‘Plan an amazing date’.
The word ‘date’ sent a little jolt through Yata’s body, bouncing out from his chest as he read it off the board. He’d come out here early – before his opening shift – in the first place, full of energy and optimism after the previous day’s text conversations. This new challenge caused that pleasant high to splinter out into the anxiety and excitement he was starting to associate with his feelings for Saruhiko.
A date… He’d never been on one, much less planned one himself – it was part of the coveted realm of people who had romantic options, which he’d kinda given up on a while back. Still, it wasn’t like he hadn’t sometimes wondered what it might be like.
Knees touching under the table at a restaurant… brushing hands when reaching into a shared popcorn bag at the movies… walking home together at night, slowly… the possibility of lingering at the doorway for a goodnight ki…
Yata shook his head frantically, trying to clear out those thoughts before he got too flustered. He could already feel the uncomfortable warmth climbing up his face and the fluttering stirring up in his stomach. Gotta stay cool, c’mon!
To win this challenge, he was going to have to go on a date. Or, not just go on one, but plan one. An amazing one. Better than one that Saruhiko might plan.
The flustered feeling was back. Yata swallowed, feeling his pulse race. That was the part that made this situation difficult. The truth was, even though they were competing over it, the person he’d want to go on a date with in the first place was his opponent. Which was kind of weird.
Well, maybe not that weird. Of course I’d want to go on a date with the person I like! That’s normal, after all! But to just outright ask about it…
It wasn’t like he was scared or anything. Maybe kinda nervous, but not scared. Yata scowled at the board for a moment, shifting his skateboard restlessly with his foot as he considered the problem. He just didn’t really get this dating and romance stuff, doubly so when it came to asking out another guy, and tripled with Saruhiko being his opponent in a challenge to plan an amazing date. It made his head hurt just trying to sort out what he was supposed to do.
If he did it wrong, things would get awkward, right?
Hell, it wasn’t likely Saruhiko even wanted to date him in the first place.
That thought was enough to dampen his spirits. Right, well, we are both guys. It kinda helped to think of it that way. Saruhiko was probably straight. That was it. Not like there was anything he could do about that. Nothing against him personally, right?
Still, he couldn’t see Saruhiko as the type to have a ton of dating options lined up. He was beautiful, yeah, but his attitude sucked and he was fussy about all kinds of things. You really had to get to know him before he’d show his good sides, and it was hard to do that with when he seemed to have no interest in getting to know anyone in the first place.
Actually, this was the kind of challenge he could imagine Saruhiko clicking his tongue at and saying ‘what a pain’ with that disgusted expression on his face. Yata couldn’t help but grin a little just thinking about it. Yeah, he totally would!
If that was the case, then there wasn’t anything wrong with helping each other out, was there?
The more he thought about that, the better it sounded. They didn’t have to be a couple to go on a date or two, right? And there was no limit to how many dates you could do in a day. One of them could plan an afternoon date, and the other could plan an evening date – or something like that. It’d just be two friends helping each other out.
… Helping each other out in a competition where they were opponents – but whatever. They’d done it on Sunday with the ice cream thing, so it couldn’t be that big a deal.
And, well… Yata rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling a little embarrassed about it. Okay, maybe he would’ve liked to date Saruhiko for real, but that probably wouldn’t ever happen anyway. This way, he’d at least get a taste of what it might be like, and things didn’t have to get awkward.
It was perfect, really.
With that figured out, Yata shifted his foot on his board and kicked off, the grin on his face widening as excitement churned in his stomach. The day ahead was already looking awesome!
The day ahead was already looking bleak.
Fushimi stepped through the door into his workplace, deliberately ignoring Hidaka’s overly cheery, “Morning, Fushmi-san!” from the greeter’s desk as he made his way past. If anything, his mood felt blacker than the day before.
It didn’t particularly bother him that Misaki had won the last challenge, but it did bother him that he couldn’t be confident of his own motivation for making that call in the first place. His co-workers had supported the idea of taking it to a vote, though he wasn’t sure how anyone expected that to work, considering how clearly biased everyone was about the entire business. Homra would vote for Yata, and Scepter 4 would vote for him, based on some ridiculous idea about supporting ‘their’ candidate, as if this pointless campaign were some kind of mark of team pride. Given that there were more members in Scepter 4’s café unit, there wasn’t much doubt that any kind of vote would fall in his favor.
That notion had rankled, and handing the victory over to Misaki had seemed like the best way to respond to it. At the time, Fushimi hadn’t thought particularly hard about why it had seemed so offensive. It had been simple enough to attribute the sour taste it left in his mouth to not wanting a victory under those unfairly slanted conditions.
Munakata had shot him one of those infuriatingly knowing smiles, but hadn’t commented.
On the bus heading back to his apartment, Fushimi had idly skimmed back through the text conversation and re-opened the picture that Misaki had sent him, and it had stirred up the same ache from before. With that confusing mix of fascination and longing rushing through him, he’d started to feel a lot less certain about the reason he’d acknowledged his opponent’s win.
If he really was letting infatuation cloud his judgment, that was going to be an issue. It was particularly alarming because he hadn’t noticed it at the time, and wasn’t even sure now if that was the actual reason.
Fushimi clicked his tongue as he walked past the empty desks at the front, thoroughly disgusted with himself. I need to find a way to manage this properly. He couldn’t afford any kind of distraction. After yesterday’s debacle, he and Misaki were tied, and if he wasn’t thinking clearly, the possibility of losing was going to increase.
Feelings or not, he wanted to avoid that outcome at all costs.
He was still a few paces away from the door to the back room when the jingle behind him announced someone entering the building. Hidaka’s professionally cheerful voice chimed in shortly after. “Welc – ! Oh! Morning, Yata!”
That was enough to make him freeze for an instant, feeling like ice had just been poured through his veins. Behind him, Fushimi heard the familiar boisterous voice respond, “Hey!” and then before he had time to decide whether he wanted to retreat to the back room or not, that same voice called out, “Oi! Saruhiko!”
Figures. Trying to brush aside the blend of apprehension and excitement that had spun to life in response, Fushimi clicked his tongue again, turning back. “What?”
Misaki was smiling brightly at him, evidently in high spirits, which was simultaneously appealing and annoying – Fushimi wasn’t entirely sure if the ‘annoying’ part was in response to the ‘appealing’ part or if it was just irritating in the same way that a co-worker being this cheerful early in the morning could be. This was the first time they’d seen each other in person since his realization on Sunday, and he was painfully aware that some uncontrolled part of him reacted to Misaki’s presence with the kind of pleasure that an addict might feel when given access to whatever they craved. There was a kind of indignity to it that he resented on a conscious level.
And then, of course, there was also the fact that Misaki had undoubtedly seen the challenge already, and with that fact added to the rest of this equation, his attitude was even more irritating.
That puts him in a good mood, huh?
“What’s with that response?” Misaki shook his head, his expression indicating a kind of rueful amusement rather than irritation. “You saw the challenge, right, Saruhiko? That’s why you’re in such a pissy mood, huh?”
The certainty in his tone was even more annoying. Fushimi frowned back, not bothering to step up towards the front. “If that’s all you’re here to talk about, I’m leaving.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Misaki brushed that aside, either ignoring or just disregarding the lack of enthusiasm on Fushimi’s part. His eyes were bright, almost eager. “Anyway, that means you don’t already have a date then, right?”
What’s the point of even asking? Fushimi clicked his tongue, frown deepening. “You expected me to have something lined up already? I saw the challenge less than ten minutes ago.”
