The March wind howled outside the auditorium. Maybe it was his melancholy mood, but Taichi thought it sounded a little lonely. He fidgeted with his gown. Futaba, two seats away, flashed him a shy smile. Taichi supposed it was natural to feel a bit melancholic. He was graduating, he was stepping into his future, starting the rest of his life. He was leaving his friends. He was leaving Futaba.
Touma, always so attuned to Taichi’s mood, turned from his seat to give Taichi a thumbs up and his trademark cheerful grin. A few heads turned, a rush of mutters flared up. Taichi smiled back, his stomach twisting in knots. That new guilt of not returning Touma’s feeling reared its head again. Taichi knew it was ridiculous, but he could not help but feel that he was the reason the other students whispered and sneered at Touma.
The commencement ceremony came and went. His mom and dad were on him like flies, pressing for pictures of him, him and Futaba, him and the squad, him and Touma. They eventually got tired of him and wandered off, probably to bother their friends’ children.
The auditorium slowly thinned out. Yorkie went off to have dinner with his family, Mon rushed off to his shift at the internet cafe, and Omega disappeared with his girlfriend. Eventually, Taichi somehow found himself with Futaba, Touma, and Masumi, amicably chatting.
“Have you found a place to stay yet?” Futaba asked Touma, “Isn’t it a little hard?”
“Yeah, I’m still looking,” Touma laughed, “I think I might have to get some roommates. Landlords aren’t too excited to rent to a kid just fresh outta highschool.”
Taichi pouted, “I don’t like that. You and roommates.”
“Well, you can’t just trust some random strangers!” Taichi said, “What if your roommates end up being serial killers or vampires or druggies or something. It’s too sketchy, Touma.”
Touma burst into a fit of laughter, sending Futaba into giggles as well. Taichi huffed. His concerns were valid, yet two of the most important people in his life seemed intent on trivializing him. Fine then. Let them laugh.
Masumi said nothing, looking at Taichi strangely. Maybe it was smart to change the subject.
Touma whipped around, face cracking into a smile. Some members of the baseball team had arrived, carrying shopping bags bursting with snacks and drinks.
“Congratulations, Senpai!” One of them, dark haired and broody eyed, hooked an arm around Touma’s neck. Taichi vaguely remembered him; Einosuke, the one at the fireworks festival. The others crowded around Touma, passing bottles of ramune soda around and clapping his back. Touma smiled big and wide, shining brightly, laughing along with his teammates. Taichi suddenly felt awkward, like he was intruding. He looked away.
“So what are you two going to do now?” Masumi asked, motioning to him and Futaba.
“About what?” Futaba piped up.
“University. You’re going to Hokudai, aren’t you Futaba?”
Taichi flinched. Sure, they’d talked about long distance, promised to video call once a week, text everyday, but it was all uncharted territory. So many things could go wrong. Taichi was nervous, so nervous; they were moving forward into a huge void of uncertainty, and he wasn’t sure about how he was supposed to navigate all of this. Sometimes, he wished the future didn’t come so fast.
“Taichi and I have decided to stay together,” Futaba said confidently. Masumi smiled and nodded, a little sad around the eyes.
“We’re gonna figure it out,” Taichi added, “We’ll call and text. Visit for the holidays. Other people have done it right?”
He took Futaba’s hand in his, relishing in the familiar fluttery feeling in his stomach whenever they made physical contact. Even now, after months of dating, they were still shy around each other. It was nice, actually. Taichi hoped they could stay like that for a long time.
“Hey, Masumi,” Futaba said, “The cherry blossoms are going to bloom earlier than usual this year, do you want to go to a viewing with me?”
Masumi shook her head, “I can’t, need to prepare for the move to university. Don’t you have to do that as well?”
Futaba nodded, a blush blooming over her face. It was incredibly cute. Even now, Taichi could not get over how much she looked like a hamster, with her big round eyes and chubby cheeks. Before he could stop himself, Taichi reached over and patted Futaba on the head.
“I’ll help you pack, and we can go see the cherry blossoms together. If you want.”
“Really? Okay! That sounds-” A notification chime from her phone interrupted her sentence, Futaba dropping his hand to check the text. She looked up and smiled apologetically.
“My parents are here to pick me up. Masumi, do you need a ride?” Masumi nodded. Futaba turned to talk to Taichi, “I’ll text you the details. See you later Taichi!”
“Bye Futaba,” he called. There was no one else he knew around but Touma and his baseball friends. He sent his parents a text, asking where they were. His mom replied quickly, apologizing profusely for taking off so hastily to get his dad back home. Apparently he had a bad case of the stomach flu. Taichi sighed. Guess he was going to have to walk home.
“Touma!” he called, “I’m leaving now, I’ll see you later.”
“Wait!” came the reply. Touma turned and muttered something to his teammates before jogging up and falling into step beside Taichi, “Are you walking back? Seiya went off to the hospital to look after Akiko.”
“Yeah I’m walking back. Congrats on your nephew, by the way.”
Touma grinned warmly at Taichi, “He’s so cute. His face is kinda scrunchy like Seiya’s though.”
Taichi laughed, “That’s because they’re related!”
“Does my face do that too?”
“Only when you pout.”
As if on cue, Touma’s face squeezed into a pout, making Taichi double over in laughter. He staggered into Touma, leaning into the familiar warmth. Their laughter slowly died. Touma untangled himself from Taichi, a hand scratching the back of his head.
They walked on in silence. Taichi could not tell if it was awkward or amicable. Something was weighing on his mind, pricking at his consciousness like little burs.
“What are you gonna do about where you’re gonna stay?” Touma asked, “For Meidai?”
“Hmm? We’re looking at places. They’re all kind of expensive, though,” Taichi sighed, “I’m not sure how we’re gonna…”
And then the epiphany hit. The thing that was nagging at his mind, the solution was obvious to him now. Taichi turned to look at Touma head on, a determined set to his face.
“Touma, let’s rent a place together.”
“Let’s be roommates?”
“What?” Touma said. He stepped back, a small flush on his face, “What are you-”
“Look Touma, I don’t want you to end up living with some strangers you don’t know. It’s not safe! It-” Taichi took a deep breath, trying to find his words, “It bothers me, ok?”
They stood there for a moment, not saying anything to each other. Touma shuffled in place, looking at his feet. The mole crickets hummed. A dog barked. One of the streetlights needed fixing, flickering on and off in irregular intervals.Taichi didn’t realize his hands had balled into fists. He relaxed them, slowly.
Touma finally spoke, still not meeting Taichi’s gaze, “Look Taichi, I… You… We can’t-”
“Did you find a job?”
“Did you already find a job? That’s why you don’t want to?”
“No,” Touma sighed, “I’m still looking.”
“Then we can look for places near Meidai and you can try to find a job there. You still wanna move out, right? So you can live freely”
Touma muttered something inaudible under his breath. Taichi’s brows furrowed. He stepped forward, trying to hear what his friend was saying. He heard a sigh. Then Touma looked up, finally making eye contact again.
“Alright. Let’s do it,” Touma said. There was a strange, resigned quality to his voice, but Taichi could not help but feel relieved.
Taichi spun on his heels and the two of them started walking again.
“So we’re getting a cat, right?” Taichi said after a beat of silence.
“What?” Touma said, “No, a dog.”
“You’re moving in with Touma?” Futaba gasps, “That sounds like fun!”
“It’s just plans for now,” Taichi said casually, “We still have to find a place that’s cheap enough. What about you? What’s your housing situation like?”
“I’m staying with some family in Hokkaido,” Futaba said, sipping on her soda.
Taichi sighed, “That’s good. Would’ve been worse if I had to worry about you living with strangers too.”
Their picnic blanket was spread out under one of the blooming cherry trees, the remnant of the spread Futaba prepared scattered around them. The late March air was crisp, carrying the fluttering petals in swirls around them. Other people milled about atop their own blankets.
“Have you figured out what you want to study yet?” Futaba asked, setting her soda down.
Taichi sighed, “No, not really.” It was one of the thousand unknowns that plagued him at night, that twisted his nerves and pounced on him when he least expected it. That uncertain future, like jumping into a bottomless pit.
He desperately needed to change the subject, “Me and Touma fought over pets.”
Futaba burst out laughing, pulling Taichi into her laughter too.
“Can you guys even get pets? In an apartment?” she asked between giggles.
“That’s why I told him we should get a cat!” he exclaimed, “It’s easier to hide a cat!”
Eventually, they tired themselves out. The wind started up, lifting a flourish of petals into the air. Beside him, Futaba gasped, focused on the beauty of the swirling cherry blossoms. Her eyes shone in the morning light, soft and happy and beautiful. The pit in Taichi’s stomach settled, the fear of the future forgotten for a minute. For a moment, he was filled with a wave of hope. They were going to work out, somehow.
“This is nice,” Futaba said softly.
Taichi nodded, a small smile on his lips. He covered Futaba’s hand with his own.
“I wish we could stay like this forever,” she said.
Touma found a job before they found an apartment, with a construction firm near the university. They managed to find a place only one stop away from the university by train, close enough for them to visit home often if they wanted. A total steal, according to Seiya.
The building was on the quieter side of town, tucked between a bar and a curry takeout place. A reason why rent was so cheap; the noise from the bar meant most people passed on the building. Touma had laughed when Taichi mentioned the noise. He was a heavy sleeper; they both were. A little noise for an affordable place was a fair tradeoff.
With their families pitching in, it was easy to get an apartment with separate bedrooms. Einosuke, Seiya, and Akiko showed up to help them move, the rest of their friends too busy with their own moving plans to pitch in. They had all of Touma’s things carried in when they found Taichi still struggling to hoist his first box up the stairs. They’d laughed and sent Taichi, grumbling, upstairs to help Akiko with the dusting.
He was busy putting away the dishes when the three of them returned, glistening with sweat. Akiko had a pitcher of iced tea on the table. Taichi watched as Touma and Einosuke reached for the pitcher at the same time.
“Senpai, I got it,” Einosuke said quietly. He poured a glass and handed it to Touma, and then one for himself.
