Actions

Work Header

Heartfelt Patchwork

Work Text:

1 – grandma

The way Granny can fix anything is amazing. Five-year-old Reki watches, transfixed, as she sews back together his beloved hoodie so that it looks as good as new. Every stitch, each dip and flow of the needle, flits about as smooth as a dance. He watches as Granny clips off loose pieces of string before handing his hoodie back to him. Then he stares at his old-new hoodie in delight because Granny has also added little red cat-like ears to his hoodie which is all too adorable.

“Granny, you’re like magic! Can you make anything?” Reki asks her. “Can you make these too?” He shows her the sketches of cool superhero hoodies he’s been doodling lately.

“Of course, I can. What do you think I do all day?” Granny winks before she shows him what fabric she uses and for what.

Reki spends hours with Granny, watching her explain different kinds of stitching for different styles of clothing, which fabrics are better for what kind of clothes. Mom might be busy raising baby Koyomi, but it’s okay because he has Granny who can make any of his drawings come to life, for real!

He wants to be just like her, making wearable art!

His fingers are clumsy as he uses a sewing needle (Granny won’t let him near the sewing machine until he’s old enough) and he can’t cut with fabric scissors very well, but eventually he has a scarf that’s just perfect for Granny! He just needs to add a design, but his embroidery isn’t very good, all the strings running jagged against each other as clumsily as a children’s colouring book instead of nice and parallel. He ends up cutting the strings off and trying to start over so many times.

It’s still no good. Nothing compared to Granny’s skills.

But when he presents Granny with the scarf that has a very thinly embroidered heart on it, lop-sided with some thread loose, as if the heart has a wiggly smile, Granny grins at him and pats his head.

“A good first step,” she says. “Now, would you like to learn how to add designs with dye?”

He cheers, so relieved that his clumsy attempts have been accepted, and jumps onto her lap.

Granny wears that scarf every time it’s cold. She uses it as a head scarf later, to hold up her hair, for many years to come.

 

2 – mom

Reki knows how hard his mom works. It must be stressful, being pregnant again, with twins this time, and having to take care of all the household chores. Granny’s getting older and a bit weaker, unable to help out as much, so Reki tries to pick up the slack by making lunches and sweeping and keeping his room clean. He’s even picked up a few handyman skills from an old toolbox and lots of Youtube tutorials.

Still, he wants to do more for her. He knows he’s supposed to be getting good grades, but he just can’t pay attention in class when there’s more interesting things to learn online. Why doesn’t school teach how to fix doors or build engines? That would be much cooler. Mom never scolds him too badly for his grades but he knows she’s disappointed and worried about her only son.

He wants to do better, so badly. But it’s so hard to focus when his mind wants to do other things.

His mom is so stressed out these days. She’s given up on lecturing him about school, just settling for a sad smile and sigh that makes Reki want to cry. She doesn’t even have time to take a proper bath, always showering quickly and throwing on what works. Reki’s seen stains on her clothes and he’s caught her crying quietly when new-Dad, the stepdad, is out for work.

Granny’s been having a hard time with her arthritis so Reki doesn’t want to spend his precious time with her complaining or anything. He just wants Granny to rest, so he tries to take up doing laundry and ironing for her too (under her supervision.) But Granny can’t always supervise him. She’s gotta be there for Mom too. In the end, she’s still Mom’s Mom.

Sometimes, late at night, Reki can hear Mom voicing her worries to Granny. He can hear the shakiness in her voice.

“Dear, you’re working too hard. You’re worrying Reki. Koyomi’s beginning to notice too…” Granny says in the living room.

“It’s fine… I just have to pull through until these two are born…” Mom replies wearily.

“At least take some time for yourself! Let Reki and I handle dinner, Reki’s been practicing. Look at your clothes, when’s the last time you bought something for yourself?”

“Mother, you know that now is the time to save money with more mouths to feed…”

Reki closes his eyes and curls up in his bed, trying not to think of himself as a burden. He has to be more useful. He has to contribute more so Mom won’t be tired. But what else can he do between all the chores he’s already got?

And then he thinks of the stains on Mom’s clothes and he knows exactly what to do.

:

An apron isn’t too hard to make. Reki finds a light green colour, amongst Granny’s collection (which she has told him he can use any time) that’s perfect for Mom and makes Reki think of roses in the summer. He estimates Mom’s size and has no problem cutting the fabric and stitching it together from years of practice. Whenever he finishes his homework (because there’s no point in making the apron if he neglects his schoolwork and makes Mom disappointed again), he races to the shed and pulls out his treasure box of sewing supplies.

Putting together the actual apron design doesn’t take long either. It’s done within a week, apron-shaped and green. But Reki wants the apron to be special, to be something that makes her smile whenever she puts it on. He’s not very good at embroidery like Granny is, he’d much rather sketch out his designs and then use an iron to put them onto fabric. But embroidery has this certain charm that needs more patience and time, something Reki’s willing to do for Mom.

Holding a needle and thread always makes Reki feel all too aware of how much pressure he puts between his fingers. He doesn’t want to bend the needle after all. His fingers get stiff as he holds them in one place so he can stitch threads through the fabric to make the perfect pattern. He gets so focused that he doesn’t end up sleeping till one or two in the morning some nights.

But eventually, he finishes the apron long stalks of embroidered sunflowers that stretch from the bottom of the apron to the waist. The darker green threads hug the fabric well while the yellow threads of the petals are like bits of sunlight peaking out of the green.

Reki looks at his work and beams.

:

“Alright. Just… give her the apron,” Reki mumbles to himself. “Just… march right in and hand it to her. And say… and say… thank for everything! Urgh, no, that’s so dumb and lame, I don’t want that.”

He’s trying to do something to make her feel less stressed, not sound like a spoiled brat. Maybe he shouldn’t do this. Maybe he should just shove the apron back under his bed and pretend he never made it. Maybe he should just buy her a gift box of perfume or new slippers or—

“What do we have here? Hiding something?” Koyomi sneaks up behind him, snatching up the wrapped-up present in an instant.

Koyomi, give that back!”

“Nope!” she dodges his hand, “Let’s see… it says For Mom! Guess I’ll deliver it first! Bye!”

“No, wait, don’t!” Reki tries to tackle her, only to end up crashing against the tatami mats.

“Mom, mom, look! You have a present!” Koyomi races into the kitchen and jumps in for a hug, lifting the gift up for attention.

“Really?” Mom pauses, puts the soup on a low simmer before she picks up the gift.

“Mom, wait, it’s not, I mean—” Reki nearly trips (again) into the kitchen.

But Mom’s already tearing the wrapping away, her eyes going wide when she sees the folded apron underneath. Quietly, with trembling hands, she unfolds the apron and watches as a forest of sunflowers falls along the fabric. Her fingers move along the fabric gently, especially as she touches the flowers along the middle, as if they might bruise under her touch.

“Koyomi… did you make this?” she asks.

Reki’s stomach sinks.

“No, Reki had it!” Koyomi, the traitor, points.

He knows the moment Mom figures it out. Her eyes tear up (not the reaction he wants at all), and Reki knows he’s screwed up, he shouldn’t have done anything, he’s always doing pointless things that make no one happy—

“Honey, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Thank you for making it. I’ll wear it always.”

Reki freezes, unsure if he heard what he heard.

Mom’s arms open wide.

Then, with a choked laugh, Reki rushes in for a hug.

For once, he did something right.

 

3 – koyomi

Koyomi storms into the living room after school, her cheeks red and puffy, before she flops down on the couch and starts punching the cushions.

“Um,” Reki says, in between eating onigiri, “Are you okay?”

She glares up at him, eyes still red and puffy.

“Right. Stupid question. What happened? Do I need to talk to someone for you?”

“Urgh, no! Don’t do that, I don’t need my lame older brother intervening. It’s just this stuck-up girl at school. Aina Sayamoto. Thinks she’s so much better than everyone else just because her mom gets her all the latest brand jackets and shoes. I hate her. I hate her stupid face and her stupid clothes and her stupid cute eyes.”

“Wow,” Reki awkwardly pats her on the head. Though she scowls at him, she does learn into the touch, so he knows it’s good. “There is so much to unpack there but I’m sure you don’t want me to do that.”

“Hell no.”

“What a rude middle schooler you are.”

“Bite me.”

“So, instead, I will dutifully say that this girl sounds like she sucks and that her clothes are probably not that great. Hell, I bet I could make better clothes for you than what she wears.”

Koyomi jolts up, her eyes regaining that sparkle that Reki loves. “W-what really? But… all you like to make are hoodies…”

“Hey, I can make other stuff too! Who do you think makes clothes for the twins?”

“Granny…”

“With her arthritis these days? Nah, it’s all me,” Reki points to himself proudly. “Just hand me some magazines of the latest trends and leave it to your older brother. You’ll outshine that Ami girl—”

“It’s Aina.”

“—instantly!”

The way Koyomi stares at him, like she can’t believe he exists (in a possibly bad way) isn’t new to Reki. He finds his smile faltering. Maybe designing clothes for his middle school sister is too weird and uncool, maybe she just wants to deal with things herself. Sometimes Reki swears Koyomi’s going through puberty already even though she’s like eleven.

But then Koyomi throws her arms around his neck, her voice thick with tears, as she mumbles, “Thanks Onii-chan… that’s… actually pretty cool of you.”

He lets out a breath of relief before he hugs her back. “Only the best for the coolest little sister.”

“Yeah… I am pretty cool, aren’t I?”

She really is.

:

When Koyomi comes home the next week, dressed in the little designer jacket that Reki imitated in style from some magazine Koyomi brought him, he looks up at her nervously, the words, “How’d it go?” slipping out immediately.

Koyomi raises her hand in a thumbs-up. “She wants to pay you like two hundred thousand yen to make her a better jacket than mine but I told her that your services aren’t for sale for her. So she’ll have to be my friend first.”

Reki decides not to question this enemies-to-friends route at all. He does not want to know. Instead, he ruffles her hair. “Damn straight,” he whispers back. He’d never make clothes for his sister’s bully anyways.

 

4 – (dad)

Reki doesn’t really interact with his stepdad that much. All he knows is that Mom and Satoshi were childhood friends. When Dad left Mom… Satoshi reached out to help. Satoshi didn’t expect anything else from her, Mom always tells then, he was just a friend. And then… eventually Mom fell for him. They got married rather quickly, and before Reki could really get used to this new dynamic, Satoshi was off working late hours to support their family and Mom got pregnant with the twins and soon after Satoshi needed to work even more hours.

It’s hard… Satoshi is nice. He’s really kind and always makes sure to give Reki an awkward hello when they run into each other. Satoshi treats Koyomi like a princess and he’s always so gentle with the twins. He makes sure Granny is comfortable and he clearly adores Mom. But around Reki, he’s stilted, like he doesn’t know where he fits.

Reki doesn’t know either.

When he thinks of fathers, he can’t help but remember Dad yelling at night for things that weren’t Mom’s fault. He thinks of the bitter smell of alcohol. He thinks of hiding in the closet. He thinks of faking smiles to keep Mom happy because Dad wasn’t going to. He thinks of how much he hates that he felt hurt when Dad left. Dad leaving was a good thing and still Reki’s heart had the audacity to feel hurt.

But Satoshi isn’t like that. He’s everything that manga and TV tells Reki that Dads should be, but Reki still can’t quite connect with it. Satoshi is more Koyomi and the twins’ dad than Reki’s.

…It’s complicated.

