~Offerings~

Girls and boys alike across Seirei Gakuen viewed the fourteenth of February with a mixture of anticipation, expectation and, in some cases, sheer petrification.

For the girls, it was all matters of... who to buy chocolates for? What kinds of chocolates? Should they be bought or hand-made? That impressive senpai in the third year, would it be too forward to give him handmade chocolates? Would it be too forward to give him chocolates at all? Wouldn't everybody else be giving chocolates? How would any chocolates in particular stand out?... If it was a matter of buying them it was all where to buy them from, whether to get them giftwrapped, how to get them giftwrapped... would overstated or understated be better?... If it was making them... would ordinary chocolate be alright, or might something like strawberry or green tea and cream or cinnamon or even dried fruits catch his fancy? Also, how many people to give them to... the obligation chocolates, the heartfelt chocolates... would it be alright to give Enami-sensei some of the former? Or the latter? Wouldn't every other girl in the school be doing that? Wouldn't Megumi-sensei? It all seemed so pressuring...

For the boys, the problems were just as similar. Not so much with the matter of having to buy chocolates, but there was the whole business of receiving them properly... what to do if the girl you liked gave you chocolates? What if it was only out of obligation? How to react if it wasn't?... What if girls you didn't like gave you chocolates? Heartfelt ones? What if you got chocolates from lots of girls? What if you didn't get any at all? What if you didn't get chocolates from your girlfriend? What if you got chocolates from girls other than your girlfriend? What if a girl gave you chocolates, and everybody else thought she was your girlfriend?...

The arrival of Valentine's Day started a basic panic that wrapped itself around the school, a feeling that wouldn't abate until at least after White Day the following month. There was only a month between the two days but for some it seemed like a lifetime... things such as lessons and homework and studies and responsibilities were often quite abandoned in the minds of the students for this period of time. The teachers could try to attract their students back with various tactics, but rarely did anything work. Enami-sensei would find each of his lessons conducted in rapt silence from the female members of the class, but the dreamy smiles on their faces told plainly that their minds were anywhere but on the work being set. Such a thing couldn't be helped.

Most worries seemed to set in around the beginning of February. The school's mindframe would shift towards the fact that it was Valentine's Day soon and this thought would catch on like a contagious infection until it was on everybody's mind... Makoto had, however, been quiet since around the middle of January. Makoto often had his quiet moments and, now they were coming up to the end of their first year at Seirei Gakuen, Ichii felt like he quite understood the moods of his friend; Makoto could be enthusiastic and excitable or he could be tense and wound-up, he could be quiet and moody or he could be angry outright... each of these moods usually had a cause, Ichii felt that he knew Makoto's reactions well by now. Therefore, this mysterious silence that began in January only confused him. Nothing had happened, had it? Ichii couldn't think of anything that he knew about that would affect Makoto so much... it also saddened him to think that there could be something playing on Makoto's mind that he didn't want to talk about. He respected Makoto's silence if that was what he wanted, but... he liked to think that Makoto trusted him with things and it made Ichii feel rather stranded that he couldn't guess Makoto's current feeling, not at all... Christmas had been nice, hadn't it? They'd been out and about, they'd spent time together... often Mirai showed up, but this was understandable. It wasn't any guess that Mirai had substantial interest in Makoto... so the three of them had inadvertently spent a lot of time together over the holiday. Mirai would get very close to Makoto, always holding on to his arm and smiling at him sweetly... the thought made Ichii smile. Makoto would always have such an obstinate expression, surely any other guy in the first year would die to have the chance of such an attractive second-year girl hanging over them like that! Still... Makoto seemed to tolerate her presence, but...

Again, Ichii didn't really feel that he understood it. Alright if Makoto just didn't like Mirai, but he seemed friendly and civil enough... part of Ichii told him that Makoto would never be able to speak an unkind word to anybody, but other parts of him told him that this line of thinking was just naive. Chinatsu had rather notably been victim to Makoto's unpredictable mood swings and more than that, Ichii himself had been... as easygoing and relaxed as Makoto was for most of the time, he still had his moments where he was irrational and unpredictable. Ichii liked to think that he'd got better at predicting when Makoto's mood was likely to swing from one extreme to the other and he also liked to think that he'd moved past the point of making Makoto somehow angry without realising it (he'd seemed far too guilty of this through the early to middle parts of their first year)... their friendship seemed so very solid and so very stable and yet Ichii would still find Makoto staring out of classroom windows with such a troubled expression. He'd pass it off with a smile if Ichii said anything, but there was something not altogether convincing about those kinds of expressions when they came from Makoto. Ichii would repeatedly ask Makoto if there was anything wrong, Makoto would either try to smile it away or become temperamental and Ichii found himself disliking both reactions. Couldn't Makoto just be truthful?

It wasn't until the beginning of February that Ichii felt he made any progress in this area.

One morning he'd caught Makoto staring out of one of the corridor windows, looking out onto the sports track. There had been some sporting activities going on, but Makoto himself didn't really seem to be actually watching them; Ichii had approached him happily enough, throwing his arms around Makoto's neck and then jumping away when his friend let out a startled gasp. Ichii only smiled at this, amused by Makoto's reaction.

"Hah, made you jump there, didn't I?"

"Oh... Ichii-kun. You surprised me."

"Yeah, like I couldn't notice that? You almost leapt five feet into the air! So what's Mako watching that's so interesting that he doesn't even notice me coming, huh?"

"... Nothing in particular..."

"Sports events... maybe Mako wants to be outside doing some running? We could go do that if you wanted!"

"N-no, it's quite alright, really. Really it is, Ichii-kun."

"Oh... huh."

Makoto had smiled that irritating smile again, obviously trying to placate Ichii before turning his attention back to whatever it was he wasn't particularly watching. His expression had fallen back into that kind of distant and preoccupied look...

