Tsuzuru’s fingers were shaking.
It was unfortunate. The shaking, you know. Especially when it was caffeine induced. Because when shaking came from nervousness or fear, you could tell yourself to back away from the edge. But when shaking came from too much consumed stimulant, you were nothing but a die in God’s Yahtzee cup.
You can ask your fingers to stop, but they never do. Then the tremor spreads to your arms. Then it trickles to your gut and you feel sick. Sick and tired and upset, as the floor sways beneath your feet. Who were you going to ask for comfort though? The moon?
The world was asleep and Tsuzuru was, once again, alone in his self-imposed suffering.
This is what happens when you leave everything for the very last minute, he scolded himself.
Tsuzuru forced his fingers onto the keyboard again even though the intense vibrating in his insides was starting to become painful.
Word by word, Tsuzuru reminded himself.
Word by word.
Chipping away at the project. Bit by bit, it would soon be finished and ready to show others.
His headphones felt like they had his skull in a vice grip.
Tsuzuru shook his head hard and tried to focus on the laptop screen. But the characters were swimming before his very eyes and nothing in his brain was coherent. He could see the scenes, he could see them so clearly, but he didn’t know if he’d be able to translate them into words the way he was now.
There wasn’t time though.
There was never enough time.
Tsuzuru began crying silently.
The minutes trickled by into hours. He had to stop crying and get back to work, he told himself, but the stressed tears refused to stop welling and dripping down his cheeks.
He saw something in the corner of his eyes move.
Tsuzuru slipped his headphones off and hastily wiped his face as Masumi awoke.
“Did I wake you up?” he asked, voice thick and cracked.
Masumi shook his head slowly, sleepy eyes narrowed in confusion. “No. It’s morning. You okay?"
Tsuzuru looked at the window.
The sun was up. Another day gone and finished. Another spent at the desk trying to get something wrapped up. Another day of work. More sand slipping down the hourglass.
His arms shook a little harder.
“Tsuzuru?” Masumi asked.
“Excuse me,” Tsuzuru forced out as he got to his feet and staggered to the hallway.
He crashed into someone the moment he stepped foot outside.
Omi caught him before he went collapsing to the floor.
“Whoa, there. Tsuzuru, are you alright?” he asked.
Tsuzuru opened his mouth to say that he was fine, but found that no words were leaving. Only high-pitched pants as his chest closed tight.
Omi began to look more concerned.
“Tsuzuru?” he tried again.
“Sorry, I—need a second alone,” was all he managed to say before he continued in his swaying trek towards… He actually didn’t know.
Where was Tsuzuru supposed to go to be by himself?
There was definitely a joke about being in the closet he could make right now if he had the energy.
Instead, he wrapped his arms around his shins and dragged his knees to his chin, curling up against the wall. He’d cry. He’d be upset and throw a miniature tantrum all on his lonesome, maybe fall asleep for a few hours like this, and then he would be better.
The panic was strong today.
What if the writing process didn’t get better?
What if this was the feared breakdown every creative feared and he never, ever managed to write another word? Or what if, and this was the real worry, he started churning out bad plays from lack of passion but also a self-centered and egotistical urge to not admit that he wasn’t feeling it anymore?
That would suck so much more than hating his own writing and choosing not to. Having someone tell him to his face that what he was writing wasn’t up to par anymore? That was his hell.
Twenty-one years old and already watching his career crumble into pieces and slip from betwixt his fingers. This must be some kind of record, surely.
Good for you, he told himself bitterly. At least you’re finally exceptional at something, even if it was speed running burning a candle at both ends.
He was so tired.
His stomach hurt. His head hurt. His limbs felt like lead.
Tsuzuru rested his forehead on his knees and, here, in the dark of the closet, between these narrow walls, he would let himself go to sleep.
He woke up with a crick in his neck and heart still heavy in his chest. Tauzuru checked his cracked phone screen. Five in the afternoon, huh? Definitely time to be getting up then.
“Mornin’, Rin Van Winkle.”
Tsuzuru dropped his phone and shrieked at the top of his lungs.
Banri slapped his palms over his ears. “Christ, chill out. It’s me.”
“WHY ARE YOU IN HERE.”
“Why are you in here? Everyone was getting worried about you disappearing so Director sent us looking.” Banri shrugged, letting his hands drop. “Found you in the closet and I figured if I sat here too, it would look like we were just chilling.”
This felt oddly reminiscent of the time Taichi had wiped out while skateboarding and, rather than calling for first aid, Banri had lay on the ground with him for 2 hours until Taichi regained consciousness. But Tsuzuru did not mention this.
