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Say Say my Playmate, Won’t You Lay Hands on Me?

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The stench of cigarettes is going to cling to Seiji’s shirt the entire night.

His lips curl in disgust the moment he leaves the VIP lounge, the pleasant mask dropping as he comes downstairs past the security, back to main dancefloor of the club.

Tobacco smoke isn’t as heavy in the air here, and pulsing sound system feels like it’s reaching to Seiji’s very core, like his entire body is vibrating in tune. His eyes scan the crowd as he makes his way to the bar: people dancing, drinking, laughing, and generally having a good time.

You wouldn’t think this is one of the sleaziest nightclubs in the district where drug deals and prostitution are discussed and negotiated about casually just one floor above. 

Seiji is quite fond of places like this, where only a thin layer divides what society dictates is normal and what’s not. Akira probably wouldn’t share his sentiment, though...

And oh, speak of the devil. The crowd parts for a second, allowing Seiji to finally catch a glimpse of his best friend.

What he sees, though, makes his stomach drop.

Akira’s sitting at the very end of the bar counter surrounded by what it seems to be three tipsy girls in their early 20s all standing in colorful cocktail dresses, skin glistening with sweat in dimmed purple lightning after dancing their hearts out just earlier. The glass of whiskey, no doubt a treat from one of the gracious ladies in attempt to try and coax the guy into getting to know each other better, sits there on the counter untouched.

At their lively chattering that Seiji is deaf to, Akira manages to look puzzled, exasperated and bored to death all at once. And although it does nothing to help from anxiety welling up in his belly, Seiji still snickers a little: he rarely gets to see such a wide palette of emotions on his best friend’s face.

(Well. If Akira is still just that to him; his best friend. Last time Seiji checked, best friends don’t usually hoist you up on a kitchen counter of their apartment to kiss the living daylights out of  you after dinner. Like exactly what happened this saturday night, three days ago.

There are more examples of not so strictly friendly behavior, but this one just... tends to pop into his head more often lately.)

Mentally going through all the reasons why interfering would do more harm than good, Seiji watches from a distance as the scene comes to its inevitable climax, when eventually, fed up, Akira snarls something insulting enough that the charm of a handsome broody stranger just doesn’t make up for the rest of the baggage.

The girls start yelling something, clearly offended, loud enough for Seiji to hear from where he is, but it’s all a dull buzz. Akira’s striking features look even more sharp in obscure lightning, mouth twisted in a silent sneer: he doesn’t bother to argue, just waits until they’re done and leave him be. His usually dark eyes now flash with colors according to whims of flickering neon lights, raven-black hair disheveled.

No wonder those girls felt like they had to give it a try. Seiji sees Akira like this frequently enough, but still can’t get used to how good his best friend looks in this environment. Like Akira’s in his own element, even more so than Seiji himself.

But that’s a thought for another night.

When the yelling ceases and Akira’s left alone, Seiji takes a deep breath, — that comes out in shudder at exhale, — and approaches the bar from Akira’s blind spot. He slides himself gracefully yet quietly on the adjacent stool.

It takes no time at all for Akira’s superhuman instincts to alert him of presence nearby despite the deafening techno they prefer to blast in this place. But while Akira definitely knows there’s someone, he doesn’t know it’s Seiji, specifically, so that’s the card Seiji’s gonna play.

“Hey hot stuff, come here often?” he purrs, voice dripping with honey, when Akira spans in his seat to no doubt snap in the face of yet another stranger ruining his alone time.

But promptly freezes when he finds it’s Seiji instead, who gives him his best exaggerated sultry look, eyes dark and full of promise. The corner of Seiji’s mouth twitches, betraying his act: the dumbfounded look on Akira’s face is just too funny. How is he still blanking out at him after being told the worst most clichéd pick-up line in existence? This boy is a wonder.

Might as well continue then.

Heart thumping, — this little prank really has no business affecting him that much, — Seiji tilts his head slowly, letting loose strands of hair fall freely on his eyes. Apparently, seduction play is easier if you think of it as just that — a play. Seiji is acutely aware of every patch of skin Akira’s eyes linger on, and now they’re on his conveniently exposed neck.

Seiji decides they should stay there for a time being.

“I’d get you a drink, handsome, but it seems,” Seiji shoots a glance at the glass of whiskey and feels his eye twitching. “Someone else already beat me to it.”

He can’t keep some venom in his voice from slipping through; it was supposed to be his and Akira’s night out.

Maybe he really should have taken Akira to the upper floor with him instead of making him wait at the bar. But unlike all previous nights when they went to shady places, Seiji was not in charge this time; no one to threaten or intimidate today. The people he talked to up there in VIP section are the ones who own everything here, and would know if someone of Amanome from Shinza Ward would appear on their territory. So Seiji went to greet them without being forced to. Common courtesy.

It seems like whatever spell he had Akira under, it breaks that very moment. Blinking slowly, as if waking up from deep trance, Akira with visible effort tears his gaze away from Seiji’s neck and up to Seiji’s eyes, now twinkling with amusement.

“Hey, how’s it going, buddy?”

“...asshole,” Akira grunts in form of greeting. “Quit fucking around.”

“Oh?” Seijj leans in closer to whisper, “But you looked so into it, buddy. Admit it, I did a better job than those three ever could.”

Yes, he’s still in a murderous mood. It’s somehow even worse, now that Seiji knows Akira is not as unreachable as he once thought. And although the ground is shaky, Seiji is going to hold onto it with his bare teeth if he has to. He was taught to be greedy, after all.

“Wait…” The realization dawns on Akira slowly but surely. “How long you’ve been watching me suffer through that shit, anyway?”

“Another person would find such attention more than welcoming.”

“Well, I don’t.”

Right. Of course. Seiji knew that.

But it’s still a relief hearing Akira say it out loud, and Seiji doesn’t feel like ruining those pesky women’s lives anymore. For the most part.

“What’s their deal, anyway?” Akira mutters, “The fuck they wanted from me.”

At this point Seiji’s pleasant smile might as well be glued to his face. He doesn’t think he can let it slip any time soon, unless to let the unhappy grimace take over.

“A flirty conversation, for starters. A drunk chat. A risky joke. And of course, a dance.”

He tries not to picture it, and promptly fails: Akira’s hands on his hips and his own — over Akira’s broad shoulders, them both swaying to the slow ambient beat.

Seiji blinks the image away. Lately his delusions are getting the best of him.

Seiji doesn’t even necessarily like dancing, never gave it a thought before tonight, but he also never added Akira and a promise of special kind of intimacy to the equation before.

“You could give it a go,” Seiji hears himself say in a weird spontaneous act of masochism. “Dancing with them, I mean.”

Or you could not be a dick and step in, and it would end before it started.”

Surprised laugh escapes his throat, “You kidding, right? What could I possibly do? If I were to show myself, no way they’d let go those elegantly manicured claws off of such a fine gentlemen as me.” Seiji makes sure to flash his cunning smile then, the one he knows irks Akira the most. “Besides I, unlike a certain someone, could never be rude to a lady. We’d be stuck for entire night.”

It’s not like Seiji could just waltz in drawling ‘excuse me, but this fine specimen with bulging muscles and bad attitude is mine, so back off before I hurt you, ugly’, — at least not in front of the guy himself, - without a number of consequences and some raised questions he’d rather avoid right now.

Akira looks at him funny then, with the sort of are you kidding me expression, but as if what Seiji just said was so out of this world it caused him to short-circuit, so his face is now stuck this way.

“What, did your IQ finally drop to the level you stopped understanding human speech?” Seiji asks, when prolonged seconds of silence start to edge into this is awkward territory.

Another pause, and then Akira turns his head away with a grumpy, “Whatever.”

That’s not the reaction Seiji expected.

Concerned now, he cranes his neck to try and get a peek at Akira’s face. “What is it?”

Was it something he said?

Seiji tries to go through their earlier conversation. It’s not in Akira’s nature to sulk: if there’s something not to his liking he lets it know with his fist—

Akira gives him a shove.

“Ow!”

“It’s nothin’, so calm yourself already.”

“Geez,” Seiji rubs his sore shoulder. “Was that supposed to be a friendly nudge or something? Can’t you control your strength a little, you brute? I almost flew off my stool.”

“Talk more and I’ll make sure you do.”

There’s a small smile playing on Akira’s lips when Seiji looks back up at him. It’s unfair how it makes Seiji’s brain stutter and further complaints stuck in his throat.

“Anyway, you got your business taken care of?” Akira asks, side-glancing the VIP lounge hidden behind a one-way mirror, right above DJ booth. His smile is gone like it’s never been there.

Seiji clears his throat. “Ah, yup. All done. We’re welcomed here.”

