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laughing til our ribs get tough

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“Oh-ho, my god. Holy shit. Look at this.”

There was that rumbling rush of breathy laughter again. It rolled through Kakeru’s stomach, choppy and silent as it jostled Yuki’s head lying still overtop. And though it interrupted his long stare at the cobweb in the corner of his bedroom, Yuki didn’t startle. Instead, he grew curious and turned his head, cheekbone pressing into the other boy’s ribs, ear flush above his lung, and he found himself unsure if he had been thinking about anything at all. 

“Hm?”

It wasn’t unlike him to lose his train of thought like this. Letting the script come and go, grasping onto a thought for just a moment before letting it pass on by — Kakeru called it “sand brain” once, some time back, while he was teaching him how deeply to inhale. Yuki felt the wisp of memory come to him, recalling the line of his friend’s hand cutting down his sternum in demonstration, and let it sit on the back of his tongue.

They lied T-shaped and gangly on his bed: Kakeru supine in the spot where Yuki slept, Yuki perpendicular, his legs hanging absently off the edge. Kakeru had taken to busying himself with finding weird videos to pass the time, and Yuki would at times catch his deep pit of laughter as it traveled through his insides. Had he been sober, he would have thought this was strangely intimate; Kakeru, he knew, thought nothing of it either way. 

Kakeru turned his phone around, too close to Yuki’s eyes. Still, he squinted at it, watched the video replay, and sputtered a laugh.

“What the hell?”

“Right?” 

Right. Even hearing him speak sounded strange. He tried to capture that odd hollowness, the way the word reverberated through and from his friend. The manner in how the word left his lungs, how it managed to linger on the bones protecting them, until it was dispelled with the next exhale of laughter. It wasn’t Kakeru, but it was. 

It dawned on him, then, that it was more of Kakeru than he had ever heard before.

Yuki wasn’t aware of how intently he had pressed his ear to the softness under Kakeru’s rib until the boy’s hand passed through his hair to ease him. 

“Geez, since when does your head weigh like… a trillion pounds?” He wiggled beneath Yuki’s head to get comfortable again, whining a little as he said, “Squashing my lungs.”  

An answer twisted in Yuki, but left him before he could impart a response. From where he looked up at Kakeru, he could only see the underside of his chin, and how it sloped to the hollow of his throat. How that led to the barest ridge of his collarbones, hidden beneath some ugly band tee he insisted was his favorite. 

“You okay there, Yun?”

That strange voice, underneath that ugly band tee.

“Huh?”

Maybe it was the silence of his staring that caused Kakeru to tilt his head down to look at him, but when he did, all Yuki could hear was the great inhale swimming under his ear. They stared at each other for what felt like too long, until Kakeru began to shift under him again. This time, though, Yuki felt his head slide away from the other’s stomach, and he managed to catch himself before his head could plummet to the boy’s lap. 

Yuki leaned back on his elbows. Facing the windows, backdropped by the darkness of the late night, he could see Kakeru’s reflection move as he stood; hazy from the double-pane, the soft light of the bedside lamp fitting around him like an aura.

He supposed, if he knew anything about auras, Kakeru’s might be yellow. 

“Methinks,” Kakeru said, his reflection stretching as he walked, “it’s time for a re-up. I can tell, ‘cause you get awfully quiet coming down.”

Yuki hummed. Noticed the buzz high in his throat. In the window, he saw his own image move slowly, and he concentrated on bumping his heels against the solid siding of the bedframe. Felt the faint thunking tingle his calves and knees. As Kakeru came closer, that aura leaving him as he stepped further from the light, Yuki saw him reach out for the shoulder of his reflection.

He startled when a hand actually landed on him. 

“You up for it?” Kakeru asked, and as Yuki looked up at him, his dark eyes grew bright under their partial glassiness. “Actually, grand plan: bring all the stuff in here, turn off the lights, and—” He clapped his hands. “— boom, movie party in bed. Like breakfast in bed —oh, shit, if only we had like, pancake mix or something...” 

Yuki felt himself laugh. Yellow, he thought. Definitely yellow.

“I don’t feel like burning down the apartment.” 

“Aw, we wouldn’t! Well, I wouldn’t.”

“Would too.”

“Would not! ” Kakeru laughed through the word, and as he reached out for Yuki’s hand, tugging him up to his feet, Yuki wondered how that laugh in particular really sounded. “Now c’mon, help me get the goods.”

Yuki focused on the warmth of his friend’s palm. And he nodded, maybe dumbly, maybe hardly at all, as Kakeru led him out of the bedroom.

