A pause. Then: “What are you hoping to get out of the future?”
She laughs, but his face remains patient, even so. Sobering, she tells him, “I don’t know. It’s not the future yet, though. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
“Haven’t you thought about it, though? At least a bit?”
“Of course,” she says. When neither of them speak, she sighs and adds, “I always wanted to get married, but I have no one to marry. I considered what law school would be like, but worried I would become a part of the corruption in the justice system rather than help to fix it. I thought about teaching, too, a long time ago.”
“But I decided I was too afraid of letting go of the present to think about the future yet.”
He’s very quiet. She sneaks a glance at him, feeling somewhat sick.
“Why?” she finally asks, and he turns to meet her eyes.
“I guess I just wanted to make sure you weren’t planning on leaving me for your big ambitions after high school,” he jokes.
But it isn’t a joke. They have known each other for too long for Mahiru to fall for that.
She says, “My only big ambition is making sure the people I love know I love them.”
It’s rather terrifying how warm the soft look he shoots him makes her feel.
“I’m glad,” he says.
Silence, for just a moment.
“Promise you won’t leave, either, okay?”
He smiles at her. Her heart aches with it.
“Of course I won’t,” he says. “You’re my best friend.”
Mahiru always keeps her promises. Guren keeps his, too. They’re friends for a reason, she supposes, but the difference between them is this:
Guren has goals, and Guren has other friends, and Guren has a proper ability to love.
What does Mahiru have? Well, she has Guren, for one, and, for two, after high school, she develops a disturbing tendency for casual sex.
But she’s working on that. She has been for almost a year.
The thing is, though, is that Mahiru knows she loves Guren, because she’s loved him since they were stupid teenagers who had the audacity to think they even understood what love was. That’s where the casual sex starts, because if she could just move on from him, they could both be happier.
But God knows she isn’t moving on.
They’re roommates, for fuck’s sake.
She knows Guren knows she’s struggling, but she also knows that he has no idea how to help her. Which is plenty fair, really; after all, she barely knows how to help herself.
Of course, she can’t blame any of this on Guren. As childish as she knows she can be, she’s not that bad.
Or, maybe she is a little bit. But it’s not like she loathes Guren for this. If anything, she loathes herself for being so bothered by it. It’s her problem, and, yeah, she’s dealing with it really poorly, but at least she’s working on it.
Well, she’s not fixing anything, though, but she thinks she’s trying. She thinks.
But the biggest problem is that Mahiru can’t live without Guren. She knows she can’t, because she literally lives with him and just the fact that he only sees her as his best friend fucks with her mentally. It was one thing in high school, but now they’re in their twenties and they live together. Their level of domesticity is almost sickening for a pair of people who aren’t even dating.
Guren’s friends notice it. They noticed her feelings for him long ago, and Mito even asked her about it when they were all still in school, much to Mahiru’s utmost horror. They notice that they are very domestic, too. Goshi once made a remark about it, and was promptly slapped in the face by Mito, much to Guren’s utmost confusion.
But for all they aren’t really her friends, Mito, Sayuri, and Shigur have all been very sympathetic to her situation. Goshi...well, she’s not so sure about him, but, at the very least, he’s never said anything that insinuated anything romantic about Guren and Mahiru’s relationship again.
Of course, Mahiru can’t change anything unless Guren returns her feelings. But he already knows her so thoroughly; how could he ever come to love her in the future, if he has never loved her in the past?
Honestly? Mahiru hates the future.
But it keeps coming at her anyway.
The note left on the table is a sincere apology for leaving her alone for dinner on such short notice, but “other plans came up.”
Mahiru’s not stupid. She knows that means he’s probably on a date, or, at the very least, out with his friends. But more likely on a date—he’s much more coy about romantic things than platonic ones, and the note itself divulges no solid information.
But it’s not like she isn’t used to this. Guren isn’t huge on dating, but it doesn’t change the fact that people get interested in him, and he generally gets interested back. Mahiru fathoms herself one of the very unlucky few who never got to at least go out for coffee with him.
Or, well, she’s been out for coffee with him a lot. They both really like coffee, even if Mahiru knows that tea is far better for them. It’s all about intention, though. The intention Mahiru desires is definitely not there.
So, she eats by herself, and wonders if it’s really worth it to wait up for him if it’ll only make her feel sick, anyway.
The self-destructive option wins out, as it typically does.
She dozes off a bit, but the opening of the door immediately jolts her awake.
She stretches her arms above her head, attempting to undo the stiffness that has settled in her shoulders.
“Guren?” she asks.
The door closes, and he takes off his shoes before stepping into the room and looking down at her, a little surprised.
“You’re still up? You didn’t have to wait, you know.”
Mahiru yawns. “We both know I’ve nothing better to do.”
He frowns at her. “Mahiru—”
“Anyway, how was your night?” She raises a playful eyebrow at him. “And who were you with?”
He rolls his eyes. “Relax, I didn’t spend as much time out on a date as you think I did. Sayuri called and asked if I could help you out. Their apartment has been trying to kill them lately, I think.”
Mahiru nods absently. “Okay, but still! You were on a date, right?”
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s not—”
“Guren!” she complains. “I didn’t wait here all night so you could deprive me of all the juicy details.”
“Well, I hate to disappoint, but there aren’t any.” He sighs. “You really look pretty tired. You should go to bed.”
“Are you hiding something?” she asks, suspicious.
“No! You’re paranoid, aren’t you?” He shakes his head. “Seriously, it was just a date.”
“Let me live vicariously through you!” she whines. “You know, I haven’t been on a date since our senior year of high school!”
“Yeah, but you’ve still seen people.”
She looks away from him, feeling sick in a completely different way. “That’s not anywhere near the same thing.”
He sighs. “Well, there’s nothing to share. We ate together, and we talked about each other, and—”
Mahiru perks up. “You’re totally gonna see each other again, right?”
“Right,” he agrees. “You’re like a little kid right now, you know.”
She pouts. “I am not!”
He rolls his eyes and comes forward so he is standing right in front of you. “You are so ,” he says, and with no warning but the sudden movement, he swoops down and picks her up.
She shrieks. “Guren! Put me down!”
“It’s time for bed,” he says firmly.
She scowls up at the ceiling. “Who are you, my mom?”
Mahiru doesn’t actually know shit about having a mom, since her birth circumstances were about as great as the rest of her siblings’, meaning absolutely terribly, but she at least understands that she’s twenty-four years old and she’s moved beyond growing up without a mother figure. Guren doesn’t need to be her mother-in-action or whatever.
He says, “If you’re going to act like a kid, then you’re going to be treated like one.”
She doesn't even kick at him, though, so she can’t be acting too childish.
She huffs. “You’re so unfair to me.”
“I’m not,” he says, leaning awkwardly to open the door to her room. She gets immense satisfaction out of his struggle.
“You know you’re older than me, right? But you act like a real kid sometimes.”
“It’s my traumatic childhood that I’m repressing by attempting to gain something back into adulthood,” she tells him.
“That’s not funny.”
“But it’s probably true, right?”
He sighs, setting her down on her bed. “Maybe,” he says. “But then it’s even less funny.”
Mahiru doesn’t know about that. Her life is, plainly, one big joke.
“Guren?” she asks.
“Did you have fun on your date?”
He rolls his eyes, but smiles at her, anyway. “I did. Good night, Mahiru.”
He leaves the room before she can conceive anymore words.
The sound of the door closing echoes throughout the room, as if it were completely empty.
Mahiru sometimes feels like it is.
There are few things Mahiru doesn’t like, but the list essentially boils down to this:
Chocolate ice cream, drinking, and casual sex, amongst other things.
There are few things Mahiru does very often, but the list essentially boils down to this:
Drinking and casual sex, amongst other things.
But thank God she doesn’t have chocolate ice cream often.
She isn’t an alcoholic or anything. She just likes to feel a little more free every once in a while. Not to mention, it helps with the sex, because as long as she drinks a little first, she can almost always convince herself that it’s a good idea.
She doesn’t go out as often as she used to, but sometimes it’s all she can think to do. She doesn’t work, and she doesn’t go to school, and she really has no skills beyond being able to make a mean cup of tea.
She used to go out at least once every week. Now, it’s more like a few times every couple of months, which is still disappointing but at least not as bad as it could be.
But her time as a regular drinker and hook-up allowed her to meet other people in the same boats. She doesn’t think she ever learned any of their names, but she’s sure she’ll always recognize them.
Which is a little sad, she thinks, but maybe it would be more sad if she couldn’t.
But Mahiru is working harder than ever to keep herself from going out and doing something stupid. No, at this particular point, she is more focused on the other hated object on the list:
Chocolate ice cream.
Mahiru doesn’t know how anybody can actually enjoy it, but Guren does, and it’s almost his birthday, so the least she can do is swallow her pride and buy some chocolate ice cream for the event.
These kinds of things are the only times where Mahiru ever does anything with Guren’s friends without him around.
The banter between these people is ridiculous, though.
Well, Sayuri and Shigure are okay. But Goshi and Mito...jeez, they fight like siblings, and that’s saying something for Mahiru, considering what Kureto and Seishiro are like.
“Are you stupid?” Mito demands. “Put that back, you idiot. Mahiru-san doesn’t want to buy anything more than she needs.
“And who says she doesn’t need it?” he asks playfully. “Mito-chan, you must hate fun.”
“No, I just hate your idea of fun, because it’s stupid.”
Mahiru doesn’t even bother to look to see what he’s trying to convince Mito that they should buy. She doesn’t care, honestly. She doesn’t know how Guren deals with them.
The general consensus is that Guren kind of keeps them all in line. Sayuri and Shigure are too nice to make Mito and Goshi stop arguing for just a few seconds, but Guren is just the right kind of asshole to do it. Not that Mahiru thinks he’s an asshole or anything, but he has his moments.
But again, they’re friends for a reason, she supposes.
“If you don’t stop arguing,” she says, not even looking back at them, “I’ll leave you behind.”
They both silence immediately.
It doesn’t last long enough.
“Mahiru-san, you’re too cruel,” Goshi whines. “All this is Mito-chan’s fault, you know!”
Mahiru sighs. “Do I look like I care whose fault it is? Just be quiet.”
Sayuri and Shigure exchange an amused glance from beside her.
“What?” she asks, suddenly self-conscious.
“It’s nothing,” Sayuri assures her. “I always just wonder how you and Guren get along so well with such similar attitudes.”
She frowns. “We don’t really argue, though.”
“I guess that’s just what a really solid relationship can do for you.” Sayuri sighs wistfully. “Even Yuki-chan and I fight sometimes.”
Shigure smiles a little. “But we always make up,” she points out.
“Only because I cook something you really like!”
Mahiru laughs. “Well, imagine how much chocolate ice cream I’d have to buy if Guren and I fought. What a terrible thought.”
“Don’t tell him that,” Sayuri jokes. “He’ll start picking fights just so you’ll buy him ice cream.”
“I don’t want to think about it,” Mahiru mutters.
Sayuri laughs. “It’s not as bad as you think, Mahiru-san. He’d be happier with it, anyway, since you wouldn’t eat any of it.”
Mahiru can agree with that. She does occasionally bring home chocolate ice cream, just to make him happy, but she still finds it awful that anything so disgusting can make someone so happy.
“Hey, Sayuri-san,” she says after a moment.
“Do you know who Guren’s been seeing?”
Mahiru hates the sympathetic look the question garners her.
“I don’t…. He hasn’t really talked about it much, but he seems to really like whoever it is…. I’m sorry, Mahiru-san,” she adds.
“It’s not like it’s your fault.” Mahiru sighs. Behind her, Mito and Goshi start to argue again.
“He’ll tell us eventually,” Sayuri says. “We just need to give him some time. I know it’s hard, but I’m sure you’ll be the very first person he tells.”
“Yeah,” she says hollowly.
“Don’t let it worry you too much, though,” Sayuri says. “If it’s bothering you, just tell him. He’s always been a lot softer with you than the rest of us, you know.”
She opens the ice cream freezer and grabs some of the chocolate stuff before passing it off to Mahiru.
Mahiru takes it and stares at it for a moment. She knows that Guren has a right to his own privacy, but it feels like it’s eating her up inside, for God’s sake.
“Is it kind of selfish to say I already hate whoever it is?”
Sayuri smiles sadly. “A little bit, but I think that’s okay. If Guren come to love hem, you’ll learn to, too.”
Mahiru really hopes she’s right.
“You look like you have something to say.”
Mahiru sighs. “I do, but—”
“Then say it.” Guren looks across the table to her. Mahiru gets the vague impression he’s annoyed with her, but she doesn’t know what she did.
“I just want to know when you’re going to introduce me to your—your whatever . Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Is there even an official title yet?”
“Boyfriend,” he tells her. “And I’m glad you asked, actually. I was thinking of introducing you after my birthday.”
“That’s almost a month since your first date,” she points out. “Are you really serious about this?”
“Of course I am!” He scowls at her. “Forgive me for worrying you would need the time, not to mention doing what I can to make sure you actually approve!”
Mahiru stares at him.
He rolls his eyes. “You’re my best friend. If you meet him and don’t like him, I’d rather listen to you.”
They’ve done this before, but here’s the problem:
Mahiru hates everyone Guren dates, because none of them are her.
She looks down at her hands for a moment, then back up to Guren’s eyes. “I see,” she says softly. “You really like this guy, huh?”
That’s why it’s been so long, she imagines. Guren has been learning about this person, making sure he will pass through with a stamp labelling him as “Mahiru-approved.”
It’s almost too bad that nobody will ever get that.
Mahiru’s good at pretending, though. And Sayuri might be right. Maybe once she sees Guren fall in love, she won’t be so bitter about it all. After all, he’s her best friend; she’s only ever wanted what’s best for him.
“I want you to support me, Mahiru.” His voice is quiet, serious. Mahiru’s chest hurts with it.
“Are you worried I won’t?”
“Sometimes, yeah.” He shakes his head. “You’re the most important person in my life. Of course I’d worry about it.”
That shouldn’t be painful to hear, but, fuck, if it doesn’t hurt her chest.
“I always want to support you,” she says. “I don’t care what happens. You’re the first person I ever cared about, you know.”
She says it with a teasing lilt to her voice that only seems to make him frown.
“You know I feel the same,” he says. His words are very careful, measured, as if…
“But I don’t want you to get hurt,” he finishes.
I’m already pretty hurt, she thinks. And he knows it.
But Hiragi Mahiru is a good fucking liar, so she says, “You know I take care of myself, Guren.”
She beams at him, but he doesn’t look convinced.
“Really,” she assures him. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m worried about you,” he says. Honestly.
Mahiru hates honesty.
“Why?” she asks, but she knows. Because he has that look that he always gets when they have actual discussions like this, and these conversations are always about the same damn thing:
“You’re so much colder than you used to be.”
Mahiru thinks change is one of the most important things in the world. She thinks it’s better for her to change and keep the people around her from hurting than to stay the same and burden them with the pain that would otherwise exude from her.
But it still hurts that Guren doesn’t think she is the same.
Fundamentally, she is still Mahiru. Hiragi Mahiru, the rich girl with one friend, two brothers that hate her and one sister that doesn’t seem to even feel love, and a damaging history of emotional and occasional physical abuse. Even if she participates in frequent hook-ups or she likes to drink away her emotions once in a while. Even if she is trying to teach herself to fall out of love with Guren, if she is trying to keep her distance so he can’t accidentally cut himself on her broken heart. She’s still Hiragi Mahiru…
“I know you’re trying to get better,” he says, “but we both know you can’t do it alone. There’s nothing wrong with drinking or being sexually active if it’s in moderation, and it’s not like it’s my business, really, but I’m not sure you’re going to come back from those habits. Mahiru, you don’t have the life in your eyes like you used to.”
That’s because she doesn’t have any life left in her, she thinks bitterly.
She probably won’t come back from them. She knows he doesn’t mean that she will never stop , and she doesn’t mean that, either. More, she will never recover emotionally from it. Because the point was always to kill her emotions, and she’s already too far into it to fix what’s broken.
She’s heard this countless times before. He’s careful with her, to the point it is painful, but he is always honest with her. She used to be honest with him, too.
“Don’t tell me you’re fine, because I know you aren’t. I’m not stupid, Mahiru. You’re lonely and you keep trying to push me away, and I’m sick of it. You’re trying to get past this, but you’re the same as you have been for the past three years.”
She swallows, looks away from him. Of course she can’t avoid hurting him a little bit, but she loves him. She loves him, so it hurts her to know she is hurting him.
What a fucked up cycle.
She says, “Can we stop talking about this, please?”
It’s the only way to avoid these kinds of things.
Guren is the type to push people in the right circumstances, but these circumstances are so awkward for him, he can’t push Mahiru to talk any more than she already has.
And she’s barely talked at all.
He sighs. “I just worry about you, is all.”
“For a good reason.”
“Okay,” he says. “Then we can leave it alone. But, Mahiru?”
“You should at least tell me when something’s wrong.”
She laughs. “Oh, Guren, you can really be so funny…. Nothing’s wrong that hasn’t been wrong since we met.”
“I know,” he says (but he doesn’t, does he? Although, Mahiru really can’t blame him for not knowing things she won’t let him know). “But it’s always going to hit you harder some days than others.”
“Maybe you should’ve been a therapist,” she teases.
“God, no, could you imagine?” He shakes his head. “You sure get some crazy ideas sometimes, don’t you?”
She laughs. “Maybe it’s just that being your friend has made me a little bit crazy.”
He rolls his eyes. “I doubt that was my fault.”
Her lips twitch slightly, but after a moment, she sobers out. “Guren?”
“Will you at least tell me a little bit about this boyfriend of yours?”
He sighs. “You really always get your way, don’t you?”
“Definitely not,” she says. “So, pity me and tell me about it.”
And he tells her.
And she listens. Even though it hurts. Even though she wishes, for everything in the world, that she could be the person he’s talking about instead.
She listens, because he sounds so at peace, so much like someone who is on a proper track to falling in love. Someone who is happy.
Mahiru doesn’t know if she is more jealous of his happiness, or of his boyfriend for his luck.
Guren’s birthday celebrations are always a production, to say the least.
It’s a matter of this: Mahiru is always in charge of it, because she knows him best, and they all know she knows him best. But he’s also annoyingly difficult to please. He doesn’t like surprises, and he doesn’t like actual parties, and he doesn’t like to do anything overly public. But even Guren doesn’t like repetition. If they did the same thing every year, it would get old fast.
But Guren’s a fairly simple guy. He’s far from a guy in the sense that Goshi is, but, well, he’s still a guy.
So his birthdays generally go like this:
They go out for a little while, someone (Goshi) inevitably gets drunk, and they take him home and make fun of him for a few hours.
But the idea of going out is to try something new. That part isn’t about what Guren likes so much as what they think he’ll come to like.
When they go home, though, they have an annual tradition of eating chocolate ice cream and making fun of Goshi. They play games, but a few have been banned over the years. They don’t play Shogi anymore because Mahiru won so often that everyone else got tired of trying to beat her. One time, they risked Mario Kart, and Goshi, in his drunken stupor, accidentally threw his controller at Mito, and since then, they’ve hidden the game away completely.
This year, though, Sayuri suggested they stay out for the night. They’re all twenty-three or twenty-four, and dammit if they aren’t going to act like kids once in a while.
So Mahiru threw down some cash to rent out an arcade for the night. She doesn’t know if that’s actually allowed, but the manager would probably let anything fly once she told him how much she’d be willing to pay.
For all her family fucked her over, at least they never cut off the stream of money to her bank account.
Goshi and Mito are ecstatic about it, though. They come from upper middle class families, themselves, but, well, Mahiru is more like upper high class, and she can do whatever she wants with her cash, no matter in what kind of sketchy ways it might’ve been acquired.
Guren has always said that he doesn’t care about what they do, as long as he’s with his friends, but Mahiru knows he has his preferences. She thinks she’s done a pretty good job of giving him good birthdays throughout the year, though. The idea is quality time. As in, doing things that are fun enough to bond over. For all Guren insists he’s not an overly interpersonal person, he really values his friendships and everything they stand for above everything else.
So, this year, the chocolate ice cream is just for Guren. The two of them will have dinner together tomorrow in celebration.
