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This Is Love (I've Never Loved So Much)

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Akashi Seijuurou is relatively new to the concept of dating, but he feels like his relationship with Furihata Kouki is going very well. At least as far as the dating part is concerned. There are… complications. But those complications are entirely his private dilemmas to work on—the important part is that Furihata is happy, and he feels very confident that Furihata is happy.

Or at least, he did, until just now.

They just had dinner with Furihata’s parents, who are lovely people and always make him feel welcome. Furihata Kyo, the eldest son of the household, was not home, which only increased the pleasantness of the evening. (It is always better when Akashi can concentrate on charming the Furihata parents, and not carefully field the griping comments of the older brother, who still didn’t fully accept the relationship but was well on his way). Now, they are in Furihata’s bedroom, casually “hanging out” before Akashi has to head home for the evening.

And ever so gradually, Akashi has picked up on the fact that Furihata has been quiet, and not very communicative, and it is beginning to dawn on him that perhaps Furihata is upset about something.

Akashi isn’t fully sure how to handle this. He toys with a few options before deciding he might as well just ask, and does so.

“Is something bothering you, Furi?”

Furihata jerks, as if startled by the question. “No,” he says automatically, but then he pauses, and looks like he’s bracing himself for battle, and says, “Well. Kind of. Not bother, exactly.”

Akashi waits patiently.

Furihata sighs and then meets his gaze. “Am I ever going to meet your father?”

Akashi’s brain comes to a screeching halt.

*

Akashi did not have a conventional childhood. He was created in a lab, for one thing, and trained as an assassin, and he had superpowers. He and six other superpowered human experiments escaped the lab that created them four years ago, and had, with some occasional hiccups, a relatively normal life ever since then.

Given his childhood, it was saying something that he was aware that his relationship with his adopted father, Akashi Masaomi, was not exactly conventional.

“That does not seem necessary, Furi,” Akashi hedges. “Masaomi-san is not my father in the same sense that your father…that is to say, he’s not someone you need to know.”

But that doesn’t work. “He’s important to you, isn’t he?”

“Well,” Akashi says, balking slightly at the question. Masaomi is an important figure in his life, but he can’t shake the feeling that if he agrees to that question he’ll be walking into a trap. He also feels slightly embarrassed by the question.

But Furihata is looking at him with such earnestness that he feels guilty. “Yes, I suppose it would not be inaccurate to say that. But that has absolutely no bearing on our relationship.”

He’d said that in anticipation of Furihata’s argument that he should meet the important people in Akashi’s life, but instead of closing the argument, he has apparently made things worse. Furihata’s face falls, looking wounded, and Akashi is suddenly desperate to do anything that would make that sadness go away.

“Do you not…want him to meet me?” Furihata ventures.

“Yes, that’s it exactly,” Akashi says, pleased that Furihata understood. But then Furihata looks like he’s about to cry and that he’s trying very hard not to and Akashi feels like he must have gone wrong somewhere.

Akashi is not entirely sure what happened there, but he knows that he has to fix this. Not just because it bothers him greatly that Furihata is upset, but also because he doesn’t want Furihata to do anything reckless like, say, try to meet Masaomi on his own.

So the only thing he can do is explain everything.

(Well. Mostly everything).

“Furihata,” he starts out carefully, trying to choose his words to make sure there are no misunderstandings. “My father is not someone you should know. He is a very dangerous person.”

“What do you mean?” Furihata says, alarm replacing his earlier sadness, which Akashi counts as a step in the right direction. “Akashi, does he hurt you?”

“No,” Akashi says, managing not to laugh, which he’s sure would only give the wrong impression. But he’s aware he probably does sound amused when he says, “No, that's not what I mean.”

He leans back in his seat and tries to figure out a way to explain his father. Furihata had such a warm and loving relationship with his own parents that it might be difficult for him to understand Akashi’s viewpoint.

“Masaomi-san was probably the first human I ever respected,” he says finally, figuring that he’ll stick as close as he can to honesty. “I admire him a lot. He is incredibly intelligent, athletic, and rich, and I find him superior to most other humans in my acquaintance in every area.”

“Oh,” Furihata says, enigmatically.

“In many ways, it’s like he’s not human,” Akashi persists, “And I usually think that’s one of his best qualities.”

“Alright,” Furihata says, his face curiously blank, which is very frustrating because Akashi isn’t sure if Furihata understands his explanation or not.

“Sometimes…sometimes it is a bit like he is an adult Red Zero,” Akashi says, and finds that this is the most difficult part to explain to his boyfriend. “And that’s why I do not wish for you to meet with him, Furi. I would not ever want you to meet another Red Zero, it would be far too dangerous.”

Furihata frowns, which at least isn’t sadness or that strange neutral face. “But… you’re a Red Zero, right?”

“Yes,” Akashi says, grimacing. “We… that is to say, the Project Group… Red Zeroes are not good people. And that’s what Akashi Masaomi is like. He is…very combative. Any time he talks to someone he is looking for weaknesses, and ways to manipulate that person to his will. He never says or does anything without an ulterior motive. Even when he’s being nice, he is usually finding a way to exploit you. Simply put, I do not wish for him to hurt you, but he would, if he met you, because that’s what he does.”

“But that’s not what you’re like!” Furihata bursts out, sounding genuinely dismayed.

“What?” Akashi says, confused.

“You said—you said he was like you. But that’s not what you’re like at all!”

Akashi finds it slightly adorable that that’s what Furihata chose to focus on. “Yes, I am, Furi. I am not like that with you, but I am not a nice person. Surely, Kuroko can vouch for the accuracy of that statement.”

“But you are nice,” Furihata insists. “It can’t just be because we’re dating, you were nice to me when we first met, remember?”

“When we were abducted together?” Akashi says, because that had been a very unusual situation.

“No, before that. Remember, when we were playing basketball together? We weren’t dating then and you were nice without ulterior motives.”

“…Right,” Akashi says, suddenly aware of the very dangerous territory he was now in. He had been nice to Furihata in their early meetings, because he was trying to figure out the secret behind Furihata’s immunity to his powers.

…He’d also been planning on killing Furihata, if his immunity to their abilities proved to be a threat to their existence.

It is probably best not to mention that.

“The point is, Masaomi-san would try to destroy you, and I don’t—I don’t want him to hurt you. Please, Furihata, I don’t want you anywhere near him.”

It is not easy for him to ask for things. But he has to ask, and hope that Furihata understands.

“You don’t want me to ever meet your dad?” Furihata exclaims. “How would that even work? We—we are dating, it just seems like it’s unavoidable—”

“I am confident we can keep your interactions together to a bare minimum,” Akashi reassures. “I am sure you will meet at some point, but only very far in the future. If it still matters then.”

Lot’s of things could happen in the future, Akashi figures. Masaomi might die, or something. And then the meeting would be a moot point. Or he and Furihata might move abroad, in which case it certainly wouldn’t matter. Or maybe Furihata will have lost interest in the meeting by then, which would certainly be the optimal solution.

At any rate, he didn’t want Furihata meeting Masaomi until after Akashi and Furihata were legally married. He wouldn’t have to worry about Masaomi scaring Furihata away at that point.

“Oh,” Furihata says, swallowing and looking down. “OK.”

Akashi should have left it alone at that, but it is very important to him that Furihata never meets Masaomi, so he presses, “Promise me that you won’t meet him.”

“I promise,” Furihata laughs, although the sound is a little weak. “It’s not like I could just go up to him; he’s in Kyoto. I do promise,” he says, seeing Akashi’s face.

“Good,” Akashi says, satisfied.

*

Akashi has a private helicopter pilot who will take him to Tokyo. It’s one of those perks to having one of the richest men in the world as his adopted father. In the silent hours of darkness on the flight back to Kyoto, Akashi reflects on what happened, and it disturbs him. It is one thing to get Furihata to promise not to meet Masaomi, but Akashi can’t control all the variables.

Namely, Masaomi. Masaomi is an uncontrollable variable. Masaomi has been very clear that he wants to meet Furihata. And Akashi has turned it into one of the games they play—if Masaomi meets Furihata on his own, then he loses, and Masaomi very much hates to lose. That’s almost enough to prevent the meeting, but Akashi isn’t sure if it’s enough. And in the privacy of the helicopter and the air and the darkness, Akashi admits to himself that he’s terrified of what will happen when it stops being enough.

The thing is, Furihata is a weakness. And Akashi hates having weaknesses, but he will allow himself this one. The problem is he can’t hide it. This is his major failing. Everyone who saw them together instantly knew that Furihata was a vulnerable point for Akashi, which is why Akashi very much tried to contain who saw him and Furihata together.