“Mm.”

“What, not gonna ask how exactly I managed to get us in? This area is not under the family’s jurisdiction so it took some great efforts, I’ll have you know.”

In fact, they’re basically in the wolf den itself.

“Why bother, you always find a way. I’m not in the mood for fueling your ego,” Akira shrugs. “I counted on you getting us in, and you did.”

“Spoilsport.”

But Akira’s quiet confidence in his abilities sends a flutter down his stomach. 

“So,” Seiji crosses his legs, “Anything peculiar going on while I was away?”

“Nah. I’m bored out of my skull here,” he grimaces, no doubt remembering the girls from earlier, “Mostly.”

It’s to be expected. They aren’t supposed to find anything of paranormal interest in here. This is a nightclub, after all, a still running nightclub, personally supervised by the yakuza clan of this district. Of course there would be gruesome rumors going around of this place, that people will blow out of proportion and make up some urban legend.

Yet Yashiki-san was strongly against letting them go check this place when Seiji casually suggested they do, ignoring Akira’s glower drilling holes into his skull. Clearly his best buddy also wasn’t happy about them getting directly involved in another supposedly supernatural case.

But Seiji knew of the club and knew its owners — maybe not personally as of at the moment, but yakuza clans always keep an eye on one another. And to his secret delight, it seemed  that neither the detectives nor Akira had any idea what LUCID+INTERVAL club is really famous for, in certain circles.

Besides, they were already necks deep in all this supernatural crap. Yashiki-san might’ve never asked them to go with him and Mashita-san on the ‘hunt’ itself, but since the Black Rabbit is now their base of operations of some sort, Seiji and Akira get to know all the details anyway, even help piece the clues together. Well, Seiji does, and sometimes Hazuki, too; Akira mostly complains and brews them coffee.

“I still can’t believe you made us come here,” Akita grunts. “Not like we could notice anything suspicious going on in this crowd anyway before it’s too late.”

“Come on, the ghostbusters duo desperately needed at least one peaceful night to themselves.” Well, all things considered...

“Huh? Why’s that?”

The genuine confusion on Akira’s face makes Seiji suspicious. Could it be...

“Akira. They’re together.”

But he knew that, right?

“What? Those two are fucking?”

They stare at each other.

“Don’t tell me,” Seiji starts slowly, “That you haven’t noticed anything until now.”

“Noticed what?” Akira is certainly getting slightly irritated now. “Them standing beside each other? Well excuse me.”

Seiji shakes his head in disbelief. But really, what did he expect. Perception was never one of his best friend’s virtues, when it comes to feelings and such; Seiji knows that firsthand. And those two, to Akira’s credit, are very discreet so far; but put such a show of not looking each other directly in the eyes and go out of their way to not touch even accidentally whenever they all hang out together at the Black Rabbit, that it’s precisely the reason that gave them away.

Plus, they’re probably still in their awkward phase, when everything is a little uncertain, and new, and exciting...

...Not like Seiji would know anything about that himself, of course. (Insert sardonic laugh here.)

Akira groans. “I don’t care either way, but if they’re hooking up in the Black Rabbit right now waiting for us, they’re so dead.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Seiji mock-gasps, eyes wide, “That couch beside the bookshelf was rather comfortable, that one time, wasn’t it.”

“Don’t,” Akira warns.

“How we ended up on it, again?” Seiji wonders outloud, feigning ignorance, “I was sitting, reading Natsumi-san’s novel in peace...”

“Ugh...”

“And then suddenly I’m on my back...”

“Ughhhh...”

“With a wild beast pinning me down…”

“Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh…”

“Sucking life force through my neck and shoulders and—”

Stop.”

Seiji chuckles. “Explaining Ami-chan after just where I got such large mosquito bites to not worry her pretty little head was quite an endeavor… Oh, but the couch was nice. They’re gonna love it.”

“I hate you so much.”

By the time Seiji’s had his little fun Akira looks like he’s ready to claw his own face off. Must he act so embarrassed? Especially since his best friend really has no one else to blame but himself for that one, being the sole initiator and all.

Seiji’s got half a mind to ask what exactly triggered Akira to jump him out of nowhere like that, because he genuinely has no idea and is dying to know. For future reference.

“I still won’t believe for a second you do anything just from the goodness of your heart, though,” Akira says, seemingly recovered and not wanting the earth to swallow him anymore. “Let alone take pity on some cranky old men.”

Seiji could argue Mashita-san at least is barely thirty, but decides against it. The ‘cranky’ part is true, after all.

“Aw, you sound like I had some ulterior motive, bringing you here. How rude of you.”

Akira’s eyes narrow at his innocent tone. “Alright, what’s the scheme for today.”

“Well, there’s a VIP lounge…” Dropping the pretence, Seiji nods at the upper floor. “But there’s also a private suite behind this one very unremarkable door.” He points briefly at said door with the ‘staff only’ sign, not far from where they are. “Seen anyone coming in and out of there?”

“Nope,” Akira shakes his head.

“That’s because it’s ours for tonight.”

Akira’s expression shifts. Just slightly, but it’s enough to send a tingle down Seiji’s spine.

His friend studies his face pensively, before eventually pointing out, “You’re eager today.”

Seiji shrugs. Isn’t he always?

Not his fault it took his best friend a spirited-away sister and numerous near-death experiences to finally notice and do something about it.

Still. He’s surprised Akira picked up right away on what Seiji’s got in mind. Is Akira finally getting aware of changes in the nature of their relationship?

The thought both thrills and terrifies him.

Interestingly enough, getting the card key and passcode to the infamous backdoor suite of LUCID+INTERVAL nightclub wasn’t as much of a headache as Seiji previously thought it would be. He didn’t even have to mention it at all: it was an unexpected welcome gift, ‘as a humble token of respect to Amanome family, to enjoy the night to the fullest’. (They were a little too overeager though, in Seiji’s opinion. Could at least try not to be so obvious about their intentions.)

The card is a blank dummy card: one ticket in and out, that is usable only within a specific time gate and then disposable after. He’s heard legends of the place the little thing grants access to. The real reason LUCID+INTERVAL is where all important people in the district gather is, quite literally, in his hands right now.

Seiji bats his eyelashes. “Well, what do you say, hot stuff?”

“Stop that.”

Biting back a smile, Seiji says, “I mean, we could stay here and have another flock of girls coming up to flirt while we wait for something bad to happen, that’s fine too.” Akira’s cheek twitches. “And, who knows? Maybe I’ll luck out and this time the one to approach us is gonna be a mature, refined woman.”

The silent glare Akira gives him rivals with intensity of which he sends his opponents into knockout in UG matches. It’s not often that this glare is aimed at Seiji, though, and he assumes he’s doing a pretty decent job of keeping it casual and not squirm on his seat like some part of him badly wants to.

Leaning further still, Seiji says, deliberately hushed and low:

“Or we could go somewhere quiet. No more annoying people, no ghosts, no silly nonsense. Just us.”

No way there are ghosts in here. No way he’s letting some random women flocking around Akira if he can help it. Seiji didn’t insist on coming here to deal with supernatural or with unwanted attention.

It’s their night.

He knows he’s won when the tension in Akira’s eyes changes its nature, from intimidating to something that makes Seiji’s heart pick up the pace.

Until it’s, too, gone, and Akira slides off of his stool with the air of his usual aloofness. “Let’s go.”

Seiji licks his dried lips and slowly nods.

When he’s about to stand, though, his little finger grazes against something solid and cold. Seiji looks down and his eyes widen.

“Ah.”

“‘Ah’?”

“One more thing.”

Akira clicks his tongue. “What is it now—”

With a swift and precise elbow strike the forgotten glass of whiskey slides on the counter until it tips over the edge and drops toward the floor on the bartender side.

The distinctive sound of glass breaking is crystal clear even with one of the loudspeakers being right over Seiji’s head.

“Oops.”

There’s a self-satisfied grin he doesn’t bother hiding. Seiji doesn’t even care that Akira’s definitely noticed, his best friend’s eyes glinting dangerously: he feels miles better now, and this might have saved lives of three unfortunate women that had no idea who they crossed. Amanome Seiji is doing good for this world.

The bartender comes to their side, examines the mess on the floor and then turns to Seiji, completely unimpressed.

“My apologies, I can be so clumsy sometimes. Here,” Seiji slides over a hefty number of banknotes with a pleasant, well-rehearsed sheepish smile. “For the troubles.”

When the matter is done, he looks back at Akira.

“Shall we?” Seiji asks.

 

You,” Akira growls, “Petty, spoilt, spiteful little shit.”

Seiji laughs breathlessly.

Akira has him pinned to the wall from the very moment they went through the door. They didn’t have a chance to look around, didn’t take even two steps inside.

