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Paper Thin

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Lost pens with more than half the ink left inside, new pencils he never got to sharpen once, erasers he never saw end of, you could say Kou Minamoto is not particularly mindful of his belongings. Constantly going around, begging Yokoo or even Satou for a spare, he’s definitely not one anyone would want to lend their stuff to, least of all Sousuke, who would first die on the spot than lose one of his beloved sparkly gel pens (or so he says, but at the end of the day, isn’t he a coward?). But… that was before.

Or, rather, he can’t abide by his rules, not right now. If he wants his homework done while he scrolls away on his phone, he can’t count on Kou’s pens being in his bag when he opens it, so he asks Yui to bring one of his countless bags of supplies (the oldest, he tells her, because there’s no way he’ll give Kou- chews on pen caps and erasers- Minamoto his precious alcohol markers and pastel highlighters, not if they’re more than a blink away from dying). And even then, he takes his time to make sure he won’t miss anything inside the one she brings, pink, hello kitty printed. At least there shouldn’t be a way for his things to get lost if they’re the only ones around, if it does then he’ll just blame it on Kou for… eating it or something, since there’s no one to steal it.

Kou is boring, so most of the contents of the bag stay inside, aside from the black and blue pen.

“Teachers won’t believe I wrote that, put on some color,” he complained the first time. Apparently, for Kou that meant slapping some crooked bright pink highlighter on random places.

 If he wants anything done the right way, Sousuke found, he can’t just stay put and scroll away. So he took the bag and got the ugly plain blue pen “missing” as a starting point, suggesting instead the sparkly pink one when asked.

It’s not the same; his notes are messy and look too much like a toddler’s. Kou scribbles over his mistakes like he’s trying to bring more attention to them and Sousuke thinks maybe he ought to stop worrying about how awful it looks, for now, at least.

He’s grateful, in a way, since he gets to pace around the room or roll around in bed for hours on end while Kou flips papers in the table beside him. Kou no longer buries his face in the pages before him, showing up every day an hour or so after class and immediately getting a pair of glasses out of his bag, that he always carries but forgets he needs, somehow. He scribbles away, math problem after math problem, flipping through his books for the answers of the literature worksheets and such. The gel pens leak from time to time and he does nothing about it beside get silly little sparkly stains on his fingertips and shirt, on the odd occasion.

Now, as Sousuke lies above the covers, right arm tucked away but facing Kou anyway, he finds he can’t just look away. Kou’s hair has never met a hairbrush, his earring is the ugliest, tackiest thing he’s ever seen and he wishes he’d just take it off and change it for something better, his eyes go over and over the notes in front of him and… and he’s been doing nothing but that for half an hour now. Sousuke is getting his homework done without lifting a finger, Kou probably goes home to do his own after hours and yet he finds that he just can’t ask him to stop. That, and, maybe he does want him to stop, for a bit. Isn’t he here to give him attention anyway?

“Hey, lame earring,” he calls, cheek squished against the bed and sticky hair falling on his face in an even more unflattering way (he doesn’t need anyone to tell him that, he knows), and the pen in Kou’s grasp tips onto the table.

“Hm?” a hum has no right to be that cute, Sousuke is imagining things.

As much as he hates it (as he hates him), Kou looks like a puppy; big bright eyes and the visible expectation in them as he pretends there was nothing to say in the first place. But it’s different right now. There’s something in the way the harsh white light catches in his glasses, and Sousuke hates that it makes his heart want to desperately escape from inside his chest. He can’t hear the air conditioner anymore, or the rain outside his window, only the fast pumping of blood in his ears and all around him remains.


There’s no other solution aside from dropping his phone face down on the mattress and reaching out a hand at just the right length and the right speed to snatch the glasses from Kou’s face and put them in his own. He doesn’t sound pleased about it but it’s not like Sousuke can see him.

“Expected a lot more since you can’t work with them,” he complains, adjusting them to look around the room.

“They’re not for you,” and yet he doesn’t try to get them back; doesn’t move, doesn’t look away from Sousuke.

“Well, they are now, until you pay attention to me again,” his eyes snap closed, because the light overhead hurts his eyes even more now.

“I’m doing your homework, you know…”

“Yeah, and? You come here to see me, don’t you?” Kou never smiles while writing down formulas or words Sousuke doesn’t care enough to read.

And his smiles are ugly and not like the sun at all, Sousuke doesn’t care for them nor wants to see them, ever. They can’t be found on his wall, with sticky notes around them or in the countless folders in his laptop, he doesn’t get sunburned when they’re directed at him and he’s does not want to see them now.

Right here and now, Sousuke thinks being the center of attention is better than ever. Kou has nowhere else to look and he blinks, slow and calm without looking away, right at Sousuke. Almost as if…

Almost as if he only has eyes for him.

It makes him happy, as stupid as it sounds. It’s not true, probably never will be, but he lets himself smile.

“Are you laughing at me?” Kou jumps in, eyebrows knitted together and half his body closer to the bed than it was before.

“You really don’t have a clue,” is the only answer Sousuke will honor him with. “I’m bored, let’s go for a walk.”

“I still have a lot of homework to get through-”

He has puppy eyes and maybe Sousuke wishes he could stare at them longer… closer. If he could cup his face in both his hands, and- oh.

It probably isn’t even soft anyway.

“You’re here to do as I say. I want you to do my homework, but also… you’re no fun if you don’t talk to me,” he pouts, and Kou never once looks away. “So let’s go for a walk.”

Pulling himself up from the bed, he forgets to keep his right arm away from view for but a second. And Kou stares.

Kou stares but Sousuke doesn’t feel watched.

“Keep your weird fetishes to yourself, you creep,” Kou frowns deeper, so Sousuke has to snicker to match. “Besides, bet you’ve got it all wrong as usual; going on a walk with me is more productive.”

“They’re not wrong, I check-” Sousuke might be making things up, but from where he stands, it looks like his ears and nose are turning red. Kou lowers his head before he can tell. “… No, I’m not falling for that again.”

Apparently he needs to keep telling himself Kou Minamoto is not cute in the slightest, because his brain doesn’t listen anymore. Tiny voice that doesn’t match the way he yells when he’s excited about something, but Sousuke can still tell who it belongs to. There’s no way he couldn’t.

“What a shame,” he sighs. “Doesn’t make up for the fact that you already fell for me, though.”

That seems to be the tipping point. Kou doesn’t look like he’s getting up from the chair any time soon; ears burning red, head turned away, hands grasping a pencil hard enough to break it in half. It’s the right time to check his work.

Despite messing with Kou over it, Sousuke finds out he has no idea what Kou has been doing in his math worksheet. He’s taken aback for a moment, at the sight of too many numbers stacked upon each other. Kou really has no consideration for his aesthetic. He recovers, though, because every waking moment is an opportunity to mess with Kou and not a second will go to waste if he can help it.

“Yeah, they’re wrong. Come on, let’s go outside.”

Sousuke certainly does not like the way his hand fits into Kou’s when he slips it in, or how Kou doesn’t argue when he pulls on it to get him outside and their fingers get caught between each other. Kou keeps his head down for the first few steps but raises it the tiniest little bit once they get through the door.

“They’re not wrong. But since you insist I’m gonna get all of them wrong from now on, bastard,” his eyes are bright against the white walls all around them and Sousuke tightens his grip.

