DATE: August 30th, 2013
WORD COUNT: 7,100
NOTES/DISCLAIMERS: 1. This is a work of fiction, 2. beta-ed by arashic0804
, Isabelle and Mui, 3. written for astrangerenters
as part of the sakumoto
fic exchange. Originally posted here
.I Put A Spell On You, or On the Magical Properties of Liquid NitrogenJun's sigh was patient - if by patient one meant dramatic and long-suffering, with an indication of why are you doing this to me thrown in. Of course, it didn't help that it was a sigh that Sho knew very well. Mentally, Sho counted down to when Jun would finally speak. Three, two, one...
"Sakurai," Jun started. He always dropped the honorifics when he was annoyed - something that amused Sho. "You're from one of the oldest wizarding families in the country. Your great-grandfather was once Minister of Magic, and your uncle is one of the most prolific spellmakers since Akiyama -"
"He's only my uncle by marriage," Sho interrupted, a hint of a smile already on his lips.
"He married into your family, so he's a Sakurai, that's all that counts," Jun replied. His tone was cool. Sho stopped smiling, not wanting to provoke Jun further. Unlike Sho, Jun just got cold and distant when angry, and Sho didn't really know how to deal with it most of the time. "Anyway," Jun continued, "your mother, she -"
"Don't talk about my parents," Sho warned, no longer finding the whole thing funny. His father's secretary had sent him a howler - a howler, at his age - the day before, and he was still seething over it.
Jun just gave him a Look - one that said I know what happened and it is all your damned fault so stop being a baby about it, although Jun wouldn't say that out loud, and Sho couldn't think of why since he certainly had no trouble saying everything else.
"Think of your family's reputation. Think of your own reputation. You're a Sakurai, you're -"
"Gods, Jun. I'm wearing muggle clothing, so what? It's not a crime."
"It's not the muggle clothing. It's that - that monstrosity you call 'pants.'"
"What? They're comfortable!"
"They're an abomination! They shouldn't exist! If you're going for comfort, you could have easily magicked your actual jeans to feel like pyjamas!"
Jun made a strange noise that sounded like a cross between a snort, a grunt and a cry of exasperation, before turning to walk away from Sho, muttering that the other man was an eyesore and he wasn't going to even look at Sho for the rest of the day.
Sho was going to retort something equally childish, when Jun stopped abruptly, and slowly turned.
"What, missed my pants already?"
Jun's glare would have been a little more effective if he didn't seem so distracted as he backtracked, eyes turning toward the shelves he had passed by. Sho forgot what he was going to say next and hurried to Jun's side.
"What is it?"
Jun's eyes were still on the shelves as he murmured, "a book is missing."*The Hinotori Academy of Magic differed from most wizarding schools in the sense that it also provided higher levels of education and research. The colour of the students' robes showed whether they at the primary, secondary or tertiary level of study. Those that graduated from the primary levels would have known basic domestic magic, and could usually find work in areas that didn't require a lot of magical ability. Graduates of the secondary level were equal to graduates from wizarding schools in most countries; many chose to leave school then. And then there were the tertiary students, who came from all over the world, pursuing higher levels of magic scholarship.
Because of this, Hinotori had two libraries, although they were housed in the same building. The first was the regular library that all levels of students used. The second is the Special Collections Library, also known as Jun's Baby, Don't Touch - Seriously He'll Bite Your Head Off (JBDTSHBYHO). It was fairly new, built thirty years ago by Ninomiya Tomoko who had combined muggle science with dimensional magic to create a second library that shared the same physical space as the first. It was complicated, and Sho didn't really get most of it, but using the library was easy enough. All of the Hinotori librarians and teachers had triggers charmed into their wands. These triggers help to shift them from one library to the other, and scholars wanting to get in would need to be accompanied by one of them.
That meant that whoever took the book would either be a faculty member or was with one when the theft occurred.
Jun wanted to just do a raid of the whole school, ranting about thieves taking valuable resources that were potentially dangerous. Both of these were valid points - after the first reign of the Dark Lord, schools like Hinotori were highly regulated. Offensive and defensive magic were no longer taught, history was rewritten to emphasize their "natural" love for peace, and books began to be regarded as highly dangerous. Libraries were raided and books were burned, the catalyst for Ninomiya Tomoko's breakthrough. She had started the Special Collections Library to save these books, and when what would later be referred to as the Library Wars ended her library continued on, its librarians archiving texts and scrolls from all over. Some of these had been banned or censored. Some were merely very obscure. Others, though, definitely fell into the "dangerous" category. The Special Collections Librarians weren't just bookish archivists; they were the guardians of these texts and how they were used.
