There were a jumble of confused impressions running through Yata’s head, and he couldn’t manage to sort out what the hell was going on. His brain seemed to chug along lazily, not concerned with what was real or what was imagined – just kinda throwing whatever at him and leaving it at that.
He was lying on the couch at Homra, and a blurred, sideways view of Kusanagi sitting on one of the armchairs was in his vision. It was impossible to see his expression. “Don’t strain yourself, Yata-chan.”
He was on the futon at his apartment, and the room was empty. Dark. Silent. He had the feverish impression that Homra was still disbanded, everything else had been a dream, and he was truly alone. His eyes stung and spilled over, tears feeling cool against his burning skin.
He was in an unfamiliar bed, and Saruhiko was sitting on the side of it, gazing at him with a strange expression. “Misaki,” he said. The tone made it sound like he had more to add, but nothing else came. His eyes glittered in the dark.
The bed was in the upstairs section of Homra, where Anna lived. Totsuka was bending over him, smiling gently, and Mikoto leaned against the wall nearby, arms crossed over his chest. “Good work, Yata,” Totsuka said warmly. “You did it.” Yata made an effort to open his eyes fully and smile back, and then…
He woke up in a moment of jarring disorientation. His head felt fuzzy, and his eyes didn’t want to open at first. It was a struggle to move any part of his body. There was a moment of confused panic, and then the physical certainty of being awake settled and Yata relaxed marginally.
He felt… tired, but it wasn’t the feverish exhaustion from before. This was more of a groggy tired: a normal early-morning kind of thing. Maybe a bit more than usual – okay, a lot more – but he didn’t feel sick any more. His head wasn’t spinning and there was no dull, pounding ache.
Yata opened his eyes.
The room was mostly dark, with just a hint of morning light shining in through the window. His vision adjusted quickly. Like in the last bit of the dream, he was in the upstairs section at the Homra coffee shop – in Anna’s room. He’d only been in there once or twice during renovations, but he recognized it all the same: the closet and the dresser and the tiny vanity that had been a house-warming gift he and the others had chipped in for. The door was closed, and he was alone in the room, lying on the –
The realization brought him from half-asleep to fully awake almost immediately; Yata’s head shot off the pillow and he was pushing himself up to a sitting position with lightning speed. A closer look at the bed he was in confirmed it; even if he’d been somehow been mistaken about the room, there was no doubt once he caught sight of the airy canopy tied up against the four posts around him.
I’m – wait – Why am I in Anna’s – ?
The door opened before he could really react to that thought, light from the hallway framing Kusanagi’s familiar figure. “You’re awake,” his older friend said, after a brief pause, stepping inside and shutting the door behind him. “Morning, Yata-chan. How are you feeling?”
“Kusanagi-san…” Yata blinked a few times, trying to sort out his thoughts. It felt like everything was coming on too fast. “I’m good, but… what…? Why…?”
“What happened, and why are you here?” Kusanagi filled in helpfully, offering a small smile as he sat down in the chair next to the bed. It was one of the seats from the customer tables, Yata noticed absently. “You fainted, actually. According to the doctor, it’s just a viral infection, but you overdid it by pushing yourself all day when you should’ve been resting up and staying hydrated.” He shook his head. “She recommended having someone monitor your temperature last night, and Anna was strongly against leaving you on the couch. So, here you are.”
There he was – in Anna’s bed. The realization was sinking in, and Yata felt horror growing within him. I kicked Anna out of her own bed? He stared back at Kusanagi, guilt and mortification rising up at the back of his throat. “But… Anna…”
“She’s with Seri-chan,” Kusanagi responded, as calmly as ever. “Don’t worry about it, Yata-chan. They were both pretty enthusiastic about the idea of a girls’ night, and Anna would’ve been upset if you hadn’t taken the bed last night. Just relax, rest up, and be ready to thank her later, hm?”
There were more than a few emotions warring for dominance in Yata’s head, but after a moment of returning Kusanagi’s steady gaze, he felt them start to fizzle out and die one by one. I really did end up freaking everyone out, huh? Feeling abruptly drained, he flopped back against the pillow, letting out a long sigh. “Got it.”
The smile he got in response was an odd blend of rueful and relieved. “If you want to pay her back, make sure you change the sheets and wash that comforter before your shift this afternoon.”
“Yeah, okay.” He was able to muster up a tired grin in response. This afternoon… “Someone switched shifts with me?”
Kusanagi shrugged. “Kamamoto offered before I even asked.”
“Huh.” That wasn’t exactly a surprise, but he was grateful for it. With luck and a bit more rest, he could put this whole mess behind him. Gotta thank him later. Not to mention… “Kusanagi-san, you were here overnight, weren’t you? Where’d you sleep?”
“I caught a few winks on the couch here and there.” An amused edge crept into Kusanagi’s smile. “And just to show you a good example, I think I’ll head home and catch up here shortly.” He pushed himself up from the chair. “There’s water on the table beside you – I’d suggest drinking as much of it as you can. The doctor recommended fruit, too – there’s some in the fridge downstairs if you want to help yourself later. And don’t forget to change the sheets.”
“Yeah, got it. Thanks, Kusanagi-san.” Despite everything, he couldn’t help but grin again at the casual fussing. “Anything else?”