“Hey, you brat,” Seiya called, “Where’s mine? I worked just as hard as you two.”
Einosuke smiled apologetically and poured Seiya his own glass. Touma slung an arm around Einosuke’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear. They laughed.
Taichi turned back to the dishes, a strange tightness in his chest.
“She hasn’t texted me back,” Taichi sighed, head drooping over the pile of homework spread out over his desk.
“She’s probably busy,” Touma said, patting his after shower hair dry with a towel. He glanced down at his phone and smiled.
Taichi looked up at Touma and pouted, “Whatcha smiling at?”
“Einosuke texted me. He’s asking if I want to go see a movie this weekend,” Touma said, a small smile across his face. He was flushed, but Taichi couldn’t tell if it was from the shower or the text. He did not want to find out.
Grumbling, Taichi pushed himself up from the table, slinking over to their kitchen to rummage for something to eat. He groaned when he remembered that neither of them knew how to cook, their fridge empty and their pantry bursting with instant ramen.
“Man, I should’ve asked if you knew how to cook,” Taichi sighed, grabbing a ramen packet from the pile and heading over to their water heater.
“We can always learn,” Touma called from the couch, where he was texting away on his phone.
“Not like either one of us have the time,” Taichi said, “I’ve got classes and you’ve got work.” He poured the hot water into his bowl of ramen and covered it.
“We’ll hire a cook then,” Touma said.
Taichi snorted, “Sure, and a maid and butler too while we’re at it.”
Touma twisted around on the couch to face Taichi. His hair was still a little damp, dripping on their couch. Taichi thanked the gods that they had the foresight to get something pleather and not upholstered.
“I can learn, Taichi.”
“I don’t know, you’re always exhausted after work,” Taichi said. It was true. When Touma returned from the construction site, he would just shower, eat, and then pass out after going on his phone for a few minutes. From the way his eyes were drooping now, Taichi figured it wouldn’t be long before Touma retired to his bedroom. It left little room for Touma to do much else.
“I could pick up cooking as a hobby,” Touma laughed, “All I do is work and sleep. Plus, you need actual food if you’re gonna survive university.”
Taichi grunted. University had been a tough transition, the classes harder and requiring more independence than he was used to in high school. He was struggling to keep up his grades, and he supposed it showed. It was ironic how he expected university to be easier, with the pressure of making good marks to make it into university in the first place gone, but now he was struggling just to not fail. He still didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated. If he graduated.
“Are you gonna ask Einosuke out?” Taichi asked suddenly, desperate to talk about something else, anything else.
Touma’s face morphed to something soft and wistful. He nodded, “Yeah. I think so.”
Taichi turned back to his ramen. It was a little overcooked. He opened the lid and began slurping, trying to ignore the uncomfortable squeeze of his chest. He didn’t know why he was feeling so weird about this. It was Touma, his best friend, finally choosing his own happiness. He should be glad.
“Good for you, Touma.”
“You’re living with who!?” Yorkie said, almost yelling at Taichi.
Taichi sighed, “It’s just Touma. You know, my best friend. That I’ve known since we were kids.”
“Who’s also in love with you!” Yorkie said, “God, Taichi, are you actually stupid?”
“I didn’t want him to live with strangers, okay? You know how dangerous that is?” Taichi retorted, glaring at Yorkie, “Plus he’s dating Einosuke now. He’s over me.”
Yorkie huffed and leaned back, taking a sip of his smoothie. It was summer vacation and many of their old classmates were back in town for the break. Taichi had met up with Yorkie, Mon, and Omega, gossiping and complaining about university life. Mon wanted to drop out and go to culinary school. Omega’s broken up with his girlfriend and met someone new in his physics class. Yorkie was starting a twitch channel. Mon and Omega had excused themselves and left first, leaving Yorkie to grill Taichi about his life decisions.
“Although,” Taichi said quietly, “I feel a little weird around Einosuke, you know? Does that make me a bad person?”
“Seriously? Taichi, you’re so dense,” Yorkie sighed. He stirred at his smoothie angrily, shooting daggers at Taichi.
“He’s still my friend, Yorkie. He’s just my friend.”
Yorkie gaped at him. Taichi could feel the waves of judgment rolling off his friend. Thankfully, Yorkie finally showed some mercy and changed the subject.
“So, how are things with Futaba?” Nevermind, Yorkie was out to get him today.
“It’s been fine. Perfectly fine.”
Sure, sometimes they missed their weekly calls because one of them was busy. Sure, their texts for the past month have just been “good morning” and “good night.” Sure, sometimes Taichi felt hurt when Masumi mentioned how much Futaba talked to her. But it was fine.
“You’re an idiot, Taichi,” Yorkie said, slurping his drink loudly.
“Hey, I’m still your friend, Yorkie,” Taichi whined, offended, “You know what, you’re paying for the drinks.”
“Wait! That’s not fair, I’m a broke student.”
“I am too!”
They both burst out laughing, turning a few heads in the crowded cafe. Taichi sighed into his drink. Seemed like he was doing a lot of sighing lately.
“Hey, Yorkie,” he muttered, “Have you figured out what you want to do after university?”
“No clue. You?”
Taichi shook his head.
Yorkie nodded in understanding, “Some people go on and on about loving your job or whatever, but that’s kinda bad advice you know.”
He went on, looking wistfully out the window, “The way I see it, as long as you love the other things in your life, like your friends, your lover, your hobbies, video games, you don’t need to love your job. A job is just how you make money, you know? So you don't starve.”
Taichi frowned, “What are you going on about, Yorkie?”
“I’m just saying. Maybe you could just find the highest paying gig you can with your degree and enjoy life after your hours at the office. Something like that. Less stress thinking about what you wanna do.”
“Think on it, yeah? I gotta go,” Yorkie slapped a few bills on the table and slurped up the dredges of his smoothie, “Gotta stream some TFT in fifteen minutes. Guess how many subscribers I have now?”
“No, screw you, I have twelve!” Yorkie said, lightly punching Taichi in the shoulder, “I hope you can figure out your life, Taichi.”
“Did Touma really set off the sprinklers in your building?” Futaba gasped, “What was he doing?”
“Trying to make takoyaki,” Taichi laughed, “He’s learning how to cook, even though I told him not to. The place smelled like burned octopus for weeks, Futaba. My notes were ruined.”
Futaba gasped again, “For what class?”
“Economics. I thought I texted you about this?”
Futaba nodded, “But it’s more fun to hear about it in person.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Oh, anywhere you want.”
Futaba tapped open her phone and giggled. Taichi pouted, “Who’s texting you?”
“Oh! It’s just Masumi,” Futaba said cheerfully, “She’s telling me about this girl she met in class. I’m so happy for her, you know? I think they might work out.”
Taichi nodded wordlessly. A part of him, an ugly, wretched feeling that he tried his best to ignore, demanded to know why she could not give him that kind of attention. He knew she was busy with classes and extracurriculars and her part time job, but it seemed like she always had time for Masumi and not for him. He supposed that was because Masumi was her best friend. But he was her boyfriend. Touma split his time perfectly between Taichi and Einosuke.
“Taichi, what’s wrong?” Futaba asked.
“I-It’s nothing, Futaba. It’s nothing. Let’s just enjoy our time together, yeah? Before you have to go back to Hokudai.”
“Ok! So, where are you going to take me?”
Taichi thought for a moment, his mind blanking. Finally, he settled on a place, “There’s a curry place next to my apartment. Touma likes it. Let’s go there.”
Futaba nodded, her expression unreadable. That was another development that did not sit well with Taichi, how hard it was to understand what went on in her head now. He sighed, turning to Futaba, “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Taichi.”
“Are you sure? Are you not in the mood for curry? We can go somewhere else if you want.”
Futaba shook her head, “No, curry sounds great, Taichi! Let’s go, yeah?”
“Futaba, are you sure everything’s fine?”
“Yes, Taichi, I’m sure.”
Taichi dragged himself back to the apartment. He has spent the last few days doing nothing but study, yet when he sat down in Economics and started working on his test, it still felt like he knew absolutely nothing. His feet felt like lead as he made his way up the stairs to their door. There was no way he passed. No way.
He checked his phone. Four unanswered calls, ten unread texts, all from him to Futaba. He considered calling her again, but what was the point? Their last fight, if he could even call it that, was cut short by Futaba’s friend pestering her to go to the movies. No conclusion, no closure, just their feelings left unresolved because of other obligations. Again.
Taichi slumped into the apartment. He was vaguely aware of Touma sprawled on the couch, of his own hunger, but he was too exhausted to do anything about either. He nodded vaguely in Touma’s direction before dragging himself to his room and collapsing on the bed.
He didn’t know how long he was lying there by the time Touma came knocking. He didn’t reply.
“Taichi? Dinner’s ready. Taichi?”
He thought he mumbled something, but Touma still opened the door, eyes going wide at Taichi staring up at the ceiling. In one stride Touma was by Taichi’s side, a gentle arm on his shoulder.
“Taichi? What’s wrong, Taichi?” Touma’s hand slowly maneuvered to Taichi’s back, coaxing him into a sitting position. Touma was rubbing small circles into his back, his voice low and soothing. Taichi wondered what he did to deserve a friend this good.
“Was it the test you were studying for? Did it not go well?”
Taichi shook his head, “No, it wasn’t the test.” He paused for a moment before sighing, “Well, the test wasn’t all of it.”
He leaned into Touma. Touma felt safe and warm, he felt dependable. A constant presence, comforting, just like when they were little kids. Taichi sighed and let a tear fall. Then another, then another. Touma just sat there and patted his back. It was what he needed. Touma always knew just what he needed.
“Sorry I’m crying into your shirt,” Taichi said, a little shaky.
“It’s fine, Taichi, it’s fine,” Touma said gently.
They stayed like that for a long while before Taichi finally cried himself out. There were two wet splotches on Touma’s shirt. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, smiling at Touma apologetically.
“Touma, did you leave something on the stove?”
Touma laughed, “No, I took the fried rice off before coming in to check on you.”
