A Lesson in Anxiety

BY : CrunchySalad
Category: Prince of Tennis/Tennis no Ohjisama > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 784
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis or its characters. I am not making any money from this fanfiction.

He took a train to Tokyo, wrapped up in a pea coat that he would on occasion take off, only to put back on minutes later. Transition was in the air, the smell of Summer and Fall mixed together, and the last vestiges of humidity were being chased away by cool breezes. The trees were on fire, leaves every color of red and gold, though they were still far from falling.

Oshitari Kenya took off his coat once again as he settled into a bus seat (he had, after all, transferred from train to bus upon arrival in the city).

"You know you're just going to get cold again."

"I didn't ask you." Kenya looked out the window as the bus started, but looking at Tokyo only reminded him that he wasn't in Osaka. His eyes lingered instead on his reflection, on slim, elegant features and tendrils of short bleached blond hair. Underneath his coat he wore a simple button down shirt, subtle but expensive.

"You're always so mean to me, Kenya." Chitose's face appeared beside him in the glass, lips pulled into a cheerful half-smile. Small curls formed a jungle around his face, and his eyes might have been just a little glazed over. The neckline of Chitose's loose, white shirt was embroidered with some brightly colored design, wrinkled in a dozen places. Looking at their faces reflected in the window, Kenya couldn't help but notice the contrast between them. But he could feel Chitose's hand on the upper portion of his thigh now, warm through the khaki of his pants, even if Chitose's expression hadn't changed.

"Move it if you don't want me to break it."

"Okay, okay." Chitose's hand disappeared, as did his face in the reflection, and Kenya could hear the denim of his overly baggy flares rustle as he shifted in his seat. "Sorry, man, I know how you don't like p.d.a.s."

"Then stop touching me in public already."

Chitose didn't say anything, only grinned as he put on his headphones, and Kenya relaxed enough to slouch down in his chair. To tell the truth, he didn't much like Tokyo. People in Tokyo had strange accents and liked strange foods, and he'd much rather be in Osaka, but it's not as though he could skip his cousin's birthday festivities for a second year in the row. Yuushi was, after all, his only cousin of the same age (every one else was either much older or much younger), and when they weren't competing against one another in something or the other they actually got along quite well.

The bus ride was quick enough, and the boys soon found themselves walking past ivied gates onto the large campus that formed Hyoutei Gakuen. Chitose whistled as they climbed past exquisitely carved stone staircases, decorated with all manner of swirls and roses.

"This place is really posh. Why didn't you go to a school like this? Your family's got the cash, right?"

"Shitenhouji is a perfectly respectable school."

"Yeah, but, we don't have hot tubs in our gym."

Kenya narrowed his eyes at Chitose, but a small smile was pulling on the corner of his lips. "How do you know this school has hot tubs in their gym?"

"Dude, come on, it's just that kind of school."

The interior of the school wasn't nearly as remarkable as the exterior. In fact, it looked like your typical modern junior high school, albeit constructed from the finest quality materials and kept in pristine conditions. There was no such thing as clean up duty for the children of Hyoutei... that task was left to the army of janitors the school employed.

Kenya read the directions Yuushi had given him carefully. Normally, he would just go straight to his cousin's home, but Yuushi insisted they go out for dinner as soon as he arrived. Which meant, of course, that it would be easier to meet Yuushi at his school, and that in all likelihood Atobe Keigo was to be joining them. Kenya walked past rooms and hallways, noting that despite the lateness in hour there were more than a few students. They strode quickly past him, back and forth through classroom doors, not even sparing a glance at anything that wasn't in their field of vision. It was, Kenya supposed, typical of busy students.

The third door off the second branch hallway on the second floor, Yuushi had told him, and Kenya found himself standing in front of a large, maple doorway. It was, it seemed, newer than the others, and the metal of the handle was cold to his touch. He opened it, into the filtered sunlight of a new hallway, and felt a shiver run through his body.

The hallway was wide, white and grey, with a line of windows on one side and classroom doors on the other. The end of it twisted to the left, so that Kenya wasn't sure what was past it... it was a traditional school hallway, yet something about it seemed off. There were students, here, too, but the noises that usually surrounded them were muted, and the light seemed fuzzy somehow. It was as though everything was just a little out of focus, just a little slower than it should be, and Kenya looked out a nearby window, watched as students below played basketball. He looked up again, and everything seemed to sway, before a hand clapping down on his shoulder jolted him out of whatever he had been going through. Everything was clear again, sight and sound, and the bustle of students rushing through the hall hit him once again.

"Kenya, good to see you made it." Yuushi's voice came from over his shoulder, and Kenya turned to see his cousin smiling amiably at him. "But I thought the boyfriend was coming along?"

Kenya turned, looked around, and realized that Chitose was missing. That idiot... he had probably wondered off by himself again. "I'm sure he's around here somewhere."

"So what do you think of the school?" Yuushi removed his hand, gestured at the hallway. "I'm sure Shitenhouji's campus can't compare."

"On the contrary, I'd say Shitenhouji's new facilities are much more impressive."

