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It's Complicated

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I hummed quietly to myself as I made my way down the hall to the Durak room - or rather, the new student council room. It had taken a couple of weeks to get used to going to the new location, and I did feel a little sad about leaving the old student council room behind. That would always be the place where I met with Kuya-san and Takato-san - and sometimes even Hattori-san - to hang out and to handle the growing responsibilities of the student council. By the time the school year ended, we'd gone back to doing most of the work, with Durak returning to its original function as treasury and disciplinary committee. Well, almost. Joker-san had also insisted on remaining the one who came up with most of the school events.

But now everyone else in the student council had graduated. Takato-san had moved to India to help his mother with her water distribution project, and Kuya-san had joined a special study abroad program where he'd spend each year in a different country. I didn't know what Hattori-san was doing, since all he'd said was that he was going back to his secret ninja village in the mountains.

That probably wasn't a real thing. Probably.

I rounded the corner and was greeted by a familiar but unsettling sight: Chiba-san standing guard outside the student council room, scowling. A bolt of panic ran through me. Why was Chiba-san guarding the door? That had to mean Joker-san was inside and didn't want anyone to bother him, but the room was supposed to be open to anyone now. Especially me!

I walked up to Chiba-san with a hesitant smile. "Hello, Chiba-san. It's time for student council activities now, isn't it? So won't you let me in?"

His eyes, which were fixed on a blank spot on the wall on the opposite side of the hallway, flicked toward me for a moment before darting away again. "Joker-sama is busy."

"Mm, but if Joker-san is working on something in the student council room, I should be helping him, right? I'm the student council president, after all." I tried to reach for the doorknob, but drew my hand back immediately at Chiba-san's sharp glance.

My heart sank. Had Joker-san changed his mind already? It had only been a few weeks since he'd agreed to merge Durak and the student council, so I couldn't imagine that he'd gotten bored already. Maybe I wasn't amusing him anymore? I made a face, remembering how I'd begged him to let Durak become part of the student council, going through the huge speech I'd practiced a dozen times. I'd sweated it out the entire time, growing increasingly desperate while he sat there in his chair looking utterly bored, like a king forcing himself to listen to the appeals of a peasant.

And then when I'd finished, he'd simply met my eyes for a moment and said, 'Yeah, okay,' like it was no big deal, then went back to playing with his phone.

He couldn't have gotten bored already. No way. If anything, he seemed to be enjoying himself more than ever, teasing me at every opportunity, but never missing a chance to annoy Sonoda-san or to treat Chiba-san like his personal guard dog.

I had to keep trying. "Um, Chiba-san, do you know what Joker-san is doing in there?"

He didn't look at me, but his lips pressed together into a grim line for a few moments before he responded, "Myself does not question Joker-sama's orders."

I frowned. Trying to get information out of Chiba-san could be more difficult than getting Tomo to stay awake in class. I stood there quietly for a few seconds, trying to think of another way to ask that wouldn't sound like I was questioning Joker-san's decisions.

Before I could come up with anything, a strange muffled sound came from behind Chiba-san, something like a pained groan . It sounded like someone was trying to hold back a yell. Chiba-san's back stiffened and he made a face, but he didn't look concerned, and he just kept staring at the wall like it was the most interesting thing in the world.

"Chiba-san, that sound... it sounds like someone is hurt, doesn't it?" I was worried, but it was the perfect opportunity to appeal to his sense of duty. "What if something happened to Joker-san? We should go check it out instead of waiting!"

I swear Chiba-san's eye twitched. Or was that his lip? Maybe both. He finally looked at me again, eyes a bit wider than usual. "Just leave it, Asahina."

"Huh, but if something's wrong--"

I was cut off by another weird groaning noise, louder than the first one. It was... well, it sounded kind of familiar, now that I thought about it. Suddenly my face got warm, eyes widening as I stared at Chiba-san. He blinked, biting his lip nervously as his cheeks slowly turned pink and then red.

"U, um... maybe it's not what it sounds like. Haha..."