“Oh, it’s probably cold now. Sorry.”
Touma gently guided Taichi up, “It’s fine, we can always heat it up.”
“I think I’m going to break up with Futaba.”
Touma just nodded. He pulled Taichi into another tight embrace. Taichi sighed against his friend’s shoulder, leaning into the hug, relishing in Touma’s reassuring warmth. They just stood there, wrapped in each other, as the minutes went by. The rice was stone cold when they finally got to the dinner table.
“Touma? Hello? I’m coming in!”
Taichi did not move from his spot on the couch. He flipped through the TV channels, settling on some strange documentary about a mustachioed tiger enthusiast, and shoveled another spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.
“Taichi? Oh my goodness, Taichi, what happened to you?”
One Mami Yagihara plopped down on the couch next to him, gently prying Taichi’s finger from the spoon. She looked around the room with concern. There was another empty ice cream carton next to the one Taichi was currently attacking, his hair was even more disheveled than usual, and he was ninety percent sure he was wearing the same shirt from three days ago. Taichi slowly maneuvered himself up to a sitting position.
“Sorry about the mess,” he muttered.
“God, what is Touma even doing, letting you get like this?” Mami grumbled.
“He tried,” Taichi said weakly. Touma really did, tried dragging Taichi to class, to the shower, to do anything, really. He'd just sat there like a rock until Touma left.
“Oh, so that’s the problem he needed my help with,” Mami said, “Alright, Taichi Ichinose, what happened. Spill.”
Taichi made a few vague gestures, staring blanking ahead, “Futaba,” he muttered. He didn’t really want to think about the break up.
“Oh…” Mami trailed off, “Well, you gotta pick yourself up eventually, right?”
“I don’t know,” Taichi muttered. Even though he was the one that ended the relationship, he still felt so hurt. Empty. He had no energy to do anything. He didn’t even know what day it was.
“At least do it for Touma,” Mami said, “He looked so worried, you know? And God, you guys live together. You live together! At least have the decency to pick up after yourself! Don’t drag Touma into your problems like this!”
Taichi looked up. He looked around the room, suddenly overwhelmed with guilt.
“Taichi, look at yourself. Look at this place,” Mami pressed on, “You think Touma deserves any of this?”
“No,” Taichi said quietly. He stood up, picked up the empty carton of ice cream, and went to the kitchen to throw it away. Then he returned and started picking up the crumpled tissues and photos that littered the ground. Mami stood up in a fluid motion and dusted herself off.
“Well, looks like my job here is done,” she said with satisfaction, “Remember to shower, Taichi.”
“I’m just helping Touma out, Taichi,” she muttered.
“Do you know anything about starting a business?”
Taichi looked up from his homework, “I know some basic principles, why?”
Touma smiled bashfully, his hand moving to scratch the back of his head. An old quirk of Touma’s, now even more obvious to Taichi since they’ve become roommates.
“Well, I’m thinking about starting my own shop, you know?” Touma said, “Construction is dangerous and draining. Einosuke doesn’t like worrying about me.”
Touma gestured to a scar on his forearm, from a janky nail grazing his skin while he was on site. Taichi nodded. He worried about Touma too, especially when a particularly nasty construction accident made it on the news. Taichi couldn’t help but imagine Touma in those situations, Touma falling from a rickety scaffold or getting hit on the head by a stray iron beam. Though he was a little miffed that it took Einosuke to finally convince Touma to change jobs, even though he has been grilling Touma basically from the moment he started working.
“I can help you work out the details,” Taichi said, “I’m happy, you know. I’ve never really liked you doing something that dangerous anyways.”
Touma laughed, “Do you care about me or do you just want to keep me around for my cooking?”
Taichi huffed, “You’re my friend, you idiot.” Granted, Touma’s cooking has improved manifold since that first takoyaki fire. Their fridge was actually stocked with groceries now, the ramen stash in the cupboards reserved for emergencies. Taichi was forever grateful, even if Touma always tried to sneak something healthy into his meals.
“So,” Taichi said, “What do you want to sell?”
“I don’t know, honestly,” Touma said, “Food? A restaurant?”
Taichi frowned, “I don’t know, you’ve gotten better at cooking, but can you compete with the established places?”
Touma nodded, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m gonna have to think about it. Einosuke had a few ideas too, but I don’t know how feasible a store that only caters to baseball players is.”
“Well, you keep thinking about it. I need a break from all this math.”
Taichi stood, grabbing the remote and flipping through the TV channels. A variety show, Doraemon reruns, a livestream of some idol group’s concert. He finally settled on the new episode of My Hero Academia. He hasn’t been able to keep up since university started, but a bit of good old superhero fun is just what Taichi needed right now.
Touma made his way over to the couch, sprawling across from Taichi. He smiled softly, letting the over the top shonen yelling fill the space of the room.
“This brings back memories,” Touma said softly.
“Yeah,” Taichi replied.
“Remember the battle pencils? And the game of life?”
“Best friend power.”
Something wistful passed over Touma’s features before he suddenly sat up, grabbing Taichi’s hand. He was jubilant, grinning like he was a dog that just found the biggest bone in the world.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed, “A toyshop! Taichi, I’m going to open a toyshop.”
“You’ve always had a knack for making games, yeah?” Touma said, “Well, I’m pretty good with my hands. I know a few guys at the site that could hook me up with manufacturers. A store where we sell the games you came up with. Imagine how many people we can make happy? I can do it, Taichi.”
Touma looked so excited, launching into detail about which of their childhood games he was going to stock the store with, how he was going to decorate the store, promising properties that he can use as the store’s location. A warm feeling bubbled in Taichi’s chest. He went along, explaining to Touma the financial details of starting a small business. Touma was opening a toy store. It made Taichi so happy to see his friend thriving.
Taichi was on his way back to his apartment after a group project. He was about to finish his second year of university now, after finally finding his footing. His grades weren’t the best, but he was no longer struggling to just pass his classes. It’s been months since the break up, weeks since Touma signed the lease for the building he’s been eyeing for his toy store. Taichi’s already been given a tour. It was nice, enough space for multiple elaborate displays but small enough to still be manageable, with that mom and pop feel to its exterior.
He’s been handling life without Futaba pretty decently. Touma has been breathing down his neck about selfcare after the break up. It’s helped, a little.
The crickets chirped happily, the streets relatively empty of people. The night air was cool and crisp, with a hint of the chill that ushered in the start of autumn. As he walked to his block, a familiar face came into view.
“Seiya, how are you doing?”
Touma’s brother turned and greeted Taichi, “Hey, brat, isn’t it a little late for you to be out?”
“I had a group project to do. What are you here for?”
“I gotta talk to Touma.”
Taichi nodded, “Alright, I’ll let you in.”
They walked up the steps, Taichi’s keys jangling in his pocket, the pounding of the bass from the bar next door reverberating in their ears.
“Is it always this bad?” Seiya moaned.
“It’s okay once you're inside the apartment,” Taichi replied.
He opened the door. The living room was expectedly dark, Touma usually asleep by this hour. He’ll have to go wake Touma up and tell him Seiya was here, probably. Taichi fumbled around for the light switch.
The light turned on. Touma was on the couch, Einosuke on top of him, sucking on his lips like it was his source of oxygen. They looked over at Taichi and Seiya at the same time, faces beet red. Einosuke quickly scrambled off Touma. They were both clothed, thankfully, but Taichi could still feel his face heat up and his heart sink to his feet.
“Um, I, uh…” Einosuke sputtered, wringing his hands.
Touma quickly threw a protective arm over his boyfriend’s shoulder, “We were gonna move it to the bedroom, I swear.”
“We’re sorry,” Einosuke added.
Taichi stood there, frozen, unable to form words. Seiya shook his head, motioning to Touma, “Look, just let me talk to Touma for a minute.”
Einosuke nodded, untangling himself from Touma and heading to his bedroom. Seiya glared at his retreating form before motioning at Touma to sit at the kitchen counter. Touma slowly walked over, hand scratching the back of his neck the entire time. His nervous tic.
“I’m not here to grill you about that,” Seiya said, vaguely gesturing in the direction Einosuke retreated. Touma visibly relaxed, hand dropping to his lap.
“We need to talk about your new business.”
“What about it?” Touma asked.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Seiya asked, “Shouldn’t you work for a few more years, save up the capital in case it fails?”
“I know I’m taking a big risk,” Touma said, “But I can’t really do much else and construction is too dangerous. I’ll figure it out, Seiya.”
“What brought this on anyways? You didn’t seem too concerned when me and Akiko told you to do anything but construction,” Seiya glared at Touma, “Was it because of that boy?”
“It wasn’t just Einosuke,” Taichi suddenly said, finding his voice, “I nagged him about it too.”
Seiya raised an eyebrow, but did not say anything. Taichi continued, “I’m helping him with the shop too. I’m studying economics. And when I graduate, I’ll get a steady job. If the shop fails, Touma can have me as a fallback.”
“Isn’t it gonna take two more years for you to graduate?”
“Is Touma going to give up that fast?” Taichi shot back. They glared at each other for a moment, neither one saying anything. Taichi stood his ground, gaze unwavering, a determined set to his jaw. Touma fidgeted on the kitchen counter. The air was thick with tension, neither Taichi nor Seiya willing to back down.
Finally, Touma broke the silence, “Seiya, do you want anything to drink?”
“No, I’m fine, I was just leaving.”
“I’ll see you out,” Taichi said. Touma sat at the counter, watching as Taichi led Seiya to the door. There was still a palpable tension between the two of them, making the hair on Taichi’s neck rise. For some reason, he felt an overwhelming sense of protectiveness over Touma’s goal. Butting heads with Seiya was nothing new, but the two of them usually conceded to Seiya pretty quickly. Something about this, though, was different. Taichi was determined to see this through. With Touma.
On his way out, Seiya turned to Taichi and sighed, “I guess you guys are adults now. You can make your own decisions. But a lot can change in two years, Taichi. Keep that in mind.”
He turned on his heels and left.
