other people's problems

Keigo learnt from quite early on that fluctuations in Shin's mood would lead to fluctuations in Akihiro's mood, too. Of course, he'd never say anything; Akihiro was not the kind to announce his moods to begin with, but just seemed to retreat in on himself the further time he spent in the company of Nishimura Shin.

Due to this, Keigo thought of Shin as a bad influence; due to this, and other things. He never bothered to mention this. The closest he ever got to breathing those words was the closest they ever got to an argument and to Keigo, it just wasn't worth the risk. Akihiro could do what he wanted. Akihiro frequently did do what he wanted. That wasn't the problem. It was when this mutated into being what Shin wanted, was the problem.

It was after school and after everybody had gone home, after a long hard day and after everything else had been said. Used cigarette-butts lay around Akihiro as he took another to his mouth and Keigo lay on his back with his eyes closed, though he would open one every so often to observe Akihiro's current status. From that position, all he could see was the way Akihiro hunched in his seated position, the smoke floating up from somewhere Keigo couldn't see, the way Akihiro closed himself off without even meaning to. Keigo treasured when silence between them was comfortable, but this was not one of those times.

"... Akihiro."

No answer.

"... Akihiro...!"

Akihiro startled slightly, "Uh?"

"You were miles away."

Akihiro glanced at Keigo warily for a moment, as if expecting some kind of accusation. "Oh. Y-yeah. Sorry. Just... got something on my mind, s'all."

Keigo opened both eyes, gazing up at Akihiro with an expression, he knew, was quite devoid of sympathy. "Nishimura?"

Akihiro looked away, "... I'm that obvious?"

"Yes. Yes, you are."

"Hmf." He didn't seem to want to argue this point.

For a moment, Keigo wondered if that point was worth arguing. Not to the scale of an actual argument, but... as far as heated discussion, perhaps. Resistance. Anything. Keigo had known Akihiro for a long time and seen many sides of him, but this morose and introspective side was not one he'd seen for such a length of time before. With anybody else, Keigo knew, Akihiro would argue. You didn't get such a reputation as the school delinquent if you didn't have that streak to you, but that was something that Keigo - and perhaps only Keigo - was safe from. Nonetheless, he didn't want Akihiro to silently acknowledge such a point, admitting it by omission. He wanted the heated and passionate moods that Keigo knew Akihiro did possess, but that Shin seemed to be draining out of him.

"What's wrong with him this time, then? Being the most popular up-and-coming singer of the area isn't good enough for him, is it?"

"Don't try to be spiteful, Keigo. It doesn't suit you."

Keigo tapped his foot against the concrete, supposing that it didn't. Again, like how this was a side that Akihiro didn't frequently show, so too was that a tone Keigo didn't exercise often, either. Yoshikuni often praised him for how calm he always seemed to be, how even in the middle of the busiest Student Council events he could still keep a level head and do what had to be done but then, Keigo supposed, such events didn't involve such personal emotions. There was no friend he cared for as much as he cared for Akihiro. There was no single person he resented quite so much as he did Shin. The depth and strength of these emotions frequently left Keigo surprised; until this period of his life, he hadn't even been aware that he was capable of such irrational behaviour. It seemed as if, as of this current school year, everything had had to change and implode. Yoshikuni, and his behaviour over Takumu. Akihiro, and his behaviour over Shin. Keigo, and his own feelings caught in these two separate crossroads. All of the qualities Keigo admired were being eroded by these outside influences and of course he would be spiteful, because there was no other way he knew how to react. He couldn't do anything else.

Keigo sighed deeply, "... Alright. Then what is the problem...?"

"... It's not--... ...you wouldn't be interested."

"It's making you depressed. Therefore, I'm interested."

"No, I mean--... it's nothing, really. He's just got some stuff to deal with."

"And you don't think he can?"

"It's not that, it's just--... it's really nothing, Keigo. Don't worry about it."

"I'm not. You are."

Again, the truth in this statement seemed to leave Akihiro no space to reply. Not for the first time, Keigo found himself not only frustrated by the situation at hand, but startled by his own lack of empathy. This was an Akihiro he wasn't used to, an Akihiro who wasn't behaving like 'himself', an Akihiro who was like this because of that Nishimura. And again, not for the first time, Keigo found all of those thoughts whispering through his mind once more. So many thoughts, but all with the same basic root.

I wish you'd never met him.

Keigo licked his tongue over dry lips, knowing this a hopeless situation for him to try to involve himself in, but unable to stop himself trying. "... Is there anything I can do?"

"Not really." Such a straightforward answer.

"Not about him, Akihiro. About you."

He looked over his shoulder again. "Huh?"

"I know I can't do anything about Nishimura, and I wouldn't dream of interfering with his personal problems. ...However, I think we're close enough after all these years that I can dare meddle in yours. What do you want to do, Akihiro? Is there anywhere you want to go? Anything you want to do?"

"I--... like what?"

Keigo shrugged. "It's up to you. Any particular restaurant you're craving? Any film you want to see? Whatever you want to do, let's do it."

Akihiro turned back around, but with a more thoughtful air this time. "... I guess there was that new sci-fi flick I saw advertised, didn't that just get released?... Ah, but after school it's always gonna be packed. Something popular like that, it's probably better to wait until the DVD or whatever. Rather not be sat in a dark room with a bunch of first-year students screaming every time the alien appears."

"Then let's go during school."

"What?"

"Let's say tomorrow. Is tomorrow fine with you?"

"I--... Keigo, we've got school."

"You're a delinquent and I'm on the Student Council. We've both got our excuses, haven't we?"

"I--... I'll get into trouble."

"And I'll cover for you."

Akihiro stubbed out his latest cigarette, then placing his hands behind his head as he leant back to lie alongside Keigo. He smiled, and Keigo felt an involuntary rush of relief for seeing that. It felt like it'd been too long since he'd last seen Akihiro's smile.

"I guess I can't pass up an offer like that."

"Of course, if we're going to go while school's on, that means everywhere else will be that bit less busy... any shopping you wanted to do, anywhere you wanted to eat, we should do it then, while we can."

"City centre's our oyster, huh?"

"If you like."

"... It's not like you to encourage me being truant, Keigo."

"Well then, take advantage of it while the mood lasts."

"Don't you worry, I'll be doing just that."

Silence fell between them, but different this time. Keigo still couldn't shake that sense of relief, not that he would particularly have wanted to. Akihiro's tone had been warm, and something about him already seemed more... relaxed. The quality of the silence said about as much as was needed. Sometimes, you just needed a change of pace, something to look forward to... and maybe Shin's problems would remain and Akihiro would keep making Shin's problems his own problems, but Keigo supposed he couldn't worry about that just now. While Akihiro was still able to be entertained by such small suggestions, Keigo supposed that this was something he should also be taking advantage of. For however long it lasted.

end

27th August 2009