“Hm.” Kusanagi gave him a thoughtful look. “One thing, actually. Before he left, Fushimi said to tell you that you won yesterday’s challenge.”
“Yesterday’s challenge?” Yata repeated, frowning back in puzzlement. What the hell was yesterday’s challenge again? As he thought back, wracking his brain, the realization came all in a rush.
‘Confess a hidden feeling.’
Confessing – fucking confessing, saying ‘I like you’ and everything – to Saruhiko.
“Well, I’ll just leave it there,” Kusanagi said tactfully, into the mortified silence. He offered a half-amused, half-reassuring smile, and turned to head for the door. “Take it easy today, Yata-chan.”
Yata barely heard him. The memories were coming back in full force now, clear and concise despite how muddled his thoughts had been at the time. Can’t believe I fucking said some of that shit… “’I wanna kiss your stupid face’,” he muttered under his breath as the door shut, feeling his face flare up with embarrassed heat and reaching up to smack his hand over it. “Fuck.”
He didn’t know how the hell he was supposed to face Saruhiko now.
He never responded, did he? Not that Yata had given him much chance, fainting like a complete fuckup in the middle of everything. Goddamnit … He’d totally messed the whole thing up. All he remembered of Saruhiko’s reaction was that he’d looked surprised.
Yeah, no shit. That wasn’t much to go on; who wouldn’t be surprised, getting a confession out of nowhere? And from another guy too. It wasn’t the kind of thing that happened every day. So, yeah, the reaction made sense. No clues there.
Yata slid his hand up to his forehead and stared at the canopy over Anna’s bed, torn between frustration and a growing resignation. No matter how he looked at it, he’d done what he could. As stupid as it had been, he’d at least been clear about his feelings. Saruhiko knew. Which meant the ball was in his court, and there wasn’t much else Yata could do about it besides wait for some kind of response.
He really wasn’t good at waiting for shit to happen, honestly.
Maybe he sent me something? Yata reached down into his pocket where his phone was still tucked away, pulling it up into view and turning on the screen. There were no new notifications. Right. Guess not.
Briefly, he considered sending something himself. It didn’t have to be about getting a response. Just ‘hey, thanks for yesterday’ or ‘sorry for fainting on you’, or whatever. Something to trigger a conversation. He really, badly wanted to talk to Saruhiko right now.
I wanna know what he’s thinking…
In the end, though, his embarrassment over that stupid confession overrode the urge. Yata dropped his phone onto the table beside him with an agitated sigh, scowling as he pushed himself up and reached over to snatch up the glass of water.
Fuck this stupid romance business, seriously.
All things considered, Fushimi had slept surprisingly well – not that it was doing him much good at the moment.
The text from Kusanagi telling him that Misaki had been checked over and was doing fine had come shortly before he’d left work for the evening, and he’d debated stopping at Homra before going home. The prospect of being asked for clarification on his earlier statement had him dropping that idea, though. Until he’d settled things with Misaki, he didn’t really feel like letting anyone else know what went on between them.
It’s not anyone else’s business anyway.
The confusion from the previous day had settled into a kind of uncertainty at the back of his mind, which he didn’t really care for, but it couldn’t exactly be helped. He still had no idea how he was going to respond to Misaki’s confession. The obvious answer was to take him aside and tell him the truth – I like you too – but it felt strangely awkward. He knew Misaki’s feelings, but… still…
This is stupid. Fushimi shut his eyes briefly, taking a moment to let out an irritated breath. There was no reason to hesitate, and every reason to move forward. The anxiety gnawing away at him from the inside was pointless and baffling. This should have been easy.
Despite that reasoning, here he was, standing outside Homra’s front entrance and staring at the door like an idiot.
Fushimi clicked his tongue, curling his fingers in his pockets. Useless…
And yet, he still hadn’t done anything to fix the situation.
He was just working up to another attempt to convince himself when the door abruptly swung open in front of him, and Kusanagi stepped out.
For a brief, startled moment, they just stared at each other.
Of course something like this would happen…
“Oh, Fushimi.” Kusanagi smiled at him, looking a bit sheepish. “Sorry about that – wasn’t expecting you. If you’re here to see Yata, your timing’s not bad. He woke up not that long ago.”
That tiny bit of knowledge seemed to cause the air around him to freeze. Misaki was there, in the building, awake. Fushimi’s skin prickled up, and the knot of anxiety in his stomach tightened painfully. He clicked his tongue, averting his gaze. “I just need a coffee.”
“That so?” The hint of amusement that crept into Kusanagi’s tone spoke volumes on its own, but he apparently didn’t feel the need to voice his opinion. “Well, don’t let me hold you up, then. Kamamoto’s had the shop open for a good half hour already, so there shouldn’t be any problem.”
There was no getting around it now. Fushimi moved forward to step through the door being held for him. “Thanks,” he mumbled without any real sentiment behind it.
“Don’t mention it.”
Kamamoto grinned at him from behind the counter as the door jingled shut, his disgusting good looks accentuated by what seemed like an unnatural cheer. “Yo, Fushimi! What can I get ya?”
Cyanide would be nice. Fushimi scowled back at him, thoroughly annoyed now. “Large double Americano, to go.”
“Comin’ right up!”
