Fushimi was a light, irregular sleeper in the best of times, and feeling tired and out of sorts in the morning wasn’t uncommon. He’d normally just drown the feeling with coffee and lose himself in whatever he was working on until he forgot about the various complaints in his body. It was just a matter of keeping his thoughts sharp.
The morning after his ‘date’, the alarm went off and the first thought that crossed his mind was that he’d rather curl up and die than be forced to drag himself out of bed.
Don’t be stupid. Heaving a tired sigh against his pillow, Fushimi stubbornly pushed himself up. His head was starting to hurt already even as he squinted at his phone with displeasure, lifting his glasses from the bedside table and sliding them up onto his nose.
There was no denying that he felt awful, but he was at least ninety percent certain that most of it was in his head.
‘In his head’ had become an increasingly confusing place over the past three days. Fushimi clicked his tongue, sliding his legs over the side of the bed. There were fleeting moments of pleasure that came with his feelings for Misaki, but most of it had been baffling, frustrating, and occasionally painful.
Last night had been a case in point. He could still clearly remember that brief ride in the tunnel, crammed in together on those uncomfortable seats after Misaki had been dumped, quite literally, on his lap. The bright sincerity of those sparkling amber eyes – understated and brown in the dim light, but still full of life, color, energy; so beautiful that it felt like Fushimi’s throat momentarily closed up. He didn’t know what to say or do, but Misaki hadn’t seemed to mind. Misaki had smiled at him, several times and each one a little different – a broad smile… a devious smile… a soft smile that had some feeling in it he couldn’t place. It was vivid in his memory: the stretch and spread of that full bottom lip.
The ghostlike sensation of those lips nearly touching his own made him shiver, even now.
What the hell was I thinking?
That was the problem: he hadn’t been thinking. At all. It was as if Misaki’s proximity in that moment had drained his head of any rational thought. He’d just blindly gone along with whatever stupid impulse had caught him up in it and nearly kissed Misaki.
… The fact that some part of him was regretting the fact that he hadn’t actually managed to complete the kiss was a sign that he really was beyond hope now.
It’s better that it didn’t happen. That was the hard, logical truth of it, whatever his feelings happened to be. Misaki’s skittish reaction wasn’t exactly promising. Not that he’d expected otherwise. The sinking feeling in his stomach when he considered that fact was just the product of his traitorous mind allowing itself to hold out hope in what was, essentially, a hopeless situation.
Well, it didn’t matter. Fushimi pushed himself up from the bed, letting out an irritated breath and heading for the bathroom. He’d managed just fine before Misaki had come into his life, and he could manage fine without this new… thing… turning into anything more between them. It was better to just pretend nothing had happened in the first place.
Should be simple enough, considering how eager he was to get out of there…
Despite everything, Fushimi followed the motions of his routine briskly and efficiently, ignoring the dull headache vying for his attention. When he checked the forecast on his phone before leaving his apartment, it was calling for rain. Which was inconvenient, because he hadn’t bothered to replace the umbrella that was buried somewhere in the rubble at the school. He’d have to borrow one from the store room at Scepter 4 if he needed to go outside at any point.
He probably would, and it’d probably be raining when he did. That was normally how things went for him these days.
It didn’t start to rain until after Yata had left his apartment, and he didn’t actually notice it until the bus let him off at his stop. It wasn’t a heavy rain – more of a gentle sprinkle – and it was still pretty warm out, so he shrugged it off and skated on past Homra to check out the challenge board first.
Honestly, he had too many things on his mind to think much about rain. Or, well, maybe not too many things – more like one thing that took over most of his thoughts.
He kept replaying that scene from the Tunnel of Love in his head, trying to figure out if Saruhiko might have leaned in too or if it was really all on his side. The details were kind of a blur. Well, details like “who leaned in” were. He could vividly remember the warmth caught between their faces, and Saruhiko’s breath brushing against his mouth. That was where his mind always went when he tried to think about it seriously, and he ended up flustered and more confused than ever.
Fuck it. He pushed off harder against the pavement, willing himself not to blush. He was sick of that already. Just forget it. It didn’t happen. And if he says something, then… it was the mood. Or something. Whatever. I’ll deal with it then.
The fact that he’d been sleeping like shit since this whole thing started really didn’t help. His movements felt slower than before, almost sluggish, and it was hard to stay focused.
Fortunately, the challenge board wasn’t far. Yata did his best to shrug off his bad mood and rolled to a stop beside it, setting one foot on the ground to keep himself still as he read.
‘Visit three places that were significant to you recently, and take a picture of each one’.
Okay. Yata frowned at the challenge, idly sliding his board under his foot. That sounded simple enough. It was only three pictures. Three different places. Pretty easy, when you thought about it.
Significant places, though…
The first thing that sprang to mind was the Tunnel of Love at the theme park, and that brought the hot flush back up to his face, full force. No fucking way am I using that! Besides the fact that it’d be awkward as hell – Saruhiko would probably see the picture and then he’d know and it’d be weird – it was kinda also… not what he wanted to go with in the first place.
Maybe it was dumb, but when it said ‘significant places’, he strongly felt it should be places he felt significantly happy about, not like… embarrassed or awkward or… well, just really mixed feelings!
There was that ‘recently’ part to consider, too… When – and more importantly, where – had he felt happiest recently?