There was something funny about the way Kakeru would squirm deeper under the blanket every time he laughed. Even though he knocked the laptop around with his feet, or ended up blocking the screen with his knees, Yuki could only find himself echoing the laughter back. There was a lightness in his sinuses, his hands as he cupped them behind his legs. His smile, bright and ghostly, pressed into his kneecaps. 

Though the bedroom was now dark, the only light coming from the screen, Yuki felt very much like he could see. He could see the outline of Kakeru’s shoulders as he scuttled back into a sitting position, the silhouette of his hand as he reached up to scrub away the wetness in his eyes. He watched his cheeks become round in a smile as he repeated lines from the movie, something he treasured from his childhood that Yuki had never heard of. He even managed to see his eyes when they met his, even when the scenes themselves were dark. Little caves cast in just the barest of light. 

At times, Yuki found his cheek not uncomfortably pressed against the harsh bone of his friend’s shoulder. And then some time would pass, lending to a shift in position where Kakeru would be slouched and curled, head on Yuki’s thigh, as though a child. 

Halfway through the movie, the latter was in effect. Yuki failed to hold back a laugh as he brushed wafer crumbs from Kakeru’s hair. It had grown long, he noticed, growing shaggy over his ears and down his neck. Yuki wondered if it ever got tangled like this, but, giving the dark hair a cursory carding, he found his fingers unsnagged.

Below him, Kakeru hummed. Yuki watched him mouth the lines in tandem with the movie. Felt his jaw move minutely against his leg, his expression changing just barely to match that of the actor on screen.

“You’re able to watch it like that?” he asked. 

“Yeah? Dude, I could watch this movie with my eyes closed.”

“Does that count?”

“Sure it does. Watch.” Kakeru adjusted his position to look up at Yuki, the line of his shoulders falling flush against his leg, and he reached his hand up toward his face. “Close your eyes.”

Yuki gave him a questioning look, but as the boy’s hand neared him, he did so on his own. It didn’t stop Kakeru from dragging his fingertips down over his eyelids anyway.

Ow, geez, okay.” He pulled back from the heavy fingertips and batted the hand aside. “And?”

“You can still see the colors, right?” 

He felt Kakeru’s finger nudge underneath his chin, tilting his head up to face to screen. On the backs of his eyelids, he could see the vague flashing of light. The tiniest shift from black to brown, the mystery of each scene moving to the next as he listened to the dialogue.

“Kind of?” he offered. “But that doesn’t—”

“Shh. It counts.”

Yuki opened one of his eyes and squinted down at his friend. Kakeru continued to face him, now with a smug smile that seemed to say see? I told you so. He couldn’t help but just give in and say back, at the front of his mind, fine, I believe you.

Still, he shook his head a little bit, feeling himself smile as he scrubbed his closed eye.

“You seem to know this movie like the back of your hand, though. That’s an unfair advantage.”

“Hmm, that’s true.” Kakeru tapped a finger against his lip in thought, then, before raising his hand above his eyes. He splayed his fingers, turned his hand over and back, and pondered for a moment before his brows perked. “Oh, well, duh! Here.”

When he practically smacked the back of his hand into Yuki’s face, Yuki pressed back against the headboard. He took Kakeru’s wrist in his hand to create some distance, and he blinked down at him.

“What?”

“The back of my hand!”

There was a pause between them. Then, Yuki began to laugh, and below him Kakeru sputtered a questioning noise. 

“Stupid,” Yuki breathed, leaning his forehead into the boy’s hand as he continued laughing. “Oh, my god.”

“Nuh-uh! You didn’t even try!” Yuki felt the insistent waggle of Kakeru’s fingers against his hairline. “Just do it. Experiment! Pretend you’re some scientist on the verge of some huge discovery, and my hand is the thing that’ll get you there. Behind my hand is the Nobel Prize, but you haven’t figured it out yet!”

Yuki lifted his head again, brushing his free hand against his mouth to find some loose semblance of control, before saying, “Okay, okay. Fine. Let’s see.”

He sat up straighter, taking the hand in both of his as though to properly inspect it. It was hard to see from the backlighting of the laptop, but the outline was familiar enough. 

His palm was long, but not quite slender. Definitely not delicate. Ordinary. Indented by those uneven valleys created by his fingers, the tops of which were blunt and squared. Yuki followed the convexes of his knuckles, down to the depressions between each digit and up again, until he trailed the anomaly of his index finger, sloped inward from some half-remembered, or perhaps just half-spoken of, childhood injury. As he adjusted his light grip, Yuki brushed over the small bump sitting at the base of his friend’s thumb. That tiny birthmark, something he had become simultaneously always aware of and blind to.

A realization came to him, then, accompanied by a strange spark in the back of his mind, that at some point he had burned this hand into his memory. He was already quite familiar with it.

