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Home For Me Is Where You Are

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Haruta's sobs finally even out.

It happens long after Maki’s own breathing returns to something that resembles normal. The fine shaking that wracked Haruta’s body stops too. As the all consuming need to hold and be held ebbs, Maki slowly untangles himself from Haruta.

They are still on the bridge and traffic flies by them. What they must look like to passer-bys, two grown men clinging so desperately to one another, is a distant thought to Maki. He’s more focused on how much effort it takes to let Haruta go.

He releases his white-knuckle grip on the suit jacket where he anchored himself to Haruta. As he pulls away, Maki gives Haruta’s cheek a light kiss. It's a simple press of his lips to Haruta's skin, but it's so much more than that now. It means so much more when Haruta turns his face into it.

Haruta’s declaration still rings in Maki’s ears and buries itself knife-like in his chest. It almost doesn’t feel real, like it happened to someone else, but it is real, he tells himself. When Haruta wipes away the tears from Maki’s cheek with his thumbs, it’s real. When their fingers loosely entwine, it’s real. Maki won’t allow the self-sabotaging part of himself trivialize this moment.

“What now?” Haruta asks. His voice is hoarse and shakes thinly when he speaks.

Maki looks at up at him. He is sweaty and the tear tracks are still fresh on his face. More than that, there’s exhaustion in the shadows of his eyes, the slump of his shoulders. Haruta is fraying at the edges. Maki aches at the sight of it.

“Do you want go home?” His own voice is nothing short of a croak. The sounds of it makes them both smile, but Haruta’s is quick to tilt off his lips into a frown. The soft grasp he has on Maki’s hand tightens briefly in a nervous reflex.

He swallows a few times before he speaks. Maki watches the rise and fall of his Adam’s apple as he struggles to get the words out.

“That...” He cuts himself off and looks at a point somewhere over Maki’s shoulder. “If you want to?” Then his eyes slide back to Maki’s face, to the suitcase off to the side, and then back up to Maki’s face. “Where were you going anyway?”

Maki’s brows draw together. He wants to ask Haruta what he was about to say but shelves the question as it bubbles up in his throat. Instead, he answers plainly with, “Kyoto.”

He booked the trip the same day he received the wedding invitation. The envelopes were personally handed out by the Chief in the office last month. Maki had accepted his with polite apathy. He also refused to look towards Haruta’s desk. He didn't want see what kind of expression he wore.

Instead, Maki had taken the envelope with an emotionless smile. It was worth it to watch some of the smug satisfaction on Chief Kurosawa's face turn sour.

When Maki got home that evening he showered and made a light dinner. It took him three hours and several cans of beer later before he took the invitation out of his bag.

Hideous, was his first thought when he looked at the white envelope. It’s red embossed hearts were clearly the Chief’s handiwork. When Maki opened the invitation itself, Haruta's head, pasted on the center of a heart, popped out.

It was the only sign that he was even involved in this mess.

Maki crumpled it in his hand until his knuckles turned white and then binned the invitation. He filled out the return postcard stating he wasn’t going to attend. He even left a note of congratulations at the end. Afterwards, when he was beyond drunk, Maki called a few friends from university.

He had cried his heart out over the phone and they gave him mates-rates for a room in the ryokan they co-owned in Kyoto. Before he passed out that night, alone in his bed, Maki had two thoughts. First, that it was nice to have friends, and second, he didn’t want Haruta to get married.

Even thinking back on it now, he's embarrassed at himself.

“I don’t think I’m dressed for a flight to Kyoto,” Haruta says. He holds up his broken shoe and laughs.

Maki shakes his head. How he manages to muster even a little humor despite the obvious tiredness rolling off him is a mystery for the ages.

“Your shoe isn’t the only problem,” Maki quips. He looks at the suit Haruta is wearing and winces. Something about it makes him uneasy. Maki keeps his tone teasing and even manages his own smile when he jokingly says, “your suit is a disaster.”

Haruta laughs harder. “It might be hard to believe, but I didn’t pick this out!”

Maki feels his smile falter.

Truth be told, the suit is nice. Its colors are complementary and it fits Haruta handsomely. Hearing Haruta confirm his suspicions though, turns the tuxedo into something unpleasant. Something else tainted by the Chief.

When Haruta finally stops laughing and wipes the happy tears from his eyes, Maki looks at him. Now that the humor is leaving his face, his exhaustion is ever present.

“Let’s go home.” Maki suggests.

Haruta nods and takes the handle of Maki’s suitcase from out of his hand. He begins walking in the direction of the train station. Maki lets himself lag behind, just for a moment. He’s still reeling somewhat from everything that’s happened in the last few hours.