So Reki tries not to think about it. He distracts himself with skateboarding and sewing and trying not to sleep in class and tries so hard to be positive.

It’s on one of the nights where he’s exhausted from schoolwork and practicing a new skating trick that he passes out against his books at the living room table around midnight. Reki does that often but tries to pass out in the shed or his bedroom instead. Tonight though, he had to help Koyomi with her homework, then quickly catch up on his own.

He wakes to someone carrying him to his room. Their arms are sturdy and secure. He thinks he murmurs something to them, but they whisper, “Shh…” until Reki is laid on his bed again, blankets tucked under his chin. He feels their warm hand pat his head and slowly opens his eyes.

His stepdad’s back is the last thing he sees before he falls back to sleep.

In the morning, Reki stares down at his lap, and replays the memory in his head.

In the morning, he rushes towards his workshop since it’s a Sunday and he doesn’t need to go to school.

In the morning, instead of awkwardly bowing his head, he says, “Morning Dad,” just to watch Satoshi’s brow go up in surprise.

He hands his stepdad the tie he made, with a little ox carrying a small red cat on its shoulders, and Satoshi wears it every day to work.

 

5 – eiji (but really, manager oka)

“Let’s stop this. I don’t want to skate anymore. This is all your fault. If you hadn’t gotten me into skating, if you hadn’t been so annoying about it, I’d never have put up with you, Reki! Just leave me alone!

Reki can’t stop repeating those words in his head, Eiji’s words echo over and over again as Reki replays every moment they’ve spent together. All those hangouts after school, all the lessons Reki gave Eiji, all the times they went out to eat together, all the times Eiji got scratched up from a few falls but they both laughed it off together… was Eiji just pitying him? Did Eiji think that Reki was an annoyance the whole time?

Are Eiji’s injuries Reki’s fault after all?

Just a few moments before, Reki came to the hospital with this shirt that he’d put a little angel mascot on that said, ‘Get Better Soon.’ It’d taken him hours to come up with a design, a way to make Eiji smile a bit during recovery. But Eiji had looked at the shirt like it disgusted him and threw it back in Reki’s face before saying those words.

Reki had tried to say more, to say he was sorry, to ask Eiji to stay his friend, Reki would even give up skateboarding—

But Eiji pushed him away.

But Eiji never wanted to be his friend in the first place.

But Eiji’s lying in a hospital bed because he got hurt and maybe it is Reki’s fault and maybe Reki isn’t good after all and maybe—

:

Now Reki’s here, sitting on the curb of some random street, curled up with that same shirt. He’s so stupid. Why did he think a shirt would help? All he does is mess everything up and—

“Reki?”

He looks up to Manager Oka staring down at him with a gentle frown.

“What are you doing sitting in the dirt? What if a car swerves and hits you? Come on, I’ll take you to the shop.”

Manager Oka doesn’t take no for an answer, leading Reki by the arm even after Reki tries (to no avail) to hide his tears and puffy cheeks.

“I… I’m fine…” Reki’s voice trembles.

Manager Oka’s fingers curl softly around Reki’s wrist. “I think we both know that you’re not.”

“But I am!” Reki protests weakly.

Oka sighs but does not comment.

When they reach the shop, Reki can’t feel his fingers anymore. Everything’s numb but for Oka’s grip around his wrist.

Reki doesn’t feel much of anything when Oka takes him to the backroom and coaxes him to sit. When Oka lets go of Reki, he feels a sense of loss, like he’s drifting without an anchor. Even when Oka returns with a hot cup of tea and a coat to put around Reki’s shoulders, that feeling remains under the surface.

It’s not until Oka tugs at the shirt bunched up in Reki’s other hand that Reki reacts.

Hey, that’s—” Eiji’s.

But it’s not. It doesn’t belong to anyone, as purposeless as Reki.

There’s no point in holding onto it, so he lets Oka take it from his fingers.

Carefully, Oka unfolds the shirt, his face melting into a mixture of concern, pity, and awe. “Did you make this, Reki?”

He just shrugs.

“It’s really good! I can see customers wanting to buy a shirt like this if we sold shirts.”

“…Doesn’t matter,” Reki wraps the coat tighter against himself, “It’s a stupid shirt anyways.”

Sitting carefully by Reki’s side, Oka murmurs, “Doesn’t seem like it. Seems like a lot of care was put into this. Was it for your friend? The one you’ve been talking about lately? How’s he doing now, after the accident?”

At this, Reki buries his face against his knees.

“Reki?” Oka sounds panicked now.

“He… he hates me! It’s all my fault! If he hadn’t met me, he wouldn’t have—”

“Wouldn’t have what?” Oka cuts in flatly. “Been hurt? Reki… Did he say that to you?”

“Does it matter?” Reki knows he looks awful. He’s always been an ugly crier. No wonder no one wants to be around him. “It’s true, anyways. Skating isn’t good, I’m no good—”

Oka throws his arms around Reki before he can say anything else. Dad never hugged Reki. Satoshi, his stepdad, is too awkward to hug him, always opting for patting his head instead. This hug is an unfamiliar language that Reki never knew he needed from an older adult, from someone like Oka.

Reki tenses, not knowing what to expect. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if Oka tries to make him talk about it, to relive the words that Eiji said to him out loud instead of on-loop inside his head.

But Oka doesn’t do that.

“It matters,” is all he says. “You matter.”

And, in a way, that’s all Reki needs, before he starts crying into Oka’s chest.

:

Oka doesn’t ask for all the details. Reki doesn’t elaborate but Oka figures it out. His manager is smart like that. But what Oka does do is make Reki drink the rest of his tea and take him skating at the park after their shift together.

At first, when Reki stares down at his board, he hesitates. But Oka just puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right with you,” with his own board too.

Ah, Reki thinks then, skating had nothing to do with it. Not really, not with Eiji’s feelings. Maybe Eiji was always going to break away from Reki, maybe their friendship wasn’t strong enough. But this feeling, when he’s cruising through the air, soaring up, as if to touch sunlight on his board, it’s his.

Maybe it’s selfish, maybe it’s juvenile, maybe it’s pointless. But this feeling, it’s real and it’s his and it’s who he is.

How can he ever give this up?

How could Eiji have been skating with him all this time and not known? How could Reki not have noticed?

He doesn’t realize he’s crying until he’s slowed down and Oka skates by his side with concern. “Hey… you alright? Need to stop?”

“No… no, I’m good…”

Oka gives him a look.

“Really! I’m… I mean it this time. Just… saying goodbye, I guess,” Reki says quietly.

For several moments, they don’t speak, just drift down the street together on their boards, until Oka says, “You know, sometimes friendships drift apart. Sometimes it’s our fault… sometimes it’s just time and nature. I don’t know much about what happened between you and your friend, but I can tell you now that it wasn’t your fault. You’re a bright kid, Reki. Someday, you’ll meet someone who won’t take that for granted. I promise.”

Reki’s lip wobbles, he covers his face with his hands.

He doesn’t have to say thank you. Oka knows.

:

The next shift that Reki works at Dope Sketch, he goes into the backroom for his break and sees the ‘get well soon’ shirt hanging proudly like a banner on the wall and something inside him feels a bit lighter than before.

(He makes Oka his own shirt the next day, refusing to let Oka turn down the gift. Oka doesn’t tell Reki, but he wears the shirt on his days off proudly.)

 

6 – miya

The sleeves of Miya’s hoodie barely go to his elbows anymore. It’s so distracting that Reki nearly misses the next turn at S but he’s quick enough to swerve out of the way. He sees Langa cast him a look of concern but Reki just grins and signals for him to go ahead.

Langa looks unpleased, like he might stay by Reki out of spite, but he does skate on ahead, leaving Reki to scrutinize the state of Miya’s skater’s outfit. Lately, Miya has been wearing his green cat-eared hoodie unzipped and his shorts aren’t the usual ones he wears with this outfit, a replacement probably, since Miya has definitely grown a few inches.

“Hey, watch it, slime!” Miya hisses when Reki nearly skates into him.

“Ah, sorry, sorry, distracted!”

“By what? You aren’t being weird again, are you?” Miya narrows his eyes. “Because last time you were all weird, you stopped talking to us for like a week and I’m not going through that again! Don’t make me hunt down where you live!”

Reki claps his hands together. “Sorry, sorry, I already apologized for that like months ago!”

Miya only frowns. “If you aren’t being weird, then what’s got you all distracted?”

“You’re taller,” Reki grins. “It’s just weird looking at you eye-to-eye instead of staring down at you!”

At this, Miya blinks in surprise, then preens, pleased. “Of course! Soon I’ll be taller than you.”

“Keep dreaming,” Reki jokes back, but in his mind, he has no doubt that Miya will. “Say, are you going to get that hoodie replaced? It’s a bit small on you now.”

“Ah, this…” Miya scowls as he stares down at the sleeves. “I was going to but the manufacturer doesn’t sell them anymore. They were limited edition too. It’s too annoying, trying to find someone who’s good enough to design something like this, so I’ll just keep wearing it till I can’t anymore.”

“Oh… I see…”

Miya frowns again. “What? What’s that look there for? I don’t like it. That’s your scheming face. Hey, Reki, get back here, don’t skate away, you coward!”

:

Reki q(≧▽≦q): (9:01 am) Hey, Langa! Can’t skate today. Got this new project I gotta do. But if you wanna hang out and do homework while I work on it, you’re welcome to come by!

Langa: (9:02 am) Sure, on my way.

:

Langa walks into Reki’s workshop just as Reki has started sewing on fabric cat ears to the hoodie design. He hears Langa’s footsteps, mellow and assured, and waves hello without looking up. “That was fast,” Reki grins, as he weaves the needle through the fabric, “Wasn’t expecting you,” if at all really, “till lunchtime!”

His friend takes a seat on a huge stack of magazines. “I always want to hang out with you. Doesn’t have to be skating.”

Reki chokes back a splutter. “Dude, you can’t just say that without warning!”

“What?” Langa asks innocently. “It’s true, though.”

Fighting back the blush (and failing), Reki tells himself that Langa is from Canada and that Western people are just very free with their compliments and that all the lovely things that Langa says to him nearly daily now are just friendly. Langa doesn’t mean anything more than that even if Reki sometimes wants him to.

“What are you working on?”

“Ah!” Reki brightens, “I noticed how tall Miya has grown at S last night and he isn’t able to get a larger hoodie in the same design, so I’m making one for him! It’s a surprise though. I’m taking a guess on his current size but I’m making the hoodie slightly bigger since he’ll probably grow more. I’m making two different ones though, one that’s based on the original green and purple design that he likes, and another that I’m basing off like… an electric panther concept, see? It’s black but there are green highlights and sharper lines to make him look more camouflaged and fierce during S beefs. What do you think? Too much? Too cliché?”

Langa leans over Reki’s work bench, at the hoodies themselves and the sketches that Reki’s made, and his eyes sparkle in awe. “You made all these just from looking at Miya last night?”

“W-well…” Reki blushes, “I got all excited as soon as I got home and made those sketches right away. I didn’t sleep much because I wanted to work on this right away… and it’s not like I’m a professional, I’m just going off of what Granny taught me—”

“Still!” Langa raises the sketch up as if to show the world, “These are amazing! I love this new design! It feels very Miya. Super grumpy but dangerous!”

“Okay, okay, put it down! It’s not a big deal! Miya might not like it—”

“He will!” Langa says, though the tone sounds more like or else.

“And I have no idea when I’ll give it to him. Maybe next week. Do you remember when his birthday is? Maybe I’ll just make it a birthday thing.”

