There is a laughing hairball in the seat beside hers.
"Who are you?" Mutsu demands, dropping her file onto her desk. A pale hand reaches up to push back dark, curly hair and a face turns up towards her, sky-blue eyes set in a freckled face, grin splitting his expression in two.
"Ahaha! My name's Tatsuma, Sakamoto Tatsuma! Nice to meet you!"
"Mutsu," she says. "Why are you here?"
"I just transferred to this school! Please take care of me, ahaha!"
Mutsu hums and settles beside him. She's never thought that greeting made much sense - "You should take care of yourself, instead of asking people to do it for you," she says, and he laughs.
He's loud, the sound ringing across the classroom like the bell that rings at the end of each class, so Mutsu tells him that he's noisy, shut up. Seven in the morning is far too early for his noise.
He laughs again, defiantly loud, so she knocks him out with her textbook and starts on her work.
"Where's your scarf?" she asks, when Sakamoto drops into the seat beside her on a bitterly cold winter day. He's shivering a little even in the classroom's cozy warmth.
"Ahaha, Mutsu, you noticed!"
"Shut up and answer the question." He's annoying, Mutsu thinks. He laughs too loud and his voice carries too far and he makes something out of every nothing.
"I gave it to a street kid! She needed it more."
"Idiot," Mutsu says, half confusion and half disbelief. "You're going to freeze."
"Nah, 'course I won't! I don't freeze so easily!"
A week later he comes in without his gloves, and his fingers are blue with cold. Mutsu glares at him as he rubs his head and laughs; "I told you to take care of yourself," she snaps. "Are you expecting us to do it for you?"
"No," Sakamoto says, too easily, smiling despite the confusion that's crept into his eyes. "Ahaha! Why would I expect ya to look after me? I'm a grown boy!"
"Not grown enough, if you can't even bring your gloves to school."
"I brought them, I just gave them away!"
"Did they make it to the school?"
"Then it doesn't count," Mutsu says, and turns back to her work.
"Ahaha, that's not fair-"
(Sometime during their first block, he begins to shiver, and his teeth chatter so hard Mutsu can't hear the teacher's words. He also keeps reaching over with cold-pale fingers to grab her correction tape because he's either forgotten or given away his own.
Those are the only reasons why she grabs his arms and wraps his hands in her abandoned scarf, tucking all blue-tinted fingers beneath the folds of warm fabric and tying the whole thing up so he couldn't get out of the scarf if he tried.)
There is a scar on Sakamoto's right arm, a puckered line of raised tissue marring his forearm, thick and twisted. Sakamoto catches her looking at it, tucks it back beneath his coat's faded blue sleeve.
"I got in a car accident," he says, grinning, but his eyes are shadowed and his smile is lost.
"Trying to help someone?" Mutsu asks, and when he laughs the sound is choked and painful.
"Yeah," he says, and looks away. "Trying ta!"
Mutsu takes the hint and drops the subject; smacks him on his shoulder with her book and says she bets he forgot the homework again, but she didn't, so he'd better move over and let her get it done; tells him to stop trying to copy her work when he leans over, laughing, to peer at her answers. (She's fairly certain he doesn't notice the way she cants her arm out to let him cheat anyway, but she does see him scribbling down her answers from the corner of her eye.)
Sakamoto disappears from school in the middle of summer; returns three days later exactly the same. Mutsu lifts her file to sift through her two thousand neatly-organized worksheets as he settles into his seat beside her, laughing. "Mutsu! I've missed ya, how's it been?"
"Peaceful," Mutsu says, finding the work she's been looking for. "A lot quieter."
"Ahaha! That sounds boring!"
She looks up, and she's staring into sapphires.
Oh, Mutsu thinks, that's not right. Sakamoto's eyes are hard - sharp and chipped where they should be deep and unending; steely sapphire stone instead of the endless sky. Mutsu's fingers still around the stack of paper and she looks at him, taking in the shadows in his eyes and grin, the dark bruises beneath his eyes.
She wrestles with herself for a moment, then relents and dumps his homework and the notes she took for him onto his table, a neat stack easily fifty pages thick. "It was," she says, watching his expression go blank and surprised, like he wasn't expecting the response. "Don't do it again."
