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A certain sense of understanding

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He'd done it - another successful show with not a single frown in sight. Natsume's heart couldn't have been more warm as he bathed in the incessant cheering, rounds of applause after applause. Standing with his unitmates by his side felt like all the magic coursing through his veins had unleashed itself into the air, in a positive way - obviously. Bidding their adieus, he led the way off the stage, Tsumugi and Sora at his heels. This had all gone according to plan.

It repeated in his head again—this outcome oddly familiar and he couldn't quite place it. It definitely wasn't related to any past performances, this sense of deja vu let him know that much at least. To wonder, get lost in the labrynth.

"Sora and Senpai are going to go explore the rest of the venue! If Shisho wants to tag along.." Sora had Tsumugi's hand, like he was dragging him along.

"Ah-" Natsume was interrupted by a vibration tied with a spooky tune to accompany it, his phone secured in a secret pocket in his jacket. "I have to take this~ please go ahead without me."

Sora widened his eyes at him, blue and round and he wasn't pleading - he was definitely pleading.

"Now now Sora! I'll only be a minute, okay? Go go!" His phone had rung three times already, he feared the caller may give up if he waited any longer.

Though, he knew who was calling. That assumption called him a fool.

Tsumugi, unfortunately didn't help in ending this interaction swiftly. "Natsume-kun–" he watched as his friend shot him the death glare of the century, nothing new. "We'll see you.."

"See you." Cutting it close, he spared him an insult, Natsume returning to their changing room as he finally got to answering this damn call. One he hadn't expected at all– and that deja vu continued gnawing at the back of his mind.

Click • • •

"Rei-niisan? You're lucky, our performance just ended."

He paced around in circles, not yet cooled down enough to rest. He didn't need the rest. Sweat soaked the layers on his back and if he thought too hard about it he'd want nothing more than to dive into the nearest lake. Waiting for a response, he took to removing his mic from its snug placement in semi-damp hair.

"Sakasaki-kun? Ah you answered!" What the hell, of course he answered. There'd be no reason for him not to—or rather, Rei had not a clue on his whereabouts, no? Natsume didn't find his own schedule of importance to his old friend. "I need..help."

And that's when the alarms began blaring, because commonplace had no room for when Sakuma Rei asked for assistance. Everyone should've noticed—though Natsume assumes this isn't the case—Rei was much less privy to that infinite number encompassed by the word 'everyone.' He remained in territory without debt, more than he ever had in the previous years he'd been alive. Oh but if the facade (something Natsume also recognized easily) had been true, Rei had risen from the pools watched over by the grim reaper. It was silly to believe him, just as ignorant as it was to forget how some of that facade held a sullen truth. He must not be physically well.

"Help? Where are you~?" Natsume resisted the urge to grind his teeth. He suspected this question had been in vain, a prediction of sorts.

"I.. I attended-"

• • • Click.

Dammit! Curse his instincts and predisposition to being right. A mix of frustration and a dash of concern pooled in the cavities of his ribs, a sharp pain. Quickly, he dropped the mic off on his way out. If Rei needed his help, he sure as hell had no intent on ignoring him. Much less the heart to, he was an old friend after all—someone he looked up to, though he'd never admit that too loudly.

Attended..

Gleaming anything from such little information became his next task to accompany him down the hall. Events of the past hour wiped from his mind as Natsume's speed walk lent him as unapproachable as possible. He'd taught Sora to do the same if ever in a similar situation. People won't talk to you if you look like you've got somewhere to be!

He'd tried his number again, but it went straight to voice-mail. Or rather, the automated message that basically counted as some monotonous rejection. Not that Natsume thought Rei knew what a voice-mail even was, this didn't surprise him.

Most people had cleared out, leaving the main hall fairly easy to step through. He didn't know where his brain was leading him, but for some reason he hadn't headed straight for the exit. Instead, his feet took him in quite the opposite direction.

Pushing all his weight against a door he knew played tricks, he found himself caught off-guard by how easily it went. The sound of his shoes squeaking on the tile, and an inhale of breath as he used it as an anchor to undo this slip of balance. His phone was still in hand, and he still wanted to ignore how uncomfortable it was to layer. Maybe he should've found water before embarking on a quest like this but-

There he was.

This scene played out familiar, a sleeping (passed out?) Sakuma Rei, his hands being close to his face indication he (probably) hadn't collapsed entirely. Most likely, had just chosen to lay on the floor. But something about the way the electronic device had joined him didn't sit right, he would at least pocket it.

In seconds, Natsume ran over and got to his level - on his knees and shaking the old vampire's hand, frantic. "Rei-niisan." Was he stranger to this? Absolutely. For in their past, everyone- (Itsuki Shu-) tended to when there were any medical mishaps. As one of many health problems, Rei certainly kept secrets and Natsume wondered if they shielded him from all responsibility.. He could think about that later. "Rei-niisan."

