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A Place Called Home

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(past)

"What are you doing?"

Aoba has taken to looking over Mizuku's shoulder. They're at a party somewhere in the Old Destrict and the neon lights are brightening the room, giving everyone and everything an ethereal glow. They're seated on a couch as the members of Dry Juice and various other teams throw their bodies around the apartment, dancing and drinking and making poor decisions. But it's usually safer when Mizuki and the other members are there - Dry Juice isn't a bad bunch of guys so the chances of anyone getting hurt are severely lower than most Ribster parties.

"A sketch for a design." Mizuki pauses, the pen finishing up a swirl as he looks to the teen beside him. "And that'll cost you 1,000 yen for peeking. Sorry, have to protect my customer."

Aoba wants to punch the shit-eating grin off his friend's face. He looks so smug and if Aoba didn't know any better, he would have assumed he was being serious

"Brat," Aoba growls and looks away. "Your design is shit anyway."

"Thanks for the constructive criticism, kid." Mizuki grins again and leans back against the couch, continuing the design.

Aoba doesn't like that attention has swung away from him and he reaches for the pen. Successfully snatching it, he throws it across the room with a lazy chuck, watching it land under a table with a bratty expression. "Whoops," he crows.

"Is that why they call you Sly Blue?" Mizuki is still teasing him and he folds his arms behind his head. "Guess I'm not drawing anymore, right?"

"Right," Aoba says and he isn't too sure but he feels like his plan backfired and Mizuki sees straight through his attention-seeking antics. 

"Are you going to get it?"

"No," Aoba deadpans and he shifts to shove the sketchpad off Mizuki's lap, replacing it with his legs, instead. "Why do you come to these things if you're just gonna sit around and draw?"

"Why do you come?" Mizuki laughs. "You're obviously not interested in joining Rib or Rhyme, so…?"

"Because I like to watch," Aoba mutters and he folds his arms over his chest, refusing to move his legs. He doesn't care to note that Mizuki hasn't shoved him off either. Quickly, he adds, "And before you ask, again, you stubborn idiot, I'm not joining your team, ever, so don't even ask."

Mizuki ignores that last bit and opts to look out on the party. "Watch, huh? Aren't you always interested in the action?"

"Not my scene." Aoba closes his eyes and tries to merge himself with the music and the smells of various alochols and whatever people are smoking. It's best to submerge his senses in something other than his own reality. It helps, sometimes.

"Are you going home tonight?" Mizuki's tone has changed from teasing to serious as he checks the time on his Coil. 

"Are you propositioning me?" Aoba says, voice purposefully getting lower. He makes a move to lean closer to the team-leader but he's immediately shut down when Mizuki chuckles at him. Fucking laughs at him.

"You're my kid brother. Sorry, but I don't shirk my duties like that."

For some reason, Aoba finds that utterly irritating and gets pissy and heads off the couch, choosing to ignore his only friend in the party for the rest of the night. Rum is a good substitute for a frustrating, over-protective asshole. Right? 

He doesn't go home that night, just to spite him. Who does he think he is?



"As cool as this would look on you, I'm not too sure we should do it…"

"Why not? I'm paying for it, so shut up and do it."

Aoba tosses the auburn-haired man a rather petulant glare over his shoulder. He then shifts, getting more comfortable on the cold, hard table he's laying on. He nests his chin into the pillow his arms form, folded beneath his body, and heaves out a side. The back of his shirt is pulled up, revealing a patch of thin, unbelievably pale and soft skin above his waistline. The spot is rather red, looking as if it has been irritated by some sort of chemical or cleaning.

"You know you're kinda impulsive, right?"

"And you're kind of an ass," Aoba retorts, looking a cross between bored and downright irritated.

Mizuki smiles, unwaveringly, and pokes the red spot on Aoba's back. As expected, the younger of the pair tenses up and looks away, scoffing. "Do you think getting a tattoo when you're this sensitive is going to go well?"

Aoba rolls his eyes regardless of whether or not the tattoo-artist will see it or not. "Maybe I like the pain."

"Right. How could I forget…" Mizuki chuckles throatily and he sits down on the stool beside the table. "If you're insisting…"

"And I am," Aoba mutters.

"Just let me know if it's too painful. Can't break my favorite person, right?"

Aoba's voice catches in his throat and he bolts up even before Mizuki can turn the needle on, can put the mask on, can adjust the light or even test the area again. Looking utterly offended, Aoba shoots Mizuki the most betrayed look he can manage. A low growl, a low snarl, grows in the back of his throat and he kicks his legs off violently and moves to stand. He nearly kicks Mizuki in the face in the process.

"Aoba--?"