The transaction was mercifully short. Less than five minutes later, he was pushing through the door, irritation and frustration warring for dominance in his brain.
If he’d just been able to go inside earlier, rather than being paralyzed by indecision…
Never mind. It was useless to dwell on ‘might have been’s. Fushimi frowned as he walked, trying to force his mind back along a more logical path. He could use this additional time to figure out a better way to approach the problem of responding to Misaki’s confession. Or rather, not a ‘better way’ – he needed to figure out what he was going to say. Once he had that, the anxiety that had held him back earlier would probably lessen.
He could hope, anyway.
The challenge board had been updated by the time he reached it – the newly posted sign read, ‘Do something you’ve been holding back on’.
Something I’ve been holding back on… That was vague – not as much as the cryptic ‘significant places’ from two days ago, but it was still fairly open for interpretation. How were they supposed to determine a winner? Whoever had been holding back the hardest? Whoever did the most impressive ‘something’?
It was annoying, as usual. Fushimi clicked his tongue. He didn’t really need this on top of everything, but at the moment he was behind in score, and there were only two challenges left after this. He couldn’t afford to lose another at this point.
Well, it’s not likely that Misaki holds back much. Actually, come to think of it, he might have the advantage this time.
That could be decided later, though. Fushimi stepped past the board and continued towards his workplace, firmly setting both the challenge and the confession to the back of his mind.
There would be time enough to figure both of those things out.
The noon rush had already passed by the time Yata came downstairs into the Homra break area. He’d gotten out of bed and hastily cleaned himself up before changing Anna’s sheets. There was no change of clothing for him, but he wasn’t going to have time to head home before his shift, so he’d live with the extra grunge. Following Kusanagi’s suggestion, he’d also gone ahead and washed the comforter, but he still felt the residual embarrassment from taking over Anna’s bed in the first place.
Never coming to work sick again.
As promised, there was fruit in the fridge. Some of Yata’s appetite was starting to return, so he helped himself to a plate of that, downed a glass of juice for good measure, and then went up front to see where he could help out.
“Yata-san! Hey!” Shouhei was the first to greet him; he offered a bright grin and a wave from his post behind the counter. “Feeling better?”
The cheer was infectious. Yata found a sheepish smile forming on his own face in response. “Yeah, good as new! Thanks, Shouhei!”
“Yata-san!” Kamamoto called out to him, from where he was cleaning some of the empty tables. He was also grinning. “You look way better – that’s a relief, y’know?”
“Ah… right. Well, thanks!” Yata shrugged, feeling a little awkward about it. “And thanks for switching shifts with me, too.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it!”
Anna been sitting on one of the stools at the front; she set down her teacup as he spoke and came forward to duck under the counter. “Misaki.” Her smile was small, but full of warmth. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Y-yeah…” He couldn’t help but return that smile, feeling that edge of guilt creep in from before. “Anna, y’know, you shouldn’t – ” give up your bed for me, was the rest. Before he could finish saying it, somehow Kusanagi’s voice flashed back through his head.
“Anna would’ve been upset if you hadn’t taken the bed last night.”
Right. That. Feeling heat crawling up onto his face again, Yata dipped his head forward a little in silent apology. One hand reached up almost instinctively to rub at the back of his neck. “Never mind. Thanks. And sorry for worrying you.”
“You don’t need to apologize.” She reached out to brush her fingers over his free hand. “Everyone is just happy you’re well again.”
“Got that right!” Shouhei agreed heartily.
“Listen to her, Yata-san!” Kamamoto chimed in from across the room.
“Yeah, yeah.” Some of the embarrassment was giving way to heartened warmth. Yata raised his head with a grin. “I got it! I’ll be more careful next time, okay?” Hoping to move the conversation past that, he quickly went on. “Got any deliveries I can take?”
Getting his body moving would help to clear his head – and he needed to check out the challenge board anyway. Plus, helping out would make him feel better about everything else.
And then… there was always the off chance he might run into Saruhiko…
Not that he was confident Saruhiko even wanted to see him. Yata resisted the urge to reach into his pocket for his phone. It had been silent all morning, so there was no point in checking. He wasn’t sure if it was because Saruhiko was giving his confession some serious consideration or if he was just avoiding having to turn Yata down. Either way, it was starting to give him a complex. He really wasn’t good at waiting patiently for shit.
How long were you supposed to wait before you asked about it, anyway? This was confusing.
“Bandou’s got that covered,“ Shouhei responded, waving a hand breezily. “It’s cool.”
Yata frowned. “I can do a second run if there’s any more orders.”
“Dunno if we have any.” Shouhei checked the tablet doubtfully. “It’s been pretty slow…”
“Yata-san, if you’re bored, I haven’t restocked anything yet,” Kamamoto suggested helpfully.
Yata shot him an exasperated look. “You’re s’posed to do that before cleaning, dumbass – remember?” He sighed, shifting impatiently. “Look, either way I gotta get today’s challenge, so if there’s orders, let’s do ‘em up fast.”
Shouhei cheerfully saluted him. “You got it!”
There ended up only being two new drink orders in the queue, so it was kinda stupid to do another run, but Yata felt better when he had wheels under his feet and the breeze in his face. The last bit of that sick haze seemed to blow off, and he felt hugely refreshed. He was even grinning by the time he approached the challenge board.
