Disclaimer: All fandom-based and real-life entities mentioned in this piece do not belong to me, with the exception of original characters, plot, and subplots.


Palliative
by four-eyed 0-0

Reschedule

They stepped in front of her gate, her small hand still grasping his. When she looked up, cheeks slightly flushed and lower lip jutting out as she bit down on it, she said, almost feather-like in her hesitation, "Shin. Can I call you Shin?"

Heart somersaulting, Midorima grappled for a reply, not that he ever needed to the too-long pause to think: "Y-yes."

Her smile was so bright he was surprised he wasn't rendered blind, even momentarily. "Shin."

"Yes?"

"Just trying to see if you would respond."

"Don't be stupid."

Despite the harshness Midorima did not mean at all, her smile unbelievably got wider, almost splitting her small face in half. Without much ado, she stepped forward and planted a kiss to his cheek, deliberately coming so close to his lips. It lingered, and when he jolted out of realization, she pressed their rapidly chilling cheeks together and let go of his hand to wrap her arms around his neck, squeezing so tightly as she inhaled noisily, breath fanning across the side of his face and his ears.

He encircled her waist with his arms, squeezing her with less intensity, unsure of the degree of intimacy this invitation entailed.

But something felt off, and he voiced, "Sayuri? Is something the matter?"

She tried to shake her head, but perhaps remembering they were cheek-to-cheek, instead settled for a, "Nothing," so small he might as well have only mentally projected it into the cold, crisp night air. Because deep down, in the most hidden crevices of his soul, he wished nothing was amiss, that everything about them was perfect.

He decided to believe her, and when she finally let go with a curious glint to both her eyes, he dismissed it as a result of the cold autumn night and her general state of health.

"Are you feeling sick?"

She was obviously lying when she said, "Sort of," but again, he decided to believe.

"You should go up, then."

"Right," she said, nodding her head. Her flushed cheeks weren't about to go away, and four degrees wasn't going to help her. "Goodnight."

Midorima tugged at her hand when she turned to go. "Will you be all right?"

She blinked and pinched his nose between her knuckles—a gesture so eerily familiar Midorima felt a chill run down his spine that had nothing to do with the cold. "I'll call you, okay? Goodnight, Shin."

"Goodnight, Sayuri."

An inkling, incessant in its calling for attention glued Midorima's feet to the ground. He watched her disappear behind the gate, ascend the apartment complex, and open her unit—third door from the lifts. When the lights went on, he finally managed to snap out of his immobile state and turn to head off.

But the inkling—that something was off—did not go away.

o-o

"Shintarou."

Midorima looked up from his phone. He'd only been texting Hasegawa about her preliminary exams for her last term in college.

"Yes, mother?"

She sat next to him on the sofa, staring at the phone that he'd flipped shut. "Hasegawa-san, how is she?"

It was the first time his mother had asked about her ever since they started going out. Midorima's initial reaction was to knit his eyebrows together. His mother might have been in heavenly bliss upon hearing about his venture, but she had kept her distance; she'd always known how he'd rather do things with little intervention.

"She's fine," he said as he adjusted his glasses in an attempt to relax his visibly curious expression. "Why do you ask?"

"Is she not your girlfriend yet?"

That was a question he wasn't prepared to answer although it was as clear as day that—"She's not."

Much to his surprise, his mother's green eyes widened. Perhaps she had been keeping too great a distance for her not to be able to tell for herself. "But you've been going out since July. Do you plan to formally ask her at all?"

"I do, in fact," he said, adjusting his eyeglasses once more as a new sense of unease engulfed him. He never thought he'd one day have this conversation with his mother. In the living room while the television was tuned in on the Oha Asa channel, no less. "I just want to make sure that she'll say yes."

She nodded, leaning her back on the seat. "Does she make it look otherwise?"

No, she didn't. "No, but—" he began, failed to find words, and restarted. "She's… something else."

"What do you mean?"

Midorima was growing exasperated. He hadn't discussed this with himself and he was not ready to discuss it with someone else, much less his mother. But going by the look in her eyes, it seemed she was more than eager to hear him out about his love life now that it impressively hadn't gone anywhere.

He sighed and leaned back on the couch like his mother did, staring up at the ceiling. If he were to focus his gaze on the wide expanse of the white marble, he could almost make out Hasegawa's face.

"She's inherently… compassionate and amicable to everyone, mother. Sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish the actions that she'll do only for me and the actions she'll do for everyone else."

"I see," she said. "But that kind of thinking will get you nowhere, Shintarou."

His eyebrows furrowed and he turned to her. "What are you trying to say?"

"From what you told me, she's a person who thrives on spending time with others. If that's the case, you will always end up competing for her time," his mother said, looking at him. "Unless you're both willing to compromise, that is."

Midorima blinked and averted his gaze, staring out of the window and into the garden. The maple trees had begun turning red. "She always sees me whenever she can."

"So what's bothering you?"

"She does that for everyone."

