Neither of them said anything on their way to the bus station, the short ride and the walk until they got to Haruki’s apartment. Akihiko tried to make a conversation, but it died quickly, as Haruki was clearly not in the right mind for casual chatter, and the serious talking was to be reserved for when they were at the actual apartment.
They sat in front of each other on the bus. Haruki lowered his head and hoped the hairs falling on his face would hide the fact his eyes were still looking at Akihiko. Haruki thought that by now, there was no way Akihiko would make him feel even more conflicted than he already did. He couldn’t not think back about that night, months ago. He thought about it every day, especially when he met Akihiko and they would pass a little too close to each other, making him flinch and remember the pain of having something he thought about way too often yet was so far from what he actually wanted.
“Haruki, can I touch you?”
Since that night, they avoided touching each other. Akihiko was cautious every time they were in each other’s proximity, and Haruki tried to keep his distance, in any case. Obviously, there were accidental touches from time to time, hands brushing or shoulders bumping, which always made Haruki feel like something was stuck in his throat. It hurt, not having the physical intimacy the two usually had - Akihiko holding the edge of his formerly long bangs, or grabbing his arm as he was about to return to rehearsal after their smoking breaks. These little touches used to be so comforting, they were part of the reason Haruki fell for Akihiko so hard. But for now, being touched hurt more. He missed it, missed it so much, but every time something was close to an expression of affection, it reminded him that he can’t have it.
He knew Akihiko was sorry, he was really trying his best to give Haruki the space he needed, even while being a freeloader in his apartment. He avoided touch because he knew how hurt Haruki was. Of course, he wasn’t only physically hurt that night, it was mostly the feeling that he was led on, used, for the past two years. Akihiko was trying to make up for that, as much as he could. He kept depending on Haruki for a while, but after some time, he moved out to his own apartment.
By now, Haruki felt like he was ready to move on, somehow. He couldn’t make his feelings for Akihiko disappear, but he could tone them down, they flooded only during band practice, or at little moments of kindness that reminded him of the time before he was hurt so badly. Hugs used to be a usual thing, not common, but also not rare. First, it felt weird Akihiko had asked for permission for that, but it just meant he knew how hard it was for Haruki, he didn’t want to hurt him again.
“I love you.”
And then the feelings flooded again. After two years of dreaming of hearing that sentence, knowing it wouldn’t come because Akihiko’s heart always belonged to someone else. He learned to live only with that longing, comforting on the little moments of intimacy they had.
It’s not like he tried to keep it a secret, but it still was surprising when Akihiko said out loud that he knew it all along. He was shocked and heartbroken that night, and almost every good memory he had with Akihiko was suddenly stained by the feelings of betrayal and pain.
But as shocking as it was to hear the words “you like me” coming out of Akihiko’s mouth, hearing “I love you” made everything around Haruki crumble away until the only other thing in the world was Akihiko, hugging him tight and letting his tears soak in his shirt. Somewhere deep inside, Haruki wanted to run away from the touch of the same arms that also hurt him, but Akihiko’s voice was so different this time. He wasn't shouting, there was no anger and frustration in his voice, he was whispering very softly, like Haruki was the most important thing in the world.
Haruki still felt the hands around his back during the whole ride back home. These were not strange arms, but it felt like they had crossed a great distance to get back to him.
“Please go out with me.”
This isn't right. This really isn't right. Haruki had almost gotten used to the atmosphere between them - friends, not close friends, definitely not lovers or potential love interests - or at least, Haruki tried not to see Akihiko as one. Then, this sentence crushed everything.
Haruki could remember how things have been before. He remembered the close, intimate moments, even though he couldn't reminiscence about them the same way. He remembered his own, secret hopes, he never voiced out loud, but were clear in his mind. They couldn't do it, of course. Not while they both were in a band, trying to succeed together, and the world was still as unaccepting as it was.
He also remembered his conversation - or lecture - with Mafuyu and Uenoyama when the two started dating, about how unsafe it was and it could lead to a crisis in the band. He laughed to himself, when the memory of his own thoughts during the lecture came to his mind. Back then, he thought ‘as if I were to do anything different if I was in highschool and in love with someone who truly loved me back’, and then justified himself with the thought that he wouldn't have it anyway, Akihiko doesn't like him that way, so he doesn't have anything to worry about. Damn it.
“I’m pathetic. I’m unfair. I’m a total brat. I don't even know if I’ll hurt you again”
Akihiko’s embrace was so familiarly warm and comforting, he could almost forget everything. But he didn’t. It was not that simple, not at all. For months, he had been working on making a switch in his mindset, to a one that said “Akihiko does not love me, his heart belongs to someone else. Even though he knows the mistakes he made and is trying to make things better, you can’t think about him that way anymore.”
Well, even if he was making that switch, it was now short-circuiting. Akihiko truly meant it, it was heard in his voice, felt in his arms. Haruki wanted to forgive him and forget everything that happened. He was aware of Akihiko’s many faults, the guy was pretty damn messed up, and that messed up Haruki. But he was improving, and the present Akihiko wouldn't tell him he broke up with Ugetsu, the violinist, and loved Haruki, if he didn’t mean it and wasn’t completely honest.
