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Paper Thin

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Rainclouds don’t grumble in anticipation before the downpour starts. The droplets pool on the outside of his windowsill, clinging to the glass as they go down and he doesn’t remember where they keep the umbrellas. If Kou let it, it could drown every sound around him, no matter how loud.

Yui speaks, and every other sound dies down, crushed by the heaviness of her voice: “oh, so he didn’t tell you.”

His stomach drops to places a stomach shouldn’t be in and the white noise in his ears is louder than the rain.

“Tell me what? Is he about to die or something?” tripping over his own words, his room spinning all around him, he doesn’t stop to think about what comes out of his mouth.

It wouldn’t be a stretch, would it? Even if Sousuke already has a tendency to dance around everything he doesn’t want to say, it’s never this way when he catches a cold, it’s never this way when he falls down some high place he never tells Kou how he managed to climb. And Kou claims the kitchen for himself and runs to his house before the food gets cold, and cleans the blood from his hands with the nearest rag, even it if happens to be his own shirt… but he’s not sure what he’s supposed to brace for this time.

“No, no, it’s fine, you’ll… see for yourself,” a weight gets lifted from his chest. Decidedly not all of it, no, but enough for him to breathe.

It has to be something bad, right? Kou trusts Yui like he would his own mother if she was still around (if she had had time for him in the first place); she would tell him if something was wrong. Too wrong, anyway. Sousuke is sick or injured or both, Kou knows that for a fact… but he was also being himself so maybe it’s not all bad.

“He’s okay, right?” what the rain does drown, though, is his own voice.

The pause at the other end goes on for a couple seconds at most; Kou feels every one of them like a separate hour.

“He’s…” she starts. If it’s this hard for her to speak then what should he even expect? The rain drowns his voice but not the pounding in his chest or the long, heavy sigh on the phone, “He’s alive. He’s not in danger or anything, but he’s not exactly alright, you know? He’ll get better, I know he will, but for now-”

“So would it really help if I came by?” her words are not as comforting as he wishes they were but this isn’t about him at all. If Sousuke is alive and if he can see him and help, somehow, then everything will be alright.

“He won’t admit it but he wants to see you, you know how he is,” her voice picks up at the end and Kou thinks he can breathe a little better. “I’ll tell you where to go, so you can drop by when the weather gets better-”

“I can go right now!” he doesn’t recall getting up from his bed or staring blankly at the world outside his window, but the rain is louder in his eardrums, as his heart; as the steps he’s about to take down the stairs.

“Right now?” she chuckles in a way Kou think’s it’s surprised. “Can’t expect less from you, Minamoto-kun, Sousuke will be happy to see you.”

His heart keeps hammering against his chest but his stomach returns to its rightful place. Sousuke whines and complains but he… he always smiles at him in the end, doesn’t he? He throws insults around and sometimes Teru tells him he’s too rude. Kou doesn’t believe it for a second.

Out of all places Yui could’ve told him to go, the word hospital sinks all the way through his abdomen like a sword and, peaking just beside his spine, it tells him you should’ve expected this. Sousuke nor Yui tell him what’s wrong, the hospital is thirty minutes away if he runs and he doesn’t consider how worn and easy to slip in the soles of his shoes are until he has to catch himself mid-fall on the street in front of his house. The Minamoto household is big, Kou is pretty sure only Teru actually knows where they keep their umbrellas (it’s not right by the door, is it? He doesn’t remember seeing one there on his way out, but then again, he doesn’t remember looking) and he’s not home yet so the hood of his sweater will have to do.

Rain soaks through, cold against his scalp and he wonders if they’ll let him dry off at the entrance.

Two blocks down the line, he stops. The downpour is more or a drizzle this way down, though it seems to have been just the same mere minutes ago. At least the rest of the way to the hospital looks clear enough, for the time being.

“Why are you running around in the rain?” Under his hood, his hair is full of dew he sends flying as he turns at the familiar sound of a woman’s voice to his right, “You trying to catch a cold or what?”

“Ah, Yako-neesan.”

“Why are you acting surprised? You came all the way here,” cross-armed against the doorframe, eyebrows high on her forehead, she stares.

If looks could kill Kou would have died a very long time ago. If looks could kill maybe Yako wouldn’t be looking at him like that, though.

“Not stopping by today!” he announces, taking off his hood.

The bell dangling from the door chimes one last time as Yako makes her way across it.

The tables inside rest unoccupied, with no more than five exceptions (if Kou can count them as it is), and right now, she’s neglecting all of them, just as she always does when Kou drops by, elbows propped on the counter, sharp eyes slicing right in half everyone who dares ask for something like telling Kou how wrong the answers to his literature worksheets are and patiently going through all of them is her real and only job. “It’s no wonder why no one comes”, Sousuke said to Yako’s face one too many times and was promptly banned from setting foot in the shop (and chased away with an empty flower vase aimed at his head).

“Then? Where are you going?” she asks, shifting her weight from side to side. “Looking like you just saw a ghost, too,” despite her scoffs, her sharp eyes soften at the edges in a way he’s not so sure he’s seen for someone else. “You better have already finished your work for this week, if you plan on running around like that.”

“Not yet!” he grins, the thought of his classic worksheets resting somewhere on top of his desk flashes by; instantly getting lost- “I’m going to visit Mitsuba!” because he thinks of Sousuke’s smile, the one he gives him when his camera’s shutter goes off at just the right time, when he puts the first bite of Kou’s homemade pudding onto his mouth, when he shows him a picture he’s proud of… In the end he finds himself looking for the reason behind all those vivid images, bubbling up to the surface at a time like this. “He’s at the hospital, though. And he didn’t say why.”

Sharp eyes widen, not even the slick stroke of eyeliner doing much to hide the roundness in the corners of her eyes. Yako’s eyes look like a fox’s more often than not but for a second, Kou can’t see them as anything other than human.

