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There’s something wrong with him.

Kaoru knows that, keenly, from the way that he just can’t seem to stop laughing.

He’ll settle down for a few minutes, think that he’s finally gotten the last of it out of his system, and then an image from the night will flash through his mind’s eye, and all he can do is laugh and laugh and laugh.

He tries to keep quiet, turns his face and presses his forehead against the window of the car so that Kojiro won’t think he’s completely lost it, but there’s nothing to do about the way his body shakes with it, or the small giggles and gasps that escape him.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” Kojiro says, his voice light with amusement as well. He’s driving them back in the car he keeps around for transporting food for catering.

“He put me in a fucking wheelchair.” Kaoru’s voice sounds as giddy as he feels.

“Still wish I could’ve given him a piece of my mind for that,” Kojiro says, “but I gotta say, Reki probably got him better than I ever could.”

“Those kids,” Kaoru says, inexplicably fond. Watching them, he sometimes wonders if he was as much of a handful when he was their age—then he decides he was probably worse.

“They’re all right, aren’t they?” Kojiro says warmly. He turns onto the main road, the uneven dirt smoothening out to pavement beneath the tires. “You feeling up to drinks tonight, or should I take you home?”

“Drinks at the restaurant?” Kaoru says. That’s their usual routine, but something about it doesn’t feel right tonight. The feeling inside him is too juvenile for the cultured air Kojiro cultivates in Sia la Luce.

Kojiro glances at him. “Did you have another idea?”

“Not sure,” Kaoru says. “But it feels like a shitty drinks kind of night.”

“Hm.” Kojiro’s finger strokes the side of the steering wheel as he thinks. It’s an old habit—he strokes everything from pencils when they were studying to spoon handles when he’s tasting a new recipe. “I do have boxed wine at home.”

“You’re an animal,” Kaoru says, pleased. “Let’s go.”


Kaoru does not manage to hold himself together for the rest of the trip back to Kojiro’s place, but from the way Kojiro grins, Kaoru doubts Kojiro’s judging him too harshly for his bout of schadenfreude.

After all, Adam more than had it coming.

Kojiro parks in a covered spot behind his building. He hops out of the car to unfold Kaoru’s wheelchair from the back while Kaoru pushes the car door out as far as he can without falling over.

“Think you can make it?” Kojiro says, standing beside the door with the wheelchair.

The barest amount of weight on his right foot feels like someone’s stabbed a needle through his entire body. Kaoru grunts. “Not tonight, it seems.”

Kojiro pushes the wheelchair out of the way and bends over. Wordlessly, Kaoru leans to the side, putting his hands on Kojiro’s shoulders as Kojiro slides his arms under Kaoru’s knees and around his back, lifting him from the seat.

An embarrassing rush of butterflies swoops through Kaoru’s stomach at being carried so effortlessly, and it doesn’t disappear even after Kojiro gently deposits him into the chair. Even after all these years, Kojiro is still so very—Kojiro.

Kojiro locks the car and pushes Kaoru without asking. “Don’t complain about the mess, all right?” he says, seemingly oblivious to Kaoru’s internal fluster. “I wasn’t expecting guests.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Kojiro’s definition of mess is maybe an empty glass left on the coffee table when he should have at least put it on the counter by the sink. Kaoru’s place turns into far worse, especially when he’s working on a project.

Sure enough, when they enter the apartment, it’s attractive enough to be photographed for a home and lifestyle feature. Kaoru had always envied Kojiro’s eye for decoration. Unlike Kaoru’s place, which hasn’t changed much from its original state aside from the addition of furniture, Kojiro’s is vibrant and full of life, with decorations on every table and pictures on every wall.

“Couch okay?” Kojiro says, wheeling him to a stop by the arm of his tan faux-leather sofa. On it are two light blue pillows embroidered with cherry blossoms that Kaoru doesn’t remember seeing the last time he was over, a few weeks ago.

“When did you get those?” Kaoru says, wordlessly lifting his arms to be carried.

“Found them on sale.” Kojiro lifts him up and then puts him down far too quickly. Kaoru’s stomach swoops again. “They’re nice, right?”

“They clash terribly,” Kaoru says, fighting for an even voice. “The colors aren’t right.”

Kojiro frowns, studying the other side of the couch, as Kaoru’s leaning on a pillow now. “I guess you’re right,” Kojiro says. “What do you think, a white sofa?”

