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the shrike to your sharp and glorious thorn

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It’s only his first day at Yumenosaki and Tsumugi can’t tell if he’s discouraged or inspired. His class, especially, is half-full of people who don’t seem to be taking this whole idol business seriously and half-full of incredible talent. And somewhere in the middle, awkward and gangly with hair nearly as long as Hibiki-kun’s in Class 1-A, is Tsumugi. He feels impossible out of place. Like everyone looking at him will know somehow that he got in on a stroke of luck and good fortune rather than any skill.

And everyone here is so…

Well, they’re all personalities. The only personality Tsumugi has ever had is shrinking, making as little space for himself as possible because he’s only ever seen as troublesome. He fingers the ends of his hair as he walks back to his classroom from the teacher’s lounge, letting out a quiet sigh. He has a promise to uphold, though, and Tsumugi has always found his own determination easy enough to go along with.

There’s a clatter in front of him, the sudden opening of a window along the hallway. Tsumugi looks up, catching an intense expression in a blur of movement.

His breath catches in his lungs.

Tsumugi stands startled and still as a pink haired boy from his class vaults out of a second floor window, rushes across the lawn to grasp another first year’s hands, and his heart leaps in his throat at the look in the boy’s eyes. Vivid and admiring and alive.

And all Tsumugi can think, hand pressed to his sternum, is that that must be what love looks like.

 


 

 

A spirit goes to school with him.

It’s the only reasonable explanation, Tsumugi thinks, because the boy, another first year like himself, is too vivid to be real, like he was born straight from the falling cherry blossoms and donned a jacket just to sit a few rows in front of Tsumugi and distract him. Itsuki Shu. The slant of his mouth, the expressiveness of his face and body, his voice during lessons, all of it serves to drag Tsumugi’s attention back to him time and again. Like a magnet. Like a moth to the flame, because Tsumugi is scraggly and awkward and this boy is the furthest thing from that.

They are classmates but Tsumugi feels further from him than anything in the whole world. Far from his drive, far from his determination for perfection and his strident voice.

And yet.

When Tsumugi knocks on the door of the Handicraft clubroom and introduces himself, he’s met with Itsuki Shu, flinging the door open and pinning him in place with nothing more than a look.

“Please tell me,” Itsuki-kun grits out, “that you at least know how to thread a needle and push it through fabric.”

Tsumugi flails uncertainly, going to fidget with one of the curls spilling over his shoulders. “I, um. I do? I can sew a little already. I just want to get better.”

Itsuki eyes him, disdainful. Then grasps Tsumugi’s wrist in an iron grip, yanking him inside. “Finally. Something I might be able to work with.”

So he says, but it’s a bare five minutes after Tsumugi starts assembling a few pieces of fabric that Shu stops talking to the little doll he has with him to swing his focus back to Tsumugi.

“What on earth are you doing?”

Tsumugi jumps, glances up into burning violet eyes right as he jabs himself in the finger with a needle. Cursing under his breath, he sticks the offending digit in his mouth, shrinking into himself some more as Itsuki-kun’s gaze does not let up. “I was… trying to sew,” he says finally. “But I think I’m just making a mess of it.”

Itsuki sniffs. Prim. “You’re using the wrong sort of thread for this fabric. That’s why it’s piling up like that.”

“Oh.” And Tsumugi smiles, helpless, unwinding a little because he’s… not that scary after all, is he? Just intense. Tsumugi can deal with intense, he thinks. “Thank you. I hadn’t noticed.”

“Well, I had. Fix it.”

His soft, formal use of “boku” is so contradictory to the strident way he speaks that Tsumugi can’t help but laugh a little. It, bizarrely enough, humanizes him, and Tsumugi wonders if perhaps, he may be close enough to touch after all. “Yes, thank you, Itsuki-kun.”

 


 

 

As it turns out, those odd contradictions make up Shu, who demands respect and yet allows Tsumugi the familiarity to call him by his first name, who is an utter perfectionist who despises Yumenosaki and the way she raises her idols and is here excelling anyway, and Tsumugi finds himself more and more drawn to him over the course of their first year together. Most of their lessons are beginner’s level, and Shu helps Tsumugi with his footwork, tapping his shoulders to remind him to straighten up, tells him to smile more.

