Chapter 1: more than words; haruki, kazuma
Kazu is rarely vulnerable.
Haru knows him as the complete opposite of that – strong and confident in his beliefs, carrying out everything he does full of heart and determination. He has that ability to inspire others and encourage them to do the same, to follow and strive towards their goals and dreams. At least, to Haru, he does just that.
It's a little surprising when he tells him how much Haru inspires him as well, how much his cheering inspires others and gives that boost that they need to win, to conquer, to believe. It's flattering and means a whole lot to him more than he wants to admit, but he knows he shouldn't really sell himself short and perhaps, maybe even a little, he could be that support that Kazu can lean on when he needs it too, just like all the times Kazu had done so for him.
It’s hard though, even with all that said and done, when he isn’t sure what to say to make things better. He’s known Kazu for years. They’ve always been best friends and closer than brothers, sharing a special connection that he couldn’t honestly describe.
“I’m sorry,” Kazu laughs weakly, but Haru doesn’t say anything to that. He bites his lower lip and rubs the other’s back, trying to comfort him as much as possible. His shoulder is wet and he knows his friend is crying, hiding it in the crook of his neck. Haru tries his best to make sure he doesn’t end up crying either. How can he be strong for him if he ends up breaking down too?
"I'll protect you." It was said on the fly, with no basis or concrete fact to back up that claim, meaningful only as a pacified thought. Still, it slips out from his tongue like water, a notion that he wants to follow through with all his heart. "I mean, I know you don't need it and you're more than capable of defending yourself. But, that's not what I mean. I want you…I want you to think I'm reliable. Kazu, no matter what happens, you know that I…I…”
Haru falters and it’s frustrating, not being able to put his incoherent thoughts into proper words. Kazu pulls back a little at that, eyes red but with a light grin on his lips. “Hah, what are you crying for?” There’s amusement in his tone, despite his voice cracking. Haru feels like his heart might break. “Thank you, Haru.”
He thanks him like he understands, as if all those years of memories and friendship were enough for him to gather all the emotions encompassed within every touch and every smile, every silent exchange of love through their eyes. No words were needed; not for this, never for this.
Haru crushes him into a hug then, squeezes him tight. The most he can do is offer his presence, some kind of warmth, anything at all to let Kazu know that he's far from being alone. Inherently, he knows he wouldn’t be able to replace the empty cracks that marred deep within the other’s heart, but Haru knows he's got a place in there somewhere and he’s willing to fill in the gaps.
Chapter 2: blossoms; takeru/sakuma
When Takeru falls in love, it's subtle and gentle, so unlike his usual loud and boisterous persona that he plays up for attention. This love was quiet and slow blooming, covered up with playful teasing and ridiculous gags while he supports and cares for them in his own way; ways in which doesn't require words; in ways where he looks after them as they pursue their goals, defends them against others who do them wrong, and cheer them on when they confess to someone else in their hearts.
When Takeru falls in love with Sakuma, it feels like a thousand cherry blossoms blooming in his chest. Pretty and soft, just like Sakuma himself, but nevertheless strong-willed and determined, always working on improving himself to be the best he can be no matter what the obstacles he has to face. Sakuma would also be the one to listen to him ramble on and on about useless things and he would laugh at his jokes and smile in a way that was more pure than anything he had ever seen on anyone else. It was admirable. It was amazing. It was love.
It was also love, when he decided to give up on it.
"Won't you consider me then? I'd make a pretty good boyfriend if I do say so myself." It wasn't supposed to be a joke, but he couldn't help but play it off as one. Typical. Typical, typical, typical.
Sakuma chuckles behind his hand. "That's sweet of you to offer, Takeru, but my heart's dead set on someone else. Even if it's unrequited, I won't give up. Not until I get rejected completely."
Takeru pouts. "Rude! Not even giving me a chance here." In an exaggerated expression of mock-hurt, he clutches his hands against his chest and whines in bitter agony. "Woe as me! I'm never going to find love at this rate."
Sakuma hums thoughtfully. "You never know...you can find love in the funniest places, and with the people you least expect."
