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sing me a song (and i'll sing along)

Chapter Text

So sing me a song
I know all the words to
And I'll sing along
Could you be my savior?

"Someone Like You," Boys Like Girls

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 - Spring Semester



[April]


Suoh Mikoto woke to a tiny finger prodding at his cheek.

“Mikoto,” a soft voice whispered.

He grumbled something unintelligible in return, still too sleepy to make words.

“Mikoto,” the voice said again, and so he opened one eye. It was Anna, of course, peering at him from beside his bed, standing too closely, as she tended to do.

“What?” he asked, his gravelly morning voice menacing to anyone but Anna.

“I’m going to school.” She watched him expectantly.

He sighed, because that meant it was ridiculously early in the morning, especially considering how late he’d gone to bed. “Okay,” he said. Anna still lingered by his bedside, so he gave her a gentle pat on the head. “Do your best.”

“Anna!” Kusanagi called from downstairs.

Anna smiled a tiny smile and then scurried off through the door, towards Kusanagi, who had, by an unspoken agreement, been the one to take up the more parental morning duties, like feeding her breakfast and making sure that her school bag was packed with the right books, her homework, and a surprisingly carefully-made bento.

Mikoto rolled over when he heard the door close and let his eyes flutter shut.

It had been more than a year since Anna had moved in, and Mikoto was still not used to having someone around who was so happy to see him that they had to wake him up in the morning just to say goodbye.

Alone in the quiet apartment, he drifted into a restless sleep.

 

*

 

When Kusanagi Izumo had imagined, as a teenager, what his mid- to late-twenties might be like, he hadn’t thought it would be quite like this. While he was indeed running his uncle’s bar, as he’d always planned, it wasn’t exactly how he’d pictured it: impressing gorgeous women with his cocktails and gourmet cooking. Instead, he was standing in his bar in the late afternoon, cutting up fruit into bite-size pieces for an eleven-year-old girl, who was sitting in front of him, scrawling on her homework worksheet with a look of pure concentration that was, quite frankly, terrifying on a kid her age.

“How was school today, Anna?” he asked casually as he placed the fruit into an arrangement that was perhaps a little elaborate for a kid’s snack; it wasn’t his fault, though, that his experience with food had been in preparation for an adult clientele, and not quasi-parenthood.

“Good,” Anna replied, quiet as ever. Izumo paused, surprised at her answer. She usually shrugged, or said nothing.

She’d just finished her first week of the sixth grade, her last year of elementary school, and this was the first time she’d ever said that school had been good.

If Izumo had learned anything about Anna in the time she’d been with him and Mikoto full-time, it was that she was quiet and mature for her age. She was smart, sometimes too smart, and those qualities weren’t always popular with kids her age. He couldn’t help but worry about what school might be like for Anna.

“Yeah?” Curious, Izumo asked, “What class was your favorite?”

Anna’s pencil stilled and she looked up at him. “Music,” she said, and that answer surprised him, too.

“Music, eh? That’s fun,” he said. “Did you get to play an instrument?”

Anna shook her head.

“Sing?”

She shook her head again. “I liked listening to Sensei singing his songs,” she murmured. “There’s one about butterflies. It’s pretty.”

A little shocked, Izumo tried to remember if he’d met any music teachers at Anna’s school last year that were men. He vaguely recalled an older lady with a tight bun and raisin-like mole on her chin. “You don’t have, uh, Ashiya-sensei this year?”

“She retired,” Anna said. “Sensei is new.”

“Oh. Well, that’s nice.”

A body plopped down sluggishly on the barstool beside Anna, and she immediately gave it her whole attention. “Mikoto,” she said, in the particularly tender tone she reserved for Mikoto.

Mikoto nodded at her and patted her head, and Anna went back to her homework, smiling a little. Izumo chuckled. Anna’s attachment to Mikoto had been amusing at first, but now that Honami was gone, Izumo was grateful for it.

“Do you have anything for us, Anna?” Izumo asked, because parents were usually given the weekly newsletter on Fridays.

She nodded and pulled a paper from her tiny red backpack.

Izumo scanned the different announcements and notices for parents, looking for the important dates list. He sighed when he found it. “The first parent-teacher conference is next week.” Mikoto just blinked at him sleepily, even though it was well into the afternoon. “You’re going,” Izumo said sharply, and Mikoto frowned. “I gotta meet vendors that afternoon. Besides, I had to go to everything last year, since you decided to have a fistfight with Munakata-sensei.”

No, Mikoto had not made a very good impression on Anna’s homeroom teacher last year, and so Izumo had been the diplomat and attended every parent-teacher meeting and class event. This year, Mikoto owed him.

Mikoto grumbled, but he was smirking, and Izumo knew that he didn’t feel a shred of remorse for starting a fight with a teacher like the teenage delinquent he used to be. Beside Mikoto, Anna’s eyes were still focused on her worksheet, but her lips were pursed. Izumo could tell that she was trying to fight a smile, and he wanted to smack Mikoto for that, too.

“Fine,” Mikoto sighed.

Realistically, unleashing Mikoto on an elementary school parent-teacher meeting had a fifty-percent chance of ending in disaster, because parents, and adults in general, tended not to respond well to him. Perhaps it was his intimidating gaze or the ever-present frown, but something about Mikoto just screamed “I’ve been in fights with the scariest people in the city.” But the wary parents and teachers would just have to learn to deal with it, because they still had seven more years of Anna’s schooling to get through, and Izumo wasn’t a single father, damn it.

 

*

 

Totsuka Tatara tapped his foot impatiently. He looked down at his watch as the ancient staff room copy machine whirred noisily. The meeting would be starting any minute now.

This was his first parent-teacher conference, so he was excited, if not a little nervous. He wasn’t a homeroom teacher, so he wouldn’t be hosting his own meeting, but since Takeda-san had offered to mentor him for his first year, she’d also offered to let him sit in on her conference and help out. While Takeda-san was greeting parents, Tatara had been tasked with making copies of the documents that she’d made for them, listing rules and important events for their school year. Later, during the mixer, he’d be in the auditorium with the rest of the teachers to answer parents’ questions about music and art classes.

He was on his way back to Takeda-san’s class from the staff room, piles of copies balanced precariously in his arms, when he stopped in his tracks.

A man was hovering awkwardly in the hallway.

An interesting man.

He was young, younger than any of the parents Tatara had seen so far, dressed in black jeans and a white T-shirt. He was handsome, almost intimidatingly so, with his red hair and fiery golden eyes.

Good thing Tatara wasn’t easily intimidated.

He let himself stare for far too long before realizing that he should probably help the guy, seeing as he was a teacher at this school and all. He walked up to the man, smiling politely. “Good afternoon,” Tatara said brightly, bowing a little. “Can I help you with something?”

The man blinked down at him--he was tall, too--and he looked so grumpy and out of place that Tatara couldn’t help but chuckle.

He found it hard to believe that this man was a parent, but he figured that he could be a brother or a guardian, and so he smiled again. “I can show you to your classroom if you’d like. Who are you looking for?” The man still said nothing, eyebrows furrowed, and there was something about that gaze that made Tatara’s pulse quicken. After a moment, Tatara realized he should probably introduce himself, because he probably seemed young to this man, too. “I’m Totsuka Tatara,” he continued. “I’m a teacher here.”

Slowly, the man took a crumpled paper from his back pocket and unfolded it. “Takeda,” he said, and his voice was deep. Tatara fought back a shiver.

“Ah, what a coincidence!” Tatara chirped. “I’m actually headed there now. You can just follow me.” He continued his trek to Takeda-san’s room, and after a beat the man trailed behind him.

Once at the classroom door, Tatara glanced behind him, and the man hesitated. “Here,” Tatara said, handing him the tall stack of papers with a wink. His fingers brushed the man’s arm, and he couldn’t help but notice how warm his skin was.

Tatara pushed through the door and bowed when all the parents turned their attention to him. He smiled. “Good afternoon! Sorry we’re late. This young man was nice enough to help me carry the class papers.” He tilted his head to the man beside him.

The parents let out a soft wave of laughter, probably since Tatara was just a young man himself.

He took the stack of papers from the man. “Thank you!” He smiled brightly. He passed out papers amongst the parents as the man found an empty seat in a desk at the back of the room. When he was done, Tatara sat in a corner at the front of the room, beside Takeda-san’s desk, to observe the meeting. Takeda-san had obviously already introduced herself, and now the parents were going around the room with their own introductions.

When it was the young man’s turn, Tatara had to cover a smile with his hand because the man was scowling. The other parents shifted awkwardly, some of them whispering to each other.

“Suoh Mikoto,” he said shortly. “Kushina Anna’s… guardian.”

The other parents had included some questions for Takeda-san or concerns about their children and the upcoming school year. They all waited to see if he was going to say anything else, but when it was obvious he wasn’t, the mother beside him started her introduction with a nervous stutter.

Tatara’s amused smile softened. Anna was a sweet girl. He’d heard some of the teachers whispering about how reserved she was, about how she’d had a rough childhood and was now living with guardians. He didn’t need to know the exact details of her circumstances for his heart to ache for her with a certain kind of understanding. Tatara was pretty good at dealing with the quiet kids--with quiet people, really-- and so he’d quickly decided that he’d keep an eye on Anna this year.

He tried to imagine this gruff man, Suoh Mikoto, with Anna, and it was an adorable picture, really.

Tatara watched the rest of the meeting unfold from his spot in the corner until one of the more vocal parents asked who he was. “I’m Totsuka Tatara,” he said, standing up. “I teach music and art.”

“It’s Totsuka-sensei’s first year as a teacher,” Takeda-san added. “I invited him to observe our conference, since he’s still learning.”

The mother nodded, satisfied. Tatara felt eyes on him, and when he glanced over, Suoh Mikoto was watching him. Tatara smiled gently until he looked away.

It felt like a game, and Tatara had to remind himself to pay attention to the meeting, his first parent-teacher meeting, instead of the thrill that shot up his spine when he turned to see if he was still being watched.

When the meeting ended, Tatara stood beside Takeda-san and bowed to the parents, thanking them for attending. He watched Suoh Mikoto leave, and frowned at how the parents eyed him with far too much judgment for someone who carved time out of their afternoon to sit in a child’s classroom. Just before he was out of Tatara’s sights, Suoh Mikoto glanced back and their eyes met. Heat bloomed in Tatara’s cheeks, and in his belly, lingering long after the parents had emptied from the room.

He made his way to the auditorium, where there were refreshments and snacks, to greet parents from other grades. He answered questions about his plans for music and art, and a few more invasive ones about his own qualifications. His eyes sought out red hair and fierce eyes for the rest of the afternoon, but they never appeared. Tatara wasn’t surprised, really. Why would he come, when the parents had looked at him like that?

After the crowd had cleared out in the late afternoon, Tatara helped Takeda-san and the rest of the teachers clean up. “Thank you for letting me watch today, Takeda-san,” he said.

She smiled and patted his arm. “You know, if you’d like, you can help me with the home visits next month.”

“We still do those here?” he asked, a little surprised. Many schools had phased those out years ago.

She chuckled. “Yes, I guess our school is a little old-fashioned. It’s a lot of work,” she warned. “I’m getting too old for it, anyways.”

Tatara laughed politely. “Sure,” he said. “I’d be happy to help.”

 

*

 

Mikoto took his time walking home from the school. He lit a cigarette, and all the tension he’d felt all afternoon, stuck in a room with annoying parents, that old lady, and that strange kid, bled out of him with every drag.

He let himself nap for a few hours when he got home, since he’d had so little sleep the night before. When he wandered out of his room early in the evening, Kusanagi and Anna were both in the living room, staring at her homework, which was sprawled across the coffee table.

“Hey,” Kusanagi said.

“Yo,” Mikoto replied, slumping into his favorite chair.

“How was it?”

“How was what?”

Kusanagi gave him an unimpressed look. “The parent-teacher conference.”

He shrugged. “It was fine.”

“Okay.” Kusanagi waited for more, and when it was obvious that Mikoto wasn’t going to elaborate, he prompted, “You met Takeda-san?”

“Yeah.”

“What was she like?”

Mikoto considered. “Old,” he said eventually.

“Thank you, Mikoto,” Kusanagi said dryly. “That’s real helpful.”

Mikoto sighed. “I introduced myself, the parents gawked and me, and the teacher talked.” He stood to grab the documents he’d left on the entranceway table before heading to sleep, and handed them to Kusanagi, trying to ignore the afterimage of the bright smile of the person who’d distributed them. “Here.”

Kusanagi scanned the papers. “Hmm. And you didn’t punch anyone?”

Mikoto snorted. “No.”

“Then I’d say this year was a success, I guess.” Kusanagi stood. “I’m gonna go get some work done,” he said, and then it was just Mikoto and Anna.

She looked up from her papers. “You met Takeda-sensei?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

She stared at him. “Did you meet Tatara?”

He scowled at her. Sometimes, he thought she could read his mind. “Yeah,” he said again.

She watched him for a moment longer, and then returned her focus to her homework. “I like him,” she murmured.

Mikoto lit a cigarette and watched her work. Something about the way that Totsuka Tatara had looked at him had left Mikoto with a twist in his gut. Annoyed, he played with his lighter, flicking it open and closed over and over again.

Mikoto didn’t like to be troubled.

 

*


[May]


“What do you look so nervous for, Kusanagi-san?” Yata asked, broom in one hand, in the middle of giving the bar’s floor a good sweep. He was one of Homra’s rambunctious but well-meaning employees, and had enthusiastically volunteered to come in early to help Izumo clean.

“Home visit’s today,” Izumo groaned, taking a look at this week’s calendar on his PDA.

Last year’s had been a disaster. Munakata-sensei had been impressively intelligent, and had obviously cared about his students, but his sharp eyes seemed to scrutinize every inch of the bar and upstairs apartment, and he hadn’t exactly been the most laidback of teachers. Of course, Mikoto had forced Izumo to do it alone, and, with the residual embarrassment from Mikoto’s fistfight looming over him, he’d felt like a bitter divorcé.

This year, though, he was ready for Takeda-sensei. He’d prepared a lovely spread of scones and his most expensive imported teas. Homra was spotless, as was the apartment upstairs. Mikoto was upstairs, too, and in a surprisingly agreeable mood. Izumo himself had dressed in some of his nicer clothes, and he had practiced his most charming smile. Distantly, he thought that he’d put more effort into this afternoon than any date he’d been on in the past few years. It was, quite frankly, a little depressing.

“Don’t worry, Kusanagi-san!” Yata said brightly, giving him a thumbs-up. “You and Mikoto-san are awesome!”

Izumo didn’t know how to explain to Yata that while he thought that living above a bar, with two twenty-something bachelors as guardians, was awesome, most middle-aged teachers did not. He laughed instead, shooing Yata out of Homra before Takeda-sensei arrived.

Mikoto had been strangely subdued after the parent-teacher meeting last month, which was unusual for him after such a stuffy social obligation, and so Izumo had figured that Takeda-sensei couldn’t have been that bad.

It was about fifteen minutes later, right when Takeda-sensei should have arrived, that a young man walked through the door. “Good afternoon,” he said politely.

“Afternoon,” Izumo replied. “Sorry, we’re not open yet.” He pointed to the sign on the door that read “closed” in a large, red font..

The young man smiled kindly. “Ah, yes, no, I’m here for the home visit. For Anna?”

Izumo blinked, because this was certainly not an old woman, not even by Mikoto’s lazy, unobservant standards. “You’re… not Takeda-sensei,” he blurted out.

The guy was young, younger than Izumo and Mikoto, dressed in a simple white button-up shirt and khakis. He chuckled. “No, I’m just helping her out today.” He bowed a little. “I’m Totsuka Tatara, a teacher at Anna’s school.”

Izumo wasn’t sure if scones and expensive tea would sway this kid in their favor, never mind Izumo’s lady-killer smile, but he might be more understanding of their bachelor lifestyle, and so this was probably a good thing, right?

“Uh, if that’s not okay, I can ask Takeda-san to come.” Totsuka hesitated, and Izumo realized that he hadn’t responded.

“No, no, of course it’s fine,” Izumo said. “Sorry, I was just expecting Takeda-sensei. I’m Kusanagi Izumo, one of Anna’s guardians.”

“Nice to meet you.” Totsuka smiled, sunny and genuine. “It’s my first year as a teacher, and so Takeda-san has been mentoring me,” he explained. “She asked if I’d do a couple of visits for her.”

“And she sent you here, hmm? Don’t tell me that Mikoto scared her off at the parent-teacher meeting.”

Totsuka laughed. “No, no,” he assured Izumo, before a pause. “Well, maybe a little,” he teased, his kind smile turning slightly wry. “But I probably would have been sent regardless.”

