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DR:ASLH - Fictober 2019

Chapter Text

“It will be fun, trust me.”

 

“I doubt that,” Brendan tells her, looking with a little more than vague concern at the aircraft. Tsukino nudges him with her usual shit-eating grin. Somehow this does absolutely nothing to reassure him.

 

“Aw, c’mon, I’m a certified pilot! And at least I’m not forcing you to take off your arms in case they’re like bombs or something like that. Airport security is wack,” she notes, tapping her chin as he just stares at her flatly. “What? I mean, you mentioned that one very bad airport experience-“

 

“I get it,” he says, long-suffering but used to this. Logically, he knows she’s just joking. Logically, this is a brand new aircraft and has been triple checked by both of them. And logically, the chances of a freak lightning strike on a clear March morning are next to none.

 

That does not mean he entirely trusts Tsukino Chisaki, who had previously tricked him into witnessing a barrel roll in person, and is currently busy tying a banner to the back of her plane that reads “ASTER EVERETT WILL YOU MARRY ME”. In pink glitter. Because that’s actually, completely, totally something Aster would like. It’s also horribly irresponsible and will probably get particulate caught in the engines and they’ll all crash and die.

 

And yet.

 

She turns back to him, right hand on her hip, and thumps the door with her left stump. “Well?”

 

Brendan sighs and gets in.

Chapter Text

As a habit, Ryouji tries very hard not to oversleep. Mostly because the day he does, he will probably fuck up his sleep schedule into oblivion and never get up at 5 ever again. While that may actually suit him better than waking up at 5 (by god he’d LOVE to pass out until noon), the unfortunate reality is that he’s a busy man with shit to do so THAT DOESN’T PAN OUT.

 

But, well, yesterday Kikun needed to vent a shit ton of what’s been bugging her, and neither of them actually fell asleep until like 3, so maybe it’s inevitable that Ryouji ends up stumbling into the kitchen at 11 am, already apologizing for his absence. Not like anyone’s around to care except Sumitama and Shionaga, the former of which pats the other gently as he sighs and moans and generally grumps around looking pretty miserable.

 

“Are you, uh.” Ryouji blinks. “Are you guys okay there?”

 

“I am dying,” Shionaga says, muffled from where he’s placed his head on the table. “I’m dying and Iris is killing me.”

 

Ryouji is not sure how literal he’s being. It’s probably better not to ask.

 

Sumitama glances at him, though she continues to prod Shionaga. “He’ll be fine. He just ate half my instant noodles.”

 

No fucking clue what that has to do with Shionaga dying over here but okay, cool.

 

“How do you even eat that all the time?” Shionaga asks, presumably not to Ryouji. “There’s so much sodium. I think I’m actively dying.”

 

“Now? Now you listen to me?” Sumitama tsks, then somehow manages to drag Shionaga to his feet. “C’mon, I’m going to cook you a single vegetable, and then you’re going to thank me.”

 

“If you could have done that earlier, then why didn’t you?” Shionaga blinks, looking more than a little half asleep. “And why do I need to stand up?”

 

Ryouji just watches them bicker for what feels like forever, and as soon as he’s sure no one’s going to burn the house down, he slips down the hall back to his room and his waiting bed. It’s way too early for this.

Chapter Text

The fact that Tsukino has a trigonometry exam tomorrow doesn’t scare her. Math is for CHUMPS and ABSOLUTE LOSERS and anyway trig is pretty important if she wants to get into flight school, which she does, so it’s important that she’s good at math, which she is! Tsukino Chisaki may be a blatant fucking dumbass, but she knows how to count!*

 

*She doesn’t really know how to count and needs a calculator to compute two digit addition but she can do funky unit circle things so who gives a shit.

 

The thing that is Actually Currently Scaring Her, however, is the fact that the teacher assigns homework due on the day of the exam. Like the brilliant child she is, she completely forgot to do any of it and pushed it all off. And by this she means she didn’t do any homework for the whole term. So now she has four months’ worth of homework to do in one night. Yee fucking haw, baby.

 

Man it’d be cool if she can actually stay awake through the exam tomorrow.

 

She puts her pencil down and shakes out her hand again. Her vision is starting to go blurry from the poor lighting, but also if she turns the lights on any brighter there’s a good chance Ririka will straight up murder her and dump her roommate’s corpse out the window, so LET’S. NOT.

 

Obviously, she needs to keep pushing through this. Also obviously, she needs to get some sleep. Ugh... But then even if she passes the exam tomorrow, she might not have all the homework done, and that’d tank her grade anyway. Like yeah, she might pass with a low grade or something, but it’d be nice to have that cushion! And the high math grade is supposed to make up for her borderline failing history! Who gives a shit about America anyway! She’s never even been there!!

 

Yet just minutes later, the whole deal with verifying starts swimming before her eyes, and… yeah. Yeah, it’s time to give up. Friendship ended with math. Math sucks.

 

Tsukino clicks on her phone for the time (3:09 am), posts something haphazard about “who up doing trig work click like”, and rests her head on her open notebook. What feels like a minute later, her phone buzzes. Fuckin’ hell. Sleep is so cruel like that. Eyes still closed Tsukino slaps her phone a few times before realizing the buzz was not from an alarm, but from a message. She glances at it, frowns as she tries to comprehend just what it says, then gets out of her chair (her achey breaky back making creaking noises) and stumbles to the door to find Harai holding out a pile of papers.

 

“I know you didn’t ask for this,” they say, as if they normally walk around the corridors late at night giving their friends homework to copy. Which, actually, they might? Who knows. Who CARES.

 

All Tsukino can do is take their offering and hold the pages close to her chest, and her eyes might actually be filling with tears as she tells them, “If not for the fact that I know you hate physical contact I would hug you so fucking hard right now.”

 

“Uh, thanks, I’ll pass.” Harai blinks and scratches their neck, but even in the dim light there’s a smile sneaking up on their face. “Just give it back in the morning.”

 

When she eventually does, not quite well-rested but not quite dead, either, it’s with her usual goofy grin with MAYBE a twinge of embarrassment. Just a little.

 

“I owe you my life, Rai-san, please know this.”

 

“I’ll hold you to that if I ever die.”

Chapter Text

“And that one’s a mynah bird,” Alexei says, matter-of-fact. “They have a distinctive creaking call, though they don’t actually imitate voices in the wild. They’re still remarkably clever, considering they’re not even corvids. Oh! But speaking of corvids, did you know that blue jays are actually part of the Corvidae family?”

 

He glances over at Sen, who seems to be looking through him rather than at him. Ah, well. Not like Alexei didn’t expect this, after he asked to infodump about birds. As amazing as the depth of blue jay taxonomy, the fact of the matter is that most people just don’t give a shit. And although Sen doesn’t seem to mind hanging out with him and bird watching, this is probably a whole new level of uninteresting. Too bad he signed up for this, though, the poor sucker.

 

“I might just kiss you, you know.”

 

Alexei pauses and looks back to Sen. His face is beet fucking red. Is... is this a dare? It sounds a lot like a dare. It’s probably a dare, especially considering how sudden it is. Not like he would MIND, of course, Sen is extremely cute in a slouchy sort of way and at least he’s honest about his opinion of Alexei, but- what?

 

Instead of following up with a tease or something, Sekisada just grows redder. “You’re- you’re really cute. When you talk so much about birds. And, uh...” He very visibly swallows, looking anywhere but at him. “Yeah.”

 

And despite himself, Alexei grins. There is NO WAY in HELL that Sen’s being sincere right now. Giving a compliment with no strings attached? Yeah, right. This is just another joke. Has to be one, in fact.