Kaoru pinches his brows. “You idiot, it’s not the sofa you should replace.”

“Fine, fine,” Kojiro says. “I’ll just put them in my bedroom instead, then. You think they go with navy blue?”

The question itself is innocent enough, but the reference to the bedroom makes Kaoru scowl in suspicion. There are few things Kojiro can do to truly piss him off, but treating him like another one of his playthings for the night is one of them.

Kojiro leans in and flicks his forehead. “You’re getting wrinkles.”

“Who’s the one giving them to me, huh?” Kaoru says, slapping his hand away.

Kojiro just laughs and leans back. His jacket is hanging loosely over his elbows instead of being worn properly on his shoulders, which means basically everything is on display.

How distracting. He should just take it off at this point.

“Don’t worry,” Kojiro says, “I know better than to put the moves on you.”

“What do you know, you smooth-brained ape,” Kaoru mutters, dropping his head against the back of the couch.

Kojiro raises his eyebrows. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, where’s the disgusting alcohol I was promised?” Kaoru says. It’s been a good night so far; he doesn’t want to ruin it by getting into the fact that he actually does like it when Kojiro flirts with him, just not when he’s flirting like that.

“If I’m remembering right, you promised yourself the alcohol,” Kojiro says, taking the bait.

“I’m injured.”

“You’re going to milk this for all it’s worth, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely,” Kaoru says. “Go fetch.”

“Yes, your highness,” Kojiro says, rolling his eyes as he makes his way to the kitchen. “White or rosé?”

“You have multiple kinds of boxes?” Kaoru says, appalled and impressed. “What kind of life are you leading?”

“You’re not allowed to act so high and mighty while you have a fridge full of trashy peach sake,” Kojiro calls out from the kitchen.

“It’s elegant, you brute!”

“It’s sugar is what it is,” Kojiro says, emerging from the kitchen with a box and two wine glasses. “I’m surprised you don’t have diabetes yet, you raging sweets monster.”

“That is not how diabetes works,” Kaoru says. “Not that I’d expect an idiot ape like you to know that.”

“This ape has control of the alcohol tonight, so if I were you, I’d be a little nicer.” Kojiro sets his bounty on the coffee table and sits down on the floor in front of Kaoru. “Not that I’d expect a prissy prick like you to know how to do that.”

“My apologies, Nanjo-sama, I didn’t quite hear what you said,” Kaoru says in his most saccharine, annoying-client-appeasing voice. “If you would please be so kind as to repeat your request, this humble calligrapher would be delighted to—”

Kojiro’s hand presses over Kaoru’s mouth, cutting off the end of his sentence. “Ugh, don’t do that, you sound like you’re possessed. Oi!” He snatches his hand away. “Did you seriously just lick me?”

“I hope you washed your hands,” Kaoru says.

“Maybe you should ask that before you lick people next time,” Kojiro says, wiping his hand on Kaoru’s side while Kaoru tries to shove him away. The tussle is only half-hearted, since Kaoru is still very aware of all his injuries, and he knows Kojiro is too.

Kojiro pulls away with one last obnoxious pat-pat to Kaoru’s waist. Kaoru slaps his knuckles as he goes.

“You didn’t take painkillers, did you?” Kojiro says as he picks up the box. Rosé, Kaoru notices.

“Of course not,” Kaoru says. “Are you my bartender or my mother?”

“Neither,” Kojiro says, “but I think you’ve had enough trips to the hospital lately.”

It’s just been the one, but the undertone of genuine weariness in Kojiro’s voice is enough for Kaoru to know not to pursue it. He leans back instead and watches as Kojiro pours the wine, his shoulders flexing as he lifts and lowers the box. His jacket is still hanging, draped on his forearms. Seeing it reminds Kaoru of S, and of the way Adam had hit Reki’s jacket, and then—

Kaoru presses the back of his hand against his mouth, but it doesn’t do much to muffle his laughter.

Kojiro turns to him, a teasing smile on his face that makes Kaoru’s heart feel lighter. “Adam again?”

“He just—slipped!” Kaoru says between giggles. “In the rain! I wish I could’ve seen his face!”

“He always was the graceful one out of the three of us,” Kojiro says, grinning. “Oh, but do you remember when we went to the beach that one time? And he freaked out when the seaweed touched his foot?”

