Akihiro came home, not thinking of much in particular as he approached his house. Vague thoughts floated in the back of his mind - did they have enough for dinner? If not for tonight, then the rest of the week? Perhaps a shopping trip tomorrow would be a good idea, but since he was home now it would be a pain to go back out to the town and--
He stopped on stepping inside, on noting the shoes left by the door. His mother's, of course. His sister's, of course. And... another? He frowned and stared at them for a couple of seconds, then kicking his own shoes off before placing them with the rest. Walking through the front corridor, possibilities ran through his mind. One of Yukari's friends...? No, the shoes had seemed too big for that. A friend of his mother's?... He barely wanted to entertain that as a possibility, so early into the evening. It could only be for Yukari or his mother, though, because he certainly hadn't made any plans - and then he walked to the front room, aware of the television being on before he approached. Saw the figure on the sofa that was neither a friend of Yukari nor an 'associate' of his mother.
"... Oi, Nishimura."
"Ssh, this is the good bit."
Akihiro narrowed his eyes as he took up the rightmost space on the sofa, looking between Shin and the television. Seemed to be one of the afternoon soap operas. Shin liked this sort of thing? Enough to know when 'the good bits' were? Aside from that came many other questions. The way Shin was curled into the leftmost corner, looking quite settled, as if he'd been there a while. Did these soaps run for half an hour or an hour? Either way, one could contemplate methods of teleportation or time-travel to get away from school fast enough to be here on someone else's sofa in time to be watching certain programmes, but then came the knowledge that Shin just hadn't been in school that day. Shin taking days off was not uncommon - between his band and his personal reluctance he seemed able to sidestep a lot, the only rule given to him by the Student Council being that he didn't let his grades slip. Akihiro didn't know how Shin managed it, but he did somehow. So was today something to do with the band or something else entirely? Shin's guitar-case didn't seem to be anywhere visible. Akihiro watched Shin for a few moments before sighing.
"You weren't at school today."
"Your observational skills are astounding."
"Yeah, and then I get home to find you at my house. Am I going to be getting angry calls from your parents or what?"
"Like they care. Besides, your mother said it was okay."
"My mo--... what, she's--... didn't she go to work today!?"
"I swung by around lunchtime, she was in then. Headache or hangover or something. She's upstairs now, I think."
"--Doing homework in her room, I believe."
Akihiro sighed once more, "... At least someone in this house has their priorities sorted. That mother of mine really needs to drop into work more than once a fucking week and you, you can't just--... I've seen your house, this fuck-off mansion on the other side of town, would have thought that a far nicer place to spend time than, you know, here."
"Here doesn't have my family, though."
By 'family', Akihiro supposed Shin meant his own mother. He didn't know an awful lot about the Nishimura family situation, but knew his father and elder siblings absent through work for quite a lot of the time. He'd heard enough about how Shin's mother didn't approve of his burgeoning choice of career to suppose that the Nishimura household was probably a fairly icy place to inhabit at the best of times, let alone when Shin apparently felt like taking days off because of whatever. It made perfect sense, really, that any place that wasn't there was a good one for Shin's days off, but it still grated on Akihiro's patience that here had to be the place Shin had decided upon. (Tatsuya came, briefly, to mind. Akihiro begrudgingly supposed he'd rather Shin here than there.)
"Well--... okay, whatever. But you're going to school tomorrow, yeah? You get enough time off for actual legitimate reasons, let alone just you fuckin' feeling like it."
"We've got a live coming up. Spent all weekend rehearsing. Tired."
"At least turn up for roll call and go sleep on the roof, then...!"
Shin shifted around on the sofa, looking down at the remote control for a moment to ascertain what button would take him to the next channel. "I don't know what you're so stressed about. Since when was it any concern of yours what I get up to in my spare time...?"
"Kind of becomes my concern when I walk in to find you on my sofa. And it's not 'spare time' if you're meant to be somewhere else! Ugh. Look, whatever. I gotta get dinner on. I guess you're stickin' around for that, too?"
"Don't trouble yourself."
There was something about that monotone that set off Akihiro's irritation. Shin probably meant it, but Akihiro knew that he couldn't pass something like that off so easily. What was he meant to do, prepare dinner for his family members while Shin kept himself to himself? Akihiro pushed himself away from the sofa and ambled towards the kitchen, "S'no trouble. Gotta cook for those two, anyway. ...Be pretty rude to leave a guest out, huh."
"I wouldn't class myself as a 'guest', Jinguuji."
Akihiro lingered around the doorframe. "No? Then what do you call what you're doing right now?"
Shin's finger went to the red button on the remote control, "... Leaving."
