Set in Stone

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

Kusanagi’s words were still playing over in Yata’s head hours later when he was lying in his own bed, wide awake and staring at the ceiling.

They’d stayed at the solstice celebration until the end, but he hadn’t been able to put his heart into it. He hadn’t even managed to come up with a good explanation for his subdued mood, snapping at his friends when they asked and spending most of his time standing on the outskirts of lively discussions without saying much or even really listening in most cases. He couldn’t seem to sort out the storm in his thoughts at all, everything jumbling together in a chaotic mess. Kusanagi had shot him a few canny looks but had let him be, and at the end of the night Anna had nearly caused him to lose it simply by catching his eyes and offering a small, sad smile. He didn’t know how much she knew and wasn’t going to ask.

Since their argument, he and Saruhiko had yet to say more to each other than the bare minimum, and it made his chest start to throb with raw pain every time they so much as looked at each other. Yata had taken the second shower after they’d returned to his apartment, and when he’d come out, Saruhiko was already on the futon with his back to the bathroom. There hadn’t been much else he could do besides go to bed himself, leaving the door open in a silent invitation that he knew wouldn’t be taken.

He felt crushed. Like the ground had dropped out from beneath him. It seemed to have happened so fast too: realizing his feelings just moments before having his hopes dashed and then raised and then dashed again. Like an emotional roller coaster, over in what felt like an instant and leaving him dizzy and disoriented.

Then again, everything with Saruhiko had been fast. He’d never felt like this before in his life, and it had been less than a month since he’d done that stupid, drunken summoning. That was all it had taken to fall harder than he’d ever thought he could.

And now it was all going to be over. Before it even really had a chance to start.

And maybe it was better that way – better to find this shit out before they’d gotten themselves in even deeper. Kusanagi was definitely right about that much. Yata still couldn’t think about the idea of keeping the contract going without that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach starting to come back. He didn’t know why, but there was something about it… something he couldn’t compromise on, no matter what. Whatever it was, this was his line in the sand and he wasn’t gonna cross it, not for anyone.

And maybe Saruhiko was on the opposite side, feeling the same way.

This wasn’t getting him anywhere. Yata let out a frustrated breath, rolling over and sitting up. He was tired, but his head wasn’t shutting up and his heart hurt so sharply he was sure he couldn’t sleep through it. He felt restless – unsatisfied. Defeated, but unable to just let go.

Well, he was bad at letting things go in the first place.

I gotta cool my head. Yata stood, snatching up his shorts so that he could tug them back on and then heading for the door.

Saruhiko was still lying motionless on the futon – asleep or pretending to be; Yata couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter either way. He deliberately didn’t look over as he crept by, not wanting to invite more pain.

Only once he’d left the apartment did he feel like he could breathe properly again. Yata took a couple of cautious steps toward the railing; when it didn’t force the contract to send Saruhiko after him, he sagged against it, letting the air in his lungs out in a rush and hanging his head forward.

If he thought about it clearly, there were a lot of messed-up things between them. He lost his head around Saruhiko. Just a few hours ago, they’d fucked without a condom, and he hadn’t even noticed, much less thought to protest. He just didn’t do shit like that, even if it seemed safe, and somehow Saruhiko didn’t strike him as the type to casually go bareback with a guy he’d known for barely a month. It was like they brought out each other’s most reckless and destructive sides somehow.

But… honestly, Yata fucking liked it. Not so much the destruction, but the feeling of letting go – of being reckless. He didn’t wanna make a habit of it when it came to safe sex or anything, but one of the things he liked best about Saruhiko was how strong the emotional pull was – and how easy it was to get swept away and feel everything so intensely. Moderating his emotions was a lot of work, and he had to do it most of the time in his daily life. Having someone he could let loose around was freeing. Intoxicating, even.

It came with a price, though – and if they were somehow gonna make things work, they’d have to find a way to temper that destructive side. They needed to be on the same page.

Right then, they really weren’t. That was why things were such a mess, and it hurt so badly.

What the hell bugs me so much about the contract thing, anyway? Yata opened his eyes, frowning down at the closely mowed lawn beneath him as he mulled it over. Up to that point, he hadn't had the space to think about it. It was the contract that had brought them together and forced them into close proximity until they’d realized just how much they enjoyed each other’s company. Without it, they’d probably never have even met, and if it hadn’t been the way it was, they’d have ended it without getting to know each other at all.

But still, he felt really strongly that he didn't want it. Not like this...

