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our paths crossing makes me cross (but for now, i'll look past it)

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"Alright, I think there's still two seats left in the back. You don't mind sitting with Vector, do you?"

Ryouga minds, but Umimi's kind yet forceful smile doesn't exactly allow for a 'no', anyway.

Vector, as Ryouga can tell, minds, too; because he unsubtly walks over Ryouga's foot on the way to their seats.

Ryouga pulls Vector back by the rabbit ears of his backpack— "What are those, anyway?"— and sprints past him, to the window seat.

"No running in the bus," says Umimi, and Ryouga sticks out his tongue almost instinctively; more at Vector than at her, really.

"You suck," Vector pouts— Ryouga would like to say it leaves him utterly cold but he's been doing a terrible job at proving that— and Ryouga turns his head away, pouting as well.

They can hear the whispers. To be expected, given how they're both sort of outcasts in their own respective ways.

Ryouga should've stayed home, but the orphanage insisted he shouldn't skip social events.

Not like they usually care, but this time they do.

Rio can't skip her school's trips, either, after all.

Umimi and her husband, Tobio (who somehow was deemed an appropriate chaperone for this class trip) go through a list of farm animals they might encounter and how to not get run over by horses and cows.

Ryouga half-listens only, much like everyone.

Then they go through the usual set of reminders regarding sunscreen (Vector and Ryouga scrunch up their noses simultaneously) and eating and whatnot.

"Sensei!" Vector raises his bandaid-covered hand. "Can we take small animals into our rooms?"

Tobio raises an eyebrow. "What animals are we talking about here, we'd have to discuss—"

"He means rabbits," Ryouga provides.

Because apparently no one else in this bus has eyes.

A bit late, Ryouga adds, "Please say no."

"Scared?" Vector laughs.

"No."

"Suuuure?"

"Sure."

(Allergic is the better word.)

"So, sensei?" Vector tilts his head, his hair almost in Ryouga's face (totally on purpose).

Tobio and Umimi give each other that distinctly distracted look which is the exact reason why Ryouga would've preferred literally any other person as the chaperone for this.

"Sensei?"

"Yeah, it's fine, just be careful."

Clearly not listening.

"Yay~" Vector smiles. (Ryouga rarely sees it and he's always surprised when the guy is not smirking or stepford smiling.)

Obnoxiously loudly, from the front seats, Takashi asks, "Sensei? How many people can there be in one room?"

"Ideally, you should try to go in groups of six. You can make the groups on your own."

Ryouga's brain whirrs with math, and he smirks when he realizes that there is going to be a room that can't be filled to the maximum.

Vector, clearly worse at math, tilts his head. "Why are you smirking, idiot."

"Not telling."

"Nasch." Vector pouts again.

(The way Vector drags out the syllables of that nickname is making Ryouga want to look at anything but Vector.)

~*~

To nobody's surprise, Vector and Ryouga are left without a group.

"Do you two want to share?"

They simultaneously shake their heads, with Ryouga crossing his arms and Vector sticking his tongue out.

(Vector is awful, but are the others really a better option?)

"We can move extra beds into the other rooms, if you want."

Ryouga and Vector start hastily reassuring Umimi that they'll be fine together and they can ignore each other.

(They're good at that.)

"Alright," Umimi smiles. "Now that that's settled, you guys should probably sleep. We have a long ride ahead of us."

Who thought driving for six hours over night was a smart idea?

~*~

"Nasch," Vector mumbles with his head leaning on Ryouga's shoulder.

(Ryouga takes note of the bruises and bandaids on Vector's skin again, and he wonders if there's a story to it.)

"I'm sleeping."

"You're not. You were totally watching me sleep. In the movies, they do that when they have a crush, y'know."

"Fuck you." Ryouga sighs.

(He doesn't say that he woke up with nightmares after an hour. Doesn't say that watching the rabbit bastard sleep peacefully may or may not have calmed him down, to some degree.)

Vector doesn't move. "Look out of the window and tell me if you can see phecda."

Ryouga squints. "Faintly. Benetnasch is brighter."

"Not true."

"I wiki'd it."

"Wikipedia can lie."

"You're just a sore loser."

