The thing about perfection is it's a pain in the ass.
Because even when you manage to gain it for even a moment, it's impossible to keep. There's always going to be something that'll ruin it.
Nobody knows that better than Asano Gakushuu.
It was just something that had become expected from the strawberry blond, and he pushed for much the same in those in his class.
But no matter how he tried, he wasn't perfect. He never would be, not for long enough that it'd appease his father.
It took quite a while before anyone got sick of watching Gakushuu tear into himself mentally, degrading himself like his life depended on it for not being good enough.
"It's bullshit, you know,"
Gakushuu looked up in surprise from where he'd been glaring at his lunch in the cafeteria. He kept his expression schooled, but he knew his eyes betrayed him.
Sakaibara Ren was possibly the furthest from Gakushuu that he knew - had little care for remaining perfect. He worked hard for his grades and reputation, but he refused to let it consume him as if it defined everything about himself.
"What are you talking about, Ren?"
Ren took a seat and gave a small smile to his friend, holding the violet gaze easily as he spoke. "You're killing yourself over wanting to be perfect. Take a lesson, Gakushuu. Perfect doesn't exist in this world, and you're about as close to it as you'll ever get. Isn't that good enough?"
The last confrontation at home between himself and his father flashed in his mind at that question. Gakushuu looked back down for a moment before he spoke. "No. No, it's not."
Ren watched him for a long while before he sighed. "People fear you," he pointed out. "With good reason, you're a downright terrifying guy sometimes, you're wicked smart and not afraid to step up to a challenge. But what's fear without respect? And how should you earn respect? By striving for perfection and putting down anyone who doesn't do the same, who doesn't reach the same heights as yourself?"
Gakushuu looked up at him to see concern clearly written in Ren's eyes.
He didn't speak, just let Ren talk. "I get that it's rough, you have a lot of expectations on you. We all know that, which is why none of us have questioned your insane methods before now. But I know you. You don't want perfect, you just want to be better than him."
It wasn't a lie, but oh how Gakushuu wished it was in that moment, because at least then, it wouldn't sound so demented.
"You're coming home with me today," Ren decided after a long moment. "We're going to get dinner, sit around and talk about something other than our studies, and you're going to tell me what's gotten into you, because this isn't the Asano Gakushuu I know."
Gakushuu went to argue, then sighed and nodded in agreement to Ren's words, a request rather than an order.
He had been given a choice, and he appreciated it.
After school, Ren stood in the courtyard waiting for Gakushuu and gave a smile in response to the strawberry blond's hesitation in the situation.
"So talk to me," Ren started once they were on their way to get food. "What's going on in your life?"
Gakushuu hesitated before he started talking. "A lot of studying," he admitted.
"How do you feel right now, without the worry of having to study something?" Ren questioned curiously, glancing over at the other boy.
"...at ease," Gakushuu replied after a long moment of silence.
Ren chuckled and nodded in agreement.
Their conversation went much the same until they were on their way from a restaurant to Ren's home - tentative, getting Gakushuu to relax and just be in the moment rather than his head.
"Alright, time for something rougher," Ren said once they were seated on the steps outside his home.
Gakushuu nodded for him to go ahead.
"Why are you so insistent on being perfect?"
There was a beat, then Gakushuu spoke, and Ren knew he wasn't thinking about his words because it was open and brutally honest.
"Because it's what I know. You heard me talking in my sleep during that first school trip this year." Gakushuu said, voice annoyed. "Nothing less than perfect is acceptable for him, so I have to be perfect,"
It was quiet for a moment after this and then Ren sighed. "Has he laid a hand on you yet?"
Gakushuu shook his head in response, but didn't ask why Ren included the 'yet' part.
By the time Gakushuu got back home, he felt lighter than he had in years.
And any time that he started stressing over studying or grades or being perfect, Ren's words echoed in his mind.
Or if he was with the boy, he'd repeat them quietly or write them on a slip of paper and hand to him when nobody was watching.
"You aren't meant to be perfect. Just human. You're not made to bear the burden of perfection and of insanely high standards of parents or friends. Just to take life as it comes and give it your all. So try doing that instead of killing yourself striving for something so fake."
And he couldn't argue that it helped.
Those words didn't help, though, during Exams.
And when he got his results and he just knew they weren't good enough for his father, the freedom he'd felt recently thanks to Ren disappeared, replaced by a tightness in his chest that he didn't recognize, but it hurt.
Ren found him at lunch, sitting outside with his head buried in his hands, shaking and his breathing coming in short bursts as if he'd just ran for his life.
A soft noise of upset came from Ren, but he just sat down beside Gakushuu and put an arm around shaking shoulders, pulling the boy to him in a comforting hug.
He felt Gakushuu tense up, as if he had been caught by surprise, and heard his already shaky, halting breath stop for a moment.
He spent a long time trying to coax him through what he knew was an anxiety attack, then finally just settled on talking.
"It's okay, Gakushuu. You're still just as perfect as you were before, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool." Ren offered, smiling faintly at the weak huff of laughter he heard in response. "Trust me?"
Gakushuu let his eyes meet Ren's, and the brunette almost winced upon seeing how fearful his eyes looked at the situation.
He didn't understand what was happening to him, Ren realized, and he almost felt terrible for not realizing earlier.
But Gakushuu gave him a shaky nod in response to his question and Ren took a deep breath before he pulled his friend to him to kiss him.
It surprised the other boy, and he felt the boy's breathing stop for a moment before he pulled back.
It took a moment for Gakushuu to let his brain process that he was breathing fine, and once he had, he went red.
"What was that about?!" he demanded.
Ren gave an amused smile. "That, my friend, was me ending your anxiety attack. They have to stop if you hold your breath, because it forces your body to go back to normal functionality." he commented. "I am sorry that I stooped to that, but it was the most effective way I could think of, seeing as I didn't want you to think I was trying to hurt you."
Silence followed this and once Gakushuu had let his mind wrap around the answer, he nodded in acceptance. "Thank you, Ren."
They went on much the same after that, neither of them mentioning what had occurred. It changed nothing, but it had been enough to reaffirm that Ren was definitely going to stick around to help Gakushuu away from the treatment that they both knew the boy didn't deserve.
And so what if that meant something different to anyone else? Ren wasn't someone who'd just abandon his best friend in his time of need.