Picking up the Pieces

 

Chapter Three

 

Yata sat with his back resting (somewhat) comfortably against his bed, an empty takeout container on the floor beside him and a laptop on the table in front of him playing an action movie he couldn’t remember the name of. Not that it mattered.

Beside him, Saruhiko yawned for what was probably the billionth time since they’d started.

“Why don’t you just turn it off if you’re that bored?” Yata snapped, patience finally stretched to the limit.

Saruhiko shrugged, unrepentant. “It’s not the movie. I worked late last night.”

Yata raised a sceptical eyebrow at him. “You actually work?”

“Compared to scraping a living through part-time shifts and not paying taxes, yes, I work quite a bit.” Saruhiko returned his dig without even hesitating, a smug little smirk playing at his lips. “Maybe you should take some notes, Misaki. It might make the rent less of a stretch every month.”

“Fuck off. I’ve told you not to call me that.” Yata scowled down at his food, irritated by the way that had turned around on him. “And not everyone can live rent-free in government-funded dorms.”

“You might as well be living in a dorm considering the size of this place.” Saruhiko brought up a hand to cover another yawn.

“It’s not much smaller than our old place.” The words were barely out of his mouth before he was regretting them – bringing up the past never failed to make things awkward. Yata turned his eyes back to the movie to avoid the impending moment of uncomfortable silence.

At least there was a convenient distraction handy.

On-screen, the hero made an impossible jump out of a burning car, rolling out on the pavement just seconds before the car hit a wall and exploded. Yata felt the grin building on his face – what the fuck, really?and turned his head with the intent of commenting about what a lame-ass scene that was.

The words pretty well kicked it before he’d opened his mouth, though, because Saruhiko’s head was tilted back against the mattress, eyes closed, mouth cracked open, breathing steady.

For real? Yata peered doubtfully at that uncharacteristically relaxed face.

Just how late had he been working last night?

Oi, Saru,” he started, shifting onto his knees and prodding at his friend’s shoulder. “Come on, you can’t sleep here like this – get up and go home if you’re that tired. Don’t you have work tomorrow?”

Saruhiko made a discontent sound, reaching up lazily to swat his hand away and cracking his eyes open to give Yata a hazy glare. “Half an hour more,” he muttered, shutting them again.

Yata stared at him, disgruntled. Are you fucking serious? “This isn’t going to be like last time, is it? When you kept saying ‘half an hour more’ until I fell asleep too, and we both ended up with sore necks?” He’d had an early shift at work the next morning too, and it had royally sucked. “Because if so, I’m going to bed right now and you can deal with your shitty decisions on your own.”

Hrm.” Saruhiko cracked an eye open again, this time with an irritated downturn to the corners of his mouth. “Go ahead and sleep,” he mumbled, shifting purposefully so that his head took up more of the mattress, “with my head in your crotch. Enjoy it.”

Wha – ?” Yata felt his face burn, and instinctively glared in response. “What the hell? Don’t be weird!” He shoved at Saruhiko’s shoulder, ineffectually – the taller boy just kind of flopped right back, like putty. “Sleep on the floor, you dick!”

“Virgin.” Not even a smile came along with that taunt, but in the soft, sleepy tone it sounded more fond than anything. Saruhiko’s eyes slid shut, their owner evidently content to block out any further complaints.

The sudden rapid increase in tempo of Yata’s heart was almost enough to distract him from the heat still spread across his face. “What the hell,” he muttered, a little disturbed by his own reactions. Seriously, one stupid comment and a soft word or two was all it took to make him feel like this?

Because it’s Saruhiko, that quiet corner of his brain – the one where he stored all of the things about himself that he didn’t like to think about – insisted. You have a soft spot for him anyway.

Yata could feel his mouth twisting in a scowl – but it wasn’t like he had space to deny it. “At least don’t sleep with your glasses on,” he muttered, in an effort to distract himself, and shifted over to reach for them before he could really think the idea through. “Dumbass.”

Pretty much the instant he started to slide the glasses off, he could tell he was crossing a line. A month of semi-wary friendship didn’t make up for the years of everything being broken between them. They really weren’t back up to the point of casual physical contact – not even close – and… well… that sleeping face was both familiar and not-so-familiar in a way that was making his throat clench up.

Had those lashes always been so long? Skin always that pale? Cheekbones so high?

The sudden uncertainty made his hands unsteady; his fingers accidentally brushed over Saruhiko’s cheek as he pulled back, and his heart gave a little jolt. Something like excitement or anxiety stirred in his stomach.

What…?

Yata’s breath caught in his throat; he thought he recognized this feeling – this tightening in his chest – but he wasn’t sure if he’d brushed aside the memory or actively repressed it. There hadn’t been much time to think about every stupid little thing once they’d joined Homra, but – well. But.

There had definitely been a time when he was so aware of Saruhiko. Way back when…

“Go ahead and sleep with my head in your crotch. Enjoy it.” And his heart just started to pound away…

Shit.