Takeru rolls his eyes. "Shoot me if I ever get with someone like Hisashi. That would be the joke of the century."
"Hey, play nice."
Takeru chuckles, ruffling the other's hair. "You know I'm just kidding. You're pretty amazing though, Saku. I don't think I'd ever be able to confess to the one I like."
"Why not?" Sakuma tilts his head curiously. "I took you as someone who's bold enough to exclaim his love proudly."
"Hah, I'm glad you see me that way," Takeru smiles ruefully and looks out towards the grassy field of their campus. It's just the two of them alone again, a ridiculously late evening after hours of self-training. He wonders how much longer could he drag this on for, how much longer could they stay together like this. He wonders if he's even capable of giving up if he's still thinking like a lovesick fool. "...I think some things are best left unsaid." Takeru mumbles after a moment of consideration.
"...Won't you regret it though?"
Takeru could hear the concern in the other's voice and quickly covers the small slip with a loud laugh. "I'm bound to mess it up one way or another so that's not an issue."
Sakuma frowns and clutches his arm. "You deserve to be loved too, Takeru." He raises both his hands this time and squishes Takeru's cheeks. "You're being silly. If you won't confess, then I hope you fall in love with someone who has the guts to confess to you first! And that you'll both be happy and very in love!"
Takeru blinks, completely at a loss of words for one second before breaking out into a wide grin at the abrupt outburst. "Pfft, you're so cute!"
"Aww hey I'm being serious here..."
"Haha thank you, Saku! I'll cherish your wish for me and hope for the best too."
Sakuma smiles warmly and Takeru honestly hopes he could honour that wish someday. "Good," he says. "Because I'll be cheering you on."
Chapter 3: compromise; ichiro/gen
"You two should just be boyfriends."
Gen stops short in the midst of tying Kirari’s hair into a ponytail, his mind slowly processing the words hanging deftly in the air which, with all things considered, shouldn't be startling in the slightest. It really shouldn't, but it was hard not to be taken aback by such a bold proclamation coming from Ichiro's little sister of all people.
"This isn't the first time I heard that..." Gen musters up a weak laugh, humoring her anyways. "But where is this coming from, Kirari-chan?" He discreetly looks over to Ichiro for some sort of explanation, but Ichiro returns it with a questioning brow himself. The high-key glare was still there though, had been the moment Kirari had burst into their study session and promptly settled in Gen's lap, insisting on them taking a break. Ichiro had kicked him under the table then, but Gen had paid no mind to it.
"I mean, you won't let me have Gen–"
"Absolutely not!" Ichiro protests vehemently.
"And I don't want him to be taken by anyone else." Kirari pouts, eyes peering up innocently at the both of them. "...But if it's you, big brother, then I guess I can give Gen to you. If you're together then Gen can still visit as much as he wants to play with us."
Gen smiles warily, wondering how on earth she managed to come to such a free-willed conclusion on her own like that. He pats her on the head, tactfully avoiding eye contact with his best friend as he does so. "That's sweet of you to say, but I won't abandon your brother if I find someone else. I'll still come by to visit you. Besides, two guys together is a bit..."
"What's wrong with that?" Kirari frowns, wrinkling her nose. "It's not like either of you can find girlfriends, so it's killing two birds with one stone. Gen, do you not like my brother?”
Wow, Gen thinks, feeling personally attacked. He wonders if he should be offended (–not like he could, what with that huge soft spot he has for her). Still, she's unusually sharp-tongued today and it's packing an unexpected punch.
"No no, I do like him. It's just..." Gen isn't sure how introspective she can be, but she was hitting more close to home than he would've liked. He wonders if he should play it off as a joke and looks over to Ichiro once more for some help, but Ichiro's expression is surprisingly serious and not reassuring in the slightest. If anything, it's making Gen feel ten times more antsy.
"Okay," Ichiro deadpans, crossing his arms as he does so. "We'll go out with each other."
Case in point, Gen's heart exponentially spikes up in protest.
