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Pretty Boy

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With Shou it was subtle. Ritsu is usually good at reading others and picking up second intentions, but perhaps his radar wasn’t used to things like these happening with other boys- either that or Shou messed with his senses. Regardless, it started on March 7th (Ritsu knows, he jotted it down on his diary).

“March 7th,

Shou called me a ‘pretty boy’ after a girl suddenly blurted it out to me. I don’t know how to feel about this nickname and hope it doesn’t become frequent.”

They had an unspoken agreement that Shou would pick Ritsu up at school and take him out at least twice a week. Sometimes more, depending on their mood. The days were always a surprise so Ritsu got into a habit of waiting a few more minutes after school to see if Shou would show up. The annoying incidents became more frequent as girls started noticing Ritsu being by himself more often.

“Kageyama-sempai…” a girl one class under him spoke quietly. He doesn’t remember her name and if she ever said it that day it got lost in her nervous mumbles.

“Yes?” Ritsu replied, disinterested.

“I… I wanted to give you this” her trembling hands offered a crumpled letter with a heart sticker on it. Ritsu sighed and took it. He had a system of always reading the letters given to him face to face, especially from the ones that seemed too preoccupied with his opinion.

His eyes skimmed through the contents of the letter, sometimes venturing sideways to see if he saw Shou. It wouldn’t be the first time he caught one of these situations and he had a sadistic pleasure in seeing girls disappointed that Ritsu is spending time with him and not them (that should have been the first clue).

The letter was long. The anxious girls usually write long letters. Probably because writing is easier than speaking and they have a lot of pent up emotion. I have always admired you blah blah blah… you are so kind to others (bitch, when?)… your intellect is something something… hey, this girl didn’t mention anything about Ritsu being hot, so that’s a change of pace. He tucked the letter back in the envelope and gave it back to her.

“I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same, you should look somewhere else”

Ritsu flinched. That is what he always says, but it didn’t come out of his mouth.

Shou stepped in, snickering and shoved his hands in his pockets “that’s what you were going to say, right, Ricchan?”

Ritsu simply rolled his eyes.

“I don’t feel the same. Sorry about it”

The girl took a minute to retrieve her letter, looking between the two boys, confused, as if she expected there to be something else. Then her face went through a plethora of a emotions, from amused, to uncomfortable, to horrified and then her eyes teared up.

“Hey, don’t cry. I’m sure you’ll find some other really nice guys out there”

“No, I won’t!” she protested amidst sobs “Nobody is like you, Kageyama-sempai!”

Oh, she was the type to insist on it after being rejected. A rare occurrence. Ritsu sighed in frustration, much to Shou’s amusement.

“Kageyama-sempai, after months of watching you in silence and admiring you from afar! I’m positive you’re the best person for me! I have never felt something so strong for anyone else besides you!” her voice kept getting louder as her need to communicate her feelings grew, she took a few steps forward, aggressively taking Ritsu’s hands in hers “You have to give me a chance! You have to! You don’t even know me! You might find out I’m the one you’ve been looking for! I’m so sure you’re the right person to me and I’m not willing to let you slip through my fingers like that”

The girl’s sentences were hard to make out as they were constantly interrupted by gross sobbing and hiccups, but whatever he heard was enough to fill him with a familiar sense of discomfort. He shifted his hands away from her grip and sighed. Ritsu had a speech prepared for this too, it started with “I’m not looking for a relationship”.

“The fuck’s wrong with you?! Can’t you see he’s not interested?!”

Well, that was much meaner than what he had in mind, but Shou seemed to be in a mood to pick a fight today.

“This doesn’t concern you! I’m talking to Kageyama-sempai!”

“Fuck yeah it concerns me! Ritsu’s my friend and I don’t want him to be grumpy when we go out today! Give the man a break, man…” Shou actually seemed angry at the girl, which was rare. His aggressive nature was becoming more and more at bay ever since the whole Touichirou business was resolved. It was weird how it took a slightly emotionally unstable high schooler to bring that whole side of him back (it should have been the second clue), but it amused Ritsu somehow.

That did the trick, as the girl took a step back and stared at them dumbfounded. She shifted her gaze between the two boys until something clicked in her mind.

“Oh… I get it” she sniffled and wiped her eyes.

Ritsu immediately understood what she was implying and was quick on the comeback.

