As time moved forward, it became harder for Yasuda Shota to pretend that he didn’t know Subaru. When Yasu suddenly thought of something funny he knew would make Subaru laugh, he had to bite his tongue and fight the urge not to swivel in his chair to face his friend. Or when Yasu was exasperated during a math lesson, like he was today, it was impossible for Yasu to keep him from scooting his desk over and showing Subaru how to solve the problems.
“Yasu!” Murakami’s voice boomed as though the teacher had sensed that his student’s mind had wandered from he lesson. “Come up to the board and solve this problem.”
Yasu stood up and walked to the front of the classroom, pausing in front of the blackboard to pick up a piece of chalk. The first squeak of the chalk on the board caused the entire class to grimace and Yasu apologized nervously.
When he was finished with the problem he set the chalk down and turned to Murakami.
“Perfect.” The teacher smiled at him, proud of how well he was teaching his students. “Would you like to explain how you did it?”
“Sure,” Yasu said, though his eyes were to the back of the classroom where Shibutani Subaru was sighing in frustration as he looked at the solution on the board. “First you set the equation up like a long division problem and divide this polynomial by the first term in the divisor.”
And as Yasu worked the class through the steps, he hoped that Subaru was understanding at least some of what he was explaining, because he found himself feeling frustrated at Subaru’s frustration.
When he was done with the explanation he turned to Murakami who gave him a nod and told him to return to his seat. As he walked back to his chair, the class started murmuring in amazement.
“Amazing. I had no idea you were so smart,” Maru stared at him. “You’re even better at explaining than Murakami-sensei.”
“I heard that!” Murakami growled, picking up an eraser and getting ready to chuck it at Maruyama. Then he remembered the lecture he got from the parents’ association about throwing objects at students. He set the eraser down, grumbling to himself about school politics. “Finish solving the rest of the problems on your own.”
Yasu chanced a glance over at Subaru, who was currently scribbling something on his paper in frustration. Yasuda was so tempted to reach over and help his friend, but knew he couldn’t.
Subaru wanted to keep their friendship secret. Yasu understood that it was mainly because Subaru wanted to protect him, but it was protection that he really did not want. Shota was perfectly happy with the idea of everyone knowing he was friends with Subaru. That way he could joke around when he wanted to. Or help Subaru when he didn’t understand anything. Or have lunch with him so he didn’t have to eat alone.
But earning Subaru’s trust was the most important thing to Yasu at that moment. Even if he felt like shouting to the world that Shibutani Subaru was his friend, he couldn’t do it. If Subaru didn’t trust him, they would never play together.
Yasuda was friends with Maru and Ishigaki, and perhaps even Ohkura on some level, but their friendship didn’t mean nearly as much to Yasu as Subaru’s. At that moment, if someone were to ask him who his best friend was, Yasuda Shota would answer Shibutani Subaru. And he would do anything to make sure that Subaru would answer the same way someday.
“Yasu,” Maru turned around in his chair. “Can you help me with this?”
“Ummm,” Yasu looked over at Subaru again, wanting to help him more than anyone else, but knowing that he couldn’t do anything during school.
“Me too.” A few of his other classmates scooted their desk towards Yasuda.
“Okay.” He sighed, watching Subaru’s growing exasperation from the corner of his eye. Though he spent the next hour helping his classmates, he felt useless for being unable to help his friend.
Yasuda was thankful when lunch finally rolled around and his classmates returned to their desks. Finally given the opportunity to look over at Subaru, he noticed that most of the answers on the page were blank.
He pulled a blank piece of paper from his notebook, writing on it quickly as Ohkura and Maruyama approached his desk. Standing up, he gathered up his bento and turned to follow his two band mates towards the door.
As he passed Subaru’s desk, he dropped the piece of paper onto its surface, smiling at Subaru briefly. Subaru nodded his head, only slightly, picking up the piece of paper and unfolding it on his lap.
'Wanna study together after school?'
Yasu, glanced over his shoulder as he walked down the hall, smiling as Subaru bent over the piece of paper. He quickened his pace to catch up with Ohkura and Maruyama.
In the cafeteria, Ishigaki was already waiting for them at their usual table. Maruyama and Yasuda sat down on either side of him, and Ohkura took his usual place at the head of the table.
“I’m gonna go get us some drinks,” Maru said, standing up. As he walked away from the table, Ishihara Sara approached from the other side, sitting herself down next to Yasu.
“Can I sit here today?” Sara asked, smiling at Yasu.
“Here to get some inside scoop on Revolver?” Ohkura smiled, opening a bento.
“What?” She looked confused, then remembering that she was president of the journalism club, she shook her head. “I actually just wanted to talk to Yasuda-kun.”
“Me?” Yasu squeaked, feeling nervous as he noticed for the first time how close Sara had moved her chair to his.
She nodded her head. “I heard you did really well in class today.”
Maruyama chose that moment to come back to the table and he paused, staring in shock at the close proximity between Sara and Yasu. “What’s going on?” He asked, and though Maru had intended the question to come out lightly, his voice was gruff.