But why would a sound like that be coming out of the Durak room? It was hard to tell because, uh, it was a moaning noise, but it didn't sound like Joker-san's voice. That meant... someone else was in there with him?!

No way. Not even Joker-san would do that.

Chiba-san and I stood there staring at each other for a long time. I didn't know what to do. After all, it was probably best to leave, right? Maybe I could go do my homework with Tomo, or see if Professor Sakaki was in the assistant director's office. Just as I pulled out my phone to send Tomo a message, the door creaked open, revealing Joker-san's face. His eye went to me, and a smile slowly spread across his face.

"Ah, Yuki-kun! Have you been waiting?" Joker-san's voice was a lot louder than it needed to be. Chiba-san stood aside automatically to let him through the doorway, and Joker-san reached out to tug on my sleeve. "Sorry to make the student council president wait in the hallway. Come on in."

"Um, Joker-san..." I began, but Chiba-san cut me off.

"Joker-sama! Kendo practice is beginning in a few minutes."

Joker-san eyed him, his smile turning a bit sinister as he took in Chiba-san's look of wide-eyed paranoia. "Of course, Hayato, you should hurry to practice. It would be bad for the captain to miss regularly scheduled club time. I'll fill you in later if there's any tasks for you." He waved his hand as if shooing a servant away. "Run along now."

"Yes, Joker-sama!" Chiba-san nodded and made his retreat, not quite running down the hall, but close.

Joker-san just laughed. "Ah, Hayato, don't ever change. Come on, Yuki-kun, I have some club budget requests I need to discuss with you."

"Haha, right." I followed Joker-san into the room, and felt my face getting even warmer as I caught sight of Sonoda-san standing near the window, his back to us. One of his arms was bent at the elbow, and I realized that he must have been staring at his phone and not the scenery outside.

Ugh, that sound from before, it sounded kind of like Sonoda-san's voice...

Still, it would be rude not to greet him. "Um, hello, Sonoda-san."

His shoulders stiffened, but he didn't turn around or respond. He definitely heard me. Well, I could understand being too embarrassed to say anything. Yeah, it was best to pretend nothing weird had happened and that I had no clue what was going on. After all, Sonoda-san couldn't know that I'd heard anything. As long as I didn't mention it, things would be fine. Probably.

I forced a smile and made my way to the table at the center of the room, focusing on the folders scattered across its surface. "Which clubs are asking for special budgets? Is it the music club again?"

"Of course. And the swim club wants to send the entire team to a summer training camp again this year. There won't be a problem with getting the board to approve that request, since they did so well in recent competitions. Alas, the music club is still struggling and it's going to be hard to get anyone to pour even more money into a losing bet." Joker-san turned to stare at Sonoda-san's back. "Isn't that right, Eiji?"

"Whatever," Sonoda-san mumbled, refusing to turn around.

"Eiji." Joker-san's voice held a note of warning. "I'm telling you to put your phone down and come help with the student council work. Budgets are your job."

"Why do I have to participate in every single meeting all of a sudden?" Sonoda-san glanced back over his shoulder, scowling. "You let Hayato run off to practice almost every day without saying a single word, except to encourage him! How is that fair?"

"No one ever said it would be fair, Eiji. Hayato's job is to handle discipline. If everyone at the school is being a good boy, there's nothing for him to do." I knew he was smirking as he added, "Unless you want me to have Hayato start helping you with budgets? He'll do it if I ask him to. However, I can't guarantee the quality of his work."

I picked up the nearest folder, frowning. "I don't think that's a good idea, Joker-san..."

"It's not? But Eiji is clearly frustrated with the way our work has been divided up. As the student council president, it's your duty to make sure everyone is happy and working efficiently, right? So what would you suggest, Yuki-kun?"

Me? I felt a bit of heat at the back of my neck. "W, well... it's true that Sonoda-san is the best at anything involving accounting and budgets. But it's not really fair for Chiba-san to miss so many meetings while the rest of us are working hard."

"Seriously," Sonoda-san muttered.