He got a brief moment of satisfaction from seeing the smile on Misaki’s face shift to a disgruntled frown. “Yeah, okay, I get that, but I mean… you don’t have some convenient person to ask or anything like that. Do you?”
There was a faint edge of uncertainty in the last bit that softened a little of Fushimi’s irritation. He stepped forward cautiously, meeting Misaki’s expectant gaze with a certain amount of wariness. “What are you trying to get at?”
“Right! Thought so!” The smile was back, wide and faintly relieved-looking. Misaki shifted a bit with impatience or self-consciousness – or maybe both. “Me too. So, y’know, I thought maybe we’d help each other out. Kinda like with the ice-cream.” He reached up to scratch at the back of his head. “What d’you think?”
“’Help each other’,” Fushimi repeated, tonelessly. His mind was already quickly processing the offer, with all of its implications. He’s suggesting that we go on a date. The immediate reaction to that thought was a skin-tingling rush of excitement. The immediate reaction to that reaction was utter disgust.
Don’t be stupid. It wouldn’t be an actual date – this doesn’t mean anything.
The myriad issues with the suggestion were beginning to surface now that he’d reminded himself of that significant fact. Fushimi could feel the headache building at his temples before he’d even grasped all of them. Going on a ‘fake date’ with Misaki while harboring real feelings for him? It sounded like the plot of a bad drama. The idea of playing pretend like that was unappealing on just about every level; it left a bad taste in his mouth just thinking about it. Useless.
Less than useless, in fact. It was potentially detrimental if his suspicions about yesterday’s challenge were accurate. If he couldn’t trust himself not to let his own feelings lead him into bad decisions, he could lose this challenge based on that alone. There was no guarantee he wouldn’t end up conceding to Misaki again for frivolous reasons that he didn’t even recognize himself in the heat of the moment.
The possibility of losing the entire competition due to falling for his opponent was repugnant.
Still, he wasn’t about to voice any of that – not when he had the option to keep this on a practical level in the first place. “How do you expect that to work, exactly?”
“Eh?” Misaki blinked at him, as if that question hadn’t occurred to him when he thought up this half-baked plan. “What d’you mean?”
Fushimi clicked his tongue. Of course he didn’t think this through. “We’re competing here, in case you’ve forgotten.”
Misaki shifted impatiently, eyebrows knitting together as if Fushimi’s reaction was incomprehensible to him. “Yeah, right, but it’d still work if we did two dates. Each of us could plan one.” He brightened up again, as if that somehow solved anything about this. “That’s the point, right? ‘Plan an amazing date’? We’d both get it done!”
One of Fushimi’s eyebrows twitched involuntarily. How does that make anything easier? You’d have to deal with two dates instead of one. If they were real dates… But then, there was no point in thinking about that. He directed back a flat gaze and went with the more logical objection. “How do you plan to decide who the winner is?”
Once again, the response seemed to catch Misaki off-guard; he offered a baffled look in return. “Huh? What’s that s’posed to mean?” He braced his hands on his hips, frowning back. “Same as every other challenge, right?”
He doesn’t get it. Fushimi had a feeling he shouldn’t have been surprised. “Don’t be an idiot. You think the two of us are going to come to an agreement on whose date was better?” He raised an eyebrow for emphasis. “Or did you expect to have a bunch of friends tag along and spy on us to sort that out?”
The sudden widening of Misaki’s eyes and the way he caught his breath sharply showed that previously lacking understanding. “Ah! W-well…” He seemed to struggle for words, momentarily trapped by the piece of logic. “No – I mean, not that – just – y’know – we – we could figure something out, right?” He finally managed to sputter out something comprehensible, eyebrows knitting together and lips setting into a stubborn frown. “It can’t be that big a – ”
“Why should we have to?” Fushimi cut him off, frowning right back. This was getting ridiculous. He turned to face Hidaka, who had his head tilted awkwardly to the side as if he were trying to pretend he wasn’t listening in on the entire conversation. “Hidaka. You’re available tonight, aren’t you?”
“Eh?” That prompted a very obvious jerk; Hidaka turned his head sharply, staring back at Fushimi with clear apprehension. “Uh… well… I guess…?”
“Good.” That should more or less settle things. “In that case, be my date.”
Hidaka goggled back at him, momentarily shocked; there was a brief second of cutting silence.
“Er…” After the initial surprise, he seemed to recover, shrugging his shoulders up in a short, awkward gesture of acceptance. “Y-yeah, I guess… I could.” He turned his gaze almost apologetically in Misaki’s direction.
Fushimi chose to ignore that; it was irritating, either way. “That’s settled then.”
Misaki’s swift, sharp intake of breath sounded almost painful. When Fushimi turned back to face him, there was a stunned look on his face. Almost as soon as their eyes met, it seemed to twist into an expression so hurt that it struck right to Fushimi’s core, with an unexpected intensity. Some of his certainty wavered; in that instant, he had the urge to do something, though he wasn’t sure what. Reach out? Offer reassurance, maybe?
As if I know how to do something like that…
And then Misaki’s eyebrows came down into a fierce glare, lips turning down into a scowl, and that small moment shattered into something more familiar.
“Yeah, fine!” Misaki snarled, drawing himself up as if to try and bring his own reaction under control. His eyes had a suspicious waver to them. “Go ahead and date whoever – see if I care!” He spun on his heel and just about plowed into a startled-looking Akiyama in his haste to get through the door. Without slowing, he sidestepped and bulled on through, leaving it to slam shut angrily in his wake.
Akiyama stared after him for a brief moment and then turned his gaze up towards Fushimi and Hidaka, clearly baffled. “Did something happen?”
Fushimi clicked his tongue. That brief instant when Misaki’s expression registered hurt had unnerved him; he could still see those expressive, devastated eyes clearly in his mind, and the image was feeding into that edge of uncertainty he couldn’t seem to shake. It was irritating. And confusing. He didn’t think he’d made the wrong choice, but…
Well, never mind.
“Nothing important,” he responded flatly, before Hidaka could take that up, and turned to head toward the back again, deliberately pushing those thoughts from his mind.
Yata didn’t even realize he was clenching his teeth until he kicked off and the vibrations rattled them; he made an effort to relax, narrowing his eyes, and willed the hurt welling up in his chest to fade.
He didn’t get why it bothered him so much. It wasn’t like he’d asked Saruhiko out for real. Who cared if he just looked all annoyed when he got the offer? And seriously, who cared if he’d rather go on a date with his co-worker than with Yata? What was so special about that Hidaka guy, anyway?
… Aside from the fact that he was tall, and super good looking, and friendly, and probably smart too, since he was working at that place…
The blend of frustration, irritation, and hurt seemed to spread out from Yata’s chest, making him feel restless and uneasy. He pushed off the ground harder, trying to pick up more speed, executing a couple of jumps without thinking to try and purge some of that from his body.
It felt like he already knew why this felt so shitty – why it seemed like a rejection even though all of Saruhiko’s objections had been practical and logical. That reason was there, hanging out at the back of his head, not quite touching his conscious thought. Just out of reach.
Goddamnit… Yata clenched his teeth again, feeling like anger was surging through his veins. It was a familiar sensation, one he’d used to drive himself back in the day, but he was getting better at figuring his head out these days. He wasn’t angry at Saruhiko – he was angry at himself. Angry for just assuming his stupid offer would be enough. Angry for having expectations. Angry for not being able to figure out a damn thing about any of this.
Angry for being hurt when he shouldn’t have been dumb enough to expect more in the first place.
Approaching Homra, Yata let himself coast forward, stepping back to come to a halt in front of the door. As he picked up his board and reached for the handle, the realization that had been hovering in his mind struck him all at once, and he had to take a moment to calm down, tipping his head forward to lean against the door as he focused on catching the breath that lodged in his throat.
