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Unfinished Business

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Lay awake in bed, and you can hear all kinds of sounds that blur into the background traffic when it's light, and that you only notice when the noises and activities of daily living are stripped away and you're left staring into blackness with your thoughts tramping a circular pathway in your head. Little muffled thumps and murmurs from the neighbors that you don't usually care about, but that suddenly piss you off. The shift and exhale of the cooling building. Electricity humming in the walls. The beat of your own heart in your ears. Beneath them all, secrets, scurrying around like mice, twitching and anxious under cover of the dark.

Hidaka can't stand mice.

He can't stand lies, either, especially when he knows he's being lied to; when Nishijima smiles a big shiny pasted-on version of a real smile and says that he's doing great these days. That he's really an awful lot better - yup, he's gotten it all under control now.

Fuck that shit.

Fuck him.

Hidaka did fuck him tonight, and it gnaws at his brain that, even then, there's still something that he can't touch, can't understand, can't be enough to Nishijima to take away. As if this has both replaced him somehow and crept into his own life; become a thief of his time and too often left him where he is now, alone, listening. For what? Nothing. Anything. Go to the bathroom, he thinks, as the seconds tick by, this one time just be going to the bathroom. You did everything you need to do, I watched you, there isn't anything else. And he knows, knowing that, that he should just turn over and go back to sleep, because he's done all he can and it isn't his problem.

His problem is that he cares too much for that.

When he gets to the end of the hallway, he stands there for a long time, staring at the handle of the kitchen door and wondering why he can't make himself turn it. Why Nishijima's place has always been as much home as his own, and yet now he feels like a stranger, a not entirely welcome guest. If Hidaka lets Nishijima hear him go into a room by himself or look in a closet, the laughs of a few minutes ago (because there are good times when they can laugh; act like a pair of fucking lunatics) dry up, his face closes, shuts down, and the stiff shadow of him appears at Hidaka's side, hovering. What did you go in there for? What were you getting from there?

Hidaka has a problem with doors these days too.

He doesn't need to ask Nishijima what he's doing. He might have asked once, back when he might still have been able to find some logic in the answer. But the open closets and drawers tell him. And the pans and packets and cans and bottles tell him, spread out as they are over every surface, even the floor, like a maze with Nishijima trapped in the middle, already in the initial groups of type that they'll be sorted into before the fine tuning commences on the shelves. Box volume, then date order for the groceries; labels facing the same way. Nishijima is cleaning the kitchen at one-thirty in the morning.

His head jerks reflexively in Hidaka's direction, but he doesn't meet his eyes. Still looking towards him, but not at him, he starts to busily gather up packets of instant noodles, his voice, too fake-loud-happy, reverberating off the walls of the small room. "Y'know how you wake up sometimes and you're really, really, really hungry for one special thing, like you're going to die if you don't get to eat it, and you crawl all the way to the kitchen starving, but you can't find what you want? Whaddya know, I couldn't find any noodles! And then I saw them, right at the back! I had to empty everything out before I could get to them, and then -"

"Stop it."

The noodles make a little crackling sound as Nishijima gathers them to his chest. "Stop what?" he says, in the same light tone, but there's an edge to it now, like something's about to shatter.

Hidaka feels a wash of tiredness, more than just disrupted sleep, a weight that's become so much a part of him that he hasn't consciously been aware of it. He resents it even as he knows that it's only there because he cares. Things have gotten slowly twisted around and turned inside out, and he doesn't know how to start putting them right without making them worse.

"Go back to bed, Nishi," he says.

He doesn't expect an answer, and he doesn't get one, not directly. Nishijima falters, hesitating, and it seems that he might say something; that he wishes he could say something. Then it passes, his hands pick up the momentum again, and he reaches out, beginning to place the packets on the eye-level shelf in front of him. Carefully, precisely, one after the other. He emits a little puff of air through his nose, concentrating, and yet the blank expression that slides down comes coupled with a visible loosening of tension. It's messed up, when the thing that keeps you happy is the same thing that's eating you alive. That's how Nishijima's wrist feels when he steps forward to grab it. Bony, snappable, as if the guy's being slowly digested from the inside out.