“So why are you in the closet?” Banri asked. "Is it a metaphor?”
“No. I just wanted some time to myself.”
Banri raised an eyebrow. “And your answer was to crawl into Matsukawa’s attic closet.”
“Huh. Alright. You do you, I guess.” Banri pulled the lollipop from his mouth. “Masumi said you were a little off this morning.”
“You wanna talk about it or are you good?”
Banri pursed his lips into a thin white line. The doubt was clear on his face.
Tsuzuru dropped his gaze to his lap. “I’m… okay. Maybe not great, but I’m okay.”
“Your eyes are completely swollen and red.”
That certainly explained why even blinking was painful.
“I didn’t know you were against healthy expressions of emotion,” Tsuzuru said, voice a little more snippety than perhaps he meant it to be.
“Nah, man, Sakuya showed me a TED talk about the benefits to crying and I’m fine with it, but I’m pretty sure locking yourself in a closet to hide your mental breakdown doesn’t count.”
Curse the guy for making a good point.
“You should talk to someone if you’re going through shit, you know,” Banri drawled.
Tsuzuru’s nostrils flared as he forced himself to take in a deep, calming breath.
“Everyone has a hard life, Banri,” he forced through gritted teeth. “Everyone suffers. We’re not special.”
Okay, that was fair and overwhelmingly true. “You’re special then. I’m not.”
And he wasn’t.
The joke rang in his ears. Just a guy. Tsuzuru was just a guy.
And there was a comfort in that, wasn’t there? He was just a guy. He wouldn’t have to be the main character and shoulder burdens, suffer mindlessly because of some cruel scriptwriter that spun enjoyment from his agony. You’re safe as long as you’re just a guy.
Tsuzuru certainly didn’t feel safe.
"What's going on?" Banri asked him. "'S been a while since we saw you get this fuckin' emo."
Tsuzuru's shoulders slumped. He leaned back until the wall was supporting all his weight.
“Don't tell anyone. I'm a little worried I'm burning out again," he confessed.
"Oh." Banri snorted. "You mean like when the Otomiya guy tore your work to shreds?"
Tsuzuru actually winced. "That was more like pure grief, Banri. I did nothing but listen to sad music and cry in my bed for, like, days."
Banri laughed quietly again. "I know, I remember. Like, RIP to you, but it was kind of funny. Have you burnt out differently before?"
"Uh. When I was sixteen,” Tsuzuru said in a low voice. “This was… before Mankai, obviously. I submitted a prose piece to my high school’s contest.”
Banri crossed his legs and got comfortable. Tsuzuru appreciated him for trying to listen, at least.
“Mhm. And it did okay. I managed to qualify for the prefecture-wide contest.” The memory wasn’t a pleasant one, though, despite the impression of victory the words carried. Tsuzuru ran his fingers through his sweaty hair. The closet wasn’t particularly cool or ventilated. “I was supposed to submit another piece from my portfolio.”
Banri didn’t say anything but bid Tsuzuru to continue.
“I didn’t have a portfolio. The first thing I submitted was something I wrote on its own and none of my other finished works seemed… good enough. So I pushed myself really hard to try to write something else by the deadline.”
“Let me guess. All nighter.”
“Two in a row.”
“What the fuck, dude.”
Tsuzuru almost laughed. “I know. I paid for the price for it, obviously. Burnt out like nobody’s business and… couldn’t touch a word document for an entire year and a half. Then i started up again. Signed up for the company and asked the Director if I could try my hand at the script. She saved me back then, you know. It felt good to have another person have faith in me.”
Banri’s face stayed neutral as he let the words sink in. “Are you worried you’ll quit for another year again?”
“Yeah. You won't. But you’re still scared about it.”
Tsuzuru didn’t reply to that.
“What’s so bad about dropping writing for a bit?” Banri asked as he shrugged. “You’ll come back to it eventually.”
“I can’t afford that. We can’t afford that.”
The company couldn’t. Tsuzuru couldn’t. If he took a break this time, what was stopping him from taking a break next time? When you took it easy and got the momentum to slow, it was impossible to get it back up again—
“No, it’s not,” Banri interrupted him.
Tsuzuru touched his fingers to his lips. “Sorry. Was I talking out loud?”
“You might as well have been.” Banri stuck his half-finished lollipop into the pocket of one of Matsukawa’s jackets. Tsuzuru made a note to himself to get it out of there when he left the closet. “Listen, it’s really weird someone hasn’t brought this up to you before. Probably because you’re a stubborn asshole set in his ways, but whatever.”