“Results are in,” he said, feeling a short buzz trail down the nape of his neck and over his shoulders before waning. “You’re still… a moron.”

Kakeru groaned as he tugged his hand out of Yuki’s grasp.

“You suck.”

“What? Is that not a prize-worthy observation?” Yuki reached for one of the snack bowls at his side and popped a chip into his mouth. “found it compelling.”

“The only prize you’re gonna get is for being the World’s Biggest Spoilsport.” Kakeru crossed his arms, and Yuki laughed at the pout quickly dawning his features. “And for being mean!”

“Oh, come on. I’m not that bad.”

Dark eyes squinted up at him, scrutinizing. And though he stared back for a moment, raising his brows as if to dare his friend to say otherwise, Yuki felt overcome with the feeling that he needed to look away. That spark, like a stovetop finally going alight after stubbornly refusing to ignite, warming the back of his brain. 

As he looked past Kakeru to stare at their forgotten movie, he grasped at the feeling. But even as he held it, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. Warmth. Something that made the hair on his neck stand on end. Vague and uncanny. 

“Hey, Manabe,” he said, nodding his head at the screen, “tell me what’s going on. I’m lost.”

“Huh? Oh, right.” 

Below him, Kakeru squirmed, and for a moment his head left his lap as he brought himself up to lean on his elbow, looking at the movie with upright eyes. Yuki felt the pins and needles course to his knee in the absence, and he thought, just briefly, that he wished his friend hadn’t moved.

The warmth enveloped the back of his mind. Though he couldn’t reach its core, and though it continued to linger, he didn’t let it frustrate him; he let it go. Before him, Kakeru hummed and “ahh’d,” and Yuki smiled as a new energy came from him, revitalized as he gestured and explained what they had missed. 

He decided he could just enjoy the feeling. There wasn’t a need to pry.

“It doesn’t sound that scary.”

“You’re crazy — they’re flesh-eating beetles. I’m telling you, you’d pee yourself. I still can’t watch those scenes.”

The movie, long-forgotten and long-over, sat on its title screen on Yuki’s floor. Up on the bed, they had been left in darkness; Yuki lied on his back, hands loosely settled on his stomach beneath his shirt, and Kakeru lied on his side next to him, weight pressed into his elbow to keep himself propped. Though Yuki could hardly see him, he could feel his friend’s closeness every time the mattress shifted.

“Okay, but CGI wasn’t that great in the 90’s, was it? I bet they look like shit.” 

Kakeru sighed. “That doesn’t matter. Like… okay, imagine this. This is the beetle, right?”

Yuki couldn’t see what he was referring to within that pause, but he supposed he should have been able to guess. He startled as Kakeru reached up to dance his fingertips against his ribs, pivoting them into a soft spot between the bones. It would have tickled if he hadn’t been so heavy-handed.

“They crawl into you like this,” he said, trilling his fingertips as though to dig deeper. Yuki could hear that he was smiling dumbly. “And they crawl up—” The touch darted to the right, toward his heart. “—and under—” Upward to his throat. “—and over everything—” Back down to his chest. “—until they get to the top and snatch your brains.”

Yuki shuddered lightly, but it wasn’t because of the image that Kakeru was trying to put into his mind. Even high, he found the idea stupid. Instead, he looked down at where he felt Kakeru’s hand, still pressed along the trunk of his ribcage, fingertips dancing against the bone. Not scuttling wildly as his words had suggested, but gentle, almost contemplative. 

As Kakeru fell mum, Yuki wondered what he was thinking. He was reminded of earlier in the night, when he had pressed his ear to his stomach, hearing him breathe and speak in hallowed tones, and wondered if something similar was going on here. 

Before he could ask, though, Kakeru spoke.

“Is there anything you’re scared of?” he asked.

His hand seemed to become weightier. Yuki tensed at the question. Of course, he wanted to say. Answers tickered through his mind, from improbable and impossible things, like being stranded in the middle of the ocean, or waking up and finding himself the last person on Earth, to the mundane. The pitch dark, and getting trapped in rooms. Those women, when they returned to him in dreams. The hushed unknowing of whether those spirits had truly left, and if they were simply hanging just overhead, out of reach, wanting in truth to return. The sound of banging on doors. Paint fumes. 

And, as he became again all too aware of the hand still pressed against him, a simple addition tacked to the end of that list: this.

But, instead, he said, “Everything.” 

He breathed it. Quiet and falling up into the dark of his ceiling until it dangled over him like an untouchable mobile. It wasn’t far from the truth, he thought; those heavy yet dormant fears from the past, rolled up against this inexplicable something that had become tangible over the past few hours (or maybe, he thought nervously, for longer than he understood), altogether felt all-encompassing. The way he felt now, they might as well have been his whole world.

