A/N: This ended up being shorter than I had intended. Sorry for that, especially since you've waited so long o(_ _)o Also sorry I make everyone cry and for just overall prolonging the angst.

Thanks a bunch to everyone who favorited, followed, and reviewed! I can't thank you all enough It's past midnight here, but it's still Hyouka Sunday somewhere! So yea, that's kind of the whole reason I'm posting; I'm trying to fill the void created by the lack of a Hyouka episode =w= I hope this is a good substitute. I think that's everything; I'll edit this note if I think of anything else :


On the way back from the cafeteria, Houtarou ran into the doctor that had treated Satoshi.

"Ah, you're that boy that came with Satoshi-kun last night. How is he? He hasn't been particularly receptive to our questions."

"He answers all of my questions, but I don't think it's fair for me to be the one to tell you about them," Houtarou replied curtly, slightly perturbed at having to socialize.

The doctor hummed, liking analyzing Houtarou as he would all the patients in the hospital. It was just in a doctor's nature to put energy into something unnecessary such as caring for someone who wasn't even a patient.

Houtarou hated doctors.

"Well, that's okay," the doctor said. "I'm in no hurry to get information, unless he ends up here again. Then for his safety I'll need you to let me know."

Houtarou barely managed to keep the glare from his face. "I hope it never comes to that."

"Did you just come from the cafeteria?" the man asked, noticing the food in Houtarou's arms. "Satoshi-kun refused to eat the breakfast we gave him earlier this morning. It'd be great if you could get him to eat."

"What time did you bring him breakfast?" Houtarou asked. While in the cafeteria, he had checked the time, and it was nearing one in the afternoon.

"Around eight, I think? You were asleep, but he had been awake for a while it seemed."

How long had Satoshi been awake? Leaving him with his thoughts was never a good idea, but it couldn't be helped now. Houtarou had to get back to him quickly. "I'm sorry sir, but Satoshi is waiting for me. Is there anything else you need?"

The doctor gave him a patronizing grin, one he likely gave to all the children he came in contact with, regardless of their age. "No. Thank you for stopping to chat. Take care of Satoshi-kun so we won't have to see him again."

Houtarou nodded, already stepping forward.

Satoshi greeted him fairly brightly upon his return. If Houtarou hadn't known better, it was as if things were getting back to normal.

"I was beginning to think you ditched me," Satoshi said.

"I got held up by a doctor asking about you," Houtarou informed him.

"What did you say to him?" Satoshi's voice became a little harder. Did he not trust him?

"I didn't really say anything. I figured you should be the one to tell him." Oh right, there was that one thing. "I did hear that you were awake pretty early, and that you outright refused to eat breakfast."

"Oh, I was hoping to keep that from you. It's not all that important."

"It's important," Houtarou argued. "You haven't been eating, and it's about time we put an end to that. The same with your insomnia issue."

"Are you saying you're going to force feed me or something? And how do you expect to monitor my sleeping habits?" Admittedly, Houtarou hadn't thought that far ahead, and Satoshi's crossness was well deserved.

"If necessary, arrangements can be made," Houtarou replied tersely with what he hoped was a safe answer. He handed the other a packaged sweet bun. "You like these, right? I expect you to have at least some of it, or else I really will force it into your mouth."

Satoshi made a disagreeable expression, but he unwrapped the bun and bit into it anyway. He chewed slowly, as if he couldn't decide if he liked or hated the taste. Houtarou feared the moment when the boy would eat food he didn't like.

After only a few bites, Satoshi pushed the bun back towards Houtarou. "Sorry Houtarou, I really can't eat anymore." Houtarou didn't argue; the other boy was pale, and the hand not holding the bun was locked around his mouth.

"How long exactly has it been since you last ate something?" Houtarou asked, setting the bun aside and taking a bite of his own food.

Satoshi had to think for a few moments, which was disconcerting to begin with. "I don't know; three days?" he said, a questioning lilt to his voice that meant he wasn't entirely sure.

Houtarou sighed. "No wonder you feel sick; I probably should have gotten you porridge or something, though that would've been difficult to carry back."

"The result would have been the same; it's nice that you got me something I enjoyed at least."

Houtarou handed Satoshi the neglected glass of water from a while before. "I hope you'll be able to finish a little more before the end of the day though."

"I'll try."

That seemed to be how they ended many of their conversations now. Satoshi would try, try, try, but would it be enough?

Once Satoshi had finished the water, he appeared much less nauseous, which Houtarou supposed was a good sign. He didn't want to have to explain to some nurse the particular circumstances leading up to her having to clean vomit off the floor.

What could he do now though? With eating out of the way now, he could tackle Satoshi's sleeping problem, though he wasn't sure how far he would get.

"Why don't you rest some more? You couldn't have gotten more than six hours of sleep, and you might as well catch up now while you don't have school."