"Mako."

"Yes, Ichii-kun?"

"What's wrong?"

"Wrong? There's nothing wrong, Ichii-kun..."

"Don't give me that, Mako. You've been hangin' around with a totally distant expression for ages now! There's totally got to be something up, you wouldn't be all staring out of windows not looking at stuff if there wasn't something up...! Don't you trust me, or something?"

In retrospect, Ichii might have noted the slightly wounded edge to Makoto's expression. He seemed to falter for a moment, as if caught between explaining his feeling to Ichii and keeping it quiet... he seemed about to say something only to close his mouth at the last moment. Makoto stared down at the floor and then looked up at Ichii again as he spoke, speaking as if his words were supposed to explain his behaviour.

"It's Valentine's Day coming up soon."

"Yeah, and...?"

Makoto had just looked at Ichii with intent eyes which seemed almost... disappointed. He just shook his head slightly and turned back to the window; Ichii had sighed in his irritation and went off to wait for the next class. Obviously there was no trying to talk to Makoto when he was in a mood like that.

However, this had only really seemed to continue. The first week in February passed, the second week was passing by... of course, by this point it wasn't only Makoto who seemed in any way concerned by Valentine's Day. You couldn't walk through the corridors of the school without hearing girls chatting about it, planning things and observing their targets... the boys seemed to walk past in a self-conscious kind of way and the atmosphere seemed so very different all of a sudden. Still Makoto was quiet, still he didn't really seem to talk about things... he'd have that hurt expression but wouldn't explain why. Ichii didn't like accusing Makoto of such things, but... he didn't feel that he was blameless in this situation. Makoto wasn't telling him anything, so of course he wasn't going to feel as if Makoto trusted him...! He felt his logic was perfectly valid and that Makoto's behaviour was purely inexplicable, but even pointing this out didn't seem to cause any kind of further explanation. On the date soon approaching, Ichii would often ask Makoto if he was looking forward to Valentine's Day... Makoto would only look at him, "Not really."

On Valentine's Day itself however, Ichii did eventually discover the reason for Makoto's strange moods.

The day that had been built up for with such fervour and emotion by most of Seirei Gakuen arrived rather uneventfully. Despite the significance of the day, a schoolday was still a schoolday and there were still lessons to attend to and things to be done. Teachers tried to teach but found many of their insights falling on deaf ears... it seemed that the collective mind of the entire student body was anywhere but focused on studies. However, Valentine's Day was one of those events that only really bothered those willing to be bothered by it - as far as Ichii's day went, it was as normal as any other. He attended his lessons and did his work, he found out he was missing some homework due in and so earnt himself a detention that breaktime. Events seemed to build themselves up and he only realised that he hadn't seen Makoto since walking to school that morning until lunchtime arrived; he'd gone to the art room to eat his lunch and it had been that which had reminded him - he'd seen Makoto as they'd travelled together, Makoto had given him his lunch as always... today, the things that made up the contents of Ichii's lunchbox had been cut into various themed shapes for the day. Mostly hearts. Cute. Ichii smiled at that and then put his lunch away again - it was enough to appreciate the work Makoto had put into making that lunch, but where was Makoto himself? Especially with all the sighing about Valentine's Day he'd been doing over the past few weeks.

Maybe Makoto really did have some kind of problem with Valentine's Day? As he made his way across the school's grounds, Ichii scuffed his shoes against the dust and wondered what different options there were. Maybe he felt lonely? Maybe Makoto wanted a girlfriend? Perhaps there was a girl he liked who wouldn't notice him. Ichii wasn't really sure how realistic that thought was - as far as he thought it, Makoto was practically perfect... who wouldn't want him as a boyfriend? He was all sensitive and caring and made wonderful lunches, Ichii had no doubt that if there was anybody Makoto did like, he'd probably shower them with love and attention... there was also the matter of Makoto's moods and tantrums, but if there was somebody he really loved, they probably wouldn't anger him enough for him to show that side. No, it seemed too easy to imagine Makoto as the perfect boyfriend to whatever lucky girl took his fancy... Mirai was the first thought of course, but to think of that brought to mind all of the times Makoto had seemed distant from her. Maybe it was something to do with Mirai? Ichii couldn't imagine a chance such as Valentine's Day going by without such a brilliant cook as Mirai taking advantage of it to express her feelings for Makoto... if he'd liked her then alright, but as he seemed rather strange when it came to her, perhaps her attentions were unwanted...?

Ichii hadn't really thought of it before, but to think about it as he made his way up the staircase to the cafeteria, he supposed that something like that would be a pretty big responsibility. How exactly would you handle somebody's feelings? If somebody gave you chocolates like that then it was a tell-tale sign that they wanted something from you, whether it was deep friendship or confession of feeling or something along those lines... and how would Makoto, who was always so nice to people, be able to shake Mirai off?... If that was what he wanted to do, of course. Maybe Makoto was worried that Mirai wouldn't give him chocolates?

Hell freezing over seemed a more likely expectation for the day.

A quick glance around the cafeteria had confirmed that Makoto wasn't taking his lunch in there. Usually Makoto could be found around the stairwell, but he definitely hadn't been there... Ichii sighed as he realised that he really didn't have any idea where Makoto would be found. Seirei Gakuen was quite a large place when you were only looking for one specific person (you could never find teachers when you wanted to) and when the one person you wanted to find was likely making himself scarce... Ichii found himself heading up towards the school roof before he really considered where he was going, but... he supposed that this was a rather good place to go. From the roof you could look out over the school, couldn't you? This wouldn't help if Makoto was somewhere inside, but hopefully it'd at least give some kind of idea of where Makoto was (or wasn't).