That faded a little when he saw what was actually on it. Something I’ve been holding back on, huh? That was gonna be tricky. Since when did he ever hold back on things?
Well, I kinda did… The remains of the smile shifted to a frown and Yata felt a small rush of warmth rising on his face. Since he’d found out about his feelings for Saruhiko, he’d been holding back, yeah. But that was all out now, so what was left?
Somehow, he couldn’t help but think of that last second of clarity before things had faded out yesterday: that moment when he’d leaned in, tilting his head up so that he could –
Fuck. Immediately, Yata ducked his head, pushing off the ground and leaving the challenge board behind him as his face started the shift from awkward lukewarm to mortified heat.
Okay, yeah, so there was that.
Can’t do that anyway. You didn’t just kiss someone if you were waiting for a response to a confession already, right? Well… Yata hunched his shoulders a little, pushing his board forward faster. Maybe you did if you were feverish and about to pass out, but that shouldn’t count! He wasn’t gonna be a pushy asshole about this.
Maybe if Saruhiko’s answer was positive… then…
One of those pleasant little sparks lit in Yata’s belly at that. I could. I totally could if he likes me, right? I mean, I could ask him. Nothing wrong with asking. Just… “Can I kiss you?” – like that.
Shouldn’t be a big deal, if Saruhiko liked him back. It’d be expected, right? And even if he said ‘no’ to the kissing part, asking about it could still count for the challenge. They didn’t have to kiss right away. They could – they could work their way up to that, maybe.
Anything was cool if Saruhiko liked him back. Just the thought made him feel like he could fly.
Maybe he’ll be around when I get there.
There was already a wide grin spreading across Yata’s face as he coaxed a little more speed from his skateboard, and his heart was thundering in his chest.
As long as he got an answer by the end of the day, he could work with it.
I wonder if I could get away with answering him another day…
Fushimi frowned at his phone, considering that as he idly rolled his fingers over the screen. He wasn’t really looking at anything in particular on the forum he’d browsed to, but if he just sat in the break room staring off into space, some of his co-workers would take it as an invitation to start a conversation. It was kind of irritating.
That aside, the problem of how to respond to Misaki’s confession was distracting him from thinking about how he was going to fulfill the latest challenge. He didn’t know which to give priority.
In terms of personal feelings, he wanted to figure out a response quickly and move on to whatever came next. The idea of being able to touch Misaki – to have Misaki reach out and touch him in return – was intoxicating. The image of Misaki’s desperate flushed face as he stammered out his confession was still branded into Fushimi’s brain. He wanted to know what sort of expression he’d get when he gave his response. The thought of Misaki smiling at him with those bright eyes filled with warmth made his heart rate seem to spike.
He couldn’t even bring himself to be disgusted at this point. The likelihood of it actually happening was too high, and he’d worked himself into a frenzy of anticipation without even properly noticing.
On the other hand, his logical side reminded him that there were two and a half days left in this competition, and he was currently behind. It wasn’t like there was a time limit on responding to a confession; he could take as long as he needed. It made more sense to prioritize the challenge.
He just… didn’t want to, so the idea wasn’t sitting well. He couldn’t concentrate.
Fushimi clicked his tongue, frustrated with himself. This is ridiculous.
The door leading into the break room opened before he could make another attempt to get his thoughts on track. “Ah, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata smiled beatifically, closing the door carefully behind him. “Here you are. May I have a moment?”
Do you need to ask? You’re in charge here. Still, Fushimi lowered his phone. “What is it, Captain?”
“No need for formalities. This is a private matter.” Munakata sat himself down at the other side of the table. With his posture and bearing, he might as well have been in a throne rather than one of the standard office chairs. He reached behind the lapel of his blazer and pulled out a small square of stiff paper. “By chance, I came across this photo. I thought perhaps you would find it interesting in a personal sense.”
Fushimi frowned suspiciously at the square. “If it’s from Monday’s challenge, I’m not interested.”
Honestly, the fact that he hadn’t seen Munakata take any photos that day proved nothing. Considering the unhealthy interest his boss took in their individual activities, he was certain that more photographic evidence of that particular challenge existed than he was ever going to be comfortable with. The keen interest on Munakata’s face when inspecting his appearance had more or less spoken for itself; it was almost possible to see the cogs turning in his head as he considered how best to make use of the situation. Fushimi had resigned himself to it and accepted the consequence.
“How unexpected that you would immediately come to that conclusion,” Munakata commented, his smile not altering a notch. “In point of fact, this was taken more recently – though not by much, I understand.”
If anything, that was even more suspicious, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to get answers without taking the bait. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Fine. Show me.”
“Certainly, Fushimi-kun.” Placing the photo face-down on the table, Munakata elegantly slid it across using the tips of his fingers. “Please have a look for yourself.”
The exaggerated amount of secrecy surrounding this was ridiculous. Fushimi fixed his boss with a flat, unimpressed stare, reaching out to retrieve the photo and bring it up to have a look.
… And nearly choked on his own breath in the process.
The photo was from the Tunnel of Love at the theme park – himself and Misaki on that stupid pink boat, the lantern above their heads providing more than enough light to illuminate their faces as they leaned in towards each other.