Vector sticks out his tongue. Ryouga pulls at it.

Vector bites his finger.

"What the—"

"Serves you right." Vector half-climbs over Ryouga to look out of the window. "Oh, there's the north star, too!"

So excited.

(He's more bearable when he's like that, Ryouga thinks.)

Ryouga sighs. "Switch?"

"Eh?"

"You want to look at the stars, don't you?"

Vector gives him a lopsided grin. "Didn't know you can be a decent person, Nasch."

Fuck off. Ryouga scowls. "I just want more space for my legs."

"Say what makes you sleep better," says Vector, and they switch seats.

~*~

When Ryouga wakes up, his head is in Vector's lap and Vector's looking out of the window. The bus is still moving.

Ryouga doesn't recall falling asleep, especially not on Vector's lap.

Moving right now would be awkward.

He closes his eyes again.

"I know you're awake, Nasch."

Tch.

"When did I fall asleep?"

Vector shrugs. "You snore by the way."

"I don't." Ryouga reconsiders his statement immediately. "Do I?"

"No, but you sleeptalk." Vector giggles. "Rio's your sister, isn't she?"

Ryouga is about to answer as he gets his head off of Vector's lap, but then he sees his reflection in the window. Permanent marker; a tiny bunny and the words 'Vector was here'. "You piece of-"

From the front, Umimi's voice, "Ryouga-kun, no swearing."

"Tch."

Vector pokes Ryouga twice. "Y'know, when we get into high school, we should totally get tattoos."

"I'm not tattooing a rabbit to my face, idiot."

"Ryouga-kun, language." Umimi, again.

"Fine, fine."

"I wasn't talking about rabbits, necessarily." Vector pouts. "I mean, rabbits, too, but—"

"What then?" Ryouga tries to rub off the marker, with little success.

"η and γ?"

"I'm not getting matching tattoos with you."

"Chicken."

"I'm not a chicken, you—"

Umimi sighs. "Ryouga-kun."

Ryouga crosses his arms, and his glare silences the laughter of his classmates.

~*~

When they arrive, Vector steals any soap in Ryouga's general vincinity, leaving him to try and get rid of permanent marker with water only.

The place stinks and Ryouga wonders why the class collectively preferred the farm over the beach.

Well, Vector can't swim, but the others? The others don't have any excuse.
"Vector, give back the soap."

"Say please."

"I would never—"

They are interrupted by the Duel Monsters theme song.

Ryouga gets up to get his phone, just to see Vector take his D-Pad.

Oh, same ringtone.

"Yeah, mom? Yeah, I'm fine. Huh? Yeah, I found someone. I'm with a... With a friend." Vector has never sounded this happy and nervous at the same time before. "Ryouga, say hi!"

Ew. Ryouga shudders at the notion of Vector calling him by his actual name. "Hi?"

"Did you hear him? Yeah, I'll be fine. Yeah, I brought sunscreen, don't worry. No, the others don't pick on me anymore—"

Ryouga listens to Vector listing off a few more lies, and he notices Vector biting his nails.

"Bad habit," he comments after Vector hangs up.

"My nails? Yeah, I should—"

"Not that. I mean, that too. But also the lying. Speaking of which, don't do it around me. It makes me sick." Ryouga sighs and finds the soap under Vector's pillow.

"Why do you care?" Vector shrugs and follows Ryouga into the bathroom, laughing a little as Ryouga tries to get rid of the permanent marker, again.

"You play the piano."

"So?"

Ryouga rolls his eyes and dries his hands off. He's not gonna explain to Vector why people who play well shouldn't ruin their fingers. He's also unwilling to explain that lying to people who care is awful. "Anyway. We're supposed to be asleep already, so turn the lights off, just in case."

Vector does as told and sits down on his bunk bed. There are three, but they only use two, with both of them having claimed the bottom ones immediately. "You haven't answered me properly."

"Figure it out for yourself." Ryouga turns around so he doesn't have to see Vector's face in the faint moonlight shining into their room. "Night."

"Night," says Vector.

...

...

...

"Hey, Nasch."

"I'm sleeping."

"That didn't work last time either."

"...Fine. What do you want?"

Vector hesitates a bit, then, "Do you think she bought it?"

