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Selective Hearing

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Saiki Kusuo was not your typical boy.

Since he was young, it had been painfully obvious that he was a gifted child, surpassing his brother by intelligence and strength. This had drawn many curious scientists to him, and after several tests that went on for hours and hours, he finally broke. He stopped talking and he stopped wanting to be around people.

His mother, equally as tired of the scientists as her son was, decided to hide his identity away from the public, constantly moving from location to location to avoid the people who knew of her son’s abilities.

This barely helped with Kusuo’s social development as a child, so the more he moved, the more he decided that he would much rather live in an isolated world than a world filled with people with prying eyes and loud mouths.

He did make a friend once though, but it barely lasted due to unforeseen circumstances that involved a few beat up bullies, and it had surprisingly hurt when he had to move away again. Akechi was his first real friend, and realizing that he won’t be seeing him again felt weird.

As much as he loved being alone, a friend would’ve been nice.

So the night before they moved away, he had pushed open his parents’ door, gripping his pajama top tightly, and whispered really really softly to his mother, “Mama. Will I ever make a friend?”

It was the first time he had spoken in a very long time, in fact, his mother couldn’t remember the last time he had spoken to her without pointing and hand gestures. So predictably, she cried and hugged him tight, mumbling how sorry she was for ruining his chance at making a friend, too caught up with trying to avoid those nosey scientists.

Middle school went by like a blur, aside from the occasional school switch that still happened, yet not as often as elementary. He didn’t remember a single thing that happened during those school days, maybe a few anxiety attacks in the bathroom and a sad attempt at trying to socialize, but that was it. Maybe it really was easier to be alone, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about losing his breathing from the sheer amount of stress he got from the assembly hall.

Highschool came and Kusuo had a new plan: Accept that having friends are not necessary and speaking with your mouth is dumb. 

He quickly learnt how to use ASL, much preferring that language over vocally speaking, and made sure his grades were as average as possible. He had excelled through middle school and elementary school like it was nothing, but it had led him to be placed on stage many times because of this. So no more of that, because that was a recipe for disaster to him.

Kusuo made sure everything was in perfect place before heading to school. He made sure the school knew about his condition, and he also made sure to let them know he didn’t want to be publicly known as the school’s “mute kid”, so he’d definitely blend in without an issue.

 

Kusuo couldn’t believe what was happening. He hadn’t even fully registered his first year of highschool properly and his second year was already here. 

To start off, he had friends, something he did not expect to have. He could predict many things, the weather, what people were thinking, and if he tried hard enough, he could even predict who would walk by his classroom in the next second. But he did not see this one coming.

He didn’t even know how. Nendou was a dunce who went from copying his homework to hanging around and inviting him out for ramen and Kaidou was a chuunibyou who thought Kusuo’s hand gestures was some sort of secret language and ended up perceiving Kusuo as some ally to Jet Black Wings.

Yumehara, for no reason other than the fact that Kusuo looked cute, decided she was meant to be with him. A lot of effort was taken to avoid her, but just as she lost interest in him, the class- no, the world’s idol decided she’d have a crush on him too. Then there was the class representative, Hairo, who constantly screamed and moved and how does he not get tired? 

Then there was Kuboyasu, Toritsuka, Aiura, and so many people it made his head spin.

But they all had one thing in common when they communicated with him, and that was the fact that they all thought he was deaf . Granted, people who use ASL were commonly deaf, so he wasn’t blaming them for assuming so, and it did help him a little since this made them talk less around him and gave him a good excuse for ignoring them half the time.

 

Two years he spent in this highschool, and not once had he fired rapid ASL before. He never got the chance to, and he didn’t have much care for doing so. Mostly because most of the people around him didn’t even understand sign language.

But sometimes, listening to Toritsuka talk on and on about some cute girl could really put you on edge. Especially when he kept egging Kusuo on about the type of girls he liked.

The thing was, Kusuo didn’t like romance. He liked observing it and the idea of it, but he would never want to be a part of it. Frankly enough, he didn’t find any joy in it, he much preferred a life of solitude.

“C’mon, I know you can understand me, Saiki,” Toritsuka poked, grinning widely. “What kind of girls are you into? Or perhaps are into boys? Seriously, tell me, maybe we can go on a double date sometime. What about Teruhashi--“

Kusuo scowled, taking a step back and suddenly flying into fast ASL that roughly translated to several insults and long explanations as to why Kusuo wasn’t going to tell him. Toritsuka only blinked in surprise, because he swore he just saw the middle finger between those fast hand gestures, and he took a step back, raising his hands in defeat.

“Relax! Alright!” Toritsuka said, dropping the subject for good. “Next time fling me a note or something, that is seriously intimidating!”

