"I need to take some time off", he says when he comes back from his short lunch break, throwing Toru – who hasn't eaten or even moved from his chair – a sandwich.

"Thanks", his partner says, catching it with one hand, and then does a double-take on him. "What did you say? What do you need that for, haven you had enough 'time off' during the last few years?"

Asahina sighs. Not that he had expected the question to be settled easily without questioning.

"Are you going to see your family?" Toru Hyuga frowns, but that is a reason he would grudgingly respect. He wouldn't necessarily like it, or understand it, but he accepts that there is something about the concept of 'family' that he just doesn't get.

Asahina suspects that that attitude is about to change, or that it is already changing, thanks to a certain someone.

But even so, "No", he says; because he isn't going to see his parents, and he has made a silent promise never to lie to his friend again. This will surely make things complicated sometimes, but he suspects that he deserves it.

Too many secrets can drive anyone beyond the edge of reason, right? But not everyone drives themselves so far into the dark side as he did… and few people would have been so wholeheartedly forgiven.

Hyuga runs a hand through his hair and looks right back at him. Sometimes, when he's not too busy and not too bored, he can enjoy a short moment's break from work, just to chat a little. He leans back on his chair, making it almost fall over – almost, but not quite, because he does have a good sense of balance – and Asahina knows that he has made the right decision.

"So you're exhausted from working with me already?" Hyuga teases, as full of confidence as ever; this time he's sure that Asahina won't really take any time off after all. "Only slackers and weaklings need to take time off! Since when did you become weak? I thought that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger…"

"That's true", Asahina replies with a small smile. Toru and his sister are the only people who can refer to his time in jail so casually, and he appreciates it. It's not like he and Toru talk about it a lot, but it is a part of their past that they have had to accept in order to move on, and sometimes, moving on means talking about that time. "But it's not true the way you think", he continues. "True strength means that you can admit your weak points. You are my weak point, Toru Hyuga."

Toru stops rocking on his chair and gives him a sharp look.

"What's that supposed to mean?" He pauses for a moment, frowns. "If I have done something to hurt your feelings… which I very well may have done without even noticing, she says this kind of things all the time – really, she tells me too many things at once most of the time, and it's terribly annoying…"

"That's not it", Asahina cuts off the rambling, temporarily distracted from his real errand. "And cut the crap, man. How long are you going to keep that attitude up? It won't kill you to admit that you like having a person like Natsui-san in your life."

"Fine!" Toru throws his hand up in the universal 'I give up!' gesture. "Yes, of course I can admit it, if I must; it's still a new and strange situation, but I like it, because I like her. Now you cut the crap, Asahina. What's this about 'weak points'? You know how I hate emotional riddles."

'Emotional riddle?' Asahina had not thought that he was speaking in riddles; that hadn't been his intention at all. In fact, he had hoped that Toru already knew.

He wonders if there's anything he can do to prepare himself, but he is as ready as he'll ever be, and tries to get to the point.

"I know how you hate it", he says, and as he says it, there's a quick flood of memories running through his mind, too quickly for him to grasp any details, but he feels them; the memories of everything he knows about Toru Hyuga. It makes him want to smile and cry at the same time. "I know… Do you remember that time when you came to ask me what Natsui-san meant when she said that she didn't want to see you because she liked you too much and it hurt?"

"Yes", Toru says, and he's getting impatient for real now, Asahina can see it on his face. "You explained it, because you were always better than me when it comes to strange emotional reactions and sentimental stuff…" Toru rolls his eyes.

"Natsui-san said those things back then", Asahina says, "because she is a gentle spirit. She didn't think you loved her, so she did what she had to do to protect herself from getting hurt. She tried to leave you forever. If it had been true that you didn't care about her, that would have been the only wise thing for her to do. I, on the other hand, am made of harder wood. Or perhaps I just like suffering… Either way, I'm not leaving."

Asahina looks into his friend's eyes and sees the light of understanding slowly dawn in there. It is almost unbearable to see it. He had hoped that Toru already knew and didn't care. Hadn't they talked about it that time, when Toru had come to ask for his advice in prison? Hadn't he confessed then that he knew only too well what loving so much that it hurts really feels like? But of course, Toru had been so wrapped up in the 'riddle' that is Makoto Natsui, so he had probably not noticed…

"I know those feelings because I feel them", Asahina clarifies. "But I won't say that I don't want to see you. No, never again. As long as you want me to stay by your side, I will stay. But it does hurt to be around you all the time. That's why I need some alone-time."

Toru stares at him, he looks upset, but it's impossible to say if he's angry or only embarrassed and surprised.

