He’d hardly gotten a wink of sleep last night and had woken up early this morning as well; unable to go back to sleep and with nothing else to do, he’d made his way into the office.
Wanting to get a bit of work done before everyone else arrived, he made his arrangements and sat down before his computer—but his concentration was shot today, due in large part to the headache that had been attacking him intermittently since around dawn. He also felt a bit feverish, and the stomachache was still with him as well.
He knew fully well that these were all symptoms of a cold—he’d probably ruined his health when he’d gotten soaked in the downpour from the previous evening. Everything had been just fine from the run from Kirishima’s apartment to the station and from there all the way to his own station; at that point, the storm hadn’t quite reached where he was yet. The clouds had looked menacing, to be sure, but deeming it not enough to merit buying an umbrella, he’d started for his apartment.
He’d realized the decision had been a mistake about when he’d made half the journey home; the rain had suddenly escalated into heavy drops and then in a flash changed to a downpour of upturned-bucket proportions. With horrible timing, he’d already passed up the last convenience store. No other stores were still open, and even if he’d opted to wait out the storm, there was no telling when it would stop. Having no other choice, he’d charged home while soaking wet, looking like a drowned rat by the time he reached his building.
This was probably because of how chilled he’d let himself get back then. He’d hopped right into a warm shower, but in hindsight he probably should’ve opted for a soak in a tub.
Just in case, he’d taken some non-drowsy cold medicine earlier, but at this point he couldn’t tell if it was working or not.
“…Maybe I’ll have some coffee.” He knew it wasn’t good to try and ward this cold off using caffeine, but he couldn’t help himself. Coffee probably wasn’t the best idea with his stomach in the painful state it was already, but he needed something to flip that switch within him and get him started. Though while he preferred his coffee black, he at least allowed a bit of milk to cut it this morning.
When he returned to his desk with the lidded paper cup in his hand, Henmi had just arrived at the office. “Good morning, Yokozawa-san!”
He knew Henmi had been out drinking with co-workers the previous evening, but he didn’t show an ounce of fatigue, and his complexion was decent. Begrudging Henmi’s youth and vitality, he settled the coffee cup on his desk.
“That was quite the storm last night, huh! I left home that morning with my clothes still out drying on the line—it was horrible! If I’d known it would start raining then, I would’ve headed straight home and not gone out drinking.”
“Yeah…that’s nice…” Yokozawa let the banal chatter flow in one ear and out the other, and at his half-hearted reply, he was swiftly reminded of the gravity of the damage done.
“It’s not ‘nice’ at all! Now I have to wash my clothes all over again!”
Yokozawa couldn’t have honestly cared less about Henmi’s clothes, seeing as he himself had suffered bodily damage. That at least was a hell of a lot better than ruining your health. And while it had been his own fault for underestimating the weather and not buying an umbrella on his way home, he still couldn’t bring himself to sympathize all that much with Henmi’s plight.
“Wait—you do laundry on weekdays? You’re actually pretty hard-working huh…”
“I actually quite like cleaning and laundry. It’s kind of…a stress-relief for me, I guess? Do you not do much housework, Yokozawa-san?”
“Only when I have to. Though I guess I don’t mind cooking.”
“Oh right—don’t you cook with Hiyori-chan over at Kirishima-san’s place sometimes? Invite me over sometime!”
“Yeah, sure. One of these days.”
At this vague, random reply, Yokozawa received in return an expression that looked as if Henmi had just seen a ghost. The unexpectedly shocked reaction had Yokozawa in turn hesitantly replying, “Wh…what’s with that expression?”
“Well—usually you’re all ‘I don’t have any food fit to give you!’ or something! What’s with you today? Don’t tell me you have a fever…?!”
“Of course I don’t—I just responded randomly is all.” The unexpected display of concern led his true feelings to slip out a hair.
“Hey—isn’t that a little mean?”
“I’m not telling you you can’t have any, am I? Just, if there’s a chance, maybe.”
“I’m holding you to that!”
“Yeah yeah; hey, isn’t the air conditioning a little strong today?” A shiver rippled down his spine at the cool air blasting over him. The thermostat was usually set rather high to conserve energy and he typically found himself wishing it were cooler, but today it was actually a little cold.
“You think? It feels as hot as ever to me; are you sure you aren’t looking a bit rough?”
“‘S your imagination.” He’d tried to force a nonchalant expression, not wanting Henmi worrying too much over him, but Henmi saw right through him. While surprised at how sharp Henmi could be in the strangest of respects, he tried not to let it show. He couldn’t have his subordinates fussing over him.
“No—something is definitely off with you today! You don’t have your usual…intensity.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean? Fine, sure—maybe I’ve got a little heatstroke; I’m not as young as you, after all.”
“You’re only three years my elder!”
“And those three years mean a hell of a lot; I’ll make sure to eat something energy-packed for lunch. But forget about me—how’s that proposal from the other day coming?” He changed the subject with a vague smile; much more of this cross-examination and he’d start to show cracks.
“Oh—it’ll take a bit longer. I haven’t been able to get all the data compiled yet…”
“Well—just show me everything you’ve got now.”
“All right then—I’ll send you an e-mail.” Henmi flitted back off to his own desk and started up his computer. Relieved that he seemed to have thrown the guy off his trail for now, Yokozawa flipped over to work-mode in his own head.
“Please stop here,” he directed the taxi driver and pulled out his wallet. After paying the fare, he started for his apartment on unsteady feet. Without the will to even bother checking his mailbox, he piled into the elevator and somehow managed to make it all the way to his own room, where his stamina gave out on him at the entrance and he was forced to lean against the wall for a few moments.
He’d pushed himself too hard today, and the virus had finally won out over him. Maybe the way his stomach had been paining him since last Friday’s drinking excursion had been the first sign that his body was weak. This recent heatwave had sapped his strength, leaving him defenseless.
