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Utsumi pauses when she finds Yukawa sitting tucked away in the space set off in the lab, on the small couch there, catching him lost in thought, with one of his fingers poised to turn a page and stopped. Signs of a long day sit not only in the curves of his shoulders, but the unfocused gaze and non-acknowledgement of her approach. She's still out of his range of view, and the silent second stretches into a deep sense of fondness and surprise that he hasn't heard her. Or maybe he has and doesn't mind that she's observing him.

"Good evening," she says, stepping forward into his view.

"Utsumi," he answers, without looking at her, almost an automatic response. Then, his eyes clear and he looks at her, his hand flattening against the page of his book. So much for her supposition.

She says, "There aren't enough hours in the day, right?"

He raises his eyebrows in assent. He looks down and around, moves to the side to accommodate her. She moves closer, slipping between the little oval coffee table and the couch to find that the seat is still being occupied by a folder. Yet another sign of exhaustion if that escaped his notice, and although it's understandable Utsumi still huffs with annoyance. Yukawa starts and reaches for it just as she does too. She lets him take it and reaches across in front of him as he leans forward to set it down, plucking his book out of his lap, and setting it down on top of the folder, just as he releases it.

"Maybe it's time to put this away, too," she says. He blinks a long blink at her before what she has said penetrates.

"Perhaps so," he answers. "Perhaps time to go home, as well."

"Wait," Utsumi says, as he starts to leave his seat. He hesitates, but settles back.

Utsumi drops her purse on the floor between her legs as she sits down. "Let's not go yet."

She lets go of the purse straps and turns so she can look at Yukawa. "Give me room," she says.

"Making demands already?" he mutters, but he lifts his arm for her, coming up and hovering over the back of the couch as she curls up her legs beside her on the seat, shifting so that she's leaning on his shoulder.

"Don't I deserve your attention?" she asks.

"Well, it isn't anything I haven't had to deal with before."

She hums, amused. "I remember. It's been a few years, but you know what I first thought about you, right?"

"A few years. More than a few."

"Don't argue with me. Did you know, Kuribayashi once described you to me as the hope of the scientific community?"

"He always has put too much stock in me. When?"

"The Ki--" she stops herself and says instead, "Christmas Eve, the year we met."


"Then he begged me to leave you alone."

He absorbs that, and Utsumi tracks the realization as it coalesces. He draws breath and Utsumi cuts him off, saying, "Don't be mad at him." It works and Yukawa visibly deflates.

Utsumi continues, "I was making my own choices then."

"Something I'm well aware of. It would be best if you didn't circle your point."

"One of those days where you can't listen?"

He shrugs and she can feel it under her cheek. His hand has come to rest beside her, a finger just barely brushing against her side.

"I always thought you were belittling me. Mr. High and Mighty Scientist, in his elite world, no place for a lowly public servant like myself."

Another breath of protest deep and held, but he says nothing.

"That's not a debate point you can argue against."

"But you think it's deserving of debate at this moment," he points out, and his voice is laced with confusion and not a little amount of hurt.

Utsumi sighs, brings her hand up to her face, rubbing at her eyes. God, she's tired and saying all the wrong things.

"That's not what I'm after. What-- I've never asked-- I've just been wondering--"

"Just say it, Utsumi."

"What did you think of me? Really?"

Still more confusion, etched deep in his drawn-down eyebrows and tight jaw. Perhaps she's being unfair, dredging all this up, digging up past hurts.

"It wasn't obvious?" he asks.

"You mean, not far off from what I just said."

"Parts are true." The honest concession in his voice digs at her, pushing on an ache not quite gone away.

Utsumi sighs. "Go ahead, I can see you wanting to defend yourself."

"Would you tell me why you want to know?"

"No, I don't want to."

He hums with acknowledgement, but for a moment Utsumi thinks this will be the moment he stops humoring her. One shouldn't make others walk over hot coals. She readies herself to release him, but....

"I thought you were..." he takes a deep breath. "You were dedicated, stubborn, argumentative, noisy, and completely irreplaceable. Still are. Not at all what I thought you would be. For what it's worth, I've never intended anything of what you just said toward you. You shattered all my first impressions of you."

She'd asked for it. What else was she going to get? "Really," she says, laying on a thick sarcasm.

"See," he answers, "obvious. What you're after... wasn't that."


