“Oh my fucking god, could you breathe any louder?”
Giyuu thinks for a moment.
“Holy shit.” His coworker rubs his temples. “Holy shit.”
As a gym and homeroom teacher, Giyuu never has much to grade. At the end of each semester, he’s used to seeing students and teachers alike scrambling to get grades in at the last second while he carries on as usual. Many of his coworkers resent him for it.
However, at the end of this particular semester, Giyuu finds himself in trouble with the PTA for the third time this year, (and, really, if making his students bench-press each other was a crime, then he’d be fired and in jail by now--it’s not his fault if they drop each other on their heads) leaving him stuck after school writing letters to parents. It takes him longer to write than it would anyone else, partially because he hasn’t taken a writing class since high school and partially because he finds it difficult to garner sympathy for these whiny, overprotective parents. Principal Ubuyashiki suggested sending the letters in congruence with the students’ report cards, to make them seem more official or something. Grades close tonight.
So tonight, Giyuu finds himself under pressure right along with his fellow teachers. Maybe it’s karma.
The only one who hasn’t gotten everything graded and gone home by 10PM is the academy’s only math teacher, Shinazugawa Sanemi. It’s not due to procrastination, Giyuu knows. Recently, he’s learned that Sanemi’s daily life contains much more than meets the eye: between juggling grad school and part-time jobs, volunteering at animal shelters, and parenting his siblings, Giyuu has grown more and more baffled as to when he sleeps. Giyuu’s students have also described Sanemi’s workload as sadistic, with weekly pop quizzes and at least five homework pages a night. Looking at the mountains of papers coating his desk, Giyuu can only see masochism.
The furious scratching of Sanemi’s green pen fills the room. Giyuu stares at his laptop screen, stuck at the end of a sentence:
All students deserve a safe, judgment-free environment in Physical Education to |
To test their limits, Giyuu wants to write. He has a feeling that wouldn’t go over well. He turns to Sanemi for help.
“Do you think it’s--”
Sanemi lobs a metal stapler at Giyuu’s head. It misses, but makes a loud dent in the wall. Then, he goes back to grading.
Giyuu taps a stray pen on his desk absently.
He’ll come back to that sentence later.
The clock keeps ticking as Giyuu lazily plugs away and his letter begins to take shape. He’s not particularly worried about time--after all, he only needs to write one good letter, then copy-paste that with different names before morning--but Sanemi’s frantic stress rubs off on him more and more, making him antsy. Sanemi growls, mutters to himself, and flips papers with unnecessary vigor; Giyuu wishes he’d quiet down.
After a while, a phone alarm goes off. Sanemi peels himself from his desk, swearing. He downs a few pills from his messenger bag and trudges to the coffee machine across the room. Giyuu decides to join him. He’s eager for a break.
The beverage Sanemi concocts is about 50% cream, 45% sugar, and 5% coffee, but at least there’s plenty left for Giyuu. Giyuu tries to lighten the mood.
“Some coffee with your sugar?”
As soon as he’s done stirring, Sanemi storms back to his desk.
Even considering the insurmountable stress on Sanemi’s shoulders, Giyuu’s not sure what he did to make him act like such a huge cunt. He really thought they’d bonded a few nights ago after Kochou’s house party. The thought occurs to him that maybe Sanemi doesn’t even remember; that, or Giyuu hallucinated the whole night because his brain couldn’t handle the sad fact that no one enjoys his company or ever will. He prefers the former possibility.
Sanemi gives a particularly loud groan as if he hopes the noise will scare away all his work. Giyuu throws an arm over the back of his chair.
“How much do you have left?”
Surprisingly, Sanemi answers.
“... Thirty more tests, give or take? They’re pretty short, though. Problem is, I still gotta punch all this shit into the grade book, and I--” He sighs again, and glares at the laptop sticking out of his bag like it personally disgraced him. “I… haven’t even started on that.”
Giyuu raises his eyebrows. “How many students?”
“Shit.” Sanemi rubs the back of his neck, wincing. “All of ‘em?”
That’s right, Giyuu remembers. Sanemi is the only math teacher their school has. The academy is small, but that’s still over a hundred students to record before morning. It’s almost midnight.
Sanemi scoffs. “Yeah, no shit.” He turns back to his papers.
Giyuu frowns. Technically, he already did Sanemi a favor earlier this week. Technically, Sanemi owes him.
(Giyuu, Sanemi had told him, drunk and curled up on the dirty carpet, I’m glad you’re my friend.)