“Fan service may not be important to me, but I have the skill to make up for it,” he instructs imperiously as he straightens Tsumugi’s shoulders again. “Smile. It makes your face… acceptable. Now. Again.”

Meanwhile, Shu is already making plans for the group he’s formed with the blond Nazuna-kun. Figuring out their sound, their intense choreography, and he spends their time in the Handicrafts Club designing outfit after outfit, trying to strike a balance between what he wants and what will be best to wear on stage.

“So what is the aim of this one going to be?” Tsumugi, working on his stitching in the corner, asks as Shu paces around his mannequin.

“It’s supposed to be passionate,” Shu says, drawing one hand down the front of the vest. “Sensual.”

The word rolls over Tsumugi’s skin, leaving fire in its wake, and he could watch Shu’s mouth for sentences forever, caught in the roll of teeth and tongue. He pries his own off the roof of his mouth. Standing, he comes over to survey the outfit again. Red and black and looking very ornate and Western in the way Shu likes. “It looks really good, Shu-kun.”

Shu clicks his tongue. “Non, there is… something missing. Some piece of this theme I do not yet understand.” His face does something curious then. A pinch, his eyes darting to Tsumugi, down, back to the vest. Whatever expression it is, it’s still attractive. Tsumugi wonders what that’s like, to be compelling even when you don't intend to be. “I lack the proper experience.”

“With passion? You’re very passionate about Nito-kun and Valkyrie.”

“Baser passions. More sexual.”

Tsumugi knows his face is an unattractive shade of red at the sight of Shu’s pink mouth saying “sexual.” He coughs. “Well, ther’s always Nito-kun still. You could-“

“Do not even finish that sentence, Aoba. I will not have Nito so tainted.”

“What do you think you’ll need to do?”

“I’m not quite sure yet.” Shu whirls around and Tsumugi realizes all of the sudden that he is very, very close.

Shu comes to a stop a bare few inches from Tsumugi. He swears he can feel the heat of Shu’s body against his own, and Shu, notably, isn’t moving away. Tsumugi hears the way Shu’s tongue curled around sensual and baser and sexual, and he looks at Shu’s mouth before he thinks to stop himself.

It’s too much, too close. Tsumugi can’t help but notice the details. Shu’s eyes are finely lined, intense now as they have always been on whatever he’s deigned to bring his focus to, but his lips are invitingly, vulnerably parted, pink and soft-looking. He wants to lean forward and close that gap between them, is wary of startling Shu off when Shu wants nothing to do with anything that isn’t perfect-

(-and Tsumugi is achingly aware of all his imperfect, misfit parts.)

But self-preservation has never been foremost in his thoughts. Tsumugi runs his tongue over his lips. Tilts his head and feels as though his entire world tilts with it when he shifts forward. Slow enough that Shu can’t not know what he’s doing and has plenty of time to pull away.

Tsumugi almost misses the first brush of their lips, busy with the thundering of his own heart. It’s softer than he even imagined, and he lets out a shuddering exhale as he presses forward, wanting more than bold. Aching to feel as much as he can before he has to stop.

They part as sound rushes back into the void around Tsumugi and spend a moment breathing together before Shu’s lips firm into a line.

“What was that for?” Shu asks.

Tsumugi’s entire mouth buzzes like a live wire, like the bitter alcohol he’s snuck away from his mother and determinedly drank alone so she couldn’t anymore. He can’t seem to pull away, barely a breath’s space between them. “I uh. I wanted to. I-Is that alright, Shu-kun?”

“No,” Shu snaps.

For a heartbreaking moment, that’s all.

And then Shu’s gaze drips to Tsumugi’s mouth. Returns, fiercer.

“I am positive that we can perform better than that,” he says and there’s something that could be uncertainty there, shaking in the back of Shu’s throat, but Tsumugi is too on fire to notice, set ablaze by their closeness, Shu’s breath on his lips. He leans in to kiss Shu once. And then again, clumsy and intent as he learns all the ways Shu’s mouth fits against his own.

