Kakeru thought that, maybe, his best friend’s closet wouldn’t be as much of a disaster as he made it out to be. That maybe, if the universe was kind, his efforts in keeping his best friend’s room even mildly tamed had been honored, and not completely decimated in the two weeks since he had been to the hovel that somehow equated an apartment.
He thought that, maybe, when Yuki had called him saying “I need your help with something,” and that ‘something’ was the shelf starting to dip off the wall, it was a structural issue left up to the landlord gods and not just a my best friend is a hot mess issue. And after some meandering down the trail of hot mess, and some re-talking himself back into going, he thought again that maybe Yuki was just using this as an excuse for them to hang out, and that really and truly, Scout’s Honor, Kakeru wouldn’t have to shove himself into a corner and risk being added to the death by avalanche toll, or risk his body never being found again.
But Kakeru knew better, and he tugged on his black socks without even the slightest hint of a prayer that Yuki had so much as glanced at his vacuum recently. He started to wonder if Yuki even knew he had it.
He wondered, for possibly the hundredth-millionth time, how he managed to love him in spite of these things. He wondered how he loved him more at times because of them.
And then he shoved those wonders down, tamped them neat into the graveyard of thoughts in the back of his mind, and left.
He had warned himself not to dream.
“Yuki, what the hell!”
Yuki glared at him over his shoulder. He was kneeling in front of what Kakeru knew to be a thick spill of clothing and books, but what he could only describe as the artistry of some terrible trickster villain who had a clear entry point through Yuki’s bedroom window. To believe that this was the work of Yuki — who had only ever been meticulous at school, always helpful and careful when visiting his old apartment, even when his nuisance of a mother fluttered around him like a flame to a moth — still took some adjusting to, even a year into seeing just what havoc he was capable of wreaking. To understand that there was this odd other side to Yuki that even he wasn’t privy to until now was almost offensive.
Otherwise, it was just interesting to see that he didn’t know him as well as he thought he did.
“Shut up,” Yuki snapped, “and just help me.”
“Fine, fine.” Kakeru cleared a path through the mess with a side-sweep of his foot. Yuki stood and similarly shoved a pile off to the side of the closet, and Kakeru watched as a notebook slid lamely under his bed. “How did this even happen? Demon possession?”
“Does it matter?”
“Well, yeah!” Kakeru barred his hands against the doorframe and peered inside the closet. He looked at the shelf dipping precarious over the clothing rod, and, squinting through the dark, saw the plastic brace attached to the wall, swung upside down. “If you’re getting possessed in your sleep, Yun-Yun, I don’t think I’ll feel safe sleeping over anymore—”
“Knock it off.” Kakeru startled a little as Yuki’s voice came closer to him than expected, and looked down to see him crouching some under his arm. With a huff, Yuki reached in and shoved aside the clothes still hanging, and batted at a collection of empty hangers until they were either out of the way or knocked to the closet floor. One arm stayed outstretched, splayed against the door to keep it from swinging shut. “I didn’t ask you to come here to make fun of me.”
“Okay, okay, geez. Tou-chy.” As he reached over Yuki’s head to test the give of the shelf, Kakeru asked, “So what’s the plan? Just yank it out?”
“What? No.” Yuki stepped in further, until finally he stepped entirely inside, kicking some things further behind him and into the closet’s left corner. “I just need help reattaching it.”
Kakeru felt the door bump his elbow. He shifted his fingers out of the way of the hinge gap, felt the millisecond of phantom pain of getting a finger trapped, and again, he peered at the brace.
“I dunno, it looks kinda broken to me.”
“It’s not, I think a screw just fell out.”
“It is, it is! These ones don’t use screws— look.”
Kakeru swiveled a little and let go of one side of the frame, reaching in to point at the damage. As he did, though, the little light that was let into the closet dwindled, and he kicked his foot out some to push the door open again. He gave a loud “hah” as he did; as Yuki sidled close to him to look closer at where his finger led, Kakeru felt his shoulder flinch against his collarbone when the knob smacked the wall.
Yuki said nothing of it. Just the same, Kakeru said nothing of the zip of heat bulleting along his chest, and he squashed it under his mental thumb after a few choice words sat at the ready in the back of his throat.
Yuki reached out and rubbed a thumb against the brace. He clicked his tongue.
“I told you.” Kakeru rested his hand on the rod. “So now we can yank it out—”
“We’re not doing that. Stop trying to make a mess.”
A short silence fell between them. Then, at the same time,
“Don’t say anything—”
“Oh I’m the one making a mess, I see—”
Some aggravated noise left Yuki, and he squirmed to turn back around to face Kakeru, frowning. Kakeru had always found this pouty look a little funny on him, especially when it was for something so small and, in the moment, unfixable. And while he knew it would pass once Yuki also came to the conclusion that it wasn’t something that could be helped, for the moment he could only hold back a laugh at his expression.
Not that holding back ever seemed to work, because Yuki gave a singular, cold look into his eye, and said, “It’s not funny.”
“What! I didn’t even say anything.”
“You were going to. Now let me out.”
Petulant, Kakeru braced his arms a little tighter against the frame and the rod and solidified his stance.
“No, no, you have to give me the password. Two wrong answers and you owe me twenty million— no, thirty million—”
Suddenly, Yuki stepped forward, coming close with his arm pressed hard against Kakeru’s side to force him to budge. But as he did, something gave under his foot, and instead of pushing Kakeru aside, he stumbled back, hand thudding useless against the wall as he tried to find some purchase. A short, panicked gasp left him, and then—
Kakeru found his hand suddenly closing around Yuki’s forearm, a curse leaving him at his friend’s trajectory pulling him down to an awkward hunch. Yuki’s legs sliding, bending, resting against Kakeru’s calves as he failed to find his footing. Yuki trying to shake his hand off of his arm, hurried as he said,
“Kakeru, the door—”
And then, Kakeru found nothing at all as the door snapped shut on them.
The shitty, heavy door that, for reasons beyond them both, was perpetually locked from the outside. The shitty heavy door that Kakeru was sure wasn’t meant to be a closet door, but at any mention of Yuki would wave off and say it wasn’t worth the hassle to fix because he simply wouldn't get stuck inside. The shitty heavy closet door that now trapped them inside because it was shitty and was absolutely not meant to be a closet door.
Kakeru let go of Yuki’s arm. He jostled the knob. He banged on the door with a fist.
It didn’t budge.
“Oh, my god.”
