The decision to move in together doesn’t come as a shock to anyone – after all, Ashiwara stays at Kouji’s so often that he has his own toothbrush on the sink and favorite brand of tea in the cabinet. It’s not that surprising, really, so Kouji thinks nothing of it, instead treating it like a natural progression of their odd-but-not-really-because-everyone-knows relationship.
In fact, they make it a whole year and a half before it begins.
It starts out innocently enough – Kouji comes home to Ashiwara making dinner. This in and of itself isn’t unusual; after all, Ashiwara does the cooking because there is not a dish that the other man cannot make, and Kouji does the dishes. (This was decided after Kouji had tried to make Ashiwara soup a few months after they had started living together. Ashiwara wasn’t feeling well, and Kouji figured that the least he could do for his… whatever was to make some soup.
Not only did Ashiwara end up having to make his own soup, but it took them a month to clean up the soup explosion. Kouji swears he can still see it on the ceiling, but Ashiwara tells him that they scrubbed the ceiling twice, and there isn’t anything there.)
What is unusual is that there is music playing in the background. It takes him a moment before he makes out the familiar lyrics of one of his Fall Out Boy CDs. He looks questioningly at the other man, who shrugs and hums along.
So Kouji figures that this too is just another shift and thinks nothing of it, instead quietly singing along while he hangs up his coat.
This continues for the next month – Kouji comes home late from shidougo and Ashiwara is either humming along with Fall Out Boy or swaying along to Linkin Park while making dinner. He wonders briefly if the music is just something to keep Ashiwara company when no one else is home, but quickly discards it. After all, Ashiwara is quite popular – much to Kouji’s chagrin – and there are plenty of times when Kouji comes home to see Touya-kun and Shindou-kun arguing over the goban, or Ogata-san standing near the window with a cigarette in hand and a scowl on his face.
Maybe, he thinks as he toes off his shoes to ‘What I’ve Done’, Ashiwara just got sick of listening to Enka. Pleased with that explanation, he hangs up his coat and calls out a greeting to Ashiwara.
Akira is earlier than he had told Ashiwara-san he would be, but his friend doesn’t seem to mind. He cheerfully ushers Akira in and apologizes for the state of the apartment – Akira wishes that his own apartment was this clean, but has long since given up the fight because for all that Shindou is all for change, there are just some things that he’s resistant to, and they always seem to be the things that drive Akira crazy.
He slides into the guest slippers that Ashiwara-san has laid out for him and quietly sits on the couch. It isn’t until he thanks the older man for the cup of tea that he notices the music in the background. He frowns and takes a small sip of his tea, momentarily marveling at Ashiwara-san’s unwitting talent at perfectly sweetening tea, before he asks about the music.
“Oh,” Ashiwara-san smiles sheepishly. “Kouji left it in the CD player one day and I wanted some background noise.”
Akira nods, understanding. He does the same thing when Shindou is away for title matches. “I think Shindou has this CD,” he muses thoughtfully, taking another sip of tea.
“It’s catchy,” Ashiwara-san says, opening the fridge. His voice is underscored by the steady bzzzzzzzz of the refrigerator. “I’ve listened to all of Kouji’s foreign pop CDs. I was thinking of getting him a new one.”
“I’m sure he would like that,” Akira replies politely. He doesn’t know Saeki-san very well, but he’s sure that, at the very least, the other man would appreciate the gesture.
Akira winces as the door slams in its frame and the surrounding walls groan in protest. “Can you please not slam the doors, Shindou?”
Shindou smiles at him – brilliant, happy, mesmerizing, blinding – and apologizes in a voice that suggests that he’s not the least bit sorry. Akira sighs.
“Anyway,” Shindou continues, dropping his jacket on the nearest chair rather than the perfectly serviceable coat stand that his mother so thoughtfully bought them. “Guess who I ran into at the record store?”
Akira picks up Shindou’s discarded jacket and pointedly hangs it up. “Who?”
“Ashiwara-san,” Shindou chirps. “He was buying a Linkin Park CD. I didn’t know that he was into foreign pop. Did you?”
He has no clue who Linkin Park is. “Is it really so surprising?”
“I don’t know,” Shindou shrugs, flopping down on the couch and propping his feet on the coffee table. “I just figured that he had the same crap music taste as-“
Akira’s glare effectively shuts Shindou up.
“Who the hell is N*Sync?” he asks the empty apartment.