Kaoru laughs harder. His ribs are starting to ache. “I thought we’d traumatized him for life!” he wheezes. Adam had refused to go near the water for the rest of that trip, walking on Kojiro’s other side and glaring distrustfully at the waves.

Kojiro laughs too. “He wouldn’t believe us that it was seaweed, either.”

It grabbed my leg, Joe!” Kaoru says, shaking Kojiro’s shoulder, and they both cackle over the memory of it until they’re too tired to laugh anymore.

“Man, I remember thinking what a sad kid, though,” Kojiro says, wiping a tear from his eye. “Grew up in Okinawa but never got to play on the beach.”

“His upbringing certainly left much to be desired,” Kaoru says. “In more ways than one.”

Kojiro hands him a glass of wine and then pulls himself up to sit next to Kaoru on the couch. “I wish he would’ve just talked to us. Or told us anything, ever. Maybe we could’ve helped.”

Kaoru, who also considers himself an expert in not talking about things, can understand why Adam chose to keep things to himself, even if Kaoru didn’t like it, either. “It’s difficult to help those who don’t wish to accept it.”

“Even more difficult when they push you away when you try,” Kojiro says.

“For him,” Kaoru says, “the autumn wind blows lonely.”

“At least we don’t have that problem,” Kojiro says. “We’re like falling petals and a flowing stream, aren’t we?”

Kaoru always has to take a moment when idiomatic yojijukujo comes out of Kojiro’s mouth, partly because he never expects it, but mainly because when Kojiro says particularly poetic phrases, he has this soft lilt to his voice that Kaoru wants to hear over and over again.

That being said, it’s not so distracting that Kaoru doesn’t register the words Kojiro is saying. “That’s used for lovers, you uncultured gorilla.”

“Is it?” Kojiro says. “It fits us so well, though.”

Kaoru frowns at him in suspicion. The teasing edge to Kojiro’s voice could just be a byproduct of the easy atmosphere of the night, but it also could be something else. Again. “That better not be one of your lines.”

“Is it working?” Kojiro says.

“No.” Kaoru takes a sip of the wine. “This is awful. I like it.”

“Only the worst for you,” Kojiro says, raising his glass in a toast. “I wonder how this would taste mixed with your sake.”

“Absolutely horrendous, I’m sure,” Kaoru says. He swirls the drink in his glass and takes another sip. “We can try it next time.”

“Remember in high school when we mixed red wine and Ramune?”

“That one turned out better than expected,” Kaoru says, though it should probably be illegal to do that to a bottle worth over 20,000 yen.

“Right?” Kojiro grins, and Kaoru’s heart trips. “We should definitely do that again.”

“Boxed red, though.”

“Of course,” Kojiro says. “Like hell I’m wasting a good bottle on trashy mixed drinks. Sorry, mom. I probably owe her more than a few reds, huh?”

Kaoru snorts. “The hidden costs of having children.”

“Man, all the things our parents had to put up with,” Kojiro says, throwing his arm over the back of the couch. His hand lingers near Kaoru’s head, close enough to touch his hair if he reached out just a bit. “Sometimes I can’t believe they were so cool with everything.”

“I told my mom it was your idea to start skating.”

“Oi!”

“She didn’t believe me.”

Kojiro huffs and flicks Kaoru’s ponytail. “She better not have. Obviously, all the troublesome ideas were from you.”

“I’m sorry,” Kaoru says. “Do you not remember when we skipped school and got grounded for a month? Because if I recall correctly, that was your idea.”

“I was six and we went to the park!” Kojiro says. “That barely counts! Unlike you, getting ten piercings when you were sixteen. I’m sure your mom was glad when those all came out.”

Kaoru took them out after he dropped out of university and returned home to the calligraphy studio, so in terms of net feelings, his mom was distinctly unhappy—not that Kaoru wants to get into that right now. Or ever. Instead, he says, “Who said they all came out?”

Kojiro stares pointedly at his face, then at his ear.

“Have you forgotten where the other ones were already?” Kaoru says. “Your memory’s getting bad in your old age.”

“You’re older than me, you melonhead,” Kojiro says, leaning closer like he’d be able to see anything past Kaoru’s hakamashita and undershirt. “You’re seriously saying you left those on? You?”

