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Roses are Red

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At twenty-eight years old, Makishima can safely say he's experienced a lot in his life since graduating from high school. He's moved to England, to Italy, and back to Japan. He's designed clothes that earned him laughs from famous designers, as well as fashion ensembles that went on to become hits on the runway. On multiple occasions he's stayed awake several days in a row, surviving on little more than caffeine and cheap sushi bought from the nearest corner store in order to meet his deadlines, after which he proceeded to sleep for almost twenty-four hours straight. He’s boarded airplanes more times than he can count, including several flights which were memorable for reasons he wish he could forget. He's had dates, one-night stands, and relationships that inevitably fell apart once his partners couldn’t stand him any longer and he realized they weren’t the one he really wanted either.

But in all the highs and lows he's gone through, he's yet to experience anything that comes close to matching the exact thrill and satisfaction that lights sparks in his veins whenever he edges out Toudou in an evenly matched race.

Makishima’s bike slides over the finish line half a second in front of Toudou, and the resulting cheers from the crowd are instantly deafening. He winces at the sudden onslaught of noise, his senses still highly attuned after the adrenaline rush, but manages to raise his arms skywards in celebration of his victory. He holds the pose for several seconds before exhaustion catches up to him and he slumps over his handlebars, desperately gasping for air.

Toudou is in the same state beside him, coughing and panting hard, but he musters up the energy to flash Makishima a tired smile.

“Congratulations, Maki-chan,” he says. He pauses to clear his throat, catching his breath before continuing. “Now we're tied again.”

Makishima barks a laugh. “23-23, right?”

“Yeah.” Toudou holds out his hand for their customary post-race high five and Makishima obliges him, slapping his sweaty palm against Toudou’s. “We'll have to settle the score in our next race.”

Makishima rolls his eyes, a faint smile tugging at his lips. Toudou says that every time their score is tied and each time, without fail, it's tied again in the following months. It's become something of a tradition between them ever since they both began competing in international races and reunited on the cycling track during a race in France in their respective third years of college. Riding against the world's best cyclists means it's rarely just the two of them vying for the mountain tag, a fact Toudou complains about often and loudly, but they've still kept track of each other's number of wins. And throughout all their years of racing together, neither of them has ever pulled ahead by more than one win.

“When is our next race, anyway?” Toudou wonders aloud.

Makishima pulls off his helmet and shakes his hair free, grimacing when droplets of his sweat splatter onto the pavement. “October. There's one next month in France, but I won't be participating. There's a fashion show in America I'm attending that day.”

Toudou looks disappointed for about two seconds before he’s smirking and reaching out to clap Makishima on the back. “In two months, huh? That's more than enough time for me to practice and improve my time. I'll definitely win that race, Maki-chan!”

The familiar glint in Toudou’s eyes tells Makishima he's being baited into answering the challenge. The forewarning doesn’t help - his competitive instincts naturally flare up, daring him to accept, as they’ve done since the day he met Toudou.

“The trip's only going to take a week,” says Makishima, tossing his hair back over his shoulders. “I'll still have plenty of time to train on Minegayama when I come back. If anyone's going to be too busy, it's you.”

Toudou cocks his head to one side and stops pedalling. His bike coasts along the downhill stretch after the finish line, the tires rolling easily along the smooth asphalt despite the scorching temperature. “Me? Why?”

“Hiroko? Your girlfriend? She's not going to be happy if you keep ditching her to spend all your time practicing on Hakone Mountain.”

“Oh, right.” A short chuckle escapes Toudou, his gaze darting away from Makishima. His voice turns uncharacteristically quiet. “That's…not going to be a problem.”

Makishima stares at him. “You broke up with her,” he says flatly.

“She broke up with me, actually,” Toudou corrects him. “Said I'm too loud. Too narcissistic. Basically she thinks I'm, you know -” he waves one hand vaguely- “too much.”

Makishima's about to say well, she's not wrong, but the pinched expression on Toudou’s face stops the words in his throat. He knows Toudou well enough to recognize he's been genuinely hurt by his ex-girlfriend's parting insults. For someone who still claims to be blessed thrice by the mountain god, Toudou is surprisingly sensitive to other people's opinions of him.

What can he say though? Toudou may have mellowed out as he grew older and he's toned down the constant preening, but he's still the same hyperactive guy obsessed with cycling, his hair, and the legions of fangirls he's attracted around the world. Makishima would sooner rip out his own tongue than admit it, but he's come to appreciate those aspects of Toudou's personality rather than dismiss them as his flaws. Maybe Toudou would be much less annoying if he weren't like that, but the thought of Toudou being anything but who he is leaves an oddly sour taste in Makishima's mouth.