"Are you going to make me excavate for it because you truly do not seem to welcome it at all at the moment."

"No, I won't make you do that. But..."

She can't blame him for the wary way he answers. "Yes?"

"Do you realize that all this time you've been caressing me?"

His hand stills as soon as she finishes speaking. He starts to make space, to remove it, and Utsumi reaches up and traps his hand. "I don't," she says, "want you to stop."

"You're testing my patience."

"Didn't we agree that was something I would always do?" He tips his head to the side, an eyebrow twitching upward, settling for spearing her with a steady gaze.

Utsumi bobs with her head in apology, backing it up by saying, "I'm sorry. I am." It's as abject as she can make it. "I won't test you anymore if you can do one thing for me?"

She lets go of his hand, and twists around, rearranging herself so she's kneeling on the couch beside him. Yukawa's hand comes to rest, almost trapped, between her leg and the side of the couch.

"One thing?" The wariness is back. She shouldn't have led this way, but now she can't see any other avenues.

"One. Please?" She reaches down to his hand, slides hers underneath, her palm to his, and lifts it out, moving it to her lap, holding it in a loose grasp. Yukawa looks down at it and then to Utsumi.

"What is it?"

"Be absolutely quiet?"

His eyes flicker.

"You can say no," Utsumi says.

Yukawa's jaw tightens and then his face relaxes, a flash of humor going over it. He says, "It's not as though saying words was getting us anywhere."

"I didn't say I was going to be quiet."

"Oh, good to know." He closes his eyes, takes a breath in, his head going back against the wall.

Utsumi waits.

Yukawa says, "I await what you have to say, then, since that's what you seem to be wanting." He opens his eyes, raising his head again, resting a solemn gaze on her. "You'll have to tell me when I can speak."

"I will."

To it, then, Utsumi thinks. She says, "I know I'll never be better than you."

Yukawa makes a small pained noise, as his lips part with an almost inaudible click, and he recoils, his hand slipping out from Utsumi's grasp. She chases him, ready, placing her hands on his cheeks, gently. "Shhh," she whispers, injecting it with as much comfort as possible. "You agreed."

He reaches up, closing his hand around her right wrist, but then lets go. Utsumi lets her hands fall back to her sides. Her eyes crinkle, but she doesn't smile, not quite. She shifts forward, letting her head fall into the space between them, almost touching Yukawa's shoulder, then she says, "You and I will never travel in the same circles, ever. I am a lowly public servant and will never be valued like you are. And the fact that in these circles, what you and I do and are overlaps in such a small space means practically nothing in a bigger picture." She lifts her head. "But we still found this space, anyway. Didn't we?"

There's a stubborn set to Yukawa's mouth now, and that does pull a smile from Utsumi. "You are just as stubborn as me, too. And just as strange. In different ways. That's what's made it easier. I ... Do you hear me?"

Yukawa nods, once.

"You will always be what I aspire to. You know that, too, right?"

His eyes flicker again and his mouth compresses thin, but not before Utsumi catches a slight quiver.

"I'm going to ask you one more thing, but not with words. Is that okay?" Again, a tip of his head.

She moves, places her feet down on the floor, just enough to shift position to sit straddling him and settles into his lap, her knees touching the back of the couch, her hands on his chest. "Like this," she says. "Is this good?"

He puts his hands on the small of her back and leans forward tilting them both away from the back of the couch. As he does so he pulls her closer. The tip of his nose grazes hers and Utsumi can see Yukawa's eyes still open, watching for reaction.

"Yes, please," Utsumi says.

The distance is infinitesimal and the touch of his lips to hers is slight, and still, he has not closed his eyes. She can't see any brown of his irises, but maybe that's due to light, not even when he pulls away again, the distance still slight.

"You're watching me," she says. Just like she is him, assessing each other. Tit for tat.

Again, all he does is repeat what he did before. All right. She'll go along with this. She moves forward, tries to press her lips to his, but all he does is rock backward, and her mouth brushes his. All the while, he gazes at her, unblinking. The silence makes her wish to be able to hear what he's thinking, but she put them into this bind and she thinks she already knows. She bends her head to his, forehead to forehead. Utsumi closes her eyes and parts her lips, taking measured breaths.

"Yukawa," she says and she has his full attention already, that much is plain, but she says it again, "Yukawa. Tell me what you're feeling."

