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Kou wakes up before his alarm even has the opportunity to go off. It’s not the sunlight going directly through his eyelids as much as the way he’s used to it being there. He picks himself up from the bed regardless. The skies are grey outside and the rain pours down, restless, it’s the right weather to sink into his warm lion face-printed covers and so he knows for a fact Teru isn’t waking up on his own. A stretch and a long yawn later, he’s headed towards his brother’s room, no lingering attachment to his warm bed, lying untidy behind him. There’s something he enjoys in cooking breakfast while the streetlamps are still on, in the sound of three plates clicking against the dining table and the pop of the lunchboxes shutting while Tiara runs down the stairs. He takes that as his cue to finally wake Teru up, now that he can bribe him with freshly cooked breakfast.

The smell is enough to lure him out of bed and down to the table, where Tiara is already finishing up her portion. Teru thanks him for the food with a sleepy smile and a yawn and Kou takes the first bite out of his plate with a smile of his own. No amount of sleep seems to placate Teru, he sometimes says Kou and Tiara happened to take all the energy and there was nothing left for him but something about that statement doesn’t make sense. Kou doesn’t dwell on it, but he hopes it’s not something that comes with getting older; there’s so much things he needs to do every day, and he wouldn’t get by if he was always tired.

He washes the dishes, eyeing the clock above his head and reading the time with what he hopes is accuracy, while Tiara drags Teru by the hem of his shirt onto the bathroom and slams the door behind him once he’s inside. She smiles, big and with only a tiny gap between her teeth and Kou smiles back before she runs upstairs to get ready.

Drying his hands on his apron before taking it off, he makes sure the four bento boxes are packed and ready to go before leaving the kitchen himself.

The fourth lunch has become just another part of his routine for a while now and it doesn’t feel like an extra anymore. Most days he doesn’t even think about it until it’s already done, neatly set on the counter. Oh, but that may be a lie… he catches himself slipping extra portions on it more often than not and taking the box off Tiara’s tiny hands with a “It’s for Mitsuba, okay?” that pulls at the corners of his mouth, inexplicable and just as warm.

Sousuke never thanks him for it, or so it may seem, but Kou picks up how his eyes light up immediately at the sight of the box and how he makes grabby hands at it if he takes too long, and the way he hums, chewing vigorously and never batting an eye at it or leaving leftovers. Sousuke never says “thank you”, but Kou doesn’t need it. And the thought is enough to put a smile on his face while he finishes packing up for the day.

He showers after Teru is done and doesn’t come back to his room to tidy up his bed. Teru leaves before him, Tiara in tow to be dropped off at the daycare for the time being. It’s still fairly early but as school council president, he always has many things to do. After a quick and superficial sweep around the house, Kou leaves.

The walk to school is fast and uneventful, he stumbles on a rock or two because he’s not paying attention but doesn’t fall. There may or may not be some incomplete problems in his math worksheet for third period and he may or may not forget to ask Satou for help with them. But he’s not worried about them at all.

He forgets about them completely when Sousuke isn’t on his seat, playing with his phone or staring off outside the window or kicking Yokoo in the shins for some reason he makes sure to yell as soon as Kou arrives. His belongings aren’t anywhere to be found either. Kou checks the time and he should be here already, he always is. He sets his things aside and approaches his friends. It’s not unheard of for Sousuke to oversleep and slip into class late, but it is a little unusual. There’s also the fact that something feels heavy on his gut, and heavier the longer he waits. It’s never happened before, he thinks as he drags a nearby desk to sit between Yokoo and Satou.

“Seems like Sousuke will be late today,” Yokoo comments, looking up from his phone, set down on the table with red letters that read defeat all over the screen.

“There’s still time, maybe he’ll make it,” Kou points at the time on Yokoo’s phone. Ten minutes is more than enough.

“Well, yeah,” picking up his phone again, Yokoo nods.

“Bet he won’t make it anyway,” Satou joins, chewing on what seems to be a candy bar even this early in the morning.

Third period comes, and Kou’s math assignment isn’t the only thing missing.

The desk in front of him is empty, and Kou tries his best to keep at bay the urge to get his phone out and text Sousuke right then and there, ask him if everything’s okay or he should drop by with some warm homemade meal to make him feel better (food usually does the trick, and Sousuke doesn’t mind him seeing him all limp and tired, sweaty forehead and all as long as he’s getting fed). It takes a couple of tries before he even picks up, but Kou doesn’t give up and Sousuke has never put his whole heart in avoiding him.

Still, Kou is very much aware he’s failing math (along with at least 7 other subjects) and so he does not get his phone out in the middle of class. Lunch break can’t come fast enough.

“Hey, Kou,” Yokoo elbows his side as soon as he sits down beside him, “since Sousuke isn’t showing up…” he points at the extra lunchbox, grinning big and hungry.

Sousuke isn’t showing up, at least for today. Kou still doesn’t want to give away his lunch. Yokoo has his own, after all, just before him. He shakes his head.

“What? Why?” he complains, popping the lid of his own anyway.

“You’re already eating yours.”