“It’s not what you’re thinking”

I get it” the girl cut him off. She had an empty smile on “you pretty boys stick together, right?”

Shou and Ritsu stood there for a little bit longer, watching her walk away. They stared at each other from the corner of their eyes, contemplative.

Then Shou burst laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing!” Shou gave his friend a few taps on the back and went on ahead “Come on, I gotta show you a cool place, pretty boy”

Ritsu was taken aback by the sudden nickname.

“Come on, man!” Shou urged him “Quit standing there! The place is cool, I promise!”

The ‘cool place’ turned out to be a bar in a forgotten part of Seasoning City. The other side of Seasoning City. It took them so long to get there Ritsu thought he was being kidnapped (again).

“Why did you take me here?” Ritsu said, disgusted, as his eyes roamed the run down bar.

It seemed old. The arcade machines didn’t work, the dart box had a thick layer of dust on it, the seats were mostly ripped or worn and the bartender stood so still and disinterested that he could be taken as part of the décor.

“We’re not even old enough to drink”

“I know”

“Suzuki, I’m not going to drink any alcohol”

“I know, Ritsu! Me neither! I never drank anything here!”

Ritsu glared at him

“Honest!”

Shou made his way to the bar and sat on one of the seats there.

“I never came here for drinks. I used to come here back when I was fighting Claw because this bar is well hidden and the staff is secretive. I could discuss plans with my team without fear” he elaborated as Ritsu joined him “I usually ordered some soda. One time I tried a Martini, didn’t take. Too strong and not tasty” Shou’s face scrunched up for a moment. Ritsu had never seen that particular expression in him.

“I’m sure they’d sell you booze if you want, though”

“Not a chance” the bartender gave a sign of life, his raspy, unused voice cutting through their dialogue. He smiled softly as Shou laughed “We might cover for criminal little shits like you but you won’t catch us getting kids hooked on alcohol. It’s only for adults who have troubles”

“If I grow into an adult with troubles, will you sell me booze?”

“Don’t even joke about that, kid”

“Guess I’ll settle with a Shouda then!” Shou had a wide grin on his face as he made the pun. One of those that wrinkled the corners of his eyes and Ritsu found extremely fascinating to watch.

“You’re horrible” Ritsu replied, but he was grinning too.

Shou and the bartender talked for a bit and Ritsu just watched. This bar must hold a lot of significance to his friend as a child who grew up with no safe space. Ritsu can’t imagine what it is to hate your father so much that you’re forced to run away from your own home. What did Shou even do? Who was he staying with? Did he live on the streets? Was he living with one of the espers he convinced to turn against his father? He couldn’t have convinced them as soon as he left home, though, so how did he survive? Ritsu was staring into one of his closest friends, and yet the one he knows the least. He realized he barely knows anything about Shou’s past.

And then, like the unlocking of a safe, Ritsu realized how important this outing was. This was Shou, actually introducing him in person to a small portion of his life. Clearly this bar was where he spent most of his time and the place he felt the safest. Even if he wasn’t necessarily a client and the bartender must have disliked this kid coming up and only ordering cheap soda at first, it was a spot that provided secrecy and privacy, things he never really got at home. Wherever ‘home’ was for Shou.

“Hey, pretty boy, what are you daydreaming about?”

Shou cut through Ritsu’s thoughts in the cheerful, casual way he always does.

“And that’s my soda”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t notice I was sipping it”

“I don’t mind” Shou swiped the can back and drank from it “pretty boys stick together”

Something about the way Shou turned an insult into a pet name stirred inside Ritsu. He didn’t want to face the reality at that time, so he repressed it. It was only the first incident after all.

---

Ritsu sometimes wishes his birthday wasn’t on a weekday.

Actually, he’s fairly sure even if his birthday was in the middle of vacation or always on weekends, people at school would still try to give him things he didn’t want as an “early birthday present”. It’s annoying. These people don’t know him enough and he doesn’t know how to react to gifts he doesn’t like.

Ritsu has never been a demanding person. He’s happy with just a nice birthday message instead of gifts. Oh, and chocolate, but he gets those on valentine’s day already. That year’s July 2nd was when Shou seemed to realize that.

“July 2nd,

Shou gave me an unusual gift for my birthday. It was stunning and I will hang it on my room when I can. However, he did say some strange things to me that he doesn’t say to other people.

I think Shou might have something on his mind (I don’t know if I want to dig deeper into this).”

