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I'll be here (when it all gets weird)

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I.

“Are you Takao Kazunari?”

“Yeah.” Takao didn’t bother looking up from the book he was studying. He usually came to the library after school had ended for an hour or two of quiet before heading home. The library was Takao’s way of staying disciplined; once he’d done his homework, he could go home, go through his trading card collection, or play his music loud, and generally have fun however he wanted.

The same voice said, “Then I have something to say to you, Takao.”

“O-kay.” Takao sighed and looked up. “What?” A cursory look around told him that no librarians were in sight. Takao realized too, that he knew the guy who was standing expectantly in front of him. They didn’t share the same homeroom, but Takao thought he recognized Midorima Shintarou from his English class. No, he definitely recognized him because Takao spent a stupid amount of time staring at the back of Midorima’s head. In fact, he often fantasized about thwacking the guy between the shoulders for blocking the chalkboard.

“Oha Asa says I’ll meet my soulmate today.” These words were spoken by the green-haired boy with such conviction that Takao couldn’t help but pay attention. There was also the fact that he didn’t find his homework interesting, but that was another thing altogether.

After a moment had passed, the strange spell of his intensity broke and Takao couldn’t help but laugh. He laughed so hard that he nearly fell out of his chair. A nearby librarian shushed him loudly with a finger pressed against her stern, straight mouth. Takao had paid so much attention to that strange sentence out of Midorima’s mouth that he forgot to keep an eye on his surroundings, which almost never happened.

After Takao had recovered, he said, staring up at Midorima, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Oha Asa the horoscope.” Midorima repeated himself. The chair directly opposite of Takao’s was empty and Takao watched as the guy lowered himself onto the chair without further invitation. “Do you know it?”

“Yeah. I got that first part. My little sister checks Oha Asa sometimes. Say the second part again?”

Midorima sighed, as if he was in great pain. “It said that I was going to meet my soulmate today.”

So it wasn’t any less funny the second time. But this time, Takao was prepared and he bit down on his lower lip to keep from laughing.

“It’s really not that funny.” Midorima touched a hand to his glasses. But his tone was neutral, as if he’d expected this exact response and wasn’t terribly bothered by it.

“Actually, it’s hilarious,” Takao said. “I sit behind you in English. So you know, it’s not like we haven’t met. Don’t tell me you believe in all the soulmates crap. That only happens on TV.” Then again, the guy read horoscopes. Takao had told the truth about Nariko, his younger sister keeping up with Oha Asa kind of, but what he didn’t add was that Nariko mostly made fun of it, taking special amusement at the “lucky items” listed for each of the signs. Takao had to admit, some of the items were pretty ridiculous.

“You weren’t my soulmate yesterday.” Midorima leaned forward, elbows and all. But he stopped short of pushing himself into Takao’s space, something that Takao appreciated.

“But what about tomorrow?” Takao asked. He was hardly a cynic. In fact, most people who knew him would likely say that he was the opposite. Takao wasn’t the greatest at math, but he was all right at fractions, enough to know that one over however many billion was a very small number. It made no sense to him, to be sure about such a number, but there was nothing but certainty on Midorima’s face.

Midorima considered this and nodded, as if to concede that Takao had a point. He stretched out his arm and took a moment and unbuttoned his sleeve. He rolled it up a couple of inches and drew Takao’s attention to the inside of his wrist. “What do you see?”

Takao looked. There was a bluish purple mark, right over Midorima’s veins, where his heartbeat ought to be. He’d learned about this along with everyone else in elementary school, where the teacher had pointed it out as the soulmark vein, if briefly. She was in and out of there in less than five minutes, as if she’d been in a hurry to tick off a box that needed checking. Takao had also seen those marks on television, mostly on reality shows that Nariko again, watched just to make fun of. Television had a knack for finding things that weren’t meant to be found, or at least making it look that way. It’d been long understood that one’s soulmark vein only glowed blue when their soulmate was nearby.