 

Kusuo winced, feeling the third piece of paper Kaidou had just flung at him hit his head. This had been going on for the whole period, and Kusuo wondered why the teacher hadn’t noticed it yet. Most of the notes Kaidou sent weren’t serious anyways, and clearly not worth writing back to him.

He barely understood the references the boy was making anyways. 

“How about we hang out after school? Do you like cake?” The last note read.

Kusuo smiled softly. “Yes, I do like cake. He wrote, and with ease, he strategically threw it back so it would land perfectly on Kaidou’s table.

 

Being around Teruhashi was not ideal at all, because wherever she went, many people would follow. Kusuo hated crowds more than anything, it made his throat close up and his face a little sweaty, though his facial expression would never express his discomfort.

It would always remain blank and devoid of emotions.

Which always peaked Teruhashi’s interest. She found it a challenge to make the “deaf” kid who barely spoke gasp at her beauty, it would be a mighty achievement, yet no matter how hard she tried, it just never worked, which only pushed her to try harder. It resulted in her falling in love with him, unfortunately.

“Saiki does have a cute face though,” Teruhashi mumbled under her breath right as she walked along with Kusuo. She assumed he couldn’t hear her, so she regularly said things like those quietly to herself whenever he wasn’t looking her way. He appreciated the compliment at times, but sometimes, they do get a little creepy.

 

Nendou probably didn’t understand the idea of deaf people, or perhaps he thought his idea was pretty smart. Either ways, Kusuo sometimes couldn’t understand why he had to shout at him to communicate.

Did Nendou think deaf people just had very very poor hearing? Probably. But it often got annoying when they were in public places, and Kusuo couldn’t even tell him to quiet down because he couldn’t tell when exactly he was actually shouting.

Both his shouting and talking volume were around the same range.

But, it was rather nice of him to go out of his way to learn a bit of sign language just so he wouldn’t have to shout at Kusuo anymore. It was actually pretty nice having an ASL buddy.

 

Note to self, do not use ASL around Kuboyasu too much. He will and can mistake them as gang signs and get either sappy or angry. Kusuo said in his head as he watched Kuboyasu stare off into the distance with his fists clenched, reminiscing about his gang days.

 

Several times Kusuo had mistaken Hairo’s sad attempt at ASL as actual words and once spent half an hour straight wondering why the boy had signed refrigerator geese to him during that dodgeball game.

 

Saiko had once walked up to him and declared that whatever “nonsense” Kusuo was going to sign, he’d know right away what they would mean. At first, Kusuo found it hard to believe that the rich boy had taken time to learn ASL within his one day of being in this school, but as it turned out, all Saiko did was hire a translator to follow him around to translate Kusuo’s words.

That was possibly the most amount of effort he’d ever seen from Saiko, and it was good enough.

 

Kusuo wondered if learning ASL had magically made him more attractive. Aiura would not leave him alone, with her blonde hair, tanned skin, overly accessorized things, and bubbly personality. She wasn’t like Teruhashi, who attracted more men than Kusuo could count on his fingers, so she wasn’t as annoying to be around with.

But then again, she was more forward than Teruhashi too, so it didn’t make her more appealing either.

 

Seeing Akechi again resurfaced too many feelings. He hadn’t really realized how much he missed his first friend, but then again, the same boy was probably very aware of Kusuo’s high intelligence and may accidentally reveal his secret with that blabbering mouth of his.

Though, Kusuo had to admit, Akechi hadn’t changed one bit since the last time he saw him. Besides the haircut of course, and some other details, like how good he was at deducting now.

Being around Akechi was always strangely comforting back then, there was just something about listening to him talk that made Kusuo feel comfortable. You could say his talking was like white noise to Kusuo.

“Why does everyone assume you’re deaf? You’re not deaf, you just don’t like talking a lot, right? Why don’t you tell them that? Is it because you find it easier to pretend to be deaf? I can understand that, you were always really quiet, which was nice because you were a great listener too. I never found out why you up and left our elementary school without saying goodbye, but you were crazy sma--” Okay, that was when Kusuo made him stop talking, and Akechi took this as a hint to keep it a secret. There was a pause before Kusuo finally signed something to him.

Sorry. 

“Nothing to apologize! I don’t think it was your fault anyways, but your plan worked like a charm honestly,” Akechi smiled. “I hope you missed me, because I know I missed you. We have a lot of catching up to do, I’ll start! So basically…”

Kusuo did. He really did miss him.

 

A play. Their class was doing a play.

After all that effort of trying to stay off the stage, he still couldn’t avoid it.

He’d feel bad if he didn’t show up to contribute, so he definitely couldn’t just ditch them. The most he could do was play a background role, but even then he’d still be painfully aware that he would be in front of the whole school, and he just couldn’t handle that.

