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Paper Thin

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Lying has always come easier than telling the truth, for him, at least. Closing the door to his room with a loud thud was easier than admitting he was worried that time Yui broke her leg; lying is easier than telling the truth on the odd occasion his dad calls and asks something that deviates too much from his academic performance; insults are easier than caring words that warm his chest (they would burn his throat on their way up and he’s a coward who doesn’t take chances); staying silent is easier than reaching out to someone in the middle of a sleepless night; waking up earlier to hide the bags under his eyes with foundation will be easier than answering people’s questions, but if there’s something he’s not afraid of saying outright, is that he won’t miss the cold hospital walls, thin blankets, or the nights spent awake curling fingers that aren’t there, hoping for something that he can never have back.

The doctor’s advice slips out of his ears almost immediately, if it even reached them at all. Fortunately, Yui is right there (Sousuke hopes she’s listening). He misses his bed, so full of plushies that moving them to the top of his desk and drawers every night before sleeping is nothing short of a chore, and some nights he chooses to shove them all aside and sleep above the covers instead; he misses his room as a whole, the place that is truly his, the place where he can look around and remember some of his most treasured memories, where the ceiling is full of rainbow and candy stickers his eleven-year-old self probably shouldn’t have put up there instead of plain, blinding white; he misses his cute clothes, never this sick hospital blue, never so plain and boring; he misses taking hot baths (long enough for his mom to bang on the door and tell him she’ll make him work cleaning the neighbor’s house to help her pay the bill), and the fluffy hair they gave him; he also misses his cat, his headbutts and screams when asking for food, the shed hair he has to dust from his clothes before going out, the way he blends in between the pillows and plushies, looking just like one of them, the sudden weight on his lap at the worst possible times. He sure as hell won’t miss this place.

As soon as the doctor leaves the room, some hours left before actually being discharged, he heads to the cafeteria, just as he’s done many times before, Kou only tagging along the last three times, despite Sousuke’s complains. He can’t say he’ll miss Mei, because she stole his unlocked phone from his hand days ago and saved her number in it (she can’t sleep most nights either, Sousuke found, and the dark hours weren’t so lonely anymore), but he strives to find her one last time before leaving (he’s leaving for good, he doesn’t plan to come back; she, however, knows it’s not the same for her, knows time is a circle and she’ll find herself between the hospital walls once again, she’s made it very clear).

Mei isn’t there when he arrives, looking around doesn’t help either and only then Sousuke realizes he’s never asked where her room is. She can’t have been discharged, that much is certain, so he takes seat at the nearest table and waits.

It’s boring, he finds nothing to do in his phone besides send annoying texts to Kou, who is probably in class right now, and swing his legs back in forth under the table.

“Were you waiting for me?” the voice he’s grown accustomed to asks from behind his right shoulder.

“No, I’m not,” lying is always easier than telling the truth, and Sousuke is not about to take the long road if he can help it.

“That’s good then, cause I am waiting for someone,” is her smirk bigger than usual?

It is. It remains over all her features as she starts scribbling away in her sketchbook, not glancing up from it once. Her hand is steady and experienced on the paper, whatever she’s drawing probably as familiar as her own face.

“Who are you waiting for?” Sousuke is nosy and, they’re friends, right? So if she can tease him about Kou when he insists on tagging along, then he can ask. Not like she wasn’t the one to bring it up in the first place, anyway.

Only then does she lift her eyes from the page in front of her, staring right back at him with the same smile that doesn’t seem to ever leave her. “Someone that always comes to see me,” she looks back down at her drawing. “they’re busy most of the time on weekdays but they insisted on coming today so I’m waiting. They’re always on time so it shouldn’t take them long.”

Should he stay, then? Shouldn’t he just tell her he’s leaving in a couple hours and take it as his cue to head back to his room? But Mei doesn’t look the littlest bit eager to see him go, nor does she ask him to, sketching away before him.

Sipping on a can of juice he bought earlier, indulging in Mei’s silly chitchat, Sousuke spots a familiar green color in the corner of his eye. His head turns before he can help it and sure enough; there they are.

“Nanamine-senpai?” he exclaims, perhaps way too loudly. “What are you doing here?” only after he closes his mouth does he notice Sakura was headed at them from the start and he knows why.

“You know them?” Mei asks him, waving her hand at Sakura.

Sousuke can’t find the right words to speak so he settles for nodding.

“Didn’t expect you two to meet, if I’m being honest,” they say, settling on the empty chair besides Mei.

“Well, I didn’t expect you to know him!” both arms crossed on the table, Mei seems to remember something when her eyes fall back down. “Oh, right, I drew you this while I was waiting.”

The drawing isn’t visible from Sousuke’s angle but he supposes that’s fine, since it isn’t even for him and all. It doesn’t make him any less curious, but he still has other things he wants to know more about, like why Sakura is here, visiting someone they’ve never mentioned before but seem so close to. Then again, Sakura Nanamine has never had a big habit of talking, having told Sousuke listening is quite interesting, and he’d never reject a lent ear for all his minor inconveniences, met with the vaguest hint of a smile, a huffed laugh at best or just a blank expression that tells him maybe he should redirect the conversation somewhere else.

When he looks up again, he finds Mei almost reclined all the way on Sakura’s shoulder, scribbling away all the same under their patient gaze. Is it just him or do they seem… too comfortable with each other? Almost like- almost like the way he is with Kou when no one else is around. Except there’s someone around them now, and it’s him. Maybe he should leave, after all.