“Hold on a second,” her hand slips into the ceramic vase decorating the nearest tabletop, coming back with three pink peonies and extending them to Kou, “Where are your manners? You can’t just show up empty handed.”

“Oh! I didn’t think about that!” petals an all-too familiar shade between his fingertips and the rest of the way both a lifetime and a blink away, he realizes it’s not raining anymore.

“You don’t even have an umbrella,” shrugging, she scoffs at Kou’s back: “Make sure to thank me properly, would you."

“Thank you!” his upper half bows down slightly before he can help it. ”Actually, I-”

“Shoo now, you can’t keep him waiting,” she cuts in, her hand motioning towards the tall building ahead.

Worn sneakers slip on the damp pavement when he turns around, “See you!” he waves his free hand at her, who gives her what seems to be her best try at an annoyed smile. The bell chimes in his ears one last, distant time and, the hospital stands taller and taller.

Sousuke’s name tastes funny on his tongue and getting in is easier than he remembers it to be (no longer standing on his tiptoes to reach the counter, no longer needing his hands for support against it). Hospitals aren’t a fun place (they weren’t back when he fell on his outstretched hand during first year gym class, they weren’t back when Teru hurt his ribs badly and only then their dad called him by his name for the first time, and they weren’t when his mom kept getting thinner and thinner until they didn’t have anyone to visit anymore), but he climbs the stairs, barely a step away from running through the white, empty hallways, and Sousuke’s name refuses to become just another word no matter how many times he repeats it.

As he’s just about to round the corner, he spots the familiar kanjis on the door plate. And he stops.

The door is closed, there’s no one else in sight- and Sousuke is a second away. Here he can’t ignore his calls or texts, here Kou doesn’t have to wonder what he’s going through, here… here Kou doesn’t know what to expect.

Nothing but three peonies in his hands, he wonders if he can actually help. There’s only one way to find out, isn’t it?

“The fuck are you doing here?” Sousuke frowns at him and the bags under his eyes don’t go unnoticed, but his voice is just the same as always and Kou takes a step too long before realizing jumping onto someone’s hospital bed without knowing what’s wrong probably isn’t the best of ideas.

“I told your mom I was coming!”

Looking away, sinking into his pillow and blankets, Sousuke doesn’t reply.

“Well, you saw me, now leave,” he brings the covers even higher to his chest and they don’t look fluffy at all. “I look awful, no one’s supposed to even see me, you already got too much.”

Under the white light, Sousuke’s hair shines perhaps a little too bright, and there’s a small bruise on his left cheek. He doesn’t smile and doesn’t look at Kou but Sousuke Mitsuba is Sousuke Mitsuba every single day.

“No, you don’t!” Kou mouths, inching closer to the bed, he’s not sure if Sousuke can see him through his thick hair.

“Yes, I do. You’ve barely seen me, you can’t tell.”

“I think you always look cute-!” his tongue twists upon itself before the end of his sentence, the air conditioner pierces his eardrums but his own heartbeat overthrows it in no time.

At least it makes Sousuke turn around.

“I always look cute, you said?” the covers to his right rise and fall, but it’s his left hand that goes to cover his mouth. “Just admit you’ve fallen for me already; it would embarrass you less.”

 There’s a pause on his hammering heart but, in the long run, it does nothing to make it lose momentum. “You’re doing well,” he says, because sitting on a hospital bed or not, Sousuke is Sousuke.

“I am not,” he complains. “even worse now that I know a weirdo like you wants to put his hands all over me and-”

“You’re right then, you’re not cute at all,” a scoff has never been enough to deter Sousuke but Kou will try either way. “Anyway, I brought you flowers.”

“I noticed. Did you pick them up from the sidewalk on your way here?” despite his better judgement, Kou smacks him in the face with said flowers. “Ugh! You came just to bully me?”

“Shut up, Yako-neesan gave them to me.”

“Bet they’re poisoned then, she hates me,” Sousuke pouts and Kou can’t wrap his head around the issue. But then again, he doesn’t know where to start looking.

“No one hates you. Everyone’s worried about you, I can’t believe you ended up in the hospital and didn’t tell me!” he came all the way here as fast as he could, so Sousuke shouldn’t have a reason to believe he wouldn’t show up, right?

“I don’t have to tell you everything.” Kou shoves him aside, and the bed is just big enough to sit.


“What? Were you crying over not knowing about me? Are you that pathetic?” hand close to his mouth at all times, his mocking tone quivers more than ever.

Kou knows when Sousuke is about to cry. There’s a certain ring to his voice, just between the vowels. When he fakes it, he is loud and annoying and Kou wants to shove him aside and don’t look back (he always does), but when his eyes shine too bright, not right at the middle like a mirror image of the sky but at the corners, like a glass about to overflow, then Kou wants nothing more than to hug him tightly. And when he fakes it, he thrashes around in his hold but just now… his forehead meets Kou’s shoulder and it’s not the drying rain which soaks through anymore. Sousuke is a crybaby (and he’s learned to weaponized it). Sousuke is a crybaby and his real tears are heavier than Kou wishes they were.

“I was worried about you,” Kou might not be the best when it comes to remembering the proper way to do trigonometry or the components of basic chemicals, but there’s no way to forget the feeling of Sousuke’s hands slipping along both sides of his waist whenever they hug. That’s where his arms fit better and Kou’s own are used to resting at both sides of his head, under Sousuke’s soft hair. So the weight upon his right shoulder is not unwelcomed, but certainly not expected. “Will you… tell me what’s wrong?”

“Just see for yourself,” he doesn’t let go and Kou doesn’t pull away, there’s a heartbeat in Sousuke’s chest (it’s fast against Kou’s own but it doesn’t take him long to realize they seem to match), and he’s warm against his rain-chilled skin.