Well, don’t have to figure it out right away. Yata kicked off in the opposite direction, absently making his way back towards Homra. He wasn’t sure how they were going to figure out the winner – whoever took the best pictures, maybe? – but it probably wasn’t going to be ‘whoever finishes first’. So he pretty much had all day.
If he was lucky, it wouldn’t actually take that long.
By the time Yata took his mid-morning – well, more like ‘nearly noon’ – break, it was pouring rain outside, and he was no closer to having any ideas for pictures than he had before.
Kamamoto wasn’t in that day, which was annoying – he’d wanted to demand an explanation in person, but he didn’t have the patience to wait and ended up sending an angry text message instead. The response – ‘Sorry, Yata-san… I thought it might help you out’ – hadn’t really done anything to ease his frustration.
Don’t need that kinda help, seriously…
“Sorry I didn’t have an umbrella to loan you,” Totsuka said with some sympathy as Yata sat down at the table opposite him. “Maybe you should let someone else handle the deliveries for a while.”
“S’fine.” Yata shrugged, setting down the plate of snacks he’d brought out. He’d already wrung his shirt off in the bathroom sink, so it wasn’t dripping any more but it still felt cold and clingy against his skin. The temperature was warm enough that it wasn’t a big deal, at least. “An umbrella wouldn’t do much when I’m skating, anyway. And rain’s not gonna kill me.”
“That’s true.” Totsuka leaned forward, resting his chin on his hand and smiling warmly. “Be careful not to catch a cold, though.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He brushed that warning aside, tipping over a slice of coffee cake and breaking off a piece to pop into his mouth as he tried to go through some places he’d been recently.
Skate park? Haven’t been there in a while. His apartment? Boring. Scepter 4? Yeah right. Homra? Well…
“Thinking about the challenge?” Totsuka’s voice startled him out of his thoughts; he glanced over and got another knowing look. “If you’re stuck, you could try to go for a theme of some kind.”
Yata blinked at him. “Huh? What d’you mean by that? What kinda theme?”
“Any theme.” Totsuka titled his head a bit, as if watching Yata’s face for some reaction. “Pick something that’s been on your mind lately. It’ll make things easier, because that’s the direction your thoughts want to go anyway.” His smile widened a bit. “I think some locations will come to you then. Plus, your pictures will be better quality!” He added a wink with that. “Success guaranteed.”
“Something that’s been on my mind…” Yata repeated slowly, and frowned a bit.
If it came down to it… there was that one obvious thing…
I can’t just use that! A hot wave of embarrassment flooded him at that; he turned his gaze back towards the front of the shop, frown shifting to a scowl. There was no way he could get something workable out of his stupid crush on Saruhiko. Even if that was what was on his mind lately, it wasn’t like there were specific places that were “significant” about it, other than that cheesy Tunnel of Love ride. Right?
Yata blinked, and it was like the scene in front of him came into sharper focus. He could see the entrance to the coffee shop, currently free after the mid-morning rush had passed, the rainfall visible just past the glass on the doors. With his memory filling in the blanks, he also thought he could see a slender, hunched figure stepping inside, closing his drenched umbrella as he did.
His heart gave another of those suspicious little squeezes. Without thinking fully about it, Yata pulled his phone out of his pocket and brought up the camera function, holding it up to take a picture of the front entrance.
“You thought of something?” Totsuka asked gently; when he looked back over, that same soft little smile was in place, eyes warm. “That looked like a pretty meaningful shot, just now.”
It was the kind of look that he couldn’t help but smile back at, partly sheepish and partly grateful – and definitely feeling a lot more enthusiastic about the challenge. “Yeah, kinda.” He put the phone back in sleep mode and stuffed it hastily into his pocket, reaching out to grab another chunk of cake. “Thanks, Totsuka-san!”
“Don’t worry about it.”
It was an incredibly stupid idea, and he couldn’t believe he was actually going to do it.
Fushimi frowned at the door to the Homra coffee house, vaguely aware of the soft patter of rain on the umbrella he’d borrowed from his workplace. It was just past five, and disgustingly damp out while still being mildly warm, which was irritating.
The weather was like this when I first came in here, too.
That was exactly the kind of thought he didn’t need at the moment. This challenge wasn’t as actively annoying as some of the others, but it had a whimsical edge to it that Fushimi didn’t particularly care for. ‘Significant’ places – seriously? By whose standards? It was frustratingly vague.
Still, there were only a handful of places where anything that could potentially qualify as ‘significant’ had happened recently. It had taken a while to decide which ones were the least objectionable options. No doubt whoever was going to judge this silly thing would ask for an explanation of why he’d made his decisions, so he had carefully thought about reasons that had nothing to do with Misaki for each one.
He’s the only significant thing that’s happened to me lately, regardless. Frustratingly, his co-workers seemed to have picked up on that – at least, if Hidaka could be considered representative of them. His defense when Fushimi had confronted him about the whole Tunnel of Love fiasco had been something along the lines of ‘it seemed like he was the one you really wanted to be with – I just figured I’d help out’.
I didn’t ask for that kind of ‘help’.
It was primarily because he couldn’t bury those impressions and feelings from the night before that he’d worked through his lunch hour in order to arrive at Homra after Misaki’s shift had ended. To be honest, he wasn’t sure how he felt about meeting him with those particular thoughts on his mind.
