Yae doesn’t know how one person could sit in an office all day, staring down emails and arguing with old men in lax business suits, and not go insane.
It didn’t help that it was a cool, spring morning, its seasonal change in full bloom in the gigantic glass window on the side of her office. She found herself staring at it more than the opened emails in front of her (and she had two monitors), and more than once a sigh escaped past her lips to remind her of her unhappiness of the position she was in.
Oh, the things she could be doing right now.
She could be going down the street to buy some ice cream with Ei! Or relaxing with a good book in the crook of her house! Anything, honestly, would be better than being cooped up writing back to clients who were going to ask her the same questions next week anyway.
Even walking into the building felt like a whole other plane of existence. The air-conditioning was working nonstop, leaving goosebumps on her skin whenever she entered with her regular to-go cup of tea and a buzzing notification on her tablet. It was cold, and lifeless, and somehow most of the lights didn’t work despite Ei promising to get them fixed months prior.
In retrospect, her place of work, the one she felt she’s been in for eternity, felt nothing short of barren and tedium.
Well, except for a few things.
For example, the little succulents she took the liberty of placing around the break room and her office did plenty to liven up the place.
And, well, succulents can’t be put anywhere with a centerpiece, if she said so herself.
“Sara,” she said breezily, a hand gently laying between Sara’s shoulder blades. Yae bent down to look at her monitor. Of course she was in the middle of typing up another Excel sheet— to this day Yae had never caught her doing anything else besides work. Was this woman even human? “I see you’ve been doing well for the company. And yourself.”
Her hand came downwards in one easy, familiar motion. She hummed in charmed approval, feeling the lean muscle in her upper bicep. “Have you been working out?”
“Yes,” Sara answered monotonously. She continued to type, the springs of her ancient keyboard sounding ridiculously loud (though she’d refused every attempt at Yae’s suggestions to get a new one, even as a gift from hers truly). When Yae’s fingers relaxed around her arm, Sara took hold of her mug of coffee and brought up to her lips, one hand still flying across the keys. The motion made the muscles in her bicep flex, and Sara concealed a smile.
To this day, she didn’t know if Sara did that to silently gloat about her muscular progress, or if she was much too invested in her work to even notice Yae’s fingers still clasped around her. Yae tried to think of the former, though the latter would have been easier to explain.
Yae tried to poke her for more information, despite the routine. “Have you been trying a new protein shake? Perhaps, a new dietary plan or any of the sorts? I can certainly feel the change.”
Sara licked her lips as she put down her coffee. Yae was simply delighted enough to watch. “No. Just a new pilates routine.”
“Oooh,” Yae said approvingly. She nodded her head to that. She could visualize it now— sweaty Sara on a yoga mat, practicing pilates after work to get rid of the after-work stress. She blinked to clear it. “Could I join the next round you go?” she asked suggestively, and lifted her eyebrows despite Sara’s intense focus on her monitor.
“You know you’re always welcome,” Sara answered, the words easy on her tongue. After all, it was the same answer she gave to Yae every other day she asked.
And Yae was never adventurous enough to take her on that offer.
(Maybe someday though. At least, that’s what she liked to comfort herself with.)
“Ah, well,” Yae said, feigning disappointment. “Perhaps not this week. Oh, you must have noticed how moody Ei’s been these days— poor her and her thousands of meetings over some stock plunge. You’ve been doing great in helping her out with that, though.”
The compliment made Sara’s fingers hesitant on the keys, though she was back to rapidly keying out the numbers on her screen without another blink. Yae took a step back from her. Perfect posture, as always. She should really ask which chiropractor Sara went to, the next time she came to bother.
“What are you occupied with this week?” Sara asked her, and her voice was flat. Yae could sense the hesitance underlying her tone though, and preened at the notion that Sara was making the effort to create small talk with her. It was bare minimum office chit-chat, but still.
“Oh, lots of things.” Yae twirled her wrist, looking out into the corner of the room to conjure her mental schedule. “Going over strategies with the other executives. Triple-checking the assets of the company— you know how picky Ei can be. Then there’s the meetings, and the contracts, and the galas and all that boring stuff.”
