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Side Story: Don't Be Sorry

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Floating in the wind and hanging high upon the branches of trees, the beauty of autumn leaves could be found almost everywhere the eye could see. Red, yellow, and brown foliage reached up overhead, stretching into the sky in an elegant mix, giving the surroundings a breathtaking beauty.

It was autumn now, and the temperatures in the region were prone to changing everyday. Sometimes it was a comfortable warmth, at other times, it was a bit colder, and the temperatures changed throughout the day as well. It was warmer during the day, just the right kind to comfortably wear a shirt, but colder at night and during the early mornings. It gave way for interesting scents as well—the air carrying the smell of dry leaves, the more subtle sweetness of maple, at times hints of a gentle fire.

The switching between warm and cool made it much easier for the unprepared to catch a cold, such was flu season every year.

Hayato wasn't one to catch colds easily though.

He was a baseball player, an athlete, and even if it weren't the flu season, he had to keep his discipline. That meant taking care of himself and making sure he was in top condition all year round.

Well, okay, Hayato wasn't the most disciplined there was, but he tried.

He was an alpha through and through, and taking care of himself meant he was less likely to succumb to random hormone spikes. And with the number of times he's been caught unaware lately, several times nearly nearly breaking his usually stable state of mind, Hayato was willing to do anything that could possibly help.

Really, there was just one thing—or rather, person—that was causing all of this instability in the stoic boy.

It was none other than his best-friend-and-unrequited-crush. The brown-haired, big-brown-eyed omega with a ridiculously adorable smile that just screamed friendliness and kindness—

You get the point.

Instead of a cold, Hayato caught feelings for Kashima Ryuuichi, that was certain. AND he'd already been (unknowingly) friend-zoned once, just this past summer during a summer festival in a nearby neighborhood.

What the heck was this mess?

The alpha would have never imagined himself in such a situation before, but here he was, and it was way way too late to get out of it. He cared about Kashima, maybe more than he could admit to himself, and his instincts were already set onto keeping the other boy safe and happy as much as he could.

Even if that meant dealing with all the shenanigans that seemed to follow the object of his affection.

 

Today was supposed to be just another typical school day.

Hayato would have arrived at the daycare with Taka early in the morning, stuck around to help for a little bit (suffering as he hid his feelings towards Kashima) before going to the baseball grounds for practice. Then, he'd sit in class for hours, half-focusing in actual class and half-distracted by Kashima, have break at the daycare... where Kashima would spend his break....

Alright, cut this poor boy some slack—he'd do everything he does everyday while being overly conscious that Kashima was in so much of it. Every. Single. Day.

The young alpha barged into the daycare room that day with a way-too-loud Taka in one arm, fully prepared (not) to face another day so close and yet not close enough with his best friend who also happened to be his crush. Did he mention that already? Yeah, he's not getting over it anytime soon.

"Ah, good morning Kamitani!" The dreaded omega greeted, smiling as he did.

"Good morning," Hayato put Taka down, noticing how the daycare didn't seem to be fully set-up yet. "Need some help?"

Kashima blushed a little, scratching his face in embarrassment as he tended to do while the taller alpha approached. "Um...If you're okay with it..."

Usaida popped up from crouching nearby, giving Hayato a lazy wave and intercepting the boy's path towards Kashima. "Good morning Hayato-kun," the pink-haired adult said playfully as he reached out to scent the younger alpha. "The extra hands are much appreciated, Ryuu-chan and I were both a little late today."

Hayato nosed at Usaida's wrist, reciprocating the scenting, even though he was inwardly a bit annoyed. The older omega's words didn't escape his notice however.

Hayato turned to Kashima. "It's rare for you to be late, isn't it?"

"Yeah..." the omega said. Hayato could smell the embarrassment more with every step. "I overslept a little this morning."

Usaida chuckled as he crouched down once again, arranging the table and floor mats for the toddlers. "What's wrong with a little extra sleep, Ryuu-chan?"

Kashima gave a wry smile in the older omega's direction as he accepted Hayato's wrist for scenting. "I don't want to hear that from you, Usaida-san," he said, tone flat. The shorter boy closed his eyes then, breathing deeply at the alpha's scent glands, the now-familiar scent calming every bit of tension in him.

The effect was also one that Hayato sought. He looked forward to scenting the other boy every day because it soothed him better than anything else and melted away all his turbulent feelings, even for a just a second. Nosing the shorter boy's scent glands, the alpha sunk into this bubble of solace once again—or he was supposed to, at least.

Kashima's calming scent of spring and refreshing comfort seemed to be normal, at first, but Hayato couldn't help but notice that something was off. Was it a little weaker today? Or was that an unfamiliar undertone that he couldn't make out very clearly?

Hayato wasn't sure.

He didn't have enough time to find out.

"Is your scent a little fainter than usual?" Kashima quietly asked. "Did you not get enough sleep or something?"

Hayato was a little put-off by this, eyes looking at the other boy unblinkingly. "I don't feel any different than usual."

From his perspective, it was Kashima that had a fainter, unusual scent. Whatever was going on with the other boy, it seemed to be affecting his senses, or so Hayato thought.

"Really?" The omega opened his eyes, voice still soft. "Even so, take care of yourself okay?"

Isn't that something you should be telling yourself, you dummy?

They separated a few seconds later, Kashima hurrying to finish the preparations in the room before the other toddlers came. Hayato, of course, helped as much as he could. It wasn't entirely the first time he'd done this. He had to help a lot more in the past when the omega beside him was absent. Which wasn't often, but it did happen since they were at the age when they started fully presenting.

