Chapter 1: Part One
Masuda spends his lunch break sulking.
This isn’t particularly normal for him. Usually his lunch break is devoted to play time and entertainment (after, of course, he’s eaten his lunch and checked very carefully to be sure that he hasn’t left any crumbs behind), usually in the form of shrieking and laughing and running and rough housing, as all little eight year old boys are wont to do. But today, he sits quietly on the colorful swing set of the school’s playground, head low, lips pouted, the toe of his sneaker digging into the ground. He can’t have fun while he’s sulking –it’s a rule of some kind, he’s sure—so he doesn’t swing at all. Just sits there, looking quite miserable.
And it’s all Tegoshi’s fault.
Granted, it isn’t really fair of him to blame Tegoshi, and a certain part of him –the same part that makes him clean his room obsessively every weekend without having to be asked and finish all of his vegetables at dinner— reminds him of that several times.
He should be glad that Tegoshi is making new friends, that mature part of him says, in a voice that reminds him suspiciously of his mother. Because, after all, Tegoshi is shy –at least to anyone he doesn’t know, anyway— and even though it’s been six months since he and his family moved here, the only friend he’s really made is Masuda. And, according to the rules of the playground, that doesn’t even count, since Masuda is older than Tegoshi by two years and is in a different class.
So, really, he should be happy for the younger boy. It’s nice that he’s finally getting along with his classmates.
Except, Masuda can’t quite shake a certain amount of heartache from bubbling up when he sees the little six year old smiling brightly at someone else, talking animatedly with another boy and not paying any notice to poor, lonely Masuda. And that’s not fair, because Tegoshi is supposed to be his best friend. Best friends are supposed to notice these things, right? But Tegoshi hasn’t. And that, according to Masuda’s childish logic, entitles him to sulk as much as he likes.
So he does.
He’s not long into it, however, when he feels a pair of tiny arms worm around his neck and a familiar weight bear down on his back.
“Massu~!” Tegoshi chirps, cheerful and bright. “Come on! We’re gonna play tag!”
Tag is Masuda’s favorite, because he’s the fastest runner in the school, and nobody can ever catch him. For a moment, Masuda considers abandoning his swing and forgetting his sulking in favor of something much more fun, but then he reminds himself that he’s mad at Tegoshi, and he shrugs the younger boy off of him rather pointedly.
Because Tegoshi is standing behind him, Masuda misses the crestfallen look that passes over the younger’s face.
“But… how come?” Tegoshi scoots over, around the side of the swing, so that he’s standing in front of Masuda. The older boy makes it a point to avoid looking at his face. He knows that if he does, he’ll give in, because Tegoshi has those big eyes and that pretty face –even with that bandage on his cheek, likely the end result of yet another door smacking him in the face. Really, Tegoshi is such a klutz— and Masuda is kind of a sucker for his smile, and everyone knows it.
But not today.
“What do you care?” It comes out harsher than he’d intended, and Masuda would have to be blind to miss the hurt expression that Tegoshi takes. Stubbornly refusing to admit that he might be a little bit wrong here, the older boy looks away.
“Of course I care!” Tegoshi sounds honestly upset. “Massu is my friend!”
That alone is enough to make Masuda want to apologize. Tegoshi looks like he wants to cry, and Masuda feels instantly guilty. But he’s upset –upset and lonely and jealous— and he’s not ready to let it go just yet, not until Tegoshi realizes that he did something wrong.
So, somewhat snidely, he grumbles, “Well, why don’t you just play with your best friend over there? You were having so much fun before.”
He nearly misses it; the look of revelation that passes over Tegoshi’s face as he finally realizes what’s really bothering Masuda. For a moment, Tegoshi looks honestly shocked. And then that shock shifts into confusion, anger. And then, before Masuda can even think to apologize for it, the younger boy is surging forward, hands landing on Masuda’s chest as he pushes with all his might.
Masuda tumbles right off of his swing, landing hard on the ground, hands bracing his fall, dust scattering up from the dry earth below him at the impact. He stares up at Tegoshi afterwards, eyes wide in surprise, until he becomes aware of a horrible stinging coming from his palms. He lifts them up, finding them caked in blood and dirt, and tears come to his eyes. “Ow!” He looks back up with a glare. “Tegoshi, that hurt!”
“You’re an idiot!” The younger boy counters heatedly, but oddly enough, he softens a second later, nudging the swing that Masuda has just been sitting on aside as he drops to his knees. He takes Masuda’s scraped hands gently, and the look he gives Masuda makes the older boy immediately abandon any hard feelings he may have had. “Stupid,” He mumbles, brushing away the dirt from Masuda’s wounds and then dropping a sweet, childish kiss there, somehow apologetic.
“Massu is the only one for me.”
To say that Yamakita is a small town is a gross understatement; with a population just barely brushing the triple digits, ‘village’ might be a more appropriate title. Admittedly, the town is really just an offshoot of a larger, more city-like cousin some twenty odd miles north, but that doesn’t really change the fact that the place is tiny and probably won’t be growing larger anytime soon.
Most of the people who live in Yamakita have done so since the day they were born, and Masuda Takahisa is no exception.
His family, now reduced to just his father and little sister after his mother’s passing three years earlier, lives in the residential area of town, but Masuda is 18 and therefore too old to be living at home (not to mention the fact that two mouths are a lot easier to feed then three on a grocery store manager’s salary, although Masuda would never tell his father that) so instead he makes his residence at the one and only motel in town, room 16. It’s not particularly glamorous, and it’s certainly not what he’d had in mind when he’d decided to move out, but the town is too small to warrant an apartment complex, and Masuda can’t afford to rent a house on his paycheck.
And it’s not like the place is without its perks. The rent is cheap, the manager is pleasant and friendly, and while the room is small, that just makes it easier to keep clean and tidy. And the quiet is nice; the motel is empty most of the year aside from him and a few other people in similar circumstances, so there’s rarely anyone around to make trouble.
Masuda sometimes wishes he has more time to spend there.
His job keeps him away most days, and his days off often get monopolized by either his family or friends. Usually, he gets home mid-afternoon, giving him enough time to make a quick dinner and relax for a bit. But today he had a double shift, it’s almost midnight, and all he wants to do is pass out as soon as he gets home.
He pulls his car into the parking lot with a heavy sigh, moving into his usual parking space easily before shutting off the engine and slipping out, pausing only to grab his backpack and lock the doors. It’s only when he’s just a few feet from his room that he realizes there’s someone there, curled up in front of his door, head bowed low.
Masuda could recognize that mop of dark hair and petite figure anywhere.
“Tesshi?” Tegoshi jerks, startled by the noise, and Masuda wonders just how long he’s been sitting out here. Kneeling down beside the younger, Masuda reaches out for him, and when Tegoshi finally lifts his head, he curses. “What happened?”
It’s a stupid question, one he already knows the answer to. His suspicions are confirmed when Tegoshi’s bottom lip quivers and he half-whispers, “Massu…”
Masuda’s hand brushes his cheek, thumb dragging lightly under his eye, mindful of the ugly purple bruise marring the boy’s face. Despite the gentleness Masuda shows, Tegoshi still winces, and the older of the two feels an uncomfortable clenching at the sight. He pulls Tegoshi close, lets the younger bury into his chest, whimpering and trembling, and sighs softly. “Oh Tesshi… what was it this time?”
Tegoshi doesn’t answer, just shakes his head. Masuda takes that for all the answer he needs, and for a few moments, they just sit there together, Masuda rocking Tegoshi gently back and forth, rubbing his back soothingly. After a bit, the younger starts to squirm, and it takes Masuda a few seconds to realize that he’s trying to shift enough to stretch out his legs. He pulls back to give him the space he needs, and it’s only then that he notices it: a dark stain, brown in the bad lighting but no doubt red in actuality, splashed across the bottom cuff of Tegoshi’s left pant leg. Masuda doesn’t need to look closely to know that it’s blood.
“Tesshi?” His voice is gentle, and he reaches down, gingerly brushes the spot through the fabric. Tegoshi jerks and hisses, telling him what he needs to know. Carefully, he pries the sticky fabric up and gets as good a look as he can, grimaces at the sight.
The cut is clearly deep, and there’s something glimmering in there; probably a left over piece of whatever caused it in the first place. His first instinct is to drag Tegoshi to the car and drive the local hospital. But he bites it back; his Tesshi is utterly terrified of doctors, and doing so will just make the younger boy angry and pout a lot.
Instead, Masuda stands; Tegoshi makes a noise of protest, scrambles to clutch at his shirt, but he catches his hands and smoothes down the younger’s hair affectionately to quiet him down, smiling comfortingly. Digging through his pocket, he pulls out his room key and unlocks the door, opening it a crack. And then he re-shoulders his backpack, crouches back down beside Tegoshi and slips an arm under the younger boy’s legs and one around his shoulders. Lifting him up is easy; Tegoshi is underweight, far too light for his own good. Masuda barely feels him at all.
Inside, he sets Tegoshi down on the bed. The room is like any other motel room, or at least Masuda imagines it is. He doesn’t have much experience to tell him otherwise, anyway. It’s a single room, plain wallpaper and cheap carpeting, a bed taking up most of the space. There’s a dresser, table, and microwave, all of which Masuda has added himself. The bathroom is just barely big enough for the shower and toilet.
It’s not much, but it’s home.
From the dresser, he pulls out the first aid kit that he keeps there, moves to kneel down in front of Tegoshi. The younger boy is sniffling, but quiet, and makes no protest when Masuda moves to roll up his pant leg.