Izumo chuckled. “So do you teach Anna?”

“Yep! I’m her music teacher. And I teach art.”

So this was the music teacher, Izumo thought. Anna talked about this kid more than she’d ever talked about anything school-related, with Izumo at least. He looked at Totsuka curiously. It made sense, he supposed; Totsuka was young and cheerful, and probably cute by a schoolgirl’s standard, what with that pretty boy thing he had going on.

“Well, come on in,” Izumo said, gesturing towards the staircase. “We can talk upstairs.” Totsuka nodded and followed his lead. “How old are you?” Izumo asked as they ascended the stairs. He seemed young. “Uh, if you don’t mind me askin’,” he added, just in case that wasn’t a polite question to ask a teacher.

But Totsuka just chuckled, totally unsurprised. “I’m twenty-two,” he said. “Fresh out of my college course. The parents I visited before you asked the same thing.”

Izumo wondered if that sparkle in his eye would fade after a few years of dealing with elementary school-aged brats.

They made their way into the living room, where Mikoto was sitting on the couch, smoking a cigarette. Izumo was about to give him hell for smoking in the freshly-cleaned apartment when they were expecting company, but then the cigarette almost fell right out of Mikoto’s mouth in an ugly gape when his gaze landed on who Izumo had brought.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Mikoto asked, brusquely enough that Izumo immediately opened his mouth to apologize for it.

“He, uh…” Izumo said into the awkward silence, but then Totsuka just giggled, eyes on Mikoto. Izumo turned to Mikoto, glaring murderously. “Totsuka is here for the home visit,” he said with the kind of cold politeness that would be a wordless warning to Mikoto.

“Nice to see you again, Suoh-san.” Totsuka smiled sweetly and bowed. “Pardon the intrusion.”

Mikoto frowned, and Izumo raised an eyebrow. “You’ve met?” Izumo asked.

Totsuka nodded. “We met at the parent-teacher meeting,” he said brightly.

“Ah, right.” Izumo’s eyes slid to Mikoto, who wouldn’t meet his gaze. They’d have a word about this later. “Well, have a seat.” Izumo ushered Totsuka over to the chair across from the couch. “Can I get you something? Tea?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, do you like… scones?”

Totsuka grinned. “I love scones!”

“Great,” Izumo said, a little thrown off by Totsuka’s enthusiasm. He hurried to the kitchen to prepare the tea and grab the platter he’d already artfully arranged.

When he returned to the living room, Mikoto and Totsuka were in the middle of some sort of bizarre staring contest. Mikoto was practically glaring, and Izumo would have scolded him for it, except that Totsuka was meeting his gaze head-on, unbothered, with a wry little smile. Izumo held in a snicker. This kid, he thought, is interesting.

He poured them all a cup of tea and laid the tray of scones between them on the coffee table before taking a seat next to Mikoto.

“Thank you very much,” Totsuka said politely. He took a bite of a scone and gasped, startling Izumo into nearly spilling his tea. “These are delicious, Kusanagi-san! Did you make them yourself?”

“Uh,” Izumo replied dumbly, “yeah.”

“That’s amazing! I tried to make scones before, once or twice, and they never turned out like this.”

“You bake?” Izumo asked, a little confused at the direction of their meeting. This was not what he had been expecting this morning.

“I try! I’m not very good, though,” Totsuka said. “It’s just a hobby.”

“Right.” Izumo chuckled politely, glancing at Mikoto, who looked just as lost as Izumo felt, if not a little grumpier.

“Sorry,” Totsuka said, swallowing the rest of his scone, “if I’m not very good at this. It’s only my third home visit.” He wiped his fingers on a napkin that Izumo had laid on the table.

Izumo smiled. “Well, it’s only our second visit, so we’re no experts, either.”

It was, technically, Mikoto’s first.

Totsuka nodded. “Well, I guess I just want to make sure that Anna is doing okay at home, and that she seems to be adjusting to her new class.” Totsuka bit his lip, suddenly hesitant.

“I think so,” Izumo said. “She seems to like school this year. Music class especially.”

Totsuka’s smile was small and genuine. “I’m glad. When I started, some of the teachers seemed concerned that she’s so quiet, you know? But I told them that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being quiet, so long as you have a way to express yourself, or someone to talk to.”

“She’s always been quiet,” Izumo said, “even before…” Before Honami died, was want he wanted to say. He cleared his throat. “Even before she started living here. That’s just how she is, so I’m not worried about that. It’s more that kids can be hard on other kids, if they think they’re weird or something,” Izumo said. He’d mostly been worried that Anna would struggle to make friends, or that kids would be mean because they didn’t understand her.

Totsuka hummed. “That’s true, I guess. Anna’s pretty tough, though, and she’s smart. And it’s not that she’s shy. I think she’s starting to make friends with a few of her classmates.”

Izumo let out a relieved breath. “That’s good. Thank you.”

Totsuka chuckled. “Well, it’s not like I can take the credit. It’s a long process, opening yourself up to others.” Totsuka took a sip of tea. “She’s very creative, you know? She likes to draw. And she likes to paint, mostly in red.” He fixed his eyes on Mikoto. “She draws you a lot, Suoh-san.” Totsuka’s smile didn’t waver, even with Mikoto’s answering scowl.

Izumo raised his teacup to his face to hide his smile.

They drank their tea in comfortable silence until Totsuka asked, almost like an afterthought, “Have you decided where Anna will attend middle school?”

“We haven’t decided yet,” Izumo admitted. He’d heard that some parents went nuts about middle schools, since they could impact which high school a kid got into, and then college after that, but it wasn’t something they’d talked about yet. “I mean, I guess we want to make sure that she’s still okay with… uh, our situation. I know it’s not the most normal living arrangement.”

They’d been left responsible for Anna because they were the closest thing she had to family, but some days, Izumo felt so lost that he wondered if being with him and Mikoto was the best thing for her. He knew they were lucky, because they also had people like Yata and Kamamoto, who took their self-assigned big brother roles very seriously, offering to babysit or take her out to play at the arcade. Izumo just hoped that it was enough.

“Well, I’m certainly no expert on what’s normal,” Totsuka said with a chuckle. He paused, weighing his words, expression settling into something serious. “But you’re here now, aren’t you? I think that’s what matters.”

Izumo could only nod. The simplicity of the sentiment had his heart swelling. There was a brief silence as Totsuka sipped on his tea, and Izumo looked over at Mikoto. He was still studying Totsuka, but his grumpy frown had softened into something almost like curiosity.

After they drained their tea, Totsuka got up. “Well, I think that’s about it,” he said, taking a look at his watch. “Let me know if you’d like some recommendations for middle schools. I know a few in the area with great art programs, from doing my internships.”

“That would be great,” Izumo replied.

“I hope that wasn’t too bad,” Totsuka said, a little self-deprecating.

“Couldn’t have been worse than last year,” Izumo muttered.

Totsuka laughed. “That’s right, I heard you got in a fight with Munakata-san!”

Mikoto flinched at the reminder and frowned a little, and Izumo watched him with narrowed eyes. “Don’t pretend you didn’t enjoy it,” Izumo said.

“I don’t think he liked me much either,” Totsuka whispered conspiratorially. “I only met him a few times before he got the job at the Ministry of Education, and the first time we met, he lectured me about having piercings as an educator.” He said the last few words in the same stern tone Izumo remembered Munakata using, and Izumo could help but smile.

Mikoto snickered, eyes following Totsuka as he moved to the top of the stairs.

“I’ll walk you down,” Izumo offered.

“Thank you for your time,” Totsuka said, waving a hand at Mikoto. His gaze lingered on Mikoto for just a few seconds before he made his way down the stairs.

This kid, Izumo thought. Did he realize how obvious he was being?

Totsuka thanked Izumo for his time, too, before leaving Homra, on his way to his next home visit. Izumo watched him disappear from view, wondering what the next set of parents would think about his sunny smile.

When Izumo returned to the living room, he dropped onto the couch and sighed.

“What?” Mikoto asked around his lit cigarette.

“Teachers,” he said, “are exhausting. Even when they’re not as scary as Munakata.”

Mikoto snickered.

Izumo watched Mikoto carefully. “Hey, did he say something to you before?” Izumo asked.

“Who?”

“Totsuka.”

Mikoto’s eyes narrowed. “No. Why?”

“You were staring at him.”

“What? No, I wasn’t.” Mikoto frowned.

“Okay, then,” Izumo said, amused. “Whatever you say, Mikoto.”


*


Tatara arrived back at school after his last home visit late into the afternoon. He found Takeda-san in the staff room, chatting with some of the other teachers.

“Welcome back, Totsuka-kun,” she greeted him. “How were your visits?”

“I think they went well,” he said, filling the old electric kettle with water, to prepare a cup of tea.

Takeda-san hesitated. “And how were Anna’s… guardians?”

He felt the eyes of the other teachers in the lounge on his back, awaiting his answer. He chuckled. “They were great. I had the best scone of my life.”

“You went to Kushina Anna’s house?” Fujikawa-san asked in a hushed tone, like they were discussing something illicit. “Do they really live above a bar?”

“Yes,” Tatara replied, a little irked by the judgement in her tone. Honestly, the teachers were no better than the parents. “It’s a lovely home.”

Takashima-san tsked. “Did Suoh-san try to beat you up?” he asked dryly.

“Of course not,” Tatara said, trying to maintain his cheerfulness despite the thick tension in the room. “They were very welcoming.” He smiled a little at the memory of Suoh Mikoto’s What the hell are you doing here? There was something endearing about Suoh Mikoto when he was caught off guard. “They obviously care about Anna very much.”

Fujikawa-san and Takashima-san both looked skeptical, and some of the other teachers were whispering. Takeda-san patted his arm, as if to reassure him.

Tatara fought the urge to scold them all. He knew precisely what it was for a child to grow up wanting, to go to bed with an empty stomach, to wake up to an empty home, and it was absurd to him that these people were making assumptions about Anna’s home life when it was obvious that Kusanagi Izumo and Suoh Mikoto were doing their best to give Anna everything she needed. “Anna’s had a guardian present at every parent event since she enrolled here, hasn’t she?” he asked.

“She has,” Takeda-san affirmed.

Tatara smiled his brightest smile. “Then, brief altercation with Munakata-san aside, I’m not sure what the problem is,” he said, hoping the cheerfulness of his tone obscured his insubordination.

The other teachers went quiet. Takeda-san put a hand on Tatara’s shoulder. “Let’s go to my classroom,” she said. “I’ll show you how to fill out the paperwork for the home visits.”

Together, they walked back to Takeda-san’s classroom. Shaking off his irritation, Tatara tried to think about what he would write Kushina Anna’s report, when all he could think about was Suoh Mikoto’s golden eyes  and how intense that gaze had been.

 

*


[June]


“So, open class is this week,” Kusanagi said casually.

Mikoto glanced at him, and found that Kusanagi was watching him expectantly. “Okay.” Mikoto wasn’t sure what open class was, but vaguely, he remembered glancing at one of Anna’s school papers and seeing an event listed for mid-June. He didn’t understand why parents had to be so friggin’ involved.

“Are you going this year? I can always go, if there’s some reason you don’t want to.” Kusanagi’s tone was almost teasing.

Mikoto scowled. “I said I would, didn’t I?”

“I was just making sure,” Kusanagi said innocently.

Later that day, Mikoto asked Anna if she had music class on her schedule the day of open class. “No,” she said carefully, after a moment. Mikoto figured it would be less complicated this way, at least, without Totsuka there to stare at him and smile at him and make him laugh. It would be boring, this way, and he would be left alone.

A few days later, Mikoto found himself cramped into a corner of Anna’s classroom, trapped in a crowd of overeager parents, exhausted after too few hours of sleep. Open day, it turned out, was just a day for parents to observe classes for a day. He spent the first period of the day in the back of the classroom, bored, listening to a pair of moms narrate the classroom activities in obnoxious half-whispers. He’d been in fights less painful than this.

He was trying to figure out if he could manage to sleep with his eyes open, when a familiar bright voice called out a cheery, “Good morning, Takeda-san!”

Mikoto’s eyes shot to the front of the classroom, where Totsuka stood, talking with Takeda. Then, distantly, he remembered the way Totsuka had smiled at him at the home visit when he had said, “She draws you a lot, Suoh-san.”

“Enjoy arts and crafts with Totsuka-sensei, everyone,” Takeda said kindly before exiting the class, leaving Totsuka alone at the front of the room.

It wasn’t his fault that Anna only ever talked about him in his music class, Mikoto thought. He thought of Anna’s wide, innocent eyes when he’d asked if she had music class. He looked over to where she was sitting, eyes fixed on Totsuka, with perfect posture.

He was going to kill her.

“Good morning, everyone!” Totsuka was cheerful as ever, and the kids all responded in kind. “And welcome, parents and guardians.”

As Totsuka greeted them, Mikoto felt their eyes meet briefly, and it was enough for his surprise to transform into that uneasy tension he’d only ever felt around Totsuka.

“I have a very fun period planned for today. Does anyone know what a portrait is, in art?” Totsuka scrawled the word “portrait” on the blackboard.

A couple of students raised their hands, and Totsuka pointed to a girl with long, black braids.

“Isn’t it a picture of someone?” she said.

“Yes, exactly!” Totsuka took out a stack of papers from his bag and lined them along the board. Some were photographs, some classical paintings, others more abstract art. “These are some of my favorite portraits. You see, creating a portrait isn’t always about being realistic. It’s about capturing someone’s essence.” He grinned. “So parents and guardians, please join the students. Today, you’re going to be creating each other’s portraits!”

The parents started to murmur, and Totsuka just watched them, smiling innocently, daring them to disobey. They all shuffled out of their seats, and, sighing, Mikoto got up to join Anna at her desk.

“I need some volunteers to help me get stuff from the art supply closet,” Totsuka said, and a crowd of kids gathered around him in response.

And then Mikoto found himself crammed beside Anna, her desk covered in colored pencils and an assortment of paints. He glared down at the blank sheet of paper in front of him, as if he could burn an image onto it with sheer force. “You’re a brat,” he whispered to Anna, and she ignored him, the picture of innocence. Resigned with the knowledge that Totsuka would tease him if he didn’t participate, Mikoto picked up a black pencil. Beside him, Anna was mixing red paints intently. She kept glancing up at him to squint at his hair.

They worked silently until a hand gently touched his shoulder, and the touch was so cool that it sent a wave of goosebumps down Mikoto’s arm.

“That’s a lovely shade of red, Anna,” Totsuka said, leaning down, close enough that Mikoto could smell the rich, slightly sweet smell of what must have been Totsuka’s soap. Frowning, he glanced up at Totsuka, who was staring down at Mikoto’s stick figure portrait of Anna, lips twitching.

“Shut up,” Mikoto grumbled.

“No, no! It’s very, uh, minimalist.” Totsuka grinned, eyes glittering with amusement.

“You do it, then,” Mikoto muttered petulantly.

Totsuka grabbed a blank sheet of paper, and leaned down to rest his elbows on the desk, arm brushing Mikoto’s. “I’m not much of an artist,” he warned, moving the pencil he’d stolen from Mikoto in quick, light strokes.

A few minutes later, he lifted the pencil. It was a slightly cartoonish drawing of Anna, something right out of a manga. Mikoto scowled.

It was adorable.

Anna’s eyes sparkled with awe. “Do Mikoto, Sensei!”

Totsuka chuckled, sketching out a second figure beside Anna’s. His doodle of Mikoto was just as charming, complete with a cigarette between drawn-Mikoto’s lips. “There you are.”

“Wait, Sensei, you didn’t write your name,” Anna said. “You said we should always sign our art.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?” Totsuka signed his name at the bottom of the page while Mikoto marveled at how easily Anna spoke to him. Standing up, Totsuka gave Mikoto another gentle pat on the arm. “Do your best,” he said with a wink. Then he was off to check on the other kids and their parents.

“Are you okay, Mikoto?” Anna asked, and Mikoto hadn’t even realized that he’d zoned out, staring down at the pencil that Totsuka had returned to him.

“Yeah,” he rasped, trying to make sense of the peculiar fluttery ache in his gut.

The ache persisted even after Totsuka left the classroom at the end of the period, and the duo of gossiping mothers whispered to each other about how young and charming Totsuka was. He wondered if he might just be hungry, but then, even after eating the disgustingly cute bento Kusanagi had sent him off with this morning, he still felt it deep in his gut. Then, he thought perhaps he just needed to smoke, but the ache lasted long after he walked home, Anna’s hand in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Kusanagi was on the phone when they got back to Homra, so Mikoto led Anna up the stairs so she could get started on her homework. He found them a few minutes later, grinning expectantly. “So?” he asked. “How was it?”

Mikoto shrugged. “It was fine.”