As it turned out, Ichii hadn't had to look very far from the school roof before he found what he was looking for. Makoto was on the opposite side of the roof from the top entrance, standing against the rail that ran along the edge. He had his back facing Ichii and so didn't see him coming, but even as Ichii approached, nothing about Makoto indicated that he was aware of someone's presence behind him. Perhaps he really was caught up in a world of his own... you didn't get many people coming up to the roof (it wasn't somewhere where pupils were strictly allowed, after all) but on occasion there would be a few people around, usually minding their own business. Ichii stood a few meters away from Makoto, wondering what he should say. People usually came up here to be alone, didn't they? Alone, or at least away from the crowds... glancing to the side concerned that Nishimura from the third year was over on one of the extended concrete areas which handily doubled as somewhere to sit - or in his case, to lie down and catch some sleep. Of course, someone like him would be easily hounded around on Valentine's Day, wouldn't he? Most of the more sensible students were too worried about being caught on the roof by a teacher to risk going up there themselves, so in some ways it was a good way to hide. Nishimura didn't look like he'd be waking up any time soon. However, what about Makoto...? Again, he was just stood there staring out to... well, from that angle it seemed that he was staring out towards the Student Council building. Ichii leant up on tiptoe to glance over Makoto's hunched shoulder to see if there was anything doing... however, the building and the trees around it seemed as still as Makoto himself did.

Maybe Makoto was annoyed at him? Maybe he was annoyed because they hadn't been able to meet up at breaktime. Makoto had, after all, got angry for lesser things in the past... Ichii felt a little awkward. It hadn't been his fault that he hadn't been able to see Makoto!... Well, maybe it kind of had, if he'd done his homework on time then he wouldn't have got that detention and so wouldn't have been kept in for all of break, but... that wasn't the point. Either way, by now it couldn't be helped, so... Ichii idly tugged on the strap of his backpack, sighing and then looping it off from his arm. He threw his backpack so it landed against the railings, at this noise and movement Makoto looked around quickly. The look in his eyes was momentarily accusing, as if he was annoyed that anybody should disturb his silent contemplation, but at seeing that it was Ichii his expression relaxed slightly. He didn't smile, but he didn't seem particularly angry, either. He turned back to look over the council building once more.

"Ah... Ichii-kun."

"Hf, so this is where Mako's been hiding, huh? I looked all over for you!"

"Sorry."

Walking forward a little, Ichii leant his hands on the rail. He closed his eyes and smiled as he felt a breeze wash over him, "This really is a good place to stand, isn't it? You really get to feel the weather up here. Wouldn't be so good if it was raining though, would it?"

Makoto didn't reply. Ichii shifted to lean his elbows on the rail, turning to look directly at Makoto.

"You know, you've been weird for ages now."

This caused a slight reaction; Makoto turned his head a little and frowned, "... Weird?"

"Mm. Like, all quiet and stuff."

"... I'm sorry."

Ichii sighed again, a little more irritable this time.

"It's not something you have to be sorry about! Just, it seems like it's been even since Christmas, you've been all quiet and staring off at stuff and when I ask you what it is you say it's nothing, but it can't be nothing because if it was nothing you wouldn't be standing around sighing a lot! Then you just say stuff about how it's Valentine's Day coming up and it's Valentine's Day now, so... is it just something about today? Will Mako be better tomorrow?"

Makoto paused for a moment, looking Ichii up and down for a few moments. His expression still seemed somewhat sad as he shook his head, turning back to face the view.

"It's really nothing. I'm sorry if I've worried you any, Ichii-kun. I'm just... becoming too concerned about unimportant things, I suppose. You don't have to worry about me."

He was trying to dodge the subject again. With a slight growl, Ichii grabbed Makoto's shoulders and forcibly turned him around against the rail, turning him so that the two of them had no choice but to face each other directly. Makoto seemed to shrink somewhat at this action, as if he felt somehow unprepared to be facing Ichii like that. His eyes were wide for a moment and he quickly turned his hands to brace himself against the cold metal railings. His brow twitched in confusion, caught somewhere between worry and irritation. He seemed to draw back from Ichii but he still looked up at him.

"Ichii-kun--!... You shouldn't do something suddenly like that against the railings, you surprised me...! I could have fallen."

"Dummy, I wouldn't have let you fall..."

"Ah..."

This was true, but Makoto still seemed to have problems looking Ichii in the eye. Ichii supposed that his action had been a little sudden... he relaxed his grip on Makoto's shoulders, though he didn't let them go.

"Look, uh... I... I just feel pretty stranded here, y'know?"

"... Stranded?"

"Uh huh. Like there's something really bothering Mako that he won't tell me. If it's something like that, then... it's a bit lonely, y'know? 'Cause I can't think of anything that I wouldn't tell Mako so it's like, I'd hope there wasn't anything Mako wouldn't want to talk to me about, y'know? So if there is something really really bothering you that you can't even talk to me about, then, well... I guess I just feel bad because you feel bad, y'know? I want Mako to be able to smile again without it seeming like a false smile. I've seen you smile and I know when you're faking it, so don't try to put another one past me while saying that it isn't anything important...! If it's something that's upset Mako so much that he can't even smile then it really is something important. So don't say it isn't, okay?"

At that, Makoto did look Ichii in the eye. He really did seem concerned... there was a kind of determination on his face. It was true that Makoto had practically been trying to put Ichii off for the past month or so, but it seemed that, after everything, Ichii was a little too perceptive to just accept something at face value and act as if nothing was happening. Such was the curse of their friendship, Makoto supposed... if there was anything bothering Ichii, Makoto liked to think that he'd notice it straight away (if Ichii didn't just come out and tell him). He hadn't really thought of the effect that such a prolonged silence would be having on Ichii... such a thing, however, didn't particularly serve to make him feel any better about the situation. It really was something a little sad if there was something that couldn't be said between two best friends, wasn't it?... Yet it was that kind of thought that made Makoto reluctant in the first place. He and Ichii were best friends, so... it should have been alright as just that, shouldn't it? Yet somehow that felt as lonely as any silence...