 

“Do it, then, coward,” he tells Sen, and he stares back at Alexei with a deer-in-the-headlights expression for a solid five seconds before closing his eyes and throwing his arms around his shoulders.

 

It is not until Sen disengages and Alexei registers how warm his lips were against his cheek that he begins to consider that maybe that wasn’t a joke.

 

“Wow,” is all he can think of to say. “I didn’t think you would actually do that.”

 

Sen glares back, suddenly withdrawn. “Well, the fuck did you THINK I was going to do? Not kiss you, somehow?”

 

“What the hell do you mean by SOMEHOW.”

 

“Have you seriously been oblivious to the massive fucking crush I’ve had on you for the past four months.”

 

“Uh.” Well, that would explain pretty much everything. “Maybe.”

 

“You’re hopeless and I hope you know that. I hope you feel bad.”

 

“Ah, there’s the Senik we all know and love.” Still, his heart is fluttering like a crazed bird because hey, what the hell?

 

“Yeah, shut up.” Sen’s face is still super red. Given how things are going, Alexei would not be surprised if his is as well. “Just- just tell me more bird facts.”

 

That declaration might be almost more surprising than the kiss, and Alexei has to take a longer moment to process that. “You’re not bored?”

 

“Dude. I would listen to you talk about goddamn celebrity gossip for twelve hours if your face lit up the way it does when you talk about birds. Please, please just keep going.”

 

“... I might have to kiss YOU, Senik.”

 

“I’d, uh. Appreciate that. A lot.”

 

They spend the rest of the afternoon trading facts and light smooches, and, as far as Alexei is concerned, it was all worth it just to see how much like a tomato Sen’s face could turn.

Chapter Text

“What is that.”

 

“This?” Ririka holds up the sundae, inspecting it. Vanilla ice cream. Strawberry syrup. Whipped cream. It’s pretty self-explanatory. “Uh. Ice cream.”

 

“No, not that.” Ekyou furrows her brow, which looks more like the world’s most intense death scowl, and points to the golden stick of crunchy goodness in Ririka’s hand. “That,” she says, with no small amount of disbelief.

 

“Oh.” Ririka looks at the French fry, dips it in the ice cream, and then eats it. Hirono looks absolutely repulsed. “It’s just a French fry,” Ririka reassures her. Americans may be freaking weird, but this is one food combination she’s actually grateful to McRae for introducing her to.

 

For her part, Hirono seems to be holding her own ice cream a little closer. “Kashizaki-chan,” she says, emphasizing each syllable in a way that doesn’t sound very charmed at all, “that is horrifying.”

 

“Ekyou-chan, you literally eat tomato paste on rice and call it a meal.”

 

“Yes, I’m aware.” Hirono waves her hands in terror as Ririka dips another fry in her sundae. “Your POINT??”

 

“You two are a match made in hell, do you know that?” Ryouji calls over from the couch, where he is currently attempting to master the art of Pokémon. (He is failing.) “Ice cream and French fries. Tomato paste and rice. You’re both crazy. Why can’t we all just band together over something less controversial, like why mint chip ice cream can suck shit.”

 

First Hirono, then Ririka, turn slowly to Ryouji, all argument forgotten. He continues failing at Pokémon for a few moments before he even looks up, all-too-innocent despite the utter blasphemy he’s just uttered.

 

“What?”

 

“You don’t like mint chip?” Hirono asks, and the utter betrayal in her voice is a delightful reminder of why Ririka fell in love with her in the first place.

 

“No, why?” Ryouji blinks. “Is something wrong with that?”

 

Ririka gestures to the door with her sundae. “Get out.“

 

“But Kikun-“

 

“Get out and let us enjoy our ice cream in peace.”

 

“Kikun how am I supposed to beat this gym without you I’ve wasted all my money on items-“

 

“You’re dead to me, Ryouji, go away and learn to appreciate ice cream.”

 

Still complaining and with no physical prompting, Ryouji gets up and is out the door within seconds. He’ll be fine, he’s already clomping down the hall to ask Bates about Pokémon. And now Ririka gets to eat ice cream with her crush in peace! Score.

 

Hirono still winces as Ririka gets through the packet of fries, though.

Chapter Text

“Holy shit. For the last fucking time.” Amal drags their hands across their face. “No, and that’s final.”

 

Tristan just blinks at them, annoyingly persistent now as he was ten minutes ago. “But Chiyo said you’d be willing to do it,” he repeats patiently, and Amal resolves on the spot to confront Chiyo about the terms of their lessons. In other words, they’re willing to teach for free for HER ONLY. BECAUSE THEY’RE MARRIED, AND IT WOULD BE RUDE NOT TO.

 

So they sigh and rub at their forehead. “Can’t you like, go look up YouTube videos or something? Why are you asking me?”

 

“I trust you. Besides, you’re just on your computer, it’s not like you have anything better to do.”

 

He has the nerve to blink at them innocently. How dare he. Amal closes the let’s play they were watching with a sigh and turns back to Tristan, in their one last attempt at saving face.

 

“Look. Tristan,” they say, “I am not going to teach you to waltz. You’re friends with Bates, you know he’d just never shut up about it. I have a reputation to uphold.”

 

“And I have fifty dollars,” Tristan announces, taking out a wad of cash.

 

Amal squints at him.

 

Tristan squints back.

 

The next week, at Aster and Tsukino’s wedding, Tristan gives Amal a thumbs up as they twirl past each other, Brendan stepping on his feet every other measure. Chiyo watches the other couple from the corner of her eye, but from her amused expression Amal’s pretty sure she’s just watching them turn extremely red instead.

 

“I got fifty dollars,” they say in a vague attempt at justification.

 

Chiyo only smiles. “I’m sure you did, dear.”

Chapter Text

It’s late. So late, in fact, that it’s probably wrapped around into early when Chiyo steps into the room. At the creak of the door, Amal flinches upright so violently that they nearly slam their head against the baseboard and pins her with unfocused eyes five years away. Still, she moves carefully toward them until she’s close enough to touch their face, waiting for their breath to slow and their shoulders to stop shaking before she dares to take a seat next to them.

 

They don’t move as she runs a hand through their hair, gently pulling it away from their face and twisting it into a vague approximation of a braid. It’s routine, at this point, since the first time Amal messaged her to come to their room at three in the morning. It’s not much. She’ll never be able to take the terror from their past away from them, and they’ll probably never be able to sleep peacefully, so it’s more of a temporary fix. But for now, for two teenagers in a boarding school with no home to return to, it has to be enough.

 

Neither of them talk, but there’s no need to. Just sitting here in this lull, the tension slowly evaporates from Amal until they can breathe normally again. Sometimes they talk a bit after, and sometimes they get up and do something else, but most of the time Chiyo just goes back to her room. This time, though, when Amal sighs and she figures it’s about time to leave, a weight settles on her arm.

 

“Can you stay?” Amal asks quietly.

 

In the morning, Chiyo would have laughed, or maybe questioned her feelings about the person before her. Obviously she’d say yes, but not without her own panicking. But that’s in any other light.

 

There’s no such hesitation when she nods at Amal now, and when they fall into her arms it feels as real as anything could ever be.

Chapter Text

“Ekyou, you said you had music to listen to. MUSIC. This? This is garbage.”

 

“I’m not sure I follow.”

 

“I actually admire your taste in music! So you can’t just- you can’t just walk in here and tell me you have music for me to listen to, telling me that it’ll change my mind on classical music forever, and then show me something in COMMON TIME. That’s DISGUSTING.”

 

“Yeah, well, it’s Saint-Saens, and if you don’t like Saint-Saens I don’t think there’s any hope for you to appreciate classical music.”