Kouji wakes up late and is rushing to get ready – he has an oteai match against Waya at 11:00am and it is currently 10:02 – when he sees Ashiwara in the kitchen.
He skids to a stop and stares. Ashiwara’s normally wavy hair is straight.
Ashiwara stops singing along with the Backstreet Boys long enough to notice Kouji standing in the living room – pants half on and toothbrush hanging from his mouth – just staring. “Is something the matter, Kouji?” the stranger with straight hair asks with concern.
Kouji slowly shakes his head, pulls on his pants completely, and goes back to the bathroom.
He loses to Waya for the first time by nine moku.
He watches as Shindou ducks the slipper that was aimed at his head. “What the hell, Touya?”
Rather than answering, he picks up the other slipper and feels a grim satisfaction when it hits Shindou square in the chest.
His rival rubs the spot the slipper hit and glares at Akira. “That hurt!”
“Good,” Akira replies nastily, turning around and stomping into their room, slamming the door behind him.
“Something is seriously wrong with Saeki-san,” he hears Waya-san telling Shindou. “He lost by nine moku!”
Shindou whistles and shakes his head. The overhead light glints off the piece of metal in Shindou’s ear and Akira feels the rage start to swell up again.
“When did you get your ear pierced, Shindou?” Waya-san asks a moment later.
Akira walks through the kitchen and begins to make a cup of tea. Shindou watches him warily, almost as though he’s afraid that Akira will throw the teacup at his head.
Which is ridiculous. The teacup was a gift from his mother. Now, if it were one of Shindou’s anime mugs…
“Ashiwara-san suggested it, actually,” Shindou says, still watching Akira. “We met up last night to go get the new Katy Perry CD.”
Slowly, Akira puts the cup down and calmly walks out of the kitchen.
He is putting on his shoes when Shindou suddenly appears behind him.
“Where are you going, Touya?”
Akira stands up and pulls on his coat. “I’ll be home later. Please start dinner.”
And with that, he leaves, Shindou staring after him.
He’s sure that Touya-kun can hear the blaring of American boy bands coming through the door.
“Shindou,” Touya-kun begins, “pierced his ear.” The last word is kind of shrill and Kouji winces in sympathy.
“Ashiwara straightened his hair.” His voice sounds desperate even to his own ears.
Dinner and a movie, one on one, the night is ours, I’m on my way
“What is that?” Touya-kun asks, appalled.
“The Jonas Brothers.”
Touya-kun shakes his head in disgust. “This has gone too far.”
Kouji couldn’t agree more.
“I’m home,” Kouji says warily, doing his best not to look at Ashiwara.
Ashiwara, of course, notices right away. Faster than Kouji can blink, the other man is standing right in front of Kouji. “What’s wrong?”
The Jonas Brothers are still warbling in the background and Ashiwara is standing so close that Kouji just needs to breathe and they would be touching. He can smell the coconut shampoo that Ashiwara uses, as well as a mixture of hair products. He takes a shaky breath and reaches his hand out to touch Ashiwara’s hair.
It’s hard and barely gives way.
Kouji pulls back and pretends not to notice the crestfallen look on Ashiwara’s face. “I lost to Waya by nine moku,” he says, kicking off his shoes.
Ashiwara pretends to believe him, and offers to make him tea.
Akira ignores him, instead focusing completely on his task of gathering every. Single. American. Pop. CD. Shindou owns.
He picks up the last one and drops it in the trash bag with a satisfying thunk. “This,” he says, motioning to the bag, “is clearly rotting your brain.”
Shindou’s indignant cries follow him down the hall.
Even though it is getting increasingly harder to ignore Shindou’s sullen attitude, especially when he. Won’t. Stop. Talking. About it.
Ashiwara-san is just as bad. They are currently sitting at the kitchen table in their apartment while Akira is making tea. It took twenty minutes to convince Ashiwara-san to just sit down, and that it was really okay if he didn’t make them tea, that Akira was quite confident in his ability to make a pot of tea.
They are shooting him looks now – Ashiwara-san’s are mostly amused while Shindou’s glares make Akira’s spine straighten each time he catches them out of the corner of his eye.
“He threw them all away, Ashiwara-san,” Shindou is complaining. Loudly.
“I’m sure there was a reason,” Ashiwara-san replies demurely.
Shindou snorts. “Saeki-san didn’t blame your music for straightening your hair, did he?”
