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The cheers of the screaming crowd bombarded Seiji from every direction, but his eyes were locked ahead of him. The young heir leaned against the metal barrier, his hands tightly gripping the top bar. His moves weren’t flashy, but Akira demanded the crowd’s attention with every strategically placed blow.

Even after all of these years, Seiji hadn’t grown used to the thrill that Akira gave him. He spent many nights pondering where Akira got his superhuman reflexes. Layering his newfound spiritual abilities on top of it, Akira Kijima was an enigma that Seiji desired to unravel.

In the time since Akira rejoined the UG Match, he remained undefeated. Those who rose to the top during Akira’s leave of absence quickly discovered that their newfound confidence was for naught. Akira beat them to a pulp, as expected. The underground’s hierarchy returned to its natural order.

Akira’s opponent--some low-ranking nobody who’d only recently joined the family--charged headlong into Akira’s range. In that moment, Seiji could tell that something wasn’t right. He narrowed his eyes, bracing himself against the barrier as the crowd pushed from behind.

The recruit had been acting rationally up until that moment. It was a shame, really. If his opponent were anyone else, the poor grunt might’ve been able to make a name for himself tonight. For him to suddenly launch himself at Akira, it meant that he’d either lost all hope of winning, or foul play was afoot.

“Learn your place, kid!” he yelled, swinging straight at Akira’s face. His fist narrowly missed Akira’s face as Akira leaned away from the blow. The grunt reached behind himself and pulled something out of his pocket while Akira was distracted. Seiji’s blood ran cold. He got ready to jump the barrier and call the match off, but he couldn’t move fast enough.

The grunt lunged, raising his other arm as if he were going for an uppercut. Akira stepped to the side, the glint of a blade whizzing past his face. Before his opponent could recover, Akira swept at the man’s feet. His opponent fell to the floor. Akira bent down and tightly gripped his opponent’s wrist, forcing his grip on his weapon to falter. The knife fell to the concrete with a resounding clatter. The crowd was in an uproar. Relief coursed through his body, and Seiji’s heart swelled with pride.

Akira kicked the knife away from the man’s reach, holding him firmly in place. Seiji took a moment to collect his thoughts. Now that he knew Akira was alright, an eerie calm overcame him. He climbed over the barrier and approached the center of the ring.

“Everyone,” he addressed the crowd. The clamor took a few moments to die down. “Collect your winnings and get out,” he ordered. “If the police find out about this place, all of us will be in trouble instead of just this guy.” Seiji jerked his head at the sad excuse of a yakuza laid out on the floor.

“Mister Seiji! Please! I can explain!” Seiji ignored his pathetic wailing. As the crowd began to disperse, Seiji wandered over to the discarded knife, picking it up and examining it. It appeared to be a hastily made shiv. Being shanked with a dull blade like this would be hellish. His right eye twitched.

Seiji turned on his heel, knife in hand. “I’ll take it from here, Akira,” he said as he approached. Seiji motioned to two senior members of the Amanome family who were ordered to standby just in case something like this were to happen. Akira stood up, handing the culprit off to them.

Akira turned to his friend, knowing that nothing good could come out of this situation. “What are you going to do to him?”

“I need to give him a quick lesson on etiquette, wouldn’t you agree? It’s nothing that you have to worry about, best friend.” Seiji glanced at the person by his feet. Realization dawned on the man’s face. He glanced between the two teens, all of the color draining from his face.

“You know what? Forget I asked.”

“That’s probably for the best.” Seiji reached up and lightly brushed Akira’s cheek, hovering over where he narrowly missed getting hit earlier. Their eyes met. Akira furrowed his brow, but Seiji let his hand linger. “Meet me in the usual spot, okay? We still have to celebrate your victory.”

Akira nodded. He stepped away from his friend, surveying the scene one last time before he turned and left. Seiji watched him go, not taking his eyes off of Akira until he saw him disappear through entrance.

As soon as Akira was gone, Seiji’s smile disappeared, anger taking over his delicate features and contorting his face to the point where he was unrecognizable from boy standing there a moment before. The last remnants of the crowd stopped, gazing curiously at the young heir. Seiji casted them a threatening look. “Get out,” he spat.

Immediately, the remaining bystanders scrambled for the exit. The only people remaining were all members of the Amanome family in some form. The Amanome family sponsored tonight’s UG Match, offering up one of their many warehouses for the venue. Anything goes here. No one could argue if Seiji wanted to teach a lesson to the fool clueless enough to pull a knife on his best friend.

“Mister Seiji! Please let me explain,” the man begged, squirming against the men holding him in place.

