The forest smells green.
It’s one of the first things Hajime has learned, a fact of nature, like the colors of the sky and the feeling of dirt between his toes and the warm, safe, home feeling that he gets when his mama smiles, or the excitement that bubbles up in his chest when his dad tells him stories of the places he’s seen, of daring flights at breakneck speeds, or treasures of gold and minerals found in abandoned mineshafts.
He’s going to be an adventurer too. He just knows it.
...and adventurers sometimes have to break the rules and maybe fly a little further than their mother allows. Yeah.
He’ll turn back soon, anyway. But how’s he gonna learn to fly higher if he doesn’t practice? And how’s he gonna be an adventurer if he can’t explore a little beyond the herb patches and the first few clumps of trees, where you can sense the village, Hajime?
Really, his mama ought to know that. Besides, he’s gone further than this already, with Hiro and Issei. Issei’s dad works the far-out fields so Issei knows his way around, too.
And even when he’s alone it’d be pretty hard to get lost, what with the overwhelming green smell of the trees in all directions except one - the orange, brown, home smell of their cluster of houses, always showing him the way.
Hajime thinks his mama worries too much, most of the time - and sometimes, he doesn’t even get that feeling from her. Sometimes she’ll say “not beyond the river” but she’ll be feeling and not beyond Matsukawa’s fields, because she knows that that’s where he’s going, anyway.
He’s a little beyond the fields now. It’s not his fault though, really, it isn’t.
There was a swarm of red fireflies, he’s sure of it, brighter and darker than any of the one’s he’s ever seen - it’s just that he’s sort of lost them now.
Well. It’s starting to get dark, and Hajime’s been hungry for the last half-hour anyway, so he might as well go home now.
“...I’m not done with you yet,” Hajime says to no one in particular. They’re probably lurking just out of sight, laughing at him.
Maybe they were faeries, not fireflies. He’s never seen faeries before, but he knows they’re small-
Well. Tomorrow. Because now, he’s really craving food.
He spins in mid-air, and then, just as he’s about to accelerate, he feels it.
He instinctively recoils at the feeling, tail swishing uncomfortably - it’s so large and strong and sad, and incredibly close. He’s not sure how he didn’t notice it before, this unknown voice screaming out, without making a sound.
He flaps in place for a moment, letting the turmoil wash over him. Whoever this is, whatever happened to them-
Hajime could turn back.
It’s none of his business. He’s already too far away from home.
He could turn back.
Slowly, he lets himself down into the branches of a nearby tree, till his claws touch bark and his wings fold down over his back.
He inches forward, then stops.
Someone is crying.
Hajime tilts his head, waiting, listening.
It sounds… like a person. A boy, maybe. Just around the next clump of trees, just over there. Close.
Hajime swallows the unease, afraid he’s already projecting it - he’s not scared (he’s not ), just… being careful.
Slowly, he makes his way over to where the feelings and crying are coming from. Carefully, and thankful for the dense cluster of branches, he climbs over to a nearby tree, one he can peer around, so he might catch a look at what-
He almost trips, because he’s so concentrated on the sound and the feelings, but there’s a branch that he catches hold of and it stops him from falling.
Straightening himself up, he narrows his eyes to find where the sound is coming from. He pushes a branch out of the way, freeing his line of sight-
It’s coming from one of those large trees with the hanging roots - wisteria, he thinks, maybe? This one’s blooming purple, standing out against the green all around.
Hajime squints, and makes out a figure down on the ground.
It’s definitely a boy.
He can’t be from Hajime’s village, though - the only ones the same age as him are Hiro and Issei, and none of the younger kids would dare to fly out so far. Well, maybe Taro would, but Hajime knows for a fact that he’s grounded after he punched Shigeru last week. Those two fight more than anyone Hajime knows, but are too good of friends to stay away from each other for long.
The boy down there can’t be much older than Hajime, he figures, but it’s hard to tell. He is curled up as small as possible, his knees drawn in tight to his chest and his face buried against them. That’s doing nothing to muffle his sobs, though, and he cries pitifully.
It makes Hajime’s heart ache.
Whatever’s making him cry, whatever’s wrong - Hajime’s struck with the intense desire to fix it. None of his friends have ever hurt this badly, and he does not like this feeling of sadness one bit.
Hajime takes a step forward, closing his eyes to focus. He’s not very good with transformations yet, but it’s easier to talk when he’s not in his true form.
It’s a weird sensation, to transform. Being a dragon is first-nature to him, and going back to his human shape always leaves him feeling a little bit lost. It’s as if he’s peeling away layers of himself, stripping his body of the things that make him strong and menacing, to move to a smaller, more convenient form.
He remembers the first time he’d stayed in dragon form for too long, his transformation back left him sobbing at the strange feeling, the incompleteness.
He’s used to it now, of course, and he manages to take a step forward in his human form. He wiggles his toes, fingers, then nose, just like his mama taught him, just to make sure everything transformed right. He sneezes quietly at the gesture, and reaches up to wipe his nose with his arm, pleased.
He slips the cloth he wears down off his neck and ties it back around his body. He’s not supposed to wander around naked, after all (he doesn’t see the big deal, but his mama tells him that’s not polite, and, well. The boy’s wearing clothes, too), and once it’s on, he climbs down the tree and lands quietly in the dirt.
Taking a deep breath, Hajime steps out into the light.
The boy freezes at the sound of his footsteps, his entire body tensing up, head still hidden behind his knees. Apprehension rises and swirls around Hajime, but it’s large and out of control, why isn’t he using it to sense-
Oh, Hajime realizes, and his eyes widen.
