It was raining the day that Shuichi felt like his world fell apart.

Kaede smiled at him, tears falling down her cheeks, but Shuichi couldn't muster up the strength to give her one in return. How could he, when he might never see her again?

"Please, Shuichi, everything will be okay. We'll talk every day, video chat if you're up for it! Just… don't let this get to you, okay? I wish I didn't have to move, but it's what my parents have decided." Kaede hung her head, looking down as she sniffled. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't… Don't apologise. I know it's not your fault," Shuichi finally said, trying his best to look her in the eye despite his hat and his watery eyes obscuring his vision. "I'm really going to miss you, Kaede. America is so far away…"

"I'll miss you too, Shuichi. Although we only got to know each other for a month, I feel really close to you. I hope we don't lose this," Kaede said, offering another smile. Her smile faded as a boarding announcement sounded over the intercom, Shuichi's heart skipping a beat when he realised it was her flight. "I have to go now. Promise me that you'll try to open up to everyone at school, okay? I believe in you."

And then Kaede hugged him, and his heart skipped for a completely different reason. Shuichi fiercely returned her hug, wishing that he never had to let go, that if he held on she wouldn't have to leave. He had never felt this way about anyone before, and now she was slipping away before he could even tell her how he felt. He couldn't tell if it was selfless or selfish, but he didn't want to tell her now because he knew it would only bring more pain.

The hug ended far too soon, and Kaede offered one last smile. "Goodbye, Shuichi." She then turned away, and Shuichi watched as she rejoined her family and disappeared from view.

He stood there for quite a while, just staring at where she had been. Finally, he left, numbly walking back to the car, where his uncle was waiting for him. Seeing how upset his nephew was, he offered Shuichi a pat on the shoulder before they drove back home, Shuichi looking out the window back at the airport. He saw a plane take off and imagined that she was on it, staring back at him. The tears only fell faster, constant as the rain beating on the roof of the car, as his heart broke.

School was almost unbearable the first day after Kaede left. His classmates looked at him pityingly, and he pulled his hat down further from the back corner of the classroom, not wanting to see their stares at all.

Kaede had been well-liked by all of his classmates, and were very much aware of the close bond that she and Shuichi shared. However, Shuichi had not gotten friendly with any of them, his social anxiety spiking whenever he had to talk to them without Kaede there as a reassuring presence, and now that she had given him the task to befriend them, his anxiety was at an all-time high.

Fortunately, none of them talked to him despite the looks, and Shuichi couldn't bring himself to talk to them either. In fact, the only person he talked to that day was his teacher, who expressed her regret at Kaede's leaving and told Shuichi that things would work out.

As he walked out of the gates, headed back home, Shuichi found that he didn't believe her.

On the bus, Shuichi's phone buzzed, and his eyes widened when he realised it was a message from Kaede. He opened it up.

Hey, Shuichi! How was school today? Make any new friends? Remember that I believe in you!

Shuichi's face fell as he read the message over and over. Not wanting to disappoint her, Shuichi tucked his phone into his pocket, letting out a sigh as he turned to stare out the window.

Kaede never did get an answer. Not to that message, nor to any of the daily messages that she sent him for the next two weeks before they stopped. Shuichi never stopped checking to see if she would send anything else, though.

I guess things aren't going well, huh? That's okay! Just know that I'm a message away if you ever want to talk! I still believe in you, Shuichi!

Shuichi sighed as he put his phone away, walking into the classroom and taking his usual seat at the back. He still hadn't mustered up the courage to talk to any of his classmates. He had been approached a couple of times, asking something or other, but he would always shake his head before getting out of there.

That day, things changed.

As the final bell rang, Shuichi got up, attempting to speed walk out of the classroom first as he did every day, but found his path blocked. He looked up a bit to see the purple clothing that he had come to recognise Kaito by, and he looked at the boy's face to see him staring hard at him, and Shuichi flinched, looking back down.

"Can I get past?" Shuichi asked timidly, and he dimly realised that those were the first words he had spoken in the classroom since Kaede left. Not a greeting to someone, or asking if they wanted to do something with him, like she would have wanted, but asking someone to move so he could escape their gazes. Pathetic.

"No. I've had it with this, man," Kaito replied, and Shuichi chanced a glance to see Kaito glaring at him, and Shuichi let out a whimper as he looked back at the ground. "Exactly! This sort of behaviour is pissing me off!"

Suddenly, Shuichi registered pain blossoming from his left cheek, and his falling to the floor, and in his shock he tuned out the eruption of protests from his classmates and teacher as he laid there, quickly grabbing his hat, which had fallen off when he crashed to the ground, and placing it back on his head.

As he started to get his bearings, Kaito's voice cut through the haziness.

"I can tell you right now that this is not what Kaede would have wanted for you! You need to do better! We can't be your friends if you won't give us a chance!"

Slowly coming to a stand, Shuichi looked at Kaito, regarding his angry expression, and then those of his classmates, either berating Kaito for his harsh words and actions or looking at him with concern.

"You're right," Shuichi said, and everyone fell silent as they looked at him. "It isn't." Shuichi then walked forwards, everyone parting to let him through. Once he was out of the classroom, he turned back to them, shifting his hat up so he could see them all. "Sorry." Then he turned and walked right out of the school, eyes stinging but refusing to let himself cry until he was at home and in his room.

That night, Shuichi opened up Kaede's messages and, reading the last one, finally sent something.

Kaito punched me today.

At lunch the next day, Shuichi was disturbed from his thoughts when a remorseful-looking Kaito took a seat at his table in the cafeteria.

"Hey, Shuichi," Kaito started, pausing until Shuichi was looking at him. "I wanted to apologise for yesterday. I shouldn't have done it. I just…" Kaito sighed, running a hand through his hair before looking back at Shuichi. "It doesn't matter."

