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The One You Feed

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I slowly blinked my eyes open, already mind-numbingly exhausted. My mind was a whirling mass of thoughts, all tinged with negativity. Most I managed to ignore, but a few always got through to me, and on a bad day, there were many I couldn’t avoid. I had been yanked from my blissfully dreamless sleep from my sister yelling my, uh, name. “Fumika!” she had yelled. It had taken me a while of considering this cry before I remembered that it was my name, and sighed. Right. I got up and wobbled dazedly over to my closet, wincing at my choices. I shuffled through my clothes before I resigned myself to a plain white blouse and jeans. Good enough.

I wandered through the remaining steps of my morning routine, not paying any attention, because I was just thinking all too much.

My mother confronted me, probably to remind me to eat breakfast, but it had lately become a habit of mine to avoid this advice and just walk out the door alone, avoiding any well-meaning family members.

So I walked out, and I walked to the bus stop, a few houses away, where I would stand alone, quietly, waiting for my bus to come take me to school.

You expect me to call it hell? At this point in my life, most things were hell.

I sat in silence on the bus, and when I got to school, I sat quietly until we were called to class, where I, uh, continued to sit quietly.

I didn’t exactly have anyone to talk to anyways. No one wants to talk to the freak.

Until him.

I sat at lunch, picking at my standard school glob with a side of half-rotten apple, one seat away from the nearest group, full of nerdy guys with no one to talk to but each other. They don’t talk to me. They leave me be, because they remember what happened last time.

If a teacher saw me sitting alone, or I sat in the library, or an empty classroom, someone was bound to ask me what was wrong, and the only two options in that situation are to tell them to leave me alone or to tell them everything, neither of which seemed like particularly good options, so I just avoided people who meant well.

I guess I avoided everyone, really.

So, again, just sitting there at lunch, trying to mind my own business and mentally note my homework for tonight, when this guy I don’t recognize sits in front of me.

Before I go on, may I just say, this kid was just radiating positivity, and hope, and it was very attractive on him. He had these enchantingly strange green eyes and hair that stuck out in every which way.

He still does.

The guy had barely sat down before he started talking. “Hi, my name is Hajime Hinata, I’m new here. I just moved here from Tokyo and I don’t know the right crowd to hang out with, but you seem like a good place to start. You seem cute, and friendly, and lonely. What’s your name?”

I paused. This is weird. What’s this guy want? Is he flirting? Won’t be for long, that’s for sure. “Name’s Fumika. Kuzuryu Fumika. Not that it matters, since you definitely tried the wrong crowd. Try someone nicer, fits your style more.”

Hajime looked at me in confusion. “Whadya mean, tried the wrong crowd? I move all the time, I’m an expert at spotting good people who, um, I’d be good friends with.” He seemed embarrassed, with a light blush blooming on his cheeks.

“Listen, kid. What was it again? Hajime? I’m telling you, if you hang around with me, no one else will even look at you, and you don’t seem like the type to only have one friend.” Especially not someone as shitty as me.

Meanwhile, the nerds who sat by me had ceased all conversation to see this, because, knowing me, a fight was going to break out.

“That’s perfect! Better to have one perfect friend than lots of okay ones. That’s what I say, at least.” He said, grabbing my hands.

Inwardly, I was barely able to endure my panic, but externally, I jerked my hands back and shoved the remaining food on my tray onto his clean white shirt in order to convey a message: fuck off.

As I sat in the girls’ bathroom, contemplating what had just occurred, something strange happened.

You don’t deserve someone as hopeful as him, and he deserves much better than a piece of shit like you.

The hopeless comment had come from my usual internal monologue, but then…

 He wants to be friends with you. At least let him try to be friends with you. What could it hurt?

It was a bright, whispering voice, alluring me. The negative voice fought back.

I doubt he wants to be friends. Who would want to be friends with a shitbag like my Kuzu? Anyways, if this goes much further, they both might get hopeful, making the inevitable detachment more painful for both of them, which isn’t what we want, right Kuzu?

The other voice fought back. If you want Kuzu to suffer so much, then why don’t you let him be friends with Hajime? Either way, one of us wins. Either you get to bring Kuzu more despair, or I let him be happy.

The despair seeking voice faltered. Fine. If Hinata even wants to talk to you after today.

The hope had won. He hadn’t heard that kind of inner voice in years, let alone actually overriding a negative comment. That was….unusual.

The hope called me he.

That’s never happened before, ever.

I wrapped my arms around myself in a hug, letting myself rejoice in the small, but oh so major victory. 


 

I spent the rest of the day dazed, and after a while the euphoria wore off, and it was just my boring, monotonous life again.

Well, that was before he showed up again.

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no oh no ohno ohno ohnoohnoohno.

His shirt was still wet and there was a vaguely brown spot. Most of the kids in the vicinity held back a snicker, but I was a deer in headlights.

I got the fucking lunch food on him. He’s gonna hate me. I thought I was finally gonna have a friend.

He looked over at me and his gaze sharpened, as if he was angry, but… it wasn’t exactly that.

 Calculative? Frustrated? Focused? None of those make sense.

He deliberately navigated his way to the back of the room and sat directly next to me, and the room went silent. He looked around and grinned sheepishly.

 He had that type of grin that works for any situation really. The type of grin you don’t have to mean, the one that can be used for happiness, embarrassment, irony, anger…

 He got out a piece of paper, slightly wrinkled, and scribbled a note.

His handwriting was barely legible. “Jeez. Seems like you weren’t joking about the ‘people will avoid you’ thing, but you didn’t have to throw your lunch at me. That’s not exactly helping with the avoiding thing.”

I winced inwardly before scribbling a note back with shaky hands. “Yeah, by the way, I’m really fucking sorry about that. No one’s talked to me for a while, I’m used to the people who want to know too much, and the people who think I just exist to hate. And yeah, I wasn’t joking.”

He took the note from my outstretched arm, trembling a little, and read it with a perplexed expression. He wrote a note back, hesitating every so often.

That sounds lonely. I wish I could know what you mean by ‘people who want to know too much,’ but I suppose that’s exactly what you were talking about. I guess I’ll just have to keep you company, and help you be less lonely, and maybe I’ll find out in due time.”

I glanced over to him with a smirk on my face, and he was gazing intently at my expression, reading me, turning away quickly when I looked over. I paused. Hmm.

“You can keep me company. Won’t throw any more lunch food at you, I guess. You’re alright with being outcast, like me?”

I handed it to him while pretending to watch the teacher giving the lesson, and noticed a few kids glancing back at us, smirking, or confused, or wistfully, even. A few moments later, I got back another note.

It’s a small price to pay.” 


 

The voices in my head have been relatively quiet. I think they can sense that my condition right now is risky for both of them. Either of them could lose. If they’re arguing, they’re doing it in private.

I got home, and threw off my…wait. Shit. Oh my god. I forgot to wear a hoodie today.

I glanced at the cracked mirror and saw my fucking scars out in the open.

They couldn’t have been more obvious if I used red sharpie.

Maybe that’s why Hajime actually wanted to hang out with me. That’s why everyone was being weird. No one knew yet. No one knew, and now it’s all fucked up.

No wonder he came over to talk to me. He knows from the very start how messed up I am.

Not that I was that messed up… well, actually. Constant loneliness and sadness that you have to numb to even be able to move on in life is a trademark symptom of depression. As well as withdrawal from social situations, insomnia, and lashing out. So yeah, I was definitely depressed.

Numbness like that as well as the long nights with only the voice of despair to keep you company tends to drive a person insane.

Those marks, the cuts, they let me feel something for once.

But… everyone else is more decent than me. They don’t deserve that. They deserve happiness.

The timid voice piped up. “Why are you worth less than anyone else?”

I mulled over this for a while. “I guess because I’m just a coward, who doesn’t want to face her-- uh, his emotions, and who is constantly afraid of talking to others.”

The negative voice took over, “Of course…you’re worthless. Can’t even get over a stupid mental problem. You know, it’s completely possible to get over this with the right mindset.” The bright voice tried to interrupt, but the negative one was louder, more demanding. “Hope. What bullshit. If you’re worth anything, you’d be happy because good people know how to get over sadness themselves.”

I winced as the more powerful comments injured me. I crinkled my eyes shut, keeping tears from escaping. I curled on my bed, shoving the blanket into my mouth to muffle my cries.

And, as the voice went on, I started agreeing with it. I fueled the fire. I would keep going until the fuel ran out, and then… I bet you can guess what would happen then.

I regret that now, but from my perspective back then, it seemed like the best decision.


 

I laid in my bed late at night. Or maybe it was early in the morning. Who knew, really?

Anyways, I was desperately trying to get into my usually dreamless-slumber, without much avail, when suddenly a thought popped into my mind.

What would Hajime say to me? How would he feel about… me? Who I really am, the me I only show to myself… do I even know who that is?

Does he even like guys?

I slammed my thoughts to a halt. Wait up. I can’t like him. I don’t like him. So why does that matter anyways?

However, I couldn’t repress the idea. It was there, so my mind elaborated on it, trying to allure me.

I saw images of Hajime, Hajime supporting me while I was getting my hair cut short, Hajime there with me picking up my first T shots, Hajime sitting by my bedside after surgery, Hajime taking off my binder, Hajime holding me when I cry, Hajime bandaging my arms, Hajime, Hajime, Hajime.

Oh god. What have I done?

Chapter Text

I woke up with my heart pounding in my chest. 

I always set an alarm for half an hour before I would’ve been awakened by a gruesome screaming wake-up call from my mother or sister, and just kind of drowsed in that hazy area between wakefulness and sleep until I was forced to get up.

It was where my deepest inner thoughts surfaced. The truest form of me.

It was the first place I saw myself as a guy, nearly three years ago now.

So I laid there, eyes closed, and my usual thoughts surfaced. Reminders of my worthlessness, loneliness, abysmal grades…

But the voice named Despair had a new weapon, which made itself horribly apparent: hope.

Despair was using my hope of, uh, friendship with that dork as a weapon. They knew how much this mattered to me, so they used the endless ways this could go wrong and crush my heart.

He’s probably transphobic. Or just doesn’t like being friends with guys. Even if he does, we both know you’re hoping for something more, and, let’s be real here, what’s the chance that he’s gay? Just give up already.

You don’t have a chance being friends or whatever else with this kid.

You never did.

I submitted to the voice, and relinquished my sporadic daydreams of Hajime.

What’s the use of leading yourself on, buddy?

Yep. I’d have to do everything I could to make sure I kept myself as hopeless as possible. That way, I couldn’t get hurt nearly as much. I just had to close myself off to Hajime. Simple as that.

I visibly winced when the shrieking command came to get up. Because Christ, her voice was high.

I paid no attention to whatever she was saying, but just got up and purposefully selected my favorite sweatshirt, and glanced at the discarded ACE bandage sitting in my closet. Maybe I’ll try it out again soon.

I put on some skinny jeans with the hoodie. I can’t wear shorts for the same reason that I can’t go out without a hoodie, but… may as well look nice, I guess.

For Hajime, right? Despair sneered mockingly.

I looked in the mirror again. I’ll put on some normal jeans instead.

I made my way through my routine. I brushed my teeth, I ‘forgot’ to eat breakfast, I walked out of the door ignoring mother or whatever nanny was around, and I waited for the bus alone.

I stood at the bus stop again, blissfully immune to the chilly October weather under my sweatshirt and jeans.

Once I arrived at school, I subconsciously looked around, scolded myself, and sat in my usual spot in the corner of the noisy cafeteria, where I was least likely to be noticed.

He might come looking for you anyways. The whispering voice of Hope had been dreadfully silent all morning, but suddenly spoke up. I wondered why they’d been so quiet.

But Hope was wrong. I stayed alone until class started, and continued to only pay semi-attention while doodling on my otherwise unused notebook paper.

So, as usual, I just wallowed in my feelings of despair, knowing that looking to Hope was useless because they could never triumph Despair.


 

I sat at my usual spot for lunch, anticipation making itself known in my body through an influx of adrenaline. My fight or flight reflex swelled up several times, causing Despair to mock me, and me to mock myself. What a fucking wimp.

 I was shaking hard enough to merit some sideways glances from the group of guys that usually sat near me, which, I noticed, seemed to have grown in size. Not the guys. The group. There’s more of ‘em. I thought, unsettled.

And there he was. The man of the hour. Hajime Hinata showed up with his bright blue lunch box, which was almost the size of an American lunch box.

How does a fucking twig like this kid eat so much?

“H-hey Hajime.” I said, trying to appear calm, but somehow an unusual stutter had managed to slip into my voice.