But he can’t just get up and walk back, that would look unnecessarily rude and both Mei and Sakura have been nothing but nice to him for the time he’s known them.

… The time for his discharge will come no matter where he is, he figures.

“How come Tsukasa-kun didn’t follow you today?” the little terror is nowhere to be seen, and why didn’t that ever happen when they came to see him?

“He knew I wasn’t coming to see you,” their answer is a little bit more cryptid than he’d like, because Tsukasa Yugi doesn’t usually take people’s word for things.

Maybe it’s because Sakura would never lie?

“And couldn’t you tell him that all the times he came? I almost lost my other hand once!”’

If they think he’s exaggerating, it sure felt like it.

“I would if I could, but he’s good at telling truth from lie, you know that. He doesn’t come when I visit Mei because he has no interest in her.”

Of course. Of course it always has to be him.

“Wish he lost interest in me already! I know I’m the cutest but I don’t want his attention!”

“I’m afraid it isn’t likely considering what happened to you.”

They’re right and Sousuke hates it. Having a new scar, something Tsukasa’s morbid curiosity can latch onto puts him at a considerable disadvantage to everyone else, it probably won’t stop even when he’s fully healed because his hand will never grow back and severed limbs are something the little terror never fails to express interest on. Both Yugi twins are unbearable, but why does Kou get the better one? The one who won’t spontaneously bite your ankles if given the chance?

Life isn’t fair. “I’m too cute for this world.”

Mei immediately breaks into a fit of laughter, pencil set down on the table with one hand as the other goes to hold back her hair. Sakura however, is already accustomed to his antics, which don’t work anymore (never actually did).

“You’re just laughing cause you’re jealous,” he tells her, doing little to stop her.

Quiet falls back down eventually, and Sousuke doesn’t find it in him to interrupt it again, not even when he’s, quite literally, third wheeling right this instant. It’s not just that, it’s that the little things they do, their expressions and the way Mei keeps gently shoving Sakura aside make him think way too much about Kou, more than he’d like to, ever. He’s pretty sure he’s not imagining things; if they’re not already, then it’s only a matter of time before they start dating. But he hates that he can see it in them, quiet and reserved, because it means anyone can see it in him, when he’s with Kou.

… Aside from the idiot himself, of course.

He’s grateful for that, in a way, just as much as he hates it; as he’s learned to live with it.

Neither Mei nor Sakura tell him to leave in any way, and he chooses to ignore both of them at some point onwards. Not like they were paying attention to him in the first place; lost in whatever Mei is doodling.

And that’s fine, he finds, even if it leaves him alone with his thoughts and all of them scream Kou’s name at him and the ways they’re as similar as different to who he’s looking at (you’re more obvious, way more obvious, they chant; Sousuke hates how right they are).

No last exploration around the hospital and no last time being escorted to their respective rooms by staff late at night with Mei. She insisted everything he could’ve seen he already had, and he believes her. He changes out of his hospital gown and walks across the front door without any reason to come back (except he told Mei he’d come see her next time she’s in, swore on it).

The long sleeves around both his arms feel like a blessing; warm, comfortable and pink; no more ugly colors, no more hair stuck to his skull that doesn’t smell the smallest hint of vanilla, no more having to see his bandaged arm dangling at his side unless he wants to (and he does not). His clothes smell of fresh laundry and strawberry, not of bleach. He feels better already.

As Yui finishes up whatever she’s doing inside, Sousuke kicks a rock a few feet away with the sneakers his mom helped him tie up and thinks about a long, hot bath waiting for him at home, thinks about finally seeing Kinako again, in front of him, nothing like the cute pictures and videos his mom sent him over the weeks. And, for some reason, he thinks of Kou once more, despite having seen him pretty much every day (he tells himself it’s because he lent one of his favorite hoodies to the idiot and he still hasn’t given it back. Sousuke hasn’t asked for it either but Kou should know. He’s not hoping to see him wearing it again one day or anything).

Hoodie up, he can’t feel the drizzle against his skin and he’s sure it barely soaks in. The clouds are here to stay and they warn about an upcoming storm, but right now, he can safely stand outside the hospital and breathe in air that doesn’t smell of rubbing alcohol.

“Ready to go?” Yui places a hand on his shoulder, and he’s never heard a dumber question.

“I never want to come back. I’ll sleep for twenty hours when we get home,” she laughs, but Sousuke is completely serious; even the thought of his bed is enough to turn his eyelids ten times heavier.

“Take a bath first, I won’t complain about how long it takes you, just this once,” the walk to the car feels endless, stomach growing heavy for some reason. “as long as you don’t decide to take your twenty-hour nap there.”

When Yui unlocks the doors to the car, the click they make freezes Sousuke’s hand in place. Barely an inch away from the copilot door’s handle, his fingers stop responding. Already inside the car, he can see his mom looking at him with a puzzled expression, slowly growing into dread.

The backseat looks much more appealing; easier to get into, his hand doubts but is able to pull on the handle with enough force to open it.

“Are you alright?” the car feels heavy on his shoulders, that’s all.

He doesn’t remember anything about how he lost his hand; he doesn’t want to remember, and yet- maybe he does. It should be fine as long as he doesn’t try to climb into the copilot seat for the time being… probably.

“Yeah, I just… I don’t know.”

Sousuke doesn’t ask; Yui doesn’t say and the car drives on.

