shuhei’s voice startled Kei and he whipped around. He caught the tall, potted plant he was standing behind before it tipped over.
“Ah, what?” Kei said, fighting embarrassment. He’d been watching Akutsu smoking on the front steps of the dorm, through the skinny window flanking the door. He’d thought he’d been pretty well hidden by the plant.
“The door,” Shuhei repeated. He hefted the heavy-looking cases in his hands. “I have to get these projectors back to the AV Club room.”
“Sure. Sorry,” Kei said, hurrying to comply. “Do you need any help?”
“Nah, I’ve got it.”
Kei held the door open for Shuhei and watched as he walked right past Akutsu. Akutsu didn’t spare him a glance. People tended not to notice the AV Club unless they were video-recording.
The thought sparked an idea in Kei’s mind on how to obtain the proof he needed to save Dan.
Kei checked the tape and the battery before setting out to capture Akutsu on film. He’d borrowed the smallest videocamera he could find from the AV Club in case he had to hide it quickly. The recorder was about the size of his hand, with a fold-out real time viewer. The tape could record up to eight hours of material and the battery would last approximately the same amount of time before needing to be recharged. Kei had purchased a dozen of his own tapes. He hoped it would be enough.
Following Akutsu around without being noticed was thankfully easy, as Kei didn’t want to become roadkill. With the zoom on the videocamera, he was able to stay even further back and hidden from view. Capturing Akutsu doing bad things shouldn’t be hard, considering he was a monster, but between school, homework, and club activities, Kei’s tracking time was limited. He had to record as much as possible when he could.
Overlapping voices and the repeated thwoking noises of hollow balls hitting rackets became louder as Kei crept closer. On the view screen, he could see Akutsu lurking behind the chain link fence, smoking a cigarette and watching the courts. Kei panned to the tennis courts, wondering what was so fascinating about students in shorts and t-shirts smacking tennis balls back and forth.
Kei spotted Dan almost immediately – short, springy, and clearly overpowering his opponent – and remembered that tennis club tryouts were today. Kei felt like a bad senpai. He should be cheering Dan on, not hiding in the bushes videotaping Akutsu skulking behind the fence, spying on Dan.
Kei swung the camera from Akutsu, back to Dan, and to Akutsu again. Sure enough, Akutsu was watching Dan. Kei zoomed in with the camera. Akutsu’s fierce eyes focused sharply in the viewer and Kei’s heartbeat sped up in fright. He wouldn’t want to be the prey caught under the Beast’s stare.
With a gasp, Kei aimed the camera at Dan. Dan’s bright, naïve smile filled the viewer – the same smile that Akutsu was watching. Kei’s stomach knotted in dread. Dan was definitely in danger.Kei’s face darkened. He turned the camera back on Akutsu and firmed his resolve. He would get Dan out of that dorm room no matter what.
Two days after tennis club tryouts, Kei thought he’d
espied his lucky break. Crouching
behind a park bench, Kei videotaped between the slats of the seat as Akutsu
faced off with three locals in
It was Sunday and the first relatively warm day of spring. Wearing a baseball cap pulled low, Kei had been following Akutsu since he’d left the dormitory after lunch. Akutsu had stopped by a convenience store to page through magazines and buy cigarettes. A few blocks over, he’d paused in front of the movie theater to look at show times. His final stop had been at an ATM before heading to the park, where he’d sprawled on a bench, smoked a cigarette, and watched people walk or ride their bikes on the path.
The punk-looking locals had been three of those people, and obviously they hadn’t liked Akutsu observing them. Kei had videotaped the punks saying stuff to Akutsu and Akutsu’s silent, scary glare. Akutsu hadn’t unfurled from the bench until one of the punks leaned down, getting in his face.
Now, the four of them stood with clenched fists and an air of violence surrounding them. Kei tried to keep the camera as steady as possible. One bloody fight and Kei might be able to convince Dan to change rooms.
Kei was watching the view screen so intently, he failed to notice the small figure charging up the path until he appeared suddenly onscreen. Kei nearly fell on his butt in shock. Dan had jumped directly in front of Akutsu, facing the three local punks, and was holding his arms outstretched in a blocking manner.
Dressed in jeans, a baggy sweatshirt, and wearing his favorite green headband around his head, Dan didn’t appear that imposing. His scowl was almost comical, to Kei. The punks did find it comical and started laughing after the initial surprise wore off. The hostility lessened palpably, even though Kei could see that Akutsu hadn’t changed his stance. The punks said something that made Akutsu narrow his eyes before they walked away, still laughing and falling over each other.