The other Miracles, in a streak of good fortune, all had people they cared about. They had their own vulnerable points. So an unspoken rule amongst them was: Do Not Touch The Boyfriends. If someone started using the Boyfriends as something to exploit, then all bets were off, and no one wanted that. Akashi is safe from them because no one wanted to start the path of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Akashi Masaomi did not have the same leverage.

Masaomi had acquaintances, but Akashi had never seen him care about anyone. His closest relationships seemed to be with his Executive Director, Hinamori Akane, and Kasamatsu Youji, who as far as Akashi could tell, just spent lots of Masaomi’s money. Masaomi had a string of girlfriends for as long as Akashi had known him, but no one serious. No one like Furihata.

If Masaomi found out how much of a weakness Furihata was, then that was it. Any battle they had from then on would always be Masaomi’s win. He could use Furihata against Akashi at any moment and there was nothing Akashi could do.

And Furihata would be caught in their war, and that was also something Akashi wished to avoid.

Akashi clenches his fists. All of that could have, perhaps, been bearable, except…

Except.

*

About a month ago, Masaomi had casually asked over dinner, “Do you think it’s possible for a human to be born immune to your abilities?”

A million things had run through Akashi’s mind in that moment, but the most important thing was to make sure that Masaomi didn’t realize that question meant anything at all to him. So he just tilted his head, as if he found the idea amusing. “What a quaint idea, Father. Are you looking for a way to improve yourself?”

“Ha! You wish. You and yours are barely a threat. No, I’m curious purely from an intellectual standpoint. There are people who have demonstrated slight resistancy, after all. The logical next step would be someone who was altogether immune.”

It sounded logical, but Akashi knew better than to believe the surface explanation for anything his father did. And it seemed too coincidental, considering Akashi had just found out that the Legacy-line was also looking for an immune human.

“That is a simplistic sort of logic, Father. That is a bit like saying: some people can jump high, perhaps there are others who can fly.”

“Oh?” Masaomi says, raising a brow. “Can you say with a any kind of confidence that there aren’t?”

And that was distressing, because with the existence of the Legacy-line, Akashi couldn’t say with any kind of certainty that there weren’t flying humans.

“Alright, I suppose it is theoretically possible,” Akashi allows. “Although I am not sure why it matters. If I ever met an immune human, I would most likely kill them immediately. I do not like potential threats, something that you have always encouraged.”

“True, although there are so many more sophisticated ways of destroying a person beyond simply killing them, Seijuurou. The fact that you still default to murder only shows your immaturity.”

Since Akashi felt reassured that Masaomi didn’t suspect anything, he let that comment slide. “I don’t believe in varying from a proven method. Out of curiosity, if you’re not interested in enhancing yourself, why would you care if it was possible?”

“No reason, I suppose,” Masaomi says. “It would be a bit like a mythical creature, wouldn’t it? Like finding a unicorn. There’s a certain appeal to being the only man to own a unicorn.”

And that was certainly an explanation Akashi could believe. Masaomi liked collecting rare things. If Masaomi thought it was possible for an immune human to exist, he might search the ends of the earth just to be the only one to have one.

*

Akashi sits in the helicopter and thinks about how if Masaomi starts looking for an immune human, he wouldn’t have far to search.

It was distressing enough to think that the Legacy, heretofore a harmless entity, but now quite possibly their biggest threat, was looking for an immune human. It was even worse to think that Akashi still had no idea why the Legacy wanted an immune human, or what they would do with one, if found.

But Masaomi was a whole separate issue entirely. Masaomi is the only person Akashi is willing to admit might actually win if it came down to a head-to-head battle. He is the only opponent Akashi has ever deemed worthy.

It would distress Akashi if he had to kill Masaomi. He is…fond of the man, and grateful, in his own way, for the life he had now because Masaomi had adopted him. If he had to kill Masaomi, he would miss the man, and regret the loss of a worthy enemy.

But he would still do it. If he had to.

*

“How long do you think Stockholm Syndrome lasts?”

Kasamatsu Youji, through many long years of overexposure, had come to accept the random appearance of Akashi Masaomi as if he was popping up from the earth, like the devil, and the even more random questions he tended to ask.

“I don’t know, I still got it a little, from that time I lived with you,” Youji says blithely.

“Har har, you’re hilarious,” Masaomi says, flopping down on the chair in front of Youji’s desk. “I’m asking you a serious question.”

“Why, have you kidnapped someone?” Youji asks, only slightly wondering if maybe Masaomi had.

“Hm, maybe Stockholm Syndrome is the wrong term. Suspension Bridge Effect? Alright, hypothetically, you’re abducted with someone else and you think you’re in love with that person, how long does that typically last?”

“This is about your son’s love life?” Youji gapes. “You’re interrupting my work to talk about your son’s love life?”

Masaomi glances around. “Are you doing something important?”

“Well, I’m supposed to be in the training yard in about five minutes—”

“Oh, so you’re not doing anything important, good. Now, I’ve been looking into this, and it just doesn’t make any sense. Furihata Kouki is an incredibly average high school student. Like, almost ridiculously so. If you look up ‘average’ in the dictionary, there is a picture of this kid. He has average grades, average athletic skill, average looks, all his facebook posts are incredibly boring—”

“Are you stalking your son’s boyfriend?” Youji exclaims.

“Not stalking!” Masaomi says indignantly. “You could hardly call it stalking, I just looked into his school records and social media, that’s all very standard, parental interest.”

“I’ve never stalked my kid’s love interests—”

“And why would you need to? Your sons are dating each other.”

Youji glares at his friend but lets it slide since, well, technically that was true. Masaomi just took weird gleeful delight in making that sound more incestuous than it was, considering Ryouta and Yukio weren’t blood related and had never thought of each other as siblings.

“Look, I’m just saying it doesn’t make sense. Not to brag, but Seijuurou is a rich, handsome, athletic genius, much like myself at that age—”

“And what sport did you play when you were his age, Masa-chan?” Youji asks innocently, which Masaomi promptly ignores.

“He’s superior in every field. And he has superpowers. Furihata Kouki is supremely boring. The most interesting thing that ever happened to him was his abduction by mad scientists, and even that only occurred because he was near Seijuurou at the time. He’s an incredibly normal kid.” Masaomi said “normal” like he was pronouncing something profoundly distasteful.

“I don’t mean to be elitist but frankly, my son could do better.”

Youji eyes his friend and wonders if he was aware… but no, he seemed to be stating the facts without a single sense of irony. Youji debates mentioning… but no. If Masaomi genuinely didn’t see the parallels to what he just said and what people said about his own marriage to Shiori, then Youji wasn’t going to bring it up. For reasons he never fully understood, Masaomi didn’t like talking about Shiori. He had almost never said her name since she died.

“Opposites attract,” he says instead, because he can’t deny the fact that Akashi Seijuurou and Furihata Kouki are certainly an… unexpected couple. “Why is this bothering you now?

“It’s been bothering me for awhile,” Masaomi says shortly, and Youji gets the feeling that there’s something there. Something is bothering him. But Masaomi is not the kind of person who can just say that.

“It is most likely because I haven’t meet him,” Masaomi allows. Youji keeps himself from rolling his eyes. Masaomi and Seijuurou had the weirdest war going on about meeting Furihata. Masaomi kept insisting that if he took the initiative to introduce himself to Furihata then, “Seijuurou would win.”

You’ve met him,” Masaomi says, perhaps finally getting to the point of why he was here. “Do you think I would like him?”

Youji hesitates because, statistically speaking, probably not. Masaomi didn’t really like people. “I think,” he starts slowly, and he shouldn’t say it, but he’d been thinking it for awhile so he decides to take the chance and says, “I think Shiori would have loved him.”

It’s hard to read Masaomi then. Youji has no idea what’s going on in his head. But then Masaomi snorts and says, “Well, that hardly counts for anything. Shiori loved everyone.”

And what an odd thing to say, Youji thinks. Since Shiori had always been up front about hating most people.

*

“I really do have to go to work,” Youji says, getting up.

“But we’re still talking,” Masaomi says, sounding genuinely perplexed and dismayed.

Youji almost feels bad, because it’s clear Masaomi needs to talk about something, and it’s probably serious. But Masaomi never quite understood that other people couldn’t just drop everything to do something else. “I am currently working,” he says patiently, since it’s not exactly Masaomi’s fault he doesn’t understand how full-time jobs work. “But after work, I promise, we can go get dinner or something, and we can—”

“No, no good,” Masaomi says. “Who’s your boss?”

“Technically, the Japanese government.”

“Perfect, I own the government—”

“—But my commanding officer is Colonel Kobayashi,” Youji continues, slightly disturbed by Masaomi’s cheerful statement.

“Hm, fine, we’ll go ask him,” Masaomi says, wandering out, causing Youji to follow him in alarm. “Oh, Colonel! Excellent timing, I need to take Youji out for a nooner, is that OK?”

