Howard was there when Kaoru approached Luna on his last day at Soria Academy.
It was so obvious what was coming. Ever since Kaoru had been accepted as a pilot trainee - again - he'd been watching her. Speculatively. Almost hesitantly. With that kind of overly serious, overly cautious determination.
Anyone who knew him well, who watched him close enough, knew what was coming. He was leaving anyway, so the confession could be made. If the rejection came, he'd be running away from it instead of having to deal with it.
It made sense, Howard had to admit. And he thought at Kaoru, You're a coward just like everyone else. It was somehow satisfying to think that way.
Because he was curious, he spied on them. Because he wanted to see if Kaoru would actually do it. Because he wanted to see if he was right when he guessed about Kaoru's feelings and what they meant, and what he'd do.
Because he wanted to be proved wrong.
Because he wanted to be proved right, too, so he could move past it.
Just outside the school, past the gate, on the sidewalk, Kaoru told Luna that she was the most important person in his life. That he'd never felt more alive than when he was around her, and that he'd regret it forever if he didn't at least try and see if there was a chance it might work. His voice was quiet, but his expression was fervent - almost passionate. He spoke the words haltingly, but clearly.
They were rehearsed words, but they were sincere. It was there in Kaoru's eyes, in his posture, the way he shifted nervously, waiting for a reaction…
Howard saw a mirror reflection instead of his friend, but it wasn't Luna standing opposite it.
And Luna smiled at him - awkwardly, a little nervously - and took his hand and told him he was a great person and that she liked him very much. Her tone was earnest, and her words were hopeful. She wasn't ready for a relationship, and didn't think of things like that right now, and it might be best - in fact, it was definitely best - if they were just friends. But would he please not feel bad?
And Howard heard instead, I'm sorry, but I'm not like that. His face burned and he shut his eyes for a moment, feeling indignant - feeling cheated. I like someone else, anyway. It wasn't fair… I'm sorry.
No one had even said it, and he still heard it.
Karou nodded, slowly, with the faintest hint of a flush rising on his cheeks, with the light dying a little in his eyes, and said it was okay, he just wanted her to know. And then he said goodbye, and he'd be back on holidays, and hopefully they could see each other then, and maybe the others too.
And she said of course they would, he wouldn't get away that easy, and she would miss him while he was gone. Then she hugged him, and he hugged her back, and it was just a little stiff, but really, who could help that?
Kaoru was a coward when it came to this, Howard thought. Because everyone was and he couldn't get away from it. He was hesitant around people sometimes, and covered it up by acting like it didn't matter - but when it came to Luna, it always did, and he couldn't hide that. Howard was great at missing things about people - he didn't catch subtleties, couldn't tell by looking at someone's eyes what they thought or felt. But if you watched a person enough, if you were obsessed enough with how they felt and what they thought, if you were quick enough to catch every little thing they said or did when they were anywhere near you…
Even if he was a coward, Kaoru was the one who had the courage to confess, and his confession was enough to drown out an even more cowardly person's hopes.
Howard sat down behind his tree, and felt the remains of the rejection in the air for a long time after.