Yasu looked up, quickly scooting his chair away from Sara and bumping into Ishigaki, who was chewing on a piece of tamagoyaki that shot out of his mouth and hit Ohkura in the forehead.
A quiet pause fell over the table as Ohkura wiped the chewed food from his face, flicking the napkin at Ishigaki. “That’s disgusting!”
“But he bumped into me!” Ishigaki pointed at Yasu who was still trying to escape as Sara pushed her chair closer once to him once again.
Between Ohkura and Ishigaki’s fighting and Sara’s continuous attempts to pursue Yasuda, it was several minutes before the group noticed that Maru was no longer there.
When Ohkura and Yasuda returned to the classroom after lunch, Maruyama was already sitting in his chair.
“Are you okay?” Yasu asked tentatively.
“Of course,” Maru smiled.
Yasu and Ohkura exchanged a relieved glance before returning to their own seats as Murakami returned to the classroom. Maruyama, who was usually always talkative during class, spent the rest of the afternoon quietly sulking in his desk. And unfortunately, his change in attitude went completely missed by Yasu until class was let out for the day.
“I don’t feel well,” Maruyama stood up. “Is it okay if I skip band practice today?”
Ohkura was about to say something, but Yasu shook his head, turning to Maru, “Of course it’s okay. Feel better, okay?”
Maruyama nodded, picking up his bag and quickly leaving the classroom. When he was gone, Ohkura turned to Yasu. “I think we should try to practice anyway.”
“I think it’s okay to take one day off,” Yasu gathered up his own bag, eager to leave so that he could walk home with Subaru.
“Tomorrow then?” Ohkura called to him as he ran towards the door.
Yasuda paused, turning back to Ohkura and smiling. “Of course.”
And as Yasuda hurried from the room, he completely missed the crestfallen look on Tadayoshi’s face as he gathered up his own belongings. He took his time, unprepared and unwilling to go back to the place he called home.
Yasuda recognized Subaru’s slightly hunched over form, running to catch up with him. “Yo,” He choked out, panting when he finally caught up to his friend.
Subaru almost jumped out of his skin, then realizing it was Yasuda he relaxed. “Why aren’t you at band practice?”
“Oh,” Yasu adjusted his bag, noticing that Subaru was walking a little faster than usual. Struggling to keep up, he continued, “Maru wasn’t feeling well today so we cancelled practice.”
Subaru didn’t say anything, shoving his hands in his pockets and nodding in response.
Yasu knew that Subaru was shy and quiet, but Subaru’s behavior that day was particularly strange. He wondered if he had done something wrong as he tried to get Subaru to look his way.
When Subaru finally looked up at him, the long haired boy opened his mouth and a pained look crossed his face before he closed it again. He opened it once more, taking a deep breath and preparing to say something. Subaru shook his head, a brief blush crossing his face before he looked away once more.
Yasu sighed, confused over his friend’s strange behavior. There was obviously something on Subaru’s mind, but he seemed unwilling to talk about it. As the silence stretched on, Yasu decided to take the first step. “Did you get my note to-”
“Do you like Ishihara?” Subaru blurted out, interrupting Yasu mid-sentence.
Yasu stopped dead in his tracks, sputtering for a moment at the question before a squeaky reply finally came out. “No. No.” He shook his head. “Why?”
Subaru’s face was bright red, but his body seemed to relax at Yasu’s response. He continued walking and Yasu jogged to catch up. “I talked to Maru today.”
“Eh?” Yasu stopped again. “When?” Although he thought he already knew the answer.
“At lunch,” Subaru replied, confirming Yasuda’s suspicions. “He came back to the classroom really upset. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that you and Ishihara were being all couple-like in the cafeteria.”
Yasu felt a panic rise up in him at the thought that Subaru believed he was dating someone. Confused, he tried to reason why he should care if Subaru knew, and then realizing that his friend was several steps ahead of him again, he ran to catch up. When he reached Subaru, he shook his head. “It’s really not like that. She likes me, but it’s one-sided.”
Subaru’s face was still red as he nodded in understanding. There was a brief silence where Yasuda noticed that Subaru seemed to be deep in thought, his brows furrowing. Finally, his voice came out quietly. “You’d tell me if there’s someone you like, right?”
Yasu’s heart started beating faster at the question, and confused about his body’s reaction he just nodded in reply. His palms began to sweat as Subaru moved close enough that their shoulders were almost touching as they walked and he wondered if maybe he was catching whatever Maru had.
“You’ll tell me first, right?” Subaru questioned, his face close to Yasu’s as he spoke.
“Of course,” Yasuda smiled. After all, Subaru was the best friend he had in Osaka. He felt inexplicably happy as Subaru smiled brightly at his response, and as a result, his heart started beating faster. He thought that it was definitely because he had made Subaru happy, but there was a feeling deeper down, that perhaps there was something more to his happiness.
He wanted all of his friends to be happy. Yasuda had always thought that if everyone around him was happy, he would be happy too. But for some reason, with Subaru, that idea seemed to be magnified exponentially. Yasuda seemed to absorb Subaru’s moods, good or bad.
When Subaru was frustrated during class, Yasu could barely think straight to focus.
