"I can't believe I agreed to do this."
Nobuyuki gave Dante a sidelong glance as they walked down the school hall after lunch and couldn't help but chuckle. Dante looked like he was going to be sick, and Nobuyuki could completely understand. The task at hand certainly wasn't very glamorous, and he doubted anyone would be particularly inclined to do it, no matter the reward. It certainly wasn't the difficulty of the task, however, but simply the nature of it.
"You were so excited it was a heist, too," Nobuyuki said, grinning from ear to ear.
Dante shook his head and shuddered. "This isn't a heist," he said bitterly. "This is as perverted as going through a woman's underwear drawer." Glancing at Nobuyuki with serious eyes he added, "Seriously, this is fucked up."
"But you're going to do it because you're my brother, right?" Nobuyuki urged.
"Of course you'd throw that in my face," Dante grumbled. "Is that the only reason you made me your brother? To manipulate me?"
Despite knowing Dante didn't really believe that, the words stung Nobuyuki more than he'd expected them to. He stopped walking and pulled Dante out of the middle of the hallway so they wouldn't impede the traffic of other students as he said, "No, you know I care about you, Dante."
"Yeah, I do. You're just..." Dante sighed and shrugged helplessly.
"You're a conman, just like I am," Dante replied, forcing his roguish grin onto his face.
"No wonder we get along," Nobuyuki said, meeting the grin with one of his own. "Now, do you have everything you need to get the job done?"
Dante nodded and said, "Yep, except an opportunity. Do you have that part covered?"
"I've thought through a few scenarios," Nobuyuki said, nodding slowly. "I'm not sure how well this'll work, but I think I can get Mr. Morrison out of his room for at least ten minutes."
"Are you sure?"
"Pretty sure. I'm going to get him called down to the office. The walk there and back should be ten minutes on its own, and hopefully I can keep him there longer."
"Good," Dante replied with a firm nod but then added thoughtfully, "What about Viktor?"
Nobuyuki felt a sudden wave of nervousness as he studied Dante's face. "What do you mean?"
"We're going to have to give him the slip," Dante explained, giving Nobuyuki a completely exasperated look. "You know he wanted to do homework with you tonight. How is that going to work?"
Nobuyuki sighed and leaned against the brick wall behind him, pondering the question. "I don't know. I'll lie to him? What else am I supposed to do? Vladimir specifically said he wanted Viktor to know nothing about what's going on. If you and I tell Viktor we're both staying here for something, he'll get suspicious. We can't tell him."
"Is that really such a good idea?" Dante asked, reaching out and gently rubbing Nobuyuki's shoulder to show he wasn't attacking Nobuyuki. "He's still upset about the way you and Vladimir treated him on Saturday. If you really care about him the way you say you do, you shouldn't treat him like that."
When Dante didn't continue, Nobuyuki asked, "And so the altruistic alternative you're suggesting is...?"
Dante's eyes widened as he withdrew his hand and shrugged helplessly. "I'll lie to him for you?" he suggested weakly. "Okay, so I don't have a good plan, either."
Nobuyuki's eyes lit up with excitement as he said, "What if we go on a date? You surprise me with flowers or..." he trailed off as Dante began emphatically shaking his head.
"Yeah, that's going to work wonderfully," Dante replied, rolling his eyes. "There are two problems with that. First of all, there's no way I can get flowers by this afternoon."
"And the second?" Nobuyuki asked, hoping this one he could refute.
Dante gave Nobuyuki a dumb look and said, "You've got to stop lying to Viktor about our relationship, too."
"Why would I want to do that?" Nobuyuki asked, pulling away from Dante entirely.
"Come on, Nobu!" Dante said, growling in frustration. "You told me he kissed you at the hotel."
"Yeah," Nobuyuki said, "but that was just to keep me awake."
Dante nodded and said with his voice dripping with sarcasm, "Yes. The homophobic boy who is scared to death of being called gay thought, for some reason, that kissing you was a preferable option to slapping you awake. That makes total sense." He rolled his eyes and placed his finger on Nobuyuki's chest to drive the point home as he added, "Nobu, he's completely into you, and I don't see that changing anytime soon."