“Shit, I’m dizzy…”
He’d managed to hold out while he was at the office, but the moment he’d stepped outside, the urge to vomit had assaulted him. If he’d let himself collapse right then and there, though, there was no telling what sorts of rumors would be flying around the next day, so he’d slapped on a nonchalant expression with sheer strength of will until he could catch a taxi near the train station.
Clinging to the wall, he entered his apartment and headed for the kitchen. He needed to eat something before he tried to take any medicine; he had no appetite, but he downed a gelatin pack and a gelatin herbal capsule he’d bought earlier that afternoon.
He didn’t even have enough strength to give his sweat-soaked body a rinse in the shower, and he sluggishly changed into his pajamas and climbed into the bed.
“This never used to happen before…” he muttered, pulling a thermometer from the drawer of his bedside table and taking his temperature. He’d never had to worry about ruining his health just by overdoing things a bit when he was a child.
At the shrill beeping, he pulled the device from his armpit and checked the reading—and when he saw the value was well past 38 degrees, he felt his fever rise even more. He felt a pang of regret that he probably should’ve gone straight to the hospital, but it was too late for that now. If he wasn’t on the road to recovery after a good night’s rest, he could always call a taxi.
He didn’t want to admit it, but he felt like his stamina had taken a dive of late. His hangovers seemed to last longer than they had before as well, so maybe he was just reaching an age where he needed to start thinking about the pace of his life—before it was too late.
He still had a few good years left on him, to be sure, but he couldn’t overexert himself like he could in his teens.
“…Shit, I didn’t get to talk to him today either…”
He’d honestly meant to talk to Kirishima today, but with his condition being so bad, it hadn’t been possible. He once again cursed his horrible timing.
They had neither texted nor spoken to one another for four days now—and it figured that now of all times there were no meetings that forced them together at least.
But…Yokozawa honestly wasn’t confident he could stand before Kirishima without all of his agitation and anxiety showing clearly on his face—so maybe this was actually all for the best.
“I have…to go see him tomorrow…”
He didn’t want this awkward atmosphere between them to continue. It was ruining his spirit—and more than that, he missed the guy. Maybe being sick was making him all the more desperate for human companionship, but every time he closed his eyes, all he saw was Kirishima’s face.
The medicine seemed to be kicking in, and he could feel his consciousness slipping away. He recalled distantly that he’d forgotten to turn the lights off in the living room, but he didn’t have the energy left to get up anymore.
He could sense someone was nearby. Thinking for a moment that he needed to feed Sorata, he remembered distantly that the cat was at Kirishima’s place right now, his fuzzy mind not working well.
They liked to say that sickness turned you timid, but Yokozawa felt that it was pretty appropriate to describe how he felt right now. Even if he could hardly rely on Sorata, the mere presence or absence of a cat had distinctly different effects on his level of anxiety.
But if that wasn’t Sorata he was sensing, then who…?
Kirishima’s face immediately floated into his mind’s eye, but that was hardly likely. His parents hardly ever visited, though…and there was only one friend who had a key to his apartment.
Thinking that perhaps it was him, he called out, “…Masamune?”
“Sorry, I’m not Takano.”
“Huh…?” He jolted at the unexpected voice that drifted in from the living room, and after a few moments, his consciousness returned fully.
“How’re you feeling? It’s gotta be pretty bad to put you in bed like this…”
“Bingo,” he returned with a bitter smile and laid something cool across Yokozawa’s forehead—probably an antifebrile cooling sheet. The chilled sensation against his feverish, flushed body was amazing.
“What’re you doing here…?” He panicked for a moment that perhaps this was just a hallucination induced by his high fever and took several long blinks.
At this reaction, Kirishima forced a sigh. “When I went down to the sales floor, I found out you’d left early—which is pretty rare—and Henmi mentioned you’d looked kind of pale, so I got worried and came to check on you. You had the lights on, but you wouldn’t answer the door no matter how many times I rang, so I freaked out and thought maybe you’d keeled over.”
“I was sleeping; not like I could help it.” He hadn’t heard the doorbell at all. The cold medicine he’d taken before climbing into bed had done its job and he’d slept like the dead.
“Well that’s why I came in on my own. Aren’t you glad you gave me that spare key now?”
“You took that without my permission, asshole…” When he fired back his usual abusive retort, Kirishima’s smile turned a bit more enjoyable. It felt like it’d been ages since he’d seen that smile, and he felt the emotions that had been on tenterhooks within him finally relax. He didn’t let it show in his face, but it struck him strongly in the chest.
“If you weren’t feeling well, you should’ve called me—what’s the harm in relying on me at times like this? Though—I guess I can understand why you might’ve not wanted to… But what if something had happened?”
“…Sorry…” He’d been a bit over-confident thinking he’d get better if he just took some medicine and slept it off, but there’d also been a part of him that hadn’t been entirely sure this was something he should be selfish with.
“You’re supposed to be selfish with others when you’re sick, you know. You thirsty? I bought some sports drink.”
“I’ll have some.” He pushed himself up into a seated position and brought the proffered bottle to his lips. Thirstier than he’d even expected, he downed the whole bottle at once.
“Are you hungry?”
“No appetite…” He felt like if he tried to eat anything solid, the urge to vomit, which had finally eased, would come back.
“Well if you’re going to take some medicine, you’ll have to put something in your stomach. Oh yeah—I brought some apples; want me to cut up a few for you? I always do it for Hiyo when she’s got a fever.”
“I thought you couldn’t peel apples?”
“What’re you talking about? You can cut an apple just fine without peeling it. Don’t worry—I’ll wash it well.”
“…I’ll pass. I already took some medicine before I went to sleep.”
“Then you should go back to sleep. Oh—but change into something else before you do. You’ll get chilled with those sweat-soaked clothes. Where do you keep your sleep clothes?”
Without a doubt, this had to be nothing more than a pleasant dream. Kirishima here, in his house, nursing him at his bedside? It was a laughable situation. Maybe he was just weak, being tossed about by his fever.
“…In the middle of the closet drawer.” He typically would’ve protested that he could do it himself, but when he considered that this was just a dream, he obediently let himself be a bit selfish.