Kakeru seemed caught between a laugh and a murmur at the response. His hand brushed over him, pressing more distinctly into his sternum, and Yuki felt increasingly aware of the conflicting need to sink further into the bed, versus a want that swarmed to the forefront of his mind. To let that hand vanish into him, as if he were a scrying pool.

“I’d call bullshit,” he said, “but… wow, Yuki, your heart’s racing.” 

He knew — he could feel it, the reverb against that unseen palm. He felt it beat and beat back, strengthened by hearing his name, his real name. So stupid, he admonished. How long had he insisted that he call him by his actual name? And now that he did, in some rare, maybe serious, maybe delirious, moment, why did he want him to take it back?

He was glad, suddenly, that it was so dark. Kakeru couldn’t see the burn overtaking his skin. 

“Oh?” he said, choked. He swallowed thickly. “Sorry.”

“Are you okay? Did I freak you out?”

Yes, he wanted to say, but as Kakeru’s hand didn’t leave him, or remotely ease on him, Yuki figured he was still talking about the damn beetles. And even then, he knew that if his hand left, he would just want it back. 

“No,” he said. He took in a large, steadying breath, repeating, “God, no. I bet what you did to me is scarier than whatever crap effects they show in the movie.”

“Are you saying I scared you?”

“I’m saying that if I, god forbid, watch this movie and find it less scary than a kitten trying to bite me, then you owe me a thousand yen.”

“Pff, yeah, okay. ” Kakeru’s hand began to lift as he moved into a sitting position. He groaned as he took the weight off his arm, and Yuki bit back a complaint as the touch left him entirely. Yuki could just barely see his darkened form as he now sat somewhat hunched over him, but he wasn’t entirely confident that it wasn’t just his imagination. “It’s a deal. We’ll watch it next time, and then we’ll see.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. You lose, and you owe me dinner.”

There was some silence between them, just as that. Yuki staring straight ahead, unsure if he was looking at the ceiling or at Kakeru, wondering about this “next time” even though he found himself struggling to deal with the present moment. Kakeru, making some small noises to himself, popping his neck, rolling his stiff shoulders. Though Yuki was thankful that the dark kept his own features secret, he wanted to know what expression Kakeru was making. In the quiet, that question resurfaced.

What are you thinking?

“Hey,” Kakeru said, abrupt, and Yuki made a noise in return. “I have a question. Ignore me if it’s stupid or sensitive or whatever.”

“Okay?”

“Do you… hm. Have you ever…” 

He hummed, short and frustrated, and Yuki could feel him start to bob his knee. A strange, sympathetic anticipation rose in Yuki’s throat, and confused, he asked,

"Have I ever what?"

Another noise. Though Yuki waited, his mind taking guesses to fill in the blanks, some dangerous game of Mad Libs, Kakeru eventually clicked his tongue and fell still. 

“Ah, never mind. Hey, where’s your face — gimme.”

Suddenly, his heavy touch fell along Yuki’s chin, his forehead, his nose, until finally both palms found the curve of his jaw. Kakeru’s presence truly loomed over him, then, as he leaned down and pressed a sickeningly loud kiss against his cheek.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. He let go and moved himself off the bed. “Gotta piss.”

Yuki almost wanted to sit up and tell him to wait, but he didn’t. For the briefest moment, he saw Kakeru in the hallway, flooded by the light of the bathroom, before he disappeared behind the door. 

This wasn't new. He repeated that to himself as his heart seemed intent to beat a hole through him.

Left alone in the dark, he reached up to the wet spot on his cheek, feeling the residue of Kakeru’s annoying habit. He had started it when they were still high schoolers, surprising him with obnoxious cheek kisses for the most inane reasons — when they had to stop mid-walk to the station to get something he left in his locker, when the student council meetings ended, when he needed to leave the room or Yuki’s vicinity for any reason whatsoever. And god, it used to annoy him. In the early stages, it even made him angry. It was always something returned with a punch to the shoulder or a slap upside the head. And Kakeru would whine, then laugh, and rinse and repeat. 

Now, though, as his pinky edged on the corner of his mouth, along that little border between where Kakeru had left his mark and where he hadn’t, he wasn’t sure how he felt. All he knew was that he wasn’t annoyed, and he wasn’t angry. He hadn’t even managed to scold him. 

He sat up and rubbed at his eyes. Maybe he was just coming down from the high, but he felt unable to let the thought go, to relax and be at peace with it. That warmth that cradled that back of his mind returned, and this time, he gave it room to speak.