When Maki woke up this morning he’d done so with the expectation that he’d lose Haruta forever. That when he came back from his vacation, Haruta would be married. As he packed, Maki put his clothes and personal items in a suitcase, organized and easy. Packing away his feelings for Haruta wasn’t so simple, but he did his best. The year they spent apart still allowed for room to hope. It still left space for what-ifs, and dumb daydream scenarios of getting back together.

The wedding announcement put an end to all of his naive thoughts though. Maki quietly laid his feelings to rest in the gray morning light in his tiny by-the-week apartment. He buried them as deep inside of himself as he could. He had to, or else he couldn’t be certain he could face a married Haruta and pretend everything was okay.

But leave it to Haruta to change everything.

Now, Maki is standing somewhere in Odaiba watching Haruta's retreating back. His sweater is still damp from Haruta’s tears. His ears still ringing with Haruta’s words. All those feelings Maki worked hard to put away come rushing back. Having Haruta stand before him, screaming that he loved him was all it took. The graveyard Maki tried to make of his heart is slowly becoming a garden again.

He gets to have this for as long as Haruta will have him. Forever still echoes in his ears and Maki lets himself smile.

“Haruta-san!” Maki calls out as he jogs to catch up. “Please, put your shoe back on!”

They manage to catch the train back towards the city with only one minor incident. Haruta gets himself stuck at the ticket gate but, after a few attempts, he makes it through just fine. By the time they make it to their last transfer, Maki can see the toll the day has taken on Haruta.

His eyes are a little bloodshot and his complexion has paled more. The excitement from earlier is no match for the exhaustion and stress of the day. Maki wants to ask about the wedding. His curiosity paces in the cage of his mind. He doesn't, though. When they find a seat in one of the less crowded cars, Haruta’s head drops to Maki’s shoulder and he’s out.

Maki lets him sleep for the twenty minutes it takes the train to reach Shibuya station. They still have a bit of a bus ahead of them as well. Maki keeps his questions at bay and enjoys this little moment of closeness. He looks at the window opposite them and watches Haruta sleep for a while.

Eventually, Maki digs his phone out of his pocket and opens his chat app. He lets his friends know that he won't be coming and apologizes for the inconvenience. As he locks his phone, he knows he’ll be explaining some things over beers at some point in the near-future.

He goes back to watching Haruta sleep. He's drooling a little and it's kind of endearing. Or maybe Maki is stupid and just in love.

Maki tries to remember exactly how and when he looked at Haruta as more than a colleague.

Was it the way Haruta took care of him during those first few weeks after Maki joined the company? How he did his best to make sure Maki didn't have a hard time? Or was it the genuine kindness Haruta doled out to everyone who needed it? His immense loyalty to his friends?

It's possible he fell for Haruta when he made the client booklet for him. An unexpected and considerate surprise. Maybe he grew to love the way Haruta over dramatically praised his cooking. Even his bad points, as frustrating as Maki finds them, are endearing in a way.

The more he thinks about it, the more things he finds to love about Haruta.

Maki catches sight of his reflection in the window. His fondly smiling face looks back at him. Ah, he thinks. The hows and whens don't really matter, do they? At the end of everything, he loves Haruta and Haruta loves him. That's the important thing, whatever happens. They love each other.

Eventually, the station announcement comes on, pulling Maki from his thoughts. He shakes Haruta awake once the train rolls to a stop.

Haruta wipes the drool from his mouth looking more exhausted than before. He still smiles at Maki though, like he doesn’t want to be anywhere else but here with him. Maki wants to kiss him for that, but he settles for smiling back. He needs to take things slow and go at Haruta’s pace, Maki reminds himself. He wants things to be different this time.

As they leave the station and head toward the bus stop, their shoulders bump with every other step. Maki catches Haruta smiling out of the corner of his eye. He feels like his happiness is a palpable thing between them.

In a surprising move, Haruta takes Maki’s hand. His palm is smooth, a little moist with sweat, but Maki grasps it anyway. He looks at their fingers laced together and then up at Haruta’s smiling face.

“I told you,” Haruta says, “forever.”

Maki feels himself open under the those words. It's almost like he blossoms under the love in Haruta’s voice.

It’s evening by the time they make it back to Setagaya.

Maki’s hand is still in Haruta’s as they make their way towards the house. When they get to the bridge, his heart beats a little faster at the thought of being back.

The last time he stepped foot in Haruta’s house was to gather the rest of his things. The complex expression on Haruta's face still haunts Maki’s nightmares sometimes. It was a mix of bewilderment and heartbreak, his sad, red rimmed eyes watching him walk away.

