Disclaimer: See first chapter.
Author's note: Although no one mentioned it, I wanted to make it clear that because I started working on this story in 2009, Misaki isn't working at Marukawa publishing. Also, I realized Nowaki has dark eyes in the manga, but in the anime his eyes are blue (which, if you ask me, makes it more interesting because Usagi-san's eyes are blue, too).
At any rate, here's the fourth chapter. It came out a bit longer than the rest, but I wasn't pleased with it and took out half for now. This is the result.
Chapter Four: Doubting
Hiroki wasn't entirely sure where he was going. The early morning air was crisp and chill against his skin, but it did little to refresh him. His hands were buried deep in his pockets as he sunk lower into his green scarf, the one Nowaki bought for him almost a year ago after spotting it in a department store and immediately thinking that "it'll bring out his eye color in the most magnificent way." Hiroki huffed angrily to himself.
His legs carried him for a few blocks, and when he looked up he saw the local Starbucks. Deciding that a cup of coffee would only do him good, he found himself sitting at a side table near the window in no time, surrounded by various salary-men and office ladies, hurrying in and out, some opting to sit but most taking their orders with them on the trek to their respective offices. Hiroki imagined them sitting somewhere on the 30th floor of a skyscraper with big windows, stapling papers and typing away until evening came, and then they would shut down their computers and go to their boring homes and be with their boring families.
He frowned and took a sip of his cup, the warm liquid soothing his nerves somewhat. There was a time when he used to see himself as one of them, aiming for a stable future. But then he entered university and when the first four years ended he just felt like it wasn't enough, and he had to learn more, study more, and he had the greatest idea for a thesis and… a few years later he was an assistant professor in an office filled with books and cigarette smoke, and sometimes he still wondered, usually after he was doing that damned Miyagi's work, if a regular office job wouldn't have been better.
His eyes caught a young woman in a short skirt and long hair chatting into her cell-phone, a blush adorning her cheeks from a time to time, and his frowned deepened as he realized she was probably exchanging lovey-dovey confessions with her boyfriend.
Nowaki was like that, too, always declaring his endless love for him, wanting to do embarrassing stuff like bathing together or watching the fireworks together or… sleeping together, which, Hiroki had to admit, was embarrassing only because Nowaki was Nowaki and he always made him feel so good without him having to say anything, always telling him how amazing he is even when Hiroki wasn't really doing anything, which was the most annoying of all.
Telling him how cute he is.
Hiroki took a long sip of his coffee and sighed heavily. Cute… Takahashi-kun was cute, too, probably, seeing as Nowaki couldn't keep his hands away from his hair, and because he kissed him twice, twice, and no, being sick and helpless was no excuse. Damn that Takahashi kin, always getting in his way.
Although he wasn't pining for Akihiko anymore, he used to for so long that his feelings of helplessness and inferiority almost seemed like a part of him now as they did then. Always wondering what he was lacking in comparison to Takahiro, always trying to better himself, to make Akihiko see that Takahiro just wasn't one of them, that his eyes always followed women and straight porn and that he himself was much, much better than that oblivious guy who was all smiles and far too obsessed with his little brother.
But it was no use. He tried to force his feeling unto Akihiko and failed miserably.
And then Nowaki came along and pulled him out of that dark pit of unrequited love and loneliness, smiling kindly at him and telling him that he shall be loved from now on. That he shouldn't be the one always, always loving. That he could get something in return.
Then he disappeared for a year without a word and Hiroki was so lost he didn't know what to do with himself besides drowning himself with endless work, like all those salary-men who surrounded him now. But the lonely void in his chest only grew bigger until Nowaki suddenly reappeared out of nowhere, all smiles and obliviousness. It made Hiroki to want to forget, too. The anger and loneliness and tears and despair…
But those feelings didn't go anywhere. Always present ever since he first realized he was gay for his best friend - and said friend was also gay but certainly not for him, he realized in high school - lying dormant whenever Nowaki was there, hugging him and kissing him and burying himself in him, but resurfacing when he was having doubts. Like when Nowaki disappeared. Like whenever Tsumori showed up and claimed Nowaki as his own, just in spite.
