Note: Semi-sequel to Time Enough, but you don't need to read that one first to understand this one.
For a moment after he set up the tablet and stand on the desk in front of him, Yata just leaned back on the chair with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at it.
It shouldn’t be a big deal. Kusanagi and Anna had spent several painstaking hours showing him how to use the video call function, just days before he’d flown out of Japan for the championship round of his skateboarding competition. It was all still fresh in his head, so he was pretty sure he’d be able to do it. And it was evening here, which meant morning in Japan, which meant it was a perfectly good time.
He’d arranged it in advance and everything. His call was expected. Seriously, no big deal.
Yata swallowed hard, eyeing the tablet with a kind of dubious irritation. His stomach was in knots. There was no reason why he should be so nervous, but somehow, he just couldn’t get calmed down.
For fuck’s sake, it’s just Saruhiko! Get a grip already!
The problem was, he couldn’t convince himself of the ‘just’ part so much these days. He and Saruhiko… Well, they’d gone through a pretty awkward first couple of months trying to rekindle their friendship. And that was after a painful conversation that Yata wasn’t even embarrassed to admit he’d cried at – how the hell else would anyone react to pain and confusion that had lasted four years finally getting a resolution? Just when it felt like they were finally back in a comfortable pattern, with Saruhiko taking almost every one of his calls and the two of them meeting for drinks whenever there was breathing room in Scepter 4’s hectic schedule, things had started to change yet again.
Yata took in a sharp breath and let it out, irritated with his own anxiety. He turned his head to take in the rest of the room in a half-hearted attempt at a distraction, despite the fact that he already knew what he was going to see. Other than the fact that there was no kitchen, this hotel room was better than his cheap-ass apartment back in Japan. The bed was probably twice the size of his futon, not counting the height and the extra pillows and bedding and all. The bathroom could’ve held three of his dinky unit-bath, and there was a window with a view of the city that was actually pretty impressive. The whole suite had a clean, airy feel to it that made him feel like his presence was causing a disturbance.
On top of everything, that sorta pissed him off. He was the person who’d paid to stay here – well, okay, the organization had paid, but same difference – so there was no reason to feel out of place.
Just like there was no reason to be nervous about calling Saruhiko.
Fuck. Yata turned his attention back to the tablet again, frowning to himself. This had all started because of the skateboarding competition in the first place – well, not directly, but the stuff that happened there was what kicked off this feelings bullshit. Or at lease his awareness of it. He couldn’t say he hadn’t pretty much always felt good around Saruhiko in a way that was different from everyone else he hung out with, but that moment when he’d raised his gaze to take in the crowd and picked out the familiar figure standing there in the middle of it had lit a fire in him that he couldn’t put out now no matter how he tried. The competition had gone better than he’d hoped – his drive and energy had been up, fed by the knowledge that Saruhiko was there, Saruhiko was watching him – and he’d just killed it, earning himself a spot in the finals and a trip overseas.
And a buttload of unexpected feelings to come to terms with, which had kicked off the change in his and Saruhiko’s relationship. Again.
Not… really in a bad way, though. Yata let out a sigh, uncrossing his arms and slumping forward over his knees, at the same time reaching up to rub at the back of his neck as he thought it over. Yeah, there had been a kind of underlying tension in every interaction between them since that day, but it wasn’t really bad. It gave him a buzz that he’d never felt before – an energy shock that magnified every time they touched or smiled at each other or even just when their eyes met. He also got the strong impression that there was a kind of awareness between them, like they both sorta knew what was going on but neither wanted to be the one to come right out and say it. Yata wasn’t good at reading people or anything, but his instincts were screaming at him on this one.
He really felt like Saruhiko had to like him back. Maybe. Probably.
Hell, when they were together was when he felt pretty confident about it. Left alone like this, all these doubts just started to pop in out of nowhere and eat away at his brain. It was stupid, but he couldn’t help it. He really liked Saruhiko. A lot. It kinda scared him how much. He wanted to – to do couple-type stuff, like… holding hands. Or – or sitting close on a couch, with their legs touching. Locking gazes from right up close. Even, maybe, with lips, trying that… as in, like – like kiss –
His face was growing hot. Yata scowled against the embarrassment, his free hand clenching into a trembling fist in his lap. “Goddamnit,” he muttered out loud, and just like that, his impatience and agitation busted through the wall of nerves in his brain. “All right, screw this!” He lowered the hand at his neck, reaching out for the tablet with determination burning through him. “I’m doing it!”
