The cool breeze was nice on his skin, so deliciously refreshing… The redhead looked around quickly, seeing that he really was alone for the first time in days. He smiled sneakily to himself and pushed out his lower lip while unbuttoning the front of his shirt quickly, glancing around one last time just to make sure he was really the only one in the field.
No attendants, no parents… not even the dog.
Inoue released a sigh of bliss and allowed himself to tumble backwards into the deep bed of dandelions and wild clover, looking up at the sparkles of sunlight shimmering through the dark green leaves of the tree shadowing him from the noon day heat. He giggled. No books, no rulers smacking across his hands for daydreaming, no reprimands for fidgeting, nothing!
It was good to be out of the house. They’d moved in months ago, but his parents were so strict with what he could and couldn’t do that he never got a moment to himself any more. He missed Samuel, the only attendant Inoue had ever had that let him unbutton his stiff shirts or untie his hair as he pleased. Now there were just the two nasty sisters that looked after him when Mother and Father were too busy.
The redhead nestled himself deeper into the plush green bed of foliage and shivered as the ground beneath him cooled his warm back. He kicked off his shoes and socks, and let his arms fall spread-eagle on either side of him, nearly purring with delight.
He was going to get whipped when he got home for pulling a foolish stunt like running away, but he needed the break or he’d go insane. What kid needed to know geometry? None he’d ever met!
“Whoa. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Inoue bolted upright at the voice, his violet gaze snapping over to the person who had spoken up. A boy with dark brown hair and green-grey eyes was sitting on the grass a few feet away, holding up one of the redhead’s shoes and looking inside with a sceptical glance. “Who are you!” the boy demanded of this stranger, who seemed fascinated with his footwear.
“Name’s Daniel Miller,” the stranger grinned, dropping the shoe. “And I should be asking you who you are, lying around on my family’s property.”
Snatching up his shoes and socks quickly, Inoue brought them closer to himself like a child grabbing toys from his playmates. “Inoue Garnet Rumford, the third,” the boy murmured. “I didn’t know it was somebody’s property—I just wanted a place to relax away from my house.”
“You live near here?” Daniel yelped, the shock clear in his tone. “Since when? I’ve never seen you!”
Blood-red hair swayed as Inoue shook his head. “We’ve lived a few blocks away from here for a long time now, but I’m never allowed out without an escort.” He toyed with the hem of his sleeve absently as embarrassment crawled across his cheeks in a rosy manner.
The brunette looked around slowly before leaning in and whispering, “Is the escort hidden? I don’t see anybody.”
Inoue laughed softly. “N-no, there’s nobody hidden that I know of. I escaped.”
“Are you a prisoner?”
“No!” The redhead laughed more, and then paused with surprise. He hadn’t laughed this much in ages. “My parents don’t like me wandering off alone. People could kidnap me or hurt me, or something.”
“Around here?” Daniel asked sceptically, narrowing one eye. “I don’t think so. Besides, you’re what, eleven years old? Twelve? Can’t be too much younger than me, you’re almost as big as I am. Nobody here would ever hurt you.”
A nod of appreciation, “I know; it’s like that everywhere. They’re just cautious.”
There was silence between the boys for a long moment, before the brunette outright said what was on his mind. “What’s with the stupid clothes?” he remarked, indicating the long-sleeved dress shirt and black trousers.
Inoue laughed skittishly, and rubbed the back of his head as he murmured, “I have to wear them. I can’t stain the family name.” He hated having to say it. Any kids he ever met always asked the question, and then he’d get those looks. Ones that let the redhead know he wasn’t going to have friendship on his list of accomplishments any time soon. So, he changed the subject; “Do you want to come over for drinks? It’s getting really hot outside.”
“Ya, of course it is, with you dressed like that,” the brunette replied with a laugh, reaching forward and ruffling Inoue's hair. “Let’s go to my house; it’s just over there, rather than a few blocks away.”
Inoue took a deep breath of triumph as the hand was drawn from his hair and Daniel stood, headed off through the field. The redhead quickly slipped his shoes back on and shoved his socks in his pockets, running after the boy.
A friend! A real friend! His heart raced with joy as he caught up to his newest acquaintance and began to question him about the local kids, what they did for fun, and where the best places to ‘hang out’ were.
“I’ve told you I don’t want you seeing that boy.”
Inoue remained quiet, staring off at nothing in the corner of the room as blue smoke wafted about him, the sweet stench of his father’s cigar filling his nostrils.