“Hey Fumika,” He spoke all too cheerfully. My brain reacted immediately, plunging me into worried thoughts and worst case scenarios. He’s hiding something.

I forced myself to leave him be. If I know this kid, he’ll tell me if something’s wrong. Besides, don’t want him to think I care, right?

I still felt the need to reassure him somehow. He was across the table from me, so I couldn’t exactly hug him. I settled for a reassuring touch on the shoulder, or, upper arm in my case, and comforting, understanding, but not pitying or uncomfortable eye contact. It was probably horribly uncomfortable anyways, so…

 I couldn’t reach his shoulder, and my hand was shaking horribly, it probably just made him worry about me instead of himself.

Not what I need right now, but as long as he’s not sad anymore, I guess it works.

Hajime looked up at me, eyebrows furrowed in confusion as I tried to reassure him quietly. His stare was restless, curious, and something else that, for some reason, I couldn’t identify.

“There, there… it’ll be alright.” I murmured softly.

He took my hands in his, with a soft smile and a blush.  “I’m here for you too, alright? Whatever you need. High school sucks sometimes, and we can do it, uh… together. If you want.”

I blushed furiously, against my will. What the fuck is wrong with me? “Don’t get ahead of yourself, you fuckin’ d-dork.” I stuttered jokingly, withdrawing my hand.

We sat there quietly for a while, and at some point he opened his lunch to eat, and I watched quietly, enchanted by this boy.

He looked up, and saw my still full tray, and paused for a moment before snapping back into motion. He kept eating the nicely prepared, homemade crap his mom probably packed for him, but with a distant, far-away look in those mottled green eyes.

I sank into my own daydreams in the meanwhile, happy for this quiet moment. I knew it probably wouldn’t be long until Despair spoke up, but… might as well relax for now.

“Hey Hajime” I hadn’t even meant to say anything; my body had acted of its own accord.

He looked up, face covered in crumbs. “What’s up?”

Shit, this is harder than I thought.

“Mm. Never mind. Stupid thought.” I murmured.

He returned to his lunch, and he seemed to be deep in thought, trying to figure me out without knowing much of anything.

After a while, he spoke. “I should get your number. You know, that’s what friends tend to do.”

I hesitated. “…Alright, I guess.” I started searching my bag for a piece of paper and a pen, anything suitable to write down my phone number.

You sure this is a good idea? Just more time for you two to bond. Just more pain waiting for you when something inevitably goes wrong. I’ll admit, that’s what I want, but is this really in your best interest?

I froze. Of course now had to be the moment when Despair spoke up, when I was unguarded and vulnerable.

Hajime had been speaking, but stopped when I froze. “Fumika? What’s wrong?”

I suddenly stood up. “Gotta go. Nice talking to you. See ya.” I said stiffly.

I heard Hajime call after me, obvious concern in his voice.

I had told myself that I was going to silence that voice of hope, and I failed. I failed miserably, and it’s all because I was around him.

How pitiful. Despair sneered. Idiotic Kuzu, convinced that everything was gonna be okay, swayed so suddenly just by my advice. Are you even human? Do you even feel affection? It doesn’t seem like it if you can just turn it off so quickly. Or if you do, you’re just a fucking coward, constantly running from the slightest chance of pain.

Without noticing it, I ended up in the nearest bathroom, in the handicapped stall. God, Despair is right. I’m just a cowardly, emotionless piece of shit.

I felt Hope’s presence, ever so subtle, biding its time, deciding on the most effective thing to say.

I curled into a ball on the floor of the stall. Shit. Shit.

It was last night all over again, and I was crying like a baby on the floor of a handicapped bathroom stall, needing my blade, something to distract me.

Shit. Yes! I have it!

I dug the item in question out of my bag. I’ve never cut at school before, but it’ll have to do.


 

I winced as I looked at my arms. How am I going to deal with this?

I pondered on the thought and came to a conclusion. Class had already started, therefore I could clean myself up at the sink outside my precious stall, and flush any toilet paper I needed to use to clean up the floor down the toilet.

 Everyone already knows, anyways, so where’s the risk?


 

After cleaning myself up, as well as the floor of the bathroom, I put my sweatshirt back on, grateful that those two mounds of fat were hidden once again. I looked in the mirror, splashed some cold water on my face to make it look like I hadn’t been crying, and waited for the bell to ring.

I’m so sorry. Hope murmured, tone full of regret and sorrow.

I brushed it off, like the pest it was.

You’ll be happy to see me back next period, with your beloved. Hope said somewhat bitterly.

Yeah, well, that never goes well. Look at what just happened. I thought to myself.

I was hit with another pang of hunger and grinned at myself in the mirror, giggling.

God, I really am going insane.


 

I sat down at the same desk as yesterday, the same seat as always. I was outrageously early, as I had no one to talk to in the hallway. I sat tensely, trying to stifle my emotions as I waited for Hajime.

I keep leaving these little meetings of ours really awkwardly, don't I?

He walked in just then, beautiful eyes tinged with fear, scanning the room. He saw me in our corner of the room and quickly walked over. He sat in the desk next to mine, grabbing my hands and asking what had happened.

I squeaked in pain, gasping for breath that wouldn’t come because the pain was almost unbearable.

After all, basically that entire area was an open wound.

Hajime dropped my hands like hot potatoes and looked around nervously.

He didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t know how to comfort me without drawing too much attention or making me uncomfortable.

He glanced around at the almost empty classroom once more, and looked satisfied that it was empty. Looking hesitant, yet determined, with a soft blush spreading across his cheeks, he swung his legs beneath the desk to face me, awkwardly scooted his desk over a bit, and hugged me.

God, that boy was warm. He was warm, and smelled like pine and the air right after it rained and coffee. He smelled like… somewhere I’d like to call home.

 His hug was snug, but not tight, and I was trembling uncontrollably. Whether it was from the chronic mental illness or my, uh, close proximity to Hajime, I don’t know.

It felt like that moment lasted forever, but I know it lasted 5 seconds at most.

He looked into my golden eyes, his oddly patterned green ones glittering in worry.

I tried to figure out how to convey what I was feeling without revealing something he could use against me.

I blinked at him in gratitude and offered a weak grin, seeing as it was the most I could really manage right now.

He scooted his desk back, wincing at the loud noise, and searched through his black hole of a backpack for a sheet of paper and a pencil. It took him about a minute, but he did end up with a crumpled sheet of paper and a purple pen.

Careful… Despair whispered in my ear, always right on my shoulder.

I cringed a little, and Hajime glanced over, eyes narrowed in confusion. He handed me the paper.

“I’m worried about you.” He had written. I shook my head in disbelief.

“Well gee, wonder why.” I wrote back, hoping my sarcasm had been conveyed.

He placed the paper back on my desk almost immediately. “Are you okay??”

I hesitated. I could feel Hope and Despair on my shoulders, watching me for the decision I’m about to make.  “Sure.” I wrote back.

He seemed almost a little angry. “Fumika, this isn’t a joke.” He scrawled in return.

I paused. I wanted to trust him, I yearned to so badly. But at the same time, the instant something goes wrong, I may be overwhelmed with a quantity of pain I’ve never felt before…

Who knows if I’ll even be able to stand it?

I poised my pen over the paper and began writing.

Chapter Text

I threw myself into the seat in the back of the bus, wincing in pain and grumbling about the long day I’d had. My arm was still in a lot of pain, and I hoped it hadn’t bled through my sweatshirt. Checking on the bus would have attracted too much attention.

My hand was clenched shut, concealing a scrap of paper that Hajime had forced me to take.

What’s on the paper? His number of course.

He couldn’t make me reveal anything to him, and he couldn’t make me give him my number, but he could give me his.

No matter how risky it is, emotionally, for me to have this… I don’t think I’m capable of throwing this away.

What if I get drunk and text him? What if I text him in an exhaustion induced deliria?  What if I call him… for whatever reason… and just tell him everything?

 God, what am I doing?

Before I knew it, Despair had started adding their own snide comments.

Of course you will. Someone like you? With habits like yours? You’re only going to last so long keeping this horror inside you, and if you have the option, you know you’ll call him.

 I was right, wasn’t I? You love that boy too much already. You’re putting yourself at risk here, bud.

I had mastered my poker face, pretending like I was a perfect, neurotypical teenage girl in public, but people were looking back at me, and I looked around in confusion.

Oh. We’re here.

We had arrived at my house and I hadn’t even noticed. I guess I was a little too immersed in my self-indulgent pity. Despair seemed to smirk, seeming quite satisfied with themselves. I reflected this attitude, grinning internally as I quickly shuffled off of the bus.

What a fool. Too busy immersed in your own selfish thoughts to get off the bus in time. You’re just slowing everyone down. You’re not worth that much. They obviously deserve more.

I honestly was not sure if it was my own internal monologue or Despair’s voice tantalizing me. Our voices seemed to blend inside my mind into one long, seamless, hateful monologue these days.


 

It had been a long evening.

My stomach had been killing me all day. Looks like not eating is starting to take its toll.

I had put my homework on my desk, halfheartedly attempted to do it, before letting myself get sidetracked by thoughts of Hajime and the soft murmurs of Despair in my ear.

I’m a wreck. Starving myself, hurting myself, starving myself of human contact. But… it’s the way it’s meant to be. I deserve this.

I could almost hear Hajime’s concerned, yet reassuring words in my mind. I’m here for you too, alright?

Whatever you need. High school sucks sometimes, and we can do it, uh…

Together. If you want.

I started tearing up. What a moron. That bastard doesn’t know shit about me. I don’t deserve any of that shit.

I glanced at the crumpled paper I had thrown on my desk earlier. I should rip it up. But… I’m just going to put it somewhere safe.

I sighed. I guess using that fucking blade twice in the same day isn’t the best idea, eh? Whatever. I got other ideas for tonight anyways.

I laid on my stomach on my floor, and started searching underneath my bed for a certain item I had thought I’d never need.

Ah. Got it.

A full bottle of tequila.

I nabbed it from the alcohol stash while my dad was passed out one day. I followed him after I heard my mom’s screams come to an abrupt end, not sure what I was planning on.

 He opened the compartment beneath the couch, revealing a collection of alcohol. It was nothing special, just some beer, some wine, some vodka.

I saw him wince at even a shot of that potent drink. If even my father was weak to it, it must be worth having, right?

Christ. What would Hajime think?

I suppressed the thought, shifting to a sitting position and popping open the bottle as best as I could. After a few minutes, I had managed to get it open, and started looking around for a cup.

I shook my head at myself, trying to think clearly. I’m in this situation, so fucked up that I’ve just decided to get hammered to avoid my thoughts, and I’m worried about drinking straight from the bottle.

I hesitated before tipping back the bottle and gasping. Shit, that burns.

I swallowed the foreign substance, wincing at the scorching river it burned down my throat.

I coughed and drank my way through a few more shots, reveling in the fuzziness already filling my head.

Mm. This is nice. This buzz I’m feeling. But I oughta save some for some other time. Can’t do this just once, right?

Scrunching my face up, I filled my mouth two more times, hoping to be truly unable to form coherent thoughts.

Despair can’t get me now!


 

I woke up next to my bed, still in yesterday’s clothes. The first thought that even registered in my brain was Holy shit. Ow.

My head was pounding, the room spinning around me. My stomach was gurgling, sending spasms of pain through my body, accompanied by a constant, intense ache.

My alarm suddenly went off, alerting me to the true horror of my condition. I couldn’t even think. My head was pounding so hard that my thoughts scattered every time a new wave of pain washed over me. I managed to move through the pain and hit the snooze button before turning the alarm off.

I tried to stand up and seemingly stumbled on thin air, catching myself on the wall. Wow. This shit fucking hurts.

I think, in some twisted way, I enjoyed it. It was the pain that I believed I deserved.

Is this a hangover?

I guess if I can think that then… clearly, there can’t be too much alcohol left in my system… right? So this is a hangover.

I leaned against the wall I had previously stumbled onto, trying to figure out the best plan of action when the first wave of nausea hit me. I didn’t even care if anyone saw me at this point, but I could not vomit in my room.

I slammed open the door, whimpering softly from the pain the loud noise had inflicted. I ran across the hall to the bathroom, trying to wrench the doorknob open with trembling hands. I managed to open the door, and ran to the toilet, stumbling.

 I gagged, the nothingness in my stomach rebelling. My stomach was writhing in rebellion, anything inside struggling to come out. Some of the tequila and bit of stomach acid came up, even more painful than when it went down.

I sat by the wall opposite the toilet, wincing. My throat was raw, and my stomach reminded me of the days I would try to stop my parents from arguing.