If he’s okay with dating a guy, why wasn’t I good enough?
It was a stupid question – ‘pointless’, Saruhiko would’ve said. This wasn’t even a real date, so who cared? Plus, there were tons of reasons that had nothing to do with him. Still… Shit. Just forget it. Yata forced himself to let it go, leaning back with a soft, irritated ‘ch’ and deliberately pulling the door open to step inside. “Yo.”
“Morning, Yata-san!” came the response, almost immediately. The typical jovial tone of Kamamoto’s voice came out in a strange – but still hauntingly familiar – pitch and timbre.
Fuck. For a moment, Yata froze right there at the door, halfway inside, his skin prickling up unpleasantly. It’s that time already?
As if this shitty day wasn’t bad enough already…
A little pit of annoyance was forming in his stomach, suspicion forming into cold certainty as he remembered the date and the recent weather change. Yata raised his eyes, bracing himself for what he knew he’d see – this happened every year, and it still pissed him off each time – and didn’t bother to hold back the scowl when he took in the wide smile on that disgustingly handsome face.
Kamamoto’s “summer phenomenon” was probably the worst thing about the season.
It shouldn’t even be fucking possible, goddamnit!
Even as that thought was running through his head, Kamamoto blinked at him, and the smile started to fade into more of a concerned frown. “What’s up? You look kinda out of it.”
Yata had to fight not to snap back, trying to swallow his annoyance and bad mood. “Nothing, forget it.” It came out churlish despite his best efforts, but whatever. He was getting better at that shit, but there were limits. Letting out an agitated sigh, he crossed the room and lifted the counter to move behind it.
“F’you say so.” Kamamoto was still eyeing him dubiously, but didn’t make a fuss over it. “Oh yeah, hey, sorry I missed the challenge yesterday – how’d it go?”
That was another reminder he could do without – thinking about yesterday made him think about how Saruhiko had looked, and then their text conversation and that compliment… Shit. Yata moved to slouch over the front counter, scowling across the room. “I won, if that’s what you wanna know.”
“Really? That’s great, then!” Kamamoto’s voice was overly cheery – as if he were trying to cheer Yata up. Not right now, goddamnit… “So what’s today’s challenge? Can I help ya out?”
Yata turned his head just enough to fix his friend with a narrow look. With everything else, he’d almost forgotten that he needed to get himself a date, too. Honestly, it’d be better with a friend – kinda weird, but it wasn’t like he had many options. He wasn’t gonna be able to ask out some random person. Plus, Kamamoto was a pal – he’d do it without teasing, so he really was the best guy to ask. Just…
He had to be fucking “summer” mode today, didn’t he?
Heaving another frustrated sigh, Yata straightened up and turned to offer a frown as an early defense against any bullshit. “Got plans tonight?”
It was nearly seven by the time Fushimi had wrapped up the work he wanted to get done that day. He’d had to make two field outings and fix several reports in between the code he was making adjustments to for a particularly sensitive task, which was distracting, but he wasn’t unhappy with the progress he’d made.
If I didn’t have this annoying thing to take care of, I could’ve stayed later.
In the end, he really had made the right call in turning down Misaki’s offer – not that he’d doubted it. Fushimi considered that as he locked his workstation and stood up. There was no way he’d have had time to go on two dates, with everything else going on. It was irritating enough to have to deal with just the one.
Still… If it had been Misaki waiting for him out in the front…
That’s not worth dwelling on, is it?
Almost everyone else had already left – those who weren’t working the late shift in the café itself, anyway – and the room was quiet. Fushimi hadn’t brought a jacket, so he picked up his phone, briefly checked for messages – nothing, not that he’d expected otherwise – and tucked it into his pocket before heading out through the door.
Hidaka was waiting for him up at the front, chatting with Goto, who was manning the desk. He broke that off when he noticed Fushimi approaching, offering something of an awkward smile. “Oh, Fushimi-san – you’re all done?”
“More or less.” As done as he expected to be, considering the time restriction. “Let’s go, then.”
“R-right! Later, Goto!”
Fushimi resisted the urge to click his tongue at that. Fun on a forced date? Basically, they were both in this situation out of obligation. Hidaka was doing him a favor, and he was trying to win a challenge. The company was bearable, at least, but he didn’t particularly expect to have any kind of ‘fun’.
“So?” Hidaka offered him a small, encouraging smile once they were out of the building. He was still in his work shirt, but he’d loosened the collar and rolled up the sleeves. “Where are we going?”
The sun was setting, but there was still plenty of light and the weather had warmed up enough that the temperature was mild. According to what Fushimi had read online during his breaks, it was the perfect atmosphere for a date.
Not that he was exactly trying to create atmosphere, but anything that could work to his advantage was welcome.
As far as location, opinions on the subject had been divided. Some favored formal settings such as fancy restaurants and expensive entertainment, while others enthused more about casual, easygoing setups with walks in the park and light, outdoor dining.
Dinner had been ordered in at work, though, so having a meal was actually out.
That had eliminated quite a few of the options offered, which was irritating, but in the end, Fushimi had been able to put together a workable plan. He wasn’t entirely pleased with what had inspired his starting point, but it didn’t matter in the end, as long as he could win.
Fleetingly, he wondered what kind of date Misaki had planned…
Don’t worry about useless things. Fushimi resisted the urge to click his tongue. “Just down the street,” he said, in response to Hidaka’s question, and moved to lead him on. “An ice-cream parlor called Hakumaitou.”
It had been mistaken for a date location before, so there was no question that it qualified, at least.
“Oh, that place!” Hidaka seemed optimistic about it, which was a promising sign. He caught up to Fushimi easily enough, falling into step beside him. “I see it all the time on the way in to work, but I’ve never actually been inside – have you, Fushimi-san?”
The sudden and unwelcome memory of Misaki’s grin, with ice-cream smeared beneath his bottom lip, surfaced in Fushimi’s mind. He closed his eyes, willing it back down. “Once.”
“I see…” Hidaka sounded a bit awkward; when he spoke again, it was in an overly earnest tone. “Was it good?”
“I guess.” To be honest, he didn’t particularly remember how the ice-cream had tasted.
“Oh.” For a moment, it seemed like Hidaka had run out of conversation points, but after that brief silence, he plowed onward again. “Well, coming from you, that’s probably high enough praise, huh, Fushimi-san?”
At that, he did click his tongue, frowning. “What are you getting at?”
“Ahaha… Nothing, never mind…”
Hakumaitou’s closing time was nine on weekdays, so there was no reason to rush, but Kuroh was working again, and the watchful look that set on his face when his eyes met Fushimi’s indicated that the recognition went both ways. His partner behind the counter, a bright-eyed girl with a mischievous, almost catlike smile, took their orders but left the actual scooping to him, humming cheerfully to herself as she waited by the till to collect payment.
Despite protests, Fushimi paid for both orders, and he was feeling cautiously optimistic about the start of the date when they moved to go outside and nearly ran into the pair coming in.
“Whoa, my bad!” a boisterous voice greeted him, and the familiar prickle started spreading along Fushimi’s skin even before he raised his gaze and met the fierce amber eyes he’d expected. “Sorry about – ”
Misaki’s apology cut off partway, his intake of breath sharp as he stared back at Fushimi in silence for a moment, eyes widening. “Sa… Saruhiko!” he blurted out, after that split second had passed. “Wh-what are you doing here?”