“I can’t believe how much you want me to fail! I always knew you secretly hated me!”

Mindlessly (or not?) Kou mimics the pressure Sousuke has on his own hand, fingers curling into the warmth. Their footsteps reverberate all over the place and there really is nowhere to go in a place like this. Is the cafeteria an option? Sousuke doesn’t really feel like eating anything right now but walking all around the place isn’t a better option (even if Kou never once tries to let go of his hand, and at some point their footsteps start sounding like one and the same).

“Wait, are you allowed to leave your room?”

“Duh, it’s not like I’m going to die. They’re just keeping me here for a while as a prevention but I can do whatever I want,” that’s technically not true but he can go for a walk if he wants to, that much he’s certain of.

Kou hums in response, wearing a smile way too big for quiet hospital halls.

Then again, so are his awful tries at sneaking in sweets and cookies for him (not because he fails at it, but because holding a lunch box under your shirt with one hand is not really all that convincing), the way he keeps trying to coordinate his color choices for Sousuke’s notes, and pushing him aside on his own bed to watch whatever’s on TV, and falling asleep on the odd occasion (his head lightly slumped against Sousuke’s shoulder, his messy hair stabbing his neck like needles and yet he stays put).

“You really have nothing better to do besides be here, huh,” thank you, he doesn’t say, could never say, but he smirks and hopes that’s enough.

“Well, you’re my best friend,” Kou beams, as if the white walls aren’t blinding enough on their own. “I’m not busy like everyone else is, I can keep you company!”

His heart stops for but a second. “So you’re just taking one for everyone else! Bet you’re all tired of me… specially now.”

His tongue is bitter despite the sweets Kou brought earlier and it runs on its own accord, never stopping to consider anything at all until it’s too late to take it back.

“That’s not what I-” but he stops talking and moving, yanking Sousuke’s body back mid-step and cradling his hand between both his own. “I’d never get tired of you!” Kou Minamoto is the name of a disease. A disease that either stops your heart for good or makes it race until it explodes, Sousuke is a fan of neither outcome, but he keeps his mouth shut and his eyes open wide. “I could never hate you! I’d do anything, I- I’ll make everyone come see you, anyone you want, I’ll take their duties for them so they can come!” that’s not how it works, but Sousuke keeps his mouth shut all the same and his right arm twitches like it could even hold Kou’s hands over his in place if he let it get closer.

Determination and Kou Minamoto are two things that go to together far too often. Sousuke finds the way the light dances in his eyes nothing short of hypnotizing, and so he nods, once, twice, short and simple but more times he cares to count.

At the end of the day, he’s glad Kou is the only one who gets to see him like this.

Sousuke finds that he likes peonies more than lavender. The smell spikes his nose if he gets too close but they make a cute decoration and his room smell a little less like rubbing alcohol. Even still, the pink peonies Kou occasionally brings with him catch his eye and his touch more often than not. The vase resting on the table beside his bed brightens up his room (and more when a petal falls on top of Kou’s hair while he scribbles away in his notebook), and he has Aoi to thank for it, and Kou too for bringing them more or less intact or whatever.

She visits early on Saturday morning, knocking gently on his door when he has had little time to shake the sleepiness off of his head but her voice does not disturb him in the slightest.

“Mitsuba-kun, can we come in?”

At that, he finally raises his head from the pillow, heavy eyelids letting the light in, as little as the cloudy morning will let in. “We” sounds like more people than he is expecting.

Sure enough, after Aoi comes Nene, big sad eyes that can’t find anywhere to look.

“Ah, senpai!” Sousuke greets, sitting up to take the flowers she offers him, hoping they’ll fit in the vase. She smiles in response, waving a hand. “Did you have to bring the radish, though?”

Months ago, to his horror, he found Aoi could read him like a sign in full display for all to see, almost as if seeing all the way through him. After the initial shock he couldn’t just keep pretending like he had been until then. Aoi’s own façade chips at the edges and in the middle and Sousuke doesn’t comment on it, so the least he can do is let her see the real him as it is, and wonder how she figured it all out before. So, because she knows more than Sousuke would’ve let her were things any different, he gets to be himself.

“Don’t be mean to Nene-chan!” she says, and it isn’t lost to him how she’ll take any opportunity to cling to her best friend. And that’s- Aoi said they’re a lot more similar than he recognizes but that is not one of the reasons. “She even brought you something!”

“Is it vegetables?” the way Nene’s shoulders jump at his claim tells him everything he needs to know. “I can’t even eat them; do you want me to munch on a carrot right now or something?”

“They’re not for you, then,” she finally says, setting the bag to her side on the chair with a heavy thud. “Give them to your mom,” she pouts, in a way, but it’s nowhere near as cute as when Sousuke does it.

“Don’t do that,” he can only hold his sad eyes for so long, “it only works in cute people.”

That only makes her pout more, which proves Sousuke’s point even further, she doesn’t get no be cute, no matter what other people say.

 “Does it hurt?” Aoi asks him, the bed dipping under her weight.

“… When I look at it for too long.”

That might not be entirely true, but it’s not a lie either. His fingers are there in less ways than they should but sometimes he’s convinced they’re still there. Nothing will be the same ever again but he can’t bring himself to use it for attention, he doesn’t want anyone looking at him for too long, he doesn’t want anyone to look at him with sad, almost watery eyes and tell him they’re sorry. Nene does it anyway.

“I’m sorry this happened to you, Mitsuba-kun,” she stands awkwardly, between them and the door, unsure of what to do with her hands and Sousuke can’t take it.

Not because she looks sad, he couldn’t care less about that, but because there’s nothing anyone can do about it, least of all her.

“Don’t be, radish-senpai, I’m still way cuter than anyone else,” his smile only grows with each passing second. “specially you.”

Sousuke has never been one with words. They stay trapped all the way down his throat until the meaning is lost and only then do they slip right through, nothing left to stop them.

Nene frowns for a second, but what he really means seems to get through her at some point; kind eyes and slow steps approaching the seat at his side, a dubious smile on her lips. Nothing comes out of her mouth but her eyes don’t look over him anymore.

“Wait,” the hallway is almost completely silent but the door still hangs open. “did you bring Hanako?”

Amane isn’t worse than Tsukasa (who he made sure his mom talked to the front desk about not letting in without supervision after the second time he woke up to someone tugging on his arm), but he’s still a Yugi, and being unbearable in some way or another runs in their blood. Sousuke is not about to deal with him, not now.

“No, Amane-kun said he didn’t want to come, no matter how much I tried to-”

“Good, I don’t want him here.”

Aoi snickers at his side, a hand resting on her cheek, and she looks like maybe she’d like to say something, but her mouth remains shut.

“Akane-senpai,” he whines, burying himself in the covers. He’s not been looking or feeling his best lately, his body is battered and his left cheek hurts when he presses it too much, his hair is just not the same without the hair products back home and he misses smelling like anything other than bleach. He can’t change any of those things but there’s something he can do: “do you have a makeup bag or something?”

She blinks once, twice, and an apologetic smile forms in her face, “sorry.”

Well, so much for aiming to feel a little better today-

“I do!” Nene jumps in place, rummaging through her stuff until she pulls out a cream colored cosmetic bag.

And Sousuke does not smile at her bigger than he ever has before.

