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Hasumi is distracted.

The realization winds through him with low-grade shock as he completes a neat turn and flares the disposable rehearsal fan in his right hand, a deft, practiced flick of his wrist that is more muscle memory than his own conscious input. He meets his own eyes in the mirror of the training room reserved for AKATSUKI’s afterschool practice, the black of his pupils edging out familiar gold-green. His cheeks are flushed and his skin glows with a layer of sweat earned from hours of on-and-off dancing as he, Kiryuu, and Kanzaki tweaked and perfected the choreography for their newly recorded single.

The melody dips into a soft, haunting refrain, Kiryuu’s deep tenor woven with the fluttering tune of a wind flute and the sharp, plucky notes of a shamisen. Hasumi misses a step, righting himself before he trips up Kanzaki at his side. He swears quietly, tongue between his teeth, and glares at his disheveled reflection as the other two members of his unit pause, unsure whether to cover his mistake and follow-through as they would on stage or start from the top. Hasumi shakes his head slightly and the pre-recorded swell of Kiryuu’s voice cuts off mid-note, dropping into silence filled only by quiet, strained panting as they catch their breaths.

“Hasumi-dono?” Kanzaki questions, brushing his bangs out of his face and frowning slightly at the sweat-slick feeling of them sticking to his forehead.

“Sorry,” Hasumi says, “That move is a little hard to get down. Five minutes, then we’ll take it from the top.”

Kanzaki nods amiably, slinging a towel around his neck and cracking open one of the chilled water bottles kept in a cooler in the room’s corner. He tosses one into Kiryuu’s waiting hands, and Hasumi doesn’t realize he’s next until the weight of the bottle smacks him heavily in the chest. He coughs out a wheezing breath, fumbling to catch the bottle before it hits the floor.

Silence.

Kiryuu and Kanzaki stare.

Hasumi, wishing not for the first time that the floor would suddenly and spontaneously swallow him whole, holds his bottle protectively against his chest and stares back.

It’s Kanzaki who speaks first, flailing his hands about with a frantic little wail.

“My deepest apologies, Hasumi-dono! I thought you were ready!”

Somehow, though Hasumi is sure his concerningly oblivious, good-natured to a fault underclassman could never, Kanzaki’s certainty feels a bit like insult added to injury. Kiryuu brings his free hand up to his mouth, lips pressed against the back of it as his eyes crinkle with mirth.

Hasumi rescinds his earlier desire to be sucked into the floor and wills it upon Kiryuu instead.

“It’s fine, Kanzaki. I should’ve been paying attention.”

Adamant denials and a slew of distressed apologies fill the air until Kiryuu steps over to flick Kanzaki lightly on the forehead, suggesting he take advantage of the break to make a short trip to the restrooms. Kanzaki bows, flustered, and exits the room to apparently do just that, the thud of the door settling back in place following him out.

“Don’t say a word,” Hasumi orders, trying and failing to project the threatening aura he adopts when dealing with unruly students on behalf of the student council.

Kiryuu raises an eyebrow.

“Seriously, Kiryuu,” Hasumi warns.

“Danna,” is all Kiryuu says in response, his tone gentle and patient and knowing.

Hasumi takes a long drink from his water bottle of embarrassment and resolutely looks anywhere but at his classmate.

AKATSUKI’s practices tend to follow an inconsistent and disarrayed schedule due to the unique nature of their unit. Hasumi had relayed from the start that his work for the student council would always have to come first, and his primary motivation for tag-teaming with Kiryuu at all had been to support Eichi’s revolution. Still, he’s never rid of the low, ever-present sting of guilt curdling in his gut, cording his muscles tight and clogging in his throat.