“Just fine?” There was an evil glint in Kusanagi’s eye, and Mikoto realized with irritation that he probably knew Anna’s schedule, and knew precisely what Mikoto would be walking into. Damn it, why hadn’t Mikoto just read Anna’s timetable?

“Yeah,” Mikoto said evenly.

“We drew portraits today, Izumo,” Anna said, offering him the stack of drawings she’d carefully placed in her bag at the end of the day.

Kusanagi accepted the papers, and it wasn’t difficult to figure out which drawing was on top of the stack, because he immediately burst into laughter. “This is,” he said, breathlessly, “the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s going on the fridge.”

Mikoto scowled.

Kusanagi shuffled to the next page, and his smile softened into something kinder. “This is yours, Anna?” She nodded. “It’s beautiful. I think you really captured Mikoto’s… aura.” He flipped the picture around so Mikoto could see it.

Mikoto could help but snicker; Anna had painted him entirely in red. It looked like he was made of fire.

Kusanagi flipped to the last picture and raised an eyebrow. “Why did Totsuka draw a picture of you two?”

“Because Mikoto asked him to,” Anna said in that serious way of hers.

“That’s not…” Mikoto started, but Kusanagi was cackling, so there was no point. Mikoto sighed.

“Well, it’s adorable. They’re all going on the fridge.”

“Whatever,” Mikoto grumbled, a little more harshly than he’d intended.

The amusement drained from Kusanagi’s face, and he looked at Mikoto curiously. “Anna,” he said, not looking away from Mikoto, “I cut up some fruit downstairs, if you want a snack.”

“Okay,” she said, and like the mind-reader she was, she scurried out of the room, leaving Kusanagi and Mikoto alone.

“What?” Mikoto asked, pulling a cigarette from his pocket instead of meeting Kusanagi’s gaze.

“Did something happen?” Kusanagi asked slowly.

“No. Why?”

“You seem weird. Do you hate drawing that much?”

Mikoto sighed. “That guy’s just… strange.” He took a long drag of his cigarette. “He’s annoying.”

“Totsuka?” Kusanagi asked, and Mikoto just clicked his tongue. Kusanagi hummed. “Well, if it really bothers you, you don’t have to go back to the school next term. Don’t want any fighting this year,” he said lightly.

Kusanagi was obviously giving him an out, but for some reason, the thought of taking it made Mikoto frown. “It’s fine,” he said. Kusanagi’s lips quirked into a knowing smile. “I’m going for a nap,” Mikoto grumbled, rising from his spot on the couch.

“Of course,” Kusanagi said, grinning obnoxiously. “It must be exhausting, the sixth grade.”

Mikoto replied with an obscene hand gesture, and he heard Kusanagi laugh as he made his way down stairs.

Sprawled out on his bed, Mikoto struggled to doze off, his mind replaying the day’s events, trying to figure out why exactly the stupid teacher had gotten under his skin.

Mikoto wasn’t the type of person who initiated friendships. He drew appreciative glances, now and then, or curious stares, but he wasn’t friendly or approachable or any other quality that tended to attract friends. Sometimes, he was the subject of hero-worship from younger guys, like Yata. Kusanagi had approached him, and so had Honami, but they had been two years older than him. And that had been back in high school, before he’d made a name for himself roughing people up in bars.

Maybe that was why the ease with which Totsuka had touched his arm, and the sweetness of his smile, was seared into Mikoto’s memory, keeping him awake despite his exhaustion.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Fall Semester

 

[September]

 

The first day of school in the fall term began eerily similarly to the start of the spring semester; Anna hovered by Mikoto until he responded to her soft “Good morning, Mikoto.” This time, though, she ran downstairs before Kusanagi could call her down. 

Mikoto wanted to fall back to sleep, but it was an exceptionally warm, humid September morning, and he couldn’t get comfortable in his sweat-damp sheets. So, instead, he got dressed and joined Kusanagi downstairs.

“You’re up early,” Kusanagi said.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Ah.” Kusanagi slid a cup of coffee towards him, and Mikoto grunted in thanks before reaching for the pack of cigarettes in his back pocket.

“It was much easier to get Anna off to school today than it was last year after summer vacation,” Kusanagi said.

“Yeah?”

Anna’s break had lasted from mid-July until the end of August. They’d managed to keep her busy, since she had a fair amount of reading and homework to do. Yata and Kamamoto were always good at getting her to play outside, dragging her to the park or to the arcade. In August, they’d had a ridiculous party for Mikoto’s twenty-fifth birthday. It had apparently been Anna’s idea, and so Mikoto had given in without much of a fight.

“Last year, I thought it was hard for her to go back after spending so much time with you,” Kusanagi teased, but there was a thread of seriousness in his voice.

“Maybe she has something to look forward to this year.”

“Mmm, maybe.” Kusanagi grinned at him.

“What?”

“There’ll be another parent-teacher meeting at the start of the term.”

“And?”

And are you going to be able to go?”

“I said I would.”

“Okay, then.”

“Okay.” 

“Okay.” Kusanagi sounded so innocent, but he was looking at Mikoto like he found this all very amusing. Mikoto just ignored him.

They didn’t talk about it again until the night before the parents meeting, when Mikoto was laying half-dead on the couch, sweating feverishly.

“I’m fine,” he said, when Kusanagi brought up the meeting.

“You’re burning up,” Kusanagi said, unimpressed. “You’re not going anywhere tomorrow.” It was a testament to how poorly Mikoto felt that he didn’t argue any more, and just huffed. “I’ll send Yata up to check on you.”

“Whatever,” Mikoto grumbled. Everything was foggy, and he just wanted to sleep.

He tossed and turned during the night, always too hot or too cold. He knew morning had come when he heard Anna getting ready for school; he was even more exhausted than he’d been before he’d slept. Faintly, he heard Anna whisper something and touch his sweaty brow.

His fever must have broke sometime after that, and he was finally able to fall asleep. He only woke again to a nudge to his shoulder. When he blinked his eyes open, Yata was beside his bed, looking concerned. “Mikoto-san,” Yata said, softer than Mikoto thought possible, “You should have something to eat and drink. You’ll feel better.” Mikoto accepted the bowl of soup and glass of water. Yata stood beside him dutifully and watched him eat. When he shoved the empty dishes back at Yata, Yata grinned. “Get some more rest, Mikoto-san!” He bounded back down the stairs. Belly warm and not too full, Mikoto found it easy drift off.

It was well into the evening when he finally had the energy to get up. He still felt weak, but he needed a shower at the very least, to wash away the grime from his fever sweat. Once he was clean, he made his way downstairs, to see if he could find something light to eat.

Anna was out of her seat, arms wrapped around Mikoto’s waist, the moment he came into her view. “Are you feeling better, Mikoto?” she murmured, and Mikoto just nodded.

“You look a bit better,” Kusanagi said.

Yata nodded. “You should still eat something, Mikoto-san!”

Mikoto sat in his usual spot at the bar and ate a few bites of whatever Kusanagi put in front of him. He felt like everyone’s eyes were on him, and when he looked up, they were. “What?” he grumbled.

“Nothing,” Kusanagi said.

“We’re just worried about you, Mikoto-san!” Yata added.

Mikoto sighed. “‘S not like I was dying.” He took a few more bites.

“Well, since you were so intent on going you were gonna risk infecting the whole school, I thought you’d wanna know how the parents meeting went,” Kusanagi said.

Mikoto glared at him, unimpressed by the teasing tone.

“I met Takeda-sensei, and she seems really nice. We all introduced ourselves, and we each had a chance to ask some questions.” Kusanagi grinned at him. “I can only imagine what you said last term. Anyways, when it was over, a group of moms dragged me with them to the auditorium to get tea. I got to chat with some of the other teachers there. You know, the gym teacher, some of the club advisors, the music teacher.”

Mikoto didn’t give him the satisfaction of meeting his gaze. Instead, he chewed.

“Right, I got to talk to Totsuka-sensei! He asked about you, and I told him you were home sick, in bed. He said to feel better soon!” Mikoto glared. Kusanagi was having way too much fun with this. “We talked more about middle schools, and Totsuka-kun gave me some recommendations,” Kusanagi continued. “He also told me to call if we have any questions!” Mikoto looked up. “I put his number on the fridge.” Kusanagi winked obnoxiously. He looked far too proud of himself.

Later that day, the next time Mikoto walked by the fridge, he stopped to stare. There was, in fact, a piece of paper stuck to it. He glared at the familiar handwriting. The numbers seemed to mock him. “Shut up,” he said to the paper.

“Mikoto?”

He turned around, and Anna was standing behind him, watching him curiously.

Would she believe that he was still feverish?

“Time for bed,” he said, and Anna nodded, heading to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

Glancing back at the paper, he frowned.

What, exactly, was Kusanagi expecting him to do with it?




[October]

 

The paper remained pinned to the fridge, untouched.

Mikoto glared.





[November]

 

At the end of October, Anna came home with an envelope clutched to her chest. She offered it to Izumo carefully, like it was a prized possession. He accepted it with equal care and pulled out four tickets.

“Ah, music concert,” he confirmed. “You’re looking forward to it?”

Anna nodded. “We’re going to sing,” she said. “I like the songs Tatara picked.”

“You shouldn’t call your teachers by their given names,” Izumo reminded her, though she never listened. In the envelope, Izumo also found a note from Totsuka, saying each student had been sent home with four tickets, and if parents needed additional tickets, they just had to contact him. “Who do you want to invite to the concert, Anna?” Izumo asked.

“Izumo and Mikoto,” she replied immediately. “And Misaki and Rikio.”

“I think we can arrange that,” Izumo said with a chuckle.

“Can I go give one to Mikoto?” she asked, eyes fixed on the tickets like they were made of gold.

“Sure.” Izumo handed her one, and she ran off upstairs. He couldn’t help but laugh; last year, Ashiya-sensei had just sent home a general notice about the music concert, and Anna had seemed disinterested in performing the songs she’d picked. Mikoto had nearly fallen asleep at the concert, and it had only been Izumo’s constant pinching that had kept him awake.

A few weeks later, they climbed into Izumo's car to drive to Anna’s school for the music concert. Anna was already at school, since the students had to be there early for rehearsals. Izumo, Mikoto, Yata, and Kamamoto walked into the elementary school together, garnering stares from some of the parents, perhaps because of Mikoto’s naturally menacing aura, or the volume at which Yata was reminiscing about his time at the very same elementary school.

The auditorium was decorated with streamers and fancy signs welcoming family, friends, and members of the community. Izumo directed them all to a row that had four consecutive seats empty, and they excused themselves as they squeezed by the already-seated parents. He sat himself between Mikoto and Yata, since they couldn’t be trusted to behave at an event like this, though for different reasons.

Mikoto was slumped in his chair, head tipped back as if trying to nap. The lights dimmed, and Izumo knocked his knee against Mikoto’s, a silent order for him to straighten up and watch the stage.

“Kusanagi-san!” Yata exclaimed. “It’s starting.”

Izumo shushed him, wondering what the odds were that they’d make it through the concert without being scolded by the other parents or getting kicked out.

And then Totsuka walked onto the stage. The spotlight followed him, casting him in a soft glow; his golden hair shone like a halo. Mikoto shifted beside Izumo, but when Izumo glanced at his face, it was too dark to see his expression.

“Good evening, family, friends, and members of our community,” Totsuka said into the microphone. Even onstage, in front of a crowded auditorium, he sounded just as warm and friendly as he had that afternoon at Homra. “Welcome to this year’s music concert. The students have worked very hard to prepare something special for you. So please turn off your cell phones and enjoy the show!”

Beside Izumo, Yata fumbled with his phone before shoving it back into his pocket. Good boy, Izumo wanted to say.

The students performed by grade, starting with the kindergarten glass. That meant, of course, that Anna and her sixth grade class would be the last ones on stage. Izumo expected to wrangle Mikoto into watching all night, or at least into muffling his snores, but every time he glanced over, Mikoto was focused on the stage, where Totsuka ran across the stage, filling the roles of pianist and conductor as needed, as each group came out to perform a few songs.

Finally, Totsuka announced that Anna’s class was next.

“Yeah, Anna!” Yata cheered. A few parents turned around to send him dirty looks. Mikoto snickered, and Izumo elbowed him in the side.

Anna trailed onto the stage with her classmates. The kids arranged themselves into three rows, and then the piano started. Anna’s class performed three terribly long, boring numbers, but Izumo couldn’t look away from the stage, because Anna was actually singing. Their last music concert, Anna had stood on stage, stiff as a board, her lips unmoving. Now, she was hardly the most energetic kid on stage, but even from this far, Izumo could tell that she was concentrating hard, carefully singing each word.

Suddenly, Izumo’s throat felt tight. He looked over at Mikoto, maybe to see if he was experiencing some kind of bizarre reaction, too, but when he met Izumo’s gaze he looked as blank-faced as ever. “What?” Mikoto asked.

“Nothin’,” Izumo said, turning back to watch the stage.

And then it was over; the kids bowed and filed off the stage. Yata jumped up to clap furiously, and, grinning, Izumo joined him. Kamamoto stood, whistling, and Izumo managed to tug on Mikoto’s coat to get him to stand as well. They got more looks from parents, but the concert was over, so Izumo hardly cared. He could see Anna whip her head around at the sound of Yata’s impressively loud shouting, and Izumo smiled, even if she wouldn’t be able to see it from here.

Totsuka stood at the microphone again. “Please give another round of applause for our students and their hard work,” he said, with just as much enthusiasm as he’d had when he’d greeted them what felt like hours and hours ago. The auditorium filled with applause and cheers. “Thank you, everyone. Please join us in the gymnasium for refreshments!” Totsuka bowed, and then he exited the stage as well.

Then, they were ushered to the gymnasium. The four of them waited, the subject of a few not-so-subtle stares. When Anna finally came into view, she was walking towards them, clutching Totsuka’s hand.

Izumo realized that this was his first time seeing Anna with Totsuka. He knew that Totsuka was her favorite teacher, but he still couldn’t help his surprise; he’d never seen Anna so comfortable with someone outside of their tight circle before. He knew, logically, that Anna has spent time with Totsuka at school, but it was still somewhat jarring to see the way she clung to him, watched him with that intent gaze of hers. Her eyes were so warm.

The tight, choking feeling was back, this time squeezing at his chest, too.

“Tatara,” Anna said when she’d dragged him to the center of their group, “this is Mikoto and Izumo, and Misaki and Rikio.”

Totsuka turned to Izumo and Mikoto and he smiled kindly. “Nice to see you again, Suoh-san, Kusanagi-san.” Looking back down at Anna, he said, “ I met them at the home interview, remember?” Anna watched him attentively. “But it’s nice to meet you both,” he said to Yata and Kamamoto.

“Please call me Yata,” Yata said, bowing unnecessarily, cheeks a little pink. “And this is Kamamoto!”

Izumo smirked. For such a loud and brash kid, Yata was surprisingly easy to fluster when meeting new people. “They work with us at Homra,” Izumo explained, lest Totsuka thought that he and Mikoto were in the business of adopting stray kids.

“Have you been to Homra, Totsuka-san?” Yata asked.

“Just on the home visit,” Totsuka replied. “Not as a customer.”

“You should come for a drink!” Yata offered. “Kusanagi-san makes the best cocktails. We’ll take good care of you!”

Totsuka smiled indulgently at Yata’s enthusiasm. “Thank you, Yata.”

Izumo grinned. “You should come,” he said. “We’re even trying to start up an open mic night on Friday nights. You know, trying to draw in a new crowd.” Izumo didn’t miss the way that Totsuka’s eyes flicked to Mikoto for a brief moment, before settling back on him.

“The young music teacher crowd?” he asked with a chuckle.

“Hipsters, more like. The guys tryin’ to pick up girls,” Izumo said.

Totsuka laughed. “Well, maybe I’ll drop by one night, then.” He glanced behind him at the now-full gymnasium. “I guess I should go make the rounds.” He smiled down at Anna. “Congratulations, Anna. Your class worked very hard and you were wonderful,” he said sincerely. Anna’s eyes shone at the praise, and Totsuka rested a hand on her head in a gentle pat. Standing up again, he turned to the rest of them, smiling just as kindly as he had at Anna. “Thank you all for coming tonight,” he said. “Maybe I’ll see you soon!” He looked at Mikoto, briefly, and then he turned around and was immediately caught by overzealous parents.

They stuck around long enough to finish their tea and for Anna to have a snack before heading home.

“Anna seems to really like Totsuka-san,” Yata said as they walked to the car. “Do you think he’ll come for a drink?”

Izumo cast a glance at Mikoto, who was lost in thought, holding Anna’s hand. “Yeah, I think he’ll come for a drink.

