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No Sugar In My Coffee

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 The neighborhood of Sagebrook is quiet as all family residentials are before the sunrise. It is as if you are walking through a photograph from childhood – the sidewalks and scattered chalk are motionless, a father’s rake propped up with an air of nostalgic repose. Sagebrook has a bit more personality than the suburbs since no H.O.A. fees mean that people are free to decorate however they wish and mow their lawns whenever they please. These streets bring forth the assumption that everyone living here is an ordinary statistic of working-class people. There’s the occasional weekend barbecue in the cul-de-sac; Saturdays are spent at ball games and afternoons are used to paint another layer of white across picket fences.

Safety is a boredom that so few people realize is a privilege. Safety is something that a few particular residents are still learning how to trust.

Most properties in this neighborhood are kept well, like the charming cottage with a green pick-up sagging in the driveway. Inside the home, a couple rushes through kisses between coffee. Their routine is as unique as the circumstances that brought them together; it is a tumble of hearing aids and iron pills, strapping on a prosthetic and hiding heroin scars beneath long sleeves. These secrets are theirs, together.

Beside the cottage is another home, one with a rainy palette of navy and stone. An add-on juts from the structure, a humble little room that’s taking far longer than expected to complete. A tan ring of dust circles the addition as a saw table and ladder drip morning dew. A square is cut into one wall to make a window, and three locks are waiting to be installed over it.

Inside the home are three people but five heartbeats: a married couple, a sister, and two loyal companions in the form of a Belgian Shepherd and a black lab. The house was once nothing more than shelter for the single cop that only came home to fall in bed and be lonely. Now life brims at every corner of the home, like dishes in the sink from a dinner cooked with too much grease and so much love; pictures everywhere; shoes stacked by the front door in clumsy disarray. If there’s an aluminum bat beside that door and guns hidden everywhere possible, well – old habits die hard.

Sousuke keeps his face buried in his pillow as he slams a fist down on the blaring alarm clock. The world falls into blissful silence once more and he lulls through that space of unconsciousness and life, where he knows that nothing will ever feel better than letting sleep’s embrace tug him away.

Birds coo while the sun takes its first big stretch over the horizon; warmth floods the bedroom. Sousuke yanks the blankets over his  head as well as Rin’s, welcoming his husband into the world of sweet darkness beneath the covers. Rin hums a sleepy noise and hugs a thigh around Sousuke’s hip. His hair is damp where it’s meshed against Sousuke’s neck and the smell of cherry blossom shampoo still clings from last night’s shower.

Sousuke runs his hands up Rin’s naked back, feeling out the softness of his skin with the occasional twiggy texture of a scar. When the alarm clock goes off again, Sousuke fumes a sigh and rips the cord out of the wall. He flops back on the pillows in an acceptance of defeat. He yawns, scrubbing a forearm across his eyes as his thoughts slowly link to coherency. His schedule comes together in his mind, trying to cram different tasks into a 24-hour window. He needs to get Gou to school by 7:30 and it’s Monday, which is when they get Starbucks in the morning, so he has to leave the house earlier than usual –

Rin rolls on top of him to make a home of Sousuke’s chest and Sousuke chuckles, propping an arm behind his head to watch Rin wake up. His husband keeps his eyes closed as he leans up to rest their foreheads together; his hair brushes ticklish sensation across Sousuke’s face. He takes Rin into his arms and the embrace invigorates Sousuke, giving him the strength to face the day if only because he cannot wait to fall in bed tonight and feel this all over again.

Rin nuzzles in with hot pecks of morning breath but Sousuke still kisses him with a closed mouth before Rin speaks up, his voice deep and sweet. “Your breath smells like cum.”

Sousuke swats his ass and shoves him off, making Rin laugh.

Sousuke rises to stretch, rolling his shoulder, scratching at the old scar that billows across his throat like an ugly mixture of watercolors. Rin’s gaze drinks him in, falling between Sousuke’s legs, where his gray sweatpants are slung low. Sousuke meets his gaze as he lazily adjusts himself, jostling his bulge. Rin grins at the tease, his eyes still hooded from last night’s satisfaction.

Sousuke grabs a wadded towel off the floor and heads for their bathroom. “I’m gonna take a shower real quick.”

The invitation is obvious but Rin pouts, swaying his raised knees under the blankets. The sunrise does beautiful things for his silhouette. “Come back for a sec.”

“I can’t, I have to leave in like, thirty minutes.”

“You’re hard.”

Sousuke grabs Rin’s hand to tug him toward the bathroom. “No, you ass,” Rin whines as Sousuke manhandles him across the bed. “I’m comfy here.”

Sousuke lets his hand go and Rin’s arm flops off the mattress, his head hanging upside down over the side. He stays in that position as he yanks Sousuke closer by the drawstring. Sousuke opens his mouth but he loses his voice when Rin gropes between his legs, feeling out the long outline of his dick. Rin pulls his sweatpants down just enough to peek at Sousuke’s naked cock and an impatient noise rattles in Rin’s throat. “Fuck.” His hips stir up a restless rhythm. “You’re always huge in the morning.”

“I wasn’t last night?”

Rin gives him a flat look like he really doesn’t have time for the cheekiness even though he’s casually pumping Sousuke’s dick. Rin smirks. “Bet I can make it bigger.”

Staying upside down, Rin takes Sousuke’s cock out to slurp it into his mouth and Sousuke almost faints. “Rin, you – shit…” He braces a hand on the bed, heat blasting up his thighs. His mind narrows down to a singular baseline as tension hardens his gut.

Rin pulls him out of his mouth with an explosive breath, his cock slick as it comes out. Strings of moisture hang between Rin’s lips and the fat shaft. He glides a fist around Sousuke’s cock to wet it with hot saliva, rolling the velvety foreskin up and down before swallowing him again.

“Fuck –!” Sousuke fists the sheets, his voice spewing out weakly. “God.” He rolls his hips to work down Rin’s throat, sinking into the hot wetness that tightens around him. He watches the shape of his cock bulge in Rin’s throat and Sousuke pushes a thumb against the outline; Rin gags, his hips fucking up into nothing.

Messy and drooling, he slides his tongue across Sousuke’s shaft, Rin’s piercing bumping against swelled veins. Nerves light up, every hair trembling on Sousuke’s body. He reaches down to squeeze hard between Rin’s legs and Rin’s thighs fall open wide like he’s about to die for it.

Embracing defeat, Sousuke pulls out of his mouth and grabs Rin’s ankle to twist him around. Rin pulls the sheets away to reveal that he’s only wearing Sousuke’s dog tags and a smirk. He spreads his thighs like he’s got all the power in the world between his legs, letting Sousuke see how wet and pink and ready he is from last night. When he reaches down to spread himself for Sousuke’s gaze, cum is still drooling from his entrance.

Sousuke’s cock jolts as Rin fingers himself wide, working Sousuke’s cum deeper with a filthy whine. “I want more.”

His gaze climbs Rin’s body to meet his eyes and being late doesn’t matter when Rin fists Sousuke’s hair to bury his face between his thighs. There’s nothing more than how Rin claws him closer as Sousuke makes a home of his body, and heaven itself cannot compare to the way that the air is so soft afterwards, when they’re breathless and sweat makes them shine as the sheets hang all around them like ghosts.

The morning is quiet and still and perfect in Rin’s arms. Safety, like all luxuries, might just have its perks.    

After their rushed shower, they hide smirks behind mugs of black coffee at breakfast, brushing hands to grab toast with teasing feet beneath the table. They mumble about their schedules and Rin cusses his complaints so nastily, but Sousuke chuckles with nothing short of affection. The local news drones from the tiny flat screen on the kitchen counter; Sousuke flips through the paper and listens to Rin pattering around as he makes everyone’s lunches. LoFi plays from Gou’s room as she gets ready, filling the house with the headache-inducing smells of hairspray and flowery body mist.

Soon enough, everyone busts into a flurry to rush out the door, but this type of chaos still makes Sousuke’s heart warm because it’s so domestic and familiar. He heaves his gun belt over his shoulder and gets Echo into her police vest; Rin shrugs on his leather jacket and grabs his bike helmet just as Gou slides out of her room, hopping to lace up one of her pink Converse.

Sousuke fills Winnie’s food bowl before locking the house and Gou is already in the squad car, scrolling through her phone. Rin stands in the driveway and watches her with crossed arms, his hip canted out. Sousuke wanders over to sling an arm around his shoulder with a knowing grin, though his voice is sympathetic. “She say bye to you?”

“Course not.” Rin arches a pierced brow. “Her head’s gonna explode when she realizes that we had to cut down our data plan. She’ll fly through eight gigs in like, two days.” He sighs and tucks a hand Sousuke’s back pocket as they watch Echo nose around the yard, following the scent of Gou’s cat to under the porch. Echo barks at Poseidon and he lazily slinks into the daylight with a luxurious stretch, then Echo gives chase. Sousuke and Rin don’t reprimand their pets’ antics because it’s useless at this point; they just try to keep them out of the road.

Sousuke nods back at the squad car. “Her mood might have something to do with Hayato.”

“They’re thirteen,” Rin scoffs. “You can’t actually be in a real relationship and ‘break up’ when you’re thirteen.”

“Play along,” Sousuke smiles, nudging his hip. “It probably still sucks by middle school standards.”

Rin huffs his bangs out of his face. “Yeah, well.” He sweeps his thumb over Sousuke’s back pocket, thinking. “Maybe. Just get her a big coffee this morning, that’ll probably help.”

“It’s called a venti, actually.”

“You’re so cute when you pretend to be civilized,” Rin coos, grabbing his ass to jostle it. His shoulders dance. “I just wanna put you in my pocket.”

They both turn at a ruckus in the next yard over and notice Makoto buried in his truck engine. Haru’s holding the hood up for him, barefoot in his pajama sweats and looking unimpressed. He’s unsaturated in comparison to the colorful life that surrounds him; he stands as a living palette of monochrome: black hair, black tattoos with wintery paleness and the occasional red scar. His eyes have always been his most haunting feature, even when he’s relatively fine in the moment. 

Rin startles a laugh at the couple’s predicament. “Yo.”

Makoto thunks his head on the way to stand up. Haru gives a long-suffering sigh and nods in greeting. “Hey. Makoto’s truck won’t start.”