“Shut up, I’m right. And you know I am. Taking a break isn’t going to fucking kill you, Minagi. Forcing yourself to stay up for an entire week to churn something out isn't good either. You’re scared of something that happened because you pushed yourself too hard, and you really think the answer is to push yourself even harder? Don't be stupid. Knowing where to draw the line isn’t the same thing.”
Tsuzuru clenched his jaw.
Banri gave him the middle finger. “Fuck you, I’m literally right. You’re putting pressure on yourself that doesn’t exist. Take a step back, it doesn’t actually matter if the script is finished or not.”
“Yes, it does!”
“Why? Nothing matters, pick up ONE book on nihilism."
“Who the hell cares about unfinished products!” Tsuzuru snapped as his ire flared. “No one does. This isn’t a creative writer’s support group, it’s the real world. We can’t cut off a performance twenty minutes in and tell the audience who paid for tickets for a full show ‘haha, that was a fun premise, right? But that’s all you’re getting.’ We can’t! We need a full script.”
“We could always use one of the old ones,” Banri said simply. “We still have an entire crate of the first generation’s shows you haven’t touched.”
Tsuzuru’s knuckles went white on his knees.
“What’s the real issue, Minagi.”
Tsuzuru still didn’t say anything.
Banri rolled his eyes and popped a new lollipop into his mouth. Where he was getting them, Tsuzuru did not know.
Through it, Banri muttered, “You can keep it locked up in there for as long as you want but there’s only so much fixing you can do internally.”
“Doesn’t failing at writing diminish my worth in this theater?” Tsuzuru managed.
Neither of them said anything for a moment.
Banri’s hand suddenly lashed out to smack Tsuzuru hard on the back of his head.
“Ow, Banri. That hurt.”
“You’re being a fucking idiot,” Banri said matter-of-factly.
Tsuzuru stared at him with eyebrows drawn.
“Sorry. Was that mean?”
“A little, yes.”
Banri shrugged. “Thought someone needed to say it to you directly. Listen, Minagi. You’re not here because of your writing. You got signed on as an actor for Spring Troupe just like the rest of them. Your writing was just a major bonus for the rest of us."
It was nice to hear. Shame that Tsuzuru was struggling to swallow it.
“Have you ever burnt out before?” Tsuzuru asked.
Banri stared him. He scoffed and shook his head. “Nah. Not burnt out. I went through something I thought might be it, but, uh. Nah.”
“What was yours?”
“Nothing was fun for a while. I didn’t have anything to work towards. Didn't see the point in working towards anything." Banri slipped his hands into his pockets. “Now I’ve got acting which is a pretty good way to eat up my time. You help. Obviously.”
“Yeah. You write a lot of fun characters for me to try to figure out. You keep things interesting with what you do when you actually enjoy doing it.”
Tsuzuru smiled softly. That had been—oddly nice to hear. “Oh. Huh. Thanks.”
“But,” Banri said sharply, not letting the semi-compliment go without a pride paid. “That’s only when you actually enjoy writing, dude. I don’t want to look at your next project and not feel what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t know if you have any respect for your scripts but the rest of the people in this company do.”
Respect for the script. Respect for the script.
Tsuzuru turned those words around in his head as he rubbed his temples. That was certainly an interesting proposal. A respect not for himself and the effort he had to put into things to get them completed… but a respect for the art form of bringing life to something.
Right. That was the most important thing. That was why he wrote.
Maybe he’d been getting too stuck in his own thoughts.
“There’s a bit of irony in you of all people being the one to criticize me on behavior,” Tsuzuru joked weakly.
Banri snorted at that and elbowed him. “Dude, trust me. That’s like the only good thing about having been a professional problem child. There’s not a single angry, bitter, self-loathing thought process I didn’t have to come to terms with.”
Oh. That was kind of sad.
Tsuzuru let out a slow breath and got to his feet. “Alright. Thanks for the talk, Banri. I feel a little better.”
“You wanna go out with me and the boys tonight instead of cooping up?”
“We’re gonna go to Burger King and try to figure out the answers to Sakyo’s bank account security questions.”
Banri chuckled and held out a palm. “It’s pretty fun once you give it a go. Maybe it’s time you stop being so responsible all the time and be a bit of a delinquent. It might do you some good. Sumeragi’s buying, if that helps.”
Well. Tsuzuru certainly wasn’t one to turn down a free meal.
“Alright,” he said softly and took the hand offered. “Thank you. For everything.”
“Don’t mention it.”
They crawled out of the closet together.