"It does matter," Shuichi responded, fiddling with his spoon. "Kaede wants me to make friends, but… I don't know how."

"Why don't you get her advice on it?" Kaito suggested, and Shuichi looked up at him with surprise. "See what she has to say. Okay, see you in class." Kaito then got up and left, and Shuichi watched him go.

He was conflicted about Kaito's advice. He didn't feel comfortable talking to her when he hadn't made any progress on his promise, but at the same time, she was the only person that he could talk to. After weighing up his options, Shuichi made a decision.

Sorry, I know it must be late for you, but I need some advice. How do you approach a new person that you want to befriend?

To Shuichi's surprise, Kaede's response buzzed through only a couple of minutes later.

No problem! How I do it is to imagine a piece of music that is soothing, like Debussy' Clair de Lune, and then approach them. Hope that helps!

Shuichi nodded, he could do that. A smile on his face, Shuichi typed back a thank you message. He could do this.

He came into school the next day wearing earbuds, playing Clair de Lune on his phone. He hesitated in front of the classroom door, putting away his earbuds and taking a deep breath before walking in.

"Uh… Hi, everyone." The whole class turned to look at him, and he shrunk back a little. "I just wanted to say that I'm going to make an effort to be a part of everything. Thanks."

"Good for you, Shuichi!" Kaito called out encouragingly, and everyone else offered their own support, Shuichi smiling back at them before going to take his regular seat at the back before pausing. He looked forwards, noticing a free desk between Kaito and Miu, and instead decided to sit there, asking them both for permission. Kaito smiled at him, and Miu shrugged, making a comment that had Shuichi blushing. He steeled himself though, and thanked them for letting him sit there.

As class began, Shuichi smiled to himself. Hopefully this would be the start of something good.

Sitting between Kaito and Miu, two of the loudest people in the class, Shuichi found out quickly, was a very different experience to sitting in the back corner with Kaede and quietly talking to each other or listening as Kaede talked to someone else. Different, but not completely unwelcome for the most part.

Shuichi quickly discovered that Miu was prone to interjecting sexual comments into just about anything she could, which made Shuichi highly uncomfortable if they were levelled at him. However, he also discovered, after she made a comment about his hat, that telling her off had her backing off immediately, becoming much more timid. It might be bad, but Shuichi took full advantage of that, snapping at her whenever she made some lewd comment about him.

Apart from that, Miu was actually quite smart, and Shuichi could see how she was able to earn the title of the Ultimate Inventor, if her doodles of new inventions in the margins were anything to go by.

As for Kaito… Shuichi was surprised to find out that after the altercation yesterday, Kaito wasn't treating him with disdain or anything of the sort. In fact, Kaito kept coming to him with questions or some random thought that he had about something. Shuichi wondered if he was behaving like this because he felt that he should make up for what he did, or if he was like this with everyone. When Shuichi asked how he got his title, Kaito was more than willing to share his dreams of going to space and everything that went along with that. By the end of class, Shuichi thought that Kaito was actually pretty cool.

At lunch time, Shuichi went to sit by himself at his regular table.

"Hey, Shuichi!" Kaito called out, and Shuichi turned to find him jogging over to him. "Why don't you sit with the rest of us?" Shuichi peered behind him to see the rest of his class in their usual system: two long tables pushed together to form one giant one that they could all comfortably sit at. Shuichi felt his anxiety spike up, and he pulled his hat down.

"Not today. Maybe tomorrow?" Shuichi suggested.

"Sounds good! Why don't I join you today instead?" Kaito suggested in return, and Shuichi looked up at the Ultimate Astronaut in surprise.

"Oh, sure, if you want to," Shuichi said, and the two boys went to Shuichi's table and began to eat lunch. Shuichi kept glancing at Kaito from the corner of his eye, seeing if he could find an ulterior motive, but Kaito looked content where he was, grinning back at Shuichi the one time he caught him staring. Remembering Kaede's advice, Shuichi decided to break the silence.

"Hey, Kaito…" Shuichi said, and Kaito turned to him with an inquiring look. "Um, can I ask why you're being so nice to me today? You did punch me, after all…"

"Despite what I said yesterday, I don't hate you, Shuichi," Kaito replied. "I was just frustrated that you were shutting us out. So now that you've decided that you're going to try and open up to everyone, I want to be supportive. It takes a lot of strength to try and change, and I admire that!"

"Wow… Thanks, Kaito," Shuichi said, smiling at Kaito, who grinned back.

"No problem! That's what friends are for!" Kaito replied before returning to his food, missing the surprise on Shuichi's face. Friends, huh? Shuichi found that he didn't mind that one bit.

With a smile, Shuichi took out his phone and sent Kaede a message.

Kaito called me his friend today.

Despite his best efforts, Shuichi wasn't able to muster up the courage to sit with his classmates at lunch, but Kaito kept encouraging him, telling him that maybe tomorrow would be the day. When it was one-on-one, or a small group, Shuichi was okay. He got closer to some of his other classmates, such as Gonta and Kirumi. But when he saw everyone sitting together at that table, talking… Shuichi just froze.

One day, a couple of weeks later, Kaito asked him a question that made him question his perspective.

"Shuichi… What is your biggest obstacle that stops you from living your life to the fullest? Your enemy?"

Shuichi spent that whole hour thinking about Kaito's question. He thought about everything that had made him the way he was, withdrawn and almost completely unwilling to break out of his shell and interact with people. When the lunch bell rang, and Kaito stood, Shuichi finally had an answer for him.

"Anxiety… And trust issues," Shuichi said, making Kaito pause. He turned to Shuichi, a smile on his face.

"Then we'll start there!" Kaito exclaimed, looking like he'd had a great idea.

"Huh? Start what?" Shuichi asked.