 

“But it’s crusty, Ekyou! You can’t call all classical music equal and worthy of admiration! There is a certain taste to it, you know. It’s just like- I don’t know, saying that BTS is anywhere near Loona’s level or something like that!”

 

“Bates, are you still mad because I said 4+3+2/8 time is the dumbest conceivable idea?”

 

“Sibelius user EverLivid is a fucking genius years ahead of his time and you will eat your words when he makes it big.”

 

“I’ll stick to Saint-Saens, thanks.”

Chapter Text

“So what is this,” asks Kanemori, eyeballing the extremely bad-for-him mess of graham crackers and chocolate and burning. Sorry, marshmallow, not burning. Same difference, actually.

 

Everett looks up, having crammed an entire contraption (thing??) into their mouth at once and now kinda looking like a chipmunk. “Ith a thmorr,” they tell him, and then swallow. “It’s good.”

 

“I think this might kill me. It’s too American.”

 

“That’s what Tsuki said. And then she tried one.”

 

“Doesn’t she hate sweet things?”

 

“... Okay, yes, so she threw it into the fire and that’s why she’s not camping with us. She kills the mood. But c’mon, dude,” they say, holding out another marshmallow in a mock toast. Haha, get it. Toast. Like toasting marsh- yeah this is dumb. “You can’t say you’ve gone camping in the Pacific Northwest without s’mores.”

 

Kanemori continues to regard the horrible little candy sandwich with suspicion. “Right. Okay, what is this supposed to be, again?”

 

“Marshmallow. Chocolate. Cracker. Melty.” They shove their skewer back into the blaze, not even batting an eye when their marshmallow catches fire immediately. Powermove, he guesses. “It tastes exactly like those things put together. It’s very straightforward.”

 

“I haven’t tried two of those three things before. And I’ve never eaten milk chocolate.”

 

“You’re living a sad life,” Everett mutters. “It’s very sweet, but it’s also... it’s... I dunno.” With a shake of their head, they pull their marshmallow back, blow out the fire, and stick the whole thing on another graham cracker anyway. Serious powermove. “Listen, I can’t explain it, you’ll have to trust me. It’s good, I promise. Hurry up and eat it before it gets all over your hands.”

 

The s’more looks like it’s judging him. Kanemori shudders, but he’s also out of options. Save throwing the whole thing into the fire, anyway, but Everett’s the one that brought him up here and he’s pretty sure they would abandon him immediately if they did that.

 

So he eats half of it, expecting the worst. Everett watches him chew in silence, contemplating the meaning of life contained in probably the most sugar he has ever eaten in one bite. The firelight dances in their solemn eyes as they equally seriously eat their own extremely burnt s’more. Finally, Kanemori swallows, thinking of what to say about... That. This whole experience.

 

What he comes up with: “Holy shit.”

 

“Right?? Here, take this, it’s the rest of the marshmallows.”

 

Without further hesitation, he rips into the bag. He is so absolutely going to regret this in half an hour when he inevitably eats too many and throws up, but it will totally be worth it.

Chapter Text

“What if I don’t see it?”

 

“Then you need to find some eyeballs, Amal.”

 

“Can I have the one you’re not using, then?”

 

“Yeah, if you can find it. Good luck.”

Chapter Text

“So I heard someone’s dying,” Claude announces, kicking his way into the room.

 

None of its occupants seem particularly surprised to see him. Their loss. He’s probably gonna have to break a window or something next time.

 

“Hi Claude,” Tristan says without looking up.

 

“Hello,” says Tiana, looking more than a little uncomfortable. Good. Be concerned. He trades superficial smiles with her, then returns his attention to Tristan as he starts talking.

 

“Right, so.” Tristan sighs, clapping his hands together once and indicating the cage next to him. “I’m not dying, I just need you guys to witness this.”

 

“Witness what, exactly?” Tiana asks, with her trademark constipated why-am-I-here expression.

 

In response, Tristan pulls a ferret out of the cage. It hangs limply from his hands, looking to have a pretty swell time.

 

“Look at this. It’s so baby.”

 

“You made us come to Valdez’s house, which you are housesitting, to behold his pet ferret.”

 

“Ti, you don’t get it, this is so baby.”

 

“It is pretty baby,” Claude agrees. “Like a really smelly, furry snake. I dig it.”

 

“Claude understands me. Before this day I never knew you could improve on the perfection of a guinea pig. I never knew it could be this way. Ti,” he says, turning to his cousin, “we need to get one.”

 

“What.” Tiana’s eyes narrow and she bats the ferret away as Tristan holds it close to her face. “No.”

 

“Please, I’m begging you, this is the most perfect creature to exist, we need to get a ferret and they’ll be friends with Naughtyfins-“

 

“Why on Earth did they name their ferret Naughtyfins??”

 

“It’s a Patapon reference,” Claude chimes in. “There’s a character named Naughtyfins who also goes by the name Slinky, and-“

 

“Okay, no, I can’t deal with this.” Tiana rubs her forehead, looking pained. “We are not getting a ferret, no matter what, ever.”

 

“That’s what you say now,” Tristan says, looking directly at Claude. And now Claude’s role becomes apparent as dual briber/extortioner, and under any other circumstances he’d refuse, but y’know what? It’s Tristan. He can’t say no.

 

Also, it’s fun to piss off Tiana.

 

It takes a lot of begging, about three phone calls to Brendan, and a promised rent of $20 a month for Tiana to finally agree “only,” she says, “on the condition that you don’t name the ferret fucking Naughtyfins.”

 

“I can do that,” Tristan concedes mildly. “Their name will be Bitching Naughtyfins.”

 

Tiana puts her head in her hands.

Chapter Text

“So Kikun and I were thinking about hitting a few clubs on the way back, not like to drink too heavily or anything but just, y’know, have a good time. It’s her twenty-fourth,” Ryouji adds, just to be self-deprecating or something. As if he needs to justify his decisions to Amal goddamn Khalaf. Which he probably does, since they’re all sensible or whatever. “We’re wasting our twenties,” he tells them. “We’re gonna do something dumb.”

 

To his surprise, Khalaf just shrugs. “Works for me. I’ll be the designated driver.”

 

“Siiick,” Ryouji says, and on second thought it’s actually not surprising that Khalaf would be fine with this. They’ve had their dumber moments. Great to see that they encourage bad decisions too.

 

“Wait, which clubs?”

 

Ryouji blinks and looks at Kumoshita. For some reason, she seems oddly... on edge? Nervous? Figures, since she’s probably the most tame of them all. Hell, even though Khalaf’s DD, Chiyo’s probably not going to drink either.

 

“Y’know, nothing shady. Places that McRae and Bates go to sometimes. Velocity, The Painted Diamond, and I heard there’s this place called Snowdropped that Kikun really wanted to go to.”

 

“Oh.” She visibly deflates. “If we’re going to Snowdropped, I can’t go.”

 

Ryouji blinks. “No big deal-“

 

“No, no,” she says, waving her hands. “I want to go, I just- I can’t come back. To that club. I’m, uh.” She fidgets with her hair. “Not allowed.”

 

Even Khalaf seems more than a little embarrassed as Ryouji’s gaze flicks between the two of them. Seconds pass. Neither seem inclined to say anything. Ryouji licks his lips (ew, chapped) and clears his throat.

 

“What,” he ventures, “happened.”

 

“I may have,” Kumoshita starts, face turning red, and stops. “I may have made out with Amal so passionately-“

 

“Oh no.” Khalaf covers their face. “Why are you TELLING him that.”

 

“-that when someone told us to get off the dance floor I socked him in the face-“

 

“Chiyooo.”

