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Your Promise to Us

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When they were all ten years old, Mahiru made Guren and Shinya promise her two things:

One, to be by her side until graduation.

And two, to stay by her side even after graduation has passed.

Guren has never really understood Mahiru’s need for these things to be spoken aloud, even thirteen years later, but she likes promises and so, naturally, he and Shinya both like making them to her.

So, when they were ten years old, they made a silly promise that, really, didn’t have to mean anything. They’d thought it was funny, had laughed at her, even as she’d pouted, but ultimately made the promise anyway. Because it did mean something to her. It still means something.

Truthfully, though, saying it aloud like that doesn’t matter that much, since there’s no way they could ever not be with each other. They’ve been friends for far too long, really. Without each other, they’re hardly anything at all.

Or, Guren isn’t, anyway. He’s sure Mahiru and Shinya could probably function on their own perfectly well.

But the promise itself has been the driving force behind most of their big decisions. They live by a strict code, which mostly boils down to: “Anything we do, we do together.” It’s why they decided to split the rent on their three-bedroom apartment at nineteen years old. It’s why they adhere to their weekly schedule, but also always make the necessary adjustments for each other. It’s why they exist so harmoniously together, really.

The absolute normalcy of their day-to-day life, though, is a wonderful thing. It’s important to all of them, to always have the same comfortable thing to return to every day, no matter what might have come beforehand.

Because they all live together, though, it makes their apartment the most convenient place for any other of their other friends to come to whenever they want. Really, if Guren came home and someone else besides Shinya or Mahiru was there, they’d probably just say Shinya had told them to come and Guren would completely believe it.

However, because they all live together, it’s inconvenient for the times when their friends want to see one of them alone for a change.

Guren doesn’t think it’s a very common occurrence, really, but Goshi, Mito, Sayuri, and Shigure all love to tease him—and specifically him, he finds, for whatever reason that may be—about the absolute domesticity of his situation. Which he is achingly aware of, and they all know it.

Honestly, though, it took Guren years to see what the four of them were seeing. Since high school at least, he thinks, they have been like this with each other, and yet he only really started to notice it this year. They have lived together for five years. They have been inseparable for something more like eighteen. Guren has been in love with both of them for at least seven.

Really, the way people talk about love, he’s never really bought it. Mahiru’s always been a total romantic, the type to believe in true love and soulmates and whatever other fantastical, arguably really fucking cheesy ideas the world could possible stick in her head. He and Shinya have always teased her for it, but in all the years Guren has known them, he has figured out that for all Shinya denies that he also likes those ideas, he wishes desperately that they could be real, just as Mahiru does. They both have far heavier pasts than Guren does. He sometimes thinks they need the belief in true love in a way he could never really understand.

But he doesn’t think it really happens like that.

After all, it took him something like six years to really recognize his feelings. He figures he’ll probably never act on them. After all, just being with them is enough.

Or, it’s enough for him.

His friends very much disagree.

Guren remembers the first time he told them that, a few months ago after they finally managed to get him to confess his feelings (after years and years of trying, he was informed afterwards). He remembers Mito being rather angry with him about it, calling him an idiot, and Sayuri and Shigure agreeing with her, albeit a little more hesitantly. Goshi, for his part, had said he understood why Guren would think that.

Because, really, Guren had made a promise with Mahiru and Shinya. As long as they were all still alive, they wouldn’t not be by one another’s sides. It didn’t matter what their bond was, so long as they were together.

“Those are basically wedding vows,” Goshi said, shrugging. “Without the formalities and the romance.”

So, really, just like a regular vow, then.

Guren knows his friends only mean the best, but they don’t really see everything, after all, do they? They don’t see how Mahiru greets Guren and Shinya in the mornings. They don’t see how Mahiru always falls asleep on one of their shoulders during films and how she clings to them in her sleep when they consequently have to carry her to bed. They don’t see how conscious Shinya is of the foods he buys, knowing that Mahiru won’t even look at something she deems unhealthy while Guren couldn’t live on Mahiru’s preferred diet for more than a day. They don’t see how Shinya bids them both good night but won’t go to bed himself until he knows that they’re both asleep.

They don’t see the stupid little things about their relationship that are so normal when they’re alone, but become somehow strange as soon as they aren’t.

And they’ve been best friends for a very long time. Mahiru and Shinya are very affectionate people—though Mahiru is significantly less so than Shinya as soon as they’re in public—and Guren isn’t stupid enough to think that he accepts their affections (albeit far less enthusiastically than he’s sure they’d like) for any reason other than that he knows it’s how they show their love, and damn it all if he doesn’t want to be loved by them.

The amounts of affection are just one thing, though. There are other exclusives that come with childhood friendships that just don’t accompany other friendships, Guren thinks. Things like the ability to live together the way they do. Like knowing that they’ve all definitely slept an entire night on the same bed, or all piled up on the couch, simply because they stayed up too late in once place and got overwhelmed by sleepiness all at once. Things like the utter lack of verbal communication they need.

And, of course, things like all the stupid emotions involved in such a relationship.

Guren has seen every side of both of them. He’s seen them happy beyond belief, all grins and cheer, as if they were sunshine taken human form, but he has also seen them both at their absolute worst, Mahiru burdened with a last name too heavy for her to hold and Shinya burdened with a past that has littered his soul with scars none of them can ever hope to heal. They’re far from perfect people, really. Sometimes, Guren wonders if they are anything near happy people, at least, and he can honestly say he isn’t always sure if they are.

The thing is, is he’s seen their worst, but they have also seen his. In comparison, though, he could never have as much reason to be sad like Mahiru and Shinya do. He can only think to when they were sixteen years old and his father, the only parent he had had to raise him, passed away. That had been a large trial for all of them. The effects the event had on Guren had been tremendously difficult for them to overcome.

But they had, and Guren had come out of it the way he always had been.

After all, Guren was never the tragic one of the three of them.

Mahiru and Shinya aren’t tragic, per se. Rather, they’re products of their respective environments. Guren doesn’t always know if he’s doing the right thing for them, honestly. They’re his best friends, the people he is in love with, his favourite people in the world. The last thing he would want is for them to suffer in silence.

And sometimes they do.

He knows they do. Because that’s human, for one, and for two, that’s just how they are. Growing up, they only had each other. It wasn’t until high school that they met the rest of their friends, and, well, Mahiru and Shinya were popular kids in a sense, if only for their status, but nobody had really wanted to be their friends before.

