Actions

Work Header

An Ordinary Pain

Work Text:

Fourteen

Kojiro tried to ignore the squeak as his bedroom door opened and kept his eyes shut beneath the icepack. It was either his younger siblings oh so helpfully telling him that his bruises ‘looked painful’ or it was his mother torn between scolding and fretting. He waited and hoped they’d disappear thinking he was sleeping. 

“You’re an idiot,” said a third option. Kojiro lifted the icepack off his face and squinted to confirm that an irate Kaoru was standing at the threshold of his door.

“Is that how they say thank you in nerd?” Kojiro asked, covering his eyes again.

“I didn’t need your help,” Kaoru said. He sounded a little closer, mostly because he was louder and Kojiro’s head was killing him. 

Kojiro held up four fingers. “You were outnumbered.”

“I had it handled,” Kaoru insisted. He hadn’t. He’d been about to push himself into another fight (frankly, surprisingly one he hadn’t started for once) without caring if it sent him to the hospital or not.

Kojiro dropped three fingers, so Kaoru could see the one he wanted to emphasize. “You’re welcome.”

It was blissfully silent for a moment, which might have meant Kaoru was trying to think of a good retort, or that he was going to take pity on Kojiro for once and shut up. Then, very quietly, Kaoru asked, “Is it really broken?”

Kojiro pulled the icepack to uncover his face again. Kaoru looked a little ill, which considering how easy he’d gotten off in the fight—must’ve been sympathy. Hina and Takeumi did keep saying it looked like it hurt.

“Have I ruined my good looks for someone so ungrateful?” Kojiro asked, lips twitching upwards. Kaoru didn’t react, beyond frowning harder. Kojiro rolled his eyes upwards, immediately regretted that impulse and then shut his eyes again, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. 

“Do you have pain medication or something?” Kaoru asked.

“Somewhere in here,” Kojiro said, waving in a gesture that took up his room. He wasn’t sure when he’d taken the last one. That was something his mother was keeping track of, because Kojiro’s head was throbbing too loudly to concentrate on minor details such as the passage of time.

He heard shuffling around his room and cracked his eyes open a sliver to see Kaoru digging into a pile of clothes and then moving past his bag to another part of the room. He heard an annoyed scoff and something he couldn’t catch, but could guess had to do with the not-pristine state of his bedroom. 

It was a little funny watching him move through Kojiro’s things. He’d been here so often it wasn’t as if the mess should’ve surprised him, but Kaoru always treated it like it was the first time he’d seen such a state of things. Kaoru was so uptight. 

Kaoru ran his tongue over his lips and said, “Hold on.” Then he exited the room.

“Mhmm,” Kojiro said to no one, but an empty door. It was not as if moving was in his plans anytime soon. He was going to live in this bed for as long as he could get away with it. 

It didn’t feel like long before Kaoru was back in his room, holding a full glass of water and his pain pills.

“She let you have the whole bottle?” Kojiro balked. 

“Nanjo-san trusts me to read the label,” Kaoru said, primly. He handed Kojiro the water and then two of the thick pills. Kojiro frowned at them for a second. He was torn between the throbbing pain radiating from his nose to his entire skull and the idea of forced drowsiness stealing a few hours from him.  

Kaoru pushed Kojiro’s hand holding the pills closer. “You put them in your mouth and use the water to help you swallow,” he said, like he was explaining it to an infant.

“Dick,” Kojiro said, but then did as instructed. Maybe he did want to lose a few hours so he could avoid this stupid conversation. He finished the rest of the water at Kaoru’s insistence, which Kojiro expected was actually his mother’s insistence. Then Kaoru took the glass from him and set it and the pill bottle on his desk—too far to reach. It wasn’t like Kojiro was going to be upset that the pills took more than three seconds to work and down the entire bottle.

Kaoru was pacing now, going back and forth the short distance of the end of Kojiro’s bed. It was making him dizzy. “Would you sit down?” Kojiro snapped, kicking his leg out and unfortunately missing. 

Kaoru let out a huff though his nose and sank onto the edge of the bed. He frowned at the poster of the Italian film star (that Kojiro could never remember the name of) with the big breasts. “I did your homework,” Kaoru said. “Because you’re an idiot.”

“Why would you do that?” Kojiro groaned. “They’re never going to believe I did it with how perfect your handwriting is!”

“I did it with my left hand.” 

Kojiro snorted and then regretted it and pressed his head back into the pillow. Kaoru moved suddenly appearing out of nowhere and hovering above Kojiro’s head looking too concerned. 

Kojiro barely resisted the urge to slap him in the nuts since it would’ve taken so little effort. “It’s fine. The doctor said I will look even more handsome once it heals.”

Kaoru’s fingertips barely skimmed the tip of Kojiro’s nose, hovering over the bandage but not touching. His hair was getting longer now—he’d started tying it back, this close to Kojiro he could see the strands that hadn’t gotten caught with the others. Kojiro had the strange urge to lift his hand up and fix it for him.

“Do you need more ice?” Kaoru asked, drawing his hand back. It wasn’t as if Kojiro could even actually feel his fingers only hovering, but he felt them when they were gone.

“Nah.” Kojiro moved the icepack to the side, hearing the slosh of water and almost regretting that impulse to say no. “The pill will knock me out in a minute.” 

“I should leave then,” Kaoru said. He started to turn, but Kojiro reached out and grasped the sleeve of his uniform. He hadn’t even bothered to change. 

“Stay,” Kojiro said. “Till I fall asleep at least.” 

Kaoru fidgeted for a moment, but then sat at Kojiro’s side, grunting in displeasure when Kojiro nudged him to stop sitting like a weirdo. A minor amount of bullying and Kaoru settled back against Kojiro’s headboard, sitting mostly upright next to Kojiro while his eyes started to weigh down. 

“Don’t pick any more fights until I’ve recovered,” Kojiro said. His words slurred a little as he struggled to stay awake. At least the pain in his nose was lifting. Instead of a pressure there, he felt light, like his head could float away if his eyes weren’t so heavy. 

“I could have handled it,” Kaoru said again, defensive but quiet. 

Kojiro murmured in what he hoped was clearly false agreement and gave in to shutting his eyes. He felt shifting on the bed next to him and thought Kaoru was getting up again, but then he felt cool fingers sliding against the top of his forehead and then smoothing back his hair. It was nice. Soothing. It didn’t help Kojiro stay awake in the slightest.

“Idiot,” Kaoru said, still quiet. “At least get injured skateboarding, not… not defending me.” 

Kojiro didn’t respond. He didn’t have the energy or focus to, now that his head was floating. 

Kaoru’s fingers stayed stroking his hair, over and back again. Kind of like how Kojiro’s mother did for the twins when they were sick. It felt nice.

“Thank you,” Kaoru said, when Kojiro was certain he thought he was asleep. Kojiro couldn’t respond, but he wasn’t too tired to smile and a little more at Kaoru’s answering groan as he realized he’d heard him. 

“Idiot,” Kaoru said again, but he kept stroking his hair until Kojiro actually fell asleep. 

 


 

Seventeen

Kaoru was dying of boredom. It had to be illegal to have this little to do in recovery. He didn’t even have the television to watch terrible dramas on, because his parents had insisted it be removed from his room.  

He managed to get a pen and notepad, promising he’d be practicing his shodo. He did a few cursory kanji on the top two pages for cover and then used the rest of the paper to try and remember the exact point that grind had gone wrong. Skateboarding, like everything else, took study and effort. If Kaoru could remember the angle where his board had snagged, the next time he could compensate and not… end up in the hospital. 

“Hey, four eyes,” Kojiro’s familiar cheerful voice said from the doorway, before he knocked. 

Kaoru glared at him. He couldn’t wear contacts since they had to check him for head injuries—it wasn’t the worst they’d made him take off. It wasn’t like Kojiro didn’t know he needed glasses. “Shut up, Neanderthal.” 

Kojiro’s jaw shifted, like he was trying to decide if he wanted to respond to that or if he was going to let it slide out of pity. Kaoru wanted to throw something at him, but there was nothing but his pen, pad, and the insanely ostentatious display of flowers resting on the table next to him. It made the entire room smell like cherry blossoms and he was distinctly not thinking about it, especially in front of Kojiro.

“You look weird without your piercings,” Kojiro said. He moved Kaoru’s legs aside with a false display of indifference for how carefully he picked them up and sat on the cot near his knees.

“They made me take them out for the CT scan,” Karuo said, hearing the sulk in his own voice. “I’m fairly certain my mother threw them out.” 

Kojiro at least looked passably scandalized by that. “What happened to supporting your ‘rebellious phase’?”

Kaoru didn’t think ‘putting up with’ and supporting were the same thing. He shrugged in response and immediately regretted it as a flare of pain shot through his shoulder. He bit down on his lip, right where there should’ve been metal and winced.

“I thought it wasn’t broken,” Kojiro said. He was sitting back against Kaoru’s legs and his hand had wandered up far enough that it was resting by his hip. 

Kaoru rubbed his shoulder with his unbound arm. “It isn’t. Dislocated.” His ribs were bruised and not cracked either, so he thought the extra hospital stay was merely to punish him for getting too involved in non-school related hobbies. 

Kojiro finally seemed to take in the flowers next to Kaoru, because his eyebrows raised and he let out a low whistle. “This is a fancy hospital.”

“They’re from Adam,” Kaoru said, a little stiffly. He didn’t know how to even look at them after  he realized Adam had signed his real name. He’d been skating with them without the hood for a while now and Kaoru knew they were friends, but that reveal made a knot out of his insides. He didn’t want to examine why in front of anyone… especially not Kojiro.

“Oh,” Kojiro said, evenly. His mouth twisted a little into what Kaoru thought was going to be a frown, but then perked back up again into an easy smile. “Guess it’s only fair he got here before me since it was his fault.”

“It wasn’t Adam’s fault,” Kaoru replied automatically.

“That was way too high to jump, let alone attempt an anchor grind,” Kojiro said. It hadn’t been. Not for Adam. They’d both watched him do it and Kaoru had never needed so badly to do the same. And he almost had, until that curve. 

“I’ll get it next time,” Kaoru said, annoyed he couldn’t cross his arms. He wondered how much it would hurt to shove Kojiro with his leg until he was off the bed. 

“You’re trying again?” 

“Not yet obviously, peabrain,” Kaoru scoffed. He must have been fiddling with the notepad, because Kojiro’s eyes drifted towards it and then the brute grabbed it out of his lap.

“Seriously, Cherry?” Kojiro said with disgust. “You’re doing math equations to figure out a jump?”

Kaoru leaned forward—ignoring the pain—grabbed the notepad and then smacked Kojiro with it. “Don’t call me that here.” 

Kojiro pretended his arm was more hurt than Kaoru’s shoulder, rubbing it dramatically and glaring. “Can’t call you four-eyes. Can’t call you Cherry. What am I supposed to call you, nerd?” 

“I’m getting the nurse,” Kaoru threatened. He wouldn’t. Not really. Kojiro had been his first and only visitor other than his parents doing a discerning sweep to make sure not a drop of entertainment was left in his room. Adam’s flowers had been delivered by some quiet person with a uniform, but he hadn’t showed up himself. Kaoru didn’t know what to think about that and didn’t want to focus on it now either.

“I brought your tablet,” Kojiro said.

Kaoru felt better than when they’d started the morphine drip. His lips felt strange as they pulled around the bare piercing in his lip when he grinned. “Really?” Then he remembered who he was talking to. “You brought the charger too, right?”