“Why do you have your angry brows on?” Haruta asks, bumping their shoulders together.

Self-consciously, Maki touches his eyebrows where they furrow over his nose. “I was thinking about the day I left.”

Haruta stops in the middle of the bridge. The streets are beginning to empty as everyone heads home for dinner. A few people pass them by. They haven’t spoken much since boarding the bus. Maki had been content with the easy silence between them. Haruta had barely been hanging on to consciousness during the ride.

He is wide awake now as he looks at Maki with a shuttered expression.

Haruta is an awful liar and he is even worse at hiding his emotions. There are old hurts in his eyes that break Maki’s heart because he was the one put them there.

“That day...” Haruta stops to lick his lips. “I never expected you be that cruel. You were really the worst.” His laugh doesn’t quite cover up that he isn’t joking.

Maki doesn’t argue. This is the least he deserves. “I know it’s too little too late, but I am sorry, Haruta-san.”

“Why did you leave?” Haruta asks as he looks out over the bridge.

His question is softly slung, but the weight of answering it wants to crush Maki to a fine dust. The pressure of telling the truth almost makes him not want to speak, but if anyone deserves answers, it’s Haruta.

“I was scared.” Maki replies honestly. “I knew Chizu-san wanted to confess to you.” Haruta’s head whips around at that but he lets Maki continue. “She asked me if I would be okay with it, and I said yes. I wasn’t going to stand in the way of someone that I thought could make you happier.”

Maki lets out a frustrated sigh. It sounds stupid when he says it out loud. Of course, it was stupid of him to ever agree to something like that. Not only because he hurt himself, but he’d done it without considering Haruta’s feelings. Like Haruta accused him on the bridge, he’d decided things for himself.

“Your mom came over while you were out that night.” Maki isn’t quite sure why, but he struggles getting this sentence out. He nervously picks at Haruta’s fingers as he collects his thoughts. “She stopped by to pick something up. We talked for a bit about you. She started saying that you should get married soon and start a family. With Chizu.”

The bitterness he felt back then colors Maki’s words, makes them dark with an anger he hasn't quite let go of. Haruta doesn’t interrupt him, though.

“How could I compete with someone your mom already approved of? How could I be the man that takes those things away from her? Who am I take them from you, her only son, Haruta-san?” Maki hates the way his eyes sting and fights to speak through the tightening of his throat.

“Anyway, she left her scarf behind and when I went to look for her, I saw you and Chizu from the bridge.”

Maki doesn’t say that he turned back and went home feeling numb. He doesn’t talk about how his mind obsessively replayed that scene over and over in his head. He doesn't mention that he walked ghost-like through a house he felt he no longer had a place in.

Maki keeps his breakdown in the laundry room to himself. He’d done his best to get over that night and rehashing any of these things won’t be helpful now.

He ducks his head as he finishes. “When you came home, I couldn’t face you breaking up with me so I did it first.”

Maki can’t bring himself to look back up at Haruta. He stares down at the murky river water running under the bridge. At some point, the sun began setting and the water reflects the darkening sky. Now that everything is out, he doesn’t feel unburdened by it. He feels sorry that any of it ever had to happen.

“You really are a stupid kid.” Haruta says after a few minutes of silence stretches between them. Maki looks at him then. His posture is relaxed and he doesn’t sound angry. A little sad, but mostly, he sounds like he’s talking to a kouhai who has made a mistake. In fact, his tone reminds Maki of how he talks to Maro sometimes.

Haruta sounds forgiving.

He crowds Maki against the railing of the bridge. There’s something in his gaze that makes Maki acutely feel the age gap between them. It's like in the last ten minutes, Haruta has matured. Maybe it’s the steadiness of his eyes as he looks at Maki with affection and understanding. It makes Maki’s heart thunder behind his ribs.

“Good thing you have me beside you,” Haruta smiles as speaks. “We have plenty of time now to help you grow up.”

Maki can’t help but laugh. Haruta sputters at him and Maki laughs harder. Haruta’s hand shoots out to cover his mouth. In a childish act of revenge, Maki’s tongue licks against Haruta’s palm in a single, slow broad stroke. He isn’t thinking when he does it, it sort of happens. It does get him a front row seat to watch the way Haruta's face changes. Maki sees the way it goes from smiling to hyper-focusing on Maki’s mouth hidden beneath his hand.

Haruta’s eyes lift slowly up to his.

Even during the brief time they spent as boyfriends, touching was kept to a minimum. Maki didn't want to push boundaries too fast. Especially not when Haruta was still navigating his own feelings and what it meant to date a man.