“How do I know that’s not a tattoo?” Thanks to a certain TV show, soulmark tattoos were all the rage and were a point of great pride for some of the students. Valentine’s Day was in a couple of weeks, and it seemed that everywhere Takao looked, seeing a splash of blue was unavoidable.

Now Midorima looked offended and he buttoned himself up again. For the first time, Takao realized that the other boy’s long fingers were bound up neatly with tape. “Do I look like the type to get a tattoo?”

“...I guess not.”

Midorima reached over and put his hand on Takao’s wrist. It’d happened so quickly that Takao didn’t have the chance to jerk away. Through the uneven bumps of the tape, Takao could still tell that Midorima’s fingers were warm.

“Let me see the inside of your wrist, Takao.”

Takao felt himself grow unnaturally red. “What? No! That’s...I don’t have anything on my wrist. Definitely don’t have a tattoo.”

“Oha Asa is never wrong,” said Midorima. “But I’m willing to make you a deal. If there’s nothing on your soulmark vein, then I’ll leave you alone.”

“Okay. I’m telling you, there’s nothing there. Look.” Takao relented. He stretched out his arm the way Midorima had done and watched as long fingers unbuttoned his sleeve and rolled it up.

“What’s that?”

Takao looked. There was the faintest stain of blue on his vein. He couldn’t exactly make out a pattern, but he was pretty sure Midorima’s mark hadn’t quite settled either. Which was a bad thing. Tattoos didn’t tend to move. “I’m pretty sure that’s just ink. From a pen?”

Midorima didn’t look convinced. But for someone who was so convinced that a horoscope held the answers to life he looked just surprised enough that Takao saw a chance to escape. He hastily grabbed his stuff and the jacket that was draped over the back of his chair. He got up in such a hurry that his chair scraped the floor, earning him another dirty look from the librarian.

“Anyway, I have to go now. See you at school tomorrow, Shin-chan.”

“...Shin-chan?” Midorima looked a little like someone had slapped him across the face.

“Yeah,” Takao said, “Shin-chan. It’s what I’m going to call you from now on and you have to live with it. Especially if we’re what you think we are. But you know, we’re not.” It was the first name that had popped into Takao’s head that would likely annoy Midorima. It looked like it did the job, even as Midorima tried to hide the fact behind his glasses.

Hopefully, by tomorrow, Midorima Shintarou would wake up too, and realize that all this was crazy. A fluke.

II.

The first thing that Takao did when he got home was shuck off his school uniform and change into a t-shirt. And then he went into the bathroom and washed his hands, taking special care to use plenty of soap to scrub off the purple mark on the inside of his wrist.

After about fifteen minutes, Takao conceded that it was probably a lost cause. The mark was still there and it was less faint than he remembered it. He felt a strange sense of determination from the mark, and was determined not to look at it again.

“...Kazu-nii?” Nariko appeared in the doorway of the bathroom. “Are you okay?” She was still in her uniform.

“I’m.” Takao began and stopped himself short again. “Come here, close the door. You have to promise not to tell Mom and Dad.”

He waited until Nariko had closed the door and seated herself next to him on the edge of the tub.

“I promise not to tell Mom and Dad.” Nariko nodded solemnly. But then she was quick to add, “Unless you’re like...sick or something. Are you sick, Kazu-nii? You don’t look great.”

“I feel okay,” Takao said, and he did feel physically fine. He didn’t feel like he couldn’t eat dinner; in fact he felt quite hungry and looked forward to having natto on rice, something that the family had every Wednesday. He also didn’t feel dizzy, just...a little pissed off. Midorima was someone who seemed like he was always a little pissed off, but Takao was determined not to think about that, too. “You also have to promise not to laugh.”

“Did you confess to someone?” Nariko raised an eyebrow.

“What, no! Someone confessed to me. Kind of.”

“Really?”

“What’s with that tone, ‘really’, Nariko-chan?”