“I’m not an idiot,” Kojiro said, pulling his bag over the side of his shoulder and flopping it into his own lap. Kaoru tried not to wince thinking about his tablet bouncing around in there, but thankfully when Kojiro pulled it out, it was in its case. Kaoru could feel Kojiro’s eyes on him as he opened, checked the screen, and immediately started inputting his hand written notes into mapping program that would give him more accurate projections of the route. He didn’t have any skateboarding specific diagrams with this program, but they didn’t exactly sell that in the app store. Still it was more accurate than paper calculations. 

Kojiro's staring felt like an itch on the top of Kaoru’s nose, but he mostly ignored it, happy to have something of his own back in his hands. 

“What’s the top one called again?” Kojiro’s voice was a little harder to ignore. When Kaoru placed up at him, he was gesturing to Kaoru’s ear. “Tragus?” 

Kaoru touched his ear automatically, irritated he was touching skin and cartilage instead of metal. “Helix. Why?”

Kojiro said nothing and hummed to himself as he got up off the hospital cot. “I’ll leave you to your unhealthy obsessing, Cherry Blossom.”

He left the room too quickly for Kaoru to appropriately respond and throw something at him. 

Sometime later, while Kaoru kept biting the bare place on his lower lip as he finished figuring out how to get the jump before the curve to nail that grind the next time they skated, Kojiro came back. Kaoru was too confused to formulate the proper insult, but then Kojiro held out a bag from a piercing shop. 

“So they don’t close up,” he said.

Kaoru felt a little knot in his chest, dissimilar to the ones he’d felt earlier in his stomach. “You didn’t have to.” 

Kojiro rolled his eyes and came over, settling in the same spot he’d been sitting earlier and then scooting forward so he was closer to Kaoru’s face. “You know there’s a phrase for this occasion, Kaoru.”

“Shut up,” Kaoru said. 

Kojiro seemed in too good of spirits to be bothered. He undid all the secured tags for the piercings and laid them on the empty spot next to Kaoru before taking the first one and putting it in Kaoru’s ear. “That’s not it,” Kojiro said. “They teach it in the first year of primary.” 

Kojiro’s fingers pinched together around the piercing to close it and the callus on Kojiro’s thumb scratched against the inside of Kaoru’s ear in a way that made his face feel warm. 

“I can do them myself,” he said, realizing immediately that he couldn’t. His arm was still in a sling. He didn't look to see if Kojiro looked smug about it, but at least he didn’t say anything.

Kojiro finished the other ones on his ear and Kaoru muttered, “thank you.” 

“There you go,” Kojiro said, and absolutely sounded smug. He leaned back a little and frowned at Kaoru’s lip. “I still don't know how you pierced that.”

“With a sharp needle,” Kaoru said automatically. He still felt embarrassed and overheated. Kojiro was too close to him. The scent of his body spray was overwhelming. “Wash your hands before you touch my mouth.”

“Let it close up then,” Kojiro said, simply.

Kaoru ran his tongue over that part of his lip automatically. He was wondering if he could get it in himself with one hand when Kojiro’s thumb pressed gently on his lower lip. It was a strange feeling and caught Kaoru so off guard that he couldn’t think to properly critique Kojiro’s hygiene. He stayed silent instead, watching Kojiro carefully concentrate on getting the lip ring in. It was so quiet that Kaoru could swear he could hear his pulse pounding in his ears.

Finally Kojiro let out a satisfied huff as he got the piercing in and then leaned back to look over Kaoru’s probably red face. “Much better. Even if you look terrible with glasses.”

Kaoru’s arm reacted without even thinking and he punched Kojiro in the side. The pull forward stretched him too far and sent pain slicing through his ribcage. “Fuck.”

“That’s what you get,” Kojiro said, unsympathetically, as he rubbed his side. Then he looked Kaoru over critically and pushed him back on the medical cot so he was prone. “Do you need a doctor?”

“No, it’s fine.” Kaoru looked away from him. He was now staring at an artful display of cherry blossoms instead which wasn’t helping. “I bruised my ribs. Nothing’s broken.”

Kojiro let out a sharp annoyed sound, almost too harsh for a sigh. “You need to—you shouldn’t try that jump again, Kaoru. It’s not worth it.”

“We’ve had worse,” Kaoru pointed out. He could feel Kojiro’s eyes on him, but kept staring at the flowers instead, counting the small branches and petals and wondering how long they'd would last before it completely wilted. 

“It was fun before the worse,” Kojiro said.

“I was having fun,” Kaoru said, not sounding like it even to himself. But he was for that split second he’d thought he had it. Kaoru overthought the angle while he was in the middle of trying to execute it. He should’ve prepared ahead of time and known how to approach the angle of that curve. It was too distracting and a waste of effort to do the calculations while he was trying to focus on the physical execution of the move. He needed to think faster or find a way to make it innate—like how Adam seemed so effortlessly perfect in every move he attempted. 

Kojiro grunted. “If you say so.”

Kaoru forced himself to turn back to Kojiro. The annoyance and sharp response of ‘I do say so’ died immediately when he looked at him. It wasn’t the mix of annoyance, concern, and something else he couldn’t pin down on Korjiro’s face. It was the empty backings of the piercings he’d bought—still in his hands.

“Thank you,” Kaoru said again, lightly slapping Kojiro’s arm. 

Kojiro smiled but his eyes flicked away, making them hard to read. “Yeah, well. I didn’t come by with any flowers, but I’m not one to be outdone.”

Kaoru wanted to say that Adam hasn’t visited, but that also died in his throat. With the way Kojiro had been acting, he was worried he might get judgmental about it. Then Kaoru might have to dissect how he felt about that.

“Can you stay a little longer?” Kaoru asked, instead. He didn’t miss how Kojiro’s eyes looked a little brighter when he glanced back in his direction. “I’m bored.”

Kojiro sighed, put upon, and then moved the trash off Kaoru’s bed and unceremoniously dumped it on the side table next to the flowers. He leaned back on Kaoru’s cot, facing and smiling at him with too much ease. “Does that mean I can get another thank you if I brought the latest issue of Skate Fan?” 

“I have the digital issue on my tablet,” Kaoru told him, plainly.

Kojiro breathed out through his nose in a loud huff of air that made him look like a gorilla. Kaoru told him so and the next twenty minutes were filled with bickering that made Kaoru feel a little more like himself too.

 


 

Nineteen

Kojiro had New Year’s money burning a hole in his pocket and a tin full of bruttiboni (since the twins had devoured all the traditional kagamimochi that he’d been guilted into making on his vacation). He’d been home for two days, but still hadn’t seen any sign of Kaoru. It was making him more than a little antsy.

There weren’t too many occasions growing up for him to go to the Sakurayashiki house, mostly because Kaoru preferred avoiding it whenever possible—but the idiot wasn’t responding to any of Kojiro’s messages or calls. He was only back in Okinawa for a few more days before he had to fly back to Florence. Kojiro was more than a little desperate to see Kaoru in person before that happened.  

He always felt a little like a bug when Kaoru’s parents answered the door, so Kojiro was relieved when it was their housekeeper. The nice old lady smiled and told him Kaoru was in his room. Kojiro made his way up the back of the house where the platform lifted to Kaoru’s room and slid the door open. 

Kaoru wasn’t there. Someone very strange who looked a lot like Kaoru was in his room instead. The false Kaoru was cross legged on the floor in an extremely traditional yukata, no piercings, and glasses that aged him by at least a decade. He was bent over a sheaf of paper, drawing the same shape over and over again in smooth brushstrokes. 

“Did you come from temple?” Kojiro asked, figuring that was the only explanation. Kaoru did have to play at formality once and a while to placate his parents.

Kaoru startled and then Kojiro realized he was wearing headphones and hadn’t heard him come in. He pulled them out of his ears and looked up at Kojiro with widening eyes. 

“You’re huge,” Kaoru said. It seemed to fall out of his mouth, because then he snapped his jaw shut with a loud clack and fussed his papers about, putting his brushes back in the kind of careful order Kojiro was starting to use with his chef's knives. “What are you doing here?”

“Being huge,” Kojiro said, smirking. 

Kaoru responded with mostly a scoff and continued sorting things on the table that didn’t need sorting.

Kojiro held out the tin. “I brought you some Italian delicacies. You know. Because I came from Italy. Flew all the way here. Sent you several messages about it.” 

“I got them,” Kaoru said, stiffly. “I was busy.” 

“You don’t look busy,” Kojiro said.

It had been months since he’d been able to talk to Kaoru. It was hard with the time difference to sync their busy schedules together and sometime over the past year they’d both stopped trying as much. It didn’t mean that almost all Kojiro wanted to do when his feet were planted on home turf was see him.

“You look weird,” Kojiro added. “What are you wearing?”

“Clothes, you buffoon,” Kaoru muttered and stood up, brushing invisible dust off his yukata. He didn’t make eye contact with Kojiro as he crossed his arms over his chest. “What do you want?”

Kojiro realized that Kaoru was mad at him.

Not normal level Kaoru being cranky, but genuinely angry with him. Kojiro hadn’t known why he was ignoring his messages, but that being the reason had never occurred to him. He couldn’t think of any argument they’d had before contact became less frequent that would’ve triggered it. “I flew in to see you.”

“You flew in to see your family,” Kaoru said. “And now you’ve seen me as well. Mark it off your list.”

“What is your problem?” Kojiro asked. “You’re—” He gestured up and down at Kaoru’s entire thing. “You’re dressed like my Obaachan and you’re not wearing any piercings.”

“At least I didn’t spend months eating steroid marinara,” Kaoru said and then pushed past Kojiro, leaving his own room to avoid him. Kaoru avoiding an argument was also strange.

Kojiro grabbed his arm before he could get too far and Kaoru spun around to glare at him. 

“Did I do something to piss you off?” Kojiro asked.

“You exist,” Kaoru said evenly and then yanked his arm out of Kojiro’s grip. “I told you, I’m busy.” 

“You’re never too busy for me.”

Kojiro didn’t mean to say it. If anything he didn’t know what he meant or even wanted to say. He hadn’t seen Kaoru in person in almost a year and hadn’t talked to him in months. He wasn’t sure he was seeing him now either. 

“Things change,” Kaoru said. He was quiet and turned his head away before gesturing with a billowing sleeve towards the front of the house. “I assume you can see yourself—”

Kaoru did not get to finish that thought. For once, Kojiro was actually happy to see Kaoru’s mother. She greeted him with polite friendliness and insisted he stay for dinner. At least she appreciated Kojiro’s bruttiboni. The food at dinner was fine, even if Kojiro was becoming kind of a snob since studying overseas. 

His world and palette had expanded. He wanted to show that off to Kaoru—maybe impress him a little, but conversation was stilted and halting. It was the kind of forced politeness Kaoru usually hated, but seemed effortless to him now. 

He even—when prompted unsubtly by his mother—updated Kojiro on his schooling. The last time they’d talked Kaoru had been interested in computer programming and focusing all of his energy towards the usual nerd stuff that always piqued him. Now he was taking mostly classes and an internship to help him master calligraphy. 

The sun was almost set by the time Kaoru—out of obligation for a guest—walked Kojiro out of the house. He stared out at the horizon towards the view of the beach and ignored Kojiro completely. A strong feeling of wanting to shake him until all the formalities of this costume Kaoru was wearing overtook Kojiro.

“Kaoru,” he said, and then when Kaoru didn’t respond, poked him in the arm. He did it again, and then a third time until Kaoru finally slapped his hands away and glared at him. 