“He’s a tramp, a burden upon society. He curses and he’s dirty. You’re more than that, Garnet. Better. You’ll be nine years old soon, and you have to start making responsible choices. The community will look at this family in a tainted light if you go about spending your time with the trash.” His father sighed and sat back in his chair, frustration lining his face. “I know you don’t like this country, or this city. It isn’t that I want to make you miserable, son—the very opposite of that! …Some day you’ll see that what I say now is for the best.”
Inoue nodded. “Yes, Father.”
“Good, I’m glad you understand. You may go to bed now.”
The redhead stood, and left the dining room, walking past his mother, who had been standing outside the door, listening. Her expression was passive. A few years ago it would have been etched with sympathy for Inoue, and she might have even asked his father to have more patience with their child.
Not any more—he was quiet, and respectful, as a good wife should be.
Inoue entered his room and locked the door behind him, unbuttoning his shirt as he headed to the dresser and rummaged through it. He found a black sweater and put it on, and took off his grey pants to replace them with black ones. Red hair was pulled free of the tight ponytail, and he let it hang messily about his head as he changed into a pair of runners Daniel had given him.
Your family sounds so weird. Why do you have to be dressed up all the time? Why do they call you by your middle name?
It was how things were, where he came from, he’d explained. It was how the proper class dressed, he said.
That’s stupid. You’re here now; you should be able to wear t-shirts and sneakers. Run through the grass and eat ice cream on hot summer days.
I wish I could, Daniel, Inoue had replied. But I have to do what my father says. He’s trying to become one of the big businessmen of this city like he was in my hometown, and I have to help him make a good impression.
That had struck a nerve in the redhead. And since that day, any time his father ordered him to do anything, the one word had whispered in the back of his mind. Why?
Things had started to change since that day. Inoue got into trouble more often; he had been punished more than once for running away from his studies, for not finishing his work.
Luckily, he hadn’t yet been caught sneaking out of the house at night, to go visit Daniel. The redhead glanced out his window; the maid was still washing up the dishes in the kitchen, Mother was probably in the dining room with Father, and nobody else was around the grandiose house today.
He lifted up the window pane and slipped outside, onto the overhang for the back door, closing the window behind him but leaving it unlocked. The lithe boy grabbed hold of the plastic vine ladder carefully and inched his way down, thankful he was light enough for it to support his weight, and leapt the last few feet until he hit the dirt.
A grin flashed across his face and red locks twirled in the air as he turned on his heels and made a mad dash into the shrubbery of the back yard, which eventually led to the street that ran behind their house, further away from the city. He sprinted along the pavement quickly, his young lungs filling with fresh evening air and the cool night breeze colouring his cheeks.
“Daniel!” The redhead yelped giddily when he saw the boy standing off to the side of the road, waiting as he’d promised. “Sorry I took so long. My dad was giving me a lecture.”
The boy shrugged casually. “It’s ok. Smoke? I stole them from my aunt.”
Inoue shook his head, and the brunette put a cigarette to his own lips, lighting it quickly and stuffing the pack into his pocket. He exhaled silently as they walked down the road. “Is your aunt…?”
“Drunk again? Yeah. Fell asleep watching TV in her room. Hell if I care; stupid bitch. She only took me in because my dad sends her money once a month. So where do you want to go tonight?”
“I duno. Not the city.” He detested the city. People were mean, and ugly. The streets were hard and the buildings were cold. Where he grew up, the roads were made of stones and everyone was nicer.
Even the kids at school were stupid and mean. Daniel was his only real friend.
The brunette hummed thoughtfully. “Umm… we could go explore the junk yard?”
“Sure,” Inoue shrugged.
They reached the junk yard half an hour later, and climbed atop the wrecked cars and broken furniture. Daniel and Inoue met atop the skeleton of an upturned refrigerator, and took a seat on it, looking up at the stars. “Inoue?”
“I want to be friends forever.”
The elder boy laughed and turned to face his companion, amusement riddling his gaze. “It isn’t that easy. I saw it on TV; you have to make a pact.”
Question rose in the redhead’s eyes, and Daniel smirked, taking hold of Inoue's wrist and holding the hand palm-up.
“A blood brother pact. It means we’ll be friends forever, no matter what, cause it’s in our blood. Don’t move.” The brunette looked around and spotted a piece of jagged piping, which he picked up. He touched the end of it to Inoue's palm and dragged it forward. The boy winced at the pain but kept silent, and watched as Daniel put the pipe to his own hand and cut it. He then grabbed Inoue's and put the two wounds together, squeezing their hands tight. “We have to stay like this for a while, I think.”
The teary-eyed redhead nodded, trying not to cry. He squeezed back at the hand holding his.