There was no room for error regarding what would have happened in the next instant, had the flash from the camera and the intrusion of reality not interfered.
Fushimi felt an unpleasant wave of heat rising up his neck to his face; to cover it, he turned a baleful stare on his boss. “Where did you get this, exactly?” came out through gritted teeth.
Munakata returned his glare with undisturbed calm, an infuriating glint of amusement in his eyes. “As I mentioned earlier, it was by purest chance. You are, of course, aware that such photos are made available for consumer purchase for a time following the ride?”
For a ‘time’? “How long do you expect me to believe they keep these things?”
His boss chuckled in response, leaning back in his seat comfortably. “Quite an amazing coincidence, wouldn’t you say?”
“What ‘coincidence’?” Fushimi muttered that under his breath, more than a little annoyed. There were a number of channels through which he could imagine Munakata gaining knowledge of this incident and obtaining the photo, and it wasn’t worth wasting his time trying to figure out which he’d employed. Making an effort to swallow his irritation, he frowned back. “So what’s the reason for sharing this with me, Captain?”
“Solely for the sake of your personal interest, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata’s gaze was unperturbed, though it was clear he was taking a calculated interest in the reactions he was getting. “It was my thought that you would find a keepsake of such an intimate occasion to be worth having.”
“I see.” He didn’t believe for a second that that was the entire reason, but there was no point in arguing if his boss was determined to keep it from him. Fushimi glanced at the photo again. From an objective viewpoint, it was clear from the way that their heads tilted towards each other than the kiss would have been mutually initiated.
He skipped over his own face, focusing on Misaki’s for a second longer. His eyes were closed, and his upper body angled inward along with his head, all of his being seemingly thrown into the act. It was vulnerable to a degree that Fushimi hadn’t quite expected.
He really does feel that strongly, huh?
The memory of that moment was still sharp in his head. The dark, the warmth, the closeness, and how much of a thrill it had been to be that close… His lips still tingled with the imagined sensation of how Misaki’s might feel pressed against them, and something in his chest clenched almost painfully.
He had wanted it, of course – still wanted it – and the photo made it clear that Misaki had wanted it just as much.
“In any case, I’ll leave you to your thoughts.” Munakata’s voice was unexpectedly gentle; when Fushimi glanced up, startled, he found himself regarded with a fond gaze. “If this photo is of any use to you in the future, then I shall consider the purchase price to be a resource well invested.”
Fushimi blinked at him, taken aback by the shift in the mood. As his boss rose gracefully from his seat, he fought back the instinctual confusion and tried to come up with some way to respond. “If you’re giving this to me, I can pay you back – ”
Munakata waved his hand in gracious decline. “Consider it a gift.” He smiled again, amusement mixing with that strange fondness. “If you should happen to lose it, you can be reassured by the fact that I have taken it upon myself to have backup copies on hand.”
‘Backup’ copies. Fushimi let out a sharp, resigned breath. Somehow, the warmth of the moment manifested in a tiny, rueful smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
I still can’t predict anything with him, can I?
Well, that was fine, too.
“Oh, and before I forget… Best of luck with today’s challenge, Fushimi-kun.” With those parting words, Munakata left the room.
Fushimi stared after him for a moment. Beyond that tiny reminder of the bond that formed the core of their team, something about the encounter tugged at him. He tapped a finger on the table, shifting his gaze to the photo and frowning as his mind picked apart the conversation. Something about the timing – not the timing of this particular situation, but something else…
The timing of the photo itself, perhaps?
The date challenge was on Tuesday. That meant that the photo had to have been obtained by Wednesday, at the latest – and yet, here he was receiving it on Friday. Which meant that Munakata had decided to wait two days before giving it to him.
Fushimi summarily rejected any possibility that he might have forgotten or simply not found time. There was always some meaning behind the Captain’s actions. It was possible that he’d been holding onto the photo in case the opportunity to use it to greater advantage presented itself, but if that was the case, what was the advantage in giving it to him now?
Something to do with today’s challenge, maybe. Those had been his last words. Fushimi brought his mind back to the challenge itself.
‘Do something you’ve been holding back on.’
With the image directly in front of his eyes, even just thinking those words made the message suddenly clear. So clear, in fact, that Fushimi couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit annoyed that he hadn’t come up with it on his own.
So that’s it, huh?
It really was that simple, after all.
Awashima approached him as he was coming in from the break room. “The client you’ve been working for these past few days is looking for a progress update,” she informed him. “If you could provide me with a summary, I’ll try to handle it, but they may want something more direct.”
What a troublesome guy. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I’ll send you an email, then.” This particular client had been poking his nose in at every step of the job, and it was starting to get irritating. How does he expect me to get work done if he keeps asking for updates?
“Thank you.” Awashima nodded, and moved past him towards the door that led upstairs.
Fushimi took his seat, let out a sigh, and opened his email to begin composing. The sooner he’d finished with that tiresome task, the sooner he could get back to work and the more he could get done before he finished for the day and left to visit Misaki at Homra.
It wasn’t so busy that he couldn’t have taken a break in the afternoon for that, but after giving it some consideration, Fushimi had rejected the idea. It would be easier if he was off-shift, for a number of reasons.
