Ryo woke to the sound of someone groaning in the living room, and was instantly out of bed and into the hall. Instead of an emergency, he found Dee face down on the sofa, Drake on the floor and an impressive number of beer cans spread out over the coffee table.
A headache was already starting to throb behind his eyes.
“Wow,” he said, pitching his voice loud, “I must’ve been exhausted to miss the rave.”
Dee groaned again, shifting just enough to sandwich his hands between his face and the cushions. He looked terrible, hair standing up at all angles and shirt untucked. He still had one shoe on. Ryo tried and failed to resent the wave of fondness that swept through him.
“S’my fault, Ryo,” Drake slurred from where he lay spread-eagled on the ground. “I asked Dee for advice.”
“On how to end up drunk on my floor at the crack of dawn?” Ryo asked, arching his eyebrows.
“My floor,” Dee corrected, somewhat muffled by the sofa. Then, dreamily, “Our floor.”
It was too early for this. Ryo sighed.
“Alright,” he said and, surrendering any pretense of winning in this situation, went to make coffee. “What time did you two get in, anyway?”
They hadn’t woken him, which was a little unusual - he wasn’t the soundest of sleepers, and they hadn’t yet attempted to move his parents’ old bed from his apartment, so it had been doubly true the last few nights he’d stayed over at Dee’s place. Their place, he supposed, half-knocked down wall and all.
The tarps weren’t exactly Ryo’s idea of homey.
"You're an an angel, Ryo,” Drake crooned, getting up on his knees to take the proffered mug of coffee. “Any chance I could get a little hair of the dog to go with…?”
“Not in your dreams,” Ryo said.
“You’re the devil, Ryo,” Drake said, taking morose, delicate sips and wincing at each one.
“So they say,” Ryo replied, nudging Dee none too gently into a sitting position and depositing the coffee in his outstretched hands. “Want to tell me what this drunken pity party’s about?”
“We told you,” Dee grumbled, giving Ryo the big sad eyes over the rim of his mug. Ryo refused to be swayed, no matter how cute he was. “I’m giving the Drake man here some advice.” He dropped his voice low and added, “You know. About the situation.”
It took Ryo a second to clue in. “You’re not talking about JJ?”
Drake looked faintly haunted. He hunched around his coffee cup, eyes shifting as if he expected JJ to pop out from behind the sofa at any moment. Which, Ryo, supposed, wouldn’t have been entirely strange. He sighed, propping his chin up one hand and elbowing Dee in the ribs when he started to slump to the side, trying to pillow his head against Ryo’s shoulder.
“He’s just,” Drake said. “He’s everywhere, with those big eyes, being all - helpful and enthusiastic and stuff.”
Dee nodded along, or maybe he was just trying to nod off. Ryo shoved him back into a sitting position regardless.
“You’re right,” Ryo said, dry. “That does sound terrible.”
“It’s not like that,” he said. “Sort of. I just don’t know what to do, so I asked Dee, since he’s the resident JJ expert…”
“And I suggested we get really drunk before we go down that road,” Dee filled in, one hand over his eyes. “So. Yeah. Was the living room always this bright?”
“I put new bulbs in,” Ryo said. “Look, Drake, if you’re not interested in JJ romantically, you should turn him down gently.” Dee snorted into his coffee. “But firmly.”
Drake was squinting into the depths of his mug, like it might hold the answers. His shoulders hunched in even more.
“Well, Dee was no help,” he said, “so, Ryo, I’m just gonna lay it on the line: I’m not sure I want to let him down.”
“Annnnnd this was the part where I started drinking,” Dee sang out. “Drake. Drake, Drake, Drake-y, my buddy, this is the road of no return. You're giving the mouse a cookie.”
Ryo shot him a look. It went willfully ignored. No real surprises there.
“Dee,” he said, “maybe let Drake express himself like an adult and without permanent liver damage.”
“Your homosexual downfall!” Dee continued, pointing one dramatic finger straight at Drake. Ryo smacked his hand out of the air.
“Dee, stop talking,” he said. “Drake - start talking.”
Drake looked about ready to start breathing into a paper bag. Ryo figured it was a good fifty-fifty shot, that being the discussion or the hangover. Either way, it was Dee’s fault.
