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Six Years Apart (For a Ray of Sunlight)

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Shouta stumbled when someone bumped into his back roughly, drawing him out of his wandering thoughts. His fumbled with the sack of fish he had in his hands, barely catching it before it could spill all over the ground. “Shit – watch where you're going!” he snapped, turning quickly to glare at whoever had bumped him. Gods, he hated most of the people in this stupid village, most of them had no manners whatsoever -

As soon as he set eyes on the idiot who bumped into him though, he choked. Hizashi was just behind him, sprawled on the ground and rubbing at his head.

Oh. Oh shit.

“Hey, hey!” Hizashi laughed easily, standing carefully and brushing over the seat of his pants. “If I could watch where I was going don't you think I'd be doing more than entertainment in the communal hall?”

Shouta did his best not to groan. The first time he ever speaks to Hizashi – son of the chief, best singer on the island, charismatic ray of sunshine – he tells him to “watch where he's going”.

Tells Hizashi. Who just so happens to be blind.

“I – sorry, I didn't – “ Kill him please. Shouta just wanted to go back to his tiny little cabin and bury himself in his blankets. Maybe never see the light of day again.

“It's fine, really! No harm, no foul.” Hizashi tilted his head and stared in Shouta's direction, humming with a smile on his face. Shouta could feel himself going red; he'd never once spoken to Hizashi, so he'd never had the boy's attention. Eyesight or not, having those pretty green eyes of his on him made him go warm. “I...don't think I've ever heard your voice before. Are you new to the village? Visitor or something?”

“Er. No.” Shouta fidgetted in place, trying to hide his slowly reddening face. “I'm Shouta. I live up by the path to the forest.”

Hizashi blinked, surprise flitting across his face. “Shouta...? Oh, you're that kid taken in by the village six years ago, right? The one really good at hunting dragons?”

Shouta winced. Yeah, that was him. He hated that people remembered who he was based on how he arrived at the village. “Y-yeah. That's. Me.”

A bright laugh left Hizashi. And yeah, that reminded Shouta exactly how much hearing him talk or sing made his heart beat harder. “Wow, Shouta, nice to finally meet you!” Hizashi chirped, holding a hand out in greeting. Shouta hesitated, but moved his sack to one arm and held his hand out to shake – which gets shaken. Vigorously. “Man, to think it would only take six years, huh?”

“I. Like to keep to myself.”

“Yeah, I've heard,” Hizashi snickered, letting go of Shouta hand. “My dad talks about you all the time, you know. Youngest to start training, one of the most talented warriors this village has ever seen – oh!” Hizashi leaned in, expression bright. “Hey, I think you're old enough for the Games! Were you going to participate at all this year?”

Shouta grimaced. The Games. An annual meeting of the sister villages to show off their most talented in a series of competitions. The last time he'd gone to one was when he was still living in his original village, and the only reason he'd gone was because that year they were hosting. It was awful – people everywhere, roaring crowds, drunken adults and screaming children, and the streets were packed so tight that the short walk to the beach from his home took nearly half an hour. “No, I'm. Staying behind to help protect the village.”

He thought that would be the end of it, but if anything Hizashi's expression got brighter. “That's cool! I'm staying behind, too – dad says it's better that I stay and help Tensei keep control of things while he's gone, which pfft, we all know Tensei is better at organization and delegation than I'll ever be. That's why Tensei is in line to be the next chief and not me!”

Hizashi laughed at that, but Shouta bit his lip. He wanted to say that Hizashi would make a great chief, that he would be amazing at handling the responsibilities. But he didn't. “So you...won't be going to perform during the Games?”

Hizashi blinked, then smiled. Delighted. “Nope! Hey, have you watched any of my performances, Shouta?” he asked, tilting his head in question.

“Er...” Only all of them since he had come to the village. “Yeah. I. Mostly cook for myself, though, so...I don't spend a lot of time in the communal hall.” Not an outright lie, just an implication of altered facts.

“Neat!” Hizashi pumped a fist in victory. “Awesome! I really hope you enjoyed them!”

“I, um, yes?” Good gods, Shouta wanted to hide under a rock. Having Hizashi's undivided attention was not something he was prepared for. “Yeah, they were. They were really good.”

“Aww, thanks!” Hizashi grinned. “You know, we should hang out while the rest of the village is away for the games! It's not like I'll be busy, and so long as you're not on patrol all the time you've got a lot of free time coming up, right?” Shouta could only flush and make a bit of a garbled noise, to which the blond took as confirmation. “So it's decided! We can hang out, and do stuff together, and heeey, I just had a thought!” Hizashi leaned in again, hand fumbling for Shouta's shoulder and squeezing in excitement. “So, since we'll have a bunch of free time, do you think you can show me a few tricks with a sword or something?”