Yata dropped Saruhiko’s glasses on the bed, scrambling back frantically. The heat on his face was spreading down over his neck; it seriously felt like he was on fire, and not in a good way. This was bad. Humiliating. Completely unfair. What the hell? Fucking what the hell? Why should I have to feel like this?

Exactly when had his heart decided to turn against him?

 

 

Something was shaking at him, almost like it was trying to snap him out of his half-panicking epiphany in a sharp ‘get a hold of yourself’ way. “Misaki,” it said, sounding irritated. “Wake up.”

Yata had a moment of dizzying disorientation – hold up, wasn’t he the one who’d been awake? – and then the dull, heavy-feeling ache at the back of his skull registered, and he was back in the present. He cracked one eye open with effort, and the blurred image of his roommate came into view.

The roommate he’d apparently just remembered having feelings for.

Oh… fuck.

“Finally,” Saruhiko muttered, oblivious to the crushing weight of realization that was hitting as he spoke. He leaned back away from the bed, his hand sliding away from Yata’s shoulder. “Are you going to need anything before I go to work?”

Shit. Yata’s heart sped up. He shut his eye again, unsure if he could handle it once Saruhiko’s face came into focus. The memory from his dream was still waiting for him in the dark, though – that sleeping face, lips slack and parted as if he was waiting for – “No,” he ground out, probably a lot more forcefully than he should’ve. His voice cracked, and he wasn’t sure if it was sleep or… yeah.

Fuck this guy. Fuck my life. Fuck everything, oh my god. What the hell did I do to deserve this?

There was a moment of perplexed silence. Then, “What’s that about?”

“No – Nothing!” Yata rolled onto his side, pulling the covers around him in a desperate attempt to hide the flush he was sure was spreading across his face. “Go to work already,” he snapped out, hoping it came out irritated and not panicky. His fingers were shaking; he curled them into fists and pressed one hand hard against his chest as if to keep his heart from hammering its way right through his ribcage.

Just leave already, you damn monkey, I can’t handle you right now!

From somewhere outside of his hastily created barrier, he could hear Saruhiko click his tongue. “Fine, I’m going.” The sound of footsteps striding off towards the door followed; then a pause. “See you tonight.”

Yata swallowed, painfully aware of the uncomfortable feelings churning around in his stomach. “Y-Yeah,” he managed, and then after a beat, “Have a good day.”

It wasn’t until he heard the front door of the apartment shut behind Saruhiko that he let out the breath he’d been holding.

Goddamnit, that was awkward. It couldn’t really be helped, though. Waking up from a memory like that… Yata rolled over again and stared blankly up at the ceiling, his heart still racing and his thoughts all over the place. I’ve actually – I mean, I have those kinds of feelings for him. For Saruhiko. It felt unreal – but at the same time, somehow…

I feel like I should’ve figured it out sooner. After all, he’d been weirdly upset when Saruhiko was talking about having sex with some random person (that was totally a lie, though, right?). And then there was that moment just before he’d gone to bed… their eyes had met, and Saruhiko had looked at him like that, all intense and – and sexy, probably, and said his name in that low tone, not even mockingly, just serious and focussed and…

Oh fuck, stop! Stop already! Yata screwed his eyes shut, cringing with embarrassment. His face felt like a furnace. This was like opening a floodgate or something – now that he knew he felt that way, he couldn’t even think normally about Saruhiko anymore. Everything was just ‘hey, yeah, you completely want to kiss that guy or touch him or something, hah!’ There was no middle ground – it went straight from platonic-friend-place to awkward-feelings-land without a pit stop.

Fuck my life, seriously! He groaned, flopping one arm over to cover his eyes. I would’ve been a lot fucking happier not to get that memory back! How the hell was he supposed to act around Saruhiko now? Back then, at least they weren’t living together; he’d have had space to figure it out. Or something. But now…

How were you supposed to deal with having feelings for your roommate, who also happened to be another guy – and, on top of that, a best-friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again?

His head was starting to throb just thinking about it. The whole thing was too fucking complicated.

I did it before, though, right? Yata shifted his arm enough to frown up at the ceiling again, considering that. Somehow or another, back then he’d managed to deal. They’d even become roommates – and he hadn’t felt that freaked out over it when getting a place together came up, so it couldn’t be that hard. It was just… self-control. Right?

Unfortunately, self-control had never been one of Yata’s strong suits.

He let out his breath in an irritated huff. Well, whatever – I learned it before, so I can learn it now. The important thing was not to think about the weird stuff when Saruhiko was around. Like – like wanting to kiss him, or… something.

Yata’s cheeks felt hot; the implications of the ‘something’ had him shying away from the thought instinctively. Even kissing, though… kissing Saruhiko

What would it feel like?

His brain took that as a cue to summon up that image from the memory again: Saruhiko, asleep against the side of his bed, head tilted back, eyes shut, glasses off, lips parted just so, like he’d set himself up in a purposefully fetching way. In fact… Yata didn’t have the rest of the memory, so…

So maybe it had been on purpose? He could kind of picture it – Saruhiko opening his eyes just a bit, lids heavy and seductive over them, those slack lips curving up just slightly, and Yata could lean forward and take that unspoken invitation, and… and they’d kiss… and Saruhiko would maybe sneak his arms up and pull Yata down, and he could put his hands on that slender body and… and…

He didn’t know where he was going with that, but his heart was pounding again, and he felt uncomfortably warm. I can think about this now, right? He’s not here so it’s okay… right? He squirmed a bit on the sheets, torn between embarrassment at the direction his thoughts were taking and that little pleasant twinge that came with thinking about something that turned him on.