Despite his obligations, he’d strategically maneuvered them to a place of power as the DreamFes system had gained traction, and AKATSUKI had a reputation to maintain as one of Yumenosaki’s highest rated units. That meant long, grueling practices closer to a live to make up for their inability to schedule regular meetings like other units and slowly cultivate their routines. It’s exhausting, put lightly, and though Kiryuu has grown accustomed to hiding the signs of his fatigue from Hasumi, his impressive stamina as the school’s ranking martial artist lending him an advantage, the vice president still catches it in Kanzaki sometimes.

Their youngest possesses impressive physical ability and endurance for someone of his age, but Hasumi has witnessed the slight shaking as his muscles work themselves into overdrive, the half-strangled breaths, the near-stumbles after practice as he fights with his overworked body to keep his footing. He’d been honest with Kanzaki from the first time the now second-year had shown up at the door to the student council office requesting to be tested for entry into Hasumi’s unit, had tried over and over to discourage him before buckling under his continued persistence and Kiryuu’s sensible determinations. But, still.

Still.

He’s about to write off his mistake as the result of weariness, a believable excuse crafted from his festering guilt, but one look at Kiryuu tells him he’s not going to buy it, even if he’ll graciously let Hasumi pretend like he does until his distraction is worth confronting him over.

So, he says nothing instead, just grimaces apologetically at his friend and stretches to ward off the soreness settling into his muscles. Kiryuu clicks his tongue sharply and walks over, large hands coming to rest on the sweat-soaked fabric covering Hasumi’s shoulders as he pushes lightly, helping him into a position that has his body screaming in protest, but he’ll be thankful for later.

Kanzaki comes barreling back into the room a minute or so later, trying to appear reinvigorated by their brief rest and raring to go. Hasumi smiles. He really is becoming such a reliable kid, unrelenting in his desire to learn from them and grow into someone who could watch out for them as they did for him, who they could leave their backs open to without worry.

He rolls his wrist, reaching for the practice fan and searching for the remote controlling the room’s audio system, but Kiryuu is there, in the space of a second, covering his hand with his and shaking his head slightly.

“Enough for today,” he says, Kanzaki’s head poking over his shoulder curiously. “We’ve got the choreography down for the most part, and there’s still a week left to the live. Pushing ourselves to a breaking point isn’t going to help anyone.”

“Kiryuu-dono!” Kanzaki protests, “We are AKATSUKI! If Hasumi-dono wishes it, I will not be done in by something so feeble and folly as exhaustion.”

Hasumi bites his lip, struggling not to laugh at Kanzaki’s admirable, if somewhat far-fetched, resolve.

“No, Kanzaki,” he says with a sigh, flicking a begrudgingly grateful look at Kiryuu, who helps him off the floor with a wink, “Kiryuu is right. We’ll be more than perfectly ready at the rate we’ve been practicing this past week, there’s no reason to overdo it. Practice dismissed. Thank you both, as always, for your hard work.”

“As always,” Kiryuu teases back, “No need to be so formal, danna.”

Kanzaki nods fervently at Kiryuu’s side, eyes bright and guileless, and Hasumi is once again reminded how closely their unit resembles the relationship between a set of parents and their somewhat unusual (which, at Yumenosaki, translated to not quite unusual at all) child.

“Yes, yes,” he says, waving them off. “Come on, let’s get cleaned up.”

“Hey,” Kiryuu calls quietly, coming up beside him as they wipe the floors down and Kanzaki collects their things. “When you wanna talk, you know where to find me.”

Hasumi swallows, throat tight with words unsaid, gathering and pressing against his pharynx like quick-growing weeds no matter how many times he tries to pluck them out at the root.

He nods once, lip folded between his teeth even as he hears the voices of the temple parishioners, his brother, his parents, Eichi, for whatever reason, reprimanding him for the habit he’d never fully managed to break.

Kiryuu smiles, brow furrowing as it does when he’s displaying genuine fondness or happiness (which is always, because Kiryuu is so true to his emotions it hurts Hasumi sometimes), and Hasumi, heart in his throat, smiles helplessly back.

-

The distraction, to Hasumi’s great and unending displeasure, continues.

