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Risu stretches his feet out under the table until they bump into Aikawa’s and takes a long gulp from the bowl sitting in front of him. It’s cheap ramen, but it warms him up as it goes down and it’s a little bit better than the stuff they usually scrape up enough money to eat together. Aikawa kicks him, in a companionable sort of way, and Risu thinks that it was probably worth it after all for them to skip class today and take on that job from the Crosseyes.

“You’re bleeding again,” Aikawa observes, voice thick as he swallows a mouthful of noodles.

Risu touches his own forehead, fingers skirting the edge of the shallow gash he’d earned earlier. They come away wet, and he makes a face as he wipes his hand on a soup-stained napkin. That explains why the guy wiping down the counter next to them keeps giving him weird looks. For his part, Aikawa seems unconcerned; he’s still shoving noodles down his throat like they’re on some kind of time limit.

“No big deal,” Risu says. “I’ve had worse.”

Aikawa glances up at that, momentarily distracted from his food. “Oh yeah?”

“Sure,” Risu says, propping his chin up in one hand. “Haven’t you?”

For someone with such an open face, Aikawa is really hard to read. Risu can’t tell if he’s being subtle enough, if Aikawa’s caught onto how greedy Risu is for information about what he does when they’re not together.

“You know I have,” Aikawa says, wiping his mouth with Risu’s bloody napkin. If he has figured anything out, he does a great job of hiding it. “Remember that time with the shoe shop owner?”

Startled into laughter, Risu mentally chastises himself for being paranoid. So what if Aikawa is a private guy? He’s always been there for Risu, no matter what, and Risu can’t think of much else he could ask for in a partner.

“That was fucked up,” he says, and takes another gulp from his bowl, so fast he burns the roof of his mouth a bit. It feels good, like protection against the biting cold coming in through the restaurant’s propped-open door.

“Dude almost knocked all my teeth out,” Aikawa says, a faraway look in his eye.

A server in a stained apron gives them a dirty look as he passes by, arms full of empty bowls, and Risu has to choke down even more laughter. Aikawa grins at him across the table, only half as wide as usual on account of his split lip.

In that moment, Risu thinks that he doesn’t at all regret spending some of their job money on dinner out, even if it probably means he’ll have to get creative with his groceries toward the end of the month.

— — —

A few hours later, Risu’s eyelids are drifting shut in front of the shitty TV in his living room while Aikawa snores faintly in his ear. They’d been watching some B-horror flick about a vengeful spirit but it’s long over by now, replaced with gimmicky infomercials about devil-approved dinnerware sets and supplements meant to enhance smoke output.

Risu stifles a yawn and sits up a little straighter. Next to him, Aikawa is sprawled out across his half of the couch, fuzzy light from the TV screen flickering across his face. His mouth is half-open and he’s leaning heavily into Risu’s side, probably about to start drooling at any moment.

Risu finds himself studying Aikawa’s face as he sleeps: thick eyebrows, straight nose, strong jaw. He’s really—something.

Deciding to follow that thought to its conclusion some other time, Risu gently shoves Aikawa off of him so he can get up and heads for the dingy closet off the main hall of his apartment where he stuffs all his towels and pillowcases. He’d vaguely hoped that the movement would wake Aikawa, so that Risu won’t be the only one awake at two a.m. thinking weird things, but Aikawa just frowns in his sleep and curls one hand into the upholstery.

It takes a minute, but Risu eventually manages to find the extra blanket he keeps in the closet. It’s a weird shade of yellow and it has a couple holes in it, but he’s kind of had to skimp on heating the last few months, so he figures Aikawa will appreciate it.

Yawning one more time, Risu drags the blanket over to the couch and dumps its moth-eaten bulk right on top of Aikawa, who could evidently sleep through anything.

He looks a little less peaceful now, though, Risu notices; his mouth is closed, and he’s frowning even deeper. He stirs a little as Risu approaches him, but makes no significant movement as the blanket settles over his body.

Aikawa’s sneakers are sitting by the door, and in a split-second decision, Risu reaches out to take off his hat, too. His hair is squashed underneath, thick and black and flattened close to his skull. Risu has to resist the urge to ruffle it.

It’s probably gross and sweaty, he reminds himself. With that parting thought he switches off the TV and retreats to his darkened bedroom, turning out the hall light on the way and tucking his itchy fingers into the pockets of his pajama pants.

— — —

The next morning, Risu wakes up later than usual. His muscles feel stiff and sore from last night’s job, residual exhaustion fogging his mind as he struggles into a sitting position and rubs his eyes with closed fists.

He stays like that for a while, gathering the willpower he knows he’ll need to venture out of bed and try to stretch the ache out of his shoulders. It’d be easier with a partner, and technically Risu should have one.

Even so, he isn’t really surprised when he goes outside to find the living room empty. The only evidence of Aikawa being there at one point is the blanket Risu had used to cover him, folded haphazardly and draped over one arm of the couch.