"If you're feeling too weak to face your anxiety, then we'll do some training together! Give me your phone number, and I'll tell you when and where to meet up with me!" Kaito replied, holding out a hand. "Trust me, Shuichi."

Not seeing any other option, Shuichi sighed and handed over his phone, allowing Kaito to put Shuichi's contact details into his phone and vice versa. As they walked into class, Shuichi wondered just what he'd signed up for…

"Hey, Shuichi! Glad you could make it," Kaito called as Shuichi crossed the lawn to reach the Ultimate Astronaut. Shuichi had certainly not expected Kaito to contact him that same night to organise a meetup, and to be called to some park at night time was also unexpected. His uncle had barely allowed him to go, only with the promise that Kaito would be picking him up and driving him back home from now on was Shuichi allowed to go out so late.

"Hey, Kaito," Shuichi greeted, a lot more subdued than the more energetic boy. "So, what exactly are we going to be doing here?"

"Strengthening our bodies!" Kaito explained with a grand gesture at the open park around them. "We'll start with one hundred push ups!"

"One hundred? No, never mind, how are push ups going to help me deal with my anxiety?" Shuichi asked, shaking his head. He was starting to regret this already, but he couldn't exactly back out, not when he was dependent on Kaito to get home.

"A couple of ways, actually," Kaito replied, jumping into an explanation. "Exercise is good for the body and the mind! You sweat out your problems and tire yourself out, and the accomplishment of completing a task improves your self-esteem!"

"Huh, I guess I didn't really think of it like that," Shuichi hummed, thinking that what some of Kaito said was strange, but it sounded credible enough. "Okay, well, one hundred push ups, was it? I guess we should get started."

"That's the spirit, Shuichi! You'll see what I mean after we're done." And see what he meant Shuichi did. Although it took so long, Shuichi having to stop multiple times for a break, after he completed that hundredth push up and dropped into the grass, Shuichi realised that Kaito was right. About the exhaustion, obviously, but also about his mental state.

He felt a lot calmer, like the only thing that mattered at that moment was those push ups. He rolled over, looking up at Kaito, who was congratulating him on completing the task, and smiled.

"Now, we'll make this a nightly routine, okay? I'll show up at 10pm every night, so don't you forget!"

The smile dropped off Shuichi's face and he groaned. Kaito was going to be the death of him.

But even so, just before he went to bed, Shuichi sent Kaede another message.

Kaito's making me do some weird training thing every night. I'm kind of looking forward to it.

To everyone's surprise, including his own, Shuichi showed up to school a week after beginning training with Kaito without his hat on his head. He was a bundle of anxiety, not having a surefire way to hide from people's eyes anymore, but he had been determined that day to see if he could do it, Kaito's encouragement during their training sessions motivating him to work hard.

"Hey, did you lose your hat?" Kaito asked as Shuichi sat down next to him, and Shuichi rolled his eyes in amusement.

"Nope! I've decided to try not wearing my hat today to see if I can manage it," Shuichi told Kaito proudly, awaiting Kaito's judgement, which came in the form of a large grin and a slap on the back that almost knocked Shuichi's face into his desk.

"Good for you, Shuichi! That's my sidekick!" Kaito exclaimed.

"...Your sidekick?" Shuichi asked, baffled.

"Yeah! You can be my sidekick, witness to my exploits as Kaito Momota, Luminary of the Stars!" Kaito declared, making a bold pose that drew a lot of attention. Shuichi stared at him for a couple of seconds, blinking slowly, before he began to laugh, the sound echoing around the classroom.

"Kaito, that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard," Shuichi managed to choke out, and at Kaito's indignant glare, Shuichi laughed harder, oblivious to the stares he was getting.

"What's going on here? It must have been pretty ridiculous to have Shuichi laughing like this," Their teacher said as she walked in, and Shuichi started to calm down, becoming aware that everyone was staring at him and Kaito. To his surprise, Shuichi didn't feel like disappearing into the floor like he would have expected, but he did sink into his chair a bit.

"The idiot back there made some ridiculous statement and Shuichi lost it," Maki, someone Shuichi hadn't talked to much, told the teacher, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at Kaito.

"Hey, don't call me an idiot!" Kaito retorted, and Shuichi chuckled at Kaito's behavior, getting himself a grin from the Ultimate Astronaut. Maybe this whole sidekick thing wouldn't be so bad. In fact, as class went on, Shuichi found himself warming up to the idea.

Shuichi stared at the table, everyone gathered around it. Kaito was at his side, watching him.

"If you're not up for it today, that's fine! There's always tomorrow." Kaito smiled encouragingly at Shuichi, but Shuichi looked back at him and shook his head.

"No. Today's the day. Let's do it," Shuichi said, walking over to the table. The talking stopped as he approached, and everyone looked at him expectantly. Shuichi fought his impulse to run away.

"Hey, mind if I sit with you guys today?" Shuichi asked, and he noticed some faces brighten as he posed his question.

"Of course! Take a seat!" Angie exclaimed, pointing over at a free seat. Tsumugi, who was sitting with a seat on either side of her, scooted over so that Shuichi and Kaito could sit together, and Shuichi thanked her as he took the seat next to her, Kaito ending up next to Maki, who huffed as she looked away.

Shuichi sat quietly at the table, listening to everyone talking around him, and he found that he felt fine. Sure, he wasn't inputting into any conversations, but he didn't find himself unwelcome there, instead he found that some smiles were sent his way, and Kaito would keep asking him if he was doing okay, which he nodded to.

At the end of lunch, as everyone was packing up their stuff, Shuichi hesitated before speaking up.