"But he told me, Dante..." Nobuyuki mumbled, "he told me he'd never be okay with it."
"Seriously?" Dante replied. He smacked Nobuyuki lightly in the face to get his attention, earning a surprised stare from Nobuyuki. "You've got to grow up, Nobuyuki. You're just afraid to pursue the relationship now." He put his hand to his forehead and then said, "Holy shit, it all makes sense!"
"You genuinely care about him now, and you're scared of getting hurt!" Dante said, excited to have figured it out.
Nobuyuki wasn't nearly as excited about his friend's excitement, and replied with a firm, "Shut up."
"Oh? And how are you going to make me?" Dante taunted.
The bell rang to indicate class was about to start and Nobuyuki used the excuse to escape the conversation. "By walking away. I've got class, Dante."
"See you after school," Dante called after him.
Nobuyuki turned and blew Dante a kiss before saying with a smirk, "It's a date, lover boy."
Dante stood in a doorway down the hall from Mr. Morrison's classroom, watching for any movement. He had the corner of the brick wall and the row of blue lockers to block him from view, but he still felt like he could be discovered at any moment.
Although he'd been a thief his whole life, he'd never been caught by anyone who could actually make him face consequences. He'd been trained by his cousins and uncle, and they'd made sure he could get in and out of nearly any lock as quickly as anyone could. Despite his skill, he'd always worried he'd make his move at the wrong time and someone would call the police or worse. They could try and stop him, which would definitely end badly for Dante.
Which was why he nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his shoulder and spun around, raising his fists awkwardly to fight off whoever had ambushed him. What he found instead was a laughing Viktor who seemed completely thrilled to have scared his friend.
"Viktor!" Dante said, fighting to catch his breath. "What are you still doing here?"
Viktor grinned wide as he touched Dante's shoulder gently. "I could ask you the same thing. Didn't you say you had to help your uncle with something after school?"
"Yeah, I uh, had to stay late for a project in last period," Dante said awkwardly before glancing down the hallway toward Mr. Morrison's door again. Nothing had changed, but he had to figure out a way to get rid of Viktor or the entire operation could be blown. "Had to push things back with my uncle to tomorrow," he continued, stalling as he tried to think of something else to say.
"Oh, good," Viktor replied excitedly. "We can hang out then, I mean, now that we're friends. I got held up a few minutes and missed my first bus. I was just about to leave to catch my second."
"Didn't you have plans with Nobuyuki today?" Dante asked, despite already knowing what had happened to those plans.
"We rescheduled," Viktor said with a shrug, though his eyes were slightly disappointed. "He said he had to go meet with Headmaster Kozlov after school. Something about the week of school he just missed? I was considering waiting for him."
"Oh. So you're flying solo for now, huh?" Dante said, nodding with a sad smile. "That's too bad. Shouldn't you go catch your bus, though?"
Viktor shook his head and grinned, "Well, not if you want to go do something. Come on, we can go to the park or something..." he trailed off as his smile slowly faded, seeing Dante's expression. Dante saw this and knew he was in trouble.
"Um, actually, I need to stay here and uh, wait for..." Dante stammered, and then stopped completely as he saw the anger in Viktor's expression.
"What the hell is going on?" Viktor snapped, glaring hard at Dante. "First Nobuyuki and Vladi tell me to go away, and now you're not telling me something. This is really starting to piss me off. I thought we were friends now?"
"I'm sorry, Viktor," Dante replied guiltily. "I kind of promised Nobuyuki."
"Yeah, I guess you've got to stick up for your boyfriend, don't you?" Viktor growled. He shook his head and raised his hands in surrender and started to leave. "Well, I've had enough. I'm leaving. You guys are-"
"We're not boyfriends," Dante said quickly. He didn't know what had come over him, but it was as if his tongue had developed a mind of its own, born out of the desperation to keep Viktor from leaving on bad terms.
The plan worked as Viktor stopped dead in his tracks and turned around, an unreadable expression on his face. "What?"
