There were standards that Sora Kitazawa felt he had to keep. High ones. When one held the responsibilities he did, and had to serve as a respectable role model for others of the same age, there really wasn't much choice. Not only was a professional disposition necessary, but so was a certain degree of courtesy, etiquette, and, in some cases, charm. (Personally, Sora hated the sound of that last word, and would prefer to use any other synonym to describe himself.) A decent amount of talent, either at work or in the arts, never hurt either.
He had long ago discovered the respect and admiration he received, from adults and his peers alike, for his maturity level and giftedness. And while some days the workload was overwhelming, Sora counted himself privileged for having this early experience of responsibility.
Most of the time.
It had been a long day.
Sora sat tiredly in the back of his family's limousine as it made the journey from the academy back to the house. A considerably extensive stack of papers was packed securely into his briefcase-like bookbag, which rested on the seat beside him. Not only did he have his daily schoolwork to worry about, but he was required to make a speech to the seventh graders tomorrow – a speech congratulating them on their hard work that had recently helped win Seika Academy a position as one of the top schools in the country (like it wasn't up there already), and then an informative segment about the new standardized testing system the academy was adopting. Sora didn't expect any student to take that last bit of news well, but part of his job was to make it seem worthwhile. Or at least bearable. He wasn't sure how many of them would actually fall for it, though.
He really didn't want to think about it at the moment. He just wanted to relax at home this evening, and only look his notes over right before he went to bed. He'd rehearsed enough the last few days, anyway – he knew what he was doing. The notes were really only there for reassurance, purely a just-in-case. The important parts of this speech weren't all that hard to remember, by this point.
He let himself out of the vehicle when it stopped in the driveway, and trooped into the fairly large and lofty house. Another privilege, that was – though this one had nothing to do with his accomplishments, but rather those of his father. Said father wasn't back yet, and Sora's stepmother had gone out to visit some friends, according to what the maid told him. He thanked her, grabbed a small bag of pretzels from the kitchen cabinet, and took his things upstairs to do his assignments. Ever since he had started eating food that Najika Kazami made and learned to appreciate the simple delights of eating again, snacks like bagged pretzels had become pretty boring, but he couldn't pester that sweet girl for food all day long. As much as she liked seeing him and serving him delicious food, and as much as he liked seeing her and eating that food, there had to exist a careful balance so he wouldn't seem too demanding. Ah, Najika…
With a sigh, Sora managed to get his mind off of his love interest and bring his attention to what needed to be done: homework. He was exhausted, but not so much that he couldn't pull through it. It didn't take too long – Sora didn't struggle very much academically, though he did and always would hate civics – but by the time he was finished and had moved on to attempting a little reading, he found that he didn't even want to think for a while. It was just one of those days when his brain screamed at him to take a break from running the Responsibility Marathon, even if he was ahead, because it never had a finish line anyway.
At this time of day, he often might read, practice the piano, strike up a conversation with his stepmother or Hitomi (the maid), or take a walk and do some thinking on his feet. But he didn't feel like doing any of those things right now, and dinner wasn't for another hour or so yet. It was a shame Daichi didn't live at home anymore – even if his brother detested him, Sora would have liked to have the familiar presence around. He missed having a sibling in the house to bother sometimes.
He stepped over to his chest of drawers and took a moment to feed the shimmering silver-and-orange goldfish in the bowl that sat on top. Here was one responsibility he had actually chosen for himself – when he was a child, Sora had asked for a pet, and ended up keeping fish since his parents wouldn't allow anything else. He always had a hard time coming up with names, though, which was why the current fish remained nameless.
After that was taken care of, he changed out of his school uniform and into a black t-shirt and some neon-green pajama pants he would prefer no one to see him in. With his speech notes in hand, he left the room, headed downstairs to watch something on the big T.V. and review the notes during commercials. In the living room Sora made himself comfortable on the white leather sofa, dropping the papers onto the glass-topped coffee table before reaching for the remote control. On the opposite wall was lodged the wide flatscreen television of the Kitazawa household. When his parents weren't using it, he always made sure to take advantage of it rather than the small set in his own room.