“Stop acting like a child.” 

“I have to balance out the fact that you’re acting like an old man.” Kojiro did not resist urge to tug on Kaoru’s hair and got his hand slapped again. At least that felt familiar. “Are you even skating anymore?”

“Why do you care?” Kaoru didn’t wait for Kojiro to answer. He shook his head and then turned back towards the house. This time when Kojiro grabbed his arm, he didn’t loosen his grip so Kaoru couldn’t shake him off as easily. 

“Why are you so mad at me?” 

“I’m not mad at you,” Kaoru snapped. He tried pulling his arm loose again, but it was laughably easy to keep him in place. “Let go of me, you ape.” 

“Not until you tell me what your problem is.”

“You,” Kaoru said, gesturing to where Kojiro held his arm. “Your grip is my problem. What are you even doing out there? Lifting giant jars of ravioli.”

Kojiro felt his mouth twist and scoffed in disgust. “We don’t use pre-made ravioli.” 

“Let go,” Kaoru said again and this time his tug was a little stronger and Kojiro had to tighten his grip to keep him in place. It wasn’t going to keep him there forever and when Kaoru was being a stubborn shit about something it was impossible to talk him out of it.

It wasn’t impossible to skate him out of it though.

“I want a beef,” Kojiro said. “When I win, you tell me what the hell your problem is. If you win, I’ll leave you alone with the mystery.” 

Kaoru’s eyes narrowed at him and a muscle twitched in his jaw. “Fine,” he said, and then dragged his arm fully out of Kojiro’s grip. “Two hours.”

“I’d put on some different clothes,” Kojiro suggested. “Unless you really want to lose, in which case you could tell me now and save us the time.”

The fabric at the bottom of Kaoru’s yukata swept up into the air with the force of his turn as he stormed back inside his house. Kojiro stared at the door for a moment and then went to dust off his gear. 

They’d started skating at Crazy Rock a few months before Adam left for the U.S. Adam had always been even more competitive than Cherry, but something about those last few months had made him manic about it. He was obsessed with turning everything into a race—skating purely for fun and learning new tricks no longer existed in his world. 

Kaoru played along for a while—longer than Kojiro could deal with—but even Cherry had his limits. Adam put three guys in the hospital before he finally left. Those were the ones they knew about. Kaoru had been angry and distant for the first few months after Adam left, but they’d kept skating at Crazy Rock. It was almost like skateboarding was the only way they could communicate anymore. 

It made Kojiro wonder if Adam was the reason Kaoru was so mad at him. That didn’t make any logical sense but then neither did the way Kaoru used to look at Adam or the way that made Kojiro feel like throwing his own skateboard into a wall. 

There were some solid curves and decent tracks that weren’t a dangerous cliffside at their old haunt. Kojiro waited for Kaoru there. 

Kaoru came. His hair was tied back high up on his head and he was wearing his contacts, but there were still no piercings to be seen and he was wearing a hakama of all things. To skate in. 

“Remember that summer you made fun of me for riding shirtless?” Kojiro shook his head. “I think that was at least more wind resistant.”

“Are we doing this, or not?” Kaoru asked, setting his board down. He didn’t even acknowledge Kojiro otherwise.

“Sure thing, Cherry,” Kojiro said, a little too forced. “If you can skate in that outfit.”

“You can watch me do it from behind.” Kaoru had a little mean smirk—that felt more familiar and made Kojiro more than a little desperate to win this.

He did. By maybe a centimeter. Kojiro hadn’t been able to keep up with skating much in Italy, but apparently Kaoru hadn’t kept up with it as much either. He threw his skateboard angrily to the side and turned away from Kojiro, swearing under his breath.

Always such a sore loser.

“I won,” Kojiro said, rubbing salt in the wound. Kaoru had been a sore winner plenty of times as well so it was only fair to repay the favor. He also wanted to remind Kaoru of the terms of that win. “So that means I’m not going to stop bothering you until you tell me why you’re so… this.”

“You’re leaving in three days. I can hold out,” Kaoru said. His voice sounded flat, but his hands were pinched into fists at his side. 

“So you did get my emails.” Kojiro had been irritated before, but now he was letting himself feel it flood his system and heighten into being pissed off. Even if he had done something to make Kaoru this angry, he didn’t have to be such an uptight dick about it and not even tell Kojiro what it was. It wasn’t as if Kojiro could fix it without knowing. 

Kojiro had been really looking forward to seeing him, but it felt like Kaoru couldn’t get him away again fast enough.

“You agreed to the terms, loser,” Kojiro reminded him.

Kaoru fists tightened more and then went slack. “Was I supposed to stay in a box for you? Hermetically sealed as the Cherry you remembered so that it would feel normal when you finally felt like coming home?”

“You’re mad at me for leaving?” Kojiro balked. “I went to culinary school, not the moon.” 

Everyone left,” Kaoru snapped. He was clenching his fists again and his hands were shaking a little, trembling a path up to his shoulders. 

Oh. Right. Of course. This wasn’t even about Kojiro. Why would it be? This was about Adam, but since Adam wasn’t here, good old Joe was the fallback target. He felt his own tension dissipate into a bitterness he didn’t enjoy. 

“Don’t exaggerate. You’re just still pissed Adam left.” 

“Fuck you,” Kaoru said. He turned around and his eyes were as fierce and angry as Kojiro had ever seen them. It was a really terrible time to think about how striking that made him look. “Adam only left first. Then you left. Even Sota and Arisu moved to Tokyo for school. It’s been only me.”

“You could try making new friends,” Kojiro said, without thinking. Kaoru stared at him like he was examining a pinned bug. “You’re not very likable or charming, but I’m certain there are some nerds who would look past that. Some people are very into the angry pretty thing.”

“I made friends, it’s not—” Kaoru let out a frustrated groan and then grabbed his skateboard. He took off on it before Kojiro could register what was happening.

Once he did, Kojiro followed him. They skated out of Crazy Rock and closer towards the city. It was too far for the underpass they used to frequent, but Kaoru seemed to be headed in that direction anyway. Kojiro was sure he was going to try and speed all the way there, when he took a turn too sharply into traffic and had to jump off his board to avoid getting hit by a car.

Kojiro hopped off his own board and helped Kaoru up off the street, before he got hit by a different car. Kaoru’s forearms were covered in the kind of scraped road rash that used to be an old friend when they were first learning how to skate. His eyes were red and he still looked angry, but he didn’t pull himself out of Kojiro’s hold. He even let Kojiro take him to the nearest convenience store for first aid. 

After a few purchases—including some junk food Kojiro realized he’d missed and used a significant portion of his New Year’s money to buy—Kaoru sat silently at the nearest bench, while Kojiro cleaned up his scrapes and carefully placed bandaids.

It was late into the night now. The streetlights were illuminating overhead and the sounds of traffic was slowly dying off. This far from the city, it probably would’ve been dead silent if it hadn’t been so close to the holiday. 

Kaoru stared down at his hands resting in his lap. His voice was careful, measured, and quiet. “You missed eight of my calls.” 

“You kept count?” Kojiro felt the strangeness ease and the bitterness fade. He reached for Kaoru’s hand and then pulled back when he realized what he was doing—quickly changing course to pat him on the leg instead. “I wasn't avoiding you. It’s been insanely busy. We’ll get the timezones right eventually.” 

“You’re staying there,” Kaoru said. He was still staring at his hands. Some of the hair had come loose from his ponytail in his fall—it hung down, framing his face. It was another really terrible time to remember how beautiful Kaoru was. Sometimes Kojiro missed him so much it was a physical ache. He’d forgotten just how much until Kaoru was in front of him again like this. 

Kojiro wanted to lie. He wanted to reassure Kaoru and tell him whatever would make him snark back, smile, or maybe actually laugh. He couldn’t remember the last time he had really let himself go.

But if Kojiro lied, he might send them back to where they had been when he first arrived. That strange uneven feeling was unwelcome in the space Kaoru always held for him.

So Kojiro told the truth.

“For at least another year, yeah.” A little more if he could find someone willing to let him study under them.

“You’re staying there,” Kaoru repeated. “I could hear it in your voice. I could read it in your emails. You love it there, Joe.” 

Kojiro’s lips twitched upwards at the name. There was no one in Florence who called him that unless (for some unfathomable reason) they couldn’t pronounce Kojiro. “That doesn’t mean I’m not coming home.” 

“Why?”

Kaoru was finally looking up from his hands. He looked tired. Kojiro hadn’t caught on before, because he was too distracted by how pissed Kaoru was, but now that he saw it—it was obvious. Maybe he’d missed Kojiro as much as Kojiro had missed him. Maybe it wasn’t (only) Adam making him upset.

“Who else will patch up your scratches?” Kojiro thumbed at one of Kaoru’s bandaids, taking a moment to brush against the skin there. 

“I’m not enough of a—” Kaoru looked away again, cutting himself off. “It’s fine. You’re allowed to be huge and popular in another country.” 

Kojiro could fill in what Kaoru was going to say, but couldn’t quite understand it. I’m not enough of a reason to stay. Was he insane? Kaoru was like the landmark that Kojiro navigated the map of his life to. He was his Shureimon gate. There was no better reason to go home. It wouldn’t even feel like he’d gone home if Kaoru wasn’t here.

“That’s very generous of you,” Kojiro said. Kaoru’s lips twitched a little in response. Kojiro took the opening to brave actually taking his hand this time—or at least he almost did. Instead his fingers brushed against the sides of Kaoru’s and he linked his pinky over Kaoru’s index finger. “Is this why you’re all… stuck up?”

Kaoru eyed Kojiro sideways and his lips thinned. “Did it ever occur to you that I like dressing like this?”

“No.”

Kaoru seemed to startle into a short laugh, which he quickly covered with a cough. “You’re insufferable.”

“It’s… it took me by surprise is all,” Kojiro strained to say. He felt that pushing it more would maybe ruin the moment and break the small motion of movement from Kaoru’s finger absently rubbing against his own. 

“It’s like you haven’t looked in a fucking mirror,” Kaoru muttered. Then he looked back at Kojiro and gestured up and down with his freehand in a clear imitation of Kojiro earlier. “You’re enormous.”

“I like working out,” Kojiro said. “It helps burn off all the taste testing.” And it gave him something to do that focused his brain. He didn’t have Kaoru or skateboarding. As much as he loved what he was learning, it always felt like part of his day was unfinished. 

“I’m saying you changed too.” Kaoru tucked some hair behind his ear. It seemed so empty without the piercings. Kojiro hadn’t realized he had reached out to touch where they’d been until Kaoru stiffened against the feel. 

“Sorry,” Kojiro said and dropped his hand. He pulled his other one away from Kaoru’s as well and leaned back against the bench. If Kaoru hadn’t reacted like that, maybe Kojiro could’ve been really stupid and done something like kiss him. He’d had too many expectations for this trip. Kaoru might have missed him, but that didn’t change everything. 

“Me too,” Kaoru said. “I… I didn’t mean to… you took me by surprise too.”

“You knew I was coming.”

Kaoru sighed and his hands gestured outwards in a familiar gesture of frustration. “I didn’t know you were coming to my bedroom while I was in the middle of doing coursework.” 

“Were you at least listening to heavy metal?” Kojiro asked.

“Maybe,” Kaoru said. He touched his own ear where Kojiro had reached out earlier and then acted as if he was tucking the hair he’d already tucked behind it. 

“Do you want to go to Paris this summer?” Kojiro had never been as impulsive as Kaoru, but something about being around him always brought it out in him.