Despite knowing exactly what’s about to happen, Seiji still didn’t do anything but take it with fervor, keen on every bruising kiss, every touch.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“R-remember how I used to get punched instead of having this? I—” he gasps at another bite stinging the side of his neck, “I can’t say I miss it...”

Akira surges up for a kiss on his mouth, and Seiji whimpers at another mean bite, this time to the upper lip. This, and hands roaming tantalizingly low on his body while he clings for dear life to Akira’s hoodie, make his head spin.

“That was a damn expensive whiskey glass.” Akira’s voice is a hushed hiss over his ear, the intimate, tingling sensation of it makes it hard to put the words together.

Seiji feels his jaw slack. “The money I gave are — ah! — are enough for an e-entire whiskey cabinet...”

God, his legs are about to give out. He slurs like a toddler already. If Akira didn’t have his hands all over him, supporting his weight, he wouldn’t be able to stand.

It’s too much. It’s also not even nearly enough.

“Akira…”

He shivers at another puff of hot breath scalding the underside of his ear. Akira noses at the bruises he left there, satisfied with the mess he’s made, and trails back up to kiss Seiji’s trembling lips almost tenderly.

“C’mon, hold on to me,” Akira murmurs, giving Seiji one final peck.

“Huh?..”

Suddenly, his back slides up the wall as the other boy grabs under his hips and picks him up with ease.

“Akira!..”

“I said hold on.”

Seiji scrambles to wrap his arms around Akira’s neck, hooking his legs behind the boy’s back. With his heart in his throat, Seiji lets himself be dragged away from the wall, Akira his only leverage now.

Oh. Oh, god…”

Akira manhandled him before, but not like this, never like this. It doesn’t help that the thought itself crossed his mind too often, the possibility of it, the ‘what if’. But he never considered how warm it would feel, how secure, how—

“Don’t swoon on me yet,” Akira huffs. “Too early.”

Seiji’s cheeks flush. “S-shut it.”

He can sense Akira chuckle with the way his shoulders move slightly under Seiji’s chin, and the sudden urge to press even closer, bury himself into Akira for eternity and never let go is so overwhelming that Seiji has to physically clench his teeth to restrain himself. There’s only so much he can get away with.

He still sneaks a quick kiss to Akira’s earlobe, because he’s bad at denying himself things. But just that much. Just that much shouldn’t be a big deal.

“Shit,” Seiji hears Akira rumble and freezes like a deer in the headlights, “The lights won’t go on.” There’s a distant flick flick flick of the switch that ultimately doesn’t do anything.

Oh.

Seiji breathes a quiet sigh of relief.

“Get your flashlight then, genius.”

“Shut up, I know,” Akira grumbles, already rummaging in his pocket. Having to hold Seiji with only one arm for that doesn’t look like a problem at all, and Seiji sighs for an entirely different reason now.

The flashlight immediately flicks on, and it only now occurred to Seiji how absolutely  pitch-black the corridor they’re in was. His eyes are used to the dark by now yet the darkness here bothers him, but he can’t put his finger on exactly why.

Then they’re moving again, entering the first door they stumble upon. A startled yelp escapes his lips when Akira suddenly throws him down on something, — a bed, he realizes with giddiness as he lands softly on his back, — and the uneasiness is gone, washed away by eager anticipation.

Seiji barely gets to raise himself up on his elbows — Akira is on him in mere seconds, creeping over like a beast of prey. They collide in a messy kiss, the one that sends electric impulses through his body, teeth gnawing at each other’s lips. Akira covers him entirely now, pressing down with his own weight, the growl low in his throat at every flicker of tongue, and Seiji was never so turned on in his life.

Although they’ve certainly had their moments.

It’s already getting hard to say the exact number of sneaky kisses they’ve stolen against that vending machine near Akira’s apartment. ‘Studying’ is now an excuse to push Seiji down on the table until he’s sprawled on his back across its surface for Akira to lick and nip at the hollow of his throat. Hangouts with Hazuki turn into heady make-outs in the ID photo booth after a long day of having to keep their hands to themselves, with Seiji straddling Akira on the narrow stool. 

Yet that’s all there was to it.

Kisses that leave him lightheaded, the aftertaste of each and every one of them stuck to the roof of his mouth. Bite marks and hickeys and bruises that he admires in the mirror afterwards. The ghost of a touch on his skin that he later traces with his fingertips absentmindedly, sometimes completely unaware.

That’s all he had, after Akira would eventually decide to abruptly end things for the day.

And tonight that’s going to change.

“In my b-back pocket,” Seiji stutters out, struggling for air between every persistent, harsh press of lips against his, “The left one. Get—”

Akira throws a quizzical look, but still gets his hand behind Seiji’s back to slide it slowly down his spine with an almost crushing force, all the way to his backside. Seiji gasps, tugging reflexively at Akira’s hair with both hands and making the other hiss, but not in pain, exactly. He feels the gloved fingers getting inside the left pocket and pulling out what’s in there.

It’s dark, there are no windows, the flashlight left between the cushions is not doing much, but the little packet in Akira’s leather-covered hand is unmistakable.

“...a condom,” Akira states blankly.

He certainly doesn’t sound as excited at the prospect as your average eighteen year old boy should in a situation like this, and it pushes all the anxiety-inducing buttons, tugs at all the Akira-related insecurities that Seiji won’t admit even to himself he has. His face looks probably terrible right now, not attractive at all. The fact that Akira’d seen Seiji in his worst multiple times now, - witnessed his face distorted with fear, anguish, shock and anger, - doesn’t do anything to ease up that irrational need to appear desirable in front of the guy he’s been in love with since elementary.

Lips pursed thin, Seiji shifts uncomfortably and tries to morph his expression. The crushing weight of Akira spread all over and above him, trapping him completely, the boy’s ragged breath tickling the side of his neck — none of it now feels as heavenly as it did just a few moments ago.

“Amanome—” Akira starts, but doesn’t get to finish.

Seiji fists his hands in Akira’s hair and arches up into him, mouth crushing against the other boy’s, teeth scraping on the soft flesh of his lips. A muffled sound escapes Akira’s throat, awfully like a protest, so Seiji doubles his efforts. He licks into Akira’s mouth insistently, holding back every gasp and whimper, no matter how tiny, and thrills with quiet delight when the bait works and Akira finally snaps.

He came to learn what gets Akira riled up, too, after all. One of which is apparently to get Seiji as shamelessly vocal as possible. Every moan and soft cry is coming out unrestrained, now that all control over the kiss is taken away from him.

Akira is distracted enough that Seiji’s hand eventually roaming lower his body doesn't register. His heart starts pounding in his ears the moment he can finally feel the buckle of Akira’s belt under his fingertips.

Maybe he got too impatient, too clumsy in his eagerness, but his usually clever fingers fumble just a tad too long for Akira to grab his wrist in an iron grip right before Seiji would open a clasp.

“What are you doing,” Akira rasps into his mouth, voice low.

Seiji lets his head lay back on the pillows, chest heaving. There needs to be some distance for him to remember again how words work.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” he questions back. Wonders if his voice sounds as wrecked as he feels.

Akita’s grip doesn’t relent, and Seiji’s breath hitches when as soon as the words leave his mouth, Akira pins his wrist down right beside his head on the pillow. He seems to be taking Seiji in like this, willingly sprawled on the bed underneath him, making no attempts at getting free. Seiji preens secretly on the attention, noting for the first time Akira’s blown pupils as his eyes keep wandering up and down his body.

Like he’s not not considering it.

And perhaps…

Perhaps he needs just one more little push.

Seiji slowly slides his free hand up along one of Akira’s straightened arms, the one that presses him into the mattress. He traces appreciatively over the deliciously bulging veins there, up and up, taut muscles playing under his fingers, until he meets the hem of a cloth.

“Have I ever told you I’m grateful you wear short sleeves?” he sighs contently, sliding his hand back down just as slowly and feeling the goosebumps breaking out under his touch.

“...I,” Akira grits out, “Don’t think you did.”

Hm. Not even under pretense of a passing joke? He’s surprised at himself.

“Well, I am.”

With Akira staring down on him, Seiji places a tentative kiss to the side of Akira’s wrist where his lips can reach, short of where the glove starts. It smells of high quality, well-worn leather, of iron — no, of rusted blood. He mouths at the hem of it, nibbling at the skin where Akira’s wrist meets leather.

