Holding On

Chapter 2

The sound of smooth jazz echoed through the large hotel ballroom. Executives from all branches of the government had been invited to this holiday party, as a testament to their ability to work together for the peace of the world. Supposedly. Champagne and wine glasses clinked repeatedly, and laughter emanated from more than one corner. It was the sound of shallow people, enjoying shallow luxuries, discussing shallow topics.

"I don't know how he does this all the time so easily," Mahiro growled from his place beside the buffet table. He gaze was locked on Hayakawa, who was stationed across the room in deep conversation with one of the many black suits that occupied the large room. Fuwa Mahiro was one of the most well-respected of the current interns, but he was explicitly known for his candor and audacity. Polite smalltalk was like poison to him.

"He is uniquely talented in diplomacy," remarked his conversation partner calmly. "Though I imagine he is no happier to be here than you are."

Mahiro snorted.

"Please," he drawled. "He lives for this stuff."

His companion chuckled darkly.

"If you are to be his successor, Fuwa Mahiro, you will need to learn to read people."

Across the room, Hayakawa Takumi adjusted his tie. His mouth was paper dry, but the champagne in his hand tasted worse than piss. He made a mental note to exchange it for ice water when this conversation ended- if it ever ended. The Minister of Defense was well-known for being long-winded.

"And I said to him, 'I don't care what the report says, I just need it on my desk by the end of the day'. Can you believe what he said? He said if I wanted a full report, I'd have to take it up with the tenth floor! Imagine the nerve of him."

Hayakawa's hazel eyes flashed.

"Yes, well," he said, "Fujimoto's always been a bit on the impudent side."

The Minister of Defense threw back his head and laughed.

"You would know, wouldn't you, Hayakawa?" he said, grinning.

He was saved from any further heckling by the arrival of a short, elegantly dressed woman in her mid-thirties. Her navy blue dress fit her like a glove, but she wore minimal jewelry, and had her hair twisted up into a conservative knot. As she looped her arm around the Minister's, Hayakawa concluded that she was most likely his wife.

"Ah, Hayakawa-san, may I present my wife, Tachibana Masuyo?" the Minister said, confirming Hayakawa's suspicions.

Hayakawa bowed politely.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Tachibana-sama," he said, a cordial smile on his face. "I am glad you could join us for the evening. I trust you are enjoying the party?"

The woman smiled, but it was a cold smile that did not reach her eyes.

"Yes, of course," she said pleasantly. "I have heard much about you, Hayakawa-san. I wish you good fortune in your work."

Again those hazel eyes flashed.

"Thank you, madam," Hayakawa said. "I imagine we will need it. The course of government does not always run smoothly. Now, I am sorry, Minister, but will you excuse me for a moment? I'm afraid I have something I must be getting to."

The Minister of Defense nodded, and they exchanged pleasant goodbyes. The Minister's wife dragged him off to speak to some other hotshot in a suit, and Hayakawa made a careful, calm beeline for the buffet table.

Gods how he hated these events. He felt like he was sweating through his suit. It was sadistic, gathering this many politicians and government officials in one room, with no greater purpose than to size each other up through meaningless chatter and gossip. Work was one thing, but this was just lunacy, plain and simple. He had lost sight of Mahiro, and suspected that the young man was hiding in a corner somewhere, sulking. Inwardly, Hayakawa wished he could do the same. If things got too desperate, he resolved to find his young friend and employ his bad attitude to glare away the masses.

"Here."

Almost the instant he reached the table, Hayakawa found a glass of ice water being pressed into his hand. He accepted it immediately, smiling at the bearer.

"You are a lifesaver," he said gratefully, and drained half of the glass in one gulp.

Samon nodded, crossing his arms loosely over his chest.

"You looked like you needed it," he replied simply. "That was the Minister of Defense, right?"

Hayakawa nodded as he scanned the room for any sign of Fuwa.

"Parties like this are his specialty, he loves nagging people," he explained softly. "Did you manage to lose Mahiro already?"

A less dignified man than Samon might have snorted. Instead, he simply sniffed.

"Given that he seemed to be on the verge of a temper tantrum, I decided that letting him go wasn't the worst that could happen," he said coolly. "I imagine he's on the balcony trying to decide whether or not to jump."

As usual, Kusaribe Samon was a sight to behold. He was dressed in his usual white, though a step classier than his everyday attire. His long, scarlet hair he had tied back in a low horsetail, as Natsumura did. All night, he had been the target of stares and whispers from around the room.