First and foremost… the later it was when he did this, the less he’d have to worry about potential witnesses hanging around.
Beyond that, there were other benefits, though. He wouldn’t have to return to work afterward, so they’d have plenty of time to… do whatever they were going to do once mutual feelings were confirmed. Kiss, maybe? Talk? The possibilities were… interesting. He felt a little strange thinking about it, but not in a bad way. There was something like a storm of anticipation shifting within him. It was somewhat daunting.
Not enough to keep him from pursuing this, though.
He’d sent Misaki a text message simply asking ‘How late will you be at Homra?’ and had been startled when the response came almost instantly.
‘shift ends at 10pm’
Before he’d had a chance to type, another joined it: ‘you coming over?’
The speed was a bit puzzling, but convenient. ‘I work late, but I’ll be there before ten’, he’d sent back.
Once again, Misaki’s response had been immediate: ‘ok, cool!’, followed almost instantly by ‘see you then!’
The level of enthusiasm was unexpected but flattering. Well… he did confess to me. Most likely, he was anxiously waiting for some kind of reply.
Somehow, that thought brought a rush of warmth with it. Fushimi couldn’t help a small smile and let out a huff of breath, shutting his eyes briefly. If that was the case, at least he wouldn’t be drawing this out. The earlier logical notion of waiting until the competition ended now seemed even more unappealing.
It’s definitely better to resolve this quickly, huh?
With that taken care of and everything planned, he was able to throw himself back into the day’s work without too much difficulty. Akiyama ordered food for everyone staying late at around five, so he didn’t even have to take much of a break to eat. Thanks to that, he managed to reach a good stopping point rather than being forced to interrupt himself, and noted with satisfaction that it was just past nine.
That should be good enough. He’d have to wait an hour for Misaki to be off shift, but that was fine. Fushimi stood, picking up his phone and sliding it into his pocket. He could get something to drink and surf the internet or play a game while he waited.
He was about to head out when the door leading to the stairs that went up to Munakata’s office opened and Awashima stepped into the room. “Fushimi.” She looked a little startled to see him, but quickly recovered. “I was planning to call you. I received a response from your client.”
At this hour? He didn’t normally work this late in the first place. Fushimi raised an eyebrow. “And?”
“Sorry,” she began, with a certain amount of sincere resignation, before her tone shifted back to a professional one. “I’m afraid I’ll be calling on you for emergency overtime tonight.”
Tonight? Fushimi felt his skin prickle with shock. Is she serious? It wasn’t like this would be the first time, but still… He stared at her, nonplussed. “What for?”
“They’ve insisted on a full progress update, in person,” she explained, letting out a short breath before striding purposefully across the room. “Your presence has been requested specifically as the person assigned to the case, so I’ll need to have you accompany me.”
Fushimi was momentarily struck speechless, unable to quite believe the extent of his bad luck. Is this a joke? He clicked his tongue, more out of habit than irritation – he was still a little too shocked to manage that. “Does it have to be now?”
She paused, eyeing him sharply. “I’m sorry, but yes.” Her eyes softened a little. “You’ll be paid accordingly for the overtime, and I’ll give you a lift home afterwards – that’s the best I can offer, unfortunately.”
The weight of this shitty timing was starting to sink in. It was crushing. Fushimi shut his eyes, mentally recalibrating. “How long do you think it’ll be?” He could text Misaki, ask him to wait – ask him to meet somewhere else. This could be handled.
It was maddening, but he could manage it.
“I’m not entirely sure – I suppose it’ll depend on the whims of the client.” Awashima offered him a small, sympathetic smile, but her gaze was implacable. “If you’re ready, we’ll leave immediately.”
Fushimi clicked his tongue, with feeling this time. “Fine.” He stepped forward to follow her out.
“My car is in the parkade down the block,” Awashima told him, as she locked the front door to the building behind them. Despite the fact that the Captain was obviously still working upstairs, the last person out of the lower part of the building had to set the alarm and lock up. Normally, it would’ve been whoever was working the front, but even in the short time they’d been open, Fushimi had done it a time or two – and he wouldn’t be surprised if she had too. “I need to make a quick stop before we go there, but it won’t be far out of our way.”
“It’s fine.” It wasn’t like it made a difference. Fushimi could feel cold resignation settling in his stomach as they started down the street. It was numbing, in a way. He’d built this up in his head, anticipation rising to a fever pitch, and now it was crashing down around him. He could still salvage some of it – he would text Misaki, arrange to meet him later – but there was no guarantee of success. Depending on how far away this meeting was and how late it ran, there might not even be a chance to meet today.
In that case, the challenge was a lost cause.
Figures… It was his own fault for leaving it this late in the first place, and without even having a backup plan. He wasn’t normally so careless.
But then, he didn’t normally have confessions to respond to either. The entire situation had thrown him off.
For something like this to happen now, of all times… Seriously…
Awashima had walked next to him in silence while his mood spiraled even lower with each moment that he was left to his own thoughts. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when she increased her pace, turning to head towards the building they’d just approached. “I won’t be long,” she said, reaching for the handle of the door. “You can come inside or wait out here.”
That… was a familiar door. Fushimi blinked, rendered momentarily speechless for the second time that night. His observational skills were excellent, but despite the fact that he’d recognized the building, it had still blindsided him that this was her stop.