Sousuke’s hair doesn’t smell like vanilla or strawberry like it usually does and the clear, almost allergic smell of his clothes is hard on Kou’s nose but Sousuke will always be Sousuke and his hugs feel as familiar as ever.

When the rise and fall of the blanket at Sousuke’s right side finally stops, and, without meeting Kou’s eyes (not like Kou could look at Sousuke’s anyway, not now), he lets his arm rest on his lap, bandaged, unsettling in all the worst ways and a little bloodstained, then Kou doesn’t know what else to do besides freeze.

“Ah-” he mouths, as if the air was punched out of his lungs. Sousuke’s eyes are tired and they don’t shine under the white light like Kou wishes they did.

“Don’t ask what happened, I don’t even remember and I don’t wanna know,” words stumble upon each other, distant to Kou’s ears but loud and clear all the same, somehow.

Stop staring, Kou tells himself, but he’s half convinced his heart has traveled all the way to his brain and pulses just behind his eyes.

“Stop staring,” Mitsuba tells him without meeting his eyes, arm slipping right back under the covers.

Frozen on the spot, Kou can’t do more than watch how Sousuke crumbles under the weight of the world. So he makes himself snap out of it by sheer will.

On his way here, he thought of Sousuke’s bright eyes and brighter smile, of vanilla and strawberry, of soft clothes and softer hair- there’s none of that in front of him but Sousuke Mitsuba will keep being himself no matter what.

Kou tells him as such.

“… Sorry-” or tries to.

“You should be,” Sousuke cuts in, already puffy eyes pooling up once again. “staring at me like that, bet you have an amputee fetish or something!”

“Wh- a what?

Sousuke chooses to look away from him, tightly closed eyes and a pout that Kou feels almost familiar with, if it wasn’t for the dried tear trails running down his cheeks. Even his arms are crossed before his chest, his right arm in plain sight, not hiding under the covers anymore. At least until his eyes open again, arms quickly falling as if weighted down.

Soon it’s not only the dried tear trails which run down his cheeks. And Kou hates to see Sousuke cry. It’s different when he fakes, easier to push aside, no desperate need to offer a shoulder to cry on or at least try to wipe them off, loud, almost comedic bawling Kou rolls his eyes at. When Sousuke cries, he is loud and he is messy, his sobs hurt Kou’s ears in a completely different way and he doesn’t even think about the snot he’ll have to wash away from the shoulder of his shirt. It’s a lot more like whimpering a lot less like something you can simply ignore; it’s heartbreaking.

His body moves on its own accord; he sits closer, both his arms open at just the right distance for Sousuke to fit into, and his fingertips fear doing more than lightly assessing the warm presence in front of them, as if scalding, vivid red, instead of shattered glass barely holding together. Except Sousuke doesn’t lean forward or move at all.

So Kou brings him closer on his own, fingers digging into his hair, which is not as soft as he remembers it. What feels just the same, though, is the weight and the breathing against his chest, high on the list of things he’ll just never forget.

Nothing he does will fix anything this time, he realizes. No matter how hard he tries, there’s no way for him to give Sousuke what he lost, and it hurts. It hurts but he doesn’t dare say it because his shirt is damp and so he knows it hurts worse for him.

“This sucks,” he says, purposefully wiping on Kou’s shirt. “all the bad things always happen to me! And to think I was the cutest person on Earth…”

Kou’s hand gives a last trip around Sousuke’s shoulder blades before he pulls away, sitting up again, shoulders hung low and tired eyes but the tiniest hint of a smile pulling at the corners of his chipped lips, no trace of the sparkly lip gloss he likes to wear, that catches bright light and deflects it on Kou and Kou alone until he can’t look away. And yet he finds that he can’t look away even now.

Smiles, bright eyes or not, Sousuke is Sousuke. Kou thinks of overcomplicated insults that fall flat upon delivery, of photography talks he barely understands, of lighthearted mocking when his test score is lower than his, even if they both failed, of afternoons spent kicking each other’s feet under the table and, more than anything, of how the corners of Sousuke’s mouth pick themselves up from time to time. Smiles, bright eyes or not, Sousuke is Sousuke, but Kou is sure things will get better. He will make them be, if it’s what it takes… somehow.

It’s easier said than done but Kou Minamoto doesn’t know when to give up (and he’s proud of that, actually).

Tears still cling to Sousuke’s long lashes when Kou pulls him away from his chest, both shoulders tightly secured. His eyes shine under the white lights and even if it’s from the tears, it’s a step in the right direction.

“You’re still you, you know?” he says through a big smile.

There’s something unreadable in the way Sousuke’s shoulders rise and fall once and never again, on how the remnants of tears finally fall but their trails don’t go all the way down, on his upper lip trembles but he stares right back at Kou, wide eyed, and yet he says: “… A lot of good that does me now.”

The room feels heavy but Sousuke’s hand on top of his is the heaviest thing of all.

Rain catches up once again just by the time Kou’s phone starts ringing. He stands up as if he has springs instead of bones and Sousuke didn’t think he’d miss the warmth of his hand as much as he does now.

“Me?” Kou asks whoever he’s talking to, pacing back and forth around the room. “… I’m at the hospital… came to see Mitsuba,” he takes that as an opportunity to stare daggers at him for no particular reason, Kou frowns. “Oh, you’re right! Uh… I’ll be there soon, sorry.”

So this is it for today, huh?

He didn’t want Kou to come and now, as he approaches the bed, he finds once again that he enjoys his company more than he probably should. That a hug and some words and a hand on top of his don’t solve anything but neither does burying himself under a cold blanket for hours on end. That perhaps he missed him just as much as Kou claims he did (as he did).