Kaoru turned his head towards Kojiro. His eyes were bright under the streetlights and his brow was furrowed. “For what?”

“Vacation, imbecile.”  

“Why?” Kaoru looked even more confused.

Kojiro sighed, loudly and as emphatically as he was able. “Because I want to spend time with you, dumbass.”

“You missed eight calls,” Kaoru pointed out. He sounded a little less sour about it this time.

“And you gave up?” Kojiro shook his head. “Take away your piercings and suddenly you’re weak willed.” 

“Fuck you,” Kaoru said and elbowed him in the side. 

Kojiro laughed and slung an arm around Kaoru’s shoulder, shoving most of his face into his armpit. Kaoru dug into his ribs with his knuckles and they ended up having a fight on a public bench. It almost got them arrested. 

It was nice to be home.

 


 

Twenty-Two

Kaoru did not understand why Kojiro would want to spend all day trapped in his tiny apartment under the unbearable heat of the Italian summer. And to top it off, he was cooking. Again. The smell was delicious, but every time the stove lit the temperature rose by five degrees.

“Put on a shirt,” Kaoru told Kojiro, miserably. His hair was sticking in sweaty ropes to his neck, no matter how he tied it up.

“You’re lucky I’m wearing pants,” Kojiro replied, not missing a beat. He was wearing shorts that were unreasonably tight against his gargantuan thighs and humming as he moved around in the kitchen. Kaoru hoped he splashed hot oil on his bare skin. 

Kojiro glanced over his shoulder, briefly. “You could always take off your shirt if you’re hot, genius.”

“I don’t need to present myself to any passing signora like an ape in a mating ritual,” Kaoru said, shifting in his seat. 

He didn’t like how irritated he was getting over how unbearably effortlessly charming Kojiro was in Italy. It wasn’t as if Kojiro had ever really had difficultly getting along with people, but his affable nature, talent for cooking, and inability to dress in actual clothing, had too many beautiful Italian neighbors checking in on him in the last two days.

“You wouldn’t be able to with that scrawny frame,” Kojiro said. He was too amused with himself. It was next to impossible to get under his skin when he was cooking. 

“Don’t you miss normal summer?” Kaoru asked. To be this disgustingly humid and hot in August without a crosswind from the shore was unlivable. 

Kojiro shrugged his bare shoulders. They were bigger than the last time Kaoru had seen them, which was infuriating. 

“Not all of us are so delicate we need constant climate control,” Kojiro said, flipping something in his pan.

“I am not delicate,” Kaoru snapped, and then added, “or scrawny. Your sense of scale is warped because you’ve bloated into a muscular ape.”

Kojiro didn’t respond. He was too focused on what he was doing. He continued to hum along while he added different spices, moved things around, and splashed in some kind of liquid that sizzled off the pan. He was in the zone. It was like watching Adam skate.

That thought didn’t particularly lend well to Kaoru’s already sour mood. If anything it was making him feel ill. Kaoru rubbed his knuckle over the bridge of his nose and tried tying his hair a different way. It was too hot. He should’ve visited in the winter like they’d originally planned, but he’d been making too much headway with his AI to lose momentum and take a week off. 

If Kojiro decided to live forever in a tiny Italian apartment while he worked his way through every small old grandmother’s kitchen called a restaurant, Kaoru was only visiting in the winter.

He really hoped Kojiro wasn’t going to live here forever.

“Here,” Kojiro said, walking towards him. He didn’t have a plate of whatever he’d been cooking, instead he had a wet washcloth that he placed on the back of Kaoru’s neck. He immediately felt a little better. “Your skin is almost as pink as your hair.” 

“I hate you,” Kaoru said and leaned his head against the table, pulling the washcloth tightly so the cool moisture took away some of the overwhelming discomfort from this hotbox swamp of an apartment. 

“We’ll get some gelato later. It’ll ruin you for what Naha thinks is gelato.”

Kaoru’s stomach turned at the thought. The cold sounded nice, but he really was starting to feel ill.

“You don’t look so good,” Kojiro said.

Kaoru couldn’t summon the energy to hit him. “I didn’t fly over 13,000 kilometers to be insulted.” 

“No, I mean it. You’re sweating a lot. I mean a lot.” 

Kojiro sounded concerned. Kaoru lifted his head to glare at him and tell him how stupid of an observation that was, because Kaoru had been sweating since his plane landed in this mosquito infested hell. Unfortunately, the only thing Kaoru wanted to do the moment he lifted his head was vomit.

He shut his eyes tightly and turned his head back to the table, trying to swallow the urge figuratively and if necessary, literally. He was not going to add throwing up to the list of ways he  had failed to show up Kojiro on this trip.

“Come on, four-eyes, let’s get you some place cooler,” Kojiro murmured, which was all the warning Kaoru got before he was bodily lifted out of his chair. It did not help the room spinning and he promptly threw up directly onto Kojiro’s bare chest.

He didn’t remember much after that. He may have told Kojiro he deserved it for not fleeing to a cooler climate, but if Kojiro responded he didn’t hear. Kaoru was in his underwear, lying in cool water in Kojiro’s tub when his senses started coming back to him.

“Feeling any better?” Kojiro asked. He was so reasonably concerned and serious for someone who’d recently been vomited on. 

Kaoru shook his head and accepted the water that Kojiro insisted on holding up for him to sip. It was humiliating. 

“I’m not delicate,” Kaoru muttered after he’d gone through most of the glass. 

Kojiro smiled, a little friendly curve of his mouth when he was about to say something Kaoru would immediately want to retaliate for (he missed it, as much as it annoyed him). “It’s very difficult to learn how to adjust to earth weather, bamboo princess.”

Kaoru threw the rest of his water in Kojiro’s face. 

Kojiro laughed and mostly rubbed it into his hair, taking the glass from Kaoru and promising to bring back more water to throw at him. Kaoru watched his thick back muscles depart from the bathroom in extreme annoyance.

Then Kaoru realized he was also shirtless, because at some point Kojiro had stripped him down to his briefs. He groaned and pulled his knees up, pressing his forehead against them and splashing the water in the tub over the rim.

He didn’t have long to stew in his humiliation before Kojiro was forcing him to drink more water and then helping him into bed. He’d been sleeping on the small futon that Kojiro claimed was a couch, but now Kojiro put him down in his own room. His sheets were too comfortable and the shades were shuttered so it was stagnant but dark.

Kojiro got another wet wash cloth and wiped Kaoru’s forehead, which progressively scrunched as he looked up at him. “Why are you being nice to me?”

“What kind of a host would I be if I let my guest collapse?” Kojiro gathered up Kaoru’s hair and lifted it off his neck so it fanned on top of the pillow. “Besides, I had a lot of plans for this week. It kind of ruins them if you’re passed out.”

“What plans?” Kaoru asked, deciding he refused to be embarrassed about being nearly nude when Kojiro lived that way. He turned his head into the pillow and closed his eyes a little, so he didn’t have to think too hard about it.

“There’s this beautiful vineyard a little north of here I wanted to show you,” Kojiro said, fondness for the place he’d carved out as his home oozing from every syllable and making Kaoru feel sick again. “There’s the most stunning view and a tiny little osteria, where they serve fish they caught that day. The wine is amazing there. Gelato would be better closer to Turin, of course.”

“Of course,” Kaoru mocked. 

“So you’re feeling better,” Kojiro said, smugness likely radiating from his glowing Italian-sun-touched bronze skin.

Kaoru was exhausted. It made it difficult to keep a better hold of his tongue. “I hate how good you are here.”

Kojiro’s voice was too soft. “I told you I’m coming home next year.”

Kaoru felt like he was being placated. Then Kojiro’s hand brushed over his hair and he felt like he was being pitied. It didn’t help that the overwhelming intimacy of what Kojiro thought was a casual touch made him jerk away.

“Don’t do me any favors,” Kaoru muttered. 

Kojiro sighed and Kaoru heard him shifting his huge weight on the bed next to him, probably seating himself in a ridiculously ill-mannered position. “How could I stay away when you’re so friendly and inviting.”

Kaoru shut his eyes harder, wishing he could block the sound out that way too. He hated feeling this vulnerable. “I mean it. Don’t come back if this is what you want.”

There wasn’t a response immediately. Kaoru suspected that might be the case. Kojiro was always so obligated to help people with nothing to gain himself. Having an actual choice in front of him where he could achieve his dream, maybe settle down with one of his signoras, and never have to be stuck with his sour friend who couldn’t even survive two days in an Italian summer without overheating to the point of exhaustion was beyond his comprehension. 

“I know what I want,” Kojiro said finally. There was a light touch, brushed over the side of Kaoru’s cheekbone—it felt like Kojiro’s knuckles. It disappeared too quickly to be intentional as Kojiro moved Kaoru’s hair aside again. “Get some rest, okay? We’ll go out when the sun is a little lower. You still haven’t tried my fresh pasta and I’d rather not have that hurled on me.”

“I didn’t know you were going to be pick me up,” Kaoru said, unable to squirm out an apology and therefore admit he’d humiliated himself like that. He cracked his eyes open slightly to see Kojiro staring down at him with a raised eyebrow. 

“Did you get rid of the nipple piercing because of Paris?” Kojiro asked.

It was too hot to pull a sheet over his bare body and Kaoru also refused to even show a centimeter of embarrassment. “No.” Not technically, although he was happy not to relive that horrifying experience with metal detectors at the airport. “Not all of us want to be permanently banned from any respectable onsen, Joe.” 

“Ah, so you did notice,” Kojiro said, far too pleased with himself as he stretched his shoulders upwards in a way that made the giant tattoo even more noticeable. Once Kaoru didn’t feel like the world was spinning around him he was going to kick Kojiro in the teeth and defang his ego.

“You’ve been shirtless since I arrived and it’s the size of my head,” Kaoru said, gesturing weakly at the sun tattoo drawn out on Kojiro’s shoulder. It was fairly well done, the design reminded him a little of calligraphy brushstrokes. It was frustrating, however, that Kojiro had gotten it done and never said anything.

It was also unacceptable that Kojiro was more rebellious now.

“Where’d you get it done?” Kaoru asked.

Kojiro’s eyebrow lifted again. “Why, do you want one?” His mouth curved into a smile. “You could get a matching one, little moon to my big sun.”

“I will tattoo the kanji for bakayarou on your face.” 

That got Kojiro looking a little less smug. His mouth curved downwards and he roughly fluffed the pillow underneath Kaoru’s head. “You should rest. Wouldn’t want our delicate princess to faint again.” 

It was telling to Kaoru’s exhaustion that he didn’t even try to kick Kojiro before he rose off the bed. Instead Kaoru sank down and shut his eyes again. “The pasta better be worth it,” he muttered.

“Oh, it will be,” Kojiro said, somewhere farther away from him.

The apartment was absurdly small so Kaoru could still hear Kojiro humming in the kitchen while he fell asleep. 

By the time he awoke again it was somewhat temperate. The sun was setting and a hint of a breeze was coming through the windows. Kaoru dressed, wishing his travel clothes had been a little looser as his jeans stuck to his legs, and strolled into the kitchen to demand Kojiro make dinner.

Kojiro was too excited to do so and of course his pasta was phenomenal. Kaoru refused to tell him this and let his head get inflated, but Kojiro figured it out anyway when he asked for seconds. 

The rest of the trip involved Kaoru buying new less sticky clothes, refusing multiple offers of matching tattoos, and traveling to the vineyard Kojiro mentioned. The view, the people, and the food were exactly as Kojiro had described, although Kaoru didn’t know what the fuck he meant about gelato, because the one they had in town was maybe the best thing Kaoru had ever tasted.