Hayakawa fought the urge to rake his hand through his jet-black hair.

"He lasted a whole two hours," he commented. "That might be a record. I suppose I'll wait until Monday to scold him."

"You have the patience of a saint," his friend muttered.

Catching the eye of a coworker from the doorway, Hayakawa suddenly sighed.

"Back into the fray," he said, rolling his eyes. "If I don't speak to Komura tonight, he'll be insufferable all week."

Carefully, he met Samon's gray eyes with his concerned hazel ones.

"You'll be alright here?" he asked, his voice lowered to the point of near-inaudibility.

The somber man graced his companion with a rare smile.

"Of course," Samon assured him. "Go. Signal if you need me."

With a nod of appreciation, Hayakawa wandered off to intercept his target. Samon sighed and returned his attention to the rest of the room. While he despised the party just as much as Fuwa and Hayakawa, he had the benefit of not actually knowing anyone there. On the one hand, he was spared much pointless nagging, but on the other hand, hovering by the buffet table was quite boring.

"Oh my, he is certainly good-looking, isn't he?"

The whisper caught his attention from farther down the table, where a pair of political wives were gossiping. They resembled peacocks, in their elegant outfits designed only to exude wealth and status.

"He doesn't work in politics, does he? I wonder who brought him," the second woman asked, unaware that their quarry could, in fact, hear them quite clearly.

"I think he came in with Hayakawa," the first woman responded. "It's scandalous, bringing someone like that to an event like this. Such a pity, he's so lovely."

Giggling and chattering, the two women got their drinks and retreated to the far side of the room. It was all the better for them that they did not see the way Samon's knuckles tightened against his arm.

It was not the first comment of that ilk he'd heard that evening, and it most likely wouldn't be the last.

"Say, Hayakawa," Komura was asking across the room, "You never come out after work with us anymore." The two other men who stood with them nodded their agreement.

"Sorry," Hayakawa responded distractedly. "I've been busy. You know how it is."

The other man simply laughed and clapped him on the shoulder, making Hayakawa wince.

"I've heard that before," Komura chuckled obnoxiously. "What's her name?"

Hayakawa rolled his eyes.

"Am I not allowed to be swamped with work?" he said tonelessly. "Honestly."

"Fuwa says you've been less of a tight-ass lately, too," Komura added pointedly. "Come on, tell us all about her. I bet she's hot, why didn't you bring her tonight?"

His gaze flicking to the buffet table and back, Hayakawa sighed.

"Why didn't I, indeed," he muttered cynically.

He managed to brush off his over-friendly coworkers pleading a headache (which wasn't entirely unfounded), but returned to the buffet table to find that Samon, too, had vanished. Growling quietly, Hayakawa adjusted his tie once more, and resolved to leave soon. He just had to find his companions.

The hallway outside the ballroom was only dimly lit. Hayakawa found Samon there, sitting quietly at the bottom of the polished stairwell. Despite how tired he looked to Hayakawa, his expression remained neutral. The rest of the hallway was deserted, for the moment.

Hayakawa made the best of the opportunity, and took a seat next to Samon on the stairs. Without a single word, he leaned over and rested his head on the crimson-haired man's shoulder.

"Is it that bad?" came Samon's soft, deep voice.

"If by 'that bad' you mean 'excruciating', then yes," Hayakawa answered, exhausted. "I'm done. Let's go home. Where's Mahiro?"

"He went to call Tetsuma," Samon said. A slight smile appeared on his lips, knowing that he had done well to ask Mahiro to call. It had been a gamble, but Hayakawa looked to be nearing the end of his rope. Unlike Mahiro, Samon could read even Hayakawa with ease.

"Perfect."

Without moving his head from Samon's shoulder, Hayakawa snaked an arm around his waist. He took a deep breath, trying to detoxicate the party's stuffy atmosphere from his lungs.

Suddenly the ballroom door opened again.

"Oi! Hayakawa! I forgot to tell you-"

Komura stopped short when he caught sight of his coworker. The ever-mysterious Hayakawa had his head on the shoulder of another man. He even had his arm around him! Komura's jaw hit the floor, and his complexion instantly paled. He stammered for a moment, trying to find words, but none came.

Hayakawa sighed, and lifted his head.

"Did you need something, Komura?" he asked acidly. "I believe I mentioned that I was feeling unwell, so make it fast."

Komura could barely form coherent words.

"Y-you- I didn't- you just- whaaaaat?!"