Of all the people… Fushimi clicked his tongue, breaking the stare they’d been exchanging to glance off to the side. The sight – and sound – of Misaki was having its usual inconvenient effect on his stomach and heart rate, and he didn’t need that right then. “What do you think? Same as you.”
“O-oh.” Misaki swallowed audibly. “Right.” There was something of a strain in his voice; it sounded considerably more subdued when he continued. “Yeah, of course... makes sense…”
It was difficult to resist the urge to look at his face and get a read of whatever expression had come with that tone, but Fushimi wasn’t keen on any potential distractions at this point. He’d suffered enough of that already – and there was always the possibility of his motives being compromised, considering everything. He turned his gaze up and past Misaki instead, expecting to see one of the various Homra staff members acting as a stand-in date.
The actual sight in front of him brought his thoughts to what felt like a screaming halt.
The natural assumption had been that Misaki would follow his example and take along a friend or co-worker, but it was clear now that this had been a logical error on Fushimi’s part. It hadn’t occurred to him that Misaki might have admirers or other prospects of any sort, although in retrospect, it probably should have. If he could be attracted, so could anyone else, in theory. But there were enough signs pointing to that not being the case – the fact that Misaki had brought up the idea of dating each other, for example – that Fushimi hadn’t even considered the possibility.
But here was Misaki, on a date, and that cool, handsome, smiling face and well-proportioned body did not belong to anyone Fushimi recognized as working at Homra.
The guy seemed to notice he was being studied, and reached up to pull his sunglasses down on his nose, revealing a pair of startling, red-toned eyes – vaguely familiar eyes, in fact. “Yo, Fushimi – long time no – ”
Misaki elbowed his date in the side with clear agitation; when Fushimi finally looked down at him, his expression was irritable. “Let’s go,” he muttered crossly, reaching out to grab the guy’s shirt roughly and drag him into the building.
His eyes were set forward; he didn’t look at or say anything to Fushimi as he passed.
Hidaka shifted uncomfortably, abruptly reminding Fushimi of his presence and the intended purpose of this outing. “Are we still heading out?” he asked, a bit awkwardly.
All that effort to avoid distraction, and it had still happened. Fushimi shot one last glance over his shoulder – neither Misaki nor his attractive date were looking their way – before clicking his tongue sharply and turning to push through the door again. “We’re going,” he responded, flatly.
It wasn’t his business what kind of person Misaki would take on a date. Fushimi narrowed his eyes, frown deepening as he stepped outside. The side of the gated area where they’d sat on Sunday had evidently been painted recently, and was currently blocked off, so he led the way to one of the tables on the other side. His only real point of interest was how that person had seemed to recognize him, and why those eyes had seemed familiar despite everything else about him being unrecognizable. That was all.
Misaki’s actions towards him had been so casual and comfortable…
That was a useless thought to hold onto. Never mind, Fushimi told himself irritably, taking the seat that faced the door. His ice-cream was already starting to melt in its cup – it reminded him of two days ago, and his brain took that as a cue to call up the memory of how Misaki’s tongue had looked lapping up a line of melted chocolate. A shivery feeling that was partially tinged with frustration and dissatisfaction ran along his entire frame.
Honestly, he was tired of feeling like this. Didn’t it ever stop?
“You all right, Fushimi-san?” Hidaka was giving him a look of mild concern from across the table, spoon poised just above his cup. “You look a little out of it.”
Fushimi resisted the urge to click his tongue again, reminding himself of exactly what this challenge was about. He couldn’t afford to lose focus. “It’s nothing.”
“If you say so…” Hidaka craned his neck back to try and peer through the glass into the shop. “Who was that guy with Yata? Someone from Homra?”
“How should I know?” Fushimi snapped back peevishly before he could manage to stop himself. He let out a short, agitated breath when his date turned back, forcing himself back under control. “If he is, I’ve never seen him before.”
Hidaka frowned in response, looking puzzled. “It seemed like he knew you, though…”
I’m aware of that. It was annoying too – his memory didn’t normally fail him, so the familiarity was baffling. “You’d have to ask him if you want the answer to that.”
“Ah.” He got a bit of an apprehensive grin; Hidaka looked about ready to say something else, but was interrupted by the door bursting open behind him, the sound of the chime almost lost in the sudden explosion of loud voices.
“ – always get a fucking triple scoop, so what’s the deal?”
“Yata-san – ”
“It’s not like I can’t afford it – I’m working full time now, so don’t hold back on me, got it?” Misaki swung his ice-cream nearly into his date’s face, mouth set in a pugnacious frown. Now that there was some distance, it was possible to notice that he was dressed differently from that morning – rather than the usual loose shirt and shorts, he’d changed into a pair of three-quarter-length green pants and layered a short-sleeved collared black shirt over a red T-shirt. Everything in the outfit actually seemed to fit properly, which contrasted enough with Misaki’s usual style to give the distinct impression of ‘dressing up’. “My treat means my treat – I’m not gonna lose ’cause you’re looking down on me!”
“I know, I know! Calm down, Yata-san.” The other man held out his hands in a placating manner, a rueful sort of half-smile on his face, as if he was used to this behavior. “I don’t get that hungry in the summer, ya know…”
“Yeah, yeah, summer.” Misaki let out what sounded like a heavily frustrated sigh, reaching up with his free hand to scratch at the back of his head. “Not sure if I should be grateful or what… I’d probably go broke feeding you otherwise.”
“Eh… well…” The guy grinned sheepishly, scratching at his cheek. “That’s just… y’know…”
Something about the interaction seemed to curdle whatever was in Fushimi’s stomach. It occurred to him that Misaki might not have bothered to change if he’d agreed to the original plan – there likely wouldn’t have been time for it if they’d had to manage two dates, granted, but the fact remained that he’d taken the time to look nice for the person he was with now. Was it to make an impression? If this was just a friend, there wouldn’t have been a need, would there? It wasn’t like an amazing date required fancy dressing.
And then there was this causal banter – not to mention the way Misaki had grabbed his date’s clothing earlier. It was as if the two of them were already more than comfortable with that level of contact and interaction.
Fushimi deliberately turned his eyes away, frowning down at his ice-cream as he jabbed the spoon in without much enthusiasm. They’re equally matched as idiots, huh?
The thought didn’t give him as much satisfaction as he might’ve expected.
“Well, whatever – let’s grab a seat,” Misaki was saying with the usual rough enthusiasm. “That side’s closed, so – geh!”
Fushimi glanced up at the comically dismissed outburst without properly thinking about it, and his eyes met Misaki’s for a brief second. There was a charged feeling in the air between them, like a particularly strong sense of anticipation. Heightened awareness, even. It didn’t last long. Just before looking away, Fushimi caught the rising color on Misaki’s cheeks – a compliment to the embarrassed agitation in his expression as he jerked his own gaze to the side.
That brief moment of contact had sparked up the confused longing all over again. Fushimi twisted his spoon deliberately in his ice-cream. It was sickening.
“Yata-san?” the other guy questioned, sounding mildly concerned. “What’s up?”
“Nothing!” There was a defensive edge to Misaki’s voice. He let out a soft, frustrated-sounding ‘ch’. “Just… c’mon, we’re sitting here.”
Given that there were a grand total of two tables on the only side that was currently open, it didn’t take much interpretation to determine where ‘here’ would be. Fushimi lifted his spoon and took a bite without looking as seats were pulled out at the table next to theirs. He could barely taste the flavor.
Across from him, Hidaka shifted and then leaned forward, clearly uncomfortable with the turn the mood had taken. “This place has pretty good ice-cream, doesn’t it?”