For some reason, Giyuu doesn’t mind letting the debt stack up. Maybe this time, he’ll remember.
Sanemi shoots him an odd look.
“Yeah, right--I don’t need your pity.” His tone has turned bitter again, antithesizing the sweet coffee. “Mind your own shit, alright?”
Giyuu shrugs. It was worth a shot.
Giyuu turns back to his screen. He’s almost filled an entire page with empty sympathies. He’ll just need a sensitivity reader before he prints them out. Satisfied, he finishes:
The recent bench-pressing incident goes against everything we stand for at Kimetsu Academy as we strive to prioritize the safety of our students, even those who specifically enrolled in a prestigious school to challenge their limits. We urge you not to press charges.
Tomioka Giyuu, Physical Educator
Giyuu leans back in his chair. Now, he has a problem. He needs a second pair of eyes, but the only pair in the room aside from his own are bloodshot and furious and won’t take well to being torn away from their work. Giyuu doubts interrupting again will go over well.
He does it anyway.
A deep growl.
“Would you mind reading this over for me? I need a second opinion.”
Sanemi punches the desk. “I just told you how fucking busy I am--why the fuck would you ask me?”
“We’re the only ones in the building, so--”
“I don’t care.”
A few seconds pass.
“But…” Giyuu points to his laptop, insistent. “Shinazugawa, I really need--”
“Ohhh my god,” Sanemi moans, and the lack of aggression betrays his exhaustion. “If I do it, will you shut up?”
Probably not, Giyuu thinks. He’d get too bored.
Sanemi shoves his wheeled chair back and propels to Giyuu’s desk.
Giyuu scoots aside so Sanemi can squint at the screen. This close up, Giyuu can see the deep bags beneath his eyes and low hoods above them; under the blue light of the computer, his skin looks about to fall off his skull.
“The hell’s this?”
Giyuu tells him.
“Figures. You keep running these kids to the ground and you’re gonna end up in jail before you get fired.”
“You threw a student out a window,” Giyuu points out.
“Yeah, in self-defense. Nobody asked to get dropped on their head.” He scoffs, pulling Giyuu’s laptop closer. “And I’m the sadist,” he mumbles.
It takes Sanemi longer than it should to read the letter. Giyuu tries to have some patience and keep his mouth shut. Sanemi is doing him a favor, after all. Sanemi squints with his face near the screen and mouths every word. After several minutes, Giyuu yawns.
“Yeah.” Sanemi leans back in the chair. “Um.” He rubs his eyes. “Yeah, just… er, take out all the shit about ‘pushing students’ thresholds,’ or ‘testing their limits’ and all that. No one wants to hear that when their kid’s in the hospital. Other than that, you’re good.”
Giyuu nods gratefully, taking his laptop back. “Alright. Thank you.”
Sanemi doesn’t move, hand still over his eyes.
“You can leave now,” Giyuu tells him.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Right.”
He goes back to his own desk.
Giyuu considers getting some rest. He doesn’t want to go home tonight, since he’d probably wake his sister, but the couch in the faculty room has proven fit for a nap before.
On his way to the library printer, he stops by the bathroom, bringing his toothbrush and change of clothes. He always keeps extra gym clothes around, so he can sleep in them and just wear them the next day until they get sweaty. After relieving himself, getting cleaned up, and picking up his stack of papers from the library, Giyuu returns.
Sanemi remains engrossed in the screen. Giyuu takes pity on him and makes a coffee, sure to drown it in sugar and cream.
“Hmm. Wha--” Sanemi blinks up at him, then does a double-take. ‘’Did you change?”
“Yes. I was going to sleep on the couch. Because it’s--” Giyuu checks the clock on Sanemi’s screen. “--almost one AM now.”
“Idiot. Just go home.”
Giyuu pushes the coffee toward him, urging him to drink. “Then you’d be lonely.”
That leaves Sanemi at a loss, and he seems to struggle for a moment with replying before he decides to just drink the coffee. He chokes.
“Fuck, that’s bitter.”
Giyuu wrinkles his nose. “I added three sugars.”
“Not enough.” Sanemi pulls a sugar packet from his jacket pocket and shakes it in. “Shit’s disgusting. Thanks, though.”
Thanks. It shouldn’t make Giyuu’s heart soar as much as it does. A more pressing concern overpowers it:
“You carry sugar packets?”
Sanemi goes back to work.
Giyuu goes to sleep.
