Nobody’s sure when it started, but the first time Yosuke notices it is just before exams. It’s drizzling, and Yosuke knows he should probably study. He also knows how much Souji enjoys training on rainy days, pummeling shadows they’ve never seen before, hauling back armfuls of rare materials to Daidara to sell, and turning that money right back around on the counter to get new equipment. Souji never looks happier than the moment he hands a new set of knives over. So Yosuke sucks it up. He accepts that he’ll just barely pull through another set of exams and asks if Souji wants to go into the TV.
Souji says no.
Yosuke doesn’t think too much of it at that point. It’s not until that evening, when Chie calls and asks him what he and Souji were doing all day, that he gets concerned.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, he shot down Yukiko, Kanji, and Rise for studying, and I know he wasn’t with me. The last person I saw him talking to was you, so I assumed...”
“That’s weird.” Yosuke clicks the volume on his stereo down and pushes a hand through his hair. “I haven’t seen him since school.”
“Huh. It’s probably nothing. He has all those jobs and everything, plus he’s our leader. That’s gotta be stressful. Maybe he needed a day off.”
“Oh, you know what we should do? We should get a group together to study. Make him relax a little.”
“... Studying is relaxing? You just want his help!”
“No, he... I mean... shut up!”
Thanks to holidays, it’s a couple days before the group study session happens, and thanks to that, another day passes before Yosuke gets to talk to Souji one on one again. Again, it’s raining, and again, when Yosuke asks if he’d like to do anything (not even the TV world necessarily, just something that’s not studying), Souji turns him down.
“What? Really?” There’s a darkness around Souji’s eyes that makes Yosuke swallow uncomfortably. “You sure?”
His mouth a tiny dash in the pale plane of his face, Souji nods. Then he stands and walks away. “I have plans,” he says with an unreadable smile before he leaves the classroom.
Chie’s elbow prods Yosuke in the side. “What was that all about?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Haven’t you noticed?” Yukiko slides into Souji’s seat and watches the door as if it might tell them the answers. “He’s been disappearing a lot lately.”
“What does that mean?” Chie huffs.
Yukiko closes her eyes and exhales. “I think he’s training alone.”
“No way.” The firmness in his voice surprises even Yosuke. “He wouldn’t do that to us.”
“T-that’s right. We promised.” Chie sits on the desk and grins down at Yukiko.
“Sorry,” Yukiko says, smiling back softly, hands folded against the neat pleats of her skirt. “You’re right. He wouldn’t do that. Something’s going on, though.”
Yosuke can’t debate that point.
He means to corner Souji and ask him what’s up. The timing never seems to work out, though, and then they’re caught in exams. He does manage to put together another study session in the middle, but it doesn’t help him figure out either the exams or what’s going on with Souji. Then there’s that creepy letter, and planning for the culture festival starts, and it isn’t until he’s sitting alone in his room, watching his reflection in the window, choppy against the falling rain, that Yosuke can’t suppress the worry anymore. His parents never seem to see him anymore, so there isn’t anyone to tell him it’s too late to go out. It’s easy enough to find an umbrella and slip out before Teddie questions him.
It’s dark. The rain makes everything merge into one slick surface, shining yellow in the haze, but he still finds Souji’s house easily. His feet make the right choices without him having to think about it. At the door, he pauses. He might be overreacting. It’s possible that Souji’s just been tired, right? Bugging him at night could make things worse. And besides, what if Souji doesn’t answer the door? What if Nanako went to bed early and his knocking wakes her up? Even worse, what if Dojima answers? Yosuke takes a deep breath, and on the insides of his eyelids, he sees Souji’s odd smile, the masked, restrained quality of his matte eyes...
Yosuke knocks on the door.
It opens just enough to reveal a sliver of heavily stubbled face, and Yosuke tries not to whimper.
“Hanamura. It’s getting late. What do you want?”
“Well, you see, I... Souji forgot his... um...”
The door starts to close.
“I’m worried about Souji!”
It pauses, then opens completely. Yosuke freezes in place, trying to avoid Dojima’s stony stare. “Hey,” Dojima barks, “you’re letting the rain in.”
Even after the door’s closed, umbrella folded up and shoes toed off, Yosuke still feels cold. His shirt sleeves are dappled with rain, and the bottoms of his pants, completely soaked, stick to his sock-clad ankles. Seated in front of the TV, Nanako waves. “Yosuke-kun!”