He changed into the room wear Kirishima pulled out for him and climbed back into bed, where Kirishima settled at his bedside and pulled the thermometer from his bedside table.
“Check your temperature.”
“‘Kay…” He tucked the thermometer under his arm and settled his head back against his pillow. Maybe because Kirishima was sitting next to him, it seemed to take longer than usual for the measurement. Feverish and addled though he might have been, he couldn’t deny how awkward the situation felt. It would be difficult to even feign sleep with as worked-up as he felt right now.
He stared at the long line of Kirishima’s back; given that he was facing the door right now, Yokozawa couldn’t tell what his expression looked like.
“I’m sorry…for the other day.”
Yokozawa started at having conversation suddenly directed at himself and let out an idiotic response. “Huh?”
“You know full well what I’m talking about; Friday evening, I mean.”
“……….” Yokozawa clammed up, completely at a loss as to how to respond to Kirishima when he turned back his way. The silence continued for a few long moments, ultimately broken by the beeping of the thermometer.
“Let me see… 37.5, huh. Still a little high.”
“Better than before, at least.”
“The fatigue’s been building up in you, hasn’t it? It’s been sweltering lately, and you love overexerting yourself. Don’t you get tired making the rounds?”
“Not really; it’s part of my job.” In fact, from Yokozawa’s point of view, it was worse being stuck behind a desk all day. But the difference in temperature between inside and outside seemed to have caused more damage than he’d been aware of.
“I guess; but it just means you’ve gotta take better care of yourself. Brace yourself, rest up, and get back your strength.”
Kirishima reached forward and ruffled his hair, and Yokozawa weakly slapped his hand away. “…Oi, I said cut that out.” Truthfully, he didn’t dislike it at all; it was only that he was too embarrassed to admit how amazingly good it felt, the sensation of those fingers.
“With that kind of energy to you, I’m sure that fever will go down soon.” Yokozawa turned his face away to escape the gentle gaze Kirishima directed toward him. The slight quickening of his pulse was due, undoubtedly, to his fever.
He ordered his heart to calm down, when Kirishima started talking again. “About that night… I just wound up in front of your apartment without even realizing it. I wasn’t drunk, you know. Just—when I couldn’t get through to your phone, I panicked and kind of…”
“Anyways—I didn’t mean to blame you for anything. Though I guess I can see how it would’ve been difficult for you to just tell me to trust you…” Seeming to realize that he was coming off as trying to excuse what he’d done, Kirishima scratched his head awkwardly—but that wasn’t what Yokozawa was concerned with at the moment.
“So you’re…not mad at me?”
“Why would you think I was mad at you?” His expression was confused.
“I just…thought maybe you were pissed that I didn’t listen to your warning… Was I wrong?”
Because he hadn’t heeded Kirishima’s warning, the very thing he’d been warning against had happened—he’d assumed the guy had been disgusted over it. But at Yokozawa’s hesitant confession, Kirishima simply chuckled bitterly.
“You idiot. I was just…sulking.”
“Like I said—I was jealous of that chick and irritated for it. I spouted all that self-important shit, and look where it got me.”
Kirishima quickly turned away, abashed, and Yokozawa found himself unable to keep from laughing at the utterly childish gesture. “Geez, are you a kid? Though huh, so even you sulk sometimes…”
“Don’t laugh.” But this just made the laughs come all the more.
After letting his shoulders shake for a bit, Yokozawa finally let loose, face serious, what he’d been meaning to confess for some time now. “There’s seriously nothing between me and that girl. When she asked me if I had a lover—I told her that I did. She never even confessed to me.”
In the low light of the room, he could clearly see how shocked Kirishima was. “…When?”
“Last Friday. Just before you called me.” It was the entire reason he’d been so shaken when he’d gotten the call at just that moment. But the clear displeasure in Kirishima’s voice had made him feel as if he were being doubted, so he’d snapped.
If he’d tried to call back after he and Matsumoto had parted ways, things likely wouldn’t have gotten this bad. Looking back now, he knew he’d behaved quite childishly.
“So in other words…I was a complete idiot? Ugh, what the hell! Dammit! Tell me these kinds of things sooner!” Kirishima cursed as he mussed his own hair. He was probably regretting what he’d said back then right about now.
They’d felt the whole thing had been a serious problem between them, but in hindsight, it was really little more than a lovers’ tiff. Once all was settled, it was something they could actually laugh about.
“Still…to think that you actually get jealous…”
“Of course I do—we’re talking about the guy I love here. I even got all pumped up to go into battle against her at the autograph event and everything—but you didn’t even notice.”
So that had been why he’d seemed particularly decked out that day. Maybe the timing of Hiyori barging in had also been his doing…
As Yokozawa sat there, shocked at how unexpectedly narrow-minded Kirishima had been, Kirishima apologized shamefully, “I’m…really sorry for acting so childish.”
“Hmph, so you recognized it, did you?”
“I guess. You might not have realized it—but I’m a hell of a lot more possessive and prone to jealousy than you.”
“I’m beginning to get that impression.” He just happened to be particularly good at keeping up appearances—that was what Kirishima had told him once before. Which meant in this case, he’d been so agitated by the situation that he hadn’t been able to pretend.
“Still…you actually told her…”
“If she’d just brought it up in passing that would’ve been one thing—but when she asked me outright, I didn’t exactly have any choice but to respond. And I never once mentioned your name.”
“And…was that all you told her?”
“…That was it.”
“What was that pause?”
He hadn’t mentioned everything he’d said only because it was too damn embarrassing.
…Someone I greatly respect.
If Kirishima found out Yokozawa had said something like that, there was no doubt he would’ve teased Yokozawa about it mercilessly. Even for a dream, he couldn’t bring himself to be that open.
Perhaps worried when Yokozawa grew unnaturally silent, Kirishima hesitantly questioned, “So…completely disenchanted with me now?”
“Nah… I won’t say it wasn’t unexpected, but…”
Kirishima’s expression turned suspicious when Yokozawa trailed off. “What’s that ‘but’ for?”
