“You have betrayed me.”
A passing student gave Daichi a strange look and hurried past him just a little faster, boots crunching on the snow, in the direction of the same lecture hall he’d just come from. He sighed and made sure that the next time he angrily addressed his smartphone, there was no one within hearing range.
“Two years of working perfectly, and you pick that midterm?”
The university’s program happened to very big on the ‘medicine’ part of ‘sports medicine,’ which meant that over the last two years, Daichi had been in more chemistry classes than he’d ever wanted to be in his entire lifetime. They also seemed to get progressively more brutal over time.
This organic chemistry midterm hadn’t been open book, but they were allowed to use a school-approved chemistry app on their phones or computers that could do some of the most redundant and time-consuming calculations. The app had saved his life (and his grade) in past classes, so absolutely nothing could have prepared him for the moment, ten minutes into the midterm, when he’d punched the ‘go’ button to do a long series of equations…and the screen had simply gone black.
Over the next few minutes, he’d held the power switch with increasing panic, removed and replaced the battery, tapped the phone rapidly against his desk until the girl on the other side of him gave him a murderous look, until finally, with numb horror, he’d given up and started working each excruciating calculation by hand.
And then, five minutes before the end of the midterm, just as Daichi was frantically scribbling in the (probably incorrect) calculations for the final question, stomach leaden with despair, he’d bumped the phone with his elbow, causing it to light up cheerfully and without explanation. Mocking him.
Daichi had nearly thrown it across the lecture hall.
So now, on top of being pretty sure he’d just bombed an extremely important midterm, he had to go out of his way to take his phone into the IT department for the first time in his university career, just to make sure it wasn’t going to fail him at other critically important times. Like during his chemistry final. Or while making an emergency call on a dark road at night with an axe murderer stalking him. Or on the very last level of Angry Birds.
So he blew out a smoky plume of resigned breath into the chilly air and started the trek across campus.
Daichi knew the IT department was located on the bottom floor of the university bookstore, because he’d passed the signs for it often enough. But he also knew enough about computers to deal with most personal technical issues he’d had in the past, and this phone had never given him any problems (until now), so he’d never had the need to go in.
It was midmorning and not a peak time on campus, so when Daichi descended the stairs to the lower bookstore level there was only one other student being helped at the circular silver desk that dominated the center of the floor. Above it hung a big banner with the words ‘Technical Support’ in metallic lettering, accompanied by a decal of a raven—the university’s mascot—pecking at a computer keyboard with its beak.
Daichi gave his phone one last accusing glare before approaching the desk, where a short guy with a dyed streak in his spiky dark hair was in the middle of very animatedly explaining his situation to the tech guy on duty.
“…and it was just covered, man, covered in chocolate syrup, and I knew my parents would kill me if I told them what we were doing when that happened. But my bud Ryuu, he was just like, ‘Put it in one of those little laundry bags and put it through one cycle on delicate, dude, that’s what my mom does to fancy clothes’ so I did that. Even put some towels and boxers n’ shit in there with it so it wouldn’t get banged around. But now it won’t turn on. Got the chocolate syrup off, though.” The guy shrugged as if that was a semi-acceptable tradeoff.
The tech guy, who was wearing a smart black polo with orange trim in the school colors and a nametag that read Tsukishima, looked over the top of his square black glasses at the put-upon black flip phone in question, sitting silently on the counter between them. His tight, almost disgusted expression suggested to Daichi that this was because it was less offensive to him than looking at its owner. Daichi didn’t know whether to feel sorrier for the student or the IT guy.
Finally, the tech guy narrowed his eyes, took a deep breath through his nose, and opened his mouth as if to say something. Even though it wasn’t directed at him, Daichi found himself bracing instinctively for the cutting tirade on common sense technology use that was sure to follow.
Instead the IT tech let out his breath in a long-suffering sigh, pressed his glasses almost aggressively up the bridge of his nose, and called sharply, “Sugawara-senpai, it’s time for my break.”
Daichi hadn’t even noticed there was another tech on duty; he’d been at the other side of the desk, sitting in a swivel chair and bent studiously over a bunch of papers. But at Tsukishima’s summons he put down his pencil and rose immediately, making his way around the counter. He was smiling a little, and his amusement and prompt response made Daichi wonder if Tsukishima’s breaks were always this conveniently timed.
“Hey wait, man, you’re just leaving me hanging—?” the guy started to protest, but Tsukishima was already walking over to take the other tech’s vacated chair, tossing an “I’m sure Sugawara-san can help you. Good luck,” over his shoulder. The way he said “good luck” made it sound like he was wishing luck to the student’s continued existence more than his phone’s.
The other tech—Sugawara—slid smoothly up the counter, leaning on his forearms in a much friendlier and more casual posture than Tsukishima’s stiff and disdainful regard. It made him look attentive, and comfortable, and ready to listen…and…
Daichi blinked. Oh. Oh.
He was attractive.
It had been a while since he’d actively thought that about anyone, and even longer since it had hit him like this, like a blunted physical blow that left heat squirming not unpleasantly just under his skin.
