Kakeru stood in front of the student council storage closet and realized, with solemn contention, that he wasn’t tired enough to take a nap during the after-school meeting today.
He looked forward to Wednesdays for this sole reason: he had always managed to get out of his last class early enough to sneak into the student council room before anyone else, giving him a solid ten minutes of silent sleep before he spent the next ten or fifteen getting yelled at by Nao, or jostled around by Kimi. Shorty was easy enough to ignore, and Kimi cared less about his involvement and more about the fact that she was rough-handling him, so when she was asked to get back to her duties, she let him be. Machi, he knew, could care less about what he did. As long as he wasn’t bothering her, she usually didn’t bother him in return.
And then, there was Yuki.
With Yuki, he learned it depended on the day, though what exactly caused his friend’s reactions, he hadn’t quite figured out yet. Some days he would come over and nudge him harshly off his makeshift bed with his foot, telling him to get his things together. Other days, he would sit in his seat and, in that calm yet stern voice, tell him to get up. On other other days, he said nothing about the matter at all; he didn’t call to him, or get aggravated. He didn’t indulge in everyone else’s pleas for him to do something about it. On those days, Kakeru was, on the surface, thankful, but as he kept his eyes closed in faux sleep, he could almost visualize the hurt he felt from being ignored on the backs of his eyelids.
It was stupid, feeling that way. Luckily, those days were few and far between, and those childish pangs of hurt didn’t pit very deep in him whatsoever.
(So, no, he didn’t lie awake some nights wondering why the feeling existed somewhere far down the back of his throat, wondering when it made a home there.)
(And he didn’t think about why, during those rare afternoons, he would end up slipping an eye open to watch his friend conduct the meeting with that borderline phlegmatic disposition he insisted on keeping up, for no other reason than he liked to.)
(And he definitely, definitely didn’t think about him when he scrolled through his phone to look at things he knew would numb his wired and sleepless mind in the middle of the night.)
(Yeah. How lucky he was, that these problems didn’t exist.)
With the empty council room at his back, he shifted from foot to foot, sighing into the closet before shutting it again. How lame , he thought. When he turned to face the room, he made the sentiment audible, groaning to the ceiling.
No one heard him. So he shuffled around, toeing the chairs out of place and back again. Spinning the whiteboard a couple times when he passed it, their names and assigned colors still faint from the stain, having gone too long without being erased. He sat down at the head desk, tried to settle himself in its cushioned chair, only to get up again when he couldn’t stop bobbing his legs.
Whatever had spurred his agitation was really taking the joy out of his afternoon. Was it because the whole building was too quiet? Maybe it was the weather, finally growing chilly and peaceful as another harsh summer passed. Peace was fine — he was the school’s vice protector of peace, after all — but at that moment, it made him feel bored. He wondered if he could sneak out to the main office, maybe make some early announcement to get everyone to hurry up, or at least stir up a little excitement…
He glanced at the clock. Seven minutes until the tone would signal the end of class, and another few minutes after that before the others would show up. He wondered if he could get by just wandering the halls until then. If he was lucky, he would run into Yuki so they could at least chat some of the time away.
Part of him thought about just waiting for him outside of his classroom, but something seemed intrinsically off about that. Maybe because it would be boring, just waiting against the wall.
Oh, but I could pretend it’s like I’m his…
He sputtered a laugh at his own thoughts. The fangirls in his class wouldn’t be happy about that. He imagined their pure fury, that almost manic reaction to anything that so much as breathed near their prince. It would be scary if it weren’t just bizarre. Which made him think back on his idea, thinking that maybe, if he had some snacks or something to keep him preoccupied… Yeah, he could make the wait worth it.
It was that thought that gave him some ambition to try, so he started towards the exit, hefting his bag over his shoulder with some newfound direction. As he reached for the door, though, it skimmed his fingertips as it slid open with a harsh clack.
Well, lo and behold. The devil himself!
“Ack, Yun!” Kakeru lifted his brows at his friend, feeling a smile peel over his face. “Wow, you’re never here this early. But it must be fate — I was getting kind of desperate! I was about to rescue you so you could keep me company.”