"So... let's see, a way to fix that." I scratched my ear. What would make everyone happy? "Oh, I know! Maybe we should reschedule one of the weekly meetings so it's during lunch instead of after school? Then we can work on smaller projects while eating together. Everyone gets to enjoy lunchtime, and we get some work out of the way! How's that?"

Sonoda-san was finally facing us, but his arms were folded over his chest and his expression made it clear that he thought my idea was terrible. "Yeah, sure, except lunchtime is when I'm busiest, remember? I have to supervise the other members of the cooking club, and make sure the lunch ladies have everything they need, and I'm selling my special dishes too."

"But, Sonoda-san," I tried to speak as gently as possible, "if you're saying we can't do a lunchtime meeting because of your club activities, that's the same as Chiba-san missing the after school meetings because he's the captain of the kendo club."

Sonoda-san glared at me, but said nothing. Joker-san made no effort to hide his grin as he said, "You have to admit, Yuki-kun has a point, Eiji. You can't complain about Hayato if you're not willing to change your situation, which is exactly the same thing."

"Meeting in the middle of the school day is stupid," he huffed. "Yuki-kun, why are you suggesting that, don't you want to eat during lunchtime?"

"W, well, I thought maybe you could make something nice for all of us to share."

"Hmph, as if Kiyo would eat normal food. I'd have to make two different things. Or three, depending on how picky Hayato is feeling that day." He rolled his eyes. "Bunch of kids."

I could tell that Joker-san's patience was wearing thin. "You already cook special meals for me every day, I don't see how it would be any different. And I always pay your outrageous prices, so why are you still complaining about it?"

"They are not outrageous prices! They're less than you'd pay for a normal meal out!"

"Um," I began, "maybe this isn't a good time to talk about Chiba-san's club schedule, especially since he's not here. Let's think about it later, okay? Anyway, it looks like we have some serious budget work to look at today, so let's get started!" I pulled out my usual chair at the table, but before I could plop down into it, Joker-san's hand grabbed my wrist.

"I wouldn't sit there if I were you, Yuki-kun."

"Huh?" I looked down at the chair, wondering if Joker-san had booby trapped it somehow. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, just the usual impression of a backside indicating that someone had been sitting there kind of recently. Well, I didn't mind if someone else sat in my spot.

Wait... someone was sitting here recently. That means...!!!

I jumped back from the chair as if it was on fire. Well, I was pretty sure my face was on fire. "Oh, haha, okay... then this one." I reached for Joker-san's chair instead.

"Mm, I don't think that's a good choice either..."

What, that chair too?! Then, Chiba-san's had to be safe. They wouldn't have violated his chair, right? But I was warned away from that one too. "Um, Joker-san? Maybe it's better if you tell me where it's okay to sit, instead of me trying to pick a spot."

"Good idea." Joker-san motioned toward the entire table. "You'll want to avoid this area for a while. And over there too." He pointed to a couch at one side of the room, a place where guests usually sat while waiting for the student council to process paperwork. "Oh, and the computer desk."

My heart sank. "That's all the places to sit in this room."

"Not true, we still have the floor. Well, this half of it, anyway."

"Kiyo!" Sonoda-san exploded, face coloring. "That's bullshit and you know it! Don't make up extra stuff for effect, it was just the one chair and the couch!"

I stared at Sonoda-san, stunned into silence.

I'd never seen Sonoda-san's eyes so round and wild before. "I mean... it's not what you think! It's nothing serious! Anyway, it's never going to happen again, so you don't have to worry about it!"

I didn't mean to just say whatever, but my mouth was moving without my permission. "You don't have to hide it, Sonoda-san! I mean, I understand that you're embarrassed, but, but... isn't it nice? You two really are more than ordinary friends. I always had a feeling!" I broke into a grin. "That's really awesome! Congratulations!"

Joker-san didn't bother to stifle his snort. "Ah, Yuki-kun, you're the awesome one!"

