His ribs are a bit sore when he arrives home from school, and he checks the timer on his phone, giving his grandfather a brief nod as he walks by so he can get undressed as quickly as possible. Though the timer has not gone off yet, the beginning of the school year is always rougher on him when he’s trying to settle into a routine. After all, during the summer, he only has to wear the binder for short bursts of time rather than the long hours perpetuated by the school day. At least Kengo has given him the chance to go home and change first.
He doesn’t know why, of course, but Yuki had argued that Gentaro would need to be as comfortable as possible in order to fight as Fourze. He’s just glad nothing complicates the transformation process, and his jacket hides the slight change in his body shape so the others haven’t noticed very much. Well, beyond JK, but that was out of his control. It’s harder to hide from people who recognize the truth from having to live that life themself.
In truth, Gentaro is happy to have the company. It’s something that even Yuki was not able to understand even though she has done everything right by him. She’s happy as who she is, without the need to change anything about herself, and Gentaro is not. And JK understands that well because he’s just as unhappy as Gentaro is and is making the necessary changes.
He changes out of his binder, taking a moment to massage his sore ribs, stretching the best he can to help with the pain developing. Then he changes into a slightly baggier t-shirt and back into his jacket, making sure it’s situated in such a way that it hides his chest. He’s lucky to at least not have too much to hide to begin with, and he feels more comfortable this way. Maybe he can ask JK for some tips because JK is sure to have more tips on this than he does.
By the time he arrives at the Kamen Rider Cub, everyone but Shun and Miu is already present, and he takes his place at the table, feeling a little better having walked a bit with the binder off, able to breathe without any sort of restriction. He’s no sooner been sitting for three minutes before Kengo presses another Switch into his hand.
“We’ve just finished developing this one,” he explains without preamble. “I’d like you to test it as soon as possible.”
JK is the one who speaks up, resting a hand on Gentaro’s arm. “Let him sit for a minute. He just got here, after all.”
Gentaro flashes him a smile, all teeth. “Thanks, JK. I guess I just need a minute to sit down and breathe, y’know? It’s been a rough few weeks.”
“Is everything okay?” The sudden concern in Kengo’s voice is unlike him, and Gentaro raises an eyebrow at him, not sure what to say. He isn’t used to Kengo being worried about him, after all. “Have you sustained any damage fighting that is just making itself present?”
Chuckling softly, Gentaro shakes his head, his phone vibrating in his pocket. “No, no, I’m just a little sore. Let me sit for just a second and I’ll be good to go, I promise.”
As soon as Kengo turns away to discuss something with Ryusei, Gentaro extracts his phone to find a text message from JK waiting on the screen. When he opens it, the message itself does not surprise him. It’s up to you if you don’t want to tell him the truth, but now might be a good time. No one else has to know, but Kengo might be able to help you work around it.
I know I should at least tell him. He isn’t going to judge me for it, I know that. I guess there’s just always that fear… Well, you know what I mean. He sends the message and continues playing with his phone, giving the impression he’s using it for something else.
JK’s message comes back quickly. I do know. It’s up to you, Gentaro. You know I’m here for you no matter what. This is the one time I’m not afraid to have your back.
The message is a sweet one and he smiles, giving JK a small nod before taking a slow, deep breath. Truth be told, he would have told Kengo from the beginning if Kengo had been loss hostile in his direction, and he had no real reason for withholding the truth once their friendship had been reaffirmed not once but twice. In the end, Kengo had been willing to do anything to bring him back— Gentaro supposes he is lucky he died in his binder because otherwise Kengo surely might have noticed something. Or maybe he was too busy desperately trying to bring him back to notice what might have been obvious to anyone else.
No matter how he looks at it, Kengo has been there for him through everything, and this… It might be big, but he doubts it will be too big for Kengo to handle. He’s nothing if not logical and understanding, and Gentaro would like to think he’s part of the reason why.
“Kengo,” he says, pushing himself up, “there’s something I’d like to talk to you about privately, if you’d be willing to hear me out.”
Kengo turns around to look at him, his head cocked to the side. “What is it?”
“He said it was private, you know,” JK says, flapping a hand at him. “You should find somewhere where you can discuss this privately so the rest of us don’t accidentally overhear anything, right? Go on, Kengo, it’s obviously important.”
A glance between Gentaro and JK has Kengo nodding. “Very well. We’ll just step out of the Hatch for a bit. It’s after hours so no one will be here to hear us talking in the empty room. And if Shun and Miu show up, we’ll be able to hear them coming.”
Gentaro nods and follows Kengo through the doorway, the silence between them tense as Kengo no doubt tries to mentally figure out what the two of them will be discussing. With more confidence than usual, Gentaro can assure himself Kengo can’t even get close to this topic. After all, JK hasn’t told anyone else yet, and so it’s not like he would even have a frame of reference to work with. Once they step into the classroom and close the locker door behind them, Kengo turns to face him, leaning back against the wall.
“You know…” He pauses, quiet and considering, before clearing his throat. “I know I’ve not always been someone that you can confide in, but I’d like to think things have changed. So if there’s anything you want to tell me, I’m here to listen.”
