Kiryuu did graduate, not at all with honors, and at the end of the winter semester. Yuusei’s first transfer application was denied in the same week. Crow could tell that they were both disappointed in their own way. Kiryuu was flippant about it, waved his diploma around, said he wasn’t going to graduation and planned to throw a party on the weekend. But, Crow had gotten to know Kiryuu well enough to see that he was tired, that he thought he could have done better, and the fact that he bought Nico and West new clothes and pizza, two days that week, showed he was trying to make up for being less than ideal.
Yuusei, on the other hand, opened his rejection letter and then set it on his workbench and worked. Every time Crow came over the letter still sat there, torn out of its envelope — Yuusei must have been excited, the tear was jagged and almost completely destroyed the envelope — and he was always working.
“Oi, oiiii, Yuusei.” It was Thursday night when Crow came over again, the kids were back at home sleeping, but he knew Yuusei would still be up. He was crouched over an engine on the floor of what served as Yuusei’s living room — but was really just another work area. When there was no response, Crow nudged him with his foot. “Hey, I’m talking to you.”
“Oh. Hey, Crow.” Yuusei looked up.
“Oh, hey Crow.” He echoed and then shook his head. “Have you even left this room in like two days?”
“Yes,” Yuusei said, seriously.
“To do something like eat, or sleep, or see the great outdoors?” Crow teased and nudged him again with his foot. “Come on, we’re getting Kiryuu a graduation gift. The party is tomorrow, you know.”
Yuusei’s eyes widened, it was rare that Crow surprised him and, often, Yuusei’s surprise was more of a curious-startled expression than the shock he was wearing. Then he scrambled up, dropped a wrench and two bolts on the floor and reached across a messy makeshift table for his wallet to check inside.
“Tomorrow?!” Yuusei asked.
“Tomorrow,” Crow confirmed.
“I — “ The guilt was pretty clear on Yuusei’s face. “Lost track of time.”
“Well, let’s make up for it.” Crow grinned.
It turned out that shopping at midnight, with basically no money, in a small town was essentially impossible. So they ride into the bigger city, it was only a few hours away and they both enjoyed a good drive.
Last year, Crow had put together his own bike — Yuusei had some spare parts and they scavenged enough that it wasn’t too difficult. His skill wasn’t in the fixing and repairing, but innovating on it. Yuusei helped him with the body and engine, and Crow added his own embellishments.
And, of course, helmets — because Martha would give them an earful if they didn’t have helmets. She had about had a heart attack when Crow had driven to the kids’ regular appointments on his motorcycle.
“Do you know what we call these around here? Donorcycles, it’s almost safer if you kids go play in the street! Now, you promise me, you’ll always go at the speed limit and not only be aware of cars but let them have the right of way! None of this weaving in and out of traffic, you hear me?” There was really nothing scarier than Martha when she was lecturing. Crow had put Yuusei between her and him and saluted.
“Of course, safe driving always, especially when the kids are with me.”
“Not only then, these kids are counting on you,” Martha corrected and waggled her finger at him. “I want to hear you say it.”
“I promise,” Crow and Yuusei chorused together.
Which meant, of course, when they were driving late at night on an empty road, just Crow and Yuusei, they went as fast as they wanted and didn’t pay attention to the lane markers at all. It was, perhaps, a little dangerous, but they didn't even see any cars until they closed in on the neighboring city. They parked their bikes at the park, wheeled into the bushes, so they wouldn't have to pay for parking.
The big glitch in the plan, however, was that in the time it took them to get to the city, several hours had passed. The number of stores open at two in the morning, that were not too expensive were: fast food, drug stores and porn stores.
"So," Crow said.
"So," Yuusei said. They pooled their change and few wadded bills together and examined their options.
"That's kind of lame."
They ended up settling on a bottle of cheap vodka — which, Crow bought and was not carded for — and a Sexy Starter Kit™ . Crow had picked out the vodka and Yuusei the kit.
"That? Yuusei — you, are you giving him a hint, huh?" Crow laughed when he saw it.
"It's a graduation gift." Yuusei said with no change in his expression. A complete gag gift, really, the kind of 'kit' with protection for petite peckers and the tastiest, sexiest, edible underwear. "I also made him something."
"Something secret, huh?" Crow elbowed Yuusei. He knew how they were — weirdly private for as inseparable as they could be. When they were together they were always touching, twined fingers, bumped shoulders, literally hip to hip. But Crow hadn't caught them kissing yet, despite the fact they sprawled all over the couch on each other all the time. Maybe they weren't the kissing kind of couple, that would be fine too, but he suspected there was just more that went on behind closed doors. It might be because of Nico and West — Kiryuu never quite seemed to figure out where the line should be with them. He hated swearing around them, but didn't seem to care about their bedtimes or school attendance.
