Title: Agony Aunt
Spoilers: later volumes of manga (vol 12 onwards)
Summary: Hiroki gets stuck being the sounding board for what he deems to be the world's problems.
Word Count: 2672
Date First Posted: 09-10-11
Date Revised: -
Notes: Happy return to some awesome characters! Inspired by re-watching the series.
Feedback: always welcome, as is constructive criticism.
Also Archived At: LJ
Hiroki Kamijou could never be mistaken for someone particularly patient.
Or a terribly good listener.
Or very compassionate.
So how he found himself as the sounding board for the world's problems was a complete mystery to him.
He sat at his desk in the office he shared with Miyagi, attempting to grade his 2nd year class's exams on Heian period poetry. Hiroki was single-minded to a fault, but little things could get under his skin and distract him from the task at hand.
Currently high on the list of distractions was a loud sigh from the office's other occupant -- the third sigh in as many minutes. Miyagi lay back on his desk chair; arms and legs splayed, and pushed it in a circle. He spun slowly, so the tiny squeak that the bearings made when he moved was long and drawn-out. The noise made Hiroki's left eye twitch.
When Miyagi sighed a fourth time, Hiroki dropped his pen in disgust, concentration broken.
Taking a deep breath, he turned his chair to face Miyagi. "Professor," Hiroki began in an awfully calm tone, "you have a pile of papers to grade that you haven't touched."
"Correct," Miyagi responded, spinning the chair once again.
Hiroki waited for an elaboration that never came. Drumming his fingers on his desk, Hiroki considered his options. He could drop the subject and just return to his own work, but Miyagi's constant distractions would severely hamper his productivity. Add to the fact that if Miyagi didn't stop acting like a morose teenage girl, the older man would probably foist the grading onto him.
Sometimes, Hiroki hated being so damned analytical. "Are you all right, Professor?" He wanted to attack the problem with the least amount of melodrama possible.
Miyagi blew a smoke-ring over his head, his voice dripping saccharine. "Kamijou, I didn't know you cared."
I don't, Hiroki bit back. Instead, he said, "Something's obviously troubling you."
At the somewhat sincere tone, Miyagi's ridiculously exaggerated expression slipped away to reveal something more real, more tired.
Oh God, he's actually going to open up to me, Hiroki panicked.
"What do you do for New Years, Kamijou?" Miyagi asked out of the blue.
"I, er--" the line of questioning caught Hiroki off-guard, and he didn't have time to polish his response. "My parents usually try to get me to come visit them. But I've... ah. Stayed at home for the last few."
A slow smile spread to Miyagi's lips like molasses. "I take it you're not alone in this 'staying home' business."
Hiroki's jaw tightened. "That's really not your concern," he answered abruptly.
Miyagi's smile faded, and he looked thoughtful. "New Years is coming up," he commented somewhat cryptically.
Hiroki raised an eyebrow in response.
"Shinobu's been invited back home to spend it with his family. They're going to have dinner and watch the fireworks over a few drinks. The invitation has been extended to me as well, but..." Miyagi sighed. "Risako's going to be there, along with her new boyfriend. And the Dean and his wife, of course."
"Ah," Hiroki said. "Are you going to go?"
Miyagi took the cigarette out of his mouth and dangled his arm down, hand dangerously close to the floor. Hiroki's eagle eyes watched the ash on the cigarette, hoping it wouldn't fall to the carpet and singe it.
"Shinobu will kill me if I don't."
Hiroki shrugged. "So go."
The dark-haired professor frowned darkly. "And spend the whole evening with my ex-wife, ex-father-in-law and boss, sitting next to their brother and son that I'm sleeping with?"
Hiroki affected another shrug. "So don't go."
Hissing in annoyance, Miyagi sat up straight. "You're not exactly helping."
"For a man who appreciates, and has spent a lifetime studying creativity, you don't seem to be very creative yourself."
Miyagi was affronted. "Just what do you mean by that?"
Hiroki crossed his arms casually. "Easy. Tell them you'll go, and then call about half an hour before dinner starts to say you've been held up. Tell them to have dinner and not wait for you. Kill a few hours in the meantime -- maybe you can do your filing for once -- and then turn up a little before midnight with gifts to ring in the New Year. Have a drink, watch the fireworks, go home."
Miyagi was sitting up straight, but the expression of irritation was gone, replaced with dawning relief. "That's not a bad idea."
The assistant professor turned back to his desk smugly. "I know."
Hiroki exclaimed in surprise when Miyagi leapt out of his chair and threw long arms around his shoulders. "How am I so fortunate as to have such a clever and attractive man working under me?"
"With you, with you!" Hiroki corrected, shoving Miyagi off him roughly. Miyagi grinned and patted Hiroki neatly on the head. He strolled back to his chair and sat on it properly, wheeling it back towards his desk. Hiroki gave a small sigh of relief when he saw Miyagi pick up a pen and one of the papers from the stack in front of him.