Though Kakeru couldn’t see him, he could hear Yuki’s head drop against the floor, and knew he had brought his hands to his face as he let out a hollowed groan. In another lame effort, Kakeru tried the door again, turning the doorknob hard until his palm hurt, pushing against it with his shoulder until his skin felt flat.
They were actually stuck. Really, actually, definitely stuck.
His chest lit up with some combination of excitement and nerves as the situation sunk into him. He laughed, awkward and defeated, before looking again at the floor where he presumed Yuki to be.
“Okay, so, don’t freak out,” he said, “But we’re trapped.”
“I gathered that, Manabe.”
There was a shuffle, and Yuki’s feet adjusting and kicking against Kakeru’s, as he attempted to stand again. There was the sound of Yuki’s hand slapping light against the wall as he found his footing, and the hefty sigh that left him once he was upright again.
Kakeru reached up to fuss with his earring, humming as he thought.
“Okay, well, we have options. One, we break the door down. Or, we get a list of people who can rescue us. We start at the Prime Minister and work our way down—”
“Lemme finish! We work our way down until we get to the people mostly likely to rescue us. That’s how we get the most options. So first, the Prime Minister — not sure about you, but I don’t have his number. And then the Deputy, but same issue so that’s a no-go, then whoever the real-world super sentai are — which, you know, I still haven’t figured that out, which is probably the point, I mean they are supposed to be in disguise, but I still thought I would have run into one of them by now — then the—”
“It would be easier to work our way up, Kakeru. Not down.”
Kakeru clicked his tongue. “No fun. Fine, then. I guess the best option would be for whoever else has a key, right?”
Kakeru waited. When Yuki didn’t say anything further, though, he reached out until his hand hit him.
“Oh, good, thought you became a ghost for a second. So, keys? Who else has them? Your brother, I bet.”
Yuki groaned again. “We’re not calling him.”
“Hey, hey, just keeping our options open, remember? And he would come down in a heartbeat to rescue us, so he’s pretty high on my list.”
“Then he can stay on your list.”
“Oh, does Machi still have a copy? She’s not too far away, and I bet she wouldn’t need too much convincing. Could just bribe her with dinner, that’s how I get her to do stuff for me.”
Yuki gave a quiet mumble at that. Kakeru sensed a small shift in the air, then, and felt as though he was missing something when Yuki didn’t agree.
“Wait… things aren’t awkward between you guys, right?” he asked. “I thought you told me you ended things okay.”
“Huh? Oh. No, it’s not awkward between us. We’re still friends.”
“Okay, then what’s with the…” Kakeru waved a hand, but realizing Yuki couldn’t see, said, “You just got all weird about it.”
“I didn’t get ‘weird’ about it,” Yuki huffed. “I was just… thinking.”
“Oh. Well, call her, then.” Kakeru leaned his shoulder against the door, and, despite knowing better, tried the knob again. No luck. “I would do it, but my phone’s stranded somewhere in your kitchen.”
Yuki paused. Then, with a shift, his face was softly lit with his phone, shadowed with the troubled pinch of his brows. Kakeru almost felt as though he needed to step back from how close they actually stood, but instead he watched him worry his lip for some seconds before he finally opened his list of contacts.
Then, he stilled again, thumb hovering over the screen. He glanced at Kakeru, just barely upward, and said,
“Just… be quiet while I’m calling her, okay?”
A jab of annoyance struck Kakeru at that. He raised a brow.
“Why? Is she mad at me for something?”
“No, it’s not… well.” The worry crumpling Yuki’s face subsided then, for just a second, when it fell instead to something lightly contemplative. “I don’t know, actually. She could be.”
Kakeru frowned. His sister still had moods he wasn’t aware of, and there were things that made her enact some mandate of radio silence that he couldn’t always place. It wasn’t entirely impossible that she was angry at him for something, even though they hadn’t talked in over a week, and even though that conversation only involved him asking about a mysterious umbrella left behind at his place that he had convinced himself was her's. And even though she said it wasn't, and sure, maybe had to say it six or seven times to convince him, that didn't seem to be grounds for her to be mad at him.
Still, it annoyed him that he had done something, but wasn’t being told what.
“Fine,” he said, and he wagged a hand to encourage Yuki to go on. “I’ll be quiet. It’ll be like I’m not here. I am the master of stealth after all.”
Yuki stared at him, judging, but nodded. Then, with some tempered inhale, he looked down again and called Machi’s number.
Kakeru couldn't tell if Yuki had been fidgeting this whole time and he hadn't realized, or if his nerves had suddenly spiked the moment the line began to dial. He watched him tuck the long strand of hair behind his ear and brush it over with his fingertips, over and over, and falling still once the line stopped ringing.
This was another thing that Kakeru had come to realize only recently — that there was a scale of Yuki's anxious habits, only perceptible when they were alone.
Knowing that calling Machi was giving him some moderate nerves made Kakeru pause.
"Machi? Hey. Um, I hope I’m not interrupting anything— Oh, good. Well, I’m kind of in a situation. I’m trapped in my closet. Yes, that one. Uh, I was wondering if you would be able to come over and—”
Kakeru jolted with realization and shot his arm out to grab Yuki’s shoulder. His knuckles hit his arm first, and he felt Yuki tense under his hold.
“Wait a minute, Yun-Yun,” he started, and then, looking at the soft light of the phone screen just barely illuminating his cheek, dropped to a whisper. Well, attempted — he had been told by nearly everyone that he couldn’t whisper to save his life, which he thought was total crap. “If she’s mad at me then I’ll need a place to hide. You don’t have some weird secret door in here, do you?” He pressed his free hand along the closet’s back wall, searching for any hint of give, or a strange groove. “You know, like Lazlo!”
The weight of Yuki’s stare fell on him. With some pause, Yuki responded to the murmur of Machi’s voice on the other end of the line.
“...Yes, that was Kakeru. He’s in here with me.”
Kakeru couldn’t tell if he misheard the noise on the other end of the line as his sister’s faint laugh, or if it was just bad reception. He crept closer to hear, only for Yuki to lean away and bat at his chest with his free hand.
“I think we can manage. Thank you. Sorry for the trouble. I—” Yuki faltered for a moment, stumbling over a word, before rushing to finish with an “um, bye” before hurriedly hanging up.
Kakeru’s brows raised. He heard Yuki sink again to the floor, sighing as he returned to the traitorous pile of clothes he had slipped on. Kakeru followed suit and crouched in front of him. He felt their knees brush before he scooted back some.
In the dark again, he could only hear Yuki breathing some inches away from him. The thin strip of light that crept under the gap in the door gave little away, and although his eyes tried to find even the barest details of his friend, he couldn’t truly see him. His mind made up only approximate outlines that he knew weren’t true.
