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Asking the Question

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There just wasn't any good way to ask the question.

"Mune," Sojiro began, during a quiet point in the evening; Leblanc had already closed for the night, so there was no one else around to watch his embarrassment. It was impossible to phrase things without either sounding like a medical examination, or incredibly crude. Probably both. "Do you, well --" Damn it. "Do you want to try having sex with each other the rest of the way?"

Munehisa promptly choked on his cup of coffee and spat it out all over his plate, coughing into his hand. "You been thinkin' 'bout this for a while, Soji?" he managed once he could breathe again.

Sojiro grabbed a rag and mopped at the counter, reaching across it to clap Munehisa on the back. "Yes," he retorted, feeling completely ridiculous. It felt ludicrous to have even used that phrase -- as if, somehow, the sex they'd been having wasn't official, which was nonsense. Sex wasn't as clear-cut as that; you couldn’t measure it by number of orgasms, like a chart on a wall. You didn't need to rate it based on types of penetration to call it real.

They'd been taking an easy pace ever since they started becoming physical, figuring out each other's limits carefully, backing off whenever something didn't feel comfortable. Mouths were clumsy for both of them when they went too long -- Sojiro had no idea how to keep his teeth from scraping, and Munehisa had a gag reflex that he said made him edgy, giving him flashbacks to bad fights -- so they mostly just got each other started that way and finished off with their hands. It still felt good, so they kept trying a little more each time anyway, trying to find ways to get better for them both.

It was satisfying, in every sense of the word. Neither one of them were kids anymore, so it wasn't like they could last all night even if they wanted to, and they also weren't athletic enough to pull off half of it. He and Munehisa had run through all the things they'd tried in the past with other people, mixing in ideas they'd always wanted to experiment with, and everything had been more than enough to leave them feeling good by the end. They both knew about the chances of taking it personally if the other person wasn't getting off; between failures and successes, they made sure to do other things instead, spending quiet evenings together talking about business paperwork or exploring the different streets of Shibuya, looking at new places to eat and finding things that the kids might enjoy.

Yet, for all of that, they were still feeling out the next steps in their relationship, testing the waters as carefully as they could. For Sojiro, it was a strange balance of being unsure if he wanted more or not. The risk of screwing things up kept wavering back and forth, minor one day and unspeakably high the next.

"I mean, it's physically an option for us," Sojiro explained, as Munehisa finished clearing his throat and started looking at him with an expression that was shifting rapidly from shock into laughter. "I'm just not certain if it's something we want to try ourselves."

The seriousness of his tone finally made it through. Munehisa leaned back in his chair, setting aside whatever jokes he'd been planning on making. "Has the sex not been good?" he asked frankly.

"It has. I mean, it's been great for me -- shit, I hope for you too," Sojiro added hastily. "And if this isn't something that sounds appealing, I'm fine with continuing like we have been. We mostly know what we're doing already, and we've got less of a chance to mess something up."

But the question had settled in Munehisa's thoughts; the man laced his hands on the counter, considering the matter more seriously. "I dunno. You sure seemed to like it when I had my fingers up your ass the other day."

"Yeah, okay," Sojiro flushed, and then rubbed the back of his neck, trying not to think too vividly about Untouchable's back room and the slick feeling of Munehisa's condom-wrapped fingers. "Okay. But even that took some time, right? We're going to want to be clean for this, so it'd be nice to have a shower nearby, and then enough preparation, which means an evening without rushing. We can't exactly do that in either Leblanc or your place, unless we use Leblanc's attic."

"You do have that bed up there," Munehisa suggested, though his enthusiasm shifted as soon as he spoke, uncertainty creeping over his face like frost. "Thing is... Akira still uses it, doesn't he."

"When he comes by on breaks, yeah. He does."

They both considered the facts in grim silence.

Munehisa finally spread his hands in supplication. "Flip the mattress, kid'll never know, right?"

Sojiro sighed, and leveled an even stare at the other man. "Munehisa," he pointed out blandly. "Akira's friends still use this place as a hangout during weekends and evenings. I should be bleaching everything up here at least once a week. Think about it."

Munehisa did. He shook his head after a minute, looking dubious, but tried to regroup anyway. "Hell, we've both done it in worse places before. We could just set up a cot here. I gotta couple hangin' out back at my shop?"

