"Heracles and me?" Kiku repeated, glancing at Arthur. Arthur nodded slowly, searching Kiku's face for any trace of a lie, and finding only surprise and disbelief. Kiku shook his head and frowned; it made Arthur wince. Now he felt awkward by asking.
"We are just friends… nothing else. Why?" Kiku said.
"It's just that… Alfred told me he overheard you and Heracles talking about maids in Heracles's room and, and I'm just wondering…" The more Arthur spoke the more Kiku's brows furrowed. What made it worse was the hurt look in his face.
"There is nothing between us. You know about cosplay, right? That's the outfit we were talking about. There's an event coming soon and we were trying to think about something to wear for cross dressing."
"I see…" Arthur replied softly, looking away and biting his lip. He should have known better, but he asked anyway.
"I thought you believed me, Arthur-san…"
"Just what was it in Alfred's statement that made you doubt me like that?"
"No, that's not it… I just… I…" Arthur stammered, eyes darting anywhere but at Kiku's disappointed expression. Kiku crossed his arms impatiently.
"I… I'm jealous" he muttered between his palms. Kiku's disappointment changed to embarrassment, his face taking on a slightly pink color.
"Are you?" Kiku mumbled, not looking away from Arthur's green eyes.
"I am… that's why I'm so worried."
"I… I see… there's nothing between us. I can make sure of that, Arthur-san," Kiku said gently but firmly.
"Kiku…" Arthur began.
"Kiku!" Yao's piercing voice effectively threw Arthur off. He turned around to see the Chinese brother heading toward them in a brisk march. He grumbled in protest; it was almost six in the evening, which meant it was time for them to head back.
"Let's go home, aru. I finished early today." Yao grinned, swinging his bag over his shoulder. Kiku nodded at his brother and stood up.
"Shall we go home together, Arthur-san?" Kiku said, making Arthur agree in earnest.
"I hope I can," Arthur said meaningfully, giving Yao a smug look.
Yao rolled his eyes. "Fine, aru. I will send you home," he grunted at his brother, who smiled happily.
Arthur leaned on the back seat and groaned loudly.
"Are you tired?" Kiku asked from the passenger's, looking back at Arthur. Yao turned the car towards Arthur's dormitory, opposite from their house.
"Quiet. You know, you work too much; I can barely take note of everything that's said in class…" Kiku chuckled at him.
"You should learn to pay more attention instead of sleeping."
"I wasn't sleeping… Speaking of sleeping, Heracles was almost snoring through the whole lesson…" he muttered, closing his eyes.
"Really, aru. Aren't you the leader of the group? I wonder how it can manage with someone like you," Yao said, chuckling. His eyes changed direction toward the rear-view mirror, where he noticed a motorcycle tailing the car at a slow pace. His expression turned serious.
"I think we are almost at your dorm," Yao announced. Arthur quickly sat up and took his bag.
He was dropped at the gate of his dorm, and much to Arthur's surprise, the car didn't leave immediately. Yao only drove off right after he went inside the building. Arthur watched the car disappear from the glass door after giving a light wave. Then he turned around and headed for the elevator.
"Welcome home…" Hong said as soon as Kiku and Yao entered the dining room.
"Aiyaa… we went home a bit late today, aru. Sorry Hong, you even had to make dinner for us," Yao said, taking a seat beside Yong Soo who was eating as fast as he could. Hong nodded, preparing another bowl of chicken noodles for his brothers.
"Mmm this looks tasty," Kiku said when he looked down at the steaming noodles before him, stomach churning at the wonderful aroma.
"It tastes greats, Kiku-nii, Hyung nim!" Yong Soo laughed in-between mouthfuls.
"Don't talk while you are eating, Yong Soo," Hong scolded lightly. He resumed his seat next to Kiku, continuing his dinner.
"But it really tastes good, aru. It's not just because we are hungry…" Yao happily slurped his noodles. Maybe Hong should do the cooking with him next time.
"By the way Kiku-nii…" Hong put in, "I want you to be more careful these days…" The statement was loud enough for Yao and Yong Soo to hear, so that three pairs of eyes were looking at him, one more confused than the others.
"What's wrong?" Kiku asked, but Hong only shrugged.
"I don't know. But I have to tell you that my instinct never lies…" he said. Yao looked at Hong, whose face was still expressionless. His mind reeled back to the motor cycle following them a while ago.
"Maybe it is better if you went home faster, aru. Better to be safe than sorry…" Yao said slowly. Kiku and Yong Soo looked at each other and then at their brothers.
"I will try…" Kiku promised in vain.
Kiku was dragging his easel to the corner of the room when he spotted Ivan standing next to the entrance of his classroom. He tried ignoring him and straightened up once he was sure that the easel was well out of the way of incoming people. When he began fixing his things though, Ivan made a beeline towards him, still with that annoying smile on his face.
"Are you finished for today?" Ivan asked. Kiku slipped his papers inside his bag and zipped it closed.