Ashiwara-san shakes his head, but Akira can see that the subject is touchy. He places a cup of tea in front of Ashiwara-san and rolls his eyes. “Ashiwara-san’s hair wasn’t permanent, Shindou,” he retorts, pointing to Ashiwara-san’s once again wavy hair.
It doesn’t escape his notice when Ashiwara-san looks down into his cup of tea.
Kouji is getting ready for a study session and some new boy band that his rival has discovered is on the stereo. He almost wishes he was brave enough to do what Touya Akira did and throw them all away, but just because Ashiwara has completely jumped on the boyband wagon doesn’t mean that Kouji hates all of the bands.
He just doesn’t like the ones that Ashiwara seems to have a fondness for.
Like the Jonas Brothers. Or Blink 182.
Okay. Maybe he likes Blink 182, but definitely not the Jonas Brothers. Or Hanson. Which is currently blaring.
Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose the stereo croons, and Kouji wants to rip his ears off. You can plant any one of those.
That’s it, Kouji decides. He walks into the spare bedroom that they’ve turned into a study room and tries to ignore the poster of N*Sync on the wall. Except that he’s staring at JC and glaring because he’s pretty sure that’s who Shindou used to convince Ashiwara to straighten his hair.
Which he hasn’t been doing anymore, much to Kouji’s relief.
Kouji takes out his phone and calls Waya, who answers on the first ring.
“Waya here,” Waya mumbles sleepily.
“Waya. It’s Saeki,” Kouji says, glaring murder at the poster. Justin’s earring is glinting in the bright lights, and Saeki is sure that it’s Justin’s fault for Shindou’s earring. “I’m not coming to study group tonight. Can you tell Morishita-sensei?”
“What?” Waya suddenly sounds more awake. “You sick?”
“Yes.” And with that, Kouji hangs up.
“You’re going down,” he tells the poster before leaving the study room.
“I called Touya-sensei and told him I couldn’t make it today,” Ashiwara says in explanation before Kouji can ask. “It seemed like there was something you wanted to talk about, and you weren’t going to study group, either.”
Ashiwara doesn’t have to say that he didn’t want to give Kouji time to talk himself out of this confrontation, but Kouji knows that’s it. He feels a twinge of guilt at being the reason Ashiwara is missing study group, especially when Ashiwara has a league match in a few days.
He shakes his head, getting rid of the thought and helps Ashiwara clean up and do the dishes. Finally, when there are no more distractions, Kouji sits on the couch. Ashiwara sits next to him.
“Is this about my hair?” Ashiwara asks suddenly.
“No!” Kouji thinks about it for a minute. “Maybe.”
Neither of them says anything, and Ashiwara stands up and says he’s going to make them some tea.
Shindou and his stupid, glittering, attention-whoring earring.
Akira feels his face heat up when his mind reminds him why he’s late. His mother looks at him with a worried expression and asks if he’s getting sick.
“No,” Akira reassures her, slipping into his house slippers. “I’m just a bit winded.” Which isn’t exactly a lie.
“Okay,” she says, hanging up his coat and taking her own from the hook.
“Are you going somewhere, Mother?” Akira is a bit surprised – Touya Akiko has never been absent from one of her husband’s study groups. She doesn’t trust her husband or her son to make a proper pot of tea without burning the house down.
“Mm,” she says, buttoning the coat to the top. “Ashiwara-san called to say he wouldn’t be at group tonight, so I thought I’d run him over some soup.”
It makes sense, Akira thinks as his mother calls out a goodbye and he makes his way toward the parlor. Saeki-san would be at study group tonight, and, from what Akira has heard, Saeki-san can’t even boil water without exploding something.
Akira looks up from the kitchen table and smiles. “Welcome home, Mother. How is Ashiwara-san?”
Akiko smiles at him, and he can tell that she’s amused. “I’m sure he’ll be just fine,” she says mysteriously.
Kouji glares at Waya, who offers him an apologetic shrug. “We brought soup.”
Ashiwara thanks them and puts it next to the soup from Touya-san.
Ashiwara doesn’t seem too broken up about it, which relieves Kouji to no end. He’d seen Shindou’s moping when Touya-kun tossed all of his CDs, and there is no way he could have dealt if Ashiwara had acted the same way.
Instead, when he comes home late from study group or shidougo, there is a fifty-fifty chance that Ashiwara will be listening to one of his Enka CDs.
And as Kouji toes off his shoes and hangs up his coat, he realizes that he wouldn’t have it any other way.