But that was so long ago. School was far from the worst part of those years for either of them.

They all have better lives now. But, still, there are things Guren can’t give to them. They understand parts of each other that Guren couldn’t ever hope to. It doesn’t make him jealous, far from it, really. More, it makes me a little angry.

Because there are things about them he doesn’t get. Things about them he can’t fix.

So, no, Guren doesn’t believe in “true love” or whatever the hell. He does believe in the choices he has made to bring him here, in the things about Mahiru and Shinya that made him fall in love to begin with. But they are not without their faults. Sometimes they are hard to understand. Sometimes they are distant. Sometimes Mahiru tries to cut off her emotions. Sometimes Shinya pretends he isn’t anything but happy. Sometimes they argue about it.

They aren’t perfect.

Guren wouldn’t want them to be.

He accepted that he loved the nastier parts of both of them the day he accepted that he loved them at all. Mahiru isn’t Mahiru if she isn’t the eldest daughter of the Hiragis, trying to distance herself from a name she already knows she can never escape. Shinya isn’t Shinya if he isn’t too scared to be himself, too worried of hurting other with his own painful past.

Guren isn’t Guren if he doesn’t have both of them at his side.

Maybe that’s the thing holding him back, more than anything. He loves them, but he wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize what they have.

That’s what Shigure thinks, too. He knows because she told him one day when everyone else was either in the kitchen prepping dinner or too busy trying to beat Mahiru at Shogi on the other side of the room (or cheering on Shinya, because he’s the only person that has ever really stood a chance at actually managing it).

“You always want us to think you’re so reckless,” she said. “But we all know you’re not. Mahiru-san and Shinya-san know better than us all.”

Yet they’re the ones who don’t notice, Guren remembers thinking.

“You know I respect your decisions, Guren-san,” Shigure told him. “Just remember who they’re hurting the most.”

If Guren thinks back on it, that was probably only a few weeks ago. Perhaps it was Goshi’s birthday. Guren doesn’t completely remember, if he’s being honest.

But as the time passes further and spring begins to fade into summer, Guren begins to find that his friends being decidedly suspicious about something.

Mahiru and Shinya, though, are completely oblivious to it.

The date is June 2nd. It’s one of those rare days where they’re all completely free all day, which Shinya is always saying would be nice “if Mahiru didn’t expect me to clean for her.” Of course, he’s not that torn up about it, because he’s one of those awful people that can somehow find a way to make cleaning fun, but that’s not for lack of complaining.

They aren’t cleaning today, though. And, really, they don’t clean every time they all have a full day off. Usually, they find better things to do outside of the apartment. Like spend time with their friends, or act like young adults and go do stupid stuff, because, well, that’s what young adults do, apparently.

Today, though, to spend the time, they go to lunch with Sayuri and Mito.

The absolute weirdness of their friends, Guren thinks, is somewhat haunting. He doesn’t stop thinking about it. They’re like…

Well, he doesn't know what he could possibly liken them to, but he does know they’re up to something, and he doesn’t trust it at all.

Lunch is awkward.

For Guren.

Everyone else seems fine. Mahiru and Shinya remain their oblivious selves, while Sayuri and Mito have almost too good of a time.

He doesn’t trust that at all.

“Yuki-chan and I talked about getting a cat,” Sayuri is saying. “She likes them, but doesn’t want to take care of one.”

Guren can only hope there is no way for them to turn this particular conversation against him. They tend to do that fairly often in other conversations.

“I like cats, too,” Shinya says, and Mahiru nods in hearty agreement.

If there is one thing Guren has learned in all the time he’s known Mito, it’s that she can’t wink. But she tries, without fail, every time.

He knows what her failure looks like, and he does not like its intent.

“You should get a cat, Guren-san!” Sayuri says, beaming. She clearly noticed Mito’s failed wink, too. “Then Yuki-chan and I could come and visit more often.”

“I don’t want a cat,” he says flatly.

“Come on, Guren, don’t be like that,” Shinya tells him. “You’re being so mean to Sayuri-chan.”

“I’m not,” he snaps.

Mahiru glares at him. “Well, if you weren’t before, you definitely are now. Even a ten-year-old could be more respectful than you’re being.”

“You can’t really speak for every ten-year-old.”

Sayuri and Mito exchange a quick look.

“Oh, you’re not being rude,” Sayuri says hastily. “We all know that’s just how Guren-san is…”

“Rude?” Mahiru suggests.

“I’m not being—”

“N-no!” Mito yelps. “Guren isn’t being rude at all! He just said he doesn’t want a cat, right?”

Shinya laughs. “That’s right, Mito-chan. Guren says he hates cats.”

“They shed,” he mutters, scowling. “They aren’t even that cute.”

“Oh, but, Guren-san,” Sayuri says, “shouldn’t you be thinking about what Mahiru-san and Shinya-san want?”

There it is.

No,” he stresses. “I think about what they want all the time.”

“But we can’t have a cat?” Shinya pouts. “So cruel, Guren!”

If Guren doesn’t lose all his hair from stress by the end of the year, he’ll be grateful. Really.

“It was just a suggestion,” Sayuri says, but her lips twitch slightly. “Maybe it would be a nice gift! They both seem the type to commit to a pet.”

“We wouldn’t want to do anything Guren wasn’t completely on board with,” Mahiru says. “And I think you might be overestimating this one.” She glances at Shinya, barely holding back a snicker.

“She’s cruel, too, isn’t she?” Shinya sighs. “But I concur. I think I’m probably just like Shigure-chan is. They’re cute, but raising one? I’m not so sure about that, honestly.”

“Ah, too bad. Yuki-chan would’ve loved me if I’d convinced you to get a cat,” Sayuri jokes. “You know she’s always looking for excuses to visit.”

Shigure does visit a lot. Sayuri and Shigure both, actually. The two of them are daughters of long-time family friends of Guren’s, but they were never really actual friends until high school. The only friends Guren would honestly say he had before then were Mahiru and Shinya, no matter how often he saw Shigure and Sayuri when they were kids.

The general consensus is that Sayuri and Shigure are the “parent friends.” Of all of them, they’re the most level-headed, and they’re both very responsible. And, really, any shenanigans they pulled in high school they only got out of because of Sayuri and Shigure.

But they both seem to think they can help Guren confess to Shinya and Mahiru.

Guren thinks his friends are great people. It would be hard to stay around them if he didn’t, after all. But they’re all…

Well, they’re all a little crazy.