For a while Sora sat and watched a special on trained animals, and when that was over, a travel program (this episode's destination: China). In the middle of the local news his father finally returned from the academy, and shortly after that, his stepmother arrived home. Both of them looked a little surprised to see him already dressed for bed. When asked about it during the quick, somewhat bland dinner, Sora only shrugged and said he would probably go to bed early tonight.
And though he hadn't actually been planning on that, it came true –at approximately 7:38 PM he fell asleep, sprawled out on the couch, in the middle of his favorite movie.
Cautiously, Daichi turned the doorknob and entered the foyer of what he once considered to be his home.
It hadn't been a great day, and he really didn't feel like running into his parents right now. Or Sora, for that matter. Or even the neighbors. It would be best if no one knew he had been here. All he wanted was to get a few bath towels (since his had mysteriously disappeared in the dorm) and then get out.
He could hear the T.V. making noise in the living room, and walked past the doorway as quickly and quietly as possible, resisting the urge to peek inside. He made it upstairs unnoticed and quickly chose two towels – white and dark blue – from the second floor linen closet. He so hated coming here, and didn't anymore if he could help it, but on the rare occasions when he had absolutely no choice, Daichi realized that the place always felt so…oppressive. It had clearly lost the ability to comfort him as it had in the past. Ever since the passing of his mother, everything had seemed to change somehow, and the house was no different. What frustrated him was that he seemed to be the only one to feel these changes.
Daichi went back down the front staircase carrying his prizes and once again approached the entrance to the living room. For a brief moment, standing there in the polished wooden hallway, he wondered if he should turn around and leave through the back door instead, just to avoid the risk of being seen and spoken to. But the front door was so close, and he would be past the living room in only two steps or so…oh, this whole sneaking around business was getting dumb. Daichi took a step forward, glancing quickly into the room this time, a bit nervously – and then, startled, did a double take, just to be sure that his eyes hadn't fooled him.
But apparently his eyes had not lied about the amusing sight displayed there before him. It was a sight Daichi would not have expected to see in recent years, but then again, he was never here, so how would he know? A few hushed snorts and a blink of a small light later, the younger Kitazawa brother scrambled out of the room. Forgetting to be careful, he let the front door slam closed behind him upon leaving the house.
"Good morning, Najika-chan," Sora greeted, quickly covering his mouth to hide an escaping yawn. He and the young pastry chef were standing outside the academy's high school building at the start of this fine sunny day.
"Good morning, Sora-sempai," was her cheerful reply. "I hear that we're supposed to have an assembly today…?"
He nodded. "We are, later this morning. I'm the speaker, actually."
"Oh. What's it about?"
Sora smiled at her in that disarming way only he could. "Secret."
She paused, her large eyes taking on a contemplative look. "…is that a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, assemblies are usually one or the other."
He laughed, amused. "You've caught on quickly to how Seika Academy works. This one is a little of both, actually. But nothing earth-shattering, so don't worry."
"Oh, okay then," she replied with a small smile. Sora could tell she was worried over what the bad news might be, but once she learned that it was only a standardized testing system, he predicted that she'd just do the necessary extra studying like everyone else.
"Is there a chance you can come to the diner later?" Najika asked. "You haven't been over for a while. Unless, um, you have things to do…"
"Of course I'll come, now that I know that you miss me," the boy teased. Najika gave a bright grin, accompanied by the slightest of blushes. Sora wondered if he should take this moment to steal a kiss from her. However, she was already checking her watch and turning away, saying, "Okay, I guess I'll talk to you then."
"All right," he agreed, only the tiniest bit let down. "See you later, Najika-chan." He watched her as she headed away across the grass, to be joined by Daichi as he made his way over from the boys' dormitories; the two of them then disappeared around the corner. Sora turned around; it was time he got to his own class.
