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something akin to a friend

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Tsukasa puzzles over the packet of paper in front of him, resting his chin in his hand. He taps the eraser side of his pencil on the table. Tac tac toc tac-toc-toc-tac. He realizes he isn’t really thinking about the problem anymore. He refocuses. The numbers and symbols no longer feel like vague, abstract concepts, but more like a foreign language; perhaps hieroglyphs. He’s reading them, but he’s not processing them. 

He decides this question is too hard and skips to the next clump of hieroglyphic numbers and symbols. (He has already done this twice in the past fifteen minutes.) He can miraculously understand this one a little better, so he begins to sketch out more numbers and symbols next to the printed ones. 

He very quickly hits a mental wall and gives up. 

He dramatically drops his pencil on top of the packet and runs a hand through his already messed-up hair. He suddenly thinks that he feels like one of those ugly half asleep cats on the internet — the ones Sora sends him sometimes.

Speaking of Harukawa-kun…? Tsukasa takes a look at his watch. He should have been here over ten minutes ago. Tsukasa knew that his roommates would be out in order to participate in their own units’ activities, so he invited his friend to… “hang out?”... at his dorm for a while. (He thinks those are the right words. …Yes, they must be, he’s heard countless classmates say the same thing.) Ah, but anyway… maybe he changed his mind and forgot to mention it? Maybe he got the time wrong? Maybe he—

Tsukasa’s train of thought is broken by the click-turn of the dorm’s doorknob, quickly followed by, “HiHi~ Sora has arrived!!”

Tsukasa is dragged back to the concrete reality. Right. He has things to do. He stands up and meets Sora halfway across the room. “Hello, Harukawa-kun. I was nearly afraid you wouldn’t come.” He is aware he probably sounds disinterested in his friend’s company, so tries to change his facial expression to seem more welcoming.  

Sora either doesn’t notice or is too nice to react negatively. “And Sora is very very sorry!” he replies. “Sora was listening to music—” Tsukasa now notices the earbuds resting on his shoulders “—and got a bit carried away~! But Sora is here now!” He beams like a literal ray of sunshine, bright enough to light up the whole campus. Before Tsukasa can say anything, Sora curiously peeks behind him and to the papers on his desk. “HoHo~? What are those papers~?”

“Ah… that’s my classwork.”

Sora hops closer to the desk. “Hmmm… that’s a lot of symbols Sora doesn’t know!”

Tsukasa steps over to the desk and expertly slides the papers into their folder. “Yes, it’s quite difficult. I was just having some trouble with them before you arrived.” He can feel his eyelids becoming heavier just thinking about them.

Sora glances at him for a second before spinning around once then landing himself on a bed at random — it ended up being Shinobu’s bed. “Ooh, this bed’s comfy! Please give Sora’s thanks to the owner~!” 

“Aha. I will.” Tsukasa sits on Sora’s left. Maybe he unintentionally leans into him a bit; who’s to say? After all, Sora was never one to have strict personal boundaries, and with him Tsukasa felt safe. (That’s not to say he didn't feel safe with others. Of course.) 

So they sit there in comfortable silence for a bit. Sora doesn’t question why, at least not out loud. Tsukasa almost forgets about the thoughts that have been nagging at him for some time now – his classwork, his position as Knights’ king, his responsibilities at home, his relationships with others (and how he fits in with them), does he even fit in with them at all?, how do his friends and classmates view him?... But even though they aren’t in tangible thoughts for the moment, they are still present in him as more of a feeling. 

He tries to focus on his breathing. Sometimes he recognizes that he zones out. Eventually his position has changed so his head rests comfortably on Sora’s shoulder. Sora doesn’t seem to mind, thankfully — he has actually started playing a game on his phone. It has simple graphics, and not a lot of action. It actually looks just like… a job? Tsukasa ultimately decides to not question it. 

After a while of playing the game, Sora closes his phone. Tsukasa sits back upright. (Like he should. Of course.)

“Tsuka-chan, do you feel okay~?” 

Tsukasa doesn’t think Sora knows the complexity of the question. Sure, he’s okay . He could be better; yet he could also be so, so much worse. He hasn’t been getting the best sleep, sure, but that’s his own fault for not doing his tasks during the day like he should have. He has too many tasks? Too many commitments? Ridiculous. He’s been fine before. He can handle it. Like a normal person could. He’s perfectly okay. 