"Jun," Sho said, trying to sound soothing and serious at the same time, and not quite succeeding at either. "Do you know what's missing?"
Another of Jun's Looks - this one seemed to say of course I know what's missing, what do you take me for? Sho nodded. "Of course you know," he said. "We'll find the book, Jun. And the person who took it. Now, will you tell me what it was?"
Jun tried to remind himself then Sho was technically his superior, pyjama-jeans and "newbie" status notwithstanding. He let out a long breath, trying to compose himself before replying. He spoke the title quickly, in a low voice, as if saying the title out loud pained him.
"I didn't get that."
Irritated, Jun said it again, louder this time. "10,000 Magical Uses of Liquid Nitrogen."
"You heard me."
"Well, I thought I did, but -"
"What?" Jun didn't even know why he felt so defensive. It was like if Sho thought the book was ridiculous - which he had to admit, it kind of was - then it would be what Sho thought of the entire Special Collections, and by extension, of him.
He had had enough of Sho humouring him. So he straightened his posture, looked at Sho in the eye, and tried to keep his tone cool, with just a slight edge of irritation.
"Why is that even in this library?" Sho asked.
"It had a small print run, and it's the last known surviving copy."
Sho wanted to tell Jun that perhaps some books should be allowed to go extinct, but he didn't think that would go well. So he tried asking something else. "Why is it the last surviving copy?"
"People kept dropping it in liquid nitrogen." Sho snorted. Jun ignored him. "Look, I know you think it's stupid, but this book had actually been tagged as potentially dangerous when it was published, so we need to get it back."
"Okay, okay," Sho relented. "Who would take a book about liquid nitrogen...?"
As soon as the question left him, he knew. From the look on Jun's face, the other man knew, too. They answered in unison.
"Aiba."*They found Aiba Masaki in his office, grading papers. He didn't look up as Sho and Jun entered, and said, "They really need to let me bring actual magical creatures in, you know. Is it really right for my kids to graduate without ever seeing a tengu, hmm?"
"Aiba, when was the last time you worked on your, um, experiments?"
Aiba looked up, then, reaching up to push up his glasses as he did so. "Oh. It's you guys. What have my kids done now?"
"Actually, Aiba-sensei, we're here to talk to you."*“Okay, I admit that I borrowed the book,” Aiba said, rather sheepishly, once Jun had finished giving him a long lecture on the nature of the Special Collections and why they should not be taken out of the library, ever. “There were a few interesting suggestions that I wanted to try! And –"
“You do realise that the books in the Special Collections are meant for students of theory,” Sho said. “Actually using the spells would be –“
“Illegal, yeah. Whatever. They’re not dangerous spells or anything! So you know I've been working on a new paper about improvements that could be made on the Aiba Draught, and it looks like -"
“Aiba-sensei,” Jun interrupted. “The book.”
“Oh! Oh, yeah, the book.” Aiba grinned at them, and turned to his desk to look at the stack of books next to his papers. His smile faltered. “Oh, right.”
“What is it now?”
“About the book. Erm. I don’t have it anymore.”
Aiba held his hands before him defensively. “It wasn’t my fault! I was going to just test out some ideas I had and put it back, I swear. It’s been safe in this office the whole time. Except for when I came back from class this morning... and it wasn’t.”
Sho watched as Jun’s face turned into an interesting shade of pink. He stepped away, and closer to Aiba’s side, saying quietly to the other man, “you should have probably told him that you dropped it in liquid nitrogen.”
“That would have probably been better,” Aiba agreed. "Of course, if I did I could just use this new technique I've developed, but it's still in testing -"*Sho never did find out about Aiba's discovery, because at that exact moment Jun made a sort of strangled noise and stomped out of the office.
"Aiba," Sho started, as slowly and patiently as he could. He wondered for a moment if spending too much time with Jun was rubbing off on him. "What was it that I said about making my life difficult?"
"I think the word you used was don't," Aiba replied cheerfully. "Don't worry, Sho-chan. It'll be alright."