They’ve been acting extra weird lately. Even Goshi, who Guren didn’t think could actually manage to get any weirder at all.

Mito suggested just last week that Guren tell Mahiru he loves her on her birthday, but when he asked about Shinya, only half amused, all she did was curse and slam her head against the table.

He thinks they are making a much bigger deal out of this than they need to be.

Truthfully, though, it worries Guren. Because he doesn’t need to say anything about it, right?

So...why are they pushing him to?

“We’ve been thinking, and we kind of wanted to get everyone together again,” Mito is saying. “I mean, it’s been five years since we graduated! And a few months, but those are irrelevant. We’ve all been kind of busy, right?”

Not right. They all celebrated Goshi’s birthday together, and the only people who objected to celebrating Sayuri’s and Shigure’s were Sayuri and Shigure themselves. Mostly because they didn’t want to, of course, but everyone still had time to give them gifts, so…

“That sounds like a great idea,” Shinya agrees. “And the few months are...well, whatever. But isn’t there something else happening in June?”

Mahiru nods. “Five years since we all moved in together,” she says, gesturing between the three of them.

“Oh, it’s like a wedding anniversary!” Sayuri says.

Guren chokes on his own saliva.

Mahiru shoots him a concerned glance. “What’s wrong?”

“N-nothing,” he says, giving a small cough.

She doesn’t believe him, and he knows it.

“It kind of is, though, isn’t it?” Shinya muses. “We are all kind of married, right?”

Guren loves Sayuri. He really does.

But he could really kill her for bringing this up.

“Oh, Guren, you look embarrassed,” Mito says, very obviously feigning an apologetic tone. “Why is that?”

He scowls at her, but the rest of the table turns to look at him, questioning.

Then Shinya laughs.

“Did you think you were some kind of cool bachelor?” he teases. “Your hardworking housewives disagree.”

Mahiru slaps his arm. “That’s disrespectful!” she snaps. “No housewife would want to be equated to the likes of you!”

“That’s not what I think,” Guren says. “I just don’t—”

He doesn’t know what to say.

Sayuri and Mito both look like they’re going to explode with anticipation.

“You just don’t what?” Mahiru asks.

“I just don’t like the idea that people have to be married to live together,” he finishes lamely.

Mito puffs her cheeks out while Sayuri lets out a disappointed sigh.

Well, it’s their own fault for hoping.

“I agree,” Mahiru says seriously. “But, still, it’s kind of cool, right?”

Guren will say he hates the look she gives him, hopeful eyes under long, beautiful lashes, but the truth is this: he loves it when she looks at him like this, like he has an answer she wants to hear, like she wants something from him. He loves every stupid look she gives him, honestly. He loves everything about her.

He says, “Absolutely.”

She beams at him, then nudges Shinya, who has looked somewhat dazed since her earlier remark.

“What?” he asks.

“Were you even listening?”

“No,” he says miserably. “You called me a bad housewife.”

“You are!”

“But at least I can cook!”

She scoffs. “As if that makes a difference!”

“Look what you started,” Guren says, shooting Sayuri a look.

She smiles a little. “It was only for the overall benefit, Guren-san.”

Mito nods heartily. “There’s nothing bad about this,” she says. “Right, Shinya-san?”

Shinya looks away from Mahiru and over at Mito.

“It’s absolutely tragic,” he says seriously.

“Oh…”

“You’re a baby,” Mahiru tells him. “Get over it, would you?”

“She’s so mean to me,” he complains. “Guren, can’t you even control your wife?”

“We’re not married!” he spits at the same time as Mahiru cries, “Who’s controlling who?!”

Guren sighs, raising an eyebrow in Sayuri’s direction.

Her face switches slightly. “Ha… Okay, I concede…”

The banter is good-natured, but it doesn’t change the fact that it will follow them around all day. Mahiru and Shinya are both the type to drag these things out until they’ve won, while Guren just gets to hear about it until the winner has been decided.

They’re stupidly competitive, after all. They always have been.

Today, he thinks, will be a very long day.


Their friends take the idea and run with it.

And by the idea, Guren doesn’t mean the one Mito and Sayuri pitched about getting together to celebrate their five years out of high school. No, he means the idea Mahiru had given them.

They all think it’s hilarious.

Goshi, in particular. He falls back on his remark about their “wedding vows.”

“I totally called it,” he says. “You don’t need to confess, because you’re already basically married to them!”

Guren hasn’t been able to live down the “marriage” thing for weeks, now. Even Mahiru and Shinya tease him about it, if only because they know it embarrasses him. They never ask why it does, but he’s sure they have their speculations. He’s not sure if he wants to know what those speculations are , though.

By the time June has come to its peak, Guren is rightfully sick of it.

But his four friends have definitely been plotting something. Which rightfully makes him nervous, of course, until Mito and Shigure finally confront him about it and explain the depths of their plans.

And then he’s not nervous anymore.

Instead, he’s just downright terrified.

They’re all crazy, he thinks. Every single one of them.

Shinya says that the plan to celebrate their five-year anniversary of living together (or graduating, though it is a few months late to be celebrating that) is just an excuse for them to splurge and eat shitty food and drink shitty drinks. Normally, Guren would be inclined to agree, but there are two things he thinks make this very much not the case:

One, Mahiru is genuinely excited about it. She doesn’t like shitty food and shitty drinks, so the only reason for her to be excited about it is that she thinks something exciting is going to happen.

Two, she’s absolutely correct that something exciting is going to happen, because Guren has been given a ultimatum, put simply.

“This is the perfect excuse to tell them how you feel,” Mito told him just a few days ago. “Five years, Guren! You’ve lived together that long, and you still tell yourself that they just think you’re all friends.”

“We think you just need a push,” Shigure added. “So, we’re planning on giving you one.”

“If you don’t tell them by the end of this little celebration,” Mito said, “we’ll do it for you!”

He was a little shocked, needless to say.

The problem, though, is that he knows they will. He knows it, because they’re just...like that. Maybe he’s like that, too. Maybe that’s why they’re all friends. He doesn’t know , but either way, he has never wished more in his life for friends that were a little less…

A little less whatever they are.

The next coming Saturday, the 15th, is the day to look forward to. Or dread, maybe. Guren really considered pretending to forget and going out, but figured he couldn’t escape it as long as Mahiru and her odd excitement for the day was holding him back.

Shinya doesn’t seem to be looking forward to it, either, though.

