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A Chance to Breathe Again

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The crowd streaming away from Fushimi Inari Shrine is as tightly packed as it was coming in. The Ex-Wires jostle together, following Shima’s loud brother’s waving arms. Everyone’s too close, and too loud, and Rin can’t hear himself think. He can’t wait to get back to the inn to sleep—he needs dark and quiet.

He catches a glimpse of Shiemi’s worried face, and feels a little sick at that. He shouldn’t have mentioned Yukio when there’s nothing she can do about it. When there’s nothing he can do about it either.

Distracted, he slams into a solid bulk—a hand on his elbow keeps him from bouncing away. He looks up to see Suguro frowning.

“You okay, there?”

There’s no way he’s answering that honestly. The others are in earshot, and anyway, spilling his guts to Shiemi didn’t help. He doesn’t want to make things weird with Suguro for no good reason too. “Yeah, yeah.” Rin grins, and gestures. “Look at all these people!”

He keeps grinning, but it must not be working right, because Suguro’s still frowning. He’s also still holding Rin’s arm, and that’s—way nicer than Rin would have guessed. It’s casual, warm, like Suguro isn’t even thinking about it. No hesitation, like Rin’s just a normal person.

“Don’t get lost again,” Suguro says, and finally lets go. Maybe it’s the lantern light, but his face looks red.

*

The festivities don’t end at the inn, as Rin had hoped. Late as it is, everyone’s laughing so loud it echoes. Rin’s tail lashes, uneasy, and he realizes he needs to get out of there. Fresh air might calm him down. And maybe—

Stealing a bottle of wine from the dining room is easy. The room is still full, but the snake sisters are preoccupied with drinking Kinzo under the table. Juzo is trying to persuade Mamushi to go to bed—It’s late, you should rest, stop hitting me, I’ll make it worth your while, baby—while she insists she’s fine. Konekomaru’s politely running away from Shima’s clingy sister.

Suguro’s dad makes eye contact with him when his fingers curl around the bottleneck. Rin freezes, tail poised—but Suguro’s dad just winks, and pointedly looks away.

He’s a cool dude, Rin thinks. Suguro doesn’t know how lucky he has it.

Or maybe he does, now. Rin really hopes he does.

He slips out the back door as quietly as he can. Hopefully nobody hears him fumbling the door closed again. It’s so loud inside, anyway. The noise twists through him, and he grits his teeth so he doesn’t smile too wide, laugh too loud, get caught up in the glee and lose control. Like Yukio’s laughter the night they fought.

He rubs his hand through his hair, tugs. Tightens his other hand on the bottle. Yeah. He needs to calm down.

“Oi! Okumura!”

He jumps and whirls. Suguro’s standing in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest, scowling. Rin whips the bottle behind his back, but it’s too late.

“Hey,” he says, grinning like armor. “What’s up?”

He braces himself for a scolding—he’s irresponsible, he’s stealing booze from Suguro’s mom—but instead Suguro’s gaze darts past him, into the night, to the side, along the porch.

“Nothing.” Suguro deflates a bit, shoulders slumping, and now Rin can see the way his fingertips are digging into his arms. “Just thought someone else was sneaking around.”

Neither of them needs to say the name Shima.

Rin grimaces. “Nah. I saw him following after Yukio. So, his problem, right now.”

He’s still buzzing with energy, undirected, like he’s Kurikara filled with fire flickering and battering at his sheath. He thinks, from the tension in Suguro’s jaw and the way he’s not quite looking at Rin, that Suguro might feel the same way.

“Hey.” He brandishes the bottle. “Wanna split this with me?”

Suguro’s scowl flickers. His eyebrow lifts. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”

“Is that a yes?”

Suguro laughs. “Yeah. That’s a yes.”

*

Rin hasn’t been up on the roof since—well, the last time he visited Suguro’s mom’s inn. When he was training with candles and Shura. But he remembers the best route up—there’s a half-wall in the garden, and a low overhang—and he knows which slope of shingles is out of view of any windows, or the street out front. It’s dark, barely lit by the lanterns hanging in the garden below, but just bright enough to see.

“What the hell is all this?” Suguro nudges a darkened tile with his shoe. “Are these scorch marks?”

“Uh.” Rin waves towards a less-scorchy section near the top. “No idea. C’mon.”

It’s dusty, and dark, but Rin kind of likes the darkness. It’s peaceful. He un-slings Kurikara and plops down against the shingles.

Suguro looks around, then sits next to him. There’s a full twenty centimeters between them, but the night still feels that much warmer with Suguro right there. It’s nice. It’s nice they’re friends again—better than ever, maybe—and Rin shoves aside the small part of him that always warns he’s about to fuck it up again.