“Your cooking is better, I can’t believe only Sousuke gets to have it, aren’t we your friends too?” he elbows him again and Satou rolls his eyes, chewing away on his side of the makeshift table.

“Like you need any more food,” he finally says, once he’s swallowed.

“I do, I’m an athlete,” finger proudly pointed at his chest, he grins.

“Sure you are,” Satou props another bite onto his mouth and chews away.

There’s no reason for Kou to hold onto the packed lunch. It still feels like the only right thing to do.

After class, he walks all the way up to the old building’s third floor girls’ bathroom, as it’s been a habit for longer than two years now. Not many people go to that part of the school after hours, and even fewer do it looking for the bathroom. It was Amane’s idea from the start, even before he befriended Nene or Kou and both of them stick to it because the place is actually nicer than one would think. Tsuchigomori lets them hang out in there as long as they don’t break anything and keep it clean enough, a deal he made with Amane that only Nene and Kou actually carry out.

“Is everything okay?” is the first thing he actually hears, long since settled on the bathroom floor between his two friends

Nene stares at him with big, concerned eyes, her deck secured against her lap with one hand. Amane is looking at him too, from behind his own set of cards. He doesn’t look particularly concerned (why would he be?), eyebrows just the tiniest bit raised.

“I’m fine!” Kou announces, dropping his cards. He realizes he doesn’t remember any of his previous movements.

“Don’t pay attention to him, Yashiro,” Amane squints behind his deck and the corners of his eyes raise just the tiniest bit. “he’s probably just busy thinking about his boyfriend,” the cards do little to cover his evil grin and he is not trying to do a better job.

A heavy sigh and a slight shake of her head later, Nene seems to get something out of Amane’s words; something lights up in her eyes for no longer than a second and her annoyed expression shifts again.

“Right, Mitsuba-kun didn’t come today, did he?”

“Bet he dropped out,” Amane jumps in before Kou can answer, prompting Nene to shove away his shoulder.

“He didn’t drop out! I’ll call him later, he’s probably just sick.”

“Sorry you have to find out like this but he’s ghosting you,” Amane shrugs but his devilish smile is enough to make Kou roll his eyes.

“Amane-kun!” Another shove at Amane’s shoulder and some more reassuring words for Kou later, Nene settles down closer to the latter, both arms crossed before her chest.

“C’mon Yashiro, he knows I’m just joking. That kid would die before going without him for more than a day, he’s in love, after all,” there’s no doubt in his voice but the joke is old on both Nene and Kou’s ears.

“Let’s go Kou-kun, I’m sure Amane-kun can manage moving all the club equipment on his own,” she tugs on Kou’s wrist and despite Amane’s complains as he gathers all the scattered cards, they leave the bathroom.

It’s just then that Kou remembers. They were supposed to help Amane on his club, since all of the other members dumped the responsibility to clear space for new equipment on Amane alone (his words, so Kou thinks he should take them with a pinch of salt. Probably), but they’re friends and so, despite leaving him behind, they’re still headed towards the astronomy club, not so far away from the third floor bathroom. If Amane hurries, he can probably catch up to them.

Nene leads the way, her act of being mad at Amane long since dropped and traded for a calm smile. It occurs to Kou that their hands are linked together and her smile is one of the prettiest he’s seen. A year before, he thinks, he wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face, walking like this. It’s raining outside and he keeps forgetting to look for the winter uniform, only the shirt under the summer one to give him an extra layer of warmth, his free hand is cold and he does not feel his face burning like he thinks he would some time ago. Nene is pretty, she’s one of her best friends and Kou knows for a fact he used to like her.

Two years before, when she asked him if Teru Minamoto was his older brother, handwritten and signed letter clenched at her side, Kou’s heart pounded against his ribcage. He took the letter and promised to take it to his brother (he didn’t ask why she gave it to him; didn’t think about doing so) and promptly tripped and fell into a puddle, ruining the pretty handwriting on the front and everything inside. His head spun around endlessly and he thought she might hate him, so he did his best at recreating what a love letter would say (and he thought of her smile and her eyes and how much he would like to talk to her again). Teru didn’t buy his poor attempt at it, messy handwriting, smudges and all and only then Kou accepted it would’ve been easier to just tell him what had happened from the start. A sheepish laugh later, Teru said he should apologize to her. It took him a week to find her in the halls, but when he did she laughed her pretty laugh and assured him it was fine and that she didn’t want Teru to accept her feelings anymore. It seemed that would be all, and Kou would eventually forget the way his chest hammered when she spoke or blinked or smiled, but they kept running into each other and waving and talking about meaningless little things and Kou’s face used to feel so warm. Nowadays they talk every single day about a little more than just meaningless things and they nap together on a bathroom floor sometimes, and walk hand in hand down an empty old hallway and Kou’s heart doesn’t rush nor stop and the cold from outside seeps through him as easy as it does everyone else.