 

“-and then they threatened to call the police and I told them that they could suck my dick and proceeded to make out with Amal some more.”

 

Kumoshita rushes through her tale in a great breath and spends a moment just catching it.

 

“I was drunk,” she finishes lamely.

 

“We both were,” Khalaf mutters. “Astaghfirullah, I am the world’s worst ex-Muslim child.”

 

Kumoshita and Khalaf are a perfect pair of very embarrassed lovebirds, and this whole situation would almost be funny were it not so charming. But Ryouji still sits on the bed for a moment, mouth opening and closing as he scrounges for something to say.

 

“Alright,” he finally says. “Alright, cool.”

 

“I’m sorry-“

 

“Let’s do that at every single club across town,” Ryouji interrupts, a grin starting to sneak up on him, “and build a legendary fuckin’ reputation.”

 

Silence. Kumoshita looks quickly between the other two as the grim straight-up blossoms to its full glory and Khalaf closes their eyes. In anguish? Defeat? Acceptance? Who knows.

 

All Ryouji knows is that this is why he doesn’t get the brain cell.

Chapter Text

“Why do you care so much about this nail art thing, anyway?”

 

“... I feel like the answer you’re looking for is that I’m trying to escape the clutches of toxic masculinity and revolutionize makeup culture, because you are Murdock and you hate fun.”

 

“Perhaps. But there’s a lot of ways to do those things. Why nail art specifically?”

 

“Have you ever seen bathtub nails. The ones where they put like twenty five layers of clear nail polish on their nails.”

 

“No?”

 

“Look it up. Look it up right now.”

 

“Okay, I’m... ah. Ah. Wow. Okay.”

 

“Right?”

 

“This is. This is terrible.”

 

“RIGHT?? That’s what I’m talking about! We, as a society, need to stop this, and I’m committed to doing my part in ending this, and that is why I do acrylics today.”

 

“Mm. It’s a noble cause, and I understand completely.”

 

“Thank you. Now give me your hands.”

 

“I- wait, wh-“


“Murdock, you and I are going to dismantle the nail art community together.”

Chapter Text

Hirono Ekyou is supposed to be perfect and nice and helpful. Hirono Ekyou is not supposed to cry. So when she steps onto the balcony, she allows only a single sob to rip through her expression before settling back into her usual stoicism. No one’s ever out here, it’s fine, but god it would be lovely to be heard and not a nuisance.

 

Though, perhaps she’s wrong, she realizes with a start. Bazhanov turns toward her, his expression more curious than concerned. “I’m sorry,” she starts to say, but Bazhanov cuts her off, pressing a finger to his lips.

 

“Listen.” He turns back to the balcony, an unspoken invitation for her to join him. “No, really listen.”

 

Slowly, she places one foot in front of the other until she’s standing next to him and mimics his posture, just trying to understand what it is in the ruined courtyard that he sees. And she hears.

 

There’s the drowsy coo of a pigeon, the mocking laugh of a crow. A chirping sparrow’s song floats up from the courtyard, and as the day turns to dusk, Hirono can catch the notes of a nightingale. Its rasping song is oddly beautiful, despite how off-key this particular one is, and carries a weight to its notes. And as another one joins in, their harmonies twisting into something ethereal, Hirono feels...

 

... Well. Not home, exactly, she’s never paid much attention to bird song. But Bazhanov doesn’t seem so nonsensical now. Instead of a conversation and reassurance, all he offers is a pause for thought, and Hirono’s sure that this helped her much more than any heartfelt conversation.

 

When she leaves the balcony, she offers him a quiet “thank you,” which he returns with only a soft smile. People like to tell her that her smiles are meaningful, but it’s hard to listen to things she doesn’t need to hear sometimes. Other times, it can be quite nice.

Chapter Text

Kanemori’s barely able to sit down and unpack his lunch when one of his classmates - the spiky haired one, the blonde one, Bates? - slides into the seat across from him. Kanemori is fully expecting him to go on a spiel about mutual fame, which he does. Figures. It’s not until a while later that Kanemori actually realizes that he’s posed a question.

 

“Have you spoken to Amal before?” Bates asks him, blinking his eyes innocently. Shit, did he notice how hard he was zoning out?

 

“Uh, no,” Kanemori says, hopefully convincing enough to sound like he paid attention to anything he said in the past thirty seconds. “Why?”

 

“Oh, nothing. I heard we need to do a group project next week, and I wouldn’t mind hanging out with them. Y’know?” Bates blinks again. It’s really off putting, what with his weird snake eyes. Still not sure how intentional those are. “Why, do you not like them?”

 

“It’s not that I don’t want to get to know them. It’s like,” Kanemori trails off, taking out chopsticks, “there‘s just something about them. They’re intimidating.”

 

Bates draws in a horrified gasp, bringing his hand to his chest in a manner that could rival professional actors. “Dearest Amal-sama? Intimidating? Why, Shionaga-kun, we must know completely different people!”

 

“I don’t catch,” Kanemori tells him, more than slightly worried about what might come next.

 

Instead of replying, Bates’s omnipresent smirk just grows wider. Slowly, he steps on top of the bench, and there’s an increasing sense of dread as he rises to his full height. Bates cups his hands around his mouth, and all Kanemori can hear is his mother’s warning to make her proud in this cute little international school and all he knows is, deep down in his heart, how badly he is failing.

 

Bates draws in a breath and shouts “SIXTY-NINE!” in a voice that carries across the lunchroom. Some of the younger students look up in alarm, and the older ones mutter something and move on.

 

Yet immediately, there’s a loud “NICE” from Kumoshita’s table, then a pause. “God DAMN you, Bates!” Khalaf yells, their voice straining from the volume, and there’s a rush of administrators coming to lecture both of them as Bates sits back down, grinning.

 

“Told you they’re not intimidating,” he chirps, as casually as if he’d just made a lunch appointment. Their math teacher closes in, her mouth in a grim scowl, and all Kanemori can do is sigh.

 

“Of course not,” he mutters, stabbing at his salad. He’s made up his mind. Bates is much scarier.

Chapter Text

They’re walking down the hall when Tsukino leaves the classroom, two schoolgirls walking step in step. They whisper to each other, exchanging hurried glances all about them as they hold their hidden conversation. Everything about them screams Failingly Inconspicuous, so naturally, Tsukino shadows them.

 

“So I want to see if they’re up for it?” Chiyo whispers, looking mortified. “I don’t know how I’m going to ask. I should ask, but- but I don’t want to.”

 

Ririka must be frowning, like she usually does when she’s thinking through a problem. “You should,” she tells the other girl. “They can’t say no if you don’t try, and if you’re worried about finding the courage to ask them, you can invite them to something more casual?”

 

“What are we talking about?” Tsukino asks innocently, causing Chiyo to shriek, Ririka to flinch, and both of them to glare at her.

 

“T-that’s a secret!” Chiyo stammers, red in the face. Tsukino just grins wider.

 

“Secrets? I love secrets. Y’know,” she adds, slinging an arm around Chiyo’s shoulders, “you could totally let me in on that secret.”

 

Ririka glances around her, eyes wide. “Or we could not,” she suggests, but Chiyo looks hesitant.

 

“Only if you promise not to tell anyone,” she says, and Ririka is already rubbing her forehead. “I mean it, Chisaki-chan.”

 

“I promise,” Tsukino agrees, maybe too quickly. “Tell meee.”

 

Ririka takes a quick glance at Chiyo, either a gesture of confirmation or “what the fuck are you thinking,” and waits for her nod before sighing. “She’s thinking about asking out Khalaf-kun-“

 

And Tsukino shrieks so LOUDLY that students stop in their tracks and teachers up and down the hall look out of their rooms and Ririka covers her face like she’ll disappear and Chiyo stands, just stands there, bright red and unmoving.