In the better lighting, he can make out the edge of a shard of brown glass. Masuda sighs to himself, glances up at Tegoshi with a frown. “He was drinking again?” Tegoshi nods wordlessly, and Masuda shakes his head sadly. Tegoshi’s father is no less cruel to the teenager when he’s sober, but the beatings are always more brutal after a few beers. Reaching up, Masuda touches Tegoshi’s cheek kindly. “This is going to hurt,” he warns the younger, and doesn’t wait for a response as he digs through the kit, pulls out the bottle of rubbing alcohol, bandages, gauze.
He takes a moment, pours some of the alcohol on his hands. It stains his carpet in the process, and doesn’t really count much for sterilization, but it makes him feel better about what’s coming next. And then he goes to work, pinching the edge of glass and pulling.
It makes a sickening sort of sound as it slides out from under Tegoshi’s skin, and Masuda cringes the whole way through. Tegoshi tenses, eyes squeezed shut, but to his credit he doesn’t let a single sound escape, regardless of the pain. It isn’t until Masuda dumps the rest of the alcohol on the wound that he lets out a half sob, contorting forward, doubling over where he sits. Masuda looks at him apologetically, wants to reach out and hold him until the stinging passes, but holds back, instead moving to bandage the cut up.
It’s wrong, he thinks, that he’s gotten so good at this. He’s had so much practice that by now, taking care of Tegoshi’s injuries is just second nature.
He finishes quickly and doesn’t bother to put away the kit or clean up the mess he’s made, instead sitting on the bed beside his friend and draping a comforting arm around the younger boy’s shoulders. Tegoshi leans into him, head falling onto his shoulder, and nuzzles his neck almost plaintively. Masuda wishes he knew what to do to make him feel better..
“What was it this time?” He repeats his question from earlier, not really wanting to know but understanding that Tegoshi needs to talk about it; to get it off his shoulders.
The younger hesitates, as if debating whether or not to bother explaining it, and then after a moment wiggles just a bit, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a crumpled piece of colorful paper. He unfolds it and passes it to Masuda without a word. It’s a flyer for an entertainment label, he realizes. A notification of auditions being held in the area.
“He found it in my backpack,” Tegoshi tells him softly, sounding a little bit heartbroken. “They were passing them out at school. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took one.”
Masuda suspects it’s a little bit more than that; he knows Tegoshi’s fondness for music, and it’s not like the younger boy doesn’t have any talent in that area. He’s a wonderful singer, and he’s often told so by anyone lucky enough to catch him with a tune in his head. It doesn’t surprise Masuda that something like this might catch his interest.
“Were you thinking about auditioning?” He asks, glancing down at Tegoshi. The younger boy frowns and nibbles on his lower lip thoughtfully.
“I… maybe?” Tegoshi doesn’t seem sure. “I mean… I thought about it. But… tomorrow’s the last day, and…” He crumbles, just a little bit, getting upset, and Masuda slides his free hand into the his hair, gently playing with the strands. When Tegoshi starts crying, he sets the flyer aside and pulls the him into his lap, lets him curl up there and press his face into his neck with a whimper. “I was just trying to be polite,” it comes out choked. “And when he found it, he…”
“Shh…” Masuda hushes him softly, not wanting to hear the rest, knowing where it will go. The story is always the same, anyway; the only thing that ever changes is what starts it. He drops a kiss to his hair, and they sit there for what feels like hours after that, until Tegoshi doesn’t have anything left to cry out and Masuda can’t think of anymore consoling things to say.
Afterwards, Tegoshi doesn’t move from his spot, just rests there with his head on Masuda’s shoulder, occasionally sniffling. “Can I stay here tonight?”
Masuda knows he should say ‘no’. If Tegoshi doesn’t come home tonight, his father will throw a fit when he finally does come back. And his mother will worry, no doubt. But Masuda can’t bear to hear that tone in Tegoshi’s voice; so tiny and vulnerable, looking for sanctuary, if only for the night. It breaks his heart.
It only takes a few minutes for them to get ready for bed. Masuda forgoes brushing his teeth or making any sort of dinner; he doesn’t have much of an appetite anymore, anyway. Instead, he changes into a pair of sweatpants and gives Tegoshi one of his larger t-shirts to wear, and then they slip under the covers of his bed. Tegoshi doesn’t hesitate to scoot close, and he nudges at Masuda until the older boy finally relents and lifts his arm, wrapping it around the younger’s shoulders and letting him cuddle to his heart’s content. Tegoshi has always been clingy, and it doesn’t really bother him much, anyway.
They lay awake for a while, after that. Masuda doesn’t want to sleep until he’s certain Tegoshi has drifted off, but the smaller boy just lays there, eyes open, fingers absently playing with the ring that Masuda wears on a chain around his neck. It was his mother’s wedding ring, one of the few pieces of her he has left. Tegoshi has always had a certain amount of fascination with it, ever since Masuda started wearing it, and Masuda can’t count the number of times he’s had to swat the younger’s hands away when he’s in the middle of something and trying to concentrate.
Tonight, though, he lets Tegoshi toy with it as much as he likes, until finally he reaches up and takes the boy’s hand, wrapping warm fingers around his palm to still the jittery movements. He pulls him close, arms circling his smaller form tight, and he murmurs softly, “Go to sleep, Tesshi.” He adds, a moment later, as though he knows what the younger is thinking, “I’ll be here tomorrow. I promise.”
And Tegoshi sleeps.
Chapter 2: Part Two
The next morning is nowhere near as awkward as it might have been a few years earlier.
Masuda wakes up first, unsurprisingly, and it takes him a few minutes to worm his way out of Tegoshi’s vice-like grip around his middle without waking him up. There’s light streaming in through the window blinds, and with it, Masuda can see the younger boy far better than he’d been able to the night before. The bruise from last night is dark and offending, encompassing a large part of the side of his face, but it’s not swollen and Tegoshi’s always been a fast healer.
Asleep, he looks innocent and sweet, and Masuda lacks the heart to wake him. Not when he’s resting so sounding, cuddling up to Masuda’s pillow in the older boy’s absence, frowning cutely in his sleep. Masuda takes a moment to tuck the blankets around him snuggly before dressing and slipping out of the room.
The motel doesn’t have any sort of kitchen, but there’s a diner across the street that lets him have free reign over theirs, provided he brings his own food to cook and cleans up after himself. (Although sometimes he can weasel some free dessert out of the older lady that works behind the counter if he looks particularly pathetic.)
Breakfast is a quick affair; he needs to go grocery shopping, which he has to do at least three times a week because his mini-fridge in the motel can barely hold two days worth of food, which is inconvenient but not too bad, considering the fact that he usually just does take-out most nights. So he just borrows their stove to cook up a few pancakes, thanks them as usual, and then scurries back to his room.
Tegoshi is awake when he slips back inside, sitting on the edge of the bed, his bandaged foot carefully stretched out in front of him. The flyer from the night before is clutched tightly in his hands.
Masuda hesitates in the doorway before stepping in properly. Tegoshi doesn’t look up, not even when he sets their plates down carefully on the dresser and sits down beside him, peering at the younger with a gentle expression. He wonders if Tegoshi is even aware of his presence, but that thought is quelled when he suddenly leans against Masuda’s side, sighing softly.
Taking a shot in the dark, Masuda questions, “So, what time is the audition?” A guess, maybe, but an educated one. He knows Tegoshi, after all. Probably better than the boy knows himself.
Tegoshi frowns. “It doesn’t really matter, does it?” Masuda doesn’t particularly like that answer, so he focuses on the younger boy, stares him down until he starts to squirm uncomfortably under the attention, finally ducking his head and adding, “It’s not like I can actually go, anyway,”
“What do you mean?”
Tegoshi gives him a look, and Masuda is so deeply relieved to see that familiar spark of stubbornness in him that he thinks he might cry. “Massu, look at me.” He motions at his face, half-scowling. “I won’t even get through the front door, looking like this. They’ll take one look at me and laugh me right out.”
It’s not quite what Masuda wants to hear, but the tone alone is an improvement, and Masuda is reassured by it. Tegoshi has never been good at staying down for long, even beaten and bloodied as he sometimes is. It’s something Masuda admires about him, even if he does wish that the younger boy didn’t have to be that strong.
“No, they won’t,” He assures kindly, reaching out to gently push Tegoshi’s overgrown bangs out of his eyes. “Come on. I’ll drive you, okay?” The younger boy just shakes his head, tenacious as ever. “Tesshi.” It comes out pleading when it was supposed to be firm, but regardless, it catches Tegoshi’s attention, forcing him to look up and finally meet Masuda’s eyes. Masuda gives him a supportive smile. “You and I both know that if you don’t at least try, you’ll regret it forever.” He nudges Tegoshi with his elbow when he still doesn’t look convinced. “I’ll be there the whole time, okay? And if they kick you out, I’ll kick their ass.”
Tegoshi laughs, and Masuda feels a little bit of the weight on his shoulders lift. He bumps against Masuda, smiling brilliantly, like suddenly everything is right in the world. “Massu’s too nice to do something like that,” he teases, and just like that, the barrier between them is effectively broken.
Masuda just gives him a grin. “Yeah, well. They don’t know that, do they?”