"What makes you say that?" Sho asked warily, still eyeing the spot from which Jun had disappeared.
"It's just a feeling I have. Plus, Jun has you, right? You'll make everything better."
"Well, I don't know about that." Sho fidgeted, as if recalling an unpleasant memory. "He takes his job seriously."
"And you don't?"
"Of course I do. You know that. But - liquid nitrogen?"
"Hey, it might very well be the breakthrough I was looking for. Get it back, okay?"
"You know Jun is never going to let you in the same room as that book again, don't you? Leave the potions to Nino, Aiba. You have a lot on your hands already. And don't go kidnapping tengu for class."
Aiba shot him a wounded look, like he wouldn't dream of doing what Sho was saying. Sho amended his words.
"No asking them nicely, either. In fact, no tengu in class at all."
"Sakurai, are you coming or not?" Jun's voice, coming from outside, was curt. Sho hurried out, leaving Aiba still trying to argue the benefits of bringing tengu into the classroom.*"So, someone took it from Aiba's office."
The two of them walked down the corridor, wondering who would take that particular book from Aiba. As they reached the doors to the office they were heading to, their steps slowed, and stopped.
"The question is, how dangerous is the book, exactly? On a scale of one to five."
"To the average reader, it isn't going to do much harm. But to those who know what to look for... I don't know. Anything can be dangerous in the wrong hands. You've worked in the Ministry before transferring here; you'd know that better than I do."
While his previous work put him in life-threatening situations at times, Sho had a hard time thinking of himself as someone who might be considered in any way dangerous. The thought that Jun might think that way bothered him more than he cared to admit.
"Jun, I know this isn't a good time, but about last week."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Can you not talk about it somewhere else? I'm busy here," a grumpy voice interrupted.
"Ah, Nino." Jun smiled with relief. "We were hoping you'd be in."
"Yeah? That's why you were talking loudly in front of my office and ruining my concentration?"
"The school doesn't really pay you to play with muggle games all day," Sho said, as he and Jun stepped into Nino's office. "Does it?"
Nino ignored him, still concentrating on the Mario figure that he had Ohno-sensei sculpt for him awhile back. The figure was running around in an obstacle course of some sort. Sho didn't understand Nino's obsession with the game, and blamed it on the muggle half of the otherwise brilliant wizard. As it was, Nino was giving the figure instructions with his wand - a quick flick upwards causes the figure to jump, and widdershins to make it grab the floating mushrooms above it.
Jun poked Nino's side, hard. Nino brought down his wand to turn towards Jun, causing his Mario to fall into the hole before him without Nino to make it jump.
"Game over," Jun said flatly.
"It's just a test run, anyway," Nino replied, matching Jun's tone. "When I perfect my Wizard's Mario it'll be more popular than Wizard's Chess, I swear."
"That's copyright violation."
"So I'll get Oh-chan to change the characters, and it'll be Wizard's Nino." He grinned at Jun. "I might even let you be the princess."
Jun pretended not to hear. He learned early on that with Nino, it was best not to let it show when one was annoyed, or angry. It only egged him on. Sho didn't really understand what they were talking about, but it didn't matter. It was time to change the subject. "Nino, have you been in Aiba's office this morning?"
"When?" Seeing the look on both of Jun and Sho's faces, he shrugged. "You have to be more specific. When in the morning? Because there was very early in the morning when I reminded him to go to class, another when he was in class to retrieve the Mario figure that somehow ended up in his drawer, and -"
"When he was in class," Jun specified. "Did you see a book on his desk - big, in a faded blue cover, the title in a rusty kind of gold, and no illustrations?"
Sho looked at Jun then, impressed that the librarian remembered that much about a book he had never noticed until then. Jun noticed, and ducked his head, embarrassed. He remembered quoting too much from too many books, and being made fun of for it, when he was younger.
Sho remembered, too, and tried not to smile at the memory of a young Jun earnestly reading out facts from whatever book he had been reading.
"10,000 Magical Uses of Liquid Nitrogen, you mean? Yeah, I know the book - it was all Aiba could talk about in the last two days. I told him you guys would catch up with him as soon as Jun takes his eyes off Sho's ass to look at the shelves."
