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That morning, Aoba spent a few extra minutes in front of the mirror, the same as he had for at least the past week. He scrutinized his appearance, staring intently at his reflection with a particular something in mind. At first, he had balked at the idea, but over time, the thought gained a certain appeal. Before he met Noiz, it wasn't even something he invested a lot of thought in, but once Noiz planted it in his head, he found himself thinking about it occasionally, and then, before he knew it, it sounded like something he wanted to try.

He was still a little worried about it; whether it would hurt, how it would look – but Noiz had a lot of experience, so if anyone were going to do it for him, then it might as well be him. Besides, Aoba had already accomplished a lot in one year, proving to himself that he was capable of handling challenging decisions. The hesitation he once held about it felt like nothing when he compared it to the things he'd already surmounted.

In the evening, Aoba prepared dinner in the kitchen like usual and waited with anticipation for Noiz to come home. Ren and the bunnies crowded around him when they noticed the change in his disposition and questioned what made the change, why he seemed a little agitated, a little happier than usual. He knew that they wouldn't question his decision, but he didn't want to tell them about what he wanted to do just yet, wanting to keep it a secret to surprise them.

Noiz came home right when he expected and it took Aoba all of his might not to ambush him at the doorway. Popping the question out of nowhere like that would've been too sudden, so he forced himself to wait. As a result, the atmosphere was rife with tension while they ate. His heart pounded and each bite of food stuck in Aoba's dry throat when he realized that he hadn't even thought about what he should say, how he should ask.

His inner turmoil must not have gone without notice, though. He barely said a word the whole time, carefully keeping his eyes away from Noiz to keep himself from getting nervous. When Noiz took their plates to the sink, he turned to regard him with a concerned slant of his brows.

“Dinner was good.” Oh. “Thanks.”

He mumbled an unspecific reply and struggled to figure out where he could put his eyes. Now was a good time to ask, wasn't it? He was going to ask now. This was what he planned.

Why was he getting nervous now?

Noiz leaned his hip against the sink counter and slowly crossed his arms over his chest. “What's up with you tonight?”

“H-huh?” Shit, he was stuttering. Aoba cleared his throat to try again. “What do you mean?”

“You're acting really weird. Did something happen?”

One of Noiz's usagimodoki rolled into the kitchen and hopped into the air with a high squeak. “We thought something seemed strange too!” it proclaimed proudly. At least five other bunny cubes came rolling in around the corner, like they'd been hiding, listening to their conversation. They eagerly confirmed what the first one said and jumped up to join their master.

Noiz swatted at them irritably and narrowed his eyes at Aoba. “Are you going to tell me or are you going to make me guess?”

His silence was clearly giving Noiz the wrong impression. It wasn't anything as grave as whatever he was apparently imagining. “C-calm down,” Aoba told him. If possible, Noiz backed up farther against the counter and his features tightened, like he'd been struck. On second thought, 'calm down' probably wasn't the wisest thing to tell someone who was already concerned over nothing. “Really. You can calm down. There's just... something I want to ask you.”

For some reason, Noiz's face started to turn red.

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

He sounded awfully tight-lipped. Could it be that he thought...?

No. No way. That wasn't what Aoba intended to ask him about at all. Like, yeah, they had a couple conversations lately about how they felt about getting married, but that wasn't what he had in mind at the moment.

“Not that, you...!” he sputtered, feeling his own face heating up. “That's not what I- I'm not-” He took a deep breath and calmly folded his hands on top of the kitchen table. “I wanted to know if your offer still stood.”

It took Noiz a minute to think. Adopting a look of concentration, he tipped his head back and searched his mental archives. After an extended silence, Noiz looked at him blankly and raised one of his thin eyebrows. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“That offer you made!” Aoba blurted in exasperation. It was probably wrong of him to get frustrated that Noiz didn't remember it, though. At this point, it was already a long time ago that he mentioned it, so it wouldn't have been surprising if he forgot about it. It was something from before they even confirmed their feelings for each other, so it made sense that he wouldn't have placed a lot of importance in it.

He tried to explain. “Do you remember our first time together?”