Regardless, this was kind of like a new fantasy for me. As long as I only thought of myself, this was a new way to not only make myself forget everything I was thinking, but also inflict the pain I thought I deserved.

My throat felt like sandpaper. I know the point is to hurt, but you gotta stay alive for now. I used the wall to get up and waddled carefully over to the sink, not wanting to crack my head open by falling.

 I grabbed a paper cup that my mother had bought while my father was on vacation, on one of her good days, because she thought that they “looked cute.” I felt the ghost of a smirk tug at my lips, remembering the better days of my childhood.

I leaned on the counter, trying to figure out some way of coping with the pain, so I could make it through the day without raising any more suspicions.

I’ll just… try to go grab some painkillers. They’re everywhere here. I winced at the thought of hearing the yells of my parents through the walls, the screams of pain that had echoed through the night.

I managed to get a few tablets of Advil down and went about my normal daily routine, despite the waves of nausea that sent me running to the toilet. I bandaged my arms, hoping it would maybe help with the pain from the events of the previous day.

 Maybe Hajime will try to hold your hands again…

I stopped in my tracks, shocked and wondering where the thought had come from, before I realized that Hope had been whispering to me, clearly embarrassed.

I tried not to feel spiteful towards the timid voice. I hadn’t exactly made them want to help me. Hadn’t really made it easy either.

I brushed off the thought, and walked out the door. I carefully toddled my way down the stairs, careful to not trip.

I walked out the door on shaky legs, ignoring my mother’s shrill voice calling me to breakfast, reminding me of the worsening pangs in my stomach.

Ready for another horribly dull day. Maybe I won’t have to do this much longer.

I paused at the thought. Hope interrupted, clearly nervous. Please… don’t think like that.

Despair joined the conversation, clearly interested. For once, I agree. If you just kill yourself off, you’re missing a bunch of opportunities to hurt yourself. Wouldn’t that be tragic?

The two voices bickered, Hope growing quieter and quieter as time went on. I listened in at first, but ended up tuning them out after I got bored and Hope’s voice had faded completely.


 

I sat at lunch, contemplating the glob on my tray, nausea resurfacing, when Hajime sat across from me, with his usual cheerful expression. He’s good at that if it’s fake. I can’t even tell the difference.

“Hey Fumika!” He greeted me, the emptiness of his tone betraying him.

I know I wouldn’t answer if he asked me if something was wrong, but he actually has some meaning in this world. He deserves help… but can a shitbag like me really help?

I decided to casually ask about what was going on. “Hey. You don’t seem too hot today.”

I blushed furiously, realizing what I had said. “Y-you know what I meant. Y-you seem down.” I corrected myself defensively.

He wouldn’t meet my eyes, and he hesitated a little before answering. “You’re not wrong, but you’re not getting any more out of me. Are we even now?” He said, tone growing more serious as he spoke.

I bit my lip, wondering how to deal with this without revealing any more about myself. “Suit yourself. But don’t kill yourself or anything.”

He looked up, meeting my stare, his usually dazzling green eyes unreadable, and when he spoke, he murmured softly, as if he was afraid. “Fumika…”

He sat there for a moment, mulling over what to say, when his expression changed completely, eyes filled with determination.

 “You can’t tell me to stay safe when you yourself…” He immediately regretted his words when he saw me wince. “W-wait. That’s-“

We sat in silence for a moment, as we both calculated what to say.

I looked down, not wanting to meet his eyes. “Hajime. You can’t tell anyone. If you wanna go find some other friends, go ahead. I don’t care.” I spat out, blinking back tears.

“Hey, no. That’s not what I meant. We said we’d stick by each other, and make it through high school together. I meant that.”

I looked up at Hajime, praying that the tears in my eyes weren’t showing. He was looking into my dull golden eyes, his mysterious, beautiful, olive green eyes dancing with emotion, and…tears?

God, in that moment, I thought I had failed. I had failed at the only thing I had been trying to do for years, which was be fucked up in secret.

 I failed. I’m a failure. Shouldn’t even be a surprise at this point, honestly.

In that moment, I was so overwhelmed with so many different emotions that I finally lost my emotionless mask.  I felt teardrops painting rivers down my face, a quiet whimper escaping me.

Hajime gained his composure, unable to completely hide his worry, but obviously trying to hold back… for me?

“Come on… Let’s get you cleaned up.” He tried to take my hand, but I had dropped it by my side before he had even reached for it. He glanced up at my face, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion and worry.

He led me to the bathrooms. “Wait here.” He murmured quietly. He turned around to look at me as he slunk into the men’s restroom, almost as if I’d simply vanish if he wasn’t there to look at me.

I will be honest, I did contemplate running away, but I decided that it would just make everything worse if I ran off again.

He came out soon after, beckoning me inside. I glanced at the sign and, with trembling legs, wobbled into the men’s bathroom for the first time in my life.

This isn’t how I thought my first visit to the guys’ room would go. How ironic.

He gently took my hand and, with quick, serious strides, led me into the handicapped stall in the back.

Almost as if I were coming out of a stupor, I blinked and started panicking when he closed the door behind us. What am I doing here? Why would you let this happen? What the fuck were you thinking?

I glanced around, eyes wide, and met Hajime’s eyes. They seemed to try and reassure me, almost mentally squeezing me into a hug.

He turned to face the sink and turned it on, soaking a few paper towels. I stumbled closer to him, wondering what he was doing.

He seemed to be used to this, his motions robotic, almost like a long-ago formed habit.

“It’s alright Fumika. You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. I just...” He trailed off, unsure of what he wanted to say.

He started delicately wiping away the tears on my face, expression wistful. “This makes the swelling go down, and your face won’t be as red after this.”

I put my hand on the wet paper, trying to silently signal that I was trying to take the paper. Hajime, however, seemed oblivious, his hand lingering on my face.

I looked up into his eyes, searching them for a clue as to who he was, if I could really trust him after all.

A wave of nausea washed over me just then, and I stumbled to the toilet and fell to my knees in front of it, gagging. Hajime sat down next to me and held my hair back, pity glimmering in his eyes. I dry heaved for a few minutes, only getting out the rest of the alcohol that had lingered in my stomach.

My throat felt like it was being ripped apart. I tried to speak to Hajime, but all that came out was a pitiful moan, accompanied by a whimper.

He didn’t know what to do with himself, and ended up just wiping my face off with some wet paper towels, murmuring quiet reassurance.

I sat down, gasping. “H-Hajime. W-water?” I stammered quietly, not in his direction so not to alert him to the alcohol now on my breath.

He stood up, far too quickly, almost falling, but instead catching himself on the paper towel dispenser.

He looked around for a cup before bending down to pick up his backpack, rifling around before triumphantly pulling out his water bottle, which he handed to me.

I glanced up at his face and saw… what was that? Worry? Pity?

Regardless, I opened the cap from the bottle and poured most of the water down my throat, refreshing the parched skin.

 “You didn’t have to do all that… Thanks. Bell’s about to ring. Get to class, n-nerd.” I said shakily, handing his water bottle back to him.

 I opened the door for him to walk out and check the path, and caught sight of that nervous smirk of his as he peeked around the corner.  “All clear.” He said to me quietly before walking out, so deep in thought that he ran into the door, both of us repressing giggles.

I rushed out on shaky legs, jumping as the bell rang on my way out.

My mind was a blur of worry and anticipation and an endless amount of overcomplicated thoughts, all about Hajime.

It seems like… he really meant what he said about always being there for me. But that’s only with what he knows so far. Would he really want to stick around if he knew everything?

I really want to trust him totally and completely, but… it’s going to be tough. For both of us.

But I don’t care.

He can leave if he wants. He might want to. But…

Would anything I do then really be drastic? Even if I went to the extent of ending my life, I have been considering it lately, so…

What could possibly go wrong?

Chapter Text

Everyone knows very well that my last class is with Hajime.

“You feeling any better?” A hastily scribbled message, written on an unusually wrinkled up paper had been left on my desk.

I looked up at Hajime, trying to read his expression. He seemed… perplexed. “Yeah. I owe you one.” I scrawled across the paper, handing it back to him.

He read the paper intently, furrowing his eyebrows. It was almost as if he was trying to read between the lines, searching for a secret.

After a while, he looked up, apparently trying to pay attention in class for once. After a while, I snatched back the paper, curiosity getting the best of me.

“You know something about me, but you still keep quiet about yourself.” I wrote haltingly. He reached his hand out for the paper, keeping his eyes fixed on the teacher.

He glanced down and quickly read the message. He read it again. His shoulders slumped the slightest bit, semi-permanent grin fading.

I filled with regret and anger at myself. Piece of shit. Look what the fuck you did.

I could hear Hope mumbling their reassuring words, but I wasn’t paying attention.

While I was immersed in that very feeling of self-loathing, the paper slid back onto my desk. “Yeah. You’re not the only one who likes to hide their feelings sometimes.”

There was a dark stain on the paper, where a teardrop had found its home.

I turned towards him, noticing that he was seemingly fixated on the desk leg of the girl who sat on the other side of him, his arm hanging over the arm of the desk, almost tempting me to grab his hand.

I decided to not write anything back, just kind of touched his hand in what I had hoped to be a reassuring way. He reacted immediately, his hand twitching, seemingly unsure of whether to grab my hand or jerk it away.

That’s alright. Don’t want to make the poor guy any more miserable. With me this close, it’s a wonder he hasn’t up and hung himself yet.

My stomach growled loudly, causing a few kids to look in our direction, seemingly disgusted, and Hajime and I both winced.

He sniffled a little bit, blinking quickly and looking back up at the teacher. Seeing him like this hurt. It put me in physical pain.

Looking back on this moment, the pain I was feeling from watching Hajime break down was probably worse than the residual pain from my arms.

Speaking of, my arms were starting to itch. reminding me how long it had been since there had been a blade against them. I’d have to fix that later.

All of a sudden, I had to stifle a giggle that was threatening to burst out. Imagine us as a couple. The broken trans kid who’s starving himself, cutting, and drinking, and the kid who breaks down in class, refusing to tell anyone what’s happening in his mind. I can imagine the people staring at us now.

We sat like that for the rest of class, Hajime trying to pretend to have his shit together, and me trying to pretend that I wasn’t worried. 

The bell rang, and everyone rushed out, rushing back to their gloriously normal lives, as if school was a horrific experience in comparison. Even the teacher seemed to have somewhere to be.

Hajime tried to rush out but I called his name, voice cracking from lack of use. He spun around, green eyes puffy, expression mildly surprised.

“Y-yeah?” He answered quickly, softly, curiously. The tone is hard to describe. Hopeful? Cautious?

I wobbled up to him, trying to hold my books at the same time.

Watch it, bud. Despair seemed to hiss into my ear, trying to deter me, which I vaguely tried to resist.

I looked into Hajime’s eyes, suddenly finding the exact words I needed. “I said I owed you one. I won’t forget what you did for me. So… I’m here. To listen.”

My cheeks heated up, which I saw reflected on the face of this boy I felt I had grown to trust more than anyone else, really.

“A-and, if it’s easier for you, I can text you so you have my number, and you can tell me what’s going on. If that would help you. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to. I get it.”

My voice softened as I rambled, and I was staring at his feet, not wanting him to see me blushing. I was just trying to convey that I wanted him to feel better, whatever that meant to him.

After a few moments of silence, I felt Hajime’s arms go around my shoulders, and I stiffened, and I felt him hesitate.

I quickly decided that I’d need to be receptive, for his sake, so I wrapped my arms around his waist the best I could, standing on my toes so my head would fit in that spot in the nape of his neck that was seemingly made for me.

Hajime’s arms squeezed around me, and we stood there in silence for a few moments before I felt him trembling. He whimpered, gasping in a choking breath.

I hesitated a little bit before just patting his back and holding his lanky body closer to mine, which admittedly isn’t much. Hajime let out a heart-shattering sob, body convulsing with every shaky breath.

Suddenly, I felt tears running down my face. “H-hajime…” I whispered, trying not to whimper.

“I-I’m so s-s-sorry.” He managed to choke out, body trembling horribly. He broke away from me, looking horrified. “I’m s-sorry. I-I… ” He whispered, tears running down his face.

My arms had fallen back at my side and I blinked away my tears, shocked. “Hajime, it’s-“

He shook his head at me. “It’s not, Fumika.” He broke into a smile, though the teardrops were still painting their streams of melancholy down his face. I stepped forward, losing my footing and stumbling.

When I looked back up, he was already gone, his footsteps echoing in the newly empty hallway.

I…I… he can’t leave. God knows what he’s going to do.