Makoto looked away again, "... Did Ichii-kun get any Valentine's Day chocolates?"

"Don't totally change the subject like that!"

"I'm not, I'm not...! I'm just curious." Makoto sounded... almost weary. Past thoughts clicked into Ichii's mind from memory; all that sighing over Valentine's Day, all the things Ichii had been wondering previously... it seemed pretty obvious that there was something up with that particular day that was bothering Makoto... so maybe this was his roundabout way of saying what that was? Maybe it was a matter of a girl. Again, it seemed something a little strange to Ichii that there should be something like that that Makoto wouldn't tell him - after all, whenever he'd found any girls attractive Makoto would always be the first person he'd go to to ask for an opinion... such attractions never particularly lasted, but that wasn't the point. After all the things like that, didn't Makoto feel comfortable talking about such things himself? He'd never really seemed interested in many girls before, though... perhaps he was just confused by his feelings. Maybe this was the first time he'd felt like that. Maybe he didn't quite know how to cope with those things. Setting it against such a backdrop, Makoto's behaviour seemed... pretty understandable, really.

Ichii let go of Makoto and went back to lean against the railings. He indicated down to his backpack, "Eh, nothing special. All obligation chocolates this year!"

"Who from?"

"Eh? Uh, oh, nobody you wouldn't expect it from. Yuina-chan, of course... Moeko-chan, Nao-chan, those kindsa people... you probably got the same, huh?"

"Feel my bag."

"Uh?"

Makoto had picked his bag up from off the ground and held it out for Ichii without looking at him. Ichii blinked at the bag before taking it, finding himself surprised at the weight.

"Oof--! Dude, you've been carrying this around all day?! You're gonna give yourself a sore back!"

"It seems that practically every girl in every class I've had has wanted to give me chocolates. I've already filled up my locker, too."

"Ehhh... jeesh, Mako's popular. I bet there are some guys on the Student Council who haven't even got as many chocolates! Dude, you're going to be eating chocolate until this time next year!"

It didn't seem that Makoto was very pleased with this prospect, and this confused Ichii.

"... But isn't that a good thing? I mean, dude, there are guys who'd kill to have as many chicks after them as you...! Isn't that something to smile about? Mako's really popular and lots of people like him. Why's that bad?"

"Not all of them were obligatory chocolates, either."

"Jeez... not just from Mirai-chan?"

"At least ten girls gave me quite wonderful chocolates... hand-made, hand-wrapped... the effort they put into these things is amazing."

"Well, Mako should know all about that...! Making my lunch for me every day... I'm always sayin', you don't gotta do that, y'know."

"I like to."

"So that's the same as all those girls, isn't it? It's the kind of thing they want to do. Still, I guess it's gonna be a bit of a pain next month, huh? Some of those girls out there are gonna get pretty mad if you're seen giving chocolates to more than one person... and then more of them are gonna get mad that it isn't her you're givin' them to... ehh, I guess I can kinda understand why you've been in such a mood recently. I don't really have to worry about that, I'm obviously just not as great as Mako is."

Ichii had only meant that playfully, but Makoto's glare was genuine.

"Don't put yourself down like that."

"Hey, c'mon. You've got lockerfuls of chocolate proving that, huh?"

"You don't need something like that to prove it..."

"Hey, I'm just joking around. Hey, talking about lunch, I haven't eaten mine yet... have you?"

"Oh, I-... I forgot to bring mine today."

"Geh, and you still remember to bring mine. You really need to remember to take care of yourself sometimes, y'know? Here, we can share mine. After all, Mako's the one who made it, right? I looked at it earlier, it's really cute. Like over Christmas when you managed to get my rice into snowman shapes, that was pretty impressive... I could never do anything like that. C'mon, let's sit down at least, huh?"

Without giving Makoto much opportunity to refuse, Ichii sat down quickly and tugged Makoto's sleeve to bring him down also.

"Ah-- Ichii-kun---"

"Oh, uh... and sorry I wasn't around at breaktime, if you were mad about that. Got a detention 'cause I hadn't done that history essay... I mean, I really meant to do it, but I just kinda didn't... y'know? Guess that's just my own fault, but, uh... yeah. I coulda helped fend off those Mako-hungry girls, couldn't I? Or at least helped you carry some of that chocolate. Man. You wanna go put some of it in my locker? It's just gonna get squished if you keep carrying it around in your bag like that. 'Specially if any of those are soft centre ones... heh, and if you needed any help in eating them..."

Makoto's tone was slightly reproving, "Ichii-kun... it's not right to eat Valentine's Day chocolates intended for somebody else."

"Always so sentimental, huh... well, if it's got to the summer holiday and you still haven't finished then I'm gonna haveta claim 'em, I'm afraid. Can't let chocolate sit around not being eaten...!"

Ichii spoke as he reached into his backpack, lifting out his lunch. He unwrapped it and took the lid off, smiling at the contents.

"Is there anything Mako particularly wants?"

"I'm not hungry. I made it for Ichii-kun, so he should eat it..."

"It's okay to want food if you haven't got any, you know...!"

"You said it yourself, I have all of this chocolate..."

"You can't just have chocolate for lunch..."

