They’re sitting across from each other, the only two people studying in the library at 6:00 in the morning, when an indescribable thought worms its way into Komaeda’s head. It starts out as a vague, fuzzy tingle that tickles the inside of his scalp, and slowly spreads to his fingers and toes. The sensation only intensifies once it’s enveloped his body whole, and for a moment he thinks maybe all his limbs have fallen asleep.
He wouldn’t blame them; he can’t remember the last time he slept through the night. Or the last time he slept more than an hour at all. Anyone could recognize that as bad luck, but perhaps his recent stroke of good luck--learning Hinata’s an early bird who favors having morning study sessions in the library before going about his day--is enough to balance out his unfortunate sleeping pattern.
Eventually, the idea makes it to the front of his brain, where it sits and grows quietly. And after a couple more minutes of mulling it over, it finally bleeds through to his conscious realm of thought, taking on the form of five strange little words.
“I think I love you.”
Even as the words fall from Komaeda’s lips, he’s surprised to hear them. There’s silence for a moment as Hinata pauses to look up from his book, forgetting to mark his place before he was interrupted mid-page. The final nail in the coffin comes when he turns his head to shoot Komaeda an incredulous look and his eyelashes catch on the sunlight.
He knows Hinata heard him the first time, he’s only asking because he hasn’t finished processing the unprompted confession. With a patient smile, he continues.
“I love you, Hinata.”
Blinking rapidly, Hinata makes a sound trapped somewhere between a startled laugh and a cough. He glances over his shoulder as if he’s expecting to see Souda recording him with his phone, tensing up like he’s fully prepared to scold him for pulling such a pathetic prank.
His eyebrows travel further and further up his forehead and his eyes begin to widen when he realizes Komaeda isn’t joking.
“You…” he shakes his head slightly. “No, that can’t be right. Do you have a fever or something?”
It’s Komaeda’s turn to blink in surprise. “Of course not, if I did I wouldn’t be here. Besides, you’re the one who insisted on escorting me to Mikan yourself this morning.”
“I-I mean, yeah, but technically you could’ve developed one in the past two hours. Better to be safe than sorry,” he mumbles, absentmindedly packing his school bag.
Exasperated, Komaeda leans forward to prop himself up on an elbow, cheek in hand.
“Is it really so difficult to believe I have feelings for you, Hinata? After all, you’re the one who scolds me for saying such sentimental things without a proper warning. I’ll say it as many times as you’d like: I love you.”
“No, you don’t,” Hinata says flatly, rubbing at the dark circles under his eyes. “You don’t really mean that.”
Clicking his tongue, Komaeda sighs. “And why are you so sure I’m lying? Really, Hinata, what purpose would it serve for me to lie to you about this, much less distract you from your studies?”
Hinata shakes his head in utter disbelief before snapping the book in front of him closed. The turmoil and confusion in his eyes tug at something in Komaeda’s chest, making his lungs and ribs ache. He wants nothing more than to reach over and rest a hand over Hinata’s loosely clenched fist, but knows he’d just get shrugged off if he tries. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, Hinata finally musters the willpower to respond.
“Why..?” It comes out as a croak, forlorn and apprehensive. Hinata winces, licking his lips. “Why me? What’s so good about me anyway, huh? I wish you wouldn’t joke about shit like this, it’s not funny.” An outright rejection would’ve been easier to stomach.
“You are joking, right? Because last time I checked, there wasn’t much about me to love.”
Each word is laced with more pain than the last, and the dull ache in the cavity of Komaeda’s chest is the only thing that stops him from interrupting. Hinata stares blankly at a patch of sunlight reflecting off the table’s glossy finish.
Komaeda speaks slowly and carefully with clear emphasis on the inflections of each word, as though he’s addressing a wounded animal.
“Hinata, I would never joke about something so important… no, someone so important to me. It’s alright if you don’t feel the same, or you hate me now, I really don’t mind. You’re free to feel however you’d like about this, about me.”
Hinata eyes him warily. At least he’s meeting his gaze again, that’s more than Komaeda would ever dare to ask of him. So, he continues.
“I don’t expect anything from you, or feel entitled to demand your love in return. That’s not how it works, anyway.”
Eyebrows furrowing, Hinata leans back in his chair. “Wait, then… why are you telling me any of this in the first place?”
“Hmm...? What do you mean?”
He hums, deep in thought. “Don’t people who confess their love usually want a response? You said you don’t expect anything from me, but how is loving me… wanting to be with me… any different?”
Komaeda smiles and shakes his head. He reaches forward to gently clasp one of HInata’s hands. Hinata jumps a little, but doesn’t pull away.
“That’s not what this is about. You see, it doesn’t really matter if you love me back; I don’t mind if you want to spend your life alone, or with someone else.” Komaeda pauses to run his tongue over his chapped lips, wetting them once more (he doesn’t want his voice to crack). “The only thing I want is to see you be happy. Of course,” he adds with a chuckle, “I’d like to have the privilege of cheering you up every once in a while, when you feel down.”
There’s a knot in his throat and a pile of rocks weighing heavy on his chest, but Komaeda forces himself to continue. He knows that if he stops now, he may never get the chance to show Hinata the extent of his feelings.
”It’s alright if you don’t want me to, I understand. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone who would want comfort from or enjoy the company of someone like me. But please, Hinata, promise you’ll take care of yourself. Take care of yourself for me, okay?”
Hinata opens his mouth as if to respond, like a fish out of water, then closes it just as abruptly. His expression coaxes a tender smile from Komaeda, and the pale, lanky boy withdraws his hand.
“I-I… I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s okay, don’t worry about it!” He flashes what he hopes is a bright and genuine smile. “Like I said, you don’t need to give me an answer, and I won’t be upset if you don’t return my feelings. I just thought you should know that someone loves you.”
“... Thank you.”