He guesses Hiroko thinks differently. He'd only met her on two separate occasions when Toudou had, for whatever reason, dragged Makishima along to be the third wheel on their date, but she'd seemed nice. Conventionally pretty, witty enough to keep up with Toudou's nonstop chatter, and clearly enamoured of her boyfriend. Makishima had liked her, in spite of the heavy stone in his stomach that surfaced whenever he witnessed her pulling Toudou in for a spontaneous kiss. She and Toudou had dated for several months, with no signs that either of them were unhappy, and the knowledge that Hiroko was the one to call off their relationship comes as a shock.

“When did she -”

“End things? Yesterday morning.” Toudou shrugs, as though people breaking up with him the day before major races was a routine occurrence. “It’s fine. I had a feeling we weren’t meant to be together, anyway.”

Makishima fiddles with the straps on his helmet, glancing at Toudou out of the corner of his eye. “Are you, uh, sure about that? That you’re...fine?”

His question comes out halting and awkward, and he winces. Even after years of having to deal with journalists and consent to interviews due to his career choices, he’s still terrible at speaking to others and even worse at comforting them. Tadokorocchi laughed at him the last time he tried to offer his help over the phone. Luckily, Toudou seems to understand his fumbling attempt at moral support and grins, light and carefree.

“Of course, Maki-chan! I’ll admit I cried a bit when Hirocchi left and my parents were kind of disappointed when I told them the news, but after a short nap and eating some nutritious snacks, I felt better than ever.” Toudou’s grin widens. “But it’s nice to know you do care, after all.”

Makishima fervently hopes the embarrassment he can feel brimming under his skin isn’t visible. “I just want to assure my win,” he says quickly. “It doesn’t count if you weren’t in perfect condition.”

Toudou laughs, though there’s a hint of skepticism to his amusement like he can detect Makishima’s lie. “I’m always in my best condition for races against you, you should know that by now!”

“Mmm…” Toudou's cheery demeanour doesn't seem unnatural or forced. Maybe he really is over Hiroko already, even though it's been barely a day since their separation. It's definitely strange, considering Toudou usually spends at least three days wallowing at home and bombarding him with countless upset texts when his relationships fall apart, but right now he does look alright. His cheeks are still flushed red from their mad sprint to the finish line, dark eyes sparkling from the excitement of their race, and he's waving to his fans in the crowd like he always does despite finishing in second place. Relief spills down Makishima's spine, along with that sense of relative peace he only feels when Toudou is in good spirits.

His own good mood evaporates when he spots the sea of reporters hovering past the finish line, waiting for him and Toudou to reach the end of the track like sharks ready for blood. He quietly groans, already anticipating all the invasive questions they’ll pester him with. Makishima works hard to maintain his status as one of the world’s top climbers and he wouldn’t give up everything he’s achieved for anything, but he wishes it didn’t have to come with reporters interrogating him on his unique dancing style, his famous rivalry with Toudou, facts about his personal life, and a bunch of random topics that weren’t relevant to cycling at all. He’d much rather go straight home.

Unfortunately, his team’s trainer has always stressed the importance of maintaining a positive connection with the media, so Makishima reluctantly wheels his bike over to them. All the cameras in the vicinity seem to pick up on his movements, immediately swivelling in his direction, and the nearest reporter stretches over the barrier to thrust her microphone in his face. Makishima hides his flinch and shoots the camera his best approximation of a happy smile. Judging by the slight frown on the reporter’s face, he’s not very successful.

“Makishima-san, congratulations! How does your win feel?”

“It feels great,” he says automatically. Answers like these have been drilled into his head by both his agent and Toudou, and at this point in his life he can mostly recite them from memory. “I worked hard for this race, and I’m really happy I won today.”

“Can you tell us what motivated you to win?”

Makishima hesitates. That's a new one he's never had asked of him before. “Er...it’s never changed. I’ve always wanted to win for my team, and my friends, and myself. They’ve always had my back and this is the best way I can repay them for everything they’ve done for me.”

“But how about what your win means to you?” the reporter presses. “Is there anything or anyone that makes it more significant?”

Significant? Makishima stares at her blankly, panic beginning to creep into his mind. He’s almost certain the reporter is trying to coerce him into answering her question in a specific way, but he has no idea what way that is. It’s reminding him of his days in high school whenever he missed some subtle social cue and ended up humiliating himself, except now he’s being broadcast across international television and it’s a thousand times worse with a million more repercussions if he says the wrong thing.

