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Miso Soup and You

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Despite his best efforts otherwise, Yamato woke up. Where the heavy blue blanket’s protection failed him, the day bore into his head. Pain met nausea, and he knew well the consequences of all the booze that his liver was still trying to process.

He cursed under his breath. He didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserved this — he couldn’t have had enough to deserve this. Pushing past the pain, he sought details of the night before. The memories came with only nominal resistance.

There was a tiny bar with six, maybe eight seats, all black, appropriate for drinking alone. Appropriate for his mood. He went straight to the sake, wordlessly pounding back cup after cup and brooding. After one flask wasn’t numbing him fast enough, he switched to whiskey. And from there, things went fuzzy at the edges.

Again, he swore. Yamato crawled out of bed and flopped onto the floor, leaving his blanket behind.

Yamato's studio apartment was small, well-lit, familiar. It was much like the one he’d grown up in, the one he shared with his father after the divorce. And like his father’s apartment, it cost little, a practical choice for a man whose ambitions were tamped down by limited means. Getting another new lineup for Knife of Day tight and stage-ready cut into time he had for more lucrative session gigs. The breakup wasn’t going to help things.

That was the reason for his drinking the night before, which would have surprised nobody in the bar had he said more than a dozen words the whole night. She was from America, a real young professional sort with a bright future. Her name was Amelia, and she was the latest in a series of short-lived relationships. She craved adventure of the sort she hoped to get from dating a musician. But she wasn’t ready for the long nights or the irregular income. Still, she said that wasn’t part of it when she finally dumped him, after six months together. It was just that, well, you know, he was so emotionally unavailable and distant and…

Well, it wasn’t like that wasn’t true. But a dozen or so near-death experiences in his pre-teens made him a little less relatable. So why bother opening up? At least his fans took all those lines about wolves and caves and wicked clowns for metaphors.

Yamato staggered across the floor and toward his refrigerator, attacking the contents of a jar of pickled ginger with his fingertips, the closest thing to prepared food he had. It was unfair to say the taste was miserable, but really, anything would have tasted repugnant. He followed it with a bottle of turmeric drink, then another bottle of something foul and grassy that band from Singapore had left behind when they crashed on his floor post-gig.

Everything felt bruised and wrong, but he hadn’t been right for a while now. The revolving door of fans turned girlfriends didn’t help — Amelia had lasted longer than Ume or Kana or even Rumiko. He kept in touch with the other chosen, sure, but life moved fast. Sora was picking grad schools. So was Jyou. Koushiro had a business to run. Even Takeru had exams to study for. And Taichi… well, Yamato hadn’t spoken with him in a few months now. He had his reasons — good ones, he told himself, whenever he considered reaching out.

Something buzzed, drawing Yamato’s attention. His phone sat on the kitchen counter, unmoved from the night before. Though he’d said maybe a dozen words the whole time, he hadn’t just been stewing. He’d been texting.

Oh fuck. He’d been texting.

Yamato stumbled over to the phone, picked it up. The new text was from — oh, of course. Taichi. Yamato’s heart skipped a beat. He remembered vague themes of their conversation, but no specifics. Disappointment rose with bile. But what was done was done. He flipped his phone open.

One unread message, from Taichi: “Are you still coming over this morning?”

He scrolled up in a panic, up to the start of the conversation, looking for context. It went like this: he’d started with a simple hey, to which Taichi had responded with a quick, enthusiastic greeting, your standard “haven’t heard from you in a while, what’s up?” Yamato’s response was direct: dumped and drinking. Taichi gave his condolences, asked for details, earning a boilerplate "different lifestyles” kind of thing. Nothing specific.

Taichi offered to join Yamato, buy a round.

Yamato’s response: “I don’t think I could handle that right now.”

His heart leaped into his throat. That was… a little too honest. But Taichi took it in stride, chalking it up to Yamato’s loner tendencies, and Yamato had sense enough to agree, saying he just needed to think it out a little. Rather than point out the obvious hole in Yamato’s thinking — why he’d texted if he needed to brood alone — Taichi leaned into the drinking, preemptively sympathizing with Yamato’s hangover, offering breakfast to help.

Yamato had agreed, timestamp putting the text around the time of highball number two, which made sense. Taichi instructed Yamato to text when he woke up, and that was it.