“Hi, Nanako-chan.” Yosuke hesitates, not sure whether he should risk dragging water into the main part of the house, but then the other option is to keep standing by the entry, right next to Dojima... He skitters over to Nanako and kneels next to her. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed?”
“It’s Saturday,” Dojima grunts.
Nanako smiles at him and says, “Do you want to watch the quiz show with me?”
“He can’t stay, Nanako,” Dojima says as he settles in on the couch. “He just came because he wants to talk about your Big Bro.”
Her face lights up at that. “You know about it too?!”
Suddenly, Yosuke thinks he’s the most unobservant, stupidest, worst best friend ever. “Know about what?”
Nanako glances back over her shoulder at her dad, as if asking permission to share some forbidden wealth of knowledge. Dojima sighs. “Go ahead.”
She leans in, circling her hands and nodding until Yosuke leans in too. Just when he’s sure he’s going to lose his balance and topple face-first into the floor, she whispers, “We think Big Bro’s in love!”
“In love?!” And at that moment, Yosuke’s life pauses. Nanako’s beaming up at him, biting her lip like it’s the only thing keeping her from bursting, and out of the corner of his eye, he can see Dojima looking at him, scrutinizing him, deciphering his reaction in true detective style. For his part, Yosuke forgets to breathe. Not like it matters anyway; he’s positive the oxygen drained out of the room about the same time the sense did. His partner – in love. He never would’ve guessed. Hadn’t even noticed he had a crush. It would answer a lot of questions, but at the same time, it doesn’t sit right with him, because he has no idea who Souji’s in love with. Really, his best friend should’ve known something. Then someone presses the Play button; his heart’s beating like he’s sprinting, and Nanako continues, “He’s been fishing.”
He can’t help sputtering with laughter at that. “He’s gonna give her fish?!”
“Of course not.” Yosuke and Nanako both turn to look at Dojima, who rubs his eyes wearily. “There’s an old guy that hangs out near the docks. He’ll trade things for fish.”
“Ah. So...” Yosuke doesn’t want to know. He really doesn’t. Just thinking about Souji declaring his love for some girl makes his stomach twist for some reason, and he doesn’t want to know, but he just has to ask. “What’s he gonna get?”
“Dad won’t tell,” Nanako says, brow knitted. “He says it’ll ruin the surprise.”
“Now what did we talk about, Nanako?” Dojima’s voice is soft like fleece, and Yosuke begins to forget why he was ever so afraid of him. “I did a bad thing by snooping. You should wait for him to tell you about it when he’s ready.”
She sighs. “I know.”
“Same goes for you, Hanamura.”
There’s a hard edge to Dojima’s eyes, a concrete barrier between what he knows and what he says. “Don’t push him. He’ll tell you when he’s ready.”
In his head, Yosuke watches Souji walk up to him, broad-knuckled fingers interlaced with slim ones. He smiles, that genuine smile he shows momentarily when he presents the team with new weapons, but he doesn’t let go of her hand, so this time, it never fades. “... Yeah.”
Nanako pats Yosuke’s arm. “Do you know who she is?”
“Sorry. Wish I did.”
“That’s okay! Don’t be sad.” She squints up at him with a grin. “What do you think she’s like?”
“Knowing Souji?” The air must be dry tonight. His eyes sting. “Amazing.”
“Yeah!” Nanako hums dreamily. “I bet she’s beautiful.”
When Yosuke goes to leave, Dojima tells Nanako he’ll be right back and follows him out. The rain’s still there, pouring over the town in a metallic sheet until everything glows amber like a streetlight. Tapping a cigarette out of his pack, Dojima sighs, “He’s got a cold.”
Yosuke blinks at him dumbly. “He’s got a cold?”
“From the weather.” Dojima’s lighter flickers alive in the darkness. “He’s been out fishing every time it rains.”
The cigarette’s tip blazes with Dojima’s inhaled breath, washing his face in orange. “It’s easier to catch big fish, and that’s what he needs for the trade.”
Yosuke’s already calculating how late he’ll get home if he takes a detour to the river now. “So that’s where he is.”
Yosuke’s gaze catches Dojima’s. There’s some sort of warning waiting for him there.