Slowly, both Hayakawa and Samon got to their feet. They locked gazes for a brief moment, then came to an understanding. Hayakawa strode past Komura, headed for the door, his hands in his pockets.

"I'm going to get Mahiro," he said tiredly. With that, he disappeared out the front door, leaving his poor, hapless coworker in the hands of Kusaribe Samon.

Samon's face was impassive, as it always was. He crossed his arms, staring unabashedly at the stuttering Komura, who was clearly uncomfortable. He said nothing, only waited imposingly for the other man to collect himself.

Eventually, Komura found his way back to basic human speech.

"I'm not- it's not like anyone really cares," he said huskily. "I guess it's his- your business. I won't tell anyone, if you want."

Samon laughed darkly under his breath.

"Is that what you think of him?" he said calmly. "I assure you, Hayakawa Takumi does not need your protection. If he were ashamed of himself, then you can believe I would not be here."

Komura looked at him strangely, his head cocked to the side.

Samon raised a brow.

"Sorry," Komura said quickly. "It's just- you sound just like him."

He laughed nervously, running a hand through his untidy hair.

"He must be happy, if he's got someone who actually gets him," Komura continued, a smile slowly spreading across his face. "We were about to start betting on him being a robot."

The corners of Samon's mouth twitched. Slowly, he smiled as well.

"He has his moments," he said smoothly. Satisfied that the situation did not require any more attention, the white-clad man made to follow after Hayakawa. He was momentarily stopped by a hand on his arm.

"Tell him he can still come out for drinks with us if he wants," Komura said earnestly. "He doesn't- I mean, you'd be welcome to come too."

Samon nodded, politely extracting himself from the other man's grip.

"I will be sure to pass it on."

He strode out the front door, leaving poor Komura with some dizzying thoughts to sort out.

The car ride home was somewhat strained. Tetsuma tuned them all out, choosing to focus on the traffic than on his friends. Mahiro was curled up in the front seat like a cat, glaring at each of the passing cars like it had personally offended him.

In the back seat, Samon and Hayakawa sat side by side, as they had done so many times before. Samon's eyes were glazed over as he stared out the window, his thoughts a hundred miles away. Hayakawa had laid waste to his crimson ponytail, and was now combing his fingers through Samon's hair without shame.

"Samon?"

Hayakawa's voice was soft. Samon turned, his gray eyes questioning. He didn't like how utterly exhausted Hayakawa looked. Still, he managed to pull together a smile.

"I apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused," the former mage said quietly.

Hayakawa shook his head.

"You didn't do anything," he said dismissively. "Besides, it's hardly a particular secret. My coworkers simply don't appreciate the art of professional discretion. Sometimes I think they would call me secretive just for keeping my bowel movements to myself."

Not knowing what else to do, Samon cast his gaze at his own feet. He had never intended to make Hayakawa's life difficult in such a manner. He hadn't intended any of this. It wasn't as if he had woken up one day and just realized out of nowhere that a) he liked men and b) Hayakawa was it. That, at least, would have made sense. However, the world surrounding the Kusaribe clan rarely made sense.

Tetsuma dropped them off in front of Samon's apartment, and bid them farewell without any additional commentary. He drove off to take Mahiro home, the red taillights of the car vanishing into the night like stars winking out at daybreak.

Samon could feel Hayakawa's sigh of relief as they entered the darkened apartment. Within moments, the raven-haired man's jacket and tie were on the floor. Smiling resignedly, Samon collected the items with the ease of long practice and hung them on the hooks designed for them. It was a familiar pattern.

They prepared for bed in silence, moving smoothly about Samon's room without the slightest difficulty. They never tried to do the same tasks, and never bumped into one another. It was as if they could read each others' minds.

As usual, Samon was ready to sleep before Hayakawa was. He carefully took up his place on the right side of the bed, turning on the side table lamp and reaching for his reading glasses and the book he'd been reading the night before. Hayakawa took a bit longer, mostly because he spent more time pausing to think about the events of his day than actually preparing for bed.

Hayakawa thanked every god in existence for Samon's particular taste for good quality linens as he eventually slid into place on the left side of the bed. He rolled onto his stomach, his fingers immediately reaching back to Samon's soft hair, combing through it obsessively. In a relationship devoid of most affectionate displays, that was his one vice.

Breathing deeply, Hayakawa finally began to truly relax. The evening had been so high-strung, he had barely been able to breathe all night. Politics and government were his occupation for a reason, certainly, but everyone deserves a bit of peace and quiet now and then.