"Huh?" He says, because that was the best he could offer in his current state of shock. Was this all part of the joke? Did he just mess up his cue to play along?
"I said, we'll go out." Ichiro stands up and makes his way around to where Gen sat, swinging an arm over his shoulder and yanking him close. "On one condition!" He points a finger at his little sister, brows drawn together. "You don't get a boyfriend for the next thirty years! In fact, don't let a man even lay a hand on you for the next fifty!"
"Oi oi," Gen struggles a little in Ichiro’s arms. "Isn't that kind of unreasonable for –"
"Deal," Kirari snaps decisively. "So are you going to seal the deal then? With true love's kiss."
Gen wonders if he's starting to lose his cool. He thinks he managed to school his expression into a neutral placating one, but he feels like he's sweating buckets. His heart is practically on the verge of beating out of his chest too, which isn't helping much either. "Hold on a second now, don't I get a say in this? There's no way we could –"
"Gen," Ichiro grasp his shoulders so that he was forced to face him head on, eyes looking at him expectantly for all the wrong reasons. Gen tries his damnest not to fall prey into that look for the hundredth time this month, knows he shouldn't consider it for even a second, but Ichiro was always the persistently stubborn one and Gen knows he's going to end up being swept along the other's pace one way or another. Abruptly, Ichiro had smacked his cheeks together in the midst of his thoughts, tilting his head up so their gazes would meet.
He wasn't fair at all, the asshole.
Gen sighs in defeat and begrudgingly closes his eyes. If Ichiro was willing to go at such lengths for the sake of his little sister's purity then fine, Gen can play along with this farce. Besides, this couldn't be any worse than the time they drunkenly made out at the after party during their freshmen year. He could play it off as nothing, just like he had all the times before. He could do this. No problem. Personal feelings be damned.
Except, those personal feelings were shoved first thing into the battlefield of conflicted interests and inner turmoil – the moment he gives in, Gen knows he’s going to be left mourning over the fact that years of frantically burying all these pent up emotions and feelings will amount to absolutely nothing.
So, they kiss.
The kiss comes easy, an innocent peck of the lips at most, and Gen suffers for about two awkward seconds before Ichiro had pulled away with a satisfied look on his face, looking like he just struck out the third batter on the last inning of a winning game.
Gen takes another second or three to admire the bright, beautiful grin on the other’s face before resolutely whacking him over the head with the back of his hand.
“Ouch! What was that for?!” Ichiro yelps in resentment.
“You’re a horrible kisser,” Gen says flatly, tone unimpressed. “I’m calling for a divorce.”
“Huh?!” Ichiro jolts upright, looking considerably offended. “Are you telling me all the solid years of friendship amounted to this? A flimsy bond broken over a kiss?”
Gen shrugs. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Or rather, your complete lack of skill.”
Their little spat is interrupted by a small cough on the side, Kirari smiling over at them proudly. “I’m glad we managed to sort this all out. I’ll go grab us some tea and snacks to celebrate.” Gen didn’t want her to go at all, not after what just happened, but he relents as he let her slip from his side and towards the doorway. Before dashing off, she gives a subtle thumbs-up towards Gen, leaving him to dreadfully wonder just how much she really knows.
“I’ll show you a thing or two about kissing…” Ichiro had muttered minutes after she had left.
“Uh huh,” Gen snickers and thinks, to hell with it. “I’d like to see you try.”
Chapter 4: sweet; takeru, hisashi
"Ah ah ~ I got rejected..." Takeru whines petulantly, face flat against the library table. He's well aware that his maturity levels are plummeting to the negatives with each inflection of his voice, but he's sad and he has every right to mope for at least a few hours in the face of dejection.
"From what?" Hisashi raises a brow, delicately tugging back the notes that were smushed by Takeru's forehead.
"Love! Rejected in love! What else would it be? Ahhhhhh my poor heart can't take this." Takeru cries in dismay, weakly slamming his fists against the table top. It wasn't as if he was flat-out rejected by the love of his life, but he could read in between the lines. He could take a hint. He wasn't that dense.