A smile tugged at the edge of his sister’s mouth. Takao supposed she was trying hard not to laugh. “It’s just you’re a bit of a loser sometimes. And it’s not Valentine’s Day yet.”

“I hope you feel good about yourself calling your brother a loser.” Takao sighed. Finally, he thought he was ready, and held out his arm towards Nariko. “Look at this. I can’t wash it off. And it’s moving.”

Nariko’s expression changed as she traced a perfectly manicured nail over the mark, which wasted no time trying to squirm away from her. “You’re kidding. No way.”

“Way.”

“Was the person who confessed to you your soulmate? Did they have a mark too? Do you know what this means, Kazu-nii? It means you can go on TV!”

“He had a mark. But Shin-chan reads Oha Asa like it’s life and death. Maybe I won’t be his soulmate tomorrow. Like, I know I won’t.” Takao started to lean back, and remembered just in time that he was sitting at the edge of the bathtub. Okay, so maybe Nariko did have a point that he was a loser. But only sometimes.

His sister still peered at him with great interest. “Shin-chan?”

“His name is Midorima Shintarou,” Takao told her, accompanying the piece of information with a shrug, as if it was no big deal. “I figured Shin-chan would annoy him enough that he’ll just forget about it tomorrow.”

“I’m still going to go check the Oha Asa horoscope!” Nariko said, and shot up from the tub’s edge as if someone had suddenly lit her butt on fire. “And you have to show me what this Shin-chan guy looks like! I hope he’s not ugly!”

“Hey!”Takao called after his sister, a beat too late. “I thought you weren’t even into this stuff.”

 

“Kazunari, are you feeling okay?” Takao’s mother fixed him with a concerned look. “You’ve barely touched your food.”

“I’m feeling a little weird.” Takao had to admit. He was suddenly very mindful of Nariko’s I-told-you-so gaze to his right and his mother’s bare, unmarked wrist as she reached to feel his forehead, checking his temperature. Usually, he wolfed down natto and rice in a few minutes and asked for seconds.

“Say, Kazu-nii,” said Nariko. “Does Shin-chan hate natto?”

Takao couldn’t help but shoot her an exasperated look. “Why are you calling him Shin-chan?”

“Dunno.” Nariko shrugged, but used an innocuously high-pitched voice to show that she knew exactly what she was talking about. “Just thought I’d help you annoy him.”

“Who’s Shin-chan?” Their mother asked, looking between them. “Kazunari, is someone giving you trouble at school?”

“I wouldn’t call him ‘-chan’ if he was.” Takao shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Mom. It’s just some guy, being weird. He’ll be over it tomorrow. Can I just fix myself a sandwich or something?”

“Well, all right. But do have some azuki bean soup after. It’ll help your digestion.”

Takao did like that much better, and this time, he didn’t wonder why.

 

The next day, Takao woke up feeling good. He was even able to ignore the blue-purple mark inside his wrist as he dressed for school. He made it all the way to lunch thinking the day was going fine, until he realized that someone had slid into the seat next to his, and a neatly wrapped bento box appeared in his line of sight. Takao caught the sight of taped fingers and then the rest of…

Midorima Shintarou.

Of course.

“Sorry about yesterday,” Midorima said without pretense. He didn’t sound sorry, either. “I’ve made you lunch. I hope you enjoy it.”

(Holy shit the guy sounded serious.)

“Which part of yesterday?” Takao had packed his own lunch. He’d decided not to tempt fate by asking his mother to pack natto and rice, but it seemed like fate had found him anyway.

Midorima ignored him for the moment and unwrapped his own bento. Out of curiosity, Takao couldn’t help but steal a peek. So far, Midorima fit into a neat stereotype: fastidious, practical, a little rude, and -

“What in the shit is that?” Takao was just about to add to his mental list that all of Midorima’s observable qualities should have made him an excellent, if somewhat surprising cook. Which also meant that the exact opposite was true. And shouldn’t be surprising, but Takao was shocked. “Seriously. Are you going to eat that? What is that?”