"Not yet, I still have one more lesson and I have to go to the printer's to print a poster. Do you need something?" Kiku raised his eyes at Ivan.
"I was just wondering, if you have been thinking about what I had said previously…" Ivan said. Kiku's face hardened.
"I have been thinking about it, Ivan-san. But I don't think I'm at fault here, since I know that what I'm doing is pretty much right. I have no intention of having Arthur-san passed around like a ball. Besides, he has his own heart, and we should just let him do whatever he pleases… Now if you are done, I still have another class to go to." Kiku walked past him, not failing to bump him as he left. Ivan glared at him, his fists clenching painfully.
"You know what… I think Arthur would be happy back with Alfred, and I'm going to do what I can to make that happen."
Kiku stopped. He turned and scowled at Ivan.
"Do whatever you want; but in the end it's still Arthur-san's choice. Alfred hurt him once, and I believe Arthur-san deserves someone other than him… someone who can appreciate him fully." With that, Kiku left the classroom from the back door, leaving Ivan furious.
"You two," he snapped suddenly, "you know where Kiku lives, right?" From somewhere near the entrance door emerged two of Ivan's comrades, fidgeting slightly.
"Y-yes…" Raivis and Toris mumbled.
"Good. Now I want you two to follow me. We have something to do," Ivan said sharply, leaving the classroom with the two following at his wake.
Kiku looked at the dark sky, having just finished printing a large poster for tomorrow. He was glad he had been able to finish on time. Rushing a printing tomorrow would mean missing a class and having to queue in with the other students also cramming for a deadline. He looked at the folded poster inside the transparent cylinder plastic and smiled admiringly at his work. It wasn't half bad; at least he could make the execution much better than the previous ones he had made. Now all he needed was to be careful enough not to have it dirtied or ruined.
He started walking towards the direction of his house; he was a bit far from home. He had made Yao worry about coming home late, insisting that Yao should go ahead since he had no idea how long the printing would take. He glanced sideways at the passing cars and street lights as he walked, taking in the chilly weather. Winter was about to come, and he wondered vaguely if Arthur had any plans for the coming break. They had almost finished their semester, and it would be fun if he and Arthur could go somewhere together for a bit of relaxation. All of these conflicts with Ivan and Alfred were taking a toll on him. No… Alfred actually… wasn't doing anything. Only Ivan was. And he kept on pestering him.
Kiku's eyes were on his shoes as he hurried. His face was beginning to adapt a mad gleam. Who was Ivan to disturb both Arthur and himself! Wasn't it Alfred who broke up with Arthur and left him in the rain just like that a year ago? And now he was asking Arthur to come back, just because… Arthur did not follow him to America? Regrets always came late… and now Ivan was declaring it all to be Kiku's fault. He sighed in frustration, stopping near a dumpster.
Maybe it would've been better if I had never opened up my feelings to others… First Yao-nii… and now Arthur-san… I keep getting into trouble…
He felt his chest pinching and quickly shook his head. He had had enough of the past, and he shouldn't be thinking about it like that actually, but all of the things going on around him made him feel like he should take action. Should he tell Arthur about it? But what if Arthur thought he was lying, thought he was badmouthing Alfred behind his back? A part of him wanted to keep everything to himself, but another side of him had grown tired of all of this. Should he end it? No, it would make him look bad, and he wouldn't be any better than Alfred. He had promised Arthur he wouldn't leave him just like that… Kiku shut his eyes. He was greatly confused, and was desperate for someone to talk to, but… there seemed to be no one. Not even Yao, who would probably rage at Arthur for 'hurting' his little brother. Feliciano always meant well, but he could never keep his mouth shut, and Ludwig couldn't even relate to love problems…
His mind in turmoil, Kiku was unaware of someone approaching him quietly from behind. Without warning he was pushed towards a dirty alley, tripping and landing on the ground. Someone forced him up by the arm. Footsteps. Kiku's eyes went wide when he saw Ivan standing before him with a long pipe, that annoying smile never leaving his face. He drew nearer, deliberately stepping on Kiku's poster. Kiku watched despairingly at it.
"Wha—" He felt two people holding him tightly, one slightly smaller and shaking like a man with a bad cold. Raivis was surprisingly strong when Kiku tried to struggle free.
"I'm sorry, Kiku," Toris mumbled as softly as he could. Kiku realized he knew both of them. Those two always followed Ivan everywhere, even if it was obvious that they didn't enjoy it. Kiku couldn't do anything else but glare at Ivan a few steps away from him.
"What do you want to do with me?" Kiku demanded.
"It seems that you will never back off from Arthur if I don't use force. Lucky we follow you everywhere and know when you are alone, da. I think I need to teach you a few lessons for taking someone's boyfriend. Don't you agree with me, da?" Ivan said, playfully swinging his pipe. Kiku eyed him as if the Russian had gone mad.
"What? What are you talking about, 'taking someone's boyfriend'? Are you mad?"