Ryouga turns around. "Have you ever told her anything that happens here? If not, then she likely bought it."

Vector's already facing him, with the hood of his stupid rabbit pajamas up and all. "I see. That's good."

"Y'know, maybe you should tell her. You shouldn't let idiots like Tetsuo and Tokunosuke get cocky."

"My father would find out." Vector looks really, genuinely scared for a bit.

Ryouga is about to get up and say something, but—

"Besides. Aren't you preventing them from getting cocky?" Vector giggles. "With your justice and whatnot."

Asshole.

"I also get suspended every time." Ryouga crosses his arms and sits back down. He's gonna accept that bit of facade.

(Vector's dad is scary, after all.)

"You don't seem to mind." Vector shrugs. "Or at least your parents don't."

Not like the adults at the orphanage would have time to keep track of that.

Of course, Ryouga doesn't say that, and instead he yawns. "We should go back to sleep."

"You're boring."

"No, I'm tired."

"As I was saying, boring."

~*~

Ryouga wakes up to Vector sitting on his bed, poking his cheek.

"Nasch. Wake up."

Ryouga turns away from him. "Five minutes."

"Nasch." Vector keeps poking his cheek.

"I'll bite you if you don't stop." By now, Ryouga's awake anyway.

"You're not a shark."

"And you're not a rabbit. But you still bit me yesterday." Ryouga bites Vector's finger. "That was revenge. So? What do you want?"

Vector grins. "Tell me how your hair gel works."

"How did you find it?"

"I'm not stupid."

"I doubt that."

"Come on."

"Why don't you try this stuff at home?"

"Not allowed to."

Oh, yeah. His dad wouldn't let him, would he?

Ryouga sighs and gets up. "You're not gonna leave me alone 'til I help, right?"

"Right~"

"I can't stand you."

Vector laughs.

~*~

A lot of hair gel and hair pulling— Vector deserved it, according to Ryouga at least— later, Ryouga is done with what he considers a masterpiece.

Because if he's honest, this does look good on Vector. He's done it for him, after all.

Vector gives him a hug and Ryouga can't tell whether it's genuine happiness or to piss him off.

(Maybe both.)

"Get off."

"Aw, Nasch, don't be such a grumpy shark~"

"I'll kill you."

"You can try that after we had breakfast. I'm starving."

Given how Vector ate all of Ryouga's snacks in the bus, Ryouga can believe that.

~*~

Some of their classmates apparently thought it was necessary to play a practical joke on them, because in front of their door— and all over the door— is a puddle of rotten eggs.

"Great," says Ryouga, more to himself than to Vector.

"Maybe they're still mad because you scared them."

"They had it coming."

No one gets away with cheating at Duel Monsters. Especially not while they play with the ante rule in place.

Though Ryouga thinks it might be directed at the both of them. People have compared Vector's hair to egg yolk before.

Vector shrugs. "Let's clean up."

~*~

When they arrive in the breakfast hall, Umimi and Tobio wave them over.

Today's my unlucky week.

Ryouga sighs. "What is it?"

"We wanted to ask you if you two are okay." Tobio isn't a teacher, but he sure sounds like one.

In unison, "Yeah, nothing wrong."

(They don't mention the eggs.)

"So, we further wanted to ask if—" Tobio hesitates, and Umimi continues for him, "We wanted to know whether you want us to talk to your parents about what's going on."

Vector tilts his head the way he always does when he's pretending. "What would you be talking about?"

"Don't try to hide it. We know about the eggs."

"That's because of me," Ryouga says instantly. "You should know best what stuff I get suspended for."

Umimi nods, slowly. "Are you sure that's all?"

"That's all." Ryouga turns to get as much bread from the buffet as possible.

~*~

"Did you bring your deck?" Ryouga watches Vector haul down chicken sandwich.

Vector blinks. "How do you know I duel?"

"They called your dad for it."

Their school forbade dueling back when the ante rule became popular, so ever since all decks would get confiscated and taken to the parents.

Ryouga is sort of immune to that rule because the orphanage lets him fake apology notes for it.

(Or rather, they can't prevent him from doing it, since he fakes their signatures perfectly. It’s not that easy with bigger events, sadly.)