Touma was upgrading his cooking game. He wanted to try making actual udon broth today, instead of the usual instant stuff he used whenever they craved something soupy. But since he was too busy with finalizing the inventory for the toy shop, grocery duties fell on Taichi. Most of the ingredients were easy enough to find, but Taichi never paid close attention to grocery store layouts and was struggling to locate the kombu.
It was Masumi who saw him first, tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention, “Hello Taichi, funny running into you here.”
“Oh, Masumi, how are you?” His stomach dropped a little. He was surprised that she was still talking to him. Taichi did not really know what Futaba told Masumi after they separated, how she viewed him now. Probably not well, he broke up with her best friend.
“I’m doing good. What are you looking for?” She asked amicably.
“Oh, just kombu,” Taichi answered, “Touma wanted to try making udon broth from scratch.”
“He told me about that. He started picking up cooking, right?” Masumi said, “Makes sense, must have been terrible those first few months when neither of you could make any rice.”
“Hey, I know how to make rice now.”
“Because Touma nagged you to, right?”
Taichi pouted. She was not exactly wrong. Taichi knew that Touma still kept in close touch with Masumi, that they were pretty close. He supposed it must be because of how similar their situations were, how they were both in love with their best friends once. A pang of guilt shot through his chest. At least Touma was happy with Einosuke now. He was glad Touma moved on, even though he still felt awkward around Einosuke sometimes. All the time, actually. He wondered how Masumi was doing on that front.
“Futaba,” shit, probably not the greatest thing to segue into. But he was committed now, “Um, before… She told me that you met a girl. How’s that going?”
“Oh, Yukiko?” Masumi said. A fond smile spread over her face, “She’s sweet. She gets flustered easily, it’s really fun to tease her. Her taste in movies is good, she’s introspective. She lets me take care of her and she takes care of me.”
“Are you guys…”
“No, not yet,” Masumi replied easily, “We’re taking it slow.”
They fell into silence. Masumi reached over Taichi to grab a bottle of soy sauce. He opened his mouth, a question on his lips, but the words died before they could come out. He clamped his mouth shut.
“You want to ask about Futaba, right?” Masumi asked. Taichi nodded, not meeting her gaze.
“She’s doing fine. You didn’t mess her up that much,” Masumi said, “If you did, I’d have killed you already. Take care of yourself, yeah? And tell Touma to take care of himself too.”
Taichi nodded again.
“I think I saw the kombu two aisles over. I’ll see you around, Taichi.”
“Thanks, Masumi. See you around.”
She nodded and turned on her heels. He stood there still, even after Masumi left, looking at the space where she once was. He did not know why, but he felt lighter. Relieved.
“Thanks,” Taichi whispered, to no one at all.
The apartment reeked of alcohol. Taichi scrunched up his nose, trying to minimize his exposure to the scent. The lights were on, at least. He can survey the damage easier. Taichi gingerly made his way to the living room, a strange sense of dread flooding his stomach.
Touma was doubled over on the table, deathly quiet, smelling more like booze than human. An empty sake bottle rested on its side next to him, surrounded by dirty shot glasses. There was a pile of wet tissues on the ground. There were sake droplets all over the floor and the table. Some shattered glass was strewn around Touma’s feet.
Taichi stared, mouth agape, not sure how he was supposed to react. Touma made a strangled noise, reaching out towards the cups.
“That’s enough, Touma. There’s none left,” Taichi found himself saying.
Touma grunted in response, lolling his head back and rubbing his eyes. His face was red, so red, lips parted into an o, tear streaked and grimy. Taichi quickly moved to the couch next to Touma, a tentative hand on his arm. Touma didn’t flinch away. That’s good.
“What happened?” No response. Taichi tried again, “Touma?” He looked over to Touma, at his sake stained shirt and ragged breathing. His heart squeezed in his chest. He hated this, seeing Touma falling apart before his eyes. A strangled noise escaped the other man. Taichi flinched.
“Touma… Touma, whatever happened, I’m here, okay?” Taichi choked out, finding his own eyes wet with tears. He was scared, scared for Touma, scared to find out what made him like this.
"I'm here, Touma. Tell me what's wrong. Please. Please, Touma."
He heard Touma let out a ragged sigh, “Einosuke broke up with me.”
“Touma...Touma…” Taichi muttered. He moved to wrap his arm around the other boy. Touma’s arm slowly went up, pulling Taichi into the hug. He buried his face into Taichi’s shoulder. Taichi thought he could hear Touma sigh into his shirt.
They sat there on the couch, inside their apartment, with only Touma’s breathing and the muffled music from the bar next door being the only sounds. Touma was warm. A shot glass rolled off the table and shattered on the ground. Touma flinched, and Taichi hugged him tighter.
He stretched, trying to reach for more and more of Touma. He wished he was bigger, so he could envelop Touma, make him feel safe like how the other boy made Taichi feel safe. He settled for nuzzling in a little closer to Touma.
“Thanks, Taichi. I-I gotta clean up-”
“We can do it later,” Taichi said, “Let’s just stay here.”
He leaned in closer, unwilling to let Touma go. Touma melted into the hug, sniffling softly. Taichi rubbed small circles on Touma’s back, trying to comfort the shaking man. His friend needed him.
“So you’re telling me,” Yorkie said slowly, “That you found your roommate mad drunk after he broke up with his boyfriend.”
“Who you never liked.”
“And then you two cuddled for two and a half hours.”
“And then you slept in the same bed. And you were big spoon.”
Taichi groaned, “Yes, Yorkie.”
“And you haven’t stopped thinking about him since.”
“Yorkie, you can’t just put it like that-”
Yorkie planted his face into his palm, groaning loudly, “Taichi, why are you like this?”
“Why am I like what, Yorkie?”
Yorkie rolled his eyes. He took an angry bite of his hamburger, glaring at Taichi the whole time. Taichi picked at his fries.
“Alright, Taichi, what comes to mind when you think of Touma?” Yorkie said after gulping down his bite.
“He’s my best friend,” Taichi said automatically, “He’s the kindest person I know. The wisest. The strongest. He deserves the world. He deserves to be happy. I… I want to make him happy.”
“You’re in love with him.”
“Yorkie! He’s just… a friend. My best friend.”
“No, Taichi, I’m your best friend, you’re in love with Touma,” Yorkie groaned. He aggressively sipped at his soda before jabbing a finger in Taichi’s face, “Taichi, I know you know how you feel.”
“You're wrong, I don’t okay?” Taichi said, swatting Yorkie’s hand away, “I’ve been trying to figure it all for weeks, Yorkie, that’s why I called you. I’m terrible at stuff like this. Look at how long it took for me to figure out Futaba.”
“Alright. Try this,” Yorkie sighed, “Think about me, yeah? Now let’s say… Let’s say I started dating Mami. How would you feel?”
“I’d be happy for you guys,” Taichi said instantly, “Especially for you, since you’re so hopeless with girls.”
Yorkie rolled his eyes, “Alright, now try this. Think about Touma dating Mami. Pretend for a moment that they’re in love, right? They go on dates, all that stuff. How do you feel.”
Taichi went quiet. For a moment, he tried to imagine it. Touma holding hands with Mami. Touma taking Mami on dates. Touma kissing Mami. It felt wrong, like it wasn’t actually Touma he was seeing with Mami, but someone else, someone who looked like Touma. It felt fundamentally wrong.
Taichi shook his head, “I can’t. It doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel like Touma, you know?”
Yorkie nodded, “You’re right. Bad example. Alright, how about you imagine that I started dating Touma. How would you feel?”
Taichi’s stomach twisted. His heart dropped to the bottom of his shoes. The thought of Touma just holding Yorkie’s hand made his chest go tight. He realized, with dread, that this is how he felt when Touma dated Einosuke, why he tried to avoid the apartment when the two of them were together. Why he was never comfortable around Touma’s boyfriend. He looked up at Yorkie.
“I figured it out.”
“Yeah, took you long enough.”
He was in love with Touma.
“Are you sure this is what you’re supposed to do?” Taichi asked, adjusting the tie on his borrowed suit. Mami nodded, brushing away a few strands of his unruly hair.
“Not really, I never did the asking. Boys always asked me out first,” Mami said. She fingered the long strand of his hair in her hand, “You should really cut this. Come by my place sometimes, I can practice on you.”
“Just do it on Yorkie and Mon and Omega, don’t you see them regularly for Yorkie’s twitch channel?” Taichi mumbled, fidgeting with his collar. He didn’t know why he was so nervous. He was just having dinner with his best friend. So he can ask him out. Okay, he had the right to be nervous.
“You know, out of all the guests on Yorkie’s streams, I’m the most popular,” Mami said.
“Well, you’re the only pretty one,” Taichi snorted, “Have you seen Yorkie, Mon, and Omega?”
Mami laughed, “I don’t know Taichi, I heard you’ve never taken him up on his offer. Who knows, I got Yorkie like five hundred new subs when I guest-starred. You can probably grab him a thousand.”
“Yeah, right,” Taichi said, suddenly feeling extremely insecure. Mami sighed and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.
“Look, you got this, okay? I’ll bet my entire new monitor setup that Touma is still in love with you,” She looked up, eyes going wide, “Oh, there’s Touma! I’m gonna make myself scarce. Who knows, if you two get together and do a couple’s special, I bet Yorkie can net himself five thousand new subs. Good luck! Don’t mess up!”
Mami ducked into the kitchen of the restaurant Taichi was currently sitting in. His dated blue suit was a little big around the arms, the small box of chocolates feeling awkward in his lap. Mami had suggested flowers, but he told her it was too much. He was lucky she worked as a waitress here between classes at the beautician school she was attending and was liked enough by the staff that she managed to get them a reservation at a hefty discount. It also helped that Mon was interning here and threw in some employee discounts too. The place was fancy, a little pretentious, housed in a lavish new development in the upscale part of town and frequented by people with the time and money to spare on deconstructed curry. Mami said it was romantic. Taichi just felt out of place.
