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Small Steps

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With the last day brought the last of the ceremonies, that of the third-year graduation.

Of course.

Of course. Graduation.

Wasn't this what everything was leading up towards?

In the normal course of the school year, it felt like such a very narrow gap. From one 'year' to the next--... from March to April, from one to another in so many days. Those previous years, it had barely felt like anything. Even the changeover from the lower tier to the upper tier was still--... it was still normal. Everything was still as it always was. Each new year brought the slight uncertainty of the classes chosen but Shin had never worried too much over that. There wasn't particularly anybody in any class - across the school, even - that he felt so concerned by as to be upset at being parted from them for the duration of the daily classes. Lessons were for paying attention and working, surely? (That, and he found himself napping through more than he meant to more often than not.)

And there--... there it still was, these things considered in the present tense. Matters of lessons, matters of behaviour, everything that was normal and usual and suddenly, suddenly, this strange day had crept up over them, silently and without warning.

(Could you really say that, though? Could you really say that, in the past three years, all of the teachers and all of the lessons hadn't been leading up to and preparing for this eventual graduation? Graduation, university, all of those high and lofty things that seemed and felt so far away, that sometimes felt so unimportant.)

For years, those three years especially, the teachers had mentioned university at every turn. What subjects would you major in? What would you concentrate on? What kind of university were you trying to get into? Would you be able to pass the entrance exam? All of these sorts of things. For so much of the time Shin had had his mind on so many things other than university, but you couldn't stop the passing of time. Even when everything seemed desperate and nothing seemed worth it, you'd still go to school the next day and have the same teachers asking the same things over and over again. Somewhere along the line, Shin had relented. A university had been picked. His subjects. His focus on study. He'd have girls from the lower year run up and ask him where he was going and what he was studying, surely it's Music? You're going to study Music, right, Nishimura-senpai--?

Shin would have liked to have said yes. That was always everybody's first assumption. His first choice. However, even the great and popular singer Nishimura Shin had an awkward family and pushy parents to deal with; of course, his mother had never approved of his being in a band no matter how successful. Of course, it was difficult to make any big decision such as university without the support of your family (even if only financial). Many arguments had led to one final agreement (or at least, compromise): Shin could go to university so long as it was for, essentially, anything other than for Music. "You can't rely on that band of yours all your life, you know--! What happens when you're too old, when you're not interested anymore, when they're not interested in you--? You need something to fall back on."

He settled on Literature in the end. He didn't know where in life such a subject could get him, but supposed that he'd never really considered anything other than his band in the first place. His mother's words had been harsh, but she did have a point; what if the worst-case scenario came to pass? What was there to fall back on? (Shin vowed only to worry about that were it to become an actual problem.)

This had been Shin's line of thought for most of his time at school up to that point. Don't think about it until you have to. It's not important yet, so you don't have to worry about it.

Then, suddenly, he had to think about it. It was important.

None of this really hit Shin, not properly, until he was sat in the main assembly hall of Seirei Gakuen, listening to the headmaster give his final speech. Probably the same speech he gave every year, surely? Seeing another year of bright young students move on in their academic career, seeing them go on to bigger and better things... then of course, the final formal handover from the third-year Student Council members to the incoming first-year students; everybody had suspected that Aihara for quite some time now, but seeing Honma and Kondou go alongside him was something of a surprise, for those who cared. Shin didn't, not particularly. He did have to admit feeling something for listening to Yoshikuni's final speech, though. Knowing that this was the end of Yoshikuni's time as leader of the Student Council, knowing what that meant and knowing that, due to being in the same year, he'd have no chance of his own to see how a Student Council without Yoshikuni operated. Still, Yoshikuni seemed to favour Makoto; Shin supposed that it might not be altogether that different. (Whatever.)

(It wasn't any of his business, not anymore.)

By then, Shin hadn't been paying too much attention. He listened in to Yoshikuni's speech but drifted out the longer he went on, sat in the audience feeling frozen for the implication of the moment. Just the fact that they were all there like that in the first place--!... All of a sudden, Shin felt like he wasn't prepared for anything. Going off to university? Was that really alright? What would that be like? (Not like this.) These days that had passed in such a leisurely fashion (and those that hadn't) - to be sat there in that hall, Shin didn't know if he was prepared to give that routine up. Knew that he wasn't. Meant it as a challenge. I won't--! (But of course, there was no choice.)