Sara hummed at her ramble. “Sounds like you’re a hot commodity.”
They both froze.
Now, that was certainly new.
What a different outcome from the many, many attempts Yae had tried to get her to talk, and she certainly wasn’t complaining.
Yae lifted an eyebrow at the back of Sara’s head. Sara refused to look at her and tried her best to play it off by opening a different tab and clicking around aimlessly.
Folding her arms neatly in front of her chest, Yae leaned her hip on Sara’s desk. “You could say that.” The amusement seeped into her words.
“Yes. Of course.” Sara frowned slightly.
Yae stared at her for a moment longer, giving her the chance to conjure any other words to speak in defense to herself, but Sara only stayed quiet. She decided not to torture the poor woman any longer.
“Well, I’m off to pick up some wraps for lunch,” she said in certitude. “Would you like me to pick one up for you?”
“Just the usual,” Sara told her, and her words came out 0.5 times faster than they usually did. “You have my gratitude.”
Yae covered her smile with a hand. She couldn’t keep her hungry staff for another moment longer, so she waved goodbye and thanked whatever guardian angel she had for giving her a moment in the day to cherish.
Yae relished in the fact that she could work alone. In fact, it was a talent of hers that she loved to take pride in, and it was one that everyone knew her for.
A problem with the printer? Ask Yae.
Persistent client won’t shut the hell up during a meeting? Look at Yae and pray for the best.
Being too reluctant to call in an executive to help her ease the load to free her weekend? Leave it to Yae.
There were two precise knocks to her oak door, before it opened just a crack. “Kokomi told me you needed me?” Sara said. She peeked inside and looked curiously at Yae.
“Sara,” she greeted with a genuine smile. Yae put down her folders and shifted in her seat, the smile still plastered gently on her face. “It’s quite embarrassing to ask, but could you maybe do me a favor? I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”
The playful suggestion wasn’t lost on Sara. She only rolled her eyes, and then walked through the door as instructed. She shut it with a palm and answered, “Well, I’m here now. What’s your two other wishes?”
Yae gawked at her openly.
Sara settled nicely into the seat across from her, then noticed the blatant stare. She looked from her left to her right in confusion, then looked at Yae. “Is something the matter?” she asked.
Yae squinted at her slightly. They stared at each other down, before Yae shook her head and picked up the folder again. “Well, I didn’t expect you, of all people to be so…”
“Did I say something out of the ordinary, Yae?”
Her innocent inquiry made Yae’s thoughts dissipate into tiny clouds. Perhaps she was imagining it after all.
Besides, Sara willingly using pick-up lines? It was like waiting for the day Ganyu would pick a non-vegan option at their local restaurant.
In essence, completely unheard of.
“Nevermind,” Yae said quickly. “I was going to ask if you had time this weekend to help me run some numbers before Monday morning’s press conference. Of course, no pressure.”
And just like that, the conversation came into Sara’s reins.
It was all file this and folder that, and none of Sara’s little flirty comments came into focus, despite Yae’s unending curiosity. Perhaps she imagined that little snippet of conversation of pure wishful thinking, and she was hearing things out of the lack of sugar in her system. Oh, maybe she should have taken Zhongli’s offer seeing that dietician of his.
“Would that be all?” Sara asked her. Yae confirmed with a slight nod and a relaxed smile, and Sara seemed to permit herself with a slight smile back. Sara got up. “Well, thank you for coming to me then. It’ll help me concentrate on something during the weekend.”
“Don’t run yourself dry though,” Yae told her. She gestured at the calendar behind her, and Sara glanced at it. “I’m getting drinks after work on Friday. You’re more than welcome to join, you know.”
“I’ll… think about it.” Sara gave her one stiff nod, then exited her office with nothing more than a soundless click.
Yae tapped her golden pen against her chin, sighing wistfully through her nose. Always the same answer with that one.
“No to drinks again?” Kokomi asked her. She hummed while she put Yae’s tea on the coaster at the very edge of her desk.