"Can you stop? You're creating a disturbance here." Hisashi states matter-of-factly. Takeru and his elaborate display of anguish takes a direct hit.
"Ugh, I knew you wouldn't understand, you insensitive jerk! Heartless icicle! Emotionally stunted ass! What would you know about love anyways?"
"Can you please refrain from slandering my name like that." Hisashi huffs exasperatedly, resuming his note taking once more. "For the record, I have dated before."
"What?" Takeru sits up from his seat, eyes squinting at the other skeptically. "Someone would willingly go out with you?"
Hisashi returns the skepticism with an annoyed look, but he didn't stop writing. "Yes. She confessed to me first and we dated for a few weeks."
"Oh," Takeru says. "It...didn't work out?"
Hisashi shrugs. "I didn't have much time for her as she would've liked." His pen hovers over the blank line for a moment, pausing in thought. "I guess I wasn't really good at expressing my feelings...rather, I couldn't love her properly."
"Oh," Takeru says again, mildly surprised that the other was willing to share something as personal as that. "Look at us, losers in the art of love, huh? I guess that's one thing we have in common."
"Please don't lump me in the same category as you."
"Geh!! Rude as ever..."
There was a small lull in conversation as Hisashi idly taps his pen on the desk, almost contemplative, before muttering, "...It's not like you're unskillful at it." When Takeru gives him a quizzical look, Hisashi hesitantly continues. "And it's not a big deal if you can't catch one, um, particular fish."
The confusion on his face must've been obvious because Hisashi is carding a hand through his hair in slight frustration.
"I'm just. I'm saying someone like you will be fine. You can catch better ones, or whatever."
It clicks right then and Takeru's lips curl into a knowing grin. "Ah? What's this? Are you trying to console me here?" The annoyed grunt was enough as an affirmative as any. "Aww how sweet! I guess you're not so much of an insensitive jerk after all."
"Ugh...I'm just stating an opinion."
"Heh, still sweet." Takeru picks up his own pencil and scrawls an upside-down happy face on the corner of Hisashi's notebook. "Hey speaking of sweets, treat me to ice cream after this."
"Why the hell should I?" Hisashi fires back, swatting the other's hand away. He doesn't erase the happy face.
"They say ice cream heal broken hearts. Aren't you going to help a teammate out?”
"Fine! But just so you know, putting on calories isn't a good way to make you feel better." Hisashi grumbles as he crosses his arms. "Not to mention you can't obtain any nutritional value out from it either. If anything, fruit can give you the boost of vitamins you need to detoxify all the junk you put in your body and - are you listening to me?"
Despite all the complaints Hisashi relented rather easily and Takeru couldn’t help but be a little touched at that. "You're a pretty good guy, huh?" Takeru laughs, amused at how unknowingly considerate the other could be.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what I mean it to be." Takeru hums airily. "In any case, get me a strawberry vanilla swirl with a shit-ton of sprinkles." Takeru grins haughtily at Hisashi's ruffled expression. "I want it to be as sweet as you ~"
Chapter 5: comfort; kin/takuya
Tamotsu releases a contented sigh as he opens the door to his apartment, grateful for the shelter against the frigid cold outside. It wasn’t any warmer inside since he couldn’t really afford to leave the heat on all day, but it wasn’t as bad as it would be if he had to walk around looking for clients in the middle of Shinjuku. The inside didn’t provide any real comfort when it came to décor either, but Tamotsu wasn’t particular with that level of detail. It was a simple abode for a simple man like himself, and that was all he really needed.
Home at last.
Tamotsu promptly shed the outer layer of his suit off, carefully folding it over his arm while he makes his way to the kitchen to grab something warm to drink. He contemplates between tea or coffee as he leaves his overcoat on the counter, setting his housekeys and phone down as well. Tea it is, he decides, figuring that having coffee in the evening probably wouldn’t do him good if he was planning on sleeping in for the weekend. Besides, he already had three cups of coffee this morning to keep him functional and alive at work. Any more and his blood will be completely caffeinated.
His phone suddenly beeps then, notifying a text message that he leisurely swipes open to read.