Why not? Because it was inconvenient? Because there were times when he didn't want to be around Saruhiko or Saruhiko didn't want to be around him, but they couldn’t escape each other? Those were pretty good reasons, but he had a feeling it was more than that. His reaction was gut-twistingly bad. It made him feel raw, like it touched an old sore spot. But he wasn’t sure what.

There was no question he wanted Saruhiko – wanted a real relationship – and Saruhiko had said he wanted it too. That was why he wanted Yata to keep the contract going, right? So they could be together. Didn't that make sense?

If he closed his eyes, he could see the uncharacteristic desperation on Saruhiko's face as he spoke in that moment – "Show me how much you’re demanding of me." – and it made his heart start to pound in his chest. Not only because it was thrilling to see Saruhiko like that, to have him be so intense about what he wanted from Yata, but because it spoke to him. It was another of those moments where he felt the connection between them – the similarity. Because he also felt that he wanted... to be sure...

Oh.

There it was – that flash of realization. Yata felt it sinking in, like a physical cut aimed directly at his heart, the prickles spreading out from that open wound.

So that was why it felt so gut-wrenching.

It was really just something that simple, huh? Yata closed his eyes for a moment as he let the reality of it settle in his mind, tilting his head up so he could open them to look at the moon for a bit of comfort. It almost hurt worse to know the truth – made it that much more final knowing there really was no compromising on his part – but at least he had a good grasp on the whole thing.

It kinda made him wonder, though... Maybe there was a chance... If Saruhiko really felt the same way he did, there could be something...

The door behind him opened, as if his thoughts had summoned it, and Yata's skin prickled. He resisted the urge to turn around, hands clenching unconsciously into fists. “What? Contract pulled you out here?”

For a moment, he thought he wasn’t going to get an answer. Then he heard the telltale click of Saruhiko's tongue. “No. Your emotions are keeping me up.”

You and me both. Yata managed a bitter smile. “My bad.” He forced his fingers to unclench and made an effort to keep his voice low and even. “Can’t help it right now.”

Saruhiko clicked his tongue again; when he responded, his voice was a mumble, as if he were speaking more to himself than to Yata. “I guess.”

The conversation was painfully awkward – or maybe ‘awkwardly painful’ was a better way to put it. Yata pushed himself away from the railing, abruptly sick of it, and turned around to stubbornly meet Saruhiko’s gaze. “Hey,” he started, trying not to get caught up in the way his pulse started to race at the sight of those blue-grey eyes glittering in the dark, “there’s still a place I go to sometimes that I never showed you. Wanna check it out?”

Saruhiko blinked, brows furrowing slightly as he stared back, as if he wasn’t sure where this was going or whether he wanted any part of it. “Do I have a choice?” he muttered, after a brief moment of silence.

Yata managed a lopsided grin. “I’m giving you one right now.”

There was another pause, and it was almost possible to see the wheels turning in Saruhiko’s head as he thought it over. Yata held his breath, the tension in the moment nearly overwhelming. Come on, he thought, not bothering to temper the hope that was swelling in his heart. Give it a chance. Just one try. Please.

Tomorrow would be their last day together; it was now or never.

At last, Saruhiko shut his eyes, shoulders sagging as he let out what sounded like a defeated sigh. “It can’t be any worse than lying awake all night here.”

It was a shitty, half-assed confirmation – but still a confirmation. The relief was so strong that Yata nearly felt giddy with it. His grin widened, feeling real instead of half-pained. “All right!” It didn't have his usual enthusiasm; hell, he didn't know if this was gonna get them anywhere, but he had to at least make things clear. So he knew for sure. Let’s go back in and I’ll make us invisible.”

“Should you really be announcing that so loudly?” Saruhiko drawled back, but he moved aside obligingly so Yata could unlock the door for them.

It was such a typical tone that something inside Yata clenched, partly with pain and partly with pleasure. “Yeah, yeah.”

It was a relief to be in the air again afterwards, although he hadn’t felt that way when they’d flown home from the solstice celebration. His thoughts and feelings had been in such a mess, though. Now, even though it was painful, things at least seemed sorted in his head. Yata shut his eyes against the night breeze, gathering his resolve.

If he accomplished nothing else, at least he could make sure both of them understood this before they went their separate ways.

The building they landed on was near the center of the city – not quite at the heart, but pretty close. It was one of a number of skyscrapers in the area, but it stood out a little by having a domed glass roof, which was tinted but could still be seen through just a bit when they were close enough, the outline of a rooftop garden-like area just barely visible in the places where the moonlight wasn't reflecting too strongly to catch a glimpse.

