by cimorene
for pixxers' birthday, may 2006.

Fuji has never found it difficult to do what needs to be done. He has never flinched from pain. That was why, the first time Eiji asked him how he could do it, he didn't immediately understand what Eiji meant. That was unusual for him, to say the least.

Eiji has only mentioned Takashi to Fuji a handful of times all year, even though he answers almost all Fuji's emails. Most of the time you could believe no thought of it had crossed his mind, and Fuji knows that isn't true. Eiji is subtler than he seems. This is part of why Fuji loves him.

He never considered having anyone else meet him when he came back to Japan; he didn't even tell anyone else exactly when he was coming. So when he catches sight of Eiji at Narita, not alone and not with Oishi but with Inui, Fuji knows right away what is going to happen. There is only one reason Eiji would do this. He doesn't intend to let Fuji get away.

Eiji jumps on Fuji and slings both arms around his shoulders, chanting "Fuji-Fuji-Fuji!" Fuji hugs him back and greets Inui over his head. The crowd streams around them and Fuji watches Inui calculating whether he should say anything.

He decides to spare both of them the trouble, more because he is a tired than out of any real desire to alleviate their discomfort. He doesn't intend to put up a fight, anyway. It would only be a waste of time, and there's no point putting it off. "If you'll both excuse me for a moment," he says, "It's been a long flight. I'm going to splash a little cold water on my face."

He cannot go to see Takashi feeling as bedraggled and travel-worn as he does.

Even after washing his face carefully and drinking his fill of cold water, running his hands through his hair and straightening his clothes, Fuji doesn't feel ready. He feels dirty and unsettled from the long trip, off-balance from jetlag. He feels a steady, solid pain at the thought of seeing Takashi again, one that keeps perfect pace with his heart. But he will do what he has to.

When the taxi stops outside Kawamura Sushi, Fuji turns to look at Eiji and Inui and opens his eyes. "Eiji," he says. "Will you take my suitcases home? I'd rather go in alone."

Inui says nothing, only pushes his glasses up his nose; Eiji stares. "Fuji - !"

"I'll call you tomorrow, all right?" Fuji smiles. He goes in alone.

The front room of the sushi shop is much as it was a year ago, except more crowded. The restaurant has started to build a reputation, but it hasn't expanded yet. Fuji doesn't recognise either of the men behind the counter - that is something new, the number of employees from outside the family. Takashi is nowhere in the room. Fuji stands in the doorway, he thinks, for longer than he should. It isn't the pain that is giving him pause - it is the other feeling. The impulse, and the happiness he feels just from being here.

He walks past the counter and into the kitchen. One of the men from behind the counter starts to come after him, but Fuji ignores him and goes straight to the counter where Takashi's father is working. "Kawamura-san, I hope I'm not interrupting."

Kawamura-san looks up quickly and puts down his fish knife. "Fuji-kun! What a surprise. I thought you were in Europe!"

Fuji chuckles a little. "I was. I'm back, now. It's nice to see you again."

Kawamura-san has always liked Fuji. "The same," he beams. "Takashi will be so pleased."

Fuji is suddenly uncertain how Takashi will feel. He wouldn't be angry at least - Takashi is never angry at him. Fuji has often thought it would be better if he were. All he says is, "Is he here?"

"Upstairs," says Kawamura-san, "he's off until this evening."

Takashi's door is open, which for some reason makes Fuji breathless. He climbs the rest of the stairs slowly, until he stands finally in Takashi's doorway, feeling jetlag and his year in Italy and all the mental distance he has managed to buy himself slipping through his fingers.

Takashi is sleeping on top of the covers on his bed, light from a bedside lamp glowing on one side of his face, a magazine open on his chest. Fuji looks at him and feels naked - and, underneath the fresh pain, distinctly happy.

He's grown only a little taller, but his shoulders and arms have filled out more with muscles. He must be stronger - he has always been strong - but in his sleep he looks small, and alone.

Fuji suddenly feels as though he hasn't been touched at all since he left.

He is just going to knock on the doorframe when Takashi stirs and his eyes flutter open. "Fujiko?" he murmurs, half asleep, even before he starts to smile.

Fuji closes the door behind him and smiles back. "Taka-san," he begins, and then runs out of words.