When they pull apart, Tsumugi feels- heavy and light all at once. The squirming in his gut that tends to lead to pinpricks of panic scattering across his skin is warm for once, radiating through his limbs.

Shu threads their fingers together. His cheeks are about the same pink as his hair, and Tsumugi doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything so lovely. “Passable, for a first attempt,” Shu finally decides. A smile curls his mouth when he flicks his eyes back up to meet Tsumugi’s. “We’ll have to practice.”

“Of course, Shu-kun,” Tsumugi says, easy and permissible. He kisses that upcurved mouth. “We can practice until we get it perfect.”

“Excellent.”

 


 

 

The taste of Shu’s mouth is what Tsumugi remembers most about the last part of his first year, as fall moves into winter into spring. It’s the only good thing, because the units Tsumugi tries to join are… unmotivated to say the least, and he understands, abruptly, why Yumenosaki is getting the bad reputation that’s circulating in whispers now. He can’t quite bring himself to regret coming here, but. How will he stand on a glittering stage with Natsume if their student body is getting blacklisted left and right?

How can he even pretend to attempt to catch up to Shu, whose talent grows at a monstrous rate? Tsumugi has borne witness to the intense practices Valkyrie goes through, has joined in when Shu allows it just to hold himself to a higher standard. There isn’t a good path forward for him.

All he has to do is work harder. Tsumugi believes that.

After all, there isn’t anything else he can do.

But they steal away moments here and there, where Shu allows Tsumugi close. Shu gets his fingers in Tsumugi's hair as he describes his vision for Valkyrie's next performance and Tsumugi walks out with kiss-swollen lips and intricately braided hair. He tries to keep both as long as possible. But Shu is surprisingly willing to give him more. The kisses they trade are still stiff at times, uncertain, but Tsumugi loves the way Shu grasps him, the strength of his hands; loves running his own hands down the graceful bow of Shu’s spine, or tilting Shu’s neck to press kisses against Shu’s pulse.

Soft and secret and more daring than Tsumugi ever expected.

Cherry blossoms bloom, and this year, Tsumugi is in Class 2-A while Shu is in Class 2-B. Hopefully, that will mean Tsumugi’s grades will raise, since he won’t be distracted by his beautiful classmate during lessons anymore.

Or so he thinks.

Then, Tsumugi meets Eichi. Another being that can’t be true to this world, with his gentle voice and the way he presses against Tsumugi’s side in a sort of skinship that has Tsumugi’s mouth dry and his heart racing. He’s familiar and has an ambition to him that Tsumugi can’t help but take notice of, because Eichi wants things to change. Eichi, smiling, hands spread wide as he holds court, wants the school to be different, and Tsumugi finds himself caught like a fish on the hook of Eichi’s smile.

(He wonders, later, how things would have turned out if he hadn’t paid attention to pale blond hair and guileless blue eyes. The face of an angel with the smile of a viper. By the time Tsumugi noticed his fangs, though, they were already embedded in his veins.

He only wanted to help.)

It should have been a warning. How pinned Tsumugi feels, cold and colder with every rumor Eichi has him spread because “People will believe it if it comes from you, Tsumugi-kun.”

But in the moments that Eichi sees him -really sees him- Tsumugi lights up on the inside, squirmy and pleased in the best way, even if it leaves a hollow aftertaste that washes away more of him each time. He doesn’t understand. He’s trying so hard. He’s doing everything Eichi wants, everything Eichi even hints that he wants and still-

Eichi’s gaze is fixed further.

If Tsumugi can only work harder, maybe…

If he can show Eichi that he can do everything Eichi needs him to do…

Then maybe he can silence his own hunger, the shaky, fraught desire for someone to look at him and want to keep him. If Tsumugi can prove that he is enough for one person to love, then he can be satisfied.

Right?

It only makes sense, then, to join fine because Eichi has ideas and plans for fixing everything Tsumugi has noticed rotting Yumenosaki from the inside out. It will be hard work, but there is nothing Tsumugi is better at than working hard, and when he tells Eichi, Eichi smiles so radiantly that Tsumugi swears his own heart stops for a moment.