Same deal, except that day, Ritsu received a text warning him of Shou’s visit.

“you HAVE to wait for me in our secret spot meet ya there!”

Their ‘secret spot’ was an isolated part of the woods near Seasoning City. There’s a waterfall and you can only access the top of it by flying. Whenever Ritsu is too stressed or just doesn’t feel like talking, Shou will take him to sit on the rocks and hear the running water.

Maybe the fact that they had a secret spot was, in itself, another clue.

Ritsu made his way to the woods with his phone in hands.

hey nii-san. I’ll go to the woods with Suzuki today”

There was no reply on Shigeo’s side. He’s probably working right now.

Ritsu floated up to the secret spot and dropped on his favorite rock (it had an R carved into it by Shou, the one right next to it had an S). Surrounding him, the water ran vigorously down the waterfall, making the delicious sounds he liked to listen. Ritsu allowed himself a moment to relax, breathing in and out slowly, releasing the tension on his body and closing his eyes to concentrate on the sensations. When he opened his eyes again, he roamed the proximities in search for Shou. All he found was an easel holding a canvas under the shade of a tree, by the riverside.

“Hey there, Ritsu! You seemed to be enjoying yourself, so I let you have your moment!” Shou’s face popped up from behind the easel. Ritsu raised an eyebrow.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” his friend went back to doing whatever he was doing on that canvas.

“Are you painting?”

“Yeah. Remember when you and your bro caved in to give me the Joy Of Painting DVD box? I kinda liked it”

“Can I see?”

“The DVD or the painting?”

“The painting”

“Sure, when it’s finished. Until then, stay put. Relax, pretty boy”

Ritsu sat down cross-legged. It was summer, the sun was harsh, coming to the woods now didn’t seem like that good of an idea. He splashed some water on his face to try and cool down. When he turned again, Shou was watching him.

“You done?”

He seemed surprised by the question and scrambled to arrange his painting supplies.

“Sure, come see”

Ritsu floated to Shou’s side and looked at his painting. His eyes immediately widened.

“What do you think?” Shou seemed nervous and Ritsu couldn’t for the love of god understand why.

The painting was gorgeous. He had illustrated the scenery in front of them: the reunion of trees, all in a vivid summer green, the running water hitting the rocks, the soft grass around the riverside, decorated with tiny flowers blooming here and there.  The rays of the sun seemed warm and comforting by Shou’s hands and reflected on the river beautifully.

Standing on the rocks was a figure holding a school bag, dressed in black pants and a white shirt tucked in.

“Is this me?”

Shou nodded.

“And this is me” he completed, pointing to the ginger figure sitting on the other rock “I wasn’t actually there when I painted but, you know…”

“It’s beautiful, Shou… really, it’s incredible… I  didn’t know you could do this”

Shou blushed (Ritsu was unsure if that was another clue, could just be usual embarrassment of being complimented so eagerly).

“Ah, you know, I like drawing a lot and when Bob Ross did it on the videos it seemed easy enough… so I’ve been practicing”

“It really shows”

Ritsu noticed Shou’s shit eating grin spreading in his face again.

“What?”

“Do you think it really Shous talent?”

“Fuck off” Ritsu said, punching him on the shoulder lightly “I tried to compliment your art and this is what you do”

Shou stumbled a bit, but planted his feet on the ground before falling off his chair. He took the opportunity to go wash his brushes.

“I really am happy you like it though, I made it for you”

Ritsu snapped his head back to Shou.

“Wh-what?”

“I made it for you. It’s your birthday gift” he continued to wash the paint off his brushes calmly, strips of green, yellow, orange and many other colors tainting the otherwise clear water. When he was done, he faced Ritsu again and gave him a toothy smile “happy birthday, pretty boy!”

Ritsu stood there for a while, taking it all in. Shou seemed concerned with the lack of answer.

“Uh, do you want it?”

“Of course I want it, Shou!” he blurted, as if the very thought he might refuse his gift was an insult “thank you… it’s the best gift I’ve gotten today” there was a small, genuine smile on Ritsu’s face and as soon as Shou saw it, he went red on the face.

“You used my first name”

Oh, shit.