“It’s forever and ever?” he asked quietly, when Daniel finally released his hand. He looked down at his wound and didn’t think he saw anything magical about it.
“Forever and a day,” Daniel smirked, nodding.
Inoue winced and glanced at his palm accusingly as he pulled his sweater on over his head. The wound was almost completely healed, mostly a scar, but it still hurt once in a while. It had become infected for a bit… so had Daniel’s. His father had asked him relentlessly where he got such a ghastly cut, but Inoue had held firm ground and kept his mouth shut, even when he was punished for insolence.
That was over a month ago. They still hadn’t left the city, but apparently Daniel was making plans for it… saving money. It never crossed Inoue's mind to ask where the boy was getting the money from.
But that wasn’t the reason he was upset; he had been kept in his father’s company for a long time after supper, and was late for meeting up with Daniel.
The redhead did his routine check out the window—everyone was busy in the house, he was clear to leave. He opened it quickly and slipped outside, closing it behind him and stepping across the overhang. As he reached for the vine ladder, he heard a scream; his mother’s scream.
He froze in place, frightened out of his wits. Had she discovered him sneaking out? …No, she wouldn’t scream if she saw that. She’d stare at him with emotionless eyes and walk away. And the scream had been from the front of the house.
He heard the noise again, and clamped his mouth shut to keep from yelping himself. What was going on? Inoue reached out for the ladder once more, but pulled his hand back in surprise when he heard the back door to the house open, just beneath his feet on the overhang. He remained perfectly still as he watched a man with pale hair and a white mask enter the back yard and look around once, slowly, before turning back round and heading inside, closing the door behind him.
What the hell is going on?!
He couldn’t move. No matter how much he wanted to, he was frozen to the spot, and he felt himself shaking. He didn’t really have a reason to be scared—he’d heard his mother scream before.
But that strange man, who had looked around… what was that about?
Something smelled strange. Sniffing the air, he narrowed his eyes as he recognized the scent. Burning. But Father disallowed burning firewood in the summer—called it a waste. Alarm bells were ringing in Inoue's head. Things were very wrong!
He heard glass shattering, and was finally spurned into movement, reaching for the vine ladder and hurrying down it, but instead of running into the bushes he headed back into the house. “Mom? Dad?” he called out, making it appear as though he’d just come from down the stairs to his room.
There was no reply, and the smell of burning was stronger inside the house. His heart was pumping quickly as he hurried down the hall to the dining room, and he halted in the doorway as his gaze settled on his parents.
They were sitting in their chairs as usual, but they were slumped unusually. The shadows played games on their clothes and faces from the roaring fire at the curtains and liquor cabinet, almost making it look like they were covered in blood.
And, their necks were a little funny—the skin was peeled back, and parted, like a wide gash had been taken out of each. Inoue's eye twitched as he stared at the sight, and neither of his parents seemed to care that the house was on fire. They stared off at nothing calmly, though his mother’s mouth was open a little, as though she was going to say something.
He heard somebody approaching from behind, as though they’d come from the stairs to his room as well, and as he turned to look, he was snatched up by the throat and felt something cold pressed against it.
There was a long pause, and the knife was taken away. The masked man that had been about to slice his throat made a sound like a grunt, and grabbed Inoue by the wrist, dragging him closer to the dining room table.
He pulled a rope from the curtains and pushed Inoue down on his knees between his parents, pulling the boy’s hands together and tying them too tightly with the rope, before tying the remaining rope around the heavy table leg, and turning to leave swiftly.
Only after he’d watched the man leave in a flash of pale hair did it occur to him what was happening. Inoue's eyes went wide as the man disappeared in the smoke and another liquor bottle exploded, increasing the heat of the fire that he could suddenly feel. He screamed, and then choked, the smoke in the air burning his lungs. “Mom! Dad!” he shrieked, looking up at either one of them, begging them to wake up and help him. “Mom! Dad! DAD!”
The redhead pulled on his bindings for dear life, trying to brace himself against the carpet and squirm his little hands free, but the knots were firm and the table was too heavy to lift. He couldn’t escape!
Tears began to streak down his cheeks as he continued to pull fruitlessly at his hands, struggling against the table leg, barely moving the hulking furniture an inch on the floor. The smoke burnt his eyes and his lungs, and he could barely scream a second time, as he strained his legs and pulled as hard as he could at his hands, feeling like his wrists would break.
His parents were dead! He was going to die! The redhead sobbed between coughing spasms, his head dropping between outstretched arms and urine staining his pants as he pulled harder.