The idea of charging ahead before they both got too nervous wasn't entirely unappealing, but when Sojiro fit the entire mental image together, it was just ludicrous enough to make him scrub his face and sigh. "You make it sound like we're teenagers sneaking around, trying to get laid without our parents finding out."

"Except we are, and it's not our parents, it's our kids," was the other man's merciless counter.

Which Sojiro agreed with. Their options were looking worse by the moment. "Well, the rest of Leblanc's off limits. I like keeping my food handling license -- the cat was risky enough. And Kaoru doesn't stay out late enough after school for us to use your place."

Munehisa took a rallying sip of coffee. "Love hotel."

"No," Sojiro dismissed instantly. "I mean, they work great, but that's -- I used them for dates, when we couldn't go back to their place. If we go to one, chances are that I'll think about one-nighters instead. Anyway, you know how gaudy those places are. Do you really want to try this out while surrounded by glitter?"

"Fair enough." Another deep draught of coffee, and Munehisa straightened up, squaring his shoulders. "Ok. No biggie. This kinda thing happens all the time. I'll ask some guys I know, they'll set us up with an apartment for the weekend. Fully furnished, no questions asked. It's a good deal."

"I'm not going to have sex with you in a yakuza bed and breakfast, Mune."

The protest came out more frustrated than Sojiro intended; he half-expected Munehisa to lose patience with his stubbornness, but the other man's face softened as he regarded Sojiro over the countertop. "How'd I end up with someone so sentimental, huh?" he asked, reaching out with his free hand and settling a touch on the back of Sojiro's arm. "No go with the couch then?"

The light stroking of Munehisa's fingers took the edge off Sojiro's mood more effectively than a cigarette. "We could, but -- listen, this sort of thing is probably even messier than normal, and cleaning the couch is hell, which we already discovered." He turned his palm over despite himself as Munehisa's hand continued to wander down his skin, and let the other man's fingers slide between his own, knuckles bumping together like the teeth of a broken zipper. "Look," he began, trying to navigate around the urge to just give up and enjoy the sensation. "We could just keep jerking each other off in the hall, and call it done. But something like this is a lot more complicated -- and, well, it'd be good to spend the time to figure out if we actually enjoy it. It'd be good just to have the time," he admitted, the words being drawn out of him unexpectedly, as if someone else had operated his mouth and was now spilling out ideas that he had no conclusion for. "Just -- to be able to figure everything out properly."

But Munehisa was nodding, as if he had rearranged the confusion of Sojiro's thoughts and had found complete sentences in the debris. "No, I get it. I do. Look, Soji," he continued seriously, "If I'm gonna take anyone's dick up my ass, it's gonna be you, and I wanna make sure -- wait, why the hell are you laughin' and whaddya mean I ruined the mood?"




"We've got to tell the kids at some point," Sojiro said a few Thursdays later.

They were watching old movies in the attic, mostly as white noise to unwind after dinner while they talked; the couch had been turned around to face the television, even though it wasn't the most comfortable thing to recline on. Both of them were continuing to studiously ignore the bed. Sojiro had even stripped the sheets off and folded them away to avoid any temptation, especially after discovering that Futaba had started taking naps up there on Saturday afternoons.

Munehisa made a reluctant grunt and shifted, looking away; he always did whenever he was ignoring an issue, Sojiro knew.

He tried to ignore the curdle of uneasiness in his stomach, and failed. "I mean, Futaba already said she likes you as a person, but I haven't told her anything else about what's been going on. And if Kaoru doesn't approve of me..."

He stopped there, not wanting to give voice to what they both knew. That was the deal, after all -- that was something they'd both agreed on. The kids came first. The kids would always come first.

"I, uh." Munehisa cleared his throat, still studiously watching a corner of the attic instead of the television. "I think Kaoru already knows. I mean, you've been makin' him n' me bentos for months, right? Plus, he's pretty smart. Not computer smart like Futaba, but he still keeps followin' me around whenever he's worried 'bout me and work. He said he went to Leblanc once, and kinda saw me eating dinner with you through the door. I kept tellin' him you're just a business contact, but he rolled his eyes and said I don't usually look like I'm tryin' to get my customers off under the table -- speakin' of which, I gotta figure out where he's picking up that shit language from, 'cause he must be hangin' around some punk-ass influences at school."

Sojiro allowed himself to close his eyes for one brief, horrified second as he tried to imagine just what kind of evening Kaoru must have glimpsed -- let alone any other customers. "That doesn't absolutely confirm anything, though. He might be kidding."