Vector is different. "Don't remind me."

"You asked." Ryouga shrugs, but makes a mental note to not bring it up again anyway. "So?"

"I did. You, too?"

"Yeah. Wanna duel?" Ryouga finishes his food.

"Oh!" Vector doesn't respond to the question because a cat approaches them. "Didn't know farms had those."

"They catch mice."
"Eeeeh? Mice are cute, though. They should eat fish instead." Vector pouts.
Ryouga rolls his eyes and absentmindedly pets the cat, wondering if Rio would hide if she was here. "So?"

"We can duel at night." Vector yawns. "I want to see rabbits."

"Good luck finding some," says Ryouga, not meaning it at all; and he takes out his phone to text Rio, because he sure as hell isn't gonna accompany Vector to these sneeze-inducing animals.

"You're boring." And gone he is.

~*~

Ryouga would spend substantial amounts of time by the lake immediately, but the lack of room keys and the presence of his classmates make him opt for hiding his belongings (and also Vector's belongings, because he can't duel Vector if Vector doesn't have a deck) first.

When he leaves his room with his headphones plugged in, Umimi stops him. "Where's Vector? Didn't we tell you that you should stay with your partner?"

Ryouga removes one earplug. "He'll be fine. He's just playing with rabbits."

"Why don't you join him?"

Ryouga makes a note to never bother filling out allergy information ever again, because clearly no one reads it. He sighs. "I don't want to."

He's about to leave, but Umimi gives him that look that translates to potential genuinely bothersome punishment (like actual adult supervision, which is a nightmare) if he doesn't behave. "Fine, I'll find him."

Umimi smiles.

~*~

Finding Vector is easy, because rabbits and their occasional fur loss and Ryouga's sneezing work like a radar at that point.

Ryouga tries to sound serious when he speaks, teary-eyed from the allergy, "Come back to our room."

"Why?" Vector doesn't look up while feeding three or four rabbits. "Did you miss me?" He laughs.

"Like hell." Ryouga sneezes, again.

Now, Vector looks at him, smirking. "Are you allergic?"

Ryouga scowls.

Vector's eyes brighten up. "Alright! I'm coming back to our room."

"Where's the catch?" Ryouga crosses his arms.

Vector picks up a black rabbit and grins.

Ryouga rolls his eyes. "Of course. Fine. Let's go to the lake instead then."

"Not without the rabbits."

"Fine."

~*~

"Hey, Nasch."

Ryouga's lying in the grass at the riverbanks, not looking up to see whatever Vector's doing with his creepy following of rabbits. "Hm?"

"Are there sharks that can survive in freshwater?"

"Yeah, there are. They're unlikely to swim this far up though."

"Phew. I bet they'd get mad because I pissed you off." Vector laughs.

"I sure hope so." Ryouga sneezes. "I'd rather have them focus on the rabbits though."

"No wonder people say you're scary."

"Well, sharks are scary to those weaker than them."

Vector bursts into teary laughter. "Did you really just say that?"

Ryouga sits up. "What's wrong with that?"

Vector just keeps laughing and pointing at him.

"You little—" Ryouga stops mid-motion because the rabbits hide behind Vector. "See?"

Vector keeps laughing, barely dodging Ryouga's swipe at him. "Sure, sure~"

~*~

"Goodbye, you guys~" Vector waves at the rabbits before they go back to their room.

"Finally." Ryouga sneezes. "I hate this. You're covered in rabbit hair."

Vector inches closer, just to annoy him.

~*~~*~

Unexpectedly, Tetsuo and Tokunosuke come into their room to 'look for something' and it's a 'welcome surprise' to them that Vector and Ryouga are there, and then they leave.

Vector pets his rabbit— yes, his rabbit, Ryouga is not unconvinced that Vector won't take it home— as he speaks, "Do they think we're dumb?"

"Likely, yeah."

"By the way, where's my deck?" Vector yawns. "You hid it from them, didn't you?"

Ryouga dislikes being read like an open book. "Nah, I just wanted to bring the room in order."

"Liar. So?"

Ryouga sneezes. "Under your pillow."

"Good choice." Vector suddenly giggles. "Did you see my Shining Rabbit?"