He fumbled with the menus, frowning against the stir of anxiety and trying to keep his attention focused on what he was doing to avoid getting caught up in that weak-ass hesitation again. I got this.
The actual sound of the call going through was a bit of a shock; Yata jerked a little, nearly knocking the tablet from its stand, and pulled his hands back forcefully, crossing them over his chest and slumping deliberately in his seat.
It connected before he had time to feel anxious about it. There was a brief moment of lag, and then the slightly blurred image of Saruhiko appeared on the screen, frowning at the camera.
Not that there was anything weird about that – actually, the casual irritation was so typical that Yata found himself relaxing marginally. “Yo, Saruhiko,” he managed to say, in a normal tone of voice – okay, maybe not as enthusiastic as his usual, but whatever – and felt the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Misaki.” Saruhiko didn’t so much say the name as sigh it out. Now that there was time to notice, Yata could see that the room on the other end of the call was dark, the only light source apparently sitting right next to Saruhiko, which made him just about the only visible thing on the screen. It was a weird effect. “What took you so long?”
This was normal, too. “I just had a long flight, okay? Give me a break here.”
“Don’t say you’re going to call at a specific time if you can’t do it.” Saruhiko’s tone was flat and irritable, but he didn’t look all that bothered. He wasn’t wearing his work uniform – one of the reasons this worked out so well was because it fell on his day off in the first place. The V-neck grey sweater he had on left part of the line of his collarbone visible, though, and it was a bit distracting, even with the smaller picture on the tablet. “I figured you had trouble speaking English and couldn’t get your room sorted out.”
It was annoying how accurate that was – he had stumbled a bit, despite all the practice. It hadn’t helped that the person helping him had been a woman – it made it hard to look her in the eye and speak clearly. Yata frowned. “I handled it fine, okay?”
“If you say so.”
There was a brief pause between them that couldn’t be blamed on the lag, and Yata felt the beginning kick of anxiety in his belly again. Saruhiko was staring right at him through the small screen of the tablet, and while he’d been the focus of that gaze a lot – before and after realizing how much he liked it – right now, it felt weird. There was no outside world to be distracted by on a video call. He couldn’t just look away casually and cool down. They had to stay in this spot, focused on each other, with no drinks or other people or movies or video games or anything to distract himself with. Just…. Saruhiko.
Saruhiko, with that canny gaze and those small, rare smiles. Saruhiko, endlessly intelligent and cool. Saruhiko, who continued to be in his thoughts all these years and kept his attention effortlessly.
Yata’s heart was starting to pound like crazy again. Trying to avoid a moment of potential awkwardness, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Anyway! Your day! Right! How – how was it?”
He got a perplexed frown for that. “Fine,” Saruhiko answered drily, “considering it’s ten in the morning in Japan.”
Fuck. Right. “Ah – sorry.” Yata forced a laugh, feeling oddly self-conscious about it. He uncrossed his arms, hunching forward in his seat and reaching up to scratch at the back of his head. “Forgot about the time difference…”
“Well” – Saruhiko shrugged a bit, expression unchanged – “it might be better to ask now anyway. After all, there hasn’t been a chance for anything to go wrong yet.”
Is he trying to cheer me up or something? It was hard to tell, considering how good Saruhiko was at schooling his expressions. Yata figured he’d take it, though – at the very least, he wasn’t being mocked. “Shoulda guessed you’d look at it like that.” He grinned back, feeling his spirits rise a little with the familiar banter. “What’s with the negative attitude, huh?”
“It’s called being realistic.” Saruhiko braced two slender fingers on the frames of his glasses to push them higher on his nose. “Anyway, I’m not the one who competes tomorrow.” His gaze was somehow sharper than usual when he looked up again. “After spending all night traveling and then being hours behind Japan time, how are you managing?”
“Eh?” Yata blinked in response, the unexpected, direct show of concern catching him off-guard. It wasn’t like Saruhiko didn’t obviously care about him, but asking so openly like this was unusual. He could feel his face growing warm, and desperately hoped he wasn’t blushing. “O-oh. Right. Yeah. I-I’m good!” Shit, that was lame, wasn’t it? Trying to play it off, he added, with forced enthusiasm, “Don’t underestimate me! I can handle this, no problem!”
“Hm.” Saruhiko’s frown deepened a little, but he didn’t otherwise comment.
It was kind of unnerving, being the focus of that keen-eyed gaze. Well, normally it didn’t bother him much, but right now it was starting to give him a complex. Yata resisted the urge to squirm in his seat, mentally cursing himself for making this awkward. He was pretty sure he was better at acting natural in person. Maybe. Hopefully. This situation was just all-around weird, and he didn’t quite know how to deal with it.