Yata settled on a point where two of the support beams crossed at the top of the curve, lowering himself to sit down but not bothering to pull his wings in. He looked out at the view of the city – lit up in the commercial districts and dark in most of the residential, all of it outlined by moonlight and offset by shadow – and felt the usual sense of grounding settle within him. “This is where I go when I’m feeling... y’know.” He shrugged, not bothering to look to see what Saruhiko was doing. “Like I did when I summoned you.”

Lonely. Overwhelmed. Stifled. Alone.

It helped to be somewhere quiet, if nothing else.

There was another brief pause, followed by a sigh. “I’m surprised it wasn't one of the charging points,” Saruhiko responded wryly. He didn't move to sit, but he was still beside Yata, not moving away. Listening.

That was comforting, at least. Yata managed a rueful little smile, and steeled himself to just get right to it. “Listen,” he started, “about before... when you asked me not to break the contract. I thought about it – why I had that reaction, I mean – and I wanna make it clear.” At that, he turned his head to look up at Saruhiko, setting his jaw stubbornly. “It’s not because I don't want you.”

No obvious reaction. Saurhiko wasn't meeting his gaze, looking out instead over the city. His expression was characteristically neutral. “Mm.”

Yata took that as a signal to continue. “Obviously I do. You saw how I...” The reminder of his possessive aggression in that moment made his face grow hot; he reached up without thinking to scratch at the back of his head. “Yeah, anyway. I really wanna be with you.” As he said the words, he could feel his own sincerity behind them almost like a tangible thing – could vividly remember all the little moments when they'd talked and the nights of playing games – and a surge of longing rose up at the back of his throat, sudden and overwhelming. “I want it so bad,” he managed to get out, trying to ignore the thickness that had crept into his voice. “I’ve never felt like this about anyone before. I really… I mean, you’re… important to me.” Somehow, it was too much to say the word ‘love’; the hurt was too fresh. “But not like this. I can't...”

It was hard to get the words out through the emotion clogging his chest. Yata swallowed, trying to collect himself, and made another attempt. “You wanted me to prove I want you, right?” Without waiting for Saruhiko to reply – if he even planned to – he rushed right ahead with the rest. “Well, I also wanna know for sure that you want me.”

At that, he seemed to get a reaction; Saruhiko's lips parted, an audible intake of breath coming from him. He finally turned to meet Yata's gaze, seemingly caught off guard by that simple fact.

Yata followed up on his advantage. “If it’s like this, with you tied to me, you gotta be here whether you want to or not.” Even just bringing it up had that sick feeling building in his gut; he shook his head, turning to frown out at the city. “I can’t do that, Saruhiko. I wanna look at you when you're beside me and know that you're there because you want to be. Not because you're forced to be.”

The silence that followed those words was heavy.

The finality of it – actually saying it rather than just knowing – sat heavily on Yata's heart. That was it, really. If Saruhiko couldn't accept that, then there wasn't anything else he could do to make this work. He waited for a moment to see if there'd be a response; when there wasn’t, he deflated a little, some of the hope that he'd allowed to grow in his heart dying. "Just had to say it," he muttered, shoulders sagging a bit. He was caught between wanting to look up – to see Saruhiko's reaction, whatever it was – and his pride trying to prevent him from breaking down altogether. “Also... about that other stuff you said. Y’know, me just wanting whoever because I was lonely?” He let out a small, humorless chuckle. “I wasn’t lonely because I wanted someone who had to be around me all the time. What I wanted – what I want – is someone I can be excited to come home to. Someone who’s got his own shit going on outside of me, and gets that I’ve got shit going on outside of him too. Someone who makes me feel comfortable but still challenges and thrills me. Like I said, it can't be just anyone." Swallowing down the surge of emotion, he added, low and shaky, “And I want it to be you.”

Beside him, Saruhiko let out a shaky-sounding exhale. "Misaki," he mumbled, low and unsteady – but if he'd planned to say something after, it didn’t come out.

The tone of his voice was enough to make up Yata’s mind; feeling emboldened, he looked over and met Saruhiko's gaze. Those blue-grey eyes he loved so much had a starved sort of look in them – not the wild, manic edge from hours before, but something softer... Lost, maybe. It tugged at his heart, the ache pleasant and painful all at once.

It made him want to try one more time – even if he looked stupid or clingy. His pride wasn't more important than this. “You can’t really want this contract, right, Saruhiko?” It was impossible to keep the hopeful note out of his voice. “You got a life that I'm not part of – people you miss, stuff you wanna do. Don’t you wanna keep doing that, seeing them, and come home to me too?”