"Yeah. Could be."

They sat there as denial refused to rally to the cause. On the television screen, two samurai managed to finish wading bravely out of the forest they'd been struggling through for the last half hour, only to discover an entire army waiting nearby. Sojiro had a keen flare of sympathy.

"Kids're smart," Munehisa offered after a moment, a little desperately. "They prolly figure we're bangin' in the closet every time we see each other."

"I really hope not," Sojiro replied fervently, remembering the internet links Futaba used to share.

The samurai waded into their fresh batch of enemies, blood spattering in firehose arcs. Munehisa made another grunt in his throat and leaned across the couch, taking Sojiro's hand and tracing circles along each fingertip. Sojiro's willpower warred between continued panic and distraction; then he sighed, letting his weight relax and surrendering his arm to Munehisa's touch.

As much as they might try to shrug it off, however, the issue of both of their families remained an unbreachable priority. It wasn't up for debate. If there was going to be an ultimatum, Sojiro knew it would be with the kids. A circle had been drawn around himself and Futaba, with the rest of the world on the other side, and he'd continue to defend that boundary against anyone she asked.

Anyone.

Part of that meant that he'd never ask Futaba to accept something she was uncomfortable with, or that made her feel as if her family was changing in ways she didn't want. Munehisa was the same way with his own son. Sojiro would never suggest that Munehisa visit Wakaba's grave without Futaba's express permission, just like he made sure never to joke -- even casually -- about getting a gecko tattoo.

There were things that Sojiro would never ask of Munehisa. There were things that Munehisa would never ask of him. Knowing that was what allowed Sojiro to let down his guard around the other man; that shared value was part of what they had built their trust upon, knowing they would never threaten it.

Still. Recognizing how readily he would break things off with Munehisa the instant Futaba might ask sent an uncomfortable clench to Sojiro's stomach. There wasn't any hesitation. There wasn't any doubt. His fingers twitched despite himself; then he closed his hand, pulling it away from Munehisa's lap.

"Even if they're okay with us, they've got to like each other too," he continued aloud, the feeling of dread sending him further down the path of worst-case scenarios. "At least a little. They don't have to think of each other as siblings, but -- if they're not okay with knowing we have other people to look out for, or if they feel replaced, then -- "

"Shit, stop talkin', Soji," Munehisa said, and slid his arm around Soijro's shoulders, trying to tug him back. When Sojiro refused to yield this time, Munehisa tilted his head in close, his voice a rough promise in Sojiro's ear. "We'll figure it out, all four of us. When it's right, we'll talk to the kids. We'll let 'em decide what they're ok with. After that, we'll take it from there. This's important, so we'll figure it out properly, got it? All four of us. Together."




As if by mutual agreement, they both set aside their worries over the kids temporarily; the logistics of even having a relationship in the first place still contained a monumental list of issues to struggle through. Seeing someone only during evenings and lunches gave Sojiro part of the picture, but it still was only a tiny sliver of the whole; as much as Sojiro knew about Munehisa so far, he had no illusions that he'd seen everything about the man's personality. Similarly, Munehisa had never dealt with Sojiro at 5 a.m. when he was spilling coffee grounds all over the counter, or getting fed up with cleaning mold out of the bathroom. There were parts of himself that Sojiro wasn't proud of. There were rough edges that might never be smoothed down.

Things were good between them for the moment, kept corralled in carefully narrow windows of time. It might be best to stay like this forever, and never go any further.

But neither one of them could make that estimation without trying out more, without sharing all the parts of themselves that could be hidden away at home and never exposed. Like it or not, they had to risk that failure before knowing what to do next.

The dilemma of finding enough time for sex was a useful smokescreen, at least. Neither one of them wanted to poll either friends or strangers with how much warmup preparation was best; the internet was still off-limits, so they resorted to making guesses based around attempts with their hands, estimating when they felt ready for one more finger or not. There was one evening when Sojiro managed to get his hand sliding at just the right angle, and he didn't know what he did differently that time -- but suddenly Munehisa was gripping his shoulder hard enough to bruise and making noises like he'd been shot in the gut, and the only reason Sojiro didn't haul off immediately was because Munehisa was moaning threats to kill the entire neighborhood if he stopped.