Homra. Of course.
“I’ll come in,” he found himself saying, feeling a bit light-headed with the sudden turn of events. He reached out to take the door, following her inside without having a moment to orient himself before he was looking up to see Misaki’s familiar face behind the counter.
His stomach gave a little flip, and he swallowed hard without thinking about it.
Misaki’s head had jerked up immediately as the door opened and the jingle went off, expression a mix of hopeful and eager. It fell almost comically when he caught sight of Awashima, and then his eyes shifted to meet Fushimi’s, and he instantly seemed to brighten again.
It would’ve been funny, if Fushimi had felt like laughing at that moment. The pace of events had left his head spinning, and he wasn’t sure exactly what he was feeling right then. Locking gazes with Misaki seemed to bring a blend of anxiety, excitement, and confused longing.
Misaki glanced quickly from Fushimi to Awashima and back again, and his brow furrowed. “Welcome to Homra,” he said belatedly, voice slow and a bit wary.
Awashima strode forward without waiting, leaving Fushimi to trail after her. “Is Kusanagi available? It’s fairly urgent.”
“Yeah, I’ll get him,” the barista standing next to Misaki offered, before anyone else could say anything. He offered a wink as he moved past. “Anything for a pretty lady. One moment.” He ducked into the back room.
An awkward silence fell in his wake.
“So, uh…” Misaki broke it, eyeing Fushimi with a certain confused agitation. His fingers seemed to have clenched against the counter, knuckles white. “Didn’t know you were coming here for work…”
Fushimi clicked his tongue. The evening wasn’t going anything like he’d thought, and it was starting to become more than frustrating. “Neither did I,” he muttered, avoiding the sidelong glance Awashima shot him.
Misaki frowned, eyebrows coming together. “Say what?”
Kusanagi pushed through the back door before he could answer that, followed by the barista from before. “Evening, Seri-chan,” he greeted easily. “Oh, and Fushimi, too.” He raised his eyebrows. “Something I can do for you?”
“I’m looking for some information.” Awashima glanced at the empty tables to the side. “We can do the usual trade, of course. Is there enough privacy out here, or – ?”
“Of course, the usual’s fine. And I’d recommend the back if you’re looking for privacy.” Kusanagi smiled, lifting the counter with a flourish and gesturing towards the door. “After you.”
Fushimi hesitated as Awashima swept forward. It was possible there could be a chance here. “I’ll wait up front,” he said, before she could ask.
Awashima gave him a considering look, but didn’t comment. “That’s fine. I won’t be long.”
I’ll be better off if you do take a long time. He watched until the door closed behind them, and then turned back towards the counter. The other barista was back, which was… irritating. Fushimi’s frown deepened a little. If they were going to have an audience, maybe he wouldn’t…
The man in question glanced at him, blinked, and then his eyes widened a little, as if he’d just had some sort of brainstorm. “I think I’m gonna take my break now, Yata,” he announced suddenly. “Gonna… hm… go for a walk.”
“Eh?” Misaki shot him a startled look. “Now? But – ”
“Yeah, I could use the fresh air. Right now.” The guy reached out and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, grinning meaningfully. “I’ll take my time coming back, okay?” He lifted the counter, easing his way through and heading quickly for the door. “Good luck.”
“H-huh? Wait – Chitose – ”
The jingle sounded, once – and then again as the door swung shut.
For the second time in less than five minutes, an uncomfortable silence fell.
Fushimi turned his gaze back towards Misaki, in time to meet the baffled look that was directed his way. This time, he broke the silence himself. “For the record, I didn’t plan this.” He clicked his tongue again, out of habit. “Something came up at work.”
“Oh.” Misaki seemed to process that for a second, and then deflated a little. “Right. Guess that kinda stuff happens when you’re a secret spy agency, huh?” He offered a small, rueful grin, but there was clear disappointment in both his words and expression.
Fushimi shut his eyes. The storm of emotion behind his chest was raging. He was wholly out of sorts now, but there wasn’t going to be another chance if he missed this. The timing’s wrong, but it should still work if I execute it properly. He let out a sharp breath and then opened his eyes again. “I’m coming back there,” he announced flatly.
“Huh?” Misaki did a bit of a double take, eyes going wide as Fushimi moved purposefully to lift the counter and step in behind it. “O-oi… Saruhiko…?”
Any further words he might’ve sputtered out seemed to die off when they came face-to-face behind the counter. As he closed the distance between them, Fushimi could see the muscles in Misaki’s throat work when he swallowed, obviously attempting to contain his anxiety. Well, I can relate. There was an anxious knot growing in the pit of his own stomach. He felt almost like he was going to be sick, but the accompanying buzz of anticipation seemed to hold it at bay.
Misaki was close…
For a moment, Fushimi froze up, paralyzed by nerves as he looked at those multi-faceted amber eyes from his vantage point. The full knowledge of what he was about to attempt seemed to strike all at once, and he was momentarily unable to breathe.
Am I really going to do this?
“Saruhiko?” Misaki’s voice was strangely subdued, almost tentative; his gaze was uncertain. Still, it didn’t waver, holding Fushimi’s with a kind of stubborn force of will. There was a puzzled crease on his forehead, his eyebrows were furrowed, and his lips turned down in a kind of worried frown.
