Chapter 1: and the moon is nowhere to be found
if you're wondering what made me rewrite this whole thing, the short answer is that I didn't like it and it got too big for me to ignore it. If you want to know more try [here]
if you've never heard of paper thin before then please take this as the only version that exists, thank you
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kou wakes up before his alarm even has the opportunity to go off. It’s not the sunlight going directly through his eyelids as much as the way he’s used to it being there. He picks himself up from the bed regardless. The skies are grey outside and the rain pours down, restless, it’s the right weather to sink into his warm lion face-printed covers and so he knows for a fact Teru isn’t waking up on his own. A stretch and a long yawn later, he’s headed towards his brother’s room, no lingering attachment to his warm bed, lying untidy behind him. There’s something he enjoys in cooking breakfast while the streetlamps are still on, in the sound of three plates clicking against the dining table and the pop of the lunchboxes shutting while Tiara runs down the stairs. He takes that as his cue to finally wake Teru up, now that he can bribe him with freshly cooked breakfast.
The smell is enough to lure him out of bed and down to the table, where Tiara is already finishing up her portion. Teru thanks him for the food with a sleepy smile and a yawn and Kou takes the first bite out of his plate with a smile of his own. No amount of sleep seems to placate Teru, he sometimes says Kou and Tiara happened to take all the energy and there was nothing left for him but something about that statement doesn’t make sense. Kou doesn’t dwell on it, but he hopes it’s not something that comes with getting older; there’s so much things he needs to do every day, and he wouldn’t get by if he was always tired.
He washes the dishes, eyeing the clock above his head and reading the time with what he hopes is accuracy, while Tiara drags Teru by the hem of his shirt onto the bathroom and slams the door behind him once he’s inside. She smiles, big and with only a tiny gap between her teeth and Kou smiles back before she runs upstairs to get ready.
Drying his hands on his apron before taking it off, he makes sure the four bento boxes are packed and ready to go before leaving the kitchen himself.
The fourth lunch has become just another part of his routine for a while now and it doesn’t feel like an extra anymore. Most days he doesn’t even think about it until it’s already done, neatly set on the counter. Oh, but that may be a lie… he catches himself slipping extra portions on it more often than not and taking the box off Tiara’s tiny hands with a “It’s for Mitsuba, okay?” that pulls at the corners of his mouth, inexplicable and just as warm.
Sousuke never thanks him for it, or so it may seem, but Kou picks up how his eyes light up immediately at the sight of the box and how he makes grabby hands at it if he takes too long, and the way he hums, chewing vigorously and never batting an eye at it or leaving leftovers. Sousuke never says “thank you”, but Kou doesn’t need it. And the thought is enough to put a smile on his face while he finishes packing up for the day.
He showers after Teru is done and doesn’t come back to his room to tidy up his bed. Teru leaves before him, Tiara in tow to be dropped off at the daycare for the time being. It’s still fairly early but as school council president, he always has many things to do. After a quick and superficial sweep around the house, Kou leaves.
The walk to school is fast and uneventful, he stumbles on a rock or two because he’s not paying attention but doesn’t fall. There may or may not be some incomplete problems in his math worksheet for third period and he may or may not forget to ask Satou for help with them. But he’s not worried about them at all.
He forgets about them completely when Sousuke isn’t on his seat, playing with his phone or staring off outside the window or kicking Yokoo in the shins for some reason he makes sure to yell as soon as Kou arrives. His belongings aren’t anywhere to be found either. Kou checks the time and he should be here already, he always is. He sets his things aside and approaches his friends. It’s not unheard of for Sousuke to oversleep and slip into class late, but it is a little unusual. There’s also the fact that something feels heavy on his gut, and heavier the longer he waits. It’s never happened before, he thinks as he drags a nearby desk to sit between Yokoo and Satou.
“Seems like Sousuke will be late today,” Yokoo comments, looking up from his phone, set down on the table with red letters that read defeat all over the screen.
“There’s still time, maybe he’ll make it,” Kou points at the time on Yokoo’s phone. Ten minutes is more than enough.
“Well, yeah,” picking up his phone again, Yokoo nods.
“Bet he won’t make it anyway,” Satou joins, chewing on what seems to be a candy bar even this early in the morning.
Third period comes, and Kou’s math assignment isn’t the only thing missing.
The desk in front of him is empty, and Kou tries his best to keep at bay the urge to get his phone out and text Sousuke right then and there, ask him if everything’s okay or he should drop by with some warm homemade meal to make him feel better (food usually does the trick, and Sousuke doesn’t mind him seeing him all limp and tired, sweaty forehead and all as long as he’s getting fed). It takes a couple of tries before he even picks up, but Kou doesn’t give up and Sousuke has never put his whole heart in avoiding him.
Still, Kou is very much aware he’s failing math (along with at least 7 other subjects) and so he does not get his phone out in the middle of class. Lunch break can’t come fast enough.
“Hey, Kou,” Yokoo elbows his side as soon as he sits down beside him, “since Sousuke isn’t showing up…” he points at the extra lunchbox, grinning big and hungry.
Sousuke isn’t showing up, at least for today. Kou still doesn’t want to give away his lunch. Yokoo has his own, after all, just before him. He shakes his head.
“What? Why?” he complains, popping the lid of his own anyway.
“You’re already eating yours.”
“Your cooking is better, I can’t believe only Sousuke gets to have it, aren’t we your friends too?” he elbows him again and Satou rolls his eyes, chewing away on his side of the makeshift table.
“Like you need any more food,” he finally says, once he’s swallowed.
“I do, I’m an athlete,” finger proudly pointed at his chest, he grins.
“Sure you are,” Satou props another bite onto his mouth and chews away.
There’s no reason for Kou to hold onto the packed lunch. It still feels like the only right thing to do.
After class, he walks all the way up to the old building’s third floor girls’ bathroom, as it’s been a habit for longer than two years now. Not many people go to that part of the school after hours, and even fewer do it looking for the bathroom. It was Amane’s idea from the start, even before he befriended Nene or Kou and both of them stick to it because the place is actually nicer than one would think. Tsuchigomori lets them hang out in there as long as they don’t break anything and keep it clean enough, a deal he made with Amane that only Nene and Kou actually carry out.
“Is everything okay?” is the first thing he actually hears, long since settled on the bathroom floor between his two friends
Nene stares at him with big, concerned eyes, her deck secured against her lap with one hand. Amane is looking at him too, from behind his own set of cards. He doesn’t look particularly concerned (why would he be?), eyebrows just the tiniest bit raised.
“I’m fine!” Kou announces, dropping his cards. He realizes he doesn’t remember any of his previous movements.
“Don’t pay attention to him, Yashiro,” Amane squints behind his deck and the corners of his eyes raise just the tiniest bit. “he’s probably just busy thinking about his boyfriend,” the cards do little to cover his evil grin and he is not trying to do a better job.
A heavy sigh and a slight shake of her head later, Nene seems to get something out of Amane’s words; something lights up in her eyes for no longer than a second and her annoyed expression shifts again.
“Right, Mitsuba-kun didn’t come today, did he?”
“Bet he dropped out,” Amane jumps in before Kou can answer, prompting Nene to shove away his shoulder.
“He didn’t drop out! I’ll call him later, he’s probably just sick.”
“Sorry you have to find out like this but he’s ghosting you,” Amane shrugs but his devilish smile is enough to make Kou roll his eyes.
“Amane-kun!” Another shove at Amane’s shoulder and some more reassuring words for Kou later, Nene settles down closer to the latter, both arms crossed before her chest.
“C’mon Yashiro, he knows I’m just joking. That kid would die before going without him for more than a day, he’s in love, after all,” there’s no doubt in his voice but the joke is old on both Nene and Kou’s ears.
“Let’s go Kou-kun, I’m sure Amane-kun can manage moving all the club equipment on his own,” she tugs on Kou’s wrist and despite Amane’s complains as he gathers all the scattered cards, they leave the bathroom.
It’s just then that Kou remembers. They were supposed to help Amane on his club, since all of the other members dumped the responsibility to clear space for new equipment on Amane alone (his words, so Kou thinks he should take them with a pinch of salt. Probably), but they’re friends and so, despite leaving him behind, they’re still headed towards the astronomy club, not so far away from the third floor bathroom. If Amane hurries, he can probably catch up to them.
Nene leads the way, her act of being mad at Amane long since dropped and traded for a calm smile. It occurs to Kou that their hands are linked together and her smile is one of the prettiest he’s seen. A year before, he thinks, he wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face, walking like this. It’s raining outside and he keeps forgetting to look for the winter uniform, only the shirt under the summer one to give him an extra layer of warmth, his free hand is cold and he does not feel his face burning like he thinks he would some time ago. Nene is pretty, she’s one of her best friends and Kou knows for a fact he used to like her.
Two years before, when she asked him if Teru Minamoto was his older brother, handwritten and signed letter clenched at her side, Kou’s heart pounded against his ribcage. He took the letter and promised to take it to his brother (he didn’t ask why she gave it to him; didn’t think about doing so) and promptly tripped and fell into a puddle, ruining the pretty handwriting on the front and everything inside. His head spun around endlessly and he thought she might hate him, so he did his best at recreating what a love letter would say (and he thought of her smile and her eyes and how much he would like to talk to her again). Teru didn’t buy his poor attempt at it, messy handwriting, smudges and all and only then Kou accepted it would’ve been easier to just tell him what had happened from the start. A sheepish laugh later, Teru said he should apologize to her. It took him a week to find her in the halls, but when he did she laughed her pretty laugh and assured him it was fine and that she didn’t want Teru to accept her feelings anymore. It seemed that would be all, and Kou would eventually forget the way his chest hammered when she spoke or blinked or smiled, but they kept running into each other and waving and talking about meaningless little things and Kou’s face used to feel so warm. Nowadays they talk every single day about a little more than just meaningless things and they nap together on a bathroom floor sometimes, and walk hand in hand down an empty old hallway and Kou’s heart doesn’t rush nor stop and the cold from outside seeps through him as easy as it does everyone else.
Amane catches up to them by putting both hands on the place where theirs meet. There’s only a couple meters between them and the club door but they let Amane in anyway, freezing hands and all. Amane is like a cat, he once heard one of Sousuke’s friends say. He follows them everywhere they go, first Nene, since their last year of elementary school, she says, where things were a little different. Then Kou, once he spent enough time with Nene and he decided it was time to show up, but he’ll deny it every chance he gets and if you pry to much he’ll bite (he’ll probably feel a little bad afterwards but he won’t say it), his eyes are big and the way they reflect the night sky (and the moon, especially the moon) never failed to make Kou’s heart stop. He looks like more trouble than he’s worth and maybe it’s true, but they don’t mind it. He gets them in trouble and leaves them to get themselves and him out of it on their own but he smiles and Kou thinks it’s okay. He slips adult magazines in his desk and bag and leaves Kou to deal with the consequences (Teru says it’s not shocking anymore; that Amane should get a new joke soon. Kou gets a heart attack every time anyway) he takes his phone and texts random people who are since concerned about Kou’s hobbies and overall activities but sometimes he lets him wear his obnoxious little hat that doesn’t even fit Kou and he smiles at him just as big. That too, he notes, standing on the entrance to the club, made his heart freeze in his chest and his mind blank. It was warm, he recalls.
Amane drags him all the way in and his hand isn’t cold anymore, Kou’s face isn’t inexplicably burning either and there’s balance.
“Didn’t you guys say you wouldn’t help, though?” blinking two consecutive times, Amane alternates his act between both of them.
“I’m reconsidering,” she makes her way across the room anyway.
“We won’t get this over with quickly if you don’t help,” it’s not until he’s been told and has seen Kou fail at lifting a long table no less than three times that Amane approaches to help.
Amane Yugi is one of the most enthusiastic and involved members of the astronomy club. He always makes sure everyone knows what overnight event is coming weeks in advance and stays later than anyone else to organize it if necessary. He calibrates everyone’s telescopes on request and he does not move a finger to help Kou nor Nene clear space for new equipment. He sits around sipping on some soda and giving vague instructions on where to put things and calls it moral support. Kou wants to throw him out the window, he knows Nene would help him.
Amane spots the packed lunch before leaving. Kou lets him have it and hopes he’ll return the box the next day.
Back at Kou’s house, steam all around him, standing in the middle of the kitchen, he can’t wait for dinner to be ready so he can go back to his room and call Sousuke. It still is a little too early for him to pick up if he’s sick and hiding from him for some reason (Kou has no problem on going over and taking care of him for a while, Sousuke’s mom is nice and the best mom Kou knows but she’s busy and Sousuke is too much of a crybaby to deal with sickness on his own), but Kou will try anyway.
Tiara digs into her food as soon as the plate is in front of her but Teru keeps looking at him over his leftover paperwork from time to time. Kou smiles at him every time, gestures for him to clean the rice stuck on his cheek and hopes he doesn’t ask questions.
“Is something wrong?” Teru sets the paperwork down on the table, dangerously close to a wet spot left from his glass as soon as Tiara voices her thanks and leaps onto the couch. “You look worried.”
“No, not at all,” he grins.
Teru knows Sousuke. How would he not? A good portion of the family pictures lying around the house were taken by him. Most of them not even asked for but happily received anyway. Sousuke is Kou’s best friend, he comes over more often than not and, despite what Kou knows he thinks, he’s quite unforgettable. Teru says he’s an annoying brat and someone should teach him to yell and whine a little less (Kou has caught him looking over Sousuke’s shoulder and down at his camera and smiling behind his glasses when he styles Tiara’s hair more times than he can count). Teru knows Sousuke, but more than that, he knows Kou.
“You’re pretty bad at lying, you know?” Kou’s grin wavers, falling at the edges quicker than he can fix it.
He sighs, “Mitsuba didn’t show up today.”
“Oh, and did you try calling him?” he props both elbows on the table and the paperwork finally gets wet.
“You-” Kou points it out with a finger as the water keeps soaking through.
Batting a hand around, a grin twists his mouth a little too high: “I’ll just have Aoi redo them.” His usual, more relaxed and maybe tired smile falls back into place just as quick, “So? I’m sure Mitsuba-kun didn’t pick up.”
“… I haven’t called him yet. I was going to, just now!”
“I’ll help you do the dishes, go call him now.”
“… You’ll end up breaking more than you clean, you know…” A hand falls heavy on top of his head, ruffling his hair.
“Well, less plates to clean then!”
“That’s not how it works-” Teru ruffles harder.
“Your older brother is telling you do something so listen to him; go call Mitsuba-kun.”
Admittedly fearing for their plates’ safety, Kou stands up from the table, phone already in his grasp. Outside, the rain falls, scattered but steady, just as the tone coming from his phone. Cars go by far away… the moon is nowhere to be found.
Kou pockets his phone again and heads inside.
Under Tiara’s earnest gaze, Teru already went over all half the dirty dishes.
“He won’t break any plates under my watch!” Tiara declares, standing with both hands attached to her hips and her teeth in full display.
“I’m counting on you,” Kou’s hand falls on her head, and she grins even wider.
A glass clinks louder than it should.
Next morning, Kou stops himself for making an extra packed lunch. If Sousuke thinks he can get away with not showing up and not picking up the phone, then he’s wrong. If he shows up today, he better not be expecting a fresh meal after he almost let one go to waste the day before. There’s only three bento boxes resting on the countertop today and Kou keeps forgetting that’s supposed to be the right number. If Sousuke shows up, there will be no lunch for him today. If Sousuke shows up (and Kou hopes he does), there will be no lunch for him-
… Kou stuffs his own a little more than usual, just in case Sousuke is actually hungry.
His late night text to the group chat he shares with Yokoo, Satou and Sousuke, asking if anyone else had heard anything about the latter (and he expected Sousuke himself to reply when he sent it) was met with unsatisfactory answers and “go to sleep already” texts. Knowing them, they most likely already reached out to Sousuke themselves, but they don’t seem to be as bothered as Kou is about it. He just can’t wrap himself around it. Maybe he’s sick and his phone also stopped working for some reason, but then again, the calls do get through, they just don’t get picked up, which means, somewhere, Sousuke is deliberately waiting for him to hang up to go about his day.
Sousuke Mitsuba is nothing but complicated, annoying and time-consuming. Kou can’t get him or his smile out of his mind regardless.
Just outside the convenience store, close to the park, at the gates of the school and looking out the classroom window, Kou catches himself expecting to see Sousuke in all those places and more.
Flipping through his English book, he finds Sousuke’s doodles on the pages he’s supposed to work in. Bright pink, glittery gel pen spells out the words “good luck handing over your work now, idiot” in neat calligraphy. There are hearts on top of the “i” and wherever Sousuke saw fit. Kou almost doesn’t mind it. Almost because he’s still supposed to hand over the pages the message takes up for the end of the period and there’s no way to hide the sparkly letters.
Eraser nor corrector can solve Kou’s problem and he sighs.
It will be fine, maybe. He can always get back at Sousuke next time he sees him.
… He hopes the time comes soon.
The seat in front of him is empty, he can’t hear the sound of multiple pens and markers being capped and uncapped in close succession and no one turns around from time to time to ink his hands or arms. Sousuke shouldn’t be skipping class. More than that, he shouldn’t be avoiding Kou’s calls, if that’s what’s happening.
What if it isn’t? What if he didn’t just catch a common cold, what if he-?
Kou shakes his head until the thought gets replaced by what has happened countless times already. He called and so Sousuke will get back at him eventually, if he keeps calling, he’ll get an answer. It would be nice to jump past all that first stage, because Kou worries a lot more than others seem to do and he’s been waiting to jump out of his seat and onto him for way too long now. If only he knew where to jump to.
The teacher’s voice drowns in the background and Kou thinks that Sousuke’s relieved smile when he crosses the door to his room, warm meal in hand, is always worth the wait.
“You’ll get sick, idiot,” he said last time. Kou, decidedly not listening to him, slipped half his body under the covers. “Don’t blame me if something happens, it’s not my fault that you’ve got a weak immune system and still do shit like this.”
Kou doesn’t remember what came next, maybe he hummed a little bit and fell asleep. He didn’t get sick but he thinks he wouldn’t have minded if he had.
So, how long until he gets an answer?
“Kou,” Yokoo calls out to him under his breath.
Instinctively, his eyes fix at the front of the classroom, where his teacher is indeed looking right back at him.
“Ah, sorry!” his awkward grin doesn’t seem to help one bit.
Later that day, among the various growing vegetables in the school garden, under the drizzle, at Nene’s request (“There really isn’t anything to do there, but I have to go today,” she had said. And Kou and Amane listened), a bigger splash than the rain overhead could become in mere seconds impacts Kou’s back.
“You really can’t get him out of your mind, can you?” Hose still dripping on his hand, Amane stands behind him with slightly raised eyebrows.
He’s right, but that’s only because Kou is worried about him, and he has to be, since he isn’t showing up or at least telling him why. Kou cares about him, of course he does, Sousuke is his best friend.
Kou heads inside the greenhouse behind Amane and reminds him to turn off the hose before going in.
White. The hospital walls are white and not even the absence of sun makes them duller to Sousuke’s eyes. His head spins when he looks away from the ceiling and spins even more when he looks under the covers, so he keeps his eyes closed and both arms tightly secured under the blanket.
He doesn’t remember how he got here, or, at least he doesn’t remember much aside from blinding light, reflections and pain. He doesn’t remember and so, if he keeps his eyes closed, he can pretend.
It hurts. If he focuses on the pain it almost feels like he can curl his fingers in and out; like the covers don’t touch places they should never be able to reach and like the bandages are no different from his own skin.
But they are.
Sousuke focuses on the pain and soon it’s all he can feel. He’s always been a crybaby but the tears burn against his skin like never before and he wishes he wasn’t.
No one tells him what happened and he doesn’t ask. He hopes they think he’s aware and never try to bring it up. His right arm is lighter than it ever should be and his head weights him down in return. He doesn’t scream and he doesn’t sob loud enough for people to hear because he knows how to pick his battles and this one was lost from the start.
After the third consecutive time of trying to grab his cup or fork with his right hand and finding a bandaged mess, too short and too prone to make his heart travel to his brain and beat faster than before, he learns to keep the entire limb tucked away under the covers. Things are heavier on his left and in his head but the plastic cup burns his skin and the air conditioner chills him to the bone and he knows he’s alive.
Not like his mom would let him forget, either way.
Painkillers are numbing in more ways than one and Sousuke just wants to sleep.
In what his mom tells him is his third day at the hospital, he notices he can barely recall anything more than the vague sensation of eating and falling asleep, rinse and repeat, for the past two. There’s more unread texts on his lock screen than he can count and Kou’s name pops up at the top of them all.
His mouth tastes like iron when his tongue goes over the same spot at the front too many times, the hospital bed isn’t as comfortable and warm as his own and this isn’t just a common cold. He wonders what Kou would do to make him feel better if he knew. He wonders if even Kou Minamoto himself would be able to make him feel better at all.
“Do you want me to bring you anything in particular?” His mom asks, nails digging on the doorframe.
Swallowing as if he feels like speaking at all (his throat is dry and scrapped but he doesn’t remember screaming), he shakes his head from side to side. His eyelids aren’t as heavy, the place where his arm ends and his hand doesn’t begin anymore isn’t as numb anymore but he can only sleep for so long.
His mom nods and her hand almost seems to forget to let the frame go.
He’s been told time and time again that he’s his mom’s mirror image. Yui Mitsuba is strong and Yui Mitsuba gets what she wants in one way or another, she takes what life gives her and makes the best of it. Sousuke Mitsuba doesn’t think other people’s comments on how much he resembles his mom go further than the outside. But it’s not just them who’ve said it and so, maybe he should trust her word a little more.
“Mom?” he calls, tentatively and hoping it’s not too late. She peeks her head from behind the door again, “Say hi to Kinako for me!”
Her eyebrows are knitted together and her hands stick to everything they touch but Sousuke gives her a mirror image of her own smile and the world feels the littlest bit lighter.
It’s been three long days at the hospital despite him being asleep most of the time and Sousuke blames it on no one besides his mom showing up to see him. It’s not the right thing, he knows it isn’t, but he can’t help but think something like that should give him more attention, bring people closer to him, at least for the time being.
His dad shows up for fifteen minutes once the first day and never again (Sousuke still doesn’t answer his friends’ texts or pick up Kou’s calls). It’s not that he doesn’t want to see him (he does, probably more than Kou thinks he does), but there’s bags under his eyes, his hair is a tangled mess, the nail polish on his left hand is chipped and almost completely gone, his right arm is too light and he feels bad.
Kou’s smile is blinding; it makes Sousuke feel like the sun stares right back at him and it belongs on Kou’s face more than it does in the sky and so he can’t bear the thought of how it will shift once he knows it’s not a silly cough this time.
Ignoring Kou Minamoto proves to be a pain time and time again. This time, Sousuke thinks he should’ve picked up sooner all the other times.
“Is everything okay?” one of the texts reads. Sousuke hates to admit he can see the face Kou made while typing that.
Sousuke hates even more that he doesn’t know how to answer.
