He almost missed her. She was sprawled out on a couch in the lounge, an arm draped across her eyes. The dorm seemed empty, but he knew everyone was up in their respective rooms. He tried to think of a time when the dorm didn’t feel this way, so barren, and failed.
Junpei wondered if the others had also walked by, oblivious to the person fading away on the couch.
“Uh, Hamuko…? Are you okay?” The words came out slowly, a bit strange on his tongue. He didn’t understand why it was so hard to say her name.
The girl sat up, blinking a few times. “Ah, Junpei,” she spoke quietly, “yeah I’m fine. Just tired.”
“Mind if I sit down?” She shook her head.
Hamuko moves her legs aside, allowing him to sit down, and promptly places her legs back down on top of his.
“H-hey!” he says, more surprised than annoyed.
Junpei normally would be ecstatic about such a development, but with Hamuko, it’s different. There’s a deep, ingrained respect for her inside of him. She’s his friend—no—his best friend. He won’t betray her trust like that. And, on a different front, he’s glad she's comfortable around him. As of late, Hamuko’s actions around her friends have seemed forced, but this is reassuring. She seems… relaxed.
“I was here first,” she says smiling slightly, “you owe me anyway.”
“I paid for your ramen that one time you said you were going to treat me.”
He distinctly remembers a cold, January day in which he conveniently forgot his wallet. He laughs awkwardly, “Haha… you never forget, do you?”
Hamuko’s face turns down at this, and Junpei racks his brain for what he said that offended her when she says, “I guess I don’t, huh?”
She’s whispering now. “Sometimes I wish I could forget, have the same peace you all do.”
Junpei stills. She's not talking about his tactless moment at Hagakure. He thinks back to yesterday when he was talking with Hamuko, of his feelings of unease when he couldn’t continue to speak because something wasn’t there. He still feels something missing, and it’s beginning to leave a hole in his chest. He couldn’t bear the thought of Hamuko wanting the same thing.
“Hamuko, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I want to help you with what's bothering you. I’m here for you, okay?” He tries his best, but he still feels his words fall flat.
“Thanks, Junpei,” her smile looks genuine. She laughs easily, “I haven’t seen you this serious in a while.”
“What?! I’m always serious, dude!”
The mood in the room lightens up considerably, and the pair falls into a comfortable silence. Somehow, Junpei ends up laying down opposite of her, their legs tangling in the middle.
A few inhabitants of the dorm stop by, talking of the closing ceremony and plans for the future. Whenever Hamuko is questioned about her future, she gives a vague description of wanting to continue school, and the answer seems to satisfy everyone enough. Otherwise, Junpei notes, she seems comforted by the presence of her friends. Her previous worries seem to have left her, temporarily at least.
Later, the dorm having cleared out again, a television show about feathermen rangers plays quietly in the background. Hamuko had fallen asleep on the couch a while ago, and despite knowing he should get up and make sure she gets to her own bed, his eyes gradually fall closed too.
“The time is now midnight.”
A sharp jolt of panic grips Junpei at those words. He looks around at his surroundings and the previous events of the night come back to him. Right. That was just the TV. He loosens his grip on the couch cushions, he was gripping them so hard it hurt, and a sense of calm returns to his body when he senses Hamuko.
He looks over to her; she’s still sleeping. Junpei rubs his eyes and gently disentangles their legs.
“Hey man, let’s get you up to bed,” he whispers while tapping her shoulder.
It takes him a few more attempts, but he manages to get her up. Much to his amusement, she mumbles something along the lines of how it’s rude to wake people up in the middle of the night but eventually stands up.
She leans heavily on Junpei as they trek up to the third floor, her arm wrapped tightly around his back. He considered offering to give her a piggyback ride, but he felt that would hurt her pride more than anything else. Hamuko could walk to her room just fine.
He sets her on her bed and thinks about telling her to change into nightclothes, but that’s just not an issue he wants to cover with her. Junpei doesn’t think he’s ever actually been in her room before, but somehow it doesn’t surprise him. The room practically screams Hamuko.
“Uh, see you tomorrow, Hamuko. And feel better, okay? Don’t want you to get sick on the last day of school.” Saying her name doesn’t hurt anymore, but he does sense a sort of finality in his tone.
He steps towards the door and turns around before exiting. Hamuko is staring at him with a weird look in her eyes.
He walks down to the second floor feeling like he was finally able to grasp something that has been out of reach for a while.