Every third tuesday, Yumeno Gentaro and Izanami Hifumi had an agreement. A ceasefire, of sorts, a momentary truce that was as sacred as the soil of Japan’s oldest shrines and unbreakable as a blade of diamond forged from their words. For on this day, and this day only, they put aside their differences to enjoy a few hours of company over coffee and tea at a poor, once-unsuspecting Shibuya coffee shop. The age of territory battles might have long since passed them by, but some rivalries were eternal.
Which, thought Hifumi, with more offence than sugar in Gentaro’s tea, was probably the reason he’d been talking about anything and everything...except the one at hand. Literally.
“Don’t you have something to say to me?” Hifumi waggled his fingers, not really caring what tangent of Gentaro’s he’d interrupted. Gentaro crossed his arms, staring him down with a scowl. Hifumi all but launched himself over the table, shoving his hand in Gentaro’s face just to watch the way his nose pinched up as he leaned back in equal measure, chair teetering precarious on its back legs.
“Yes, yes. I suppose congratulations are in order,” said Gentaro, feigning utmost reluctance. His eyes weren’t cold, though. He’d always had a shitty time trying to keep his emotion out of them. It made him an easy target. The only thing that kept Hifumi from going after him more, really, was how everyone else just had to go line up easier targets.
Hifumi returned to his side of the table, and Gentaro let out a sigh of relief. Hifumi frowned. That wasn’t even close to the reaction he wanted. Fortunately for him, though, he knew exactly how to get it. “Aren’t I lucky? Getting engaged to the loves of my life?”
“I’m still utterly bewildered,” said Gentaro dryly. Hifumi turned up his nose as Gentaro took a dainty sip of tea.
“Says the one dating a homeless dude!”
“Dice is not homeless.”
“What, so you finally decided to keep him?”
“That is none of your concern.”
Or so he said, not meeting Hifumi’s gaze. Which definitely meant something juicy. But he’d press that later. For now, he just shrugged. “There goes the joint invitation!”
Not that they’d actually planned the wedding yet. That was a whole lot more stress than anyone really wanted to deal with, given how it felt things were only just settling from the aftermath of Chuuou’s fall. Their fame was being forgotten, slowly, day by day--though it would be a while still before something like a wedding could slide under the radar like Doppo wanted it to. Then, Hifumi thought, there was the whole matter of ‘maybe you should not be allowed to make the seating arrangements, Hifumi, no’--not that they even knew who was coming to this eventual wedding, anyway. The littlest Yamada brother was overseas now, too. They’d have to plan around that--but a holiday wedding wasn’t so bad. They’d already had a holiday proposal, might as well make it a trend.
But before Hifumi could fall too deep down the rabbit hole, Gentaro’s voice snapped him back to reality. “I still question how you could have possibly found anyone willing to put up with your…” Gentaro looked him over once, as if he hadn’t spent a thousand hours of his life already hanging out with Hifumi--”attitude.”
Hifumi snorted. “I dunno, probably the same way you get people to put up with yours?”
“I do not have your attitude.”
“Well yeah, ‘course not. If you had my attitude, then maybe you’d have finally gotten engaged, too!”
“I don’t know where to begin unpacking that,” Gentaro said, before adding, again sipping lightly at his tea like a cat lapping up the cream of victory, “And you’re only proving your point.”
“No, it’s super obvious how I got the guys and you didn’t? ‘Cuz like, Doppo and I, see? He’s always been there for me. I don’t think I even remember anything before I met him?” Hifumi paused, wondering if that was actually true, or just something he’d said so many times over the years that he’d willed it to be. Either way--it was significant, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“No, that really wasn’t the one I was surprised about,” Gentaro replied, but Hifumi wasn’t listening. Around Gentaro, he rarely ever did.