Crow wasn't one to tell someone else to raise kids, unless they were fucking it up. He liked Kiryuu, but if they butt heads, it was always about that.
Yuusei flushed, a bit. "Something secret." He agreed.
"You guys are really serious." Crow grinned. Yuusei had been a constant, since they were sixteen and met at the open kitchen. Yuusei had been the one to put together their bikes — first, just pedal bikes when they were teens and then the motorcycles, more recently. Yuusei fixed anything around the house Crow shared with the kids that needed it — lights, the oven, the microwave and the heating/cooling system. He was Crow's best friend, really. It was nice to see him going steady with someone.
"I like him a lot." Was all Yuusei said, but like so many things Yuusei said, it was so earnest that Crow knew Kiryuu meant the world to him.
They napped in the park, laid out in the grass near where the bikes were stashed and had confidence they'd wake up in time to drive back to town before the party. Crow kept saving up to get a cell phone, but all the plans were far too expensive. Yuusei kept saying he could make him one and they could probably hack into a network, but Crow didn't want to go to jail before at least one of his kids was eighteen — there were a lot of things he'd risk, but they weren't one of them.
The ride back was slower, there was more traffic and neither had thought to bring a bag, so they wrapped the vodka up in Yuusei's jacket. Halfway towards home, Crow yelled though the wind — "Next time, saddlebags!"
The party was really just the three of them. They made a big pot of macaroni and cheese — two entire family packs of Kraft. They didn't have fancy glasses, of course, but there were coffee mugs and after Nico and West went to bed they went out back behind the house. The pot of mac was set in the grass, the vodka bottle stuffed in a bag of ice — none of them were sure if that made a difference, but it seemed more fancy that way — a flashlight that hung down inside a large glass jar, to act as a lantern and a cake, of course.
"It's fucking cold." Kiryuu complained.
"Cold? It's warm!" Crow laughed. "Yuusei and I went out for a drive this morning, he didn't even wear a coat!"
"What the hell did you do that for?"
Yuusei shrugged. "Errands." He explained.
They huddled together and ate out of the pot with long spoons and went through he vodka faster than they thought they would. It was just enough that Kiryuu finally stopped complaining about the cold, that Yuusei put down his mug to keep a fistful of Kiryuu's shirt in one hand, and Crow's in the other. Crow had gone loose and had his head on Yuusei's shoulder.
"So, where do you see yourself in five years?" Crow asked, putting on a Professional Voice.
"Hm. Mayor." Kiryuu said. "Or maybe, I should own a used car lot."
"Why that? You'd look awful as the mayor..."
"I could hire your lazy-ass to sell things and Yuusei could fix them." Kiryuu grinned, flicked Crow in the side of the head. "We could stay together, you know."
"Jack can come too." Yuusei put in. "To visit. Unless you sold him a car. Since he's going to be famous." He had to add.
"He's such a dumbass. I can't believe it." Crow half-complained. "He hasn't even come to visit!"
"He's busy." Yuusei defended. Kiryuu snorted. "He's always stressed, when we talk."
"Maybe we should visit him." Kiryuu suggested. "Isn't there an open visiting weekend or something?"
"Yeah, yeah, but why are we talking about Jack? We went through all this trouble to get you gifts, it's your party." Crow reached over and flicked Kiryuu in the side of the head. Yuusei looked between them, and let go of their shirts.
"Yeah, wait here." Yuusei pushed himself up and went back inside.
"I've been waiting to see what he made you." Crow said and slyly nudged Kiryuu. "He gets this really stupid look on his face when he talks about you too. You do the same thing, did ya know? It's moronic."
"Shut up, asshole." Kiryuu not-so-lightly punched Crow in the shoulder.
"This one first." Yuusei returned and offered Kiryuu what Crow knew was the Sexy kit. He knew because it was "wrapped" in the porn store bag. Kiryuu accepted it and raised an eyebrow.
"Did you guys really get me a gift from The Lion's Den."
Crow started laughing. His laughter only increased when Kiryuu opened it and almost dropped the kit. His laughter then turned into soft wheezing when Kiryuu turned, very slowly, to Yuusei and asked, "Petite peckers?"
"Congratulations on graduation," Yuusei said.
"Come here, jerk." Kiryuu held out a hand, which Yuusei took and let Kiryuu yank him back down to sit with them again. It was hard enough that Yuusei practically crashed down on Kiryuu and Crow, but not unkind. "Thanks."
"And, this too." Yuusei dug into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled wad of paper. Crow leaned over, he wanted to see this too. Kiryuu dropped the kit on Yuusei's chest to accept the smaller package and start unwrapping it.
It was a necklace. Really, it was kind of ugly. The front had three chevrons hinged together with a clever welding job and the back had an empty compartment that snapped shut. It was big enough for a key, a roll of bills, an emergency lockpick set.