"What? I don't -"
"He doesn't - "
Nino held up a hand. "Not my business, what you guys do. Or don't do, for that matter." Bringing his hand down, he added, "And no, I didn't see the book in his office. But I did see Maru on my way there. He could have come from Aiba's office."*“I can’t believe that guy is related to the person who founded Special Collections,” Jun grumbled as they left Nino’s office. “He has no regard for the library, and he’s wasting school funding on games.”
“I suppose it would really be something if he completes that Wizard’s Mario of his,” Sho reasoned, feeling generous. “And he’s half-muggle. You should know, you both have those computall things at home – he thinks that ‘information should be free’, and all that.”
“Computers,” Jun corrected. “Now that would have been a useful thing to bring into our world. Why couldn’t Nino be working on how magic could work with that?”
Sho shrugged; he couldn’t think of how it would be any more useful than Nino’s game, or learning the magical uses of liquid nitrogen. Which, he supposed, could be more important than he thought.
"Jun, maybe we should report this."
"And what? Tell her I haven't been doing my job?"
"No one's saying that."
"He didn't mean - it wasn't even true." Sho looked at Jun. "Right?"
"Of - of course it wasn't."
Of course. Whatever it was that Nino thought, Jun had been alternating between quarrelsome and politely distant since they've started working together. And however Jun chose to be, he always prioritised work over everything else - it was one of the things Sho admired about him.
"Anyway, Nino didn't name the place JBDTSHBYHO for nothing."
Jun laughed. "Can't believe you remember that."
"Nino had the words imprinted on the doors to both libraries in neon light. Took a few weeks to disappear. There's no way I'd forget something like that."
"He just did that because he was pissed. He thought he found a way to go around the original wards, but he didn't, and couldn't."
"He didn't expect that you'd tinker with the wards yourself to make it stronger."
"Someone still got past that in the end."
"It's Aiba. You can't plan for Aiba," Sho said, shrugging.
Jun sniffed. "So we have to find Maruyama-sensei now. That's great. Even his students can't find him, most days."
"Doesn't matter. We could always ask."*The trek to the lake at the back of the school isn't a bad one - the sand gardens were a work of art, and a pleasure to look at, most of the time. But it was a long walk, when one wasn't really interested in looking. Jun marched forward, as Sho followed from behind. They moved in silence, and Sho only spoke up when the school compound was far behind them.
"So, about last week..."
"I told you, I don't want to talk about it."
"Jun, we work together. You don't think this is something we need to talk about?"
"I don't, no. It has nothing to do with you."
"Sakurai," Jun said sharply, ending the conversation as he stopped walking. "We're here."
They hadn't reached the lake, but they could see it - just a small distance. To Jun's far right was a large bench, and on it sat a man no bigger than Nino, albeit perhaps a little rounder. No sharp edges here, Sho thought. His smile as he saw the two approaching him was wide, and genuine.
"Sho-kun, Jun-kun. What brings you here?"
"You know," Jun replied. He tried to be curt with Ohno, but he sounded different from when he spoke to anyone else Sho knew. It wasn't a surprise; everyone had a soft spot for the school's resident medium, but it still rattled him at times.
Ohno nodded. "Aiba's book."
"It's not his book."
"That's really for the book to decide, isn't it?"
Jun was silent. Probably counting to ten, or doing some other thing to prevent him from blowing up. Sho supposed that it had been a rough day. He didn't know why he himself felt calm about the missing book. Perhaps it had been Aiba's words, telling him that things would be alright. Perhaps he really didn't think a book on liquid nitrogen was all that important to retrieve. Perhaps there were other things he worried about more, like the previous week and how Jun had been acting weirdly ever since.
He didn't like to think about it.
"Satoshi." If Jun wasn't going to speak, then he supposed he had to. "Can you help us find Maru?"
Ohno nodded. "You're not asking the right question, though."
Ohno was good at what he did, even if Sho wasn't quite sure what it was. He did know that the other man didn't consult tea leaves or constellations to tell fortunes. Most of the time, he wouldn't even know what to say. But if one asked him questions, he would always know the answer. Ohno claimed not to know the answers before the questions were asked, and that he didn't know why, either.
"The library," Ohno replied. "Special Collections. The smallest projector room, behind the -"
"- display of texts from early magical cults surrounding the myth of the Old Ones," Jun finished. "Got it. Thank you."
He left without waiting for Sho, again. Sho lingered, waiting until Jun was out of hearing range to ask his next question. But when Ohno turned to him, looking like he knew exactly what Sho wanted to know, he found himself unable to ask.