After a moment’s mental debate, Yokozawa simply spoke the words within his mind as they came. “Was just thinking that we really…kind of suit each other.” He was only able to laugh this easily because this was a dream.
Kirishima’s expression showed how surprised he’d been by the moment, but after a momentary choked up gleam to his eye, he chuckled, “I guess we do at that…”
He hesitantly squeezed the fingers casually looped around his own, and maybe it was just because of his fever, but Kirishima’s hands were cool and felt wonderful against him.
As if rising to the water’s surface from the seabed to which he’d sunk, Yokozawa slowly roused to consciousness, and as he woke, he found himself staring dazedly up at the ceiling.
It’d been a while since he’d slept so well. He usually found himself forcibly woken from a mud-like sleep, but today he awoke feeling remarkably refreshed.
“…I’m starving,” he muttered to himself without realizing it and slowly eased himself upright. Did he even have anything in the kitchen to eat?
“I’ll bet you are. Morning; how are you feeling?”
“Can’t complain…wait, what? Why’re you here?!” The guy had poked his head into Yokozawa’s room as if it were his own, startling Yokozawa.
“What, lost your memories again? And after I nursed you through the night—ungrateful ass.”
“Eh…?” Yokozawa’s thought processes screeched to a halt at the comment invoking a sense of deja vu. The first time, he’d paled in shock—but this time, his face simply heated up with a flush.
All those things he’d said and done because he’d thought it was a dream—that had all been real. Even setting aside the whole ‘nursing back to health’ part, he’d said so many unbearably embarrassing things.
Kirishima chuckled at the obviously agitated Yokozawa. “Wait—don’t tell me you thought it was all a dream or something, right?”
“…!” He bit back a response, and Kirishima’s shoulders shook all the harder.
“Bullseye, huh? I thought you were being rather honest back there… So that‘s what it was, huh? Well, I’ve got it all filed away in my long-term memory so I guess I don’t mind either way.”
“Forget it! Right. Now.”
“No~t a chance, it’s too good to waste.”
At Kirishima’s response, Yokozawa massaged his forehead. The pain had lessened, but now new stress was plaguing him.
Still…when he thought about it, it was a little late to worry about Kirishima seeing him in an embarrassing state. Maybe being overly sensitive to it just gave your opponent more opportunities. In other words, if he could turn the tables on the guy—he wouldn’t have to be teased as much as he was.
Granted, he didn’t see himself being that bold any time soon, but at least pretending it was the first step.
“…Do whatever you want.” He rose from the bed and slipped past Kirishima, headed for the kitchen, where he filled a glass with water and downed it in one gulp.
“Now that‘s an unexpected response. You usually put up more of a fight than that.”
“Like I can put up with dealing with you on every little matter. And forget that—have you seriously been here the whole time?” He didn’t even have a couch that the guy could’ve napped on. While he did have an extra futon for guests, it was currently sitting way in the back of his closet, so the only real place anyone could’ve rested was the bed. Which meant Kirishima likely hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d professed to nursing Yokozawa through the whole night.
“Til around sunrise. I checked on you and then dropped back by my place for a few. Oh—I made sure to feed Sorata.”
“Sorry for the trouble—really,” he apologized anew.
“Who said it was any trouble?”
When Yokozawa changed his phrasing, Kirishima turned on him a smile that seemed to say good boy. “You’re welcome.” He often wondered if he wasn’t on the same level as Hiyori in Kirishima’s eyes at times like this. Hell, maybe he was even lower on the totem pole.
“What time is it now?”
“Just past 2 PM.”
“Ah dammit we’re totally late!” He knew it wouldn’t do any good to panic, but he had to notify the office, and he picked up the handset on the desk in his bedroom. Would his boss even believe him if he told him he had been laid up in bed with a cold? When Yokozawa had never taken a single sick day since joining the company?
He’d more or less completely recovered now, but it would probably be best to just take the day off and rest rather than head in to work now. At least he didn’t have any appointments today with clients.
“Who’re you calling? Take-out?” Kirishima questioned curiously, staring at Yokozawa with the phone in his hand trying to think of what to tell his boss.
“Are you an idiot? I’m calling the office of course! And—hey, don’t you have to be in, too?” he snapped back, voicing the concern that suddenly came to mind. Kirishima being here meant he was skipping out on work as well. They both had a ton of paid vacation days saved up, but neither of them had light enough workloads to use them so freely.
“I took the day off as well. They can handle things without me for a single day. And I made sure to call in sick for you while I was at it, so don’t worry.”
“Huh? Why the hell were you telling them that I was sick?”
“If I hadn’t, it would’ve been an unauthorized absence, wouldn’t it? When I told your boss, he said, ‘So I guess even demons get sick now and then’.”
“……….” Yokozawa could only release a sigh at the nonchalantly returned response. It looked like there was no escaping becoming the topic of conversation around the office. There would be no choice but to regroup and turn the tables.
“Well, now that that’s all said and done—go take a bath. I’ll take care of the cooking.”
“You‘ll take care of the cooking?” He could hardly let that go unremarked, and raised his voice. What the hell was Kirishima—who was an utter failure in the kitchen—intending to make? Was it even a good idea to let the guy in the kitchen?
At Yokozawa’s obvious anxiety, Kirishima boasted, “Don’t make fun of me; I’m a parent, you know. I can make something simple like rice porridge.”
“You sure I can trust you…?”
“Just leave it to me.” The amount of confidence the guy had was, in itself, a little frightening. However, despite being unable to shake off the worry, he couldn’t fight his desire to wash off his sweat-soaked body.
“Well, don’t overdo it.”
“Yeah yeah—get going.” And thus with painful reluctance, Yokozawa headed for the bathroom.
With the sweat washed from his body, Yokozawa’s mind cleared as well. He changed into casual clothing and headed back into the living room, where it seemed the meal’s preparations were finished.