"There's one for each of us." Yuusei tapped each of the chevrons in succession. There were tiny patterns lightly etched into them — Crow could only see them if he leaned close, which he did. He couldn’t quite make out what the patterns were though. Yuusei continued, and without any embarrassment at all finished his gift by saying, "You can keep us all close to your heart."
Only Yuusei could get away with saying something like that and have it be taken seriously.
When Crow left — he couldn't stay the night, he wanted to get some rest before the morning shift he had at the restaurant, Yuusei moved from sitting next to Kiryuu to sitting in front of him, basically in his lap.
"HAVE SAFE SEX WITH YOUR PETITE PECKERS." Crow made sure to stage whisper on his way out.
The next time they all hung out together, Kiryuu threw a shoe at him.
Crow was going to fucking explode. He kept pacing back and forth. Yuusei watched him move up and down and would probably get up to stop him from pacing, but his back was being used by Lucia as a makeshift desk. Earlier, Hiro had been sitting in his lap, but he'd moved off to follow Crow up and down the hall. Their youngest sibling, Dev, was sleeping on the bench next to Yuusei.
"How long does it take? We've only gone over this like two times a year." Crow grumbled as he passed by Yuusei.
"Be patient." Yuusei advised and straightened his back a little, only to have Lucia push on his shoulders to bend him again.
"You're messing it up, Yuusei." She said.
"If you tell me to be patient one more time," Crow started and then sighed. "If I knew it was gonna be this long we could have gone for ice cream or something."
"We could still go for ice cream." Hiro said, hopefully. Hiro had, that summer, learned the joy of ice cream, but he'd also learned that running ouside without shoes on to catch the ice cream truck was a painful experience.
"Later, kiddo." Crow reached abck to ruffle his hair. "We've got to wait for the verdict. This year might be our year."
"They suck." Lucia put in, without looking up from her doodle. "They're just — based."
"Biased." Yuusei put in. He reached back to offer his hand to Lucia.
"Biased!" She agreed and then high-fived him. She had 'helped' Yuusei study for the SAT again, which mostly involved holding the flashcards for him.
"Biased or not, they've got the power here. And don't say that people suck, it's rude."
"You say it all the time." Hiro pointed out, helpfully.
"Yeah and look and where I am, you can do better than that." Crow was going to say something else, but the court room doors opened and the judge stepped out. The last few times, it had been the lawyer or, the first time, they'd been entirely forgotten in the hall.
"I'm not usually informal, but I wanted to deliver this myself and — we all saw how sleepy that one was." She smiled at him. Crow felt his palms go sweaty, he resisted the urge to rub them on his pants and instead shoved them into his pockets.
"Yeah, all that excitement's pretty tiring." Crow smiled, but he felt like his face was going to fall off. "So —?" Not to rush her, but if she was just going to give bad news, he'd rather get it and then go home.
"Congratulations, Mr. Hogan." She held out a file folder to him. "I know that they'll continue to be very happy with you."
For the first time, Crow swore in front of kids. "You're not shitting me? You mean — oh, sorry, sorry! Just — for real!?"
"For real. You're a father now. I'm glad, we've been rooting for you for years." He couldn't even retort, like he normally would, that if they had been then why had they denied him for years? Instead, Crow took the folder, tucked it under one arm and scooped Hiro up before running the short distance to also scoop up Lucia. They tried to not wake Dev, but it was really a foregone conclusion because soon they were all sitting on the bench laughing and crying. Dev woke up and was immediately pulled into the family hug.
Yuusei stood to the side and watched with a small smile that only grew a little bigger when, Hiro eventually, asked, "So, now ice cream?"
Yuusei's birthday gift to the kids (collectively) was that he swapped favors — something about car repair and oil changes or something — with the head of the rec and ed programs, and that meant they got to go to summer camp for free. Crow was pretty sure that was better than the birthday gift the kids got Yuusei — a bracelet made out of nuts, a picture of 'everyone' and a plastic ring out of a quarter vending machine. But, Crow also knew, that Yuusei kept the picture folded up and in his toolbox, the plastic ring and bracelet in the small compartment on his motorcycle that used to keep parking change in it.
Crow was grateful, but it also meant his summer was the busiest in his life. Lucia had art camp, Hiro had 'Exploring the Great Outdoors' and Dev had swimming. They all had camp on different days at different times and Crow had to fit it in between his shift at the restaurant and his shift at the hardware store. Yuusei worked almost every day, but he could pick up Lucia in the afternoon between his own shifts.
Sunday mornings, at least, they all had free. Kiryuu’s house had air conditioning, so they often all piled into the house. The kids would stay the whole day, Nico was probably old enough to stay home alone and Crow kept joking about paying her to babysit but usually all five of the kids just played together. It was one of the few times Crow really saw Nico relax and act her age, he kept meaning to bring it up to Kiryuu but there never seemed to be a good time.