Yuushi's smile faltered minutely, but that was the only indication that anything had fazed him at all, and when his voice continued it was as smooth as ever. "This wing of the school was actually finished a few days ago. I'm sure Shitenhouji has nothing like it; all the facilities are equipped with the most modern of equipment, and you'll find the detail work in the architecture is unparalleled."

"Of course it is," came a new voice, and Kenya recognized that arrogant tone at once. He turned around, and there was Atobe Keigo, wearing the same self-satisfied countenance he always did when Kenya saw him. "I commissioned it, after all."

Kenya raised an eyebrow. "You commissioned a new wing for your school?"

"I ordered the renovation. This wing has actually been closed for twenty years, and was in the most dreadful of conditions when I found it. Really, I couldn't have such an eyesore marring Hyoutei's campus. Now, Oshitari, I believe you're still needed?" Atobe gave an annoyed little flip of his head, gesturing towards one of the distant classrooms, and Kenya surmised they must still be taking care of business.

"Ah, yes. Kenya, why don't you look around, we won't be long."

The two disappeared into the classroom then, leaving Kenya to his own devices. Rather rude, he thought, but then again, it's not as though he was a child who needed to be baby-sat. He wondered down the hallway, actually taking in the detailing in the architecture that Yuushi had so raved about (true to word, it was absolutely splendid, and absolutely unnecessary).

Kenya was walking towards the end of the hall when a noise from his left startled him, and he looked towards it to find a branching hallway he hadn't noticed seen before. It was narrow, with only two doors, one at the very end and another right to the left of it. A girl was walking towards the very end of the hallway, at a slow pace that was a marked contrast to the rush of other students Kenya had seen. She was already in the middle of the hall, but there was a small spiral notebook on the floor behind her. She must have dropped it, Kenya thought, and he took a step into the hallway... his vision blurred a little bit again as a wave of dizziness hit him, but it soon passed, and he was calling out to her.

"Excuse me," he said, but she didn't seem to hear him, so he said it again as he took another step closer to her. "Excuse me."

Still she didn't reply, only kept walking forward, her footsteps noiseless in the small hallway. Her long black hair clung limply to her back even as she moved, and she all of the sudden struck Kenya as too thin, too... unsubstantial, somehow. He took another step, prompting another wave of dizziness, and then was bending down to pick up the book. As his eyes tried to focus on the blue of its cover he heard the noise of a door opening, and he looked up just in time to see the door at the end of the hallway open just a few inches, though there was nothing but blackness behind it, and then it was closing again.

Kenya straightened, made a brisk pace towards the door, but when he finally got there and turned the knob it wouldn't open. He called out, knocked, but whoever was in there wasn't answering, and there was no light shining through the bottom crack. A wave of coldness passed through him, and he wished he hadn't put his coat in Chitose's back pack. He turned around, and for some reason the other end of the hall seemed so far away, the people there seemed so distant... he couldn't hear them at all now, couldn't even make out the features on their faces. They looked almost distorted, their faces inhuman, and he was struck by a sudden need to get out of the hallway. Then he heard it, the sound of a door opening, and felt firm fingers wrap themselves around his arm.

Kenya tried to jerk away, but he was being pulled into the room, and before he could scream more fingers were wrapping themselves around his mouth and they were so cold to his skin. He could hear his heart beat in his ears now, and he tried to reach out, but the door was closing...

"Dude, why are you so edgy? Calm down a little bit."

The grip loosened and Kenya spun around, noticing right before the door closed that he was in fact in the room on the left, not at the end of the hallway, and it was a janitor's closet. Brooms, a mop, and other cleaning supplies were all around them in the space, and Chitose was leaning against a small counter covered in screwdrivers, his bright yellow back pack on the ground and a joint in between his fingers. The small room was hazy, slowly being filled with smoke, and that familiar smell was bound to leak out.

"Chitose, it reeks of pot in here." Kenya felt almost silly now... really, his nerves were getting away with him for some reason.

"Chillax already, there's no one around this room... I'm not stupid, you know." Chitose grinned and stepped closer, and Kenya realized his eyes were already completely glazed over and just a little bit red at the edges. Chitose put a hand on Kenya's waist, the other ghosting over Kenya's own hand, and Chitose's skin was always colder than his, and the joint was hot between their fingers. "Smoke up with me, Kenya."

Kenya smiled, bringing the joint up to his lips... it was so bad to smoke, but so hard to say no to Chitose. Then Chitose was leaning down, kissing him, and he realized that they were in a fucking janitor's closet, and to two pubescent boys what kinkier place was there?

"Ne, Kenya, we're not in public anymore."

"So what are you going to do about it?" Kenya teased, pulling Chitose closer to him. His back thudded against the wall, jostling some of the broomsticks, and then he was wrapping a leg around Chitose's waist and even if Chitose's hands were cold his mouth was so, so hot. They fucked against the wall, then sunk down to the floor as the afterglow made them drowsy, and Kenya fell asleep with his head on Chitose's chest and his legs pressed against a stack of buckets.