The redness remained in Noiz's face as he gave an irritatingly perverted snicker. “You mean when you rode me in the hospital? How could I forget?”

He forgot.

Either that, or they were defining 'first time' differently.

“Not that,” Aoba said, pinching the bridge of his nose. This was taking a lot more effort than he expected it to. “I'm talking about our time in the Platinum Jail guest house when we... did things. You remember that, don't you?”

Noiz nodded mutely. It looked like he still didn't remember the offer he made.

Aoba was going to have to jog his memory. “I asked you if your piercings hurt when you got them and you said they didn't, so you asked if I wanted you to give me one. Now do you remember?”

Noiz snapped his fingers together, his recollection clear in his widened eyes. “I do now. But you know that I've offered to do a lot of things for you since then, so you can't blame me for being unsure which one you were talking about.” Then the realization of what Aoba was saying seemed to really dawn on him. His eyes grew even wider and he straightened up with interest. “Wait. Are you saying you want me to pierce you now?”

Twiddling his thumbs together, Aoba nervously nodded his head.

Once he was able to shake off his surprise, Noiz pushed away from the counter and pulled out the chair across from Aoba to sit down. “What made you change your mind?”

It wasn't that he changed his mind. He simply hadn't given it much thought. While he lived in Midorijima, surrounded by a bunch of Rib gangs who bore tattoos, he'd made up his mind that he never wanted to get a tattoo, but getting a piercing never really crossed his mind.

“I just started to think about it recently, and the more I thought about it, I realized that it might not be so bad. Like, I kind of liked the idea. It's probably cheesy but...”

He glanced up at Noiz who encouraged him to continue with a curious roll of his hand. “Lemme hear it,” he implored.

It was going to sound really stupid if he said it out loud; he could tell already. It was something Aoba had only thought about while standing in front of the mirror, imagining himself with any number of different piercings. His thoughts skewed towards romantic, sentimental things on those occasions.

“Well, I realized why it bothered me when you asked me the first time. Your suggestion was so sudden. It came out of nowhere, but it sounded so... intimate, you know?” Aoba put his face in his hands and shook his head back and forth with an embarrassed groan. “You've always been able to say stuff like that, but it just sounded too intimate for two people like us who were like strangers at the time. It was weird.”

“I think I see what you're saying,” Noiz said, leaning back in his chair. “In other words, now that I've stuck my dick in you, it's okay to stick a needle in you.”

And here, Aoba thought he was going to be serious for a second. But, weirdly enough, Noiz had grasped what he was trying to say, even if Aoba didn't like the crude way he phrased it.

“You didn't have to put it like that, but... basically,” he mumbled, tipping his chin down until it touched his chest. He felt too embarrassed to get mad at him like he might've otherwise. “And – how do I put it? I feel like it might help bring me closer to you. I want to know what it feels like.”

As Noiz quietly listened to him, a fond smile appeared on his face. By that look alone, Aoba could tell that he sensed the significance of his decision. It would be more than just a piece of jewelry to him; symbolic, in a way, not too unlike a wedding ring. It would be something that united them, made them similar; an outward way for Aoba to express his feelings for him, whether or not Noiz was nearby.

Noiz linked his fingers beneath his chin. “I see,” he said softly. “What did you have in mind?”

Aoba toyed with the lobe of his left ear, a twinge of crimson returning to his cheeks as he remembered what it felt like to feel Noiz's lips on his skin there for the first time. “I was thinking that doing one ear might be a good way to start. You're the expert, though, so maybe I should leave it up to you.”

“I'm not exactly an expert. I just have a lot of experience doing it,” Noiz replied modestly. His gaze hardened as he turned one of his palms to support his cheek. “This isn't the kind of thing you should leave up to me. If you decided that you want one, then you should be the one to decide where it goes, too. Unless you really want me to choose, I guess...”

As he slowly glanced to the side, a sly glint flitted across his eyes, giving Aoba a suspicious feeling. If he didn't choose, then what kind of piercing would Noiz decide to give him? This was his way of forcing him to choose for himself, wasn't it? If he didn't, he was going to end up with the most painful kind of piercing Noiz could imagine.

No... He wouldn't do that. Noiz was the opposite of a sadist. He wouldn't...