The light reflecting off the chandelier danced across Touma’s face, highlighting his easy smile as he made his way over to Taichi. He was handsome. Taichi found himself having that thought a lot lately. Touma, his roommate, his best friend, was very handsome. Taichi didn't really know what to do with that information.
Touma sat down, giving Taichi a greeting. The velvet cushions made strange sounds as they fidgeted in their seats.
“So-” Touma said
“Um-” Taichi said at the same time. They laughed awkwardly, neither making a move. Mami must have a sixth sense for this sort of thing or something, because she instantly manifested next to them with their menus and a smile.
“Hi guys! Long time no see,” she said cheerfully, “Here are the menus. Why don’t you go ahead and take a look at what you want to drink today?”
“Hey Mami,” Touma greeted, “It’s good to see you. Just water is fine for me.”
“Me too,” Taichi quickly sputtered.
“Alright, I’ll just take the drinks menu and leave these here for you guys to look at, yeah? I’ll be back to take your orders once you’re ready.”
Mami turned to go back to the kitchen. On the way there, she made a show of dropping the menus next to Taichi, and, as he bent down to help her pick up the laminated sheets, tugged at his ear.
“Listen here,” she roughly whispered, “You better not chicken out on me, okay? Just ask him. Or me and Mon are taking back the employee discounts.”
Taichi gulped and nodded. Mami stood up, apologized for her clumsiness, and shuffled off to the kitchen with a death glare aimed at Taichi’s neck.
Taichi turned back to Touma and laughed nervously, “She’s so clumsy, right?”
“Yeah,” Touma said. He flipped through the menu absentmindedly.
Taichi fidgeted in his seat. How was he supposed to bring this up? Did he even deserve to confess his feelings now? He made Touma wait for so long, he broke Touma’s heart because he was too dumb to realize exactly what he was feeling. Touma probably resented him for it. With everything between them, there was no chance Touma would still feel the same for him.
Taichi fiddled with the menu, flipping through it but not really registering the words. Roe sandwich. Fried ramen sushi. This was a bad idea. A terrible idea. He should just say nothing, leave Touma alone. Let him move on and live his life. Be happy. Taichi had no right to dig up those old feelings now.
“Taichi, are you alright?”
Taichi snapped out of his stupor, looking up at Touma with wide eyes.
“You’re gonna bend the menu,” Touma said. Taichi looked down at his hands, fisted around the reinforced paper. He forced himself to relax. Opened his palms. Exhaled.
Touma reached across the table and gently removed Taichi’s hand from the menu. Taichi jolted in his seat.
“Taichi, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing’s wrong.”
Touma nodded, removing his hand from Taichi’s. He almost reached out to grab Touma’s hand again, desperate for the touch.
“Taichi,” Touma said softly, “What’s the occasion? I mean, this place is super nice, and you even asked me to dress up and everything…”
Touma reached up to loosen his tie. He looked good in the suit, reminding Taichi a bit of their high school uniforms. A sudden wave of nostalgia washed over him. He vaguely wondered what that last year would have been like if he realized this was how he felt sooner. How many more memories he could have made with Touma. Sitting there, across from Touma in a crisp suit and tie, somehow made Taichi feel like he was making up for some of that lost time.
“You look beautiful,” he said without thinking. Taichi instantly wished he could take back those words. He was being a careless fool.
Touma’s eyes went wide, “Taichi, is this-”
“Yeah,” Taichi swallowed, “Yeah. It’s-it’s a…” He trailed off. Touma just sat there, perfectly motionless. The muffled murmurs of the other restaurant patrons faded away, a stillness settling over their table. There was a lump in Taichi’s throat.
There was nothing else he could do now but lay all his cards out on the table. He gulped, found his voice, and spoke quietly, “I think I love you, Touma.”
Touma sat there, his eyes still blown open. He opened his mouth to say something, but no sound came. The dread in Taichi’s gut grew with each passing second. He just made things harder for Touma. He's definitely over Taichi, of course he was. He dated another guy for a few years, why wouldn't he be over Taichi?
They live together. Oh no, they live together, how could he not think of that?
“I’m sorry,” Taichi said quietly, trying to rein in his emotions, “I know I… It’s okay if you don’t feel the same anymore. I’ll move out. You don’t ever have-”
“Taichi,” Touma said, hands shooting out from under the table and grabbing his, “Taichi. You don’t know how long I’ve-” Touma’s voice became watery. He took a deep breath, then he gave Taichi the most beautiful smile he’s ever seen.
“I still love you. I love you, Taichi.”
Taichi let out a sigh of relief. His heart was fluttering in his chest. A feeling of contentment coursed through his body, soft and all encompassing. It surprised him. When he and Futaba first dated, the feeling was more like an explosion of happiness, so much emotion that he could have fainted. It was overwhelming. But Touma was different. Sitting there, in an overpriced restaurant in an ill fitting suit, Touma smiling across the table, holding his hand, it felt right. It felt comfortable.
“Oh, I got something for you,” Taichi said. He reached down with his free hand and pulled up the box of chocolate, handing them to Touma.
Touma’s eyes lit up, crinkling happily under the chandelier light, “Wow, this feels like an actual date, huh. Thank you, Taichi.”
Mami came back just then, notepad in hand, knocking them out of their little bubble. She took a few glances at their faces and grinned, winking at Taichi. For some reason, though, he did not blush. He looked down at their hands, still grasped over the table, and at Touma’s smiling face, suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Touma still loved him. It felt right.
“Are you guys ready to order?” Mami asked.
“Yes,” they said together.
“Are you nervous?” Touma whispered.
“A little,” Taichi admitted, “I’ve never done this…”
“It’s just like kissing Futaba.”
“You think that was any easy?”
“Just close your eyes, Taichi, I promise. I swear it’s just like kissing Futaba.”
Taichi sighed and closed his eyes.
Touma’s lips met his. He tasted like the toothpaste they both used and the chapstick he put on when the weather got dry. Taichi deepened the kiss, giving Touma permission to keep going. A hand was tangled in his hair, then another. Taichi pushed back, letting himself get lost in Touma.
They finally broke apart, gasping for air. Taichi playfully swatted at Touma.
“You lied,” he said in mock annoyance.
“It wasn’t like that at all.”
“It was better.”
College graduation did not really pack the same punch high school graduation did. Taichi supposed that was because he had less to worry about. He had a few interviews lined up at various companies, well paying accounting positions. He had taken Yorkie’s advice to heart. Touma’s toy store was doing well, and Taichi’s game designs were instrumental to its success. He had a hobby, he had a wonderful boyfriend, his job is just a way for him to support that. It was nice, too, to have Touma be able to depend on him for once. If his past self from four years ago saw him now, he would probably faint.
Touma’s cheering had been the loudest when he was called onstage. His audience hasn’t been that large, just his family and Touma. They had insisted on throwing him a party, but Taichi had resisted until they’d conceded and just taken him to dinner.
It worked out anyways, since they ended up at the same restaurant he had asked Touma out, and Mami and Mon were able to give their congratulations.
“What about Yorkie and Omega?” Touma asked, “Did you text them? Are they coming?”
“I texted them,” Taichi said, “Omega’s got his own graduation and Yorkie had a family emergency.”
Touma nodded, “Seiya said to congratulate you on his behalf. He’s sorry he couldn’t make it.”
“Ironic, isn’t it,” Taichi laughed, “Last time I graduated, he was stuck in the hospital too. How many kids have it been?”
“Third one,” Touma said, “He’s gonna have his hands full with all those toddlers running around.”
Taichi glanced over at his parents. They seemed engrossed in the menu, currently in the middle of an argument over what side dishes they should order. Taichi gulped. It has been nearly a year, but he has never worked up the courage to tell his parents about him and Touma. Granted, they’ve never been with Touma for an extended period of time since that day. Taichi made sure of that.
He had to tell them. Better his parents heard it from him than from some busybody’s gossip.
Taichi locked eyes with Touma. The other man nodded, flashing Taichi a reassuring smile. Taichi marveled at how breathtaking Touma can be. He was a lucky man.
“Mom, dad,” Taichi said, “I need to tell you something.”
“Honey, I don’t think the truffle fries are worth the price tag.”
“Then what should we get? The fried wonton? We can get that anywhere.”
Taichi sighed, “Mom, dad, I’m serious. This is important.”
They finally put down the menu and looked at him.
“Taichi,” his dad said, “What is it?”
“Did you get a girl pregnant? Are you doing drugs?” his mom fretted, “Are you having problems finding a job? Are you suicidal?”
Touma quickly reassured her, “It’s nothing like that, auntie. I live with him, it’s nothing that serious.”
“Just, don’t be too surprised, okay?” Taichi said quietly. Under the table, Touma grabbed his hand, squeezing. Taichi squeezed back.
He took a deep breath and faced his parents head on, “I’m dating Touma.”
“That’s it?” his dad said, “Well, congratulations.”
“Have you guys just started dating?” his mom asked.
Taichi blinked again. Touma answered, “No, auntie, it’s been almost a year now.”
“I’m honestly more offended that you guys hid it from us for so long,” she looked at Taichi, “You know you can tell us anything.”
“Thanks, mom,” he said, reaching up to wipe away the tears pooling in his eyes. He didn't even realize he was tearing up, “Thanks, dad.”
His dad nodded, “You know, we were wondering if something was going on.”
“It’s true! You guys live together, not one girlfriend between the two of you, and you were always too busy doing things with Touma to visit us,” he gestured animatedly, “Honestly, do you think we’re blind?
Touma laughed, full and bright, and Taichi was once again struck by how grateful he was that Touma had decided to stick by him.
“You don’t know how much he agonized over this,” Touma said.
“Well, he has you by his side, so he’ll turn out okay,” his mom replied kindly, “Now, honey, what were we going to order again?”
Taichi smiled, moving his hand, clasped in Touma’s, on to the table. His parents continued their argument over what to order. His boyfriend was next to him, smiling into his shoulder. A constant reassurance. The uncertainties of the future seemed more manageable with Touma by his side.