* * *

The first thing Kenya became aware of as he blinked open his eyes, head still clouded with sleep, was the sound of loud snoring and the feeling of a chest moving up and down beneath him. The janitor's closet was dark, but light filtered in from the crack underneath the door. That light dimmed for a moment, and Kenya swore he saw feet standing in front of the door, but when he blinked again they were gone; he must have been imagining things. He pushed himself off the floor, waking Chitose up in the process, and checked his watch.

Only twenty minutes had passed since they had started their nap... Yuushi should, Kenya supposed, be done by now. He got up, Chitose following him, and they stepped out into the bright light of the hallway.

"Hey, where is your cousin any way?" Chitose's voice echoed through the hall, and as they walked towards the main hall their footsteps were loud and clear in the silence. The sunlight coming in through the windows was still strong, and Kenya had to squint a little to avoid his vision being completely obscured.

"He's in that classroom over there." Kenya pointed to a door, but he was looking around the main hall. Something seemed... off. The sun was staining everything in the hall a strange color of yellow, but that wasn't it. Everything looked the same... the same typical classroom doors, the same windows, set perfectly into the walls. Kenya walked towards Yuushi's classroom, and his sneakers were so damn loud on the tiled floor, and he could hear even the click clack of Chitose's geta sandals.

"Hey, Kenya, where'd every body go?"

Kenya froze, turned around, and wondered why the hell he hadn't noticed it before. The hallways were completely empty. There was no one there, no trace of any one having ever been there... the silence was all of the sudden deafening, and Kenya realized that there wasn't even any noise leaking in through the other parts of the school. He took a few steps forward, fingers clutching against a dusty windowsill, and saw that the courts were completely empty except for one lone basketball, still and unmoving in the middle of the pavement. There didn't even seem to be any wind.

"Maybe there was a fire drill."

"Maybe," Kenya replied, but as soon as he said it he knew it was wrong. They would have heard it. They would have woken up. He walked towards the main door, the one that connecting this wing with the rest of the school, Chitose following at a slower pace behind him. His hands reached out to pull on the handle, but the door only rattled in place. "It's locked."

"What do you mean, it's locked? It was open twenty minutes ago... shit, this place was crowded twenty minutes ago."

"Well, it's locked now."

Chitose reached out for the handles himself, but once again the doors didn't budge more than a few centimeters. "It's locked."

"Idiot. I told you it was." Kenya turned around, uneasiness gnawing at him as he looked down the empty hallway. He stepped forward, the noise of his shoes and rustling clothes too loud, and stopped outside of Yuushi's classroom. Surely, Yuushi would still be there... whatever reason every one else had for leaving the school, Yuushi would still be there waiting for him. The door handle was cold in his fingers, but the door slid easily open. But once it was Kenya found himself staring into a dark, empty classroom, small desks lined up perfectly in rows, a square of light on the floor framing his shadow. Yuushi wasn't there. No one was.

"The windows won't open either."

Kenya turned around to see Chitose looking out one of the windows, the palms of his hands pressed against the glass. The sunlight formed a halo around his whole body, and Kenya walked up behind him to see what he was looking at, but... "There's no one there."

"Yeah." It looked like a post card how everything was frozen, not even a rustle in the bushes, and for a moment with the way the light flooded it Kenya felt as though he was looking at a painting. Even the school offices, visible through the windows on the other side of the courtyard, were completely empty. "Is your watch broken or something? Maybe it's later than we think."

"No. The sun's still out."

"That's what I thought."

There was silence then, true silence, as the two stood completely still in that empty hallway. Even their breathing had slowed to strange whispers in the air, and then Chitose's hand was reaching from his, fingers tugging gently on his own.

"Come on, every one probably left for a reason. We should find a way out."

They started to check the classrooms, but they were all empty, and then they turned to go into the hall with the janitor's closet in it. The room at the end was still locked, so they returned to check the rest of the classrooms in the main hall, to no avail. Standing at the end, looking back, all those lined up dark classrooms looked so eerie that Kenya went back to close all the doors before they continued.

"Looks like there are only four more rooms down here," Chitose said, looking down the other branch hallway. "And two are restrooms. Come on."

Kenya walked back to Chitose's side, listening to his sneakers, Chitose's sandals, and... Kenya stopped walking.

"What's wrong?" Chitose asked, and he stopped too. It was clear then, the sounds, muffled through the door of one of the rooms.

"Footsteps," and Kenya could hear them coming closer. They were coming from the room closest to them, and for some reason Kenya's stomach gave a lurch when Chitose stepped closer to it, hand reaching out to open the door.

"Stop," Kenya said, jogging those last few steps to hold Chitose's arm back, but the footsteps were even louder now, almost at the door. "Don't."

Chitose shot him a confused look. "But some one's there. Maybe they know a way out."

"Just leave it," Kenya muttered, but Chitose just looked at him like he was crazy before reaching out again. Chitose's hand was on the doorknob, and the footsteps had stopped. Kenya felt his whole body tense as Chitose's fingers wrapped around the knob, tugging to the side, and some instinctual part of him prepared to run as the door knob turned. It seemed to take forever... the knob turned, slowly, and then the door was opening... bright, white light was spilling out from behind the door, and Kenya had to turn away for a second to shield his eyes. He could hear a shuffling sound, and pulled Chitose back, but the other boy wouldn't move.

