ENTITLED: I'd Rather Pretend
FANDOM: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
SETTING: What chapter are we on? 35? Post chapter-35.
DISCLAIMER: Shut up.
NOTES: I'd say more about these two but since all my feelings can be summarized through screaming incoherency, I figured I'd hold off.
SUMMARY: There's something to be said about inevitability though, and sometimes it feels like defeat but sometimes it feels like finding the only place you're supposed to be. — Sasayan, Natsume
CHAPTER ONE; The 50-50-90 Rule
"A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you."
― Elbert Hubbard
In the summer before their senior year, he feeds her oranges pulled cold from the refrigerator. They're sharp and delicious in a way she always forgets, and entirely wrong for the season.
"Don't you have any watermelon?"
"Where would I put it?" Sasayan points out. It's true. Natsume can't remember when she'd last been in an apartment so small. It's clean, and neat in a cluttered sort of way. It's the first time she's been in his home. He'd always dropped her off first. The bike is paused outside, waiting for them.
She slides down the modest oven to sit on the floor, picking apart orange slices with her fingers and eating them one by one. He sits across from her, against the cabinets next to the fridge. He eats his orange in thirds, and pulls out another fruit shortly. She goes through three. He finishes five. Their legs almost touch. He sucks his fingers.
"My stomach hurts," Natsume decides.
"Sorry," Sasayan says, maybe more for reflex than anything else, so Natsume tries to ignore him. She stretches out her back in a long arch, all her muscles popping and unwinding as they sit in his dim kitchen. When her head checks back into place and her eyes open, he's looking at her, the long and pensive look she'd only ever gotten from him. It embarrasses her, though she doesn't know why.
"Nothing," he says. He changes his mind, "I just like looking at you."
For a second she's petrified, then he grins, and it's got a teasing bite. Her lips press together. A rattling, defensive anger pushes into her chest.
"Quit saying things like that!"
"Quit hanging around with guys in dark rooms," he shoots back, still grinning. Natsume scoffs. The very idea of it is ludicrous. She holds out her hand to him when he stands, and he pulls her up to her feet. Their hands stick together.
"You're not a guy, you're Sasayan."
"Hey," he raises his eyebrows in mild rebuke, "You even know what you're saying?"
She realizes, suddenly, that maybe he'd been insulted. If anything, she'd meant it as a compliment. "I didn't—" she begins to explain, and then cuts herself off, embarrassed and horribly aware of it.
"Aw jeez," Sasayan says. He laughs, mostly at her, but it makes Natsume feel better anyway. It's always easy for him, she thinks. He always knew what to say. He butts his shoulder against hers and gives her hand a little tug towards the door, before letting go, and strolling away from her. "You want a ride home? I think I'm good now. Sorry about the detour."
"No," Natsume dismisses at once, "Are you sure it's okay? It's still hot. You only had one glass of water."
"Oh," Sasayan looks back over his shoulder towards, almost radiating insolence, "Yeah, I might have made that up."
Natsume tries not to gape at him. Then she marches rudely past him, back down the three flights of stairs, and into the hot July air that awaited her just outside. She can't help listening to him coming down the stairs just behind her, the pattern of his feet skipping over steps.
"Natsume, you mad?"
"I don't think you are," he decides. He steadies the bike for her while she climbs on the back, then swings his leg over and kicks off. "Does your stomach still hurt?"
"No," she grumbles, refusing to feel touched. She thinks about him for the rest of the ride, considering all his careful attentions, his obvious wanting in contrast to his refusal to ask. Something like guilt itches at her. The aftertaste of oranges burns within her mouth. She wonders if it would be terribly selfish of her to ask him if he was frustrated, angry with her. She rehearses the words, and resolves not to ask him.
"Yeah?" he prompts, a little breathless.
"Do you get mad at me?" She hates herself.
"I guess about once every three days," he decides. They begin to coast slowly down the hill towards her house. His feet drag along the ground. They stop.
"I don't get mad about you," he says, craning his neck to look back at her. "Don't be dumb."
Her shoulders loosen. Her self-loathing is lost in the flood of relief. She hops off the bike, and looks back at him, leaning forward with his arms folded over the handlebars. She tries to look cool and unmoved but ends up smiling, and smiling brilliantly. "I get mad at you too. Thanks for the oranges."
"Natsume," he says cheerfully, "You've got orange between your teeth."