Socks on carpet never were something Sousuke thought he’d miss as much as he finds out he does not even a minute after arriving at his house. A familiar weight against his leg, though, is. Down there, shedding all over his pants, is Kinako. Light hairs are clearly visible on grey; not so much on the pink of his sweater when he cradles his cat close to his chest. The bastard doesn’t really like it, but he hasn’t seen him in almost a month, that should be enough reason not to be too much of a bastard today.

“Did you miss me?” the purring is a good answer. Sousuke smiles bigger than he finds himself already doing.

Today, there’s no loud complains, no scratches or bites on his sleeves, no eagerness to jump back onto the floor, for five minutes longer than usual. Walking back to his room for the first time in what feels like ages is not easy when Kinako keeps running between his legs mid-step, but he manages.

With one goal in mind, the door to his room flings open and he launches himself at his bed without a second thought. Between the countless plushies, pink and white pillows; this is right where he belongs. His room is nothing if not the place that better puts him at ease, it’s the one and only place that is truly his. There’s pictures and notes hanging from the walls, of everything that he’s ever cared about, there’s a potted plant on the windowsill that Yui managed to keep alive all this time, somehow, there’s barely enough space in the bed for him to sleep comfortably at night if he doesn’t place at least half his plushies on top of his desk, there’s photo albums within reach and maybe it’s too much of a window to his mind, more than he’d like it to be. Not like this, not in full display. But that’s the way it is, that’s the only way he feels like the place belongs to him. So nobody else is allowed inside if he can help it, he won’t make that mistake twice.

Kou Minamoto stares away from the camera in more pictures than Sousuke cares to count, and even he has to beg to be let in; no one else stands a chance.

There’s a sudden weight beside him, that travels straight to his back before he has the time to move, and just like that, he’s trapped; secured in place for the time being.

Kinako was surely overfeed in Sousuke’s absence and now his backbone pays the price. Sousuke still has to dump on himself half a bottle of every hair and body product in his bathroom and his cat has no consideration for how much he needs his fluffy hair back. His hair strands stick to one another and down his neck, they smell like bleach at best and the rest of him is no better.

What may as well have been hours later, Kinako finally moves his heavy body away from him and into the kitchen at the sound of his food hitting the bowl. Into the bathroom, under the familiar lights, close to the mirror, Sousuke stares back at a reflection that looks nothing close to cute.

Almost a month at the hospital did no good to him whatsoever; endless nights awake left bags under his eyes he might have to sleep a whole uninterrupted week to fix, he looks like he hasn’t showered in decades and, besides the sink, there’s one less support point than it should be. There’s no trace left of the scraped nail polish, somehow there’s dirt clinging to his nails and it’s time to fix that for good.

Washing, combing and drying are no easy tasks with how things are now, but Sousuke Mitsuba is the cutest boy in the entire world and he’s determined not to leave room for any doubt about it. One side of his hair drips down on his shoulder more than the other and trying to style his hair is out of the question once it dries out but he’s always looked better with his hair down anyway.

When his phone rings not even five minutes after the time he knows to be the end of class, he hates that he has no doubt about who it is (and, more than he hates that he’s not even surprised, he hates that he doesn’t hate it). He takes up until the last possible second to answer; the idiot should know better than to call him like he’s desperate to hang out with him or something.

“What do you want?”

Before he’s done asking, a loud, excited voice speaks over him: “You left the hospital today, right? Can I come over?”

Sousuke’s heart does not feel like it’s been pumped and he does not want that idiot near him after having him on his back almost every day for the past weeks. Doesn’t he know better than to be so clingy? That’s why Sousuke can’t stand him.

“How about no?” Lying is always easier for him and Kou has known him for long enough. “You’ve already stalked me for weeks, why would I want you in my house, creep?”

Yui leaves for work in half an hour at most, the voices in the TV never speak to him, Kinako is a great listener but Sousuke has nothing to say- scoffing is easier than enthusiastically telling Kou to hurry up…

And he’s lucky he doesn’t have to. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Do you want anything from the convenience store?”

Sousuke never doubts a word Kou says.

“Bring anything, I’m starving.”

To acknowledge that time moves slower while waiting for Kou to arrive would be to lose. Against who, Sousuke doesn’t know, but the feeling is the same nonetheless. To pass the time, he tries to dry off his hair once more, throws a ball at a sleeping Kinako who only death glares him before falling back asleep, and sinks into one of the couches in the living room while Yui finishes getting ready to leave.

“Kou- Minamoto-kun is coming,” his attempt at correcting himself is utterly useless at this point in more ways than one and the only thing Yui does to remind him of it is snicker.

“Okay, just make sure he doesn’t leave without an umbrella, it looks like it’ll rain soon.”

“I’m not his babysitter!” if the idiot is going to get sick again, then so be it.

“But you care about him, don’t you?”

Sousuke doesn’t humor her smile, looking away and sinking down further into the couch. He knows she’s smiling bigger by the second, anyway, he doesn’t need to look.

All this; everything, makes him feel like falling back into normalcy is a close reality, that washing his hair doesn’t take longer than it used to and that he doesn’t depend on anyone else to paint his nails, that his handwriting is as pretty as it’s always been and that Kou Minamoto hasn’t done all his homework for the past weeks (and most likely none of his own).

He can wear as much pink as he wants now, away from the blue hospital gowns for good (for good, he’ll make sure of it), and that’s good. He feels like himself again. His drying hair smells like strawberries and doesn’t stick to his head anymore, gaining volume little by little, and he is home, after all.

