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I Must Go To Clown School, Director

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 “FOUR CHAIRS, CITRON? FOUR?” Izumi wrapped the ace bandage around his shoulder with a little more force than needed. “What were you thinking!”

 “I was thinking it would have been fun to do five,” Citron said in song, enjoying the sweet air of a spring night upon the balcony. Beside his lovely Director who was fixing him up with her magic t-OUCH.

 “CITRON," Izumi snapped, tucking the end of the bandage in place.

 “Kidding, kidding.”

 Izumi’s heart had never stopped like that before. Walking into the training room to see Citron teetering at the top of a tower of chairs, with Kazunari and Taichi in the background hyping him up.

 “FIVE, CITRON, LET’S GO, YOU GOT THIS!” Kazunari bellowed, phone, of course, out. “WOOOOOOOO, LET’S GO, KING!”

 Citron jerked his head around and pouted. “I am not a—UWUP.”

 CRASH.

 She shuddered just remembering it.

 “I have no idea how you got away from a fall like that with only a bruise, but Christ, Citron, that was so dangerous."

 “Misumi has helped!” he offered with a tired grin. “I have been learning the clown fall from him. Slapsick classtick!"

 “The…” Her brain couldn’t unscramble that. The absence of adrenaline was leaving her exhausted. "The what?”

 Citron paused for a moment and tilted his head back a few degrees. He corrected himself. “Classic slapstick.”

 “Ohh.” Stage falling, huh? “I keep forgetting he used to work as a clown. Do I even want to ask why you’ve been learning it from him?”

 “A comedian’s job never ends!”

 Izumi narrowed her eyes.

 Citron shrugged and then made a face as pain flared. Bad idea on his behalf. “I like to make people laugh. Gags and tricks. Falling can join!”

 Izumi pinched his nose.

 “Honk?” Citron said with gleaming eyes.

 “Yep.”

 “If I make everyone in spring troupe laugh,” he said, batting her hand away, “then they’ll always be in a good mood. I must go to clown school, Director."

 izumi nudged him in his side this time, sitting beside him. They looked over the stone rail of the balcony, at the navy blue sky over the horizon of tree silhouettes.

 “Does that include you too?” Izumi said after a second. “I hope you don’t get so busy making everyone else laugh that you forget to do so yourself."

 “Citron takes care of Citron,” he cooed.

 “Really?”

 “Why, yes! Today, I bought a new hat. Treat myself!"

 She’d seen his collection thus far. Izumi had little faith. “I’m almost afraid to ask.”

 Citron pulled out his phone to show her a picture. Ah. A turkey hat. She should have known.

 “Impeccable taste, Citron.”

 “Thank you, Director.”

 She fiddled her thumbs. “Do you really get a kick out of making people laugh all the time?”

 “Yes!"

 Izumi hummed. “Don’t you get tired of it?”

 Citron took a moment, eyes widening as though he was stunned.

 Then he laughed, hard, like she’d said something ridiculous. “Not at all!"

 “Really?”

 “Of course!” Citron’s bright smile softened into something achingly doting. “Because I love you, Director.”

 Izumi stared at him.

 She nodded once. Alright.

 “I love you too, Citron,” she said simply.

 “Thank you!” Citron stretched his legs out and began turning his shoulder, testing the bruise.

 “I’m a little married to my job at the moment, though, to be frank with you.”

 “Who’s Frank? Identity theft isn’t a joke, Director."

 Izumi stared at him a little harder.

 “Kidding,” Citron sang.

 “I know.” She was either getting more perceptive or Citron’s bruise was making him less clever, and Izumi was willing to bet her savings on the latter. “You sure you’re okay?”

 “Always.”

 “That’s so deep, Citron, but I meant physical health wise.”

 “Oh.” Citron frowned and rolled his shoulder again. “It hurts a little. But I will be fine with some ice and rest.”

 Izumi got up from her chair and walked back into the building. She reappeared in a few minutes, hand holding a bag of ice wrapped in a towel. She offered it to him, only to roll her eyes and apply it herself when Citron began making puppy dog eyes.

 “You spoil me, Director,” Citron said with a bright grin.

 “Ohhhh, anything for your highness,” she muttered.

 Citron let out a theatrical gasp and put a hand to his chest. “I see. You are crossing many limes today, Director. And you know what happens to angry citrus?”

 The pun was getting a bit convoluted. Izumi shook her head. “What?”

 “I cannot think of a punchline,” Citron admitted after a pause. “But the setup was good.”

 “You fell from like six feet, you’re allowed to be chugging a little slowly right now."

“I love everyone in Mankai,” Citron said after a moment. "We are a family.”

 Izumi turned that over in her head.

 That was a funny notion. Seeing as how… Well. Not many of them in the company knew of families, did they? Half of them came from broken trees and shattered photo frames, after all.