"Nah-ah-ah, you're not getting out of this so easily." Akihiro stepped across to the other doorway, that which led to the front hallway. "What, it's fine to chill in someone's house totally unexpectedly, but becomes too much to have them cook for you? Whatever, I don't care. I mean, it'd be a problem if you went back now, wouldn't it?... Or maybe it'd be a problem if you didn't... I don't know. Look, just--... whatever's easiest for you, yeah? If you think it'll save you getting in shit with your folks, go back if you like. If, as I suspect, it won't make much difference either way," Akihiro shrugged, "... stay over. If you want, I mean." Shin stood there, and Akihiro couldn't tell if he was genuinely unmoved by this small outburst, or simply unsure as to how to react. "...Even if you want to go back, it's... it'll be late by the time you got back, right? So you'd just have to fix yourself something to eat. I know what you're like."
"... I'm not Katsuragi."
"No, but still." Akihiro shrugged lightly, hoping that his smile came across just as casual. "We keep dinner pretty informal. There's always space at the table--" for you, Akihiro managed to stop himself from saying. He readjusted his stance, knowing that his sentence cut-off point did not sound natural in any way, shape or form, but hoping that Shin wouldn't raise the issue. What issue? Who said there was an issue-!?
Shin's expression didn't lighten at all, but something about his posture seemed to soften somewhat. He frowned, as if confused, and then sighed. "If you're about to cook, then I guess it can't be helped." He went back to the sofa, throwing himself back into his previous position. "It troubles me to think I might be imposing."
"How many times do I have to say that you're not before you get it?!... And besides, if that's your reaction, you should probably think about that before you take up residence on other people's sofas. Salmon okay?" Akihiro spoke as he went back towards the kitchen, not turning his head to catch any visual response Shin might have given. On hearing nothing either way, Akihiro supposed his silence as much affirmation as was needed.
Standing at the meat counter, Akihiro looked over the price of two packages and wondered, idly, how it had come to be that Shin decided to accompany him shopping. He decided on the more expensive of the two, dropping it into the shopping trolley, walking along to where Shin was waiting at the entrance to the next aisle. He was holding up a jar of pickled plums.
"Hm?" (Shin said nothing, only standing there with the jar.) "What do you want me to do with those?"
"Smartass." Shin tilted his head in a 'no?' sort of a way. Akihiro sighed and nudged the trolley in his direction. "Okay, okay. So long as you're not sneaking snacks in while I'm not looking."
Akihiro had wondered - worried - in case Shin got mobbed at the supermarket, the way he did while tending to his day-to-day business around at school, but found himself surprised that his expectations failed to materialise. Perhaps it was the time of day and perhaps it was the type of person choosing to shop at this time; housewives and husbands, elderly people tending to lists, little by way of students anywhere to be seen. The supermarket wasn't the sort of place that obsessive fangirls were likely to hang out in the first place - perhaps if they went past the Live House on their way back things would be different, but Akihiro wasn't planning on any diversions.
Shin's visits seemed to increase in frequency. Sometimes he was off school and sometimes he wasn't but Akihiro seemed to come home to find his shoes by the door more and more often of late. And they would eat together, and Akihiro would wonder how it had ever come to be that he'd be sat at such a strange table. His mother was happy enough to have such a young, strapping boy at her table (her words), and Yukari was always delighted to have the Nishimura Shin present for dinner. Akihiro found himself somewhat surprised at how well Shin was able to behave for them, too - although, that too was a kind of performance, wasn't it? He could be polite to adults and kind to children and Akihiro found it interesting to watch, if not slightly bewildering. That wasn't the Shin that he knew, but then why would it be? He was neither an adult nor a child, after all. They would finish their meals and disperse to their rooms and when it was the two of them alone once more, Shin would fall to his usual monosyllabic patterns. After a talkative meal, Akihiro almost found that something of a comfort.
Akihiro would wake to find Shin already gone, most mornings. Perhaps he had to go to the Live House before school or perhaps he just didn't want to be seen walking alongside that delinquent, but Akihiro didn't really care. Whatever.
Shin had started off on the sofa, insisting that he couldn't take anything more than that. The sofa, however, while comfortable enough for sitting upon was something of a different story for sleeping upon, at which point Akihiro's mother had got around to finding and preparing the spare futon. Again, at first this had been in the living room, but then she'd smiled at the two of them, "Why don't we set this up in Aki's room, hm? Like a sleepover, or something--!" Akihiro had fumed, how old do you think I am!? and hadn't expected Shin to agree, which he didn't. However, later into the night, Akihiro had heard footsteps ascend the stairs and his door gently open and he'd turned on his bedside light, "What are you doing...?"
"Following your mother's suggestion."
"Since when have you had to do what she tells you to do!? Hell, I don't do what she tells me to do half the time...!"
He was already unfolding the blankets in the empty space in the middle of Akihiro's room. "You don't want me to?"
"It's not that, it's--"
"What is it?"
"I don't know--! It's just, I don't know, weird or something. Her saying 'like a sleepover', it's not like we're kids anymore...! Yukari, I could see her having a sleepover. Me, not so much."