This kind of casual affection is brand new territory for them both.

Haruta takes his hand back and Maki clears his throat. “We should get home, Haruta-san. It’s getting late.”

Haruta doesn’t move to leave, though. Instead, he leans forward. Maki smiles and meets him halfway.

It isn't the desperate kiss in the shower or the quick, sloppy kiss in the kitchen. Instead, it's slow and searching. They have all the time to figure each other out now.

Maki enjoys the warm, softness of Haruta's lips against his. The taste of him is intoxicating and Maki wants more. He gives Haruta's lips a tentative lick, waiting only mere seconds, before they open. Maki enjoys the little noise Haruta makes in the back of his throat when their tongues meet.

Even more than that, when they pull apart, Maki enjoys the sight of his kiss swollen lips. For good measure, he pecks Haruta on the mouth one last time. The tips of Haruta’s ears are red and his dark eyes seem bright in the fading evening light.

“I didn't know it could be like this," he says and his fingers twist in his hair in nervous habit. "I-I mean. When you kissed me before, it was different? It was weird, not bad, but just weird. It wasn't like—,” Haruta motions between himself and Maki, "this."

Maki laughs. “We can call this our first kiss, if you want.”

Haruta doesn’t respond. A complex look pinches his face before smoothing out again. “I didn’t kiss him.” Haruta says, seemingly apropos of nothing. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t kiss Chief because I thought of you.”

Maki is surprised by the sudden admission. He knows what happens at weddings, he’s been to a handful of them over the course of his life. He hadn’t considered Haruta and Chief Kurosawa kissing, though. Their wedding was an abstract dark spot in his peripheral. A looming presence without shape.

Even hearing Haruta speak of it was oddly surreal. Maki knows that Haruta, though. If he had kissed Chief, it would have been another case of him feeling like he had to go along with the old man. Haruta has no romantic feelings for him, only a messed up sense of what it means to be a good subordinate.

The relief at knowing Haruta couldn’t bring himself to kiss their boss because of him comes in a tangle of happiness and petty satisfaction. The Chief might have gotten to propose first. He might have gotten to stand at the altar with Haruta first, but Maki will always have one thing: Haruta’s love.

“Your smile is scaring me. What’s wrong?” Haruta says. He’s staring at Maki with wide eyes.

“It’s nothing,” Maki replies. He doesn’t even try to fix his face. “Let’s go home.”

When they make it to the house, Maki follows behind Haruta. He’s almost too nervous to let go of Haruta’s hand, but he needs both hands to get the suitcase inside. Haruta sits in the entryway and takes his shoes off.

“Wait here.” He says and then dashes off into the house in his sock-covered feet.

Maki watches him go with a curious glance before he slips his own shoes off. The house feels the same as before he left. Warm. Welcoming. It invites him to remember better times, and bitter ones. He chooses to do neither and waits for Haruta.

The man comes skidding to a stop in front of him a few moments later. He gasps for breath and holds out a pair of slippers. They are a worn, faded familiar blue.

“You left them,” Haruta heaves out. “I kept them.”

A heavy happiness settles in Maki’s chest as he takes them and puts them on. “Why?”

Haruta toes his socks off and leaves them beside his wrecked shoes. “I don’t know...” he says, sounding shy. “They were yours and I couldn’t just throw them out.”

Maki ducks his head. He feels ridiculous being happy over a pair of old house slippers.

“Listen,” Haruta hedges with a hand nervously scratching at his neck. “There’s still a bunch of stuff from the, um, wedding,” he trips over the word, “and if you want, I can clean it up now. And if you want to sleep in your old room, you can. I never let him in there.”

He speaks all at once and doesn’t look at Maki. His consideration makes Maki love him even more. It makes him feel like he can face anything. Wedding detritus is nothing to him.

“It’s fine. You should go shower and lay down. You look exhausted.” Maki tells him. “Are you hungry? I can make something while you get cleaned up.”

Haruta shakes his head. “D-Do you want to sleep with me?”

The question shifts the atmosphere between them like an altitude change. Maki holds himself still as he almost sees the gears turn in Haruta’s mind. The realization of what he asked, and to whom, dawns on Haruta like a baseball bat to the head. His eyes widen, mouth opening and closing like a fish, and Maki also picks up on the little glimmer of fear.

“I didn’t mean it like that!” He loudly clarifies. “I meant--I’m too tired to shower and I thought it would be nice if-if we laid down together. Is that too much?”

Maki chuckles at his halting words and the color that rises in his cheeks. “It’s not too much and I’ll do it on one condition.”

Haruta looks at him askance.