But what if he doesn't really mean it, a thought popped up in Haruki’s head again and again. What if he was lying once again and just wanted to let his impulses and anger out on him, like he did that one time. No. This is different. None of them were angry right now, each of them moved on from their unrequited love interest.
“So, will you give me another chance?”
When Haruki said he moved on, he never meant it as “stopped loving Akihiko”. Two years of adoration and dedication don’t just disappear, even if the relationship fell apart. He moved on from counting on Akihiko, from letting Akihiko depend on him, but never from loving him. He just couldn't do that. It hurt being close and it hurt being far. And if there was one thing about Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship, it was that Haruki almost never said no to Akihiko. It's not that he couldn’t, he just never wanted to. It was the same now. Haruki wanted to say yes, he wanted to give in, give himself to Akihiko and finally be able to feel loved, feel needed but not used.
He didn't let Akihiko finish the sentence. He was feeling too exposed out here on the street, and he wanted to be able to talk properly, sort out everything between them. He just comforted him shortly - funny how the tables have turned - and they got up and headed towards the second-floor flat.
So many things happen between them in this small apartment. From the first time Akihiko crashed on his couch, to the time they lived together. Akihiko hasn't been to the apartment since moving out of it. After they took off their shoes and jackets, Akihiko dropped on the floor, leaning his back on the couch. That damn couch. He signed at the floor next to him, Haruki joining him, keeping a small distance between them. His heart was still beating really fast, and the hairs on his arms were standing.
Akihiko moved his hand a little towards Haruki, as some kind of an offer Haruki was free to decline. He accepted, though, and put his hand in Akihiko’s. For a second, he tensed up, wanting to pull his hand back from the skin that brought both good and bad memories. The same hand that held his arm when he wanted him to stay, but also the same hand that grabbed him too forcefully. But he held on, trying to focus on all the happy memories this hand brought him.
Akihiko smiled at him. He took out his piercings before his competition, and it made his smile look gentler, or maybe he actually smiled more gently. Akihiko treated Haruki like he was fragile, which, in a way, he was. His heart was broken by the same person who was now holding his hand and smiling. Maybe the smile looked different also because Haruki’s vision was blurred from tears again.
Haruki wanted to return to the other’s embrace, and wanted to run away from it at the same time. He wanted to talk to him, tell him everything he felt the past two years, and at the same time yell at him and not forgive him. He was shaking.
“Akihiko…” He started, but his voice died quickly because it was hoarse from tears, and he didn't actually know what to say. The violinist waited for him to gather words, but not urging him. What does he want to say? That he would always give him another chance and he wants them to go out? That Akihiko hurt him too bad and a relationship couldn't be formed? That they couldn't date because of the band? That he is already over him? “Can you hug me again?” he finally said. “I need to get used to being close to you.”
Akihiko’s hand let go of Haruki’s, and moved around his shoulder, pulling him close. His arm was now against Haruki’s bare neck, which had reminded him again of the feelings of weird emptiness he felt since he cut his hair short. It's been months, but he still hadn’t gotten fully used to it. For the first weeks, it was terrible. His head felt off-balance, the back of his neck exposed and empty. He felt like he had something missing when his hair was short - that something was Akihiko, their old relationship, because as messed up as it was looking back, he had missed them.
He considered letting his hair grow out again a few times, but he had reminded himself that the time of the long hair had passed. The time of being hopelessly in love and letting your loved one hurt you without even realizing, and hurting even more when you do realize. He didn’t regret having long hair, just like he didn't regret knowing Akihiko.
They were closer than they were in months, since that night. Haruki tried to focus on anything else, but he was so aware of Akihiko’s body next to him, his heartbeat, his breaths, the fact that he was also slightly shaking. So he tried to give in, curl even tighter next to Akihiko, who accepted him into an even more comforting embrace.
“I’m still sorry.” Akihiko said. “I was terrible, I know I was.”
“I told you, it’s alright. Let's not talk about it, I don’t think any of us want to” Haruki said. As long as they could avoid mentioning what happened in this apartment, just on the sofa they were leaning against, maybe he could deal with it.
“Right. I want to be here for you, Haruki,” Akihiko said quietly. Haruki noticed he kept his tongue piercing in, and there were little holes under his lip, where his other piercings were usually. These lips were familiar to his eyes, reminding him of all the times in the past he had looked at them with sad longing. He knew he could have it now, what he wanted for so long and was taken from him before he could reach it, but he didn't think he was able to. Just reach a little forward, a little closer? It was so easy, that he wasn’t able to do it right now. He can’t take Akihiko for granted, he has to treasure every moment, and take things slow, for both of them.
“I love you, Akihiko. I never got to actually say it myself.” He said after a few silent minutes of embracing, getting used to the body close to his.
“You still do?” Akihiko didn’t sound mad, he was more relieved, and it calmed Haruki down. Akihiko knew he was conflicted, and accepted it.
“Yeah, I think it never stopped, even when I tried to.” their eyes were locked on each other, as if to make up for months of distance. Haruki got accustomed to the feeling, and he wasn’t that calm for months, even before everything fell apart. They were rebuilding it now, much better, much steadier.
“I’m glad. I was afraid by the time I realized my feelings, you would’ve moved on, but I think deep inside, I knew you’d always be there for me, too. You’re the one I can always rely on and come back to, not anyone else.”