“He’s always been there! And he never gave up on me. Not even once. From the very first day we met, see, at our first grade entrance ceremony…”
In the background, Gentaro sighed, fingers tapping lightly and rhythmically against the side of his teacup. He totally didn’t want to hear their entire life story, except for the part where he really kind of did because he always came away from their meetings with ‘ unfortunate bouts of inspiration’, whatever that was supposed to mean. But he’d asked, Hifumi figured, so it wasn’t his fault if he spared no detail. The coffeeshop didn’t close for another three hours, after all. That was plenty of time to tell the story of their lives.
(Or the first chapter, at very least.)
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
There were plenty of other empty seats across the dining hall--most were still on their feet chatting lightly with others, the party only just begun. He had his choice of entire tables to himself, if he so desired. But there was a reason Jakurai had chosen this one, hand resting lightly over its back.
“Knock yourself out.”
For sitting next to it was Hitoya, granting permission with a sideways glance up at him. He wasn’t unwelcoming--not as he’d been when they’d met for drinks a night so distant now--but still gruff as he’d grown to be.
“Doppo’s left me for the buffet,” Jakurai joked lightly as he sat. Hitoya let out an amused breath, not quite laughter. The promise of inguji Jakurai’s company losing out to free sushi and catering. How humbling.
“Thought your type was--” he waved a hand towards a crowd gathered near the middle of the room-- ”flashier.”
Jakurai began to shake his head in quick denial, but Hifumi caught his eye from the center of, grinning invitingly. He was terribly bright, every light drawn to him like a beacon in the dusk. Jakurai returned his smile; Hifumi tilted his head in silent question.
And it was oh-so-very tempting. But...
Jakurai shook his head, motioning towards Hitoya. They’d only just begun their conversation; if Hifumi were to come over now, then Hitoya would naturally slide away, back into the space they’d let themselves grown accustomed to. But if it had grown out of negligence, then it was out of diligence that he would keep it closed.
When he turned his attention back to the conversation at hand, Hitoya lifted an eyebrow, as if to say see? Told you so.
No, Jakurai supposed he couldn’t deny that. There were commonalities in the people who caught his interest. Friends, family, teammates--all of them possessed overwhelming individuality, a fervent charm about them that spilled easy into charisma, drawing admirers like beacons in the night. That wasn’t to say that Doppo had no appeal--quite the opposite, Jakurai had soon found--but rather it burned slowly, persistently, more smoke than flame. It was its own sort of allure, his and his alone.
“He works so very hard. All the goals he’s set for himself… Unconscious or otherwise, he never stops striving to achieve. And none more so than the ones we’ve set together.”
“I hate to break it to you,” said Hitoya, eyeing him with exasperation, “But most of the world works damn hard for what they have.”
His words were harsh, but no longer did the anger that once dwelled behind them still take precedence. Jakurai chuckled, thinking about the sheer amount of determination it had taken to get them here, into this brave new world. That in itself, he supposed, had been his own taste of the struggle. “I suppose they do.”
But Doppo’s hard work was something else entirely. An indomitable spirit that rose as phoenix feathers from the ashes no matter how many times Doppo had insisted he’d been crushed. Not flashy in the terms one might have assumed, but brilliant in its own right.
“Don’t go getting all sappy on me now,” Hitoya warned, sensing Jakurai’s line of thought. “You. Sappy. Ugh. Spare me.”
Jakurai laughed, soft under the party roaring to full swing around them. He’d spare Hitoya the details, at least for tonight. “Though, if I may have one last word...” he said, watching as Hifumi grabbed Doppo by the shoulders, redirecting him forcefully from his path to Jakurai and into his own sphere, Doppo protesting as he snatched one of the platters from his hands, “You don’t separate them. I couldn’t have one without the other.”
“How the fuck did you end up with the loves of your life or some shit, and I got brats?” Hitoya muttered into his whisky, not nearly quietly enough that Jakurai wouldn’t hear.
“What the fuck did you say ‘bout us!?”
Or, apparently, the keen ear of Harai Kuko sneaking up behind him.