“A-anyway,” he went on, desperate to fill the silence, “the prelims are gonna be recorded and posted online tomorrow.” Not pausing to think too deeply about it, he leaned forward, charging onward with, “You’ll watch it, right?”
The sound of Saruhiko clicking his tongue was not quite as sharp somehow – maybe it was the tablet’s speakers. “I’ll see when I have the time,” he mumbled, glancing off to the side as if there was something there that fascinated him.
That was one habit Yata had managed to pick up on again – the avoidance that came up when Saruhiko was embarrassed. It gave him a tiny boost of confidence. After all, they were slowly starting to understand each other again. They could never recapture what they’d once had, but that was fine. If – if he was right, then this could potentially be something just as awesome. Just… in a different way.
In a way that made his brain blank out and his stomach feel like it was doing flips, but it was still achingly, helplessly good. As always.
The combination of that feeling and the reaction he’d just received was enough of a push for Yata to go on. “But you’ll watch it sometime, right?” He eyed Saruhiko’s face intently, hoping to catch any other signs of his emotions.
There was a tiny twitch at one corner of that thin-lipped frown. “I guess… sometime,” Saruhiko admitted, with a hesitation that could’ve been reluctance or just uncertainty. It was impossible to tell which.
Yata relaxed a bit, slumping back in his seat and managing a grin for the camera. Saruhiko still wasn’t looking at him, but that was all right. He thought he kinda had a handle on this now. “Great! Then I’m gonna totally kill it out there!” Even if Saruhiko wasn’t there in the crowd, he thought he could pull up that drive and motivation just knowing that he’d eventually be watching. It wasn’t quite the same, but it could still work. “Just watch me!”
Saruhiko’s gaze slid back to him, strangely sharp again. “You already had a lot of people planning to watch and cheer you on, right? Why do you care if there’s just one more?”
“Ah…” That was unexpected – though somehow he got the feeling it shouldn’t have been. Yata felt the churning in his stomach intensify. There was a purpose to the question that was so heavy he could feel it hanging in the air between them, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Reflexively, he swallowed hard, fighting the urge to look away. “It – that’s different.”
The muttered answer had Saruhiko’s eyes narrowing in response. “How?”
“It – it just is, all right? What’d you expect?” The nervous tension was too much for Yata – he couldn’t help but blurt out the first thing that came to mind. “It’s you, isn’t it?” The second the words were out of his mouth, he sucked in a breath, nearly choking on his own spittle as he did and forcing a coughing fit on himself. As he recovered, he shot his gaze back up, blind panic urging him to croak out, “W-wait – I mean – ”
The words died in his throat when he caught sight of Saruhiko’s face on the tablet screen. Those cool blue eyes had widened just enough to betray an obviously startled reaction, and his lips were parted slightly, as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t quite manage it. Even as Yata stared, his heart seeming to leap up and get lodged in his throat, he could see a hint of color rising on Saruhiko’s cheeks.
This response is… kinda…
Before he could manage to throw his thoughts back together, Saruhiko blinked and then clicked his tongue again, turning his gaze a second time and scowling somewhere off to the side. “Idiot. What is something like that supposed to mean, anyway?” he muttered, almost too quietly for Yata to catch.
“Huh? What’d you mean ‘what’s it supposed to mean’?” That reaction pulled him back onto the familiar path again, though he still felt the adrenaline rush as he frowned at the image on the screen. “It means you’re different from the others. You’re… y’know, special. A special case. You know what I mean, damnit!”
Shit, he was getting flustered again. Yata clenched his hands into fists, mentally drawing up his determination. He hadn’t intended to do this, but he’d gone ahead and blurted this much out already, so he might as well go all the way, right? If he didn’t build on this momentum, he’d probably never do it, and those feelings had been chewing away at his insides for long enough. There was only so much a guy could take of bottling these things up before there was a breaking point.
His face was hot and his fists were clenched so tightly they were trembling. He felt sweat building at his temples. His heart was racing like crazy. Panic and anxiety stewed in the pit of his stomach, and his thoughts were a chaotic mess. Through all of that, Yata fixed all of his attention on the image of Saruhiko that wouldn’t meet his eyes, and blurted, “I mean, I like you! As – as more than friends! Romance and all that shit! With – with things like k-kissing… maybe…”
The fire started to die down as he got towards the end, and the last bit came out with a kind of weak uncertainty that he couldn’t help but feel disgusted by. Damnit… not cool… Yata gnashed his teeth, doing his best to ignore the fact that he was still blushing furiously as he waited nervously for Saruhiko’s reaction.