Yae thanked her, then took a happy sip. She sighed dramatically. “Would it kill her to join us once in a while, do you think?”
Kokomi laughed at that. “Leave it to her to be a bit of a workaholic.” Kokomi crashed onto the small sofa adjacent to her, then rifled through the magazines littered on the coffee table in front of it. “You’re a bit like her too, you know. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“I know that.” Yae flicked her wrist. She sniffed in vague disappointment. “But I have the work-life balance thing down to a T. You think she would have too.”
Kokomi glanced up at her, eyes full of amusement. “You’re hiding something.”
“Oh, whatever do you mean?” Yae said, voice flat with a slight smile on her face. She tried to hide it by drinking her tea, though Kokomi was astute in her observations.
“What’d she say?” Kokomi inquired, and her fingers hovered over the magazines in anticipation.
Yae snorted, if not only briefly. She put down her tea without spilling as best as she could. “She tried to flirt with me.”
“No.” Kokomi looked at her with a mix of horror and awe. “And you’re not joking? Or hallucinating?”
“Believe me, I thought the same thing.” Yae rubbed at her eye, then looked down at her manicured nails. She laughed to herself at the memory, then recounted Sara’s stoic, yet unmistakable, words to Kokomi.
“Oh my.” Kokomi giggled at that. She hid it behind the magazine she was perusing, but Yae joined in with the laughter. “Do you think maybe she just doesn’t… know?”
Yae stared at her. “You seriously think she wouldn’t know if she was flirting with me?”
“Well, not you, so to speak.” Kokomi tilted her head, fishing for the words in her head. She tapped her chin, then said, “Maybe she didn’t know she sounded so coquettish. You know how she could be.”
“Do you think I should tell her?” Yae entertained the thought. Her lips twitched, and she leaned back to let the smile grace onto herself.
Kokomi shook her head at that. “Oh, no.” Yae sagged in disappointment. Kokomi continued, “I’ll do it. You need to work on the same thing Ei asked you to finish yesterday.”
Kokomi gave her one last pointed look, and Yae sighed. “Alright,” she said in mock defeat. “But you will tell me how it goes.”
“You have my word,” Kokomi said, and a little smirk broke out on her face. Yae waved her goodbye.
There was a muffled crash outside her window, and Yae looked up sharply. She squinted in between the cracks of her blinds.
Sara struggled to get up, the water cooler jumbled in her arms to keep it from falling, and Kokomi looked like she was trying to conceal a laugh.
Yae locked eyes with Sara for a split second. Sara was the first to look away, her face reddening with each passing tick of the clock in the corner, and she was scratching the side of her neck.
Yae had never seen her look so embarrassed. And surprised.
She deflated slightly in disappointment. So Sara hadn’t been flirting with her after all.
“Working late again?” Sara asked her.
Yae had been so focused on the forms dancing across her screen that she hadn’t noticed her slipping in. It was a pleasant surprise though— she was big enough to admit that.
“You know what they say,” Yae said offhandedly. She minimized her tab and tilted her monitor away to focus on the woman in front of her. Sara had her coat on, as well as her satchel swung across her chest. “Happy Ei, happy life. Unhappy Ei, well…”
Sara actually cracked a smile at that. She leaned against Yae’s doorframe, then slipped her hands into her coat pockets. Yae tried not to seem too eager at the fact that the gesture meant that she was sticking around for a little while longer.
“To be fair, she’s done her share with keeping this company afloat the way that it is,” Sara said, and there was a twinge of pride in her tone. She even puffed up her chest.
Yae, on the other hand, had a slight twinge of jealousy. She kept a lid on it as best as she could. She could burn off that steam later in the evening while doing her yoga stretches. So Yae permitted herself only to shrug.
“You, on the other hand, should be hurrying home,” Yae said instead. She pointed her fountain pen at Sara lazily. “There’s no more work for you here. Thank goodness for that.”
Sara tilted her head. “Do you have a lot left to do?”
Yae tried to distinguish her tone. She could only find curiosity, so she answered honestly. “Nothing that I can’t handle. I should be heading home in an hour or two.”
