Yamatonokami was quite happily dead to the world when he was abruptly woken up by a loud blare of noise.
Huh? That can’t be my alarm, it’s still dark… and that’s not the noise it makes, anyway. Must be someone’s music? It’s way too loud though…
In the first few seconds of waking up, his mind couldn’t quite process what was going on.
I was dreaming…what was it about? I can almost remember…
Staring blearily up at the ceiling, his eyes wandered over to the soft glow of the emergency light.
Deep blue eyes opened wide as he finally put two and two together.
Oh crap, that’s the fire alarm! I need to get out of here!
As though the sudden realisation had been a bucket of water dumped over him, Yamato’s body reacted instinctively, throwing back the covers and leaping out of bed. Unfortunately, while his mind was now wide awake, his balance hadn’t quite kept pace. Made clumsy with panic and the remnants of sleep, his feet tangled over themselves, sending him crashing painfully to the floor. Hastily getting up, he shoved his feet into the slippers by his bed before grabbing his dressing gown from the hook on the door.
Ignoring his now stinging knees and sore nose, Yamato dashed out to the hallway, scrabbling at the door in blind panic as he sought to wrestle it open.
Come on come on come on WORK!
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god I’m gonna die please just open, please!” he begged the door as he frantically pushed against it, to no avail.
Some small part of his brain that was thinking properly sighed. Overriding the panic, it thought to turn the handle and pull inwards instead of outwards, making the door open easily. A fervent “thank you!” slipped from Yamato’s lips as he rushed past to join the throng of people gathered on the stairs as they headed out to the designated meeting point.
Halfway down, Yamato was struck with the uncomfortable realisation that not only was he clad in nothing but his pyjamas, but that he had also forgotten his keys. How was he supposed to get back in after all this?
Maybe his flatmate, Kashuu, would remember them? He was always the more sensible one, able to keep a cool head no matter what.
Yamato stopped dead in his tracks. Kashuu! Where was he? He wasn’t still inside, was he? Oh god, what if he had stopped to check on him, to make sure they were both out safely? He had to go back, had to make sure…
“Kashuu! I have to go-”
“Hey, move it!” Yamato’s halt was taken none too kindly by the crowd behind him as it continued to push forward, forcing him down the steps. He was caught by a gentle hand on his shoulder, steadying him before he fell. Yamato looked round into the face of his neighbour, Izuminokami Kanesada, who lived in the flat next door, along with his younger cousin, Horikawa.
“Kane! Kashuu, he’s still…he’s not here…I-”
Kanesada gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. He just got caught behind the others, that’s all. But he’ll be worried if we don’t hurry, OK? Let’s go.”
Yamato nodded, following Kane and Horikawa, who echoed his cousin’s smile despite the tired smudges under his eyes as well.
Once outside, they gathered in the car park behind the building, waiting for the fire engines to arrive and give the all-clear. Students gathered in groups according to flatmates, classmates or friends, complaining about being woken up.
“OK, who was it?”
“What idiot set it off this time?”
“Who’s even awake to set it off in the first place?!”
“Ugh, this is so stupid…it’s obviously nothing. It never is.”
“Yeah, yeah, we get it already. We’re all here, show’s over. Can’t we go back inside now?”
The usual complaints, griping and joking accusations sounded as people stood in the cold, teeth chattering as they squinted up at the building and scowled.
“Come on, hurry up, people. Freezing out here.”
The collective wish of the crowd for the fire brigade to arrive was evidently a summons of sort, as the whine of sirens sounded in the distance, coming closer and closer until two fire trucks rushed up the road, drawing to a stop in front of the building. The flashing lights were obnoxiously bright as they cast their blue-and-red shadows across the concrete, though mercifully the ear-piercing shriek cut off once they had parked.
A sort of half-satisfied air settled over the crowd once the firemen got out and headed into the building, knowing it – hopefully – wouldn’t be too long before they were allowed back in, to curl up in their nice warm beds and fall back asleep.
Now that he was outside, Yamato could take stock of his surroundings. Looking around, he spotted Kashuu across the lot, in a group with some of his classmates.
Seeing his flatmate, Kashuu waved a hand to his group and walked over to join Yamato, Kane and Horikawa.
“Oh, Yasusada, there you are. I was beginning to get a little worried.” Kashuu’s voice was calm, but Yamato could hear the underlying concern. “Here, you must be freezing. Take this.”