This is a human. Humans can’t control themselves like he can. Hajime’s dad says that’s why he doesn’t like being in their village too long - it’s confusing and heavy all over.
Hajime’s never been there, but he sort of gets what that means, now.
Tentatively, he takes another step forward. His foot cracks a twig or two, and the boy’s head snaps up.
He’s got tear tracks all over his cheeks, but he’s not crying anymore. Just staring.
“...hi,” Hajime says. “...my name’s Hajime.” It feels like the right thing to do. Nothing to be scared of there, after all. It’s a name.
The boy trembles anyway, eyes lingering on Hajime’s horns before flicking back over his face-
Scales. Right. Humans don’t have those, do they? Pity, really. He can already feel his bare skin getting cold, so he makes no effort to have the scales recede from where they are.
Instead, Hajime closes his eyes for a second, concentrating - and he manages to shrink his horns, just so.
The boy stares.
“...you’re lost,” Hajime says. “...right?”
The boy nods, stops, then shakes his head vigorously.
“...which is it?” Hajime asks. He’s making no sense.
The boy just shrinks back against the trunk of the tree, hands trembling a little. The afraid spikes up a bit.
Hajime frowns. “...t’s not me you gotta be scared of,” he says. “I can take you back home, if you want. You’re from the village, right?”
The boy looks down, biting his lip - and then, suddenly, he’s bursting into tears again.
Hajime takes a step back, startled, because the sadness and pain he’d picked up on before are rising fast, bearing down on him like physical weight. They’re so heavy he’s getting actual images; two kind, smiling faces, right before they vanish into black and cold and alone.
The boy whimpers, hugging his knees, and Hajime doesn’t know what to do. He can sort of guess what the feelings mean, huge and heavy, and oh, he’s terrified now, because it’s something he didn’t want to imagine-
He clenches his hands (hands, so weird - maybe he left the claws too long after all) into fists and forces the thought away. Stuff like this builds, and grows, and he really, really doesn’t want to think of what would happen if this was him, his feelings, his fear.
Instead, he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and thinks of his mama, his dad, his friends. Don’t be scared.
He feels the calm building around him, and slowly relaxes his hands.
The boy isn’t moving, head buried in his arms again.
Hajime takes a step, and when he doesn’t react, he makes his choice.
He turns and flops down next to him, against the tree trunk. The boy is shaking, but he’s not running away, and Hajime takes that as a good sign.
They sit in silence for a bit, the scared boy and Hajime, projecting calm and listening for the sound of crying. He counts to 100, and then back again - and then he starts talking.
“My friend Hiro got lost in the woods once,” he says, and the boy perks up, just a tiny bit, not raising his head, but shifting his attention to Hajime.
“...he’s actually really fast, and smart, but he’n Issei sometimes go off too far, where they don’t know the way back, an’ then Hiro got stuck in some branches or something and he couldn’t get out, an’ when he did, he couldn’t find Issei or where to go.”
Hajime pauses to pick up a twig on the ground in front of him and starts doodling in the dirt, drawing random squiggles and shapes.
“Issei came home but Hiro wasn’t there, and his mom was real worried. So they set out to look for him. Found him, too - he don’t like to admit it, but Hiro actually cries a lot when he’s scared.”
He drags his foot over the ground, smoothing out the dirt, and starts drawing again. This time it’s a map; a circle for the village, lots of tiny triangles for the trees, and a long, winding line for the river.
“Mama says the river’s as far as we should go, on this side.” He points to it, and thinks he catches the boy looking, from the corner of his eye.
“...and up here” - he draws a square shape, above the trees - “‘s where Issei’s dad’s got his fields, and we’re not s’posed to go past there, either.”
He stops to think for a moment, trying to remember-
“This is where Hiro ended up,” he says, placing a small dot on his map, beyond the square, close to the river. And then, after a moment, “...an’ this is where we are, now.”
At this, the boy beside him lifts his head. Hajime doesn’t turn, instead he sticks the twig into the earth, in the spot he’s pretty sure they’re sitting in. More or less. Beyond the fields, but closer to the village nonetheless.
“...can you talk?” Hajime asks suddenly, turning to catch the boy’s gaze. His eyes look sore from all the crying, and he stiffens a bit, but he doesn’t look away.
“...yes,” he says, finally.
Hajime eyes the sky, colors already bleeding into orange and red behind the trees. It’s getting late, he knows his mom will worry - but he can’t leave this boy here, can he?
“You don’t wanna sleep out here, do you?” he asks.
The boy watches him for a moment, but then he shakes his head.
There’s no question, no doubt left in Hajime’s mind. He wouldn’t, either. He’s tried it, sleeping in the woods, and it’s not nearly as fun as it sounds. It seems the boy knows that, too.
“Well, then. Come with me.”
He scrambles to his feet, fully expecting the boy to follow - but he doesn’t. After a few steps, the afraid and cold is already fading, and Hajime turns to see the boy still sitting there, kneading his fingers together, looking after him doubtfully.
Hajime takes a breath, then walks back to him.
“...like I said. My name’s Hajime, and I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m gonna take you home, with me.”
Why is he still afraid? Hajime’s home is a safe place, it’s warm and way, way better than sleeping out here. He should feel it, Hajime is showing him.
“Your home?” The boy asks, and his voice is so tiny. So quiet. So scared.
It makes Hajime’s stomach twist uncomfortably.
“Yes,” he responds, and the boy looks at him nervously. Uncertain.
He decides to keep talking, feeling how that’s helping to calm the boy, helping him focus on something that isn’t pain.
“You haven’t told me what yours is, yet,” Hajime says, holding out his hand.