"Kenya, what the hell is wrong with you?" Chitose seemed almost irritated, and the divergence from his usual easygoing attitude was enough to jolt Kenya back to his senses. There, in the door frame, lit by the light of the room behind them, were Atobe and Yuushi, who was carrying a familiar sleeping blonde in his arms. Behind them was a storage room, bookshelves lined with old yearbooks and notebooks that must have been used by the student government associations.

"Look who I found," Yuushi said jovially, as though everything was completely normal (which, to him, still might have been the case). "Every one's favorite narcoleptic. You two remember Jirou from Nationals."

"Uh... yeah," Chitose replied, though Kenya was fairly sure he didn't really remember. "Look, why don't we leave already, this place is kind of giving me the creeps."

"Impossible," Atobe said, in a tone that boded no argument, "we still have to get these books back to the others."

"They're not there," Kenya said, prompting Atobe to half-sneer at him.

"Of course they're there. Where else would they be?"

"There's no one here," Kenya replied, voice irritated and bordering on anger. Atobe didn't say anything back, now noticing the silence that filled the air... a few glances in either direction confirmed that there were no students there, but he ran out into the main hall anyway, presumably to check the classrooms as Chitose and Jirou had just done. But Yuushi only looked at them, probably having accepted things already.

"Where are they? Was there a fire drill? Funny we didn't hear it."

"Well..." Chitose answered, "Funny thing is we don't know. And the main hall is locked, so-"

"Locked?" Yuushi was clearly puzzled by that, something that did not sit well with Kenya. But then Atobe came running back, and though his face was as calm and collected as ever, there was a tinge of frenzy in his voice.

"The door's locked."

"Yes, well," Yuushi seemed to think about it for a second, "perhaps every one left, and thinking there was no one here, locked us in by mistake?"

"No one locks that door," Atobe replied, "because we don't have a key for it."

"So some one called for a lock smith..."

"No," Atobe said, and Kenya was glad at the very least that he wasn't the only person who found everything to be very strange. "No one would, because there's no need for that door to be locked in the first place. And why would every one leave? Without our meeting being over? You know as well as I do that students stay in this building until well after classes are over. There's not even any one on the courts, even though they started their game not half an hour ago... only that ridiculous bouncing ball."

Kenya felt a chill run down his spine. "Bouncing?"

"Yes, bouncing, as though some one has just dropped it."

"But it was completely still when we saw it," Kenya said, and he saw Chitose's eyes brighten as he no doubt thought of something.

"That means there's some one there... some one who can tell us what's going on."

Chitose headed back to the main hallway, the others following him. They watched as he headed into a classroom, taking out a metal chair.

"What are you doing?" Yuushi asked, though all of them had a fair idea of what he was planning.

"It makes sense, to break one of these windows," Chitose said. "I mean, there was some one down there a minute ago, and now there isn't, so even if we can't catch up to him we can find a way out through the courtyard. I'll just break a window and climb down there to see."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Kenya said, and he saw that the basketball was still again, in the same exact place it had been before. There was a pair of dull red doors at the far end of the courtyard, roughly ninety degrees clockwise from where they were situated, leading back into the building.

"No offense, Babe, but you've been acting a little crazy since we've gotten here."

Kenya frowned, but then Chitose was banging the chair against the window, and the loud crash of splintering glass reverberated through the absolute stillness of the hallway.

Chitose wrapped his hand in the fabric of his sleeve before punching away the sharp shards that lingered around the border of the window frame. Soon enough he deemed it safe to pass through, and stuck his head out to have a look around... no one there. It was hard to see through the other windows, but he didn't see any one in the other wings of the school either... well, he wouldn't actually know until he got down there. He straddled the window frame, getting his footing on a slim ledge beneath it. Looking back, Kenya looked somewhat nervous and extremely annoyed, but Chitose figured he'd be happy enough once they got the hell out of this school.

His whole body was in the courtyard now, and he inched his way along the ledge until he got to an area a few yards away where a tree grew extremely close to the wall. It wasn't hard to pull himself onto it, and then he was lowering himself down the tree in awkward, clumsy movements. A few moments later he was on the ground, and as he looked around the courtyard he felt for the first time why Kenya was feeling so out of sorts.

It was odd. There was no other word to describe it. It felt too empty, too big, too bright, and the classrooms behind the windows were all so dark. There was no breeze. No sound of birds or insects. Everything seemed... dead. He made his way to the red doors, pausing for a moment before them, hands poised above the handles. Then he was grabbing, pulling, but the doors didn't move. He tried again, pushing this time, but they were as locked as the doors in the hallway. Through the windows next to the door he could see the main entrance, just twenty yards separating him from the way out of the school.

Chitose turned around. But some one had just been here. Some one had been here and left... surely, there was another doorway out. His gaze swept the length of the courtyard, back and forth, but all he saw were dark windows, the hallways and classrooms behind them completely empty. Then he noticed something... the ball wasn't in the middle of the court. The ball was only a few feet away from him now, sitting as though it had been there the whole time.