 “Spilled beans fall in groups.”

 Izumi blinked and raised her gaze to stare Citron directly in his eyes. “Huh?”

 He waggled his fingers at her. “Beans, Director! When they fall from the bowl, they gather in groups on the floor. Because of the grooves and dips, yes? So even fallen ones find a way together.”

 “…That’s beautiful but I can’t tell if it’s actually beautiful or if you’re being silly,” Izumi said, tilting her head to the side.

 “Please think I am cool.”

 “It’s so hard to, I’ve seen you cry over a video of ducks eating peas.”

 Citron sighed and put the back of his hand to his forehead. “Alas.”

 “You really love all of us, huh?” she murmured.

 “I trip into love very easily,” Citron said with a hand over his chest again, swooning for the dramatic event. “Every day!”

 “We have not been able to leave the shopping district even once this past month without a girl sobbing on your shoulder because you told her you had to leave.”

 “And?”

 Izumi knocked a knuckle onto the side of his head. “You’ll be allowed to act a romantic when you stop leaving a trail of broken hearts everywhere you go.”

 At least that got a laugh out of him.

 Izumi slouched deeply into her chair and folded her hands over her stomach.

 Family.

 Huh.

 The word’s come up a lot. Especially with Spring Troupe. 

 People to rely on. People to grow up with. People to face life with. People you trust to have their arms out and catch you if you slip.

 Family.

 “You’re pretty sensitive to this sort of stuff, aren't you?” Izumi said, after a moment of quiet.

 “Is that a bad thing?” Citron asked.

 She didn’t know exactly what to say.

 Citron carried on, waving a hand in the air. “Maybe I am selfish. When I see someone I love sad, I feel sad as well. When I see someone I love be happy, what is there to do but be happy next? Someone I love is happy… that is enough reason to smile, I think.”

 “That’s what love can end up doing to you,” Izumi mused as she gazed at the night sky.

 “I love you, Director,” Citron repeated.

 “Love you too, Citron.”

 “I love the way you smile at me every morning.” Citron took her hand and flipped it over, palm facing upwards, to place his own on it. “I love the way you love things so dearly. Acting, this theater, your curry receipts.”

 “Recipes,” Izumi corrected as she sat up properly.

 Citron chuckled. “We can compromise with recette.”

 “Recette…?”

 “French!”

 Oh, okay, sure. 

 “I love Tsuzuru and how he complains very much. I love how he is the perfect comedy partner. I love how hard he works, and I wish one day I can be as strong and reliable as he is.”

 Izumi smiled. “He’d pretend like he doesn’t believe you if you told him that.”

 Citron laughed again. “I know! This is true!”

 “Any more confessions?”

 “I love Itaru and how he never assumes about anyone. He never judges. He allows his opinion to form on others from how they treat him and not rumors.” Citron’s lips quivered. He pursed them. “Or appearances. Or anything. Just character and fun. Clean slip.”

 “Slate?”

 “Clean slate.”

 Izumi clicked her tongue and slipped her hand away to wipe Citron’s face. “You alright?”

 “And I love Masumi!” Citron continued, grinning at the affectionate contact. “Because Masumi is loyal and good-hearted, even though the world has been mean to him. He wants love just as much as the rest of us. I’ve gotten to see him grow, Director.”

 “We all have,” she said. That much was true.

 “And I love Sakuya. Who has breathed life into the world around him, like a human spring season.” Citron leaned his forehead on Izumi’s shoulder. “Sakuya does not have nightmares anymore, Director. Sakuya sleeps through the nights peacefully, Director. After he tells me all about what he is excited for the next day, and then he tells me good night. I am so grateful I got to become his friend.”

 Izumi hugged him close and rubbed his back. Citron crying. It didn’t happen often so she was glad she could be there for him this time.

 “And Chikage?” she prompted, seeing as how there was only one name gone unmentioned.

 “Is Chikage not the best person we could have asked for?” Citron served directly back. Not a moment’s hesitation. Izumi felt Citron’s arms wrap around her waist as he clung a little closer. He smelled like jasmine tea. “One last lonely heart to join ours. Smart and strong when the rest of us can’t be. Spring Troupe’s last line of defense, maybe?”

 There was a fleeting mental image of Chikage casually patrolling the dormitories with a grenade launcher in hand. She'd tell Citron about it in the morning, he'd get a kick out of it.

 “Definitely,” she reassured him. “They love you too, Citron.”

 “That’s the best part, Director. I know.” He pulled himself away and put his hands on Izumi’s shoulders. “And that is why no one should have to worry about me, yes? Because I already have the most important thing to me.”

 “Acting?” Izumi asked, a little teasing.

 Citron shook her once with a laugh.

 “A family,” he whispered.