However, unable to stave off the suspicion that found its way to the front of his mind, Aoba decided to confirm his decision. “T-that's fine. One ear will be fine after all.”

“Okay.” Noiz abruptly stood from the table and his hovering usagimodoki awkwardly maneuvered out of his way. “Let's do it then.”

And then he was already heading out of the kitchen with his colony of floating cubes in tow, leaving Aoba sitting at the table. When Aoba decided to tell him that he wanted him to pierce his ear, he hadn't thought that Noiz would jump at the opportunity immediately. He already prepared himself for this, but suddenly he felt more apprehension creep its way into his nerves.

It wouldn't be right to let himself get cold feet now, though. He came this far. It would make him look lame if he suddenly backed out after getting Noiz excited. Noiz probably wouldn't judge him for something like that now, especially when it was over something that concerned his body, but he wasn't going to let his nerves keep him from doing something he really wanted to do.

Aoba got up and hurried to Noiz's side. Their destination was likely the bathroom, but Aoba was curious about something. He sprung this on him suddenly, but did Noiz even still have the proper equipment for the job? And even if he did, could he guarantee that he wasn't going to get a surprise staph infection?

He followed him to the bathroom and took a seat on the edge of the tub when Noiz gestured for him to sit. Quietly, he watched Noiz rummage around in the cupboard underneath the sink. He emerged with a small, red kit in hand and opened it to find what he needed. After removing and setting a few things aside, he paused and stared at Aoba.

“We're missing something.”

That figured.

“What're we missing? Are your needles and stuff still safe to use?”

Noiz lifted one of his shoulders in a half-shrug. “Shouldn't have a problem with them. They aren't that old. I got a whole new set sometime right before we met and I only used a couple of them to do the piercings on my hands. My cleaning solutions should all be fine, too.”

“So what're we missing?”

“I don't have any new earrings... Unless you wanna wear one of my old ones,” Noiz suggested softly. He scratched the bottom of his jaw and toed the floor. “I can clean it up real good... If you want, that is.”

Oh no. It was happening again. Aoba felt his chest tightening, his heart reacting to Noiz's hopeless, unintentional cuteness. By the way he was acting, Noiz surely thought of it as a worthless suggestion, but it was clear that he liked the thought of it; seeing Aoba wearing one of the earrings he used to wear. After hardening his resolve a number of times already, Aoba really didn't want to have to back out of it because of a stupid oversight like this, and it seemed like it would make Noiz really happy if he let him use one of his earrings.

“Sure,” he said, and immediately, Aoba could see the way his answer made Noiz brighten. “As long as you make sure that it's clean, I'm okay with that.”

Before he even finished his sentence, Noiz dashed out of the room.

He returned a minute later with one fist curled around something small. Standing in front of Aoba, he opened his palm and presented a small, metal stud for him to see.

“It's the one from my tragus piercing. Right here,” he said, pointing to the small part of his ear that protruded over the inside. Even if he didn't tell him, Aoba recognized it. “If you just want the lobe pierced, I think that one of my rings would look nicer, but it's safer to start with a stud first. Of course, you can put in whatever you want after this heals.”

Noiz really wanted him to wear his earrings... That was painfully sweet.

And it was exactly the kind of thing that Aoba imagined when he stood in front of the mirror. It was a part of Noiz that he was responsible for; a little piece of him that had been abandoned for Aoba's sake. It felt appropriate that he would be the one to wear it now. He embraced every part of Noiz and he never wanted to forget the way he was when they first met, back when he was the Noiz who needed him most.

“Well, I'm ready whenever you are,” Aoba told him. “As ready as I can be when you're about to shove a piece of metal through my ear, that is.”

“It'll be really quick,” Noiz promised. He returned to the sinktop and assembled the things he needed. Aoba watched as he took out a set of needles. They were packaged together, but they all had caps on the ends of them in different colors. Noiz removed a yellow one from the box and set it aside. He cleaned the earring with something from his kit, and then that was placed next to the needle. After he washed and dried his hands, he slapped on a pair of rubber gloves, and Aoba's pulse picked up its pounding pace.