“Of course, Tsumugi-kun. I was hoping you’d offer to join. Now, I have a few ideas for our image if that’s the case,” Eichi says, lifting a pair of glinting silver scissors from the drawers of his desk. Tsumugi fidgets with his hair. Shu braided it just that morning, taming Tsumugi's curls with a patience no one else has ever shown and it is heavy on the back of his neck. “Come here. Sit for a while.”

 


 

 

“You cut your hair,” Shu says as soon as Tsumugi enters the club room that afternoon, and Tsumugi fingers the blunt curls around his ears, awkward and uncertain. It’s the shortest his hair has been since he met Natsume, years ago.

“It’s for my new unit. With Eichi-kun and… he thought it would fit our image better.” Tsumugi tries a smile, feeling exposed without all of his curls to hide behind. “What do you think?”

Shu’s brows furrow. It’s an expression he’s been wearing more and more these days. Tsumugi wants to smooth it out with his thumb, with his lips. “Always with Tenshouin, hm. The look itself suits you, but I thought you were keeping your hair long for a reason.”

A promise, yes, and an old one at that, but cutting it off was for Eichi, and Tsumugi abruptly feels sick with guilt or its colder cousin. “It’s for school,” he settles on saying finally, and his smile grows only wider. “I couldn’t-“

“He dictates too much about you. I cannot stand that man. Get in here then and let me have a look at you.”

Shu grips him by the chin, tilting his face up, and Tsumugi holds still for him. His traitorous heart thrums against his breastbone, liable to burst out and ask to be held just as firmly.

(Why, oh why, can he not make up his mind? Shu feels like burning and Eichi like ice, both of them a threat that Tsumugi doesn’t know how to dress for.)

Tsumugi leans in before he second-guesses himself.

A moment of heat. The brief brush of their lips together.

Shu jerks back, searching Tsumugi’s face for something Tsumugi doesn’t know how to give. His expression doesn’t quite soften, but he kisses Tsumugi back, firmer this time before he pulls back, resting his forehead against Tsumugi’s. It’s so odd, to feel his hand on the back of Tsumugi’s neck so clearly.

“You don’t have to do this,” Shu says, voice aching with all of the things held between them. “Tenshouin is merciless and you too-“

“I’ll be fine,” Tsumugi insists. Has to, almost because he has to believe he’s doing this for the sake of a better future. Shu only looks at him, doubtful, and Tsumugi leans forward to kiss him once, and again, helpless. “I’ll be fine, Shu-kun, I promise. I-“

“You do not see how you are being used because you’re too busy wanting the attention of a Machiavellian villain set on tearing us all to shreads with his new system that crushes all individuality.”

“It will help,” Tsumugi says. He doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t know how to convince someone so proud that bowing his head is the best option, not when he himself feels the ways he’s growing cold and numb. A leafless tree, all its branches brittle and brown.

“This isn’t helping-“

“Shu, surely you can see how Yumenosaki’s influence is fading, its reputation-“

“Shut up, shut up! There has to be another way,” Shu says, desperate and when he grabs Tsumugi and kisses him with a learned ferocity, Tsumugi opens for him easily, just as desperate.

Tsumugi gets a knee between Shu’s thighs, drags up and in. Between them, the air is heavy with intent and Tsumugi should stop this, should have a modicum of self-control but all of that is lost in the fire of Shu’s sunset violet eyes. Instead, Tsumugi fumbles his way into Shu’s pants with Shu’s teeth in his neck.

They come together in the shadowed corners of the Handicrafts room, grasping hands and gasping breath as both of them try to communicate things that neither fully grasp, all wound up in expectation and hopeless, hopeless love. Shu leaves his mark behind. Places Tsumugi can feel his pulse center now as he tries his best to crawl inside Shu’s skin. It’s graceless and inexpert, all the hollows of Tsumugi’s knees and elbows sweating, but he can’t bear to drag himself more than a few centimeters from Shu’s body.

When it’s done and Tsumugi can catch his breath again, he can’t meet Shu’s searching gaze. He feels… hollowed out. Empty, somehow, and he wants to laugh, or cry, or something, but can only breathe, sit back on his heels, awkwardly pull his clothing back to rights and wonder if he still has the right to touch Shu at all.