He tried to school his face into something kind and patient, like when Bikky was being a little too obvious about hiding a report card and not at all like he’d been woken way too early on his day off by his partner and coworker crashing around the living room. Someone had to be the adult, after all.
“So the thing is,” Drake said, taking a break to drain the rest of his coffee like he was looking for more liquid courage, “maybe I don’t mind JJ trailing around after me like a lost puppy. Maybe I - kind of like it?”
“There it is!” Dee cried. “The death knell. I’ll miss you, buddy.”
“I said no talking,” Ryo said, at the same time as Drake blushed to the roots of his hair and said, “Shut up, Dee!”
Dee made a series of ridiculous faces, then stretched himself out on the sofa and tried to put his feet in Ryo’s lap. Ryo did his best to ignore him.
“You’ve been in my shoes before, Ryo,” Drake whined. “What did you do?”
“Let me pine forever in my tower of celibacy,” Dee said. Ryo tossed a throw pillow at his face.
“Look, Drake, it’s not exactly the same situation,” he said, taking a steadying breath through his teeth and reminding himself that strangling Dee in front of another cop probably wasn’t a great idea, although after the evening he'd had he couldn’t imagine Drake turning him in. Helping him bury the body, maybe. Drake was looking at him with hangdog face, though, so Ryo sighed and said, “I -- it took me some time. To work out my feelings, where I stood. But Dee hung in there and -- if there’s one person more tenacious than Dee, it’s probably JJ. He’ll be there. Just -- don’t make him wait as long as I made Dee, alright?”
There was a long pause, and Ryo felt the heat creep into his face. It was way, way too early for this.
“That was almost sweet,” Dee said after a long moment, and Ryo buried his face in hands.
“Yeah,” Drake said, sounding a little strangled. “I think I -- I need to think about things. But I’m going to talk to JJ!” He pumped on fist in the air. “I’m not going to let him turn into the Dee of eight years ago, all mopey and depressed!”
“I was not!” Dee said. “I was totally cool about the whole thing the entire time! My heartbreak was suave and sophisticated!”
Ryo sighed, knocking Dee’s feet off his lap so he could get up. This was going to require way more coffee.
Bikky was sitting in the kitchen, bleary-eyed and clutching a bowl of sugary cereal. Ryo hadn’t heard him get up. He tried to offer him a smile and a ‘good morning’ but Bikky only scowled and shook his spoon in Ryo’s direction.
“When I’m a famous basketball star,” he said, “I’m gonna get you a supermodel so you can dump Dee’s sorry ass.”
Ryo stifled a laugh, leaning over to ruffle Bikky’s hair. “I’m not sure if I’m offended, flattered or disturbed.”
“Mm,” Bikky grumbled, turning his attention back to his breakfast, whining, “I’m too young to have witnessed this many gay crises.”
“I want a model too,” Dee said, having followed Ryo through the doorway. “Two of ‘em. Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein.”
“No models for you!” Bikky said, shooting him a poisonous look.
Dee stuck his tongue out.
Ryo was surrounded by children. “How’s Drake?”
“Disturbingly chipper, kinda hungover,” Dee said. Then, pitching his voice low as if to keep Drake from hearing, “You did good, I guess. Drake’s a good guy. JJ could do worse.”
“He has,” Bikky said with a pointed glower in Dee’s direction.
“You punk!” Dee said, flipping Bikky the bird. The gesture was eagerly returned, and next thing Ryo knew they’d started in on each other. Ryo thought, for one bright, beautiful moment, about breaking them up so he could have some early morning peace, but then he saw their eyes sparking, the grin tugging at Bikky’s mouth and the way Dee seemed to have instantly recovered from last night’s drinking. He figured they had to get all the fights they could into the time they had before Bikky left for Los Angeles.
Ryo sighed, grabbed some toast, and left to go have breakfast in the living room with Drake.
Diana abducted him for lunch, storming the precinct in towering heels with her hair piled on top of her head. She was wearing sunglasses even though it was overcast and a tailored coat that made Ryo feel sloppy next to her.
Sequestered in a booth at her favorite bistro, she finally lowered the glasses, nailed him with a look and said, “Time to face the music, Sandra Dee. Berkeley told me it was you who talked him into taking the great big commitment plunge - and don’t try to talk your way out of it. You’re the only one I told about the proposal.”