No. Not everything is okay. Somewhere, there’s a bloodstain too big for him to look at, and somewhere, mangled flesh that used to be his rests where he won’t see it ever again and he doesn’t want to, because it should never have been ripped away from him in the first place. Not everything is okay, but not everything is not not okay either, Yui had said, a trembling smile on her lips. Sousuke is alive and his mom comments on how he always wanted to get better at writing with his left hand, or how he barely used his right for the sake of tucking it under his long sleeve. It’s not the same and they both know that, the doctors tell him he could have died and the way his stomach drops at the words tells him everything he needs to know. There’s no hand at his right and things will be more difficult from now on, at least until he gets used to it, but he’s alive and he finds that death scares him more than anything else ever could.
He just wishes someone else came to visit so maybe he wouldn’t feel so lonely, stuck in his hospital room (too white, too empty, not enough pink or fluffy plushies, pictures or his cat, Kinako, napping lazily on his bed), the smell has started to hurt his nostrils, too cold, too sterile, and he misses so many things (only one of which he can’t get back). He expected a little more people showing up but instead…
His phone rings once again and the wait for it to stop feels longer every time.
If Kou knew, he would be right outside his door in record time, it’s as easy as picking up the call right now, before it stops- but he doesn’t. He doesn’t pick up and calling himself feels too complicated, too desperate. Kou is eager to know about him and Sousuke is eager to let him know but he doesn’t. Kou wants him to rely on him (he doesn’t need to say it out loud for him to understand, because Kou Minamoto has learned how to read him better than anyone ever could and in return Sousuke thinks he also gets him), he has shown it countless times already and Sousuke enjoys his company more than he should (because maybe insisting on him feeding him even when he didn’t have an excuse for it like he does now made his feelings a little too obvious and only Kou Minamoto himself would be dumb enough to not notice still. And Sousuke is grateful for it), but he still finds it so hard to seek him on his own when he needs someone the most. Sick people aren’t fun to be around. When he catches a cold, he’s more trouble than he’s worth (though he’s been told it’s not only when he’s sick), and now, it’s even worse. Sick people aren’t fun to be around, Sousuke Mitsuba is more trouble than he’s worth and yet he knows Kou Minamoto would come running at him upon request.
The air conditioner is still on even when it rains outside, the blankets and clothes are too thin and Sousuke wonders if Kou would have the common sense to hug him as mean of comfort without him having to ask him to.
Lunch tastes worse than it ever has before. As if Sousuke doesn’t already feel gross enough; tangled, dirty hair, dried blood sticking bandages to his right arm, bags under his eyes and dry mouth, now he has to down the shitty hospital food that isn’t even anything he likes to begin with.
“Don’t make that face, it doesn’t look that bad,” looking up from her phone, Yui nudges his arm from the chair beside him, “you’ve just become a picky eater all of a sudden. Eat up, you have to if you want to get out of here.”
Sousuke looks down at his plate and curses in all the ways he knows when he can’t figure out how to make his left hand move in all the ways his right used to. The spoon feels like it doesn’t belong between his fingers but there’s no other place for it.
“See? This is why I always told you to practice with both hands,” Sousuke is Yui’s mirror image in more ways than he cares to note and so he’s not amused when she brags about her slightly-better-than-decent handwriting with her left hand. He doesn’t grin like she does but he knows he’d do the same in a different context. “you should’ve listened to me,” but she doesn’t seem to be talking about the ambidextrous abilities Sousuke lacks anymore.
He doesn’t reply and she doesn’t say more but the silence feels natural.
“Kinako seems a little down without you, but he said hi,” she says.
“You’re starving him!” Sousuke accuses. “He would never be sad I’m not there; he hates me!” he hides his face under the covers because his sleeves don’t reach down enough.
“And why does he follow you all over the house?”
“He wants food, duh.”
Yui chuckles, “And why doesn’t he follow me, then? I feed him just as much.”
Sousuke is very much aware his cat feels the complete opposite of hatred towards him, “whatever, he hates me and you know it.”
“I’ll buy him some meat and say it’s from you so he doesn’t think you abandoned him.”
“He would never-”
His phone interrupts him, screen lit up with Kou’s name in full display and Sousuke knows his mom can see it even after shoving it under the covers. The light of the screen passes right through them and it keeps vibrating against the mattress at an annoying beat.
“Aren’t you picking up?” her eyes are fixated on him even as he looks down at his plate and absolutely nowhere else, especially not at his phone right beside him. “Isn’t it Minamoto-kun?”
“I don’t feel like talking to him,” even he knows it doesn’t sound convincing at all (his mom knows way too much, even if she never comments on it, he can tell), but he has to try.
“Oh, so you’re still in that mindset,” she rolls her eyes at him with a poorly hidden smile that looks more mocking than fond. “I don’t even know how he’s put up with your antics for so long.”
“It’s because I’m cute and the best person he’s ever met, obviously,” for a second, his heart thumps hard against his chest (*“-because I’m so cute and you’re in love with me,” is what he tells Kou every time he asks that same question. Kou never outright denies it and Sousuke doesn’t know if he should be holding onto that hope as much as he does or Kou is just unbelievably dumb).
“He’s too kind for you to be avoiding him like this,” a grin tugs at the corners of her mouth, an elbow already digging into Sousuke’s side. “Besides, aren’t you happy when he visits you when you’re sick?”
A pause, a glance to the place where his right arm ends, too abrupt and too quick, “… It’s different this time.”
Steps all over the hospital halls take over the entire room, drowning every other sound. And they let them.
“It sure is…” she says, and the room breathes again, admittedly paused and irregular. “He’d come anyway, though.”
“So? Don’t you wanted someone to come visit you?” his mom knows him better than he ever wants to admit and so he doesn’t reply.
He has friends. He can’t say the same about his elementary school years but it’s been quite a while since then. Yokoo and Satou are his friends, he thinks of Sakura and Aoi as his friends and hopes they consider him one in return. He could even go as far as to say Natsuhiko and Nene are his friends (they clearly think of him as one and despite everything, Sousuke doesn’t hate their company, if he had to compare them to something, it would be extra annoying siblings). Tsukasa is not his friend, he just happens to hang around Sakura and Natsuhiko all the time, but he pulls his hair and threatens to break his camera at least once a week so Sousuke would have no problem avoiding him forever. Kou is-
Kou Minamoto is the biggest idiot ever and Sousuke does not care about him. At all. He does not take pictures of him when he’s not looking and puts them on his wall beside all the other stuff he holds dear to his heart, he does not enjoy the food he makes him and does not want to hug him because he just looks so warm. Sousuke’s heart definitely does not skip several beats when Kou smiles his sunlit smile. Kou Minamoto is ugly and not cute at all and Sousuke does not think about holding his hand. Ever.
Yui is not waiting for an answer she knows Sousuke won’t give her so they can silently put the topic behind them, at least for the time being-
So why in the world is she holding out her phone towards him?
“Minamoto-kun deserves to know you’re alive, and you need to stop acting like he doesn’t care about you," the phone rings and Sousuke curses the day he let Yui Mitsuba have Kou’s phone number.
For emergencies, she said and Sousuke never once believed her, but this?
“This is treason.”
A chuckle, “thank me later.”
Sousuke hopes so hard that Kou doesn’t pick up, throat dry and scraped, eyebrows knitted together and phone resting heavy and unfamiliar on his left ear, that he does before Sousuke can think about hanging up.
“Uh, hi?” and Sousuke hates how relieved he is of hearing Kou’s voice.
“Hey-” he starts, but apparently that’s enough for Kou to tell him apart from his mom.
“Mitsuba?” his heart stops at the way his name sounds coming from Kou’s mouth, a bittersweet mixture of happiness, worry and everything in between. He hates how much he wishes he could hug him.
Yui at least has the decency to leave after ruining his peaceful evening, he’ll give her that much.
“Who else would call you?” his fingers twitch looking for a warmth that isn’t there at all.
“You’re alright!” it’s not the first time Sousuke avoids him to keep him from visiting and yet he’s just as relieved to hear from him.
“I’m alive,” he rectifies even it that defeats the point of pretending in the first place. Not like he could hide what happened forever, though. “Jeez, it was barely three days without knowing about me and you’re like this? You’re pathetic.”
“I got worried, okay? You didn’t show up, you didn’t answer my calls… you always do that when you’re sick!” Kou pauses and Sousuke hates that he can make out what expression his face shifts into: “So? You are, right?” Sousuke doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t hang up either. The room feels heavier than it was a minute ago; heavier by the minute. “Come on, tell me so I can help you!”
But it’s not that easy…
“I doubt you can help this time.”
At the other end of the line, Kou stumbles over his own words: “That’s what you say every time!”
“And have you helped in any of those, by any chance?” Sousuke thinks of a spoonful of warm soup directly to his mouth, of fluffy blankets stacked on top of him, of Kou’s face just within reach while he checks his temperature and of how incredibly warm his hands are when he takes both of his between them. “That’s what I thought,” he hurries to say before Kou has the chance.
A vague, pathetic hum reaches Sousuke’s ears, then: “Well uh, I thought I helped a little…”
It’s a blow straight through his heart and Sousuke hates it.
“Ugh, fine,” despite his best judgement, he can’t find it in him to start any other way. “but only a little. And don’t let it get to your head!”
“Heh, I knew it!” and Sousuke’s heart beats again. “Then? Does that mean I can come over to help you?”
If only it was that simple.
“… I’m not…” even if he doesn’t tell him, Kou will find out sooner than later.
“Well, it’s fine anyway… because I know you’re okay,” there’s a little smile there, at the end of his sentence, Sousuke can’t see it but he knows.
Kou Minamoto is his least favorite person. No doubt about it.
“Can you get any cheesier?” Sousuke blurts out, louder than he probably should in a hospital. “No, don’t answer that, I bet you can.”
“I’m not being cheesy; I’m telling the truth! I forgot to hand in assignments because of you, you know?”
Life goes on without Sousuke Mitsuba. All his other friends worry the tiniest bit and wait for an answer. Kou Minamoto, bright as the sun, stumbles on his untied shoelaces and forgets his homework because Sousuke is too stubborn to answer his calls or texts the first try.
“That’s sounds like a you problem,” his heart isn’t running a mile per hour and he does not feel like an asshole for worrying Kou so much.
“Can’t you at least tell me when you plan on not showing up so I don’t have to deal with the extra lunch?” life goes on without Sousuke Mitsuba and Kou tangles himself all around him in more loops than he can jump. “That would be nice.”
“It’s okay, Amane ate it so it didn’t go to waste but I’m still waiting for him to return the box.”
Sousuke can’t help but chuckle, “as if you’re ever getting it back.”
“It’s pretty much your lunchbox by now, you should be more worried, then,” shit, he’s right.
“That just means you’re definitely not getting it back! He probably burnt it already!”
“He doesn’t hate you that much, I’ll just have to ask him,” Amane Yugi has wished death upon him countless times so Kou is wrong, actually. “It’s still mine, after all.”
“Good luck with that,” back sinking in the hospital’s pillows, not anywhere near as comfortable as the ones waiting for the majority of him back in his room, his sigh ends up being closer to a scoff. “I still expect my lunch next time, you know?”
“Don’t worry about it!” A loud bang crashes against Sousuke’s ears. “Oh, sorry I dropped my phone. But wait, does that mean you’re still not coming back?”
Fingers curling in and out, Sousuke feels like he can grab the blankets around his body at both sides. He knows that’s not true.
“… Not yet.”
Seconds go by without a word and Sousuke knows he should tell him. Things like that can only go unmentioned for so long and as much as he doesn’t want it to be true (jars are heavier, pencils don’t sit right between his fingers, his phone slips through the gap on its hold…) he can’t avoid it forever.
“How long, then?”
“I’m not sure… maybe a month?” too late he realizes that gives away far too many details.
“… A full month? What happened?” he should’ve seen it coming.
“Okay, I talked to you enough for today, I’m hanging up!” the phone falls out of his hand and onto the mattress, instead.
“Wait, can’t I at least see you? You don’t have to tell me what happened but-”
The red button on the screen is one click away. Sousuke brings the phone to his ear.
“You’ll see it if I let you come.”
“I guess you’re right…” for a moment longer than wanted, the static between them is all Sousuke can hear. “… Is it that bad?”
Sousuke wants to tell him that he has no idea, wants to cry and scream and maybe run around so he can stop thinking about how his right side feels uneven and how tired he is of the painkillers but how much he fears the pain itself. Wants to go back to his house and pet his cat while getting homework done at the same time, wants his pretty handwriting back and so many other things he can’t get. Wants some homemade food and a comforting hug that won’t fix anything but seems like the right thing to ask for. Kou Minamoto is one word away and suddenly Sousuke can’t speak.
It’s just after class, the rain is little more than speckles to protect your eyes from and Sousuke wishes he was anywhere but here.
“It’s not just a cold this time, is it,” he’s not asking questions.
Sorrowful is something Kou’s voice should never be. Sousuke has the feeling Kou would say the same about him if asked. He’s cheesy like that.
And it doesn’t mean anything in particular.
“Wish it was,” is what he manages to say.
On the best of days, silence sits comfortable between them and they fit right in. Today is not the best of days but there are things that never change. Today is not the best of days but Sousuke knows there’s always a place for him when it comes to Kou, in one way or another.
“Alright idiot, I’m uh, hanging up now,” things pile up too quickly and Sousuke doesn’t want to start sobbing on the phone right now, not if his tongue will most likely slip. “You know I’m alive now so stop crying all over the school, get a life.”
A life that doesn’t go on without me like everyone else’s, maybe? he doesn’t say. Because that’s nothing short of pathetic and Kou doesn’t see him the same way Sousuke does. Kou loves all his friends too much and he’s just one more. He’s as selfish as he is cute and so he can’t help but want.
“I have one, you know. I just care about you, asshole.”
Heart skipping several beats, Sousuke wishes Kou did a little better at not getting his hopes up. Someone who cares about him this much is already more than he could ever ask for but Sousuke has to be selfish and want the extra mile, doesn’t he?
“Again, that’s a you problem.”
“You’re seriously the worst!” Kou complains, though it doesn’t sound like he means it at all.
“Hang up, then.”
“Not until you tell me where to find you.”
“In that case, I’ll hang up for you, bye-”
The phone gets pulled out of his hand before he has the time to follow through.
“Minamoto-kun? Sorry Sousuke is being so difficult, but you know how it goes,” Sousuke can’t hear what Kou says about that but he can death glare at his mom, who promptly ignores him. “He’s been complaining about no one visiting him this past few days, you know? He’ll be happy to have you here.”
“No, I won’t!” Sousuke exclaims, Yui bats a hand in his direction, a faint smile pulling at the corners of her eyes.
Until it doesn’t. “Oh, so he didn’t tell you,” even his own heart seems to stop at that but the words taste like dirt and dust and Sousuke can’t get them all the way up his throat. “No, no, it’s fine, you’ll… see for yourself.”
I can’t believe you’re throwing him into this without telling him what to expect, her eyes say, sinking in like daggers. But they soften soon enough. She doesn’t get it, not entirely, but she tries.
“Sorry,” Sousuke mouths before she turns around.
Yui comes back two minutes later, phone pocketed away and fingers deep into her hair, pulling it up in a ponytail.
“I told him where to go,” the mattress dips under her weight, as Sousuke’s shoulder does under her hand, “Nothing more. He said he’s on his way,” she chuckles, simple and quick, because she, too, knows Kou Minamoto.
“Thanks for telling that creep where to find me,” he rolls his eyes at her unamused self. “And they say mothers are there to look after you!” She elbows him right between his ribs and it hurts. “I’m already all messed up and you come and stab me? Me, your son?”
“Quit it,” she laughs. “Weren’t you complaining no one came? Now you’ll have visit every day.”
“Like I want him to come, out of all people.”
“Isn’t he your best friend, though?” raised eyebrow and piercing eyes are more than enough to make him look away.
“Why would I be friends with someone like him…”
“The right question is why would someone like him be friends with you.”
“Your favoritism is showing,” arms tightly crossed against his chest, he’s dead set on not looking at her, not even when she breaks into a fit of laughter.
“Good. That was the intention.”
Things aren’t going as Sousuke would want them, he hates the painkillers as much as the pain, outside the rain isn’t enough to drown his thoughts, the hospital bed and blankets aren’t as warm and fluffy as his own, his cat is not demanding to be pet by headbutting his arm or screaming for food and the air conditioner is still on, for some reason. But he’s alive and breathing and the doctors say he’ll live a normal life once he gets used to it.
Kou is coming over and maybe he just needs a hug that isn’t from his mom.
“Wait, did you say he’s coming right now?”
“Yeah, that’s what he said.”
This isn’t something several mouthfuls of food, blankets or even medicine can fix, Kou doesn’t even know what to expect and yet- and yet he’s on his way right this instant. Sousuke is already rehearsing how to tell him to get a life without breaking down in tears.
Chapter 2: you'll see better days
things never go as planned; maybe it's not all bad
i can't believe how good this is doing in so little time hh thank you so much !!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rainclouds don’t grumble in anticipation before the downpour starts. The droplets pool on the outside of his windowsill, clinging to the glass as they go down and he doesn’t remember where they keep the umbrellas. If Kou let it, it could drown every sound around him, no matter how loud.
Yui speaks, and every other sound dies down, crushed by the heaviness of her voice: “oh, so he didn’t tell you.”
His stomach drops to places a stomach shouldn’t be in and the white noise in his ears is louder than the rain.
“Tell me what? Is he about to die or something?” tripping over his own words, his room spinning all around him, he doesn’t stop to think about what comes out of his mouth.
It wouldn’t be a stretch, would it? Even if Sousuke already has a tendency to dance around everything he doesn’t want to say, it’s never this way when he catches a cold, it’s never this way when he falls down some high place he never tells Kou how he managed to climb. And Kou claims the kitchen for himself and runs to his house before the food gets cold, and cleans the blood from his hands with the nearest rag, even it if happens to be his own shirt… but he’s not sure what he’s supposed to brace for this time.
“No, no, it’s fine, you’ll… see for yourself,” a weight gets lifted from his chest. Decidedly not all of it, no, but enough for him to breathe.
It has to be something bad, right? Kou trusts Yui like he would his own mother if she was still around (if she had had time for him in the first place); she would tell him if something was wrong. Too wrong, anyway. Sousuke is sick or injured or both, Kou knows that for a fact… but he was also being himself so maybe it’s not all bad.
“He’s okay, right?” what the rain does drown, though, is his own voice.
The pause at the other end goes on for a couple seconds at most; Kou feels every one of them like a separate hour.
“He’s…” she starts. If it’s this hard for her to speak then what should he even expect? The rain drowns his voice but not the pounding in his chest or the long, heavy sigh on the phone, “He’s alive. He’s not in danger or anything, but he’s not exactly alright, you know? He’ll get better, I know he will, but for now-”
“So would it really help if I came by?” her words are not as comforting as he wishes they were but this isn’t about him at all. If Sousuke is alive and if he can see him and help, somehow, then everything will be alright.
“He won’t admit it but he wants to see you, you know how he is,” her voice picks up at the end and Kou thinks he can breathe a little better. “I’ll tell you where to go, so you can drop by when the weather gets better-”
“I can go right now!” he doesn’t recall getting up from his bed or staring blankly at the world outside his window, but the rain is louder in his eardrums, as his heart; as the steps he’s about to take down the stairs.
“Right now?” she chuckles in a way Kou think’s it’s surprised. “Can’t expect less from you, Minamoto-kun, Sousuke will be happy to see you.”
His heart keeps hammering against his chest but his stomach returns to its rightful place. Sousuke whines and complains but he… he always smiles at him in the end, doesn’t he? He throws insults around and sometimes Teru tells him he’s too rude. Kou doesn’t believe it for a second.
Out of all places Yui could’ve told him to go, the word hospital sinks all the way through his abdomen like a sword and, peaking just beside his spine, it tells him you should’ve expected this. Sousuke nor Yui tell him what’s wrong, the hospital is thirty minutes away if he runs and he doesn’t consider how worn and easy to slip in the soles of his shoes are until he has to catch himself mid-fall on the street in front of his house. The Minamoto household is big, Kou is pretty sure only Teru actually knows where they keep their umbrellas (it’s not right by the door, is it? He doesn’t remember seeing one there on his way out, but then again, he doesn’t remember looking) and he’s not home yet so the hood of his sweater will have to do.
Rain soaks through, cold against his scalp and he wonders if they’ll let him dry off at the entrance.
Two blocks down the line, he stops. The downpour is more or a drizzle this way down, though it seems to have been just the same mere minutes ago. At least the rest of the way to the hospital looks clear enough, for the time being.
“Why are you running around in the rain?” Under his hood, his hair is full of dew he sends flying as he turns at the familiar sound of a woman’s voice to his right, “You trying to catch a cold or what?”
“Why are you acting surprised? You came all the way here,” cross-armed against the doorframe, eyebrows high on her forehead, she stares.
If looks could kill Kou would have died a very long time ago. If looks could kill maybe Yako wouldn’t be looking at him like that, though.
“Not stopping by today!” he announces, taking off his hood.
The bell dangling from the door chimes one last time as Yako makes her way across it.
The tables inside rest unoccupied, with no more than five exceptions (if Kou can count them as it is), and right now, she’s neglecting all of them, just as she always does when Kou drops by, elbows propped on the counter, sharp eyes slicing right in half everyone who dares ask for something like telling Kou how wrong the answers to his literature worksheets are and patiently going through all of them is her real and only job. “It’s no wonder why no one comes”, Sousuke said to Yako’s face one too many times and was promptly banned from setting foot in the shop (and chased away with an empty flower vase aimed at his head).
“Then? Where are you going?” she asks, shifting her weight from side to side. “Looking like you just saw a ghost, too,” despite her scoffs, her sharp eyes soften at the edges in a way he’s not so sure he’s seen for someone else. “You better have already finished your work for this week, if you plan on running around like that.”
“Not yet!” he grins, the thought of his classic worksheets resting somewhere on top of his desk flashes by; instantly getting lost- “I’m going to visit Mitsuba!” because he thinks of Sousuke’s smile, the one he gives him when his camera’s shutter goes off at just the right time, when he puts the first bite of Kou’s homemade pudding onto his mouth, when he shows him a picture he’s proud of… In the end he finds himself looking for the reason behind all those vivid images, bubbling up to the surface at a time like this. “He’s at the hospital, though. And he didn’t say why.”
Sharp eyes widen, not even the slick stroke of eyeliner doing much to hide the roundness in the corners of her eyes. Yako’s eyes look like a fox’s more often than not but for a second, Kou can’t see them as anything other than human.
“Hold on a second,” her hand slips into the ceramic vase decorating the nearest tabletop, coming back with three pink peonies and extending them to Kou, “Where are your manners? You can’t just show up empty handed.”
“Oh! I didn’t think about that!” petals an all-too familiar shade between his fingertips and the rest of the way both a lifetime and a blink away, he realizes it’s not raining anymore.
“You don’t even have an umbrella,” shrugging, she scoffs at Kou’s back: “Make sure to thank me properly, would you."
“Thank you!” his upper half bows down slightly before he can help it. ”Actually, I-”
“Shoo now, you can’t keep him waiting,” she cuts in, her hand motioning towards the tall building ahead.