But seeing everyone giving their all to make this play work, Kusuo couldn’t help but join along, regardless of his own condition.

Practice for the play went smoothly, and he found himself being able to cope with it. All he did was sway around like seaweed, since that was his role, and then walk off when his scene ends. Easy, nothing too complicated, he would be fine.

Until Saiko got his sensitive feelings hurt and decided to pull their budget on literally everything, including the costumes. Now, Kusuo couldn’t care less about that issue if it weren’t for the fact that; if the other cast didn’t have their costumes, they wouldn’t stand out as much, and there’d be a higher chance of the audience staring at him.

Yet there wasn’t much time to do last minute preparations for props and clothing, so everyone was encouraged to try their best in making their own costumes before the deadline. Kusuo predicted that no one would actually follow through, and for once, he wished he was wrong.

Apparently he didn’t wish hard enough, because that was exactly what had happened during the play. Everyone mostly came in their gym clothes, some with small props to make it look like they’ve tried, and some who just didn’t do anything at all.

When Kusuo’s scene finally came up, he and the rest of the people who played as seaweed scrambled onto stage, making waving motions with their arms to simulate seaweed underwater. Things went well for the most part, Kusuo did as practiced and waved around just like his other seaweed playing classmates, but the longer he stayed, the more aware he became.

Eyes, everywhere, in front of him, staring too hard, too long. Their mouths are moving, but he can’t hear what they’re saying, it was like they were on the other end of a glass wall. Were they talking about him among themselves? 

Had it always been this warm on stage? Was it normal for his hands to shake? Was he breathing? He didn’t remember exhaling, nor inhaling. His throat went dry, his whole body rigid from...fear?

Someone was pushing him, someone else was pulling him, but he can’t properly grasp what was happening. 

The world went a bit blurry before he completely went dark.

 

Kusuo woke up in the nurse’s office, body aching and throat dry. He wondered how long it took for him to wake up, but depending on the sun outside, it may have been an hour or so. He sat up slowly, groaning slightly from the pain, before suddenly being attacked by a hug from a familiar person.

“Pal! You’re okay,” Nendou cheered, finally pulling away from the hug to double check on his friend. He lifted his hands, proceeding to sign to him, You just suddenly fell over after they pulled you off stage.

My bad, Kusuo signed back tiredly. Sorry.

“What’d he say?” Kaidou nudged Nendou. Did he really have to ask? It was quite obvious.

“He says he’s fine.” Nendou answered, completely leaving out Kusuo’s apology, which he found strangely comforting yet offensive.

“He literally had a panic attack on stage, what do you mean he’s fine?” Kaidou argued, then he looked over at Kusuo with a deeper frown. “Why didn’t you tell us you were having an attack?”

“He wasn't being attacked,” Nendou said blankly.

“A panic attack, it’s different,” Kaidou huffed. “Saiki, not to be intrusive, but do you have anxiety?”

Did...he? He honestly never thought about it properly. Sure, he did have anxiety attacks every now and then when he was a kid, but this was the first one he had after a long time, so he never really considered he might’ve had anxiety.

Actually, it was starting to all make sense to him now that he thought about it.

“I’m going to take that as a yes but you didn’t know,” Kaidou said slowly, concern laced in his tone. It made sense that Kaidou would know, it did seem like he used to have the same issue.

“Oh for sure, can’t you tell from the way his eyes had widened just now by half a centimetre?” Akechi piped up from behind. 

Good freaking grief.

 

He knew his mother didn’t trust doctors, but Kusuo really needed to see one after literally fainting in school. Not only that, it wasn’t his first time having an attack either, this was just the first time it had gotten this bad.

Sitting in a psychiatrist's waiting room felt odd, because it seemed a lot more homey than a regular doctor’s waiting room, with paintings hung on the walls and carpeted floor. He wasn’t particularly nervous, but he knew his mother was, because the hand she was using to hold onto him was shaking.

It’ll be okay, he reassured, squeezing his mother’s hand tight.

And it was okay. The lady was really nice to him, gentle and understanding, she barely pried and most of the questions she asked were pretty normal. She was a little surprised to learn that Kusuo could speak, but not in a way that was obvious, only Kusuo could tell that she was.

Communication with her was sorta slow. He had to type onto his notes app on his phone for her to read to answer her questions instead of hand signing, which he didn’t really mind all that much.

His mother, who had been waiting outside for them to be done, immediately got up when Kusuo was finished and asked several questions, one being: Did he need to take medication now?

Fortunately enough, it seemed like his case wasn’t too severe yet, mostly because he could still handle being around people without an issue, so he didn’t need to take any meds for now. Although his selective mutism was pretty serious, it wasn’t too bad either in his case, due to the fact that Kusuo spoke through sign language rather than verbally, so he wasn’t completely mute per se.