It was beyond weird to think that Saruhiko was the one turning him on.

He couldn’t exactly deny it at this point, but still, working himself up too much was going to be a problem – he was probably going to have a hard enough time facing his roommate as it was, without adding awkward boners to the equation.

Just fucking don’t, okay? Yata shut his eyes again, feeling his head give one of those unpleasant pulses of pain, and leaned back against the pillow with a sigh. Maybe his body would listen to him now, since it wasn’t exactly 100%. He could hope, anyway.

With his heart still going fast and his mind full of awkward possibilities, sleep was a long time coming.

 

 

It was late in the afternoon before he woke up again – without any dream or memory or anything coming back while he was sleeping. His head felt thick and heavy, but the ache was tolerable and he wasn’t as groggy as he’d been the night before, so things were looking up.

Still got the hots for your roommate, though, that stupid annoying voice at the back of his head reminded him. It somehow sounded a lot like Saruhiko did when he was taunting him about something or other.

Figured.

“Shut up,” Yata muttered under his breath, pushing himself up and out of bed carefully. He didn’t want to think about that too much – it was seriously just going to make everything worse. I’ll just do what I usually do, and when Saru comes back…

Well, he’d figure something out.

There were two messages from his mother waiting on his PDA – which was both embarrassing (he was a grown man with a head injury, not a kid staying out late) and kind of heartening at the same time. Yata typed something back that hopefully was reassuring enough, and then left the room.

He grabbed a towel on his way to the bathroom (after some hunting around for where the towels were kept), and felt a wave of irritation when he found a used one flung in the sink.

Fucking lazy bastard…

That same irritating little voice chimed in with, He used that towel on his naked body, and Yata’s fingers froze around a handful of damp cloth.

He’d seen Saruhiko naked before, of course, in school showers and cheap shared bathhouses, but he hadn’t thought much about it at fifteen years old. His mind was cleaner back then, before he started hanging out with adults and piecing together – or being outright told, and then mocked for blushing, fucking stupid Eric – what things like ‘take it up the ass’ and ‘suck my dick’ implied. Plus, even when he had learned what those things meant, they weren’t exactly on his mind. It was just stuff that applied to other people – who actually had sex.

Saruhiko had changed a lot since they were fifteen. And now, knowing how he felt…

Yata was vaguely aware that his fist was clenched so tightly on the towel that his fingers were trembling with the effort. His face felt hot. It’s a fucking towel, what the hell? The imagined mental image that came with it was killing him, though.

“As flattered as I am that you’ve paid so much attention to my ass…”

“Ah, fuck! Goddamnit, Saru!” In a fit of embarrassed frustration, Yata yanked the towel free of the sink, biting his lip against a wave of vertigo as he turned a little too fast, and tossed the offending item at the rack, where it hit the wall behind it and then crumpled precariously against the bar. He scowled at it for a moment, unsure whether or not he was dissatisfied that it hadn’t ended up in a defeated heap on the floor instead.

The ache at the back of his head had increased significantly, and that was starting to piss him off.

“The hell with all of this,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair in a half-hearted attempt to displace his agitation. A sideways glance at the mirror had him facing his own angry-looking glare, and he let out a short huff of breath, taking a moment to pause for a closer look.

There was a sort of unhealthy, colorless look to his face – like he’d been sick for a while. Probably from being stuck in a hospital bed for so long. Yata’s frown deepened, and he watched the mirror image scowl back at him. There were bruises and scrapes on his arms, and even one kind of nasty-looking brown-purple blotch across his collarbone. Now that he could see them, he was aware that, yeah, they were sort of sore – but random sore points on his body had gotten so common over the years that they felt like background noise in his everyday life. This kind of stuff… this was nothing. It wouldn’t even scar. Not many of his battle wounds did; it wasn’t often his enemies got a serious hit on him.

As if on reflex, his eyes trailed up to the thin white line on his right shoulder.

That’s different. Saruhiko was always the exception. He was good at worming his way through Yata’s defenses – both physical and mental, as it turned out.

The image in the mirror flushed, staring back at him with the echo of his embarrassment. He didn’t really like how it made him look so self-conscious – virgin, virgin, virgin, that voice in his head taunted him – so he scowled and narrowed his eyes, watching the expression on his reflection turn back to an angry one.

Better.

He set the fresh towel on the counter where he could grab it easily coming out of the shower, and stripped off the tank top and boxers he’d worn to bed. Out of the corner of his gaze, his reflection mimicked him.

It had… kind of been a while, since he’d taken a good look at himself. Yata glanced sideways at the mirror again, an odd sort of anxiety forming at the pit of his stomach. He knew his own strength well, so his appearance didn’t matter. It’d been a while since he’d given it more than a passing thought, digs about his height aside. He couldn’t talk to girls anyway, so there was no reason to care.