"Hello?" Chitose called out, looking around again. Maybe some one was still there in the courtyard... but he didn't see any one, and by this time he was really doubting his supposition that whatever the hell was in this courtyard was a person. After all... he hadn't heard the ball move at all. Walking quickly, he made his way back to the tree and started climbing it, but now he was hearing things... high pitched whispers, carried by a breeze that wasn't there, and though he couldn't make out the hurried mumblings it made him nervous. He kept his eyes on the window, on the three figures silhouetted there, and climbed as fast as he could. The whispers were louder now. They sounded like... they sounded like they were coming from the bottom of the tree. His feet stumbled as he inched along the ledge, but then his hands grasped air, and he pulled himself back into the hallway.

"Hey, are you okay?" came a sleepy voice, and Chitose looked up from where he was squatting on the floor to see Kenya and Jirou blinking at him. "You're really pale."

Chitose realized that his breath was coming out way too rapidly, and made a conscious effort to calm down. He chuckled a little bit... really, he had gotten carried away... Kenya had just spooked him, is all. He looked around, noticing that Oshitari and Atobe weren't there anymore.

"It's locked," Chitose said, "there's no one there."

Kenya frowned and helped Chitose up to his feet, and they both looked out the window. The ball was back to its original position. Chitose thought that probably it had been there this entire time, that he had imagined things, because if it had moved Kenya would have seen.

"Hey, Kenya."

"What?"

"You didn't... you didn't see the ball move, when I was down there, did you?"

"No," Kenya replied, but he wasn't looking at Chitose like he was crazy... he was looking at him like it was a completely rational question.

"What about you?" Chitose asked, nodded at the blond leaning against the windowsill, his eyes still half lidded and encrusted in the corners with sleep.

"Mmm mmm."

"And Atobe and your cousin? They see anything?"

"They weren't here, Chitose. They went to use the restroom as soon as you climbed out the window."

"Oh, okay. Let's go get them then." Chitose smiled, cheerful again as he thought of how else they might get out of the school. But something was still unsettling him as they walked to the restroom, something was still tugging at the corners of his mind. Then it hit him... he had seen three figures standing in the window. And yet there were only two people here.

* * *

Atobe rinsed his face, splashing cool water on his skin and then drying it off. He hated this wing. He had hated it ever since that night... but it's not that he could ever admit that, being the one who paid for it. Even now he felt himself becoming agitated, becoming nervous, and he told himself to calm down. He was loath to show weakness in front of others... no, he was Atobe Keigo, and he was better than that.

He checked his face in the large restroom mirror, making sure that there was no water on it, when he heard Yuushi's voice calling from outside. The other boy had finished first and had left, maybe sensing that Atobe needed some time alone.

"Are you done yet, Atobe?"

"In a minute," Atobe replied, and he was glad to hear that his voice was as steady and confident as ever. Stay calm, he told himself, and his reflection smiled arrogantly. Good. He looked down, washed his hands off with some soap, and looked up again. And froze.

There, reflected in the mirror, Atobe could see a pair of black shoes underneath what had been an empty bathroom stall. Some one... no, something, Atobe told himself, was there. Slowly, carefully, ignoring the rushing of his heart, he turned off the water.

"Atobe? Are you okay?"

And though Yuushi's voice was loud and clear, it couldn't have been more distant. Atobe didn't answer. Maybe, if he didn't answer, it wouldn't know he was there... he inched towards the door, eyes on the mirror, but the shoes weren't moving. Eventually he had to take his eyes off the reflection, had to turn to face the door, and he did so quickly, taking hurried steps that seemed to stretch into slow motion. Five more steps... four more steps... but then he felt something cold grip him, and as he opened his mouth to scream, nothing came out.

* * *

"Atobe? Are you okay?" Yuushi sighed. Really, Atobe was so very much like a princess sometimes... he was probably taking his time powdering his nose or something like that. No, that was a bit unfair. Oshitari knew how much this wing unnerved Atobe, even if the other boy was careful not to show it. Yuushi leaned back against the wall, waiting, and then the others were walking up to him.

"Any luck?" he asked, frowning when Chitose shook his head.

"Everything's locked down there."

"Yuushi," Kenya asked, "do you know any other way to get out?"

Yuushi shook his head. "Not unless you can pick locks."

Yuushi had to admit this whole thing was a bit unnerving. Even Chitose, who had seemed fine before, now appeared a bit pale and edgy. And then there was Atobe's story from the other night to think about... speaking of Atobe, though, he was certainly taking a long time. They stood there for a few minutes more, fidgeting in the silence, before Yuushi tried again. He knocked on the door, called out Atobe's name, but there was no answer.

"Jesus," Chitose remarked, perhaps irritated from standing around and doing nothing, "is he taking a shit or something?"

"No..." Yuushi pushed on the door and it swing open easily, and the four of them stepped through the threshold. Every thing was so quiet, save from the gentle dripping from one of the faucets. It made an eerie rhythm, echoing throughout the small space, and Yuushi stepped forward to turn it completely off. It was silent then, too much so, and it didn't take long to see that there was no one in the bathroom.

Chitose chuckled, but it was an awkward, nervous sound. "Where the hell is he?"

"Atobe?" Jirou, much more awake then he had been, started checking the already open stalls. He even peered down the toilets, and with each repetition of his captain's name his pitch grew more and more worried.