“Bye, Sousuke,” his mom says, lightly tapping his head as she goes, making him turn around. “have fun!”

“Like I could have fun with him here,” nothing he says ever wipes the smile and smug eyes off from her face and he hates it because that’s the expression he wears the most around Kou.

Yui’s shoes echo against the tiles when she puts them on, the latch clicks upon itself- but the door doesn’t immediately close like it ought to.

“Oh,” she says, prompting Sousuke to step away from the couch and peek.

What stands outside, before his mom, happens to be no other than Kou.

“Sorry,” is what he says, because he’s an idiot.

“Don’t worry Minamoto-kun, come in, Sousuke is waiting for you,” the truth is always harder; Sousuke can’t stand it.

“No, I’m not!”

He gets ignored, though. “Good thing we met today,” she says, “I was thinking about inviting you for dinner one of these days; as a thank you for always keeping Sousuke company. Let me know when you’d be free, if that’s okay with you!”

“Saturday should be fine, probably! Uh…” Sousuke is not staring at him, he just happens to catch the moment he tilts his head to the side, deep in thought (if he’s even able to do that). “Yeah, dad’s not coming this weekend, Saturday should be fine!”

A nod on both their parts, no questions asked to Sousuke, the most important person present, and Yui waves her hand at the two of them before closing the door behind her back.

In less than it takes to blink, Kou is sitting right by his side on the couch, mismatched socks and all. “Here, brought you lunch.”

“This doesn’t look like you bought it at the convenience store, though,” it looks just like the homemade meals Kou makes for him when he actually shows up to class.

“Because I made you one this morning. Went to the convenience store for some juice,” he hands Sousuke a plastic bag, a chilled can of peach juice inside.

He hates Kou Minamoto. He hates that he can’t stop thinking about him.

“Thanks, I guess.”

Taking the first sip, he notices there’s something else on the couch, right at Kou’s side, something a familiar shade of pink and white.

“Is that-?” pointing at it, the question feels unnecessary, there really isn’t any other thing it could be.

“Yeah, thanks for lending it to me, I already washed it!”

Kou’s smile is blinding. Sousuke has known for years now. He still is just as unable to look away as the first time, if not more.

“Hope you didn’t do anything weird with it,” he snatches it from Kou’s hands but his smile doesn’t falter. It’s contagious.

But Kou doesn’t answer to him like he normally would, busy petting Kinako, who somehow got onto his lap without Sousuke noticing. There’s a lot of reasons he hates Kou Minamoto. One of them is the fact that he steals his cat’s attention.

If Kinako follows Sousuke around pretty much everywhere he goes, he will beg for Kou to carry him everywhere he goes, he will sit right beside him and paw at his hand or leg to get his attention and pets and it just isn’t fair.

Kou is the sun, Sousuke wants to bask in the warmth of his smile more than he’ll ever admit out loud and his cat can’t want the same. It’s his cat for a reason. He’s known him longer, he took him out of the street himself, he saw him gain weight and trained him to talk back at him, Kou can’t just show up one day years ago and become his favorite.

Kinako doesn’t understand what Sousuke wants and probably wouldn’t care either way, so he keeps purring on top of Kou’s lap as Sousuke munches away the food Kou gave him.

A phone rings. It’s not Sousuke’s, he’d never have such a lame ringtone. As the creep he is, Kou picks up in less than a second. “Satou?”

“Didn’t you forget something?” of course Kou has his volume high enough Sousuke can hear the voice on the other end perfectly fine, even from where he’s sitting.

“Huh? No, I don’t think-“

“Then why am I holding your bag right now?”

Over his food, Sousuke can see the second Kou’s expression shifts as he looks around the room, tracing his own steps until the doorway- where there’s no bag, no, but there it is, the umbrella Yui gave to him days ago.

What an idiot.

“Open the door already, we’ve been standing here for almost five minutes,” Kou looks right back at him, for neither of them heard the doorbell. Not now, not five minutes ago.


“We’re outside your house. We didn’t come all the way here for nothing!”

“… I’m at Mitsuba’s, though,” silence, in this end and the other, if it wasn’t for Sousuke’s chewing, flooding his own ears.

“We’re not walking all the way there! We’ll throw your bag over the fence and that’s it!”

“Won’t it get wet?” Yokoo’s voice, a little further away, asks.

Truly, Sousuke couldn’t care less about what happens to Kou’s things, least of all his school supplies. So, the image of Yokoo and Satou (probably the former, since Satou has quite the same noodle arms as him) launching Kou’s bag into his front yard is pretty funny. What isn’t funny, though-

“Now how are you gonna do my homework, huh?” there’s only one reason for Kou to be here and he won’t even do it? Sousuke should kick him out; make him go fetch his bag or something, at least.

“Oh!” Sousuke can see the moment his eyes light up; as clear and as blinding as the sky is above the clouds. “Can you tell me what today’s homework is?”

“Wh- homework?”

A messily handwritten list, an ended call and a trip to Sousuke’s room to fetch his books later, he keeps his cheek slumped against the table as Kou scribbles away, eyebrows knitted together behind his glasses, certainly not concerned about wrinkles. What kind of luck does Kou have to bring in his pocket the glasses he always forgets but not his entire bag?

As big of an idiot as he is…

The table isn’t cold on his cheek anymore, the way his right sleeve dangles over his head a mere way to shield his eyes from Kou. He sits in front of Sousuke, unaware of more things than just the right way to solve a chemistry quiz. He’s an eyesore, that’s why Sousuke doesn’t want to look at him, there’s no other reason.