He doesn’t want to say all that to Sora, lest he think he’s any less than perfectly okay. Tsukasa has to be perfectly okay. He wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t perfectly okay. 

“Yeah. Yes. I’m okay.”

Sora taps his chin, a faint smile on his face. He doesn’t say anything.

Tsukasa feels as though he has to say something. “I suppose I’ve just bitten off a bit more than I can chew, is all.”

“Ohh~ Sora gets it!”

“You do?”

“Yes! Well, a little! Shisho~ says that when someone has too many things they’re trying to do and can’t handle them, then it’s probably best to drop one of them! Sora doesn’t know if that will help Tsuka-chan, though.”

He absolutely cannot drop anything. It’s not that simple. Well, he could, but he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone. 

Tsukasa starts to speak again before he can tell himself it’s not worth it. “It’s not… it’s not anything I can’t handle. Of course. What kind of leader would I be, then? A leader can’t lead their people without their own confidence, without the ability to make correct decisions.” A breath. He realizes that not every idea in that sentence is connected. His brain is working faster than he can find words for. “I should have that confidence,” he finishes. He can feel something like embarrassment rise up in his chest and– into his eyes? No, he won’t let himself cry, that’s ridiculous. 

“Hmm~. You know, Tsuka-chan, you don’t really have to do all of it by yourself.”

He doesn’t continue. Tsukasa isn’t sure how to respond; he doesn’t want to spill all of his small, silly feelings to another simple human. Humans, after all, can only effectively process a few emotions at once. (That’s at least what it feels like.) He doesn’t want to place that burden on his dear friend. 

Tsukasa clenches his fist to… he doesn’t know. Distract himself? Keep his emotions in check? 

“I… well, I know … that. Yes.” 

“You know~?”

“Yes. I know.”

The exchange is almost comical. Tsukasa almost scoffs, both at said exchange and himself. 

Why would I say such a thing? I clearly do not know.  

“Hmm~,” Sora hums. “Sora didn’t want to say anything earlier, but Tsuka-chan’s color is a bit different today. Sora won’t press anything, but Sora hopes you feel okay!” He beams at Tsukasa, lighting up the space between them.

Tsukasa gives a small smile back. “...Thank you. For listening. Even if I didn’t say much.” I’m stumbling over my words like an idiot. He decides to take the negative? attention away from himself. “Ah, so… if the atmosphere isn’t too strange… would you like to play some games now?” He almost regrets it as soon as he says it. What a foolish thing to ask.

Sora doesn’t comment on the subject change, and he magically — figuratively or literally? Tsukasa can’t tell — extracts a game console from his pocket. “HaHa~! Ready to go when you are!” Sora begins rattling off game titles they could play, a few Tsukasa recognizes and a few he doesn’t. 

Tsukasa gets wrapped up in the contemplation of what game to play, and he doesn’t even recognize that he feels better. He is not thinking about things he doesn’t want to; just enjoying the time with his friend. 

***

A soft melody emanates from somewhere down the empty hall. A piano. One of Beethoven’s works? Tsukasa can’t be sure. He strides down the empty hallway, closer (he presumes) to the source of the music. 

He starts to press his ear against doors as he hears the piano getting louder. He thinks he locates the source room after four tries — but the room is dark through the small window on the door. He jokingly considers for a moment that it’s a ghost or other phantom being that is playing the piano.

Tsukasa gently opens the door — it thankfully doesn’t make any sound. 

Yes, this room definitely holds the source of the melody. But he can’t see anything in the blackness. Maybe it really is a phantom? But then where even is the piano…? Surely it isn’t a recording, otherwise it wouldn’t have such a clear sound. But… He turns his head back and forth, looking for the instrument. He suddenly realizes the music stopped.

… Where… is the musician?

“Boo,” a soft voice whispers in his ear.

Tsukasa screams (much too undignified) but a (rather cold) hand covers his mouth. “Shhh. No one is supposed to be in this room, Suu~chan. Keep it down.” 

Ah. Only Ritsu-senpai. Tsukasa pries his hand away and whispers back, “Then why are you even in here?”

“Hmmm? I could ask the same of you. Star student ‘Suu~chan’ caught roaming the halls in the dead of night….”

Tsukasa turns his head slightly to look at his senior’s face. Ritsu wears a playful smirk. “I couldn’t sleep,” Tsukasa lies. Well, not a full lie, but not a full truth.