 

[December]

 

And he did.

It was a few weeks later, in early December, when they’d already seen the first flakes of snow. Izumo was behind the bar, chatting with Yata, since it was still fairly early in the night, and the bar was not nearly full yet.

Fushimi Saruhiko, Yata’s best friend, sat beside Yata, looking a little less sullen than he had when he’d been a Homra employee. The two had had some sort of falling out when Fushimi had quit to start some kind of government job, but they seemed to have made up now. It was hard to tell, since they mostly bickered all the time, anyways.

Izumo’s attention was drawn to the door when it jangled open. Totsuka Tatara walked in, cheeks pink from the cold, bundled up in a burgundy jacket and a soft-looking scarf.

“Good evening, boys of Homra!” Totsuka chirped.

Yata’s head snapped to the door. “Totsuka-san! You came!” he cried.

“Welcome,” Izumo greeted. “Have a seat.”

“Sit beside me, Totsuka-san!” Yata patted the empty barstool.

Totsuka unwrapped his scarf and shrugged out of his jacket, hanging them both up on an empty hook.

He looked different in the low lighting of the bar. Instead of his usual white button-up and khakis, he wore dark jeans and a fitted red sweater. He wore jewelry, too, that he hadn’t had on as Totsuka-sensei: an earring, some bracelets, and a necklace that dipped down into the deep V-neck of his sweater. He looked, Izumo thought, like he fit into a place like this.

Totsuka perched on the seat next to Yata with a smile. “Nice to see you again, Yata,” he said.

As Yata grinned widely at Totsuka, Izumo watched Fushimi’s cold, intimidating gaze evaluate Totsuka with a sense of dread.

“Saruhiko, this is Totsuka-san, one of Anna’s teachers!” Yata said.

Totsuka greeted Fushimi warmly. Fushimi clicked his tongue in reply. “Nice to meet you,” he said flatly, settling into his default disinterested expression.

“What would you like to drink, Totsuka?” Izumo asked quickly, trying to cover for Fushimi’s characteristic rudeness.

Totsuka’s curious gaze lingered on Fushimi for a few moments before he turned to Izumo. “Hmm. What do you recommend?”

“Kusanagi-san makes the best cocktails,” Yata offered.

“Ah, then please surprise me, Kusanagi-san!”

Izumo got to work mixing a new drink he’d been meaning to try out; it was strong, with a few different kinds of rum, so he hoped Totsuka could handle his liquor. He placed the drink, complete with fruit garnish and a little paper umbrella, in front of Totsuka with flourish.

Totsuka’s eyes widened. “Thank you, Kusanagi-san!” he said. He took a sip, and he gasped, the same way he had when he’d tried Izumo’s scone. Izumo grinned, a little smug.

“It’s good, right?” Yata asked, peering at Totsuka.

“It is,” he said, taking another sip.

“Take your time,” Izumo warned. “There’s a lot of rum in there.”

Totsuka chatted with Yata at the bar, and even managed to coax some conversation out of Fushimi. Totsuka’s back was turned when Mikoto finally dragged his ass downstairs, and so only Izumo was privy to the moment Mikoto laid eyes on Totsuka. He half expected Mikoto to look annoyed, or a little angry, the way he usually did when he was forced to socialize. He didn’t, though. He looked… Well.

His eyes trailed down Totsuka’s back, and then his lips quirked into the ghost of a smile.

“Mikoto-san!” Yata cried when he noticed Mikoto, and the moment was over, because Totsuka turned to look at Mikoto, too.

He smiled brightly. “Good evening!” he greeted.

Mikoto blinked. He nodded, and then took the empty barstool beside Totsuka. He glanced at the glass in front of Totsuka, and then sent a pointed look to Izumo.

“What?” Izumo asked.

“Are you trying to kill Anna’s teacher, or just get him drunk?” Mikoto grumbled.

Totsuka laughed. “It’s not that strong.” He stared openly at Mikoto, but Mikoto was deliberately looking away.

Izumo wanted to smile. This was going to be an interesting night.

“So Kusanagi-san is a bartender,” Totsuka said. “Yata, are you working tonight?”

“Not tonight. On Fridays, me and Saruhiko hang out.” Yata grinned at Fushimi, who looked a little pleased. “And Kusanagi-san isn’t just a bartender! His uncle used to own Homra, and now it’s his!”

“Jeez, Yata.” Izumo chuckled. “I think he knows that. He’s been to the apartment, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, the home visit. Kusanagi-san, you were so nervous!” Yata turned to Totsuka. “He made us clean the bar and Mikoto-san’s apartment.”

Izumo spluttered, and Totsuka just laughed. “Mikoto-san’s apartment?” Totsuka asked. Mikoto jerked slightly at the sound of his name. “Kusanagi-san, you don’t live here, too?”

“No, but you wouldn’t know it, with how often I’m here,” he sighed.

“I see.” Totsuka sipped on his drink, the loud slurping noise indicating that he’d gotten to the bottom. “But that’s nice. Homra’s like a family business.” Totsuka turned his gaze to Mikoto. “And what do you do here?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Izumo said before Mikoto could answer. “He sits on his ass and watches us work.”

Mikoto glared and him, and Totsuka laughed. “Just like a king, hmm?” Totsuka’s smile was wry.

“That’s not true, Kusanagi-san!” Yata said earnestly. “Mikoto-san is the coolest bouncer ever.”

Izumo didn’t miss the roll of Fushimi’s eyes. Mikoto snickered, endeared as ever, and Fushimi’s eyes darkened. There was something cute about Yata’s hero-worship, though there was one person who would disagree, Izumo thought, eyeing Fushimi warily. “Totsuka, do you want another drink?” he asked, changing the subject.  

“Please!”

Wordlessly, Izumo grabbed a clean glass and mixed another new recipe. It was kind of fun, having someone to experiment on. Yata had only just turned twenty, and even so, he had exceptionally low alcohol tolerance, which wasn’t surprising, with that tiny body of his.

Izumo slid the glass in front of Totsuka. “Thank you!” Totsuka said. They all watched him take a sip, then smile, delighted. “So where is Anna tonight?” he asked.

“At Kamamoto’s!” Yata replied before anyone else could get a word in. “He was at the music concert, too, remember? His parents always spoil Anna when she goes there on Friday nights.”

Yata chattered on, and Totsuka chuckled, watching him with the same fondness he probably reserved for hyperactive students.

The bar eventually filled with customers, and Izumo got to work. He lost sight of Mikoto and Totsuka, taking orders and filling trays for Shohei and Bandou, who were working that night. When he was finally able to sneak a glance at them, he couldn’t help but lift an eyebrow. They were sitting closer than was strictly necessary, even with the volume of the bar. He couldn’t hear what they said, but Izumo watched Totsuka coax half-smiles and snickers out of Mikoto, watched him prompt answers that were more than just monosyllables. Mikoto had only had a beer or two, so he couldn’t even blame it on the alcohol.

Was this flirting? Izumo wondered. It was a strange thought. How did one flirt with Mikoto? Was this what Mikoto looked like when he was flirting? He’d never seemed particularly interested in dating or romance.

For a while, Izumo had thought that something might have eventually happened between Mikoto and Honami, if things had been different. While Mikoto had always denied there was anything but friendship between them, Izumo had always suspected a crush on Honami’s end, at least. Briefly, Izumo let himself feel a pang of grief, and then he refocused himself and got back to work.

Later that night, just as promised, Homra hosted something of an open-mic night. It was usually just artsy-type girls who performed pretty folksy songs, or guys trying to impress the artsy-type girls.

“Are you going to go up there, Totsuka-san?” Yata asked, eyes a little hazy from the few drinks he’d already had.

Totsuka chuckled. “I didn’t bring my guitar.”

“I’m sure you can borrow that guy’s!” Yata exclaimed. Yata bounded out of his seat before Totsuka could reply, running towards one of the night’s performers.

Totsuka sighed, watching Yata gesture wildly at the man.

“Shy?” Mikoto asked.

“Ha! I don’t think anyone’s ever accused me of being shy before,” Totsuka said.

Yata returned with a guitar in hand, and offered it to Totsuka with a grin.

“Thank you, Yata,” Totsuka said,  getting up from his seat. “Any requests?” He winked at them before heading over to the makeshift stage, which was basically just a little spot near the back of the bar they’d cleared out and set up with a mic and speakers.

He sat on the stool and leaned into the mic. “Good evening, everyone,” he said, with the same warm presence he’d had at Anna’s music concert, totally at ease. “I’m Totsuka Tatara.” He plucked at the guitar a little, tuning the strings. “Here’s to friends, old and new.” And then he played.

The melody was simple and lovely, and not one that Izumo recognized. The crowd seemed politely interested, until Totsuka opened his mouth to sing. Then, all eyes were on him. His singing voice wasn’t flashy like a pop idol’s, but it was rich and smooth, and had the bar totally entranced.

Izumo whistled.

Yata gasped, stars in his eyes. “Totsuka-san’s awesome!”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, but couldn’t quite maintain his disinterest.

Mikoto chuckled lowly.

Totsuka’s gaze wandered to their spot at the bar. He smiled, and Izumo saw Mikoto shift in his seat. Izumo was struck again by the realization that this kid had been putting the moves on Mikoto all night, and it was somehow working.

When Totsuka strummed the last few chords of his song, the bar burst into applause. He thanked them with a charming smile, and then he handed his borrowed guitar back to its rightful owner.

By the time Totsuka was walking over to rejoin them at the bar, Yata was jumping out of his seat. “Totsuka-san! That was so good!”

Surprisingly, Totsuka flushed at the praise. “Thank you,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Was that an original song?” Izumo asked curiously.

“It was,” Totsuka said.

“I thought you were a teacher,” Mikoto said, and it sounded almost teasing.

Totsuka’s eyelashes fluttered. “Well, I’m sure most music teachers all wanted to be a rock star at one time or another,” he said wryly.

Izumo gathered a tray of shots and set it in front of their little group. “To open mic night,” he said, passing around the shot glasses.

Totsuka smiled. “To making new friends.”

“To Homra!” Yata grinned.

“To unresolved sexual tension,” Fushimi said flatly.

Izumo coughed, and Yata let out a confused “Wha?” Totsuka laughed good-naturedly.

Mikoto sighed. “Cheers,” he said in defeat.

They all echoed him. “Cheers!”

 


*

Tatara shared a few more drinks with his new friends before he glanced down at his watch and figured that he should head home. It wasn’t a school night, but it was probably inappropriate to get blackout drunk with people whose kind-of-sort-of kid you’re meant to educate. 

“Well, thank you all for a fun night,” he said. “I should get home.” He tried not to sneak a glance and Mikoto, and failed, probably. He laid down some cash on the bar, enough to cover his drinks and a tip, before heading over to grab his coat from the hook.

“It’s late, Totsuka-san,” Yata said. “Do you have to go far?”

Tatara couldn’t help but smile at Yata’s earnest concern. It was true that Homra was on a side of the city that he didn’t often frequent, but it wasn’t that long of a walk home. “I don’t live that far,” he reassured. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” Yata hopped up onto unsteady legs. “I’ll walk you home!”

Tatara patted Yata’s arm. “Thank you, Yata, but you should probably have a seat.”

“Mikoto can walk you home,” Kusanagi said easily, with the grin of a smug wingman.

Yata gasped. “Yes! He’d be like your bodyguard!” he cried.

Fushimi snickered.

Tatara’s smile tightened, and he let out of a huff of laughter. “Jeez, Yata, I am an adult, you know. I don’t need a bodyguard.”

But Mikoto was already out of his seat.

“You don’t have to--” Tatara started, but Mikoto cut him off with just a look. He grabbed his coat and headed out the door.

Tatara’s pulse raced as his imagination ran wild.

When Tatara turned to say one last goodbye, Yata was still watching him innocently, Fushimi and Kusanagi anything but. “Good night, everyone,” Tatara said sweetly, though he was already fantasizing about ways to get back at them both. Tatara prided himself on his pranks, after all.

Before he was out the door, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and remembered what he’d stashed there earlier that day. “Wait,” he said, turning around again. He slid the small wrapped parcel to Kusanagi. “Can you give this to Anna for her birthday?” he asked with a smile. “It’s in a few days, right?”

“Sure,” Kusanagi said, eyeing the package.

“Great!” Tatara chirped. “Thank you, Kusanagi-san.” He gave a small wave before leaving Homra, and his new, interesting friends.

Once outside, the brisk air felt nice on his alcohol-flushed cheeks. He’d only had a few drinks, but it was enough to leave him with a warm, pleasant buzz.  He glanced beside him at his escort, watched the trail of smoke from his cigarette curl upwards and break apart in the night sky.

“You really didn’t have to walk me home,” Tatara said.

“It’s fine,” Mikoto said. “Anna would be upset if something happened to her favorite teacher.” He said it so flatly, but Tatara could sense the note of teasing.

His belly was in knots.

There was something magnetic, something electric, about Suoh Mikoto, and now they were alone. This had been a terrible idea, really. He wanted to curse Kusanagi as much as he wanted to thank him.

“Your friends are fun,” Tatara said, making conversation. “You’re kind of like one big family.”

Mikoto snorted. “Pretty weird family.”

“Weird can be nice.” Tatara paused. “What’s your family like?”

Mikoto shrugged. “I mostly remember my grandfather. He raised me.”

“Ah,” Tatara hummed, sensing that any more questions would probably be unwelcome. “I’m trying to imagine you as a child. Bet you got into a lot of fights,” he said lightly.

Mikoto sent him a dirty look, but didn’t disagree. Tatara giggled, a little satisfied.

“I bet you were a brat,” Mikoto said, “who couldn’t shut up.”

Tatara gasped playfully. “I was an adorable child.”

He’d been a bit of a handful, in truth, so curious and adventurous that it sometimes bordered on mischievous. He’d been called “spirited” once by a teacher, and he’d always thought that that was a nice way of putting it.

Mikoto shot him a look. “Uh-huh. You’re still a brat,” he said under his breath.

Something in Mikoto’s eyes made Tatara’s stomach clench.

He noted, sadly, that they were almost at his apartment. He let himself walk a little closer to Mikoto, which could easily be explained as him not wanting to lose Mikoto in the crowd, now that they’d reached a busier part of the street. Tatara couldn’t help but notice that their hands would have brushed as they walked, had Mikoto’s not been stuffed in his coat pockets.

Someone pushed past them, knocking Tatara into Mikoto’s side. A big, rough hand steadied him as Mikoto scowled, glancing back at the retreating man.

Tatara gasped a little, and his stomach flipped. “You’re very warm,” he blurted.  He felt himself flush, and hoped he could blame it on the cool wind. “Sorry.”

But Mikoto just snorted. “That’s what Anna says.” He was almost smiling. “She says I’m red.”

Mikoto softened when he talked about Anna, and Tatara was dizzy with how attractive it was.

“What?” Mikoto asked, and Tatara realized that he was staring.

“Nothing.” Tatara bit his lip, taking in Mikoto’s handsome face. “That’s very poetic, is all.”

Mikoto didn’t let go of his hold on Tatara the rest of the way home, one hand gripping the back of Tatara’s jacket.

Tatara’s heart was almost beating out of his chest by the time they stopped at the door of his tiny apartment. He gave an exaggerated bow. “Thank you very much for your protection on the way home!” he said playfully.

The annoyed look Mikoto gave him in return was laced with something else. His eyes were dark in the dim light of Tatara’s front porch. Tatara licked his lips, and Mikoto’s eyes dropped to his mouth. Tatara rarely thought twice about giving into his impulses, but this situation was delicate, and it deserved to be treated with care. So he leaned in slowly to brush a feather-light kiss against Mikoto’s cheek. Before he could say goodnight, he was promptly crowded into his front door as Mikoto pressed their lips together.

Distantly, Tatara thought that maybe he was on fire. It didn’t hurt, not in the least, but everything was too hot, skin burning from Mikoto’s hand on his hip and the rough press of Mikoto’s mouth. Tatara gasped when Mikoto’s hand touched his face, the cold of his ring a shock against Tatara’s overwarm cheeks. He clutched at Mikoto’s jacket, trying to pull him in closer so that he could ease the kiss into something less overwhelming.

What Tatara wanted, more than anything, was to invite Mikoto inside. In that moment, the fact that he was a teacher, and Mikoto was his student’s guardian, seemed secondary to the sound of Mikoto’s groan as Tatara licked into his mouth.

Tatara was saved from any potential ethical dilemma when Mikoto’s phone buzzed in his coat pocket. His lips chased Mikoto’s when Mikoto broke the kiss, frowning as he pulled the phone out of his pocket. He answered it with one hand still gripping Tatara’s side.

“What?” he answered curtly. The caller replied in a low murmur. “Fine.” Mikoto sighed and shoved the phone back in his coat.