Makoto flails his hands with a nervous laugh. “Ah! It’s probably nothing –”

“It’s the transmission,” Haru drones over him. “It’s been the transmission for three weeks now.”

Makoto throws him a pout and Rin says, “How’re you gonna get to work, Mako?”

He grimaces, kneading the straps of his backpack. “I called Nagisa but he’s already at the elementary school.” He sighs, fiddling with his phone. “Maybe I should try Kisumi –”

“No, he stayed with Asahi over the weekend,” Haru mumbles. “So, he’s all the way across town.”

Sousuke glances between Makoto and Rin’s bike with glorious inspiration. “Just let Rin drop you off.” He smirks as he says it because he knew that Makoto would blanch, mortified with panic.

Makoto stammers for an excuse. “That’s – it’s not. You don’t have to do that, Rin.”

“I don’t mind,” Rin grins, tossing Makoto another bike helmet. Makoto catches it in a stupor.

“I mean, I don’t –” His tragic flaw is that he’d rather die than say something negative, and it’s a little too sweet and ridiculous that he’s worried he’ll offended Rin if he admits that he would literally rather hopscotch through a landmine than take his chances on a motorbike.

Haru nudges him forward. “You’ll survive Monday morning traffic; Rin’s kept his bike in a single lane during shootouts.”

“Don’t just tell me that in broad daylight –!” Makoto narrows his eyes at Sousuke. “Why can’t I ride with you? You’ve got a whole backseat.”

“That’s Echo’s seat,” Sousuke says as the dog hops through the back window to sprawl across the cab. He lifts his brows at Makoto pointedly and Makoto almost stomps his foot.

“Fine,” he sighs in acceptance. Makoto squeezes Haru’s hand, fingers swallowing him right up. “You’ll be all right today?”

“Yeah.” He turns his face for Makoto to kiss his cheek. “I’ll probably call Natsuya and see if he can find any parts in the junkyard for the truck.” He rakes a hand through his hair as he glances under the hood. “We can’t take it into the shop until your disability check comes through at the end of the month, so maybe Natsuya will be able to find something before then.”

“Don’t stress yourself out over it,” Makoto begs, adjusting the flannel Haru threw on over his t-shirt. “We’ll figure something out. Just try and relax today.” His thumb circles the fresh bandage on the inside of Haru’s elbow.

Haru flashes a brief smile, endearment softening his face. “I’ll be fine. Come home if your back starts hurting again.”

“I don’t have a car right now, Haruka.”

“I’ll walk you home, then.”

Makoto sways their joined hands, preening with coyness. “You’ll protect me?”

“Every time.” He leans up on his toes to peck Makoto’s lips and throws everyone a lazy wave on his way back into the house.

Rin pats Sousuke’s ass in a parting gesture before saying, “Oh hey, don’t forget that we’re meeting Aki at the foster center today at two for orientation.”

Sousuke draws a blank. “Huh?”

His husband doesn’t have an outward response, but tension sharpens in the air. “We’re supposed to submit our adoption application. I have our proof of address, but you need to bring a pay stub. Remember?” Slowly, he lifts his brows like he’s pleading for Sousuke to regard these tasks as vital. “I mentioned it on Saturday.”

“Oh.” He doesn’t remember that, but he nods as placatingly as he can. “Right, yeah, I’ll – I’ll be there.”

“… okay.” Rin clearly doesn’t believe him and Sousuke’s going to have to prove it.

Makoto approaches Rin’s bike, holding the helmet to his chest like a shield. He whines, “Sousuke, can’t you just tell Echo to move –”

“No,” he sighs with feigned regret that Makoto sees right through.

“God, you’re a –”

The squad car’s passenger door flies open and Gou stumbles out, thrusting her phone. “Why can’t I connect to the Internet?”

Makoto blinks, Sousuke stares, and Rin gives his husband a flat look of told you so.

Sousuke says, “Um –”

“I literally can’t even send a message, nothing’s loading on Instagram.” Gou’s voice is rising with shrill panic.

“Yeah, about that.” He looks to Rin so he can explain it, but he’s already started the bike and pretends like he can’t hear Sousuke over the engine. He revs it louder when Sousuke raises his voice.

The bike sails onto the road with Makoto’s wails muffled behind his helmet and Sousuke’s left standing in the driveway with Gou a shake away from a breakdown. He sighs, preparing himself for a long drive to the school, knowing that he’ll have to scramble up the change to add at least two muffins to Gou’s usual Starbucks order so that he can placate this data situation (translated: the end of the world).

Rin gets Makoto to the elementary school in half the usual time; Makoto’s nauseous and dizzy when he wobbles off the bike, but he’s appreciative enough to offer Rin some coffee before the school day starts.

Iwatobi Academy thrives with noise, the hallways bustling with lines of children as teachers herd them into their classrooms. Nagisa’s already wearing his bandana and apron for art class and Kisumi is frustratingly put-together in the chaos, sipping on a detox smoothie with his pastel linens iron and pressed.

Rin and Makoto escape to the teacher’s lounge, a poorly-lit room with bland couches and a gurgling refrigerator. They stand in the glow of the soda machine and Rin gasps at the little jewelry box that Makoto opens for him. “Damn,” he breathes, taking the box to turn it this way and that. “It turned out so good, holy shit.”

“I hope he likes it,” Makoto whispers, though they’re the only ones around. He wrings his hands together and Rin smiles at seeing such a towering man diminished to a puddle of nerves by none other than Haruka Nanase. Makoto says, “He never wears rings, so I had no idea what kind he would want.”

“He’ll love it.” Rin takes the band out to stack it on top of his own wedding ring. “We wear the same size, so this should fit him.”

“Good.” Makoto sags with a disbelieving laugh. “This all just might work out.”

Rin nestles the ring back into its cushion and hands the box over, squeezing Makoto’s forearm. “You’ve been wanting to ask him to marry you for three fuckin’ years.” He smirks. “I know good and damn well that he would’ve said yes as soon as he got out of the hospital when he was shot.”

“I couldn’t have asked him then.” Makoto winces and shakes his head at the thought. “I know it’s been years, but… it’s like, I’m still scared that something’s going to happen and he’ll…”

Rin sobers up grimly. “Go back to all of that.” He takes a drink of syrupy coffee from his Styrofoam cup. “Seems like Sousuke’s afraid of change, too.” He says it vaguely but with obvious pettiness.

Makoto pockets his hands with a grin. “Well, they are brothers. Guess it just took some time for the similarities to show.” He adjusts his weight onto the other hip, and Rin glances down at his right leg but Makoto nods in subtle reassurance that his prosthetic is fine.

Rin rakes his windblown hair out of his face with a grin. “When are you gonna ask Haru?”

“Ah, I was thinking about Gou’s going-away party in a few months? Maybe then he won’t be expecting it.” He rubs his arm self-consciously, going wide eyed. “Maybe he should be expecting it, you know he doesn’t like surprises –”

“He can get the hell over it, romance is more important.”

Makoto chuckles before sobering up. “How have you felt, you know, about Gou leaving? Haru’s been worried about it.”

Rin doesn’t respond in favor of closing off his throat to hold back the lump. His chest sinks with awful pressure but he manages a smile. “I’m… scared shitless.” Makoto nods and Rin’s so thankful that he’s found a friend who can just accept how intense his emotions are. Rin wipes his eyes with a hard sniffle. “But she’s smart, I think she’ll be okay. I know she will, and it’s an all-girls school with lots of police around. I just don’t like that the school is a plane ride away.”

“Mm.” Makoto takes a thoughtful moment. “Yeah, but I think it’ll do her some good to see what’s outside of Iwatobi.” He lifts his brows in disbelief. “Haruka’s never even been out of the city.”

“Yeah, most of us haven’t.” Rin blots his damp face with the back of his hand. “Me and Gou weren’t born here but our experience before was, well. Shitty to say the least. So maybe this will be a nice experience for her.” He gives a watery smile. “She’s actually happy about a baby coming into the family; she said she always wanted a younger sibling.” He snorts. “I think she’s relieved that I’ll have someone else to worry about while she’s gone.”

Makoto beams. “I can’t wait to hear about what happens at the foster center, you’ve been so excited about it.”

It’s true, he’s spoke of nothing else over wine at book club, while Rin and Makoto’s respective partners are back at home with beer and free to purge their own relational complaints. “Sousuke was more excited when he first agreed to a baby, but now.” He rolls his lips like he’s tasting something sour. “He’s just taking so long to get that bedroom finished and I’m too nervous to really get on his ass about it.”

Makoto rubs the back of his neck in sheepish apology. “That’s half my fault, you know. My back’s been giving me so much trouble, I wish I could have helped out last weekend.”

“Don’t even, that’s not your fault.” Rin ties his hair back and props his helmet on his thigh. “Maybe this’ll all get better after today. Might finally make it feel real.”

“It will,” Makoto promises. “Good things are coming.” He says it with a sideways glance like he’s trying to convince himself to believe his own words. “You two are adopting a baby, and either Haruka and I are getting engaged or I’m letting the rejection take me and I’m leaving for the wilderness to live like a hobbit. It’ll be great, either way.”

“Stop,” Rin chuckles, shoving him on their way out the door. “Ain’t no Nanase or Yamazaki a match for our charm. Everything will work out like you said it would.”

Makoto shudders all at once. “God, please don’t let Haruka want a beach wedding.”



Sousuke gets off work and drives from downtown, the highway branching off into residential streets. The economic change runs up on him fast – exit signs are crooked and messy with graffiti. He looks out the windshield to view the artwork with dread, checking for any animal symbols that would indicate an area of the city is claimed by a group.

Iwatobi’s gangs went dormant after the fall of Freebird and Diamond Back; Rough Rabbit and Honeyblade left the street war and the Bloodhounds are focused on their journey to economic recovery. Still, Sousuke always looks for promises of a resurrection when he goes to parts like these.

He drives through Iwatobi’s slums and the streets fall dead quiet as his police car weaves through. Some houses are half burned down; there are no windows intact and no mailboxes. He can tell where the old people reside due to certain homes that have trimmed lawns and colorful window planters, even though the houses themselves are falling apart. These elders are set in their ways of making the best of their situation and one redeeming quality about neighborhoods like this is that most kids here don’t have parental figures, so the old people tend to take in hordes of broken children for homecooked meals, and that gives criminals someone to love – someone to cry over them when Sousuke finds a young body and goes door to door looking for parents that aren’t there.