Sara bobbed her head in satisfaction. “Excellent. It’s already getting quite late, and it would be nice to get you out of those clothes.”
Even the clock seemed to freeze its tick.
Yae blinked. So did Sara. Neither of them moved.
An unfamiliar warmth curled underneath the button of her collar.
What a strange feeling.
Sara, for once, seemed to notice the gravity of her words. She backtracked immediately, and startled herself enough to stop leaning on the doorway. “I only meant— well, I could only assume— pardon me, truly, I only assumed you were, uh, wearing— those clothes. For a while. Because blazers are uncomfortable, in contrast to sleeping clothes, such as pajamas. If you wore pajamas. To bed. Of course. If not, then—”
Sara continued to struggle with her words, and Yae was so surprised that she couldn’t do anything but laugh.
“Sorry, sorry.” Yae cleared her throat, though the amusement never left her. “I wasn’t laughing at you. That was rude of me. You were saying?”
“Right. Of course.” Sara tried to give her a smile, though it came off quite wry and wobbly. “I will… see you. On Monday.”
“On Monday,” Yae repeated. She shook her head, a small smile still on her lips, and then pushed her chair back in to continue her work. She clicked her mouse a few times. “If you pass the HVAC, could you turn off the air-conditioning? I’m getting quite hot cooped up in here.”
“Or it could just be you.”
Yae, startled by her response, looked up from her keyboard.
Sara had her back already facing her. “I’ll see if I pass it,” she said quickly, and not another word was exchanged between them before the door clicked shut and Sara was no longer in her vicinity.
Shocked, Yae continued to stare down her oak door until the sounds of the air-conditioning hissing off jolted her out of her slight daydream.
Which was odd, really, because she recalled the controls being all the way on the other side of the building.
“She’s driving me insane, Ei,” Yae said solemnly. She held up her glass to let her friend pour her another hefty amount of wine, in which Ei begrudgingly complied to. “I’ve never met a woman with quite so many mixed signals.”
“Perhaps she’s been trying to seek an olive branch with you,” Ei suggested. “And all of her mindless flirting are just attempts at trying to befriend you.”
“I don’t want her to befriend me, Ei,” she said impatiently. “I bought red silk duvets when she transferred to my sector and there’s a two thousand dollar bottle of wine still tucked in my wine cooler. You already know that.”
“What do you wish for me to do?” Ei asked her in exasperation. She leaned back on the couch, and picked up the remote to pick a new movie for them to watch. “I can’t call her into my office to grill her about her minor demeanors.”
“Minor?” Yae shot up from her lounging on the couch. She was almost nose to nose with her friend. She held Ei’s gaze steady, trying her best to convey her grievances. “She saw me holding a broom while I was trying to help Kokomi with a spillage and said, ‘Are you trying to sweep me off my feet?’”
Ei considered that for a moment. “Miko,” she settled on saying, the twitch of her lips betraying her pleasure, “I hope your duvets haven’t been gathering too much dust.”
“What?” Ei took a sip of her wine. “It’ll only be a matter of time before she sees these red silk duvets first hand, if you ask me.”
Yae gawked at her. “You’re not seriously telling me her futile attempts at flirting are…?” She couldn’t finish the sentence even if she tried— she had no idea what she reached to say in the first place.
Ei shrugged. “Well, it seems to be working on you, hasn’t it been?”
“Please don’t be offended,” Kokomi said out of the blue.
“I was just thinking about you and Sara,” Kokomi replied. She looked up from her novel to look at Yae. “You know, with the whole pick-up line thing.”
Yae bristled at the memory of that morning. All she said was that she was going to see a movie with an acquaintance of hers that weekend, and Sara had answered with a quick “But they don’t let you bring in your own snacks?” and a sudden excuse that she had work to do.
Ganyu had to refrain from giggling throughout the entire movie when Yae informed her of the encounter.
“Please, save me the teasing,” Yae pleaded. “Ei already tried that. It felt… very backwards. And odd, to be on the other side of the gun.”