“I have no idea,” Langa says, still abnormally enraptured by the sketch. Does Langa want a hoodie? Honestly, Reki has at least ten pages of hoodie designs inspired by Langa’s skating. He has a yeti hoodie design that Langa would never wear, a more sleek and stylish hoodie that’s inspired by snowboarding fashion, a black hoodie with a SK8 logo on the back… He’ll have to work on those secretly when Langa isn’t over. Goodbye sleep.

“Ah, I shouldn’t have asked. I bet you don’t remember anyone’s birthdays.”

“I remember yours! August 8th,” Langa recites with a nod, still not letting go of the sketch.

“Oh,” Reki says a bit too breathlessly. “Thanks. I… I remember yours too.”

Langa gives him a pleased grin and Reki’s filled with such overwhelming warmth when he locks eyes with him that he has to look away.

“Um, anyways. I’m hoping to be done these by Tuesday. I’ll just hand it to him on Friday…”

“He’ll love it. You’re amazing, Reki.”

Reki splutters. “N-no, I—”

“No, really! You always notice these little details and you know how to fix and create anything! I thought your boards were amazing but I didn’t know you make your own clothes! I thought your fashion sense was weird—”

“Hey!”

“—but it suits you and you pay attention to what people like to wear. This,” Langa holds up the sketches of Miya’s hoodie, “is very Miya! And I’m guessing you’ve made other clothes too based on what those people like. That’s amazing! I could never do that. You amaze more every day, Reki.”

“Alright! Nope! You gotta stop! You’ve filled your compliment quota for the day! If you say anymore, I’m going to explode!” Reki claps a hand over Langa’s mouth while trying to cover his own blushing face.

But, Langa, stupid and mischievous Langa, despite what people think of him, only grins under Reki’s hand and mumbles, “Can I see more?”

Reki hesitates. He’s shown Langa all of his board designs but somehow, this feels more personal. It’s not as if Reki hides this side of himself, it’s just that he doesn’t think it’s as interesting. Besides, like Langa said earlier, Reki’s fashion sense is… different from other people’s. His designs aren’t for everyone and he often has to really visualize a person’s tastes and personality before he can design anything outside of what he likes. There’s a reason why he doesn’t make clothes for people other than his family often.

Yet, the way Langa looks at him so sincerely, like Reki could claim whales can fly and he’d believe him… If Reki can’t share this side of himself with Langa, then who else?

“Okay,” Reki takes out the sketches he’s made, inspired by his family and some skaters at S, “you can look through them.”

The sketchbook that he doodles in almost daily though, whenever he’s inspired by Langa, stays hidden under his desk.

:

At S that Friday, Reki skates up to Miya, holding the bag with the new hoodies, Langa following closely behind.

“What’s this, Slime? A gift for me?” Miya laughs.

“Actually, yes,” Reki shoves the bag into Miya’s arms. “Please. Take it before I decide to chicken out and throw it off a cliff.”

“Oh, hell no.” Miya glares suspiciously at the bag. “Is it infected with something? Is it a prank?”

“I didn’t do anything to it! Haven’t you ever gotten a gift from a friend?!”

Wait, actually, Miya probably hasn’t.

To Miya’s credit (for once), he doesn’t take offense, continuing to eye the bag as if it might explode. He looks so cautious that Reki almost feels guilty. He wouldn’t have tried to give Miya a gift if it made him uncomfortable…

“Look, you don’t have to take it. I just noticed that your hoodie was getting small so I… bought… you a new one. A similar one.”

Miya perks up at the sound of a new hoodie, but quickly puts a scowl one. “Ah, I see. Well, it doesn’t mean that I’ll like it! No one sells hoodies that even match up to my old one!”

“Right, so I should just take it back to the store and return it, no big deal—”

Langa’s hand whips out, stopping Reki from taking the bag out.

Miya and Reki stare at him, gobsmacked.

“Langa, what—”

A quiet sort of blizzard emanates from his face even though he’s smiling. “Reki didn’t buy these hoodies. He made them. And you should open your gift first before returning it.”

Miya and Reki both shiver from the smile before Miya snaps out of it. “Wait, you made me a hoodie? Now, this I gotta see. If it looks anything like the yellow garbage bag that you’re wearing, I swear to god—”

“Hey,” Reki wants to strangle this cat-boy, “my hoodies are art! I’m very proud of them!”

“You’d be the only one,” Miya sniggers, ignoring Langa’s increasingly frigid smile as he slowly opens the bag.

Reki wonders if he should distract Langa with a race when Miya’s smug smirk falls away. Then he’s quiet, too quiet.

Oh no, Reki thinks.

“I-is there something wrong with it? Do you hate the colours? You can just take the green one, it’s basically the same as your old one. But I’ll take the black hoodie back—”

“No!” Miya hisses, holding both hoodies close. “They’re mine! No take backs!”

Huh.

“… You actually like them?”

Miya’s already throwing the black hoodie on. The tail and black ears suit him, while the green lines on the hoodie almost glow against the dark. The hoodie was inspired by a mecha panther look that Miya pulls off well. The fit is a little big but Miya will definitely grow into it. Combined with Miya’s usual purple striped undershirt and shorts, it looks even better than Reki thought it would.

“…I hate to say it, Slime, but…” Miya gives him a soft look, “you did good.”

Reki gapes at him.

“Guess you’re good at more than just sticking around. Don’t get used to me complimenting you, I’m still going to beat your ass in a race!”

That snaps Reki out of the soft feeling of ‘Aw, Miya’s growing up’ to ‘Nope, still a cat bastard child’ while Langa, the traitor, bursts out laughing.

“What’d you say?! See if I ever make you anything again!”

But Miya keeps wearing that black hoodie from then on, at every S meeting, and Reki can’t say he minds that much.

 

7 – shadow

“I quit,” Shadow laments when Reki stops by the flower shop to get a bouquet for his mom. “What’s the point of skating anymore? I’m not number one. I’m not even considered a cool veteran! I’m just… the creepy guy who hangs around Snow and Akatsuki!”

Reki winces at the name Akatsuki. He prefers to go by Reki at S but the name has stuck since that epic beef with Adam and it’s become his callsign ever since. Miya, ever since wearing Reki’s black hoodie, has taken to being called Panther. Since Reki and Miya have grown in their skating, their beefs against Shadow have become increasingly one-sided in their favour.

“Aw, Shadow—”

“It’s Hiromi here!”

“Uh, Hiromi-san?” Yikes, that sounds weird. “Come on, don’t quit! You’re one of the reasons I kept going back to S, at first! Your skating is dangerous and those bomb things are messed up but S is no fun without you!”

“Forget it,” Shadow mopes as he gathers up some sunflowers into a vase for Reki, “I don’t want to hear it. My S days are done. I’m just Hiromi the flower man now. Maybe my manager will introduce me to a friend of hers and I’ll get married someday.”

Internally panicking, Reki takes the bouquet, pays Shadow, and leaves.

:

The thing is, as weird and obnoxious and terrible Shadow can be (Reki still doesn’t forgive the time Shadow busted up his arm or burned his precious board), he really is what got Reki started at S. When Reki had first started working at Dope Sketch and Oka finally told him about S, he’d been impressed by Cherry and Joe, sure, but he’d been overwhelmed too. He never thought that he’d be able to compete against them. He just felt lucky to be at S and skate there.

But then Shadow appeared.

Shadow was like a cool anti-hero with his face paint and leather. He was the ultimate combination of danger and the coolness of skateboarding. He made Reki want to go against him and try. Everything Shadow did, the theatricality and the wild energy of his persona, made Reki think, if this guy can do S races, so can I!

Something about Shadow felt real, and Reki has always been grateful for that.

That’s why… he can’t bear for Shadow to leave. Sure, everyone has to leave S someday. They can’t skate forever. Old age will come and other obligations. But Shadow quitting because he thinks he doesn’t mean anything, because he thinks he’s just an accessory to the rest of them?

That’s not okay.

:

Langa finds Reki in the skate park, obsessively watching Youtube videos on how to properly sew leather.

“New project?” he asks as he peers over Reki’s shoulder.

It’s a testament to how zoned in Reki is that he doesn’t jump up in the air like a frightened cat or even blush from how close their faces are. “Hm.”

“For someone we know?”

“Shadow.”

“Shadow?!”

“He’s not feeling confident in his skating lately, so I want to design something that’ll give his outfit more oomph! Maybe that’ll show him how much he… well…” Reki trails off, narrowing his eyes at a particularly difficult part. He never knew making leather clothes could be so complicated, it’s not enough to know how to sew. He has to make sure the fabric doesn’t dry up or get too over cramped from the type of stitching it needs. This project might take a few overnighters and he doesn’t even want to think about the logistics of adding studs and sequins to the shoulders and the back.

“…How much he what?”

“Huh?” Reki blinks, only now realizing how close he and Langa are, close enough for him to see all of Langa’s eye lashes and how intent those snow-blue eyes are.

“You said something about how much he…?”

“O-oh!” Reki grins to cover up his panic. He will not start designing Langa a leather jacket, not right now. That’ll be his next project, even if all he can see now is Langa looking the epitome of a bad boy when he’s anything but. Langa would wear a black leather jacket and Reki could stitch the white outlines of a Yeti on the back and then—nope. Stop. Brain. Answer Langa’s question! “Well… I guess I meant, how much he means to S, to me. He’s the one that got me all riled up to join a race, you know! At first, I was actually kind of intimidated!”

“What?” Langa leans in closer, wonder sparkling in his eyes. “You? Really?”

“Well, yeah,” Reki tries not to think of Eiji in a hospital bed, of Eiji in another class ignoring Reki’s very existence. “I know you’re an adrenaline junkie, but even you’ve gotta notice that S races are pretty dangerous.”

“Says the guy who got his hand messed up three times.”

“You know that point isn’t helping what I’m saying, right?” Reki grins fondly.

“I know,” Langa says softly.

Reki has to swallow back the urge to melt into that gaze. “So, uh, anyways… Cherry and Joe are cool, but they always seemed like idols too distant for me to reach. I had no idea where to get started at S even though I loved skating there. And then Shadow was there. He was this rough and tumble anti-hero that was a total jerk but he got me riled up and determined to do a proper beef. If I hadn’t raced against him, I wouldn’t be where I am today…”

He also suspects that he would have never known Langa to skate so well that he thought there was snow in Okinawa, but that’s a subject for anxiety-Reki to mull over late at night along with several other existential crises.

“I’ll help you then.”

“What, but… you don’t even know how to sew, or do you?

“Nope,” Langa admits shamelessly, “but I can hold the fabric and remind you to eat or hand you any thread you need.”

“Uh, I mean, that doesn’t sound very fun for you—”

“Also, you’re going to try and pull a few overnighters on this, so if I’m there, we can take naps in between and I’ll remind you to wake up.”

“Langa, this is going to take at least two weeks, maybe three! You really wanna spend your evenings making sure I get enough sleep instead of skating?”

“Well, I get to spend them with you, so of course.”

Reki splutters back, wonder if it’s possible to forget how to breathe. Langa only looks ridiculously pleased like he always does whenever he says these ridiculously sweet and impossible things. Reki doesn’t know how to process this without giving himself false hope so he immediately ignores it.

“Fine! But you better make sure your mom’s okay with it!”

Nanako is all too okay with it and Reki spends the next three weeks with Langa poking him whenever it’s time to take a nap and stressing out against Langa’s shoulder whenever the leather ends up too stubborn. Not the most fun week (at least for Reki; he has a feeling that Langa enjoys it way too much.)