"That archetype is terrible, please tell me that isn't your main deck."

"Of course it's not. But it's cute, so don't insult it."

"What is, then?"

Vector reaches into a pocket on the inside of his hoodie. "Umbrals."

~*~

Vector hadn't said that he's playing an Umbral deck that somehow mills on top of being generally obnoxious.

"What's the business with zero ATK for you, anyway?" Ryouga summons Number 101.

"Secret." Vector lazily points at Swords of Revealing Light, causing Ryouga to nod so as to end his turn.

(Ryouga may or may not be interested in Vector's secret.)

They'd agreed that Vector's rabbit stays on his bed while they duel, which makes it somewhat more bearable for Ryouga, but still not good.

A few turns pass, and Ryouga flips Splash Capture on Vector's summon of Number 104. "You use Over-Hundred-Numbers, too, huh."

"Only 104, though. I don't like the others. Especially 101. That effect is just ridiculous." Vector rolls his eyes.

Ryouga gets that this is an unsubtle jab at him. "C104 halves people's life points!"

Vector giggles. "Excuses. I don't even have it yet." He flips Giant Sky Sword, and Ryouga may or may not be mad.

(He is, despite winning in the end.)

~*~

"You know, for someone who dislikes me, you sure duel me a lot," Vector says after the seventh duel.

Ryouga gives him a non-commital shrug. "Why don't you use C104?"

"I told you, I don't have it."

"As in, physically not possessing it?" Ryouga blinks. "But isn't it basically mandatory—"

"It's hard for me to get cards, you know." Vector leans back and sighs. "It took like two weeks to find the last copy of Will o' the Wisp I needed."

"Why can't you ask your parents?"

"Mom'd worry. She always does. And she thinks I already have my Shining deck. As for my father, he would..." Vector trails off. "Point being, it's not as easy for everyone as it is for you, so shut it."

Ryouga nods, slowly, and continues speaking anyway, "Wait."

"What?"

Ryouga pulls out his card binder from under his bed, flipping through the first few pages until he finds his Numbers collection. "Do you have the Rank-Ups yet?"

Vector shakes his head.

Ryouga sighs. "You're hopeless." He takes out three copies each of Limited Barian's Force and C104 and hands them to Vector.

Vector protests. "I told you to not pity—"

"Shut up."

"You—"

"They're commons, and it's boring if I have an advantage. You're already miles behind me, you don't need a handicap."

For a solid second there, Vector gives him the happiest smile, and Ryouga has to will himself to not smile back.

"Can't give you The Seventh One though. I only have one at the moment."

"Wanna let me proxy?" Vector grins.

"Fine."

"Yay~"

Vector puts way too much effort into his drawing of The Seventh One.

(Ryouga makes a note to get a second copy.)

~*~

They almost miss dinner because of all the dueling, and Ryouga hates to admit that dueling Vector is fun.

Maybe because Vector doesn't fear him or admire him. Vector thinks Ryouga's a joke, and while Ryouga disagrees, he prefers company of someone who can talk to him on equal ground over people who either act like he's the plague or some sort of gifted child who's acting up out of boredom.

(People love to believe what makes them sleep better.)

When they're done eating, Umimi calls all the students to talk about what they learnt today.

Vector keeps smirking and Ryouga can tell he'll say something trashy.

"Ryouga-kun, Vector-kun?" Umimi gives them an encouraging smile, with the other kids being just as bored as them.

Vector's smirk widens. "I found out that Ryouga-kun is scared of rabbits." He takes out the white rabbit out of his hood— he straight up took it to dinner because he wanted to feed it— and holds it in Ryouga's face.

Ryouga sneezes. "And I found out that Vector's scared of sharks."

Vector elbows him, Ryouga elbows him back.

Tetsuo chimes in, "But there aren't even any sha—"

"You shut up," Vector and Ryouga say simultaneously, just to glare at each other.

Umimi sighs. "Language."

"Yeah, yeah."

~*~

After that, Vector disappears to take an urgent phone call.

This doesn't bode well, Ryouga thinks, but it's also not his business.

(It will be his business if Vector comes back looking like he'd—)

Vector comes back with bloodshot eyes.