“Actually—I made it while you were still sleeping. Didn’t wanna mouth off about being able to do it and then screw it up, y’know?” The spread covering the table seemed to be a random assortment of dishes taken from the refrigerator. As he drew a chair up to the table, Kirishima scooped some rice porridge from a pot and passed it to him.
“For now, sure.” He was hungry, but if it tasted awful, he might not be able to eat it all. He scooped up a spoonful of the porridge, steam billowing up, and stared—then he steeled himself.
“This…is actually pretty edible.” The porridge he’d warily brought to his mouth had a normal flavor, tasting neither pasty nor burnt. Even setting aside his empty stomach, it was more than edible.
“Right? Got my mother to teach me the recipe and practiced it. Hiyo used to get fevers a lot when she was younger, after all.”
“Ah, I see.”
Since he hadn’t had much of an appetite the previous day, this was his first proper meal in 24 hours. He scooped the bowl empty and went back for seconds, only stopping for breath after he’d finished his third bowl. He wasn’t full, but he understood it wasn’t a good idea to stuff himself while still on the road to recovery.
“Thanks for the meal.”
“You’re quite welcome.” As Yokzawa knocked back the last of his lukewarm tea, Kirishima added, “Take some more medicine. That cold’ll be back if you let your guard down thinking you’re all recovered.”
“Yeah yeah.” He carried his dishes to the sink and downed the medicine he’d left in the kitchen. Quickly rinsing off his dishes, he headed back into the living room, where Kirishima was drinking some tea.
“…You mind if I ask you something?”
“You’ve been acting…really weird lately. What’s the problem?”
“!” Yokozawa gasped at the unexpected question. He’d certainly been hung up on something for a while now—but he’d tried his level best to keep Kirishima from noticing.
“You don’t have to say if you don’t want to—or well, that was what I was thinking, but I’m not a wizard, you know. You’ve got to tell me if there’s something on your mind.”
He made up his mind when he heard his name called softly—if he ran away here, they’d never get through this. Sure, there was no guarantee that anything would change even if he spilled everything, but at least his heart would feel lighter than it did keeping it a secret locked within himself.
He settled down into his chair sideways and rested his elbow on the chair’s back—he didn’t have the balls to say this facing Kirishima straight-on. He opened and closed his mouth several times before he finally found the words he needed and spoke.
“I just…was wondering if you were…really okay. With me.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Your place is really nice, and Hiyo’s adorable. But…it’s not really a place I’m meant to be, see?”
“…” Kirishima’s breath seemed to catch—apparently he’d finally gathered what Yokozawa was trying to explain.
“Your wife, she…she’s really beautiful, and I just feel like…I don’t have anything in common with her.”
Finally giving voice to the words, he grew abashed at how much he sounded like a fricking teenage girl—and now that he’d noticed it, he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The time he spent at Kirishima’s place was relaxing and enjoyable—and maybe that was precisely what worried him so. Getting worked up over this sort of thing, though, wasn’t the most masculine of feats, and he prepared himself to be laughed at—but Kirishima just let out a soft sigh of understanding.
“…I get it now. And that’s why you don’t like us messing around at my place?”
“……….” Any time Kirishima had tried to touch him, in that very same place where his wife’s picture stood, feelings of guilt and shame had welled up instead, and he’d found himself placing distance between them. At first it had been unconscious, but once he’d realized it, his attitude had turned unnaturally awkward.
“Well, as for your first question: It has to be you, and no one else.” He hadn’t assumed that Kirishima was treating him as a replacement for anyone—he just wanted to know why, and at Yokozawa’s patently displeased expression as he sat there silently listening, Kirishima muttered through a soft chuckle, “…I can see you’re not satisfied with that response.”
“Though I guess this time last year I hadn’t expected I’d be dating you.”
“Neither did I.” If he’d told himself one year ago what he’d be doing right now, he never would’ve believed it. He either would’ve laughed it off or moodily reminded himself not to tell bad jokes.
“I’ve been paying attention to you for quite a while now, though.”
“Huh?” At the offhand confession, Yokozawa unthinkingly turned to face Kirishima. This was the first he was hearing of this.
“I guess the first time I noticed you…was during a meeting. It was like, ‘Wow, they sure brought in a real feisty newbie this time,’ and I decided to keep you under observation.”
“Observation?!” He doubted his hearing at the hardly romantic word, but he seemed to have heard correctly.
“You were really biting and sarcastic, but a lot more down-to-earth than you seemed, and you worked twice as hard as anyone else. Plus it was kind of funny, the way you flew off the handle any time someone goaded you.”
“Fuck you—I’m asking you a serious question here!” Kirishima’s comments sounded far from sincere, and it was starting to piss him off that the guy wasn’t taking this seriously.
“And I’m giving you a serious answer. I guess I didn’t realize that I was in love with you, though, until I sat down next to you in that bar. It just…finally clicked why I’d always been interested in you.”
“Wha…” The frankly delivered words set Yokozawa’s face aflame. He was the one who’d demanded seriousness, but having Kirishima be so straightforward and honest like this was just…embarrassing. Then, with Yokozawa’s eyes still swimming, Kirishima dropped another bombshell.
“And actually…it wasn’t a coincidence, my going into that bar you happened to be at that night.”
“I saw you go inside—and, I let it go at first, but it kept bugging me, and I wound up going back. Then you started talking to me.”
“Wa—wait wait wait, wait a minute—why the hell would you go out of your way to come back?!” It had been raining cats and dogs that night, a deluge great enough to make you think twice before even attempting to walk to the station. He couldn’t fathom why anyone in that situation would come back.
“I told you, didn’t I? That you’d piqued my interest. I guess if I had to give a reason, maybe I’d say that I just…had a feeling things would turn out this way.”
“Kinda like destiny, right? I listened to you bitch and complain, and all it made me think was this guy should just fall in love with me then.”
“You…have really shitty taste.” Falling for a drunkard who coaxed him into having a drink together? It was nothing short of stupid, and Yokozawa added a curse to hide his embarrassment.