“You don’t really think of us like that, do you, Hitoya-san?”
Or Aimono Jushi, voice trembling on the very edge of hurt as he managed, somehow, despite their very significant differences in height, to pop out from behind Kuko.
Hitoya cast Jakurai a long glance--in it a worn plea for help he never would have seen while they were growing up. Jakurai supposed he could smooth the situation over. He also supposed that, if Hifumi and Doppo had taught him anything, a bit of bickering was healthy for the soul.
The party continued, raucous into the night.
There were certain things that Rio was accepting he would never acclimate himself to--mattresses, city life, the knowledge that Samatoki and Juto did not, in fact, feel a sense of adventure in trying new and exotic meats--but none of those were obstacles he wasn’t willing to work around for the sake of a friend.
Case in point: here, now, standing in Jinguji Jakurai’s open doorway as a man who was very definitely not Jinguji Jakurai threw open the door.
“Delivery,” said Rio, holding up the bags of coffee beans Doppo had requested. Hifumi’s expression lit up. Despite their differing opinions on food, it seemed coffee was the one place they could agree.
“Here, come in!” Without giving Rio time to insist there was no need for him to intrude, Hifumi had swept inside, leaving him no choice but to follow.
“Excuse me,” Rio said to a homeowner he was quickly beginning to suspect wasn’t in the house at all. He slipped off his boots before following Hifumi in, rounding the corner to find Doppo sitting at the kitchen table, head buried in his laptop, stacks of paper around his every side. Working from home on a Sunday?
“Doppo! Doppooooo, your special delivery is here!”
Doppo hadn’t so much as reacted to his presence. Bad form. Focus would serve one well on the battlefield, but it was worthless at a loss of awareness of your surroundings. He reached down to tap his shoulder, but Hifumi swept in to catch his wrist, shaking his head quickly.
“Is it okay to leave him like this?”
“It’s okay!” Hifumi chirped, which Doppo also did not react to. If he hadn’t been tying, then Rio might seriously have thought he was sleeping with his eyes open. “He’s just passionate!”
“...Passionate. I see.” If Rio had to compare it to anything, he’d have thought first of the strength a dying man found in his last moments. But passion was a nicer word for it, and so passion it became.
“And all that hard work has to be rewarded,” Hifumi said, plucking one of the bags from Rio’s hand and slipping back towards the counter, “because I love that about him, you know!!”
Though he said it to Rio, he clearly wasn’t who it was aimed at. Rio’s gaze sharpened--Doppo had started to type just the tiniest fraction faster, his posture straightened almost imperceptibly. Rio let out a short, satisfied breath.
I see, he thought, turning to help Hifumi with the coffee. Hard work indeed.
Jinguji Jakurai was, in all likelihood, the single doctor in Tokyo most used to people intruding in on his office and exam rooms with absolutely no need for medical treatment. Like clockwork, not a day went by without someone or other popping their head in, conversation a simple remedy for their ills--or lack thereof, in this case.
“This’s for Doppo,” said Jiro, shoving the hastily-wrapped package at Jakurai so quickly he thought that Jiro might actually have been about to fling it at him, instead.
It was just a sound, but Jiro was keen enough to pick up on the question it carried. He glanced away, folding his arms like a child who very much didn’t want to admit to something. But nevertheless--
“He helped me out. Back when I was still in high school. Just… figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and all that shit. Talked to nii-chan about it tons, and even asked Saburo once or twice, but… Look, we just ended up talking about it, and it helped… This’s fuckin’ dumb,” Jiro said, an aside to himself. He was not the kind of person lost often for words--save when he didn’t know the one to express himself perfectly--but what he’d done was enough. Jakurai understood.
“I’m sure Doppo wasn’t expecting anything for his time,” Jakurai said, wondering if he should simply return the gift and save the poor boy the embarrassment of admitting to himself one of his greatest role models was, by all appearances, an ordinary office worker. “In fact, I think he’d refuse the present. He’s quite kind that way.”