Although it seemed like the moment for me to chase after him, at just that moment, a wave of pain hit me. From what, I’m not sure. Life had been putting me through a lot lately.

Who am I kidding, I’ve been putting myself through a lot lately.

Regardless, I kneeled down on the floor, crawling over to the trash in case there was still some alcohol in my system. Another wave of pain hit me, tears stinging my eyes.

After a while, the pain subsided, and it was well past the time the buses were scheduled to leave. I mulled over my choices and came to a regrettable decision. I had to call my mother.

I dialed her number into my own phone with trembling hands, and sat there, waiting for her to pick up.

Click. “Hello?” I heard her familiar voice warble through the phone speakers.

“M-mom? I need you to pick me up. I got hung up in class and missed the bus.”

I knew she was savoring my voice while she could actually hear it, at the same time judging the gravity of what had happened, what I wasn’t saying.

“Are you alright?” She asked, worried.

“Yeah. I just need a ride home.” I said, tired.

“O-okay. Are you sure you’re alright?” She asked, knowing I wasn’t telling her everything.

“Of course.” I reassured her, lying. “I’m by the bus entrance. You know the one.”

“I’ll be there in 10.” She said, obviously not convinced.

I walked outside and plopped my sorry ass down on an easily visible bench, hoping she’d see me. I stared up at the ever-shifting clouds and worried about Hajime.

One good thing that this had done for me was relieve me ofmy own despair, at least temporarily. It was a nice change, even if it was only replaced with wave after wave of anxiety.

I resolved to text him later, so that he could vent to me if he wanted to. I couldn’t do much more.

Wow. Now I know how he felt. This fucking sucks. Part of me wanted to promise to never do it again, but part of me was hyperaware of my mental state and the sorry condition of my body, and knew that worrying him would be a hard habit to kick.

Do you really want to kick those habits? I mean, you know as well as I do how much it helps you just get through life. You wanna give that up? I dunno if you even can, bud.

Plus, habits? You think this kid’s gonna be around much longer? If he’s still alive, I doubt he wants to stick around you.

Despair continued hissing into my ear. I was honestly too mentally tired to even defend myself, and just went along with the dreary voice. Hope started interjecting from time to time, earning a few moments of silent contemplation before Despair resumed.

Before long, I saw the unmistakable silver sports car which I can’t be bothered remembering the brand of. Brand? Is that even the word?

I’ve got other things to worry about. Broken, green eyed things.


 

It had definitely been an awkward ride home, my mom firing off question after question, and me answering in as few words as I could, trying halfheartedly to maintain my aloof teenager persona.

I got home and threw my backpack into the furthest corner of my room, sure I’d be unable to focus on homework.

I searched through my desk drawers for that crumpled piece of paper with Hajime’s phone number on it. Upon finding it, I put him into my contacts, set a suitably loud ringtone, and opened the messaging app.

It was intimidating. A fresh start. A blank screen where anything could go, anything I wanted only Hajime and myself to see.

“Are you okay?” I hit the send button, my thumb shaking. “-Fumika” I added as an afterthought.

I must have sat there on my bed with my phone for half an hour, jumping any time I shifted my position, causing the light to reflect differently off of my screen, making me think he was responding.

Tears started dripping down my face. Damnit. Damnit. What if I lost him? What if I scared him off or something? What if he…?

I didn’t dare finish the thought, a sob breaking the silence before I stuffed a pillow in my mouth to muffle my cries.

What if he’s gone?

Despair added their own commentary. Hm. If he hasn’t killed himself off by now, I’d say he’s probably in the same emotional state you are.

My train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a sharp pain in my stomach, causing me to gasp in pain. I hesitated, still upset but momentarily more worried about my own livelihood. Hey, that’s new.

I probably have to do something about that soon. I’m not going to be able to function normally much longer.

I snuck downstairs in the darkness, sniffling quietly, wiping away the residual tears, rifling through the pantry, looking for something to tide me over a few days.

I found an entire unopened box of those muffins you’d get, with like four in a bag. Not to get all sappy, but I spent many joyous afternoons eating those as a child.

I smirked a little before grabbing two bags and a glass of water, smuggling the first meal I’d had in probably a week back upstairs.

I ate slowly, remembering what had happened the first time.

I’d forced myself to go without food for a week and a half, only to binge on like, an entire cake, causing me to almost immediately vomit most of it back up.

So I ate slowly, sipping my water. My stomach was only about halfway full, but that was more than enough for the week.

I’d overdone it just a tad, and Despair was being awfully loud about it too. The rest of my stomach almost seemed to fill with pure self-hatred and regret.

I started shaking, grabbing my phone, looking for a distraction. As soon as I saw that there were no notifications, I threw the phone down on my bed with a sob.

I wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly aware of the urge to bring a blade to them.

I might have gone a day without? Never. Of course not. Even mentally there was a slightly mental tone to my words.

I giggled quietly as I rifled through my bag for the object in question.

Despair goaded me on. You fucking deserve this. Piece of shit.

You’ll never be good enough for him, you know?

Chapter Text

I drifted awake, almost as if emerging from deep waters.  I snapped opened my eyes as I had an unwelcome realization. I dreamed about him again.

I never dreamed before I met this kid.

It’s not like I had enough problems to deal with on my own, right? I slapped my hands on my face, exasperated with myself for being obsessed over the green eyed kid who seemed determined to have me worrying about him.

I winced, seeing as I had somehow forgotten about the semi-fresh wounds covering my forearms, and I had opened a few of the tentatively scabbed over cuts when I hit my face so forcefully.

Just after… I blinked my eyes open in confusion. Tears? My face was wet with tears. From… my dream?

I bit my lip, staring up at the ceiling, as I tried to remember what that… nightmare had been about. Suddenly, flashes of the horrific events of the dream popped into my head.

Hajime hunched over in his room with a blade to his arm, blood dripping.

Hajime sniffling, wiping away tears, and bringing a bottle of wine to his lips, taking big gulps.

Hajime sitting alone in the corner of a dark room, wrapped in a big blanket, trying unsuccessfully to muffle his sobbing.

Hajime hunched over a toilet, throwing up, Hajime refusing food, pushing it around on his plate, Hajime wailing, Hajime panicking, curling in on himself and, wide eyed, dug his nails into his skin, trying to bring himself back to reality.

Hajime tying a noose with a gentle smile and tears evident on his face, Hajime downing a bottle of pills one at a time, determined.

Hajime’s funeral. It’s a quiet spring morning, sunlight shining through the trees above.  I’m there, in the background, crying, unwilling to join those who were close to him.

I gasped in a sob, horrified. Tears were already streaming down my face. He can’t do that. Hajime needs to be okay. He can’t do all that shit I’ve been doing.

He can’t become a mess like me.

I shuddered out a big breath, wiping my eyes. I want to protect him. I-I need to.

I couldn’t hold back the memories, no matter how hard I tried. I remembered every scene I had seen a few moments ago, down to even the smallest detail.

I trembled, wrapping my arms around myself. He’s lucky to have you. I don’t think anybody else would be so concerned about him. It was Hope’s gentle voice that had spoken, seeing an opportunity.

I couldn’t stop the thought from popping into my mind. I’ll be worthless without him though. He might already be gone.

Hey… I doubt it. He doesn’t want to hurt you. That’s why he left yesterday, after all. Hope murmured reassuringly.

As the voice continued its quiet reassurances, my shoulders relaxed, my teeth unclenched, and my breathing returned to normal. I sniffed and loosened my arms to wipe my face off. I’m okay. He’s okay. Everyone is okay. I’ll make it happen.

I sat up, newly determined. It’d actually been a long time since I had a definite goal.


 

I walked into the cafeteria, getting my usual slop that I probably wouldn’t touch, sitting at my usual table. Our usual table.

I waited for Hajime to come over and sit down opposite from me, as he always did; I wasn’t totally sure of what I would do, but determined to confront him somehow.

I gotta make sure he’s safe without scaring him off. All I really want to do is hug him and make sure he’s okay physically and then try and talk out the issues beneath the surface.

A realization hit me like a truck. If I try to do that for him, he’ll probably think I’m a hypocrite. He’ll want to know more. I pondered over this for a moment, wondering how much I truly trusted him, how much I’d be willing to reveal.

I sighed. I guess… I might tell him about something else. Like the drinking or the fact that I don’t really eat much. But… the fact that I’m a guy can definitely wait. Who knows how he’d react.

For some odd reason, Despair had been relatively quiet after this morning. Hope had taken to the role of a companion, trying to reassure me that Hajime would be fine, and that everything was going rather well.

The guys who usually sat next to us were murmuring to each other, chuckling. Their group seemed to grow ever bigger. I guess the local emo chick and the new guy flirting or something makes for good gossip. I’m not shocked that more of the popular kids didn’t join in. These guys are lame.

I shot them a dirty look and they exchanged serious glances, motioning for everyone to be quiet.

Hajime wasn’t showing, and I was getting anxious. What if he really killed himself? I really don’t know what I would do with myself if he was gone.

He’s basically the only reason I’m of any value in this world. I have a negative impact on everyone, including him now. I have a completely negative impact on the world. And taking Hajime away is taking my only chance to right my wrongs.

I can’t believe that I, of all people, didn’t notice that anything was wrong. He’d shown signs of being depressed before. He’s never really wanted to say much about himself. I should have done more to help him.

Hope piped up, trying to reassure me. Don’t worry! He wouldn’t blame you. Hajime’s strong. He knows what it’s like to worry about someone you love, so he won’t kill himself. You know what he’s like!

Plus, you can always change your ways without him if you really feel like that. I mean, I know some people look to you for inspiration to keep going in this world when they feel that all is lost. You’re not a bad guy.

I sighed. That would be rather difficult, and I’d be shocked if someone did do that. And even so, he could be lying in bed, unable to get up from lack of motivation, hopelessness dragging him down. Who knows what he’s going through?

What good does it do to worry anyways? If anyone can help him, you can. Hope said, a touch of exasperation in their voice.

I ignored them, letting myself be a little worried. This wasn’t like Hajime at all. I… was scared. I couldn’t lose him. I was in far too deep already.

Goddammit Hajime, you better come back soon… Please.


 

It had been a few days, and I had hoped he would show up in class, and was just avoiding me, but he never walked in. For once, I actually paid attention in class so I could fill Hajime in when he came back.

If he comes back. Despair had reminded me.

I had gone home, vaguely worried about Hajime, as always for these past few days. I still had Hope’s constant chattering in my ear trying to help me see the possibilities of something not so bad happening, but Despair takes over at night.

Nights are rough, not just because of my worrying over Hajime.

And now the sun was going down, and I was sitting in my room, thinking about that nerd. Memories from the nightmare last night started creeping into my thoughts, and my wistful daydreams shifted to panicked what-ifs.

What if he doesn’t like me?

What if he hates me?

What if he just doesn’t care?

What if he hates his life?

What if he hurts himself?

What if he’s going to kill himself?

What if he’s already dead?

I laid back on my bed, tears rolling down my face. They had appeared without me even realizing, because I had been so deep in thought.

IF he even makes it out of this mess, he’s going to hate me. He’s going to hate me for triggering him like that, for pressuring him. I want to love him, to trust him, but I’m not convinced that it would be fair for him if he loved me back.

Who would love me anyways?

The tears streamed down my face in earnest, my body wracked with sobs, convulsing with every shaky breath I drew in. I had stuffed a pillow in my mouth to muffle myself long ago, and I was starting to go lightheaded from the lack of air.

I fiercely wiped my eyes, and raised my head so I could take a breath. I hugged the pillow closer to my body.

Fuck this. I need a drink.

I don’t remember much of my thought process, just that… I just needed it to stop. I needed the endless chatter and worry that filled my mind to cease, if only for a little while, because I was going insane. Who cares about a hangover?

Sniffling, I hung down over the edge of the bed and grabbed the bottle of tequila back out from underneath it. Stop. Stop. Stop. My mantra continued on as I willed my thoughts to just fade away.

When it seemed that it was in vain, I opened the bottle. I could smell the alcohol just by inhaling the air around me. I glanced down at the bottle, smiling grimly to myself.

This is the best way to do this anyways, right? Better than just dying. I tipped the bottle back, swallowing a big mouthful.

I felt the tequila burning all the way down my throat into my mostly empty stomach. I blinked, shocked by the immediate effect. I guess I would be a lightweight.

I managed to get down another sip or two, almost immediately tipsy. This is… strong stuff. My thoughts were slow to stick together, my mind a bit fuzzy.