Worn sneakers slip on the damp pavement when he turns around, “See you!” he waves his free hand at her, who gives her what seems to be her best try at an annoyed smile. The bell chimes in his ears one last, distant time and, the hospital stands taller and taller.
Sousuke’s name tastes funny on his tongue and getting in is easier than he remembers it to be (no longer standing on his tiptoes to reach the counter, no longer needing his hands for support against it). Hospitals aren’t a fun place (they weren’t back when he fell on his outstretched hand during first year gym class, they weren’t back when Teru hurt his ribs badly and only then their dad called him by his name for the first time, and they weren’t when his mom kept getting thinner and thinner until they didn’t have anyone to visit anymore), but he climbs the stairs, barely a step away from running through the white, empty hallways, and Sousuke’s name refuses to become just another word no matter how many times he repeats it.
As he’s just about to round the corner, he spots the familiar kanjis on the door plate. And he stops.
The door is closed, there’s no one else in sight- and Sousuke is a second away. Here he can’t ignore his calls or texts, here Kou doesn’t have to wonder what he’s going through, here… here Kou doesn’t know what to expect.
Nothing but three peonies in his hands, he wonders if he can actually help. There’s only one way to find out, isn’t it?
“The fuck are you doing here?” Sousuke frowns at him and the bags under his eyes don’t go unnoticed, but his voice is just the same as always and Kou takes a step too long before realizing jumping onto someone’s hospital bed without knowing what’s wrong probably isn’t the best of ideas.
“I told your mom I was coming!”
Looking away, sinking into his pillow and blankets, Sousuke doesn’t reply.
“Well, you saw me, now leave,” he brings the covers even higher to his chest and they don’t look fluffy at all. “I look awful, no one’s supposed to even see me, you already got too much.”
Under the white light, Sousuke’s hair shines perhaps a little too bright, and there’s a small bruise on his left cheek. He doesn’t smile and doesn’t look at Kou but Sousuke Mitsuba is Sousuke Mitsuba every single day.
“No, you don’t!” Kou mouths, inching closer to the bed, he’s not sure if Sousuke can see him through his thick hair.
“Yes, I do. You’ve barely seen me, you can’t tell.”
“I think you always look cute-!” his tongue twists upon itself before the end of his sentence, the air conditioner pierces his eardrums but his own heartbeat overthrows it in no time.
At least it makes Sousuke turn around.
“I always look cute, you said?” the covers to his right rise and fall, but it’s his left hand that goes to cover his mouth. “Just admit you’ve fallen for me already; it would embarrass you less.”
There’s a pause on his hammering heart but, in the long run, it does nothing to make it lose momentum. “You’re doing well,” he says, because sitting on a hospital bed or not, Sousuke is Sousuke.
“I am not,” he complains. “even worse now that I know a weirdo like you wants to put his hands all over me and-”
“You’re right then, you’re not cute at all,” a scoff has never been enough to deter Sousuke but Kou will try either way. “Anyway, I brought you flowers.”
“I noticed. Did you pick them up from the sidewalk on your way here?” despite his better judgement, Kou smacks him in the face with said flowers. “Ugh! You came just to bully me?”
“Shut up, Yako-neesan gave them to me.”
“Bet they’re poisoned then, she hates me,” Sousuke pouts and Kou can’t wrap his head around the issue. But then again, he doesn’t know where to start looking.
“No one hates you. Everyone’s worried about you, I can’t believe you ended up in the hospital and didn’t tell me!” he came all the way here as fast as he could, so Sousuke shouldn’t have a reason to believe he wouldn’t show up, right?
“I don’t have to tell you everything.” Kou shoves him aside, and the bed is just big enough to sit.
“What? Were you crying over not knowing about me? Are you that pathetic?” hand close to his mouth at all times, his mocking tone quivers more than ever.
Kou knows when Sousuke is about to cry. There’s a certain ring to his voice, just between the vowels. When he fakes it, he is loud and annoying and Kou wants to shove him aside and don’t look back (he always does), but when his eyes shine too bright, not right at the middle like a mirror image of the sky but at the corners, like a glass about to overflow, then Kou wants nothing more than to hug him tightly. And when he fakes it, he thrashes around in his hold but just now… his forehead meets Kou’s shoulder and it’s not the drying rain which soaks through anymore. Sousuke is a crybaby (and he’s learned to weaponized it). Sousuke is a crybaby and his real tears are heavier than Kou wishes they were.
“I was worried about you,” Kou might not be the best when it comes to remembering the proper way to do trigonometry or the components of basic chemicals, but there’s no way to forget the feeling of Sousuke’s hands slipping along both sides of his waist whenever they hug. That’s where his arms fit better and Kou’s own are used to resting at both sides of his head, under Sousuke’s soft hair. So the weight upon his right shoulder is not unwelcomed, but certainly not expected. “Will you… tell me what’s wrong?”
“Just see for yourself,” he doesn’t let go and Kou doesn’t pull away, there’s a heartbeat in Sousuke’s chest (it’s fast against Kou’s own but it doesn’t take him long to realize they seem to match), and he’s warm against his rain-chilled skin.
Sousuke’s hair doesn’t smell like vanilla or strawberry like it usually does and the clear, almost allergic smell of his clothes is hard on Kou’s nose but Sousuke will always be Sousuke and his hugs feel as familiar as ever.
When the rise and fall of the blanket at Sousuke’s right side finally stops, and, without meeting Kou’s eyes (not like Kou could look at Sousuke’s anyway, not now), he lets his arm rest on his lap, bandaged, unsettling in all the worst ways and a little bloodstained, then Kou doesn’t know what else to do besides freeze.
“Ah-” he mouths, as if the air was punched out of his lungs. Sousuke’s eyes are tired and they don’t shine under the white light like Kou wishes they did.
“Don’t ask what happened, I don’t even remember and I don’t wanna know,” words stumble upon each other, distant to Kou’s ears but loud and clear all the same, somehow.
Stop staring, Kou tells himself, but he’s half convinced his heart has traveled all the way to his brain and pulses just behind his eyes.
“Stop staring,” Mitsuba tells him without meeting his eyes, arm slipping right back under the covers.
Frozen on the spot, Kou can’t do more than watch how Sousuke crumbles under the weight of the world. So he makes himself snap out of it by sheer will.
On his way here, he thought of Sousuke’s bright eyes and brighter smile, of vanilla and strawberry, of soft clothes and softer hair- there’s none of that in front of him but Sousuke Mitsuba will keep being himself no matter what.
Kou tells him as such.
“… Sorry-” or tries to.
“You should be,” Sousuke cuts in, already puffy eyes pooling up once again. “staring at me like that, bet you have an amputee fetish or something!”
“Wh- a what?”
Sousuke chooses to look away from him, tightly closed eyes and a pout that Kou feels almost familiar with, if it wasn’t for the dried tear trails running down his cheeks. Even his arms are crossed before his chest, his right arm in plain sight, not hiding under the covers anymore. At least until his eyes open again, arms quickly falling as if weighted down.
Soon it’s not only the dried tear trails which run down his cheeks. And Kou hates to see Sousuke cry. It’s different when he fakes, easier to push aside, no desperate need to offer a shoulder to cry on or at least try to wipe them off, loud, almost comedic bawling Kou rolls his eyes at. When Sousuke cries, he is loud and he is messy, his sobs hurt Kou’s ears in a completely different way and he doesn’t even think about the snot he’ll have to wash away from the shoulder of his shirt. It’s a lot more like whimpering a lot less like something you can simply ignore; it’s heartbreaking.
His body moves on its own accord; he sits closer, both his arms open at just the right distance for Sousuke to fit into, and his fingertips fear doing more than lightly assessing the warm presence in front of them, as if scalding, vivid red, instead of shattered glass barely holding together. Except Sousuke doesn’t lean forward or move at all.
So Kou brings him closer on his own, fingers digging into his hair, which is not as soft as he remembers it. What feels just the same, though, is the weight and the breathing against his chest, high on the list of things he’ll just never forget.
Nothing he does will fix anything this time, he realizes. No matter how hard he tries, there’s no way for him to give Sousuke what he lost, and it hurts. It hurts but he doesn’t dare say it because his shirt is damp and so he knows it hurts worse for him.
“This sucks,” he says, purposefully wiping on Kou’s shirt. “all the bad things always happen to me! And to think I was the cutest person on Earth…”
Kou’s hand gives a last trip around Sousuke’s shoulder blades before he pulls away, sitting up again, shoulders hung low and tired eyes but the tiniest hint of a smile pulling at the corners of his chipped lips, no trace of the sparkly lip gloss he likes to wear, that catches bright light and deflects it on Kou and Kou alone until he can’t look away. And yet he finds that he can’t look away even now.
Smiles, bright eyes or not, Sousuke is Sousuke. Kou thinks of overcomplicated insults that fall flat upon delivery, of photography talks he barely understands, of lighthearted mocking when his test score is lower than his, even if they both failed, of afternoons spent kicking each other’s feet under the table and, more than anything, of how the corners of Sousuke’s mouth pick themselves up from time to time. Smiles, bright eyes or not, Sousuke is Sousuke, but Kou is sure things will get better. He will make them be, if it’s what it takes… somehow.
It’s easier said than done but Kou Minamoto doesn’t know when to give up (and he’s proud of that, actually).
Tears still cling to Sousuke’s long lashes when Kou pulls him away from his chest, both shoulders tightly secured. His eyes shine under the white lights and even if it’s from the tears, it’s a step in the right direction.
“You’re still you, you know?” he says through a big smile.
There’s something unreadable in the way Sousuke’s shoulders rise and fall once and never again, on how the remnants of tears finally fall but their trails don’t go all the way down, on his upper lip trembles but he stares right back at Kou, wide eyed, and yet he says: “… A lot of good that does me now.”
The room feels heavy but Sousuke’s hand on top of his is the heaviest thing of all.
Rain catches up once again just by the time Kou’s phone starts ringing. He stands up as if he has springs instead of bones and Sousuke didn’t think he’d miss the warmth of his hand as much as he does now.
“Me?” Kou asks whoever he’s talking to, pacing back and forth around the room. “… I’m at the hospital… came to see Mitsuba,” he takes that as an opportunity to stare daggers at him for no particular reason, Kou frowns. “Oh, you’re right! Uh… I’ll be there soon, sorry.”
So this is it for today, huh?
He didn’t want Kou to come and now, as he approaches the bed, he finds once again that he enjoys his company more than he probably should. That a hug and some words and a hand on top of his don’t solve anything but neither does burying himself under a cold blanket for hours on end. That perhaps he missed him just as much as Kou claims he did (as he did).
“I have to go back now,” he says, right hand crawling along the back of his neck, fingers lightly tugging on his ugly earring, and oh- the earring’s been there this entire time… “Forgot to make dinner,” Kou’s teeth don’t entirely line up, Sousuke saw him chipping them by catching a thermos with his face, but he smiles sheepishly, a pointy canine poking out and Sousuke can tell the second his heart starts going a mile a minute.
“You seriously came all the way here like you had nothing better to do? Is that your way of telling me you’re in love with me?” he sneers. He hates that, somewhere along the way, he started hoping one day the answer is yes.
“Whatever,” or that somewhere along the way, he started noticing the way he never denies it. “I’ll stop by tomorrow, see you.”
“Like I want you to.”
Kou rolls his eyes, already turning for the door and Sousuke knows he’s only this confident because Kou would first break his arm than don’t follow through.
There’s something stuck under the door, as it makes a dragging sound when pulled all the way back.
“Wait, lame earring!” he calls out the second Kou’s messy hair disappears behind the wall, he peeks back almost immediately, wide eyed and expectant. “Thanks,” the lump in his throat dissolves halfway through because it would be stupid for him to pretend that Kou doesn’t know him better than most ever will.
Kou knows but sometimes, he needs things spelled out for him. Sousuke can comply once in a while.
And the way his entire face lights up is worth it. Both the effort and the subsequent hammering between his ribs.
“No problem!” he beams.
Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.
“Don’t get excited, pervert, don’t think I’ll let you in my room alone again so you can do who knows what to poor defenseless little me,” the text he gets as soon as he sets foot outside the building reads. “I’m telling Yokoo and Satou, I can’t just hang out with you like some kind of loser.” (and it’s not lost to Kou that the typing at the very top takes longer to vanish than it used to).
“They were worried about you too,” he replies.
“Yeah, sure, I know you’re the only one that goes around crying cuz I’m not there, so they have to make up for not caring enough!”
Kou chuckles. “I’ll make sure they do.”
Phone in his pocket, he steps into the cold drizzle that does little against his warm insides.
It’s a days later that his friends finally show up. Kou is a constant, so Sousuke doesn’t count him. He told them just about everything they could possibly need to know, except, well, what they wanted to know the most. That responsibility, he left to Kou because there are things that still get trapped all the way down his throat. What’s important is that both Yokoo and Satou were okay with skipping their afternoon activities for him (for him, he reminds himself and forgets about the phantom pain for a second). They’re busy and responsible people, unlike Kou, who does nothing and drops everything to come see him (two days in a row Teru called him to say dinner was not made, two days in a row Kou Minamoto sat down right beside him and watched cartoons on his room’s TV), so having them come feels like a small victory. “They’re your friends, duh,” his mom says and he stands his ground telling her that she doesn’t get it no matter how many times she insists she does.
“Hi,” Satou greets, the first one to enter. The mood feels off but Sousuke guesses you don’t have a lot of things to say to someone sitting on a hospital bed.
“So you finally came,” if no one else will drive the attention away from it, he’ll do it himself. Because he enjoys being the center of attention, sometimes; enjoys people noticing he’s there, but he does not enjoy people staring down at his right arm with kicked puppy eyes (he’d rather they weren’t giving him attention over something like that in the first place). “Took you long enough, I thought we were friends!”
“You told us yesterday, how were we supposed to show up after class just like that?” Yokoo complains, letting his body fall against the wall beside the door, hitting it harder than he probably intended to. Sousuke snickers at him when he massages the back of his head.
“Well, that idiot did,” he points at Kou, who is already sat down at the edge of his bed like he belongs there.
“Yeah, because he’ll die if he doesn’t see you,” Satou searches his coat, ultimately pulling what seems to be a chocolate box. “Brought you this so you keep quiet for a bit.”
Sousuke takes it. “You can’t buy me just like that.”
“Looks like it works to me,” and he’s not about to argue with the person feeding him (not if they’re not Kou).
“And I won’t die if I don’t see him!” Kou finally jumps in, a couple seconds too late. “I was just worried!”
“You’re obsessed with me, you creep,” he says mid bite. The subsequent munching supposed to add to the point. It doesn’t seem too work, he’s too cute to be threatening, he resolves.
“I am not.”
“Oh, right,” Satou starts, dropping to his knees to sort out the contents of his bag. “brought you these too,” he extends what seem to be class notes, neatly printed out for him. “thought Minamoto wouldn’t remember and we can’t all fail with him.”
“Thanks, Satou, you saved me,” stuffing the last bite of his chocolate, he extends a hand to take the papers. “Of course that idiot didn’t remember-” it’s only then he notices the weight of the entire building rests on all their shoulders.
Sousuke has to look down (and look down again because his head refuses to go all the way), to where, despite the pain and the curling sensations, his right arm ends abruptly, hovering above the covers, held at just the right length to take the notes. And his stomach drops alongside it (lower, even lower) when he stuffs it back under the covers like his life depends on it. The sugary remains clinging to his teeth taste like bile.
“Ah-” he mouths.
“We… well,” awkwardly stepping closer to the bed, Yokoo clears his throat. “It’s not all bad, right? Now you can, uh…” it’s not until Satou sets a hand on his shoulder, lightly shaking his head, that he stops dragging the word, mouth closing under the weight of the room.
“You’ll get attention!” Kou chimes in, his nervous smile giving Sousuke the escape route he needs, knowingly or not (he’s grateful either way).
“Yeah, from weirdos like you, apparently.”
Sooner or later, while Sousuke was kicking himself over being so careless, over somehow forgetting something he can’t allow himself to (he doesn’t want to see the bandaged mess, so why would anyone else?), the walls and ceiling rebuild themselves all around them.
“In my defense I didn’t take any notes for myself either,” Kou says, chin up like that’s something to be proud of. “how was I supposed to know there was homework?”
“Paying attention in class, maybe?” Satou has since left the pages on the table beside the bed, but just thinking about taking them makes Sousuke feel sick.
“Hey, lame earring, since you’re obsessed with me you’ll do as I say, right?”
“Do my homework for me,” under Kou’s unamused gaze, he lifts his left hand to his cheek. “please?”
Kou sighs but sits down in front of the table anyway.
“So when are you going back to school?” Yokoo now occupies the free place on the bed. “You didn’t tell us yesterday.”
“In a month or so, maybe,” he’s not entirely sure himself, the doctor’s words bouncing off like static. “Hope you guys don’t plan to never come anymore.”
“It’s the only time we come before the weekend, though,” Satou says. “It’s not on me, my tutor just said that’s what weekends are for.”
“We’re supposed to be training for a very important match,” Yokoo stretches his legs as far as they would go. “So-”
“You guys really don’t care about me!” they deserve the loud whining. He’s alright, he’s not in the brink of death, so he guesses it’s good that everyone can go on while he gets discharged and eventually goes back, but still… that’s just how insignificant he truly is.
“It’s not like you’ll be all alone, right, Minamoto?”
When Kou looks up from the pile of papers, the first thing Sousuke notices is the chewed up cap of a pen in his mouth. “Yeah!”
Sousuke knows two things: one, Kou Minamoto is the most insistent, annoying human being he has ever met, he chews on his pencils and pens and that’s gross, and two, he might like the idea of him showing up to his hospital room every single day a bit too much.
“I don’t want you here. Don’t come unless they’re with you, at least then I can choose to not talk to you,” he tops off his statement by sticking his tongue out at him and promptly turning away.
Kou is the only one who doesn’t laugh, rolling his eyes and going back to working instead, but his tiny, comfortable smile isn’t lost to Sousuke, it couldn’t ever be. At least he’s getting things done (isn’t he failing pretty much every class, though?).
Soon enough, when thick rainclouds start gathering in the sky, the worst of the rainy season still to come but very much present, Yokoo and Satou tell him they’re leaving soon. When the drizzle hits the window, they quickly excuse themselves (Yokoo leaves only after patting Sousuke’s head despite his loud complains). And the downpour finally comes (lighter than the past days but still strong enough to sting), but Kou keeps scribbling away on his notebook, checking and rechecking his answers before writing them down on Sousuke’s worksheet.
“Good thing Satou had an umbrella,” he says, the hints of a smile wrinkling his eyes.
“But do you have one?” even his bag seems emptier than it should. Not to mention he’s still wearing the summer uniform.
“Ah,” he gapes. “I knew I forgot something!”
“How stupid can you be?” Sousuke Mitsuba should be the last person to ask that, but Kou never fails to bring the question to mind. “How are you getting out of here, then?”
“Uh, I don’t plan to leave just yet, so it should be fine. It’ll probably have stopped when I leave.”
Sousuke doesn’t know what else to do besides blink. Once, twice, and he’s not sure what he was expecting.
“What if it doesn’t stop? Are you just gonna make a run for it? Are you trying to get sick so you don’t have to come see me?” his tone gets higher with every word and he hides half his face behind the covers like he normally would with both his sleeves. “Besides, who said I wanted you to stay here, huh?”
“I think you had plenty of opportunities to kick me out,” Kou only means right now (he does, right?) but Sousuke thinks about all the times he could’ve pushed him away for good. Even if his personality didn’t deter him since the beginning like it should have, there were other ways. And yet he didn’t (he didn’t and now he’s in too deep, because he only takes pictures of things he likes and Kou Minamoto with his bed hair and ugly earring pops up more times than he cares to count when he goes over his pictures; because his heart beats faster than it ever should when looking at a friend and because he’ll sooner die before trying to push him away for real). But Kou means right now and still Sousuke thinks the answer to be the same
“Shut up, that’s because you’re doing my homework for me,” There’s no one else around and so he pulls himself up from the bed to stand right behind Kou and assess his work at a better angle. “You’re lucky I can’t write with my left hand yet, cause no one would buy that’s my handwriting any other way; did you ever get past elementary school level?”
“I’ve improved; you know?”
“Yeah, sure,” he keeps his right arm behind his back (he doesn’t think he could bear the sight of it dangling at his side. Not now), but he steps closer to Kou and his left lands on the table, just beside Kou’s own. “You’ve got most of them wrong, though, are you trying to make me fail too?”
“Huh? I’ve checked each like three times! I’m sure they’re correct!” he lifts his head to look above his shoulder and there’s blue ink on his cheek. Sousuke can’t tell if it makes him smile or not (he at least hopes Kou doesn’t notice if it does). Why is he so close to the page anyway?
“Oh yeah? Wanna bet?”
“You’re way too enthusiastic for someone who’s gonna lose,” Sousuke isn’t so good at math himself but even he can tell. Kou is a blockhead and never backs up from a challenge so it’s always good to remind him where he stands: “If I’m right- and I am, you don’t know basic math- then you’ll have to… kiss me.”
His smirk is bigger than it ever should be in the face of someone who has, in fact, thought about that. But Sousuke knows Kou as well as Kou knows him and so he knows he can push the boundaries a little (he doesn’t actually want Kou to kiss him, not right now and maybe not ever because… because that would be far too good to be true, and he has to keep himself grounded, at least about that).
Sousuke feels like he’s staring down at the sky, because nothing hides in Kou Minamoto’s face as nothing can hide overhead for long enough not to be spotted, and he knows it in the way his eyes widen, in the way his eyebrows go far up in less than a second and, especially, in the way his face reddens like he just ran all the way up a hill. Kou stutters over words that never leave his mouth and Sousuke chuckles over him, a palm doing a very bad job at covering his mouth.
“You should’ve seen your face!” he laughs (and laughs, because it was a mistake the first time, he wasn’t thinking straight and the words spilled out before he could help it but Kou didn’t react like Sousuke had always feared he would (why would he?) and it wasn’t long before it became some kind of comfort for him (he’s not opposed to it, he keeps telling himself, but never believes it all the way through), it never gets old, Kou never reacts any other way and maybe Sousuke doesn’t want him to). It works every time, even when he’s not actually in the right.
It’s a win-win.
“Aren’t you asking for a bit too much?” What’s not the norm, though, is his mom’s voice instead of Kou’s stuttering away from the topic.
He doesn’t turn around as fast as Kou does, but he stands awkwardly beside the chair and that’s telling enough. Not like Yui doesn’t already know a lot more than she should. His entire face burns and he’s probably looking worse than Kou did just seconds ago (is this how instant karma works? Wasn’t it enough already?). If the ground plans to open and swallow him whole, now would be a good moment (he would fall to his death to the first floor and that’s just as good as getting lost underground forever). From the tip of his ears to the tip of his nose, maybe catching on fire would be nicer. It also doesn’t help that his heart would surely break a rib or something so it can escape in the next minute or so.
“How long have you been there?!” you’re not supposed to scream in hospitals but maybe Yui should’ve thought about the consequences of her actions before opening her mouth.