Admittedly, the contents aren’t as diverse and impressive as the things Sakura owns (and Sousuke has no idea why they share with him for free), but there’s pretty eyeshadow and her hand seems steady enough when she does his eyeliner so maybe Nene isn’t so annoying after all, at least for today. Aoi helps her pick the colors and gives her okay when Nene is done, right before presenting a pocket mirror to his face. It definitely doesn’t look as good as Sakura’s work but he’s not doing anything besides spend yet another boring day at the hospital. He can still see the bruise on his cheek but his eyes are catching and prettier than they’ve been in weeks.

“Thank you, radish-senpai,” the corners of his mouth raise more than he wants them too but he doesn’t feel like forcing them down. “seems like you are actually good at something.”

Nene pouts, Aoi elbows him lighter than he knows she could and he decides to gift them some of the cookies Kou brought for him the day before just seconds after they cross the door. They both claim it the darkening clouds’ fault and Sousuke insists he’ll be out before they can visit him again, which seems to make them happy.

Tugging his hair behind his ear, just when the steps are finally gone, he wonders when Aoi had the time to slip a flower there without him noticing.

As it turns out, Aoi and Nene took just the right decision. Merely an hour later, the rain started pouring down all at once, as if letting out everything it had been keeping ever since late at night the day before. It makes it look like it’s much, much later than it actually is, and the humidity is not doing wonders for Sousuke’s hair or makeup, but he turns on the camera on his phone from time to time and finds that he looks much better than he thinks he does every time.

It’s a shame, though, he was kind of expecting Kou to show up, so at least someone else would appreciate his makeup (Yui already did, when she came by at lunch time. But it just isn’t the same if he can’t make fun of Kou for staring way too long). Not even Kou Minamoto himself would show up in a weather like this, right? Since he doesn’t even have an umbrella…

Too late it occurs to Sousuke, when the drip drop by his door is nearly deafening, that he shouldn’t have any hope in the world’s dumbest idiot. Not if it comes to him having the tiniest bit of common sense.

“Are you insane?” he won’t even try to hold his yelling back, his room neighbors should be accustomed by now, anyway. They can’t expect him not to when Kou shows up soaked from head to toe on his door, under the damn air conditioner, shaking, and yet still smiling in a way that makes the white walls all around them look as lifeless as the clouds outside. “Why are you here when you don’t even have an umbrella?”

“I made you something!” beaming even through his clicking teeth, he offers him a plastic box. “… Because Yashiro-senpai said you looked sad when they left.”

But Sousuke’s eyes go past the box and directly to his hands, where his fingers twitch around it.

“You really are stupid. Didn’t you even think of asking someone for an umbrella? Stealing one? Are you planning on dying of frostbite or something?”

Finding that he’s no longer sitting on his bed is less surprising that finding himself about to wrap his blanket around Kou. He stops just in time, though, just in time to remember the bag her mom left with two spare hoodies for when it gets too cold to get by with only his hospital clothes. He’s wearing one right now himself, because he’d be insane if he wasn’t, and the way his right arm is securely tucked away from view under the long sleeve is comforting. So, he hopes it works for Kou too.

“Take off your shirt and put this on,” he demands, taking the box away from his hands and setting it down on the table, a droplet or two soaking through a math worksheet nearby.

Shivering all the way to his bones, Kou nods. As he complies, Sousuke finds the hoodie in his hands to be the most interesting thing of all, at least until Kou takes it away to slip inside it. It’s definitely not what you’d expect Kou- fashion disaster- Minamoto to wear (way too cute, for starters), but Sousuke finds he looks pretty good in pastel pink and white melting into each other.

Only then does he slip the blanket around his shoulders. His pants are still soaked but there’s really nothing he can do about that so the oversized hoodie and slightly thicker-than-the-last-one blanket will have to do.

Kou looks way too pale even after he’s done shivering, and Sousuke hates how much he cares about someone this stupid. So he makes a quick trip to get himself a towel or something of the like and sits down to spend the foreseeable future rubbing it all around Kou’s head as he sits on the floor.

“What even was that important for you to do this? You’re aware there’s no way you won’t catch a cold now, right?”

Using his right arm for support as his left tries to dry out every droplet on Kou’s hair is surprisingly not as uncomfortable or painful as he thought it would be.

“I made you flan, so maybe you’d feel better,” his voice isn’t as small as when he came in; maybe Sousuke is doing a good job. “And uh, I think your makeup looks pretty.”

The idiot should be worried about warming himself up and yet here he is, making Sousuke’s face burn from ear to ear. That’s not what he expected someone he just saved from dying to say.

“I… I already know that… but, uh, thank you,” hair now dry, Kou turns his head at him as best as he can from his position on the floor and Sousuke’s heart stops yet again at the smile he bears. “I guess…”

At least Kou looks a lot more comfortable by the time he’s done.

“Ah-” Kou gapes once he’s risen from the floor, immediately turning around to look him in the eyes. “Sorry I made you do this! I’ll finish drying up myself so you don’t push yourself anymore-”

“Are you an idiot? Sit down.”

The already wet towel probably doesn’t do much to prevent Kou’s wet clothes to soak through and into the mattress but Sousuke can’t just send him to the plastic chair in the corner and hope for the best.

A movie plays in the background, little more than noise, and Sousuke finds himself rubbing Kou’s left arm up and down, not entirely surprised over how he leans into the touch (it’s only for warmth… probably).

“I think-” he starts, and his eyes are way too fixed on Sousuke’s own for him to even look away. “that flower also looks pretty on you.”

Sousuke scoffs, peeling his eyes from Kou’s messier-than-ever hair (it might be his fault, just this once), but he can’t help the smile clinging even to the corners of his eyes. “Thanks for telling me yet another thing I already knew.”

The smile Kou gives him is blinding, he wishes he could say he’s not already blind to begin with but that would be a lie, too much exposure to Kou Minamoto has harmed his eyes, that’s just a fact.

Still, he lets the world’s biggest idiot rest his head on his shoulder and as his hand goes numb from rubbing it along his arm (that probably doesn’t even do anything, but it feels right), Kou’s chest rises and falls, calmer and calmer with every breath and god dammit, Sousuke really is in this deep, isn’t he?

And… he’s okay with that (with how pointless it all is, too), if he ought to fall for an idiot, it may as well be the biggest of them all (the one who steps in between him and the threat that is Tsukasa Yugi, the one who replies to his texts in less than a minute, the one who only complains a little when he uses him as a ladder, the one who runs over to him no matter how far, the one who stops by every day to do a homework that isn’t even his own, the one who runs into the heavy rain without a second thought to bring him his favorite dessert because someone told him he looked sad), even if it means having a pointless crush for as long as he lives. Because Kou calls him his best friend and that’s all they’ll ever be. Maybe that’s okay, if it still means his spiky hair stabs Sousuke’s neck and he gets to see how his eyelashes twitch from time to time this close- if he gets to have a sunburn that never goes away because Kou shoots him the biggest of smiles and it feels like the sun just got closer to Earth.

“How did you even get in looking like that?” did he just casually walk past the front desk, leaving a water trail behind? And no one cared to stop him or at least offer him a towel?

“Uh, they didn’t want to let me in so I kinda… made a run for it while they weren’t looking.”

“And they didn’t notice? This place sucks.”

The chipped tooth in sight gives his sheepish smile some kind of clumsy vibe. But is clumsy the best word to describe him running past a hospital’s front desk with his clothes dripping wet and a lunch box full of flan under his shirt?

