Each time Rose's eyes traveled back to the clock on the right wall of the room she silently cursed. Her right leg shook uncontrollably under her shared table with Caleb and she twitched every time he touched her shoulder to ask her if she was alright.
Maybe she just really needs to pee, he pondered as he watched her jitter around.
Time was moving entirely too slow, like each second was everlasting. For a class that was only 90 minutes, Rose felt like she had waited 10 years, just for 30 minutes to pass. Despite the fear pricking through her tense body, her mind was running simulations. How could she leave early? What excuse could she make? Maybe she could feign a stomach bug? Would it be suspicious if she dropped the class immediately after it ended?
In spite of her internal chants, begging the blonde in front of her to keep his attention on the professor, Lance kept sending glances her way as if to reassure himself she was really there. Each time he turned back, her grip on her pencil tightened but her eyes remained directly forward. She was ignoring him the best she could but his gaze burned her. It was like his eyes were making a game plan for later and she could already feel his hands on her.
As time drew nearer, Rose hastily packed her things away in her backpack, eager for a quick escape. She was already out the door by the time the old professor had finished announcing their dismissal.
Keep your head down. Blend in. Don't walk too fast. Don't grab attention. Keep your head down. Blend in... The chants kept circling in her head as she tried desperately to escape without notice. She'd barely made it halfway down the hallway when a hand grasped her shoulder.
"You're so quick Rose," an out-of-breath voice echoed near her ear and she jumped slightly. Her heart beat so fast she thought she might die right on the spot. "I didn't know someone so short could walk so fast."
Shakily Rose turned to face her seat partner as he stared back at her with a genuine smile. It's the second time he's frightened her and he's starting to wonder if she is scared of him for some reason.
"Why are you in such a hurry? Do you have another class to get to," Caleb asked, almost laughing.
She nodded, unable to speak.
"Oh, that's too bad. I wanted to catch up with you," he said, absentmindedly fiddling with his fingers. "We didn't see you all break, so we'll have to get coffee soon, okay?"
Caleb waited for a confirmation, but Rose's eyes weren't on him. She wasn't listening. Her attention was completely on a certain blonde moving nearer and nearer. Her mind was completely turned toward hoping he would move in another direction, or that his attention would be pulled away.
"Okay?" Caleb echoed his question.
Her attention snapped back to him, slight confusion muddled in her eyes as she tried to process what he asked.
"Uhm, sure," she mumbled. "I ... I have to go now. Bye" She turned without another word and practically ran away from him. Just as she rounded the corner of the hall, Lance stepped next to him with a sigh.
"You know what's up with her," Caleb asked, pointing to the spot where Rose just disappeared. "She's acting really strange today."
Lance's eyes stayed focused on the spot in the hallway where he watched Rose disappear with a slight frown upon his lips. He was silent, for perhaps a beat too long, before turning toward his friend with a lopsided grin.
"Hasn't she always been weird, though," he teased, pushing his hands into his pockets with a light shrug.
"Uhm," Caleb mumbled, trying to fill in the space in the conversation as troubling thoughts buzzed through his head. "I guess?"
A large smile broke out across Lance's face as his chest rumbled with a low laugh. Taking his left hand out of his pocket, he thumped his friend on the back and began pushing him down the hallway.
"Forget about it. Let's go get something to eat."
Down the bending hallways, out the building door and five steps away from the building, Rose decided it was finally safe to run — and run she did. She kept running, ignoring everything around as she pushed her lungs to their limit, until she finally felt that there was enough distance between her and the demons laying in wait for her in that building. With shaking knees, she all but collapsed on the first bench she could spot and pulled her whole body upright onto it, wrapping her arms around her legs and burying her face in her thighs.
"I am not going to fall apart," she whispered to herself as she tried to regulate her breathing. "You get to sit here and wallow for two minutes. TWO MINUTES. And then you're going to pick yourself up, withdraw from that class and never, ever, let that prick get to you again."
And so she sat there, in relative silence, as she focused on the way the air stung in her nostrils each time she took a break. In and out, she would become as still and as cool as the winter afternoon. In and out again, calm as the bare tree branches that swayed gently above her.
Nothing was going to break her. Nothing could get in the way of her future. Nothing could interrupt her focus — not even the slight rustling next to her as someone broke into her personal bubble by sitting on the same bench as her, even though there were several other empty benches around.
"You're fine," she told herself as the rustling continued. "You've got one more minute to refl-" Her thoughts were quickly interrupted by a soft, warm pressure on her shoulder. "AND I SWEAR TO GOD IF ONE MORE PERSON PUTS THEIR HAND ON MY SHOULDER TODAY..."
Rose lifted her head slowly from her knees and turned to face the bench's newcomer with a glare. It took her slightly teary eyes a few blinks to truly be able to focus on the giant next to her, but when her vision cleared she tried her hardest to soften her stare and hurried to brush any stray tears away from her cheeks.
"Don't mind me, Mori," she said through a slight sniffle and an attempt at a smile. His only response was to move his hand to her head to lightly ruffle her hair while keeping that same constantly stoic look on his face. "You probably have class. You should get to it."