As he stared at his partner, Hayakawa couldn't help but smile. This was his peace. Samon was. While those who didn't know them looked strangely at the two men and their relationship, most of their family and friends understood. After all they had been through, it wasn't as surprising as you might think.

On the surface, they were so alike. Both of them were intelligent, cunning, even. They had distinct moral standing, and moderate temperaments. It was only when someone got in very close that they could see what it was that kept this odd pair together.

After the fall of the Tree of Genesis, they were without a cause. These two power players, who had been monitoring this life-sized game of chess for so long, had nothing left. Hayakawa returned to his job with the government, but it no longer held the same meaning. In a world without magic, a magic liaison was unnecessary. As was a family of mages. Even Mahiro and Yoshino had to square with the fact that their lives had to move on.

It was the little things, at first. It took a while for everyone to adjust to the new life. It was Hayakawa who was there to advise, and to listen. None of them were the 'sit around and talk about our feelings' type, but it was nevertheless comforting to know that someone else was there who knew. Someone else understood. For a while, they all clung together, as if their little group was all they had left. Still, that couldn't last forever. The world wasn't going to stop and wait for them.

The others all went their separate ways. Junichirou returned to university, along with Yoshino and Mahiro. Hakaze, no longer a princess, was traveling, hoping to get a better view of the world before she, too, would pursue an education. Evangeline traveled with her, making ends meet with her usual odd jobs. Natsumura and Tetsuma worked with Hayakawa, but they held boring, ordinary jobs now. The most interesting parts of their lives had become a black-and-white movie that only they had ever really seen.

The world continued to turn, but these few were like rocks in a riverbed, just watching as everything passed them by. Sure, they lived in peace, but the remnants of their battle would never fade from memory.

As everyone else slowly vanished, it was Samon who was left alone. Without Hayakawa, he would have never managed. Even after everyone had gone, these two remained close. They spent free time together, they took meals together. It wasn't so much that they loved one another, it was the fact that they were comfortable that did it. When the world's against you, anyone who can just hold a pleasant conversation becomes vitally important.

The strangest part was that they didn't even notice. After helping each other save the world, there was very little to come between them. No one stopped to think why it was perfectly comfortable for Hayakawa to crash on Samon's couch if he was there too late into the night. It just felt normal. No one questioned it when Samon always knew Hayakawa's drink order when they met up for lunch. They'd been together for long enough that separating now would have been stranger than anything.

The transition was gradual, and very quiet. In fact, the idea of romantic involvement didn't even come up until Mahiro asked about it (no doubt spurred by the ever-observant Yoshino). He spared them any diplomatic beating-around-the-bush with his signature candor.

"Are you two dating or what? Jeez. Get your own lives."

Neither of them knew what to say to him.

Their later conversation about it had been somewhat awkward, but only in its simplicity.

"Hayakawa," Samon had asked, as they sat on his couch, eating takeout and watching television. Hayakawa's jacket and tie were draped over the back of the couch, and the first few buttons of his white dress shirt were undone in his quest for comfort. Samon, too, was dressed to be comfortable, with only his black shirt, white slacks, and stocking feet. His long hair he had pulled back into the ponytail he usually wore at home and away from work.

"You're wondering about what Fuwa said, aren't you," Hayakawa had immediately guessed.

Samon nodded.

"Your thoughts?" he asked.

Where he had been planning on a decent-sized talk about it, he found that Hayakawa merely shrugged.

"First off, it's none of his business," the government agent said slowly, eyes on his food. "As to the rest of it...I suppose it all just matters how you see things."

"What does that mean?" Samon asked sharply.

When Hayakawa looked up, Samon was surprised to see that he was trying to hide a small smile.

"It may be a simple notion," Hayakawa said, "But I think a relationship like that is, by definition, just the result of what happens when you find someone whose company you enjoy and exploit it to the best of your ability."

Samon raised a brow.

"It sounds like friendship, to me," he said.

"Maybe," Hayakawa conceded. "The basic definition is the same. I suppose Mahiro believes that a romantic relationship must be more complex than that."

"And you think?" Samon prompted carefully.

Sighing, Hayakawa set down his takeout box on the coffee table.

"I think Mahiro believes what he wants to believe," he said. "If he thinks that spending all of one's time with a single person automatically implies a romantic relationship, then that's all he's going to see. There's not much point in listening to him."

"You're speaking in riddles again, politician," Samon muttered, scowling. "I asked what you thought."

Hayakawa laughed.

