A Dime on the Street
Written for Box for Yuletide 2007.
Shuuji raised his head from the essay he'd been writing, despite the fact that there was less than half an hour before it was due and his heart was thumping a panicky rhythm in his chest. Koji had gotten food poisoning from cheap sushi yesterday; Shuuji had stayed up half the night with him while Koji vomited miserably, and there hadn't been time to work on his essay.
"Yes?" he prompted when Inoue-chan did nothing more than stare at him with wide eyes.
She blushed a little. "Um...is Kusano-kun sick today, do you know?"
"Eh?" Shuuji glanced to the back of the classroom where Akira usually sat, only to find an empty desk there. "I guess so. Or maybe he's just late. You know what he's like."
Inoue dimpled at him. "Thank you, Kiritani-kun," she said and returned to the giggling group of girls across the room who had no doubt been watching their brief conversation with interest this whole time.
Shuuji bent over his essay again, determined to finish it before class started, even as a corner of his mind was occupied in worrying over Akira's absence.
"Akira!" Shuuji rapped sharply on the door to his apartment. "Open your door!"
Akira hadn't answered his cellphone when Shuuji'd called him at lunch, or when he'd called again after school and yet again when he was a block from Akira's apartment.
Shuuji leaned against the doorjamb, unwelcome images assailing him in quick succession of Akira lying on the floor with a head injury, Akira fallen asleep in the tub, Akira sick with a high fever. Even knowing that it was far more likely that Akira was just being his usual exasperating self and sitting comfortably in his apartment while Shuuji made a fool of himself couldn't make his brain stop constructing nightmare scenarios.
He knocked again. "Akira. Remember when we went to Nobuta's and she wouldn't answer the door? Remember how we felt that day? I don't want to bother you, I just want to make sure that--"
The lock clicked suddenly inside Akira's apartment, and a moment later the door opened. Akira stood silently in the doorway, still wearing his pajamas and with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
Shuuji frowned at him. "Are you sick then?"
Akira shook his head. He didn't say a word, but he stepped aside to let Shuuji into the apartment. Then he turned and wandered back down the hallway, leaving Shuuji to deal with the door and to slip his shoes off so that he could follow.
He found Akira curled up in a ball on the sofa; the blanket had migrated from his shoulders to up over his head. Shuuji sat down awkwardly at the end of the sofa by Akira's feet. "What's going on?" he asked the plaid-covered lump that was Akira's head.
"I talked to my father today."
Oh. "Did he ask you to take over the company again?"
The blanket moved in something that may have been a nod. There was a sudden flurry of motion and then Akira emerged, pink-cheeked and with his hair mussed, and sat up. He looked at Shuuji with a terrible expression on his face. "I said, 'Yes.'"
Shuuji shook his head, certain that he'd misheard. "Sorry, what?"
"I agreed to go to college in Tokyo and major in business, and while I'm in school he'll start teaching me how to run the company."
"What made you change your mind?"
Akira shrugged. "I was just thinking: you were ready to leave all your friends so that you could take care of Koji. All along I've been saying that I didn't want to be a suit, but you didn't want to start over in a new city alone. But it was the right thing to do, so you did it anyway. I thought maybe I should try to do something like that." There was a long silence in which Shuuji was embarrassed and Akira was not--fairly typical of their relationship--and then Akira said, "You don't think it's a bad decision, do you?"
Shuuji turned to Akira, who was staring at his folded hands in obvious existential despair, and thwapped him over the head. "Only you could make a personal crisis out of the fact that you want to be successful," Shuuji grumbled.
"I don't want to be successful," Akira protested automatically. "I just... I want..."
"Idiot," Shuuji said. "That was a joke. I know, okay? You want this because it's the best thing for everyone, and because there are a lot of people depending on you."
Akira looked at him, awed, and said, "How does Shuuji know everything?"
Shuuji felt his face go hot. "I don't know everything. I just know you."
Akira nodded, apparently satisfied. He inched closer to Shuuji and laid his head on his shoulder. "I won't change, will I? I won't turn into a boring adult whose life is a cash register?"
"No, of course not," Shuuji said. "I'm sure you won't become any more boring than you already are," and then he squawked when Akira shoved him off the couch.