They stared at each other for a moment, the tension still thrumming even though the heat of the moment had been broken.

“I should get back,” Mikoto said eventually. “Problems at the bar. Probably a fight.”

Tatara nodded, hands still fisted in Mikoto’s jacket. “Okay,” he rasped, totally wrecked after only a kiss.

Mikoto swore under his breath, and then he was pressing in close again, sliding their mouths together. Tatara tried to savor it as best he could, the feeling of Mikoto’s tongue against his, the taste of him. He nibbled on Mikoto’s bottom lip before pulling away completely.

Mikoto shivered.

Tatara smiled wryly. “Are you cold?” he asked, finally dropping his hands from Mikoto’s coat. He unwrapped the scarf from around his own neck and slung it around Mikoto’s, using it to pull him down for one more quick kiss. “There,” he murmured. “You can give it back next time.”

Tatara felt cold when Mikoto finally stepped back, putting some space between them. But the heat in Mikoto’s eyes when he said, “Goodnight, Totsuka,” kept Tatara warm for the rest of the night.

 

*


Mikoto found that, relatively speaking, it was kind of hard not to think about someone when everyone you saw on a daily basis couldn’t shut up about them. 

It wasn’t unusual for Anna to talk about her favorite teacher, but now Yata was thrown into the mix, and when he started talking about something he couldn’t be stopped. (Sometimes, Mikoto thought Fushimi was egging Yata on, but the kid was hard to read.)

And Kusanagi didn’t have to say anything. Ever since he’d seen the unfamiliar scarf Mikoto had brought home, Kusanagi kept giving him these looks.

“Whose scarf is that?” he’d asked.

“Totsuka’s.”

Kusanagi blinked. “Did he forget it?” he asked after a moment.

“No.”

“No?”

“He gave it to me.”

Another pause. “Why did he give you a scarf?”

Mikoto shrugged. “It was cold out? He said to give it back… next time, or whatever.”

After a beat, Kusanagi’s lips twitched.

Mikoto scowled. “Anna can just give it back to him.”

“Wouldn’t that be weird? And…” Kusanagi shifted awkwardly, carefully considering his words. “Does that mean that you don’t, you know… like him?”

Mikoto thought of Totsuka’s soft lips, the slightly sweet smell that lingered on his scarf, and the raspy timbre of his singing voice. “What’s that got to do with anything?” he muttered.

“Are you… Oh, my God, Mikoto.” Kusanagi face-palmed. “You realize that that was an invitation, right? Like, he wants to see you again and he’s leaving it up to you?”

Mikoto considered that.

It seemed like an unwritten rule that a teacher shouldn’t date the parent or guardian of one of their students, and it was this logic that had Mikoto shrugging again and ending the conversation there.

But it was impossible not to be reminded of that night, and that kiss, when, at Anna’s birthday party, Kusanagi produced a small package and handed it to Anna, saying, “It’s from Totsuka.”

“From Tatara?” She marveled at the thing before opening the wrapping paper carefully. “It’s a book,” she said. Totsuka must have written a note inside, because when she opened the front cover, she quieted for a moment. When she closed it, she held it tightly to her chest. She scurried away to sit on the couch, opening the book again reverently.

“What kind of book is it, Anna?” Yata asked, peering over her shoulder to get a look.

“It’s about kings,” she said. “And princesses.”

Mikoto turned to Kusanagi. “Where’d you get that from?”

“Totsuka left it for Anna before he left the other night,” Kusanagi said.

The other night.

“Huh.” Mikoto glanced over at Anna, who was reading contentedly, and when he turned back, Kusanagi was smirking at him. “What?” he scowled.

“Nothin’,” Kusanagi said innocently. “Nothin’ at all.”

And then, not even two weeks later, Kusanagi had that very same tone when he reminded Mikoto that they had the end of term one-on-one interview with Anna’s teacher.

“You’re coming, right?” Kusanagi asked, and it somehow felt like a trick question.

“Yeah,” Mikoto said evenly, taking a drag of his cigarette.

Mikoto wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed when they walked into Anna’s classroom and found Takeda at her desk, alone in the room.

“Please, have a seat,” she said, gesturing to the two empty chairs set up across from her.

“Thank you,” Kusanagi replied with a pleasant smile. He fell easily into his charming young man act, though it was different from the one he used to use to hit on women at Homra.

“I’ll give you a rundown of how Anna’s been doing this year, and then you can ask any questions you might have, okay?” Takeda said.

They both nodded, and then Takeda launched into a summary of everything the class had been learning thus far. Mikoto zoned out every once in a while, earning several sharp pinches to the leg, unseen by Takeda.

“Ah,” Takeda-san said eventually, reaching into her desk drawer. “Totsuka-kun had something he wanted me to show you two,” she said. She pulled out a small stack of papers and laid it down between them. “They were on display in the classroom for most of the term, along with some other art projects, but Totsuka-kun always makes sure to keep the old projects to show parents.”

Kusanagi gripped the pile, sliding it into their view.

They were Anna’s drawings.

The first was just a bunch of red flowers. The second was a drawing of Anna and some other kid.

“That’s Sakuna, a boy in Anna’s class,” Takeda said.

Kusanagi flipped to the next one. Mikoto could make out the blond hair, the shape of the guitar, and a wide smile. He chuckled.

When Kusanagi turned to the next drawing, he inhaled sharply. It was titled “My Family” in a messy scrawl. Mikoto could pick each figure out, doodled in crayon: Anna, with her fair hair, Yata, holding his skateboard, Fushimi, with his dark hair and glasses, Kusanagi, with his golden hair and red neck scarf, Mikoto, with his red hair, and Kamamoto with his tracksuit and sunglasses. And then, hovering at the top of the page was a fluffy cloud-shape, a head of long, dark hair, and a halo. It was Honami, Mikoto realized, his stomach twisting.

Since they’d been entrusted with Anna, Kusanagi had tried talking to Anna about Honami, about her death, but had been met with silence.

He wondered if Totsuka knew what he’d given them by sharing these drawings with them.

He and Kusanagi were both stunned into silence. Takeda let them stare at the drawing, until Kusanagi was able to collect himself. “Uh, thank you,” he said thickly.

Mikoto glanced at him, surprised at the open emotion in his voice.

When Takeda started talking again, Mikoto couldn’t even pretend to pay attention. “‘Scuse me,” he said, getting up from his chair.

“Mikoto?” Kusanagi watched him warily.

“Just need a minute,” he said, and then left the stifling atmosphere of the classroom.

He took a deep breath in the hallway, glancing around at the parents bustling about. He thought of when he’d been here, months ago, looking for this same classroom. He wondered if Totsuka was here, if Totsuka was wondering about him, too.

Before he could think too hard about it, he went in search of where he’d seen Totsuka the first time. Turning around a corner in the long, bland hallway, he followed the sound of Totsuka’s laughter to a room marked explicitly for staff. Ignoring the sign, he stepped into the room.

Totsuka was leaning against a desk, once again dressed in his school-appropriate button-up and khakis. He didn’t look right without the earring, Mikoto thought, remembering how it had glinted prettily in the soft lighting of the bar.

There was only one other teacher in the room with Totsuka, and she was standing at a kettle, filling a mug. They both turned to look at him at the same time. Totsuka gaped, eyes wide, and Mikoto thought that there was something satisfying about catching someone like Totsuka off guard.

“Uh… M… Suoh-san?” Totsuka asked, standing upright, and Mikoto wanted to snicker at the formal address.

The teacher eyed him warily. “I’ll see you later, Totsuka-kun,” she said, picking up her mug and leaving the room. The door clicked softly behind her as it closed.

Totsuka approached him. “Can I help you with something?” he asked. “Is everything okay with Takeda-san?”

Part of Mikoto wanted to ask Totsuka about Anna’s drawings, about whether she’d confided to him through her words or through her art. Part of him wanted to ask about what he was supposed to do with that stupid fucking scarf, or if Totsuka thought about his mouth as often as Mikoto thought about his.

Instead, he took Totsuka’s face in his hands and leaned down to press their lips together. It was clumsy and a little rough, but Totsuka didn’t seem to mind; he kissed back just as eagerly as he had the first time. They parted to catch their breath, and the sound of their breathing was loud in the empty room. It was kind of hot, Mikoto thought, fighting a shiver.

“I still have your scarf,” Mikoto said.

Totsuka chuckled. “I know.”

“I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to give it back.”

“I have other scarves.” Totsuka bit his lip. “It’s not a big deal. You don’t have to…”

“I want to.”

“Oh.” Totsuka hummed. “Well, it’s still cold out, so you might need it still. You can give it back in the spring.” His lips brushed Mikoto’s. “After Anna graduates.”

“Yeah.” He took a long look at the warmth in Totsuka’s eyes, the slight pink of his cheeks. Then he leaned down again, gentler this time. Totsuka pressed back for a moment, and then his lips parted. Mikoto felt the faintest brush of his tongue before Totsuka pulled back.

“I’ll walk you out,” Totsuka said, lips turned down in a pout.

Mikoto shook his head. “S’okay,” he said. They stared at each other for a moment longer, before Mikoto headed for the door. He paused with a hand on the doorknob. “Kusanagi put your number on the fridge,” he said.

Totsuka laughed. “Yeah? You should use it, then.”

Mikoto managed to leave the staff room without anyone seeing, but on his way down the hall, he passed that same teacher, and she eyed him curiously.

Kusanagi was waiting for him just outside the classroom, frowning. “Where did you go?” he asked.

Mikoto shrugged, not because he was opposed to telling Kusanagi the truth, but because it seemed like a lot of work to explain.

“Whatever,” Kusanagi said. “Let’s get out of here.” They made their way to Kusanagi’s car in silence, until he said, “Anna really seems to be doing better this year, huh?”

“Yeah,” Mikoto said, pulling out a cigarette. He offered one to Kusanagi, and lit them both.

“I’m kind of relieved.”

“Yeah,” Mikoto said again. He took a long drag and then stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, protecting them from the brisk evening air.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, to look forward to spring.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 - Winter Semester


[January]

 

The winter break was short, and it passed quickly. On the morning of Anna’s first day of her last semester of elementary school, Izumo made sure to take a lot of pictures. He even got Mikoto out of bed so that they could all have breakfast together.

“I can’t believe she only has a few months left in elementary school,” Izumo said wistfully, after Anna had left.

“Are you gonna start crying?” Mikoto asked, and Izumo knocked him on the head for it.

Early into the winter term, Anna brought home an information packet detailing her class’s upcoming graduation trip, including an itinerary and permission slip. They’d be going to Hokkaido for three days and two nights at the end of February, supervised by the sixth grade homeroom teachers: Takeda-sensei, Narumiya-sensei, and Yuki-sensei.

“You want to go?” Izumo asked, flipping through the papers. The trip wasn’t too expensive, considering all they’d be doing.

Anna nodded vigorously, and Izumo smiled at her enthusiasm. He was sure that at this time last year, she would have hesitated at being away from home, stuck with her classmates for two nights.

Of course, with the beginning of the term also came the last parent-teacher meeting of the year. Since it was the last one, Izumo and Mikoto decided that they would both attend.

The meeting was a little bit more eventful than the last one had been, because between the sixth grade trip and the kids’ incoming transition to middle school, the parents were more riled up and chatty than usual. Izumo sat back and watched the spectacle with a sense of ease; Anna’s registration to her new school had been easier than he had anticipated, thanks in part to Totsuka’s advice.

“Not gonna sneak off this time?” Izumo asked Mikoto as they filed out of the classroom with the other parents.

Mikoto gave him a sour look. “I didn’t sneak off.”

“Right,” Izumo said. He watched some of the parents head towards the auditorium, where they’d no doubt be serving tea and refreshments once again. He grinned. “Wanna go get snacks?”

“No.” Mikoto reached in his back pocket and pulled out a cigarette.

“Aw,” Izumo said. “I’m sure Totsuka will be very disappointed.”

“He’s not there,” Mikoto said, placing the cigarette between his lips before turning down the hall to head towards the main entrance.

Izumo blinked, watching Mikoto’s back as he made his way down the hallway, towering over most of the parents, looking as out of place as ever.

How, exactly, did he know that?




[February]

 

A few weeks before Anna would be leaving for her trip, she tugged on Izumo’s shirt while he was cleaning after dinner one night.

“Izumo,” she said seriously, “I need your help.”

“Help? With what?”

“I need to make chocolates,” she said. “For Thursday.”

“Ah.” He paused for a moment. Thursday was the 14th. “For Valentine’s Day?”

She nodded. “They need to be special.”

“Special?” For a brief, horrifying moment, Izumo’s life flashed before his eyes as the thought occurred to him: did Anna have a boyfriend? She was too young for that, right?

“For Tatara’s birthday,” she said, and Izumo could breathe again.

“Totsuka’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day?” he asked. Anna nodded.

“Don’t worry, Anna!” Yata said, popping his head into the room after eavesdropping so shamelessly. “We’ll help you make awesome chocolates!”

“You know how to make chocolates?” Izumo asked skeptically.

“Well, I’ve never done it before, but if we work together I’m sure we can figure it out.” Yata pumped a fist in the air.

“We could always just buy them,” Izumo said. Between his own expensive taste and his contacts in the city, Izumo knew some pretty good bakeries and candy shops.

He looked down at Anna’s puppy dog eyes and sighed in resignation.

Anna’s head turned to the staircase, as if she could sense Mikoto’s presence. Sure enough, Mikoto made his way down the stairs slowly, taking his usual seat at the bar.

“Mikoto, will you help us?” she asked, eyes glittering.

“Huh?” Mikoto blinked sleepily.

“We’re going to make chocolates,” she said. “For Tatara.”

Izumo watched for a reaction, but Mikoto’s expression remained impassive. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, was going on between those two, and he hadn’t seen Totsuka since that night at the bar a few months ago.

Mikoto frowned at Anna for a moment, and she must have turned those wide, guileless eyes on him, because he sighed, just as Izumo had moments ago, and muttered, “Fine.”

Izumo chuckled, both at Anna’s small, pleased smile and Mikoto’s disgruntled frown.

They all agreed to meet the next afternoon, after Anna returned from school, for their experimental baking session. Izumo was no amateur in the kitchen, although Valentine’s chocolates were something even he’d never tried to handmake. He looked up a few recipes online for them to try, confident enough in his culinary skills that they wouldn’t struggle too much.

They all met in the kitchen: Anna, Izumo, Yata, and Kamamoto. Even Mikoto showed up a few minutes later, though he was scowling like he’d rather be anywhere else.

“Okay, Anna,” Izumo said. “How do you want to do this?”

Izumo had shown her the different recipes he’d found on his phone: milk chocolate, a bitter dark chocolate, and white chocolate. After careful consideration, Anna had decided that she wanted to try all of them.  “Is that okay, Izumo?” she had asked with those puppy dog eyes, and Izumo had found it impossible to say no.

Anna sorted them into groups and instructed each one to focus on one recipe. Izumo couldn’t help but smile a little; he’d  never seen Anna this close to bossy before.

Eventually, though, Izumo did have to leave the kitchen to open Homra. When he did, he found Fushimi sitting at the bar, on his phone, lips pursed into his naturally serious expression.

“Oi, Fushimi,” Izumo called. “You wanna help the guys finish the chocolates for Anna?”

“No,” Fushimi said flatly.

Izumo was far too used to Fushimi’s rudeness to be surprised by his answer. “Okay,” he said. “Then do you want to make a few bucks tonight? Work the bar while I help finish Anna’s chocolates?”

Fushimi looked up from his phone, finally, and clicked his tongue. “I’m supposed to meet a colleague, but I guess we could meet here instead,” he said, which wasn’t quite an agreement, but it was a more accommodating answer than Izumo had been expecting.

“Great. Give them a drink on the house for their trouble,” Izumo said. “I’ll be back out before it gets too busy.”

Fushimi had been trained to work at the bar--though he’d been underage--back before his weird falling out with Yata. And although that falling out had meant Fushimi had cut all contact with Izumo and everyone else at Homra, now that the boys had made up, Izumo still trusted Fushimi. He was a smart kid, and though he didn’t spend as much time at Homra as he once had, it seemed that he’d come to terms with whatever had kept him and Yata apart for so long.

With Fushimi behind the bar, Izumo made his way back to the kitchen. Mikoto was grumbling, struggling to arrange the chocolates on the tray in the dainty cut-out that Anna had chosen. His death glare was powerful enough that it risked setting the chocolates on fire.

Laughing, Izumo batted Mikoto’s hand away and took over his station. “Give that to me,” he said. “You’re gonna ruin the shapes.”

He lost track of time, supervising everyone’s work, until Fushimi appeared at his side. “Kusanagi-san,” Fushimi said, “someone ordered a drink I don’t know how to make.”