There was a beat of quiet. Yuki’s eyes, he noticed, took a moment to snap to his, and then it looked like he took another moment to register that he was there at all. Yuki stepped back, startled, before his expression settled into a dim version of his usual exasperation at being caught off-guard. As he responded with silence, though, Kakeru realized he might not have heard a thing he said.
“Pres?” He waved a hand in front of his eyes, feeling his smile leave him. “Hello-o-o, Earth to President—?”
Yuki grabbed his wrist to stop him. He looked kind of angry, Kakeru thought, but more than anything he looked tired. There were smudges of darkness that shadowed his under-eyes.
“Could you move?” Yuki asked, forcing Kakeru’s hand away from his face. “I kind of need to get in.”
Well, wasn’t someone snippy today.
“Ooh, yes, sir, President-sama.” Kakeru stepped aside and gave an over-dramatic bow, extending an arm to welcome his friend into the room. Yuki scoffed, but walked in, shutting the door behind him with a much more gentle touch than when he had arrived. When Kakeru heard the small thud of his friend dropping his things on the head desk, he peered over at him. Yuki all but collapsed into the seat.
Kakeru straightened from his bow.
“Did you just have gym class or something? You look like you’re made of gelatin.”
“No,” Yuki answered shortly. He pulled his things slowly out of his bag, and in a way, he seemed dazed. Kakeru dropped his bag on one of the tables again and, dragging a chair behind him, neared the desk. Yuki shifted a stack of papers in front of him and squinted at it.
“So what’s up with you, then?” Kakeru asked.
“Oh yeah?” As he set the chair down opposite the president’s seat, he looked at what Yuki was trying to concentrate on. A small laugh left him, and he reached a hand out, fingers splayed over the packet, and flipped it. “Trying to read upside-down will only give you a headache, Yun-Yun. Doesn't make you look very cool, either.”
Yuki started at the intrusion. Then, eyes scanning the righted words, he quickly turned red.
“Shut up,” he mumbled. He dipped his head to rest his forehead into his palm. Kakeru briefly acknowledged the way his bangs fell over his hand. “What are you doing here so early, anyway?”
“I always get here early,” Kakeru said, finally settling in his chair opposite Yuki. His friend seemed determined to keep his focus on the page in front of him, but Kakeru noticed how his eyes didn't so much as skim. “Good thing sensei believed me when I told her I have important stuff to do for these things. It’s impossible to sleep when everyone’s here and yelling about stuff.”
“Don’t lie to your teachers, Manabe.”
“Aw, it’s not always a lie! Sometimes we do have important stuff to do that makes me leave early.”
Yuki rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His brows pinched in something like frustration, or maybe pain, and he let out a small groan.
“Don’t be mean.” Kakeru rested his arms on the edge of the desk and bent forward to set his chin on his forearm. From there, he could look up at Yuki, who kept his head low. “It didn’t matter today, though, I guess. Came here for a nap and I couldn’t sleep! I was just bored. But then I was thinking, ‘Hey, what if I just wandered around until I ran into Yun so I won’t be bored anymore,’ and then I thought, ‘What if I just waited for him outside of his class?’ Which would have been funny, because it would have made your weird fangirls mad.”
Yuki lowered his hand from his eyes at that, and he stared at him.
“Why would that make them mad?”
Kakeru paused. At first, he waited for his friend to catch on by himself, waited to see that classic look of annoyance dawn on him, but as that questioning look refused to leave his expression, Kakeru felt something weird flip his gut around.
Huh… maybe they wouldn’t think of it like that, he thought. He tilted his head down to briefly press his nose into his wristband. Or, maybe Yun’s just extra slow today.
He picked his head back up and shrugged the thought away, saying, “They get mad at stupid things all the time. Like, oh no, my Prince Charming isn't paying attention to me, woe is everything.”
Kakeru shifted to drape himself over the back of his chair, hand fluttering to his forehead. Yuki shook his head at the dramatics, diverting his gaze back down to the packet he wasn’t reading.
“You shouldn’t tease them like that.”
“Nah, it’s not teasing." He shifted himself to sit up again. "It would be teasing if I tried to like, kiss you or something.”
The words left him before he could really think them over. His stomach lurched when he realized what he said, but before his grin could drop, and before he could internally scold himself for even having that reaction, Yuki hit him with a (rather weak, he noticed) chop to the head.