“Oh lord,” Youji says, burying his face in his hands.

Colonel Kobayashi Kyouma is a very straight-laced, unsmiling man, and he is currently glaring at Youji with a look Youji has received most of his life. It was a distinctive look that clearly said, “I blame you for the existence of Akashi Masaomi” and yeah, OK…fair. Masaomi would probably not have gotten involved with the JSDF if it wasn’t for Youji.

But Masaomi was involved with the JSDF. In fact, he regularly made substantive donations, both monetary and in weapons and technology he designed. That tended to give him a lot of leeway with what he could do on base. More to the point, it was a well-known fact Masaomi had a lot of…connections…to some very high-ranking politicians.

“Sergeant Kasamatsu is supposed to be training the new enrollees,” Kobayashi returns, because he’s never been the kind of man who would back down easily, even given the fact that Masaomi could easily destroy his career on a whim.

“But this is important,” Masaomi smiles charmingly.

The colonel sighs, deciding that this really isn’t worth pushing back on. “Fine. Take a half day, Kasamatsu.’”

“Yes, sir,” Youji says meekly, feeling a bit bad for the colonel but also like this is almost certainly going to come back to haunt him.

Masaomi was a very chaotic person to know sometimes.

*

So now they’re sitting in a bar that’s almost entirely empty (because it is one in the afternoon) and Masaomi still hasn’t said why they’re here and Youji vaguely feels like strangling the man.

It would be pointless to try and explain to Masaomi that he couldn’t just drag people away from their jobs because Masaomi would just say, clearly, he could. And it would even be fairly pointless to get mad at Masaomi for just being Masaomi.

“This had better be important,” Youji growls out anyway, because if it isn’t important, Youji is going to be super pissed.

“It is,” Masaomi says, his voice stilted. Youji relaxes, because apparently Masaomi does realize he was treading on thin ice. Masaomi sighs. “I suppose I could have waited, but I decided I wanted to talk to you about this, I thought it best to do so before I changed my mind again.”

Youji blinks. Holy crap, this was serious. Something was obviously bothering Masaomi, especially if it was something he’d wanted to talk about before but didn’t. If this was something Masaomi had wanted to talk about, changed his mind and was now concerned about backing down again, then it must be something very important. Youji instantly forgives the man for dragging him out of work. This was clearly desperate measures time.

“You have my full attention.”

Masaomi nods and taps his fingers idly on the table. Youji is even more intrigued because this is also clearly something Masaomi really doesn’t want to talk about.

“Do you think they’re happy together?”

Youji has to take a sip of his beer just to give him time to mentally backtrack the conversation. “Seijuurou and Furihata-kun?”

Masaomi nods, fixing his eyes on Youji.

“To be honest, Masa-chan, I don’t know Furi-kun that well. I haven’t seen them together often, but yeah, I guess,” Youji shrugs. “They’re teenagers in their first relationship. I’ve never seen anything to make me think they’re unhappy.”

Masaomi lips purse into a thin line, clearly not satisfied.

“Why do you ask?” Youji asks gently.

Masaomi look away and stares studiously at nothing when he say, “I have just been thinking lately that I am not sure it is a good idea for those two to be dating.”

“That is…an odd thing to be thinking about,” Youji says, wondering what prompted this. From their earlier conversation, it seemed like Masaomi thinks Furihata isn’t good enough for his son.

Which, for most rich, genius, ambitious parents, that might be a reasonable conclusion. Most rich, genius, ambitious parents might not like the idea of their children dating someone below their standards. But Masaomi wasn’t like that.

Or at least, Youji had never known Masaomi to care about things like that. He wonders if his friend’s standards might have changed.

“I think you’re going to have to dumb things way down for me, Masa-chan,” Youji says, almost apologetically. Masaomi sometimes thought in complicated circles of logic that could be hard to follow, and occasionally needed reminding that people couldn’t always follow along.

“Alright,” Masaomi says, his attention once again returning to Youji full fold. “When I was married, I always had a very specific fantasy of having my wife present dinner to me while wearing nothing but an apron.”

There is a long silence as Youji’s brain struggles to keep up with this statement. “OK,” he says slowly, “That’s a surprisingly adorable and domestic sexual fantasy, Masa-chan.”

“Right?”

“Kind of tame, all things considered.”

“Appallingly tame! But Shiori wouldn’t do it.”

“…Oh?” Youji says, his brain still wandering somewhere in a cornfield maze of perplexion.

“No, she flat out refused to be naked under an apron. I was always the person who ended up being naked under the apron.”

“That’s…an interesting insight into your marriage and sex life,” Youji says. He feels like he’s actually reached new levels to “confusion.” He feels like he’s moved past confusion and straight into some entirely new realm of baffled. For one thing, they never talked about their wives like this… they’d certainly been very open about their sex lives with one another. They’d had a lot of girlfriends (and, in Youji’s case, the occasional boyfriend) where their sex lives had been described in intricate detail, but not Hinami and Shiori. They’d never talked about Hinami or Shiori.

“Out of curiosity, what exactly were her objections?” Youji asks, mostly as a way to try and regroup his mental facilities around the fact that they were having this discussion.

“Shiori objected very strongly to any kind of cosplay she thought reinforced unpleasant gendered stereotypes,” Masaomi explains.        

“Ah,” Youji says, “makes sense.”

“She didn’t like maid, either. Or geisha, or playboy bunny, or school girl—”

“Oh, Masa-chan, really?”

“I didn’t want—I just wanted to see where her lines were drawn. I didn’t actually want her to wear a school girl uniform,” he sulks.

“Good. Pervert.”

“I didn’t. She didn’t object to nurse, but she preferred doctor. Likewise with stewardess and captain. And I respected that! But the naked apron is a classic and it’s not, like, super gendered, not really. And since I really wanted her to, you’d think the wifely thing to do would be to humor me—”

“I don’t remember you ever mentioning a naked fantasy before,” Youji says, since they had been pretty open about their sexual proclivities, once upon a time.

“It was very uniquely wife specific,” Masaomi muses. “I never wanted it from a girlfriend. But there’s something oddly appealing about coming home to the person you love, having them be naked under an apron, with dinner on the table, and say—”

“‘Do you want dinner, a bath, or me?’”

“Exactly,” Masaomi says, pleased Youji is catching on, although Youji is fairly certain he is still very much lost.

“OK. I’m going to mock you about your domestic fantasies later, but OK. What exactly is the point to this?”

So, the point is, one time I got really irritated, OK? And I just yelled, ‘Damn it woman, it’s not gendered, go put on the damn apron and she yelled back, ‘If it’s not gendered, go put on the apron yourself.’”

“Ah. Thus why you were the one naked under the apron.”

“Precisely.”

“So?”

“So,” Masaomi says, beginning to struggle. He swallows and looks away again. “So, lately, I’m beginning to wonder what our relationship would have been like if she’d had to obey my every command.”

In one brilliant flash of light all the pieces fall together and make one very clear picture. “Oh, Masaomi—

“Because that happens, right? In any relationship, you just tell someone to do something without thinking about it. And they don’t need to obey you, if you do that, because that’s why free will exists. It exists so you can says, ‘No, I am not going to be naked under an apron, for you’ and even if you think they’re being absurdly cruel to you, you can’t make them be naked under the apron, because that’s marriage.”

“Ah yes, the classic definition for what marriage is. Masaomi—” Youji waits to see if Masaomi is going to interrupt him again, but Masaomi just looks up expectantly. “You don’t—you don’t need to worry about Seijuurou and Furihata-kun.”

This is an awkward situation. Because Youji absolutely understands what the problem is, and it’s—actually really nice. Youji feels a complicated series of emotions he promptly squashes down with a steel-toed military boot. But it’s actually kind of adorable that this is something Masaomi was concerned about.

He really, really wishes he could explain to Masaomi that there was nothing for him to be worried about in that area because that’s something Masaomi obviously needs to know.

But. That’s the awkward part.

He literally can’t.

*

Youji found out about Furihata’s immunity shortly after the rescue of the Second Teiko kids. Furihata had been very worried about the “S-1s” and the “S-7s” that he’d been kept with during his capture, Mihashi Ren in particular, and he’d come by to check on them. Youji was trying to figure out how to explain nicely that the children all screamed whenever anyone came near them and it was probably best if Furihata didn’t speak to those kids when Mihashi and a few of the other S-1’s all approached Furihata in heretofore unseen happy and calm quietude.

He hadn’t been able to hide his shock at the sight, and had mused out loud that perhaps the kids felt comfortable around someone who had experienced the same trauma they had, but then Furihata had just laughed nervously and said, “Oh, no, I think it’s because I’m immune?”