 

Okay, yes, so Ririka is now lecturing her about privacy and volume control and everything under the sun. Maybe so! But hey, technically she didn’t say anything about the secret itself, so it’s fine. Everything is fine, and Chiyo and Amal are going to get together, and today is a great day.

Chapter Text

“Yes, I admit it, you were right.”

 

“What was I right about, Aster. I want to hear you say it. I want to know this will not happen again.”

 

“I still don’t see why it was THAT big of a deal-“

 

“Do you know how long it took to get my desk back in order? Do you KNOW how hard it was to find ANYTHING?? It’s all set up like that so I can access things easily with my prosthetics! I thought you were responsible. I thought we were cool. Aster, I like to be honest with my feelings, and I’m really upset.”

 

“Right. I’m really sorry about all of this.”

 

“Don’t laugh at me. What did you do.”

 

“I will never, ever, let Iris Sumitama within five feet of your desk again-“

 

“And?”

 

“And I will not let her organize it.”

 

“THANK you.”

Chapter Text

It’s very rare for Tiana to be late for her weekly meetups with Iris. It’s even rarer for her to be more than a few minutes late, and she never ever apologizes, just setting her mouth into that grim line that says she’s disappointed in herself or whatever held her up and asks Iris to give her a trowel. She prides herself on punctuality, that much is clear.

 

Yet today, it’s not until Iris is well into repotting a third rosemary plant that she allows herself to wonder where her partner is. These plants need to go to the elementary school by tomorrow, and then Aster’s supposed to pick them up later today, and... basically, what gives??

 

Admittedly, she’s kind of lost in the rhythm of work when the gate finally latches open and admits Tiana, looking more than a little frazzled. Avoiding Iris’s gaze, she just mutters a quick “hi” and pulls on a pair of gloves, then takes to the basil that Iris set aside for a moment.

 

Neither of them speak. Which isn’t weird, or anything, because a lot of the time they don’t really talk, their meetups are more like a common goal sort of thing with all of their conversations outside of the garden, but today Tiana seems more... distracted, than usual. She keeps checking her phone - an old flip phone, and a brick that she swears she’ll use until it breaks - and brushing her glasses chain from her neck. For heaven’s sake, she doesn’t even have a hair tie, and she shoves her hair back over her shoulders with increasing ferocity until Iris finally figures she ought to comment on it.

 

“Are you okay?” she asks, putting down the planter and dusting off her hands, and Tiana looks at her quickly. She looks away just as quickly as if that’ll do anything to hide her crying.

 

“I’m fine,” she says, completely evenly, and is very obviously not fine. She dashes the tears away, leaving a smudge of dirt on her face that she appears not to notice. “Just. Family things.”

 

“Oh dear.” Iris hesitates for a moment, then moves to Tiana. Although the latter refuses to move at first, she eventually allows herself to be led to that shaded bench under a tree.

 

And again, there’s silence, though this one is more of Tiana sniffling and trying to pull herself together. Iris knows her well enough by now to know that any attempt at comfort will just make her feel worse, and that she’d rather let this run its course, and that she feels awful crying in front of someone else anyhow, but she fishes a half-crumpled pack of Charmy Kitty tissues from her apron and hands it to Tiana anyway. The other woman takes it with a wordless nod, then blows her nose.

 

All the two of them can do is listen to the rustle of leaves in the wind, watch the sunlight dance in dapples against patterned stone. It’s peaceful, almost expectant, but it's still a surprise when Tiana speaks again.

 

“It’s just hard,” Tiana says with a sense of finality, voice wavering more than she probably would like it to. “I don’t think I’ve done enough for Tristan to make up for all the shit I said to him in high school. And then the five years of silence before that. I know, for some people that’s not a lot. You went, what, eight years without seeing your mother?”

 

“Nine,” Iris corrects. “But we video chatted sometimes, and we weren’t as close as you two were.”

 

“I suppose that’s fair.” Tiana sighs, apparently satisfied with the small talk kind of answer, and rests her head back. “I’m really trying to be happy for him, you know, but I still don’t know if he’ll actually be successful with his video game stuff. No matter how much I want to see things from his point of view, and no matter how happy he seems, I just don’t see the point in what he’s doing. Change is annoyingly difficult,” she adds with a half-joking grimace, and fixes Iris with a piercing stare. “What do you do to deal with it, then? I know that Ekyou-“

 

“-has cut all ties with me, yeah,” Iris says, staring at the ground. There’s a few patches of ragweed that she’s going to have to pull out later. “I think all the emotional dependency stuff is different from your situation, though.”

 

Tiana frowns, eyes narrowing. Like a jaguar’s, Chiyo’s said before, but Iris thinks she looks more like a curious housecat. “But it’s similar, isn’t it?” she presses. “Is there something that can help me?”

 

It takes Iris a moment to think about it, and the midmorning sun is already beating down on them both when she does. Usually, they’d be eating lunch in a few minutes before leaving for the week, but this is much more important than keeping to any kind of routine. This is her friend. This is maybe the one and only person Iris can actually, truly, without a doubt call her friend, and she’s in need. The Iris of five years ago would deflect Tiana’s situation to talk about her own, and the Tiana of five years ago would almost certainly brush off everything she’d have to say, but that was a long time ago.

 

“I think,” she says slowly, picking her way across each word, “that you could give yourself more credit.”

 

The housecat’s tail twitches. “Explain.”

 

“It’s, uh,” Iris says, stuttering under the weight of those eyes (it’s okay, Tiana is well aware that she has this effect), “not exactly all your fault that the rift between you and Tristan isn’t healing as quickly as you want. Because you’re making an effort to understand his point of view, yes, but... is he trying to understand yours?”

 

A pause. “I hadn’t thought of that,” Tiana mutters, and it sounds a bit like a resigned revelation. There’s no defeat in her tone, so Iris forges on.

 

“Yes, you might not have been fair to him when you cut him off, or in high school or any of that, but you were under a lot of stress, too.”

 

“I wouldn’t give myself that much credit.”

 

“Ana, you’re aware you managed your own finances from age fourteen, right.”

 

“Yes?” Tiana tilts her head. “What of it?”

 

“You... you know that’s not normal, right?”

 

“Perhaps not. But anyone could do it if they tried.”

 

“Not my point! Um, listen.” Iris holds up a finger. “You were going through a hard time. You can’t be held entirely at fault for doing stupid, childish things, because you were also a child. This isn’t to say you’re blameless,” she adds quickly, “and I’m sure you don’t consider yourself absolved of everything you did just because you were having a terrible time, but I just wanted to throw that out there in case for some reason you didn’t realize both of these concepts can exist, which is crazy because you’re one of the most sensible people I know-“

 

“Iris,” Tiana says, not unkindly, and Iris swallows the rest of her words and nods.

 

“Right,” she says, and smiles shakily. “It’s not just on you to understand and accept that you were a child when these things happened, it’s on Tristan as well. And I’m sure his own friends are helping him with that, too.”

 

Tiana wrinkles her nose. “Like Bates.”

 

“Well, maybe,” Iris concedes. “He’s still not that bad!”

 

“If you say so.”

 

Another lull. Aster should be here any minute now, and maybe the two of them won’t have everything done by the time they’re here. The honors student in Iris’s mind is screaming about deadlines and disappointments, but she tries to ignore it.

 

“Change is difficult,” she agrees, “and it’s slow, but it’s possible. I promise. For both of us, okay?”