Are you lonely? it seemed to ask. Do you like that he makes you feel known?

A feeling caught in his throat at the thought. He tried to clear it, but it remained.

What is it that you want? Do you want to feel some semblance of intimacy? Do you want him to give that to you? 

He pressed his mouth into his palm. As he stared at the bar of light slotting the bottom of the bathroom door, watching as Kakeru’s footfalls broke it apart before falling away, he told himself that it wasn't intimacy that he had been missing. But it only made him feel more lost as another tide of queries came.

Are you afraid that he still doesn’t know you? Did you want him to ask if he could kiss you? Do you want him to kiss you? How much? How badly?

He shifted his feet off the bed, sitting so he once again faced the windows. In the dark, his reflection remained hidden; all there was to see were the sprawling lights of the city, further out from the neighborhood he had made a home in. Somewhere in those speckled streets, between here and there, was Kakeru’s apartment. Windows dark. 

What’s wrong? What do you want?

What he wanted, he realized, was another hit. He turned on the bedside lamp, feeling the shake in his fingers as he did so. Prying was a stupid idea. He should have let it lie, let it confuse him until he became distracted by some other small nothing. Let this night pass as if it were a dream and nothing more.

You like this dream, though.  

Some weighty thing sank into his chest. He felt as though he could cry.

Maybe it was a mistake that he didn’t turn the light off again before Kakeru returned, but when he did, Yuki had returned to his spot on the bed, slouched against the headboard, heels of his palms pressed into his eyes. Waiting for the calm to relax around his head again, he contended with himself what to do — to ignore his thoughts, to keep them sealed away, or to speak. It had been a long time since he felt almost forced into silence, and that alone made him want to blurt the words out, whatever they were.

But, he found himself at a loss when Kakeru crawled back into his spot on the bed beside him, feeling damp fingers touch his elbow.

“Yun? You okay?” 

Yuki swallowed. He nodded, but couldn’t find it in him to uncover his eyes. The hand left his arm, and as his friend made himself comfortable again, he was met with a sigh.

“Hey, re-upping without me — rude.”

“You took a while,” Yuki murmured. 

“Yeah, sorry about that. Ended up getting lost in thought!” There was the sound of the lighter, of it being flicked too many times as Kakeru played with it. “I couldn’t remember what the word ‘artifice’ meant.”

There was a pause as he matched Yuki, inhaling slow and deep beside him. He sighed again, pleased this time, and Yuki lifted a hand from one of his eyes to look at him. Bedraggled, smiling, eyes closed as he tilted his head back. 

Noticing the strength in his jaw, perhaps for the first time, Yuki wondered when exactly they had grown up. 

“Kakeru,” he said, eliciting a noise, “what were you going to ask me earlier?”

“Hm?”

“You were going to ask if I’ve ever done something. But you didn’t say what it was.”

“Oh… right, that.” The boy’s head tilted down again, and he passed a hand over his dark hair as he stilled. “Hmm… well, it’s kind of embarrassing. And you might hit me for asking.”

“You don’t get embarrassed.”

“Ha! Well, I guess not usually. It’s such a waste of time, getting all uptight.”

“Okay, so?”

“So, what?”

“Manabe.”

“Mm… alright, fine.” Kakeru huffed, situating himself to get himself more comfortable, or maybe to stall, straightening his spine a little and resting his hands on his knees. He took a moment to look at Yuki, before saying, “How about this. Let’s play ‘never have I ever.’”

“What? Why?”

“Just a half-game! Okay? I want to play.”

Insistent, he raised his hand, fingers long and splayed. Yuki sighed.

“Alright, I guess.”

Yuki lowered his hand from his eye and changed his position, mirroring Kakeru’s cross-legged pose to face him. As he held up his hand, fingers outstretched, Kakeru’s grin seemed to waver. 

“Alright, Yun,” he said, “you start.”

“Typical. Okay, never have I ever failed a test.” 

Despite his nerves, he smirked as Kakeru’s posture withered.

“Oh, come on. You know that chem exam bit me in the ass. That's low."

“That's strategy."

“Fuck.” Kakeru tucked his thumb to his palm. “Fine, then. Never have I ever lived with a girl I wasn’t related to.”

His smile returned, growing sly and confident at the remark, and Yuki let out a breathy laugh. “Geez. Fine, you got me there."

“What goes around comes back around. You next.”

Yuki lowered a finger. As they continued, their fingers lowering fast with each turn, Yuki watched a pinch form between Kakeru’s brows. In some minutes, when they both had a single finger raised, his friend held a lengthy pause.

“Come on, Manabe.”

“Should we do a full game?” he asked. His smile twitched, falling prey to the return of unspoken nerves. “This is fun.”