Makoto didn't say anything to that, leaning over to his own bag. He crossed his legs and brought it onto his lap, opening it and reaching inside to seemingly sort out the various chocolates that were in there. Ichii glanced over as he started on his lunch... for all that Makoto seemed unhappy, he really was lucky... why couldn't he realise that? It was understandable to be unsure about what to do once White Day came along, but... if you were just going along with the spirit of the day, Ichii couldn't see anything bad about getting so many chocolates...! There wasn't anything wrong with free chocolate, after all. Even some of those chocolates that had obviously been bought rather than made looked impressive...! Ichii couldn't exactly see all of the wrappers with Makoto sorting around like that, but some of the brands that Ichii did recognize were fairly established (and expensive) ones... what was more of a gesture, making something from the heart or spending a lot of money on them? That possibly depended on the person giving them. Ichii had no problem picturing that Ijuuin girl handing out all the most expensive sorts of chocolates to the boys on the Student Council. No, it was better to make them, wasn't it? You couldn't buy love, no matter what Ijuuin Ran thought about the matter.

For a few moments, Makoto seemed to pause. He had his hands around one particular box of chocolates, but from the angle Ichii was sitting at he couldn't see what was special about it, if anything. Ichii wondered if Makoto was about to take that box out... perhaps he'd changed his mind on sharing chocolates? However, something seemed to stop him from... well, moving. Ichii shuffled a little closer, pressing his face to Makoto's shoulder to try to get a look at what he was holding.

"Whatcha got there?"

"A-ah... I-Ichii-kun..."

"Just sitting there like that, of course I'm gonna be curious. Some special chocolates, maybe? Maybe there's somebody Mako likes, huh?"

"I-Ichii-kun..."

Ichii nudged Makoto with his elbow, "If there's any girl Mako likes then I want to know about it, okay? If there's somebody special Mako got chocolates from then he should especially be happy...!"

Makoto paused again, then chanced a glance towards Ichii's general direction. He seemed far too close for comfort at that moment.

"... Is there anybody that Ichii-kun likes...?"

Ichii blinked, "Anybody I like...? Huh. Hmn... not really, not that I can think of at the moment... I mean, there are loads of cute girls all over, but... I guess when it's like, is there any girl in particular I woulda liked to have got chocolates from, then that's... nah, I can't really think of any... but I guess that's good, right? Means I don't have to get disappointed if there's someone I like I didn't get chocolates from."

"So Ichii-kun won't be giving out any chocolates on White Day..."

"I dunno, I might get some for Yuina-chan and that lot, it's only fair. Not like it's anything serious, is it? After all, we all know who Yuina-chan's really after... besides, I could ask you the same thing. I think in particular Mirai-chan's going to be pretty sad if you don't get her anything, right?"

"... Mm..."

A usually unresponsive response. Ichii sighed heavily and set his lunch to the side, "Look, Mako. What is it?! I'm gonna keep bugging you until you tell me what the big problem is 'cause otherwise you're just gonna keep sighing and sighing and driving everybody mad! Is it 'cause of Mirai-chan? Is it 'cause of another girl? Is it something else entirely? If there's something really really bothering Mako then I want to know!"

"Here."

"Uh?"

In another move that seemed to be dodging the subject as usual, Makoto brought what he'd been holding out of his backpack and handed it to Ichii, again without looking at him. Ichii blinked down at the small parcel in Makoto's hands; it was a square box wrapped in pink tissue paper held together by a gold fabric ribbon. It rustled slightly as Makoto held it. Ichii blinked at it again... what was this? Of course, there was very little else that it could be, but...

Perhaps a girl had given Makoto some chocolate to give to Ichii? That was possible. Especially since Ichii himself had had that detention over breaktime... maybe somebody had been looking for him but had been unable to find him... and it wasn't as if he wasn't always seen around school with Makoto. If you couldn't give something to one of them it was all the same to give it to the other, wasn't it?... Still... this box did seem rather elaborate. The ribbon was curled into small individual fronds at the end and there was a small tag tucked underneath one part of it... Ichii took the box with slight confusion, "... For me?"

"Mm."

"I guess someone gave it to Mako to give to me, huh?"

Makoto didn't say anything. Ichii glanced at Makoto to see if he could note any kind of reaction, but he was only rather pointedly staring off to the side. Looking down at that folded label again, it quite clearly said "To Ichii-kun~" on it. In Makoto's handwriting, Ichii would have recognized it anywhere. He looked up at Makoto again. Makoto was giving him Valentine's Day chocolates?... Well, he did make him his lunch every day... you often got friends giving them to each other, didn't you? Ichii knew that Mirai always made chocolates for Sakura, for one example. Wasn't it another that all the girls that had given him chocolates, he'd probably give them chocolates too come White Day? As he'd said to Makoto, it wasn't as if it was anything serious... just a friendly gesture, right? Ichii, Makoto and Mizuki had all received chocolates from Yuina and those others, it wasn't anything strange... it seemed a little odd for a guy to give another guy chocolates on Valentine's Day, but again, if it was just friendly... if it wasn't anything serious... and yet Makoto seemed unable to even look at Ichii at that moment. If there was anything Makoto should have been able to smile about on that day, shouldn't it have been something celebrating their friendship...? If it was matters of Valentine's Day chocolates and the behaviour of the girls of Seirei Gakuen bothering Makoto, then surely being able to do something with his best friend should have cheered him up...?

"... From Mako, huh..."

Another silence.

"I guess having a sister, Mako's gonna be used to giving chocolates easily... parents do that, don't they? Trying to get siblings to get along... mou, if I'd realised that Mako was going to give me chocolates then I shoulda got some too!... Or, or made some... though I'm not really good at cooking, I don't think I've ever tried to make chocolates before, but..."

"Ichii-kun didn't need to."

"Of course I should have! Mako did, Mako made some as well as making my lunch perfectly again, so...! I guess I seem pretty ungrateful, huh..."

"It's... not something to be ungrateful about... I- I'm--..."

"Mako?"

"I-... I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable."

If anything, it was Makoto's stuttering behaviour that was making Ichii uncomfortable more than the gesture itself. Ichii spoke with a reassuring and slightly chiding tone, "It's not going to make me uncomfortable...!"