Stupid, he berated himself, letting out a sharp breath and finally reaching for the door handle. It’s not like he cares. He’d probably be more than happy to pretend that nothing happened in the first place.
“Welcome to Homra!” he was greeted, in a relatively subdued voice by a vaguely familiar blond at the counter. There didn’t seem to be any other workers around.
Fushimi relaxed marginally.
“Oh, Fushimi-kun!” a familiar cheerful voice called out. When he looked over, Totsuka Tatara was offering him a friendly wave from where his wheelchair was sitting beside one of the tables. Around him, there were only a small handful of other customers, most of whom appeared to be heavily engaged in their own business. “If you’re looking for Yata, he just left – I think he’ll be back once he gets the pictures he wants, though.”
That’s kind of irritating. Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I’m not.” He turned his gaze back towards the counter, and frowned slightly. When he’d decided on this particular option, he hadn’t considered the barista who’d inevitably be in the way.
There probably wasn’t going to be a convenient way to ask him to move…
“Ah, so you’re here to take a picture yourself, then, right?” Totsuka seemed determined to continue the conversation, unbothered by the less than enthusiastic response. “Did you want a shot of the front counter, maybe?”
It was unerring how he could hit the mark like that. Fushimi glanced sideways at him, and got back a suspiciously innocent little smile. I don’t know if I feel like answering now.
After a few seconds of silence, Totsuka chuckled. “You’re a little on the shy side, huh, Fushimi-kun?” He didn’t wait for a response, turning his gaze toward the counter instead. “Eric, maybe come over here for a bit, okay?”
The barista shrugged. “If you say so.” He stepped away from the till and lifted the counter to let himself out.
Fushimi watched him, a little nonplussed despite the fact that he’d gotten his way. Well, whatever. Resolving to ignore Totsuka and his uncanny deduction skills, he leaned his umbrella back against the wall and took out his cell phone.
A significant place…
It was strange to think that he’d met Misaki here for the first time just a little less than two weeks ago. Somehow, it felt like more time had passed. If he allowed himself, he could still clearly remember walking in and looking up, thinking nothing special of the sharp-eyed barista who would make his coffee. The part that stuck out most vividly in his head was Misaki’s reaction to the logo on his vest – that violent play of indignation and stubborn pride that were displayed openly in his expression. At the time it had been annoying, but…
Well, it’s still annoying in hindsight.
Fushimi couldn’t help but smile a little to himself as he took the picture.
“That looked like a good one!” Totsuka’s voice cut brightly through the moment. When Fushimi turned a flat stare on him, he offered a kind, unassuming smile. “I was just wondering what kind of significant memory you have of this place, Fushimi-kun.”
As if I’d tell you. Fushimi bent to retrieve his umbrella, getting it ready in his hand without actually opening it as he reached for the door handle. “Nothing special,” he responded evenly, pulling the door open. “This was the place we started this particular game, that’s all.”
He didn’t wait for Totsuka’s response before leaving the shop.
Unsurprisingly, there was nobody sitting outside at Hakumaitou when he made his way over. The rain was coming down harder than before – not exactly a torrent, but steady enough that Fushimi was glad he’d thought to borrow an umbrella. The ice cream parlor’s awning guarded the outdoor tables from the poor weather, but rain didn’t exactly inspire a craving for cold treats, even if the temperature was still pretty mild.
That’ll make it easier, at least. He would’ve had a difficult time asking some random person to move if they’d happened to be sitting in the location he wanted to get a picture of.
“Hello there!” The silver-haired man who’d been behind the counter on Sunday greeted him as he walked up, looking up from the specials board he’d been carefully scribbling on. “Your friend was here just a short while ago – if you’re looking for him, you just missed him, I’m afraid.”
Fushimi frowned at him. “Friend?”
“Oh, I’m sorry – the one with the skateboard.” The man smiled back, a bit apologetically. “I remember you two from Sunday. It’s hard to forget since you came in just before closing, you know?”
The clarification stirred up a little jolt of surprised pleasure in Fushimi’s stomach. “Misaki?” He blinked, not quite sure what to make of his own reaction. He came here too? There was something reassuring about that thought, but he couldn’t manage to put his finger on it. The portion of his brain that seemed to have submitted to infatuation wanted him to feel pleased, but it was more baffling than anything.
When had his own thoughts and feelings become so needlessly complicated?
“Well, I didn’t catch his name.” The man shrugged, spreading his hands a little as if to say ‘what can you do?’ “He didn’t stay for that long, anyway.” That seemed to trigger something; he blinked, and then tilted his head inquiringly. “Oh – are you here to take a picture too, or did you want some ice-cream?”
Too. Fushimi drew in a breath. Obviously, that was the likely explanation for Misaki’s presence, but having it confirmed evoked more of a reaction, somehow. He clicked his tongue to cover his uncertainty. “The picture.”
“No problem – go right ahead.” The man offered a carefree sort of smile, waving his hand generously at the tables. “Don’t mind me.”
I wasn’t planning on it. Fushimi turned away from him, focusing on the table that was his goal in order to settle his thoughts somewhat. It was the table where he’d sat with Misaki on Sunday – back when his meddling boss had made the casual observation that had caused everything to snowball out of control.