Kei wanted to run the distance to Dan and shake him for his stupidity. What idiocy had possessed him to step into a fight with people twice his size? Akutsu certainly didn’t like having his fight interrupted, judging by the yelling. Kei watched on the viewer, dreading that Dan would be the one to receive the ass-kicking from Akutsu that Kei had sought to record. Kei didn’t like the thought of Dan getting hurt, at all, but tough love might be the best answer to get Dan out of room 209.
Akutsu didn’t strike Dan, though. The anger on his face bled into exasperation when Dan shrugged, smiled brightly, and practically skipped up the path, heading out of the park. Akutsu stared after Dan. Kei zoomed in fully and nearly fell on his butt again when he saw a smile – a smile! – curve Akutsu’s lips.
Akutsu followed Dan, but Kei stayed put, too stunned to go after them. The spring breeze ruffled his hair and carried the scent of flowers past his nose. Shutting off the videocamera, Kei moved around the bench and sank onto the seat. His mind was awhirl. The Beast had smiled.
Kei didn’t know whether to be relieved or more scared than ever.
Tuesday at lunch, Dan showed up with a black eye. Kei heard the news secondhand, as he and Dan had different lunch hours. “It was an accident, desu,” Dan was quoted to have said. “I was elbowed by a classmate.”
Kei didn’t believe it. He knew Akutsu had been the one to give Dan the black eye. That monster’s temper had snapped because Dan had been too noisy or had looked at him funnily, and wham! Kei had known it would only be a matter of time before Dan got hurt and now it had happened.
“You need to move,” Kei said when Dan opened the door to room 209 later that evening.
Dan blinked at him in confusion, his black, shiny eye vivid against his skin. “Where?”
“Anywhere out of this room.” Kei stepped past Dan, kicked off his shoes, and went into the tidy room. He wrapped his hand around the videocamera in his jacket pocket. He’d been outside tailing Akutsu when he’d heard about Dan’s eye. “We can have you out of here in thirty minutes, if I help you pack.”
“Sagara-senpai, I told you that I’m not moving,” Dan said, shutting the door.
“You have to!”
Kei pointed to Dan’s black eye. “That’s why.”
Dan lightly touched his face. “This? Kashino-kun elbowed me by accident, desu.”
“I don’t believe it.” Kei folded his arms stubbornly. “You’re covering up for Akutsu.”
“Covering up what?” Dan said, bewildered.
“That Akutsu hit you.”
Dan became indignant. “He did not!”
“He did! And it’s just a matter of time before he does it again. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Sagara-senpai,” Dan said, “I’m happy that you’re worried about me, but I’m not going to get hurt. Please stop worrying, desu.”
Kei knew Dan wouldn’t listen to reason. Maybe it was time again to take the matter to the RA. But first, he needed proof that Akutsu was harming Dan directly. He fingered the videocamera in his pocket. “Okay, Dan-kun, I’ll drop it… if you buy me a can of peach juice.”Dan beamed. “Okay, desu!” Wheeling around, Dan slipped on his shoes and went out the door, calling over his shoulder, “Be right back!”
Kei didn’t have long. Quickly, he looked for a place to stash the videocamera where it wouldn’t be seen, yet would record everything that happened in the room. Kei found the perfect spot on the shelf above Dan’s desk, wedged behind a stuffed gray bear holding a tennis racket. He aimed the camera through the crook of the bear’s arm. He’d barely used the new tape in the recorder and he’d just charged the battery. Neither would last all night, but it should record long enough to catch Akutsu in the act.
Kei moved away from the desk right as Dan tripped back into the room, carrying two cans of juice. The green headband around Dan’s head drooped over his left eye as he held out the peach juice. “Here you go, desu.”
“Thank you, Dan-kun.” Kei took the juice and looped an arm around Dan’s shoulders. “You’re a great kohai. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Retrieving the videocamera the next day wasn’t easy, but Kei managed to sneak into room 209 while Dan was in the communal shower after tennis club and Akutsu was off terrorizing someone or another. Then Kei had to wait an excruciatingly long time for the battery to recharge before he was finally able to watch the recording.
Sitting cross-legged on his bed with the brown and white checkered privacy curtains drawn, Kei put on the headphones he’d attached to the videocamera so as not to wake his roommate, Ryou. The view screen on the videocamera glowed blue in the darkness surrounding Kei. Kei had rewound the tape and, after taking a fortifying breath, pressed play.
The first eight minutes were shaky footage of Kei recording Akutsu before he’d learned about Dan’s black eye. Akutsu hadn’t done anything in those eight minutes except to type at a keyboard in the computer lab. Kei had been lurking outside the lab when two first years had come up the hallway, talking about Dan.