"Thanks for letting me sit with you all today. It was nice, and I hope I can keep coming around," Shuichi said, trying not to avert his eyes from them, and he got multiple replies of assent, so it was settled among them that Shuichi would be part of the group. Shuichi smiled at that, and was able to return to the classroom in good spirits. He made it to his chair first, and as everyone else filtered in, Kaito patting his back with a big grin, Shuichi sent Kaede another message.

I sat with everyone at lunch today. It was nice. Wish you could have been there.

Of course, not everything was uphill from there. No, even though Shuichi was established as part of the group now, that didn't mean that everyone didn't have their own drama which, as part of the group, Shuichi found himself getting dragged into.

The most obvious form of conflict was found in Kokichi, who had a tendency to lie and mess around with everyone. Shuichi had already been wary of the boy because of his Ultimate Supreme Leader title, and Kaede hadn't liked him that much in her time at the school but had at least tolerated him, but when he witnessed the way that he would get on people's nerves all the time, especially Kaito and Kiibo, Shuichi decided that Kokichi wasn't worth his time. Kokichi had been pleasant to him thus far, but Shuichi suspected that once he was more settled into the group he would be treated the same as everyone else.

Less obvious were the people that were more antisocial and thus didn't make much of an effort to fit in with everyone. Ryoma and Maki were the most notable examples there, and Kiyo and Himiko to a lesser extent. Kiyo was mostly considered creepy by his peers, and Shuichi had shivered a couple of times in his presence, and Himiko was mostly lazy, tired and had her attention being hogged by Tenko, but the other two were much deeper than that.

Ryoma was pretty depressed most of the time, and after hearing from Kaito about how he'd been to prison, Shuichi remembered seeing everything about him in the news. Shuichi didn't know how to approach him about that, so for the most part they didn't talk to each other, though Shuichi did feel bad about it.

Maki, on the other hand, was just cold and unapproachable, and after trying to have a conversation with her one time, Shuichi found that it was by her design. Shuichi wasn't sure how she could be a child caregiver, but Hope's Peak had never been wrong about a person's talent before, so Shuichi accepted it and guessed that she was warmer around kids or something.

Other than that, there was the typical bickering, and as time went by Shuichi found himself becoming comfortable with it all. He was more than happy to vent to Kaede about everything that happened as well, since the first few weeks may have been rough for Shuichi but now that he didn't feel like he was letting her down, their contact was more frequent.

"Kaito got into another argument with Kokichi today," Shuichi sighed, watching Kaede's expression morph into concern from the other side of the screen. "Kokichi was making up some dumb stuff about the others saying things about him behind his back, and Kaito got pretty angry about it." Shuichi sighed again, shaking his head as he recalled the incident. "I had to stop Kaito before he punched him, and Kokichi just laughed about it, even when the others spoke up and said that Kokichi was wrong. I wish I knew how to tell him to knock it off."

"I'm not sure you're going to be able to," Kaede replied, still looking concerned. "Unless you can find out why Kokichi is acting this way, I think all you can do is make sure that everyone knows that he's lying and to not get worked up about it. From what you've told me, it's mostly Kaito, Kiibo, Tenko and Miu that fight with him, right?"

"Yeah, that's right. Everyone else is pretty good about his lies, although Gonta falls for them sometimes. I can talk down Kaito and Kiibo pretty easily, but Kokichi seems to thrive off their reactions, and I don't know how to stop them from getting worked up." Shuichi rubbed at his temples, and he could hear Kaede humming as she thought about the problem.

"I know this is going to sound weird, but I think maybe you're trying too hard to control how they react to Kokichi." Shuichi looked up at Kaede with disbelief, and she giggled a bit. "I think you're doing just fine with talking them down. You look way too stressed, and maybe that's what Kokichi is looking for, too. He wants you to get involved so that he can have fun watching you struggle. I think the best thing you could do right now is to talk to Kokichi privately and let him know that you don't like what he's doing, or keep doing what you're doing, and eventually they'll learn not to get riled up."

Shuichi nodded, Kaede's thoughts making sense. "Thanks, I'll try that. If it's reactions that he wants, then I'll try not to give him any to feed off."

"Glad to hear it! Hopefully things will get better. But for now," Kaede paused, looking a bit sadly at Shuichi. "I've got to go to bed. Talk to you next week?"

"Yeah, definitely. Bye!" Shuichi replied, waving, and Kaede waved back as the call ended, Shuichi leaning back in his chair with a sigh. It was difficult only being able to talk to Kaede like this on the weekends because of their time zones, but messaging her throughout the week was helpful. Looking at the clock for the time, Shuichi then went about his day.

Taking Kaede's advice, Shuichi made sure to pull whoever Kokichi was taunting aside to calm them down and deprive Kokichi of the reactions he wanted, and it went well. Kaito especially was grateful for his efforts, and Shuichi blushed at his praise, saying that it was what friends did.

The payoff was that Shuichi would commonly notice Kokichi giving him looks, whether it be at the table at lunch or from his seat in the classroom, and Shuichi sighed. That's what happened when you tried to keep the peace, Shuichi reasoned.

One day, as he was heading to lunch, Kokichi managed to catch him alone, and boy did he have some things to say to Shuichi.

"Hey, Shuichi. How's it going?" Kokichi asked, giving Shuichi an innocent smile, which Shuichi did not fall for, looking at the boy warily.

"Hey, Kokichi. I'm just fine, thanks for asking," Shuichi replied politely, hoping that would be the end of it. As Shuichi turned, he was surprised by Kokichi grabbing his arm, and Shuichi turned back to the supreme leader. "Can I help you with something?"

"Actually, it's more of a 'how I can help you' sorta deal," Kokichi said, his smile turning more smirk-like. "I didn't want to ruin things, since you're getting along with everyone, but Kaito's been saying some pretty nasty things about you. I heard him telling Ryoma that he was only being friendly because he felt sorry for you, and now you're annoying him. I'd be careful around him." Shuichi sighed, knowing that this was an obvious lie, even if hearing the possibility did hit at his insecurities a bit.