The assembly was scheduled to take place during third period. During his morning classes Sora had taken a few minutes to mentally rehearse parts of his speech without looking at the notes. He concluded that he couldn't be any more prepared, and decided to relax.
Soon enough, students were flocking to the auditorium and filling up the seats. Sora managed to get through the noisy crowd and up to the front, where he climbed the steps to the stage and approached the podium waiting for him in the center. He heard and ignored a few girlish squeals from the seats, signaling that he'd been spotted by some of his female admirers. As everyone continued to get settled, he opened his bookbag and shuffled the contents around in search of his just-in-case notes.
Huh…weird…wait a minute…
Let's look again, slower this time…
Sora felt his heart start to pound. Okay, ONE more time…
No, no, no, no, no…no.
His notes were simply not there. Definitely not there.
The pounding suddenly got three times worse. Sora bit his lip, fighting back any panic his face might be in danger of showing – he was perfectly aware that people in the audience were watching him even though he hadn't begun yet. Inside, he was beginning to get frantic – sure he'd rehearsed, but people's minds were known to occasionally go blank during these things…he was without his safety net! Sora wiped his forehead – all of a sudden, the stage lights were incredibly hot.
Where could they possibly be? he wondered through his worry. He glanced around the stage floor, then at the floor of the auditorium, trailing the route he'd taken. There were absolutely no papers to be seen. At this time the last few students were sitting down, and a good number of them had already gone quiet and turned their attention to him.
Daichi, sitting with Najika and Akane, watched his brother standing at the podium, holding onto his bag and wearing a strange expression. Aniki sure looks uncomfortable…what's his deal?
Sempai...? Najika thought.
Why am I losing my confidence because of this? Sora thought in frustration. I know what I'm doing! If I keep my head clear, I should be fine. He lowered his bag down to rest against the side of the podium, his heart rate finally starting to slow down. I'll be fine, as long as I focus.
He straightened up and observed the whole seventh grade sitting before him, and the room hushed completely. "Good morning, everyone," he began, managing a smile. "The first reason for our gathering today is because our academy has recently been honored with the title of …"
It couldn't be denied that so much experience had rewarded Sora with a high skill level in public speaking. For one thing, his memory had been strengthened, and so he hesitated little as he recalled the major points he needed to discuss in each part of this speech. What worried him was that he might leave out some important detail somewhere. It seemed unlikely – it had never happened before, as far as he could remember – so he was trying his best to ignore the thought. From the outside, one would never know that anything was amiss – Sora made sure his behavior and tone of voice were composed. Only Daichi had his suspicions, as he noticed Sora's fingers tightly curled around the edges of the podium.
As he proceeded, Sora felt increasingly more reassured that he wasn't forgetting anything significant. There was no need to freak out about notes after all – not for a relatively easy speech like this. He was probably just being paranoid about the whole thing. Time steadily crept along, and at last, he was halfway through the section about the tests (as he'd known, faces all throughout the audience had fallen in despair) and was feeling considerably better.
That is, until he felt something warm drip out of his left nostril.
My nose has to run now, doesn't it? Sora thought, irritated, as he continued to speak. He knew that he had no tissues with him, and it would be really impolite to wipe his nose on his sleeve up here during this. Thank goodness snot was more-or-less transparent, and unnoticeable when people were at such a distance away. As soon as he was finished here – which would be only in a few minutes – he would locate the nearest men's room and clean it up.
But it was becoming a real annoyance, because the snot wouldn't stop coming and just kept pooling above his upper lip. Sora couldn't help but perceive some of the students beginning to frown oddly at him, while others' eyes went wide. He only hoped it was because of the unwelcome news he was presenting and not because they'd noticed his runny nose.
Then a quick, sudden movement near the center of the auditorium caught his eye. Sora glanced over and saw that it was Najika, waving her hands around in front of her to try to get his attention, and appearing very distraught. As soon as he looked her way, she motioned hurriedly at her nose. It's that noticeable? he thought nervously. There was just no way Najika could see it from where she was sitting. But beside her, Akane, also looking straight at Sora, very obviously mimed wiping her hand across her nose. Daichi, in the meantime, was looking away.