I reveled in the lightheadedness, tipping back the bottle once more. I coughed, and grinned at my own silliness. I laid back on my bed, watching the ceiling slowly spin above my head, amused.

I sat up with a sheepish grin. Let’s…let’s try texting Hajime again. That’ll be…fun. So I picked my phone off of my bed, and sat there for a bit before remembering my password, and typed it in.

My phone, going unused more days than not, was still on the messaging app, and I clicked on Hajime’s name. I took another sip from the bottle of alcohol beside me as I pondered on what to say.

Hm…. Maybe… My fingers hovered over the keyboard, and I started typing, unsure of my actions.

Hey Hajime, I’ve been worrying about you a lot.

I wish you were here.

I wish I knew what was wrong.

I might not be like this if I could’ve helped you before this.

I’m not making much sense, am I?

Even when I’m hammered I can’t seem to stop worrying.

Seems like a constant about knowing you. Always changing things I thought were certain.

Anyways. You’re probably gonna ignore this, but It’d be real cool if you answered.

I took another swig of the alcohol, trying to assuage my worries. I barely realized what I had been saying to Hajime.

I put the phone down beside me, sure he wasn’t going to answer anyways.

A few more shots of tequila later, my phone went off, and I jumped in surprise, almost falling over in my sitting position.

He…answered? I vaguely remembered texting him, but an answer would have been surprising even if I had been sober.

I unlocked my phone, trying to focus on the words that appeared in the grey bubbles.

Are you okay?

Hammered? Fumika?

Hang on. Where do you live? I’m coming over.

I recognized the flash of panic in the back of my mind, but my inebriated mind was fumbling. Hmm… my address… Hajime…?

I remembered my address like the palm of my hand, even in this state, so I typed it out.

Why? I sent after a few minutes.

The little dots that meant he was typing appeared and disappeared, meaning he was hesitating. I giggled, amused by the little grey bubbles.

Because this is my fault. And I have to right my wrongs. It’s just a personal thing. I read the response, starting back at the beginning whenever I lost focus.

I’m coming over now. I hope your front door is unlocked.

I vaguely remembered running outside in the middle of the night just because I needed to be away.

I think it is. Don’t… worry too much. Don’t worry about me.

He responded quickly this time.

I think I’ve proven that I kind of have to.

Chapter Text

I opened my door and sat plaintively in the doorway, hoping Hajime would have the common sense to look for me. I had my legs crossed, the bottle of tequila in my lap.

 A thought surfaced, wondering if I had clothes on. I looked down, and I did indeed have clothes on, mercifully.

I took another swig from my bottle of tequila. I was supposed to forget. This is just making it worse… right?

Not necessarily! Maybe this will help you two grow closer! And either way, you’ll be able to see if he’s safe. Hope spoke softly, excitedly.

I’ll be able to see if he’s safe. The thought was incredibly reassuring, though I wasn’t at all sure of how I was going to do that.

Some ten minutes later, I heard the door opening, unsure steps coming up the stairs. My heart skipped a beat, my blushing growing ever more prominent.

Hajime’s scrunched eyebrows and near-glowing sparkling green eyes rounded the corner of the stairs, moonlight from a nearby window illuminating him. His eyes widened when he saw me, and I gave a small wave.

What am I getting myself into? I thought vaguely as he rushed over as quietly as he could and dropped to his knees in front of me. We sat quietly for a moment, unsure what to say, what to do. “If you want to talk, we oughta go in your room.” He whispered, concerned.

I nodded my drunken approval of the idea before getting up, supporting myself on the doorframe and stumbling over to my bed before throwing myself down on it, giggling quietly.

He sat down gently on the bed a few moments later, eyeing the bottle of tequila I had managed to keep mostly upright. I took another sip, stopping short when I saw him wince.

“Wh-what’s-s wro-wrong? W-want some?” I managed to get out, slurring horribly, stuttering. He obviously couldn’t stand it and put his hand on the bottle, motioning for me to let go. He took the bottle and gently set it on the floor.

I widened my eyes for a moment before realizing why I had texted him in the first place. “Ha-Hajime? Y-you okayyy?” I drawled, tongue feeling drowsy. “I’ve b-been wor-worried, s-since the other d-day.”

He turned towards me, eyes narrowed in confusion, shining with tears. “Fumika… why? Why are you asking me if I’m okay when you’re drunk and alone in your room? Th-this obviously isn’t normal.”

 I tapped my index finger to my lips, trying to gather my thoughts. “I wa-wanted to ju-just s-stop worrying ab-bout you.” I murmured quietly, head down.

 He touched my cheek, raising my eyes to meet his. He was shaking. “I d-did this?” He choked out, tears rolling down his face.

“Mmm... wellllll only th-this time. The o-other times aren’t y-your fault, y’kn-know.” I finished my concise explanation and looked at him expectantly. He simply stared at me, trying to think of an appropriate response.

He pulled up his sleeves, first his right, then his left, and showed the soft, fleshy skin of his forearms to me. “Look. No cuts.”

 I couldn’t stop myself from replying. “Some people cut on their thighs, or their stomachs.”

He raised an eyebrow at me, momentarily taking my breath away. “I’ll let that slide since you’re so drunk. But anyways… I owe you a proper explanation. I’ll tell you when you’re sober so you actually remember this.”

I let out a massive sigh. “I gotta waittt? Ughhh.” My mind wandered for a second before I settled on something to say. “Wh-why’d you wanna c-come anyways?” I’m convinced that, even sober, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out why he insisted on coming over.

He stared into my eyes as I stared back into his, no trace of awkwardness between us. He seemed confused about that as well. “I guess… considering recent events, I have no idea how far you would go… and I like having you around. Alive.”

I tilted my head. “Whyyyy?” His gaze softened, teardrops springing to his eyes. “Why…? Fumika… You…” He sighed, seemingly unable to gather his thoughts.

“I believe that every human has the potential to be a great person. Sometimes they waste that chance, and that’s okay, I just leave those people alone, because they wasted what they could have done to the world. You don’t seem to think you can do anything for the world, so you just shut yourself down to minimize the negative impact you’ll have. That’s… truly beautiful.”

I blinked in surprise. “Y-you think about me thaaaat profoundly?” I spat out, not bothering thinking about what I was saying.

 He blushed furiously, refusing to meet my gaze. “Yep.” He murmured quietly.

We sat quietly for a few moments before he spoke again, quietly. “I’m here if you want to tell me what’s going on in your head. I don’t care if you hurt me.” “W-why n-not?” I stammered out.

He looked back up at me and sighed. “I’m not totally convinced that I’m worth anything.” He seemed relieved when he had said it, like a weight had been lifted off of him.

“Sureee you are!’ I enthused. “You really care about people and you know what to do when they get sad! You should be a therapist one day!”

He offered a weak grin. “I’ve definitely considered that, I guess…” He seemed a little more cheerful. “This isn’t a night for crying. This is a night for us to get you sober and just… communicate.”

 I nodded in agreement. “Yep! That’s what seems to be causing all of our problems these days!”

I grabbed his hand, squeezing reassuringly. He tensed up a little, but seemed grateful to have my hand in his.

“Can I… see your… scars?” He motioned towards my arms with his other hand. Some voice in the back of my mind, my voice of reason, hesitated, but as inebriated as I was, I really didn’t give a shit.

I looked into his eyes, unsure of what I hoped to see there, unsure of what I did see there. I pulled up my sleeves, turning my arms so the soft side was facing up, the scars facing up.

 It really did look bad. There were fresh cuts from that night, cuts from every night before that for a long time. They were layered so deeply on top of one another that it was difficult to find a patch of unblemished skin.

He dropped my hand, tracing his fingers across some of the older cuts, trying not to irritate some of the more recent scabs. He looked up at me. “F-fumika…”  I hesitated, not knowing what to say.

“C-can I please roll my sleeves back up now?” I pleaded quietly with him. Tears had started rolling down my cheeks without me noticing.

He said nothing, just gently pulled my sleeves back toward my wrists, taking hold of my hand once again. “Hey… it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. I care about you.” He murmured quietly, rubbing tiny little circles into the back of my hand with his thumb.

Honestly, at this point, I wasn’t completely sure why I was crying. I wasn’t totally sure of anything at all, really. I just knew that I was starting to trust this boy more and more, and I wouldn’t have minded spending my entire life with him.

I looked up, meeting his eyes, and hugged him. This was a different hug than the hug from the other day. This was not an “It’ll be okay,” hug. This was a hug with unreadable motivations, but the only discernable message was “Thank you.”

His arms felt safe and comforting wrapped around my frail body. It was like he was trying not to break me, but to hold me as tight as he could. He slowly ran his hands up and down my back, reassuring me. I sniffled, putting all of my upper arm strength into embracing him, which admittedly wasn’t much.

We sat there for quite a while, just savoring the hug, reassured that the other would be there for them. “H-hey Hajime?” I whispered.

“Yeah, Fumika?” He whispered back huskily, causing a shiver to run down my spine.

“I… don’t eat often. My stomach hurts.” I murmured, somewhat plaintively.

 He paused in rubbing my back and started rubbing in circles instead. “If I could get you food, I would, but I don’t know… where your kitchen is. And you certainly can’t go.”

He paused, thinking. “We could get breakfast tomorrow morning. At school. You really should eat, but you won’t want to when you sober up…”

I felt momentarily discouraged by how he was describing how I was sober. That seems so boring.

“Breakfast sounds gooooood… But if I’m that dull, I guess you’re right…” He pulled away from our hug reluctantly, holding my hand instead.

“You go in the lunch room in the mornings, right? I’ll get us both breakfast. If I know you, you’ll feel bad about making me waste money.”

“That suuuure does sound like me…” I murmured. We sat in silence for another moment. “I like this. I could do this more often.” I spit out. Hajime looked over at me and blushed.

His green eyes seemed deeper than forests were wide. They were mottled, every little stripe I looked at seemingly a different color. Moss green, pine trees, cucumber, grass. His eyes twinkled differently with every different emotion that struck him, dazzling me.

I realized I had been staring into his eyes for a while now, and he had been gazing into mine with the same intrepid curiosity.

 I had the impulse, and I was too drunk to control it, so I moved towards him, putting my hands on his chest, and placed my lips gently on his.

His eyes widened in surprise, but I let my eyes drift shut and enjoyed the moment. Hajime placed his hands on my back, and I could feel the heat of his blush on my face.

 It could have lasted forever, but far too soon, the sensible side of me, that had trained me to hide myself away for years, was screaming too loudly for me to ignore.

I pulled away, opening my eyes. I sat back down, Hajime moving his arms away. I put my hands in my lap, looking down. “F-fumika?” The familiar voice asked. I wasn’t sure of my actions anymore. “I’m sorry…” I whispered quietly.

He stayed quiet for a minute, probably trying to think about what had happened. “We don’t have to mention it if you don’t want to.” He murmured.

My thoughts battled through the fuzziness that filled my brain. Tell him. Hope whispered. He deserves better. Despair’s biting words struck me. Me, the real me, wondered what to do. I settled on just taking his hand. Despair knows how to protect me, after all.

“Let’s not talk about it?” I whispered, barely audible. I looked into his eyes, desperate.

I saw a flash of disappointment, quickly changing to acceptance, seriousness, a warm comforting gaze. His other hand moved to dab at the tears that were running down my face. “Okay.” He said, nodding.“If it makes your life easier.” He said, almost to himself.

I smiled at him, grateful. “Th-thanks.” I laid back and looked at the ceiling, letting go of Hajime’s hand. I felt the bed shift as he stood up.

“You’ll be okay?” He asked, concerned. I nodded wordlessly, trying to let the thoughts drift away.

“…Okay. I’ll meet you tomorrow morning with breakfast. If you want it… Goodnight.”

I heard the door shut, and put the bottle of tequila back under my bed before checking the time. It had somehow progressed to 3am without either of us noticing.

I missed his presence already. My thoughts were clumping together, and I tried to sort them out. Why… did I say no? The answer almost hit me in the face. I don’t think I’m ready for that, or if I ever will be. I sighed.

He… seemed to enjoy that. Maybe I’ll… try to rush this whole self growth thing along. I think his happiness is really important. Maybe I can even be useful for something. I smiled to myself.

That would be just perfect.

Chapter Text

I woke up with my covers on the floor, covered in sweat, head hurting worse than it had ever been; even worse than that morning a few days ago.

I sat up, wincing, trying to think through what had happened the night before, but I was seized by the first wave of nausea of the morning. I threw myself towards the door, every step provoking a new wave of pain almost incapacitating me.

I fumbled with the doorknobs, first that of my room, then the bathroom’s. I clutched desperately for the toilet, the burning mixture already coming up as I fell to my knees.

