“Sawamura, calm down. I can’t-”
”Th-There was a-an… There was an acc-” A deep, shuddering breath stuttered over already crackling phone lines, and Eijun’s voice came through in a cluster of incomprehensible static. “Therewasanaccidentandandandoniisanis-is-is-”
“Sawamura,” Youichi tried again, his voice harsh as his brain tried to wrap around words like accident and Onii-san. His too-small flat further shrank around him, rendering the air less and less sufficient as he fought to suppress the growing anxiety swelling in his chest. “What happened?”
“Onii-san’s g-g-gone, and-”
Kuramochi didn’t hear the scuffle on the other end of the phone; he didn’t feel his t-shirt ride up or the sandpaper-like texture of bare wall against his lower back as he sank to the ground. Even the acrid smell of his dinner burning on the stove went unnoticed as small tendrils of smoke issued from the sizzling pan. In the back of his mind, Haruichi’s sniffled, “Eijun,” registered as heartbreaking, but he wouldn’t realize until later, as no sensation could drown out the one thought that conquered the rest: Onii-san’s gone. Ryousuke’s gone. Ryou-san is gone. Gone. gone. gone gone gone gone gone
“-chi senpai.” A pause. “Kuramochi-senpai,” Haruichi’s voice became more urgent, more pleading, and Youichi’s fingers tightened around the phone. “He’s not that kind of gone. He’s missing. Have you heard from him?”
“I- What? Haruichi, what the hell is going on?”
A shaky breath. Another shuffle. Quiet whispers of reassurance in Furuya’s level voice, meant only for the little Kominato’s ears. Finally, a voice he’d never been so happy to hear filled the line with none of its usual mirth. “Kuramochi.”
“Miyuki.” Youichi’s head spun, his eyes slammed tight to aid in his mental war against the bile rising in his throat. His voice was scratchy when he spoke. “What the fuck happened?”
“Everything’s okay,” came the immediate response, Miyuki’s calm amidst the chaos providing a balm to the edges of Youichi’s frayed conscious. “Ryousuke got hit by a car, but he’s okay. Or at least we can assume, if he’s being stubborn enough to disappear from the hospital. Even he’s not that reckless.”
“Fuck.” Youichi released the breath he’d been holding, his shaking hand rising to rest against his sweaty forehead. “Why did you let Sawamura call me? I thought- It sounded like he was-”
“I was talking to nurses to see if I could figue out when he left. I didn’t realize that moron would do anything in the five minutes I was gone.”
“Was he hurt? How long has he been gone? Where was he last seen? Why didn’t he-”
A series of things happened very quickly, and Kuramochi suddenly remembered his apartment; he could feel the textured wall pressing painfully into his back and see the small flame dancing in the pan on the stove, but more than anything, he heard the faint tap of knuckles against his door, the rhythmic beat of four intimately familiar and so his.
“He’s here. I’ve gotta go. I’ll- I’ll text you.”
His phone clattered to the floor, and he paused long enough to dump an entire bag of flour into the smoking pan, not bothering to verify the absence of flames before he darted for the door. He barely felt the cool knob brush against his palm before throwing the door open with a force that would inevitably dent the wall and launching his arms around the shorter, pink-haired man in front of him, taking no notice of the gash across his cheek or the crutches bearing most of his weight. He only noticed him, with that deceptive smile and his old Seido jersey and an aura of determination that stretched as far as the eye could see, and he never wanted to let go again. “Ryousuke.”
A soft grunt at his force was the first sign of something wrong, but before he could pull away, before he could assess the look in Ryousuke’s eyes or the way his lips quirked downward, a hand snaked up his side, powerful fingers gripping his back with bruising intensity, and a cool, sweaty forehead burrowed against his collarbone, dusting the skin above his heart with shaky, too-short breaths. “Youichi.”
“You’re okay,” he whispered, pressing gentle kisses into the mop of pink, unsure of whether he was trying to convince Ryousuke or himself. “You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re- Shit, Ryou-san, you’re shaking.”
“I’m okay,” his partner echoed with a paper-thin smile, his features slowly schooling themselves back into the relaxed gaze and patient smile that hid everything from everyone but had ceased to work on Youichi years ago. “It’s rude to leave guests standing in the hallway.”