"Satoshi, thanks for helping," he said.
"Isn't there something you wanted to ask me?" Ohno asked.
"There was... but I think this is probably something I should ask someone else."
Ohno nodded. "I think that's for the best."*"I don't know about the book. I haven't seen any books in Aiba's office, and especially not a blue book with gold lettering."
"Maruyama-sensei," Jun said. "I just asked if you've seen a book about the magical uses of liquid nitrogen. I never mentioned Aiba, or described the book to you."
"Oh." Maruyama glanced at Sho, who was standing by the door. Jun's office in the Special Collections building wasn't very big, and though the shelves were full of (neatly stacked) books, it didn't hold any other personal decorations. Jun spent most of his time among his shelves, anyway. "Would you believe me if I said I really didn't know?"
Jun leaned forward. "Sakurai-sensei may be new here," he said, "but he isn't an idiot. And I know you couldn't possibly be implying that I am, if you expect me to believe that -"
"I don't have it anymore!" Maruyama's eyes were wide, and he held his hand up in defense. No wands, Sho observed. Jun wasn't really holding his either, but the other wizard still seemed a little threatened. Everyone at Hinotori knew not to cross Jun - or so Sho had heard. Since they both taught only one class a week, working mostly for the library instead, it was easy for him to forget that Jun taught Advanced Dark Arts Theory. It made last week's events even harder to understand. "I gave it to Yoko, okay? He's the one you want."
Jun smiled. "Thank you," he said. "Wand."
"I still haven't finished my research," Maruyama complained. "I have another year to go for observation, and the papers I need are all here."
"You should have thought of that before taking one of my books," Jun replied, still smiling. "Wand."
Maruyama reluctantly pulled out his wand, and handed it to Jun, who had taken out his own. Jun touched the tip of his wand to Maruyama's, and purplish spark went through it. Jun handed Maruyama's back his wand; he held it gingerly, like it might break.
"It's fine," Jun said. "I just deactivated the trigger. Now you need one of the others to bring you into the library. You can leave now - Sakurai-sensei will help you."
Maruyama left the library looking dejected, and by the time Sho was back in Jun's office, Jun was getting ready to leave, himself. "You didn't take away Aiba's access to the library," Sho said.
Jun frowned. "I did, actually. Last week, for something else that he did. Someone else must've let him in."
"So. What now?"
Sho nodded. "Yokoyama it is." He paused. "You know -"
"Why'd you come back?" Jun blurted. Sho blinked, a little surprised by the interruption. He'd already been at Hinotori for a few months, and Jun had never asked. In fact, Jun had for the most part treated him like nothing more than a new colleague, barring a rant or two about his wardrobe.
"It was time, I guess. It wasn't as if I meant to leave the country forever. I was offered a job, and I took it. Now the job's over, and I took another."
"I thought you left because of me."
Sho stilled, and looked at Jun. Really looked, this time. Jun was facing him, but his eyes were lowered, not meeting Sho's. A few strands of hair fell over his face, the only imperfection one might notice at first glance. He stood straight, his posture perfect, but when Sho took the time to notice he saw that Jun, too, was holding himself too still, was tight and stretched and about to snap.
It really wasn't a good time, but - Sho looked away, out of the office, and there he was.
Jun turned to see. Yokoyama was looking back at them, sheepish.
"Maru said you were looking for me."*"...sooo, Maru said that if I, erm, turn myself in instead of making you run all over campus looking for me, maybe you'll consider giving him direct access to the library again? And not take away mine?"
"We'll see," Jun said, in a tone that didn't sound promising at all. "Where's my book, Yokoyama?"
"That's the thing," Yokoyama hedged. "I don't actually have it? See, the book had a charm on it and Aiba let me borrow it for a bit, in exchange for taking it off, but Maru passed it to me too late and I only got to go through a part of it before giving it back, and that still helped out a lot, but -"
"You don't have the book?" Jun asked. "You don't have the book."
"Jun," Sho started. "Don't -"
"I know where Aiba is!" Yokoyama said quickly at the same time. "He's with the book now! I just gave it to him, he should still have it on him."
Jun smiled. "I knew I could count on you." Just as Yokoyama began to smile back, Jun added, "now, your wand, please."*"Don't you think it's a bit much, restricting access?" Sho asked.