Speaking of which-

“Well, since you came all the way here to give me this I guess I should eat it,” his hand finally stops rubbing Kou’s arm up and down and he misses the feeling a little bit.

The box is cold to the touch but he sets it in his lap anyway to pop the lid open.

“I made it specially for you!” he rectifies like it wasn’t already obvious. With a smile like that, though, Sousuke doesn’t find it in him to point it out. “Oh, here!” in a blink, he gets a spoon out of his pocket and presents it to Sousuke.

Taking it is certainly an option, but there are far better things he can do.

So he points to the uncovered flan, then at his mouth, opened just enough to get the point across. Kou still blinks for a few seconds, his eyes moving from one place to the other until something seems lo click in his brain. Lowering the spoon, all the way down until it comes back up full of flan is enough to make Sousuke impatient.

Just as expected, it tastes sweeter and softer on his tongue than any other flan he’s ever had. Kou deserves it after going through so much trouble for him, deserves to hear how much he likes it and humming with his eyes closed has proven to be the best way to do so time and time again.

It wasn’t always like this. Sousuke remembers when Kou first asked him what his favorite dessert was, after he found him crying just outside school for some stupid reason he doesn’t even remember now and walked him all the way home. The next day, he showed up with a poor attempt at flan (that didn’t taste half as bad as it looked) and a prepackaged one as an apology for messing it up. Maybe that was one of the first times Sousuke remembers his heart stopping for a second too long as if to gain momentum to try and escape through his ribs the next one. But nowadays, he thinks no flan in existence can compare to the one Kou makes every time he asks him to (… every time Sousuke needs it).

“Is it good?” he laughs. Sousuke will indulge on his stupid questions this one time, only because he’s getting fed. He answers with a nod and a hum and maybe a smile too big, but Kou matches it with one of his own and he feels at peace. “That’s good…”

Kou stretches his words almost breathlessly, eyelashes falling until his eyes are almost closed and… is his face getting closer? What is he doing? It can’t be that he-

He sneezes. On his forearm and away from Sousuke’s food but it still makes him feel like maybe there’s a dumber idiot than Kou out there and it’s himself. Of course that was what was going to happen, what was he even expecting? For Kou to- for Kou to kiss him he would have to be dreaming, or something.

“Watch out, idiot, what if you sneezed on my food?” taking the spoon away from Kou’s hand to feed himself feels like defeat but he’ll take it rather than have to see it all go to waste. “See? I told you you’d get sick! And it doesn’t look like it’ll stop raining any time soon so how do you even plan to go back?”

“Well, I don’t plan to go back just yet, maybe-”

“You want to die or something?” his right arm is securely hidden by his pink hoodie sleeve so he allows himself to push Kou into the mattress with it, not like he puts up much of a fight anyway. “Do you want to stop coming here that much?”

“Shut up, you know that’s not true!”

“Whatever you say.”

Kou closes his eyes and inhales back in the snot coming down his nose, which is gross. Sousuke lies down next to him anyway.

“No way I’m letting you make a run for it again; call your brother to come pick you up or something. And tell him to bring an umbrella,” Yui would probably be okay with dropping him off at his house any other day, but she told him she’ll be busy tonight so she’s out of the question.

Kou knows Teru wouldn’t mind dropping his assignments or even his student council president duties if he called him, but he also doesn’t want him to. He’s busy and he’ll probably have dinner with Tiara in a little while (this time, Kou remembered to make it before leaving, thanks to Tiara tugging on his apron while he stirred the syrup for the flan), he’d rather not bother him.

“I think he’s studying, I don’t-” Sousuke cuts him right away.

“He’s your brother, Kou,” serious eyes fixed right on him, his long hair sprawled between them, even tickling his nose when he turns to meet him in the eyes.

And his name coming from Sousuke’s mouth still makes him feel like he’s just swallowed an entire beehive. Heart pumping against his ribs with the same adrenaline they’ll probably use if that was true. Sousuke barely uses it, calling him all sorts of names instead, but when he does-

When he does it feels like everything else stops. It’s gone in the same breath it begins but it’s long enough to feel every motion of it in his ears. It warms him like the blanket or even Sousuke’s hoodie never could and he’s pretty sure it shows in at least the tips of his ears, if not everywhere in between.

“It’s not fair only she gets to call you by your name!” he had said one day, hopping over a railing, camera in hand as they walked around school. “Kou.”

It felt like the air was knocked out of him all at once, like there had never been a sound like that before, not even when Nene said it for the first time and he thought his heart would stop beating any second, it was somehow stronger coming from his mouth, and it keeps taking him by surprise every single time because there’s just no telling when Sousuke will use it.

So he gets his phone out and dials Teru’s number.

By the time the sky outside the window gets darker, lulled by the incessant rain outside, going to sleep starts looking like a better option than scrolling away on his phone, which keeps falling off of his hand when he gets distracted by the sounds outside and how much heavier they make his eyelids. Then, when Kou’s head is slumped against his shoulder and he can’t ignore the way his chest calmly rises and falls, or how he twitches lightly in his sleep, and moves around without ever getting his head away from him, then is when two consecutive knocks on the door are louder than the storm.

“Good evening, Mitsuba-kun,” when Sousuke turns to look, Teru is already resting half his body weight on the door frame, bearing a calm smile and eyes that seem to glow even under the white light of the room.

Teru and Kou are way too similar for anyone to ignore, but Sousuke still thinks the way Teru’s eyes glow in the dim light is scary. Allegedly, they weren’t in good terms at the start (crying has always come easy for him and that’s an ability he’s not about to waste, but maybe his whining was way too loud for one Teru Minamoto, preparing for upcoming tests), but Sousuke is pretty sure they are now, ever since he first came to the Minamoto house and asked about the countless family portraits facing down on top of drawers and shelves, as he picked the nearest one up and was met with someone with unmistakable glowing eyes, but who wasn’t quite Teru as he knew him (long hair, more like Tiara’s, white dress and a bitter expression he didn’t dwell on for too long). Kou placed the portrait back down before he could stop him and Sousuke kept his mouth shut when Kou said “Dad doesn’t want us to take them off.”

That same weekend, Sousuke’s feet carried him all the way to the Minamoto house once again, camera in hand and a dubious smile that faltered even more when Teru was the one to open the door. Still, he wasn’t met with rejection when he asked to take a couple pictures of the three of them, or when he invited himself to their family trips only to keep his distance and capture what he deemed to be the best moments until Kou dragged him all the way to join them. More than anything, he wasn’t met with a frown or a scoff when he showed up one Sunday morning and presented an envelope full of pictures to Teru (at least not until he jokingly asked for money in return, but that’s another story) and told him to do whatever he wanted with them.

There are no more portraits facing down on the Minamoto household shelves and Teru greets him with a smile every time they see each other.

Now it’s no different, not even when he seems to notice the towel under Kou’s body and the drying shirt on top a chair.

“Don’t tell me he-”

“Your idiot brother came all the way here in the rain. I swear I thought he wouldn’t even show up but here he is now, and he’s getting a cold,” Kou looks peaceful right now, but these are the last hours he gets to spend that way before he falls into bed. “He didn’t even think about bringing an umbrella.”