With this new realization, Daichi took a second, much longer look at Sugawara, as the short guy picked up his phone again and looked at it sadly. He leaned forward on the counter, matching the tech’s conversational pose as he started over at what sounded like the very beginning of his story.
“Well, see, it all started when Ryuu read this thing on the Internet—”
“You know, I think I overheard the important part of your problem,” Sugawara interrupted quickly but kindly, somehow sounding not in the least curt about it. “It went through the wash, right?”
“Yeah. I mean, there was a lot of syrup on it, and it made sense at the time…” The guy trailed off as though it had just started to dawn on him that he had screwed up.
“I’m sure it did.” There was genuine empathy in the tech’s voice, or at least something that could easily pass for it. The student looked surprised and then pleased at being validated.
“So ya think you can get it working again?” he asked eagerly.
“Oh, I think I have just the thing.” When Sugawara smiled, his dark eyes crinkled the tiniest bit at the corners, and oh no he had dimples. The expression wasn't even directed at him, and Daichi felt his stomach flutter madly.
Sugawara reached under the counter and rummaged around for a moment, and then solemnly plunked a small plastic tub next to the washed phone with a dramatic flourish. Daichi bit his lip to stifle a laugh.
The container was two-thirds full of uncooked rice.
The guy leaned over to peer in, and then his eyes widened comically. He looked up at Sugawara like the tech had just mentioned he was a wizard.
"No way. I thought that was like an urban legend!”
"It might be." Sugawara laughed at the awed look on his face. His laugh was as warm as his voice and his cute dimpled smile and oh god Daichi was not twenty-two, he was fourteen with his first crush all over again. "But it works in a lot of the cases I've seen. Here." He turned the phone over and popped out the battery with a practiced flick of his thumb. Then he placed both in the tub and scooped a little rice over them. "Take this home and leave your phone and battery in there overnight. Try taking it out and turning it on again midday tomorrow, and come back if it doesn't work."
"That's awesome," breathed the guy, picking up the tub almost reverently. "I gotta tell Ryuu about this, it's like a science experiment! Thanks man, you're amazing…a lifesaver!" He stuck out his free hand. "Nishinoya Yuu, I'm a second year here."
"Sugawara Koushi," said the tech, grasping his hand, "And don't thank me 'til it works." He was still smiling, and Daichi drifted into thoughts of what a soft, warm, perfect name 'Koushi' was, and wishing he was the one holdi—shaking his hand instead.
He didn’t snap back to reality until he heard Sugawara say, “Tsukishima-kun, it’s safe now,” still with that little undercurrent of warm amusement. Apparently the other guy, Nishinoya, had taken off with his rice cure already.
“Is it?” Tsukishima said doubtfully, glancing over from where he seemed to have started sorting forms of some sort. Daichi stiffened when he realized Tsukishima was now looking at him assessingly over his glasses.
Sugawara glanced over with a brief flicker of surprise, as if he hadn’t noticed Daichi waiting, and then the full smile was back, warm and bright. Daichi ruthlessly smashed down the thrilled voice in the back of his mind insisting that it was warmer than the ones he’d offered to Nishinoya Yuu a moment ago. To Tsukishima, Sugawara said, “Don’t be rude before you’ve even heard his problem.” And then, addressing Daichi (Finally, breathed the thrilled fourteen-year-old voice in his mind); “Don’t worry, he’s a harmless freshman, but excellent at what he does. What can we do for you?”
Daichi was totally horrified by how close he came to simply blurting out, You can give me your number, which were in fact the first words his brain supplied. He scrambled to collect his thoughts, to remember what had occupied his emotions before their current hazy muddle of attraction.
“Phone.” That was meant to be a guideline for his thoughts, not something he said aloud, but now it was out there, hanging. Quickly, Daichi fumbled with his traitorous smartphone and shoved it onto the counter, desperate to prove he had a legitimate reason to be here besides staring for a probably inappropriately long time at one of the techs.
Tsukishima looked at it, unimpressed. “Please don’t tell me you washed it.”
“No!” Despite his distraction, Daichi found himself able to be offended. “It just…turned off on me. In the middle of a chem midterm,” he added dejectedly. The sting of it was still fresh.
“Hmm.” Tsukishima roused himself from the swivel chair to come over to the counter. He picked the phone up and pressed the power switch. As it had near the end of the exam, the screen glowed to life. “Looks okay to me.” He somehow made it sound accusing.
Daichi was seized with the sudden abject terror that the phone wouldn’t repeat the error, that he would be standing here in front of a bored, judgmental freshman and an unfairly sweet and attractive IT tech and his phone would work perfectly and he would look like the world’s biggest idiot. And considering the guy who’d gone before him, that was saying something.
“I swear, ten minutes in, right when I needed it for a calculation, it died, and then I freaked out, and then it turned back on later—!” Daichi willed himself not to start babbling.
Just then, perhaps in a last act of mercy, the phone screen went obligingly dark.
“Ah, looks like he was telling the truth,” Sugawara said, voice teasing. Daichi wasn’t sure if it was directed at Tsukishima or him. He desperately wanted it to be him, because then he could pretend he was being flirted with.