It took another moment for Youichi to loosen his grip, to finally pull away and face whatever reality might stand in front of him. When he did, it took only seconds to take it all in: a shoulder encased in a malleable black brace; creased eyebrows and the beginnings of bags under already puffy eyes; six small, black stitches protruding from his right cheek; coarse brown specks of dried blood dotting the front of a now tattered jersey; and an almost waist-high cast on a foot barely brushing the ground.
“You’ve never asked permission to come in before,” he answered petulantly, but he quickly stepped aside to create a path for Ryousuke to hobble through, eventually watching him walk, wanting to help but not knowing how. He finally settled for a hand on his lower back, not enough to really help, but enough to convince himself that his person was really there, inches away and very much alive.
It wasn’t until he’d followed him all the way to the couch that Ryousuke’s eyes turned on him. “Mochi, I’m fine. I’m more worried about your apartment. Were you trying to burn it down?”
“I thought you were dead.”
A small laugh bubbled from Ryousuke’s lips. “What?”
Youichi sighed, a small battle waging inside him as he settled in the armchair nearest the sofa. He wanted to fret, to push, to inquire as to why one of the only people fully at home in his apartment was curled up in the corner of his couch, his flexible knee pressed firmly to his chest and his hands still trembling slightly. But he could also see the firm set in his partner’s jaw, the way his tired eyes bore more of a shield than they’d worn around Youichi in years, and he knew that none of what he wanted mattered now; what Ryousuke needed mattered, and at the moment, that was some normalcy, not an inquisition. “Sawamura is a fucking moron. He called me bawling his fucking eyes out and said you’d been in an accident, then said, ‘Onii-san’s g-g-gone.’ It took two more people to explain to me that you’d been discharged from the hospital and weren’t, you know, dead.”
At that, Ryousuke cracked a real smile - menacing and wicked, but filled with honest amusement that loosened the worry cinched tightly in Youichi’s gut. “I always knew he was an idiot, but wow.”
Before Ryousuke could provide a verbal response, his stomach growled, and Youichi laughed, loud and long. It felt magnificent. “Want to order in? I, uh, may have burned dinner.”
Ryousuke hummed in agreement, providing no further comment on the smoke still hazing the ceiling or the frequency with which they’d faced this exact situation, without Ryousuke’s implied demise to prompt the miniature fire, and it suddenly struck Youichi how miniscule the differences that made up the Ryousuke he saw and the Ryousuke seen by the rest of the world really were. Curled into a loose ball, his muscles only tight to the known observer, his plastic smile still in place and his gaze even - to anyone else, he might look comfortable, even relaxed, but Youichi could see the lie in the way his lips curved just slightly too far upward, could hear it in his too-deliberately even breaths.
“I’m really glad you’re here,” the shortstop said softly as he crossed the room, pausing only to rest a hand on the other’s uninjured shoulder, his gaze still towards the kitchen in an attempt to hide the pink creeping up his cheeks.
They didn’t say things like this to each other; they never mentioned it, had never mentioned it. Whatever they were, whatever they had been for some time now, had never been discussed. From his second year of high school on, they’d been inseparable. Youichi didn’t know when their friendship had morphed into this - when quiet talks had become holding hands and kissing cheeks or when those little intimacies had become late nights wrapped in the warmth of each other’s arms and domestic dinners peppered with bumping shoulders and casual discussion. There was no confession, no exchange of I love yous, no promise of the future, but they were there, and Youichi had never doubted.
It worked for them, both too awkward and guarded to put into words the cacophony of emotions shared between them; they always knew, always gave and accepted the silent exchange of their hearts, but today, for the first time, he wasn’t sure it was enough, wasn’t sure that his other half could recognize Youichi’s resolve, and so, he spoke. “I know you could have gone home, and I know you thought about it, but I’m glad you came here instead.” I’m glad you trusted me to take care of you.
With a small tilt of his head, Ryousuke’s cheek settled briefly on his knuckles, and Youichi felt some of the tension melt from his body. When his stomach grumbled again, they both laughed. “Go get your phone. They close soon.”
“Right,” Youichi agreed easily, shifting his thumb to caress the other’s pale cheek tenderly. “The usual okay?”
“Less spicy today,” came Ryousuke’s casual reply, but before Youichi could inquire, he offered up his own hint of vulnerability, forever balancing out their pattern give and take. “My stomach’s been uneasy since the accident.”