By the time they were finished and the other kids arrived, Hayato had decided to skip practice for the morning. So much for athlete's discipline. Something was telling him he should keep an eye on the other boy who, now that he'd observed, was looking a bit more sluggish than usual. Kashima's eyelids were droopy, making him seem a little bit more sleepy and aloof like his little brother and a certain sleepyhead dozing on the floor.

"Are you okay?" Hayato asked, sitting cross-legged as hyperactive children ran around them. "You look a little out of it."

"Ah," Kashima scratched his cheek with his index finger, his usual nervous habit, but every action seemed to have less energy than normal in Hayato's eyes. "I probably just slept wrong last night or something."

The alpha hummed in response, turning his attention to keeping the brats out of Kashima's hair as much as possible for the rest of the morning. Not that Hayato stood a chance, the other boy was clearly a favorite among the kids. Given that even some of the senpai in the school found Hayato intimidating, it was plenty understandable.

When the time came for the them to head for their classroom, Kashima looked even more tired and groggy than when Hayato first came in. Hayato was calm still, but he was concerned, his instincts itching under his skin. "Oi, are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, don't worry," Kashima waved a hand in front of his—slightly blushing?—face, trying to shrug off the concern. "I'm really just a little sleepy."

Hayato put a hand on the omega's forehead, feeling for a fever.

"E-Eh?" Kashima cried, surprised at the sudden touch, though he quickly understood what it was for and relaxed.

He didn't have a fever. The temperature of his forehead wasn't warm. It actually felt more along the lines of clammy.

The taller boy sighed, putting his hand down and fisting it in his pocket as his impulsive action finally caught up with him. Control yourself, dammit.

"I'll let you off for now," the alpha said, masking his slight agitation and embarrassment with his usual attitude.

Hayato silently walked with his gaze straight ahead until they got to their classroom. The color of Kashima's face he normally would have attributed to embarrassment, only it wasn't fading this time. The only time Hayato recalled the omega having such a long-lasting red face was when he got that love letter in his locker.

That was an unneeded memory that Hayato could have done without.

The alpha kept his eye on Kashima for their first few classes. Apart from the drowsiness, Hayato really didn't see much else to be concerned about, so he relaxed a little. Maybe the omega was really just uncharacteristically sleepy. He really hoped so.

By break time, they had work to do and couldn't go to the daycare room. Kashima seemed to be struggling a little with the questions Hebihara left for them. Or struggling with something else entirely that was keeping him from focusing. The omega was rubbing his forehead, rubbing an eye, or sighing every few minutes of writing. He was not looking as okay as Hayato wanted him to be. But before the alpha could talk to the boy, Kashima was surrounded with a few of their classmates, desperately pleading for help on question three.

"Sure," Kashima told them, "I'm not sure about my answers either... but let me see how I can help."

Hayato watched from his seat, chin resting on his hand. He sighed quietly to himself.

Kashima just couldn't say no, could he? He was just going to brush off any queries on his well-being if he tried asking right now. So when everyone began filing out of the room for PE, the alpha tapped Kashima's shoulder, asking in a level voice that thankfully didn't betray him, "You still okay?"

The omega sighed, his posture slumping. "Well... actually, the sleepiness is making my head a little fuzzy..." He quickly added, "But I can still manage, I'll be fine."

Hayato knew very well that one thing they had in common was stubbornness. Usually, he would have found it a bit nice that they had something in common, but now...not so much. It was going to be akin to a long trek up a mountain to get this dense boy to change his mind and, unfortunately, patience wasn't the strongest weapon in Hayato's arsenal.

Outside, the air was chilly, and many of their classmates complained, breaths appearing like puffs of thin smoke. Hayato was concerned that the temperature was going to make Kashima feel worse. Their PE uniforms consisted of shorts and short-sleeved shirts. It wasn't the best attire to wear outside at the moment.

The young alpha quietly but attentively observed as the omega went through warm-ups, the flush on the shorter boy's face intensifying as blood rushed throughout his body. His breaths were short, already panting from the low impact movements. Not a good sign. Hayato kept his pace steady while still keeping an eye on Kashima as they ran their laps around the field. The shorter boy was much slower than he usually was. Again, not a good sign.

Then he started swaying, face pale at the places where it wasn't flushed a deep pink. Definitely wasn't a good sign.

Even their teacher and several of their classmates had noticed the irregularity by now. Hayato decided enough was enough and jogged in the omega's direction to try talking some sense into him because he obviously wasn't okay.

"Kashima, you—"

He didn't finish what he had to say though.

Kashima collapsed to the ground like jelly, shaking all over. His labored breathing sending up big puffs of white smoke.

Hayato broke into a run, ignoring the commotion that ignited all around them.

"Oi!" Hayato growled. He knelt down beside the fallen omega, immediately putting his hand against the profusely sweating forehead and hissing at how hot the pale skin now felt. "You've got a bad fever."

Shit.

"Can you stand?" Hayato kept his voice low and steady so as not to further overwhelm the omega. Kashima's face already looked like it was in pain, brows scrunched together, eyes tightly shut. He likely had a severe headache now.

A weak groan came from the boy still sprawled on the ground as he tried to push himself off the dirt and sit up.

Tch. I shouldn't have let it get this bad.

The teacher made his way over after instructing the rest of the class to resume what they were doing (not that they were actually gonna do it) and squatted down before the two boys, evaluating the sickly-looking one's condition. "You really shouldn't be forcing yourself if you felt sick."