“A legitimate issue at last, then” drawled Tsukishima. He flipped the phone over and was starting to examine the casing and power switch when Sugawara said abruptly, “I can take this one, Tsukishima-kun. Could you finish the filing for me?”
Daichi stared at him in amazement, wondering if the universe had overheard him wishing that Sugawara would be the one to work on his phone so he would have an excuse to talk to him.
Tsukishima frowned a little, but that honestly wasn’t that much different than his resting expression anyway, and he shrugged and handed Daichi’s phone to Sugawara without comment.
Daichi was half-expecting Sugawara to engage him, wondering if could possibly be so lucky that the tech had done this on purpose. But he seemed to focus completely on the phone, bent over it on the counter, testing the power switch and frowning with concentration. It left tiny shallow scrunches on his smooth forehead, and lifted his cheekbones so that Daichi could see a beauty mark he hadn’t noticed under his eye.
He suddenly found he was perfectly okay with Sugawara ignoring him, because it meant he could look some more. Now that he was right in front of him, Daichi could take in so many more details; the pleasing way Sugawara’s polo fit him across the shoulders and biceps, the way his ashy hair had random little tufts sticking out like feathers, the fine pale hair on his nape and forearms, the fact that his shirt had one undone button at the throat that bared a tantalizingly small triangle of smooth skin and collarbone…
“…take it off.” Sugawara’s voice broke into his thoughts.
Take what off? Daichi’s suddenly very interested hormones asked. His brain, which wisely doubted that Sugawara had said anything quite so suggestive, was still unable to come up with any response other than a blank stare.
Sugawara repeated himself kindly as though he’d guessed that Daichi hadn’t heard him. “Going to have to take the casing and back off to get at the inside. It’s probably an internal issue at this point.”
“That—that’s fine,” Daichi blurted, maybe a little too quickly, because Sugawara looked amused again. He dug under the counter again and emerged this time with a couple small, almost surgical-looking tools, which he used to pop off the casing and open the back of the phone up. Daichi couldn’t make heads or tails of the tangle of wires and chips that were revealed, but Sugawara tilted the phone this way and that, inspecting the hardware with a clearly practiced eye.
“Ha!” The sudden triumphant cry made Daichi jump, it was so loud compared to Sugawara’s previous quiet manner. “Found it!” Sugawara looked genuinely delighted, his smile so big that his dark eyes nearly vanished.
“What?” Daichi leaned in a little, trying to be subtle, trying not to hyperventilate. It was kind of impossible to ignore, though, how their heads were bent together now, how he could smell the faint traces of some kind of subtle woodsy cologne on Sugawara…
He gave himself a sharp mental slap and a fierce reminder to stop mooning so obviously.
“The connection to the battery is loose.” Sugawara tapped the tip of a ridiculously tiny pair of pliers against a small nub on one of the many incomprehensible dark shapes that made up the phone’s interior. If Daichi squinted, he thought he could see something that looked like it was slightly misaligned.
“That’s also probably why it came back on briefly…did you bump it a little, maybe?” Daichi nodded, still amazed something so small had cost him such a big test. “You probably accidentally reconnected it for a short time, and then it came loose again.”
“So…it’s broken.” Daichi had hoped this wouldn’t be the case, but at least now he knew.
“Oh not really, there doesn’t seem to actually be anything wrong with the connector or the battery.” Sugawara looked utterly cheerful. “Here, let me tweak it a little…”
He picked and tugged at the nub and surrounding hardware with the pliers for a few seconds, nibbling on his lower lip in a way that perhaps helped him focus but that Daichi found thoroughly distracting.
Finally, he gave another triumphant but much softer huff and turned the phone over. When he pressed the power switch, the phone lit up immediately.
“Wow,” said Daichi softly, feeling genuinely impressed. He was pretty good with technology, but he’d never have been able to do anything like this and make it look so easy. “That’s…thank you so much.”
“It should be fine now,” Sugawara told him as he replaced the back and casing. “I tightened up the connection, so it should be a while before it wears out or anything like that happens again.”
Relief briefly swamped Daichi’s squirming nervous attraction. Then he looked up and saw Sugawara was smiling warmly directly at him, looking innocently pleased at how everything had worked out.
Aaaaand now it was back.
He cleared his throat quickly to cover up his sharp intake of breath at the heat that flooded his chest and stomach. “Uh, how much do I owe you for that?” Daichi realized he hadn’t even thought to ask about costs or time rates or anything else, he had been so desperate to have his phone fixed and then distracted by Sugawara.
“How about…” Sugawara pretended to calculate in his head, gazing thoughtfully up at the huge ‘Technical Support’ banner. “…free?” There was the grin again, warm and a little mischievous this time.
“Free?” Daichi’s heart and brain kicked into overdrive simultaneously. Is it a joke? Is he making it free on purpose? Does he mean just for me? Is that allowed? Is he flirting with me? Daichi tried to remember if he’d seen Nishinoya hand over any money, but he’d still been daydreaming during the last part of their transaction.
Sugawara must have caught and misinterpreted his panicked look because he added reassuringly, “Maybe you’ve never been here before; students get five complementary visits a year for minor repairs.”