The boy blinks, tears still clinging to his eyelashes. He wipes them away, dragging his arm across his face, and sniffs.
“Tooru,” he says, and takes his hand.
Later, Hajime will be sure that he imagined it, but - there’s a flash of light when their fingers touch, gone after less than a second, like a spark snuffed out between their palms. There’s also an itch suddenly, at his side, and he shifts.
The boy, Tooru, glances at their hands for a moment, a small frown on his face, and Hajime reflexively squeezes his fingers. He looks up, and their eyes meet - Tooru’s are brown, and Hajime thinks there’s a new kind of warmth underneath the sadness there.
Something like hope.
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“Be quiet,” Hajime hisses, as the boy (Tooru, his name’s Tooru) gasps in surprise at the shadow passing over the street ahead. “We can’t have my mom notice you yet, okay? So you gotta be quiet.”
Nevermind the fact that he’s spilling curiosity and nervousness everywhere, anyway, still mixed with the same heavy, sad feeling from when Hajime found him.
Tooru’s fingers twist into the cloth wrapped around Hajime’s chest, but he doesn’t say a word. He just nods.
Slowly, Hajime moves them forward. His house is right there, he just can’t have anyone see them, because who knows what they’ll say-
“Now,” he hisses, and hopes Tooru is ready as he darts out behind the crate and starts running.
He hears him trip, a soft gasp, but then his grip tightens and he’s running, too, half a step behind, his breaths and adrenaline roaring in Hajime’s senses.
It’s not too far, but with apprehension clamping down over his heart, it feels like a lifetime before they skid past his parents’ garden fence and up towards the front door.
Hajime stops just before the crash into it, slamming his feet down to jerk his momentum to a halt and throwing out his arms (it’s hard, okay, without wings to slow you down) - and Tooru knocks into him from behind with a small, startled yell.
“Shhh,” Hajime implores him immediately, turning and grabbing his hand, taking a brief second to make sure he’s not hurt - how troublesome that would be, on top of everything else - before tugging him a bit closer.
“When we get inside, we need to hurry upstairs to my room as fast as we can, okay?”
Tooru nods, wide-eyed, fear still coming off him even though it’s sort of masked by the running and the sound of his heartbeat.
Hajime stops for a second at the door, listening hard and extending his senses as best he can. He feels his mother’s warmth on the other side, but far enough away to be in the living room, or even outside, in the garden - if they hurry, they can do this.
“Okay. Stick close,” he tells Tooru, tightening his grip on his wrist before pushing the door open. It’s never locked at this time, and Hajime knows to stop it before it creaks, just wide enough so they can both slip through.
He can already feel Tooru slowing, eyes darting upwards to take in new surroundings, but he tugs him on, refusing to let him stop and stare. They don’t have time for this.
He drags him to the staircase, old and wooden, immediately regretting that he didn’t tell him to skip the fifth and seventh stair because they creak-
He feels his mother’s attention shift ever so slightly and decides that the time for being subtle has passed - he pulls at Tooru’s hand and yanks him forward into a run, bounding up the rest of the staircase and straight into his room across the hall.
Hajime closes the door behind him, holding his breath as he wills it to go quietly, before spinning around to face the boy he’s just snuck in.
Tooru is looking at him, mildly terrified, red-faced from running and spilling nerves all over the place that Hajime really wishes he’d get under control.
He lets himself breathe before his eyes flit around the room.
“If my mom comes in,” he says, gaze lingering on Tooru, “you gotta hide in my closet, okay?”
Tooru takes a couple gulping breaths before he nods, once, resolute. Hajime can still feel his fear.
He really is kind of troublesome, this boy from the forest. Human.
Must be pretty inconvenient, Hajime reckons. But it’s not like he could have left him there. And, weirdly enough, he feels kind of… attached to him now, even as he’s dragging a grubby-looking arm across his face and breathing way too close to crying again.
“Hey,” Hajime says.
Tooru looks up at him, wide-eyed and sort of trembling and it’s like Hajime can hear his heart skip a little.
“...you don’t gotta be scared of me,” Hajime says. “...and not of my mom, either. I just… gotta figure out how to tell her about you so she won’t freak out. But she’s nice, I promise.”
He frowns a little, frustrated, when Tooru doesn’t reply. He seems to keep swallowing his tongue somehow.
“Let’s play something,” Hajime says finally, eyes already falling on his box of toys. “Okay?”
Tooru blinks at him, following his gaze - and catching on Hajime’s bin, metal with an intricate design engraved on it. He looks like he’s remembering something, and then he cracks the tiniest of smiles.
So he does know how. Hajime can’t help but feel a little smug. He’ll get him to talk soon enough.
“How about this?” Hajime opens the box, rummaging around, but he’s really not sure what he can use that can make this human talk. His action figures? No, no, that won’t work. Or maybe the-
A smile breaks out on Hajime’s face when he sees it, because it’s so perfect.
Tooru looks at him curiously, tilting his head to the side in confusion when Hajime pulls out simply a long, black string. Intricately woven, it’s soft to the touch and slides through Hajime’s fingers easily.
“Come sit with me,” Hajime says, sitting down next to his bed, crossing his legs. He starts wrapping the string around one finger, twirling it between his digits, weaving a pattern. Tooru watches, curiously, letting down his guard enough to drop down to the floor next to Hajime, sitting on his knees.
“Have you ever played this before?” Hajime asks, looking up to Tooru, who shakes his head. “It’s easy. You make these kinda patterns, see?” He hooks his thumbs under some of the string, opening his fingers enough to show the design. When he’s finished, it looks just like a butterfly, wings stretching out between his hands.