"I'm sorry sensei," the boy weakly replied as his eyes opened into a narrow squint. "I've interrupted class now, haven't I?"

The teacher could only scratch the back of his head at the remark. "That really isn't what you should be thinking about right now."

Exactly.

"Kamitani," the teacher addressed Hayato, "can you help him to the infirmary?"

"I was going to anyway."

"O-oh," the teacher stuttered a little, caught off-guard by the unabashed frankness. "Alright then, I'll excuse you both for class this time." He turned back to Kashima. "Go get some rest, Kashima."

The omega's reply was weak once again, promising to do his best—

"How do you do your best to rest?"

"Really, Kamitani..."

—as he tried to pick himself up from the ground once again. His limbs really weren't much more than jelly at this point, they could see him shaking with the effort. There was absolutely no way he was walking to the nurse like this.

Hayato crouched in front of the shorter boy, back turned to him and arms waiting at his sides. The alpha looked over his shoulder at the now-puzzled omega, and straightforwardly made known his intentions.

"Get on," Hayato said, "I'll carry you."

This elicited a whistle from the teacher and mortified spluttering from the one who was still sitting on the ground.

"But I'm heavy..!"

"Fine, it's good weight training."

"Won't you get tired..?!"

"It's not that far."

"But—but..!"

"Just get on already."

 

It was with a little more coaxing from both Hayato and the amused-looking teacher that they somehow convinced the stubborn omega to agree. Kashima, with some assistance, was then placed stably on the alpha's back, arms wrapped around Hayato's neck, chest resting against Hayato's back. The alpha's arms were hooked under the feverish boy's knees for support.

"Sorry about this, Kamitani."

"I said it's fine already."

The teacher saw them off before going back to the rest of the curiously watching class, blowing his whistle to disperse the gossipers now beginning to gather. "Alright, nothing to see here, get back to work!"

As it was the middle of class hours, Hayato—with Kashima on his back—didn't run into anyone on the way. The rooms on the way to the infirmary were either closed or were empty for classes elsewhere. Hayato tried not to think too much about the sensation of Kashima pressed against him and holding onto him; the omega was very warm, and he was maybe a little lighter than Hayato expected him to be, and the alpha could only bite his lip to keep himself relatively calm. He hoped his scent didn't give away his scrambled state of mind.

"Hey," came Kashima's voice, softer than it was outside, "aren't I heavy? Aren't you tired? I-I can walk on my own."

Hayato adjusted his hold on the drowsy boy. "Don't you understand what fine means?" The alpha retorted gently.

He felt Kashima's arms slacken a little around his neck as the warm breath from a sigh tickled his jaw. Hayato focused on keeping his gaze firmly forward else they take even longer to reach the nurse's office.

"I'm really sorry for bothering you like this..." Kashima whispered.

"It's not a bother," Hayato replied softly, though his tone carried some reproach. "I got out of class anyway."

The omega chuckled before murmuring his thanks.

It wasn't exactly a lie. Hayato, like most other students, would really like any chance he could to get out of class, but his main motivation at the moment was undoubtedly Kashima's well-being. It was embedded into him now, seeping in and rooting deeply into his person and his everyday behavior. Even if he didn't love Kashima as he did, he would still have taken care of his best friend, but if you add in the fact that he had fallen heart-first into the ditch for the boy he was carrying, his protective instincts were sure to flare up no matter what.

They shortly arrived at the infirmary whose door was thankfully open, and Hayato called out for the nurse. She was nowhere to be found unfortunately, so Hayato found an empty bed and crept closer.

Kashima had fallen asleep and was breathing shallowly on the young alpha's back.

Hayato, unwilling to wake the probably-fatigued boy, did his best to slowly, gently, lay him down on the bed and make sure he was comfortable until the nurse came back.

The young alpha was internally a little distraught as he watched Kashima, more wheezing than breathing normally, face still scrunched, flushed red, and sweating even more than he did outside. Hayato couldn't help but feel agitated, something felt very very wrong.

He took Kashima's hand, grinding his teeth at how much warmer even that felt, and tried to sniff for the omega's scent.

The usual refreshing pheromones that he had really grown to appreciate was almost nowhere to be found. The boy's scent was sour, seemingly sticking to Hayato's throat in a not-so-pleasant, need-to-wash-it-out way, setting off blazing alarms in the alpha's head and making goosebumps rise all over his body.

He didn't notice the change on the way because he was trying to focus on walking..!

He had to do something!

Hayato took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself, before rushing to the infirmary supply cabinet and taking out some of the things he actually knew how to use. Not that there were a lot that he could use. The boy had never, until now, been thankful that the old hag used to make him help out here after-hours in middle school. She was friends with the nurse.

The uneasy alpha quickly got to work wiping away Kashima's sweat, trying not to think too much about the omega's warmth and the feel of his skin, covering him thoroughly with a blanket, and placing a wet towel on the boy's forehead to absorb some of the heat. He hoped this would give the other boy some relief.

Hayato could only sit at the ill boy's bedside, leg rapidly bouncing in agitation as he occasionally re-soaked the towel in cold water. What the hell was taking the nurse so long?

As the cool cloth in the alpha's hands touched the omega's forehead once again, Kashima stirred, and—three bleary blinks later—looked at Hayato with half closed eyes. For a moment, he blinked again in surprise, before nearly bolting upright in the bed. Hayato quickly put a stop to it and made him lie down again, worried that too much exertion might make the other boy's condition worse.