Taichi reached over, ending his parent’s quarrel by pointing at what he wanted on the menu. No truffle fries, no fried wontons, they were going to get the chicken karaage.
“Hikari! Say hi to uncle Touma!”
The little baby babbled happily in her stroller. Touma had the middle child, a sulky toddler just barely learning how to speak, nestled in his arm. The oldest was already running off in the direction of the ice cream shop, Seiya haplessly chasing after him.
Akiko had begun insisting on regularly scheduled family outings, so that Touma’s niece and nephews could spend more time with Touma and Taichi. There was almost no need; the children were practically regulars at the toyshop and they were the first to be notified when Taichi and Touma came up with a new board game. Although it was nice to spend time with the little tykes outside of the shop, Seiya’s weirdness aside.
Taichi suspected this was Akiko’s ulterior motive, getting Seiya used to the idea that Touma and Taichi were a thing and that they weren’t going to change any time soon. Touma had relayed the story of his coming out to Taichi. He knew Seiya did not necessarily approve of Touma’s sexuality, or their relationship, but he never really made a scene about it. Seiya rarely visited the apartment or the shop, it was mainly Akiko who stopped by with gossip and snacks and occasionally babysitting duty.
“Tai! Tai!,” the middle child, Takeru, cheered. Taichi laughed. The chosen dungeon for the family outing quest this month was the mall; the objective: trying the new taiyaki place that opened up near the Gamestop.
Seiya and Touma finally came back, having successfully wrangled Koushiro, the oldest, away from the ice cream shop. There appeared to be minimal casualties, Koushiro was only sniffling, not bawling, and neither Touma nor Seiya seemed to have sustained any injuries. Seiya greeted Akiko with a kiss and acknowledged Taichi with a curt nod.
They made their way to the taiyaki shop, teasing Koushiro along the way. His face scrunched up into a scowl, awfully reminiscent of Seiya, that sent Akiko and Touma into a fit of laughter. This just made Koushiro angrier.
Touma finally relented, “Hey, Koushiro, hey, Uncle Touma’s sorry, okay? When we get to the shop, Uncle Touma’s gonna make Uncle Taichi buy you the biggest taiyaki in the store, yeah?”
“Really?” Koushiro asked.
“Hey!” Taichi said, “Don’t use my wallet to atone for your sins.”
“But you love me.”
“You’re lucky you’re pretty,” Taichi grumbled. Koushiro looked up at Taichi and Touma expectantly. Taichi sighed, adjusting his grip on Takeru, “Fine, I’ll buy you the biggest taiyaki at the store.”
Koushiro cheered, running circles around the adults. Takeru and Hikari joined in, even though they probably had no idea what just happened. A few dirty looks were thrown in their direction, but Akiko and Touma just laughed them off.
The taiyaki place was bursting with people by the time they arrived. Taichi eyed the line nervously. He dug around his pockets with his free hand, looking for his wallet.
“Touma, take my wallet and go in with Koushiro, I’ll find us a table with the other kids.”
Touma nodded, grabbing the wallet.
“Akiko,” Seiya said suddenly, “You can stay with them. We’ll take Takeru and Hikari.”
Akiko nodded, handing the stroller over to Seiya. Taichi gulped. This will be the first time the two of them will be alone since he started dating Touma. Well, the kids will be there, but they don’t really count as a buffering presence.
“C’mon, Taichi, let’s go,” Seiya called.
Taichi nodded, turning and waving at Akiko, Touma, and Koushiro. They managed to find a large enough table for all of them not too far away from the shop. Seiya sat down across from Taichi, pushing the stroller absentmindedly. Takeru had fallen asleep in Taichi’s arms. He rocked the toddler gently, careful not to jerk him awake.
“I wanted to talk to you about something, Taichi,” Seiya said.
“It’s about you and Touma,” Seiya said, taking off his glasses and wiping them on his shirt. Taichi tensed.
“I’m sure you know how I feel about the whole thing,” Seiya said, “But you probably don’t know about what happened the first time, do you?”
Taichi shook his head.
“It wasn’t good, Taichi. He suffered a lot before. Because of this,” Seiya gestured vaguely, “Because of you. I hated seeing him like that. Feeling like I couldn’t protect Touma, like I failed him as a brother. And I may not understand your relationship, but I do know that I want my brother to live with freedom. To be happy.”
Seiya sighed, putting his glasses back on, “I guess what I’m saying is, don’t you even think about breaking his heart again, Taichi.”
“I won’t,” Taichi said, surprised at how resolute his own voice sounded, “I love him. I can’t do that to him again.”
Seiya nodded, “Good.”
“Daddy, daddy, look!” Koushiro rushed over, a monstrously garish taiyaki in his hand. The fish pancake was completely dwarfed by the three scoops of ice cream, the pile of whipped cream, and the red bean mountain precariously balanced on top of it. There were even flakes of gold leaf drifting off the chocolate crusted truffles crowding the side. Taichi gaped at the creation, turning to Touma and Akiko.
“How much did that cost,” he asked Touma nervously.
“Too much,” Touma said glumly. He set the box in his hands down on the table, opening it and passing the contents around the table. He sat down, an arm swung over Taichi’s shoulder.
“Did Takeru fall asleep?” Akiko asked, siding up next to Seiya, armed with a stack of napkins. She wiped some of the dribbling ice cream off Koushiro’s shirt.
“Yep,” Taichi said, patting the little boy’s head. He took a bite of his taiyaki and groaned.
“Touma, what flavor is your taiyaki?” Taichi asked.
“I got red bean,” Taichi grumbled.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you the red bean ones are marked, sorry,” Touma said, “Here, let’s switch. You can have mine.”
“Thanks,” Taichi said, giving Touma a quick kiss on the cheek. It was nice to be spoiled. Taichi bit into his taiyaki happily, glad to have little moments like this with Touma.
A strange noise came somewhere on his left. Taichi paid it no mind, biting away at his taiyaki and leaning into Touma’s body. A pair of housewives bustled by, whispering loudly enough for them to hear.
“I can’t believe they could do that in public.”
“In front of children too! What has the world come to?”
“I’m glad none of my kids are like that.”
Taichi rolled his eyes. Touma chuckled and pulled him closer.
Seiya stood up abruptly and glared at the housewives walking away, “Hey! Come back here and apologize to them! Did they ever do anything to you?”
The housewives blanched and turned, hurriedly walking away. Akiko tugged at Seiya’s shirt, pulling him down before he could chase after the women.
She turned to Taichi and Touma, concern in her eyes, “Are you guys okay?”
“We’re fine,” Touma said, “That was pretty mild if I’m honest.”
“But…” Akiko muttered, “I don’t like that you guys have to feel so… unsafe.”
“Honestly, it’s pretty scary sometimes,” Taichi admitted, “I wish the world wasn’t like this but… Well, Touma’s worth it. Plus, he’s big and scary enough that people leave us alone anyways.”
“I guess,” Akiko said sadly.
“Seiya,” Taichi said, “Thanks for doing that, though, you didn’t have to.”
“Did you see the look on those ladies’ faces?” Touma guffawed, “Priceless.”
“It’s nothing,” Seiya said quietly, “You guys just take care of each other, alright?”
“I got it, Seiya,” Taichi said, “I’ll take care of Touma.”
“So today we have some very special guests!” Yorkie announced into his mic, “You guys have all met Mami before, but we have some new faces here with us as well! My friend Taichi and his boyfriend Touma are here to get their asses kicked by yours truly.”
“And me!” Mami added.
Taichi scoffed, “Yeah, right. You guys know this guy is all talk, right?”
“We’ll see,” Yorkie taunted back, “Let’s see which team is better at Smash, yeah? Type your predictions in the chat, are you guys team Friends, or team Lovers?”
“Well, we’re definitely better at one kind of Smash,” Touma said dryly. Mami choked on her water, trying to hold back her laughter. Taichi stared at Touma, mouth open in surprise.
“I did not know Touma had that in him,” Yorkie muttered, “And by the looks of it, neither did Taichi.”
“I do know one thing he’s had in him,” Taichi shot back. Touma flushed beet red. Mami doubled over, throwing caution to the wind and snorting loudly into her mic. From where he was sitting, Taichi could see Yorkie’s chat explode with emojis.
“Alright, that’s enough, pick up your controllers and flirt with each other later,” Yorkie snapped. He fiddled with some buttons on his setup before ushering his house guests onto his couch. The character select screen flickered on.
“You and Touma are red, me and Mami are blue,” Yorkie said, moving his cursor over to Inkling. Mami had hers on Peach. Taichi assessed the competition before picking Wii Fit Trainer. He was going to force these guys to go off stage and play on his turf.
“Taichi,” Touma whispered, “Taichi, how do you play?”
Taichi looked at Touma, shocked, “What do you mean how do you play? Didn’t you and your friends play video games all the time back in high school?”
“Well, we did,” Touma said apologetically, “But we always played on the wii remotes, not these fancy controllers.”
“Looks like we’ve got a casual here today ladies and gentlemen!” Yorkie said.
Mami cackled beside him, “Yes! Easy win for us.”
Taichi rolled up his sleeve, fuming, “You know what, bring it. We’re gonna kick your ass,” he turned to Touma and muttered, “Pick Zelda and spam projectiles in a corner. Try not to fall off stage. I’ll deal with those two.”
Somehow, against all odds, they managed to annihilate Mami and Yorkie, beating them with three stocks to spare. The losers slumped over in their corner, shocked by their crushing defeat. Taichi baited the pair out perfectly, forcing Mami and Yorkie to chase him off stage while Touma spammed Din’s Fire in the corner.
“How are you so good at running away?” Mami groaned, “Did you even die once?”
“Nope,” Touma said cheerfully.
“So I guess Lovers beat out Friends this round,” Yorkie mumbled, “But this is best of three.”
“Bring it,” Taichi said proudly, “You’ll never beat us.”
“Just you wait,” Mami said, “The power of friendship is on our side.”
“But that’s where you’re wrong,” Touma butted in, “We’re better because we have the power of love and best friend power on our side. We’re unbeatable.”