What’s worse is his inability to place exactly what has him retreating into his own head at stray intervals, his mind a hedge maze of foggy, half-formed thoughts and feelings, heat igniting in his chest with all the sudden, bursting energy of a lit match to oil. Hasumi breathes around the smoky, illusory fire snaking through his ribcage and up into his throat and wishes for the nth time that some external trigger or pattern would aid his ongoing efforts in finding a cause. If he could simply pinpoint the origin of this new, intrusive disturbance, categorize and classify it like he did daily with the files delegated to him in the student council’s office, he’s certain he could smother and conquer it in short order.

Hasumi has always been like that, carrying a deep-seated need to understand every facet of a problem before he can approach a solution with certainty. It’s why, as Kiryuu often chastises him, he so easily falls for traps and tricks engineered by adversaries of AKATSUKI, Yumenosaki as a whole, or just Hasumi himself.

You’re overthinking, Hasumi, Kiryuu’s disembodied voice counsels in his mind, smooth and steady, the eye of the hurricane that is Hasumi’s day-to-day lifestyle.

Maybe he is, but Hasumi finds it difficult not to with how his work has been affected lately. He’s lucky Eichi’s discharge from the hospital has lasted as long as it has, this time around, but he can’t bet on that forever. Sooner or later, his friend’s sickly disposition will overwhelm him, and Hasumi will have to pick up the slack.

He doesn’t resent Eichi for it, not at all, because in Eichi’s own words, he’s too kind-hearted and hard-working to direct such an ugly, tangled emotion at anyone but himself. Still, the status of Hasumi’s current progress in the stack of documents, proposals, and archive files he’s to finish by the day’s end is a remarkably poor showing for him. He’d caught Himemiya, of all people, trying to slip a few files to lighten the stack, and Hasumi is fairly certain the figurehead secretary has never actually put pen to paper regarding student council work. He’s sure the papers will end up in Fushimi’s capable hands, but the thought that he’d exhibited enough uncharacteristic sloppiness to attract the attention of the childlike young heir rankles.

He swallows down the last of his coffee, setting the emptied metal can beside the others on his desk, and tries to will the characters on the sheet before him into focus. The number of times he’s parsed the same paragraph in the last ten minutes is approaching the double digits, and Hasumi bites off a frustrated noise as the words fall out of his head as quickly as he reads them. They’re starting to take on different shapes, rainbow afterimages morphing behind his eyelids as he thumps his head down against his desk and rubs his temples. Isara, he’s sure, is directing another poorly concealed frown in his direction, concern radiating from where he’s mired behind his own daunting stack of paperwork across from Hasumi.

Unlike the last seven or so times Hasumi had caught him staring and reassured him, unconvincingly, that everything was fine, and he was progressing as efficiently as was typical for him, Isara wisely chooses to remain silent, instead rummaging around his desk for his phone and shooting off a text.

A few moments later, a loud, shrill call of ‘Zaki-saaaaaaaan!’ floats through the windows thrown open behind Eichi’s unoccupied desk. Hasumi spends a disorienting few seconds wondering exactly who had scaled the main building up to the windows of the top floor, where the student council facilities are tucked away, then hears Isara’s deep, regretful sigh, and realizes that the yell had originated from one of the second story classrooms, reaching their ears because Akehoshi Subaru is just that fucking loud.

The look he turns on Isara accurately conveys, he hopes, ‘Do I really want to know?’

Isara returns it with a solemn expression of his own, wincing lightly as another of Akehoshi’s shrieking summons for Kanzaki carries through the air.

“Just,” Hasumi sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, “tell him not to harass Kanzaki too much. I’m not having one of mine corrupted by Akehoshi and his crow-like attraction to shiny things.”

“Hasumin-senpai,” Akehoshi crows (haha) from the doorway, because in addition to possessing the range of a hyena he can also, apparently, travel at the speed of light. “That’s mean! What’s so wrong with liking sparkly things!”