Amane catches up to them by putting both hands on the place where theirs meet. There’s only a couple meters between them and the club door but they let Amane in anyway, freezing hands and all. Amane is like a cat, he once heard one of Sousuke’s friends say. He follows them everywhere they go, first Nene, since their last year of elementary school, she says, where things were a little different. Then Kou, once he spent enough time with Nene and he decided it was time to show up, but he’ll deny it every chance he gets and if you pry to much he’ll bite (he’ll probably feel a little bad afterwards but he won’t say it), his eyes are big and the way they reflect the night sky (and the moon, especially the moon) never failed to make Kou’s heart stop. He looks like more trouble than he’s worth and maybe it’s true, but they don’t mind it. He gets them in trouble and leaves them to get themselves and him out of it on their own but he smiles and Kou thinks it’s okay. He slips adult magazines in his desk and bag and leaves Kou to deal with the consequences (Teru says it’s not shocking anymore; that Amane should get a new joke soon. Kou gets a heart attack every time anyway) he takes his phone and texts random people who are since concerned about Kou’s hobbies and overall activities but sometimes he lets him wear his obnoxious little hat that doesn’t even fit Kou and he smiles at him just as big. That too, he notes, standing on the entrance to the club, made his heart freeze in his chest and his mind blank. It was warm, he recalls.

Amane drags him all the way in and his hand isn’t cold anymore, Kou’s face isn’t inexplicably burning either and there’s balance.

“Didn’t you guys say you wouldn’t help, though?” blinking two consecutive times, Amane alternates his act between both of them.

“I’m reconsidering,” she makes her way across the room anyway.

“We won’t get this over with quickly if you don’t help,” it’s not until he’s been told and has seen Kou fail at lifting a long table no less than three times that Amane approaches to help.

Amane Yugi is one of the most enthusiastic and involved members of the astronomy club. He always makes sure everyone knows what overnight event is coming weeks in advance and stays later than anyone else to organize it if necessary. He calibrates everyone’s telescopes on request and he does not move a finger to help Kou nor Nene clear space for new equipment. He sits around sipping on some soda and giving vague instructions on where to put things and calls it moral support. Kou wants to throw him out the window, he knows Nene would help him.

Amane spots the packed lunch before leaving. Kou lets him have it and hopes he’ll return the box the next day.

Back at Kou’s house, steam all around him, standing in the middle of the kitchen, he can’t wait for dinner to be ready so he can go back to his room and call Sousuke. It still is a little too early for him to pick up if he’s sick and hiding from him for some reason (Kou has no problem on going over and taking care of him for a while, Sousuke’s mom is nice and the best mom Kou knows but she’s busy and Sousuke is too much of a crybaby to deal with sickness on his own), but Kou will try anyway.

Tiara digs into her food as soon as the plate is in front of her but Teru keeps looking at him over his leftover paperwork from time to time. Kou smiles at him every time, gestures for him to clean the rice stuck on his cheek and hopes he doesn’t ask questions.

“Is something wrong?” Teru sets the paperwork down on the table, dangerously close to a wet spot left from his glass as soon as Tiara voices her thanks and leaps onto the couch. “You look worried.”

“No, not at all,” he grins.

Teru knows Sousuke. How would he not? A good portion of the family pictures lying around the house were taken by him. Most of them not even asked for but happily received anyway. Sousuke is Kou’s best friend, he comes over more often than not and, despite what Kou knows he thinks, he’s quite unforgettable. Teru says he’s an annoying brat and someone should teach him to yell and whine a little less (Kou has caught him looking over Sousuke’s shoulder and down at his camera and smiling behind his glasses when he styles Tiara’s hair more times than he can count). Teru knows Sousuke, but more than that, he knows Kou.

“You’re pretty bad at lying, you know?” Kou’s grin wavers, falling at the edges quicker than he can fix it.

He sighs, “Mitsuba didn’t show up today.”

“Oh, and did you try calling him?” he props both elbows on the table and the paperwork finally gets wet.

“You-” Kou points it out with a finger as the water keeps soaking through.

Batting a hand around, a grin twists his mouth a little too high: “I’ll just have Aoi redo them.” His usual, more relaxed and maybe tired smile falls back into place just as quick, “So? I’m sure Mitsuba-kun didn’t pick up.”

“… I haven’t called him yet. I was going to, just now!”

“I’ll help you do the dishes, go call him now.”

“… You’ll end up breaking more than you clean, you know…” A hand falls heavy on top of his head, ruffling his hair.

“Well, less plates to clean then!”

“That’s not how it works-” Teru ruffles harder.

“Your older brother is telling you do something so listen to him; go call Mitsuba-kun.”

Admittedly fearing for their plates’ safety, Kou stands up from the table, phone already in his grasp. Outside, the rain falls, scattered but steady, just as the tone coming from his phone. Cars go by far away… the moon is nowhere to be found.

Kou pockets his phone again and heads inside.

Under Tiara’s earnest gaze, Teru already went over all half the dirty dishes.

“He won’t break any plates under my watch!” Tiara declares, standing with both hands attached to her hips and her teeth in full display.

“I’m counting on you,” Kou’s hand falls on her head, and she grins even wider.

A glass clinks louder than it should.