“So,” he said, and it felt as though the word pressed against a new heaviness in the small space, “Machi's going to be our rescuer?"
"Cool. So, that whole story about you two being not awkward with each other? That goodbye was hella awkward. What was that?"
"You're too nosy."
"You’re evading the question!"
“I’m not—” Yuki pushed himself back a little more, giving an irritated grunt, before snapping, “Did you ever stop to think that maybe things are awkward because she’s your sister?”
Kakeru blinked. The harshness in his tone seemed overmuch for what they were talking about.
“What does her being my sister have to do with anything?” he asked. “I mean, yeah, it sucks that you broke up, but I’m not mad over it. At least you’re still friends.”
Yuki shifted in front of him. His sigh was hollowed, and as he spoke, Kakeru could tell he had moved to press his hands to his face again.
“Never mind,” he said, not quite defeated but clearly trying to move the subject along. “Sorry. I’m just annoyed.”
Kakeru looked up at where the shelf was, hovering somewhere above them. Then, he reached out, searching for Yuki’s knee to give it an affirming jostle.
“Relax, Yun. Why are you so uptight about it anyway? It’s just a dumb shelf.”
Yuki tried to move his knee away from under his hand.
“I’m not uptight—”
“He said, uptightily.”
“That’s not a word.” In the dark, Kakeru could tell Yuki’s face was soured, more-so than it was before, when he scoffed and mumbled, “How does one person manage to get trapped in a closet twice.”
“Well, I dunno.” Kakeru finally moved to sit down properly, and he made some stern shoo noises as he batted away some of the clothes hangers that had fallen. They clattered against the wall, and he spoke before Yuki could scold him over it. “Maybe it’s because you tempted fate with this dumb door every time you opened it and it finally just got sick of you not falling for it evil schemes. Or maybe it’s the same thing as lightning strikes. You know, the whole thing if you get struck by lightning once, you’re crazy more likely to get struck again?”
“Neither of those are encouraging.”
“Well, the bright side is that one of those things can be fixed, and at least you’re not stuck in the closet alone this time. Although— you’re not gonna throw up again, are you? Because I’m kinda in the line of fire here.”
“I didn’t throw up last time, either,” Yuki said, sounding particularly moody as the memory resurfaced. “And besides, it was because I spilled paint everywhere. The fumes made me nauseous”
“Ah, right, right. So you don’t throw up in the dark, then?”
“What? No— is that what you’ve thought this whole time?”
“I dunno!” Kakeru pushed aside a balled-up something that was in the way of the door, and he squirmed his fingertips under the gap and tried to wiggle them. He pulled his hand back when he realized they could get stuck. “You’re afraid of the dark, right?”
“No, not really.” Yuki paused for a time, murmuring a small “well,” before repeating, “No.”
Kakeru reached to shake his knee again, cooing, “Aw, Yun-Yun, it’s okay. I’ll protect you from the monsters.”
Yuki tried to shift away from his hand, but had no room to move away. Instead, he bit,
“How can you protect me from yourself?”
“Ow! Harsh!” Kakeru pulled his hand back as though he had been burned. “Are you mad that I got us trapped in here? Because I am sorry, even though it was because I had to save your lousy butt from dying.”
“You shouldn’t have tried to catch me.”
“Aw, what the hell. That’s not how you’re supposed to thank your hero.”
“The only thing you’re hero of is hero of being a major pain in the ass.”
“Oi, hey, what did I do exactly to deserve that? I saved you!”
“Do you really want me to list it all?”
Kakeru scoffed. Something bold and testy had wormed its way back into Yuki’s tone, and again, he felt as though he were missing something important. It was like being flung into the middle of a conversation, but way worse, since he could actually handle bullshitting his way through a situation like that — here, it was more like being thrown into the middle of the ocean, with only a giant whirlpool, a bunch of hungry sharks, and his zero survival skills to keep him company.
“O-kay,” he volleyed back, “now I can’t tell if you’re pissed at your closet or if you’re pissed at me.”
Yuki quieted. Kakeru listened as he leveled a breath, and then another, before saying,
“Sorry. Sorry. I’m not mad. Just…” He paused to find the words, and seemed to give up as he settled for, “Things are just weird right now. That’s all.”
There was an unsaid intention there that Kakeru could sense, but he wasn’t sure what exactly it was. He wished he could at the very least see Yuki’s face so he could get a better sense of how to talk to him — his expression was always easier to go off of, especially in times when he decided he wanted to be polite or stubborn.
Another realization struck him.
“Turn on your phone,” he said, “it’s dumb that we’re sitting in the dark.”
Yuki sounded as though he were about to retaliate, but couldn’t seem to find a good enough reason to say no. With another fuss of his phone, his face was lit again, briefly, the shadows still harsh around a troubled frown, until he switched to its flashlight and set it flat between the small space between their legs.
The light was white and stark between them. Kakeru followed it up, staring a moment at the circle it left on the ceiling, before looking again at Yuki, chin propped into his palm, eyes cast elsewhere.
Frankly, Kakeru thought, he looked like he was one “I’ll never let go, Jack” away from crying.
“Hey,” he started, and though he dropped his voice to match the quiet that had formed, Yuki’s expression jumped somewhat as he brought his eyes to him. “I hope you’re not just pretending things are okay with Machi for like, my sake or something. Because that would be stupid. If things ended bad, or weird, then it’s whatever — it’s not like she’s going to stop being my sister, or that you’re not going to be my best friend anymore. It’s not my business, you know? Trust me, I’ll live.”
The way Yuki looked at him, then, made him realize the light being on or off didn’t matter a single bit. Because Yuki gave a strange, sad smile that told him nothing, and he told him even more nothing when he said,
“That’s not it. Really, we’re both actually fine. We had lunch together a few days ago.”
Kakeru almost forgot about how much he didn’t like cryptic Yuki.
Actually, as he felt his stomach roil with a newfound frustration, he thought of how he really didn’t like cryptic Yuki. He never understood what he was trying to hide. He could never see the lines to read between. And Yuki knew this. He was just deliberately being a bastard about using it to his advantage.
“Then what’s weird? If things aren’t weird between you guys, then, what— you mean in general?” Then, without letting Yuki respond, with a burn suddenly spreading in his chest and making him feel frantic, he asked, “Do you mean between us?”
That seemed to do something. Yuki’s expression shifted, the sad smile drifting off as he opted for something pensive, and he positioned his gaze back to the floor again. He brought a hand up to fold his bangs away from his forehead, giving a small hum as he let them fall back to his face.