“Idiot, that would be harassment.”
“Ow, hey — I didn’t say I would do it. I was just saying!”
Yuki sighed, exasperated, and as he sat back in the chair, reaching up to pinch his eyes closed again, Kakeru reveled in the brief feeling of relief that passed over him. After the relief, though, came a wave of… well, something else. Something strange, which, he guessed, was something like embarrassment.
He rubbed at the sore spot on his head, but thought little of it.
As he watched Yuki sink back and grow quiet again, he realized he had never seen him so openly tired. There had been days when he seemed a little out of it, just distracted or hiding small yawns, but now he looked as though he could drop at a moment’s notice. He knew Yuki was never the type to just stop for a quick nap in the middle of class (“irresponsible” is what he called it), but, well, this wasn’t class time, so to Kakeru, it was an obvious solution.
He shifted his cheek into his hand, propped up by his elbow against the desk's edge.
“Hey, Yun, we don’t have that much to talk about today, right?” Yuki blinked his eyes open again, and he seemed to take a moment to remember where he was. Kakeru elaborated. “For the meeting.”
“Huh? Oh. No, just the usual. I think Machi should have some of the numbers back for the culture festival by now—”
“Cool, cool.” Kakeru slapped his free hand against the table, causing the other’s shoulders to jump minutely. “It’s settled, then. I’ll run the meeting!”
“What?” Yuki quirked a brow at him and sat up straight. “What are you talking about?”
“We’ll trade for today! I’ll run the meeting, while you take a nap.”
Yuki almost seemed to blanch at the suggestion. “Don’t be stupid. I’m not going to fall asleep.”
“Because we’re in school? And it’s my job to run the meeting?”
“Rules are meant to be broken, Yun! Besides, after the bell, school’s over. And I’ve got everything covered, trust me.”
Yuki crossed his arms, and somehow Kakeru thought he looked even more exhausted than before. “It’s fine,” he said, “I’m fine. Besides, I’m not you.”
“What? What does that mean?”
“I’m not a delinquent.”
“And, I don’t…” Yuki reached up to pass a hand over his hair, brushing back his bangs for a moment before letting them fall again. “It’s not like I can just fall asleep in front of everyone, you know.”
“Why not? I do it all the time!”
“I know you do.”
Kakeru waited for the rest of his argument, but it never came. He shrugged, then, and looked back at the clock.
“Well, hey, we still have a few minutes until the last class lets out. I could sneak into the main office and make an announcement that the meeting will be late today to buy you some more time.”
“Yuki, come on! You can’t even read straight. How can you expect to read off the list of all the stuff people are complaining about this week if you can barely keep your eyes open?”
The other boy looked ready to retaliate, but Kakeru continued, feeling a bit fiery.
“Besides,” he said, “the student body exists in order to help the students, yeah? Well, we’re students, too! You may be the president, but the way I see it, you’re currently out of commission, and refusing to help yourself. So let me, the next in command, help you!”
Yuki paused, the line of his mouth falling a little grim as he gave a look that Kakeru knew said you're being too much. He glanced at the clock with a squint, then looked at the array of reports and work on the desk before him. With a sigh, he closed his eyes, tilting his head forward a little.
“Fine?” Kakeru echoed. Yuki reached up to scrub at his eyes, before opting to just press his fingers against them. His shoulders slouched wearily.
“Just… make it normal, okay? Don’t make up some crazy excuse. Just say you’re postponing it and—”
“Geez, relax, Yun. It’s not like I’ve never made an announcement before!”
Yuki looked up at him, looking truly bleary-eyed.
“I know. That’s why I’m telling you.”
“Psh, you worry too much. Now.” Kakeru shifted his position to kneel on his chair, and shoved Yuki’s things aside to clear a spot on the desk. “You just rest your dumb, pretty head while I go.”
Yuki scowled, but as Kakeru leaned over to take him by the wrists, he didn’t resist being pulled forward into a slouch. As he placed his arms on the desk, Yuki folded them, moving out of the other boy’s grasp. He looked down at his sleeves. Kakeru quieted the urge to pat his hair. Don't wanna get hit, he reasoned.
“I’ll make it quick,” he said, standing with a tall stretch. “I know it’d kill you to let anyone see you sleep.”