But there’s one thing about it that Mahiru is dreading:
Guren’s finally going to introduce her to his boyfriend.
And, whatever, because at least she doesn’t have to cook, but that still doesn’t settle her nerves about it.
But for tonight, she’s not going to care about that.
They go out for dinner.
Goshi is the first one to buy a drink.
Mahiru doesn’t drink with Guren and his friends. Period. She knows what kind of drunk she is (stupid, emotionally more fucked up than usual, maybe a little horny). It’s not that she can’t hold her alcohol or anything, though; really, the problem is that once she has one drink, she can’t stop.
Because when she drinks, the point is to get just drunk enough to give casual, mostly random sex have an appeal.
But tonight, Goshi offers the first drink.
And when she thinks about how everything is going to go tomorrow, she thinks she’d rather forget about it for tonight.
So, yeah, she says yes.
“Mahiru,” Guren warns, but she rolls her eyes at him.
“It’s fine,” she says. “I’m a grown woman! I can drink if I want to.”
She doesn’t like the look he gives her. It makes her want to drink even more.
“I’ve never seen you drink, Mahiru-san,” Mito says, surprised. “Are you sure?”
Mahiru shifts slightly. “I’ve drank before,” she says. She gives a short, shy laugh. “I just don’t do it much, is all.”
Maybe she’s just embarrassed, but it’s a stupid thing to lie about, really.
Guren sighs. She hates the look he’s measuring her with.
Mahiru is a born and bred liar. She can lie better than anything else. What else did Tenri ever teach his kids, besides how to make people bend to their will? The Hiragis are nothing if not masters of deception.
But Guren’s different. His family instilled morals in him. He doesn’t like lies, and he doesn’t like political corruption, and he doesn’t like people that use superficial means to get what they want.
She doesn’t know why they’re friends, if she’s being honest.
The truth is, she’s not that nice. It’s an act, and always has been. Everything about Hiragi Mahiru is fake.
So, even if she could get Guren to love her back…
Maybe the real problem is that he deserves someone real. And Mahiru can’t be that person.
“I don’t like it much, either,” Sayuri says. “But every once in a while, it’s not so bad.”
The biggest lie of it all is probably the insinuation that accompanies her words. Mahiru doesn’t just dislike drinking. She hates it.
“It’s better the more you do it,” Goshi tells her. “Anyone else?”
Everyone else shakes their heads. Nobody but Goshi ever drinks more than one or two things on these nights.
Mahiru wants a lot more than one or two drinks.
Okay, so maybe she’s not an alcoholic yet, but if she wasn’t actively trying to stop herself from being the way she consistently has been since graduating, she’d probably be three-quarters of the way there.
The cycle starts with emotions, and she has too many of those. Emotions, to alcohol, to a lack of rational, to sex.
There won’t be any sex tonight, though. Even drunk, she wouldn’t do that to Guren. Instead, she’ll just let herself get tipsy enough to forget about tomorrow.
As Goshi leaves, Guren leans down and whispers to her, “Just one, okay?”
Guren hates lies.
She shakes her head. “I’m sorry,” she mutters. “Just tonight, okay?”
“You know it’s my birthday, right?”
“That’s the point,” she says.
He furrows his eyebrows at her, but Goshi returns before he can say anything else.
Goshi slides a drink towards her. She doesn’t even care what it is, but it looks like something expensive and fruity. Guren grabs it before she can.
“What are you doing?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
“I’m serious,” he says. “I’m not cleaning up after you if you get drunk.”
Mahiru takes care of herself when she gets drunk. Because when she gets drunk, she finds someone to have sex with and she barely even notices that she’s drunk anymore, so she doesn’t actually have to do anything. And she always drinks a lot of water, too. Not to mention, “drunk” is pretty loose here. She doesn’t lose her inhibition completely, and she doesn’t lose her thought-process. She just drinks enough to convince herself that if she sleeps with someone else, she’ll feel better. It doesn’t usually take much convincing, honestly.
“I won’t get drunk,” she stresses. “Why are you so worked up about it? People drink sometimes. It’s—”
“Yeah?” He’s very close to her. She can feel his breaths against her lips. “Is it wrong for me to worry about you?”
“Let her have a drink,” Goshi says from the other side of the table. “It’s not like it’s a big deal.”
Guren moves away from her, eyes shifting to him. “You live alone,” he says. “You wouldn’t get it.”
“Don’t remind me,” he mutters. “I wish I had someone like Mahiru-san to live with.”
“Do you really?” Guren asks.
Mahiru takes the opportunity to steal the drink away from beneath. She knows that drinking fast will make her feel the effects sooner. She wants to feel those effects as soon as she can.
“Sure,” Goshi is saying. “She seems like a great roommate.”
It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Mahiru averts her gaze from everyone else’s and focuses on downing her drink.
“She is,” Guren agrees. “For me. You’d hate her.”
It kind of tastes like strawberries, but the alcohol taste is still there. What is that? Malibu? She doesn’t care, either way.
“I don’t believe that,” Goshi says.
“It’s not hard,” Mahiru tells him. “To hate me, I mean.”
Mahiru smiles back at her. “It’s okay, Sayuri-san. I made peace with that a long time ago. People just hate me by association.”
“I don’t think any of us hate you.”
“If you knew my father, you might,” she jokes. She finishes her drink in one more large gulp.
“Wow, you really have a handle on your booze, Mahiru-san.” Goshi nods to her respectfully.
She beams at him.
Guren glances sideways at her. The look he’s giving her makes her think she might be getting in trouble later, but she doesn’t care right now.
She can say this, though: it’s going to be a long night.
She leaves to order another drink.
By the time they get home, Mahiru is drunk.
She is so drunk.
And Guren? He’s pissed off, but at least he won’t have a hangover in the morning. Lucky him.
“Are you mad?” she asks, leaning against him as they make their way into the apartment.
“No,” he says.
She pouts. “I’m the only one of us that’s supposed to lie,” she reminds him.
“You’re not supposed to to lie.”
She giggles. “Aren’t I, though?”
He sighs. “Sit down, please.”
He grabs a glass and fills it with water, setting it in front of her.
“I don’t need that,” she tells him.
“Yes, you do.” He presses two fingers against the side of his head, looking very much like he has a headache. “You’re fucking stupid, you know that?”
Mahiru laughs again. “Of course I know that, silly.”
“Can you stop self-deprecating?” he snaps. “Please just drink the water.”
She scowls at him. “It’s not like I have redeeming qualities to talk about, you know.”
There’s a short pause, and then:
“Drink your fucking water.”
“Mahiru, I’m sure tomorrow will be better for both of us if you do.”
“It won’t help much now,” she says, shrugging.
Mahiru doesn’t know exactly what the look in his eyes means, but she doesn’t really like it.
She takes a guess at it, though: “Why are you so mad at me?”
“I’m not mad,” he says, and she knows she’s right.
“But you are!” Stupidly enough, her eyes water a bit. Stupid alcohol. She hasn’t cried in years.
“I’m not mad at you,” he rephrases. “I’m mad because the world was shitty enough to you to make you feel the way you do, and I’m mad because I didn’t do enough, as your friend.”
“But you’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” Mahiru tells him, head cocked in slight confusion.
“I’m the only friend you’ve ever had!”
“Guren?” she asks.
He closes his eyes, lets out a deep breath, and then looks at her again. “What?”
“Are you trying to make me sad?”
He stares at her.
“Because I feel a bit sad,” she continues. “I don’t drink to get sad, so this kinda sucks. I’d rather get not-sad, you know?”
“I know,” he mutters. “I’m sorry.”
She frowns. “But now you look sad.”
“Of course I’d be sad that you’re sad. I love you, idiot.”
“Do you?” She stares at the glass of water.
She looks up at him. He looks rather alarmed.
“Do you really not know that I love you?” he asks.
She shrugs. “What’s there to love?”
“I don’t really like this topic,” she declares. “I’m going to bed.”
“Oh, right,” she says. “The water. It’s fine. I’ll take it with me.”
“How will that help anything?!”
“Maybe I’ll drink it.” She gets to her feet, stumbling only a little bit. Once she is sure she won’t fall, she grabs the water.
“Good night!” she calls back as she slowly finds her way to her room.
There is no answer from behind. She tries not to be too bothered by it.
But the truth is, the older they get, the more Mahiru worries that she’s dragging Guren down just with her sorry presence. The more she worries that, because of this, there’s no way he will ever love her.
He says he loves her, in the simplest, most platonic way possible, but Mahiru knows better:
People don’t love monsters. Monsters love man, but man grows too terrified to do much other than hate them.
Mahiru might’ve been human once, but she hasn’t been for a long while, now.
The next morning is just as bad as either of them would’ve expected it to be.
Mahiru wakes up at four in the morning to throw up, but can’t fall asleep after because her head hurts so much.
She hasn’t gotten hungover like this since she was nineteen years old and only just drinking for the first time. However illegal it might’ve been, the payoff of having an older sibling was mostly that Mahiru figured out how to drink like a pro before she was even allowed to step foot in an actual bar.
But even back then, her hangovers weren’t bad so much as they were just annoying.
Maybe she’s getting old?
It doesn’t matter much.
At four in the morning, she throws up, which is a loud, disgusting enough noise to wake Guren.
He stands at the entrance of the bathroom, dishevelled. When Mahiru stands and gets closer to him, she recognizes the look in his eyes as sympathy.
She wishes he would just be angry with her instead.
She doesn't really remember what they talked about last night. She remembers him being angry, but beyond that, everything else has faded away overnight.
They make their way to the kitchen and Guren silently offers her a glass of water, which she accepts graciously.
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly after taking a few sips of the water. The sound of her own voice makes her wince.
“For getting drunk on your birthday.”
He shakes his head. “I don’t care. I’m not mad about it, I promise. I just want you to be okay.”
Her eyes sting. “I don’t really know how to be.”
“You’ve been off this past month,” he says. “And I don’t know what to do about it.”
She blinks furiously. “Neither do I,” she mutters.
“I love you,” he says.
“I don’t love myself.”
“I hate myself a lot, actually.”
“I don’t want to be like this.”
She looks up at him, but she can barely see him through the tears gathered in her eyes.
“I know,” he says. “But you have to learn how to be better before you can be.”
She hasn’t cried in years. It terrifies her, sometimes. It is a sign of brokenness, she thinks. To cry is as human as breathing, and yet she isn’t always sure she can feel the humanity in her breaths at all.
But something about this conversation makes it impossible not to.
She cries, and it’s ugly. Her throat burns, her chest hurts, her head aches. her hands shake, her stomach twists.
Guren doesn’t say anything. He sits beside her and offers out a silent hand.
She takes it, as if it is an anchor, as if it is the only thing keeping her from completely falling apart. She squeezes it so tightly that it has to be at least a little painful, but he doesn’t move and he doesn't speak and Mahiru cries.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
Guren’s thumb rubs a small circle on the back of her hand.
“I don’t want to feel anymore.” Her whole body is shaking. “I don’t want any of this.”
“You have to feel,” he mutters. “If you didn’t feel, you wouldn’t be you.”
“I’m not myself anyway,” she says. Her voice cracks. “I don’t even know who I am.”
“I know who you are.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“You’re my best friend.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
She sniffles, but manages a short laugh. “Guren,” she mocks.
His lips twitch slightly, but he quickly masks the look. “Don’t make this into a joke.”
“Listen, Mahiru, we need to talk about last night, okay? And you can’t just avoid the conversation. I let you do that way too often.”
She lets go of his hand. “What’s there to talk about?”
“Everything?” He sighs. “I just want to know what’s been bothering you lately. I know you only drink if you feel like you have to, so—”
“Like I have to? What does that mean?”
“It means you only drink when you want to shut yourself off! Just like everyone else in your fam—”
“Don't,” she warns.
“But I’m right, aren’t I? You’re just like Kureto and Seishiro! You pretend nothing’s wrong with superficial things, but instead of money, you use other people!”
Her jaw hurts from how hard she is clenching it.
“Mahiru, the person you’re hurting most is yourself.”
“I would rather hurt myself than you,” she mutters.
“But don’t you get it? You can be so thick. Hurting yourself does hurt me, you idiot.”
She scowls down at her hands.
“How am I supposed to make you happy if you won’t let me?” he asks.
“It’s not your job to make me happy!” she snaps. “You’re—you’re not supposed to be— You—!”
She’s crying again. She wonders if she has ever cried this much in her life before.
“Of course it’s my job to make you happy,” he says. “That’s what you do for your loved ones, you know.”
“Why bother with someone who’s so hard to love, though?” She doesn’t know if her voice is thick with bitterness or with tears.
“You’re not hard to love. You’re just hard to understand.”
“Don’t you need to know someone before you love them?”
He shakes his head. “I didn’t say anything about knowing someone. I said you’re hard to understand. I mean that I don’t always know what’s bothering you or why. I don’t always get why you do the things you do. But I know know who you are. You’re my best friend, and you’re nice, maybe a little snarky, and you make great tea, but you always manage to mess up coffee, even though you like it better. You hate chocolate ice cream, but you buy it at least once every two months just because I like it. You can’t cook, but you love the taste of exotic foods. You hate fast food, though, and soft drinks, but Shinoa likes them, so when you see her, you always treat her to them. Kureto taught you how to play Shogi when you were kids, and you practiced with Seishiro, even though he hated it, until you were good enough to beat Kureto. You want to do more, but you don’t want people to hear your name and automatically associate you with everything it entails. You love animals, but you would never raise one yourself. I always figured it was because you were too worried it wouldn’t like you, but that’s ridiculous, because everybody likes you. Except for your father, who’s the one person you really needed to care, but he wasn’t around enough to even properly recognize you as his daughter. And that’s still fucking you up, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
Mahiru’s head hurts.
“But I’m not who I was,” she whispers. “How can you still care, if I’m not that girl anymore?”
“Because you are still that girl,” he insists. “Mahiru, just because you’re scared of feeling or because you want to push me away doesn’t mean that you aren’t still the person I called my best friend in high school. You’re colder than you were. You aren’t the same. But nobody stays the person they were five or six years ago.”
“At least I had worth then,” she snarls. “I’m barely even a person anymore.”
“Well, that is definitely a problem,” Guren says. “Because I think you have worth. You’re my better half, dummy. If you have no worth, where does that leave me?”
“Well, I’m barely even half a person, either,” she mutters.
He shakes his head. “You just need to work through your self-esteem issues.”
“Self-esteem issues?” She scoffs. “Seriously?”
“Seriously! You feel unlovable, don’t you? Unworthy? Like something’s deeply wrong with you?”
She inhales slowly. Her head is absolutely pounding.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Isn’t that why you ever started drinking to begin with?”
“You make it sound like I’m am alcoholic,” she mutters. “You can say what you’re really thinking about. I don’t care.”
He sighs. “Fine, isn’t that why you started having sex with strangers to begin with?”
“And now you make it sound like I’m a hooker.”
“Mahiru, be serious.”
“Don’t know how,” she says wryly.
He gives her his look.
She huffs. “Fine, yes, I guess so. Maybe I thought filling myself with something else would fill up the gaping hole in my chest.”
“But you’re a virgin,” she points out. “Everything is disgusting to your innocent ears.”
“How would you know I’m a virgin?”
“I know everything about you, don’t I?”
“I hope not, but I wouldn’t be that surprised.” He heaves a great sigh. “But that’s not the point. Don’t you think that if you had self-esteem issues, they’re worse because of that?”
“So, how do you come back from that?” he asks.
She doesn’t know. If she did, they wouldn't be talking about this.
The truth is, a lot of her issues come from her upbringing, yeah, but there’s also this to consider:
What does almost ten years of unrequited love do to a person? And a person like Mahiru, on top of it all?
Because, really, Mahiru was never supposed to love.
She doesn’t love much, either way. But she did her best to learn how, probably as a big fuck you to her childhood, and look how that backfired. Now she’s stuck loving and being loved back in all the wrong ways.
Guren and Shinoa are the only people she can honestly say she loves. Maybe she could’ve loved Kureto and Seishiro, too, but she loved Guren first and they were both assholes to him, so there was no point in doing anything but being an asshole back. And, anyway, the only thing Kureto ever gave her was Shogi, and the only thing Seishiro ever gave her was a migraine.
But she was raised to be cold. She was the daughter of a liar and a cheater of a businessman, the second heir to a prestigious family built on generations of mostly illegally-acquired money.
“I don’t think I do,” she says honestly.
Because Guren hates lies.
He nods slowly. “Okay,” he says. “But you know I won’t let you just keep feeling broken, right?”
“I don’t think that’s something you have any control over.”
“I don’t care if I have control over it or not,” he says. “I won’t let you keep feeling like this, Mahiru.”
Mahiru arches an eyebrow at him. “Because you’re sick of it or because you feel bad for me?”
“Because I’m sick of you not trusting me enough to let me help you! I’m sick of knowing something’s wrong, that something has been wrong for years, and not being to help because you shut me out every time I try to!”
Her mouth is very dry.
“Let me help you, okay?”
“I can’t stop you, anyway, though, can I?”
“Of course not.”
“Of course not,” she echoes.
“I watched you fall into bad habits and I didn’t do anything,” he says, shaking his head. “And now that you’re getting rid of those habits, I won’t let myself let you do anything like that again.”
“Really,” she says.
“Really,” he agrees. “I can’t forgive myself for not doing anything. So now I’ll do whatever I can.”
She doesn’t speak.
She doesn’t need to.
“If I think you’re going to do something self-destructive, I’ll stop you,” he continues. “No matter what it is.”
“And how will you do that?”
“I won’t leave you alone?” He shrugs.
“You’re in a relationship!”
“Then I guess you two can bond a bit.” He sighs. “It’s not like I’m saying forever. Just until you’re better. Before last night, when was the last time you drank?”
She frowns, thinking. “Uh, two months ago? No...a month and a half?”
“And when was the last time you had sex?”
“That’s an invasive question.”
“Just tell me.”
“Same time, probably.”
“Then, once you go one year without going out and drinking and-slash-or hooking up with somebody, I’ll leave you alone about it.”
“A year?! Seriously?!”
“My relationship doesn’t matter as much as you,” he says. “My friends like you perfectly well. The only one who really drinks is Goshi, and as long as I talk to him, he won’t do anything if you’re around. I doubt any of them would want to hook up with you, either.”
“Not even Mito-san? Shame.”
He glares at her. “That’s not funny.”
“Jeez, relax. It was just a joke.”
“Regardless, I’ll do what I can for you. Maybe you’ll never love yourself, but I don’t want to know you hate yourself so much and just keep not doing anything about it.”
“A year is a long time,” she mutters. “It’s a huge commitment.”
“Would you do for me?”
She rolls her eyes. “I’d do anything for you.”
“Exactly. And I’d do the same for you.”
“Only because you make me,” he teases.
“Yeah…” She rubs at her forehead. “Do you have any drugs floating around?”
“I tell you that you can’t drink and you turn to drugs.” He shakes his head at her jokingly, but stands up and makes his way out of the room to check.
At least not being allowed to drink anymore mean she won’t get hangovers, either, but either way...this is going to be one long fucking year, she thinks.
Despite the rocky start to their day, Guren and Mahiru use the rest of it to prepare for dinner that night and sleep, respectively.
Okay, Mahiru helps a bit, but she’s exhausted and her head hurts and Guren would probably force her to sleep anyway, so it’s not like it matters too much. Besides, she’d much rather sleep the day away than remember who they’re having dinner with all day.
Despite that, the night still comes too quickly.
“Are you really sure you’re okay with this tonight?”
Guren is cooking, and Mahiru is sat at the entrance to the kitchen, watching him.
“It’s your birthday,” Mahiru reminds me.
“My birthday was yesterday.”
“Still. And it would be rude to cancel so late, anyway. Besides, I told Sayuri-san I’d meet this guy first, and I plan to do exactly that.”
He laughs. “You get competitive about the weirdest things.”
“Weird people rub off on others,” she teases. “It’s only because I’ve spent so much time with you.”
“Well, I’m sure that’s only because of who I spend my time with, I’m sure.”
The doorbell rings.
“Will you watch this?” he asks, turning to look at her for a moment.
“Sure, but if it burns, that’s not my fault.”