Reading through the exchange again, Yamato sighed in relief. The conversation had been surprisingly safe. No emotional outpouring, no confessions, nothing incriminating. He debated setting his phone aside and leaving it at that. Yamato could ghost on these plans, pretend he’d slept until midday, when Taichi might be too busy to act. It wasn’t a clean getaway, but it was a getaway. Sort of.

Eyes pinched shut, as if they could keep the day away a little longer, he punched in a text and hit send.

“When am I supposed to be there?”

He set the phone down on the counter and went for a water cup. The water filled it halfway when his phone buzzed. Another text from Taichi: “Soon as you’re ready.”

Fuck.


Yamato was not ready for this. He stood, uneven, just outside of a residential complex in Hikarigaoka. Taichi didn’t seem like the sentimental sort, but he had his moments. When an apartment opened up in the building where his and Yamato’s and many other lives had changed forever, he didn’t hesitate.

It didn’t bother Yamato, coming back to the area. On the contrary, it was nice to have the excuse. He found the familiar overpass and views relaxing in difficult times. But it had been a while since he’d been here — months, in fact, and six, to be precise. That was the last time he’d so much as seen Taichi.

Yamato stared upward, to the window of Taichi’s sixth-floor apartment. Would he want to talk about why they hadn’t spoken in so long? At this point, hung over and humbled, Yamato wasn’t sure he could answer that question. It’s not like he hadn’t felt the urge now and again. But getting the new lineup for the band off the ground was important. And, well, there was also that burning that flared up in his stomach when he spent too much time with the prospect of seeing Taichi, the one he was too chickenshit to really put a name to.

The ping and the opening of elevator doors caught him unaware, snapped him back to reality. Yamato’s finger depressed the button for the sixth floor. He could always turn and walk away, he thought, and it was true. Working with musicians, though, he’d developed a strong aversion to breaking a d… meeting without reason. And he didn’t want to be sulking around his apartment alone.

With a shudder, the elevator reached its destination and spat Yamato out into the cruel sun. He felt wretched in every way. But his feet carried him up the corridor nonetheless.

It was fine, he told himself. It was all fine. But that burning in his stomach flared up again in disagreement. Anyone else might have called it nerves. He ascribed it to his hangover and the grassy drink. Nerves was the little jitter in his fingers before he played the first note of a show. And as he stood before the doorbell outside his friend’s apartment, he froze. This was no “little jitter.” He stared at the button beside Taichi’s door like it was a coal glowing orange. Heat practically emanated off of it; he wanted to turn away, equated pressing it to searing pain he knew would come.

And all the same, he wanted to. He wanted the pain. And, what’s more, he longed for fluttering pleasure that would fill him alongside it. What had Amelia called it? Butterflies in one’s stomach? The phrase fit. It was intense, light and unsteady in a way he wasn’t sure he was comfortable with, a vulnerable sort of sensation. And its pleasure was yet more unbearable than the pain.

Too much thinking. He was six floors up; it was too late to turn back. He girded his loins, reached out, and rang the doorbell.

As soon as it buzzed, Yamato’s hand shot back to his side, and he stood at attention. All signals read run, that this was a mistake, that he needed to be anywhere but here as fast as possible. He clenched his fists and fought his instincts back. The lock clicked, and the door opened. And there stood Taichi, warm as summer and welcoming as home, weekend-ready in a white shirt and skinny jeans.

“Hey, it’s good to see you!” he said, stepping aside to invite Yamato in. But Yamato, for his part, said nothing. He stood there, blanched, sweating. All his focus was on choking back that urge to flee, heart pounding as he stared at his friend. His throat dried out, and though he opened his mouth to say something, all he could feel was the rasping hiss of air.

“Yamato? Are you okay?” Taichi asked, eyebrow cocked.

“Uhh…” Yamato began. This was no time for silence. His inner voice screamed at him to say or do something, anything, anything at all, that Taichi must think he’s gone crazy, that everything is falling, that the sky has opened wide and swabbed him clean of all the grit that pulled him through the years, leaving him raw and helpless as a newborn, that he was tougher than this when he was ten, what are you doing, do something, do anything, move, Move, MOVE!

“Can I use your bathroom?” Yamato asked.

Taichi blinked.

“Uh, yeah, go for it,” he said, pointing. “Second door on the left, right past the bedroom.”