[When are you finished?]
Tamotsu smiles a little, tapping at the profile icon of the sender before making the call. He presses the phone to his ear while he walks over to his cabinet, opening it in search for the tea packets.
“Oh! Kin-san.” A slightly surprised tone greets him, as if they weren’t expecting a call. To be fair, Tamotsu would usually be working around this time on Fridays, but it was a slow day today so his superior allowed him to go home a littler earlier than usual – or more like, he left at the time he was supposed to for once. Work had been dragging him down by the ankles as of late, overtime inevitable.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Tamotsu laughs. “Just got home. Are you done with work, Takuya?”
“Mhm, I – ,” There was a slight pause on the other line as someone interrupted Takuya mid-conversation. It seems like they were asking for directions. He could hear a murmur of people talking in the background, the sound of the subway system operating in the distance. Takuya was most likely on the way home from work as well. “Sorry about that,” Takuya resumes the call, apologetic. “Ah, in any case I just finished and was hoping I could drop by for a bit.”
Tamotsu raises a curious brow, pulling out two packets of green tea. “You’re always more than welcome to come over.” His free hand taps the counter idly, contemplative. “Why the sudden visit though? Not that I don’t mind your company or anything.”
A chuckle on the other line. “I just suddenly wanted to see you. Is that so wrong?”
“Well, no.” Tamotsu replies, feeling oddly embarrassed.
“That’s good,” Takuya replies, voice light. “I’ll be there in a few minutes then. See you soon.”
Tamotsu offers his own goodbye before hanging up, taking a few seconds to stare inquisitively at his phone. It was rather sudden, but it’s not like he really minded. It has been a while, after all. They kept in contact with each other through texts and occasional calls, updating one another on their lives after graduation. Ever since then, they had been caught up with finding work and going through a number of interviews to get hired. Then, when they both managed to land a job in their respective fields, they had to deal with being haphazardly thrown into the hectic workplace without so much as a breather. Aside from maybe meeting up once every two months or so for a meal, they would rarely have time to see each other like before. Sometimes he’ll receive tidbits of information from Someya and Norita (who, to his surprise, became rather close to Takuya’s little brother). But either way, he still prefers to hear things directly from Takuya himself.
It just felt more…personal that way.
Tamotsu takes out two cups from the cupboard and starts filling the kettle with water to boil, a grin tugging at the corner of his lips. He chalks up his sudden boost in mood to the fact that he’s looking forward to meeting up with a friend he hasn’t seen in a while and leaves it at that.
By the time he finished preparing the tea and tidying up the place – which wasn’t much, considering how orderly he was – the doorbell rang to indicate his expected visitor.
“Hey,” Takuya greets him as he opens the door, smile warm and face flushed from the cold. Tamotsu returns the smile with his own.
“Come in already. If you stand there any longer and catch a cold I’ll have to take responsibility.”
“Ah, that wouldn’t be good. You already have enough on your plate as it is, don’t you?”
Tamotsu shakes his head. “A true man will always be there for his comrades.”
“Dependable as ever, Kin-san.” Takuya peers up for a brief moment, eyes full of fondness and something more, perhaps, but it’s not a thought that Tamotsu allows himself to indulge in. “I got us cake, by the way.” Takuya says as he steps inside, lifting the white plastic bag in his hand which no doubt contained the dessert inside.
“What for?” Tamotsu asks curiously, leading them to the short-legged table in his bedroom. The tea had already been set and cooled off by now, but it wasn’t a huge concern for either of the two. Takuya, as Tamotsu had learned during their various meals together, had a cat’s tongue when it came to hot drinks and food. Tamatsu, on the other hand, wasn’t all that picky in his preferences so it didn’t matter to him either way.
“To celebrate a success to our job hunting.” Takuya settles comfortably on the other side, taking out the cake box and setting it on the table. He then takes off his overcoat and puts it off to the side, fingers tugging at his collar to loosen up his tie. Tamotsu pointedly looks away. “It might be a little belated, but I thought it’d be nice, considering we didn’t get to go out for a proper celebration. I haven’t seen you in a while, either.” Takuya explains. “Though I guess it’s a little bit weird for two grown men to be celebrating something so trivial with tea and cake...”