Wait. What?

“Huh?”

The blond smiled sweetly. “Come on, what harm will it do? We'll have a bunch of free time, and there's only so many times we can play shogi to keep ourselves occupied, right? I can keep you company, we can hang out and do stupid teenager things, and you can maybe show me a couple tricks to sword fighting!”

What. “No. Absolutely not.” Shouta stepped out of Hizashi's hold, causing the other to stumble. “I'm – I will not be responsible for you stabbing yourself or. Or something.”

Hizashi pouted. “I'm not gonna stab myself! And I definitely won't stab myself if someone will show me how to handle a blade!” He clapped his hands together in a parody of a prayer and did a...rather effective impersonation of a puppy dog begging. Very, very effective considering that he couldn't make eye contact at all with those pretty green eyes of his. “Please, pretty please, with a cherry on top?”

“Why don't you ask Tensei?” Shouta asked, taking a wary step back. He already knew the answer to his question, but. “He's your best friend, right? And currently second-in-command for the guard, right?”

“I've tried, Shouta, but he's literally been forbidden from teaching me anything to do with weapons,” Hizashi whined.

“Well in that case, it's a definite no on my part. If he's forbidden, then that means I'm forbidden, too.” No way in hell Shouta was going to both endanger Hizashi and piss off the chief.

“B-but – !” Hizashi's expression twisted into something...no longer playfully pitiful and more actually hurt. Shouta could feel his chest tighten at how sad the other looked, but took a steadying breath. He was doing this for his own good.

“No, Hizashi.” But damn if the way the blond seemed to wilt in front of him didn't tug at his heart strings. Shouta sighed. “We can still. Hang out or whatever. But I'm not teaching you how to fight.”

Hizashi smiled at that. Not quite as bright as before, but at least he didn't look like he was about to cry. “Okay, okay. Hanging out it is!” He grinned cheekily. “I hope you're ready to get your butt handed to you in shogi, then! I'm pretty good, especially since I can only play it blind!”

Shouta smiled. He didn't bother to smother it like he normally would have while talking to anyone else; Hizashi couldn't see the way he looked at him. Couldn't see how lovestruck he was. “Sounds like a challenge then.”

He was still nervous about spending time with Hizashi, let alone talking to him for just a few minutes. But...he wanted to keep that smile on his face. It was the whole reason he was still there, after all.

Six years ago...

When it was discovered that Shouta's parents were neglecting and abusing him, the village chief decided to ship him off to a sister village instead of kicking out his parents and letting another family adopt him. “The work they do for the village is too valuable, as much as it pains me to admit it,” the chief had said as he helped Shouta onto a ship bound for his new home. In a way, Shouta knew it was the logical choice. He was only eleven, barely able to help with various chores or jobs (even though he'd been doing most of the work around his home since he was old enough to hold a pot).

Of course they would choose his waste of space parents over him.

So when he arrived at his new village, Musutafu – further North, where it mostly rained during the warmer months and snowed during the rest of the year – he calmly asked the chief there if he could please have a place to himself. Sutounu, a massive man of a chief, dropped down to his level and asked him why he wanted to be alone and not with a loving family, ready to take him in. He explained that he was used to taking care of himself, had been doing it for so long that trying to let someone take care of him would either be too strange or stress him out.

Sutounu was obviously uncomfortable with the idea, but an elderly man who had lived by himself had recently died and a cabin was vaccant on the edge of the village. Shouta could have a trial period there with someone checking in on him every day for a couple weeks, and they would go from there. It was better than nothing, so Shouta agreed.

Within a week he hated the new village. People looked at him either with suspicion or pity. Everyone knew why he was there, how he had gotten there, and because Shouta was so quiet (he'd always been quiet, even before his parents truly began to hate him) the gossip and rumors just grew. It was awful. The stares as he walked through the village, the whispers when he got his fish and vegetables for the next few days. Why couldn't everyone just leave him alone?

The person checking on him on the evening of his seventh day badgered him into going with him to the communal hall. Said it would be good for Shouta to go and sit with the community, eat with others, blah blah blah. He'd only agreed so the man would stop talking to him. Which was how he found himself sitting in one of the darker corners away from the rest of the village with a plate of food and glaring at anyone who dared come near him.

He'd just wanted to make himself some stew and go to bed early. He really hoped the chief would stop with the check-ins after the two weeks were over.

A hush grew over the crowd as he stabbed his chopsticks into his bits of chicken. Shouta glanced up, and noticed that everyone was looking towards an area that was cleared out. Like...a stage...

Oh, hell no. Shouta did not like sitting in on performances.

