Looking up from his bike, Yosuke saw Souji approaching him, hands in his pocket, school satchel under one arm, as always.
“You ready to head home?”
The brunette grinned, tossing the lock into his bike basket as he stood up. “You betcha, partner!”
Wheeling his bike down the path, Yosuke walked next to Souji - it was cheesy, but this was always the place he felt most comfortable. “So, what’s the plan for this evening? Want to hit up Aiya’s? Or do you have to get back and cook for Nanako-chan?”
Souji was just about to answer when a loud, annoying, buzzing sound woke Yosuke from his dream. Sitting up, the brunette blinked blearily at his alarm clock.
5am. Ugh. Time to get up. I hate working on Saturdays... He toyed with the idea of working from home today - especially after a dream like that - but he couldn’t, not with the new contractors coming in today. They’d be working on a project for the next few months, and it was important to make a good impression, since Yosuke was one of the team leads. Besides, he had no idea when his mother’s health would take another turn for the worse; his company understood, but only because Yosuke kept his work so far beyond where it needed to be at any one time that they could spare him for a day or two as he went back to Inaba in a panic.
And, to be fair, he had dreams like that a lot. He didn’t talk to anybody about them - why would he? It was a remnant of time past, back before Yosuke had made a mess of the best friendship he’d ever had - would ever have. It wasn't something he wanted to dwell on any more than he already did.
As he got ready for work, he thought back on that summer, the one that had separated them. Souji had moved, as expected, and the days after his move were lonely - and brought with them a lot of thoughts and feelings for Souji that the brunette didn’t know how to handle. The two still talked, of course, but Yosuke knew that he wasn’t being as attentive as he should have been. Too many times he’d let a text go overnight, or responded less enthusiastically than he should have, especially given just how much he missed his partner.
In retrospect, even if he hadn’t meant for it to happen, the separation was his fault, not Souji’s. One day, Yosuke (in true Hanamura style), had been hurrying to work one afternoon when he tripped and dropped his phone. Usually it wouldn’t have been so bad, but it had been raining all day, and his phone fell straight into a puddle. He’d fished it out, but it was too late; he’d been forced to wait through work, and once he got home he’d tried to dry it out in a container of rice, but the damage was done. He’d have to wait until his next Junes paycheck rolled in.
It hurt. Gone were all of the photos he’d taken over the year that Souji had been with him, all of his photos of the two of them together, a year’s worth of chat and texts and conversations. On the flip side, however, it also gave him a little breathing room to figure out how he felt about Souji. And given that his next paycheck was a week later, he didn’t see the need to go to Chie, or Naoto, or one of their friends to ask them to let Souji know. Besides, he hadn’t wanted Chie to make fun of his bad luck like she was so fond of doing.
Maybe it was a bit assholeish, but he figured his friend would understand.
By the time he got his paycheck, he was more than ready to talk to Souji again - in fact, even if he hadn’t quite gotten to the point where he was willing to admit that he had feelings for Souji (or what those feelings were) he wanted to talk about them. His first stop was the phone section in Junes; they weren’t able to save the files on his phone, but they could import his contact list, which was a blessing.
Turning on his new phone, he got ready to send Souji an apology text-
-only to find sixteen new texts waiting for him from his friend.
They started normal.
Hey partner, what’s up?
Long day at school, this place is such a drag.
After a few, they started to take on a worried tone.
Everything ok? I haven’t heard from you in a bit.
Work okay? They’re not pushing you too hard, are they?
Then, about eight texts in… they started to tear at Yosuke’s heartstrings.
I- I don’t know if I should ask but did I do something to upset you?
Yosuke, I’m worried about you. I don’t see anything about accidents on the Inaba news. Are you okay?
Did you get sick?
Please, partner… just let me know you’re okay.
Yosuke was having trouble seeing through the tears at this; the messages finally ended with a block of text that spanned the length of three chat bubbles.