Tears of pain stung my eyes. Every inch of my body simply pounded with pain, my mouth enveloped with a sour taste from the alcohol and stomach acid that had come with it.

 My weak frame was wracked with wave after wave of nausea, even after there was nothing remaining to expel. I kneeled there on all fours in front of the toilet, dry heaving, head spinning, and blinking back tears of pure pain until I could finally extricate myself from the toilet.

I pushed myself up on the wall, stumbling towards the sink. Same old, same old, right?

I absentmindedly filled and drank from the little paper cups until my alarm went off, at which point I dropped the cup I was holding to grab my head, sure it was going to explode.

My legs moved of their own accord back to my room, and I stabbed desperately at the snooze button on my phone and turned off the alarm, bringing blissful silence.

That is, before I saw that I had texts from Hajime. My heart stopped, and I blinked. What the shit happened last night? I asked myself.

I slid my phone open and scrolled through the texts.

Just in case you don’t remember, we’re meeting for breakfast this morning.

You probably won’t remember, now that I’m thinking about it.

My problems are nothing compared to yours.

Why did you even want to know about them?

I guess I’ll tell you sometime soon.

Maybe.

Anyways, I’m trying to take your lack of response as a good time.

Hopefully you’re sleeping it off.

I can’t sleep.

There was a gap of almost two hours between the last two messages. He sent the first string of messages around 3, and the last was sent at 4:50am.

I scrolled through the earlier messages, in shock. I felt dizzy. I’m so stupid. How could I be so dumb? Who knows what else I told him?

Hope’s voice murmured sleepily in my head. I can’t remember either, but don’t be so down. If he’s texting you, surely it was okay.

Despair remained devilishly quiet.


 

I wobbled into the cafeteria on unsteady legs, looking around for Hajime. I spotted him in the corner where I usually sat, waving uncertainly at me, beckoning me.

His green eyes shone, but for some reason his eyes looked kind of gold today. Like the evening rays shining through the leaves of the forest within his eyes.

 I could see the familiar veins of dark green running through his pupils, so I knew it was still the Hajime I knew and… Love?

I shook the unfamiliar feeling off, walking over to him and attempting not to stumble. I sat down opposite him, where he had set a plate with some breakfast, and looked up at him quizzically.

“Morning…” I said quietly, head still aching, albeit less.

“Good morning.” He said brightly, but almost as softly as I had. He had probably realized how much my head would be hurting after how much I had apparently drunk. In front of him.

I hesitated before mentioning the topic I was really curious about. “You’re going to have to fill me in on the events of last night. I don’t remember shit.”

His face fell a little bit, causing my eyes to narrow in confusion before he spoke up. “Well, you saw our texts. I came over. We… talked. I said I’d tell you why I was so upset the other day when you were sober. You told me you haven’t been eating… and that’s it, really.”

He’s hiding something. Despair snarled in my ear. I closed my eyes to gather myself, then tilted my head sideways and looked into those eyes that sent shivers down my spine whenever they saw back into mine. “I didn’t do anything else weird? I didn’t say anything else?”

What I had said was bad enough, but it wasn’t like I had said anything that really blew my cover. He bit his lip, glancing down, before answering. “Yeah. That’s it.”

A moment’s pause ensued.  “I got you breakfast.” He said proudly. I was just getting more and more confused.

“Why…?” I said, a little more loudly than I would have wanted, causing me to wince at the renewed pain coursing through me.

“I thought… If I put in the time and money, you would feel bad about not eating anything.” I was taken aback by how apt he was at judging me. He was absolutely right. I felt like I had to eat something on the plate. Besides, I was starving.

I looked down at the plate again. It looked exactly like the lunches he always brought. Plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cookies, juice, and apple slices.

“Tell your mom I say thanks.” I said gratefully. He tugged at some of his hair that stuck out particularly far, wincing a little bit.

He ignored my slightly worried expression and spoke, just as gently as before. “I made this. I cook, y’know.”

 I widened my eyes, shocked. “Wow. Well I gotta admit, this is really good.” I relaxed and tipped an imaginary hat at him.

His gaze softened, a soft grin appearing on his face as I started nibbling at the cookies. My stomach rumbled in earnest.

It’d been a while since I’d eaten anything, and as much as I really didn’t want to, I was probably going to eat this entire plate.

I consumed the cookie in tiny bites, careful not to anger my already upset stomach. I opened the juice, taking tiny sips at a time. It tasted like fruit punch, bringing me back to my childhood.

The days I nonchalantly wore dresses and frilly bows, keeping my hair long. I was vaguely uncomfortable, but never as much as I was these days.

All I knew was that the acting made my parents happy.

Hajime had been trying to avoid looking at me the entire time, locking and unlocking his phone. I took a bite of the sandwich, seeing as it was the “main dish” and I widened my eyes in shock.

I started speaking, forgetting my ever-present headache and the peanut butter filling my mouth. I tried to say “Hajime, this is so good.” But I ended up just mumbling through a mouthful of food.

I think Hajime knew what I was trying to say, though. He put his hand over his mouth, eyes lighting up in amusement, little golden flecks dancing through them like fireworks lighting up the night sky.

I was enchanted, a kid at a magic show.

He tried to stifle his laughter, but burst out giggling. I swallowed the mouthful of peanut butter and washed it down with the juice he had given me, already bursting into smiles.

I began giggling as well, a wave of uncomfortableness striking me as I heard my high pitched voice leaving my mouth, but I managed to push it aside after a momentary struggle.

Hajime had apparently noticed, and had stopped giggling, shifting to an intent gaze that seemed to speak to me. “Are you okay?”

I forced a smirk, murmuring “You’re one to talk...” He blinked hard, and his hand twitched, but he did nothing, seemingly unsure.

“You didn’t answer.” He whispered after a while, sounding hurt. I bit the inside of my mouth, thinking of how best to respond.

 “No... I’m not. But I’m not telling you any more. You have three of my secrets, and I still know nothing about you.” He leaned across the table towards me, looking into my eyes. I couldn’t read him. Anger? Fear? Concern?

It’s especially hard to tell when you’re falling for the soul behind those captivating eyes. I couldn’t think straight. My head was still fuzzy, and every time I looked into his eyes, I was breathless, mind fixated on the unofficial eighth wonder of the world

He fell back into his chair, shaking his head brusquely, rubbing his eyes. “We’ll have to meet somewhere else… if you want to hear about all that.” His voice faded to a whisper for the second part of the sentence.

I nodded, partly to myself, understanding what he meant. If he started showing his feelings, everything would come out at once. I had felt the same way before. “Hajime.” I said softly, but sharply.

He looked up at me, wincing visibly. I spoke again, looking down at the mostly empty plate. “If you don’t want to, that’s okay. I’m sorry.” I softened my tone, whispering now.

He grabbed my hands, and I looked up at him, shocked. His jaw was set, stare sharp, but he was still biting his lip. “It’s okay.” He said forcefully. “It’s okay.” I reassured him, absentmindedly rubbing circles into the back of his hand.

I wasn’t really thinking through any of this. My mind really didn’t want to focus on anything too much, my two companions being strangely silent.

I saw tears welling in his eyes, and let my dull gold eyes do the speaking for me. “Do you need to go?” He squeezed my hand, sniffling. He looked down, not responding for a moment.

At last, he began whispering. “Thank you. For eating. For your kind words. For your friendship.”

I looked at him, eyes widened. “Haj-“ He looked up, trying to reassure me with his warm gaze. I bit my lip. “Please don’t do anything drastic.” I could feel his hand, still wrapped around mine, trembling.

His expression grew fearful and sad, almost disappointed, and I stood up and started packing up our stuff. “Come on. We need to go.”

He looked at me like a lost puppy. “B-“ I quickly interrupted his retort. “Going to class today won’t do you any good. We’re gonna skip.”

Despair started murmuring to me, volume of their words increasing with every passing moment. Useless. Demanding. No one wants to be friends with you.

 Let him deal with his problems on his own. He obviously doesn’t want to come anyways. Who would voluntarily spend time with you? If he does die, you deserve it. You deserve the pain.

He’s probably going to off himself. You know that, right? He’ll be gone. Lost forever. And you’re left here, whining that you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. It’s bullshit. Only the actions you actually carry out determine your valor.

And you’re worth no more than a piece of dog shit someone flung at a front door.

My eyes were wide open in shock, and I was staring into the distance. I had dropped Hajime’s hand and was tearing up without noticing. My arms were itching like they did when I needed to cut. It’s been too long.

Hajime had stood up, his hand on my shoulder, staring concernedly into my eyes, tearstains fresh on his cheeks. I blinked, turning robotically towards him.

“I’m going. I… need to. You can come… if you want. You… you should.” I said slowly. “But… I want you to tell me what happened last night.”

He sniffled, wiping at his eyes, and tugged me along towards the closest exit, making sure we had both grabbed our bags. “How did you know?” He whispered. I didn’t know how to respond without sounding completely insane, which, I supposed, I was.

As soon as we were outside, I dropped to my knees, yanking up my sleeves and scratching furiously at my forearms. Scabs built up under my fingernails, newly fresh wounds stinging familiarly, comfortingly. Tears poured down my cheeks as I cried, staring at the battlefield.

Hajime kneeled and grabbed my hands, staring at my newly injured wrists in shock and fear.

 I suppose this is the first time he’s gotten a look at them. My thoughts sounded dull, mental voice monotone.

His voice cracked when he spoke next. “I’m sorry.”

 I looked up, tears now streaming down both of our faces. I shook my head gently. “It’s not your f-fault.” I stammered out, my head still pounding, wrists still bleeding.

 I so wanted to return my nails to the scarred flesh, and I think he saw it in my eyes. Hajime wrapped my arms around his body and his around mine, pulling me into him, not caring if he got blood or tears on his shirt.

I hadn’t realized how homesick I had been for his comforting embrace until that very moment, even though it only made Despair screech their poisonous thoughts louder. Hajime couldn’t know that though.

Home, sweet home.

Chapter Text

After a while, we broke away from each other, knowing that we had to put some distance between ourselves and the school before class started to minimize the risk of getting caught.

Hajime walked next to me, probably uncertain that I knew where to go. It was pretty obvious that he had never skipped class before, anyways.

I had been trying to gather my muddled thoughts while sniffling back tears and ignoring the pain in my arms, but just as I found myself able to focus, a wave of nausea hit me.

I fell to my knees on the sidewalk, unable to handle the combined pain of my fresh injuries and my pounding headache. I tried to muffle my sob of frustration, but it had attracted Hajime’s attention.

I retched violently into the street, stomach ruthlessly writhing, seeing as there was something to come up besides bile this time.

I heard a muffled curse from Hajime as he hustled over to hold my hair back as I vomited up the past 12 hours. He rubbed my shoulder as I continually gagged, trying to reassure me.

I eventually emptied my stomach, at which point Hajime handed me his water bottle and a napkin from his lunch, which I took silently, knowing he knew I was grateful, even if I didn't say it.

He extended his hand to help me up, which I took numbly, letting Hajime help me. He gazed into my eyes, searching them for a while. "Are you okay?" He finally said, biting his lip and averting his eyes.

I didn't beat around the bush when I asked my own question in response. "What about you?"

He tentatively took my hand, knowing what I meant. He rubbed those familiar circles into the back of my hand as we started walking, but I had had enough of him playing the role of counselor. "Hajime." I said quietly, firmly.

He paused for a second before I plowed on. "I want to have a turn as the helpful one. You've always been the one to console me, and I'm tired of it."

"It's not like you don't need it m-" I cut him off before he could finish. "Enough. I'm sure you're hurting just as much as I am." He resumed rubbing my hand, in the other direction now.

He sighed, eyes already welling up with tears. "Fumika, um..." He seemed to be pondering what to tell me, how much he needed to reveal.

"...I cut, too. On my thighs. N-not often, only when I really need to. But when I do, it's...pretty bad. Not as bad as... your arms. But bad." He forced each word out, fighting the tears that were trying to take over. He took a deep breath, bracing himself for an explanation.

I wasn't totally shocked, just... afraid. Saddened, even. I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to embrace him, to hold him, to keep him safe. He’s been even more secretive than me.  Hajime continued to at the pathway ahead as we walked. "I live a very... stressful life. For… many reasons... I haven't been handling it very well."

I heard him swallow hard, saw him wipe his eyes with his other hand. He gave a pitiful chuckle. "I'm sorry. I'm a mess, I know. I should be able to handle this better." I squeezed his hand as he continued speaking. I wouldn't interrupt him this time.