“Er.” His normally clear mind feels like it's full of cobwebs. “I don’t think -”

“That would be me, Toudou Jinpachi!” Toudou comes out of nowhere and drapes an arm over Makishima’s shoulders, winking at the reporter. In any other situation Makishima would immediately shrug him off, but he’s so grateful for the intervention that he indulges him just this once. “As Maki-chan’s best and most beautiful rival, any race in which we compete for the finish line together is made that much more important to the eventual winner!”

He punctuates this exclamation by pointing his trademark finger at the camera, and Makishima breathes out a sigh as the fangirls assembled along the side of the road shriek high enough to warrant an area warning for dangerous noise levels.

The reporter’s eyes gleam and she seamlessly switches her focus to Toudou, firing questions at him with speed reminiscent of a machine gun. Toudou replies to all of them with apparent ease, overdramatizing their rivalry (“After we met during a race in high school, I knew we were destined to be rivals forever!”), discussing his own second-place finish (“It's disappointing, of course, but I'm going to practice a lot over the next few weeks. I'll definitely beat Maki-chan and win next time!”), and describing his skincare regimen in great detail (“Applying moisturizer right before going to sleep works best! I keep telling Maki-chan to do it, but he never listens and that's why he always looks too pale!”)

By the end, Makishima's gratitude has run empty and he’s ready to throw himself off a cliff before listening to Toudou prattle on for one more second. He knows Toudou likes to play up his ladykiller persona for his fans, knows it’s the reason why Toudou has more sponsors and popularity than anyone else on his team, but it doesn’t make it any less irritating to have Toudou babble trivial information right by his ear when all he wants to do is escape from the media scrutiny.

The reporter, however, is obviously enthralled and the camera remains fixed on Toudou’s face, even when Makishima makes a few comments here and there to appease his agent later. He can’t say he blames them, not when his appearance hasn’t exactly improved over the years. He’s still lanky, with too-long limbs and a perpetually skinny figure no matter what he eats or how much he trains, and the cascade of green hair down his back draws weird looks from his co-workers and fellow cyclists more often than not. Toudou, on the other hand, has matured from his pretty boy looks to the handsome and attractive young man everyone expected him to be. In terms of photogenic appeal, Toudou outshines Makishima the way the sun eclipses the moon.

“I’d love to stay and talk more with all your lovely viewers,” says Toudou, twirling a lock of hair around his finger, “but the award ceremony is starting soon and we'd better get going! It wouldn't look good if the top two cyclists are missing from the podium, wahaha!”

“No, it wouldn't,” the reporter agrees with a laugh. “Well, congratulations again on your win, Makishima-san. And Toudou-san, I hope we get to hear from you again soon!”

“I'm sure you will, I always love taking time to talk to my fans,” Toudou says cheerfully over Makishima's mumbled thanks. He points at the camera once more, to the delighted cheers of his fans, and beams at the reporter until Makishima grips his forearm and forcefully leads him away.

He lets Toudou’s arm fall once they're a considerable distance away. Toudou rubs at the spot where Makishima grabbed him, opening his mouth to no doubt protest his rough treatment, but he stops to peer closely at Makishima's face.

“Maki-chan, you look pale,” he says, sudden concern in his voice. “Are you okay?”

“It's the moisturizer,” Makishima deadpans.

The corner of Toudou's mouth twitches up. “That's why I told you to change your daily routine. Trust me, it'll work wonders for your skin! But seriously, you look like you're going to fall over any second. Did you drink enough water? Are you still exhausted from the race?”

“Kuha! As if anyone would still be tired after you ran your mouth on camera for almost ten minutes,” Makishima snorts, raking a hand through his hair. “I'll be fine. It's just - you know I don't like getting cross-examined after a race. It's more draining than the race itself.”

“It's a news report, not a jury trial!” Toudou exclaims, sounding exasperated, but he looks relieved to know that Makishima isn't about to faint in his arms. “The reporter just wanted to know what your thoughts are since you're the winner of an international race!”

Makishima raises an eyebrow. “You sure about that? She seemed a lot more interested in the great Toudou Jinpachi than me.”

To his surprise, Toudou doesn't even blink at the throwaway compliment. “That's because you need to get better at talking, and being more engaging! Tell them what you're feeling! You’d get their attention if you were more -”

“Good-looking?” Makishima interjects.

“You - what? No, that's not what I was going to say.” A curious expression Makishima can't decipher flits across Toudou's face. “Is that what you think?”

“Huh?”

“That you need to be more attractive?”

Makishima shrugs. “It's not that I need to be, I'm used to my appearance and the way people look at me. It's that the attractive cyclists -” like you, he doesn't say - “always get more fans and media attention than those of us who aren't. That's just the way this industry works.” He tilts his head to one side, regarding Toudou with a narrowed gaze. “You've raced with me for years. Shouldn't you have noticed this by now?”