Sora moved his gaze to another part of the audience so it wouldn't look like he was staring in one direction. Everywhere he looked, students appeared uncomfortable, many of them averting their eyes like Daichi was, and a few were giggling. Sora was now dying to wipe his lip. His eyes darted back to Najika. Anxiously, she pointed to her nose again, and then leaned forward and began to mouth something.
Unfortunately, Sora was just as bad at reading lips as he was at inventing names for his fish. He felt helpless as he tried to understand Najika's message. Then she started to use gestures. First she pointed to him and mouthed one word, then at her nose with another word, and then finally brushed her finger downward above her lip, accompanied by a third word. She then began to repeat the last word desperately.
My nose is bleeding? Without another thought Sora stopped talking and wiped his nose on the cuff of his sleeve. He looked down, and indeed, a smear of blood stained the white fabric. He heard a few snickers from the audience.
Sora could not believe his bad luck. This was worse than that time he'd suddenly really needed to use the bathroom during a speech. "Uhh…" he stammered, before his brain switched back into "professional" mode. "I apologize, everyone…" Dang it, his nose was still leaking! "I guess I'm going to have to conclude this real fast. So, uh, the tests won't be distributed until December, and you'll be getting those information packets soon." Whatever else he might have needed to say had flown right out the window, and he couldn't find the will to retrieve it. "Dismissed. Have a good day, everyone."
As the students started standing up to leave, Sora wiped his nose again hastily on his cuff and snatched up his bag. But it appeared he had forgotten to latch it after looking through it earlier, and his grab was a bit too violent. He had only taken a step before the weight of the bag shifted in his hand, and papers slipped out, sweeping the short distance to the floor.
Sora heard the swish and looked down, only to behold the disaster. More embarrassed than he normally would have been, he wasted no time in dropping to the ground and collecting the documents, his face going redder than it already was. He didn't dare look out at the chattering students making their exit. As soon as he'd stuffed the papers into his bookbag and closed it with a secure click, he walked out quickly through the stage door and into an empty back hallway.
He took a moment to wipe his nose again and sigh miserably. The president of the student council just had a nosebleed in front of the entire seventh grade. People would not be bound to forget this. And Sora had never had a nosebleed before. Speaking of which, he should probably tilt his head back – wasn't that supposed to help?
"Sora-sempai!" a worried voice called out. He quickly lowered his head back down. Najika and Akane were all but running down the hallway toward him, with Daichi following at a more leisurely pace. Sora covered his nose with a hand, embarrassed to have Najika see him like this. But it was too late by this point.
"Don't raise your head up; lower it instead," Najika commanded as she came to a stop. "You don't want to choke on the blood. You haven't swallowed any?"
He shook his head.
"Sora, here." Akane held out a wad of tissues, which Sora gratefully took. "Thanks," he replied, furiously cleaning up his face.
"Did you have any idea that that was coming?" Daichi asked him.
Sora looked at him with disdain. "If I had I wouldn't have gone onstage," he replied. He lowered his head slightly and pinched his nose.
"I'm only asking because you looked really funny right before you started speaking," Daichi explained in a flat tone. "Then you kind of got over it."
Sora just raised his eyes from the floor and gave his brother a weird look.
"I think I know what Daichi means," Najika said suddenly. "You looked like something was bothering you for just a minute."
Then Sora remembered, all too clearly. His anxiety about his missing notes must have shown on his face back there. "That was something else," he said, voice nasal from the pinching of his nose. He let go of it to continue. "That was the first thing that went wrong. I lost the notes for my speech, and – and I needed them!" He shut his nose again and glared at a nearby wall.
"Really?" asked Akane skeptically. "I thought you did really well, as usual."
"Where did you leave them?" asked Najika, trying to be helpful.
"I don't know," he groaned. "I have no idea."