Surprisingly, Satoshi agreed. "I think with you in the room, it's easier to give in to my exhaustion," he reasoned, eyes half-lidded. "I woke up at five or so in the morning, and for once I can tell it's catching up to me."

Houtarou rested his elbow on Satoshi's bed, though he didn't intend to fall asleep this time. "All the more reason for you to sleep. I'll still be here when you wake up, and Ibara and Chitanda might be out of school, too."

When the two girls' names were mentioned, Satoshi's gaze turned away from his friend. "Ah, right, those two. I think I owe them an apology."

"Don't think too much about it. They don't hold it against you."

"I'd imagine they were pretty worried though."

"I can't deny that. Ibara in particular, since she was there when you collapsed."

Satoshi cringed. "I'm sorry."

"Just go to sleep," Houtarou commanded, reaching up and ruffling Satoshi's hair in an unusual show of camaraderie.

Satoshi looked rather annoyed with being treated like a child, but his annoyance was short-lived as exhaustion took over and his eyelids began to droop again. Unable to fight it, he rolled over onto his side, facing Houtarou. "You're a good person, Houtarou. Thanks. You'll still be here when I wake up, right?" he breathed, repeating his soft plea from the night before.

Unconsciously, Houtarou's lips curled upwards, a genuine and unforced smile gracing his features. "Of course."

When Chitanda and Mayaka entered the room bearing a bright bouquet of flowers and an equally bright colored vase, Satoshi was still sleeping, and Houtarou intended to keep it that way as long as he could, gesturing for them to keep it down and meeting them at the door so the sound of their voices could be as far away from the sleeping boy as possible.

"How is he?" Mayaka whispered as Chitanda arranged the flowers quietly at Satoshi's bedside.

"He's okay, given the circumstances," Houtarou replied quietly. "He's really upsetting the nurses when I'm not looking, but at least he listens to me."

"How would Fukube-san upset them?" Chitanda asked curiously, her eyes taking on that intrigued sparkle Houtarou could never quite resist.

"He doesn't really want them around, so he's essentially made threats to harm himself should they bother him. It doesn't help that he won't eat the meals they prepare for him."

Both girls simultaneously looked to the bed, as if its occupant could tell them in his sleep why he was doing all this.

"I think I've gotten him to open up a bit, though I can't really give you details of our conversation. I'll leave that to him," Houtarou said. "Are you guys going to stay?"

"For a little while at least. We brought notes for both you and Fuku-chan, as well as the bags you left behind in the clubroom," Mayaka said, handing Houtarou a pair of standard blue school bags and rummaging around in her own bag for notes.

"I'm surprised my classmates noticed I was gone," Houtarou muttered matter-of-factly.

"They didn't. I had to ask them myself. Thankfully I knew a few from middle school. Everyone in Fuku-chan's class noticed his absence though. It doesn't help that one or two people from 1-D saw him being carried away by the paramedics."

"How many people know?"

"Not too many I don't think, though that annoying kid Tani saw him. If anyone starts the gossip, I bet it will be him."

"Who's Tani?"

"A guy from the Go Club that thinks it's his mission to constantly challenge Fuku-chan. Fuku-chan isn't very fond of him though."

"Um, Oreki-san? When do you think Fukube-san is coming back to school?" Chitanda asked meekly.

Houtarou shrugged. "He's being released some time tomorrow, provided he behaves, but I don't know when he'll want to go back. Personally, I think it'd be better if he didn't for at least a little while after he's released."

"Why?"

"I'm not sure how many people saw him or if the gossip is still going around. Sure, it might be a good thing for him to go back immediately after getting out, since it's not like he's an invalid, but people will still be talking and he probably wouldn't take to being the center of attention in that manner. He's fragile to begin with, and I don't think pressure like that, no matter how slight, would be good."

"I see," Chitanda said softly. She looked like she wanted to say more, as did Mayaka, but they were interrupted by Satoshi stirring from his sleep.

"Houtarou?" he mumbled sleepily.

Houtarou was instantly by his side, just in time to see Satoshi pressing his fingers into his injured wrist. "Stop that," he hissed under his breath, pulling the fingers away. "Ibara and Chitanda are here."

Satoshi blinked, still trying to get the sleep out of his eyes. Then, Houtarou regretted mentioning that the girls were there, as Satoshi retreated into himself and became the pseudo-persona they had been trying desperately to rid themselves of.

"Hey, Mayaka, Chitanda-san, how was your day?" he asked cheerfully. By all standards, he was the regular, happy Satoshi, right down to the plastered on smile, an image that surprised and confused the two girls.

"It was good; thank you for asking," Chitanda replied, swept up in his act.

Mayaka wasn't fooled—she had always been pretty decent at seeing through to Satoshi's true feelings. "We came to see how you're doing, Fuku-chan," she said seriously. "We have a lot of questions we want answered."