“Sorry, I meant-“

“No! Finally! You’re finally using my first name! Geeze, I was starting to think you’d never let me get close to you like that!” Shou was beaming, his eyes were sparkling as he ran back to Ritsu’s side to put all his supplies in the bag “Only call me that from now on or I’ll go back to using Ricchan”

Ritsu didn’t know how he felt about going first name basis with Shou. Sure he used it on his diary but his diary was personal, this was about both of them. He’s not in first name basis with too many people.

At his friend’s lack of reaction, Shou sighed.

 “Ah, well, whatever. Aren’t you hot?” well, that was a more direct approach.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s summer. I got my hat on backwards and it’s time to fucking party”

“You’re not wearing a hat”

Shou laughed.

“Don’t mind that, I meant that it’s hot outside and we have an entire lake below us” he hooked his hands on his shirt and started tugging.

“You’re not going to jump off the waterfall, are you?”

“Me?” Shou scoffed, throwing his shirt over his bag “I’m not going to jump off the waterfall. We are going to jump off the waterfall”

Nice muscles, Ritsu thought, absentmindedly. Then the reality of what Shou just implied dawned on him and he freaked out.

“No, no, no! I’m not jumping! You can put your shirt back on because I’m not going to do something so reckless and dangerous!”

“You went against several Claw members by yourself… on a whim… and got beat up… Ritsu how are you OK with that and not jumping off a 20 feet waterfall?”

That’s besides the point!”

“Dicks out for waterfall jump” Shou started shuffling with his pants’ zipper.

“Don’t you dare!” Ritsu all but shrieked, his hands flying to stop Shou’s. His friend just laughed wholeheartedly.

“I’m not actually going to take my dick out, don’t worry”

“You’re ruining the secret spot!”

“Aww, you care about the integrity of our secret spot!” Shou seemed genuinely pleased while he took off his shoes.

Ritsu crossed his arms.

“I’m not jumping”

Shou smirked and raised his hand. Ritsu felt his feet leave the ground and he quickly got restless.

“Shou, put me down! Put me down now!”

“As you wish!”

Shou suddenly dropped him and he fell down onto Shou’s arms (this could be a metaphor, Ritsu would add to his diary someday). In theory, it sounds like a really swift move, but in reality Shou’s legs wobbled a bit from the sudden weight and the only reason he didn’t fall over was because he floated himself back to a standing position.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Ritsu tried to push him away lightly “Seriously, Shou, put me down”

“Hey, hey, hey” Shou replied and smirked like the idiot he is “pretty boys stick together, right?”

At that, he started sprinting. Ritsu looked around desperately and screamed as the cliff got closer and closer to him. He gripped to Shou’s naked chest like a lifeline, leaving a few nail marks on it.

Shou jumped with an enthusiastic scream and Ritsu was so high on adrenaline from the sudden surge of events that he could no longer discern if his yells were horrified or not. As they began their rapid descent into the water, Shou gripped Ritsu tighter, bringing his knees closer to his torso to envelop him in a sort of cannonball. One minute they were falling, wind rushing through them, and the other there was a loud noise and water engulfed them all around. It was quick, no time to think, no time to evaluate, just spur of the moment and emotion. No wonder Shou wanted to do it.

The two boys separated and quickly swam to the surface.

“Fuck you, Shou” Ritsu screamed between heavy breaths “that was dangerous”

Shou attempted a laugh, but was too breathless for it to be resounding. He let himself float on the clear waters of the small lake.

“We were never at any risk of dying, come on, loosen up!” When he looked back, Ritsu was already climbing out “leaving already?”

“I hate the feeling of wet cloth on my skin”

“Then take it off”

Ritsu raised an eyebrow, making Shou lose his composure and sink a little.

“I don’t mean in the weird sense! You get what I mean! Just enjoy the water a bit” he was blushing again and Ritsu felt a little of his energy being replenished.

“I don’t want to enjoy the water, I want to go home because I have homework to do. Homework I neglected because you wanted to hang out all week” He made to glare at Shou, but noticed he was pouting slightly.

“It’s your birthday, don’t you want to take a break?”

Shou sounded disappointed and that tugged at Ritsu’s rigid heartstrings a bit. He actually wanted to spend time with Ritsu on his special day.

“Jumping off a waterfall is hardly what I’d call taking a break”

“I’m sorry! I thought you’d be into this stuff cause you like going headfirst into danger” Shou swam closer and rested his arms on the grass by Ritsu’s feet.

“I like getting a job done”

“I’m sorry…”

There was an awkward pause where Ritsu sorted out how he felt about apologetic Shou. It was a moment that didn’t happen too often. He halted his thought with a sigh.