Kaoru wishes he had his fan so he could smack Kojiro on the head. “Yes, me. The one who got them in the first place. Is it really so surprising I would keep them on?”

Kojiro studies his face. He’s still leaning in close—a little too close, and Kaoru has to fight to keep his face from heating. He wishes he had his mask up.

“I guess it’s not,” Kojiro says finally. “Can I see?”

Kaoru feels like he’s on a rollercoaster when he’s around Kojiro, what with the way his heart veers so sharply between aching affection and nagging irritation. “No, you idiot. Is the wine getting to your head?”

“I’m pretty sure you would have ripped your shirt off and shoved your chest in my face if we were teenagers,” Kojiro says.

The worst part is that Kojiro’s right. Kaoru’s younger self had far less brain cells and even less shame. “Thank god we’re not teenagers anymore.”

“It wasn’t all bad, was it?” Kojiro says. “I mean, things were definitely a lot simpler back then.”

“Were they?” Kaoru says. “Or were we just naïve?”

“Hm.” Kojiro takes a long, slow sip. “I mean, probably both. You can’t deny things changed a lot after we graduated high school.”

Kaoru gives a short hum. He’d be the last person to disagree with that.

“You know, you don’t talk about it much,” Kojiro says. Kaoru isn’t sure he likes where this is going. “Why you decided to come back to the calligraphy studio instead of finishing university.”

No, Kaoru doesn’t like it at all. “There’s a reason for that.”

“Yeah? What is it?”

“Because I don’t want to talk about it,” Kaoru says. And especially not with Kojiro. “Obviously.”

“But you were so excited for that AI lab and—”

“Kojiro,” Kaoru says sharply, putting his hand on Kojiro’s arm and digging in with his fingers. “What part of I don’t want to talk about it do you not understand? Honestly. Prove to me that you even have a brain and drop it.”

“This was almost ten years ago,” Kojiro says slowly, setting down his glass. “And you’re still avoiding the topic this much? What aren’t you telling me?”

Kaoru wants to scream. He doesn’t want to talk about this, and he doesn’t want Kojiro to look at him right now, and especially not like that. He keeps his voice steady as he says, “Nothing for you to concern yourself over. As you said, it’s already been nearly a decade.”

“Your hand is shaking,” Kojiro says.

Kaoru pushes the wine glass into his thigh to still it. He feels his heart fluttering unpleasantly in his chest. “Shut up.”

“Kaoru, you know I’m always here for you, right?”

“If you’re not going to shut up then at least do me the favor of not lying to me,” Kaoru says before he can stop himself.

Kojiro recoils like he’s been slapped. “I’m not—”

“You weren’t there!” Kaoru shouts to Kojiro’s wide-eyed face. “I needed you and you weren’t there!”

“What—Kaoru, are you talking about when I went to Italy?”

“Forget it.” Kaoru tips his wine glass toward his mouth, but it’s empty. He lets it fall onto the cushion and closes his hands into fists, trying to control the trembling. Fuck, he hates actually fighting with Kojiro.

“Kaoru—”

“I said forget it, you feeble-minded gorilla.”

“No.”

Kaoru glares at him.

Kojiro’s expression is determined. “You think you can just bring up something like that and expect us not to talk about it? That isn’t how this works.”

“You’re the one who forced it out of me in the first place,” Kaoru says. “If you recall, I was the one trying to end the conversation before we got here.”

“You’ve let this bother you for eight years?” Kojiro says instead of arguing.

Kaoru remains silent. There isn’t a good answer to that.

“What the hell, Kaoru,” Kojiro says, pushing his hair back. “You know I would’ve stayed if you’d… You said that you were fine.”

“I know what I said,” Kaoru says. “Adam fucked me and fucked off, you really thought I’d be just fine after that?”

“That’s not fair,” Kojiro says. “I’m not a mind-reader, you know that if—”

“I know!” Kaoru shouts. “I know it’s not fair, why the fuck do you think I’ve never wanted to talk about it?”

He suddenly feels trapped—in this conversation, in this apartment, on this couch. His vision is darkening at the edges, and the air is thin, and his leg feels like knives are slicing through it when he tries to move it, and his chest is aching again but not in a pleasant way.

“Kaoru.” Kojiro’s voice is suddenly closer, and very calm. “I need you to breathe for me. In.”