He couldn’t help but wonder how things might have gone if Munakata hadn’t come by right at that moment. Would he still be comfortably oblivious about his own feelings? Perhaps he would’ve blindly handed the victory to Misaki on Monday and not thought anything of it. Or agreed to the two-date idea without bothering to overthink it. Possibly even now he’d be here taking this picture, having no awareness of what the attraction that drove him actually meant.
… Or maybe he’d still have almost kissed Misaki in the Tunnel of Love, and he’d have been forced to come to terms with it, regardless.
Does it really matter, in the end?
The memory of Misaki’s smile from across the table flashed through his mind, and Fushimi closed his eyes for a brief moment, savoring it. He was far too used to treading those negative paths in his thought process, finding the worst possible outcome and focusing on its likelihood. Was it really that bad if he found a small amount of happiness being around Misaki, even with the awkwardness of his unrequited feelings and awkward urges?
He opened his eyes, raised his phone, and took the picture.
It felt a bit cathartic, actually; Fushimi let out a breath, allowing himself a small, rueful smile as he tucked the device back into his pocket. I wonder if he’ll be at the next location, too.
Despite everything, he had to admit that he was hoping for it now.
It didn’t seem like the rain was going to let up any time soon. “Damnit…” Yata surveyed the chaotic remains of the collapsed wall at the school with a certain amount of frustration. A large portion of the roof had gone down with the wall, so there wasn’t any shelter on that side of the open cellar door to get a shot of it without drenching his phone.
Hell, he’d already drenched himself. He was soaked through, hair and clothing sticking to his body; it wasn’t all that cold, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable, either.
This was gonna be a pain in the ass. Yata scowled, considering his options. It would’ve been easier with a friend, but he didn’t really want to explain why he was taking these particular pictures. The Hakumaitou one, especially. No one else needed to know about that shit. It was… y’know, personal. When he thought back to how it had felt to stare across the table at Saruhiko’s small, almost hesitant smiles, a kind of warmth flooded over him. It was embarrassing, but nice. He didn’t need a goddamn audience to savor it for just a second.
It’d be the same here too, probably, but first he had to figure out how the hell he was gonna take the picture in the first place. He didn’t really wanna end up fucking up his phone, which meant he’d need some kind of shelter.
And that meant climbing over the rubble to the hallway, probably.
Well, whatever, I’ve done more dangerous stuff than this.
He was just setting down his skateboard with the intention of going ahead and doing that when he heard footsteps from behind him. “What are you doing, Misaki?”
The familiar voice had him tensing up instinctively; Yata drew in a breath and was able to collect himself, turning to face Saruhiko fully. “Hey.”
It was the first time they’d met since last night… To be honest, he hadn’t been all that sure how he’d handle it. That kiss – almost kiss – was still near the front of his mind, and he didn’t think it was going anywhere any time soon. He was more aware of his feelings for Saruhiko than ever – not just wanting to be around him and talk to him, but with the strong urge to do things like touch and get closer. The physical side of it was… weird. He wasn’t too sure how to deal with it. Did it show on his face?
Hell, maybe Saruhiko already knew everything and was just not mentioning it out of politeness.
If he did, though, he didn’t give any sign of it. At the moment, he looked the same as ever, with that characteristic hint of irritation in his expression that he always seemed to carry. He’d also been smart enough to bring an umbrella, so he was mostly dry, unlike Yata. “That’s not really an answer,” he drawled in response, raising an eyebrow as he approached.
The familiarity was a tiny bit relaxing, to be honest. It made it easier to pull a natural response in return, despite the knots tightening almost painfully in Yata’s stomach. “Yeah, but most people say ‘hi’ first before they start asking questions, y’know?”
Saruhiko clicked his tongue, coming to a stop right in front of him. “You could try listening to what people actually say rather than what you expect them to say.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Yata shut his eyes briefly and heaved a short sigh, smiling ruefully. This isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, after all. “Rude bastard.”
He got an amused huff for that. “So? What are you doing?”
“Taking a picture. Y’know, somehow.” Yata turned his frown on the rubble again, remembering his current problem. “All this rain isn’t making it easy. Figured I’d climb to the other side so there’s shelter.”
“That’s a stupid idea,” Saruhiko responded, without hesitation or any show of remorse. “Who knows what else is ready to give in this building? The rain doesn’t help with structural integrity.” He sighed shortly, shifting. “Anyway, it’s not necessary.”
“Hah?” Yata scowled, already turning to argue back irritably. “It’s not stupid! How the hell else – ?” He stopped, losing his train of thought when he noticed that the arm holding the umbrella had extended slightly in his direction. The beat of rain against his body had stopped; by contrast, Saruhiko’s hair and shirt were steadily dampening.
For a second, all he could do was blink, too surprised to even properly think. Saruhiko wasn’t looking at him; he was staring straight ahead, frowning at the rubble. There were tiny droplets already dotting the frames of his glasses. “How long are you planning to just stand there and think about it?” he muttered, sounding put-out. “Hurry up and take the picture.”
“Uh.” Yata shook himself out of it. “R-right!” He could feel the warm building under his skin in response to the gesture, and couldn’t help the grin spreading on his face. “Thanks!”