"Your notes?" asked Daichi slowly. "Hey…did they happen to be written on yellow lined paper?"
Sora's head shot up, his eyes wide. "Yeah! How do you know? Where are they?"
From the depths of his pocket Daichi produced his cell phone. He flipped it open, pressed a few buttons, then turned it around and held it out towards Sora. "You must have left them at home last night. Look on the coffee table."
Sora stepped forward and peered at the screen, wondering when Daichi had ever been home last night. But that question promptly dissipated from his mind, as what he saw filled him with horror. There he was, lying across the sofa at home, sound asleep, in quite an undignified position. One leg was hanging off the side of the sofa, and one arm was stretched straight up past his head. His other hand rested on his chest, loosely clutching a spoon he'd been using to eat some ice cream with after dinner, a few stains from the sticky vanilla dessert decorating his black shirt. His mouth was hanging open slightly, and he was wearing those stupid neon green pants and no socks. He realized with a sudden sickening feeling that the girls had also moved in to see the photo. Their faces looked something like this: O_O
"DAICHI!" Sora practically yelled, the sound coming out as a nasal buzz. He felt his face start to burn with humiliation. He wasn't too concerned about what Akane thought, but Najika…
Daichi couldn't just show that like it was an everyday snapshot! Why had he even taken it? What the heck was happening here?
"Do you see them?" Daichi asked.
Sora cast his eyes to the part of the coffee table the photo had captured. The unmistakable yellow papers lay there right where he'd left them. Left them, and forgotten they were there. "Yeah, I see them," he muttered. "Now close that thing! No, delete it!" he demanded.
Daichi shrugged and snapped the phone shut.
Sora briefly released his bleeding nose again so he could question Daichi without sounding like a dentist's drill. "Why would you take that? And why were you home, anyway?"
"I was there because I had to pick up something," Daichi answered, seemingly unrattled by Sora's current high level of emotion. "And I saw you, and…well, I don't know. It was pretty funny. It was a moment I thought someone should capture, I guess."
I don't believe this. "Is this some kind of blackmail?" Sora asked suspiciously. He glanced at Najika and Akane, whose expressions hadn't changed much, though Akane held a hint of a smile. When Najika met Sora's eyes, he rapidly looked away and back to Daichi, self-consciously covering his nose.
"No," answered Daichi firmly. "I'm not that low."
At the moment, Sora had a hard time believing that.
"You guys had better get to class," he muttered, starting to turn away. His fist still clutched the bloody tissues beside the handle of his bag.
"Sora-sempai, you should go see the nurse," Najika said, sounding almost as if she were pleading.
"I know. I'm going." With nothing more to say, the student body president pinched his nose, ducked his head, and stormed away with his seriously wounded pride.
For the rest of the day, Sora tried to remain inconspicuous. After his visit to the nurse, he stayed within the safety of the student council office for a while, a crumpled tissue shoved up his nostril. Only when he was finally certain that the bleeding had ceased did he take it out and resume his classes, but once back, he couldn't bring himself to participate much.
Najika tried to keep her hopes up, but Sora did not show up at the diner during lunch hour. As she served other students who arrived, it was impossible to ignore the fact that Sora's little accident was a hot topic in conversation. A fair amount of students sympathized with him; others had been too weirded out by the sight of their respectable president having a nosebleed. When asked her opinion, Najika responded with her sincere belief that the timing had been very bad, and it was just one of those things that couldn't be helped. Whenever she passed one of the front windows she'd peek out, hoping against hope to see Sora approaching, but it was not to be. Maybe, with the gossip about him floating around, that was a good thing after all. At least Daichi came to get a bite of something. His presence, thankfully, caused people to stop talking about Sora for a while. And it seemed that he didn't have much more to say on the subject himself.