Rather than responding, he folded his legs closer to his chest, hugging them loosely to himself, and said,
“Do you remember when I told you that we broke up? You had asked me why, and I told you that something just… wasn’t clicking between us, like we thought it had been?”
Kakeru remembered. It had only happened a little over a month ago, after all.
“You mentioned that the same thing happened with Nakao-san. That something that had been there before, or that you thought had been there before, didn’t exist anymore.”
Something pitted in Kakeru’s chest at the mention, and it was his turn to look away. He looked up towards the dark corner of the closet where the shelf dipped, and agreed, just to himself, that it was true he told Yuki that.
Just as it was true that they broke up just before summer began, just as Yuki and Machi were nearing their first year together. Just as it was true that he had spent that year growing something uncomfortable and bitter in him that he couldn’t find the roots for, but felt it grow more, every day, nonetheless, under his bones.
Just as It was true that it had been Komaki who had dug her hand in him and found where it all attached to. Just as she had dug her hand in and sorted out the other malformed and difficult parts of him before, she found where this thing rooted. And even though it was deep and aggravated him, she was gentle with it, and kind with him, even as it hurt her and made her skin raw.
But, unlike the other times, this was one she couldn’t help him uproot. Not in its entirety, not by a longshot.
He didn't tell Yuki any of that.
“And?” he asked, and he felt the word leave him a little sour. “What are you getting at?”
“...Can I ask what changed?”
Kakeru paused. He rolled his tongue over his top teeth, then bit it gently between his molars.
Finally, he said, “We grew up and our feelings changed.” He reached up again to fuss with his earring, popping the back out with his thumb and pushing it back in some times over, before dropping his hand and saying, “I started liking someone else.”
Yuki raised a brow. “You did?”
Kakeru didn’t like the burning creep up his spine. He shrugged in an attempt to make it go away, and Yuki took it as a response.
“Wow.” Yuki huffed a little laugh, and a sheepish smile overtook him. “Sorry. I never even noticed.”
“Well, to be fair, you can be a little dense with those kinds of things.”
“Mm, so I've been told.”
Yuki brought a strand of hair behind his ear again. He ran it over twice with his fingertips before asking,
“Was it someone I knew?”
Kakeru leaned back on his hands, directing his eyes straight to the ceiling, and said, over-loud,
“Now, hold on, that's not fair — now you tell me.”
“What changed with you and Machi?”
Kakeru waited. He tried to get the burn to leave his neck before tilting his head down again, and though it remained, he looked again at Yuki, who had his head bowed as he ran his thumb slowly over the opposite palm.
Eventually, he spoke.
“I do still love her,” he said, careful and slow, “but… I think it was in the wrong way. Or for the wrong reasons.”
“What, like how you were with Honda?”
“No, god, not like that.” Yuki huffed a short breath through his nose, but Kakeru couldn’t call it a laugh. “I'm still not really sure what it was, if it was something exact, but… I suddenly just had this feeling that I wasn't giving her what I should have. That I was unfairly taking more from her than I was able to give back.”
It was exactly how Yuki had talked about Honda a few years ago. Kakeru heaved a reprimanding sigh.
“Yun, if you ended things just because you started overthinking stuff again—”
“I wasn't the one that mentioned ending it.”
Kakeru stopped. He raised his brows.
“It was Machi?”
Yuki ran his knuckles over his mouth. He still didn't look up from his lap, but Kakeru saw the crease form between his brows.
“She's… scarily perceptive,” Yuki said. “She sees through a lot of things that I can't read well, even when they’re right in front of me. Most times if I'm troubled by something, she understands it before I do. And she’s always right about it.”
Kakeru shifted uncomfortably on his hands. A high bar, he thought, before rushing to null it.
“Sounds like a pretty good deal to me,” he said, but the moment it left him, Yuki shook his head, dropping his hand with a sigh.
“I wasn’t in love with her,” he said, plain and earnest. “She’s one of the most important people in my life, but I’m not in love with her. Not like that.”
Kakeru fell quiet. Yuki made a noise to himself, gentle and mean, and said, hushed,
“I feel evil saying that.”
“Oh, c’mon.” Kakeru gave the barest shift to nudge his shin against Yuki’s foot. “It’s not evil. But, I still don’t really get it. Like, what happened?”
Yuki folded his arms over his knees. He buried his face in them, curling his hands tight for a few seconds, before releasing them and drawing his eyes up to Kakeru’s.
“...You never answered my question,” he mumbled. Picking his face up, settling his chin against his forearms, he said more clearly, “It’s your turn again. The person you liked — was it someone I knew?”
Kakeru clicked his tongue in a scoff. He looked away, down at his knee bobbing in a troubled flutter, then to the door, the ceiling, tilting his head back to see the faint outlines of the clothes pushed tight to the end of the rod.
He gave a stringed whimper from behind his teeth, and then quickly, to the back of the closet, he said,
“Yes. Okay, your turn again—”
“Wait, wait, who?” Yuki’s voice lit up, curious and amused. “Who was it?”
“Nuh-uh.” Kakeru drew himself back to look at him again, and a wave of regret hit him when he saw just how sincere Yuki’s eyes were. “I answered the question, now you go again.”
Yuki pouted. “That’s bull.”
“Those are the rules!”
“You— we’re having a conversation, there aren’t any rules.”
“What, are you mad because you’re losing?”
Yuki’s face started to brighten with frustration, and Kakeru couldn’t help but laugh. Swiftly, Yuki backhanded his calf, and Kakeru’s laughter was punctuated and heightened with a yelp. He grabbed Yuki’s hand to make sure he wouldn’t do it again, giggling as he managed to say,
“I’m not losing,” Yuki insisted. He tugged on Kakeru’s hand firmly, either to scold him for laughing or to accentuate his point. “You’re just avoiding me!”
“I am not.” Kakeru pressed the back of his free hand against his mouth, sputtering the last of his laughter into it, before saying, “It just doesn’t matter. Swear.”
“What? Why not?”
“Well,” Kakeru said, and he was acutely aware of how Yuki continued to hold his hand, fingers curled loose into his palm. Gently, he pulled back. “It’s not like they like me back.”
Yuki placed his hand back beside him on the floor. He looked down at it, splaying his fingers wide and shut again, before asking, “...You still like them, then?”
Kakeru wiped his hand on his jeans as it grew clammy.
Yuki murmured something under his breath. It sounded close to a curse, but Kakeru wasn’t sure.