Problem is that he is looking, Kou is just too dumb or too focused to notice. There’s a bruise on his nose. Sousuke is sure he gave it to himself by running straight into a pole because it wouldn’t be the first time. His hair shifts lightly from time to time, that awful bed hair of his that is as spiky as it looks like. Specially against Sousuke’s neck when he sets his head on his shoulder, or against his forearms that time a ball knocked him out cold and Sousuke barely fought Satou’s idea of letting Kou’s head rest on his lap. Spiky and not soft at all; that’s exactly how Kou’s hair is. It doesn’t blind him to look right at it against the sunset, he does not run his fingers through it whenever he can and claims it to be an attempt to detangle it; he sure as hell doesn’t like who it is attached to.

A loud, lazy meow is the only warning he gets before Kinako jumps on the table.

But Kinako is not here for Sousuke (cats are ungrateful bastards that don’t even like you no matter how much you spoil them or how much you care for them), he immediately gravitates towards Kou, stepping on Sousuke’s books without a care in the world. It’s happened countless times before so Sousuke doesn’t bat an eye; doesn’t try to get the fucker’s attention; he just watches as Kou finally looks up from his work (he’s also given up on trying to make him multitask. As lonely as it gets, talking to Kou instead of letting him do his homework won’t help him graduate middle school), and is greeted by a paw on his face that snatches the glasses clean off of him.

Good. Sousuke doesn’t like how Kou looks with them. Not one bit. At all. Lying is always easier and there’s no way he’ll admit there’s something eye-catching about Kou in glasses (not even to himself).

Laughing at him doesn’t count. No matter how his laugh sounds; he’s making fun of him and nothing more.

“Hey!” Kou complains, like he shouldn’t have been expecting it from the start.

Putting them back on would be stupid. That’s exactly what Kou does.

“Take a hint, would you.” Sousuke raises his head from the table. “He’s telling you you look ugly with those on.”

“I need them to do your homework, though.”

“But are you doing it right now?”

Kou blinks a couple times. He looks clueless and Sousuke hates how hard it is to look away. Sousuke hates a lot of things, most of them seem to relate to Kou Minamoto, someone who calls himself his best friend and… he’s never disagreed from the bottom of his heart, has he?

“Do you hate them that much?” the sentence ends with some nibbling on the pencil he’s holding. Both arms resting on top of the table, folded until one of his hands travels to Kinako’s head.

A small part of Sousuke wants to say that, no, maybe he looks a little cute like that (only a little), but that would take too much work and Kou isn’t cute at all. The way one of his canines pokes out as he waits for Sousuke to answer does not make things easier.

“You don’t look cute; bet I’d look cuter with them,” only when the glasses are on his face and the world around him distorts in little ways, is that he remembers how many times he’s done the same exact thing.

Just like every time before, Kou stares at him from his side of the table, a hand on Kinako’s back, a soft, if only a little bit annoyed smile- and there’s something about all that that makes Sousuke freeze right where he’s sitting.

“They suit you,” Kou nods.

But Sousuke is a coward and Kou’s smile sets off every alarm in his head. “Everything suits me; you should know that already.”

Kinako moves away at every attempt Sousuke does to pet him, rubbing all over Kou without even looking at him; that’s how it’s been since the bastard met him but it never makes Sousuke any less mad. He raised the fucker and he’ll just go and choose Kou over him?

“He might as well be your cat at this point,” he scoffs, arms folded before his chest.

“Huh? But I’m sure he’s the same with you when I’m not here.”

Finally, Sousuke is graced with a glace from his bastard cat, who only seems to do so to prove Kou right. And he might be, but he doesn’t get to point it out.

“Well, he isn’t. He completely ditched me for you!”

“Did you?” he asks, and Kinako lets out some sort of vaguely sad meow, Sousuke doesn’t trust him one bit. “See? He says he loves you too!”

“You a catboy now?”

It’s too much. Kou’s blinding smile as he holds Kinako close to him is more than Sousuke can take. Would he be fast enough? His phone is already on top of the table, just a few inches away from his grasp, the camera won’t take longer than a second to open- maybe Kou won’t notice.

Even if he does, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?

It wouldn’t be the first time Sousuke’s been caught in the middle of taking a picture of him, as much as it annoys him to admit it.

He’s not as fast as he used to, not as he is right now. But Kou doesn’t move away, smiling bigger and brighter instead; Sousuke can barely put his finger in the right place.

Sousuke Mitsuba only takes pictures of things that are important to him; things he likes (he thinks about the Minamoto siblings’ portraits as a huge exception), his camera roll is full of Kinako sunbathing and whatnot, pretty flowers on the sidewalk, cute cats and dogs he met once at the park, butterflies and ladybugs he was lucky enough to catch midflight, birds nesting on top of trees or chasing each other along railings. His camera roll is full of things he likes, be it his phone or his actual camera. Kou Minamoto has a place in both more times than Sousuke cares to count. He too, sits amongst pretty flowers by the sidewalk and unknown friendly cats as well as Kinako himself, finding a warm place to sit on his lap.

The shutter sound goes off, Kou’s smile and Kinako’s big eyes light up his phone’s screen and he’s okay with Kou knowing there’s pictures of his ugly earring scattered around in Sousuke’s folders, once in a while.

“Do you like it?” Kou asks him, as Kinako sits up against his hand, looking for attention.