He rolls his eyes as they swap places. “If you burn it in three minutes or less, I might start thinking you really do have a secret talent for cooking.”
She huffs. “Whatever. Just go buzz him up, then.”
He goes and does exactly that.
Mahiru sighs, looking down at the cooking food. It’s not even technically cooking anymore, she thinks, squinting at the dials. Guren’s just been keeping it on a low heat, so it won’t get cold.
But, really… She glances at the clock on the other side of the room. He’s right on time, so it’s safe to assume he’s rather punctual. And Guren’s seen this guy probably one or two times every week since their first date, so he should know that he would be on time, if he ordinarily is.
Maybe he usually isn’t, then.
She hears the door open and turns off the burner, glancing over at the entrance to the kitchen.
She can’t hear anything aside from the door and the shuffle of clothes.
“Mahiru,” Guren calls, “turn off the heat!”
“I already did!” she call back, a little irritated.
“Then come here!”
She looks down at the food again, as if it can give her luck, then makes her way to the door.
They both turn to look at her.
“Mahiru, this is Shinya,” Guren says, gesturing to the man beside him.
He’s very attractive, is what she registers first, and then she registers that she recognizes him. She doesn’t know their names, but she’s sure she could recognize most of her more frequent hook-up partners as long as they were standing right in front of her.
He is definitely standing right in front of her.
Her stomach turns.
Shinya offers a hand for her to shake, and she glances at Guren before taking it.
“Very good to meet you, Mahiru-san,” he says pleasantly. “I’ve heard wonderful things about you.”
Oh, this is not good.
Before Mahiru can register the feeling that is passing through her, it passes through her.
She throws up all over both of their arms.
“Oh,” he says, blinking.
“Fuck,” she mutters, dropping his hand. She can't even be bothered to wipe away the vomit coating her lips. “I’m so sorry. I…”
Guren looks like he might be sick, too.
“Don’t worry about it,” Shinya says. “I’ve been thrown up on a time or two before.”
Mahiru’s mouth tastes like bile, but she’s not sure it’s all from the projectile vomit.
“Guren?” she asks weakly.
Guren starts. “Right,” he says. “Right. I’ll just…”
He hurries away to go find something to clean it with.
Mahiru turns to Shinya and glares at him as soon as she knows Guren isn’t close enough to notice.
“What’s that look for?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“As if you don’t know!” she whispers furiously. “I don’t usually throw up on strangers, but—”
“It’s not like I knew you’d be here,” he snaps. “And here I was hoping you wouldn’t recognize me. Jeez, what a hassle.”
“How could I not?!”
“You were pretty notorious for having quite a few different partners,” he says coolly. “Most of us weren’t looking for people three out of seven nights a week.”
“You have no right to—”
He suddenly puts his hand over her mouth. The one covered in vomit, no less.
It falls before Guren properly enters the room and sees them.
Guren puts a hand on her shoulder as he passes a wet towel to Shinya. “You’re welcome to use the shower, if you want to.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Shinya says. “I’m sure I’ve dealt with worse.”
Guren glances at Mahiru. “You okay?” he asks, concerned.
“Dunno,” she says, trying for as honest a tone as she can manage. “Maybe I’m still a little hungover. I was feeling a bit sick at lunch….”
“Sure, but hasn’t it been a while since you’ve eaten?”
Wordlessly, Shinya passes the towel to Mahiru. She takes it between two fingers with a short sigh.
“Yeah,” she says. “It has been.”
Not long enough, though.
“Maybe you should lay down,” he suggests.
“No, I’m fine. Really.” She measures him with the most significant look she can manage. “I already told you earlier.”
“Bad hangover?” Shinya asks.
She glances over to him. “A bit. It was a big day yesterday, after all.”
“Of course. Funny that you’d be the hungover one, though.”
“Guren doesn’t drink,” she says. “Do you want a change of clothes?”
“Not yours, hopefully?”
“Only if that’s what you want.” She barely bites back a remark about him taking off her clothes, like some kind of fucking kid .
This is going to be a lot harder than she’d like it to be.
“It’s fine,” Guren says. “You can wear some of mine.”
“I’ll find some for you,” Mahiru promises. “I do all the laundry, after all…”
“Yeah, and who does everything else?” Guren grumbles.
Mahiru ignores him. She leads Shinya further into the apartment, then pauses about halfway to the bathroom. “I’ll clean it all up,” she calls back. “Just get dinner ready, okay?”
“Then don’t think about it!”
The lack of response can only mean she’s won this one.
She stops outside the bathroom and looks to Shinya. “Just let me wash my face, okay? And then I’ll find you some clothes.”
“I have to say, I really thought you had a better gag reflex,” he remarks as she steps into the washroom to rinse out the cloth.
“This has nothing to do with my gag reflex, dumbass.” She wipes at the corners of her mouth, looking at his reflection in the mirror. “You just make me want to throw up.”
“Charming, aren’t you?”
“Clearly charming enough.” She drops the towel in the sink and turns to face him. “You don’t really have a type, do you?”
“Sure I do,” he says. “You’re not a type. You were an easy fuck.”
“Really works wonders for the self-esteem,” she mutters.
“Well, I’m sure that’s what I was to you, too.”
She pushes past him to lead him to Guren’s room. “And wouldn’t you feel bad if that wasn’t the case?”
“Can’t say I see what Guren sees in you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “You don’t have to date me. You just have to tolerate me.”
“Because Guren’s my best friend,” she agrees. “And you’re not going to change anything.”
That’s a lie, because when Guren dates someone, it always inevitably changes something.
But there’s their promise, too. And neither of them have ever backed out on a promise to the other.
So, she has a year to…
To do what?
Yeah, she can be jealous and catty and an all-around terrible person. She can be a real fucking bitch sometimes, honestly.
But she would never risk Guren’s happiness for anything.
Perhaps, in that sense, love is an absolute curse, above all else.
She pauses outside Guren’s room and turns to inspect Shinya’s outfit.
“I’ll find something to your liking,” she promises. “I chose, like, ninety percent of his wardrobe, so if you’re picky, take it up with me.”
“I’m not picky,” he says. “I don’t think anybody can be picky about anything once they've had sex in a public bathroom.”
She scowls at him. “You’re a real asshole, you know?”
“So, then, we should be getting along better.”
She huffs, turning back towards Guren’s room. She takes a little more time than she needs to, but eventually calls him into the room.
“Try these,” she says, shoving the outfit towards him. “I’ll wash your clothes and everything after this, absolutely free of charge.”
“So kind,” he says, accepting the clothes. He raises an eyebrow at her. “Well?”
She rolls her eyes. “I think we’ve established I’ve already seen you naked, so who cares? Just take off your damn shirt.”
He does as she tells him to, but not without complaint:
“You know, my boyfriend is just a few rooms away, right?”
“And you’re standing in his room with the girl everyone jokes is basically his wife, with whom you’ve personally slept with a dozen or more times.”
“A dozen? I think you’re stretching the truth a little bit.” He passes her his dirtied clothes.
She folds them as carefully as she can, then looks up to meet his eyes. “Am I? Maybe it's just hard to remember someone so mediocre.”
“I wouldn’t call you mediocre,” he complains. “You’re so fucking rude.”
“You called me an easy fuck!”
“Well, aren’t you?”
Irrelevant, Mahiru thinks.
“Not anymore,” she lies.
“Well, either way,” he says. “But you get what all this means, right?”
“Guren doesn’t get to know?” she guesses.
“Right. So no more throwing up, okay? And be a little nicer. You’re his best friend, aren’t you? Supporting him means supporting his relationships. Which means supporting me.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch,” she mutters, stepping out of the room.
He follows behind her and she quietly closes the door.
“You’re pretty good at lying, aren’t you? You just seem the type.”
“I’d say thanks, but I don’t think that’s a compliment. But, yeah, I am. Except with Guren. He hates it when I lie.”
“But you do anyway, right?”
“Only when I have no other choice.”
“Do you have a choice here?”
“I’m still not sure.”
“Well, figure it out.” He looks her over briefly. “Are we done here?”
“Yeah,” she mutters. “Tell Guren I’ll be along soon.”
He nods shortly and makes his way back down the hall. Mahiru watches him go, trying her best not to scowl.
If she ever thought things would go badly tonight, she was dead wrong. Instead of just going badly, things went so terribly that it literally drove her to sickness.
The next while will definitely be hard, she thinks.
One year, to fulfil her promise. God knows how long before Shinya is gone for good.
Shinya, who she had sex with more than once.
She’s so fucked.
Shinya becomes a regular part of their life after that.
Mahiru doesn’t hate him by any means, but he is decidedly hard to get along with. The problem is this:
He’s a lot like her.
People with shitty sexual habits often have some emotional baggage, she supposes. But Shinya is a smooth liar, a little emotionally dead, and he’s fucking rich.
Rich people also tend to be a little bit fucked up, Mahiru thinks.
Mahiru wonders how people can spend any genuine time with her. Looking at what Shinya is like, she has to do some serious looking at herself, and she’s not completely sure what she sees.
But people get along with them both, for whatever reason.
And yet the two of them butt heads. A lot.
The thing is this, though: they don’t butt heads when Guren is around.
Because of Guren’s promise to Mahiru, they’re forced to spend a lot of time together. Guren tells Shinya it’s just a matter of not wanting to leave her alone, but she knows Shinya is sceptical about it. And rightfully so.
She literally has to beg them to go on dates, and in those cases, Guren almost always calls at least one of his friends to come and keep her company.
She’s going to go fucking crazy like this.
Nobody asks about it, out of respect, but considering the timing, she doesn’t doubt that they think it has to do with what happened at Guren’s birthday. She’s no idea what Shinya thinks, but he could probably make a better guess than Guren’s friends.
Which is bothering her quite a bit, actually.
So, that’s why it’s a total fucking blessing that Sayuri and Shigure’s apartment is still out to get them.
Mahiru knows they’ve paid to have people in, and nothing has come up, and the landlord has done everything possible for them with no results. So they’re looking into moving, but, for the time being, their appliances keep breaking down periodically. Mahiru doesn’t know why Guren is the one who can always get things working for a while again. Honestly, she’s even sure he does anything at all. It’s probably just a good excuse to invite him over for tea.
But today, Guren goes and leaves Shinya with Mahiru at their apartment, with the promise that he’ll be back soon.
A blessing in disguise, Mahiru thinks. For her, at least.
Once they’re alone, she immediately says, “Tell me what you did.”
He raises an eyebrow at her. “You’re going to have to be a little more specific.”
“How did you stop?” she clarifies. “How did you get away from casual hook-ups and whatever other bad habits you might’ve had?”
“I decided one day I’d rather be an actual human being,” he says. “Instead of pretending sex can fix whatever is wrong with me. Because it can’t. And it’s not fixing anything for you, either.”
She sighs. “You just...stopped.”
“It’s not like I didn’t slip up at first. But once I was sure I wouldn’t mess anything up in a relationship, I decided it was good enough. Monogamy is a surprisingly easy way to deal with it.”
“That’s not an option for me.”
“What, dating? Why not?”
She shakes her head. “None of your business. This isn’t about me, anyway. I’m asking you what you did.”
“You realize it’s a type of addiction, right? So you won’t be able to just ‘stop.’ Be aware of your body and mind.”
She hadn’t thought about it like that.
But she hasn’t had sex in two months. She doesn’t feel wrong about it or anything. Well, she does, but not like she’s going through withdrawals or anything.
“Guren and I made a deal,” she says. “He won’t let me do anything on my own until I can go a full year without drinking or hooking up with someone. How do I deal with that?”
“Oh. I have to be honest, I was kind of wondering about that. I just thought he didn’t want you to feel lonely. Or maybe that you were on suicide watch. But that makes a lot more sense.”
“But how can I fix it?”
“You don’t?” He shrugs. “You figure things out and you meet those conditions. Even if it takes longer than a year, neither of us are stupid enough to think Guren won’t keep that promise until you’ve done the year. And even then, he’d definitely still keep a pretty close eye on you.”
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Should it?” He smiles wryly. “I think I was in your place long enough to get it. And Guren’s your best friend. As much as people like to pretend that a significant other is more important than a best friend or that a best friend should automatically be less in these cases, it’s not true and that’s fucking stupid to even think. You two live together, for one, and for two, you know each other best out of anybody else in the world.”
“Still, we don’t usually spend this much time together.”
“The day we had dinner together, I had to eventually accept that dating Guren meant dating you a little bit too,” he says.
“Is that a joke?”
“It wasn’t meant to be. You guys are the definition of childhood best friends. You’re completely attached at the hip. It’d be stupid to try to separate that, since we both know which of us would get kicked out of the equation.”
Well, that’s true. Guren said it himself.
But how long will that last? If things are the same a year from now, she might not be the more important one anymore.
“I don’t want to do anything to hurt him, though.”
He laughs. “No matter what you do, you’re going to hurt him somehow. Because, no offence or anything, but you’re pretty fucked up. And I’m sure you weren’t always a sex addict.”
“I’m not an addict!”
“A partial addict?” he offers. “Either way, your emotional traumas hurt him.”
“And what about yours?”
“Well, he can’t see them yet. I’d say I’m surprised you can, but birds of a feather or whatever, right? They’ll hurt him eventually, too. And I’m sure I’ll feel just as shitty about it as you. But the point isn’t it to dwell on it. It’s to find a way to figure out how to make those things stop hurting or to hurt less, and you can’t do that if all you do is wonder how to.”
“And what happens when he finds out that you’re just like me?”
“He loves you despite it, doesn’t he?”
“He shouldn’t, though.”
“But isn’t this exactly what I was saying? You can’t tell someone else how to feel just because you think something you’re doing will bother them.”
“But you have to do this on your own. Guren can’t stop you if you go out and get drunk and hook up with someone. He would try, I’m sure, but if you feel like you need it, you’re going to act like you need it.”
“Right,” she says, a little hoarse. “Sorry.”
“I already told you, didn’t I? It’s like I’m dating you a little bit, too.” He winks at her. “Just don’t expect to be able to get me to sleep with you again any time soon.”
She rolls her eyes. “What a shame. I almost hoped for a second, there.”
He laughs. “You really have an awful sense of humour.”
“It’s those emotional traumas,” she says. “Yours sucks as well.”
“Thanks. I’ll take that one to heart.”
She watches him a moment, then sighs. “It sucks that you’re not so bad. I’d love to hate you.”
“Would you? Then I guess I should be glad I’m so likeable.” He arches an eyebrow, lips twitching slightly.
“Yeah,” she says. “After all, I could’ve just told Guren I hated you, and then you’d be gone. But I’m not like that, so consider yourself lucky.”
“You like having me around,” he argues. “If I’m dating you a little bit too, then the opposite has to be true as well, right?”
She supposes so.
“Then maybe I should be thanking you instead, huh?”
He shakes his head. “We got off to a rough start, Mahiru-san. But we both care about Guren, don’t we? If nothing else, we should get along for him.”
“Actually get along?”
“Actually get along.”
“Okay,” she agrees. “Then start by dropping the honorific. I don’t think anybody who’s fucked me should refer to me quite so respectfully.”
He laughs. “Then you can lose it, too. I guess your logic goes both ways, too.”
Mahiru can’t argue with that.
“So, let’s try this again,” she says. She offers him a hand. “No vomit or passive aggression this time.”
He takes her hand, smiling a little bit. “Sounds good to me.”
“I’m Mahiru,” she says.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mahiru. I’m Shinya.”
She drops his hand with a small laugh. “Great. I feel less awful about your existence already.”
“Likewise,” he says.
“Want some tea?”
“Sure, but for future reference, I’m more of a coffee person.” He winks at her.
She scrunches up her nose. “Me too,” she says. “But it’s not very good for you. Guren hates that I never buy it, but we drink less if we have to go out for it.”
“You’re a bit of a health nut, huh?”
“A bit,” she admits. “No fast food, no soft drinks, not many sugar-based foods, only dark chocolate if we ever really need it.”
“But alcohol is okay?”
“Nope,” she says. “I hate alcohol and so does Guren. I’ve seen him drink maybe three times in all the time I’ve known him. I drink a lot more, but from here on out? Not anymore.”
“Since you got drunk on his birthday?”
She winces. “That was your fault, though.”
“Huh? I didn’t even meet you until the next day.”
She nods. “The hypothetical boyfriend wasn’t even as bad as you are, but he still made me pretty fucking nervous.”
Shinya laughs. “He sounds like a real asshole, this hypothetical boyfriend.”
“You managed to beat him there, amazingly.” She stands up, flattening out her shirt. “So, tea?”
“Yeah.” He pauses. “You know, I don’t care if things go wrong in the future, but for now I’m not planning on giving any of this up.”
She nods, smiles at him, a little wistful. “I respect that. I wouldn’t give it up, either.”
Before he can say anything else, she turns towards the kitchen to make them some tea.
The next months are good.
Or, as good as they can get, anyway.
Mahiru tries to go out once, but a little bit of convincing is enough to keep her back. She thinks that’s a good sign, and by the time November is upon them, she’s pretty sure she can manage a year, no sweat.
Which is about when she realizes two things:
One, Shinya is definitely in love with Guren. It’s disgustingly clear to her for someone who is so damn good at hiding his emotions.
Two, Guren is definitely in love with Shinya.
That’s the bigger problem, she thinks.
But it’s only been four months. How unfair is that? The initial infatuation hardly seems to have lasted at all. This sort of emotion is decidedly different.
It’s so unfair.
Sayuri and Shigure agree with her about it, unfortunately. She goes there the day she realizes, and all they can offer her are sympathetic looks and a good shoulder to cry on for a while.
And she cries a lot that day.
Four months, she thinks. Four fucking months.
She has loved Guren for a decade. Has loved his stupid quirks and his awkwardness and his rare smile that he’s always given to her more often than anybody else, anyway.
Has loved everything that makes Guren who he is.
And Shinya only needs four months to sweep him off his feet.
The world is cruel, she thinks, but she supposes bad people ultimately get it the worst.
Mahiru tried very hard, for most of her life, to be a better person.
Now she’s a casual sex addict and drinks away her pain.
Maybe she should pick up gambling, too. Or drugs. She could get into the same seedy businesses as her father before her, really.
Sayuri tells her she’s welcome back whenever she wants, but for all that Mahiru is a people-user, she wouldn’t exploit them like that. They all rooted for her for a long time, really. It’s a failure for them, too, in a way.
She has a drink that night at their apartment, because Shigure offers her one.
And then she feels even worse, because now instead of being clean of sex and alcohol until next August, she’ll have to wait until next November.
She cries some more after that, and so Sayuri offers her a place to sleep.
Which she accepts, because she can’t face Guren with the smell of vodka still rolling off her tongue.
But it doesn’t matter, because Shigure tells him the next day, anyway, and he takes her out for coffee with the sole intent of talking about it.
But what is there to talk about?
“Aren’t you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
They have been sitting here for almost an hour. He is growing understandably impatient, but Mahiru stubbornly remains silent.
There’s nothing to say, after all.
He sighs, setting down his drink. She wonders how he hasn’t finished it yet.
“You’re sick of it, right?” She raises an eyebrow at him. “I’m like a little kid, and you hate it. You hate having to take care of me. Your sense of duty is strong, sure, but nobody has the will to do this for as long as you have. I can’t even live with myself. How can you?”
“I don’t hate anything about you, and I wish you’d quit saying I do.”
“You have more important things to consider. We both know I never planned for the future to begin with, but you have yours standing right in front of you, and guess who’s blocking the view.”
“I’m not going to get better,” she says bluntly. “We both know it.”
He sighs. “Isn’t there someone else you can talk to, if just me isn’t helping?”
She can think of someone, yeah.
She says, “Of course there is.”
“So why not talk to them?”
She sniffs. “Because the only person I can think of wouldn’t want to hear it.”
“Well, I’m sure very few people would. You know I mean a counsellor, though, right?”
“But I need help from someone who’s already helped themselves,” she says. “Right?”
“You think so?”
“Then, who are you thinking of?”
She shakes her head. “That’s not my place to say. But, listen, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to have to deal with this, either, but…”
“Can you stop talking like you’re a burden? I won’t just give up on you, Mahiru. I don’t care if you go through Hell and back. I’ll follow you, no matter where you lead me, just to know you’re okay. If that’s a burden, then who cares? I get more out of it than I get taken away, because I ultimately get you.”
