Following Shuuji to Kyushu hadn’t really meant anything, at first. Nobuta was determined to keep them together, but Akira hadn’t really understood why. She kept insisting, “Shuuji and AKIRA, together. That’s the only way it’s right.” And Akira had nodded and smiled and not gotten it at all. He wrangled a helicopter ride from his father (“Akira is going to scho~ol, a better scho~ol!”) and found an apartment and everything was odd without a reason.
The next day, he saw Shuuji again.
Akira never noticed before how small and fragile Shuuji was. Bird-like, bony, like he hadn’t been fed properly since puberty started and now looked to be in a constant state of ‘under-fed’. When he was anxious, Shuuji always smiled tightly, and Akira spotted the expression instantly. He didn’t understand what Shuuji had to be nervous about; everyone loved Shuuji. Of course this class would too. Everyone.
Shuuji saw him, and dropped his bag with a thump. His mouth hung open in the most obvious expression of shock Akira had ever seen on him, and the flutter behind his breastbone made him wonder if maybe, Nobuta had been wrong. Maybe Shuuji had wanted to start over here, without old friends to tie him down. That thought hurt more than Akira had expected it to; sharp and twisty in his stomach, like a razor-sharp eel in the pit of his gut. He was struck with the sudden urge to run, to hide, to leave Shuuji alone right there. But Nobuta wouldn’t be happy with him if he did that; besides, he didn’t have a ride. So he shot Shuuji a ‘konkon’. To his pleasure, the strange weariness that hung over Shuuji seemed to lighten, and Akira smiled, happy that Nobuta was so smart. It was because she was a girl, he thought wisely. Girls know things.
After school, they rode their bikes home together. To Akira’s glee, he found out his apartment was in the same complex as Shuuji’s, right above it, and promptly rigged a pulley system with a bell. The top was in his room, and the cord went out the window and down through Shuuji’s, with a brass bell attached. Akira was able to yank it whenever he felt like it, and it would ring merrily for Shuuji’s attention. “When you feel lonely,” Shuuji said softly. And Akira looked at Shuuj’s quiet smile and thought, ‘Akira is never lonely with Shuuji.’
That night, Akira dreamed about his father. He dreamed about the fights, the yelling, the painful realization that his father never really heard anything he had to say, and that the only way he, Akira, could be happy was to leave. He woke, sweaty and tangled in his sheets from dream-fighting, and suddenly felt so terrifyingly alone that he didn’t even think before pulling the cord, hard.
Only a heartbeat passed before he felt a returning tug on the cord, and it was like Shuuji was right there, tugging on his hand and his heart. The line was a direct connection to his friend, and it calmed Akira to tug lightly and feel a returning tension.
“Akira?” Shuuji’s gentle voice carried through the open window. Akira scrambled to his knees and nearly climbed over the sill in his excitement to hear his friend.
“Akira,” Shuuji answered, it Akira realized that Shuuji never sounded as tender and kind as he did when talking to him and Nobuta. Everyone else got a loud, firm Shuuji. Soft Shuuji was only for them. “Akira, are you okay?”
“Akira had a dream,” Akira informed Shuuji carefully.
“A bad dream?”
“Yes. Akira’s bad, bad dream.”
“Are you okay?” Shuuji asked again. Akira considered this; was he? He felt okay. Jumpy, lonely, sleepy, but otherwise okay.
“I think so?”
“Do you want to come down?”
“Sleep with Shuuji?” Akira pressed, trying to make sure he understood. The cord he still held tugged, as if Shuuji was clenching his hand harder around it.
“Yeah, if you want,” Shuuji said, trying to sound casual. But Akira caught the strain of worry in his tone.
“Yes please,” Akira replied. Shuuji laughed, and went to unlock his door for Akira to get in. Once standing in the entryway, Akira hesitated, thinking maybe he was being a bother to Shuuji. But the smaller boy merely grabbed him by the hand and led him to his room, not letting go even as Shuuji climbed under his covers. He pulled Akira down with him, and with a relaxed sigh, turned his back and began to doze off. Akira curled around Shuuji’s spine, spooning against him and throwing an arm around his waist.
“Shuuuuuuuji?” he whispered.
“Akira’s best friend is Shuuji. In the whole world. It’s Shuuji, always Shuuji.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Shuuji said, fondly annoyed. “You’re mine too. Go to sleep.”
And because Shuuji said so, and because Shuuji was warm and comforting against Akira’s chest, all he had to do was stick his nose against Shuuji’s nape and breathe, slow and deep, before dropping off to sleep.