Kojiro was the first to notice. Which he relentlessly teased Kaoru about for weeks after the fact, but that’s beside the point. The point was, that none of their acquired family of skaters seemed to be aware that he and Kaoru were married. In fact, the more he watched people’s reactions and listened to their whispered gossip, he was convinced that no one even knew they were a couple.
So naturally, he took it upon himself to see how far he could push those boundaries.
“Get off me you oversized gorilla.” Cherry Blossom was standing with his arms crossed, showing off those impressive biceps, and his chin tilted indignantly in the air. Even through his mask, Joe could tell that his husband was smirking at his antics. Obviously, he had figured out what was going on.
Joe just leaned heavier on the pink-haired skaters back and grinned as it elicited a slight ‘ oof ’ of effort to keep them both upright. Other skaters and onlookers were throwing them glances, some out of the corner of their eyes and others straight up staring. It wasn’t like their strange relationship and interactions were anything new to the scene. But usually, Cherry would have shrugged him off or kicked him in the shins by now. “Make me.”
It was a challenge issued loud enough that anyone in the vicinity could hear it. And Joe smothered a laugh as he felt strong shoulders tense underneath him. He was prepared for the elbow to his gut and the deft fingers pulling at his hair. It wasn’t actually painful, but he so loved playing it up for the crowd. So he let himself be knocked down with an overdramatic cry and caught the flash of amusement in those beautiful golden eyes.
Later that night when Kaoru dropped by the restaurant and sat in his usual spot at the bar, Kojiro let himself marvel at the beauty of the man in front of him. There was no greater feeling than being the only one to watch as the gentlest of smiles tugged at soft pink lips and his eyelids fluttered closed in an act of pure, unwavering trust.
The day that Langa asked him if he hated Cherry was a memorable one for sure. He barely managed to save himself from choking on the udon they had been eating, a treat on Kojiro’s behalf. “Now, why would you ask a question like that little snowman?” Sure, he and Kaoru bickered all the time and their physical altercations might come across as unfriendly, but hate was a world away from the way he felt.
“I’ve just never seen anyone interact the way you do, and Shadow said that it seemed as if you couldn’t stand one another.” Ah, so it was more an interpretation of a comment than his own thoughts on his and Kaoru’s relationship then. That was something Kojiro could work with. “Well, Kaoru and I have known each other for a long time. We’ve been through a lot together, and even after this many years he still knows how to get under my skin.” In the best kind of way though. When Kaoru made sly digs at his size and personality, or when Kojiro would tease him about Carla just to see the furrow of his brows and feel the sting of his palm against Kojiro’s chest - it was all just part of their dynamic. Neither of them were soft enough for their day-to-day interactions to be anything different. Only in the sanctuary of their private spaces would they allow themselves to show true vulnerability.
He noticed Langa and Reki watching them more intently after that. Sometimes Kojiro would find himself zoning out while Kaoru was explaining the physics behind a trick, just content to watch as the lights overhead would glimmer off his flawless skin. And when his eyes drifted away he would see one or both of the pair just watching with curious eyes. So he would quirk the corner of his mouth in a grin and kick Kaoru under the table, just to hear him exclaim a violent curse and smack him across the head with his fan. It was entertaining. Kaoru would mumble his complaints as they curled up in bed together that night while lightly threading his fingers through Kojiro’s hair.
Funnily enough, it was Miya who first seemed to catch on. Or maybe he hadn’t actually noticed and was simply trying to raise hell like the demon child he was. Either way, Joe happily went along with his game. “Mama Cherry is on a date with a very pretty woman. I saw them out shopping earlier.” Kojiro knew that Kaoru’s cousin was in town looking for a wedding dress and that the Sakurayashiki genes were strong and gorgeous. But it amused him how Miya still called Kaoru ‘Mama’ as a joke, even months after that beach day and that he was obviously scheming. “My husband is cheating on me! Oh, gods, whatever am I going to do now?” Kojiro didn’t take a drama class in college for nothing, he was always putting it to good use. And it showed with the darkening expression of confusion and disgust on Miya’s face as he tried to make sense of his words.