But…

“Mahiru seems to really want to celebrate this,” he remarked. “So, I want to do it for her. You agree, right, Guren?”

When he hesitated, Shinya sighed and said, “You know how she is, though. She likes her promises spoken aloud. It’s no wonder she wants to see the consequences of those promises spoken aloud, too.”

And Guren understands, with a sort of painful clarity.

It’s not about Guren’s friends or stupid marriage jokes or shitty food and shitty drinks. Primarily, this is for Mahiru, who made them make her a silly promise when they were all ten years old.

Which would be, their promise to each other.

Their promise to “us.”

Guren loves the idea of “us.” He loves being a unit. He loves being one-third of a whole, one part of a beautiful mosaic, something detrimental to Shinya and Mahiru’s respective lives. He made a promise to them thirteen years ago that said they would always be an “us.” They aren’t Guren, Shinya, and Mahiru; they’re “us.”

Everything Guren has ever done, he has done for this idea of “us.”

He didn’t want this event to be about his feelings. He didn’t want it to be anything other than an excuse to eat shitty food and drink shitty drinks.

But it was always going to be, whether that’s what he wanted or not.

The entire reason they’re together, why they are one unit, one group they can call “us,” is because they promised an eternity together before they even really knew what an eternity was. They were young, they only had each other, and they never wanted to change anything about who they were for each other. They have never wanted to be anything other than “us.”

And Guren as always known he can’t live without Shinya and Mahiru, but he often forgets that they promised him, too. Not because he was there or because he was their only other friend at the time or because of any other extenuating circumstances.

They promised him because he is Guren, and they love Guren.

They love Guren.

Whether or not they love him the way he loves them is irrelevant. Because it’s all still love, after all, isn’t it?

None of that makes Guren any less scared, of course. The trepidation he feels towards Saturday doesn’t go away. He wakes up on Saturday morning, and, immediately, he very much wishes he hadn’t.

But he’s not so worried that he’ll ruin something as he was just a week or so ago.

More, he is just worried they won’t return his feelings.

He is the last of them to get out of bed, but the upside to that is that he arrives at the kitchen table just as Shinya is finishing cooking breakfast.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” Mahiru teases. “You’re lucky you woke up when you did. We were going to wait for you before we eat, but we both got too hungry to wait anymore.”

“It was probably the smell that woke him up,” Shinya jokes, making his over to them with a plate of what Guren is fairly certain are pancakes. “You know he’s only got two things on his mind.”

“Sleep and food,” Mahiru agrees.

“Mahiru really wanted pancakes,” Shinya says, setting the dish down. “Can’t say I understand, but who am I to say no to her?” He winks at her, and she rolls her eyes.

“It’s just a word,” she says. “If you can’t say it, that’s your problem.”

“That’s not fair,” Guren says. “You both say no to me all the time.”

“No, we don’t!” they both cry, appalled.

He snickers. “But you just did, didn’t you?”

Mahiru huffs. “Whatever,” she says. “You get so much special treatment, Guren. You’re like… I don’t know. Whatever you’re like, it’s bad, though. We spoil you so much.”

“You’re like our kid,” Shinya says. Then pauses. Frowns. “...That everyone says we’re married to. Okay, that just got really weird.”

Guren scowls at him.

“Stop bringing that up,” he complains.

Mahiru laughs. “You’re so cute when you’re flustered,” she says, which only makes it worse , of course.

Shinya shakes his head. “Don’t be silly, Mahiru,” he says. “Guren’s always cute. He just doesn’t want you to think that.”

“You know we aren’t married, right?” Guren grumbles.

“Well, yeah,” Shinya says. “If we were, we’d probably be insulting you instead.”

“I feel insulted, anyway,” Guren mutters.

“Then maybe you need to work on your confidence a little bit,” Mahiru jokes.

He sighs. “You both have mean streaks, you know?”

“But you love us anyway,” Shinya says, settling into the seat beside him.

These sorts of remarks always leave a small pang in Guren’s chest.

“Unfortunately,” he says. “But it could have something to do with the fact that you cook for me sometimes.”

“Lazy,” Shinya remarks. “You do know you're a better cook than me, right?”

Guren shrugs. “Only because of Sayuri. She could teach you, too, if you asked her.”

Mahiru pouts. “That’s not very fair,” she complains. “You’re still better than I am, Shinya.”

Shinya and Guren both chuckle.

“That’s not very hard to do,” Shinya reminds her. “You can’t really cook anything.”

“I can cook rice!” she protests.

“That’s barely something to boast about,” Guren tells her. “There are few people who can’t cook rice.”

She scowls at him.

“There are other things you’re good at,” Shinya says.

Guren nods in agreement. “Nobody can boss us around as well as you can,” he says.

She rolls her eyes and slaps his arm. It might be deserved, but she still hits him hard enough for it to sting slightly.

“Either way,” Shinya says, looking far too amused, “breakfast is served. I hope this is enough to serve you’re very specific, American cravings?”

“Are these kind of pancakes even American?” Mahiru asks.

“Beats me,” Shinya admits. “All I know is they aren’t really that good.”

“That’s not true. Besides, you should be more thankful! This is the most unhealthy thing we’ve in eaten in months.”

“I know,” Shinya says mournfully. “I regret we couldn't have something tastier.”

“Next time,” Mahiru promises, and Shinya gives her a small smile in response.

They eat in silence after that, but Guren ponders at their relationship while they do. Really, their differences in eating habits or senses of taste is just about the smallest difference they all have from each other, when he thinks about it. Them being together like this is...odd, to say the least. They are a strange group of people, all from different sections of life. Both Mahiru and Shinya grew up in wealthy yet violent homes, each with their own special set of traumas. Aside from that, though, there’s nothing that should have drawn them together when they were kids, and there’s definitely nothing that should’ve drawn them to Guren.

But…

All three of them were kind of “untouchable” in some way. Mahiru was easily the most prestigious kid to ever step foot in that school, right after her older brother, Kureto. She was important, intelligent, and wanted nothing to with people that agreed she was either of those things just because of her reputation.

Shinya, on the other hand, was important and intelligent, yes, but he was too far ahead for people to reach. He could’ve been a prodigy, if he hadn’t wanted more than anything else to just be a normal kid.

Guren wasn’t like them, though. Because of the bad blood between the Hiragis and the Ichinoses, historically, he was automatically hated by association. But he’d grown up proud of his name, of his heritage, first and foremost.