“I don’t want to hear my name coming out of your mouth.” Seiji sneered like he was looking at gum at the bottom of his shoe. “Learn your place? Is that what you told him?” Seiji asked coolly. He crouched low to the ground, balancing on the balls of his feet. He tucked the blade of the knife underneath the grunt’s chin, tilting his head up and forcing him to look Seiji in the eyes. “You hardly have the right to try and ‘teach someone their place’ when you’ve clearly forgotten your own.”

“T-That brat’s been hogging all of the glory for weeks! Do you know how much money we’ve lost because of him?!”

Seiji’s eyes narrowed. He pressed the knife in with more force. “All I’m hearing is that you don’t know how to place a bet. Now who is this ‘we’? You have three seconds before this dull blade gets to see some action. One… two…”

The man squealed, fighting against his restraints to no avail. “Okay, okay! Ugetsu, Narukami, Kosaka, and Nishiki! If I won tonight, we were going to split the prize!”

“Did you get all that?” Seiji asked the nearest henchmen.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then can I leave the roundup to you guys?”

“Of course. However, mister Seiji, you’re not officially a member yet. Will your father be okay with this?”

“I’m sure he’ll understand once he hears the circumstances,” Seiji reassured. The scum threatened his friend’s life afterall. Seiji stood from his crouching position, offering the knife to one of the people holding the man in place. Towering above him, Seiji smirked. “Make sure that he gets the punishment he deserves. Smuggling a weapon into the UG Match and ratting out his friends? What a piece of shit. Don’t let me see your face again.”

The man looked like he was about to faint. Seiji was content knowing that he would get what was coming for him. Taking his leave, Seiji left the warehouse to track down Akira.

After a few minutes of wandering, Seiji reached Kissouji Station. He and Akira agreed to start meeting here after a group of people followed Akira home in the aftermath of his first returning UG Match. He swept the floor with his opponents that night, and they decided to gang up on him in retaliation. Akira might have superhuman reflexes, but he’s only one person. He was fine in the end, escaping with only minor scrapes and bruises, but Seiji felt sick at the thought of something worse happening. Cowards had no qualms. This was the safest option.

He spotted Akira leaning against the wall between the alleyway and the station. Seiji’s mood improved with every step. He hoped to put the last hour’s events behind him and goof off with Akira without having to stress about anything.

“How’s it going, best friend?” Seiji asked as he approached. Akira looked at him from under the hood of his sweatshirt. Lamplight cast a shadow over his eyes. Seiji frowned. Wanting to see his friend’s face, he reached out and pushed the hood back. His hands rested on Akira’s shoulders, still gripping the cloth between his fingers. When Akira didn’t reply, or even react, he asked, “Is something wrong?”

Seiji leaned up to examine his face. Akira’s skin was clear of any blemishes or bruises, but he looked exceptionally pale in the light. “You’re not in pain, are you? That piece of shit didn’t actually get you, did he?” Seiji’s anger was gradually returning.

Akira exhaled, averting his eyes. “No, he didn’t. Calm down.” He scanned over Seiji’s head. The streets were mostly empty this late at night, and the people who were still out and about didn’t pay them any attention.

“Oh, good,” Seiji replied, closing his eyes and taking a few seconds to collect himself. “You did good out there tonight,” he complimented when he opened his eyes. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

Akira finally looked at him again. “Amanome,” he began, “it’s going to keep bugging me if I don’t ask. You didn’t do anything too bad to that guy, did you?”

Amanome raised an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t want to know. Why the sudden curiosity?”

Just as Seiji was about pull back and let go of Akira’s hood, Akira wrapped his hands around his wrists, trapping them in place. “People have pulled knives on me during the UG Match before, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen you get so mad.”

The brunette’s eyes widened. In the past, he would let the ones in charge of the match handle all of the repercussions. This was the first time he’d taken initiative. Realization dawned on him. “I may have reacted a bit more strongly than usual,” Seiji admitted, “but I didn’t do anything to him myself, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Seiji was used to being scrutinized by Akira, but this felt more direct, more personal. He felt like he had to defend himself. His hands clutched the fabric tighter, pulling himself closer, feeling Akira’s heart beat against his own chest. “Things are different now, Akira,” he whispered softly.

After Kakuya, after their lives returned to normal, something changed. The boundary between them dwindled into nothingness. Their relationship morphed into something stronger, unbeknownst to the both of them. It felt so natural, so easy that they didn’t notice until they reached the tipping point. Casual touches turned into caresses and caresses into kisses.