"They took a book out of Special Collections."
"Yeah, but they're not - malicious, or anything. Just a bit stupid, maybe. And surely the book can't do that much harm."
"They'll get their access back in a few months, providing I get the book back in the same condition it left."
Yokoyama had taken them to the labs, where Aiba was supposed to be. The main Hinotori building was a castle, with more buildings surrounding it. Most were as old as the main building, but some were newer, added as time went. The labs were one of the newest, built two decades ago, for those researching ways to mix muggle science with magic. It wasn't really Aiba's discipline, but he had been known to frequent it for his personal "experiments".
Lab room #106, where Yokoyama had said Aiba was, was empty. Jun and Sho walked in - it was one of the smaller rooms for independent researchers, with only a table full of vials, a cauldron, and a storage cabinet. Someone had been using it, though. The cauldron was warm, and there was a see-through bowl containing blue-ish liquid by its side.
Jun picked up the container, bringing it up to his nose. "It's cold," he said. "Strange, since the cauldron's still warm. Smells like berries."
"Don't drink it," Sho said, earning him a dirty look from Jun.
"I don't make a habit of drinking strange potions just to find out what it does, you know."
"Actually, you absolutely should drink the potion, Jun," Aiba's cheerful voice sounded. "It'll do you some good. And, no, I'm not in the room with you. I'm in lab #1217."
Jun rushed to the lab door, but found that he couldn't open it. "Sho-kun," he said, "did you close this door earlier?"
"There wasn't a lock on it, though - it shouldn't..." Sho went to Jun to help slide the door open, but it wouldn't budge. "That's strange."
"No, it's not. It's Aiba." Jun spoke up, then. "Isn't it?"
Aiba laughed. "Jun-kun's so smart! As a prize, I'm telling you how to get out - all you have to do is drink the potion."*Jun threatened Aiba at first. Then he tried bribing and cajoling, and plain asking. Then he threatened some more. Sho, too, tried asking - nicely - but Aiba didn't say anything. Aiba hadn't said a word since he asked them to drink the potion.
"I'm not going to be his guinea pig," Jun mumbled, sitting down as he ran out of threats. Sho sat next to him.
"It probably wouldn't harm us," Sho said. "Aiba wouldn't do that. Not on purpose, at least."
"Aiba rarely does mean any harm," Jun replied wryly, "but he finds a way to cause it anyway."
Both of them paused, as if waiting for Aiba to protest. Aiba remained silent.
"Maybe he's not listening anymore," Sho said.
Jun sighed. "What now? I'm not drinking that thing."
"The labs open early tomorrow morning; if nothing else, I'm sure we'd be able to get out then."
"I could blow the doors open," Jun offered.
"Better not," Sho said. "I'll never hear the end of it."
"We could fix it after."
"I'm sure your mother would understand."
"I think you mean 'the headmistress,'" Sho corrected with a faint smile. "And I've already gotten enough grief from my parents about leaving the Ministry."
"Well, you are a Sakurai -"
"Don't you start." Sho glared at Jun, but the other man just laughed softly.
"'Leaving the Ministry', you said. I thought your job there was finished?"
"I completed my contract, yes. But I was offered another, more permanent position."
"And you refused."
"Why? I mean, most people would jump at the chance."
"It wasn't what I wanted."
Sho could tell that Jun didn't understand. "And this is what you wanted? Teaching the occasional theory class and spending your days archiving books?"
"You don't seem to mind it."
Jun waved his hand, gesturing impatiently. "It's different. I actually like what I do."
"I like this, too." He smiled. "Don't look at me like that. Maybe it's hard for you to believe, but I look forward to work every day."
Jun still looked suspicious. After all, Jun was the bookish one when they were students. Sho studied when he needed to and got good grades, but he belonged to the athletic crowd, really. Jun was sure that Sho would have been in the quidditch team if he wasn't so afraid of heights.
"If you say so."
Sho thought about what Jun was like when they were younger, and an image flashed in his mind - a boy with too-large glasses sitting by the window sill of the main library, reading. In school, it had felt like Jun was always following him around. It was only after he'd left that he thought of all the times Jun stayed still, the times Jun thought he was alone - the times Sho never even realised he'd been watching. It was silly, but a part of him had hoped that Jun would still be exactly as he'd left him, upon returning to Hinotori. Instead, he was greeted by someone who probably wished he had never come back.