So, maybe it makes sense that they all found each other in the end. They were only kids, after all, all five years old and in need of a friend, more than anything else. Guren’s sure that Mahiru probably only approached him to piss of her father, but he’s glad she did, because their friendship is definitely real now.

Looking back on it, it’s, it’s a little curious, because he was the one both of them approached first, actually. He doesn’t know what made him the most approachable, but it doesn’t matter much, he supposes. He’s just grateful they did.

They finish eating, Guren and Mahiru clean up, and then they all reconvene in the living room.

“There’s something I wanted to ask about before our friends come over,” Mahiru blurts.

“What?” Shinya asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Ah—well, first, I just...I wanted to thank you both!”

Guren exchanges a bewildered look with Shinya. “For what?”he asks.

“For sticking with me all this time, I guess.” She glances between them, lips twitching up a little. “For keeping your promises!”

“Why wouldn’t we have?” Guren asks.

“I—I don’t mean that I think you wouldn’t,” she says hastily. “I’m just saying I’m glad that you have.”

Guren is glad, too, of course, but...

She squirms slightly beneath their gazes, but continues with, “S-so, I wanted to talk about something about that, if you wouldn’t—”

The doorbell rings.

She stops, looking a little disoriented, then sighs deeply.

“It’s okay,” Guren says. “They can wait. What’s—?”

“N-no!” she yelps. “It’s okay. It’s not too important. I can say it later, but you might have to remind me, okay?”

Shinya frowns. “Are you—?”

“Yes!” she cries. “Now, I’ll go get the door, okay? Wait here!”

She speeds away before either of them can get another word in. They exchange a confused look, then Shinya says, “I think she’s hiding something from us.”

Guren laughs quietly. “What would she have to hide? I think you’re just paranoid.”

“It’s not like it has to be something bad,” Shinya says. “I just mean that she’s using this as an excuse to tell us something, more than anything. I don’t think she would’ve let all this fly otherwise.”

That’s a fair point, but Guren isn’t so sure. Mahiru is a sentimental person. She likes promises and loud declarations of devotion and gifts and words and everything she can cling onto that makes it obvious she is loved. That’s how she’s always been. And Shinya is more like that than he would like to admit to, too.

Maybe she really is just grateful. Maybe the deeper meaning isn’t even there.

Still, Guren knows that there’s no way he can escape his friends today. They won’t let this not have a deeper meaning.

When Mahiru returns, it is with the rest of their friends, who are all far too cheery, in Guren’s opinion.

“Happy anniversary, Guren-san,” Sayuri teases.

He rolls his eyes. “Hello to you, too.”

“Now that we’re all here,” Mahiru says, “who wants to play a game?”

She smiles somewhat deviously as everyone else collectively groans.

“Come on,” she begs. “Just one!”

“Only if I get to choose,” Mito says. “Something I’m good at, you know?”

“Fine, fine.”

Shigure taps Guren’s arm, looking at him with a curious look.

“What?” he asks.

“You look bothered by something,” she remarks.

Guren glances at Mito, Goshi, Sayuri, and Mahiru, who’ve all separated off to play console games together. Shinya stands between the four of them and Guren and Shigure, watching the four ahead if them with a faint smile.

Guren turns back to Shigure. “What made you think that?” he asks dryly.

He knows Shinya is listening to them, but figures it doesn’t matter too much. After all, he’d find out eventually, anyway, wouldn’t he?

“If it bothers you, we can leave any time, you know.”

He pats her head absently. “It’s not a problem,” he assures her. “I think you guys suck, sure, but you’re probably right.”

She shakes off his hand and laughs softly. “Of course we are. We’re always right, Guren-san.”

He sighs. “I wish I could argue with you, but I really can’t. You’re right far more often than I am.”

“I don’t think you can do anything wrong, here,” she tells him. “Honesty is a good policy, you know.”

Guren’s sure it is.

“Sayuri wanted you to know she does feel a little bad about forcing you, though,” Shigure continues. “I don’t know if I agree, and I’m sure Mito-chan doesn’t, but she’s got a point.”

Shinya still hasn’t moved, but Guren is sure he knows that Guren knows he’s listening to this conversation.

“I wondered when you would realize how screwed up your moral compasses are,” Guren tells her. “But I realized a long time ago you only do this things for my benefit.”

She tilts her head slightly. “Well, of course, Guren-san, but—”

“But nothing,” he says. “You do what you think is right, don’t you? Don’t apologize for it.”

She considers it a moment, then nods. “Of course,” she says. “I wouldn’t. I just mean that you can always tell us if we do something wrong.”

“I know.”

Guren has never liked to admit to his feelings, though.

“Good,” she says. “I hope whatever happens goes well.”

“Me too.”

She moves past him to join their friends who’ve huddled themselves around a console and are heatedly debating which game to play (faintly, Guren can make out the argument, which goes something like: “That’s not fair! Mahiru-san is good at that one!” “She’s good at all of them, stupid! She owns them!” “I’m not actually any good at this one, if—” “You better not be lying so you can win!” “I’m not!”).

Shinya turns to face him, warmth faded from his face almost completely. Guren thinks perhaps it wasn’t very real to begin with at all.

“Are you hiding something, too, Guren?” he asks.

“Mahiru probably isn’t hiding anything,” Guren says.

“That’s not what I was asking.”

“You implied it with the ‘too.’” Catching his unimpressed look, Guren sighs. “And I might be. I’m still figuring it out. Shigure thinks I am.”

“And Sayuri-chan?”

“And Sayuri,” Guren agrees. “And Mito and Goshi. But it’s not like I’m lying to you about anything.”

“You and Mahiru are too similar,” Shinya says, sighing. “People of action, right?”

“And you aren’t?”

Guren isn’t really asking because he doesn’t know. More, he’s asking to fill the space. Of course, this would be the perfect excuse to just say it...if Mahiru was here, too, that is.

He laughs. “C’mon, Guren. I haven’t changed that much since we were teenagers. Neither have you. Or Mahiru, for that matter. But it doesn’t matter. I was just wondering. That’s all.”

Guren thinks he’s pretty good at understanding Shinya and Mahiru sometimes. Other times...not so much. But he can almost always tell when there’s something they aren’t saying to him or when there are things they don’t want him to hear. They’re easy reads, if only because he’s known them for eighteen years.

“It’s not like I wouldn’t tell you.”

Shinya grimaces. “Forgive me if I don’t believe that completely,” he says.

“...What?”