“If I throw a coin at you,” Hasumi says flatly, “will you go away.”

Akehoshi pouts, and Kanzaki slips past him to step fully into the room.

“You called for me, Hasumi-dono?” he asks, fingers resting lightly on the hilt of his sword.

He’s got little marine-themed barrettes pinning his hair back in places, which tells Hasumi he must have been in the middle of a meeting with the marine life club, and he’s a little red-faced and pouty, which tells Hasumi Hakaze had chosen to attend that meeting.

And then his words register and Hasumi does a bit of a double take, turning a bewildered frown on his underclassman.

“I … didn’t?” he says uncertainly, trawling his hazy, spastic memories of the last few hours in an effort to remember whether he had, in fact, called Kanzaki up to him.

He doesn’t think he did, especially because getting a hold of Kanzaki usually proved fairly difficult in the face of his inability to operate a smartphone.

“Actually,” Isara says, coming to his aid, “I did. Or, well. I messaged the Trickstar group and Ritsu to see if they could find Kiryuu-senpai.

The emphasis is directed at Akehoshi, who has arrived with not Kiryuu, but Kanzaki in tow, likely under the assumption that any member of AKATSUKI excluding its leader would suffice Isara’s request.

Hasumi’s eyes narrow.

“And why,” he asks slowly, “would they need to find Kiryuu?”

“Because,” a familiar voice says from the now unreasonably crowded doorway, “you’re overworking yourself again. Or so I hear.”

Sakuma Ritsu’s head pops up behind Kiryuu’s shoulder in what little space is still available, and he lifts a hand, waving languidly at them.

“Maa-kun, Kei-chan, I found him,” he drawls in his usual drowsy monotone.

Biting off a frustrated sigh and willing the patience years of meditation practice at the temple should afford him to the surface, Hasumi lifts his head to tell off the lot of them.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens.

He meets Kiryuu’s searching gaze, dappled in light, ‘Hasumi Keito, you’re being daft’-brand amusement, and his thoughts spark in a thousand different directions, shattered panes of glass that crash and rebound off one another with a jarring, tinkling sound that rings in Hasumi’s ears. Alcohol fills the spaces in his chest where air should be, scalding his every breath as his cheeks flush and his eyes glaze over worse than before, and for fuck’s sake, what is happening to him?

“Hasumi,” Kiryuu breathes, expression morphing into concern as he shoulders lightly past the others. “Hey, you with me?”

‘Me,’ Hasumi thinks, he said ‘me’, not ‘us,’ and cannot figure out for the life of him why the distinction is as important as it feels.

Vaguely, he registers the younger Sakuma and Isara herding Akehoshi and Kanzaki out of the room, the youngest AKATSUKI member adamantly standing his ground until Kiryuu nods placatingly at him, a silent assurance.

“Hey,” Kiryuu says again, walking around the desk to half-crouch by Hasumi’s side.

He eyes the impressive arrangement of coffee cans at the desks’s edge, all empty when he gives them a cursory shake, then looks back up at Hasumi, frowning.

He’s so close Hasumi can see the flecks of golden-yellow in the summery jade tone of his irises, pick out the places where the slicked red strands of his hair tangle with black, track the white-silver glint of light reflecting off the ring chained around his neck.

The alcohol eddying in the crevasses of Hasumi’s body lights, heat flaring across his skin and choking his words off in his throat, burning him alive from the inside out.

Kiryuu lifts a hand, and Hasumi idly notes the length of his fingers, the calloused yet careful quality that speaks to his proficiency with light-handed tasks like sewing and cooking in addition to his skill as a fighter. He wonders where this sudden attention to minute detail had been when he’d been unsuccessfully attempting to work through the still-incomplete stack of documents taunting him from behind his coffee can army.

The hand presses against his forehead, remarkably cool in contrast to the literal pyre burning that’s taking place within the fleshy confines of Hasumi’s stupid, unbelievable body. He tries not to look like he’s leaning into it and fails spectacularly.