Her hands fly up to cover her mouth, and she's so hot in the face that her eyes actually tear up a little, "Why didn't you tell me?!" she cries after him, as he's already started rolling away.
"I thought it was cute," he calls back, without a trace of embarrassment, only a hint of that defiant confidence slipping back into his tone. He adds, "See you tomorrow," in that same cast-off way. She can't think of anything to say to that, so merely stands with her hands held tight against his sides, watching as he moved away from her. He doesn't look back.
He does show up the next day, just like he'd said, but she's ready for him and on the computer. "I'm writing Mitty an email," she explains.
"Oh, okay," Sasayan says, "You want me to come back?"
"No," she says, with every intention of pushing him away, sending him off. Instead, she accidentally adds, "You can come in if you want. It shouldn't take too long."
What is she doing?
"Okay," he says, and begins to slide off his shoes. Her mother would approve. If her mother were home. No one in her family has ever met Sasayan, they only know him as the boy who drops her off from school, or walks her home at night. She realizes—she knows now—he doesn't live that close. It occurs to her to think, what must they think?
"How old are you in this picture?" Sasayan asks, and Natsume shrieks, and then begins shoving him towards her room where she can keep an eye on him. Once they're actually there, she starts to wonder if maybe she'd misjudged things, if maybe he'd had a point about hanging around with boys in dark places.
Sasayan immediately flops backwards onto her bed. He makes a face. "It's too squishy!"
"Shut up!" Natsume yelps, "Don't just invade a girl's bed and start criticizing it!"
She ignores him firmly after this, sits rigidly at her desk, and focuses all of her attention on appearing to compose an email. She can hear Sasayan moving around behind her, but refuses to check and see what he's doing. It's probably one of the worst letters she's ever written. She skims it halfway through and concludes that she has no idea what's going on.
"Hey, Natsume," Sasayan whines. It's obvious from his tone that he's getting bored of her ignoring him, "You want to see a movie today?"
"At the shopping center?"
"Sure. You want to look around?"
"I don't have any money," she mutters, "I'll just be miserable."
"I'll buy you something," he offers calmly. Natsume glows happily for a moment, before reality sinks in. She spins her chair around. He's lying on his back, walking his feet up her wall. Indignant, she strides across the room and bends over him, so that the ends of her long hair dangle into his face. Sasayan puckers his lips, and blows to make them sway.
"Is this a date?" she asks, in her sternest voice.
"It's a movie."
Sasayan scowls. It makes her feel cramped and awful, and she realizes again that she's gotten it wrong, she's the dumb one who upsets the guy who can get along with anyone. It's been like this all summer, when he's not playing baseball and she's not online. She'd thought it would be weird, everyone else travelling and the two of them stuck at home, alone together. She wants to apologize but wants even more for him to do it first.
"It's not like I'm going to trick you into something," Sasayan says, a little grumpily. Natsume sinks her hands into the mattress on either side of his head. She wants to tell him, of course she knows that. He's not just some guy, he's Sasayan, and he's something close to her best friend. She doesn't want to fight but she's felt it building all summer, the next big blow-out, and she doesn't know why.
"I want to go," she blurts out, "I want to go, with you, if that's okay. It doesn't matter what it is. You don't have to buy me anything, let's just go and hang out." She's already blushing, but because it feels right, she adds in, "I like being with you more than being by myself, anyway."
Sasayan just stares at her, his mouth a little open. He moves, and she thinks it's to grab her hand but he seems to change his mind. Instead, he pulls her pillow over his face and says, "Jeez, Natsume."
"What?" she demands, but she's so embarrassed she can't quite pretend she doesn't know what, anymore. Sasayan makes a strangled, exasperated little noise, and takes her to the movies.
They settle on a drama, because neither of them is sure if it's about war or romance. It turns out to be romance. Natsume bawls her way through the movie, and Sasayan eats all her popcorn. At one point he makes fun of her, but he also quietly leaves to get her some tissues. While he's gone, she watches the people in the row in front of her. They're a couple, that's obvious by the way they're sitting, him with his arm around her shoulders like it was the easiest thing in the world. She's a dainty little thing, even smaller than Natsume, and fits comfortably under her date's arm. Natsume considers Sasayan, when he comes back and sits down next to her, guessing his mouth was about level with her eyes.