“Well, honestly, Guren, it’s not like you ever want to talk about things that are bothering you.” He shakes his head. “I respect that, to a point. But I guess I really noticed it after your father died. You think your struggles are less than ours, right? And you sometimes feel different than we are, right?”

Guren stares at him.

“I’m not trying to saying anything bad about you,” Shinya tells him. “I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s pretty normal, actually. But it can be frustrating. I honestly don’t always know what to say to you.”

They’ve had conversations like this before, but…

But in all those cases, the person on the receiving side has always been Shinya or Mahiru.

None of them like talking about their feelings. That’s pretty human, as far as Guren’s concerned. But the extent to which they three of them tend to take it very much isn’t.

Which is how they all wound up here, isn’t it?

“When are you gonna tell us what’s wrong?” Shinya prods.

The way Shinya is seeing things, it probably looks like this:

Something is bothering Guren, and the only people he neglected to talk about it to are Shinya and Mahiru.

And Guren feels like a real dumbass as this dawns on him.

None of this is worth letting Shinya think something is wrong with their bond, with Guren’s trust in him, with Guren’s trust in Mahiru. It’s not worth it.

Guren couldn’t forgive himself if he hurt them. He would throw the world to ashes for them, if he felt he had to.

He says, “They guessed.”

Shinya blinks. “What?”

“They guessed,” he says again, perhaps a little desperately. “Guessed what was wrong. Or—nothing’s wrong. It’s the same as it’s always been.”

Shinya is silent for a moment while Guren mentally curses his inability to string together even two coherent words.

“You’re going to have to be, uh, a little more specific,” Shinya says, eyebrows furrowing slightly. “I’m sure my deep, childhood bond with you should be shining through to figure out what the hell you’re saying, but it’s really not, so…”

“It shouldn’t be,” Guren says, frustrated. “I’m not even making sense to myself.”

“So, uh…?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he says again. “But they think I should be honest.”

“Well, obviously. You should always be honest.”

From behind Shinya, a loud cry of, “Mahiru-san, you cheater !” seeps out to them.

“It’s not like I don’t value honesty,” Guren says.

“But you’re bad at it?” Shinya asks.

“You know the answer to that as well as I do.”

His lips twitch slightly. “Of course. But it shouldn’t be hard to say stuff to us . We have so much dirt on you already, don’t we? It’s not like you could say anything to worsen it.”

Guren begs to differ.

“I can’t tell you without Mahiru,” he says, and he knows he is pulling it out as an excuse, but it’s true. They’re a unit of three , not two. Guren and Shinya are nothing without Mahiru, and vice versa. “Us” is three, always has been, and always will be.

“Okay,” Shinya says slowly. “Is it really that big of a deal that you can’t just tell her later?”

Yes,” Guren stresses. “And even if it wasn’t, don’t you think that would make her feel bad?”

“Perhaps,” Shinya concedes. “Then, tell me what you want to do.”

Nothing, he thinks bitterly, but aloud he says, “Say what I have to say to you.”

Go him. He deserves something good for that one.

Or, he will deserve something, if he can actually follow through.

“Right now?” Shinya asks, surprised.

“Well, not really, but…”

Shinya raises an eyebrow at him. “But?”

“But if I don’t say it, one of them will.” He gestures towards their friends and Mahiru, who are still jubilantly playing console games together.

“I see,” Shinya says. “Which is why Shigure-chan said all that to you, I’d presume?”

Guren nods. “They think I’m stupid,” he says mournfully.

Shinya snickers. “They’re not wrong, you know.”

“H-hey!”

“Anyway, don’t worry about it. Clearly, they want you to talk to us, so they won’t care if we step away for a minute to talk, right? I’ll go get Mahiru.”

“Wait.”

Shinya sighs. “What?”

“What makes you think it’s something you want to hear?”

They stare at each a moment, then Shinya lets out a small snort of laughter. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Guren, you really are stupid. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. I want to hear because I care about you, dumbass.”

Guren feels his hand twitch slightly at his side. “Oh,” he says.

Oh? Don’t you feel the same way?”

Guren figures he’s already embarrassed enough without having this conversation.

Shinya merely laughs at the expression on his face. “I know, I know. Do you want me to get Mahiru? I’m sure she’d make tea if I asked her nicely.”

Guren’s heart is beating way too fast.

“Okay,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else he can say.

Shinya watches him a moment longer, then turns and makes his way to the group huddled around the television and console and taps at Mahiru’s shoulder.

Guren watches, somewhat dazed, as the entire group sans Mahiru turns to look at him. Mahiru, for her part, cocks her head slightly and says something to Shinya very softly. He touches the top of her head gently. Guren would find it endearing if he wasn’t being looked at by four smirking friends that all know exactly what’s going through his head.

Mahiru turns away from Shinya and says something to Sayuri, who shakes her head. Mahiru glances over at Guren, who very quickly looks away from her. When he looks up again, she is frowning, Sayuri, Shigure, Mito, and Goshi all look mildly concerned, and Shinya is standing off to the side watching the five people in front of him with a somewhat curious look.

Mahiru asks, very loudly, “Do you guys want some tea?”

The others all hastily agree, and she stands quickly, tugging Shinya towards the kitchen with her.

Guren looks at his friends, who all look back at him with varying degrees of apology written on their faces.

He sighs and makes his way to the kitchen.

Mahiru puts a kettle of water on heat as Shinya and Guren sit down at the table and watch her. Every few seconds, Guren catches Shinya glancing sideways at him.

“S-so,” Mahiru starts, turning to face them, “is there...something you wanted to say, Shinya?”

Guren looks between them, surprised. “What did you tell her?” he asks.

“He asked me to make tea,” Mahiru says. “He said you wanted it.”

“Me?”

Shinya’s lips twitch up slightly. “Well, yeah. Didn’t you?”

Guren rolls his eyes. “Of course not.”

Mahiru furrows her eyebrows. “What do you mean? I don’t need to make it if—”

“Everyone else agreed,” Shinya reminds her. “And I really think Guren wants it. Humour me, Mahiru.”

She frowns. “You’re confusing me,” she complains. “I thought you had something to say!”

“I do,” Guren says.

“Not you.”

All three of them sigh.

“Okay,” Shinya says. “I only asked you to make tea because I think Guren has something to say to us, and I think you , Mahiru dearest, also have something to say to us, so I’d like you both to spill whatever it is you’re keeping from me.”

Mahiru huffs. “What makes you think that?”