He resisted the urge to gulp, fiddling a little with his menu.
“I had a few words with him,” he said. “I didn’t - I thought he needed to know. You two have been in each other’s orbits for as long as I’ve known you, and…”
“You figured it was time for a crash?” she filled in.
He nodded, unable to help himself under her piercing gaze. “I guess. Before you, you know, just… drifted off.”
Diana sighed, but her eyes had gone soft and fond. “Well. You’re not wrong, you horrible meddler. I’m almost proud of you, actually.”
“I didn’t say much,” Ryo demured. Diana rolled her eyes.
“That’s not the way Berkeley tells it,” he said. “To hear him, you’d think you stormed into his office and presented the way to win my hand on a silver platter.”
“Diana, I really didn’t mean it that way -”
“I’m just picking on you,” she cut him off, waving a hand. “I’m glad you did, honestly. It’s… been good, with Berkeley. You really kicked his ass into gear.”
“Oh.” Ryo said, feeling the color start to creep into his cheeks. “Well. I’m glad.”
“Good,” Diana said, snapping her menu shut. “Never do it again.”
Ryo winced. “Message received loud and clear. I am glad things worked out, though. It always seemed like you two would end up together.”
“It’s true,” Diana said. “You probably saved me from a messy divorce or six, at any rate.”
“There could still be wedding bells, couldn’t there?” Ryo asked, feeling a little like he was testing the waters. Diana narrowed her eyes at him.
“Oh no,” she said. “No, no. That’s not me and Berkeley, the whole - domestic, love-y dove-y together forever deal. That’s you and Dee.”
“That’s not,” Ryo said, caught, stumbling over his words, “we’re not -”
“You are,” Diana said. “Don’t even try it. That cozy little lovenest of yours says something completely different.”
That gave Ryo pause. The whole living together thing - it was still new. He’d never thought of himself as that guy before, never really lived with anyone else. He’d told that to Carol - she’d always had a way of weaseling that kind of thing out of him - and she’d laughed at him, declaring that he and Dee had been living out of each other’s pockets for as long as she’d known them. It was true. Ryo knew it was true. Even back when he’d been insisting to himself that he and Dee were only friends, Dee had constantly been over, they’d vacationed together, hardly ever gone more than a day without seeing each other.
But to be officially living with him? Ryo veered wildly between domestic bliss and outright nausea. When the relationship had been new, he’d worried - would they grate on each other over time? Would all the quirks he found so endearing become irritating given a few years? Ryo had never been great at relationships before, had never quite felt like he fit in one. The fear had snuck up on him again after they’d moved in together, like this new lack of distance, the always being on top of each other - it would break the spell, somehow.
The rest of him mostly thought that small part was being an idiot.
Something must’ve shown on his face, because Diana settled a hand on top of his face.
“Hey,” she said. “It’s nice, right? Tell me it’s nice. You’ve got to give me something to look forward to, here.”
“It’s nice,” Ryo said, honestly meaning it. “It really is.”
Diana’s red lips curved into a smile.
“Okay,” she said. “I believe you.”
They’d been home five minutes, which was one minute more than Bikky and Dee had been shouting at each other about what to do with one of the spare rooms. Dee was red in the face and Bikky was bristling like an angry cat, making a point at every turn to lean over Dee, like he thought being taller would somehow strengthen his argument.
Not that Ryo was surprised - Bikky had spent a lot of time after his growth spurt being insufferably smug and offering to “help” Dee get things off the top shelves.
At least, Ryo thought with no small amount of relief, Dee’s neighbors had never seemed bothered by the noise. Back at his place the couple who lived downstairs would’ve been banging on the ceiling with a broom already. That was one thing he definitely wasn’t going to miss.
He broke in once they reached the point where Dee was starting to make strangling motions and Bikky’s voice was reaching a pitch heretofore unheard by man, loudly announcing, “You’re both wrong.”
Like a switch flipped, they both froze, staring at him with near identical looks of horror on their faces.
It was true, Ryo thought. The apple really didn’t fall far from the tree.
“Ryo!” Bikky whined, just as Dee said, “I’m never wrong!”
“You don’t need an office,” Ryo told Dee. “You never do work here except during a blue moon, and then you’re on the couch. I have never seen you sit at a desk outside of the office.”