The warmups were a mixed blessing. While they confirmed that yes, an opportunity for cleanup nearby was vital, they also caused Sojiro to wonder far too much what it would be like with more than just Munehisa's hand. Munehisa had the same problem; any hesitations he might have harbored had been obliterated by a combination of curiosity, and Sojiro nearly breaking one of Untouchable's shelves.

"I know, I know," Munehisa reassured him during one afternoon, when Leblanc's lunch rush had cleared out. "You ain't some cheap one-nighter to fuck n' forget in a restroom." He folded up Sojiro's fingers and pulled them across the table, up against his mouth, watching him over the bridge of their paired knuckles. "'Cuz if you were, I'd be havin' you up against the wall right now," he purred, darting his tongue against Sojiro's skin. "Spread you open, see if I could slide right in. Maybe on that desk upstairs, you like that?" he added, before taking the tip of a finger between his lips.

"Mune," Sojiro protested, his voice strained.

"Yeah? You want me to try suckin' you off, just like this... 'til you're nice and slick..."

"Mune -- "

"'Till you're beggin' me -- "

"I'm closing the cafe," Sojiro announced desperately, and stood up, clipping the edge of the table with his hip and sending the dishes clattering in a porcelain chortle. "Half an hour. Only half an hour, got it?"




Unfortunately, once Munehisa discovered a good way to torment Sojiro, he didn't ease up either. He called Sojiro up the next day right before the lunch rush, strategically timing it right when one of the coffee batches was starting.

"I got a better idea," he began. "How 'bout you just tell me all the things you wanna do to me?"

"No," Sojiro said, feeling a blind moment of panic storming in: he already knew that Munehisa was better at dirty talk, and the last thing he needed was to be thinking about it during cafe hours. A customer was already approaching Leblanc, hand extended for the door. "I'm fine."

"You sure? Here, lemme get you started with some suggestions --"

Sojiro hung up.




Munehisa's tactics worked: after a week of the man's assault in his ears, Sojiro finally caved and agreed to the attic.

They were working through the specifics of bringing over a cot after all -- the bed was still banned from discussion, though Munehisa kept suggesting the couch -- when Futaba, surprisingly, saved them.

"I'm going over to Ann's all weekend!" she announced loudly at breakfast, with almost aggressive cheer. "Got it, Sojiro? I'm going there straight after school on Friday and won't be back until Monday night."

"Oh," Sojiro exclaimed, blinking, trying not to look as relieved as he felt. The last thing he needed was for Futaba to think he didn't want her around. "Is everything okay? With you or Ann?"

"School project," was the prompt explanation. Futaba drew herself up resolutely. "So I'll be totally gone! You should do something fun for yourself," she added, peering at him over her glasses. "You're... uh, always in the cafe! Spend some time at home instead!" By the end of her outburst, her eyes had gone ferociously wide around the edges; with her hands planted on the counter, she looked prepared to launch herself off it and physically attack. "Okay? Close down Leblanc for the weekend! Spend some time at home."

The intensity was a little frightening, to be honest. "Sure," Sojiro replied, swimming through a mixture of confusion and intimidation. "I can do that --"

"At home, Sojiro," she repeated, looking a little manic. "Promise me."

"Okay, okay, I promise," he surrendered, trying to laugh off her concern. Even then, she gave him several long, suspicious glances before settling in to finish her breakfast, thumbing through her phone messages with her typical lightning pace.

When Sojiro texted Munehisa with the good news, there was a surprisingly long pause before any reply. He blinked at the words when they finally arrived, reading them twice to make sure he hadn't misunderstood. Kaoru just said the same thing. School project, he'll be with friends all weekend. Guess it's a Shujin thing?

Must be, Sojiro sent back. He tried to remember if Futaba had mentioned needing any funds for supplies; nothing came to mind, but that didn't mean she hadn't simply forgotten. He should check about packing her clothes, or at least make sure the laundry had been done. Ann being there was a weight off his mind; he knew how to reach her in an emergency, and he could trust that she would look out for Futaba.

Either way, it was an amazing stroke of luck. Completely closing the cafe down for two days would be a hit to their weekend customers -- for both Untouchable and Leblanc, which took in good revenue during that time -- but they could try trimming the hours instead. They could sleep in late together. They could sleep in the same bed, period. There would be a bed at all, instead of tables that had been cleared off, or couches that they barely fit on together. There would be time for a leisurely breakfast -- the first one they'd have, starting off the day together instead of winding it down. And then, after they both closed up shop for the night, they'd have all that time to look forward to as well: evenings with just the two of them, without any escape back to their own homes. It was possible to like someone well enough when you knew they'd go away at the end of the night, but things could change if you were still stuck with them the next day, and then the day after that.