During her afternoon classes, Najika thought about how upset Sora had been about everything when she'd last seen him. His nose had bled in front of everyone, he'd been anxious because he'd misplaced his speech notes, and then there was that picture…that picture of him asleep. Najika could understand why he was embarrassed by it, but in all honesty, it wasn't THAT bad. It was actually kind of cute to see him taking a careless rest on the couch. But Sora didn't like being seen that way, by anybody. Really though, that couldn't be worse than the bloody nose incident.
Najika decided she had to find Sora and talk to him. To try to calm him down if he still needed it, and to let him know that there was no shame in anything that had happened. It was just unfortunate that it had all happened in one day.
She went straight to the student council office when classes were over, but he was not there. The other student officers were reluctant at first, but at Najika's insistence that she was a good friend of Sora's and needed to speak to him urgently, they eventually told her that he had gone to the music department, leaving behind firm orders not to be bothered unless the matter was very important. Najika thanked them earnestly and departed for the music rooms.
If there was any day that he felt compelled to be alone, it was today.
Sora didn't try to think about anything but the music as he pushed down on the keys, pressed the foot pedals, and concentrated on the printed notes and rests before him. He hadn't bothered to choose a tune that necessarily reflected his mood – this one was pretty lively, to tell the truth – but one that was at a reasonable difficulty, one he knew he could play. It sounded familiar, actually…he'd probably used it to practice in the past…
But then something went wrong – a sour note rang out. Sora blinked, backed up, and began the section again. When he reached the place of his mistake, it only happened once more – his finger went off and hit the F, not the E, causing an odd, unpleasant change in the song's melody. A little miffed, he went back a few measures for another attempt…and hit a completely different key this time, but one that was still not E.
Frustrated, Sora was tempted to slam his fist down on the piano keys like he had when he was younger, before he'd gotten reprimanded for it. Instead, he repeatedly and forcefully prodded the wrong note, angrily listening to how off-key it sounded, before finally putting his hands in his lap in defeat. The silence and slight dimness of the room lingered heavily around him. He hadn't had a bad day like this in a really long time.
There were a few knocks at the door, and Sora grimaced at having his solitude interrupted. But when he turned his head and saw that it was Najika coming inside, he felt somewhat placated. She smiled at him tentatively, and he managed to return it with his own, although it was half-hearted. Only when he remembered that she'd seen that photo did he feel horrible all over again, and tried to fight the heat once again rising in his cheeks.
If Najika noticed it, she pretended not to. "Hi, Sora-sempai," she said, moving across the room to where he sat at the upright piano. "Are you…how is your nose?"
"Much better," he answered. "The nurse just had me hold it closed for a while until the blood started to clot, but then I had to keep a tissue in it for a while anyway." Najika might as well know all the gory details; she'd already seen too much.
She nodded. "Yeah, I saw you for a second when you came out of the bathroom and ran into the student council office."
So she'd seen him with a tissue stuffed up his nose, too. Sora heaved a weary sigh. "Yeah…" He thought for a moment, and added, "The nurse also told me to lower my head instead of raise it, just like you did. Has your nose bled before?"
"Once or twice," Najika replied. "Some of the kids at the orphanage have had nosebleeds too, so I knew what to tell them."
"Ah." He paused. "How did you find me?"
"Oh…I asked the people at the office, because I thought you might be there. Please don't get mad at them; they only told me where you were because I wouldn't leave them alone," Najika hurriedly explained.
"…I see…well, I guess you know about my secret hideout now." He smiled wryly.
Sora shook his head. "No, that's all right. Better you than someone else." Najika's eyes softened, but she said nothing.
She pulled a nearby chair over and sat down, while Sora turned himself around on the piano bench. She stayed quiet for another second or two before saying in a low voice, "I got Daichi to delete the picture."
Sora startled. "You…did?"
"Yeah. When he came to the diner for lunch. Oh, don't worry," she added quickly, "no one else saw it."
Good. And then…"Oh. Oh, Najika-chan…" He looked at her with wide eyes, guilt overcoming him in one powerful surge. "I promised to come today, didn't I…I'm so sorry…"
She shook her head. "It's all right. You had too much on your mind. I understand."