He growled down at his food and decided that staying home would be better after all. As quietly as he could, Shouta stood and started towards the doors – unfortunately on the other side of the hall. Luckily everyone was paying attention to whoever was heading for the center of the cleared out space.

“Hey, everyone, thanks for coming out tonight! How are we doing!?”

The voice that spoke over the gathered crowd was...surprisingly young. Young, bright, and carefree. Shouta paused, just within throwing distance of the doors. They sounded maybe his age – he'd never seen a performance done by anyone that wasn't at least fifteen years old. Curious despite himself, he peeked over his shoulder.

A young boy was standing in the middle of the clearing, grinning wide at the cheering and clapping that followed his question. Bright blond hair – a rarity, considering the entire region they were in had predominantly dark hair – was bound in a neat braid down his back, some wilder bangs hanging around his cheerful face. Even from where Shouta was he could see that his eyes were a vibrant green. Like new leaves sprouting in the spring. Tall and lanky and exuding happiness.

Everything that Shouta wasn't.

When the cheering died down a bit, the boy laughed a raised his hands – hands that were holding a small harp. “So I'm sure you all know who I am,” he said, much to the amusement of the crowd. “But from what I hear there's a new person in our village! Shouta, I think his name is?”

The crowd murmured and Shouta tensed. He slowly inched closer to the doors. No way in hell was he going to be called out and stared at by the village.

“Well, wherever you are, new kid, welcome to Musutafu! My name is Hizashi, and if you have any questions about what's what, feel free to come by and ask! I'm usually in the tall house at the top of the hill.” Hizashi held one of his hands up and said in conspiratorial stage whisper, “I hear it's painted green.”

The crowd apparently thought that was the funniest thing they had ever heard in their lives, judging by the raucous laughter that erupted around them. Shouta didn't really understand why. Hizashi laughed along with the crowd, and when the laughter died down again, he smiled. “I just wanted to give you a warm welcome to the village, Shouta! I spent most of the week working on a new song just for you, so...” He placed his fingers on the strings of the harp. “I hope you like it!”

The first few notes were plucked, the crowd quieting down to listen properly, and Shouta grimaced. Yeah, no, he was getting out of there then and there. He hated performances on a good day, and anything that called attention to him was right out. He sighed, a little glad that everyone was watching the kid pluck at the harp, and turned back to the doors. Time to get out of there.

He froze, though, when Hizashi began to sing.

The lyrics were simple, something about following the light in the night. The harp's notes were simple pings of color. There should have been nothing to stop him in his tracks, should have been nothing to make Shouta turn around and stare at the boy performing in the middle of the hall.

But Hizashi's voice was...so beautiful.

The way it dipped and rose. Some notes loud and echoing and others soft and light. The way he could hold a note without any vibrato and then swing right into another note and have it waver so gorgeously. And the more Shouta listened, the more he watched, the more he realized that it wasn't just Hizashi's voice that was beautiful.

Hizashi looked so at home in the middle of the stage, swaying back and forth with his harp as he sang. The dim light of the hall's candles caused his blond hair to near glimmer, and when Hizashi closed his eyes on a particularly high note and raised his head, Shouta's breath caught at the look of pure, simple bliss the boy had on his face. His fingers, long and slim, plucked at the harp's strings with finese – Shouta didn't have to be a musician to know that Hizashi was talented, despite how simple the notes were. And as the song slipped into the bridge, Shouta watched, transfixed, as Hizashi began to dance.

Little steps in time to the song, turns and twirls and even a small leap. Never once losing his place while playing the harp and not stuttering on his singing. It was like watching a faerie dance, or at least what Shouta had always imagined them to look like. When the song finally ended, Hizasi's last note fading slowly and the last plucks from the harp echoing, Shouta felt himself suck in a breath as the crowd around them erupted into cheers and applause.

He didn't clap, too busy trying to catch his breath back. His face felt warm. Heart pounding in his chest. He rubbed his hands against his cheeks as Hizashi broke out into a wide grin, pink from the attention and looking so damn pretty that Shouta felt like he would never breathe right again.

“Thanks everyone! Shouta, I hope you were listening, and welcome to Musutafu!” Hizashi shouted into the hall, bowing deeply once and then walking off the stage.

Off the stage and right toward him.

Shouta felt frozen. Shit, he wasn't ready to talk to anyone, let alone this pretty boy who just sang for him. What the hell was he supposed to say? Hizashi drew nearer and nearer, and Shouta was prepared to bolt –

“Hey, Hizashi, you're going the wrong way!” another voice called out, startling both of them.

