Atsushi was alone when he sat down at the lunch table. Io looked up from his tablet with a puzzled expression.
"Where's Yufuin?" he asked.
Yumoto looked around, as if expecting to find his teammate hiding under a table or lurking behind a curtain. "Hey, that's right. I haven't seen him at all today. Why isn't he with you? Is he sick?"
"He's not sick," Atsushi assured them. "Not exactly. He's having some dental work today, so he couldn't come to school."
Ryu winced. "Ouch. Poor guy."
"Oh, it won't be so bad," said Atsushi. "He'll have to take painkillers for a while, but he'll probably enjoy the chance to stay home and sleep all day."
That made Ryu laugh. "Yeah, you're probably right! We should get him a get-well card or something, though."
"A 'get well but not too soon' card?" Io suggested, with a humorous raising of his eyebrows.
Atsushi laughed. "That's about it. I'm going to go by his house later and check on him. If you guys want to write him a note, I'll bring it to him."
"I'll design it on my laptop," Io offered. "I can print it off in the school copy room. I can probably get away with calling it a club activity."
Ryu grinned. "And I'm sure Yufuin will feel better knowing that you didn't have to spend any money on his card."
Io seemed to take that seriously. "Of course. He's not the sort to want someone to suffer on his account."
"Poor Yufuin," said Yumoto, looking genuinely sorry. "I'm going to miss having him around. He's funny."
"He won't be gone long," Atsushi assured him. "He'll be back before we know it."
"Hopefully," said Ryu, lowering his voice, "there won't be any you-know-whats while he's gone."
Atsushi shuddered a little. "Let's hope."
He became aware that there was a shape hovering behind him, and he turned and was startled to see Kinshiro looking down at him with an unreadable expression.
"Oh, ah... hello," Atsushi stammered.
"Yufuin isn't here today," said Kinshiro.
"Ah, no," said Atsushi, caught off guard by Kinshiro's bluntness. "He's not feeling well. He won't be coming to school for a day or two."
"Hm," said Kinshiro. He looked thoughtful for a moment. Then his expression brightened slightly. "Please send him my best wishes, then."
Atsushi smiled. "I will! Thank you."
Kinshiro gave a nod in reply and drifted back to his own table. Atsushi felt rather touched. It was nice to think that his one-time friend still paid attention to him. It seemed like a positive sign. It pleased him immensely to think that Kinshiro was concerned about En's welfare.
Meanwhile, Kinshiro had returned to the company of his two comrades.
"What was that all about?" Akoya asked.
"Nothing," said Kinshiro. "Just an idle whim, that's all."
"I hope you're satisfied now?" asked Ibushi, with what sounded like genuine interest.
"Everything is under control," Kinshiro assured him.
"Then let's talk about something more interesting than what they're doing," said Akoya, with a negligent gesture towards Atsushi and his friends. "Do we have any plans for today?"
"Hm," said Kinshiro. His gaze was still on the table where Atsushi was sitting. All of them were bending over a paper, scribbling on it and apparently arguing about whatever they'd drawn there. "No, not today, I don't think. I'm in a good mood today." His gaze lingered on the empty seat next to Atsushi. "I'd hate to spoil it with a lot of fighting."
Atsushi knocked politely on the door of En's house before letting himself in. He'd been wandering in and out more or less at will for so long that he sometimes imagined En's parents had forgotten he wasn't their son as well.
"Hello, Mrs. Yufuin!" he called as he breezed through the entry hall. "It's me, Atsushi. I brought a get-well card for En."
En's mother peeked out into the hall from the kitchen. "Oh, hello, Atsushi! En's upstairs taking a nap. The poor dear is still a little groggy." She laughed. "You should have heard him a while ago. He was saying something about how a wombat would get angry at him for not turning into a superhero. Those must have been quite some painkillers they gave him!"
Atsushi managed a laugh. "That's our En - you never know what he's going to say next. Don't worry - I'm used to En napping."
"I'm sure you are," said Mrs. Yufuin. "Go on up, then. I'm sure your company will make him feel better, napping or not."
Atsushi thanked her and scampered up the stairs. He found En exactly where he expected him to be: tucked up in bed, bundled into blankets until he looked like a caterpillar who had decided that turning into a butterfly was just too much effort. Atsushi smiled affectionately and reached to ruffle his friend's hair.
"Hey, En-chan," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"Whoozzat?" En mumbled.
"Just me," said Atsushi. "Hope you don't mind my dropping in."
"Mm," said En. "Everythin's all fuzzy..."
"I know," said Atsushi. "Just go back to sleep. You like sleep, right?"
En's only answer was to burrow even more deeply under the blankets. Taking that as a 'yes', Atsushi settled himself comfortably on the floor, leaning against En's bed, and took out one of his school books. As long as he was here, he might as well get some homework done. As far as he was concerned, there was no place more peaceful than in a room where En was sleeping.
A few minutes later, he heard the sounds of someone stirring behind him. He smiled.
"So, are you awake yet?" he asked.
"Whatcha doin?" En mumbled.
"Homework," said Atsushi.
En's head poked out from the next of blankets, his eyes bleary and unfocused.
"I didn't do my homework," he said. At least, that's what it sounded like he said. He was still slurring his words a bit.
"You don't have homework, En," said Atsushi patiently. "Your teachers gave it to you ahead of time because you knew you'd be out sick. You did it all yesterday. I stood and watched you."
"No," En insisted, trying to wiggle his way out of bed. "I haven't done any of it. Not for years and years..."
He squirmed his way out of the nest of blankets, revealing himself in all his pajama-clad glory. His movements were so clumsy that Atsushi hastily got up and began trying to coax him back to where he'd started.