Kaoru takes a huge, rattling breath. It’s dark—because his eyes are closed.

“Out.”

He takes a few more breaths, guided by Kojiro’s steady voice keeping time.

“Do you want me to leave?”

It takes a minute for Kaoru to parse the question, and even then he’s still not sure of the answer. Kojiro set him off, yes, but Kojiro’s also always been the best at bringing him back down.

He doesn’t answer, and Kojiro stays.

“Okay,” Kojiro says. “I’ll be right here until you tell me to go. Can I touch you?”

Kaoru nods without opening his eyes. Kojiro’s hand, large and warm, lays on top of his. Kaoru keeps breathing, until he feels the tension seep from his muscles.

“I’m sorry I said that,” Kaoru says into the silence.

“I’m not.” Kojiro’s hand presses gently over his. “Do you want water? Tea?”

“Tea,” Kaoru says, but when Kojiro’s hand lifts from his, Kaoru’s heart rate spikes. His eyes fly open, and he catches Kojiro’s wrist. “I changed my mind.”

“That’s okay.” Kojiro twists their hands around and intertwines their fingers. “I’m sorry, Kaoru.”

“Don’t,” Kaoru says, tipping his head back against the couch. Emotions are exhausting. He looks sideways at Kojiro. “Despite what I said, I never blamed you for it.”

“Are you sure?” Kojiro says. “Because that sounded like a lot just now.”

‘No,” Kaoru says. “You were right. I told you I was fine, and you had no reason not to believe me.”

“But you were lying.”

“I wasn’t lying when you left,” Kaoru says stiffly. He abhors lies as much as Kojiro does. “I really did think I was going to be fine. And then after the first year in Tokyo…”

“You didn’t go back after break, right?” Kojiro says. “And you were all dodgy about the reason, too. I thought your mom was dying at first. Almost booked a flight right then.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.” It was bad enough his mom had to see him like that. Kojiro didn’t have time for that kind of worry in his life, Kaoru new logically, even if he’d wished differently in the lonely darkness of his bedroom.

“Who’s the one who just said you needed me?” Kojiro says, exasperated. “Why didn’t you just tell me what was going on?”

Kaoru presses his lips together. Apparently, they’re having this conversation tonight, after all. “Kojiro. Tell me honestly that if I’d told you, you wouldn’t have dropped out of your program to move back home.”

Kojiro looks gutted. “Kaoru—”

“And tell me honestly,” Kaoru says, “that you would have Sia la Luce right now if you hadn’t finished your program.”

“I don’t care.” Kojiro’s voice is softly pleading. “Kaoru, you know you’re more important to me than a restaurant.”

“Of course you would think that,” Kaoru says, “which is why I didn’t want to tell you about any of this in the first place. Do you get it now?”

Kojiro is quiet. He’s still holding Kaoru’s hand, despite all their conversation, and his finger strokes over Kaoru’s knuckle idly.

“You knew I liked you, didn’t you,” Kojiro says.

Kaoru isn’t cruel enough to ask him to clarify. “That’s what you’re taking away from this?”

“And you thought for some reason that I’d be better off without you,” Kojiro says. “Did you think I’d get over you if I stayed away long enough?”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“It didn’t.”

Kaoru feels like he’s been slapped. “Don’t lie to me.”

“I’ve never lied to you,” Kojiro says. “I’m not lying now.”

“It’s been eight years.”

“So what?” Kojiro says. “You’ve had your feelings for eight years but I can’t have mine?”

“It’s not the same.”

“Isn’t it?” Kojiro says. “Let me ask you something. You said you didn’t tell me you were having a breakdown because you were worried I’d leave the program for you. So, why’d you want me to finish it so badly?”

“Obviously because it’s all you ever wanted,” Kaoru says. “I wasn’t going to get in the way of that for you.”

“Even if that meant you were giving everything up for yourself?” Kojiro says.

“That was my choice to make.”

“What I’m asking,” Kojiro says, “is why you made that choice, instead of letting me make mine.”

Kaoru wishes that his mask was up, that his hair was down, that he had his fan, that there was something, anything, to shield himself from Kojiro’s gaze while his arms feel too stiff to move. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Did you like me too?”

“You were a rebound.”

That one was meant to sting, but it doesn’t seem to even faze Kojiro. “Do you still like me?”

“Shut up.”