:

“Y-you’re back!” Shadow brightens as he cleans up the flower shop after hours. “I mean, what are you damn brats doing here? I thought I told you I quit!”

“We know.” Reki holds out a bag while Langa hovers by his shoulder. “But we just wanted to give you this.”

Shadow narrows his eyes.

“I know it might not change your mind. But… just open it, will you?”

With a dramatic sigh, Shadow puts away the broom and takes the bag. “Fine. But only because you came all this way. This isn’t going to change… anything…” Shadow trails off when he holds the leather jacket in his hands.

The jacket is in the same style as Shadow’s old one, only it has two lines of studs on the shoulder stitching and a little cursive English (thanks to Langa’s help) spelling ‘Shadow’ stitched with white under the right shoulder. But that’s not what makes Shadow’s jaw drop. It’s the back design, all sequins that Reki spent three nights sewing in. It was a pain to track down the right colours and make sure each sequin was sewn in properly (if a sequin ever falls off that leather jacket, Reki will get a stroke) but he somehow managed it. The design itself is a shimmery image of Shadow’s board, the fierce zombie skull moving in for a bite with the flaming font of ‘FIGHTER’ highlighted at the bottom.

Shadow stares and stares until Reki wonders if he should leave, when suddenly tears fill his eyes.

“Is this… Did you… You made this?”

“Langa helped me spell the English…”

“Reki made it all. Praise him.”

Langa is definitely out to kill Reki with compliments. Damn it.

“You… I…” Shadow’s lip actually trembles as he cradles the jacket close, “why…?”

“Because you’re the coolest guy I know in S. You made me feel like I could skate at S too… You’re loud and annoying but you’re you. S won’t be the same without you, Shadow. Please don’t leave.”

“You also drive us places,” Langa adds bluntly. “And you make nice flower arrangements.”

Reki doesn’t bother elbowing him. Langa is Langa and he’s not wrong.

Shadow’s shoulders tremble and he shakes his head. For a moment, Reki’s stomach drops. He thinks, it wasn’t enough. He thinks, I failed someone else.

But then Shadow’s laughing as wild as he does at S and he holds a thumbs up. “Fine! You asked for it! I’ll see you at S, boys. You got me fired up to race and this time, neither of you will beat me!”

Relief bursts in Reki’s chest as he claps Shadow’s hand in agreement. “You better keep your promise, Shadow!”

“Or we’ll call you old,” Langa pipes up, adding to the handshake.

“Oi, I’m twenty-five now!

“It’s another year older.”

Out of my shop!

:

That Friday, Shadow beats Miya in a beef, though Miya claims it’s just a fluke. For once, Shadow doesn’t take offence, just laughs and laughs like just existing is a beautiful thing. His new leather jacket, studs and sequins all together, shines in the starlight.

 

8 – cherry

“Damn it. Who left this scratch on Carla?!” Cherry holds up his board to accuse the group. On it, very miniscule, is a tiny scrape likely left behind by a careless step.

They’re all at Sia De Luce for their monthly dinner meetup before S. It’s just after closing hours and Langa’s inhaling lasagna at frightening speeds while Miya has to be coaxed by Reki into eating more pasta. Shadow’s a bit tipsy from one glass of wine, now trying to sober up by chowing down on Caesar salad. Joe’s drying glasses from the day’s work, content enough by Reki’s occasional praises, Langa’s content munching, and Shadow’s enthusiastic hums to ignore Miya’s occasional complaints.

While everyone else is at the same table, Cherry’s been sitting at the bar sipping on wine, having long finished his dinner. It’s only when it’s almost time to head out to S that Cherry noticed the scratch.

“Isn’t the most likely culprit you,” Joe points out. “The scratch is on the surface of the board, meaning your shoes did it.”

“I never skate on Carla the day before S! I spend half an hour polishing her thoroughly so that she’s at peak performance and appearance for the night! How dare you accuse me of mishandling her, you ignorant gorilla!”

Miya, Reki, and Langa exchange tired expressions. Not this again. Shadow takes this time to eat the last of the breadsticks.

“Well I never touched your stupid robot—”

“She’s an AI!”

“—and I never will, even if you paid me!”

“You lot!” Cherry points his fan at the rest of them, “Who amongst you is responsible?!”

“Hey, don’t look at me, I’m just a kid!” Miya says though that excuse doesn’t work well now that he’s getting as tall as Reki.

“I got here last! And robots or AIs or whatever freak me out! I wouldn’t go near that!” Shadow says with breadsticks in his mouth.

“I haven’t left the table!” Reki puts his hands up.

“Hm,” Langa nods, copying Reki with his hands up.

“Carla!” Cherry turns to his skateboard. “Begin scanning surveillance footage. Detect the source of that scratch!”

“Wait, surveillance footage?! Is that legal—

“Okay Master! Scanning footage!” The skateboard lights up. “Source of damage identified as a stray fork that fell to the floor at approximately 19:23 hours by one of the customers at Sia De Luce. Identification not possible from my location.”

Immediately everyone turns to look at Joe.

“What?! I can’t be responsible for a clumsy customer! I’m always telling you not to bring the damn thing here to charge when you can charge it at home!”

“I’m a busy man and your restaurant is the only place that serves tolerable Italian food close to my work!”

“Oh, so when the AI is trashed up and you want someone to blame now you like my food. But if the AI is all good, then my food is trash. No more discounts for you!”

“You haven’t given me discounts ever!

“Do we have a discount?” Langa whispers to Reki as they watch the argument back and forth.

“…Honestly, I have no idea. The menus here are so fancy they don’t even list the price.”

“Well maybe I did give you a discount, princess, and you never knew! But now you really won’t know, will you?”

“Carla, calculate the prices of my regular meals!”

“Okay Master! The ‘Gorillia with Godlike Abs’ is correct! A regular discount of twenty percent has been taken off your meals since your first day here!”

In the silence, no one moves, stunned by the information. Shadow’s jaw drops as if he’s watching the final plot twist in a Spanish telenovela. Miya looks like he doesn’t know whether to gag or cackle at the new mom-and-dad jokes he can make now. Reki feels like he’s on the last episode of a badly written shoujo anime. Langa is… Langa.

Cherry’s face goes blank. “You’ve… been discounting my meals this whole time…?”

“…You think my abs are godlike…?”

Reki suddenly understands the urge to yell ‘now kiss!’ He thinks he has second-hand embarrassment. He hopes he doesn’t act like this around Langa. He hopes Langa never notices if Reki ever (but probably has) acted like this.

Joe’s face crumples into something complicated. “Listen… Kaoru, I didn’t mean… Damn it, I’ll pay to get the scratch fixed, I guess…”

“No!” Cherry looks away, but his ears go pink. “You’ve been a… somewhat decent host. Carla is my responsibility, so I’ll take care of her…”

“Yeah, but, it’s my customer who—”

“What, are you God now? Do you control what some strangers do—”

An alarm suddenly begins beeping from Reki’s phone. Ten o’clock. Reki internally screams at himself for being an unintentional cockblock. He feels like Cherry and Joe’s glares could roast him alive.

“…Aren’t we late for S?” Langa asks, unable to read the mood.

Joe looks up at the ceiling, as if asking it for guidance, before he plasters on a smile. “Yeah! Don’t worry about paying for your meals today, I’ll just put it on next month’s tab. Let’s head out! Shadow, you’re driving the kids.”

“But I always drive the damn kids!”

Reki, heading out after Langa, can’t help but notice Cherry’s hands lingering over Carla’s scratch…

:

Instead of heading to the car with the others, Reki stands attentively by Cherry’s scooter, fiddling with the threads at the end of his vest.

Cherry stares at him. “Do you have a question?”

“Uh, yeah!” Reki stands taller, as if he’s been called on during class to give an answer. “I guess… I was just wondering…”

Cherry crosses his arms, frowning deeper. Behind them, Shadow honks his car horn while Langa holds the door open, waiting. Reki’s eyes dart back and forth. He really doesn’t want to ask his question at S, when everyone’s busy soaking in the adrenaline of the place.

With a sigh, Cherry barks, “I’ll drive him. Go on ahead!”

Shadow furrows his brow, as if he doesn’t know what he’s hearing. “You sure?”

“Yes,” Cherry grits out. “Now go.”

“Alright! Buckle up brats,” Shadow turns to Miya and Langa.

Langa frowns but at Reki’s nod, he gets into the van, still looking at Reki and Cherry from the back window. Joe’s already ahead of them on his on bike, tired of waiting for the rest of them.

As Shadow drives off, Cherry grabs a spare helmet from his bag and passes it to Reki. “Get on.”

Quickly, Reki jams the helmet on his head. He stumbles over to the back of Cherry’s scooter but Cherry only scoffs, raising his hand to fasten the straps under Reki’s chin.

“We’re not in that much of a hurry that you can’t put your helmet safely on. Now hold tight. The last thing I want is for you to fall off and have to explain your injuries to your family and Snow.”

“I’d be fine… probably…” Reki says unconvincingly.

Cherry only sighs, muttering something under his breath that sounds like ‘teenagers,’ before he starts his scooter. Cherry drives like Langa, efficiently and as quick as the speed limit will allow with sharp turns. Over the roar of the engine, he calls back, “So? What did you want to speak to me about?”

It occurs to Reki that he’s never really had a one-on-one conversation with Cherry before. With Joe? Absolutely. Shadow? Reki stops by the flower shop to treat his mom every few weeks. With the exception of the time that Reki called Cherry out to ask for advice on how to beat Adam, he hasn’t spent a lot of one-on-one time with him. They don’t exactly seek each other out.

“How long have you had Carla?” Reki blurts out.

He feels Cherry’s back stiffen. “Why do you want to know?” he says so low that Reki can barely hear over the engine.

“Well… I guess I’m just wondering what you’ve been doing to prevent her from getting scratches this whole time. Do you wear special shoes? It doesn’t seem like you have an extra screen protection sort of thing on her. You must have had her for a long time since she’s so important to you. I know whenever I get scratches on my tools, I get super upset.”

Cherry doesn’t say anything. Nighttime traffic, trucks and cars alike, roars around them.

“You’re unexpectantly observant, Reki. I suppose I should have deduced that from the impressive work you do on Snow’s board and your recent work for Miya and Shadow—”

“I mean, it’s not that—wait, you think that’s impressive?!

“—but yes, I do have specially made shoes that provide limited scratching by forty percent. After skate sessions, I typically repair any scratches and take the time to replace the top side of the board to keep Carla in pristine condition. It’s an expensive practice but worth it for her. As you guessed… she has been my long-time companion. I brainstormed her concept in middle school and, later, her schematics after high school. She is… the one companion that will never leave me.”

Reki thinks of what it must have been like, to have been friends with Adam once upon a time (extremely close, if rumours are to be believed) and then… having that fall out happen. Then again, does Reki even have to imagine it? All he has to do is remember his own anxiety eating him up, his self-worth and self-loathing and fear all at once, making him tell Langa that they aren’t a good match anymore, and he knows exactly how that must have felt.

If he could bring his board to life, make his precious Spitfire Gear 2R speak to him and help him, why wouldn’t he cling to it?

“It’s not just Carla anymore though,” Reki finds himself saying, “You’ve got Joe. And you have the rest of us.”

He doesn’t promise that they won’t leave because who knows what life might throw at them all. There are unexpected deaths. There are fathers who leave for no good reason. There are friends who weren’t really friends at all. No one can guarantee that they’ll stay.

But they can try.

