"Leave it to Mahiro to not care about anyone else in the house," Yoshino said with a sigh. The blonde had managed to fall asleep on the couch in the living room, arms and legs splayed every which way, preventing anyone else from using the couch for its intended purpose.
Junichirou poked his head around the kitchen door, and snorted.
"All this time with him, and you're still surprised by it?" he asked, chuckling.
"Not surprised, per se," Yoshino replied, taking a seat in the mercifully vacant armchair with his bowl of cereal. "But I live in hope."
He reached for the remote, turning on the local morning news, as usual (though with the volume muted and captions on, so as not to wake Mahiro).
Nearly a year had passed since the destruction of the Tree of Genesis. The world continued to turn, and it was considered a victory for Team Free Will. However, there were some wrongs that couldn't be righted. Some things could never be changed.
Yoshino never truly changed. As near as could be managed, he returned to his life and its normalcy, but that only went so far. Junichirou proved himself particularly useful, providing his newfound friend with both a university recommendation and a roommate. The great irony, after the incident, was Yoshino's decision to study law. He had chosen criminal law over civil law, but whether to practice chiefly in prosecution or defense he had not yet determined.
Mahiro, too, remained as he always had been. Stubborn. Impulsive. Defiant. The only difference now was university enrollment and a paid government internship. Technically speaking, Mahiro had agreed only to crash on Yoshino's couch for a week or two until he could find his own place, but no one was fooled. After a few weeks, it became clear that Mahiro wasn't going anywhere. While it might have been wiser for the neat and organized Yoshino to share a bedroom with Junichirou, it would have been an unnecessary inconvenience to an unrelated party. In Yoshino's opinion, it was imposition enough that Mahiro was in the apartment at all.
Hence, as they always had been, the dynamic duo were stuck together once more. More often than not, however, Mahiro stayed up late enough to crash on the couch anyway, as he had now.
Junichirou joined his roommates in the living room, munching steadily from a box of raisins.
"For someone so distrustful of others," he commented lightly, "He sleeps in an awfully vulnerable fashion."
Yoshino glanced at his friend. Junichirou wasn't wrong. It was one of those odd little quirks that observant people (like Yoshino and Junichirou both) tended to notice. Mahiro slept on his back, with his arms stretched out over his head. One leg lay straight, the other bent at the knee. He looked like a puppet that had thrown on the ground, his limbs all mismatched. It didn't look comfortable, but that was Mahiro for you.
"He's always slept like that," Yoshino answered, his eyes back on the television. "I imagine if he were awake, he would probably tell you that he'd want to be in a position to face his attacker, even if he were asleep."
"And you?" he questioned, his blue eyes alight with curiosity.
"Me?" he repeated.
"Would you want to face your attacker?" he clarified.
It took Yoshino a moment to respond. He set his cereal bowl on the coffee table, staring at it without really seeing it.
"I sleep on my back," he said carefully. "So I guess-"
Mahiro stirred, refusing to open his eyes, but he made his opinion known all the same. Yoshino wondered how long he had been awake...and if the overly-perceptive Junichirou had brought up such an odd variety of small-talk with no ulterior motive.
Eyes still closed, Mahiro stretched like a cat.
"You start out on your back," he said with a yawn, "But you always wake up on your stomach with your head stuffed in your pillow. It's a miracle you haven't smothered yourself yet."
Junichirou had to smother a grin, as Yoshino's familiar expression of resignation crossed his face.
"Ne, Mahiro-kun," the older boy said innocently, "You're such a grump in the morning."
It's not just in the morning and we all know it, Yoshino thought wryly, standing up.
"Then what would your answer be?" he asked his rebellious friend, his emerald eyes (as usual) betraying no sign of his intentions. "I answered for you, it seems only fair you return the favor."
Mahiro slowly sat up, finally cracking his eyelids. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the heel of his hand, scowling.
"Isn't it obvious?" the blonde muttered. "I'm not saying anything, someone as smart as you should know this."
Yoshino sighed, headed for the kitchen.
"Careful, Mahiro," he commented over his shoulder. "Guessing games don't exactly have a history of ending well for you."
As though he had touched him with a live wire, Mahrio froze, grimacing in sudden anger. Yoshino vanished into the kitchen with his cereal bowl, his expression as unreadable as ever.
The moment Yoshino was out of sight (though most definitely not out of earshot), Mahiro sat back on the couch. He looked perturbed, but much more comfortable without his counterpart there to call his bluffs.