"I'm leaving," he says, voice cold and lifeless as he reaches for his blue-and-orange hoodie. "And I'm not fucking paying you either." He ducks his head down into the jacket once it's on and hurries to the door, his movements a bit more erratic and less poised than usual.

Mizuki blinks in utter confusion, watching him leave. "Aoba, wait--"

The door slams shut before he can stop him.

*

"Aoba, you need to go home."

"Why the fuck should I listen to you?"

It's raining and Mizuki is holding an umbrella over the pair of them. Aoba is curled up on a bench near a bus-stop, drenched from head to tie, holding Ren closely. Surprisingly, the rain isn't causing the All-Mate to malfunction and Mizuki wants to question it but doesn't. He's on his back from the parlor to his home when he spots Aoba just sitting there and he knows something is up. The usually bratty and smug and haughty Sly looks broken and defenseless. When he gets closer, he can tell he's buzzed and high on something or another. He can see it in the usually sharp eyes that haunt him.

"Because I don't want you to get hurt," Mizuki sighs and shakes his head. "Aoba, please. Your grandmother is worried."

Aoba scoffs, as if he truly doesn't believe that, and shrinks in on himself even more. He wants to say something cruel but he can't. Tae is the only person who hasn't left, hasn't made him feel lonely. He can't accept her, not completely, and he feels bitter and bites his tongue. She's only taking care of him out of pity. That's all it is.

"I don't want to go home. Now buzz off."

Mizuki shakes his head again and takes a seat next to him. Expectedly, Aoba shuffles down the bench, further away from him.

"She called me."

'Good for you."

"She calls me a lot. She gets worried when you don't come home."

"Yeah, so? Big fucking deal…"

"I think it's time you talked to her."

"About what? How fucking great my life is and how everyone bows down to me because I--"

Mizuki shuts him up with his hand pressed against his mouth. Aoba looks so disgusted and he reaches up to wrench that hand away, off him entirely, but he falters. Mizuki has rarely ever touched him and it's warm. He's known him for a little under a year now, and regrettably, he's getting under his skin. It sucks.

"You're acting like a kid."

"You say that a lot," Aoba mutters under his hand, brows knitting together.

"Go home and get some sleep, Aoba."

"I told you, that's not even my name anymore. It's--"

Mizuki shuts him up with a kiss this time. It tastes like promise and cherries and something heavier, maybe like smoke. Aoba's mind shuts off and his hands fly to Mizuki's chest to roughly push him away because no one is allowed to be this close to him. Even if he's buzzed and high, he knows this is dangerous and letting someone this close to him will only end up in disaster. Mizuki is going to leave him just like everyone else. This is so dangerous and he needs to stop it. But he can't push him away. He lets the oddly tender kiss make him freeze up and when Mizuki is done, when he pulls away, the older stands.

"Call me when you get home safely."

And he walks back off into the rain.

Aoba shivers and stares down at Ren. The fucking nerve of that guy…

*

After the accident, Mizuki doesn't mention the rift and shift between them. Instead, he visits him often and brings him and Tae gifts when he does. Mizuki returns to his life, just like Koujaku, and he's back, like a big brother. Aoba ignores the dull pain in his head, knowing that something was there between them, but he banishes it away with most other memories. They linger in the back of his head until they fall away in depths and recesses of his head, never to be dragged up again. He's fucked up. He's made so many people worry and he's hurt so many more. He's a selfish, cruel, bratty little kid. Mizuki was right. He wants to change. So he does. Mizuki never brings it up again, even though his gaze lingers a little too long.

*

(present)
"What's this?"

They're sitting in Aoba's room. It's early spring and Tae has announced that the whole house must be stripped down entirely, dusted, vacuumed, and clean thoroughly. Which includes Aoba's room, despite how he usually is the only one to see it. He's taken the order with stride, starting in the far corner of his room where his computer desk is, cleaning the monitor and keyboard meticulously before attacking the drawers and behind the desk to destroy any dust. Aoba has a certain rhythm going and he seems to be looking at a full day of cleaning to be finished with the task in its entirety.

Noiz is situated on his bed, laying flat on his stomach, thumbing through a magazine. The ends of his hat are dangling over his shoulders, obscuring parts of the images of the pages. When his voice reaches Aoba's ears, he heads over and peers quizzically at the magazine in question.

"Oh! I found that at work one day and thought it was pretty neat so I brought it home," Aoba says with a carefree smile. He leans down and flips to an earlier page and points at an image in the top right corner. "See that? That's where I wanna go someday."

"It's… a mountain," Noiz says, nose scrunching up. "What's so great about that?"

Aoba looks flustered for a second, eyes shutting as he struggles to put his feelings into words. "Uh….well, I've never seen one before. At least not in person, so I thought it'd be kinda fun. Don't you want to travel?"

