It all started with a question Nozaki asked Sakura one day while they were working on his manga in his apartment.
"And then Mamiko will be found crying on the roof after she faces off against Suzuki's admirers-" He tapped his pencil. "I can't put my finger on what's wrong with this chapter..."
"What are you thinking about, Nozaki-kun? Maybe I can help?"
He blinked before brightening up like he always did when it came to improving his manga. "Yes, I should ask you, Sakura. Now I'm planning on making Suzuki-kun go after the girls who insulted Mamiko while asking someone else to go comfort her..."
Sakura frowned slightly, looking at the crying Mamiko he had drawn.
"Would Suzuki-kun do this kind of thing, Sakura?"
"Um, I don't think so, Nozaki-kun. I think it would be more in character for Suzuki-kun to go comfort Mamiko himself first before doing anything else. Why do you ask?"
"Because I think you understand and handle Mikoshiba the best out of all of us, Sakura, and Mikorin is my model for Mamiko so..."
Sakura smiled back at him, not knowing exactly how significant this exchange would be later on how many months down the road.
Sakura peeked into Mikorin and Kashima's classroom after school the next day, wanting to walk to Nozaki-kun's apartment with him. Nozaki-kun had already left, after all. Mikorin wasn't in there, though Kashima still was.
"Kashima-kun, would you know where Mikorin is?"
Kashima shook her head. "He paled when he received a message on his phone and ran off," she said with a sigh.
"What was the message about?"
"I don't know," Kashima said, looking somewhat worried herself. "I should-"
Sakura shook her head. "It's already time for your club," she said, feeling pity for Hori-senpai if Kashima-kun skipped club again. "I'll go look for him."
If this was a shoujo manga, said Sakura to herself, Mikorin would be up on the school roof. But then Nozaki-kun would tell her that it's dangerous and probably should be made illegal to go up on school roofs, so she settled for combing the nearby trees and bushes. Sure enough, Mikorin was hidden behind one of the bushes at the back of the school.
"Mikorin? Are you up here?"
She saw Mikorin start before looking at her pitifully. "Sakura? Why are you here?"
She was worried when Mikorin didn't say any cheesy lines, even though those had dwindled as the two had gotten to know each other better. "Kashima-kun said you ran off earlier after receiving a message on your phone?"
Mikorin paled and crouched in a corner. "It's nothing! I'm fine!"
"You don't look fine at all," she said, moving closer to him. "What's the message about?"
Mikorin's eyes grew big, making Sakura groan inwardly. "Sakura, you've got to help me!"
"I- I need you to..."
"Just say it, Mikorin!"
"I- I- I- I need you to pretend to be my girlfriend!"
This was a bad idea, Sakura groaned as Mikorin explained everything to her ("A guy I went to elementary school and knows how... shy I was with girls before can't believe that I'm so confident with them now - he says that if I'm so good with girls I should have a girlfriend and should meet up with him sometime, bringing her), something that would only work in shoujo manga. And even Nozaki-kun would turn his nose up at it. It was all Mikorin's fault for being so flirty when he lacked the self-confidence to back it up. "But Mikorin, we already tried that before, right? Maybe if we ask Yuzuki again-"
"No, we can't!" Mikorin vehemently shook his head. "Seo wouldn't fool this person - not like how she helped me with the girl at the station! It has to be someone that understands me more! Someone who can talk with me about more things! He wouldn't be fooled by that!"
"But you can do it, Sakura! Please! I really can't ask anyone else."
It was honestly too bad that Mikorin had such a complicated personality, she thought, because when he was like this, earnest and all, he was more appealing to her than when he was flirting for the masses.
"All right, Mikorin."
Mikorin had suggested he put his arm around her shoulder and Sakura had agreed, it was couple-ish but not as... romantic as hand-holding? Had Mamiko and Suzuki-kun held hands? She wasn't sure. She shook her head quickly. But while it was awkward for Mikorin to put his arm around her shoulder, both never having done anything like this before, it was also kind of... nice, though she wished she was a little taller. It would probably look better that way, at least in Nozaki-kun's eyes.
"There he is," Mikorin whispered in her ear before raising his voice. "Kyou, you're early!"
"Yeah, I didn't have club today, so-" He stopped speaking as the two reached him. "So you brought your girlfriend, huh? Good," said the boy, sizing her up. "She's cute."
"I did," Mikorin agreed, his arm still around Sakura's shoulders. "Sakura, this is my friend Aoyama Kyou. Kyou, this is my girlfriend, Chiyo Sakura. We're both in the same year."
Sakura bobbed her head. "It's nice to meet you, Aoyama-kun. Mikorin has told me all about you." Eeep, she realized, she wasn't supposed to call him Mikorin. Was Mikorin an acceptable nickname for a boyfriend? It didn't sound at all manly...
"Hmm, I'm surprised. Guess all the stories of you becoming your school's resident ladies' man aren't false after all, Mikoshiba. And with nicknames, too?"
