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The Club President is exhausting. This is just a fact, a well-known one, and not one that the President is unaware of, though it's obvious he doesn't care. Most people in Hokuto's life are exhausting, though, and even as he speaks the words "I hate you" to the President it's not enough of a deterrent for either of them to abandon the other.

"I don't know how you can stand him," Tomoya marvels, and Hokuto shrugs.

"I can't," he says. "I just do."

It makes more sense than it sounds, and it's truer than it feels. His disdain for the Club President comes less from his habits and apparently inconsiderate nature than from his insistence on underestimating and trying to provoke Hokuto - it's not anything he doesn't get at home, though. But it's not just that.

"Then I will dance for the rest of my days, so that you may never grow bored of me!" the President exclaims, and Hokuto thinks of all the roles he's seen the older student in; loving mother, helpful spirit, sadistic mentor... and wicked villain, just the once, taking the stage only to fall to a death he could've prevented if he wanted to. A self-proclaimed jester, pet kept on display at the side of the unworthy king that the President and his friends elected at their own expense. Hokuto shakes his head.

I want to be able to see the protagonist.

He only ever explained himself once, but Hokuto understood what he meant. That role had been passed down to him; the student council president had his chance at playing the hero, defeating the villains he created, and when he reclined in his throne, believing his role fulfilled, Hokuto was the one to pick up his fallen sword. And the Club President... he was willing to play the villain again, to see what Hokuto would do.

But we're better than the student council, Hokuto tells Trickstar. Makoto looks uncertain. I'm not talking about our skills. I'm talking about who we are.

"Well," Mao grins, and Hokuto bows his head.

"I'm sorry."

"I know what you meant, it's all right."

Boring, loveless Hokuto!

One day, I'll be the one acting out the surprises.

Was it Anzu? The Club President attributes all of Hokuto's changes to her, and in many ways he's right. On several occasions, Anzu's conviction was even stronger than much of Trickstar's, or at least, she shared Hokuto's specific type of anger at what had been enacted. Well, some of it, anyway. The others had other motivations for joining, though Hokuto can't identify them as well as Makoto might. But Anzu - she understood Hokuto's righteous frustration, his insistence that things couldn't go on the way they were because they put people at an unfair disadvantage... well, they put him at an unfair disadvantage... just to keep the student council in power, right? But we're better than them. We're better than them.

It's difficult to say he has respect for the Club President, though he certainly feels something, clicks his tongue as the President does a dance right on the edge of the stage, shoes teetering halfway off, jumping and illusion turning like it's nothing, and for what? He produces the roses right in front of Hokuto's face, and Hokuto can't help the deep inhale he takes, letting the fragrance overwhelm him.

"He didn't ruin roses for you?" Tomoya asks. Hokuto shrugs.

"He didn't ruin much of anything, you know."

"Are you serious?"

The Club President talks a lot about love for someone who doesn't appear to have much experience of it, and he thinks his fixation on parentage is less obvious than it actually is, like Hokuto can't tell he deliberately chooses terrible people to breathe depth into, like Hokuto can't see the gratification in the President's motions, the relaxation he's usually lacking in person when he's performing on the stage, sinking into cruel stepmothers to sing their words so beautiful you almost weep, almost, almost... and Tomoya's crying again.

"At... at least he's touching on stage."

Hokuto's never found himself enamoured so much with the President's performances as with his techniques, although.

Although.

Loving you is so complicated, Hokuto mumbles, and Wataru's eyebrows shoot further up his head than Hokuto's ever seen them, though by all accounts he shouldn't have even been able to hear him from that distance - though by all accounts, Hokuto knew he would.

"Love?" he asks - he mouths, really, and Hokuto says nothing, sinks himself back into the audience. It's fine's show and there's only one real reason for someone like himself to be here.

Wataru doesn't ask and Hokuto doesn't tell, he's getting better at acting but on stage he still feels like he's all out of sync.

"Stop typecasting me," he complains.

"A prince is the only role you've ever rehearsed for and you still can't get it right. This is the opposite of typecasting."

"Tsk."

Tomoya is the one who complains about these things, not Hokuto. But he's getting tired.

"You devote many of your thoughts to me, don't you Hokuto? How delightful!" the President enthuses, and there's no expression of being flattered in his eyes - Hokuto would know by now. The President is better at acting out characters than he is at acting out himself.

"Far less than you think," Hokuto says flatly. Maybe it's true.

"Still so cold."

And perhaps there's some bitterness in Wataru's voice. But he said from the beginning that he's experienced with regret in matters of the heart.

Hokuto doesn't touch him, doesn't need to, talking to Wataru should feel like a language exercise, like speaking as a human to something otherworldly the way everyone else says it feels. But Hokuto can only see a person with a loud voice, a person with techniques to play a villain, a person who's always teetering at the edge on purpose.

How is it that you're so desperate for love but not attention?

Subaru is loud, hyperactive, but he's not comparable to the president, not really, jokes and thinly veiled pleas to like me, I’m just begging you to like me, Mao keeps saying that about himself but Hokuto's not good enough at this to read him, and one time Hokuto bled on stage.

It was stupid. He'd pulled the sword from his sheath, it was sharper than he expected when he ran his hand over the blade in an impulsive attempt at method acting. The President signalled to first aid but Hokuto kept acting, looked the President in the eyes and glared a warning.