“I have to go back now,” he says, right hand crawling along the back of his neck, fingers lightly tugging on his ugly earring, and oh- the earring’s been there this entire time… “Forgot to make dinner,” Kou’s teeth don’t entirely line up, Sousuke saw him chipping them by catching a thermos with his face, but he smiles sheepishly, a pointy canine poking out and Sousuke can tell the second his heart starts going a mile a minute.

“You seriously came all the way here like you had nothing better to do? Is that your way of telling me you’re in love with me?” he sneers. He hates that, somewhere along the way, he started hoping one day the answer is yes.

“Whatever,” or that somewhere along the way, he started noticing the way he never denies it. “I’ll stop by tomorrow, see you.”

“Like I want you to.”

Kou rolls his eyes, already turning for the door and Sousuke knows he’s only this confident because Kou would first break his arm than don’t follow through.

There’s something stuck under the door, as it makes a dragging sound when pulled all the way back.

“Wait, lame earring!” he calls out the second Kou’s messy hair disappears behind the wall, he peeks back almost immediately, wide eyed and expectant. “Thanks,” the lump in his throat dissolves halfway through because it would be stupid for him to pretend that Kou doesn’t know him better than most ever will.

Kou knows but sometimes, he needs things spelled out for him. Sousuke can comply once in a while.

And the way his entire face lights up is worth it. Both the effort and the subsequent hammering between his ribs.

“No problem!” he beams.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

“Don’t get excited, pervert, don’t think I’ll let you in my room alone again so you can do who knows what to poor defenseless little me,” the text he gets as soon as he sets foot outside the building reads. “I’m telling Yokoo and Satou, I can’t just hang out with you like some kind of loser.” (and it’s not lost to Kou that the typing at the very top takes longer to vanish than it used to).

“They were worried about you too,” he replies.

“Yeah, sure, I know you’re the only one that goes around crying cuz I’m not there, so they have to make up for not caring enough!”

Kou chuckles. “I’ll make sure they do.”

“You better.”

Phone in his pocket, he steps into the cold drizzle that does little against his warm insides.

It’s a days later that his friends finally show up. Kou is a constant, so Sousuke doesn’t count him. He told them just about everything they could possibly need to know, except, well, what they wanted to know the most. That responsibility, he left to Kou because there are things that still get trapped all the way down his throat. What’s important is that both Yokoo and Satou were okay with skipping their afternoon activities for him (for him, he reminds himself and forgets about the phantom pain for a second). They’re busy and responsible people, unlike Kou, who does nothing and drops everything to come see him (two days in a row Teru called him to say dinner was not made, two days in a row Kou Minamoto sat down right beside him and watched cartoons on his room’s TV), so having them come feels like a small victory. “They’re your friends, duh,” his mom says and he stands his ground telling her that she doesn’t get it no matter how many times she insists she does.

“Hi,” Satou greets, the first one to enter. The mood feels off but Sousuke guesses you don’t have a lot of things to say to someone sitting on a hospital bed.

“So you finally came,” if no one else will drive the attention away from it, he’ll do it himself. Because he enjoys being the center of attention, sometimes; enjoys people noticing he’s there, but he does not enjoy people staring down at his right arm with kicked puppy eyes (he’d rather they weren’t giving him attention over something like that in the first place). “Took you long enough, I thought we were friends!”

“You told us yesterday, how were we supposed to show up after class just like that?” Yokoo complains, letting his body fall against the wall beside the door, hitting it harder than he probably intended to. Sousuke snickers at him when he massages the back of his head.

“Well, that idiot did,” he points at Kou, who is already sat down at the edge of his bed like he belongs there.

“Yeah, because he’ll die if he doesn’t see you,” Satou searches his coat, ultimately pulling what seems to be a chocolate box. “Brought you this so you keep quiet for a bit.”

Sousuke takes it. “You can’t buy me just like that.”

“Looks like it works to me,” and he’s not about to argue with the person feeding him (not if they’re not Kou).

“And I won’t die if I don’t see him!” Kou finally jumps in, a couple seconds too late. “I was just worried!”

“You’re obsessed with me, you creep,” he says mid bite. The subsequent munching supposed to add to the point. It doesn’t seem too work, he’s too cute to be threatening, he resolves.

“I am not.”

“Oh, right,” Satou starts, dropping to his knees to sort out the contents of his bag. “brought you these too,” he extends what seem to be class notes, neatly printed out for him. “thought Minamoto wouldn’t remember and we can’t all fail with him.”

“Thanks, Satou, you saved me,” stuffing the last bite of his chocolate, he extends a hand to take the papers. “Of course that idiot didn’t remember-” it’s only then he notices the weight of the entire building rests on all their shoulders.

Sousuke has to look down (and look down again because his head refuses to go all the way), to where, despite the pain and the curling sensations, his right arm ends abruptly, hovering above the covers, held at just the right length to take the notes. And his stomach drops alongside it (lower, even lower) when he stuffs it back under the covers like his life depends on it. The sugary remains clinging to his teeth taste like bile.

“Ah-” he mouths.

“We… well,” awkwardly stepping closer to the bed, Yokoo clears his throat. “It’s not all bad, right? Now you can, uh…” it’s not until Satou sets a hand on his shoulder, lightly shaking his head, that he stops dragging the word, mouth closing under the weight of the room.

“You’ll get attention!” Kou chimes in, his nervous smile giving Sousuke the escape route he needs, knowingly or not (he’s grateful either way).

“Yeah, from weirdos like you, apparently.”

Sooner or later, while Sousuke was kicking himself over being so careless, over somehow forgetting something he can’t allow himself to (he doesn’t want to see the bandaged mess, so why would anyone else?), the walls and ceiling rebuild themselves all around them.

“In my defense I didn’t take any notes for myself either,” Kou says, chin up like that’s something to be proud of. “how was I supposed to know there was homework?”