During all of the formality, Shin chanced a look over his shoulder. 3-B sat behind 3-A, but Shin hadn't been prepared to see Akihiro sat right behind him. If he had been further away then perhaps he could have looked for longer and prepared himself to look away when the moment felt right, but when he turned and looked and saw Akihiro staring back at him in turn, he didn't know how to react. He knew he couldn't hide the surprise in his eyes but to his credit, Akihiro didn't seem to react to that, not at all. He still stared, though. Shin didn't dare to turn around again, not after that.

When they left the hall at the end of the ceremony, Shin felt fingers brush his shoulder. He looked behind him, but didn't see anybody.

Following that was nothing at all. The end. After the end. As things went, this meant near-countless female students lining up practically outside of the assembly hall to confess to him; Shin supposed he'd been stupid not to expect this or try to prepare for it. He was famous and he was popular and he was leaving the school, after all - he wasn't part of the Student Council, but he knew enough through osmosis to know the importance of these traditions to the female students of Seirei Gakuen (and all over the country if not the world, even). These girls presented a barrier between him and the one thing that suddenly felt sickeningly important what if it's too late but Shin felt his phone buzz in his pocket, checked it to see a message from Akihiro, "Come to the fountain when you're not so busy."

(It wasn't too late.)

Shin smiled at each of the girls, took their confessions kindly and responded in the sorts of ways he thought they'd want to be responded to. I'll always be with you - when you listen to me sing, remember this moment. That kind of thing. Though we must part, there will always be the time we shared together at this school. He hugged each one, a little too tight, a little too long. (Give them something to remember.) He watched with an impassive expression when the last one went, looking around him to make sure he was alone before walking back up towards the fountain - maybe for the last time?... He smiled as he did so, thinking back to those girls. He could have made it on the Student Council, couldn't he? Of course, the big scandal of earlier on in his academic career had been when he had rightfully made enough votes to end up on the Student Council in the first place - only, he had no interest in taking up such a position. Shin wondered if anybody had actually turned down a place on the Student Council before. Still, moments like that gave him the chance to taste the lifestyle, and he didn't regret it. (And now it was all over.)

"If you've come to confess to me, Nishimura, then you're too late."

Shin had been walking and thinking without particularly looking where he was going, so used was he to travelling along that path. He looked up in surprise at that, "Jin--... Jinguuji?"

Akihiro stood with his back against the middle light positioned off from the side of the fountain. He smirked at Shin's surprise, "I assumed you'd get the message. Shouldn't be that surprising to see me, right?"

"... Mm."

A flicker across Akihiro's brow told that he'd registered Shin's somewhat subdued tone, but he passed it off for the immediate moment. "I guess it must have taken you this long to get through all those girls! Jesus. I bet the guys on the Student Council wouldn't have had half of that to deal with..."

Shin went over to sit on the concrete rim of the fountain, "Ask that friend of yours, he should know."

"I don't need to know, I can already guess. Anyway, I guess you want my button or something, right? Well~, you're too late!"

Shin did raise his eyebrow at that, "You--... too?"

"Yeah. Well, I mean, it was just one girl. All blushing and embarrassed. Been in love with me since the first time she saw me, apparently. Gave me a detailed account and everything. Saw me on the school roof one time and decided that I was the one or something." Akihiro dropped the smug attitude, rubbing at the back of his neck and going over to join Shin sat on the fountain's edge. "Kind of creepy, if you ask me. I mean, girls can do what they want, but falling in love with me based on that? Falling in love with me? I mean--... jeesh. Don't get it. Don't get it at all."

"I hope you were at least civil to her."

"Come on, what kind of monster do you think I am?! She's got my button now, hasn't she? Poor girl though, confessing to me of all people... hope she doesn't come across me in five years wanting marriage and kids or anything. Too weird. Did get Megumi-sensei come see me though, wanting me to take care and everything... couldn't help but smile at that. Megumi-sensei! Hah, I bet the boys in our year would be jealous if they knew that. Megumi-sensei! Came to see me!"

"... Because she's got reason to worry."

"Well... yeah. But hey, a good thing's a good thing, right?"

A long pause followed that, in which Akihiro was given enough time to catch up with Shin's attitude. The only sound between them was that of a long sigh and then nothing more for what felt like just a little too long. Shin hunched over, staring at his hands, pressing his fingers together. Did Akihiro feel this? Did Akihiro feel the same way? He didn't know. That they were both here now felt at least like something, but he didn't know what; he sighed too, but kept that silent to the atmosphere.