Kokomi giggled. She sat up straighter. “I wasn’t going to tease you, exactly. I was just thinking that if Sara came in here right this minute and said, ‘Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see’, you would have swooned the same way as you did with all her incidents.”
“I don’t swoon,” Yae argued. “In fact, I do the opposite, thank you. Sara’s just been a little strange to me recently, that’s all.”
“Alright,” Kokomi said, diffusing the subject.
It was a long half hour before she spoke up again, this time with a curious, “How about if she came in here and told you ‘Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk past you again?’”
Yae avoiding answering by taking a bite of her wrap.
Though the giddiness in her stomach was more than enough to answer for her.
It was a Wednesday morning when Yae came to bother Sara at her desk again. It was routine, and it was one that she wanted to stick out with, despite the constant awkward tension between them nowadays.
She marveled at Sara’s muscles (once again) and asked her for her newest routine (once again). Once again, Sara answered as she normally would, monotonous with a slight edge of friendliness.
Yae asked her if she wanted a wrap, again, and was met with the same answer.
“Just my usual,” Sara answered.
But then added, “I’ll come with you.”
It took Yae exactly three seconds for her to respond to that. “Are you sure?” she prodded, and let her gaze wander to all the numbers and sequences on Sara’s large monitor. “You seem like you have a lot on your plate.”
“It won’t kill me to go outside and take a ten minute break.” Sara shrugged, then pushed herself out of her chair. She plucked her coat from the side of her desk.
Who was this woman and what did she do with Kujou Sara?
Yae shook the thought away, and gave her a genuine smile. “I’ll consider it today’s blessing then,” she said, and stepped aside to let Sara lead the way.
She was almost not surprised when Sara merely mumbled a, “I’d consider you today’s blessing.”
The small pop-up store beside their office building was a frequent place they came to, at least once a week as a group. Sara was almost always missing from the lunch dates, so her presence today was more than enough for a few of them to do a double take.
Kokomi even flashed her a subtle thumbs up from behind her novel, and Yae had to resist the urge to kick her from under the table.
“What coaxed you out here today, Sara?” Ei asked her amicably, and then took a bite of her sandwich.
“Yae did,” Sara replied. She took a sip of her coffee. “It’s hard resisting her, you know.”
Ei coughed on a kale leaf.
“I meant, because of her offer, not because—” Sara cleared her throat, and Yae almost felt bad for her, if not for the fact that she was dealing with avoiding the choice of words herself. How could one woman be so flirtatious, yet so stiff, during a lunch break?
What could Sara be playing at?
Thankfully, Ayaka was more than happy to switch the topic to something about a viral puppy video Thoma was showing her that morning, bless her.
The topic quickly diverted back into work, however, as it always did when Ei was present. Loans and contracts squeezed its way into everyone’s topic of choice, and Sara seemed to fit in quite cozily with that. She even managed to catch up with Kokomi’s strategy jargon, and everyone nodded along to her every word. The lack of tension in Sara’s shoulders told her that she was managing herself in the presence of her coworkers, and it was more than what Yae could ask for.
Except, of course, Yae spoke about the loans she was dealing with, and Sara quipped with, “You must have a lot of loans because everyone has an interest in you.”
Yae had never seen so many of her friends find their veggie wraps so disinteresting.
Sara, on the other hand, excused herself to the bathroom, and hadn’t returned by the time they were all finished.
Her last straw was when she realized that Sara had been avoiding her all week.
Each time she decided to come by Sara’s desk, as she usually did, Sara would get up and loudly announce that she forgot to get something in the other room, then disappear for hours on end.
No matter how many times she asked around the office, no one seemed to know where Sara had run off to; nevertheless, all of her reports were turned in on time, and she seemed to engage with all the meeting discussions over email pretty well.
She was avoiding Yae on purpose, and she knew it from the bottom of her heart.
Two weeks passed with their little cat and mouse game, and then Yae finally decided to put a stop to it. A foot in the door, perhaps.
She pressed down on Sara’s landline, cutting her phone call short, and Sara looked up at her with sharp eyes.
They turned wide not a moment later, and Sara pulled down the receiver from her ear. She cleared her throat. Yae quirked her lips to the side in unamusement.