Tooru wrinkles his nose, reaching out and touching the string. He looks interested, flinching a little when Hajime puts his hands together again to unravel the string.
“You wanna try?” Hajime asks, holding the string out for him.
“Yeah,” Tooru says, voice low. “I… never did this before.”
Hajime smiles - it’s warm and bright, and Tooru curls his toes, the feeling is so strong. “I’ll help you, here.” Hajime twirls a piece of the string around Tooru’s fingers, looping it around properly. Tooru smiles, a little, and Hajime talks.
Some of the tension starts to leave Tooru’s shoulders, and Hajime can start pulling some words out of him, slow and steady.
They make a few different patterns, and Hajime tells Tooru about his family. Tooru’s a real good listener - he doesn’t interrupt, nodding along as Hajime talks, slowly starting to interject.
He seems conflicted whenever Hajime is close to him. He leans into his warmth for a minute, before shying away again, retreating back into his space.
Hajime wonders when the last time was that he had a good, long hug.
He really wants to give him one.
Iwaizumi Hanako is in the garden when she feels Hajime come home. She’s not distracted enough to miss his nervous energy, like he’s hiding something - oh, he probably flew out past the herb patches again.
She straightens up, brushing her hair out of her face as she surveys the flower bed she’s standing in. It’s not quite what she’d pictured for it - not yet, but it’s coming along nicely.
Well. It’s not like she expected Hajime to abide by that particular rule, especially when he was out with the Hanamaki and Matsukawa boys, but it certainly didn’t hurt for him to be aware that he’s doing something he’s not technically supposed to.
It isn’t until she re-enters the house that she realizes something is different.
The first and most obvious indication is the set of dirty footprints leading up to the stairs. Hajime knows to make sure his feet are clean before he goes upstairs - and usually, he tells his friends that, too. Hanako sighs, and starts making her way up towards Hajime’s room.
Before she can open her mouth to announce her presence, though, she’s struck by a sensation that makes her heart drop into her stomach.
It’s a profound, heavy sadness, and it takes her a moment to catch her breath when she realizes that it’s not Hajime that it’s coming from. In fact, it’s a new aura, someone she doesn’t recognize at all.
Her first instinct is to immediately open Hajime’s door, but she decides against it when she feels Hajime’s emotions from underneath the heavy, uncomfortable presence of barely repressed fear and sorrow.
He’s… there’s concern, but there’s also something else there, a strange sense of calm and purpose that she’s not used to from him, and it makes her hesitate.
She knows Hajime trusts her. If he snuck somebody in (somebody whose pain is so great), without asking for her help, he must have put some thought behind his actions. And, right now, it seems like he’s trying to help his new friend on his own.
So even though she’s compelled to intervene immediately, she decides to wait.
Yashiro comes home when Hanako is just finished cleaning the stairs, and she catches his arm before he can head up to say hello to Hajime, shaking her head and gesturing to the kitchen, to explain. As she expected, he doesn’t like the idea of Hajime having an unknown visitor in the house, but he trusts Hanako’s judgement and they give Hajime some space.
Hanako goes through her usual evening routine, just being sure to monitor what’s going on upstairs. Whoever it is, Hajime has managed to calm them enough so the sadness isn’t quite so overwhelming. She can feel it, still, but it’s no longer the only thing there.
There’s also a tiny bit of hope. Some safety. Comfort.
Hajime doesn’t come downstairs at dinner time, claiming that he’s not hungry - really out of behaviour, but as soon as he sneaks downstairs to grab some food, she makes sure to stop him before he gets back up the stairs.
“Hajime?” She starts, putting her hand on his shoulder. He jumps, surprised, looking back at her with wide eyes - he knows he’s breaking the rules.
“Oh, um, Mama,” he starts, looking away, stammering in his nervousness. “I, um, just, wasn’t hungry, and, um-”
“Hajime,” she says again, and Hajime takes a moment to take a deep breath. He focuses, feeling that-
He’s not in trouble.
“Mama,” he says, reaching up to take her hand, “I-I… There was a boy, in the forest. He’s got no home… He was so alone, Mama, and so scared, and I just thought-”
“It’s okay,” she interrupts his rambling, squeezing his hand. “Let’s go upstairs together, okay?”
Hajime nods, whispering to her that the boy is scared, and she can feel his mood shift when the door opens and Hajime walks in holding her hand. He immediately tenses up from where he’s sitting on Hajime’s bed, and Hanako doesn’t need to see him to know he’s terrified.
She looks up anyway, taking in the sight of him. Curling into himself, wearing some of Hajime’s clean clothes - they’re a bit big, hanging off his frame, and she’s not sure if it’s because of their size difference or how thin he is - and he smells. Smells of fear, or sadness, and of fire.
Her heart aches-
What happened to this poor child?
He flinches when she sits down next to him and she can see that his fingers are trembling. He tries to hide it, pressing his hands together, looking down at the bed. Hajime climbs up between them, sitting half on Hanako’s lap, swinging his legs up on the bed and reaching for the boy’s hand. He fidgets, but lets Hajime take it, their fingers lacing together slowly.
“What’s your name?” Hanako asks, wanting to start off simple. Easily. The boy looks down at his lap, but Hajime squeezes his fingers reassuringly, and that seems to give him a bit of courage.
“Tooru,” he says quietly.
It’s a good start.
The conversation moves slowly, after that. Hanako talks more than Tooru - but that’s okay, as she starts to piece together bits about him. He came from the human village that’s not too far away, but he’s been on his own for a while. A few weeks, maybe months. Time seems to have slipped away from him, but from what he’s describing, he’s been by himself long enough.