"Where am I?"

"The infirmary. You don't remember?"

"Oh..." Kashima's voice faded off. "I think I remember you... carrying... me..!" His face turned even redder, and the omega turned in the bed, facing opposite the direction of the taller boy. "Uwahhh!"

"Oi, calm down," Hayato said, exasperated, though the advice was also actually directed at himself.

"I'm sorry," the omega squeaked. "I'm really sorry you had to deal with me like this..!"

"Kashima—"

"Oh my! Were you boys here long? My business ran longer than I intended..."

The nurse returned from wherever corner of the world she had conveniently disappeared to for the past half an hour, surprised to see the two boys already settled inside.

"Oh, if it isn't Kamitani-kun!" She exclaimed, then glancing at the figure curled up in the bed. "What's the situation here?"

Hayato stood up and gave a curt bow to the nurse. "Kashima has a fever," he said, giving a side-eye to the boy still facing away from him. "He collapsed in PE after trying to run laps."

The nurse had already been getting to work as he spoke, and she gave him a reassuring smile. "I see. You can leave him here for now dear, I'll administer some medicine after giving him a quick examination."

Hayato nodded and, quickly glancing back at the omega who was now peeking from where he lay under the blanket, trudged out of the room to rejoin the rest of the class, grumbling to himself as he went.

The nurse pulled a chair to Kashima's bedside. "Can you let me see how you're doing?" she gently asked, looking at the nearby table where there were a few towels strewn almost haphazardly on the surface, and a bowl of somewhat cool (almost lukewarm now) water. She almost raised a brow at the thought that Kamitani was likely the one responsible. Since when had that boy started doing more than what was necessary? He could have just brought the fevered one here and waited without doing anything. The adult beta quickly turned her attention to the patient on the bed though, noticing him peeling the blanket off his face and looking at her, face bright red.

"Oh dear, you look very flushed!" she had exclaimed, turning on the digital thermometer in her hand. "You feel really heated, don't you?"

The boy in question lightly shook his head sideways. "No, I'm actually feeling a bit better than earlier, sensei." His voice was a little shaky.

"Walking here must have been extra tiring for you."

"N-no...actually," there was a strange lilt to his voice. "Kamitani... brought me here on his back so..." It faded off as the thermometer was placed in his mouth.

The nurse's face scrunched for a moment, the description of the action not fitting into her image of the Hayato-kun she had known since he was a child. He was a boy that was lazy towards most other things apart from baseball perhaps, and he wasn't one to show too much concern, but what was this? Was this fevered boy favored by the young alpha?

Now, among other things, the nurse was a beta. Betas were not as perceptive to pheromones as alphas and omegas were, so she almost missed the embarrassed tone to the ill boy's scent. But she did end up noticing. The omegan boy was still blushing furiously, and—she now realized—had been averting his eyes even before he had finished what he was saying.

Oh ho, looks like she had to gossip with Shizuka soon about what her son has been up to.

In the meantime, the feverish Kashima's thoughts wandered back to how relaxed he had felt being carried by his friend. Unreasonably relaxed. It was too embarrassing!

He was too comfortable with the alpha's scent around him and that made him fall asleep on his back of all things! The young omega nearly whimpered at the thought of likely having to see him again soon.

The alpha didn't drop by till lunch a few hours later, but Kashima wasn't sure if those few hours helped him get any more ready than he was.

 

Hayato had gone back to class mainly to pick up Kashima's share of schoolwork for him. And maybe also try getting a hold of himself. Though honestly, parting from the sick boy only made him distracted because of course Hayato was still worried even if he doesn't see him. His strong alpha tendencies were really biting at him, making him itch to stay near the omega and take care of him.

That is to say, Hayato was distracted and agitated for the next couple of hours, and his strong scent very nearly went unchecked, unlucky for those who sat close to him.

If this was how he was gonna be while away from Kashima, heck, it might have been better to skip classes and stay with the omega.

It wasn't the first time he'd skipped for the other boy's sake anyway.

Hayato knew he was already very far gone, like, six feet below drowned gone. He already knew he'd do just about everything the omega needed him to. He already knew he reacted really strongly to anything pertaining to Kashima too.

The young alpha really wondered how things ended up this way. How did he end up willing to do everything for the guy that was willing to do anything for everyone? He couldn't pinpoint when he unwittingly slipped into that sinkhole. He only knew when he realized it.

And with all his ruminating about when he started catching these feelings, Hayato couldn't help but worry about one thing he'd noticed early on about this person he now cared so much about.

Kashima Ryuuichi was self-sacrificial to a fault, somehow forgetting about his own well-being all the time.

Really, the omega would say yes to all sorts of things, hated other people getting hurt in any way, and would always think about other people first. His kindness and sympathetic personality normally would've been seen as a good thing—and to other people it probably was—but Hayato didn't like it.

One person alone shouldn't be trying to take care of everyone else.

He was going to run himself into the ground at this rate.

No, Kashima already did that in PE class.

He very literally just plopped onto the ground trying to continue running.

Just the very thought of that sight—of weak, feverish Kashima wobbling and then hitting the dirt—made a rough growl bubble up in Hayato's chest on his way to the daycare.

Something like this was never gonna happen again, he swore, not on his watch.

Because yes—he loved Kashima for everything he was, but that didn't mean the boy was perfect. There were inevitably going to be some problems.

The alpha's irritation coming off of him in waves drove the toddlers to hide behind Usaida when he slid the door open. Small children were always very sensitive to pheromones, and Hayato's at the moment was way more than enough to scare them.