“No,” Yuki said. His heart rate had picked up in anticipation, too, as they relayed their experiences and lack thereof in quick rounds, as he just wanted to hear the question that looked to be burning a hole in his friend’s mind. To get it over with. “You dug this hole, now you get out of it.”

“Yeesh, okay, okay, fine. Fine. Um.” 

Kakeru stalled. Curling his last finger in and out in a deliberating dance, his gaze falling on some spot above Yuki’s head as he fell mute. It seemed as though he were trying to eke out the last bits of silence between them in his favor, but at last — maybe knowing he wouldn’t win, or maybe knowing he wouldn’t be able to not ask — he gave in. 

“Okay. Never have I ever… kissed another guy.”

Yuki blinked. Kakeru, flushed, drew his eyes back to his. Yuki pulled the inside of his lower lip between his teeth and, raising his brows slightly, kept his last finger raised. 

He couldn’t tell if he felt rewarded by the question. Part of him hoped, maybe knew that it was coming. The rest of him felt ready to depart from the mortal plane. Either way, his heartbeat crept high in his chest, and with a quick glance, he noticed it beating fast under his shirt.

“Is that what you wanted to ask me?” he forced. As he lowered his hand to his lap, Kakeru followed, hanging his head with some sad chuckle, a groan.

“Yeah.”

“I mean, you could have just said it.”

“I told you — I was embarrassed.”

How quiet his voice seemed, at a question that, Yuki knew, he wouldn’t feel at all shy lobbing at someone else. Yuki rubbed his palms against his knees, feeling fidgety as the next lines of questioning unfolded. 

Is it because you wanted to kiss me? Or were you afraid that I was going to kiss you?

“Why do you ask?” he said instead. Kakeru pressed his hand through his hair again, but kept his eyes on the cross of his legs. He fell speechless, brows pinching, the line of his mouth twisting into a frown, and Yuki pressed forward. “Did you think I was going to—” 

“I wanted to do it. Okay?" A pause. A small, unsteady gulp. "Earlier, I mean. And it’s been bugging me since.” 

Yuki stilled. Kakeru, too, seemed to freeze, and it took him a moment to gather a breath and sit up again. When they met eyes again, Yuki felt a ringing in his ears.

“Oh?” he said.

“Mhm.”

How unprepared he was to face this, he realized. Woefully, pathetically unprepared. He raised a hand to tuck his hair behind his ear, and in doing so turned his head to look at a darker corner of the room to gather his next words. Hoping he could muster any, especially as the high finally started to edge in on him, having spent too long barred out from his nerves.

“So… Past-tense, then.”

“Huh?”

“You said you wanted to do it,” Yuki said. His tongue felt heavy. “Not that you… want to.”

“Oh.”

“Mm.”

“Yuki,” Kakeru said, and Yuki felt that pang at his name again, “‘nother question. Maybe I should have asked this instead. Have you ever wanted to?”

“To…”

“Kiss.”

Yuki waited for the rest of it. To hear “another guy” footnote the sentence, but as the silence lingered, he realized it wouldn't come. Instead, there was that something else implied. A directness that he had been waiting for, and now felt that, maybe, he was too afraid to answer.

Faced, at last, with some ultimatum, he found his heart beating too loud, too fast, too much. It felt almost like the beginning trickles of panic, but the feeling erred just outside of that scope. Falling more on one side of the border, the thin line separating fear and excitement, than the other.

Still, he breathed in. He held it. He let it go. In his peripherals, Kakeru continued to watch him with that eerily serious look. He found solace in the anxious bobbing of his friend’s knee.

It's alright, he tried to soothe. He's nervous, too. And then, He’s never this nervous.

The answer sat just behind his teeth, but even with those paltry comforts, he couldn't say it. So, with another inhale, he nodded. Jerked, and small, so small he wondered if Kakeru even noticed.

The fast exhale coming from beside him told him enough.

"Huh…” Kakeru stopped. “Okay,” he said. “Wow." 

“Wow?”

All of a sudden, Yuki felt embarrassed, and he wondered if he had answered correctly. But, as he saw a hand begin to reach for him, only to pull back, he found solace, again, in Kakeru’s rare display of apprehension.

“Um. Do you want to now? Would you let me?”

Yuki finally looked at him. Kakeru was flushed, the heat thick across the bridge of his nose to the tips of his ears; had he not been with him all night, Yuki would have assumed he was drunk. But the question fell from him too quiet, too sincere, and too worried for him to think that he was speaking anything but what was truly and purely on his mind. 

Neither of them were sober. But they weren’t gone, either. Not anymore, and not yet.