“Less spicy it is,” he confirmed, squeezing the shoulder beneath his fingers before finally leaving the room and retrieving his phone. It buzzed when he scooped it up from its home on the linoleum floor, and the screen flashed up at him. Three missed calls. Six new messages.
Missed call from Miyuki (2).
Missed call from Haruichi.
8:44 p.m. Haruichi: Thank you for finding him, Kuramochi-kun. I’m really, really glad he has you. Please take good care of him.
8:44 p.m. Miyuki: There’s more you need to know. Idk what happened, but his parents know about you. They called Haruichi screaming about Ryou being an ‘abomination.’ Haruichi actually stood up to them. He came out, too.
8:45 p.m. Miyuki: They gave him an hour to get all of his stuff out of the house. He and Furuya stayed with us tonight. Furuya finally convinced him to try to sleep.
9:18 p.m. Miyuki: Furuya leaves for Hokkaido in the morning, and we leave tomorrow afternoon. He’s going to stay at our place while we’re gone. We offered to take him with us, but he said he wanted to be in Tokyo, closer to Ryousuke.
9:20 p.m. Miyuki: We’re all stopping by in the morning before our train leaves.
9:21 p.m. Miyuki: Btw, text Haruichi or me if you need anything. We’ve banned Sawamura from contacting you until he can figure out what he did wrong. It may be a few years.
Kuramochi’s thumbs were moving before he realized what he was saying, but there was nothing in the world he could have meant more. Rage surged through him, almost blinding, as his body remembered the feeling of Ryousuke trembling in his arms and the sound Haruichi’s whimper for his best friend on the phone line.
His family was almost non-existent - his mother and grandfather were all he’d had growing up, and that shrank further in his third year of college, when he’d gotten the call to get back to Chiba as soon as he could. Ryousuke had gone with him then, had mourned with him and his mother, had supported them, and the other three had been waiting for them the moment they came back, armed with gentle jabs, snarky comments, and the sense of normalcy he’d so needed.
He had a family of five now - his mother, his best friend, his kohai, his little brother, and his rock, and there was nothing in the world that could make him love them less. He would never understand.
9:32 p.m. To Miyuki: FUCK THEM. bring his stuff with you when you come tomorrow. he’s staying with me. he and Ryou-san both, for as long as they want. we’ll make it work.
9:32 p.m. Miyuki: You know Ryousuke has his own apartment, right?
9:33 p.m. Miyuki: And you only have one extra room. Which one of them’s sleeping with you? ;)
9:33 p.m. To Miyuki: fuck YOU i’m done
Quickly, he called in their almost-usual take-out order, having to explain not once but twice that yes, Kominato-san was okay, and no, they didn’t finally win the spiciness war he’d had going with them. Kuramochi just wanted to share the food, he promised; they could try to annihilate his taste buds another day. Finally, his favorite restaurateurs committed to twenty minutes until the food would be at his door, and Youichi was able to return to the living room.
“They thought they finally out-spiced you,” he joked, pleasantly surprised to find Ryousuke fully unfurled, both legs sprawled now out over the second cushion and his back resting against the arm of the couch. “Don’t worry, I told them they hadn’t won yet.”
“They aren’t even close.”
Ryousuke’s grin made Youichi’s insides squirm, and he wanted to keep it there. For a moment, he thought that Miyuki’s news could wait for morning, could leave tonight as a brief reprieve from the chaos of the day, but- “Miyuki texted me.”
He offered up his phone, and Ryousuke skimmed the conversation, his expression almost unchanging aside from the ever-increasing indent between his brows. He stared at it for a long moment, even after his eyes stopped scanning the screen, and a small sigh slipped through otherwise taut lips. He swiveled deliberately, easing his legs from cushion to coffee table, and Youichi knew it was a question, a silent request they so often exchanged.
Youichi complied willingly, settling hip-to-hip, shoulder-to-shoulder on his elder’s uninjured side, and the bubblegum-haired boy slumped against him, nestling perfectly into the Ryousuke-sized divot in his ribs.
“I’m sorry,” Youichi croaked. The words felt hollow, meaningless, and he supposed they were. Sometimes, nothing could make a situation better.
“I’m not,” came the quiet reply, and resilient eyes darted upwards, locking with Youichi’s own. “Thank you.”
Youichi snaked his arm around the other’s torso, pulling him closer as they relaxed into one another, each softening under the other’s touch. “No need.”