If something like a person's shaving habits might be a deal-breaker, they'd both find out soon enough.

Sojiro glanced down at the sensation of water leaking over his fingers. He hadn't realized he was gripping the rag in his hand tightly enough to squeeze the moisture out of it.

He could do this.




It was different than he expected.

The more Sojiro thought about it, the more he was glad that he'd suggested taking their time in the first place. Two nights with Munehisa staying over felt simultaneously too short and as overwhelming as eternity. The last time he'd had someone else in his life like that had been Wakaba, and she'd always gone home to Futaba at night. Munehisa would be staying at the house. He'd be staying with Sojiro.

More importantly, if three days with Munehisa was enough to shake his nerves like this, Sojiro would never be able to jump into anything more serious.

Preparing the house itself was easy. The mechanics were the same as any guest on principle: linens, food, toiletries. Sojiro pulled out the extra towels and changed the sheets on the bed, letting the routine of simple hospitality keep him on autopilot, and trying not to think about anyone else in that bed but himself -- which was ridiculous, considering they'd been having sex for months, and here he was nervous about having more of it, with the only difference being that they'd have an actual bedroom for once.

But once everything had been wiped down and cleaned off and tucked in, Sojiiro couldn't keep from wandering through each room, wondering what things would look like once Munehisa was there. He was used to seeing the man in Leblanc, in his own store, in the neutral world of Shibuya and other cities. Now it would be Munehisa in Sojiro's home kitchen in the mornings, commenting on the coffee; in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. Munehisa was going to be there. Specifically, Munehisa was going to be there and wouldn't be running for the last train or leaving before Futaba got home from her friends. All of Sojiro's mental images of how their evenings might go ended after midnight; he didn't even know what Munehisa's schedule was like in the mornings.

He was in the middle of closing early on Friday -- the process of cleaning down Leblanc was thankfully keeping his nerves calm -- when he got the call.

It was hard to tell what was stronger in Munehisa's voice: impatience, frustration, or simply resignation. "You still at the cafe?"

Sojiro shifted the phone to his other ear, concern cutting through the chase. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah." A pause. "Fuck it, no. You know that big order I had for today? Some've their loaders got into trouble yesterday. The guys're short-handed for transport. I gotta help them out." There was a pause, and then Munehisa forced out the next words. "I... don't know how late it's gonna run, Soji."

Sojiro exhaled. It was a strange reprieve at the last minute; he felt as if he'd been left floating between a landslide and a cliff. "It's all right. The curry won't suffer with some extra time to simmer." He leaned against the counter, already recalculating the cooking times. "Just keep me posted. If we're too tired tonight, I'll make coffee and we can watch that jidaigeki you kept telling me about instead. The one with Kawanakajima, right?”

Munehisa's voice softened. "Serious? You actually found a copy?"

"I asked Futaba if she had any ideas, and she turned it up somehow." Flipping the cleaning rag over, Sojiro let himself savor Munehisa's amazement; the extra shipping costs to have the discs delivered in time had been worth it. "Text me when you can. I'll be here."

Being able to keep his wits through rapidly-shifting plans had always been one of Sojiro's strengths; he'd had to stay in practice in order to keep up with Wakaba, and then Futaba in turn. The original goal had been to meet up at seven, closing both shops early and giving Sojiro enough time to usher out the dinner crowd with a minimum of rush. The store already had its early closing sign in the window -- no reason to take that down at this hour -- so Sojiro finished up at a slower pace, and cast a long, rueful glance towards the attic before he left.

Holding off on dinner was an easy adjustment to manage. He'd been working on the ingredients carefully throughout the day, softening the vegetables and boiling down some stock for flavor. Rather than combine them at the cafe, he packed up everything separately and hauled it back to the house, reconsidering the contents of his fridge. It was too late to second-guess the flavor combination he'd designed for; he simply had to trust his instincts.

"I wish I had your genius, Wakaba," he muttered, setting the rice to soak for half an hour now that there was time for it.

Just after eight, Sojiro's phone chimed again.

Going to be longer. Got some complications.

Sojiro frowned. Steam from the rice cooker was bathing the kitchen in moist plumes. Any trouble?

Planning to break a few heads, yeah.