“It’s yakisoba,” Midorima said, unwrapping a plastic fork and before he could get started on his - Takao couldn’t believe that was yakisoba - something, he seemed to remember something. He stuck the fork in Takao’s direction. “I almost forgot. You should take this.”

“...Why?”

“It’s your lucky item. You’re a Scorpio right?” Midorima spotted the look on Takao’s face. “I’m not going to do this every day, but I figured you might need the extra help today.”

“Okay, again. Why?”

“Oha Asa ranks Scorpios at twelfth today,” Midorima said, as if it ought to be obvious. “If I were you, I would have stayed home.”

“I could still go home, I mean.” Takao cast a wary look as Midorima started eating his yakisoba, having procured another fork from his bag. “I’m pretty sure that will give me food poisoning and I’d be in bed for an entire week. How can you eat that?”

“It’s not the best yakisoba,” Midorima said, looking down at the contents of his fork. At a glance, Takao thought he spied a mangled piece of mushroom. “I even made it three times this morning, in fact. The other two attempts went in the trash.” He spoke those words without an ounce of shame, like they were merely fact.

What a strange guy.

Takao looked between the two bentos and then at his own lunch, rice with a generous side of kimchi. Suddenly, he felt more protective of his lunch than he usually did. “If you don’t mind, I might stick to my own lunch.” He put the plastic fork beside him. “Thanks for this though, I guess I’m feeling pretty lucky after all, you know?”

III.

To Takao’s surprise, after Midorima accosted him in the library about all that soulmate stuff, the guy mostly left him alone. Every once in a while, he’d turn up and sit next to Takao during lunch. And then he started sitting next to Takao more often, every day. Without fail, (or perhaps, with an inordinate amount of fail) Midorima’s lunches always looked homemade and terrible.

“I’d offer you some of mine, but judging by your face, you probably don’t want any.”

Today, Takao’s lunch considered of ome-rice and some dried mackerel. The dried mackerel didn’t taste as good as he remembered, but Takao liked to think that he was getting his head around the hangovers of this soulmate thing, if it really was a thing. It wasn’t like he and Midorima had had extensive conversations about it. But what Takao did know was that the strong smelling foods he liked eating (for example, natto, kimchi, dried mackerel) didn’t taste as good, though it didn’t stop him from eating them. He also found himself drinking more canned azuki bean soup to help with his digestion.

“You’re right, I don’t want any. Eating such strong-tasting foods will ruin your tastebuds.”

Takao looked over at Midorima’s lunch. Who knew what the hell that was. If he had to guess, it was probably an onigiri. And that was a big, general “probably” with a lot of flex. Takao considered himself a flexible guy. “Yeah, you don’t need my help with that.”

Midorima just gave him a look. Takao sighed and dug out a can of azuki bean soup from his bag. He’d only brought one today, but tomorrow, he’d remind himself to bring an extra can. He set it on the table and slid it towards Midorima.

“You can have this, Shin-chan. You like azuki bean, don’t you? You’re lucky my mother thinks it’s healthy to keep around the house.”

Midorima looked surprised, the expression slipping faintly into gratitude. He almost looked like he wanted to say thank you. But at the very last moment, he cracked the can open and took a big gulp. Then Midorima proceeded to stare at the can for a long time, and it left Takao wondering if the guy didn't like this brand. He seemed like the sort to be picky about this. But then Midorima seemed to come to a decision and he slid the can back in front of Takao again.

Immediately, Takao couldn't help but look at the lip of the can, where Midorima's mouth had just been. He felt a blush creeping up the back of neck and willed it not to reach his face. "Sorry if you hate it, or whatever. It's the brand we always get."

Midorima looked surprised. "Who said I hated it? I buy that brand too. I was just thinking that it wouldn't hurt for us to share. You only brought one, didn't you?"