“Can I help you?” Sara asked her, and while she did her best to keep her voice low and neutral, there was a side of apprehension to it.
Yae wasted no time. “Why have you been avoiding me?”
“Pardon?” Sara’s voice raised an octave.
“You disappear during lunch. You’re never here when it’s my break time.” Yae turned to look to her side, squinting. She picked out a chair a cubicle over, and swiveled it to place it next to Sara. She sat down. “Why are you avoiding me?” she repeated.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sara told her.
Yae knew she was lying— she only ever picked at her collar when she was nervous.
“Is this about the flirting?” Yae asked her. Might as well get the band-aid off, really.
If anything, the question was more so for herself than for Sara.
At Sara’s stony silence, Yae barrelled on. “We’re adults, Sara. I wouldn’t be offended if you were just trying to get to me.”
“What?” Sara sounded more startled by that than anything else in their conversation. She pulled the phone receiver farther away from her face.
“If you wanted to be friends, you could have just said so!” Yae was bordering on impatient. “We’ve worked together for almost half a decade. It’s more awkward that we weren’t friends in the first place. Yes, I come by your desk everyday to bother you about your work and your eating habits and your newest weight addition to your deadlifts, but it was never too late for you to ask me for drinks, or even lunch— or coffee!”
“I wasn’t—” Sara stammered.
“I’m attracted to you,” Yae said flatly. Sara was stunned into compliant silence. “I think about your workout routines more than a healthy person should and I feel guilty whenever you take over some of my work even though it’s quite literally your job, and I’ve been doing nothing but agonize over your little flirting games, and I keep trying to tell you all week that it’s okay to be a little awkward about making friends.”
“But that’s the thing,” Sara said, and she blinked owlishly. It only took a heartbeat for her to continue on. “I wasn’t trying to flirt with you. They were accidents.”
Yae stared at her.
“Accidents?” she echoed.
“Yes!” Sara answered, and she nodded her head. She put down the receiver and slumped against her seat, carding her fingers through her hair. “I swear to you. I wouldn’t be lying about this.”
“So all fifty-four times were accidents?”
Sara looked confused. “You counted?”
“That is besides the point,” Yae said dismissively. “How could you play all of that off as accidents?”
Sara shrugged helplessly. “My mouth likes you,” she said meekly. “The first few times were accidents, yet whenever I seemed to try and genuinely speak to you, my mouth liked you too much to not be able to say anything else.”
After a prolonged silence, she sighed deeply, looked up at the ceiling, then back at Yae. “That makes it fifty-five.”
“And you would be right,” Yae said. She cracked her first real smile in hours. “Since you have such a big to-do list about flirting with me, do you mind putting me on it?”
Sara looked at her blankly at first, then cracked a real, genuine smile back at her. She laughed, loosely and freely, and Yae found herself relishing in it.
“You’re not upset with me then?” Sara asked her. Her brow scrunched in concern. “I was worried that you thought of me as… bizarre. I promise you, my intention was never to make you feel solicited by me.”
“Oh, no offense taken,” Yae insisted. She waved her concerns away with a hand. “But I must ask you something.”
“Of course,” Sara said, and she subconsciously leaned in closer to listen. Yae tucked the memory away.
“Is your mouth the only part of you that likes me? Or do you like me too?”
Yae meant the question to be something akin to a tease— though Sara merely tilted her head upwards, her fingers drumming her desk.
And then she answered, “Do you have a name, or can I just call you ‘mine’?”
Yae was too stunned to answer.
Sara dropped her head to look at her. She smiled sheepishly. “I think it’s both,” she said, her voice much too quiet over the chatter and livelihood of their office, but Yae didn’t seem to mind. The office was much too lively and warm in the first place.
Yae’s shoulders shook with her laughter.
She stuck out her hand. Sara took it gratefully, if not in slight confusion.
“Yae Miko,” she said warmly. “But I would prefer if you called me ‘yours’.”
Their first date, as it came with no surprise, was littered in pick-up lines and two thousand dollar wine bottles.