Early Friday morning, Kou wakes up to a text from Sousuke: “don’t come today, go hang out with the toilet idiots or something.”
Half asleep, the meaning didn’t fully register. And it wasn’t until at least another hour, just a minute before his alarm went off, that he noticed the second one. “Nanamine-senpai and the broadcasting losers are coming so you can’t come,” it reads.
They’re Sousuke’s friends, in a way (Amane says it’s impossible to tell what Tsukasa wants out of something but he’s seen the way Sousuke smiles around the other two), and they’re busy people, so the fact that they’re going to see him makes Kou as happy as it probably makes Sousuke himself.
Morning goes by and Kou finds that he still can’t wrap his head around most classes, already having lost a bunch of them over the past few days. Focusing is somehow harder without the constant distraction that is Sousuke Mitsuba. But, knowing he’s alive and well (mostly, at least. He still has it in him to smile an entire sunrise upon sundown in the horizon, and call him names; point out how bad he is at math and make sure he doesn’t leave the hospital room without being embarrassed at least once, and laugh), definitely makes days go by faster than they did a couple days ago.
Sousuke explicitly said multiple times he didn’t want Amane to know. “That asshole will just make fun of me,” he had said, arms crossed under the blanket. “So you can’t tell him.” Yui said he’d find out either way but Kou wasn’t about to break a promise.
So, arriving at the girls’ bathroom to find both of his friends staring right back at him is something he definitely didn’t expect. Sousuke also said telling Nene was just telling Amane himself with extra steps, so neither of them should-
“Aoi told me what happened!” she says as soon as Kou gets through the door. “I told him we’ll go visit him soon, but he didn’t reply,” but her big, apologetic eyes narrow when she looks at the boy to her right. “and Amane-kun says he doesn’t want to go!”
“Because I don’t like him, you already know that,” he shrugs, his back hitting the wall. “Besides, what am I supposed to do? Give him one of these?” a plastic bag emerges from one of his pockets and the smirk on his face can’t mean anything good.
Amane pops open the bag, loudly, and Nene is the first one to react.
“I- Amane-kun, this is serious! You can’t just joke around like that!”
“Why not?” it’s only then that Kou sees him throw a hand-shaped gummy into his mouth. “I hate him anyway.”
“He’s never even done anything to you!” with a quick hand, Nene snatches the bag from his hands before he can take another.
“Yes he did!” he makes grabby hands towards the bag, only getting Nene to raise it above her head. “Oh, I see how it is.”
“Keep it up and I’ll give them to Kou-kun, you’ll never reach them.”
Amane lowers both his arms with a pout. “I’ll just have to kick him in the shins then.”
“What did Mitsuba even do to you?” Kou joins, standing between them.
Kou used to see the night sky in Amane’s eyes, a brighter, amber lit one, like looking at the moon with sunglasses, or something. Right now, Amane stares at him from below, mouth curved, unimpressed, and all Kou sees is how done he is. He’s seen him pull a knife from his uniform before (promptly confiscated by Tsuchigomori), so he wouldn’t put it past him to do it again.
“Did you forget he calls me Hanako?”
“But he only does it because it was your idea to hang out here,” Kou tries. It didn’t work the first time and it certainly didn’t work when Sousuke and him ended up on the floor, kicking, screaming and pulling each other’s hair.
“Whatever, I still don’t like him.”
“You’re being too harsh, Amane-kun, he’s just joking,” Nene pats his back and it seems to lessen his frown a bit. “He gives everyone mean nicknames! Do you think I like it when he calls me a radish?”
“Yeah!” Kou nods. “That’s just how he is, he doesn’t mean it any other way!”
Shoulders rising and falling, he sighs. “You’re just defending him cuz you like him,” for emphasis, he snatches back the bag from Nene’s distracted hands, chewing away towards the opposite end of the restroom. “You, especially,” his fingers points right at Kou for a second before digging into the bag again.
“I’m not defending him; I’m just telling the truth.”
“Not going anyway, have fun at the hospital,” the door closes behind him with a louder thud than usual.
“There’s just no way for them to get along, is there?” Nene picks up the mop lying by her feet, the one she dropped when Amane first tried to take his gummies back.
It’s not about the name itself, they both know that much. It’s no secret that there’s certain words you don’t use with Amane Yugi, that there’s things you never mention, and so Kou is sure Sousuke knows better than to call him a girl’s name for the sake of it. But when Sousuke settles on a nickname, you’re in it for the long run, no matter how annoying it may be. “He’s in the girls’ bathroom, so he’s Hanako,” he said when asked, but no amount of talking makes Amane drop his walls. Kou thinks Nene is asking for a bit too much when she insists he should just set it aside. Kou also thinks he gets it, in a way. There’s still relatives who call Teru by the wrong name, after all, and Kou has always been there to hear.
Still, he thinks his friends are more similar than they want to admit.
“… Where did he even go, we’re not finished here.”
Sousuke is waiting for two or three gentle knocks on his door, or just any vague hint of steps along the outside corridor. Instead, he gets the sound of someone running, a door flinging open and a heavy weight on top of him before he can even open his eyes, least of all react.
“Mitsuba-kun!” a childish voice singsongs, one syllable at a time. There’s a grip around his shoulders and maybe he should’ve taken a couple more painkillers.
In the end, he’d be lying if he said he didn’t expect this when he asked Sakura to come. He certainly hoped Tsukasa wouldn’t notice, but things never go as planned, do they? That’s why he’s lying under the ugliest, coldest hospital blankets in the first place.
“Yo, Mitsuba-chan,” opening his eyes to beg for someone to get Tsukasa off him, he meets Natsuhiko’s. And he happens to be just the right person to get the job done. “What are you doing crushing him like that?” he exclaims, maybe a little too loud for a hospital but, hey, Sousuke is not one to judge.
The weight gets pulled off of him just in time for his next deep breath. His right arm feels like it just went through hell and back a second time and he can’t even side eye the one at fault in fear of an even worse fate.
“Good to see you,” Sakura greets, taking a seat on the chair beside the bed. “I’m glad you reached out to me too. I’m sorry about them, Tsukasa found out before I could do anything.”
“I can ignore them,” his back isn’t resting comfortable against the pillow after Tsukasa crushed him, but he can’t fix it without bringing too much attention to his right hand.
“Huh? But why would you ignore us?” Tsukasa complains, high pitched and struggling out of Natsuhiko’s hold. “We cancelled today’s broadcast for you!” he’s at the foot of the bed before anyone can stop him. “Doesn’t that make you happy?”
They can just watch as Tsukasa’s gaze goes from expectant to, evil? There’s a light in his eyes that Sousuke is unfortunately familiar with, and still he isn’t entirely sure about what he should brace for.
“We didn’t come here to tell him that,” Natsuhiko scolds, lifting him up again before he crawls up the bed any higher. They all know him, after all; Tsukasa Yugi and injured people simply do not go together.
Sousuke catches Sakura’s gentle eyes over him, however, and he finds that there is some kind of warmth inside him. Something not a lot of people make him feel. Sakura Nanamine never misses a broadcast, and Fridays are the day they always keep their best story for. Sousuke stops by before walking home more often than not; their voice is soothing in a chilling sort of way and the old, dusty speakers around school just don’t do it enough justice. To think that they-
If there’s something Sousuke Mitsuba is certain he is, is a crybaby. He’s been told it isn’t that much of a bad thing.
“Mitsuba-chan?” Natsuhiko is the first one to notice (rather the first one to mention it), “Did the shrimp hurt you?”
Batting a hand in response, he wishes he at least wasn’t crying in front of Tsukasa, of all people. Sakura gets a handkerchief out of their pocket and offers it to him.
“I’m okay, something got in my eye,” Natsuhiko doesn’t know him like Kou does but Sousuke thinks he gets what he really means.
“Oh, so you’re crying cause we came to see you? Did you doubt we would?” switching Tsukasa’s more or less limp body from one side to another, he steps forward to elbow Sousuke in the shoulder. It takes some work, because he’s much taller than him, and even more when he’s sitting down, but it gets done for long enough before he bats the offending elbow away.
“Like I’d cry for you. I’m glad Nanamine-senpai is here and that’s all,” he pouts, chin up and away from him.
“Oh, so that’s what you want,” his hair needs a wash, it’s gross and hasn’t been combed in far too long. Natsuhiko jamming his knuckles at the top of his head does not help one bit.
“Stop!” the tears dry faster than he thought they would and getting Natsuhiko away from his is harder than usual.
Especially because now Tsukasa watches from the place Natsuhiko left him and Sousuke isn’t so fond of wide-eyed cat stares that aren’t from Kinako. The big, glowing eyes do not stare at him, but rather at a place farther down, along his right side, right where the covers dip sooner than they should.
He swallows, but the lump in his throat refuses to go away.
“I brought you something,” Sakura takes his attention away in less than a second.
They bring a closed hand closer, prompting him to open his palm. Something seems to click against itself upon landing, and the subtle, almost ghost of a smile in Sakura’s face is the sooth he needs for his throat to free itself. On his palm, the chipped nail polish still visible through the place where they grow past his fingertips (and the tiny cuts along them), rests a little silver bunny.
Suddenly Sousuke finds nothing else has mattered as much as this little trinket.
“Oh! it’s so cute, I love it!” the white light catches in all the tiny details and Sousuke thinks he could die. “Thank you!” if it were bigger, he would hug it with all his strength, but he closes his palm over it and calls it a day, his cheeks sore over how high they’re going.
“I found it in one of my old jewelry boxes, thought you’d give it a better use,” they say, hands resting calmly on their lap.
“Only gifts for him?” Natsuhiko pipes up, the big smile he shows Sousuke telling enough about how much he doesn’t mean it.
“Try losing a hand first, then maybe they’ll give you something,” pulling on the side of his mouth and making an annoying sound is something he maybe should’ve stopped doing a long time ago. But maybe he doesn’t care.
To his relief, Natsuhiko actually laughs. “I think I’ll pass.”
Sakura keeps quiet most of the time, but they’re always willing to listen to Sousuke ramble about nothing in particular and it never once looks like they’re not interested. Sousuke thinks of them as his friend, and Sakura stops by on his hospital room instead of broadcasting his favorite rumors so maybe it’s foolish to think they don’t see him the same way.
He’s allowed to be himself around his friends.
“You’ll have to do my makeup now,” for now, he doesn’t say, fearing it may not come true. “hope you can show up on short notice.”
He’s happy to see them huff in a way that sounds like a laugh (it is, right?), “I’ll see what I can do.”
“If they can’t come I’ll do it for you!” a wink doesn’t make up for the fact that Natsuhiko knows jack shit about makeup.
“I think I’d rather die.”
Natsuhiko Hyuuga may be annoying and an airhead, but sometimes Sousuke thinks he actually likes him. As much as one can like someone who gives himself the title of older brother after talking to you once, anyway.
“Oh,” Tsukasa starts, sliding right away from Natsuhiko’s weakened hold. “can I see it?”
It takes him a moment to understand what he means, but it was clear from the start that he was up to no good; big eyes staring, fixed on the place Sousuke can’t even bring himself to look. Grabby hands that aren’t as cute as when Sousuke does it, pointy canines that don’t poke behind an embarrassed smile but from a gaping mouth, expectant. For a second, it feels as if he can grab both sides of the mattress to brace for impact, but if that were the case, there wouldn’t be anything to fear in the first place. Tsukasa is fast and Sousuke is not about to leave the safety of his covers, not with him here.
“I’d rather you didn’t-” anything he tries will be in vain but shutting up and enduring it only seems like a better option when he doesn’t have stitches to pop up from his skin and blood waiting to drip down freely at the slightest provocation (when he could keep the little terror away from him by holding both his shoulders in place).
“I just want to see it!” he repeats. “Bet it’ll leave a really cool scar! You’ll have to show it at some point anyway, you know?” a tilt of his head, an index finger lingering close to his mouth without actually touching it, the wide eyes of a creepy child. “So can I see it now? While the stitches are still there?”
Sousuke dreads the arrival of summer more than he ever has before (the issue isn’t the weather being too hot for pretty much all his wardrobe but the fact that he’ll simply boil alive before letting people see whatever is left of his right arm), but right now, at the very start of the rainy season, he dreads Tsukasa Yugi getting a single step closer to his bed.
He’s aware both are destined to arrive, at some point.
There’s a sting in his right arm but it’s gone before he can close his eyes all the way through. “Huh?” when he opens them again, he realizes Natsuhiko might not be as fast as Tsukasa, but he’s a couple times stronger, at least when it comes to holding him in place.
“Easy there,” he says, putting him back on the floor.
“Please stop for a little bit, would you?” Sakura asks, though it isn’t actually much of a question to Sousuke’s ears.
But Tsukasa doesn’t actually complain, he just- “Next time it is!”
Sousuke hopes next time never comes.
“Your friends already left?” peeking her head from behind the door, Yui asks, like she was expecting to interrupt something with her question.
If only she’d had the same consideration the day before.
It’s just Sousuke there, though, because normal people actually care about not walking home in the middle of a storm. Normal people being everyone who isn’t Kou Minamoto.
“Yeah, they don’t live over here, it was better if they left early.”
“That’s a shame, I never get to meet them!” Yui exhales a sharp breath as she finally falls on the nearest chair. “It’s all my boss’ fault, can’t believe not even my son being at the hospital is a valid reason not to check in. And here I was thinking raising you would finally be good for something!” she elbows him with a smirk for good measure. He appreciates that she does, actually.
“Sorry, but it’s too late to complain now, don’t you think?” and he knows he wears a matching expression. “You even have the nerve to think about complaining with a son this cute? Unbelievable.”
“Oh shut up, you got it from me, you had to be cute.”
He snickers behind a hand, eyebrows suddenly rising when he remembers. “Ah, but Sakura brought me this,” placing the bunny in Yui’s open palms and waiting for her reaction is entirely worth it when once again, their smiles match.
“They’ve got you figured out, huh?”
“I just like cute stuff, it’s not that hard.”
Her ponytail falls undone when she pulls on the hair tie and Sousuke cringes at the way her vertebras pop as her back straightens. He doesn’t show it, because that would only give her something else to mess with him over.
“So you told Minamoto-kun not to come? Are you sure it wasn’t cause of what happened yester-”
“No! I just didn’t want him here today! I have other friends, mom,” and Natsuhiko knows Kou’s name since long ago but still refuses to call him anything other than “Mitsuba-chan’s boyfriend”. He won’t let Kou hear that if he can help it.
“Okay, okay, but he’s the only one that shows up every day, I think he deserves a better treatment,” Sousuke doesn’t like the way her smile twists. “since you care about him so much.”
“I don’t,” he gets a loud chuckle in response, so he rectifies: “I do not; he’s just dumb. Did you know he forgot to make dinner for his siblings for two days in a row just to stay here and do my homework? You can’t tell me that’s not dumb! He doesn’t know how to set priorities!”
Hospitals are supposed to be quiet places for the ill, people are supposed to be mindful of their tones and Yui has told him at least twice a day to remember not to yell like he always does… She wheezes like she’s never heard anything funnier anyway.
“What? What’s so funny?”
“Sousuke, you’ll have to trust me on this one,” that already is a start he doesn’t know how to feel about. “I think he knows what his priorities are.”
“What does that even-?” before he’s finished, something in his brain clicks, setting off nothing short of a chain reaction through his entire body and he does not believe a word his mom says. That can’t be right, not in the way she means it. Kou cares about everyone the same way; Sousuke is his best friend but he’s no different. Yui is only getting his hopes up because that’s what annoying moms like her do. Sousuke might be Kou’s priority right now but if Amane broke a leg or something tomorrow, he’d give him the same attention… right? “Whatever,” but the blanket over his face can’t make his mumbling sound any different.
Chapter 3: it's the little things
at the end of the day, Sousuke is glad Kou is the only one who gets to see him like this
this chapter got slightly out of hand but it probably won't be the longest one hhh
i enjoyed writing this chapter a lot, hope you like it
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lost pens with more than half the ink left inside, new pencils he never got to sharpen once, erasers he never saw end of, you could say Kou Minamoto is not particularly mindful of his belongings. Constantly going around, begging Yokoo or even Satou for a spare, he’s definitely not one anyone would want to lend their stuff to, least of all Sousuke, who would first die on the spot than lose one of his beloved sparkly gel pens (or so he says, but at the end of the day, isn’t he a coward?). But… that was before.
Or, rather, he can’t abide by his rules, not right now. If he wants his homework done while he scrolls away on his phone, he can’t count on Kou’s pens being in his bag when he opens it, so he asks Yui to bring one of his countless bags of supplies (the oldest, he tells her, because there’s no way he’ll give Kou- chews on pen caps and erasers- Minamoto his precious alcohol markers and pastel highlighters, not if they’re more than a blink away from dying). And even then, he takes his time to make sure he won’t miss anything inside the one she brings, pink, hello kitty printed. At least there shouldn’t be a way for his things to get lost if they’re the only ones around, if it does then he’ll just blame it on Kou for… eating it or something, since there’s no one to steal it.
Kou is boring, so most of the contents of the bag stay inside, aside from the black and blue pen.
“Teachers won’t believe I wrote that, put on some color,” he complained the first time. Apparently, for Kou that meant slapping some crooked bright pink highlighter on random places.
If he wants anything done the right way, Sousuke found, he can’t just stay put and scroll away. So he took the bag and got the ugly plain blue pen “missing” as a starting point, suggesting instead the sparkly pink one when asked.
It’s not the same; his notes are messy and look too much like a toddler’s. Kou scribbles over his mistakes like he’s trying to bring more attention to them and Sousuke thinks maybe he ought to stop worrying about how awful it looks, for now, at least.
He’s grateful, in a way, since he gets to pace around the room or roll around in bed for hours on end while Kou flips papers in the table beside him. Kou no longer buries his face in the pages before him, showing up every day an hour or so after class and immediately getting a pair of glasses out of his bag, that he always carries but forgets he needs, somehow. He scribbles away, math problem after math problem, flipping through his books for the answers of the literature worksheets and such. The gel pens leak from time to time and he does nothing about it beside get silly little sparkly stains on his fingertips and shirt, on the odd occasion.
Now, as Sousuke lies above the covers, right arm tucked away but facing Kou anyway, he finds he can’t just look away. Kou’s hair has never met a hairbrush, his earring is the ugliest, tackiest thing he’s ever seen and he wishes he’d just take it off and change it for something better, his eyes go over and over the notes in front of him and… and he’s been doing nothing but that for half an hour now. Sousuke is getting his homework done without lifting a finger, Kou probably goes home to do his own after hours and yet he finds that he just can’t ask him to stop. That, and, maybe he does want him to stop, for a bit. Isn’t he here to give him attention anyway?
“Hey, lame earring,” he calls, cheek squished against the bed and sticky hair falling on his face in an even more unflattering way (he doesn’t need anyone to tell him that, he knows), and the pen in Kou’s grasp tips onto the table.
“Hm?” a hum has no right to be that cute, Sousuke is imagining things.
As much as he hates it (as he hates him), Kou looks like a puppy; big bright eyes and the visible expectation in them as he pretends there was nothing to say in the first place. But it’s different right now. There’s something in the way the harsh white light catches in his glasses, and Sousuke hates that it makes his heart want to desperately escape from inside his chest. He can’t hear the air conditioner anymore, or the rain outside his window, only the fast pumping of blood in his ears and all around him remains.
There’s no other solution aside from dropping his phone face down on the mattress and reaching out a hand at just the right length and the right speed to snatch the glasses from Kou’s face and put them in his own. He doesn’t sound pleased about it but it’s not like Sousuke can see him.
“Expected a lot more since you can’t work with them,” he complains, adjusting them to look around the room.
“They’re not for you,” and yet he doesn’t try to get them back; doesn’t move, doesn’t look away from Sousuke.
“Well, they are now, until you pay attention to me again,” his eyes snap closed, because the light overhead hurts his eyes even more now.
“I’m doing your homework, you know…”
“Yeah, and? You come here to see me, don’t you?” Kou never smiles while writing down formulas or words Sousuke doesn’t care enough to read.
And his smiles are ugly and not like the sun at all, Sousuke doesn’t care for them nor wants to see them, ever. They can’t be found on his wall, with sticky notes around them or in the countless folders in his laptop, he doesn’t get sunburned when they’re directed at him and he’s does not want to see them now.
Right here and now, Sousuke thinks being the center of attention is better than ever. Kou has nowhere else to look and he blinks, slow and calm without looking away, right at Sousuke. Almost as if…
Almost as if he only has eyes for him.
It makes him happy, as stupid as it sounds. It’s not true, probably never will be, but he lets himself smile.
“Are you laughing at me?” Kou jumps in, eyebrows knitted together and half his body closer to the bed than it was before.
“You really don’t have a clue,” is the only answer Sousuke will honor him with. “I’m bored, let’s go for a walk.”
“I still have a lot of homework to get through-”
He has puppy eyes and maybe Sousuke wishes he could stare at them longer… closer. If he could cup his face in both his hands, and- oh.
It probably isn’t even soft anyway.
“You’re here to do as I say. I want you to do my homework, but also… you’re no fun if you don’t talk to me,” he pouts, and Kou never once looks away. “So let’s go for a walk.”
Pulling himself up from the bed, he forgets to keep his right arm away from view for but a second. And Kou stares.
Kou stares but Sousuke doesn’t feel watched.
“Keep your weird fetishes to yourself, you creep,” Kou frowns deeper, so Sousuke has to snicker to match. “Besides, bet you’ve got it all wrong as usual; going on a walk with me is more productive.”
“They’re not wrong, I check-” Sousuke might be making things up, but from where he stands, it looks like his ears and nose are turning red. Kou lowers his head before he can tell. “… No, I’m not falling for that again.”
Apparently he needs to keep telling himself Kou Minamoto is not cute in the slightest, because his brain doesn’t listen anymore. Tiny voice that doesn’t match the way he yells when he’s excited about something, but Sousuke can still tell who it belongs to. There’s no way he couldn’t.
“What a shame,” he sighs. “Doesn’t make up for the fact that you already fell for me, though.”
That seems to be the tipping point. Kou doesn’t look like he’s getting up from the chair any time soon; ears burning red, head turned away, hands grasping a pencil hard enough to break it in half. It’s the right time to check his work.
Despite messing with Kou over it, Sousuke finds out he has no idea what Kou has been doing in his math worksheet. He’s taken aback for a moment, at the sight of too many numbers stacked upon each other. Kou really has no consideration for his aesthetic. He recovers, though, because every waking moment is an opportunity to mess with Kou and not a second will go to waste if he can help it.
“Yeah, they’re wrong. Come on, let’s go outside.”
Sousuke certainly does not like the way his hand fits into Kou’s when he slips it in, or how Kou doesn’t argue when he pulls on it to get him outside and their fingers get caught between each other. Kou keeps his head down for the first few steps but raises it the tiniest little bit once they get through the door.
“They’re not wrong. But since you insist I’m gonna get all of them wrong from now on, bastard,” his eyes are bright against the white walls all around them and Sousuke tightens his grip.
“I can’t believe how much you want me to fail! I always knew you secretly hated me!”