"I just feel like such a goddamn failure. Part of me realizes that I have way too much to worry about, and that this is natural, but most of me knows that this is pitiful and that I should just handle it myself."

He ended the last phrase quietly, regretfully. It seemed like he wanted to say more, but just couldn’t. I put everything I wanted to say into the way I clung to his hand before I even opened my mouth. "Hajime... thanks. For trusting me. I know it's hard, believe me." I paused, figuring out how to phrase my next sentence.

"I hope you'll tell me the rest of your story eventually. But one thing is for sure. You aren't failing. You have the time and motivation to make your own breakfast and lunch, and even though you're this... depressed, you still make time to help me. With all of this weighing on your back, you still almost refused to tell me. You can't end it all. You deserve more. If you don't believe in that, then... stay alive for me."

He stayed quiet for a moment, processing everything I had just said. "While I'm at it..." He murmured, letting it trail off. I didn't pursue. He had clearly already said more than he was comfortable with.

He looked at me and grinned at me through the teardrops rolling down his rosy, angular cheeks, pushing me gently to the side. I widened my eyes, shocked, and then smirked. "You're gonna get it now...!"

 

We camped out in a back alley, Hajime wordlessly giving me a cookie from his lunch and leaving the rest available beside us. We set ourselves an alarm so that we would be able to walk back to school in time to catch the bus, and Hajime immediately passed out, leaning against me.

It was breathtaking how attractive he was up close, his soft hair nuzzling up to my cheek. I heard every soft exhale of breath, felt every little twitch of his body.

My plan had been to stay awake so I could comfort him if he had a nightmare, but I hadn't gotten much more sleep than he had, and the warmth of his body against mine as well as the steady rhythm of his breathing lulled me slowly to sleep.

 

I woke up sweating, shaking, with Hajime's hand on my shoulder. "Hey. Wake up." He murmured repeatedly, stopping as my eyes opened. He looked expectantly into my eyes.

"It was just a nightmare. The only dream I ever have, really." It was, of course, the nightmare of Hajime destroying his body, eventually disposing of it.

He wiped a tear from my face, focused gaze revealing that he was sure there was more to my story, halfhearted smirk telling me I didn't have to tell him.

"It's time to go back." He said softly. I nodded in response, taking a sip from his water bottle before we started walking.

We walked quietly, each comforted by the other's presence. "You never told me about last night." I mumbled jokingly.

He seemed to be hit hard by the statement, keeping his gaze focused on the pavement ahead. He sighed, as if he were bracing himself. "You said you didn't want to talk about it." He looked straight into my eyes.

I didn't know what to think, but... he's telling the truth. My voice and Hope's seem to have united, for once. Yep... he isn't lying this time.

I pondered about this for a moment, before asking a burning question. "Do you want to talk about it? I can't remember shit, so I can't know if I want to talk about it or not."

A pause. "Someday." He murmured softly, staring at his feet as he walked. "Someday as in, not today?" I queried, a tinge of frustration slipping into my words.

"I've… had a lot to handle today. I think this... this can wait." He said quietly, voice wavering. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it, telling him that it was okay.

Of course, I did want him to hurry up and tell me. But if he isn't feeling up to it, I really shouldn't push him.

Just then we rounded the corner to the school and walked casually to the buses, blending with the students who had just been released from class. He let go of my hand, turning around to give me a small, awkward wave before climbing onto his bus.

I felt a small smile bloom on my face, and wondered... What the hell is wrong with me? I'm being so emotional, and...

Happy? Hope's spritely voice suggested. Yeah. Happy. Weird. I responded. I think it's quite nice! The friendly entity announced.

I got onto my bus and sat in my usual seat, Hope still babbling into my ear about how nice it was to see me like this, what a good guy Hajime is, etcetera, etcetera.

My phone buzzed, and I snatched it, not sure whether it was my mom, or Hajime. Being the latter, I slid open my phone to read the message.

"Next week. Okay?"

I paused. Why next week? What's happening next week? My mind, still a bit slow from my nap, couldn't think of anything outstanding happening during the week to come, nor the week after that. I typed a response back.

"Yep. Okay."

I hit send and put my phone away, always ready to get off the bus and go home. Maybe I'll spend some time outside of my room soon... I cringed as I imagined my family's reactions.

 

I spent my evening in my room, though. For once, though, I wasn't tempted to bring a blade to my arm. I guess what happened this morning hurt enough to "count".

My phone buzzed, and I knew it was Hajime.

"You okay?"

The message was deceptively simple, but I knew what he meant, and...

"For once, yeah. You?"

It took a few minutes before I got a response.

"A little stressed. Okay, very. But I'm handling it better than usual to be fair"

I bit the inside of my cheek, worried, before typing out another text.

"Remember our promise"

I set my phone down on my desk before doing what I usually did when I got bored, and cracked open a book. Yes, I know. Me? A nerd? Of course.

It was a book I had read dozens of times as a kid, about time traveling kids finding relics from history. It was a simpleminded book, and it didn’t require much of my attention, seeing as I basically had it memorized.

I read deep into the night, until I felt as if I would fall asleep on my desk if I wasn't careful, and fell into bed and my dreams.

 

I woke up to my phone alarm, which I zipped over to, stumbling. I fumbled with the phone for a moment before sliding it open to end the raucous noise. I checked my texts and saw nothing from Hajime.

Not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. Either way, I pushed my thoughts aside and got ready for the day. Blissfully, it was a Friday, and I'd have a few days to rest in my room. It'd been a long week.

I slipped out the door twenty minutes later, as usual, and ran for the bus.

My thoughts revolved around those green eyes that had dominated the past couple weeks of my life, and I hoped I'd be able to see him today, though I wouldn't admit it, even to myself.

Hajime was just so stunningly attractive, and it was pretty clear he didn't see it himself. Why else would he hang out with me when he could have a much prettier girlfriend, or, maybe, a more handsome boyfriend?

Either way, he could have much better friends than me, and... Why would he choose me over anyone else?

Before I knew it, the bus had stopped in front of the school, and I got off, immediately going to my usual corner of the cafeteria, expecting to be sitting alone.

I had forgotten, however, that Hajime knew where I sat now, and his messy hair, that I now knew was incredibly soft, and his piercing eyes, which I knew could be filled with warmth and tears, were waiting for me there at my- our table.

I wondered if those chapped lips were as contradictory as the rest of him, but quickly banished the thought.

He widened his eyes and offered one of those sorry grins, giving a tiny wave, beckoning me over. I smirked in return and walked over. "Homework? Nerd."

He blushed as he came up with a retort. "At least I do it." I shrugged my shoulders in consensus. "That's fair."

"Breakfast?" He offered his open lunch box, from which I took a juice pouch. Can't be overfeeding myself here.

I sipped from my lunchbox, watching Hajime work out complicated algebra, probably even more complicated to me since I hadn't been paying full attention in class recently.

He bit his lip when he was concentrating, which explained the sorry state they were in. He was left handed, oddly enough. And he had freckles on his arms.

Every once in a while, he looked up at me and saw me staring back at him, smiling. "Enjoying the view?" He said sarcastically.

"Of course." I responded, completely meaning it.

Chapter Text

The weekend dragged by, though Hajime had been texting me quite frequently. There was a seed of worry embedded in my brain because of Friday, and whenever he hadn't texted me that day, I could feel the little plant growing within me, wondering if he was okay, hoping he was okay.

 If he hadn't texted by noon, I checked in on him. "Morning. You alright?" to which he answered "Good Morning. I'm doing fine, you?"

The way he had carefully selected the word "fine" made me curious, but not enough to actually pose the question. I usually answered something to the taste of "Me too."

I had no idea whether either of us were really being honest with each other. I felt like maybe Hajime regretted telling me everything, and probably wouldn't tell me if something was indeed wrong.

I had no idea if I would tell him if something was wrong. Despair had started harping over this shred of doubt I had, magnifying it to the point that it consumed me. I spent hours laying in my bed, curled into a ball.

Fortunately, my phone didn't buzz. I don't know what I would've done if Hajime showed some sign of worry. He was probably busy enough without worrying about me.

Fresh cuts made their way onto my arm, and I vaguely remember my phone buzzing.

After a while I heard my mom's anxious call up the stairs. "Fumika...? Your friend Hajime is here!" I sat bolt upright, and yelled back. "Alright! Tell him to come up!" My voice cracked horribly from disuse, and I winced.

I panicked, not wanting Hajime to see my current failure. I threw the blades into a drawer and threw a clean blanket over my bed, concealing my blood.

 I patted my face dry and sniffled back the tears that were already appearing, spawned by disappointment in myself and... Fear of Hajime?

He opened the door, looking around. He saw me in near tears in my bed and sat next to me, staring at the opposite wall. We sat there quietly for a while before he spoke up. “You kissed me.” I blinked, confused. “What?”

“The other day. You kissed me, but you were drunk and sad, and you said you didn’t want to talk about it. That’s what I was going to tell you this week.” I felt him turn to stare at me, expecting a response.

I bit my lip, trying to think, the doppelgangers inhabiting my mind oddly quiet. “Damn. Okay.” I said, unsure how Hajime felt about this.

“You wanna talk about that?” I queried, still staring straight forward, pointedly hiding my wrists.

He sighed. “Do you trust me?” I finally turned to him, feeling betrayed. “What do you…? Of course I trust you, you nerd.” His eyes were steely cold, no hint of amusement within them.

“Fumika. Not like that. Do you really trust me?” I knew very well what he meant, and I knew we both knew my answer, so I dodged the question. “Do you?”

He chuckled darkly. I frowned, but at the same time… “You have my answer then.”

We sat quietly in the darkness, listening to each other’s breathing. I heard Hajime’s breathing growing irregular, saw the light from the open doorway reflecting on the tears streaming down his face. “I’m sorry.” He whispered, barely audible enough for me to hear him.

I scooted closer to him, my heart, my soul hurting for him. “I’m sorry too.” I said, tears of my own stinging my eyes. I placed my hand over his, rubbing my thumb in circles on the back of his hand just like he often did.

 I reminded myself quietly that I should tell him about the fact that I was a guy soon. It… wouldn’t be right to hide something like that for so long. This didn’t seem like the right time to do it, though.

Hajime turned towards me, desperation clear in his tear filled eyes. “Can I…?” I nodded quickly, wanting it more than I had wanted anything in a long while.

He moved to straddle my legs so that we wouldn’t be straining our necks, but effectively pinning me against the wall, and I felt as though my throat was going to close up.

“Hajime.” I said anxiously. He took his hands from my waist, looking into my eyes, clearly worried. “Are you okay?” I swallowed hard.

“Can we…?” He understood what I meant immediately, getting off of me and sitting against the wall compliantly. “Of course.” He said softly, gently. I mimicked what he had been doing, straddling his legs and putting my hands on his waist.

“Better?” I murmured quietly. “Better.” He whispered, the blush spreading across his cheeks visible even in the darkness. I felt his warm breath on my face, his hands moving to my back.

And then our lips met, softly, gently, tenderly. I let out a soft gasp, moved my hands to his hair. I took his lips between mine, causing him to let out a small noise of satisfaction.

I toyed with him in this manner for a few minutes, biting his lip, pushing him against the wall with the sheer force of the kiss.

I dared not test the waters with my tongue yet, mostly because I was inexperienced, and Hajime followed my motions, letting out little gasps and moans when I did something he liked.

I pulled away, Hajime trying to follow me like a lost puppy. I opened my eyes, staring into his. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel his impatience growing below me. “I wish we could keep going, but my parents are home.”

He almost whined. “I have a car.” I kissed his nose. “Everything gets better if you have to wait for it.”

“…Before school tomorrow?”

“I’ll leave the house early. Pick me up here.”

“When?”

“Seven.”

I got off him, letting him fix his hair, noticeably messier than usual, which was saying a lot. “Thank you for distracting me.” He murmured sheepishly.

“I could say the same to you.”

I paused, the words on the tip of my tongue. The words I really wanted to say, but was too afraid to.

“Hey, um…” He looked up, curious at my newly softened tone. I bit my lip. “I’ll text you about it. Sometime soon.” His gaze softened knowingly and he nodded.

He got up, looking around my room, and stopped his gaze on me and stared for a little while. “I’ll text you.” He said with a smile. “Seeya!” I called after him as he left my room.

I sighed as he shut my door, trying to think over what had just happened. Did we just… so are we…? I brushed the thought aside.

Just teenage lust, right? It’s normal for a guy to feel so lustful that he’ll be satisfied by just about anything… right?

Hope giggled. Of course not, you doof. He likes you! How else would you explain that? I pondered this for a second.

