"Shuu—ji!"

Akira's voice can be heard clearly, even with the clamour of students rushing home. It's after school and, as usual, Akira and Shuuji are…well, having an Akira-and-Shuuji moment.

An annoyed Shuuji turns around to find his…er…acquaintance skipping towards him. Shuuji sighs as he wonders why he even bothers to talk to this guy. He turns to his bike and unlocks it, trying to ignore Akira.

"Hey Shuuji-! Let's go home together, okay?" Akira says, throwing his arm around his fellow producer.

Shuuji sighs again. "What about Nobuta?" he asks, praying that Akira had forgotten about her and would dash off to find her, leaving a chance for Shuuji to have some peace and quiet, for once.

"Nobuta is going out for ice cream with Mariko." No such luck, Shuuji.

Akira pouts. "Akira is lonely." He stares at the ground and Shuuji could swear that for a second, the usually happy-go-lucky Akira isn't in such a great mood.

"C'mon, let's go," Shuuji mutters, giving in. He takes his bike and walks toward the school entrance. Akira follows, prancing about and flapping his arms as Shuuji pretends to not know him. Can't he at least be a little bit more normal? Shuuji wonders. Then he changes his mind. There's no way this guy…this soy milk-obsessed, flappy, loud, annoying guy could ever be normal. Ever.

Shuuji starts walking a little faster. He doesn't want to be seen with this guy—especially not in front of his classmates, those people who were supposed to be his friends. They'd definitely think Shuuji was weird for hanging out with someone like Akira. Not that Shuuji particularly cared about those people. No, it was to save his own reputation. After all, those kinds of things were very important in the game of life—a game Shuuji refused to lose in. Shuuji continues walking, now beyond the school gates, now towards the bridge that he bikes on every day.

"Geez, Shuuji~!" Akira whines. "Slow down! Akira can't catch up!"

Shuuji looks behind his shoulder to see an exhausted Akira, struggling to catch up to him. Shuuji smirks. He wonders how Akira even managed to break that huge pile of cement the first time he came over. This guy looks so weak, panting from just going up the stairs. Shuuji stops, deciding to wait for Akira. It'd be pretty mean to just leave him there.

Akira finally catches up. "You're so fast, Shuuji," Akira whines as he climbs onto Shuuji's back.

Shuuji throws him off in annoyance. This guy really didn't know anything about personal space. "You're just slow," he retorts. "Let's go."

Shuuji walks towards his house once again, wondering for the umpteenth time why he even associates with Akira. He looks over at Akira, who is giving him an expectant look. It's now that Shuuji gets the feeling he won't like what's in store for him.

"Hey, Shuuji, come over today," Akira finally says.

"Why?"

"Because Akira loooves Shuuji~"

"Shut up. That's gross." Shuuji looks over at Akira. The guy was pretty lonely though, having no one other than Nobuta and…well, himself, he supposes. Shuuji gives in, once again.

"…I'll go."

"Yesss, I win!" Akira cheers as the two change directions, now heading towards Akira's house.

"Shuuji, I'm bored," Akira pouts, climbing onto Shuuji's lap.

Shuuji sighs. How many times has Akira said that already? He pushes Akira off his lap and stands up in irritation.

"You," he says as he points a finger to Akira, "Could you stop acting so…disgusting?" Akira is starting to get to Shuuji….again. This guy and his hugging, his flapping, his kon-ing, his everything. It annoyed Shuuji to no end.

"Kon."

There it is again. Shuuji stares as Akira forms a Kon with his hand. What's that even supposed to mean, anyway?

"Shuuji! No need to be so harsh," 'Kon' says. "Be nicer to your friends!"

Shuuji scoffs at the remark. "Friends?" he says questioningly.

"Yes, Shuuji. Friends," Akira replies, a look of solemnity on his face.

But Shuuji wonders if Akira's actually being serious. To Shuuji, there's no way that he and this guy could ever be friends anyway. He thinks. After all, Shuuji doesn't see any reason to have this kind of friend. Friends are just those tools you use to succeed in life, nothing else. And all Akira has ever done is lower his popularity. That's right. They're not friends. Right?

Shuuji becomes silent, immersed in his thoughts. After a long bout of silence, Akira finally speaks.

"Shuuji…?" Akira asks hesitantly, looking at Shuuji directly in the eye.