If he had known then, he would never have left. But he never left, then he would never have known.
"What did you mean, when you said you thought I left because of you?"
"That - forget about it. It doesn't matter," Jun said quickly.
"Does it have anything to do with last week?"
"No! Look, it's got nothing to do with -" Jun stopped, seeing the way Sho was looking at him. "If I tell you, will you promise to forget about it after, and not mention it again?"
"Fine, I promise." Sho was amused now, oddly pleased with Jun's flustered look, if only because it reminded him of the younger Jun. "You know, you've changed so much since I left, but in some ways, you're still the same."
"A lot have happened in those years," Jun said, a little colder than before. "I'm not some school kid anymore."
That, too, remained the same. Jun always froze like that when he got defensive. "Never said you were," Sho said, meaning it. Jun was definitely not the same kid he knew. So he kept his silence, and let Jun take his time.
"Last week," Jun started. "The boggart."
"I brought it back for Aiba," Sho said, realising that he had yet to explain its presence to Jun. "It was in an old suitcase, and you didn't know, and you opened it. And it turned into me."
Sho had wondered why he was the thing that Jun feared the most. He didn't wait to find out, of course - he'd went up to the boggart and forced it back in. But Jun refused to talk about it, and not knowing only made the heaviness that was regret and longing harden and fester inside him.
"It wasn't you, exactly." Jun looked down, away, anywhere but at Sho. Still scared, perhaps. "It's - finding out the truth, I guess."
"The truth about what?"
"Why you left when you did. How you felt about me, about how I felt about you. Do I really have to spell it out?" Jun sounded angry, now. "I wasn't exactly subtle, Sho."
I thought you left because of me.
It's true - Jun wasn't exactly subtle about his admiration for Sho. He'd followed Sho around most of their school years, even though they were in different years. Jun was muggle-born, and bookish, and grew up reading stories about other worlds and magic. Even as he found that magic actually did exist, and he was allowed access to their world, it never stopped his fascination with those who grew up with it - especially someone from a family like Sho's. Sho never really minded, although he wasn't always nice to Jun. Jun's fascination was kind of cute, if a little annoying.
But they were kids, and kids grew up. Sho had left Hinotori as Jun was starting his tertiary level studies. Jun had a place of his own in the magic world. He had become one of the best wizards Sho knew, and the only one to come close to understanding Ninomiya Tomoko's take on string theory. The only one who could add to and strengthen the Special Collections library, instead of merely maintaining it. Jun had stopped looking up to him years ago. In fact, Jun disapproved of him more often than not.
"That was then," Sho said. "You don't even like me now."
Jun laughed again; a short, scoffing sort of laugh. "Don't I wish."
"Sorry." But he didn't sound sorry at all. A little pained, and perhaps a little - or a lot - angry, but not sorry. "But, Sho-kun. If you didn't know... then you must be really dense. Because I really liked you, you know? I knew it made you uncomfortable, but it was true, and I didn't see any reason not to show it. But then, the day after I told Aiba I'm going to tell you, you left. So I always thought that he told you - or that you guessed, somehow."
"It was just an infatuation -"
"No, it wasn't. It isn't."
"But you never showed it now."
"Well, I learned my lesson, didn't I? I didn't want to drive you away again."
"You don't have to yell -"
"Don't I? You and I both know it's the only way to get anything past that thick skull of yo-"
Jun never got to finish his sentence, because that was when Sho kissed him. He knew almost immediately that later he would claim not to remember the kiss, because it was unromantic and uncomfortable, what with Sho's less than stellar technique - they really needed to work on that - and his back digging into the edge of the table and it kind of hurt in the not-so-good way, and the nagging thought that it was possible that Aiba was still listening in and was it creepy if he still got himself a boner despite everything - but, all things considered, it might actually be the happiest moment of his life, a fact that kind of irritated him.
So he pushed Sho away, spit out a few choice curses just in case Sho thought he was the kind of romantic fool who'd forgive anything just because he'd been kissed, and not even kissed well - but Sho wasn't letting go.
"My turn," Sho said. His hands kept their hold on Jun as he leaned back in, but he didn't move in for the second kiss that Jun was expecting. Instead, he just said, "I like you, too. Matsumoto." He added Jun's name as if an afterthought, as if Jun might still think he was thinking of someone else.