"I know Kaito better than that, Kokichi. You'll have to come up with something better than that." Shuichi then walked away, not casting Kokichi a second glance as he walked away.

"You'll regret not listening to me, Shuichi," Kokichi called back at him in a sing-song voice, but it sent chills down Shuichi's spine. Shuichi knew that he was really in for it from the Ultimate Supreme Leader now.

And what a scene he found himself in at the end of the week, Kokichi sending him a wink despite having the life choked out of him.

At the end of the day, in front of all their classmates, Kokichi had called out an unsuspecting Maki, saying that he knew her secret. And Shuichi found that he couldn't debunk his claim as a lie, not when Maki was currently holding him off the ground by his neck.

"Aha, I'm right... Aren't I… Miss Ultimate Assassin...?" Kokichi choked out, and just when it looked like Maki was about to tighten her grip, face hardening, multiple people ran forward to separate them. Kaito and Gonta restrained her, and Kirumi and Tsumugi shielded Kokichi, who took a moment to gasp for breath, hands to his neck, before laughing and looking at Shuichi with a devious grin. "That's... what you get… Shuichi. How's the truth treating you now?"

Shuichi averted his eyes from the Ultimate Supreme Leader, closing them tightly, and when he'd finally had enough of Kokichi's raspy laughter, he slipped out of the room, feeling incredibly guilty. Hands shaking, he pulled out his phone and managed to type out a message to Kaede.

i might have ruined someone's life

Shuichi spent the next few hours trying to calm himself down. He just needed to speak to Maki, tell her that he didn't mean to upset Kokichi, and hopefully things would get better.

But then he thought of Maki giving him a hateful glare, of everyone else blaming him for his part, of what Kokichi said, and he began to shake again. He didn't know if he could do this anymore.

He was snapped out of his thoughts by his text tone for Kaito, and he glanced at the screen to see it was time for their training session. He debated telling Kaito that he was feeling ill, but he knew Kaito wouldn't accept that answer. He sat looking at his phone, trying to think of an excuse to make Kaito leave.

He must have taken too long, because there was a knock at the door, and Shuichi was too shocked to try and answer it before his uncle.

"This is his room, I'll leave you to it," Shuichi heard his uncle say, and soon the door was opening, and he was face to face with Kaito, who was looking both confused and concerned. Kaito opened his mouth to say something, but then he took in Shuichi's dishevelled appearance and closed it, taking a seat on Shuichi's bed instead.

"Why did Kokichi say what he said to you?" Kaito asked, and Shuichi looked down at the floor, unable to meet Kaito's eyes. He wished he could reach for his hat, so close yet so far away in his closet.

"Because… because he exposed Maki's secret to get at me. Because I was ruining his fun. And," Shuichi said, hesitating, and Kaito remained silent, which spurred Shuichi to continue. "Because he somehow knows about my fear of facing the truth, and he rubbed it in my face. I… I don't know how I'm going to face Maki next week."

Silence hung in the air for a couple of minutes. Shuichi was waiting, bracing himself for Kaito getting upset with him, the angry glare he was sure to be wearing, but the yelling never came. He looked up slowly at Kaito, and was surprised to see that he was still sitting on the bed, looking at Shuichi with a mix of concern and… sadness?

"You're going to be just fine, Shuichi," Kaito finally said, and Shuichi found that he couldn't look away from his face, shocked that he could say that so casually. Kaito smiled. "Kokichi's an asshole to do that to you. And to Maki, of course. But you did nothing wrong. It was all him."

"Kaito…" Shuichi breathed, but Kaito wasn't finished just yet. He stood up and looked at Shuichi, confidence radiating off him.

"You don't have to worry about Maki being angry at you. Once we talk to her, she'll understand. I know she will! So don't worry about it anymore!" Kaito finished, now sporting a wide grin. "We'll do this together! Because you're my sidekick, and when you're struggling, you can lean on me! Because that's what friends are for!"

Shuichi stared at the Ultimate Astronaut for a while, processing what he had said, and before he could even think about what he was doing, he had gotten up from his chair and tightly wrapped his arms around Kaito, resting his head on the taller boy's chest. Moments later, Kaito's arms were around him, softly patting his back.

After what felt like a long time, Shuichi let go, looking up at Kaito. He was smiling now, and he felt peaceful, like Kaito really had taken away the burden. "Thank you, Kaito. It really means a lot to me. I… I'd never depended on anyone before Kaede, and when she left, I never thought I would again. But I trust you, Kaito. I can get through this with you by my side."

"That's the spirit, Shuichi! Now, why don't we skip training for tonight and get something to eat? I'm sure you must be starving, or maybe that's just me!" Shuichi chuckled at that, nodding, and Kaito left him to get ready. Before Shuichi followed him out the door, he looked at his phone once again, remembering the message that he had sent to Kaede. With a shake of his head, he grabbed it and sent another message to her.

Don't worry, everything will be fine. I can fix it.

When Kaito said that they could do this together, this was not what Shuichi had in mind.

He looked at Maki warily as he stepped out of Kaito's car, having just arrived at the park for their next training session. Wary because of her true title, yes, but more so because he had to talk to her now, and because she was looking at them with an annoyed expression.

"Okay, I'm here, what do you want?" Maki asked, turning her gaze to Kaito, allowing Shuichi a moment of reprieve.

"I wanted you to come train with me and Shuichi!" Shuichi looked at Kaito as he said that, surprised to see the grin on his face. He didn't look intimidated by Maki at all.

"What? That's dumb, why would I train with you guys?" Maki asked, folding her arms.

"Because I think it would be good for you! Come on, let's do it!" Kaito exclaimed, and Shuichi watched as Maki rolled her eyes.