Apparently it wasn’t girls he should’ve been worried about, though.

Whatever, I’m not worried. Yata turned his gaze back to the shower, deliberately cranking the handle. There was no reason to worry, because this wasn’t going to be a thing. The idea of Saruhiko having romantic thoughts about anyone – himself included – was so unthinkable it was almost funny. His lack of serious muscle didn’t make a goddamn difference, so there was no reason to even think about it.

If – if the sex thing wasn’t a lie, though…

No way, it’s totally a lie. He moved in under the hot water, deliberately squashing whatever thoughts had been forming about the type of person Saruhiko might’ve taken home with him. He was trying to get under my skin. Plus, he doesn’t even like talking to other people for more than thirty seconds at a time. There’s no way.

Except… he seemed to get along with those guys at Scepter 4 okay…

Whatever! I don’t fucking care already! Yata shut his eyes, letting out an aggrieved sigh. It wasn’t worth thinking about. The point was, Saruhiko was definitely lying, and no sex was happening. And even if it was, it wasn’t happening with him. So it didn’t fucking matter.

It doesn’t fucking matter… right?

If that hateful little voice at the back of his head had an answer, it was keeping quiet about it.

After his shower, he heated up some leftover takeout for lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon painstakingly cleaning up the apartment – since he wasn’t paying rent, he’d better do something to earn his room and board, right? Laundry would’ve probably been next on his list, but he wasn’t sure where the machines were – did the building have a shared area? Was it coin operated or did he need something else? Hell, he didn’t even have coins when it came right down to it – unless they were stashed in his room somewhere. He’d have to ask Saruhiko.

Speaking of which… Yata glanced at the digital clock on the oven while wiping down the counters. It was getting late, so the work day was probably over. Soon, anyway.

He’d let me know if he was working overtime, right? After all that bullshit fuss about him being injured and how he shouldn’t be alone or operating a stove or doing anything for himself…

Okay, to be fair, his head was already protesting just from the stupid little things he’d done so far, but it still sucked.

Maybe I’ll play a game or something. It wasn’t like there was much else to do, and being alone with his thoughts was just going to lead him off in that dangerous direction – not thinking about that, shut up, brain – so he had to do something. Yata left the cloth in the sink and wandered back over to the console he’d seen before with the shelf full of games beside it.

At least if Saruhiko came home while he was playing, he’d have a distraction handy.

 

 

“Well, some things never change,” Saruhiko’s voice said right next to his head, and Yata just about dropped the controller.

Wha… huh…” He steadied up quickly, feeling a rush of familiar irritation, and hit the button to bring up his inventory screen – effectively pausing the game – before turning to glare. “Bastard! How long have you been there?”

Hm? Not long.” Saruhiko was leaning against the back of the couch casually, his chin braced on one hand. He’d removed his uniform jacket, and the sleeves of his white work shirt were undone and hanging loose. “Just enough to see you wandering around the wrong area for that mission you’re on.”

That comment irked him just enough to pull his thoughts away from little seed of attraction sprouting at the pit of his stomach. “Just because you’ve played this already and know it all doesn’t mean I need your help, okay?” He cancelled out and returned to the game again, turning his gaze deliberately away before he started to blush or stutter or something. “I can figure it out for myself.”

Just like these stupid feelings, too – I can figure it out.

“That so?” There was some movement behind him; a few seconds later, Saruhiko sank down next to him on the couch. “Rather than wasting your time with that, want to play co-op mode?”

Yata glanced at him, too surprised to be bothered by the sudden close proximity. “… eh?”

“Well, it’s boring to just watch you flounder around.” He was already picking up the other controller, as if it was settled. “We could even take on some of those idiots online if you want.”

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d played in co-op mode – after Saruhiko had left, there just hadn’t been anyone else. Well, I probably literally don’t remember. It could’ve been last week for all I know. “Yeah.” The idea was too good to pass up, either way. “Okay.”

“You’re getting killed,” Saruhiko pointed out flatly, tipping his head at the TV.

“Huh? Oh, fuck!” Yata jerked his head back – and, shit, that was a mistake; he had to draw in a sharp breath and shut his eyes against the resulting dizziness. When he recovered, it was nearly too late, and he had to frantically fight back to keep his remaining HP. “Let me – just – let me get to a save point, okay?”

“Save point or death, whichever comes first.

“Fuck you, just shut up!”

As it turned out, death came first. Their co-op play was enough to make up for it, though.

 

 

“That last guy was so pissed!” Yata enthusiastically raised his chopsticks, still riding out the high from earlier. “I’ll bet he’s still freaking out.”

Saruhiko made a dismissive motion. “Shouldn’t play online if you can’t handle losing.”

“Right?” It was unbelievable how amazing it felt to team up again – even for something as trivial as playing a game. That feeling of the two of them standing back to back against the world… He didn’t realize how much he’d craved it until they were playing. “Unless it’s us – because we won’t lose!”