Kakeru was readying himself for him to say something that would give him chest pains, something like that’s really sad or that sounds lonely, but instead, when Yuki next spoke, his words were so quiet Kakeru wasn’t sure he had heard him right.
Kakeru stared at him. Yuki drew his gaze to face him again, brows knit in a way that this time really made it seem like he was going to cry.
“Machi was… really matter-of-fact about it,” he said, voice quieted. “When she told me, I mean — she asked me if I liked this person, if i was… in love with them, maybe. And for a long time I just sat there completely stunned. I had no idea what to do. I mean, it was like she put glasses on me for the first time, and then immediately punched me.”
He swallowed. He drew his legs down again from his chest to sit cross-legged, mirroring Kakeru, and held his hands tight against his ankles. Fingers flexing and curling, thumb rubbing over the other, until he clasped them and held them still.
“We talked about it. She told me she wasn’t hurt by it, but I don’t know if I believe her. We’re still friends, but some parts of it are… strange, still.”
Kakeru’s heart was beating in his ears. It always did when Yuki became so deeply vulnerable on him. He inhaled deep, and covered up his attempt to calm himself with a short clear of his throat.
“Well, that makes sense,” he said, somewhat strangled. “It’s only been a few weeks.”
Yuki faltered. He looked at him. Then, he looked away, shaking his head and exhaling a small groan.
“Right… no. It’s been four months.”
Everything stopped. Kakeru gaped. Yuki looked at him again, and seemed to be making a concerted effort not to avert his eyes.
“Four months?” Yuki winced a little at Kakeru's volume. “What do you mean, four months?”
“We didn’t really know how to tell you,” Yuki said, attempting to placate. “Or, I didn’t. Machi was pretty much on board with not announcing it at all.”
“What the hell? How did you two even hide that? We went places together! I saw you both!”
“Kakeru— that’s what I’m saying.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know, we…” Yuki raised a hand to wave it in a short gesture before dropping it again. “Nothing was really different between us. At least not dramatically. You didn’t even notice.”
“Well, that’s not— That’s not the point! You’re my best friend, and she’s my sister, how could you have both kept that from me? Was I the only one who didn’t know?”
The way Yuki tilted his head from side-to-side, making a small noise in his throat that equated to a begrudging affirmative, made Kakeru throw his arms up in disbelief.
“The point is,” Yuki said, raising his voice to conquer Kakeru’s, and lowering it again as he continued, “we’re okay, mostly. Some things are still weird because we’re both a little close with… this other person. And that’s why it’s awkward, still.”
Kakeru lowered his arms, feeling his face continue to pinch in a small glower, but seeing the bare look of discomfort on his friend made him soften his expression some.
He didn’t even try to think of what other mystery person could be considered as being close to Machi outside of Yuki, and he quietly cursed himself for the pain that settled in him at realizing this could be a new friend, entirely unknown to him.
He tried not to feel betrayed, but he didn’t know how else to direct his thoughts.
“You sure this person isn’t like, a little under your league or something?” he asked. He shifted to settle more against the door, resting his head against the hardwood. He reached up again to jostle the knob, harsh, wishing he could just break it. “You know, I don’t even know who this person is, so how am I supposed to trust that your head’s actually screwed on right for this one?”
Yuki gave a small, uncomfortable laugh. He started to speak with a soft “um,” but lost the words. The laugh withered, and he returned to fussing with his hands, doing that slow meditative rub of his thumb into his palm.
Kakeru sighed. Fine, he thought, and the word stabbed him. Fine, fine, fine.
He forced himself to calm. He asked, “Does this other person know?”
“...No.” Giving some odd, untelling look at Kakeru, Yuki added, “I doubt it.”
“Then how are you so sure they don’t like you back? ‘Cause that’s the problem, right — if you at least knew, then you wouldn’t be trapped in this annoying ‘will they, won’t they’ thing, and Machi could at least get some peace of mind and move on.”
“Oh, I’m not sure she would ever get peace of mind over it.”
“Never mind. And I… can't. I just doubt that they like me back, or would if I told them. And I don’t think I can tell them. There’s just too many things in the air, and I feel like saying something would just…”
He struggled to find a word. His hand floated up, gesturing slowly; Kakeru watched its shadow dance on the door. Elongated, but still very much, still very obviously, Yuki’s hand.
Stomach pitting, he looked away from it.
“Make everything crash and burn?” he supplied.
“Yeah,” Yuki breathed. His hand dropped back into his lap. “And it's just not worth it. It’s irresponsible at best.”
“So you’re okay being miserable over it?”
Yuki’s eyes snapped to him as though he had said something offensive.
“I’m just saying, you seem to be pretty willing to be miserable over it just because you’re afraid things will be ruined if you tell them.”
“That’s— I’m not—”
Yuki floundered. Frustrated, he crossed his arms, and with a pointed stare he shot back,
“You’re one to talk. How do you know this other person doesn’t like you back?”
“Because they like someone else!”
“How do you know? Did you ask?”
"I’m pretty sure—”
“Oh, just ‘pretty sure?’ As in, you haven’t actually talked to them about it, either?”
Kakeru pressed his hands hard against his knees. He looked away, glaring in discomfort down at the floor.
“Shut up. It’s not the same thing,” he said.
“Tell me how it’s not.”
How badly Kakeru wanted to say because you just told me so, and how violently he shoved it back. When he delivered nothing but pained silence, Yuki leaned back, muttering,
“You’re such a hypocrite.”
He was. He was, and that acknowledgement immediately made a spark course through him, a detonation cord lined from his stomach to his mouth, and aggravated, he stood up.
“This is stupid,” he said. He tried the doorknob again. It still didn’t give, and even though he knew it wouldn’t, it only made him more agitated. He slammed the flat of his fist against the door. “Where the hell is she?”
Yuki quieted. Then, the light blocked out for a moment, and Kakeru felt a small, short tug at the ends of his fingers. By the time he looked down at Yuki again, he had already retracted his hand.
“Just… sit down,” he said. Then, tiredly, “You’re right. This is really stupid.”
Kakeru chewed on the inside of his cheek, deliberating. When there was nothing else to do, he conceded and sat again with a huff. Yuki, across from him, fussed again with his hair for some moments, expression wavering between annoyed and exhausted.
They were quiet for a short time. The bout of anger simmered in Kakeru, until it passed and settled into something simply nervous.
He was a hypocrite. It was true, and it didn’t sit well in him.
Finally, he spoke up, saying, “Look. It’s kinda shitty that we’re both keeping secrets from each other, right? I mean, we’re best friends. It goes against the code.”