“I did, but…it wasn't…” He wavers, clearly lost for words, a feat which happens rarely enough that Makishima briefly wonders if he's imagining it. But no, Toudou is definitely standing in front of him, helpless frustration shining in his eyes as he struggles to articulate whatever’s going through his mind. Makishima can usually discern what Toudou’s thinking, but in this moment his only possible guess is definitely wrong. “I didn't realize you still had no idea that -”

“Attention, everyone!” The announcer’s voice echoes across the parking lot, drowning out the rest of Toudou's sentence. “The award ceremony will be starting in one minute!”

Makishima looks back at Toudou. “What did you say?”

Toudou’s features are pulled taut, his mouth tight in a way Makishima typically only sees when he meets someone he deems visually less than a two. “I'll tell you later,” he says. “We'd better go. I mustn't deprive my fans of seeing my beautiful face on the podium.”

The usual egotistical remark comes out weak and lacking Toudou's signature flair, which is concerning enough that Makishima is now worried about him instead of the the other way around. He mentally replays their conversation, searching for any hint to explain Toudou's sudden drop in mood. It was after he'd brought up his own less than stellar looks that Toudou started acting weird, but he can't think of a plausible reason as to why that would bother Toudou so much. Makishima has always looked like the creepy spider that eventually became his racing moniker, and he takes pride in being unorthodox in pretty much every aspect of his life. The sting he used to feel whenever people criticized him has faded over time, reduced to a vague annoyance directed at the person who’d insulted him, and he's certain Toudou already knows this.

It doesn't make sense. Since they compete in the same races on a regular basis and often end up going out to eat together afterwards, with Toudou talking a mile a minute the entire time, Makishima can list enough details about Toudou's personal life to rewrite the biography section on his website. Likewise, Toudou knows Makishima better than anyone, except for perhaps Tadokorocchi and Kinjou. It's unlike his oldest rival to have forgotten something so obvious about him.

With the award ceremony starting, though, Makishima doesn't have the time to dwell on it. As soon as the two of them reach the stage, they're quickly hustled onto the podium along with the rider who finished in third place. The crowd applauds when the attendant hands Makishima his winner's trophy and a huge bouquet of flowers, and he gingerly lifts them into the air. He still doesn't like all the attention and wishes everyone would look anywhere but at him, but he can't deny that it's nice to be appreciated for all the hard work he's put in between balancing two full-time jobs and pulling more all-nighters than was healthy. His mouth cracks into a small, tentative smile despite himself, one he sincerely hopes doesn’t terrify the kids in the audience. When he glances beside him, he’s relieved to see that Toudou seems to be mostly back to normal, beaming at his cheering fans with a grin that’s a little stiff at the corners but still bright enough to rival the hot summer sun.

The rest of the ceremony passes by in a blur. After it’s over and Makishima’s been clapped on the back a dozen times by his teammates, he finds himself standing outside his car with the trophy in his passenger seat and the bouquet in his hands, at a loss as to what exactly he should do with it. He has a shelf in his apartment dedicated to all the trophies he’s won, but whenever he brings flowers home, they wilt in less than a week due to both lack of sunlight and him being too busy to water them.

Makishima hums in thought, turning it over in his hands. He supposes he could throw them away, but the thought of tossing out the prized winner’s bouquet doesn’t sit well with him. It wouldn’t look good if any of the journalists lingering around to chat with the other racers happened to see him, and it would almost feel like he’s throwing away his victory. That aside, the bouquet itself is surprisingly pretty. Makishima holds it out at arm’s length to admire it. The florist who designed it seems to favour bright colours like him and arranged bunches of sunflowers, violets, and roses of various hues to create an eye-catching display. It's unique, reminding him of the bold patterns he uses in his own fashion line, and he really doesn’t want to drop it in the trash like it’s a worthless disposable.

He has one other option. It’s the one that sits in the back of his mind every time he gets the winner’s bouquet, the one that his nerves have always gotten the better of before he could actually carry it out. Makishima tightens his grip, thinks back to the look on Toudou’s face when he said he was never meant to be with Hiroko, and wonders if he has the nerve to make this the time that’s finally different.

The rattling sound of a bike being pulled over gravel makes him turn around and catch sight of Toudou approaching him from the other end of the parking lot, lugging his bike beside him. “Maki-chan!” he yells once he’s within earshot, pointing an accusing finger at him. “Are you leaving already? It’s barely past noon!”

“I wasn't going to leave yet,” he says. “I was just putting my stuff in the car.”