“Paying attention in class, maybe?” Satou has since left the pages on the table beside the bed, but just thinking about taking them makes Sousuke feel sick.

“Hey, lame earring, since you’re obsessed with me you’ll do as I say, right?”

“I’m not-”

“Do my homework for me,” under Kou’s unamused gaze, he lifts his left hand to his cheek. “please?”

Kou sighs but sits down in front of the table anyway.

“So when are you going back to school?” Yokoo now occupies the free place on the bed. “You didn’t tell us yesterday.”

“In a month or so, maybe,” he’s not entirely sure himself, the doctor’s words bouncing off like static. “Hope you guys don’t plan to never come anymore.”

“It’s the only time we come before the weekend, though,” Satou says. “It’s not on me, my tutor just said that’s what weekends are for.”

“We’re supposed to be training for a very important match,” Yokoo stretches his legs as far as they would go. “So-”

“You guys really don’t care about me!” they deserve the loud whining. He’s alright, he’s not in the brink of death, so he guesses it’s good that everyone can go on while he gets discharged and eventually goes back, but still… that’s just how insignificant he truly is.

“It’s not like you’ll be all alone, right, Minamoto?”

When Kou looks up from the pile of papers, the first thing Sousuke notices is the chewed up cap of a pen in his mouth. “Yeah!”

Sousuke knows two things: one, Kou Minamoto is the most insistent, annoying human being he has ever met, he chews on his pencils and pens and that’s gross, and two, he might like the idea of him showing up to his hospital room every single day a bit too much.

“I don’t want you here. Don’t come unless they’re with you, at least then I can choose to not talk to you,” he tops off his statement by sticking his tongue out at him and promptly turning away.

Kou is the only one who doesn’t laugh, rolling his eyes and going back to working instead, but his tiny, comfortable smile isn’t lost to Sousuke, it couldn’t ever be. At least he’s getting things done (isn’t he failing pretty much every class, though?).

Soon enough, when thick rainclouds start gathering in the sky, the worst of the rainy season still to come but very much present, Yokoo and Satou tell him they’re leaving soon. When the drizzle hits the window, they quickly excuse themselves (Yokoo leaves only after patting Sousuke’s head despite his loud complains). And the downpour finally comes (lighter than the past days but still strong enough to sting), but Kou keeps scribbling away on his notebook, checking and rechecking his answers before writing them down on Sousuke’s worksheet.

“Good thing Satou had an umbrella,” he says, the hints of a smile wrinkling his eyes.

“But do you have one?” even his bag seems emptier than it should. Not to mention he’s still wearing the summer uniform.

“Ah,” he gapes. “I knew I forgot something!”

“How stupid can you be?” Sousuke Mitsuba should be the last person to ask that, but Kou never fails to bring the question to mind. “How are you getting out of here, then?”

“Uh, I don’t plan to leave just yet, so it should be fine. It’ll probably have stopped when I leave.”

Sousuke doesn’t know what else to do besides blink. Once, twice, and he’s not sure what he was expecting.

“What if it doesn’t stop? Are you just gonna make a run for it? Are you trying to get sick so you don’t have to come see me?” his tone gets higher with every word and he hides half his face behind the covers like he normally would with both his sleeves. “Besides, who said I wanted you to stay here, huh?”

“I think you had plenty of opportunities to kick me out,” Kou only means right now (he does, right?) but Sousuke thinks about all the times he could’ve pushed him away for good. Even if his personality didn’t deter him since the beginning like it should have, there were other ways. And yet he didn’t (he didn’t and now he’s in too deep, because he only takes pictures of things he likes and Kou Minamoto with his bed hair and ugly earring pops up more times than he cares to count when he goes over his pictures; because his heart beats faster than it ever should when looking at a friend and because he’ll sooner die before trying to push him away for real). But Kou means right now and still Sousuke thinks the answer to be the same

“Shut up, that’s because you’re doing my homework for me,” There’s no one else around and so he pulls himself up from the bed to stand right behind Kou and assess his work at a better angle. “You’re lucky I can’t write with my left hand yet, cause no one would buy that’s my handwriting any other way; did you ever get past elementary school level?”

“I’ve improved; you know?”

“Yeah, sure,” he keeps his right arm behind his back (he doesn’t think he could bear the sight of it dangling at his side. Not now), but he steps closer to Kou and his left lands on the table, just beside Kou’s own. “You’ve got most of them wrong, though, are you trying to make me fail too?”

“Huh? I’ve checked each like three times! I’m sure they’re correct!” he lifts his head to look above his shoulder and there’s blue ink on his cheek. Sousuke can’t tell if it makes him smile or not (he at least hopes Kou doesn’t notice if it does). Why is he so close to the page anyway?

“Oh yeah? Wanna bet?”


“You’re way too enthusiastic for someone who’s gonna lose,” Sousuke isn’t so good at math himself but even he can tell. Kou is a blockhead and never backs up from a challenge so it’s always good to remind him where he stands: “If I’m right- and I am, you don’t know basic math- then you’ll have to… kiss me.”

His smirk is bigger than it ever should be in the face of someone who has, in fact, thought about that. But Sousuke knows Kou as well as Kou knows him and so he knows he can push the boundaries a little (he doesn’t actually want Kou to kiss him, not right now and maybe not ever because… because that would be far too good to be true, and he has to keep himself grounded, at least about that).

Sousuke feels like he’s staring down at the sky, because nothing hides in Kou Minamoto’s face as nothing can hide overhead for long enough not to be spotted, and he knows it in the way his eyes widen, in the way his eyebrows go far up in less than a second and, especially, in the way his face reddens like he just ran all the way up a hill. Kou stutters over words that never leave his mouth and Sousuke chuckles over him, a palm doing a very bad job at covering his mouth.