"Ah, sorry," he said, though his tone was flat. He had interrupted the kids' lunch, and now there was a mess of food from when they tumbled over each other to get away from him. Except the smaller Kashima. The kid had frozen at the table, holding his spoon tightly in one hand. He would've been the first to die in a slasher film.

Usaida yawned, scratching the back of his head as he blinked sleepily at the door with Midori on his lap. "Oh Hayato-kun, what brings you here? Where's Ryuu-chan?"

"Kashima's in the infirmary," he paused to think for a moment, "I don't know if the chairwoman made him go home."

Hayato saw the look of horror wash over Kotaro's face at the news. His brother? What happened? Is he okay?! Where is he?!

"He had a fever, probably caught a cold or something," Hayato said, trying to sound nonchalant even when worry was also eating away at his insides.

"Nii-cha, sick?" The dispirited voice of the toddler went. The kid shot up and tried to run out of the room to find his brother, only to be caught by the alpha still standing at the doorway.

"He'll be okay," Hayato tried telling the younger alpha. "But if you catch his cold there, he's not gonna be happy."

The toddler's flailing limbs went slack in Hayato's grasp, eyes downcast like someone had just destroyed his dreams.

Hayato almost felt sorry.

But this was what was best, both for the older Kashima's peace of mind and for the younger one's health. He put the toddler back on the ground.

"Anyway," Hayato fixed the strap of the bag he now recalled he was carrying, "If you guys want me to bring him anything when I take his stuff to the infirmary, then hurry up and hand it over."

Kotaro blinked back to consciousness, glancing back up at the teen alpha before running for an orange that was sitting on their table. The small kid brought it back to Hayato, brightly exclaiming, "Nii-cha! Lemon!"

Meanwhile the other kids handed him a hastily (seriously unrecognizable) scribbled drawing of what was supposed to be the older Kashima surrounded by everyone in the daycare. It was a collaborative (messily unplanned) effort, and crayon marks in their favorite Ranger colors showed what each of the toddlers worked on. (Not that they could even make the figures out clearly.)

"Tell Ryuu-niichama, get well soon!"

"Yeah! Ryuu get better!"

"Get better..."

"Come back quick!"

"Abu!"

Even Midori chimed in.

"Well, take care of 'im for us, Hayato-kun~" Usaida teased.

Hayato only gruffly hummed affirmatively, only slightly annoyed somehow, before turning around and heading for the nurse's office again.

The kids, left in the daycare room, all stared at Usaida. Didn't he forget to send Ryuu-nii something? Did they have to call Hayato-nii back? The sleepy omega chuckled at the looks he was getting.

"Ryuu's gonna be fine," he said, playfully with an equally playful smile on his face. "I sent him a Hayato already~"

The kids didn't understand what that meant, but by then they were more interested in gobbling up what remained of their lunch while screaming about not seeing Ryuu for forever. Kotaro was more silent than usual at that.

Then the door to the daycare slammed open again not even twenty minutes later, revealing one Kamitani Shizuka who wandered her gaze around the frozen occupants of the room before settling it on Usaida.

"Was Hayato here? I could smell his trail from the hallway."

"Um, he just left."

"Where to?"

"The infirmary. Said he was bringing Ryuu-chan's things."

"Oh, alright, thanks."

The alpha left just about as quickly as she arrived, leaving another mess of rice and spilled bento food all over the table. Like mother, like son never felt more true.

 

When Hayato quietly slipped into the infirmary, Kashima was asleep.

"Good afternoon, Kamitani-kun!" the nurse cheerfully said when she looked up from her computer. "Here for your friend?"

Somehow Hayato felt like he should be cautious. Like he was being scrutinized by an evil pair of eyes. There was mischief sparking in the older beta's eyes, and the young alpha's mind couldn't help but wander back to the old hag who would often give him a similar look.

Leave me alone woman, he hoped his face expressed the sentiment.

From the corner of his eye, Hayato noticed a stir. He quickly shifted his attention to the other boy curled up under the sheets, still sound asleep. "Was he sleeping this whole time?"

"You could say so," the nurse said. "He fell asleep about an hour after you left and hasn't woken up since."

She glanced at the time, and then at Hayato, the glint in her eyes returning even worse. "He should probably try to eat a little though. His fever should have gone down a bit by now, so why not have prince charming wake sleeping beauty up?"

"Hah? Who the heck is that?" Hayata grumbled, his tone exuding incredulity and face still stoic... though the tips of his ears turned red.

The nurse chuckled airily to herself. "It was just an expression, dear~." The reaction was more than what she'd hoped to see, and it had been a while since the young Kamitani had seemed this cute.

Meanwhile, Hayato, who had always had a strong sense of focus, recovered from the distraction to approach the bed Kashima was on. No use wasting more time chit-chatting. He was here for a reason.

He took one look at the sick boy and almost couldn't bring himself to wake him up. The omega's face already looked much more peaceful and closer to normal that it had been just a few hours before. The creases in Kashima's brows had smoothened out, his breathing was more normal, and there was more color in his face. Aside from the blush still on his cheeks, that is.

He needed to rest more, and Hayato wouldn't have woken the omega up if not for the fact that he knew the boy hadn't eaten since breakfast. And food was energy. And he needed energy.

"Oi, Kashima."

No response.

"Wake up for a bit."

He gently shook the omega's shoulder.

"Huh?"

Finally, the other boy was roused from his sleep, rubbing his eyes as he slowly sat up in the bed.