He sees teenagers loitering on the sidewalks instead of school desks; he notices two boys with a girl. The males’ hair are varying shades of brown while hers is blue like a bruise. They go rigid when Sousuke’s police car approaches and they slip into an alleyway though they weren’t doing anything but sitting. The distrust and fear are so evident as they hide in the shadows, and the weight of the world crashes down on Sousuke because he still has so much work to do in order to fix this broken thing called Iwatobi.

The foster center is too close to the slums for comfort and Sousuke isn’t surprised that the building looks more like an abandoned factory rather than a welcoming institution. He finds Rin in the washed-out parking lot, standing by his bike and looking more than a little strained. Sousuke braces himself as he steps out of his car, shuffling his feet because he doesn’t know what else to do. “How long have you been waiting?”

Rin shrugs, keeping his arms crossed. “I got here early.”  

Rin’s scared – he is so scared that Sousuke hates himself for it. He tries for a smile. “I brought a pay stub. And um, I got a letter of recommendation from some superiors, just in case.” He holds out the envelope as a peace offering.

Rin’s arms fall slack at that. He takes the envelop and Sousuke dares to embrace him. Rin husks a chuckle, hiding a sniffle against Sousuke’s chest. “Thanks,” he whispers. Rin buries a secret against Sousuke’s throat. “I really need this to work out, Sousuke.”

“It will,” he vows, kissing his forehead before they make their way up the foreboding staircase. He cranes his head back at the building. “This looks like some creepy mental hospital.”

Rin snorts, lacing their fingers together as they walk. “That’s because it was.” His makes sure nobody is around to hear them other than dead leaves. “Back in the 1800s, the leader of Diamond Back got into experimentation. He built this place and did all sorts of crazy shit to animals and people in there.”

“Tell me you’re fucking with me.”

“After everything we’ve been through, you really think that’s the lie?”

“… fair enough.”

Rin gives a teasing smile. “Gou told me that when she stayed here, she always heard a woman crying in the playground at night –”

“Stop, stop it.” Sousuke nudges him with a pout and Rin cackles with all his teeth. They creak open the double doors and a shudder works down Sousuke’s arms. “If that’s true, then why the hell are they keeping kids in here?”

Rin shrugs, sobering up. “Nowhere else in Iwatobi to do it.”

The entryway sprawls with 70s tilework from a cheap remodel job – grimy pink. The air is stale, and it doesn’t seem like the air conditioner is working. There’s a line of narrow windows on both walls, revealing the offices of social workers and representatives from other adoption agencies. It looks like their resources are spread thin in every possible way; there’s nobody at the cluttered receptionist’s desk, where dusty paperwork is stacked in towers.

Rin and Sousuke wander around until someone can tell them how to find Aki’s office, since she has a part-time gig here corresponding with the foster center as a representative from Iwatobi’s sole rehabilitation center. She and many other ex-members of Freebird work at the rehab, but Aki focuses in women and children’s service as a social worker – she works with the police department when she finds a runaway, and sometimes she makes the gut-wrenching decision of bringing a minor to this building when their parents just don’t know how to raise them.

Today, Aki looks hopeful as she embraces Sousuke and Rin. Her voice is an excited whisper amongst the grim murmurs from the other offices. “How are you guys?”

“Good,” Rin says, leaning out of her embrace to grin at her belly. “You’re about to pop.”

She swats him with her file and leads them to a rickety elevator. “Third trimester will do that to you,” she sighs, penguin-wobbling more than walking. The three of them squish into the elevator and it jars before groaning to the next floor. Aki fans herself with her paperwork file, looking miserably swollen and flushed, though she smiles as she rubs her belly. “He doesn’t like elevators.”

Rin breathes, “Really?” Sousuke looks at her stomach and tries to keep the disturbance off his face.

“Yeah,” Aki chuckles, patting her tummy as if to soothe it. “I think they confuse him, or he thinks someone’s shaking me.”

“That’s actually kind of sweet,” Rin says. Sousuke keeps his weirded-out expression on the floor.

Aki presses curious fingers to her side. “He hasn’t kicked much these last few days. That’s supposed to mean he’s coming soon.” Her bangs cling to her forehead before she drags them back. “I hope he doesn’t come early like the twins did. My water broke in church and Seijuro cussed up a storm.” She grimaces at the memory. “We had to switch churches after that.”

The elevator doors creak open and they step into a room with tall windows that give a view of the bleak playground below. Toys clutter the racetrack rugs and there’s minature house set-ups against the walls. It all makes Sousuke prickle with anxiousness, not because he doesn’t want this but because he knows that his life is about to change forever – that’s unnerving even when it’s for a good reason.

He sits down with Rin and Aki at a children’s table with bite-sized chairs. Sousuke feels light-headed but he’s relieved when he notices that Rin is bobbing his ankle under the table. Sousuke isn’t the only nervous one.

Aki writes down their information, taking Sousuke’s pay stub from the police department and Rin’s as the owner of Samezuka. She writes down social security numbers and takes notes from their marriage certificate.

Sousuke and Rin don’t talk throughout the entire process and Aki notices. Her pen pauses with a knowing smile. “It’s okay. Nothing’s going to happen today; you’re just taking the first step in a long road of preparations.” She goes back to writing and continues speaking. “You’ll both have to complete what we call pre-service training; they’re non-negotiable classes. They’ll give you the opportunity to learn about what the child has been through, and it’ll help you learn how to integrate them into your family. And you’ll get to meet other families that are also going through the process.”

“Sounds good,” Rin says without falter. Sousuke’s worried how much time he’ll have to take off work for these “sessions,” but he supposes that none of them – him and Rin nor the child – should be going into this blindly. He dreads having to socialize with other families, though. He’s awkward enough at dinners with his own birth mother.

“Rei and Nagisa come to the training sessions to offer advice, sometimes,” Aki adds. “They adopted Chigusa from here.” She shrugs. “I know Chigusa is a teenager and you’re wanting younger, but the paperwork is pretty much the same, so I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to help you through it.” She spreads out another folder and Sousuke tenses at the shift in the air. “This is the part where I interview the both of you. The questions aren’t horribly invasive, but I need you both to be honest, okay? For your sake and the child’s. Don’t hold back any concerns; you’re more than welcome to ask me any questions.”

Sousuke pretends that he doesn’t feel sweat lay over his back as Aki says, “So, what made you want to adopt in the first place?”

Rin answers. “I’ve always wanted to. I wouldn’t trade raising Gou for anything, but I’ve always wanted my own kid.” He looks down at his hands, wrings them together. “I didn’t have my dad for very long, but the time I did have with him was the best part of my life. I want to try and provide that kind of love for my own kid.” Sousuke rubs Rin’s knee under the table with a comforting squeeze.

“I understand,” she smiles, scribbling his response. “What about you, Sousuke?”

He takes a deep breath. “Ah, well.” His hand rubs over the back of his neck a few times. “I grew up in foster care and it was…” He struggles to put such an experience to words, forcing buried memories to the surface. “Tiring,” he sighs, giving a weak nod. “Really tiring. I wasn’t taken from my mom until I was a little older but being in the system in general is really stressful.”

Rin laces their fingers together and it gives him the strength to continue. “It kind of felt like I was in a circus, as weird as that sounds. Just going from place to place, having to put on a show for all these different families. They weren’t bad people, but I didn’t have the time to get comfortable with anyone before I’d get sent away again.”

Aki asks, “Why do you think that was?”

His expression flattens sheepishly. “I was bad. Frustrated with the situation. Like I said, being in the system is stressful, so I’d just act out to get people to leave me alone. There were families that tried to give me stability, but I had – I guess, been without it for so long that I didn’t trust it. Or want it. I never got adopted out, and…” He swallows. “I know that damaged me. It made it really hard to connect with people on that level, like when the Tachibanas took me in after the military, or even when I married Rin.” He shrugs. “How I grew up wasn’t fair. I don’t want a kid to go through that.”

His words feel lame but his genuinity seems to have shined through, since Aki smiles warmly and Rin kisses his cheek. 

Aki asks them a few more questions, ones that are (thankfully) easier to answer, then she guides them through how the rest of the procedures will go. “If you want a little tip on how to make the process faster, I’d recommend you get a license to foster even though you’re interested in adopting. We might be able to make something happen quicker if you foster the child in your home for a few months and things go well. Since I’m your social worker for this case, I’ll be doing your home check, first without the child and then one with them, to see how they’re adapting. Gou will have to come to the foster center to meet them even though she’ll be leaving for that academy soon.” Aki shrugs. “The child will be around longer than Gou’s in school, anyway.”

Sousuke’s stomach ties in knots and they don’t untangle. He can’t believe how much pressure is promised in a mere statement such as that.

“You’ll need to bring Echo to the foster center eventually, Sousuke,” Aki says. “Winnie, too. It’s just standard procedure to see how the animals will react to the child.”

“That won’t be a problem,” he assures. He’s surprised his voice doesn’t crack.

“Now for the fun part,” she smiles, turning to another folder. “Rin, you said you’d prefer a baby?”

He snaps out of his dazed trance from so much information. “Uh, yeah. That’d be nice.” Nervously, he glances at Sousuke, who nods and squeezes his hand.

“Does the sex matter to either of you?”

Sousuke hadn’t thought that far ahead, so he shakes his head. Rin worries his lip, mumbling, “I guess I have more experiences with girls, since I raised Gou, but I don’t personally care. I’d be happy with whatever.”

Endearment swells in Sousuke’s heart and he can’t help but smile at him, soft and private. Rin’s answering smile trembles but it’s there.

Aki looks over their paperwork like a plan is forming in her mind. Her lips part as her eyes dart through the file, and she looks up like something just clicked. “Do you –” She hesitates. “How do you feel about a child with special needs?”

Rin looks at Sousuke, who straightens up and tries to answer. “Um...” They haven’t even talked about something like that, so he gives an honest shrug. “If that’s the only option, then…” He chews the inside of his cheek, forcing himself to think ahead years and years, to the end of his life. He pictures a child affecting each decision of every day; he thinks of paying for medical bills amongst the other expenses that come with raising a child. All the more patience, all the more time that simple tasks would take.  

He can’t find displeasure anywhere in his heart. It wouldn’t be fair to deny a child love due to something they can’t control. “I wouldn’t mind it,” Sousuke answers.