"Not really," Noiz says and he turns the page again, this time catching his fingertip on the edge. A paper cut follows and green eyes examine the thin cut along his index finger.

"Noiz!" Aoba hurriedly brings the finger up to his eyes to inspect. Yep! It's definitely bleeding. "Be more careful…" he insists, almost pouting, before he lets it go to grab a bandaid from across the room.

Noiz watches him and lets Aoba apply the bandaid. He doesn't even say anything when he notices it has fluffy puppies on it. It's ridiculously cute. 

Ever since the incident with Toue and recovering sensation, Noiz has been coming over a lot. They still haven't had their rematch and they've grown ridiculously close. Noiz wonders sometimes if Aoba will leave him like his parents did, will realize that now that he's recovered, he's just a normal guy not worth Aoba's time. But Aoba never leaves.

Aoba presses a soft kiss to Noiz's temple before he goes back to cleaning. Noiz watches him with mild interest and then turns his attention back to the magazine. He flips through the pages, mind still focused on the pain in his finger. It's both a bother and an excitement. Months ago, he wouldn't have even been able to feel it. Now, he grits his teeth. 

Noiz does pause halfway through the magazine when he comes across a photograph. There's an actual picture jammed into the binding of the magazine that doesn't belong. Upon closer inspection, he realizes it's Aoba and someone else -- Mizuki, was it? Aoba looks younger, rougher, and a different person in whole. Beside him stands the Ribster team-leader, a wide grin on his face, arm shoved around his shoulder, posed for the picture. Before Noiz can open his mouth to comment on how cute Aoba was as a rebellious teen, he flips the picture over.

There's something on the back of it.

Aoba,

Even when you're lost, don't give up. Keep smiling and know that things will get better. Maybe one day when you can handle it, I'll finally give you that tattoo. ( * a * ) Head-up and and happy birthday, kid. 

Always,
Mizuki

Scribbled at the bottom of the photograph is a small bunch of text that Noiz has issues deciphering. When he does, it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth and he sets the picture down. He closes the magazine and rests his chin on the top of his knees, defensively tugging his legs closer to his chest.

Aoba must have sensed the change of atmosphere because he stops cleaning the curtains to look back at Noiz. "Noiz?"

Noiz doesn't answer, too busy clicking the tongue-piercing against the back of his teeth. It takes him awhile to code out what this emotion, this feeling is. He's jealous. He's downright jealous. He knows he shouldn't be, but he is. He's jealous that Mizuki was there for Aoba when he wasn't, is jealous that Mizuki had such a bright demeanor that somehow managed to drag Aoba from the depths of whatever his past held. He's jealous that Mizuki said, "I love you" first. 

Noiz scoffs to himself.

"Hey, Noiz…"

Aoba heads over and sits down beside him. "What's wrong?"

"It's nothing," Noiz mutters and he quickly facets a serious expression on his face. Before Aoba knows it, there's a hand buried in his hair and Noiz is dragging him closer. Their lips meet and there's a rush of warmth shared between them. Aoba quietly gasps and uselessly lets his hands rest on Noiz's biceps. The kiss is too good.

When Noiz pulls away, Aoba stares at him, a cross between pleading and confused. He wants to ask, 'what was that for' but doesn't. It's best not to push Noiz, even if he has made strides with communication since they first met all those months ago.

"Are we boyfriends?"

The question catches Aoba off guard and he instantly flusters. "O-of course we are!" he sputters, looking downright embarrassed. "What did you think what we did in the hospital meant?"

Noiz brushes his bangs back and then ghosts his lips over his jaw. "I was just checking."

"Kid…" Aoba feels himself smile despite how flustered he feels. He feels safe like this, his heart souring, and he moves to lean his forehead on Noiz's shoulder. "Of course we're dating."

Noiz likes the confirmation, accepts it, and keeps Aoba close to him. There's still a million burning questions in his mind, about Aoba's past and about that photograph and so many other things, but he doesn't ask. Not yet. He still has so many things in his own life to sort out. He shouldn't snoop until he's fixed his own life and can provide answers to any questions Aoba may have about his family, his childhood, his future. It's only fair.

So Noiz kisses Aoba, warmly, full of feeling and emotion, and is determined that even if he's not the first, he'll be the most important, the last, the one that Aoba can always come to, confide, it, cry to.

Because he loves Aoba, even if he's still puzzled over the word itself. In his heart, he knows Aoba is the reason for feeling, the reason for why he feels so warm and dizzy sometimes. Aoba is everything now and he's determined to keep that forever.

He won't become another dusty photograph and forgotten whisper of a coveted phrase.