“Why must it be Tenshouin you placed so much trust in?” Shu asks. His voice is rough, worn from the cries torn out by Tsumugi’s lips and hands.

Tsumugi swallows once. Then again, when that doesn’t clear out the clog in his throat. “You’ll understand, Shu-kun. I promise, it’s for a reason, if you could only see-“

“Get out.” Shu’s proud head lowers to his hands. Tsumugi has to pretend he can’t see the way he shakes and wonders why that’s so much easier than it should be. “Just get out, Aoba. I don’t want to look at you anymore.”

The next day, Tsumugi catches Eichi regarding him out of the corner of his eye. Tsumugi’s pulse jumps, remembering the mark still visible beneath his ear where Shu sunk his teeth in and didn’t let go. He could have concealed it better. He could have concealed it at all. Hoping to redirect the incoming criticism, Tsumugi braces himself, turns to smile at him. “Yes, Eichi-kun?”

Pale lashes dip for a moment.

“Fraternizing with the enemy?" Eichi says so lightly and it feels like a slap to the face. As Tsumugi hurries to cover the hickey Shu left behind, Eichi clicks his tongue and sighs with a shrug. “Tsumugi, you know-“

“I know,” Tsumugi interrupts. Everything happens like there’s a pane of glass between him and the world, and the buzzing in Tsumugi’s skin turns sickly instead of wonderingly pleased at sharing something so intimate with Shu. He shouldn’t have- He should never have- “It won’t happen again. I know how important fine is. To all of us.”

(In the corner of the room, Hiyori lifts his head from Nagisa’s shoulder and frowns. Tsumugi doesn’t look at them, curled together. Can’t bear to.)

Eichi’s smile wipes away all traces of a frown, like it was never there to begin with, and he reaches out to touch Tsumugi’s cheek with his cool fingertips. “Of course you do. Now, shall we begin?”

 


 

 

The following months are hell.

It is necessary, Tsumugi tells himself as he tries to sleep, hand over his chest where his beating heart used to be. Shedding blood is necessary. The weeds must be pulled before a garden can be planted anew. Poor stitches cut loose. Any number of metaphors that can bring sleep back to him and fail, fail, fail. He’s lost all sense of feeling. Even Eichi’s smile, rarer and sharper these days, cannot rouse his emotions.

The club room is tense as well. Tsumugi has reclaimed his corner from first year, does not meet Shu’s eyes or Mika’s, curling into himself when they’re around. He’s busy enough that there’s hardly time to go there anyway. Eichi is determined to practice every moment they can, and Nagisa needs looking after, and feathers constantly need smoothing after Hiyori is done talking. Tsumugi is busy. Busy enough that he doesn’t stop by or wait to meet Shu’s increasingly more frenetic eyes.

Being in different classes at the beginning of the year felt like a curse. Tsumugi is starting to appreciate it for the blessing it really is.

When Shu storms into the room with a slamming door, Tsumugi flinches, expecting more noise to soon follow, but there’s only a wordless, wounded cry and the rush of fabric. Tsumugi peers around the corner at-

At Shu, presumably. He sets aside his sewing and comes closer, one uncertain step at a time.

(Shu is shaking hard enough to see. Tsumugi feels cracked open, a split down his sternum where only an agonizing kind of sympathy rests. Distant. Untouchable.)

“Shu-kun?” Tsumugi asks, all hands and awkward elbows outside of the blanket Shu has pulled on top of himself. The shaking looks so different from the outside but at the same time, Tsumugi knows exactly how it shakes down to the bones, knows the contracting iron bands around their lungs.

He licks his lips.

Subsides, nails digging half-moons into his palms. He doesn’t have the right to reach out and touch. Not even the right to ask if he can offer some kind of comfort. He knows this is all his fault.

It’s kinder if he leaves.

“Ah, Mika-kun,” he says, a murmur that breaks around the edges as he turns and sees the first year coming into the room behind him. “Shu-kun doesn’t seem to be feeling well. Keep an eye on him?”