No point in worrying about that. No point in worrying about anything tonight. It’s late, it’s a party. If he can just make his brain quiet down, he’ll be fine. Which was the whole point of—he taps Suguro on the knee. “Hey, pass the bottle?”

Suguro uncorks the bottle before passing it. Rin takes it carefully, doesn’t let their fingers touch, but his skin prickles all over with how Suguro’s looking at him. He closes his eyes as he drinks. Swallows too much at once, and he coughs it down.

Suguro doesn’t say anything, just takes the bottle back, and his fingertips are warm against Rin’s.

He swigs. On Suguro, somehow the grimace looks cool. Then he’s passing the bottle back again, and their fingers touch again. Like it’s ordinary. And it is and it isn’t, because they’re friends and friends touch like that. Except.

Rin’s not great at friends. But he’s pretty sure when friends touch, it isn’t supposed to feel like that.

He’s holding the bottle Suguro drank from. They’re sitting on a roof together, caught between scorched shingles and a cold spread of stars, and he’s supposed to put his mouth where Suguro’s mouth just was.

Then he realizes, Suguro already drank where Rin’s mouth had been, and he short circuits completely.

“What?” Suguro rubs at his face. “Do I have something on me?”

And Rin’s been staring at his mouth. Right. He ducks his head, holds the bottle in two hands. “Uh,” he says, scrambling to save it. “I was just looking at your hair.”

“Did you just notice?”

“I noticed!” Rin protests. “I just… didn’t like it at first.” Oh. That came out wrong. Suguro’s rolling his eyes, and Rin needs to make him understand, “Because your old hair was so cool, and I don’t like when people are different, suddenly, but now I like it. It’s cool.”

“You think everything’s cool,” Suguro says, but his scowl’s twitching away. “Go on, drink and pass it back.”

And now Suguro’s watching him. He can feel it. He can see it, because he can’t look away. Suguro’s eyes are dark and intent as Rin lifts the bottle back to his lips. He imagines he can feel the lingering warmth of Suguro’s lips on the rim, and can’t quite wash it away with the next swallow.

The alcohol was supposed to ease away the tension, but he’s only buzzing harder.

When he offers the bottle back, Suguro doesn’t take it. He grabs Rin’s wrist instead. “What’s wrong with you?” His hand feels large and hot, and it’s gentle. Rin could break away.

He doesn’t. “Huh?” he answers brilliantly, because the alternative is, Sorry, I just think your chin is like, the best chin ever.

“You’re acting weird. Are you drunk already? Your tail keeps hitting me.”

Oh. Rin manages to hold his tail still for about three seconds before it flicks. He wonders if Suguro can feel his pulse thudding through his wrist. “I just can’t sit still sometimes. I can’t be inside, or with people, or I’ll fuck it up.”

Suguro glances over his shoulder. At his sword. “Are you going to lose control?”

“Not like that.”

“Good.” Suguro lets go of his wrist, takes the bottle. Drinks. “So, I don’t count as people?”

What—oh. “That’s not—you’re—” Rin isn’t sure he should say, That’s not how you make me want to lose control. He isn’t sure he should say anything, but the words, “You’re distracting,” tumble out before he can stop them.

“Distracting,” Suguro repeats.

Good distracting,” Rin hastens to clarify.

Which may be a mistake, because Suguro blinks, then scowls again. Mutters something that sounds suspiciously like Fuck, and look who’s talking. Says, louder, “You’re an idiot.”

Those are the words, at least. Rin stares at him, because that’s not what his voice sounds like he’s saying. And when Suguro drinks again, it’s like he’s steeling himself for something.

Rin grins, loopily. He’s fluttering inside, but this kind of restlessness feels good. Not like he’s flying away. Just like something’s about to happen. “You’re hanging out with me. What does that make you?”

“A fucking idiot.” Suguro drinks again, and sets down the bottle, and touches Rin’s face, and kisses him.

There’s one moment of pure white shock, a searing numbness, and Rin may or may not squeak. Then he’s thoroughly caught up in warm, dry lips on his, on the trembling heat of Suguro’s hand on his cheek—holy shit, Suguro’s hand is on his cheek—his mouth is on his mouth—his eyes are all screwed up concentrating on him.

Rin’s just about ready to try kissing back when Suguro pulls away.

Not very far, because Rin’s hand shoots out on instinct to seize him by the collar, and hold him close, so he can look at him. Suguro looks nervous as fuck, clenching his jaw, but he doesn’t look kissed. No wet lips or messy hair or whatever. Rin is seized with the overwhelming need to fix that.