Mindlessly (or not?) Kou mimics the pressure Sousuke has on his own hand, fingers curling into the warmth. Their footsteps reverberate all over the place and there really is nowhere to go in a place like this. Is the cafeteria an option? Sousuke doesn’t really feel like eating anything right now but walking all around the place isn’t a better option (even if Kou never once tries to let go of his hand, and at some point their footsteps start sounding like one and the same).
“Wait, are you allowed to leave your room?”
“Duh, it’s not like I’m going to die. They’re just keeping me here for a while as a prevention but I can do whatever I want,” that’s technically not true but he can go for a walk if he wants to, that much he’s certain of.
Kou hums in response, wearing a smile way too big for quiet hospital halls.
Then again, so are his awful tries at sneaking in sweets and cookies for him (not because he fails at it, but because holding a lunch box under your shirt with one hand is not really all that convincing), the way he keeps trying to coordinate his color choices for Sousuke’s notes, and pushing him aside on his own bed to watch whatever’s on TV, and falling asleep on the odd occasion (his head lightly slumped against Sousuke’s shoulder, his messy hair stabbing his neck like needles and yet he stays put).
“You really have nothing better to do besides be here, huh,” thank you, he doesn’t say, could never say, but he smirks and hopes that’s enough.
“Well, you’re my best friend,” Kou beams, as if the white walls aren’t blinding enough on their own. “I’m not busy like everyone else is, I can keep you company!”
His heart stops for but a second. “So you’re just taking one for everyone else! Bet you’re all tired of me… specially now.”
His tongue is bitter despite the sweets Kou brought earlier and it runs on its own accord, never stopping to consider anything at all until it’s too late to take it back.
“That’s not what I-” but he stops talking and moving, yanking Sousuke’s body back mid-step and cradling his hand between both his own. “I’d never get tired of you!” Kou Minamoto is the name of a disease. A disease that either stops your heart for good or makes it race until it explodes, Sousuke is a fan of neither outcome, but he keeps his mouth shut and his eyes open wide. “I could never hate you! I’d do anything, I- I’ll make everyone come see you, anyone you want, I’ll take their duties for them so they can come!” that’s not how it works, but Sousuke keeps his mouth shut all the same and his right arm twitches like it could even hold Kou’s hands over his in place if he let it get closer.
Determination and Kou Minamoto are two things that go to together far too often. Sousuke finds the way the light dances in his eyes nothing short of hypnotizing, and so he nods, once, twice, short and simple but more times he cares to count.
At the end of the day, he’s glad Kou is the only one who gets to see him like this.
Sousuke finds that he likes peonies more than lavender. The smell spikes his nose if he gets too close but they make a cute decoration and his room smell a little less like rubbing alcohol. Even still, the pink peonies Kou occasionally brings with him catch his eye and his touch more often than not. The vase resting on the table beside his bed brightens up his room (and more when a petal falls on top of Kou’s hair while he scribbles away in his notebook), and he has Aoi to thank for it, and Kou too for bringing them more or less intact or whatever.
She visits early on Saturday morning, knocking gently on his door when he has had little time to shake the sleepiness off of his head but her voice does not disturb him in the slightest.
“Mitsuba-kun, can we come in?”
At that, he finally raises his head from the pillow, heavy eyelids letting the light in, as little as the cloudy morning will let in. “We” sounds like more people than he is expecting.
Sure enough, after Aoi comes Nene, big sad eyes that can’t find anywhere to look.
“Ah, senpai!” Sousuke greets, sitting up to take the flowers she offers him, hoping they’ll fit in the vase. She smiles in response, waving a hand. “Did you have to bring the radish, though?”
Months ago, to his horror, he found Aoi could read him like a sign in full display for all to see, almost as if seeing all the way through him. After the initial shock he couldn’t just keep pretending like he had been until then. Aoi’s own façade chips at the edges and in the middle and Sousuke doesn’t comment on it, so the least he can do is let her see the real him as it is, and wonder how she figured it all out before. So, because she knows more than Sousuke would’ve let her were things any different, he gets to be himself.
“Don’t be mean to Nene-chan!” she says, and it isn’t lost to him how she’ll take any opportunity to cling to her best friend. And that’s- Aoi said they’re a lot more similar than he recognizes but that is not one of the reasons. “She even brought you something!”
“Is it vegetables?” the way Nene’s shoulders jump at his claim tells him everything he needs to know. “I can’t even eat them; do you want me to munch on a carrot right now or something?”
“They’re not for you, then,” she finally says, setting the bag to her side on the chair with a heavy thud. “Give them to your mom,” she pouts, in a way, but it’s nowhere near as cute as when Sousuke does it.
“Don’t do that,” he can only hold his sad eyes for so long, “it only works in cute people.”
That only makes her pout more, which proves Sousuke’s point even further, she doesn’t get no be cute, no matter what other people say.
“Does it hurt?” Aoi asks him, the bed dipping under her weight.
“… When I look at it for too long.”
That might not be entirely true, but it’s not a lie either. His fingers are there in less ways than they should but sometimes he’s convinced they’re still there. Nothing will be the same ever again but he can’t bring himself to use it for attention, he doesn’t want anyone looking at him for too long, he doesn’t want anyone to look at him with sad, almost watery eyes and tell him they’re sorry. Nene does it anyway.
“I’m sorry this happened to you, Mitsuba-kun,” she stands awkwardly, between them and the door, unsure of what to do with her hands and Sousuke can’t take it.
Not because she looks sad, he couldn’t care less about that, but because there’s nothing anyone can do about it, least of all her.
“Don’t be, radish-senpai, I’m still way cuter than anyone else,” his smile only grows with each passing second. “specially you.”
Sousuke has never been one with words. They stay trapped all the way down his throat until the meaning is lost and only then do they slip right through, nothing left to stop them.
Nene frowns for a second, but what he really means seems to get through her at some point; kind eyes and slow steps approaching the seat at his side, a dubious smile on her lips. Nothing comes out of her mouth but her eyes don’t look over him anymore.
“Wait,” the hallway is almost completely silent but the door still hangs open. “did you bring Hanako?”
Amane isn’t worse than Tsukasa (who he made sure his mom talked to the front desk about not letting in without supervision after the second time he woke up to someone tugging on his arm), but he’s still a Yugi, and being unbearable in some way or another runs in their blood. Sousuke is not about to deal with him, not now.
“No, Amane-kun said he didn’t want to come, no matter how much I tried to-”
“Good, I don’t want him here.”
Aoi snickers at his side, a hand resting on her cheek, and she looks like maybe she’d like to say something, but her mouth remains shut.
“Akane-senpai,” he whines, burying himself in the covers. He’s not been looking or feeling his best lately, his body is battered and his left cheek hurts when he presses it too much, his hair is just not the same without the hair products back home and he misses smelling like anything other than bleach. He can’t change any of those things but there’s something he can do: “do you have a makeup bag or something?”
She blinks once, twice, and an apologetic smile forms in her face, “sorry.”
Well, so much for aiming to feel a little better today-
“I do!” Nene jumps in place, rummaging through her stuff until she pulls out a cream colored cosmetic bag.
And Sousuke does not smile at her bigger than he ever has before.
Admittedly, the contents aren’t as diverse and impressive as the things Sakura owns (and Sousuke has no idea why they share with him for free), but there’s pretty eyeshadow and her hand seems steady enough when she does his eyeliner so maybe Nene isn’t so annoying after all, at least for today. Aoi helps her pick the colors and gives her okay when Nene is done, right before presenting a pocket mirror to his face. It definitely doesn’t look as good as Sakura’s work but he’s not doing anything besides spend yet another boring day at the hospital. He can still see the bruise on his cheek but his eyes are catching and prettier than they’ve been in weeks.
“Thank you, radish-senpai,” the corners of his mouth raise more than he wants them too but he doesn’t feel like forcing them down. “seems like you are actually good at something.”
Nene pouts, Aoi elbows him lighter than he knows she could and he decides to gift them some of the cookies Kou brought for him the day before just seconds after they cross the door. They both claim it the darkening clouds’ fault and Sousuke insists he’ll be out before they can visit him again, which seems to make them happy.
Tugging his hair behind his ear, just when the steps are finally gone, he wonders when Aoi had the time to slip a flower there without him noticing.
As it turns out, Aoi and Nene took just the right decision. Merely an hour later, the rain started pouring down all at once, as if letting out everything it had been keeping ever since late at night the day before. It makes it look like it’s much, much later than it actually is, and the humidity is not doing wonders for Sousuke’s hair or makeup, but he turns on the camera on his phone from time to time and finds that he looks much better than he thinks he does every time.
It’s a shame, though, he was kind of expecting Kou to show up, so at least someone else would appreciate his makeup (Yui already did, when she came by at lunch time. But it just isn’t the same if he can’t make fun of Kou for staring way too long). Not even Kou Minamoto himself would show up in a weather like this, right? Since he doesn’t even have an umbrella…
Too late it occurs to Sousuke, when the drip drop by his door is nearly deafening, that he shouldn’t have any hope in the world’s dumbest idiot. Not if it comes to him having the tiniest bit of common sense.
“Are you insane?” he won’t even try to hold his yelling back, his room neighbors should be accustomed by now, anyway. They can’t expect him not to when Kou shows up soaked from head to toe on his door, under the damn air conditioner, shaking, and yet still smiling in a way that makes the white walls all around them look as lifeless as the clouds outside. “Why are you here when you don’t even have an umbrella?”
“I made you something!” beaming even through his clicking teeth, he offers him a plastic box. “… Because Yashiro-senpai said you looked sad when they left.”
But Sousuke’s eyes go past the box and directly to his hands, where his fingers twitch around it.
“You really are stupid. Didn’t you even think of asking someone for an umbrella? Stealing one? Are you planning on dying of frostbite or something?”
Finding that he’s no longer sitting on his bed is less surprising that finding himself about to wrap his blanket around Kou. He stops just in time, though, just in time to remember the bag her mom left with two spare hoodies for when it gets too cold to get by with only his hospital clothes. He’s wearing one right now himself, because he’d be insane if he wasn’t, and the way his right arm is securely tucked away from view under the long sleeve is comforting. So, he hopes it works for Kou too.
“Take off your shirt and put this on,” he demands, taking the box away from his hands and setting it down on the table, a droplet or two soaking through a math worksheet nearby.
Shivering all the way to his bones, Kou nods. As he complies, Sousuke finds the hoodie in his hands to be the most interesting thing of all, at least until Kou takes it away to slip inside it. It’s definitely not what you’d expect Kou- fashion disaster- Minamoto to wear (way too cute, for starters), but Sousuke finds he looks pretty good in pastel pink and white melting into each other.
Only then does he slip the blanket around his shoulders. His pants are still soaked but there’s really nothing he can do about that so the oversized hoodie and slightly thicker-than-the-last-one blanket will have to do.
Kou looks way too pale even after he’s done shivering, and Sousuke hates how much he cares about someone this stupid. So he makes a quick trip to get himself a towel or something of the like and sits down to spend the foreseeable future rubbing it all around Kou’s head as he sits on the floor.
“What even was that important for you to do this? You’re aware there’s no way you won’t catch a cold now, right?”
Using his right arm for support as his left tries to dry out every droplet on Kou’s hair is surprisingly not as uncomfortable or painful as he thought it would be.
“I made you flan, so maybe you’d feel better,” his voice isn’t as small as when he came in; maybe Sousuke is doing a good job. “And uh, I think your makeup looks pretty.”
The idiot should be worried about warming himself up and yet here he is, making Sousuke’s face burn from ear to ear. That’s not what he expected someone he just saved from dying to say.
“I… I already know that… but, uh, thank you,” hair now dry, Kou turns his head at him as best as he can from his position on the floor and Sousuke’s heart stops yet again at the smile he bears. “I guess…”
At least Kou looks a lot more comfortable by the time he’s done.
“Ah-” Kou gapes once he’s risen from the floor, immediately turning around to look him in the eyes. “Sorry I made you do this! I’ll finish drying up myself so you don’t push yourself anymore-”
“Are you an idiot? Sit down.”
The already wet towel probably doesn’t do much to prevent Kou’s wet clothes to soak through and into the mattress but Sousuke can’t just send him to the plastic chair in the corner and hope for the best.
A movie plays in the background, little more than noise, and Sousuke finds himself rubbing Kou’s left arm up and down, not entirely surprised over how he leans into the touch (it’s only for warmth… probably).
“I think-” he starts, and his eyes are way too fixed on Sousuke’s own for him to even look away. “that flower also looks pretty on you.”
Sousuke scoffs, peeling his eyes from Kou’s messier-than-ever hair (it might be his fault, just this once), but he can’t help the smile clinging even to the corners of his eyes. “Thanks for telling me yet another thing I already knew.”
The smile Kou gives him is blinding, he wishes he could say he’s not already blind to begin with but that would be a lie, too much exposure to Kou Minamoto has harmed his eyes, that’s just a fact.
Still, he lets the world’s biggest idiot rest his head on his shoulder and as his hand goes numb from rubbing it along his arm (that probably doesn’t even do anything, but it feels right), Kou’s chest rises and falls, calmer and calmer with every breath and god dammit, Sousuke really is in this deep, isn’t he?
And… he’s okay with that (with how pointless it all is, too), if he ought to fall for an idiot, it may as well be the biggest of them all (the one who steps in between him and the threat that is Tsukasa Yugi, the one who replies to his texts in less than a minute, the one who only complains a little when he uses him as a ladder, the one who runs over to him no matter how far, the one who stops by every day to do a homework that isn’t even his own, the one who runs into the heavy rain without a second thought to bring him his favorite dessert because someone told him he looked sad), even if it means having a pointless crush for as long as he lives. Because Kou calls him his best friend and that’s all they’ll ever be. Maybe that’s okay, if it still means his spiky hair stabs Sousuke’s neck and he gets to see how his eyelashes twitch from time to time this close- if he gets to have a sunburn that never goes away because Kou shoots him the biggest of smiles and it feels like the sun just got closer to Earth.
“How did you even get in looking like that?” did he just casually walk past the front desk, leaving a water trail behind? And no one cared to stop him or at least offer him a towel?
“Uh, they didn’t want to let me in so I kinda… made a run for it while they weren’t looking.”
“And they didn’t notice? This place sucks.”
The chipped tooth in sight gives his sheepish smile some kind of clumsy vibe. But is clumsy the best word to describe him running past a hospital’s front desk with his clothes dripping wet and a lunch box full of flan under his shirt?
Speaking of which-
“Well, since you came all the way here to give me this I guess I should eat it,” his hand finally stops rubbing Kou’s arm up and down and he misses the feeling a little bit.
The box is cold to the touch but he sets it in his lap anyway to pop the lid open.
“I made it specially for you!” he rectifies like it wasn’t already obvious. With a smile like that, though, Sousuke doesn’t find it in him to point it out. “Oh, here!” in a blink, he gets a spoon out of his pocket and presents it to Sousuke.
Taking it is certainly an option, but there are far better things he can do.
So he points to the uncovered flan, then at his mouth, opened just enough to get the point across. Kou still blinks for a few seconds, his eyes moving from one place to the other until something seems lo click in his brain. Lowering the spoon, all the way down until it comes back up full of flan is enough to make Sousuke impatient.
Just as expected, it tastes sweeter and softer on his tongue than any other flan he’s ever had. Kou deserves it after going through so much trouble for him, deserves to hear how much he likes it and humming with his eyes closed has proven to be the best way to do so time and time again.
It wasn’t always like this. Sousuke remembers when Kou first asked him what his favorite dessert was, after he found him crying just outside school for some stupid reason he doesn’t even remember now and walked him all the way home. The next day, he showed up with a poor attempt at flan (that didn’t taste half as bad as it looked) and a prepackaged one as an apology for messing it up. Maybe that was one of the first times Sousuke remembers his heart stopping for a second too long as if to gain momentum to try and escape through his ribs the next one. But nowadays, he thinks no flan in existence can compare to the one Kou makes every time he asks him to (… every time Sousuke needs it).
“Is it good?” he laughs. Sousuke will indulge on his stupid questions this one time, only because he’s getting fed. He answers with a nod and a hum and maybe a smile too big, but Kou matches it with one of his own and he feels at peace. “That’s good…”
Kou stretches his words almost breathlessly, eyelashes falling until his eyes are almost closed and… is his face getting closer? What is he doing? It can’t be that he-
He sneezes. On his forearm and away from Sousuke’s food but it still makes him feel like maybe there’s a dumber idiot than Kou out there and it’s himself. Of course that was what was going to happen, what was he even expecting? For Kou to- for Kou to kiss him he would have to be dreaming, or something.
“Watch out, idiot, what if you sneezed on my food?” taking the spoon away from Kou’s hand to feed himself feels like defeat but he’ll take it rather than have to see it all go to waste. “See? I told you you’d get sick! And it doesn’t look like it’ll stop raining any time soon so how do you even plan to go back?”
“Well, I don’t plan to go back just yet, maybe-”
“You want to die or something?” his right arm is securely hidden by his pink hoodie sleeve so he allows himself to push Kou into the mattress with it, not like he puts up much of a fight anyway. “Do you want to stop coming here that much?”
“Shut up, you know that’s not true!”
“Whatever you say.”
Kou closes his eyes and inhales back in the snot coming down his nose, which is gross. Sousuke lies down next to him anyway.
“No way I’m letting you make a run for it again; call your brother to come pick you up or something. And tell him to bring an umbrella,” Yui would probably be okay with dropping him off at his house any other day, but she told him she’ll be busy tonight so she’s out of the question.
Kou knows Teru wouldn’t mind dropping his assignments or even his student council president duties if he called him, but he also doesn’t want him to. He’s busy and he’ll probably have dinner with Tiara in a little while (this time, Kou remembered to make it before leaving, thanks to Tiara tugging on his apron while he stirred the syrup for the flan), he’d rather not bother him.
“I think he’s studying, I don’t-” Sousuke cuts him right away.
“He’s your brother, Kou,” serious eyes fixed right on him, his long hair sprawled between them, even tickling his nose when he turns to meet him in the eyes.
And his name coming from Sousuke’s mouth still makes him feel like he’s just swallowed an entire beehive. Heart pumping against his ribs with the same adrenaline they’ll probably use if that was true. Sousuke barely uses it, calling him all sorts of names instead, but when he does-
When he does it feels like everything else stops. It’s gone in the same breath it begins but it’s long enough to feel every motion of it in his ears. It warms him like the blanket or even Sousuke’s hoodie never could and he’s pretty sure it shows in at least the tips of his ears, if not everywhere in between.
“It’s not fair only she gets to call you by your name!” he had said one day, hopping over a railing, camera in hand as they walked around school. “Kou.”
It felt like the air was knocked out of him all at once, like there had never been a sound like that before, not even when Nene said it for the first time and he thought his heart would stop beating any second, it was somehow stronger coming from his mouth, and it keeps taking him by surprise every single time because there’s just no telling when Sousuke will use it.
So he gets his phone out and dials Teru’s number.
By the time the sky outside the window gets darker, lulled by the incessant rain outside, going to sleep starts looking like a better option than scrolling away on his phone, which keeps falling off of his hand when he gets distracted by the sounds outside and how much heavier they make his eyelids. Then, when Kou’s head is slumped against his shoulder and he can’t ignore the way his chest calmly rises and falls, or how he twitches lightly in his sleep, and moves around without ever getting his head away from him, then is when two consecutive knocks on the door are louder than the storm.
“Good evening, Mitsuba-kun,” when Sousuke turns to look, Teru is already resting half his body weight on the door frame, bearing a calm smile and eyes that seem to glow even under the white light of the room.
Teru and Kou are way too similar for anyone to ignore, but Sousuke still thinks the way Teru’s eyes glow in the dim light is scary. Allegedly, they weren’t in good terms at the start (crying has always come easy for him and that’s an ability he’s not about to waste, but maybe his whining was way too loud for one Teru Minamoto, preparing for upcoming tests), but Sousuke is pretty sure they are now, ever since he first came to the Minamoto house and asked about the countless family portraits facing down on top of drawers and shelves, as he picked the nearest one up and was met with someone with unmistakable glowing eyes, but who wasn’t quite Teru as he knew him (long hair, more like Tiara’s, white dress and a bitter expression he didn’t dwell on for too long). Kou placed the portrait back down before he could stop him and Sousuke kept his mouth shut when Kou said “Dad doesn’t want us to take them off.”
That same weekend, Sousuke’s feet carried him all the way to the Minamoto house once again, camera in hand and a dubious smile that faltered even more when Teru was the one to open the door. Still, he wasn’t met with rejection when he asked to take a couple pictures of the three of them, or when he invited himself to their family trips only to keep his distance and capture what he deemed to be the best moments until Kou dragged him all the way to join them. More than anything, he wasn’t met with a frown or a scoff when he showed up one Sunday morning and presented an envelope full of pictures to Teru (at least not until he jokingly asked for money in return, but that’s another story) and told him to do whatever he wanted with them.
There are no more portraits facing down on the Minamoto household shelves and Teru greets him with a smile every time they see each other.
Now it’s no different, not even when he seems to notice the towel under Kou’s body and the drying shirt on top a chair.
“Don’t tell me he-”
“Your idiot brother came all the way here in the rain. I swear I thought he wouldn’t even show up but here he is now, and he’s getting a cold,” Kou looks peaceful right now, but these are the last hours he gets to spend that way before he falls into bed. “He didn’t even think about bringing an umbrella.”
Teru’s sigh is audible all around the room, and it’s only then that Sousuke actually remembers Kou is still slumped against his shoulder, despite how comforting the feeling has been all this time. His eyes instinctively widen the littlest bit and he considers dropping him into the mattress with less care than he would were Teru not looking- but he doesn’t. It’s already too late, anyway.
“I feel a little bad for waking him up,” he says, finally approaching the bed.
“Don’t be; my arm in numb because of him.”
His complains only get a chuckle out of Teru. “You could’ve moved him any time.”
… Maybe he’s right.
“No I couldn’t, don’t you know how heavy his head is?”
Teru finally cuts all the distance between them, and all of it by placing a hand on top of Sousuke’s head. “Thank you for taking care of him,” he motions to the hoodie and the towel, and the drying shirt and maybe Sousuke is not ready for any of this.
“He should…” nothing but mumbles come out of his mouth, his chin burying into his clothes. “He should be the one taking care of me, though.”
Once again, Teru laughs, but this time Sousuke can’t tell if he’s being made fun of or not.
Early next morning, he gets a phone call he’s no entirely sure if he should pick up or not. What he’ll be told is, most likely, already obvious, but the phone rings and rings and, really, what even is his reason to avoid it?
“Just as expected,” Teru says, “he’s sick now. I’m not letting him go out without an umbrella again.”
“You should keep him under supervision, he’s too much of an idiot,” in other times, maybe he’ll think twice about what he tells him, but Sousuke would like to think they’re past that point. He never gets a comment on it so perhaps he’s right. “And tell him I’m expecting my hoodie back as soon as he recovers.”
“Oh, here, he wants to talk to you.”
There’s fumbling on the other end and a loud slurp of some kind before he finally hears Kou’s sick, pathetic voice: “Sorry,” he says, and Sousuke doesn’t know if he’d rather punch or hug him.