“Do you think Jack sets an alarm?” Crow asked, over frying eggs. The other Sunday ritual was calling Jack, who for whatever, reason always decided to stay the summer at college. Crow was beginning to think that Jack didn’t want to be associated with his hometown, but it wasn’t like he could pretend he wasn’t from there anyway. It was all over his Official Football Stats page and all.
“Do you set an alarm?” Kiryuu asked. He made chocolate chip pancakes for the kids and was carefully balancing everything on a tray. They had settled down in the dining room, playing some weird kid-version of Risk. As far as Crow could tell it was actually a Risk board and Risk game pieces but every time he asked what they were playing Hiro told him it was The Kingdom of Shadows and Shades and no definitely not the Kingdom of Shadows and Light so.
“Heck no, I wake up with the sun, unlike a certain sleepy head.” Crow jerked a thumb at Yuusei. Yuusei blinked at him from the corner of the kitchen where he was watching the stove kettle boil.
“I didn’t go to sleep yet,” he defended himself.
“See, there’s the problem. You’re never going to get on a schedule if you don’t sleep,” Crow mock-sighed. “What a problem child you are, Yuusei.”
“Maybe he just has better things to do at night!” Kiryuu laughed and then disappeared down the hall with the kids’ breakfast tray.
“I think I preferred it when you guys were shy about that.” Crow groaned. “This is what we get for giving him that graduation gift.”
“That’s terrible,” Yuusei agreed and Crow could tell he was making fun of him.
“You’re always on his side, Yuusei. Can’t I get a little back up? I’m going to have to get Jack to agree with me and you know how he is.”
“Jack is Jack,” Yuusei agreed and that time, Crow wasn’t so sure if it was a joke or not.
They set up with breakfast on the kitchen table and propped the laptop up on a few dictionaries before calling in with Jack at the scheduled time. They had only started scheduled calls after Jack mentioned that it was a pain to never know when they were available and Crow had to agree, with shuttling the kids around all the time it was too easy to miss a call. Besides, the connection was always better when it was just a one-on-one call instead of several different calls connecting together.
Jack looked hunched forward on the call, and his voice was oddly quiet, for Jack. “It’s early.” He complained.
“You set the schedule,” Crow put in.
“Too bad you’re not a morning person,” Kiryuu said, a heartbeat later.
“Good morning, Jack.” Yuusei said.
“Are you putting eggs on your pancakes?” Jack accused. “That’s gross.”
“Don’t knock it until you try it. Do you still need a kid’s plate with the sections divided off?” Crow shot back.
“How’s summer going?” Yuusei asked.
Jack stayed unusually quiet until he and Crow started arguing about whether or not State’s mascot — a flat headed agama lizard — was lame or not. Crow was pretty sure that it was small and adorable and not at all badass. Jack’s voice rose in volume and then they all heard: “Jack?” and that was not the voice of Jack’s roommate and teammate, Kazama, but a girl’s voice.
“Sorry — nothing — go back to sleep!” Jack snapped but it was too late.
Crow, together with Kiryuu and Yuusei, all simultaneously leaned forward a bit as a girl’s head popped into view, over Jack’s shoulder. Her nightshirt was sliding off of one shoulder and her hair was a mess — really, rivalling even Yuusei’s bedhead — and she was squinting something awful. Crow would have to guess, she normally wore glasses.
“Oh! You must be Jack’s best friends!” She exclaimed and without asking Jack, settled down next to him, head on his shoulder.
Crow couldn’t hold back his laughter as Jack sat up, stiff and straight and turned a brilliant red.
“You — you called us when you had — when you had a girl over!” He finally got out.
“Hi, I’m Yuusei. This is Kiryuu. Good to meet you in person, sort of.”
“Nice to meet you.” Kiryuu and Yuusei introduced themselves and Kiryuu nodded at Crow. “Laughing asshole over here is Crow.”
“Shut up, you can’t say this isn’t rich! Jack you have no sense of decency!”
“Carly,” Jack grumbled, “I thought you were a heavy sleeper.”
She reached around Jack, fumbled and then fell over behind him. Jack twisted around and pulled her back up to a sitting position and then reached behind himself, handed her a pair of glasses and tugged the blanket over so they could wrap it around themselves. Crow couldn’t stop grinning.
“So, tell us all about Jack’s embarrassing bed habits.” He said.
“Crow! — Carly, don’t you dare!” Jack yelled.
“Ehhhh, but it’s a good question! Besides, you still owe me lunch…” Carly said with the most innocent expression.
“Fine! Lunch today, but don’t you even think about it.”
“I think we’ll all get along just fine,” Crow grinned.