Dante knew he'd already gone too far, but decided there was no reason not to go all the way now. There was no sense in leaving the topic hanging so it could be misunderstood. "Nobuyuki didn't want to tell you, because he's afraid of you."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Viktor asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Viktor, I'm not gay. Never have been," Dante replied, shrugging helplessly. "Though there are probably a lot of girls I'd like to sleep with less than I would Nobuyuki." He chuckled but stopped abruptly when he saw that Viktor didn't find the thought amusing. "But he has a penis, and that's kind of a big turnoff for me."
"Then what's going on?" Viktor asked.
"Back when you first pushed Nobu away, he knew you were attracted to him and was trying to make you jealous," Dante explained, pleased to see the sudden nervousness in Viktor's eyes. "I agreed to pretend to be his boyfriend, but ever since you and I became friends I've had a hard time keeping up appearances."
"Uh..." Viktor said slowly, raising his hands and taking a step away. "I, don't know what to say. I'm not-"
"Oh for the love of God, if you say you're not attracted to Nobuyuki, I'm going to beat the shit out of you," Dante said, rolling his eyes harder than he had all day.
Viktor shook his head violently and finished his earlier thought. "I'm not gay."
"Fine, bisexual then," Dante said with an exasperated sigh. "You can't deny that you're attracted to him."
"I-" Viktor began, but Dante cut him off quickly, putting his finger on Viktor's chest and poking him hard until he ran into the wall.
"Don't you fucking dare," Dante growled. "You've been attracted to him the whole time, and I've seen it the whole time. It's obvious to anyone who cares about you. Hell, I'm sure Vladimir knew about it the first time he saw you two together. It's no wonder he was jealous."
"What?" Viktor asked, now more surprised than ever before.
Dante was eager to be able to explain something about Vladimir which Viktor didn't already know. "You're Vladimir's only friend here. He probably didn't know how to handle it when he thought you were going after Nobuyuki."
"So you don't think it's because Vladimir hates gay people?" Viktor asked, a spark of hope in his eyes.
"I know he doesn't," Dante replied without thinking. "In fact..." he stopped as he realized what he'd just said, and his mind began to race as he thought of some way to take the words back.
"In fact...?" Viktor asked, a look of complete bewilderment on his face. "What, Dante? You can't just leave it at that! This is my brother we're talking about!"
If Dante had been in trouble before, it seemed like nothing compared to now. He pulled away from Viktor and slammed his hand against the wall, muttering, "Shit..."
"You've got to tell me," Viktor said, coming up on Dante's side and trying to get a good look at Dante's face, but Dante turned away, not wanting to reveal anything else in his expression. "We're brothers now, right?" Viktor pleaded. "You can't keep this from me."
Dante laughed helplessly and collapsed against the wall, breathing heavily as he tried to regain control of his nerves. When he turned he saw Viktor biting his lip nervously, but Dante knew Viktor wasn't going to back down from this. "Okay, fine," Dante said at last. "I'll tell you, but you can't tell Vladimir you know, okay? He'd kill Nobuyuki and then me."
Viktor thought about that for a moment and then nodded once. "Okay, I promise."
"Hmm," Dante said thoughtfully as an idea came to him on how to kill two birds with one stone. "I think I need another promise from you first."
"Which is?" Viktor asked patiently.
"You need to stop being an idiot about Nobuyuki," Dante said, smiling smugly.
Dante crossed his arms over his chest and continued. "You like him. You want him. He likes you and wants you. Get over yourself and fucking tell him."
"You want me to promise that?" Viktor asked, scratching his head uncertainly.
Viktor stared at Dante for a moment and then replied, "I'll think about it. That's as good as you're going to get out of me."
Dante sighed and dropped his arms to his side. "It'll have to do. So, Vladimir-" He stopped when he heard a door open and close down the hall and pulled Viktor out of sight as quickly as possible. "Shush," he whispered, putting his finger to his lips as he peered around the corner to see Mr. Morrison walking the opposite direction down the hallway. "We can't let him know we're here."
After Mr. Morrison had disappeared around the corner, Viktor broke the silence between them. "Okay, now tell me about Vladimir."