Rin doesn’t say anything, but it looks like he just fell in love with Sousuke all over again.

“I think we could do it,” Sousuke confirms. “But we work a lot. I don’t know how much of that we could change.”

“I can quit work,” Rin rushes. “I’ll sell the club if I need to.”

Sousuke shouldn’t be surprised by that, and he hates himself for not previously realizing Rin’s true dedication to loving a child.

“I don’t think that would be necessary,” Aki says. “She’ll need a good chunk of time to bond with the both of you, but I don’t see either of you needing to quit your jobs in the long run.”

Sousuke and Rin share a glance. “’She’?”

Aki smiles sadly. “You remember Ookami, don’t you?”

 Sousuke hasn’t heard that name in so long that surrealism leaves him dazed. “The leader of the Bloodhounds?” Rin looks just as lost.

“Yeah,” she nods. “Ookami had a baby before she died.” Aki swallows, breath rising with hope. “Namiko.”

Rin reels. “Ookami had a baby while she was living out in the woods?” 

“There wasn’t much else she could do in her circumstance. Namiko’s three now.” She smooths nervous fingers over their paperwork. “I know that’s a little older than what you were wanting, but mentally, she’s… having some set-backs. Namiko was a few months old when Ookami died, so she was still breastfeeding. I don’t know if there weren’t any other mothers breastfeeding or if the Bloodhounds were just too distressed to take care of her, but she was severely malnourished.”

A shadow haunts her face. “The system didn’t do a good job of taking care of her either at first, but there were a lot of babies that came from the outskirts once the city started helping the Bloodhounds. The families that have taken Namiko before –” Sousuke bristles. “— they didn’t understand how much patience she requires because Namiko was never socialized as a baby like she was supposed to be. That’s not Ookami’s fault, I know she was just trying to keep her daughter alive, but it’s an issue now.”

Cautiously, Rin ventures, “What’s wrong with her?”

“She gets sick easily because her immune system is shot,” Aki says, listing it off her ring finger, moving to her other digits as she thinks. “She doesn’t respond to social cues, she doesn’t know half the words that children her age are using. Namiko doesn’t play well with other kids. At all.” Aki hesitates. “Some caretakers have tried to call her feral, but that’s not an accurate term, I don’t think. She can speak – a little,” she adds with a cough. “She can walk, and she can learn.” Her voice firms. “I know that she has the potential to get better; Namiko is simply developing slower than average because nobody wants to adopt her when there’s other kids that won’t be as much trouble.”

Sousuke’s brain struggles to wrap around so much dire information. He can’t even remember how to form a coherent sentence as heaviness sinks deep in his throat, but Rin address Aki. “Why do you think we’d be good for her?”

She smiles. “Nami is an extreme situation and both of you thrive when you take on things like that.” Aki regards them carefully. “You don’t have to make a decision right now, but do you want to see her? We can just see if she responds to you.”

Rin’s eyes question Sousuke and he considers before nodding, numb with anticipation.

Aki leaves them to go find an associate that can “help her” with Namiko, which is all kinds of ominous. Rin turns in his little chair to face Sousuke, taking both of his hands in concern. “How do you feel about this?” Rin already looks defeated but not like Sousuke is causing that pain – he realizes that this is so much, possibly too much, to ask of someone.

“I don’t know.” He props his knees on his elbows, feeling haggard. “We’ll just have to see what she thinks of us. I think it might be better that way, if we let her decide.”

Rin’s eyes swim in distress. “What if she’s not even mentally coherent enough to know what she wants? She’s only three, then there’s everything else wrong with her.”

Sousuke considers before shrugging. “Even animals know where they want to be. They know when they’re in danger and if we can prove to her that she’s safe, maybe she’ll give us a chance.” Rin bows miserably and Sousuke kisses his hair. “Just don’t panic if she doesn’t respond yet. All right? You’re perfect.”

They know she’s coming when they hear screaming down the hallway.

Slowly, Rin and Sousuke look at each other and bristle. It’s not like a baby weeping, it’s not a toddler whining, it’s full-blown roaring with kicks against walls. Tears don’t come with such growls – this isn’t crying, this is visceral fear that the child has no other way to express.

A woman shoulders open the door, struggling to keep something from wrestling out of her arms. Sousuke can’t make out features – nothing but shockingly white hair, white teeth flashing as Namiko tries to bite the woman. She lowers her to the floor and Namiko shoots into the corner, back against the wall. She reeks of fear-sweat as she huffs for breath. The woman yells as she reprimands her but Namiko shouts louder, screaming and screaming until the woman stomps out. Namiko falls silent in an instant.

In that moment, Sousuke knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is going to be a disaster.

Both he and Rin are motionless as Aki stands by the door, watching Namiko grimly. She glances at the couple in apology before sighing. “Nami.” Her voice lightens. “Do you want to play?”

Namiko’s unruly brows scrunch in anger before Aki nods at the children’s kitchenette by Sousuke and Rin. The girl scrambles harder against the wall, sweaty bare feet gliding over the floor, but Aki gently shakes her head. “I’m not going to carry you.” She holds a hand out and waits with an encouraging coo. “Come on, let’s go play.”

Namiko sits back on her haunches to consider. Her wild eyes look so tired, Sousuke thinks – swollen with bags and crusty from fitful sleep. He can’t imagine how exhausting it is to feel like you have to fight at every waking moment.

No, he does know how that feels, and his heart breaks.

Namiko creeps over to Aki to warily take her hand. “Good girl, such a sweet girl.” Aki praises her in exaggerations as she leads the child over to the toys, and Sousuke almost relaxes until Namiko’s eyes pierce him and Rin.

Neither of them moves. They don’t even breathe. Being looked at her is – startling, Sousuke thinks. Her eyes are a perfect contrast to her hair, blue like night in the forest. She’s definitely from the outskirts with those eyes. She has a dark complexion, blotched from where she’s scratched herself. Her bare feet are pigeon-toed, and her hands would look normal if not for the dirt lodged in her overgrown fingernails. She has an adorably round tummy that’s not proportioned with the rest of her body.

It’s the look in her eyes that shocks Sousuke more than anything else. Her expression is so hard, like she’s ready to protect herself at all costs, against any threat – whether they’re as big as Sousuke or not. How could the world teach her that was how she needed to live? Why hasn’t anyone taught her that it’s not her responsibly, that her only job as a child is to be loved?

Sousuke wants to be that person and the realization happens all at once. His heart changes in that moment, promising to never be the same again; it’s a light that will never die, a bell that cannot be unrung. More than anything else in the world, Sousuke wants to hold this child and never give anyone the opportunity to scare her.

He can hear it in Rin’s breathing when his heart changes, too.

Namiko gives them both a once-over, sizing them up. “It’s okay,” Aki coos. “They’re my friends. Let’s go over here and play.”

The girl glances up at her before looking at Sousuke and Rin for another full minute. When they don’t move to corner her, she walks over to the kitchenette but doesn’t take her eyes off them. Aki sits down beside her and turns the girl’s attention to the toys, and eventually, Namiko looks away.

Sousuke’s confounded as they watch her. Namiko doesn’t make a sound as Aki tries to amuse her with games, but the girl seems to like twisting the knobs on the toy oven. “She’s so cute,” Rin whispers, hugging his arms around Sousuke’s bicep in distress. “Oh god, she’s so cute, Sousuke. I’m gonna die.” 

“Yeah,” he chuckles quietly.

They lose track of how long they stay, but the sunrays burn with evening’s amber and Sousuke props his cheek on top of Rin’s hair, drowsy. Neither of them mind; they don’t want to leave. Sousuke can’t remember when he was so content, and he can’t explain why – he doesn’t care to.

Aki sits back on her haunches and braces her hands on her hips to stretch her back. Namiko pokes her belly and Aki giggles. “What are you doing, silly girl?”

Namiko pats her stomach again and Aki lifts her brows. “Huh? You have to say it.”

The girl’s face scrunches up in concentration as her gaze narrows on Aki’s belly.

A voice, deep and soft, echoes through the room. “Bay… bee.” 

Sousuke’s heart stops. Rin inhales sharply.

“Baby,” Aki smiles, folding her hand over Namiko’s on her stomach. “Yes, that’s right. He’s sleeping right now, so he can’t kick you today.” Namiko pats the woman’s belly like she’s trying to wake him up and Aki sings a laugh. “He can’t feel that yet, Nami-chan. You’ll get to see him soon.” She hands the girl a plastic apple and leans closer with a playful whisper. “Why don’t you give Rin your apple?”

Emotionlessly, Namiko looks back at Sousuke and Rin. The woman nods over at them. “It’s okay, just go hand it to him. He’s really nice,” she encourages.

Namiko thinks about it for a minute before rising to a stand. Cautiously, she takes a few steps forward, her gaze daring the couple to so much as flinch. Then she stops and so does Sousuke’s pulse.

Namiko looks back at Aki, mumbling, “Pink?”

Confusion swarms the adults in the room. Aki frowns, gaze darting from the couple to the girl before she laughs in delight. “Oh, pink! Yes, Rin is the one with pink hair, you smart girl.”

If Sousuke wasn’t sure that Rin would throw himself in front of a bus for Namiko, he’s absolutely positive now.

Namiko creeps over, each step feeling like a mile. Numbly, Rin lowers his hand and opens his fingers. He and Sousuke wait anxiously as Namiko slowly nestles it into Rin’s palm.

He smiles like it’s the best gift in the world. “Thank you.” He keeps his voice quiet, not loud enough to spook her.

Indifferent, Namiko moves to turn away before she properly looks at his skin. She shoots out to grab his hand and flip it over. Her burst of movement almost sends Rin into stroke territory, but the wonder in her eyes makes time itself stop. Namiko jostles his hand. “Draw’d?!”

Rin blinks in frantic confusion before Sousuke startles a grin. “She thinks you drew your tattoos.”

“Oh. Oh god.” Rin needs to catch his breath, she’s so sweet. “No, they’re –” He frowns to himself. “Well. I guess someone technically drew them.”  

She pokes at the inked blade tucked under the knuckle of his pointer finger, then Namiko roughly pushes up Rin’s sleeve to gasp at the rest of his arm. Dazzled, she traces the shark jaw opened around Rin’s elbow. She seems mystified by every piece, not afraid of the knife on his forearm; the word BABY trails down the blade’s side in Old English font.