"And what was that supposed to be?" The President laughed when the curtains closed, when the audience had all dispersed, when Tomoya finished bandaging up Hokuto's hand. "What accomplished swordsman runs his hand over a sharp blade, Hokuto? Were you playing a prince or a curious child?"

"Even kings may be stupid, curious children," Hokuto says pointedly, and the President seems to lose his urge to smile.

"I thought it was cool how you kept acting even though you were hurt, Hokuto," Tomoya says, and Hokuto smiles at him.

"Don't copy me with that, though."

Tomoya snorts. "Like I'll ever get to touch a sword on stage." He twirls on his heel and stalks off without giving the President a chance to respond, not that that stops him from shouting after Tomoya anyway.

Tomoya turns back, crosses his arms against his chest. "Some princesses know how to use swords, you know?" he shouts back. "All the girl characters you give me are exactly the same!"

And then he's gone, theatre club door slammed shut behind him. Wataru's eyebrows are raised, eyes sparkling.

"You like Tomoya," Hokuto comments.

"I love everyone, of course," the President answers. Hokuto shrugs, fingers the texture of the gauze on his hand.

"Really, though, Hokuto, show more regard for your safety," he reprimands him. "Though it's a marked improvement over your usual overly careful way of doing things, it wasn't even in character, and if you were to collapse on stage someday because you pushed yourself too hard on impulse, that would certainly be a tragedy!"

Hokuto quirks an eyebrow, looking quizzically up at the President. "You're comparing me to him?"

"To whom, Hokuto?"

"The student council president," Hokuto says. "You fear for his safety a lot, don't you?"

"Is Hokuto suggesting Eichi is the only person who might collapse on a stage?" Wataru grins, and maybe it's supposed to make Hokuto feel foolish, but he doesn't.

He shrugs. It's not important.

"Of course I'm concerned for your safety," the President continues after a moment. "After all, you are one of my actors. Had the injury been more severe, I'd’ve had to stop the show to treat you, Hokuto. The audience would be disappointed, and besides, my heart would simply break!"

"You have a heart?" Hokuto asks dryly, though it's not particularly a secret.

"Am I being mocked by Hokuto, whose heart was only awakened mere months ago?" Wataru retaliates, voice and tone the same as usual. “Pity!”

Hokuto looks away.

His grandmother shouldn't have been the one to raise him. That was the job of his parents, who were so absorbed in their stardom that they couldn't afford him that duty. Hokuto understands this, though he doesn't forgive it, still grateful for what good it did do him. He's used to not being coddled, though still showered in love and wisdom; he knows well the desire to pay that back to the ones who give it out for free where others failed. The President is better about this than Hokuto is, the President knows how not to hold a grudge, but some grudges are important to hold on to.

Are you worrying about me? My, what a lovely thing, to be worried about!

Of course I'm worried, Hokuto says irritably, and Wataru moves to reassure him, to tell Hokuto that these tricks have been practiced for years, that there's no way he could possibly botch one and hurt himself. His ability to hear is extraordinary, but the theatre club president is a terrible listener.

That's not what I'm talking about.

The angel role doesn't suit him particularly well, in Hokuto's opinion, having seen the President perform on his own before. But perhaps that's partially Hokuto's fault too, joining the theatre club, forcing him out of his comfortable solitude into the possibility of once again earning someone's hatred.

Oh?

But Hokuto can't elaborate, so he remains silent.

"You rather love me, don't you, Hokuto?" the President asks. It's not a question. And what does it matter, anyway?

"That's not what I want from you," Hokuto tells him.

"You're not speaking in complete thoughts, you know, Hokuto?" Wataru informs him. "If you're going to omit the subject you have to make sure the audience knows what you're talking about."

"I don't have an audience right now. I'm talking to you."

Wataru rolls his shoulders back, sits even taller on the desk. "You know the phrase, though. All the world's a stage."

"You’d better hope it isn't," Hokuto deadpans, leaning back in the prop chair and scooting it backwards a little, away from the President.

"Oho?"

"You'd go from being an incredible actor to a terrible one."

The President laughs, though it's less a laugh than a hoot, and manages somehow to look completely unamused. Hokuto wonders if he's gone too far, given that he's a terrible actor all the time.

"And what would you know about that, Hokuto?"

It's hard to say, feels arrogant to suggest that he knows anything at all. But at this point, Hokuto has been at the President's side longer than anyone else has, student council president included.

Months blend together, and like magnets Hokuto and the President play games of attraction and repulsion, attention and avoidance. Velvet curtains drawn over stages covered in corn syrup and red food dye, over Hokuto dressed in a prince's clothes and Tomoya's skirts dancing, dancing, dancing. The strong scent of roses, birds' feathers shed from wings tucked into jackets.

"If you want a kiss, all you have to do is ask."

"I'm not in love with you, Club President."

"I'm wounded."

But I don't need to watch you burn up because you forgot you're a star.

"You're so amazing, Hokuto," Tomoya says, and Hokuto waits for him to shriek when he notices his word choice. It's a miracle you haven't quit yet doesn't get spoken, though these conversations happen often enough that Hokuto knows how they go.

But you haven't quit either, have you, Tomoya? Hokuto thinks. At the edge of the stage, the President is dancing, dancing, dancing.

Hokuto knows why.