"I can't right now. I have something to take care of," Dante said before pulling away from the wall and approaching Mr. Morrison's now vacant classroom.
"What?" Viktor said as he caught up to Dante. "You can't just end the conversation like that."
"Watch me," Dante replied, fishing his lock picks out of his pocket. "I'm on a time limit, Viktor. This is what I stayed after school for. Come on, I could use an extra pair of eyes."
Nobuyuki had been sitting in the office for longer than he'd expected, but he didn't mind the wait. It gave him a chance to finalize the plan in his mind to make sure it went well. He only hoped Dante would be as patient.
When the secretary finally told him that the Headmaster was waiting for him inside his office, Nobuyuki eagerly rose to his feet and walked inside. He found Headmaster Kozlov sitting at his desk and riffling through a stack of papers, and Nobuyuki considered knocking to get the Headmaster's attention.
But just as he lifted his hand against the door, the Headmaster looked up and smiled, standing to greet him. "Headmaster Kozlov," Nobuyuki said, bowing his head as he walked farther into the room and stuck out his hand, "thank you for seeing me."
Headmaster Kozlov took Nobuyuki's hand and shook it briefly before gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. "I heard about what happened at your home. I was expecting you to take some time off. It's understandable, considering what your family must be going through."
"All the same," Nobuyuki replied, glad the Headmaster was going directly to the business at hand, "I'd like to get back on track with my education, and my father is expecting as much."
"I'm glad to hear it. You've been a superb student so far, and it would have been a shame if your grades slipped because of what happened. We're glad to have you back." Headmaster Kozlov's smile was warm, but there was a question in his eyes as he asked, "What can I do for you?"
Nobuyuki sighed, making his face look as distraught as possible. "I'm a little worried about getting the teachers to cooperate. Not all of them will be so understanding about my situation."
"I've already spoken to all of your teachers, Mr. Sato," Headmaster Kozlov replied, chuckling lightly. "I would think you'd have already received the make up work they had for you."
"I haven't stopped by Mr. Morrison's class yet, Headmaster," Nobuyuki explained, frowning deeply. "I'm worried, considering our history, that he won't be so kind and understanding. I'm really here about him."
"Oh?" Headmaster Kozlov asked, pursing his lips thoughtfully. "Well, I can speak to him about it again and make sure, but he seemed cooperative to me. He may have his problems, but he's not completely cold hearted."
Nobuyuki's pulse began to quicken as he worried his strategy might not be strong enough to work. "I just don't trust him," He said after a moment. "He's different when you're not around. He doesn't treat his students very well."
"Of course, I know his reputation," Headmaster Kozlov said with a nod. "I can see why you feel that way."
"Would it be too much trouble to ask you to call him down here and bring my make up work with him?" Nobuyuki asked hesitantly.
"Going for insurance, I see," Headmaster Kozlov replied. "I can respect your reasoning. Just give me a moment and I'll have Mrs. Jenkins make the call."
The Headmaster left the room to tell his secretary to do just that, and Nobuyuki whispered his thanks to the universe, and then made a call to Dante, hoping he was still in position. "Dante, you're in the clear," he said with noticeable relief, "You should have the window you were looking for."
"You're breaking into Mr. Morrison's classroom?" Viktor asked as Dante placed his pick in the lock and started to fiddle with it. Viktor'd never seen someone pick a lock before, and he found the process fascinating, even if the thought of getting caught was enough to make his anxiety soar.
"Geez! Will you fucking stop talking for a minute?" Dante grumbled in exasperation. "Are you trying to get me caught?"
Sufficiently admonished, Viktor kept his mouth shut for the next thirty seconds as Dante finished picking the pins out of the lock and twisted it open with his tension wrench. He held the door for Viktor and then stepped in after him, closing the door quietly behind them and relocking it.
"Nobuyuki must have gotten Mr. Morrison called down to the office like we planned. If everything goes correctly, we'll have a minimum of ten minutes to get what we came here for, but we should still hurry before he comes back," Dante said as he headed toward the desk and bent in front of the drawer he'd been directed to open. It jostled as he tested to see if it was unlocked, and then cursed, barely loud enough for Viktor to hear.