Ryouga sighs, more at himself than at Vector, because he cares and he shouldn't.

"Hm?" Vector's dumb fake looking smile.

"Talk," says Ryouga, pointing in no real direction at all, just to motion for Vector to sit down.

Vector sits down on his bed. "I'll sleep. It was a long day."

He lies down, just to be interrupted by a panicked screech. The white rabbit jumps out of his hood and hops over to Ryouga's bed.

Ryouga rolls his eyes. "Wonderful."

Sneeze.

"Night, Nasch." Vector turns so he's facing the wall.

"You aren't gonna take it out?"

"Nope. Do it yourself."

"Umimi-sensei's patrolling."

"You're the one who wants the rabbit out."

"Fuck off," Ryouga turns the light off and goes to sleep— as much as one can sleep when a rabbit keeps climbing over one.

Minutes pass. The rabbit's trying to eat the blanket, somehow.

~*~

Ryouga's recurring dream of the car accident wakes him up again, and he's starting to think that it's worse than the dreams in which he just drowns.

(Both are bad.)

He tries to go to sleep again, but—

"...ault."

Vector. Ryouga turns around so he can hear better.

"It's not my fault," Vector says, pleading.

Ryouga sighs and gets up, picking up the rabbit, too.

He drops it on Vector's face.

Vector wakes up immediately. "What— Nasch?"

"Duel me."

"Why— You. I told you to not—" Vector is not very coherent right after waking up.

"I was awake first, shut up." Ryouga puts his deck on the table.

"Why?"

"You first."

"You already know—"

"Not everything."

Vector gets out his deck, petting the rabbit a little before taking his seat in front of Ryouga. "Who loses has to go first then."

"That means you." Ryouga sits down, too, and draws his card.

~*~

"My father is a piece of shit." Vector doesn’t look at Ryouga, instead he looks at the pair of C104 and 104 in the grave.

It was a close match.

"I can tell," says Ryouga, unsurprised. "Is that just how he is?"

Vector nods. "I think so. Mom tried to divorce him, but..."

He trails off, but Ryouga knows it's a matter of money. And potentially physical threats.

"The teachers say I should try to talk to him more."

"Don't," says Ryouga.

Vector's reply is immediate. "Didn't plan to. If— If there was a way to make him disappear..."

Ryouga nods. "Understandable. So. What was that phone call?"

Vector sighs and shuffles his deck again, indicating a rematch. "He found my map."

"Of the sewer system?" Ryouga remembers this. Vector always walks home through the sewers. Once, he took Ryouga along. At random points, there'd be tiny boxes filled with supplies. Ryouga didn't think too much of it at the time.

Vector nods.

Ryouga would ask why this is a problem, but he's seen Vector covered in bruises— sees Vector covered in bruises even now— and he can imagine what he really needed the sewers for. "So what did he say?"

Vector remains quiet, and he sets a monster. "Why do you care? It's—"

"I don't care." Ryouga draws The Seventh One off Moray of Greed and curses. "—I just hate people like him."

"Not like we can do anything."

"Run away."

Vector laughs. "That was a good joke."

"You piece of shit." Ryouga knocks over the cards and grabs Vector by the collar. "At least try to change something. Just watching won't change a thing."

Vector scowls. "But I—"

"You can. There's orphanages, there's friends, there's emergency hotlines for this kind of thing."

"Friends."

Ryouga rolls his eyes. "Or enemies. I guess."

He said that without thinking.

Vector blinks. "You totally care, don't you."

Ryouga lets go of Vector's collar. "I don't."

"Liar." Vector smirks.

"Are you telling me you wouldn't get pissed?"

"...Pissed?"

"You fake smiles, you hide bruises poorly, you can't say you love your dad while looking at—" Ryouga sneezes. "Basically, it's physically painful to watch. Do something."

Vector seems to be getting mad now, too. "So what do you suggest I do? Hide in the orphanage? Stay over at your house?! That's bullshit and you know it."

Ryouga doesn't say that 'the orphanage' and 'his house' are synonymous. Instead. "Why not? At this point it's safer than home anyway."

"You have it easy talking."