“Oh.” Daichi didn’t know whether he was more relieved or disappointed. “Yeah, I’ve never really had a problem before this.” Now I wish I had, though, his internal fourteen-year-old muttered before he could squash the thought down. I could have met you a long time ago.
“Well you must be doing something right then. Here.” Sugawara offered the phone, and Daichi actually spent a fraction of a second trying to think of way he could take it casually and sort of hold the tech’s hand at the same time. In the end he just stuck his hand out awkwardly, and Sugawara placed the phone into it, the very tips of his fingers brushing Daichi’s palm and leaving little tingling imprints.
“Don’t worry too much about your grade either...ah…” Sugawara trailed off, eyes prompting him gently.
“Oh! Uh, sorry, Sawamura Daichi. I’m a third-year.” Daichi put out his hand to shake, and then realized it was the one still holding the phone and dropped it back to his side, feeling foolish and lost and already far more off balance than any one person had a right to make him.
Sugawara didn’t even seem to notice the faux pas. “Same as me, then. Well, like I was saying, I’m sure you’ll be able to ace your next test now, Sawamura-san. Good luck.” Unlike Tsukishima, Sugawara’s ‘good luck’ sounded as genuine as they came.
Daichi couldn’t tell him that he was finding it hard to care about his potential failed midterm at the moment. And that suddenly the prospect of his phone being fixed, with no other excuse to come back here in sight, was feeling far more dire than his grade in any chemistry class.
He settled for a somewhat dazed, “Thanks.”
Daichi lay on his back on his bed, feeling pleased yet again that he was in a single dorm, this time because it meant that he didn’t have a roommate teasing him or talking his ear off about the fact that he’d basically been mooning all afternoon. Maybe this was why he hadn’t been interested in anyone lately; his body was subconsciously trying to save him from all the complications and distractions that came with it.
“If anything else happens, feel free to come back and see me,” Sugawara’s voice replayed in his head for the umpteenth time since he’d left the IT desk. Daichi was pretty sure by now that his imagination had taken the liberty of tweaking the memory so Sugawara’s voice was lower and more intimate that it actually had been.
But Daichi was sure that the invitation, whether or not there had ever been even a hint of flirtation about it, was genuine. If something else happened, he could go back, and he was certain that Sugawara, if not his freshman colleague, would welcome him with a smile.
Not that it was likely something would go wrong again so soon. He’d gone two years without any trouble, after all.
Not that he wanted it to be likely; he liked his important electronics working properly, thank you very much.
He rolled over onto his side.
Daichi thought of the way Sugawara had shown him the place where the battery connector had loosened, and how they’d both been leaning on the counter towards each other, almost close enough to touch. He thought of the way Sugawara’s strong, pale arms looked filling out his black polo, and the extra undone button below his throat. He thought of his warm voice saying, “I’m sure you’ll be able to ace your next test now, Sawamura-san,” and the split second feather-touch of his fingers on Daichi’s palm when he’d pressed the phone into it.
No. Working electronics were good. Less complications were always good.
The next day at around two in the afternoon, Daichi found himself deliberately messing with his carefully calibrated wi-fi settings and swearing internally.
It was looking like his fourteen-year-old self might turn out to be more of a traitor than his phone.
Daichi didn’t know if he was relieved or terrified when he approached the IT desk for the second time, his laptop under one arm, and saw that today Sugawara seemed to be manning it alone. He was paging through some kind of thick textbook on the counter, but when Daichi approached he raised his head immediately, alert.
And there was the smile, the tilt of it lighting up his dark eyes as some of his feathery bright hair fell forward to curve around his ear and temple.
He was even better-looking than Daichi had remembered. And Daichi was even more of a goner than he’d thought.
“Oh, hey Sawamura-san. Did some other piece of technology betray you already?” Sugawara didn’t seem unduly surprised to see him, but maybe he was always this laid-back about repeat customers.
No, this time it’s all my fault, Daichi thought, guilt flicking its way through the nervous excitement in his stomach. But he had already gone this far; he figured he might as well go all the way. He walked forward and hefted the laptop up a little so Sugawara could see it. The tech closed his textbook and moved it off the counter so Daichi could set the laptop between them.
Aloud, Daichi said, “Yeah, seems like all my bad luck is hitting at once. It’s the wireless on my computer this time; it doesn’t want to connect.” He rubbed the back of his neck, his embarrassment not all feigned.
“Ah, it happens. Let me take a look at it.” Sugawara sounded so cheerful and confident that Daichi actually experienced a moment of relief before he remembered there wasn’t really anything wrong with his laptop.
Daichi watched Sugawara as he opened the laptop, trying to look mildly interested but casual as he snuck surreptitious looks at the tech. He jumped when Sugawara abruptly turned to look right at him, thinking he’d been caught.
“I need your password…have to follow the rules when it comes to customer privacy.” Sugawara grinned at him like they were sharing a secret.
“Oh, uh, sure. Of course.” Daichi willed himself desperately not to blush. Ugh, get it together, Daichi.
Sugawara looked casually and politely away as he typed it in, and for some reason that small gesture made Daichi’s heart swoop.