Yamato bowed, then rushed past Taichi and into the restroom, locking the door firmly behind him. Taichi turned and stared into his apartment, still reeling. But he shook his head and closed the front door, setting the deadbolt behind him.

“Geez, he really must have been putting it away last night.”


Heart pounding, Yamato ran the water hotter than he could stand, hot as it could go. Soon, the steam began to fog up the mirror — according to plan. If his face was hidden, he wouldn’t have to face his own questions. No face, no problem. It was, he was painfully aware, pathetic, but it fit.

“Well, I moved,” he muttered.

He stared into the mirror as steam obscured his face. There were feelings there, in that expression he could no longer see, that he’d spent so much time and energy burying, pretending they were strangers. But whenever he saw Taichi, they popped right back up, all too familiar.

It was childish, really. He didn’t have many people he was as close to as Taichi. So it made sense that his brain pulled a crush out of trust. And there was vulnerability, too, an intimacy he hadn’t felt with anyone else.

But if these feelings were truly romantic, he rationalized, they’d come up in tender moments, not when Taichi decided to tease him. That’s when phrases like “If I kissed him right now, he’d shut up” intruded. It flustered Yamato that much more. So Taichi would double down. It was easier to avoid the whole scene than de-escalate.

Yamato wiped the steam from the mirror. The hangover made it harder to focus.. But he had to try. He stared at himself.

“You can do this, Ishida,” he said. “Focus on the back row, and everything else gets taken care of.”

He turned off the faucet and splashed his hands in the scalding-hot water . The heat was painful, but it gave him something to focus on. Hand on the door, he took one last deep breath and stepped into the apartment.

A delicious briney smell met his nose, and he followed it to the kitchen. His stomach protested, but his mouth watered. Taichi stood over a pot of simmering stock, running miso paste through a strainer. Yamato peered into the pot. A dozen clams yawned under the surface.

“Clam soup?” he asked. “Didn’t know you knew how to cook clams.” He leaned against the far counter.

“You were hitting it pretty hard last night, right?” he asked. “They’re good for your liver, or that’s what my mom says.”

Taichi tasted the broth, nodding in satisfaction. He turned to Yamato, gesturing.

“Soup’s ready, could you get the spoons? Drawer by your left hand,” Taichi said.

A thought intruded: instead of grabbing spoons, grab Taichi, sit him on the counter, kiss. Yamato recoiled, flushed. One socked foot lost traction, and he slipped, catching himself with the heels of his hands.

Taichi reached out to steady him, hand on arm.

“Whoa, you okay?” Taichi asked. Yamato couldn’t move, couldn’t say anything. Taichi’s touch, his proximity… Yamato was overloaded. Something instinctive and scared roared “DON’T TOUCH ME!” But god, that touch was all he wanted.

Yamato took a breath.

“I’m fine,” he said, lifting himself upright and crossing his arms, a little more conscious of where his feet were. “Just a little…” The word escaped him; the hand was still on his arm.

“Let’s sit down,” he managed. “I’ll get the spoons.”

Taichi, at long last, removed his hand, a little confused.

“Uh, sure,” he said. He hesitated before returning to the soup. Spoons in hand, Yamato retreated to the living room.

This was bad. He sat down, dropping the spoons on the table, right fingers plucking the air like bass strings. He wasn’t in control. That needed to change. Fast. He focused on long, deep breaths, muttering “eat breakfast, go home” like a mantra.

Taichi soon entered with two bowls of soup. He sat next to Yamato — comfortably distant — passed him a bowl, and said “Let’s eat.” Yamato stared into his broth, breathing in the salt aroma and avoiding his crush’s gaze. He lifted a clam to his lips and sucked it clean. It was good, broth and all. It wasn't grandma’s, but it was close — very close.

“You like it?” Taichi asked, between spoonfuls.

Yamato nodded. It was better than most of Taichi’s cooking by half.

“These are really clean,” Yamato said. “Thought you didn’t eat a lot of seafood.”

“I watched a few videos online.” Taichi shrugged. “It wasn’t too hard.”

“Wait, did you learn to make this last night?” he asked.

“Nah, this morning,” Taichi said, crossing his arms behind his head. “Maybe I can be taught, huh?”

Yamato blinked his surprise away. He gripped his spoon a little tighter between his fingers. Now that he thought about it, Taichi’s bright eyes were heavy-lidded, his movements a little clumsy. And he was not a fast learner in the kitchen.