Something warm finds its way around his shoulders. He snuggles deeper into the cushions. A bated breath seems to come from all around him; then, a sigh.
Giyuu falls back asleep.
When he opens his eyes, the lamps all seem brighter than they did before. His hair sticks to his cheek and his throat feels dry. He’s warm. It doesn’t feel like morning; he wonders what woke him up.
Giyuu turned, at some point, to face the back of the couch, so he can only hear the sounds of the room behind him as awareness returns. He can still hear Sanemi’s frustrated mumbling, which lulled him to sleep in the first place, but something’s wrong: no key-tapping or pen-scratching accompanies it. He hears a sniff. He swallows.
“Are you cr--”
Sanemi yelps. A loud clatter.
“Are you crying?”
Lots of swearing follows. Giyuu keeps his gaze on the couch cushion, eyes heavy.
“Jesus, f--” Sanemi’s voice shouldn’t waver as much as it does. “What the hell is wrong with you? You sc-- surprised me! Asshole”
Giyuu sits up, rubs his eyes, and finds Sanemi furiously doing the same, standing over his upturned chair. He’s jacketless, and belatedly, Giyuu finds the denim coat draped over his own chest. Giyuu can’t help but feel like he barged in on something private.
“It’s--” Again, Sanemi’s voice cracks. He clears his throat and sits down again. “Yeah. It’s whatever.”
Giyuu drags his feet to the floor, sluggish, and smacks his lips. He gathers his bearings. The clock on the wall reads 4:37, so he’s only been asleep a few hours. In those few hours, Sanemi’s workspace and the desks surrounding it have spiraled into even further disarray. If he was high-strung before, Sanemi, breathing shakily, hiding his face, now looks seconds away from an aneurysm. Giyuu clutches the jacket.
“Go home, Tomioka.”
It’s a plea, not disguised as anything else.
Sanemi doesn’t reply. Giyuu presses.
“Why were you crying?”
“I can hel--”
“Just! Forget it. Please.”
Giyuu lets that steep for a moment. Other people don’t always make sense to him. But he feels that, right now, doing what Sanemi wants him to would only be cruel.
“No,” he says again.
Sanemi’s shoulders shake. He mumbles something into his arms.
“What was that?”
“I said,” he growls, lifting his splotchy face out of his arms, “I’m having a fucking nervous breakdown, alright?” He fixes his gaze on Giyuu. “Is that what you wanted to hear? There it is! I’m losing my mind over a dumb fucking grading site right now. So just go home and gloat to your whole fucking family and all your friends about how pathetic that is. Just leave me the fuck alone!”
Giyuu stands up.
He walks across the room.
He picks up a handkerchief from the bag at his desk and brings it to Sanemi.
“Is that all you can fucking say?”
Sanemi slams his own head into the desk several times. He leaves it there.
“Can I say something?” Giyuu asks.
“I’m gonna say something.” Giyuu pulls up a chair, still holding the jacket. “I don’t have any friends. And you’re the only one I know stupid enough to be a candidate.”
Sanemi doesn’t acknowledge him.
“I don’t think I’m better than you. I’m not a parent, I’m not getting a second degree, I just have this one job--hell, I’m older than you, and I still live with my sister. And I’ve been here all night, putting up with your shit, because everyone I know is constantly putting up with my shit, and I at least want to try sometimes to balance the scale. So, maybe that’s still out of my own self-interest, but I’m not an egoist. Maybe you would’ve picked up on that if you listened to me instead of trying to drive yourself crazy.
“I admire you a lot, Shinazugawa. I wish I had a fraction of your compassion. I know you have a lot of people relying on you for a lot of things. I guess, sometimes…” Giyuu folds Sanemi’s jacket in his lap. “I just want to be reliable, too.”
Sanemi doesn’t move for the longest time, and Giyuu’s half-sure he’s passed out. Then
Sanemi nudges his laptop to face Giyuu. He doesn’t move his head off the table.
“Could you… read what this says, please? At the top? I forgot my contacts.”
They make quick work after that. Dawn approaches, but Sanemi already sorted each file by student and class, and he parrots out scores for Giyuu to input like a well-oiled machine. Giyuu can see why he struggled so much with the computer: the online grade book is in spreadsheet form, with no way to enlarge it without destroying the whole format. At least the physical papers have large, clear numbers. He’s only slightly distracted by the mental image of Sanemi wearing glasses.