Mahiru has already given up on herself, though. She has already been to Hell and back. And back and forth again and again and again. There is nowhere she has been that she would ever want to lead Guren through.
“You’re crazy,” she decides. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
“Only if you’ll promise to talk to the person you’re thinking about,” he says. “And then we can avoid this conversation as much as you want.”
“Are we really avoiding it if we’ve already had it?”
“Just promise me.”
“Fine, fine. I promise I’ll talk to the person I’m thinking of. Are we done here?”
“Yeah,” he says, standing and grabbing his cup from the table. “But, Mahiru?”
“If you don’t start telling me the truth about when you mess up, you know it’ll only make things worse, right?”
She huffs. “It was just because Shigure-san offered, you know.”
No, but he doesn’t need to know the real reason, does he?
She looks away from him, pouting.
“Come on,” he says, rolling his eyes. “We need to get home eventually, you know.”
She stands, then pauses for a moment. “Guren?”
“Will you buy me another drink?”
She meets his eyes as earnestly as she can. “Trust me, okay? I’m going to make a phone call. And then I want you to go home without me.”
He blinks. “What? How can I trust such a vague—?”
He sighs. “Fine. But don’t take too long, okay?”
“I won’t,” she promises.
Before he can come up with another argument, she slips out of the building.
She stands by the wall and pulls out her phone. Is this for her or for Guren? She doesn’t know.
But, either way, what she’s about to do is far from the right thing.
...But has there ever been anything right about any of this, from the very beginning?
She can’t worry about it now, when she already promised Guren.
She calls the number.
The answer is almost immediate. “Hello?”
“Oh, Mahiru. Is something wrong?”
She saved this number mostly to reserve it just in case something ever happened to Guren, but…
“No,” she assures him. “It’s nothing bad. I just need to ask a favour, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“And what that be?”
She glances towards the door. Guren is still in there, worried about her, waiting for her to make true on her promise to him.
She turns her eyes away again, steeling herself. “I wondered if we could talk, is all.”
Guren buys her more coffee and leaves her at the table they sat at for half the fucking afternoon. As soon as she’s sure he’s gone, she throws the coffee in the garbage and leaves.
She asked Shinya to pick her up from here. He apparently has a nice car, but Mahiru doesn’t actually care about cars that much, so this information is very unhelpful to her.
But true to his word, he shows up after only ten or so minutes.
She’s probably seen his car before, really. Maybe they had sex in it. Who knows? She’s had sex in some pretty awful places.
She sits in the passenger seat and he glances at her, obviously expecting her to speak.
But she’s not sure how.
Eventually, he sighs and asks, “Where are we going?”
“Anywhere someone else won’t be,” she says thickly.
“You do just want to talk, right?”
She scoffs. “I may be a homewrecker in a bunch of other ways, but I wouldn’t try to sleep with someone in a relationship.”
“Good,” he says. “Then I’ll take you to my place, but you’d better actually start talking once we’re there.”
She looks out the window. “I’m not trying to avoid it or anything. I’m just not sure what to say yet.”
He doesn’t reply, but she doesn’t need him to.
She would’ve told him to just park the car and let her talk, but there’s something oppressive in the air here. She’s read that vehicles are good places to start hard conversations, because the driver has to keep his eyes on the road and all, but the truth is, she hates the idea of saying something to someone and having them look anywhere but her eyes.
It’s not that she doesn’t avoid eye contact herself or anything; more, she can’t trust any part of the human body to be honest except for a person’s eyes. She was conditioned to read into people’s emotions, and how to read into people’s lies. There’s nothing to teach a person that quite like a classic Hiragi upbringing.
Mahiru doesn’t know where she expects Shinya to lead her, but a normal apartment isn’t it.
But they’re very similar people, she supposes. However rich he might be, he probably wants to distance himself from that higher class of life at least a bit.
He leads her up to his apartment. Neither of them speak, but there really isn’t anything to speak about yet.
“Something to drink?” he offers once they’re inside.
“Is it vodka?”
“Not an option, sorry.”
She sighs. “Then, no thanks.”
He nods absently. “Make yourself at home, then.”
She hesitates a moment, then swallows back her nerves. “Shinya?”
He turns to face her. “Yeah?”
“Do you love Guren?”
He blinks. “Huh?”
“Do you love him?” she repeats.
He watches her a moment, then shrugs. “Yeah, maybe,” he says. “I don’t always know what these things feel like. Sometimes—”
“It’s like you don’t have the basic human capacity to think and feel?” she asks wryly.
“A bit, yeah.”
She pauses. “Will you tell me about yourself?”
He lets out a surprise puff of laughter. “That’s a weird question.”
“You don’t have to. I just want to know.” She looks down at her hands. “I know you’re a good person. You make Guren really happy. But I also know that you’re like me in a lot of ways. But you’re better than me. You’re like the person I could be, if I just knew how to—how to be better.” Her voice catches, but before she can speak again, he’s shaking his head at her.
“That’s not true. We’re really different from each other.” He frowns. “I think you need to sit down. You look like you’re going to be sick.”
“And you don’t want to me throw up on you again?”
“I don’t care that much, but I’m actually more worried that you’ll pass out. Have you eaten yet today?”
She shakes her head.
“Idiot,” he mutters. “Go sit down, okay? You need to have something to eat, so—”
“I broke our promise,” she blurts.
“I broke my promise to Guren. I told him a year, and I can’t even manage a few months. I’m—I’m—”
He waits a moment for her to finish, but she can’t find the words. She doesn’t know if words can even explain it.
When neither of them speaks, he reaches for her hand and tugs at her slightly.
“Please sit down,” he says quietly.
She numbly lets him lead her to a chair.
“I already told you, didn’t I? You’re going to fail here and there. It’s not about when you mess up. It’s about what you do to fix it.”
Her eyes sting. She doesn’t know why.
“Are you worried he’s angry with you?”
“I wouldn’t blame him,” she says, choked. “I’m a burden. I’ve only ever hurt people. I—I don’t want to hold Guren back, but—”
“You’re so fucking dumb,” he says. “Guren doesn’t think you’re a burden. Do you know you’re all he talks about even when you’re not around? He’s crazy about you.”
Mahiru stares at him.
“Really,” Shinya says. “When he talks about you, it’s like he’s talking about his favourite thing in the world. And I think he probably is.”
“But he’s in love with you,” she says hollowly.
He shakes his head. “I’d be inclined to trust you on that, but it doesn’t matter. People are capable of loving more than one person at once. You’re the most important person in his life, and you’re hurting a lot. He’s worried about you, even when he’s not with you. Or maybe especially when he’s not with you. I don’t think he really trusts anybody else to keep you safe.”
“Maybe that’s because nobody else ever has.”
“Maybe,” he agrees. “Do you still want me to talk about myself?”
She nods meekly. “I want to understand you. I want to understand what makes you different enough from me to be able to move past your bad habits while I’m still floundering around in whatever’s left of mine.”
“Why ask me and not Guren?”
“Because I feel like he doesn’t know, either.”
He smiles thinly. “You’re right. And that’s because I don’t like to talk about it. But you know what? I’ll make an exception for you, because you seem like you need it and I guess I kind of like you.”
“Can’t say I understand why,” she mutters.
“You really have no self-esteem, do you?” He sighs. “Well, whatever. Wait here a minute. I’ll find you something to eat first.”
She doesn’t think she could move even if he asked her to, to be honest.
She watches her hands absently as he moves around behind her. She doesn’t know what she’s doing here. It’s ironic, maybe, because she doesn’t even know how many times she’s used Shinya as an emotional bandage for the night, and here she is, asking him to help her out emotionally in a completely different way.
But that was never about asking, before, was it? People like them never questioned the advancement, because as bad an idea as it was, they needed it.
Does she need this? Probably more than she needs to sleep with someone, yeah, but she’s not sure. All she knows is this: she promised Guren, and she won’t break a promise to him ever again, if she can help it.
Shinya sets a plate in front of her and she starts, looking up at him.
“I know you’re super healthy or whatever, but I honestly don’t have anything else.”
She glances down at the plate. It’s just pastries.
“Did you make these?” she asks, surprised.
“Look, you’re learning things about me already,” he jokes, sitting across from her. “I did. The only important thing I ever got from my parents. My mother was an amazing baker. I couldn’t ever be as good as her, but it is something she taught me that I thought was worth keeping.”
“I haven’t had sweets in a long time.”
“Really? But doesn’t Guren like them?”
She nods. “He does, but he doesn’t exercise enough to eat as many as he would if we had them around all the time and still stay healthy.”
“Do you? Exercise enough, I mean.”
She reaches for one of the pastries. “I used to,” she says. “In high school. I was in the track club, actually.”
“Huh,” Shinya says. “I was in the go-home club. Figures, huh?”
“Guren was, too. I tried to convince him to join with me in our first year, but he wasn’t having it. But Mito-san was there. We got along well enough, I guess, but I’ve never exactly considered any of them my friends.”
She shrugs. “I never needed anyone other than Guren, I guess. I had my siblings, too, though. My brothers weren’t perfect, but I guess they were the next closest thing to a friend I had.”
“I’m glad I was a single child, honestly,” Shinya says.
Mahiru doesn’t reply. She takes an experimental bite of the pastry.
“Oh,” she says once she has swallowed the bite. “This is really good.”
“You sound like you weren't expecting it to be,” Shinya says, laughing. “But, yeah, it’s not as good as anything my mother ever could’ve made, but I think I do well enough.”
“Do you eat these all yourself?”
He shakes his head. “I could get an award for best neighbour,” he jokes. “Everyone on this floor loves me because I give them sweets so often.”
She nods thoughtfully, but doesn’t say anything in return.
He watches her a moment, then sighs quietly. “So, what do you want me to say? I could give you my whole tragic backstory or I could just explain the basic depth of my emotional traumas, if you want.”
“It’s your story to tell,” she mutters. “I can’t ask you to tell me anything you don’t want to.”
“But I’d rather hear it all, yeah.”
He laughs. “If that’s what you want, then sure. I guess you already know my mother was a baker, but she didn’t actually have a job. My father was a wealthy politician, but he wasn’t really around that much. He sucked, though,” he adds. “In his own way. My mother, though, just didn’t like me, I guess. She’d always wanted a daughter, but my father didn’t want more than one kid, so she was stuck with me. I was more replaceable to her than her least favourite china set. But she taught me what I need to know. And how to bake.
“It’s not like she ever raised a hand to me or anything. My father wasn’t around enough to care. I was just an unloved kid. I grew up with no friends. Amongst my classmates, I was leagues ahead of them in intelligence, but it didn’t matter, because I didn’t really care. No matter how many one hundred percents I brought home, it wouldn’t make someone so deadset on hating me change her mind.
“All it did for me was make me stop caring. I didn’t bother trying anymore once I was old enough that I should’ve cared. I didn’t bother learning to care about people. I was popular in high school in all the wrong ways. I had a lot of money. I was smart. I was attractive. But I hated everything about it. I used people for my own gain, as if stepping on people would make me feel better. And I guess it could’ve, if I hadn’t spent so much time being just like them.” He shakes his head. “I made myself more scarce. I did what I could to keep people away from me. I was rude and I probably ruined a lot of people’s reputations before they ever realized what a terrible person I was.”
“What did you do?”
He laughs. It is a grating, bitter sound. “What didn’t I do? I broke up some relationships, I’m sure. I definitely made a few girls cry. I think I got into some fights. I went from being the perfect, silent student to the most obnoxious, rebellious one I could’ve possibly been. And it didn’t end with high school. I met regularly with multiple girls I went to school with after we’d all graduated. I left my mother all alone because I was angry at her and at the world and I thought the best way I could fix it was by finding a way to feel like I had control over something without actively hurting people.”
“So, casual sex.”
He nods. “I guess one thing I can honestly say I got out of it was a chance to discover my sexual preferences.” His smile is more like a grimace. “Other than that, all I managed to do was feel even worse about myself.”
She thinks she understands.
“But a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to change things. I was just barely twenty-two. I guess that’s when I decided I was too old to be acting the way I was. So, I started doing what I could to fix things. I started looking for healthier alternatives to sex when I normally would’ve felt I needed it. That’s about when I decided baking was probably the best hobby I could possibly have.
“Doing that, though, made me remember my mother. And she didn’t like me, sure, but she was still my mother, and she still raised me. And I left her with no warning, with no gratitude. So I went back home, and we talked. We talked a lot. It’s not like I got an apology from her for hating me. Instead, I got her illogical justifications. And I didn’t accept them. They just made me angry.”
Mahiru takes another bite of the pastry, more to have something to do than to fill herself up.
“That was the first time I fell back into it. I can’t forget it, either. I was so mad at myself the next day for it. But it had been months, and honestly? Sex was the least satisfying thing at that point.”
“Really?” She blinks. “Just because you hadn’t done it for a few months?”
“No,” he says. “Because I had grown to enjoy better alternatives to make me feel better more.”
“Like baking,” she recalls.
“Right. Driving, too. Hell, even shopping made me feel better than sex did.”
Mahiru glances up at the ceiling, frustrated.
“It’s not like I never did it again after that. It was more of a habit than I would like to admit. It’s a type of addiction. It still felt good , for every moment I hated it. It made me feel empty, more than it gave me a faux sense of fulfilment, but it still helped me feel a little less like I was losing control over my life.”
“So, it’s not about closure,” she says.
“With my mother? Well, that was as close to closure as I got. It depends who you need closure with. Some people are easier to fix things with than others. My mother just didn’t realize she was doing something wrong when she was raising me.”
Mahiru sighs. “I don’t even know if I need closure, anyway,” she says. “I’m sure I wouldn’t get it if I sought it out, either way.”
“Mahiru, you’re doing better than I did.” His voice is more serious than she has ever heard it. “So you had a drink. Whatever. It was a bad night. I still have them, too. You’ll never lose them completely. But instead of drinking, instead of sex, you need to funnel that energy into something else. You said you did track in high school, right? So I’d guess you like to run.”
“Does going alone worry you?”
“Nothing like that really worries me anymore.”
“That’s a little worrying.”
“But seriously, just go out and run for a while next time you feel shitty. If it doesn’t help, then feel free to blame me for suggesting it. Do you have any other hobbies?”
“I used to play Shogi with my brother when we were growing up.”
“Play with Guren, then.”
“He sucks at it.”
“Then teach him.”
She sighs. “He doesn’t like it, though.”
“Then I’ll play with you.” He shrugs. “You could call me in the middle of the night and just say, ‘Hey, Shinya, let’s play Shogi,’ and I’d do it, because I’d rather let you destroy me in your favourite game than let you hurt yourself. I’m pretty sure Guren’s the same.”
“Is it selfish if I ask you to, though?”
“It’s the best way to rehabilitate yourself,” he says. “And, you know, some people need to go back to their roots, but others need to uproot themselves completely before they can move forward. Whatever you decide, we both know Guren will be right beside you. And if you ever needed it, I’d be there, too.”
“Thanks,” she says. “I just…”
“Feel like you failed?” he offers. “You did. There’s no better way to say it. But failure means you’re human, doesn’t it? The more you fail, the better you know how to succeed. It takes a while to scale a mountain like this one. Just try to look forward to the view at the top.”
Mahiru used to fancy herself an optimist. As a kid, some crazy part of her thought she could get married one day. At fourteen, she was convinced that person would be Guren. By the time they were out of high school, though, the only thing Mahiru had a positive outlook for in the future was the decor in their apartment.
She doesn’t necessarily think Shinya is an optimist, though. More, he’s experienced. He’s done this before, with himself, and now he has a commitment to Guren, so he’ll do it for Mahiru, too.
“Why are you helping me?” she asks. “You aren’t even going to tell Guren, are you?”
“Why would I do something for you for any reason other than to help you?” He raises an eyebrow. “Just because I’m with Guren doesn’t mean I can’t be a proper friend to you. I already told you all of this, didn’t I?”
“I generally need to be told that kind of thing a few hundred times, at least.”
“Then I guess we should start spending more time together, huh?”
She exhales slowly. “I guess so.”
“It gets easier,” he says. “You just have to find a way to make it work.”
She nods absently.
“What are you thinking?” he asks.
“I’m thinking I should challenge you to a game of Shogi.”
He laughs. “Okay, if you want to, but I don’t have a board or anything.”
She shrugs. “I have to get home eventually, anyway.”
He pauses, then says, “You know you can tell Guren anything you want, right?”
She tilts her head slightly. “What do you mean?”
“I mean you don’t have to lie about this. I have to be honest eventually, too.”
She shakes her head. “That’s not my place to tell him,” she says. “He’ll understand. Just think how long it took me to tell him about all the things I do.”
He sighs. “Well, I hope you’re right, then. Let’s get you back home.”
She leaves his apartment with a much lighter heart than she entered it.
“Mahiru, slow down!”
She slows to a jog and turns to look back at Guren over her shoulder. “Maybe you should go faster,” she teases.
“There’s no way you could keep up that pace!”
He falls into pace beside her. “It’s been years since you’ve gone running. You’ll tire yourself out.”
“That’s why we’re not going very far,” she reminds him. “And maybe if you keep, I’ll buy you a coffee or something.”
He groans. “Seriously?”
“You were the one who said you’d come with me!”
“Well, I wasn’t going to let you go alone!”
“Then keep up!” She sticks her tongue out at him and before he can say anything else, she takes off again.
It has been years since she’s gone running. She used to do it all the time in the mornings, but as she started staying out later more and more often, she lost the tradition somewhere.
That doesn’t mean she can’t run anymore. She’s a little slow, with far less endurance, but she’s not as bad as she could be. She can only be grateful that for all her unhealthy habits, she never lost her love of healthy foods.
Guren didn’t have to come with her, but when she said she was going to go, he had been very insistent that he come with her. She supposes it’s simply a lack of trust, and appropriately placed at that, but it still hurts a bit.
Either way, though, she’s definitely have a lot more fun than he is.
By the time they stop at the nearest coffee shop to their apartment, Guren is out of breath, flushed and sweaty, and annoyed.
“You’re crazy,” he grumbles. “What about this is enjoyable to you?”
She laughs. “Maybe I just wanted to see you work a little.”
He rolls his eyes. “Then maybe you’re just cruel.”
“I never said I wasn’t.”
They take a moment to catch their breath before making their way inside. Mahiru directs Guren to sit down and goes ahead to order for both of them.
Near the counter, a small sign declaring that the shop is looking for new employees is placed. Mahiru eyes it for a moment, then steps forward to order.
But even once she gets their drinks and makes her way back to Guren, it still weighs on her mind a bit.
“You look like you’re thinking,” Guren says. “Thanks, by the way.”
“No problem. And I’m thinking a bit, yeah.” She frowns. “I’m starting to think I have an idea and I might need you to talk me out of it.”
“Is it a better or worse idea than running?”
“Then I’m sure I can talk you out of it,” he says. “What are you thinking?”
She gestures towards the sign. “I was thinking about applying for a job.”
He blinks. “Really?”
“Well, sure,” she says. “If I got a job here, I’d probably get an employee discount.”
He snorts. “If that’s your only motivation, I doubt it matters much.”
“It’s not,” she assures him. “Just a perk.”
“So, why then? Boredom?”
She shakes her head. “Close, though. More like...I guess I need a purpose beyond existing. And it’s a good distraction. It’d also clear up time on your schedule, so you wouldn’t have to watch me all the time…”
“You know it doesn’t bother me, right?”
“But it would still be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t care, Mahiru.”
He sighs. “If you want to, then do it for yourself, okay? A job is a big commitment.”
“I know,” she says. “I’ll think about it a bit tonight. Maybe I’ll feel differently tomorrow.”
“If you want to apply, I’d be more than willing to help you. There are other places to work, too.”
“Right. I’ll let you know.” She takes a sip of her coffee, then scrunches up her face and points to Guren’s cup. “Have you been drinking that? I think I gave you the wrong one. This is way too sweet.”
“No, I haven’t.” He slides it towards her and she passes his over. Their hands brush together, but the old effect it had on her when they were in high school isn’t there anymore. It’s just Guren’s hand.