“I know that,” Jiro replied, “that’s why ‘m talkin’ to you. Just tell him thanks for me, yeah?”
Jakurai smiled. He didn’t know exactly what Doppo had done, or why it had stuck with Jiro so strongly he felt the need to repay the favor so many years later--but he could imagine. It filled him with warmth; conveying it to Doppo would be natural as breathing. “Of course.”
“Thanks,” Jiro repeated with a bow of his head before disappearing out the door in a rush, leaving Jakurai alone to bask in a glow that felt fresh as the first time he’d felt it still.
There was another pair of shoes at the door. This wasn’t so unusual---the guest room was no longer a guest room so much as a separate room for whoever happened to be coming home at odd hours and needed a place to work without disturbing the others. It was his old room, Yotsutsuji reflected, that was quickly becoming the guest room.
He shook off his own shoes, lining them up neatly before padding into the kitchen, keeping his steps soft so as to avoid disturbing anyone. But, just as he turned the corner--
“Oh, Hifumi-san! You’re awake!”
“Yep!” Hifumi flashed him a smile, a little wave from across the table. It never failed to make this place feel a little more like home, even if that was no longer the case. “Got life all settled?”
“I feel like I’m still trying to get things back together,” answered Yotsutsuji, honestly. Catching up on the world he’d missed, heading back to school properly, trying to reconcile the fact that the last time he’d seen Amemura Ramuda he’d almost died with the fact he and Jakurai were back to talking on the daily. It was strange, knowing a personal war had been waged over him and with nearly no memory of any of it. Though no stranger than losing a room he’d hardly had the chance to use in the first place, he supposed. Not when his opportunities were still spread so plentiful before him.
“We’ve got lotsa practice with that,” said Hifumi, “I mean, Doppo’s gotta go around acting like he’s got it all together now, but don’t worry! He’s still a mess. So you’ve got lots of time left to figure things out!”
Yotsutsuji laughed, just the slightest bit awkwardly. He wasn’t sure if that was reassuring or not. “Please don’t tease Doppo-san so much,” he said instead, knowing that would never happen. Jakurai had told him plenty of stories. More often than not, it seemed Doppo was the punchline.
“It’s fineee,” Hifumi insisted, waving his hand dismissively. “He does this to me all the time! Like… ‘Hifumi, you’re being a nuisance,’ or ‘Hifumi, you can’t just say that,’ or ‘Hifumi, please act like an adult, which you are,’ or stuff like that!”
Isn’t that just because you were causing someone problems? Yotsutsuji thought, but knew better than to say. If they got into it now, then they’d be here until Jakurai came home, and Yotsutsuji had ever only intended to be in and out.
“It just means we like each other!” Hifumi snickered to himself. Generally, Yotsutsuji thought, that probably wasn’t the case. But when it came to those two...
“Why do you like Doppo-san?” Yotsutsuji asked, the question slipping from him before he could think better of it. “I mean! You don’t have to tell me. I was just… wondering… I mean, since you two are so different, but you’ve been together for so long…”
He understood the story from when they became Matenrou--Jakurai really wasn’t shy about telling it whenever Yotsutsuji wanted to hear. (And even sometimes when he didn’t, though that was a thought he very definitely kept to himself.) He’d seen the footage of their battles, the scars left behind, the rings that flit about the house to fill it with life. But this, he’d always been curious to know.
Hifumi hummed a moment, glancing away before smiling at him again. “Mmmm… Love at first sight?”
Hifumi shrugged. “I mean, I don’t remember not loving him, so?”
Yotsutsuji supposed that was fair. But surely there had to be a moment. A realization. Even if it was nothing grand, or he didn’t think of it that way. With all they’d been through, it couldn’t have just been unconscious. “But… why?”