“…Thank you,” Cherry says, oddly stiff. “I… I appreciate it.”

Shit, Reki thinks, I screwed up, I said something wrong—

“Would you like to hear about how I came up with the idea for Carla?” Cherry asks, oddly polite when he’s usually so abrupt with them all. He almost seems… shy. The idea boggles Reki’s mind for a moment because of course he wants to hear more about THE Cherry’s AI skateboard, that’s like the golden grail of knowledge for custom boards.

“Are you kidding me?!” Reki leans in, “Hell yes!”

As Cherry’s shoulders relax and he lets out a rare laugh, Reki feels something in him relax too.

:

By the time they arrive at S, Reki’s learned more about Carla then he could ever have imagined. He has so many questions. How does Carla’s motherboard function inside the skateboard? What’s the highest temperatures she can handle without overheating? Is there a cooldown function inside the board? Does the friction from the wheels affect her performance in any way? If she’s an AI who’s also connected to Cherry’s other devices, then what does Cherry do to make her processing speed so fast when she powers so many devices from far away?

Cherry’s answers are clipped at first, perhaps unsure, but the more questions Reki asks, especially specific ones, the more passionate Cherry’s responses become until they both begin discussing alternative designs to make Carla more efficient with longer battery life. It’s fun talking with Cherry in a way that Reki wished he knew sooner! It’s sort of like talking with Oka, someone who understands how skateboards live and breathe but with an added layer of coolness because of the AI thing.

“Reki!” Langa rushes out to greet him when he and Cherry finally come to a stop. “You’re late!”

“Sorry!” Reki laughs, handing the helmet to Cherry. “It’s my fault. I probably distracted Cherry with my talking. Won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Miya skates up to them, “because this moron here,” Langa ignores him, stepping by Reki’s side, “is insufferable when you aren’t around—”

“I didn’t find it a distraction,” Cherry interrupts. Reki’s eyes widen. “In fact, I wouldn’t mind driving you to S occasionally in the future, Reki. You are… not an intolerable conversationalist.”

His jaw drops. Suddenly, they’re not just Reki and Cherry having a cool conversation, but Reki remembers that Cherry is that guy, one of the best skaters in S, someone he’s looked up to for so long and considered himself lucky to be friendly with. He’s always thought Cherry kind of tolerated him because of Langa and Miya’s talent. But here Cherry is, offering to have more conversation with Reki… about making skateboards! Voluntarily!! Reki is going to learn. So. Damn. Much!

“Yes! Oh my gosh! I have so many questions but I’ll save them for next time, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Reki hugs him without thinking because he’s used to it with Oka before he remembers just who he’s hugging and jumps back. “Sorry! Should have asked first!” Cherry doesn’t seem like the hugging sort. “Please don’t not-talk to me later!”

Cherry blinks down at him slowly which is… better than glaring, as if he’s not sure how to classify someone like Reki. Which, fair. Reki’s not sure how to classify Reki on his best days if he lets himself think about it.

Immediately covering his face with a fan, Cherry murmurs, “While I do not appreciate being touched by strangers, you are not a stranger. So, I’ll let this pass this time.”

Reki knows if he looked at a mirror at this moment, his eyes would be like shooting stars. Cherry doesn’t hate hugs. Cherry doesn’t hate him. Cherry is just weirdly shy.

He throws his arms around Cherry’s shoulders again, laughing as his feet lift off the ground.

“Oi, wait…!”

Another weight jumps on them. Langa has his arms mostly around Reki.

“Langa what—”

“Well, if Reki is hugging, then I want to hug Re—”

Miya jumps in too because why not.

“Alright, yes, this is cute,” Cherry grits out, “But kindly get off—

“Are we doing group hugs with the kiddos now? I’m joining in!” Joe rushes towards them.

“Hell no, you dumb gorilla!”

Needless to say, everyone but Reki gets punched off. Hissing that everyone is uncultured swine, Cherry drags Reki away to drill him on programing basics 101, leaving a sulking (Langa) and simmering (mostly Shadow because he was about to join in too) group behind. By the time Shadow drives them all back home with Reki and Langa chilling in the back as usual, it’s too late to ask Cherry the one question he wanted an answer to the whole time.

“Shit…” Reki puts his head in his hands.

Langa, nodding off against Reki’s shoulder, blinks sleepily at him. “Wha… what is it?”

“I forgot to ask Cherry what Carla’s dimensions are!”

Langa blinks slowly at him for a moment.

“You know? For another project?” Reki keeps his voice low so Miya and Shadow don’t hear.

“Oh! For the… board?” The question of do boards wear clothes very obviously turns in Langa’s mind.

“Something like that. And something for Cherry too but I don’t need any measurements for him. I can estimate again.”

Langa still looks at Reki with that dazed but earnest confusion when he doesn’t understand.

Reki leans in close, so close that he can feel Langa’s hair against his own, like tiny pinpoints of static electricity just barely touching his skin. “You know how laptops and stuff have a cover over them? Like those fabric laptop bags? They don’t do much to protect your laptop if you drop it, but they’re great for protection against scratches! I want to make something like that for Carla.”

Oh!” Langa’s eyes light up and it’s like he’s awake again, all his attention intent on Reki. “That’s brilliant! He’ll love it! And you’re going to make something matching for Cherry to wear?”

“Exactly!”

“That’s awesome,” Langa says so genuinely that Reki struggles not to turn away for fear that he’s blushing. He’s not blushing. He’s not. “I’m relieved though!”

“Relieved? What for?”

Langa only smiles, his eyes curving into fond crescents. “That you don’t think Cherry’s cooler.”

It’s as if there’s a loading screen frozen on Reki’s brain. “I. Wait. What?! Cooler?! Cooler than who?! Than you?!

Langa shamelessly nods.

“That’s not possible! Cherry’s one of the best skaters in S, sure, but he’s not you.”

Reki’s mind suddenly catches up to what his heart said and then his mind, brain, and heart begin running around like they’re on fire all at once.

“W-wait!” Reki waves his arms as Langa’s eyes sparkle. “Forget I said that!”

“Never,” Langa says solemnly, like Reki has recited the universe’s most sacred words. “‘He’s not you, he said.’ I’ll remember that forever.”

“No, stop—”

“It’s tattooed in my brain—”

“Why do you choose now to get all chatty all of a sudden?!”

“Reki’s my battery.”

That’s it. Reki’s done. He’s completely red. He buries his face in his hands. Langa only laughs and throws his arm around Reki for the rest of the ride home.

:

Designing a fabric cover for Carla is easy once Reki distracts Cherry with questions about the possibility of adding more motion sensors to her. Langa quickly sneaks over to Carla to take the measurements and texts them over to Reki. The rest is simple compared to designing Shadow’s jacket.

Reki finds fabric that is breathable but soft enough to protect Carla from scratches. It won’t be as strong as a case, but it’ll do for the hours Carla is charging at Sia De Luce. Luckily, the fabric is white so Reki can go dip it in very diluted pink dye for a faded barely pastel pink. Afterwards, Reki irons on a few Sakura blossoms and the letters for Carla’s name using a cyberpunk inspired font.

The harder part is envisioning a gift for Cherry too. He wants to design something with the same fabric but for Cherry to wear, something that will make Cherry stand out even more at S… something powerful yet traditional…

His answer comes while he’s taking a break watching cartoons with the twins. They love this magical girl show that Reki likes the costumes in. When the protagonists have to fight a new enemy, who are inspired by the Shinsengumi, that’s when the idea comes.

A long sleeveless robe with pink sakura blossom accents at the ends, blending into a pinkish fire, he imagines. A protector of the people.

He ends up having to change the fabric, picking one more like silk but the same colour so he can easily dye it the same colour as Carla’s fabric cover.

Three days later, Reki finishes the sleeveless robe but something feels missing.

It’s not until he spots the leftover fabric on the floor that he knows what to do.

:

“Cherry!” Reki says when he sees the man leaving work. It’s always jarring to see Joe, Cherry, and Shadow’s real-life personas versus their S personas. Maybe that’s why he and Langa haven’t created their own S costumes yet.

Immediately Cherry’s shoulders jolt like he’s been electrocuted and he races over to Reki, hissing, “How many times have I told you not to call me that at work?!”

“Ah, uh, sorry! Um… Kaoru… sempai?”

Cherry doesn’t scoff so that must be fine.

“What are you doing here? Did something happen?” Cherry scrutinizes Reki closely like he might be able to see any hidden injuries.

“Nah, nah, I just wanted to give you this!” Reki shoves the bag into Cherry’s hands before he can chicken out.

Unlike Shadow and Miya, Cherry doesn’t make a big deal about getting a random bag from Reki. He opens the bag and his lips part when he lifts up the robe.

“I-it’s for you! Since you’re really cool! You’re like… one of the skaters I look up to and I thought the robe could add to your look. I made a hair tie to match with the leftover fabric! Ah, but that’s not very interesting compared to this. I actually made a little cover for Carla so you can put it around her when she’s charging! That way you both match!”

For a moment, Cherry just stares at the fabric in his hands. “You… you made Carla one too… Why?”

Reki’s brow furrows. “Well… why wouldn’t I? She’s important to you. She’s like a part of you, right?” Honestly, he thought Cherry would figure that out immediately.

The bag and all the fabric falls to the ground.

“Ah, the robe—”

Cherry holds Reki close. It’s different from Dad or his stepdad or Manager Oka. It’s desperate and somehow relieved…

“Thank you,” Cherry says, sounding so very lost and younger than his years.

Somehow, Reki knows he shouldn’t say anything. He doesn’t know who else Cherry sees when he hugs Reki close, but whoever it is… Cherry must have cared about them very much. If Reki could speak with Eiji again, make atonement somehow… well…

He just lets Cherry hug him until it’s time to go.

:

At S that night, Cherry’s fangirls seem to triple as they awe over Cherry’s regal looking robes and the long white ribbon in his hair.

“He looks like a wandering swordsman!” some say.

“He looks like a guardian from long ago!”

“Does his skating feel different to you? More… relaxed?”

Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. All anyone at S can say that night is that after his beef, Cherry takes the time to ruffle the rising star Akatsuki’s head when he usually doesn’t acknowledge anyone at all but Joe.

It’s a small detail. But maybe it’s the most important one.

 

9 – joe

Sometimes Reki wonders if he has a sign attached to his back that says, ‘Human Punching Bag.’ That might explain why he’s in an alley, being ganged up on by the old crew he used to skate with before he realized that they only skated for the delinquent reputation and cared more for unsavory habits. Urgh.

Daisuke (at least, Reki thinks that was the unofficial leader’s name) sneers down at Reki, laughing as Reki curls up tighter around his skateboard. His friends, a mix of old and new faces, join in, kicking Reki where they can. “Still think you’re better than us, Reki?!”

He’s too busy trying not to pass out to answer that question.

“We should have snapped your stupid board in half last time. This time, we’ll make it so you don’t skate again—”

“How about no?” Another voice interrupts the beating.

Reki can barely see who it is, but he recognizes that voice.

“…Joe…?”

Luckily, the jerks around him don’t hear him speak. All Reki hears next is the sound of screams and yelps, then footsteps running far far away.

“Kid?” A gentle but firm hand touches his back. “Hey, kid, you with me? Kid? Kid…!

:

When Reki wakes up next, he’s lying on a narrow white bed surrounded by curtains. The nurse’s office at school? No, the shade of the curtain is off, too dark. Besides, this place feels too noisy to be the nurse’s office. Then he sees a doctor pass by, tending to another patient, an older woman, and he realizes he must be in a clinic or a hospital.