“You’re what?” Youji had said, and then Furihata explained a) that the children apparently read minds and that was certainly good to know and b) that they couldn’t read Furihata’s.

Youji had just enough time to wonder if that immunity extended to the other Miracles before Furihata disappeared somewhere with Mihashi and Akashi rounded on him like an angry tiger, glowing red.

“You will not tell anyone of Furihata’s immunity, not through word, writing, or action. You will not communicate this fact in any way, nor provide any hint so that others might figure it out for themselves.”

Youji had actually been impressed with the thoroughness of the Order. Akashi was clearly someone who knew how to avoid a loophole.

The fact that Akashi remained incredibly thorough with this Order was more sad than inconvenient. Akashi made a point of stopping by at least once a month to reinforce the Order. At one point, Youji had tried to say, “You know, kid, you could just ask me. I’m very happy to keep Furihata-kun’s secret, if that is what would make you feel better. Believe it or not, I’m very good at keeping secrets. You could trust me.”

Akashi stared at him for a long time, with the unblinking stare of a lion, before he said, “I am not who I am because I can trust.”

And Youji said, “That’s…kind of tragic, really.”

“Yes,” Akashi said, surprising Youji with agreement. “But even so, I have survived. And I will continue to do what is necessary.”

And it was tragic. It was so heartbreaking that Youji vowed he never would tell anyone Furihata’s secret, if by some miracle Akashi ever stopped renewing his Order. Because he knew what it was like to keep secrets in order to survive, and he didn’t want to betray that for anything.

Youji also figured that Akashi must have his own reasons for not telling his father, and Youji didn't think it was his place to meddle (too much) in another parents’ affairs with his kids.

Also…also he was sure Masaomi probably wouldn’t like the fact that Akashi put Youji under an Order. Youji’s pretty sure that was something that would upset Masaomi. A lot. And, if at all possible, Youji did not want to be the reason those two went to war.

*

Which was fine, up until this moment, when he wants to be able to reassure Masaomi that Akashi couldn’t accidentally Order his boyfriend to do something against his will.

“Seijuurou’s a good kid,” he says, instead, thinking that he can at least try and talk Masaomi off this strange parental freak-out he’s having. “You don’t really have a reason to think he’d do anything…Furihata wouldn’t want, right?”

Masaomi actually looks kind of miserable. “That’s just it. I kinda think I do. Have a reason.”

“What do you mean?”

It’s clearly not something Masaomi wants to talk about, but he says, “Do you know when they started dating? Officially?”

At this point, Youji has essentially given up on being confused about the randomness of Masaomi’s questions. “About three months after their abduction, I think. Which I only know because Ryouta came home with a crap ton of stuffed animals that Mizuki and Ren distributed to their classmates the next day. He said he was helping Seijuurou on a quest for love.”

“Right, I only know that because Seijuurou spent almost 8,000 dollars that day. My concern is—if they didn’t start dating until after their abduction, why was the head scientist who abducted them convinced they were fucking?”

“What?” Youji says, growing alarmed, but not entirely sure why. “What are you talking about?”

Masaomi looks slightly abashed, but only slightly. “I was able to get a hold of his personal laptop awhile ago—stuff that he kept off the shared network Satsuki-chan hacked into. He kept records on Seijuurou—”

“And you never told us?” Youji exclaims. “That’s something the JSDF soldiers should know—”

“No,” Masaomi interrupts with a forceful command. “It’s not.” And for the first time, Youji gets the sense that Masaomi is genuinely angry. That was actually a rare thing—Masaomi didn’t get angry, he got revenge.

“That man,” Masaomi pronounces this carefully and with a great deal of disdain, “was far too interested in the sex lives of two sixteen year old boys.”

Youji sits back, letting that information settle in and churn in his gut, as he suddenly thought about all kinds of horrific things that had never occurred to him to think about, when Teiko had so many other horrific things to be concerned about.

“He was writing about my son,” Masaomi says, the undercurrent of wrath still there. “So no, I did not think it was something I should share with a third party. But. He did seem to be under the impression they were sleeping together and…” It is strange to see Masaomi so hesitant. He swallows and continues, “and he seemed to think it wasn’t consensual.”

What?” Youji shouts again. “Masaomi, this is—”

“I didn’t believe him,” Masaomi cuts in quickly, before Youji could continue his accusations. “The man was nuts, Youji. He seemed to think of the Miracles as little better than animals. He talked about things like mating instincts and imprinting and other bullshit like that, and it was obvious he was wrong. I still think that—but you can see why I started to grow concerned. I thought Seijuurou’s refusal to introduce me to his boyfriend was just a friendly battle, but lately it seems more serious than that. I think he genuinely doesn’t want me to ever see them together.

“And Furihata-kun is just a normal kid. There’s nothing in his background that would explain Seijuurou’s interest in him. And when I was looking into him—well, prior to Seijuurou, he seemed only interested in girls, so you could see why maybe I started to get a little concerned—”

“Oh god,” Youji says, because yes, when you lay it all out like that, the picture it painted… was not great. Even taking Furihata’s immunity into account, there were still a whole lot of unexplained things in there. But surely not. “That doesn’t necessarily mean…not everyone has a clear path to homosexuality, you know. He might have just…kept quiet about it. Or recently discovered he was bisexual. That’s not uncommon at his age.”

“I’m aware,” Masaomi says dryly. “But I think it would be reckless to talk myself out of this.”

“He’s your son,” Youji says, feeling the need to defend Seijuurou. “Do you honestly believe he’s capable of raping someone?”

Masaomi’s look is fixed and very calculated. “No,” he says sharply. “I am certain he is not. But I am equally certain that if every parent who ever thought, ‘No, not my child,’ was actually correct, there would be a hell of a lot less rapists out there in the world. I think it is our obligation as parents, particularly parents of sons, to at least be willing to admit there are possibilities beyond what we believe in regards to what our children may or may not do.”

“Holy crap,” Youji says, blinking. “That…actually sounds rational.”

“Don’t act so surprised.”

“I can’t believe you made me feel like a bad parent for not suspecting my sons of raping someone.”

“Good! You should feel that way.”

Youji shakes his head, because maybe it makes sense, but he still can’t fathom doubting his children. “Look, Masaomi, I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about. I think there’s probably a reasonable explanation for everything. But if you have any doubts about the consensual nature of their relationship, then you have to meet Furihata-kun. OK? No more of this, ‘then Seijuurou would win’ bullcrap. Go meet him, end of story.”

“And say what?” Masaomi says, exasperated. “Hey, we’ve never met, but quick question: is my son raping you?”

“Well, I wouldn’t lead with that.”

“And that’s just it, Youji—I know you think my ‘battles’ with Seijuurou are ridiculous—”

“You have a point system. Against your son. It is ridiculous.”

“—but it’s very integral to our father-son dynamic,” Masaomi says, glaring. “And if he is…behaving inappropriately…I will never be able to stop him if I forfeit this battle and meet Furihata on my own.”

Youji feels the beginning of a headache. It’s a very familiar, Masaomi-related headache. “OK. Your relationship with your son is messed up as fuck, I just want you to know that.”

“Do I throw stones at your glass house?”

But,” Youji says, ignoring Masaomi entirely. “If this is important to you, I’ll figure something out. Not because I care about your psychological battles with your kid, but for Furihata-kun’s sake. If there’s even the slightest chance he doesn’t want to be in that relationship, than we, as adults and parents, need to do something about that.”

“If you want to verify whether or not he’s in that relationship consensually, that would be a massive help, thanks.”

“I said I’ll figure something out,” Youji says. “I’m fairly certain that question would be even weirder, coming from me, a random adult he barely knows.”

“What are you going to do, outsource this to your kid again?”

“Watch it,” Youji warns, feeling slightly guilty because he had been wondering if Yukio might be able to help, but not appreciating the fact that Masaomi called him out on it.

“Because that would be helpful. Chibi-Hinami seems like an excellent candidate for this.”

“I’m not going to ask Yukio to fix our problems.” Again. He’s not going to ask Yukio to fix his problems again. “Anyway, I’ll think on it. Give me a couple hours. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.”

Masaomi nods, accepting this. And it’s actually kind of nice, that Masaomi would ask for his help on this. Masaomi doesn’t ask for help, not ever. And…

And it’s nice to think he’s still someone Masaomi would come to. He hadn’t been sure if that was still the case.

Youji leans back, feeling heavy and worried from the conversation, with the intense need to not end their conversation on that note. “Sooo. Naked under an apron, huh?”

“I just think it would be incredibly sexy,” Masaomi says. “It’s really the one thing where sentiment actually highlights the experience. The naked apron means nothing coming from a cheap floozy.”

“This is really unexpected insight into your sexual fantasies, Masa-chan,” Youji says. He takes a sip of his beer and then casually tosses out, “I would have gone naked under the apron.”