The audition process is startlingly tedious, Masuda discovers rather quickly. He walks in expecting it to be fast paced, with busy people bustling around getting important things done at a rapid progress. Instead, he and Tegoshi spend the first half hour filling out a ridiculous amount of paper work, and then another two hours after that sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs, waiting for Tegoshi’s turn. (Masuda wonders rather distantly if maybe the wait time is actually part of the elimination process, especially when several people get up and walk out after the first hour.)
Despite his misgivings, Tegoshi doesn’t get kicked out before he makes it through the door, although he does get a few odd looks. Uncomfortable with it, he sticks close to Masuda, and the wait period is spent with the older nudging Tegoshi playfully, teasing him and making jokes, just to keep him calm and smiling. By the time Tegoshi’s name is called, the two of them are giggling like children.
Masuda isn’t allowed in with Tegoshi, which bothers them both, but he nods anyway and tugs Tegoshi to the side for just a moment before he goes in.
“You’ll be fine,” he assures, knowing him well enough to know that he’s feeling nervous and under pressure, and he punctuates it with a tight hug. Tegoshi nods against his shoulder.
The next three minutes go by agonizingly slow. Masuda sits and waits, anxiously watching the doors that Tegoshi went through, empathetically nervous, despite the fact that he’s not the one who has to stand in front of a group of judges. It was his idea to push Tegoshi into this, but now he wonders if maybe it was a bad idea on his part. He knows that Tegoshi would regret it if he didn’t try… but how much would it crush him if nothing came from it? Masuda hadn’t thought of it at the time, but now that he does, he worries if he made the wrong choice in encouraging him to try.
By the time Tegoshi finally emerges, Masuda has managed to thoroughly guilt himself, and the second the younger boy is close enough, he pounces, pulling him close, half-afraid of the answer as he asks, “How’d it go?”
Tegoshi just shrugs, feigning indifference. “They said they’d let me know if I made it.”
By the tone of his voice, Masuda can tell that he’s fairly certain they wouldn’t be calling any time soon, and it’s obvious he’s disappointed. He sighs sadly. “I’m sorry, Tesshi.” He’s surprised when Tegoshi just shakes his head and pulls back, giving Masuda a small smile.
“Don’t be.” The younger says, and there’s a certain sparkle in his eyes that makes Masuda feel a bit better. “Massu was right. I would have regretted it if I hadn’t at least tried.”
Masuda takes him out for lunch anyway, feeling like he owes his friend that much. He can’t really afford to eat out on his budget, but he does it anyway because it’s worth it to see Tegoshi smiling cheerfully across from him in their booth, kicking at his legs from under the table like a child, teasing Masuda when the first place he jumps to in the menu is the dessert page. They end up splitting an order, because Tegoshi’s mindful enough to know that Masuda is giving up a hefty portion of paycheck for this, and when Masuda insists on getting him an ice cream sundae, he gives the older boy the cherry on top with a sweet smile.
They spend the rest of the day doing what they always seem to do when they’re together: goof around, cause a bit of trouble, and generally just enjoy each other’s company. Masuda is grateful that today is his day off; he doesn’t want to think of the idea of leaving Tegoshi alone. Not today. Not ever.
Eventually, they head back to Masuda’s motel room. It’s mid-afternoon by that point, and neither is looking forward to when it gets so late that Tegoshi will have to leave. For now, they push it to the back of their minds and curl up on the bed together to watch an old variety show on the old television set that came with the room. Tegoshi falls asleep halfway through it, and Masuda lets him stay that way, absently carding his fingers through the younger’s hair as he lets his thoughts drift.
This sort of thing is very familiar for them. Masuda is used to Tegoshi’s more clingy nature, and he’s never been bothered by it. It’s always been like this between them, comfortable and open. Masuda never quite feels completely like himself unless Tegoshi is around, and he supposes it’s the same for the younger. They’ve always been close, after all; closer than most best friends. Close enough that his mother had made it a point to ask him regularly whether or not Tegoshi wasn’t really his boyfriend, before she’d passed on. (Something that she had always made it a point to tell him was perfectly fine, while his little sister giggled like a fiend in the background.)
Now that he thinks about it, if he’s ever going to think of someone like that, it probably would be Tegoshi. There’s really no one else, he supposes; Tegoshi is one of the most important people in his life. He always has been.
He’d dated in high school, of course. Nothing particularly long lasting, but a few relationships had been more on the serious side. He’d even considered proposing to his last girlfriend, whom he’d been with since the middle of his senior year. But even with her, there had been a certain amount of distance between them, something that Masuda has never experienced with Tegoshi. In fact, Tegoshi had even been the cause of some of his break ups. (Unintentionally, of course, and he was completely oblivious to it to this day, but a few of Masuda’s partners –male and female— hadn’t particularly liked the idea of getting the Masuda-and-Tegoshi Package Deal. And when the ultimatums came (“It’s him or me, Taka. Take your pick,”) he’d never hesitated to break things off.)
…okay, so maybe Tegoshi is kind of his boyfriend. Or something close, anyway. Even if they haven’t ever decided it, or talked about it, or even thought about it.
And that right there –feeling like that, knowing that he cares enough about Tegoshi that he really wouldn’t mind if that sort of thing were true— is exactly why it’s so hard to bring himself to shake him awake when it gets to be so late that they really can’t risk anymore delays. And when Tegoshi whines softly, buries a little bit closer to Masuda in protest, he feels like he’s not only about to kick a hurt puppy, but also euthanize the poor thing himself.
After a few tries, Tegoshi finally let’s himself be pulled from his nap, rubbing his eyes sleepily like a child, careful of the still-tender bruise. “Time to go home?” He questions, and Masuda reluctantly nods.
It never fails to amaze him that Tegoshi can handle this so casually. Masuda has never heard him complain; not even when he realized that Masuda knew that the bruises and injuries were from more than a bit of childish clumsiness. He cries sometimes –times like last night, when there’s not much else he can do— and some days he gets a faraway look in his eyes, like he’s not really there. But Masuda has never seen him get angry about it, or even acknowledge that it’s abuse.
Masuda sometimes wonders if he even knows that it’s wrong, what’s happening to him.
The drive to Tegoshi’s house is quiet. Masuda can never think of anything to say at this point, feeling like he’s sending his friend back into the lion’s den, and Tegoshi usually spends the trip staring out the window, watching the passing scenery. Masuda can never quite manage to work up the courage to ask him what he’s thinking about during these times, although he does sneak plenty of nervous glances out of the corner of his eye, trying to decipher what’s going on behind the calm, almost peaceful expression the younger is wearing.
The trip is always too short, in Masuda’s opinion; just barely long enough to warrant the use of a car. Usually they’d walk it, to give them just a little bit more time, but Tegoshi is in no condition for that tonight.
Before long, they’re pulling up in front of a small house, just barely large enough for a family of three. Despite the number of times he’s made this drive, Masuda has never been inside. Tegoshi never offers, and he never asks; it’s something of an unwritten rule between them. He has an idea in his head of what it’s like, though, and it’s never particularly pleasant.
Tegoshi unbuckles his seat belt, but stays where he is, staring out the window at his house blankly. The lights are still on, and Masuda cringes at that. He’d been hoping that they were late enough that the younger’s parents had already gone to bed. It would just be putting off the inevitable, he knows, but he doesn’t like the idea of Tegoshi walking in there after being gone all day, especially not when his father is possibly still awake. Thinking about it makes him want to turn the car around and drive away with Tegoshi; keep him safe and out of harm. But that’s an impulse that he’s familiar with; one he knows he can’t go through with.
He hesitates, trying to catch Tegoshi’s eyes from where he’s sitting, hands gripping the steering wheel so tight his knuckles are white. “Tesshi…”
That’s all it takes to snap Tegoshi out of the daze he’d fallen into, blinking in surprise, like he’d forgotten Masuda was even there. He turns to Masuda, a painfully fake smile plastered on his face. Masuda hates that smile, so very much.
“Sorry,” Tegoshi apologizes, although whether it’s for spacing out or something else, Masuda isn’t sure. “Thanks for the ride, Massu.”
He goes to push open the door, but Masuda feels the sudden need to stop him. To save him from all of this. And usually he’d just stay quiet, but then he catches sight of that horrible bruise, and he can’t stop the words from pouring out. “Yuya, wait!” Maybe it’s the use of his first name, or maybe it’s the half-desperate tone that Masuda has, but Tegoshi freezes in place, turning to look curiously at the older boy with innocent eyes that tug at the older’s heartstrings.
Masuda swallows, feels his throat tighten. “You can’t…” You can’t go back there, is what he wants to say. But he can’t finish it. Instead, he says, “Why don’t you just leave, Tesshi? Why can’t you just…” He breaks off, feeling like he wants to cry. He doesn’t, because he knows that Tegoshi needs him to be the strong one.
Tegoshi gives him a smile, bitter and sad. “You know why, Massu.”
Masuda nods, because he does know. Tegoshi’s mother. She’s a sweet woman; Masuda has only met her once, but it’s clear that she’s the one Tegoshi gets his soft, delicate features from. Tegoshi always talks about her fondly; it’s always been clear that he loves her deeply. But she’s frail, in poor health, and before Tegoshi came along, she’d been the center of her husband’s rough behavior. She’d been stronger then, but now…
“If I leave, he’ll kill her. He might not mean to, but he will.” It’s true, and Masuda knows it. That doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it, though.
