When Seiji Amanome first meets Akira Kijima, they're eight years old.
Being the son of a yakuza boss is weird at that age. He doesn't understand the importance of his family background perfectly yet, but the other kids look and point at him with annoying, hushed gasps or they avoid him outright. Seiji doesn't remember having any lasting friendships during that time.
Until one day, the quietest kid in class punches him in the face for no particular reason and Seiji feels utterly star-struck when he hits the ground. No one had ever hit him before, not even his own father. He had pinned Akira for being in the avoidant group, and being betrayed of that expectation actually felt pretty great.
Seiji sticks by Akira after that incident, and Akira doesn't push him away. Akira probably called him weird for wanting to hang out together but that was fine. He could sense Akira was kind of weird too.
And because Seiji is so young, one day he turns to Akira, beaming brightly, and says they'll be together forever without understanding the weight of those words. Akira just looks at him and mutters "okay," at that.
It's later on when Seiji almost gets kidnapped by a group of gang members that he understands Akira had taken him seriously, because when the older men finally gave up and drove away after having to deal with two kicking and screaming kids, Akira put his thin arms around him until the authorities came along.
A few days later, they're both back in school like nothing happened, sporting matching bandaids on their arms and knees from the awful scuffle.
"So... why did you..." Save me? Show up? Seiji didn't know what he was trying to ask when they sat together in a secluded spot during recess.
"Well," Akira scratched the bandaid on his nose. "You said we'd be together forever. I couldn't just let them take you."
Seiji felt like he finally made a friend for the first time in his life.
It's not long enough to be forever yet, but they end up going to middle school together and Seiji knows better by now -- he learns how to wear a mask and lie like it's his first language, and he's old enough to understand Akira's family situation.
Maybe it's because Akira never showed any explicit emotions about it, but when Seiji hears that he lost both of his parents he also doesn't feel much. He knows he should be showing sadness or pity, but it's so much more important that he knows Akira doesn't want either of those things.
Still, he could care in his own way.
Seiji shares his lunch and baked treats with Akira when the other boy doesn't have any food, and when he sees Akira eat the chicken from his bento with a sparkle in his eye he immediately asks his father to make more the next day.
It doesn't stop there, either. He starts buying drinks out of his pocket money for Akira, weird flavors because he doesn't want to show he cares that much and seeing his reactions are fun.
In another thinly veiled attempt to figure out what else Akira liked, Seiji lends him almost all of his music CDs and pokes him with a "so, did you enjoy any of them?" the very next day.
He doesn't expect Akira to actually listen to them, but he did. Akira bluntly tells him which ones he liked and disliked before turning back to the fighting magazine in his hand. Seiji mentally notes everything down with more fervor than when something was announced to be on a test during class.
They grow out of homemade bentos upon reaching high school, and Akira learns how to make basic meals after needing to help out with his aunt's bar and looking after Ami. Seiji didn't need to worry about his stomach anymore, so he kicks it up a notch and lands Akira a job while sticking with the gross drinks because that's his own personal shtick, and no one else can ever take that away from him.
Challenging UG matches wasn't an up and proper occupation, but Seiji knew Akira would take it without any qualms -- he'd want to earn his own keep instead of relying on anyone else, and Seiji's been beside him long enough to know that Akira shone the brightest in a fight.
He gives himself a pat on the back for coming up with the perfect arrangement, proud that he had the delicious benefit of being the only one privy to it.
He'd get to watch his best friend doing what he did best, and maybe if he was lucky, he'd get to treat his wounds as well.
Hmm. Or not. There's no way he would lose. Seiji catches his thoughts, unsure if that last part had made him disappointed or excited.
Seiji buys a collar one day.
He had only bought it because of a fleeting fashion trend at the time and made deathly sure that even Akira wouldn't find out, otherwise the other boy would never let him hear the end of it. They were at that age where teenagers cared too much about their appearances --well, not Akira-- and Seiji also felt the need to look cool next to his best friend.
The collar wasn't that fancy -- plain, black leather with a small metallic clasp. Its simplicity might have reminded him of Akira unconsciously or he just picked the first one that looked right before hurriedly paying for it and bolting out of the store.
When Seiji tries it on at home in front of the mirror, he felt like he finally understood what a stupid impulsive purchase was, like when his pops buys way too many new baking molds on sale but never actually uses them.