Izumo raised an eyebrow. It must have been an uncommon order, for Fushimi to admit defeat. He followed Fushimi back to the bar.

“Awashima-san,” he heard Fushimi say, “please repeat your drink order to Kusanagi-san.”

Izumo pasted on his most charming customer service smile. “What can I get you?” he asked, before the customer in question came into full view and he stopped in his tracks.

To say she was lovely would be a gross understatement; blue eyes, long, golden hair. She was dressed in a soft purple blouse that accentuated every curve of her perfect figure. Behind him, Fushimi sighed knowingly, and it snapped Izumo back to the present. Had it been that obvious he’d been staring?

“Martini,” she said neutrally, all business. “Four parts gin to one part vermouth, and five scoops of red bean paste.”

Izumo blinked, wondering if he’d heard correctly. “Really?”

Awashima merely lifted a pale brow.

“I don’t know where you keep the red bean paste,” Fushimi said.

“That’s okay,” Izumo said. He turned to Awashima.“You have, uh, interesting taste.”

He dug through the small cooler he kept at the bar, searching for the container of red bean paste. Even if he personally loathed the drink, he was still a professional. When he slid the drink across the bar, he knew that it was both delicious -- well, relatively -- and aesthetically pleasing.

“Enjoy,” he said with a wink, pitching his voice low like he usually did when he used to seduce beautiful women.

Awashima took a long sip of her drink and nodded. “Thank you,” she said eventually, not even sparing Izumo a glance.

Resting his elbows on the bartop, Izumo leaned forward. “So, you’re Fushimi’s colleague, then?” he asked.

“I am.” Taking another sip, Awashima glanced around the bar. “And you’re a bartender?”

“Some nights.” Izumo chuckled, almost self-deprecating. Where was Yata when you needed him? He hadn’t made such a weak impression on a woman in a long time. “I’m the owner, too. Kusanagi Izumo.”

“I see. Awashima Seri,” she said.

Izumo was about to try a new avenue of conversation, when he felt a tug on his shirt. “Anna, what is it?” He placed a hand on her head.

“Try one, Izumo,” she said, offering him a chocolate. It was still warm. Anna turned to stare at Awashima with that intense gaze of hers, and, after a moment, she extended the plate of chocolates to Awashima as well.

Awashima hesitated, but she picked a piece of chocolate from the plate. Her eyes had softened at Anna’s appearance, but then widened in alarm when she bit down on the chocolate.

Izumo popped his chocolate into his mouth, and tried to bite back his instant reaction. Something was definitely off. “Uh…” he started, trying to think of how to tell Anna without hurting her feelings, after all the work they’d put in. “Do you know whose batch this was?” he asked.

“Mikoto’s,” Anna said.

Izumo sighed. “Right.” How had he messed up in the short time he’d been without Izumo? “Well, I think he might need some, uh, guidance.”

“Are you making Valentine’s chocolates?” Awashima asked Anna. She was the kind of person who spoke to kids like they were adults, Izumo thought, a little amused.

Anna nodded. “I want to make special chocolates this year,” she said. “But we don’t know how, even though Izumo is really good at cooking.”

Izumo flushed at the unexpected praise, and Awashima chuckled. “I see,” she said.

“Sorry, Anna,” Izumo said softly. “The bar’s getting busy, and I have to stay in front. We might have to try again another night.”

Anna nodded, traces of disappointment in her wet eyes and slight pout.

“I can help, if you’d like,” Awashima said, and Anna’s eyes glistened with hope.

“Are you sure?” Izumo asked.

Awashima nodded. “I’ve made chocolates before, with my family,” she said vaguely. She stood, and Anna took her hand to lead her to the kitchen, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Good luck,” Izumo called after them. He turned to Fushimi, who just shrugged and returned to his seat at the bar.

When Anna reemerged with another plate of chocolates sometime later, Izumo could see an immediate difference, at least in the presentation. These chocolates were more beautifully formed than the last batch had been. Awashima trailed behind Anna, her hair pulled into a tight bun, sweat glistening on her brow. Izumo thought that she looked even lovelier like this.

“Try one,” Anna said.

He swallowed the chocolate and grinned at its rich texture and sweetness. “That’s delicious, Anna,” he said sincerely.

Anna’s smile was small and pleased.

“Does it pass the final test?” Awashima asked.

Anna nodded. “Even Mikoto liked it,” she explained to Izumo.

Izumo chuckled. “Well done,” he said. “But you should really be getting to bed, Anna. I’ll help the boys clean up later. Have Mikoto take you upstairs.”

Anna nodded again, but she tugged Izumo’s sleeve, silently asking him to bend down.

“What?” he asked, leaning down.

Anna leaned in close and cupped her hands to whisper, “Can we give Seri some chocolates?”

Izumo smiled. “Of course.” He searched the shopping bag for the bundle of decorative boxes he’d bought in anticipation for their chocolate-making. They had enough that they could spare one for Awashima’s chocolates. He handed it to Anna, and she ran into the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a folded box.

She presented the box to Awashima with a tiny smile. “Thank you for helping us with Tatara’s chocolates,” she said quietly.

Awashima blinked, taken aback, but answered with her own little smile. “Thank you,” she said, accepted the little red box.

“Time for bed,” Izumo said, patting Anna’s head. “Good night.”

“Good night, Izumo,” Anna said, before running off towards the kitchen, no doubt to grab Mikoto’s hand and drag him upstairs.

Awashima watched Anna run off, her gaze evaluating. “She’s not your child?” she asked eventually.

Izumo smiled at the question, too used to it to be surprised or annoyed. “No, I’m her guardian. Well, me and Mikoto are. Mikoto’s the guy with, uh, red hair. The one who probably looked like he was about to set the chocolates on fire.”

“Yes, Anna introduced us.” Awashima opened her purse, placing the chocolates inside with great care. She hesitated after she closed her purse again, gaze flitting to Fushimi then settling on Izumo. “Well, I’ll be going, then. Good night, Fushimi-kun, Kusanagi-kun,” she said evenly.

“Good night, Seri-chan!” Izumo winked, just to see if it would annoy her.

It did.

He watched her leave the bar, grinning to himself. He heard Fushimi sigh in exasperation, and Izumo couldn’t even pretend to feel bad about his interest in Fushimi’s beautiful coworker. His smile lasted through the night, even when he entered the kitchen and saw the absolute disaster that remained, even as Yata and Kamamoto cleaned dutifully.

A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, Izumo sent Anna off to school with the carefully packaged chocolates for Totsuka. She glowed with excitement, hardly able to eat her breakfast. And when she got home in the afternoon, she looked just as pleased.

“So,” Izumo said, “how did it go?”

Anna opened her communication notebook to the day’s date and handed it to Izumo. Totsuka had left them a note there.


To Anna and her Homra boys,

Thank you for the lovely gift. I don’t think I’ve ever received such beautiful homemade chocolates for Valentine’s Day or my birthday. I can definitely tell that they were made with love.

I hope to see you all very soon!

Love,

Totsuka Tatara


Izumo grinned. “I’m glad he liked them.”

Later, when Mikoto made his way downstairs, Anna offered him the notebook with the same pleased look. Mikoto scanned the message, lips quirking into the small, soft smile that Izumo was beginning to associate with Totsuka.

He had so many questions.

 

*


The morning of Anna’s class trip, she hugged Mikoto tightly around the waist, as though she was leaving forever and not for a couple of days. “Bye, Mikoto,” she said quietly. Mikoto patted her on the head twice.

Kusanagi walked her to school, carrying the suitcase that was packed with clothes and the other items that had been listed in the information packet. Mikoto considered going back to bed, but he felt strangely restless, so he had a cup of coffee and cigarette instead.

When Kusanagi returned, he looked thoughtful. After pouring himself a cup of coffee, he took a seat beside Mikoto.

“What is it?” Mikoto asked.

“After I dropped Anna off at her classroom, I was talking to one of the mothers,” Kusanagi said. “She said she was excited for her kid to be out of the house so she could finally have a date night with her husband.”

Mikoto snickered. “Are we having a date night, then? I’m not your husband.”

Kusanagi gave him a flat look. “You’re not my type,” he said dryly, then grinned. “And it seems I’m not yours, either.”

Mikoto glowered at him and lit another cigarette.

“I just meant,” Kusanagi continued, “that with Anna away for a couple of nights, we can do whatever we want.”

“There’s still a bar to run,” Mikoto pointed out. What was Kusanagi so eager to do, with Anna away?

“Well, maybe we can split the time off, then. You can take tonight off and I’ll take tomorrow night.”

Mikoto was about to ask what the hell he was meant to do with a night off, but then he suddenly thought of the scarf upstairs in his apartment, of a smile he’d not seen in months, and thought, impulsively, why not? “Fine,” he said. “Whatever.”

Kusanagi smiled triumphantly. “Now I just have to figure out how to get Fushimi to give me Seri-chan’s number,” he said. He scrolled through the contacts on his phone. “Heh, maybe I should ask Yata to get it from Fushimi for me.” He selected a contact and pressed the phone to his ear. “Yo, Yata,” he said, walking towards the kitchen, out of earshot.

Left alone, Mikoto took out his own phone and opened his chat with Totsuka. Their last conversation had been on Valentine’s Day, when Totsuka had sent him a thank-you message for the chocolates, with far too many winking emojis. While he hated texting, and using his phone in general, Mikoto had replied to wish him a happy birthday. Totsuka had replied to that with even more ridiculous emojis. He’d briefly considered asking Kusanagi what the hell a few of them were supposed to be, but he was afraid he’d never live it down.

Before he could think better of it, he typed out a message and clicked send. Yo, he wrote. He was surprised when his phone chimed with an answer only a few moments later.

Hello, Suoh Mikoto, King of Homra!!!! Totsuka replied.

Mikoto rolled his eyes, both at the whole “King” thing and the number of exclamation marks. It was like he could hear Totsuka’s voice in his head. You’re not teaching right now? he wrote.

His phone chimed again. Nope. My first class is only next period.

You didn’t go on Anna’s trip, Mikoto wrote.

Nope ;)

Throat suddenly dry, Mikoto swallowed. He stared down at the winking face, trying to figure out if it had always looked so suggestive.




Mikoto knocked on Totsuka’s door, scarf in hand.

Mikoto had remembered the route to Totsuka’s apartment from Homra in vivid detail. He tried not to linger on the memory of pushing Totsuka against this very door, but it was still so fresh in his mind, like it had only been days since they’d last kissed, and not months.

After a few long moments, the door swung open. Totsuka, dressed in a baggy hoodie and pajama pants, stared at him with wide eyes. “Uh…”

Mikoto hadn’t known what he was supposed to say to arrange a “date night,” or whatever Kusanagi had called it, and so he had decided to just show up. But now, he was suddenly too aware that it was nighttime, and that not everyone stayed up through the night like he did, especially not a schoolteacher on a weeknight. “I brought your scarf,” he said eventually, offering the scarf to Totsuka.

After a beat, Totsuka smiled, and it was just as sunny as Mikoto had remembered. “Thank you,” Totsuka said, taking the scarf from Mikoto. He hesitated, but then he looked up at Mikoto through his eyelashes. “Would you like to come inside?”

Mikoto’s heart thumped in his chest.

He nodded, and Totsuka stepped aside to let him through the door. Looking around Totsuka’s small apartment, Mikoto couldn’t imagine a space more different from his own large, sparsely decorated loft. The furniture here was old and mismatched, and the place was full of art and photographs.

He felt Totsuka’s cool hand on his arm.

“I was just about to make tea. Want some?” Totsuka asked. Mikoto nodded again. “Make yourself at home,” Totsuka said, before heading to the kitchen.

Mikoto took off his jacket and hung it on a rack beside Totsuka’s coat, then slid off his shoes. With Totsuka in the other room, Mikoto took the chance to look around. Most of the photographs scattered about were urban landscapes and nightscapes. Mikoto scanned a shelf of pictures; Totsuka himself wasn’t in any of them. Except…

Mikoto’s eyes fell to a small, framed picture of a child and a man. They looked nothing alike. It must have been Totsuka when he was a kid, no older than ten years old. He was tiny, golden-haired, flashing a peace sign. Cheeks round and pink, his smile was as wide and bright as it had been today. The man, though, looked tired and worn, and he was barely smiling at all. Mikoto found it hard to imagine that a man like that could have raised someone like Totsuka.

Totsuka wandered back from the kitchen and stood beside Mikoto, two steaming mugs in hand. He handed one to Mikoto.

“Is that your dad?” Mikoto asked, eyes on the photograph.

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. My adoptive father, technically.”

“Adoptive?” Mikoto turned to look at Totsuka, evaluating his expression. He was smiling, eyes distant. Mikoto couldn’t help but think that maybe this explained some of Totsuka’s attachment to Anna. He wondered why there were no other family photographs. “What was he like?” Mikoto asked, eyes returning to the picture.

“That guy?” Totsuka chuckled. “He liked to gamble, and always had money-lenders after him.”

Mikoto raised an eyebrow. What was a guy like that doing adopting a child?

“Sometimes, he was away for days at a time, hiding,” Totsuka continued. “I made it into a game, seeing if I could lead them off his trail.”

Mikoto stared at him and Totsuka laughed at whatever he saw in Mikoto’s expression. Totsuka’s fingers curled around Mikoto’s wrist, and then he dragged him over to the couch.

“Is that why you like Anna so much?” Mikoto asked, once he was seated. “‘Cause her parents…”

Anna had lost a lot in her young life. First her parents, and then Honami.

Totsuka hummed. “No. I mean, our circumstances aren’t really all that similar. My biological parents are still alive. Well, at least I assume they are.” Mikoto sipped the mug of tea, waiting for him to continue. “Apparently, when I was three, my father and his wife found me in a park. I told them that my parents had told me to wait there, but, obviously, they never came back for me. And then my father’s wife left him, and didn’t take me with her, and so it was just us.” He chuckled. “I don’t really remember my birth parents, and I never tried to find them. I never wanted to. My father thought I was cold-hearted for that.”

Mikoto studied Totsuka’s smile, wondering how he could tell the story of his childhood with such detachment.

“So, to answer your question, I guess I was curious about Anna at first, with all the things the teachers said. But I just think she’s an interesting kid.”

Mikoto chuckled. “I can only imagine what the teachers say.”

“Does it bother you? What the teachers might think of you?”

Mikoto shrugged. “Not really.”

Totsuka was staring at him. “Do you…”

“Do I what?”

“I’m trying to figure out how to ask without being rude.” Totsuka bit his lip.

“Just ask.”

“Do you regret it, taking in Anna?”

“Do I seem like I regret it?”

“No. It’s just a big responsibility, for people so young.”

Mikoto shrugged. It had felt like that at first, maybe; the way Anna needed him was a heavy weight on his shoulders. But for someone like him, who wasn’t great with people in the first place, all of his relationships came with that pressure, even if he wouldn’t trade them for the world. “Anna would have been part of our lives, either way, if Honami…” He let out a heavy sigh. “Anyways, it’s not like there’s not a lot of people taking care of her. It’s not just me.”

Totsuka smiled. “Anna and her Homra boys,” he said fondly. Now Totsuka was looking at Mikoto like he was the interesting one. He leaned in, ever so slightly, and Mikoto couldn’t help but mirror the movement.

They jumped apart at the ringing of Mikoto’s cell phone, and Mikoto was getting annoyed that this was becoming a pattern. He thought about not answering, since he didn’t recognize the number, but he sighed and accepted the call. “What?”

“Mikoto?” It was Anna’s quiet voice on the line.

“Anna?” he replied, confused. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” she said. “I just wanted to tell Mikoto good night.”

“Ah,” he said awkwardly. “Good night.” He waited a beat to see if Anna would say anything else, but the line disconnected immediately. Mikoto shoved his phone back into his back pocket.

Totsuka was laughing silently at him.

“What?” Mikoto asked, eyes narrowed.

“The two of you are so chatty,” Totsuka teased.

“Shut up,” Mikoto grumbled. “I don’t know why she called me.”

“Well, the children are usually allowed to call their parents before they go to bed on school trips.” Totsuka was still watching him intently, smiling.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Totsuka suddenly averted his gaze.

Mikoto tugged on the strings of Totsuka’s hoodie. “What?” he asked again.

“I was just thinking,” Totsuka said, biting his lip, “that I feel a little guilty?”

“Why?”

“Because right before Anna called, I was thinking about kissing you.” Totsuka’s smile was wry. “It’s like she knew!”

“You’re an idiot,” Mikoto said evenly, even as he felt heat simmer in his belly at the thought of kissing Totsuka here, where they were alone, with nothing to stop them. He wanted to lean over and do it himself, but then he remembered Totsuka’s hesitation, months ago, when he’d said that they should wait until the spring.