Toudou’s distraught expression instantly transforms into one of delight. “Great! I’m going out for dinner with Shinkai and Arakita, I’ll tell them you’re coming along. We’re meeting in Hakone so I was going to take the bullet train back, but since you’re here you can drive me instead!”

“Or I could run you over,” Makishima suggests.

The old Toudou would have pouted at him before yelling at him for threatening to ruin his perfect face. The present Toudou, acclimatized to Makishima’s flippant threats after ten years, ignores him and keeps talking. “Since you’re not going to be participating in next month’s race, you should really come with us. We’re not going to see each other for a while and I want to tell you about the recent renovations we’ve completed at Toudou-An! My sister had more coupons printed, I’ll give some to you so when you come back from America you can see them in person. You haven’t stopped by in a while!”

“That's because I go to Kanagawa twice a year, at most. And it’s never to drop by and spend the day in an onsen. I don’t have the time for that.”

“That’s just it, Maki-chan! I know you’re working hard with two careers that both require you to fly around the world, but you need to take some time for yourself too!” Toudou steps into his personal space, hands on his hips. “It won’t do you any good if you exhaust yourself every day and develop grey hairs early.”

Makishima snorts, carefully inching back so Toudou’s face isn’t quite so close to his. “I dye my hair anyways. It wouldn’t make a difference.”

Toudou makes an offended noise, looking at him like he’s suddenly grown a second head full of grey hair. “Excuse me, it would definitely make a difference! It changes the way the colour looks on your hair, and you’ll have to change the type of dye you use because it wouldn’t work as well!” He stops abruptly, shaking his head. “But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I’m offering for you to stay at Toudou-An at a discounted rate, which is really a good deal you should take advantage of. Not everyone gets free coupons from me, you know!”

“Toudou, I appreciate it but I’ve been to your onsen enough times before, I don’t need -”

“I’m not inviting you over to use our onsen!” Toudou screeches, waving his arms. Some of his bangs have fallen loose from his hairband, but he makes no move to push them back into place. “I’m inviting you over to see me!”

Makishima opens his mouth, realizes he has no idea what to say, and closes it.

“We both have busy schedules, I know that, but there are days we both have off and I wish we could meet up on those days! We’ve been friends for years, but now I only ever see you at races and it’s - it’s not enough. I still miss you.” Toudou’s cheeks tinge pink. “A lot. And I can never tell if you do too. I don't know whether I’m bothering you when I ask you out to eat after races, or if it’s just you being your usual grumpy self, and I hate that sometimes it’s still hard for me to read you even after we’ve known each other for so long.”

The sun is glaringly bright behind Toudou, lighting the outline of his body in a soft yellow glow as if to complement the single-minded pose he’s striking. Sweat trickles down Makishima’s back, further dampening his already soaked jersey, and he swallows hard. Toudou's words, coupled with his strange behavior since the end of the race, finally slots the last piece of the atypical puzzle that’s always been his and Toudou’s relationship into place for him. Maybe the pieces had always been there, waiting for him to recognize the full picture, and he’s only never solved it because he's as bad at reading Toudou as Toudou is at reading him.

Before he can overthink his actions, Makishima thrusts the bouquet into Toudou’s arms.

“Eh?” Toudou freezes, his shocked gaze snapping down to the brightly coloured flowers, and he clutches the wrapping paper to prevent the bouquet from falling to the ground. “Maki-chan?”

“I’m giving it to you,” says Makishima. “Think of it as...as a thank you. For all the ones you’ve given to me in the past.”

He can still remember his disbelief when Toudou gifted him his winner’s bouquet after the Kumamoto race in their last year of high school. Since then, Toudou made a point of bestowing his bouquet on someone else whenever he won a race. Makishima isn’t always the recipient - Toudou’s mother, sister, and exes were given plenty - but he knows he's the one who has collected the most over the years. It should have been annoying, considering the flowers end up dying in a week anyways. Instead, it reinforces the strange tightness in his chest that always surfaces in Toudou’s presence, something that Makishima’s always been afraid to name even if deep down, he knows exactly what it is and what it means.