“Even though you thought I abandoned you?”

“I told you I know it wasn’t like that,” Kaoru says, frustrated at his own nonsensical emotions. “I encouraged you to leave.”

“You were trying to protect me from you,” Kojiro says. “You still are. You don’t have to do that, Kaoru. I already know everything there is to know about you, but I’m still here.”

“Not everything,” Kaoru says, so he doesn’t have to face the rest of that statement.

“The things that matter,” Kojiro says. “Kaoru… I had an offer to stay in LA. Visa sponsorship and everything.”

That must have been years ago, but Kaoru still feels an ache at the thought of it. “You never told me about that.”

“I was never seriously considering it.” Kojiro squeezes his hand. “I was always going to come back to you. No matter what.”

“You idiot,” Kaoru says. His voice is, embarrassingly, choked with tears. He swipes at his eyes with the hand not linked with Kojiro’s. “Fuck you.”

Kojiro laughs a little. “Hey, I’m trying to tell you how I feel here.”

“I hate it.”

“Just a few more minutes of the feelings talk and then we can get shit-faced and pretend it never happened,” Kojiro says, too lightly to be completely casual.

Kaoru scoffs. “Off your boxed rosé?”

“I’ve also got vodka,” Kojiro says. “I’ll even throw in some Ramune for you.”

Kaoru smiles despite himself, then sobers. “It’s not that I don’t want to remember this conversation. Moreso that I don’t want to have it, because… I’m afraid of what comes next.”

Kojiro squeezes his hand gently. “What are you afraid of?”

Kaoru looks down at their hands. He’s not sure whether it’s Kojiro’s soft voice or the wine that’s making him honest tonight, but he puts his heart into his hands when he says, “Screwing us up.”

“It’s been twenty years,” Kojiro says. “I think it would take something seriously big to screw us up at this point.”

“Big,” Kaoru says, as if the thing they’re talking around isn’t enormous. “Like...”

“Me telling you how much I care about you isn’t going to change anything between us,” Kojiro says. “Honestly, even if we fucked—”

Kaoru hits him, irritation swinging round once more. At least that’s the easier emotion to deal with. “Crude as always.”

“I’m just saying,” Kojiro says, rubbing his shoulder where Kaoru got him. “It’s probably not going to make that much of a difference, in the grand scheme of things. Twenty years, Kaoru. Can you believe it?”

“Keep saying it like that and you’ll make me feel old.”

“We are old,” Kojiro says. “Too old to keep dodging around conversations like this.” He takes their joined hands and presses them to Kaoru’s chest. “Kaoru. What do you want?”

It feels like Kaoru’s heart is being squeezed, but it doesn’t make an answer come out. “I don’t know.”

“Can I tell you what I want, then?”

Kaoru lifts his gaze, meeting Kojiro’s wine-red eyes.

“I want to wake up to your face,” Kojiro says, his voice terrifyingly tender, “and fall asleep to the sound of your voice. I want to be able to tell you I love you as often as I want. I want to be there for whatever you need. I want you to let me.”

Only Kojiro could say something so dizzyingly sentimental.

“What am I supposed to say after that?” Kaoru says quietly.

Yes would be nice,” Kojiro says. “Me too would be even better.”

“Confident.”

“Right now, yes,” Kojiro puts their joined hands on the couch cushion behind Kaoru and leans in closer, until their faces are inches apart. “Kaoru. You’re forgetting how well I know you.”

Kaoru huffs softly. “I haven’t forgotten a thing.”

In the end, Kaoru isn’t sure if it’s him who leans over the rest of the way, or if it’s Kojiro. Either way, one moment he’s looking into Kojiro’s eyes, and the next, Kojiro’s lips are soft on his. It’s firm, but it’s not pushing. Kaoru’s breath hitches at the gentle pressure of it, the quiet reassurance that, even in this, Kojiro will meet him where he is.

I love you, Kaoru thinks, and tries to tell him without words.

He knows that when he’s pulled back he’s flushed, but he doesn’t mind when Kojiro’s looking at him like that, his smile beautiful and kind.

“I’ll also take that as an answer,” Kojiro says.

His self-satisfied tone makes Kaoru heat even more with embarrassment. “You’re unbearable.”

“Says the one who looks like he wants to kiss me again.”