Masaomi looks at him sharply and then raises a brow. “That hardly counts for anything, you would have put on a chicken suit, if Hinami asked you.”

Youji smiles wryly into his cup and then laughs. “Yeah, you’re right. I definitely would have. Probably would have been fun, too.”

“You’re not allowed to mock me for my sexual fantasies.”

*

Furihata Kouki lies on his bed and tries to imagine a life without Akashi Seijuurou. 

The thought is enough to cause a small panic attack and it makes him want to cry and to his intense shame he even starts to tear up a little and it’s all incredibly appalling. But. He figures this kind of image training is important, so that when Akashi inevitably breaks up with him, maybe it won’t be so bad.

*

He suspects it’s going to happen any day now and that’s why he’s trying to mentally prepare himself.

Not that Akashi has done anything to lead him to believe this is going to happen—not exactly. So it would be easy to tell himself this is all in his head and he should just get over it. Except the thing about it being all in his head is that it is very hard to escape an idea, once it’s there.

It started when he visited Akashi in Kyoto, and some of Akashi’s classmates were there. They were all gorgeous girls with designer clothes and handbags and they would have never given Furihata the time of day, but they were all clearly a little in love with Akashi.

It was hard to stop the logic of, if girls who are out of my league are in love with my boyfriend, then my boyfriend must be leagues out of my league; once that kind of logic presented itself.

And once he started thinking about it—really started thinking about it—he couldn’t shake the idea that the two of them just didn’t make any sense.

Then there is the whole—thing—where Akashi didn’t want Furihata to meet his father.

Then there was that.

Akashi had said, “He was the first human I ever respected,” and when he talked about Masaomi, Furihata got the sense that Akashi did admire him. But as Akashi was listing all of Masaomi’s traits—intelligent, athletic, rich; ruthless, dangerous, more like a genetically designed superpowered being and not like a human at all—Furihata couldn’t help but think, Then why do you like me?

Because if Masaomi was the first human Akashi ever admired, it is surely because Masaomi himself was superhuman. And Furihata…definitely is not.

And OK, maybe Furihata has been reading more romance novels lately, specifically of the paranormal type, but, occasionally he’ll run across the trope of this incredibly amazing, hot superbeing in love with an ordinary person. And it’s usually because they’re an ordinary person, or something—this amazing godlike being falls in love with the ordinary because it’s something new for them. But Furihata keeps wondering—well, how long would that last? There’s so many ordinary people out there in the world. Surely, the appeal wouldn’t last long.

Furihata can’t help but think that if they hadn’t been abducted together, Akashi would have never been interested in him. He thinks Akashi might be feeling some sort of gratitude towards him, or something. Or maybe guilt. Furihata did get shot, after all. And while he hesitates to think he saved Akashi, or anything grand like that, Akashi seemed to think it made a difference, having him there. So. Maybe Akashi was dating him because he felt grateful, and that couldn’t last long.

They also haven’t… progressed rather far in their relationship. They kiss, but Akashi always pulls away, and Furihata’s not sure why. (Is it the kissing? Does he not like kissing? But he seemed to like kissing when they were pretend-dating. Of course, that was pretend. Even if it felt real. He’s not sure why now Akashi would hesitate to initiate anything—unless Akashi really didn’t want to, in which case, he returns to that point about how he’s pretty sure Akashi wants to break up with him.)

He hates that he’s like this. Insecure and weak and gross. Akashi texts him all the time, they talk all the time, they see each other as often as they can. There’s no reason to think Akashi is going to break up with him soon.

I am sure you will meet at some point, but only very far in the future. If it still matters then.

That sort of implied Akashi thought it might not matter in the future, didn’t it? Like, maybe Akashi didn’t think they’d always be together, so Furihata wouldn’t need to meet his father.

He buries his head under his pillow and wishes that was enough to drown out all his thoughts.

*

“Hey, Kouki, do you know where my skateboard is? What are you doing?”

Furihata resurfaces from under his pillow and sees his older brother Kyo standing in the doorway, looking vaguely concerned. “Nothing. I don’t know where your skateboard is.”

“What’s up? You look kinda death-like.”

Furihata shrugs. Kyo isn’t Akashi’s biggest fan, so there’s no point talking to his brother about it anyway.

“Is it school? Basketball? Boy troubles. Ah ha! It is boy troubles.”

Furihata scowls. “You don’t have to sound so happy about it.”

“Hey, that’s not fair. I might not like your boyfriend, but I don’t want to see you upset. Did he do something?”

“No, he’s always amazing.” And that comes out sounding a little bitter even to him. But despite the fact that he’s aware of how bitter he sounds, he can’t stop himself from saying, “It’s me, I’m the problem.”

Kyo comes into his room and sits in the edge of the bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Furihata sighs because he does want to talk about it. He even wants to talk about it with Kyo, because he always went to his older brother for advice about everything. But this is super not something Kyo could even understand.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Why? ‘Cuz it’s gay? I bet relationship problems are the same even if it’s just dudes involved, I’m sure I could help—”

“Because it’s you,” Furihata bursts out. And this is definitely not what he meant to say, but once he starts he can’t stop. “You’re always the coolest person in a relationship, so you don’t know what it’s like to be ordinary.”

“What are you talking about?” Kyo asks, sounding thoroughly confused.

“Me! I’m not good enough for Akashi.”

“Did he say that?” Kyo says, murderously.

No. He’s always—he’s always been great. But, I mean, it’s obvious, right? He’s this super amazing guy and I’m just me.”

“You’re amazing!” Kyo says, genuinely indignant. “Where do you even get these ideas? Of course you’re good enough!”

“He’s athletic and smart and rich—”

“So? You could have dozens of smart, athletic boyfriends, why settle for just one? Come on, Kouki, I bet you’re just beating yourself up over nothing.”        

Again, seems implied in there, but Kyo kindly does not say that.

“Look,” Kyo says, suddenly awkward, “I don’t like the guy, but he’s clearly gone on you. So I think you’re just worried about nothing. But if he ever makes you feel like you’re not good enough, just tell me, OK? And I’ll go kick his ass.”

“I don’t think you could,” Furihata says, slightly concerned Kyo might try.

“I and my entire soccer team will go kick his ass,” Kyo amends, “At night, while he sleeps.”

Furihata grins wryly. “Yeah, OK. You’re right. I’m just being stupid.”

“Not stupid, just overthinking things,” Kyo says. “My girlfriend does that all the time. Like, if I don’t answer her texts right away, she thinks I’m mad at her, when 85% of the time it’s just because I fell asleep. Guys are really simple, Kouki. If he hasn’t said there’s a problem, there probably isn’t a problem.”

“Are you…making me the girl in this relationship?” Furihata asks.

“Aren’t you? I don’t know how it works with two dudes.”

“It means there’s two dudes!” Furihata says, hitting his brother with a pillow. Kyo laughs and easily subdues his little brother with one hand, but Furihata actually feels better after their conversation.

*

He gets a call from an unknown number. Furihata stares at it for half a second before he answers, because he always answers the phone. “Hello?”

“Furihata-kun? This is Sergeant Kasamatsu.”

“Oh! Hi!” Furihata is thoroughly confused. “Is something wrong?”

“No, no. You helped with the rehabilitation of some of the S-1 kids, and some of our scientists were wondering if you could come by for some follow-up questions. They’re hoping to start a new physical therapy program soon.”

“Oh!” Furihata says again, and then regrets it instantly because he must sound like an idiot. “I mean, that’s great. Sure! I’d love to help out, although I’m not sure what use I’d be.”

“Nonsense, you have a very valuable insight, Furihata-kun. So, is it OK if you come by the base tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I should be able to do that,” Furihata says. He’s excited by the idea, because he likes being helpful—and more importantly, he likes the idea that he could be helpful. It’s nice to know there are things that he can do that are needed.

*

Furihata almost always comes to the base with Akashi, so it’s a bit odd to be here without him.

“I’m so glad you could come by, Furihata-kun,” Youji says earnestly, shaking his hand like they’re equals. As always, Furihata is struck by the resemblance to Kasamatsu Yukio, although Youji is almost always smiling when Furihata sees him and is often more friendly than his son. (Which is unfair to Kasamatsu, who Furihata is actually quite fond of, because he’s not unfriendly, he just doesn’t smile too often and he’s usually making sure everyone behaves.)

“Did you get here OK?”

“Yes, I took the bus,” Furihata says, although the clarification seems a little lame, in retrospect.

“Good, good,” Youji says. “Are you still in touch with Mihashi-kun?”

“Oh, yeah, we text fairly regularly, and sometimes we hang out,” Furihata says. Sometimes they went on double dates—but that seemed too awkward to talk about with an adult he barely knew.