I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to--
Violet eyes snapped open, overflowing with tears as he looked up through the smoke and heard Daniel’s voice. He screamed once more, unable to form words, trying to let his friend know where he was. A familiar body appeared in the smoke, and Daniel rushed into the dining room, covering his mouth and nose with the sleeve of his shirt but still coughing.
He spotted Inoue at the table and ran to him as the ceiling creaked above and gave way near the liquor cabinet, a few feet away. The heat was too much, the smoke was making his lungs seize…
Inoue watched with blurred vision as Daniel forsake covering his mouth and nose and tried to untie his friend, struggling with the knots quickly, his hands shaking. The redhead screamed and pulled harder at his wrists, feeling blood running down his arms and not caring. His leg felt too hot all of a sudden—it was on fire too!
His screams grew even more frantic as his pant leg lit up quickly, and he felt the singe against his skin. The pain, the smoke, the roar of the fire, the heat…
Inoue looked back up at Daniel with a terrified gaze as the world at the corners of his vision started to blacken, and eventually all of it went dark, and quiet.
“Make him shut up!”
“Well make him, or I’ll make him!”
“I can’t, you goddamn whore! Go buy yourself some booze!”
Inoue's eyes opened slowly, and he shuddered. His throat was sore, and he was making a groaning, sobbing noise… he stopped, trying to focus his vision but failing. His eyes hurt, his lungs hurt, his wrists hurt, his legs hurt… everything hurt.
“Inoue?” A blurred face came into view, and the redhead recognized the voice. But, he couldn’t talk. He nodded slowly. “Thank god!” Daniel whispered, his voice sounding shaky. “I didn’t think you’d ever wake up! And you were making such noises, I… Oh fuck, I’m glad you’re ok!”
Arms wrapped around his waist, and the redhead groaned softly.
“Oh, shit, sorry, does that hurt? I didn’t mean to. Here, let me get you some water.”
Yes, water. He wanted water. A cool glass was placed against his lips, and he drank quickly, like a glutton, until he couldn’t hold any more, and some rose back up in his throat, threatening to come back out. His throat felt mildly better.
“I’ve bandaged your leg and wrists. Does it hurt anywhere else?” the boy asked tentatively, still hovering before Inoue.
“Eyes. Throat,” the redhead rasped out weakly.
“Ok. Your eyes are puffy and red, but they don’t look that bad. Open your mouth.”
The younger boy parted his lips as told, and a finger gently touched down on his lower lip, pulling his mouth open further.
“It doesn’t look like anything’s wrong. You should be ok. You’re ok, Inoue.” The words were once more shaken and uncertain. “Shit, that was scary. I thought we were dead!” A hesitant laugh, and a soft caress at his cheek. “But we’re ok! Everything’s ok.”
He was tired. Physically, mentally. Inoue leaned back into the pillows behind him and let his eyes slide shut.
“Yeah, you should sleep,” Daniel agreed in a soft tone, lifting a hand and running it through the boy’s hair gently. “Get better. I’ll take care of you from now on.”
For some reason, Inoue believed those words. They gave him comfort as he drifted off into a fretful sleep.
He was cold. The chill startled him awake, and Inoue's eyes opened slowly as he shivered. Daniel was asleep beside him, one arm around him, but he was still cold; the elder boy had taken all the covers again.
Inoue took hold of the blankets and pulled them over the both of them, and huddled closer to the brunette, wrapping his arm around the slim waist and burying his head under Daniel’s chin, pressing his forehead to the warm, bare chest. He felt instantly better.
“Goddamn faggy kids,” he heard Daniel’s Aunt Margaret mutter drunkenly as she stumbled by in the hallway, seeing them through the open doorway.
He ignored the comment. She was a nasty old woman worse than his father had been, though she didn’t hit Daniel; she just pretended like he wasn’t there whenever she wasn’t yelling at him for something.
It had been two weeks since the fire; he still couldn’t walk completely right, and his wrists were in bandages, but he could talk a lot more and his vision was back to normal. It still didn’t seem real, any of it…
He didn’t mourn for his parents. He didn’t dwell on the loss of his home. To him, he was vacationing at Daniel’s house, where he got to spend all day every day with the boy, and there were no more books, no nasty children, no school assignments.
He sighed softly, shivering once.
“You ok?” Daniel asked quietly in the dark, a sleepy query.
“I’m fine, I was just cold,” Inoue whispered back, hugging the boy closer.
That’s right, vacation. Everything is fine. Now I can spend forever with Daniel.
“We can leave here soon,” the brunette continued, near mumbling in his sleep. “I have a lot saved up, just a few more weeks, and we can run away forever, Inoue. We’re best friends no matter what.”
The younger boy nodded. Best friends. Blood pact and all.