 

Iris lets go of Tiana’s hand, leaving her free to move. Instead, she rests it there for a long moment, staring at the tidy rows before them and the jewels of green leaves nesting within them and the little hand-drawn labels made of old stationery. All living proof that both women are able to grow and move on from the shitty people they were in high school.

 

“Yeah,” Tiana says, and offers a hand to Iris to stand up. “It does seem to be.”

 

And when Aster comes to pick up the plants for the little kids to sell tomorrow, they don’t have as many as they’d promised they’d send, but they have enough, and when both of them are finally smiling it’s a small price to pay.

Chapter Text

"You ever think about love?"

 

"In the abstract, sure. Who are we referring to?"

 

"Oh. I dunno. Chiyo, I guess."

 

"Aww, so you went to good ol' Claude for help, that's adorable-"

 

"Shut up."

 

"Ahaha. I heard she has a crush on someone, though, are you gonna let that stop you?"

 

"I mean... We could have a chance. But if you don't think it'd work out, then I don't know if it would-"

 

"Aw, pscht, I'm sure it's worth a shot. We're a bunch of idiot high schoolers. What could go wrong?"

Chapter Text

“You need to be more patient.”

 

Brendan stops in front of the doorway and hangs back, catching a glimpse of Tiana and Tristan through the door. Which is great, because he needed to ask Tristan about the proper setup for that reptile habitat that Alexei paid him to plan out, but also not great because... Tiana...??

 

Slowly, Brendan inches through the door, watching a furrow of frustration dig its way across Tiana’s face. “Patience,” she starts, and then sighs, resting on folded arms, “is not something I’m known for.”

 

They’re sitting so close together and there’s so much restrained frustration in Tiana’s voice that Brendan’s pretty sure that he’s interrupted some kind of really important conversation. So sure, in fact, that when Tristan raises a hand Brendan sort of semi-expects a slap to follow, but he simply places some bright blue thing on the table.

 

“Dude,” Tristan says, completely flat. “It’s a fucking jigsaw puzzle. You don’t have to be so dramatic.”

 

Tiana sighs and slots another piece into place. “Hi Brendan,” she says without looking up.

 

“Hi, TMs,” he ventures with a tiny wave. “Uh, is this a bad time?”

 

“No,” Tristan says at the same time Tiana mutters something. She plonks her head down on the table in defeat. “It’s one thousand pieces,” Tristan adds helpfully. “We’ve been here since lunch.”

 

“I see.” All notions of the reptile house forgotten, Brendan glances over the puzzle, which, according to the box, this is supposed to be a bunch of... dolphins? Several of the pieces are just jammed together in ways that don’t make remote sense for their patterns. He can only assume these are Tiana’s handiwork.

 

“This isn’t cousinly bonding,” Tiana grumbles. “This is torture. I want to go back outside.”

 

“No McRae ever wants to go outside,” Tristan points out.

 

“That’s why I was disowned,” she shoots back effortlessly. “Fuck you. You’re bullying me.”

 

“I’m told it helps to do the frame first,” Brendan suggests timidly, and Tiana slams on the table. Several pieces fall to the ground, and absolutely no one does anything to pick them up.

 

“I TOLD YOU.” She points to Tristan, and then to the puzzle box. “I TOLD YOU I KNEW SOMETHING.”

 

Tristan shrugs, sliding the few coherent chunks of pattern closer to his protection. “You really think my ADHD ass is going to look for all the side pieces?”

 

“I can help with that,” Brendan volunteers. Tiana now sets her hands atop her head, already facedown on the table, and makes some noise in between a French horn and a dying swan. Completely unaffected, Tristan turns to Brendan with his same deadpan expression.

 

“Please help us,” he says. “We’re losing our fucking minds.”

 

It takes longer to undo all of Tiana’s frantic attempts at putting the puzzle together than to actually do the puzzle, and by the end of it they’re still missing pieces, but at least they had a nice time learning about each other. Even if all Brendan really learned here is that Tristan doesn’t actually know shit about reptiles, and Tiana is really really weird when she’s caffeinated and upset.

Chapter Text

Aster would be the first to tell you that they hate cities, and in fact, they still do now - it’s all dizzying sights and smells and noise, and the slightest move puts them on edge against dangers lurking in the night. But in this post-party haze of neon lights and just being slightly tipsy, watching Tokyo come alive around all of them together, maybe they understand why people like it so much. Alone, the city is overwhelming and too much, but as a bunch of college students, drifting aimlessly... It could be home. Maybe.

 

Just ahead, Amal mutters something under their breath, watching Chiyo and Tsukino laugh together even further apart from their significant others. They fiddle with the ring on their finger, and they look so envious that Aster walks a bit faster to catch up to them.

 

“What’s wrong?” they ask, and Amal huffs out a sigh.

 

“I SAID I COULD REALLY EAT SOMETHING,” Amal yells, basically in their ear. Aster winces. Amal’s probably slightly tipsy too.

 

“We’re literally walking around the streets after spending five hours at a festival,” comes Sentarou’s reply from behind them. “You should have eaten earlier. Or go to McDonald’s.”

 

“Yeah, but if I go to McDonald’s, you’ll all leave me behind,” Amal points out, then turns back to Aster and sigh. With large, wide eyes, they look at her, pleading. “Please tell me you bought some food?”

 

“Ate it all,” they tell Amal, shrugging a little at their crestfallen expression. “Sorry. But I can tell everyone to wait up if you want to stop somewhere?”

 

Amal sighs again, this time so loudly that Chiyo stops Tsukino and lets her boyfriend get closer to her. “I’ll be fine,” they announce, draping an arm around Chiyo and pressing a quick kiss to the top of her head. (Tsukino shrieks.) “I’ll just, like, starve, I guess.”

 

“We’re almost back at campus,” Chiyo says, patting their arm consolingly. “Or if you want fruit snacks, I have some in my bag from the primary school kids today-“

 

“I’m not eating your fruit snacks,” Amal interrupts. “Those are hard-earned fruit snacks that preschoolers gave you. Those are yours.”

 

“I still don’t understand how you can have a pre- school,” Sentarou mutters. “You’re still learning shit. That makes no sense.”

 

On his arm, Alexei half-laughs as he usually does, then stops. “Oh,” he says suddenly, reaching for the plastic bags on his other arm, “Amal, I might actually have something. Hirono and Brendan dragged me into that Filipino market a few streets down-“

 

“So that’s why you disappeared,” Sentarou notes, looking completely unsurprised that his boyfriend even disappeared to begin with.

 

“-and we got some snacks. I’m not sure which bag I’m holding, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind your taking some. They were pretty insistent on buying some weirdly specific things.”

 

Amal lets go of Chiyo and watches Sentarou and Alexei drift closer to them before falling into step. “Shit, Ilyich, that helps a lot. What’s in there?”

 

Clearly, they’re expecting chips, not the entire egg that Bazhanov drops in their hand. Aster realizes what it is as soon as he gives it to them. They immediately start looking for Brendan. Who the hell even bought this.

 

Egg in hand, Amal blinks. “Uh. What’s this.”

 

“Bulut,” Alexei says with practiced neutrality. Sentarou breaks out into a coughing fit. “You suck the fluid out of the end. It’s good. Try it.”

 

This will NOT end well. “Brendan,” Aster says, voice rising as loud as they can get it to project without yelling, “Alexei’s giving a bulut to Amal-“

 

“What’s in it?” Amal asks, weighing the egg in their palm. “Why’s this so heavy?”

 

Brendan turns, sees what they’re doing, and gives them a thumbs-up. Hirono looks back too, looking more amused than anything.

 

“It’s a baby duck!” she calls to Amal. “It’s a duck embryo!”