“What happened to your parents?” Hanako asks, but the question feels wrong as soon as she asks it. Tooru looks up from where he’s sitting - tears start to well up in the corners of his eyes, and Hanako feels the overwhelming sorrow coming off him before they start to fall.
Hajime pulls Tooru close to him, half of his weight on Hajime, letting him cling to his shirt while he cries. Hajime looks to Hanako before turning his attention back to Tooru, rubbing circles on his back, whispering to him softly while he cries.
She makes up her mind right there.
Sure, she’s probably going to get strange looks, but Hanako couldn’t care less. He’s alone, and she’s not just going to take him back to the human village where he has nobody to take care of him. She can feel how he trusts Hajime - he’s holding onto him so tightly, letting everything else go. Hajime is already getting attached too, she can feel it. He’s worried, but hopeful. Hopeful that she can help him; that they can help Tooru.
Tooru calms down, after a bit of time being held, his sobs turning quiet, his tears drying up. He’s still shaking a little in Hajime’s arms, but he leans into the touch when Hanako runs a hand through his hair, which is in desperate need of a wash. All of him is, really; Hajime may have given him some clean clothes, but she’s sure that the first step to getting him calm is a hot bath, a warm meal and a good rest.
“Would you like to take a bath?” Hanako asks, looking at Tooru when he lifts his head to look at her. He looks unsure, averting his gaze shyly, but Hajime nods excitedly.
“Yeah! We can take one together. Come on, Tooru!” He wiggles out from beneath Tooru, climbing over his mom. He takes Tooru by the hand, leading him down the hallway to their bathroom.
Their house is quite simple, really, but one thing that Hanako has always enjoyed about this house is the spacious bathroom. The bathtub is large and takes time to fill up, so Hanako turns on the taps while Tooru looks around, taking in the new room, and the view of the lake from the wide window.
Tooru’s still shy, but Hajime seems to sense that and leads him along by the hand. Once the bathtub is full of water, he gets in first, almost to show him that it’s okay.
Taking a deep breath, Tooru pulls off the clothes Hajime’s given him and tosses them down on the floor. They get wet, but he doesn’t seem to notice as he kicks them to the side, dipping his hand in the bath water.
Hanako lays out two towels, turning to Tooru and Hajime. “I’ll leave some clean clothes in your room for the two of you. Okay?”
“Okay!” Hajime runs his fingers through his hair, rubbing in soap to clean himself off. Tooru watches for a moment, before stepping into the tub too-
But, no. Wait.
Hanako catches sight of a birthmark on Tooru’s hip. It’s small, but it looks similar to one that Hajime was born with… It’s probably a coincidence, but -
Somehow, it cements that Tooru is meant to be here. With them.
She steps out of the bathroom, able to breathe a little easier when she feels more positive energy coming from Tooru. The bath helps warm him up, clean him off, and start scraping off the layers of hurt that are covering his heart so entirely. She leaves them be, heading to Hajime’s room and setting out a set of clean clothes for the two of them. She straightens them out perfectly, her mind completely made up.
She wants to help this boy. She wants to keep him safe.
It’s just about convincing Yashiro at this point - but as soon as she walks back downstairs and sees him sitting in their living room, looking up to meet her gaze immediately, she knows that he’s been paying attention. He can feel what she’s feeling, and her steadfast determination is something that he’s always appreciated.
She sits down next to him, takes a deep breath, and tells him everything.
Unlike Hanako, Yashiro is a realist, and is immediately skeptical.
“Shouldn’t we take him to the human village instead?” he suggests, sighing, but Hanako knows he can feel the warmth coming from the two upstairs.
“He’d be all alone there, Yashiro. At least here, he knows Hajime.” She closes her eyes, focusing on the little bit of hope building up inside of Tooru, the little flicker of trust and safety that is starting to fight the sadness. “He was alone in the human village once, Yashiro. I can’t send him back there not knowing if he’ll be okay.”
Yashiro doesn’t seem convinced, but he knows that they have to at least try, so he nods in agreement. “Okay. He can stay, for now.”
Hey hey hey! It's been a while, but we're back with more of this AU! We'll do our best to have updates for this out a bit faster from now on :D
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Quick clarification here, just in case: We both work on every chapter! We're just alternating with who posts them, but all chapters are basically written by both of us together :D
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It’s the very first day he’s staying with the Iwaizumi’s, and although he agreed to stay - and he wants to, they seem like a good family who would be good to him - Tooru is far too afraid to leave Hajime’s room. He’s okay with Hajime, now, after a bit of warming up, and even his mom seems nice, but his dad - he’s far too scary. There’s just something about him that Tooru isn’t ready to face. Hajime looks a little bit sad when Tooru refuses to join him for breakfast, but he tells him that it’s okay. They spend the day holed up in Hajime’s room, with Tooru tearing his way through all of Hajime’s books. He even shows an interest in the old, worn ones that Hajime hasn’t bothered to read yet, the ones that his father gave to him as soon as he learned how to read.
Tooru’s sprawled out on his stomach on Hajime’s bed, a scattered pile of books to one side of him, a mess of papers on the floor.
“Hajime! Is this true?” Tooru pokes his head up, tearing his eyes from the pages of his book, turning over to Hajime who’s colouring on his desk. He moves the crayons over his page with purpose and much more care than Tooru, who’s drawing has been long abandoned.
“Hah?” Hajime drops his red crayon on the table, walking over and sitting down on his bed next to him. Tooru points frantically at a picture in the book that shows a full-sized dragon, mouth open and breathing fire. There’s a rider on his back, sword drawn high in the air. It looks like something out of those action comics that Hajime’s dad reads with him sometimes.