“That’s good, I’m glad to hear that,” Youji says, sounding earnest. “I always thought it was great that you guys got along.”

“Right,” Furihata says. “Um… are we going to talk to the scientists soon?”

“Absolutely! We should head out soon—oh, Masa-chan! What a lovely coincidence!”

“Coincidence?” A new voice says, causing Furihata to turn around and then freeze. “You—” he breaks off abruptly upon noticing Furihata.

“Furihata-kun, have you met Akashi Masaomi?”

“Er. No,” Furihata say, still frozen and panicking slightly.

“Really? How ridiculous! Masa-chan, you really should have introduced yourself by now, this is Furihata Kouki, Seijuurou’s friend.”

“Of course. It is so good to finally meet you, Furihata-kun, I’ve heard so much about you,” Masaomi moves forward first and shakes Furihata’s hand. Furihata can only go along with the motions because his brain still isn’t functioning properly. All he’s getting is random bursts of not very helpful flares of Panic! Akashi’s father! Do not meet! Dangerous! Akashi won’t like it! You promised! Bad!

“I’m so glad you’re both here,” Youji continues, completely oblivious to Furihata’s turmoil. “You’ve both been such a big help with the Second Teiko kids. Masaomi has a rehabilitation center in America for those kids, don’t you, Masa-chan?”

“Yes. A lot of the children there have made great strides towards recovery,” Masaomi says, his eyes fixed onto Furihata.

“Oh, that’s—nice,” Furihata says. He winces at how lame that sounds, but he means it—it does sound nice. A lot nicer than the dangerous picture Akashi was painting in regards to his father would have led him to believe.

“It’ll be nice to talk to both of—oh, Michiru!” Youji calls to a passing soldier. “Sorry, Furihata-kun, Masa-chan, I need to go talk to Michiru for a second on some urgent business. I’m sure you two will have lots to talk about!” He claps them both on the shoulder and then darts off after a very pretty woman who looks vaguely familiar. Furihata has to literally bite his tongue to keep him from calling out, “No, don’t leave me!” because Youji’s presence was a safe buffer, and he’s desperately afraid of what will happen once he leaves.

But he does leave.

And now Furihata is alone with Akashi’s father, after Akashi had explicitly told him they should never meet.

“We might as well sit down,” Masaomi says, gesturing to the chairs in Youji’s offer. “Something tells me he’s going to be awhile.”

*

“What was that about?” Michiru asks suspiciously as Youji loops his arm in hers and walks hurriedly away.

“Nothing,” he says innocently. “I’m just helping Masa-chan with something.”

He feels like probably he should have stayed to chaperone, but he thinks this really should be something Masaomi handles on his own. And now neither Masaomi nor Akashi have to worry about “losing” their ridiculous fight because neither of them knew the meeting was going to happen or had unfair advantages.

“Whatever. This is actually perfect timing, because there’s something I’ve been needing to talk to you about.”

“Oh?” Youji releases his hold on her arm so that they’re walking side by side. “I’m all ears.”

“Right, so, you know Hisae-chan? Hisae Asaka? The analyst? Is any of this ringing a bell?”

“The one with purple streaks in her hair?” Youji asks, finally sifting through possible candidates. “Yeah, what about her?”

“She thinks you’re super hot and wants me to give you her number. And also maybe arrange a date. Thoughts?”

“She’s a teenager,” Youji yelps, stopping in his tracks.

Michiru stops too and raises a brow at him. “She’s twenty-eight, don’t be patronizing.”

“I’m still old enough to be her father,” Youji points out—although she is older than he thought based off her looks.

“You are not! That’s like, what? A sixteen year age difference?”

“I was sexually active at sixteen, so it’s theoretically possible,” Youji reasons. “Also, more importantly, that means she’s only nine years older than Yukio.”

“So? What kind of math is that?”

“As a rule, I don’t think I should be dating anyone who is in an age-appropriate range to date one of my children.”

“OK, see, we clearly have a vastly different idea about what is considered ‘age-appropriate.’ Come on, man. You’re still young, and at just the right age where most men would love to have a younger girlfriend. Not to mention, you have that whole, ‘sexy but broken dad’ thing going for you. A lot of women are looking for mature men who can commit and you should really capitalize on that.”

“What are you, her pimp?” Youji demands.

“I might owe her a favor,” Michiru says, waving this aside. “For some incredibly unimportant thing. I promised I’d try, although I did warn her it was probably a lost cause.”

“Thank you. Now you can tell her you tried and we can all just carry on with our lives.”

Michiru crosses her arms and stares at him with that distinctly stubborn look he has come to recognize and dread. Her voice shifting, she says in more serious tones, “Youji, it’s time for you to start dating again.”

“Oh, for the—”

“I mean it,” Michiru says. “If you had been the one who died, Hinami would have already remarried by now.”

“Ouch,” Youji says, genuinely stung.

Tell me you don’t think that’s true—”

“Of course it’s true. Hinami was a very practical woman. That was one of the many things I loved about her. She would have mourned for an appropriate time and then moved on. That doesn’t mean you’re allowed to hurt me with your truthful words.”

“She wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn forever, don’t you get that? If she was watching you now, she would hate it. And probably kick your ass for being such an idiot. Since she’s not here, I have to kick your ass for her.”

Youji sighs. Michiru has, off and on, delivered the same speech for the past six years. It’s not completely surprising she’s bringing it up again now; Youji had been thinking recently it was about time for her to start again. “As it happens, I’ve been sorta thinking I should start dating again—”

What?” Michiru shouts.

“But not a woman,” Youji says firmly, before Michiru could get too carried away with her enthusiasm. “I—don’t think I could date women again.”

Michiru tilts her head quizzically. “Fortunately for you, there’s other options, but can I ask why a bisexual man is swearing off an entire gender?”

“Because I’d compare them,” Youji says, a tad helplessly. He’s thought a lot about this. “If I dated a woman, sooner or later, I would compare her to Hinami. I would always compare her to Hinami. And that—that wouldn’t be fair to any hypothetical woman I might date.” Because it would never be in that hypothetical woman’s favor. He doesn’t say that, but Michiru nods, and he suspects she understands. Hinami set a very high standard, and it was so hard to imagine anyone coming close to that standard.

“OK. So men it is,” Michiru says thoughtfully. “That’s not a problem. I actually know some guys who are interested, I could—”

“No,” Youji interrupts again, because it really is best to interrupt Michiru before she gets going. “I’m—I’m not so sure I could date a guy either.”

“Well, that’s narrowing your options down considerably. Why?

Youji squirms. “You’re going to take it the wrong way.”

“You don’t know how I’ll take things.”

It’s only because Michiru is one of his oldest friends that he finally blurts out, “Because I’d compare him to Masaomi.”

Michiru stares at him.

She continues to stare at him.

The staring continues for a needlessly long time.

Finally, she says, “You don’t want to date a woman, because you would compare her to the high standard set by your beloved dead wife, the woman you loved more than anyone in the world.

“And you don’t want to date a man because you would compare him to—Masaomi. Your completely platonic best friend.”

“Er. Yes. That’s about right,” Youji says.

“Honestly, Youji, I’m not sure how many ways there are to take that statement.”

Youji looks down, feeling slightly wretched.

“Look, I’ve danced this dance with you for years. You know that I, like many people who know the two of you, think you and Masaomi should have sexed it up years ago, but if you want to explain how you meant that in a completely platonic, bro sort of way, I’m happy to hear it, and I’ll believe you.”

Youji continues to look down at the ground. It is not easy for him to talk about his feelings. It never has been. And it’s not easy to talk about—this. He kept it locked down and repressed for awhile now, and it’s weirdly only because he kind of wishes he could talk to Hinami about it, that makes him sort of want to talk to Michiru about it.

So, quietly, awkwardly, he says, “OK, it might not be in a completely platonic way—”

He’s interrupted by the sound of Michiru shrieking. “Not here! If we’re doing this, we’re doing this right.

She grabs him by the arm and drags him forward, practically running.

“Colonel! Me and Youji need to take a half day! It’s an emergency!”

Kobayashi just looks at Youji. “Another nooner, Kasamatsu?”

Youji blushes faintly but Michiru just puffs up in her fake outrage she’s very good at using. “How dare you? Are you suggesting that because I’m a woman? That’s sexual harassment, I should—”

“Just,” Kobayashi holds his head. “Go. Both of you. Be gone.”

“Awesome, thanks Colonel!” Michiru blows a kiss at him and then continues to drag Youji away.

*

A few minutes have passed in silence, and Furihata is thoroughly panicking now, he’s practically shaking. It’s like when he first stepped onto a basketball court for an official game, only a thousand times worse because he doesn’t have any reliable teammates here to back him up if he screws up. It’s even worse than when he squared off against Akashi in the Rakuzan game.