"I did, but...never mind." Takao lifted the can and took a swig of his own. He tried his hardest not to think about how this probably counted as an indirect kiss.

 

“Does your family know about me?”

Takao promptly dropped the book he was holding. He bent to pick it up, and wow, just how tall was Midorima Shintarou anyway? “Course they do. I have to explain why I bring two cans of azuki bean soup to school now. It’s not like I steal from my own house.”

“But do they know, about…” Midorima touched his wrist.

Takao looked away. “Well, not exactly. I don’t even really know about -” Then he looked up again and found himself distracted by the tanuki statue that Midorima was carrying under his arm. “Were you...carrying that around with you all day?” Takao prided himself on paying attention and he didn’t think he’d just miss Midorima carrying round a statue the size of a small baby.

“It was confiscated during homeroom for being distracting. I got it back just now.”

“That’d...explain my stomach ache earlier today. Or does it? I’m still not sure how this works.” Takao started to get up and found himself staring at Midorima’s free hand, outstretched. “Thanks.” He took it and let the guy haul him up. “Does your family know?”

“My sister does. I’ve left a message for my parents too, they work abroad. But I’ll see them over the summer.”

“That sounds like a hell of an awkward voicemail. ‘Hey, Mom, Dad, wouldn’t you believe it, but I found my soulmate at school.’” Takao felt a laugh bubble up his throat. Just saying that made it sound crazy and absurd. Usually, he would have tried to keep it in to be polite, but given the fact that it was only Midorima standing in front of him, it felt good to laugh. Laughing even made Takao’s stomach feel better, a little less tied up in knots.

Midorima said, his expression blank and untouchable at the same time, “I don’t understand why you’re laughing. My parents are soulmates and they met at school. Just because it’s always on some entertainment program being played for cheap, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

“Wha - really?”

“Yes, really.” For the first time, Midorima looked a bit uncomfortable, as if he’d just given away a private part of himself without meaning to. He turned away from Takao and adjusted his sleeve, as if he’d just spotted a wrinkle. “But that wasn’t what I was going to ask you.”

“You had something to ask me?”

Midorima looked uncomfortable again, and this time, since Takao was looking closely, he detected something different. Something almost like...embarrassment. Out loud, what he said was,“You’re good at English, right?”

“Sure, it’s my best subject, actually.” Takao never really thought about it until now, but he had a hard time imagining Midorima Shintarou getting bad grades. But then again, Midorima did a lot of things that surprised Takao.

One of things being getting Takao to surprise himself. He said, before he thought it all the way through, “Wanna come over to my house to study later? I don’t want the librarian to shush us again.”

 

Nobody was home, and Takao was glad. He wasn’t trying to hide Midorima from anybody, but in his head, he hadn’t come up with an explanation for...well, the obvious. And besides, even if he could explain it, there wasn’t anything really to explain.

They grabbed cans of azuki bean soup and headed upstairs to Takao’s bedroom. He’d forgotten to make his bed this morning, or put away the card collection he was sorting through from last night.

If Midorima thought that Takao’s room was messy, he kept it to himself. He simply asked if he could move a pile of clothes so he could sit in a chair.

“It’s usually not this messy,” Takao said, sweeping a pair of socks under the bed, out of sight before he sat down himself. “I bet your room is neater than mine, huh, Shin-chan?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“Does it annoy you?” Takao asked, both out of curiosity, and also in that one corner of his head, to prove a point (and not to be annoying). Now that he knew that Midorima’s parents were soulmates, things made slightly more sense, but there were plenty of other things that needed to fit in the puzzle.

The faintest curve of a smile brushed Midorima’s mouth and then disappeared in a phantom second. But still, because he’d never seen it before, in the time that they’d gotten to know each other, it was a little like Takao had been blinded by a strike of lightning.

“You sound like you want me to be annoyed, Takao,” Midorima said, arching a neat eyebrow. His eyebrows were probably as neat as his nails.