He tries to stretch his hands up but when he looks down, he sees that once again, his left hand is in a cast made for sprains and his legs have been bandaged up. What happened…?

“My board!” Reki shoots up, looking around for his precious Spitfire Gear 2R. When he sees his adorable cat-devil mascot leaning against the wall, he breathes out a sigh of relief.

“Geez, kid, aren’t you worried about yourself?”

“Huh?” Reki looks to his right. “Joe?!”

Indeed it is Joe, sitting in a fold-out chair reading a magazine about knitting. “About time you woke up, kid! Didn’t know your parents’ number so I just called Langa over to pick you up.”

“What?! No, don’t tell my mom! She’ll freak out. Besides, it’s not the first time those guys messed with me and I was fine last time so—”

“They messed with you before? Knew I shouldn’t have gone easy on them!”

“No! I mean, it’s fine! I’m fine! Just a few scratches!”

Joe stares at Reki, arms crossed. “Your wrist is sprained.”

“It’s been sprained before and it healed in no time!”

“…Yeah, not really selling your case here, kid. Look, just tell me if you knew those guys or not. We could get them charged. They shouldn’t have ganged up on you like that.”

“No, I don’t want to bother you with this. It was just a… two-time thing! It won’t happen again! It’s really not important. They were just being jerks.”

Joe just sighs and moves his chair closer to Reki’s bedside. Then he points at Reki’s wrist. “This is important. You’re important. And nope!” Joe doesn’t let Reki speak, “No arguing! You’re doing that thing again and I’m not going to let you isolate yourself again. You matter and I’m not saying it just to be nice. I like hanging around with you. Kaoru does too.”

He feels his face heat up. “No way.”

“Yes way,” Joe smiles, lightly tapping Reki on the shoulder. “You, Langa, Miya… hell, even Shadow… You helped remind us what it was like to be… young. Carefree. Skate with friends.”

“You’re not that old.”

“Maybe. But we sure as hell feel it. Life has a way of doing that to you, making you jaded… cynical… I think you get that,” Joe turns back to Reki with a knowing look, “but you also do your best not to let life get you down. You’re always smiling, trying to help people. Even when you don’t feel it, Reki, you make life brighter for others just by being you.”

Reki can’t help but gape at Joe. Has he been taking pep talk lessons from Langa all of a sudden? What’s with all these un-true compliments? If there’s anyone who makes life bright just be existing, Reki would choose Langa (for every countless thing, he would choose Langa), and then Joe because Joe has this relaxing big brother energy to him that Reki craves.

Joe must read something in Reki’s face because he just chuckles and ruffles Reki’s hair. “It’s okay. You don’t have to believe it right away but know that we think it’s true. Hell, you don’t even have to tell me who those guys were, if you don’t want to. But know that me and Kaoru will back you up no matter what because you’re one of ours. We’ll keep you safe.”

And Reki… doesn’t know what to say to that. There are thousands of things he could say about how he’s not worthy and he doesn’t deserve it except Joe isn’t the type to lies. He doesn’t seem like the type to waste time on things that don’t matter. He’s always helping Reki out, even when he doesn’t have to.

But before Reki can figure out what to say or how he feels about it, the doors to the clinic (maybe hospital?) slam open as Langa runs in.

“Reki!” As always, Langa seems to light up at the sight of him but his face quickly becomes panicked. “Bandages?! Your wrist?! What happened?!”

“He got beat up,” Joe says bluntly.

No, I just, ran into… people I used to know!” Reki attempts to lie, rather badly.

Langa’s gaze turns icy. “People who knew you and decided to beat you up anyways?!”

“Um…” Aw geez, why does Langa have to be so quick on the uptake now of all times. “No?”

“Reki—”

“Calm down there, Blue. I’ll handle it. Just take Reki home for now,” Joe nods at them both, ruffling Reki’s hair one more time. “Call me if you two need anything.”

“Joe, wait—”

“Ciao!”

Then it’s just the two of them and the awkward silence of having to explain himself.

“Listen… Langa… I…”

Langa doesn’t say anything, just storms up to Reki with a dark expression on his face, and when Reki thinks he might shout or turn away or say something cruel (hi anxiety, thy name is irrationality), Langa doesn’t do any of that. In everything that’s important to them, Langa never does what Reki expects.

All Langa does is just, sit by Reki’s side and lean in, cradling Reki’s face between his hands like it’s the most natural action to do in the world. Langa’s like that, always charging forward, while Reki’s left double and triple questioning every action he ever does. Just like now. Reki’s mind just shuts down as Langa’s thumb gently brushes over the bruise on his cheek.

“…I really want to hit them.”

Langa…

“No, if I ever see them and find out who they are, they’re going to get punched.”

“Langa, it’s fine—”

Reki,” Langa says his name so seriously, so solemnly that he can’t speak anymore. Just one word said with those desperate eyes.

You’re important, Joe said. You matter, Joe said.

It’s so hard to believe that sometimes, even when Reki’s smiling, but maybe… maybe the first step to believing in it is trying. Maybe the first step in believing in it is telling the truth.

Shoulders shaking, Reki lets his head fall against Langa’s shoulder, Langa whose stronger frame is always there to catch him. Langa’s breath hitches in surprise, but he quickly settles his arms tight yet gently around Reki, mindful of any other injuries.

“…I’m sorry,” Reki whispers. “I guess… I’m… not okay. Those guys… they… they weren’t like you. They aren’t good. They’re just… they’re just jerks.”

How can he even explain it? How desperate he was for friends after Eiji? How he flocked to anyone who seemed cool at S? How Daisuke just put Reki down all the time until Reki had the courage to leave on his own? How Reki decided that he wouldn’t approach people at S unless he knew for sure they were cool, that they respected other people.

He doesn’t know how to voice these things even though they’re laid out logically in his head. It’s like there’s a disconnect, some essential hardware missing between his memories and his voice. Nothing wants to come out.

“Langa,” his voice comes out, hoarse, “I think… I think I have a hard time accepting help from people. I’m… I’m sorry, I’m going to work on it but…”

But what if? That’s the weapon his mind uses, that one question, ‘what if’? What if he’s not good enough? What if he messes everything up like he did with Eiji? What if he’s the reason dad left? What if, what if, what if?

Why is he like this? Why can’t he think normal thoughts? Why can’t he accept help and talk about things like a normal person—

It’s not until he feels Langa pull him even closer, until they’re pressed together chest to chest, that Reki even realizes that he’s crying. Shit. What does he even have to cry about? He’s fine, he’s fine.

(But baby steps, remember? Tell the truth. You matter. You’re important.)

“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me right away. I’m here. I won’t let those jerks touch you again.”

Reki lets out a wet chuckle. “You can’t be with me all the time. That’s how they jumped me, while I was running errands.”

“Then text me next time, I’ll do the errands with you.”

“No, you can’t spend all your time with me.”

“I basically do anyways.”

…And cue the anxiety about taking up all of Langa’s time. Reki focuses on logical thoughts. Langa voluntarily spends time with Reki. Reki doesn’t force him to do that at all. Therefore, Langa tolerates him and is his best friend. They promised infinity together.

It’s funny how often Reki whispers that to himself, infinity, infinity, like a magical spell to chase away his thoughts.

“Fine,” Reki gives a smile, “do what you want.”

Langa huffs against Reki’s ear. “I always do.”

:

The rest of the week, Langa sticks by Reki’s side like an overly paranoid Doberman, narrowing his eyes at any strangers that come in contact with Reki… which unfortunately is anyone who isn’t in their class since Langa’s still not good with faces yet. He opens Reki’s lunch for him and carries his books. He escorts Reki to and from his house and then lingers by the doorway with a sparkle in his eyes, waiting to be invited in.

Reki barely has time to wallow over shitty memories when Langa’s there wanting to skate together or watch him sketch clumsily with his other hand, when they play video games or catch a movie. The more time he spends with Langa (and he already spent so much time with him before) the more he understands what Joe means about other people making life bright just be existing.

He still doesn’t think that he’s one of those people. But Langa is.

Anyone who ever dates Langa won’t know how lucky they are…

By Friday, just before S, Reki tells Langa that he wants to treat Joe to ramen. “You know, just to thank him for finding me…”

Langa’s brow furrows as they both skate down the road. “But… aren’t you going to make him something? Like you did with Cherry?”

Reki points at his sprained wrist.

“Oh right.” Langa pauses. “Then what about after your wrist is better?”

“…Maybe. It’s just… usually I just make something that I think people will need… or some kind of clothing that matches their personality. Joe likes to skate shirtless, right? I can’t really think of anything that I could make for him…”

“Pants?”

“Not inspired.”

“…A new jacket?”

“Still not inspired.”

“Don’t worry. It’s you. You’ll think of something.”

The faith that Langa has in him is too much sometimes. Reki can’t help but look away and hope that the burning in his cheeks calms down.

“I, uh, also want to treat him to ramen because… well, I want to tell him more about those guys…”

Langa nearly skates into a lamppost.

“Have you seen them lately?! Where are they?! I have my skateboard, I could run them over—”

“Langa no.”

“Langa yes.”

“A skateboard is not a weapon!”

Langa stares down at his board, considering. “Fine. But only because the board you made for me is special.”

One of these days, Reki will legitimately die of overheating because of Langa’s damn words.

Once Reki’s calmed down a bit, he sneaks a glance at Langa, who looks way too content for his own good.

“You aren’t… mad?”

Langa tilts his head. “Mad?”

“That I’m telling Joe first…”

“Well, you’ll tell me afterwards, right?”

Slowly, Reki nods.

“Then, it’s fine. It’s important to you that you tell Joe first, right?”

Reki’s shoulders relax as he skates closer to Langa. He shouldn’t have doubted him at all. “Yeah, you’re right.”

:

Since it’s not their monthly dinner meet-up, Joe agrees to Reki’s offer of ramen easily enough. Langa’s there for moral support because Reki doesn’t know if he can bring it up on his own. They keep a steady conversation about school and Joe’s work before Langa makes the obvious fake excuse that his mom is calling, leaving Joe and Reki alone.

Reki immediately bows his head and stutters, “Thank you again! For the other day! I would have been screwed if you hadn’t been there!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Joe’s hands coax Reki back up. “I didn’t do it for a thank you. I told you, me and Kaoru look after our own.”

That phrasing again…

“Were you part of a gang or something?” Reki blurts out instead of the speech he had in his head.

Joe’s eyes widen but he relaxes into that laid back smile. “Yeah, something like that, for skateboarding. But me and Kaoru weren’t exactly the best students either. We might have avoided arrest multiple times… and tried graffiti at some point.”

Reki’s jaw drops. He can’t imagine Cherry as a troublemaker with how rule abiding he can be. While Joe is more relaxed, he has this responsible aura around him too. Them being in a gang… it just doesn’t fit.

“Do you… still talk to the other people who were in your gang?”

Joe’s gaze becomes distant as he leans back in his chair. “No. Just Kaoru. And Adam now. Snake too. Everyone else drifted apart.”

“Oh.” Reki takes a deep breath. “I was sort of part of one. For a while, I mean. A gang.”

The sounds of dishes and customers chatting seems to roar louder around them. He doesn’t dare look up to see Joe’s face.

“I used to skate with this other guy… but he got hurt and he blamed me for it. I blamed me too… but I couldn’t stop skating. I tried… tried finding other folks to skate with, people who might get me, you know? I got into S and Daisuke was one of the few people who noticed me… Well, more like he noticed my Dope Sketch uniform. Maybe he just wanted a discount, I don’t know. He started asking me to skate with him and his crew and I said yes.