“Yeah, you better be, running into the rain when your brother said there’s an umbrella right by the door! Sounds to me like you were just trying to get sick on purpose!”
“No I wasn’t, I’ll go back to visit you as soon as-” there’s coughing and covers rustling and maybe he does feel bad about the idiot. “… as soon as I feel better. I’ll even bring you more flan!”
His hospital room is cold and lonely when Kou’s not there but the prospect doesn’t sound half as bad. And that’s his way of putting it into simpler terms because he does not want to acknowledge how warm it makes his face feel, nor the way his heart beats faster than it probably should over something like this.
“Think about getting better first, you idiot, it’ll be no use if you come to make me sick too.” Kou sneezes and… fuck, why can’t Sousuke ever help him when he needs it? Why does he have to stay in his shitty hospital room when he has the opportunity to pay back everything Kou has done for him? Why does he never have the chance? “Take better care of yourself for once, would you? What’s the point in wanting to look after me if you’ll only get sick and-” and what’s the point of him holding back his words now, really? If there’s no one else to hear. “… And I can’t look after you.”
Silence goes on for way too long but Sousuke never once doubts his words as he would with anyone else. Speaking his mind is only ever possible around Kou Minamoto and he’s glad it is that way, even if batting around the bush is still easier and far more entertaining.
“… I’ll get better really soon, you’ll see!” not exactly what Sousuke would like to hear, but- “And I won’t go out without an umbrella again, promise.”
A single word, said in the softest of voices, is enough to melt Sousuke’s heart inside and out. “Promise, then.”
Getting by without Kou there to keep him company proves harder than he thought at first. No one is free to come see him today and he can’t expect Kou to hold a lengthy phone call when he’s probably in the brink of death, not even he is *that* selfish. Yui is at work, far too busy to even ask for a free day if she wants to keep her job, and Sousuke is alone.
Suddenly walking all the way to the cafeteria doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Kou is not there and he feels even the walls staring right down at his right arm, dangling at his side in an unsettling way (but it’s only unsettling to him, isn’t it?); fortunately, the long sleeve of the hoodie he keeps wearing with the excuse of being way too sensitive to cold is enough coverage. Doesn’t help the fact that anyone could tell it ends too abruptly with a single glance, but at least he doesn’t have to see it in the low of his vision as he walks through the halls and down the stairs.
He’s not even sure of what to order when he gets there, but Kou’s flan only lasted so long and he definitely needs something nauseatingly sweet. Passing out from it wounds amazing, actually, it’ll make time go faster, at least.
But nothing ever works for him, does it?
“Oh, sorry-” bumping against a stranger in a hospital out of all places is not how he would’ve liked to start his day, especially not this day.
“Hm?” the girl says, turning around to… eye him up and down. “Oh! Yeah, yeah, no worries!” she tilts her head and his shoulders are caught between her hands before he can blink. “You’re really pretty, even with that bruise on your face!”
“Are you free right now? Mind sitting with me for a bit? You look like a great subject!”
Well now, this definitely isn’t how he planned to start today.
She gets a fairly big sketchbook from behind her back, flipping through the pages, pointing at the nearest table when she seems to find a clean one. “Yeah, you look fun to draw! It should be simple too, since you’re only showing one eye,” her big smile never falters, unlike Sousuke’s, who stopped working minutes ago, at the same time his head started spinning endlessly at the sudden attention.
Sousuke has to compose himself… somehow. “Oh… okay.”
Shouldn’t he be excited about getting his portrait done for him just like that? (though he doesn’t even know what her abilities are, so what if she makes him look ugly, huh?). Either way, she sits him down at the table, even going as far as to pull the chair for him, and plops down on the other end, still smiling as bright as the lightbulbs overhead. Sousuke can’t help but wonder why is she here for (both arms bandaged, a scar somewhere in her neck and hands more bone than flesh).
“You’re staying here?” she asks, already scribbling away. Sousuke nods. “Have you tried the pancakes yet? Would you like some?”
“Uh, are they good?”
“They’re the best ones you’ll ever have, I promise!”
“Then, yeah, I’d like it…”
He’d be lying if he said he doesn’t feel his hands (… hand) twitching under his sleeves at the sudden attention thrown at him, but she keeps quiet, the only sound between them being pencil on paper and it’s enough for Sousuke to catch himself a bit and breathe again. Frowning, turning her head from side to side and giving him quick glances more often than not slowly becomes a pattern Sousuke can work around. Over the next few minutes until their food arrives, he ponders the ins and outs of getting out of his room this morning, but considering she looks like she knows what she’s doing, he’ll at least get a free portrait he can brag about to Yui and Kou out of this (see? I’m so pretty even strangers go out of their way to draw me).
On her first bite, halfway through chewing, her eyes light up with some kind of realization and she swallows to tell Sousuke her name, a big smile seemingly to invite him to do the same. Stuffing another bite in her mouth, this time only speaking after she’s done with it and has seen Sousuke do the same, she places her sketchbook on the table, facing right at him.
“So? Do you like it?” any doubt Sousuke could ever have about her skills vanish in less than it takes him to gaze upon the drawing. “You’re pretty fun to draw.”
What is he even supposed to say? Is staring down at it and not being able to stop the smile creeping all the way to his eyes enough for her to tell the answer? Would a thank you be enough?
“Ah,” is the only thing that comes out of his mouth.
Mei snickers. “You can keep it, if you want to.”
The nod he gives her feels way too enthusiastic. “Thank you, Shijima-san!”
“You can call me Mei,” before he can protest, she’s already changing the topic. “How are the pancakes? Do you like them?”
“Yeah, they’re really good, I can’t believe I hadn’t had them before.”
“So it’s not your first time here?” tilting her head, a new bite in her mouth is Sousuke’s cue to speak.
“I’ve been here for almost two weeks now,” he takes another bite, because it’s easier waiting for an answer that way.
“Oh, why?” the right hand her cheek rests on feels like mockery. “I get sick easily, but I’ll get out in a week or so this time, I think.”
She never once looks about to drop her smile but Sousuke isn’t really looking.
Is saying it enough? But he’s never once wanted to say it before, not as news; not as anything besides a joke… so what about showing it? Showing it’s even worse. Under his sleeve, he can pretend hiding it still is nothing more than a stylistic choice, that he can pull it back and find his real hand there, ready for whatever he needs it. But his head spins and the wiped cream is rancid on his tongue and there’s no getting back what he lost, ever. It’s not another sleepless night and yet it feels just like it because there’s no one here to help him ignore the pain in fingers that aren’t even there.
“I-” up on the table, he finds something he only recognizes as his own arm because it’s wrapped on the pink fabric of his hoodie. “My hand-”
Mei’s eyes go up and down, mouth twitching, brows knitting, fingers curling around her slim wrists. “Oh.”
This is the end of their conversation, isn’t it? The entire building just fell upon their shoulders and there’s no recovering him it. Sousuke didn’t dislike her as much as he thinks he should, for it is someone who dragged him around quite a bit out nowhere. Not like he has to worry about that now.
“But you’re alive,” is what she says right when he starts pondering if he’d be able to make a run for his room. “You’ll be fine.” you can’t say that, you don’t know what it’s like, he wants to say to her smiling face. “I’ve been close to dying a few times, but you look like you’ll be out of here anytime now! The most important thing is that you’re still here.”
The air gets knocked out of his chest, and he can’t argue with that, can he?
Mei sent him away with a drawing he has nowhere to keep and some vague sense of existential dread (so is she going to die? How is she smiling that big then?), he can’t call Kou and expect him to be even half awake, their group chat is too quiet for him to even consider starting a conversation himself, and everyone else would probably take him as a bother this late in the day. Yui texts him for no longer than five minutes before excusing herself to keep working and he doesn’t even get to send her a picture of his portrait or brag about it.
All of this is Kou’s fault, that damn idiot.
Outside, the rain pours for hours on end even early in the morning, washing away any hope for anyone to willingly show up to his room yet again. He tries to tell himself he only misses Kou because he’d come running without a second thought, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. No matter how many times he insists on it in front of other people; deep down (and closer than that) he’ll always know how much he likes Kou; there’s just no hiding it.
Heading out for the cafeteria once again seems like his only option. Maybe he expects Mei to be there, at least she’s someone he can talk to, for the time being. It’s not like he dislikes her, but also she kind of just came out of nowhere and started acting so familiar with him it threw him a little off balance. Now, though, as he makes his way towards the only place he can expect to find her, he feels little more prepared; at least he knows what to expect.
“Ah, it’s you again, Sousuke!” something stings him every time someone refers to him by his name. Not because he dislikes it or anything, but because Kou still doesn’t use it despite his countless attempts at telling him that it’s fine, maybe he wants to feel closer to him, has the idiot considered that? So that someone he met yesterday already does…
“Shiji- Mei-san,” though, it’s not every day someone insists on him using their given name just like that. “Are you always here?”
“In between tests and stuff, pretty much. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed so I come here every time I can,” she moves the straw in her drink around, as if recalling something. “What about you; do you come here often?”
The seat beside her looks more appealing than it would have yesterday. “Not really, I just stayed in my room until now.”
“That sounds sad, couldn’t you leave?”
“My…” he could lie, he supposes, but she’s actually really nice and Kou would eventually tag along to the cafeteria when he comes back and run his tongue so it doesn’t seem like a good option. “my best friend comes pretty much every day and we just hang out in my room. He has a cold now, though.”
“But he shows up every day? He must care about you a lot,” there’s an unwanted elbow against his ribs and maybe looking for Mei again wasn’t his brightest idea.
The answer doesn’t seem to satisfy her; smile dropping the tiniest little bit, eyes narrowing in a way that says you know that’s not true way too loud and clear, and a huff to top it all of), but she’s back to her usual self within the next minute and Sousuke finds being dragged around the hospital in search for all the little oddities she’s found in all her years there isn’t as bad as sitting in his room all day would be.
Perhaps running into the rain and hoping for the best wasn’t his greatest idea. It still takes him one too many sneezes to get it, but he’s bound to bed before he can help it, be it only because Teru forced him out of the kitchen, up the stairs and into his room. The night wind filtering through the window makes his hair stand on end under the dim light the glowing stickers Tiara stuck to the wall provide, and under Teru’s gaze, just as bright on its own.
“Tiara,” he calls, making her head appear behind the doorframe. “don’t let Kou get out of bed while I’m out, okay?”
Smiling right to the side, footsteps light on the tiles, he makes his way towards Tiara to ruffle her already messy hair.
“He’s not getting up!” she says, standing as tall as her short legs will take her. “Or I’ll beat him with this!” what seems to be the shadow of a broken broom’s stick emerges from her back, zooming into the room pointed right at Kou.
Teru chuckles. “Hope it doesn’t get to that.”
Hands linger in the doorframe as he searches his pockets. Kou is not even feeling that bad, for him to toss him into bed, he can at least get dinner done for today… probably.
“Where are you going?” his elbows dig into the mattress and, before he has enough time to react, Tiara stands right by his bed, a stick taller than her over his head.
“I’ll go get instant ramen for today and some medicine for you, it’ll only take twenty minutes.”
Tiara’s eyes seem to light up as the stick raises under her fingers. “Back to bed, please.”
Would she hit him enough to hurt? Probably. Maybe is best if he doesn’t take any more chances for today, since his first try is what got him this way in the first place.
“You shouldn’t be this close, you’ll get sick,” he tries; the stick is a better threat than he first thought.
Narrowed eyelids that do little to hide her ignited irises, a secured grip on the stick- and a swift turn around that makes her flowy dress spin, she’s back at the door, like a guard. “Still looking at you!”
His perception of time doesn’t work in the dark, not even when Tiara hums distinctive tunes he knows by heart. Time goes by way too slow when all he wants is to jump out of bed no matter how dizzy it makes him and keep getting things done. He has to wash Sousuke’s hoodie before giving it back- he’s still wearing it, isn’t he? It’s comfy and soft enough to melt into but he can’t wear it when he’s sick. He can’t take it off either, for Tiara is looking right at him.
How can he be here, stuck in bed when Sousuke needs him? A headache nor a fever seem all that important when he still can carry himself all the way to the hospital if he tries. He tells Teru as such when he gets back from the store and places a steaming cup of ramen on his nightstand.
“But they wouldn’t let you in, you know? You’d get Mitsuba-kun sick,” oh. Teru is right, actually… Then maybe staying in until he feels better isn’t such a bad idea.
“… then, I guess it’s fine.”
A hand falls on top of his head, heavy and cold (is it from outside or is he that sick already?), it ruffles around and combs the hair away from his forehead. “Don’t just do things for him.”
Now, Tiara is gone away to eat and he can prop himself up safely. “I’m not-”
“Think about yourself sometimes,” the cold glow in his eyes burns right in the middle of his forehead as he sits up on the bed. There are no words Kou wishes to speak, not even stuck against his tongue or at the very end. The rain outside is the only sound in his ears, alongside the deafening silence of Teru looming above. Until a hand makes its way to his hair, messing the strands around. “okay?” the corners of Teru’s mouth pull themselves up seemingly without effort, as do his eyes and the tiny wrinkles around them.
His eyes don’t burn anymore as much as they warm him and soon he speaks again. “Eat, I’ll get you a warm towel… or something.”
Looking at him scratch his chin, as if trying to remember the right thing to do is what ultimately defeats the pressure on his head enough to make him smile.
After his short call with Sousuke, Teru takes his phone back and excuses himself to go through his multiple assignments (after they both give Tiara clear instructions not to come too close or stay too long, and Kou resigns himself to bed for the time being, buried under the covers, forehead damp from sweat, changed into one of his own hoodies instead of Sousuke’s), he still has to fight the habit to put on his shoes by the door and head to the hospital. His back is made of coiled springs ready to snap but his head spins in every corner of the room when he does so he probably wouldn’t get far. That and, the least Sousuke needs right now is to catch a cold.
Calling back is a better idea, right? He can keep his eyes closed so the light doesn’t hurt and- and his throat is sore and dry no matter how much water he drinks, coughing more than it takes to scrape it further. Maybe it’s better if he sleeps, after all.
On the nightstand, his phone vibrates once, twice, and his hand falls on top of it before he can help it.
“Kou-kun, are you free today? Amane-kun wants to go to this place that just opened close to his house,” the screen says, Nene’s name a pale green color.
“Ditch the whiny bitch for a day, come on, it’s not the same without you,” Amane joins a couple seconds after.
Could he? He’d have to sneak out, but- his head is heavier than anything he’s ever carried and sticks him to bed like an anchor. "I’s not the same without you," Amane says and he feels like a traitor. Heavy, sore fingers dance around the letters on the screen that’s way too bright for his squinting eyes.
“Sorry, but I got sick yesterday.”
The chat falls still for no more than two seconds and soon both his friends are typing.
“Did you run into the rain or something?” Amane says.
At the same time, Nene’s text arrives: “Do you want us to come see you instead?”
“Forget about asking him, we’re going right now,” they make a plan before he can even start typing again.
“There’s no need, I’ll be better in no time! Besides, you could get sick.”
“We’ll be okay, you need something to cheer you up, that will also help you feel better,” Nene adds a friendly smiling face at the end of her sentence.
“You were dumb enough to get sick now you’ll have to put up with us, just you wait.”
His eyes are way too heavy to answer and there’s no helping it either way, is there? After all, it’s not the first time they come running when he’s sick, just as he does when it’s them, he can’t expect them not to do the same even when it would be best. Before falling asleep, though, he thinks of Sousuke’s hoodie, resting on top a chair, and the comforting laundry smell coming from it when he used it, just the same as the one Sousuke has on himself all the time- most of the time. Right now he smells of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic, but Sousuke is Sousuke and time will bring back his fluffy hair and pink, oversized hoodies, and his smiles as big and as pretty as they come.
… Waking up to a crushing weight on his ribs is not how he expected it to go, though.
“Morning!” Amane smirks over him, the hand supporting his chin digging into Kou. “You gonna tell us what happened now?”
“Leave him alone, Amane-kun, he’s sick,” there’s a pressure on his forehead as the bed dips to his side, springs protesting under the weight. “Oh, you’re really hot.”
“Yeah,” the weight on top of Kou lightens the tiniest bit.
“You haven’t even looked for yourself.”
Kou opens his eyes just in time to see Nene raising an eyebrow at Amane, who just smirks wider, “And your point is?”
She rolls her eyes at him, standing back up to soak the cloth on Kou’s forehead once again. The light filtering through the window hurts his eyes but his friends came all the way here for him; he can’t just fall back asleep.
“So, why are you sick?” head tilted to the side, Amane’s big, night sky eyes dig into his own as he can barely keep them open.
Words scrape his throat but Amane won’t stop until he gets an answer. Maybe he’ll get off him, too. “Uh… senpai said Mitsuba looked sad when Akane-senpai and her visited him yesterday so I made some flan for him and-”
But Amane speaks over him before he’s finished: “So you did run into the rain? For that kid?” cheek slumped against the bed, a pout spreads on his mouth.
“Amane-kun, you know Kou-kun would do the same for any of us…” a pause, only the sound of the excess water falling back into the bowl in front of her. “he shouldn’t, but he would.”
“Why shouldn’t I? You’re all my friends,” if they need him there; if he can show up as soon as possible (and he can), then why wouldn’t he?
Amane finally pulls himself up from him, sitting up by his side instead and he can finally breathe. There’s rustling coming from where the bed weights down but Kou does not open his eyes until a vague, sugary smell hits his congested nose, as good as it can. There, he sees Amane holding a paper bag on his lap, munching away a simple sugar speckled donut.
“You’ll leave crumbs on the bed,” Nene complains, getting a lunchbox out of her bag.
“I won’t,” he doesn’t stop to swallow, proving her point further. “More important-” gulping down mid-bite isn’t better than speaking with his mouth full, but it’s some kind of improvement, Kou supposes. “these are the ones I wanted you to try, I bought some on my way here. You want some?”
It takes Kou some seconds of silence to get that Amane means him and not Nene, still busy with her bag a couple feet away.
“I don’t think that’s good for him right now,” she says, sliding a spoon into the lunch box.
“They’re really good, though. Will you listen to her, boy?” the sugarcoated surface certainly looks appetizing, and Kou’s stomach already grumbles from only having instant ramen last night. He nods. “See? I was right,” Amane gives Nene a triumphant smile.
Elbows holding him up from the mattress, Kou leans forward- only to be stopped.
“No, stay back,” his fingers pull a single bite away from the donut in his hand, and that’s what he’s presented with. “Open.”
Expectant smile from Amane, the promise of steaming rice waiting in Nene’s hands and the audible grumble of his stomach, he obliges almost instantly.
He’ll keep telling Tiara you’re not supposed to eat sweets before actual food; one single time can’t hurt.
“Okay, that’s enough of that, now eat this, it’ll make you feel better… I think,” Nene presents the lunch box to him, back resting against the wall, and prepares a spoonful of rice, easier to give that way.
Kou takes it in both his hands, feeling the warmth creep to his cold fingertips. They always come in the odd occasion he gets sick, as he himself does to them. Even Sousuke, most of the time, be it only to take advantage of his sickness and mess with the things inside his drawers. But today is one of those times he’s actually spared of making his own food or going on a nearly empty stomach thanks to Teru’s, sincerely, awful cooking skills and how easy it is to live off of instant ramen for a few days. It’s a nice change.
When he goes to pick up the spoon, though…
“Wait, I’ll do it,” Amane smirks, already reaching for the box on his lap.
“I can do it on my own-”
“No, you can’t, I’m doing it for you,” he’s faster than Kou could ever react in his current state; fighting against him is pointless. “Here.”
Fogginess pesters his mind and his joints feel weirdly out of place. The seconds it takes him to set himself into motion are enough for Amane to lose his patience, apparently, for he takes Kou’s face with his free hand, squeezing his cheeks together like that’ll help him eat.
“Amane-kun,” Nene reprimands. “leave him alone.”
“But I’m just trying to help!” now, he brings the spoon closer to Kou’s mouth once again, with enough time for him to open it and taste the soft rice, as much as his numb taste buds will let him, anyway. “See?”
She sighs, seemingly defeated, and takes seat on Kou’s desk chair, having to move the pile of clothes sitting on top of it somewhere else first.
Amane makes feeding him impossibly complicated by sitting next to him instead of directly in front. Kou can’t really tell what it tastes like, but the warm texture on his tongue and the softness against his parched throat are enough of a comfort.
“Why are you sitting there?” he asks after swallowing the last bite.
“Hm?” eyes suddenly wider even when looking down, he brings his index to scratch his cheek. “… No reason.”
If his tired eyes aren’t playing any tricks, Kou could swear there’s a hint of pink in Amane’s cheeks. The again, his head hurts when he looks at either side too long, and there really is no reason for him to be embarrassed, maybe he’s just thinking about stuff, as he always does.
Anyway, there’s two important words he can’t forget, as he pulls himself back under the covers with Amane’s (not really) help; as Nene stands back up to soak the cloth again and place it on his forehead.
Nene blinks once, twice, like she never expected that at all. Kou can’t see Amane, but he’s probably not so different. “It’s what friends do,” she says, heartwarming smile that still doesn’t make him feel the way the memory of Sousuke’s does.
“I’m not doing this for free, though,” crossed armed against the wall to his left, Amane keeps a solemn expression for them to start buying into it- it’s gone before it settles, fortunately, and the breathy laugh he lets out in the end almost makes Kou’s heart race, the tiniest little bit (and the feeling is weirdly familiar).
It would be nice if Sousuke could be here, too, he thinks vaguely behind closed eyelids. He loves his friends as much as he possibly can, so he can’t help but want to include his absent best friend in everything he does, can he?
It’s a tough few days, shivering even under the blankets, surviving off of instant ramen and store bought meals. "These don’t taste as good as yours,” Teru keeps saying every time he comes up from the kitchen (the microwave hasn’t caught fire yet so Kou might have to give his brother some credit), Kou’s taste buds are still as numb as the tips of his fingers so he might have to take his word for it. Fortunately, there’s not many things able to take a Minamoto out for longer than a week. Come Wednesday night, Kou is back on his feet after a last healing nap, ready to tidy up the house and hoard the kitchen for himself. No one protests, eagerly waiting on the living room couch instead, and Kou has more plans than just make dinner. Steaming dishes on the dining table, a hungry, well-deserved meal for all three of them, and the plates are back under the sink in less time than usual.
It feels good to move around again, so Kou takes all the duties for himself, letting his siblings enjoy a movie he’s half paying attention to from a distance. The clock marks early night and there’s still enough time to finish his gift before it’s time to go to bed.
Trial and error over the years have left the process ingrained deep in his mind, almost like second nature. Because the smile it always gets him is worth all the times he had to read recipe after recipe, back to back, and all the times it didn’t taste like he expected. Now, he’s got it all figured out, and it’s the best way to apologize for getting knocked out for so long after promising he’d visit every single day.
After a short cooling period, the freshly baked flan goes into the fridge. Closing the door, Kou calls it a night.
Next morning, he finds he’ll have to take it to school with him, anyway.