“It wasn’t… bad. Now that it’s over with and I’m thinking about it, it was kinda fun. I don’t mind doing it again sometime”

Shou perked up at that.

“Some other time, though. I really do need to do my homework before my family does the surprise party they always do at 6 PM” there was a faint smile on Ritsu’s face, which seemed to light up Shou’s signature smile as well.

“Alright, it’s a deal, then!” he climbed out of the water and shook his head violently, splashing water all around “Let’s go grab our stuff and be on our way”

They floated their things down, but jumped their way to the lower ground again.

Shou walked him home that day, both boys dripping wet on the sidewalk.

“Your hair’s down” Ritsu commented, observing his friend.

“Yeah, well, hair gel and water don’t mix” Shou’s hair wasn’t completely down, the base still stood up but the ends of his hair were droopy and drippy “did you think my hair was natural?”

“No, of course now” Ritsu scoffed “but I’m so used to seeing you with your hair up I can’t imagine what it looks like down… or dyed”

“Aww, you found out my secret”

“It’s not that big of a secret Shou, I’ve seen your roots one time”

Shou let out a long laugh as they stopped by Ritsu’s porch.

“I’ll show you my natural hair someday. Try not to let your jaw hit the floor then”

Ritsu rolled his eyes.

“I think I’ll manage”

Shou chuckled and turned on his heel, giving his friend an enthusiastic salute “see ya, pretty boy”

 

---

From that point onwards, Ritsu had known, he just didn’t want to face it because every time he thought about it, he realized it was different from when it happened with the girls at school. It felt different and Ritsu couldn’t yet decipher if it was because he and Shou were already friends, Shou was a boy or something else, related to his own feelings. Thankfully (or not), there was always work to be done that could take his mind off his heart.

However, feelings can’t be suppressed for long (his brother is living proof). So August 25th was when he forced himself to face it.

 When it’s finals week, Shou usually only takes him out on Fridays. The stress makes Ritsu snappier and the only thing that calms him down is cake from an expensive café or the sound of running water.

This time, however, Shou had other plans.

“August 25th,

I saw Shou’s room for the first time today. I also saw Shou’s heart for the first time today.

I also saw my own heart for the first time today.

Well, sort of.”

“Come over”

“What?”

“Come over to my place” Shou looked down and kicked the dirt by his feet “I got a cool movie I wanted to show you and I don’t think you’re in the mood to go out. It was a math test today, right?”

Ritsu nodded slowly. He had never been invited to Shou’s house. He couldn’t even imagine how it looked.

“Sure” he responded, furrowing his brows.

“Why are you giving me this weird look?” Shou was having a hard time maintaining eye contact. Was this the first time he invited anyone over? “It’s not a big deal. I’ve been to your house and stuff, thought you might like to check out mine”

“No, nothing. I’m just so used to not knowing anything about you that seeing you open up always catches me off guard”

Shou looked at him surprised. He didn’t know what to say to that, so he simply stared, analytical, confused.

Ritsu coughed to break the silence.

“Where do you live?”

“It’s a train ride away. Let’s go”

Ritsu tried to bring up other topics that Shou might enjoy, like what the movie they were about to watch was about, how his hamsters were doing, what he thought of the most recent issue of his favorite manga. Easily enough, his friend started loosening up more and the previous tension brought by the sudden truth bomb extinguished itself.

“Well, we’re here!”

Both boys faced door 223 of the small apartment complex they entered, decorated with a few flower pots and a cute flower themed mat. Huh, was Shou into plants?

“I’ve never been to this part of town”

“Yeah, it’s quieter and there really isn’t anything interesting going on at any given time so…” Shou explained as he unlocked the three locks on the door “it was useful to me and my mom since both of us needed to stay on the down low because of… you know” the implied threat of Touchirou and Claw crept up Ritsu’s spine and he shuddered for his friend.

Shou opened the door and the fresh smell of chocolate activated Ritsu’s palate.

“I’m home, mommy! I brought Ritsu over!”

There was a woman - well dressed, short black hair- facing the wall mirror in the living room. She seemed to be applying make-up.

“Welcome, honey” she said, calmly, as she turned around “and to you too Kageyama Ritsu-kun”

Ritsu took off his shoes by the door way and soon extended his hand to greet Shou’s mom.