Like now, when a Takahashi was lying in their guestroom, feverish and helpless and demanding of attention that Nowaki was as happy to give just as that Takahashi was happy to receive.
And Hiroki didn't like that one bit. The only one Nowaki should be fawning over is him, even if he did not like to admit it aloud. If Takahashi Misaki thinks he can steal his Nowaki, his happiness and hope, just like he - and his brother before him - stole Akihiko, he's got another thing coming for him.
Misaki woke up when it was nearing noon, feeling just as tired as he had before falling asleep. He yawned widely and stretched, wincing as the muscles in his left foot moved. It wasn't bandaged, and Misaki assumed Kusama-san decided against bandaging him at night.
The house was quiet. Usagi-san was almost always home, and Misaki found the silence quite unnerving. Although, he reasoned with himself, Kusama-san and Kamijou-sensei were normal people, unlike a certain chain-smoking author. Well, as normal as Kamijou-the-Devil can be…
Misaki sat up in his bed slowly, groaning as the dull headache he felt ever since he went out with his friends reminded him he was still sick. He felt his forehead, but he could not decide whether he was still feverish or not. He spotted a thermometer on the drawer next to the bed and took it, lying back down as he waited for the mercury spread.
He waited for a few minutes, took the thermometer out of his mouth and frowned. 38.0C. Not too high, but not too low either. He sat up slowly again and threw his legs over the bed, rising slowly and supporting his weight with his right foot. He stepped on the wooden floor with his left foot for a few times, examining it, feeling relieved as he found he can now step on it somewhat easier.
He started limping towards the door when the ringing of his cell-phone made him go back to the drawer and retrieve it. He blushed slightly as he spotted the caller ID, coughed into his hand and to clear his voice, and then answered. "Hello?"
"Ah, Misaki," Usagi-san's deep voice greeted him, and Misaki smiled in spite of himself. "I tried calling home since morning, but no one picked up. Where are you?"
I don't know, he wanted to say. I'm sick with a weird cold that won't go away and I'm in the same apartment as the wretched literature teacher and who I hope is merely his roommate and I want to go home already but they won't let me, he wanted to explain, but instead he laughed slowly and told Usagi-san that he was out doing some necessary shopping, mentally slapping himself at his continuous lying.
"I see," Usagi-san said. "Are you still hoarse from that karaoke?"
Misaki cringed inwardly. No, he wasn't hoarse because of that, obviously. "W-well, you know how it's… chilly lately and… my throat is giving me some troubles because of the change of seasons-"
"Are you sick?" Usagi-san cut him off mid-sentence. "I'm coming back now-"
"No, Usagi-san!" Misaki yelled. "You should continue with the trip, it's important, isn't it? I'm fine, really. I'll take some medicine and rest well, then I should be fine in a day or two." No.
"No. I'm coming back," Usagi-san declared, and Misaki could hear a very distressed Aikawa-san in the background.
"Usagi-san!" Misaki reprimanded. "I can take care of myself. It's nothing really, I have no fever-" why are you lying "-and if it won't go away in a few days I'll just go to Nii-chan's."
"But no one's there to take care of you now!" Usagi-san argued back.
Misaki sighed inwardly. Actually, he was being taken care of quite alright. By too many people, too. "I'm fine," I'm not, "Please, don't worry." Please come back…
Usagi-san was quiet for a few seconds before replying. "Call Takahiro right now and tell him you're not feeling well. I'll call him later to make sure you did that." He said.
Misaki frowned. "Usagi-san! I'm not a little kid anymore, and Nii-chan has his own family to take care of-"
"You're his family too!" Usagi-san cried and Misaki's eyes widened. "I have to go now," no "-but I'll call you again in the evening."
"Alright? Give your brother a call. I'll talk to you later."