He got back a grunt that may or may not have been acknowledgement; Saruhiko’s expression didn’t change, aside from the tiny little downward twitch at the corner of his lips. Yata reached into his pocket for his phone, turning back to the rubble and the dark entrance to the cellar they’d fallen through just a few days ago.
It kinda seemed like it had been longer. Yata brought up the camera app, focusing the shot as best he could, and felt a little of that memory wash over him. This may not have looked like the best experience, almost having a wall dumped on him and then falling through the floor to get trapped in a cellar, but he and Saruhiko had gained an understanding of each other during that time, and that made it significant. He remembered lying on his side, meeting that unusually soft gaze in the dim light as the world outside their tiny shared space seemed to fade off into the background, and felt a shivery feeling that had nothing to do with the rain wrack through his body.
It seemed like that emotion had lodged itself firmly in his throat, even as he snapped the picture. Yata had to swallow hard before he could managed to force out, “Got it.”
They turned to look at each other at almost the exact same moment – it was a little weird, but not in a bad way. Saruhiko seemed to be trying to keep his head tilted forward to protect his glasses, but the lens had picked up a couple of droplets anyway. Weighed down by the rain, his hair was starting to droop out of its carefully styled look; it wasn’t really a bad look for him. As their eyes met, the corners of his mouth edged up in a wry smile. “Good work.”
It was difficult to fight back the urges that rose up under his skin at that. He wanted to reach out and touch those delicately curved lips; wanted to lean in and finish that kiss and finally, finally find out what it would actually feel like. Yata swallowed, focusing on stowing his phone away to fight back those intense feelings. “Yeah.” He cleared his throat, forcefully changing the track of his thoughts. “You – you gonna take one, too? That’s what you’re here for, right?”
Saruhiko shook his head. “I already took it.”
That was a little surprising. “Huh. When’d you do that?”
“Sometime around when you were staring off into space earlier.” That came with a small shrug. “It doesn’t exactly take long to get a picture.” There was a tiny moment of hesitation; Saruhiko’s chin tipped down a little further, eyelids lowering as if to shield his eyes. “When we were stuck here before, you kept going on about heroes.”
The sudden switch in the conversation was jarring enough to keep his thoughts clean. Yata raised an eyebrow, puzzled. “Yeah, and?”
“Nothing really.” It came out in that overblown drawl; Saruhiko shut his eyes briefly and sighed, then looked up again with that slightly guarded look. “I was just thinking it might not be so bad.” Another brief pause, and then he mumbled, almost reluctantly, “That… being a hero for just one person.”
“Eh?” Yata blinked at him, a little taken aback. He actually remembered that? The thought was kinda gratifying – that Saruhiko had listened to him seriously and thought about what he said. It seemed like such a small thing, but it still resonated strongly. “Oh… yeah.” He felt another little surge of warmth, and smiled in response, hoping to reflect some of it back. “Right? I think so, too.”
“So I gathered.” Saruhiko deflected his gaze again, frowning slightly, and reached up to brush wet hair from his forehead.
That was the point when Yata realized the umbrella was still tilted over his own head. He blinked, glancing up at it with some surprise. Seriously? He’s not usually this forgetful, right? As much as he appreciated the gesture, he wasn’t going to just stand there and take advantage, though. He reached up and tipped it back over, feeling a tiny jolt when his fingers brushed against Saruhiko’s and covering it with a brash grin. “Hey, who’s the idiot here? You’re getting all wet.”
He got a clicked tongue for his efforts. “So are you.”
Yata pulled back his hand, offering a small shrug in return. “M’already soaked.” He plucked at the front of his shirt meaningfully. “Might as well save yourself since you’re still sorta dry.”
Saruhiko sighed, shooting him what looked like a resigned look. “Let’s go inside.”
“Heh.” That brought a grin; Yata bent to retrieve his skateboard. “Don’t have to tell me twice.”
“Glad to hear it.” Saruhiko paused to wait for him, and they started back up towards the street together. “By the way,” he added, “how exactly do we plan to judge this challenge? I think we’ve established that both of our teams are a little too biased for either of us to trust their judgment.”
“Yeah, s’probably true.” Yata thought about it for a moment, frowning to himself, and then brightened as an idea struck, turning to offer another smile. “I think I know just the guy, though!”
“You want me to judge?” Totsuka blinked, looking a little startled at first, and then smiled, almost to himself. “Ah, I guess that’s kind of fitting, huh?”
Fushimi frowned at him, vaguely suspicious. “What do you mean by ‘fitting’?”
“Nothing , really.” Totsuka waved a hand, cheerfully dismissing the concern. “Just talking to myself. I’d be happy to judge your competition if you’re okay with leaving it to me!”
I wouldn’t say I’m okay with it. Truthfully, he had his reservations about getting involved with this flighty, overly friendly person in any way, but the fact of the matter was that they didn’t have many “neutral” friends who could be trusted to make an unbiased judgment call on something as subjective as a picture-taking competition. Totsuka had, at least, ruled unhesitatingly in Fushimi’s favor at one point, so there was no reason to believe he’d prioritize Misaki in this case.
It wasn’t exactly perfect, but it was the only viable option, so he’d have to live with it.