“Your earring kinda ruins it,” there’s something about Kou, something Sousuke doesn’t think he deserves. It’s become painfully obvious with time that, for a crybaby like him, someone so oblivious to everything else that still never takes his mean words to heart (someone who gets what he means even when lying comes easier), is more than he ever thought he’d find in a friend. “… but, I guess I do.” ”I guess I like you” he swallows back down.

Kou is more than he ever thought he’d find in a friend and he can’t ruin it. Not like this, not any other way.

Rain is a good sound to fall asleep to. Apparently Sousuke takes a little too long to get back from the bathroom and when he does, Kou is slumped against the table, probably drooling all over Sousuke’s homework. Kinako doesn’t seem to care, his own face resting against Kou’s cheek.

“What are you so tired for?” he asks him, not actually expecting an answer.

Taking the cap of a marker and doodling on the visible parts of Kou’s face and arms would be easy, he could laugh at him when he wakes up and take a lot of pictures to make fun of him with for years to come.

Walking back to his room to fetch a scarf and wrap it over Kou’s shoulders is significantly less fun. Sousuke doesn’t let that stop him from taking pictures anyway.

The idiot should have a little more consideration for him. Now the house is silent and the music coming from his earphones just isn’t the same as messing with Kou over dumb things. Still, he doesn’t even consider waking him up.

His eyelashes twitch from time to time and they might not be as cute or as long as Sousuke’s own but he finds himself staring. Kou is always full of energy and ready to go at any given moment, if he fell asleep so fast and soundly, chances are he really needs it.

That’s why, instead of disturbing him, he sits down on the chair next to him and finally gives in to the need to run his fingers through his hair. After all, it’s not like Sousuke hasn’t woken up to Kou doing the same many times before. “It looked soft!” is an excuse that should only have worked the first time around; Sousuke has never called him out on it, not even years later. He doesn’t plan to, either.

But he’s never safe, not even in his own home, is he?

“Looking after him?” his earphone falls off at just the right time for him to guess the sentence. Identifying the familiar voice is no problem at all.

What is a problem is everything else. His hand on Kou’s hair, in the middle of pulling some strands loose from one another; the smile he has to force down his own mouth in exchange for knitted eyebrows and a scoff that does absolutely nothing for the way his face burns or what his mom already saw (less for what she already knows). It’s all Kou’s fault. For coming over and for falling asleep, for being his friend and for being his friend.

He yanks his hand away (he takes care of untangling his fingers before pulling too hard, so does it even count as yanking?) and, stuffing his hand in his pocket, he meets Yui’s eyes. “Like I would do that.”

On his short trip into Sousuke’s room, Kou picked up a single thing out of the ordinary: his camera wasn’t on his nightstand. A quick and curious look around gave away its new spot, up on a high shelf, collecting dust beside old albums Sousuke doesn’t like to look at anymore. He got ushered out as fast as he followed him in and soon he was making his way through complicated chemistry equations, no time to lose thinking about high shelves or empty nightstands. Spread across his bed, however, nothing but his phone’s screen reflecting on his face, he knows something is wrong.

Sousuke has been taking pictures anyway, right? If only with his phone. But Kou has seen him, that has to mean things are at least okay, right?

The countless times Sousuke has talked about things Kou never quite understands but vaguely holds onto tell him that things could be… better. That Sousuke is not more of himself just because he’s wearing his oversized pink hoodies, pastel socks and glittery lip gloss again, not when the camera he never leaves behind sits high on a shelf, collecting dust beside stuff he barely looks at anymore.

Blue light turns off; Kou’s been looking at the screen without actually looking for way too long now, it seems. He doesn’t try to turn it on again, phone falling on the mattress right by his head-

How can he make things right? If there’s anything he can do for Sousuke (and there has to be, there always is), then he better do it as soon as possible. There’s no time for sleeping, not even way past midnight, not if he wants to find a way to help him. And he does. There’s nothing else he could want.

Sousuke’s camera, glued to his hands, dear to him as it is to Kou (Sousuke lets him peak from time to time, hold it and try to take a picture of him, claiming he looks too cute for it to go to waste, entrusting it to him), never heavy on any trip, one more thing to love- Sousuke’s camera, chipped and scratched, covered in dust, up on a shelf (covered in dust Kou doesn’t mind wiping away with his own shirt; up on a shelf Kou could reach if he tried, if Sousuke doesn’t feel like it).

So how can he make things right? (Should he even try to?)

“Kou?” somehow morning creeps upon him faster than expected. Kou finds himself standing in the kitchen and barely remembers how he got there. “I think they’re burning.”

Over his shoulder, Teru points at the eggs in the pan, sizzling and, admittedly, a little darker than usual.

“Oh crap, you’re right!” eggs on the plate, stove turned all the way off, the three of them sit at the table. “Sorry about this.”

Tiara seems too distracted to even notice and Teru happily chews away just as any other morning.

“Nothing to worry about, they taste just fine,” as good as that is to hear, Kou would rather the eggs weren’t burned. He’d rather a lot of things were different, actually. Though, that’s a whole another story. “Now, will you tell me what’s bothering you?”

“Me? Nothing’s bothering me! I was just… distracted, I guess.”

A raised eyebrow and another bite to his food later, Teru sets an elbow on the table. “Is that so?” just when Kou is about to reply, he continues: “You already know you’re terrible at lying, Kou. What’s wrong?”