"This is stupid, I'm going," Maki said, beginning to walk away.

"As we train, we can talk about what I actually called you out here for," Kaito said, making the assassin stop in her tracks. She turned back around and looked at Kaito with an unamused expression.

"Fine. Let's get this over with." Maki shrugged, and Kaito led the way to the middle of the field. "So what sort of training do you do?"

"For now, one hundred push ups!" Kaito replied, going down to the ground, Shuichi soon following his lead.

"Okay." Maki joined them as well, and so they began. Things were silent for a while, which meant that Shuichi was able to hear that Maki's puffs of breath were much faster than his or Kaito's, and when he turned to look at her he gasped in shock at what he was seeing, Kaito turning to see as well.

Maki was doing her push ups much faster than either of them, probably about three push ups to Shuichi's one, and she didn't look like she was slowing down, either. She turned to look at them, hesitating when she realised that both boys were staring at her.

"I had to do a lot of physical exercise in my training," Maki said by way of explanation, turning to look at the ground and focus. "51… 52… 53…" Shuichi followed her example, trying his best to not slow down, and only looked up again when he heard Maki's movements change and saw her now sitting. "Okay, I'm done. So what did you want to talk about?"

"Already?" Kaito exclaimed, turning to look at Maki. "Impressive! Okay, why don't you tell her, Shuichi?" Shuichi turned to look at Kaito with wide eyes, but upon seeing his nod of support, Shuichi turned back to Maki, who was watching him blankly.

"I wanted to apologise for what happened yesterday. It was an awful thing for Kokichi to do, and I'm sorry it happened," Shuichi said, his eyes drifting away from hers.

"Why?" Maki asked, and Shuichi looked to see her confusion. "Why are you apologising for something Kokichi did?"

"Well, uh, because he exposed your secret to get back at me. Aren't you mad about that?" Shuichi explained, watching Maki closely, but all that happened was that her expression went back to neutral and she shrugged.

"That explains why he did it out of the blue, but I'm not angry at you. The only person I'm angry at is him." Shuichi almost collapsed on the ground out of relief upon hearing those words.

"Okay," Shuichi said awkwardly, not sure what else to say with Maki's reaction going the opposite to what he'd prepared for. "Thanks for not being mad. And I still want to be your friend despite your title."

"We'll see." Maki nodded, and Shuichi figured that's about as far as he would get with that. Kaito soon injected himself into the conversation, crouching between them and patting them on the back, which had the unfortunate effect of making Shuichi actually collapse onto the ground. He sent Kaito a tired glare as he sat up.

"Oh, sorry Shuichi! But hey, I told you everything would be fine! Maki's not upset at you, and everything can go back to normal!" Kaito exclaimed, his smile not diminishing even with Maki forcefully removing his hand from her back.

"Except for the part where everyone knows I'm an assassin now, dumbass…" Maki muttered.

"We'll get through that! If anyone has a problem with you, I'll fight them for you! And Shuichi will too, right?" Kaito asked, Shuichi looking at Kaito with surprise.

"Uh, I won't actually be fighting, but I'll tell them there's nothing to fear," Shuichi said, offering Maki a smile.

"Well, thanks. If that's what you want to do, go ahead." Maki shrugged, although Shuichi could just make out a hint of an upturned corner of her mouth in the limited light.

"Now Shuichi, you still haven't completed your push ups! Get back to it!" Kaito exclaimed, and with a sigh Shuichi went back to work, biting back a comment about Kaito interrupting him in the first place. When he returned back home that night, it was with a sense that things would be fine for him now. He just had to endure whatever Kokichi tried to throw at him, and with Kaito by his side, he knew he could do it.

Things changed when they went back to school, and Shuichi didn't know what to think about it.

Everyone was wary of Maki now except for them, so Kaito took it upon himself to keep her company, even though she said she didn't mind, and wherever Kaito went, Shuichi went too.

Maki avoided the table now, just like Shuichi had, so they spent their lunchtimes with her at a spare table. Kaito was quite insistent that everyone would warm up to her again, despite Maki's doubt, and he told her that he wasn't going to give up until they did.

Over time, Maki became a permanent part of their group, including training sessions.

The one time he asked Kaito about it, Shuichi was surprised by his response.

"She's all alone, and I want to help her realise that people care about her! And with everyone acting the way they are, we have to be those people right now! And hey, I helped you when you were alone, right? So now we can do that for someone else who needs it!"

Shuichi felt something in his chest that he couldn't identify upon hearing those words. He nodded at Kaito and smiled, saying that he was with him every step of the way, but the feeling lingered.

It was strongest when Shuichi would witness Kaito and Maki talking, him laughing with a huge grin and her reacting to whatever he had said. He had a thought about what that feeling might be, but he denied it, dismissing it as stupid.

And as he did when he was unsure, he turned to Kaede.

Shuichi… I think you're jealous.

Shuichi scoffed, throwing his phone to the side. There was no way he was jealous. Why would he be jealous about Kaito being good friends with Maki?

After doing his hundred sit ups that night, he turned to see Kaito looking up at the stars. When Kaito noticed that Shuichi was finished, the last of them as always, he spoke up.

"Ah, the stars are beautiful tonight, don't you think? I'm going to go up there some day, and it's going to be wonderful…"

"Sure, I'll believe it when I see it," Maki said, but Shuichi was barely paying attention to her. In Kaito's eyes, he could almost see his passion, and Shuichi found himself wanting to be there when Kaito's dream came true. And… oh.


Shuichi considered going to bed without a word, but he had to say something. So he grabbed his phone. After sending the message he fell into an uneasy sleep, his mind conflicted.

Damn it, Kaede. You're right, as always.