“Why is it wrong for me to use my power to protect you? I know you don’t need it. I know so well.” Seiji slipped his arms out of Akira’s grasp. He took Akira’s left hand in both of his, rubbing his thumbs over Akira’s clothed knuckles. His fingers twitched under the slightest bit of pressure Seiji reached up and undid the fastening of his glove, pulling it off slowly. Akira’s hand was rough and calloused. Dark bruises covered his knuckles. Seiji’s thumb traced over the ridges. “Is it really so wrong for me to want to get back at the people who hurt you?” he asked.

He lifted Akira’s hand to his face, his lips gently brushing over the bruises. Seiji glanced up. Akira met his eyes, mouth slightly agape. The shorter teen smiled fondly. “I remember my mom doing this for my dad after he got into fights. I just wanted to try it. Sorry if it was weird.” Seiji hurriedly put the glove back on Akira’s hand, trying to hide his own embarrassment.

If it weren’t for the dim light coming from the streetlight, he would’ve missed the slight blush dusting Akira’s cheekbones. He was thankful that he got to see it. “You…” Akira trailed off.

“Oh, that’s right! I promised I’d take you out to celebrate,” Seiji recalled. “I think I know a place that you’ll really like. It should still be open. Come on, Akira.” He grabbed Akira’s hand, attempting to drag Akira away, but he remained firmly rooted in place.

Instead, Akira grabbed him by the arm and pulled him deeper into the alley. “Come here,” he urged.

“Did you think of somewhere else you wanted to go?” Seiji asked, letting Akira pull him along.

However, Akira stopped moving. In the blink of an eye, he had Seiji pressed against the wall. Through the darkness, Seiji could barely see the silhouette of Akira’s face hovering in front of him. It was a face he knew so well, a face he grew up with, yet this was an expression he was entirely unfamiliar with.

He wanted to see every expression Akira was capable of making. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city at night, Seiji leaned up, pressing his lips against Akira’s, savoring the version of his friend meant only for himself. They kissed languidly, taking the time to explore the parts of each other still undiscovered.

Akira had always been a steady presence in his life. He could barely remember a time without him. Through all of his hardships, Akira stood by him, offered him a helping hand. They’d been through so much; they were already so close. The boundary was nonexistent. Despite the bliss coursing through his body, Seiji still had one wish. “Akira,” he murmured against his lips. He pushed weakly against Akira’s chest, breathing heavily. “Akira,” he said again. He wrapped his arms around Akira’s neck, trying so desperately to ground himself.

Akira hummed. He flipped their positions, leaning against the wall to support them both. “Akira.” Seiji reached up with one hand and stroke Akira’s cheek. It was warm to the touch. Seiji wished he could see the expression his friend was making right now. “Say my name, Akira,” he pleaded. “Not ‘Amanome.’ My name.”

The last barrier standing between them. Seiji knew the connotations behind the Amanome name, understood that he was the kind of person that the name fit best. Most of the time, he was proud of his name, but in this instance, he wanted to discard it entirely. In Akira’s arms, he wasn’t the heir of the Amanome family; he was a friend, a best friend, a lover.

It felt like ages, waiting to see if Akira would listen to his plea. Akira hesitated. “...Seiji,” he said tentatively, testing it out.

Seiji’s heart skipped a beat. He urged Akira on further, hugging him closer. “Say it again.”

“Seiji.” Akira said it so bluntly that Seiji laughed without really knowing why. It sounded completely foreign, but it was endearing coming out of Akira’s mouth. Heat climbed up his neck, and he felt light-headed. He kept laughing, all of his cares melting away. “Hey, stop laughing! I can’t hold us both up like this.” True enough, Akira started to slide down the wall, taking Seiji down with him. “I’m not calling you that anymore if you keep laughing at me,” he sighed, resigned.

“Wait, please,” Seiji gasped between giggles. “Call me Seiji, at least when we’re alone. I won’t laugh. I’m just getting used to it.” He straddled Akira’s lap. “Akira, please.”

He could practically hear Akira rolling his eyes. “Fine.”

Seiji took a few deep breaths, steadying himself. “Thank you, best friend,” he said happily before placing a chaste kiss on Akira’s lips. “Come on, we’ve really gotta--”

Seiji was cut off mid sentence with another kiss. Akira grabbed him by his tie, yanking Seiji back down into his lap. He cupped Seiji’s face with his other hand, pulling him in closer. Seiji blanked, mind going into autopilot.

Akira pulled away before Seiji could even process what had happened. He pulled them both to their feet. Seiji stood there, feeling lost, while Akira began walking out of the alley. He looked back over his shoulder, smirk evident on his face. “Coming, Seiji?”

Seiji sputtered, heat coloring his cheeks. He hastily readjusted his tie. “You’re evil, Akira. I like it.”