Sakura winced at Mikorin's hesitation. At least Aoyama accepted Mikorin as a possible girlfriendly nickname for a boyfriend.
"Well, let's go talk over there" Aoyama invited, pointing to a cafe.
Sakura sighed. She hoped Mikorin wouldn't mess this up. She reminded herself not to talk about Nozaki-kun or think about him at all. This wasn't so hard now, she thought, reminding herself that Mikorin needed her to act like a girlfriend.
"You said you were in different classes? How did you meet?"
"Nozaki-kun introduced us," Sakura almost said reflexively, but stopped herself just in time. "We met because we're helping out a common friend."
"Yes, that's right!" Mikoshiba said quickly. Sakura groaned inwardly.
"Ehhh, that's nice. Sakura-san, Mikoshiba's really nice, but he was painfully shy in grade school, you know. So shy that he couldn't at all talk to girls."
She had been warned by Mikorin that he would probably bring his old personality up. "Ah, but now Mikorin is very popular among the girls in our school! Girls really like him and he's so kind to them!"
"Really? That must be hard for you, then, Sakura-san."
"This was dangerous ground, she thought. But Mikorin was Mikorin, and they had gone through enough together working for Nozaki-kun and with other things.
She smiled. "Ah, it's okay. Mikorin is great."
This wasn't hard to say at all, because Mikorin was already one of her most important friends and someone who really did understand her. "I trust him very much."
"Ehh, Mikoshiba, isn't that nice?" Aoyama nudged Mikorin's shoulder with an elbow.
Mikorin smiled at her brightly, his shoulders more relaxed as he added to the conversation.
Hopefully we don't mess this up, thought Sakura, before asking about Aoyama's school.
Sakura exhaled as the dessert finally came. This was almost done, she thought, looking at Mikorin who also looked relieved.
"So, Mikoshiba, you know what you want to do already in college? I plan to go into business," said Aoyama cheerfully.
Mikorin shook his head. "There's so much I can do, it's hard to limit it" he said charmingly.
His friend shook his head, a smile playing upon his face. "What about you, Sakura-san?"
Sakura blinked at the question. "Um, I think I want to do something with Art" she said. Maybe taking Art in college would help her stay in contact with Nozaki-kun?
"Yes, she's really good at drawing" Mikoshiba followed, a smile on his face for her. For all that she had been exposed to Mikorin's glittering smiles when he was flirting for the ladies, this earnest smile made her feel warm.
"Sakura, this guy is rather flippant, you know. One time he would play sports with us, but then the next day he'd be running away from the ball like his life depended upon it."
She smiled at Mikorin, who looked embarrassed. "I will always support Mikorin no matter what he plans to do," she said firmly, because she knew it was true. Mikorin had a good heart and was a good friend, after all.
"Good," said Aoyama, leaning back in his seat with a satisfied look on his face.
"Do you think we fooled him, Mikorin?"
"Of course we did," Mikorin said, his smile bright.
"Don't worry about it, Sakura. Thanks for everything."
"Ah, yes-" Suddenly Mikorin's phone beeped. He opened it and she saw him blink at the message written on the screen, She curiously looked at it.
Your girlfriend is cute, Mikoshiba, and she seems to understand you well. You should take care of her.
"Yes" Mikorin cried, his hand on her shoulder. "Thank you, Sakura!"
"You're welcome," she said, amused at his happiness. Mikorin was better when he was like this, earnest instead of putting on his fake confidence.
"So how did it go, Sakura?"
"He told me before you guys left yesterday," Nozaki said calmly, his eyes on the page he was drawing.
"Ah, it w-went well, Nozaki-kun."
"Good," he said. "Sakura, when it's Mikoshiba, you do understand him best. If he really had to fake a relationship, you should be the one he fakes it with."
She felt a twinge of sadness hit her. "Really?"
"Really," Nozaki said firmly. "It makes it more believable than Seo," he clarified.
Nozaki-kun might not really ever understand her feelings, she thought sadly, her hand busy doing beta. No matter how everyone knew about her feelings for him, Nozaki-kun might never know or want them. This was reality, she thought, not stardust. Stardust is all the stuff of shoujo manga but reality is much different.
But it was okay for now, right? Yes, it was, because she still had this time with him, was still able to help him out.
"Sakura, will you do this next?"
"Hai, Nozaki-kun" she said brightly, her hand tingling when her hand touched his accidentally as he handed her the page.
"Hey, at least you got to be my girlfriend for a while, right? Even if it was fake?"
Mikorin was still gleeful days after everything had happened.
She had laughed at him then, but at least Mikorin was wholly aware of her feelings for Nozaki-kun.
"And- Well, Sakura, maybe you'll learn something for Nozaki! I mean-"
... Maybe Mamiko is better, after all.
"Yes, maybe. At least we've acted out one of his scenarios for his manga," she said lightly, her heart warm as Mikorin smiled at her.