The camera finally cut to Dan’s dorm room. Kei saw himself as he positioned the videocamera and was happy to find he’d done a good job at selecting a spot. From the videocamera’s position, he could see the whole room. He watched on the viewer as Dan came back into the room, carrying the juice cans, and listened to a repeat of their conversation.
“Thank you, Dan-kun.” The Kei onscreen draped his arm around Dan’s shoulders. “You’re a great kohai. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“I know you won’t, Sagara-senpai.” Dan popped the tab of his juice and raised the can. “Cheers!”
“Cheers.” Kei watched himself and Dan clink cans and talk a bit more until he eventually left the room.
For the next hour, Kei had to struggle to keep awake as he watched Dan do his homework. Dan’s head was the only part of him in view because of the camera angle and Kei counted twenty-seven times that Dan pushed the old headband out of his eyes.
Akutsu finally – finally – appeared on the view screen, toeing off his shoes in the doorway. “I’m back.”
“Welcome home, desu.” Dan glanced over his shoulder with a smile. “Did you get your paper done?”
“Yeah, finally.” Akutsu put his shoes on the top shelf of the shoe rack, dumped his school bag by his desk, and shed his uniform blazer. He hung it on a hanger and then on the peg behind Dan. “Fucking teacher. Who the hell cares about aviary migration routes?”
“I don’t know. Lost birds?”
For a moment, Kei thought he’d hit gold. Onscreen, Akutsu dropped his hand on Dan’s head and made Dan bobble briefly. “Very funny, brat,” Akutsu said.
Dan tilted his head back to grin at Akutsu, who was standing behind him.Akutsu frowned. “Your eye still hurt?”
“Not really, desu.”
“I’m going to pound Kashino next time I see him.”
“That wouldn’t be very nice,” Dan said. “I told you it was an accident. Kashino-kun didn’t know I was standing there.”
“Hn.” Akutsu moved away, pulling his shirttails from his trousers. “That stupid show of yours is on soon. You gonna watch it?”
“Yes!” Dan chirped, turning back to his books. “I’m almost done.”
Kei watched Akutsu change into shorts and a sleeveless black t-shirt and tried not to feel like a scrawny wimp. Kei was surprised by the lack of tattoos. He’d thought for sure Akutsu was part of the yakuza.
Akutsu picked up a small, portable television and hooked it to the underside of the upper bunk, like many of the students did. The television dangled from its support arm, its semi-flat screen hanging angled towards the bed. Akutsu sprawled on the bed, pillowing an arm behind his head, and aimed the remote at the television. Kei could hear the faint tinkle of music coming from the television over the headphones.
“Done!” Dan declared and switched off the desk lamp. The dorm room plunged into darkness. Kei panicked momentarily, thinking that the tape had stopped working, but then he heard Dan say, “Do you want some pocky?”
“No, and if you get crumbs in the bed, I’m going to kill you,” Akutsu’s voice rumbled in the dark.
Kei muffled a sound of panic. A direct threat! He moved the camera closer to his face, squinting at the view screen. It wasn’t completely dark in room 209. The light from the television brightened and Kei could now see Akutsu on the bed again. Kei waited for the moment when Akutsu would strike. Sure, Dan looked fine today, but Kei just knew something had to have occurred.
But he never expected it to be what happened next.
Kei watched with bulging eyes as Dan climbed into the bed with Akutsu. Dan stretched out comfortably beside Akutsu, head resting on the crook of Akutsu’s upraised arm, as if Akutsu wasn’t a monster who ate little children for breakfast.
Over the next half-hour, Dan laid beside Akutsu, crunching on pocky and shushing Akutsu when he made snide comments at the television show, while Kei had a heart attack. Kei couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He had to be dreaming. He’d fallen asleep while watching as Dan did his homework and now he was having a nightmare.Kei pinched his thigh, squelched a squeal at the pain, and realized what he was witnessing on the view screen was reality. Dan and Akutsu were lying in bed together, watching television like friends.
“Oi, I told you not to get crumbs in the bed,” Akutsu grumbled over the ending theme coming through the headphones.
“Don’t worry, desu. I’ll clean them up.”
Kei couldn’t see clearly what Dan did then, but Akutsu yipped, “Taichi!”, and Dan giggled.
“You’re asking for it, brat.”
The television brightened again as it went into commercial. Kei’s heart stopped when he saw Dan crawl on top of Akutsu. Dan’s wide smile had a television-blue tinge. “Yes, desu.”