As he spoke, Ichii worked the tag out from underneath the ribbon, unfolding it with his thumb. It was at that point where Ichii realised why Makoto would think that he'd be uncomfortable with something like that. There was a message inside; only a short one, but it said enough. Ichii read it aloud without realising, unaware of the way Makoto was wincing on every spoken word.

"Ichii-kun,

Because I can't tell you in words.

Because you're the only person that I'll ever entirely want.

Because I love you.

Your Mako."

Another silence followed that, this time through neither Ichii nor Makoto knowing precisely what to say. Ichii's own voice had become somewhat halting as he'd reached the end of the message, both he and Makoto realising that that message left nothing ambiguous at all... if there were any problems that Makoto was having then they obviously weren't anything to do with girls. Ichii gulped slowly, pressing the label against the ribbon.

"... Um... Ma-... Mako..."

Makoto's voice was rather blank, "... I shouldn't have put that label on it. I'm sorry."

"N-no, that's--..."

Ichii stopped himself before he said 'that's alright', realising that saying something like that would probably be about as annoying to Makoto as all those 'it doesn't matter' lines had been to Ichii himself... however, he felt confused. Chocolates from Makoto, a label like that... words like that... he looked them over again, trying to sort out their meaning in his mind which seemed suddenly confused with troubled thoughts. Because Makoto couldn't say so in words... couldn't say what? The things on that label? If he couldn't say them out loud, then what... what did he mean by them...? It was enough to tell a friend that you loved them, that was acceptable enough, but... to say something like that, to write something like that after having put... things like that, then... then... then what...?!

Attempting a smile, Ichii nudged Makoto with his elbow again.

"Supposed to be girls who give chocolates to the guys they love on Valentine's Day, thought even Mako'd know that one."

"... Because it's Ichii-kun..."

"Nnh?"

"... Because... because Ichii-kun's always talking about the girls that he likes... because Ichii-kun likes girls... th-then... if... it was... for Ichii-kun... then... I- I wouldn't mind..."

"Mako... what are you trying to say...?"

Makoto was leaning sidewards against the crossed wire of the lower railing now, hooking his fingers against the square gaps formed between the metal. He spoke without blinking, unmoving and staring straight forward as if anything else would disturb the fragile balance now separating him and Ichii. His voice was rather quiet now, too.

"... Ichii-kun knows how much I hate it when people say I'm feminine... but... if Ichii-kun thought that I was... then... that would be alright..."

"I've never thought you were feminine...! What sort of thing is that to say..."

"... Because Ichii-kun likes girls... if... if he saw me like that... if he... if he could feel for me... like how... how he would for a girl, then... I-..."

"Mako, you're being confusing...!"

Seeming to lose patience with the halting conversation, Makoto sighed deeply and picked himself up off the floor. He picked up his bag and lifted the strap over his shoulders, glancing in Ichii's general direction without looking at Ichii himself.

"Ichii-kun should eat his lunch... I won't bother you."

With that, he started to walk off towards the door that would lead to the stairwell. Ichii frowned his confusion, looking back down towards the label. Things seemed both terribly confusing and horribly clear in his mind; on one side, he didn't understand quite why Makoto would give him chocolates like that with such a label, or act like that and speak with such a tone of voice... but on the other hand, it seemed clear. Makoto wanted Ichii to feel for him, as he'd put it, 'how he would for a girl'... and that label saying 'I love you', and Makoto's strange moods all of a sudden... what other conclusion was there even to make? Makoto, for whatever reason... seemed to be in love with him. In love with him. From musing on how difficult it must be for Makoto to juggle the feelings of girls just moments previous, Ichii suddenly felt deeply confused with his own feelings all of a sudden. Was Makoto in love with him? How? Why? When? What? He looked down at the chocolates and his lunch again, then up to where Makoto had just about reached the entrance to the stairwell; feeling suddenly unwilling to allow Makoto just to quietly walk away like that after dropping such a bombshell, Ichii set the chocolates to one side and scrabbled to his feet, tearing along the concrete roof as fast as he could.

"Mako--!"

Makoto stopped but didn't turn around, therefore finding himself quite unprepared for Ichii running into him from behind; he'd misjudged the speed he'd need to catch up with his friend and so had practically catapulted into him, sending them into the (fortunately closed) door of the stairwell with a loud, neat sound.

"... Itetete... ack! Mako, you okay?"

"I-... m-mm... you just surprised me, that's all..."

"Well, that makes two of us. Anyway, don't go walking off like that! I was worried I wasn't gonna get to find you this lunchtime, you wouldn't want to leave me on my own again, huh? Especially after I didn't get to see you over breaktime!"

Makoto didn't say anything, but didn't make to leave; this was enough, for the moment. Gently, Ichii took Makoto's wrist and lead him back over to the main roof area. Neither said anything as they walked, Makoto focusing firmly on the ground and Ichii watching Makoto with a steady and concerned expression... once they were back to where Ichii's bag and other belongings still sat, Ichii turned around and placed his hands on Makoto's shoulders, pushing down slightly with the indication that he should sit down; Makoto did so wordlessly. He seemed so sullen all of a sudden... wondering if there'd be any way at all to get a smile out of Makoto at all over the course of the day, Ichii supposed that all he could do was to confront the issue directly. With a sigh, he knelt himself over Makoto's outstretched legs and kept his hands on Makoto's shoulders, taking advantage of the moment of wide-eyed surprise from his friend to make eye contact.

"I-Ichii-kun..."

"Okay. Let's start from the beginning, okay? So, uh... Mako's all in a bad mood and stuff, and was in a bad mood for a long time... because of Valentine's Day, right?"