By contrast, Misaki didn’t seem to see anything odd in Totsuka’s behavior at all. “Thanks, Totsuka-san!” He was still dripping all over the floor too, apparently not seeing any problem with that either. “Here, let me get mine ready…” He dug into his pocket.
Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Shouldn’t you dry off and get changed first?” They’d both been handed towels shortly after they’d come into the building; his was still draped around his neck, soaking up the dampness from his hair and shoulders. Misaki had his in more or less the same place, but he’d been exposed to the rain for longer, and the cursory towel-off he’d given the rest of his body earlier hadn’t done much for his saturated clothing.
“S’fine, I can do that after!” Misaki shrugged it off as unimportant, frowning at his phone for a few seconds as he slowly but steadily added to the puddles growing on the floor.
I wonder if Kusanagi and Anna are okay with that. It wasn’t exactly his business, but he suspected that Misaki was busily earning himself a lecture of some sort. He was also potentially going to earn himself a cold, and his clothing was sticking to him in very distracting ways that Fushimi was doing his best not to notice.
His brain was also trying to feed him a mentally constructed sequence of Misaki peeling the clothing off of his slick body while drops of water slid slowly down along his skin, which didn’t help. Despite having resigned himself to those inevitable physical fantasies, he couldn’t help but find the timing to be highly inconvenient. Fushimi clicked his tongue, pulling out his own phone in an attempt to push the thoughts out of his head.
Seriously, what a pain.
“Okay, got the first picture!” Misaki held out his phone with confident satisfaction. “You can just flip through to get to the others.”
“All right.” Totsuka took the device, holding it out flat in front of him. “Oh, I remember this one! It turned out really good, just like I thought.”
Fushimi raised his eyes discreetly to take a look. The phone was at a convenient angle; even from where he was standing, he could see the image of the front entrance to Homra clearly. It looked like it had been taken from some place close to where they were standing, but the focus was clearly on the door, as if Misaki had taken it with the expectation that someone was going to walk in.
There was no reason to think the picture had anything to do with him – and probably a dozen logical reasons why it likely didn’t – but looking at it gave Fushimi a strange feeling. He was suddenly almost uncomfortably aware of the photo in his collection taken from the position at the door, and what feelings it had stirred in him when he was taking it.
There’s no way he was thinking the same thing… He turned his gaze back to his own phone, navigating to the folder he’d stored his own three challenge photos in. It’s a coincidence, that’s all.
“Hm~m? What’s this?” Totsuka’s tone had taken on a lightly teasing edge. “Is there something you haven’t told me, Yata?”
Fushimi looked over again to see what picture had triggered the comment, and felt his skin prickle up. It was the picture he’d had Akiyama take two days ago, after Awashima had helped him to wear her clothing properly.
He saved that?
“AH!” Misaki nearly jumped forward, hastily reaching in to swipe the view back to the picture from before. “T-T-Totsuka-san! You’re supposed to flip the other way! Forward! To the next pictures!”
He was babbling. Fushimi studied his face with some surprise, watching as red coloring rose up on his cheeks, spreading across to his ears and down along his neck. It was a fascinating counterpoint to the endearingly panicked expression.
Misaki’s eyes flickered up to meet his, flustered and embarrassed, and an answering warmth sparked in Fushimi’s stomach as well. He couldn’t help but think of the corresponding image he had saved on his own phone, and felt a little of that warmth rising to his face. It was difficult to resist the urge to click his tongue as they mutually broke the gaze off; the awkward feeling in the air was almost overpowering.
This is why you make a separate folder for things you want to show others, stupid.
“Oh, sorry!” Totsuka laughed the moment off as if it were nothing, glancing from Yata to Fushimi with an insufferably knowing look before turning down to the phone again and switching to the next picture. “I’ll be careful. Now, let’s see here…”
It was the Hakumaitou Ice Cream Parlor picture. He’d been expecting it, but it was still strange to see the conclusive evidence that they’d picked the exact same locations for all three photos. Misaki had chosen an angle similar to the one Fushimi had used for his picture, so they were probably going to be difficult to judge. The center point was clearly the table they’d sat at after treating each other to ice cream for the challenge on Sunday.
What was he thinking of when he took this? It didn’t seem like Totsuka was going to ask any questions after all – maybe he preferred to judge based on whatever fueled that uncanny intuition of his. Fushimi risked a glance at Misaki’s face, trying to gauge his reaction – he was gripping either end of the towel around his neck and frowning down at his own picture, cheeks still a bit pink from the earlier embarrassment.
That wasn’t much to go on.
“This one is really nice, too, Yata – looks like you did a great job with this challenge, huh?” Totsuka sounded more than a little pleased, pausing to shoot Misaki a little smile before swiping forward to the next picture. “Ah, is this where you two had that accident? That must’ve been pretty intense!”
“Yeah, kinda!” Misaki grinned back, looking a bit sheepish about it. “Saruhiko was the one who pulled me out of the way – otherwise I probably would’ve been under all that rubble there!” He barked out a short laugh. “He really saved my ass!”
Fushimi clicked his tongue, uncomfortable with the level of praise. “I didn’t do much.”
Misaki raised an eyebrow in good-natured exasperation. “What, you saying my ass ain’t worth much?”
The comment surprised an amused huff out of him. “I think I’ll withhold any comments about the value of your ass, Misaki.”
“Huh? Hey! What’s with that? Don’t be weird!”