“I know that. That’s why I’ve decided I’m going to tell you. Yuki already knows, and JK, too. Well, he guessed more than I told him, but that’s neither here nor there, y’know?” Gentaro sighs, leaning back against the wall himself. He’s making this needlessly awkward for both of them. “It’s kind of a big thing. It might change the way you look at me.”
Before he can even finish his sentence, Kengo is shaking his head. “No. Nothing could ever change the way I see you. You couldn’t… There’s nothing, Kisaragi. At all.”
“You say that now…” Gentaro tries to keep his voice as light as possible even though Kengo’s words make his throat tight and his eyes sting.
“I say that because I mean it. No matter what… I’ll be here. We’re friends, remember?” Kengo’s voice is firm, unshakeable, like he’s almost always been with so little room for anything else, so little room for doubt. “Whatever you need to tell me, you can tell me.”
Gentaro nods, taking a moment to steady himself, fidgeting with the bottom of his t-shirt before realizing he has a perfect place to start. “You asked me if something was wrong back there.”
“I did. You… I was concerned that something might have happened, that you might have been injured when you were fighting and did not want to tell the rest of us,” Kengo says softly.
“Well, I am sore. You’re right about that. But it isn’t from fighting. I, um…” Gentaro tilts his head back, forcing himself to take another deep breath. “I wear a chest binder during school. When I go out during the summer, too, but I have to keep it on for a long time during school and I can’t take it off. I have to time it, too, which is why I change before I come here. Keeping it on this late would push me past the limit and it would be dangerous to keep it on any longer.”
Kengo is quiet for a moment, his brows furrowed, before he slowly lifts his head. “I’m not sure what that is, Kisaragi. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about one before.”
“I wear one because I’m trans, Kengo.” Saying it out loud makes his body relax, his shoulders no longer tense, even though he has no idea how Kengo will react to the news. “The binder helps to keep my chest flat so that no one notices anything they aren’t supposed to, but the fabric… It’s compression fabric and it starts to hurt my ribs after a while.”
“And wearing it after the designated period of time would risk permanent damage to your ribcage,” Kengo says softly without raising his head.
Gentaro swallows hard. “Yeah, that.”
“You were… Partially correct and partially incorrect. I do see you in a different light, but it’s not the light you are afraid of.” Kengo pushes himself off of the wall, taking a deep breath of his own. “It just makes you… That much braver, to me, I guess. That you manage all of this, and have to carry this on your shoulders, along with being Fourze and fighting. You’re amazing.”
The words make Gentaro’s eyes sting further and he shakes his head, tilting his head back to keep the tears from falling. “Stop that. You’re making this even mushier than it already is.”
“Then in all fairness, I think I should even the playing field with a confession of my own. Yuki had told me to speak to you about it before, but I… I was afraid, myself, I think.” Kengo shakes his head. “But now that you’ve entrusted me with this, it’s only fair to trust you with something too, if you’ll be willing to hear me out."
Gentaro frowns at him, letting his head fall to the side. “Sure, anything.”
Kengo runs a hand through his hair before straightening, taking a few steps forward so the distance between them is faint, dangerously decreased every time one of them breathes. “I’ve… Admired you, whether I was happy to do that or not. It’s… At first it was because you were strong, and then it was because we were friends, and you were able to take on so much for us. You would have done anything. But then, it was… More than that.”
“Are you saying you love me, Kengo?” It’s so easy to make the logical jump from one point to the next, but Gentaro’s heart climbs up into his throat just the same.
For a moment, Kengo says nothing. He’s so still he seems almost inhuman. But then he smiles and drops his head, and it almost looks like he’s blushing. “I am. Yuki noticed it before I did and told me to be honest with you. After you trusted me with this… How could I not trust you in return?"
“And it doesn’t bother you… Knowing about me?” Gentaro asks, and his chest tightens at the very thought that Kengo might not still feel the same.
He barely finishes the question before Kengo shakes his head, taking Gentaro’s hand in both of his and giving it a firm squeeze. “It changes nothing. I still love you. And I will do everything in my power to make you happy if you let me do that. And if the soreness is something that causes you continuous pain, maybe I can think of something to alleviate that.”
Gentaro laughs, swiping at the corners of his eyes with his fingers. “Stop that. You’re going to make me cry and that’s going to ruin the whole moment.”
“I won’t.” Kengo lifts Gentaro’s hand, pressing the back of it to his cheek. “I love you. And I want to be with you, if you’ll have me.”
“Of course I will.” Gentaro sways forward just a bit, giving Kengo time to read his body language and assess his meaning, and he doesn’t even finish bowing his head before Kengo wraps a hand around the back of his neck, pulls him down, and kisses him.
It’s clear it’s not something Kengo is used to doing, and truth be told Gentaro isn’t as used to it as he would like to think he is, but it’s warm and soft and accepting, a quiet reassurance that Kengo’s feelings are not going to change and Gentaro has no reason to fear for that. It allows him to step a little closer, wrap his arms around Kengo’s shoulders, let the front of his body press up against Kengo’s with nothing between them. And Kengo doesn’t hesitate to take him by the waist, pull him closer, even as the kiss deepens.
And finally, the tension that has been wound through his body about this moment eases. He’s never felt as comfortable to be this close to someone in his life, and he hopes things stay just like this for a little while longer before everything falls apart again.