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Kazumi Onimaru isn’t the best at being subtle. So when a family member suggests that Kazuma should come to a big party they had planned, Kazumi takes the chance to brag about him. Since it’d been many years since any of them had seen Kazuma, most of the Onimaru family was skeptic, which only pushed the heir of the family to talk about him more.

Kazuma Shouji. Perfect grades, stellar at sports, and newly crowned victor of the Under 20 Championship.

Of course, relationships arise in conversation. Familial expectations are tough in every sense, but none the more difficult than the need to carry on the family legacy. Kazumi politely explains that he isn’t seeing anyone currently, though there is a certain redheaded Dark Zone Branch Chief who he’d been on a few dates with. And the opportunity presented itself to bring up that in fact, Kazuma is dating someone.

There’s only one problem.

Kazuma isn’t actually dating anyone.

“What do you mean there’s a family party they want me to attend? And you told them I was dating someone?” Kazuma practically screams into the phone receiver.

“Yeah! Aren’t you and Shindou together?” Kazumi asks. The smile is evident with his tone. That typical doting older sibling smile. Kazuma knows that expression all too well and is suddenly overcome with the urge to punch his brother. If only there was a way to punch someone via call.

“We… We’re not. What makes you think that?” Kazuma stammers, genuinely confused.

There’s silence on the other line.

“Bro.”

More silence.

“Bro?!”

“You’re not? Maa-kun, have you ever seen the way you look at him? It feels like everyone in the room is third-wheeling when you two are standing next to each other!”

Kazuma feels himself go red in the face. “Oh my god. Am I really that obvious?”

“Yes,” Kazumi insists. “So when are you going to ask him to be your boyfriend, then? You need a date for the party.”

“I… I don’t even know if he feels the same way.” Kazuma sighs and presses a hand against his face. His cheeks are warm. “It feels too risky.”

“Kazuma, he clearly likes you too. Why not just give it a shot?”

“It’s not that simple. I don’t want to ruin what we have right now.”

Kazumi grins. “And what might that be?”

“Shit,” Kazuma mutters. “Nothing. It’s nothing! I didn’t say anything.”

“That’s okay, you can just tell me later. You should at least ask Shindou to be your date there.” Kazumi pushes a piece of hair behind his ear. “It’s worth a try.”

“Were you not listening to anything I just said?” Kazuma groans. “It’d be too weird to only ask him to be my date.”

“So you’ll ask him to be your boyfriend then, right?”

Kazuma immediately hangs up.

 


 

“Shindou, I need to ask you a favor.” Kazuma speaks up during lunch, sitting in Chrono’s classroom at his desk across from him.

“What’s up?” Chrono takes a bite of rice and sets his chopsticks down.

“I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend.”

“You what?!” Chrono exclaims, nearly leaping from his chair. A few of his classmates turn to stare at the two.

“Shhh, keep it down!” Kazuma scrambles to reach across the table, gesturing for Chrono to sit down.

“You’d better explain right now, Kazuma.” Chrono folds his arms across his chest defiantly. But is that… a tinge of blush on his face? Kazuma figures it must be the lighting.

“Yeah. Okay, so my brother thought we were dating and he let it slip to a family member. My not-family is having some big party in a few months, and they’re expecting me there with a date.” Kazuma doesn’t pause to take any breaths between his sentences.

Chrono’s mouth hangs open in surprise. “I mean... I guess? If it’s that important to you, yes. I’ll do it.” The red-haired boy’s thoughts are traveling a mile a minute. Man, doesn’t he have anyone else he could ask? Well, probably not. Does he know I like him? Does he like me?

“Thank god. I owe you one.” Kazuma heaves a sigh of relief. “I really appreciate it.” His grey eyes light up ever-so-slightly and he gives Chrono a soft smile. The latter’s heart jumps in his chest.

They have a lot to work on.

“Okay, but let’s get one thing straight. If we’re gonna pretend we’re— uhh, dating, you can’t call me Shindou anymore.” Chrono insists.

Kazuma slams his head down onto Chrono’s desk. “Great.”

 


 

“So, Shindou agreed to pretend to be my date— err, boyfriend.” Kazuma says, resting his chin against his palm. He agreed to meet up with Kazumi for lunch to discuss further plans. And the ‘boyfriend’ situation, of course.

Kazumi blinks. “You… you still call him by his last name? That won’t be any good for the party.”

“I’m working on it!” Kazuma snaps, a blush quickly presenting itself across his face.

“Hmm, if you say so.” Kazumi looks at his younger brother expectantly. The dark-haired boy averts his gaze, occupying himself by staring at the menu. He’s only half-reading the food choices. It’s a place they frequent, and Kazuma doesn’t feel like ordering something new to try. His thoughts are somewhere else.

It isn’t that he calls Chrono by his last name on purpose anymore. At this point it’s out of habit. Initially, Kazuma thought Chrono would be in his life for a short time, just like many peers before him. Kazuma was more of a loner by nature, and his demeanor was off-putting to some. Individual friends would always come and go. It was hard keeping them through class changes every year. Big friend groups were a huge no. He always felt out of place and ignored.

But with Chrono, everything was different. He took the time to actually get to know Kazuma. He effortlessly broke down the walls Kazuma didn’t even realize he put up.

