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Spice It Up

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Soft music plays through the speakers in the kitchen, punctuated by the rhythmic staccato of Hajime’s knife against the cutting board. He glances towards his husband, standing at the stove in a ridiculous pink, frilly apron that reads “Queen of the Kitchen.” Tooru hums along to the gentle crooner as he stirs the broth, still content in the warmth of their domesticity despite the years they’ve shared, and Hajime can’t help but smile.

They’re both older now, fully settled into the life they built through the distance and the time to come out the other side as strong as ever. They keep busy, still involved in the sport they love as much as they love each other, even though they no longer play themselves. The shelves in the living room are decorated with Tooru’s medals and trophies from his time in Argentina, and there are photos of Hajime with his teams throughout the years, their own medals gleaming along with their smiles, spread around the walls. His favorite is the one of the first girls volleyball team they coached to Nationals together after they moved back to Miyagi.

He passes the freshly chopped vegetables to Tooru to add to the pot, leaning into his space to kiss his cheek as he does so. Tooru giggles, like he always does when Hajime is affectionate with him in quiet moments, as if it still surprises him after all these years that Hajime really and truly loves him. There had been some rough years, times when the distance and the time spent apart made it harder, made them shout and cry at each other until they broke. They used to break things a lot when they were kids, but they always fixed them. Their relationship was just one more thing on the long list of broken things they fixed together. Because they always fixed the things they broke, and made them stronger.

Tooru raises the spoon to his lips and blows on it before offering it to Hajime. “What do you think?”

“Hmm, needs more salt.” He tips the salt shaker a few times into the stew and tastes it again. It’s a little better but it’s still missing something. Something with a bit more spice would make it perfect. He digs through the cupboard looking for his favorite bottle of hot sauce.

Tooru pays him no mind as he tastes it himself. “I think that’s right. What are you looking for?”

“The hot sauce.”

“What?” Tooru laughs. “Since when do we put hot sauce in your mother’s stew?”

“Since I just decided that’s what it needs.” He makes a little aha when he finds the bottle and turns to add it to the broth. “And anyway, I always add extra hot sauce to everything so we might as well cut out the middle man and put it in the dish.”

“Auntie would be ashamed to hear how you plan to defile her recipe,” Tooru gasps as he snatches the bottle from Hajime’s hands with reflexes that belied his age. He dangles the bottle out of reach as Hajime attempts to grab it back, shrieking with laughter when his husband wraps him up in his arms in a vain attempt to make him drop it. Instead, Tooru stretches his arm to place it on top of the cabinets where Hajime will definitely need him to get it down again.

“You are such a brat,” Hajime says, putting him back down on the floor before they can accidentally knock over the pot but not relinquishing his hold.

“After thirty years together you would think you would know this by now,” Tooru teases.

Hajime tips his head to the side, considering. “Forty.”

“Hajime please, I know we’re old but surely you can still do basic math.”

He nods. “I can. You’re the one who seems to be losing his memory though.”

“We got together when we were seventeen.”

Hajime smirks. “Seven.” Tooru blinks, taken by surprise and Hajime laughs. “Remember when Kanae-neesan brought Yuki home for the first time and you were confused about what a boyfriend was?” Tooru’s face turns pink and he groans. “You asked me if we were boyfriends back then.”

“That hardly counts, Hajime,” he whines. “You’ll also remember that when I brought you home for dinner, so that both boyfriends would be there, they laughed at us and we had to have The Talk.” He shudders at the memory, but Hajime still thinks of it fondly.

“I think Nee-san was more embarrassed about that than we were,” he says, planting a kiss on Tooru’s graying temple. “I liked the way she put it to convince you in the first place, though. You know, before Auntie had to set us straight.”

It was Tooru’s turn to laugh as he squeezed Hajime’s hand tight in his. “Didn’t work though, did it.”

“Well…,” he thought back to the years of confusion during middle school and the early part of high school, where they’d both dated girls and never really cared as much about them as they’d cared about volleyball or each other. It had taken a dare from Hanamaki during training camp senior year to force them to confront their latent feelings for one another, just a dumb kiss that had turned out to be the fist of thousands. Tooru punches his arm lightly, dragging him back with a chuckle. “No, no it didn’t.”

“I can’t believe you remember that,” he sighs, dropping his head to rest on Hajime’s shoulder.

Hajime brings his hand up to card through Tooru’s hair. “Of course I remember, dumbass.”

“Hmm,” Tooru says. “Well then if you’ve remembered all this time, you should be getting me rubies this year instead of pearls. And also you owe me a decade of gifts.” He yelps as Hajime’s hand slips out of his hair to gently swat the back of his head.

“How is it you can remember what gifts go with what anniversary—which only counts for years married by the way, nice try—but not that we’ve been together since grade school?” His tone is softer than it might have been if they were having this conversation fifteen, twenty years ago, and Tooru grins at the teasing. Hajime sighs dramatically as he moves to the sink to wash the cutting board. “If only poor seven-year old me could see us now. He would be so heart-broken.”

His lips curve playfully as Tooru bursts out in a cackle, doubling over and clutching his stomach. “Little Iwa-chan was a brute, he wouldn’t have cared at all.”

“You still say I’m a brute,” he grunts. They may not have peak athletic bodies anymore, but they still make time for the gym several times a week, and Tooru has always adored his arms, even as they’ve lost some of their tone over the years. His husband ogles them now, and he snorts. “And I am worrying about your memory yet again. Maybe we need to add some fish oil to the stew.”

“How do you figure?”

Hajime wipes his hands on his jeans and leans against the sink, arms folded across his chest for good measure. “Remember what I told you when you confessed to me after graduation? How relieved I was because I’d loved you since we were kids?” Tooru’s cheeks flush a pretty pink to match his stupid apron. “Did you think I was kidding?”

“No,” he stammers, turning back to stir the stew even though it doesn’t need stirring. “Ok, maybe I thought you were just being a little dramatic.”

Hajime barks a laugh. “You’re dramatic enough for the both of us. When have I ever been anything but honest?”

Tooru looks back at him, eyes shining with all the love and adoration he’s held for him for decades and Hajime’s heart still leaps at the sight. “Never. You’re the most honest man I know.”

He’s heard it dozens of times through the years. Honest to a fault. It used to bother him when he was younger, but he came to accept it as he grew up. Some things will never change no matter how old they get. Tooru is beautiful. Hajime is honest. And so he smirks. “Well then, honestly? The stew needs hot sauce.”

He laughs as Tooru throws a spare dish rag at him.

They do add the hot sauce.