“I’m a creative thinker!” Dee defended. “I could get a desk!”
“You could,” Ryo said, “but you won’t, and we both knew it.”
Dee’s wet cat face told Ryo he’d won. Bikky pumped a fist in the air.
“Alright!” he said.
“But you’re not getting a gym,” Ryo said, right away. Bikky spluttered. “You don’t need a gym, Bikky, and I don’t even want to think about lugging the equipment in here.”
Now Dee had that look on his face like he was thinking about it as a challenge, so Ryo quickly continued before they could both team up against him, “It’s going to be an office.”
Dee squawked. “You just said -”
“For me,” Ryo finished. “An office for me.”
Bikky and Dee stared at him in identical betrayal.
“You can use it,” Ryo told Dee, even though they both knew he wouldn’t. “And Bikky -- we’ll work something out.”
He definitely wasn’t lugging exercise equipment up the stairwell of Dee’s place, and he wasn’t letting Dee do it, either.
There were grumbled agreements. Ryo smiled.
“I gotta go meet Carol,” Bikky said, rolling his shoulders back.
“Alright,” Ryo said. “Call if you’re going to be late.”
“Will do,” Bikky said, already jogging towards the door. Dee was watching him go, leaning back against the kitchen counter with an odd look on his face, arms crossed.
Ryo waited until the door had slammed shut before he said, “What’s with the face?”
Dee shrugged. “Nothing. Just…”
He trailed off, waving a lazy hand in the air. Ryo waited him out in silence while Dee mulled over whatever was on his mind.
Finally, with a giant sigh, Dee tilted his head upwards, fixed his gaze on the ceiling and said, “I guess it’s just sinking in, is all. He’s really going to college.”
“Oh,” said Ryo, quietly.
“Yeah,” Dee rolled his shoulders. “I mean, with his grades?”
He snorted and Ryo elbowed him in the ribs. It was true, but that was beside the point.
Dee yelped and scowled, then sobered. “California, yeah? It's just kind of far.”
The lightbulb went off.
“You’re going to miss him,” Ryo said.
Dee threw him a look. “Don’t be a jerk. Of course I am. I’d jump in front of a bus for that brat.”
“I know,” Ryo said, smiling. He nudged Dee’s shoulder with his own. “He knows too.”
Dee’s scowl twitched at the corners, like he was fighting not to smile. “Yeah, I know you know, and I know he knows, I just don’t…” he broke off with a frustrated noise, scrubbing at the back of his hair. “Does he know I -- y’know?”
It took Ryo all of a second to clue in.
“You can say it,” he said. “You can say the words.”
“What if he’s hiding in the closet with a video camera, waiting to capture my humiliation?” Dee said, sliding a glower Ryo’s way. “What if you’re wearing a wire, huh? You two trying to catch me so you can use this against me forever?”
“I don’t need to blackmail you, Dee,” Ryo said, rolling his eyes. “Just say the words: you love Bikky. Three words, Dee!”
“Ugh, fine!” Dee groaned. “I love the kid! There, are you happy now?!”
“Ecstatic,” Ryo said, pressing a kiss to the corner of Dee’s mouth. “And Dee? For what it’s worth? He knows it.”
Dee’s scowl didn’t budge, but Ryo could see he was happy all the same. “Yeah? Well. Good. He should. I do enough for that little ingrate.” He sighed, letting himself sag against Ryo. He laid his forehead against Ryo’s shoulder. “Just. Gonna be kind of lonely is all.”
“Mmm,” Ryo agreed, casting a long look out over the apartment.
He met Carol just outside her favorite coffeeshop. She saw him at the same moment he saw her, and stuck her arm in the air, waving ecstatically. The young guy walking behind Ryo nearly stepped right into a street pole; Ryo politely stifled his laughter into his scarf.
“Ready to go?” Carol asked, stepping up to meet him at the curb.
“Lead on, my lady,” he said, offering her his arm. She giggled, hooking her hand into the crook of his elbow.
Trips to the theater together had been a thing ever since Bikky had fallen asleep in the middle of Fiddler on the Roof, leaving Carol fuming and swearing never again all the way through Sunrise, Sunset. Ever since then her theater date had always been Ryo or her aunt.