Next morning, Kou stops himself for making an extra packed lunch. If Sousuke thinks he can get away with not showing up and not picking up the phone, then he’s wrong. If he shows up today, he better not be expecting a fresh meal after he almost let one go to waste the day before. There’s only three bento boxes resting on the countertop today and Kou keeps forgetting that’s supposed to be the right number. If Sousuke shows up, there will be no lunch for him today. If Sousuke shows up (and Kou hopes he does), there will be no lunch for him-

… Kou stuffs his own a little more than usual, just in case Sousuke is actually hungry.

His late night text to the group chat he shares with Yokoo, Satou and Sousuke, asking if anyone else had heard anything about the latter (and he expected Sousuke himself to reply when he sent it) was met with unsatisfactory answers and “go to sleep already” texts. Knowing them, they most likely already reached out to Sousuke themselves, but they don’t seem to be as bothered as Kou is about it. He just can’t wrap himself around it. Maybe he’s sick and his phone also stopped working for some reason, but then again, the calls do get through, they just don’t get picked up, which means, somewhere, Sousuke is deliberately waiting for him to hang up to go about his day.

Sousuke Mitsuba is nothing but complicated, annoying and time-consuming. Kou can’t get him or his smile out of his mind regardless.

Just outside the convenience store, close to the park, at the gates of the school and looking out the classroom window, Kou catches himself expecting to see Sousuke in all those places and more.

Flipping through his English book, he finds Sousuke’s doodles on the pages he’s supposed to work in. Bright pink, glittery gel pen spells out the words “good luck handing over your work now, idiot” in neat calligraphy. There are hearts on top of the “i” and wherever Sousuke saw fit. Kou almost doesn’t mind it. Almost because he’s still supposed to hand over the pages the message takes up for the end of the period and there’s no way to hide the sparkly letters.

Eraser nor corrector can solve Kou’s problem and he sighs.

It will be fine, maybe. He can always get back at Sousuke next time he sees him.

… He hopes the time comes soon.

The seat in front of him is empty, he can’t hear the sound of multiple pens and markers being capped and uncapped in close succession and no one turns around from time to time to ink his hands or arms. Sousuke shouldn’t be skipping class. More than that, he shouldn’t be avoiding Kou’s calls, if that’s what’s happening.

What if it isn’t? What if he didn’t just catch a common cold, what if he-?

Kou shakes his head until the thought gets replaced by what has happened countless times already. He called and so Sousuke will get back at him eventually, if he keeps calling, he’ll get an answer. It would be nice to jump past all that first stage, because Kou worries a lot more than others seem to do and he’s been waiting to jump out of his seat and onto him for way too long now. If only he knew where to jump to.

The teacher’s voice drowns in the background and Kou thinks that Sousuke’s relieved smile when he crosses the door to his room, warm meal in hand, is always worth the wait.

“You’ll get sick, idiot,” he said last time. Kou, decidedly not listening to him, slipped half his body under the covers. “Don’t blame me if something happens, it’s not my fault that you’ve got a weak immune system and still do shit like this.”

Kou doesn’t remember what came next, maybe he hummed a little bit and fell asleep. He didn’t get sick but he thinks he wouldn’t have minded if he had.

So, how long until he gets an answer?

“Kou,” Yokoo calls out to him under his breath.

Instinctively, his eyes fix at the front of the classroom, where his teacher is indeed looking right back at him.

“Ah, sorry!” his awkward grin doesn’t seem to help one bit.

Later that day, among the various growing vegetables in the school garden, under the drizzle, at Nene’s request (“There really isn’t anything to do there, but I have to go today,” she had said. And Kou and Amane listened), a bigger splash than the rain overhead could become in mere seconds impacts Kou’s back.

“You really can’t get him out of your mind, can you?” Hose still dripping on his hand, Amane stands behind him with slightly raised eyebrows.

He’s right, but that’s only because Kou is worried about him, and he has to be, since he isn’t showing up or at least telling him why. Kou cares about him, of course he does, Sousuke is his best friend.

Kou heads inside the greenhouse behind Amane and reminds him to turn off the hose before going in.

White. The hospital walls are white and not even the absence of sun makes them duller to Sousuke’s eyes. His head spins when he looks away from the ceiling and spins even more when he looks under the covers, so he keeps his eyes closed and both arms tightly secured under the blanket.

He doesn’t remember how he got here, or, at least he doesn’t remember much aside from blinding light, reflections and pain. He doesn’t remember and so, if he keeps his eyes closed, he can pretend.

It hurts. If he focuses on the pain it almost feels like he can curl his fingers in and out; like the covers don’t touch places they should never be able to reach and like the bandages are no different from his own skin.

But they are.

Sousuke focuses on the pain and soon it’s all he can feel. He’s always been a crybaby but the tears burn against his skin like never before and he wishes he wasn’t.

No one tells him what happened and he doesn’t ask. He hopes they think he’s aware and never try to bring it up. His right arm is lighter than it ever should be and his head weights him down in return. He doesn’t scream and he doesn’t sob loud enough for people to hear because he knows how to pick his battles and this one was lost from the start.