The small voice in his head joins in, saying things like he would never be on equal ground as Akira, that Akira had more qualities fitting of a yakuza than he ever would have, that he wasn't good enough to be with Akira, even though he wanted so badly to stay with him forever --
He sighs, tucking the collar away in some random drawer before his thoughts overtook him. Seiji doesn't give the accessory another thought until a few months later.
The weather is hot for the beginning of the year, and he's hanging out with Akira again.
It's also around this time when Seiji realizes maybe his feelings go beyond childish admiration and jealousy and he wants his best friend in a myriad of other ways -- he's kind of shocked at himself for taking this long to realize it, too.
"This is disgusting," Akira scowls as he holds up the can of whatever drink Seiji had handed him earlier, peering at the label. He didn't even know how to read the name of this one and it tasted just as incomprehensible.
"Yet you're still drinking it."
"Shut up, it's hot out."
Gladly, Seiji replies within the dark confines of his mind. He was already feeling pretty spacey under the heat but being treated to this sight of Akira? Worth it.
The taller boy had taken off his black hoodie and the red shirt he wore underneath it clung to the contour of his body in what can only be described as criminal and unfair. As Seiji trails his gaze higher, he appreciates how Akira's hair is just short enough to show the expanse of his neck, lean and smooth and oh. The way his throat bobbed while drinking the rest of that vile liquid he got him without further question? Exquisite.
He wanted to reach out and brush his finger against his nape so badly, wrap his arms around that beautiful neck, press a kiss against every bead of sweat and claim Akira for himself, only himself --
Seiji remembers then. That collar he hid away long ago.
"It's nothing." Seiji flashes him a sweet, inconspicuous smile and Akira turns back around after raising a brow, fanning himself with the collar of his shirt.
His smile twisted into a grin as he tucked it away behind his palm, thanking his younger self for the not-so-stupid purchase after all.
The collar makes its reappearance on Akira's birthday when the two of them are having a small celebration together at his apartment.
"Happy Birthday, best friend." Seiji chirps as he hands the wrapped box over to Akira. He had spent far too much time trying to figure out how to present the gift, not too lavish but also not too under-dressed that it looked like he didn't put thought into it.
Akira looks surprised either way, tilting the thin box in his hand as though trying to discern what it was.
"Just open it."
"If you say so."
Seiji tries hard not to show it, but his heart is thumping so hard he feels like he's going to throw up all the food they had earlier. He twists the hem of his shirt and wonders when the earliest time he can see Akira wear the damn thing is because he has to, needs , to see it.
Akira unwraps the box after what seemed like forever, looks at the collar, then back up at Seiji.
"You don't like it?" Seiji forces the words out of his throat with an equally forced smile.
"No, it's just," Akira scratches the back of his head. "You thought this would suit me?"
"Well, you wear necklaces and stuff. I thought you would like this sort of thing, too." Seiji recites the excuse he practised over and over before this.
Before Akira can reply, Seiji sits himself down in front of him and takes the collar out of the packaging with a grin.
"We've been friends for what now? Ten years?" Seiji feels his hands shake a little when he brings the ends of the collar together around Akira's neck, bringing him a bit closer. His knuckles and fingers felt like they were burning from just barely scraping past Akira's skin. "You could trust my taste a little."
Akira sighs, and he's so close that Seiji can feel the warmth of his breath and so close that he thinks he'll die on the spot before he gets the clasp fastened.
"--let me do it, you're going to set this way too tight as a joke and choke me to death." Akira takes it from there, not pushing him away but gently teasing the collar from his grip.
With a small click, it's on.
And it looks so perfect on him that Seiji has cover the weird smile that's creeping onto his face behind a hand. It almost feels like it's his birthday instead and Akira's his present.
"Hmm. It's okay." Akira tugs at it a little to adjust the tightness, and Seiji takes the opportunity to stare a bit more.
"See, I was right."
"Yeah, yeah. You can stop gloating now."
"You look kind of wistful, buddy. Was there something else you wanted?"
"Not really. I was thinking I probably don't have enough to get you a birthday present back." Akira says seriously, looking right at him. "I bought my bike a while ago, remember?"
Please, Akira. Seiji thinks desperately, falling in deeper than he already had. Why do you care so much? Idiot. You big stupid idiot.
"I don't need anything, just take me on a ride on that bike of yours."
-- and wear that thing forever, too. For me.
But Seiji doesn't say it. He knows he doesn't have to.