And Mika blinks at him with the same kind of tired, hopeless lack of faith that Tsumugi has drilled into the core of Valkyrie, but nods and goes to Shu with a murmured “Oshi-san.”

Tsumugi has to hope that it will be enough.

Maybe… he should stop going to the Handicrafts Club for a while, he thinks.

This doesn’t need to be worse than it already is.

 


 

 

Fine tumbles Chess and all its pieces, runs Rei ragged until he can no longer be everywhere at once and when Madara steps up to help, runs him ragged too. Eichi wages war on Yumenosaki with a ruthlessness that is terrifying and awe-inspiring, and Tsumugi makes it happen. Every whisper of Eichi’s musings sends Tsumugi scattering into action, as he smiles and proclaims the value of hard work when he’s paired with incredible talent. It's for the best. As Tsumugi stands against his old friends and people he desperately admires and proclaims them Oddballs, ostracizes them.

It's for the best, he tells himself as he climbs up to the audio booth. It’s the only way to fix everything. A toppling of the dominos one by one, even if they were the ones who set them up in the first place. A first year is getting set up in there, looking overwhelmed. Tsumugi doesn’t blame him. Shu is notoriously picky about his settings, and it looks like this kid was dropped into this with no preparation.

“Let me,” Tsumugi says, a hand on the first year tech’s arm. He’s proud of how he doesn’t tremble, even knowing what he’s about to do. With a steady breath, he sends the boy out and sits down.

(“Valkyrie’s Nito-kun doesn’t speak much these days,” Eichi says, offhand, casual. Tsumugi hears the sprawl of implications and plans like a sailor spotting an iceberg; only the barest hint visible. Meanwhile, Eichi turns the page of whatever plan he has to keep Rei running around. “I wonder why that is.”)

Anticipate and mitigate. It’s what Tsumugi does best.

But Tsumugi is not in the habit of making other people do what he can’t, at least. At least, he thinks as he reaches out to the soundboard, Valkyrie rising like a storm before him, he will do this with his own hands. He does not shake. Not yet.

A rise, the bridge to the chorus. Tsumugi closes his eyes.

A nostalgic voice sings all of its feelings and resonates through the silence! If the light-”

Tsumugi thinks he’ll hear that stuttering moment of silence lingering in the auditorium for the rest of his life. Hand clasped over his mouth, he curls around his phone, clutched in trembling hands as he prays, hopes, for this to be enough, so he never has to send another message reads, “It is done.”

Silence.

Prays, hopes with abandon that somehow a miracle will occur and Shu’s voice will ring out stronger than ever, contemptuous of their violent attempts to reset this world.

Silence.

But Mika is the first to shatter their startled, heartbroken silence, and Tsumugi lets his tears fall as Nazuna’s hoarse, broken voice rises, and then falteringly, Shu’s.

And it isn’t enough.

If the light of the setting sun can allow your glass eyes to shine…”

(There are certain betrayals that can never be forgiven.)

It is done.

 


 

 

(It is not done. There is more still to accomplish and fine moves until the only string left is Tsumugi. Even then, Eichi wields the scissors as steadily as he had the last time he severed a promise Tsumugi had made, cutting him loose with no regard to where he may land.)

 


 

 

The scent of fire doesn’t fade from his hair for what feels like weeks after Tsumugi leaves fine. Between one semester and the next, he gains glasses, stops the meticulous trimming of his hair that Eichi required, curls himself into the hollow space made for him by Natsume and Sora and tries his best to breathe.

He is razed earth. Burnt and barren and so, so tired.

He finds solace in the library. In the careful, quiet sorting of books and papers. He keeps his ear to the ground and looks after Mika as much as possible since the boy, impossibly, doesn’t appear to hold a grudge at all. He sees Shu once Shu returns to school and remembers how his mouth feels against his own with a heat that shouldn’t still be possible, and promises that this time, he’ll keep his distance.

This isn’t a crane wife’s story after all. Tsumugi won’t thieve and lie and trap his way into Shu’s affections. He’s already done that once. It’s enough, now, to know that Shu is alright and recovering and fiercer than ever. A dragon in human skin, blessed by cherry blossoms.