They’d invited Dee once, in a fit of naivety, but Dee’s response had been, to quote, “What, like CATS and shit?”
So that had been the end of that.
Ryo tried, once, to figure out where Carol got the tickets from, but she’d just flapped her hands, told him that it was “completely legal, no sweat” and not to “worry your pretty head” and he’d decided to leave well enough alone. Carol looked all grown up at the theater, her hair pinned up and her heels high, and Ryo felt a strange swell of pride every time he looked at her. She was doing well in college, and she had a job on the side she enjoyed, and she was beautiful and smart and strong. He’d had the privilege of watching her become the person she was today.
It was a small comfort that the only person who was going to cry more than him at her and Bikky’s future wedding was Dee.
Afterwards, grabbing dinner at a favorite diner, Carol said, “So is Dee ever going to finish knocking down that wall or is he gonna leave it up like some kind of strange modern art? All Tribute to the Time Ryo Moved In?”
“I hope not,” Ryo said, sighing. “I’d take a hammer to it myself.”
He walked with her to the subway, and she kissed his cheek before disappearing into the crowd. He knew the route back to Dee’s apartment like the back of his hand, but it still felt like going to Dee’s, like he should turn and head to the other platform to go back to his apartment.
It was a little strange, having to consciously reorient himself, tell himself he was going home. Not bad. Just strange.
Bikky was on the couch when he got in and he waved lazily in Ryo’s direction.
“Carol got home,” he said. “She just called me. Dee’s in bed because he’s so old.”
Ryo ruffled his hair, saying, “Guess that goes for me too, because I’m turning in.”
“Ugh,” Bikky said, sticking out his tongue.
“Don’t stay up too late!” Ryo said, chest all tight and warm and unbearably fond.
It was one of those nights where he couldn’t almost believe that he was here, that this was his. He’d asked Dee, once while they were both three sheets to the wind, if he ever felt like this. Dee had looked him in the eye, suddenly very serious, then taken Ryo’s face between his big hands and said in a monotone: “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.” Ryo hadn't asked again.
It didn’t matter, anyway - it was a good feeling, and it hit him again all over again when he opened the door to the bedroom and found Dee in bed, book in hand, wearing the pair of reading glasses he kept insisting he didn’t really need.
“Honey, I’m home,” he said.
“Hey,” Dee said, setting the book down. He reached up when Ryo leaned down, warm palm against his cheek. There was still toothpaste on his breath.
“Hey,” Ryo returned, smiling. “You know the butler did it, right?”
Dee cursed. “I’m on chapter three!”
“You always read the last page, though,” Ryo said, stepping back and digging his pajamas out of the dresser.
Dee grumbled. “Had to read the whole last chapter this time. I hate when they don’t get to the point.”
“You investigate crimes for a living,” Ryo said, shedding his shirt. “I don’t understand why the frustration’s so new to you.”
“I guess I’m just an eternal optimist,” Dee said, sliding his glasses off. He had on the smile Ryo liked best, the one that was a little too wide to truly be handsome but was honest all the way through. “Like right now I’m hoping you’ll go to bed to me.”
Ryo huffed a sigh, clambering up onto the bed and on top of Dee, settling with his knees on either side of Dee’s hips. “That’s a pretty safe bet.”
“Yeah?” Dee said, grinning up at Ryo. “What can I say? Not much of a gambling man since I won the lottery.”
The laugh that startled its way out of Ryo was completely unintentional.
“That was so bad,” he said. “You should be ashamed.”
“No shame for the love god, baby,” Dee said, punctuating the statement with a truly shameless wiggle. He reached out with one hand to flick off the light, and Ryo was glad for the darkness: it hid how ridiculous his smile felt.
It happened so fast, it didn’t really touch Ryo until they were at the hospital. Dee was fine, and then he wasn’t - he hit the ground hard, his grunt more surprised than hurt. He looked up at Ryo, and in that second Ryo couldn’t tell which of them was more shocked.
Everything after that happened in a blur, and next thing Ryo knew he was standing in front of Dee’s bed in the ER, the last of the adrenaline fading and leaving him instead with bone-deep panic, heavy as lead.
“Stop with the face, please,” Dee said. “I’m humiliated enough, alright?”