“But… they weren’t into skating like I was. They mostly spent their time skipping school and smoking. They’d pick on other people at S too. I didn’t want any of that. I tried telling Daisuke that it wasn’t cool, but he told me that I was… nothing, that I’m just a kid who doesn’t know anything. I didn’t want to stick around all that so I left. I blocked their numbers and I made sure to stick close to Manager Oka whenever we came to S. I thought it was the end of it.”

“But it wasn’t,” Joe whispers.

“No,” Reki bunches up his napkin in his hand. “It wasn’t.” He counts to three in his head and then he continues, “Do you remember when I wasn’t talking to Langa? The day that Shadow got jumped, I ran into Daisuke and his crew again. They didn’t like that I was trying to ignore them… they really didn’t like my board. So they… they ganged up on me, I guess. I was fine! Just a few bruises! Nothing like this time.”

He gestures to his wrist.

Joe frowns. “They still hurt you the first time though, doesn’t matter how bad.”

Reki shrugs. “Maybe. But I can handle a few scrapes. This time was different. I was getting groceries for my mom when they jumped me again. I don’t really remember why they jumped me. They said something about me getting a big head at S, that I’m just a guy lucky enough to stand next to Snow, and then they tried to break my board. Then you showed up.”

Silence.

“…Okay, so, now that I know that they’re part of S, I’m going to punch them in the face later tonight,” Joe says a bit too brightly.

“Wait, what?! No, what if you get arrested—”

“Adam will help with that if I do get arrested, don’t worry.”

Now Reki is definitely worried.

“It’s my problem anyways! I just wanted to tell you to get it off my chest.”

“Now it’s off your chest and I get to beat someone up in your honour. Win-win,” Joe grins.

“They’ll still come after me… they think I’m one of them, but like a traitor—”

“Well, you’re not one of them. You’re nothing like them! Those guys? They’re scum. Everything they said about you is a lie. Real skating crews stick together because they want to. We look out for each other. We won’t be like your shitty old friends because they weren’t friends at all. You get me?”

Reki can really see bits of Langa in Joe, that unshakeable faith. How can he ever say no to that? Even if he doesn’t quite believe in it? Even if it seems too good to be true?

“…Okay. I… think I’m starting to.”

“Good start, kid,” Joe throws his arm around Reki’s shoulder. “Now let’s get outta here, Langa’s been pacing out there for ten minutes. I think he’s scaring the customers.”

Joe ends up paying even though Reki insists that it’s his treat.

“Think of it as a ‘thank you’ for nerding out with Kaoru,” Joe winks. “Besides, I gotta be a proper sempai too, no?”

A proper sempai…

Yeah, Reki likes the sound of that.

:

At S, Joe does end up hunting Daisuke down and punching him in the face. Reki doesn’t get to see it, only Langa’s smug look and Joe wiping the blood off his gloves gives him the evidence that he needs.

:

“You got an idea, don’t you?” Langa whispers to Reki on the way home.

“Yeah,” Reki grins, “I’ve got an idea.”

:

New gloves were the perfect answer all along.

By the time Reki’s wrist heals enough, he starts stitching the materials right away. He has to order special fabric online. Skating gloves should be breathable yet firm enough to offer protection from scrapes. The level of detail in the cuts has Reki spending as much time on the gloves as he might for hand stitching a new hoodie from scratch. Every finger of the glove has to be proportionate and elegant.

Black is the obvious choice for the fabric. Then Reki adds layers like armor, the type of armor knights might wear with grey embroidery to highlight the armoured illusion. He also adds in Joe’s ripped fish board design on the side of the thumbs with green thread.

The glove fabric is harder to stitch through but Reki manages it by taking his time. He thinks of hands that cook and hands that protect. Hands that steady an anxious heart and hands that train hard to be strong. When he finishes, deep into the night, he smiles.

On the inside of the glove, he hand-stitches the name ‘Joe-sempai’ in cursive English.

Perfect. Strong looking gloves for the strongest guy he knows.

:

When Reki shows up at Sia De Luce after school, Joe steps out for his smoke break and grins knowingly at the bag in Reki’s hands.

“I was wondering when it’d be my turn.”

Reki fumbles with the bag.

“Your turn?”

“Yeah. First, Miya, then Shadow, Kaoru… Now I’m up next. Let’s see what our star sewer has concocted today!”

Oh no.

“I-it’s not as fancy as Miya’s or Shadow’s,” Reki babbles, because oh no he would have put more work into this and made pants like Langa suggested if he knew Joe was waiting for Reki to make him something, “but they’re gloves! To replace the ones that got blood on them! They’re more durable than your old ones and they remind me of you because you’re strong and—”

Joe hooks Reki around the back of his neck and pulls him in for a hug. “Kid?” Joe laughs, “I love them. I’ll wear these even out of S so just say ‘You’re welcome.’”

Reki feels like he has so many thank yous to say instead of you’re welcome. But Joe has this way of making him ease out of his own bullshit.

He relaxes into the hug and murmurs, “You’re welcome…”

“Thanks kid. Really, thank you.”

 

10 – langa

The first incident begins with Langa’s long sleeve shirt, the white one he usually wears to S. Reki’s teasing Shadow on his new crush on Oka when he hears a scuffle behind him and suddenly there’s a ripping noise.

When Reki turns around, Miya’s hissing at Langa, while Langa holds his hands up in a placating gesture he doesn’t mean from the bored look on his face. Then Langa spots Reki looking at him and he brightens, skating over.

“Reki, look! My sleeve ripped!”

Indeed, the cuffs have ripped messily with threads sticking out. Reki winces sympathetically for the poor shirt, gently holding Langa’s wrist to inspect the extent of the damage.

“I think I can fix it… I have a sewing kit next to my first aid bag but it won’t be the same. You’ll have to buy a new one.”

“Oh.”

Langa looks so disappointed that Reki backtracks.

“I mean! I can fix it now! Let’s go sit down by that area over there. You’ll have to take your shirt off, but you can take my hoodie if you feel cold and keep skating with the others.”

“No, I want to sit with you,” Langa says quickly.

“Well, if you insist. But I’m giving you my hoodie. How’d this rip anyways?”

“Miya,” Langa smirks.

Suddenly, Reki doesn’t want to know. He makes a mental note to stay away from Miya if he wants his hoodies to live, not noticing Miya give Langa a thumbs up behind him.

The rest of the evening is spent sitting on the ground together, as Langa watches Reki sew the ripped sleeve back together.

:

The second incident happens the next morning, Saturday, as Reki sleepily opens the door and Langa presents a ripped up sleeveless shirt, the same one from the time they went to the beach, up for Reki’s inspection.

“What do you think?”

Reki, still deep in dreamland, only mumbles, “Huh?”

“It’s ruined.”

Slowly, Reki begins to feel more awake. He takes in the black sleeveless shirt. It looks jagged and worn out, a little bit like it was cut with scissors. Maybe Langa tried to sew and failed at it? Yeah, he can see that happening.

“You could buy a ne—”

“No,” Langa says quickly.

Sleep makes Reki slow to process this. “Oh. Okay. I guess you can come in and I’ll try to sew it,” he yawns, “back together…”

“Oh…” The disappointed look from last night returns to Langa’s face.

Panicking, Reki stutters, “Or we could skate if you want! I’m just really tired so it’ll take me a while to wake up. Come on in, sit down, I’ll get you some tea—”

“No, no, you should sleep a bit more. I’ll wake you up in fifteen minutes, how’s that?”

“Are you sure? You’re the guest and you came to get your shirt fixed—”

“I’m sure,” Langa smiles gently, “my shoulder is comfy.”

It’s a testament to how tired and frazzled Reki is that he doesn’t even argue when Langa gently guides him back to his coach and lets Reki do just that, rest on his shoulder.

:

The shirt ends up somewhat salvable. While Reki can’t just stitch it together with black thread without it looking extremely strange (like a cracked mirror in thread form), what he manages it do is stitch different cuts of fabric on top in a grid pattern so that the black shirt becomes a grey and black checked pattern instead. It’s not perfect since Reki’s used to making clothes than making such a massive repair but it works and it’s kind of cute.

“Sorry it’s not the same as before,” Reki tells Langa when he finishes it.

“Are you kidding?” Langa grins from ear to ear, hugging the shirt close. “You made it better!”

“What?! No, it looks completely different—”

“But better,” Langa repeats, his hands tracing over the new grid pattern, “like it was never broken at all.”

Reki has nothing more to say to that, not when Langa smiles at him like he’s fixed the world.

For rest of the day, Langa wears the shirt proudly.

:

The third incident happens at school on Monday. Just as they finish their lunch on the rooftop, Reki takes out his board for their usual noon time skating (in a random section of the school every time because they have to keep the custodian and teachers on their toes) when Langa says, “My gloves!”

Reki blinks in confusion.

Langa holds only one skating glove. The other one is nowhere to be seen.

“Oh, you lost it?”

Langa’s eyes shine then immediately dim when Reki takes out a spare pair of gloves from his pocket. “Here, just use mine! We can pick out a new pair for you at Dope Sketch tonight.”

“Ah…”

“Besides, now we match!” Reki holds up his other pair of gloves, black with a bright yellow stripe of yellow. He hasn’t personalized these two pairs of gloves yet with all the other sewing projects he’s had to do but he’ll get to it eventually.

That seems to cheer Langa up. “Yeah!” His hand lingers on Reki’s when he takes the gloves. “We match,” he repeats softly.

:

It continues like that. Ripped pants, a coat with a missing sleeve, a hat with a missing pom-pom, a scarf when it never snows in Okinawa, several more ruined shirts. Every time, Reki does his best to fix them but he can’t help but feel that Langa’s a bit disappointed, yet he can’t figure out why.

When he gets a pair of socks with missing holes from Langa, he’s ready to explode.

“There’s something wrong with Langa,” Reki mutters to Miya, as they watch Langa race against Joe for some reason. Langa’s movements seem a bit more charged than usual, frustrated too.

Miya scoffs. “No really?”

“No, I mean, like something’s bothering him! He’s so clumsy lately! He’s been bringing me all these ripped clothes that I have to fix and misplacing things so I’ve been giving him my clothes and—”

“Wait,” Miya interrupts, “stop right there. Are you seriously this oblivious about why all his clothes are suddenly getting ripped?”

“Well… it’s Langa. You didn’t see him when he first started skating. He got hurt a lot. Maybe he’s taken up sewing lately and—”

“Oh my god, you are so dumb! He wants you to make him something! Like you did for me! For Shadow! And those two morons over there!”

“I… there’s no way…”

“Hell no. I’m letting you diss the best hoodie ever. You might be a slime but you make some damn good clothes when you put your mind to it! Of course, he wants one! He’s the only one in our group who doesn’t have anything made by you yet! What’s taking you so long? He’s like your other half!”

“…I have to go.”

“What? Yo, slime boy, come back here!

:

Reki doesn’t see the end of Langa’s beef with Joe. He’s sure that Langa probably won anyways. He looked oddly determined. Reki quickly texts Langa to let him know that he went home with a stomach ache, a small white lie while Reki internally panics about what to do when he gets home.

The entire route home, Reki internally screams. By the time he gets to his house, racing up the ramp by his window, he throws open his closet.

The thing is, it’s not like Reki hasn’t made Langa any clothes yet.

The question is… which clothes to give Langa.