Saruhiko stared at him for another moment, looking as if he were seeing him for the first time, and then exhaled in a rush, shutting his eyes. Before Yata could think to question what that meant, he slumped down to sit on the beam as well, shoulders sagging. It was that same defeated posture from earlier, but it felt somehow less... resigned.

Like he was letting go of something this time rather than accepting a burden.

“How the hell do you do that?” Saruhiko muttered, shaking his head slightly before opening his eyes again to meet Yata’s gaze. The corners of his mouth edged up into a rueful smile, contributing to the weary but fond expression on his face. “You act headstrong and careless, but you can still come up with a way to put it that just...” He shook his head. “You know. Something about you gets under my skin. When you summoned me…” At that point, he hesitated, and then clicked his tongue. “Well, not like it matters if you know. I felt it – your loneliness, I mean.”

Yata blinked at him, thrown off by the sudden admission. “Eh?”

“The emotional link opens before we accept the contract,” Saruhiko explained, voice wry. “Normally I wouldn’t have taken a contract without an end date or timeframe.” He offered that funny little smile again, expression strangely helpless. “Somehow, when I connected with you… it was like the rational part of my brain stopped. I moved without even thinking.” He let out a soft, resigned-sounding huff, shutting his eyes. “That’s how much you’ve always affected me, right from the start.”

It struck a familiar chord. Staring back, Yata couldn’t help but think back to all those times he’d felt that solidarity between them – the sense of their feelings synchronizing – and the confession made perfect sense. More than before, a fierce longing swelled within him; the precious nature of their connection striking him all at once as it sank in.

That loneliness he’d felt – Saruhiko had felt it too, and recognized it straight away.

If they separated now… Yata swallowed around the lump in his throat, feeling his chest constrict. It felt like they’d lose a chance at something amazing. Something he wanted to grow into, and learn to cherish.

Please, Saruhiko…

As if in response to that desperation, Saruhiko was opening his eyes again, the little smile fading on his lips as he regarded Yata with something like uncertainty. “Misaki,” he started, voice low, and took in what sounded like a ragged, painful breath. “I want them too. Those things you said... All of them.”

The sting of tears hitting his eyes felt like catharsis. Yata couldn't help the choked noise, half laugh and half sob, that escaped his throat. Saruhiko's face blurred in front of him and he scrubbed furiously at his eyes, blinking to clear his vision as best he could. “Yeah,” he managed to get out roughly, and reached out without stopping to check himself.

The sudden happiness that burst within him when Saruhiko met him partway was nearly overwhelming.

It wasn’t a skilled or passionate kiss, but it felt so good that Yata’s heart seemed to sing within his chest. Their lips met, parted briefly, and connected again; they were both obviously trembling with the emotion behind it. He had his fingers braced at the back of Saruhiko’s neck and Saruhiko’s hand cupping his face, and he couldn’t tell where most of the tremors originated. The breath between them was ragged and as they leaned into each other, Saruhiko’s hand found his on the beam between them and gripped it tightly – a hold that Yata returned with equal force.

He couldn’t remember ever being this happy before in his life. He didn’t want the moment to end.

Eventually, of course, it had to; they pulled back after a few moments, panting and reluctant, and when Yata opened his eyes, Saruhiko’s were fluttering open in the same moment. Their gazes locked, and the smile that tugged at his lips was mirrored back to him, slow and hesitant, on Saruhiko’s.

He didn’t know how long they stayed like that, but after a while Saruhiko drew in another of those shaky breaths and let his fingers trail from Yata’s face, leaving shivers in their wake. He wrapped his arm around Yata’s shoulders instead, drawing him in with unexpected force and mumbling next to his ear a very quiet, “Sorry.”

Yata felt his smile widening at that, eyes stinging dangerously. He wriggled his own arm free to return the awkward embrace. “S’okay.”

There was another lengthy, comfortable pause as they let that moment run its course, and then Saruhiko drew back, meeting Yata’s gaze again with lidded eyes and notable hesitation that he was clearly trying to mask. “Now what?”

“Now… we got time, right?” Yata gave his hand a squeeze, feeling light-headed. Possibilities were beginning to form in his head – the future spreading out bright and full of promise in front of him. “And I got your number – summoning circle, I mean.” He grinned. “We can figure this shit out together.”

Saruhiko shut his eyes, letting out a short, amused huff, and squeezed back. When he opened them again, that fond expression was back on his face, making Yata’s heart skip a beat. “I guess we can,” he murmured, and leaned in again until their lips almost touched before drawling, “later.”

They were both smiling into the kiss that followed.

 

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