After the third consecutive time of trying to grab his cup or fork with his right hand and finding a bandaged mess, too short and too prone to make his heart travel to his brain and beat faster than before, he learns to keep the entire limb tucked away under the covers. Things are heavier on his left and in his head but the plastic cup burns his skin and the air conditioner chills him to the bone and he knows he’s alive.

Not like his mom would let him forget, either way.

Painkillers are numbing in more ways than one and Sousuke just wants to sleep.

In what his mom tells him is his third day at the hospital, he notices he can barely recall anything more than the vague sensation of eating and falling asleep, rinse and repeat, for the past two. There’s more unread texts on his lock screen than he can count and Kou’s name pops up at the top of them all.

His mouth tastes like iron when his tongue goes over the same spot at the front too many times, the hospital bed isn’t as comfortable and warm as his own and this isn’t just a common cold. He wonders what Kou would do to make him feel better if he knew. He wonders if even Kou Minamoto himself would be able to make him feel better at all.

“Do you want me to bring you anything in particular?” His mom asks, nails digging on the doorframe.

Swallowing as if he feels like speaking at all (his throat is dry and scrapped but he doesn’t remember screaming), he shakes his head from side to side. His eyelids aren’t as heavy, the place where his arm ends and his hand doesn’t begin anymore isn’t as numb anymore but he can only sleep for so long.

His mom nods and her hand almost seems to forget to let the frame go.

He’s been told time and time again that he’s his mom’s mirror image. Yui Mitsuba is strong and Yui Mitsuba gets what she wants in one way or another, she takes what life gives her and makes the best of it. Sousuke Mitsuba doesn’t think other people’s comments on how much he resembles his mom go further than the outside. But it’s not just them who’ve said it and so, maybe he should trust her word a little more.

“Mom?” he calls, tentatively and hoping it’s not too late. She peeks her head from behind the door again, “Say hi to Kinako for me!”

Her eyebrows are knitted together and her hands stick to everything they touch but Sousuke gives her a mirror image of her own smile and the world feels the littlest bit lighter.

It’s been three long days at the hospital despite him being asleep most of the time and Sousuke blames it on no one besides his mom showing up to see him. It’s not the right thing, he knows it isn’t, but he can’t help but think something like that should give him more attention, bring people closer to him, at least for the time being.

His dad shows up for fifteen minutes once the first day and never again (Sousuke still doesn’t answer his friends’ texts or pick up Kou’s calls). It’s not that he doesn’t want to see him (he does, probably more than Kou thinks he does), but there’s bags under his eyes, his hair is a tangled mess, the nail polish on his left hand is chipped and almost completely gone, his right arm is too light and he feels bad.

Kou’s smile is blinding; it makes Sousuke feel like the sun stares right back at him and it belongs on Kou’s face more than it does in the sky and so he can’t bear the thought of how it will shift once he knows it’s not a silly cough this time.

Ignoring Kou Minamoto proves to be a pain time and time again. This time, Sousuke thinks he should’ve picked up sooner all the other times.

“Is everything okay?” one of the texts reads. Sousuke hates to admit he can see the face Kou made while typing that.

Sousuke hates even more that he doesn’t know how to answer.

No. Not everything is okay. Somewhere, there’s a bloodstain too big for him to look at, and somewhere, mangled flesh that used to be his rests where he won’t see it ever again and he doesn’t want to, because it should never have been ripped away from him in the first place. Not everything is okay, but not everything is not not okay either, Yui had said, a trembling smile on her lips. Sousuke is alive and his mom comments on how he always wanted to get better at writing with his left hand, or how he barely used his right for the sake of tucking it under his long sleeve. It’s not the same and they both know that, the doctors tell him he could have died and the way his stomach drops at the words tells him everything he needs to know. There’s no hand at his right and things will be more difficult from now on, at least until he gets used to it, but he’s alive and he finds that death scares him more than anything else ever could.

He just wishes someone else came to visit so maybe he wouldn’t feel so lonely, stuck in his hospital room (too white, too empty, not enough pink or fluffy plushies, pictures or his cat, Kinako, napping lazily on his bed), the smell has started to hurt his nostrils, too cold, too sterile, and he misses so many things (only one of which he can’t get back). He expected a little more people showing up but instead…

His phone rings once again and the wait for it to stop feels longer every time.

If Kou knew, he would be right outside his door in record time, it’s as easy as picking up the call right now, before it stops- but he doesn’t. He doesn’t pick up and calling himself feels too complicated, too desperate. Kou is eager to know about him and Sousuke is eager to let him know but he doesn’t. Kou wants him to rely on him (he doesn’t need to say it out loud for him to understand, because Kou Minamoto has learned how to read him better than anyone ever could and in return Sousuke thinks he also gets him), he has shown it countless times already and Sousuke enjoys his company more than he should (because maybe insisting on him feeding him even when he didn’t have an excuse for it like he does now made his feelings a little too obvious and only Kou Minamoto himself would be dumb enough to not notice still. And Sousuke is grateful for it), but he still finds it so hard to seek him on his own when he needs someone the most. Sick people aren’t fun to be around. When he catches a cold, he’s more trouble than he’s worth (though he’s been told it’s not only when he’s sick), and now, it’s even worse. Sick people aren’t fun to be around, Sousuke Mitsuba is more trouble than he’s worth and yet he knows Kou Minamoto would come running at him upon request.