Ritsu reaches back to close the still-open door. “How unusual~... you’re always the one person out of everyone I know to have a good sleep schedule.” He pauses, contemplating something, probably. “Something up?” 

Tsukasa finally locates the piano. He mindlessly strides over and sits down on the bench, but he doesn’t touch the piano itself. 

After what feels like an hour (but was probably more like a minute) of staring at the black and white keys, he feels (rather than sees) Ritsu sit on his left. Ritsu begins tapping out a simple melody with his left hand. He stops. “Cat got your tongue?” he asks Tsukasa.

“Huh?”

“Hmm?”

“What…” Tsukasa remembers he was asked a question. “...Oh. Yes. I mean, no. Nothing is wrong.”

Ritsu leans forward, presumably to get a closer look at Tsukasa’s face. “You look…” He lets the comment hang in the air, unfinished.

“I look what?”

No response.

“Ritsu-senpai. What do I look like?”

Ritsu sits back up a little. “Death, pretty much.”

“Feel like it, too…” Tsukasa mumbles.

“Don’t think I didn’t hear that~.”

Tsukasa taps a key at random. It’s rather high-pitched. He stops. “You shouldn’t worry yourself over me, Ritsu-senpai.”

“Why not~? I am your loving oniichan. I should worry myself over you.”

Tsukasa gives him an exasperated look. “What do you mean by… no, nevermind.” He doesn’t answer the question. Silence hangs in the air like a heavy raincloud, with the anticipation of a warm thunderstorm. 

“Suuuuuu~chaaaaaaan.” 

Tsukasa abruptly stands and marches to the other side of the room. He suddenly feels annoyed, but doesn’t know what at. Ritsu? Himself? Why is Ritsu-senpai being so nice to me?

Tsukasa reaches the other end of the mostly empty room and simply presses his right hand on the wall. It’s cold. He didn’t realize how warm his hands are. He presses his forehead on the wall, too. He never realized how warm his forehead is too, apparently. 

What am I even doing?

He turns around so his back is flush against the wall. He slowly slides down to the floor, eyeing Ritsu as he does. The vampire is just watching him, unmoving.

I wonder what he is thinking.

I wonder what he is thinking about me. 

Tsukasa brings his knees up, almost to his chest, and wraps his arms around them. He is so tired.  

Ritsu calls from the piano, “Do you want to talk?”

Tsukasa doesn’t think he’s ever heard him sound so sincerely concerned. He doesn’t answer. He does, in fact, want to talk, but how can he possibly talk to one of the very sources of his worries? 

“Suu~chan.”

Tsukasa makes a weird noise from his throat, clears it, and replies, “I don’t know if you want to hear it.”

“Sure I do.” Ritsu lightly makes his way to Tsukasa and sits on his left again.

Tsukasa groans in frustration. “I’m serious. It’s not a huge deal.”

“It’s important enough that you’re walking around the school at…” — he checks the clock in the opposite corner of the room — “...one in the morning.”

“Well…” He falters for a moment. “I don’t want to make you worry. And I don’t want to make you feel bad.” 

“Why should I feel bad?”

Well. No backing out of this corner. Great move.

Tsukasa doesn’t even bother to mentally prepare himself. May as well put trust in Ritsu’s words, right? Maybe the lack of sleep is catching up. “I’ve just been thinking lately — I don’t know why — about if people actually like me. If my… friends… like me. It’s a foolish thing to wonder, because of course they do, they’re my friends. But there is also a part of myself that wonders if the kindness they show me is just a facade. After all, I often feel like a burden, or as though I only cause inconveniences to those around me. Why would they like me so much if all I do is create trouble for them, even if I try not to?” He taps the back of his head on the cold wall. “You included. That’s why I was apprehensive about telling you. You may just feel an obligation to be nice to me, since we’re unitmates.”

Maybe Tsuaksa’s exhaustion really is catching up to him — he can feel actual tears form in his eyes. He quickly wipes them off with the back of his hand. He suddenly feels way more self-conscious about the number of words that he just spoke. “It’s– it’s not– you know. Sorry.” He inhales rather shakily. Why would he be crying over this? It’s silly, it's ridiculous, and it’s certainly not as serious as he initially made it out to be. 

He almost stands up to leave out of embarrassment, but he feels Ritsu put an arm around his shoulders. He seemingly hesitates for a millisecond before also pulling Tsukasa closer to him. (Ritsu’s body heat is a nice contrast to the relatively cold room, Tsukasa notices.)