“I never said I dislike it.”
Takuya looks relieved. “I would’ve gotten beer or something, but I was just so used to getting cake as a treat for Takumi, so before I even realized it I was at the bakery and….”
“You really love to spoil him don’t you, onii-chan-san.”
“Please don’t tease me too much,” Takuya laughs, rubbing the back his neck. “Anyways, this cake isn’t for him. It’s for us.”
“You didn’t have to come up with such an elaborate excuse just to see me, you know.”
“…I know.” Takuya fidgets uncomfortably, eyes darting away as if shy. It would’ve been an endearing gesture, but Tomatsu knows better.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s really bothering you?”
“Eh?” Takuya looks up at him, taken aback by the direct remark. Tamotsu was never one to beat around the bush and he knows Takuya would not delve into it unless he was prompted to.
“I won’t lie, this does seem a bit unnatural.”
“I…” Takuya struggles to offer up a plausible excuse for his behaviour, but it’s no use – Tamotsu completely sees through him and he knows it. Takuya looks more resigned than anything as he lets his shoulders slump, fingers delicately curled around his cup of tea. “Nothing really gets past you, does it?”
“I’d be disappointed in myself if I couldn’t pick up on something like this.”
Takuya gnaws at this lower lip, quiet for a moment to collect his thoughts. “…It’s not like it’s a big deal or anything. I think I’m just a bit burnt-out, that’s all.” He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t been able to spend time with Takumi or anyone else for that matter. He’s been rather distant these days too, but I know he’s just busy since it’s his last year before he graduates and I don’t know, I feel like I haven’t been there enough for him. It makes me upset to think that I might be so engrossed with my work that I’ll lose the people I care about and it…it honestly scares me.” Takuya’s voice wavers, fingers clenched tight into fists. “I don’t want that.”
“Takuya,” Tamotsu answers almost immediately, gentle but with conviction. “It’s a disservice to your brother if you don’t realize how he cares for you just as much as you do for him. He won’t ever abandon you, you know that. And I don’t know about anyone else but at least for me, you don’t have to worry either.” His tone is sincere, honest. “You can depend on me. No matter what happens, I’ll do my best to always be there for you.”
It comes off cheesier than he intended to, but it seem to quell Takuya’s uneasiness. He reaches out to give a reassuring squeeze to Takuya’s shoulder, comforting him in the way he only knows how.
Takuya rests his hand on top of Tamotsu’s own. “Thank you…” Takuya says quietly.
When Tamotsu attempts to pull his hand back, Takuya follows with it – Tamotsu is surprised, naturally, not knowing what to do but rest his hand on the table. They stay like that, Takuya’s fingers clasping over Tamotsu’s, neither one of them saying anything about it. Takuya is not looking at him anymore and Tamotsu doesn’t really blame him.
“Takuya,” Tamotsu says, almost carefully.
Takuya twitches at the sound of his name and withdraws his hand, but Tamotsu grabs a hold of it – this time entwining their fingers together in a tight lock. “It’s fine,” he says, because there’s really nothing else he could say. “It’s fine.”
He gives another reassuring squeeze, thumb stroking Takuya’s hand in a soothing manner.
Takuya sighs again, but it doesn’t seem as heavy as before. “…Hah, I’m acting really lame, aren’t I? Needing you to comfort me like this.”
Tamotsu scratches his cheek. “Well…it’s not like I particularly mind.”
“Really.” Tamotsu assures, unwavering. “We might have left the team, but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop supporting each other. I’ll cheer you on whenever you need it, and I hope you can do the same for me.”
“That’s true.” Takuya smiles genuinely this time. It’s a good look on him. “I’ll be in your care then, Kin-san.”
“Likewise,” Tamotsu grins. “Let’s have some of that cake then, shall we?”
Chapter 6: the base of my support; tono/chihiro
Chihiro loves cheerleading.