“You know my full name?”

“Shou told me. He tells me a lot about you” Ritsu felt Shou’s discomfort through his aura “I’m very happy to meet you. I’m Akane Takashi”

As soon as she let go of their handshake, Akane gathered her cosmetics in her purse and went for the door, placing a kiss on Shou’s head.

“I’m sorry I won’t be able to stay here and properly host you, Kageyama-kun. I’m going to see an old friend today” she put on her heels by the door “There’s chocolate cake by the kitchen table, I bought juice and, just in case I take too long, there’s frozen pizza in the fridge. I also already fed Muffin and Ricchan for you, Shou”

Both boys froze as Akane, oblivious to the tight spot she just put her son in, left the door with a quick goodbye.

She fed who?” Ritsu asked, slowly turning his head to face Shou.

That’s the name of my hamsters, ok?!”

You named your hamster after me?!”

“You can’t prove that!”

Shou’s aura was all over the place and his head looked like it was about to explode. It was hilariously tragic how easy it was to get him riled up (another clue, when you think about it).

“I don’t mind, though, but why?”

“I dunno, I felt like it?” Shou didn’t want to elaborate “Hey, I’ll go grab a slice of that chocolate cake for you! My room is right over there!” he pointed to a closed door polluted with traffic signs and sports stickers. Fitting.

Ritsu went in and dropped his bag by the bed. Surprisingly enough, the room wasn’t as decorated as the door, only a few movie and game posters here and there, a small TV with a DVD player, a desk with his hamsters’ cage (hello Ricchan, he said mentally, I hope I’m the black one) and a bookshelf filled with everything but books. There were various souvenirs from other countries, some toys, games, plushies. A photo frame with a picture of Shou and his mom was by the desk. Shou was smiling, genuinely smiling. It also looked recent, much like the other photos Ritsu remembered seeing hanging in the living room.

Shou strolled through the door whistling a catchy pop song and placed the two plates with chocolate cake on the bed. Ritsu joined him.

“Pretty cake for a pretty boy” he smiled.

There it was again. Shou had kept the nickname ever since the day that girl said it to them. At first, it was teasing, completely normal for him, Shou liked to nickname people and sort through all the possibilities (Ritsu won’t admit it, but his favorites for his brother are Mobster, Mobinator and Mobby Dick). But sometimes Shou would say it with no teasing behind it, it was almost as if he was genuinely trying to say Ritsu was a pretty boy in a very fond way. It’s not like friends can’t find each other attractive, but when you’re constantly reiterating it, then his intuition sparks.

“You really like that nickname” Ritsu said, grabbing his plate.

“Well, yeah, it was funny” Shou wasn’t laughing.

“You usually like to call me by a plethora of nicknames, though. What happened to Reesus?”

Shou shrugged, but it came out forced and uncomfortable.

“Thought about keeping it, I dunno” he forked the cake numerous times, but didn’t take a bite “Why are you asking so much today? Still in a testing mood?”

Ritsu didn’t reply, just took a bite of his cake and looked at Shou’s hamsters.

“Do you like me?”

“Do I what?” the plate trembled in Shou’s hands.

“Hamster me, I mean” another bite “am I the black one or the white one?”

“Black one” Shou murmured as he finally ate his cake “like your heart”

“What do you know about my heart?”

“Calm down, dude, it’s a joke! You got this whole emo thing going on for you”

“Since when?”

“Your ringtone is Linkin Park”

Ritsu scoffed, but offered no rebuttal.

“You didn’t answer my question”

“Which one?”

“Do you like me?”

Ritsu watched Shou shift on his seat and briefly wondered if he understood what Ritsu was implying. Likely yes. Shou is slow on the uptake when it comes to feelings but he’s not dumb.

“I mean of course I like Ricchan… he’s been there with me the whole time and makes me feel happy and helps… I dunno, ground me in a way”

“How long have you liked Ricchan?” Ritsu linked eyes with his friend. He seemed alarmed.

“Hey, Ritsu, are you talking about yourself or my hamster? Cause this is really confusing right now”

Ritsu blinked rapidly. Huh, figures Shou would want to face his problems head on. To tell the truth, Ritsu was kind of grateful he did, it forced himself to deal with it too.