This is far from the first time he’s thought of giving Toudou his own bouquet after winning a race. In fact, it crosses his mind every single damn time the flowers are thrust into his hands onstage. It’s impossible not to think of it when Toudou is inevitably beside him on the podium, disappointed to have come in second but still sporting a radiant smile and looking like he’d just walked off a fashion catwalk rather than a vicious battle on the road. But contrary to what most people think, Toudou isn’t an airhead. Makishima’s seen him analyze opponents and determine the best tactic to overpower them with a single glance. He’s scarily perceptive when he’s focused, and presenting him with flowers - an act Makishima wouldn’t normally do for anyone - would be like throwing the feelings he’s successfully hidden from Toudou for a decade in his face and hoping he doesn’t notice them.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything, even if he’d plucked up the courage and given Toudou flowers earlier on in their shared racing history. Tadokorocchi, the least perceptive person he knows, figured out Makishima’s pathetic crush three days after Makishima himself did, so it’s entirely possible that Toudou is more dense than he thinks. Did it matter, in the end? He can’t change the choices he made in the past, but he can still control what he chooses to do now. And though he's improved slightly at communicating over the years, he still prefers talking through actions rather than words.

Toudou is gaping at him, speechless for the second time that day. Makishima is pretty sure that’s a new record.

“I miss you too,” he says. “I never say it out loud and I'm sorry for it, because I’d like that too - to see you more often outside of races. If you really want me to, I can drop by Toudou-An the next time I have a weekend off. Or if you’re free and I’m at home, my place is always open to you.” Makishima scratches his cheek, using the action to hide his burning face. “It doesn't matter what I'm doing at the time. You wouldn’t be bothering me.”

Toudou’s fingers tremble around the bouquet. He’s silent for several seconds, long enough for Makishima to worry he said something too forward, but then Toudou’s head jerks up to make direct eye contact with him.

“Maki-chan,” he says, his voice coming out strangled like he’s restraining his emotions from bleeding into his words. “If you’re saying what I think you’re trying to say, please say it outright.”

If it weren’t for the iron claw currently squeezing his heart, Makishima would have rolled his eyes. “Demanding, aren’t you?”

“Please, Maki-chan.”

Makishima huffs and reaches out to tuck Toudou’s errant strands of hair behind his ears. His hand is shaking like a leaf, but Toudou, leaning slightly into his touch, doesn't seem to mind.

“Here I was thinking you've changed a little since we first met in high school, but you haven't changed at all,” Makishima says. “You're as noisy and juvenile as ever.” He heaves a resigned sigh, knowing he's about to say the most embarrassing thing he's ever admitted and that Toudou won't let him forget it for the rest of his life. “But that's a good thing, because as obnoxious as you are, that's why I love you.”

Toudou sniffs audibly and, to Makishima's alarm, launches himself forward to throw an arm around him. He staggers backwards, bracing both of them with one leg extended behind him as Toudou buries his face in his shoulder. The bouquet is partially crushed between their chests and Makishima quickly tugs it out of Toudou's grasp to lay it safely on the hood of his car.

“Toudou, what the hell - wait, are you crying?”

“Of course I'm crying!” Toudou wails into his cycling jersey. “I never thought you would actually say it!”

Makishima darts a panicked glance around the parking lot, where Toudou's loud sobs are attracting weird looks from the last few people milling about the race site. “Er, that’s a good thing, right? So why are you crying?”

“I’m just - I'm so happy right now!” Toudou sniffs again and chokes on a laugh, the vibrations ruffling the fabric on Makishima’s shoulder. “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me!”

“Don’t get used to it.” There’s no bite in his retort, though, and Makishima awkwardly pats Toudou’s head in an attempt to calm him down. “So...since you’re not running away from me, I'm going to assume this means you feel the same?”

Toudou stiffens against him. “What?”

“What do you mean, what?” Makishima drops his hand and gives Toudou a disbelieving look. “I just confessed to you and all you did was cry on me, which isn’t unusual or entirely unexpected but it's also not exactly an answer!”

“No, that’s not - I mean,” Toudou raises his head, furiously wiping away his tears. “I thought you knew!”

“Knew what?”

“That I’ve been in love with you since high school!”

Makishima’s mind blanks. He stares at Toudou, half expecting him to burst out laughing and say he was joking, but Toudou simply stares back at him without a trace of humour on his face.

“You - what?!” he sputters. “How the hell was I supposed to know that?”

“Because apparently I’m very obvious and everyone knows!” Toudou presses his right hand to his temple, squeezing his eyes shut. “My family knows, my old Hakone cycling team knows, my college friends figured it out as soon as I mentioned your name! Even the bear knows!”

“Tadokorocchi? He knows?”

Toudou shrugs, appearing just as bewildered about that particular fact as Makishima is. “He called me once and asked. I told him the truth, since I thought you already knew anyway.”

That traitor. Makishima makes a mental note to execute Tadokorocchi the next time they meet.

“It seemed like everyone knew, so I assumed you did too,” Toudou says quietly.