Eventually, Kazuma realized he might have wanted something more from Chrono. It was already quite a fine line from where they currently stood. They’d flirt with each other, but Kazuma was often too embarrassed to even consider the possibility it might be serious on Chrono’s part. He was often the smoother one when it came to flirting, but he was caught off-guard by Chrono a fair amount. There were a lot of open-mouthed stares from Taiyou when Striders would spend time together.

On top of that, Kazuma was hardwired to dodge pretty much anything romantic. He never gave a second thought to anyone who confessed to him over the years— which happened a lot more than he’d like to admit. The first time someone asked him out, he thought it was a joke. Who’d want to be that close to him? He wouldn’t say no to someone decent-looking for kissing practice, though. Sometimes he wondered how many hearts he’d inadvertently broken, but at the same time he didn’t care.

Kazuma never really gave a second thought to which gender he preferred. If someone was cute, then they were. Regardless, he would rather get to know someone first instead of dating someone based on appearance.

He never actually liked anyone until Chrono came into the picture, which he realized eventually. Chrono changed his outlook on Vanguard and on life. Kazuma looks back fondly on the fight against those thugs over a petty turf war. Minus Chrono being kidnapped. What was it that made Kazuma like him anyway…? It must have been the look in his eyes and how Chrono would believe in Kazuma even if he didn’t believe in himself.

Chrono was passionate and caring. Not just to Kazuma, but to everyone around him. His presence lit up the room and he always seemed to be the center of attention, though Kazuma figured that might have been his ridiculous swirly hair. Which he was actually fond of. His hair looked soft and he wanted to find out if it actually was.

Kazuma only wanted Chrono and he wanted him all to himself.

Ah, jealousy. How Kazuma hated it. It tore at him relentlessly, like a blazing and uncontainable wildfire. But without realizing he was jealous, he knows he wouldn’t have realized his feelings for Chrono Shindou were indeed romantic. Kazuma hated the way he’d smile and laugh so brightly with TRY3, the way his emerald eyes would light up talking about them. He knew for a fact that Chrono was closer to them than he was to Kazuma.

Kazuma wanted to be the one to make him smile and laugh like that. Kazuma wanted to be even closer than they were to him. Chrono felt like home.

Kazuma wanted to feel special. He wanted a sense of belonging. Maybe a kiss. A few kisses. A few hundred kisses.

“Kazuma,” his brother calls out. “Kazuma.”

A delayed response. “Shit, I got distracted. Sorry, bro.”

Kazumi shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. You seemed really out of it. The waiter came by so I just ordered the usual for you.”

“Oh, thanks.” Kazuma sighs.

“Is something wrong?”

“Just thinking.” The dark-haired boy puts his face in his hands. “Ugh, I don’t want to mess this up. I have it so bad.”

Kazumi’s gold eyes light up. “Oh, so you’re admitting it?”

“I’m leaving right now.” Kazuma stands up and steps away.

His older brother grabs his arm with ridiculous speed. “No, you’re not. First of all, you wouldn’t really. And second, I paid last time we went out. It’s your turn this time, Maa-kun.” Kazumi smiles menacingly.

“I hate that you’re right. But seriously, let me go. I have to go to the bathroom.”

When Kazuma gets back their food is there. Kazumi is waiting patiently, not having touched his food yet. He’s on his phone, appearing to be texting someone. And his expression is suspiciously cheerful.

“You didn’t have to wait for me, you know.”

“It’s okay, I didn’t want to start without you.” Kazumi replies, splitting his chopsticks. He starts to eat his bento box set, taking a bite of sashimi first.

Kazuma breaks apart his own chopsticks and fiddles with his udon before taking a bite. He suddenly remembers his brother’s fond expression at his phone screen.

“So, who were you texting?” Kazuma asks.

“Enishi!” Kazumi beams.

“How are things going with him?”

“Great, actually. We have another date planned soon.”

“Wait, you’re actually dating now, but you still call him by his last name? Why are you getting on my ass about it then?”

“Well, he might not be able to make it to the party, so I’m more concerned about you.” Kazumi jabs.

Kazuma feels and looks dejected.

“It’s okay, Maa-kun. You still have a few months until then. That’s plenty of time to get it down.”

“How much time are we talking about?” Kazuma speaks, proceeding to pick up some noodles and slurp them down.

“It’s a really big event they’re planning, so about seven or eight months until then. There’s not even an exact date yet.” Kazumi explains. He picks up some of his fish— by the color Kazuma figures it’s something like mackerel, and eats some with a mouthful of rice shortly after.

“That’s a really long time.” The younger sibling fumbles with his chopsticks and his spoon clicks noisily against the side of the bowl. “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die, big bro. I know it.”

“Don’t worry. The good thing is that’s plenty of time to solidify how you two have to act around each other. In the meantime, you can go on dates and things like that. I’d be more than happy to help plan some things. I’m sure you can ask Asukawa for help, too.”

Kazuma stares at his brother in shock. “Come on. He’s like, twelve.”

“He spends the most time with you and Shindou,” Kazumi shoots back. “And he knows how you two get along, which is… I’m sure you’re already aware.” There’s a knowing grin on the older sibling’s face. Kazuma wants to punch him. Again.

But there’s another way to show a similar emotion. “You’re right. But I’m gonna kick your ass after we’re done eating.”

“Do your worst.” Kazumi is still grinning.