Yuki stilled. He nodded somewhat.
“So, how about this. Um.” Kakeru heaved in an inhale that made his words airy despite feeling anything but. “We just… say the names of these people at the same time. Right? That way it’s just out in the open and we can move the hell on. No more dumb secrets.”
Yuki hesitated. Kakeru almost wanted to plead with him — just tell me who you like so I can move the fuck on — but Yuki appeared to steel himself, and with a difficult inhale, he said,
“Okay. Fine. No more secrets.”
Kakeru nodded. He straightened his posture and drummed his fingers against his knees. Yuki pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes as though he were staving off a headache.
“Okay,” Kakeru started, gripping his knees to apprehend his nerves. “I’ll just… count to three, and then we say it. Right? One, two, three, name.”
Yuki nodded with a small, affirming hum, and said nothing more. He didn’t lower his hands. Kakeru gave another nerved exhale down toward his legs, and, after a readied “alright,” he forced himself to say,
Don’t cop out, he warned himself. Just get it over with.
Yuki still didn't uncover his eyes.
Treat it like a bandaid. A nasty, two-plus-year-old bandaid. Actually that probably would cause an infection or something. Oh, ew, would that grow into your skin— no, c'mon, focus.
He inhaled shakily. He realized, then, that Yuki had the right idea, and he dipped his head and screwed his eyes shut, battling against the severe lump in his throat and his pulse in his ears, as he forced the name off of him.
“Kakeru— wait, sorry, what?”
Kakeru opened his eyes. He looked up at Yuki, who had pulled his hands from his face, and overlapping one another, they said,
“You just said my name, were we pausing, or—?”
“Are you chickening out—?”
They stilled. Something crested in Kakeru’s chest, then, powerful and sickly and too much. At much the same time, Yuki’s expression turned stunned and wide-eyed.
You’re fucking joking.
You’re fucking joking.
Though Kakeru couldn’t feel his mind reeling — not because it wasn’t but because it was, far too much, and far too fast — half-words fell from him in uncontrollable stammers. Unable to decide what to say. Wanting to say everything at once.
“Wait— Are you ser— You’re fuck— That’s bull— Are you serious—”
Yuki only managed to dip his head back into his hands, hiding completely. All that was visible was the tangle of his hair over his ears burned bright, and the minute curl of his shoulders as he seemed more than willing to disappear.
Kakeru felt compelled to reach out to him and shake him back open. He was not going to be left stranded here, not while Yuki ran off into some safe part of his brain and left the husk of his body behind. He reached, but his hand had only hovered over Yuki’s arm when Yuki suddenly raised his head again and said, through half-fogged eyes, through a half-laugh,
“We’re so stupid. Oh my god. Are you serious? We’re so—”
He pressed his wrist to his mouth. His eyes crinkled. Kakeru landed his hand on his arm, and even though he was there, and present with him, he still jostled him. It forced a small hiccup from him, and whether it was a laugh, a cry, or both, Kakeru couldn’t decipher, and decided it didn’t matter. The noise came out the same a second time, trailed this time with what Kakeru knew to be a laugh.
There was a brief voice in Kakeru that said that this wasn’t real at all. That he had fallen asleep while waiting for his sister to rescue them from Yuki’s dumb closet, and this was just another one of his hyperealistic dreams that would end with the floor disintegrating from under him, or something blasting the walls down, or a creature speaking to him in an unknown language before taking off with him in tow.
But he never felt his heartbeat in his dreams. Not that he remembered, anyway. He looked down at his chest and saw the clear thudding against his shirt. Much more subtle than it felt, but there, and real.
He looked again at Yuki, who scrubbed a knuckle under his eyes, exhaling heavy as he did. His shoulders dropped, and Kakeru felt the ease fall into his arm. He realized he hadn’t let go of him, and, not willing to yet, he jostled him again, head hanging.
“Yuki,” he whined, “I’m not sure I’m alive anymore. I think I might throw up.”
“I think I might throw up,” Yuki responded, breathless. He looked down at his hands, and Kakeru did, too — there was a small quake to them that was pronounced with holding them above his phone’s light. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Kakeru didn’t either. Questions raced in him, but they became muddied under what he could only describe as his soul feeling altogether alive and untethered. So for some moments they sat in an awed quiet, beside themselves, the small closet expanding so far beyond its dark corners it became huge and unreal, unattached to Yuki’s room, his apartment, the entirety of the world. It was as though they were drifting in some part of the distant universe that was only theirs.
Kakeru felt completely high.
Finally, he managed to speak again, in a voice he hardly recognized as his own as it compressed again to the closet, and asked,
“So, I mean… shit, how long have you… I mean, you know.”
Yuki tucked his hair behind his ears with both hands. He made a weak clear of his throat as his eyes fluttered between looking down at the floor and anywhere remotely near Kakeru’s eye. His mouth trembled; he looked unsure if it was okay to smile.
“I don’t know exactly. It just… happened, at some point. I could barely even recognize it. But…”
He stopped to think, and as he did he swiped his tongue over his bottom lip, and bit lightly at a chapped spot in the center — another small, unconscious habit of his, but one that always managed to make Kakeru particularly aware of himself and bring his deep-seated want to just kiss him, if only once, to the forefront of his mind, girlfriend and sister’s crush and “we’re just friends” be damned.
He realized, then, that this was the first time that that unrelenting want actually had an iota of a chance to become real.
“At some point,” Yuki said, slow as though he were testing the words, “it started to hurt, I think. Not always, but just… sometimes.”
Kakeru tilted his head, curious. He glanced away from his mouth.
“Really? Like when?”
“Mm…” Yuki squirmed a little in his spot, brows knitted gently as he looked down at his hands. “Just… during random times, usually. I couldn’t even tell you most of them. But… I remember the first time it really bothered me was after meeting Nakao-san.”
“Oh.” Something fell cold in Kakeru’s stomach. Small, but stinging as it hit the pool of nervous heat that had built there. “Huh.”
“Just, I mean— it was different then,” Yuki hurried, as though trying to smooth something that didn’t need to be. “At the time, you were good for each other, I think. She was lucky to have you. I told her that.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
Yuki looked at Kakeru directly. At the weight in his eyes, Kakeru raised a hand flat to stop him from going on.
“Wait, seriously, if you feel bad about that—”
Yuki spoke through the hand anyway.
“Of course I do.” Then, he stammered a word, backpedaling. “I mean— I did, anyway. I thought about it for days. I just… I was happy for you. But at the same time, I just felt hurt. I didn’t know why.”