Rin smiles as she turns his arm this way and that. “Do you like them?”

Namiko nods shyly and glances at Sousuke’s bare forearms. He chuckles, keeping his voice soft. “I don’t have any here.” He only has Rin’s glock tattooed over his heart.

She still finds something to touch, flattening her palm over wrinkled burns – Sousuke got those scars on the night he got shot with Haru. She runs her hand over the ugly texture like she’s trying to soothe it and whispers, “Ouchie?”

“Ah. Yeah, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Namiko flips her own arm over to show a nasty rash where she’s scratched herself, and Sousuke chooses his words carefully. “Does it hurt?”

She shrugs but eventually nods. Sousuke considers for a moment before gently patting her arm like she did his; he just pats a few times since that seems like a comfort she understands.

Namiko blinks when he takes his hand back, staring at where he touched her, and she gives him a little smile like she’s unfamiliar with wearing such an expression, but she’s trying.

Sousuke’s heart doesn’t beat the same after that, once Aki takes her away to get ready for bed with all the other children. He and Rin sit in the play room alone in the darkening day and Rin says, “I want her, Sousuke. I want her to be ours.”

Sousuke’s still in disbelief from the turn of events – from how drastically everything about himself changed in so little time.

Yet he has no hesitation in nodding. “I do, too.”

That night in bed, Rin turns over and says, “You did really good today.”

Sousuke blinks up from the book he was reading about the history of tomahawks. Rin looks flustered with his own earnestness, though he doesn’t stop himself from cupping Sousuke’s cheek. “It just – really meant a lot to me.”

He’s taken aback before he smiles. “Yeah, I know.” He drops his book on the nightstand in favor of drawing Rin close. Their bodies meld between the sheets and Sousuke admires how the lamplight softens Rin’s features. He traces the scar that hikes up Rin’s brow, runs his thumb across the one that tugs the edge of his lip into a forever frown. “I want this, too,” Sousuke admits like a secret. “I’m just shit at showing it.”

Rin rolls his eyes and stretches his arms around Sousuke’s neck with a languid sigh. He presses a kiss against the scar on Sousuke’s throat, keeping his lips there as he whispers, “Did you know that my favorite part about all of this is thinking about how great you’re gonna be with a kid?” He leans up with a dreamy smile. “This is probably my own selfishness talking, but I can already tell that you were made to be a dad. You’ve been good with Gou from the start and Ren and Ran are always so excited to spend time with you.” He flattens his palm over Sousuke’s heart. “You just have this… security about you.”

Rin kisses him and Sousuke opens his mouth for it, rolling over for Rin to sprawl on top of him. Rin tastes him in long, hot strokes of tongue as he pins their intertwined hands over Sousuke’s head, and Rin whispers, “It’s what made me wanna come home to you forever.”

Sousuke hugs Rin’s waist, clinging to him. “I hope it’ll be enough.”

“It will,” Rin promises. “You’re more than enough.”


They confirm with Aki that they’d like to try for Namiko, which brings the woman nothing short of immense joy. The next step is the training sessions; Sousuke prefers to think of them as night classes, since they consist of him and Rin slouching into the foster center after full days of work to cram as much information into their harrowed brains as possible. 

It’s a comfort that the other couples there seem just as strained, anxious, and excited. Sousuke’s surprised at the variety of potential parents at the meetings; there’s a number of single people and he and Rin get on well with a lesbian couple that gushes about a three-year-old boy named Kaoru, whom they will be welcoming into their home in a few weeks.

He’s appreciative that he and Rin will never be alone at any step of the process – well, they technically aren’t allowed to be, but he’s still relieved. Whether it’s social workers, foster representatives or other families in the training sessions, there’s always someone whom Sousuke can ask the dumb, obvious questions to without judgement.

He learns that most children enter foster care through neglect but all of them have faced some degree of trauma, which he can vouch for. The session leaders stress that trauma will affect everything, from the child’s behavior, thinking process, how they express emotion and also, how they distinguish safety from danger. These affects wouldn’t be such a vital issue if he and Rin were adopting a newborn, but Sousuke is willing to learn how to handle them for Namiko.

From that point on, he and Rin go to the foster center to visit Namiko three days a week. She doesn’t pay much mind to Sousuke and Rin until Aki lends a gentle hand in helping Namiko acknowledge them. It starts out with Aki asking Namiko to show the couple what she’s playing with and they praise her for it, but Namiko never offers any insight on what she likes about the toy or if she has a favorite. She does as she’s told, sometimes pats their arms, but doesn’t show any curiosity.

She’s the most emotionless child that Sousuke’s ever met, however, Namiko has no hesitation in displaying rage. Whenever a caretaker carries her into the playroom, she fights their hold like a rabid animal. Sousuke gathers that Namiko doesn’t like being picked up and prefers to be left alone, which doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to him in the grand scheme of things, but he supposes that with her being a child, those trust issues can lead to a lot of problems down the road.

Their forced to address said issues one evening when a woman carries Namiko into the play room; the girl fights as usual, but it seems that the continuous handling has started to fray her. Something fierce and protective sparks in Sousuke when he realizes that Namiko is crying while struggling out of the caretaker’s hold. Aki thinks this a good time to see how Sousuke and Rin handle the situation, so she leaves them alone with Namiko for the first time while she’s mentally shredded and physically spent.

Namiko cries while she forcefully lines some dolls up against the wall, roughly tearing a toy brush through their hair and shoving plastic shoes onto their feet. Rin sits in the floor with her, his wide-eyes on Sousuke, who can only shrug from the table because he has no idea what to do. All he can think of doing is holding the girl, and that makes him realize just how dire the situation is about her despising such contact.

Rin scoots closer to sit cross-legged beside Namiko as she continues to sniffle. Rin glances at his husband once more before clearing his throat, and he keeps his voice soft. “Namiko.”

She doesn’t respond, cramming layer after layer of outfits onto her dolls. Rin looks around and finds another dress in the toy bin, sliding it across the floor to her. Namiko blinks, eyes swollen and red-rimmed as she takes it. Her little hands quiver while she dresses a new doll in the dress, and Rin smiles sadly. “Does she have a name?”

The girl loses some of her frustrated tension, breathing hard before roughly wiping her nose on her sleeve. “Rosie,” Namiko answers.

Rin beams. “That’s a pretty name.”

“Yeah,” she croaks, brushing the doll’s hair more gently.

Rin’s eyes track the motion, his voice a quiet echo. “It’s really nice of you to be that careful with her. I bet it makes Rosie really happy.”

Namiko pauses but she doesn’t say anything. Sousuke gathers the courage to sit on the floor with them, moving slow and cautious. Namiko doesn’t flinch when he leans into her line of sight and tenderly, he asks, “Namiko, why didn’t you like that lady that brought you in here?”

Her eyes dart up to him. “It’s okay,” Sousuke reassures. “You’re okay.”

She smears across her tired eyes, rocking back and forth. Rin dares to run a hand down her hair and she tenses, but when he continues to keep his touch gentle, she sags into it. The girl doesn’t say anything for a long while, her eyes closing as she learns to enjoy the comfort. Rin combs his fingers through her hair like she did with her doll and gradually, Namiko replies to Sousuke’s question. “Wanna be ‘n the floor.”

He cranes back and looks down at her feet. They’re always bare; Aki explained that anytime a caretaker forces her into a pair of shoes, she immediately rips them off. He says, “You like to feel the floor? On your feet?”

She nods.

Rin’s eyes shine in realization as he turns to his husband. “Maybe it stimulates her somehow? The sensation on her feet, I mean. If someone picks her up… even if it were to just hug her, and she can’t feel the floor –”

Then she freaks out, of course. That makes sense – Namiko would rather touch Sousuke and Rin than speak to them, and her hands are in constant motion when she plays. She’s always twisting the knobs on the toy kitchenette, running her hands through a doll’s hair. She feels everything through her sense of touch.

Well, it’s not like they can chastise her for being afraid of someone embracing her, now that they know why. Rin brushes her messy curls out of her face and smiles. “Hugs can feel nice sometimes, actually.” She frowns and Rin nods at his husband. “It makes me happy when Sousuke hugs me. He can even pick me up.”

Her face scrunches incredulously and they chuckle. Sousuke pats the bottom of her foot. “If this is what makes you happy, it’s okay.”

For the first time, her expression loses its default sharpness. She looks down at her doll before offering it to him, and Sousuke takes it with a smile like never before.

He starts to look forward to the visits, rather than stepping into the foster center with a mess of nerves. The anticipation gets him through the work day and things get better between him and Rin at home, too – they talk excitedly about Namiko well past their usual bedtime and Sousuke works on completing her room every night after work.

The rest of their family grows excited for them as well; Makoto’s back doesn’t allow him to help out much with construction, but sometimes Haru comes over after dinner to hash out some sibling rivalry with Sousuke, bitching about how the support beams aren’t levelled. Haru’s no-iron-having-ass gets winded after nailing in three posts, but Sousuke privately likes the normalcy of their banter. It’s starting to feel like he has a real brother.

Natsuya is the best at construction despite that he’s sans a full set of fingers; he’s clever and makes it work. He finishes the evening’s tasks in half the expected time, but he likes to drink on the job so Sousuke keeps a supply of beer at the house for whenever he drops by. Asahi tries his best, meaning that he can’t tell a drill bit from a nail, though he’s good at morale. Nii likes cutting things up, which is disturbing but not unexpected. She knows how to work the saw table so that’s all that matters to Sousuke. Rin is content to sit in a lawn chair with a daiquiri and whistle at Sousuke’s ass whenever he bends over to set the baseboards.

As the training sessions progress, they’re taught how to handle Namiko’s specific traumas. Like Aki said, Namiko’s mother “passed away”, though that paperwork doesn’t depict the true horror of what happened – it’s common knowledge in the gang world that Ookami was murdered by Corro when Freebird fell. There’s no information about Namiko’s father and Sousuke assumes that Ookami doesen’t have any surviving family since nobody from the outskirts has tried to claim Namiko as their kin.

Sousuke and Rin go over some of Namiko’s files one night when they are too drained to make a proper dinner, instead opting for beer and pizza while Gou devours a case of hot wings with the excuse that teenagers have high metabolisms and becoming a world-class swimmer takes up a lot of energy. Both Sousuke and Rin are too tired to protest, and they spread Namiko’s paperwork across the kitchen table to research what they’re dealing with.

