He was sick of this. He was sick of Kashima taunting him. 'I nominate Hori-senpai for the princess role!' 'Here, take this shirt, and skirt, and shoes and accessories!' 'Wear my skirt home today, senpai!'
Every time she did something like that, it made him feel sick and shifted the dirt that he'd used to bury the feelings. Every time she teased him, he felt himself panic a little more.
He hated it.
"Hori-senpai!" Kashima called out, energetic as ever, and yet he could sense the hurt in her tone. "Why are you ignoring me today?!" She stumbled as she got to his side, and looked at him imploringly. "Is this about yesterday? I was just trying to-"
"I'm sick of your jokes," he muttered, more venom than he'd normally allow himself to use. "Stop it. You think I'm not already... You think I don't..." He stumbled over his words, and he let out a groan. "Just... Stop, okay?"
Kashima frowned, looking at him in confusion. "I'm not joking, though."
He glared at her, and she shrunk back. "I just, well... I thought..." She hesitated, then finally blurted out, "I saw the manga. And I saw you asking Nozaki-kun to carry you like a princess. And... I thought you..."
The manga, he understood what she meant there - he threw his bag at her enough times that he supposed he should have known she'd see it at some point. But when on earth had he asked Nozaki to carry him like a princess?
No, wait, that wasn't the point here.
"You thought I what, Kashima?" he pressed, voice shaking more than he was comfortable with. Praying that she hadn't discovered his secret.
Kashima hesitated, lowering her gaze to the floor. "I thought you... Were a girl. On the inside. I wanted to show you that I support you."
Silence fell. Kashima squirmed as the seconds ticked by, fully expecting an attack to come any moment.
Hori chewed on the inside of his cheek, staring at the window behind Kashima. "Support me, huh?" he said, his voice distant. He paused, let out a sigh, and then said, "You completely misunderstood why I had the manga, Kashima. And I never asked Nozaki to carry me. Ever."
Kashima blinked, gears turning slowly in her mind. "So... You're not...?"
Hori hesitated, then slowly shook his head. "I never... Said that. You got to... The right conclusion, I suppose. But not on the right path." He chuckled weakly, feeling something inside him both tightening and also relaxing. "Let's go get something to eat. Parfait or crepe or something. We need to talk this out."
If Kashima truly supported this, then...
Then maybe she could trust her enough to tell her. Enough to let her know what was buried deep within her heart.