Unable to deny this, Makoto glanced away from Ichii with a nod. Slightly displeased by Makoto's wordless reply, Ichii nudged his cheek with two fingers, "Mako's got to keep looking at me, it's only going to seem suspicious otherwi--"

Ichii hadn't particularly meant anything by that other than that he wanted Makoto to keep eye contact with him, but it seemed that those words stirred something a little more from Makoto's point of view; Ichii found himself quite surprised by Makoto suddenly lashing out from beneath his hold, pressing his arms up and against Ichii's own to rid himself of his slight capture and, in turn, flip Ichii down against the rooftop. From Ichii being practically on Makoto's lap the situation was now reversed, Ichii flat on his back against the concrete and Makoto above him, knees on either side of his hips and hands holding him down with surprising strength against his shoulders. Ichii was surprised by this and this was evident by his expression, but it gave him a slight rush of feeling to know that he'd finally managed to tease something other than listless words and apathy from his friend, for the first time in what seemed like entirely too long.

"--uuf-...! Mako--!"

Makoto's expression was somewhere between irritation and some sense of hopelessness, a kind of expression Ichii wasn't sure he'd seen Makoto have before... that alongside the rather emotive tone of Makoto's voice at least told Ichii he'd managed to break down those silent defences somewhat, but... it wasn't as if he hadn't seen Makoto angry before, but this was different to that. Less angry and more... desperate?

"Of course it's going to seem suspicious--! Anything I do or say, it's going to seem suspicious to Ichii-kun, isn't it? If I say things too happily and they seem false, if I don't try to fake it and can't say anything... like that, anything's going to make you worry or try to make me say things... though it's that kind of thing that makes me--... no, it's-- ... it's not Ichii-kun's fault, not at all... it's only my fault... my fault... for things that--... that Ichii-kun should be suspicious of..."

"Mako--! Calm down, you're rambling..."

"... Then what do you want me to say...?"

"I--... I just want Mako to not be upset... after all of this bad-temperedness, I want to be able to see Mako smile... it seems like it's been too long since I've seen that, you know? It's--... Mako is in a bad mood because of me somehow, right? All of this with Valentine's Day and chocolates and things like that..."

Ichii trailed off, losing focus on his words as he was speaking them... Makoto was silent too, just staring down at Ichii. For all of their argument and confusion of before, it seemed that neither of them could figure out quite what to say... Ichii's mind was racing. Makoto had got so upset because of him, had been in a bad mood because of... all of this, whatever 'this' was... the more he thought about it, the more he realised that really, there wasn't even anything to question. The label of those chocolates had said enough, it was just a matter of working out how to respond to that... but Makoto was in such a highly-strung mood at the moment, was there really any way to respond...? Then there had been all of that stuff he'd said before, about Ichii seeing him as feminine or whatever that had been... what with that, and Valentine's Day being the day when girls gave chocolates to the boys that they liked, and Makoto giving chocolates like that to Ichii...

Part of Ichii felt nervous for this new interpretation of Makoto's feelings, but supposed that they weren't completely unexpected... after all, even since childhood, hadn't most if not all of Makoto's actions centred around Ichii? Thinking like that, Ichii supposed he could understand why Makoto might have been so sullen the past little while. If nothing else, they had their friendship since childhood - and that was strong, but saying and doing things like how Makoto had just done, wasn't that risking that? Trying to lead the friendship into a new direction, wanting that so terribly while not knowing if Ichii wanted it at all...

Thinking about it like that, Ichii wasn't sure what he wanted. Makoto obviously wanted things like that, but... was that... was that okay? Could they do that? Did he want to do that? More than anything, he wanted Makoto to be happy... didn't want to see him so silently tortured any longer, just wanted to see him smile...

That seemed to make Ichii's mind up for him. His shoulders were still held down, but Makoto was leant close and he could still move his head... hoping fervently that he hadn't completely misinterpreted the events of the last little while, Ichii leant up and kissed Makoto against the lips, gently and momentarily but there.

Makoto bolted back into an upright kneel as if he'd been stung, "I-I--... Ichii-kun--!"

Ichii couldn't help a blush, "... If it'd been Mizuki-chan or somebody, it'd probably be different... y'know...?"

"... Ichii-kun kissed me..."

"... Isn't that the kind of thing that Mako wants? Since... since Mako said he loved me... that I'm... the only person he'd ever 'entirely' want... right? Or... or did I make a mistake...?"

He shook his head, "N-no... no mistake..."

Staring up at the sky, Ichii didn't move as he spoke. "Of course, it's not like--... I mean... I'd never say that I didn't love Mako too, right? Of course I'm going to love Mako, after being friends for so long... but, that kind of thing... more than 'just' friends, huh? That's--... I mean... if it's Mako, I don't mind... but saying things like that, making out like I'm such a great person... I'm not great like how Mako is, I can't--... I mean... I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't get why Mako would want somebody like me... all those chocolates prove how popular Mako is, and most of those girls have got to be better than me! Nicer and all sweet and kind and less likely to piss you off... I just make you angry a lot of the time..."

"... All of those chocolates don't 'prove' anything, Ichii-kun... you don't have to be anything like any of them. If you were like that, then... then you wouldn't be you, and... Ichii-kun being Ichii-kun is why I like him in the first place..."

Pulling his legs out from under Makoto's kneel, Ichii sat up and leant back against the wire fence, "Right, right..."

Makoto at least seemed to be calmer now, which seemed like some kind of progress... but at that movement, Makoto's expression went back to that hopeless kind of look again, the sort of look that Ichii was learning could create an uneasy pull somewhere in his chest quite powerfully.

"... But... saying all of that... that's still not--... I mean... I--... I... have feelings for Ichii-kun... and they're not--... that is... Ichii-kun's always finding girls attractive..."