"It's okay, it's okay!" he said. "I promise your homework is all done. Most of this is for Mr. Tawarayama's class anyway, and you know Wombat always gives us passing grades no matter what."
"But I didn't do it," En insisted blearily. He made a face. "Why's my mouth all funny?"
"You've been at the dentist," said Atsushi patiently. "You're still dealing with the painkillers."
"Oh," said En.
He blinked a few times, very slowly, staring vacantly off into space. If Atsushi hadn't known better, he would never have guessed his friend was drugged. At length, En came to a decision.
"I'm thirsty," he declared.
That was something Atsushi could deal with. "I'll get you some water."
He ambled back downstairs and fetched a bottle of water from the fridge. After some consideration, he got a straw, too, in case drinking straight from the bottle proved difficult. He returned to find En now seated on the floor, writing in Atsushi's notebook.
"What are you doing?" Atsushi asked. He was afraid to know the answer.
"I'm fixing the numbers," said En, scribbling away.
"Give me that," said Atsushi, and managed to tug the notebook out of En's hands. His face fell as he realized what En had meant by "fixing the numbers". All his carefully worked out answers had been written over with new ones. It was also clear that whatever questions En thought he was answering had little or nothing to do with the ones in the book. Or with anything in reality, for that matter. He had to wonder what train of thought had led to answering a quadratic equation with "the taxi ate six tacos". Atsushi sighed and turned to a fresh page so he could copy out his original answers.
"I hate to say this," he said to En, who had apparently gotten bored with math and wandered off to the other side of the room, "but I think I like you better when you're sleeping. You being industrious is just scary."
En turned to Atsushi and brandished a book at him.
"There's something wrong with this book," he complained. "I don't think we covered this in class."
"That's a manga," said Atsushi gently, "and you're holding it upside-down."
"Oh," said En. He held the book very close to his face before saying, "Oh. You're right, it is."
"Well, I'm glad to see you're starting to feel more lucid," said Atsushi. "Tell you what, since you're so worried about homework, how about I do it for you today so you can get some sleep?"
A hopeful look crossed En's features. "Is that allowed?"
"I don't see why not," said Atsushi. "Just this once."
"Wow," said En, sounding impressed. "You're a real friend, you know that?"
Atsushi smiled. "Well, you are, too, so it all works out."
He settled back down on the floor with his notebook in front of him. After a few seconds of consideration, En hauled his blanket off the bed, arranged himself next to Atsushi, and tucked the blanket around both of them. Within moments, he was out like a light, head propped peacefully on Atsushi's shoulder. Atsushi nudged him experimentally. He didn't even stir. Atsushi smiled.
"That's my sleepy En-chan," he said affectionately. He reached up to brush a wayward lock of hair away from En's face and tuck the blanket more neatly around him. "You're not supposed to be the industrious one. You should leave that to me."
En didn't say anything, only snuggled down a little more comfortably. Atsushi smiled and went back to putting his homework back in order.
"Hey, look who's back!"
Ryu nudged Io, who glanced up from his tablet long enough to see what his friend was talking about. Yumoto, who had been sitting at the edge of the school lawn feeding peanuts to the squirrels, looked up and beamed.
"Morning, Kinugawa" he called. "Good morning, Yufuin! Are you feeling better?"
En gave him a woeful look. "I'm so glad it's over. It was awful."
"Really hurt, huh?" asked Ryu sympathetically.
"No," En groaned. "It was even worse than that."
Yumoto blinked up at him. "What could be worse than having your teeth hurt?"
Atsushi laughed. "Much worse. Poor En-chan thought he needed to do homework."
"Homework?" Io repeated.
"All the homework," said En. "I somehow got it into my head that I'd never done any homework in my life, and it was all due, so I kept trying to do it. It was a nightmare."
Ryu laughed. "Oh, man. That's like your worst-case scenario, isn't it?"
"Absolutely," said En sincerely. He slung an arm around Atsushi, nearly pulling him off his feet with his sudden fervent embrace. "I'd have been lost without this guy's help."
"I didn't do much," said Atsushi, blushing a little. "I just sat with him, that's all."
A slight stirring among the other early-morning arrivals made it clear that something interesting was approaching. Atsushi managed to turn his head a little, in spite of En's grip on him, and was not entirely surprised to see the student council arriving.
"Ah, good morning!" he called out, trying to wiggle out of En's grip.
Kinshiro inclined his head in mild greeting. His gaze flicked over to En. "I see you've returned. You are feeling recovered, I take it?"
"Good as new," said En cheerfully. "Atsushi was at my house for hours last night looking after me, so I'm back at my best again!"
"Indeed," said Kinshiro, raising an eyebrow. "Well, then. Let me say sincerely that I hope you are never put in such a situation ever again."
"Me too," said En. He looked at Atsushi. "Never, ever let them give me painkillers like that again. I'd rather be in pain than hallucinating like that."
"I'll try," said Atsushi, patting his friend's arm reassuringly. He might have said more, but a chiming from the school bell tower alerted him that he had better get a move on or he'd be late for class. "Sorry, I've got to go. Goodbye!"
He waved and hurried off, dragging En with him and with the rest of his friends trailing behind them.
Kinshiro walked towards the doors at a more leisurely pace. The student council was always on time. Nothing ever started until they'd arrived.
"You handled that well," said Akoya, sounding amused. "I don't think any of them have any idea what you meant."
"I would be surprised if they did," said Kinshiro. After all, Atsushi had always seen the best in everyone. That probably explained why he could stand to spend time with the losers he hung out with these days.
Arima must have guessed what he was thinking, and gave him a knowing look. "So, back to work?"
"Yes," said Kinshiro. "Definitely time to go back to work."