“That is the cheesiest thing I have ever heard in my life,” Yorkie groaned.
“Be quiet and start up the next match,” Taichi said, “We got some butt kicking to do.”
“Fine,” Mami said, “But Zelda’s banned.”
“It’s fine Touma,” Taichi whispered, “Play Villager.”
Mami and Yorkie lost even faster the second time around, especially when Touma figured out the bowling ball can fall off ledges.
Taichi stepped out of the shower, drying his hair. He’d finally gotten it cut. Mami teased him about it, asking if he wanted it short so he could match Touma. Taichi did not really think about it that way, he just wanted his hair to be more manageable when he went into the office, but the haircut ended up resembling Touma’s anyway. He didn’t really mind. It was kind of nice, even if people mistook him for Touma’s little brother more often in public now.
Taichi moved to their bedroom. They’ve upgraded to an apartment closer to the toy store with a bit of extra space and no noisy bar next door. Taichi’s well paying salaryman job and the toys store turning a bigger profit than expected made the move easier on their bank accounts. They shared a bedroom now, the smaller room doubling as an office and a guestroom. The kitchen was large, much to Touma’s delight, and the living room was spacious enough for them to host small parties and playdates with Touma’s nephews and niece.
Taichi was looking for his clothes when Touma’s phone started ringing.
“Touma!” Taichi called, “Your phone!”
“Can you answer it for me?” Touma yelled back, “I’m cooking!”
Taichi picked up the phone, eyebrows raised at the strange number.
“Hey, is this Touma?” the voice on the other end asked. It sounded vaguely familiar, but Taichi couldn’t really place where he heard it from.
“This is his number, but he’s busy right now,” Taichi said, “I’m Taichi, his boyfriend. Can I ask who is looking for him?”
There was a strange sound on the other end, then a pause.
“Kensuke. Tell him it’s Kensuke.”
The other person hung up. Taichi thought for a moment. He remembered Kensuke, the angry baldie that hung around Touma and Mami in high school, rotating through girlfriends like sweatpants. He was pretty sure the two of them had a falling out. Touma kept in touch with most of his friends in high school, and there was that incident with Shingo and those two girls and Taichi feeling like the world was crumbling around him. He wondered why Kensuke would want to call Touma now.
Taichi threw on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt that was too big. It was probably Touma’s. He grabbed Touma’s phone and padded to the kitchen.
“Hey Taichi, did you have a nice shower?” Touma greeted. Taichi replied with a quick kiss before finding his place at their kitchen island.
“What’s for dinner?”
“Katsudon,” Touma replied, placing two bowls of pork cutlet on the table.
“It looks great. Thanks Touma,” Taichi said appreciatively, “It's nice, eating like a king. I'm pretty lucky. Let’s eat.”
They both dug in. Taichi savored the flavor of the home cooked food, eternally grateful that Touma decided to take cooking classes all those years ago. In hindsight, he probably did it because Taichi was complaining about eating instant ramen every day. It was little things like that that made Taichi appreciate Touma more and more each day.
“Oh yeah,” Touma said between bites, “Who called me?”
“It was Kensuke,” Taichi replied, “From high school, right?”
A dark expression flickered over Touma’s face. Taichi reached over, taking Touma’s hand in his. He’s learned to read Touma’s moods, learned to sense when something was bothering the other man, especially when Touma was trying to hide it. Though it didn't happen often, Taichi could tell that this was something that really rubbed his boyfriend the wrong way. He turned Touma's hand over, gently thumbing his palm.
“Talk to me,” Taichi said softly.
“He was a jerk when I came out,” Touma said, “No, he was the one that forced me out of the closet in the first place. I thought I could forgive him.”
Touma sighed, taking another bite of his food. Taichi gave Touma’s hand a soft squeeze.
Touma continued, “He said things to me. Nasty things. We tolerated each other towards the end of school to keep the peace. But he grew distant when we graduated. Stopped all contact when I started dating Einosuke. I just… I don’t know why he would want to talk now.”
“Maybe he was trying to make things right?” Taichi suggested, “Trying to apologize?”
“Maybe,” Touma said, “I’ll call him after dinner.”
Taichi nodded. They finished their dinner, making small talk about their day. Taichi took care of the dishes while Touma took his shower. He was waiting on the couch, lazily flipping through the channels, when Touma returned, a towel around his waist.
“Stop dripping on the couch,” Taichi said.
“It’s fine,” Touma laughed, “This is leather. Pass me my phone?”
It was true. Taichi had insisted on a couch without upholstery because Touma dripped everywhere after he showered. That was why they had no carpets and why Taichi always waited for Touma in the living room and not the bedroom. It wasn't a big enough of a deal for Taichi to fuss over, and he liked looking at Touma shirtless and wet.
Taichi handed Touma his phone, “It’s the unknown number.”
“I figured…” Touma muttered. He pressed the dial button and put the phone to his ear. Taichi reached for Touma’s free hand.
“Yeah, it’s Touma. No, I’m doing good.”
“Almost two years now.”
"No, Kensuke, that's not how it works."
"Okay, I guess."
“I don’t know, Kensuke. You still sound… Yeah, yeah, okay.”
“Call me when you’re ready then. Bye, Kensuke.”
Touma put the phone down and sighed. Taichi reached over, cupping Touma’s face in his hand. He stroked his thumb across Touma’s cheek.
“What happened, Touma?”
“Well,” Touma muttered, “You were right that he wanted to apologize.”
“Well, I think Kensuke’s convinced I converted you or something. He… He said he felt disgusted when you said you were dating me.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Taichi said, “You didn’t do anything like that. I was just a dense idiot.”
“Still hurt though,” Touma said quietly, “He did say that he’ll try to get used to it. I don’t know, Taichi, it’s been five years already and he’s still like this.”
“People are just stubborn like that,” Taichi nodded, “Don’t worry about it too much.”
He pulled Touma into a kiss. Touma smelled like their shampoo. He tasted sweet on Taichi’s tongue. He carded a hand through Touma’s damp hair, marvelling in the softness, and pulled away, smiling contentedly. He tugged Touma up from the couch. The towel loosened and fell to the ground, neither one of them bothered to pick it up.
“Let’s go to bed, yeah? We’ve had a long day.”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
“Oh, Masumi? Come on in,” Taichi said when he opened the door. He called over his shoulder, “Touma, did you invite Masumi over?”
Masumi shook her head, “No, I just really needed to talk to someone right now. Can I come in?”
Taichi nodded, “Sure, what are friends for, right?”
Granted, after his break up with Futaba, he has not really talked to Masumi much. Touma was the one that kept close contact with Masumi. She has visited once or twice before, but usually she dropped by the shop or went out for coffee with Touma. She was always polite and cordial, asking about his health and his job, but they never really reached out to maintain contact with each other. Taichi didn't hold it against her. He understood. He did break her best friend’s heart.
Masumi went inside, slipping out of her flats at the door. Touma called a greeting from the couch. She sat down, pushing her long hair out of her face. Taichi joined them on the couch.
Masumi looked nervous. Her hands kept shifting, jumping from her lap to her hair then to her knees. Her eyes darted back and forth. She kept starting, like she was trying to speak but could not really keep her thoughts straight.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Touma asked, “Do you want something to drink?”
“No, no thank you,” Masumi said, “It’s… it’s Yukiko.”
“Did you guys get in a fight?” Touma muttered, “Was it bad?”
“No, we didn’t get into a fight,” Masumi said, “She, ah, she… no, that’s not it. Yukiko told me something.”
Touma just nodded sagely, a gentle hand on Masumi’s shoulder. Taichi remembered Yukiko vaguely, Masumi’s long term girlfriend since her third year in college. Touma mentioned her sometimes. From what Taichi gathered, they were a very happy couple. Taichi wondered what was wrong.
“Yukiko told me that she… that he felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body,” Masumi said, “That it was something that was bothering her, ah, him all his life.”
Touma nodded, “And how did you react?”
“I tried not to scare her - him. Him. I tried my best not to scare him off. I know it’s hard to come into your true self, to accept your true self. But I told him I needed time to process, you know? That’s why I came here. I needed to talk to some people who… understood.”
“Do you love Yukiko?” Taichi asked quietly.
“Yeah, I do,” Masumi said, “But… Taichi, if Touma suddenly became a woman, would you still love him?”
“Of course,” Taichi said automatically.
“What about you Touma?”
“Well, I’ve been in love with him for as long as I could remember, so I don’t think it will bother me.”
“You two are no help at all,” Masumi huffed.
“Well, does Yukiko becoming a man change your perception of him?” Touma asked, “I know it’s different for everyone. For some people things like that matter, for others it doesn’t, not really.”
Masumi nodded. She mulled over her thoughts a bit before answering, “No, I guess not. Yukiko is… Yukiko is a wonderful person. I guess what I’m scared of is falling out of love when he transitions.”
Taichi nodded, “That makes sense. Your situation isn’t exactly conventional.”
“Why don’t you just stick with it?” Touma asked, “See what happens? I know you care a lot about Yukiko as a person.”
“Yeah,” Masumi said, “I loved her. I think I can love him. It’s the same person.”
Touma smiled softly, “Alright. Did this happen recently?”
Masumi nodded, “I came over as soon as I could.”
“You should go to him. I bet he feels alone right now.”
“Yeah,” Masumi said, standing up, “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks Touma, Taichi.”
“I’ll see you to the door,” Taichi said. He followed her as she left the living room.
At the threshold, Masumi turned and faced him, “Taichi, thank you.”
“It’s no problem Masumi, good luck with Yukiko.”
“Yeah,” Masumi said, “I hope… I hope we can have what you guys have. You and Touma.”
“I’m sure you already do.”
Masumi’s eyes went wide. Her face broke into a smile Taichi was sure he’d never witnessed on her before. Pure gratitude.
“Thanks, Taichi. That means a lot.”
“Guess who’s back for another ass kicking! It’s your favorite couple, ToumaTai!” Yorkie screamed into his microphone.