“Why’d you want this little get-together so badly?”

She crosses her arms over her chest. “Why not?” she throws back.

“Because there’s no good reason to celebrate like this unless you have a reason to,” Guren says. “It’s like you wanted something to happen, aside from just...being with our friends.”

Mahiru casts her gaze up to the ceiling. “Well, kind of,” she says. “Maybe I did, yeah.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Shinya tells her. “If you want something from us, just tell us.”

Behind her, the kettle whistles.

She disregards it completely.

“I wanted to ask you a question earlier.”

“I remember,” Shinya says. “I thought you might’ve done something illegal.”

It’s a joke, but Guren almost wishes she would tell them she’s done something illegal instead of the alternative, which he has a sinking feeling is going to be something he won’t like much.

“No,” she assures. “It’s really just a question.” She turns and takes the kettle off the heat, but doesn’t do anything else before she faces them again. “Shinya, didn’t you ever think about these moments when we were in school?”

Shinya glances at Guren, then back to Mahiru.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Like...when we were still in high school. I always thought the future would be okay as long as I had you two, but…”

Guren feels his heart somewhere near his feet.

“Are you not okay?” he asks, alarmed. “Is there something wrong?”

“No,” she says quickly, then pauses. “Yes? I—I’m still figuring it out, to be honest with you.”

Shinya presses one hand flat against the table, watching her very intensely. Guren watches him watching her, and finds again that he loves these stupid little things. Shinya’s lips are twisted slightly, his eyes hard yet warm all at once. He looks at Mahiru like she is all at once the most beautiful yet tragic thing he has ever seen. She very well could be. Guren sometimes thinks that’s what she is to him.

“You’re both ridiculous,” Shinya says. “Just tell me what you want to say.”

“I bet they’re listening to every word of this,” Guren points out.

“I don’t care,” Shinya says. “They already know what you have to say, don’t they?”

Mahiru blinks. “What?”

Guren scowls down at his hands. “That’s not fair,” he mutters. “It’s not like I want to talk about this.”

“But you have to. Didn’t I tell you that already?”

Mahiru comes forward and sits between them. She reaches over and grabs one of Guren’s hands. When he meets her eyes, he’s only met with deep concern. Concern for him.

Mahiru and Shinya are the most important people in his life. They love him, even if it may not be in the way he wants to be.

Words are falling out of his mouth before he can even think about them:

“I want to sleep with you,” he blurts.

She yanks her hand away, shocked. “What?!”

Shinya looks similarly disturbed. Guren takes a moment to replay his words in his mind, then feels blood rush to his cheeks.

“God, no,” he groans. “I—I didn’t mean. I mean I don’t want us to have separate bedrooms!”

“That’s not any less weird!” Mahiru cries.

Shinya lets out a small puff of laughter. “It’s not weird, Mahiru. Guren is lonely, that’s all!”

“No, I’m not!” he protests. “I just—”

Mahiru still looks somewhat scandalized. Her face is somewhat red as well, but Guren figures she can’t be more embarrassed than he is.

He could really kill his friends for this, he thinks.

“C-can you maybe clarify?” she asks.

Her eyes still shine with concern.

“I—ah, I…”

“The water will get cold,” Shinya reminds him.

Guren scowls at him. “Do I look like I care?”

“I thought you wanted tea!”

“No, I—” He stops, lets out a frustrated sigh. “You’re the only one saying that. I just wanted to talk.”

“You aren’t talking much,” Mahiru says, voice a little uneven.

Guren is afraid that if he looks at her again he might do something stupid.

Like kiss her.

Or run away from her.

Neither option seems like a good one.

“Okay,” Shinya says, amused, “let’s go over what you’ve said so far. You want to sleep with Mahiru?”

“Not just Mahiru!” he snaps, then quickly realizes the context and hastens to add, “And not sleep with!”

Shinya’s grin falters. “I… What?”

Guren gestures between them. “Both of you,” he corrects. “And drop the sleeping with thing. I—I didn’t mean it like that.”

Mahiru coughs. “You didn’t?” she asks. “At all?”

Guren can’t help but look at her now.

Her cheeks are tinted with pink, eyes somewhat wide as she looks at him. There’s something very nervous in her posture, in the way she holds her shoulders. Her lips are somewhat separated, making a small “o.”

He looks away from her again.

“I think we have something to talk about,” Mahiru muters. Louder, she says, “I wanted to know if you’d ever thought about us.”

Us.

Guren’s mouth is very dry.

“Us?” Shinya queries.

“Us,” Mahiru affirms. “Why we’re together. What our promises mean. Haven’t you thought about it?”

Shinya looks thoughtful. “Of course,” he says. “Why wouldn’t I have?”

Guren knows what she’s saying, though.

“I have,” he says. “I never stop thinking about it.”

“Oh,” Mahiru breathes out.

Shinya glances between them. “What am I missing here?”

They both turn to him very quickly.

“I love you,” Mahiru blurts at the same time as Guren demands, “Do you love us?”

Shinya reels back, surprised. “What?”

Neither of them can say anything, caught up in their own varied states of mortification.

Shinya takes a moment, leaning back with a deeply thoughtful expression lining his face.

Finally, he says, “I knew you were hiding something from me.”

“H-how is that hiding something?” Mahiru demands.

Shinya offers her a small smile. “I’m only joking. But, honestly, I didn’t expect that at all. Or, I expected it a little bit, but I didn’t expect you to say anything. Especially you, Guren.” He pauses, considering. “Ah, but our friends made you, didn’t they? What would they have done if you hadn’t admitted anything yourself?”

Mahiru blinks. “What?” she asks.

Guren sends Shinya an exasperated look. “The more you bring it up, the more I’ll start to think you’re annoyed about it.”

“I’m not annoyed,” Shinya says. “I came to the same conclusion they did.”

“Huh?”

“It’s not like I was going to say anything,” he says defensively. “I worried I was just seeing things!”

Seeing things?” Mahiru echoes.

“Well, yeah! I’m not blind. I see how you two look at each other. I honestly thought it was wishful thinking for that to apply to me, too.”

Guren wants to say his friends are better people than to be listening in on this conversation. He really wants to. But as silene lapses between the three of them, Guren catches Mito’s voice furiously whispering, “I told you! You owe me two thousand yen, you—”

“Shh, Mito-chan, you’re so noisy!”

“S-sorry!”

Guren sighs.

Shinya says, “I didn’t want anything to change.”