Ryo sagged back against the wall, one hand pressed to his chest, trying to calm the heart trying to pound its way past his ribs. He tried to tell himself that Dee was fine, that he’d been wearing his vest, but it didn’t help, not really.
“Sorry,” Ryo said. “I’m just…”
Dee held out a hand and on autopilot Ryo took it, sliding his fingers around Dee’s thick wrist like he was feeling for a pulse which was ridiculous, because Dee was up and talking and was going to be fine, but he’d never been the best at being rational when Dee was hurt.
“Hey, you with me, guy?” Dee asked, slotting their hands together properly and squeezing Ryo’s fingers. His face was tired, jaw tight with pain, but he looked alright up close. Some of the tension in Ryo’s chest eased up. It must have shown on his face, because Dee cracked a grin immediately. “Some mess, huh? Sure, I’m not shot, but wrenching my own knee on the way down? I’m never going to live this one down.”
“It’s not funny yet,” Ryo told him, but Dee’s smile had always been infectious.
He stroked some of Dee’s hair back from his forehead, more, he thought, out of a need to comfort himself than any need to comfort Dee, who barely seemed shaken at all. Ryo supposed it was usually the same when the situation was reversed. There had been more than a few times, Dee wild-eyed with concern and Ryo brushing him off because he was fine, really.
It was just always harder to be on the other side.
“Sorry,” Dee said, “I worried you, huh?”
“It hasn’t been my favorite day on the job,” Ryo said, throat a little tight, eyes a little dry. The relief was setting in now, the adrenaline ebbing away, and it brought a bone-deep tiredness with it.
“They’re almost done torturing me,” Dee said, catching Ryo’s hand and squeezing. “You gonna take me home?”
“Yeah,” Ryo said, squeezing Dee’s hand back. “Let's go home.”
Watching Bikky fluff Dee’s pillow was the most bizarre experience of Ryo’s life. Dee wore an expression like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and possibly for Bikky to try and smother him. Not that Ryo was also waiting for that. Much.
“You know he’s not dying, right?” Carol said. She was stretched out on the other side of the sofa, refusing to hand Dee the remote, so at least someone was acting normal.
Bikky flushed red to the roots of his hair, said, “Shut up!” and promptly fled. He came back two minutes later and plonked a mug and a bottle of painkillers down in front of Dee, then disappeared back into his room.
Carol sighed, tossed Ryo a look, and went after him.
Dee sniffed at the mug. “You think it’s poisoned?”
“Probably not,” Ryo said, sliding into Carol’s vacant seat. He wrapped his hand around Dee’s ankle. “Think you rattled more than just me.”
Dee shot him a quizzical look. “Kid’s seen me literally get shot before, Ryo. This is nothing.”
“Yeah, but he’s going away,” Ryo said. “It’s scary. You getting hurt probably isn’t helping.”
“I'm barely injured!” Dee said. Ryo rolled his eyes.
“The point is, we’ve got a dangerous job, Dee,” he said. “Bikky knows that.”
“Brat’s a magnet for trouble all on his own,” Dee grumbled. “He’s got no room to talk.”
“Not the point,” Ryo said, giving Dee’s ankle a warning squeeze. He was trying hard not to think too much about Bikky being alone in California, along with his penchant for being in the center of every hurricane.
“Yeah,” Dee huffed, dragging a hand through his hair. “I know. Think it’ll help if I promise to try and not die while he’s gone?”
“Mm, maybe,” Ryo said. “It’d help me, probably.”
Dee shot him an odd, sharp look. “Hey. C’mere.”
The couch was, strictly speaking, too narrow for Ryo to go anywhere, so he ended up half-hovering over Dee, bracing his weight on his palms so he wouldn’t brush up against his injured knee. Dee rolled his eyes, scowling, and grabbed a fistful of Ryo's shirt, hauling him down.
“I’m not gonna up and leave you, y’know,” he said, and Ryo’s stomach flipped that way it always did when Dee voiced something he hadn’t known he’d been thinking.
There was a lump rising in Ryo’s throat. He tried to swallow it down. Dee wrapped one hand around the back of his neck, tangling his fingers in Ryo’s hair, and tugged him down for a kiss.