“It seems like an important point of fact.” Takao pointed out. He reached to rummage through his backpack to dig out the book they were studying in English, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Right. He smoothed his hand over the slightly worn cover, noting a new nick near one corner. It was nothing the teacher would get him for when he’d hand it in after the test next week. If the teacher meant it to be a funny joke or something, Takao didn’t find it too funny. And he found most things funny.

Even this, in a way. He just had to tilt his head a little. Find an angle.

Midorima’s voice broke Takao out of his thoughts: “Are you annoyed?”

The question wasn’t out of nowhere, this time, but Takao was surprised. “With you? I hadn’t really thought about it. You’re weird, but…” He trailed off, and shrugged. “It’s fine isn’t it? We get along. It takes a lot to annoy me.” Getting along was good, in Takao’s book. He tried his damndest to get along with most people. It was a good first step; but what came next after that with Midorima? Well...it was safe to say that Takao was still working on that.

“That almost sounds like a challenge.” Midorima stood up now and in only a step and a half, he was next to Takao’s bed. Then he sank down to his knees, so that from where Takao was sitting, they were eye-to-eye.

Takao felt the inside of his wrist grow warm. The strange gentle warmth that spread slowly from his wrist to his fingertips, and then to the rest of his body was dampening his fight or flight response. Namely, the urge to flee to the other side of the bed.

“What are you doing, Shin-chan?”

Midorima gave him a look. A look that Takao was fairly familiar with by now, an expression that was eighty percent “are you kidding me, shouldn’t it be obvious?” and maybe fifteen percent “I am judging you,” but the other five percent? Takao almost reached for “fond” but the moment Midorima Shintarou started looking at him fondly was the moment that Takao was going to have a heart attack.

Wait - was he going to have a heart attack?

“I just want to see your mark. Mine was itching earlier.” Midorima’s expression shifted back to something Without further ado, he reached for Takao’s arm, and instead of pulling away, Takao let the warm tingle of his soulmark take the lead and he allowed Midorima to push up his sleeve, so that the mark was visible. Today, the mark seemed to be in a great mood, glowing bright and blue as its strands trembled with excitement.

“And just so you know.” Midorima was staring very intently at the mark. He raised a hand, but stopped just short of touching it. But maybe he didn’t have to, because this was the same weird intensity that had drawn Takao to him the first time in the library.

“Just so I know…” Takao’s voice croaked and he had to clear his throat and start over. “What?”

“If I would have thought you’d annoy me, then I wouldn’t have approached you at all.” Finally, Midorima smoothed a finger over the mark. It was as if the warmth had been stoked into a real fire, raring to go, leaping through his body like a lit flame let loose in a forest.

“Yeah?” Takao bent his head until he was looking Midorima in the eyes again. “If you were thinking that, then maybe Oha Asa was wrong.”

“I told you, Oha Asa is never wrong.” But this time, Midorima didn’t even sound annoyed. Suddenly, along with the fire in his veins, Takao was aware too, that there was hardly any room between their faces and that Midorima’s breath smelled a little sweet, like azuki bean soup. “I’m here, aren’t I? And so are you.”

Takao had never kissed anyone before. He’d always thought that it would end up a bit messy, a lot awkward, and case in point, his neck felt sore already. But really it wasn’t any of those things. It was just nice and warm. Like he’d found something he didn’t know was missing.

“...Kazu-nii?” Somewhere in Takao’s conscious, he heard Nariko’s voice. And then she spoke again, about two octaves higher; so it wasn’t so much speaking as it was screeching: “Oh my God. You’re Shin-chan?”

And then Takao was back, flat on his bed with Midorima almost-but-not-quite sprawled on top of him. Nariko was standing at the door to his bedroom and crap, he’d forgotten to close the door.

“Go away, Nari-chan, I’m studying.” That could have come out better. But then it could have come out worse. Takao could only peek out through Midorima's armpit and that probably helped.

“Okay, right. Studying.” Nariko sounded very convinced.