Satoshi's façade didn't waver, though he nervously rubbed the back of his head with his good arm. "Sorry, sorry, I scared you guys didn't I? Well now you know; I've been anemic since birth, and it wasn't until now that I—"

"Don't you dare pass it off with a joke, Fuku-chan; we know why you fainted."

Satoshi tilted his head, as if he wanted to look away from the girl but couldn't. "You've always been able to see through my jokes," he commented.

Mayaka's expression softened. "That's because I know you. Or at least, I thought I did." Her eyes welled up, and she bit down hard on her lip to stop them, but the tears fell anyway. "Why, Fuku-chan? If it was something we did—"

"No, it was nothing you guys did," Satoshi assured her, hollow laughter ringing out as the edges of his mask began to fray. "No one did anything to me. That's the real problem—how do you fix someone if he isn't influenced by trauma?"

"Trauma comes in many forms,'" Houtarou said. "The cause aside, if you're broken, which you clearly are, we'll fix you."

"The only way to fix me now would be to kill me."

Houtarou was on him in a flash, a hand wrapped precariously around Satoshi's neck, the rest of his body trapping the smaller boy in place. He never would have done this before, never would have dreamed of being this close to literally strangling Satoshi, but the build up of stress and sadness had made him question his sanity more than once, and he guessed this had been the last straw.

The girls screamed, but he was too focused on the boy underneath him, on the frightened eyes that stared back up at him, to pay them any mind. "If you want me to, I'll suffocate you right here," Houtarou vowed, voice level, "but you don't mean it. You're not ready to die. Look at you; you're scared that I might actually go through with it. You think there's no way out, but you haven't even tried."

A few drop of water fell onto Satoshi's face, and it took a moment for Houtarou to realize they were his own tears—his own mask had cracked a bit, and for the first time in years, Oreki Houtarou was crying. "Damn it, Satoshi, give us a chance."

Satoshi was at a loss for words, having never seen his best friend so emotional. He trembled under Houtarou's palm, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed nervously.

Houtarou took his hand away, believing the other wasn't going to answer. Then Satoshi had his arms wrapped around him, fingers clutching desperately to the back of his shirt, head burrowed into the crook of his neck. They weren't comfortable—Houtarou was supporting most of their weight on his neck and back, which spelled disaster for his posture for the next couple of days, and his hands and knees dug painfully into the mattress—but all that mattered was that Satoshi was taking Houtarou's extended hand.

"I'm scared," Satoshi whispered, his words almost lost in Houtarou's neck. "Frightened. Terrified. I don't know what to do. It's all just a reflex now; I can't fight it, and I'm just so scared that I'm going to do something stupid that'll make me lose you guys."

Houtarou shifted so he could bring one hand around Satoshi's body for support—and comfort—a short hum his only response, though that was all that was necessary.

"We're more worried about you doing something stupid that would make us lose you," Mayaka said quietly, a hand on Satoshi's shoulder. Chitanda was silent—she probably didn't know what to say since she wasn't as close to Satoshi as the other two—but she rubbed soothing circles on his back. They stayed together like that for a long time.

Satoshi fell back asleep in their arms, still clinging to Houtarou like a lifeline. The three of them felt him slowly go limp, though his hands still had a firm grip on the back of Houtarou's shirt, and once he was sure the boy wouldn't be disturbed, Houtarou eased him back down on the bed.

"…He won't let go," Houtarou muttered as he tried to pry Satoshi's hands off of him.

"We have to be careful so he doesn't wake," Chitanda warned.

"But I'm stuck then!"

"He doesn't look like he's going to let go anytime soon," Mayaka observed.

"Maybe you can take a nap with him?" Chitanda suggested. "You look tired."

"If I lay down, he won't be able to breathe. I'd rather wake him up and get his hands off than wake him up by half suffocating him, especially after that little display."

Mayaka rolled her eyes. "Use your head, Oreki. We're going to leave. If Fuku-chan's asleep, we don't need to be here. The company of a slug isn't that interesting." She quickly exited the room, Chitanda close behind.

The raven-haired girl paused at the door. "Mayaka-san doesn't mean it, you know. It was hard to bring her here. I hope you understand."

Her kind, sweet smile hit Houtarou right in between the eyes. It stung; he really couldn't understand either of them.

When the door closed, Houtarou set his mouth into a thin line as he maneuvered his body so he and Satoshi could be more comfortable. He ended up rolling awkwardly onto his side and hoping he wasn't cutting off circulation to Satoshi's good hand.

Now that he was lying on the bed, he yawned, feeling it would be a good time for a nap of his own. His eyes closed unbidden, and then, nothing.

.

.