Fushimi lifted his gaze and found himself the subject of an awkward but earnest smile. It was hard to tell if it was an effort to get past the moment or a clumsy attempt at comfort. He settled for a noncommittal shrug in response. “I guess.”
A derisive snort from beside them interrupted any further attempts at stilted conversation. “Dunno how you can even tell without a cone,” Misaki’s voice muttered.
That was enough to draw Fushimi’s gaze, but, surprisingly, Misaki wasn’t looking at him. Instead, he was frowning at Hidaka, eyes narrowed. The tables were set up right next to each other with the chairs lined up evenly, and Misaki had for some reason chosen the seat next to Fushimi’s date.
Which, of course, meant that Fushimi was sitting next to his date. How annoying. He clicked his tongue, deliberately not looking in that direction. The man’s smooth good looks left a sour taste in his mouth. “I don’t remember anyone asking for your input.”
Misaki’s head jerked in his direction; the frown shifted to a scowl. “Shut up! I already know you’re a fussy bastard – what’s this guy’s excuse, huh?” He jabbed his thumb roughly in Hidaka’s direction. “Is your whole workplace like that?”
There was melted ice-cream dribbling down over his other hand, which Fushimi found ironic, considering the subject at hand. He pushed back the more awkward feelings without too much difficulty, raising an eyebrow in return. “Believe it or not, I haven’t taken the time to ask everyone I work with about their ice-cream habits.”
He got a disgruntled look in response. “Yeah, right, I forgot you’re that grumpy guy who never wants to hang out with anyone.” As he was speaking, Misaki’s date reached out to casually pluck a napkin from the open tray on their table and held it out to him. Absently, as if out of habit, Misaki took it from him and wiped his hand, still frowning at Fushimi as he added, “Shoulda figured!”
What exactly was that supposed to be? Fushimi curled his lip with disgust, a sinking sort of feeling forming at the pit of his stomach. He turned his gaze back to his nearly untouched cup again to avoid Misaki’s eyes. “I don’t need that sort of thing.”
“Fushimi-san does hang out with us sometimes, though,” Hidaka chimed in suddenly. His voice had taken on that earnest tone again; when Fushimi risked a glance up at him, he offered a small smile. “Not off the clock or anything, but we’ve had some good times, right, Fushimi-san?”
That… may have been true – at least partially – but it was still embarrassing when he came right out and said it like that. Fushimi stared back, nonplussed. “… Define ‘good times’,” he muttered after a brief moment of hesitation, fighting back the mixture of irritation and the tiny, reluctantly acknowledged bit of surprised pleasure.
Honestly, forming relationships of any kind was a pain.
Hidaka looked a little surprised for a moment, then grinned back warmly.
There was a strange noise from beside them – almost a mix between a crackle and a kind of wet slopping – and the man beside Fushimi let out an alarmed, “Y-Yata-san!”
When he glanced over, it turned out that Misaki had crushed his cone in his fist.
He wasn’t the only surprised one; Misaki blinked a couple of times and then stared down at his hand, eyebrows knitting together with perplexity. The remains of ice-cream and cone were seeping out between his tightly clenched fingers.
What the hell happened?
“What happened?” Misaki’s date echoed his thoughts, sounding concerned. Fushimi shot him a narrow look. The worry appeared to be sincere, though there was a hint of what looked like apprehension on his face. “Something going on?”
For a second, Misaki just sat there, staring blankly at his hand, and then his eyebrows came down, mouth curling into a scowl. He let out a soft ‘ch’, then abruptly shoved his chair away from the table, tearing a napkin from the holder as he stood up. “Let’s get outta here,” he grumbled, instead of answering, and turned to brush the remains of his ice-cream off into the trash can.
“Huh?” His date sounded astonished. “But we just got he – H-hey! Wait up, Yata-san!”
Misaki was already marching purposefully through the gate, his face darker than a thundercloud. Fushimi followed the movement out of the edge of his vision even as the other man scrambled to follow, and their eyes met for a brief instant. There was something angry and desperate and somehow hurt in that gaze, and it momentarily took his breath away.
It was only for that one instant, and then Misaki was ducking his head and increasing his pace, mouth twisting into something like a pained grimace as he hunched forward. But even after he’d gone, it felt like Fushimi’s chest had constricted, and he still couldn’t quite breathe properly around the ache.
What was that about?
There was restless tension clinging to just about every muscle in Yata’s body, and he couldn’t seem to shake it just by walking. It hadn’t seemed right to bring his skateboard along on what was supposed to be a date – and he hadn’t wanted to screw up the ‘amazing’ part with that kind of fuck-up – but now he really wished he had, because feeling the wheels beneath his feet would’ve gone a long way towards quelling the hurt that had surged up along the back of his throat. He felt so frustrated.
All he could see in his head was Saruhiko looking up with that edge of wariness – that tiny little hint of cautious honesty – in his eyes, and it made him want to scream. Somehow or another, he’d tricked himself into thinking that was a look just for him; that no one else really got to see it. Seeing it directed at someone else had felt like a stab to the gut. He could still feel the bitterness twisting in his core even now.
What the hell made you think you were so special, huh? Obviously Saruhiko had other people he’d opened up to. Obviously he’d known Hidaka longer, and was probably a lot closer to him. Obviously there was nothing between them outside of what Yata had built up in his own head. Obviously.
It didn’t help that he’d probably made a big idiot of himself just now, too.
“Yata-san! Wait for a sec, will ya?” Despite the words, Kamamoto overtook him without too much effort, falling into stride beside him and peering at him with that concerned look over his sunglasses. “What’s gotcha so upset, anyway?”
He had to swallow the urge to snap back, recognizing the honest worry. “Nothing. Forget it.” Remembering at the last second that he was supposed to be on a date, he let out a sharp, frustrated sigh and reached up to rub at the back of his neck. “Sorry ‘bout that. My bad.”
Kamamoto offered a smile and a shrug. “No big deal – don’t worry ‘bout it!” He tilted his head a bit, inquiringly. “So where to now?”
The immediate change of subject was a huge relief. Yata breathed out again, feeling some of the tension leave him, and managed a small, rueful smile in return. He did have a plan, at least – a pretty good one, actually. Better than that ice-cream disaster. “There’s this theme park at the end of the city block. Figured that’d be a good place for a date.”
“That’s a great idea!” Kamamoto agreed enthusiastically.
The reaction was definitely helping his confidence recover. Yata grinned back. “Right? Let’s go!”
He hadn’t actually been to the theme park – well, he’d skated past it once or twice running errands for Kusanagi, but hadn’t gotten around to going in. It was no fun going to a theme park by yourself anyway, and he kept forgetting to bring it up at Homra. Anna probably would’ve liked to go at least. The place wasn’t huge, but there was a large ferris wheel and a roller coaster, along with a few other interesting looking rides and places to win prizes.
Perfect place for a date, in Yata’s opinion.
After he’d bought their passes – way overpriced, but whatever – he did a quick scan of the grounds, looking for anything else that might make things seem more ‘date-like’. He’d already fucked up on the ice-cream thing, so he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes here.
Ferris wheel, maybe? Yata frowned, considering it. That was probably the best bet for that ‘date’ atmosphere, and he didn’t see any other options so fa –
His eyes caught on the obnoxious pink heart design on an attraction near the edge of the park, and the bottom felt like it dropped out of his stomach.
… fuck. Seriously?
“Yata-san?” When he turned, Kamamoto was giving him a questioning look. “Got a ride you wanna go on?”
Okay. Whatever. He had this. “Yeah.” Yata straightened, steeling himself, and then pointed. “That one.”