“Geez, you just can’t be honest, can you? You’re supposed to tell me you sure know how to pick ‘em at moments like this.”
“Idiot,” he spit out shortly. As if he’d ever be able to say something as shameless as that.
“So, what else do you want to know? I should probably tell you about Sakura, huh? I don’t guess we’ve ever really talked about her…”
He shuddered; it was the first time he’d ever heard her name from Kirishima’s lips. “…Yeah…” He nodded, all nerves, and repositioned himself—it would be rude to listen to someone talk about a dead loved one while facing away from them.
Kirishima’s gaze grew far away, and at length, he finally spoke. “We…were classmates in middle school. Same year. She was the class president, and I was the class clown—so at first, we kind of were at it like cats and dogs. She’d gripe at me for every little thing—I couldn’t stand how irritating she was.”
He supposed it was a given, but when Yokozawa considered that even Kirishima had been a child once, it left him feeling strange. He couldn’t imagine what sort of childhood the guy had had.
“I guess I started thinking about her as a woman, though, when I realized that she didn’t really have a strong constitution. She’d act all tough in front of everyone, and when I saw her swearing she’d rather die than have anyone see her be weak, it just…got to me. Maybe I’d always been interested in her on some level, but well—I was a boy in middle school.”
Yokozawa’s chest constricted at the gentle expression that blossomed over Kirishima’s features as he let himself get lost in memory. He didn’t quite know how to explain the feeling—not jealousy, something else entirely.
The look in his eyes as he stared down at his hands…it was the same one he turned to Hiyori from time to time; absolutely overflowing with love and affection.
“I think about it when I see Hiyo too, but—girls tend to mentally mature faster than boys, so even when we both realized we were interested in one another, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to her, and when we got into the same high school, I kept throwing excuses at myself—and she wound up confessing to me first.”
“Sounds like she had a pretty manly character.” The woman in the picture had seemed to be all graceful beauty—but the image Kirishima painted for him with his words sounded more like a determined, unyielding young woman.
“Yup—I don’t think I ever won a single fight with her. And that reminds me—she was the one who proposed to me, too; we got hitched as soon as we graduated college.” With his easy manner of speaking and carefree attitude, Kirishima often came off as a playful sort—but he was remarkably single-minded. “Thinking back on it now…maybe she was in a hurry. As she got older, her strength had started to give out, and after she had Hiyori, it was a revolving door in and out of the hospital… She put up a hell of a fight, but…what can you do?”
Even at his age, Yokozawa still had no idea what you were supposed to say at moments like this. No matter how much he tried to sympathize, only those who’d been there, who’d experienced it, would ever really be able to understand how it felt—and he had no idea how painful it must have been to be parted by death from the partner you’d shared your life since middle school with.
“…I can kind of understand what you want to ask. You’re thinking, what if she were here now, right?”
“………” Yokozawa, at a loss for words, raised his head at Kirishima’s on-the-nose comment.
“Humans can’t help wondering what if, after all. Hell, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could just…go back in time. But—right now, all we have is the present.”
Kirishima’s words cut sharply into his chest. The guy must’ve spent countless nights agonizing over this all alone—his words held the weight of untold wishing and worrying until he could do no more.
“Now—I’m not denying the past I have. Even now, I still love Sakura, and I cherish all the memories I have with her. But—I don’t have her by my side anymore. I can’t change that reality, and because that’s part of my past, I’m the person I am today… It’s the same for you, right?”
“!” Yokozawa jolted when the question was turned on himself.
You don’t have to forget how you loved him before.
Those words…maybe they’d been offered based on Kirishima’s own experiences. Even now, he still couldn’t tell what Kirishima’s true intentions had been back then.
Continuing to love someone…and never forgetting that you used to love someone—they were so alike and yet so very different. Yokozawa was realizing that for the very first time.
“I’ve never, never thought of you as a replacement for her. And I’ve never thought that you had anything in common with her. Yeah…I guess if I had to suggest something you two shared…it’d be the fact that I just want to make you happy, really.”
His chest tightened at Kirishima’s confession, and as he struggled to fight back the emotions welling up within him, Kirishima spoke up in a different tone, “You know how…they ask you who you’d save if they were hanging from a cliff?”
“What’s with that line all of a sudden?” At Yokozawa’s confused expression, Kirishima waved him off, urging him to just listen.
“If I found myself in that situation…I’d save Hiyori. Without a second thought. But—then I’d stand there, waiting and trusting…that you’d pull yourself up on your own.”
The sly response drew a chuckle. “…That’s a pretty convenient way of phrasing things.” As he laughed, he casually dabbed his finger at the corner of his eyes, where tears had threatened to leak out.
“Then what about you? Would you save me?”
“Like you need saving.” Kirishima’s profession of waiting and trusting had torn away all of the worry and anxiety that had settled inside Yokozawa.
In Kirishima’s example, he probably would’ve worked hand over fist to save Takano before he even got near the cliff’s edge. He’d been far too overprotective, unable to shake those memories of that horrific period. Takano at his lowest had desperately needed someone supporting him—but now it was different. Not just that he was able to stand on his own now, but that he’d started walking forward on his own. The only one who’d been stuck, standing in the same place, had been Yokozawa himself.
And it was all thanks to Kirishima that he was finally able to look at himself from an objective perspective this way.
“I want to spend my life with you—from now on into the future. What about you?”
He didn’t want to just mouth off something half-assed, and as he thought for a moment, choosing his words carefully, Kirishima chuckled self-deprecatingly and offered wryly, “…So you really do prefer Takano, huh…”
“Huh?” Why had that name popped up now of all times?
At the confused response, Kirishima evasively clarified, “Just…don’t you remember? You were calling for him yesterday…”
“Oh…” He recalled here that when he’d sensed someone nearby in his half-awake state, he’d called out Takano’s name without thinking. Kirishima must’ve been bothered by it.