He seems like he doesn’t really have anyone close to him… hasn’t in a while. So I guess he just… doesn’t have anyone else. Yeah.

The spritely voice sighed, knowing there was no convincing me.

I spent most of the rest of the day trying to figure out how to tell Hajime. I wrote and rewrote that one text dozens of times, wanting to make sure the words were perfectly chosen and arranged. This was more important to me than I’d admit to anyone.

Finally, around 9 at night, I finished composing my message that would reveal everything I had left to reveal. I hesitated. Should I even bother…? Before I could hesitate any more, I hit send. And… it’s gone. Out into cyberspace.

I took a deep breath. I… I did it. I carefully set my phone on my desk, turning the ringer up so I’d be sure to hear it when Hajime responded.

My eyes widened as I realized what my reckless optimism had caused me to momentarily forget. He might not want to talk to me anymore. He certainly won’t want to… make out in his car. The chances of this working out… are so small.

I felt like I was shrinking as I fell onto my bed, curled up silently. How could I have forgotten? My eyes stung as tears started flowing down onto my sheets.

My mind became nothing but an endless mantra of “I’m sorry.” Everything started fading around me until there was nothing.

 

I woke up to the chirping of my phone around 6 and immediately checked the incoming messages.

“…Thanks for telling me. It must be hard to trust me so much.”

“I would say more, but I’m in a hell of a situation.”

“I’m at the hospital with my mom.”

I tried to absorb what he was saying and tapped out a response.

“Should I head over there?”

No response. I guess something happened.

I know he’s in trouble, but… he seemed off. I can’t just ask him what he thought… obviously. I have to wait. I sighed at this inevitable truth,.

I paced around my room for a moment, unsure of what to do. I started by washing some of the dry blood off my arms and changing clothes.

He obviously wouldn’t be at school, so I didn’t have to worry about being ready early, but I ran out of the house almost an hour early when I saw it was raining.

 I adored the rain. The numbing coldness of the water seeping through clothes, the gentle drops chilling little circles on your body until eventually you were  all covered in little cold spots.

It felt familiar. It felt like home.

I was immediately reminded of Hajime, and pulled out my phone to send him a text.

“I know you’re probably having trouble coping with this… But know that I’m here. We’re here for each other. You know what you would tell me? It’s all going to be okay someday, because we’re here for each other.”

I hit send and put my phone away, enjoying the rain until the bus pulled up.

 

The day passed in a boring, lonely blur. Nothing really stood out. I stayed concentrated on the slowly fading sound of the rain hitting the tin roof of the school and functioned on autopilot the entire day.

I had somehow forgotten to check my phone the entire day, and looked at my texts on the bus ride home and saw a few messages from Hajime.

“Thanks. I’ve been trying to remind myself of that as well, but everything’s been going so fast.”

“It’s not going well.”

“I don’t know what to do anymore.”

I typed out what I hoped was a reassuring message.

“No matter what happens… I’ll be here. I’m gonna do my best to make sure you get through this, I swear.”

I had no idea what else to say. I had never really been in a situation like that before.

My fingers hovered over the keyboard until I simply stuck my phone in my pocket, knowing there was nothing more I could really say, and got off the bus as it reached my stop.

I walked into my house and hesitated. I could just… hang out downstairs. I shook off the thought and headed upstairs, knowing that they’d expect me to eat if I stayed.

I settled in upstairs with my favorite book and turned my ringer up, loud. I found myself completely engaged in the novel, barely noticing when my phone went off around 6.

“It’s a little more complicated than that. I can’t talk about it though. I’m in public.”

“I wish I was with you.”

I smiled to myself before typing out a response.

“Me too, nerd.”

Chapter Text

I spent the next few days losing myself in my book whenever possible. The tales of the characters and how they went about overcoming their own internal struggle made me spiteful at times, angry that others could fight their demons with such ease.

 At a time like this, however, it was inspiring to know that these people were able to work out their problems together.

I got news from Hajime from time to time, but always short and curt.

"She's stabilized."

"I'm gonna spend another day here."

"I'll come back to school the day after if she's still okay."

And it was like we were constantly dodging what was really on my mind. Of course I was worried about Hajime's mom, but he never talked about how he was feeling.

In response, I never talked about how I was thinking.

Of course, I was just getting my hands on that book whenever I could, because I felt like complete shit, but in a way that made me want to change things. It had become my resting state, pretty much.

At night, however, I was haunted by the near constant whisperings of Despair, fueled by Hajime's recent lack of response. Just as I thought. Getting attached to people is risky.

The voice whispered to me about the nightmare I had that kept growing in intensity and insistence. I slept even less than usual, constantly fearing the visions of Hajime's demise that made me wake up sweaty and trembling, tears staining my cheeks.

The more time that passed between Hajime's increasingly emotionless texts, the more Despair taunted me with reminders of those dreams, reminders of the comments he had made, questions and statements he had never responded to.

I didn't even know what we were at that point. Boyfriends? Friends? Friends with benefits? It all seemed very cliché of us, being high school students, to have this confusion and tension over our relationship. I found it rather ironic, actually.

Either way, Hajime had told me that he was coming back to school that day, so I reluctantly got up and ready for the day, assuming he wasn’t picking me up early. Seemed like a safe bet to me.

And of course, when I did finally leave the house, I wasn't surprised. Yep. No Hajime. I plodded along towards the bus stop before adding an afterthought. Probably doesn't want to see me. It would disrupt the routine. Y’know?

I asked the question to no one in particular, but expected a response from one of the two conflicting voices. What I received? Total radio silence.

 It was almost refreshing, or at least, would have been if it didn't put me even more on edge.

My thoughts continued in this manner as I plodded to the bus stop a few minutes early, and opened the familiar leather bound book I had taken to carrying with me. As soon as I saw anyone approaching, I would put it away, but it had become my home, my escape.

I let the familiar world between the pages whisk me away until the bus seemed to almost materialize next to me, and I put it away to step onto the bus and back into the real world.

I wondered absently about Hajime until Despair reminded me of the situation and I had to work to keep myself composed. This form of escape was obviously healthier, but… tended to make me forget a little more than needed at times.

It was almost more painful when I did return, and I remembered the dreams, the texts, the times we’d spent together. Every time it was like someone had ripped the scab off the wound that had just begun t heal beneath the surface.

My heart sinking, I checked my texts, to see, unsurprisingly, that I hadn't received anything. Just then the bus stopped and I got off.

I assumed he was coming, but I wasn't sure if we’d be meeting in our usual spot in the cafeteria. I had no news otherwise, so I sat down and opened my book, flipping through to where I had marked my spot.

After a while, I glanced around me and saw that Hajime had sat down in front of me, staring into space, looking lost. “Oh, hey.” I said casually.

He jumped a little and turned his head to look back at me. “Morning.” I tried to read his eyes quickly, and saw only a hint of anxiety. He was either really good at this, or just wasn't feeling too bad.

“You doing alright?” I deadpanned, not wanting to beat around the bush. His expression shifted a little bit, through sadness, and anger, and finally settling on frustration. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn't know how to phrase it.

“I don't know.” He answered haltingly. I nodded, trying to convey that I didn't know much either, and I too was tired of this situation. “What…?” I asked, not finishing the sentence due to all the nosy high school students around us.

He sighed. “I don't know that either.” He had more on his mind, so I stayed quiet. “Can I have time?” He was looking into my eyes with some soulful mix of sadness and desperation, pleading with me.

I knew what this meant. He didn't trust me anymore. Maybe he never had. I struggled to compose myself, fighting back the beginning of tears that stung my eyes, forcing my voice to stay forceful. “Yeah, of course.”

We both looked at each other with this mutual understanding that we were hurting, but didn't want to let the other know that. We tried to hide it, but we knew each other too well at that point.

 I couldn't take it anymore. “S-Seeya at lunch then.”  I mumbled before stumbling off quickly, rushing to the nearest closet or bathroom.

And you know what? He didn't even chase after me. He sat there at that lunch table as I sobbed in that stall in the wrong bathroom, the girls’ bathroom, muffling myself with my hoodie that I stuffed in my mouth as I ripped into my skin.

I didn't exactly hate him. He was doing the same thing I was, of course. Isolating himself from anyone and everyone who meant well, Hajime wandered pointlessly along in the journey of life.

 A little voice, Hope’s familiar tone, whispered that that wasn't the right way to live. But it's the safe way to live. Despair argued.

I found myself agreeing with the latter, currently facing the emotional backlash of getting close to anyone.

Hope seemed ready to fight this time, quickly offering a rebuttal. Living alone for your entire life is no way to live! Sure, you won't face the downs in life, but you’ll never find love, you'll never find a happy ending!

An unprecedented thought flew through my mind. I'd like a happy ending. With Hajime. I winced at the thought, a few more tears leaving their salty trails down my cheeks. Hope seemed to be grasping onto this.

And, uh, if you don’t talk to Hajime, your relationship will never stand a chance… There goes your happy ending, y’know? I sat up quickly, head spinning a little. I wished those voices would shut up. Just for once. I needed to cry for a bit, and with them around it felt like I was being watched.

I let out a shuddering breath, wiping the tears from my eyes with the backs of my hands. I crawled over to the toilet paper dispenser to grab some so I could clean my mess up.

Luckily enough, there was no blood on the outside of my hoodie, and the rest had already dried.

I checked the time on my phone, only to realize that I was just in time for the last class of the day. The one class I had with Hajime. I’ve been in here for way too long… damn.

I pushed myself to my feet and stepped out of the stall, checking myself in the mirror as I walked by. I looked… Acceptable. It was fine. I walked unsteadily to class, ignoring the twin voices in my head.

I arrived in class before Hajime did, so I slumped down in my usual seat. I stared pointedly in front of me, and even then, felt when Hajime entered the room.

I felt that sharp gaze on me, those green eyes almost burning a hole in my face with their intensity.

He sat down next to me with a mumbled “Hey.” and I responded in turn. I glanced sideways at him, trying to judge how he was feeling, but I did a double take. He was a complete mess. “H-hey?” I responded, taken aback.

His eyes were red and swollen, his hair sticking in every which way. Maybe he’s been pulling at it? The logical side of me wondered. But I was… concerned, to say the least. But I didn't know how to handle it while respecting his boundaries.

I had a flashback to that one day, in the bathrooms, and felt a grin tug at my lips. I forced it down, biting the inside of my cheek. I got out a piece of paper, and hesitated before writing my message.

“How can I help?” I handed the paper over to him, wondering if he’d even look at it. I stole a glance at his face, trying to decipher what he was feeling. He was looking at the paper with eyebrows furrowed, biting his lip.

 He seemed to be trying to look angry, but his eyes betrayed him. They say eyes are the windows to the soul. Hope murmured.

After a while he passed the paper back, staring at his desk the entire time. “I don't know.” I bit my lip, knowing there was never another possible answer.

“Are you going to let me help?” The question seemed simple, but we both knew what it meant. His hand hesitated over the paper before he scrawled a response and handed it back over.

“Please stop.”


 

I retreated into my shell, turning my phone all the way off and throwing it at the wall of my room, relishing the solid thunk that indicated the phone had hit the wall, and the softer one when it hit the floor. I had had too much of this world.

The bottle of tequila under my bed tempted me, but the next day was going to be hellish enough without a hangover.

I settled on picking a book I hadn't yet read, immersing myself in the story, trying to completely lose track of my real life.

For a while, it worked, but eventually I got tired and shut my book, reluctantly returning to the real world once again. As soon as I submitted to reality, Despair forced those memories of Hajime into my mind.

Images of the nightmare that kept growing more gruesome every night, remembering those shakily scribbled words on the paper, the feeling of our last kiss, the thought that he’d never let me near him again, everything we’d done together was haunting me, shoved into the front of my mind by Despair.

That is enough. A familiar voice, with a much more serious tone than usual was speaking. Hope fought to be heard.

Listen. You know this isn't the right way to live! You’re getting mad at Hajime for doing the same thing you've been doing for so long!

I cringed inwardly, knowing that Hope was right, knowing what they would say next. You need to be patient with him, Kuzu.

That was all I expected them to say, really, but then… You need to become your own person, though. Because Hajime… There's no guarantee he’ll be safe.

I slapped myself, trying to extinguish the voice. I am my own person. I thought spitefully. Hope was quick to respond though. Do you interact with anyone other than Hajime? Anyone real? I sighed. They had a point.

I'll make a deal. You can keep trying to help Hajime, but you have to talk to at least one person every day. Face to face.

I bit my lip, conscious of the scabs that had started covering it.

It's a deal.