“Do humans really ride dragons?” Tooru asks, brown eyes wide and full of wonder.
Hajime wrinkles his nose.
“Sometimes,” he says, fingers touching the page. “But not a lot. Mom says you really have to trust a human to do something like that.”
Tooru nods, looking down at the page again. “Really? Do you know any dragons who let people ride them?”
Hajime thinks for a moment, trying to remember if he had heard of anyone doing that with a human, but-
“No.” He shrugs his shoulders. “There’s not a lot of humans out here. You’re the only one that I really know.”
Tooru hums, clearly thinking. “Do you trust me?” he asks, and Hajime can feel nothing but his earnest curiosity, and how much he trusts Hajime, in this moment.
His answer comes without thinking.
“Of course,” he says. “You’re my friend.”
Tooru stares for a moment - and then he smiles. It warms Hajime’s heart every time he feels happiness come from the boy, however small it may be. The sadness in him, it’s still there - but it’s not as heavy. His smile isn’t as strained, and he offers it a little bit easier to Hajime.
When Tooru yawns, finally closing the book, Hajime pulls him up on the bed properly and lets him cuddle up close for a nap. He's not so afraid of the contact anymore: Tooru rests his head on Hajime’s chest, his arms tucked in close to his body. Hajime tugs his blanket, pulling it up and over their bodies before securing his arm around Tooru. It’s the same way his parents do when he needs someone to be close, and Hajime is finding that Tooru really enjoys this. Tooru inhales, clutching his hand, his breathing soft against Hajime’s neck. Hajime feels the tension ebbing away from his core, the feeling that is replacing it finally allowing him to relax.
With that, Tooru falls asleep.
They’re clearly both pretty exhausted, since neither of them wakes when Hajime’s parents return home, talking in low voices as they walk through the door.
They don’t feel Hanako’s distress over what they’d learned from their trip to the human village, and the remains of Tooru’s home; the all-encompassing scent of burned flesh that clung to the air and the faded memory of screams.
They don’t feel Yashiro’s hardened resolve, cemented in the fists he has yet to unclench and the new purpose vibrating in both of them: to protect.
Hajime stirs a little when their presences arrive home, but it’s more in instinctual acknowledgement than anything else. He doesn’t open his eyes, doesn’t extend his senses. He curls his fingers over the borrowed shirt Tooru is wearing and holds on.
And Tooru - he’s finally resting, overwhelmed by the exhaustion and change of the last couple of days. There’s apprehension left, but Hajime takes that away by his presence, he’s a friend, he’s good, Tooru can feel it. He doesn’t quite understand, but for now, it’s enough.
The next morning, after a good night’s rest and a day of being surrounded by Hajime’s warmth and safety, Tooru joins him downstairs for breakfast with his family.
He walks downstairs clutching Hajime’s sleeve, pointedly looking anywhere but at Hanako or Yashiro, who make an effort of not looking at him too hard and scaring him. Following Hajime, he sits down at the table in the seat next to him, looking nervously between his empty plate and Hajime.
Hajime reaches over and squeezes his hand, feeling how anxious Tooru is; the uncomfortable sensation is filling the room and Hajime doesn’t like knowing this is how his friend is feeling.
“Good morning,” Hanako smiles at them, turning from the counter to set down a jug of juice for them. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes!” Hajime bounces in his seat, and Tooru chances a look up to see what’s being made. Hajime’s dad is still standing in front of the stove, but he turns around with a hot pan filled with food. It smells good , and Tooru’s stomach rumbles at the thought of a filling, home-cooked meal.
The sadness threatens to build up again but he forces it down, swallowing it down like lead. Hajime looks over at him nervously, but Tooru just squeezes his hand in reassurance.
Yashiro ruffles Hajime’s hair as he walks past, who smiles happily when he’s served his food.
“You too, Tooru?” Hajime turns to him, and Tooru jerks his head in a nod.
“Y-yes. Please. Sir.” He glances nervously out of the corner of his eye up at Yashiro, who dishes out a portion for him, too. “T-thank you.”
Yashiro takes him in for a moment before he smiles warmly, but Tooru’s still too intimidated to really look at him and see it.
That being said, Tooru is here - at the table, with the family - so it’s all small steps. Hanako pours them some juice, and they eat while she fills them in on what they’re doing today.
Hajime digs in and Tooru watches him first to see what he’s eating, and how. It feels weird to eat at a table... He doesn’t remember the last time he’s done this.
He almost doesn’t remember how , but, looking at Hajime, it doesn’t seem quite so hard.
Tentatively, Tooru starts eating, taking much smaller bites than Hajime, but he likes it. It tastes good, and fills his stomach with a warmth that is from more than just the food.
The quiet atmosphere helps relax him, and when Yashiro offers him seconds, he quickly nods his head and devours everything that’s put on his plate. He’s licking his lips by the time Hanako finishes hers, laughing a little.
“Did you like it, Tooru?” she asks, voice gentle. He looks over to her, but makes eye contact now- and nods. He feels a little warmer, and a little less on edge now that his stomach is full.
“That’s good,” she says, and the smile she gives him feels like it’s radiating warmth, too. He’s quickly realizing that that seems to happen quite frequently, the emotions they’re feeling seem to spread to their surroundings - it’s how he can tell that what they’re saying is true. It makes it easier to trust.
“Alright, boys - would you like to come and help me in the garden today?”
Hajime perks up, sliding to the edge of his seat, but he catches himself and looks to Tooru first, letting him decide.
