Handa came back to the small, familiar airport, drastically different from the bustling one in Tokyo. And much like last time, there didn't seem to be anyone to meet him. He sighed as he stood outside the airport, wondering if the mayor even remembered that he was coming back that day.
Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he noticed a message from Kawafuji telling him to reply when he got the chance. Handa decided to do so later as a car pulled up in front of him.
"Hey, Sensei! Figured you'd need a ride," Mr. Kido leaned out of the open window.
"Ah, yes, thank you," Handa was relieved that he finally got a ride from the airport that wasn't the old man's wagon.
Setting his luggage into the back seat, Handa climbed into the front seat and Mr. Kido began driving back to the village.
"Have a good visit in Tokyo?" Mr. Kido asked.
"Yes, I had an exhibit to attend to, so that was some good inspiration."
"Oh, I bet it was one of 'em fancy digs with wine and finger foods," Mr. Kido chuckled. "Strange how ya learned t' fit in so well here but you're still a city boy."
"Well... I enjoy it here..." Handa said quietly.
"Good, good. I know the kids love your company," Mr. Kido said cheerily.
Handa closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the wind blow into the car from the open window. It even smelled different here out in the country.
"Did'ya talk with my son?" Mr. Kido spoke up after a bit.
"Uh, um..." Handa wasn't expecting a question like that and wasn't quite sure how to respond.
Mr. Kido chuckled, "Hiro said he was goin' to the shop the other day n' I figured it was to go 'n call you. Even though we've got a phone line in the house! Musta been a conversation he didn' want me 'r his mom hearin'."
Handa blushed slightly, recalling the conversation he and Hiroshi did end up having. "Yeah... it wasn't much, really."
"I figured. Hiro's an adult now, so he prob'ly jus' didn' want mom n' dad buttin' into the conversation," Mr. Kido said with a lighthearted tone.
Handa was grateful that the mayor hadn't gotten suspicious. In fact, now it was feeling a bit awkward to be talking to the father of the guy who was in love with him and who he had mixed feelings about.
Handa would be lying if he didn't say he was looking for Hiroshi at the airport when he stepped off the plane. But he soon realized that he was probably at school and felt a little silly for being a bit anxious about it. But it would've gotten their first meeting since Hiroshi confessed over and out of the way... He wasn't sure if the atmosphere between the two would be awkward, but Hiroshi's phone call while he was in Tokyo helped to lessen it quite a bit
A little more small talk and a little while later, they finally arrived at Handa's house.
"Thanks again for giving me a ride," Handa said to Mr. Kido as he stood outside the car, luggage in hand.
"Not a problem!" Mr. Kido said with a smile. "You best go relax while y'can before the kids get outta school."
"Hah..." Handa sighed.
He waved goodbye to the mayor, watching him drive off and headed towards the front door of his house.
He unlocked the door with a click and slid it open. No surprise party this time, but he guessed that wouldn't happen twice, especially since he told the mayor about his trip and when he'd be returning. But another surprise was the place was actually quite tidy. There was no way the girls wouldn't have taken advantage of taking their old base back while he was gone, and surely they wouldn't have cleaned up after themselves.
Maybe Hiroshi cleaned it for him...
Handa shook his head and walked into the house. Right now he should just get unpacked.
It was after classes that day, and Hiroshi was nearly home when he spotted Miwa and Tama walking together, also with their schoolbooks in hand.
"Hey, you guys headin' over to Sensei's place?" He trotted up beside them and asked.
"Yeah, are you?" Miwa answered.
"Er, not right now. Later though," he replied, looking away for a bit until continuing, "Um, I kinda want to talk to him alone so... Can y'guys leave by dinner time?"
"Huh? Why?" Miwa cocked her head to the side.
"It's the least y'can do since I cleaned up the mess you two made while he was gone..."
"Y-Yes! We'll leave!" Tama spoke up, looking a bit more alert than her usual demeanor.
"Tama?" Miwa turned to look at her friend.
"Hiro-nii has somethin' important to say to Sensei, right?" We can't be in the way!" Tama explained to Miwa excitedly.
"Er, I guess..." Miwa scratched her head in confusion.
"Yeah, I jus' wanna talk to him about some things alone, college stuff, y'know," Hiroshi shrugged, trying to make it seem like a casual visit. Although he didn't get why Tama seemed adamant about doing him a favor, he was thankful for it.
"We'll leave by then!" Tama nodded in confirmation.
"Alrigh'... thanks, guys," Hiroshi waved and set off for his home.
He could already feel his heartbeat quicken over seeing Handa again. He wondered how it was going to go... maybe Handa would've changed his mind by now as he got to think over it the past few days... or maybe it would be the same as always.
It took a lot of guts for Hiroshi to call Handa while he was in Tokyo. The whole time he was holding the receiver his palms were sweating like crazy and he couldn't stop shaking. He hoped that didn't reflect in his voice much.
But he definitely didn't want to leave off their last encounter on a sour note. And more importantly, he had hoped that Handa would actually be coming back to the island.
It really hurt, but Hiroshi was resolved to make the best out of the situation anyway. Even if Handa wasn't going to accept his confession, he wanted to be the best friend he could for him. He wanted to be his support until Handa no longer needed him... And when Handa was ready to do something like move back to Tokyo and maybe get married... He'd figure it out once he got there.
"Hiro..." Handa looked mildly surprised when he answered his door later that night.
"Welcome back, Sensei," Hiroshi said with a meek smile.
"Thank you," Handa said, shyly rubbing the back of his neck. "Um, come in. Tama, Miwa, and Naru left a bit ago."
Hiroshi walked into the house, glad that the girls seemed to have kept their promise.