As Sojiro stared at the reply, wondering how deadly the job might have turned, he was thankfully preempted by a rapid series of texts. They came through as nonsense at first glance -- the words garbled from a combination of hasty typing and autocorrect -- but he finally overcame the panic that Munehisa had somehow been shot and was typing through bloodloss.

Shit. Didn't mean it like that, he eventually deciphered. It's ok. Guys're just being dumbasses. Lost the fucking contact info. Driving in circles here. No violence.

After another minute of waiting to see if anything else would appear, Sojiro exhaled. Keep out of trouble, ok?

When the response came, Sojiro could almost hear the dry laugh through the text. Can't have your coffee if I'm dead.

It was nearly ten o'clock by the time Munehisa finally sent an all-clear. The man had taken the responsibility of letting Soijro know he was alive seriously; he'd given updates in regular intervals, quoting how many boxes were still left to move, and how far out he was from the drop-off points. Sojiro had already put on the coffee. The length of the day was heavy on his bones; he kept swallowing yawns even as he got the announcement that Munehisa was only fifteen minutes out from Yongen-Jaya.

But when the doorbell rang, all of Sojiro's nerves suddenly came back to life again, jolting him into action. "Come in," he shouted from the kitchen, hoping that he wasn't accidentally inviting a random stranger into his home.

The door slid back as he turned the last corner in the hall, and Munehisa stepped inside.

Even having braced for it all day, Sojiro came to a halt at the sight of Munehisa actually standing in the entryway. It seemed as equally shocking for Munehisa in turn, because the man didn't go any further than that, duffle bag in his hands, boots still on. A lollipop stick clicked against his teeth as he shifted it to the corner of his mouth. "Hey," he announced, clearing his throat. "Thanks for havin' me over."

"Try saying, 'I'm home' instead," Sojiro suggested wryly.

The flush and embarrassment were expected, but no less endearing; Sojiro had seen Munehisa break out into threats effortlessly, but now he stumbled on such a simple, intimate phrase. "Yeah," was all the man could manage, glancing away sheepishly. "Yeah."

Sojiro fought back a laugh, shaking his head at the way they were both fumbling. As much as his nerves were making him unsteady, a slow warmth had started to seep through his chest, blossoming into a haze like the first touch of strong whiskey. "Welcome back."

He stepped forward to take the duffle bag so that Munehisa could finish settling in, only to be passed a second bag that had been hidden behind it: a white, waxed paper rectangle that was branded with the intricate label of a gaming store in Akihabara.

Munehisa gave it a nod as he finally pried off his boots. "I got somethin' you can give to Futaba -- just one of those toy figure things she might like. Kaoru helped me pick it out. You can tell her it's from you, I don't wanna spook her." His boots looked huge lined up next to Sojiro's shoes, slumping over with their laces disheveled and dangling. "This's the first time I've been over," he remarked, tugging off his ear protectors next. "Hope I don't wreck the place."

The pit of nervousness and second-guessing that had brewed in Sojiro's thoughts all day was starting to ebb away under the practical realities of putting Munehisa at ease. He set aside both bags and reached for Munehisa’s hat next, collecting all the paraphernalia of finally getting the man's visit started, piece by piece. The lollipop was surrendered with a laugh; Munehisa squinted at Sojiro's mouth, and then joked about looking for an ashtray instead.

But when Munehisa started to pull off his coat, the man froze suddenly with a wince, making a muffled grunt of pain before he could suppress it.

"Shoulder. Tore somethin' when I was younger and it never healed right," he explained, seeing Sojiro's expression. "Fucked it up tonight -- it's nothin'. Just strained it, haulin' that shit around."

Ignoring the dismissal, Sojiro stepped forward immediately and reached for his sleeves. The left one came off easily, but Munehisa's right arm was clearly the problem; the man couldn't even lift it without grimacing. "Did you put a pain patch on it yet?"

Munehisa shook his head, keeping his arm as steady as possible while Sojiro pulled the coat the rest of the way free. "Came straight here. I got shippu at the store," he added. "Just not with me."

"I've got some cold ones, if those will work." Prodding the man's shoulder as carefully as he dared, Sojiro finally shook his head. "You need to let it rest tonight. Tomorrow too, at the very least. The bathwater's hot, so go rinse yourself off and soak for a bit -- don't stay in too long, that'll make it worse -- and I'll help get them on you."

