Fifteen minutes. (Only five minutes, five minutes, five minutes. Not long at all.) Fifteen minutes.
Wait, fourteen minutes.
"...at the little girl's feet, there was a sudden splashing sound. The rapeseed flower let--"
Fourteen minutes. (Only five minutes, five minutes, four minutes. Even less.) Fourteen minutes.
The voice was quiet, but commanding and full of disapproval, and it cut through the silence of the classroom like a knife. He jumped, dragging his attention up from his wristwatch to be met with the teacher's irritated gaze.
"Is there somewhere else you'd rather be, Ichijouji-kun?" Ken flinched slightly, cheeks stained faintly pink as all eyes in the room turned to him. (Not exactly; she's not quite right, is she? You'd much rather be with someone else, though--)
"A-ah, no, Sensei..." He bit his lip, unable to keep himself from fiddling with his pen anxiously as the silence thickened, and people continued to stare. (Why couldn't you just concentrate for a bit longer; why, why? Why attract all this attention just to advertise how slow and far behind the others you are? Just keep going, keep going--)
"Then, perhaps you wouldn't mind explaining what it is that's so fascinating, that it demands more of your attention than Naoya Shiga? Or is it that you just enjoy wasting your parents' money?"
Ken shifted uncomfortably, nervously, stomach twisting and threatening to make him ill, "n-nothing, Sensei, I don't..." He forced himself to keep her gaze, remain expressionless. (But she has a point, doesn't she? You're behind, but you distract yourself. Your parents are paying for this, and want you to do well, but all you do is wish you could be somewhere else. The other students are still staring, some of them are almost laughing. Why can't they just look away? Oh yes, ex-boy genius, Ichijouji Ken attending juku, and not even top of the class.)
"Oh, is that so? Well, in that case, perhaps you'd like to comment on some of the potential readings of the story? For example, what do you think the rapeseed flower's plight is representative of?"
Ken clenched his fist tensely, mouth half-open as he struggled to find something to say. (But how can you answer? You weren't even listening to the story! It's not even worth you being here; you're clearly not absorbing anything--)
In the face of Ken's fretful silence, the teacher simply sighed loudly and shook her head, nodding to the previous student to keep reading. One by one the many pairs of eyes drifted away from Ken to focus upon their books once more. Ken released a breath he hadn't even realised he'd been holding, and shakily picked up his text. He hated the attention, and he hated being singled out. He knew he wasn't the genius the Kaizer had been - well, that was why he was here, obviously, since he'd never needed such things before - but, even so... he didn't mind being average, truly. He just wanted to make his parents happy - and what he hated was that he knew, if he could get his focus back, he could do better.
(Two minutes. Only two; almost over-- but, see, you can't, can you? You don't want to be here, so you don't pay attention - and so, you feel guilty, because you know your parents are proud of you anyway. They're proud because they think you're doing your best - but you're not, are you? Are you? No.)
"...and there, among many friends and companions of its own kind, it lived happily ever after."
Orange light filled the classroom; the sun was setting, and long shadows draped Ken's desk in darkness. The reading had stopped, and the teacher was gathering her things together.
"Thank you, Tanaka-kun; well read. Everybody! By tomorrow I expect you all to have read 'The Paper Door', ready for immediate discussion and analysis, as we will be focusing on it for the next few lessons. I'll see you all tomorrow."
As she spoke, her gaze briefly lingered on Ken - but then she was gone, sweeping from the room as though she wished to leave him behind as soon as possible. The other students were talking quietly among themselves, but Ken could feel the sneaking glances that were directed his way every so often; the softly mocking comments muttered under their breath. (But you deserve it all, don't you, because you let yourself be distracted so easily. It's no wonder they laugh at you. Although...)
Ken gathered up his things and deposited them in his bag, hurrying from the room, weaving in between the small groups of students still hovering outside in the corridors. He pushed open the heavy glass door which lead out onto the street and paused, taking a deep breath as the cool early-evening air brushed across his face, tangling his dark hair in front of his eyes.
He scanned the street automatically, passing over the many figures filling the pavement, hurrying along, caught up in the humdrum business of their own daily lives.
And then -- there! -- a figure leaning casually against the obligatory thin tree, planted to try and give the street a hint of something natural. But then -- that smile! -- as natural and as bright as the sun.