The air conditioner is still on even when it rains outside, the blankets and clothes are too thin and Sousuke wonders if Kou would have the common sense to hug him as mean of comfort without him having to ask him to.

Lunch tastes worse than it ever has before. As if Sousuke doesn’t already feel gross enough; tangled, dirty hair, dried blood sticking bandages to his right arm, bags under his eyes and dry mouth, now he has to down the shitty hospital food that isn’t even anything he likes to begin with.

“Don’t make that face, it doesn’t look that bad,” looking up from her phone, Yui nudges his arm from the chair beside him, “you’ve just become a picky eater all of a sudden. Eat up, you have to if you want to get out of here.”

Sousuke looks down at his plate and curses in all the ways he knows when he can’t figure out how to make his left hand move in all the ways his right used to. The spoon feels like it doesn’t belong between his fingers but there’s no other place for it.

“See? This is why I always told you to practice with both hands,” Sousuke is Yui’s mirror image in more ways than he cares to note and so he’s not amused when she brags about her slightly-better-than-decent handwriting with her left hand. He doesn’t grin like she does but he knows he’d do the same in a different context. “you should’ve listened to me,” but she doesn’t seem to be talking about the ambidextrous abilities Sousuke lacks anymore.

He doesn’t reply and she doesn’t say more but the silence feels natural.

“Kinako seems a little down without you, but he said hi,” she says.

“You’re starving him!” Sousuke accuses. “He would never be sad I’m not there; he hates me!” he hides his face under the covers because his sleeves don’t reach down enough.

“And why does he follow you all over the house?”

“He wants food, duh.”

Yui chuckles, “And why doesn’t he follow me, then? I feed him just as much.”

Sousuke is very much aware his cat feels the complete opposite of hatred towards him, “whatever, he hates me and you know it.”

“I’ll buy him some meat and say it’s from you so he doesn’t think you abandoned him.”

“He would never-”

His phone interrupts him, screen lit up with Kou’s name in full display and Sousuke knows his mom can see it even after shoving it under the covers. The light of the screen passes right through them and it keeps vibrating against the mattress at an annoying beat.

“Aren’t you picking up?” her eyes are fixated on him even as he looks down at his plate and absolutely nowhere else, especially not at his phone right beside him. “Isn’t it Minamoto-kun?”

 “I don’t feel like talking to him,” even he knows it doesn’t sound convincing at all (his mom knows way too much, even if she never comments on it, he can tell), but he has to try.

“Oh, so you’re still in that mindset,” she rolls her eyes at him with a poorly hidden smile that looks more mocking than fond. “I don’t even know how he’s put up with your antics for so long.”

“It’s because I’m cute and the best person he’s ever met, obviously,” for a second, his heart thumps hard against his chest (*“-because I’m so cute and you’re in love with me,” is what he tells Kou every time he asks that same question. Kou never outright denies it and Sousuke doesn’t know if he should be holding onto that hope as much as he does or Kou is just unbelievably dumb).

“He’s too kind for you to be avoiding him like this,” a grin tugs at the corners of her mouth, an elbow already digging into Sousuke’s side. “Besides, aren’t you happy when he visits you when you’re sick?”

A pause, a glance to the place where his right arm ends, too abrupt and too quick, “… It’s different this time.”

Steps all over the hospital halls take over the entire room, drowning every other sound. And they let them.

“It sure is…” she says, and the room breathes again, admittedly paused and irregular. “He’d come anyway, though.”

“I know...”

“So? Don’t you wanted someone to come visit you?” his mom knows him better than he ever wants to admit and so he doesn’t reply.

He has friends. He can’t say the same about his elementary school years but it’s been quite a while since then. Yokoo and Satou are his friends, he thinks of Sakura and Aoi as his friends and hopes they consider him one in return. He could even go as far as to say Natsuhiko and Nene are his friends (they clearly think of him as one and despite everything, Sousuke doesn’t hate their company, if he had to compare them to something, it would be extra annoying siblings). Tsukasa is not his friend, he just happens to hang around Sakura and Natsuhiko all the time, but he pulls his hair and threatens to break his camera at least once a week so Sousuke would have no problem avoiding him forever. Kou is-

Kou Minamoto is the biggest idiot ever and Sousuke does not care about him. At all. He does not take pictures of him when he’s not looking and puts them on his wall beside all the other stuff he holds dear to his heart, he does not enjoy the food he makes him and does not want to hug him because he just looks so warm. Sousuke’s heart definitely does not skip several beats when Kou smiles his sunlit smile. Kou Minamoto is ugly and not cute at all and Sousuke does not think about holding his hand. Ever.

Yui is not waiting for an answer she knows Sousuke won’t give her so they can silently put the topic behind them, at least for the time being-

So why in the world is she holding out her phone towards him?

“Minamoto-kun deserves to know you’re alive, and you need to stop acting like he doesn’t care about you," the phone rings and Sousuke curses the day he let Yui Mitsuba have Kou’s phone number.