Kiryuu hums, withdrawing his hand. Hasumi mourns the loss deeply.

“You’re not running a fever,” he surmises, which, what? Really?

Belatedly, Hasumi remembers a fever usually leaves its victims shivering with cold, not feeling as though the sun has taken up permanent residence in their bodies.

Pyrexia, he thinks randomly to himself, how could I not have remembered that? Children remember that. Kanzaki probably remembers that, and he has no functional understanding of modern medicine. How is he passing his science classes? Wait, what does he do as a member of the marine life club besides feed Kamegorou? Shinkai is always out floating in the school fountain. Oh god, does Kanzaki do that? Am I going to spend the rest of my life fishing my underclassman/son out of bodies of water before he drowns? Does he even know how to swim?

“…nna. Danna. Hasumi!”

Hasumi blinks, lips parted in surprise as he’s pulled from the faintly nightmarish and oddly marine-shaped whirl of his thoughts. Kiryuu, expression troubled and etched with worry, gazes steadily back up at him.

“Kiryuu,” he says, absently tagging it as the first proper, articulate expression he’s managed since Isara had taken it upon himself to stage an intervention.

Except it’s not, apparently, because as relief slackens Kiryuu’s expression some, he mutters, “Pyrexia? Really?”

Hasumi stares.

“I,” he asserts carefully, “said all of that out loud.”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Kiryuu says, tone accommodating as ever and touched with laughter. “Please don’t ever have this much caffeine again. Seriously.”

He’s still standing at an awkward middle point, knees bent to meet Hasumi’s height in his desk chair and hands loosely gripping his shoulders. He scrutinizes Hasumi like he’s trying to determine whether he’s going to have to fight him into getting some much-needed rest or the vice president will come away willingly.

Hasumi eyes his coffee cans, recounts the contents of his caffeine-induced spiral of thoughts, and catalogs the simmering heat in his chest that has yet to quell, sighing deeply.

Kiryuu understands the admission of defeat for what it is and grins, straightening up as Hasumi gets to his feet and reaching a hand out to steady his swaying form. They make quick work of packing Hasumi’s things, and Kiryuu presses him forward and away from his desk when his eyes linger on the unfinished pile of work.

“You’re probably days ahead, anyways,” Kiryuu points out, fingertips forming five concentrated points of heat between Hasumi’s shoulder blades.

Hasumi makes a half-hearted attempt to discount that statement, except it’s entirely true and Kiryuu knows it. He likes to be prepared. Sue him.

The quartet of Akehoshi, Kanzaki, Isara, and Sakuma is miraculously nowhere to be seen when they clear the threshold of the office, and Hasumi resolves to do something nice for Isara after doling out the appropriate punishment for harassing a senior officer.

(It’s him. He’s the senior officer.)

(Kiryuu smiles, brows turned up and eyes lidded, and Hasumi thinks maybe ‘harass’ is a strong word.)

-

“Kiryuu-dono!” Kanzaki trills, immeasurably pleased as he twists and turns to gather the full effect of his appearance from the mirror propped against the dojo wall.

Kiryuu has braided and looped his hair into a neat bun, arranging the sea-themed barrettes he’d received from Shinkai in an orderly fashion. The coral clips and turtle pins and jeweled fish combs that had poked haphazardly from his head that afternoon in the student council office, now sit prettily against the deep blue-violet nest of his hair.

Hasumi’s heart squeezes a little at Kanzaki’s visible excitement and Kiryuu’s tender satisfaction.