“How long have you been up?”

“Couple hours” said Taichi, idly locking his fingers together and slouching. “Can't make good soup without fresh clams, right?”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Yamato said, turning away.

“Eh, you’re dumped and hungover,” Taichi said. “I figured you could use it.”

Right. The whole reason he was here.

"I see you haven’t figured out tact yet,” Yamato muttered.

“First I see you in months and you’re cranky, huh?” Taichi smirked. "Typical."

“Glad you haven’t changed much either,” Yamato said, flatly. No, fuck, no, he’d taken the bait.

“Aww, did you miss me?” Taichi moved closer to Yamato, whose fingers plucked a funk line. He had to de-escalate somehow...

“Didn’t miss your banter.” Yes, like that, but exactly the opposite.

“I’m hurt,” Taichi said, “but at least you like my cooking better than my jokes, huh?”

“That’s true,” Yamato allowed. Perfect — a little sincerity and he could correct course. “This soup is really nice, thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Taichi said. “Tsukiji Market really does have the best clams, huh?”

Yamato started, turned to stare at Taichi.

“You can’t be serious. That’s an hour away from here!”

“Something like that, yeah,” Taichi said, scratching the side of his head. “Glad I brought a cooler, huh?”

“You’re completely ridiculous, you know that?”

“You know you like it,” Taichi said.

“Shut up,” Yamato said, glaring at Taichi. He barely registered grabbing his friend’s shirt in one fist. But Taichi didn’t flinch. His smile grew broader.

“Make me.”

Fuck.

Yamato jerked Taichi by the shirt into a tight-lipped kiss. He pinched his eyes shut, and the kiss became the whole of his being. Taichi’s lips, he thought, really were as soft as they looked. Would wonders never cease?

After an endless, beautiful moment, he released his grip on Taichi’s shirt and leaned back. He half-gasped — he hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. Taichi looked flushed, a little bewildered. Yamato sat down, crossing his hands in his lap, and stared straight ahead at the wall.

Silence reigned.

“Boy, if that’s how you usually kiss, no wonder you can’t keep a girlfriend,” Taichi said, a little breathless.

Yamato choked back some sound that his larynx wasn’t quite capable of making.

“That’s your response?!” Yamato finally managed.

“Well yeah,” Taichi said, still audibly a little flustered. “Here, let me show you how it’s done.”

Double fuck.

Ice shot up Yamato’s spine as Taichi lifted a hand to his cheek, tilted his head just a little, and captured Yamato’s lips with his own. It was soft, gentle. Yamato responded in kind, blood rushing to his head.

They stayed there for a long moment, lips locked, basking in each other’s closeness. It was the first day of summer, the removal of a cast, a small and beautiful miracle of a thing.

Taichi pulled away, flushed, smiling that earnest little smile. Yamato half-gasped for breath. A blush crawled across his own cheeks. He had no words — he reached an arm over to caress Taichi’s shoulder. Taichi clasped Yamato’s hand in his own, staring into his eyes as far as anyone ever had.

“So… what now?”

Taichi chuckled, then took a deep breath.

“I don’t know,” he said. “What do you want to happen now?”

Yamato flushed, looking away. His hand, though, didn’t move.

“I’m, uh…”

Taichi laughed, just a little.

“I mean, we should talk about what happens now,” he said.

Yamato nodded. Yes, a very good idea, talking. What a marvelous thing it was. Taichi brought their hands between them, lacing his fingers with Yamato’s. He took a deep breath and looked at Taichi, eye to eye.

“I want you to be part of my life,” Yamato said. “I’ve had feelings for you for a long time, and I’ve been avoiding you because I couldn’t deal with that. I like you. A lot.”

Everything grew distant, misty. His breath wavered as tears grew in his eyes.

“Yamato…” Taichi said. He pulled his friend into an embrace.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Yamato cried.

“I missed you too,” Taichi returned. He clutched Yamato tightly. “I… I like you too. That is, I… guess I feel the same way.”

“So are we…” Yamato said, disengaging, eyes puffy. “Do you want to, I guess, try being whatever this is?”

Taichi smiled, broad and earnest.

“I had a dumb joke about being your rebound but…” He took a breath. “Yeah, I want this too much, Yamato.” He nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. I want to try out… whatever this is, yes. Yes!”

 Yamato clutched him tightly in an embrace, all relief, all love.