Kashuu handed over the scarf that Yamato usually wore, the one that had been given to him by their guardian when they were little. Gratefully, he wound it round his neck, sighing in relief as warmth began to seep in to his frozen limbs. Unfortunately, there was little to be done about his feet, which he had a strong suspicion were beginning to turn blue with the cold. Slippers were all very well inside, but on a rain-slicked pavement in the middle of spring, they were next-to-useless for keeping feet warm, or dry.
“You didn’t put shoes on? Yasusada, your feet must be freezing!” Horikawa exclaimed, face lined with concern. He, of course, had not just shoes but a warm jacket as well; having had the sense to grab both him and his flatmate’s coats as they headed out the door. Kashuu, however, was clad in his usual ensemble of red and black: fashionable skinny jeans tucked into smart boots, with a chic dress shirt and flowing open coat over the top. Hardly sleepwear attire; it seemed more likely that he hadn’t actually gone to bed at all. Instead, he’d probably been kept awake by the million dreams and colours exploding inside his head, that he simply had to get down on paper before he forgot their shape.
“I th-think they’re m-more like ice blocks, now...” he replied, teeth chattering as he stamped them in a vain attempt to return feeling to his icy toes.
“Hey, does anyone have the time?” Kanesada asked suddenly, looking up at the sky. While there was too much glare from the streetlights to see the stars very clearly, a few were visible peeking out across the sky. The sun was nowhere to be seen, and although it was a clear night, with the moon waning and the sky still a uniform shade of navy, it was impossible to judge the hour with any accuracy.
Kashuu reached into the pocket of his coat to bring out his phone. Clicking it on, he checked the screen, groaning in disbelief when he saw the numbers it showed.
“Four. Fifty-nine. In. The. Morning.”
The statement was met with disbelieving exclamations of annoyance all round from everyone within earshot.
“You’re joking, right?”- “Barely worth going back to sleep at this rate.” - “Oh, you have got to be kidding me!”
Hearing the complaints, Kashuu shrugged gracefully. “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t like it either.”
Indeed, while his outfit was seemingly flawless, dark circles were beginning to show beneath the smudged kohl around his eyes, hinting that the long hours awake were beginning to take their toll.
As they stood huddled together for a few more moments, someone in the crowd pointed out that the fire alarm had stopped. A chorus of relief rose at the message, and the crowd began to trickle back to the front door, good-naturedly jostling each other to get in the building. The firemen standing around looked just as weary as the students felt, and Yamato gave them a grateful, apologetic smile as he nodded in thanks to the man holding the door open.
Once back inside and standing on the shared landing, the group bid each other farewell for the night – or what was left of it, at least – and headed inside their respective flats; the dark-haired boys going to one, the girls to another, and the blond and his friend to the last. Kashuu held the door open for Yamato (he had remembered to take his keys, after all) then locked the door again once they were both inside. He put the keys down on the shelf by the door and turned back to Yamato, who was standing awkwardly in the hallway.
“So, um…thanks for bringing my scarf…” he said, fiddling with the edges as he faced Kashuu, not quite looking him in the eye. Kashuu gave him a quizzical look, raising an eyebrow as he replied.
“You’re welcome, but what’s with that look? You’re acting kind of strange, you know.”
Hearing that, Yamato’s face turned red, eyes filling with tears as he sought to keep his voice level. “I just…I…” he trailed off, uncertainty evident in his body as he hid his face in his scarf.
Kashuu’s sardonic expression turned to one of concern. “What’s wrong? It’s OK, I won’t be mad.”
Yamato flushed even redder at the reassuring words, continuing to hide his face so Kashuu couldn’t see his expression.
“I’m sorry…I got so scared, I just panicked and rushed out without thinking. I don’t…I don’t want to look like such a…cry-baby coward.” The words were muffled by the fabric, but Kashuu could still hear how his voice hitched at the end, catching on the word and revealing the true cause of his embarrassment. His expression softened, and he walked over to Yasusada, gently drawing down the scarf to reveal his miserable, tear-stained face.
Using the edges of the scarf to dry his friend’s tears, Kashuu spoke in a reassuring voice.
“Hey, it’s OK. Everyone gets scared when the alarm goes off, it’s natural. I would never make fun of you for it. I don’t care if you forgot to put shoes on, or a coat, or didn’t take your keys or phone or whatever. All that matters is that you got out. If that had been a real fire, the most important thing is that you’re safe.”