By now Takashi is waking up, pushing himself upright and blinking in bewilderment. "Fuji! You're back!"

"Yes," Fuji says, and lets himself stare. "Tadaima."

The magazine has slid down into Takashi's lap and he hasn't noticed it yet. Sleep is still slowly clearing from his face. "Okaeri," he mumbles, and then he surprises Fuji more than he has done in years: he doesn't lower his eyes, not even for an instant.

His time in Italy may have taught Fuji the expected lesson in living with heartache, but it has apparently taught Takashi something entirely different from what Fuji expected.

Of course Takashi could have simply outgrown some of his adolescent shyness in that year. They are adults now; he is a sushi chef in training, not a high school student.

But Fuji knows it's not just that. He saw it in Takashi's eyes, so serious and certain. He wonders if he has underestimated Takashi again.

He is starting to hope so.

Fuji comes further into the room. "Can I have a seat?" he says. "I just got off the plane. I'm a little tired."

Takashi scrambles up to make room on the bed. "Straight from the airport? You shouldn't have, Fuji. You need to rest."

I know I shouldn't, Fuji doesn't say. He wishes Takashi would call him Fujiko again. "I'm all right," he smiles, settling down on the edge of the bed next to him. "But how are you?"

"Oh." Takashi shrugs and rubs the back of his neck. "I'm good. The training's going pretty well. Even Dad says I'll be as good as him soon."

Fuji laughs. "Wow. From Kawamura-san that's high praise."

But Takashi continues as if Fuji hasn't spoken. "But now," he says, and looks straight at Fuji again, "I'm just happy to see you."

Fuji can't help it - he opens his eyes. "Taka-san," he says, lower than he intended.

It's unusual for Fuji that he has no idea how this conversation is going to go, let alone having planned it in advance. Fuji has actually never even thought about a moment like this, like the moment he can't help but hope for now, because although he has wanted Takashi for a long time, he has never allowed himself to plan to take him. When Fuji thinks about Takashi he thinks about coming home from his classes to the sushi shop, kissing Takashi in its kitchen and taking impromptu train trips with him, leaning on his shoulder and making love with him in the bath. He doesn't think about this.

"You must be a little disappointed to have to leave Italy," Takashi says. "It sounded like you had a lot of fun there."

"Actually," says Fuji, "I'm very glad to be home." And he is, because he couldn't help looking forward to seeing Takashi again even when he didn't look forward to this meeting. He always knew he would have to try himself by seeing Takashi again when he came back, to see if it had worked - if Takashi had moved on like he should have, if a year would be enough to turn them from close friends, more intimate than Fuji had ever intended, into friendly acquaintances.

It obviously hasn't, and Takashi is still returning Fuji's gaze, even though Fuji hasn't closed his eyes. "I'm glad you came here," says Takashi, "even if you should rest."

Fuji shrugs that off with a smile. "I heard the other regulars haven't seen you very much the past year."

He is almost expecting Takashi to surprise him again by now. Fuji doesn't like to hope; he likes to be certain of things and he tries not think about having the things he cannot have. Hoping now feels dangerous to him, like a too-large hand squeezing inside him, crushing his lungs and heart too small.

"I guess not," Takashi frowns, "I've been busy with sushi school and the shop," and Fuji imagines he can feel internal bruises forming, blood vessels splitting and flooding tissue, heat blooming and swelling under the pressure. "To tell the truth, I've been depressed, Fuji," he continues. "I've missed you a lot this year," and instead of easing the pressure gets worse.

"More than you expected," Fuji says unevenly, and his voice comes out scratchy too, bearing the imprints of those burgeoning bruises.

"No," Takashi answers firmly, without looking away. "I always knew how much it would hurt." Always knew. If Fuji's eyes weren't open they would open now. It's impossible - Takashi can't know what he is saying. "I was just glad that it took you that long to go away. I expected it a long time before."

But Takashi does know. Fuji can't doubt what Takashi's eyes are telling him any longer. He has always thought they were remarkably clear and open - it is one of the things Fuji first loved about him. He is artless, his face so expressive, and his eyes are beautiful. He's watching Fuji determinedly now, so directly Fuji can read innumerable tiny nuances in them, not just love and sadness, but courage and a total lack of expectation.