Still, Shu calls him traitor and Tsumugi knows he’s right. He snaps and snarls whenever Tsumugi greets him, refuses to listen to anything Tsumugi has to say. Not that Tsumugi can organize his thoughts into anything coherent as it is, anyway. There’s too much between them and not enough time.

Somehow, Tsumugi expected himself to give up on trying to reconnect with Shu, but he doesn’t, won’t, remembering the boy who threw himself from a second story building out of passion and the boy who tapped Tsumugi’s back to stand him up straighter, and the softness of his lips.

He may not deserve forgiveness, but Tsumugi strives for it regardless.

Tsumugi spends an afternoon with Mika-kun and Arashi-chan, working amongst flowers and all the things they can say in lieu of words, and it isn’t until Mika is almost out of the door that the idea comes to him.

There are more ways to communicate than just words.

With care and diligence, Tsumugi picks out flowers and wraps them together. Pale and yellow and a bright, bold purple, like Shu’s eyes. When their shift is done, he turns to Mika.

“I have someone special I want to send some flowers to,” Tsumugi says, rubbing his thumb across soft petals. “Mika-kun, do you think you can give these to Shu-kun?”

Mika blinks up at him, darling and doubtful. “To Oshi-san? Y’sure, Tsumu-chan-senpai?”

Tsumugi takes a steadying breath. He isn’t. He isn’t sure even a little bit. But he nods. “It’s important.”

Mika clutches the bouquet of daisies, yellow and white camellias, gardenias, and a proud burst of hydrangea closer to his chest and nods. Shu will know what he means when Mika delivers the bouquet.

Tsumugi wonders if he still kisses the same way as he used to. Shakes himself for the thought, face heating, and knows he’s only imagining the way Shu sometimes watches him when they are close together. But they don’t speak of what happened, or Tsumugi’s part in it aside from broad strokes of “traitor” and the color of loneliness.

If forgiveness comes, it will always be because Tsumugi worked for it.

So he puts down his head, steels himself, and works. Through spring, and Shu’s resplendent fury in summer as he shakes Eichi to the core. Through autumn and their careful distance between each other.

Through Sora looking at the two of them and declaring the space lonely instead of angry. Tsumugi glances at ashu, startled to see a high blush crawling across Shu’s lovely face.

Tsumugi’s breath catches.

It… changes some things.

Maybe he isn’t the only one seeking forgiveness, uncertain of how to ask for it.

 


 

 

After the banquet, when Natsume has looked between Tsumugi, hovering at the entrance to the Handicrafts Club room, and Shu, resolutely ignoring everyone else at his table, sighed, and dragged everyone else out and home, Tsumugi takes his chance. He can’t mess this up. Twisting his fingers together, he clears his throat.

It succeeds in getting Shu’s attention.

(Tsumugi had forgotten, somehow, how brightly his eyes burn.)

“Was that part true, Shu-kun?” Tsumugi asks, taking a step closer. “That you were lonely.”

Shu tsks. But doesn’t move away. Tilts his chin up. “The only person I will never forgive for what happened last year is Tenshouin. No one else. Not Akatsuki. And not you.”

“Even when I-“

“It does not matter what you did in his name or for his attentions,” Shu snaps. “I told you he used you as he used any other, only immeasurably crueler for making such a mockery of your feelings for him. I only-“ he cuts himself off, looking frustrated. “I only wished to spare you that pain.”

“I’m sorry.” It is too small a phrase to encompass anything that has happened between them. It’s all Tsumugi has to offer. Paltry and unremarkable like the rest of him.

Long, slim fingers grab Tsumugi by the chin. Gentler now, Tsumugi thinks, but it still has his breath quickening, heart racing as Shu examines him. “Then I suppose you should make it up to me.”

Tsumugi licks his lips. Is gratified by the way Shu’s gaze drops and returns, darker. “I suppose I should. May I? Properly, this time?”

“You had better,” Shu murmurs, and this time, when Shu kisses him, Tsumugi clutches him back as tight as his hands can manage and lets himself think, again, that this must be what love looks like from the inside.