Teru’s sigh is audible all around the room, and it’s only then that Sousuke actually remembers Kou is still slumped against his shoulder, despite how comforting the feeling has been all this time. His eyes instinctively widen the littlest bit and he considers dropping him into the mattress with less care than he would were Teru not looking- but he doesn’t. It’s already too late, anyway.

“I feel a little bad for waking him up,” he says, finally approaching the bed.

“Don’t be; my arm in numb because of him.”

His complains only get a chuckle out of Teru. “You could’ve moved him any time.”

… Maybe he’s right.

“No I couldn’t, don’t you know how heavy his head is?”

Teru finally cuts all the distance between them, and all of it by placing a hand on top of Sousuke’s head. “Thank you for taking care of him,” he motions to the hoodie and the towel, and the drying shirt and maybe Sousuke is not ready for any of this.

“He should…” nothing but mumbles come out of his mouth, his chin burying into his clothes. “He should be the one taking care of me, though.”

Once again, Teru laughs, but this time Sousuke can’t tell if he’s being made fun of or not.

Early next morning, he gets a phone call he’s no entirely sure if he should pick up or not. What he’ll be told is, most likely, already obvious, but the phone rings and rings and, really, what even is his reason to avoid it?


“Just as expected,” Teru says, “he’s sick now. I’m not letting him go out without an umbrella again.”

“You should keep him under supervision, he’s too much of an idiot,” in other times, maybe he’ll think twice about what he tells him, but Sousuke would like to think they’re past that point. He never gets a comment on it so perhaps he’s right. “And tell him I’m expecting my hoodie back as soon as he recovers.”

“Oh, here, he wants to talk to you.”

There’s fumbling on the other end and a loud slurp of some kind before he finally hears Kou’s sick, pathetic voice: “Sorry,” he says, and Sousuke doesn’t know if he’d rather punch or hug him.

“Yeah, you better be, running into the rain when your brother said there’s an umbrella right by the door! Sounds to me like you were just trying to get sick on purpose!”

“No I wasn’t, I’ll go back to visit you as soon as-” there’s coughing and covers rustling and maybe he does feel bad about the idiot. “… as soon as I feel better. I’ll even bring you more flan!”

His hospital room is cold and lonely when Kou’s not there but the prospect doesn’t sound half as bad. And that’s his way of putting it into simpler terms because he does not want to acknowledge how warm it makes his face feel, nor the way his heart beats faster than it probably should over something like this.

“Think about getting better first, you idiot, it’ll be no use if you come to make me sick too.” Kou sneezes and… fuck, why can’t Sousuke ever help him when he needs it? Why does he have to stay in his shitty hospital room when he has the opportunity to pay back everything Kou has done for him? Why does he never have the chance? “Take better care of yourself for once, would you? What’s the point in wanting to look after me if you’ll only get sick and-” and what’s the point of him holding back his words now, really? If there’s no one else to hear. “… And I can’t look after you.”

Silence goes on for way too long but Sousuke never once doubts his words as he would with anyone else. Speaking his mind is only ever possible around Kou Minamoto and he’s glad it is that way, even if batting around the bush is still easier and far more entertaining.

“… I’ll get better really soon, you’ll see!” not exactly what Sousuke would like to hear, but- “And I won’t go out without an umbrella again, promise.”

A single word, said in the softest of voices, is enough to melt Sousuke’s heart inside and out. “Promise, then.”

Getting by without Kou there to keep him company proves harder than he thought at first. No one is free to come see him today and he can’t expect Kou to hold a lengthy phone call when he’s probably in the brink of death, not even he is *that* selfish. Yui is at work, far too busy to even ask for a free day if she wants to keep her job, and Sousuke is alone.

Suddenly walking all the way to the cafeteria doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Kou is not there and he feels even the walls staring right down at his right arm, dangling at his side in an unsettling way (but it’s only unsettling to him, isn’t it?); fortunately, the long sleeve of the hoodie he keeps wearing with the excuse of being way too sensitive to cold is enough coverage. Doesn’t help the fact that anyone could tell it ends too abruptly with a single glance, but at least he doesn’t have to see it in the low of his vision as he walks through the halls and down the stairs.

He’s not even sure of what to order when he gets there, but Kou’s flan only lasted so long and he definitely needs something nauseatingly sweet. Passing out from it wounds amazing, actually, it’ll make time go faster, at least.

But nothing ever works for him, does it?

“Oh, sorry-” bumping against a stranger in a hospital out of all places is not how he would’ve liked to start his day, especially not this day.

“Hm?” the girl says, turning around to… eye him up and down. “Oh! Yeah, yeah, no worries!” she tilts her head and his shoulders are caught between her hands before he can blink. “You’re really pretty, even with that bruise on your face!”

… What?

“Uh, w-?”

“Are you free right now? Mind sitting with me for a bit? You look like a great subject!”

Well now, this definitely isn’t how he planned to start today.


She gets a fairly big sketchbook from behind her back, flipping through the pages, pointing at the nearest table when she seems to find a clean one. “Yeah, you look fun to draw! It should be simple too, since you’re only showing one eye,” her big smile never falters, unlike Sousuke’s, who stopped working minutes ago, at the same time his head started spinning endlessly at the sudden attention.

Sousuke has to compose himself… somehow. “Oh… okay.”

Shouldn’t he be excited about getting his portrait done for him just like that? (though he doesn’t even know what her abilities are, so what if she makes him look ugly, huh?). Either way, she sits him down at the table, even going as far as to pull the chair for him, and plops down on the other end, still smiling as bright as the lightbulbs overhead. Sousuke can’t help but wonder why is she here for (both arms bandaged, a scar somewhere in her neck and hands more bone than flesh).

“You’re staying here?” she asks, already scribbling away. Sousuke nods. “Have you tried the pancakes yet? Would you like some?”

“Uh, are they good?”

“They’re the best ones you’ll ever have, I promise!”

“Then, yeah, I’d like it…”

He’d be lying if he said he doesn’t feel his hands (… hand) twitching under his sleeves at the sudden attention thrown at him, but she keeps quiet, the only sound between them being pencil on paper and it’s enough for Sousuke to catch himself a bit and breathe again. Frowning, turning her head from side to side and giving him quick glances more often than not slowly becomes a pattern Sousuke can work around. Over the next few minutes until their food arrives, he ponders the ins and outs of getting out of his room this morning, but considering she looks like she knows what she’s doing, he’ll at least get a free portrait he can brag about to Yui and Kou out of this (see? I’m so pretty even strangers go out of their way to draw me).

On her first bite, halfway through chewing, her eyes light up with some kind of realization and she swallows to tell Sousuke her name, a big smile seemingly to invite him to do the same. Stuffing another bite in her mouth, this time only speaking after she’s done with it and has seen Sousuke do the same, she places her sketchbook on the table, facing right at him.

“So? Do you like it?” any doubt Sousuke could ever have about her skills vanish in less than it takes him to gaze upon the drawing. “You’re pretty fun to draw.”

What is he even supposed to say? Is staring down at it and not being able to stop the smile creeping all the way to his eyes enough for her to tell the answer? Would a thank you be enough?

“Ah,” is the only thing that comes out of his mouth.

Mei snickers. “You can keep it, if you want to.”

The nod he gives her feels way too enthusiastic. “Thank you, Shijima-san!”

“You can call me Mei,” before he can protest, she’s already changing the topic. “How are the pancakes? Do you like them?”