Mahiru looks down at her hands. “It doesn’t have to,” she says softly, voice a little hoarse. “If you don’t want it to, nothing has to change.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“You didn’t want to ruin anything,” Guren guesses. “In case things don’t work out.”

“Shinya…”

“Don’t look at me like that, Mahiru,” Shinya complains. “I know you’re the same as I am. And Guren, too. Or we wouldn’t be five years past graduation before any of this was happening.”

Oh.

“How long, then?” Guren asks.

“Feels like forever, to be honest.” Shinya frowns. “I’m sure that’s not the case, but…”

Mahiru lets out a shaky breath that could be a laugh if it didn’t sound quite so anxious. “Me too,” she says. “I’ve known since high school. It just felt normal.”

Guren stands up abruptly and they both start at the action.

“Guren?” Mahiru asks.

“Just a minute,” he tells her.

They both watch him as he makes his way to the other room, where their four friends are piled around the corner, intently listening. They clearly notice him approaching, but are unable to disperse before he is standing in front of them.

“Oh, Guren,” Mito says, letting out a faint puff of laughter. “C-can we help you with something?”

He rubs at his temples, trying very hard not to snap at her. After all, she is his friend and she only wants the money from her bet and she only made said bet because she…

Because she cares about Guren, Shinya, and Mahiru’s relationship?

“That’s a lot of money to just bet like that,” he says casually. “What was your bet, exactly?”

“It’s not that much!” she squeaks. “Or—ah, it’s not what you—!”

Goshi snickers. “He caught you, Mito-chan. Own up to it, at least.”

“They bet on what Shinya-san would say,” Shigure offers pleasantly. “Goshi-san thought Shinya-san wouldn’t have known about yours and Mahiru’s feelings. Mito-chan thought he would.”

“I see.”

“Don’t be mad!” Mito cries. “I’m sure you’d do the same thing if it was one of us!”

“You know I don’t like to bet.”

“That’s not what I meant!”

“I’m only joking,” he says. “I just wanted to make you feel bad.”

Mito’s face twitches slightly.

“Do you want us to leave?” Sayuri asks.

“Of course not. We haven’t even had tea yet.”

“I assumed Mahiru-san wasn’t actually making tea.”

“She was,” Guren says. “She got distracted, though. I imagine the water’s probably cold by now.”

The four of them all look distinctly uncomfortable.

It serves them right, really.

“So...you want to have tea?” Mito ventures.

“Mostly, I want you to stop listening into our conversation, but…” He shrugs. “Tea is okay, too.”

“How about both?” Shigure asks, glancing sideways at Mito a little nervously.

“Both,” Mito agrees quickly. “I like the sound of that very much. What do you think, Guren?”

“It’s your choice,” he says pleasantly. “Whatever you want, Mito.”

He can almost see her sweating.

“We’ll...ah, we’ll wait for you to come back! Tell Mahiru-san to take her time making the tea!”

Mito stands quickly, the other three following suit. They all make their way back towards the television and console. The three girls all look decidedly perturbed, but Goshi laughs and whispers something in Mito’s ear. She shakily reaches a hand over and slaps him in the arm.

Guren watches them for a moment, then sighs and returns to the kitchen.

Shinya and Mahiru both look up him, amused.

“We didn’t care, you know,” Mahiru says. “I figured we’d be saving the heavier parts of this particular conversation for later, anyway.”

“Oh, I didn’t care either,” Guren assures her. “I just figured they deserved it, after all they’ve put me through the past while.”

“How long have they been badgering you about it?” Shinya asks.

“A few months?” He shrugs. “Years is what they’ll say, but even I hadn’t noticed then.”

“Eh? You mean you haven’t been—?”

“I didn’t notice,” Guren corrects. “I’m the same as you two are!”

They exchange a glance, then both burst into laughter. He frowns at them.

“You’re so funny,” Mahiru says fondly. “We know you’re oblivious to this kind of thing. I’m pretty sure we were fourteen the first time I noticed you looking at Shinya like some kind of pining schoolgirl.”

“Excuse me?!”

Shinya snorts. “Well, I don’t know, Mahiru. He looks at you so sappily sometimes it makes me feel a little sick, to be honest.”

Mahiru chuckles. Guren scoffs.

She catches his eye and smiles brightly at him. It’s too hard to be mad when she looks at him like that.

“It’s not like we think it’s bad,” Mahiru tells him. “I think it’s kinda cute, myself.”

He groans. “This was a mistake.”

“She would think you’re cute no matter what,” Shinya says. “I’d agree, if I didn’t think you’d strangle me for it.”

Guren rolls his eyes. “Whatever,” he says. “So, we’re good?”

Mahiru and Shinya pause, thoughtful for a moment.

“Nothing’s changed,” Mahiru reflects.

“But Guren wants to sleep with us, Mahiru!”

“Shut up!”

They both grin at him. He feels his heart beat a little faster. He’s so stupidly fond of their stupid smiles.

He says, “Do you want things to change?”

They both shake their heads.

“Not anything that doesn’t have to,” Mahiru says. “But I’m not averse to sleeping with you, if that’s what you want.”

Guren chokes.

Shinya laughs at him.

“I’m only half-joking,” Mahiru says. “I just mean I don’t want this to change. I think there’s a degree of physical...stuff that our relationship now lacks, though.”

Her cheeks are dusted with a slight blush.

“Well, obviously,” Shinya says. “But even that isn’t a big change. I’d say we’re pretty physical people as it is.”

“Can you stop saying physical?”

Shinya smirks at him. “Why? Does it embarrass you?”

He scowls. “No!”

“Don’t be coy,” Mahiru coos. “It’s just a word, Guren.”

He huffs. “Why do I put up with you two?”

She laughs and reaches off, gently ghosting her fingers over his cheek.

“Because you love us,” she says cheekily. “Right?”

He looks between them. They are the people he has always been near, the people he has had for the majority of his life. His other “pieces” or whatever. The two of three that make up a singular “us.”

Thirteen years ago, they made a promise to each other.

“Stay by my side,” Mahiru said, “and never leave.”

Shinya laughed at her, but quickly realized her seriousness and said, “Don’t be silly. We’ll always be here. We love you.”

They both turned to look at Guren, then, expectant, and so he told them:

“I agree. I love you both more than I do anything else in the world.”

They sit here, now, and he offers out to them:

“I do. I love you both more than I do anything else in the world.”

And in this moment, Guren finds that “us” has never felt quite so perfect before.