Ryouga glares, and it's enough for Vector to reconsider. He takes a look at the clock, then looks at Ryouga. "We'll talk about this— and you— tomorrow. No skipping out."

"What if I do?" Ryouga crosses his arms.

Vector smirks. "I'll bring even more rabbits."

"They’re sleeping on your bed.”

“That’s up to them.”

As if on cue, something in Ryouga’s hood stirs.

“What the—”

“You didn’t notice?” Vector laughs. Usually, that’d be irritating. Right now, Ryouga welcomes it.

That’s an issue.

~*~

The woods are never a fun place to be in, this time is no exception, especially because of the whole ‘don’t let go of your partner’s hand’ thing.

And so it is that Vector is digging his nails into Ryouga’s hand, because what other pastime does the guy have?

“We’ll split from the group as soon as possible.”

“Got it.”

Their plans are interrupted by, of course, Umimi. “You two are walking right behind me.”

“Why?”

“I think you’re a smart kid and you already know the answer, Ryouga.”

Yes, I know the answer, and you know why it pisses me off.

Ryouga sighs, Vector sticks out his tongue as soon as Umimi turns.

Then. “You aren’t gonna pull at my tongue again?” Vector grins.

“What? No.” Ryouga almost lets go of Vector’s hand. “You’re fucking weird.”

(Ryouga suspects that Vector would’ve bitten off his finger.)

“Says the guy who’s scared of his twin sister.”

“Don’t act like you wouldn’t be scared of Rio.”

“No way.”

Ryouga makes a mental note to change that impression of Vector’s sometime. “Anyway. Where did you put the rabbit?”

“I put it back to where I had it from.”

“That’s considerate, by your standards.”

Vector’s nails dig deeper into Ryouga’s skin. “What was that?” A smile.

“You’re childish.”

“We are children.”

~*~

After a lot of deliberately annoying Umimi, playing with wild rabbits and faking sickness, Vector finally manages to get himself and Ryouga separated from the group.

“Finally.” Vector lets go of Ryouga’s hand.

“What now?” Ryouga sits down, looking at the light filtering through the leaves of the trees.
“Dunno.” The wild rabbit Vector has befriended— Ryouga doesn’t know how, but rabbits seem to love Vector as much as he loves them— runs off when Vector sits down, too. “Think they’ll look for us?”

“We could hide on a tree.”

“Race?”

Ryouga nods. “Ready?”

Vector already started climbing.

Bastard, Ryouga thinks, and he catches up easily.

~*~

So, Vector is bad at this. Which explains why he cheated.

“Need help?”

“As if you would.” Vector scowls, trying to remove his shirt from a branch.

“If you get seen, I get seen too. And I already won.”

“I don’t need your help, Nasch.”

“Whatever.” Ryouga keeps climbing, trying to avoid branches with little success. “So. About what I said.”

“You were serious?”

“Yeah. You’ll have to deal with Rio though.” Ryouga sits down on the biggest branch he can find at the top.

“Like I said, unlike you, I’m not scared.” Vector finally reaches the top, too. “So, what kept you awake last night?”

“I dreamt about—” Ryouga reaches for his necklace. “Where’s my necklace!?”

Vector blinks. “The one you always wear?”

“Yeah.” Ryouga looks around, but it’s nowhere in sight. “—You have it, right.” He reaches forward to the pockets of Vector’s jacket.

“No, I don’t, what—” Vector lets out a yelp when Ryouga loses his balance, causing Vector to get dragged along and fall.

“Damn—” Ryouga barely gets a hold of a branch, Vector’s wrist in his free hand. “Jump off! It should be safe at this distance.”

For a bit, Ryouga can see Vector’s surprised face, then his hair covers it.

“A—Alright!” Vector jumps, making a somewhat bad landing.

Ryouga holds onto the branch with his other hand now, pulling himself up before climbing down. Vector’s crouching in the grass, looking at something on the ground.

“Oi, what are you—” Ryouga is interrupted by Vector holding out his necklace.

“Found.”

Ryouga blinks. “Thank you.”

“I just didn’t want to owe you anything,” Vector says, and Ryouga can tell it’s a lie in many ways. “So? The picture.”

“Family.”

“Aaaaaaand?”