Houtarou remembered waking up in a similar situation to his current one, his face less than ten centimeters from Satoshi's as the latter slept on. Satoshi's features weren't relaxed like they were at the hot spring, though. It hadn't been that long since their trip, but it seemed like a lifetime ago since Satoshi had smiled so easily. Had he been hurting himself even back then? Houtarou didn't remember any marks on Satoshi at the time, but the mask could have been fresh at that point and easily hidden from view, not to mention Houtarou himself had been preoccupied for a good portion of that trip…

Now he was suspicious of his memories. He couldn't be doubtful; he had to be like Satoshi—a database dealing only with facts and refraining from drawing conclusions based on incomplete information.

Satoshi's grip on Houtarou's shirt had loosened while they slept, allowing Houtarou to slip the boy's hands out from under him. He didn't take advantage of his renewed freedom, however; the energy required wasn't worth it. The mattress was comfy, and he would risk waking his neighbor from a very necessary slumber.

Though judging from the way Satoshi squirmed and twisted his face, it was more imperative he be woken from his nightmare.

"Satoshi," Houtarou rasped, shaking his friend slightly. The boy only curled into a tighter ball. "Satoshi!"

After several increasingly forceful shakes, Satoshi's eyes flew open, and he bolted upright, narrowly missing Houtarou's chin. His head turned wildly back and forth without noticing his companion as his chest heaved with quick breaths. He tumbled out of bed before Houtarou could stop him, ripping his IV out in the process, and stumbled around, opening cabinets and drawers.

"Oi, what are you—" Houtarou began before he jumped out of bed himself—nearly face-planting into the floor when his legs became caught in the sheets—and ran towards Satoshi, who ruthlessly tore at the bindings on his arm as he searched the room. "Stop it, Satoshi!"

The other ignored him, possibly couldn't hear him at all, too intent on finding whatever he was looking for. He happened upon their bags Mayaka and Chitanda had delivered when they visited.

Houtarou was glad the two girls weren't present for this disaster.

Satoshi rummaged around in his bag, throwing books around until he found it. The light made it shine as he removed it from the bag, and Houtarou's heart stopped.

The taller boy cleared the last few steps to reach his friend, clamping a hand over the handle of the butterfly knife in Satoshi's fingers, his other arm wrapping around the boy's body to ensure he couldn't free his weapon.

"Pull yourself together," Houtarou ground out, teeth clenched with the effort of immobilizing Satoshi, eyes staring directly into the other's. "You're stronger than this."

Satoshi froze, eyes darting from Houtarou and the knife in their hands to the destruction throughout the room, eyes wide as if he was laying his eyes on everything for the first time. Perhaps he was, having been blinded by his mad search.

As his grip on the knife slackened, Satoshi broke down, falling into Houtarou's hold and sobbing uncontrollably. The knife fell from his fingers, the sound as it hit the floor too loud for Houtarou's liking.

The green-eyed boy released the other's fingers, the now free hand coming up to guide Satoshi's head to his shoulder, stroking the boy's hair as softly as he could, hoping the gesture was at least a bit comforting.

Satoshi leaned heavily on Houtarou at an odd angle, so the dark-haired boy carefully sunk to his knees, mindful of the books and papers strewn about. As his shirt wrinkled and his shoulder dampened, Houtarou surveyed the damage. Besides the books around them, a vase had been knocked over, cracked and chipped, the formerly inhabiting flowers falling out into a puddle of water. The cabinets still swung languidly on their hinges, and a drawer balanced precariously on nothing but the very back, threatening to fall any second. The stand holding Satoshi's IV had toppled over, and the bed sheets lay in a disheveled pile on the floor, forgotten in Houtarou's rush.

In short, the room was a mess. Houtarou dreaded cleaning up, but explaining it all to a nurse would be a nightmare in itself.

As he felt Satoshi's sobs dwindle down to intermittent hiccups, he coaxed the other away from his shoulder to look at him. "Are you okay?"

Satoshi nodded. Houtarou didn't comment on his trembling lips or the still falling, albeit slower, tears.

"What happened just now?" Houtarou asked.

Satoshi flinched despite the gentle tone, glancing elsewhere, ashamed.

"Satoshi, I want to understand. Help me understand," Houtarou pleaded.

"Nothing is 'normal' anymore," Satoshi replied reluctantly. "I made normalcy impossible, and so you all—" he paused to avoid breaking down once more "—you all left me, and it's not like I could beg you all for forgiveness because there's no reason to forgive me, so I just wanted to return to normal, and—"

"The first thing you thought of was hurting yourself," Houtarou finished, his voice laden with resignation.

"It wasn't so much of a thought as it was a reflex," Satoshi corrected quietly.

Houtarou offered his shoulder again, and Satoshi took it gratefully. "It was just a dream," he assured him.

"Was it?" Satoshi whispered. "You'll never, ever leave me?"

"It was just a dream," Houtarou repeated. "I said I wouldn't leave, and I meant it. It was all just a dream."