But after a few moments, none of the boys could deny that Atobe wasn't in the bathroom. Yuushi's head was spinning, his stomach was turning... he had been outside the door the whole time. There was nowhere Atobe could have gone... Atobe had just disappeared. Yuushi's head was throbbing now, and he had to lean against the counter to steady himself.

"Yuushi, are you okay?" Kenya's hand was on his shoulder now, but he still felt like he was going to throw up. "Look... Atobe's probably fine. He'll turn up."

But even as he said it, the words came out completely hollow.

Chitose walked around the room, inspecting the walls... maybe Atobe had found a way out? Rational, maybe, but he knew that wasn't the case... this was a school. There were no secret passages that he could have taken. That Yuushi looked pretty upset, and Jirou looked like maybe he was about to cry. To tell the truth, Chitose was starting to get pretty upset too... he didn't really know Atobe, didn't like him, but to have some one disappear like that... to have a person disappear right in front of you... and who knew if he was still alive... Chitose shook his head. No. There was no way he wasn't.

His eyes caught sight of something high on the wall then. A silver air vent, though there was no air coming from it, but it was much too small for Atobe to fit through. But, if Atobe was gone... a chill went down Chitose's back as he thought of that, and as he became aware again of the odd sterility of his surroundings... maybe there was a way for the rest of them to get out, while they still could.

"There was a large air vent at the end of this hallway. Could we go through it?"

Yuushi was shaking his head. "Atobe couldn't have gone through it... he was in here the whole time."

"I'm not talking about Atobe, I'm talking about us. Maybe we can get the hell out of here."

There was silence then, and Chitose could see the conflict in both Yuushi and Jirou's eyes. To leave when Atobe might still be found... but he wouldn't be, Chitose knew. No matter how hard they looked.

"We have to go," and he was staring right at Kenya, who nodded in agreement.

"Come on," Kenya said, pulling his cousin to stand, "we can come back later. W can find help."

That seemed to appease him, as Yuushi stood up and started walking out of the bathroom, Jirou trailing behind him. Soon the boys found themselves at the end of the hall, and Chitose was doing his best to pry the grating off. It was, surprisingly, fairly easy, and one by one they crawled into the dark tunnel. Kenya, last in line, suddenly wished he was first, and as he looked back into the opening and into the hallway, the contrast of that odd yellow light outside the dark tunnel seemed so very unnatural. He could hear Chitose's voice ahead of him, asking Yuushi where this tunnel went, but his cousin didn't seem to know.

There was corner up ahead, and Chitose watched as every one disappeared behind it. There was a grating in front of them, and Kenya could see a rat scurrying behind it. The sight of the pest made him less edgy somehow. Maybe he was glad to have more living company, even if it was just an animal. He came across a few roaches as well, disgusting little things, but he was just as happy to see them.

It wasn't long before they came to another end of the tunnel (it was the only path that was not blocked off by grating), and then Kenya was looking down into a small, steel room. The vent must have been on the ceiling, but Chitose was there to help him down, and he half jumped, half climbed into Chitose's waiting arms. Perhaps because he was paranoid, Chitose stood on a box and placed the grating back on the wall while Kenya surveyed the new room.

It was a storage room, probably for the kitchen, with two large refrigerators on one end and crates of food (or maybe condiments?) on the other. The room was tiny, and Jirou made a space for himself on top of a few boxes as Yuushi kneeled in a corner. It was dark save for one flickering light, and it was cold, but it felt...

"Better," Jirou mumbled, before drifting off to sleep once again. Perhaps these events were too much for him, and Kenya thought, he'd probably rather be sleeping as well.

"Yeah," Kenya said, and Yuushi looked up at with suddenly weary eyes. "It doesn't feel strange in here... it feels like a normal room."

"Did you feel strange in the other wing?" Yuushi asked.

Kenya nodded, though he didn't really explain, and Yuushi mumbled something that sounded like 'so did Atobe'.

"Well, it's locked, just like the other wing," Chitose said, and Kenya looked over to see him at the door.

"Let's just..." and Yuushi's voice sounded so tired... "rest for a little."

Kenya settled down on a crate and Chitose took a seat beside him, and they both leaned back against the wall, shoulders touching slightly, and Kenya didn't mind when Chitose put a hand down on his knee. It felt real, somehow, being touched, grounded him after these strange events. Still, now that they had time to sit and think, they all came to the realization that whatever was happening was very real, as strange as it seemed. They were alone. They were alone, and one of them was missing. The room seemed all of the sudden claustrophobic to Kenya, but he reminded himself, at least he wasn't in that hallway anymore.

There was silence then, silence for a long time, with nothing but the hum of the refrigerators and occasional shifts of clothing and limbs. But even though they were surrounded by food, none of them were hungry. After awhile though the silence became deafening, and Chitose was the first one to break it.

"What is going on?"

Yuushi shrugged. "Who knows?"

"We have to find a way out. We can't just sit here forever."

"We've tried already..." Yuushi shook his head, and Kenya had never seen his cousin look so hopeless.