By the time sunlight filters in through the window, Giyuu and Sanemi have spread tests and worksheets and folders all across the faculty room, with Giyuu at the desk and Sanemi hunched on the floor at his feet, head propped between the chair and Giyuu's leg. Giyuu’s amazed to find they’ve made it all the way to the last class on the roster.
“Ninety-four on the exam, and that’s twenty-percent, so that brings her overall up to--”
“You’re amazing. Do you know that?”
Sanemi falters and looks up. His hair’s a mess from pulling at it and he still looks like he could use a decade-long nap, but since Giyuu took the reigns, he’s relaxed considerably. His cheeks, still blotchy from crying, turn a shade redder.
They continue. Giyuu never works this fast, but he finds that he kind of enjoys the mindless rhythm of punching in numbers, especially when he knows he’s being helpful. He’s deep into the flow when Sanemi stops feeding him numbers. His weight collapses into Giyuu’s leg. An exam page drifts anticlimactically to the floor. Giyuu blinks.
“... Shinazugawa? What’s next?”
That’s it. The number next to his blinking cursor is the final score of the last student they had to grade.
“That’s it! Hah…” Giyuu lets his shoulders slump. And maybe he kind of understands why Sanemi chases stress, because the wave of satisfied relief that meets him now overpowers everything else. He pets the top of Sanemi’s head, astounded. “We did it.”
Sanemi answers with a snore.
The sound of the door clicking open snaps Giyuu out of his stupor. Their resident student-teacher prances in.
"Gooood morning, night owls!" Kanroji sings. "It’s still early, but I brought you guys--” She stops in her tracks.
"Hi, Kanroji-san." Giyuu notes the tray of baked goods in her hands. "Are those to share?"
Kanroji’s face turns as pink as her hair.
“Ohhh my god. Oh my gosh. Um.” She stares. Then, she flails, practically throwing her tray onto the nearest desk. "Waaa! I am so, so sorry to interrupt! Please, take these as atonement! Pretend I was never here!”
The door slams shut again. A muffled squeal.
Giyuu’s not sure what that was about. He’s sure the others will be grateful for the snacks later, though. Maybe it’ll make up for the mess.
Giyuu leans back in Sanemi’s chair to watch the sun rise.
Their coworkers end up none-too-pleased about the mess on the floor, but Giyuu manages to return most papers to their respective folders before first period, so no one’s too mad. Kanroji’s gift of sweets helps. He shakes Sanemi awake with a cream bun and a green tea (four sugars) in hand just as the bell rings.
Giyuu’s day passes typically, if not a little tiredly. He's cranky enough to make his students run a few more laps than usual.
When he gets home, a box with a blue ribbon sits in the center of the dining table. Tsutako steps in to greet him from the kitchen, pulling her hair into a ponytail.
“Welcome home, ‘Yuu!”
“What’s this?” Giyuu asks.
“Oh my gosh. Okay…” Tsutako’s arms drop to her sides. “Some scary-looking guy dropped that off by the door half an hour ago. I didn’t answer, but he knocked and said to give it straight to you. I literally thought it was a bomb for a minute, but… I dunno. It smells really good.” Tsutako hands him a folded paper. “I didn’t read the note.”
All things considered, she doesn’t look quite as concerned as she should be.
Giyuu accepts it. “Did the man have white hair? And scars?”
Giyuu lets out a breath. “We’re not in danger,” he gravely assures.
Tsutako laughs and ruffles his hair like he’s told a funny joke. “Well, that’s a relief, then! I’ll leave you to it!” She slides back into the kitchen.
Giyuu opens the note.
He freezes. He reads his given name scrawled out in dark green ink again. And again.
Thanks for helping me out last night. And the other night, for getting me home.
You’re a reliable guy.
(If you tell anyone about any of this including your sister I’ll fucking kill you.)
He’s glad Tsutako left the room because Giyuu finds an involuntary grin creep up his face like a schoolboy getting his first Valentine’s chocolate. His gaze locks on the middle line.
Gingerly, he places the note down on the table. He reaches for the bento--it’s warm to the touch. The ribbon is the last thing he’d expect Sanemi to have handy, but upon further examination, it looks like the same kind Kanroji uses on her stationary. Overall, it looks like the kind of bento he sees in cooking videos: the kind that's too cute to eat. The tight bow falls open with a tug.
Salmon daikon. It’s even still hot. The faint outline of a knife-cut heart is barely visible on the surface of the fish.
Tsutako steps back in, wiping her hands with a dishtowel. Giyuu doesn’t even look up. She laughs at his expression.
Giyuu can hardly answer. He’s already stuffing his face.