“Oh… well, if you want to go straight to the point then, yeah, I’m talking about me”

Silence prevailed as color filled both boys’ cheeks. Ritsu has always considered himself extremely mature when it comes to crushes. Turns out refusing every single confession he’s ever gotten, consequently building a negative view of the entire situation doesn’t constitute as maturity because he’s extremely nervous right now.

“I dunno, dude… remember when I slept over at your house and it was 3 AM and you just started rambling to me about the signs you looked for to know when a girl was into you?” that was an embarrassing memory but sure, Ritsu nodded.

“Well, you said stuff like, how she blushes a lot or joke-flirts with you a lot depending on the personality… and they all say they feel their heart beat really fast when you’re near and that they like looking at when you’re not looking at them… and that they daydream about you or some shit…” the more he talked, the redder his cheeks turned and Ritsu found himself getting distracted by watching his friend get progressively restless “and my mom’s been watching these cliché romance movies and sometimes I watch them with her and sometimes I think about you when I’m watching them… and recently I’ve been looking at you a little more and like suddenly your hand seems really soft all of a sudden and I want to hold it”

Ritsu snorted.

“I never used lotion in my life, I probably have callus all over it”

I know right! And I know that! I know you don’t like this kind of attention and I know your hands are probably really rough but for some reason I can’t stop thinking about it!” Shou’s plate was long abandoned on the bed and his hands reached for his hair “It’s driving me insane cause I’m acting just like the girls you keep dumping and I don’t know what it means! Is it because you’re my first real friend?”

“It means you have a crush on me” Ritsu thanked all gods he had a great poker face because he was fighting an internal struggle of feeling selfishly proud or morbidly embarrassed “plain and simple”

Shou froze and looked at Ritsu. He could see the gears in his brain working to wrap around the shocking revelation just presented to him, so Ritsu took that chance to eat his cake. It was a good cake.

“Uh…” Shou tried, without moving a muscle “What… what do I do with that information?”

Ritsu shrugged.

“Those are your feelings, not mine. You should act on them as you please” Ritsu couldn’t contain himself and let out a little smirk.

More silence. Shou was creasing his brow, deep in thought. This seemed to be straining him a lot to sort out.

“Do you want me to go home?”

Shou looked at him sad, scared, confused. Maybe all three.

“If you go home, are we gonna see each other next week?”

Ritsu wanted to assure him that nothing would change, but he knows better than that, so he stood there, quietly twiddling his thumbs.

“You know I like you now… even I didn’t know I liked you and now I’m here having to face all these feelings” Shout spat the word as if it hurt him “and I’ve seen it happen, you know. I’ve seen you hear the same confessions over and over and turn down every single one of them and the girls all feel really hurt or really frustrated and you never talk to them again…”

Shou’s right, his fear has a strong foundation. Up to that point, Ritsu never even bat an eye at the thought of starting a relationship with any of the girls that talked to him. And then Shou happened. Shou had always continuously happened in his life, always a mystery but always so open and fun in a weird way. Shou was captivating, strong and had a nice jaw, his hair was colorful and reminded Ritsu of fire. When Ritsu started questioning the integrity of Shou’s feelings of friendship, he found himself questioning his own feelings. A quick open-shut case of ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t feel the same’ turned into ‘I wonder how Shou would confess to me’ or ‘I wonder if Shou is the big spoon… he’s smaller than me”. As soon as those thoughts invaded his mind, Ritsu would lock them away and stare at his unfinished homework for half an hour trying to compose himself. It was unusual, different, didn’t sit well with him because it made his stomach turn and thoughts wander.

Now Ritsu has to face these thoughts and the reality that comes with them. Maybe Ritsu does like Shou back and maybe he is looking for a relationship if that relationship was with a hot-headed gingerhead with an unrefined sense of humor.

Shou sniffled and Ritsu snapped his head forward again.

“Why are you crying?”

“I’m not” Shou said as the tears overflowed his eyelids and ran down his face incessantly.

Ritsu felt his heart literally break. It’s like it stopped working and he didn’t even feel like breathing anymore. Shou had never cried in front of him. He made Shou cry.

“Wait, Shou, I’m sorry…”

“No!” he suddenly screamed “Don’t finish that! I know what you’re about to say and I don’t want to hear it!”

“Shou, wait, let me…”

“No! You were my first friend and I was stupid enough to develop these dumb feelings for you and now you won’t even be my friend anymore and I’ll go back to having no people my age to hang out with” his speech was wavering, interrupted sometimes by hiccups and sobs.