"Yeah, but…still…" Sora trailed off. He sighed again, feeling an unpleasant weight in his chest. "What a rotten day."
"Everyone has them sometimes," Najika reminded him gently.
"Maybe, but it's worse when it happens to me, especially in school," Sora ground out, abruptly bothered. "I'm not supposed to make mistakes or look stupid. People look up to me. I'm the leader. If something happens to me, it's automatically a big deal. Sometimes I don't even think it's because I'm the president of the student council, but because they think that I'm just the type of person who shouldn't…" He hesitated, struggling for the right words. "…mess up." She couldn't understand, he knew, and yet here he was, blurting it out. He couldn't help it; he was thinking about it more today than ever before.
Najika wasn't sure what to say, but she felt bad, having not realized the full scope of Sora's position until now. "Do you not like being president, Sora-sempai?"
"Today I don't. Usually it's not so bad, as long as I'm careful. And…I really didn't want you to see me mess up. I know you were probably shocked just like everyone else that I could look so dumb." He wished he could laugh it off right there, but he couldn't.
"Not really. I mean, you didn't look dumb. And I wasn't shocked, because a nosebleed can happen whether you're president or not."
Sora turned his gaze to her thoughtfully. This was probably one reason why Najika held his attention while the other girls all seemed the same – something about the way she just said whatever she felt needed to be said. "Yeah…yeah, I know," he finally admitted, feeling silly for having such a simple truth clarified for him. "I'm glad you see it that way."
"Not just me," Najika replied. "Akane and Daichi too. Probably because they've known you longer than anyone else."
Sora rolled his eyes. "Maybe so, but I'm sure Daichi got a kick out of it anyway. Or he was just disgusted to be related to me. Oh, wait, he already is." It was not often that Sora was sarcastic, but he couldn't prevent the words from escaping.
Najika frowned. That was an issue she did not know a whole lot about. "I wish he wasn't," she sighed. "But…at least things aren't any worse, right?"
"I suppose." She did have a point there.
Najika glanced around the music room. "You called this your hideout. Does playing the piano comfort you?"
Sora was a bit taken by surprise at the unexpected question. "…yes, when I need it to," he answered meditatively. "It's the one thing I never get tired of. And sometimes…it's nicer to hear music instead of peoples' voices."
Najika nodded. "I was just thinking," she mused, "that maybe playing the piano is to you what cooking is to me – the thing you enjoy no matter what. The thing nobody can ever change."
"Yeah," he agreed. "The only time I really have to worry about it is when a competition comes up. But I get to see great places. I think you would have liked Paris a lot." He chuckled. "Including the food there."
Najika nodded emphatically. "I'd love to eat French cuisine right there in France. And see the city itself..." She trailed off, within a momentary daydream.
"Then it's settled. If the opportunity ever arises again, I'll take you there."
"Really?" asked Najika, liking the idea. "That'd be neat." Then she blushed, imagining herself and Sora in the romantic capital of the world.
Sora's slightly uplifted spirits plummeted again when he recalled the worst thing Najika had had the honor of seeing today. "Uh, Najika-chan…I'm sorry you saw that picture of me. I know I looked like an idiot. I don't know why I didn't just go upstairs when I felt myself getting so tired last night." Thank goodness I wasn't in my underwear, like some guys might have been. If that were the case, the situation would have been ten times worse.
Najika laughed suddenly, which alarmed Sora and almost made him regret bringing the subject up. But it was a good-natured laugh. "You didn't look like an idiot. You looked like a regular guy who fell asleep on the couch in his pajamas. What's wrong with that?"
"I liked it, if you want the truth," Najika told him. "You looked so completely relaxed."
"You liked it? But…really?" Sora sputtered. It made no sense. And furthermore, he couldn't help but remember her expression when she'd first seen it. "It surprised you though, didn't it?" he asked.
"At first," Najika admitted. "But then I got to liking it. Come on, don't be embarrassed, sempai."