Shouta blinked, watching in confusion as Hizashi turned toward the boy who had called out to him. But not fully facing him...? The blond laughed, sheepish, and held out a hand toward a tall boy with black hair walking toward him. “Sorry, Tensei, I think I got turned around while dancing.”

“Yeah, I could tell,” the other boy, Tensei, said. He took Hizashi's hand and placed it on his shoulder, starting to walk back towards another corner of the hall. “Amazing performance, don't get me wrong, but you ended by facing the Southwest side instead of the South side of the hall.”

Hizashi pouted – such a cute expression – and let himself be guided away. “Aww, really? Damn, I thought I had gotten it down right...”

Tensei laughed and patted the hand on his shoulder consolingly. “Hey, don't beat yourself up – considering that you only practiced that for a week, that was absolutely amazing for a blind guy.”

Shouta's stared, watching them walk away from him. Blind. Hizashi, the pretty boy his age with the beautiful voice, was blind. Blind and...Shouta thought over the layout of the village. House at the top of the hill... Blind and living with the chief. Sutounu wasn't blond, wasn't green-eyed – he was a tall, broad man made for swinging his sword and taking down the dragons that attacked every so often. Nothing like the lanky figure of the one walking away.

Shouta swallowed. Whoever Hizashi was, he was deeply cared for and appreciated by the village, if he was adopted by the chief despite being blind. If he was performing and dancing in the communal hall to the delight of everyone there. If he was smiling so carefree.

Everything Shouta wasn't.

He watched Hizashi walk away with his friend, bubbling laughter carrying over the chaos of the rest of the village in the hall, and then quietly left. Walked back to his tiny borrowed cabin at the edge of the village, with his second-hand table and chairs and kitchen and bed. A light pattering of rain began as he started a stew for himself, and when it was ready to eat Shouta sat and ate it slowly.

Over the next few weeks, finally getting the approval to live on his own from the chief, Shouta went the to communal hall on the days he knew Hizashi would be putting on a performance. More often that not he was dancing and singing with others, but Shouta treasured the days when Hizashi went up and performed by himself. He just looked so...happy. So bright, like a ray of sun through a crack in the ceiling. Shouta never stayed long after a performance. Most days he only slid in a few minutes before the start of a show and then left as soon as it was over.

Shouta learned that Hizashi was taken in by chief when he was barely five years old and had been blind his whole life. There was no accident that took his vision, no attack or villain, but the chief loved him like his own blood. He learned that Hizashi was apprenticing under the village potter, carefully learning how to craft wet clay into usable pots and vases and decoration. Hizashi was good at it too; there was talk around the village about granting him access to the pottery shop soon to start working on orders for the village on his own. He learned that Hizashi was loved by everyone in the village. Was always willing to help, to talk, to offer a shoulder or a hug. Everyone thought he was kind and funny, and the girls (and a few boys) giggled over his flirting.

He learned that Hizashi, despite how wonderful and kind and pretty he was, Hizashi would never be considered able to marry because of his lack of vision. If it had been something that happened later in life, perhaps the chief would be looking at possible prospects for him. He learned that Hizashi would also never be allowed to carry a weapon. Never be allowed to defend himself in a village that prided itself on battling and fighting, whether it be against warriors or dragons.

Shouta learned that the blond was seen as one of the most endearing members of the village but, other than his performances and his talent with a pottery wheel, he was deemed pretty much useless.

Shouta thought it all unfair. All of it, everything. Here Shouta was, something seen as a burden by his home village and a quiet thing to pity and avoid by his new village, and there Hizashi was, loved by all and yet not allowed to flourish. The other boy never seemed to let it bother him, which. Honestly made Shouta angry, sad, and relieved. He didn't think he'd know what to do if the happiness that constantly radiated off the boy dimmed.

For a while Shouta didn't know what to do other than go through the motions. And then dragons attacked.

Dragons attacked, taking the livestock and killing those in their way. There was fire and screaming and war cries through the entire village, and for the first time since Shouta was little – since before he was told to keep quiet or he would regret it – Shouta cared. He looked out over the chaos, grabbed up a fallen weapon, and joined in the fight.

But not for the village. For Hizashi.

When everything was over, the chief found him. Found him and helped him bind his few wounds and asked him what he thought he was doing. So Shouta told him. “I was protecting what I thought needed protecting.”

A long conversation later, Shouta was told he'd be officially trained in fighting. He'd be the youngest exception ever, which meant he had to take it seriously. No slacking, no skipping, and he had to follow every instruction and order for his own safety. Shouta agreed with no hesitation.

He'd do it. Maybe he was too nervous that talk to him, too terrified of being turned away and seen for what he was, but...he'd do anything to protect that little ray of sunshine he managed to find in this village.