Yamato looked up, sniffing a little as he wiped his nose. “But it wasn’t real, so I panicked for nothing. I looked like an idiot,” he insisted pathetically.
Kashuu fixed him with a stern look. “You didn’t know that at the time, none of us did. For all we knew, this could have been the real thing this time, not just a false alarm or drill. Like I said, if there had been a real fire, getting out as quickly as you can is the main priority, not how glamorous you look while doing it.”
“You’re one to talk,” Yamato mumbled in retort, but the shaky smile he gave with it took any sting out of the words.
“Well, yeah. I have a reputation to uphold,” Kashuu joked. “And that goes for my friends too. If I don’t take care of you, what would people think? I don’t want anyone saying I don’t look after my friends.”
Yamato had to smile at that, allowing Kashuu to gently unwind the scarf from his neck and hang it on one of the hooks on the wall, doing the same with his coat.
Taking his hand, Kashuu lead Yamato down the hall and into his room, pointing at the bed. He took the pyjamas lying neatly folded on the pillow, then motioned to Yamato.
“Sit down. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Yamato frowned, confused, but obeyed, gingerly sitting on the edge of the wine-red throw, afraid to mess up the gorgeous silk. Kashuu turned and walked out the room, leaving Yamato to stare around awkwardly, taking in the posters on the wall – half of which were sketches for various designs he’d made – and the books and magazines stacked on the shelves. The desk in the corner of the room was littered with pens and pencils, sheets of paper with half-finished designs and scribbled notes strewn everywhere. The scent of Kashuu’s cologne hung faintly in the air, a tantalisingly exotic and spicy aroma that Yamato’s untrained nose couldn’t even begin to describe, much less put a name to.
He was saved from trying by the arrival of said owner, who held a mug in one hand and had a towel slung over the other arm. He offered the mug to Yamato, who took it gratefully, immediately wrapping his cold hands around the warmth. Taking a sip, he found it to be the sugary cream of hot chocolate, the liquid suffusing his chest with a warm glow. His sigh of happiness was cut short, however, by the feel of Kashuu lifting his foot to enfold it in the towel.
“Wha- what are you doing! Kiyomitsu, don’t! That tickles!” Reflexively trying to jerk his foot away, Yamato’s startled complaint was met with a huff of annoyance from Kashuu.
“Hold still. Your feet are still wet, you need to dry them properly or you’ll get an infection. No buts!” - that was for Yamato’s indignant reply that he was perfectly capable of doing so himself - “just finish your drink, I’ll do it.” Yamato gave an irritated whine of embarrassment, but relented, contenting himself with finishing the hot chocolate while Kashuu continued drying his feet. He made a face at reaching the dregs, then handed over the now-empty mug to Kiyomitsu, who took it back to the kitchen. He returned a moment later, after depositing the towel and his previous outfit in the laundry bin.
There was an awkward silence for a few moments as Kashuu leant against the door, looking at Yamato with a faint aura of expectation.
“So, are you going to let me in, too?” he hinted, lips quirking up in an amused smile.
“Oh! I’m sorry, I should go. Thanks for looking after me…I guess I’ll see you in the morning?” Hurriedly, he jumped up from where he was sitting, and made as if to leave, but Kashuu’s amused smile stopped him.
“I didn’t mean you had to go,” he said. “What part of ‘too’ didn’t you get?”
Yamato blinked, mouth slightly open as he realised the meaning behind Kashuu’s invitation.
“You mean…us- I…sleep with…you?”
Kashuu’s smile turned into a full-fledged smirk as he raised an eyebrow suggestively. “Wow, taking things a bit fast there, aren’t you, Yasusada?” he commented. “I mean, if you’re offering, sure…” he laughed as Yamato realised what he’d said, blushing to the roots of his hair as he buried his face in his hands.
“Hey, I was only teasing. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Yasusada? Look at me.” Kashuu joined his partner on the bed, taking his hands and lowering them from his face to meet Yasusada’s anxious blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, that was too far. I just meant that since it’s so late, you might as well stay here ‘til the morning. I don’t think either of us will get much more sleep at this rate, but we might as well stay warm. You’re still cold, right?”
Yamato nodded, face still a little red as he offered Kashuu a tentative smile.