He was expecting Sugawara to look through the wireless networks, find the tweaks he’d made, and correct them, assuming he’d done something accidentally. He was planning to feign ignorance and then pretend to be very impressed with Sugawara’s skills. It kind of made him feel like a middle-schooler trying to flirt for the first time, but at the moment that was probably more accurate than not.
And then Sugawara opened the list of wireless networks to inspect the settings…and made a soft, stifled sound. Daichi stared at him in confusion, the way he was biting his lip and his eyes were going crinkly.
He looked at the screen…and his heart seized and dropped in his chest like a lead weight.
Oh god, how had he forgotten?
He’d been so careful to make the changed settings look completely random and accidental; he’d covered his tracks in every way he could think of.
And yet he’d been so focused on the details, he hadn’t even thought of the apocalyptic humiliation of Sugawara seeing that his personal wi-fi connection was named ‘Dark Slasher Sawamura’, and had been since he’d set it up in 8th grade.
He wanted to slam the laptop shut and run out of the bookstore, and not stop until he was back at his dorm where he could close and lock the door, and never go near the IT department again, and maybe consider transferring to another university.
Now Sugawara was attempting to regain his professionalism, hand over his mouth to hide his smile and the little muffled hums of laughter. Despite the icy horror seizing his heart, Daichi still couldn’t help but notice how sweet and earnest he sounded, how badly he wanted Sugawara to laugh like that at a clever joke he’d told or a funny movie they were watching together…
“I’m sorry, Sawamura-san, I’m sorry,” Sugawara mumbled behind his hand. “I promise I’ve seen worse, you wouldn’t believe the kind of names…oh, I’m not helping am I, I’m sorry.” With a final huff of amusement, Sugawara reached out and actually clasped Daichi’s shoulder. Daichi momentarily forgot his humiliation, and also how to breathe.
“It’s very creative,” Sugawara assured him as he started going through the settings, the smile still seated comfortably in the corners of his mouth and eyes. Despite his amusement he sounded completely sincere, and Daichi felt both more mortified and more infatuated than ever. He had certainly been giving the full range of his emotions a workout these past couple days.
As Daichi had known he would, Sugawara restored his wireless to its proper settings in a few brief clicks, unchecking and rechecking the little boxes. He hummed softly under his breath as he tested the connection, pushing a lock of hair absently off his forehead. Daichi knew he was staring again, and could easily get caught at it any moment, but it kind of felt worth it. There was something so classically lovely about Sugawara that terms like “beautiful” and “cute” and “handsome” all seemed wrong somehow; he was something that drew in elements of all three of those words and more.
So far gone, Daichi, so far gone.
“There we go.” Sugawara turned the laptop toward Daichi with the same kind of triumphant flourish he’d made when giving Nishinoya the rice the other day. He really needed to stop doing that; it was far too endearing and dangerous to Daichi’s heart.
“Wow, thanks!” Daichi forced himself to sound genuinely impressed. “I guess I’m not as good with this kind of thing as I thought; I probably shouldn’t have messed with it.”
“Well, you said you managed to get through all this time without bringing it to us, so you can’t be too bad.” Daichi’s stomach swooped, and he quickly tried to gauge whether Sugawara was implying something without staring at him too hard. But the tech seemed to have said it in complete earnest, as he had everything else up to now.
“You’re all set. And in case you’re wondering, there’s no charge for that either; that was probably the easiest fix I’ve done all day.”
“Yeah. Sorry again to bother you with something so dumb.” Daichi could still feel his ears burning with the sound of Sugawara’s muffled laughter over his stupid, juvenile wireless name. And yet he still felt a dim sense of disappointment at the notion of leaving Sugawara’s presence.
“You said you were a sports medicine major, right Sawamura-san?” Sugawara asked abruptly, mouth tilting up a little. “I hear there’s a lot of hard sciences involved with that; I highly doubt you’re dumb.” He stretched casually, and Daichi watched, mouth dry, as the fabric of his shirt pulled across his shoulder blades and over his collarbone. “Come whenever you need to, okay? There wouldn’t be a need for my job if people didn’t make mistakes with technology.”
“S—sure.” Daichi picked up his laptop and hugged it to his chest like a barrier. Sugawara had indirectly called him smart, complimented him. He was surprised the laptop casing didn’t rattle in time with the pounding of his heart.
“And Sawamura-san?” Sugawara called after him, voice warming to the edge of laughter again, “I promise, I really have seen much worse wireless names.”
Daichi was glad he already had his back turned, so Suga didn’t see the damning flush spread from his ears to his cheeks.
You’re insane, a part of Daichi’s mind (not the fourteen-year-old part, that was for sure), reminded him for the umpteenth time that evening.
Daichi was leaning contemplatively on the sill of his open window, waiting for the icy breeze he was letting into his room to wake him up to how utterly stupid he was being. He’d always hated stories, real or fictional, about people doing ridiculous and self-destructive things for love, but now here he was, palming his smartphone idly and wondering with complete seriousness if it would survive an eight meter drop with substantial but repairable damage.
Repairable by a very specific, sympathetic, warm-voiced, beautiful IT tech, if he was being honest with his hormones and himself.
