Huffing onto his hands to warm them, Slaine watched the white puff of his breath fade into the crisp air. Most of the students gave him combinations of pitying or curious looks when they walked by him on their way out the school gate, and he alternated between staring at the cloudless blue sky and the ground at his feet to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Eventually Inko and Nina passed by too, stopping briefly to give him words of encouragement while Rayet hung back and eyed him like she couldn’t quite decide if it was worth the blow to her reputation to approach. In the end she didn’t, but Slaine caught the hand warmer she tossed at him as they left to walk home together.
“I feel cold just looking at you.”
“Inaho-san!” Slaine jolted, angling himself to face his friend, “Are you done already?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t a large problem.” The brunet fell silent, brown eyes focused on Slaine’s face, and Slaine tilted his head questioningly. “Don’t move.”
Obediently he stood still, watching Inaho unwrap the faded orange scarf from his neck only to wind it loosely around Slaine’s. It was soft where it brushed against his face, already warm from Inaho’s body heat, and it smelled like–
He shook his head to clear that thought, reaching up to grasp the scarf and glad that his face was already red from the cold. “Then you will be cold, Inaho-san. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“The school building was warm, the walk won’t make my core temperature drop as fast,” the brunet brushed it off, “You should have gone home.”
Slaine smiled sheepishly under the brown gaze, feeling disappointed but relieved at the same time; he should have expected that. “I said I would wait.” He glanced away at the ground, trying to gather his courage, but before he could speak, Inaho grabbed his wrist and started pulling him along. Making a surprised noise, Slaine hurriedly sorted out his feet and trotted to keep up, the brunet’s quick, purposeful strides more than making up for the difference in their heights.
Their destination was apparently a vending machine sitting unassumingly on a street corner, and Slaine wondered why his friend had been so set on this particular one. It wasn’t until Inaho turned around, offering him a can of hot chocolate, that he realized the one near their school would have long been empted of hot drinks.
“Thank you,” he said gratefully as he took the can, feeling the warmth seep into his cold fingers.
“You had something to tell me?”
At the reminder Slaine froze, and he had to brace himself before he could drag his eyes up to meet Inaho’s. Nothing on the brunet’s expression or in the brown eyes showed that his friend anticipated anything out of the ordinary, and suddenly the whole idea seemed ridiculous even in his mind, his body going cold for a reason that had nothing to do with the weather.
“It’s nothing important,” he lied quickly, plastering a smile on his face as he clutched the drink in his hand like a lifeline, “Please forget about it.”
“If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t specifically ask to talk,” the level tone gave the impression of certainty, and the brown eyes looked so calmly into his, “We already walk home together; you have plenty of chances.”
“That’s,” he started, but he had no idea what he could say, and the thought that he might ruin their friendship whether he said anything or not was making his eyes sting in a telltale way. Shaking his head, he averted his gaze in hopes that it wouldn’t be so obvious. “It really is nothing.”
“Is that so.” Slender fingers tapped the canned drink in Slaine’s hand, wordlessly drawing his attention to the white knuckled grip he had on it. “If you can’t tell me, have you asked Seylum-san to help you?”
The mention of her name reminded him of the girl’s delighted smile and all the encouraging words she had lavished onto him until he felt courageous enough to try in the first place, and it felt much like he had let her down. “She already knows,” he said quietly.
“Ah.” It was such a small, soft noise, but it sounded so knowing and so hollow–
“It’s not like that!” Slaine lifted his head, finding that Inaho’s face was blurry through his unshed tears, and his thoughts were a chaotic mess in his head. “She noticed I had been distracted lately, and she got really worried when I didn’t want to say anything; I told her I’d confess, but I didn’t think about what would happen if you rejec–“ He stopped his babbling a second too late, the brown eyes widening ever so slightly. Panic and dread crashing to make his face feel too hot and his body too cold, Slaine closed his eyes in an attempt to stop the tears from falling.
“I knew.” The voice was quiet, but Slaine’s eyes snapped open at the statement.
“I knew that you liked me, but I didn’t think you’d be able to say it.” Inaho paused, the slightest curve of a smirk on his face. “Sort of.”
“You–” Failing to find a word that could describe the brunet, he turned on his heel instead, with full intentions of storming off. “I’m leaving.”
Slaine hadn’t managed more than a step before he felt a hand catch his wrist, firm enough to stop him, but loose enough that he could jerk his arm away if he wanted to. “People don’t usually run away after confessing to someone.” He half turned to look at their nearly connecting hands, painfully aware of the hot tear tracks on his face, and then finally he steeled himself and dragged his eyes up to Inaho’s face.
“I wanted to see more of you,” the smirk was gone; Inaho let out a quiet breath that might have been a sigh of relief, “If I’m not confident in my answer, it would only hurt you.”
Turning fully around, Slaine faced his friend, biting at his bottom lip in nervousness. The brunet only watched him patiently until he managed, “What answer did you come to?”
“You look beautiful even when you’re crying, but I don’t want to see you doing that,” Inaho said unabashedly, voice and gaze steady in a way that Slaine could only envy as he felt himself blush, “If I’ve caught you, I don’t want to let go. Eye contact makes you nervous or embarrassed, but you have striking eyes.” Slaine hadn’t noticed how close his friend had gotten – had he moved too? – until he realized that looking away from the brown eyes meant he had to turn his head to the side.
“Th-That’s not an answer,” he stuttered briefly when Inaho’s free hand settled against the scarf on his neck, sliding up to cup his jaw. The distractingly light touch had Slaine looking at the brunet again.
“I think we would work out.” Inaho tilted his head, the and you? hanging in the air between them like the small puffs of white that marked their breaths. Slaine worried at his lip again, gaze flitting down to the soft mouth before settling back to the brown eyes. He decided to move before he lost his nerve again, angling his head to what he assumed to be a better position and leaning forward to close the distance between them.
It was a chaste kiss, just moving lips, but Slaine lingered over it. He felt the hand on his face move to tug the scarf out of the way, the brief brush of cold fingers sharply contrasted against the warmth. Inaho must have felt him shiver; the brunet withdrew the hand and pulled back.
“We should go.”
Slaine nodded, pulling up the scarf so he could duck his face into it. He looked down at the hand still holding onto this wrist, and he shifted it so that it was interlaced with his. “It’s warmer this way,” he explained when the brown eyes cut to him. Inaho made an acknowledging hum, and then casually stuffed their connected hands into his coat pocket, forcing Slaine to step closer.
“It’s warmer this way,” the brunet said, amusement in the brown eyes, and Slaine just gave a wordless, embarrassed growl before pulling them onto the way home.