“OK, glad that’s sorted. Now, let’s go to bed. Just for sleep, OK?” With that, Kashuu walked over and pushed the covers back, climbing in and holding them open for Yamato. Once they were both settled, he drew them back, leaving the two of them in a cocoon of snug, peaceful cosiness.
Neither felt the need for words, content to simply bask in the blessed silence. As their breaths slowly evened out into sleep, Kashuu felt Yamato snuggle into him and murmur something in a voice almost too low to hear.
“Thank you…for everything, Kashuu. You’re the best.”
Kashuu knew the words Yamato had left unspoken, or perhaps had whispered too quietly for him to hear. The words both of them had been tiptoeing around for a while now, much to the amusement and chagrin of everyone else.
For now, though, as the first rays of dawn rose on what was sure to be a beautiful spring day, Kashuu was content to place a soft kiss on his friend’s head, and let his own weary mind drift off to sleep, leaving thoughts of the future for another day.
“Love you too, Yasusada. Always.”
It was a few days after that eventful night, and Yamato seemed to have something on his mind. It was evidently distracting him from the study session he had planned with Horikawa. They were both studying Japanese history, with an emphasis on the Bakumatsu period and the Shinsengumi.
“Yamato, is everything OK? You seem a little worried.”
Horikawa's question seemed to snap Yamato out of his daze, as he looked up guiltily, realising he’d been spacing out.
“Oh, sorry, it’s nothing. Just got lost in thought, I guess…” his voice trailed off as he frowned again, trying to bring his attention back to the textbook in front of him.
“Are you sure? We can stop, if you’d like, we’ve almost finished anyway. And I could use a break.” Horikawa’s offer was very tempting, and Yamato recognised it as a tactful way to break the subject of whatever it was he was worried about. He gave a sheepish smile, nodding as he replied.
“Yeah, I guess we should give it a break. I kind of stopped taking it in a while back. Do you want to go get something to eat?”
Horikawa nodded, and they began packing up their textbooks and papers, shutting down the computers before exiting the library and heading to the dorms. Yamato invited Horikawa into his flat and set about getting drinks and snacks. He accepted the tea gratefully, taking a cookie off the plate handed to him.
“So, what’s wrong? You’ve been kind of quiet lately, is everything OK?” he asked again, once the two were settled.
Yamato sighed. “Is it really that obvious?”
“Only to me.”
The reassurance seemed to work, as Yamato sighed again, looking down into his cup as a faint blush crept across his cheeks.
“…It’s Kashuu,” he admitted, flushing a shade darker as he spoke it out loud.
Horikawa nodded, voice gentle as he asked, “What about him?”
He already knew what the answer would be, or at least he hoped he did, but Yamato needed to say it for himself first.
“I…well, I think…IthinkIlikehim.”
The words came out in a rush, but Horikawa understood what he meant.
“And you don’t know what to do about it? Or you don’t know if he likes you back?”
Yamato shrugged uncomfortably. “Both, I guess. I mean, we’ve known each other since we were little, but…”
“You want him to see you as you are now, not as you were then. More than a little brother. Right?”
Somehow, he managed to put into words exactly what Yamato felt. He stared at his friend in surprise, wondering how it was he had given words to something he couldn’t name himself.
Horikawa gave him a rueful smile. “How did I know? Because that’s exactly how I was with Kane. We grew up together, but even though I’m a few years older than him, I always thought he was more mature than me. Not in everything, but I thought he saw me kind of like a little brother or cousin. And then, as we got older, I started seeing him as more than just a friend. I didn’t really know what to do about it, but eventually I realised the only way things would change is if I did something about it myself. So, one day, I just told him how I felt, and…well, you know the rest. He accepted my feelings, told me he felt the same way, and now we’re together.”
Yamato nodded, listening to his friend’s words with a pensive expression. “So, you think I should just…confess to him, then?” he asked nervously, stumbling over the words.
This time it was Horikawa’s turn to nod.
“I think it’s always best to tell someone your feelings, good or bad. That way, whether they accept them or not, at least you know you’ve done something about it. What happens next is up to the other person, but it’s better than not doing anything and regretting it later.”
“I guess you’re right. But still, what if he does reject me? Or, well, you know. If he doesn’t feel the same?”
“You’ll never know until you try.”
Seemingly emboldened by the gentle, yet firm words of encouragement, Yamato nodded decisively.