It took a couple more tries, and a cautionary measure of making sure he had a pulse—okay, he wasn't dead—Natsume coaxed the man awake.

So strange how as soon as someone wakes up, the reality of their situation filters through their face, in the way they look at you.. To say sleep gave them some sort of armor to emotions, was it like that for everyone? Did one's state show upon waking in the same way a sudden change of tone did? A single slip up? Rei didn't look too good, Natsume noted the droplets of sweat on his forehead.

"You're awake," Natsume spoke, maintaining his calm that he very much did not feel. "Don't scare me like that ever again."

Rei looked dazed, more than he usually did and that was when Natsume realized something. In seconds it clicked into place somewhere, and maybe it was just a hunch, but time had proven his gut right.

"Rei-niisan you've been binding~?" He asked the question, tentative. So far the man had yet to respond, honestly he was probably waiting on his eyes to focus.

Another sharp pang.

"Agh.." Natsume flinched, and his instincts to curl in on himself won against the ones to pretend he hadn't—that was when Rei spoke up.

"Sakasaki-kun?" Like a corpse rising from the ground, Rei joined Natsume's level and now they were face to face. At least, would've been if Natsume hadn't been staring down, gritting his teeth had only been delayed after all.

"Don't.. worry about me." Natsume's voice came out forced. "You're the one in need of help. So don't say a single thing."

He shook his head and rested a hand past his chest and on his shoulder, almost like shielding himself. From what though? The pain had been internal.

"Sakasaki-kun, I am not of full coherence.. But I believe you're fit to the same fate hm~?"

"I've no idea what you're babbling about. Answer the question. It's rude to ignore it."

"That did answer your question, if I'm not mistaken." Rei held his hand up as a way to suggest take it, but Natsume just scoffed.

Snapping his arm back to his side like he'd been burnt, Natsume finally met Rei's eyes again - there was vulnerability in their mutual knowing. In how Natsume did listen to Rei's answer—and how Rei's silent question didn't need answering.

"Can you walk?" Despite them both refusing to stand up first, he still asked.

"Can you?"

"If I couldn't, I wouldn't have said anything. I'm fine." Whether he knew it was a lie— whether Rei knew it was a lie—Natsume could only follow the script of someone lending him a hand. Sticking to his little improv game was more trouble than it was worth - and too childish. And as soon as they'd stood, Natsume didn't let go.

"Does Natsume miss his Rei-niisan this much~? I'm honored.."

It took so much self control to not let Rei's teasing get under his skin, "it's nothing like that." Even so, this wasn't the time.

And if it was extra precaution.

And if holding someone's hand was a comfort he subconsciously needed.

Neither acknowledged it.

They were hardly flying. Avoiding crashing eye contact with passerbys in this venue proved to be tricky, especially when Natsume heard a whisper of that's Sakuma Rei. Their status in the past as an ensemble of 5 – maybe more-so the 3 leads and 2 supports - in their little messed up story. People knew their names, and of course his presence of magic could not be stranger upon attendees here. But, Rei did stick out. The fact they were walking together was something of intriguing, to the average passerby. Natsume found it a bit of a nuisance.

"They think there's a reunion." He stated, exasperated and trying his best to walk faster, which wasn't possible.

"Well in a way, isn't that what this is?" Rei slowed him down by quite a lot. "A reunion between two long-lost acquaintances, destiny I may say."

"You attended a Switch performance to say hello?" Natsume, already ahead by several steps, declared his assumption. And the way Rei remained quiet gave him the answer. "Well, suppose only you would be in trouble for the sake of someone else."

Once re-entering his room of clothes and whatever else his unitmates left behind, Natsume dropped Rei at a chair. Having no intention on making him stand for any longer. "I have extra shirts if you need it—" he spoke in nonchalance "–take it off okay?" He found himself worrying so much over the other's wellbeing, he again forgot about his own. Maybe he wasn't all that smart, but then again.. he asked for it, hadn't he? Painful things fit just right with him.

"You have to as well Natsume—do not expect me to forget so easily." Rei's eyes fixed on the redhead's face, scanning. Reading between the lines was his specialty, he'd go as far as to call it his own superpower. Though the likes of UNDEAD didn't wield such a motif - maybe he'd bug Ryuseitai's leader later on about what constitutes as one. He'd surely agree. "Would I be right if I presume you've ignored your own health intentionally?"

Natsume's blood ran cold. He wasn't ready to confront that outside his own head—in a place where he could be understood no less. Sometimes, the isolation just felt better. "It- it doesn't matter.."

Hide it, repeat. Hide it, repeat!