His eyelids flutter at the mental picture: to take Akira’s gloves off with his bare teeth, kiss away at gradually exposed skin, gnaw at the hard knuckles and lick at every old scrape and bruise there, suck fingers into his mouth and swallow around them—

A shiver runs up his spine as something rough-textured touches the tender skin on his navel. His eyes shoot wide open, forcing reality back, and Seiji can’t help but gasp at what he sees: Akira’s wandering hand under Seiji’s crumpled up dress shirt, as the boy watches with rapt attention at his stomach muscles hiccuping reflexively.

Seiji’s face heats up.

The force with which Akira’s engloved palm is applying pressure on his naked skin is just shy of making it feel like he’s about to crush Seiji’s ribs. The hold on his pinned down wrist is now tight enough to hurt a little, but Seiji doesn’t comment on any of it.

“Akira,” he calls instead, and it sounds needy even to his own ears, “Kiss me.”

It’s exhilarating, how fast Akira springs into complying with his keen request, as if he was waiting all this time for Seiji’s explicit permission, despite being the one holding him down. He can still feel a hand tracing under his dress shirt as Akira’s tongue slips into his mouth.

Seiji is distantly aware of his own arm looping around the other boy’s neck, pulling closer, his back arching into the contact of leather-covered fingers on his heated skin. 

A hazy glance around tells him something is missing from the picture.

“The condom,” Seiji says on exhale, pressing a kiss to the corner of Akira’s lips.

He watches Akira’s adam’s apple wobble. “I...”

A distant piercing scream suddenly drowns out the rest of what Akira had to say. It sounds far away yet at the same time, it feels like it’s splitting Seiji’s head in two, like he hears it inside himself, that strangely monotone, bone-chilling holler.

It ends just as abruptly as it started, barely lasting a few seconds, and his ears are still ringing when Akira lifts his head swiftly and stills like a guard dog on alert. “What was that?”

“Nothing,” Seiji grits between his teeth, “It was nothing.”

He tries to pull Akira back on him but the boy doesn’t budge, doesn’t seem to even notice what Seiji is trying to do here. Another time, Seiji would appreciate how sturdy Akira’s body feels under his fingertips, unbothered by Seiji’s efforts to focus his attention back on him.

It should be arousing.

It’s annoying.

Akira’s eyes carefully scan the wall behind Seiji’s head, as if trying to see through it. “It sounded from down the hall.”

It felt like that to him, too, but...

“No.” This time Seiji attempts to tug insistently at Akira’s hoodie. “No way. Ignore it.”

No fucking ghosts or spirits or whatever the hell. Not now

“Are you out of your mind?” Akira’s eyes are snapping back to him, finally. “We just heard a spirit.”

“We don’t know that.”

His best friend stares at him, stunned. Then shakes his head, “Whatever it was we need to get the hell out of here, fast.”

Akira moves to get up from the bed, and there’s a high-pitched shrill going off inside Seiji’s head, only now it has nothing to do with ghosts or spirits.

“No. Wait.” Seiji scrambles up and peppers his jaw with butterfly kisses.

Seiji doesn’t remember anymore what he’s trying to do at this point; he’s just cold without Akira’s hands and mouth.

He’s denied again as Akira turns his head away from his lips with a grunt. “Stop already.”

Seiji can’t feel his fingers from how tightly they're clutching at Akira’s arm, knuckles white.

He tries to calm his breathing so the words he speaks next would come out all saccharine sweet, and no tremble. “Relax, Akira. It was probably nothing. Come here…”

Seiji reaches out to touch his face, only to have his hand caught and put aside with much more force than needed. His entire body goes rigid as Akira barks, patience wearing thin:

“Amanome, cut it off. What’s gotten into you—”

I’m being completely reasonable,” Seiji snaps in turn, hissing low. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

He’s not the one who’s been shying away from things to go further for weeks, ever since their friendship turned into this wonderful, wonderful mess.

Why the hell they’re doing it then, if not for this?

Why did Akira kiss him that day in the first place, starting it all, if not for this?

His fingernails bite harshly into the flesh on Akira’s forearm, causing the boy to bare his teeth at the painful sensation, but refuse to make a sound. Somehow, it only makes Seiji all the more furious.

“What, gonna say you don’t wanna do it?”

“That’s not—”

“Or is it me that’s the problem?”

No, he didn’t mean to, he doesn’t need to know, doesn’t want to hear the answer.

But his mouth just keeps going, like a dam broke inside and he can’t control the flood anymore:

“Is that why you won’t do anything? Got tired already?”

Every word is like a drop of poison slipping away, one he’s been keeping inside for the past few weeks.

“What the— ‘already’?”

“Or what, you snapped out of it? It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it.”

It’s leaking from his lips, past his chin, down his neck that still stings from all the bites and hickeys left there.

“Jesus, slow down—”

“Want me to call Hazuki here instead?”

Akira’s eyes flash dangerously, “Watch it, asshole—”

“Would be so much simpler then, wouldn’t it!”

“Dammit, listen to me!”

“So sorry you’re stuck here with me instead—”

“AMANOME, CALM THE FUCK DOWN!” Akira roars, giving him a hard shake of his shoulders.

Seiji’s head feels like it’s about to tear from his body with the force of it. Distantly, he thinks he’d rather take a punch to the face. When stars stop dancing before his eyes, he realizes they’re both panting for breath like they ran a mile, Akira’s hands still gripping his shoulders.

Gingerly, Akira lets him go when Seiji’s breath evens out. They’re left sitting against each other, with Akira’s flashlight that has rolled down onto the floor in the middle of it all, lighting up barely enough to see the face of one another.

Maybe it’s better this way, that Akira can’t see Seiji clearly. A part of him would really like to just have disappeared on the spot right about now, never to be found again.

The tense silence is almost tangible.

Akira is the one to eventually breach it.

“Feel alright now?” he asks. Seiji keeps silent. “Seriously. Just what is up with you today?”

He sounds exhausted, like he’s the one with a sore throat after getting into a panicked frenzy.

When Seiji still sits there, lips tight, Akira speaks again, “I’m not going anywhere, you know.”

Doesn’t seem like he means from here, and this time, Seiji can’t help his sneer, “Oh really.”

Somehow he doubts it. Just look at all the years they’ve spent together: how much effort Seiji’s put to get them to this point, with Akira just in for the ride.

But that’s just how his best friend is. Seiji doesn’t hold it against him.

At least, he tries.

Seiji feels worn out suddenly. He doesn’t remember the last time he got so worked up over something. Makes sense that Akira is to blame for that, he supposes.

“And you’re not going anywhere, either,” Akira presses, making the point of looking him right in the eyes.

Seiji scoffs, even as his stomach does a somersault. “I’m doing whatever the hell I please.”

“Then you’ll just have to do that ‘whatever’ together with me.”

It sounds awfully like a promise.

Seiji swallows around the lump in his throat and looks away.

He feels… uncomfortable. Disgustingly vulnerable. Like he’d break down at one word or glance, completely at Akira’s mercy. Seiji wants to crawl out of his skin if only not to feel it anymore. But he also wants to crawl onto Akira’s lap, too.

“I didn’t mean it. About Hazuki,” he mutters, stealing a glance. Just feels like something he should make clear.

Akira’s eyes narrow. “You better never drag her into this again, jerk. It’s between you and me.”

Seiji sighs. “I’ll treat her next time we go out to eat together.”

“Mm.”

Again, a short silence falls. But tonight is just full of surprises, because after a minute or so, Akira makes another attempt at conversation. Seiji is vaguely impressed, but mostly bewildered.

“Listen. No fucking clue what exactly that was about, earlier, but. Ugh.” Akira tsk’s, frustrated with himself.

A part of Seiji hates how Akira struggles to find the right words to say. As if he’s trying to be considerate, probably for the first time in his life. Seiji wants to tease him and wants to get angry for it in equal measure.

Akira sighs, defeated. “There’s no need to rush this. Is what I’m trying to say, I guess.”

“This,” Seiji echoes, staring back at him. “This what?”

Akira rolls his eyes and points briefly at the space between them. “This. Us.”

“Us.”

“I’m starting to think you don’t feel too good after that shake after all.”

Well, that shake nearly had his head decapitated and rolling onto the floor.

Seiji does what he was dying to do for the entirety of this awkward conversation: he crawls onto Akira’s lap with a speed neither of them expected from him. Seiji braces himself for another ‘we don’t have time for this’, yet it doesn’t come. Akira’s hands seem to gravitate naturally to lay on his hips the moment Seiji settles; they feel like they’re burning through the fabric of his pants.

Seiji chances a glance, but there’s no hidden tension on Akira’s face, either. If anything, Akira looks relieved. Perfectly content to have Seiji where he is right now.

The kiss is slow and unhurried.

“Dunno about you,” Akira hums after, Seiji’s arms hanging off his shoulders, “But I just wanted to kinda…” he traces a line along Seiji’s waist with his thumb, causing goosebumps, “savor this for a little longer, or something, before... you know.”