And yet she still wishes she could hold on to it a little longer.
“You know,” she says, “I was thinking about something else, too.”
“What’s that?” he asks.
“When was the last time I went home?”
The alarm in his eyes is almost comical. “Mahiru, you aren’t thinking of—?”
“I am.” She frowns at him. “I see Shinoa sometimes, but not often enough. And Kureto and Seishiro are still my brothers, Guren. Father wouldn’t even be there. He never is.”
“You want to visit Shinoa? You know she’s welcome whenever, Mahiru.”
She shakes her head. “It’s not just that…. I want to see my brothers. I know you don’t like them, but they’re family, and...I haven’t always been good to them.”
“You shouldn’t go back home,” he warns. “If you want to leave the past behind, you have to leave that house behind first and foremost.”
“Okay,” she agrees. “Would you rather I invite them over for an afternoon?”
“Yes,” he says immediately.
“Yes, if you need to see them, I’d rather you bring them to us than have to go back there.”
“Of course I’m serious. Are you serious?”
“Of course I am!”
“Then invite them over. Why not? I’m sure a Hiragi family reunion in our living room would be great.”
He’s being sarcastic, but Mahiru agrees with the words, regardless.
She hasn’t seen either of her brothers since the year after she graduated, she thinks. Kureto is working to make an even bigger name out of himself than Tenri so far has, but perhaps a little more honestly. Seishiro is probably doing nothing, much like Mahiru is, but possibly without the disgusting coping mechanisms.
Shinoa is still in school, but she’s getting older and older every day Mahiru doesn’t get to see her.
Guren sighs. “Well, whatever you want, but don’t expect it to go well.”
“Invite Shinya,” she suggests. “And then instead of socializing, you can go make out in another room.”
He scowls at her. “That’s inappropriate.”
“But wouldn’t you prefer it?”
“That doesn’t mean you should say it!”
She snickers. “I’m really only joking, you know. But it’s your apartment too, so I can’t really stop you if that’s what you decide to do.”
“I doubt I would.”
“But, either way, I think it’s not a bad idea. We aren’t kids anymore, after all. You could probably get something out of this, too.”
“Do you really think either of them are any different than they were?”
She stares down at her drink. “They’re the same as I am,” she says. “Maybe I got it worse because I fought against it, but they’re abused kids, too, you know.”
She looks back up at her. His eyes are a little softer.
“I know,” he says. “I’ll do my best not to start any fights, if that’s what you want.”
She smiles a little. She can only hope that whatever comes next is as good as it sounds in this moment.
What comes next is not as good as it sounds in that moment.
It’s close enough, though.
Calling home is nerve-wracking in every way imaginable. But Kureto talks to her over the phone for a long time, and they both agree: the Hiragi siblings need to build some bridges.
Guren doesn’t invite Shinya, but Mahiru does. She tells Guren she can’t be his impulse control if he decides he’d really like to punch Seishiro, because she’d want to punch him too, for one, and for two, she can’t deal with a fight between her favourite person and one of her only family members she hasn’t been estranged from completely.
But, even so, the tension is very high that morning.
Mahiru feels bad for involving Shinya, but there is merit in her reasoning. Guren hates her brothers. He always has. And they hated him, too, no matter how much Mahiru loved him, no matter how often she told them he wasn’t someone to hate.
Not to mention, the point is for Mahiru to fix whatever is broken between her siblings and herself. Guren would be bored out of his mind if he was here alone, but he stubbornly refuses to leave her, even with her siblings around. Not that they’re good influences, though; Seishiro probably drinks just as much as Mahiru, and Kureto is so stupidly power-hungry that it wouldn’t surprise Mahiru if he was just like Shinya with his unhealthy coping mechanisms. Shinoa, on the other hand, is just a kid, but, like the rest of them, she has no moral compass at all.
But for all the tension, the afternoon arrives, as do the Hiragis, and it’s all fairly anticlimactic.
“Hello, Mahiru,” Kureto says. He sounds a little bit bored, but that’s nothing new. “It’s been a long time.”
“I know,” she says. “I’m sorry. Come in, though, please.”
They do as she says, Seishiro and Shinoa trailing behind Kureto at a much slower pace, and she leads them the the living room.
Guren and Shinya look up at them with two very different expressions. Guren looks a little sour, but Shinya just seems thoughtful.
“Who’s this, Mahiru?”
She glances at Kureto. He doesn’t look hostile, which is a good sign, but there is a blatant tone of disrespect in his voice that is somehow even worse than Mahiru remembers.
“This is Shinya,” she says. “Shinya, these are my brothers, Kureto and Seishiro, and my sister, Shinoa.”
Shinoa comes to stand beside her. She offers Shinya a small wave, which he meets with a charming smile.
Mahiru doesn’t know why, but it makes her heart beat a little faster.
Kureto frowns. “But who is he?”
“Not mine, if that’s what you’re asking.” Mahiru sniffs. “Shinya is Guren’s boyfriend.”
“Really? That’s surprising. I was sure you and Ichinose would be married by now.”
“Like you married Aoi-san?” she challenges.
He scowls. “That’s not funny.”
Sangu Aoi was was Kureto’s best friend in high school, but she moved away after they graduated. The way he was after, Mahiru could only guess that unrequited love is a Hiragi family curse of some kind.
“You’re really still single, though?” Seishiro asks. “Crazy. I was so sure you’d be married before the rest of us.”
“Because we all thought she’d marry Ichinose,” Kureto insists.
“Well, that’s silly,” Shinoa offers. “She’d sound ridiculous if her name was Ichinose.”
Mahiru sighs. “Is that all out of your systems now?”
“No, seriously,” Kureto says. “I can’t believe it. Don’t you live together?”
“Why would you commit yourself to someone like that if there wasn’t at least some kind of perk?” Seishiro asks.
“The perk is that we get to spend time together, because we’re friends,” Guren tells him. “I’m sure you wouldn’t understand what it means to have any of those.”
Seishiro snarls at him. Kureto tiredly parts an arm over Seishiro’s chest.
“Now, now,” Shinya says pleasantly. “Guren, be respectful. We’re all adults. Almost, anyway.” He winks at Shinoa.
Mahiru’s stomach flips at the look, but she’s not sure what the feeling that inspires it is, exactly.
“Right,” Mahiru agrees. “Let’s try to get along.” She shoots Guren a significant look. “All of us.”
“Fine,” Seishiro mutters.
Guren just shrugs.
Kureto drops his arm with a sigh.
The silence is still full of tension, but Mahiru steps forward and offers a smile back to her brothers.
“Sit down,” she says. “Do you want some tea?”
Kureto leads the other two to the other side of the table and they all sit down. He looks up at her and shrugs. “If you have some, sure.”
Mahiru glances at Guren. “Do you mind?” she asks.
“Sure,” he says, standing up. “Don’t break anything.”
Shinya laughs. “He trust you a lot, doesn’t he?”
“I don’t think it’s me he’s worried about honestly.” Mahiru settles beside him and looks over he siblings.
“So, if you aren’t married, what are you doing?” Kureto finally asks.
“I…” She glances at Shinya, unsure. He reaches down to squeeze her hand. Her breath catches slightly.
“Honestly?” she says. “Not much. Just living like a normal person.”
“A normal person so rich she doesn’t even need to work?”
“Absolutely,” she agrees. “These are my prime years, you know. It’d be silly to spend them working.”
“Guren told me you were thinking about it, though,” Shinya says.
“Did he? Well, I mentioned it, but I’m still not sure yet.”
“Well, that’s better than someone.” Kureto glances at Seishiro.
“What?” he asks, defensive. “There’s no point in doing anything until I want to.”
“A fantastic attitude,” Mahiru says dryly.
“You aren’t that different, though, right, Neesan?”
She shrugs. “I wouldn’t say I especially want to work. More like I think it’s a good idea and beneficial for my own person mental health.” She pauses. “Which is why I wanted to build these relationships, too.”
She wiggles her toes.
“For your mental health,” Kureto echoes.
“Y-yeah. And yours, too. Kureto, do you remember when I was twelve and you taught me how to play Shogi?”
“Sure,” he says. “You worked your ass off for years until you could beat me.”
“Right,” she says. “Because all I wanted to do was beat you. And all you wanted to do was beat me. But why were we ever like that? I never wanted the things you have. I still don’t. But it still feels like we’re in some kind of competition. Why?”
He rolls his shoulders back, looking very uncomfortable. “I don’t know,” he says. “Because Father preferred you, I guess.”
“But which of us is the heir to the family now?”
“It’s not like you were ever going to do it,” he snaps. “Look how you’re living now. I did what I felt I had to do to gain my rightful place as the eldest son. All you had going for you was a genius you don’t even know how to use.”
“And some severe childhood traumas,” she says. “And I know you’re the same. Come on, Kureto, you can’t hide behind—”
“Behind a name? Behind things that have no meaning?” He scowls. “Who are you to talk?
“You’re the worst of all of us,” Seishiro points out. “You ran away. We didn’t.”
“Is it running away if I came back, though?”
Kureto raises an eyebrow. “Five years later?”
“But I asked you to come, didn’t I?”
They both look rather dubious, but Shinoa smiles pleasantly. “I don’t see what’s wrong with it. After all, you two never got hit, right?”
Mahiru winces. “Shinoa, don’t—”
“I always wondered about that, but I guess that’s what happens to people who choose the wrong side, right? I wouldn’t call it brave, though.”
“Oh, it was plenty brave,” Kureto says. “But bravery and stupidity are generally the same thing.”
Seishiro rolls his eyes. “It was just stupid, if you ask me. What’s the point in living like this? You’re alone and you don’t do anything. That’s like a death sentence.”
She watches them for a moment, thinking.
“But you’re not good enough, either, right, Seishiro? You were never good enough. You’re just a normal person who happened to be born into a family of prestige. That hurts, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not,” he mutters. “I’m not inferior to you. To either of you.”
Mahiru leans forward. “That’s a lie, and we both know it.”
“Well, what are you gonna do about it?” he snaps. “It’s not like I ever cared about your approval.”
“I’m going to do anything about it. It’s your problem. All I’m saying is this: if we hadn’t been raised the way we were, wouldn’t you have been happy?”
He doesn’t need to speak; the angry look that crosses his face is answer enough.
“And what about you?” she asks, turning to Kureto. “You’re, like, ultra paranoid. You think someone’s going to destroy everything you worked for because there’s still time for you to lose your inheritance to someone Father thinks is more suited to it. That person never had to be me. Just someone better than you.”
“You act like you know what it’s like.”
“Because I do, dumbass. You think I don’t have my own problems? I could spell them out for you, if you need me to.”
“I don’t think I’ll believe you until you do.”
“Fine.” She huffs. “You want to hear the truth? All I’ve done for the past five years is hate myself, because I barely feel like a person. I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel lost, because as much as I rejected the idea, I was still the ideal heir to the family, and dammit if I didn’t think I was going to have to become our father just to carry on a legacy I didn’t even want.”
“But you got out of it.”
“Because I ran away, stupid. You think I wanted to leave my family behind? I didn’t know what else I could do!”
Seishiro and Kureto stare at her.
Shinoa laughs. “Honestly, you’re all so weird. I thought we were coming here for fun, Oneechan. This isn’t fun at all.”
Kureto sighs as Seishiro rolls his eyes.
Mahiru lets out a small puff of laughter. “Sure, we can do something fun, Shinoa. Maybe if you’re on your best behaviour, Guren will go and buy you a crepe.”
“I really wish you’d stop signing me up for things without my consent,” Guren grumbles, reentering the room with the promised tea.
“That took you a really long time,” Mahiru remarks as he sets everything down on the table.
“Forgive me for not wanting to step into that kind of atmosphere,” he mutters.
Mahiru and Shinya share an amused glance.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Shinya says.
“Absolutely,” Mahiru agrees. “We argued much worse when we were still kids.” She looks over at her siblings. “Tea?”
Her brothers look equally flummoxed, but Shinoa beams and accepts immediately.
She supposes the rest of the afternoon will have to be a lot more fun.
The consequences of fixing whatever bond was broken between them are slow-coming but very progressive. Kureto starts calling her out of the blue sometimes. Seishiro is less likely to do so, but they always have something to talk about on the rare (but far more frequent, still) occasions that they see each other. She gets to see Shinoa a little more often, if only because Kureto isn’t monopolizing her anymore.
The months slip away very quickly. Shinya’s birthday passes. Mahiru applies for some jobs, and lands a part-time position at the coffee shop. Shinoa’s birthday passes. She spends Christmas with her siblings and Guren and Shinya in their apartment, and, amazingly, there are no fights.
As January comes and goes, Shinya is established by Guren’s friends as what will probably be a permanent figure. Mahiru doesn’t know how many times she wakes up and Shinya is still there, or how many times Guren is still gone.
By April, it’s normal.
But it still hurts.
Mahiru knows she doesn’t have a chance anymore. Guren is still mostly at her side, his promise to her never forgotten but less of a priority the longer she goes without an incident. Despite it all, Shinya is his commitment, too. And she knows it won’t be long before he ultimately decides to move out with her and in with him.
After all, it’s pointless to live so far away from the person you love.
The biggest problem isn’t that, though. It’s this:
Mahiru doesn’t think Shinya could ever just be her friend.
It’s not that they’ve slept together. More, it’s that she feels like she’s in high school and she’s realizing she likes Guren. He does these stupid, small things that make her heart beat a little faster. He’s touchy, very affectionate, and the idea he threw out before that he has to date her a little bit to date Guren is always on the front of her mind.
She knew what it meant when he said it before, but now she’s not so sure.
So, of course, these realizations in such quick succession are like a punch in the gut.
She tries everything that has worked for the past five or six months, but nothing dulls the feeling. She tries for weeks, to no avail, and so she makes the biggest mistake of her life on the twenty-seventh of April:
She goes out, and she drinks.
She drinks a lot.
And by eleven o’clock, she feels so much worse.
Even with her alcohol-addled brain, she knows going home would be a mistake. She slipped out when she knew Guren wouldn’t notice her, and he’s probably going to be so mad….
But she goes home anyway.
When she opens the door, the apartment is quiet, but there are still lights on in the hall, and in the living room, as well.
If she were a little sneakier, she could’ve just gone to bed.
But when she doesn’t move from the door, cursing the lights internally, Guren gets up to meet her.
When he sees her, he sighs. “Jesus, Mahiru,” he says.
And then she makes the actual biggest mistake of her life:
She kicks off her shoes and she comes forward so she is standing in front of him. He look down at her, unimpressed, and she throws her arms around his neck and roughly pulls his lips down to hers.
The shock is evident in his body, but she keeps kissing him even as he begins to realize what is happening.
“Mahiru,” he says, muffled against her lips. “Mahiru, you’re drunk.”
She moves her mouth slightly and grabs his bottom lip with her teeth.
She pulls away from him. His pupils are somewhat dilated with lust, his hair slightly tousled from the urgency with which she pulled him to her. His eyes are wide, shocked, but she can hear his heart pounding from where she stands.
“Don’t think,” she whispers. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” he says weakly. “Mahiru—”
“Stop thinking,” she murmurs. “Is this okay?”
She stands tall again and presses their lips together. The taste of rum lingers on his lips from their last kiss.
When he doesn’t protest, she brings one hand down and slips it beneath his shirt. He shivers beneath her touch.
“Tell me it’s okay,” she says, moving her mouth to the corner of his.
“It’s not,” he says, voice hoarse.
She pushes his back slightly with her hand, so that he is arching into her. He gasps.
She kisses below his jaw.
She takes one step forward. He takes one back. She takes another, he takes another. He is not trying to get away from her, though; they are moving together, away from the door.
She brings one hand up to cup his face. He wraps his left hand in her hair.
“Is this okay?” she asks quietly, pulling away from him just a little bit.
As if it is an answer, he pulls her back towards him and presses their lips together with much more force than she can honestly say she was expecting.
She giggles against his mouth. They are close to her room. She walks him forward just enough to push him against the door.
He takes his other hand, groping for the doorknob, and when he finds it, they stumble into the room fully. He falls on to her bed, sitting up, and she moves to straddle him, moving her mouth back to his neck. His head falls back and he lets out a moan that could or could not be her name.
She breaks away, breathing heavy, and pulls his shirt off in one swift movement. Once it’s out of the way, she moves her lips to below his collarbone, and the hand he still has intertwined in her hair pulls at it.
Her breath catches. He takes the opportunity to lift her head back up so that their eyes meet, and he kisses her on the lips again.
His other hand comes down to her waist, and he pushes her back just enough to get her shirt off, but she presses a finger against his lips and moves to take it off herself.
Once it’s gone, she puts her finger back over his lips and traces over their shape gently.
“Mahiru,” he whispers. “This is wrong.”
She watches him, dazed.
“This is wrong,” he says again, and grabs her wrist, pulling it away from his mouth. Her heart stutters, and even through the alcohol in her system, red flags are going up, but then he pulls her towards him and she falls on top of him completely.
He shifts slightly, and in one movement, he flips her around so that he is above her and she is looking up at him.
“This is wrong,” he mutters, but he leans down and presses his mouth against her neck. She gasps, back arching slightly. His hand comes underneath her body and pushes her up slightly. One of his hands fumbles with the clasp of her bra, and she reaches her own hand back to help him undo it.
She pushes herself up fully and puts their lips together again, letting the straps of her bra fall down her shoulders.
They kiss furiously. Mahiru has waited a decade for this moment, and she burns with it. Her lips burn, her chest burns, everywhere his hands touch burns.
He separates from her and pulls her bra away completely, throwing it off to the side haphazardly. This time when his head come back down, his mouth falls to her breasts.
She gasps at the contact, heading falling back as the heat pooling in her stomach warms even more. His lips sear her skin. One of his hands comes down to the side of her body. His fingers trace down her side.
He moves his mouth up to her collarbone while his hand explores her abdomen and chest. She feels her hips press against his, feels him drag his hand further down, trailing it over her thigh, while his mouth pulls away from her skin, leaving it cold from the lack of touch.
She has had good sex in her lifetime, but she has never been handled so gently, so familiarly.
He lifts his head, meets her eyes. She smiles at him, but he does not smile back.
And with no warning whatsoever, he pushes her away from him, breathing hard.
They stare at each other for a moment.
“You’re drunk,” he says frantically. “Mahiru, this is a mistake. You’re drunk. We can’t do this.”
“I’m serious.” He stands up. Even with only the dim light of the hallway, he is beautiful, his skin flushed and sweat building up at his hairline. She can see his arousal even in the darkness.
She sits up, lungs searing. “Guren, don’t—”
“You’re drunk,” he says again, as if it wasn’t obvious the first time.
“N-no, it’s not—”
“We can’t do this,” he says forcefully. “It’s wrong.”
“It’s wrong, Mahiru.”
She doesn’t know when tears started gathering in her eyes, but now they explode out of her with a noise so inhuman it hurts her chest.
He pays her no mind as she sobs. As he leans to pick up his shirt, she sees his hands shake. Even in the dark. Even with the distance. Even with her tears.
She did something very wrong. Very bad.
She violated him, she thinks.
She continues to cry even as he leaves the room, the door slamming behind him. She can’t stop it. It is an ugly, wailing noise, much like that of a lost child.
It doesn’t get better. She cries for hours, she thinks. He doesn’t come to check on her. She did something very wrong. She did something very wrong. She did something very wrong.
By the time she stops crying, it is only because she can no longer keep herself awake.
When she wakes up the next morning, she registers two things very quickly:
One, she’s not wearing anything on her top half at all. Two, her shirt and bra and strewn on the floor, obviously flung away with no intention other than to get them out of the way.
And she remembers what happened.
And desperately wishes she could forget.
Anxiety rolls through her stomach. She wishes she could hit herself, as if that might make things better.
They didn’t go very far, at least. It’s a little fuzzy, but she remembers him leaving, and her half-dressed state speaks volumes.
She feels dirty.
Guren was never supposed to be a casual drunk hook-up, for one. He was always the one she promised herself she would wait for, that she would stay herself for, and now she’s soiled that.
For two, she’s ruined more than their relationship. There’s also Shinya to consider. Even Mahiru wouldn’t lie about this to him. It would be cruel.