Yosuke I… I don’t know what to say. I reached out to Chie, and she says you’re fine. I can only assume that I did something to upset you, and whatever it was… I’m sorry. I- I wish you’d tell me what it was. We’re partners, right? Don’t I deserve a chance to apologise? I just… I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m lonely, I miss Inaba, I wish I’d never had to leave. I miss everybody… but more than anybody, I miss you. I never wanted to leave you, Yosuke. And now… now, somehow, I made you mad or pushed you away… I’m so scared. You’re my best friend, and now… I can’t even talk to you. I can’t even say goodbye. My parents are leaving again and I have to go with them. I might be gone for years. Please… just let me know what's up, Yosuke. Let me make amends. Let me say goodbye.
It had been sent days ago.
Panicked, Yosuke frantically typed out a text - full of a thousand typos and he didn't care - explaining everything and begging his friend to call him. Praying that Souji would read it he hit send… only to have it returned as “unable to reach sender.”
Feeling sick, he sent messages to his other friends. Chie was the first to respond, confirming that Souji had just messaged her a couple of days before - telling her only that the brunette had ‘seemed stressed’ and he was worried, not that they hadn’t been talking - and she then scolded the brunette for hiding his troubles from Souji, as if that didn’t make things worse. She (and everyone else) told him that they’d gotten a good-bye text from Souji the day before, saying that he’d see them again when he could.
Yosuke was devastated.
After a week of bad sleep (and sleepless nights), Yosuke ran into Dojima at Junes. Seeing Nanako was something of a blessing - the little girl could bring sunshine out even for the rainiest heart - but Dojima was oblivious to Yosuke’s suffering and his news could not be worse. Souji’s family had moved to the middle east the day before Yosuke had texted him back, and this time he’d gone with them as they were going to be gone for an extended amount of time; he would probably be going to university overseas, especially as they’d be much closer to Europe.
Hesitantly, the brunette asked if there was any way he could contact Souji; Dojima gave him an odd look, as if surprised he’d ask, and answered in the negative. With Souji’s father being a diplomat it was hard to reach them when they were in foreign locations. He reassured Yosuke that he’d let him know if he heard anything, but Yosuke knew that it was just a form of politeness.
Unless a miracle happened, he was never going to talk to Souji again.
Although he was a wreck that summer, he managed to pull himself together for school, and although he no longer cared what university he went to, he found one that would take him, and studied business - why not, since Junes had pretty much paved the way for him? With Souji gone, he no longer had any urges to step out of his comfort zone.
Souji never contacted anyone in the IT after that, and although most of them stayed in touch, it wasn’t more than birthday cards and New Years’ wishes. Yosuke got a job in an office; marketing was a safe bet, especially given his personality, and he did well. Still, there was always a small echo in the back of his mind that reminded him of Souji. He knew it was stupid to let a teenage friendship haunt him so- but no. He and Souji had been more than friends, they’d gone through too much together.
And to be fair, he’d never been able to get over Souji, either. He’d dated a few times in uni, had even tried seriously to make his last girlfriend work, before graduation, but… he couldn’t keep it going, and he knew that he was being unfair to her. And now, four years later, he was still single - “married to his job,” his parents said.
Not like he needed to tell them anything different. It made his mother sad - especially now, although she’d stopped mentioning “seeing grandchildren before the inevitable happened.” Yosuke didn’t know what to say to her, but he couldn’t give her what she wanted. So he did his best to make it up to her otherwise.
He was still dragging when he finally got into the office, but an espresso later and he was ready to meet the new contractors. He was sitting at his desk, keeping an eye on the project chat room when the door opened; their guests were right on time, as he liked to see, and he stood up and walked over to the entryway to greet them. He knew he cut a decent figure - he kept his suits smart and tailored, and his smile sunny even when he didn’t feel it - and he was ready to kick this project off with a bang.
There were three new team members, all on staff only for the duration of the project, since the office didn’t normally have a full PR team, so they’d bring in specialists whenever they were working on something that needed extra insight. The third one through the door caught Yosuke’s eye - of course he did, being tall, with silver hair - but it wasn’t until the man had shut the door and turned to greet them that Yosuke found himself stunned into silence.
It was actually Souji.