In some ways, the only comparable situation was sitting in the office of the man who abducted him. That man offered to make Furihata better and it was terrifying, because Furihata hadn’t been sure if the man was going to kill him or not.

He is fairly certain Akashi Masaomi is not actually going to kill him, but it really doesn’t help that he keeps thinking about Akashi’s warnings: He is a very dangerous person. Masaomi-san would try to destroy you.

“You are dating my son.”

Furihata jumps and he blushes because this is so embarrassing. He wishes he was the kind of person who could act move naturally in situations like this. He always thought when he met Akashi’s father he could make a good first impression. He really wanted to make a good first impression.

But that man had asked him about Akashi too, and Furihata blushes now remembering the questions then. He’d sat in that office, scared of the man in front of him, and that man asked him questions about Akashi and sex and he felt sick and scared then and he felt sick and scared now despite how badly he’d wanted to make a good impression—

“Are you in love with him?”

For a second, Furihata thinks he’s imagining things, because that’s exactly the question he asked and Furihata hadn’t know how to answer then, and he didn’t know how to answer now. (The answer is yes, but what if the man didn’t want to hear that? What if it’s a trick? Furihata’s not entirely sure where he is anymore or who is asking the question).

Masaomi sighs and he starts writing something down. Then he pushes a piece of paper in front of Furihata, who stares down at it in deep confusion. “I will pay you five million yen to break up with Seijuurou.”

*

They weirdly end up in the same bar Masaomi had dragged Youji to just a few days before. It’s very off-putting.

“Don’t dance around this, Youji,” Michiru says after they sit down with their drinks. She leans in with a positively predatory gleam in her eyes. “I’ve been burned one too many times. Are you telling me you might actually have romantic feelings for Akashi Masaomi? And just so we’re super clear, when I say ‘romantic feelings,’ I am specifically talking about the ‘I would like to bone’ variety.”

Youji resists the urge to hide his face. He can’t quiet meet her gaze when he says, “Er. Yeah.”

Michiru makes this inhaling excited sound that’s vaguely reminiscent of a dolphin.

“Control yourself, woman, or I’m not talking about this with you.”

“I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOREVER FOR THIS, YOUJI.”

Youji raises his brows, takes a long sip of his beer, and stares at her pointedly.

“Fine, I’m cool. OK, you want to date Masaomi. How long has this been a thing?”

Youji winces, because hearing the phrase, “you want to date Masaomi” said out loud still sounds incredibly… weird. There’s something about Masaomi and “dating” that just doesn’t quite fit together in his mind. It’s also a difficult question for him to answer. He shrugs and says, “I guess… recently. Within the past couple of years.”

Years,” Michiru exclaims.

“Things were—weird, between us, for awhile. And then the whole thing with the Miracles happened and it was kind of like old times again.”

“Years,” Michiru says again, and Youji continues to ignore her.

“And he’s weirdly kind of a good dad? I mean, not in general, I would not trust him with kids in general, but he and Seijuurou seem to understand one another and I—” he shrugs again, “kinda like that, I guess.”

“That’s what does it for you? Masaomi’s fucked up relationship with his kid?”

“I think it’s cute,” Youji says defensively.

“OK, I’m leaving that one alone for now. But don’t think I’m going to let you wiggle out of years. You mean you’ve been aware that you wanted to date Masaomi for a couple years and you haven’t done anything?”

“Why did you stress ‘aware’ like that? I didn’t want to date him before.”

“Uh huh. Sure. Whatever. But come on, Youji. You’re single. Why haven’t you asked him out yet?”

“He’s heterosexual, Michiru,” Youji says, exasperated. “And I kept thinking maybe if I repressed my feelings long enough they’d go away. Falling in love with your heterosexual best friend is a terrible idea. I’m pretty sure it’s against the rules.”

Michiru straightens, looking indignant. “OK, first of all, I have never been a believer of Masaomi’s hypothetical heterosexuality—”

“Unfortunately, heterosexuality exists whether you choose to believe in it or not.”

“Debatable,” she waves this aside, “and second of all, Youji, that man loves you. You’re important to him, if you just tell him, I’m sure—”

“No!” Youji bursts out, and he grabs her by the arm. “And you can’t tell him. Got it? You can’t even drop clues. I’m serious, Michiru. Masaomi can’t know.”

“Good lord, why?” Michiru gapes. “Even if he is heterosexual, he wouldn’t think less of you. You’re so important to him—”

“I know,” Youji cuts in, tightening his jaw. “That’s why.”

Michiru leans back, crossing his arms, and looks at him patiently. That was the nice thing about Michiru. She understood when things were important, but she also didn’t let anything slide.

It has been a very long time of trying to repress feelings that are refusing to be repressed. Youji sighs and looks away. “I know I’m important to him,” he says quietly. “And Masaomi is a little odd when it comes to the people he likes. I think—there’s so few people that Masaomi actually considers to be his friends—he doesn’t…. react well, if he thinks he might lose them. He’d do anything, don’t you see? If he thought he might lose me as a friend, he might—” He can’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

Luckily, Michiru finishes it for him. “He’d what? Sleep with you so that you stick around?” Youji flinches and Michiru just gapes at him. “Are you nuts? No sane heterosexual man would have sex with his male friend just to make sure he sticks around—actually, wait, I heard what I said there.” She frowns. “Yeah, OK. I can actually totally see Masaomi doing that.”

“Right?” Youji says, but it just comes out sounding tired. “If I tell him I like him, I’ll never be able to trust that he reciprocates.”

“So you’re just waiting for him to ask you out?”

Youji shakes his head. “No, he’s not going to do that. He would have by now, if that was something he was interested in.”

“This is just—ridiculous. This is just stupidly ridiculous. You two belong together. Even your wives thought you two had chemistry.”  

“I know,” Youji says dryly.

“I mean, we used to have long debates about whether or not you guys had ever slept together, or whether or not you guys were aware that you were both completely in love with each other—”

“Who’s this we?” Youji asks, suspicion sinking in.

“Me, Setsuna, Hinami, Shiori—you know, the girls. We were all very invested in your love lives.”

“Hinami was my love life,” Youji says, indignant. “And she knew we’d never had sex with each other.”

“Oh, she said that. Setsuna was the one convinced you guys had a ‘lost your virginity with each other kind’ of vibe—”

Youji snorts. “Well, that was way off.”

I figured. I always had good money that you’d fucked at least once. I was sure there was a casual fuckbuddies thing going on in your weird co-dependent college years.”

“And Shiori?” Youji asks, mildly curious by this insight into the lives of women.

“Shiori always said you two never had sex, and that you both knew you really wanted to, but you were both unaware of the fact the other wanted to as well. Hinami thought that was giving you two idiots way too much credit. She had money on you both being completely unaware that you even wanted to have sex with the other one. Hinami didn’t have much faith in either of your abilities to be self-aware.”

“And no one thought we genuinely didn’t want to have sex with each other?” he asks, a tad despondently.

“Ha! Nope. No one believed that.” Michiru adjust her seat, leaning forward again. “OK, I see why you can’t tell him, but it is insane that you don’t do anything about this. I say, you both get drunk—”

“No,” Youji says abruptly.

“No, no, hear me out! You both get drunk, and you make a move. If he reciprocates, then you know he’s interested! If he doesn’t, you just laugh it off and blame the alcohol, and no one is wiser to any feelings that might be involved—”

“No,” Youji says again, his throat incredibly dry. “I’m not doing that.”

“Why not?” Michiru says, exasperated. “I’m not saying you should get him drunk and take advantage of him, just drunk enough that you can imitate—”

“Drop it Michiru.”

Why?”

“Because I tried that once and it didn’t work. Believe me, he’s not interested.”

*

Furihata stares at the numbers and letters and the piece of paper in front of him, and he has no idea what they mean. It’s like he’s looking at some sort of foreign text; he can’t make the symbols on the page mean anything.

Slowly, slowly, his brain starts to process what’s happening.

I will pay you five million yen to break up with Seijuurou.

It’s a check, Furihata’s brain finally catches up with reality and supplies useful information. It’s a check with his name on it for five million yen.

Despite this useful information, Furihata’s brain still isn’t fully understanding what’s happening. He looks up, almost desperately, at the man who has been staring at him this entire time. “What…?”

“It isn’t complicated, Furihata-kun,” Masaomi explains, almost sounding kind. “Break up with Seijuurou, and this money is yours. It’s a fair deal, surely you know high school relationships never last anyway. Or would you like more? I know how expensive college in these days.”

Furihata goes back to staring at the piece of paper in front of him, until he can’t see it anymore, because everything starts to get a little blurry.

Oh. I’m crying.

I’m not—

I’m not actually good enough for Akashi.