 

Amal just stares at the egg. “A what.”

 

“Don’t knock it till you try it!” Brendan chimes in. “It’s got lots of sodium!”

 

Amal looks back to their companions for guidance. Sentarou is now nearly wheezing between his laughs, while Alexei continues to watch them. Though his expression doesn’t change, he’s clearly amused.

 

“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to,” Aster says, trying to calm the whole situation. “I mean, personally if I- oh. Oh, alright, you’re eating it, cool.”

 

“It’s already dead. If I don’t eat it, someone else will, and I’m hungry NOW,” Amal says, trying and failing to keep the soup (???) in the egg from spilling on the street. “Ah, shit.”

 

“I hope you don’t expect me to kiss you after this,” Chiyo tells them. “I’m sad about the duck.”

 

“Ah, SHIT,” Amal says louder, thrusting the egg into Alexei’s hand as they sprint to catch up with Chiyo to the cascades of laughter around them, Sentarou’s rough chuckle and Brendan’s belly laughter mixing with Alexei’s half-coughs and Tsukino’s adorable high pitched cackle rising above it all, and Aster smiles and sinks back into the beautiful cacophony of the chorus. The city may be dizzying and loud and stupid for no reason, but so is the class, and if Aster can figure out how to appreciate their classmates, surely they can appreciate the city they now call home.

Chapter Text

“Time to get up, Tsuki.”

 

“Myyyyearghhh I don’t wanna.”

 

“Yeah, I know, I don’t either, but we have to go to that party that Riri’s throwing.”

 

“Well, you don’t want me to get up. It’s the dead of winter and you will freeze without me.”

 

“That’s true. I’m basically a lizard. You keep me warm. But, if we both get up and go together, there won’t be a problem!”

 

“Counterpoint. We can stay here.”

 

“And then I’ll steal the blanket.”

 

“Hell. Okay, I’m up, I’m up.”

 

“There we go. Love you.”

 

“Love you too.”

Chapter Text

“Shit,” Claude says, and hurls the phone on the bed. “SHIT,” she repeats louder, this time loud enough for Tristan to take off his headset and eyeball Claude and his distress.

 

“What’s wrong?” Tristan asks, half-closing the compsci project he wasn’t really working on anyway. Claude’s started pacing the room like a caged tiger, never a good sign, and gives a short sigh.

 

“I gotta tell Sumitama that I can’t make it to lunch tomorrow.” He drags a hand through his hair, ruining the gelled spikes. “Stupid goddamn Ekyou rescheduled practice to eleven tomorrow, tech week is in two weeks, I’m still pretty sure Chisaki can’t even SING-“

 

“This is for that musical, right?” Tristan blinks, trying to keep up.

 

“Yes, yes, Hadestown.” With an exaggerated sigh, Claude flops down on the bed facefirst. “Ughhh.”

 

Hesitant, keeping an eye on his roommate, Tristan opens his computer again. He only glances at the code on his screen for a moment before closing the tab. “Next time, don’t pick all your friends to be in charge, that’s how you get unnecessary conflicts between friends. That’s what Ti says, anyway,” he adds, to lessen the blow somewhat.

 

Claude only responds to that with another agonized dying swan noise (is that what Chiyo calls it?) and worms around pathetically on the bed. Tristan pushes his chair back across the room to avoid getting in his way.

 

After a moment, he mutters something into the pillow. “I wonder if I can actually make it to lunch.” His voice is muffled, and he’s clearly blocked out everything Tristan just said. “Can you wait for me?”

 

“Why are you even going? Don’t you hate Iris?”

 

“I don’t hate her, she’s just boring.” Claude rolls over and waves his hands in the air. “Boooring. But she makes really good spring rolls so I wanna mooch.”

 

“She isn’t going to stop her whole lunch for you, y’know.”

 

“Boo. You’re right. I guess I’ll starve and die.”

 

“You won’t die. You’ll just be extraordinarily uncomfortable. And hungry.”

 

“Same dif.” Claude sighs, then pauses mid-sigh to sit up abruptly and look at Tristan. “Wait, where’s that music coming from, it’s giving me an allergic reaction.”

 

“It’s my computer,” Tristan announces, turning it around to show him. “If your rehearsal got cancelled, you may as well practice your songs.”

 

Claude shoots him a baleful look over the dulcet tones of Hermes’s opening monologue. “Orpheus is barely even in this song,” he whines.

 

“Then deal with it,” Tristan shoots back, then falls into time with the tinny audio. ”It’s him whose howling drives men mad, and a mind to its undoing,” he recites, looking right at Claude for a response.

 

Claude lifts an eyebrow, matching the next part. “Think they’ll make it?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

And as they get through Hades and Persephone’s exchange, he can’t help but notice how Claude’s become a completely different person in the short lull, all the animation and drama of his gestures crystallized into a focused energy. And it’s... It’s impressive, of course, but it’s also... something...

 

“It’s time for spring. We’ll try again next fall.”

 

“Wait for me?” Claude asks, in perfect inflection except for a break at the end, looking at Tristan with something that could be a bit more.

 

Tristan swallows around the lump in his throat, the lyrics on screen swimming before his eyes. “I will.”

Chapter Text

Sentarou is not, by any stretch of the word, a foodie. He does not linger upon the notes of flavor. He is perfectly thrilled going to 7-Eleven and picking up an egg salad sandwich. Shit, dude, his definition of a fancy dinner is cup noodles with limited-edition packaging. And fun fact! Having higher expectations of food actually makes it taste better! This is a thing, psychologically, so fuck you and appreciate the Hello Kitty wrapping.

 

Anyway, so he doesn’t care about fancy people food, despite also being fancy people. In fact, that may be part of the problem with fancy food. The other problem with fancy food is that it tastes like actual shit.

 

All in all, he’s getting real sick of Atsui’s rambling on about the proper way to make a risotto.

 

“And I just don’t understand why my mom insists on putting beet greens in it whenever we have family potlucks,” Atsui insists. “The texture is just BAD. Does she even know what a risotto is? Hey, do you?”

 

Contrary to popular belief, Sen knows what a risotto is. He just. Doesn’t. Care. He turns the volume up on his Switch louder and grits his teeth in a vain attempt to get Atsui to TAKE A HINT.

 

“Why the hell does she even make risotto? She’s a Japanese chef,” Atsui muses to himself. “Y’know, there’s a definite problem in the Japanese coveting of Western culture, probably has something to do with the post-World War II American takeover. Stupid Americans.”

 

Clearly, that didn’t work. Good thing plan B was to drown him out. Sentarou clicks the volume louder and louder, but Atsui doesn’t look up from his own Switch, nor does he even react as Sen continues to pummel him. Bitchass can’t even play Smash when he’s NOT spouting nonsense. How and why is he doing this.

 

Sentarou only says anything when he gets to the victory screen, having beaten up Atsui in a record 45 seconds. “I win,” he announces. “Please learn the controls to this game. I’m not kidding. If I see you send yourself off a cliff one more time, I might actually feel bad for you.”

 

“Eh. I just play for fun, I don’t play to win. Better luck next time.” Atsui puts down his controller, and for a moment there is blessed silence.

 

And then he opens his mouth again. “But you really have to wonder-“

 

Sen groans as loudly and as angrily as possible and buries his face in the console.

 

“That’ll be a match for the ages,” says a familiar voice from outside the room, and the sun - sorry, Alexei - comes in, looking more amused than anything.

 

Sen sits up for once, idly pulling Alexei’s face down for a quick kiss, much to Atsui’s protests. God bless wonderful boyfriends to save people from idiots. Alexei lifts the console from Sen’s hands and looks at it quickly.