“Do you ever know when to shut up?” Kaoru says, but he reaches out, and Kojiro comes to him.

It’s ironic. As a calligrapher, words are his closest companion during the day, but when it comes to this—to them—trying to transform his emotions to spoken syllables feels like an insurmountable task. It’s much easier to express himself this way, in broad strokes, his body as the brush—his lips against Kojiro’s a confession; his fingertips against Kojiro’s jaw an apology; his other hand, fingers still intertwined with Kojiro’s, a promise.

Kojiro leans over him, pressing him against the back of the couch, and Kaoru pulls away with a soft gasp when his calf twinges in protest. “My leg.”

Kojiro kisses his jaw. His voice is low and rough when he says, “Let me take you to bed. You can stretch it out.”

“That’s the only reason?” Kaoru says, the timbre of his voice matching Kojiro’s.

“If you have suggestions,” Kojiro says, “I’m listening.”

“Carry me,” Kaoru says.

“Of course,” Kojiro says, and he sounds like there isn’t anything else he would rather be doing.

His hold feels somehow even gentler than before when he lifts Kaoru from the couch and cradles him against his chest. He doesn’t use the wheelchair this time, carrying Kaoru to the bedroom in his arms while Kaoru holds onto his shoulder for support. The butterflies are still there, fluttering in Kaoru’s stomach, but now it’s accompanied by something else. Something desperate.

Kaoru wants to kiss him again so much he aches with it.

Kojiro sets him down so that he’s sitting up by the head of the bed, and watches Kaoru’s face carefully as he pulls his legs out on the mattress. It hurts, but not terribly enough that Kaoru can’t hide it. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Kaoru says. “Get over here.”

“Someone’s bossy now,” Kojiro says, finally shedding his jacket. It lands on the floor.

“Confident,” Kaoru says, though it’s a confidence that he doesn’t entirely feel.

“You should be.” Kojiro climbs over Kaoru on the bed, straddling his waist with hands on Kaoru’s shoulders, careful not to put weight on Kaoru’s legs. “Kaoru, I…”

“If you don’t know what to say,” Kaoru says, after he’s waited for a bit for Kojiro to finish the thought, “then don’t say anything.”

“So wise,” Kojiro says, something teasing in his voice and his smile.

“You’re ruining the mood.”

“I’ll just have to fix that, then, won’t I?” Kojiro says, and he leans in and kisses Kaoru again

Kaoru reaches out to touch him. Kojiro’s abs jump beneath Kaoru’s cold fingers, but it doesn’t distract Kojiro from his task of freeing Kaoru’s hair from his ponytail. Kojiro is overwhelming in the best way—all heat and comfort and familiarity, from the way he sweeps Kaoru’s hair over his shoulder so it won’t get caught between his shoulders and the bed to the way his fingers deftly undo Kaoru’s obi without looking.

The obi comes off—hopefully onto the mattress somewhere and not the floor, but Kaoru can’t be bothered to look, because Kojiro’s after his hakamashita next, and then his undershirt. Warm hands graze Kaoru’s chest, then toy with the titanium barbells they find there.

Kaoru digs his nails into Kojiro’s shoulders.

Kojiro looks up at him through his eyelashes. “Sensitive?”

“Yes,” Kaoru bites out, so that he doesn’t gasp instead.

Kojiro presses down, and tears the gasp out of him anyways.

“I remember when you got these,” Kojiro says, his voice unfairly even.

Kaoru feels like he’s melting. “I remember you cried.”

“Because you were crushing my hand,” Kojiro says, pressing harder, and Kaoru’s embarrassed by the sound that escapes him. One of Kojiro’s hands dips lower, holding onto Kaoru’s waist, and he bends his head down, and then his tongue—

Kaoru puts his hand in Kojiro’s hair and tugs, unable to decide if he actually wants Kojiro to stop or not. Because it feels good—but so good that he thinks he might burst from it.

“Very sensitive,” Kojiro says. There’s a laugh in there.

Kaoru squirms. “Do you ever shut up?”

“Do you want me to?”

“There are better things you could be doing with your mouth.”

“You’re right,” Kojiro says, and pulls Kaoru’s hakama down to his thighs.

“That—” All the blood rushes from Kaoru’s head to his cock when Kojiro’s fist closes around it. He chokes. “That is not what I meant.”

“Oh, so should I stop?”