There wasn’t even a doubt, and even if there had been the momentary look of shock (which Yosuke knew matched his own) that flashed across Souji’s face at the sight of Yosuke would have clinched it. Yosuke managed to recover in another moment, and was glad to find that he hadn’t dropped his pen or knocked anything over - and he slapped his finest smile on as he greeted each of the new members, introducing them to the rest of the team.
He’d hoped for some sort of recognition from Souji, but what he got made him feel hollow. It wasn’t as if they could feign ignorance of one another, not given their reactions, but Souji’s greeting was as cold and impersonal as if they’d been acquaintances in college.
“Yosuke Hanamura, fancy meeting you here! How have you been?”
The brunette, at least, had learned in his years since college; he might have wanted to take Souji by the arm and immediately apologise, but he knew it wasn’t the time or the place. “I’m great, how are you, Souji? Souji Seta, this is the team. Team, this is Souji.”
Introductions made, Yosuke showed the members to their desks, and they spent the rest of the morning with a few other teammates getting setup with their emails, project details, and things of that nature. Yosuke had his own work to do, but he couldn’t stop his mind from whirling, and more than once he glanced over to look at Souji.
He looked good. He’d grown as tall as Yosuke would have expected, and the bowl cut was gone - his haircut was similar, but more dynamic, suited to a PR person. His suit was tailored and looked amazing on him, highlighting his tan; it made Yosuke remember the middle east and it hurt. His smile was charming, but one of the first thing that Yosuke realised was that it never met Souji’s eyes, which remained completely shuttered.
The sight smote Yosuke’s heart. Even as he reasoned with himself - he had no idea what had happened in the last nine years, after all - that small voice in the back of his mind whispered:
no, you were partners, and you betrayed him
Even if he knew it hadn’t been intentional, the fault still rested with him, and it weighed heavily on his heart, especially given how gentle and caring Souji had been before. It was such a change that Yosuke wondered if he had been overthinking his own role in it, and maybe something else had happened?
He kept the internal debate up for the rest of the day, although outwardly he didn’t let it show; they had too much work to do, and he couldn’t help wanting to be on top of his game, especially given how uncertain he felt, working in such proximity to Souji (and as his team lead, too.) Still, once the day was wrapping up, the brunette steeled his courage and approached Souji.
“Hey, Souji. If you’ve got some time, I’d really like to talk, do you think we could get drinks or something?”
He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but he wasn’t expecting Souji to turn to him with a blinding smile. For a moment, he had hope - but it was short-lived as his former partner opened his mouth.
“That sounds like a great idea! Let’s all go out and celebrate the start of a great partnership. Hey, everybody! Let’s go get drinks!”
That- that wasn’t what I meant-
It wasn’t what Yosuke meant, but he also knew he was in no position to argue, especially since everyone was agreeing, and it ultimately was a better option as a group, as they needed some teambuilding to make sure that they were all working together as smoothly as possible. He wasn’t stupid, though; he knew how to read Souji well enough - even as closed-off as he was - to know that this wasn’t Souji trying to make up for a bad idea. This was Souji blowing Yosuke off.
It was hard, so hard to go that night. It was actually a very productive night out - it seemed that most people on the team were going to get along well, and Yosuke couldn’t see any personalities that seemed too likely to clash - other than his own and Souji’s, apparently. Although it seemed more that Souji was going to do whatever it took not to have a confrontation.
Yosuke didn’t blame him, but that didn’t make things any easier.
That night, Yosuke laid in bed for a long time, thinking back to highschool, to Inaba, to Souji and the TV world. The idea that all of that could just be… gone, was killing him. He’d made mistakes, sure - but was he never going to be allowed to make up for them? All he could do was vow to try harder. Surely some time would come that he could get Souji alone - even if he had to blurt everything out just to force his old friend to listen (although he’d really rather not, that was a very embarrassing thought.) Still, he’d do embarrassing, if it got him his friend back.