Risu pads across the room and drops down into the space Aikawa left behind. This is the way things usually go when Aikawa stays late at his place. He can’t tell if it’s because Aikawa doesn’t feel comfortable staying over, or if he has some kind of early-morning commitment—the kind of information that should be easy to extract from a friend, a nagging part of Risu’s brain reminds him.

It bothers Risu a little bit, if he’s honest, but part of that might just be because sometimes he has this sort of vision of them spending a day in together. Cooking a meal, maybe, or just sleeping in until it gets dark and they can go out and do something stupid.

The living room is drafty as ever, but for some reason Risu’s face is getting hot. He snatches up the folded blanket and pulls it around his shoulders, even though he has another one that he’d brought out from the bedroom. It’s stupid to think about stuff like that, anyway.

— — —

The day is uneventful from there; it’s Sunday, so there’s no school. There’s plenty of stuff for Risu to do around the apartment, of course, but none of it feels pressing enough that he can bring himself to get into it on a lazy day off.

He ends up back in bed, not doing much of anything until morning fades into late afternoon and his stomach starts growling.

There’s not much food in the kitchen, which is part of why he’d been so eager to go out and blow part of their earnings on dinner with Aikawa last night. This is another scenario Risu is pretty used to, so it only takes a few minutes and one or two reckless flavor decisions for him to get a pot of something bubbling on the stove.

Steam billows from the surface of the concoction, which Risu has decided to think of as a sort of stew. The smell makes him grimace.

Still, it’ll be food in his stomach, something Risu tries hard to remind himself as he gives it a few stirs with a wooden spoon and adds a pinch of something he’d found in a jar at the back of the pantry.

Just as he’s bracing himself for the first sip(bite?), he hears a loud crash from somewhere in the vicinity of the living room.

Risu switches off the burner right away, pausing to grab the big metal ladle he’d been keeping nearby to scoop his stew into a bowl and rushing outside the kitchen.

As it turns out, he shouldn’t have worried. When he skids past the front hall and into the living room, ladle in hand, all he sees is Aikawa in a heap on the rug. He gets up right away when he sees Risu, grinning as he dusts himself off.

“How’d you get in here?” Risus asks wildly.

“Window,” Aikawa says, even though it’s a third-floor apartment and that makes no sense. Risu is so annoyed that he thinks about throwing the ladle.

Before he can, Aikawa picks up a bag off the floor that he’d presumably dropped in all the excitement and sets it down atop the two pushed-together crates that serve as Risu’s coffee table. The bag is brown paper, stained with grease at the bottom, and about a hundred times better-smelling than anything going on in the kitchen at the moment.

Risu eyes the bag, distracted. Aikawa takes this as his chance to flop down on Risu’s couch in the same spot he slept in last night, like he’d never left at all.

“This guy owed me food,” he says over the rustling of the paper as he pulls out a few different containers. “Thought I’d cash in and bring something over.”

He pauses for a second after he says it, glancing up at Risu and then away, so quickly Risu almost thinks he might be imagining it.

Aikawa showing up with a free meal has definitely taken all the wind out of Risu’s sails, anger-wise. For a few moments he just stands there, watching Aikawa pull out burgers and two little paper boats full of fries.

A hundred questions jostle for attention at the front of his mind, but instead of asking any of them he just turns around and heads back into the kitchen. Once there, he grabs them some plates for the burgers and scrapes his stew disaster into a bowl, in case he gets desperate enough to try eating it in a few days. At the last second, he grabs them a couple beers from the fridge.

By the time Risu comes back, Aikawa’s finished setting up the food. He smiles when he sees the beer.

Simpleminded, Risu thinks, probably way too fondly, and flops down on the couch next to him. Up this close, Risu takes the opportunity to give him a once-over, eyeing him up for any new scrapes or bruises that would suggest he’d been fighting while he was out.

There’s nothing, just the split lip from a few days ago, scabbed-over now, and the remnants of a black eye from the job before last.

“Thanks for bringing all this,” Risu mumbles around his first bite of burger. He doesn’t bother with the beer yet—he always has to give Aikawa a head start if he doesn’t want to end up hammered.

“No problem,” Aikawa says, smiling over at Risu with ketchup on his chin. “Figured you’d be holed up in here, cooking something gross.”

“It wasn’t gross,” Risu lies, elbowing Aikawa’s ribs. “I’m a good cook.”

“Sure,” Aikawa says, in a voice that means he isn’t sure at all, and starts stuffing his face again before Risu can object.

— — —

Risu’s only just finishing up his food, but he’s already buzzed. He’s just a little too warm to be comfortable, and he feels unnecessarily fond of everything he can see, from the view outside his window to the stains on the rug to Aikawa, currently licking salt off his fingers with gusto.