"Oh," Kashima's blush intensified, "Kamitani, you're here."

"Well duh, I'm standing in front of you."

The omega chuckled awkwardly.

Hayato slipped the bag strap off his shoulder and set it down on the bed beside the other boy. "Your lunch is in here, isn't it?"

"Oh, yeah," the shorter boy took the bag, rummaged through it a little and pulled out a lunch box wrapped in a large green handkerchief. "Did you come all this way to bring this?"

"Yeah."

"You really didn't have to though..."

Then something inside the bag caught Kashima's eye. Out from its depths, he pulled out an orange and a colorful piece of paper that hadn't been in there earlier that day. "These are...?"

Hayato sat at the foot of the bed, looking at the same things the omega was. "Those are from the brats. The orange was from your brother, and the crayon chaos is something they made before I went here."

"Really..." There was that soft smile on Kashima's face, like he was so touched he was about to cry but not really—eyes a little watery and shiny, his demeanor calm. Hayato's gaze softened as well, his shoulders relaxing at the heartwarming sight.

"They're waiting for you, so rest up and get better soon."

Kashima nodded with a soft hum, tucking the piece of paper back into his bag. Hayato shuffled closer, taking the still-wrapped bento and untying the handkerchief for the omega.

"Here, eat," Hayato said, offering the now-opened bento with a pair of chopsticks.

"Thanks, Kamitani." Kashima a little bashfully accepted his bento, carefully taking the chopsticks in his other hand and picking up small bites little by little. There was a faint smile on his face. Meeting the alpha again hadn't been as awkward as he thought it was going to be. Really, it just seemed so easy to be comfortable in the baseball player's presence.

Hayato pulled out a pack of bread he had on him and ripped it open, stuffing one end into his mouth as he watched Kashima. The expression on the omega's face was way too soft, the alpha couldn't tear his eyes way. It reminded him of the first time they'd met... That smile was probably one of the things that made Hayato fall.

The nurse couldn't keep her eyes off of them either.

Not that they even remembered she was there after a few minutes.

But she tried at first, rolling her swivel chair back to the computer, trying to get some work done and giving the boys as much privacy as she could give. Then she took one glance as at them they talked, and now she was trying very hard to not squeal.

She was biting her lower lip, eyes wide as saucers, fists shaking on her lap as she watched the all-too-sweet interactions between the two.

Their scents were also a major point of interest. They didn't seem to realize that their scents were scattering and combining lightly in the air, the omega's refreshing scent softening the alpha's more overpowering pheromones. It was much like the two boys themselves—Kamitani seemed much more mellow while he was with Kashima.

Oh boy did the beta need Shizuka here right now!

 

Summon the devil, and she shall come.

The door to the infirmary slid open again and there, at the doorway, was none other than the Kamitani matriarch herself.

"Heya!" She greeted them cheerfully. The woman smiled pleasantly at the nurse who returned the smile in equal measure before turning towards the two boys in the only occupied bed. "How're ya doin, Ryuu?"

"Better than this morning, Kamitani-sensei!" Kashima replied with almost equal enthusiasm though his voice still sounded somewhat scratchy.

The female alpha then eyed her own son, that playful smile she shared with the nurse showing on her face. "My idiot son didn't do anything to make you feel worse, did he?"

"Oh n-no!" Kashima firmly denied, shaking his head and waving his arms in front of him. "He's been a great help!"

"What're you here for, woman?" Hayato was straight to the point as always.

It earned him a smack on the head though.

When Shizuka pulled herself together after one of the usual quick lectures for her 'problem child', she smiled back at Kashima as she explained.

"Y'see the chairwoman and Saikawa-san left earlier today for important business, right?"

"Oh, yeah! They... they told us to watch the house until tomorrow..." Kashima's face gradually turned troubled. He couldn't exactly take care of the house in his current state, and there was also his brother to think about.

Shizuka was quick to wave away the concerns though. "Don't worry about it Ryuu-chan! The house will be fine on its own, it's been locked and everything."

Her tone turned a little more serious after that, but it still retained most of its playfulness.

"But we can't leave you and your brother there with you sick like this, so I've offered to let you boys sleep over for the night," she said, occasionally glancing at her own son.

"Tha-that's..!" Kashima began fretting immediately. "We'd hate to intrude so suddenly..!"

The omega was very concerned about encroaching in on someone else's territory. Especially since the Kamitani household itself already had two very unyielding alphas. Having outsiders' scents in their house would be very much against their natural instincts.

"Don't worry about it," Shizuka said firmly, "I'm sure my boys won't mind"—a knowing glance at Hayato—"and I was the one who offered, so it's totally fine. It's better if someone can keep an eye on you."

"Um, well..." Kashima gave up, a slightly pinched smile on his face. "Thank you so much! And I'm very sorry for the bother!"

Shizuka nodded. Yup, she really wanted to keep an eye on the kid, he'd done so much for her own kids after all, but that wasn't her only reason either. The older alpha looked at her son, only to find him staring at the floor, smelling mildly of agitation.

That wasn't quite the reaction she was expecting.

"Well," she began as she turned towards the door, "I still have some work to do, so I'll go on ahead. I'll drive us all home later. Hayato, make sure you go back to class before lunch ends or I'll pummel you."

"I'll see you out, dear!" the nurse chirped, standing to follow her friend out the door. She really needed to gush right now.

"Well, that happened."

"Y-yeah..."

"Guess you're sleeping over."

"Yeah..." Kashima's head stayed down, eyes stuck on his lunch as he continued eating.