Neither of them say anything. Which is nice. It’s nice to simply sit together in silence. 

Tsukasa’s heart — or at least the part of his chest where his heart is — feels like it’s being stretched out. It almost feels hollow, but sort of in a good way. At the same time he feels safe and protected by Ritsu, even as he realizes his otherwise loneliness and as he begins to silently cry again. He doesn’t like crying, especially not in front of other people, but the combination of the late hour and the lack of sleep and his overfull bottle of emotions can call for a special case. 

And he would never admit it out loud, but now that he’s here, he would like to stay like this – embraced by someone dear to him – forever.

 

Tsukasa had fallen asleep at some point in the dark, early hours of the morning, it seems. He doesn’t know what time it is right now, but the room that had been so dark and cold before was now filled with bright sunlight. His throat is dry and his eyes are still heavy. Ritsu is still holding him as he was before, but he is more relaxed. He must have fallen asleep, too (although that is not a big surprise); the piano across the room is almost glowing in the light; and as Tsukasa scans the room, he sees the clock that reads 2:26pm. 

Well, that answers that question.

“Ah, Suu~chan, you’re awake.” 

Ritsu’s voice startles him. “Y-yes.” He tries to sit a little more upright. “I thought you would have fallen asleep…?”

“Ohh, I did, for a while. Buu~ut, as much as I love my beauty sleep, I woke up before you did. I’m surprised how long you slept, really.” 

Tsukasa suddenly feels embarrassed at that. “I-I really didn’t mean to sleep for so long. I’m sorry for keeping you here. …Ah, I hope I didn’t have any important obligations today….” He fully stands up and hurries to the door. Far too much of the day has been wasted already. He still feels a little slow, seeing as he just woke up after around twelve hours of sleep, but– but he has to do something. Anything.

He swings the door open, but pauses. “Ritsu-senpai.”

“Hmmm~?” 

“...Please don’t mention this to anyone.” He feels bad enough for making two people (if you count Harukawa-kun) worry about him, but if anyone else in Knights thought that he was “struggling,” he would never hear the end of it. He does not need people to dote on him any more than they already do. 

Ritsu seems to consider this. “Sure thing. But y’know, if you ever feel bad again or want to talk about it, I’ll be here.”

“...Thank you. I… I might.” He leaves the room to find out about and take care of any lingering business he may have.

***

A few days later –– a Saturday –– and Tsukasa is woken up to someone violently shaking his shoulders. 

“Suou-kun, Suou-kun! Someone’s here to see you, de gozaru!” His roommate Shinobu is apparently the culprit.

He internally groans a bit but sits himself up anyways. He looks to his right to see not his roommate (who probably dashed away to who knows where), but Sora. 

I wonder why he’s here?

“Good morning Tsuka-chan!!”

“Good mor—?”

“Sora wanted to say hello! Sora has seen that Tsuka-chan has been stressed lately, even after that talk a while ago! So Sora just wanted to ask how things are going~?”

Tsukasa feels so extremely confused. Why did Sora come all the way up to the third floor at the crack of dawn just to ask how things are going ? He doesn’t mind, of course. He simply doesn’t know how to answer, with a foggy mind and probably looking horrible, having just woken up two minutes ago. 

“I– I’m fine. Thank you, Harukawa-kun.”

“Okay~!”

He took that? “I mean, if you wanted a longer answer…? Then I do feel better than I did a few days ago. I’m not entirely sure why, but I wouldn’t want you to worry over something that isn’t there.”

“Ohhh, Sora sees! Sora is glad you feel okay right now~! HaHa~”

Tsukasa can’t help but smile. “Yes. Again, thank you.”

***

Well, it’s not like he feels instantly good about himself. Of course not. That just happened to be a hard couple of days in a row, probably. 

Ritsu did keep his word and didn’t speak about that night to anyone. Tsukasa almost feels bad for making him do that now (what a silly instance) but Ritsu keeps insisting it’s alright, everyone has their less graceful moments.

Sora often checks in on Tsukasa, offering to play games or do something else lighthearted. ...Not that he hadn’t done that before, but it’s more frequent now. 

Strangely, even though he was so apprehensive to the idea of his troubles being spilled to anyone, he feels a little lighter knowing that at least two of his close friends know and still care enough about him. He thought they would think differently of him for some reason; he now realizes that was ridiculous to think. 

Of course.

They’re his friends. Of course they care about him.