There was a moment of silence as Kamamoto followed the line of his finger. It was impossible to mistake the attraction for anything but it was: the words ‘Tunnel of Love’ were printed in large, fancy print on the flashy-looking heart banner. “That… uh.” His expression was dubious when he turned to look Yata in the eye. “You sure?”
“What’s that supposed to mean, huh?” Yata scowled back at him, feeling a little defensive over it.
Kamamoto raised his hands, as if expecting an attack. “Nothing, just…” He looked a bit apprehensive about it. “Y’know, there’s gonna be a lot of girls around…”
Urgh. He hadn’t thought of that. “Th-that’s…” Still, he was getting better at handling girls. He dealt with them all the time as customers. Hell, that old anxiety was probably mostly gone by now. “No big deal! I can handle it, okay? Let’s just go” – get this over with – “do this.”
“Well, if you say so…” Kamamoto still looked a bit doubtful, but he accepted the words without question. “Sure you don’t wanna go on the roller coaster first or something?”
That was tempting. Really tempting. And, hell, it might help. “Yeah, okay, but just once.”
‘Once’ turned out to be ‘three times’. Yata’s adrenaline was running high and he was feeling great by the end of the third round – he would’ve probably put off the inevitable again for a fourth, but Kamamoto had huffed out something about ‘sitting this one out, sorry’ and when Yata took the time to look at him, his face was looking kind of grayish.
It’s a date, remember? He swallowed his impatience, balling his hands into determined fists as he eyed the pink-gated tunnels from where they were standing. The boats floating leisurely in the water channels that looped through the gates were a lighter pink, their elaborate backs topped with heart-patterned carvings, culminating in a single, dimly lit lantern at the top of each one. It was kinda revolting. Still… Gotta do this right. “Yeah, got it. That’s enough.” Taking in a long breath, he drew himself up. “Let’s go.”
There weren’t as many girls as he’d thought, but there was definitely an atmosphere in the line-up and with the people leaving the place. Yata could feel the discomfort settling across his shoulders in a solid line of tension even before he’d taken in everything. Nothing but couples. Hand-holding. Starry-eyed looks. Stuff that really didn’t need to be in public, goddamnit.
It was hard to take.
He didn’t really have time to dwell on that, though, because as they approached the line-up his eyes fell on the couple at the end of it, and another one of those vicious stab-to-the-gut feelings struck him.
“What the hell?” It was out before he could hold it in, and for a second, he couldn’t even care, too dismayed to even be embarrassed about the stares he was drawing in. “Why are you here?”
Saruhiko’s expression was typically irritable when he turned, but there were traces of deeper frustration. His eyes narrowed as he met Yata’s gaze, and his frown deepened. “I should be asking you that.”
It was stupid how that soft mutter had his heartbeat spiking. Saruhiko looked the same as he had that morning – he hadn’t bothered to change for his date – but it didn’t really make a difference, as far as Yata was concerned. He looked good. He always looked good, with that blend of model-like good looks and unwelcoming posture and expression. It was impossibly endearing, in a way he never would’ve predicted at the start. It made his throat feel like it was closing up.
Keep it together already!
“Never woulda pegged you for a theme park kinda guy.” Actually, he was pretty positive of that – Saruhiko hated people, and this place was full of them. Plus, the sickeningly sweet atmosphere around the Tunnel of Love attraction was the kind of thing that would definitely get on Saruhiko’s nerves – at least as much as it was getting on Yata’s right then. Yeah, and speaking of sickeningly sweet… He frowned at Hidaka, who was standing kind of awkwardly to the side. “You came for this guy’s sake, huh?”
The bitterness of that statement was hard to swallow, even if he was the one who’d said it.
“What are you going on about?” Saruhiko clicked his tongue, meeting Yata’s gaze flatly when it returned to him. “In case you’ve forgotten, we’re in the middle of a challenge. A theme park is a decent choice for location.” Something seemed to shift in his eyes, as if his focus narrowed. “Anyway, I could ask the same of you – why are you at an attraction like this, if it’s not for the sake of this stupid competition? Don’t tell me your date prefers this kind of thing?”
The heavy derision in his voice had Yata’s hackles rising instinctively in response. “O-of course it’s for the challenge! What the hell are you trying to imply?”
Saruhiko clicked his tongue again, turning his gaze off to the side. The downward curve of his lips made him look almost sullen. “Nothing.”
There was a brief second of charged silence; Yata was drawing himself up to fire back when Hidaka coughed lightly, offering a slightly strained smile when it drew attention to him. “Uh, by the way,” he offered, turning his eyes towards Kamamoto almost as if in a desperate attempt to change the focus of the conversation, “I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Hidaka Akira.”
“Yeah, s’true.” Kamamoto shot back a winning smile, looking like a goddamn supermodel – if he wasn’t almost totally sure it was an unconscious thing, Yata might’ve punched him. “Nice to meet ya! Kamamoto Rikio here.”
Saruhiko made a startled little grunt – it was an unexpectedly cute noise – and Yata turned again to see his eyes widen with open surprise. “Kama – ” He stopped, and his eyes narrowed, expression an odd mix of baffled and suspicious. “You can’t be…”
Yata made a sharp ‘ch’, shooting a scowl at Kamamoto before turning back to Saruhiko. “Yeah, he’s the same freak of nature you already met. He turns into that” – he hooked his thumb in his friend’s direction – “in the summer.”
Kamamoto met Saruhiko’s incredulous gaze with a sheepish grin. “Sorry for the confusion!”
One of Saruhiko’s eyebrows twitched, his lip curling down in what looked like a mix of disgust and disbelief. It was a surprisingly expressive look for him. “That isn’t even physically possible…”
Yata heaved a frustrated sigh, scratching at the back of his head. “Yeah, tell it to him.”
Hidaka was glancing between the three of them with an openly baffled look. “Did… did I miss something?” he asked after a second, a bit hesitantly.
Saruhiko clicked his tongue, looking thoroughly irritated. “Nothing important.”
“Got that right,” Yata agreed, with just as much heartfelt frustration.
Their eyes met, and that now-familiar ping struck against Yata’s heart. He swallowed, trying not to let the feeling get the best of him. “So,” he started, and felt an embarrassed warmth creep up on his face at how awkward it sounded. He cleared his throat and tried again. “How’s – how’s your date going?”
There was more of that cautious wariness in Saruhiko’s eyes, but some of the defensiveness seemed to have softened out of them. “Fine.” There was a moment of hesitation, and then he asked, drawing the words out slowly, “What about yours?”
There was no way to tell if that ‘fine’ meant ‘fine, except that I want to kill myself and end it’ or ‘fine, and I’m madly in love with my date’. Yata gave up trying to figure it out, offering back a short, jerky shrug. “Yeah, mine’s going pretty good, too.”
Saruhiko’s mouth gave the tiniest little twitch, almost impossible to catch. “Ah.”
The fuck’s that supposed to mean?
“Uh, so… Kamamoto, right?” Hidaka took a step out of the line – which had moved forward again, putting them closer to where the boats stopped to pick up passengers – and made a little ‘c’mon’ gesture to the man in question. “Can we talk for a bit?”
“Eh?” Kamamoto blinked, glanced at first Yata and then Saruhiko, and shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
Yata stared after them as they moved off a ways, feeling his eyebrows furrow. “What the hell?” he muttered, scowling. “Didn’t they just meet? What do they have to talk about?”
It was weird, no matter how you looked at it.
“Good question,” Saruhiko murmured. When Yata turned to look at him, he was eyeing the pair with narrowed eyes, frowning.
Yata huffed out a breath, crossing his arms over his chest. “Better be a good reason.”