Sakamoto smiles, crooked and a little odd, like an old thing he forgot how to use - and his eyes go a little softer, losing that strange edge to fade into something cottony and gentle and shining bright. "Ahaha," he says, and his laugh is a little softer, a little more uncertain. His smile is fragile and strange like a scraggly baby bird, crooked and thin and uncertain but so full of gentle softness and warmth.
Mutsu squashes the strange aching heat in her chest; snorts and reminds him that they have another test today.
"I got in the car accident trying to save a kid," Sakamoto says at lunch one day, grinning like he's going to cry. It is a day for regrets and memories and confessions; he's just stumbled into the realisation that Mutsu's father is gone, that her whole family is gone, leaving her to manage the family business and juggle school at the same time. Mutsu doesn't miss her father much, the capitalistic bastard who always told her that no, she had to be better, smarter, greater - but there are memories of him that she holds close: his grin when she was the first in her level, the way he used to wrap his large hand around her small one and lead her on. The warmth in his eyes when he smiled at her, like she was important to him after all.
He was the only one she ever fully trusted, so maybe she misses him a little after all. She viciously crushes the pang of heartache that swells in her chest and makes her feel a little sick.
Sakamoto's eyes are like the summer sky - big and blue and emptied of emotion - and his smile reminds Mutsu of a cracked porcelain mask.
"What happened to the kid?" she asks, worried and pretending she isn't. "Did he come back to see you?"
"He died," Sakamoto says, looking up and away, smiling at the ceiling like he's trying to hold back tears. (And Mutsu remembers, with a cold, ugly ice settling in her gut, trying ta.) "Ahaha! It was stupid, wasn't it? I jumped in to save him, all heroic, but I only stopped the car. He still hit the road, and I didn't have my arms around his head. Brain damage and all that stuff, ya know?" He grins, sharp and brittle like an old, breaking blade. "Stupid," he repeats.
"Hm," Mutsu says. "He would have died even if you hadn't tried."
"Yeah, ahaha, I just stuck my hand where it didn't belong and got bit for it."
"Mm," Mutsu hums, reaching for a pair of chopsticks. "But you're an idiot," she says, and above Sakamoto's "Ahaha! That's mean, Mutsu!", she continues - "You would have felt worse if you hadn't tried."
Sakamoto stares at her for a moment, and when he smiles again, he looks a little less like he's going to cry. "Ahaha, Mutsu, you're pretty smart, you know?"
"Of course," she says, and begins shovelling noodles into her mouth.
There is an extra scarf in Mutsu's closet, flowery and pink and nothing that she will ever wear.
She wraps her own sensible, beige scarf around her neck and shoves the extra into her bag. When Sakamoto arrives without his scarf two days later, she throws it into his face and snaps a sharp retort in response to his laughing "Mutsu! You care!"
Mutsu burns easily - Sakamoto learns this after she makes the mistake of going with him to the beach one summer day. He buys her a wide-brimmed straw hat for her birthday, laughingly sets it on her head like it's a crown.
Given half the chance, Sakamoto would give away everything he owns to help someone else. He is made of kindness and smiles and loyalty and he would give his life for a complete stranger, he would die for no one at all (he is something and he would give himself away for any nothing).
On his birthday, Mutsu throws a package at him - inside it is a scarf and a crimson coat, and when he opens it his expression turns into something blank and surprised. The smile that spreads across his face is something crooked and warm, breakable in a way that Sakamoto Tatsuma so rarely is. And it is so fragile in its joy, brimming full and bright and ready to burst, rarely-used and rusty but so honest, so soft, so happy that it makes something stupid in Mutsu's chest ache.
(She pretends that she never noticed his split-second blank-eyed look of shock and tells him that if he gives her presents away she will beat him into the ground.
Sakamoto laughs. And Mutsu realizes that, oh, his eyes aren't the sky or the sea or hard multifaceted sapphires - they're soft warm pieces of perfect blue, shining with embarrassed confused joy.)
Mutsu wears her new hat to school in the summer. Sakamoto wears his red coat and white scarf in the winter, year after year after year.