"It's haunted," came a small voice, and every one looked over to see Jirou, rolled up on his side into a strangely shaped kind of ball. "That whole wing."

"Don't be ridiculous," Chitose said, though there was no conviction in his voice.

"It is," Jirou whispered, and his eyes went large and wide. "Atobe knew it."

Yuushi twitched, and all eyes were on him. He supposed it was relevant information now... he might as well tell them. "Yes, well... a few weeks ago, when this wing was just constructed, Atobe had to stay late after school with the yearbook committee, organizing books and putting them away. It grew dark, and there were only a few of them. Four to be exact. They decided to take a break, and ended up taking naps. Atobe had this dream about a girl... thin, long black hair, just standing there, her face white and expressionless. Like a doll. And Atobe remembered, despite nothing happening in the dream, this sense of deep fear, so much so that he woke up. The others were awake as well, but Atobe didn't think anything of it, just pushed it off as a bad dream. But then one classmate was looking through a yearbook when he froze, his face pale white, and pointed to a picture in the book.

"'I just had a nightmare about this girl,' he said, 'it's why I woke up.'

"And when Atobe looked at the picture, it was the same girl as in his dream. Exactly. And it turned out, every one else there had the same dream as well."

"So what?" Chitose asked. "So they probably saw the picture beforehand, didn't realize it, and happened to have a dream about the same girl."

"Yes, well," and here Yuushi shrugged, "Atobe was always convinced otherwise."

"It's not just her," Jirou interjected, "lots of people died there."

"Died?" Kenya asked, though somehow the news didn't surprise him.

"In a fire," Yuushi said, "twenty years ago... Atobe and I only found out about it a few days ago, after a little research. It was after school. It wasn't an accident; they never found out who set it, maybe an arsonist, maybe a crazy student. But some one locked the doors and set that wing on fire... some people tried to jump out into the courtyard in the frenzy, but according to the article we found, there were no survivors. That' why that wing hasn't been used in two decades."

"But what the hell does that have to do with us?" Chitose asked, his head in his hands as he pondered it. "Why is every one missing."

"Perhaps..." Yuushi started, his eyes taking on an introspective gleam, "perhaps we've somehow... crossed over. To their world."

"Crossed over?" Kenya shivered, cold. "How do we get out?"

"We can't." But it was a sleeper murmur, and when they turned back to question Jirou, he was already back asleep.

They passed some more time in silence, and Kenya watched as spiders and cockroaches came out of the vent and crawled down the wall. The world of the living and the world of the dead... he didn't want to think of it if Yuushi was right. What hope would there be then.

After awhile Yuushi seemed to grow restless, and took to opening all the crates (that Jirou wasn't sleeping on), and checking all the crevices around the room. He had just done checking behind the refrigerator when he pulled something out, and Kenya saw something long and metallic in his hand.

"Maybe I can open the grates in the air system with this," Yuushi said, and Kenya saw that he was holding a screwdriver.

"Good luck," Chitose mumbled, "those grates were bolted on, not screwed. Maybe you'll be able to pry them open though."

Yuushi shrugged. "It's worth a shot."

Kenya watched as Yuushi pulled himself back up into the vent, not without some effort, and then he could hear clamoring in the ceiling above them. The grate was laying on the floor, but Kenya figured it hardly mattered anymore.

"What if he can't get them open?" he whispered to Chitose, wondering why he was even bothering. He didn't have to worry about waking Jirou up, and it's not like anything could hear them.

Chitose looked like he was in deep thought, marked difference to his usual laissez-faire attitude. "I was thinking... I could see the entrance of the school when I was in the courtyards. If we bring a chair down there, we can break the windows into the main hall... then we can break the windows to get us ... shit!"

Kenya watched as Chitose brushed a Daddy Long Legs that was crawling up his arm away, as a shiver ran down his back. Chitose never had liked spiders. Then they leaned back, thinking some more... Kenya figured Chitose's plan was pretty good, even if it did mean going back to that wing. They could do it quickly... and then they'd be out of here. Then Kenya's eyes caught sight of something moving on the wall, small black dots... more spiders and cockroaches. Too many, he thought, and he looked up to see them coming out of the vent. Why were they leaving...

But then he thought, they had just assumed that those things, ghosts or whatever they were, were bound to the hall, but what if they could move freely every where... what if they just needed to be shown the way? What if they had gotten into the vent? Coldness swept over Kenya, and he realized that Yuushi was up there now, and as he looked around he caught sight up Jirou, eyes small slits staring upwards. But then his neck bent back, and he was looking straight at Kenya even if he was still mostly asleep. Kenya saw his lips start to move before he actually spoke, but than Jirou's sleepy murmur filled the room, loud despite its softness.

"There's a man on the ceiling."

Kenya jumped and looked up, but there was nothing there except for a strange breeze that was now coming out of the vent.

"We have to go," he said, and with his heart racing like this he had never felt more urgency in his life.

"What about Yuushi?" Chitose asked him, but by now he seemed ready to do whatever Kenya wanted to, and was already moving to lift Jirou to his feet.

"We'll get him on the way. We have to leave, now."