“I guess when it all comes down to it—he’s the one you’ll turn to, huh? Though I suppose you can’t exactly rely on someone who can barely clean his own house—”
“That’s not it!” he interrupted, refuting Kirishima’s unfounded speculations in a panic. He hadn’t called for Takano—he’d just unthinkingly blurted out the name of the only friend who came by his apartment with any frequency.
“Then what is it?”
At Kirishima’s vaguely peevish pressing, Yokozawa fired back, abashed, “I just—didn’t expect you to be there yesterday! I was the one who threw you out the other day, after all; I couldn’t call for you!”
“You know you don’t have to worry about that kind of thing with me.”
“…I did kind of hope that you’d come, though.” He hadn’t wanted to admit such a shameful thing, but if he let this misunderstanding continue, they’d just wind up missing each other again.
“…Geez, say that sort of thing to my face.”
“…!” Yokozawa’s breath caught as their faces were brought close with a quick duck. His heart gave a great leap, and he could feel his pulse racing all the way in his fingertips. “You’re—too damn close!”
“Hey—cut it out!” Unable to bring himself to meet Kirishima’s gaze, Yokozawa glanced away.
He’d only realized it recently…but he really seemed to like the build of Kirishima’s face. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d caught himself getting lost in the way the guy looked with his eyes downturned as he read a book or magazine. Maybe he’d always had a thing for attractive people and never even noticed.
“C’mon, look at me,” Kirishima whined, voicing his displeasure when Yokozawa kept his face turned away, unable to stand it. He leaned over the table and ducked his head to peek down and meet the averted gaze—at which point Yokozawa chose his moment and attacked.
“I said cut it out—!”
He snapped one hand out and grabbed Kirishima’s shirt collar, jerking him forward, and sealed their lips together. Kirishima gaped in wide-eyed shock at Yokozawa’s goal having been so easily won.
“Just shut your trap for a little while,” Yokozawa grunted his order, immediately releasing him. He’d been momentarily pleased that his revenge had panned out so well, but he immediately found himself regretting his actions.
“…Wow, you’re pretty proactive today. Never would’ve expected you to seduce me…”
His voice quavered at the unexpected reaction. “Sedu—don’t just read things however you like!”
“C’mon, no need to be shy~”
“You know—I’m not standing around being shy all the time with you.”
“Excellent—then let’s get to it while we’re in the mood!”
“You’ve got one hell of a wrong idea if you think this is the mood in the first place! Hey—let me go! What’re you doing?!”
“You have to ask? Geez, what an unromantic clod.”
Yokozawa continued to protest violently, but Kirishima showed no sign of listening. Quite the contrary, he instead grabbed Yokozawa’s arm and jerked him to his feet, patently feigning ignorance. Yokozawa found himself jerked into his bedroom and tossed onto the edge of the bed, where Kirishima climbed on top of him as he lay on his back.
“…!” His breath caught in his throat at their position, Kirishima holding him down by the shoulders as he stared down at Yokozawa.
“I’ll take that pissy negation as a ‘yes’. You’re still recovering—so just sit back and relax. Don’t worry—there’s no Hiyori here, so you can take it easy.”
“It’s my house—of course she’s not here.”
“No Sorata either—so just for today, you can afford to be open and honest, c’mon. Oh and—by the way? You can’t use, ‘I haven’t bathed’ as an excuse this time.”
At Kirishima’s comment beating him to the punch, Yokozawa belatedly realized that he’d just gotten out of the shower. Seizing the opportunity with Yokozawa’s voice stalled in his throat, Kirishima sealed his lips with a kiss, his tongue sweeping about his mouth and rendering him boneless. “Ngh…nn…”
Damn was this guy good at kissing. If they’d been standing up, his legs probably would’ve given out on him right about now. He’d never disliked their touching one another—but he hated having his senses laid bare and exposed for all to see. Maybe that was why the armor he usually wore was so thick.
“You know…you were pretty damn cute in the throes of a fever.”
“…Ngh, why you…!” He flushed at having a topic that should’ve been closed brought up again. It was bad enough knowing that someone had seen him in such a state, with all his good sense gone out the window, but he just wanted to die remembering how he hadn’t been sure what was real and what was a dream at the time.
“Well, you never smile at me like that usually… Though you’ll do it for Hiyo easily enough.”
“What the hell’s the point in being jealous of your own daughter? And if I went around grinning at you like that all the time, it’d be disgusting!”
“No it wouldn’t—I thought it was cute.”
“…Oh right. That’s just the kind of person you are; I forgot.” His strength left him in the face of Kirishima’s earnest, honest stressing of his feelings, and he flung his limbs splayed out onto the bed. It was stupid to keep fighting him on this point. It was clear he was simply arguing for argument’s sake, and being unreasonably stubborn just made the guy even happier.
“Still, I can’t believe I’m still having to remember that ‘Wow, love can be a real bitch sometimes‘ at my age. Feeling worried and regretting immature things I said or did, getting worked up over the simplest little comments…”
Yokozawa found himself captivated by Kirishima’s embarrassed grin; maybe all of those outspoken, open comments he bandied about usually were just…to disguise this side of him.
“Maybe this is what they mean by ‘finding love in your golden years’.”
“What the hell are you going on about? I’m not that old yet,” Kirishima sniped in return, then laughed out loud. If the first one to fall in love was the one destined to be hurt—then they were neither one of them walking away from this unharmed, probably.
“…I feel the same.”
“I get all—worked up because of you too, you know. So—take responsibility.”
Yokozawa snapped his hand out once more and curled his fingers into the collar of Kirishima’s shirt, jerking him forward and stealing his lips. He forced his tongue inside and initiated a provocative kiss, then slipped his free hand around the back of Kirishima’s head as he sat there shocked stupid and deepened the kiss further. Shoving aside all sense of shame, he boldly ravaged Kirishima’s mouth—if he showed one iota of shyness here, he’d be playing right into the guy’s hands.
He slowly pulled away and muttered, “Now this…is me seducing you.” And while a few regrets lingered in the back of his mind, there was no turning back now.
