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30 Days, 30 Ficlets Challenge

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In the end, it's Dojima who makes the call. He's made this call a small handful of times before, but it's never been like this. He's never had to keep his voice steady and neutral while he recites practiced words to his own nephew, never while he was still hurt and angry himself over--a lot of things, if he's being honest with himself. But if he doesn't make this call then who will?

"Souji," he begins, "When is the last time you heard from your parents?"

That he isn't certain disturbs Souji more than he is prepared to admit. "I'm not sure. Two and a half months, maybe three?" He doesn't need to ask why. The question hangs unspoken between them for a matter of seconds, and Dojima is grateful for the opportunity to collect himself one last time. It doesn't particularly help.

"No one told you," are the words that come out, against his better judgment. They're not particularly anything--not hurt, not angry, not disbelieving. If they're anything at all, they're the truth, plain and simple. "Souji, your mother-- my sister..."

Souji almost laughs. Catches himself early, while it's only a twist at the corner of his lips. The first thing he thinks to say is that it's really not a very funny prank, second that it's impossible, third to a thousand that you're lying, but when he opens his mouth to say any of these things, none of them are what makes it past his lips. "When?" is what he asks.

"Almost three weeks ago."

In another world entirely, he might have noticed when his back hit the wall behind him or that he was holding the phone too tightly or that his other hand had begun to grope for anything at all that might hold him upright just a little while longer. Here and now, none of those things feel particularly important.

That's-- impossible. Impossible. Impossible.

Dojima's not surprised when the call cuts out and he's greeted with the dial tone. It's not the first time that's happened, either.

[ ... ... ... ]

--sorry I can't answer the phone right now. If you're making a business-related call, you can page me at the following number...

"Your brother has poor taste in jokes," he tells the recording. Two minutes later, he calls back to add: "Call me back, okay?"

One minute: "Do you remember how you always used to tell me that if there was ever anything important, you'd call me back right away? And there never was, so I never asked you to? I knew you were busy... it just never seemed right to call you if it was something I could handle myself."

Thirty seconds: "Hey, it's-- it's important this time, okay?"

Immediately after the display on his cell finishes informing him that the call has ended, he calls the same number a fifth time just to hear: Hello, you've reached Seta Sōko; I'm sorry I can't answer the phone right now. If you're making a business-related call, you can page me at the following number...

He sits silently through the recording and waits until the phone disconnects automatically, leaving an empty message.

Then he calls again.



[ ... ... ... ]

"Where the hell are you, Hanamura?"

Of all the people he's come to expect hearing those words from, getting a call from Dojima during work hours for them has never been particularly high on the theoretical list. Yosuke frowns, confused, and looks around. He's still standing in the middle of the produce section at the local Junes, same as he was when his phone had begun to ring. Same Junes, same customers, same Tokyo. "Um... work?"

"Not anymore you're not; you need to get home immediately."

Yosuke can't help but laugh at that, if a little nervously. He's never been particularly good at talking with Souji's uncle, but they're usually on the same page in that regard and make their best attempts at stilted conversation when and where it is required of them. "You know, much as I'd really appreciate an early night, I don't think--"

"Now, Hanamura."

There's an edge to his tone that Yosuke recognizes, from a time long past. For a brief, heart-stopping moment, it's a lot like standing out in the street on a cold November night, listening to a man with nowhere left to turn entrust his only family to a group of teenagers that he thought of as anything but trustworthy. He's halfway out the door before he hears himself ask, "What happened?"

When Dojima is met with the dial tone for the second time in as many hours, he only sighs and scrubs a heavy hand over tired eyes. For better or worse, it's out of his hands--and he's left these sorts of things to far less reliable people in the past.

Yosuke hisses a curse when he only gets a busy signal at Souji's number. He's already got one hand on the handlebars of his motorbike when he thinks to try a different one.

Four rings, and then: "Hanamura-kun, good afternoon. I wasn't expecting to hear from you today."

Of course not; it was too much to hope for to think this number might be busy too. He sits back astride his bike in the parking lot, eyes closed as he breathes deep. "Please, Seta-san. Please tell me that you've spoken to Souji already."

He can feel the hesitation like a physical blow, draws in another slow breath through his teeth to try and keep himself under control.

"I'm sorry; is there something--"

That illusion of control doesn't just slip--it buckles and collapses under the weight. "Fucking-- seriously!? Son of a bitch, are you fucking kidding me?" he shouts into the phone, disgusted. He's too angry to find any pleasure in the stunned silence on the other end.

"...Hanamura-kun, try to understand--"

"I'll tell you what I understand: I don't even have words for how fucking low that is. He's your own son. When exactly did you intend on telling him? In another couple of months? A goddamn year, maybe?" He doesn't wait for a reply to that; hopes it stings as much to hear as it does to say. Hopes it hits just a little too close to home, rings a little too true to someone besides himself. He roughly jams his cell phone into a pocket and kicks his motorbike into gear, focused entirely on priority number one. The rest will have to wait.

[ ... ... ... ]

For the briefest of moments, he can almost fool himself into believing that maybe it's not as bad as it looks. That false hope doesn't last very long, however. It only takes a matter of seconds to realize that it's much, much worse.

"Hey, come on," he soothes softly, extracting the phone from Souji's fingers, which are cold and shaking and refuse to yield at first. "I'm here, talk to me."

He's the very picture of calm, save for the trembling in his hands and the heavily guarded look in grey eyes. Yosuke might not have noticed either if he hadn't had so many years of experience behind him in reading the other. He's been here once or twice before, at different times for different reasons. The trembling is fine; something he knows how to deal with. The abject shut-down, however, he does not. He's forced to settle for the only thing he can think to do, taking the other into his arms and holding him close, waiting out the silence.

Souji doesn't appear to be in any hurry to disturb it, however. He leans a little heavier into Yosuke's shoulder than he might have otherwise, but says nothing. If not for how desperately eerie and tense the silence feels, it might as well have been any other day.

It doesn't take long for Yosuke to begin to understand, when the following day he catches Souji by the wrist on his way out the door and demands to know where he's going. "Work," Souji tells him, as if he doesn't quite understand the question.

"Are you-- seriously? You're sure?"

Souji smiles in response to that, but it doesn't reach his eyes. Nothing has. "Pretty sure that's where I was going, yeah."

In the end, Yosuke lets him go. He wonders how out of place it would be to call out of work himself before deciding that he doesn't particularly care, and does it anyway.

It's another week before Souji finally breaks. Yosuke returns home to find him tucked against one corner of the couch, feet pulled up onto the cushions, with his cell phone against one ear. He looks up at the disturbance, carefully guarded expression still in place (the same as it has been since that first day, much to the other's distress) and lowers the phone gingerly onto his lap. There's a flicker of something, hidden somewhere deep beneath the surface, that pulls Yosuke to his side, kneeling in front of the couch to wrap his arms around his partner's shoulders.

And when at last the wall begins to crumble under the full force of everything coming down upon him all at once, Yosuke's close enough to hear the words as they filter through the tinny cell phone speaker: --disconnected, or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try your call again.