If Kaoru sketched out a few moon designs that shared some aesthetic qualities to Kojiro’s sun tattoo when he got home, that was between him and his calligraphy books. 

 


 

Twenty-Four

Kojiro had been in Nagoya for a week, finishing up a catering event that paid enough to be more than worth the trip. The only warning he had for what was waiting for him at S was a cryptic text from Karou that only said ‘Adam’s back.’ 

There were a pair of guys Kojiro hadn’t seen before leaning against the entrance of S, waving people in and stopping other people who were deemed not cool enough to enter.

Kojiro got a wave in, so he didn’t examine it too closely. It wasn’t that he wasn’t curious, it was that he was more curious about the possible changes inside. There were some structural changes that looked more like they’d take a month than a week. The partially collapsed road they’d been using as a slipshod half-pipe was now flattened into an actual pathway. 

Sure, they’d had a few friendly beefs here with the local skaters, but now it looked like an intentional racetrack. 

Adam’s reentry into Okinawa had been discreet, it seemed like his reentry into S would be anything but. 

Adam was up on a platform that Kojiro was certain hadn’t existed last week. He was making big emphatic gestures with his arms and talking to a skater Kojiro had seen around, but hadn’t caught the name of yet. Adam was wearing… he was wearing something. Kojiro could tell that much. What it was he wasn’t sure. 

“He says he’s the Matador of Love,” Sota explained, once Kojiro had kindly asked ‘what the fuck’ was going on. “Now the only rule of S is that there are no rules.”

“So fucking stupid,” Arisu said. She was wearing her usual TALON-gear, her hair tucked into a baseball cap that was pulled low, but Kojiro could plainly see her scowl. “I come here to skate not reenact some shitty action film.”

“It feels strange,” Sota agreed. He was one of the few of their old skate crew that had never felt like coming up with a skating alias. “It feels illegal,” Sota added. He was also one of the few that didn’t dress up for S. He wore whatever he was wearing that day and only came to skate. Kojiro knew Talon dressed up so that she wouldn’t get recognized and shamed at her day job. 

Joe didn’t worry too much about it. He didn’t think being a degenerate skateboarder would travel to the same circles as the people who were debating on approving his restaurant loan. Cherry Blossom, might have worried, but Kaoru looked decently cool at S. There was no way anyone was going to confuse the nerdy rising calligrapher with Cherry. 

“Have you seen Cherry?” Kojiro asked, now that his brain had turned in his direction. 

Kojiro never tried to think too hard about Kaoru and Adam. Thankfully he’d had the luxury of not having needed to for several years. Talon directed Kojiro to where she’d seen Cherry last, but before Kojiro could get very far in that direction, he found his shoulder knocking into Adam’s.

That used to be a friendly maneuver.

“JOE,” Adam said in a voice a few shades deeper than it was the last time he’d heard it. He looked Kojiro up and down briefly. “I wasn’t sure you were still skating.”

Kojiro couldn’t help the snort. “You’ve been gone for years, man. I was away a week.”

There was an ornate mask on his face. Up close he looked… what had Sota called him, a matador? Did they even have those in the U.S.? He looked even more ridiculous than when he wore a mask with his hoodie—baiting poor bastards into hospital trips with dangerous skating routes. Kojiro thought he knew Adam, but something before he left changed sharply. Adam took every dangerous curve he could—careless of who he took down with him. It was only a relief Cherry hadn’t been one of them. 

“But yeah,” Kojiro said, wondering which Adam was behind the mask this time, “we’ve been keeping S alive.”

Kojiro, Kaoru, and Adam had found S together—bored of skating under overpasses and schools after curfew. They found out Crazy Rock had potential and then turned that potential into something. Not something particularly exciting, but a place of their own. 

Kojiro had come up with the name for the shape of some of the trails they blazed up on the cliffside before it got too dangerous. Also for skateboard. Kaoru had tried throwing his skateboard at Kojiro when he said that. It was a warm memory that should’ve brought a smile to Kojiro’s face, but instead he just wanted to find where Cherry was.

“It is… a true Eden,” Adam said. “Or at least it will be. I have seen some potential, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. After all, people can disappoint you so easily.”

“I think it was only ever easy for you,” Kojiro said. He passed him—already tired of this—bumping shoulders again. This time a little intentionally. His thin jacket didn’t really have much protection against the shoulder pads Adam was wearing—it hurt, but not enough he couldn’t pretend it didn’t.

Kojiro found Kaoru. He was crouched down with his back turned to where most of the crowd had gathered to whatever fuss and spectacle Adam was making now. There was a line of tension spreading from the visible blade of his shoulder where his haori was slipping down. 

Kojiro knew a million ways to take care of Kaoru. He’d helped clean up too many cuts to count. He’d held his hair back while he threw up Parisian croissants after a night of too much drinking and carried him (with much complaining) on his back when Kaoru had sprained his ankle during that social studies trip. 

The only hurt that Kojiro had never been able to help heal was the one Adam left when he’d abandoned them. It had been kind of upsetting for Kojiro, but Kaoru had been devastated—a turn and a curve taken too quickly. Kaoru been upset with Adam, but Kojiro knew that the thing they had that he never wanted to know much about, always made Kaoru want to circle back. 

It was hard to fix a thing Kojiro was somewhat happy was broken, but he still worried and wished he knew a better way to patch up the wounds Adam left behind. 

“Hey,” Kojiro said, gently touching Kaoru’s shoulder.

Kaoru startled suddenly, standing up and twisting Kojiro’s wrist around and off his shoulder—his eyes were wide and he looked ready for a fight until he took Kojiro in.

“Joe?” He looked surprised to see Kojiro, for more than being startled. He also didn’t look as brooding and heartbroken as Kojiro was expecting. His face shifted from surprise to annoyance. “Don’t sneak up on me like that, you imbecile!” 

“I wasn’t sneaking!” Kojiro rubbed the wrist Kaoru had almost snapped and glared at him. “I was checking up on you. You…” Kojiro trailed off as he noticed what Kaoru had been crouching down around. “What are you doing?”

“I’m refitting the scanner,” Kaoru said, frowning at him like that should be obvious. He had his skateboard practically in pieces. Kojiro still didn’t know what he was trying to accomplish by using his nascent AI to improve his skateboarding. He was ruining skateboarding. “It’s making it too top heavy.”

“So you’re racing?” Kojiro asked. Kaoru was competitive, impulsive, and utterly stupid sometimes, but a no-holds barred race seemed even far for him. Especially with the way Adam used to race right before he left. Not that the impulse to knock Adam down a peg or three with a beef hadn’t crossed Kojiro’s mind. 

“I raced already,” Kaoru said, shortly. “I won,” he added, pushing some loose hair behind his ear that Kojiro couldn’t help follow with his eyes. “Obviously.”

“Against Adam?”

It was the wrong thing to say, because Kaoru stiffened and his eyes shuttered. “No,” he said quietly. He chewed the corner of his mouth where his lip ring used to be. It was a habit that Kojiro never pointed out, in case that made Kaoru stop doing it.

Kojiro glanced back briefly at where Adam was gesturing broadly to a growing crowd of admirers. “He looks like one of the puppets from that awful show we saw in Pamplona.” 

“He’s…” Kaoru frowned and then shook his head. It made the hair he’d just pushed back fall over his face again. Kojiro resisted the urge to push it back to where it was. He’d swallowed down on these feelings ages ago, but something about Adam’s reemergence and still not knowing how deeply Kaoru was under his spell was bringing back the frustration from their school days. 

Kaoru looked over Kojiro’s shoulder in the direction of Adam and his fan club. He scratched his nose and then looked away again, directing his focus to Kojiro. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gotten some work crews out here the last few days and had things moved aside. There’s more of the mine opened up now.”

“The abandoned mine with all the cracked piping?” Kojiro couldn’t believe that was going to be part of this race.

“I hadn’t done a rail slide in some time,” Kaoru said. He crouched down again, putting his skateboard back together and fiddling with a small piece of equipment at that top which must’ve been his scanner. It was more lightweight than the last one Kojiro had seen.

Kaoru smiled down at his skateboard.  “It was fun.”

Most of those railings were broken—not to mention there was the old equipment precariously positioned against steep ramps and high (and rusted) pathways. “It sounds dangerous.” 

Kaoru flicked his eyes up towards Kojiro, looking up at him through pink lashes. “That’s why it’s fun, Joe.” 

Kojiro knew they were talking about a skateboarding trick and not the difference between safe (Joe) and dangerous (Adam), but he couldn’t help that it still felt that way. He wondered when, if ever, it would stop feeling that way.

Probably not any time soon if Adam was really back. Kojiro had missed him at first—the old, fun Adam who didn’t try to kill people or sneak Kaoru off to back corners after skating. He didn’t miss him now. Adam felt like an obstruction in the path that Kojiro was creating for himself in Okinawa. 

He wished he knew what Kaoru was thinking.

“Then race me,” Kojiro said. “If it’s so fun.”

“You’d probably break more of the railing with how big you are,” Kaoru said, either sincerely amused or putting on a good face. There was little chance he’d actually talk to Kojiro about how he was feeling, but if he was hurting then Kojiro could at least distract him.

“Sounds like I’d get there faster then, Cherry,” Kojiro said, crossing his arms over his bare chest. He’d started ditching his shirt as his S gear, purely to annoy Kaoru and from the way Kaoru’s eyes flicked up at him again it was still working.

Kaoru stood up and snapped off the scanner from the front of his board before shoving it into his pocket. “If you’re that in the mood to lose, be my guest.” He shouldered past him, board in hand. “I’m not driving you to the hospital if your giant head gets cracked open.”

Kojiro gave in the urge to tug at the end of Kaoru’s ponytail and grunted in pain as Kaoru automatically whacked him in the arm with his skateboard in retaliation. He should’ve tugged harder.

“That’s heartless,” Kojiro said. They were walking in Adam’s direction. He didn’t even look up at them—Kojiro didn’t care but he didn’t want Kaoru to either. “I shouldn’t be surprised though, you’ve probably replaced your heart with binary code by now.”

It worked. Kaoru let out a disgusted scoff and his attention was completely on Kojiro as he rolled his eyes. “I cannot even begin to explain how stupid that is, clumsy gorilla.” 

“Explain this,” Kojiro said, throwing his skateboard down before jumping onto it. He could tell there was an actual starting line, but they were past Adam and his admirers now and it got Kaoru to swear and also start inadvisably early. 

The route they took was mostly the same as their usual beefs. It was at least once a month that  he and Kaoru found something stupid to argue over and try to settle with a skateboard race. There were a few extra curves now and the pathway to the abandoned mine was opened, as Kaoru had said. Kojiro realized he hadn’t done a rail slide in a while either. He wasn’t sure he would admit it was fun, but the way his pulse raced as he watched Cherry dive in and out of view, effortless on a board he spent so much time studying, was absolutely thrilling. 

Being that distracted, Kaoru won. 

Kojiro couldn’t help notice the way he looked around for a moment, eyes scanning the finish line and landing on that platform Adam had been prancing about on earlier. Adam didn’t seem to be there or anywhere else near them. His admirers had gathered around Cherry and Joe instead. Kojiro didn’t hate the attention, but he was happier to get Cherry’s as he kicked his board up into the air and turned towards him.

There were sweat soaked strands sticking to the sides of his neck where they’d come loose from his ponytail. His smile was a little wicked around the edges. “Losers have to make dinner.”