She looks up in time to see the corners of his mouth curve up and then she's being crushed against the breadth of his chest, his mouth teasing hers open, a hunger to the sweep of his tongue between her lips, a question she's only too eager to answer. Yukawa's hands have slid up into Utsumi's hair and are pressing there too, keeping her trapped there, with a gentle yet unyielding force.

She moans and opens her mouth, breathing gone ragged, and it is at this moment, with a final devastating twist and slide of his tongue against the roof of her mouth and a nip of his teeth on her bottom lip, leaving her feeling weak and pliable, that the kiss becomes softer and less invasive, until soon it's back to the tiny brush of lips it was before. The disordered pattern of their breathing calms soon enough, but the echo of it rattles in Utsumi's head. She keeps her eyes closed, trying to pull herself together again.

One of his hands slips down her arm, past her elbow, settles curled at her waist. The other rests at the nape of her neck.

"You trusted me," she breathes, pulling back, her hands pushing on his shoulders to gain space, opening her eyes. For a moment, Yukawa just looks at her. It's long enough for her to doubt if he'd received the message of the permission he'd wanted her to give.

He breaks the silence before she can be any more clear. "I do more than that on a daily basis. You do understand I'm imperfect, despite what you just said?"

"Yes, yes, you are."

"Logically, if you understand that, since you attempt to couch your worth in terms of insufficiency, it follows that you are imperfect as well."

"Of course." Utsumi sinks, once again, against Yukawa, sliding to where she's once again comfortable, off his lap, tucked even closer to his side, head on his shoulder.

"Somehow I have failed to communicate that those imperfections are factored in the sum of you."

"And that means..."

"It means I see you, and what I see is what I want, and what I want, because of the whole of you, is what I could never live without. Did something happen today?"

"I --" she whispers, "It's like you're an unreachable star in the sky."


"You can't tell me that you're not a superstar in your own circle."

"I can, because I am just one of many."

"Like an actual star," she scoffs.

"Elite I have never been."

"No, only a really famous weirdo who chose to consort with a woman in a career that will never go anywhere. Definitely not elite."

"Recognition means nothing if you can't help people. If you cannot provide the support they need and the breadth of what you do would be missed -- isn't that enough?"

"That's what you truly believe?"

"Yes. Do you?"

"It doesn't matter whether I do or not. I have a duty."

"And yet your insecurity lives on."

Utsumi presses her face into Yukawa's shoulder. After a moment, his hand starts to pet her head.

He says, "That's part of it, am I right?"

Utsumi nods, her nose scraping his shirt. She breathes his smell in, heat from her mouth damp in the space.

"You wanted control."

"Not... quite. I can't always say what I want to say and be honest when it's always being deflected... and analyzed. Your actions were exactly what I wanted. The love inside them. And nothing happened. Nothing that hasn't already."

"I believe I've failed you, then."

Utsumi snaps her head up, a noise of dissent fading away at the sincerity of Yukawa's gaze. He continues, "I still argued. What you wanted -- no, what you responded best to -- was different words."

"I know you're not telling me I'm contradictory, but it's okay if you want to. I know I am."

His gaze is still serious. "Not all experiments are perfectly formed and not all results are satisfactory even on the hundredth attempt."

"I should have known you'd say something like that." She rests her head back against him, breaking his ability to judge her face, on purpose. She feels him move a little, perhaps trying to do so.

"Would you like to try again? Perhaps you'll get a different result."

"Yukawa, tell me you love me?"

"Is that all?"

Utsumi nods.

"Very well. If I can be allowed to be sentimental, I would say, like the stars love the night sky, without whom they cannot shine."

She twists her head back up, not quite convinced he's being serious. She can't help it when she sees that his mouth wears a wry little smile -- she bursts out laughing.

"That was too much," he says, with flat amusement.

"You know it was."

She sinks against him as much as possible, tilting her head up and closing the distance to place her mouth to his, happy with the way he responds, soft and warm and slow exploration. "And just enough," she says against his mouth.

"For now?" he asks.

She stares at him. It's a simple question with a simple answer. So simple that it's not. She attempts to suppress the quiver of her mouth, but doesn't look away. It takes time, too much, it feels like, before she can answer and all the while, she allows it to show. Tit for tat. Trust given, purposely.

"For now... let's just go home?"

He releases a breath. "Gladly."