So, he picked up his mug of tea and took a long sip, even if it was now lukewarm. Sensing Totsuka’s eyes on him, he placed the mug back down on the old coffee table and turned to look at Totsuka. He had nice eyes, he thought, especially when he was looking at Mikoto like that. They were a warm brown, with flecks of gold.

Everything about Totsuka’s face was nice, really, from the slope of his nose to the delicate curves of his cheeks. Heart pounding, Mikoto thought that he’d never liked a face this much before. And his lips…

And then Totsuka did lean over, painfully slowly, to press their lips together. It was soft, achingly so; Totsuka pulled back a little, eyes searching Mikoto’s face, and then he leaned in again with another kiss that was just as sweet. With every feather-light brush of Totsuka’s lips, Mikoto couldn’t help but feel like Totsuka was being careful with him. Annoyed, he pressed in closer so he could deepen the kiss, a little clumsy, settling one hand on Totsuka’s nape. Totsuka gasped, but he responded in kind, shifting a little closer and laying a hand on Mikoto’s chest.

Mikoto lost track of time as they kissed. He wasn’t sure if it was minutes or hours later when Totsuka broke away, panting into Mikoto’s cheek. Mikoto’s hands had fallen to rest on Totsuka’s waist, fingers playing with the hem of his sweatshirt. He frowned, because the bulky material was kind of in his way. Tugging at the sweater, he lifted it over Totsuka’s head and threw it on the floor. Totsuka, in his thin, white T-shirt, trembled. When Mikoto met his gaze, Totsuka’s eyes were dark. Mikoto leaned back in for more, running his hands down Totsuka’s arms, along the lines of his back, sharing his warmth.

Totsuka wasn’t holding back anymore, not as he pulled Mikoto down to lie on top of him so they were both horizontal on the couch. Mikoto groaned, because every inch of their bodies were touching now. Mikoto kissed him deeply as the heat in his belly spread, nearly unbearable. He tried not to frown when Totsuka pulled away again.

“It’s getting late,” Totsuka whispered, breath hot on Mikoto’s ear. Mikoto swallowed his disappointment, until Totsuka said, “Maybe you should take me to bed.”

“Fuck,” Mikoto grunted. His stomach clenched at the rasp of Totsuka’s voice as much as at the suggestion itself. He felt Totsuka smile against his cheek, trail his lips along his jaw. Mikoto shuddered. “Hold on,” he said, grabbing under Totsuka’s thighs. Totsuka wrapped his arms around Mikoto’s neck, so that Mikoto could lift him off the couch and carry him to bed.



He awoke to something cool against his cheek. His eyes fluttered open, and Totsuka was smiling down at him, brighter than the early morning sunlight that streamed in through the window. Blinking, Mikoto slowly made sense of where he was.

“Good morning,” Totsuka chirped. “Did you sleep okay?”

Mikoto grunted. His brain was still lagging, because he hadn’t exactly gotten much sleep last night. “You’re a morning person, aren’t you?” he managed to croak.

“Ha! Well, it’s better to be one, as a teacher.” Totsuka gently ran his fingers through Mikoto’s hair. “Unfortunately, I have to get to school soon. The bathroom is yours.”

In the bathroom, Mikoto found a clean towel and unopened toothbrush package. Under the warm spray of the shower, it was hard not to let memories of last night wash over him; the taste of Totsuka’s sweat-slick skin, the way he’d trembled under Mikoto as he’d come, the heat of his mouth on Mikoto. Mikoto’s cock stirred with interest, and so he twisted the knob and let the ice-cold water calm him down.

He toweled off and quickly brushed his teeth before stepping back into the bedroom to dress in last night’s clothes. He found Totsuka in the small kitchen, packing his work bag. Totsuka looked up at Mikoto’s approach, and Mikoto watched his face light up. “Do you want something to eat?” Totsuka asked. “Or coffee? Or--”

Mikoto cut him off with a kiss, trying to keep it light and easy but not having the self-restraint to pull it off. Totsuka kissed back for a few moments before pulling away to smile sweetly at him. When they parted ways not long after, Totsuka heading towards the school and Mikoto heading home, that image stuck with Mikoto, keeping him warm even in the brisk morning chill.

It was early enough in the morning that the bar was empty when he walked in through the front door. Nobody would be here for hours yet, since Anna wasn’t home. Mikoto made his way up the stairs, almost crashing right into Kusanagi when he walked through the entryway. Kusanagi gaped at him.

“What?” Mikoto grumbled.

“Are you just getting home?”

“You told me to go out.”

“I didn’t think you’d stay out all night!”

Mikoto snorted. “Am I in trouble?”

Kusanagi looked too amused. “No, no,” he said lightly. “You didn’t fall asleep outside, did you?”

“Shut up.” Mikoto considered Kusanagi’s curious gaze and decided it would be less of a pain in the ass to just tell him now. “I was returning something.”

Kusanagi’s eyes widened in surprise. “Good for you!” he crowed, patting Mikoto on the shoulder.

“Oi,” Mikoto scowled, dodging Kusanagi’s hand.

“Well, it just so happens that I have a date tonight, too,” Kusanagi said.

Mikoto studied Kusanagi’s happy grin. There was a time, not that long ago, when Kusanagi had gone on lots of dates, with lots of women. But Anna’s arrival in their lives had changed Kusanagi’s lifestyle the most, and he hadn’t really dated since then. “Huh,” Mikoto said eventually. “Do your best. I’m going to bed.” He gave a half-hearted salute and then headed to his room.

He heard Kusanagi call, “Heh, didn’t get much sleep last night, did you?” But he decided not to give him the satisfaction of a response.



[March]

 

“Hey, Anna, do you want to have a graduation party?” Izumo asked. Anna looked up from her homework to stare blankly at him. “We can have everyone over at Homra after your graduation ceremony, since not everyone can go. You can invite whoever you’d like.”

She considered for a moment. “Okay,” she said with a small smile.

Anna’s graduation was in less than a week, and while Izumo had had months to prepare for it, it still felt impossible that Anna was going to be heading into middle school. Anna was practically a teenager, he thought frantically.

“Can I invite Tatara?” she asked eventually.

Izumo stilled. “Sure,” he said carefully. He was secretly relieved that she’d brought it up, and Izumo hadn’t had to ask her, saying something like hey, can Totsuka come? You know, your teacher? I’m pretty sure he and Mikoto are boyfriends . “You can invite your classmates, if you want.”

Anna hummed. “I think I want it to just be us,” she said.

Izumo smiled warmly. “That’s fine.”

On the day of Anna’s graduation, Izumo, Mikoto, Yata, and Kamamoto made their way to Anna’s school, just like they had so many months ago for the music concert. Izumo couldn’t help but smile at all that had changed since then.

They were ushered into the auditorium, which was decorated with large, shiny congratulatory banners. They clapped politely at the end of every boring speech, first the long-winded principal, and then the three different sixth grade homeroom teachers, ending with Takeda-sensei. The graduating students were finally summoned from their front-row seats, only for the nervous-looking class representative to give a boring speech of her own.

The four of them stood, shouting and whistling, when Anna finally crossed the stage to receive her diploma. They only had to endure one more speech from the guest of honor before the ceremony was over, and then they filed out of the auditorium in a sea of parents, teachers, and other guests.

Waiting outside, Izumo searched the crowd of students for Anna. He raised a hand to wave at her when he finally spotted her, her pale hair gleaming in the sunlight. She approached them, smile small and serene, clutching her diploma.

“Congratulations, Anna,” Izumo murmured into her hair as he squeezed her in a tight hug. Yata, Kamamoto, and even a content-looking Mikoto got their turns. Izumo had never seen Anna so pleased. “Ready to go?” he asked.

When he turned to look at Mikoto, Mikoto was staring off into the distance. Following his gaze, Izumo spotted Totsuka making his way through the mass of students and parents, stopping to give quick congratulations and pats on the shoulder with the brightest of smiles.

“Ah,” Izumo said knowingly. Mikoto gave him an annoyed look, but made no move to leave. They all waited for Totsuka to make his way over, and Izumo couldn’t tell who was watching him more intently, Anna or Mikoto.

Totsuka greeted them warmly. “Congratulations, Anna!” he said. Anna wrapped her arms around him, tight enough that he gasped. He laid his hand gently on her head.

“Tatara, you’re coming to my party tonight, right?” she asked, looking up at him.

“Of course I am,” Totsuka said. “I’ll be there after work, okay?”

Anna nodded, finally relinquishing him from her hold.

Rather than have Anna invite Totsuka while they were at school, Izumo had asked Mikoto if he would ask him, since Izumo suspected they were in contact. Mikoto had regarded him suspiciously, but agreed easily enough.

“I’ll see you guys later,” Totsuka said with a wink that was obviously for one person in particular.

Izumo would have to remind himself to tease Mikoto later, for the way that his lips quirked into the softest of smiles as Totsuka turned to walk back to the school.


*


As always, Homra was a loud and vibrant place, full of chatter and laughter and music thumping in the background. Tatara sat on the barstool, amused, watching the Homra boys dote on Anna. She’d been showered with flowers and small gifts and congratulatory praises; her eyes shone so brightly, Tatara wondered if she might cry.

Tatara had been introduced to the other boys, who all seemed to be Homra employees and part of Anna’s little family, and they were all kind and charming in their own way. He glanced at the Homra boy beside him. Mikoto was a little more quiet than the rest, granted, but to Tatara, he was the most vibrant; his presence was as powerful as it had been that day at the school so many months ago, when Tatara had laid eyes on him for the first time.

Tatara stretched out a leg so their ankles brushed. When Mikoto met his gaze, Tatara winked, just to see if he could coax out a smile. Even a glare would do, really. The heat in Mikoto’s answering look sent chills down Tatara’s spine, and not for the first time that evening, Tatara wanted to pull him into a kiss. Before his thoughts could wander into any more dangerous territory, Anna ran up to them, automatically leaning against Mikoto.

“Are you having fun, Anna?” Tatara asked, and Anna nodded vigorously. “I have something for you to try, if you want.” He grabbed his camera bag and unzipped it. “It’s a Polaroid camera.” He pointed the camera at the two of them. “Smile!” he sang.

The camera whirred and spat out the photograph. He handed it to Anna, and she held it carefully, like it was made of gold.

“Just give it a minute,” Tatara said, and Anna stared at it intently, watching as the image slowly cleared. He handed her the camera. “I haven’t used it in ages, so take as many pictures as you’d like.”

Anna’s eyes sparkled as she clutched the camera. “I want a picture of Tatara and Mikoto,” she said.

Tatara chuckled, leaning into Mikoto as he smiled for the camera. He rested a hand on Mikoto’s leg for balance, and also maybe to tease him a little. Anna snapped the picture, and then focused on the developing image as keenly as she had the first time. Satisfied with the photograph, Anna ran off, no doubt to take shots of her other Homra boys.

“Oi,” Mikoto murmured.

“Hmm?” Tatara met his gaze, smiling innocently. Mikoto’s eyes flicked down to where Tatara’s hand was still on his leg. “Ah, sorry,” Tatara teased, slowly sliding his hand off.

Mikoto considered him for a moment before rising from his seat. Grabbing Tatara’s hand, he pulled him to his feet and led him out of the bar and into the entryway of the kitchen.

“What are you--” Tatara was cut off by the press of Mikoto’s lips. Mikoto backed him into the room, until Tatara’s ass bumped into a counter. Tatara rose to the tips of his toes, circling his arms around Mikoto’s neck. He loved the way Mikoto kissed: unselfconsciously, a little rough, always so intense. It was still like being set on fire; all he could do was let himself be consumed.

Eventually, someone cleared their throat behind them. When Tatara peeked around Mikoto’s body, which was still pressing him into the counter, he saw that Kusanagi was watching them.

Grinning, Kusanagi wolf-whistled. “Sorry to interrupt,” he said. “I just need to grab Anna’s cake.”

Mikoto stepped back from Tatara, putting some distance between them. He was frowning grumpily, the way he had when they’d been interrupted before. Tatara snuck a hand on Mikoto’s back and rubbed soothing circles with his thumb.

“You’re lucky it was just me,” Kusanagi teased.

Tatara bit his lip. They had been a bit reckless. And they hadn’t talked yet about who they were going to tell and when, assuming Mikoto would be comfortable with that.

“They’d figure it out eventually,” he heard Mikoto mutter. Tatara looked up at him, and Mikoto was watching him, eyes so warm. Tatara wanted to kiss him again.

“Yeah,” Kusanagi said dryly, looking between them. “There’s probably a better way, though. You’d give poor Yata a heart attack.” Mikoto snickered. Anna’s elaborately crafted cake in hand, Kusanagi tilted his head towards the door. “Let’s go, lovebirds.”

Anna was, unsurprisingly, totally overwhelmed by the stunning red velvet graduation cake that Kusanagi had ordered from a local bakery. And Tatara had never seen so many grown boys get quite so emotional over a girl and her graduation cake.

Tatara accepted a piece of cake from Yata, and so did Mikoto beside him.

“Totsuka-san, now that Anna’s graduated, does that mean we won’t see you anymore?” Yata asked earnestly. Tatara laughed, and Mikoto choked on the bite of cake he’d just taken.

“Of course not, Yata,” Tatara replied. “We’re all friends now, right?”

“Right!” Yata grinned widely, and then went back to passing out slices of cake.

Once they’d all eaten too much sugar, and the boys started drinking, Kusanagi called out to Anna. “It’s time to get ready for bed,” he said.

She nodded, with the closest thing to a pout that Tatara had ever seen, and then she ran up to him. She handed him the camera and an impressive stack of Polaroids.

“These are lovely, Anna,” Tatara said with a smile, as he flipped through the pictures. He lingered on the one of him and Mikoto, heart fluttering at their closeness in the image. “You know what? We should put these in an album.”

“Okay,” she said, eyes sparkling.

Tatara returned the pile of photographs. “Keep them with you for now, okay?”

She nodded. “Good night, Tatara. Good night, Mikoto.” Tatara watched her say goodnight to the rest of the boys before running up the stairs.

Mikoto eyed the camera. “What’s with all that?” he asked, taking a cigarette out of his back pocket and placing it between his lips.

“It’s important to preserve memories,” Tatara replied seriously. He picked up the camera and focused it on Mikoto, snapping a picture of his grumpy, unimpressed face. When the camera spat out the photograph, Tatara set it on the bartop. “Plus, it’s fun.”

“Uh-huh,” Mikoto said. “What’s so fun about it?”

Tatara hummed. Smiling innocently, he leaned over. “I want to blow you again,” he whispered into Mikoto’s ear. He sat back to watch Mikoto gape, the cigarette dropping from his mouth. Tatara giggled, snapping another picture of him.

“You’re a brat,” Mikoto said, knowing very well that the picture would be ridiculous. He snatched the camera from Tatara.

“You should try--” For the second time that night, Tatara was cut off by Mikoto’s mouth. Mikoto pulled away quickly, and then Tatara heard the click of the camera. He realized that Mikoto had just taken a picture of his own surprised, gaping face.

The whir of the camera seemed extra loud, since everyone had stopped talking and turned to stare at them. Smirking, Mikoto paid them no mind, staring intently at the photograph even though it was nothing but dark shadows.

Kusanagi made his way back down the stairs, having tucked Anna into bed, looking puzzled at the sudden silence. “What did I miss?” he asked.

“N-nothing!” Yata shouted.

“Mikoto-san and Totsuka-san are being gross,” Fushimi muttered.

Kusanagi glanced at them, a little surprised, and then laughed.

“I told you they’d figure it out,” Mikoto said lowly, smirking down at the photograph in his hand. The image had cleared, and in it, Tatara’s mouth hung open, shock evident even in the blurriness of the photo. Mikoto snickered.

Tatara didn’t mind being teased, but he stuck his lip out in a pout, just to see what Mikoto would do.

Mikoto’s eyes dropped to Tatara’s mouth and, seeing through his act, he clicked his tongue. “It’s getting late,” he said.

“Mmm. Do you think Yata would walk me home this time?” Tatara asked lightly. Mikoto’s answering gaze sent a shiver down his spine.

Walking home together this time, the sense of anticipation felt distinctly different; it wasn’t from wondering what it would be like to kiss Suoh Mikoto, but rather, from the knowledge that there was no longer any reason to hold back.

Spring was here.

The walk home felt far too long.

“Are you coming inside?” Tatara asked, after unlocking his door with a shaky hand. Instead of answering, Mikoto crowded Tatara into the apartment. “Is that a yes?”

“You talk too much.”