It’s painfully clear that he wants to, so Tooru abandons his apprehension. He’s just getting used to this house, to the people (Hajime’s dad is way too scary to look at, he’s so big and intimidating…), he’d rather stay inside - but the excitement in Hajime’s eyes is hard to miss, so he gives him a little nod.
His blinding smile in response makes it worth it.
Hanako’s garden is so, so much more than Tooru could ever have anticipated.
From what he glimpsed from the front of the house, he would never have expected the vast expanse of green that extends behind it, stretching out until it reaches the edge of the forest.
The trees don’t look as menacing now as they did when Tooru was terrified and alone, but the sight of them still makes him uneasy. His eyes are drawn to them, but he forces himself to tear away and focus on what’s in front of him.
There’s a path of stone slabs that winds its way towards the trees, and a small, slightly crooked greenhouse made of glass and, as far as Tooru can tell, filled to the brim with colorful plants. The path itself is lined with flowers in all shapes and sizes: There are ones Tooru recognizes, like the long stalks and yellow blossoms of the small batch of sunflowers to their left, a bush of white and pink roses (“careful, love, they prick!”) and the orange and red tulips he vaguely remembers, too - and then there are countless new types that he has no names for.
Hanako lets out a little laugh at the stunned expression on his face, before offering a hand to each of them and walking them both down the path. Hajime tugs excitedly at her arm and points out the flowers he recognizes, and Hanako fills in the gaps - and so, slowly, Tooru takes in the new world around him, grass and stone under his bare feet.
He’s introduced to gigantic pink and purple carnations, flanked by white and orange lilies, round white dahlias and tall, multicolored hyacinths and gladiolus flowers. He stops and stares at the violet foxgloves, marvelling at the spots on the inside of the blossoms, and tentatively pokes a finger at the spiky red and pink clumps of astilbe.
Past these taller flowers he can make out bushes scattered across the grass, red rhododendrons and azaleas, blue, white and purple hydrangeas, yellow forsythias and two trees, a soft pink magnolia tree and a blue wisteria.
They pass patches of violet and white moss phlox, blue cornflowers, and the strange purple and blue mazus flowers - Hajime’s favorites, he says. (Tooru will learn this is because they look kind of like bugs.)
Hanako points out small flowers scattered among the grass as well, vibrant forget-me-nots and bluebells, rich yellow buttercups, light baby blue eyes and poppies.
They turn a corner, and from this distance they can see the climbing wisteria and clematis plants that are winding their way up the side of the house, covering it in green, red, blue and purple.
They pass the herb patches and the greenhouse - “I’ll explain those some other time, okay?” - until they reach a part of the flowerbed that’s been dug up, the fresh earth dark and moist.
Two pots are resting on the side of the stone path, their contents waiting to be planted.
“These are called coral bells,” Hanako says. They look interesting - the leaves are the same metallic red color as the tiny blossoms. “Will you help me plant them?”
Tooru glances at Hajime, who already has both his hands buried in the earth, eyes alight. He wrinkles his nose.
Hanako laughs, and pulls out a small shovel from the pocket in her apron.
“Would you rather use this…?”
After two or three days of staying at the Iwaizumi’s, Tooru is slowly, slowly starting to relax. To think maybe they won't make him leave. Maybe he can stay. Maybe he can be happy here.
Hajime always talks like he's sure Tooru will be here forever, "I'll show you, in the summer, when it's warmer" and "I can't wait for fall, mom has the best apples in the garden, I swear" - and every time he mentions that Tooru will still be here to see these things, his heart clenches a little.
But the growing sense of safety makes him vulnerable. He's opening up, and Hajime comes at him with so much genuine emotion that it's kind of hard to breathe sometimes (Hajime, who always means what he says, who's never had to lie about anything, who is confused why that's so special to Tooru).
And then there's Hajime's parents, who are so kind and helpful and patient and who seem to always know what he needs (little does he know they can sense his discomfort, he hasn't figured that out just yet)... it's a lot to take in.
Tooru lies awake a lot, trying to sort through it, and looking for the hole, the trap, the harsh reality underneath it all. He's a kid but he's been hurt and that leaves scars, and these kinds of scars don’t fade from a few days of nice meals and kind words.
These are the kinds of scars you carry with you throughout your entire life.
It’s been five days, or maybe six - Tooru is trying not to count - when everything starts crashing down, threatening to swallow him whole.
Hajime is good to him, and lets him sleep in his bed. He’s warm, so warm - it’s easier to rest this way, curled up to his side, listening to the sound of his heartbeat. He hasn’t dreamed much, since coming to live with the Iwaizumis.
But it all changes that night.
Tooru jolts awake, breathing hard, drenched in sweat. He can’t recall what he was dreaming about but the feeling, the feeling is so raw and intense and vivid that it leaves him breathing hard and trying not to cry. The hole in his chest aches , reminding him of everything he’s been running from, everything he’s been trying desperately to not face.
Hajime is still wrapped around him, arms curled around his waist, nose pressed against the back of Tooru’s neck. His breathing is deep, even - good. Tooru didn’t wake him up. At least there’s that.
Tooru moves slowly, not wanting to wake him up, extracting himself from the bed. He stumbles to his feet, the wood floor cold beneath his toes. He can’t talk, right now - telling him feels like too much and he needs to calm himself down first.
He slips out of Hajime’s bedroom, tiptoeing down the stairs and out the back door. He can’t be inside right now - he needs to breathe , and being inside feels to hot, too stifling. As soon as the door slides open he takes a deep breath, the cold night air filling his lungs, sending a shiver up his spine.
It hurts .
Tooru bites his lip.