“…Hng…!” Yokozawa’s breath caught in his throat at the pressure he couldn’t describe. Loosened up with some ointment as a substitute for lotion, he slid down deep as he could.
He hoped Kirishima hadn’t forgotten that he was still recovering from his cold; he realized part of it was his own damn fault for goading the guy on, but this position was honestly pretty painful to maintain.
He’d thought that things might seem different looking down like this, but Kirishima’s gaze, which seemed to curl about him, was the same as always. If anything, Yokozawa felt even more shameful in this position.
“What’s wrong? You gonna get me off any time soon?”
He never would’ve thought the day would come that he’d skip out on work to climb on top of another man in the middle of the day on a weekday. At Kirishima’s urging, he tried to move—but couldn’t manage it. Maybe he’d lost any right to control over his own body, utterly tossed about as he’d been.
Still, he forcefully willed strength back into his knees, and vowing in his mind to make Kirishima climax first, he lifted his hips.
God, he hated that self-satisfied smile. Every time they fucked, he always thought one of these days, just you wait…, but that day had yet to come.
“Just place your hands here and lever your hips up—”
“I know what to do!” It ticked him off having something he knew full well pointed out to him, and he didn’t need the asshole who’d put him in this position in the first place proudly crowing about it.
“We’re still not getting anywhere huh…”
Apparently unable to wait any more, Kirishima sharply thrust upward from below. “Now just—keep your hips raised like that.”
“Ngh…ha—Ah!” A faint numbness shuddered down his spine at the thrusts coming as he struggled to stay standing, and every time he felt his legs about to give out, another sharp jolt came and he cried out incoherently.
He grit his teeth at the sensation only a hair’s breadth away from pain; balanced at the edge of the ruthless thrusting in and out, it was hot enough to roast him from the inside out, and he felt on the verge of melting from the intensity.
The thrusts eventually achieved a steady rhythm, and he felt his insides quivering intermittently as Kirishima drove into him, legs nearly giving out beneath him.
“Not that I don’t love the view from here, but I’m about at my limit.”
Kirishima clenched his stomach muscles and heaved himself upright, using the momentum to shove Yokozawa down onto his back. Their positions now switched, he shoved Yokozawa’s legs apart.
“Yeah, now this is more like it…” Sounding rather pleased with himself, he drove deep into Yokozawa.
He wanted to protest who the hell was it who told me to get up on top of you in the first place, but the sound that leaked from his lips instead was far too erotic to be his own voice. “Hnng—ah…!”
His cock lay plump and straining against his stomach, waiting for the moment of release. What little sense he had left was being blown away in the wake of the rough pistoning, in and out, and his consciousness was being chased down, finding nothing but pleasure before it.
He brought the hands that had been groping about on the sheets to wrap around Kirishima, gripping tight, and while Kirishima’s brows drew together when Yokozawa dug his nails in, it was impossible to tell if it was because of the pain.
“…Feel good?” Kirishima threw out, a question he obviously already knew the answer to.
“Don’t…ask…” He couldn’t understand why the guy would ask something he knew fully well that Yokozawa wouldn’t answer.
“Well—I feel so amazing I could die…”
“…!” At the rough whisper in his ear, Yokozawa felt the thrusts come at an ever-quickening pace. Kirishima pressed in tight, and Yokozawa’s mind went blank. Both his body and mind were being completely ravaged, and he couldn’t even properly tell up from down.
“Ah—ah—!” Mercilessly pushed to the brink of sensation, Yokozawa’s passion burst forth.
“Of course not.” Despite the fact that he’d only just recovered from his cold, they’d really overdone it. Even his throat, which shouldn’t have been affected by his poor health, now felt raspy. He snatched up the glass Kirishima held out for him and let the liquid wash down his dry throat.
When he shoved the now-empty glass back into Kirishima’s hands, the guy responded with a smile, chuckling, “Sorry.”
“You’re not sorry at all,” he snarled, glaring at Kirishima’s leering grin. He was really starting to hate the fact that glaring was all he could do these days.
“So…I guess I should confess one more thing. The reason I stripped off your underwear back at the hotel that time…was just because I wanted to see how you’d react.”
“Well think about it—no matter how much you puked up your guts, there’s no way you could manage to get even your underwear dirty, right? It cracked me up how your expression was exactly what I expected it would be.”
His hands clenched into fists with the sheer anger rising up inside, and he raised his voice at Kirishima, who was laughing at the mere memory. “Don’t fuck around! Do you have any idea how I felt back then?!”
It was a nasty prank, even in jest. Sure, it was partly Yokozawa’s own fault for getting so pissed out of his skull he couldn’t even remember half the night, but Kirishima had no right making fun of him like this.
“Hmm, I suppose you were pretty flustered wondering what the hell you’d gotten yourself into—right?”
He couldn’t bring himself to say a word, trembling with fury and shame. He’d been wondering for a long time how on earth he could ever hope to fix this horrible side to Kirishima’s personality. He didn’t want the guy to be a saint or anything—but he could stand to get over this habit of amusing himself with such childish pranks.
“Oh—and I was thinking…you know, it’s probably for the best you don’t move in with us yet.”
At Yokozawa’s evident confusion at the sudden change in subject, Kirishima crossed his arms and nodded to himself. “After all, we need a place where we can come and be alone without anyone else bothering us. You’re always worrying about Hiyo at our place, right?”
“Don’t use my apartment like a love nest!”
“Not like we have any choice. You always say you don’t want to go to a hotel, after all. Or what—you don’t want to be alone with me?”
“That’s…that’s not…” It really wasn’t fair of Kirishima to ask questions like this—he didn’t have any choice but to deny the accusation.
At Yokozawa’s evident loss for how to respond, grasping for words, Kirishima slipped forward and whispered softly into his ear, “Sometimes I just want you all to myself.”
“…!” A shiver slid down his spine at the low voice setting his eardrum to trembling, and while he’d only a moment ago been quaking with rage, he couldn’t help but be seduced by the sweet words.
Love is war — if that was true, then he felt knee-deep in losses already.