For emergencies, she said and Sousuke never once believed her, but this?

“This is treason.”

A chuckle, “thank me later.”

Sousuke hopes so hard that Kou doesn’t pick up, throat dry and scraped, eyebrows knitted together and phone resting heavy and unfamiliar on his left ear, that he does before Sousuke can think about hanging up.

“Uh, hi?” and Sousuke hates how relieved he is of hearing Kou’s voice.

“Hey-” he starts, but apparently that’s enough for Kou to tell him apart from his mom.

“Mitsuba?” his heart stops at the way his name sounds coming from Kou’s mouth, a bittersweet mixture of happiness, worry and everything in between. He hates how much he wishes he could hug him.

Yui at least has the decency to leave after ruining his peaceful evening, he’ll give her that much.

“Who else would call you?” his fingers twitch looking for a warmth that isn’t there at all.

“You’re alright!” it’s not the first time Sousuke avoids him to keep him from visiting and yet he’s just as relieved to hear from him.

“I’m alive,” he rectifies even it that defeats the point of pretending in the first place. Not like he could hide what happened forever, though. “Jeez, it was barely three days without knowing about me and you’re like this? You’re pathetic.”

“I got worried, okay? You didn’t show up, you didn’t answer my calls… you always do that when you’re sick!” Kou pauses and Sousuke hates that he can make out what expression his face shifts into: “So? You are, right?” Sousuke doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t hang up either. The room feels heavier than it was a minute ago; heavier by the minute. “Come on, tell me so I can help you!”

But it’s not that easy…

“I doubt you can help this time.”

At the other end of the line, Kou stumbles over his own words: “That’s what you say every time!”

“And have you helped in any of those, by any chance?” Sousuke thinks of a spoonful of warm soup directly to his mouth, of fluffy blankets stacked on top of him, of Kou’s face just within reach while he checks his temperature and of how incredibly warm his hands are when he takes both of his between them. “That’s what I thought,” he hurries to say before Kou has the chance.

A vague, pathetic hum reaches Sousuke’s ears, then: “Well uh, I thought I helped a little…”

It’s a blow straight through his heart and Sousuke hates it.

“Ugh, fine,” despite his best judgement, he can’t find it in him to start any other way. “but only a little. And don’t let it get to your head!”

“Heh, I knew it!” and Sousuke’s heart beats again. “Then? Does that mean I can come over to help you?”

If only it was that simple.

“… I’m not…” even if he doesn’t tell him, Kou will find out sooner than later.

“Well, it’s fine anyway… because I know you’re okay,” there’s a little smile there, at the end of his sentence, Sousuke can’t see it but he knows.

Kou Minamoto is his least favorite person. No doubt about it.

“Can you get any cheesier?” Sousuke blurts out, louder than he probably should in a hospital. “No, don’t answer that, I bet you can.”

“I’m not being cheesy; I’m telling the truth! I forgot to hand in assignments because of you, you know?”

Life goes on without Sousuke Mitsuba. All his other friends worry the tiniest bit and wait for an answer. Kou Minamoto, bright as the sun, stumbles on his untied shoelaces and forgets his homework because Sousuke is too stubborn to answer his calls or texts the first try.

“That’s sounds like a you problem,” his heart isn’t running a mile per hour and he does not feel like an asshole for worrying Kou so much.

“Can’t you at least tell me when you plan on not showing up so I don’t have to deal with the extra lunch?” life goes on without Sousuke Mitsuba and Kou tangles himself all around him in more loops than he can jump. “That would be nice.”

“… Sorry.”

“It’s okay, Amane ate it so it didn’t go to waste but I’m still waiting for him to return the box.”

Sousuke can’t help but chuckle, “as if you’re ever getting it back.”

“It’s pretty much your lunchbox by now, you should be more worried, then,” shit, he’s right.

“That just means you’re definitely not getting it back! He probably burnt it already!”

“He doesn’t hate you that much, I’ll just have to ask him,” Amane Yugi has wished death upon him countless times so Kou is wrong, actually. “It’s still mine, after all.”

“Good luck with that,” back sinking in the hospital’s pillows, not anywhere near as comfortable as the ones waiting for the majority of him back in his room, his sigh ends up being closer to a scoff. “I still expect my lunch next time, you know?”

“Don’t worry about it!” A loud bang crashes against Sousuke’s ears. “Oh, sorry I dropped my phone. But wait, does that mean you’re still not coming back?”

Fingers curling in and out, Sousuke feels like he can grab the blankets around his body at both sides. He knows that’s not true.

“… Not yet.”

Seconds go by without a word and Sousuke knows he should tell him. Things like that can only go unmentioned for so long and as much as he doesn’t want it to be true (jars are heavier, pencils don’t sit right between his fingers, his phone slips through the gap on its hold…) he can’t avoid it forever.

“How long, then?”

“I’m not sure… maybe a month?” too late he realizes that gives away far too many details.

“… A full month? What happened?” he should’ve seen it coming.

“Okay, I talked to you enough for today, I’m hanging up!” the phone falls out of his hand and onto the mattress, instead.