Or when he managed to say or do something that made Subaru happy, Yasuda couldn’t keep a smile from stretching across his own face. Or stop his heart from beating. Or his palms from sweating.
Then there were the times when he caught Subaru thinking about Rikiya. The look of pain and loss that would cross his face was heartbreaking. So much so that whenever he saw it, Yasuda Shota also felt like he was losing someone precious to him.
“Do you want to come over to my house?” Subaru asked, shaking Yasu from his train of thought.
“Sure,” Yasu replied, feeling strangely warm as Subaru grabbed his hand.
The pair had been studying for almost two hours, sitting together on the bed in Subaru’s cramped and messy room. “And then you multiply this variable with this one,” Yasuda explained, finishing the problem. “Do you get it?”
“Mmm,” Subaru nodded. “I think so.”
“You try the next one by yourself,” Yasuda handed Subaru the pencil he was holding.
Subaru took the paper from Yasuda’s lap and started working through the math problem. “Wait,” He paused after a few minutes. “I don’t get this part.”
“Which part?” Yasu looked down at the paper to see where Subaru was pointing. “Oh, that’s tricky. But you’re doing really good up to that point. Let me show you.” He took the paper and pencil back from Subaru. Setting the paper back in his lap he started where his friend left off. “These need to be broken down before you can divide them. See?”
“Mmmhmm,” Subaru answered, resting his chin on Yasu’s shoulder as he watched the boy work through the problem.
Yasu froze and his heart started beating as he nervously looked down at Subaru from the corner of his eye. His hand started getting sweaty again and he had trouble keeping his grip on the pencil. He could feel Subaru’s breath coming out in short hot puffs against neck and a new feeling crept up at the pit of his stomach that was both pleasant and uncomfortable.
“Shota-kun, are you staying for dinner?”
The question made Yasu jump, knocking Subaru’s head from the perch on his shoulder and sending the pencil flying across the room. When he looked over at the door, Subaru’s mother was standing there, trying to keep from laughing.
“I - we were just - um… yes?” Yasu sputtered.
She nodded, her smile widening. “Subaru, go set the table then.”
Subaru nodded, standing up and leaving the room. Yasuda stood too, nervously retrieving the pencil he had thrown. As he turned to the door, Subaru’s mom was still standing there, trying to keep from laughing at him.
“I should wash my hands,” Yasuda replied nervously, heading towards the door. Subaru’s mom was staring at him like she knew something that he didn’t and it made Shota very anxious.
“Wait,” She stopped Yasu as he tried to slip past her out the door.
Yasu stopped, too afraid to look at his friend’s mother and see the look that was making him feel so uneasy.
“About Subaru,” She started. “He’s always been affectionate, wanting to hold hands or just feel someone else’s warmth. When he was little he’d always want to sit in my lap. He even insisted that his big brother hold his hand on the way to school until he turned fourteen. He’s been different the past few months, though. Cold and distant and always sad. But he’s changing bit by bit now that you’re around.”
“Ah, I’m happy then,” And although he had been nervous moments before, Yasu suddenly felt happy.
“It’s nice seeing this sweet Subaru again, so please treat him better than Rikiya did,” She smiled at him.
Yasu smiled too, nodding his head. “I will.”
“Go wash your hands for dinner then, Sho-chan,” She smiled and patted his head.
Yasu continued smiling all the way to the bathroom, and it wasn’t until he was rinsing the soap from his hands that Yasu realized the promise he had made to Subaru’s mom. Yasu had promised to treat him better than Rikiya. Rikiya, who was Subaru’s ex-boyfriend.
Which meant that Subaru’s mother thought that he was Subaru’s boyfriend. Which in turn explained the knowing smile she had given him earlier.
Although that thought was scary, he knew that if he had a chance, he could explain to Subaru’s mother that he had been confused and misunderstood what she was telling him. The part that scared him the most was that he had nodded along with what she was saying, completely unaware of the implications.
Subaru had become his best friend. That was something that he was willing to acknowledge. And Yasu had always associated the desire to protect Subaru with that close friendship.
But now he couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more behind it.
He dried his hands on a towel, thinking harder still about the current situation. He realized, that really, it went beyond protecting Subaru. All the thoughts he’d been having suddenly started making sense to him. He wondered if his anger and nausea every time he thought about Rikiya was more than just wanting to protect Subaru.
Yasu wondered if all that time it was jealousy he was feeling. It would explain the sick feeling he had every time he imagined Rikiya pinning Subaru against the wall of an empty classroom. It would explain his desire to be the one Subaru played his guitar with, sang to, laughed with, looked at with such deep eyes.
Yasu’s heart started beating faster and faster until it felt like it would beat out of his chest. As he continued wiping his bone-dry hands on the towel, everything was finally falling into place. Perhaps he had answered Subaru’s mother as if he was Subaru’s boyfriend because that’s what he truly wanted to be.
Subaru knocked on the door then, “Are you okay in there?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Yasu squeaked out.
Yasuda Shota thought that maybe he might like Subaru as more than friends. And he wasn’t sure, at that moment of realization, whether he wanted to shout it from the top of his lungs or throw up everything he’d eaten over the past week.