Makishima lets out a heavy breath, trying to reconcile the in love with him since high school side of Toudou with the Toudou he thought he knew better than most. It’s not a complete shock, thanks to the countless instances where strangers mistook them for a couple, but Toudou had always dismissed them with a chuckle and an impromptu slideshow of photographs of the person he was dating at the time. Before, whenever the thought of telling Toudou his feelings ever crossed his mind, all those instances would flash in his mind and crush any confidence he mustered up.

Lost as he was in his own anxiety, he’d forgotten that he wasn’t the only one whose self-assurance wasn't an indestructible wall, that even Toudou could crumble and shatter under pressure.

“But what about Hiroko?” Makishima asks. “And Ryouna, and Itsuki...everyone’s hearts you broke. You said you liked them.”

“I told you, Hiroko broke up with me, not the other way around!” Toudou says hotly, sounding mildly offended at the insinuation. “And I did like them - I wouldn’t have dated any of them otherwise! But I didn’t like any of them half as much as I’ve always liked you.”

A choked sound escapes Makishima’s throat before he can suppress it and he quickly covers his face with one hand, feeling his face flame red. Toudou instantly wraps his fingers around his wrist, attempting to tug his hand down, but they’ve always been evenly matched in terms of physical strength and he’s able to resist Toudou’s efforts.

“Maki-chan, are you blushing? Let me see!”

“Are you five?” Makishima grumbles, trying to shake Toudou off like he’s a particularly stubborn mosquito. “No!”

Toudou juts out his lower lip in a pout. As lame as it makes him look, it's also criminally adorable, and Makishima has to mentally strengthen his resolve to not give in to Toudou’s every whim. “Why not?”

“Because it’s stupid and - why do you want to see me, anyway?”

He meant it as an offhand question and wasn’t expecting a serious answer, but Toudou’s grip on his wrist slackens. “Because when you said you love me, it wasn’t only the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he says, unexpectedly soft, and Makishima’s torn between telling him to shut up and wanting to hear more. “I think it was also the most vulnerable you’ve ever been, at least in front of me. I know you don’t show that side of you often, even to your family, so it means a lot to me that you were willing to open up like that.” He smiles. “Thank you, Maki-chan.”

Makishima sighs and slowly lowers his hand, peering at Toudou with what he hopes is an annoyed look rather than an affectionate one. “Has anyone ever told you how embarrassing you are?”

“A few times before,” Toudou says cheerfully. “It’s usually you who mentions it.”

“Someone has to.” Makishima averts his eyes, glancing at where he dropped the bouquet he’d given to Toudou. Some of the roses spilled onto the hood of his car, shining crimson and gold in the sunlight. “And you don’t have to thank me for that. I wanted to.”

Toudou’s smile doesn’t waver. “I know,” he says. “Why do you think I invited you home?”

“So your whole family can tell me I don’t eat enough to my face instead of through text?” Makishima says dryly.

Toudou laughs, sliding his hand up Makishima’s arm and further to caress his cheek. Tiny electric pinpricks mark his skin where Toudou’s fingers make contact. “No. Because I wanted you.”

Makishima has learned to read the atmosphere well enough to know what’s coming before Toudou closes the distance between them, but he’s still unprepared for the sensation of Toudou’s warm lips against his. He shuts his eyes on instinct, awkwardly settling his hands on his shoulders and hesitantly relaxing into the kiss. Toudou makes a pleased noise into his mouth, fingers digging into Makishima's cheekbones.

He hasn't kissed anyone in ages, not since his last relationship fell apart when he moved from Italy and back to Japan. And yet, he's sure none of his past partners have ever kissed him the way Toudou is right now, with fire and passion and the weight of years spent holding back words unsaid. Makishima's heart skitters against his ribcage like spider legs, and he clutches onto Toudou's shoulders like a lifeline.

Toudou tastes like the strawberry chapstick he's recommended to Makishima a thousand times, claiming it's the best brand in all of Japan. Makishima has always ignored him, but now, after testing it for himself, he’s inclined to change his mind if it's the reason Toudou's lips are impossibly soft. They pull back at the same time, Toudou absentmindedly licking the pink sheen off his slightly swollen lips, and Makishima silently stores the motion in his memory.

Most of the parking lot is deserted, with most of the race participants, spectators, and reporters having left a while ago. The few officials and volunteers still lingering at the site are thankfully preoccupied with their own things and not paying attention to him and Toudou making out after their post-race confessions. Even so, Makishima wishes their location wasn't quite so public.

He voices this to Toudou, who has the nerve to laugh in his face. “I knew you'd be worried about that,” he says, tone fond in a way that's both comforting and absolutely infuriating. “Relax. No one’s going to care.”