“Yeah, they’re really good, I can’t believe I hadn’t had them before.”

“So it’s not your first time here?” tilting her head, a new bite in her mouth is Sousuke’s cue to speak.

“I’ve been here for almost two weeks now,” he takes another bite, because it’s easier waiting for an answer that way.

“Oh, why?” the right hand her cheek rests on feels like mockery. “I get sick easily, but I’ll get out in a week or so this time, I think.”

She never once looks about to drop her smile but Sousuke isn’t really looking.

Is saying it enough? But he’s never once wanted to say it before, not as news; not as anything besides a joke… so what about showing it? Showing it’s even worse. Under his sleeve, he can pretend hiding it still is nothing more than a stylistic choice, that he can pull it back and find his real hand there, ready for whatever he needs it. But his head spins and the wiped cream is rancid on his tongue and there’s no getting back what he lost, ever. It’s not another sleepless night and yet it feels just like it because there’s no one here to help him ignore the pain in fingers that aren’t even there.

“I-” up on the table, he finds something he only recognizes as his own arm because it’s wrapped on the pink fabric of his hoodie. “My hand-”

Mei’s eyes go up and down, mouth twitching, brows knitting, fingers curling around her slim wrists. “Oh.”

This is the end of their conversation, isn’t it? The entire building just fell upon their shoulders and there’s no recovering him it. Sousuke didn’t dislike her as much as he thinks he should, for it is someone who dragged him around quite a bit out nowhere. Not like he has to worry about that now.

“But you’re alive,” is what she says right when he starts pondering if he’d be able to make a run for his room. “You’ll be fine.” you can’t say that, you don’t know what it’s like, he wants to say to her smiling face. “I’ve been close to dying a few times, but you look like you’ll be out of here anytime now! The most important thing is that you’re still here.”

The air gets knocked out of his chest, and he can’t argue with that, can he?

Mei sent him away with a drawing he has nowhere to keep and some vague sense of existential dread (so is she going to die? How is she smiling that big then?), he can’t call Kou and expect him to be even half awake, their group chat is too quiet for him to even consider starting a conversation himself, and everyone else would probably take him as a bother this late in the day. Yui texts him for no longer than five minutes before excusing herself to keep working and he doesn’t even get to send her a picture of his portrait or brag about it.

All of this is Kou’s fault, that damn idiot.

Outside, the rain pours for hours on end even early in the morning, washing away any hope for anyone to willingly show up to his room yet again. He tries to tell himself he only misses Kou because he’d come running without a second thought, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. No matter how many times he insists on it in front of other people; deep down (and closer than that) he’ll always know how much he likes Kou; there’s just no hiding it.

Heading out for the cafeteria once again seems like his only option. Maybe he expects Mei to be there, at least she’s someone he can talk to, for the time being. It’s not like he dislikes her, but also she kind of just came out of nowhere and started acting so familiar with him it threw him a little off balance. Now, though, as he makes his way towards the only place he can expect to find her, he feels little more prepared; at least he knows what to expect.

“Ah, it’s you again, Sousuke!” something stings him every time someone refers to him by his name. Not because he dislikes it or anything, but because Kou still doesn’t use it despite his countless attempts at telling him that it’s fine, maybe he wants to feel closer to him, has the idiot considered that? So that someone he met yesterday already does…

“Shiji- Mei-san,” though, it’s not every day someone insists on him using their given name just like that. “Are you always here?”

“In between tests and stuff, pretty much. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed so I come here every time I can,” she moves the straw in her drink around, as if recalling something. “What about you; do you come here often?”

The seat beside her looks more appealing than it would have yesterday. “Not really, I just stayed in my room until now.”

“That sounds sad, couldn’t you leave?”

“My…” he could lie, he supposes, but she’s actually really nice and Kou would eventually tag along to the cafeteria when he comes back and run his tongue so it doesn’t seem like a good option. “my best friend comes pretty much every day and we just hang out in my room. He has a cold now, though.”

“But he shows up every day? He must care about you a lot,” there’s an unwanted elbow against his ribs and maybe looking for Mei again wasn’t his brightest idea.

“… Maybe.”

The answer doesn’t seem to satisfy her; smile dropping the tiniest little bit, eyes narrowing in a way that says you know that’s not true way too loud and clear, and a huff to top it all of), but she’s back to her usual self within the next minute and Sousuke finds being dragged around the hospital in search for all the little oddities she’s found in all her years there isn’t as bad as sitting in his room all day would be.

Perhaps running into the rain and hoping for the best wasn’t his greatest idea. It still takes him one too many sneezes to get it, but he’s bound to bed before he can help it, be it only because Teru forced him out of the kitchen, up the stairs and into his room. The night wind filtering through the window makes his hair stand on end under the dim light the glowing stickers Tiara stuck to the wall provide, and under Teru’s gaze, just as bright on its own.

“Tiara,” he calls, making her head appear behind the doorframe. “don’t let Kou get out of bed while I’m out, okay?”

Smiling right to the side, footsteps light on the tiles, he makes his way towards Tiara to ruffle her already messy hair.

“He’s not getting up!” she says, standing as tall as her short legs will take her. “Or I’ll beat him with this!” what seems to be the shadow of a broken broom’s stick emerges from her back, zooming into the room pointed right at Kou.

Teru chuckles. “Hope it doesn’t get to that.”

Hands linger in the doorframe as he searches his pockets. Kou is not even feeling that bad, for him to toss him into bed, he can at least get dinner done for today… probably.

“Where are you going?” his elbows dig into the mattress and, before he has enough time to react, Tiara stands right by his bed, a stick taller than her over his head.

“I’ll go get instant ramen for today and some medicine for you, it’ll only take twenty minutes.”


Tiara’s eyes seem to light up as the stick raises under her fingers. “Back to bed, please.”

Would she hit him enough to hurt? Probably. Maybe is best if he doesn’t take any more chances for today, since his first try is what got him this way in the first place.

“You shouldn’t be this close, you’ll get sick,” he tries; the stick is a better threat than he first thought.

Narrowed eyelids that do little to hide her ignited irises, a secured grip on the stick- and a swift turn around that makes her flowy dress spin, she’s back at the door, like a guard. “Still looking at you!”

His perception of time doesn’t work in the dark, not even when Tiara hums distinctive tunes he knows by heart. Time goes by way too slow when all he wants is to jump out of bed no matter how dizzy it makes him and keep getting things done. He has to wash Sousuke’s hoodie before giving it back- he’s still wearing it, isn’t he? It’s comfy and soft enough to melt into but he can’t wear it when he’s sick. He can’t take it off either, for Tiara is looking right at him.

How can he be here, stuck in bed when Sousuke needs him? A headache nor a fever seem all that important when he still can carry himself all the way to the hospital if he tries. He tells Teru as such when he gets back from the store and places a steaming cup of ramen on his nightstand.

“But they wouldn’t let you in, you know? You’d get Mitsuba-kun sick,” oh. Teru is right, actually… Then maybe staying in until he feels better isn’t such a bad idea.

“… then, I guess it’s fine.”

A hand falls on top of his head, heavy and cold (is it from outside or is he that sick already?), it ruffles around and combs the hair away from his forehead. “Don’t just do things for him.”