Rin’s eyes are hooded with sleepiness as he frowns at one paper. “Did you read these reports from families that have fostered her before?”

Sousuke jerks out of his half-unconscious state and downs his beer, hoping the buzz will keep him awake. “What? The one that says she bit people?”

“No, not that one. A couple of families said that she sneaks out of her bedroom window to sleep outside.”

“Jesus.” He reads over the paperwork and shudders. “Was she trying to just upset them?”

Rin shrugs, Sousuke’s big t-shirt rolling off his shoulder as he reaches to take the file back. “Maybe it’s got something to do with her being from the outskirts?” When Sousuke’s brow crease, Rin fumbles through an embarrassed gesture. “I mean, like, woods and shit. She might like being close to them, I don’t know.” He huffs and flops his legs into Sousuke’s lap. “Either way, we’ll probably have to figure out how to deal with it.”

Sousuke absently runs a hand over Rin’s smooth legs as he reads. Rin studies him with an evasive sip of his beer, mumbling, “You and Haru talked lately?”

He frowns, glancing up. “About what?”

“Nothing, nothing. Just wondering.”

“You’re never ‘just wondering’.”

Rin lazily opens his mouth wide for his tongue to loll out and Sousuke chuckles. Rin’s piercing clicks against his teeth as he plays with it and he says, “Haru mentioned anything about Mako?”

“Okay, what are you getting at?” He pushes the files away and crosses his arms. “Just say it.”

Rin smirks, feet pushing at Sousuke’s belly. “Don’t get all nervous~” His toes sneak under Sousuke’s t-shirt to wiggle against him. Sousuke pouts at the ticklish sensation and grabs Rin’s ankles to put them firmly back into his lap and Rin laughs, “I’m just bein’ nosy about Makoto and Haru. I want another wedding to get excited about.”

Sousuke sighs in dread. “Are you hinting that you’re still resentful about marrying me at the courthouse instead of having a real wedding?”

“No,” Rin says without hesitation. “I would have married you anywhere.” His smirk softens up. “It was still a good day, you were so sweet.”

Sousuke snorts, but his heart warms at the memory. “It was stifling in that office. I was sweating like a freak.”

“Because you were wired –”

“Uh, hell yeah, I only slept two hours that night. Momotarou gave me a Monster Energy and I had never drank one before. I thought I was having a heart attack – don’t giggle at me, I’m serious.”

Rin lifts his chin with an air of smugness. “Your fault for taking Sei’s 12-hour shift the night before we got married.”

Sousuke thumps his ankle. “God, do you remember how awkward it was in there? That guy at another desk kept eating his lunch during the ceremony.”

“It was tuna. I could have fuckin’ beat that dick. Don’t smirk at me, I didn’t mean it like that, I’m tipsy. And Haru had to ask that other lady to turn off her radio.”

“He scared the hell out of her. He doesn’t look anybody in the eye, but he did that day and that woman froze like stone.”

Rin wheezes with laughter. “Now I can’t hear Maroon 5 without having flashbacks, oh my god.” His eyes scrunch cutely as he laughs harder. “And why’d you have to tongue me down in front of everybody? Makoto squawked like a damn parakeet when you grabbed my ass.” 

“Because it was mine.” Sousuke grins.

His husband moves a hand through his hair, ruffling it. Rin subdues with fondness. “It was still the best day.” Sousuke gives him a look and Rin pinches his chin, tapping it with every word. “Even if it didn’t work out the way I thought it would.” He runs a single finger down Sousuke’s lips. “I just wanted you.” Rin kisses him with closed-mouth sweetness and chills rush to Sousuke’s fingers and toes.

He pecks Rin’s hand before cradling it against his heart. Sousuke keeps a straight face, though a smirk twitches at his mouth. “Our wedding night was fun too –”

Gou skips into the kitchen and Rin’s legs bolt out, sending Sousuke careening out of his chair and into the floor. Stripper legs, he thinks on the way to the chiropractor the next morning. He should never underestimate their strength.

Sousuke is still timid with Namiko and it reaches tenfold when Rin has to opt out of a visit due to broken air conditioning at Samezuka. The repair team comes hours after the scheduled appointment time, meaning that Sousuke is left sitting awkward as hell in the foster center play room with Namiko.

To a point, he likes that she entertains herself, but he needs to try and make some progress with her. He’s terrible at make-believe and so is she, therefore he attempts a more practical measure of quality time, which is reading. The foster center’s books are outdated by a few decades, but Namiko finds interest in one about animal characters on a journey through the forest. The sentences are five words at the most and Sousuke’s reading voice is embarrassingly bland, but she snuggles into his side and appears content.

Namiko stops him from turning the page and bolts upright, pointing to the cartoon wolf who’s supposed to be the villain in this bizarre story. Sousuke grins at the excitement on her face. “You like the wolf?”

Namiko nods and hugs her arms around his bicep as he turns to the next page; it’s an exaggerated depiction of the wolf blowing an entire clearing of trees down. “Mr. Wolf lets out a big roar,” Sousuke drones. “He huffs and puffs and scares Mr. Rabbit away." 

Namiko giggles like she’s delighted, and he realizes that he’s never heard her laugh before.

When the story is over, Namiko opens the book herself to look through the pictures again. Sousuke leans back on his hands, wondering, “Do you like animals?”

She nods. “I like big ones.”

“Me too,” he chuckles.

After a while, Namiko decides to color with him and he turns a flower red while she brings a blue sky to life. He notices her glancing out the window at the playground, so he offers to take her after he gets permission from one of the caretakers. They seem bewildered at how calm Namiko is with her hand in Sousuke’s, but they say that she can only go outside if she wears shoes.

Which is were the problem begins.

A woman leads him to the bunkroom that Namiko shares with three other girls under 24-hour supervision; hers is a bottom bunk with a small box of possessions underneath. Her clothes were obviously folded by an adult and her shoes are pristine from never being worn. There’s a comb with no strands caught in the teeth since she’s bad about brushing her hair, and Sousuke notices some pieces of gravel as well as pebbles, which he assumes is some sort of rock collection.

Of course, Namiko refuses the pair of little sneakers that Sousuke offers her, so he considers his options. “Your feet will get dirty if you don’t wear them.”

“Don’t care.” She makes her feet even more pigeon-toed in a stubborn gesture. Her feet are already grimy; therefore, he shouldn’t have expected that to matter to her.

Sousuke tries to find another angle. “You might get sick if you aren’t wearing shoes. You don’t want your feet to get cold, do you?”

She pushes her toes together even more.

He represses a sigh. “We can’t go outside unless you wear them. I’ll be out there with you, it’ll be fun.” He isn’t so sure about the latter part of that statement, but he’ll try his best.

That makes the girl pause. She looks down at her feet and wiggles her toes before curling them. She nods in acceptance and Sousuke almost collapses with the rush of victory.

Namiko refuses socks and Sousuke accepts it in favor of quickly tucking her feet into the sneakers. It’s as if she forgets how to walk straight as they head for the playground, yanking on Sousuke’s hand every time she stumbles. He doesn’t offer to pick her up since that would definitely shatter any trust she has in him, though he hates seeing her so frustrated with walking.

The evening brings forth cool relief, the playground equipment still warm from the summer day. There’re a few kids playing on the jungle gym and Sousuke gives their caretaker an awkward smile when she waves. Namiko doesn’t wave back at her, hiding behind Sousuke’s leg.

He tugs her hand and nods at the other children. “Do you want to go play with them?”

“No,” she spews harshly like he’s hurt her feelings.

He gently shakes his head. “You don’t have to, it’s okay.” The training sessions have a strict insistence about getting Namiko to socialize, but Sousuke isn’t exactly talkative himself. That’s Rin’s department.

Maybe there’s a different way to help Namiko out of her shell. Nagisa, ever the art teacher, talked about the importance of expression, so Sousuke and Namiko go over to the sandbox by themselves and he helps her build a castle. It’s not like painting a picture with lots of messy colors, but it’s something.

Namiko uses her fingers to dig a moat around their castle, blowing her lips and making a trickling sound to pretend water is filling it. Affection curls happily in Sousuke’s chest.

Namiko then sits back and looks around. “Need somethin’ to watch castle.”


She looks at him like he’s stupid. “I don’t got all’gators.”

“Oh.” He didn’t realize that animals couldn’t be make-believe in her world. He glances around the playground. “Um…”

“Ah-ha!” She vaults over the edge of the sandbox and Sousuke startles because trained soldiers dart out of the pits slower than her. Namiko rakes her fingers through the mud and thrusts her hand up victoriously with a fistful of worms.

He watches in a stupor as she places the worms into the sandcastle moat and they wiggle through it. She wipes her nasty hands on her shorts and beams expectantly.

Sousuke shuts his gaping mouth and clears his throat. “That’s great, Namiko. Really smart.” Christ, Momotarou would love this kid and how unabashed she is about greasy bugs.

It’s clear that she gets bored in the sandbox, but she stays put and refuses to move to another section of the playground while other children are occupying it. Sousuke studies her, keeping his voice gentle. “Why don’t you want to play with them?”

“I’m not playin’ with ‘em,” she yells, scrambling backward like she thinks he’ll grab her. The caretakers on the playground bench look over at them and Sousuke winces through a reassuring wave.

He turns his attention back to Namiko and keeps himself lax as he props back on his hands. Her stare is bruising and Sousuke fears that he’s messed all of this up. “Namiko,” he says, levelling their gazes. “I am not going to drag you over there and make you play with anyone. All right?”

She flinches when exasperation slips into his voice. She doesn’t scream again, but she looks so defeated as she sniffles. Namiko rips her shoes off to dig her toes in the sand with a trembling exhale. Her face bunches up, trying not to cry; she looks alone and like she’s accepted it.

An idea sparks amongst Sousuke’s regret. He unlaces his field boots and peels off his socks, which Rin makes fun of him for since they’re long and white and “what old men wear,” according to his dear husband. Her expression freezes in a slate of disbelief as he buries his feet in the sand like she did but then Sousuke pauses. Looming awareness pours over him like a flood of ice water; it’s a tick of paranoia that comes to life with strobe light flashes of memory.