"Nobuyuki is in on this, too?" Viktor asked, not sure how he felt about that revelation.
"Yep," Dante said with a quick nod. "Vladimir asked us to take care of it."
"Take care of what?" Viktor asked, liking this scenario less and less by the second.
Dante sighed and turned toward him briefly as he set his tension wrench in the lock. "Mr. Morrison has something which belongs to your brother."
"What?" Viktor asked, his impatience growing.
"I shouldn't be telling you any of this," Dante replied as he returned his attention to the lock on the drawer, "but at least I wasn't the one who promised Vladimir not to tell you."
"Tell me what!" Viktor snapped, sick of Dante's delays.
Dante nodded toward the door and said, "Go over there and serve as lookout. I need to make sure Mr. Morrison doesn't come back while I'm breaking into his desk."
Viktor growled but did as he was told, walking back to the door and looking out the window as Dante continued to fiddle with the lock. It appeared to be a more intricate lock than the one on the door, the way Dante was continually griping at it. Viktor wanted to ask if Dante needed any help when what Dante said caught him completely off guard.
"Vladimir is gay, Viktor. Or, at least he has sex with men."
"What!?" Viktor asked, falling against the door as he momentarily lost the strength in his legs.
"Yep," Dante replied, switching to a different tool other than his standard pick. "And Mr. Morrison knows all about it."
"That doesn't make any sense!" Viktor said, shaking his head violently. "When I started to..." he paused when he realized he was about to say 'when I started to notice Nobuyuki' and began again. "When he asked me about Nobuyuki he said a lot of horrible things. There's no way he's gay."
Dante knocked on the front of the desk and said, "Well, in here is evidence if you really want to know. Vladimir wants it so he can blackmail Mr. Morrison into leaving you alone."
"What?" Viktor asked, not sure how to process this new piece of data, "That's terrible." He thought it over for a moment and then realized how tired he was of letting his brother fight his battles for him. "Let's go then, I can handle myself."
Dante looked up at Viktor with an incredulous stare. "You're not serious..."
"Of course I am," Viktor replied, crossing his arms over his chest and staring back defiantly.
"This has already moved far beyond you, Viktor," Dante replied as he returned his attention to the lock.
"And how is this evidence supposed to blackmail Mr. Morrison?" Viktor asked, realizing Dante wasn't going to stop. He returned to looking out the small window in the door. "Just because he knows Vladi is gay, I don't know how he could hold anything against him."
Dante grunted triumphantly as the lock twisted open. He then groaned in disgust as he reached inside the drawer and retrieved a brown, crusty rag. "Um... yeah, about that," Dante said, shuddering.
"What is that?" Viktor asked.
"It's a rag. What does it look like?"
"How is that evidence?"
Dante gave Viktor a blank stare as he explained, "It's what they used to clean themselves up."
"What 'they' used?" Viktor echoed, letting the words reverberate through his mind. He finally caught up to what Dante was saying and thoughts of Mr. Morrison and Vladimir together flooded his mind, images he'd no longer be able to get rid of. He shook his head as a wave of nausea overtook him. "Oh my god, I think I'm going to be sick."
"I was when I heard. What a waste of good coffee..." Dante muttered as he focused on getting the drawer back into its proper position. He then stood and looked over the desk, making sure everything was exactly as it had been when he'd entered.
"My brother was having sex with Mr. Morrison?" Viktor asked, unwilling to believe what he'd been told.
"Yep. Sorry, Viktor," Dante said, shrugging. "Didn't really want to tell you, but you couldn't leave it alone."
Viktor covered his mouth as he felt a surge of bile in his throat, but he choked it back and asked in dismay, "What the fuck? Why would he do that?"
Dante stood and sighed. "To get Mr. Morrison to change his grades. And, when Mr. Morrison threatened to go after you, Vladimir knew he had to change things."
Viktor paled and his body went rigid as if he'd been struck. "Mr. Morrison threatened to... Oh God..." The bile was teetering at the edge of his mouth now, and he dry-heaved over the trash can next to the door.