“Losers might spit in your dinner,” Kojiro replied, laughing at Kaoru’s crinkled nose of disgust. 

At least he wasn’t thinking about Adam anymore.

 


 

Twenty-Eight

Kaoru had never slept well. His brain raced too often to easily fall asleep and when he finally did he often had vague nightmares of being trapped in place, but still running. It was habit now, waking up from a nightmare that he usually didn’t remember details of, to immediately ask for Carla.

Carla wasn’t here. Kaoru blinked, blurry and disoriented as he tried to remember where he was. It wasn’t the hospital—he hadn’t been able to sleep there. The last thing he remembered was arriving at Sia la luce. It was pitiful that he’d needed to, but the sanitized white of the hospital and the constant beeping had made his skin crawl.

He must’ve fallen asleep and then Kojiro had taken him upstairs. Kaoru didn’t know if he was grateful or annoyed that Kojiro hadn’t tried to get him back into the hospital. Not having Carla felt like an itch on the back of his neck. He bet the primate left her downstairs. 

It was dark and suddenly there was blurred movement at the foot of the bed. Kaoru felt his pulse skip erratically and bit down on his lip to keep from calling for Carla again. 

It was Kojiro, of course. If Kaoru was in Kojiro’s apartment in a bed, that meant he was in Kojiro’s room—so the figure at the end of the bed had to be him, even if Kaoru could only vaguely make out the shape.

He’d been sitting by the edge of the bed, head pillowed in his arms, but was now rising and coming close enough that the vague blurred blob of his head was only fuzzy and unfocused. 

“Hey,” Kojiro said, his own voice husky with sleep. “You okay? Do I need to call the doctor?”

Kaoru didn’t entirely trust his own voice wouldn’t sound worse, so he cleared his throat first. He needed something to drink. He hadn’t had any of that wine. Kojiro probably drank it himself. 

Kaoru meant to offer up that in a biting remark, but he held back. He didn’t like the vague unease he had from being somewhere he hadn’t put himself. “Where are my glasses?”

There was some shuffling and Kojiro became a vague shape again before vision returned to Kaoru as his glasses were slipped onto his face. He almost wished they were off again with how clear the concern in Kojiro’s expression was.

“I said it was a scratch.”

“You say a lot of shit,” Kojiro retorted without missing a beat. He shifted on the bed, sitting up next to Kaoru’s legs and sighed. “Should I call the doctor?”

Kaoru shook his head. “No. It’s… I had a bad dream.”

It sounded juvenile saying it out loud. He was an adult. He shouldn’t have still needed to be tucked back in after nightmares. He shouldn’t have needed Carla soothing him with lullabies during nights where he couldn’t get his pulse to stop racing. 

“Not surprising, considering the concussion.” Kojiro looked irritated. He also looked tired himself. The idiot had been sleeping siting against his own bed. 

Why did he always have to take care of Kaoru like this? Why did he always have to make Kaoru feel so vulnerable? Wasn’t it bad enough Adam had…

“Kaoru,” Kojiro said. His concerned face far too close now that Kaoru could see it clearly. “I think I should take you back to the hospital.”

“Don’t,” Kaoru said. “It’s fine. I’m… processing.” He snorted. “It’s been a long day.”

“You got hit yesterday,” Kojiro pointed out, frowning.

Kaoru wanted to shove his face away, maybe kick him, but his leg was still bandaged and now that the painkillers were wearing off—everything hurt. 

“I should’ve seen it coming,” Kaoru said. He physically swallowed down any pain that might have come from remembering the impact of the board, the sound his face made smashing against it, the way his neck had tipped back, and how he’d fallen and kept falling towards the ground. He’d wiped out before, but this was…

“Fuck Adam,” Kaoru said, drawing himself away from the edge of the precipice he refused to push himself off. “He’s a coward. I would’ve won if he wasn’t deranged. That isn’t even… your feet should at least stay on the damn skateboard.” 

“S has no rules,” Kojiro said, but he didn’t seem to be rubbing it in. There was still a frown creasing his forehead. Kaoru was glad his arm was in a sling—it gave him a grounding jolt of pain when he reflexively tried smoothing the frown away.

It was a miracle that his fingers weren’t damaged. Then Kaoru might have killed Adam.

Maybe he still would.

Anger was a nice thought over anything else. 

Boring, he’d said. Bastard. Anything was boring when it wasn’t click clacking in a costume that hid any actual sense of self. If he’d ever had any. If anything he’d ever shown Kaoru had been genuine or…

“Hey,” Kojiro said, bringing Kaoru back to solid ground again—away from the insanity of S and the trap of reliving it. His hands were on Kaoru’s arms, lightly, like he was afraid his meaty fingers might snap Kaoru if he touched too hard. 

“I’m fine,” Kaoru said, forgetting to call him a gorilla. 

“You're shaking,” Kojiro said. 

“I had a concussion,” Kaoru said. He might have still had one. He didn’t remember what the doctor said. Kaoru had decided to ignore him once the word ‘bedrest’ came out of his mouth. 

Kojiro’s hands were still light on his arms—the fingers one one hand curved around Kaoru’s good elbow. “I know. I was there.”

Kaoru looked away from him. The intense sincerity on his face was blinding. He couldn’t deal with it on top of everything else. “Did you leave Carla unplugged?” 

Kojiro’s sigh was heavy and one of his hands dropped from Kaoru’s arms to rub at his temple. “Care about your own health more than your robot girlfriend for once.”

He refused to correct Kojiro again on what an AI was. “Answer the question, nurse gorilla.”

Kojiro snorted and then shook his head. “Nope. You can’t go and check yourself, so deal with the unknown and focus on your concussion.” 

Kaoru shifted and attempted to throw his legs over the edge of the bed. Kojiro caught one in a firm grip this time and when Kaoru looked at him he was glaring.

“Of course she’s plugged in,” Kojiro snapped. He moved Kaoru like he was picking up a plate of cacciatore and easily transferred him into the middle of the bed, making it nearly impossible to get up.

Not completely impossible if Kaoru rolled over. “I don’t need you to take care of me,” Kaoru said. “I got out of the hospital I can take myself back there.”

Kojiro gripped the sheets tightly, twisting his fist until they pulled upwards with the tension. “Will you take this seriously?”

“What part of what I said sounded like it was supposed to be humor?” 

Kojiro dropped his death grip on his own bedsheets and leaned back. He stared up at the ceiling and muttered something Kaoru couldn’t quite catch before dropping his head again. “Kaoru. Please stop fighting me for once.” 

Kaoru opened his mouth automatically to respond and then closed it again. The look on Kojiro’s face was too earnest. He hated it. He hated this situation. He hated Adam. He hated himself for being stupid enough to…to think he was any different than anyone else Adam had skated past in his quest for whatever he was looking for that wasn’t Cherry. 

“Fine,” Kaoru said. He severely disliked the sound of his own voice at the moment. His eyes flicked towards Kojiro and then away again. He wished he could cross his arms over his chest, but he had to settle for shoving Kojiro with his good arm. “Stop babying me. You should sleep in your own bed. It’s big enough for two of you, which means eight people could fit in here.” 

Far more than eight people likely had, with how many women were always hanging off Kojiro’s arms. Kaoru hoped he washed the sheets often.

“You’re not worried I’ll roll over and crush you?”

“A fitting end to the night that would be,” Kaoru said, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t the same night. He didn’t like the fact that he didn’t have a good grasp of time. He really wanted Carla. At least then he could reassure himself and not have to rely on whatever Kojiro said. 

Kojiro snorted and pushed himself up, winding around the bed and getting in next to Kaoru. Too close, really, since the ape had put Kaoru in the middle. Kojiro was too warm next to him, probably from all those hours soaking up the sun. It was making Kaoru feel uncomfortable, but his previous plan of rolling off the bed was easier said than done.

He shifted in annoyance and his grumbling must have been audible, because suddenly Kojiro was moving Kaoru like he was nothing so that he was settled on the other side of the bed.

His face was infuriatingly smug. “It’s amazing what could happen if you actually asked for help.”

Kaoru still felt uncomfortable. “I need…” 

Kojiro now looked more concerned than smug, Kaoru preferred the latter. “Yes?”

He needed Carla. He needed the consistency, familiarity, and the myriad of ways she was programmed to calm him down in situations like this. Not that there’d been a situation like this before. He hadn’t felt like this after Adam had left. Maybe if he had, he would’ve seen this coming. 

He at least needed a distraction that wouldn’t make the tightness in his chest worse. 

“Talk about something pointless. Bore me to sleep.” 

Kaoru at least was able to sink himself into a more prone position without any help. He could feel the waves of heat radiating off of Kojiro next to him. It’d been a while since Kaoru had slept next to someone and certainly a longer while since it was Kojiro. 

Rather than an immediate defensive retort there was a long moment of silence, before Kojiro tilted his head thoughtfully and said, “I’m considering adding new soup to the menu.”

Kaoru closed his eyes in relief. He’d been worried Kojiro was going to push it and try to talk to him about his injuries or worse—his feelings. 

“To eat, cook, or bathe in?” Kaoru asked, without much effort to make it biting.

“Shut up, you said you wanted to hear me talk,” Kojiro said. There was a pause and then he continued. “There was a fish soup Signora Giulia used to make. I can’t get the right seafood here, but I’ve been adjusting the flavors to what I can find at the fish market locally and I think it could be a fair approximation.” 

Kojiro’s voice was always steady, even more so when he talked about cooking. Kaoru felt some of the tension still gnawing away at the more physical pains in his ribcage subside. He took his glasses off and turned his head a little on the pillow to watch Kojiro continue to describe what sounded more like a stew than a soup. It would mostly likely be delicious either way. Even Kojiro’s supposed ‘failures’ were better than Kaoru found at most restaurants. 

Kaoru tried to focus on the cadence of Kojiro’s voice rather than any of the leftover discomfort from his injuries. He could choose to be somewhere else. He could be somewhere not Kojiro’s room or the hospital or falling forever at S. He could be sitting in Kojiro’s kitchen, watching him work on a new recipe. Kaoru could shove Cherry, his injuries, and everything else aside for the moment so he could breathe again. Maybe even rest.

He woke again later, not sure when he’d fallen asleep. Kojiro was asleep next to him, his mouth open wide enough to catch flies. His monstrously large chest raised and lowered with each steady sleep filled breath and Kaoru watched him to make sure he was completely asleep. 

Then he gave in and gently touched the tips of his fingers to Kojiro’s forehead, pretending he was smoothing the frown away.

 


 

Twenty-Nine

Kojiro didn’t even bother trying to hide his amusement. “You know, if you actually came out from under the umbrella and into the sun you might not be as cold.”

Kaoru, from a cocoon of beach blankets, flipped him off. “What the fuck right does a beach have being this cold?” 

“I think it’s fine,” Kojiro said, shrugging.

“Of course you do, lower level primates run warmer.” 

Kojiro narrowed his eyes at Kaoru. “I’m throwing you in the water.”

Somehow Kaoru burrowed even farther into his cocoon. “They’ll never find your body,” he threatened.

It wasn’t the threat that kept Korjiro from doing it, but the fact that Kaoru looked a mix of adorable and pathetic at the moment. Neither of them had expected a cold front when they booked their Portugal trip. It wasn’t exactly cold either. It was windy and in the shade, maybe cold to someone like Kaoru, but in the sun Kojiro thought it was fine even for wimps.