Tegoshi just shakes his head, reaches out and takes Masuda’s hand gently, giving it a soft squeeze before letting go and opening the car door. Masuda lets him go this time, not knowing what else to say. He watches the younger slowly limp up the unkempt, overgrown walkway, and when he reaches the front door, Tegoshi turns and waves. Masuda purses his lips, but returns it.
He can’t quite help the sinking feeling in his stomach when the younger unlocks the front door with his key and slips inside, closing the door behind him.
Chapter 3: Part Three
It’s another three weeks before Masuda hears from Tegoshi again. This, in and of itself, isn’t all that strange; they’ll often go months without seeing one another, only a phone call here and there to let the other know that they’re still alive, a few texts when Masuda can spare the minutes for his cellphone and Tegoshi can actually find his. Actual contact, however, is rare, and usually goes the same way every time; the way it went the last time. Masuda tries not to think about that part, because knowing that the next time he sees his friend will involve him nursing him back to health again is painful to think about.
When he’s woken up at four in the morning by his phone ringing, however, it’s hard to keep those thoughts away, especially when he knows that there’s only one person that would ever call him so early, and never without a reason.
“Hello?” He answers groggily, squinting at the time on the digital clock’s face tiredly. The only answer he gets is the sound of soft sniffles on the other end, a quiet sob here and there. He snaps awake, hearing that, sitting up so fast he nearly makes himself dizzy. “Tesshi? What’s wrong?”
Tegoshi is silent on the other end for a long moment, so quiet that Masuda is terrified that the he’s hung up on him. But then, softly, he hears a plaintive, miserable whisper, “Massu…”
He’s already on his feet by that point, tossing on whatever clothes he can get his hands on, asking where Tegoshi is, what happened, what’s going on. His heart almost stops when Tegoshi gives him the name of the local hospital and a room number, his voice sounding cracked and raw. And then he hangs up abruptly, the line going dead.
Masuda breaks nearly every traffic law that’s ever been conceived of on the drive, so worried he can hardly see straight, and he’s fairly certain that he leaves at least two accidents in his wake. Yamakita is small, and so most of it is spread thin across a long stretch of rural country; the hospital is on the exact opposite side of town as Masuda’s motel, and it normally would take him around a half hour to make the drive.
He makes it there in fifteen minutes, parking in a handicap zone and nearly tripping over his own feet as he rushes through the sliding glass doors. He ignores the nurse that flutters over, telling him that visiting hours haven’t started yet and he can’t go in there, and he gets lost several times as he tries to find his way to the right room, finally asking for directions when he remembers to. He can hardly breath by the time he finally finds it, and when he walks in to find it empty and dark, he nearly collapses right where he stands, the blind panic from earlier melting into something more deep seated; something a bit like fear.
He’s just standing there, staring into the room, repeatedly checking the number on the door, the name on the card beside the doorway to make sure that he’s in the right place; that he didn’t misread or get turned around somehow, when he hears soft whispers, and turns his head to look. A pair of nurses –trainees, he can tell from their shirts, although their faces are unfamiliar; they’re probably on loan from one of the cities. It’s not an uncommon practice for under staffed hospitals, he’s heard—are standing nearby, watching him, whispering between themselves.
Finally, one of them speaks up, “You’re Masuda-san, right?” He blinks, stares at them blankly, and the nurse –his nametag reads Koyama— goes on with a friendly smile, “Tego-chan mentioned that you’d be coming. He’s down in ICU.”
Masuda chokes, is fairly certain he feels his heart stop at that; he may not know much about hospitals, but he knows what ICU stands for. The other nurse –his nametag reading Kato—turns and smacks his companion on the hard on the arm with a scowl. The other flinches and shrinks back at the glare that he’s given.
“What Keii means, Masuda-san,” Kato grinds out, still glaring at his companion, “is that Tegoshi is down in ICU, visiting his mother.” Here he finally turns to look at Masuda, smiling in a gentle, comforting sort of way that doesn’t quite seem to fit his face. “He’ll be back up in a few minutes, if you want to wait for him here.”
Masuda nods dazedly, his mind still racing from shock. The nurses smile –Koyama’s notably more awkward and self-conscious— and start down the hall, steps in sync as they walk. Kato hits his friend again as they pass, hissing darkly under his breath, “Give the poor guy a heart attack, why don’t you? Think before you talk next time, Keii!” while Koyama apologizes loudly, looking sheepish.
It takes Masuda a few moments to finally make himself stumble into the room, finding a chair to collapse into almost immediately, head falling into his hands. He feels dizzy, weak in the knees, a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he spends the next ten minutes just sitting there, watching the floor blankly, worrying and going over every possible scenario regarding the situation in his head. Every single one of them makes him feel sick to his stomach.
He almost doesn’t hear the quiet footsteps signaling someone shuffling into the room, he’s so wrapped up in his thoughts and troubles. But he does hear the soft voice, so painfully familiar that he wants to sob at the sound of it, “Massu…?”
When he looks up, Tegoshi is there, standing in the doorway, looking horribly tiny and vulnerable, swathed in an oversized hospital gown. He’s thinner than he was just a few weeks ago, his skin a pale, ashen shade. There are dark circles under his eyes, and while the bruise from before has long faded, a fresh one has replaced it. His left arm is sitting limply in a sling, and from where Masuda is sitting, it looks swollen. His eyes are red, puffy; he looks like he’s been crying.
Masuda is on his feet in an instant, taking two steps forward and yanking the younger boy close, arms closing around him tight. Tegoshi lets out a startled yelp, like the sudden movement causes him pain, but doesn’t fight or struggle, just sinks into Masuda’s embrace, trembling very slightly. Masuda eases his grip slightly, but doesn’t let go, half afraid that if he does, Tegoshi will vanish and he’ll never be able to find him. He buries his face into Tegoshi’s shoulder, blinking back tears, although whether they’re from relief that his friend is there and alive, or sadness at the state that he’s in, he can’t be sure.
Tegoshi lets him hold him for a while, his good hand automatically curling around Masuda’s neck, gently playing with the ends of his hair, fingers tickling the skin in a way that’s almost delicate. He doesn’t say anything, though, and Masuda’s not sure what to make of his silence. They stay like that until Tegoshi starts to lean more heavily on Masuda, his body trembling very slightly, and the older of the two realizes that he’s probably tired and weak.
He pulls back, arms still snaked around Tegoshi’s slim form, takes one look at the boy’s weary expression, and carefully leads him over to the bed, nudging him to lay down. Tegoshi goes obediently, not putting up a fuss as the older pulls the blankets up around him. Masuda moves to sit in the chair near the bed, but Tegoshi snags his hand before he can, tugs, looks pleadingly at Masuda, eyes wide.
He’s never been able to resist that look.
He waits until they’re settled in together, squeezed tight on a bed that’s only made for one person, Tegoshi pressed against his side, so close that it’s hard to tell where one of them starts and the other ends, before finally speaking, his tone soft, practically a whisper, “Tesshi… what happened?”
He doesn’t really want to know, and a part of him is deeply relieved when Tegoshi just shakes his head, presses his face against Masuda’s chest. “Please, Massu…” he whimpers out faintly, and Masuda can hear that he’s crying again. “Just… not now.”
Masuda is all to happy to let the subject drop, so he nods, holds Tegoshi close, and they stay like that for a long time after.
Tegoshi remains in the hospital for the next four days. Masuda visits him every day, after work, staying for as long as he can until the hospital staff finally has to kick him out. It’s usually either Kato, Koyama, or both that walk him out, and they’re very polite and friendly about it; apologetic, too, like they somehow know how difficult it is for Masuda to leave the younger boy behind each night. They probably do, actually; from what Masuda has gathered, Tegoshi has made fast friends out of both of them, and according to the two nurses, the only thing the teenager ever really talks about is Masuda. Or soccer; he talks about soccer a lot, too.
Masuda doesn’t mind much; both Kato and Koyama are pleasant company, and he’s glad that Tegoshi has people looking out for him when he can’t be there.
Despite the good terms he’s on with the staff, though, they won’t tell him anything about the situation that Tegoshi is in. Every time he asks, they give him a sad look and recite the “we can’t divulge that information if you’re not a family member” line. Tegoshi flatly refuses to talk about it, and Masuda doesn’t want to push him. But he worries, so much, especially when Tegoshi spends most of his time in the hospital when Masuda isn’t there down in ICU with his mother. She hasn’t woken up yet, and the most that Masuda has managed to squeeze out of anyone is that things are still touch and go.
No one has seen or heard from the boy’s father since the initial incident.
On the fifth day, Masuda gets a call in the middle of day while he’s at work. Not that he’s actually working; he hasn’t gotten much done since the start of the week, and he really only shows up for appearances’ sake, at this point. He’s lucky his boss is fond of him, really, or he might have gotten into trouble. He doesn’t check the caller ID before answering, so he’s startled when he hears Tegoshi’s voice on the other end, “Massu? It’s me.”
He blinks, sits up a little straighter, worry bubbling up. “Tesshi? Is everything okay?” He suddenly feels panicked. Tegoshi never calls him at work unless something is wrong; the younger boy has always been very conscious about that sort of thing, worried that he might get Masuda into trouble. “Did something happen?”
Tegoshi laughs, and something about it sounds very, very wrong. “No,” he says, but Masuda’s not sure he believes him. “I just…. Can you come pick me up? I’m being discharged.”
Masuda is surprised, but recovers almost immediately. “Yeah,” He’s already standing, grabbing his coat. His coworkers are watching him curiously, but he ignores them, cellphone balanced on his shoulder as he searches his desk for his keys. “Yeah, I’ll be right there.”