Because Guren cheated on him. And Mahiru wanted him to.
For three, she hurt him. She broke their promise. She kissed him without his consent, damn near had sex with him while the only go-ahead he had given her was a rough kiss and her name rolling off his tongue in a breathy moan.
She’s so fucking stupid.
There is no way to fix this. No way to come back from it. If Guren hadn’t stopped them when he did, there’s no doubt they would’ve had sex. And Mahiru hates that she isn’t sure if she’s grateful or angry that he stopped them from going all the way.
She has to face the consequences of her actions eventually, though. She can’t avoid someone she lives with forever, let alone the person she loves most in the world.
She sheds what little is left on her of yesterday’s outfit and dresses in fresh clothes. She takes her time, though, trying to even out her breathing, to calm the anxiety swimming through her. It’s a mostly fruitless effort, but by the time she comes out of her room, she’s at least properly steeled herself up.
Her head aches. Her throat is very dry.
There is no sound in the apartment aside from that of her door closing.
She listens for a moment. “Guren?” she calls, wincing as sound of her own voice comes back to her.
There is no answer.
She makes her way to his room and knocks on the door.
There is no answer.
She cracks it open. The bed is still made up, clearly not slept in. The lights are off. She gets the feeling that he never did come here after leaving her room last night.
“Fuck,” she mutters. The word gets lost in the emptiness of the room.
She leaves it, closing the door behind her, and grabs her phone. There are only four people Guren could possibly turn to right now. Three, maybe, because Mito would probably yell at him if he told her what had happened.
So, three people. Unless he was crazy enough to go to Shinya, but Mahiru dreads to think that. Guren is an honest person, but if he talks to Shinya before she gets a chance to talk to him…
She calls Sayuri, fingers shaking.
She picks up after just a few rings. “Mahiru-san? What’s wrong?”
“Is Guren there?” she asks quickly.
“No, he’s not…. Why? Is he gone?”
“Y-yes, but…” She inhales sharply. “I need to find him, but I—I don’t—”
Sayuri waits a moment for her to string together the words, but she doesn’t know what she could possibly say.
Sayuri sighs. “We’ll help you, but you have to tell me what’s wrong first. Did you have a fight?”
“Yes.” She pauses. “No.”
“Okay, just relax, Mahiru-san. I’ll ask Yuki-chan to pick you up, okay? I doubt he’d do anything rash.”
“I know,” she says. “I…”
“Hey, take some deep breaths, okay? Whatever happened will be fine, I promise.”
“Okay,” she says shakily. “I’m going to call someone else.”
“I’ll send Yuki-chan right away,” Sayuri promises.
“Right,” Mahiru says hollowly. “Thanks.”
“It’s no problem,” she says. “Talk to you in a bit, okay?”
“Yeah,” Mahiru says. “In a bit.”
She hangs up the phone, closes her eyes tight. Goshi, then, she thinks.
She calls him.
“What’s up?” he asks.
“Is Guren there?”
“Funny you’d ask that,” he says. “He was, but he left when he woke up. He didn’t tell me where he was going or what he was doing. I tried calling him, but I think his phone is off.”
She’s pretty sure her heart stops beating.
“How long ago did he leave?”
“Uh, I’m not completely sure. An hour ago? Maybe?”
“Shit,” she says.
“Are you okay?”
“Nope. Thanks, though. If you get a hold of him, tell him to call me, please.”
“Sure thing,” he says.
“Bye for now, then.”
She hangs up on him, too.
She doubts he’s at Mito’s, but she gives her a call, too.
“Is Guren there?”
“No.” Mahiru can practically hear the frown in her face. “Should he be?”
“No,” she says. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I have to go.”
“See you around, Mito-san.”
She hangs up before Mito can say anything else.
She’s so fucked.
She attempts to call Guren, but, like Goshi said, his phone seems to be turned off, because it doesn’t even ring.
She doesn’t move until her phone rings. She answers it immediately, holding her breath, but the voice that speaks is Shigure’s:
“Come outside,” she says. “I’ll meet you at the entrance, okay?”
“Okay,” she says.
And hangs up.
This is going to be a very, very bad day.
Shigure doesn’t ask any questions on their drive back to her apartment, but as soon as they get there, Sayuri bombards her with them.
But Shigure puts a hand on Mahiru’s shoulder and shakes her head at Sayuri, and they both silently let her take off her shoes and come inside.
Once she is sitting, Sayuri offers her a cup of tea. She declines, if only because she might throw anything she ingests up again.
“Thanks for letting me come,” she murmurs.
Shigure and Sayuri exchange a glance.
“Can you tell us what happened?” Sayuri coaxes.
“The long, honest version or the short, half-lie version?”
Sayuri’s lips twitch up a little sadly. “The honest one, if you wouldn’t mind.”
She supposes it was unfair to ever assume she could hide it all.
“Guren and I made a promise last August,” she explains. “Because...because I have bad habits.”
“Bad habits?” Sayuri echoes.
“Y-yeah. I’m a heavy drinker, actually. And I’ve used casual sex to cope with my own emotional shortcomings since we graduated.” Her face burns. She looks away from that. “But last August, Guren and I made a promise. If I could go a year without drinking or sleeping with someone, he would let me be more independent, but until then, he was going to watch my every move, and talk me out of doing the wrong thing if I ever tried to.
“I was good until November, when I had one drink. And it was just one, but he didn’t care. Another year, from November, and I was determined to do it, but last night…”
Her throat is very thick. She shakes her head, turns back to look at them. “I got drunk. And when I came home, Guren had waited up for me. And—and I…”
“It’s okay, Mahiru-san,” Sayuri says. “You don’t to talk if you don’t want to.”
“We almost had sex,” she blurts. “We were halfway to it before he stopped us. I haven’t heard from him since.”
They both stare at her.
“Wow,” Shigure says after a moment. “I’m surprised...I never thought Guren…”
“Me either,” Sayuri says faintly. “I had no idea he felt that way about you.”
“Does he, though?” she asks miserably. “It probably didn’t feel like I was in it for anything more than to have sex with someone to him. And—and what about Shinya? Guren’s going to tell him. He probably already has, and I don’t—I can’t—”
“Calm down,” Sayuri says gently. “Guren won’t abandon you over this, Mahiru-san. He loves you, albeit in a different way than we all thought, but he definitely loves you. And Shinya-san loves Guren. He wouldn’t make Guren choose between you.”
“But there’s a lot more to this than you know, Sayuri-san,” she mutters. “It’s not just about Guren and me.”
“Well, sure.” She blinks. “I know you and Shinya-san get along, and that he’s Guren’s significant other, but isn’t it more important that you smooth things out with Guren first?”
“N-no, that’s not what I mean.” She takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I knew Shinya before Guren introduced him to me.”
Shigure raises an eyebrow. “How?” she asks.
She runs a hand through her hair, anxious. “I’ve slept with him.”
“Oh.” Their eyes are both wide with surprise.
“We talked about it. We weren’t going to tell Guren at all. B-but I started spending more time with him alone, if only because he used to be a sex addict, too, and he knew best how to help me, and—and I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about someone like that, but I don’t think I’m supposed to feel like I’m falling in love with my best friend’s boyfriend.”
They both continue to stare at her.
She slams her head against the table with a groan. “I can’t do this,” she complains. “This is so ridiculous.”
Before either of them can come up with something to say, Mahiru’s phone rings.
She stands up very quickly, answering it immediately.
Her stomach flips. She does the only thing she can think to do: she hangs up on him.
Sayuri and Shigure both stare at her.
Her phone rings again.
She answers it immediately.
“What the fuck?” Guren asks. “Why did you hang up on me?”
“I got scared!”
“Well, don’t do it again!”
He sounds really angry. Her hands are shaking very badly.
She does the only thing she can think to do: she hangs up on him.
She sinks back into the chair. Her head hurts.
Her phone rings again.
She answers it with a quick, “I’m so sorry.”
“Where are you?” he asks.
“Where are you?”
“At home,” he says. “I’m sorry I left. I was angry, but I shouldn’t have just left you alone.”
“You had every right to be angry!”
“Don’t be stupid,” he snaps. “I’m not angry with you. I’m angry with myself.”
“You should be angry with me!”
“Why? Because you asked me if it was okay and I consented?”
“You never consented, though!”
“Of course I consented, you idiot! That’s the problem!”
Her mouth is very dry.
“Where are you?” he asks again.
“I’m at Shigure-san and Sayuri-san’s apartment. I’ve been looking for you since I woke up.”
“Come home,” he says.
“Did you talk to Shinya?”
He is quiet for a very long time.
“No,” he finally says. “I wanted to, but it’s more important we talk first.”
“Are you sure you aren’t just scared?”
“Of course I’m scared!”
She sighs. “Okay,” she says. “I’m sorry. Will you come pick me up?”
“Of course,” he mutters. “I’ll be there right away.”
He hangs up. Her phone falls from her grasp, hitting the table with a loud thud.
Sayuri looks at the phone, then up to her again.
“I know this is a personal question, but...which one of you started it, anyway?”
“I did,” she mutters. “He said it wasn’t okay. I shouldn’t have let it get as far as it did.”
“He said it wasn’t okay?”
“I—I don’t know. He said it wasn’t, but I kept trying to convince him, anyway. I think I remember eventually going to step back, but he kissed me, and things escalated, and he kept saying it was wrong , and I knew it was, somewhere, but I couldn’t stop and he wasn’t stopping, and I don’t know if he was convincing me or himself it was wrong before he finally pushed me away.”
“I see,” Shigure says quietly. “Then, I wouldn’t say any of it wasn’t consensual. Maybe the initial action, but just because you both knew it wasn’t appropriate doesn’t mean you both didn’t want it.”
“Right,” Sayuri agrees. “Anything that happened is just as much Guren’s fault as yours. If anything, it might even be more. He wasn’t drunk. You were.”
“Right,” Mahiru echoes. “I—I’m not sure yet. But we’ll talk about it. We’ll figure it out.”
“Of course you will,” Sayuri says. “Guren isn’t Guren if he doesn’t have you by his side.”
Mahiru hopes it’s true.
The drive home is silent. When they get home, they are silent. Mahiru makes them tea, and they drink it in silence.
Finally Guren asks, “Are you okay?”
She looks down at her cup. “No,” she says.
“I shouldn’t have left,” he says, a little miserable-sounding. “I heard you crying when I left, and I couldn’t get the sound out of my head all night. I still can’t.”
She shakes her head. “Don’t,” she says hoarsely. “I started it all. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I shouldn’t have tried to tell you it was okay.”
“It doesn’t matter.” He sounds frustrated. “I’ve never thought of you as anything other than my best friend, but last night I wanted you. And I think I still do, but the problem is that nothing’s different. You’re still Mahiru. You’re still my best friend. I’ve always found you attractive, but you are attractive, so it’s not like that should matter.”
Mahiru feels sicks.
“I don’t want to think I just wanted someone to fuck,” she says. “Do you think that, Guren?”
He hesitates a moment. “I...I do a bit, yeah.”
She swallows back the bitter taste rising in her mouth. “You could never be just someone to fuck,” she whispers. “I...I…”
She looks up at him, taking a deep breath. “I love you,” she says. “I’ve loved you for a long time.”
He sets down his cup. She wonders why they’re talking about this over tea, as if it’s just a casual conversation.
His eyes are deadly serious.
“Since we entered high school.”
He inhales sharply. “Jesus,” he mutters.
“I don’t know if I wanted you to love me back or not,” she says quickly. “I mean, I definitely wanted you to, but I’m not lovable. I’m—I’m a liar, so much of a liar that I don’t always know who I am, and I always wanted you to have better, but I...I could never figure out how to stop loving you.” Her eyes sting. There is no part of her that is okay with saying any of this.
“I just wanted to be your friend,” she says. A tear slips down her cheek. And another. And another. “I never wanted to hurt you, Guren. Of course it hurt me, but better to hurt myself by loving you than hurt you by letting you love the person you thought I was.”
He’s quiet for a long moment.
“I had no idea,” he finally says. “I had no idea you felt like that.”
She is crying in earnest now. She sure has been crying a lot lately.
But she gives a small laugh. “I know you didn’t. You’ve always been pretty oblivious. Everyone else noticed it, but you never did.”
She nods, sniffling. “Mito-san asked me about it in our second year of high school. In November, when I started realizing I’d missed my chance, Sayuri-san and Shigure-san were the ones who helped to pick me back up from it. And Kureto really did think we were married for a reason. After all, he and Aoi-san were the same as we were through high school.”
“This is so much,” he mutters.
“I know I’m only your best friend,” she says. “And I’m okay with only being that, if you’ll even still let me.”
“What?” He meets her eyes, shocked. “Mahiru, no, you don’t understand. I thought about it last night. I thought about it more this morning. No matter what way I look at it, you’re not just my best friend.”
He sighs. “I’m so stupid, Mahiru. Nothing’s changed. Don’t you get it? I was always content to live with you, because I never wanted to live with someone else, because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, and I never stopped to wonder about why, but after last night…”
“Guren, y-you can’t.” She wipes at her eyes. “What about Shinya?”
“I don’t know, Mahiru!” He stands up abruptly, clearly agitated. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with any of this!”
“We need to talk to him,” she insists.
“Right now?!” His eyes widen in alarm. “Mahiru, I can’t do that!”
“Yes, you can,” she says. “Sit down.”
He sits down.
“Shinya hasn’t been completely honest with you, either,” she says. “Because he’s scared of things, too. So we need to talk about it. All three of us. Together.”
He stares at her.
“If you don’t call him, I will.”
He stares at her.
She grabs her phone. “I’m serious.”
“You don’t get to stop being honest now,” she says. “We can’t lie about this. It’s more than the fact that you cheated on him.”
He winces. “Don’t say that.”
“What? That you cheated? You did, Guren. It doesn’t matter if you knew it was wrong. You still almost slept with me.”
“I know that, but—!”
“There’s no excuse for either of us!” she snaps. “I did something wrong, and you didn’t stop me until the damage was already done.”
He grabs the phone from her hand.
“Fine,” he says. “I’ll call him.”
And he does exactly that.
They are silent for a moment, and then Guren asks, “Shinya?”
Mahiru inspects her cup again.
“I need to talk to you about something.” … “Yeah, now.” … “I’ll explain when you get here.” … “Yes, Mahiru is here.” … “No, nobody’s dead.” … “Okay, see you soon.”
He hangs up and hands her phone back.
“Almost makes you wish someone really was dead, huh?”
He snorts, but his eyes are filled with something more like dread than like mirth. “A little bit, yeah.”
She takes a sip of her tea. “I’m really sorry, Guren,” she mutters. “I messed up everything, didn’t I?”
He shakes his head. “No, Mahiru, don’t. Don’t blame yourself. I let you go out. I let you kiss me. I let you do everything else you did to me. Because I wanted to, and I hadn’t even realized it until it was happening.”
“You wouldn’t have realized if I hadn’t done it.”
“And then you’d never have told me you loved me.” He sighs. “And, anyway, I don’t think I could live without you and never realize. I would’ve noticed eventually that I missed you in a different way than I always thought I would.”
She takes a longer drink from her cup this time.
“But you love Shinya,” she says after a moment. “Don’t you?”
He nods. “I don’t know what to do about it,” he mutters.
“There’s something else I have to tell you,” Mahiru says thickly. “But I can’t until Shinya’s here.”
As if in answer to her statement, the doorbell rings.
“I’ll get it,” Guren says.
Mahiru nods absently. She drains her cup completely. Perhaps she should make more tea, but it’s not as if tea can make any of this better.
Within a few minutes, Shinya enters their apartment, a crease of worry lining his face. His expression only worsens as he sees Mahiru, dishevelled, still, from the night before, fresh tear tracks on her face.
“Hey, Mahiru,” he says slowly.. “What’s up?”
She can’t look at him without feeling guilty, but she pushes past the discomfort and offers him a small smile.
“Sit down,” she says.
He glances back at Guren, then back to her, before he gives a small shrug and does as she told him.
Guren resumes his seat.
“This is very tense,” Shinya remarks. “Care to explain?”
Guren opens his mouth, then closes it again.
Before Mahiru registers it, though, she is speaking:
“I did something wrong.”
“Wrong,” he repeats. “You’ll have to be more specific.”
Guren scowls down at his hands. “Don’t take the flak for this, Mahiru. You—”
“It’s my fault, though!”
“But I should’ve stopped you!”
“Just to clarify,” Shinya says, “nobody actually is dead, right?”
“No,” Guren says. “It’s— We—”
“I kissed him,” Mahiru says abruptly.
“Oh…. Okay. Why?”
Before she can say anything, Guren is shaking his head at her. “It wasn’t just a kiss.” He turns back to Shinya. “We slept together.”
“It wasn’t even close to that, though!”
“I’m sorry,” Shinya says. “I’m a little confused.”
“I took off his shirt!”
“Why does that matter?!”
Shinya raises an eyebrow. “Okay, back up. You kissed, right?”
“Right,” Guren says. “She kissed me.”
“Then you said no!”
“Then I kissed her.”
“After you said no?”
“But didn’t I kiss you more than once?”
Guren sighs, frustrated. “I don’t know! I wasn’t keeping count. It was gross. It tasted like alcohol.”
“Rum,” she remembers. “I definitely kissed you more than once. After you said no.”
“But then I kissed you.”
“And that’s not anything near consent.”
“But nothing happened!”
“She took of your shirt,” Shinya reminds him.
“And I took off hers!”
“No, if I remember right, I took off mine.”
“After I tried to take it off myself!”
Shinya rests his face against his hand, looking between them. “So, all you’re trying to say is you have a thing for Mahiru.”
“No!” they both cry.
“He doesn’t have a—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mahiru, of course I have a thing for you!”
Mahiru hates his honesty.
“And you have a thing for him?” Shinya asks.
She scowls. “Unfortunately.”
They both stare at him.
“You know I expected this to happen eventually, right? Well, maybe not this , but I have to be honest with you Guren, I’m a little relieved. Between us, I was sure I would be the one to cheat.”
Mahiru frowns. “That’s not fair to yourself. You wouldn’t do that.”
“I might, though,” he says. “Because I’ve done it before. Guren’s not the first person I’ve been with since I stopped, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Guren asks. “Why would you cheat?”
Shinya glances at Mahiru, questioning. She gives a small nod.
He looks back to Guren. “I guess we have our own explaining to do.”
“You make me feel like some scandalous homewrecker,” Mahiru mutters.
“That’s probably because you are.”
Shinya sighs. “We would’ve told you eventually, and I think Mahiru wanted to, but it meant facing some of the nastier parts of myself. So, don’t blame Mahiru, okay?”
Mahiru shakes her head. “I could’ve told him any time, too.”
“But you respect the fact that it’s for me to share, don’t you?”
She lets out a small huff. “Yes.”
Guren looks between them, more than a little confused.
“Mahiru and I met years ago,” Shinya explains.
“In a bar,” Mahiru says. “Where we were both looking for someone to pleasure us for a night.”
Guren stares at her blankly.
“More than once,” Shinya adds. “I know I wasn’t hers, but she was probably one of my most frequent hook-ups, if not the most frequent. Every other time, I was only with complete strangers. But Mahiru was there so often, and, well, she’s got some experience, doesn’t she?”
Guren stares at him blankly.
“I know it’s wrong we didn’t tell you,” Mahiru says hurriedly. “But Shinya’s past that part of his life. And so am I. It’s almost been a year, hasn’t it? And, anyway, now you know the whole reason why I ever got into the casual sex, anyway, so—”
“Because you’re in love with me?” He sounds almost hostile.
She swallows. “Yes,” she says. “No. A little bit.”
“Ah, now that I think about it, that explains why you wanted to hate me so badly, too,” Shinya says. “I thought it was just because my very existence made you want to throw up.”
Mahiru frowns at him. “Shinya, aren’t you mad?”
He shakes his head. “A little disappointed, maybe, but these circumstances are a little hard to be angry with. It actually opens up a pretty important conversation that we’d have to have eventually, anyway.”
“What conversation would that be?”
“Just wait. Let Guren recover.”
They both turn to look at him.
He’s obviously taking his time to process it all, and understandably so, Mahiru thinks. After all, it’s almost been a year since he started seeing Shinya. They fell in love so quickly, too.