“I mean it, it’s warmer in the sun,” he said. “Your delicate skin will survive five minutes of UVB to warm up.” 

“I’m not delicate, you lumbering gorilla,” Kaoru snapped. He also looked like he was considering it, which spoke to how cold he must’ve been. 

Kojiro rolled his eyes and gave up on patience, pulling Kaoru up to his feet and dragging him out into the sun. He got several hard elbows to his bicep and an unintentional knee to the hip when Kaoru tripped over his endless sea of falling blankets. 

“Better?” Kojiro asked, knowing immediately that Kaoru was warming up based on how he hadn’t dive bombed for his layers. 

Kaoru still flipped him off again. His hair was gathered up at his neck and he was wearing cuffed jeans and a sweater three sizes too big for him that looked familiar. 

“Is that my sweater?” 

Kaoru shrugged, indifferent. “It’s not as if you needed it.” 

It was dark blue and Kojiro only packed it because of habit of his mother always insisting he bring at least one warm thing when he went on trips. Usually Kaoru was better prepared when they traveled or was too stuck up to steal Kojiro’s clothes so he would purchase something at one of the nearest higher end stores if he didn’t pack right. 

Kaoru looked… good wearing it. It was oversized on him, but that meant his fingers peeked down from the ends of the sleeves, and his collar bone kept showing as the neck slipped. And it was Kojiro’s sweater he was wearing. There was something extremely satisfying about that.

“I’m just thankful you didn’t pack that horrendous jacket.” 

“You don’t think that would suit you, princess?” Kojiro asked and then barley dodged Kaoru’s well placed shin kick. “Why don’t you get a hat? It’s not like your body isn’t covered, then you could stay out in the sun and keep your untouched skin pure.”

Kaoru’s mouth twisted, thinking that over. Then the stubborn ass looked at Kojiro and apparently decided he wouldn’t even entertain the idea since Kojiro had suggested it and just sat flat in the sand, pulling his knees up to his chest. “Weren’t you going to get the wine?” 

“Why am I always footing your food bill, cheapskate?”

Kaoru’s reply was, as always, vicious.

Kojiro did get the wine, but only because the villa they’d rented was stupidly close to the beach. He came back to Kaoru outside of the umbrella, but wrapped in blankets again. The sun was starting to set, which probably meant he’d put up with Kojiro sitting too close. 

Two drinks in and Kaoru was ignoring him, choosing instead to read off his tablet. Kojiro assumed Carla was integrated into it somehow with high tech surveillance in its processing chip or a way to hack into the latest issue of Skate Fan. 

The silence was comfortable and the waves soothing. Kojiro also didn’t mind the opportunity to stare unhindered and observe the way Kaoru’s hair was gathered up at the nape of his neck and that he still chewed that part of his lower lip where his piercing used to be. 

Kojiro’s love for Kaoru matured like a fine wine given time to breathe. No one was ever going to drink it however, so he knew eventually it was going to go stale. One of these days. 

“I can’t believe you bought Italian wine in Portugal,” Kaoru said. He didn’t look up, but held his his empty glass out towards Kojiro.

“I don’t see you complaining,” Kojiro pointed out as he refilled him for the third time. He looked over at Kaoru’s tablet to see what he was so focused on. “Are you still reading that?”

“It’s a new one,” Kaoru said, dismissively. 

Two weeks before they left, a news story about Shindo Ainosuke dropped. It detailed a lot of pretty illegal misgivings beyond the general expectation of what politicians kept in their closet. It also put the future of S up in the air, but Kojiro didn’t really mind and thought it was nice that apparently Kamata Kiriko, the story’s main source, was the one person Adam couldn’t bribe, blackmail, or bully.

“Anything interesting?” Kojiro asked, but wasn’t particularly thrilled that Adam seemed to be following them on this trip. 

“Still nothing more on S,” Kaoru said. The article Kojiro had read only mentioned illegal gatherings and collusion with the police department at Crazy Rock, not the specifics. He still expected there would be a delay in races for a while. 

Kojiro watched Kaoru read, finishing off his own glass of wine and then going back to the villa to get another bottle. He ended up bringing back two. 

Kaoru raised an eyebrow at him when he came back. There was a small flush running up his neck that didn’t quite reach his face yet. If he had any more wine, he’d probably be as pink as his hair. 

“Do you think he ever killed anyone?” Kojiro was definitely feeling the second bottle.

Kaoru shook his head. “Not intentionally. That seems a little big for even the Shindo family to cover up.” 

“I never got it,” Kojiro said, lips too well lubricated to stay tight. “What his hold on you was. You’re not still hung up are you? Is that why you keep looking at articles?”

Kaoru looked over at him, clearly not as into his cup as Kojiro with how steady he was. He folded his tablet and carefully put it into its case before placing it on the sand next to him. “Adam had a way of making you feel like you were truly special when his attention was on you, which meant he also had a way to make you feel truly insignificant when he turned away in indifference.” 

Kaoru took a long drink and drained half his glass. “He doesn’t have a hold on me. He had a hold on my pride. Now I just appreciate the schadenfreude.” He opened and closed his free hand. “Still can’t put my full weight on that fucking ankle without trouble.” 

Not that it had stopped Cherry from skating. 

“Maybe if you hadn’t ignored the doctor and stayed in the wheelchair a little longer—” Kojiro didn’t get to finish because Kaoru pushed a bottle of wine at him.

“Stop talking about serious things. We’re on vacation. Drink.” 

Kojiro listened to orders. They were two and a half bottles down when the world became pleasantly hazy. Kaoru was pink all over, even to his toes. His bare feet were shifting in the sand and he was laughing at something Kojiro had said. 

He had a good laugh. His body always relaxed and Kaoru lit up like moon reflecting off the ocean. 

“I can’t believe I’m getting drunk on Italian wine in Portugal, this is like…” Kaoru paused for a moment and then laughed again. “In Paris. When we had that Russian vodka.” 

“I think it was Ukrainian.”

Kaoru waved him off, reaching for another glass of wine and sloshing most of it on the sand. He had a cute curl to his mouth when he was annoyed. 

“Whatever it was, I didn’t like it coming back up again.”

“I remember,” Kojiro said, laughing. He leaned his head back and stared up at the well lit night’s sky. The stars dusted the dark canvas and the moon was a nice sliver of pie. 

“You held my hair back,” Kaoru said, like it was a burden for him to have something nice done for him. 

“Least I could do for almost ruining the trip with that badly timed confession,” Kojiro said. He hummed to himself and swirled the small bit of wine left in his glass, wishing he’d grabbed a red. “You—you were having no part of it though. I barely got a few words out before you were cutting me off and making it clear we were only friends.”

“What are you blabbing about?” Kaoru asked. He was prone now, having given up on his glass in favor of lying back on the pile of blankets he’d shed layer by layer the more alcohol he got in his system. 

“At the Louvre.” It had been right before they almost got pick-pocketed. Kojiro remembered it being a disaster after a disaster and almost relieved for the distraction. “I don’t remember exactly, but I think I said something about Adam being an idiot and that I’d have been a much better first boyfriend. I would have, by the way.” 

“Why are you assuming Adam was my first?” Kaoru asked, crinkling his nose in annoyance. 

“Wasn’t he?”

“It doesn’t mean you should assume.”

“Anyway.” Kojiro yawned. He was glad it was such a short walk back to their villa, because otherwise he might have decided to sleep outside. “I confessed my feelings, you blew me off before I could finish, and we had a nice rest of the trip—minus the vomiting.” 

“You’re drunk,” Kaoru said, pointing a finger accusingly, without getting up from his blanket bed.

You’re drunk,” Kojiro retorted. “Which makes sense since your body mass is so small.”

“I’m not small.” Kaoru slapped his hand out clumsily, barely hitting Kojiro’s knee. “I’m almost as tall as you and have good musculature!” 

“Did you program Carla to lie to you?” Kojiro asked. It only devolved from there. The drunker they got, the less creative the insults became, until they called a truce and were practically crawling back to the villa and their separate rooms. 

Kojiro stripped off his clothes and fell face first into bed. He fell asleep thinking about how good Kaoru looked in his sweater and hoping he didn’t get sick in it.

He woke up to his door slamming open and the light flicking on. He scrambled up to a seated position at high alert, before he saw that it was just Kaoru. “What the fuck?” He glanced at the clock. “It’s three AM, you lunatic.” 

Kaoru didn’t respond. He merely continued stomping his way to Kojiro’s bed, looking like he was going to strangle him. Possibly with his bare legs that were only marginally covered by the sweater he hadn’t taken off. Kojiro wondered what the possibility was he was still dreaming. Would Kaoru be this angry in a dream? Maybe. What did that say about him?

Kaoru reached the bed and poked his finger hard into Kojiro’s chest. “You did what in Paris?” 

No, this couldn’t have been a dream. His dreams generally made sense.

“Ate croissants?” Kojiro asked, wondering if Kaoru was still drunk. It was too early and he was too close to being hungover to handle this. Kojiro was lucky he might have still been a little drunk. He would have thought he was very drunk and hallucinating, but this was Kaoru, so unhinged behavior wasn’t a surprise.

“Confessed,” Kaoru said, poking his finger at Kojiro’s chest again. Hard. “You said you confessed. What the fuck does that mean?”

Kojiro rubbed a hand over his face. He’d been drunker than he thought. If he wasn’t going to get a headache from a potential hangover, this would do it. He never would have brought that up again, not with the way Kaoru had brushed him off and how he’d reacted ever since Adam returned to Okinawa. 

“What do you think it means? You were there.” Kojiro wasn’t in the mood for this. They weren’t supposed to rehash old times. 

“I would have remembered if you’d—” Kaoru stared at him and then pulled his entire hand back from his chest, seemingly noticing Kojiro was shirtless, not that it should have scandalized him since he wasn’t wearing pants. “You had feelings for me?”

Kojiro sighed. “Why are you acting like this is a surprise? You cut me off, but you had to have known what I was saying. It was pretty obvious where I’d been going.” It wasn’t like it was the first time Kojiro had tried to show more than friendly affection and Kaoru had immediately gone stiff or brushed him off. Whatever the state of Kojiro’s current feelings, he could take a hint. “It’s ancient history anyway, Cherry. Forget about it.” 

Kaoru balled his hand into a fist and made to punch Kojiro’s shoulder, but he broadcast it too loudly so Kojiro caught his fist in his hand. 

Kaoru’s eyes blazed in anger, but his voice was softer. “I wouldn’t have brushed you off if I’d known. I’m not that callous.”

It was too early in the morning and too far past those stupid kids they’d been to really even consider if Kaoru had actually not gotten what he was trying to say. It didn’t matter anyway. It was too late and Kojiro couldn’t have seen it turning out much differently, even if Kaoru had the tact to let him down easier.

“You did come in here to yell at me about it in the middle of the night.”

Kaoru pulled his fist out of Kojiro’s hand and crossed his arms over his chest. It bunched up the sweatshirt and made it ride a little higher on his bare legs. “It wasn’t what I was expecting.” He frowned and scoffed. “Ancient history.” 

“It doesn’t matter,” Kojiro said. It didn’t really. It wasn’t like things would’ve gone differently. “It’s not like I don’t know it was stupid to do. You were still hung up on Adam.”

“You ignorant gorilla,” Kaoru growled. He dropped his hands to his sides again and clenched his fists. “I wasn’t hung up on Adam when we were in Paris.”