Do you feel the same, Akihiro?

They'd been avoiding this, both of them. Each advancing day on the calendar was another that they'd lost but even so, neither of them gained the ability to speak through the pressing nature of passing time. There were things that could be said, maybe - confessions of need, confessions of love, all of those things that came at the end of a school year, but serious this time. They entertained those girls their fantasies, despite (and because of) the fact that none of them could even begin to be aware of the quieter undercurrents of tension and passion that flowed freely through their school. Most of those girls were probably unaware of the Student Council's hidden side, even. Must be nice to be so ignorant, Shin thought.

What was there to say, though? Again, another thing Shin didn't feel prepared for. He wasn't like those girls, hadn't spent the past term planning what he'd say on the last day. Had never thought much about the last day to begin with. He dared glance up at Akihiro and caught his line of sight again, looking away quickly as he felt he should and then wondering why. Wondering why, if it felt so pressing, he'd still be so coy. Wondering why he knew all the things he wanted to say but not how to say them. (Wondering when this boy, who not so long ago had seemed to live only to antagonise him, had become so important so as to be his final meeting at Seirei Gakuen.)

"... Akihiro."

The familiarity caught Akihiro by surprise; he didn't look away but his expression became that bit more open, as if to say oh. You're going this route already? Okay.


"This... this is the end."

"... Yeah."

Shin knew that he was stating the obvious and knew that, in any other situation, this likely would have earnt him the sharp edge of Akihiro's tongue. However, it was the end, and so such things paled in comparison.

"I... hope you do well at your university."

"... You too."

(The emphasis on your. Your university. That university that you'll go to.)

(That place where you're going, separate from where I'll be.)



Shin stared straight forward, not knowing what to say, how to say it, why he'd started to speak in the first place. He looked down at his fingers again, any amount of fanciful words crossing his mind.

Don't go.

I won't go if you won't.


I want to follow you

I want to follow you wherever you go and for however long

even if you try to leave me behind I'll still follow

(Shin wondered about the girl who had confessed to Akihiro. All those who'd confessed to him.) He looked back up (but not at Akihiro), still rubbing his fingers together.

"... Akihiro, I--..."

"... For a song-writer, you're not being very lyrical." (There was no sting there, though. Not now.)

For anybody else, this could have been a love-confession. Looking to Akihiro, Shin knew that. The end of term, the end of the academic year, the end of their time together--... and yet, their relationship wasn't one like that. To say something like that--... to say 'love', that didn't say enough, not nearly enough. What did that even mean? Shin didn't know and didn't know if Akihiro knew, either. That word seemed too twee and simplistic for what they shared - what it felt like they shared, at least. Even now, at the last possible moment, Shin didn't know if Akihiro felt the same. Didn't know how Akihiro felt about this at all. All this time and he still didn't know how Akihiro felt, only hoping that it was something like how he felt, at least at that moment.

"... Don't forget me, Akihiro."

Shin wasn't sure if that was exactly what he'd wanted to say, but it seemed to sum it up enough. He supposed that this wasn't what Akihiro had been expecting to hear either, given the small look of surprise evident in his eyes. "Shin, what--... how could I forget you? If nothing else, you're gonna be on the cover of every music magazine right the way across the university years, yeah? Don't think I could forget about you if I tried."

Shin kept his eyes on Akihiro, "... Don't try."

That tight look came to Akihiro's expression again, that knowledge of this being a serious situation. He glanced away from Shin for a moment before seeming to pass this thought off, knowing that now above all other times, he shouldn't look away.

"... I won't."

He moved one hand, taking Shin's closest and pressing it down to the cold edge of the fountain with his own.

"I won't."

Shin closed his eyes, "... I--... ...I know."

All this time and all that pain, and none of it seemed important anymore. Even words seemed completely unsatisfactory now, utterly failing in expressing the meaning or the gravity of the situation. And so instead Shin and Akihiro sat there in silence, not making to move (and so keeping their hands together). There had been so much more in the past, but the past was the past and things had been so desperate, then. Now, it was too late to even be desperate. They sat by the fountain until it started to get dark, then finally admitting that perhaps, perhaps, they should make their way home.

(They walked out of the school gates hand-in-hand, not caring if anybody saw them.)

(There was nobody around by that time, anyway.)