And now it’s all coming out that Shinya and Mahiru have a history, after Guren has confessed he has feelings he has been sleeping on for years for Mahiru.
Finally, he says, “I can’t believe you had sex with her and I only got halfway.”
“Guren!” Mahiru says, appalled.
But Shinya merely laughs. “Yeah, but one of us didn’t have to feel guilty about it. I’m sure you would’ve gotten to have sex, too, if that hadn’t been the case.”
“Why do you sound so calm?!” Mahiru demands. “I wanted to fuck your boyfriend!”
“Well, yeah, I guess when you say it like that, it does sound kind of bad. But, Mahiru, can you honestly say you don’t want to fuck me as well?”
She sniffs. “Why do something I’ve already done?”
“Because maybe you could get me into a bed instead of a bathroom,” he jokes.
“Oh, would you stop bringing that up?”
“This is disgusting to listen to,” Guren says. “We’re getting nothing resolved by sitting here and cracking jokes.”
“Sorry,” Shinya says. “But I’m honestly not very angry. I think if Mahiru kissed me, I’d probably let her have her way with me, too, at least for a bit.”
“What?” Mahiru scowls. “That’s so messed up!”
“What are you trying to say?” Guren asks, sceptic.
“I’m trying to say that this is less of an issue than both of you are trying to make it out to be. Just listen, okay?”
They glance at each other, then sigh and give Shinya their full attention.
“Mahiru and I already have history,” Shinya explains. “Just because we were only in it for the physical stuff doesn’t mean there were never emotions involved. I don’t know about her, but there’s a reason I tended to seek her out, beyond her sexual abilities.”
He shrugs. “Sure. You’re attractive, and I guess you always had a little more emotion in your eyes than you probably would’ve liked. You were an easy fuck, sure, but you were the best easy fuck I ever had.”
She scowls at him.
He laughs. “I guess it’s kind of funny that we wound up like this, huh? The more time I spent with you, the more I regretted ever thinking you were just an easy fuck. You’re so stupidly easy to like, for all you claim you’re impossible to love. I thought for a while that I only cared because if you liked me, then Guren would, too, but then I started helping you just to help you, and I figured I really liked you for yourself. It was pretty easy to fall in love with Guren’s supposed other half when I had already fallen in love with him.”
She stares at him.
“Don’t you remember the first time you came to me for help? In November? I wasn’t scared to tell you anything. You’re so easy to talk to. You’re easy to understand. You’re easy to care about.”
“But you still haven’t told Guren?”
“No joke intended, you make me feel kind of naked. You make me want to get in touch with my past. So, if you’re the past, then shouldn’t your other half be the future?”
Mahiru glances at Guren.
“Mahiru, I need you to be honest with me,” Shinya says. “How do you feel about me?”
She doesn’t want to acknowledge it, but she already has. She acknowledged it earlier that day in Sayuri and Shigure’s apartment.
The truth is there, rising up on her lips with almost no thought at all:
“You make my heart beat really fast,” she says. “Like I’m a high school girl with a crush. I like it when you touch me. I love the way you deal with my sister. I’ve wondered what it be like to kiss you but not have sex with you.”
“Mahiru?” Guren asks weakly.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
“Mahiru, you want to get married one day, right?”
She blinks. “Well, I did when I was a kid, yeah. I kind of figured if it wasn’t Guren, then there was no point as I got older, though.”
“That’s adorable,” Shinya says. “But I’m just asking, because if you value monogamy above all else, I won’t even try to breach this subject.”
“I—I guess I value commitment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean monogamy.”
He nods. “I agree. What about you, Guren?”
“I’ve honestly never thought about it.”
“Well, start thinking about it,” he says. “I’m just throwing the idea out there, but if Mahiru loves Guren and Guren loves me and I love Guren and Guren loves Mahiru and Mahiru could come to love me and I’m already halfway to loving Mahiru, then wouldn’t it make more sense for all of us to be together?”
“Like, in a polyamorous relationship?” Mahiru asks.
“Right,” Shinya says. “Just like that. And then we all get what we want.”
Guren frowns. “Would it really be that easy, though?”
“Oh, definitely not. If one thing went wrong, everything would. But, Guren, if you love somebody, don’t you want to be with them?”
“Of course,” he says. “But is it worth the risk that something could go wrong?”
“Is it worth the risk to pick one of us and wind up heartbroken?” Mahiru asks.
“Exactly,” Shinya says. “Won’t it feel better this way?”
Mahiru reaches for his hand and gives it a small squeeze. “Guren, we don’t need to decide now. If you need to think about it and process everything, then you can. But if you’re willing to, I think we should give it a shot.”
“There’s nothing you won’t risk losing that you wouldn’t lose otherwise,” Shinya says. “I’ve already thought about it a lot, but I wasn’t sure when or if Mahiru was ever going to share her feelings. I had no idea if I was right about them, either, but now that I do know…”
“But it’s been a long day,” Mahiru says. “We should both think about it before we rush into anything.”
“Absolutely,” Shinya says. “Really, though, Guren, I’m not mad about what happened. I do think you should’ve known better, but I can’t blame you. I’ve known for a while your feelings for Mahiru weren’t really that platonic.”
He’s crazy about you.
Mahiru blinks at him, then groans. “Oh my God. You told me that, and I just let it fly over my head!”
Shinya laughs. “Well, it is true. He talks about you like you’re his favourite thing in the world.”
The longer Shinya stays in their lives, the more Mahiru finds Guren talks about him like he hung stars in the sky.
She says, “He talks about you like that, too, you know.”
They both glance at Guren, who is deep in thought.
“What do we do now?” he asks, catching them watching him.
“We think about it for a bit,” Mahiru says. “Away from each other. If you decide you want to do this, it has to be for yourself.”
“Not everybody can do polyamory,” Shinya agrees. “You just need to decide if you want to try it or not, and if it’s not your thing, we won’t force you, by any means.”
Mahiru nods. “Listen, Guren, it’s been a really long day, and I think you need to think this stuff all through. I know I have some thinking to do, and I’m sure Shinya does as well, but you seem the most shocked of all of us…”
“I agree,” Shinya says. “So, for now, I’m going to leave you alone with that. It’s best if you decide on your own.”
Mahiru stands at the same time as he does. Guren doesn’t look up at either of them.
“I’m going to go, too,” she says. “Just for tonight, okay? But I won’t leave you here all alone. Would you be okay with it if I asked Mito-san to come here?”
He sighs. “If you feel you need to.”
“Okay,” she says. “Then I’m going to leave now. Guren—”
Shinya puts a hand on her arm and shakes his head.
“What?” Guren asks.
She sighs. “Have a good day. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
She and Shinya make their way for the door. They stand outside in the hallway a moment once it is closed behind them.
“I’m sorry to hear you drank last night,” Shinya says quietly. “I know you’ve been doing really well lately.”
“Yeah,” she mutters. “I’m sorry about it, too.”
He kisses her forehead. She looks up at him, surprised.
“Don’t feel too down about it,” he advises. “Just make sure you take care of yourself.”
She smiles at him. “Yeah, I will.”
“Glad to hear it. Have a good day, Mahiru.”
“Thanks. You too.”
He smiles back at her, and before either of them can say anything else, he turns and walks away.
She watches him go for a moment, then reaches for her phone. First, she supposes she’ll have to call Mito.
She glances back at the apartment door. It feels massively wrong to leave Guren like this, but she knows there is no way she can help him feel any better about any of this. They’re very different people. Even though she feels somewhat less guilty about what happened last night, she’s no doubt Guren is still beating himself up over it.
She sighs. It’ll be a long path back to something that works for all of them.
She spends the night at Sayuri and Shigure’s, but she doesn’t sleep well at all.
She’s open to the idea of a polyamorous relationship. She could come to care for Shinya as Guren does, she’s sure, and it’s not like she will ever stop loving Guren, but…
Still, she hasn’t been in a proper relationship before at all. In high school, she went on dates, sure, but she always wound up leaving her dating opportunities behind in favour of waiting on Guren.
Waiting on Guren, who’s close enough for her to touch, now.
She can barely remember the way he felt. She can barely remember the burn of his touch or the noises he managed to draw out of her. She can barely remember how he looked every time his face was close enough to hers to see.
And, fuck, there’s Shinya, too. She definitely doesn’t remember what he felt like. Whatever they had, though, was decidedly different from the moment she shared with Guren.
Shinya was someone to fuck, after all.
But he’s not anymore.
She doesn’t really sleep at all, honestly. But by the time morning comes, she feels so much more peaceful.
She eats breakfast with Sayuri and Shigure, and they both seem rather concerned about her.
But Mahiru is okay. Mahiru can accept whatever comes next, because she knows things are finally starting to turn around.
“Are you really sure you’re okay?” Sayuri asks.
“Yes,” she says. “I’m great, Sayuri-san.”
“Absolutely! If I were you, I’d worry more about Guren. I think he’s having a slight moral dilemma, honestly.”
“Well, he isn’t that good at accepting new things,” Shigure says thoughtfully. “That doesn’t surprise me much.”
“He’ll figure it out eventually,” Mahiru says. “I think he already knows what he wants. He just doesn’t know if it’s right yet.”
“You think he doesn’t think polyamory is right?” Sayuri asks.
“No, not that. I think he doesn’t think it’s right to let Shinya forgive him for what he did yet. And I understand why, but...well, he did forgive us. And he wouldn’t want Guren to feel like he hasn’t.”
“Oh...I suppose you’re right. I think anybody would feel that way in his position.”
Mahiru nods. “I think so, too. But he’ll tell us once he’s figured it out. And I’m sure Mito-san is helping him.”
They both laugh.
“I’m sure she is,” Sayuri agrees.
“If there’s anything Mito-chan can do, it’s keep stupid boys in line,” Shigure says, amused.
“That’s what I thought, too,” Mahiru says, laughing. “I’ll give him time, though. He’ll talk to me when he’s ready to.”
“I’m glad you feel better about this all,” Sayuri says. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you look as hopeful as you look now.”
She blinks. “What do you mean?”
“Even in school, you always looked like your smiles were more fake than the rest of ours were,” Sayuri says. “But I think when you laughed just now, it was like you were actually looking forward to what’s coming.”
Mahiru’s cheeks burn slightly. “I…”
Sayuri laughs. “It’s not a bad thing, Mahiru-san. It just means you aren’t dreading what comes next. And that’s a really good thing. I would be.”
“I trust Guren to make the choice he thinks is right for him.”
“I think that’s where our biggest difference is,” Sayuri jokes.
Mahiru understands what she means. It’s not as if Guren’s friends don’t trust him, but they definitely see a different side of him than Mahiru does. After all, she has known him since they were kids, and they have only known him since high school. And, not to mention, Mahiru has lived with him for five years. She gets to see his rational side a lot more.
And he has always been very careful when it came to making decisions that would affect other people.
When it comes down to it, Mahiru figures she’s not for the idea because of Shinya. She likes him, sure, feels like she is falling for him, but the difference between Shinya in Guren lies in a decade of unrequited love.
Ah, but she supposes it’s not as unrequited as she thinks it is.
Truthfully, she wants to love Shinya, too. He’s good to her. They have natural chemistry. She thinks he’s beautiful, from the way he thinks to the way he talks to the way he smiles at her sometimes. But if it came down to it, she probably could live her life without him. It would hurt for a while, but…
But that’s not exactly true, either, because they wouldn’t be the same without him.
She and Guren have always been two. A duo. Two halves of one whole. But Mahiru watched Guren give Shinya a massive piece of himself, watched Shinya accept it, and she thought the hole in her heart was just a side effect of not being the person he was devoting himself to, but the truth is this:
The hole in her heart has always been there, and it probably won’t go away.
She likes to pretend, though, that somehow Guren’s existence can make it better. That Shinya’s guidance can help her patch it up. That alcohol and sex and all the adrenaline that accompanies those things can just make it disappear. That’s not anything to do with loving Guren; that hole is there because she is an abused child, from an abusive household, and she has to live with what that did to her psyche for the rest of her life.
Guren and Mahiru aren’t two halves of a whole anymore. They haven’t been for months and months.
Shinya isn’t someone who they both like. He’s someone they brought into their life, and can no longer live without.
Because Shinya compared her to the past and he compared Guren to the future, but Mahiru knows this about herself:
The future terrifies her, but she has always wanted to stay in the present.
She doesn’t think that it’s exactly right to put them all on a timeline, but she understands what Shinya is saying. Mahiru is nostalgic. Guren is ideologic.
Shinya is content.
No, they haven’t been two halves of a whole for a while. Guren bared his heart to Shinya, and Shinya bared his soul to Mahiru, and Mahiru in turn gave both of them every terrible thought in her head, and…
And they accepted her, picked her up in their own ways, and brought her back to the path she was always supposed to walk.
So, no. Guren is not Mahiru’s “other half.” He’s part of a group of three. He’s her best friend, her decade-long crush, one of the only people she has ever loved, and he is dating the person Mahiru is falling for.
Before they’ve cleaned up from breakfast, Mahiru’s phone rings.
She would ignore it, and she goes to try, but Shigure and Sayuri insist she picks it up rather than help them clean up.
“Special circumstances,” Shigure says. “It’s not disrespectful if he needs you more than we do.”
She can’t really argue with that.
She accepts the call. “Hello?”
She supposes she didn’t check the caller ID or anything before taking the call, but…
“I know you’re probably waiting for Guren to call you,” she says, apologetic. “And I promise you he would’ve by now. But, uh, he’s still sleeping.”
“Yeah. I considered waking him up, but I didn’t really want to have to deal with that.”
“What are you calling me for, then?”
“Well, I have to go home at some point!” she says hotly. “If I wanted a babysitting job, the last person I’d want to babysit is Guren!”
“Does that even count? He’s five months older than you.”
“Whatever. I just wanted to let you know that I’m going home.”
Mahiru laughs. “I’m only joking, Mito-san. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be going back soon, anyway.”
“Well, it’s just…” She pauses a moment. Even through the phone, Mahiru can practically hear her thinking. “It’s just that I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sound so genuine,” she finishes.
“Well, if I have, clearly not often.” She sighs. “Anyway, I’ll see you around, Mahiru-san. Take care of Guren, okay?”
Before Mahiru can ask what she means, she hangs up the phone.
She glances back at Sayuri and Shigure, who are both looking at her expectantly.
She sighs. “Well, I figured it wouldn’t be that easy. Still, it’s pretty late to sleep in, don’t you think?”
“Unless he had a late night,” Sayuri points out. “But I’m sure you could wait for him at home, Mahiru-san. Yuki-chan can take you back, if you want.”
Mahiru shakes her head. “No, it’s okay. I’ll just ask Shinya. But…”
Sayuri raises an eyebrow. “What?”
She frowns. “Do I really seem so different so suddenly?”
They both laugh at her. She only frowns more.
“Yes,” Sayuri says. “Really, Mahiru-san. You’re not usually in a good mood when we see you.”
“I’m in good moods all the time!”
“Not with us,” she points out. “I’m not surprised Mito-chan was surprised to hear you sound so cheerful. Usually when you’re with all of us, you’re more likely to be yelling at her.”
She supposes she hadn’t really thought about it like that.
“Sorry,” she says.
“It’s not a problem or anything.” Sayuri blinks. “Guren’s the same way, after all.”
She scowls. “Like I’d want to be as grumpy as he is!”
They laugh again.
“Well, you’d better get home before he really is grumpy,” Sayuri says.
Mahiru sighs. “Yeah, you’re right.”
She calls Shinya. He picks up immediately.
“Mahiru?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she says. “Will you come pick me up?”
Sayuri and Shigure wave her off with their utmost enthusiasm. She thinks about how long they’ve been rooting for her, and how it must feel to know that all this is finally going to be resolved.
But when they get back home, Mahiru quickly deduces that Guren is probably still sleeping. They check on him, and, unsurprisingly, she’s absolutely correct.
“Jeez,” she complains. “How can he do that?”
“Ah, Mahiru, don’t judge,” Shinya chastises. “Look, just come a little closer.”
She does as he says. “What am I looking at?”
“Doesn’t he look adorable?”
She looks back to Guren again. He’s breathing very softly, asleep on his side. His hair is rather unkempt, and one hand is tucked beneath his cheek. Mahiru’s almost surprised he’s not drooling.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “Too bad he wouldn’t stay that way, huh?”
Shinya snickers. “I’m sure even bears look cute when they’re sleeping, though.”
“That’s not true,” she protests. “Bears are cute all the time.”
“Until they try to kill you!”
Beside him, Guren makes a small noise.
Shinya looks at her in alarm.
She holds up a hand, then gestures to Guren with a small nod of the head. He has fallen back asleep completely, but now he has twisted slightly so he’s more on his back than his side. His hand remains in the place it was before.
Shinya glances at her, letting out a small laugh. “I thought we were going to die,” he whispers.
“Maybe you,” she jokes. “But I run way faster than he does.”
They duck out of his room, laughing.
“Really, you’re right, though. I have no idea how he can sleep so soundly.”
“I have a theory about that, actually,” she says. “It’s because he’s a big fucking baby.”
Shinya snorts. “Of course you would say that,” he teases. “But we should let him sleep, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Mahiru agrees. “Want some tea?”
“Not really,” he says. “I feel like you’re a compulsive tea-maker.”
She frowns. “Have you considered trying to be?”
He rolls his eyes. “Honestly, I don’t think I need to be, considering how much tea you make.”
“It’s good for you.”
“You know, the more I think about it, the more I think you’d be the last person I’d really want to live with,” he remarks. “You probably have a pretty strict diet.”
“Not really,” she says, shrugging. She makes her way to the kitchen table and sits down with a small sigh. “Guren has me wrapped around his finger,” she explains. “I try my best to keep us healthy, but I like to buy him things he likes too much.”
“And here I thought it might be the other way around.” He takes a seat across from her. “I kind of assumed he went along with what you wanted, because he’s the definition of ‘whipped.’”
“And I’m not?”
He laughs. “Okay, fair point. But, really, you’ve lived together so long. It’s surprising you can tolerate each other so well at all.”
“I guess we just don’t know how to live on our own anymore.”
Shinya tilts his head slightly. “You know,” he says, “at first I felt like I was intruding on something. I mean, I guess I sort of was, but it felt like I’d taken both of your lives and completely fucked them up.”
“You did,” she says. “You’re good at fucking things up.”
“Is that supposed to offend me?”
She rolls her eyes. “No. I’m just telling the truth. If it helps, you ultimately did more good than bad.”
“Absolutely. In the past year, our lives have improved so much. Guren’s especially. He loves you a lot, Shinya.”
“And what about you?”
“I still wish I could’ve hated you,” she says. “But you’re pretty okay, I guess.”
“You’re pretty okay yourself.”
“Oh, come on, I’m way better than okay!”
“Are you, though?”
She scowls. “You’re so rude!”
He laughs. “And you’re cute when you get angry.”
“I am not!”
“You totally are.”
“You two are fucking annoying,” Guren grumbles.
Mahiru jumps. “D-don’t do that!”
He sighs, sitting down beside her. “Don’t do what?”
“Scare me like that! I thought you were still asleep!”
“I am a little bit,” he mutters.
“We can tell,” Shinya teases. “Just look at that bed hair.”
“Don’t look like that! It’s cute, isn’t it, Mahiru?”
“It is,” she agrees. “Super cute.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“No!” they cry, shocked.
He huffs. “Whatever. Anyway, don’t let me interrupt your conversation too much.”
“You called us annoying,” Shinya points out.
“Well, aren’t you? What’s your point?”
“We weren’t even doing anything annoying,” Mahiru says.
“You’re too happy for this early in the morning.”
“Oh my God.”
Shinya snorts. “It’s not that early, sweetheart. It’s almost noon.”
“Is it really?” He pauses, then catches the rest of Shinya’s statement. “And don’t call me ‘sweetheart,’ for God’s sake.”
Mahiru’s lips twitch slightly. “Well, at least you’re finally awake,” she says. “Late night?”
“Not really.” He rubs at his eyes. “I guess it’s easier to sleep when there’s nobody making noise all over the apartment.”