Kojiro stared at him. Kaoru had looked away, chin up and proud while he glared somewhere above the headboard of the bed. “I missed you while you were in Italy, you idiot,” Kaoru said, roughly. “You’ve been flirting with every pair of women who passes your way since even before then. How the hell was I supposed to assume you were… you felt that way?” 

Kojiro frowned. “Are you expecting me to believe you felt that way?”

Kaoru let out a frustrated breath through his nose and then turned back towards Kojiro. He hiked up the sweater high enough to expose the jut of his hipbone and then pulled his briefs down slightly. Kojiro thought it might have been the worst seduction technique he’d ever seen until he noticed what Kaoru was showing him. 

Pulled over the crease of the taut skin on Kaoru’s hip was a small tattoo in a familiar pattern of brushstrokes. “A tiny moon to my big sun,” Kojiro said, awed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was none of your business,” Kaoru said, pulling the sweater down to cover himself again. His cheeks were faintly flushed like they’d been when he’d been drinking. “I didn’t want you getting a big head to match your big everything else.” 

It was three in the morning and Sakurayashiki Kaoru was half naked in Kojiro’s room telling him that he cared about him enough to permanently mark it on his skin. Kojiro reached for one of Kaoru’s hands, sliding the fabric of the sweater up high enough to wrap his fingers around one of his wrists. He could feel Kaoru’s pulse racing beneath his palm.

“Do you still feel that way?”

Kaoru was frighteningly beautiful when he looked over at Kojiro, assessing and careful. “Do you?”

It was absurdly easy to tug Kaoru forward, for once—for once—there was no resistance. In the space of a few seconds Kaoru was sprawled forward on Kojiro’s lap, his fingers threaded in Kojiro’s hair, and kissing exactly like Kojiro had always expected. Fast, methodical, and a little mean. 

It was a rush to span his hand over Kaoru’s back and pull him closer as his teeth chased Kojiro’s lips. His other hand spread to palm over one of Kaoru’s thighs, touching the bare skin and using it to pull him closer. Kaoru lifted himself up on the thighs that were framing Kojiro’s lap, digging his fingers into Kojiro’s scalp and sucking his tongue into his mouth. 

Kojiro groaned into his mouth—he’d had no idea he’d even like that, or he was stupefied from the fact that he was actually kissing Kaoru. 

Until he suddenly wasn’t. Kaoru pulled back looking pretty debauched—pupils blown wide, glasses crooked on his face, and lips satisfyingly bruised at least a percentage of what Kojiro’s must’ve looked like.

“You’re not wearing anything under that sheet,” Kaoru said, just short of a question.

Kojiro raised an eyebrow at him. “How long have you known me?”

“Too long,” Kaoru said automatically, but there was an uncharacteristic blush painted over his cheeks as he adjusted his glasses.

“My sleeping habits don’t mean we need to…” Kojiro had trouble finishing that sentence, because there were a lot of things he’d like to do to finish that sentence. He put his hands on Kaoru’s arms and smiled in a way he hoped was reassuring. “If you want to take it slower than almost three decades, we can do that.” 

“Ugh,” Kaoru said, which was all the warning Kojiro got before Kaoru and the bedsheet were both dragged off Kojiro’s lap. 

Kojiro couldn’t say he found the way Kaoru tilted his head like he was assessing a new upgrade to Carla while he was staring at his dick all that flattering. He was proven right when Kaoru said, “Just from kissing? Really?”

Kojiro retaliated by throwing Kaoru back on the bed and looming over him. “Also that erotic striptease when you were showing off that tattoo, precious.” 

“I will elbow you in the nose,” Kaoru threatened, but for once it seemed toothless. He breathed out through his nose and looked away from Kojiro as if he were standing upright, haughty and judging and not sprawled back on Kojiro’s bedspread, still mussed from just kissing. 

Kojiro propped himself up on one elbow and reached for Kaoru’s glasses. “You’re nearsighted, right?” 

Kaoru nodded, watching Kojiro with searing focus as he took the glasses off of Kaoru’s face and placed them on the end table. Surprisingly he didn’t immediately try to flip their positions again and instead kept staring at Kojiro until he came close enough to drag down into another kiss. 

Kissing at this angle was definitely not getting him less hard. Not only was he pressing his full body onto Kaoru’s, but it was harder for Kaoru to control what angle and intensity each kiss turned into. Kojiro could press his lips to the corner of Kaoru’s mouth, gently and unhurried. It had the added benefit of making Kaoru squirm underneath him which only managed to grind Kojiro’s dick directly into his hip.

“It okay if I get a closer look at that tattoo?” Kojiro asked between another careful kiss.

Kaoru let out a frustrated sigh. “Joe. Wouldn’t I tell you if you were doing something I didn’t want you to?”

“That’s a lot of free rein,” Kojiro warned him. 

Kaoru didn’t look impressed, which mostly felt like a challenge. Kojiro leaned back and adjusted Kaoru until he was further onto the bed before moving down. He hooked his thumbs in Kaoru’s black briefs and slowly pulled them down, admiring the arch of Kaoru’s back as he lifted his hips to help.

For all his shit talk, Kaoru was also hard. Enough so that there was a sheen of precome wetting the tip of his dick already. Kojiro pressed his thumb over the head of it and moved the slick over his foreskin, causing a surprisingly breathy moan from Kaoru.

“Did you design this yourself?” Kojiro asked, one hand wrapping around the length of Kaoru while the other traced the lines of the tiny crescent moon decorating his hip. He wondered how long he’d had this.

“Of course,” Kaoru said, the haughty pride in his tone crumbling as Kojiro brushing his lips against the design. 

“It’s beautiful,” Kojiro said, feeling dizzier than when they were at the height of the wine. “You’re beautiful,” he added looking up at Kaoru, who scowled at him even as his dick twitched in Kojiro’s grip.

“I don’t need lines,” Kaoru huffed. “I know I’m attractive.” 

“Humble too,” Kojiro muttered. He wasn’t sure if Kaoru got the full range of his unimpressed expression without his glasses on. “It isn’t a line, Kaoru. It’s a thing I think a lot until your mouth opens.” 

There was a rare moment of vulnerability on Kaoru’s face. Which he must have realized, because he immediately pushed himself up to sitting and shoved Kojiro off of him. Before Kojiro could even ask if he was okay, Kaoru was kissing him again and trying to unsubtly maneuver himself back on top. 

Kojiro decided to let him. While there was a lot of appeal in pressing Kaoru against the mattress and finally shutting him up, leaning back and letting Kaoru mouth what felt like a sizable mark into his neck also had its upsides. 

Kojiro let his hands wander over the swell of Kaoru’s ass and up the back of his sweater—fingertips tapping at each bump in his spine until he could pull the sweater off and toss it aside. Kaoru’s hair stuck to the static of the fabric, causing it to stick messily to parts of his mouth and ears. Kojiro smoothed it back for him, losing himself in the satisfaction of running his fingers through it and cradling Kaoru’s face to really look at him.

Kaoru’s eyes were searing as Kojiro stroked his thumbs over his cheek bones and he worried that same spot on his lower lip. They didn’t say anything for once, only breathed slow and shallow, gazing at each other. 

Kojiro was intoxicated at the feeling of this moment and the reality of actually having all of Kaoru directly focused on him. 

Kaoru’s tongue flicked over his lips and he pulled Kojiro’s hands off his face more gently than expected. He slid down the length of Kojiro’s body until he was settled between his legs and gave his dick a much less dismissive look—almost hungry. 

If Kojiro hadn’t already been about as hard as he could get that would’ve done it. Kaoru licked a long line down the underside of Kojiro’s dick and then Kojiro felt nothing but static between his ears as the warm, moist cavern of Kaoru’s mouth engulfed him.

Like kissing, Kaoru was methodical and a little mean, but he wasn’t fast. He took his time, drawing out heavy groans from Kojiro as he swallowed down around him. His tongue had always been wicked and sharp when he talked and seemed to be as deadly as it curled around Kojiro with each small move of Kaoru’s head. 

Kaoru kept glancing up at Kojiro—eyes molten and satisfied—while his cheeks hollowed out around his dick. Beautiful wasn’t really enough of a word. Kojiro wasn’t sure there was enough of any word that could describe Kaoru, especially right now.

Kaoru started adding his hands and took Kojiro completely apart. It was like being reassembled from base parts, held down by the expertise of Kaoru’s mouth, tongue, and fingers. 

When his vision wasn’t fading out, he could see Kaoru dragging his hips against the sheets, grinding out his own pleasure, while he continued to pretty much fuck his mouth on Kojiro’s cock.

That was about as much as Kojiro was going to be able to take. He gave Kaoru enough of a warning to draw his lips off with a lurid, wet pop that had Kojiro groaning into an otherworldly climax.

Kaoru had kept his hand around the base of Kojiro’s cock, pumping him through the aftershocks and wiped the come off his hand onto the bedsheet with a crinkled nose of annoyance.

Fuck. Kojiro loved him. 

Kaoru had a quirk to his lips that meant he was about to say something infuriating, but Kojiro didn’t let him. He flipped their positions with his legs, so that Kaoru was flat on his back eyes wide with surprise as Kojiro straddled his chest. 

“Your turn,” Kojiro said, kissing Kaoru’s protest messily out of his mouth and then moving down his body to return the favor. 

It turned out he liked when Kaoru opened his mouth in certain situations. 

Kojiro had to keep Kaoru’s hips pinned to the mattress as he drew loud, overwhelmed moans and cries from Kaoru’s mouth, but that only seemed to turn Kaoru on more as his dick swelled in Kojiro’s mouth almost causing him to choke.

He didn’t. It wasn’t exactly a competition, but he felt like returning the favor and taking Kaoru apart—if he went a little further, pinching the skin between his balls, bringing him close to the edge and then squeezing at the base of his perfect cock to pull him back before starting over again—well then maybe it was a competition Kojiro was going to win. 

For once Kaoru wasn’t a sore loser, too wrung out to complain when Kojiro murmured quiet affections against his temple as he ran his fingers through Kaoru’s hair. When it got to be too much for him, Kaoru brushed his nose against Kojiro’s nose and kissed him. No energy to be fast, mean, or methodical, but perfect all the same.

Neither of them slept. The sun was starting to creep past the horizon and Kojiro dragged his thumb over Kaoru’s bad ankle, rubbing the muscle there and tracing the lines of his foot. 

Kaoru called him a fetishist, but also didn’t tell him to stop. 

The rest of the trip… went almost exactly how Kojiro had thought it was originally going to go. They spent time on the beach, went to restaurants, got lost four times even with Kaoru’s acclaimed AI and its obviously lack of up to date directions, and enjoyed each other’s company. Nothing significant had changed—except that Kaoru let him hold his hand while they argued about whether or not to tour the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, or the Torre de Belém, that Kaoru smoothed his hair back when he’d come in from water even Kojiro had to admit was too cold, and that they only used one of the bedrooms in the villa. Which they used a lot. 

“I hate it when you take care of me,” Kaoru bitched during the last night of their trip, when Kojiro insisted on taking a break from walking on the cobblestones, because clearly his ankle was acting up again. 

“Why?” Kojiro asked. “You take care of me.” His horrible bedside manner aside, it was still true.

“You don’t need me as often,” Kaoru said. He was irritated, but not enough that he didn’t let Kojiro wrap an arm around him. 

“You’re just more impulsive. I kept the childhood spirit, you kept the childhood lack of sense.”

Kaoru elbowed him in the ribs. Kojiro only debated for a moment before also adding that he kept his childhood temper. 

They argued, but Kaoru still let Kojiro decide when they were done resting. 

Maybe one significant change.