Hifumi made another sound, not quite frustrated enough to call a whine. “It’s… We’ve been together forever? And…?” Hifumi paused. For perhaps the first time since Yotsutsuji had met him, it seemed he was struggling for words. “He always accepted me? Even after that… Even now? Most people didn’t do that for me. They didn’t want to get it. Everyone wanted me to go back to the way I used to be? And then everyone told me I had to change? I mean, I tried to change me. Though I guess I had to? ...Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”
Hifumi shook his head. “It’s just. That’s it. That’s when I realized. That first time, when he just… went with it? Covered me, when no one else would? That’s why.”
“Doppo-san is good with that, isn’t he?” Yotsutsuji replied with a smile. It wasn’t nearly enough, but at the sight of it, Hifumi brightened up again. “I’m sorry for making you remember something painful.”
Hifumi shook his head with vigor. “Nah, don’t worry about it! It’s all loooong gone now.”
Or so he said, but Yotsutsuji knew better than anyone that wounds that deep didn’t just heal. You could only live with the scars until one day you forgot where they’d even been, someday far in the future they both wanted to see. He fiddled with the handle of the cake box in his hands. The air was growing heavy; he didn’t want to excuse himself like this. “I brought this for later, but… Do you want to try some?”
“Cake?” Hifumi perked up almost immediately. “You’re too good to us, you know that?”
“Oh, not at all,” said Yotsutsuji, setting the cake down on the table as Hifumi moved for the plates and forks. And it was true. For no matter how kind he was to them, no matter how he went out of his way to welcome them--there was no such thing as being too good to the people Jakurai loved. The world might still have seemed to him so full of uncertainties, but of this alone was he sure.
“Have a good day, Doppo.”
“I will,” said Doppo, pleased as ever with their morning routine. It wasn’t often that they were all together like this still--though certainly more so than the days when they’d been teammates--but it was clear Doppo relished them most of all. There was a life in him that just wasn’t as brilliant, the days Hifumi only just managed to pass him in the drive; the days Jakurai had long since been called out for an emergency he couldn’t possibly refuse.
Hifumi could hardly blame him. Days like these were everyone’s favorites by far.
“See you tonight,” Doppo said, their usual promise--and then he was out the door, not-quite a spring in his step as he made for the train, despite all the times Jakurai had insisted on driving him. They might not end up seeing each other tonight (Hifumi, personally, was thinking about going in early, because if someone didn’t show that newbie the ropes then he’d be stuck cleaning up the shop until he eventually crashed and burned, and Hifumi couldn’t let that happen under his watch) but it was the sentiment of it that mattered.
“See you!!” Hifumi called after him, Jakurai echoing his goodbyes softer before closing the door. For a long moment they let the silence settle. Usually, on days like this, Hifumi would drag Jakurai back into the kitchen to do dishes left over from breakfast, or back to the bedroom so they could get ready for the day--or, in Hifumi’s case, night. But today was different, somehow. The air itself stilled them, left behind in Doppo’s wake.
“Y’know,” Hifumi began, daring to break the silence, “It’s gonna sound stupid now, but I never thought this would ever happen.”
Jakurai tilted his head. Hifumi figured that had been easy enough to misunderstand. He continued, “No, not this--” He waved his hands around Jakurai’s front hallway, then between them--”I always figured this was going to happen!”
Jakurai chuckled, charmed by his confidence. It was certainly easy to say after the fact, once all the secrets had been spilled and the complicated reality of their pasts had come to terms with the future that they wanted to build together. But Hifumi had never really faltered. Even when he’d started to waver, all it had taken was the thought of this--the people that they wanted to become, all standing side by side--that carried him through.
Though it was funny to think about now, he thought, everything back to being all mundane and downright domestic.
“I mean, Doppo. I didn’t think he could ever go off to work like that. Smiling? Happy? Pffft. Like, no way. If he got a new job or whatever, maybe. But…” Hifumi shrugged. Not to say that Doppo was never stressed, never came home after a round of overtime and passed out in the hall until someone came to drag him to bed, but it was rarely like the old days.
