Summary: Miharu always tried so hard to seem like he didn’t care about anything or anyone, but Kouichi had never been fooled. And now he knew that he was right, because Miharu’s indifferent mask was cracking.
Warnings: Uh… possible fluff overdose? A complete lack of April Fool’s Day mischief? UNBETA'D? (that will be fixed when I post it on ff.net)
...Oh yeah, and SPOILERS for the end of volume one and part of volume two.
No response; not a twitch.
Still nothing. Black hair hung messily over the bandages across one eye, making it impossible to see if the other was open or closed.
Ah, that did it. Addressing him like Kumohira-sensei made him jump, dark head whipping up and good green eye widening. He seemed disoriented for a moment – so perhaps he had been sleeping, Kouichi thought a little guiltily – but then he caught sight of Kouichi and his face settled into his usual deadpan expression. “Kouichi,” he said. He sounded weary. “What time is it?”
Kouichi nodded to the tray he held with his good hand. “Lunchtime. I figured you’d rather eat in here.” He glanced at the pale figure on the bed at Miharu’s back. Miharu noticed the line of his gaze and something -- Kouichi couldn’t tell what – flickered across his face just briefly.
“Thanks.” Despite the listless tone, Miharu meant it, he could tell. “I’m not very hungry, though.”
There was something in the tone of his voice that made Kouichi pay attention. He couldn’t quite place it, but on impulse he came and sat down next to Miharu, trying not to jostle his cast as he set the tray between them. Miharu looked startled, but not unhappy. In fact, Kouichi thought that some of the tension eased a little from his face and frame. Trying to act as though he didn’t notice, he picked up an apple from the tray and took a bite. Miharu glanced at him for a moment, as if suspicious, and then picked up the small bowl of rice and began nibbling at it.
Kouichi searched for something to say. He hadn’t really spoken to Miharu since their… encounter with Yoite of the Kairoushuu. Words seemed inadequate and Miharu had quite clearly been telling them all to stay away, daring them to say something meant to be comforting. From an analytical perspective, this new side of Miharu was interesting. Miharu always tried so hard to seem like he didn’t care about anything or anyone, but Kouichi had never been fooled. And now he knew that he was right, because Miharu’s indifferent mask was cracking.
“Miharu-kun…” he said at last, more to break the silence than because he had thought of something to say. He kept his eyes carefully turned away, but the quiet plink of the chopsticks against the bowl halted, telling him that Miharu was listening. Kouichi tried to come up with something, anything, and finally it hit him. “Did you know that I met Kumohira-sensei when I was four?”
Kouichi held his breath. He felt the tension return full-force to the slight frame at his side, felt the suspicious look Miharu was giving him. But after a second Miharu let out a minute sigh and relaxed just a tiny bit. “No, I didn’t,” he said. He didn’t sound enthusiastic, but he didn’t sound hostile either and Kouichi took it as a good sign.
“It was the funniest thing, really…” Kouichi kept himself talking, talking about his first meeting with Kumohira-sensei, how he’d gotten to know the man after that, how he’d finally begun training under him. He kept his tone light, as though he was not speaking of the same man who lay so still and pale on the bed behind them. As he talked he felt Miharu continue to relax further, and eventually heard him set the rice bowl on the tray. Without pausing in his story, he picked up the tray and moved it to his other side, noting with satisfaction that the rice bowl was empty.
With the tray no longer between them, Kouichi feigned a stretch and inched just slightly closer to Miharu. A glance out of the corner of his eye assured him that Miharu noticed the movement but accepted it. The other boy had his legs drawn up and his arms linked loosely about them, his head resting on his knees. He looked tired, Kouichi observed, very tired. And pale. Almost as pale as Kumohira-sensei. His one visible green eye was not as shuttered as usual, and Kouichi caught a glimpse of what had flickered there before. This time he identified it, and his heart ached for his friend. It was fear, and grief, but mostly it was guilt. Miharu was blaming himself for what had happened.
Kouichi let none of his realization show in his voice, and forced himself to keep talking about inconsequential things. He wished he could show Miharu that he didn’t blame him, that it wasn’t his fault and that nobody thought it was, but he couldn’t find the words. Raimei was better at that sort of thing; maybe he should ask her to talk to Miharu later. In the meantime, all Kouichi could do was try and offer a distraction from the pain.
An hour or two passed in this way, and finally Kouichi ran out of words and they sat in silence for a while. Outside the room he could hear the Fuuma nin moving around, but such noises seemed distant in the quiet of this room. More important was the almost inaudible sound of Kumohira-sensei’s breathing, which was shallow but steady. Kouichi closed his eyes to listen, leaning the back of his head against the bed. He wondered what Miharu was thinking, if he should keep talking or if —
A sudden weight landed on his shoulder with a soft “thump” and Kouichi opened his eyes. Looking down he saw Miharu’s dark head on his shoulder; Miharu had closed the gap between them and his arm just barely brushed Kouichi’s. Kouichi froze, unsure of what to do with this unexpected show of emotion.
Miharu turned his face into Kouichi’s shoulder and one hand came up as if to cling to him, but then closed into a fist and was lowered. He just barely made out Miharu’s words, muffled and very soft. “Just… stay here for a minute. Will you?”
Kouichi stared at the top of Miharu’s head for a moment. He understood. Miharu was almost flat-out asking him for reassurance, for comfort, because he was still just a kid – funny how Kouichi thought of Miharu that way when they were the same age – and he had been thrust into a position that he didn’t want and shouldn’t have, in a world he didn’t know. It wasn’t right, and for an instant Kouichi felt a surge of useless anger at the cruelty of it. Miharu wasn’t a savior, he was just a thirteen-year-old boy with a terrifying power inside him; a boy at once fragile and terribly strong.
Kouichi sighed softly, feeling inadequate. Kumohira-sensei was who Miharu really needed, or even Raimei with her way with words. Yet, Miharu was asking him. Doing his best to answer was the least, the very least, Kouichi could do for his friend.
“Okay, Miharu-kun,” he said at last. Without really thinking about it, he reached over with his good arm and rested his hand atop Miharu’s bent head, threading his fingers through the soft strands of his hair. If he felt the tears soaking into the fabric of his shirt he gave no sign.
“I’ll stay here.”
I should be shot for coming up with a title like that. Shot, I say! D: