Yata woke with his head pounding and his skin feeling clammy, as if he’d just run a marathon in his sleep. He turned his head on his pillow, squinting at the edge of the futon, behind which the alarm on his phone was blaring. His vision blurred out and didn’t seem to want to clear at first, the meager details of his tiny apartment swimming in front of his eyes no matter how much he blinked. He felt exhausted.
Fuck… not enough sleep again? He pushed himself up on his hands, elbows nearly buckling with the effort. His limbs felt even more heavy and weak than they had yesterday – by contrast, his head felt light and puffed up. There was a dull ache throbbing at the back of it. Or, what? I’m sick?
Goddamnit… It had to happen after he’d bragged about never getting sick yesterday, huh? Yata scowled, rubbing his eyes to clear them. It seemed to work – the room wasn’t spinning any more, and his brain cleared a bit, the last haze of sleep finally lifting. He didn’t have the urge to cough or sneeze, and other than the headache and just feeling more tired and weak than usual, it didn’t seem like there was much wrong with him.
Kusnaagi-san probably has some painkillers. Yata reached out to turn off the alarm on his phone, frowning at it for a second in thought. He felt okay – he’d gone to Homra in worse shape back in the day, when they were getting into scuffles with other gangs and stuff. If he had a cold, Kusanagi would’ve said not to come in in case he got Anna sick, but this didn’t feel like a cold. He was just overly tired.
Plus, there was that one other thing… Yata looked up towards the corner of the room, where he’d set the umbrella that Saruhiko had lent him. As Totsuka had reminded him, it was obviously an attempt to do something nice, and thinking about it like that rather than as a hit to his pride had given him a little rush of pleasure. He was thinking about me, right? Like, he cared, or something…
It still gave him that little squirming feeling of hope and happiness in the pit of his stomach. Yata allowed himself a tiny smile. “I’ll pick it up when I get my coffee,” Saruhiko had said when they parted ways, and he’d been anticipating that all night before going to bed – and even for a while afterward – partly anxious and partly excited.
After yesterday – the pictures, and then the umbrella, and the way Saruhiko looked at him sometimes – well… he was starting to think maybe his feelings weren’t totally hopeless. Maybe. It was kind of a long shot. What the hell did he know about romance, after all? And he wasn’t really sure what to do about it or how to find out besides making a fool of himself.
… But then, maybe he did need to suck it up, swallow his pride, and make a damn fool of himself.
The thought was nerve-wracking, but also… kinda exciting.
Yata swallowed hard. He hadn’t made up his mind or anything yet. Hell, it wasn’t like he had to do it right away. There was no time limit for this crap. Probably.
I’ll think about it later. When he wasn’t sick. Tired. Whatever. Yata pushed himself painstakingly to his feet, determined not to let it get to him.
He kinda wished the universe would give him a sign or something, but it wasn’t like that was going to happen any time soon.
‘Confess a hidden feeling’.
Are you serious? Fushimi stared at the challenge board, nonplussed.
Once again, the tone had changed. He was starting to think that multiple people were behind these challenges. It would explain how things had gone from sadistic to cheeky to whimsical and now to a straightforward, almost innocent tone. There was always the possibility that the person’s whims just changed on a day-to-day basis, but the more he considered the idea of multiple writers, the more likely it seemed.
With that in mind, he actually had even further suspicions…
Not that it changes anything. He was still going to be faced with the improbable and highly annoying prospect of coming up with some hidden feeling to confess. Seriously, the intent behind the challenge was so blatant and unsubtle, it was almost childish. The ‘confess’ part gave off the very clear feeling of a high school love confession, even more so with ‘hidden feeling’ tacked on.
It was as if the challenge was coming right out and saying ‘confess to your crush today’. Which was beyond annoying. Almost in the realm of ‘downright infuriating’.
There’s no way I’m doing that, regardless.
Briefly, he had to wonder if Misaki might…
The thought of Misaki confessing to some unknown crush was an unpleasant one. Fushimi clicked his tongue, turning away from the challenge board deliberately. If he does, it’s got nothing to do with me, he reminded himself, frowning as he stepped away in the opposite direction of his workplace.
He still needed to get a coffee and collect the umbrella from yesterday. When he’d walked by Homra on his way to work, it hadn’t been Misaki at the counter, so he’d continued on without stopping. Scepter 4 was nearly ready to open for business, though, which meant deliveries would start soon and that meant Misaki was likely to be on shift.
The prospect of seeing him still sent a small, pleasant shiver through Fushimi’s frame. Rather than block it out, he shut his eyes briefly and allowed it to run its course.
Even if it was unrequited, he might as well take those fleeting good feelings where he could.
The walk to Homra was relatively short; it was less than ten minutes later when Fushimi was walking through the door and Kamamoto’s smooth-toned voice greeted him with, “Welcome to Homra – oh, Fushimi, hey!”
Misaki had his back to the counter; he gave a noticeable little jolt at the words and turned sharply, a grin already spreading on his face and a large take-out cup in his hand. “Yo, Saruhiko! Good timing!”
His face was noticeably flushed, Fushimi noticed, stepping up to the counter to meet him as Kamamoto backed out of the way. There was a sluggishness to his movements that didn’t seem normal, either. “Did you get sick after all?”
The way that Misaki stopped in his tracks, eyes widening, might as well have been confirmation. Fushimi clicked his tongue. Of course he got sick. He was standing out there in the rain for who knows how long. “Who was it who said last night that he never gets sick, hm?”
“Shut up,” Miskai muttered, scowling back. “S’not that big a deal – m’just tired, is all.” He held out the cup in his hand as if to distract from the conversation. “Here – large double Americano. That’s what you’re here for, right?”
Fushimi reached out to take it from him, feeling a tiny spark when their hands brushed. Looking up at Misaki’s eyes, he could see the signs of illness – that slightly glassy look was obvious when you were looking for it. “You should have stayed home and rested, stupid.”
“Heh! Don’t underestimate me.” Misaki offered back a cocky grin, looking slightly more energetic. “This is nothing! Anyway, there’s no way I’m handing you that challenge by default!”
That’s not a good reason to push things. Fushimi clicked his tongue, frowning back. Considering how insistent Misaki could be about everyone else’s well-being, he was remarkably lax when it came to his own. “I’m not interested in winning against someone who’s sick. We could’ve skipped today and added an extra day at the end.”
“I told you, s’no big deal. ” Misaki braced his hands on his hips, returning the frown stubbornly for a second. “I got this.”
Off to the side, Kamamoto coughed uncomfortably. “Yata-san, I don’t think – ”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard what you think already!” Misaki dismissed that interruption impatiently, turning the other way to reach under the counter for something. “Also, here.” He held the borrowed umbrella out. “And, uh, thanks.” That came with an awkward shrug and a strangely tentative look. “For, y’know. Letting me use it.”
It doesn’t seem like it helped either way. Still, Fushimi reached out to take it with his free hand. “It’s nothing.”
Misaki offered him back a surprisingly warm smile at that, traces of something that looked almost like fondness laced through it. “Yeah, you always say that.”
A rush of warmth flooded through Fushimi’s body; he turned his gaze down towards his cup, unable to handle looking into those bright eyes for too long. He already wanted to reach out and touch Misaki’s flushed face – to try and gauge something about his illness from the heat of his skin. There was that urge rising up within him again: the almost unrecognizable drive to take care of another person. It was one of those things that probably came naturally to most people, but it wasn’t like he’d felt it often, and it was a little awkward trying to decide exactly what to do with it.
Setting aside that bewildering feeling for the moment, he put down his coffee, reaching into his pocket for his wallet. “I didn’t bring change. Card is fine, right?”
Misaki waved a hand at him. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. It’s a ‘thanks for the favor’ coffee.”
Fushimi glanced up at him sharply, and got a grin in response. He clicked his tongue. “I didn’t do it for thanks.”
“Yeah, well, you got some anyway!” Misaki’s grin widened, eyebrows coming down to make it more of a smirk. “Whatever, just take it.”
That was kind of annoying… but there was something strangely satisfying in it as well. Fushimi picked up the cup again, letting out a short breath. “Well, I don’t really feel like arguing with a sick person.”
“I’m not even that sick, c’mon.” Misaki shot him a disgruntled look and then sighed, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. When he raised his eyes, his expression was that odd tentative one again. “Did you… I mean, yeah, you had to – you saw the challenge, right?”
The reminder was enough to sour his mood. Fushimi clicked his tongue again. “I saw it.”
“Right, yeah. So…” Misaki let the hand slide around to the side of his neck, something oddly vulnerable in his eyes. “What d’you think of it?”
Fushimi blinked, taken aback by the question. Something in him responded to that look, too; he felt the borderline painful little squeeze as he met the gaze, unable to bring himself to turn his own away this time. Misaki’s eyes were bright – maybe a little too bright; he probably had a bit of a fever – and somehow hopeful.
It was moderately intimidating. How was he supposed to meet those expectations when he didn’t even know what they were? “Nothing much,” he responded, a bit warily. “It’s less vague than yesterday, at least.” He clicked his tongue again, reminded of what had irritated him initially. “On the other hand, I don’t exactly have anything I particularly feel like confessing.”
“O-oh.” Misaki grimaced, hand twitching slightly at the side of his neck. He slid his gaze away, a small rueful smile forming on his lips. “Right. Yeah. Of course. Just – just checking, y’know?” He barked out a short, obviously forced laugh. “Guess we both gotta come up with something, huh?”
So he’d obviously said the wrong thing – not that it was clear what the ‘right’ thing might’ve been. Fushimi narrowed his eyes. “Well, I’ll let you figure it out for yourself.” It never said that I needed to confess the feeling to the person it’s directed at, did it? He could confess it to Hidaka, who basically already knew – which would still be annoying, but tolerable. “I should get back to work.”
Misaki shot him a glance as he was turning, looking troubled. Fushimi would’ve stopped when their eyes met, but that gaze didn’t linger, already sliding away from him before they could exchange more than a brief moment of contact. “Yeah… See ya.”
Somehow, the subdued expression and tone of voice didn’t seem to be the result of his less than perfect health. Fushimi hesitated for another second, feeling torn, and then deliberately pushed it aside to move for the door again.
He was already mentally sifting through what was planned for the day to try and find timing and excuses for another visit even as he started back to his workplace.
Yata sat down heavily on the couch in the back room, letting out a long breath and slumping forward over his knees. His head was heavy and hot, his limbs were aching, and his breathing felt like it was scratching at the back of his throat.
Three more hours. That was when his shift ended and Shouhei took over deliveries in his place. Usually he’d hang out and keep doing them, since he could get there and back faster on his skateboard, but he wasn’t gonna push that far today. He’d already been asked if he was all right too many times – he didn’t like the idea of letting anyone down, but worrying them wasn’t the greatest feeling, either.
There was still the challenge to think about, though. Yata opened his eyes, staring blurrily at the floor for a moment as the world swam around him. It was hard to really think when his head was spinning like this, but he didn’t have much of a fucking choice. This was important.
Was he gonna confess to Saruhiko or not?
Just the idea was freaking him out, which was kind of annoying. He’d asked the universe for a sign, and it gave him one, and now here he was wimping out. He was feeling a bit disgusted with himself for that. What kind of man was he if he couldn’t even handle a stupid confession? He should just do it and take whatever answer Saruhiko gave him.
On the other hand, it wasn’t like Saruhiko had looked super enthusiastic about the whole confessing thing. The idea of doing his best and putting all of his feelings out there and then getting back one of those annoyed, flat looks was seriously making Yata’s stomach feel like it was dropping out. He wasn’t too sure how he’d deal with a reaction like that, honestly.
It was fucking scary, this whole romance business.
But if he didn’t confess to Saruhiko, then what the hell was he gonna confess? He had to do something for this challenge, and it wasn’t like he kept a lot of secrets. It was starting to make his head hurt, trying to figure all this stuff out, and he was already having trouble.
Just… keep it together, c’mon. You can do this.
A light touch brushed against his hand, interrupting those muddled thoughts, and Yata tipped his head up with effort. Anna had bent forward in front of him and was peering at him intently from just a short distance away.
He immediately jolted upright in his seat, a little shock running through him at the unexpected close proximity. “A-Anna!” The surprise settled almost immediately, allowing him to slump back, skin still feeling prickled up, and let out his breath in a long whoosh. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“I’m sorry.” She straightened, eyes still fixed on him even as she put some distance between them. “Are you all right?”
There was that question again. Yata dredged up a grin in response, hoping it looked sincere enough. “I’m good, don’t worry! This is nothing.” Hoping that was going to be the end of it, he quickly went on, “You need something?”
Anna shook her head. “It’s your thoughts.” She lifted her hand and brushed her finger lightly against his temple. “I can see you struggling. It’s not good to suffer alone.” Sadness crept into her expression, soft regret filling her eyes. “You already know that, Misaki.”
He did know that. Yata swallowed. “Yeah.” It’s not something you forget easy. “It’s nothing like that, though – don’t worry.”
She offered him a small smile. “I know.” Stepping off to the side, she sat down in the armchair adjacent to him. “You’re thinking about the challenge. About confessing.”
It was kind of amazing how she could do that. Yata blinked, fever-clouded thoughts scrambling to keep up with the conversation. “Ah… right.” He reached up to rub at the back of his neck sheepishly. “I guess it’s obvious, huh?”
“It’s fine.” Anna’s smile widened, eyes warming. “Being open like that is one of your strengths.” There was a short pause, and then she went on. “I also think that if you have hidden feelings, it’s best to confess them. It bothers you to hold them in, doesn’t it?”
Got me there. Being straightforward had always suited him best. He didn’t feel right when he couldn’t take action on something that was bugging him. “I guess.” Still… “It’s just… it’s sorta complicated.” He offered a small, rueful smile in response. “Another thing I’m not good at dealing with, huh?”
Anna leaned against the arm of the chair. “I think that your way of dealing with those things is good. Finding a simple answer is sometimes harder.” Her gaze was surprisingly earnest. “Misaki, you need confidence in yourself. You have many good points.” She balled her small hands into soft fists. “You can do it; I believe in you.”
An extra wave of heat rushed up to his face at that; Yata stared back, feeling strangely light-headed. “Eh? But – I dunno – I mean, it’s not – it’s just – ”
The intensity of her gaze seemed to increase. “No one could be dissatisfied with your confession if you put all of your power into it. Don’t worry. It will work out.”
“O-oh.” I’m not really good with this stuff either… It was kinda awkward, even coming from Anna. Yata shrugged a bit jerkily, feeling as if his brain had overheated and stuttered out. “Th-thanks.” He wasn’t sure what to think about this conversation at all, but… well, it did feel kinda good, in a way. Somehow, he was able to summon a grin in response. At least Anna thinks I’m worth dating. Or something like that, anyway. “I guess… I’d better give it my all, then, huh?”
Somehow, saying it out loud felt like it made everything real. That was it, then. That settled it.
He was gonna confess to Saruhiko after all.
All right… Yata took in a breath, trying to expel all of the shitty feelings when he let it out, and clenched his clammy hands into fists, tensing with mingled anxiety and excitement. It was like getting ready for a brawl or something, but at least some of the energy that had been drained by his fever seemed to return.
All right! I can do this. I’m cool. I got it. Just wait!
Anna smiled back at him, looking pleased. “Good. I think this will definitely make you happy, Misaki.” After a brief pause, she added, “And I think Saruhiko will be happy, too.”
“Yeah!” He grinned back without fully grasping the implications of that – and then did a double take, eyes widening. “W-wait – did you say – ?” She definitely said ‘Saruhiko’, right? I wasn’t just hearing things? Yata gaped at her in shock, feeling his head start to spin dangerously again. “But how – how did you – ?”
She slid out of her chair, pausing just long enough to direct her small, bright smile at him once more and then added a sincere, “Good luck,” before turning to head back toward the front.
“Wait… A-Anna…?” His voice came out too weak; he wasn’t sure if it was the fever or the shock that was still prickling under his skin, but his whole body felt clammy now. Yata let out a low moan, expelling all of his breath in one go, and slumped forward again over his knees. “Shit.”
I really am that obvious, huh?
“Uh, yeah,” was Hidaka’s sheepish response. “I figured that out already, Fushimi-san.” He added in an encouraging smile. “But thanks for telling me! I’m flattered that you’d trust me that much.”
Fushimi clicked his tongue, frowning slightly in response. “It’s for the challenge,” he pointed out flatly. “I didn’t particularly want to tell anyone about it.”
This was exactly the reason, too: this response. He knew that he had a place here with these people and that they respected him – even liked him, to some degree. He was content with that. It wasn’t what he’d expected, but having people who were important to him – close to him – was… nice. But that didn’t mean he wanted to start talking about ‘feelings’ or having emotional moments. Understated closeness was more within his comfort zone.
Unfortunately, Hidaka tended to prefer the former approach most of the time.
Maybe I should’ve done this with Akiyama instead…
It was too late to correct that tactical error now. “Well, I can understand that,” Hidaka responded with a bit of a nervous chuckle. “But it’s still nice to be able to open up to people sometimes, right?” His eyes were hopeful. “And we’re your teammates and friends – we’re here for you!”
At one point that cynical little voice in his head might’ve chimed in with, until you’re not. Fushimi pushed that thought aside. One thing he’d managed to learn, painstakingly, was that reacting negatively to everything could be just as pointless as reacting positively to everything. He was still struggling with maintaining that balance. “That’s all I needed,” he responded without addressing the rest, stepping around Hidaka towards the break room door. “I’m going back to work. Thanks for your time.”
“Oh. Yeah, of course! No problem.” There was only a tiny hint of disappointment in Hidaka’s response. “Anyway, good luck for when you confess to Yata – I’ll be rooting for you!”
That was enough to stop him right in his tracks, blood momentarily running cold. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I’m not doing that, so don’t bother.”
“Eh? Wait – you’re not?” Hidaka sounded astonished. “But – Fushimi-san – the challenge…”
Are you serious? Fushimi turned, fixing his co-worker with a flat stare. “That’s why I confessed it to you, remember?”
“Really?” Hidaka blinked at him, clearly surprised. “I figured that was a practice run, actually…”
Fushimi clicked his tongue. “What kind of practice run would that be?” His exact phrasing had been, ‘I have to make a confession for the sake of this annoying challenge. So I might as well just tell you that I have feelings for Misaki.’ He didn’t exactly know what constituted a proper confession of romantic intent, but at the very least, he was fairly sure that wouldn’t be it. “Even an idiot wouldn’t use that wording.”
Hidaka gave an awkward shrug. “Well… I mean, everyone starts somewhere…”
“Nobody in their right mind would start with that.” Though sometimes he questioned whether the people around him were really in their right mind to begin with. Fushimi let out a short, irritated breath, half turning again. “Anyway, if it comes down to it, I’ll need you to confirm that I completed the challenge.”
“No problem – I can do that.” Hidaka hesitated for a brief moment, and then seemed to make up his mind and plunged onward. “You should think about confessing, though, Fushimi-san. If Yata does it before you, he’d probably end up winning, right?”
There was that unpleasant reminder again – the possibility that Misaki might have someone to confess to, and that he might do it, and that the person in question might take it well. Fushimi turned fully, closing his eyes. The prospect was painful, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t considered it. Misaki wasn’t like him at all in that sense. Despite being crude, brash and short-tempered, he was honest and full of life. Easily liked and even more easily loved. Even if it didn’t happen now, eventually it was more or less inevitable.
Can’t help that, can I? “Assuming he happens to have a person he feels like confessing to.”
Something about the pause that followed was awkward. “Uh… Fushimi-san…” Hidaka cleared his throat, almost self-consciously. “I’m not sure how exactly to say this to you, but – ”
“Don’t say it, then,” Fushimi cut him off, abruptly irritated with the conversation, and stepped forward to open the door to the break room as he’d intended earlier. He definitely wasn’t interested in anyone’s pity. “I’m going back to work.”
“Wait – no – I mean – Fushimi-s – ”
The swift closing of the door effectively cut that fumbling addition off.
By the end of Yata’s shift, it really felt like the resolution Anna had given him was the only thing keeping him going. He didn’t even clearly remember the details of his last delivery, which was probably kinda dangerous considering he’d definitely skated there and back, but he wasn’t injured and he hadn’t run anyone over, so it was probably fine.
“Yata-chan…” It sounded like Kusanagi’s voice was coming from the end of a tunnel. He’d been out of the shop for most of the day for one of Totsuka’s therapy sessions, so this was the first time they’d actually seen each other. The expression on his face was one of mild surprise. “Have you been doing deliveries like this all day?”
Yata tried to shrug it off with a grin. His brain felt hot and hazy. “No big deal – I’m fine, y’know – ”
“He’s not,” Eric cut him off, dryly.
“We’ve been trying to get him to stop all day,” Kamamoto chimed in, sounding slightly aggrieved. “He’s gotta rest or something – Kusanagi-san, you tell him!”
Yata did his best to glare at them. “Hey, what the hell? I said I’m fine, goddamnit – !”
Kusanagi let out what sounded like a long-suffering sigh. “Yata-chan… Much as I respect your right to make your own bad decisions, you have to learn to mind your limits.” He set a hand down on Yata’s shoulder, both friendly and firm, expression a mixture of exasperation and resignation. “Give yourself a break once in a while, huh?”
“Ah…” It was the look on his face more than the words that really sank home. Since he’d started trying to understand the people around him, Yata had sorta come to terms with what Kusanagi had gone through during everything that had happened. It wasn’t like he grasped all of it, but what he did see gave him more insight into why his older friend had that habit of looking out for everyone. I’m making everyone worry, huh? Yata slumped, feeling like the fight drained out of him at that. “Right. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize – rest up and get better.” Kusanagi shook his head, expression wry. “If you want to wait in the back for fifteen or so, I’ll give you a lift home – how’s that sound?”
Fifteen… He still needed to confess to Saruhiko, and it was only mid-afternoon; no way was he done at Scepter 4, and Yata wasn’t sure about the odds of him being able to take a break. His head was starting to throb and there was cold sweat building on his skin, but… still… “Can it wait? I got one more thing I need to do.”
Kusanagi gave him a keen look, as if he could read the thoughts going through Yata’s head. “Well, I’m not in a hurry. Just don’t push yourself, all right?”
“Yeah. Got it.” Yata managed a small, sheepish grin in response, and moved to lift the counter so he could get to the back room.
He was fumbling in his pocket for his phone before he’d made it to the break area, and bringing up the message screen by the time he slumped down onto the couch. His vision was kinda getting blurry, but he was able to type just the same.
‘hey can we meet up?’
He figured the response would take a while, so he was shutting his eyes and leaning his head back against the cough for a short rest when his phone buzzed in his hand.
Somehow, that pulled up a smile. Suspicious son of a bitch. ‘need to talk to you’, he typed back, and waited this time.
‘All right. Where?’
Yata blinked at his phone for a second, surprised. Didn’t expect that… Saruhiko always seemed like he was super busy at work – or, at least, he got annoyed about being disturbed when he was working. The fact that he was willing to just come out right away like this was… honestly, kinda cool. It felt good.
And nerve-wracking. Yata swallowed, feeling his skin prickle and a little jolt of anxiety stir up in his stomach. This meant he was gonna be confessing soon. He thought he’d still have at least an hour or two, but… well, apparently not.
Whatever, just don’t think about it. ‘can you come to homra?’
‘I’m leaving now.’
Yata shut his eyes, willing his tired brain to wake up and get back in the game. He could do this. He’d been thinking since his break about how to confess to Saruhiko – with mixed success, but whatever – and now he was gonna do it. I got this. It’s cool. I’m good.
His stomach was doing some pretty unmanly flip-flops, but he had the determination he needed, and that was all that mattered.
Bring it on!
With that thought, he was able to push himself to his feet and head back out to the front.
Saruhiko didn’t keep him waiting long – although Yata was starting to get a little fuzzy about how much time was passing, so he wasn’t sure if he’d have been able to tell the difference. He’d been paying attention to the door, though, so he noticed immediately when Saruhiko arrived. It caused his skin to prickle up and his stomach – which had settled into something like quiet uneasiness – to spike back into full anxiety mode.
Just… keep it together, okay? You got this.
Saruhiko looked a little startled when Yata got up from his chair to meet him; he raised an eyebrow after that split second passed. “You look like you should be resting.”
It was kinda hard for Yata to tell whether he felt more gratified or annoyed by the concern. He settled for frowning back, waving a hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna. In a bit.”
Saruhiko’s expression was dubious. Those light blue eyes somehow felt like they sent a wave of cool through Yata’s body; he couldn’t help but shiver a little under that gaze. “What did you need to talk about?”
Moment of truth. Though… Yata glanced at the counter, where Eric and Kamamoto were both serving customers. Not sure I wanna do this in front of everyone. “Let’s go outside.” Almost immediately, it occurred to him that outside the front probably wasn’t any more private. “I mean, through the back. C’mon.” He turned to lift the counter.
He could practically feel the hesitation behind him. “Am I even allowed back there?” Saruhiko drawled.
“Yeah, f’course.” Yata looked back over his shoulder to offer a shrug and as much of a grin as he could muster. “Kusanagi-san and Anna both know you, so why not? Plus, I’m shift supervisor, so I get some say here. No problem.”
“If you say so.” Saruhiko moved to follow him, waiting for Yata to go through the door into the back first. “Shift supervisor? Really?”
“Huh? I didn’t tell you?” Not like it was anything special, but still… He led the way through the tiny kitchen and the break room, towards the door that led into the alleyway behind the building. “Guess it never came up. Yeah, next to Anna and Kusanagi-san, I’m in charge here.”
He was expecting some kind of sarcastic remark – a dig like ‘they really put you in charge of people?’ or ‘I guess there was no one else, huh?’ – so it caught him off guard when, after a brief pause, Saruhiko commented, “That makes sense.”
Yata paused with his hand outstretched, not even quite reaching the doorknob, feeling another rush of heat that didn’t feel fever this time rushing through him. He turned back around, too astonished and confused to manage more than, “Huh?”
Saruhiko tilted his head questioningly, raising an eyebrow again in response. “Any casual observer could see it. You work the same job as the others, but they talk to and about you with a certain amount of respect. Also, I get the impression from Kusanagi-san and Anna that they place a lot of trust on you.” Almost as an afterthought, he added blandly, “Probably because your strong points compliment theirs. That’s ideal in a management team.”
He noticed all that? Yata swallowed, feeling a bit light-headed as he stared back. It was… kinda dry and delivered in a weirdly logical tone, but it was a compliment all the same. Even through the fever-warmth on his skin, he could feel a blush rising. “R-right…” He let out a shaky breath, thrown off his game and more keyed up than ever. “Yeah. Uh. Th-thanks.”
Saruhiko’s gaze slid away from his, lips turning down slightly in what almost looked like more of a pout than a frown. “It’s just an observation.”
“Yeah, sure.” Okay, that he could handle. And… in a way, it was sorta cute. He’s got all kinds of sides to him, huh? Yata managed a rueful smile, turning back to the door again. “Well, thanks all the same – it’s kinda nice hearing stuff like that once in a while, y’know?”
There was no response to that, but it was cool. Saruhiko had said something nice about him, so he had to at least like Yata a little. As a friend, right? Probably not more, but at least he wasn’t likely to scoff at Yata’s confession. The past couple of days made that seem unlikely. Hopefully.
Trying to push down the anxious mix of dread and anticipation growing in his stomach, Yata pushed open the door and led the way out into the alley, kicking the doorstop into place with his foot so they didn’t get trapped outside.
There wasn’t a lot of space behind Homra, but it wasn’t a grimy mess, at least. There was some graffiti on the walls and the echo of tobacco in the air, but no rank smells or grease stains. Just pavement and dull buildings. You couldn’t reach it from the sidewalk due to the way the buildings were arranged, so it pretty much guaranteed privacy most of the time. He’d come out here with Kusanagi once in a while when the place was being renovated to discuss some stuff.
So… it wasn’t the greatest place for a confession, but hell, it was quiet and no one was gonna listen in, and that was pretty much all they needed, right?
“So?” Saruhiko prompted, as Yata finished collecting his thoughts. When he turned around, he found himself being regarded with mild curiosity. “I’m guessing this is something to do with your challenge confession.”
Yata’s heart just about stopped; he gaped back, shocked. “H-how…?”
“It’s the logical assumption.” Saruhiko shrugged slightly, both his gaze and tone of voice bland. “You’ve never wanted to talk privately before. The only difference between today and any other day is the challenge, so it made sense to assume that.” He tipped his head forward, gazing up through his lashes in that unconsciously coy way he sometimes did. “So? What kind of confession is it?”
He didn’t guess? The majority of the tension from that shock seemed to drain out of Yata at once, making his shoulders slump. He shut his eyes and let out a sigh, trying to let the rest of it go. His stomach was in knots and his skin was clammy; he really couldn’t tell if it was the fever or his nerves. It probably didn’t fucking matter at this point. There was black ringing the outside of his vision when he opened his eyes, but he did his best to ignore that too, stubbornly raising his gaze to meet Saruhiko’s again.
Okay! Let’s do this!
“Right. So, uh.” The words stuck in his throat at first, brain scrambling a bit as it tried to draw up what he’d planned to say. It was harder now, with Saruhiko right in front of him, looking somehow better than ever – aside from just his beautiful eyes, his bangs draped fetchingly over his forehead, and the contrast between the dark hair and pale skin was striking. Yata had never wanted to reach out and touch him more – to feel the fine lines of his face and run his thumb over those thin lips. The urge was swirling at the back of his chest like a storm, barely contained; he swallowed again and tried to focus. “You – you look good. Y’know. I mean, you always… Yeah. That’s – that’s not really want I want to – ”
He was floundering. Fuck. Yata shut his mouth and took in a frustrated breath, noticing the way that Saruhiko’s eyebrows knit together in puzzlement. “Goddamnit,” he muttered under his breath, reaching up to scratch at the back back of his head with agitation. “I just… I sorta… like – like you… I mean – ”
Despite the fact that he’d mumbled it, the words seemed to stand out sharply in the still alleyway. Yata felt heat rising to his face, head already feeling light enough to detach from his body and drift off. He scrambled to clarify. “I fucking… I like you, like… more than friends, okay? Like, I wanna kiss your stupid face – I mean. Fuck!” It was coming out all wrong, and he sounded lame; he could barely focus now outside of the panicked beating of his heart and the white showing around the blue circles in Saruhiko’s eyes. “It – it’s not stupid, it’s nice. I mean, I like it. I like you. Got it?”
For that single, tense instant, Saruhiko didn’t even move. His mouth was open, eyes wide and wary, almost like a cornered animal’s. The muscles in his throat moved visibly when he swallowed, and there was an undertone of bewilderment in his voice when he finally spoke. “Misaki…?”
“Sorry! I just – ” Yata’s head was starting to weigh down – by sharp contrast to the earlier lightness, he now felt like he was getting heavier by the second. He couldn’t tell if the reaction was good or bad, and his brain was starting to spin. It was hard to think. “I…” Acting on the spur of the moment, he reached out sluggishly to take hold of Saruhiko’s vest, leaning in as he tugged down. “I kinda…” There was no resistance; when he tilted his head up, he thought he felt a trace of that ghost breath from before against his lips. “… wanted to…” An almost painful anxiety twisted at the pit of his stomach, but it was like he was experiencing it from a distance. “… to…”
The black at the edge of his vision had encompassed the entire world; the last thing Yata felt was the sensation of plummeting forward and then everything faded out.
It normally didn’t take Fushimi very long to process anything that happened around him, but for some reason the past couple of minutes seemed to have impaired his brain.
Misaki had… confessed to him. “I like you,” he’d said. “More than friends,” had been the clarification. There wasn’t much room for error, regardless of how much certain parts of Fushimi’s brain would have preferred to cynically assume that a mistake had been made.
They’d nearly kissed – again – or rather, Misaki had nearly kissed him. Not that he’d done much to prevent it. In fact, even with the unusual lag in his thought process, the excited twinge of infatuation had made it through just fine. Anticipation had coiled up fast in his chest, making it hard to breathe.
… And then Misaki had passed out, his face planting heavily against Fushimi’s chest, nearly causing him to overbalance and fall back. He’d had to bring up his arms instinctively to catch him.
Seriously? This is really a thing that just happened, right now?
It was almost unbelievable, and Fushimi still hadn’t quite processed it beyond the shock. He honestly had no idea what to think or feel in that moment. Misaki was slack and heavy against him, the heat from his fevered skin seeping through Fushimi’s work clothing, and his breathing was labored. Obviously, his body’s attempts to fight off whatever virus was attacking him had finally reached a tipping point.
Worry overrode the confusion impeding his thoughts. “Misaki,” he said urgently, sliding one arm under Misaki’s armpit and trying to lift him a bit so he could tip his head back with the other. It was an awkward endeavor. There was a surprising amount of mass to him considering his short stature and slight build, but then, Fushimi had seen him shirtless, and… Well, that wasn’t important. Misaki was dead to the world, unresponsive even as Fushimi carefully tilted his face up. His eyelids were fluttering slightly but other than that, there was no movement.
Asleep, then? It made sense, from what small amount of medical knowledge Fushimi had cultivated – which wasn’t much, considering how little interest he’d had in it. Misaki had obviously been pushing himself all day, but his body needed that energy to fight off this illness. It was no wonder he’d fainted, too, since he was clearly burning up.
That idiot… Fushimi clicked his tongue, not sure exactly where his annoyance was directed. It fit with what he knew of Misaki’s personality, that he’d act like this kind of thing was nothing. And it was concerning. Learn to recognize when you reach your limit already!
Either way, the first thing to do was get him back inside. Fushimi considered the unconscious body in his arms for a moment. Misaki was compact but he was also heavy, and his pliable state made him awkward to manage. It was only a few short feet to the door, which was thankfully still propped open by the stopper that had been wedged in place, and there was a couch not far from there.
If he’d had to go a longer distance, he’d have maneuvered Misaki around and tried to drape him over his back. As it was…
Well, this will be faster.
Hooking his arms under Misaki’s armpits, he did his best to heft him up, and awkwardly shifted his way towards the door.
It probably looked ridiculous, but it wasn’t like anyone was looking.
At least, that had been the thought – but once he wedged the door open with his shoulder and dragged Misaki inside, he looked up and found Kusanagi glancing towards them at the same moment from behind the couch.
“Fushimi…?” There wasn’t much time to react – that startled gaze shifted to alarm almost immediately as the older man came around towards the door. “What happened?”
“He fainted.” Somehow, he didn’t particularly want Kusanagi to help; with effort, Fushimi hefted Misaki’s weight against his own body, nearly lifting him off the ground and maneuvering him carefully onto the couch. It was more exertion than he’d expected; he braced himself against the back of the couch for a moment, staring down at Misaki’s flushed face and feeling a mix of confusion and concern building in his chest. “It’d probably be a good idea to call a doctor.”
“Right,” Kusanagi agreed, pulling out his phone and rapidly keying something in. “I figure it’s probably exhaustion more than anything, but there’s no point taking chances if it’s come this far. If you don’t mind waiting for a bit…?” He waited for Fushimi’s nod before bringing the device to his ear, stepping away from the couch as he made the call.
The immediate urgency was starting to fade; as Fushimi turned his gaze back to Misaki, the full nature of the conversation they’d just had was starting to sink in again.
He confessed to me… There was something like wonder in that thought. No matter how straightforward and simple it was, the idea filled him with bewilderment. It was difficult to fathom: the fact that Misaki would like him – would find him worth confessing to. He hadn’t allowed himself to even entertain the possibility, and now here it was coming true, and he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Not that there was anything he could do – Misaki’s current state made any kind of response impossible.
Regardless, Misaki liked him. As awkward as the confession had been – “I wanna kiss your stupid face”, really? – it was real. The knowledge was easing some of that confusion in his brain back, filling the space with cautious but fervent pleasure.
Misaki liked him. His feelings were reciprocated.
That thought alone was staggering. What now? He was the only one out of the two of them who knew that this was mutual – there had been no chance to say or do anything after Misaki’s confession, even if he’d known how to respond.
So… how was this going to work? What was he expected to do in this situation?
Fushimi stared down at Misaki’s face, uncertain. He was sweating and his breathing was still labored, which was worrying. Was it wrong that he was thinking about this, when Misaki was obviously sick? Should he not be happy about it? He reached out hesitantly to brush his fingertips along a flushed cheek, feeling the heat radiating from it before he even made contact.
Being a hero for just one person…
He didn’t know how to do it, but that didn’t change the fact that he wanted to.
“Doctor’s on the way,” Kusanagi announced, and Fushimi jerked back his hand as if he’d had his fingers burned. When he glanced up, he got back a harried smile. “Shouldn’t be too long. He’ll be just fine here if you want to head back to work.”
He probably should do that, actually. Fushimi straightened, glancing once more down at Misaki’s prone form and feeling more than a little reluctant. He was already late – he’d said he was going to step out for just a few minutes – but…
“I can keep you posted if you want,” Kusanagi offered, and he realized he’d let his gaze linger just a bit too long. The expression on the older man’s face was rueful when he looked back up. “I’ve still got your number from back then, you know.”
Fushimi clicked his tongue, feeling an uncomfortable warmth rising to his face. “Do whatever you want.” He resisted the urge to look at Misaki again, stepping deliberately away from the couch and pushing down the tiny surge of regret.
“Right, I’ll do that.” There was a note of amusement in Kusanagi’s voice. “Thanks, Fushimi.”
Something occurred to him as he reached the door leading back out into the shop. Fushimi paused, his fingers closing on the handle. “By the way,” he added, without looking back. “When he wakes up… you can tell him he won today’s challenge.”
There was a startled silence from behind him; Fushimi used the moment to pull the door open, escaping through it before he could get any kind of reply.
That was probably enough for now.