Jakurai laughed thinly. “It’s embarrassing to admit, but there was a time when I thought the same.”
“Right!?” It had practically been his identity. No one could fault them for it sticking in their heads that Doppo was always going to be that way, perpetually working until the day he died.
“He’s grown remarkably.” Jakurai’s voice was fond with pride. Maybe even more so than Hifumi’s. Hifumi chided himself--no one could be prouder of Doppo than him. He wouldn’t relinquish that honor to even Jakurai--though he could understand. Seeing him change so much in just a few years when it felt like he’d hardly changed in decades… It was something special. “I wonder if we’ve made even a fraction of his progress.”
Hifumi took a second to consider. “Mmmm…. Not yet!”
Jakurai blinked down at him in surprise. “I’d say you’ve grown quite a bit since we’ve first met. Wouldn't you?”
Hifumi shuffled his feet absently, tugging at a strand of hair behind his ear. “Noooo. I’ve figured out, like, one whole thing. That’s nothing.”
“Though I’d say it’s a very important thing?”
Hifumi couldn’t dispute that. But he’d never have figured it out at all--never gathered his courage, been able to face his past in a way that meant anything--without them there to push him forward. Doppo, meanwhile? He’d been fighting his balding demon all alone, since long before any of this. “We’ve still got a looong way to go.”
Jakurai huffed at the reminder--but his smile was kind, just the tiniest hint wistful. “Yes,” he said, “I suppose we do.”
“Let’s take it together?”
Hifumi reached for Jakurai’s hand, simply to take it, thread their fingers together. He already knew the answer. He’d been trying to pry it from Jakurai since practically the first time they’d met.
And indulgently, honestly, Jakurai replied--“I wouldn’t think of doing it alone.”
“You’re really going to do it?” Ramuda asked. His hands were busy with the parfait set on the table between them, but his attention was elsewhere. On the same place as his gaze--the band on Jakurai’s finger, simple and gold and still so enthrallingly new. Jakurai found himself playing with it idly more than he’d like to admit.
“We are a team,” said Jakurai, “I can see us having a future together.”
Ramuda fixed him with a heavy gaze. He had to know; they had spent enough of their life orbiting each other to understand the implications of this. Jakurai had never entered into a team--partnership or otherwise--with the intention to one day part. That did not mean the world had any intention of cooperating with his whims. And certainly he hadn’t chosen them with any thoughts of romance. Not at first, at least.
“Though,” he added, “It’s a bit of a different future than I’d imagined.”
Ramuda laughed. It was genuine--innocent in ways Jakurai once worried he might have forgotten. He didn’t say, but Jakurai imagined he could relate. Never once had Ramuda explained to him how he stumbled upon his own members, but knowing how the Dirty Dawg had risen with a destiny to fall, Jakurai could infer that it wasn’t coincidence. Surely he hadn’t thought he could stay friends with them after it all. Not when history had shown him the opposite was far easier a fate to choose.
“You’re sure, though?” Ramuda said, before quickly realizing his phrasing, “Oh, not like that! I know you’re gonna go through with it. But they know?”
“Of course,” Jakurai replied. He couldn’t have hidden the less savory aspects of his past, how distant he’d once held himself from the world. But it was more than that. They didn’t merely know. “They’ve helped me learn quite a bit about myself.” Jakurai paused, mulling over his words. “No, that’s not quite it. They’ve helped me accept things. Reconcile them. They reminded me what it means to move forward when I needed it the most.”
Ramuda laughed again, this time far more sober. Jakurai joined him, just for a moment. The world was so much brighter, these days. To be accepted was a fearsome thing, he thought, closing his eyes just a moment to lose himself in the sensation.
“Good for you,” said Ramuda, a certain weight in his eyes as they met. And even if things between them were still the faintest bit complicated, after forgiveness had been granted--he meant it.