He came back next week, and the next, and many more weeks after that. He really liked this therapy thing.

 

“So your friends think you’re deaf, so you’re using that as an excuse to ignore them sometimes?”

Oh, when she put it like that, it just made him sound like an asshole. But yeah, he pretty much was doing that.

“Is there a particular reason why?”

Kusuo drummed his fingers on his lap. There were many reasons why, but those reasons had long lost their meaning. At first, it was because he didn’t want any friends, but now that he did have friends, there wasn’t any reason for him to keep following them through. No matter how many times he told himself he didn’t like them, they were still his friends.

“And why do you not want any friends?”

“Making friends was hard, keeping friends was hard, and losing them was even harder.” Kusuo typed out. “I guess I stopped trying. But then they started coming to me, and it was weird because I had already accepted it.”

“So you got scared?”

She could say that.

She uncrossed her legs, only to cross them back moments later, and adjusted her glasses, leaning forward, “It’s okay to feel scared about losing your friends, but if you’re going to push everyone who wants to be with you away, then how are you going to know if they’ll truly leave you? There’s nothing wrong with wanting space, but people do need other people to survive.”

 

One of the many things he did like about his friends was the fact that they all knew he enjoyed sweets. It was pretty obvious that he did, with the way his face would smile softly and soften at the taste of coffee jelly.

Surprisingly, they never notice that he’d much rather be left alone. Either that, or they don’t care.

It was a small outing event, they were mainly just eating and talking, but also trying their best to include Kusuo as much as possible, even though he didn’t mind being left alone with his coffee jelly and cakes.

“Man, I feel bad not including Saiki in conversations sometimes,” Kaidou mumbled, assuming Kusuo didn’t know what he had just said because he wasn’t reading Kaidou’s lips. “Since it’s hard to talk to him sometimes.”

“I’m sure we’re trying our best,” Teruhashi beamed, making Kaidou flush red.

“We should probably just learn sign language like Nendou did.” Kaidou hummed, rolling a fork between his thumb and finger. “It’d be a lot easier.” Though possibly soul crushing for him, considering Kaidou had cram school and such already on his schedule.

“Sounds fun,” Kuboyasu commented. “I’d be down. Maybe we can surprise him.” Oh that was just too much, too nice, Kusuo didn’t even know what he did to earn this much love.

Nendou snorted, grinning widely as he pumped his fist on his chest, “I can teach you all!”

“That would save a lot of money.”

Kusuo stopped eating, a rare sight to see despite him being undisturbed, and he placed his spoon down. Everyone stopped talking, looking over at him in confusion before he finally opened his mouth, surprising them even more.

“I can hear you,” Kusuo managed out. “I always could.”

Teruhashi was the first to react, eyes widening and her face turning bright red. All those comments she muttered, he had heard them all.

Nendou blinked, smiling widely with his arms spread wide, “Congratulations on learning how to hear, pal!” Not quite there, but appreciated.

“Uh, uhm, OF COURSE! I knew the whole time,” Kaidou flashed a charming grin, which would’ve worked if it weren’t for the awkward pose he was doing.

Kuboyasu only stared, and drank his tea, “Oh. Well.”

“Sorry.” Then Kusuo paused, and raised his hands to sign. Felt more comfortable being like this, but you all are too nice to me. So the least I could do was tell you the truth. I don’t talk because I have selective mutism.

Nendou translated for them, and they all softened hearing this. Kusuo pressed his back against the booth seat and fiddled with his spoon before taking another bite. That felt easy, and weight lifting. Now that they know, he didn’t have to feel so bad about them going out of their way to do things for him just because they thought he was deaf.

 

“Of course I knew from the beginning,” Akechi boasted slightly, eyeing Aiura and Toritsuka with a smug grin. Aiura rolled her eyes at him, but pointed at Kusuo with a narrowed look.

“So you, like, could hear us the whole time,” she confirmed with him again. “I always thought you were just stupid smart, or something, at figuring things out despite not being able to hear, y’know?” Well, she wasn’t wrong about the smart part.

“That is so annoying!” Toritsuka blurted. “You’re annoying! Jeez! Would’ve been so much easier! Did you not tell us because you want an excuse to ignore us?” Kusuo recounted the number of times he avoided Toritsuka running towards him from behind, pretending he couldn’t hear him.

He proceeded to shake his head, very very slowly.

“He’s lying, by the way,” Akechi whispered. Kusuo clicked his tongue at that, earning himself a cheeky grin from Akechi.

Well that was that, now they all knew Kusuo wasn’t some deaf kid, even though that info might’ve spread throughout the school, which he really couldn’t care less about.

It was really nice, though, having friends he could trust.