“Heh!” Akutsu laughed. He palmed his hand behind Dan’s neck, tugged Dan downward, and kissed him.
Kei’s roommate had been woken by his yell and after being chewed out he hadn’t been able to watch any more of the videotape. He’d been too shaken up by what he’d seen to restart the video. Dan and Akutsu had kissed. It was like a horror story version of Beauty and the Beast, and it would probably end with finding Dan’s bones buried in the school garden.
For the rest of the night, Kei was unable to sleep. Visions of Dan and Akutsu kissing plagued him every time he closed his eyes. The alarm finally went off and he trudged to the communal bathroom. He joined his dorm mates in various stages of morning preparations standing at the row of sinks. Dark circles hollowed his eyes when he looked in the mirror above the sink. Splashing cold water on his face didn’t help make him feel less like a zombie. Staying awake during classes was going to be difficult.
Kei finished in the bathroom with a few grunts in the direction of his teasing neighbors. He exited the bathroom and ran smack into Dan.
Dan stumbled back a step and Kei banged into the doorjamb. Sweaty and wind-blown, Dan caught his bath kit before he dropped it. “Excuse me,” he said, before a welcoming smile graced his lips. “Sagara-senpai, good morning, desu!”
“Good morning,” Kei managed. He’d been unprepared to see Dan so soon and floundered for something to say, other than How could you kiss Akutsu?! “Um, did you just get out of morning practice?”
“Yes,” Dan said with a nod. “I worked up a sweat, too. I’d better hurry and shower or people might complain about the smell.”
“I’ll, uh, see you later, then,” Kei said, stepping aside.
“Bye!” Dan bounced past Kei, all small and warm and vibrant, greeting others in the bathroom with unabashed cheer. “Good morning, desu!”
Kei snapped out of his daze with Dan’s exuberance. Fixating on the kiss wouldn’t get things done. Akutsu may have gotten his claws – and his lips – on Dan, but it wasn’t too late for Kei to be a great senpai and do something about it.
Squaring his shoulders, Kei marched back to his room. He had videotaping to do.
Kei lucked out in that Akutsu went on a rampage over the remainder of the week. Akutsu must’ve been distracted by his bird paper before, but now he was in fine, terrorizing form. In a period of three days, Akutsu shoved a group of first years, beat up four locals, and made a third year sumo wrestler cry. He also cussed at a teacher, cut in line at the drink machine, and knocked a second year’s books out of his hands. Kei got it all on videotape. He could only hope it would be enough to free Dan from the Beast’s clutches.
On Saturday afternoon, Kei cornered Dan on his way back from morning classes. “Dan-kun, do you have time to come to my room? I have something to show you.”
Dan glanced at his watch. “I don’t know, desu. I have practice at one and I have to eat lunch.”
“I’ll get meatbuns and we can eat in my room,” Kei said. “Please? It’s important.”
“Okay, desu,” Dan agreed. “Let me drop off my books and I’ll meet you at your room.”
Kei nodded. “See you shortly.”
After a detour to the busy cafeteria, Kei found Dan waiting for him outside of room 235, dressed in his tennis gear. “Come in,” Kei invited, unlocking the door. He’d seen his roommate in the cafeteria and knew they’d have at least half an hour before Ryou returned.
Dan toed off his shoes and set aside his tennis bag, looking around curiously. Baseball posters covered the walls. Tall piles of books teetered on the shelf above Kei’s desk. Discarded clothing littered the floor and tumbled from the wardrobe. “Are you a baseball fan?”
“No, my roommate is,” Kei said, kicking a pair of underwear under the bed. He probably should’ve cleaned up before inviting Dan over, but he’d been too worried about Dan’s well-being to think about it. He pulled out his desk chair and indicated for Dan to take it. “I like soccer.”
“I like tennis, desu.” Dan grinned infectiously. Kei would hate to see that smile lost.
“I heard you’re a pretty good player, too,” Kei said, holding out the meatbuns for Dan to select one. “It’s one of the reasons why I worry.”
Dan tilted his head questioningly. “Worry, Sagara-senpai?”
“About you,” Kei set the meatbuns aside and picked up the television remote, “and your relationship with Akutsu.”
“Sagara-senpai—” Dan began, somewhat exasperated. Kei cut him off.
“No, wait. Please watch and listen.” Kei turned on the small television propped on a stand beneath the window and pressed play on the DVD player. In the AV Club room, working well into the night last night, he’d spliced together the parts he’d taped the past few days to make a single disk of Akutsu’s bad deeds.
Dan watched the video with a frown creasing his brow. “Why are you showing me this, desu?”