Already in the process of mental readjustments for a second time that night, Sojiro didn't think twice about what a further deferment meant -- but when he started to gather up Munehisa's things, the man interrupted him, reaching out with his good arm. He scooped it around Sojiro's shoulders, pulling him tightly against his chest, and then held him in place until Sojiro stopped making confused protests.

"Sorry," he muttered into Sojiro's hair. "Didn't mean to ruin shit."

"You're here, aren't you?" Sojiro replied. He rubbed his hand over Munehisa's back, smelling sweat and what was suspiciously like burnt gunpowder. "Then you haven't."

He could have stayed there for longer -- they both could have, not moving, until the coffee burned down and the curry simmered into mush -- but pragmatism won the day. "You'll feel better after the bath," he promised, tapping Munehisa's elbow until the man finally released him. "Up the stairs, first door on the right. Let's get your shirt off now, so you don't have to worry about that. I'll have a cup of coffee waiting for you when you're out."

The curry had been safely stored and the coffee saved by the time Munehisa finished up; Sojiro had set up camp in the living room, the DVD queued to play. The man came down with his hair wet, dressed only in a loose pair of sweatpants. Fish-silver streaks of old scars were painted across his arms and torso, clashing with the tattoo ink that lay dark on his skin. No fresh bruises, so Munehisa had either been telling the truth, or had been lucky enough to avoid a brawl.

Trying to fit them both of them on the sofa in a way that didn't contort Munehisa’s spine or his shoulder took some creativity. Sojiro resorted to stacking up books in a block on the floor so that Munehisa could lie on his stomach and let his arm rest on them, keeping the joints supported so they wouldn't cramp up. For his own part, he wedged himself against a corner of the sofa so Munehisa could sprawl into his lap comfortably, and not get kneed in the stomach. The man settled in gratefully, using Sojiro's thigh and a pillow; he winced when Sojiro tried to lightly apply pressure to his muscles, so Sojiro just flattened his hand over the skin, letting his own body heat do what good it could.

When he lifted it away, however, Munehisa protested. "Keep it there."

"We need to put a patch on you for you to start feeling better."

"Feels better anyway," Munehisa claimed mulishly.

Shaking his head, Sojiro unwrapped the first shippu and peeled off the adhesive. After a few questioning prods, he aimed for the worst spots as best he could, decorating the man's shoulder like the irregular scales of a lizard. It wasn't good to overdo the chemicals, but he couldn't trust Munehisa to admit needing help when pride was on the line; after sticking one last patch on Munehisa's neck, just in case, he set the rest of the stash aside.

He could tell that the patches were working when Munehisa made a long sigh and relaxed against his legs. The opening credits of the movie had already unfurled, and the narration was in full swing as the camera panned over landscapes that had more soldiers than trees. As the story zoomed in on one of the armies, Sojiro carefully stroked his thumb over each shippu to make sure they were sticking properly. When none of the muscles flinched at the contact, Sojiro left his hand in place this time, splayed along Munehisa's ribs; the rumble of appreciation made him smirk.

Even with Munehisa half-naked and draped in his lap, Sojiro realized he didn't mind how the evening had turned out. It was different than he'd expected. Better. The house didn't feel strange to have Munehisa in it -- it felt natural, as if the man had been there all along, tagging behind like a ghost in Sojiro's thoughts every evening after work.

The movie's plot was indecipherable, but Sojiro was drowsy enough even with the caffeine that he didn't mind. The fingers of Munehisa's right hand were idly running up and down his ankle, and the effect was hypnotic; as the minutes slipped by, Sojiro caught himself looking at the clock less and less, until he found himself forgetting that there was anything strange about the two of them on his sofa at midnight, and was simply checking to make sure the movie wasn't running too late. A tension he hadn't even realized existed had begun to slip away from his body, invisible until its absence -- as if Sojiro's heart had tightened into a fist with the death of Wakaba, and refused to relax ever since, with the rest of him inevitably following suit.

Until now. Each breath he took felt deeper. Each moment felt like something he could trust.

"Y'know, we coulda done all this in the apartment rental too," Munehisa murmured into his leg, halfway through some extended nobleman's speech that sounded like either a declaration of war, or of gardening prowess. "With a bigger tv."

Sojiro snorted sleepily, shifting his head against the sofa pillows. "Remind me again why I love you, asshole," he chuckled.