Mori made minuscule movements as he shook his head, indicating that he had no other place to be, as he took his hand from her head and used it to move his backpack from his shoulder to the end of the bench. Shifting slightly, he moved his body toward Rose and attempted to soften his gaze. She gave him a small, sheepish smile in response before her eyes slowly drifted away from his and attached her attention to the stained pathway.
"Did..." she started, trying to find the right words for her question. "Did Hikaru tell you...uhm... what happened in..."
Rose couldn't quite finish the thought and she wasn't sure if it was because she didn't want to instantly push herself back into the head space she was trying so hard to escape or if it was because she really didn't want her tall, Japanese classmate to know how weak she'd been.
"No," Mori responded, not needing her to continue on. "Despite being troublemakers, the twins are incredibly loyal. You're too special to them to betray."
"Ahhh," she almost stuttered as she felt the apples of her cheeks heat despite the January weather. Now wasn't the time to blush, though and she pushed the strange feeling in her stomach away as she tilted her body to lean on Mori's side.
"Someone hurt me," she practically whispered with her eyes closed, almost hoping she was too quiet for him to hear but the tensing of his body was answer enough that he had. "I saw him again today and I kind of freaked out."
While Rose made an attempt to sarcastically laugh at herself, Mori found himself chewing slightly on his bottom lip. He'd been quiet most of his life. Silence had been his constant companion as he grew and his stoic demeanor had always been natural and steadfast, but as he watched Rose's face contort while she tried to reassure him (or maybe herself) he felt questions burning his tongue, begging to be let out. He'd never struggled to keep quiet, but here he was unable to keep his mouth shut.
"Hurt you how?" The words left his lips with almost a growl. The tone surprised even him.
Rose nearly jumped as the words left his mouth but it wasn't because of his unexpectedly protective tone. It was because he asked the question she was hoping he wouldn't. Her eyes squeezed together as she cringed and turned her face away from him.
Regardless, she trusted the man sharing the bench with her and she told him. She tried to stress that it was her problem. That, in the end, it wasn't that big of deal and she was just overreacting. She even went far enough to tell him that, really, she should just grow up and get over herself, but none of her words of self preservation sunk very deep for either of them.
Mori was a man raised to be the living embodiment of contradictions — to be strong yet gentle, fierce but poised, mighty but swift, silent yet romantic. His life has been built upon the core tenets of respect, morality and humility. So, after Rose told him her story, tried desperately to make it all seem okay and then walked with him in silence to their apartment complex, his head was spinning.
He'd never been a man to act on his emotions and that had always been one of his most admirable traits, but as he climbed the stairs to his shared apartment with Mitsukuni he found his feet pulling his body in a different direction. And when he found himself reaching out to knock on the twins' front door he had to take a second to figure out how he even got there. As he watched his hand retract from the wood his mind raced through what he would even say if they answered.
The door opened before he'd reached any conclusions and for the first time he found his own silence frustrating.
"Mori-senpai," Kaoru asked, opening the door with confusion. He'd never seen this emotion on the stoic man's face, whatever it was. "Do you need something?"
He didn't answer but instead pushed his way into the apartment and let his eyes roam across the contents of the twins' living room. His hands were tense at his sides as he continued to ponder what, exactly, to do next.
"Who was at th-," Hikaru began to ask as he peered his head out of the bedroom door."Ah! Hello Mori-senpai."
Mori gave them a curt nod before the two of them grabbed at his arms, pulled him to the couch and each sat a chair opposite of him.
"What can we do for you," they asked in unison and Mori's brows scrunched together as frustration flushed through him.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa Mori-senpai," Hikaru teased. "Don't frown so hard! Rose would scold you and tell you you're gonna get old man wrinkles."
He pushed at the wrong button and Mori let go of any notion that what he had to say should be sugar coated or fully thought through.
"Why didn't you do anything," he asked, forcefully. "Why didn't you go after the guy who hurt her?"
Twin faces of shock sat in front of him in silence as they attempted to recover, not only from the abrasive question but also the surprise of their stoic senpai raising his voice at them. Finally, Hikaru flinched slightly and moved his right hand to rub the back of his neck.
"Ah, well, she never even told us the guy's name," he answered, offhandedly — almost as if he was trying to play the situation off.
"And besides," Kaoru added. "She asked us not to do anything."
"And since we're trying to grow into being better people, we listened to her," they said together with mirrored shrugs.
Mori gave them a blank stare, completely unimpressed, but he didn't know how to respond. If she didn't want them to intervene, then there was hardly a thing they could do to remedy the situation. If what she wanted was to forget the situation and move on, then what right did they have to seek further justice?
But the idea of someone not only hurting their new friend, but walking away from it unscathed didn't sit well with any of them — though not a single one of the three would let those thoughts out into the open. It wasn't their place.
Still, as Mori rose from the couch, highly unsatisfied with the situation, he couldn't remedy the tightness in his chest and he left the twins with words that would ring through their poor, socially inept heads for weeks.
"Sometimes, it's better not to listen."
If only they had known that before.