He was way too short. It would never work. Natsume dabs at her eyes, and decides to never tell him about this moment. In the next instant he reaches over, and rubs his thumb carefully underneath her eye. She isn't afraid. It feels right for him to do this.
"All dried up?"
"I'm okay," she confirms, and he sits back obligingly, but before he makes it all the way, she grabs his retreating hand. "I'm a little sad."
"Too bad it wasn't a war movie."
"You're so weird," she snaps, and then goes quiet because people around them are starting to hiss. It's a little colder in the theater than she would have liked, and his hand is warm around her own. She never quite forgets about it, and at the end of the movie she starts to kind of pull away, but it's more like a question than a denial, and he tightens his grip just enough to say no, but not so much that she couldn't keep leaving. She doesn't really know why she doesn't shake him off, only that she doesn't want to. When they walk out together she holds on a little tighter, so they won't get separated, and it scares her but at the same time it's nice to have someone so solid standing right next to her.
"You lied. This is pretty much a date," she says, before she can stop herself. Sasayan casts her a suspicious, squinty look.
"Stop talking about it," he orders, "If you start talking about it you'll freak yourself out and make me take you home, and I'm hungry." She wants to point out that he just ate an entire bag of popcorn, but doesn't, because she's hungry, and it's completely unfair of him to be making these sorts of arguments when they're standing in front of a pizza place and it smells so good.
Wordlessly, she pulls him inside.
"You're horribly manipulative," she growls, and believes every word.
"Yeah, I know," he concedes, with an abashed smile. She wants to rub his face in this acknowledgement of his own flaws, and make him admit to everything she has always suspected; that he might be a genuinely nice guy but nobody goes around expecting nothing. She wants to say it, but doesn't, because then he'd probably point out that she did a pretty good job of expecting everything.
While they're waiting she glances over at him, again, now that they're standing up. It's a little strange to be with a guy whose face is naturally so close to hers. It feels friendlier, somehow more intimate than having to look up all the time. He's almost a head shorter than their waiter, and somehow, realizing this sends a rush of fondness through her chest. She wonders if it's ever been a problem for him, if maybe he secretly wanted to play basketball. The thought makes her sad.
"I like that you're short."
"You're kinda short too," he points out. Natsume feels cheated out of her moment of profound acceptance. What had begun as an off-hand comment evolves into something new.
"How tall was your ex-girlfriend?"
"I don't know. It was in middle school, she might be taller now. I guess she was average."
"Was she taller than you?"
"No," Sasayan says flatly, in a way that is trying very hard not to be defensive. Natsume knows instinctively that they had been the same height, too close to call.
"Would you be mad if I wore heels?"
"You wear heels all the time."
"High heels." She dabs at her pizza with a paper napkin. Sasayan watches her work for a moment, and then covers his mouth with his hand. She has the feeling he's laughing at her again. "You can cut off up to eighty calories, doing this!" she yelps at him. Sasayan dumps several napkins over his pizza, and she kicks him under the table. When they walk out of the restaurant, he reaches for her hand again, and as he takes it, she reminds herself that he does care about her, that she isn't just some girl to him, she's his friend.
He hums a little as they walk along and she peers through the stores. It's a nice sound. He's a nice boy. She has no idea what he wants from her. The question recycles itself through her head for the rest of the evening, but it isn't until the train ride home that she brings herself to ask, "Is it okay, us being friends like this?"
"Sure, it's fine for now," he says, and her insides knot up, because he's said this before to her, a year ago, and it had been fine then but how long could she ask for it to keep on being enough?
Natsume stared out the window, into the formless dark.
"I think you're worrying too much."
"How can it be too much!?" she bursts, and then flushes when those sitting near them turn to stare. She almost bolts once they've reached their stop, and seriously considers walking home alone, rather than riding on the back of his bike like always. But Sasayan knows her too well, and catches up. He coasts leisurely at her side down the edge of deserted, dark road.
"You leaving me?"
She stops. "No," she sighs, and doesn't know what to do. Her eyes feel hot and wet, and she has to look quickly at the ground so he won't see, but she knows that, of course, he already had. Sasayan studies her for a moment, and then climbs off his bike. He puts his hands in his pockets.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No," Natsume says, furiously, "No, I'm the one who always messes things up."
"I don't see what's messed up," he says, in a carefully even voice, and she wants to explode at him, even though he doesn't deserve it.