“Same goes for you, alright?” he said. “I finally got you where I want you, so neither of us gets to go out in a blaze of glory until at least the silver anniversary.”
Ryo knocked his forehead against Dee’s gently. “Alright, I promise.”
He settled himself down alongside Dee, careful not to jostle his knee. Dee wrapped one arm around him, hand at the small of his back. “God. Threw out my knee. I’m getting old.”
Ryo ducked his head to muffle his smile against Dee’s collarbone, but not, apparently, fast enough. Dee squawked indignantly.
“You’re supposed to deny that, y’know!” he said. “Oh no, Dee, you’re supposed to say, you’re just as strapping and virile as you were the day we first met!”
“You’re just as strapping and virile as the day we met,” Ryo repeated dutifully. Dee huffed a long sigh.
“Least our guy didn’t get away,” he said. “Me and my old man knees have that, at least.”
“Well, you did once tell me you always get your man,” Ryo said, pulling back. Dee gave him an odd look.
“Ryo,” he said, leaning forward. The sudden intensity in his voice was startling - Ryo wondered if he would ever stop being surprised when Dee looked at him like that, like he was the only thing in the room. If he would ever want to stop being surprised. “You know I was talking about you, right?”
“I always get my man,” Dee repeated, so close now their noses nearly brushed. “That was about you.” Ryo blinked and Dee rolled his eyes. He grabbed Ryo’s face between his big warm hands and said, “I was hitting on you!”
“But I thought you were talking about work!” Ryo blurted out.
“Yeah, no shit,” Dee said, and kissed him.
There were disgusted noises from down the hall, but honestly, that just made it feel all the more like home.
“It’s going to burn,” Dee said.
“Nobody likes a backseat driver,” Ryo told him, flipping a pancake that was maybe a little browner around the edges than it should’ve been.
“Still gonna burn,” Dee muttered, chin propped up on his palm. Ryo ignored him.
Bikky trudged into the kitchen just as Ryo was finished with that last batch of pancakes, yawning wildly and stifling it with a fist.
“Mornin’,” he croaked, shuffling to the table and snatching the orange juice straight from Dee’s hand.
“Where’d all your sympathy go, huh?” Dee demanded. Bikky didn’t bat an eye.
“You’re feeling better,” he said, plonking himself down in the seat next to Dee and promptly snatching a piece of bacon off his plate. Dee’s face was only a little murderous, which Ryo credited towards the fact that Bikky’s plane ticket had already been purchased, the day of his departure blocked off on the calendar hanging by the fridge. Ryo hadn’t known he could feel so simultaneously proud and sad, all bundled up in a bag of anxious.
(“I know he’ll be okay, though,” he’d told Dee the other night, whispered it against the nape of Dee’s neck as they lay together pressed back-to-chest in the dark, the sound of city traffic lulling them both to sleep
“‘Course he’ll be okay,” Dee replied, slightly slurred with sleep. He wrapped his hand around Ryo's wrist and squeezed. “He’s our kid, ain’t he?”)
“Hey. Settle something,” Dee said. “Who makes better pancakes, me or Ryo?”
“Easy,” Bikky said, sliding three onto his plate and pouring half a bottle’s worth of syrup over them. “My friend Sam’s grandma.”
Dee shot Ryo a wounded look, and suddenly Ryo was overcome with it, a feeling sweeping through him like a wave: he was standing in the kitchen with Bikky yawning and Dee with his hair still sleep-rumpled, flannel pajama pants soft and pilling, and it didn’t feel like just staying over at Dee’s place like it had a million times before. It was almost overwhelming.
It still didn’t quite fit, not really. But it felt like a shirt that was a little too big - like there was room to grow into it. Ryo sat down, trying to stifle his own smile. Not fast enough, apparently.
“What’re you so happy about?” Dee asked, nudging at his knee.
“You,” Ryo answered.
“Ugh,” said Bikky. “You two need to promise me the weird second honeymoon period’s gonna be over by winter break or I’m running away to like, Cancun.”
“On whose salary?” Dee said, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Bikky. Dee mimicked him silently, pulling a face, before turning his gaze Ryo’s way.
“So,” he said. “No regrets?”
Ryo didn’t even have to think about it. “Not a one.”
Dee’s grin was so bright Ryo didn’t even mind when he stole the last pancake.