Fuck… don’t say I got it wrong…
For what felt like a very long moment, it didn’t seem like there was any reaction at all. It was hard to tell from his profile whether or not Saruhiko’s expression had changed. He wasn’t scowling any more, but had that shift happened before or after Yata’s confession? And there was a kind of blank look to him, but was it surprise or was he just trying to figure out how to respond? He wasn’t disgusted, right? He’d have said something if he was, wouldn’t he? Anyway, there was that feeling… the instinct Yata had been banking on when he’d gone ahead with this…
“Hey…” Dread was slowly starting to form alongside the anxiety still wreaking havoc in his belly; Yata swallowed hard, leaning towards the tablet again and unclenching his fists so he could brace his hands on the desk on either side of it as he struggled for words. “S-say something already, will you? Saruhiko…”
The sound of his name seemed to snap Saruhiko out of whatever had kept him still; he started, blinked once, and then reached up again to push at his glasses, this time leaving his hand in place as he turned and lowered his head simultaneously. The new position caused the light from beside him to reflect off of the lens, covering up any view of his eyes.
If anything, Yata’s sinking feeling dropped even lower. It was difficult to breathe.
“You…” Saruhiko’s voice was low; he paused after that one word and clicked his tongue. “… ruined it.”
Yata stared at him. “Eh?” It suddenly felt like the ground had dropped out from beneath him; he had the sensation of falling without anything actually happening. “W-wait,” he protested, sounding weak even to his own ears, “what do you mean by – ?”
“Exactly what I said.” Saruhiko heaved what sounded like a long-suffering sigh, and then abruptly shifted to push himself away from his desk, standing without further explanation. “Seriously.” He clicked his tongue again, sounding put out. “You just couldn’t wait, could you, Misaki?”
“Hold on – wait – Saruhiko?” Yata’s fingers clenched on the desk, struck by helpless frustration with his inability to do anything aside from watching as Saruhiko stepped briskly away from the open video call. His hands were clammy and his stomach was in knots, and he felt the cold certainty of rejection closing in on his heart as he heard the swift opening and closing of the door somewhere outside of the feed in front of him. Without his consciously willing it, Yata’s head dropped forward, eyes stinging and a lump rising in his throat as he processed the loss. “Damnit…”
He’d been so sure.
But then, I’m an idiot, right? Yata attempted to swallow around that lump, feeling his shoulders start to tremble with the tension and forcing himself to loosen his grip. He never had been good at reading moods – or people. Painful past experience had shown that. Guess I just never learn, huh?
Before he’d had too much time to dwell on that thought, there was a knock at the door.
Who the hell…? Yata glanced up sharply, hands moving instinctively to reach for a weapon that wasn’t there anymore. Then he relaxed, letting out a breath and deflating all at once. Probably the organizers checking on me.
Not that he felt like dealing with that stuff right then, but… Yata pushed himself up, trying to shove back the recent hurt. That was another thing he wasn’t too good at – holding back his emotions. Still, he had a competition to think about, and he couldn’t afford to let this drag him down. He’d just have to figure out a way to summon up some motivation. After all, he had Kusanagi and Anna and everyone else at Homra who was rooting for him.
Maybe – maybe if just talked it out with Saruhiko later…
Whatever, I’ll deal with that then. For now, just –
Another knock came as he was shuffling forward, and Yata frowned a little, a thin thread of irritation winding through his already black mood. “I got it!” he called back, marching over purposefully and yanking the door open. “I’m here, so – ”
The words died on his lips; for the second time that night, Yata found himself struck dumb.
Saruhiko – the actual Saruhiko, and not an image on a tablet screen – raised an eyebrow at him. “You expect the chambermaids to speak Japanese?”
Yata stared back at him, unable to form words to respond. It felt like every inch of his skin had prickled up with shock. The contents of his mind also seemed to have liquefied and poured out his ears, because it was completely empty at the moment.
The awkward pause only lasted a second or two, and then Saruhiko frowned, brows coming together. “Are you just going to stand there and not say anything?”
Somehow, that snapped him out of it – at least, the part where he forgot how to talk. “You – but – wait – I – ” Yata couldn’t help but sputter, feeling heat rising up along his jaw and onto his face. He was still staring, incredulous. “How?” he finally managed to blurt out, and was immediately able to follow up with a stammered, “W-wait – why are you here?”
The expression on Saruhiko’s face shifted into something deliberately neutral. It was like a wall slamming into place. “Would you rather I wasn’t?”