Now, Tiara is gone away to eat and he can prop himself up safely. “I’m not-”

“Think about yourself sometimes,” the cold glow in his eyes burns right in the middle of his forehead as he sits up on the bed. There are no words Kou wishes to speak, not even stuck against his tongue or at the very end. The rain outside is the only sound in his ears, alongside the deafening silence of Teru looming above. Until a hand makes its way to his hair, messing the strands around. “okay?” the corners of Teru’s mouth pull themselves up seemingly without effort, as do his eyes and the tiny wrinkles around them.

His eyes don’t burn anymore as much as they warm him and soon he speaks again. “Eat, I’ll get you a warm towel… or something.”

Looking at him scratch his chin, as if trying to remember the right thing to do is what ultimately defeats the pressure on his head enough to make him smile.

After his short call with Sousuke, Teru takes his phone back and excuses himself to go through his multiple assignments (after they both give Tiara clear instructions not to come too close or stay too long, and Kou resigns himself to bed for the time being, buried under the covers, forehead damp from sweat, changed into one of his own hoodies instead of Sousuke’s), he still has to fight the habit to put on his shoes by the door and head to the hospital. His back is made of coiled springs ready to snap but his head spins in every corner of the room when he does so he probably wouldn’t get far. That and, the least Sousuke needs right now is to catch a cold.

Calling back is a better idea, right? He can keep his eyes closed so the light doesn’t hurt and- and his throat is sore and dry no matter how much water he drinks, coughing more than it takes to scrape it further. Maybe it’s better if he sleeps, after all.

On the nightstand, his phone vibrates once, twice, and his hand falls on top of it before he can help it.

“Kou-kun, are you free today? Amane-kun wants to go to this place that just opened close to his house,” the screen says, Nene’s name a pale green color.

“Ditch the whiny bitch for a day, come on, it’s not the same without you,” Amane joins a couple seconds after.

Could he? He’d have to sneak out, but- his head is heavier than anything he’s ever carried and sticks him to bed like an anchor. "I’s not the same without you," Amane says and he feels like a traitor. Heavy, sore fingers dance around the letters on the screen that’s way too bright for his squinting eyes.

“Sorry, but I got sick yesterday.”

The chat falls still for no more than two seconds and soon both his friends are typing.

“Did you run into the rain or something?” Amane says.

At the same time, Nene’s text arrives: “Do you want us to come see you instead?”

“Forget about asking him, we’re going right now,” they make a plan before he can even start typing again.

“There’s no need, I’ll be better in no time! Besides, you could get sick.”

“We’ll be okay, you need something to cheer you up, that will also help you feel better,” Nene adds a friendly smiling face at the end of her sentence.

“You were dumb enough to get sick now you’ll have to put up with us, just you wait.”

His eyes are way too heavy to answer and there’s no helping it either way, is there? After all, it’s not the first time they come running when he’s sick, just as he does when it’s them, he can’t expect them not to do the same even when it would be best. Before falling asleep, though, he thinks of Sousuke’s hoodie, resting on top a chair, and the comforting laundry smell coming from it when he used it, just the same as the one Sousuke has on himself all the time- most of the time. Right now he smells of rubbing alcohol and antiseptic, but Sousuke is Sousuke and time will bring back his fluffy hair and pink, oversized hoodies, and his smiles as big and as pretty as they come.

… Waking up to a crushing weight on his ribs is not how he expected it to go, though.

“Morning!” Amane smirks over him, the hand supporting his chin digging into Kou. “You gonna tell us what happened now?”

“Leave him alone, Amane-kun, he’s sick,” there’s a pressure on his forehead as the bed dips to his side, springs protesting under the weight. “Oh, you’re really hot.”

“Yeah,” the weight on top of Kou lightens the tiniest bit.

“You haven’t even looked for yourself.”

Kou opens his eyes just in time to see Nene raising an eyebrow at Amane, who just smirks wider, “And your point is?”

She rolls her eyes at him, standing back up to soak the cloth on Kou’s forehead once again. The light filtering through the window hurts his eyes but his friends came all the way here for him; he can’t just fall back asleep.

“So, why are you sick?” head tilted to the side, Amane’s big, night sky eyes dig into his own as he can barely keep them open.

Words scrape his throat but Amane won’t stop until he gets an answer. Maybe he’ll get off him, too. “Uh… senpai said Mitsuba looked sad when Akane-senpai and her visited him yesterday so I made some flan for him and-”

But Amane speaks over him before he’s finished: “So you did run into the rain? For that kid?” cheek slumped against the bed, a pout spreads on his mouth.

“Amane-kun, you know Kou-kun would do the same for any of us…” a pause, only the sound of the excess water falling back into the bowl in front of her. “he shouldn’t, but he would.”

“Why shouldn’t I? You’re all my friends,” if they need him there; if he can show up as soon as possible (and he can), then why wouldn’t he?

Amane finally pulls himself up from him, sitting up by his side instead and he can finally breathe. There’s rustling coming from where the bed weights down but Kou does not open his eyes until a vague, sugary smell hits his congested nose, as good as it can. There, he sees Amane holding a paper bag on his lap, munching away a simple sugar speckled donut.

“You’ll leave crumbs on the bed,” Nene complains, getting a lunchbox out of her bag.

“I won’t,” he doesn’t stop to swallow, proving her point further. “More important-” gulping down mid-bite isn’t better than speaking with his mouth full, but it’s some kind of improvement, Kou supposes. “these are the ones I wanted you to try, I bought some on my way here. You want some?”

It takes Kou some seconds of silence to get that Amane means him and not Nene, still busy with her bag a couple feet away.

“I don’t think that’s good for him right now,” she says, sliding a spoon into the lunch box.

“They’re really good, though. Will you listen to her, boy?” the sugarcoated surface certainly looks appetizing, and Kou’s stomach already grumbles from only having instant ramen last night. He nods. “See? I was right,” Amane gives Nene a triumphant smile.

Elbows holding him up from the mattress, Kou leans forward- only to be stopped.

“No, stay back,” his fingers pull a single bite away from the donut in his hand, and that’s what he’s presented with. “Open.”

Expectant smile from Amane, the promise of steaming rice waiting in Nene’s hands and the audible grumble of his stomach, he obliges almost instantly.

He’ll keep telling Tiara you’re not supposed to eat sweets before actual food; one single time can’t hurt.

“Okay, that’s enough of that, now eat this, it’ll make you feel better… I think,” Nene presents the lunch box to him, back resting against the wall, and prepares a spoonful of rice, easier to give that way.

Kou takes it in both his hands, feeling the warmth creep to his cold fingertips. They always come in the odd occasion he gets sick, as he himself does to them. Even Sousuke, most of the time, be it only to take advantage of his sickness and mess with the things inside his drawers. But today is one of those times he’s actually spared of making his own food or going on a nearly empty stomach thanks to Teru’s, sincerely, awful cooking skills and how easy it is to live off of instant ramen for a few days. It’s a nice change.

When he goes to pick up the spoon, though…

“Wait, I’ll do it,” Amane smirks, already reaching for the box on his lap.

“I can do it on my own-”

“No, you can’t, I’m doing it for you,” he’s faster than Kou could ever react in his current state; fighting against him is pointless. “Here.”

Fogginess pesters his mind and his joints feel weirdly out of place. The seconds it takes him to set himself into motion are enough for Amane to lose his patience, apparently, for he takes Kou’s face with his free hand, squeezing his cheeks together like that’ll help him eat.