The words had all the weight of a guillotine, swift and lethal. Munehisa went suddenly still, his hand immobilized in place. His touch was light as a cobweb on Sojiro's skin.

"Yeah?" he asked quietly.

Any potential answer stayed frozen in Sojiro's throat. The words had come out naturally; in doing so, they had scoured his mouth bare of anything else to say, anything save that same phrase on repeat, over and over. Wrapping his voice around the emotion had made it concrete, like turning a mirage into a mountain, as simple and undeniable as every other foundation in his life: water, air, the sun.

He'd never said it out loud to Munehisa before now. It was easier than he ever expected it would be.

He swallowed hard, searching for wit.

"If you weren't listening, I'm not going to repeat myself," he finally announced loudly -- but then Munehisa twisted around and sat up, his expression as raw as if his stomach had been sliced open by a knife he thought was too dull to block. Sojiro barely caught a glimpse of that bare desperation before Munehisa was kissing him, rough and hungry, pressing him back against the sofa. He closed his eyes and relaxed into it, pulling the man closer without hesitation, drinking in the feel of Munehisa's back under his hands, the smell of his own soap on Munehisa's skin.

Munehisa broke contact long enough to regain his breath; his smirk was blotting out any other emotion but smugness. "You sure we should just rest tonight?"

The question was compelling. "What about your shoulder?"

"I can stay off it," was the assurance, punctuated with a casual shrug that started off smoothly -- and was ruined utterly by Munehisa's sharp wince, one eye squinting in pain before he could disguise it.

Sojiro chuckled despite himself, leaning his hand insistently against Munehisa's good side until the man backed off. "Let's see how we both feel in the morning. We've got all weekend to figure something out, right? I should grab a bath before it gets too late," he continued around repeated protests of good health. "Lie back down. Let the shippu finish working, okay?"

By the time he returned, Munehisa was asleep, his lungs moving measured and easy. The movie was stampeding through what might have been its climax, judging from the excessive number of bodies racking up on the floor; Sojiro couldn't tell which side was supposed to be portrayed as the doomed heroes anymore, since everyone looked too dead to give a proper dramatic speech. Rather than wake Munehisa by rejoining him on the sofa, Sojiro sat down on the floor next to the stack of books and leaned against the furniture, careful not to dislodge anything as he settled into place.

The motion was enough to rouse Munehisa part of the way regardless; the man's hand twitched towards him, and Sojiro reached over, catching it against his own palm. Munehisa's eyes struggled to drag themselves open by fractions; they wavered and then closed, the man mumbling something indistinguishable into the pillow.

Sojiro tilted his head. "What was that?"

"Love hotel."

"You jackass." The laugh came out in a bark; Munehisa's mouth curled up like a fishhook smug with its catch. "Okay. If we absolutely have to, we can. We can."

They were both quiet after that, breathing slower and slower as there were even fewer reasons to fight off sleep. Eventually, the movie ran out of people alive enough to continue the war and finally wound down, credits scrolling into blackness and resetting to the menu where it played the same tinny intro music over and over -- until Sojiro finally pulled himself awake in an effort to save his own sanity, and set the television to mute.

"Soji," Munehisa attempted, his voice blurred to almost indistinguishable levels from exhaustion. His eyes were still shut; if he hadn't spoken, Soijro would have assumed he was completely unconscious. "I gotta question for you."

The living room wasn't particularly comfortable, but Sojiro had been debating the merits of sleeping on the floor anyway; it was probably easier to haul down a futon than try carrying Munehisa up the stairs. "Yeah?"

"Was wonderin'." Any energy for speech was rapidly evaporating; Munehisa was barely managing to be louder than a whisper. His knuckles were limp against Sojiro's palm. "Y'don't have t'answer. Jus' think 'bout it."

"I'm listening," Sojiro prompted.

For a long moment, there was nothing; then, just as Sojiro wondered if that was the end of it, Munehisa pulled in a deep breath. "If Kaoru's ok w'it..." he finally slurred. "'n Futaba... n'you want, only if y'want... I was wond'rin... d'you wanna..."

Sojiro waited for the rest, curiosity barely staving off his own drowsiness -- but Munehisa had fallen asleep completely this time, leaving the question floating on the air, drifting in the ghostly black-and-white reflections of the movie loop.

He shook his head, smiling as he folded his hand the rest of the way around Munehisa's fingers. "Yes, you idiot,” he said affectionately. "The answer's yes."