It was an ordinary expression, but something about it was grounding.
“I wanna kiss your stupid face – ”
He said it himself, didn’t he? So it’s fine.
Snapping out of the moment of crippling doubt, Fushimi ducked his head, leaning in carefully and with painstaking slowness. He felt it as Misaki’s breath caught sharply; felt that ghost of a touch that was so clear in his memory from both failed attempts; felt the faintest hint of something solid brush against his lips, sending something like an electric shock all the way through him.
And then he made contact, the soft curve of Misaki’s lips pressing against his. It was brief and awkward. Just a short bump, like an accident, mingled breath stuttering between them, and Fushimi’s heart seemed to clench, the way it had when he was looking at that photo. He turned his head a fraction more, searching for the right angle, and pressed in again. Their mouths came together more firmly, and the world around him shuddered to a halt.
He was kissing Misaki.
That was Misaki’s mouth against his, soft and warm and slightly damp, their lips fitting together in tentative unity, side by side, unmoving. Just… being there.
Fushimi’s heart was racing; he could feel his stomach flutter. The reality was nothing like his imagination – it was so much less graceful, less easy… and still somehow so much better. He couldn’t properly describe it; couldn’t place the feelings coursing through him.
Misaki made a small noise, desperate and uncontained, and abruptly pressed back into the kiss with full force, his lips parting slightly against Fushimi’s and realigning. The adjusted contact set Fushimi’s soul ablaze. He felt like he’d burn up, gratification and pleasure and anxious want warring for domination within him.
They pulled back mutually after a moment or so, catching their breath. Fushimi’s glasses were a little fogged at the bottom from the mingled heat between them, but they were still clear enough that he could see Misaki, and that was all that mattered. In that moment, red-faced and slightly dazed but staring up at Fushimi with undisguised heat, he was so raw it was breathtaking.
I should tell him now.
Fushimi cleared his throat, feeling a bit awkward about it. There was a smile spreading on Misaki’s face, wide and uncontained and openly happy, and it was distracting. Curling his unsteady fingers inward, he took in a breath and focused on getting the words out.
“Misaki – I – ”
Behind him, the door to the back room opened. “Fushimi. We’re going.”
The shock had them breaking apart guiltily. Fushimi turned quickly, starkly aware of the heat on his face and the shortness of his breath, and mentally cursed. That timing…
Would it have been too much to ask for just two more minutes of privacy?
Awashima looked taken aback by the sight of them; she blinked slowly, and then shook her head slightly, seeming to brush it off. “Sorry,” she offered, in a more conciliatory tone, with the faintest edge of an apologetic smile. “We need to go.”
Fushimi let out his breath sharply, deflating. Of course we do. He clicked his tongue. “Got it.”
Once she’d nodded and gone ahead, he risked a glance back and met Misaki’s eyes almost instantly. There was embarrassment lingering on him in every conceivable place, from his slightly hunched shoulders to the hand rubbing at the back of his neck to the quirked curve of his eyebrows. But when he met Fushimi’s gaze, he grinned sheepishly, eyes growing soft and warm.
It was an expression that made something quiver pleasantly in his stomach. Fushimi offered a small smile in return, a little overwhelmed. What do I look like to him? he wondered, and felt a bit odd about it. Out loud, he said, “See you tomorrow, then.”
“Y-yeah.” Misaki’s grin widened, his face seeming to brighten even more at that. “Right. See ya.”
It was difficult to make himself turn away, but there wasn’t exactly a choice.
Awashima was tactful enough to wait until they were outside and on their way before saying anything. “That wasn’t exactly the soul of discretion,” she noted critically.
Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Nobody asked for your opinion,” he mumbled.
She sighed and shook her head, but there was the slightest hint of a smile on her lips.
If he hadn’t been distracted by the infatuated haze clouding his thoughts, that probably would’ve been annoying. As it was, he couldn’t have cared less who knew about this. Eventually everyone was going to find out anyway, so what was the point in hiding it?
The memory of how Misaki’s lips had felt against his was still sharp in his mind. Fushimi resisted the urge to reach up and brush his fingers over his mouth. It was ridiculous. Still, he couldn’t help but replay the scene in his head, marveling at all the little details. Misaki had been warm, his smell pleasant, and his lips soft. And then that expression…
Fushimi’s throat felt tight – his heartbeat was still frenzied. He closed his eyes, not bothering to repress the feeling.
It was good. Unbelievably so.
He waited until he was in the passenger seat of Awashima’s car to pull up the messaging on his phone, typing out, ‘I like you too, in case you hadn’t noticed’ and hesitating for just a split second before sending it.
Misaki’s response came back only a second or two later: ‘yeah figured but thanks for saying it’. Before there was time to react to that, it was joined by, ‘and congrats, you win today’.
Fushimi let out a small, amused huff, the edge of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. ‘I think that goes without saying’, he typed back.
‘yeah yeah’, Misaki sent in response, and again without waiting, added, ‘not complaining’. This time the two messages were joined by a third as well: ‘i mean i liked it’.
He didn’t even have to think about how he was going to answer that; Fushimi was typing almost as soon as the words appeared on his screen, and sending it without a second thought.
‘Yeah, me too.’