(...although, when it's over again, you just can't bring yourself to care so much anymore because he's here.)
He smiled as the figure gave him a cheery wave, and made his way down the steps and through the crowds.
"Daisuke!" He grabbed the other's arm and tugged, only too eager to leave a certain building behind him.
Daisuke allowed himself to be pulled along, somewhat used to his friend's odd moods. In fact, he looked slightly amused at Ken's apparent rush.
"Hey, Ken -- how was it? Get much done?" Ken froze for a moment, before resuming his tugging as they cut down a side-street to get away from the crowds.
"Not... really. You know I haven't been getting on that well with it," his tone was slightly reproachful, but Daisuke just rolled his eyes and gave Ken a gentle shove.
"Pfft, well, you're not going to do well with that attitude! Look, I don't care what you think -- you're really smart, Ken, and if you wanted to do it, you could." Ken was almost amazed at how matter-of-fact he sounded. Though, he had to admit it was nice that Daisuke had so much faith in him -- (nice? You're elated, really, aren't you? He knows how things are, and he matters, and yet he still doesn't think you're useless! But on the other hand--)
Ken swallowed, finally letting go of Daisuke's arm. "...you say it like I haven't tried. And -- and I have, really, but... there's so much else I'd rather be doing. It's awful, I know - university exams are in under a year, but all I can think of is... is..." (You. Outside. Anywhere but in there, sweating it out with the other zealous juku students.)
"But... you do wanna go to university, don't you?" Daisuke asked curiously, hands shoved in his pockets as Ken took a deep breath. They came to the end of the alleyway, and Ken lead them out onto another street, the sign for the subway station not too far ahead.
"Well, yeah, of course I do..." He stared at the ground, knowing that Daisuke would be watching him, wondering. (Wondering why you're being so weird, why you're being so indecisive, why you're being so... not yourself.)
"Ken..." Daisuke paused, stopping for a moment; he reached out, grabbing Ken's shoulders, and steered him back into the edge of the alley so as not to get in everyone else's way. "What's wrong? You could totally do this if you wanted to! I know it must be hard - hey, that's why I'm not even gonna try for university -- besides, I got other talents -- but I know you'd be good at this if you believed in yourself for once!"
Ken felt his heart lift a little -- and a smile tugged at his lips.
Daisuke grinned and nodded, eyes confident. "Ramen."
"...today I just kept getting distracted because I was thinking about meeting you afterwards," Ken admitted quietly, fiddling with the strap of his bag, "...I suppose you think I've got my priorities wrong, huh?"
He saw a faint look of surprise pass quickly across Daisuke's face, but then it was gone, replaced by that inimitable cheer, "hey, I don't know... I am pretty important, so maybe that's about right," he laughed, but it faded when he noticed Ken was still looking pensive.
Daisuke suddenly stepped closer, and Ken's breathing quickened, frozen as the other reached out an uncertain hand, which seemed to be trembling slightly. It was all so shadowed and rather surreal - Daisuke was looking at him intently, questioningly, and though his lips parted no sound came out.
It was strange, really, Ken thought -- this moment of clarity, with Daisuke's large brown eyes watching him so closely, and Daisuke's hands still clutching his shoulders, and Daisuke's lips--
And then Daisuke was kissing him, urgently, awkwardly; still a graceless teenager who Ken had only recently overtaken in height. But it was warm and soft, and with his hands fumbling to rest on Daisuke's waist, Ken felt something inside him break. (But you--)
He was pushed back against the cold wall, then, and Ken felt Daisuke move to start kissing his neck; it was sloppy and inelegant, but for the moment, he was immeasurably happy.
"K--Ken?" Daisuke had suddenly stopped, peering up almost apprehensively, hands having now released Ken, and hovering uncertainly. "You... don't mind, right?"
Ken blinked momentarily, but then he broke out into a smile, dark hair bouncing as he shook his head in place of explaining.
"No, but..." he wriggled from under Daisuke and grabbed the other's hand, tugging him along yet again, "we should go back to my house, don't you think?"
After, it was hard to place exactly what had changed; though he drifted off in thought thinking about a certain person occasionally, Ken started to focus his attention and began to believe that, yes, he could really do it. More importantly, that he wanted to do it. He had people who believed in him, and occasionally, he thought of the fate of that rapeseed flower, and smiled. There was one parallel he could think of, at least.