He told himself that even if the worst happened, he had enough savings to buy a new emergency phone that would hold him over until he was eligible for a new one. It was a fully irrational thing to feel comforted by, but Daichi guessed if he was hanging a smartphone out a window and getting ready to drop it in the name of his first big crush in several years, he was no longer on the level of the rational anyway.
There was grass down there, he could aim for that…or maybe the hard plastic casing would protect it. This particular brand was known for making sturdy phones, right?
Now he was just stalling.
“Do it for the hot IT guy,” he muttered to himself, partly aware of how dumb it sounded, but more aware of the memory of Sugawara’s soft muffled laugh and the pressure of his warm hand on Daichi’s shoulder and the silly, dramatic way he’d presented that guy Nishinoya with the tub of rice.
He loosened his grip on the phone’s slippery casing, squeezing his eyes shut as if not seeing it would somehow make this less absurd, less of a completely horrible idea.
But when the phone finally slipped out of his relaxed fingers, he didn’t try to grab for it. He just watched it fall, feeling his stomach plunge with it, until the tiny sharp crack of it hitting a small rock in the flowerbed eight meters below drifted up to him.
There, now he was the fool who had probably just destroyed a perfectly good smartphone for the chance, just the chance, to talk to a good-looking guy again.
And yet no matter how hard he tried to regret it, he just couldn’t honestly seem to manage.
“Please explain this to me again. Wait, no, actually. Please don’t. I think it’s time for my break.” Tsukishima set down Daichi’s phone in disgust and walked to the other side of the circular desk to take refuge with the files yet again.
“I…am impressed,” said Sugawara and Tsukishima’s third coworker delicately. His nametag declared him to be Yamaguchi. He was freckled and shy-looking, but he too didn’t bat an eye at Tsukishima’s abrupt removal of himself from the problem, and his tanned hands were capable as he took over the task of inspecting Daichi’s phone.
“It still turns on,” he murmured to himself with something like wonderment, testing the power. “Eight meters, you said?”
“Give or take,” Daichi shrugged.
Yamaguchi whistled softly. “That’s amazing. Not only that it seems to be mostly external damage, but…how did you say it ended up falling eight meters?”
“Fell out a window. I left it on the sill.” Daichi hadn’t been able to come up with a plausible story that he felt confident in defending, so he hadn’t tried too hard and was mostly sticking to the truth.
Yamaguchi gave him a look; not as cutting as Tsukishima’s utter disdain but at least very skeptical. He was apparently the kind that was too polite to voice it though.
Daichi wasn’t honestly paying that much attention to Yamaguchi though; from the moment he’d set his phone on the counter, the casing chipped, display image warped, and a single long crack running diagonally through the screen, he’d been focused on Sugawara.
As the object of this entire crazy scenario, the one for whom this phone had nearly given its life, and the bane of Daichi’s current relationship with technology, Sugawara Koushi looked more thoughtful than anything. He was smiling a little, but the amusement seemed more directed at his coworkers’ consternation than at Daichi. So far he hadn’t really joined in the examination of the phone, beyond shooting Daichi a startled and questioning look when he’d first seen the damage. Daichi had just shaken his head and given a self-deprecating shrug.
Part of Daichi had been tempted to just walk up to him and say, “I actually broke my phone just for another excuse to talk to you, please get lunch with me after your shift.” But he couldn’t imagine saying something like that right to his face, especially not with Tsukishima and Yamaguchi watching. It would be too much pressure, and besides, Sugawara seemed like the kind of person whose face would get all gentle as he turned you down in the kindest way possible, and Daichi could admit he was too much of a coward to take that in public right now. Also, hearing the words strung together in a sentence like that only made him think harder than he wanted to about just how dumb the stunt sounded, out of the context of his enormous crush.
“What do you think, Sugawara-senpai?” Yamaguchi beckoned him over and showed him the warped display image. “This looks like the only internal damage…could be just a loose part or something, right?”
“Mm.” Sugawara nodded. “I could open it up and take a look later if you don’t mind leaving it with me, to see if something’s loose or actually broken.” This was directed at Daichi, who managed to keep heart-pounding eye contact with him for all of three seconds before he had to drop his gaze to Sugawara’s beauty mark instead. “After all, I don’t want you to be without a phone in case your bad luck decides to expand outside of technology.” Ugh, why did everything out of his mouth have to sound so warm and sincere?
“That would be great,” Daichi said with feeling, not only because it was great that he might come out of this with a functional phone, but because coming back to pick it up meant at least one more opportunity to see Sugawara.
“So…I guess this probably isn’t a minor repair.” Daichi reached for his wallet, having prepared this time. “How much—”
“Nope,” Sugawara said quickly, making a light shooing motion toward the bills Daichi had been starting to unfold. “I’m making the executive decision to give you a bad luck discount. The universe seems to be punishing you enough without making you give me money just to tweak a few wires and parts.” He winked, actually winked, and Daichi had to quickly put a hand on the smooth countertop in case his legs gave out on him. Yamaguchi looked at Sugawara in surprise, and Tsukishima with what looked like disapproval, but apparently neither of them wanted to contradict their senior.