“… Well,” when he puts it like that, trying to avoid the topic becomes stupid, in a way. “it’s just that Mitsuba- he’s been feeling a little down and, he doesn’t even look like he wants to take pictures with his camera anymore, I saw it covered in dust on a shelf. That’s never happened before…” it just isn’t right.

“Like he doesn’t want to use it anymore?”

The thought makes Kou’s stomach drop, but he nods.

Teru brings a hand under his chin, narrow eyes wandering left and right. Ultimately, he says nothing.

“Take him to the park,” Tiara joins through a mouthful of rice. “that always works!”

Wanted or not, Kou looks right at Teru for a reaction. Something that tells him it’s a good enough idea, that maybe it’ll work; something to cling to. “You’re right, Tiara. Maybe he just needs some fresh air after being at the hospital for so long and he’ll find something worth photographing there.”

Tiara looks at him with her big, expectant eyes until words settle in his mind and he smiles, bright and wide: “That’ll work!”

Right now, though, he better push it all the way to the back of his mind; an entire class schedule ahead.

Ultimately, Sousuke plagues his mind more than he should.

“Weird” and “unnatural” are words he never thought he’d hear coming from Sousuke, not when asked how holding his camera felt; why it was sitting so high up on a dusty shelf. What Kou did expect, was the quick turn down to his offer. One, two, three times. Until Saturday came and suddenly Sousuke didn’t feel like spending all day inside his house and had been expecting Kou for hours now, despite not saying anything about it. He puts on his shoes as fast as possible anyway, because Sousuke is waiting for him right now, camera dangling from his neck.

“Let’s go!” he greets from below the metal staircase to Sousuke’s apartment, where he sits, long hair flowing free.

The metal clinks under heavy steps but Sousuke looks more anxious than mad, fingers twitching around the lens he never quite grasps.

It’s no surprise when he doesn’t talk or react much to any of Kou’s suggestions; when he brushes them off before he has any time to explain, ignores his gaze and quickens his step. It feels a little like he’s running away, like he doesn’t want to be here at all… because that’s exactly what’s happening. Kou doesn’t push after Sousuke walks a solid 4 feet ahead of him and keeps his head hanging low, doesn’t ask him to slow down or listen- but he talks.

“Bet there won’t be many people when we get there; maybe we’ll see some cool birds!”

“… I have enough bird pictures.”

“Maybe a dog or a cat, then?” one stride longer than the rest isn’t enough to catch up but it does bring him a little closer.

“I don’t want to take pictures of animals today, they’ll just move and ruin it.”

“Oh! There’s some pretty flowers near the back, they planted them recently and I haven’t seen them anywhere before.”

Sousuke stops in the middle of a step. So fast that Kou passes him for a couple inches. “Fine… I guess.”

“I don’t really know what they are but-”

“Like you’ve ever known anything about flowers,” an eye roll and a weak chuckle later, Sousuke starts walking again.

This time, Kou doesn’t need to make an effort to catch up to him.

“Are you shivering?” below a raised eyebrow and a good portion of hair covering his face, Sousuke straightens up his back from here he sits, close to the flowerbeds.

Indeed, the long sleeved shirt he’s wearing isn’t as cozy as Sousuke’s pastel pink, skull printed hoodie or his scarf. And the wind in this corner of the park seems fiercer than anywhere else, but he can stand it, rubbing his hands up and down his arms does the job just fine.

Sousuke doesn’t think the same; something soft hits him right in the face, sliding down into his hands.

“Wear that, I have enough with this,” he points his chin down at his sweater and looks away at the flowerbeds once again.

It’s not the first time Kou’s worn Sousuke’s scarf. It’s not the first time he’s been giving it on his own. It’s not the first time, either, that Kou has put it on without a question and raised his shoulders to bring it closer to his face.

Sousuke’s clothes might smell the same as always (fresh laundry, something sweet right at the end), but the shutter of his camera goes off less times than Kou can count on one hand and, instead of teasing him about every little thing and asking Kou to go away so his shadow doesn’t mess up his pictures, he keeps silent and still. Still, except for his arms.

He’s always been proud of his steady hand; always brags about it to Kou or anyone that’d listen when he’s in the middle of taking pictures-

Today, his arms shake side to side, up and down- “Ugh!” The camera hits him straight in the chest at the same time his hand and sleeve hide his face from view.

Kou freezes on the spot. Is he crying? His shoulders aren’t shaking like they do when he cries but… could he be crying anyway? His hand is fixed in place but he needs to reach out. Did he bring Sousuke here just to make it all worse? Wouldn’t it been better to not do anything at all, to not force him to be here, to-?

“Nothing looks the way I want! It’s just a stupid flower picture, it should-!”

“Let’s take a break! Wait for me on that bench, okay?”

Mouth closed, feet dragging on the ground; a nod and a deep breath, he does as he’s told without a complain. Kou can still make things right, somehow. He can’t let Sousuke down, not today (not ever, but specially not today).

In front of the vending machine, Kou is lucky to find enough change in his pockets for a can of peach juice to bring back to Sousuke. Kicking the pebbles in his way seems crucial to the process, so he doesn’t stop himself from doing so.

Away, sitting right in the middle of the bench under a big tree, is Sousuke, messing with his camera settings on his lap. There’s barely a hint of the frown that plagued his entire face minutes before; it eases the pressure in Kou’s chest, a weight off his shoulders that helps him get there quicker.