"Mmm?"

"We're friends, right? You 'n' me?"

"Uh…"

Shuuji looks away, and pauses. What can he say? On one hand, he could tell the absolute truth, that he has no friends and doesn't really care much for them. That would probably shatter Akira though. Shuuji didn't want that. That'd just be a burden on Shuuji. On the other hand, he could lie about it and tell Akira that they were the best of buddies, that nothing could ever separate them. Which way to go? Shuuji wonders. It's probably best to change the subject, Shuuji finally decides. So he changes the subject.

"…Ah!" Shuuji exclaims with mock surprise. Akira jumps. "It's getting pretty late. I should, uh, get going! Yeah," Shuuji stutters out this poor attempt of a distraction. He grabs his bag and rushes out the door before Akira can say anything.

"Friends, huh…" He wonders aloud as he mounts his bike and heads home.

Shuuji can't sleep. He tries to, he does—actually, he's been trying to for the past three hours—but he can't, he really can't. Akira's question from earlier in the night surfaces and resurfaces in his mind, as he is left pondering which answer is better. Shuuji knows Akira will ask him tomorrow, and he won't be able to avoid the question as easily as he did today.

Finally, Shuuji gives up on trying to sleep. He walks to the kitchen and turns on the light. Shielding his eyes from the bright light, he wanders aimlessly around the room.

"Friends, huh…" Shuuji wonders again. He's now rifling through various things in the room—letters, postcards, money, schoolwork, pens, pencils, souvenirs. And then he uncovers something from the messy pile.

Shuuji takes out the bent envelope he finds with his name on it. He opens it and various pictures fly out, fluttering to the ground. "Crap," Shuuji mutters as he bends over to pick them up. He turns over the first one he takes and sees the three of them—Nobuta, Akira, and himself—together on the school top.

"Those were the days…" Shuuji sighs, remembering a time when he and Akira and Nobuta were all together as a group, all the time. It was during the time when they were trying to produce Nobuta, although producing Nobuta didn't work out as well as they'd hoped. Shuuji places the picture in the envelope and picks up the next one. Then he freezes in place.

This was of a memory that Shuuji did not want to remember. Definitely not. He looks at the picture, stares hard, and puts it away. Shuuji decides he's had enough of this and cleans up the rest of the pictures and buries himself under the covers in his bedroom.

"So, Shuuji? You haven't answered my question from yesterday," Akira prods.

Indeed, he hadn't. In fact, Shuuji still isn't sure what to say yet. He's even more confused after the previous night, after he saw those pictures. The things they did together, Akira and Shuuji, could they be considered as things that friends did? And the other picture he'd found, the one he'd uncovered from Akira's stinky-smelling pot and had kept in that envelope…of Shuuji and Nobuta…Akira had never said a word about it. Is that what friends do? Does that mean that Shuuji and Akira are friends? Maybe—maybe not.

"I think…" Shuuji starts, but he realizes he still doesn't know the end to that sentence. On one hand, he thinks they might be, just might be friends. Going through all those things…they had to be more than just strangers, or even acquaintances. On the other hand, would they even be considered friends? Shuuji doesn't know. He's never really had to consider these things before; people would just assume that they're friends with Shuuji.

Thinking about all of this, Shuuji forgets that Akira is waiting for an answer. So when a whiny voice asks "Well…? We're friends, right? Shuuji 'n' Akira?", Shuuji is caught by surprise, forced to decide on either one answer or the other.

"A…Akira." Shuuji opens his mouth, deciding to say what he really thinks. "I think—"

Akira looks up at Shuuji, waiting, expecting Shuuji to say what he thinks to be the right answer. "I don't think…"

Shuuji sees Akira's face drooping, pouting. Akira doesn't want to hear what he thinks Shuuji is going to say next.

"I don't think I'll ever find a better friend than you."

Akira looks up in surprise, eyes as wide as saucers. "You mean it?" he babbles excitedly. "You really, really mean it, Shuuji? We're friends right? Best friends? Right, right?"

Shuuji thinks. Is this really what he was going to say? He thinks to the days he spent with Akira, "producing" Nobuta. He thinks of everything that happened afterwards; he thinks of the picture he found in the envelope the previous night. He thinks of the good times (supposedly) and the bad that they'd been through together.

"Yeah. We're best friends."