"And she barely had time for everyone else before she met you."

Midorima's belly somersaulted and he saw his mother smiling.

"Shintarou, it's not a matter of who she's with when she's not by your side or what she does for others," she said, a blush creeping up her cheeks. "If there's something I learned after twenty-three years of marriage, it would be that I should cherish the fact that after a long day—or week—, your father comes home to me. To us."

Midorima was silent. Was he ready to commit to something this... serious at seventeen?

Perhaps to ease off the heavy atmosphere, his mother engulfed him in a hug and kissed the top of his head. "Ooh, boy, my Shintarou is all grown up."

"Stop it, please."

"Allow me this one chance to be selfish. I don't want to."

o-o

The chicken slice that she was about to place in her mouth slipped from her chopsticks and landed on her lap without a sound.

"Oh my," she muttered, rereading the text she received from Midorima. A different kind of heat blossomed both on her cheeks, making its way down to her ribcage and belly.

"What is it?" asked Natsumi, staring at her with worry. "Did somebody get into a fight again?"

As soon as the lunch bell rang and they were dismissed from the lecture hall, Midorima asked if she had finished the last of her prelims. She typed a reply as they made their way to the cafeteria and while her tummy was looking forward to finally rewarding itself after two weeks of sleeplessness to accommodate all her responsibilities on top of reviewing for the exams, all hunger flew out the window upon reading the message:

I am about to make a reservation at Dolce Vita. Would you be available this Friday?

The twins squealed loudly when she showed them the text—earning disproving looks from the occupants of the table in their immediate vicinity. Sayuri couldn't fault them—the twins were hyperactive when sleep-deprived and the rest of the cafeteria must be grouchy and eager to pig out their lack of shuteye.

While she appreciated his foresight in dropping the bomb while she was no longer bagged down by the exams, she still found it difficult to look back on her bowl and eat as she thought of an appropriate response.

She missed him. He'd insisted that they didn't see each other at least until their exams were over and had been texting or calling each other only at night while taking study breaks—he'd had them scheduled at nine to ten. While he had basketball practice, she had work hours to exhaust and hospital duty to show up to. The Winter Cup would begin in two weeks and they would be busier than ever.

Sayuri was expecting another date, but this was too soon, not to mention the venue too lucrative for her barely-scraping-by sedentary lifestyle. The thought alone was already making her cheeks burn harder than they would when she'd put too much wasabi on her sushi.

"What's your reply?" asked Aki.

"I can't go this weekend, remember?" Now that she had wrapped her head around the one thing that was keeping her from jumping up and down in joy at such a proposal, she felt a lot more miserable.

The twins looked at each other and sullen faces turned back to her. "Then reschedule," they said in unison.

Sayuri did not hold back a sigh. She had been looking forward to the chance to finally make up for missed time but between her weekend plans and Winter Cup preparations, their chances at going out before all hell broke loose was as fat as a needle.

She turned back on her phone and swiped at it, typing a response.

I'm sorry, Shin. There's something I need to attend to this weekend. Next time?

A few minutes later, she received another text.

There is no need to apologize. When is most convenient for you?

I will try to check my schedule next week, but I can't promise anything. Things will get busier since the Winter Cup's around the corner. I'm really sorry.

I told you, there's no need to apologize. I myself am busy with practice. Get plenty of rest whenever you can and don't overexert yourself, do you understand?

He never used emoticons, but her heart was aflutter all the same.

Yes, Shin, thank you so much. I'll make it up to you, I promise!

Don't make me promises, Sayuri. Just do it.

Sayuri could almost cry at his words. She didn't know she really would, bemoaning hindsight.

o-o

"Shin-chan?"

Midorima had shut his phone five minutes earlier and was now staring at the dilapidated signage of the door leading to the rooftop with a deep scowl on his face. It was the most that he'd let slip after they had finished the last of their exams and gone up to eat their lunch together. His friend had kept a blank expression while he had been texting Hasegawa.

"Shin-chan? What did she say?"

Midorima adjusted his eyeglasses before stuffing his face with little of the lunch that he had yet to consume. Takao's hopes at gauging the situation flew out the window right then and there. It was a deliberate attempt to shoo him away, and he could tell that probing, no matter how subtle, would send him hitting the roof. He would just have to wait until Midorima had ridden off his foul mood.

"She said she has other plans this weekend," Midorima told him as they were walking out of the gym.

His voice was so steely Takao would have normally bristled, and bristle he did, but for Hasgeawa. Pushing Midorima's buttons had been on Takao's daily to-do, but for Hasegawa to hit a nerve over something that was completely understandable, Takao couldn't help but feel like the issue was only coming from Midorima's end.

"Then reschedule?" he offered.

"The Winter Cup is nearing," said Midorima as soon as he had put the inflection to his question.

"Then after the Winter Cup?"

Midorima didn't respond and instead his knuckles tightened around the piggy bank that was his lucky item for today. Upping the pressure a little would send it breaking into a million little shards and Takao wouldn't be entirely surprised if Midorima, with his huge and long-fingered hand, did manage to do just that to the baby pink ceramic.