“You have to change out of the suit.”

They take turns using the bathroom to change in. Undressing together is an unspoken boundary neither of them wants to cross tonight. Haruta goes first and when the door shuts behind him Maki slumps against the opposite wall.

The events of the day want to press in on him from all sides but he pushes that back. His mind is hyper-aware of the quiet that settles in the house. The stillness, like the walls are as anxious as he is, has the hair on his arms standing up. He clutches his change of clothes to his chest just to steady himself.

Maki has shared a bed with many men over the span of his short life. The prospect of sleeping next to Haruta for the first time, though, sparks a forest fire in his veins.

The bathroom door opens and Haruta comes out looking sheepish. The suit is bunched in his arms. He's in his favorite t-shirt and well-worn gray sweats. The ends of his bangs are damp from washing his face and there’s a small spot of toothpaste at the corner of his mouth. He radiates nervousness. Maki sighs internally with relief.

“I’ll go up first,” Haruta mumbles. He doesn’t wait for Maki to reply and instead heads for the laundry room. When he comes out, the suit is gone. He gives Maki an unsteady smile and then takes the stairs two at a time to the second floor.

Maki shakes his head and shuts himself in the bathroom. He sets his clothes and toiletry bag down on the counter and then look at himself in the mirror. He looks a little tired and there’s a bit of anxiety in the furrow of his brows. Otherwise, his face gives nothing away about the events of today.

Come on, he tells himself. Haruta is waiting.

He goes through the motions of washing his hands and face. He brushes his teeth before finally changing his own clothes. Maki looks at himself one last time in the mirror. His reflection is silent as it stares back at him. No help at all, he thinks.

Maki slips out of the bathroom. He takes his time walking up the stairs. Every step he takes, it feels like his heart inches up into his throat.

The door to Haruta’s room is open. The muted television gives the darkness within a technicolor glow. An attempt to haphazardly clean up is evident by the toys and dirty clothes shoved to one side of the room. Haruta is already in the bed, pushed up against the wall to make room for Maki.

Maki’s legs don’t want to move forward. He remains rooted in the doorway, swallowing back his nerves.

“Stop standing there,” Haruta’s voice is whisper soft and tired. “You look like a creep.”

“Shut up,” Maki huffs and takes the several steps needed to close the distance between the bed and himself.

It's only a bed, Maki reminds himself. He takes a deep breath and slides under the covers beside Haruta. He's propped up on one elbow and watches Maki in silence. Despite the semi-darkness, it's like being caught under a spotlight. His heart hammers in his chest and he clutches to the blanket, grounding himself as much as he can. It’s just a bed and this is just Haruta-san, he thinks desperately.

Maki wants to roll on his side, away from Haruta's gaze, but he doesn't want to miss a single moment of this.

Unexpectedly, Haruta's head drops to Maki's chest, a solid, warm weight. He throws one hand across his torso in a loose hug. Maki stiffens at first, surprised, and then relaxes. His hand searches out Haruta's fingers and laces them between his own.

For a few minutes, it’s them breathing together in the hazy darkness. Maki’s thoughts expand and collapse, little dying stars in the quiet breaths between them. He almost thinks Haruta is asleep until he pushes himself up. They turn to face each other. It’s an awkward fit on Haruta’s small bed, but they manage, like puzzle pieces coming together.

"Welcome home." Haruta mumbles. His mint tinged breath is warm against Maki’s lips.

Those simple words settle into Maki’s skin and down into his bones. The lingering tightness that stretched across his skin eases. He wonders if Haruta can see how the words affect him since he looks at Maki and smiles.

Laying in this bed, Haruta’s body pressed at various points against his, really is like being home. Finally, something inside of Maki whispers.

Between one breath and the next, Haruta falls asleep. Maki stares at him.

His hair is a bit greasy from whatever product he had in it earlier in the day plus all the sweating he did. Still, Maki gently brushes his fingers through it as he looks at Haruta’s resting face.

The glow of the television doesn’t provide a lot of light, but he takes in the fine lines across Haruta’s forehead. His eyes trace the freckles dotting his face. He memorizes all the other little imperfections Haruta has here and there. The things Maki can get his fill of now.

He wonders if he’ll ever get used to being allowed to have these moments.

A voice, sounding an awful lot like Takekawa-san did last year, warns him he shouldn’t let himself fall back into this with Haruta. That he’ll only end up unhappy, again. The memory of Haruta screaming that he loved him, the weight of him as he hugged Maki, is enough to silence it.

Maki closes his eyes. Today was just the first day, he reminds himself. What matters is the here and now and, right now, he’s here with Haruta.