Midorima, not one to miss a beat, said, “Only Takao gets to call me that.” Clearly, the guy had his priorities straight. Takao could feel his face grow red, happy to have Midorima as a shield for now.

Noriko just shrugged. “Well, close the door the next time you study, Kazu-nii. I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”

IV.

Things didn’t get out of control weird after their kiss in Takao’s room. Things maintained an equilibrium (a word that Takao had recently learned in biology, which was coincidentally Midorima’s best subject), just the right amount of weird so that he could deal with it.

“Miyaji-senpai, I didn’t know you got a tattoo! Did Yuu-chan get one too?”

Miyaji was a third year that Takao had gotten to know through after school club activities. It was also known that Miyaji was dating Yuu-chan because he reminded her of his favorite idol. (Maybe she didn’t know that exactly, but that’d explain why Miyaji had gotten the tattoo.)

“Yeah, yeah. I have to be careful not to wash it off too soon. Some of those places are ripoffs, you know. They make sure to get you back again and again. But I’d only do this because it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.”

“...Uh huh.” Out of the corner of his eye, Takao spotted Midorima putting a few books inside his bag. Beside his bag was a large ornate vase with a flowery pattern. It looked expensive. Today’s lucky item for Cancer, probably, and it was a tossup whether it’d gotten confiscated during the day.

“Where’d you get yours?” Miyaji pointed and Takao looked down at his wrist.

“Ah.” Panic rose up in his throat, and Takao managed to swallow it back down. “This place in Roppongi? Anyway, I gotta go.”

 

“You should have waited for me.” Midorima said, once he’d caught up.

“I only left a couple of minutes before you.” Takao pointed out. “Besides, I knew you’d catch up.” He didn’t know how he knew this, but he’d felt certain. “...Did you know Miyaji-senpai got a tattoo to match his girlfriend’s for Valentine’s Day?”

Midorima took this in stride. “He’s dating Arashima, isn’t he? The second-year that dyes her hair, in my Japanese History class. She’s moving soon. So he’s probably humoring her just this once.”

“That’s kind of cold.” Takao gave him a sideways glance. “Especially coming from you. Aren’t you the one that believes in all this stuff.” His wrist felt cold all of the sudden, like the mark had injected ice into his veins without any warning.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Midorima said. “I was just stating a fact.”

Takao let out a sigh. “I was watching this program with Nari-chan yesterday. About a guy whose soulmate was about to move away. All the way to Los Angeles for work. But you know, he wasn’t going to follow his soulmate or anything. So he said in the interview that he was just going to be deeply unhappy for a while. Until they ran into each other again...whenever.”

Midorima stopped mid step and the movement was sudden enough that Takao nearly tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. Midorima grabbed him by the elbow just in time.

Before Takao could thank him, Midorima spoke again. Though he loosened his grip, he didn’t let go of Takao entirely. Takao’s wrist was beginning to grow warm again. “Are you afraid of being unhappy?” It was a question that hit straight through. Midorima wasn’t one to waste words.

Takao shrugged. “Well...yeah? Isn’t everybody? I don’t think about it that much though. Don’t you?”

Midorima was a hard guy to read. Although quick bursts of hot or cold gave him a clue every once in a while, Takao still had to guess sometimes. Midorima said, “Of course I do. But the guy also did say that they’d run into each other again. It always happens this way. I don’t mind a bit of unhappiness if something better comes later. I do everything humanly possible to live that way.” As if it proved a point, Midorima gestured to the vase he was holding.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Midorima added, “You can get pretty weird about this, Takao.”

“That’s my line,” said Takao. Although Midorima’s point wasn’t made as clear as he thought by the vase, Takao thought he understood. There was no need to worry about this now, and things would always come back around again the way they were meant to.

(But Takao did stop short of thinking that Oha Asa was never wrong. That was too much.)

He reached up and kissed Midorima, and the world around him was just as warm as he’d remembered.