“Yeah. Princesses like their privacy, right?”
He stepped back before Yuki could manage a swing at him, and he laughed. Yuki, however, relented, and at last dropped his head into his arms.
“Just go,” he muttered, the words muffled. Kakeru gave him a salute he couldn’t see.
“Aye, aye, my Captain.”
And he left, his spirits buzzing. He was, frankly, surprised that Yuki had given in so easily. The last bell rang as he made it to the office, and he made his announcement, hoping the other three got the point that they couldn’t go into the room yet. Something about glass and a stray flock of birds, placated by him saying,
“Don’t worry, I’ve got everything under control! So Machi, Kimi, Shorty — don’t come!”
As he walked back, passing by the crowd leaving to go home, he wondered what exactly had happened to make Yuki so tired. An all-nighter, maybe, but that seemed unlike him. But, he supposed, he didn’t really know him that well, not like that, not yet. He didn’t even always know why his friend felt the way he did during the usual ins and outs of their days, so to guess what he was like at home was just pure theory.
Still. It wasn’t a crime to wonder, was it?
When he returned to the student council room, he shut the door quietly behind him — not because Yuki was a particularly light sleeper, as he had found out from their trip, but… well, it was courtesy, he guessed. He walked in on light feet to the table where he had dropped his things, and there, he let himself look at the president.
He had fallen asleep quickly; he could tell by the way he breathed. Shifting his bag onto his shoulder, he stepped closer to the desk, feeling strangely tentative in his footsteps, and feeling, even stranger, a weird thrum in his chest. When he looked down at him, he acknowledged how his cheek pressed against his arms. How long his eyelashes really were, and how dark. As his friend breathed, a stray strand of hair flitted against his lip.
He had joked about it before, but Yuki was, in truth, very pretty.
Kakeru hardly thought of it as he reached forward, intending to move his hair back and out of the way. But, he paused when his fingertips just barely hovered above his skin. Right next to that eyebrow, finally settled into an unworried line.
Beside his hand, he watched Yuki’s eyes dance slow under his eyelids. It seemed almost ghostly, with how pale his skin was, but he stared, wondering what his subconscious was brewing. He realized, then, that Yuki never seemed to talk about his dreams, and he wondered if he was one of those people that didn’t dream at all. Kakeru had lots of strange ones; when he woke from them, Yuki was often the first to hear, sometimes in hushed and excited voicemails, usually in texts that, when re-read in the morning, were nearly incomprehensible.
Though, there were some he kept to himself. There were some that Kakeru wasn't sure he could explain.
He spent another moment staring, until finally, he retreated his hand and shoved it into his pocket.
This sucks, he thought. He wouldn’t let himself elaborate on it. As he turned away to face the door, he realized he wanted to look back again. As if to check and see if Yuki had been faking it, like he himself often did, but really, he knew, he just wanted to look at him a little longer. Plain and simple.
It was pretty pathetic.
Man, this really sucks.
He caught the inside of his cheek between his teeth, and pressed himself forward.
He sat at the far end of the room, where he could see the time and keep an eye on the door to make sure no one came in. Outside, there was a dull noise as friends gathered and parted, and slowly, as the minutes passed, the noise eked away. When he looked at the time, counting forward to four o’clock and back again in fives, he realized he had quarantined himself for the next twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of listening to the clock tick. Twenty minutes of not looking to his right.
Ah, his own chivalry, biting him in the ass.
He could only spend so long scribbling in his notebooks and pretending to do homework. At fifteen minutes left, he mimicked Yuki’s sleeping position, and he pressed his eyes against his forearm with a groan.
Who cares if I look at him? he asked himself, feeling a bit resolute despite the unrelenting waves of embarrassment finally hitting him and becoming clear. It’s not like I don’t see him every day. What makes this so different?
So, not one to bury his urges often, he shifted his head just so, just to peek. From where he sat, he couldn’t see much of his friend, but he had already seen his face up close. He could imagine it. Yuki’s back continued to rise and fall slow, and Kakeru thought of the strand of hair pulsing against his lip with each in and out breath.
That discomforting thrum returned in his chest, and he buried his eyes again.
This, he thought, now feeling acutely miserable as the wisps of understanding started to dawn on him. This is what makes it different.