“You should’ve seen your face!” he laughs (and laughs, because it was a mistake the first time, he wasn’t thinking straight and the words spilled out before he could help it but Kou didn’t react like Sousuke had always feared he would (why would he?) and it wasn’t long before it became some kind of comfort for him (he’s not opposed to it, he keeps telling himself, but never believes it all the way through), it never gets old, Kou never reacts any other way and maybe Sousuke doesn’t want him to). It works every time, even when he’s not actually in the right.

It’s a win-win.

“Aren’t you asking for a bit too much?” What’s not the norm, though, is his mom’s voice instead of Kou’s stuttering away from the topic.


He doesn’t turn around as fast as Kou does, but he stands awkwardly beside the chair and that’s telling enough. Not like Yui doesn’t already know a lot more than she should. His entire face burns and he’s probably looking worse than Kou did just seconds ago (is this how instant karma works? Wasn’t it enough already?). If the ground plans to open and swallow him whole, now would be a good moment (he would fall to his death to the first floor and that’s just as good as getting lost underground forever). From the tip of his ears to the tip of his nose, maybe catching on fire would be nicer. It also doesn’t help that his heart would surely break a rib or something so it can escape in the next minute or so.

“How long have you been there?!” you’re not supposed to scream in hospitals but maybe Yui should’ve thought about the consequences of her actions before opening her mouth.

Early Friday morning, Kou wakes up to a text from Sousuke: “don’t come today, go hang out with the toilet idiots or something.”

Half asleep, the meaning didn’t fully register. And it wasn’t until at least another hour, just a minute before his alarm went off, that he noticed the second one. “Nanamine-senpai and the broadcasting losers are coming so you can’t come,” it reads.

They’re Sousuke’s friends, in a way (Amane says it’s impossible to tell what Tsukasa wants out of something but he’s seen the way Sousuke smiles around the other two), and they’re busy people, so the fact that they’re going to see him makes Kou as happy as it probably makes Sousuke himself.

Morning goes by and Kou finds that he still can’t wrap his head around most classes, already having lost a bunch of them over the past few days. Focusing is somehow harder without the constant distraction that is Sousuke Mitsuba. But, knowing he’s alive and well (mostly, at least. He still has it in him to smile an entire sunrise upon sundown in the horizon, and call him names; point out how bad he is at math and make sure he doesn’t leave the hospital room without being embarrassed at least once, and laugh), definitely makes days go by faster than they did a couple days ago.

Sousuke explicitly said multiple times he didn’t want Amane to know. “That asshole will just make fun of me,” he had said, arms crossed under the blanket. “So you can’t tell him.” Yui said he’d find out either way but Kou wasn’t about to break a promise.

So, arriving at the girls’ bathroom to find both of his friends staring right back at him is something he definitely didn’t expect. Sousuke also said telling Nene was just telling Amane himself with extra steps, so neither of them should-

“Aoi told me what happened!” she says as soon as Kou gets through the door. “I told him we’ll go visit him soon, but he didn’t reply,” but her big, apologetic eyes narrow when she looks at the boy to her right. “and Amane-kun says he doesn’t want to go!”

“Because I don’t like him, you already know that,” he shrugs, his back hitting the wall. “Besides, what am I supposed to do? Give him one of these?” a plastic bag emerges from one of his pockets and the smirk on his face can’t mean anything good.

Amane pops open the bag, loudly, and Nene is the first one to react.

“I- Amane-kun, this is serious! You can’t just joke around like that!”

“Why not?” it’s only then that Kou sees him throw a hand-shaped gummy into his mouth. “I hate him anyway.”

“He’s never even done anything to you!” with a quick hand, Nene snatches the bag from his hands before he can take another.

“Yes he did!” he makes grabby hands towards the bag, only getting Nene to raise it above her head. “Oh, I see how it is.”

“Keep it up and I’ll give them to Kou-kun, you’ll never reach them.”

Amane lowers both his arms with a pout. “I’ll just have to kick him in the shins then.”

“What did Mitsuba even do to you?” Kou joins, standing between them.

Kou used to see the night sky in Amane’s eyes, a brighter, amber lit one, like looking at the moon with sunglasses, or something. Right now, Amane stares at him from below, mouth curved, unimpressed, and all Kou sees is how done he is. He’s seen him pull a knife from his uniform before (promptly confiscated by Tsuchigomori), so he wouldn’t put it past him to do it again.

“Did you forget he calls me Hanako?”

Oh, right.

“But he only does it because it was your idea to hang out here,” Kou tries. It didn’t work the first time and it certainly didn’t work when Sousuke and him ended up on the floor, kicking, screaming and pulling each other’s hair.

“Whatever, I still don’t like him.”

“You’re being too harsh, Amane-kun, he’s just joking,” Nene pats his back and it seems to lessen his frown a bit. “He gives everyone mean nicknames! Do you think I like it when he calls me a radish?”

“Yeah!” Kou nods. “That’s just how he is, he doesn’t mean it any other way!”

Shoulders rising and falling, he sighs. “You’re just defending him cuz you like him,” for emphasis, he snatches back the bag from Nene’s distracted hands, chewing away towards the opposite end of the restroom. “You, especially,” his fingers points right at Kou for a second before digging into the bag again.

“I’m not defending him; I’m just telling the truth.”

“Not going anyway, have fun at the hospital,” the door closes behind him with a louder thud than usual.

“There’s just no way for them to get along, is there?” Nene picks up the mop lying by her feet, the one she dropped when Amane first tried to take his gummies back.

It’s not about the name itself, they both know that much. It’s no secret that there’s certain words you don’t use with Amane Yugi, that there’s things you never mention, and so Kou is sure Sousuke knows better than to call him a girl’s name for the sake of it. But when Sousuke settles on a nickname, you’re in it for the long run, no matter how annoying it may be. “He’s in the girls’ bathroom, so he’s Hanako,” he said when asked, but no amount of talking makes Amane drop his walls. Kou thinks Nene is asking for a bit too much when she insists he should just set it aside. Kou also thinks he gets it, in a way. There’s still relatives who call Teru by the wrong name, after all, and Kou has always been there to hear.