Not knowing how to handle this realisation, Shuichi began to turn inward a bit, scared of what would happen if he said anything. When Kaito would ask if anything was wrong, Shuichi would lie and say everything was fine. Kaito would accept it with a shrug.

Maki, of course, was not oblivious to all this and one day, after the school day was over, she asked for a word.

"You like Kaito, don't you?" Maki said, and Shuichi, currently in the middle of drinking from a water bottle, almost choked. After Maki aided him in settling back down, she nodded, a knowing look on her face. "I thought as much."

"How could you even tell?" Shuichi asked, knowing it would be pointless to lie now.

"You're always staring at him, and your behaviour around him is really weird now. If you're not careful, the idiot's going to think he did something wrong," Maki explained, and Shuichi's eyes widened as she said that. He didn't want to make Kaito feel bad.

"Okay, but… what should I do? I don't know how he feels about me, and…" Shuichi trailed off, looking away from Maki.

"You'll never know unless you try. And with how close you two are, I wouldn't be surprised if he felt the same." Shuichi looked up with surprise. He hadn't expected Maki to support him with it.

"But what about you?" Shuichi asked, now curious. He had seen how close the two of them had gotten since she became part of their group, and seen how he had supported her until she was finally accepted by the class once again.

"What about me?" Maki asked, tilting her head, and after a beat of silence her eyes widened and her face started to turn red. "Shuichi, you can't be serious! Do you really think I have feelings for Kaito?" Shuichi looked away, starting to feel ashamed of himself at her reaction.

"I've seen how close you two have gotten, and how he's always encouraging you, and I thought that maybe he has feelings for you." Shuichi shrugged, his own face heating up now, embarrassed by his explanation. "And I wondered if maybe you had feelings for him, too." There was silence between them for a little while before a sound that Shuichi had never heard before came out of Maki, and he looked up in shock to see Maki laughing.

"Wow, Shuichi, you've really thought too much about this, haven't you?" Maki said as her laughter died down, her face carefully reverting back to neutral. "While I'm grateful for everything that Kaito has done for me, unwanted or not, I don't feel that way about him. So I say that you should go for it. I don't know much about love, but if it'll make you happy, then I think it's worth a try."

"Okay, I'll do it. Thanks, Maki," Shuichi replied, smiling at Maki. She shrugged, and they were soon parting ways to go home. Shuichi was deep in thought for the rest of the day, wondering how he should tell Kaito about his feelings.

Ultimately, Shuichi's nerves won out, and a week later Shuichi still hadn't said anything to Kaito. He came into class and took his seat, greeting him a bit despondently before preparing his things for class.

"Hey, Shuichi, is everything okay? You've been a bit distant lately…" Kaito said, and Shuichi froze upon realising that Maki was right. Shuichi turned to him, ready to tell him that everything was fine before someone cleared their throat, and to Shuichi's horror, he could see Kokichi staring at them with a huge smirk on his face.

"I can tell you why Shuichi's been distant, Kaito. Actually, it's kinda funny that you don't know, since it's about you," Kokichi spoke up, attracting the attention of the whole room.

"Kokichi…" Shuichi said warningly, his heart rate increasing. Was Kokichi really about to do this? How would he have found out?

"What are you talking about, Kokichi?" Kaito asked, looking both distrustful and curious as he stared at the supreme leader. Shuichi looked at Maki to see her glaring at Kokichi. Shuichi closed his eyes, bracing for impact.

"I'm talking about something interesting that I heard Shuichi and Maki talking about," Kokichi said, making Shuichi wince. "Apparently Shuichi has a big old crush on you, and is too scared to tell you because he's afraid that you're in love with Maki! So, what do you think of that, huh?" Shuichi could hear various gasps from around the room. Chatter rose up from among his peers, but Shuichi tuned them out, going numb from shock. Why did Kokichi have to do this?

Shuichi flinched when a hand landed on his shoulder, and he opened his eyes to look at Kaito, who was looking at him with too many emotions for Shuichi to place.

"Shuichi… Is that true? Do you really have a crush on me?" Kaito asked softly, but to Shuichi he might as well have shouted it. Shuichi scooted his chair backwards, getting up from it so awkwardly that he almost tipped it over, eyes wide as he grabbed his stuff and fled the room, ignoring Kaito calling his name and Kokichi's laughter as he almost crashed into his confused teacher, quickly apologising as he ran. He grabbed his bag from his locker and left the school.

"Shuichi, wait!" Shuichi hesitated for a second when he heard how desperate Kaito sounded, looking back for a second to see him running down the steps towards him, before continuing on, and when he'd put some distance between him and the school he looked back again to see that Kaito had stopped at the gates, watching him go. Feeling the sting of tears that quickly blurred his vision, Shuichi kept running.

Not wanting to try and explain to his uncle why he wasn't at school, Shuichi didn't run home. He ran aimlessly, and by the time he had tired himself out, flopping onto the grass, he looked up with surprise to realise that he was at the park where he trained with Kaito and Maki, and he let out a humourless laugh. Of course he would end up here.

He laid there for a while, scrunching his eyes closed to try and block out all the thoughts racing through his mind, but he couldn't hold them off, and soon they were overwhelming him.

Kaito wouldn't want to be his friend anymore. The others would ridicule him for being dumb. He couldn't tell Kaede about this. He would be alone. He was a failure, why are you like this, why why why-

Shuichi threw his bag to the side and began to do push ups. At first he felt stupid for doing it, but as he poured his energy into the simple motion of lowering his body and then raising it back up again, the thoughts became dull, and all he had to worry about was reaching one hundred.

"Shuichi? What… are you doing?" Shuichi was startled by Kaito's voice, and he paused to look up and no, he wasn't imagining it, Kaito was jogging across the grass towards him, a confused look on his face that turned into a smile. "Ah, I think I get it. Keep going, Shuichi!" With that motivation, Shuichi went back to his push ups, and he could hear movement that indicated that Kaito was doing the same, confirmed by a glance to the side at Kaito beginning his own push ups.