Kaoru scowls and wishes he could kick Kojiro without injuring himself. “Is it a turn-on for you to be insulted in bed?”

“You’re a turn-on for me,” Kojiro says without missing a beat.

Kaoru, however, does miss a beat. Many beats.

“That was awful,” Kaoru says, feeling flushed. “You’re awful.”

“You love me,” Kojiro says with a wink. “And I love you,” he adds, without giving Kaoru time to even think about how to respond. “Which is why I’m going to suck your cock.”

“How vulgar,” Kaoru says, breathless.

“Like you haven’t said worse.” His mouth closes around the tip of Kaoru’s cock, and then sinks down deeper. After a moment, Kaoru feels himself hitting the back of Kojiro’s throat, and it’s honestly a miracle that he doesn’t faint right then.

“Kojiro,” he chokes out.

Kojiro pulls off with a dirty, wet pop. “I love it when you say my name,” he says, and kisses him. It’s filthy, this time. Kaoru tastes his own arousal on Kojiro’s tongue as their lips slide together, slick with spit. Kojiro bites at his lip until he’s trembling, and when he pulls back, Kaoru’s chest is heaving.

Kojiro doesn’t give him time to recover before he’s diving back down again, quick and deep and hot, so hot.

“Kojiro—nngh!”

He’s not going to last long like this. Kojiro has one hand pinning his hip to the bed, and the other wrapped around his cock, alternating between the pressure of his fist and the tight heat of his mouth. Kaoru clenches his fists in Kojiro’s hair and tries to remember to breathe.

“Kojiro,” he says, and means I love you.

“Kojiro,” he says, and means I need you.

“Kojiro,” he says, and means please don’t ever leave.

“Kojiro,” he says, brokenly, “I’m—”

Kojiro yanks him over the edge, and all of Kaoru’s breath leaves him in a sob as his vision blurs, and the world fades except for him and Kojiro.

It’s always been him and Kojiro.

When he comes back to himself, Kojiro is kissing him again, lightly this time, as lightly as the touch of his fingers on Kaoru’s spent cock. Kaoru shivers, over-sensitive, and pushes Kojiro’s wrist away.

“Welcome back,” Kojiro says, kissing the corner of his mouth.

Kaoru makes a vague noise of contentment and lazily turns his head to kiss Kojiro on the mouth. Then he reaches over, slipping his hands under the waistband of Kojiro’s pants. “What do you want?”

“Like this,” Kojiro says, and kisses him again. He doesn’t break the kiss when Kaoru pulls his pants lower to free his cock; he kisses him harder when Kaoru touches him, and groans into his mouth when Kaoru closes his hand around him and strokes him.

Kaoru can tell when Kojiro gets close. He tenses, arms getting tighter and tighter around Kaoru as his lips press hard enough to bruise.

Kojiro pulls away, drawing in a heavy breath. “Kaoru—”

Kaoru puts a hand behind Kojiro’s head and draws him back down for a claiming kiss, all teeth and tongue and promises. “Kojiro. I’m yours.”

The groan Kojiro lets out is deep enough that Kaoru feels it reverberating in his soul.

Kojiro comes panting against his lips, and Kaoru keeps touching him until Kojiro slumps against him, spent.

Kaoru’s hand is sticky with come when he draws it back. He wipes it against Kojiro’s side. It’s a testament to how wrung out he is that Kojiro doesn’t even comment on it.

The silence between them is thick but comfortable—like a lush, heavy blanket enveloping them both together. Kaoru runs his clean hand through Kojiro’s sweat-damp hair and kisses his forehead.

This.

This is what he wants.


“Remember when we first met?” Kojiro says later, as they lay together in the darkness, Kaoru on his back and Kojiro curled up next to him, arm slung over Kaoru’s stomach.

(Frankly, they’re both disgusting, covered in dried sweat and come, but neither one of them wants to pull away from the other.)

“You asked your mom if you could keep me,” Kojiro says.

Kaoru would laugh at his past self if he weren’t too tired to laugh. Naïve indeed. “I’m surprised you didn’t run off, hearing that.”

“Takes more than that to shake me,” Kojiro says. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, you have me now. You’ve had me. I’m yours, too, Kaoru.”

Kaoru laces their fingers together. “I know,” he says. He turns his head for a kiss.

Kojiro meets him halfway.