"Go back to bed."

"You go." Nishijima tries to pull away.

"How can I sleep knowing you're out here??"

Nishijima's breathing has quickened a little. It's not audible yet, but you can see it heaving in his chest. His eyes flicker briefly to Hidaka's hand on his in a way that looks like he might be planning to bite it, and that Hidaka might have made some crack about once, but now just makes his heart sick. "I won't be long. Honestly -"

"That was bullshit last time, and it's bullshit now."

For the first time since Hidaka's entered the room, Nishijima looks directly at him. He's got the deepest, softest eyes Hidaka's ever seen. If it didn't make him sound like such a damned romantic, he'd say he seduced him with his eyes, that first time, but right now all he can see behind them is a brittle and an alien Nishijima to whom he's just one more obstacle to have to navigate.

"The same way that you told me you were done in here? Because that was bullshit too!!"

"That was... what the hell?"

Nishijima makes another attempt to wrench his hand away, and this time he succeeds. He's switched from shut-down angry to shouting-angry tonight, mostly because he wants something to be angry at, to justify himself, and Hidaka's handed him an excuse on a platter. "I asked if you were done, and you said you were, and I left everything clean and tidy! And you went back in before you came to bed and weren't even going to tell me, and when I got up and looked, it was a mess, and I had to start all over again!"

Hidaka's never seen more of a mess than the one that's surrounding them now, but this is Nishijima's mess, his controlled mess that relaxes him to clean up because he knows he's doing it right. "Look, I left it exactly the way you have it! It was fine. It was absolutely fine!"

"You left water around the basin. You didn't pull the blind again properly. You didn't close the door properly -" Nishijima is counting off, jerkily, on his fingers. Just listing Hidaka's sins seems to upset him too much after a while, and, shaking a little, he turns back to the closet. He removes the packets he's already arranged from the shelf, begins over. He can stay in the loop for hours sometimes, until he's satisfied himself, until everything feels right. He gets stuck, like Hidaka's old cat chasing her tail, just as draining and just as pointless.

Hidaka looks at his back in its thin t-shirt. It's a beautiful back, and he has the urge, as he always does, to reach out and stroke, but he finds himself hesitating, unwilling to make a move to diffuse the situation in case there's a sudden explosion instead. Nishijima finishes sorting the noodles, and stares at them briefly before he turns back to the counter top. There's a soft but sickening crack as he misjudges the swing of his arm in his fatigue and his knuckles strike the melamine.

"You're beat," Hidaka says, flatly.

"Whose fault is that?"

"Don't. Just... fucking don't, okay? What the fuck more can I do?"

"I don't know," Nishijima says, and, just then, he doesn't sound as if he's talking about the problems with Hidaka anymore, but with someone else, someone who they both know very well. He picks up a box of cereal with smiling animal characters on the front and turns it over, examining it. He's checking the weight. Big boxes come first in the cereal section.

The temperature's not that low at night yet, but Hidaka suddenly feels like he might freeze to death.

He looks down at the tiles on the floor. Closes his eyes for a moment, then exhales, allowing his shoulders to drop defeatedly. Even though he knows that it's the wrong thing to do in the long term, that it won't win the war, he can't take the battle tonight.

"Look," he says, "let me help."

Viewed from an angle, he sees Nishijima's teeth graze his lower lip uncertainly. "But you don't know how -"

"I know. All of it. So let me. Okay?"

It takes them two hours. Hidaka saves some time when he says, "You checked the fridge, it's good," and Nishijima believes him.

Nishijima's relaxed some by the time they finally turn out the light and head back to the bedroom, enough to be crying a little, just a few slow, shameful tears of relief. They sit on the bed cross-legged, facing each other, with Nishijima saying over and over, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," and Hidaka telling him, "Come on," and, "Quit it, now," as he rubs Nishijima's fingers between his own, as if he's trying to impress something vital into him through them. "Love you," still feels awkward to him, but he says that too, and means it, just like Nishijima means he's sorry, but neither one of them are going to stop him tomorrow, and how fucking awful is it, Hidaka thinks, that there can be something stronger than love?