He’s immensely glad that his work place is significantly closer to the hospital than his motel. It takes him longer to inform his boss that he’s taking the rest of the day off than it does to actually get there, and he parks in the closest free space to the front entrance that he can find, shuts off the engine, and stumbles over his own feet as he scrambles out of the car and across the street.
Tegoshi is sitting outside on one of the classy stone benches that were added a few months ago when the hospital went through a “refitting”. His injured arm is still in the sling, although it looks better than it did the first time Masuda saw it, and the clothes that he’s wearing are wrinkled and dirty; probably the same ones he arrived in days earlier. Masuda feels guilty for a moment, wonders why he hadn’t thought to bring him at least a clean shirt during his visits. The younger boy glances up when Masuda reaches him, and although he looks tired and in bad shape, he smiles anyway.
Masuda ignores the fact that it doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Hey,” he greets, somewhat hesitantly. He’s not really sure what to say, but that seems like a good place to start. Absently, he scratches the back of his head, feeling oddly awkward. “Do you, um… need any help? To the car, I mean…”
Tegoshi’s smile widens just a bit, becomes just a little bit more sincere, and Masuda relaxes automatically at the sight of it. The younger nods to the spot beside him on the bench, where a small vase full of a random assortment of flowers is sitting, unnoticed by Masuda until now. “Could you…?”
Masuda jumps for it. “Yeah. Sure.”
It really is a nice arrangement, he notes as he lifts it up, holding it carefully. Not expensive or anything, but nicely made. There are lots of colors, and Masuda’s not good enough with flowers to identify them all, but he’s pretty sure there’s a carnation in there somewhere. Maybe.
Tegoshi answers the unasked question without being prompted, “They’re from KoyaShige.” Masuda laughs quietly at the nickname, shaking his head in amusement as he carefully balances the vase in one arm, the other automatically wrapping around Tegoshi, his hand falling to the small of the younger’s back as he leads him into the parking lot. Tegoshi goes on, “Well, more from Keii-chan than from Shige, really. He was complaining that my room was ‘too boring’.” He laughs here, and Masuda is relieved to hear that it’s not entirely forced. “They were talking about balloons when the doctor said I could leave.”
Masuda chuckles quietly, waits for Tegoshi to go on, but the younger seems to be finished speaking. It takes them a minute to get him settled into the car; the sling makes it something of challenge to get his seat belt on, and after a point, Masuda ends up having to do it for him, before settling in on the driver’s side.
The drive is quiet, and when they hit the first stop light, Masuda debates on where to take the younger boy. He wants to drive back to his motel, call his job to let them know he’s not coming back today, and stay with Tegoshi, for as long as it takes until things are okay again. But he’s not sure if that’s really the best thing to do; he doesn’t want his friend to get into any trouble. Tegoshi doesn’t look like he could handle any trouble.
In the end, he decides that the best thing for both of them is to stick together. He doesn’t think he’d be able to live with himself if he left Tegoshi alone right now, and anyway, he wants to keep the younger boy where he can take care of him. They’d figure everything else out when it needed attention.
After a while, the silence starts to bother Masuda. He bites his lower lip, and finally, glancing at Tegoshi out of the corner of his eye, tries to start a conversation. “So… how’s your mother doing?” Tegoshi doesn’t answer, just keeps staring out the window. Wondering whether or not he heard, Masuda tries again. “Do the doctors know when she’s going to wake up?”
The response is so soft and tiny that Masuda nearly misses it. When he does make sense of it, he nearly slams on the break pedal in surprise. “She’s not.”
Turning a questioning glance at the younger, he finds that Tegoshi is pointedly looking away from him. Swallowing the lump that has taken up residence in his throat, Masuda ignores the unsettled feeling in his stomach, dreading what he would hear but needing to know anyway. “…Tesshi?”
When Tegoshi finally turns to look at him, his eyes are glimmering; he’s fighting back tears. “She’s dead, Massu.” Masuda stares at him with wide eyes, speechless and uncertain of what to do; what to say. Behind them, a car honks its horn several times before the driver gets tired of waiting and pulls around them. Tegoshi continues shakily, “Last night… her heart stopped. They couldn’t…” His voice cracks, “…they couldn’t bring her back.”
Masuda is quiet, refocusing on the road, finding the closest place to pull off and park. The minute the car is still and out of the way of traffic, he turns where he sits and pulls Tegoshi to him. It’s awkward and somewhat painful –the armrest between their seats digs into their stomachs, the seatbelts pulling uncomfortably across their chests, and they both have to contort into an odd position to make it work— but Tegoshi clings to him harder than he’s ever done so before, and Masuda can’t even consider the idea of letting him go.
“You idiot,” he mumbles softly into the younger’s shoulder, half afraid that if he holds him as tight as he wants to, he might break him in half. “Why didn’t you call me?”
Tegoshi doesn’t say anything, but Masuda hadn’t really been expecting him to. They sit like that for a while. Masuda can’t think of anything to say –words feel empty at this point, hollow and useless—and anyway, he’s not really sure if Tegoshi really needs to hear anything. Nothing he could possibly say will make the pain any easier to bear; he knows that, better than anyone. He’d been there, in the same place the younger boy is in right now, three years earlier. Only he’d had people to lean on back then; his sister, his father, his friends.
All Tegoshi has is Masuda.
After a while, they have to pull apart. Tegoshi is sniffling softly, and he rubs at his eyes with his good hand as he sits back. Masuda hesitates, then reaches out and brushes back his bangs with gentle fingers. The smile he gets in response is weak, but it’s something. After a quiet moment, the younger finally murmurs, voice sounding raw from the suppressed tears, “Can we go home now, Massu?”
Masuda nods, doesn’t say anything as he restarts the car and pulls back onto the road. When he’s not shifting gears, his free hand stays settled on Tegoshi’s leg, steadying and comforting.
The trip takes longer than Masuda likes, but he suspects a part of that is just because he’s impatient and unsettled. By the time they finally pull into the parking lot, he’s itching to reach over and pull Tegoshi back to him. The younger boy has on a horribly lost, broken expression, and Masuda can’t stand to see it there. Almost robotically, he removes the key from the ignition, leans over to unbuckle Tegoshi’s seatbelt before slipping out himself. He rounds the car to help the younger out, and together they move towards his room.
When they’re finally inside, shoes hastily kicked off and jackets haphazardly tossed aside, they nearly trip over themselves trying to reach each other. Tegoshi all but falls right into Masuda’s waiting arms, and the instant the older boy has him, finally lets himself break down.
It’s a long time before they move, and even then, it’s only for Masuda to scoot back, Tegoshi still clutching at his shirt, until their knees hit the bed, and then they’re sitting, Tegoshi half on top of the older boy and not showing any sign of leaving that spot any time soon. It takes a long time for him to finally cry himself out, and eventually he settles into soft hiccups and sniffles. Masuda’s familiar enough with the signs to know that he’d still be sobbing if he had the energy. As it is, he’s tired himself out, and his head lolls against Masuda’s shoulder weakly, seemingly lacking the strength to lift it.
“Okay?” Masuda asks softly, glancing down at the dark head nestled against his neck. Tegoshi nods slowly with a quiet sniff, and Masuda absently moves to stroke his hair affectionately. “You want to talk about it?”
He’s honestly expecting a ‘no’, or maybe just no answer at all, so he’s surprised when Tegoshi pauses for a long moment before finally whispering softly, voice hoarse and scratchy, “It was my fault.” Masuda opens his mouth to protest that, because even if he doesn’t know the full story, he knows Tegoshi, and the younger boy can’t possibly be to blame, but Tegoshi keeps talking. “I… I told him I was leaving, Massu.”
Masuda’s mouth drops open, and for a moment, he’s not sure if he heard that right. But Tegoshi looks up at him, blinking back fresh tears, and anything he could possibly say about it suddenly seems horribly, horribly inadequate.
Tegoshi sniffs softly, rubs away at the wetness still clinging to his cheeks. He smiles suddenly, and although it’s sad, there’s an honest happiness there that Masuda hasn’t seen on the younger’s face in ages. “Massu… I got a callback.”
It takes a moment for it to click in Masuda’s mind. “The audition.” He realizes, somewhat numbly.
Tegoshi nods. “They want to send me to Tokyo, for training.” He laughs here, but it sounds somewhat bitter. “They said I needed “parental consent” when I went to see them. Gave me some form to have my parents sign.” He looks back up at Masuda, and suddenly he seems tiny again, fragile and delicate. “I didn’t think she’d do it, Massu. When I told her what it was… I thought she’d tell me ‘no’.” He starts to crumbled, just a bit, and Masuda realizes in something of a panic that he’s probably going to start crying again. “She didn’t even read it; just smiled at me and signed it and kissed my cheek.” A whimper. “Why’d she do that?”
Masuda smoothes a hand down his back comfortingly. “Your Mom loves you, Tesshi.” He tells the younger softly. “You know that. She just wanted you to be happy.”
Tegoshi nods, because he knows it’s true. He drops his head back against Masuda’s shoulder, curling around him just a little bit tighter. He doesn’t go on for a few moments, just quietly sitting there in Masuda’s arms. When he finally does start talking about, Masuda is so surprised by it that he nearly jumps.