“D-don’t be stupid!” It was starting to sink in that this was real – Saruhiko really was standing in front of him, at the door to his hotel room in the United fucking States, of all places. “I was surprised, goddamnit – wh-what the hell did you expect?” Yata’s head was still reeling, but somehow, he summoned up enough presence of mind to step back and leave space in the open doorway.
He had no idea what was going on, but no way in hell was he having this conversation in the hallway!
Saruhiko took the unspoken invitation, stepping in over the threshold and moving aside to allow the door to be closed behind him. He was in his socks, not even the slippers supplied by the hotel, which indicated that he’d left his own room – at least, Yata assumed he had a room here; it wasn’t likely he was hanging out in the lobby, right? – in a hurry.
No question why he’d been in such a rush. Yata’s cheeks burned. His own impulsive confession was still weighing on his mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to raise the subject. Damnit, I’m being so lame again! “What are even doing here?” he blurted – then, when Saruhiko’s cool-eyed gaze turned to meet his, he hastily added, “N-not that I’m not glad to see you! Just.” He reached up to nervously scratch his head, unable to settle his jittery nerves. “I don’t get it. This… this is America.”
“You don’t say,” Saruhiko responded blandly, and then sighed, sounding vaguely irritated. “Well, it wasn’t my idea, before you ask, but I wasn’t supposed to see you before the competition.” He clicked his tongue. “You just had to go and ruin the surprise, didn’t you, Misaki?”
“Huh? Me?” Yata stared back with a kind of baffled frustration. “Why the hell – ?”
“Did you mean it?” Saruhiko cut him off, sharp and blunt. His gaze was direct, eyes seeming to glitter behind his glasses, and his expression was unreadable. “What you said earlier.”
The breath he’d been trying to take in seemed to get lodged in Yata’s throat; he had to swallow hard against the panic rising up fast within him. Fucking… fine! He wasn’t going to wimp out of this one – he’d started it, so there was no point in leaving things in a half-assed state. Let’s go. Yata willed his blush down and straightened up as much as he could, trying to draw up some kind of confidence. “What the hell do you think?” he demanded, meeting that cool gaze and setting his jaw stubbornly. “O-of course I did! I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it!”
There was a noticeable softening in Saruhiko’s gaze – Yata got the sudden, unexpectedly strong impression that it was from relief – just about a split second before he murmured, “Good,” and stepped forward, bracing a hand at the back of Yata’s neck to tilt his head up before leaning in to bring their lips together.
The initial contact was as much of a shock as being doused with cold water; Yata jerked a little and then froze, brain blanking out a second time as it tried to process what was happening. Saruhiko’s lips were soft against his, the touch light and a bit hesitant but unquestionably intimate. It sent a warm shudder all the way through his body. His eyes started to close automatically, relaxing into the pleasant sensation, but he’d already caught a glimpse of Saruhiko’s face up close, expression somehow fervent, and it sent his heartbeat into a frenzy.
He didn’t know what to do, but he didn’t want this to stop. It felt… good.
Saruhiko pulled back slowly after a second or two, and with his thoughts in a jumble, Yata leaned forward in an attempt to keep the contact going, opening his eyes a crack to stare up in confusion when that ended in failure.
He got a faint, bemused smile in return. “I like you, too,” Saruhiko mumbled, and two faint spots of color rose on his cheeks. He clicked his tongue, glancing aside with clear embarrassment. “As if that wasn’t obvious.”
Yata blinked at him, still a little dazed and not quite believing what had just happened. “Oh,” he managed to get out, licking his lips without thinking. He could still feel the echo of that brief, soft contact, and his body trembled in response. At his sides, his hands twitched; now that his thoughts were coming together, he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with them. “So…?”
“So what?” Saruhiko muttered, still not meeting his eyes.
The flustered look was kind of good on him. Yata could feel the grin spreading on his face now, huge and probably stupid-looking, happiness fluttering to life in his core and rapidly filling the rest of him, to the point where he felt like he’d burst.
Saruhiko had just kissed him. His first kiss. And he’d said ‘I like you’ – a fucking confession.
It was almost unreal.
Not quite, though. Yata shook off what remained of his hesitation, impulsively reaching out to take hold of Saruhiko’s hand. “So. Uh.” It was hard not to fumble over his words when Saruhiko turned his head sharply and their eyes locked, but Yata was determined to forge onward. His face was still hot enough that he was sure it was probably bright red, which was kind of embarrassing, but he wasn’t going to let that hold him back, either. “This.”
When he stretched up immediately after to recapture Saruhiko’s lips with his, it felt like the sweetest victory.