‘Savor this’: discovering each other in a completely new light; trying to steal as many moments to get alone together as possible yet those moments seem to never be enough; the hesitant touch, the unvoiced is this okay?, and that lingering post-haze state when their lips part and they’re just breathing each other in, as they wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

But that’s where the problem lies.

It’s a little too wonderful of a build-up. Seiji would rather not delude himself more than he already has.

“Akira.” Akira looks up at him. “Don’t get me wrong: that’s unexpectedly sweet of you.” Seiji gives him a peck on the nose. “My heart’s melted and all that, even though you probably never intended for it to. But I also really, really want you to fuck me six ways to sunday.”

Whatever intimate mood they set up here, Seiji is pretty sure he effectively obliterated it just now.

Oh well.

A pained groan, “Amanome, we are not doing it in a haunted sex dungeon.”

It’s not, but if Seiji gets laid with a bloodthirsty ghost looming in the shadows as a handicap, he‘s gonna take his chances. (Not that he even believes there is one here. Can’t Akira’s instincts just be wrong, for once?)

“You’re sick in the head,” is Akira’s response, “Seriously, you need to check that brain of yours.”

Seiji groans and buries his nose in the crook of Akira’s neck in disappointment.

“Later,” he hears Akira add after a beat.

Seiji waits for some sort of elaboration but of course it doesn’t come. He lifts his head a little. “Later..?”

With a clear struggle on his face, Akira stiffly continues, “We. Can try some things. Later. After we’re out of here.”

Seiji tilts his head curiously. “Is this your roundabout way of saying we’re going to have sex tonight, after all?” Being blunt and straightforward is the best tactics to go with his best friend sometimes.

“Do you really want to do it that bad?” Akira asks, doubtful. “It wasn’t some caught-in-the-moment thing or—”

“I really want to,” Seiji breathes out.

Akira blinks up at him. “Er. Okay.”

And he sounds… taken aback, but also a little bit in awe; like he can’t believe he’s really allowed to have this. It’s endearing in a way that makes a secret smile tug at Seiji’s lips.

But here’s the thing: Seiji is opportunistic, and he sniffed a deal.

And if it’s a deal, he’s going to milk it dry.

“Then, we’re coming to your apartment after this?”

Akira gives him a bewildered look.

“Where else do you think we’d go, to your house? If the yakuza boss of Shinza Ward finds out I’m fucking his son...” Hey now, crude. But: also kind of hot. Where has the shyness from before disappeared to? And there was no actual fucking involved yet, regrettably, so whether or not the phrasing fits is debatable. “I’d be swimming with the fishes by now.”

(Akira says that, but Seiji doubts he even believes that himself. Akira always described his old man as a ‘pretty chill dude’, ever since that fateful night when Pops swung by the Black Rabbit out of nowhere while Seiji and Akira been hanging there. Yelling something about how little punks don’t get to just steal away his precious son, boisterous as always, he challenged Akira to a tequila shot game.

In which Akira came out victorious. Obviously.

Needless to say, it was a bizarre night. There was a constant nagging in the back of Seiji’s mind that he’s missing some important depth here.

Neither his dad nor Akira are particularly into drinking, yet they treated this ridiculous competition like their very honor was on the line, trading hushed words in between. At the end of it Akira silently braced himself for Natsumi-san’s gaze of parental disapproval, the fact that she was the one preparing them the shots apparently beside the point. While Seiji just sat there, trying to wrap his head around all that’s happened.

It was such a drag to bring his drunk into stupor Pops back home afterwards. Seiji still remembers his slurred mumbling on the car ride home:

“He’s alright, that lil’ punk... He’s alright, son...”

For a reason Seiji would rather not think about, hearing those words that sounded suspiciously like a blessing from his father, was pretty much the most embarrassing experience he’s ever had.)

“But if you start bitching about my place again, I’m kicking you out,” Akira adds.

The response leaves his mouth automatically, “I’ll complain about how claustrophobic it is only once, pinky swear.”

“You know what? I’ll take it.”

But, they got slightly off topic. Time to get back to business.

“We’re going all the way tonight. You promised.”

“Did I now.”

“And I get to cling to your back the entire ride back.”

“Uh. Sure.”

“I’ll be the one to put the motorcycle helmet on you, in fact. And remove it when we arrive.”

“Okay? I guess.”

“You’ll let me touch your biceps once we’re back at the apartment.”

“Wait, what.”

“And abs.”

“Why am I even surprised.”

“I also get to remove those stupid gloves off your hands, to—”

“To do what, exactly?”

“And it will probably save us some time if once back, we bath toge—“

“Okay, now you’re pushing it.”

Tch.

“Stop pouting,” Akira sighs.

Seiji huffs, indignant. He suppresses the urge to cross his arms, but just barely. “Amanome men don’t pout.”

“Uh-huh.”

Doesn’t sound like he’s convinced at all, that barbarian. You could even say he’s amused. How dare.

Lucky for him, Seiji apparently is very much into infuriating barbarians, as it turned out, so he’ll let that one slide. For now.

“Last thing, and it can’t wait.”

“What is it.”

“A sweet, chaste kiss to seal the deal.”

A jest, of course: what are they, a lovey-dovey couple from TV drama?

Blink and you miss it, Akira ducks forward and pecks Seiji on the corner of his lips, before rolling him off his lap to spring from the bed, all casual-like and not at all like he just turned Seiji’s whole world upside down and then shook it until everything fell out.

“...I demand a repeating performance,” Seiji groans eventually into the ceiling, “I barely felt anything.”

“That was the point, dumbass. You coming or what?”

With an unhappy grunt, Seiji stands up too and straightens his shirt, jeans, and finally — the tie. That brute nearly ripped it off before, getting to Seiji’s clavicle, but doesn’t seem eager to come help making it look somewhat presentable again.

Once done, Seiji grumbles:

“Not exactly how I would like to, tonight, but yeah; I’m coming.” That, at least, makes Akira snort a little. “But first…”

“What.”

“Can we look around here for juuust a little bit, before we go?”

Akira opens his mouth to no doubt shoot him down, but Seiji’s already batting his eyelashes. “Please?”

“I said stop that.”

 

“So what are we searching for,” Akira asks.

They’ve been going around the room, flashlights in hands for five minutes or so as the lights still won’t work, checking every vase, every decoration, every painting on the wall, and walls themselves.

So far, nothing.

With every passing minute Seiji can sense Akira getting more agitated, stilling at every floor creak, eyes roaming suspiciously along the room. Seiji pretends not to notice how every so often, Akira would throw him a quick glance, as if to make sure Seiji still has his head attached.

As for Seiji himself, he is still very much content with being in denial with the whole ‘there’s a big chance this place is haunted’ twist of the night. Being terrified is not a state Seiji enjoys being in. He will happily stay sceptical until he can’t anymore.

So, perfectly nonchalant, Seiji replies, “Oh, you know. Listening bugs, voice recorders, hidden cameras. All the fun, invasion of privacy stuff.”

“Uh, what.”

Personally, Seiji thinks the core idea of this place is actually sort of brilliant. 

You build a club, you make it popular within a small group of friends and business partners as a place to meet and unwind while also discussing important matters at hand. You mention offhandedly just how paranoid you get at times, that it’s driven you to request this absolute bunker of an apartment suite to be pre-built. A friend asks to borrow it for a ‘special night’, then another friend does, then another, until it’s not only friends anymore. Now people are ready to pay big money to spend at least a few hours here, under the impression of it being secure.

This suite has no windows, the walls are made of concrete; the cellphones don’t work because of an active jamming equipment installed: Seiji did ask Akira to try and give him a call while they investigate, and it never got through.

There’s a reason for why the bedrooms are the closest to the entrance; Seiji and Akira earlier are a prime example of that.

But there are also many very important discussions that take place within these walls; top secret contracts get signed, million dollar deals are made.

Some people come here just to have a peaceful night’s sleep, too.

Only Seiji believes this place is not what it’s advertised to be.

Seiji peeks at Akira over his shoulder, who’s checking diligently the worktable beside the bed. He means to ask about the progress — just because, — but his gaze drops lower, to the black choker gripping tightly around his best friend’s neck.

Seiji’s well informed of the rumors circulating lately. About a son of a respected yakuza family followed around everywhere by a boy of unknown origin, who’s  unexpectedly become a smash hit in UG matches. How tight they seem to be, joint at the hip; how they go far back. They say the boy had saved the Prince of Threats more than once.

They say there might be more to their relationship than they let on.

A couple of phone calls, and Seiji would never have heard of it ever again.

He’s not going to do anything, though.

Let them whisper. Let them get used to it.