When Kaoru met up with them at S later, Joe didn’t bother hiding his laughter when Miya grabbed Cherry’s hands and felt for a ring on his finger. Cherry guessed what the strange actions were about from Joe’s reaction alone, and indulged the kid for a whole minute before pushing him away with a ruffle of his hair. “Anyone who skates while wearing jewellery would be asking for an accident.” Joe winced as unbidden pictures of torn cartilage and split lips filled his head, memories from a different time. When he and Cherry would spend hours beyond their curfews running from cops and pulling off the most daring stunts they could to impress one another. He still missed seeing a glint of silver in the moonlight streak past him as they would race down side streets and along the docks, just chasing the thrill.
Reki was the next to confront him about his feelings for Kaoru, and he was the most discreet so far. Still not discreet enough for Kojiro to miss what he was getting at though. “How would you confess to someone you’ve known for a while if you’re not sure that they return your feelings?” While it seemed that no one had sense enough to recognize his and Kaoru’s relationship when it had been right before their eyes for years, you would have to be blind to miss the way Reki and Langa pined after one another. Although, if the request for advice was sincere then maybe the two teens were denser than he had originally thought.
“If your feelings for them are strong then just do it. You’d be surprised at how far sincerity will get you.” If anyone ever asked about their relationship, Kaoru would insist that Kojiro had chased him down and pestered him until he agreed to be his boyfriend. And Kojiro happily went along with it, because he knew the truth. Kaoru had practised his calligraphy by writing dozens of love letters to Kojiro, expressing his growing feelings and fears of rejection and all the other things he would never say aloud. The letters had never been meant for him to read, but fate had other plans for them and so Kojiro found out in the most heart-breaking way that his best friend was hopelessly in love.
So yes, he chased him down, all the way to the harbour on their boards, begging Kaoru not to run away. And then he confessed, earnestly, spilling his whole heart out for only the ocean and his best friend to hear. It took nearly three weeks of Kaoru continuing to avoid Kojiro because the weight of his mortification was too much for him to bear until finally he gave in and let Kojiro kiss him behind the halfpipe in the newly opened skate park. They had been together ever since.
“Do it somewhere that’s special to you both, and no matter what their reaction is don’t apologize for your feelings.” Reki was looking at him with the same expression he got trying to puzzle out a new design for a board. It made Kojiro chuckle and roll his eyes as he reached to pinch the redhead’s cheeks. “HEY! I just - you sounded like you were speaking from experience.” It was the closest anyone around them had gotten to figuring it out yet, and Kojiro decided to let it be. “Yeah.”
The climax to the goose-chase came on his and Kaoru’s fifth wedding anniversary. They had their own plans already made; a private dinner and then a trip up the mountains to do a bit of stargazing. As much as the romantic in him wished he could take Kaoru back to the place he had proposed, that wasn’t really possible on short notice - considering that he had proposed in Paris. It had been a spur of the moment thing. Kojiro had no ring and no plan, but seeing Kaoru look so radiant as the Eiffel Tower lights reflected off the water in the Trocadero gardens, he had been so overcome with love that he just dropped to one knee there and then and asked the most beautiful man in the world to spend the rest of their lives together.
Kaoru had thumped him on the head and then started crying as he turned his face away. They had both bitched at one another about inappropriate timing and reactions even as Kaoru fell into Kojiro’s embrace and whispered a yes against his lips. They decided not to get rings, because they would have to remove them for work and for skating and what was the point in having the symbol of your union be a piece of metal that could break or get lost? So they got married in a registry office in LA a few months later and got matching tattoos behind their ears instead. Kaoru’s was a tiger, while Kojiro’s was a branch of cherry blossoms.
But as with most of the things that had happened in their relationship, their anniversary date didn’t exactly go to plan. Because when the door to Kojio’s apartment flung open half an hour before Kaoru was supposed to come around, it revealed his husband in a state of disarray and a horrified Reki holding an unconscious Miya in his arms. Kojiro had never really experienced what his coworkers would describe as ‘familial urgency’ - that surge of adrenaline when you see your kids or your partner hurt. But at that moment, he suddenly knew what it felt like.
After locating a missing Langa and one hospital visit later Kojiro had his strange pseudo-family gathered around his actual kitchen table rather than their usual one in the restaurant. Miya was being babied by both Reki and Langa while Kaoru was rubbing his temples in an attempt to dispel the migraine that had probably settled there. Kojiro settled in behind him and gently moved Kaoru’s arms to rest in his lap, replacing pale fingers with his own warm hands. Many years had taught him the perfect method for dispelling those pesky migraines in no time. Sure enough, not even a full minute later and the calligrapher was slumping backwards to rest his weight against Kojiro’s chest.
