"No, nii-san, it's too much."
There was a firm voice to his left. Takatora jolted awake, though surely he hadn't actually been asleep? He'd just been resting his eyes, that was it. He turned in his desk chair, hiding a yawn not terribly successfully, to see Mitsuzane standing there.
The boy - young man - wore blue jeans and a green shirt over a white singlet. He was dressing more these days in a way that suited him, that wasn't just about being a schoolboy, or being a Kureshima - some of those sweaters were dreadful - or being part of Yggdrasill. It was nice to see.
"What's too much?" Takatora asked cautiously.
"You! You're not sleeping properly." Mitsuzane took a step towards him, and plucked something off the side of his face. A yellow piece of paper, which he proceeded to wave at Takatora. Oh. It was an invoice for new bad weather shelters in the park. "You can't help everyone else and not help yourself."
"I'm sleeping, and eating," Takatora protested. "I slept ten hours last - the night before last."
There. That had to count for something. He wasn't being particularly regular about it, sure, but he was doing it. Same as food. He took food with him every morning when he left, or he made sure to buy something while he was out, or he had food with him in his office. Energy bars, in a variety of flavors, packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals. Easy!
Mitsuzane sighed, and smoothed the invoice in his hands. He placed it down on a pile of other invoices, then carefully neatened the edges until it was entirely straight. The pile was multi-colored; blues and greens and yellows and pinks and purples. Almost pretty, even though there was no orange. "Yes, but that was the only time you've slept in your bed this week, and I know you're not eating more than once a day, and most of the time it's those ridiculous energy bars. Come on. I'm taking you to lunch."
There was nothing else for it, unfortunately, and with a certain amount of bemusement Takatora found himself showered, dressed - in casual clothes, the horror - and on his way to Charmant's with his brother.
(It was nice, though. He liked that Mitsuzane was becoming easier with himself, and with Takatora too. Maybe they didn't have any kind of nuance between them just yet. Maybe they weren't very good at just relaxing together. But Mitsuzane had started doing this kind of thing a little more. He was silent, a lot. Went to watch the children - the young people and their dancing, or just went out walking. But he was doing this, this behavior where he was bossy from seeming out of nowhere, a little more often.)
(It was also from out of love.)
(It was a strange thing, to think that his little brother loved him still. Even after everything.)
(It wasn't strange at all to think that he still loved his little brother, after everything. It'd gone wrong so very spectacularly, and no, he wasn't entirely physically comfortable around Mitsuzane. Not yet. But now he could actually see a place not too far ahead where the two of them could just... be brothers.)
Takatora swung his feet a little, his hands in his pockets, and was rewarded with a small smile from his brother. "I'm not the only one who's terrible at self-care," he tried.
Mitsuzane laughed. "I know, I know. Nii-san..."
There was a pause as they negotiated a man on a bicycle, and a man wheeling a bicycle, and a man chasing a bicycle shouting 'come back!' A small orange-haired person grabbed the bike and held onto it for him.
There was more of a pause as they fell back into step again, by the water, so Takatora said, "Whatever it is, you don't have to tell me."
"I want to." Mitsuzane's voice was soft. Hesitant, even. Takatora left him the silence to speak if he really wanted to. It was only another minute or two when he said, "I think I want to dance again."
"I think so."
The cafe was in sight, so Takatora tried to find something a little more supportive inside himself before they sat down. It was so damnably difficult to reach out, but he knew that it made a difference just to try. So he had to try, even if he said something foolish. "The others wouldn't give you any trouble?"
"Some will," Mitsuzane said as he dropped behind Takatora when the numbers of people coming the other way increased. "But I think I want to face that. To face the ones who don't trust me. To show them that I'm... ready to face what I've done. Even if some of them still don't want to know me at all. I'll figure out a way to be there anyway without hurting them further, or I'll choose not to be there."
"As long as you don't let them hurt you just because..." the words died in Takatora's throat as the boy Jounouchi came out to meet them and to find a table for them, and he was glad of the interruption. It was very difficult to finish some sentences.
"Because I tried to kill you and Kouta-san and hurt Peco to get Mai-san to do what I wanted?" Mitsuzane said anyway, as Jounouchi left them to find menus. Takatora winced, but Mitsuzane's eyes were steady on his. "I know what I did, and I don't blame anyone for being angry about it. But there are some there who want me, and I think I'd like to try it. I can't do anyone any good by sitting at home all day."