Soon, in a couple of years, they will all be shitting their pants just hearing their names. 

He’s willing to wait until then, no matter how long it will take for Akira to get comfortable with the idea of them being tied together more than they ever were before.

If Akira ever does.

Every Seiji’s little push, every nudge in the right direction to ensure the future he envisions, like a giant wave, brings changes with it that Akira sometimes has a hard time accepting or adjusting to. So Seiji treads carefully. 

He can’t and won’t dictate Akira how to live his life...

“What,” Akira asks coolly, noting his eyes on him.

Seiji smiles. “Nothing.”

But he will do anything in his power for Akira to keep wanting to stay.

“Wierdo.”

“Aww.”

“Anyway, weirdo,” Akira points at the opened wide drawer of the worktable. “Come take a look.”

Intrigued, Seiji walks over. “What is it?”

The boy shrugs, leaning casually against the edge of the table, arms crossed. “No clue. Just got a feeling something’s up. You figure it out.”

Slightly exasperated but not exactly surprised, Seiji leans over to examine the drawer. Wordlessly, Akira points his flashlight so Seiji would actually see what’s inside.

At first glance, there’s nothing special: some pens and moleskine notebooks, and what seems like little bottles of...

“Oh, there’s an oil,” Seiji says with a sly smirk, “Makes you wonder what it’s for, doesn’t it?..”

“Makes me want to never go out with you ever again,” Akira deadpans. Seiji definitely doesn’t pout.

Aside from that, though, nothing special in terms of the contents.

But if Akira says something’s up, then there’s definitely something’s up.

Seiji eyes critically over every nook and cranny inside, then tries to close the drawer and open it again. No suspicious sounds, but something isn’t right, now he too can feel it.

His nimble fingers feel all over the inner edges of the opened wide drawer, until they reach the rear wall and probe at it.

And it yields under his touch.

Seiji chuckles softly. “Of course.”

He removes the divider and puts it aside on the table.

“Would you look at that,” Seiji coos, “Someone actually tried to be smart about it.”

A voice recorder, taped securely to the inner side of the hidden compartment. There are several small holes drilled through the wooden wall near it, to help with not so muffled, more clear sound.

Plus, the worktable is actually the closest to the bed furniture in the room. It wouldn't take much for the recorder to pick up the voices and do what it’s set up to do, even from the inside of the drawer.

“Is it working?” Akira asks.

“Yup, it’s catching every word we speak.” Seiji leans in to examine it better. “Ohh, this one is fancy. It’s the model that only activates when it hears sounds loud enough for it to trigger, like for example, human speech. I possess quite a few of them myself. They’re pretty expensive as the technology is fairly new, but they come in handy in terms of battery life, and—”

Boring,” Akira cuts him off.

Seiji sighs, “My mistake for broaching such an intellectual subject with someone with no appreciation for it, you’re right.”

“You can nerd to your heart’s content about them spy toys or whatever, after we get out of here,” Akira says.

Seiji quirks a sceptical brow, “And you will listen?”

Akira shrugs. “I can pretend.”

Huh.

Most intriguing, but Seiji decides to shrug it off. Akira acting strange today is something he can brainstorm about later.

“You have my camera, right?” he asks.

Without a word, Akira opens his bag and takes out the digital camera there. One of the oldest Seiji owns, and is actually his favorite.

“It’s unfortunate, having to shoot in the dark,” Seiji mutters, taking a close shot of the voice recorder and making sure the sticking tape and holes are in the frame. The sudden bright flash makes Akira hiss and cover his eyes. “Can’t be helped, though.”

He takes a couple of shots in quick succession before backing away to capture the drawer with its secret section exposed, as well as the entire worktable in the photos, too.

Deeming his job done, Seiji lowers the camera.

“You’re a professional photographer now, too?” Akira drawls and holds his hand out, palm up.

Seiji sighs, giving the camera back. “Excuse me for allowing myself to have different passions in life, buddy.”

Akira scrunches his nose as if contemplating his answer, but ultimately stays silent as he shoves the camera back with a difficult expression on his face.

They’re still far from being done here.

Seiji lets his eyes roam freely around the room, until they land on the unnecessarily big ornate mirror on the opposite wall from the bed.

“Shouldn’t we do something about it?” Akira asks, jerking a nod at the recorder.

“In a minute,” Seiji replies, distracted.

Some things don’t require superhuman instincts to appear plain suspicious, so Seiji stalks closer to the mirror.

It only takes a quick once over for his mouth to split into a grin. “Aha. I was wondering about this.” He waits for Akira to come closer before pointing the flashlight back at the mirror. “See how the light catches some shadows that don’t belong in this room?”

He watches, amused, how Akira’s eyes are going (slightly) wide in realization.

“No way. Is this...”

“A one-way mirror.”

“And it’s...”

“Right in front of the bed.” He lets it sink in, before cheerfully adding, “Good news is that no one appears to watch us from the other side now, though.”

“Oh yeah,” is Akira’s dry response, “Such a relief.”

The people in charge probably didn’t quite anticipate two teenage boys to get frisky with each other the moment they tumble into the door. Which once again proves just how important being open-minded and progressive is. Not thinking through all of the possibilities can badly hurt the business.

“Do you understand what all of this means?” Seiji asks, barely able to contain his excitement. It’s not even his birthday today.

“I understand that you wanted to fuck in this very room, knowing full well it’s bugged and has a one-way mirror.”

“Hey, in my defense I didn’t know, exactly. It was a mere speculation that we only now confirmed… More importantly, this means they’ve got tons of dirt on the most influential people in the country.”

His mind is already reeling. So many well known names, so many important figures rumored to enter this quote unquote secure place. What a difference one such recording could make in his hands. 

Akira scowls, “Wait. Doesn’t that also mean they’ve got dirt on you now, too? With, you know.” A vague hand wave at the worktable.

Oh, he wouldn’t be so sure.

Seiji comes back to the table drawer and plays around with the recording there a little, humming ‘Wander Rabbits’ under his nose. With preparations done, he starts speaking in a gentle, soft whisper:

“No, I don’t think they want to use tonight’s recording, the one that inexplicably got erased just now, to either blackmail Amanome family with it or sell to some interested third parties. I think what they do want, is to not anger many very dangerous people that put their trust in them, jeopardizing the little side business they have going on here. I think they could escape that fate, though, if perhaps, we take a little look together at all the recordings that are far, far more interesting than this one. I think they will consider it for, let’s see… three days, before giving their answer. And I think, it better be the one I hope for.”

When he clicks a button, stopping the recording, and turns around with a satisfied smile playing on his lips, Akira looks almost impressed.

“And here I thought you only dragged us here to fuck me.”

“I’m sorry, honey. Next time it’s all about you, I promise.”

“Pfft.”

The seemingly easy victory does make Seiji wonder, though.

What were the LUCID+INTERVAL higher-ups thinking, inviting Amanome Seiji so openly into their secret den, knowing perfectly well his reputation?

Have they simply underestimated him by thinking he would never even think of searching for recorders, let alone find one? Or is there some other ploy he’s not aware of?

Obviously, Seiji could send someone in to check for spying toys and confirm his suspicions without risking going himself. But Seiji just doesn’t have anyone he would trust with the job. They’re all reliable people in his family, but they’re all Pops’ people.

And there’s this persistent nagging, too: that none of them is round enough, annoying enough, stupid enough to qualify. They’re all just not Maruhashi.

Seiji allows the memories to linger for a moment, and then shoves them back into their own dedicated corner to return to later.

He hears Akira‘s heavy boots stomping over.

“A creepy one-way mirror, a hidden voice recorder…” the boy muses. “This place sure looks like something you’d have a kick being in charge of, oh Prince of Threats.”

Slightly offended, Seiji frowns at him. “If I promise something, I intend to keep my word. So if I promised total security, I would give exactly that: total security. With no trust, what’s the point?” He elicits a dramatic sigh, “I’m wounded you even thought I’d stoop so low, buddy.”

“Yeah, yeah, my bad.”

Admittedly, Seiji can’t say the thought never crossed his mind. He could come up with at least a hundred of more creative ways to hide the spy gadgets.

But he also meant every word: this is not how he would run this business, given the chance.

The recordings are nothing more than a safety net for that yakuza clan, anyway. They wouldn't risk the reputation of this place by leaking anything unless it’s absolutely necessary. So they’re just hoarding all the information they get from here, waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

“I was wondering for a while now, but does that excite you?” Seiji asks Akira with a teasing lilt in his voice, when at last, they exit the room and walk down the hallway.

“Does what excite me.” Though he looks like he’d rather not hear the answer.

“Me doing business,” Seiji clarifies anyway. “Acting like a typical, textbook yakuza.”