“Right! When he comes back, I’m going to tell him how I feel!”
Horikawa held back a snort of laughter at the rather over-the-top vow, managing to turn it into a hasty cough as Yamato grinned at him.
“Maybe just a little, yeah. But I think you’ll be fine. Just be honest, and things will work out, you’ll see.”
Yamato nodded again, opening his mouth to reply. Whatever he was going to say next, though, was interrupted by the sound of the door opening and the jangle of keys being placed in the tray.
“Yamato? Where are you- oh, sorry, were you two studying? I didn’t mean to interrupt. Hey, Horikawa.”
Horikawa shook his head at Kashuu’s question, raising a hand in a wave of his own. “No, that’s alright, we were just talking. Did you just finish class?”
Kashuu nodded, taking his bag off his shoulder before sitting down. “Yeah, it ran longer than we thought. It was good, though, we got some really good ideas. I can’t wait to put them into practice.”
They continued chatting for a few minutes, until Horikawa heard the chime of his phone receiving a text. Taking it out, he turned on the screen, frowning at the message displayed.
Kashuu glanced over, eyebrows raised. “Something wrong?” he asked.
He nodded. “I’m sorry, guys, I have to go,” he apologised. “I didn’t realise the time, Kane’s waiting for me. I forgot we have practice today.”
“Ah, sorry, that’s partly my fault. I met him outside - he told me to remind you, but I forgot. Sorry.”
Kashuu’s own apology was accepted with a smile, as Horikawa waved goodbye. Yamato opened the door for him to see Kanesada waiting on the landing, gym bag at his feet. He was scrolling through his phone, but looked up when Horikawa called his name, raising a hand in greeting as he tucked the phone into his pocket.
“Hey, Yasusada. You planning to keep Horikawa there all day? Coach will have our hides if we’re late, so you guys better be done with studying.”
Yamato grinned sheepishly, letting Horikawa pass. He waved goodbye as the two headed off down the stairs, then took out his phone when it buzzed in his pocket. Looking at the screen, he smiled at the two words displayed.
Taking a deep breath, Yamato headed back inside.
“Good luck? Do you guys have a test coming up or something?” Kanesada's slightly nosy reading of Horikawa’s phone over his shoulder earned him a jab in the ribs.
“None of your business! And stop looking at my texts, it’s rude.”
“Loverboy’s finally gonna tell him, right?”
“How did you…?”
Yamato came back inside to find Kashuu idly scrolling through his phone, having put his bag away and got a drink from the kitchen. He looked up at his friend’s approach, frowning when he saw Yamato’s unusually serious expression.
“Hey, are you OK?” he asked. “Something wrong?”
Yamato bit his lip, unsure how to start. With Hakuryuu’s advice still fresh in his mind, he decided there was no point beating around the bush.
“I need to tell you something. It’s important.”
Kashuu gave him a quizzical look, but nodded. “OK? Go on.”
Well, here goes nothing…
“I like you. A lot. I mean, not just as a friend. I think I have for a while now, and I know you might not feel the same way, and that’s OK. I just…wanted to tell you. You don’t have to give me an answer right now, but…well…I…”
Yamato’s voice trailed off as he stared at the floor, face flushing a deep red as he waited for Kashuu’s reply. Daring a look up, he found Kashuu staring at him with a fond smile. Seeing it, he flushed even deeper, biting his lip again nervously.
Well, that hadn’t been what Yamato was expecting.
“W-what?” he stuttered, gaping at Kashuu in surprise. “You...since when?”
“A while now,” he admitted, echoing Yamato’s own words. “I didn’t say anything because I knew you weren’t ready, and I knew you’d tell me in your own time. And you don’t have to worry, because…” - was it just Yamato’s imagination, or was he blushing a little too? – “well, I can give you an answer right now.”
Kashuu’s expression mirrored Yamato’s own as he spoke the words Yamato had longed to hear.
“I like you too. I guess…I have for a while now, as well. And I guess I was waiting for you to say it first, because I didn’t know how. So, I- woah!”
The confession turned into a cry of surprise as Yamato dove on top of him, knocking him over in an enthusiastic hug. After a moment, his own arms came up to return the embrace, hugging him tightly as the relief flooded through their veins. Drawing back, Yamato looked down at Kashuu’s happy smile, reflected by his own.
Later that week, the two revealed their new relationship status, to absolutely no-one’s surprise.