“You’re the one who brought it up in the first place.”
Totsuka chuckled lightly. “You two sure are getting along well now, huh?” He set Misaki’s phone down on the table, looking up at Fushimi expectantly. “Should we see how your pictures compare, then, Fushimi-kun?”
The folder was already open on his phone. Fushimi reversed the device and handed it over. “You can go in whatever order.”
“Ah, you made an album just for the challenge, huh?” Totsuka commented, taking it from him. “That’s not a bad idea.”
“It’s common sense.” He frowned back. “There isn’t anything else you need to see.”
“Oh-ho.” Totsuka glanced up at him, another of those deceptively innocent smiles on his face. “Does that mean you’ve got some secrets hidden in here, maybe?”
Seriously? Fushimi clicked his tongue. “That’s none of your business, is it?”
Totsuka laughed softly. “Message received loud and clear!” He turned his eyes on the phone again, holding it out the same way he’d done with Misaki’s. “I’ll keep my nose where it’s welcome, don’t worry.”
It was too late to be apprehensive about it, though – Totsuka had already opened the picture of Homra’s front counter. “Oh, it’s the one you took when you were here earlier. Looking good, Fushimi-kun!”
Misaki had leaned in closer, peering at the phone with open interest; he blinked when he saw the image. “Homra?” His eyebrows knit together, and he lifted his gaze to stare at Fushimi with perplexity. “Why’d you take one here? What ‘significant’ thing happened?”
You did, idiot. Fushimi shifted, crossing his arms over his chest and offering a small frown in return. “I didn’t ask questions about your pictures, did I?”
He got a scowl for that. “Yeah, fine. Stingy jerk.”
“This is going to be a close contest, I think.” Totsuka swiped forward to the next picture, and then blinked. “Hm? I feel like I’ve seen this one before…”
Of course he’d have a comment like that. Fushimi clicked his tongue, turning his eyes to the side as Totsuka reached for Misaki’s phone to make a comparison. “It’s a coincidence.”
“Y-yeah…” The unusual hesitance in Misaki’s voice pulled his gaze; their eyes met, and he caught the open uncertainty and confusion on that honest face for that brief instant before Misaki was jerking his head down again, coloring. “Right. Crazy, huh? Hah…”
“I see! A coincidence, is it?” Totsuka glanced back and forth between them, another of those amused little smiles playing on his lips. “Well, it’s true – I’d say the level of emotion put into these pictures is about the same.” He shrugged. “Or something like that, anyway.”
Fushimi felt his eyebrow twitch. Don’t act like you can measure something as arbitrary as that…
“Huh? Can you seriously tell?” Misaki frowned, narrowing his eyes a little. “Totsuka-san, you’re not messing with me, are you?”
Totsuka spread his hands innocently. “Eh, who knows? I’m going with my instincts here. But I have a good feeling, you know?”
Misaki blinked, and then the frown softened out into something of a sheepish grin. “Uh… right. Sure.”
Fushimi’s other eyebrow twitched. Seriously…
“All right, one more, huh?” Totsuka slid across to the next picture, pausing for just a second as he took it in. “Oh – Yata, looks like you’re in this one!”
“Eh? What?” Misaki leaned forward again, looking surprised. “Really?”
You didn’t have to bring that up. Fushimi eyed his own picture, vaguely embarrassed now that it was out there. Not that he’d expected it to be overlooked or anything, but he wasn’t keen on having attention drawn to it.
He didn’t need to explain himself, either. Misaki had already been standing there when he’d arrived at the school, staring blankly at the mess inside with his skateboard tucked under his arm and his clothing already drenched from the rain, so it wasn’t strange for him to be in the shot. Something about the scene had seemed lonely, although Fushimi wasn’t sure what had given him that impression. Maybe it was just his mind playing tricks on him. Either way, he’d stopped and stood there for a while, paralyzed with feelings he didn’t quite know how to process – staring at Misaki’s back and becoming uncomfortably aware of little details like the cling of his wet clothing and the way his hair stuck to his skin at the back of his neck. And that was when he’d remembered Misaki’s words, from down in that cellar.
“Isn’t it cool to think that you could be someone else’s hero some day?”
It was crazy and stupid, but looking at the scene in front of him, the words had seemed to resonate.
Not that sharing your umbrella qualifies you as a hero. Fushimi clicked his tongue, looking away from the picture again. Misaki hadn’t realized it, of course, which was probably for the best. Another awkward victory for the infatuation eating away at his brain.
Well, it was fine – he was resigned to it now.
“It’s funny how the two of you ended up using the exact same locations for all three pictures,” Totsuka commented, studying the picture thoughtfully. He looked up with a cheerful smile. “Maybe it’s a sign your feelings are in sync, hm?”
“Huh? F-feelings?” Misaki jerked a little, almost guiltily, and glanced up at Fushimi. There was something self-conscious and hesitant in his expression, and an emotion that Fushimi couldn’t quite place in his eyes. Fervent, desperate, hopeful. Even with that uncertainty present, he seemed to blaze with the same passion that always made Fushimi’s heart pound hard in his chest.