Akira shakes his head after a long beat. “I think of it as more like seeing the real you, in those moments... or something.”

“Every moment we share together is with the real me,” Seiji says.

Whether he likes it or not.

Seiji apparently just isn’t capable of holding anything to himself when it comes to his best friend. It all slips through, eventually.

Akira looks at him, silent and contemplating.

“Even when singing ‘Wander Rabbits’ song?” he eventually asks.

Seiji chuckles, “Especially then.”

The lights still don’t work: none of the switches they tried, — in the room, in the corridor, — did anything, so they walk back to the entrance with only flashlights guiding the way.

It shouldn't take long, yet it feels like they’ve been walking for at least ten minutes. He’s annoyed Akira three times already, asking if he’s sure that’s the direction they came from before; every confirmation in response was snarkier than the other. Getting potentially lost in a potentially haunted apartment suite with only one exit definitely didn’t help Akira’s sour mood.

Eventually, Akira stops to a halt and points forward with his flashlight at what suddenly appeared before their eyes.

Instead of an entrance door, it’s a dead end.

“Fuck,” voices Akira his thoughts.

 

As they learn, going the opposite direction doesn’t lead to the exit, either. It only proves to go even deeper into the giant apartment bunker along its seemingly endless corridor. They pass a number of bedrooms, little kitchenettes, bathrooms, work offices, lobbies and negotiating rooms. And the corridor still goes on further.

It’s only after some of the wandering and Akira clearly seeing things on the walls that Seiji cannot, that they have to admit: this is most probably a spirit messing with them.

“So maybe the door was there the first time,” Seiji mutters as they make their way back to the rooms they started at, “We just didn’t see it. That thing blocked it, or… misplaced it.”

Can ghosts even do that?

Even his own very limited experience suggests that yes, they very much can.

Seiji resists the urge to run his hands along his shoulders. He thinks he feels cold, but he’s not entirely sure; might be just a trick of mind. Either way, he’d rather fake his I’m not on the brink of totally losing my shit what do you mean facade for a little bit longer.

Akira on the other hand, seems to actually keep his shit together, despite being the one strung-up earlier. It’s like now that he knows for certain that danger is real, he let go of those doubts and worries, and is able to laser focus on the goal.

Which is, quote unqoute, ‘beat the stupid thing up and get the fuck out’.

At some point Akira tried to contact Yashiki-san, and Seiji let him fiddle with his phone for a while before kindly reminding him that the line here is dead.

“And really, must you cockblock them, too, you heartless monster?” Seiji asked then, incredulous, at which Akira rolled his eyes but put the phone away.

This was their last exchange before they got to work, investigating the place.

(Except for when Seiji, carefully casual, asked:

“Now that I think about it, what’d got those girls back at the bar so insulted they left?”

Which got him:

“Just said: ‘Thanks, but I already have someone who fills the ‘bitchy diva’ quota among the people I know’.”

“Hey!”

“Funny how I didn’t specify who it’s about yet you automatically assumed, isn’t it.”)

Akira made it clear that whatever’s at the end of the hallway, it’s the source of everything wrong going on; he can sense it.

“And that’s where we’re ultimately heading: down the hallway.” Akira sums up, “Once we’re ready.”

Seiji doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready to face a spirit, not in a million years.

Still, he manages a smile, although it’s a small, wry thing.

“I’m with you, buddy.”

 

“Y’know, that was all surprisingly mild, considering it’s you.”

They’ve been investigating all of the rooms — which there are a lot of, — for a while now, collecting useless junk, when Akira suddenly speaks up about something not related to their apparent spirit hunting.

“Am I supposed to get offended or flattered here?” Seiji asks, distracted by a suspicious shadow at his right. He quickly flicks his flashlight on it; it’s just an oddly-shaped fake plant. “What exactly are we talking about, by the way?”

Akira is a little behind him in the dark corridor, five foot distance or so, which is perfect for exchanging banter at, while also searching thoroughly for… clues, Seiji supposes.

It’s subtle, but it seems like Akira made a point of not letting Seiji out of his sight. Whether to make sure Seiji is safe or so Seiji would feel safe, he doesn’t question. But little by little, with every meaningless conversation about the most stupid things, Seiji almost forgets they’re about to risk their lives for a chance to return back home.

It also helps that nothing jumped at them, so far.

Somewhere in his peripheral vision Akira shrugs. “I mean. Most of the stuff you ‘demanded’ for tonight didn’t seem like something you need my explicit permission for.”

Ah. He means ‘the bucket list for later’ that Seiji asked for in exchange for a ruined night and that highly uncomfortable feelings talk. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to still be alive by the end of the night and actually get to it?

Seiji looks over his shoulders with eyebrows raised. “So you say you’d let me do all of it? Should I have claimed my abs touching voucher ages ago?” he asks, amused to see the barely visible red spots on his best friend’s face, along with a piercing glare.

Akira huffs, “I guess? Aren’t people who date each other allowed to do that shit by default. ...hey why’d you stop.”

Of course he’d stop.

When your best friend says something they can’t possibly mean, of course you’d stop.

“What the hell?” Seiji rasps, words foreign and bitter on his tongue, “Are you saying we’re dating?”

Akira stops now, too. “Are you saying we’re not?”

The look Akira gives him is unnerving, but he doesn’t avoid the scorching gaze. He’s just unable to, frozen all over.

This is not the type of confrontation Seiji’s been readying himself for. Not the one he’s been rehearsing in his mind a thousand times for the past couple of weeks: gently coaxing Akira back into his arms and into this strange limbo they found themselves in, once his best friend would inevitably start to lose interest in what they’re doing. 

This, though — he never predicted this, purposefully shut himself from the very idea.

“You can’t possibly think that.” The words tumble down his mouth on their own. “You’re not—”

“I’m not what?” Akira cuts in, voice so calm it’s terrifying, “Go on. You clearly seem to know better about what I want and how I feel than I do.”

“You really thought that’s what we were doing all this time?” Seiji hears his own voice rise in volume, feeling a tad bit manic. “Playing boyfriends?”

He doesn’t mean to spit it out this way, a sneer behind his teeth, but that’s how it comes out.

“Well what the fuck you yourself thought we were doing, until now?” Akira snaps, expression dark and stormy.

Seiji’s insides turn into ice.

“I don’t know!” he finally bursts, “Fooling around! Experimenting! Having fun!..”

“...well I sure fucking hope you had your fun, then.”

It’s the way Akira says it, like Seiji’s words hollowed him out instead of just getting him angry, that spurs Seiji to sharply turn away, blinking rapidly and oh no, no. Before he knows it, he’s walking fast down the pitch-black corridor completely blind, body too rigid to move and light the path ahead, thoughts in disarray.

“Amanome, wait. Don’t wander off on your own.” Akira’s voice is not distant enough, so Seiji starts walking faster. “I said wait.”

And Seiji does, stumbling on nothing and abruptly coming to a stop. Who’s he kidding: he’ll never be able to outrun Akira. What’s lurking beyond that darkness ahead is still terrifying, the thought of going right in wrenches his insides.

Seiji gasps a gulp of air and hides his face in the crook of his elbow.

Akira is much closer than he realized when he speaks again.

“Amanome.” He can feel Akira standing right behind, the quiet breathing tickling the strands on top of Seiji’s head.

Seiji shakes his head in denial despite allowing himself to lean back, have a pair of arms sliding slowly around his sides, giving him time to escape, if he wants to.

He doesn’t want to.

“Amanome. Hey.”

Seiji doesn’t respond, too busy trying to calm his breathing, face still obscured with one hand, while the other clasps desperately at the arms surrounding him, gravitating him.

Akira is a solid warmth against his back, hands resting on top of Seiji’s stomach. They stand like this until the trembling lets go of his body, even though every breath comes out in a shudder, even though Seiji still doesn’t trust his own face expression, now that every mask’s laid bare.

“Amanome. I wanted it, — us, — to mean more than just fooling around. Did you?” Akira asks, barely audible.

“...I did,” Seiji manages to choke out, clinging to Akira’s arms around his waist like a lifeline now, “I do.”

“Good,” Akira exhales and squeezes Seiji tightly to his chest. “Good...”

Seiji gasps, all breath leaving him. His hand flies up from Akira’s to join the other, to bury his face in both of his arms now.

A sigh, right over his earlobe. “Dude... you’re such a mess.”

“...look who’s talking.”

“Yeah,” Akira trails lightly with his hand down Seiji’s shoulder, past his elbow until taking a hold on his bony wrist. “We make quite the pair.”

He gently tears Seiji’s hand away from his face, and Seiji lets him. Akira peers down for a moment, only to chuckle, “What an ugly face.”