“You should be awake before nine every day!” she protests. “And it’s not like I’m your alarm clock or anything. You’re perfectly capable of waking up on your own. I know you’ve done it.”
He waves a dismissive hand at her.
“Well, how awake are you?” Shinya asks. “Awake enough to have a serious conversation?”
“Barely,” Guren says. “But yeah. Just make me some coffee after, okay?”
Since getting a job at the coffee shop, Mahiru has managed to master the craft of perfect coffee-making. Much to her chagrin, however, Guren has managed to make that a good excuse as to why they should always have coffee around.
He doesn’t even make it for himself, for fuck’s sake.
Mahiru sighs. “Okay, deal,” she says. “But only because I can’t deny you when you look so sleepy.”
“Is that really such a good thing?”
“Absolutely,” Shinya says firmly. “We already told you this.”
“Regardless,” Mahiru cuts in, “we can’t waste the day away talking about that.”
“Right,” Shinya agrees. “Guren, have you thought about what I said yesterday?”
“I have,” Guren says. “I still think you’re being too soft on us for what happened.”
Before Shinya can speak, Mahiru nods. “I agree. Trust is important, of course, but it’s blind to keep trusting someone once they’ve given you a reason not to.”
Shinya raises an eyebrow. “And then where would you be, Mahiru? The way I see it, you’ve broken a lot of people’s trust over the years, haven’t you? And I’m sure you’ve done things you’ve felt were unforgivable, too. It’s not like I’d expect it to happen again. Especially since it never would’ve happened if it had been anyone else, right?”
“I suppose,” Guren mutters. “Still, it was wrong.”
“It was my fault!” Mahiru says hotly.
“Can you stop saying that?”
“It’s not helping,” Shinya says abruptly. “Blaming yourself isn’t helping anything. You were drunk. You made a mistake. You recognize it as wrong. I can respect that. I can’t respect you taking all the blame for it, when there were two parties involved, and one of them was intoxicated.”
“I agree,” Guren says. “Maybe you started it, but I continued it, even though I knew better. I could’ve taken better care to make sure it didn’t happen at all.”
“But I broke our promise, too,” Mahiru points out. “I broke your trust in more ways than one.”
“Don’t be stupid,” he says. “You couldn’t undo almost twenty years of trust with something so small.”
Shinya shakes his head. “You’re trying to take the blame for this too much, Mahiru. Especially since I don’t want to blame anybody for anything. I’m not blind. I knew you two had something, whether you realized it or not. What’s more important is that it stopped before it went too far, the way I see it. So stop blaming yourselves for it. It’s not like you could change it, anyway.”
“Shinya, didn’t you say you—?”
He meets her eyes with a grave look. “My past isn’t going to keep me back from anything. Yours shouldn’t, either.”
She stares at him, flabbergasted. He must be assuming where her words were going, but, damn, if he isn’t absolutely right.
“So, besides what happened, then, tell me what you’re thinking about,” he says, glancing at Guren again.
He shrugs. “It does worry me a little bit that we’re not all coming from the same place, but I guess that ultimately doesn’t matter, right? It’s just that I’ve known Mahiru my whole life, and I’ve only known you a year. That’s a disparity I don’t really like.”
“I thought about that, too,” Shinya says.
Mahiru thought about it, yeah, but…
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Shinya finishes.
“Well, yeah. I mean, you’re thinking about it pretty logically, right? But if you meet someone and you click with them, doesn’t it start to feel like you’ve known them a lot longer than you really have?”
Mahiru can concede on that. After all, Shinya has only been around for a little less than a year, and yet Mahiru knows her life has changed drastically since then. After all, she may have slipped up on the drinking part, but she hasn’t hooked up with anybody in something like eight months. Mostly because every time she thought about it, either Shinya or Guren was close enough to grab her by the collar of her shirt and pull her back.
Not to mention, he has felt permanent for a while, now. And she knows she’s not the only one who feels it. Even Guren’s friends have remarked on it a few times.
Shinya is an irreplaceable figure in their lives, without a doubt.
“That’s what I was starting to think, too,” Guren says. “But I wasn’t sure.”
“Are you sure now?”
“I think so.”
Shinya turns his gaze on Mahiru. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“What are you thinking about?”
She glances between them. They are both watching her expectantly, but her mouth has suddenly gone dry.
“Mahiru?” Guren presses.
She swallows. “I don’t really want to say what I’m thinking,” she admits.
“You have to,” Shinya tells her.
“I have to,” she echoes.
“She does,” Shinya says firmly. “Don’t let her brush it away.”
Guren looks at her, but she looks away.
“I don’t know if it’s worth it,” she allows.
Shinya watched her patiently. “If what’s worth it?”
She gestures between the three of them. “This.”
“I don’t know if it’s worth for you to put yourselves through that.”
“Because you think you’d hurt us,” Shinya guesses.
“Y-yeah.” She laughs, a little shaky. “How’d you know?”
He smiles at her, but it is a decidedly sad look. “You’re a bit of an easy read.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Guren says.
“Mahiru thinks her lack of humanity is going to hurt us.”
Guren frowns. “Mahiru?”
“I want to be loved,” she says. “I want to love you and have you love me back. But I’m not…”
“You’re not okay,” Shinya finishes. “Because you still think you’re unworthy of being loved.”
“Right,” she says quietly.
“That’s ridiculous,” Guren says fiercely. “You’re not unlovable, Mahiru. Why do you keep insisting you are?”
“I can’t just turn it off,” she says miserably.
“I takes time,” Shinya agrees. “But, Mahiru, have you ever considered getting actual help? Closure is one thing. And putting a halt on your bad habits is another. It helps, yeah, but you can’t just acknowledge your problems. You have to work through them.”
Mahiru does know that, but she doesn’t have to like it.
“If you think you’re unworthy of love, though,” Shinya continues, “we have a duty to love you anyway. Until you realize that you deserve it.”
“But isn’t that frustrating?” She shakes her head. “I just don’t want to be your burden.”
“Everyone’s a bit of a burden,” Shinya says, shrugging. “It’s impossible to not drag your feet a little bit from time to time. But, Mahiru, you have to accept that we’ll pick you up and force you forward when you start to fall. That’s what your loved ones are for. The whole point is support.”
“And what happens if I can’t support you back?”
“I don’t think that will happen.”
“But if it does.”
“Then we figure out how to help you work past whatever’s making it too hard to care.”
“You’re a bit of an optimist, aren’t you?”
He laughs. “Not really. You’re just really pessimistic.”
“Is that really something you’re worried about?” Guren asks. He looks somewhat surprised.
“That’s silly,” he tells her. “I know you care. I doubt there’s anything you could do that could make me forget it.”
“I’m hard to understand, though. You said that yourself, Guren.”
“That doesn’t mean something bad, Mahiru!” He sounds a bit frustrated. Mahiru supposes she can’t really blame him.
“You’re not hard to understand to me,” Shinya says. “Guren’s just easily confused.”
“And he doesn’t get what you’ve been through,” he adds. “That’s what’s more important. Even if he’s been by your side all this time, he can’t possibly understand what what you’ve been through feels like.”
Because Mahiru went through five years of frequent alcohol-consumption and four of frequent sexual activity, but it wasn’t until this last year that Guren finally figured out how to make it his business.
She supposes it was a problem before, but it was one neither of them knew how to fix. But by the time he approached her about it, she had already gone about a year trying to change things for herself.
Her failures probably hurt more if it looks like she’s on the road to success than they do when she’s simply stuck at the bottom.
She says, “I know. And, really, I’ve no problems. Just concerns. But those are always there, aren’t they?”
She glances at Guren. “Yeah,” she says thickly. “They’re always there.”
“So, what do you say, then?”
She turns her gaze back to Shinya. His eyes are so stupidly soft.
It makes her feel so warm.
“I’m okay with it,” she says. “More than okay with it. If you’re okay with accepting me as I am, then I have no problems whatsoever.”
“I wouldn’t want you as anybody other than yourself.”
He grins at her. She wishes she could see that smile all the time.
“Sure,” Guren says. “I’m sure it’s the best way to do things at this point.”
Shinya laughs. “Oh, come on, Guren. You have to sound like you really want us before we can agree to that.”
“Say it!” he insists. “Tell us how much you love us and want to be with us!”
“You—you didn’t make Mahiru say that!”
“Okay, fine, I concur.” Shinya shoots Mahiru a somewhat devious look. “Say it, Mahiru.”
She gives a small laugh. “Really? Ah, well, if it’ll convince Guren, right?”
“Right,” he agrees. Pauses, then winks at her. “And I guess I want to hear you say it a little bit, too.”
“I like you both very much,” she says, beaming. “I want to be with you so much!”
“That sounds a little sarcastic,” he says, “but I accept it. Come on, Guren. It’s your turn!”
He sighs. “You’re such an idiot,” he says.
The fondness in his voice is blatant, though.
“Guren, you have to!”
“Fine, fine. I love you both and want to be with you. There. Happy?”
“Not really.” Shinya frowns. “That was depressing, honestly. But probably the best I’ll get, right?”
“Probably,” Mahiru agrees. “But we have all the time in the world to make him say it with a little more energy!”
“You’re right!” He beams. “I’m sure he’ll accept it eventually, right? We just have to keep pushing him.”
“You’re so annoying,” Guren mutters. “Didn’t someone promise me a coffee, too?”
Mahiru rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Be patient for once, though, yeah?”
“I don’t think he knows how to.”
Guren scowls. “Like you’re any better!”
Mahiru stands up slowly, legs a little stiff. “Coffee?” she offers, glancing at Shinya.
“I’d love some,” he says.
“You’d better get mine to me first.”
She snorts. “Okay, princess.”
She turns and make her way into the kitchen before either of them can say anything else, but the low hum of Guren’s remarks to Shinya follow her anyway.
It’s nice, she thinks. It feels normal, in a way things haven’t felt for quite a well.
She could definitely get used to this.
She sets about making their coffee in a much better mood than she think she’s been in in years.
The months come and go in a blur, and before Mahiru knows it, April is upon them for a second time.
As of today, it has been exactly one year since she has had a drink.
She doesn’t know if the promise stopped including sex or not, but she definitely can’t say she’s gone a year without that .
A year without random hook-ups, though? Absolutely. In fact, she’s almost close to two years.
The date puts her in a very good mood as soon as she checks it that morning.
She’s the first one up, which is far from abnormal but still a lot odd considering she slept in, herself. Still, Shinya and Guren are both rather heavy sleepers. She’s not sure how she manages to crawl out of bed every morning without disturbing them even a little bit, especially when she’s sandwiched between them all night.
She sips on a cup of coffee, thoughtful. She wonders if either of her boyfriends will have marked this date, but somewhat doubts it. They care about her progress, of course, but neither of them are overly meticulous about anything, let alone something so small.
Ah, well, it doesn’t feel very small, though.
By the time they finally drag themselves out of bed, Mahiru is on her second coffee.
Guren sits across from her, half-dead to the world, while Shinya comes behind her and drapes his arms over her shoulders.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Nothing,” he mutters. “Just wanted my favourite person to know I love her.”
He presses a small kiss against the back of her neck while Guren scowls.
“What am I, then?” he demands.
“Second favourite, maybe? Ah, I don’t know, though. Sayuri-san makes such amazing curry. I might like her a little more.”
“I can make curry, too!”
“Not as good as hers, though.”
Mahiru reaches up and grabs Shinya’s left hand, giving it a small tug. “Don’t make him grumpy,” she complains. “It’s a good day.”
“Is it?” He leans down, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Why is that?”
“Guess,” she says, dropping his hand and taking another drink from her mug.
“Oh, you know I’m bad at guessing games.”
“I would give you a hint, but I just can’t think of one.”
“I don’t even know what the date today is,” Guren says. “Do you?”
“April twenty-eighth,” she offers.
They both sit in silence, thoughtful.
“Oh!” Shinya says, lifting his head slightly. “I know! It’s our anniversary, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not!” Guren snaps. “That’s the tomorrow.”
“Think a little harder,” Mahiru suggests. “Maybe I’ll take pity on you and tell you eventually.”
“No need,” Guren says. “I know what it is.”
“Absolutely. It’s already been a year, hasn’t it?”
She beams at him. “Yep! Although, I was thinking, and I’m not sure if the conditions of that promise stretched to this.”
“Oh,” Shinya says. “That’s hard to say. But I don’t think it should, either way. It’s a different story if you sleep with people you know and love.”
“I agree,” Guren says. “I think we should celebrate.”
“You just want an excuse for me to buy you chocolate ice cream!”
Shinya laughs. “Blatant exploitation. Unbelievable.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but—!”
“Tsk, tsk, Guren. I know you have no excuse. No lying under my roof.”
He can’t even argue with her; she pays the rent.
“I do agree, though,” Shinya says. “About celebrating it.”
“Celebrate with a drink?” she suggests wryly.
He swats at her shoulder. “No. Bad. No drinking to celebrate not doing it.”
“I’m only joking, love.”
Guren scrunches up his nose. “It’s too early for pet names.”
“It’s never too early for pet names,” Shinya deadpans at the same time as Mahiru cries, “It’s already ten!”
“You’re both giving me a headache.”
“Then go back to bed,” Shinya says. “I’m sure we’d have a better time without you grumping up the whole damn kitchen.”
“You’re just trying to exclude me.”
“Am I?” Shinya asks innocently. “That’s an unfair judge of my intentions.”
He leans down and presses his teeth down over Mahiru’s earlobe, pulling at it gently.
“You’re a terrible person,” she remarks.
He gives a noncommittal noise, moving to pepper kisses along her neck and shoulder.
“So unfair,” Guren mutters.
“If you keep doing that, you might make me a little crazy,” Mahiru says, turning slightly in an attempt to see Shinya’s face, but she only catches the corner of it as he pulls away from her a little bit.
Nonetheless, she can still see his grin.
“That’s the point,” he says.
She turns back around and he resumes his previous action.
“And yet you just sit there and watch,” Mahiru says. “It almost seems like you’d rather watch than participate, anyway.”
“It’s far too early to participate in anything,” Guren grumbles.
“It’s not that early.”
Mahiru turns her face so that Shinya’s is close enough to it that their noses are almost touching. She presses a gentle kiss against his lips, and he responds with a little more enthusiasm, but due to their position, can’t hold the kiss for very long.
Once they break away, he pulls his arms back and sits down beside her, scooting his chair a little closer beside her.
“You know, I say Guren can have his chocolate ice cream,” Shinya says. “While he’s busy filling his face with that, then that means there’s more of you to make my face busy with.”
“Oh, so it’s not okay to drink to celebrate my lack of drinking, but sex is okay?”
“Who said anything about sex?” he teases. “I just like to kiss you.”
As if to prove his point, he leans closer and presses a kiss to her cheek.
“You’re such an idiot,” she says fondly.
He laughs. “So I’ve heard. And yet you still love me.”
“I’d love you more if you made breakfast.”
“You haven’t eaten yet?”
“Of course not.” She sniffs. “I was waiting for you two to drag your sorry asses out of bed.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Guren says.
“And I also didn’t want to cook,” she adds thoughtfully.
“That’s probably for the best,” he says. “But, Mahiru, do you really not want to celebrate? It hasn’t been easy. We both recognize how hard you’ve worked to stay on a clean path.”
She shakes her head. “It has been hard, yeah, but there’s no point in doing anything but being happy about the fact. And, anyway, I’d rather save myself for whatever you’re planning for our anniversary.”
She winks at him. He blanches.
She and Shinya laugh.
“Don’t worry,” Shinya says. “I’ve already made plans for that. I kind of figured you wouldn’t.”
“I—I was going to!” he protests.
“Don’t lie,” Mahiru chastises. “If you keep trying to tell me lies, I’ll have no choice but to make you sleep on the couch tonight.”
“So cruel,” Shinya mutters. “You really are a woman of ice.”
“How is that anything near cruel?!”
“Look at him. He’s neglected.”
Mahiru glances at Guren. He’s scowling at them.
“He just looks angry to me.”
“It’s a ruse,” Shinya explains. “He just wants you to think that. Really, all he wants is for you to attack him with hugs. I can see it in his eyes.”
She raises an eyebrow, lips twitch slightly. “Oh? Is that so?”
“Don’t,” Guren complains. “If you listen to him, I’ll...I’ll leave!”
“And go where?” she asks, amused.
“Away from you two!”
Shinya snorts. “As if you could. Come on, Mahiru, go get him!”
She sighs, passing her mug off to Shinya. “Okay, but if I die, it’s your fault.”
She stands and makes her way to Guren, who gives her a very mean look for something as innocent as a hug.
“Don’t be so stingy,” she tells him. “Let me sit on your lap.”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no room for that.”
“Then make room,” she says.
She pouts. “ Please, Guren?”
She can literally see his resolve wavering.
“Fine,” he says heavily. He pushes his chair back slightly and she perches on his leg before he can find another reason to protest.
She turns to Shinya. “Now go make me breakfast.”
He laughs. “You’re so bossy.”
“You love that about me.”
“It’s unacceptable to take those words of the bedroom, Mahiru,” Guren says.
She rolls her eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Still, that’s a very good point,” Shinya says. “I don’t necessarily—”
“You love it when I boss you around,” Mahiru snaps. “In the bedroom or not. Now go make breakfast, please.”
He sighs. “Fine, fine. Are you going to finish this?”
She glances at the mug he is gesturing to. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Okay,” he says, standing up. “Then I’ll go make breakfast. Anything for you.” He winks.
She beams at him. “I knew you’d do it eventually.”
“Hey, get off of me,” Guren says. His breath tickles at her ear. “I’ll go help him.”
“And leave me alone?”
“You’re a perfectly capable young woman,” he says. “You’ll be okay for a few minutes.”
She huffs, but stands up. “You better make me a damn good breakfast.”
“Everything I make is good, Mahiru,” Shinya says seriously.
“Not true,” she protests. “Your tea always tastes a little too watery.”
“That’s because I don’t make it as often as you do!”
Guren sighs, standing up. “Well, I won’t take sides here, but I have to say, there is a reason I’d rather help you cook than just sit and wait.”
Shinya frowns. “You’re both so mean!”
“Not mean,” Mahiru corrects. “Honesty.”
Mahiru doesn’t hate honesty more, either.
“I ought to mess up your breakfast,” he threatens.
“You aren’t going to do that,” Guren says tiredly, pulling at Shinya’s sleeve and dragging him away so they can go make breakfast.
She can still hear them bickering, even so, but the noise eventually dies down and she sits back down, feeling very warm and content.
Truthfully—and Mahiru can say that now, because she values honesty far more than she ever has before—she wasn’t sure if this would work out completely. They all have similar personalities, tend to get worked up by similar things, but they somehow always manage to work things out in the calmest, kindest manner possible.
And, really, maybe she should’ve expected that. Their similarities are of more benefit than anything else. More, it means that they don’t butt heads very often (unless it’s over finances, because Mahiru and Shinya are probably a bit too extravagant in their spending, but they definitely have the money to spend).
Mahiru wouldn’t say she’s better than she was, exactly. She’s still the same person she was, but she is warmer. Perhaps not as she was in high school, but more than she has been since graduating. And she has accepted that Guren’s friends are hers, too, whether she wants them to be or not.
Not to mention, she’s not drinking or having sex with strangers anymore. Being able to be honest and communicate with her boyfriends helps, too. They care about how she feels. They can tell when she needs the support. She can tell when they need hers. Communication has improved her life drastically, as much as she used to tell herself it was easier to lie all the time.
The past two years have been weird. Totally out of her realm of “normal.” She converses regularly with her siblings, even has dinner with them from time to time, and she has more friends than just Guren—friends, amazingly, that she has somehow had all these years and yet never acknowledged them as friends .
There is a certain contentment to living like this, even if she knows it’s not perfect.
From the kitchen, she hears Guren say something she can’t quite make out, and Shinya responds with a laugh.
No, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close.
Mahiru can honestly say she's grateful for the future that life has offered her. Even if it wasn't the one she had unwittingly hoped for. Even if it isn't always easy. Even if there are things about it that she sometimes wishes she could change. Despite it all, she can say this in absolute confidence:
She loves the present, of course she does, but she no longer dreads the coming future.
After all, there is an unspoken promise between the three of them that says this:
As long as they are together, there is no future they can't face.