For one careless, wild instant, he found himself wishing he’d closed the last bit of distance sooner last night. If he had, he’d know what Misaki’s lips felt like, rather than just the ghost-like brush of breath against his own. The urge to step around that table and find out right then and there was so strong he felt his fingers twitch where they were tucked against his arms, a tremor settling in his bones as his feelings overwhelmed him.
He turned his gaze to the side quickly, and the moment passed. “Don’t be stupid.” The words came out in a soft mumble, embarrassingly reluctant; he compensated by shifting deliberately to a condescending drawl. “We’ve both been competing in the same challenge contest - is it really that much of a surprise for our ‘significant’ places to be the same?”
“Well, I guess that’s true.” Totsuka shrugged, accepting the argument easily, and offered Fushimi another of those consciously unassuming smiles. “Fushimi-kun, you’re very logical, huh?”
Somehow, he had the impression he’d just been seen through. Fushimi frowned back, nonplussed.
“Right…” Misaki’s voice broke the silence, more subdued than usual. He was staring down at the picture on the phone, a small, rueful smile on his lips as he rubbed the back of his neck under the towel. “Right, yeah. It is kinda stupid, huh?”
There was a soft undertone of something like disappointment in both his voice and posture. Fushimi stared at him for a moment, feeling a tiny seed of uncertainty sprouting within him as well. He wasn’t sure what had caused that reaction, but he didn’t like it.
Why is he…?
“Either way, I’d have to say the verdict’s the same,” Totsuka went on, as if oblivious to the mood. He leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes, a pleased smile forming on his lips. “It’s definitely a tie.”
Misaki’s hand froze. “Eh?”
Fushimi felt his lip curl up with displeasure. “What…?”
“That’s right! A tie.” Totsuka opened his eyes, glancing between them with that infuriatingly knowing gaze. “The same locations, matching angles – even the same degree of feeling and effort put into each picture…” He shrugged, shaking his head. “Can’t be anything else besides a tie, right?”
Are you serious? Fushimi glanced up, met Misaki’s equally disgruntled expression, and let out a sharp, resigned breath. He could hear the answering sigh from across the table even as he did.
“Again…” Misaki sounded more than a little put out. He slumped a bit where he was standing. “We’ve probably got more ties than actual wins by now!”
“The same amount,” Fushimi corrected him automatically. “Four ties. Two wins for you. Two wins for me.”
Totsuka chuckled. “That’s a lot of ties. Sounds to me like you’re in sync after all!”
Fushimi shot him a flat, unimpressed look, and got back a bright smile for his effort.
Really, that’s annoying…
Misaki made a face. “C’mon, Totsuka-san! Quit – ” He was interrupted by a sneeze, and rubbed his nose absently, frowning – “teasing.”
Fushimi eyed him critically for a second. He didn’t seem to be dripping as much, but his clothing was still noticeably wet. “Shouldn’t you get changed?”
“Yeah, yeah. At home.” Misaki shrugged that off again. “Not like I keep any clothes here.”
“You sure? I’ll bet there’s something you could borrow.” Totsuka shot him a look of mild concern. “Be careful, Yata – you’ll catch a cold.”
Misaki grinned back. “Nah, don’t worry ‘bout me – I never get sick.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” Totsuka smiled in response. “You should really get yourself an umbrella, you know.”
“I got one already – just didn’t expect it to rain today, that’s all.”
“The forecast called for it,” Fushimi pointed out, without inflection.
Misaki scowled at him. “Yeah, I didn’t check it, okay? My bad.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.” Trying not to think about it too closely, Fushimi picked up the umbrella he’d leaned against a chair, grasping the middle of it and holding it out handle-first. “Here. Take it.”
He got a blank look in response – and then Misaki abruptly frowned. “Aren’t you gonna need it?”
“I’m going back to work – it’s not that far, and we keep spare umbrellas.” Fushimi raised an eyebrow. “Also, unlike you, I do have a change of clothes.”
If anything, the frown on Misaki’s face deepened, his eyes narrowing in counterpart. “You look like the kinda guy who gets sick easy…”
Fushimi clicked his tongue. That was uncomfortably close to the truth – not that he was about to admit it. “Just go ahead and take it before I change my mind.”
“Go ahead and change your mind, then!” Misaki crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t need it.”
This wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. Fushimi frowned back. “Oi… I’m not the one dripping all over the floor here, idiot.”
Misaki scowled at him. “Yeah, and I’m not the idiot who probably gets a cold every other week.”
“Now, now.” Totsuka raised both hands, as if to placate them. “You guys don’t need to fight – I’ll bet if we call Fushimi-kun’s workplace, someone would come by with a spare umbrella.” He turned his deceptively innocent smile on Misaki. “Nothing wrong with accepting a little kindness when it’s offered, right, Yata?”
“Huh? I…” That seemed to throw Misaki off – he stared at Totsuka for a moment, blinking slowly, and then reached up to rub at his neck again with clear agitation. “Ugh.” When he looked at Fushimi again, his expression was strangely tentative. “R-right, yeah. Got it.” He reached out to take the umbrella, a hint of color rising on his cheeks. “Thanks.”
It was such an endearing face that Fushimi nearly forgot his earlier annoyance. He shrugged, fighting back the tiny swirl of pleasure at the response. “It’s nothing.”
“That’s the spirit,” Totsuka praised him encouragingly.
The unnaturally bright smile didn’t seem as irritating that time.