And so, Yuki, in mostly clear conscious, nodded. 

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat, and said again, failing to hide the quake, “Yeah. If you want to.”

Kakeru reached for him again, and laid a ginger, quivering hand on his, atop his knee. Overly gentle. “Do you want me to?”

Yuki looked down at his hand, at that strange new touch, then back at him. Heart crawling up high in his chest, threatening to smother his breath, he nodded again. 

“Yeah,” he breathed. His mind felt like a windstorm. A typhoon making landfall. He swallowed, feeling the shoal of his mind become battered, and he said, “I want you—”

Kakeru kissed him.

It was awkward, for a moment. Their mouths lied tense against one another. Jaws clenched. Yuki gripped his knees, Kakeru his hand, as they hardly dared to breathe. And for some time, though probably not long at all, they remained that way, until the eventual creeping burn in Yuki’s lungs forced him to inhale. He parted his mouth, shaky as he drew in, and it was then that Kakeru eased his lips onto his, sure and soft. 

Soft. Kakeru breathed slow through his nose, pressing his mouth closer, neater against Yuki’s as their bones began to settle. Yuki felt that peaking anxiety ebb off, and he wondered if it was the high finally sinking in, or if this is just what exhilaration felt like. He kissed him back; he raised a hand, momentarily timid, to hold Kakeru’s cheek against his palm, and the gesture elicited a small whine that sent him.

This is wanting, Yuki thought. The thought trailed away, and, dizzy, he thought it again. This is wanting.

Emboldened, Kakeru raised his hands, too, to again cup Yuki’s jaw, thumbs hot against his cheekbones. As Yuki breathed in again, he felt the other’s tongue glide along his lip. He let it. He let it, and as he met the new tongue in his mouth with his own, he felt feverish as he grasped Kakeru’s cheek, the loping side of his neck, with restless hands.

Yuki felt the closeness of a moan in his mouth that wasn’t his. Shivered as the noise thrummed against his teeth. 

It was more of Kakeru than he had ever heard before. 

Their kiss struggled to find an end point. They would pull away, only to pull in again, returning to the harsh presses of fingertips and exploratory bites against their lips. Some far-off feeling in the back of Yuki’s head told him he wasn’t quite ready to meet Kakeru’s eyes yet. Wasn’t ready to recall the yellow lamplight encompassing his head and shoulders, making him all too real. It would mean a return to reality, where they would both realize, hands still severe and splayed on each other’s skin, lips swollen and cheeks marred from half-breaths, that all of this was just an impossible dream. Eyes that would remind him that they were friends. A light that would remind him that, tomorrow, and all the days after, they probably wouldn’t do this again.

And so, for some time longer, he pressed, and sank into, and felt. It was all he allowed himself to do.

Kakeru, however, seemed to avoid these worries. He eventually pulled back, breathy, hands landing strong on Yuki’s shoulders. When Yuki couldn’t catch his mouth again, he found himself forced to open his eyes and look at him, questioning and disappointed. 

Kakeru smiled. He laughed, rubbing the back of his wrist against his mouth, catching the wetness as his eyes crinkled.

“Holy shit,” he said. “Dude.”

Yuki swallowed. Dazed, he moved his hands away from the boy’s face and placed them heavy on his knees. When he reached up to touch his lips, they pulsed with a gentle throb.

“Wow,” he murmured. 

“Wow’s right.” With a squeeze, Kakeru lowered his hands from his shoulders, opting to lean back with another laugh. “Didn’t know you had that in you, Yun.”

Yuki nodded dumbly. You too, he wanted to say, and I didn’t know, either. He said neither. Instead, he looked behind Kakeru at the window, and noticed the pull of black to blue edging over the skyline.

“It’s morning already,” he said.

“Woah, seriously?” Kakeru swiveled his head to look, and he clicked his tongue with a sigh. “Damn. Say, you don’t have class tomorrow, do you?”

Yuki took a moment to think on it. “No,” he said. “Probably not.”

“Good.” As Kakeru turned back, he started to shift his position, hissing as he stretched out his legs and lied down. He grabbed blindly for his phone on the nightstand, and said, “Well, lay down with me, Yun-Yun. I’ve got some good music we can listen to until we, I dunno, pass out or something.”

A nonchalant shrug. A little squint as he unlocked his phone. Yuki stared down at him, beginning to feel that numbing sense of being left behind as Kakeru seemed rather content to move on without another word on the matter. Some song began to play, slow and reverberating, and as Yuki unfolded his legs, too, lying down slow and sinking beside him, he wondered if, in fact, all of what had occurred was some bizarre and intense hallucination. Impossible, though — the touches he still felt pressed into his skin, that visceral fact alone, eclipsed the thought in its entirety. 