"But…" he says, seems lost for words. "But what's this, Asahina, you can't… I mean, you know what we… what you are to me…"

Toru doesn't want to say it. He hates talking about it, Asahina can see how he hates being pressured into the vulnerable realm of emotions, but of course it's obvious what he means even though the words come unwillingly or not at all. The fact that he's struggling like this is enough.

Asahina knows: You are my best friend; I'm going to fight for our friendship until I draw my last breath, so how come this is not enough for you? What else do you want?

Asahina is not asking for the impossible. The fact that the bond between them didn't break even when he tried his hardest to break it is more than enough. And yet he is standing here, selfishly asking his friend to forgive even this; to understand him and see that although their bond is perhaps stronger than ever, it is also so very fragile.

Toru Hyuga is something of a rock, a shining beacon in the night, the one who can make the future look so bright… But Toru Hyuga can also be so blinding, and so blind in his pursuit of the future and his visions… Toru Hyuga is his weak point and he's under his skin…

"Where does this come from all of a sudden?" Toru asks, and in his voice, there is a hint of something hopeful: This came up so suddenly, maybe it will go away just as quickly…

"Oh, but that's it…" Asahina takes a step back, thinking that being too close in this situation makes Toru uncomfortable. "It's not sudden…" He tries to make his voice gentle, patient, humble. "It has always been like this. The way I feel about you."

Asahina has no idea what he looks like from the outside in this moment, but he feels like he is wearing his heart on his sleeve and it is pounding so hard, worried that Toru might reject him completely after this. But it's weird, though; he has a strong sense of déjà vu… Haven't they been over this so many times already? He feels as if there have been so many times when he has said or done something that should have made Toru realize that there's something more than friendship beneath the surface. Like every time Toru visited him in jail, or every time he asked him to come back to Next Innovation and he refused, or when he finally did come back… Times in the past, too…

"I didn't realize", Toru says, and it is as simple as that. He's not angry and upset anymore, only troubled and concerned.

Asahina remembers, then, that there is nothing but a glass wall separating them from the rest of the staff.

"This must look weird", he says. "Maybe they think we're arguing… I think many people still don't trust me; they probably never will…"

"Would you rather want them to hear what we're really talking about?" Toru scoffs. "Besides, anyone who doesn't trust you only brings themselves unnecessary worry. The fact that I trust you should be enough for anyone."

Asahina smiles a little. What a Hyuga-like thing to say…

"So", he continues, "what does this mean, then? You're going to take a few days off, and then it's going to be like this conversation never happened?"

What's an appropriate response to that? What is going to happen, exactly?

"Something like that, yeah", Asahina says lightly.

Toru sneers, "Then I don't see why we had to talk about in the first place…"

But of course they had to. Asahina hadn't been too sure about it himself at first. It was more like an impulse, a sudden need to confess, but he knows now that it was absolutely necessary. He knows that Toru is never going to love him, not like that, but that's not really the point. The point is that there can be no more secrets; if their relationship is going to truly heal and move on, he must know that Toru truly do accept him just the way he is.

"Yes", he says, and he uses that stern tone of voice that always makes Toru see that he's being dead serious, "you do see why."

Toru's stubbornness and unsentimentally gives in to the common sense, the intelligence and depth of emotion that is in the core of him, and he nods slowly.

"Yes", he says. "Okay. You've got to do what you've got to do. I can't refuse my best buddy whatever he needs to stay focused, I guess."

Toru might be a bit uncomfortable at the thought that his best friend is in love with him, but Asahina can see that this fact is being accepted as unavoidable. There's a smile, a real smile, and Asahina knows that the ordeal is over.

Here comes the fist bump, and it feels almost like a hug. Asahina is so relieved that he's dizzy.

"So… See you on Monday, I guess."

Now begins the time to think things over properly. Has he really broken the spell, the mad spell of loving Toru Hyuga, by talking about it? Not likely. But he's got to think long and hard about where to go from here. What kind of life is it that he really wants to lead from now on?

He has put his hand on the door and is about to step out when Toru calls, hesitatingly:

"Asahina… You're gonna be alright?"

Asahina turns around to look at him one last time before his sudden little vacation. He feels that life has blessed him with a strange but beautiful mix of wonder, sharp pain and happiness.

"Yes", he says, "sure. Thank you."

Thank you for your strength and brilliance, for the gift of your friendship, for the pain of loving you, for being – whether you want to or not – my most important person, for ever…

Asahina smiles a little to people around him as he leaves the office. He has been out for more than a year, but it's as if it is not until now that he's truly getting out of his imprisonment. Somehow he feels that the future really is bright.