"Screw you, Kiyo!" Sonoda-san was almost spitting his words. "I hope you can find someone else who's willing to cook for your annoying smarmy ass before you end up starving to death, because I'm completely done with you!"

And with that, Sonoda-san stomped from the room, pausing only to shove the offending chair toward Joker-san before stalking out, slamming the door behind himself. I swear the wall actually shook a little with the force of it.

"Heh," Joker-san shook his head, "so you do care. Don't want me starving, huh?"

I waited a few seconds to see what he would do next, but he just stood there, staring at the closed door. "Um, Joker-san... shouldn't you go after Sonoda-san?"

He turned toward me. "Of course not, Yuki-kun. Eiji won't come back right now, even if I beg - which I would never do. He needs some time to cool off and take care of his precious wounded pride. He'll get over it soon enough."

"Mm, that's true. Sonoda-san always needs a break before he feels better." I motioned toward the table. "So I guess that means we're not working on budgets today."

"I'll bring them to Eiji later. He'll get them done, so don't worry. After all, we can't let the student council president fall behind on work, right?" I couldn't tell if Joker-san's smile was sincere or not. "There isn't anything else to do today. We don't get a lot of requests for stupid chores these days."

"Well, it's because you always send Chiba-san to do those, and you must tell him to be extra scary or something. No one ever asks for chores twice..."

"Heh." Joker-san pulled out my chair and plopped down into it, crossing his legs. "The student council is above doing chores, that's why. Change your own light bulbs, kids."

I eyed the chair, frowning. "Um... is it true that my chair isn't safe anymore?"

"That depends on what you mean by safe." Joker-san's expression was unreadable.

I wasn't going to let him corner me into asking more specifically. "Um... I don't want to tell you not to have fun or anything..." Was my face turning red? It totally was. "But, maybe the student council room isn't the best place for that sort of thing. After all, we have to get our work done in here, and sometimes other people stop by. Maybe we should go back to the old student council room. It's a lot more boring, so no one will get, um, distracted..."

"Proposal rejected."

I pouted. "It wasn't a formal proposal, it was just a suggestion."

"Well, I'm still rejecting it. I like this room, it's big and inviting and a lot more interesting than the old student council room. No one ever visited when you were in that bug-infested space. With this room, the student council is much more approachable and respectable."

"That's true, but..."

Joker-san got up and patted me on the shoulder. "I was exaggerating before, Yuki-kun. This chair," he motioned to the seat he'd just vacated, "and the couch are the only places you should avoid. And how about this, I'll promise to confine our activities to the couch from now on. Okay?"

I felt my ears turn red at the word activities. "I guess that's okay..."

"Good!" Joker-san straightened up and busied himself with rearranging the chairs at the table, swapping my old chair with his. "Don't worry, this one is fine. We didn't mean to use your chair. The situation got a bit... urgent, so no one was paying attention to which chair got used."

"Right..." I mumbled, staring down at my new chair. Was it safe to trust Joker-san's promises? Probably not, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it. The chair looked normal enough, though my violated chair also looked like nothing had happened on it.

"Well, student council president," Joker-san prompted with false sweetness. "Since we can't get any work done without Eiji, is today's meeting cancelled?"

I sighed. If I pointed out that he was the reason Sonoda-san had run off in a huff, Joker-san would just get mad at me instead. "I guess so, student council vice president. Haha."

After all, no matter how awkward things felt right now, the important part was that Joker-san and Sonoda-san were exploring their feelings for each other! If I focused on that instead of worrying about where to sit, then there was no problem. My strained smile relaxed a little. "I'm really happy for you two! I hope Sonoda-san doesn't stay mad at you for too long."

"He'll get over it by tomorrow," Joker-san promised, scooping up the pile of budget paperwork. "Or sooner, if I bring him a peace offering of some sort."

"Are you sure? Sonoda-san seemed pretty upset."

"Eiji's always upset. As they say on social media, it's complicated. Everything about Eiji is complicated." Joker-san's eye glittered. "That's what makes him interesting."

Well, I couldn't deny that Sonoda-san had a complicated personality. "Haha, right..."