“Amane-kun,” Nene reprimands. “leave him alone.”

“But I’m just trying to help!” now, he brings the spoon closer to Kou’s mouth once again, with enough time for him to open it and taste the soft rice, as much as his numb taste buds will let him, anyway. “See?”

She sighs, seemingly defeated, and takes seat on Kou’s desk chair, having to move the pile of clothes sitting on top of it somewhere else first.

Amane makes feeding him impossibly complicated by sitting next to him instead of directly in front. Kou can’t really tell what it tastes like, but the warm texture on his tongue and the softness against his parched throat are enough of a comfort.

“Why are you sitting there?” he asks after swallowing the last bite.

“Hm?” eyes suddenly wider even when looking down, he brings his index to scratch his cheek. “… No reason.”

If his tired eyes aren’t playing any tricks, Kou could swear there’s a hint of pink in Amane’s cheeks. The again, his head hurts when he looks at either side too long, and there really is no reason for him to be embarrassed, maybe he’s just thinking about stuff, as he always does.

Anyway, there’s two important words he can’t forget, as he pulls himself back under the covers with Amane’s (not really) help; as Nene stands back up to soak the cloth again and place it on his forehead.

“Thank you.”

Nene blinks once, twice, like she never expected that at all. Kou can’t see Amane, but he’s probably not so different. “It’s what friends do,” she says, heartwarming smile that still doesn’t make him feel the way the memory of Sousuke’s does.

“I’m not doing this for free, though,” crossed armed against the wall to his left, Amane keeps a solemn expression for them to start buying into it- it’s gone before it settles, fortunately, and the breathy laugh he lets out in the end almost makes Kou’s heart race, the tiniest little bit (and the feeling is weirdly familiar).

It would be nice if Sousuke could be here, too, he thinks vaguely behind closed eyelids. He loves his friends as much as he possibly can, so he can’t help but want to include his absent best friend in everything he does, can he?

It’s a tough few days, shivering even under the blankets, surviving off of instant ramen and store bought meals. "These don’t taste as good as yours,” Teru keeps saying every time he comes up from the kitchen (the microwave hasn’t caught fire yet so Kou might have to give his brother some credit), Kou’s taste buds are still as numb as the tips of his fingers so he might have to take his word for it. Fortunately, there’s not many things able to take a Minamoto out for longer than a week. Come Wednesday night, Kou is back on his feet after a last healing nap, ready to tidy up the house and hoard the kitchen for himself. No one protests, eagerly waiting on the living room couch instead, and Kou has more plans than just make dinner. Steaming dishes on the dining table, a hungry, well-deserved meal for all three of them, and the plates are back under the sink in less time than usual.

It feels good to move around again, so Kou takes all the duties for himself, letting his siblings enjoy a movie he’s half paying attention to from a distance. The clock marks early night and there’s still enough time to finish his gift before it’s time to go to bed.

Trial and error over the years have left the process ingrained deep in his mind, almost like second nature. Because the smile it always gets him is worth all the times he had to read recipe after recipe, back to back, and all the times it didn’t taste like he expected. Now, he’s got it all figured out, and it’s the best way to apologize for getting knocked out for so long after promising he’d visit every single day.

After a short cooling period, the freshly baked flan goes into the fridge. Closing the door, Kou calls it a night.

Next morning, he finds he’ll have to take it to school with him, anyway.

But afternoon comes at last, and it almost feels like jumping from his seat straight into the street in front of school, no recollection of meeting anyone on his way out (Amane and Nene are both busy with their clubs; Kou doesn’t look back). If the walk takes him longer than usual, he doesn’t even notice.

“Mitsuba!” he calls. The smile pulling at the corners of his mouth bigger than he’s ever felt it.

It does not waver when he finds Yui sitting on the chair beside the bed, looking down at Sousuke’s phone alongside him. Kou still makes his way into the room, taking the box out from under his shirt and holding it out.

“You’re alive?” Sousuke says.

At the same time, Yui greets him: “Minamoto-kun, is good to see you again.”

Mother and son stare at each other for only a second, bringing their attention back to Kou.

“Hi, I brought you this,” he says, setting the box down beside Sousuke’s side.

“You think that makes up for leaving me all alone here, for four days? You can’t buy me that easily,” arms crossed against his chest, head turned, and yet Kou can see him peeking at the box.

“Don’t listen to him, Minamoto-kun, he even made a new friend that’s been hanging out with him, he’s been fine,” it’s Yui who takes the flan in her hands at last, taking the lid off. “Oh! Stop spoiling him so much, he doesn’t deserve it,” she elbows Sousuke on the side, getting him to drop his act and turn around.

It could never be lost to Kou the way his eyes seem to sparkle when he does, as it could never be lost to him the way his heart doesn’t know whether to stop or jump straight out of his chest. Nene’s smile used to make him weak at the knees; Sousuke’s is more than enough to render them completely useless.

“I do deserve to be spoiled,” Sousuke complains.

“I thought since he likes it so much, I’d just-”

Yui doesn’t let him finish (or maybe he never had a way to, in the first place), “You care way too much about him, you better make sure he does the same in return-” still tailing the sentence, she takes hold of Sousuke’s cheek. “- he cares so much about you he’s terrified to say it. Aren’t you, Sousuke?”

“No, I’m not!” he says, brushing Yui’s hand away from his face.

And Kou thinks he knows him a fair bit. Enough to tell what he means most of the time without words spoken or read between insults. Once you figure him out, Sousuke Mitsuba is not hard to know at all. No matter what comes out of his mouth, Kou and him share a single glance (Kou smiles, Sousuke doesn’t- he wants to but he doesn’t), and all it’s settled. Not like he needed it to know the truth.

“So? How is it?” Kou asks, sitting down on the bed at a spot that feels his already.

“Good, probably,” he holds the provided spoon between his fingers and takes a bite, instantly smiling into it, right at Kou. “It’s good.”

All words are suddenly lost to him, a smile the only form of communication he has left.

Is it just him or Sousuke seems to hold the spoon in his mouth longer than he probably needs to? Looking down at the flan and absolutely nowhere else for a solid thirty seconds, is it just his hair getting in the way or do his cheeks look rosier than usual?

… Kou should look away, probably.

“By the way, Minamoto-kun,” he turns to face Yui so fast his focus spins.

“Ye… yeah?”

She doesn’t seem to notice, though, as she searches around in the things sitting on the floor beside the chair, fumbling back and forth between them until she finally pulls something up: a blue umbrella.

“Got this for you, so you don’t run into the rain and get sick again,” the hand gripping the umbrella gets close to Kou’s own.

Him getting sick was such a bother, she- but she went through the trouble of getting him an umbrella of his own. He takes it and it fits in his hand just right.

“Thank you!” he smiles.

“Don’t tell me thank you, you better take that umbrella everywhere you go from now on, got it?”

Yui smiles at him in a way he doesn’t recall his mom ever doing (he can think of Yako, though, but her eyes are way sharper than the ones in front of him right now).

“… Got it!”

“He’ll forget it anyway,” Sousuke chimes in, pointing right at him with a clean spoon.

“Then it’s really convenient you’re always with him; you’ll take your umbrella too in case he forgets.”

Sousuke opens his mouth to speak, brows knitted close together, but in the end, he closes it with a huff. “Okay…”