“Maybe they’re planning to run off together.” The suggestion came in that lilting drawl; when Yata glanced over, surprised, he found a small, sardonic smile on Saruhiko’s lips. His attention was still on Hidaka and Kamamoto, talking animatedly off to the side. “Neither of us would be able to finish the challenge in that case, would we?”
Weirdly enough, he sounded… kinda happy about that.
The obvious response leaped up to the back of Yata’s throat – and then stuck there, momentarily paralyzed by the rejection from that morning. He tried to swallow back the hesitation, watching Saruhiko’s face for clues that he probably wouldn’t have been able to figure out in the first place. What the hell, right? Not like I didn’t already say it once. “We could… y’know… We could finish it together.” It came out in a nervous mutter; he hastily added, “Or something,” feeling his face start to heat up again.
Saruhiko blinked once, and then turned his head, meeting Yata’s halfway-embarrassed gaze. His expression was unreadable, but it didn’t seem to have that hostile edge from earlier that day. Yata couldn’t place the tiny hint of emotion lurking in them. His stomach was in knots and his palms were clammy.
He’d braced himself for it, but so far there was no rejection. So, maybe…
“Sorry ‘bout that!” Kamamoto’s boisterous voice cut into the moment, jerking Yata’s attention back to him. He was standing beside them again, looking pretty pleased with himself for some reason. “Had to sort something out. Didn’t keep you waiting, did we?”
“This is a line-up,” Saruhiko reminded him dryly, before Yata could snap back at him. “We’re already waiting.” He turned his gaze on Hidaka. “What ‘something’ were you sorting out, exactly?”
“Oh. Sorry, Fushimi-san.” Hidaka smiled back, a bit sheepishly. “I really can’t say.” He waved past them, tilting his head. “Looks like we’re just about at the front, though – come on.”
“Oi.” Yata turned a suspicious scowl on Kamamoto as they stepped forward to catch up with the line. “The hell was that about? Spill it.”
“Sorry, Yata-san. Can’t right now.” The smile he got back was apologetic. “I’ll tell ya later, okay?”
That definitely sounded fishy, but there wasn’t a lot he could say to that. At least not while they were still on this date and he needed to be on his best behavior. Yata narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, you’d better.”
They’d reached the base of the steps leading up to the boat launch. From here, Yata could see the setup clearly: couples disembarked just after coming out of the tunnel, and the boat floated around to the other side – right by the entrance – so that a new pair could board. The lights inside the tunnel had been strategically dimmed, soft flickering lamps set up around the sides to look like candles. The couple directly in front of Hidaka and Saruhiko had just been ushered in, and as they pushed off through the entrance, the tall, wide back of the boat effectively hid them from view.
Somehow, despite how stupid and cheesy all of this was, the idea of the two in front of him riding around in that dim tunnel together in one of those cramped little boats felt like it was twisting around in Yata’s stomach. He clenched his teeth, trying to will down that sour, unpleasant feeling. It was nearly dark out now too – the lights around the park were illuminated, and the atmosphere really kinda suited a Tunnel of Love ride. If you were into that sort of thing.
He’s not into it, right?
The next boat came around, and Hidaka waved an arm to indicate that Saruhiko should get in first. Yata shifted with agitation, one foot on the step in front of him as he waited for them to just hurry up and go. The sooner this was over with, the better.
The abrupt sound of a cell phone buzzing cut into that thought. Hidaka started and then reached into his pocket to retrieve the device, squinting at the call display for a moment. “Just one moment, Fushimi-san,” he said urgently and moved hastily aside, bringing the phone to his ear. “Hidaka here.”
Kamamoto nudged Yata in the side. “Next boat’s here, too – let’s go up.”
“Huh?” Yata frowned back. “Why? They haven’t even gone yet.”
“No harm getting ready, right?” Kamamoto shrugged. “C’mon.”
Yata squinted at him. There didn’t seem to be anything weird or out of place in his friend’s posture or expression; he got an easy smile back. It quelled a little of his doubt. “Yeah, okay, whatever.”
The attendant at the top nodded at them when they stepped up, which was kinda reassuring. Saruhiko was already sitting in the first boat with his cell phone out; he looked up at them and raised an eyebrow when he noticed who it was.
Yata shrugged in response. Yeah, don’t ask me. He might’ve said it out loud, but there wasn’t really the chance, because in the next second, he received a particularly hard shove from behind, pushing him straight off the platform.
There was a shout of alarm from the attendant, but Yata barely heard it, scrambling to catch himself on something as he toppled onto the boat, his knees smacking hard against the wooden seat as his upper body landed on something soft.
Soft and moving – and with a familiar voice. “Oi – !”
He hadn’t quite managed to recover from the shock when there was an abrupt push against the back of the boat, propelling them forward into the dim lighting of the tunnel.
“What the fuck?” Yata managed to get his hands under him, hastily lifting himself up. The boat rocked a little with the movement and he froze momentarily, trying to gather his wits.
The surface beneath his hands shifted. “Do you mind?” Saruhiko’s voice said sharply, sounding put out and just a tiny bit breathier than normal. “You’re not exactly light.”
“Huh?” Yata blinked, not quite processing that, and then raised his head and felt his heart just about stop.
He was halfway sprawled across Saruhiko’s lap, hands braced on his legs, and now with his head tilted up, they were just about nose-to-nose. He could feel more than hear the little hitch of breath from right in front of him; behind the dim outline of the glasses, those blue eyes widened. As it had before in the cellar, the lack of lighting seemed to accentuate the pale outline of Saruhiko’s face. With the warmer glow around them, the barest hint of color seemed to touch those pale cheeks, and the fine lines of lips, nose, eyes, and face structure were close enough that his fingers itched to reach out and trace them.
The sight had Yata momentarily mesmerized; he wanted more than anything to lean closer and bring them into contact, but the mixture of the view and the closeness had him struck still and dumb. He could barely breathe.
Saruhiko shifted again, blinking slowly, and Yata realized in a sudden panicked rush exactly what position they were in. “S-sorry!” he managed to stammer out, hastily scrambling over and off. His face felt like it was on fire, and every single one of his nerves was on edge as he shifted to properly sit in the other seat. “M-my bad!”
He was so close… Now that it had started to beat again, his heart was racing like crazy too.
“It’s fine.” Saruhiko’s voice was even; when Yata chanced a glance at him, he was busily adjusting his glasses. “I guess this answers the question of what our so-called dates were talking about.”
“Eh?” Yata stared at him for a second, still not quite over the rush of feelings, and then it clicked. “Hah? They – they set this up? Are you fucking kidding? Why?”
“How should I know?” Saruhiko clicked his tongue, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest in a vaguely defensive gesture. “Some kind of tasteless joke? Revenge for having to play along with this stupid challenge? You tell me.”
“Goddamnit…” Yata scowled, thoroughly put out by the idea. He didn’t think Kamamoto would play this kind of dumb joke or go for revenge – it wasn’t like him. So why the hell would he do it? His fingers twitched, the urge to clench them into fists growing right along with his increasing agitation.
Whatever the reason, he definitely wasn’t gonna go easy on him for a stunt like that!
“Either way, it’s only a five minute ride, if that.” Saruhiko was watching him when he glanced back. His eyes had a bit of a luminescent glow in the soft lighting, but his expression was as neutral as ever. “If they’re still around when we’re out, they can explain themselves then.”
Something in his tone was ominous; it was strangely satisfying. Yata grinned back, sharp and vicious. “Even if we gotta shake it out of ‘em!”
Saruhiko lowered his lids, the small edge of a smile curving his lips up. It was endearing even with the hint of malice – or maybe because of it. “’Even if’? I’d say we should start with that.”