Still, he thinks his friends are more similar than they want to admit.


“… Where did he even go, we’re not finished here.”

Sousuke is waiting for two or three gentle knocks on his door, or just any vague hint of steps along the outside corridor. Instead, he gets the sound of someone running, a door flinging open and a heavy weight on top of him before he can even open his eyes, least of all react.

“Mitsuba-kun!” a childish voice singsongs, one syllable at a time. There’s a grip around his shoulders and maybe he should’ve taken a couple more painkillers.

In the end, he’d be lying if he said he didn’t expect this when he asked Sakura to come. He certainly hoped Tsukasa wouldn’t notice, but things never go as planned, do they? That’s why he’s lying under the ugliest, coldest hospital blankets in the first place.

“Yo, Mitsuba-chan,” opening his eyes to beg for someone to get Tsukasa off him, he meets Natsuhiko’s. And he happens to be just the right person to get the job done. “What are you doing crushing him like that?” he exclaims, maybe a little too loud for a hospital but, hey, Sousuke is not one to judge.

The weight gets pulled off of him just in time for his next deep breath. His right arm feels like it just went through hell and back a second time and he can’t even side eye the one at fault in fear of an even worse fate.

“Good to see you,” Sakura greets, taking a seat on the chair beside the bed. “I’m glad you reached out to me too. I’m sorry about them, Tsukasa found out before I could do anything.”

“I can ignore them,” his back isn’t resting comfortable against the pillow after Tsukasa crushed him, but he can’t fix it without bringing too much attention to his right hand.

“Huh? But why would you ignore us?” Tsukasa complains, high pitched and struggling out of Natsuhiko’s hold. “We cancelled today’s broadcast for you!” he’s at the foot of the bed before anyone can stop him. “Doesn’t that make you happy?”

They can just watch as Tsukasa’s gaze goes from expectant to, evil? There’s a light in his eyes that Sousuke is unfortunately familiar with, and still he isn’t entirely sure about what he should brace for.

“We didn’t come here to tell him that,” Natsuhiko scolds, lifting him up again before he crawls up the bed any higher. They all know him, after all; Tsukasa Yugi and injured people simply do not go together.

Sousuke catches Sakura’s gentle eyes over him, however, and he finds that there is some kind of warmth inside him. Something not a lot of people make him feel. Sakura Nanamine never misses a broadcast, and Fridays are the day they always keep their best story for. Sousuke stops by before walking home more often than not; their voice is soothing in a chilling sort of way and the old, dusty speakers around school just don’t do it enough justice. To think that they-

If there’s something Sousuke Mitsuba is certain he is, is a crybaby. He’s been told it isn’t that much of a bad thing.

“Mitsuba-chan?” Natsuhiko is the first one to notice (rather the first one to mention it), “Did the shrimp hurt you?”

Batting a hand in response, he wishes he at least wasn’t crying in front of Tsukasa, of all people. Sakura gets a handkerchief out of their pocket and offers it to him.

“I’m okay, something got in my eye,” Natsuhiko doesn’t know him like Kou does but Sousuke thinks he gets what he really means.

“Oh, so you’re crying cause we came to see you? Did you doubt we would?” switching Tsukasa’s more or less limp body from one side to another, he steps forward to elbow Sousuke in the shoulder. It takes some work, because he’s much taller than him, and even more when he’s sitting down, but it gets done for long enough before he bats the offending elbow away.

“Like I’d cry for you. I’m glad Nanamine-senpai is here and that’s all,” he pouts, chin up and away from him.

“Oh, so that’s what you want,” his hair needs a wash, it’s gross and hasn’t been combed in far too long. Natsuhiko jamming his knuckles at the top of his head does not help one bit.

“Stop!” the tears dry faster than he thought they would and getting Natsuhiko away from his is harder than usual.

Especially because now Tsukasa watches from the place Natsuhiko left him and Sousuke isn’t so fond of wide-eyed cat stares that aren’t from Kinako. The big, glowing eyes do not stare at him, but rather at a place farther down, along his right side, right where the covers dip sooner than they should.

He swallows, but the lump in his throat refuses to go away.

“I brought you something,” Sakura takes his attention away in less than a second.

They bring a closed hand closer, prompting him to open his palm. Something seems to click against itself upon landing, and the subtle, almost ghost of a smile in Sakura’s face is the sooth he needs for his throat to free itself. On his palm, the chipped nail polish still visible through the place where they grow past his fingertips (and the tiny cuts along them), rests a little silver bunny.

Suddenly Sousuke finds nothing else has mattered as much as this little trinket.

“Oh! it’s so cute, I love it!” the white light catches in all the tiny details and Sousuke thinks he could die. “Thank you!” if it were bigger, he would hug it with all his strength, but he closes his palm over it and calls it a day, his cheeks sore over how high they’re going.

“I found it in one of my old jewelry boxes, thought you’d give it a better use,” they say, hands resting calmly on their lap.

“Only gifts for him?” Natsuhiko pipes up, the big smile he shows Sousuke telling enough about how much he doesn’t mean it.

“Try losing a hand first, then maybe they’ll give you something,” pulling on the side of his mouth and making an annoying sound is something he maybe should’ve stopped doing a long time ago. But maybe he doesn’t care.

To his relief, Natsuhiko actually laughs. “I think I’ll pass.”

“Thought so.”

Sakura keeps quiet most of the time, but they’re always willing to listen to Sousuke ramble about nothing in particular and it never once looks like they’re not interested. Sousuke thinks of them as his friend, and Sakura stops by on his hospital room instead of broadcasting his favorite rumors so maybe it’s foolish to think they don’t see him the same way.