Kakeru felt his throat tighten. How much he had liked Yuki even then, and how insistent he was that it was a brief and stupid crush that could be fixed by solidifying Komaki’s existence as his girlfriend — having Yuki meet her and understand her place in his life, he thought, in some roundabout way to anchor himself.
He looked away, brushing a hand over the back of his neck.
“So… since high school, then.”
“...Yeah. I guess so.”
He hummed. Other questions rose, but none that he felt like addressing. Not there and then, anyway. Things that were better saved for later, when it didn’t feel as though his heart and lungs were trying to leave his body.
He managed a small, awkward, “Same.” Then, before Yuki could question him, he said, “But I guess there wasn’t much we could do about it then. Not with everything else.”
Yuki nodded a little.
“Right. So. Um.”
His hand fluttered again in the light. Kakeru looked at him.
“So what about… now, then. I mean, what do we do now?”
Kakeru blinked. He hadn’t even considered he would get this far, in any capacity, in any universe. He still wasn’t totally sure he had heard any of this right.
Like hell he had a plan.
“Well,” he said, “we’re still waiting on Machi, right?”
“Um. Yeah?” Confusion washed over Yuki’s face. Then, peering at the front of his phone for the time, he said, “She should be here soon, I think.”
“Okay. So that’s what we do. We wait, and then we get the hell out of here.”
He jutted a thumb at the door. Yuki’s expression fell into something flat.
“And then… I dunno. Dinner? We probably owe her for coming out here on a rescue mission. Though if you ask me, the rescue is the reward, and all the accolades and junk that comes after are just a sweet bonus—”
Yuki reached the short distance to shove his knee. “I mean about us, Kakeru. What happens to us?”
How that single question carried so many other questions with it. How the question, at its core, was really Is this something we can even do?
To avoid Yuki’s look of distress, he looked around instead at the shadows projected harsh on the walls, the lines of empty clothes hangers striping the ceiling. He peered at them as if they would spell out for him an answer better than we’ll just see what happens.
Something struck him, then, and he felt his insides tremble.
“You know, this reminds me of a game, actually.”
Exasperated, Yuki asked, “What?”
“Yeah, it’s this game you play in the closet. I don’t remember what it’s called.” As he tilted his head down again, he pressed a hand into his sternum, hiding his heart as it began to surge again. “Kimi told me about it once. She’s a terrible drunk caller, by the way, she’ll just talk your ear off for an hour straight and then forget she’s on the phone with you.”
“What are you…” Yuki frowned, eyes lost. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Bloody Mary?”
“What?” It came out of him as a laugh. “No, that’s fucked up, Yun. It’s about locking people in a closet together.”
Yuki only looked more adamant. “Yeah?”
Kakeru huffed. Hopeless.
“It’s a kissing game.”
“Oh.” The word came from Yuki plainly, until suddenly, the implication hit him, and the light guise of irritation washed down to something red. “Oh.”
Kakeru pressed his hand harder into himself. “Yeah?”
It wasn’t meant to come out as a question, even though it was, in its entirety, a massive question. Too cowardly to ask directly, he realized, and enflamed by the notion, he dropped his hand from his chest and steeled himself, clearing his throat.
“I mean, yeah. Uh. Is that—”
“Are you saying you want to?”
The words were quick to bar his throat. Like an infantry too afraid to cross the no man’s land that laid wavering and imprecise between him and the mere handful of centimeters in front of him, between where he ended and Yuki started. Even an easy yes refused to leave him.
Dumbass, he chided himself, and he felt his face heat at the small line of worry creasing Yuki's mouth. He’s going to think you’re gonna say no.
Yuki moved to speak again. Before he could, Kakeru blurted,
“Is it November?”
“Wh—” Confused, and then rapidly disheartened, Yuki said, “Kakeru, if you don’t want—”
“No, no, wait, just.” Kakeru swatted a hand through the air a couple times to cut him off, and Yuki’s expression returned to something bewildered. “Just answer it.”
“Yes?” he tried. Then, more resolute, “Yes, it’s November.”
Kakeru stared at him, hoping he looked encouraging enough for him to get it. Yuki stared back at him, looking as though he were lost, until his brow perked.
“I—” Yuki made a noise that seemed strung between distress and exhilaration, and when Kakeru laughed at it, he reached to shove his shoulder. “Don’t do that to me.”
“What, kiss you?”
That made Yuki clam up, flustered, and hurried, he said, “No— I mean—”
Kakeru felt his chest go light. He laughed again, and laughed through an apology, and it only tapered when he said, “I’m going to take all that as a yes.”
“Well, now I’m not so sure,” Yuki muttered, but as he did, he raised his palms to his cheeks, burning pink, and behind the shield of his wrists tried to contain a smile. “Maybe I don’t kiss jerks.”
How badly Kakeru just wanted to reach and lower his hands. Instead, he rubbed his palms against his jeans, feeling altogether tingly and nervous and alight.
“I think I can flip a maybe into my favor.”
“How bold of you.”
“I’ve been told that’s part of the Manabe charm.”
Yuki laughed, delicate and short. He lowered his hands, face still flushed, and shook them out a little in front of him, as though shaking off water.
“Okay,” he said, but once his eyes hit Kakeru’s again, he could only laugh again, shy, and repeat another “okay” in a thin effort to calm himself. He bit his lip gently to quell another laugh.
It was a little evil, Kakeru thought, that that was enough to send him near spiraling every time.
Kakeru watched him roll his bottom lip between his teeth one more time before placing his hand over the light, bringing the closet to darkness again. Yuki made a questioning noise.
“If you kiss in the dark,” he explained, “and it’s bad, it doesn’t count.”
The outline of Yuki sitting in front of him quickly blurred and disappeared into the dark. Still, when Yuki breathed a laugh, tinged with nerves, he could feel it shift the air around them.
“Is that a rule you made up?” he asked.
“No, no, it’s the law, trust me. You can look it up— but, you know, after.”
“What, after you give me a bad kiss?” Yuki tsked. “You’re not inspiring much confidence.”
A small whine sat in Kakeru’s throat. “Hey—”
The word was cut by Yuki’s hand falling light on his knee. It disappeared, for only half a moment, before finding Kakeru’s shoulder, his neck, his cheek, to finally rest in such a way that his thumb sat feather-light on his chin, his fingertips against his jaw, above his pulse.
For some moments, they sat in total silence. Kakeru held his breath.
“Your pulse is racing,” Yuki whispered.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “You’re shaking.”
The air vibrated with a small hum.
Despite the dark, Kakeru closed his eyes.