“Hm.” Saruhiko’s attention was on the food he was carefully picking apart – as if it wasn’t already all just meat in the first place. The corners of his mouth edged up, though.

That might as well have been fervent agreement, coming from him. Yata leaned forward, that old, almost-forgotten excitement forming like the beginnings of a hurricane inside him. “Let’s play again after dinner.”

“It’s late.” Saruhiko clicked his tongue, finally separating an acceptable portion with his chopsticks. “And I’m working tomorrow, so I can’t.”

“Oh… right.” Yata slouched back, disappointed. Right, Saruhiko was working – and he was just lounging around at home, so he couldn’t exactly complain. “Maybe tomorrow, huh?”

“Maybe.”

It was as close to a promise as he’d get, but whatever. Yata couldn’t help but grin to himself. This was the best he’d felt since he’d woken up in that hospital bed, so it would take more than that to break his good mood.

We really are friends again, after all.

It wasn’t until they’d nearly finished eating that he remembered his question from earlier. “Hey, where do we normally go to do laundry?”

Saruhiko raised an eyebrow at him. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”

“Whatever – it’s just laundry.” He frowned back, a little miffed. “My arms and legs aren’t broken or anything – and it was just the stove I need to be off the pain meds for, right?”

That telltale ‘tsk’ answered him. “You’re really that eager to fold clothing?”

“It’s not that – it’s just…” Yata shifted a bit, feeling awkward about it. “I’m basically mooching off of you right now. You already said I was doing chores even before this, so I should do whatever I ca – ”

“That doesn’t matter!” Saruhiko’s chopsticks hit his plate with a clatter that seemed louder than it actually was. He glowered across the table, composure gone, his visible hand clenched into a fist.

Yata stared at him, skin prickling. The hell? “What – ?”

“The rent doesn’t matter. The laundry doesn’t matter.” Saruhiko snarled the words out practically through his teeth, glaring at Yata as if he’d insulted his ancestors or something. “If neither of us worried about those stupid things, then…”

There was a long, tense pause.

Then… what? Yata cleared his throat, a little uneasy to be the one breaking the silence. “Saru – ”

“Never mind.” Abruptly, Saruhiko turned his head, shutting his eyes as if to close that glare off from the world. “It’s nothing.”

That was so not fucking ‘nothing’. “Right…” Pushing for more wasn’t going to get him anything – and it came with the high risk of shattering the peace between them. The evening had been really awesome up to that point, so Yata did his best to swallow back his irritation. “Whatever, fine. Go ahead and wear your dirty clothes to work if it’s really that big a deal.”

A little of the tension seemed to melt off of Saruhiko at that. “I didn’t think you’d give in that easily,” he admitted, shifting his gaze back.

“Are you trying to push your luck?” Yata scowled across the table. “I didn’t want to have two ruined dinners in a row, asshole. And it’s not like you’d tell me anyway.” He leaned back on his hands with a sigh. “This will all make sense when I get the right memories back, right?”

“When you get them back, you can tell me.” Saruhiko moved to pick up his half-empty plate, then paused. “Did you remember anything today?”

Last night’s dream immediately flashed back into his mind. Saruhiko’s sleeping face… his cool skin under Yata’s fingers… the rush of longing… Fuck. Yata felt heat rush to his face, and snatched up his own plate, scrambling to his feet as fast as his head would allow to avoid having to look at his roommate again. I was doing so well, fuck…

Misaki?”

“N-Nothing important.” He moved into the kitchen, dumped the plate into the sink and started up the water, focussing on his task with enough desperate intensity to avoid the confusing storm of his own feelings. “Just – just watching a movie. At my old place. Boring, right? Hah…”

Saruhiko followed him; he could feel that calculating stare on his back, and it made his skin prickle. “What’s the matter with you, then?”

Sh-Sh-Shut up! Nothing’s the matter!” I just remembered that I thought about kissing you, and I pictured you naked and got excited about it – that’s nothing, right? Shit… “What do you care, anyway?”

“What do I care?” Saruhiko repeated, and then clicked his tongue. “The reason we have all of these pointless arguments is because you don’t understand anything the way you are now.”

Yata scowled down at the dish in his hands, trying to will away the flush that had spread down over his neck and even to his ears. “Well, what do you expect me to do about it?” he demanded, uncertain if he was more frustrated with the conversation or with himself. “If I could force myself to remember, I would’ve done it by now!”

At least if he remembered everything, they’d be on equal footing. It felt too much like when Saruhiko had left Homra – he was scrambling around the edges trying to figure out the reasons, and meanwhile that bastard knew everything and couldn’t be bothered to give him the slightest hint.

If he remembered, he’d know how to handle this situation.

If he remembered, his feelings wouldn’t seem so strange, new, and awkward.

If he remembered… everything would be easy between them, just like in those memories.

Just like before…

Why do you have to be so difficult?

All at once, he was standing in the cold, outside an ornate gate – Scepter 4’s headquarters – with his breath steaming in the air in front of him, his gloved hands clenched into fists and Saruhiko’s maddeningly impassive face staring right back at him. The question hung in the air between them.

“Difficult?” Saruhiko repeated, in that slow hateful drawl. His face was paler than usual – sickly, even – but he seemed unconcerned with that. “I don’t know what you mean, Misaki.”

“Don’t play dumb with me!” Yata glowered at him, pride warring with determination at the direction this conversation was going to take. “I can tell what you’re doing now – you want to rile me up so I forget why I came here! Well, that’s not going to happen!”

“Oh? You think so?” Saruhiko offered a lazy smirk, raising both eyebrows condescendingly. “I figured I’d be hearing from you after that incident was cleared up. Isn’t it just to satisfy your ego, though?” He lowered his head with a soft sound of amusement. “You were always hoping to be a hero yourself, right, Misaki?”

It was really hard not to rise to the bait – and even harder to keep in mind why his original goal was so damn important. Remind me again why I want to be friends with this guy? But he’d made up his mind now, after everything that had happened.

No more regrets.

Yata took in a long, steadying breath, the various aches and pains from the past week making themselves known. His body felt stiff; even if he’d wanted to fight, he wasn’t sure if he could manage well. But it didn’t matter. “Think whatever you want. But I know you don’t hate me the way you try to act like you do.”

Saruhiko’s lips thinned at that; he shifted his gaze to the side, and clicked his tongue. “You’re annoying.”

Not a denial.

“Heh – try looking in a mirror sometime.” Somehow, that response felt like a victory – Yata felt a little of the oppression around him lift. “Anyway, I’m not asking for answers or anything like that.” Not like he’d get a response if he was. But, if he was successful, then maybe one day… “I just – I never hated you either.” This was the hard part, even though he’d thought for a long time about what he was going to say. The words still weren’t going to come out the way he wanted. “Can’t we… you know… ?”

“’You know’ what?” Saruhiko muttered, still not looking at him. “Just hurry up and get to the point already. It’s too cold to be standing out here.”

“I’m getting to it, okay?” Yata snapped, feeling a bit defensive about it. “Besides, you know what I’m going to say already, right?” He didn’t wait for a response, determined to get everything out in the open before he could be distracted. “There’s no reason for us to fight any more. And… I can’t think even you would want to just be indifferent to each other.” Strangely, that thought hurt more than the notion of continuing to fight; he didn’t want to look too closely at that reaction, though. “After everything that’s happened, can’t we move on and start over?”

“Start over… is that it?” Saruhiko turned his head to meet Yata’s gaze again, without smiling. “You want to add me back to your list of comrades, right? To give yourself the satisfaction of fixing things.”

Yata stared at him. “Satisfaction?”

“Am I wrong?” Saruhiko’s tone was deceptively light. “It’s only because I left in the first place that you care so much about us being comrades. If I’d stayed, and we’d fallen into indifference over time, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, would it?” He smiled, slow and vicious, eyes suddenly bright against the unhealthy pallor on his face. “Doesn’t that mean this is only about your wounded pride being settled?”

This was kind of what Yata had expected, but it still stung. He swallowed around the lump in his throat, and the still-vivid memory of that uncharacteristically rough voice from behind him echoed in his head.

“I won’t be discarded.”

“Think whatever you want.” I won’t discard you. It wouldn’t have registered at the time, and it probably wouldn’t make a difference now, but at least thinking it strengthened his resolve. “I don’t care about satisfaction, or anything like that. If you won’t agree to be friends now, then I’ll keep trying until you do. Not because you left or because it somehow would’ve been less painful if we’d drifted apart, but because you’re Fushimi Saruhiko, and I” – a wave of heat rushed to his cheeks; he did his best to ignore it, forging on   I like you. I’ve – I’ve missed you. I know we can be friends.” He drew in another breath, bracing himself. “Please.”

The expression in front of him contorted, and then soured again; Saruhiko shut his eyes with another sharp ‘tsk’. “Idiot. You missed me?” There was an edge to his voice, something like frustration or agitation. Maybe both. “Don’t make me laugh. Aren’t you always going on about how I piss you off? You’re trying to tell me that’s a lie?”

“Hah! Of course not!” Yata allowed himself to smirk at that, feeling strangely giddy. Somehow… somehow, he had the upper hand now, and his heart was racing with hopeful anticipation. “You piss me off so fucking much, you have no idea. I want to smash your stupid face in most of the time. Plus, you always think you know everything – and half the time you do and it’s really weird and kind of creepy, and I think you’re a fucking psycho, if you want to know the truth.” He paused, then gave another shove at his protesting ego before taking the plunge again, sincerely adding, “I still like you anyways.”

Saruhiko was staring at him kind of blankly, and he took the lack of response as a good sign, so he threw in, “I never stopped liking you – even though, you know, you’re kind of an asshole.”

“You’re an idiot,” was the response, but it came in a tone that seemed to warble between bafflement and frustration, which took away a lot of the bite.

“Takes one to know one,” Yata retorted, “and you’re a bigger idiot. But I still like you.”

Saruhiko curled his lip, clicking his tongue again. He was still looking away, with the kind of sullen stubbornness that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a rebellious pre-teen. “How many times are you going to say that?”