"Stop him from talking, da. I'm not finished," Ivan told one of his comrades. Kiku received a fist on his cheek from Toris. It was only due to Ravis' stead grip that he did not topple down.
'Shit, I didn't bring my sword! Who knows what will happen. Damn these two are really holding me tight.'
"Let me put this straight: you hurt Alfred's feelings by taking Arthur from him. I wonder how you managed to do that, da. After all, Arthur has been together with Alfred for almost two years. He went back to America, but Arthur tried to stop him, da. That clingy Arthur surprisingly didn't follow him to America even if Alfred's brother was sick, da. He didn't even want to receive any phone calls or replied to any emails. I was there with him that time, da. Alfred was so frustrated; I wonder why Arthur ended their relationship just like that. And guess what; we got the answer upon coming back here. Basically it's you who took him from Alfred. Now I'm going to punish you, da."
Ivan's explanation only served to confuse Kiku even more. Something was extremely wrong with his perception. Arthur was the one who ended their relationship? No, he saw it with his own eyes; it was Alfred who left Arthur in the rain. Kiku's head was spinning, he did not know anymore, it must be a huge misunderstanding between the two.
"Your explanation doesn't make any sense! Why are you even telling me this?"
"Isn't that obvious? I thought you were smart…" Ivan's laughter was strained, and suddenly Kiku was hit with a realization.
"Are you… jealous?" he said. The question made Ivan stiffen. His look was now of pure hatred.
"I'm right, aren't I Ivan-san? You… defending Alfred like this… are you in love with h…?" The rest of the sentence was violently cut off when Ivan suddenly swung the pipe at Kiku's stomach. Kiku coughed and doubled up in pain, his vision turning blurry. He felt like vomiting. The two comrades looked at him worriedly.
"Say any more, and I will kill you, da."
Kiku clenched his fists, forcing himself to look Ivan in the eye.
"Don't you feel like you should just take Alfred for yourself rather than destroying my relationship with Arthur?" he shouted, struggling to get free. He received a punch on his nose for his efforts. Kiku grunted and felt his nose bleeding, the blood dripping to his jaw and down to the dirty ground. Was this how Yong Soo felt when he had hit him?
"Go on; I like punching you. And then I will kill you slowly."
"Why are you ignoring my question?"
Kiku eyed the long pipe high in the air.
"Because it's not necessary to answer. You will be dead anyway." Ivan swung his pipe and Kiku closed his eyes. Toris and Raivis continued to hold onto him, too afraid to move even knowing they might get hit.
A sharp sound of metal against metal pierced the air, and Kiku cracked an eye opem, wondering what had happened. His eyes found Yao standing in front of him with a wok in his hands, defending him from the pipe.
"Yao-san!" Kiku called out, watching Ivan pull his pipe back from his brother. Yao turned his head as he raised his wok higher, his eyes showing concern at the blood dripping from Kiku's broken nose. Raivis and Toris couldn't help but let out a relieved sighs.
"I'm sorry, Kiku, I'm late. Tomorrow I will teach you to fight without a sword, aru." Yao turned to face Ivan again, glowering at him. "Long time no see, Ivan. Don't you dare touch my brother, aru."
"Yao…" Ivan could hardly believe the sight of the Chinese standing furious before him.
"Now if you have further business, you can talk about it with me, aru. Or my brothers…" Yao pointed to the two figures behind Ivan; Yong Soo looked like an enraged cat with its fur up on end, while Hong stood ever expressionless with his sword poised in the air. Ivan regarded them and feigned a bored look.
"…I guess we are finished for today then; let's go both of you." Ivan lowered his pipe and left. Toris and Raivis looked at each other with relief before releasing Kiku and running after Ivan. Kiku collapsed to the ground, coughing. Yong Soo and Hong quickly ran to their brother, helping him get up. Kiku gave a sharp cry and clenched his stomach.
"Can you stand, aru?" Yao stepped in and aided his brothers with Kiku.
"How did you know I was here?" Kiku's voice was hoarse and cracking.
"You always print your documents around here, aru. And besides, I asked Hong to follow you secretly because I'm worried, aru. He called me when you were pushed into this alley, so I quickly drove here, aru. I'm glad I wasn't late. Yong Soo insisted on coming too."
"I… I see…" Kiku gasped and allowed Hong to assist him.
"Are you okay, aru? Let's go to the clinic nearby, aru." Yao asked him in worry; he touched Kiku's bruised cheek lightly.
"I'm okay… I think…" Kiku said, eyeing the ruined poster forlornly. And he was bruised all over too. There was no way he could go to university like this.
"That guy will never change, aru," Yao scoffed and helped Kiku lean on him, letting Hong take care of his wok and sword. Kiku wondered at him for a moment, but then decided he could ask Yao on what he meant about Ivan later, his eyes and mind having grown tired of everything. All he wanted now was to sleep and rest his mind until the morning came.