It took some time to get Jirou to wake up enough to get through the vent, but they managed it, and then Kenya was following him in, Chitose bringing up the rear. Kenya kept a look out as he was moving, certain he heard sounds coming from around him, but moving quickly enough so that he wouldn't have to stay to find out what they were. There was no sign of Yuushi, but just as they were near the end, through the last side grate, Kenya saw a large kind of lump through the small holes. He pressed his head up against it, trying to see through clearly, and jerked back as soon as he realized what it was. A human body, though it was contorted in ways no human body should ever be, and as his eyes started to sting he fought back the urge to vomit.

They made it to the hallway, and as Kenya led the way Chitose pulled Jirou along, though the blond soon stumbled out of his grasp. Kenya picked up a chair and threw it through the window, and they all heard it thud onto the ground below.

"Let's go," he said, but as he looked back something was off. "Where's Jirou?"

Chitose, surprised, looked around, and they both ran back to find him. Kenya was the one who saw him first, at the end of that first branch hallway, turning a doorknob that should have been locked.

"Jirou, no!"

But Jirou couldn't hear, or didn't answer, and as Kenya ran down the hall he could see the door opening and Jirou stepping through.

"Stop!"

He was one moment to late, and as he reached the door Jirou was already through it, and the door closed all the way just as he touched the door knob.

"Jirou!" The knob wouldn't turn. Kenya pulled at it, pounded on the door, but no one was answering, though he swore he heard laughing from behind the door. High pitched and unearthly, but then Chitose was pulling him away, forcing him through the window.

"We have to go," he was saying, and Kenya calmed down enough to realize he was right. They had to leave, before whatever was there got them too. They made there way across the ledge, down the tree, and as Chitose ran to pick up the chair Kenya made his way to the front of the courtyard... he could swear he heard something. He thought it might have been the buzzing of crickets, but he realized they were words... whispers, and though he couldn't make out what they were saying, he could tell they were growing louder.

It seemed to take forever for Chitose to get back to with the chair, but then he was throwing it through the window, and for a moment the sound of glass shattering was enough to overshadow that eerie whispering. They didn't even bother to be careful this time, just climbed over the broken glass, and Kenya could feel a wet, stinging sensation along his cheek from where he must have been cut. An empty hallway, one more set of windows, but the whispers were so loud that he could almost make out the words, feel the breath of people speaking behind his neck. Chitose broke the windows, and Kenya could see Hyoutei's front lawn, could see the town cars parked along the large circular driveway leading up to the school. But the whispers were so loud now, and he could feel fingers clamp down on his shoulder, icy through the fabric, and a chill reverberated through his body from where they touched him.

"Chitose!"

Chitose looked back, half out of the school already, horror on his face, but he reached out for Kenya's arm and pulled, and then they were tumbling. Tumbling, rolling, down stone steps and onto grass, and it too forever but when they stopped the whispering was gone.

Kenya's head was on Chitose's chest, and the other boy's heart was beating furiously, though no louder than his own. They lay there, for a moment, calming down, and when they finally stood up they realized it was late dusk. Kenya was in a daze, maybe he was in shock, but he let Chitose pull him to an empty car, half watched as he broke into it and got it hotwired. Never had Kenya been more grateful for Chitose's more dubious pursuits then right now.

Then they were in the car, driving away, and though Kenya wasn't sure Chitose knew where to go, at least they were going somewhere. It was calm, quiet, and for once peaceful... now, out of that school, Kenya's thoughts turned to happier things. Maybe every one was still alive. They just had to get help, get some one to go back to the school to look... police, or something like that. Removed from that ghastly place, it was much easier to rationalize, and of course there was an explanation to everything.

Kenya caught his reflection in the window, and he smiled, perhaps more to relieve himself than anything else. But then the car stopped, outside a small gas station, and he turned a questioning glance at Chitose.

"Gas," Chitose responded, a sheepish grin on his face. "I should have stolen a car with a full tank."

"Yeah." Even Chitose was back to normal... it made Kenya smile, genuinely this time. "I've got to use the bathroom anyway."

Kenya watched as Chitose swiped a credit card through the gas machine, and he walked to the side of the station where the bathroom would be. He just needed to wash his face off... wake himself up fully, forget about everything. There was no one else in the bathroom, and as he turned the water he found he couldn't just forget about everything. He stared at his reflection, and it was still in a daze... there was no one in the bathroom. Had there been any one in the gas station? Had there been any one on the streets as they had been driving?

Kenya realized the answer was no... there hadn't been any one. He thought of what they had talked about, what they had decided, what Jirou had told him... they had crossed over... there was no way out... ghosts weren't bound to one place. You just needed to show them the way out.

Kenya was all of a sudden dizzy. A wave of vertigo rushed through him, and he grabbed onto the counter to steady himself. He tried to focus on the water coming out of the faucet, but his vision was spinning. Calm down, he told himself, and after a few moments he managed to. Calm down, go talk to Chitose... but then he was looking up, into the reflection in the mirror, and he froze.

There, reflected in the mirror, Kenya could see a pair of black shoes underneath what had been an empty bathroom stall.

"Hey, Kenya, you done yet?"

And though Chitose's voice was loud and clear, it couldn't have been more distant

.end.


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