Souji, it seemed, had other thoughts. No matter how hard Yosuke tried, he couldn’t get the guy alone - and he definitely tried. The few times Yosuke did manage to start a conversation with him, he immediately included other coworkers in it, or turned it into a group discussion. The only “good” thing - and it wasn’t good, but it was at least a saving grace - was that as much as Yosuke was afraid there would be visibly lingering bad feelings, there weren’t. Souji was always upbeat, complementary, and positive - all so generic that there was nothing real about any of it. He was the consummate PR person, a perfect “ideas” man.
Of course, this meant that the real Souji - and no, Yosuke wasn’t going to accept the adage that “people change”, not that much - was completely gone, or at least hidden. And that was sadder than anything they’d gone through back in Inaba. Why did Souji, of all people, deserve to end up this way?
Anyone else would have called Yosuke crazy. Souji was always smiling, always chatting with people - but Yosuke had seen kind, gentle, friendly Souji, and this was a shadow (except that shadows were much closer to their hosts). At least for what it was worth - and it wasn’t worth much - he was grateful to see that he was just as closed off with everyone else. He didn’t want Souji to be like this at all, but… it would have been the final nail in the coffin if he’d only been closed-off to Yosuke.
It was killing Yosuke. When they’d first started working together, the brunette had hoped that, if he couldn’t get Souji to listen to him, such a change in personality would finally kill off the love that had lingered in Yosuke’s heart even if it had been sleeping for nearly a decade. But it wasn’t working. He kept remembering his partner, the guy he’d fought so hard to be equals with, and he couldn’t stop himself from hoping against hope that he’d find some way to get through to him.
It didn’t stop him from getting angry, though. Yes, he’d made a mistake. Yes, he was at fault. But for Souji to not even be willing to give him ten minutes to explain… it was frustrating.
He was almost glad that they were out of range of the TV; he could only imagine what Izanagi and Jiraiya were thinking about this whole mess.
Souji was tired. Never in a thousand years would he have imagined that his new contract work would have had him working alongside - under, in fact! - Yosuke Hanamura. If he hadn’t been so hell-bent on not staining his professional record (and, to be honest, not letting Yosuke think that his presence mattered to Souji) he would have asked to be put on another job.
But Souji was stubborn, and he wasn’t going to let Yosuke hurt him any more than the brunette already had. He’d never gotten an answer as to what he’d done to his former friend in the first place to make him drop Souji so suddenly, and by this point he didn’t care - and even if he had cared, it wouldn’t matter. Things were too long broken to be fixed.
Besides, it had made Souji who he was today. Even if he’d originally locked himself away because he couldn’t let himself rely on someone else again, that was what had gotten him to the position he was in now. Moving through the ranks was easy when you were only focused on yourself, and not having anyone else to worry about meant he was able to make the most beneficial decision in any situation he might find himself. He wasn’t a bad person - he hadn’t lost that part of himself. Being abandoned by Yosuke hadn’t changed his core. But it did mean that he only had himself to consider whenever he had to make choices.
Since coming to work with Yosuke, however, he’d found those days in Inaba coming back to him more and more frequently. Even though he’d managed to block it out for a couple of days, eventually he started to remember just how much he’d cared for Yosuke - loved Yosuke, even if he’d known he would never have had a chance with the brunette.
(Even if he still harboured feelings for Yosuke, he would never have allowed himself to acknowledge it.)
But that just made it worse, because he also remembered the pain, the loneliness, the heartache. The confusion of watching, day after day, for a response that never came. The agony of pouring his heart out in a message that had taken him all of his courage to write - only to receive silence in return.
And now, to see Yosuke again - still dapper, still bright, still cheerful… it was clear that nothing had changed for the brunette. Sure, he seemed to want to talk to Souji, just the two of them, but what good would that do? Souji would get some half-assed excuse about “I forgot” or “I didn’t have time,” and all that would have done was dig the thorn deeper.
He didn’t need it.
Instead, he vowed to work as fast as he could on this project, make it the best that he could. The sooner it succeeded, the sooner he could leave, go back to his office, go onto another job and back to “forgetting” Yosuke. Back to having the past stay locked away where it didn’t hurt anymore.
It couldn’t come soon enough.