“He’s upstairs sleeping so he doesn’t get any sicker. Been running himself ragged to do this. From what I hear, he’s only one fish away, though.”
“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow night too.”
Even over the slap of rain on pavement, Yosuke can hear Dojima’s drags on the cigarette. He opens his umbrella and steps out into sound.
“Nanako’s wrong about one thing.”
Yosuke looks back. “What?”
“Old man told me who he thinks the gift is for.” Dojima laughs. “The kid Souji likes is hideous.”
The next night, Yosuke sits by his window, cell phone silent in his tight hand, and tries to make out figures in the downpour. He doesn’t see Souji then. He barely sees Souji the next day as well – they look at test results together, but after school, Souji smiles with heavy, tired eyes and says he’s just going to go home. He’s not lying. Yosuke knows this for sure the day after that. Souji’s skin is more even, darker on his cheeks, lighter in the hollows of his eyes, and there’s a spark of determination flitting about his features. Tomorrow, Yosuke thinks, he’ll probably make his move.
So he’s stunned when, the next day, Souji asks if he’ll eat lunch with him.
“It’s been a while,” Souji says, and there’s no trace of illness in his relaxed stance.
“Yeah, it has, but...” His mind trying desperately to slot this new gear into the works, Yosuke frowns. “Don’t you have other plans?”
“Nope. Just lunch with you.”
Maybe he’s psyching himself up. He might be their leader, but even leaders could use some reassurance before making a big move like this. “Okay, sure!” Yosuke says with a grin that he hopes says, ‘You can do anything, partner!’ “I could use some decent food.”
When they get to the empty roof, Souji looks around and lets out a relieved sigh. It’s then that Yosuke spots another box, a long case of textured gray plastic, tucked underneath the usual lunch container. “What’s that?”
Souji’s head jolts back to him and his mouth drops open slightly.
“That thing.” Yosuke nudges the case with his hand. The sunlight hits his eyes at just the perfect angle to make him see spots. That must be why Souji’s face looks almost pink to him for a split second.
“I was going to do this after we ate, but...” Nonchalantly, Souji holds the hefty case out to Yosuke in one hand.
There’s just a nod in response.
Yosuke almost drops the box as soon as Souji lets go. “Oof, heavy! Hey, is it new weapons? That’s gotta be it.”
Souji laughs. “Open it.”
When he does, he’s not surprised to see two wrenches inside. He is surprised that the wrenches, nestled into cutouts in a foam cushion, are utterly flawless. They shine bright silver, glinting white where the sun hits smooth, expertly crafted curves. “Whoa,” Yosuke breathes. That’s all the voice he can manage. “These are-”
“Titanium. They should hold up well.”
Yosuke chokes. “Titanium?! Dude, how much did these cost?!”
“Nothing.” Shrugging, Souji looks down and off to one side, suddenly fascinated by the rooftop ducts. “I traded for them.”
Tilting the box, Yosuke watches a reflected band of light slip down the length of one wrench, glittering on the screw’s threads, liquid on the scratch-free surface up until the end of the handle. There, stamped cleanly into the metal, is an indented heart. “Hey, partner,” Yosuke says faster than he can process the information (fish trade love) whirling in his head.
“Daidara did that,” Souji answers. His words are clipped and sure. He’s practiced this. “I asked him to.”
“O-oh.” Everything slots into place. In retrospect, the revelation seems so obvious. “Oh.” Yosuke closes the case and notices for the first time a tiny lop-sided heart on one corner. It’s composed of short, scratchy strokes, depths wildly uneven, as if someone carved it in with a mechanical pencil tip or the point of a compass.
Souji clears his throat. “That one was done by me.”
It’s a good thing that the wrenches are, in fact, real titanium. Anything less might’ve ended up dented from Yosuke throwing the case down in favor of tackling Souji with a kiss.
“You hit the wrong number, Hanamura. This isn’t Souji’s cell.”
“I didn’t mean to call him.”
“There’s no way you meant to call me.”
“Actually, you are the person I want to talk to.”
“... Look, just because you’re all googly-eyed over my nephew doesn’t mean I’m your pal now.”
“That’s not what this is about.”
“Then what is this about?”
“Spit it out, Hanamura!”
“I am not hideous!”
There’s a huff, and the call cuts off. Dojima wonders if there’s any booze in the house.