"You think I'm suddenly gonna hit you away and call you a homo or something? 'Cause I'm not gonna. Yeah, I like girls, but... I like Mako too, right?"

"Just 'like'..."

"Nono, I mean--... look, Mako. If you thought I was gonna hate you or something for all of this... I'm not gonna do that, not at all! If Mako is gay or straight or whatever, Mako is still Mako. If it's me that Mako likes - loves, then, then I'm just gonna have to get used to that, right? I, I don't mean that like it's a big burden or anything, just that... I didn't think of anything like that before! Even with girls, it was just... maybe there were girls I found attractive or whatever but it's not like I ever made any moves to try and get a girlfriend, is it?"

Reaching out to pat Makoto on the shoulder, Ichii smiled. "Besides, didn't Mizuki-chan say before that we're like a married couple anyway? You always doting on me and everything... if it's like that then it doesn't have to be any different, right? Besides, I could think of a lot worse people to fall for than Mako. If I ever got a girlfriend, wouldn't that just mean that I wouldn't get to spend so much time with you? Maybe that's why I never got one, did you ever think about that?"

The look in Makoto's eyes seemed more hopeful, though he seemed quite confused by this.

"... Ichii-kun...?"

"So who should we tell that we're dating, d'ya think?"

"D-dating?!"

"Sure, that's what couples do, right? If it's boyfriend and girlfriend or boyfriend and boyfriend it's still gonna be dating, isn't it? Unless Mako doesn't want to date me after all?"

"I--... n-no, of course, it--... it's just a little sudden to hear you say something like that..."

"You want to leave a date until next week, then?"

Makoto turned his head, his eyes closed and a stubborn look on his face. "If Ichii-kun's just going to mock me, then--"

"I'm not mocking you! I've just not been on a date date before, so I don't know what you're supposed to do about it...!"

"... You actually want to?"

"Of course!"

At that, Makoto opened his eyes. He watched Ichii carefully for a few moments; as much as Ichii liked to crack jokes and fool around, he did seem to be honest at least this time... he was returning the stare, his eyes as open and questioning as Makoto's were guarded. He wasn't entirely sure he felt that Ichii really understood the gravity of the situation nor of his feelings, but... then again, he hadn't exactly rejected them, had he? No, he seemed perfectly willing to go forth with this relationship, whatever it turned out to be... that was a good start, wasn't it? There were many things that Makoto felt, but perhaps not all of them could be confessed at once on the school roof. If Ichii at least accepted those feelings to start with, then... this was a beginning, wasn't it? Other things could follow...

That seemed promising enough. Makoto smiled, "... Well then, isn't Ichii-kun going to eat any of his chocolates...? I woke up early this morning to be able to make them!"

"Ah-hah--! Mako smiled, Mako smiled! And geez, early this morning? Wow, they really are fresh then, aren't they...?"

"I wouldn't give anything less to my Ichii-kun..."

Ichii didn't seem to particularly notice nor react to Makoto's claiming words, instead more interested with the business of actually eating those chocolates. They'd both got pretty distracted by things, but now he came to think about them again... Ichii felt excited in that certain kind of way that he always did when Makoto had made something new or interesting. He tugged the ribbon away from the box and opened the lid, looking over the inner contents before making a reach for them. White heart-shapes with cream on top... just the sight and scent of them was a sensory overload. Ichii went to pick one out, then found his wrist slapped by Makoto who picked up the one he'd been about to select and then held it out to Ichii's lips.

"Say 'aah', Ichii-kun~."

"... Aaah~"

Obediently, Ichii bit into the chocolate.

"... Well, how is it?"

"... Mmhfn, ffnhl... of course it's going to be great when Mako makes it! Nobody else is better in the kitchen than Mako, after all."

"And will I be getting any chocolates on White Day, then...?"

Finishing off the chocolate, Ichii closed the lid and tucked the box into his bag, alongside his lunchbox. He flinched slightly at this suggestion - he'd never tried making much in the kitchen at all, let alone something like chocolates... and of course, Makoto always set such a high standard to follow. Of course you had to give chocolates back to the girl - or person - you were dating on White Day, but that--... Ichii felt that he hadn't quite thought this all through enough. He smiled nervously, "If I make them with love then that's gotta count for something, right?"

Makoto picked himself up and shouldered his schoolbag, looking down at the seated Ichii with a sneaky expression. "Even if they were made with all of Ichii-kun's love, I think that'd be risky... I should inform Megumi-sensei beforehand to be expecting me, don't you think? Ah--!"

Having pushed Ichii's buttons perfectly, Makoto ducked the textbook Ichii threw at him. Laughing, he picked it up and ran off towards the roof's exit. They had science next, Ichii wouldn't be able to do much without his textbook... realising this, Ichii supposed he had no choice but to chase after Makoto, letting out a yell as he leapt to his feet and grabbed his bag, eager to make chase across the whole school if he had to.

As they ran, Ichii couldn't help but think that this was the most energetic he'd seen Makoto for weeks... and for that, he didn't mind that Makoto had teased him and stolen his textbook. That was just Makoto being mischievous... and the fact that he'd be mischievous in the first place said a lot, Ichii felt.

It felt like rather a heavy duty, being so responsible for Makoto's smile... but, really, that wasn't anything new. Ichii had always been aware of how his moods and behaviours seemed to affect Makoto, even when he didn't mean them to... too many times he'd hurt Makoto without realising it, by forgetting to meet him somewhere or neglecting to phone him when he said that he would... little things like that, all of which Makoto seemed to keep on internal record. Ichii wondered if, now that Makoto had got this off his chest, that kind of thing would get better or worse...

Either way, Ichii supposed he better keep a close eye on his behaviour in the future. All he wanted was for Makoto to keep smiling... and for that, in that moment, Ichii felt that he would do anything.

~fin~