Ah, thought Jakurai, unable to respond as his words caught in his chest, fearsome indeed.
It was not often that Doppo had a day off--and those he did were often spent out and about anyway, Hifumi and Jakurai determined as ever that he get out to see the world no matter how much more inviting the simple warmth of bed. But it was more often these days that he had evenings free, the chains of overtime having loosened slightly around his ankles. It made for good time to do as he pleased at home--or, more often than not, make time for old friends like the one sliding into the seat across the table with pleasantries unchanged by the years.
“How has work been treating you? Have things settled down? Or have they found excuses to push even more work onto you?”
“Yes,” replied Doppo, wondering if it wasn’t too late to call the whole thing off and simply sink into the floorboards instead of going in tomorrow to put the finishing touches on the quarterly reports.
Juto laughed, light and polite as he raised his glass. Doppo toasted to that. “But really,” said Juto after a sip, “congratulations. I’ve been told you deserved the promotion.”
Doppo blinked, pulling himself up from his slouch. The floorboards could wait. Knowing who’d been praising him behind his back was far more important. “Who told you that?”
“Oh, a very reputable source.”
Doppo wasn’t so sure about that. He’d gotten this promotion in a bit of fortunate timing and proved himself by the skin of his teeth thanks to more fourth quarter overtime than he’d like to admit. The fact the Section Manager was moving out of sales had been a single stroke of luck in a pile full of other misfortune that usually accompanied his work.
Had he deserved the promotion? Oh, most definitely.
Was that why he’d actually gotten it? Probably not.
Doppo glanced at Juto with disbelieving eye. “...What did they say, exactly?”
“That you’re quite talented at your work, and that they believed you would be perfect for a higher position, what with your experience at the company and your dedication. They even went so far as to say your skills had finally been recognized. About time, may I add.”
Doppo squinted at him. Juto had that expression on his face--the one that hadn’t changed after all this time, a little half-smile that Doppo had never quite been sure to read as teasing or not. But it seemed he’d been talking to someone, at least. “That’s not a reputable source.”
Juto laughed again, this time very much at his expense. “Really? I’d thought your fiancées might have been an authority on you by now.”
Doppo started; that hadn’t been the answer he was expecting. “What? When did you--”
“I had a bit of an incident I’d wanted to investigate. A long story, but to summarize, I conducted a bit of an informal interview with a victim hospitalized at Shinjuku Central. You can imagine whose care they were under. And just who happened to be visiting that afternoon.” Juto cast him a half-smile that told him everything he needed to know.
Doppo dropped his head into his hands. “I’m sorry on their behalf.”
Juto laughed, mostly at him. Doppo couldn’t even blame him.
“Give yourself a bit of credit, section chief.” His tone was warm; Doppo glanced back up. “Believe me. Your fiancées are right. You don’t get a position like that without your fair share of hard work… Or a particularly well-timed bit of fraud and falsified credentials.”
Juto laughed to himself a moment. Doppo had never asked how he’d rose in position so quickly. Now, he resolved himself to be perfectly content with never knowing.
“I’ll try,” he said instead. And though he’d meant it only as an end to the conversation, an easy out that they both knew he wouldn’t really try and follow through with--he couldn’t help but think it was worth a shot.
Though for all it was easy to spill the reasons they found Doppo precious to others, the man himself was notoriously unreceptive to compliments. Flattery was brushed off as excess, all praised diminished to its weakest form. Trying to spoil him was, for the most part, an exercise in futility when he’d never ask for special treatment of his own will. But there was one declaration they’d found that conveyed everything all at once--all the reasons they cared for him, all the appreciation in the world bundled up into a few small words. Said anything but sparingly, with all the force they could muster and every bit of sweetness he deserved--
“We love you.”
And though even after all these years Doppo could get flustered, could stammer and splutter and turn red as a tomato beneath their combined force--he couldn’t deny that he was worthy of it.