All seemed to be well when Miyagi suddenly paused in his grading and turned back to his colleague.
"Kamijou... you wouldn't want some company for a few hours on New Years, would you?"
The 'thud' of Hiroki's head repeatedly smacking on his desk was quite satisfying, in a masochistic way.
Hiroki had received the call from Akihiko in the day, asking for some help with a particular piece of writing. Since Nowaki wasn't due to finish his shift at the hospital until 10pm, Hiroki figured he could kill some time away from the emptiness of their apartment.
So it was that he found himself sitting with Akihiko in the booth of a little boutique coffee shop, sipping the strong beverage and going through pages and pages of text.
They both sat quietly -- Hiroki reading and Akihiko smoking -- and it reminded him much of the times they spent together as children. Silence had never been awkward between them. Both appreciated it at its right place and time.
Hiroki made a mark on one of the pages. "You completely changed tenses here. Did you fall asleep while writing this?"
"Many times," Akihiko replied.
"And you say one of Marukawa's editors has already been through this?" At the nod, Hiroki shook his head in disgust. "This is the beginning of the end."
"Society is crumbling as we speak," Akihiko nodded solemnly.
Hiroki glared. "Did you want me to look at this? Because you might as well have just said 'I don't want you to improve my work, Hiroki. Please, let my sub-standard effort be published as-is'."
Akihiko touched his palms together with contrition. "Please continue, my friend. I wouldn't want to publish anything without it being looked over by your practiced eye."
Hiroki's eyes widened, cheeks colouring at the generous praise. He harrumphed and took a drink of coffee to cover his embarrassment. "It's lucky you can string together a decent apology," he muttered around the rim of the mug.
Akihiko smiled in response, but Hiroki missed it, already immersed in the writing again.
Akihiko's prose had moved him from the time he was a child, and this particular piece was no exception. It was an ancient story of love and loss in a modern setting; it destroyed his heart and then built it back up again piece by piece. He was nearly fully absorbed in it again when Akihiko's voice softly interrupted.
"Takahiro's having a kid."
Hiroki stopped reading abruptly. "Pardon?"
"Takahiro's having a kid, and he's asked me to be the godfather."
Hiroki put his pen down and considered the statement.
The name that had once driven him to utter distraction and despair... He wasn't sure quite when, but at some point it had lost its power. More than most, Hiroki understood the power of words, and yet, Takahiro had become little more than a simple name to him.
"What did you say?" he asked carefully.
"I said yes," Akihiko answered, stubbing out his cigarette and lighting a new one. Hiroki wrinkled his delicate nose, but said nothing.
"And what did you want to say?"
"I--" Akihiko stopped talking suddenly. "I don't really know. He was so happy..."
"But you're not in love with him anymore... right?" Hiroki prompted in a gentle tone that few ever heard him use.
Akihiko seemed lost in thought, but he eventually gave an ethereal smile. "No, I'm not."
The words that he'd waited years to hear were finally spoken, and Hiroki felt... strangely nothing. It was very nearly disappointing.
"So what's the problem, then?" the assistant professor asked.
Akihiko shrugged half-heartedly and slumped back against the booth, dark violet eyes heavily-lidded. "I don't know. It just feels strange. Like... I shouldn't want this for him. And yet... I really don't mind."
Hiroki stared at nothing on the other side of the room, either unwilling or unable to look at his friend. "Sometimes it's hard to reconcile past feelings with current situations, even if you don't feel the same as you once did about someone." It was a poignant, bittersweet subject to come up between the two of them.
Akihiko grunted in agreement, and the two lapsed into a different kind of silence.
Hiroki picked up his pen again, but paused before touching it to the paper. "Just because you don't like him in that way anymore, doesn't mean you have to be the godfather of his kid if you don't want to."
"I suppose," Akihiko conceded. He seemed to think about it for a few moments. "But it wouldn't hurt to be the brat's godfather. I wouldn't want to disappoint Takahiro."
Hiroki shook his head. "Friend or not, that's not your problem. And honestly, Akihiko, when have you cared about disappointing people?"
"Well, my family can go to hell, and I couldn't care less what the average person thinks of me." Akihiko tapped a long, tapered index finger on his chin thoughtfully. "There are in point of fact, only three people in the world I care about disappointing -- Takahiro, Misaki, and you." He smiled wryly. "Though I suspect I still end up disappointing you on a frequent basis."
Pleasure, astonishment, and indignation all fought a war to be the defining emotion to grace Hiroki's fine features. He ended up settling somewhere between the latter two. To recover from the shock statement, Hiroki jabbed his pen viciously at the paper in front of him.