“Fuck.” Suguro looks away. “Sorry. We should talk.”

“Nah,” Rin says, and drags him back in. “‘m not good at talking.”

This time he’s ready. He hasn’t done this before, but opening his mouth seems good. Suguro makes a sound, at least, so that seems really good. He tastes like skin, like alcohol, and he’s kissing back, which is really, really good.

This time, when Rin pulls back to breathe, Suguro’s eyes are heated and glassy, his lips are wet, and he’s looking at Rin so hard. Like he’s studying him. Like he’s a verse to be unpacked, a weapon to be held and swung and used. Like he’s a puzzle to be unlocked.

Which is dumb. Rin isn’t a puzzle. Rin’s easy.

Suguro’s hand travels from his neck—when did it even get there—to ruffle through Rin’s hair. To brush against Rin’s ear—and when he shivers at the touch, to linger, to trace the pointed edge. Rin bites his lip, and if he’s not mistaken, Suguro shivers too.

“You don’t mind the ears,” Rin says.

Suguro rubs the tip between his fingers, and fuck, Rin’s hard. Maybe Suguro knows, because he’s smirking. “Nah. They’re kind of cute.”

“Cute?” Rin splutters. He bats Suguro’s hand away, and reaches for the bottle. Drinks long, swallows, glares. “I’m not cute.”

Shiemi's cute. Kuro's cute. Rin isn’t cute.

But Suguro’s flushed, suddenly. And there’s no way Rin’s cute, but maybe—maybe this is the wine talking—he doesn’t mind Suguro thinking he is.

Yeah. Totally the wine. He shoves the bottle at Suguro, and then, before he can think twice, and while Suguro’s off his guard, he jumps him. Lands on his lap, and Suguro rocks back with a, “What the hell, Okumura.” The wine sloshes over Suguro’s hand, but his other hand comes up to Rin’s waist, holds tight.

The air hums between them. Rin’s tail swishes, curls around Suguro’s ankle. Uncurls. Suguro’s wide-eyed. He sets the bottle down, says, “Rin.”

Whatever else he wants to say is lost when Rin grabs his hand, pulls it to his mouth, and licks. Suguro goes perfectly still under him, and makes this very rewarding sort of groaning grunt sound, and that’s almost as good as the taste of wine mixed with salt. He flattens his tongue over Suguro’s knuckles, glances up to see Suguro staring, lips parted. Rin’s buzzing again. He wants more of everything, more of Suguro, and he keeps hold of Suguro’s gaze as he takes two of Suguro’s fingers in his mouth and sucks. Yes, there’s that sound again. He wriggles closer, runs his tongue under Suguro’s fingers.

“Fuck,” Suguro breathes, then, “Wait.”

Rin freezes, jaw still wide around Suguro’s fingers. Shit, did he fuck up—but Suguro’s thumb strokes his jaw, and he doesn’t look mad, just dazed and breathing kind of heavy. Then Rin shifts his weight, and—

Suguro’s hard. Wow. He doesn’t know when that happened, or how he hadn’t noticed it happening, but now it’s all he can think about. Suguro’s hard against his thigh, because of him, and suddenly Rin has no idea what to do next.

Well. He has ideas. Way too many ideas.

But he knows none of them start with a too-loud voice from the garden shouting, “Hey, has anyone seen Bon?”

Rin drops Suguro’s fingers. Suguro leans back, stares at the sky, and takes a deep breath. “Fucking Kinzo,” he mutters. He pushes at Rin. “You should—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Rin manages to extricate himself, barely even staggering as he gets to his feet. He leans forward, but still can’t quite see the garden, and can’t make out any other words through the tumult. Apparently the party’s moving outside. He scrubs his hand through his hair, glances over at Suguro. “Uh, so. Did you want to head back down?”

“Not really,” Suguro says, “but we probably should. In a minute, though. We’re not going down with you looking like that.”

“Like what?”

Suguro laughs. Leans back on his arms. “Just sit back down.”

“Like what,” Rin says again, but he sits, close enough their thighs press together. Suguro’s probably right. If he looks half as messed up as Bon looks right now, there’s no way someone wouldn’t notice.

He kind of doesn’t want anyone to notice yet. He wants a nice secret, for once.

Suguro passes him the bottle again, and as he takes it, he thinks he feels calmer now. Grounded. Like maybe anything’s possible, if he can go from exploding candles to kissing Suguro on the very same roof. If he can have a moment like this: all the stars above, and a warm hand holding him down.