I knew that.

I did.

I need to stop crying.

But the crying just gets worse, and he pushes away from the desk and runs out the door, utterly ashamed of his own reaction, but knowing that he couldn’t continue to sit there.

He runs all the way out of the base.

*

“You what?” Michiru shrieks. “What? WHEN?”

“A long time ago,” Youji says, biting down so hard his teeth hurt. “I got really drunk and I showed up on Masaomi’s door super drunk and I tried to convince him he should have sex with me. Fun fact, I have never let myself be drunk around Masaomi ever again.”

Michiru looks very much like a fish as she stares at him. Her mouth opens and shuts a couple of times, her eyes are wide and if she keeps making aborted sounds in her mouth as she tries and fails to communicated. “How am I just hearing about this?” she demands finally.

Youji looks away again. “It wasn’t—it wasn’t a good time for me, OK? And you weren’t talking to me at the time.”

Oh,” Michiru says, and now she just looks stricken, because of course she knows what time he’s talking about. “That long…” she trails off, thinking through the implications. When she talks again, her voice is much more careful and controlled. “Youji…if it was that time, and you were drunk and he wasn’t…I got to say it’s actually a really good thing Masaomi turned you down…”

“I know,” Youji says quickly. “It was—it was one of the kindest things Masaomi has ever done for me. If we had—or if I’d gone out and slept with someone else—I don’t think I could have recovered from that. I would have hated myself forever. I might have resented him for it, and we might not have ever recovered from that and I’m—I’m really, really glad that night didn’t go as drunkenly planned. That’s not the point.”

“Then what is?”

“The point is we never talked about it after,” Youji swallows, surprised by his own hurt at the rejection. It’s been years after that humiliating debacle, you’d think that would mean it wouldn’t sting so much. “Michiru—he never brought it up again. And you know Masaomi! He would have! He’d laugh about it later, he’d mock me for it later, he’d tease—if it was even remotely something that intrigued him, he would have made a move. But he didn’t. It must have—” Youji swallows again, the lump in his throat hurting. “It must have really upset him.”

He has spent more hours of his life than he reasonably should have trying to come up with some explanation for Masaomi’s out-of-character silence on the matter. The only conclusion that made sense was that Masaomi deeply did not reciprocate the feelings and was hoping they could pretend the whole thing never happened.

So Youji did his best to pretend the whole thing never happened.

There is a long silence as Michiru thinks through all of this. Then she glares at him. “I am so mad at you for not letting me enjoy this more.”

“I’m sorry my love life is not up to your fangirl standards,” Youji replies.

“Because you should be with him. This is just stupid. And if anyone deserves to pine, it should be him. He should be manfully pining after you!”

“If there was any justice in this world, he would be,” Youji agrees. “But I am fairly certain Masaomi has never pined after anything in his life. His whole life philosophy is pretty much, ‘If I want it, then it should be mine.’”

“Yeah, he’s kind of a dick,” Michiru says. “You’re actually way better off without him. So this returns us full circle back to my original point—can I please just set you up with some other guy?”

“I—I can’t—it’s not that easy—”

“Sure it is! Listen, nothing helps you get over a man faster than random sex with strangers. When you were busy repressing your feelings did you even try to have sex with other people?”

Youji winces again because Michiru really doesn’t know how to pull any punches. “No, actually. If I had sex with someone else, I’d just be thinking about Masaomi—”

“So?” Michiru demands. “You can’t tell me you’ve never thought of someone else while having sex with a different person.”

“As a point of interest, yes, I can tell you that, because I never have. I’ve made a point not to. That’s just rude to the person you’re having sex with.”

“Everyone does that!” Michiru shouts. “Oh my God, Youji. Everyone does that. Married couples do that. I do that.”

“I don’t,” Youji insists.

Michiru suddenly looks very horrified. “Youji…when was the last time you had sex?”

“Last night,” he says promptly.

She raises a brow. “With someone other than yourself?”

“…Longer than that,” Youji says.

Youji.

“A very long time, OK?” he snaps.

“That isn’t even healthy. You—OK, I’m setting you up with someone, you no longer get a say in this.”

“Michiru—”

“Just dating, OK? I’m not going to make you have sex. Although, I am tempted to buy you a hooker. But you need to date again, and you need to date someone who isn’t Masaomi. And God, so what if you do end up comparing them at first? I can literally think of hundreds of ways in which that comparison could really only be in that other guy’s favor—”

A phone rings, interrupting Youji before he could protest this claim. He looks down at his cellphone. “It’s Masaomi.”

“Let it ring, we’re beginning the long process of you moving on.”

“No, it’s probably important. Hang on, sorry.” He gestures apologetically and moves outside to the patio where Michiru can’t overhear them before picking up.

“He started crying!” Masaomi wails.

“Oh God, Masaomi, what did you do?”

“I panicked! Youji, how dare you spring that on me! I needed to prepare for something that important!”

“You were the one who kept insisting you’d ‘lose’ if you met him on your own! This way it was fair!”

“Well, I’m pretty sure him crying means I’ve lost all the points forever.”

“What did you—oh, Masaomi. Tell me you didn’t.”

“I certainly wish I could tell you that, but, all things considered, I probably did.”

Youji hisses into his phone, “Did you do that thing where you offered him money to break up with Seijuurou?”

“Er.”

“Masaomi!”

“I told you I panicked!” He sounds genuinely flustered. Youji actually can’t recall the last time Masaomi has ever panicked over anything.

“I can’t believe you’re still doing that. I thought you stopped after what happened with Setsuna.”

“No, the last time I—wait, you think—anyway, that’s not important! I have always maintained that it’s a good litmus test for the stability of a relationship and a person’s character—”

“Oh, shove your litmus test!”

“I didn’t expect him to cry! No one has ever cried before!”

“He is a seventeen-year-old boy and the father of the guy he’s dating just told him he wasn’t good enough for his son! Of course he started crying!”

“Well, if you put it like that,” Masaomi says, defensively. “Do you think he was faking? It would have been an amazing ploy if he was faking.”

“No, Masa-chan. I don’t think he was faking. I think you made him cry and I am never trusting you alone with anyone ever again.”

“Guh. I would have respected him if he was faking. I hate genuine people.”

Youji pauses to consider this. All things considered, that wasn’t true. Masaomi would have known how to handle someone who was faking, but he wouldn’t necessarily respect them. He just never did know how to handle people who were genuine.

“Does this fiasco at least prove to you that Furihata-kun is in that relationship of his own free will?”

“No!” Masaomi says. “Crying is inconclusive! I get nothing from crying! There could have been a dozen reasons why he was crying—”

“The father of the guy he loves trying to bribe him out of his relationship seems like the most obvious conclusion to me—”

“You weren’t there—which, by the way, not cool—the kid seemed terrified.”

“Well, yeah. You’re scary.”

“If he’s scared of me then I have no idea how he’s dating Seijuurou. I’m at least nice to people 90% of the time.”

Youji had to admit there’s some logic to that.

“Anyway, you have to help me fix this.”

“I was trying to help you, and you made a teenager cry.”

“Which is still all your fault, so—”

My fault—”

“—so help me!”

“I’ll help you, I’ll help you. What exactly am I helping you with?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Masaomi says. “But when I do, I’m claiming you and your first born child.”

“What are you? A fairy tale witch?”

“Oh, huh. That’s an idea.”

“What’s an idea?” Youji says, growing very alarmed. “I was joking, what’s an idea—”

“No time, I need to plan. Remember, you promised you’d help! No take backs!’

Masaomi hangs up before Youji can say, “What’s an idea” again and Youji is genuinely terrified Masaomi might kidnap a child.

He’s also a little alarmed at Masaomi’s insistence that he’d also require Youji’s first born child. Youji can’t help but think Masaomi meant that literally.

*

Youji returns and immediately bangs his head on the table.

“And how is your Romeo?” Michiru asks dryly.

Youji lifts up his head. “Yeah, OK. Set me up with someone.”

“Really?” Michiru says, perking up. “You mean that?”

“Yes, you’re right. I’m in love with an idiot. Set me up with someone. Set me up with all the people you can think of, I need to date again.”

“That’s the spirit!” Michiru says, slapping him on the back. “Although, good lord, what did he do this time?”

“Don’t ask.”

“Fair enough. Although, I feel the need to point out, he’s your friend. I never understood your whole college thing. It was always weird.”

“You had to be there,” Youji says.

“You’re not allowed to change your mind,” Michiru warns.

Youji thinks on this and says, “I won’t. I need to date again.”

“Hallelujah,” Michiru says. “How does next Friday sound?”

Too soon, but Youji suspects that’s her plan. So he just shrugs and says, “Yeah, OK. Why not?”

This thing with Masaomi is way too intense anyway.

It always had been.