Sora paused uncertainly. And he wasn't used to being uncertain anymore, at least not around people. "How am I supposed to face the students now?" he murmured, troubled. "How are they going to see me? Will they still respect me?"
"They will, Sora-sempai," Najika said firmly. "In a while, they'll get over what happened today. If anything, maybe if they see you not worrying about it, they'll realize that it wasn't a big deal after all. Because really, it isn't."
He sighed. "I hope so."
"Don't worry about it," Najika insisted. "And by the way, Akane was right: nobody would have guessed that you didn't have your notes. You went through that speech like it was nothing."
Sora smiled. "I wish I hadn't misplaced them, but at least that part wasn't a total disaster."
Najika leaned forward. "Sora-sempai, you're always giving me advice," she said solemnly, "and now I want to give you some."
The boy blinked in surprise, but said nothing.
"It sounds like you forget this sometimes," Najika said, "but you are just the same as all the rest of us. You're no better or worse than anyone in any way. Never mind your special responsibilities and skills – anyone could have them. You shouldn't have to try and become them. You're Sora Kitazawa, and that's who you should try to be before anything else."
Sora stared into Najika's resolute face. He hadn't been wrong before; she really did just tell you like it was with no regrets whatsoever. He couldn't imagine any other girl saying this to him. And she was right – ever since becoming student body president and gaining the attention of seemingly everyone, he had gradually forgotten to spend some time being the normal kid he'd been. He'd been too busy living up to his status, trying to impress everyone – his father, the students – so he wouldn't feel unworthy of being president. And somewhere along the way, he'd stopped talking to people – really talking to people, including his brother and any friends that had since drifted off. No one even wanted to really know him anymore – except Najika, it appeared.
All of a sudden, he felt alone. More isolated than he could ever remember being. And it was horrible.
Najika picked up on his dejection right away. "Sora-sempai? I didn't mean to upset you," she said carefully. "I just…needed to tell you."
"…no," Sora answered calmly. "I needed to get upset. Otherwise I never would have known."
Najika hesitated, then looked at him consolingly. "It's okay, sempai. You don't have to be alone if you don't want to be."
Those words almost made him sick with self-pity. Nevertheless, Sora pondered on them. It shouldn't be impossible. Not if he made the effort to bring himself back to his original position: Student. Teenager. Sora.
He took a deep breath, and then let it out. "…thank you."
She smiled, relieved to know that he'd accepted her advice. "I just want to be friends with the real Sora-sempai, that's all."
"You have every right to. Especially since you're the first one in quite a while to care to. I'm going…I'm going to do things differently, somehow. I promise you that." Sora smiled at her, gratefully. What she'd told him was something he felt he'd always known, but simply grown accustomed to forgetting. But not anymore. "So, is the diner still open?"
Najika jumped up. "Of course! Let's go."
As she led him out of the room, Sora felt just a little more in touch with himself. Over time, with this new – or was it old? – way of thinking, things would change. He'd remind the people around him, one way or another, that despite being a leader, he was not so much above his peers as everyone believed. Perfection did not quite reach him, and he found that to be a relief.
Having a friend like Najika; that was the real privilege.
Yes, I am a Sora fan. I don't believe there's anything stuck-up or exaggerated about him having so much talent and being so polite, but sometimes, personality-wise, he's as stiff as a board. Also, that smile he gives Najika (and everyone else) almost hurts me to look at for more than five seconds; it's just TOO pretty sometimes. There has to be more to him than meets the eye – hence, this story was born. It is the fastest thing I've ever written. I think the nosebleed idea is awesome. It was the most fun part to write. But I feel like I didn't quite do Daichi justice – he doesn't seem annoyed enough around Sora. And I know the ending is kind of rushed – I struggled with it, believe me.
Oh yeah, I like SoraxNajika, if you couldn't tell. I tried not to make this too romantic, since that wasn't the aim of the story. But for Sora to be Sora, he had to think a little romantically when it came to Najika. Please don't kill me if you didn't like those moments.