Hayato continued to slowly chew through his bread.

Kashima was going to his house.

Wait.

Kashima was going to his house.

Shit, the young Kamitani was glad he was distracted while the old woman was here, she was baiting him.

His brain was doing somersaults and cartwheels in the silence of the infirmary, only the occasional clinking of chopsticks and crinkling of the plastic in his hand to be heard. Kashima was going to his house. Which meant Kashima's scent was going to be in their house. Which meant Kashima was going to be in their territory.

Crap, he was probably going to be using Hayato's bed.

Hayato didn't have much of a problem against that. Alphas of the modern day weren't so animalistic and acted uncontrollably on their instincts anymore with things like territories and mating. Heck, he'd kick himself if he so much as scent marked Kashima—or anyone for that matter—without consent.

But Kashima was going to use his bed.

Which meant Kashima would be in his room. Kashima's scent was going to be in his room. On his fricking bed.

Why won't my brain just shut up?

Hayato was trying very very hard to suppress his scent for fear that his excitement would be too tangible. He was not ready to sleep on a bed that was probably going to smell like his crush the next time he slept on it.

The alpha could only return from his sea of thoughts when he heard Kashima's voice.

The omega had been quietly eating his bento the entire time, thankfully not looking at Hayato, until he checked the time and saw that lunch was going to be over in five minutes.

"Oh no!" he'd exclaimed. "Kamitani, you're going to be late! You should go!"

"Oh," Hayato said and then began grumbling in his throat as he got up, bringing his now-empty plastic wrapper with him. He turned to the omega when he got to the door and waved his hand lazily. "I'll see ya later Kashima."

"Yeah, see you later!"

The young alpha trudged back to the classroom, sitting down just as the teacher arrived, and was listless to everything but thoughts about Kashima's scent being in his house. If his seatmates noticed his scent being unusually softened, they didn't say anything. It was really too embarrassing to ask or talk about.

 

"Saikawa-san brought me some of your clothes and nesting blankets before they left. They're in that bag over there, so you can just use those later."

Kamitani Shizuka sat in their small car with a still-sick Kashima riding beside her in shotgun, wearing a face mask over his mouth and nose, while her own brats sat at the back with the smaller Kashima. Taka was being noisy, excited to have his best friend sleep over in their house, blabbering on and on about things they could do till the next day.

The Kashimas' guardian and her secretary were going to be away until the next afternoon, and tomorrow was a weekend. Which meant there was no school, and they were free to do whatever. Though the smaller kids weren't allowed near the sick teen since they could catch his cold.

But while Shizuka was surely going to be stuck thinking of things to do to keep the two toddlers busy, she was more interested in what her older son was going to do.

She knows he already figured out what arrangement was going to happen for the night.

And the mischievous smile on her face meant that she as surely not going to allow anything else. There was no way she was going to let the sick omega sleep on a futon on the floor or on the narrow sofa. It was going to be Hayato's bed, and there was going to be no argument.

Well, not that she'd let Hayato do anything stupid under her watch.

The female alpha had long been aware that her disrespectful son was smitten with the boy. And she welcomed it all too easily.

She had fallen for someone in high school too after all, though that didn't turn out as well as she'd thought it would. She and her ex-husband were both a little too stubborn and unyielding to get along for the rest of their lives, and they hated to compromise.

That didn't seem to be the case for her son though.

Although Hayato and Ryuuichi appeared to be so different, they did have some things in common. They balanced each other out, with Ryuuichi smoothing out some of her son's roughness, and Hayato looking out for the boy that was a little too kind for his own good, giving him some stability instead of always being pulled along by responsibility. They had a sort of chemistry that Shizuka and her ex-husband didn't have. They were good for each other, even if they were just friends.

Their chemistry was so good though, that maybe a little extra nudging would turn them into something else entirely. Much like how heat or outside pressure would kickstart a reaction that was enough to rearrange atoms and molecules.

But honestly, more than anything, she wanted to stir up her son who had just been drifting through most of life after the divorce. And if her meddling resulted in her getting a nice son-in-law sometime in the near future, well, that was a welcome outcome too.

They arrived at the house soon after, Hayato helping Kashima out the car. They didn't waste any time escaping from the chilly autumn air of the evening and into the actual house, the taller boy sticking close to the omega the entire time.

When Kashima saw that the room he was being told to sleep in was none other than Hayato's, he had refused as much as they'd expected he would. And the Kamitani's didn't budge either. It was already such a feat on its own that Kashima could face one very strong-willed alpha, but right now he was dealing with two of them and still holding his ground.

Intruding in an alpha's most personal space was too much for him, he didn't want to ruin the safety the place gave by leaving his scent in there.

But the Kamitani mother and child were on a mission, a very serious mission to make sure this boy was taken care of, and they weren't going to budge.

"I really really don't mind sleeping on the sofa!"

"And I really don't mind you sleeping in that room."

"But—!"

"Kashima-kun, Hayato's already given you consent. It's fine."

"But my scent might disrupt—"

"Hayato can just wash his sheets and scent mark everything again afterwards, stop worrying so much."

The teary-eyed omega had dropped his gaze down to the floor, a soft whimper sounding in his throat. Hayato sighed and patted the omega's shoulder as he softly consoled him.

"Look, I wouldn't agree to this if I minded so much. We're friends aren't we? I'm insisting that you sleep in the room. And use the bed, too." Saying that word so firmly himself physically pained Hayato, but it wasn't as if he had any other choice.