They settled into a comfortable silence that extended well beyond the arrival and consumption of their food, but neither seemed ready to break it, both content to be together, sides plastered against one another. As usual, Youichi inhaled his dinner, and Ryousuke picked at his, slowly eating about a third of his usual meal before shoving it aside, instead favoring to bury his head again in Youichi’s neck while the green-haired boy pressed gentle kisses into his scalp.
After several quiet moments, it was Ryousuke who broke the silence. “It wasn’t me who told them. I told a nurse, and she slipped up.”
“About you,” he amended softly, glancing up at Youichi with a surprisingly unguarded expression. “She was taking me to get x-rays and talking too much, and she asked me if I had a lucky lady at home to take care of me, and I said, ‘More like a yankii with a bad attitude,’ and she laughed. It was fine until she told me that she hoped ‘that yankii boy’ would take good care of me in front of my parents. I’m sure you can imagine the rest.”
Ryousuke hummed, pressing a kiss into Youichi’s collarbone in response. “I’m glad, actually. It’s needed to happen for a long time.”
“It shouldn’t have had to happen like that,” he argued, angry all over again. “It’s not something that should have had to happen at all. No one should -” The rage that bubbled in Youichi’s chest dissipated as quickly as it came as Ryousuke smiled up at him - it was sad and tired and real, with the gentle creases in the corners of his eyes and the faintest upward curl of his lips- “How the hell are you looking at me like that right now?”
“Mochi,” he murmured softly, his expression still soft. “I’ve expected this reaction since I was twelve. I was as ready for it as I could be. But thank you.”
Youichi could hear the unsaid words behind his boyfriend’s courageous statement. It sucks, but it is what it is. It will be okay. I knew you’d be here to help me through it. He didn’t speak, didn’t need words, and he kissed Ryousuke for real, his tongue brushing the other’s lips gently and being immediately let in, his calloused fingers brushing delicately along the ivory jawline.
It was short and sweet, and it ended as quickly as it started when Ryousuke pulled away to yawn. Youichi cracked up, forcing himself to his feet and carefully scooping the other up bridal style. “Come on, idiot. Let’s get you to bed.”
To Ryousuke’s credit, he only pinched Youichi twice in protest before he accepted his fate, allowing himself to be toted to the bedroom, proffered pain medication, helped into clean pajamas, and tucked into Youichi’s bed with pillows propped in all the right places. Youichi wasn’t far behind, sighing contentedly as Ryousuke buried himself against his chest.
Laying there, Ryousuke in his arms, the weight of the day finally crashed down on him - the unanswered questions about his partner’s health, the upcoming arrival of his impromptu roommate, the guaranteed aftershocks of the Kominato’s familial troubles, and most of all, the overwhelming dread of the difficulties he knew Ryousuke would face in the coming weeks.
Youichi allowed himself to feel, to fear, for a few minutes, his strong arms still engulfing his beloved as he forced deep breaths and began to plan - how to structure his time away from the team to support his best friend, how to budget for the addition of a college-aged mouth to feed for at least the rest of the academic year, how to hold everything together when the world around him seemed determined to fall apart.
But then he looked down at Ryousuke, tranquil and sturdy in spite of everything, and he knew that it would be fine, that they would be fine. He could feel the warmth radiating from his body, could hear the almost snores as he began to doze off, could smell his shampoo mingled with the sweat to which he was so accustomed after years on the field. For the briefest of moments, he thought he’d lost that today, and nothing - nothing - they could face would ever be as bad as that sixty second gap of a world without Ryousuke. He pressed a kiss against the sleeping man’s temple.
“I love you,” Ryousuke whispered, barely there through the thin cotton of Youichi’s t-shirt. He didn’t look up, didn’t move from his nestled home in Youichi’s chest; even so close, Youichi couldn’t detect a racing heart, couldn’t feel any shred of nervousness, and he was immediately satisfied. Ryousuke wasn’t nervous to say the words; he didn’t fear Youichi’s reaction. He knew, as Youichi always had.
“I love you too.”
There was no fanfare; no tears were shed. The words were new, but the sentiment wasn’t. They’d loved for a long time. A warmth still burned in Youichi’s chest, though, unexpected and new. They’d always known but never acknowledged, and acknowledging, he discovered, was pretty damn nice.