They’re on the couch again, watching TV and laughing too loud at stuff that isn’t even that funny. Risu is very much aware of the fact that he’s the one pressed against Aikawa’s side tonight, his body a long solid line of warmth that feels closer every time Aikawa shifts to change the channel or grab a napkin.

At first he thinks it’s accidental, but after a while Aikawa’s arm lands heavily over Risu’s shoulders and stays there.

Risu glances over quickly. Aikawa’s eyes are fixed straight ahead, like he’s suddenly paying rapt attention to the TV even though it’s playing a commercial. The back of his neck might look a little red—Risu can’t really tell.

Aikawa looks away from the TV, then, and Risu realizes too late that his quick glance has devolved into several seconds of full-on staring.

There’s no point in dropping his gaze now, so Risu doesn’t, even though his face feels like it’s on fire at this point. He expects Aikawa to crack a joke, or maybe get up and grab something from the kitchen. He’s good at those kinds of evasive maneuvers.

Instead, Aikawa smiles at him like this is something they’re both in on.

“Too close?”

Risu has no idea how to answer that question, so he doesn’t. For some reason, his heart feels like it’s beating its way up his throat.

Neither of them move for a few seconds more. The air between them feels charged. Risu would really appreciate it if his eyes could manage to tear themselves away from the grain of fry salt stuck to Aikawa’s lower lip, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

He leans in closer, just a bit, and then Aikawa’s breath all comes out in a rush and suddenly they’re kissing and Risu has salt in his mouth.

The individual sensations of the kiss aren’t unfamiliar. Risu already knows what it feels like to press his mouth sloppily against whatever part of Aikawa’s face he can reach in the midst of a rambunctious night out; he knows what it’s like for Aikawa’s breath to gust against his cheek as he’s pulled into a fond half-hug. In spite of the careful distance Aikawa’s set up between them, in some ways it feels like there’s hardly any at all.

Right now, in the literal sense, there really isn’t. Aikawa is still warm and close, mouth lined up carefully with Risu’s like he’s waiting to see what Risu will do.

Now that they’re in the middle of things, Risu feels much less shell-shocked about it all. He reaches up until his fingers make contact with Aikawa’s jaw, grabbing his face and tilting him closer so they’re kissing in a way that feels comfortable, languid and fond.

Aikawa seems surprisingly open to direction, letting Risu set their pace and moving where he’s directed, keeping the pressure soft for all that it’s inexorable. Risu feels like he’s drowning, in the happiest way possible. The TV remote is digging into his spine, but he sees no point in caring about things like that when he can put his hands in Aikawa’s hair the way he’d wanted to last night, rest a palm high up on the nape of his neck and leave it there while Aikawa’s breath comes faster.

Risu is pretty sure he could keep this up for hours, but it’s definitely sooner than that when Aikawa pulls back from him—just a few inches, but in Risu’s opinion it’s a few too many.

His hair is in disarray, and his mouth looks about how it could be expected to look after going a few rounds with Risu’s canine teeth, and he still can’t quite seem to catch his breath. Risu knows that he himself can’t possibly look any more dignified, but some part of him is still happy to know that he’s managed to break through Aikawa’s usually-impenetrable wall of cheerful obnoxiousness.

“Guess it wasn’t,” Aikawa finally says. It takes Risu almost a full ten seconds of staring to understand what he’s talking about.

“Guess not,” he echoes, hoping that Aikawa will get bored of talking and kiss him again. Instead, Aikawa gives him a smile as fond as it is fleeting and pulls away even farther, yawning wide and stretching his arms out above his head.

“Well, good to know,” he says airily, seeming to come back to himself as he speaks. “But I really should—”

“Stay,” Risu interrupts. The word bursts out of him before he can finish figuring out how to configure it into a polite request. Even to his own ears, he sounds desperate, but there’s no going back now.

“I mean, we don’t have to—” he cuts himself off, making an elaborate gesture between their two bodies that he hopes gets across what he’s trying to convey. “But stay, okay? I’ll give you the couch. And some breakfast stew. On the house.”

Aikawa is silent, and for a moment Risu regrets saying anything. After all, they have a good thing going. They’re partners. It’s not like Risu thinks something as stupid as this could change that, but it could definitely make things awkward between them for a long time, which is something he wants to avoid if at all possible.

He wants that so badly that he almost opens his mouth to take back everything he’d just said. Before he can, a smile sneaks its way across Aikawa’s face, broad and handsome in the TV’s shifting light.

“Sure, I guess,” he says. That’s all the warning Risu gets before Aikawa presses him back against the couch cushions, sprawling out like he’s some kind of lizard and Risu is a sunbaked rock. “Since you asked nice.”

“Shuddup,” says Risu, face getting hot. Aikawa is sort of crushing his lungs in this position, so he nudges him halfheartedly with one knee, but neither of them end up moving for a long time after that.