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Kissing Gakushuu behind the gym had been the kind of rebellious, ill-planned thunderclap of impulse Karma excelled at by the time he was sixteen. It was wish fulfillment, or something. Here he was, the son of the chairman, a boss fight in his own right, kissing back like he was starved for it, arching into Karma’s touch. It made the train of Karma’s thoughts jump track cleanly, irretrievably, leaving him with fragments of thoughts rattling in his head. Whoa, he thought, the sun burning the backs of his eyelids, desire scorching-hot and making him tug Gakushuu closer, leaving a ringlet of bruises shaped like desperation on his skin.

Gakushuu, unhappily surprised in a way that Karma could taste, kissed back with a ferocity that could only mean he thought this was a bad idea. His fingers scratched up panicked arousal up Karma’s neck, trailed into his hair, and he was right, damn him, because both of them already had a hard enough time sliding free of each other. But Gakushuu was evidently already fully invested in this, all close-eyed determination with his body shaking with fine tremors, blushes blossoming on every inch of skin Karma touched. Karma pulled off to nip at his neck and Gakushuu said his name, Karma, in the exact same tone he used when they both ended up in detention and Karma’s dick twitched resentfully in recognition.

In the end his misgivings didn’t come up to much.

He walked away with a heavy desire at the pit of his stomach, remembering the amazement in Gakushuu’s pretty eyes, the rise of color and damp quick breaths as he tried to wrap his scurrying little mind around the way Karma looked at him.

Not bad, for a summertime whim.

*

Later, he recalled that Gakushuu looked shocked. Karma had smiled his hellraiser smile and flicked his eyes down to his lips, and Gakushuu, Gakushuu had let them fall open easy as anything; gasped.

It stayed with him the longest: the coiled satisfaction of getting one in over Gakushuu, the half-second where the most infuriating boy on the planet had been staring, transfixed, at Karma’s mouth.

*

Staying away from each other became progressively harder until Karma was always trailing behind Gakushuu all scheming and distracted, stuck on him even worse than when they’d only been plain rivals. Karma would find him near the vending machines, his mouth slitted into a smirk, and Gakushuu would say, “What now, Akabane,” and Karma would have to think about that one. He’d have to press the pads of his fingers against the flat metal coins in his pockets, lean into Gakushuu’s space, say, “I know you saw the results.”

Feeling untouchable, Karma brought his mouth close like a dare.

The lull in the conversation was intentional; Gakushuu knew how to play this game, clearly, played it dirty and cheap, making like he was checking Karma out again-- sizing him up, a little fake unconvinced pout on his lips that sets Karma’s teeth on edge.

The pause ended when Gakushuu finally said, “What do you have in mind,” but it came out rough, stilted, and he was kissing Karma before he even finished his sentence so it all turned out the same.

*

Asano Gakushuu, the PA system said, a crackle of static that tugged Karma out of his daze. Gakushuu still had his lips parted against Karma’s collarbone, panting softly. He hadn’t noticed.

Karma nudged him. “The final boss is calling the mini boss,” he said.

“Fuck you,” Gakushuu said, not moving.

It wasn’t the best comeback, and Karma felt a little good about screwing the smartass out of him. But then his line had been pretty awful too, so maybe Gakushuu had given as good as he’d gotten.

He began righting himself and redressing Gakushuu in his abandoned layers. Gakushuu allowed himself to be moved around with drowsy suspicion before saying, “Free this afternoon?”

“Aw, are you asking--”

“Finish that sentence and I’ll break your arm and beat you to death with it.” Karma’s delight grew and Gakushuu groaned. “Karma. If my father doesn’t require me for more of his nefarious plans, I want you to teach me that trick you do with your tongue. Then I’ll try it on you until I’ve perfected it, and after that you’ll fuck me.”

Karma’s breath caught and slacks grew tight.

Gakushuu straightened his cardigan, smirked, and said, “I’ll go see what the chairman wants. Later, Karma.” And he walked out.

*

They shared a class not an hour after that and Karma saw Gakushuu falter for the first time, his eyes scudding back and forth from Karma’s before he took his usual seat out front. Karma bit out a smirk at him, weirdly shaken. It was the same feeling he got after heavy rain, like the world he knew had been reinvented with everything in disarray, the order of the world somehow scrambled.

Karma was always reckless with Gakushuu, maybe because Gakushuu was leanly muscled and knew how to twitch his mouth into every kind of filthy challenge, solid under Karma’s hands when he spanned them across his ribs. Everything he did drew out a response that made electricity zip through Karma, leaving him dry-mouthed and pushing harder, and everything was a build-up to a conclusion Karma kept chasing, couldn’t quite see yet. He would press Gakushuu to the fence and push his hand down his trousers, bring him off in rough, urgent strokes, eyes hungrily tracking Gakushuu’s expression.

It was slowly driving him insane. Karma caught himself sneaking glances all throughout class and found that he himself felt terribly contrary, disruptive, every inch the delinquent Gakushuu made him out to be.