But afternoon comes at last, and it almost feels like jumping from his seat straight into the street in front of school, no recollection of meeting anyone on his way out (Amane and Nene are both busy with their clubs; Kou doesn’t look back). If the walk takes him longer than usual, he doesn’t even notice.
“Mitsuba!” he calls. The smile pulling at the corners of his mouth bigger than he’s ever felt it.
It does not waver when he finds Yui sitting on the chair beside the bed, looking down at Sousuke’s phone alongside him. Kou still makes his way into the room, taking the box out from under his shirt and holding it out.
“You’re alive?” Sousuke says.
At the same time, Yui greets him: “Minamoto-kun, is good to see you again.”
Mother and son stare at each other for only a second, bringing their attention back to Kou.
“Hi, I brought you this,” he says, setting the box down beside Sousuke’s side.
“You think that makes up for leaving me all alone here, for four days? You can’t buy me that easily,” arms crossed against his chest, head turned, and yet Kou can see him peeking at the box.
“Don’t listen to him, Minamoto-kun, he even made a new friend that’s been hanging out with him, he’s been fine,” it’s Yui who takes the flan in her hands at last, taking the lid off. “Oh! Stop spoiling him so much, he doesn’t deserve it,” she elbows Sousuke on the side, getting him to drop his act and turn around.
It could never be lost to Kou the way his eyes seem to sparkle when he does, as it could never be lost to him the way his heart doesn’t know whether to stop or jump straight out of his chest. Nene’s smile used to make him weak at the knees; Sousuke’s is more than enough to render them completely useless.
“I do deserve to be spoiled,” Sousuke complains.
“I thought since he likes it so much, I’d just-”
Yui doesn’t let him finish (or maybe he never had a way to, in the first place), “You care way too much about him, you better make sure he does the same in return-” still tailing the sentence, she takes hold of Sousuke’s cheek. “- he cares so much about you he’s terrified to say it. Aren’t you, Sousuke?”
“No, I’m not!” he says, brushing Yui’s hand away from his face.
And Kou thinks he knows him a fair bit. Enough to tell what he means most of the time without words spoken or read between insults. Once you figure him out, Sousuke Mitsuba is not hard to know at all. No matter what comes out of his mouth, Kou and him share a single glance (Kou smiles, Sousuke doesn’t- he wants to but he doesn’t), and all it’s settled. Not like he needed it to know the truth.
“So? How is it?” Kou asks, sitting down on the bed at a spot that feels his already.
“Good, probably,” he holds the provided spoon between his fingers and takes a bite, instantly smiling into it, right at Kou. “It’s good.”
All words are suddenly lost to him, a smile the only form of communication he has left.
Is it just him or Sousuke seems to hold the spoon in his mouth longer than he probably needs to? Looking down at the flan and absolutely nowhere else for a solid thirty seconds, is it just his hair getting in the way or do his cheeks look rosier than usual?
… Kou should look away, probably.
“By the way, Minamoto-kun,” he turns to face Yui so fast his focus spins.
She doesn’t seem to notice, though, as she searches around in the things sitting on the floor beside the chair, fumbling back and forth between them until she finally pulls something up: a blue umbrella.
“Got this for you, so you don’t run into the rain and get sick again,” the hand gripping the umbrella gets close to Kou’s own.
Him getting sick was such a bother, she- but she went through the trouble of getting him an umbrella of his own. He takes it and it fits in his hand just right.
“Thank you!” he smiles.
“Don’t tell me thank you, you better take that umbrella everywhere you go from now on, got it?”
Yui smiles at him in a way he doesn’t recall his mom ever doing (he can think of Yako, though, but her eyes are way sharper than the ones in front of him right now).
“… Got it!”
“He’ll forget it anyway,” Sousuke chimes in, pointing right at him with a clean spoon.
“Then it’s really convenient you’re always with him; you’ll take your umbrella too in case he forgets.”
Sousuke opens his mouth to speak, brows knitted close together, but in the end, he closes it with a huff. “Okay…”
Chapter 4: two words
lying is always easier (except when it isn't)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Lying has always come easier than telling the truth, for him, at least. Closing the door to his room with a loud thud was easier than admitting he was worried that time Yui broke her leg; lying is easier than telling the truth on the odd occasion his dad calls and asks something that deviates too much from his academic performance; insults are easier than caring words that warm his chest (they would burn his throat on their way up and he’s a coward who doesn’t take chances); staying silent is easier than reaching out to someone in the middle of a sleepless night; waking up earlier to hide the bags under his eyes with foundation will be easier than answering people’s questions, but if there’s something he’s not afraid of saying outright, is that he won’t miss the cold hospital walls, thin blankets, or the nights spent awake curling fingers that aren’t there, hoping for something that he can never have back.
The doctor’s advice slips out of his ears almost immediately, if it even reached them at all. Fortunately, Yui is right there (Sousuke hopes she’s listening). He misses his bed, so full of plushies that moving them to the top of his desk and drawers every night before sleeping is nothing short of a chore, and some nights he chooses to shove them all aside and sleep above the covers instead; he misses his room as a whole, the place that is truly his, the place where he can look around and remember some of his most treasured memories, where the ceiling is full of rainbow and candy stickers his eleven-year-old self probably shouldn’t have put up there instead of plain, blinding white; he misses his cute clothes, never this sick hospital blue, never so plain and boring; he misses taking hot baths (long enough for his mom to bang on the door and tell him she’ll make him work cleaning the neighbor’s house to help her pay the bill), and the fluffy hair they gave him; he also misses his cat, his headbutts and screams when asking for food, the shed hair he has to dust from his clothes before going out, the way he blends in between the pillows and plushies, looking just like one of them, the sudden weight on his lap at the worst possible times. He sure as hell won’t miss this place.
As soon as the doctor leaves the room, some hours left before actually being discharged, he heads to the cafeteria, just as he’s done many times before, Kou only tagging along the last three times, despite Sousuke’s complains. He can’t say he’ll miss Mei, because she stole his unlocked phone from his hand days ago and saved her number in it (she can’t sleep most nights either, Sousuke found, and the dark hours weren’t so lonely anymore), but he strives to find her one last time before leaving (he’s leaving for good, he doesn’t plan to come back; she, however, knows it’s not the same for her, knows time is a circle and she’ll find herself between the hospital walls once again, she’s made it very clear).
Mei isn’t there when he arrives, looking around doesn’t help either and only then Sousuke realizes he’s never asked where her room is. She can’t have been discharged, that much is certain, so he takes seat at the nearest table and waits.
It’s boring, he finds nothing to do in his phone besides send annoying texts to Kou, who is probably in class right now, and swing his legs back in forth under the table.
“Were you waiting for me?” the voice he’s grown accustomed to asks from behind his right shoulder.
“No, I’m not,” lying is always easier than telling the truth, and Sousuke is not about to take the long road if he can help it.
“That’s good then, cause I am waiting for someone,” is her smirk bigger than usual?
It is. It remains over all her features as she starts scribbling away in her sketchbook, not glancing up from it once. Her hand is steady and experienced on the paper, whatever she’s drawing probably as familiar as her own face.
“Who are you waiting for?” Sousuke is nosy and, they’re friends, right? So if she can tease him about Kou when he insists on tagging along, then he can ask. Not like she wasn’t the one to bring it up in the first place, anyway.
Only then does she lift her eyes from the page in front of her, staring right back at him with the same smile that doesn’t seem to ever leave her. “Someone that always comes to see me,” she looks back down at her drawing. “they’re busy most of the time on weekdays but they insisted on coming today so I’m waiting. They’re always on time so it shouldn’t take them long.”
Should he stay, then? Shouldn’t he just tell her he’s leaving in a couple hours and take it as his cue to head back to his room? But Mei doesn’t look the littlest bit eager to see him go, nor does she ask him to, sketching away before him.
Sipping on a can of juice he bought earlier, indulging in Mei’s silly chitchat, Sousuke spots a familiar green color in the corner of his eye. His head turns before he can help it and sure enough; there they are.
“Nanamine-senpai?” he exclaims, perhaps way too loudly. “What are you doing here?” only after he closes his mouth does he notice Sakura was headed at them from the start and he knows why.
“You know them?” Mei asks him, waving her hand at Sakura.
Sousuke can’t find the right words to speak so he settles for nodding.
“Didn’t expect you two to meet, if I’m being honest,” they say, settling on the empty chair besides Mei.
“Well, I didn’t expect you to know him!” both arms crossed on the table, Mei seems to remember something when her eyes fall back down. “Oh, right, I drew you this while I was waiting.”
The drawing isn’t visible from Sousuke’s angle but he supposes that’s fine, since it isn’t even for him and all. It doesn’t make him any less curious, but he still has other things he wants to know more about, like why Sakura is here, visiting someone they’ve never mentioned before but seem so close to. Then again, Sakura Nanamine has never had a big habit of talking, having told Sousuke listening is quite interesting, and he’d never reject a lent ear for all his minor inconveniences, met with the vaguest hint of a smile, a huffed laugh at best or just a blank expression that tells him maybe he should redirect the conversation somewhere else.
When he looks up again, he finds Mei almost reclined all the way on Sakura’s shoulder, scribbling away all the same under their patient gaze. Is it just him or do they seem… too comfortable with each other? Almost like- almost like the way he is with Kou when no one else is around. Except there’s someone around them now, and it’s him. Maybe he should leave, after all.
But he can’t just get up and walk back, that would look unnecessarily rude and both Mei and Sakura have been nothing but nice to him for the time he’s known them.
… The time for his discharge will come no matter where he is, he figures.
“How come Tsukasa-kun didn’t follow you today?” the little terror is nowhere to be seen, and why didn’t that ever happen when they came to see him?
“He knew I wasn’t coming to see you,” their answer is a little bit more cryptid than he’d like, because Tsukasa Yugi doesn’t usually take people’s word for things.
Maybe it’s because Sakura would never lie?
“And couldn’t you tell him that all the times he came? I almost lost my other hand once!”’
If they think he’s exaggerating, it sure felt like it.
“I would if I could, but he’s good at telling truth from lie, you know that. He doesn’t come when I visit Mei because he has no interest in her.”
Of course. Of course it always has to be him.
“Wish he lost interest in me already! I know I’m the cutest but I don’t want his attention!”
“I’m afraid it isn’t likely considering what happened to you.”
They’re right and Sousuke hates it. Having a new scar, something Tsukasa’s morbid curiosity can latch onto puts him at a considerable disadvantage to everyone else, it probably won’t stop even when he’s fully healed because his hand will never grow back and severed limbs are something the little terror never fails to express interest on. Both Yugi twins are unbearable, but why does Kou get the better one? The one who won’t spontaneously bite your ankles if given the chance?
Life isn’t fair. “I’m too cute for this world.”
Mei immediately breaks into a fit of laughter, pencil set down on the table with one hand as the other goes to hold back her hair. Sakura however, is already accustomed to his antics, which don’t work anymore (never actually did).
“You’re just laughing cause you’re jealous,” he tells her, doing little to stop her.
Quiet falls back down eventually, and Sousuke doesn’t find it in him to interrupt it again, not even when he’s, quite literally, third wheeling right this instant. It’s not just that, it’s that the little things they do, their expressions and the way Mei keeps gently shoving Sakura aside make him think way too much about Kou, more than he’d like to, ever. He’s pretty sure he’s not imagining things; if they’re not already, then it’s only a matter of time before they start dating. But he hates that he can see it in them, quiet and reserved, because it means anyone can see it in him, when he’s with Kou.
… Aside from the idiot himself, of course.
He’s grateful for that, in a way, just as much as he hates it; as he’s learned to live with it.
Neither Mei nor Sakura tell him to leave in any way, and he chooses to ignore both of them at some point onwards. Not like they were paying attention to him in the first place; lost in whatever Mei is doodling.
And that’s fine, he finds, even if it leaves him alone with his thoughts and all of them scream Kou’s name at him and the ways they’re as similar as different to who he’s looking at (you’re more obvious, way more obvious, they chant; Sousuke hates how right they are).
No last exploration around the hospital and no last time being escorted to their respective rooms by staff late at night with Mei. She insisted everything he could’ve seen he already had, and he believes her. He changes out of his hospital gown and walks across the front door without any reason to come back (except he told Mei he’d come see her next time she’s in, swore on it).
The long sleeves around both his arms feel like a blessing; warm, comfortable and pink; no more ugly colors, no more hair stuck to his skull that doesn’t smell the smallest hint of vanilla, no more having to see his bandaged arm dangling at his side unless he wants to (and he does not). His clothes smell of fresh laundry and strawberry, not of bleach. He feels better already.
As Yui finishes up whatever she’s doing inside, Sousuke kicks a rock a few feet away with the sneakers his mom helped him tie up and thinks about a long, hot bath waiting for him at home, thinks about finally seeing Kinako again, in front of him, nothing like the cute pictures and videos his mom sent him over the weeks. And, for some reason, he thinks of Kou once more, despite having seen him pretty much every day (he tells himself it’s because he lent one of his favorite hoodies to the idiot and he still hasn’t given it back. Sousuke hasn’t asked for it either but Kou should know. He’s not hoping to see him wearing it again one day or anything).
Hoodie up, he can’t feel the drizzle against his skin and he’s sure it barely soaks in. The clouds are here to stay and they warn about an upcoming storm, but right now, he can safely stand outside the hospital and breathe in air that doesn’t smell of rubbing alcohol.
“Ready to go?” Yui places a hand on his shoulder, and he’s never heard a dumber question.
“I never want to come back. I’ll sleep for twenty hours when we get home,” she laughs, but Sousuke is completely serious; even the thought of his bed is enough to turn his eyelids ten times heavier.
“Take a bath first, I won’t complain about how long it takes you, just this once,” the walk to the car feels endless, stomach growing heavy for some reason. “as long as you don’t decide to take your twenty-hour nap there.”
When Yui unlocks the doors to the car, the click they make freezes Sousuke’s hand in place. Barely an inch away from the copilot door’s handle, his fingers stop responding. Already inside the car, he can see his mom looking at him with a puzzled expression, slowly growing into dread.
The backseat looks much more appealing; easier to get into, his hand doubts but is able to pull on the handle with enough force to open it.
“Are you alright?” the car feels heavy on his shoulders, that’s all.
He doesn’t remember anything about how he lost his hand; he doesn’t want to remember, and yet- maybe he does. It should be fine as long as he doesn’t try to climb into the copilot seat for the time being… probably.
“Yeah, I just… I don’t know.”
Sousuke doesn’t ask; Yui doesn’t say and the car drives on.
Socks on carpet never were something Sousuke thought he’d miss as much as he finds out he does not even a minute after arriving at his house. A familiar weight against his leg, though, is. Down there, shedding all over his pants, is Kinako. Light hairs are clearly visible on grey; not so much on the pink of his sweater when he cradles his cat close to his chest. The bastard doesn’t really like it, but he hasn’t seen him in almost a month, that should be enough reason not to be too much of a bastard today.
“Did you miss me?” the purring is a good answer. Sousuke smiles bigger than he finds himself already doing.
Today, there’s no loud complains, no scratches or bites on his sleeves, no eagerness to jump back onto the floor, for five minutes longer than usual. Walking back to his room for the first time in what feels like ages is not easy when Kinako keeps running between his legs mid-step, but he manages.
With one goal in mind, the door to his room flings open and he launches himself at his bed without a second thought. Between the countless plushies, pink and white pillows; this is right where he belongs. His room is nothing if not the place that better puts him at ease, it’s the one and only place that is truly his. There’s pictures and notes hanging from the walls, of everything that he’s ever cared about, there’s a potted plant on the windowsill that Yui managed to keep alive all this time, somehow, there’s barely enough space in the bed for him to sleep comfortably at night if he doesn’t place at least half his plushies on top of his desk, there’s photo albums within reach and maybe it’s too much of a window to his mind, more than he’d like it to be. Not like this, not in full display. But that’s the way it is, that’s the only way he feels like the place belongs to him. So nobody else is allowed inside if he can help it, he won’t make that mistake twice.
Kou Minamoto stares away from the camera in more pictures than Sousuke cares to count, and even he has to beg to be let in; no one else stands a chance.
There’s a sudden weight beside him, that travels straight to his back before he has the time to move, and just like that, he’s trapped; secured in place for the time being.
Kinako was surely overfeed in Sousuke’s absence and now his backbone pays the price. Sousuke still has to dump on himself half a bottle of every hair and body product in his bathroom and his cat has no consideration for how much he needs his fluffy hair back. His hair strands stick to one another and down his neck, they smell like bleach at best and the rest of him is no better.
What may as well have been hours later, Kinako finally moves his heavy body away from him and into the kitchen at the sound of his food hitting the bowl. Into the bathroom, under the familiar lights, close to the mirror, Sousuke stares back at a reflection that looks nothing close to cute.
Almost a month at the hospital did no good to him whatsoever; endless nights awake left bags under his eyes he might have to sleep a whole uninterrupted week to fix, he looks like he hasn’t showered in decades and, besides the sink, there’s one less support point than it should be. There’s no trace left of the scraped nail polish, somehow there’s dirt clinging to his nails and it’s time to fix that for good.
Washing, combing and drying are no easy tasks with how things are now, but Sousuke Mitsuba is the cutest boy in the entire world and he’s determined not to leave room for any doubt about it. One side of his hair drips down on his shoulder more than the other and trying to style his hair is out of the question once it dries out but he’s always looked better with his hair down anyway.
When his phone rings not even five minutes after the time he knows to be the end of class, he hates that he has no doubt about who it is (and, more than he hates that he’s not even surprised, he hates that he doesn’t hate it). He takes up until the last possible second to answer; the idiot should know better than to call him like he’s desperate to hang out with him or something.
“What do you want?”
Before he’s done asking, a loud, excited voice speaks over him: “You left the hospital today, right? Can I come over?”
Sousuke’s heart does not feel like it’s been pumped and he does not want that idiot near him after having him on his back almost every day for the past weeks. Doesn’t he know better than to be so clingy? That’s why Sousuke can’t stand him.
“How about no?” Lying is always easier for him and Kou has known him for long enough. “You’ve already stalked me for weeks, why would I want you in my house, creep?”
Yui leaves for work in half an hour at most, the voices in the TV never speak to him, Kinako is a great listener but Sousuke has nothing to say- scoffing is easier than enthusiastically telling Kou to hurry up…
And he’s lucky he doesn’t have to. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Do you want anything from the convenience store?”
Sousuke never doubts a word Kou says.
“Bring anything, I’m starving.”
To acknowledge that time moves slower while waiting for Kou to arrive would be to lose. Against who, Sousuke doesn’t know, but the feeling is the same nonetheless. To pass the time, he tries to dry off his hair once more, throws a ball at a sleeping Kinako who only death glares him before falling back asleep, and sinks into one of the couches in the living room while Yui finishes getting ready to leave.
“Kou- Minamoto-kun is coming,” his attempt at correcting himself is utterly useless at this point in more ways than one and the only thing Yui does to remind him of it is snicker.
“Okay, just make sure he doesn’t leave without an umbrella, it looks like it’ll rain soon.”
“I’m not his babysitter!” if the idiot is going to get sick again, then so be it.
“But you care about him, don’t you?”
Sousuke doesn’t humor her smile, looking away and sinking down further into the couch. He knows she’s smiling bigger by the second, anyway, he doesn’t need to look.
All this; everything, makes him feel like falling back into normalcy is a close reality, that washing his hair doesn’t take longer than it used to and that he doesn’t depend on anyone else to paint his nails, that his handwriting is as pretty as it’s always been and that Kou Minamoto hasn’t done all his homework for the past weeks (and most likely none of his own).
He can wear as much pink as he wants now, away from the blue hospital gowns for good (for good, he’ll make sure of it), and that’s good. He feels like himself again. His drying hair smells like strawberries and doesn’t stick to his head anymore, gaining volume little by little, and he is home, after all.
“Bye, Sousuke,” his mom says, lightly tapping his head as she goes, making him turn around. “have fun!”
“Like I could have fun with him here,” nothing he says ever wipes the smile and smug eyes off from her face and he hates it because that’s the expression he wears the most around Kou.
Yui’s shoes echo against the tiles when she puts them on, the latch clicks upon itself- but the door doesn’t immediately close like it ought to.
“Oh,” she says, prompting Sousuke to step away from the couch and peek.
What stands outside, before his mom, happens to be no other than Kou.
“Sorry,” is what he says, because he’s an idiot.
“Don’t worry Minamoto-kun, come in, Sousuke is waiting for you,” the truth is always harder; Sousuke can’t stand it.
“No, I’m not!”
He gets ignored, though. “Good thing we met today,” she says, “I was thinking about inviting you for dinner one of these days; as a thank you for always keeping Sousuke company. Let me know when you’d be free, if that’s okay with you!”
“Saturday should be fine, probably! Uh…” Sousuke is not staring at him, he just happens to catch the moment he tilts his head to the side, deep in thought (if he’s even able to do that). “Yeah, dad’s not coming this weekend, Saturday should be fine!”
A nod on both their parts, no questions asked to Sousuke, the most important person present, and Yui waves her hand at the two of them before closing the door behind her back.
In less than it takes to blink, Kou is sitting right by his side on the couch, mismatched socks and all. “Here, brought you lunch.”
“This doesn’t look like you bought it at the convenience store, though,” it looks just like the homemade meals Kou makes for him when he actually shows up to class.
“Because I made you one this morning. Went to the convenience store for some juice,” he hands Sousuke a plastic bag, a chilled can of peach juice inside.
He hates Kou Minamoto. He hates that he can’t stop thinking about him.
“Thanks, I guess.”
Taking the first sip, he notices there’s something else on the couch, right at Kou’s side, something a familiar shade of pink and white.
“Is that-?” pointing at it, the question feels unnecessary, there really isn’t any other thing it could be.
“Yeah, thanks for lending it to me, I already washed it!”
Kou’s smile is blinding. Sousuke has known for years now. He still is just as unable to look away as the first time, if not more.
“Hope you didn’t do anything weird with it,” he snatches it from Kou’s hands but his smile doesn’t falter. It’s contagious.
But Kou doesn’t answer to him like he normally would, busy petting Kinako, who somehow got onto his lap without Sousuke noticing. There’s a lot of reasons he hates Kou Minamoto. One of them is the fact that he steals his cat’s attention.
If Kinako follows Sousuke around pretty much everywhere he goes, he will beg for Kou to carry him everywhere he goes, he will sit right beside him and paw at his hand or leg to get his attention and pets and it just isn’t fair.
Kou is the sun, Sousuke wants to bask in the warmth of his smile more than he’ll ever admit out loud and his cat can’t want the same. It’s his cat for a reason. He’s known him longer, he took him out of the street himself, he saw him gain weight and trained him to talk back at him, Kou can’t just show up one day years ago and become his favorite.
Kinako doesn’t understand what Sousuke wants and probably wouldn’t care either way, so he keeps purring on top of Kou’s lap as Sousuke munches away the food Kou gave him.
A phone rings. It’s not Sousuke’s, he’d never have such a lame ringtone. As the creep he is, Kou picks up in less than a second. “Satou?”
“Didn’t you forget something?” of course Kou has his volume high enough Sousuke can hear the voice on the other end perfectly fine, even from where he’s sitting.