"You're not, though," Takatora protested instantly. "I've seen you out with the rebuilding crews."
Not with them, so much. But nearby, yes. He'd seen Mitsuzane bringing lunch for a group. He'd seen Mitsuzane picking up trash.
Mitsuzane fiddled with his fork. "I should do more."
There was a brief interruption as first a pigeon landed on the umbrella over their table, clattered about, then flew off. Then when Jounouchi returned and suavely took their orders for tea, sandwiches, and cakes, muttering an awkward comment about Takatora looking tired and could he help? Takatora commented awkwardly that the tea he'd chosen would surely be of assistance and Jounouchi was very kind. Given the interruptions, Takatora - not sure how to address it anyway - let the guilt on Mitsuzane's face pass. He felt it too, after all. There was always more to do, and if his little brother could try to find a balance between rationally doing what he could, and letting it consume him? Then maybe he could try that too.
They sat for a while, and just chatted about this and that, until their food arrived along with an Ouren.
"My melon and his grape look somewhat tired," he said as he elegantly took a vacant seat at their table. "Please, eat. Allow the exquisite delicacy of the foods made by me and my apprentice to soothe your soul, chere and petit chere." He reached across the table and covered first Takatora's hand, then Mitsuzane's.
Takatora didn't know quite how to deal with this man. Never quite had. It wasn't the flamboyance. He just wasn't good, not at all, with someone being so... interested in him. Not like that. He hadn't had an entanglement like that with someone since Ryouma back in college, and that had gone startlingly badly. So he managed a smile, genuine, for all that it was awkward, and took a sip of his tea.
...he nearly moaned loudly at the delicate infusion of honey, lemon, and something he couldn't quite place, and was rewarded with an enormous smile. "It's good," he said, not that he needed to say it.
Mitsuzane raised an eyebrow, tried his own, and made an appreciative noise.
"Is it not?" Ouren agreed. "My Jou-chan has been experimenting, and has earned his first item on our menu."
He flicked his wrist, and the menu that Takatora hadn't seen materialise in his hand then was somehow open, with Ouren's beringed finger pointing at the drink selections. There was a tiny imprint of a curlicued 'J' in English next to the tea.
"So you're saying that it's not a bad thing to allow others to help," Takatora said dryly, and was rewarded with another enormous smile.
"That might indeed be my point, chere. You have friends, and a brother who is also a friend. There's no need for you to look so tired. Now I must go back to work!"
With a swish and a gentle hand on a shoulder of each of the brothers, Ouren disappeared back into the kitchen.
The cake they'd each chosen was so delightfully rich and yet so light that even with such large portions, Takatora found himself near the bottom of his in short order. It was something involving a passionfruit cream, chocolate ganache, and layers of pastry.... mmm. So he had a mouthful when he looked up at a familiar voice.
"You seem tired, Takatora-san," Kazuraba Akira said gently, a forearm shielding her eyes from the sun. She had a cake box tucked under one arm.
Mitsuzane repressed what sounded like a laugh, and Takatora shot him a look. He tried to swallow, but a little sugar dust from the pastry went down entirely the wrong way. "I had no idea that I look so dreadful, but everyone seems inclined to comment," he managed eventually, with as much good grace as he could muster.
Akira laughed at that, and sat down with them. "My apologies. I was, erm."
She looked at Mitsuzane, who nodded at her, and Takatora wondered for a moment just what they were up to.
She continued, "I was wondering if you'd thought about the dinner invitation, it's okay if you can't attend, or if you'd just prefer not to, you really don't have to give me an explanation, in fact I should just go right now-"
"He'll attend," Mitsuzane interrupted gently. "Thank you, Akira-san."
Takatora looked at Akira, then looked at Mitsuzane, then looked back at Akira, wondering just when he'd lost control of his romantic life. But Akira had asked him last week, and he'd... entirely forgotten.
He did like Akira. (Not that he didn't like Ouren. But Akira was quiet, and restful, with a sparkling charm in her eyes...)
He sighed, and surrendered. "Thank you, Akira. I'll try to get a little more sleep before then."