“Until it drills in through your thick skull, and you accept it!” Yata took in that resentful expression; the unwelcoming posture; the contemptuous turn of his mouth. This is Saruhiko. It was so familiar he could’ve cried. His voice cracked when he spoke again, but he didn’t mind. “I really like you, you stupid monkey.”

The muscles on Saruhiko’s face tensed, and he abruptly shut his eyes again, sighing heavily. It was sharp enough to come from frustration, but the way his shoulders slumped contradicted that. “This is why it’d be easier to hate you,” he said finally, lifting his head with a kind of tired resignation. “I can’t stand how you get under my skin. Who asked you to like me?”

“That’s a stupid question.” That giddy, hopeful elation was rising from the pit of Yata’s stomach to his throat; he was so relieved, it felt like he would pass out from the rush of it. He thumped his fist against his chest and grinned back, widely. “I met you, and my heart decided.”

For a moment, Saruhiko just blinked at him – and then bowed his head, snickering.

Yata stared at him, too surprised at the unexpected response to be properly offended. Somewhere at the back of his head, a memory of half-crazed laughter stirred up – he ruthlessly shoved that back down, focussing on the present instead. “Saru… ?”

“You really are a hopeless idiot.” That smirk was back again – but without the hateful gleam in his eyes. “Saying ridiculous things like that… What other bad habits have you picked up while I wasn’t around?”

“It’s not ridiculous!” There was heat rising again on Yata’s cheeks; he scowled back to cover it. “Those are my honest feelings, you asshole!”

Saruhiko hummed, low and mocking. “Your honest feelings are B movie material, Misaki.”

“What was that? Say it again!” Yata glared back at him, mildly disgruntled. “And don’t call me by my first name!”

“Isn’t that what friends do, though?” Saruhiko drawled out, almost too lightly. “Hm, Misaki?”

“That’s completely diff – wait, what?” Yata’s eyes widened; the irritation drained out of him all in a rush. He met that cool gaze with something like wonder, hope spiking up at the back of his throat and spearing his thoughts before they could properly form. “Really?”

“Weren’t you the one who said you wouldn’t leave me alone until it happened?” Saruhiko raised an eyebrow at him. “It can’t be helped, right?”

“You…” Yata’s eyebrow twitched. “At least pick a better way of accepting it! I poured my heart out to you, damnit!”

“You didn’t set any requirements for how I accepted,” Saruhiko pointed out, unconcerned. “Besides, you already like me the way I am… right, Misaki?”

Urgh…” Yata glared helplessly back at him. “You are so goddamn annoying…” He let out a long breath – and then felt the edges of a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. This was just typical. “But whatever. I’ll take it.” Coming from Saruhiko, it might as well have been a heartfelt confession, after all. “So it’s settled then, right?”

He got another raised eyebrow for his trouble. “I thought we’d established that.”

“It never hurts to double check – especially with you.” Happiness was already spreading all the way through him, warm and comfortable. Yata looked back across the sidewalk at his oldest friend, and felt like something had clicked back into place in his life. “Let’s go for dinner, asshole.”

The plate slid free of his suddenly nerveless fingers, hitting the bottom of the sink with an angry-sounding ‘thud’. Yata stared at it as his vision cleared, more than a little shaken. He braced a hand at the edge of the counter and waited for the disorientation that came with the memory to fade.

“You remembered something?” Saruhiko asked, from off to his side.

The sound of that voice was enough to ground him again. Yata turned his head to meet his friend’s cool-eyed gaze, and felt the echo of that warmth from before. He accepted it, just like that. It was that simple all along? Somehow, it felt like he should’ve known. “You complete fucking prick,” he managed, after a few seconds. His voice sounded choked – but what the hell did it matter, anyway? “I was being totally honest, and all you could say is that it’s B movie material? Fuck you, seriously.”

He got some satisfaction out of the way Saruhiko’s eyes widened, mouth going slack with surprise – but, of course, the moment didn’t last. “I assumed you wanted an honest opinion.” At the least, that lopsided little smile was softer than his habitual smirks. “But if you’d prefer a lie, I can say your ridiculous line moved me to tears and I covered up with laughter. Better?”

Yata scowled at him, without notable effect. “If you were a normal person with actual emotions, that would’ve been the truth!” He twisted his mouth into a smirk. “But you’re just a dumb monkey, after all.”

Saruhiko’s eyebrow twitched. “Oh? And who was it pleading for a ‘dumb monkey’ to just give in and be their friend? You remember that, right, Misaki?”

“Oh, I remember all right.” The smirk didn’t falter; he was going to have the upper hand again, one way or another. “I swallowed my pride and gave it my all, because that stupid monkey wasn’t going to make it easy. And even if he’s an asshole with no actual emotions and a complete under-appreciation for heartfelt honesty, I still like him enough to put my all into it!”

He was mostly expecting to be laughed at again, but after a moment of startled silence, Saruhiko ducked his head, shut his eyes, and let his shoulders slump as if releasing a load of tension he’d been holding onto for way too long.