“Because I’m your senpai and it’s my job to protect you from things like this.” Kei gestured at the screen, where Akutsu was fighting with the locals. Blood spattered the pavement and the white of Akutsu’s shirt. “You need to get away from him. Don’t you know that he’s bad news?”
Kei turned in surprise. “What?”
“I know he’s bad news sometimes, desu,” Dan said.
Kei couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Then why won’t you move out?” He remembered the tape he hadn’t included on the disk. “Is it- is it because you guys have a kissing relationship?”
Dan studied Kei, like he was searching for something important. It was almost scary how somber he seemed. “Do you have a problem with gay people?”
Kei hadn’t even thought about it that way. He’d been too concerned that it was Akutsu that Dan was kissing, and told that to Dan.
“So if it weren’t Akutsu, you wouldn’t mind?” Dan said.
“Er, no,” Kei replied. He wasn’t sure about the answer, not having known any gay people, but it was Dan, and he was too… Dan for it not to be all right.
“I’m glad, desu,” Dan said, sounding relieved. “I don’t like it when people get mean because of that.”
“It doesn’t explain how you can like someone like Akutsu.”
Dan shrugged. “Jin-senpai will act like this whether I’m with him or not.”
On screen, Akutsu smiled viciously as he punched one of the locals again.
“Dan-kun, think about what you’re saying,” Kei said, concerned. The first name basis thing threw him, too, even with the honorific. No one called Akutsu by his first name if they wanted to live. “How can you stay with someone like that?”
“He’s not bad all the time!”
Kei didn’t believe it. “But why would you want to be with Akutsu at all?”
“Did you know that Jin-senpai and I went to middle school together?” Dan asked out of the blue. He turned back to the television screen, where Akutsu was now reducing a sumo wrestler into a blubbering wreck. “He was the best tennis player in the world, desu. I wanted to be just like him.” Dan gave Kei a sideways, confiding smile. “Now, I just want him to be happy, and I am trying my best to make him that way.”
Making Akutsu happy? Kei
glanced at Akutsu’s demon-eyed glare on the television screen.
It seemed like an insurmountable task and Dan was crazy to even attempt
it. “It’s not going to work.”
Dan’s smile remained. “You never know. Maybe it will.”
“No,” Dan interrupted, and Kei was taken aback by the steeliness in his tone. “I care about Jin-senpai and Jin-senpai cares about me, and nothing you say is going to change that.”
Kei knew it was futile to argue any longer. It was obvious that Dan wouldn’t be changing his mind. It also sounded like Dan had this argument before, probably with his parents, if Kei recalled Dan’s comment about his dad from orientation correctly. “Could you at least not let him kiss you?” he pleaded, trying to save some shred of Dan’s purity.
Dan brightened instantly, as if he hadn’t just laid down the law. “But I like it when he kisses me and stuff,” he said with a grin. “It’s fun, desu!”
Kei didn’t want to know what the “and stuff” was; he didn’t think his mind could handle it without breaking.
Dan looked at the clock. “Oh! I need to go.”
Kei rose and followed him to the door. He held Dan’s meatbun while Dan put on his shoes. “Are you sure you won’t move out? There’s plenty of room here,” Kei pressed.
Dan shook his head. “Thank you for being a great, caring senpai, Sagara-senpai,” he said, and for a moment, Kei was in heaven. He was a still great senpai! Dan straightened and took the meatbun from Kei. “But you don’t have to worry about me.”
“It’s my job as your senpai to worry.” Kei ruffled Dan’s hair, like he remembered his senpai ruffling his.
“Bye, Sagara-senpai,” Dan said, as bright and cheerful as ever. He popped the edge of the meatbun into his mouth and left with a skip and a wave.
Kei closed the door behind Dan and slumped against it. Across the room, Akutsu glared at Kei from the television. Kei sighed unhappily. He had failed in his quest to protect his kohai. He could only hope that Dan would come to his senses before he got hurt by the Beast.
Near the end of the kissing videotape that Kei didn’t fully watch, Akutsu awoke suddenly. He blinked blearily at the bedsprings above him. The television flickered with a soft blue glow. Akutsu focused on the television, frowned, and groped for the remote.
His hand landed on Dan’s bare arm, resting on the bed between them. Dan was curled on his side facing Akutsu, sound asleep, the bed sheet tangled around his waist. Rising onto an elbow, Akutsu twisted to look on the shelf above the bed. Finding the remote, he paused as he turned back, looking at Dan.
If Kei had watched that part, he would’ve known, right then, that he needn’t worry about Dan – ever.
Lying back down, Akutsu aimed the remote at the television and the video went dark.