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a fickle heart in five parts

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“Would you like to come live with me?”

Shigure almost felt as though he were asking his feet, rather than the boy sitting at them.

In the quiet, Yuki sat unresponsive. He was curled over himself in such a way where his head hung between his knees, serving as a loose vice over his ears. His hands sat limp at his sides, palms upturned. If he weren't sitting up, and if the vague wheeze of his breathing hadn't quickened at his question, Shigure might have thought Akito had finally done the boy in.

He stood patiently in the dark room waiting for a response. A glance at the door here, a glance through the long windows there. Waiting for even the smallest affirmative so he could leave what was, truly, a depressing room to spend even a moment in. The late afternoon light caught some wayward dust particles strung midair. Shigure wondered when the windows were last opened.

He had to give it to Hatsuharu. His young cousin had spent quite some time in here himself to keep Yuki company. Shigure had noticed this behavior some time ago when he was still living on the inside, at times catching the boy sneak down corridors with Rin in tow. But, he'd never tell. Though Hatsuharu’s fondness for the rat was an interesting development, it didn't particularly concern him.

“Why?”

Looking down, Shigure met Yuki’s eye, the boy’s head finally upturned. There was a glimmer of something behind them, behind the wash of defeat, but hope wasn’t exactly the word that came to mind. Longing, perhaps, but suspicion, most definitely.

Yuki had no reason to trust him, he knew. The thought hadn’t crossed his mind until Hatsuharu had begged him to take his friend out of this place, gripping his sleeve so tight he felt no option but to give an answer. Yuki, in general, didn’t cross his mind very often. He may as well have been another one of the ornaments lining the inner estate’s halls.

Do you think he’d trust me, of all people? sat on his tongue, but he didn’t pose the question to the boy. He had only hummed, amused, and told his cousin to call him “sensei” from then on out in return for his friend’s freedom. A small price, he admitted, but he couldn’t help it -- Hatsuharu looked desperate, and Shigure was bored, living all alone in his house in the woods. More than that, he knew it would burn Akito a little bit more to even entertain the thought of losing yet another one of her things in so short a time.

That alone was enough for him to consider taking his strange cousin away. Like punishing a child for doing poorly on a test, or being rude; you’ll get this back once you fixed what you’ve done...

When he had returned home and aired out an upstairs room, he wondered, then, how he would convince Akito to let Yuki go. It was his birthright, after all, and he had been well-cemented into the part. For her to let him out of the toybox, straight into a betrayer’s home, was probably a long-shot.

I’ll manage, he had thought. He always did. At the very least, it would be fun to see her reaction.

He tilted his head somewhat at Yuki’s question.

“You don’t have to come with me,” he said, “if you like staying here.”

A dodge. Yuki flinched minutely at the suggestion, though, and pressed his palms flat to the ground.

“I…” He struggled a moment before saying, “But what about Akito?”

Shigure offered a small smile. “Akito agreed to let you stay with me.”

Just barely, he thought, though he was surprised that she had relented at all. There had been the usual vitriol, the myriads of “I hate you” and “I don't want you in my sight,” but he had quieted her with a few delicately placed words. “He’s not a child anymore, you know,” and “They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

She had paused to glare at a spot in the corner of her room. Hands clenched tight at her sides, ready to strike him.

“Take him.” Her words were acid as she turned away from him to instead face her window. “We'll see how quickly he leaves you to come back to me. Even an idiot boy like him can see how horrible you are.”

He had placated her with an “of course,” with a smile that she held only scorn for. He watched her shoulders draw tight, head stoop low, nails dig dangerously into her palms, until she told him to leave.

He did so. But as he moved to slide the door of her room shut, he stopped to observe her for a last, long moment. She always looked more fragile up close, but even from this distance, he could only see her for what she was: a small girl sitting beneath the looming shadow of her patriarchal title. Something stitched onto her unwilling bones, weighty and ancient. Forced and untrue.  

The door closed with a clack. He started his slow walk to the rat’s room.

The heart wants what it wants, after all.

Yuki’s eyes widened, only to be quickly overtaken by his brows pinching. He sat up a little straighter; he looked at the door, then back down at his knees. His hands curled.

“I don’t…” He mumbled something, then shot his hand up to cover a short cough. “Don’t… Don’t make fun of me, Shigure . ”  

Shigure couldn’t help but huff a small laugh. “Make fun of you?”

He knew what he meant. Still, he watched the boy squirm, no longer meeting his eyes as he returned his posture to a loose curl. His voice became achingly quiet, then, as he said,

“Akito wouldn’t do that.”

“Ah, but he did. Listen...” He lowered himself to kneel in front of Yuki, and the boy drew back slightly. “I have a room ready for you at my home, if you want it, Yuki-kun. And if I were you, I would take the offer before Akito decides to take it back.”

The mild threat made Yuki look at him again. His eyes seemed to search for a lie, or a catch, but Shigure only offered him a smile.

The boy’s eyes returned to the door. Shadows passed by under the strip, but didn’t pause. He coughed weakly into his hand again.

Shigure rose to his height, languid, and tucked his hands into his sleeves. With a shrug, he said, “But, it’s up to you.”

He started to turn, as though to leave, but Yuki shifted quickly. The boy’s hand shot out and grabbed the bottom of Shigure’s yukata, stilling him.

“Wait,” he said, and Shigure looked back at him. Though Yuki kept his head dipped low, the fierceness in his grip said enough. “I… I want to leave this place.”

Shigure paused. Then, he bent slightly to give Yuki’s head a small pat, though the gesture seemed to startle him, as his hand quickly retreated from Shigure’s robes. When he looked up, Shigure offered another smile, straightening again.

“Well, it’s settled, then. Let’s get your things, yes?”

Another pause. Yuki shifted somewhat until his arms were loosely crossed along his ribs, and his eyes again drifted around the dreary room before falling back on Shigure.

“...If you’re not lying, then…I guess…”

It was the closest to an okay that he would offer. As Yuki stood, he held himself gently, sparing a long glance out the window, out to the sparse garden that he had committed himself to watching in his long hours alone. When he finally faced the door, Shigure slid it open and stepped out. Though Yuki tried to settle the worry on his face, pin his arms to his sides, he still paused when he stepped over the threshold. Frozen, as though waiting for someone to round the corner and spot him, to tell him to get back inside and never leave again.

But, the hallway was silent, empty save for Shigure. And as they walked together to retrieve the boy’s things, Shigure couldn’t help but feel a little pleased when his cousin failed to hide a cautious smile behind his pale hand.  

Akito, he thought, can you feel him leaving?