Juri pulls out the bottle of sake with a casual flourish just as the four of them are finishing up a meeting. ‘The manager of my latest project gave me a present,’ she says. ‘Want to share it?’
Touga picks the bottle up and looks at the label. ‘Of course,’ he says. ‘You have cups?’
Touga and Juri pour for each other and then Juri goes to pour for Miki.
‘That’s for adults, isn’t it?’ Miki says, somewhere between disdainful and intrigued.
Saionji was thinking the same thing, but like hell he’s going to align himself with their child genius, so when Juri offers to pour for him he accepts. It tastes weird, light and sweet but with an undertaste that stings his nose like drain cleaner. He wants to like it and wonders whether it would taste better if he was twenty.
‘Are you sure you don’t want some, Miki?’ Touga asks, lounging back with his cup held easily in his hand. ‘There’s no harm in trying it.’
Miki hesitates. ‘I guess… a little,’ he says. Juri pours him half a glass and he sips at it uncertainly. Saionji tries to copy Touga’s sophistication, to look like he’s done this before.
Against his better judgement Saionji tries to keep up with Juri and Touga, but he can’t get used to the taste. Even after several cups he sputters when he takes too large a sip and Touga laughs. Head buzzing with anger and something less familiar Saionji snaps, ‘Shut up! This is why we’re not friends anymore.’
Touga laughs harder for a moment and then the laughter fades down to a grin. ‘We’re still friends,’ he says.
‘We’re not. Because you’re like this,’ Saionji says, and takes another sip defiantly.
‘Because you’ve never made fun of anyone, of course,’ Miki says, face a little flushed even though he’s had much less to drink than the rest of them.
‘Don’t defend him!’ Saionji says.
‘Miki does have a point,’ Juri says. She’s staring into space somewhere over Saionji’s left ear. ‘You’ve certainly done worse.’
‘I’m not worse than Touga!’ Saionji tosses back his drink, in hopes it will loosen his tongue enough to turn the feelings buzzing around his head into words. But he can’t of course. What does Touga even do to him that’s so bad? Saionji gets hurt every time he’s near him, but why? ‘You’ll see,’ he mutters.
‘Thank you, Juri, Miki,’ Touga says. He reaches over to top up Miki’s nearly empty glass. ‘I appreciate your confidence.’
Saionji wonders why he’s there. They don’t like him or want him here, and he can’t dismiss their opinions so easily now he doesn’t have Anthy to prove his worth. Still, he’s got as much right to be there as any of them. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he tells them defiantly.
‘Of course not,’ Touga says, gentle enough to be patronising, and fills up Saionji’s glass again too. ‘Juri, does modelling often get you gifts like this?’
‘Of course, you’re a beautiful woman. It must be flattering,’ Touga continues. ‘Such attention.’
Juri’s expression closes off and freezes over. ‘It doesn’t interest me much,’ she says. ‘I appreciate the gifts.’
‘That’s what I mean,’ Saionji mutters.
‘They’re gifts for doing good work, right?’ says Miki. ‘It’s not like when Kozue gets presents.’
‘Hm.’ Juri pats him on the head with an odd smile.
‘Has someone been giving your little sister sake?’ Touga asks. ‘She does seem like she’d appreciate it.’
‘No, I don’t think…’ Miki looks at his cup with sudden guilt. ‘I’d be setting a terrible example.’ He suddenly sounds on the verge of tears.
‘What little sisters don’t know won’t hurt them,’ Touga says, tossing back the last mouthful of his and nudging Juri to pour for him again.
Miki laughs, although he still sounds like it might turn into a sob. ‘Nanami would be so mad, but not at you.’
‘I’d better watch out,’ Juri says, smiling because she’s one of the few people Nanami’s unlikely to try her claws against.
‘May as well make it worth it, then,’ Touga says, and they all take another drink. Touga’s seems to surprise him, somehow, for a moment his eyes are wide. Then he puts it down gently. ‘I’ll have to leave you to enjoy yourselves, though. Someone’s expecting me.’
Saionji makes the most disgusted noise he can manage and Touga ignores it completely. Screw him anyway. Saionji rubs his forehead, he’s feeling dizzy and he doesn’t want to stay here and make a fool of himself in front of Juri and Miki. Touga… Touga he always has to make a fool of himself in front of somehow, but with Touga gone he’s free to leave as well. ‘I’m going,’ he says.
‘I thought you weren’t going anywhere?’ Miki says.
‘Well, now I am,’ Saionji retorts and heads for the elevator. The ride down clears his head a little. He steps out into the courtyard, relieved to be alone, only to find Touga holding onto the side of the building as if it’s anchoring him from floating into space.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ Saionji asks.