And then the line was cut. Misaki stared at his cell-phone, feeling tears prickling his eyes. So much care and worry and… no, he wouldn't cry just because of that. He was a big boy. He could take care of himself quite alright, even if he's sick. That's what he always did. That was the only way he knew. His brother was always busy, taking care of him and working. Misaki couldn't worry him any further than that. Whenever he was sick he tried to hide it so his brother won't see. Sometimes he succeeded, other times he failed miserably. But the memory, the knowledge that his illness at the age of eight gave them so much misfortune was enough to silence his pain and make him ignore his fevers.
You're his family too! Usagi-san's words kept repeating themselves in his head and he sniffled, holding his tears back. He took a deep, shuddered breath, trying to regain his composure.
But you're not…
As he exhaled slowly, shivering, a tender "good morning" was heard from the door. Misaki looked up, surprised, and was relieved to see Kusama-san in the doorway, looking somewhat hesitant.
"Uh… good morning," Misaki said, in lack of better words, hoping his eyes showed no trace of tears. "I-I thought no one was home…"
You're not even here…
"I was on the veranda taking care of the laundry. How are you feeling? You look a bit flushed… is your fever up again?" Kusama-san asked as he entered and immediately touched Misaki's forehead, frowning.
"I checked it just now," Misaki said, yet in his fatigue leaned into the touch. "It's around 38. I've never had such a weird cold before…"
Kusama-san blinked at him. "You think it's a cold?" he asked, seeming bemused. Misaki was about to answer, but then Kusama-san cut him off by telling him he'll make something light for him to eat and went to the kitchen.
Misaki followed, limping, and sat down at the table, looking at Kusama-san as he rummaged through drawers in his search for the necessary ingredients.
"I see your foot is better," Kusama-san said then, smiling at him. "I'm glad."
"Yeah, I can pretty much limp on it now," Misaki said, finding the smile contagious. "Do you need any help with the cooking?" he asked.
Kusama-san shook his head. "No, it's quite alright. The sick should stay put." Misaki just watched, following the movements of the knife with his eyes as Kusama-san cut vegetables. "So what makes you think it's a cold?" He asked suddenly, looking up at him with smiling eyes.
Misaki blushed. "Well… I've had a fever since I was caught in the rain… and my head hurts, and my throat feels a bit weird, too… "
"A cold won't give you a fever for more than a day or two," Kusama-san said, returning his gaze to the meal in preparation. "I'd say it's the flu, but… the symptoms aren't… It could be something else."
Misaki blinked at him in wonder. "Something else?" He asked. "Like what?"
"I'm thinking maybe Infectious mononucleosis," Kusama-san answered, filling a small bowl with the cut vegetables, then tending to the pot on the stove before it boiled and spoiled the dish. "More commonly known as the kissing disease."
Misaki paled. Obviously, it was all Usagi-san's fault! Always kissing him and doing those improper things to him, hugging him and… and… there were those tears again and Misaki looked down, clenching his fists and clutching the pajama pants he was made to borrow.
Even though I need you.
Kusama-san probably noticed his reaction but misunderstood it, for then he laughed lightly and said "no, no, you can get it even without kissing." Kusama-san added some tofu to the pot on the stove, and then continued. "That's just my assumption, obviously. Some symptoms still aren't falling into place, so I'm not sure. Let's give this thing a couple of more days, and if you're still sick I'll take you to the hospital I work at to get examined. How does that sound?"
Misaki nodded and Kusama-san smiled at him widely, flashing him a row of pearl-white teeth. Misaki assumed that the blush which he felt spreading was due to the rising fever, but stopped pondering this once a bowl of Miso soup and a small plate with salad were served to him.
"Th-thanks for the food," he said. "But I'm not feeling hungry right now…"
Kusama-san shook his head slowly. "Oh, I insist. You have to eat something. At least the soup. It'll make you stronger."
Misaki sighed heavily, resigning, and begun eating the soup slowly. Kusama-san flashed him another one of those smiles, and then rose to his feet. "I have to go out to buy some ingredients for dinner, alright? I'll be back shortly," Kusama-san said, then grabbed his wallet from the table and a light coat, smiling at him kindly one last time, and closed the door behind him.
Misaki reasoned with himself then that his heart was beating this fast because the soup was too spicy.
To Be Continued…