The lunch break began and a stairway presented itself. Karma dragged Gakushuu into it.

“Not now,” Gakushuu said through his teeth. His violet eyes still flitted, not looking at Karma. He said again, “If you can’t keep your hands to yourself--”

Karma had always hated his clean profile, the arrogant tilt of his chin. He especially hated it now.  “Hm, let’s see, Gakushuu-kun. Past records show that who, exactly, in this stairway is handsy enough for a handjob at the back of a classroom?”

Gakushuu glared at him sideways, an incredibly vicious and unhappily suspicious look that Karma supposed he was asking for. “So all of this was my idea.”

“No, of course not. That’s why you can’t accept how good it is.”

Gakushuu didn’t relent. It needled at Karma, because Gakushuu was supposed to be smarter than this. “Our system of--what? Academic excellence through sexual gratification is only any good as long as we don’t consider its side-effects. High school, Karma,” he said when Karma began to let his bewildered frustration show. Gakushuu’s mouth was still faintly swollen, shaped into something tired and worn. His eyes were dark.

“We’re in high school, with other high schoolers. High schoolers who should respect and fear me. High schoolers who I should know the inner workings of. The lone wolf persona may fit you, but I can’t keep spending all my time in dimly-lit corridors and street corners anymore, Karma.”

Karma inhaled through his nose. He tried to shrug, failed, and said, “See you around then, Asano,” before he turned to leave.

Gakushuu didn’t stop him. He didn’t expect him to.

What he didn’t expect was the way it kinda ruined him, the way he would keep replaying the startling violet of Gakushuu’s eyes when he opened them after he came. It was supposed to be perfect, the end of a wild, fun ride, but Karma ended up feeling more and more like he’d broken something he couldn’t fix, one of the big things. He didn’t sleep for days, and then passed out in class. The teachers began walking on eggshells around him; the kids avoided him even more. He didn’t care. He didn’t ever really notice.

A few weeks of living behind glass and Nagisa broke into his house, all smiles.

“Come on, on your feet, Karma-kun. Let’s spar.”

“Not in the mood.”

“Wasn’t a request,” Nagisa said, and damn but the military had put a spine in him. Karma stood up, grudgingly impressed. “Right. Since we’re too young to drink and both of us hate the idea anyway, let’s go with this. Anything to get you back in the game, Karma-kun. Or at least replying to messages on the group. Everyone’s worried.”

Blocking Nagisa’s unexpected uppercut to his jaw, Karma said, “Good to see your maternal instincts haven’t left you.”

Nagisa smiled. He still preferred fighting dirty, even though he’d put on enough muscle mass to take Karma in a fair fight. “I only hope it doesn’t come to this every time you and Asano-kun get into a fight.”

Resignation was a foreign emotion, but one that only Nagisa could seem to evoke in him. “Wasn’t a fight. We…broke up, I guess. Or he dumped me.”

“Was it his father?”

“Shockingly, I think it was just him.”

Still smiling, Nagisa flipped Karma over and towered over him, giant-shaped. Karma had an imprecise realization that middle school had made them all like that, gave them all an illusion of strength, of control, when they were all just basically scared kids. He lay on the floor with his eyes open but unseeing, lost in the past, trying to gauge the weight of the terrible memories he had of the world against the vanishingly small good.

“Is this how it’ll be?” His vision was glittery from exhaustion and yes, pain, because Nagisa had punched him in the jaw with no remorse. “For the rest of our lives, we’ll be like this, and you, you’re okay with that?”

“We’re all fucked-up. Maybe more than other teenagers,” Nagisa said. “But isn’t that what Gakushuu-kun liked about you? Even back then. Even when he was in class A and we were in E, he kept coming back. And you said it yourself. He’s the perfect match for you. You followed him into high school. So follow him a little further. The only thing we have left is time.”

The next day he got a text:

Taming a shark is inherently more satisfactory than ruling over guppies.

He said: Spare me, Asano-kun.

It’s Gakushuu. My point is that I’ve had reason to question my priorities.

And you’re way up there.

And I miss you.

Karma tipped his head back.  Sure you don’t want to revert to your aquatic metaphor?

Karma tried not to think about months from now, when he’ll get that itch under his skin and it’ll come bubbling out in Gakushuu’s direction. He tried not to think about their next fight, when Gakushuu will find himself torn --story of his fucking life, and Karma’s, by extension-- between his two great loyalties, to his father and to Karma, and they will end up sick and miserable and hating each other, the thread of understanding between them fraying and ragged in the face of all the malice they were both capable of, far outweighing their combined brilliance, their unsteady love.

This was a chance, and Karma wouldn’t look beyond that. For once he would be unextraordinary; put his faith in luck and love like any idiot on the street, holding Nagisa’s words in his mind: the only thing we have left is time.

He texted Gakushuu, I missed you too, and waited for a reply.