‘The same thing that’s wrong with you, I imagine,’ Touga says, in a light tone at odds with his clutch on the white marble. ‘It’s a shame. Up until that point I was thinking I could see why they like it so much.’
‘Adults,’ Touga says, with a lopsided shrug.
‘You’d never tried it before either,’ Saionji’s voice is accusing. ‘I was trying to keep up with you!’
Touga starts laughing and then clicks his teeth together hard, forcing it back. ‘Your own fault,’ he says, on a gasp.
The bell chimes unexpectedly and Touga throws his head back in an exaggerated startle movement. ‘Gotta hide,’ he says. ‘Class change. Nanami.’
Saionji snorts laughter, but Touga’s right. The student council can’t be caught in this state, it would be humiliating. He stumbles forward and grabs Touga around the waist. Touga clings to him the same way he had the wall, it’s not companionable, Saionji might as well be an inanimate object, and it’s not making it easy to keep his rubbery legs going either. He shakes Touga as hard as he can without unbalancing both of them. ‘Walk!’ he snaps.
Touga makes some kind of effort and they wind up leaning on each other like a house of cards as they stagger their way into the nearest building. There’s an empty classroom and Saionji hopes it’s going to remain empty rather than be used next class, but the thought flits through his mind without sticking. He hauls them inside and dumps Touga at one of the desks before shutting the door.
Touga blinks up at him, lips curling into a smirk. ‘You’re nice.’
‘No, I’m not,’ Saionji says, accurately.
‘You’re nice to me.’
‘No, I’m not.’ Because he’s not, he’s a ball of defensive spines anytime Touga gets close. For all the good it does him. ‘I’m not that stupid.’
‘You’re exactly that stupid.’
‘I’m not! Pretty much everyone is nicer to you than I am.’ He adds, voice dripping disdain, ‘All those girls that fuss and pet and cook and drown you in luxury.’
‘Drown.’ Touga sprawls across the desk, cheek pillowed on one arm, shaking with silent laughter. ‘Jealous you didn’t get that from Anthy?’
Saionji takes a stumbling step towards him and halts, swaying. ‘She’ll come back to me. We’re meant to be together. She understood.’
‘Of course she did,’ says Touga. ‘You’re very easy to understand. That doesn’t mean she cared.’
Saionji’s chest feels like it’s full of molten lead, white hot anger and misery, and he’s not sure whether it’s for the possibility Anthy understands him and still doesn’t care, or the possibility that Touga does. ‘I’ll make her care.’
‘You can’t. Certainly not by hitting her.’
‘I don’t want to hit her! She just.’ Saionji scrubs his sleeve across his watering eyes, feeling hot and too full of everything. He wants to break down and just howl. ‘She won’t do what she’s supposed to! She won’t do what she says!’ His eyes won’t stop watering and it’s too humiliating to be crying in front of Touga, but he can still hear the distant footsteps of people changing classes. He can’t leave yet. ‘I suppose you’d make her care by giving her flowers.’
‘Not flowers, no, she has more than enough of those.’ Touga laboriously pulls one arm off the desk and wraps it around his stomach, for a moment too busy swallowing to speak. ‘Ugh,’ he says, before getting back to the subject. ‘I wouldn’t try. You can’t touch a heart that isn’t there.’
‘And you’d know all about being heartless.’
‘Not more than she is. Do you try to make me care?’
‘Always,’ says Saionji, words dripping with bitterness. Outside the footsteps are dying away, his head’s spinning and he’s going to either throw up or break down in tears if he can’t get out of here soon. ‘And it always ends up like this!’
‘Told you you were stupid.’ Touga curls up further around himself. ‘If it helps, I’m really not any better off this time.’
It does help, a bit, to know that Touga wasn’t really ahead of him this time. He’d just been making the same stupid attempt at acting adult as Saionji. Saionji’s legs give out and he slumps down to sit on the floor, leaning against the legs of Touga’s desk. Touga startles him by patting his head and saying, ‘There, now, don’t cry.’ Saionji’s pretty sure it’s some kind of playboy autopilot and squirms away scowling.
‘This is.’ Saionji groans and scrubs his hands over his face, trying to force himself to think. ‘Class change finished. Can you walk?’
‘No,’ Touga says matter of factly.
Saionji looks at his own traitorous legs. ‘…Yeah,’ he agrees.
‘Later,’ says Touga. ‘Gonna sleep. Be lookout?’
There are lots of things Saionji could say to that, but he can’t think of them right now, and anyway, Touga is already asleep.