"See you tomorrow, Yuki-kun. Don't forget to lock the door when you leave. Byeee!"

I was suddenly alone in the big, empty student council room. I went to the window, looking out with a sigh. "Oh well... at least this year is going to be interesting, right?"

~~~

that weekend...

Early morning cuddles were the best. I loved watching the professor's face as he tried to drag himself up from the depths of sleep, his task made nearly impossible by my gentle petting. I finally had mercy on him after about fifteen minutes of watching him try not to doze off again while I stroked his arm, his cheek, and especially his hair.

"Hehe, Professor, you're all sleepy."

"Whose fault--" He cut himself off with a huge yawn. "--is that?"

"Mm, maybe it's mine? I guess I could stop petting you, if you want."

He snuggled back into the blankets with a noise that was kind of like a snort and a yawn all in one, burying his face against my shoulder. "Your choice, Asahina. If I sleep all day, who's going to feed you? You'll starve after a few hours."

My eyes widened. "Oh, speaking of food, that reminds me! Hey Professor, did I tell you I found out the cutest thing this week? Sonoda-san and Joker-san are finally a couple!"

Professor Sakaki snorted, brows drawing together as he mumbled against my skin. "Asahina, I have two complaints about this. One, why are you bringing up another couple while we're cuddling? And two, isn't that their private business, not something you should be telling to an outside party?"

I pouted, cheeks pinking. "But you're not an outsider, Professor, you're Sonoda-san's cousin! I thought you'd want to know that he was happy."

He lifted his head from the pillow, more awake than he had been a moment ago. "Hmph, from what I've seen of how those two get along, I'm not sure I'd call that a happy relationship." The professor eyed me curiously. "Or did Sonoda get over himself a little?"

"Wait, you knew? You knew and you didn't tell me?"

"No, but I've suspected for a while. You just confirmed it for me. Anyway, Sonoda would be mortified if he knew I'd guessed at what was going on, and even more so if I told someone else about it." He poked my nose. "After all, you're not blabbing about our relationship to others, are you?"

I rolled over with a huff. "I would never do that!"

He snuggled up against my back immediately, hand petting my arm apologetically. "Sorry, Asahina, I'm only teasing. I know you'd never break a promise."

"Yeah," I sighed, "but it still sucks. I want everyone to know how happy I am. And I want everyone to be that happy too!" I looked back over my shoulder, finding the professor's eyes watching me carefully. I couldn't stay annoyed with him for long, and I turned back toward him, snuggling into his strong arms again. "Maybe that's bugging me too. Sonoda-san was trying so hard to keep it a secret, at least from me, and I'm stuck hiding something I want to tell everyone. It's not fair."

"It's not forever, Asahina."

"I know, but it feels like forever." Graduation may as well have been a million years away.

"Time passes faster than you think. It will be time before you know it." There was a subtle strain in his voice, and his arm tightened around me. The professor was worried. It didn't matter how many times I explained that my parents would understand, that they were really nice and no, Mom wasn't going to hit him with a rolling pin and Dad wouldn't put him in the big mixer, he still got all stressed out when thinking about the future.

It's okay. I can't stop you from worrying, but everything's going to be fine. I squeezed him as tightly as I could, earning a little oof of surprise.

"I wasn't expecting that." He squeezed my bicep. "Hmm. You're getting pretty strong, Asahina. Have you finally decided to listen to my advice and start lifting?"

"Haha, Professor, you know the only lifting I do is the kind that gets bread into my mouth."

He laughed, a rich and warm sound that made my hair stand on end, and pulled me close. "Some days I worry that you're going to leave me for a baguette. I guess that's an unreasonable fear, since your parents are sending you an endless stream of bread and pastries every week, and you still choose me every weekend."

I kissed his shoulder. "You're way better than any bread or cake, Professor."

My stomach growled, and he laughed again, nuzzling the top of my head with a happy sigh. "Though it sounds like you can't survive too long without either one, hm? Come on, let's get up and have some breakfast."

~ end ~