Noiz walked over to him for a second with a soaked cotton ball in hand. Aoba stiffened when Noiz leaned over him, pinched his left ear between his fingers, and swabbed the lobe of his ear with it. The distinct scent of rubbing alcohol met Aoba's nose. When he glanced up at Noiz and noticed the serious, focused look he had about him, he felt like he could let himself relax.

He really knew what he was doing.

The cotton ball was tossed, and when Noiz returned next, he sat down next to him on the edge of the tub, holding the earring and the needle. “Hold onto this for me,” he said. He waited for Aoba to open his hands, then placed the stud in his palm.

He tore the needle out of its individual package, but paused before he went any further. Aoba was still bracing himself, but when he noticed the way that Noiz stopped, he turned to look at him – and the kiss that Noiz probably intended for his cheek went right on his lips instead.

“Ah-”

“S-sorry,” Aoba mumbled.

Smiling warmly, Noiz leaned in again to place another kiss to his lips. “Are you nervous?” he asked.

A second ago, Aoba would've probably still said that he was, but now... His nervousness had all but faded away. The confidence that Noiz displayed while he worked was assuring on its own, but, even if it sounded silly, it was his smile that made Aoba relax the most.

“Nah. I'm kind of excited. Besides,” he said, turning his face forward to give Noiz access to his ear, “I trust you.”

Noiz brushed his hands through Aoba's hair and pushed it over his other shoulder to make sure it didn't get in the way. For good measure, he gave him another kiss on the cheek, then placed his fingers around his ear again, pinching the skin firmly beneath two of them to hold it in place. From the corner of his eye, Aoba saw Noiz carefully watching him as he raised the needle above its destination. Curling his fingers around his knees, Aoba sucked in a deep breath and closed his eyes, anticipating the pain that was about to come.

He felt the pointed tip of the needle touch his skin and felt Noiz squeeze his ear again. A second later, felt something else. It wasn't too different from the feeling of Noiz pinching his skin, except that in the following seconds, the pain seemed to emanate outward, leaving a stinging sensation buzzing through the lobe of his ear.

“Did it go through...?”

“Yep.”

When Aoba opened his eyes, he noticed Noiz holding out his hand, so he handed over the stud. Noiz took his hands off the needle, leaving it in his ear for a moment so he could take the clasp off the back of the earring. He worked quickly and silently, and Aoba was a little glad that he couldn't see what he was doing. He felt him remove the needle from his ear, then sensed some additional movement. Before he knew it, Noiz was standing up and heading back to the sink.

He came back with a bottle of something that he dabbed onto a small, cotton square. With focused eyes, he dragged the damp pad over Aoba's skin. He was gentle about it, but a hiss still escaped from between Aoba's clenched teeth when he felt the stinging solution near the fresh hole.

“And done,” Noiz said proudly, standing up. “Have a look.”

That was it? It was already over?

Aoba hurried to his feet and dove in front of the mirror. Just as he said... There it was.

He delicately touched his fingers to the stud in his ear in disbelief. It felt kind of unreal, but it was really there. The accompanying pain was also fading away quickly, much to his relief.

From behind, Noiz slid his arms around his waist and rested his chin on his shoulder. Aoba could tell that he was dying to kiss his ear, but Noiz wisely chose to kiss him on the neck instead, right beneath it. “It looks really good on you,” he said, nuzzling his cheek against his shoulder.

Aoba's chest felt warm with all kinds of feelings. That piercing was there now because of an effort they made together. He was proud of himself for sticking to his decision, and something about Noiz's calm professionalism in the situation really impressed him. Sometimes, he wasn't just a brat, after all.

“I like it,” Aoba said, tilting his chin to the side to have a better look at it.

A devious grin crept onto Noiz's face. “Now, if I could interest you in some other piercings...”

Nope. Still a kid. Still thinking perverse thoughts.

Aoba elbowed him in the stomach to remove him. It didn't make him happy to see Noiz in pain, but he couldn't help feeling a tad bit satisfied as he staggered back, holding his middle.

Wheezing, Noiz uttered an apology. “I'll just... let you think about it.”

...And maybe he would. Aoba had already surprised himself once.