 

“What are you two doing, anyway?” He pokes the screen. “Smash? Again?”

 

“I’m playing against Atsui, Lyoshen’ka darling, the hell do you think I’m doing? Losing?”

 

“I heard that,” Atsui says, rather unhappily.

 

“I’d hope you were winning,” Alexei says noncommittally. “Considering you spent upwards of six hours a day on that thing every time you went to work in high school, I’d be kind of disappointed if you didn’t win. Don’t fret, Ryouji,” he tells the other boy. “You just need practice.”

 

“Thanks,” Atsui mumbles.

 

“Well, I wasn’t winning, actually. I was just waiting for the light of my life to walk back into the room,” Sentarou adds, being only slightly sarcastic.

 

“Aw, Senik, that’s so sweet! But whatever light I have pales in comparison to yours, which isn’t so much a single light as that of the infinite stars that make up my universe.”

 

Sen blinks. Alexei bats his eye.

 

What.

 

And Atsui just stares at them both, stares between them, and breathes a silent sigh, and in that moment Sen not only catches the joking gleam in Alexei’s eye but resolves to carry this as far as both of them can go for the sheer purpose of getting Atsui out of this room. Hard as it is, Sentarou genuinely does appreciate him! Just not now.

 

“Oh, but my angel of the night,” Sen begins, desperately racking his brain for some lyric he can steal and make a pretty declaration of love. “Wait, angel of music?”

 

“Both,” Alexei stage whispers, and Sen nods.

 

“Uh, both.” Sen coughs. “I have no need for light when I have you, my darling, my lovely.”

 

“Oh my dear god,” Atsui mutters, watching this train wreck unfold from between his fingers. Is he not entertained? Is this not what he signed up for?

 

“But I hope that, if I may have the pleasure of being the light of your life, I will be able to show you that you have no need of darkness in my embrace,” Alexei replies effortlessly, and Sen might just die on the spot. How is he so GOOD at this. This is just JOKING and he STILL feels something in his cold dead heart. This isn’t fair.

 

“Uh. Uh, yeah, pretty much,” Sen finds himself mumbling in awe, and wants to slap himself upside the head. “That’s- that’s a really good- shit, how am I supposed to reply to that.”

 

“You don’t,” Alexei says smugly. “You don’t need any words at all.”

 

Sen half-smiles. “Why is that?”

 

“I’ll take them from you right now.”

 

And just as Alexei takes Sen’s face in one delicate hand, Atsui across the room falls off the couch with a thud. Alarmed, Alexei springs back, but relaxes as Atsui scrambles to his feet, looking very disgruntled.

 

“ENOUGH!” he yells, looking about this close to flipping a table (but not really, because the three of them combined do not have the arm strength to do that). “I’ve heard enough. Holy SHIT, do you two even notice I’m here??”

 

Sentarou blinks, the poster child of innocence. “What’s wrong?” he asks. “We’re just so in love, because we’re sweethearts, like Chiyo-chan and Amal-kun-“ and Alexei has completely lost it by this point, guffawing so loudly that Sen can feel it in his chest too. Atsui glances at Alexei, a grin twitching at his own mouth, but when he looks back to Sen it’s with an exhausted scowl.

 

“You can HAVE your stupid room space.” He stands up, Switch in hand. “Bye. Bye, I’m leaving. Have fun making out or whatever.”

 

“We will!” Alexei calls after him, much too cheerily, as he stalks out of the room. Sen grins after him, but the grin fades somewhat as he turns back to his boyfriend.

 

“Are we really going to do that?” he asks, the pretense of high romance suddenly dropped. Alexei just shrugs.

 

“I mean, since we’re both here, we might as well.”

 

“Cool.”

Chapter Text

“I still don’t understand what this all is for,” Hirono says, coughing a little and wincing at how her throat flares up at the motion. “I can take care of myself.”

 

“You also have a 102 degree fever,” Iris says, tsking as she brings over the bowl of soup. “Here. Eat.”

 

Hirono obliges, although truth be told she isn’t all that hungry, and probably because of the 102 degree fever. Also, she’s not sure if Iris’s presence is a byproduct of the immense headache she currently has, or of the medication she’s on, or how tired she is, or what, but-

 

She coughs again and Ririka bustles back into the room, the annoyed glance she shoots at Iris proof of the shorter girl’s corporeality. “You just need sleep,” she announces, shooing Iris away. “I’m making this room off limits. Sumitama-“

 

“I just want to talk to her, okay?” Iris says, as if it’s totally normal for her to just show up on Hirono’s doorstep and let herself in. Maybe in another timeline, she could have been, but that’s probably the timeline where Hirono is much unhappier. Not to say she isn’t unhappy now. Ririka’s right, she just wants to sleep. But if either of them are in the same room for much longer, they’re going to start fighting, and Hirono’s having a hellish enough time as it is just trying to relax so she shifts on the pillows.

 

“Five minutes,” she croaks out, and Ririka looks at the two of them suspiciously before nodding tersely.

 

“Fine,” she says, and lingers in the doorway. “But be fast.” She says this with a final glare at Iris, the weight of five years behind them, and pulls the door shut.

 

And Iris stands there, fiddling with the ends of her hair. It’s a lot shorter now than it was a few years ago, the dirty yellow finally fading away to a middling brown. It’s not much prettier, but it looks natural, at least, and only hangs down to her chin. She stands there, and her arms are at her sides, and she’s swaying just a bit. Iris stands there and Hirono doesn’t know what she’s about to say but, in this vague and feverish state, is pretty sure that it doesn’t really matter what she ends up saying.

 

“I’m doing this for you,” Iris murmurs finally. “To make it up to you. I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you.”

 

Her words float in the dead air, waiting for a reply that doesn’t come, then with a tiny cackle she seems to reprimand herself even expecting a response. Of course, of course, she’s talking to a sick person. She’s already placed a hand on the doorknob to leave when Hirono pulls herself up again, pulls herself into focus, and says, “Not forgiven.”

 

Iris’s shoulders stiffen, then relax, and instead of crying about it like she did five years ago she just nods. “Yeah,” she says, voice  simple and steady. “I understand.”

 

“You’re not forgiven,” Hirono calls softly after her, each word a physical struggle, “but you’re getting there.”

 

And it’s much less than five minutes later that Iris steps out of the room. She looks Ririka in the eye and gives her a smile, a genuine smile that makes the other girl pause, before leaving the house. When Ririka comes back into Hirono’s room it’s to find her asleep, resting off the fever, a small smile of her own still playing on her lips.

Chapter Text

“Woah. Wow. Holy shit.”

 

“You don’t need to look so scared, y’know. All we gotta do is fly back and forth until Aster sees us and then I’ll touch back down on the landing pad and they’ll fall into my arms and we will all cry a bunch. Easy peasy.”

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I know, but this is still like the second time I’ve been on a plane ever and- WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING.”

 

“I am! I’m watching where I’m going!”

 

“It’s still a very interesting experience, is all. And I’m really happy for you and Aster, and I’m sure they’ll love it when they see you, but- I’m nervous. For a lot of reasons? Maybe it’s a buildup of everything.”

 

“Aw, Brendan, I’m with you, you know that. You’re safe, okay? And I promise when we reach the ground you’ll be very much alive.”

 

“Yes. Yes, alive is important, I’d very much appreciate being alive. But, you know...”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Being alive is- it’s about a lot more than just breathing and eating and stuff. It’s being able to experience the world. And I feel like, being here with you is part of that, being able to fly, and to help my friend propose, and, well...”

 

He takes a breath and lets it go, chest oddly freer than it was before.

 

“I’m really glad I’m alive and here with you.”