Mistletoe Makes the Best Wingman
It had become something of a tradition- the annual Defense Club, ex-student-council and VEPPer cri-pa at the Kurotama bath. Which wasn’t exactly a bad thing, but if En had known that his on-a-whim idea to get everyone together as an excuse to give Atsushi the (ridiculous) Christmas picture from the student council was going to become a thing he wouldn’t have even bothered in the first place.
Too much work and all.
Luckily, Yumoto and Goura-san were the ones to bring it up again the following year- Yumoto sending animated messages to their ongoing group chat remember the cri-pa from last year when Brothers-senpai’s monster crashed and we wound up playing pass the presents with it? We should do that again but with Kinchan-senpai and Akoya-senpai and Arima-senpai and minus a monster. Please?
Lots of emojis and ironing out schedule conflicts later, they had a date. And the rest was history.
This year took a little bit more planning than the past few- Yumoto finally having graduated and the rest of them were scattered throughout the world, spreading their wings and whatnot (or some other flowery BS that Wombat would have said.) Most had gone to Universities closer to Tokyo, or even abroad (in the case of Kinshiro and the Beppu brothers). Only En had stayed behind in Binan, enrolling down the road at Binan U and continuing to live at home and do what he always did. Atsushi had tried to get En to come to Tokyo with him, but with a wry smile, En had told him that “Taking the train all the way out there would be too much effort, and besides, someone has to keep an eye on Yumoto to make sure he doesn’t blow up the high school.”
“You’re insufferable,” Atsushi had said, but still smiling.
“I’d also miss my bed,” En had said after a bit.
There had been other reasons, too, just some that weren’t quite readily apparent at the time. Or ones that En simply tried to ignore- stamping them down to base-level consciousness where they were there, simply existing, but not actively being thought about.
Currently, though, it was becoming apparent that it would be impossible to ignore the biggest reason he’d stayed.
Not when Atsushi and Kinshiro, oblivious to the chaos of the cri-pa going on around them, suddenly found themselves under a sprig of mistletoe (that Yumoto had undoubtedly put up, for reasons unknown) and… stuck with tradition.
Rosy-faced and starry-eyed, the two went unnoticed by everyone else.
But En saw.
And oh, how he wished he hadn’t.
He couldn’t say he hadn’t seen it coming; Atsushi texted him nearly constantly about how much he missed Kinshiro when he’d decided to go abroad again for another term, or about the funny thing Kinshiro sent him, or asking En what Atsushi could get Kinshiro for Christmas. And it was… just a little too perfect- that here they were, several years after the first cri-pa in which Atsushi’s eyes had lit up upon seeing Kinshiro in a ridiculous Santa outfit and…
The entire thing was En’s doing.
So while he was happy for Atsushi- he couldn’t help but be just a little bitter.
Because he couldn’t help but think about how much he wished that were him, instead.
“They look happy, don’t they?” Arima’s voice came from much too close to En’s ear for comfort.
“…yeah, they do,” En said after a moment, turning slightly to face Arima. His former classmate was smiling, as he usually did, but it didn’t take En long to notice that there was something off about his smile. Some emotion that, were he reading it correctly, hit just a little bit too close to home. But he didn’t want to assume anything, nor project. So he decided not to bring it up, but then Arima spoke again.
“I’m glad,” he said, his voice almost imperceptibly tight, but En noticed. “Kinshiro went without him for so long, it about killed him. It’s… about time they did something instead of dancing around their feelings.”
En raised an eyebrow. To an outsider, Arima sounded genuine. Once upon a time, En also would have believed him, too. But there were too many tells in his demeanor- the way he was leaning against the counter top next to En, shoulders tense but legs crossed over one another in feigned relaxation, the way he held onto his beer with stiff fingers, the fact that aside from En, himself, Arima was the only one of age who was even drinking in the first place, and a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes.
It was like looking into a mirror, come to think of it.
“You don’t mean that, Arima-san,” En said carefully, dropping his voice a bit, even though there wasn’t much of a chance that they’d be overheard in the first place. Yumoto made enough noise by himself to drown out most conversations. Arima blinked at him, then let out a dry chuckle after a moment.
“I think we’ve known each other long enough that we’re all on first-name terms by now, aren’t we? You can call me Ibushi.”
“You’re deflecting, Ibushi,” En said, fitting him with a pointed stare. Ibushi held his gaze for a few beats before his shoulders drooped and he took another sip of his beer to stall. When he swallowed, his voice was rough and tired.
“I was hoping… friends would be enough,” Ibushi said slowly, his gaze filtering back over to Kinshiro and Atsushi- still lost in their own little world, although it included Akoya, Ryuu and Io by that point, the group of them laughing about something or another, the rest oblivious to the way Atsushi’s hand lingered on Kinshiro’s waist. Ibushi didn’t seem to be able to look away. “He didn’t have many- any, aside from us- and I thought… what could the harm be? It would make him happy. So I encouraged it… and before I knew it-”
“You’d lost your chance,” En finished the thought. He also couldn’t tear his eyes away from Atsushi’s fingertips. Next to him, Ibushi sighed.
“You’re the same, aren’t you?”
“…he really missed him.”
“But you miss him.”
“I have him… friends… can be enough.”
“Is it really though?” Ibushi leaned in a little bit, his voice dropping to the point where En almost had to strain to hear him. But Ibushi’s eyes were on him, now, and the weight of his stare was nearly too much.
“It can be, if I lie to myself.”
Ibushi’s laugh was a little more genuine this time- a much nicer sound than before. “I tell myself the same thing.”
“What would they do without us?” En said, mostly rhetorically. He knew the answer in his bones. Ibushi voiced it, anyway.
“They’d still be sitting next to each other in the bath without being able to look at one another.”
“Christ, they’re dense.”
“Yeah, well,” Ibushi said, his grin a little lopsided. “They’re our idiots, aren’t they?”
“I’ll drink to that,” En said, returning the smile for the first time since the night started. He raised his beer in a toast, and Ibushi did the same. He threw his head back to knock back what was left, but stopped dead before the can could reach his lips. Beside him, he felt Ibushi freeze, as well.
Above their heads was another sprig of mistletoe.
Neither of them spoke for a minute.
“Huh… well, would you look at that,” Ibushi said finally after clearing his throat.
“Hm,” En hummed, eyes slowly tracking from the offending decoration to glance around the room. The pair of them still went unnoticed in the chaos- the twins and Yumoto having broken out the karaoke machine- their conversation drowned out entirely.
“…any idea as to what we should do, En?” Ibushi was staring at him by the time En’s gaze reached his face. His cheeks were a little red, hair mussed, likely from having fingers worked through it due to nerves. His jawline was all wrong- too strong, too square, and he didn’t look like he needed to be reminded to eat and his eyes weren’t hidden behind dirty lenses but his gaze was tired yet his smile still true and suddenly En thought something along the lines of ‘we deserve to be happy, too’.
He didn’t know if this was the right way to go about it, but there was no use in not trying, right?
“Well… it’s bad luck to ignore it,” he lied; he had no idea whether or not that was true. “Might as well, right?”
“Might as well…” Ibushi said in agreement.
They both moved forward at the same time. A soft brush of the lips, the taste of cheap beer, and briefly a hand at the side of his face, fingertips in his hair. En’s heart felt stuck in his throat.
They pulled back after a moment or two, eyes searching for answers they couldn’t name.
“…you need another?” En said in the silence that followed, holding up his nearly-empty can.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Ibushi said.
Little did En know there was mistletoe over the fridge, too.