Takao desperately racked his brain for a helpful advice that would wipe the ugly frown on his friend's face. Having the social tact of a teapot, Midorima had been sticking to conventional dating strategies and had been stuck with less adaptive measures fit for a young couple. Hasegawa was nearing twenty-five, but that didn't mean she had to experience romance that his inept friend had picked up from some bland book in the bookstore by the train station.

Hit by inspiration, Takao snapped his fingers.

"Shin-chan, you don't have to always plan your dates ahead," he said as they approached the cart. "And no one's blacklisted indoor dates as far as I remember."

"What are you talking about?" asked Midorima.

Even if he were seated on the bike with his back turned towards him, Takao would be able to hear the frown in his voice all the same. "Why don't you surprise her instead? Like, at night? Or very early on Saturday morning?"

"She said she has other plans," Midorima said with a tone that hinted on patience wearing thin.

"Not out-of-town plans, no?" said Takao, smiling to himself. "Why don't you ask her?"

"I don't want to be a bother to her."

"Shin-chan, you're so going to have it if she hears that from you," said Takao, laughing. "Don't go pouting like a kid when you haven't even tried."

Midorima huffed and Takao took it as, "I'll consider."

o-o

Saturday found Midorima with a box of peaches that he had asked his mother to buy from the early morning market—she was, simply, ecstatic to aid him. The sun was yet to dominate the sky when he had set out, and Hasegawa's house was within eyesight.

He had been initially against Takao's idea of a surprise visit, but after mulling it over, he realized there was no harm in trying something out of the ordinary. He already missed Hasegawa, that much he could admit, and another weekend coupled with the possibility of another week without seeing her face was enough to drive him out of his bedroom last night to speak of his request to his mother.

And so he was standing a few feet from the gate of her apartment complex, pausing and checking the box he had wrapped with brown paper. After convincing himself that it didn't look too boring, he set his eyes on her floor.

The door to her unit opened just as he turned to see, and out came a figure unmistakable even for the longest time that he had seen him last. Midorima backtracked as Hasegawa, hair disheveled and pajamas hanging loosely from her frame, clearly fresh out of bed, draped herself on Hanamiya's figure, his face in a perpetual scowl as she tugged at the fabric of his jacket to make him turn to her.

Something cold latched itself on Midorima's gut, twisting, coiling around the pit of his belly. He stood frozen, watching as Hasegawa continued to embrace Hanamiya, figure aquiver and clearly crying for reasons that eluded his realization. That same something told him that she had spent the night with him, and this had been part of her weekend plans.

What he saw clinched something inside of him. She was always going to have a place for Hanamiya and the countless other friends she had made along the way. Only that Hanamiya was extra special, more special than him, someone she wasn't afraid to spend the night with alone even after her mother had disapproved of their association time and again.

As his heart sank into the pavement, Midorima slowly turned around, half-wanting to chuck the brown parcel into oblivion, half-wanting to burn it altogether. Heat pricked at the back of his eyelids and he shook his head, as though the motion was to deny the angry tears about to fall.

With the cloud that settled in his head, Midorima was almost rendered deaf to the voice that spoke next:

"Well, hello, Midorima-kun. I didn't expect to see you so soon. Or at all."

A different kind of discomfort enveloped all of him even before he was met with the falsely-affable face of Hasegawa's mother.

Several questions came to him in an onslaught: What is she doing here? Is she supposed to visit Sayuri? What if she sees what I saw? Does she know about me and her daughter?

One moment of silence passed between them, during which Midorima's brain shut off and restarted in an attempt to come up with the proper greeting despite the current state of the fist-sized muscle in his chest and the lump of tissue in his head.

Before he could open his mouth—a task so excruciating he marveled at the fact that his tears didn't fall—, however, Mrs. Hasegawa's eyes moved further up behind him, the following lifting of a corner of her lips so minuscule that Midorima couldn't have caught it if he hadn't been desperate in finding a distraction from the sound of his heart breaking.

The older woman, bearing so little resemblance of her daughter, turned soft eyes to him before saying, "I see that's the case. Would you like to join me for breakfast? There's this café a few blocks away. They serve the nicest scones and waffles in the district."

Despite all his systems screaming a firm, "No!", looking into this woman's eyes, he could almost see the persistence in them, a persistence alike Hasegawa's, strong enough to draw him in without much effort. In that regard he could finally see the semblance between mother and daughter—not that he felt any relief in knowing.

And so with a curt nod and the desire not to see any more of what he already had, he followed Mrs. Hasegawa away from the spot where the shards of his heart lay, towards a place where he could, hopefully, be provided with answers to questions he'd yet to think of and voice out.


A/N: There it is. Shit hitting the fan. I have nothing else to say.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed last chapter and to those who added this story to their alerts and faves! You fuel my pen!

See you next chapter!