He’s allowed to be himself around his friends.

“You’ll have to do my makeup now,” for now, he doesn’t say, fearing it may not come true. “hope you can show up on short notice.”

He’s happy to see them huff in a way that sounds like a laugh (it is, right?), “I’ll see what I can do.”

“If they can’t come I’ll do it for you!” a wink doesn’t make up for the fact that Natsuhiko knows jack shit about makeup.

“I think I’d rather die.”

Natsuhiko Hyuuga may be annoying and an airhead, but sometimes Sousuke thinks he actually likes him. As much as one can like someone who gives himself the title of older brother after talking to you once, anyway.

“Oh,” Tsukasa starts, sliding right away from Natsuhiko’s weakened hold. “can I see it?”

It takes him a moment to understand what he means, but it was clear from the start that he was up to no good; big eyes staring, fixed on the place Sousuke can’t even bring himself to look. Grabby hands that aren’t as cute as when Sousuke does it, pointy canines that don’t poke behind an embarrassed smile but from a gaping mouth, expectant. For a second, it feels as if he can grab both sides of the mattress to brace for impact, but if that were the case, there wouldn’t be anything to fear in the first place. Tsukasa is fast and Sousuke is not about to leave the safety of his covers, not with him here.

“I’d rather you didn’t-” anything he tries will be in vain but shutting up and enduring it only seems like a better option when he doesn’t have stitches to pop up from his skin and blood waiting to drip down freely at the slightest provocation (when he could keep the little terror away from him by holding both his shoulders in place).

“I just want to see it!” he repeats. “Bet it’ll leave a really cool scar! You’ll have to show it at some point anyway, you know?” a tilt of his head, an index finger lingering close to his mouth without actually touching it, the wide eyes of a creepy child. “So can I see it now? While the stitches are still there?”

Sousuke dreads the arrival of summer more than he ever has before (the issue isn’t the weather being too hot for pretty much all his wardrobe but the fact that he’ll simply boil alive before letting people see whatever is left of his right arm), but right now, at the very start of the rainy season, he dreads Tsukasa Yugi getting a single step closer to his bed.

He’s aware both are destined to arrive, at some point.

There’s a sting in his right arm but it’s gone before he can close his eyes all the way through. “Huh?” when he opens them again, he realizes Natsuhiko might not be as fast as Tsukasa, but he’s a couple times stronger, at least when it comes to holding him in place.

“Easy there,” he says, putting him back on the floor.

“Please stop for a little bit, would you?” Sakura asks, though it isn’t actually much of a question to Sousuke’s ears.

But Tsukasa doesn’t actually complain, he just- “Next time it is!”

Sousuke hopes next time never comes.

“Your friends already left?” peeking her head from behind the door, Yui asks, like she was expecting to interrupt something with her question.

If only she’d had the same consideration the day before.

It’s just Sousuke there, though, because normal people actually care about not walking home in the middle of a storm. Normal people being everyone who isn’t Kou Minamoto.

“Yeah, they don’t live over here, it was better if they left early.”

“That’s a shame, I never get to meet them!” Yui exhales a sharp breath as she finally falls on the nearest chair. “It’s all my boss’ fault, can’t believe not even my son being at the hospital is a valid reason not to check in. And here I was thinking raising you would finally be good for something!” she elbows him with a smirk for good measure. He appreciates that she does, actually.

“Sorry, but it’s too late to complain now, don’t you think?” and he knows he wears a matching expression. “You even have the nerve to think about complaining with a son this cute? Unbelievable.”

“Oh shut up, you got it from me, you had to be cute.”

He snickers behind a hand, eyebrows suddenly rising when he remembers. “Ah, but Sakura brought me this,” placing the bunny in Yui’s open palms and waiting for her reaction is entirely worth it when once again, their smiles match.

“They’ve got you figured out, huh?”

“I just like cute stuff, it’s not that hard.”

Her ponytail falls undone when she pulls on the hair tie and Sousuke cringes at the way her vertebras pop as her back straightens. He doesn’t show it, because that would only give her something else to mess with him over.

“So you told Minamoto-kun not to come? Are you sure it wasn’t cause of what happened yester-”

“No! I just didn’t want him here today! I have other friends, mom,” and Natsuhiko knows Kou’s name since long ago but still refuses to call him anything other than “Mitsuba-chan’s boyfriend”. He won’t let Kou hear that if he can help it.

“Okay, okay, but he’s the only one that shows up every day, I think he deserves a better treatment,” Sousuke doesn’t like the way her smile twists. “since you care about him so much.”

“I don’t,” he gets a loud chuckle in response, so he rectifies: “I do not; he’s just dumb. Did you know he forgot to make dinner for his siblings for two days in a row just to stay here and do my homework? You can’t tell me that’s not dumb! He doesn’t know how to set priorities!”

Hospitals are supposed to be quiet places for the ill, people are supposed to be mindful of their tones and Yui has told him at least twice a day to remember not to yell like he always does… She wheezes like she’s never heard anything funnier anyway.

“What? What’s so funny?”

“Sousuke, you’ll have to trust me on this one,” that already is a start he doesn’t know how to feel about. “I think he knows what his priorities are.”

“What does that even-?” before he’s finished, something in his brain clicks, setting off nothing short of a chain reaction through his entire body and he does not believe a word his mom says. That can’t be right, not in the way she means it. Kou cares about everyone the same way; Sousuke is his best friend but he’s no different. Yui is only getting his hopes up because that’s what annoying moms like her do. Sousuke might be Kou’s priority right now but if Amane broke a leg or something tomorrow, he’d give him the same attention… right? “Whatever,” but the blanket over his face can’t make his mumbling sound any different.