It wasn't the most romantic declaration if love, but it was also the words he least expected to hear from Sho. Jun found himself completely floored.
"You're a bad kisser."
Sho laughed - loudly. Jun winced, but a smile tugged at his lips. "Well, then," Sho said. "I guess I'll need practice."
"Wait," Jun said, pushing gently at Sho, who had let go of him. "How - when?"
Sho stepped back. "Around the last year of school, probably," he said. "Although I don't think I actually knew until I've left, and it was too late then. I was confused most of the third year of school, and it made me worse than usual. I think you'll remember that I was kind of an ass."
He wasn't lying about that. Sho always alternated between amused, tolerant, and slightly annoyed by Jun's attention, but that year he'd been pretty constant in his aloofness towards Jun.
"I thought you hated me," Jun remembered.
"No, I was just stupid." It was funny how easy it was to admit it now, when it took him so long to struggle with his own failings as a person when it came to handling his feelings for Jun. "I guess subconsciously I must have known how I felt, but I still didn't know how to deal with it. I was confused, and it made me angry most of the time. It didn't help that I thought you only liked me because I happened to be a Sakurai."
"That's not -"
"And I do -"
They stared at each other as their words sink in - slowly, at first with delight, then contentment, then desire.
"Maybe we can start practicing now," Jun suggested.
"Maybe you should blow the door open after all," Sho replied.
"I don't know, it might get messy."
"It's probably worth it."
They turned to the door, considering.
"Stop! Don't blow up the lab!"
There was a faint creaking sound, and the door clicked, before sliding open.
"Both of you did well," Aiba said. He wasn't on the other side - Sho supposed he had more sense than that. Even though they couldn't see him, somehow Sho imagined him beaming at them like a proud father.
Jun reddened; he was still easily embarrassed, and he knew now for sure that Aiba was listening in. His voice sounded as calm as ever, though, when he spoke. "We didn't drink your potion."
"Oh, I never thought you would. But it worked anyway! See, I created a truth serum that didn't need to be drunk - you were actually breathing it in the whole time. And it doesn't make you all hazy and weird while affected by the potion. I was right, liquid nitrogen was the secret ingredient! Isn't that cool?"
"The book, Aiba."
"Damn. I was hoping you'd forget it after all that. I guess you can have it back now, since my potion worked. Except..."
"I kind of dropped it. In liquid nitrogen."
"It'll be back on your shelf this Monday! I swear!"
"See that it is," Jun said, in the same sweet voice he'd spoken to Maruyama and Yokoyama earlier. Sho worried for Aiba - for a second. "Now that that's over," Jun continued, addressing Sho this time, "let’s go."
They've got things to catch up on, and an elaborate revenge to plan. But first - "we're going to your place," Jun told Sho. "Those - things - need to go."
"I knew it! Nino's right, you've been staring all day!"
"They're ugly, and they need to be destroyed."
"They're just pants! You're muggle-born, surely -"
"That has nothing to do with it. I told you, if you're looking for comfort, you could easily charm any nice pair of pants to feel like pajamas."
"And I told you, that's cheating!"*In room #1217, Aiba frowned. "Maybe I should have kept them locked a little longer."
Nino stopped fiddling with the Mario figure he had with him, and looked out the window. "They'll be alright," he said. "Jun is just going to have to live with Sho's fashion sense."
"I think Sho-chan will give in. He's stubborn, but he'd do anything for Jun. He even turned down the Ministry's offer because he knew he wouldn't be able to come back if he didn't!"
"This is different," Nino argued. "He has a weird fixation on those pants."
"Want to bet?"
"No need." Nino turned to Ohno, who was by his side. Ohno was half asleep, head resting on Nino's shoulders. "Hey, Oh-chan, I've got a question for you. Is Sho - "
"-making the right decision, coming back here? Is he going to be happy?" Aiba cut in, earning himself a glare from Nino, but he didn't mind. Some questions, he figured, were more important than others.
Ohno just yawned, and snuggled closer.
Aiba shrugged, grinning at Nino. "I guess the answer to some questions should remain a mystery. But I think the answer is yes, anyway."
Perhaps his own answers weren't guaranteed to be correct, like Ohno's. And perhaps he didn't have spirits telling him the future. But some things, one just knew.- the end -