“He was so angry when he found out. I’ve never seen him like that…” Tegoshi shudders just a little bit, like he always does when he’s forced to remember his father during a bad episode. Masuda runs his hands across his shoulders, down his back soothingly, urging him to go on. “And Mom… she yelled at him. She’s never done that before… and then they were fighting, and… and…” He trails off, and Masuda doesn’t need to hear anymore. He can put the last few pieces together himself.
They’re quiet after that, for a long time. There’s really not much left to say, and all Masuda can think of doing right then is keeping Tegoshi close. He goes back over the conversation in his mind, but the part that keeps pulling his attention back is Tegoshi’s whispered, “They want to send me to Tokyo.”
Tokyo. It’s so far away… Like a different world. And Tegoshi… Tegoshi will probably go, won’t he? It’s not like he has anything holding him to this tiny little town; not now that his mother’s gone. And really, Masuda is happy for him. All he’s ever wanted was for the younger boy to have the chance to live the life he’s always deserved. And now he has it…
But despite that, the older boy can’t help the sinking feeling in his stomach that comes with the idea of Tegoshi leaving him behind. He always knew it would happen, but somehow, he’d hoped that it wouldn’t.
“So…” he murmurs softly, cheek resting against Tegoshi’s hair, trying to swallow the thick lump in his throat. “You’re really getting out of here, aren’t you?”
Tegoshi stills, and then lets out a slow, shuddering breath, like he can’t believe it himself. “I… I guess so. Massu…” He looks up, eyes painfully wide. Masuda has a hard time meeting them. “…I’m really leaving…”
The older boy forces a smile, but it feels horribly fake, and he knows Tegoshi can probably see right through. “That… that’s good.” He says, and it doesn’t come out at all convincing. “I’m happy for you.”
Looking at Tegoshi’s face, he wonders if maybe that was the wrong answer.
Chapter 4: Part Four
The next week is spent making hurried preparations. Tegoshi stays with Masuda the entire time, only sneaking back to his house once to pack a bag full of the things he wants to keep. The rest of the time he spends practically glued to the older boy’s side, even going in with him to work when Masuda finally can’t make up anymore excuses to stay home. Not that anyone really complains; as much as he is a distraction, Tegoshi is well liked by his co-workers, most of whom have already met him at least once.
Masuda is glad for it, in all honesty. He’s happy that he has the chance to spend as much time with Tegoshi as possible right now, before the younger has to leave. He feels like he’s trying to make up for a lifetime that they’re going to miss out on, squeezing it all into just a few days. And thinking about that only makes him feel worse.
He doesn’t want to let the younger boy go. He knows that when it comes down to it, this is the best thing that could ever happen to Tegoshi, and he doesn’t want to be the one to stand between his friend and the future that he deserves. But he doesn’t want to be left behind, doesn’t want Tegoshi to go off to Tokyo and then forget about him, too busy with new friends and a new life to remember the boy back home that took care of him when he needed it most.
If he’s completely honest, Masuda is afraid of losing him. He has other friends, but Tegoshi is so much more than that; he’s always been more than that. And it’s only now that he’s faced with the idea of not having him around anymore that he realizes just how important the younger boy has become to him.
And that, more than anything else, scares him.
The last few days go by so fast, Masuda feels like he’s been cheated. He lays awake the night before Tegoshi is scheduled to leave, watching the younger boy’s face from half-lidded eyes. Tegoshi is curled up beside him, nestled tightly under the blankets, eyes closed and expression peaceful. His chest aches at the sight, thinking about the fact that, after tonight, he’ll probably never see this again. It makes him feel sick, imagining a life without the younger by his side, and he wonders when it was that Tegoshi became the one person that his life revolves around; when they were children, maybe, or maybe it was more recently.
Regardless of when, it happened, and now Masuda’s not sure if he’ll be able to survive without him.
He sighs softly, the noise sounding loud in the otherwise silent room, and before he realizes what he’s doing, he’s wrestled a hand out from under the blankets and reached out to gently brush his fingertips across Tegoshi’s cheek. It’s a minute thing, just a small touch of skin against skin, but apparently it’s enough, because Tegoshi exhales deeply, eyes fluttering open slowly. He focuses in on Masuda, laying there across from him, and a sleepy smile drifts over his features.
“Massu?” He murmurs, sounding tired.
Masuda jerks his hand back, a blush rising up. “Sorry,”
But Tegoshi just laughs and snuggles closer. “Massu should be sleeping,” he chides cutely, which only makes Masuda’s face flush further. Despite himself, he presses his face against Tegoshi’s hair with a shuddering breath.
“I know. Sorry I woke you,”
Tegoshi simply shakes his head lazily. “I wasn’t sleeping,” he says quietly, one hand coming up to trace the hemlines on Masuda’s shirt. He’s not wearing the sling anymore, but his other arm is still not up to full strength yet. He smiles with a giggle. “I’m too nervous.”
Masuda frowns. “What are you nervous about? All you’re doing is getting into a cab.”
Tegoshi pouts, and Masuda ducks his head in apology, knowing that it came out snappier than he’d intended. He’s forgiven immediately, he can tell by the way Tegoshi’s fingers brush over his shoulders and neck gently. “I’m nervous about leaving,”
Masuda doesn’t want to talk about this; not now. But Tegoshi’s voice is tiny and timid, and he can’t stand to hear it like that, so he sighs, tightens his hold on him. “You’ll be fine,” he assures in a quiet voice, inwardly proud that his voice doesn’t crack. He ignores the way his stomach clenches uncomfortably, whispering out the next words softly, “You’re going to be great.”
Tegoshi curls into him like a child. “I don’t want to leave Massu,” He says plaintively.
Masuda can’t avoid the way his heart flutters at that, the way it aches painfully at the thought of it. He doesn’t want to deal with this, not when they have so little time left. “Tesshi, please… don’t…” He’s begging, because if it goes any farther, he’s afraid he might break.
“Come with me,” He can hear the pleading edge to Tegoshi’s voice, the fear and concern and the hope that he won’t have to go through it alone. And that hurts more than anything. “Please, Massu.” He pulls back, just enough so he can look Masuda in the eyes, hands fisting around the fabric of the older boy’s shirt. “We can go together, we can—“
“Yuya.” His voice is hard, and he hates himself for it, hands coming up to gently hold Tegoshi’s around the wrists. “You know I can’t.”
They’ve had this conversation before, so many times over the last week, and every time Masuda has to say ‘no’, it breaks him just a little bit more. He wants to, so badly it hurts, but he knows that it’s not an option. Not really. His entire life is here, in this town; his family and history… his mother’s grave. And even if that’s not enough to keep him there (it’s not, not if Tegoshi’s not there too, and he knows it), he has no future anywhere else. He hasn’t got the grades or money for college, can’t afford to leave his current dead-end job. His only real hope is still a few years down the road, when the owner of the grocery store that his father works at finally retires and passes the ownership over. Until then, he’s stuck right where he is.
And anyway, he’s not made for a place like Tokyo. He’s a small town boy; he wouldn’t last when faced with the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s better for everyone if he stays here. Or at least, that’s what he tells himself, trying to ease his own guilt. It doesn’t work nearly as well as he wishes it would.
Tegoshi doesn’t bring it up again, after that. Masuda’s not sure why it is that that bothers him more than anything else.
The next morning is awkward, uncomfortable. Masuda doesn’t want to get up, to leave Tegoshi behind, but eventually the alarm starts blaring loudly at him, and he knows that if he doesn’t leave now, he never will. Tegoshi watches him roll out of bed with sad eyes, tucks his knees in to touch his chest protectively as the older boy dresses and prepares for work.
There’s nothing left to say between them, really, but the silence drives Masuda insane.
Before long, he’s ready to go, but he finds himself hesitating. Tegoshi scoots out from under the blankets and sits at the edge of the mattress, watching Masuda standing near the door, pointedly avoiding looking at him. Several minutes pass, neither of them saying a word, and just when Masuda is about to work up the courage to reach for the door, Tegoshi speaks.
“I have to leave by two,” he says, watching Masuda dejectedly. “Otherwise I’ll miss my train. Will you… are you going to be there to see me off?”
Masuda doesn’t know what to say to that. He doesn’t think he could handle it, watching Tegoshi leave him for good. The idea of it alone makes him want to twist and contort, until there’s nothing left of him; until he doesn’t exist anymore. Just to get away from it. He knows that Tegoshi wants him there, knows that he’ll regret it always if he doesn’t go, but…
“I have work,” he says instead, throat painfully dry, voice low. He’s not looking at Tegoshi, so he misses the way the younger trembles at his answer. But he can hear it in his voice when he finally responds.
“Oh…” Tegoshi swallows quietly, eyes falling to the carpeted floor. “…then I guess we should…”
Tegoshi stands on shaky legs, makes his way over to where Masuda is still standing. Neither of them can bring themselves to look at the other, and the younger of the two nibbles nervously on his lower lip, anxious. Masuda hates that, dislikes the idea of Tegoshi ever feeling uncomfortable around him, but he doesn’t know what he can possibly do to fix this.
“So…” Tegoshi murmurs, shifting. He finally faces Masuda properly, but his eyes stay low, hovering on the older boy’s chin. “I… I guess this is goodbye.”
“I guess so.”
The air between them is painfully thick, and Masuda doesn’t think they’ve ever been so separate from each other as they are in these last few moments. It hurts, that distance, but maybe it’s for the best. At least this way, Tegoshi won’t spend half his life wondering if he made the wrong choice, like Masuda knows he’s setting himself up for.