“Heh!” Yata slumped back against the seat, turning his head to keep up the connection between them. “I like the way you think.”
Their eyes met, and something in Saruhiko’s gaze seemed to relax. Yata felt a small, almost pleasant squeezing sensation in his chest at the sight, and his grin widened without his conscious thought. This is actually kinda nice. Not that he was gonna forgive Kamamoto for it any time soon, but still.
There was a moment of comfortable silence between them. Yata was starting to think it might be fine to spend the entire ride like this, just looking at each other with the rest of the world momentarily cut off, when Saruhiko turned his head to face forward again and asked, unexpectedly, “What happened to you earlier?”
Yata blinked at him. “Huh? ‘Earlier’…?” He wracked his brain for a moment, tracing back over the evening.
“At the ice-cream parlor,” Saruhiko supplied. He hadn’t turned his head back, but he was watching Yata keenly from the corner of his eyes. “When you decided to destroy your dessert. What was that about?”
“Ah.” Shit. Yata squirmed in his seat, bracing his hands on his knees nervously. “That… I just…” He drummed his fingers, struggling to find a way to explain that didn’t involve giving away his stupid thoughts from back then. “I just… saw something that pissed me off,” he muttered finally, turning his gaze off to scowl at the line of tunnel ahead of them. “S’all.”
It wasn’t a lie, exactly…
Saruhiko was quiet for a few seconds. The mood had shifted in an awkward direction, and Yata wasn’t sure how to switch it back to the easygoing one from before. He was on the verge of blurting something out just to break the tension when… “You changed clothes.”
The hell? That‘s random. Yata looked over quickly, and found Saruhiko facing forward still, a small frown on his face. He felt his brow furrow, confusion overriding the earlier embarrassment. “Yeah, so? You’re s’posed to dress up for dates, right?”
Saruhiko gave a small, almost nonexistent shrug, and then completely ignored the question. “Would you have bothered for anyone else?” he murmured instead.
“Huh?” Yata furrowed his eyebrows, even more baffled than before. “What’s that s’posed to mean?”
Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “For example, if I had accepted your offer this morning,” he said, voice flat and neutral, “would you still have bothered to change?”
Would’ve probably spent more time picking clothes. The thought formed up automatically in response, and Yata felt his cheeks burn. He’d just kinda grabbed whatever looked dressier than his usual stuff, but that was with Kamamoto. If his date had been Saruhiko, he’d have actually thought about it. Maybe swallowed his pride and asked Chitose or someone for advice, even.
Not like he was going to admit it, though. “O-of course I would! That’s what you do for a date, isn’t it?”
At that, Saruhiko did glance back at him, though it was out of the corner of his eyes. “I didn’t.”
“Yeah, well, you work those stupid long hours, so s’not like you’d have time to change.” Yata shrugged that off, one corner of his mouth tipping up in a lopsided smile. “Plus, you’re in nice stuff already, not like my usual crap.”
Again, Saruhiko’s gaze flickered away from him; those thin lips turned down a bit, and he mumbled something indistinct.
Yata leaned in towards him without thinking. “Huh? What’d you say?”
Saruhiko clicked his tongue again, frown deepening even further. “I said, your usual clothing is fine.” He didn’t bother to turn, tone deliberately flat. “Anyway, this way it stands out when you wear something different. Isn’t that the point?”
An immediate burst of pleasant anxiety seemed to go off at the pit of his stomach at that. Yata felt his heart give another of those little flutters, and curled his fingers automatically against his pant legs, the fabric bunching against them. “O-oh,” he managed to get out in response, and swallowed, struggling to clear the embarrassing uncertainty from his voice. It was only partially successful. “R-right. I guess so.”
‘Stands out’ is probably good, right? It looks good?
It was crazy how gratifying it was to hear. Even better in person than through text. Yata reached up to rub the back of his neck, his face feeling uncomfortably warm but his whole body still buzzed from the compliment. “Th-thanks.”
Saruhiko turned his head so their eyes could meet, mumbling a quiet, “It’s nothing,” and Yata felt that painfully pleasant twist in his stomach. They were sitting close together in the cramped little boat, thighs almost touching, and with their heads turned towards each other, there was only a small gap between them. Yata found his eyes drawn to the soft, thin outline of Saruhiko’s lips, and the sudden rush of longing nearly stole his breath again.
I really kinda… want to… y’know…
There was a rushing in his mind, drowning out rational thought. In the dark, with those dim lights and the cheesy atmosphere, he had the half-formed notion that – hey – maybe it could be blamed on the location. On the mood.
His skin was tingling and his palms sweating where they were jammed down against his pant legs. He wasn’t consciously shifting forward, but it felt like Saruhiko was getting closer. The impetuous part of Yata’s brain wanted to let him think it was because Saruhiko was leaning in too, warmth increasing between their faces as space decreased. He felt the delicate brush of breath against his lips, and then –
Bright light flashed at the edge of Yata’s vision; he jerked back instinctively, turning to stare with a kind of disoriented panic at the source. The tunnel’s exit was just ahead, all the lights from the park intruding now that they’d navigated the gentle curve of the ride.
It was like a blast of cold water. The hell was I just…? Yata sucked in a breath, fingers clenching hard in the fabric under them as realization struck. His face felt like it was catching fire. I just… fucking…
There was an uncomfortable silence between them, offset by the chatter from outside the ride. The atmosphere was unbearably awkward. Yata didn’t dare look over, too mortified by his own actions to even finish a thought, much less guess what Saruhiko might be thinking.
Can’t believe I fucking did that – what the hell?
The back of the boat was caught by the attendant, allowing them to disembark. Yata scrambled out quickly and just about flung himself down the steps, flustered energy nearly causing him to stumble. He stole a glance back to watch Saruhiko climbing out with more grace, face carefully neutral, and their eyes met briefly.
The spark in his stomach was more painful than it had been before. Yata hastily turned away, too overwhelmed by everything to keep up that contact. “It’s… y’know… i-it’s getting late, right?” His voice came out loud and shaky; he grimaced, shifting with agitation. “I’m gonna – I mean, I should get – get going.”
Saruhiko didn’t respond right away, his quiet, measured steps approaching as he descended the steps. He paused at the bottom, and let out a short, sharp breath. “I guess.” There was no emotion that could be easily picked out of that even tone. “I should go too.”
“Yeah…” Yata’s stomach was still in knots, but the lack of disgust or disdain was helping a little. He risked another glance, this time finding that Saruhiko wasn’t looking at him in return. The lights reflected off of his glasses, obscuring his eyes from view. “A-anyway, we probably tied again, huh?” Yata forced a laugh; it came out sounding too high and fake. “That’s turning into a habit or something…”
“That’s up to our dates, isn’t it?” Saruhiko clicked his tongue, still not returning Yata’s gaze. “Wherever they are.” He turned, face sliding out of view as he took a step away, and mumbled, almost too quietly to be heard, “But you’re probably right.”
“R-right…” Yata couldn’t think of anything else to say, a confusing storm of emotion still raging in his head. In the end, he stood there dumbly and watched Saruhiko walk away without another word.
It wasn’t until he was out of sight that the full weight of the embarrassing incident struck home. Yata buried his flaming face in his hands, the theme park lights broken up into slits in his vision, like he was viewing them through a jail cell. He let out a low groan that broke off into a growl at the end and clenched his teeth against the wave of shame and regret.
Please everyone go look at the lovely commission I got from Maru for this chapter on tumblr or in higher def on my website (don't forget to fav/reblog). It's so amazing!