“Gone now, except for Rio,” Ryouga adds, and half the words get stuck in his throat.

“What—”

“Accident.”

Vector nods, slowly. “Then where do you live now?”

“Orphanage.”

“That explains a lot.”

“Right.” Ryouga puts the necklace in his pocket, the cord is broken.

“Sucks,” says Vector, and that’s the best thing he could’ve said.

Ryouga nods. “Sucks.”

He doesn’t want to use too many words for this, doesn’t want the sympathy. Especially not Vector’s. Vector, of all people, would know why he doesn’t.

(Perhaps Vector’s silence reinforces that belief of Ryouga’s.)

“I’ll take you up on it,” says Vector. “Eventually.”

“I hope you don’t have standards when it comes to food.” Ryouga doesn’t appreciate the orphanage food which is just the same three meals looped over and over.

Then again, it was quite the drop from home.

(Ha, home.)

“Since when?”

“You mean— oh.” Ryouga bites his lip. “First year of elementary.”

Vector looks at Ryouga’s hair, and Ryouga answers the unspoken question by nodding.

Yes, the orphanage just really doesn’t care.

“We should get going.” Ryouga starts walking.

When he looks back to see if Vector is following, Vector looks like he wants to say something.

He doesn’t.

~*~

“Where have you been?” Tobio and Umimi look half-concerned, half-utterly-unsurprised because this is Ryouga and when has Ryouga not ditched class?

“Vector was playing with rabbits.”

“Na— I mean, Ryouga was climbing trees.”

Ryouga elbows Vector, Vector elbows him back.

Umimi sighs. “At least you found us. We’re gonna go look for some common leaves now. And don’t forget to hold your partner’s hand.”

Vector makes a face and takes Ryouga’s hand again.

~*~

Time passes faster after that. Vector seems more bearable when he’s only being a dick for half the time, and they manage to cooperate to spend as little time as possible with the rest of the class.

In the evenings, Ryouga plays Vector’s friend in the background, to the point where he even has to actually talk to Vector’s mom while trying to sound polite.

It’s. Okay, actually.

It could be worse, Ryouga thinks.

“Oi, Vector.”

Vector pauses in the middle of removing a rabbit from his deck. “Yeah?”

“Why don’t you tell her you’re staying over at my place? It doesn’t really matter if you actually do, but that might be easier.”

(Because if there’s one thing Ryouga hates, it’s adults not doing their job. The orphanage’s people, Vector’s father— it pisses him off.)

Vector nods, for a bit, but then, “Is this a justice thing, too?”

“Got a problem with that?”

“I bet that’ll get you killed one day.”

“So what?”

“So nothing, you can explain to my mom that you’re kidnapping her son.” Vector hands Ryouga his phone.

Ryouga rolls his eyes. “You can also decline, you know.”

“You know there’s nothing worse than the current situation.”

“Then shut up and stop complaining.” Ryouga dials Vector’s mother’s number— which, apparently, is saved under a string of characters that Ryouga identifies as English, and is not the number Vector saved as ‘home’.

Concerning.

~*~

The way back is… a thing. Vector is more tired than usual, also whinier than usual, and also more annoying than usual. But Ryouga is quite used to the guy half-sleeping on him at this point, so that’s less of a concern.

The bus is unusually quiet, but then again they are departing at night.

“Hey, hey, Nasch.” Vector is almost-whispering.

“What.”

“Do they allow you to eat without a napkin there?”

“Of course?”

Vector makes a noise of excitement. “I’m looking forward to it. Also, look, phecda is brighter again.”

Vector is insufferable, but insufferable is still better than most other things.

“Benetnasch is brighter,” says Ryouga, but this time the argument makes him chuckle.

A squeak.

Ryouga narrows his eyes. “What the fuck. You didn’t take the rabbit, did you?"

Vector starts giggling. “You fell for it!”

“You bastard—”

From the front, they hear a tired, “Ryouga, language.”

"Yeah, yeah!" Ryouga sighs. “I’m sleeping. Don’t draw on my face again.”

“I’ll think about it.” Vector smiles.

“Or else I’m never dueling you again.”

“I’ll draw a shark?”

“I hate you.”