Yata’s skin prickled; he blinked twice in rapid succession, but the scene in front of him didn’t change. What? “Sa – Saru?”

As if on cue, that bowed head tilted back up. Saruhiko’s eyes were still closed, but the corners of his mouth edged up. “Idiot,” he responded, voice low, and then looked up and locked eyes with Yata. “There’s no need to announce that now. I know already.”

That gaze – that voice – that expression… For a moment, it was hard to care that he was staring, because… well… holy shit. How many sides of Saruhiko had he seriously not seen before? There was something touchingly unguarded in all of this; it was uncharacteristically vulnerable, and the sight made his heart clench.

Saru

Yata felt knots coiling and uncoiling in his stomach; there was a lump in his throat that felt like it was the size of a watermelon. He swallowed hard, heart pounding loudly in his ears, and tried not to think about the soft curve of those lips and how they might feel if he touched them – if he kissed them, even, hell. He’s really… really…

Fuck, he couldn’t even think it.

It was too embarrassing. Overwhelming. Shit. And Saruhiko was standing right there, looking at him, while Yata stared at him like a drooling idiot. All right, whatever, he looks good, I get it – now get over it and stop being obvious, already!

Wha – what the hell, Saru? And you say my lines are ridiculous? Heh.” Minimum of stuttering, and the shaky tone of voice was almost unnoticeable – Yata mentally congratulated himself. He braced his hands on his hips – fuck, his palms were sweaty, what the hell? – and tried for a cocky grin. “Looks like you picked up some of my so-called bad habits after all, huh?”

“Mm, I guess.” Saruhiko’s shoulders straightened; his gaze shifted from Yata’s, smile already dropping into a more neutral expression. “It’s late,” he said abruptly, maneuvering around to the sink to rinse his plate off. “I’m going to bed.”

“Huh? Oh.” Yata automatically moved to make room for him, taken aback. “O-Okay.”

Something had definitely changed in the atmosphere; he could feel it. Why, though? The silence stretched out awkwardly between them as Saruhiko washed and dried his plate, put it away, and turned to leave the kitchen.

“Good night,” he said, without stopping or turning.

“Night...” Yata stared after him, baffled at the sudden switch in mood. Was it what I said? Or something else? He didn’t think there was anything weird about his response, so… what?

Am I too obvious or something? That was an unpleasant thought. Yata squirmed a little on his feet, feeling his face grow hot again with embarrassment. The idea that Saruhiko might guess that he’d been having those kinds of thoughts about him… Ugh. If it was true, he wasn’t sure how he was going to look him in the eye again. Hell, he didn’t really know how he was supposed to do anything about this. It wasn’t like he had a lot of experience dealing with people he was attracted to.

More like zero experience. Which was probably most of the problem.

Then there was the fact that it was Saruhiko he was attracted to. Which was probably the rest of the problem.

Fuck my life. He let out a sharp, frustrated sigh and scratched at the back of his head with a certain amount of agitation. It figured that he’d fall for the most difficult person on the face of the planet – as if it wasn’t hard enough fumbling through this as it was. And, yeah, maybe in that blanked-out year he’d reached a point where he understood Saruhiko again – if he’d ever really understood him in the first place; he wasn’t so sure about that any more – but he wasn’t at that point now.

The echo of something he’d had in his head recently flashed back to him: “I won’t be discarded.”

That was… Yata frowned, thinking back. Kind of a memory inside a memory, right? It was confusing enough to make his head give a little throb of frustration. But he’d had that fresh in his mind during the confrontation with Saruhiko, so it had to have been something that was said recently. And they’d talked about ‘that incident’ – some major thing that had happened between them?

What could have made Saruhiko say something like that?

Hell, what could have made him so sure that Saruhiko had never hated him? The memory-him had been so confident… where the fuck did that confidence even come from?

It was aggravating, not knowing these things. Yata felt his shoulders slump, all of a sudden aware of just how tired he was. Every time he got a memory back, it felt like it just came with more questions and more uncertainty. And here he was, struggling with feelings he hadn’t even known he had, saying or doing all the wrong things and not knowing why or how.

Well, I’ll remember it, right? Eventually. That thought would have to keep him going – well, that and more gaming sessions, hopefully. Or just… more of them hanging out, like before. More easy conversation like in those earlier memories. More of those fond little smiles that made his chest ache and his skin prickle up with anxiety and excitement all at once.

Fuck, I’m really hopeless, aren’t I?

But the point still stood – they were living together, and the things he wanted more of would happen, and these stupid little setbacks were just that: stupid and little. Yata felt better thinking about it that way. They’d managed this far – and somehow after that long separation, they’d still been able to get this close again, so they weren’t going to fall apart so easily.

Even if he was thinking of Saruhiko in a way he really shouldn’t be.

Whatever. Yata turned to finish washing and drying his abandoned plate, scowling against the hot flush that came with that thought. That stuff isn’t important. I’ll probably get over it, right? I’ll move on? I’ll… I’ll find someone else. Maybe?

That traitorous little voice at the back of his head whispered at him, You never moved on before, but Yata stubbornly chose to ignore it.

 

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