“Wait, can’t I at least see you? You don’t have to tell me what happened but-”

The red button on the screen is one click away. Sousuke brings the phone to his ear.

“You’ll see it if I let you come.”

“I guess you’re right…” for a moment longer than wanted, the static between them is all Sousuke can hear. “… Is it that bad?”

Sousuke wants to tell him that he has no idea, wants to cry and scream and maybe run around so he can stop thinking about how his right side feels uneven and how tired he is of the painkillers but how much he fears the pain itself. Wants to go back to his house and pet his cat while getting homework done at the same time, wants his pretty handwriting back and so many other things he can’t get. Wants some homemade food and a comforting hug that won’t fix anything but seems like the right thing to ask for. Kou Minamoto is one word away and suddenly Sousuke can’t speak.

It’s just after class, the rain is little more than speckles to protect your eyes from and Sousuke wishes he was anywhere but here.

“It’s not just a cold this time, is it,” he’s not asking questions.

Sorrowful is something Kou’s voice should never be. Sousuke has the feeling Kou would say the same about him if asked. He’s cheesy like that.

And it doesn’t mean anything in particular.

“Wish it was,” is what he manages to say.

On the best of days, silence sits comfortable between them and they fit right in. Today is not the best of days but there are things that never change. Today is not the best of days but Sousuke knows there’s always a place for him when it comes to Kou, in one way or another.

“Alright idiot, I’m uh, hanging up now,” things pile up too quickly and Sousuke doesn’t want to start sobbing on the phone right now, not if his tongue will most likely slip. “You know I’m alive now so stop crying all over the school, get a life.”

A life that doesn’t go on without me like everyone else’s, maybe? he doesn’t say. Because that’s nothing short of pathetic and Kou doesn’t see him the same way Sousuke does. Kou loves all his friends too much and he’s just one more. He’s as selfish as he is cute and so he can’t help but want.

“I have one, you know. I just care about you, asshole.”

Heart skipping several beats, Sousuke wishes Kou did a little better at not getting his hopes up. Someone who cares about him this much is already more than he could ever ask for but Sousuke has to be selfish and want the extra mile, doesn’t he?

“Again, that’s a you problem.”

“You’re seriously the worst!” Kou complains, though it doesn’t sound like he means it at all.

“Hang up, then.”

“Not until you tell me where to find you.”

“In that case, I’ll hang up for you, bye-”

The phone gets pulled out of his hand before he has the time to follow through.

“Minamoto-kun? Sorry Sousuke is being so difficult, but you know how it goes,” Sousuke can’t hear what Kou says about that but he can death glare at his mom, who promptly ignores him. “He’s been complaining about no one visiting him this past few days, you know? He’ll be happy to have you here.”

“No, I won’t!” Sousuke exclaims, Yui bats a hand in his direction, a faint smile pulling at the corners of her eyes.

Until it doesn’t. “Oh, so he didn’t tell you,” even his own heart seems to stop at that but the words taste like dirt and dust and Sousuke can’t get them all the way up his throat. “No, no, it’s fine, you’ll… see for yourself.”

I can’t believe you’re throwing him into this without telling him what to expect, her eyes say, sinking in like daggers. But they soften soon enough. She doesn’t get it, not entirely, but she tries.

“Sorry,” Sousuke mouths before she turns around.

Yui comes back two minutes later, phone pocketed away and fingers deep into her hair, pulling it up in a ponytail.

“I told him where to go,” the mattress dips under her weight, as Sousuke’s shoulder does under her hand, “Nothing more. He said he’s on his way,” she chuckles, simple and quick, because she, too, knows Kou Minamoto.

“Thanks for telling that creep where to find me,” he rolls his eyes at her unamused self. “And they say mothers are there to look after you!” She elbows him right between his ribs and it hurts. “I’m already all messed up and you come and stab me? Me, your son?”

“Quit it,” she laughs. “Weren’t you complaining no one came? Now you’ll have visit every day.”

“Like I want him to come, out of all people.”

“Isn’t he your best friend, though?” raised eyebrow and piercing eyes are more than enough to make him look away.

“Why would I be friends with someone like him…”

“The right question is why would someone like him be friends with you.”

“Your favoritism is showing,” arms tightly crossed against his chest, he’s dead set on not looking at her, not even when she breaks into a fit of laughter.

“Good. That was the intention.”

Things aren’t going as Sousuke would want them, he hates the painkillers as much as the pain, outside the rain isn’t enough to drown his thoughts, the hospital bed and blankets aren’t as warm and fluffy as his own, his cat is not demanding to be pet by headbutting his arm or screaming for food and the air conditioner is still on, for some reason. But he’s alive and breathing and the doctors say he’ll live a normal life once he gets used to it.

Kou is coming over and maybe he just needs a hug that isn’t from his mom.

“Wait, did you say he’s coming right now?”

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

This isn’t something several mouthfuls of food, blankets or even medicine can fix, Kou doesn’t even know what to expect and yet- and yet he’s on his way right this instant. Sousuke is already rehearsing how to tell him to get a life without breaking down in tears.