Makishima looks askance at him. “We're both professional cyclists, so yes, a lot of people would care -”

“Relax, Maki-chan.” Toudou’s mouth quirks up in amusement. “I meant no one here cares. Well. Other than me. I care very much.”

It's such a cheesy and Toudou-like thing to say that Makishima instinctively smirks, feeling the remaining tension in his bones seep out and dissipate in the humid summer air. “If you say so.”

“Of course I say so,” says Toudou. “I just got to kiss the second most beautiful cyclist in the world.”

Makishima blinks, caught so off guard by Toudou's sudden declaration that he forgets to decry Toudou for his narcissism and instead snorts aloud. “Very funny, Toudou.”

Toudou's expression shifts from teasing to disappointed in an instant, the quicksilver change startling Makishima. “You're doing it again,” he complains, lowering his hands. “I don't like it.”

Makishima squints at him. “First of all, once again you sound like you’re five,” he says. “Second, what are you talking about?”

“Earlier, before the awards ceremony,” Toudou says. “You said you don’t think you’re attractive.”

It takes Makishima less than a second to realize what Toudou is talking about. He grimaces, running a hand through his hair to push it out of his face. “That’s not - Toudou, I just meant that the industry isn’t as kind to people who look like me. It’s not a big deal.”

Toudou’s eyes narrow and he moves forward to poke at Makishima’s forehead, hard enough to send him stumbling back a step. “It is a big deal,” he insists, dark gaze burning through him. “Because you’re beautiful, Maki-chan. I guess that’s another thing I assumed you knew by now, and I definitely should have mentioned it.” Makishima tries to interrupt him, to tell Toudou he doesn’t have to say anything, but Toudou barrels right over his words. “I don’t care what other people think of you, but you do, don’t you? You say you don’t care when they judge you only because you’ve accepted it as the normal thing for them to think. And it’s wrong. They’re all wrong, even you, because you’re the most stunning person I know and that’s why I love you.”

His thumb traces over Makishima’s chin, and Makishima’s pulse jumps high in his throat in response. He clears his throat, willing the blush threatening his cheeks to die down.

“And don't try to change my mind,” Toudou adds. “It won't work.”

Makishima huffs a laugh, scratching at the corner of his eye. There's no way he's going to cry in front of Toudou, not right now. “I wasn't going to. I know how stubborn you can be when you set your mind to something.”

Toudou grins. “Is that a compliment?”

“In this case, it is.” Makishima takes in all of Toudou, his dark eyes focused only on Makishima, violet hair held back by the hairband he's refused to ever give up, his jersey matted with sweat and blood where he'd taken a turn too close during the race, and wonders how to tell Toudou that he thinks he’s the most incredible person he knows, too.

He studies him, reading his face carefully, and realizes Toudou already knows.

“Hey, Toudou,” Makishima starts, lifting one hand in an aborted movement, “can I kiss you again?”

If Toudou was grinning before, then now he's radiating the sun. “Maki-chan,” he says. “You never have to ask.”

Makishima takes that as his cue to thread his fingers through Toudou's hair, damp with sweat but still ridiculously soft, and tug him closer. Toudou's mouth parts open on an exhale as Makishima kisses him. He feels Toudou's hands grab onto his shoulders, firmly like he's afraid Makishima will float away if he lets go, and he strokes a reassuring hand down the side of Toudou’s face. Toudou shudders against him, pressing back against his palm like a touch-starved cat.

Makishima accidentally backs him into the side of his car, jostling both of them, and mutters an apology against Toudou's mouth, but Toudou shakes his head and drags him back down into a fierce kiss that knocks the breath from Makishima’s lungs. For a few moments, he forgets that they're standing in the middle of the parking lot, wearing sweat-soaked clothes and on the brink of collapse from exhaustion after a race. His head is spinning too much for him to care.

Eventually, Makishima draws back, panting for breath. Toudou looks dazed for a few seconds, rigid like he’s been struck by lightning, before he snaps out of it and slips his hand into his pocket to pull out his phone. Makishima frowns as Toudou opens up his text messages and taps on Shinkai’s name.

“What are you doing?”

“Telling Shinkai and Arakita I’m skipping dinner with them.” Toudou’s thumbs fly over the keypad. “Because I’m taking you out on a date.”

Makishima watches him send the message, warmth brewing in the pit of his stomach and spreading to his limbs. When Toudou tucks his phone back into his pocket, Makishima brushes his bangs aside to briefly kiss his forehead. It doesn’t give him the same electric thrill he gets from racing against Toudou and narrowly defeating him, but it’s the closest he’s experienced yet.

He picks up the bouquet off his car and, after checking that the flowers are mostly undamaged, offers it back to Toudou. “Sounds perfect.”