He steps out of the house, the grass cool and wet between his toes. He walks a couple of steps - a safe distance, just past the first clumps of flowers, not too far from the house, just in case - and squats down by the hyacinths, clutching his knees. Tooru presses his face against his knees, trying to remember how to take slow, deep breaths.
It’s not really working.
He bites back more tears, determined to keep it in, keep it contained, not cry. He rocks back and forth slowly, timing his breaths with his movements, trying to focus on something. Anything.
If he lets go now, he’s not sure he’ll be able to pick himself back up again.
Tooru has no idea how much time passes before he hears a noise behind him which makes him lift his head. He looks over towards the house through teary eyes, and it’s Hanako. Standing in the doorway in her nightgown. She looks so… soft, and warm, her eyebrows furrowing gently in concern.
“Tooru… are you alright?” She asks, and Tooru swallows. He’s not sure he could speak, or if he wants to, so he just shrugs.
Hanako doesn’t seem deterred by his reaction, offering him a gentle smile. She steps forward, walking up towards him and sits down beside him in the cool grass. She looks down before starting to talk.
“I grew up in this house,” she says, picking at a blade of grass and rolling it between her fingers. Tooru perks up a little, looking over at her. “It belonged to my father.”
She laughs, then, the sound surprising Tooru, and he wipes away some of his tears. “Do you want to hear a story, Tooru?”
He nods. He likes listening to her talk. There’s something… soothing, about it. Hanako smiles at that, looking out towards the greenhouse.
“My husband, Yashiro - he didn’t grow up in this village. The first time I met him was shortly after I started working, and my father did not like him, at all. Said he was no good for a girl like me. But I didn’t care. My father wanted me to marry into a prosperous family, and Yashiro wasn’t rich or special. But he was kind, and sweet - he used to bring me all sorts of gifts that he knew I’d like.. exotic herbs that we can’t find in the village, seeds, and flowers - and I’d plant them all out here.” She looks over at Tooru, her smile catching his attention. “So this entire garden is proof of how much we love each other. Do you see it?”
Tooru nods, turning to look over the endless stems and leaves swaying gently in the wind. The garden is filled with flowers and herbs, and even after only walking through it once, he can feel how important it is. The tension starts to leave his shoulders, and he starts to forget about being so scared before. He focuses in on Hanako; she has his full attention.
“This is my favourite place in the entire village. It’s my safe place - I want you to feel safe here too, Tooru. You’re always free to leave if you want to, I know how hard this must be for you. But…” She pauses, eyes searching Tooru’s face, expression open and vulnerable. “If you think you can be happy here - if you think we can be happy, together - you can stay. You don’t have to leave… We want to share our home with you.”
Tooru blinks, disbelief making it hard to register those words, not quite. But then it sinks in.
He doesn’t have to leave.
He can stay.
Tooru looks up at her and she smiles, and it feels so, so familiar, so safe . There are tears streaming down his face before he really knows what’s happening and he’s in her arms, clutching to her desperately.
It’s been so long , and he misses his own mom so, so much - the sadness rises up and spills out of him with overwhelming urgency and all he can do is hold on.
Hanako doesn’t push him away. She pulls him close, arms squeezing him tight, giving him time to let it run it’s course. Tooru cries, and cries - he sobs until his throat is raw and scratchy and his eyes sting, he rubs his face against her neck, the fabric of her nightgown wet from his tears, but she doesn’t seem to care.
He can finally breathe again, and Tooru takes in slow deep breaths, following Hanako’s example. She keeps her arms around him, rubbing a hand up and down his back to help soothe him.
The door to the house swings closed and Tooru looks over to where the noise has come from. Hajime and his father stand in the doorway for a moment before Hajime’s stumbling towards them, eyes brimming with tears - there’s a hand tugging at his sleeve and Tooru meets Hajime’s gaze and he doesn’t even look mad that he’s hugging his mom.
He gets it. Tooru doesn’t know how, but Hajime seems to understand that this is what he needs; Hajime needs it too, given by the way he drops down next to Tooru, crawling into her lap and throwing his arms around the both of them. He squeezes, letting go only to take Tooru’s hand. Hajime’s always so warm, but this is different. He laces their fingers together and Tooru just feels.
Tooru gasps, overwhelmed at this foreign sensation, his arm twitching. It hits him hard and fast, filling him up, helping to stitch himself back together. Hajime doesn’t let go, squeezing his fingers tightly, and Tooru feels Yashiro sit down next to them, hugging them, too.
He can’t hold the tears back any longer.
This time, though, they’re not tears of sadness. Tooru cries because these people are so, so wonderful, so kind, and caring-
And he never wants to leave their side.
Chapter 4: IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE
An important update on this fic, and how it's gonna go in the future.
It's been quite a long time since the last update of this fic, and I feel like you all deserve to know what's going on - so bear with me.
CJ and I will not be continuing this fic as we planned to. We had a lot of the plot planned out, but for various reasons we will not be working on this fic together anymore, at least for the immediate future. However, we didn't want this story to just... exist in this kind of limbo where it's unfinished and all of you are waiting for updates, so we have agreed that I will be trying to continue it on my own.
For... several reasons that I will not be getting into, I don't feel it's right for me to just write this fic out as we planned it together, by myself. But I also don't want this project to just die - so here's how it's going to go:
We'll make this fic... interactive. You guys tell me what you want to see, and I'll write it. I have a rough outline that I will try to stick to, but other than that, I'll leave the plot components up to you - I will be building on your suggestions and ideas rather than sticking to a plan that's almost a year old and wasn't "mine" to begin with.
I hope this makes sense, and I hope you're not upset by the development. I will get back to writing with fresh ideas and fresh motivation soon.
Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to working with you!