Finally, he can’t bear it anymore; it hurts too much. He pitches forwards, arms folding over Tegoshi’s smaller form, and holds him tight, lets himself have this last moment. Tegoshi lets out a miserable sound, presses his face into Masuda’s neck, arms wrapping tightly around his waist. Masuda sighs quietly, feels just a little bit of the weight on his shoulders lift. It still aches, but it’s bearable now. Maybe. “Good luck, Tesshi.”
Tegoshi nods, but neither of them lets go. Not for a very long time.
Masuda is late to work that morning. He gets lectured over it –not just for being late, but his entire performance over this last week— but by the time he finally reaches his seat, he can’t even remember half of what his boss had said to him. A few of his coworkers eye him worriedly, and he sighs quietly under the attention, knowing why; his behavior lately has been erratic, missing work, not focusing while he’s there, unusually quiet and withdrawn. He hasn’t been himself, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.
He settles in for the day, but finds that he can’t concentrate. His mind is elsewhere, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to get any real work done. The hours tick by, agonizingly slow, and eventually, he stops trying altogether and just ends up staring regretfully at the clock, bouncing a pen against the arm of his chair anxiously.
It’s only one, he tells himself. He still has time to get back to his room and see Tegoshi one more time…
He wants to, he can’t deny it. Any excuse just to have a little bit more time with the younger boy is worth it, but he’s not sure if it’s a good idea. He doesn’t want to see that heartbroken look in Tegoshi’s eyes as he gets into a cab and leaves for what’s probably going to be forever. And worse still, he doesn’t want to tempt the boy into staying.
In the end, it comes down to a choice of being selfish or selfless. And for the first time in a long, he’s not sure which is better.
He’s spent a lifetime being selfless, hasn’t he? Putting others before himself, always. His little sister when his father was at work and his mother was sick in bed, his mother when they couldn’t afford the hospital bills, his father after his mother finally passed on, and Tegoshi, too. Always Tegoshi. And he’s given up so much in the process; his free time, his social life, several good relationships, living at home, all for someone else’s benefit.
Isn’t he allowed to do something for himself, just this once?
He stands, snatches his coat up from the back of his chair, and moves for the door before he can change his mind. He wants this –this last chance— and for once, he’s going to let himself have it, consequences be damned.
The drive home is agonizingly slow. Traffic is awful, something he’s never seen in this town before today, and when 1:43 passes and he’s still twenty minutes away, he’s starting to wonder if this is maybe an omen of some kind. His hands are griping the steering wheel so tight his knuckles have paled by the time he finally pulls into the parking lot, and he’s worried he might start hyperventilating at any moment, eyes frantically scanning the patch of broken asphalt stretched out in front of the motel. He nearly cries in relief when he spots the taxi on the opposite side of the building, waiting beside the curb. And there’s Tegoshi, standing awkwardly next to it, head down and a disappointed look on his face.
He perks up when he spots Masuda’s car pull up, and the look on his face when the older boy slips out and calls his name is one of complete and utter happiness. Tegoshi is laughing in delight by the time Masuda reaches him, throwing his arms around the older’s neck excitedly as soon as he’s close enough.
“I thought you had work,” Tegoshi murmurs against his shoulder. Masuda can feel his smile through his shirt, and just shakes his head, holds him a little bit tighter.
“I took a late lunch.” It’s a horrible excuse, but it makes Tegoshi laugh softly. They pull away slowly, reluctantly, but Masuda keeps his hands on the younger boy’s waist possessively, holding him within arm’s reach. Tegoshi doesn’t seem to mind, reaching up to lightly touch Masuda’s cheeks with gentle fingers, his eyes soft and warm.
“I’m glad,” he says quietly, smiling widely.
They’re quiet for the next few minutes, just watching each other, comfortable to stand there together for as long as they can. The driver of the taxi, however, is not nearly as patient, and after a few moments of this, gives a frustrated honk of the horn, scowling at the two of them from where he’s sitting. Masuda frowns at him from over Tegoshi’s shoulder, but his attention is quickly pulled back when Tegoshi sighs quietly, blows a few strands of hair out of his face with a sad expression.
He knows what’s coming next, but that doesn’t stop the butterflies from rising up in his stomach at the very thought.
“Massu, I…” Tegoshi trails off, like he doesn’t know how to say what’s on his mind. Masuda knows, though; he always has, in some way, even if they’ve never gone so far as to acknowledge it.
Masuda smiles at him wanly, hands coming up to cup the younger’s face, thumbs gently brushing over his cheeks in a tender sort of way. “Don’t say it,” he tells him seriously, “Not yet.” He’s not ready to hear it yet, nor is he ready to say it himself. Not when Tegoshi is about to leave.
Tegoshi bites his lower lip, looking uncertain, and Masuda makes a decision right then and there. What they have is too special to let go of so easily; not without putting up some kind of a fight. He pulls back, just enough to reach around behind his neck and unclasp the chain that’s been sitting there for the last three years. Tegoshi watches him with wide eyes, and they only get wider when Masuda leans forward and slides the chain around his neck, the ring falling to lay delicately against his chest.
“Massu…?” He looks confused and unsure, reaching up to touch the ring hesitantly. “What…”
Masuda smiles at him, brushes his knuckles over his cheek. “Think of it as a promise, okay? I’ll take it back the next time we see each other.”
Tegoshi looks like he might start crying, but he’s smiling wide, and it makes something of an endearing image. Looking at him, seeing that pretty sparkle in his eyes that he knows so well, Masuda finds that he can’t hold back anymore; he leans forward and presses his lips against the younger’s.
It’s not magical, nor is it the best kiss Masuda has even had, but it feels right, the way their lips slide together. It’s chaste and sweet and everything that Masuda has ever imagined it to be, perfect or not, and it leaves him wanting more when they finally pull apart. He watches Tegoshi through half-lidded eyes, the way the younger boy flushes, lips parted slightly, looking dazed and surprised but not unhappy.
“Okay?” Masuda whispers softly, and they’re still so close that it almost ends up being another kiss. Tegoshi slowly breaks into a grin, wide and happy, and he giggles somewhat shyly, ducking his head with a nod.
When Tegoshi finally has to break away from him, slipping into the backseat of the cab, waving at him slowly as it pulls away from the parking lot, it doesn’t feel so much like a goodbye anymore. Masuda still feels an uncomfortable ache settle in his heart as he watches the taxi disappear, but it’s not so hopeless, and he thinks, maybe, he could learn to survive in a big city like Tokyo, eventually.
Chapter 5: Epilogue
Two years later
Masuda is fairly certain that he’s never been more nervous in his life than he is at this moment. He feels horribly out of place, in his jeans and t-shirt and old jacket that have obviously seen better days, sitting in the middle of a lobby that’s been so tastefully designed and decorated that he’s pretty sure the chairs alone cost more than a year’s worth of his rent. It helps, a little bit, that he’s the only one there, aside from the pretty receptionist who keeps eyeing him from behind her desk like he’s something disease-ridden. He supposes that she’s too professional to call security on him when he hasn’t done anything to warrant it, but it still makes him uncomfortable.
He wonders if he’s doing the right thing. He hasn’t questioned his choices once since starting down this path, but now that he’s here, miles away from his home town, in the middle of a city he knows nothing about surviving in, he can’t help but second guess himself.
He’d saved up for two years to get here, working overtime as often as he could, pinching his pennies, making plans. He’s worked hard, leaving everything he’s ever known behind in the process, and now… now he’s worried if maybe it wasn’t a bad idea in the first place. Maybe he should have stayed back in Yamakita, where he was comfortable, in his element. He’s so out of touch with himself now that he’s almost dizzy, and the long wait isn’t helping at all.
Masuda can’t believe that it’s only been two years since he last saw Tegoshi. It feels like so much longer, maybe because he’s been practically counting the hours, or maybe because he was so used to having the younger boy around that when he finally left, it felt a little bit like the world had stopped altogether.
They’d kept in contact, of course. But it had been difficult, slow going. Tegoshi had been constantly busy with work and training and everything else involved in becoming an idol, and Masuda had come to hate those brief phone calls, because they always hurt, always reminded him of what wasn’t there. Gradually, their calls had grown farther and farther apart, until it had gotten to the point that they only spoke to each other once a month, if that. That was probably the worst part of it all, knowing that he was letting something good slip away from him, but being unable to do anything about it.
He never told Tegoshi that he was coming. He wanted it to be a surprise. And now that he’s here, sitting in the lobby of the building that he knows Tegoshi works in, waiting for the younger boy to make an appearance nervously…
He wonders if this was the right decision.
Two years is a long time… he has to wonder if Tegoshi has changed. If he’s moved on. He and Masuda had had something, something very special, but that was then, and now Tegoshi’s on track to becoming a famous star, something far, far above anything Masuda could ever even dream of becoming himself. What if, when they finally meet again, it’s not like it was before? What if Tegoshi has changed? What if he’s left Masuda behind? Despite the last two years, Masuda is still the same small town boy he always was, and he’s horribly out of place in this crowded, bustling metropolis. But Tegoshi is the type to change, to grow, expand to fit the role he’s been given. What if he’s outgrown Masuda in the process?
That scares him, honestly. He’s spent so much of his life with Tegoshi by his side that the idea that he’ll never be able to go back to that is frightening.
He doesn’t even know if Tegoshi is going to show up, honestly. He doesn’t know the younger boy’s work schedule, doesn’t know if Tegoshi is here today or not. But Masuda is patient, he has time. If Tegoshi’s not here today, he’ll come back tomorrow, and the next day as well if it’s necessary. He just wants to see him, to have the chance to know if they can really make this work. It’s all he’s been able to think about these last couple of years, and he’s not going to let the chance slip away.