“O-Oh. Thanks.” Daichi coughed quickly to clear the hoarseness in his voice. His cheeks were starting to burn dangerously, which meant it was time for a hasty retreat. “Thank you. That’s…really nice of you.” He started edging away from the desk. “I’m sorry to run out on you, but, um, class…”
“You can pick it up tomorrow, around the same time?” Sugawara had pulled out a little piece of paper and was jotting some notes onto it.
“Sure thing. Thanks again for the, uh, discount.” Daichi was almost to the stairs when something possessed him to half-turn and give a dumb little finger wave over his shoulder, and his heart flipped when Sugawara returned it with a smile and without a trace of self-consciousness.
Daichi gulped and thought in a small voice that was definitely his own twenty-two-year-old self this time, Help.
When Daichi came back the day after, at pretty much the same time on the dot, Sugawara was alone at the desk. He forced himself not to think too hard about why there just so happened to be no one on shift with him right now.
“Sawamura-san! Right on time.” Was he imagining how pleased Sugawara sounded to see him? ‘Call me Daichi,’ he wanted to say, ‘Call me Sawamura-kun, I don’t want to be just another customer anymore.’
But aloud, he said, as easily and jokingly as he could, “So, what’s the verdict?”
“Got the display working.” Sugawara waved what Daichi now saw was his smartphone, looking pleased. “It’s just not going to be quite as pretty anymore, unfortunately. Can’t do anything about the screen crack or scratches.”
“No, no, that’s all I needed, seriously.” He came forward, hand out to take the phone back and examine it, and that’s when it slipped out, easy as breathing. “You’re amazing.”
And the way it came out was a little different than the way Nishinoya had said it back on that first day. Because Daichi didn’t think Sugawara was a wizard; he thought he was an angel.
For a second something flickered in Sugawara’s dark eyes, or Daichi thought it did. Something bright and uncertain, and Daichi almost stopped himself and let his embarrassing but totally honest slip-up lie there between them, meaning exactly what he wanted it to mean.
He lost his nerve at the last second. “I—I mean, it’s amazing that you fixed it! Honestly, I thought it was a lost cause.”
“It really wasn’t that hard,” Sugawara assured him, and Daichi was left to wonder if he’d been imagining things after all. “It was a loose connection, like I thought. Not so different from what happened to it the first time, funny enough.”
Daichi sighed inwardly. Maybe the universe was trying to tell him something after all. They were just going in circles.
Sugawara wordlessly held out the smartphone to him, and Daichi took it, feeling the odd urge to be gentle despite the phone’s battered condition.
The thick crack and scuff marks were still there, but beneath them the screen showed a clear image. Daichi tapped a couple apps and watched them react perfectly. He found himself smiling in spite of himself. Despite his best efforts, his phone was apparently a survivor.
When he looked back up, the extra words of gratitude that he’d readied died on his lips. Sugawara was watching him with a curiously intent expression. He looked thoughtful, like he had earlier, a trace of a smile on his mouth like he was amused, not by Daichi but as if at some private joke.
Say something, his heart begged.
Don’t make even more of a fool of yourself over a dumb crush, his brain snapped.
“Thanks again,” Daichi forced out. “Maybe I’ll see you again…if something else goes wrong.”
“Well, for your sake I’ll hope it doesn’t.” Daichi allowed himself a last, guilty surge of pleasure at the smile Sugawara bestowed on him, the scrunch of his eyes and the shift of his arms on the counter. “But you know where to find me.”
God, did Daichi ever.
He didn’t look back over his shoulder this time, because he was sure if he did, he’d go sprinting back and fall on his knees right there in front of the IT desk and shout his feelings to the skies like the climax of a romantic comedy.
Instead he just walked out, the ultimate anticlimax, feeling like Sugawara’s eyes were watching him every step of the way.
Maybe the tech was right. Maybe he was smart…way too smart for his own good.
It was freezing cold when he stepped out of the bookstore and into the sunlight, and Daichi hugged his coat around himself even tighter.
Daichi was done. He’d thought for a brief moment back there…but no. He couldn’t trust himself or his judgment when it came to Sugawara anymore; he was seeing and hearing everything through the lens of the smitten, he was sure. For all he knew, Sugawara already had someone (he swallowed back the bitterness that accompanied the thought), or got confessed to all the time and was sick of it.
He just needed to leave the crush alone, like resisting the urge to scratch an itch, and it would pass. Maybe he hadn’t done everything he could have to let Sugawara know how he felt, but he’d certainly done enough; the crack and scuffs on his poor phone were the lasting evidence of that.
Still, it was very hard, at least right now, not to feel the looming shadow of what might have been, not to fall into thinking endlessly about the ‘should haves’ and ‘could haves’.
He was dragged abruptly out of his moping by the buzzing of his phone. He pulled it out with a sigh. At least it still works after all this.
Wait. Could it possibly be…?
No. Don’t be stupid; you almost lost an expensive phone over this, it’s time to stop, Daichi. No more.
Still, he couldn’t stop the hopeful surge rising in his chest, until he saw that the new mail message was not from a certain IT tech, but from his organic chemistry professor.