Tatara was ready for it this time, when Mikoto swooped down to kiss him. He reached blindly for the door, trying to push it closed behind them. The door slammed shut, and Mikoto took that as permission to press in closer and deepen the kiss.

Tatara closed his eyes. He poured everything he had into the kiss, all of the longing and desire he’d felt, since the first time he’d seen Mikoto, and his hopes for what was to come. It was like playing with fire, he thought, when Mikoto’s grip tightened in response.

It was hard to be afraid of fire, he thought, as Mikoto cupped his cheek tenderly, when he knew, instinctively, that it could never hurt him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

You are not alone
I’ve been here the whole time
Singing you a song

I will carry you

- “Carry You” by Ruelle


[3 Years Later…]

 

The first thing Mikoto noticed as he woke was that he was alone in bed. Eyes still closed, he felt blindly beside him and confirmed that the other side of the bed was indeed empty. And cold.

He sighed.

He’d grown accustomed to waking to someone’s arms wrapped tightly around him, someone’s face pressed into his neck, someone’s cold toes pressed against his calf. Totsuka was nothing if not clingy, especially as he slept.

Three years ago, if someone had told Mikoto that he’d like it, that he’d look forward to it, he would have scoffed.

He sat up, awareness of his setting filtering in slowly. He heard the soft strumming of a guitar, and the notes of a painfully familiar melody. His phone sat on the bedside table, so he poked at it and groaned internally when it displayed the time. It was still so early.

Slowly, he made his way into the living room, scratching his belly sleepily.

Totsuka’s apartment hadn’t changed much over the years they’d been together; it was still eccentric, like Totsuka himself, full of color and art and weird knick knacks that Totsuka insisted were for some new hobby. (Totsuka’s collection of junk had even started to spill over into Homra, much to Kusanagi’s displeasure.) Really, the only noticeable change in Totsuka’s place was that Totsuka was actually in some of the photographs he displayed now, and not just that one yellowed photograph of him and his father.

Sure enough, Totsuka was curled up on his favorite chair beside the window, bathing in the sunlight, clad in Mikoto’s too-big white T-shirt and boxer shorts. He continued to pluck at the strings of his guitar, even as he turned to look at Mikoto’s entry. “Sorry,” he said, voice still raspy from sleep. “Did I wake you?” His eyes roamed over Mikoto’s bare chest shamelessly.

Mikoto just shook his head. He let his fingers brush Totsuka’s nape gently, appreciated the way such a simple touch could still make Totsuka shiver. “Why are you up?” he asked.  It was still ridiculously early, and they didn’t have to be back at Homra until much later. And they hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, since they’d taken advantage of the alone time.

“Mmm, just restless.”

Mikoto watched the graceful movement of Totsuka’s hands. “Are you trying to play yourself to sleep?”

“This isn’t my lullaby,” Totsuka said wryly.

When he’d learned about Mikoto’s somewhat difficult relationship with sleep, Totsuka had decided that he was going to compose what he called the “most soothing song ever,” as if he could simply sing the insomnia away. And to Mikoto’s initial embarrassment, it had sometimes worked. Totsuka had spent many wordless nights in Mikoto’s bed, just playing.

For just a moment, Mikoto let himself look at the way the morning sunlight lit up Totsuka’s golden hair, the way his new earring glinted, even shinier than the old one had been.

One day, not that long ago, Kusanagi had made an off-hand comment about Mikoto and Totsuka living together-- or, rather, about them not living together. “You don’t want to?” Kusanagi had probed. Mikoto had just shrugged, not really having a good answer. They’d never talked about it before.

When Mikoto had told Totsuka about his conversation with Kusanagi, Totsuka had hummed, then said, “But you like your space, don’t you?”  He’d said it earnestly, without any bitterness or resentment. Mikoto had just grunted, because it was true. “I like the way things are,” Totsuka had murmured, and ended the discussion with a soft kiss.

Mikoto liked the way things were, too. And, he supposed, that didn’t mean things couldn’t change somewhere down the line.

Kusanagi had just chuckled when Mikoto told him what Totsuka had said. “You’re lucky,” he’d said. “The other day, I heard a group of guys our age complainin’ that their girlfriends had been nagging them for engagement rings.”

“We can’t get married,” Mikoto had pointed out.

Not to mention, Kusanagi was already married.

“You know what I mean,” Kusanagi had said.

Mikoto did know what he meant: proof of a commitment.

The days following, Mikoto had turned the word “commitment” over in his head. Before, it had always sounded like “burden,” like a chain weighing him down, and like a lot of trouble for something that probably wouldn’t last. He already had enough people in his life who had expectations of him, between Kusanagi and Anna. But this thing with Totsuka, it wasn’t like that at all. He’d had no experience with relationships before, and so he hadn’t really had any expectations, but he’d never imagined it would be quite like this: easy, grounding.

He felt known.

The trouble had never seemed more worth it.

And so, one night, as he was running his fingers through the soft strands of Totsuka’s hair, his fingers brushed against the cool metal of Totsuka’s earring, and Mikoto had eyed it intently.

Totsuka had gaped at him when, a few days later, he had shown up with a brand new piercing of his own. “Here,” Mikoto had said, handing Totsuka a small velvet bag.

Amused, Totsuka accepted it and pulled out its contents. “Did you get us matching earrings?” he teased, eyes shining.

“Shut up,” Mikoto had grumbled. “They came as a set.”

Totsuka burst out into laughter. “A set, hmm?” Still smiling, Totsuka had removed his earring and replaced it with the new one. Totsuka had proceeded to launch himself at Mikoto, and the long, elaborate thank you Totsuka had given him had made even Kusanagi’s eventual ribbing worth it.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Totsuka asked, and Mikoto snapped back to the present.

Mikoto shook his head. “Come back to bed,” he said.

Totsuka blinked innocently. “But I’m not tired.”

“Totsuka,” Mikoto said, voice low and commanding, “put down the guitar.”

Eyes dark and lips parted, Totsuka obeyed, setting his guitar down. Mikoto ran his thumb along Totsuka’s lower lip. When his thumb fell away, Totsuka’s lips pursed expectantly. Mikoto leaned down to indulge him in a feather-light kiss. He pulled back, and Totsuka smiled.

“Aren’t you gonna take me to bed?”

Sighing, Mikoto hoisted Totsuka over his shoulder. “So much trouble,” he grumbled.

Totsuka giggled all the way to the bedroom.

 

*

 

“Don’t worry, Kusanagi-san!” Tatara said. “We’ll be fine. Right, Kotaro?”

Kotaro didn’t answer, of course. Still tucked into his little car seat, he chewed on his chubby little fist, drooling impressively. Neither Kusanagi nor Seri looked like they wanted to leave him with Tatara and Mikoto, but it was their anniversary, and Tatara figured they should do something special. At the very least, they should get some alone time, even if it was only for a few hours.

He shooed them towards the stairs. “Go, have fun!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kusanagi called, before disappearing from view down the stairs.

Tatara unbuckled Kotaro from his baby carrier and lifted him out. Still sleepy from the ride over, Kotaro snuggled into Tatara’s shoulder, his drool-damp hand clutching at the soft material of Tatara’s T-shirt. Rubbing Kotaro’s back soothingly, Tatara took a seat on the couch beside Mikoto.

Mikoto eyed Kotaro distrustfully, probably because he wasn’t allowed to smoke when Kotaro was over. “He’s sleeping,” he said, and it almost sounded like an accusation.

As if in response, Kotaro yawned adorably.

Tatara chuckled. “He was probably sleeping on the drive over, and we’ve interrupted him,” he said softly. “I’ll put him down for a bit.”

They kept a crib at the apartment, tucked away in a corner in the living room, or in Anna’s room, depending on the day. Since Anna wasn’t home today, Tatara settled Kotaro into her room.

Watching Kotaro curl up, chubby fist finding its way back into his mouth, Tatara marveled at how much bigger he seemed, compared to the last time he’d slept in the crib. Tatara couldn’t help but sneak a few pictures, knowing that at least Seri would appreciate his tendency to slightly over-document Kotaro’s visits. The boys teased him about his tendency to over-document everything, really, from Anna’s school events, to birthdays, to the day that Yata and Fushimi had first held hands at Homra in front of everyone.

To Tatara, these were important memories with the people who had become precious to him.

He’d never had a family before, not like this, and he could hardly begin to articulate how grateful he was that, among everything Mikoto had brought him, he’d brought him a family, too.

He liked to think he’d already started to pass his hobby on to Anna. After she’d taken interest in photography, he’d spent some time with her putting her favorite pictures into an album. Then, she’d quietly ask to display some photos in the apartment, and then some of her drawings, until, gradually, the apartment -- and eventually Homra, too--  filled up with art and photographs.

Anna had given Tatara the Polaroid picture of him and Mikoto, the one from her graduation party, even before they’d sat her down to tell her about their relationship. Tatara had suspected that she already knew, somehow, but Kusanagi had told them that the adult thing to do was have a frank discussion with her. “Totsuka was her teacher ,” Kusanagi had reminded them.

Tatara had done the talking, of course, and Mikoto had sat beside him, awkward and frowning. While bright-eyed, Anna had stayed completely silent, even when Tatara had asked her if she had any questions, or anything she wanted to share. She’d hugged them both tightly before running off, leaving Tatara and Mikoto staring at each other, a little surprised and a lot relieved.

“I told you,” Mikoto had said lowly. “I think she’s psychic.”

It was hard to believe that Anna was a teenager now, about to graduate from middle school. She was going to be a high school student.

Kusanagi was married. He had a baby.

Tatara plopped down on the couch beside Mikoto. He scooted close and rested his head against Mikoto’s shoulder, drinking in the familiar warmth. He sighed dramatically.

“What?” Mikoto asked.

“I’m old,” Tatara lamented.

Mikoto tsked. “You’re not old,” he said.

“Mmm, you’re right. You’re old,” Tatara teased. “As long as I’m with you, I’ll never be old!” Mikoto flicked him on the forehead. “Ouch,” Tatara whined petulantly. Mikoto chuckled, and the sound warmed Tatara just as much as any touch or kiss.

They ate dinner in front of the television, making sure to keep the volume low enough that they could hear Kotaro in the other room. Not even halfway through the movie Tatara had picked, he felt a gaze boring into the side of his face. “What?” Tatara asked, eyes still fixed on the screen.

Mikoto grunted impatiently. Tatara barely had the time to turn his head before Mikoto’s lips were on his. Tatara laughed into the kiss. “Are you bored?” he asked, climbing into Mikoto’s lap. While he did want to see this movie, it wasn’t nearly as fun as this.

They kissed lazily for a while; the knowledge that they had to listen for the baby, and that Anna could come home any time, had them keeping things fairly PG. Tatara pulled back when he heard a whimper. Mikoto groaned, and Tatara covered his mouth with his hand. “Shh,” he said. They were met with silence. Satisfied that Kotaro wasn’t making a peep, Tatara let himself be pulled back in for more kisses.

Then Kotaro wailed, the sound unmistakable this time.

Tatara climbed off of Mikoto, who let him up reluctantly.

He scooped up Kotaro and rubbed his back soothingly, but Kotaro continued to cry. “Maybe he’s hungry?” Tatara mused, taking a seat beside Mikoto once again. Kotara reached a tiny arm towards Mikoto. “I think he wants you,” Tatara said with a chuckle.

Mikoto frowned, but even he wasn’t heartless enough to deny a baby-- a baby who was, for all intents and purposes, his nephew. Stiff as a board, he accepted Kotaro into his arms. Kotaro snuggled into his chest. Hesitantly, Mikoto laid a large hand on Kotaro’s tiny back.

The crying stopped.

Mikoto seemed to relax a bit, though he was still watching Kotaro warily. Tatara couldn’t help but smile at how gentle and careful he was being. Cuddled into Mikoto’s warmth, Kotaro cooed. Mikoto’s lips twitched into the smallest of smiles.

Tatara’s heart clenched.

He’d never imagined it was possible to love someone this much.

 

*

 

Izumo and Seri decided to go to a fancy French restaurant for their anniversary, one they hadn’t been to since becoming parents. The food was delicious, and they enjoyed the precious alone-time, but by the time the server cleared their plates and offered them the dessert menu, they were both antsy and ready to go pick up Kotaro.

“We can have tea with Mikoto and Totsuka,” Izumo reasoned. “And Anna, too, if she’s home.”

“Uh-huh,” Seri said, smiling, politely not calling him out for pretending that they were skipping coffee and dessert so they could visit.

By the time they got to Homra, they were practically sprinting up the stairs. But the door swung open, and Totsuka stood in the doorway, camera hanging from his neck, with a finger pressed to his lips in a silent command to be quiet. Izumo raised an eyebrow, and Totsuka pointed towards the couch.

Mikoto was sprawled out on his back, asleep, with Kotaro snuggled into his chest.

It was an adorable sight, really, and Izumo couldn’t help but smile. With truly impressive speed, Seri whipped out her phone and started snapping pictures. She nodded gratefully at Totsuka, no doubt thanking him for not waking them before she could get a few shots.

“He cried until Mikoto held him,” Totsuka said with a grin. “I think he likes him.”

Izumo chuckled. “Well, I figured you’d be good with kids, but this is a surprise.”

“Not to me,” Totsuka said, and his expression was so gentle and adoring that it kind of made Izumo want to smack him on the back of the head.

With absolutely no regard for a sleeping Mikoto, Seri scooped up Kotaro. Kotaro snuffled, blinking sleepily. When he saw that he was now in his mama’s arms, his gummy smile had Izumo’s eyes stinging with tears.

The furious clicking of Totsuka’s camera shutter had them all turning to look at him. He grinned. “Sorry!”

Unable to sleep through the commotion, Mikoto sat up, looking grumpier than he had any right to, considering he was supposed to be babysitting.

“I’ll go make some tea,” Totsuka said, and he headed to the kitchen as Izumo and Seri took their seats on the couch opposite of Mikoto.

Sitting close to Seri, Izumo gently brushed his fingers through Kotaro’s soft, fine hair. Kotaro reached for him, Izumo took him into his arms. How was it possible that he’d missed this tiny person so much, when he’d only been gone a few hours?

Mikoto’s grump face brightened infinitesimally when Totsuka returned with the tray of tea. Totsuka sat beside Mikoto and rested a hand on his leg before launching into a detailed retelling of everything that Kotaro had done while Izumo and Seri had been gone.

Izumo was in the middle of asking Totsuka a question about his students when the door opened and a quiet voice said, “I’m home.”

“Welcome home,” Izumo said automatically.

They all turned to look at Anna, who’d been out all day working on a project at a classmate’s house. After slipping off her shoes, she was immediately at Izumo’s side to press a gentle kiss to the top of Kotaro’s head. Then, of course, she was settling into a spot beside Mikoto.

She was so grown-up now, Izumo mused. She had always seemed so mature, but now she’d grown taller, and her face had lost some of its childlike roundness. Izumo thought she looked a little more like Honami now.

“How was your day?” Totsuka asked her.

“Good,” she said, and then poured herself a cup of tea.

Listening to Anna chatter quietly about the school project she was working on, Izumo thought that he’d never felt so utterly at peace. He glanced at Mikoto and Totsuka, sitting so closely, like any distance left between them might kill them; he glanced beside him, at his wife, who was listening to Anna with rapt attention; he looked down at his son, looking around the room with Seri’s eyes.

And then he looked at Anna, talking so unselfconsciously about art and school and her friend, smiling in a way that Izumo would have thought unimaginable five years ago.

Maybe in another life, Honami would be here with them, laughing and drinking tea and teasing Mikoto with Totsuka. He hoped, though, in this life, she was looking down on them, and was as grateful as he was that they could all share this moment of happiness.

Kotaro squirmed in Izumo’s arms. He looked over at Seri, whose eyes were drooping sleepily. “We should probably get this guy home,” Izumo said. “And this lady.” He winked at Seri, who gave him her trademark flat look.

Anna bounded out of her seat to give Kotaro another kiss before he was strapped into his carseat.

“Totsuka, do you want a ride home?” Izumo asked. Leaning against Mikoto, Totsuka didn’t look like he was in any mood to leave, but he had mentioned that he wanted to get home to prepare his coursework for the week.

Totsuka smiled. “No thanks, Kusanagi-san. It’s a nice night. I don’t mind walking home later.”

Yeah, right, Izumo thought.

“All right, then,” Izumo said. “Good night, everyone.”

With Kotaro’s car seat in hand, he made his way down the stairs, and then through Homra. It seemed less empty now, with the pictures and art Totsuka and Anna had put up, and with Totsuka’s guitar lying around, and one of his cameras…

Izumo made a mental note to tell Totsuka to take some of his junk home.

Locking the door to Homra, he imagined the playful way Totsuka would grin and say, “But, Kusanagi-san, this is my home!”