He remembers burying his feet in Afghanistan sand. It wasn’t for leisure; it saved his life, clogging wounds after a landmine went off during a patrol. Echo wasn’t hurt but another detection dog, the one that stepped on the landmine, didn’t make it. He exploded with his handler, ribbons of them stretching a mile across the landscape’s tan. Their guts were hot on Sousuke’s face, in his eyes, the hot odor of them in his mouth, the sand like pure fire where his toenails flew off in the blast.

Sharply, he comes back to himself with ringing in his ears and a headache. A stone would be less rigid than him. It appears that he didn’t outwardly react to the flashback while he disassociated, other than breaking out in a sweat. Sousuke tries to focus on how nice the sand feels, soft and unthreatening.

Slowly, Namiko looks up from his buried feet to his eyes. Her features twitch before brightening and her expression settlles in contentment. Sousuke jumps when her toe pokes him under the sand and her nose bunches up as she giggles.

They slowly rebuild the momentary falter between them; they use their fingers to draw in the sand and Sousuke is pathetic at it, but he praises every lopsided star she makes. They both look to the jungle gym when the children’s laughter picks up, their delight tangible in the air. Namiko’s eyes change while she watches them, then she quickly looks down. She peeks a glance at Sousuke, who lifts his brows but doesn’t press for more. She sighs and picks up her shoes to make a point. “Mine.”

He frowns and she sweeps up all the plastic sandcastle molds. “Mine.”

Gradually, he understands. “You don’t like to share.”

She nods stubbornly and puts a hand on Sousuke’s arm. “Rin. Shu’suke. Mine.”

A watery burn swells behind his eyes and he blinks rapidly. He’s never almost cried so quickly in his life, but he manages to hold it off until he’s in the foster center parking lot. He throws up from the flashback, holds his breath as much as he can on the drive home, and lets it all out like an explosion the moment he gets home. Rin holds him after Sousuke collapses loudly in the entry way; he cradles Sousuke’s head against his stomach while rocking him, hushing him for hours.  

Sousuke falls apart that night for so many reasons, but mostly because he didn’t want to leave that poor girl all alone at the foster center.

He and Rin complete their training sessions after countless night classes and workshops. He didn’t anticipate this one step of the journey to be so endless. Rin left plenty of classes in tears because it was just too much information to consume and he had to learn every word of it; Sousuke spent a lot of time with a 2 AM bottle of vodka because the stress induced more flashbacks from the war, and he used alcohol to drown the memories of iron and sand.

He had accepted that those fallouts were built into him now, but then he realized that he can’t be doing this shit with a child in the house. He decided to be more honest at the weekly support groups he sometimes went to at the veteran’s center, and it helped, as did Makoto.

They stop at Seven Tears after one of those support groups and Makoto suddenly looks up from his baked salmon. “Do you not try to wake Rin up when you have nightmares?”

Sousuke pauses in chewing his fried shrimp. He swallows and takes a drink of stale beer. “No,” he grumbles. “Why the hell would I? He’s dead on his feet when he comes home. He works longer shifts than I do at Samezuka; he’s running a business, for Christ’s sake.”  

Makoto waves his hands as if to push Sousuke’s nonsense away from him. “Kay, I get that, but you know he’s better at functioning on no sleep than any of us, right? I mean, he kind of had to live like that, at one point.” He lifts his brows with a pointed look. “He told me what he used to do back when him and Haruka were all… Miami Vice.”

“Now that’s a conversation I would have loved to witness, you prude.”

“Ha,” Makoto drones, eyes flat behind his glasses. “I’ll tell Haruka you called me that, I haven’t heard him laugh hard in a while.”

Sousuke represses a shudder at what Makoto is insinuating before Makoto kicks him under the table and refocuses. “Anyway, my point is that it would probably – no, definitely help if you let him be there for you when it comes to nightmares. Or literally anything else, but you move through life in baby steps and we’ll just have to work with that.”

Sousuke flops back in the booth. “How did this become an intervention about my marriage? Did Rin put you up to this?”

“Uh, no? How could he when he doesn’t even know about it?” Makoto smugly flies a chip into his mouth. “It’s pretty obvious what’s going on since you insinuated at support group that you’d rather hug a bottle than a real person.”

Sousuke flinches because shit, Makoto cuts deep into a heart when he’s doing it out of love. “Look,” Makoto says, sobering up. “All I’m saying is that I would be a mess if Haruka wasn’t there when I wake up screaming.”

Sousuke breathes a weak laugh, void of humor. “Sounds like a mess if you’re waking up screaming in general.”

“Don’t be cheeky, it’s not cute on you.” Makoto gives him a teasing smile. “I’m safe with Haruka. And when I’m still caught up in a flashback and can’t get that nobody is really coming after me, I know that he’s going to protect me. He tells me that over and over.”

Sousuke’s heart softens at that.

“Rin’s not going to let you beat yourself up over things you can’t change,” Makoto says, voice hushed with gentleness. “That’s what’s consuming you right now, yeah? All the guilt. And you’re worried that you’ll mess things up all over again with Namiko?”

Sousuke pulls in a deep breath and looks away hard, struggling to force emotions down. “I just want to get her out of that foster center,” he admits to the wall. “It hurts when me and Rin leave her because I know what it’s like to be crammed in like sardines in overrun places like that. I remember what it was like to stare up at ceiling after ceiling of different foster houses, knowing that nobody in the world really loved me.” His eyes sink closed under the weight of grief, his voice rent with it. “Mako, I don’t want that for her.”

His eyes open when he feels Makoto nudge him under the table, his prosthetic unyielding and insistent. Makoto smiles like Sousuke is the most endearing idiot to ever walk the planet. “Loving someone is easy,” he whispers, leaning to meet Sousuke’s downcast gaze. “It’s the easiest part out of all of this and you’re afraid that you’re gonna get it wrong?”

Understanding works through Sousuke, dawning on his face. Makoto huffs, grinning, “Sousuke, Jesus. This isn’t a mission, it’s a kid. You don’t need a strategy for it, just love her. That’s what you needed when you were a kid and that’s what she needs now.” He pats Sousuke’s hand on the table. “That’s what you and Rin will give her.”

He’s still dazed from the epiphany when Ikuya drags his feet over to their table. The boy pulls out one of his earbuds, dead-eyed with boredom as he talks in sighs. “One check or two?”

“Just one, thanks,” Makoto pipes before Sousuke can even say anything. Ikuya rips off some paper from his notepad and drops it on the table for Makoto to slyly push it over to Sousuke. He stammers as Ikuya walks away but the boy already put his earbuds back in.

Sousuke glares. Makoto beams like pure fucking sunshine.

So Makoto might be a doe-eyed dick of all trades, but his advice was a good reason to be more open with Rin, even though it meant that Sousuke had to shake him awake after every single nightmare. Rin never complained and Sousuke hates himself for thinking that he would – Rin’s killed people and watched friends die, too. If anyone can share Sousuke’s bed and open his arms to the warzone of guilt and horror, it’s his husband.

They pass Aki’s home check and Namiko does well when they bring Winnie to the foster center to meet her, but Namiko opens up like never before when Sousuke brings Echo to the foster center.

Namiko swings on the playground while Rin pushes her, but the girl digs her shoes into the ground once she notices the massive dog. She hurries over and Echo gets frazzled under all of Namiko’s excited touches. The dog looks up at Sousuke, bug-eyed and stiff, earning a chuckle out of him.

His laugh cuts short when Namiko grins wide and throws her head back to sing a howl.

It’s a sweet yet baffling sound; Rin and Sousuke cower as every set of eyes turn to them on the playground. Namiko stops howling and jumps up and down hopefully, curls bouncing, but Echo remains silent. The girl’s mouth wobbles as tears well in her eyes.

Sousuke snaps his fingers at Echo and points his thumb to the sky, making the dog’s fur bristle. She throws her nose up and howls proudly.

Namiko radiates light. The girl howls with her and finally, finally she shines with the happiness that she deserves.

“She must think that Echo’s a wolf,” Rin laughs, delighted.

Sousuke grins at him. “I think Namiko believes she’s a wolf, too.”

“Well, I’m not gonna tell her,” Rin whispers playfully. He puts an arm around Sousuke’s waist and rests his cheek against his good shoulder. “She’s gonna be our little wolf, Sousuke. Finally.”

Gou does well when she meets Namiko. She fawns over the girl, braiding her hair, telling her that she has a dollhouse from when she was little and Namiko can have it all to herself. Namiko seems confused by that and asks if Gou is going to bring the dollhouse to her, which leads to Sousuke and Rin having the conversation with her that they’ve nervously anticipated for so long. 

The next evening, they sit in playroom floor with Namiko as Sousuke reads her some animal books that he borrowed from Ren and Ran. Namiko sits in Rin’s lap on the floor and it’s considered a grand success across the entire foster center; she snuggles into his arms and blinks drowsily while he rubs her scalp in slow, affectionate circles. Her head bobs as she fights sleep and Rin smiles, looking at peace with everything in the world, with everything that he’s ever done.

After they finish the book, he looks at Sousuke over Namiko’s head and Sousuke nods encouragingly. Rin braces himself and sets the girl in the floor, causing her to pout sleepily. Rin laughs and frames her face with a coo. “Did you get tired?”

She shakes her head exuberantly and he pats her cheeks before leaning back. Rin just sits there looking like he has an adorable case of stage fright. Sousuke takes his hand and clears his throat to do it for him. “Namiko, do you like it here at the foster center?”

She rubs her eyes and blinks. Glances around, shrugs. “It’s warm.”

He huffs, feeling a bit light-headed. “Yeah.” Sousuke folds the hem of his shirt. “Did you like getting to go somewhere else when you spent time with different families?”

She fiddles with her hands. “No. Mean.”

A rush of protectiveness bolts through Sousuke but he tries to remember that in the training classes, they learned that young children tend to exaggerate the experiences they have with foster families, so the truth might never be known. Sousuke knows there were never any cases of foster-neglect in Namiko’s reports, but still, he doesn’t like any of this.

Tenderly, Rin stops her from picking at her cuticles by taking her hand. “Well, Sousuke and I really like coming here and spending time with you.” She nods in agreement and Rin looks faint with relief. “A-And we were wondering – just wondering – if coming to our house and spending time with us there would make you happy.” His voice gives a hopeful crack. “We would be there, and so would Gou and the dogs, and Miss Aki would come by all the time to make sure that you were still happy.”

Namiko doesn’t have an outward reaction; Sousuke and Rin hold their breath for what feels like hours, then she mumbles, “You wouldn’t have t’ go bye-bye?”