That in itself was an undisputed fact that no one who knew her could deny. She was always the one that people went to for support, lending her shoulder to those who needed it and gave the sweetest hugs anyone could ever ask for. It came to no surprise that she would take up a sport that would encompass the type of person she was, allowing her voice to carry all the encouragement and vibrant emotions with each shout and cheer. The bursts of energy surges through her team, the players on the field, the audience, the whole stadium - and most off all, herself. It's a rush of adrenaline and feelings she couldn't possibly contain alone, so she does everything in her power to share that elevation and awe to the best of her ability.
Of course, it's not like she's running on endless fuel.
There are times when things get frustrating. She'll miss a step in practice, or mess up simple flips or turns and suddenly she feels incompetent for the rest of the day. Then maybe she'll get a bad grade because she couldn't study as much as she wanted to, or her friends are telling her she's not setting enough time aside for them, and then there's also half of her family thinking her extracurriculars are useless and that she should focus on her studies to consolidate her career. These are small little things that begin to add up, slowly but surely, and it's not until it reaches the tipping point that she notices just how much it's starting to take a toll on her.
She's not a quitter though, far from it actually, but it's a little overwhelming when everything is tumbling down on you all at once.
"Come on," Chihiro mumbles to herself, hands pressed harshly against her eyes. It doesn't stop the tears, but at least she can pretend it's working. "Everything is fine...get a hold of yourself now...."
She placates herself with a stream of self-reassurance, but it doesn't get rid of the ugly purple bruise on her ankle, nor the looming knowledge that it'll take more than just a couple of weeks to heal. She's been practicing far too many hours behind the school grounds when she should've listened to her coach and took a break, knew she was completely off her game and should've just gone home and rest. An overexerted athlete is only detrimental to their own performance and she knew that, she really did, but what other way could she relieve stress than to throw herself into something that she loves?
Chihiro startles, body rigid for a second when she hears someone call her name. "Kouji?" She chances a guess, knowing very well who that soft-spoken voice belongs to. She hastily rubs her eyes and sits up from the ground, straining a smile to her approaching boyfriend. "What are you doing here?"
"That's what I should be asking you," Kouji went down on one knee to meet her on the ground, hand reaching out to brush off the grass in her hair. "Practice ended for us just now. I thought you'd be home by now though..." His hand then travels down the side of her face, cupping her cheek while gently swiping the tears that she'd missed.
He goes quiet as he studies her face and Chihiro panics. "Oh, don't worry nothing's wrong! I was careless and just stumbled a little...I'll be fine. Honest. I'm..."
The words get stuck in her throat, voice trembling at the slightest inflection. She's frustrated with herself and doesn't want to show this side of herself to anyone, but then Kouji - sweet, sweet adoring Kouji - had already opened his arms out and Chihiro instantly lunges into him. She buries her face against his shoulder and allows herself to just drop everything on her mind, replacing every negative thought with the warmth that enveloped her heart. They stay like that for a while, with Kouji patting her back soothingly and holding her tight while she relaxes into his arms, feeling the weight of the world lighten little by little with each passing minute. It wasn't until her stomach started embarrassingly growling that she decides to reluctantly let go, a fond chuckle escaping under Kouji's breath as she did so. He turns around then, offering her to get on his back and, after much convincing, she takes it.
"We'll get you treated first, okay?" Kouji says as he hoisted her up. Idly, Chihiro wonders just when did he get so strong. "Afterwards, I'll make something nice for the both of us to eat."
Chihiro nods in reply and hugs him a little closer.
"You've worked hard, Chihiro."
Chihiro smiles, wondering how he always knew just what to say, the words and encouragement that she wanted to hear the most. Kouji was someone who was there to support her when she needed it, and encourages her wholeheartedly when she strives to be the best she could be. She might've been a figure that supported countless people and filled them with bundles of energy and love, but it's nice to know that at the end of the day, she also has someone to cheer her on too.
"You're the best, Kouji." Chihiro affectionately kisses his cheek, feeling her heart warm up when his ears turn a little pink. "Thank you."