Junichirou dropped into the armchair, staring pensively at Mahiro.
"Mahiro-kun," he said thoughtfully, "This 'oh-so-obvious' answer has to do with Aika-san, doesn't it?"
Mahiro laughed, a scathing bark that only he could truly pull off. He placed his hands behind his head, a wolfish grin on his face.
"For once in our lives, no," he replied, his tone frighteningly calm. That calm was unsettling in Yoshino, but downright terrifying when coming from Mahiro.
"It's just something you pick up on after a while," he added. "It just takes a bit longer when it's Yoshino."
That was where he left it. Mahiro changed the TV channel and became immersed in some mindless action show. Without any further conversation, Yoshino and Junichriou finished getting ready for the day and left for their respective classes.
Yoshino didn't even notice the ruby-red stare leveled at his back as he vanished out the door.
That night, Mahiro did not return to the apartment until the wee hours of the morning. Once, his motives might have been sordid and uncouth, but these days it was more likely that he was pulling late nights doing research, or networking. He spent massive amounts of money on drinks with associates or clients, but rarely came home drunk.
Eye bloodshot from lack of sleep, Mahiro edged his way into his and Yoshino's room. He took little care to keep quiet, as he knew that Yoshino wouldn't care if he was awakened. The cynical brunette had a mastery of the 'ignore Mahiro and go back to sleep' technique that could have rivaled Junichirou's defense.
The moonlight streaming through the window blinds left a striped pattern across the room. Mahiro silently chuckled to himself when he saw the covered lump that was Yoshino, curled up on his bed under the window.
Yoshino slept as he always did. He began on his back, claiming that it was the most comfortable position, but he never stayed that way for long. That, Mahiro had discovered, was the trick to knowing when Yoshino was 'really asleep'. As soon as he lost consciousness, Yoshino always rolled onto his stomach and put his arms around or under his pillow.
As Mahiro shuffled about the room getting ready for bed, he couldn't help but think about the conversation from that morning. Cool and collected as Yoshino might be, he knew exactly why he slept the way he did, and he knew that Mahiro knew it too. It wasn't exactly surprising, though, that he had not felt like including Junichirou in the club.
Mahiro flopped onto his bed at last. He felt his entire body sigh with relief at the sensation of not standing anymore, as if standing upright had required the efforts of armies to accomplish. It had been one of those days.
He glanced back at the sleeping Yoshino. His shoulderblades rose and fell to the slow rhythm of his breathing. Mahiro remembered a time when that breathing hadn't been so peaceful.
As a younger child, Yoshino had always been prone to nightmares. He wasn't the sort to wake up screaming, but if you shared a room with him, it was hard not to notice the shaking and trembling of his delicate form. He had no close friends other than Mahiro, so it was probable that the blonde was the only one who knew his secret.
Mahiro grinned to himself in the dark as he remembered the day Yoshino had figured it out.
"Mahiro, what is this?"
Yoshino lifted the stuffed dog off of his bed as though it had lice, awaiting an explanation.
Nine-year-old Mahiro simply shrugged.
"Some kid from my dad's company tried to give it to me so I'd be his friend," he said venomously. "I don't want it."
"What makes you think I want it?"
"Throw it away if you don't," Mahiro countered. "I don't care."
The next time he had been forced to spend the night at Yoshino's house, Mahiro had noticed that the dog had not made its way to the trash, as Yoshino had threatened. Instead, the patchy little thing was carefully hidden beneath Yoshino's pillow.
By the time they got to high school, Yoshino had grown to consider himself an adult, and the stuffed dog lay forgotten in a closet somewhere. However, Yoshino's habit remained. No matter where or how he slept, his arms remembered the muscle memory of reaching for his dog, either clutching at it under his pillow or holding it tight to his chest. Even as an adult, the sensation of having something to hold was what helped Yoshino sleep.
Mahiro had often wondered if it was ever really the stuffed dog that Yoshino had needed. To the best of his knowledge, Yoshino had never even given the stupid thing a name. No, it seemed much more likely that it was simply a subconscious moment. By day, Yoshino had the mastery of his emotions and desires. He could roll with any punches life had to dish out. By night, Mahiro theorized, Yoshino did the one thing he could never accomplish in consciousness. He held on.
To this day, it was one of the greatest secrets ever held by Takigawa Yoshino. Even Fuwa Aika never knew it.
Sighing, Mahiro lay back against his pillow and closed his eyes. He figured this was one secret that didn't need to see the morning light.