"Are you happy you asked now?" Dante asked as he fished a small plastic bag from his pocket and moved to open it up when he stopped dead in his tracks, reaching up to activate the communications chip in his ear. "What do you mean 'I'm good to go', Nobu? Mr. Morrison left his room a couple of minutes ago."
Dante's eyes widened and his complexion paled as he motioned Viktor back to the door. Viktor stepped back up to the window and immediately backed out of sight as he saw Mr. Morrison coming down the hallway. "Shit, he's coming!" He whispered harshly.
"Come on, we've got to hide!" Dante said, motioning for Viktor to follow him. Viktor glanced at the closet and wondered why they weren't heading toward it but then joined Dante at the desk. "Come on, get under there. There's enough space for both of us if we're quick about it."
"Won't he see us?" Viktor asked as he did as he was told, sliding under the desk and squishing his body as far back into the corner as he could manage.
Dante climbed in after him, bending awkwardly and sliding in over Viktor's legs, and ended up sitting halfway on top of him in order to get all of his body underneath the cover of the desk. He paused there for a moment and whispered, "If he hears us, we're done for. Be as quiet as possible. He's coming back for some papers and should only be here a moment, according to Nobuyuki."
Viktor nodded as well as he could and tried to get his breathing under control, though it was difficult with how hard his heart was pounding. This was almost as damaging to his nerves as his night in the hotel had been, and it was starting to get to him.
Then he felt Dante's hand slide into his, and he looked up in confusion to see Dante wearing an encouraging smile. Dante's eyes held the same amount of fear Viktor was feeling, but there was also something else there which helped Viktor begin to calm down. Although Dante was afraid, he was also confident things would work out, and Viktor began to feel that through their interlocked hands as well.
The lock on the door jiggled and the door opened, and they could hear Mr. Morrison talking to Headmaster Kozlov.
"Sorry, I was in the restroom. You need what, Mrs. Jenkins? Nobuyuki Sato's make up work?" He paused just inside the doorway to focus on the conversation. "Why isn't he just coming to pick it up from me like he should?"
Viktor focused on those words and let them feed something else inside him. Anger. He couldn't believe Mr. Morrison! First, he was an asshole, and second he was treating Nobuyuki with disrespect, and third... He covered his mouth as he thought about Vladimir and Mr. Morrison together again and nearly threw up all over Dante.
Mr. Morrison started forward again and Viktor held his breath, hoping they weren't about to be discovered. But Mr. Morrison stopped at the edge of his desk and began riffling through and gathering papers, muttering angrily. After less than a minute of standing there, he turned around and walked back through the door, leaving the classroom behind.
Viktor finally allowed himself to breathe again as Dante started moving out from under the desk. Once he had enough room, he started to slide out as well and found Dante's extended hand waiting for him to help him up. Viktor took it and was pulled to his feet where he nodded his thanks to Dante.
"On the bright side, now you know your brother doesn't have anything against gay people," Dante said as he brought the plastic bag back out of his pocket and opened it before sliding the rag inside. "You don't have to hide your feelings anymore. He was probably just protecting himself, or you. He does that a lot, it seems."
Viktor shook his head with disgust as he eyed the bag in Dante's hands. "This is the most horrible thing I've ever heard."
"Well, forget about it then and let's get out of here. Nobuyuki won't have Mr. Morrison occupied forever, if he even does at all," Dante said, rolling his eyes before he extended the bag toward Viktor, who looked at Dante and shook his head. "Here, hold this for a moment. I'm going to make sure everything is how it was when I got to it," Dante said, shaking the bag up and down.
Viktor sighed and took the bag grudgingly, but as soon as he did an idea came to him. As Dante bent to inspect the drawer, Viktor headed toward the door.
"You know," Dante said, as Viktor started to leave. "I was thinking that maybe we should go get something to eat while we wait for Nobu, you know, catch up or-" he stopped as the door slammed shut and looked around. "Viktor?"
He made one last quick survey of the room and then opened the door, expecting to find Viktor in the hallway, but there was no one to greet him at all. "Fuck..." he whispered, feeling his anxiety go through the roof. "This isn't good. Not good at all."