That absence is so stark, even when it is no more than a sliver of expression in Takashi's wide brown eyes, that it pains Fuji more than all the months of willing separation have done. It makes the hope he tried for so long to crush tremble in his chest.

"Takashi," Fuji says.

Takashi looks a little surprised to hear his full name. "Fuji?"

Fuji leans closer to him on the bed. "Won't you call me 'Fujiko' again?"

"I - " Takashi stutters, eyes widening. "Fuji - "

"Please. Fujiko," says Fuji.

"Fujiko," Takashi repeats, a little choked, still staring. Fuji is sitting closer to him now than he has since the tournament season their senior year of high school, when Takashi came to watch their matches and sat with him in the stands. It feels so good, Takashi's solid warmth, his nearness, the contentment Fuji used to take for granted.

"Good," says Fuji. "For now. Soon I'm going to ask you to call me Syuusuke. But for now I think that you're right - I need to rest." He puts his lips near Takashi's ear. "You have time to lie down with me, don't you?"

"I don't - Fujiko - what?" says Takashi hesitantly, but one hand goes automatically to Fuji's back, the other wrapping around his upper arm. His breath whispers by Fuji's ear, the sound of his voice soft and vulnerable.

Fuji shivers and slides even closer, right into Takashi's lap, pressing into his arms, but Takashi doesn't recoil at all - his arms wrap around Fuji at once, cradling him carefully, and he doesn't say anything when Fuji kisses him, only accepts the kiss and kisses him back gently. It is Fuji making these sounds - the low gasp as Takashi's arm tightens around his waist, the soft pleading hum as his mouth opens and he tastes the sweetness of Takashi's tongue, the broken little sob as he breaks the kiss and clutches at Takashi's shoulders.

"Fujiko," Takashi whispers, and Fuji feels it stir his hair. Takashi is stroking Fuji's back carefully.

Fuji keeps his face buried in the curve of Takashi's neck until his breath evens out and he can speak with a semblance of control again. He can still feel something trembling in him. It was hope and desire before, wanting that Fuji kept sealed up in a hard shell, but now the shell has cracked open he can feel all that wanting in every part of him, like the pins-and-needles feeling of blood flowing back into a limb that has gone to sleep.

"Taka-san," says Fuji quietly, once he is able. "Your father told me that you don't have to work until this evening."

"I have a few hours, until seven," Takashi says. His hand slides under Fuji's hair and touches the back of his neck, his thumb trailing down the side so slowly it makes Fuji shiver again. He's incredibly tired suddenly, confused and worn thin, as though he hasn't slept the whole time he's been gone.

"I may have some jetlag, after all," Fuji says. "I think I'd like to sleep."

"Oh," says Takashi.

"So do you think we can get under the covers," says Fuji, "without getting up first?"

"I don't think so," Takashi says. He doesn't move, probably for fear of disturbing Fuji's head on his shoulder. "You can stay here as long as you want, Fujiko." He makes the offer simple and straightforward, like so much of what he does. He doesn't mean it even slightly as a question, as Fuji would have.

But Fuji answers it anyway. "I want to, Taka-san. I want to stay. And I'd like you to stay with me."

Takashi breathes deeply and evenly, his chest rising against Fuji's. For a moment, he is silent. Then he says, "Of course. I - I'd like to."

Once Fuji lets go of him and reaches to pull back the corner of the comforter, he shifts to help, but he was right that they can't get under the covers without getting up. He finally stands up, tightening his grip and lifting Fuji with him. Fuji's feet don't even touch the ground before he's tucked in under the blanket, in between Takashi and the wall.

"Mmm," Fuji sighs, and shifts his head from Takashi's pillow onto his shoulder. He knows he is going to have to explain himself to Takashi more, after he wakes up again. He's looking forward to it, in fact. They have all the time in the world, now. "I'm staying, Takashi," he whispers, halfway to sleep.

There's a shift in the warmth enveloping him that Fuji is too tired to sort out into separate sensations, arms and chests and feet, but he knows Takashi is touching him and that it feels good. "I believe you," Takashi tells him. "It's all right, Fujiko. You can go to sleep." And he does.


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