“...and you called me pretty when you kissed me for the first time.”

“I did. Still ugly though.”

Seiji hiccups a laugh. He let the other hand fall down to his side on its own.

“...guess I should have made it clear, huh.” Akira mumbles, nose buried in Seiji’s hair, “Should have said something, that first time I, you know...” he trails off.

Seiji snickers. “Kissed me like a man starved, out of nowhere?” he supplies with a loopy grin, although a little wobbly around the edges.

Ugh.” The hands around his waist tighten. “I hate how I went about it, but. Yeah.”

Seiji bites his lip, trying to suppress a bubbling laughter threatening to burst out of his throat. What a strange, joyful sensation.

Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions, either,” Seiji amends quietly, despite something inside him still insisting to stay shut. “I was just...”

Scared shitless, he doesn’t say.

And lord knows: he is tired of feeling scared all the time.

“We were being dumb. But we’ll figure it out,” Akira says.

Seiji smiles faintly. Simple as that, huh.

Maybe that first kiss wasn’t so out of nowhere, either; but rather something that had a long time coming. He was just too wrapped up into his own head to see the signs. Because clearly, Seiji is the only one who thought they’re in this awkward liminal space somewhere in the middle of the the teenage hormonal storm, cheating death factor and mutual codependency issue.

“I thought we were in great hurry to face a supernatural phenomenon and possibly die?” Seiji murmurs with a small smile when Akira still doesn’t let go.

“Mm. Just a moment. Kinda like it here.”

Seiji shivers at the press of lips on the nape of his neck, “Even if you’re skin and bones and have no right to feel half as snugly.”

“...sometimes I wonder if it’s your knee-jerk reaction to insult me right after saying something sweet.”

“Probably.”

The smile is still there on his lips when Akira presses a kiss on the corner of it.

“There’s something that’s been bugging me, though,” Akira admits thoughtfully, and Seiji is suddenly acutely aware of his hands around his waist.

“Yeah?..”

Akira eyes his chest area critically. “Are you not wearing anything underneath that dress shirt?”

In a flash, it all comes back to him: Akira’s gloved hand playing with the hem of his shirt that already rode up above his bellybutton amidst all the heated excitement; his navel quivering reflexively when it grazed over it in an appreciative, if not outright possessive manner; the leather-covered fingers creeping higher and higher up his stomach...

“Hm-m...” Seiji cocks his head as if deep in thought.

The silence takes long enough for Akira to croak almost accusingly, “Amanome.

Seiji shrugs, perfectly unbothered.

“Who knows? Maybe if we survive tonight, I’ll let you find out.”

“Maybe I want to find out now.” Teeth crease the skin on his nape right above the collar of his shirt. “Maybe I want to rip it to shreds with my teeth and see for myself.”

“Promises, promises...”

He reaches his hand back to tangle his fingers in the mess of Akira’s hair, to ground himself, but also to make sure his best friend stays put and doesn’t get any funny ideas of letting go. He pulls a couple of strands, — partly on accident, partly to experiment, — and hears a low growl that goes right into his groin.

Seiji tilts his head to the side, panting, neck utterly exposed. Thankfully, it’s invitation enough for Akira to lick a stripe along the column of his neck, wrenching a helpless moan from Seiji’s lips. He angles his head for a kiss...

Then, they hear it again.

The guttural, monotone holler from before  but if possible, intensified: like the walls around them are feeling its anguish too, and shudder at the pain of it.

Only to abruptly end, like someone pushed a stop button on a cassette player.

With bated breath they wait for something to come their way, yet nothing does as the silence stretches on. For so long, in fact, that eventually they allow themselves to relax and Akira’s death grip around Seiji’s waist loosens somewhat.

Seiji lets his head fall back onto his best friend’s shoulder and closes his eyes, exhaling a careful puff of air in hopes to subdue his frustrations.

It doesn’t help, as he still wants to gut someone. Preferably someone tangible enough to be gutted with a switchblade that might or might not hide in Seiji’s right shoe.

“I think I have a hunch about what kind of grudge our ghost friend is holding,” Seiji stage whispers into Akira’s left ear, so conveniently positioned close to his lips.

“That mouth of yours is what gonna get us killed one day, Amanome,” Akira states dryly, but Seiji sees the way he tenses against the whole-body shiver at the hot, tickling sensation. It brings a smug smile out of Seiji, one he makes sure Akira feels on his skin.

He laughs, “What can I say; it's rather talented, that mouth of mine.” Seiji grabs one of Akira’s gloved hands in his, bringing it to his mouth and meeting no resistance. “It could show you a thing or two, you know.”

Eyes fluttered close, Seiji presses the rough leather skin where knuckles are, firmly against his lips. He hopes it reminds Akira of Seiji lying trapped underneath him. He hopes Akira wonders right now what Seiji would do next, if not for the circumstances they’re currently in.

“Bet that mouth can’t keep from spouting out dirty innuendos ‘till we find our way out, but it’d be nice to be proven wrong.”

And again: mean.

“But I could think of a special way to keep it shut for a while,” Akira adds in a murmur, before covering his lips with his own.

This time there’s no piercing scream to interrupt them, and Seiji eagerly meets every slide of tongue with a content sigh.

Unfortunately, they separate eventually, and Akira smirks, “Guess it worked.”

Breathing heavily, Seiji darts his tongue out to lick at his still damp lips. “Akira, I’m really sorry to say it... But that was so cliché my secondhand embarrassment is unfathomable.”

Immediately, Akira’s smirk melts away and the usual scowl takes its place. He sharply turns and starts stomping forward, tugging Seiji first by his wrist, then changes his mind and locks their hands securely together, instead.

Seiji coos, half-mocking and half-genuine, as they proceed along the dark, depressing corridor. He has an absurd urge to swing their interlocked hands back and forth as if they’re preschoolers on a playdate. “Your cheeks are of adorable pink shade now, Akira-kun.”

“We both know it’s not true. Also: don’t ever call me that.”

“Oh, want me to stop talking? Don’t you worry; I’ll always give you plenty of reasons to shut me up. You know, using your special ability.”

“Would you look at that, my hand is getting all sweaty. Might consider putting it back into pocket, if my annoying boyfriend won’t just drop it already.”

Amanome Seiji of the past, — before Kakuya, before fearing constantly for his best friend’s life, before all of that paranormal insanity, — maybe would have denied the insinuation that he’s enjoying this silly hand-holding arrangement way more than he should and will be absolutely shattered if Akira makes good of his threat.

But Amanome Seiji of the past also wouldn’t find himself in this situation. So he drops it, even if it means he has to endure teasing his best friend for the time being.

Speaking of which...

“So,” Seiji muses, “Boyfriend, hm.”

Akira doesn’t bother with any sort of response.

“Guess I’ll have to change my greetings then,” Seiji continues, “Since you’re more than just best friend now.”

This elicits a (dare he say) reaction, “Huh.”

Which is not much, but in his book is enough of an invitation to demonstrate.

How’s it going, boyfriend?” Seiji chirps.

A beat of silence.

“...Yup, that sounds lame.”

“HEY.”

Akira snickers. Seiji never realized how he seems to smile an awful lot lately.

“Though I must admit, boyfriend, — stop laughing!.. — it’s a little sad I can’t call you ‘buddy’ anymore,” Seiji laments.

“Who said we can’t be both? Is there a rule against it.”

Not that Seiji would know of, no. Even if there was, it’s not like either of them would care following such a dumb rule anyway.

“So. Best friends. That also date each other,” Seiji concludes.

“Eh. Doesn’t sound half-bad for now.”

“Yeah. I think so too.”

They’ll figure it out, at their own pace.

It’s not long before they reach the end of the corridor, with a big metal door looming over them, out of place with the rest of the environment. It’s got quite a bit of plaster falling down, rusted around the edges, like it stood here for ages.

Hesitantly, Seiji puts his hand on its surface. The door vibrates slightly under his palm, like it can barely hold what’s inside it. He tears his hand away, feeling the now familiar sense of dread mixed with morbid curiosity.

“Ready?” Akira asks.

Seiji takes a moment to breathe and take it all in: this night, the situation they’re in; Akira’s tight hold on his trembling fingers.

Would it be too cheesy of him to say that having Akira at his side gives him courage, in more ways than one? That he probably would’ve choked on his own venom by now, if not for a feisty boy back in elementary punching his attitude out of him. That if he’s grateful for something, it’s for this, for who they are thanks to have met each other.

Seiji bumps their shoulders together, confident smirk back on his face. “Ready.”

Whatever’s beyond, they’ll face it and survive. There’s nothing they couldn’t do.

Together, they’re unbeatable.

Akira opens the door.

 

「END」