"I made some of your favorite food. Ah, an' I made you some konomon," Hiroshi walked into the kitchen with Handa and set the food down.
"Thank you! I really missed eating konomon while I was away," Handa grabbed a couple plates from the cabinet. Things seemed to be relatively normal between them at the moment.
"I figured as much," Hiroshi turned back towards Handa, wringing his hands together in nervousness.
He figured if he didn't do it now, he might not have the resolution to later.
"Sensei..." Hiroshi spoke up again.
Handa turned around and was met with a strong embrace.
"H-Hiro?" Handa was still holding the plates in his hand as he nervously tried to figure out what to do with his other hand.
"Sorry, I jus' wanted my hug now," Hiroshi said softly near Handa's ear.
"Alright..." Handa awkwardly patted Hiroshi's back with his free hand.
Hiroshi separated from Handa a second later, not wanting to make the hug longer than it had to be and make it more awkward. But feeling Handa's body up against his made his whole body feel warm. Maybe hugging him for too long would be a little too stimulating...
Handa's cheeks were flushed a slight pink as he gave a weak grin before setting down the plates next to the food. He returned to the table while Hiroshi plated everything, walking out to join Handa once he was done.
"Everything looks so good! Thanks for the meal," Handa said, clearly allowing food to get anything off his mind. "Mmm..." he sighed as he took his first bite.
Hiroshi smiled a bit. "Glad y'like it. I don' mind if you make requests once in a while."
"But if I had you cooking all the time, wouldn't that make your mother a bit sad?" Handa commented.
"Yeah... I guess so," Hiroshi mumbled. Even his own mother was getting in his way of monopolizing Handa.
"But occasionally, if I could make a request that'd be great," Handa added.
"Alrigh'," Hiroshi said quietly.
It became quiet for a while as Handa's focus seemed to be on the food. At least it wasn't an awkward silence.
After their meal was over, Hiroshi gathered the dishes and went to the kitchen to wash them as he usually did. Handa said he was going to start working on his calligraphy since he figured the sooner the better after returning from Tokyo. Even though he managed to get a piece done while he was there.
When Hiroshi finished, he joined Handa in the main room and sat across from the artist who seemed to be focusing on his work quietly. But the moment Hiroshi sat down, Handa seemed a bit distracted.
"I guess I'll be goin'," Hiroshi said, thinking maybe it was too much for Handa to go back to normal right away. He wanted to be as careful about this situation as he possibly could.
"Ah, already?" Handa looked up from his work as Hiroshi was getting ready to stand up.
"Yeah... you seem to be concentratin' real hard n' I don' wanna be botherin' you," Hiroshi replied.
Handa looked back down at his paper, "That never stopped you from staying before..." he said quietly.
Hiroshi looked at Handa in mild surprise. Was he... asking him not to leave?
"Sensei... I prob'ly should leave anyway. I don' wanna make you uncomfortable... and even me - I'm not sure how to act around you with my feelings..."
"Just be like you usually are," Handa looked up again, setting his brush down.
Hiroshi looked Handa in the eyes, his unfaltering stare made Hiroshi himself look away.
"Hiro... I'm sorry, but I can't accept your feelings."
There it was. The words Hiroshi had anticipated yet dreaded to hear. He expected it to hit him like a huge wave of emotions all at once, but instead it was like dull, numbing pain in his chest. The room was so quiet he could swear he heard the scuttling of a beetle outside.
"Its okay... Sensei..." Hiroshi managed to speak, although his throat felt incredibly dry. "I knew it would turn out this way, but thank you for answerin'..."
"I'm not finished..." Handa said softly.
Hiroshi slowly turned back to look at Handa who's gaze was pointed downward at his paper. "I can't say 'no' either. I... I'm not sure why. I don't want to deny your confession, but I'm also not ready to make a decision..."
The tightness in Hiroshi's chest gripped even more when he noticed Handa's crimson red ears. This wasn't much different than before, but Handa had just said he didn't want to deny him... It was the first sign that Hiroshi may actually have a chance. And it was definitely better than the 'no' he thought he was actually getting.
"You didn' have t'scare me like that," Hiroshi said, a little lightheartedly.
"Y-You try answering someone's confession so earnestly like that..." Handa grumbled.
Hiroshi chuckled, "Well you didn' really answer it, but tha's good for now, I guess."
"I just need more time!" Handa retorted, crossing his arms.
"I'll wait for you, then," Hiroshi said, a small smile on his face. "And it looks like you're back to bein' yourself. You were actin' funny 'round me lately."
"Of course! You confessing to me was a shock," Handa looked at Hiroshi for a moment, his cheeks slightly flushed before picking up his brush again. "And why do I feel like you're courting me like a high school girl? I'm a man too, you know."
"Huh? Whaddya mean?" Hiroshi arched an eyebrow.
"Confessing to me, causing me to feel all... weird, and having these strange emotions... Making me feel embarrassed..." Handa grumbled and pressed his brush a little angrily against the paper.
"Whether you're a teenage girl or an adult man, innit the same?" Hiroshi commented. "You make me feel that way too... doesn' that mean you're jus' fallin' for me?"
"Shut up! I said I wasn't ready to answer," Handa's face was a bit red again, but Hiroshi wasn't sure if it was out of frustration or embarrassment.
Hiroshi simply laughed. His heart hadn't felt this light for a while. Handa was treating him like normal and their relationship hadn't faltered. Everything was out in the open, it felt so good. All those months of holding in his feelings for Handa were no longer weighing on him. And even if it wasn't official, there was a chance that Handa could fall for him. And maybe that had already started to happen.