Worse, then, was the alternative. That Kakeru had no qualms about letting it all lie, no postscript, no appendix. As if seeing the sunrise reminded him that it was time to leave the night and its events where they belonged, as some intoxicated, intoxicating memory. A fond souvenir to think back on. A check on a bucket list.

Yuki’s bottom lip continued to throb. When he curled on his side, choosing to stare at the boy’s profile, he thought, rather plainly, that he didn’t want to abandon that feeling. 

“Or something,” he mumbled.

Kakeru slid his eyes open and looked at him.

“Mm?”

Yuki wondered what face he was making — he couldn’t quite feel if he was pouting, or if his brows were furrowed, or if it was something else — but whatever he looked like, Kakeru made some small, cooing chuckle at him. 

“Oh, my god. Don’t look at me like that.” Grinning, he opened up an inviting arm, raising it above Yuki to let him sidle closer. “What’s up? You look like you’re gonna cry.”

Maybe he was. The way his face felt, swimming and spent, he couldn’t tell. He didn’t disregard the opening, though, and once he moved closer, he pressed his ear below the ridge of Kakeru’s collarbone, hand finding a place to rest on the boy’s stomach. Yuki felt a hand brush through his hair.

“Don’t cry." He felt Kakeru press his mouth to crown of his head, and his hand swept down to smooth the space between his shoulders. “Just listen.”

He did. Not just to the music, though, playing from where Kakeru placed his phone down on his hip, but to the heartbeat under his head. The slow breathing, calmed and calming. He listened, closing his eyes and wanting to let his head swim sleepy and falling, but that cramping discontent left him awake. 

Under his ear, the pleasant hum that left Kakeru’s throat sounded hollow. He thought not of that, though. His thoughts drew north, up to where the noise escaped. 

I want to feel that noise again, he thought. He gripped at Kakeru’s shirt, feeling the length of his rib against his finger. In my mouth, against my teeth. Not in the morning, or next week, or never again, but right now.

“Kakeru,” he said, evoking another noise. “Can I kiss you again?”

There was a pause. And then, a little laugh, a shift, signaling Yuki to move. When he did, propping himself up so he hovered just over Kakeru, he was faced with that eye-crinkling grin. 

“Didn’t get enough?”

Yuki felt a warmth creep up his neck, and it must have shown, as the boy’s smile only grew more teasing. But, the look softened a little as Kakeru leaned up to press another kiss to his mouth. Not deep or needy as before, but languid. Drowsy and reassuring.

Yuki kissed him back, and his thoughts quieted. God, he liked it. That was all there was to think — he just liked it.

When they pulled away, Kakeru caught his eye. “You know, you can ask whenever you want. If you’re up for it, anyway.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’d be down.”

Yuki felt a little buzz of warmth light his head, and he smiled a little. “Even when you’re watching your shitty movies?”

“Sure, sure — I’ve seen them a million times before anyway.”

“Hm... Even when you’re in the middle of your chemistry class?”

“God, yeah, but I’d do anything to get out of that fucking class.”

“That’s why you’re failing it.”

“Hey, a D isn’t failing.”

“Well, it sure as hell isn’t passing.”

“Then maybe I need a tutor.” Kakeru reached up to pinch Yuki’s chin. “Maybe I’d do better if you took me out of chem and taught me instead.”

Yuki laughed, feeling a brightness overwhelm him, and that simple thought returned. I like this. I like this.

“Fine. Maybe. But… Even in the morning?” he asked. He reached up to scrub at an eye, and noticed how sore it felt from the long night. “You know, when all of this is over?”

Kakeru quirked a brow, brief, and the humor in his eyes mellowed. Still, he smiled, and chuffed Yuki’s chin.

“Sure. As long as you’ll finally let me make pancakes.”

Yuki smiled back. 

“As long as the fire department doesn’t have to come, deal. Consider it a bribe.”

At that, he sank down to settle again against Kakeru, and Kakeru made room. He pressed his hand into Yuki’s back, and Yuki’s ear fell over an increasingly familiar heartbeat. Yuki closed his eyes, and again, he listened: to the heartbeat, the breathing, slowing and becoming content as Kakeru relaxed. To the music playing down at the boy’s hip. To the birds lingering outside his window, singing phrases he hadn’t heard since he was a child, waking in those early mornings for school. To his thoughts, swirling and dazed and happy, yet melancholy, as he didn’t want sleep to take him just yet.

Just a little longer. Under his hand, he felt Kakeru breathe deep with sleep, and in that moment he feared who they might be when they woke. Just in case, he thought, let me hang onto this for a little longer.