"Would you like me to be simple, then?" he asked, his tone suspiciously cheerful.

After a moment's hesitation, Samon nodded. Hayakawa reached forward and took Samon's takeout container from him, placing it on the table next to his own. He met Samon's quicksilver eyes squarely.

"Do you enjoy spending time with me?" he asked.

Samon paused. Then he nodded his head.

"Yes."

"Do you feel uncomfortable in my presence at all?"

"No," Samon answered truthfully.

"Does Fuwa's opinion bother you, given the context? Would you be offended to be assumed to be in a relationship with me, if nothing between us were to change?"

Samon's breath hitched in his throat. Leave it to Hayakawa to drop a bomb like that one. It was a very heavily loaded question, despite his smile.

Taking a moment, Samon analyzed the situation. He didn't want to lose Hayakawa as a friend- or whatever he was. He had never been one to care about sexual orientation, which was good, considering that according to the Kusaribe clan rumor, he'd been in bed with Natsumura for years (this was not an accurate assumption). If nothing were to change between them, and people thought they were involved romantically...

"No. I can't say I'd be bothered by it."

Hayakawa sat back on the couch, his smile still in place.

"Then I see no reason to do anything differently," he said casually. "Now be quiet and eat your dinner."

From that point on, it became clear that there was no wall between them. They didn't establish themselves as an exclusive couple in any way, but neither did they deny it. They simply remained as comfortable as they had been. They never bothered to address the rumors and speculation, it wasn't worth the effort when they didn't actually care.

They didn't think it was worth mentioning to anyone else when, weeks later, Mahiro's not-so-good-natured teasing went a few steps too far and nearly brought Samon to blows with him. They didn't find it remarkable at all that Hayakawa was the only one who could get through to the furious redhead, speaking softly, his hands on the taller man's chest, holding him back.

They didn't much care about the implications when, the next month, Hayakawa discovered that twining his hands through Samon's crimson locks was a surefire way to soothe his stresses after a long day at work.

It didn't matter, really. Whatever behavior others might find odd was perfectly normal between the two of them. Who was to say that there had to be something 'more' beneath the surface?

It didn't matter, the day when Hayakawa finally lost his indifference, deliberately thanking his friend for doing a load of laundry with a kiss on the cheek. Simple, chaste- but loaded with months of deferred subtext.

It didn't matter when Samon grabbed his arm as he moved to go, freezing Hayakawa in place. It didn't matter that a full ten seconds of unwavering eye contact passed before the former mage carefully leaned forward and pressed his lips to Hayakawa's. It didn't matter that his ponytail was instantly undone.

It didn't matter that Samon didn't quite know how to label the sudden pounding of his heart in his chest, so loud he was sure Hayakawa could hear it. It didn't matter that Hayakawa's skin was smooth and soft, or that Samon's carried the scars and muscle buildup of a swordsman.

It did not matter.

"Takumi."

Hayakawa dragged himself out of his own mind, back to Samon's room.

"Mm?"

His partner was smirking at him over the rim of his reading glasses.

"You're lost in your own head again," Samon said. He sighed, carefully marked his place, and set his book on the side table. He reached over to gently tousle Hayakawa's hair. "Come back."

Hayakawa groaned, and scooted closer. He lay his head on Samon's chest, listening to the peaceful rhythm of his breaths.

"I wasn't lost, I was just thinking," he mumbled.

"Were you?" Samon's tone was amused. "About what?"

"You."

Smiling, Samon moved to rub at Hayakawa's shoulders, making the other man hum in pleasure.

"What about me?" he asked softly, his deep voice resonating like a string bass.

"Everything," Hayakawa answered simply, closing his eyes.

"Hmph. I am hardly that interesting."

"If that's what you think."

Wordlessly, Samon removed his reading glasses and turned off the light. It was long past time that they should both be asleep. He moved Hayakawa off of his chest so he could get comfortable, and found that the exhausted man was too tired even to move back once he was situated.

Samon leaned over and gave his bureaucrat a kiss on the cheek.

"Go to sleep," he rumbled. "You need it."

"Mm."

With that, the room fell into the silence of sleep. Whether they were 'meant to be' or if it was their 'destiny' was irrelevant. It wasn't a question of burning passion, it was nothing so dramatic as that.

The answer here was very simple.

In lives torn by hardship, stress, and warfare, these two souls had managed to find their peace...

...and if the way they lay together, curled protectively around one another, was any indication, they were going to hold on to it. No matter what anyone else said.

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