He has to wait another hour before Tegoshi finally appears. And when Masuda catches sight of him, for the first time since he got into that cab and drove away from him, he’s nearly struck breathless.
He looks amazing.
Tegoshi has always been pretty, almost feminine in his looks. A little on the scrawny side, maybe, and his sense of fashion and hair styles was questionable at best, but none of that had ever been able to mask the natural beauty that he’d always had. Masuda had always thought he was cute.
Now, though… now he’s something else. Drop dead gorgeous comes to mind, among other adjectives, some of which he couldn’t vocalize in polite company.
He’s still tiny and slim, but he’s filled out in enough places that he doesn’t look like he’s just skin hanging off of bones anymore. His skin has darkened, no longer fair and sickeningly pale but a tanned shade that suits him well. His hair has been colored and styled professionally, teased in a way that frames his handsome face perfectly. He’s walking out of the elevator when Masuda gets his first look at him, another man on his right side, the two of them walking in sync, chatting like old friends. Tegoshi smiles, laughs in a way that Masuda’s not sure he’s ever heard before. It’s a beautiful sound, not haunted or bitter, but genuine and cheerful… happy.
He’s radiant, shining so hard it’s practically blinding.
And all of a sudden, Masuda doesn’t think he can do this.
Tegoshi has changed. He’s grown, become the person he was always meant to be. The person he could have been years ago, if he’d had a better, easier life. And he has that now, doesn’t he? A new, happy life… one that Masuda doesn’t think he’ll be welcomed in.
He doesn’t want to be a reminder of the rough past Tegoshi came from. He doesn’t want to make the younger boy relive those years of torture. And that’s all his presence will do, he’s sure of it. He’ll just bring up bad memories, and the last thing he wants to do is ruin Tegoshi’s chance at being happy. After all, that’s all Masuda has ever wanted for him.
He stands to leave, to sneak out the entrance door before Tegoshi catches sight of him. He’ll go back to Yamakita; go back to working as a cashier in the grocery store his father now owns and operates; back to living each day feeling like he’s got a Tegoshi-sized hole in his heart. He’ll move on eventually, and Tegoshi will forget all about him, if he hasn’t already.
He’s almost there, hand stretched out to push open the revolving doors, when a voice reaches his ears, soft and familiar, trembling hopefully, “…Massu?”
And he freezes, because he’s dreamed of hearing that voice again, not distorted by the static of a telephone but live and in person, and now that he has, he knows he can’t walk away from it. He urges his legs to keep going, but instead, he finds himself turning slowly, swallowing the lump in his throat as he comes to face the boy he’s been waiting two years to see again.
Tegoshi looks him up and down, pretty eyes wide in disbelief, lips parted. After a long, tense moment, one where Masuda’s voice fails him and he finds himself unable to speak, the younger takes a hesitant step forward.
“It’s… it’s you, right? You’re Massu?” He sounds like he doesn’t think it’s true; like Masuda is some kind of imposter, pulling a cruel joke on him.
All he can muster up is the will to nod, very slowly, His throat is suddenly dry, painfully so, but he still finds himself whispering softly, “Tesshi…”
And that’s enough. Tegoshi’s face splits into the widest smile Masuda has ever seen, his eyes lighting up, and before Masuda can even blink, the younger has taken two steps forward and is falling into his arms like he belongs there. And it feels right; more right than anything Masuda has ever felt before, the way his arms wrap around Tegoshi’s smaller frame, hands curling gently against his spine, nose buried into his hair. Tegoshi is warm and soft against him, shoulders a little broader than Masuda remembers, but perfect in the way his body fits against Masuda’s, chests touching, lips against his neck.
He doesn’t want to let go. So he doesn’t, just holds Tegoshi tight against him, feeling like he’s not sure if he wants to cry or laugh. Tegoshi beats him to it, sniffling and giggling all at once as he murmurs into Masuda’s ear, “I can’t believe you’re really here…”
Masuda laughs weakly, nods his agreement, because really, he can’t believe it either.
They cling to each other for a few moments, before Tegoshi’s companion, who’s been standing off to the side, watching them with a light frown, clears his throat, and they reluctantly separate. Masuda keeps one protective hand on Tegoshi’s waist, like he’s afraid if he lets go, Tegoshi will vanish. And maybe he kind of is.
Tegoshi’s friend raises an eyebrow; he’s a short man, older than Tegoshi, and Masuda too, maybe, with black hair and a stern face. “Something you want to tell me, Tegonyan?”
Masuda frowns at the pet name, but Tegoshi just laughs in delight and loops an arm through Masuda’s, hugging him tightly. “Ryo-tan!” He sounds so ridiculously happy that Masuda can’t help but smile at his enthusiasm; he can’t recall ever hearing that cute, somewhat bratty tone from the younger, but somehow, it suits him. “This is Massu! Remember, I told you about him?”
‘Ryo-tan’ turns to look at Masuda appraisingly, a look of mild distaste crossing his features as he takes in Masuda’s thrift store outfit, scuffed shoes and floppy hair. “…he’s… different from how you described him.”
Masuda wants to retort to that, but Tegoshi beats him to it, pouting and tightening his grip on Masuda’s arm. “Goodbye, Ryo-tan,” He says, somewhat haughtily, frowning. And then he adds, as if to soften it just a bit, “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow, okay?”
Ryo just rolls his eyes, apparently used to this behavior, and brushes past them with a sour look. Despite that, however, he waves casually as he disappears out the door.
As soon as he’s gone, Tegoshi turns back to Masuda with a cheerful look. “Don’t mind him. Ryo-tan’s just jealous because Massu’s special.” Masuda blushes somewhat awkwardly, and it only darkens when Tegoshi reaches up to straighten out his collar casually, beaming up at him. “He teases me all the time, because Massu’s all I ever talk about.”
Masuda doesn’t know what to say to that. Apart of him is practically bursting in joy at the idea that Tegoshi has carried his memory this far, has even bragged about him to his new, upscale friends, like he’s something to be proud of. It’s more than he ever hoped for, coming here.
They stare at each other, quiet, not needing words. Masuda’s eyes scan Tegoshi’s face, looking for differences, for the slight changes he knows will have accompanied two years of maturity, rememorizing the face he knows better than any other. Tegoshi’s hands are still on his chest, watching Masuda watch him, and when he moves to absentmindedly lick his lips, Masuda’s eyes follow the movement with avid fascination.
The kiss that follows is slow, hesitant, cautious, but there’s something undeniably passionate behind it, in the way Tegoshi parts his lips delicately, letting Masuda take the lead, their hands somehow becoming intertwined in the process. Masuda wants so much more –wants to pull Tegoshi close and crush their lips together, devour the younger boy until the two of them are fused together— but instead he eases away, smiling at the way Tegoshi pulls back, breathless, lips prettily swollen, cheeks flushed. It’s a good look for him, and the two of them giggle somewhat shyly in the aftermath, foreheads bumping affectionately.
Masuda still has Tegoshi’s hands in his own, the younger’s smaller, slender digits curling over his palm, and he absently moves to thumb gently over his knuckles, giving Tegoshi what’s probably a very silly grin. When his thumb brushes over something colder than Tegoshi’s skin, he glances down, curious.
He doesn’t expect what he sees: a ring, elegant and simple and so very familiar, snugly fit on the ring finger of the boy’s left hand, looking exactly like what it’s supposed to be: a wedding band.
Tegoshi catches him looking, blushes awkwardly, ducks his eyes out of Masuda’s sight. “It was the only finger it would fit on,” he explains, sounding nervous. “The chain broke. I’ve been meaning to get another one, but…” He trails off as Masuda gently presses a finger against his lips. When he finally looks up again, he realizes that Masuda is smiling at him, looking a little teary eyed.
“Don’t.” The older tells him, brushing his thumb over the ring slowly. Seeing the younger boy wear his ring –his mother’s ring— makes him undeniably happy; there’s no one else he’d rather have it, really. And it looks right, sitting on Tegoshi’s finger like that; it feels a little bit like the younger boy is letting himself be claimed, something that Masuda rather likes the idea of.
But there’s a question nagging him, one he has to have answered. He can’t really believe that he’s here, that Tegoshi is right here in his arms, that he actually has this chance. He’s terrified that the other shoe will drop any moment now, leaving him all alone all over again.
“Tesshi…” His throat is dry, and somehow, the name feels wrong on his lips. ‘Tesshi’ is his childhood friend; the abused, neglected little boy that he spent hours wrapping up in bandages and kissing the cuts and bruises of. It doesn’t seem right anymore, looking at the boy in front of him now. He tries again, “Yuya…” And yes, that feels better. “There’s… there’s no one else, right?” Tegoshi gives him a strange look, but Masuda can’t seem to get control of his tongue now that he’s started. “I mean, it’s been two years, and I never expected you to wait for me. I hoped you would, but…”
He stops abruptly when Tegoshi rolls his eyes and hushes him, sounding more amused than anything else as he says affectionately, “You’re an idiot.”
Masuda blinks, surprised, and Tegoshi looks up at him with soft eyes, smiling gently; takes his hand and brings it up slowly, presses a kiss to his palm, the same way he did so many years ago, when they were children and just as much in love as they are now.
“Stupid. Massu is the only one for me.”