Ritsu just stared, feeling his eyes sting a little bit at the sight. Shou was just a kid. No matter how many times he pointed at himself and said “I’m tough shit”, no matter how many scars his body has from all the fighting against Claw, no matter how many clever comebacks he gives to unsuspecting adults, he’s just a kid. He’s scared of being by himself, he doesn’t want to be alone, he wants people that understand him and like him. He’s scared of facing these new emotions that are suddenly such a big thing and take such a big toll on his life and he’s not prepared for it. He’s a kid who’s growing up.

They both are. Because Ritsu cries too, he feels sad and alone and scared too, sometimes he needs to be reminded he’s not alone because if he thinks that he wants to run ad hug someone. Because he’s just a kid, he’s scared of change, he’s scared of the future, he’s scared of the adult world where everyone is sad and gloomy. He’s just as scared of losing Shou as Shou is of losing him.

But they don’t have to be scared forever. If they both have the same fears, that’s when they should unite and face them together. That’s what friends do, and friendship is the first step.

Ritsu took Shou’s hands in his, coercing him to look up. His eyes were red and swollen and there was snot running down his nose.

“Shou” Ritsu said, softly “I’m not mad or annoyed at you. Actually, I’m… confused myself”

Shou’s eyes glimmered, which made Ritsu blush a little.

“Usually, when the girls confess to me, I already have the speech planned because I never have to think about it. I just automatically am not interested. But with you… it wasn’t automatic, you made me stop and think… and I came to the conclusion that… I don’t want to give you the speech”

Shou wiped his face in his comforter in an attempt to look more presentable.

“What does that mean?” he asked, but the smile tugging at his lips was proof that he knew what it meant.

“It means that I can’t stop thinking about your dumb face and your dumb jokes and your dumb crush on me and I think you’re rubbing off on me too much because I’m dumbly in love with you too” Ritsu said, squeezing Shou’s hands. He looked annoyed and he sounded annoyed but all Shou did was laugh heartily. That’s the Ritsu he knew and loved.

“Do you want to be my dumb boyfriend, then?”

Ritsu nodded, unable to keep his smile from shining in.

“Pretty boys stick together” he said.

Of course it was going to be Shou. Of course the one person who would change his world once again was going to be Shou. When has it not been? Shou just kept the surprises coming and Ritsu found that he really liked surprises. They made him go with his instincts more and leave behind the uptight persona he maintained at school.

Shou let out an excited noise that mixed in with his bubbly laughter. When it died down, his eyes flickered from Ritsu’s eyes to his mouth.

“Do you want to kiss me?”

Shou swallowed dryly.

“Th-that’s what the couples do in mom’s movies… that’s when I think about you the most too”

The way Shou’s burning cheeks contrasted with his hair might be what drives Ritsu into making the first move. He goes faster than he wanted to and ends up mushing their lips together at first. Then they retreat and try again, tilting their heads lightly; and retreat, and try again, closing their eyes, savoring the moment. They keep at it for an undetermined amount of time, experimenting, finding out what feels better for both of them.

The day is one of the least productive days Ritsu has ever had. He spent all of it with Shou, shifting positions in bed as they watched movie after movie and paid attention to none of them. Every ten minutes or so one of the boys either missed kissing the other or wanted to rearrange their position to hug the other better. By the third movie, Shou developed a game of them both guessing the general turn of events of each movie simply by the few scenes they managed to pay attention to. Shou had an accuracy rate of 78% (oh, and Ritsu taught him how to do percentage).

“I win!”

“Yeah, you sure did” Ritsu said in between planting kisses on Shou’s face.

“You know what else I won today?” Shou closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Ritsu’s waist, bringing him closer.

“Hmm?”

“Your heart!”

Ritsu laughed.

“We can call that one a tie, because I’m sure I got yours too”

“August 30th,

People at school finally believed I’m in a relationship because Shou gave me a bouquet and kissed me in the front gates (that might have been triggered by the fact a girl had just confessed to me yesterday and he got jealous).

I still don’t know how this whole relationship thing works, but neither does Shou, so I think it’s safe to assume we’re free to build our own concept of a relationship.

I used to be really scared of this in the future. What if I didn’t make a good husband? What if I never find the right girl? Somehow, all these worries vanish when Shou is beside me.

For the first time in my life, I can’t wait for what the future holds for both of us.”