“Huh? No, I don’t think-“
“Then why am I holding your bag right now?”
Over his food, Sousuke can see the second Kou’s expression shifts as he looks around the room, tracing his own steps until the doorway- where there’s no bag, no, but there it is, the umbrella Yui gave to him days ago.
What an idiot.
“Open the door already, we’ve been standing here for almost five minutes,” Kou looks right back at him, for neither of them heard the doorbell. Not now, not five minutes ago.
“We’re outside your house. We didn’t come all the way here for nothing!”
“… I’m at Mitsuba’s, though,” silence, in this end and the other, if it wasn’t for Sousuke’s chewing, flooding his own ears.
“We’re not walking all the way there! We’ll throw your bag over the fence and that’s it!”
“Won’t it get wet?” Yokoo’s voice, a little further away, asks.
Truly, Sousuke couldn’t care less about what happens to Kou’s things, least of all his school supplies. So, the image of Yokoo and Satou (probably the former, since Satou has quite the same noodle arms as him) launching Kou’s bag into his front yard is pretty funny. What isn’t funny, though-
“Now how are you gonna do my homework, huh?” there’s only one reason for Kou to be here and he won’t even do it? Sousuke should kick him out; make him go fetch his bag or something, at least.
“Oh!” Sousuke can see the moment his eyes light up; as clear and as blinding as the sky is above the clouds. “Can you tell me what today’s homework is?”
A messily handwritten list, an ended call and a trip to Sousuke’s room to fetch his books later, he keeps his cheek slumped against the table as Kou scribbles away, eyebrows knitted together behind his glasses, certainly not concerned about wrinkles. What kind of luck does Kou have to bring in his pocket the glasses he always forgets but not his entire bag?
As big of an idiot as he is…
The table isn’t cold on his cheek anymore, the way his right sleeve dangles over his head a mere way to shield his eyes from Kou. He sits in front of Sousuke, unaware of more things than just the right way to solve a chemistry quiz. He’s an eyesore, that’s why Sousuke doesn’t want to look at him, there’s no other reason.
Problem is that he is looking, Kou is just too dumb or too focused to notice. There’s a bruise on his nose. Sousuke is sure he gave it to himself by running straight into a pole because it wouldn’t be the first time. His hair shifts lightly from time to time, that awful bed hair of his that is as spiky as it looks like. Specially against Sousuke’s neck when he sets his head on his shoulder, or against his forearms that time a ball knocked him out cold and Sousuke barely fought Satou’s idea of letting Kou’s head rest on his lap. Spiky and not soft at all; that’s exactly how Kou’s hair is. It doesn’t blind him to look right at it against the sunset, he does not run his fingers through it whenever he can and claims it to be an attempt to detangle it; he sure as hell doesn’t like who it is attached to.
A loud, lazy meow is the only warning he gets before Kinako jumps on the table.
But Kinako is not here for Sousuke (cats are ungrateful bastards that don’t even like you no matter how much you spoil them or how much you care for them), he immediately gravitates towards Kou, stepping on Sousuke’s books without a care in the world. It’s happened countless times before so Sousuke doesn’t bat an eye; doesn’t try to get the fucker’s attention; he just watches as Kou finally looks up from his work (he’s also given up on trying to make him multitask. As lonely as it gets, talking to Kou instead of letting him do his homework won’t help him graduate middle school), and is greeted by a paw on his face that snatches the glasses clean off of him.
Good. Sousuke doesn’t like how Kou looks with them. Not one bit. At all. Lying is always easier and there’s no way he’ll admit there’s something eye-catching about Kou in glasses (not even to himself).
Laughing at him doesn’t count. No matter how his laugh sounds; he’s making fun of him and nothing more.
“Hey!” Kou complains, like he shouldn’t have been expecting it from the start.
Putting them back on would be stupid. That’s exactly what Kou does.
“Take a hint, would you.” Sousuke raises his head from the table. “He’s telling you you look ugly with those on.”
“I need them to do your homework, though.”
“But are you doing it right now?”
Kou blinks a couple times. He looks clueless and Sousuke hates how hard it is to look away. Sousuke hates a lot of things, most of them seem to relate to Kou Minamoto, someone who calls himself his best friend and… he’s never disagreed from the bottom of his heart, has he?
“Do you hate them that much?” the sentence ends with some nibbling on the pencil he’s holding. Both arms resting on top of the table, folded until one of his hands travels to Kinako’s head.
A small part of Sousuke wants to say that, no, maybe he looks a little cute like that (only a little), but that would take too much work and Kou isn’t cute at all. The way one of his canines pokes out as he waits for Sousuke to answer does not make things easier.
“You don’t look cute; bet I’d look cuter with them,” only when the glasses are on his face and the world around him distorts in little ways, is that he remembers how many times he’s done the same exact thing.
Just like every time before, Kou stares at him from his side of the table, a hand on Kinako’s back, a soft, if only a little bit annoyed smile- and there’s something about all that that makes Sousuke freeze right where he’s sitting.
“They suit you,” Kou nods.
But Sousuke is a coward and Kou’s smile sets off every alarm in his head. “Everything suits me; you should know that already.”
Kinako moves away at every attempt Sousuke does to pet him, rubbing all over Kou without even looking at him; that’s how it’s been since the bastard met him but it never makes Sousuke any less mad. He raised the fucker and he’ll just go and choose Kou over him?
“He might as well be your cat at this point,” he scoffs, arms folded before his chest.
“Huh? But I’m sure he’s the same with you when I’m not here.”
Finally, Sousuke is graced with a glace from his bastard cat, who only seems to do so to prove Kou right. And he might be, but he doesn’t get to point it out.
“Well, he isn’t. He completely ditched me for you!”
“Did you?” he asks, and Kinako lets out some sort of vaguely sad meow, Sousuke doesn’t trust him one bit. “See? He says he loves you too!”
“You a catboy now?”
It’s too much. Kou’s blinding smile as he holds Kinako close to him is more than Sousuke can take. Would he be fast enough? His phone is already on top of the table, just a few inches away from his grasp, the camera won’t take longer than a second to open- maybe Kou won’t notice.
Even if he does, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?
It wouldn’t be the first time Sousuke’s been caught in the middle of taking a picture of him, as much as it annoys him to admit it.
He’s not as fast as he used to, not as he is right now. But Kou doesn’t move away, smiling bigger and brighter instead; Sousuke can barely put his finger in the right place.
Sousuke Mitsuba only takes pictures of things that are important to him; things he likes (he thinks about the Minamoto siblings’ portraits as a huge exception), his camera roll is full of Kinako sunbathing and whatnot, pretty flowers on the sidewalk, cute cats and dogs he met once at the park, butterflies and ladybugs he was lucky enough to catch midflight, birds nesting on top of trees or chasing each other along railings. His camera roll is full of things he likes, be it his phone or his actual camera. Kou Minamoto has a place in both more times than Sousuke cares to count. He too, sits amongst pretty flowers by the sidewalk and unknown friendly cats as well as Kinako himself, finding a warm place to sit on his lap.
The shutter sound goes off, Kou’s smile and Kinako’s big eyes light up his phone’s screen and he’s okay with Kou knowing there’s pictures of his ugly earring scattered around in Sousuke’s folders, once in a while.
“Do you like it?” Kou asks him, as Kinako sits up against his hand, looking for attention.
“Your earring kinda ruins it,” there’s something about Kou, something Sousuke doesn’t think he deserves. It’s become painfully obvious with time that, for a crybaby like him, someone so oblivious to everything else that still never takes his mean words to heart (someone who gets what he means even when lying comes easier), is more than he ever thought he’d find in a friend. “… but, I guess I do.” ”I guess I like you” he swallows back down.
Kou is more than he ever thought he’d find in a friend and he can’t ruin it. Not like this, not any other way.
Rain is a good sound to fall asleep to. Apparently Sousuke takes a little too long to get back from the bathroom and when he does, Kou is slumped against the table, probably drooling all over Sousuke’s homework. Kinako doesn’t seem to care, his own face resting against Kou’s cheek.
“What are you so tired for?” he asks him, not actually expecting an answer.
Taking the cap of a marker and doodling on the visible parts of Kou’s face and arms would be easy, he could laugh at him when he wakes up and take a lot of pictures to make fun of him with for years to come.
Walking back to his room to fetch a scarf and wrap it over Kou’s shoulders is significantly less fun. Sousuke doesn’t let that stop him from taking pictures anyway.
The idiot should have a little more consideration for him. Now the house is silent and the music coming from his earphones just isn’t the same as messing with Kou over dumb things. Still, he doesn’t even consider waking him up.
His eyelashes twitch from time to time and they might not be as cute or as long as Sousuke’s own but he finds himself staring. Kou is always full of energy and ready to go at any given moment, if he fell asleep so fast and soundly, chances are he really needs it.
That’s why, instead of disturbing him, he sits down on the chair next to him and finally gives in to the need to run his fingers through his hair. After all, it’s not like Sousuke hasn’t woken up to Kou doing the same many times before. “It looked soft!” is an excuse that should only have worked the first time around; Sousuke has never called him out on it, not even years later. He doesn’t plan to, either.
But he’s never safe, not even in his own home, is he?
“Looking after him?” his earphone falls off at just the right time for him to guess the sentence. Identifying the familiar voice is no problem at all.
What is a problem is everything else. His hand on Kou’s hair, in the middle of pulling some strands loose from one another; the smile he has to force down his own mouth in exchange for knitted eyebrows and a scoff that does absolutely nothing for the way his face burns or what his mom already saw (less for what she already knows). It’s all Kou’s fault. For coming over and for falling asleep, for being his friend and for being his friend.
He yanks his hand away (he takes care of untangling his fingers before pulling too hard, so does it even count as yanking?) and, stuffing his hand in his pocket, he meets Yui’s eyes. “Like I would do that.”
On his short trip into Sousuke’s room, Kou picked up a single thing out of the ordinary: his camera wasn’t on his nightstand. A quick and curious look around gave away its new spot, up on a high shelf, collecting dust beside old albums Sousuke doesn’t like to look at anymore. He got ushered out as fast as he followed him in and soon he was making his way through complicated chemistry equations, no time to lose thinking about high shelves or empty nightstands. Spread across his bed, however, nothing but his phone’s screen reflecting on his face, he knows something is wrong.
Sousuke has been taking pictures anyway, right? If only with his phone. But Kou has seen him, that has to mean things are at least okay, right?
The countless times Sousuke has talked about things Kou never quite understands but vaguely holds onto tell him that things could be… better. That Sousuke is not more of himself just because he’s wearing his oversized pink hoodies, pastel socks and glittery lip gloss again, not when the camera he never leaves behind sits high on a shelf, collecting dust beside stuff he barely looks at anymore.
Blue light turns off; Kou’s been looking at the screen without actually looking for way too long now, it seems. He doesn’t try to turn it on again, phone falling on the mattress right by his head-
How can he make things right? If there’s anything he can do for Sousuke (and there has to be, there always is), then he better do it as soon as possible. There’s no time for sleeping, not even way past midnight, not if he wants to find a way to help him. And he does. There’s nothing else he could want.
Sousuke’s camera, glued to his hands, dear to him as it is to Kou (Sousuke lets him peak from time to time, hold it and try to take a picture of him, claiming he looks too cute for it to go to waste, entrusting it to him), never heavy on any trip, one more thing to love- Sousuke’s camera, chipped and scratched, covered in dust, up on a shelf (covered in dust Kou doesn’t mind wiping away with his own shirt; up on a shelf Kou could reach if he tried, if Sousuke doesn’t feel like it).
So how can he make things right? (Should he even try to?)
“Kou?” somehow morning creeps upon him faster than expected. Kou finds himself standing in the kitchen and barely remembers how he got there. “I think they’re burning.”
Over his shoulder, Teru points at the eggs in the pan, sizzling and, admittedly, a little darker than usual.
“Oh crap, you’re right!” eggs on the plate, stove turned all the way off, the three of them sit at the table. “Sorry about this.”
Tiara seems too distracted to even notice and Teru happily chews away just as any other morning.
“Nothing to worry about, they taste just fine,” as good as that is to hear, Kou would rather the eggs weren’t burned. He’d rather a lot of things were different, actually. Though, that’s a whole another story. “Now, will you tell me what’s bothering you?”
“Me? Nothing’s bothering me! I was just… distracted, I guess.”
A raised eyebrow and another bite to his food later, Teru sets an elbow on the table. “Is that so?” just when Kou is about to reply, he continues: “You already know you’re terrible at lying, Kou. What’s wrong?”
“… Well,” when he puts it like that, trying to avoid the topic becomes stupid, in a way. “it’s just that Mitsuba- he’s been feeling a little down and, he doesn’t even look like he wants to take pictures with his camera anymore, I saw it covered in dust on a shelf. That’s never happened before…” it just isn’t right.
“Like he doesn’t want to use it anymore?”
The thought makes Kou’s stomach drop, but he nods.
Teru brings a hand under his chin, narrow eyes wandering left and right. Ultimately, he says nothing.
“Take him to the park,” Tiara joins through a mouthful of rice. “that always works!”
Wanted or not, Kou looks right at Teru for a reaction. Something that tells him it’s a good enough idea, that maybe it’ll work; something to cling to. “You’re right, Tiara. Maybe he just needs some fresh air after being at the hospital for so long and he’ll find something worth photographing there.”
Tiara looks at him with her big, expectant eyes until words settle in his mind and he smiles, bright and wide: “That’ll work!”
Right now, though, he better push it all the way to the back of his mind; an entire class schedule ahead.
Ultimately, Sousuke plagues his mind more than he should.
“Weird” and “unnatural” are words he never thought he’d hear coming from Sousuke, not when asked how holding his camera felt; why it was sitting so high up on a dusty shelf. What Kou did expect, was the quick turn down to his offer. One, two, three times. Until Saturday came and suddenly Sousuke didn’t feel like spending all day inside his house and had been expecting Kou for hours now, despite not saying anything about it. He puts on his shoes as fast as possible anyway, because Sousuke is waiting for him right now, camera dangling from his neck.
“Let’s go!” he greets from below the metal staircase to Sousuke’s apartment, where he sits, long hair flowing free.
The metal clinks under heavy steps but Sousuke looks more anxious than mad, fingers twitching around the lens he never quite grasps.
It’s no surprise when he doesn’t talk or react much to any of Kou’s suggestions; when he brushes them off before he has any time to explain, ignores his gaze and quickens his step. It feels a little like he’s running away, like he doesn’t want to be here at all… because that’s exactly what’s happening. Kou doesn’t push after Sousuke walks a solid 4 feet ahead of him and keeps his head hanging low, doesn’t ask him to slow down or listen- but he talks.
“Bet there won’t be many people when we get there; maybe we’ll see some cool birds!”
“… I have enough bird pictures.”
“Maybe a dog or a cat, then?” one stride longer than the rest isn’t enough to catch up but it does bring him a little closer.
“I don’t want to take pictures of animals today, they’ll just move and ruin it.”
“Oh! There’s some pretty flowers near the back, they planted them recently and I haven’t seen them anywhere before.”
Sousuke stops in the middle of a step. So fast that Kou passes him for a couple inches. “Fine… I guess.”
“I don’t really know what they are but-”
“Like you’ve ever known anything about flowers,” an eye roll and a weak chuckle later, Sousuke starts walking again.
This time, Kou doesn’t need to make an effort to catch up to him.
“Are you shivering?” below a raised eyebrow and a good portion of hair covering his face, Sousuke straightens up his back from here he sits, close to the flowerbeds.
Indeed, the long sleeved shirt he’s wearing isn’t as cozy as Sousuke’s pastel pink, skull printed hoodie or his scarf. And the wind in this corner of the park seems fiercer than anywhere else, but he can stand it, rubbing his hands up and down his arms does the job just fine.
Sousuke doesn’t think the same; something soft hits him right in the face, sliding down into his hands.
“Wear that, I have enough with this,” he points his chin down at his sweater and looks away at the flowerbeds once again.
It’s not the first time Kou’s worn Sousuke’s scarf. It’s not the first time he’s been giving it on his own. It’s not the first time, either, that Kou has put it on without a question and raised his shoulders to bring it closer to his face.
Sousuke’s clothes might smell the same as always (fresh laundry, something sweet right at the end), but the shutter of his camera goes off less times than Kou can count on one hand and, instead of teasing him about every little thing and asking Kou to go away so his shadow doesn’t mess up his pictures, he keeps silent and still. Still, except for his arms.
He’s always been proud of his steady hand; always brags about it to Kou or anyone that’d listen when he’s in the middle of taking pictures-
Today, his arms shake side to side, up and down- “Ugh!” The camera hits him straight in the chest at the same time his hand and sleeve hide his face from view.
Kou freezes on the spot. Is he crying? His shoulders aren’t shaking like they do when he cries but… could he be crying anyway? His hand is fixed in place but he needs to reach out. Did he bring Sousuke here just to make it all worse? Wouldn’t it been better to not do anything at all, to not force him to be here, to-?
“Nothing looks the way I want! It’s just a stupid flower picture, it should-!”
“Let’s take a break! Wait for me on that bench, okay?”
Mouth closed, feet dragging on the ground; a nod and a deep breath, he does as he’s told without a complain. Kou can still make things right, somehow. He can’t let Sousuke down, not today (not ever, but specially not today).
In front of the vending machine, Kou is lucky to find enough change in his pockets for a can of peach juice to bring back to Sousuke. Kicking the pebbles in his way seems crucial to the process, so he doesn’t stop himself from doing so.
Away, sitting right in the middle of the bench under a big tree, is Sousuke, messing with his camera settings on his lap. There’s barely a hint of the frown that plagued his entire face minutes before; it eases the pressure in Kou’s chest, a weight off his shoulders that helps him get there quicker.
“Here,” he offers the can, ready for Sousuke to snatch with a vaguely mean comment that doesn’t mean anything but thank you.
But he doesn’t. “Thanks.”
Nothing if not the sound of Sousuke’s nails hammering the sides of the can in something that seems to resemble some kind of rhythm, they sit in silence. The leaves overhead casting shadows on both their figures, crackling like a fire waiting to happen. This isn’t right. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be and Kou can’t fix it. His attempt at it has only brought… whatever this is. It just isn’t right.
Last time he was in Sousuke’s place was just the way it’s supposed to; did he makes matters even worse? Is this all because of him? Of his insistence on him picking his camera back up? Because it’s what he thought was right?
“Is it because your hand shakes so much?” he asks through pursed lips.
Sousuke looks at him over the can resting against his mouth, tightly gripped in his hand, as if he’s holding onto it for a completely different reason.
“It isn’t the same, not like this. I just can’t find a way to support it the way I used to. So… everything turns out like shit.”
If Sousuke doesn’t seem to enjoy the thing he’s loved ever since they met, then… then what is Kou supposed to do? Should he just have left it alone from the start? But why can’t he just drop it now? Walk him back home and wish him luck for another day- that just isn’t how things work.
“If there’s anything I can do…”
Sousuke takes a long sip from the can, looking anywhere but Kou’s eyes. “You? As if you know anything about photography.” The scoff, the shifting weight from shoulder to shoulder; Kou can’t help the smile that lifts both corners of his mouth. “Why are you smiling, creep? Bet you just thought of some gross thing you can do to me!”
“Shut up. I just thought… you looked more like yourself, for a moment.”
Like the air was knocked clean out of him, Sousuke drops the can at his feet just to step on it with his full weight, standing up from the bench to pick it back up. “I guess there’s something you can do for me.”
Kou’s idea of helping him take pictures didn’t include him getting constantly hit on the arm for not standing still enough, or Sousuke slipping between his arms as if he were a frame. In hindsight, maybe he should’ve expected it. If the problem was mostly that Sousuke couldn’t keep the camera steady enough with only one hand, then it just made sense for Kou to be his hands. It doesn’t help the fact that Sousuke is that close to him, though.
“You suck at this! Can’t you even try to hold it still? At this point I think I do it better than you on my own!”
“Are you, really?”
Face to face (inches away from each other, closer than they probably should be), Kou can’t miss a single detail from Sousuke’s smile: the way it starts off as an attempt to look smug, glittery lips raising more on one side, but quickly melts into something less prepared, as his eyes lose the determination and start looking for something on Kou’s shoulder, then the ground, he tries to speak again but fails. And his smile picks up again.
“Anyway! That dog looks cute, hurry before he moves from beside the flowers… or decides to take a piss or something.”
In the end, today’s pictures are the worst thing Sousuke’s ever seen, only comparable to something he would’ve done back when he first picked up a camera for the very first time. Wonky framing and blurry in all the wrong places, lopsided and overall trash, he hates them so much he doubts they’re even worth a spot on his laptop’s memory. There’s something that steers him away from the idea of deleting them for good right as he passes them, though, and is the memory of Kou behind his back, doing his best to drag him out his house, and keep a steady hand and get the dust off his camera. He succeeded at two of those, Sousuke will give him that. He doubts he’d ever forget it even if the pictures disappeared for good but, something that reminds him of it like that isn’t that bad, even if they all suck and take up space for nothing, he holds onto them as he would the ones that make him the proudest.
It’s not all bad; he’s better as he is, on his own, than Kou will ever be even with both his hands, he knows that now.
“So? How do they look?” Kou peeks from his right side, almost leaning on his shoulder.
That’s not what he’s trying to do at all, Sousuke knows that. Acting like he doesn’t won’t take him anywhere- and Kou would lean down on his shoulder if he really wanted to, like he’s done countless times before.
“They suck,” he declares; there’s no reason to pretend. Although… “but, it’s a start.”
That’s enough to bring Kou’s blinding smile to the surface, as he already missed it. If the sun itself is no match for it, the grey clouds overhead never stood a chance.
Such a smile only belongs in Kou Minamoto’s face, so it clings to him even when a dog running around in front of them catches his eye. What if is something Sousuke never thinks about anymore when it comes to taking pictures of one ugly earring and the idiot that insists it’s too important to take it off. Distracted as he is; focused as Sousuke is, holding up the camera, his right arm as support, is not more of a challenge as it would be to hold it the same way months ago. The lighting sucks and it won’t ever be between his best pictures, but it’s Kou, smiling brighter than any star ever could and that’s enough to make it hold a special place in his heart. As stupid as it sounds.
And if the idiot notices, he doesn’t say a word.
Before leaving the gates to the park, there’s only one thing that feels right; waiting at the tip of his tongue to slip out. It doesn’t taste like bile, but feels right to stop holding onto it. Lying has always come easier to him. Here, standing right at the gates, Kou waiting for him two steps away, he could call him an idiot and make a run for his house, hoping that’s enough to shake the necessity off of his shoulders. Lying would be harder than telling the truth; maybe there’s exceptions to the rule (Kou has been the exception to the rule for longer than Sousuke would like to admit).
An idiot like him deserves to hear something like that (something so painfully obvious) once in a while, after all. “… Maybe you helped me, a little,” he bites the insides of his cheeks when Kou looks right at him, eyes lit up like a star. Somehow it doesn’t deter him from his next words: “Thank you, Kou.”
LOOK AT THE FANART FOR THIS CHAPTER HERE !!!