"Because! Because I shouldn't have held your hand! I know you like me and I—I don't even know if I want you to, but I know that you're my friend and I—I shouldn't just do things so irresponsibly." Her voice doesn't catch, or shake, for which she's grateful, but her eyes are still definitely wet and she wishes—she wishes Sasayan would take his hands out of his pockets and wrap his arms around her so she could hide herself there, but then, also, she can't think of anything more dangerous.
"You're really weird, Natsume," Sasayan says at last, "If you want to hold my hand, go for it. If you want to be near me, that's fine. It's more than fine. You can use me however you want, just so long as it's you."
She looks up just in time to catch the edge of his blush as he glances away, and that isn't fair, she wants to look at him, she has to look at him to be sure that he means it, and she's determined enough to step forward and put her hands on either side of his face and pull him around to face her and then somehow their mouths are perfectly aligned.
Kissing is strange. She's not sure, at first, if she likes it. There's the feeling of his lips against hers, of course, still at first but then there's the hint of a shudder, and he kisses her back. She can feel the heat from his face against her own, and his hair is softer than she had thought it would be. When he puts his arms around her she peeks her eyes open a little, and sees that he's kissing her with his eyes closed. More than anything, it's the sweetness of his eyelashes that makes her smile, and decide that she likes kissing, she likes being this close, and maybe she likes him too.
Sasayan doesn't open his eyes after they break apart, and he doesn't let go of her either. His forehead presses against hers. "Please don't do that thing where you run off and hide for a week."
Natsume considers this in light of her recent actions. She is instantly horrified, "I have to! How am I supposed to hang out with you now?! How can I be normal?!"
"We could have a new normal," Sasayan suggests, the picture of innocence. Natsume begins to protest and he kisses her again, demanding this time, and she likes it even better. "You have to," he continues afterwards, a little breathless, "I still have like twenty oranges."
She begins to reply and is interrupted by a crash, as a stray cat knocks over some unfortunate soul's potted plant. They almost fly apart, and stand awkwardly for a moment, hearts racing, before silently climbing on the bike, and fleeing. As the ride goes on, some of Natsume's kissing euphoria begins to wear off, and doubts once again begin to tear at her.
She spends the rest of the ride watching the way his shoulders shift, and making herself ready for his disappointment.
When he drops her off, she hangs onto his shirt for a moment before climbing down, and says, "I don't know what you want me to do. I don't really know either. I don't think I can be—I can't be your girlfriend."
"You're incredibly frustrating," Sasayan sighs, "Seriously."
"I'm sorry," Natsume mumbles.
"Don't be sorry," Sasayan laughs, "You kissed me."
She almost stutters, "Don't talk about it!"
"I'm obviously going to talk about it!" he snaps back, "Tonight was a great victory!"
"You aren't winning anything!" Natsume roars. A few lights flick on in the house. They both wince, and Sasayan pushes off, but slowly, and the look he gives her is heavier than she's used to, more confident.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
"You touched my butt when we were kissing."
Natsume sprints after him, with the full intention of pushing him off his bike, and pummeling the memory out of him, "I did not! Stop talking about it!"
He laughs, and easily outpaces her. When he turns the corner he yells, "Bye, Asako,"and Natsume stops dead, embarrassed and horrified and pleased. She stands still for a moment, trying to calm down, and unable to call back to him. It isn't the first time she's forgotten that he has a real name. It seems too serious when she thinks about it, too old and too dangerous. She remembers the look he'd given her as she climbs into bed, and spends hours making herself anxious over it. But it's Sasayan, she tells herself again and again, it's Sasayan, and she can't say no to him because he has never asked her for anything, only offered. It's Sasayan, and he would like her even if she were only plain looking. She suspects that he'd like her no matter what, though she doesn't understand why.
A very small part of her hopes he thinks she's pretty.
"Souhei," she whispers, and pulls the blankets over her head.
Unwelcome Romantic Advice: I'm pretty tall for a girl, about 168 cm (5'7), and for some reason I always dated guys who were like, 190 cm (6'3). But, this summer, I discovered that people who are like, 7 cm (3 inches) taller than you are totally superior. No more running starts every time you want to kiss! I am dead serious. Shorties are the way to go. Shorties who are really good jumpers are even better, because then they can still get stuff off shelves for you.