The hope went crashing to the bottom of his ribcage. This could only be about his grade for the midterm. He’d probably failed it so badly that it would be difficult to recover; maybe his professor was recommending he retake the class.
Figuring his mood couldn’t get much lower at this point, he opened the message more or less resigned to his fate. He squinted at the words, which were slightly warped by the screen’s crack.
I am contacting you regarding this week’s midterm. I was surprised by your comparatively poor score on our recent exam as compared to earlier ones; your records show that you normally perform above average in the sciences, including organic chemistry. However, I was also impressed with the time you took to calculate and show your work for even the most tedious and difficult problems. While a substantial amount of your answers were partially or wholly incorrect, your processes were mostly sound, and no other student in the class showed this level of dedication and work ethic on the exam. Taking this into account, as well as the fact that you very nearly passed even with the extra time-consuming calculations, I have decided to make a singular exception and give you a passing grade. Be aware that this is something I will allow only once; I fully expect you to return to your usual performance on future exams and assignments.
Please enjoy your week.
Daichi gave a weak, helpless laugh. He’d never imagined that his desperate attempt to complete the test without his phone’s help would be taken as some kind of hard-working perfectionism. And now, with his phone working again thanks to Sugawara, he could be sure he’d pass the class.
So something, at least, had gone right.
He had to swallow a thick knot in his throat when he realized that his first instinct was to go back and tell Sugawara, to see if this time he would laugh with Daichi, instead of at his wifi name and apparent awful luck with technology, or prop his lean forearms on the counter and listen with twinkling, amused eyes as Daichi read him out the email in his best impression of Takizawa-sensei’s gruff voice. And maybe he’d finally get up the courage to tell Sugawara to call him Daichi, or at least Sawamura-kun, and ask if he could come back and see him even if he had no broken phone or malfunctioning wireless connection.
But no, that was not part of Sugawara’s job, and if Daichi was going to move past this silly crush, he needed to draw a line for himself. He simply hadn’t been able to muster the right words, Sugawara hadn’t offered anything, and he was not going to sacrifice any more technology to this cause. That was that.
He made himself reread the professor’s email to try and recapture the fleeting sense of relief, something to counter the heavy stone of disappointment in the pit of his stomach.
Halfway through the email, a notification for a new mail from Unknown Number popped up at the top of his phone screen.
Daichi flicked it absently with his thumb; ‘unknown number’ usually meant a computer-generated mail advertising something or a reminder about a dentist appointment or some such.
A relatively long text popped up. The first thing he noticed was that there was an emoji in it; ads and automatic reminders did not usually use emojis.
Daichi read it, his jaw falling further open and the tempo of his heart quickening with every word.
This message is a test to make sure your phone is working properly again! ( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ
If I am, I get off my shift at 4:30 this afternoon if you want to get hot chocolate with me and maybe explain how your wi-fi came to be named ‘Dark Slasher Sawamura’, because I’ve seriously been wondering about it this whole time.
And if you do want this number in your contacts, please save it under ‘Suga.’ Sugawara is just what they made me put on my nametag, and it makes me feel older and a lot more stuffy than I actually am.
Sitting here for the rest of my shift hoping I’m not wrong,
The stone in his stomach cracked and split apart and evaporated into a swell of joy ten times stronger than anything the email about his grade had made him feel.
Daichi had never hit Reply faster in his entire life. His heart was trying to break out of his chest it was pounding so hard.
Suga, he began, and it felt so stupidly wonderful to type that, to hear it in his head, so much softer and more intimate than Sugawara. He even whispered it out loud under his breath, just because he could.
You’re not wrong, you couldn’t possibly be less wrong. I’ll meet you at the Student Commons coffee place as soon as you can get there after work. I’ll tell you all about my wi-fi name if you tell me about those worse ones you mentioned you’ve seen.
You can save my number under ‘Daichi’, since I don’t really want to be your customer anymore, and I’m running out of devices to break anyway.
Hopefully no longer a danger to technology,
It was only after he hit Send that he realized he’d been grinning like a fool the entire time he’d been typing. He stuffed his phone in his pocket, buried his flushed face into the collar of his fleecy jacket, and took deep, shivery breaths, trying to calm his racing heart. But he was already beset by images of Suga’s smile, and that text, and Suga’s laugh, and how he wanted to have hot chocolate with Daichi, and the way Suga’s face might look when he got Daichi’s reply and indirect confession, and how he had Suga’s number now and Suga had his, and he could tell him all about the email from his professor, and Suga could tell him stories about his customers and coworkers, and Daichi could ask if he could bring Suga lunch on his shifts sometimes, or if maybe someday he’d like to come up to Daichi’s (wonderful, blessed single) dorm room and watch movies on his perfectly functioning laptop and share a blanket and—and all of this was desperately counterproductive to his heart rate and his burning face but he didn’t care.
He opened up his contact list and hit ‘Add New Contact’ with a sense of excitement and hope that he couldn’t remember ever feeling before. Not even when he was fourteen.
It wasn’t even Christmas yet, but Daichi couldn’t think of a single thing that would top this.
Although…he supposed he could always ask for a new phone.