“TaiTouma, it’s TaiTouma,” Taichi argued back, “Anyways, what are we playing today? You don’t have a partner this time, right?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault Mami and Mon are both busy!” Yorkie huffed, “Actually, I was going to get Omega and his girlfriend in here so you four can duke it out in Mario Kart. But they bailed. Since it’s just the three of us, let’s just queue up some League.”
“Alright, but you only have two PCs.”
“Touma can play on the laptop,” Yorkie said.
“That’s discrimination!” Taichi protested.
“It’s fine,” Touma called from the couch, “I have a mouse!”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Yorkie said, “Plus, he’s playing support anyways. As long as he can dodge skill shots and keep us alive, we’re good.”
“If you say so…” Taichi mumbled, “You ready, Touma?”
“Oh? Yeah, I’m ready. Ready.”
Taichi raised an eyebrow at Touma. The other man has been strangely absent minded all day. He’d put his shirt on backwards, almost burned the eggs, and took a wrong turn when they were walking to Yorkie’s place. Even when Taichi pressed him about what was wrong, Touma wouldn’t give him a straight answer. His unusual tight-lipped attitude was making Taichi uneasy.
“Taichi? It’s your pick,” Yorkie said.
“Xayah, of course,” Taichi grinned. He smiled even wider when Touma picked Rakan.
“Thematic,” Yorkie muttered, selecting Kindred.
“You’re jungling, right?” Taichi asked.
“Of course,” Yorkie said.
The game started. Everything went relatively smoothly for the first few minutes until the enemy Rengar decided to visit their lane at the same time the enemy Teemo decided to go off script and roam all the way to bot.
“Touma, Touma help!”
“My ult’s on cooldown!” Touma called back. Taichi could hear Yorkie furiously clicking away to try and come to their aid, but he was all the way in the enemy’s red buff. No way he’ll make it in time.
He sees Touma try to cast a shield on his Xayah, but it was too late. The enemy Sona popped her ult, stunning them in place. A few clicks later and the opposing Rengar was two kills fatter.
“Yikes. Rengar’s gonna snowball hard now,” Taichi muttered, “Touma, where were the wards?”
“Shoot, sorry, I forgot to place them.”
“That’s ok, I’ll buy one too,” Taichi said. It was a little strange, though. Touma usually never forgot basics like that. While they walked back to lane, Taichi glanced over at Touma’s screen. Both his flash and cleanse were still usable. Why didn’t he use either of them when they got stunned by Sona? Something was up. Touma may not be the greatest gamer in the world, but he knew the essentials.
“Touma, are you okay?”
“Hm?” Touma said, “Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Things were, however, decidedly not fine. During a team fight, Touma charmed the Sona instead of the fed Rengar and the mildly dangerous Vel'Koz, leading to a huge wipe that cost them almost all of the midlane towers. Then, while they were going for a sneaky Baron, he chained his skills incorrectly and ended up dying, alerting the enemy to their plans and leading to a Baron steal that quickly ended the game.
“Oh well,” Yorkie said sadly, “You win some, you lose some.”
Taichi just shook his head and glanced over at Touma, “Touma? Are you sure you’re okay? You seemed a little off today.”
“I’m fine Taichi,” Touma trailed off before taking a deep breath, “Actually, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Okay, what is it?” Taichi asked. He saw Touma shift uncomfortably in his seat before sighing.
“Alright, I know our country isn’t the most progressive, and we can’t actually legally do what I want us to do, but,” Touma reached into his pocket. Taichi’s breath hitched. What Touma was about to do, it couldn't be what Taichi is thinking. His heart hammered in his chest. He watched as his boyfriend stood up from the couch and got down on one knee.
“Will you marry me, Taichi Ichinose?”
“Yes,” Taichi said breathlessly. He could feel himself tearing up, “God, a thousand times yes, Touma.”
Touma was quick to close the gap between them, lips pressing into Taichi's. He could vaguely register Yorkie screeching with joy in the background, but he was too drunk on happiness to care. Touma proposed to him. In front of tens of thousands of people, Touma proposed to him. He laughed into the kiss, though the sound was much wetter than he anticipated. He felt Touma’s smile as well.
“Holy shit!” Yorkie screamed, “Are y'all seeing this right now? Let’s see those heart emojis in the chat, show them your support!”
“I love you so much, Touma.”
“I love you too.”
The elevator chimed cheerily as it approached the fourteenth floor. The doors opened. Touma and Taichi walked out, hand in hand, as they headed towards a cafe with a gorgeous window view of the city. It felt nice, walking with Touma's hand clasped in his, matching rings on their fingers. Touma. His fiancé. Taichi still could not believe the sound of that. They were getting married. Taichi and Touma. Married.
Still, Touma had insisted on having this meeting, especially before the marriage. He wanted Futaba and Masumi at their wedding, of course, but there was no way of that happening until Futaba and Taichi worked out their awkwardness. Taichi had insisted that things would be fine, until Touma mentioned that Taichi did not even know that Futaba started dating again, that her mother was just admitted to the hospital for a ruptured appendix, that her brother dropped out of college. He hasn't even seen her face for four years. Taichi had conceded and allowed Touma to set up the meeting.
“Nervous?” Touma asked.
“Yeah,” Taichi said, “What are we even supposed to talk about?”
“Well, from what Masumi told me, Futaba is a little confused,” Touma said, “She wants to know why you guys dated if you were just going to end up with me in the first place. Honestly, I’m kinda curious too.”
“I don’t know if I’m gonna have an answer for that,” Taichi admitted.
“Oh look, there they are,” Touma said, “Masumi! Futaba!”
They walked over to the table, Taichi taken aback at how different both of the women looked. Masumi had cut her hair, the pixie cut somehow suiting her more than before. And Futaba, Futaba had grown so much. She stood straighter, an air of comfortable confidence around her. Her face was still round and soft, but now framed by her long hair, gathered in an elegant side braid. She looked surprised to see him as well. Taichi supposed he must have changed a lot too.
“Your hair matches Touma’s,” Futaba said. Taichi laughed, mostly from surprise. Touma pulled out a seat for him. Taichi nodded at Touma gratefully. He watched as Touma took a seat before turning to Futaba. They sat in awkward silence for a long time, no one really sure about what to do.
“Ah, Masumi,” Taichi said suddenly, desperate to lift the stillness, “Did you get your hair cut?”
“Yes,” she said, turning to show off her bob, “Mitsuyuki was feeling awkward about starting his transition, so I decided to cut my hair too, to show him some support.”
“How are things with you guys?”
“It’s good,” Masumi smiled softly, “I feel like he’s even more open with me now. And I feel like I love him more too, because he can finally be his true self.”
Taichi nodded. He understood that, the need to be their authentic selves. A waitress came and took their orders, delivering the drinks that Masumi and Futaba ordered earlier. The silence returned, Futaba and Masumi sipping their drinks and glancing at each other. Taichi took a deep breath.
“You seem different.”
They both blushed. Touma laughed quietly beside them, motioning to Futaba, “Tell him what you need to, Futaba.”
“I was just wondering, Taichi,” Futaba said slowly, “Did you love me?”
Taichi nodded, “I don’t think you have to worry about that. I loved you, Futaba. I think I still care about you to some level.”
He looked over at Touma, “But Touma, Touma’s my choice. I want to make him happy. I want us to build a future together. Because I love him. A lot. That doesn’t mean I regret my choices from before. It’s just… I want to make a different choice now.”
Futaba nodded, staring into her cup, her expression blank. Then she looked up and smiled, “I think I get it. I’m happy for you guys. I want… I want to work towards a future with someone I love too.”
Masumi smiled proudly beside Futaba. They sat there in companionable silence, Masumi and Futaba sipping their drinks. Taichi felt lighter somehow, like he and Futaba had reached some kind of understanding. A closure.
“So when’s your wedding?” Futaba asked.
“October seventh,” Touma answered, “We’re not planning anything big, just friends and family.”
Futaba’s face fell, “Oh no, Noda’s wedding is on the same day. I don’t think I can make it…”
“That’s fine, Futaba,” Touma answered, “Just keep us in your thoughts.”
Futaba nodded earnestly.
The waitress came back with their drinks. Touma insisted on paying, even when Taichi tried to wrestle his fiancé’s wallet out of his hands. Even though the hatchet was not completely buried, Taichi was glad to know that they were finally moving on, all four of them, toward the futures they chose.
“Honey, you look so handsome,” Taichi’s mom sniffled, “I’m so happy. Ah! My son is getting married!”
She loudly blew her nose into her handkerchief. His dad stood by her, trying to get her to calm down. Taichi laughed.
They didn’t even have a ceremony, really, just Touma proudly filling out the certificate to change his legal name and a small reception afterwards. Of course, Mon had insisted on making them a cake, and now he was ushering them over to his behemoth of a creation, the guests oohing and aahing over the mountainous confection.
Taichi had to admit, Touma looked good in his suit. Not borrowed this time, but tailored just to him. Crisp and white, highlighting the shine in his eyes when he smiled. Taichi's breath hitched. Touma was beautiful, stunningly handsome, and Taichi still couldn’t believe that he was marrying this man. Touma Ichinose. His husband.
“Cut the cake!” Mami yelled from her table. Shingo, Omega, and his girlfriend cheered.
Taichi laughed, grabbing the cake knife from Mon. Touma’s hand covered his, guiding Taichi’s hand over to the cake.
“You ready?” Touma asked quietly.
“I’ve been for a long time now.”
“Taichi, you’re so cheesy.”
Together, they sliced the cake. Applause filled the room. Taichi beamed, looking at all their loved ones around them, cheering for them, for the fact that they have promised themselves to each other. He loved Touma, Touma loved him, and these people all thought that was worth celebrating. He could feel himself tearing up.
He looked up at Touma, at the way his eyes crinkled around the edges, at how his hand automatically found its way to the back of his head, and his heart felt full. He grabbed Touma’s tie and pulled him into a kiss. The cheers grew louder around them, but for a moment, Touma was his entire world.
“I’m glad I chose you," Taichi muttered.
Touma smiled, “Me too, Taichi. Me too.”