They were silent except for their breathing, and it was soothing to Shuichi to just live in the moment. Once he had reached one hundred, he let himself fall to the grass, feeling worn out. He closed his eyes and listened to Kaito for a moment, focusing on the familiar sound of his friend.

"So…" Kaito broke the silence, and Shuichi looked to see that he had collapsed on the grass as well, turning to lie on his side to face him. Shuichi did the same, giving Kaito his attention, knowing that this was the time. He could feel his anxiety rising, but he felt like he could face this now, and whatever happened after it.

"What Kokichi said was right," Shuichi said, and it felt like a weight off his chest just to say that. "I like you, Kaito, more than a friend. To be honest," Shuichi chuckled, "I used to like Kaede. I never got to tell her before she left, and it crushed me. But then you came along and offered me your friendship, and you offered to help me become a stronger person, and I guess… I started to move on and realise that I had feelings for you." Kaito was silent, so Shuichi felt like he needed to explain more, his eyes drifting away from Kaito's face to the grass under him. "I've seen how close you've gotten to Maki, so I understand if you would rather be with her. I'm-"

"Shuichi." He fell silent as Kaito said his name, and he looked up to see Kaito smiling at him, a softer smile than he usually wore. "Thank you for telling me. And actually… I have feelings for you as well." Shuichi watched Kaito blush as he said that, and his own face heating up indicated that he was as well.

"Really? You're not just saying that?" Shuichi asked, and Kaito shook his head.

"Yeah. I got to watch you come out of your shell and become more confident, and it was really awesome to watch. As for when I realised that I had feelings for you… I think it was one day at lunch, at the table with everyone else, and you were laughing at a joke someone had told. I couldn't stop staring at you, and I realised why soon after."

Shuichi remembered that day, a couple of weeks ago, a little bit after Maki had reluctantly agreed to start sitting with everyone again. He had noticed Kaito watching him quietly, and when Shuichi had asked what was up, Kaito shook his head with a smile before joining in on the conversation with everyone.

"Ah…" Shuichi replied, not knowing what to say. It was silent for a few seconds, but soon Kaito stood up, offering a hand to Shuichi that he gratefully took. Once Shuichi was on his feet, Kaito grinned at him.

"Hey, why don't we skip school today? Let's just have a day out, you and me. We can make Maki mad that she missed out!" Kaito said, and Shuichi nodded, thinking that sounded great. As they walked to Kaito's car, Shuichi realised only when he had to let go to get into the vehicle that Kaito hadn't let go of his hand. Shuichi felt warm at that realisation, a big smile on his face as they drove away from the park.

Things were comfortable between Shuichi and Kaito, and it seemed like things would go back to normal. After that day out, they hadn't really talked much about it, and Shuichi didn't know how to broach the subject, especially when Maki was usually there with them, and he didn't want to make her feel left out.

"So I guess what I'm asking is, should I just ask if he wants to go out with me, even though Maki would be there with us?" Shuichi asked Kaede a few days later. "I feel awkward about bringing it up with her there…"

"I think you should do what you think is right, and if that means that Maki has to watch it, then I guess that's just how it'll be!" Kaede replied, and Shuichi groaned a bit. "Okay, I guess you don't really like that answer. If it was me, I guess I would try and find a moment when it was just you two, like right after school, and ask him then. Or maybe I would invite him out to coffee on the weekend, something like that." She shrugged, looking a bit amused, something which made Shuichi pout. "Aw come on, let me have some fun! This is so cute!"

"Cute?! How is this cute when I can't even say what I want to?" Shuichi asked, and at that moment his attention was taken away from the screen when he heard a knock on the front door. He looked at the time to see that it was only nine thirty. "I think that's him, but he's really early…"

"I guess I'll leave you to it, then! Bye Shuichi!" Kaede smiled, the call ending soon after. Shuichi got up from his desk to answer the door, but he could hear Kaito's voice, indicating that his uncle had already let him in. Soon he could hear footsteps coming closer to his room, and Shuichi opened the door right after Kaito's first knock.

"Hey, you're pretty early tonight, what's up?" Shuichi asked, smiling as he stepped aside to let Kaito in.

"I wanted to talk for a bit, if that's alright," Kaito replied, and Shuichi realised that he looked nervous about something.

"Yeah, of course! Take a seat!" Shuichi went to sit down on his bed, and patted the space next to him, and Kaito soon filled it, looking at Shuichi. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Well, about what happened that day," Kaito said, and Shuichi knew exactly what day he meant. He began to feel nervous as well, wondering what Kaito wanted to say. Shuichi looked down with surprise when Kaito grabbed his hand, and looked back up again to see Kaito smiling at him. "I've been doing a lot of thinking since that day and… I wanted to ask if you wanted to make things official between us."

"Kaito…" Shuichi said, his heart starting to race as happiness rushed through him. "Yes! I would really like that."

"I'm glad, Shuichi," Kaito replied, his smile widening at Shuichi's answer. "I really want to kiss you, Shuichi. Can I?"

"Any time you want, Kaito." Shuichi began to lean in, closing his eyes, and soon he was met with the feeling of Kaito's lips touching his own, and he put a hand to Kaito's face as he poured his love for Kaito into the kiss. When they broke apart, both boys were red in the face, and they put their foreheads together as they stared into each other's eyes, laughing with pure joy.

Kaito asked me to be his boyfriend, and I said yes! Thank you for believing in me, Kaede. :)

The word count on this got out of hand, but I wanted to write something that mixed high school, angst and Saimota, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out! Hope you all enjoyed, and feel free to leave a comment!