Kashima flinched, head whipping up to the alpha's face in shock. "On...on the bed? Are you sure? A futon's fine—"

Shizuka put a hand on Kashima's other shoulder, smiling her no-argument smile, eyes closed. "On the bed, Kashima-kun. Hayato will sleep on a futon nearby in case you need anything."

And that's how Kashima Ryuuichi later ended up lying sick on Kamitani Hayato's bed, surrounded by scent-marked blankets from his nest at home and surrounded by the alpha's own scent as the said alpha sat on a futon on the floor just a few steps away.

Kashima couldn't help but admit to himself that he felt very safe there, and he was embarrassed to be so comfortable in an alpha's personal territory. He knew better than this!

"Sorry, Kamitani..." he began. The alpha's head snapped up to look at him with a slight frown on his face.

"I ended up taking your bed... in your room."

Hayato crawled closer.

"I'm probably contaminating your space," he said with an awkward laugh.

Hayato stood up and sat on the edge of the bed, just beside Kashima.

"I'm really sorry you have to look after me like this."

Kashima heard an angry snarl.

The next thing he knew he was blinking up at a frowning Kamitani whose hand was beside Kashima's head on the pillow, and whose forehead was pressed against his own, noses merely centimeters apart. The coolness of the alpha's skin gave his own warm face some relief... until he heated up from head-to-toe in embarrassment.

What was this?!

"K-kamitani..?!" Kashima squeaked breathily, voice unable to come out properly. "Y-you might catch my cold..."

While the omega was getting all flustered, Hayato closed his eyes and sighed deeply, trying to ignore how fast his heart was beating because of his impulsiveness. This reminded him all too much of the Valentine's day when Kashima had thanked him with their foreheads stuck together. When he opened his eyes again, he was back to being the calm, indifferent-looking but kind Kamitani Hayato that Kashima knew very well.

At least on the outside.

"Don't be sorry," Hayato said gently, breath tickling the omega's face.

"H-huh?" Kashima tried to keep eye contact with the alpha above him, though his eyes kept shaking and blinking.

The taller boy gently rubbed their foreheads together as a soft rumble sounded from his throat, giving off a calming scent that helped settle down both his own heart, and Kashima's thinly-veiled distress and embarrassment.

"Stop saying you're sorry."

"What... do you mean?"

Hayato pressed their foreheads together a little harder as he stared the omega straight in the eyes.

"You're always apologizing for things you don't have to apologize about. Back in school, and just now."

"E-eh? But I am being a bother..."

"No," Hayato said, lifting his face so that they were no longer touching. "It would've been fine if you just said it out of politeness one or two times..." The frown returned to the alpha's face. "But you're genuinely saying sorry because people have to take care of you."

"Isn't that normal..?"

"Kashima," Hayato sighed heavily, "We take care of you because we want you to get better. That's not something you have to apologize for."

The young alpha sat up straight now, though his eyes never broke contact with the omega's.

"You said sorry for disrupting class, but you collapsed so it can't be helped. You said sorry that I have to carry you to the nurse even when it was obvious you couldn't even walk. You say sorry...for needing to be looked after while you're sick."

The feverish boy bit his lip. He had never really heard Kamitani say so much at once before. This seemed like such an important matter to the alpha... Kashima didn't know what the increasing warmth in his chest meant anymore. Was his fever getting worse?

"You're always looking after everyone else," Hayato said, eyes unblinking, "let us take care of you once in a while."

Kashima took a shaky breath at that, the gentleness of the alpha's voice making him feel strangely at ease.

"...Okay."

Hayato averted his eyes then, shifting back to the futon on the floor, ears a little red.

"Just call out to me if you need anything, I wake up pretty easily."

"Thanks, Kamitani," the omega said with a smile. He snuggled into the warm blankets that smelled like his home nest and the alpha, inhaling deeply at the scents that made him feel so relaxed and safe. Maybe this wasn't as bad as he thought it was.

Meanwhile, Kamitani stared at the ceiling for a good hour, unable to fall asleep. He sat up to look at the omega on his bed who was surrounded by Hayato's scent, fast asleep, and his lips quirked up into a rare smile.

The alpha pulled the futon a little closer to the bed, close enough that he could faintly make out Kashima's soothing pheromones that had returned mostly to normal by then. Hayato, slowly, quietly, knelt beside the bed, careful not to wake the omega as he nosed into the sleeping boy's wrist, inhaling a big whiff of the refreshing scent and staying there for what felt like hours.

He was finally able to fall asleep after that, facing in Kashima's direction as he did.

 

The next morning, when Shizuka knocked at the door and quietly swung it open, she couldn't help but smile softly.

Seriously, if they didn't get together after this, they were both dumb idiots (as much as she found it unfortunate to say that of kind, understanding Ryuuichi) and there was no way to get through their thick heads other than telling them to their faces that they were pretty much acting like a couple already.

The room was filled with a pleasant mix of Ryuuichi's and Hayato's scents, the sour undertone of sickness totally gone, while the two boys slept facing each other, Hayato at the edge of his futon, hand reaching out in the other boy's direction and Ryuuichi near the edge of the bed, one hand falling down towards the floor where the alpha was.

It was so sweet the older Kamitani nearly couldn't help herself from snapping a picture and preserving the sight forever...

Oh, who was she kidding, she totally took one and hid it from her son. She needed the perfect opportunity to show it off.

For now, she'd make herself content with calling the beta she chatted heartily with yesterday.

 

She was so going to surprise them at their future wedding.