"You're damned right you do," he choked out. "Did you even know you've completely misquoted Shikibu Murasaki's work here? I swear the finest writers in Japanese history are turning over in their graves, Akihiko."
Akihiko puffed away on his cigarette serenely, and allowed Hiroki his deflection of the topic at hand. Hiroki scowled and looked back down at the paper. One day he'd learn to take a compliment with grace, but today was not that day.
It took a few moments for Hiroki's equilibrium to settle, and get back to the job at hand, which would distract him from any further deep conversations and personal revelations. He was nearly buried in beautiful words again when a stray thought occurred.
"Akihiko... don't you despise children?"
"Without question," came Akihiko's reply.
Hiroki's head made contact with the firm surface of a wooden table for the second time that day.
When Hiroki heard the key turn in his front door a little after 10.30pm, he had to fight the urge to immediately get up. Instead, he stayed on the couch, sock-clad feet folded underneath him.
Nowaki entered their apartment quietly, toeing off his shoes and sliding into slippers. His stance was hunched classically in stealth-mode, until he saw Hiroki was still awake. A large, happy smile seemed to reach not only his eyes, but every other part of Nowaki's body simultaneously.
"Hello, Hiro-san! I didn't think you'd wait up for me."
"I have the day off tomorrow, it's not like I have to get up early," Hiroki grumbled.
"True, but you're still usually at least in bed by this time," Nowaki observed, placing his black bag on the floor. He wandered over to sit on the sofa next to Hiroki.
"You would not believe the day I've had. On top of drowning in work for the university, my own personal work, and picking up on shoddy editing, I've had to listen to my students ask inane questions, and then act as a damn counsellor for Miyagi and Akihiko."
Nowaki's dark brows rose briefly. "Oh?" He reached out and gently wrapped large hands around Hiroki's shoulders. With very little encouragement, Nowaki was able to coax Hiroki to lie down and rest in his lap.
"Yes, part of the great joy of my day was listening to them bleat about their own problems, like I don't have anything better to do."
"Mhm," Nowaki murmured. He began running his fingers through Hiroki's hair to immediate effect. At the touch, the creases in Hiroki's forehead softened, and though brows were still knitted in irritation, the manic edge had been taken off his mood.
"I mean, really. Asking me for advice? It's not as though I've got a wealth of sympathy to draw from."
"That's true," Nowaki said, and Hiroki glared indignantly, even though he'd been the one to initially make the statement. "However, you do have a wealth of knowledge."
That appeased Hiroki somewhat, and his expression eased again. "Huh," he grunted non-commitally. Nowaki continued.
"It is my experience that people who truly seek assistance ask those who will provide them with honest answers, rather than simply telling them what they want to hear." The fingers through Hiroki's hair seemed to drain him of all irritation. Nowaki continued. "Hiro-san, you rate the intelligence of both Usami-san and Miyagi-san highly, don't you? Why should it be a surprise that they hold you in the same high esteem?"
Hiroki was by no means shy about his intelligence, but he was always embarrassed when Nowaki made mention of it. Somehow, it felt like showing off, and he wasn't in the habit of doing that.
Nowaki's voice was calm and tranquil; listening to him speak was like drinking a glass of cool water on a hot day. "If something was bothering me, I'd want to vent to the smartest person I know, too."
"I suppose," Hiroki said, feeling strangely quiet at the praise. He looked up to see Nowaki smiling tenderly at him. The hand not occupied with his hair had somehow snuck into his other hand and tangled their fingers together. "I suppose... that's why I complain to you."
Nowaki's hand stilled a moment in his hair. "Hiro-san?" he queried.
"Well, it's not like I can talk to Akihiko. He's a literary genius, but he has no grasp of real-world situations. And Miyagi is a weirdo, pure and simple."
Disengaging his hand from Hiroki's, Nowaki brought it up to cup the side of Hiroki's face. "You think I'm smart?"
Colour stained Hiroki's cheekbones. "Of course I do, idiot." Hiroki shook his head at the obvious incongruous nickname. "I mean, you're studying medicine, they don't generally allow fools to do that. Also, you've had more real-life experiences than anyone else I'd care to confide in."
If Hiroki had planned to say anything else after that, it was swallowed by Nowaki's mouth pressing firmly to his. When they broke apart, Hiroki sucked in a few lungfuls of air. Nowaki beamed down at him, lips red and kiss-bruised.
"If you were really the smartest person I know, you'd know where I'd prefer to be right now," Hiroki said when he'd gotten his breath back.
"True," Nowaki acknowledged, surprising him by standing suddenly. Hiroki panicked, clutching Nowaki around the neck, but Nowaki had a firm hold of him, arms beneath his knees and shoulder blades respectively.
Proving beyond the shadow of a doubt he indeed was the smartest person Hiroki knew, Nowaki carried him to their bedroom.