Half of Reki’s closet consists of his signature hoodies and jeans or shorts combo. The other half of the closet, steadily increasing over fifty percent capacity, are all the clothes that Reki has ever created inspired by Langa, sewed together in Reki’s spare time whenever he’s not around Langa.

There are the hoodies that Reki couldn’t choose between—a yeti inspired one, a snowboarding look, a chic look with the words ‘SK8’ on the front. There are the leather jackets, one with an embroidered yeti and another with the word ‘SNOW’ in stylized font. Then there are the outer robes, because Langa could be a snow prince, and Reki got a bit carried away with that inspiration, making lots of different robes with various snow print designs. Finally, there are the gloves, several with the infinity sign embroidered on them, one with a blue infinity, another with a white infinity and more.

But none of them are good enough to give Langa.

He shuts the closet door firmly.

Time to start a new idea.

:

Sketching new ideas usually comes naturally to Reki. But tonight, after Miya’s words, and knowing that Langa expects something equally as cool as the rest of Reki’s designs, he can’t seem to come up with anything. Each page of his new sketchbook (because there’s no way Langa’s seeing the sketchbook which is just filled with a fashion line that screams his name) gets crumpled up or plastered with scribbles that make no sense.

Nothing he draws is good enough for Langa to wear. Langa is… beautiful. He’s so handsome that Reki can’t help but get lost in looking at him sometimes, especially during history class when he’s bored. Reki’s learned to pay attention to all of Langa’s expressions because Langa says so much through action and inaction, through every micro-expression.

There’s another thing Reki pays attention to, Langa’s style. It’s so very understated, full of long sleeves because of the sun and his sensitive skin. Reki brings a splash of himself into every design. All the clothes in his closest, he might have made them because of Langa, sure, but they certainly don’t fit Langa’s style… There’s too much of Reki there, too much loud energy that doesn’t suit Langa at all.

And yet, no matter what Reki designs, there’s a bit of himself there too.

With another frustrated sigh, he throws the sketchbook into his drawer, when the socks that Langa handed him before S fall out of his pocket.

He looks at the rips at the soles of the socks.

They seem to look back at him, very boring and white.

Quietly, Reki picks them up and gathers his sewing kit. He might not be able to design anything tonight, but at least he can fix something.

Pushing his sleeves up, and holding a needle and thread in hand, Reki gets to work, his internal screaming calming under the familiar dance. It’s easy enough, fixing a sock. Quick too. He adds in new fabric and puts the patches together until it’s like a new sock with light blue ends at the heels and toes.

Then he thinks about Langa’s disappointed look again.

His hand keeps moving, grabbing red and white thread. He thinks of every time Langa has held his hand, he thinks of every time Langa has caught him, he thinks of all the stupid shit that he and Langa do but they always end up laughing together. He thinks of what Joe said about someone brightening up the room just be existing.

At the heel of the sock, Reki adds a little embroidered Yeti holding a small devil-cat thing in its arms, both of them sleepy and at peace. After he finishes with the last thread, he holds up his work on the one sock so he can see it more clearly.

A little bit of Langa.

A little bit of Reki.

…Maybe that’s how it should be.

That’s when Langa trips through Reki’s window. “Reki, I heard you were sick, so I stopped by a late night pharmacy and got you some medicine but I wasn’t sure which one was good for stomach aches so I kind of bought the whole section—are those my socks?”

Reki’s so caught up in Langa’s unkempt hair and ruffled clothes that he forgets he’s holding the damn socks.

“Wait, no, don’t look, they’re not done! I haven’t done the other sock yet!”

“It’s us,” Langa whispers, once he’s through the window with his bag of medicine.

Going red, Reki mumbles, “Well—”

“It’s us!” Langa jumps so close that Reki can smell the mint on his breath. “It’s perfect! I’ll frame them!”

“They’re supposed to go on your feet—”

“—and I’ll look at them every day!”

Langa looks so earnest, so determined to frame a pair of socks like they’re the greatest prize in the universe that Reki can’t help but burst out laughing.

“Fine, fine, frame the damn socks. I was freaking out for nothing.”

“Freaking out?”

“It’s nothing, just silly stuff…” Reki looks at the bag of medicine and feels bad. Langa’s wallet must be dying now. “Hey, do you want to sleep over? We could watch skating videos until we pass out. You could borrow some pajamas from my closet and I have a spare toothbrush.”

Langa beams at him. “Yes!” But first, he calls his mom to let her know about their plans. As that happens, Reki goes to the bathroom to prepare a towel and find that toothbrush for Langa. He’s so engrossed in making sure Langa has everything he needs that it’s not until he hears, “The pajamas are in here, right?” and all the pieces click together.

Wait, don’t open that!

The doors slide open and Langa gasps.

Normally, it wouldn’t be obvious what kind of clothes are in Reki’s closet. But with the influx of newly designed clothes, Reki’s taken to hanging the more intricate pieces that he doesn’t want wrinkled at the front of the closet. That’s what Langa sees on the right, the snow prince inspired robes, like Cherry’s, hanging there in a plastic bag for safekeeping.

Langa’s fingers hover of the plastic wrap, “Is this…?”

“Wait, I can explain—”

But Langa doesn’t give Reki time to as his fingers quickly flick through every outfit on the rack. The hoodies. The leather jackets. The robes. The shirts. The little gloves hanging from clothespins on a coat hanger. His fingers hover reverently over each one until they tremble.

“Are these… all for me?”

Unable to lie, not with the evidence sitting there, Reki only nods.

“But… there’s so many…”

“I-it’s not as creepy as it looks! I’ve been making them for you since I first made that hoodie for Miya…”

Slowly, Langa turns to Reki, his eyes fragile and awed. “All this time?”

“…Yeah. You… you inspire me, Langa. Everything about you,” Reki says lamely. He doesn’t know what else to add. Nothing can really capture how he feels about Langa. When he doesn’t hear a reply, he glances back up, “Are you… are you disappointed?”

Langa’s breath hitches.

Then, with a determined frown, Langa marches up to Reki like he’s the finish line of S, and he says bluntly, “I’m going to kiss you. Stop me if I’m reading this wrong.”

Reki splutters in the five seconds that Langa gives him to process and then Langa soars in, as assured and confident as he is on a board, and Reki melts into his first kiss.

:

Later, as they lie together on Reki’s bed, Langa’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, Langa murmurs against Reki’s head, “Why didn’t you show them to me sooner?”

Listening to Langa’s heartbeat contently, Reki contemplates his answer.

“…I guess I was scared. Not of you!” he adds, when Langa tenses, “Never of you! Just… of me. Of being vulnerable.”

Langa doesn’t say anything. Just waits for Reki to collect his thoughts.

“You know about Daisuke… and Eiji. I’m still… scared sometimes, even when I shouldn’t be. Of being rejected. Making clothes is pretty different from making boards, you know? Making boards is so freeing to me, and sure, I put a bit of myself into the board but not everyone sees it. Only people at S, those that pay attention. But making clothes… it’s different. The bits of me that go into making them… everyone can see that. I guess I was just scared that people would know how much I… how much I love you if I gave you all those clothes.”

Langa jerks away so he can look Reki in the eye. “You love me?!”

Reki gapes at him before bursting out laughing. “That’s what you got from all that?”

“Yes, clothes more vulnerable, boards less vulnerable. But you love me?

Reki turns his head away, knowing that his ears must be red. “Okay, yes, damn it. Who else would I make a closet full of clothes for? I only do that for the twins! Don’t make me say it again, I’m out of I love yous for tonight!”

“But I’ll get one tomorrow right?”

“…Yes.”

“And the day after tomorrow.”

Yes.”

“And the day after the day after—”

Reki buries himself deeper against his pillow.

Reki… Oh wonderful, smart, creative, kind, amazing, star mechanic and fashion designer Reki!”

“Fine, yes, I love you for infinity and I’ll keep saying it. Now go to sleep.”

“…Okay. Good night Reki.” Langa’s arms settle back around him. “Love you too.”

Yup. Reki concludes as he internally combusts from the blushing. Langa’s words are going to kill him one day.

“Reki? Reki, are you asleep? Reki, you should make us matching pajamas—”

He silences him with a kiss but unfortunately, they still don’t get to sleep much that night.

:

In the future, when they go out together, Langa will wear a Reki original and proudly tell random passers-by that ‘My boyfriend made this’ until Reki has to ban Langa from wearing Reki originals out in public.

(Langa, of course, never listens.)

 

+1 – reki

Sia De Luce is oddly quiet when Reki arrives. He’s not in the greatest mood since Langa wasn’t in school for some kind of doctor’s appointment and no one’s been answering his texts. He wonders if he should just go home sick for the day and sulk in bed instead of going to S when he hears bickering in the far corner.

“What’s with this patch that you added, Shadow?! This is supposed to be for Reki, not for you!”

“Reki likes zombies!”

“Actually, my boyfriend does not like zombies. He’s terrified of them.”

“Shut up, Langa! My zombies are cool!”

“Miya, why is there a slime on this patch? I thought we agreed that this would be a celebration of his traits, not a criticism.”

“Yeah, yeah, mom. Reki loves being called a slime!”

“I mean, at least it has a cool sword. Like a knight, right, Kaoru?”

“Shut up, Gorilla, your patch isn’t any better! What’s with the light bulb?”

“Because the kid’s bright! Really clever. And he brightens the room!”

Confused, Reki wanders over to that corner, only to see everyone crowded over a table, arguing.

“Um…” he says.

Everyone straightens up and suspiciously blocks the table.

“Reki!” Langa runs towards him, pulling him into an embrace immediately.

“I thought you were at an appointment!”

“I am!” Langa says. “Just not a doctor’s one.”

“What? But—”

Cherry politely coughs to get their attention. When Reki looks up, Cherry’s holding something behind his back, while the others grin next to him.

“Reki,” Cherry begins, “Snow informed us about how you felt about clothes-making—”

Reki gives a look at Langa who shrugs.

“—and with your birthday coming up, we all decided to give you an early gift to show how much we appreciate you.”

“Oh, well,” Reki stutters, unnerved by this strangely formal atmosphere, “You didn’t have to, I—”

“Shut up, slime, and just say thank you!” Miya grabs the gift from Cherry and places it in Reki’s hands.

He stares down at it in disbelief.

It’s a backpack. But not just any backpack, one made up of patches of different coloured fabric. Each patch has a different design, a clumsily drawn picture dyed onto the cloth. One patch has a slime holding a sword, as it defends a grumpy black cat from a dragon. Another patch has a light bulb shining brightly while the fish in the ocean around it are content. The next patch has a zombie that holds a leather jacket up proudly like it’s Excalibur. After that, there’s a patch with two skateboards resting under a sakura tree, one skateboard with a C on it, another skateboard with an R. There are other patches too, drawn clumsily by the twins in their signature botched chibi smile, of Reki holding their hands. Another patch by Koyomi, with Reki and Koyomi wearing jackets like celebrities. Even mom and Satoshi have drawn a patch, one with sunflowers and another with a content ox. The Dope Sketch logo with wings on each end must be drawn by Oka… and the last patch… an infinity sign with a terrible attempt at a cat-devil and yeti holding hands must be Langa’s.

All of these patches, clumsily but earnestly stitched together into a bag to hold all his things… with two leather wings on the back. The bag clashes with everything Reki owns, it could fall apart at any moment but Reki already knows that he’ll stitch it back together in a heartbeat.

When he looks back up at everyone’s expectant faces, he gives them a watery smile.

“I love it,” he whispers.

And he knows in his heart, that he’s loved.