"I've slept over before."
"Yeah, but that's--... that's different...!" (Usually when the house was otherwise empty. Yukari at a friend's house, Akihiro's mother wherever it was she went, whatever worked as an excuse. This, however, seemed entirely too domestic.) "I dunno what to think about you being here with my mother's permission, though. That's kinda weird. Am I gonna have to talk to yours next?"
"... That wouldn't go well."
"I guess not." Akihiro watched as Shin set himself up on the floor. "... Is that... comfortable...?"
"I'm not too used to these, but it's comfortable enough." Shin glanced up at him. "Why, were you about to suggest an alternative arrangement?"
The implication was quite obvious. "I was going to say, if you wanted to swap places or something, that's fine too. Or not. Whatever you feel like."
(It took another week before the futon lay abandoned on the floor.)
It was uncommon for Akihiro to receive too many text messages from Shin, and so when he got one during school hours indicating that they should meet at the fountain after school, Akihiro supposed there was no harm in following up on that. He waited for the last bell and for the majority of Seirei's students to have filed out and away from the school buildings (knowing that Shin most likely would have done the same), and then headed towards the fountain. He got there to find the area empty but for Shin sat on the bench in front of the water feature, schoolbag at his feet and guitar-case propped up against the armrest.
Akihiro sat down next to Shin, leaning forward with a slight smile. "Not like you to wait back for me. Do we get to walk home together today? Have we gone up a level or something?"
Shin looked troubled, that was easy enough to see. Akihiro had made the decision not to mention it, but Shin didn't seem in the mood - for once - to beat around the bush. "Jinguuji, I--... my mother wants me home more often."
"Don't blame her. Youngest son, out god-knows-where at god-knows-what-time, seems only right she'd be worried."
Shin gave a quiet, bitter laugh. "She's not the sort to worry. She's just angry I'm not mindlessly following her demands. I--... I can't back down on rehearsing, I won't!... But then she gets all asking where I've been and who I've been with and I say, just a friend from school, it's none of your business, but--... you know how these things get. She'll probably want to try grounding me, next. Wouldn't mind seeing her try."
"... But you believe she'll do something somehow, right?"
"Else we wouldn't be here like this, with you telling me about her and all her empty threats and whatever-the-fuck. If they were that lousy, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Shin leant back against the bench and closed his eyes, spray from the water dotting his shoulders. "I suppose I can't... deny that. Do I have to acknowledge you being right, Jinguuji? How embarrassing." He opened his eyes, tilting his head towards where Akihiro sat. "... I've got some important shows coming up, though. Industry people saying they want to come along. I can't be dealing with her shit and all of this. If there's any way to keep her sweet just for as long as it takes, then... it's enough to keep her sweet. Just for the time being."
"No, no, it's okay. I get you. ...You've left your pyjamas at mine, though."
"They can stay there though, can't they? It's not like I plan never to come back."
"That's a pretty straightforward statement, coming from you."
Shin frowned and looked away, "What do you want me to say--?! That I plan never to return to your house, something like that...?! No, it's--... it's just for however long this takes. A couple of weeks, maybe."
"I guess you're not coming to mine tonight then, either."
Turning his head back slowly, Shin caught Akihiro's line of sight. "I didn't say that. I just said she wanted me home more often, that's all. I didn't say it came into effect immediately, or anything. That is to say, it would probably appease her a little more if I were to go straight home tonight, but--"
"Old habits die hard?"
"... Something like that." He stood up from the bench, picking up his schoolbag and slinging the strap over his shoulder before going over to pick up his guitar-case. "Besides, your house--"
"--Doesn't have your family in it, right?"
"Your deductive reasoning is simply amazing. No, what I was going to say--... no, forget it."
Akihiro got up from the bench and went to walk alongside Shin, "What is it?"
Shin sighed in a short-tempered sort of a way, "I was going to say, I'd--... I'd rather your house because that's where you are, but I know what you're like. That's just the sort of line that's likely to make you smile in that silly sort of a way, and--"
"And what's wrong with silly smiles?" Akihiro almost wished he could deny Shin's statement. Almost.
"... What am I meant to say to that, Jinguuji? Honestly. Let's--... let's just go home, alright? Before anyone sees us."
Shin stayed that night, but seemed to maintain a more ordinary routine from that weekend on. Akihiro couldn't begrudge him his actions, though - he sincerely wanted Synchro to reach some sort of success, even if Shin's mother was not quite so enthusiastic. Perhaps if he does well enough, she'll finally acknowledge his talent...? It seemed a long shot, but Akihiro still liked the idea of something so fairytale taking place. You never know.
In the meantime, he kept the things that Shin had left at his house clean and organised for his return - pyjamas, spare workbooks, an extra toothbrush set aside (so that the women of the house wouldn't take it by accident). Akihiro could wait, and when Shin was ready? He would be, too.