It’s a miracle that Rin doesn’t burst into tears. Sousuke’s no better, if he’s being honest.

“No,” Sousuke husks, the lump in his throat aching. “No, we wouldn’t have to go bye. You’d be at home with us.”

It looks like she still isn’t grasping it and Sousuke is breaths away from an aneurysm. Rin remembers how she understands things through touch and cradles one of her little hands, folding Sousuke’s hand over them both.

“Nami,” Rin says. “Sousuke and I want to be your parents.”

She stares down at all their hands, lets his words run through her. When she looks up at them, her skin flushes with emotion that she cannot voice, and her eyes are wet like stars on a black sea. “Oh,” she croaks, gasping a laugh. Her face twists with gushing tears and she careens at them, and they both catch her in a stupor.

Emotion shoots through Sousuke and Rin as they hold her together. Sousuke doesn’t remember anything else. Doesn’t need to.

They won’t be able to adopt her right away. Like Aki said, they’ll need to foster Namiko for a few months to see how things go before they can get even remotely close to an adoption certificate – but as it turns out, the fostering process is faster than anticipated.

The next day, Sousuke and Rin take off work to sprint like maniacs through the local home décor boutique. Quite honestly, Sousuke feels more out of place than being in enemy territory, but he’s thankful that Rin thinks of everything and already asked Namiko what kind of bedroom she wanted. “Can you believe she looked me dead in the face and told me ‘one with a bed’? She’s so sassy. When I asked her for more than that, she looked at me like I didn’t finish high school and said ‘pillows’.”

“But you didn’t finish high school.”

“G.E.D., jerk. Fuck with me.”  

Sousuke looks up at the towering racks of nothing but pillows. “God, we’re screwed. We can’t even pick out the one essential thing she said that she wanted.”

Rin eyes the pillows, which are blank and stiff – built for necessity rather than style. His brow is arched and unimpressed with his husband. “Well, maybe if we weren’t in the ‘I sleep in my recliner and jack off alone with TV political debates in the background’ section, we’d have better luck.”

He drags Sousuke by the arm to the kids department and Sousuke stumbles along, babbling, “Wait, the fuck, I had some of those throw pillows on my couch –”

“I know baby, that’s why we burned them after I moved in.”

The kids department is a world of pinks and blues and lots of overpriced nonsense. Sousuke puts his hands on his hips, already winded. “I don’t know what her favorite color is. I’ve never seen her wear pink. She likes drawing skies. Maybe she likes blue?”

“You don’t do a kid’s bedroom in just one color, you gotta have a theme,” Rin stresses. “Shit, we should have brought Gou.”

“She’s at school.”

He whines and buries his face in his hands. Sousuke grimaces as a baby wails a few aisles over and tries, “Look, how about we just get the basic stuff this time – I mean, we don’t even have a crib for her yet.”

“She’s three, she needs a toddler bed.”

“… I’ll let you figure out what that is, but what I’m saying is let’s just get the necessities and let her pick out the other stuff later.”

Rin’s head lolls all the way to the side like he’s never been more bored. “You really think she’s gonna feel welcomed if she walks into an all-white bedroom like some creepy-ass dreamscape? Military bed corners aren’t fun, Sou.”

He reels, then deflates. Grumbling, he walks back in the direction of the cash registers. “I’m gonna go apply for a store credit card.”

“Good boy~”

Thank fuck almighty they find a section of forest-themed décor. Rin has a field day while Sousuke adverts his gaze from the price tags and pushes the cart, though his wariness improves after Rin shows him tree-printed curtains and sheets dotted with antler silhouettes.

He even smiles when Rin finds a shark plushie. Sousuke says, “That for her or you?”

“Let’s get one, just one.”

“Her bedroom is forest-themed; sharks aren’t in the woods, Rin.”

“Oh my god, let me live.”

So, they get the shark plushie along with a carload of bags. They stop for espresso on the way home because they’re going to have to pull an all-nighter if they want to complete Namiko’s room before they start fostering her the next day.  

Sousuke’s thankful for a group of friends that are quick on their feet and hurry over to help the moment Rin texts them. Seijuro brings over a toddler bed that his oldest daughter used, and he claps Sousuke on the back with exuberance. “Finally joining the Dad Squad, eh? Trust me, it’s a blast.”

Sousuke rubs the new sore spot on his side, though he grins hopefully. “Really?”

Seijuro coughs tightly as he ducks a little closer. “Well, my house always smells like soured juice and Yazaki won’t give me a handjob to save my life, but it’s cool. They have kids detective shows now and I used at least half their lines in questioning last month.”

Sousuke’s left eye twitches. “Oh.”

“Anyway.” He claps Sousuke on the back again and he almost flies through the wall. “I’m real excited for you guys, Sayaka is Namiko’s age so feel free to bring her by the house whenever. I built this kick ass jungle gym, holy shit. You could hold basic training in that course. This is a nice big closet you built, it’s great. You guys have Namiko’s clothes somewhere else, or…?”

Sousuke’s stomach drops and somehow, Rin hears Seijuro’s question from across the house. His wail of “oh, TITS!” is muffled and damning because they fucking forgot that a kid needs clothes to wear.

Seijuro promises to bring lots of Sayaka’s clothes by in the morning, but he can’t stay tonight to put the toddler bed together since Aki is too close to her due date to be at home alone for too long. This leads to Sousuke getting a knock on the front door and Nao stands there, offering up his husband with that smile of eerie serenity. “Natsuya comes bearing the one thing he’s good at.”  

Nao pushes him into the house and Natsuya clutches his toolbox to his chest, looking like a lost child on his first day of school. Natsuya pouts out his husband. “I’m good at other things.”

“Writing drunken poetry in a Shakespearian rage doesn’t count, dearheart.”

“Heh, well, you know I’m good at –”

Rin tosses him a beer to shut him up and Natsuya gets to work on the toddler bed. Sousuke and Makoto almost brawl over struggling to assemble a dresser; Rin bought the wrong sized sheets, but Haru hems them by hand and teaches Gou how to sew an even line.   

Around eleven, Nagisa and Rei drop by with half a dozen McDonalds bags for the group to stress-binge on. “Wow,” Nagisa breathes, twirling around to take in the bedroom. “It’s really coming along!”

Rei surveys the room with his standard ramrod posture, stroking his chin. “It looks safe as well. I appreciate that you bought outlet covers and guards for all the furniture corners.”

“Thanks,” Rin laughs, pulling off his hair tie to shake out the strands. Sousuke’s too busy devouring his second hamburger to reply, but he nods. Rin says, “I think we probably would have been fine without all the safety precautions, but still, I wanted to be sure.”

Nagisa glances around, his frown making Sousuke anxious because he does not want to endure late-night traffic to go buy something else that they forgot. Nagisa says, “You don’t have a rocking chair?”

Slowly, Sousuke and Rin look at each other. “No,” Sousuke chews. “I mean, she’s three.”

Makoto gives a scandalized gasp, which is muffled from where he’s buried in discarded cardboard. “Sousuke, don’t say something like that! All little kids love to be rocked to sleep!”

Haru glances away from sewing to give the mountain of cardboard a look. “You mean that you love it when I rock you to sleep in bed.”

“It’s a biological comfort –”

“I think it’d be a good idea to have a rocking chair,” Nagisa pipes. “I know Nami-chan doesn’t like to be held, but a rocking chair might help her learn to, yeah?”

Sousuke’s food goes cold in his mouth because shit, how could they not realize that?  

It really takes a village to raise a kid, or more like, it takes a village literally just to get ready for a kid, because Kisumi comes through with a rocking chair. “It’s a little dingey!” he calls from the porch while Asahi and Sousuke wrestle the chair through the doorway. Kisumi beams when Nao offers him some wine that Sousuke doesn’t know the origins of. Kisumi says, “It’s the old chair I used to rock Hayato in –” He pauses while Asahi barks at Sousuke to pivot. He waits for Sousuke to curse back at him before continuing. “—but, you know, since my brother is thirteen now, it’s probably time to give it up.” He gives a wistful tut as he swivels his wine glass. “They grow up so fast.”

“Trust me,” Nao drones as he watches Natsuya, who’s got his tongue pinched between his teeth as he rolls his burger wrapper into the shape of a rose. “They don’t.” His smile is exasperated as he accepts the flower from his husband.

Rin makes Sousuke and Asahi place the rocking chair in every single corner of the room before he settles on a spot by the window, and a few hours later, the room is finally complete. Natsuya sits proudly on the floor and seizes Nao around the legs, preening up at him. “Nao darling, let’s do it. Let’s have a baby.”

“No.” He keeps immaculate balance with his husband leeched around his thighs, never spilling a drop of his wine. “You alone are enough children for me.” Though he ruffles Natsuya’s curls as he says it.

Everyone offers their congratulations before taking their leave. Echo and Winnie sniff all the new furniture while Percy lounges on the dresser; Rin and Sousuke lie in the center of the floor, sweaty and sore from the vigorous work.

Rin rolls over onto his stomach and props up on his elbows to look around. “It turned out so nice.”

Sousuke jerks and wakes up mid-snore. “Mmph-huh,” he yawns, snuggling his cheek into the small of Rin’s back. “Looks real nice, yup.” His eyes aren’t even open.

Rin throws a fond smirk over his shoulder and reaches around to pat Sousuke’s ass. “You did real good, baby. I’m proud of you.”

Rin sighs and something about the noise makes Sousuke opens his eyes. Rin tucks his hands under his chin as he looks around the room, and his voice is quiet in the stillness. “I remember how excited Gou was when me ‘n Haru got her out of the foster center and brought her home to the beach cabin. I wonder if this will feel the same way.”

“How did you feel back then?”

Rin looks up at all the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. “Like I did somethin’ right.”  

“You are doing something right.” Sousuke laces their hands together, their wedding rings clicking. He shimmies up to lie beside Rin, propping up on his elbows as well, and his whisper sounds giddy. “We’re gonna be parents.”

“I know,” Rin whispers back with tangible excitement, nuzzling Sousuke’s nose. “I love you. Fuck, I love you so much it hurts.” He’s on the verge of tears with it.

He cups Rin’s face and Rin looks as if Sousuke stole the moon for him. Sousuke smiles, “I love you more.”

When Rin kisses him, it’s like raw sugar.