Yuki shifted in front of him, fingers pressing minutely more into his skin before softening again. His thumbnail brushed the edge of Kakeru’s lower lip.
I’m dead, he thought, mind whirring as he drew in a shaky, shallow breath. My soul’s on its way to the next place.
Dizzied, high, Kakeru tried to grasp onto the thought of finding Yuki’s face in return with his free hand. He reached forward with it, staggered, and bumped his knuckles against his kneecap—
Yuki’s breath hit his lip.
It was almost too light to process, and yet Kakeru’s muscles seized as though he were being hit. Yuki’s thumb, rubbing slow along the flat of his chin, his fingertips pulling gentle on the thin of his neck — that same meditative circle of his thumb to his palm, a means to say relax, to himself and Kakeru both.
His hand continued to quake. His lips were still a ghosted touch to Kakeru’s.
Slowly, Kakeru flattened his hand against Yuki’s knee, and with a low exhale, a bare boldness returning to him as Yuki began to draw back, he settled forward and kissed him firmly in return. He felt Yuki gasp short through his nose, and it spirited him further — as he drew his hand up further, knocking light against Yuki’s chest, his arm, and finally his face, he could only think, I think I’m finally alive.
Yuki made a noise in his throat. His hand sidled along Kakeru's jaw until he held it close, and he pressed into the kiss with a newfound courage. Still sweet, and delicate, and precise, but full.
It was a particular flavor of want that made Kakeru realize just how long he had been starving.
They parted a moment, just to breathe once against each other's mouths, before drawing in again. Yuki slid his other hand to the nape of Kakeru’s neck, bringing himself impossibly closer, and he pulled a moan from what Kakeru felt was somewhere deep in his chest.
Kakeru raised his other hand, too, grasping blindly along Yuki’s shoulder, his neck, until he weaved it into his hair and cradled the back of his head. Color splashed harsh against the backs of his eyelids as he uncovered the light, and he smiled against Yuki’s mouth when he felt the pull of his cheeks rub against his own as he squinted his eyes.
He didn’t want to part from him. How many times he had thought about kissing him, how many collective minutes and hours over the past few years he had given over to just imagining what it would feel like, what it would be like, how it would happen, if it could happen.
All those minutes and hours washing away from him in slow waves as they never once came close to the reality of it. All of the graves washing open and sloping away in a cascade of mud and bones.
They parted again. They breathed. Kakeru went to kiss him again, but was stilled by Yuki breathing his name against his mouth.
He hazarded a small peek as he slowly squinted an eye half-open. He cursed under his breath when the light blinded him, and it was as he drew his hand from Yuki’s hair to scrub the spots from his vision that he realized Yuki had gone entirely still.
Then, he heard the faint, faint creak of the floorboards outside the door.
It was as though the weight of the air became real again. He pulled his hand from Yuki’s cheek, and Yuki did the same, drawing himself back so as to feign at least some distance between them. Kakeru smoothed his hands down his face in an attempt to clear the burn he felt had spread across his nose, from ear to ear. Yuki brushed his fingers through his hair to fix the gentle muss that had cropped there, and similarly pressed the back of his wrist to his cheeks as a means to quiet their redness.
The knob jostled. The door swung open, and as the natural light flooded them and the small closet, bringing all the greys and blacks to their real hues, Machi stood there, looking down at them, windswept and calm.
Yuki slowly began to stand. He swept his phone from the floor and at last, the harsh white light went out. He pressed his arm to the doorframe, hissing as he unbent his knees.
“Machi,” he said, and Kakeru noted the easy kindness in his voice struggled to override the tremor that still racked him. “You’re here.”
Machi’s face softened a little at the acknowledgement, and she nodded.
“Mm. Sorry it took so long.”
Kakeru stretched his legs out in front of him once Yuki stepped out of the way, and as he complained at the tightness in his knees, feeling the quake of his nerves affect his breath, he hurried to cover it with saying,
“Geez, Mach, if you took any longer I think I would have turned ninety.”
Her attention turned to him, softness swiftly replaced with contempt. He grinned at her.
“I’m glad you weren’t alone this time,” she said, not to him but to Yuki now standing beside her. She looked at him, and as she did Kakeru slowly rose to stand again. “I just wish you had better company.”
“Rude,” Kakeru bit flatly.
“No, she’s right. Your company is an acquired taste.”
“Rude!” Kakeru cried, and Yuki smiled amiably down at Machi, who settled into a small smile herself, before he looked again at Kakeru.
The sheer gentleness of it — the reserved knowing behind his eyes — made Kakeru want to fall down and kiss him again.
Yuki reached a hand out to him, and Kakeru took it, if only for the short moment it took to be guided over the mess at the closet’s entrance. As he led him, Yuki squeezed his hand for just a millisecond. Kakeru only managed to twitch his fingers against his as he pulled away.
From the corner of his eye, he could see Machi looking at them.
“So, Machi,” he said, loud as he side-stepped to a clear spot on the floor just near her, resting a heavy hand on her shoulder. “You came all this way to rescue us, which I think is cause for celebration. You did keep us from dying after all, which is kind of miraculous coming from the queen of the death trap apartment herself.” He steered her away from the closet, parading her back through Yuki’s bedroom until they reached the door. “Dinner?”
She didn’t shrug him off. Rather, she looked back over her shoulder, past Kakeru, to where Yuki followed some steps behind them.
“I’ll pay,” Yuki offered.
“Fine,” she said. Then, quietly to Kakeru, in a near whisper as she finally reached up to shove his hands from her, “You better be good to him if you really see yourself turning ninety someday.”
Kakeru stilled. She continued walking without him, down the hallway, until she disappeared with a turn into another room.
A moment later, Yuki stopped beside him.
“Yuki,” Kakeru said, voice hollowed, “I think she just threatened me.”
“Oh.” Then, with a small, warm laugh, Kakeru felt Yuki touch his elbow as he sidled past him out the door. “I told you. I don’t know if she’ll ever get peace of mind over it. Now, come on.” He held his hand out again, waving it in a small beckon. “If we don’t catch up with her, she might buy out the restaurant out of spite.”
Kakeru sputtered a laugh. Reaching in return, he clasped his hand in Yuki’s, and warmed when he felt him squeeze it again, longer this time. He squeezed back, and he thought, freely, for much the first time, that this was another thing, something new, that made him love him more.
He set down his mental shovel. He dusted off his hands.
They left Yuki's apartment, stepping into the early evening, and he thought only that his mind just then was a bright green hill. Open, and light, and at last a place to breathe.