“Here,” he offers the can, ready for Sousuke to snatch with a vaguely mean comment that doesn’t mean anything but thank you.

But he doesn’t. “Thanks.”

Nothing if not the sound of Sousuke’s nails hammering the sides of the can in something that seems to resemble some kind of rhythm, they sit in silence. The leaves overhead casting shadows on both their figures, crackling like a fire waiting to happen. This isn’t right. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be and Kou can’t fix it. His attempt at it has only brought… whatever this is. It just isn’t right.

Last time he was in Sousuke’s place was just the way it’s supposed to; did he makes matters even worse? Is this all because of him? Of his insistence on him picking his camera back up? Because it’s what he thought was right?

“Is it because your hand shakes so much?” he asks through pursed lips.

Sousuke looks at him over the can resting against his mouth, tightly gripped in his hand, as if he’s holding onto it for a completely different reason.

“It isn’t the same, not like this. I just can’t find a way to support it the way I used to. So… everything turns out like shit.”

If Sousuke doesn’t seem to enjoy the thing he’s loved ever since they met, then… then what is Kou supposed to do? Should he just have left it alone from the start? But why can’t he just drop it now? Walk him back home and wish him luck for another day- that just isn’t how things work.

“If there’s anything I can do…”

Sousuke takes a long sip from the can, looking anywhere but Kou’s eyes. “You? As if you know anything about photography.” The scoff, the shifting weight from shoulder to shoulder; Kou can’t help the smile that lifts both corners of his mouth. “Why are you smiling, creep? Bet you just thought of some gross thing you can do to me!”

“Shut up. I just thought… you looked more like yourself, for a moment.”

Like the air was knocked clean out of him, Sousuke drops the can at his feet just to step on it with his full weight, standing up from the bench to pick it back up. “I guess there’s something you can do for me.”

Kou’s idea of helping him take pictures didn’t include him getting constantly hit on the arm for not standing still enough, or Sousuke slipping between his arms as if he were a frame. In hindsight, maybe he should’ve expected it. If the problem was mostly that Sousuke couldn’t keep the camera steady enough with only one hand, then it just made sense for Kou to be his hands. It doesn’t help the fact that Sousuke is that close to him, though.

“You suck at this! Can’t you even try to hold it still? At this point I think I do it better than you on my own!”

“I’m trying!”

“Are you, really?”

Face to face (inches away from each other, closer than they probably should be), Kou can’t miss a single detail from Sousuke’s smile: the way it starts off as an attempt to look smug, glittery lips raising more on one side, but quickly melts into something less prepared, as his eyes lose the determination and start looking for something on Kou’s shoulder, then the ground, he tries to speak again but fails. And his smile picks up again.

“Anyway! That dog looks cute, hurry before he moves from beside the flowers… or decides to take a piss or something.”

In the end, today’s pictures are the worst thing Sousuke’s ever seen, only comparable to something he would’ve done back when he first picked up a camera for the very first time. Wonky framing and blurry in all the wrong places, lopsided and overall trash, he hates them so much he doubts they’re even worth a spot on his laptop’s memory. There’s something that steers him away from the idea of deleting them for good right as he passes them, though, and is the memory of Kou behind his back, doing his best to drag him out his house, and keep a steady hand and get the dust off his camera. He succeeded at two of those, Sousuke will give him that. He doubts he’d ever forget it even if the pictures disappeared for good but, something that reminds him of it like that isn’t that bad, even if they all suck and take up space for nothing, he holds onto them as he would the ones that make him the proudest.

It’s not all bad; he’s better as he is, on his own, than Kou will ever be even with both his hands, he knows that now.

“So? How do they look?” Kou peeks from his right side, almost leaning on his shoulder.

That’s not what he’s trying to do at all, Sousuke knows that. Acting like he doesn’t won’t take him anywhere- and Kou would lean down on his shoulder if he really wanted to, like he’s done countless times before.

“They suck,” he declares; there’s no reason to pretend. Although… “but, it’s a start.”

That’s enough to bring Kou’s blinding smile to the surface, as he already missed it. If the sun itself is no match for it, the grey clouds overhead never stood a chance.

Such a smile only belongs in Kou Minamoto’s face, so it clings to him even when a dog running around in front of them catches his eye. What if is something Sousuke never thinks about anymore when it comes to taking pictures of one ugly earring and the idiot that insists it’s too important to take it off. Distracted as he is; focused as Sousuke is, holding up the camera, his right arm as support, is not more of a challenge as it would be to hold it the same way months ago. The lighting sucks and it won’t ever be between his best pictures, but it’s Kou, smiling brighter than any star ever could and that’s enough to make it hold a special place in his heart. As stupid as it sounds.

And if the idiot notices, he doesn’t say a word.

Before leaving the gates to the park, there’s only one thing that feels right; waiting at the tip of his tongue to slip out. It doesn’t taste like bile, but feels right to stop holding onto it. Lying has always come easier to him. Here, standing right at the gates, Kou waiting for him two steps away, he could call him an idiot and make a run for his house, hoping that’s enough to shake the necessity off of his shoulders. Lying would be harder than telling the truth; maybe there’s exceptions to the rule (Kou has been the exception to the rule for longer than Sousuke would like to admit).

An idiot like him deserves to hear something like that (something so painfully obvious) once in a while, after all. “… Maybe you helped me, a little,” he bites the insides of his cheeks when Kou looks right at him, eyes lit up like a star. Somehow it doesn’t deter him from his next words: “Thank you, Kou.”