In his world, everything went smoother when he was under control by himself and himself alone, no one else to interfere. It was easier to place a label on the little mannerisms—those strange behaviors and thoughts that no one else ever brought up or exuded—and let that label be his own name. His brain worked this way because he was Natsume! These strong emotions he tried his hardest to stamp out only existed because they resided in his body! It was just easier that way, people didn't get to stick their nose close, he didn't allow it. Even if the person treading near his corner had a knack for it, he knew the tactics.

"I will later." An obvious lie.

"I don't believe ya, c'mon let yer Rei-niisan care 'bout his dear lil Natsume, just this once? Never let him before.."

He hadn't predicted this possibility though. "Gah.. you can't bring up the past just like that.." Natsume's control at its limit — lost. "That's cheating, it's–" he stepped up to Rei, hands balled into fists. "It's not your job to take care of me."

He was losing his ability to keep up a facade just as much as his vision felt foggy.

Fine. He didn't have to win every single fight. He'd already lost one.

"..okay.." Natsume turned away, counting three seconds before retrieving two of his casual t-shirts - one much more baggy and probably fit Rei. Neither fit Natsume, and the little demon in his head shouted he liked it that way.

"I would not bring up the past if it wasn't so important," Rei continued talking, unprompted and like his speech had done nothing out of the ordinary. "You did in fact tell me first, even this old vampire can store memories y'know.."

"It's not like I meant to. I had no choice, you were the only one who'd get it."

And then his eyes widened at such a confession. He needed to get this binder off, it was affecting his skills at being himself!

"Hm is that so~? I see."

"Ignore anything I say. You know I'm not in the best state." He threw the latter of his shirts on Rei's lap, then found a different seat away. Facing opposite directions, they both finally removed the thing keeping them mentally sane, but which still had the means to harm. Being mutually unwell together lent them a sense of absurdity, how ridiculous.

If you'd ask him— the sheer fact he didn't have three layers on was enough to settle his nerves. But Natsume could admit the relief on his lungs, the way he felt about ready to pass out from exhaustion. He knew he'd recover, he always did, and ignoring the thoughts of what if you did this again became his next priority.

Along with snatching up a water bottle or two from his bag. "Rei-niisan here," his voice came out quieter as he approached Rei again, his smile beaming a bit too warm.

"Why thank you.." He took it without a second thought.

"Sometimes water makes me nauseous when.." Natsume began but stopped as it leaned too close to spitting out words he wanted to ignore.

"Chest pain'll do that." Rei responded after taking several gulps. "Seriously though, don't resort to such self-punishment again alright? An order."

With only a third left in his bottle, cap twisted on again, Natsume sighed. "I don't think you get it."

"If I didn't get it, I wouldn't be speaking as if i do." Rei brought his legs up to join him on his chair, crossed and hand tapping his knee. "Let me repeat myself, that's an order Sakasaki-kun."

There was little room to argue, and if Rei wasn't gonna dig further, Natsume wouldn't either. This was enough, the little piece of understanding; he could accept it, just this once.

And if it resembled the time he'd broken into tears about his identity in their academy's after-school halls to the one person who'd understand—he'd let that happen too. Acceptance was a game for everyone, of all ages.

A comfortable quiet took over, briefly broken by the sound of a crunching water bottle and Rei's phone having the loudest power button in existence.

"Will it not power up?" Natsume asked, mixture of annoyance and curiosity powering the question.

"I'm not sure.."

Walking over again, it felt like he'd done this so many times—pacing was his specialty, Natsume snatched it from Rei's hands.

Ah, so it'd died on him.

"You didn't bring a charging cable? How unprepared."

"Ahh so its battery is just empty.."

"Yeah, how you managed to kill a phone I wouldn't know."

That explained why he hadn't picked up and why the calls would not go through— wait.

"So you didn't make that call incredibly stressful on purpose? That was real~?"

Rei read him like the weirdest novel, speaking and saying things with too much context. "You didn't really believe I wasn't genuine. I, with sincerest gratitude, noticed your worry."

"Not important."

The older man let out a chuckle, people endeared him without even trying. "Thank you~"

Natsume's heart squeezed ever so slightly as he recalled - the UNDEAD show he'd been in the audience for. When seeing his friend perform set off this sort of envy in his soul.

In no world did Natsume ever do this, except maybe this one. "Rei-niisan, thank you for being inspiring."

He wanted to cough up the words and feelings tied to it as soon as they'd left his throat.

That signature little chuckle of endearment only aided in this wish.

"I shouldn't be—I'm a vampire of the night~!"

He didn't have the courage or enough magic to cure the embarrassment, but if he did—he would've said; that's precisely what makes you cool. And maybe the gloves too, yeah those make you cool.