“This wasn’t how I expected tonight to go.” He hummed and continued his gentle head massage, focusing on the steady rhythm of Kaoru’s breathing. The two teens were trying to feed Miya some of the sushi that had originally been part of their anniversary dinner menu. Now, he was just happy to see them all safe and laughing together. “It wouldn’t be us if it wasn’t unconventional though, now would it. Remember what happened on our second anniversary?” That drew a small laugh out of Kaoru, the memories of that disaster still fresh in their minds. Needless to say, his husband was extremely cautious from then on about checking the labels on body paint more closely.
Kojiro was so caught up in the beauty of Kaoru’s laughter that he momentarily forgot they weren’t alone in their private space. He leaned down and pressed a feather-light kiss to Kaoru’s forehead, and smiled as a soft hand reached up and landed on his neck. It wasn’t a romantic dinner and stargazing, but just being together was enough. Until of course, there was a clatter and a shriek and they both jolted to look over at their three chaotic skating children. Langa had one hand over Miya’s eyes while Reki’s jaw was on the floor as they stared. “Oh, right, I forgot you lot were here.” Kaoru flicked him on the ear and moved to sit up from his slouched position.
“YOU TWO ARE DATING?” It was Reki who broke the silence first. Miya squirmed and ducked under Langa’s shielding hand to glare at them. “I don’t know what you see in him, you’re way too good for him.” Langa continued to stare, taking his time to process the new information. Kojiro felt a little bad for what he was about to do, but then again, he had been enjoying the chaos of no one knowing so far. So he braced one hand on Kaoru’s hip and reached over to the small table beside the couch where he had his anniversary gift hidden. Then he sat up on his knees properly and presented it to the pink-haired man with a grin. “Happy anniversary, husband dearest.”
That earned another shriek and Kojiro was certain he saw a puff of steam erupting from Langa’s ears as he slumped over, bracing his weight against a wide-eyed Miya. “YOU’RE MARRIED?!” Kaoru purposefully ignored the cacophony of children and unwrapped the mint-green paper from around his gift. Kojiro had spent hours online and on the phone to his mother trying to figure out what he could get to symbolise just how much his husband meant to him. And even though he knew that Kaoru would be happy no matter what, he still held his breath as he waited for a reaction.
“Kojiro - it’s beautiful.” Kojiro had finally come up with the idea after hearing Kaoru mumbling to himself about needing to get new brushes. The ones he had for commissions and projects and the ones he used for demonstrations and his AI pieces were beautiful, but he insisted on having a set that he only used for personal pieces. So, Kojiro had gone to Kaoru’s most trusted supplier and bought him a set of bamboo brushes that the older woman had guaranteed he would love. And then, after several debates with himself, he had commissioned a hand-crafted case made from Japanese cedar wood to hold the brushes, with their names burned into the inside of the lid. It had been a lot of effort but seeing Kaoru’s reaction was worth every moment of it.
Kaoru set the box aside and took Kojiro’s hands in his own, using them to brush away the tears that had gathered on his lashes. “I have a gift for you too, but it’s at my apartment.” Kojiro leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his husband’s forehead, smiling and reassuring him that he could wait another while to see it. After all, it wasn’t like they were going anywhere.
The rest of the evening was spent explaining the history of their relationship to the kids, laughing at their incredulity and eating the food that Kojiro had prepared with all his love. They did eventually send the trio home, with promises that they would take better care of themselves and each other, and not to go around blabbing about their new knowledge. Kojiro still enjoyed the looks and whispers of the groupies and skaters as they tried to figure out what exactly was going on between the two of them, and Kaoru was happy to let him have his fun. Because at the end of the day, all that mattered was the two of them together, sharing the most intimate moments of their lives with only the people who meant the most to them.
Kaoru had gotten him a miniature Sakura plant in a Japanese red pine pot, with beautiful kanji wrapping around the wood. It might not seem like much to others, but to Kojiro the simple phrase meant the world to him.
“We’re not alone, my love”