They’re already draped in the AKATSUKI uniforms Kiryuu had tweaked for the upcoming live, and though they normally would’ve changed in one of the dressing rooms backstage, the arrangement for this DreamFes is more guerrilla style performances all over the school grounds with the audience milling about between stages and the booths of food and games set up between. Anzu and Hasumi had worked tirelessly with the members of the broadcasting and light music clubs to appropriately distance the stages from one another and calibrate the audio systems to minimize feedback. Oogami had been happy to bounce around school riffing on his guitar so Nito and the others could make adjustments, and Hasumi’s ears were still ringing from some of the more aggressive melodies UNDEAD’s puppy had chosen in the early development stages, sending screeching feedback blasting through the speakers.

Knuckles rap lightly against the side of his head and Hasumi blinks, swallowing around the sparking heat that flutters to life in his chest. He’s made his peace with the constant, low-grade presence of that warm, persistent something as it spikes and falls, peaks and valleys, at its leisure. He smiles reassuringly at Kiryuu, a there-and-gone quirk of his lips, and steps up beside a still-preening Kanzaki to adjust his stage costume in the mirror. The material is breathable, as always, moving in ripples and waves that flatter AKATSUKI’s graceful dancing style. Kiryuu has outdone himself, as per usual, and Hasumi catches his eye in the mirror as he comes up on Kanzaki’s other side. Kiryuu smiles, a small, secret exchange just for the two of them, and turns a bit, checking his clothes at different angles and ensuring everything is in its place.

It had surprised Hasumi at first, how elegant and well-suited the theme he’d settled upon for AKATSUKI had been for Kiryuu. Delinquent image aside, he’s always remarked upon as possessing an unusually slender build for someone of his power, and though Hasumi often flings ‘musclehead’ at him and Kanzaki as an embittered insult when one or the other decides to exhibit their monstrous strength, it hadn’t taken him long to notice Kiryuu truly wasn’t all that big. His presence had an indescribable weight that had afforded him many a default win back in their second year when Hasumi had him mercilessly climb his way to the top using the rules of the Dragon King Competition to their advantage. But, broad-shouldered and lean-muscled and with hardly three centimeters on Hasumi, he fits the traditional outfits and accessories with marked grace, handling the fans with the same dexterity and skill he brings to handicrafts. He’d adapted to Hasumi’s ideas and designs with ease and flair, and Hasumi will never be able to convey in its brimming entirety how grateful he is.

He is glad, he thinks, as they make their way out of the dojo and head for their first stage, to have Kiryuu at his side instead of his back, to hear him laugh as Kanzaki slips him an extra set of pins he’d uncovered in the folds of his clothes, insistent that the three of them match.

“To preserve the balance of our unit,” he protests sagely, as though Kiryuu and Hasumi won’t see right through him.

“Of course,” Hasumi says wryly, turning to grin at Kiryuu as the eldest echoes, “the balance of our unit.”

He is glad, he thinks, as the warmth of Kiryuu’s bracing hand holds his jaw steady, the other slipping into his hair to pin a section back from his face, that AKATSUKI has evolved from a tool into a family. A matching barrette slides into place at the side of Kiryuu’s head, and Hasumi reaches up to adjust the angle of the sparkling orange turtle so it’s visible above Kiryuu’s ear.

He is just glad, as they step into the light, his voice echoing strong and unbroken through his mic as his unit-mates rise to join him, and it’s been a long time since Hasumi has felt this deep-set, unshakeable contentedness, steady and sun-warmed and worth fighting for.

-

The DreamFes goes well, attracting a record-breaking influx of patrons, and after, as the last of them trickle out the gates and he’s finally dismissed from escort duty, Hasumi feels the pleasant ache of a job well done settle into his bones.

Kiryuu and Kanzaki trail him up to the main building, chattering amicably about something or the other, until Kanzaki makes a noise of recognition, bounding ahead to the courtyard fountain where, predictably, Shinkai Kanata has submerged himself in the water. Morisawa, perched on the lip of the stone basin, waves happily, always glad for more company.

Kanzaki plants his hands on the edge and peers over at Shinkai’s peacefully bobbing form, Morisawa laughing boisterously as his friend’s eyes peel open curiously at the disturbance.

“Souma,” he hums peacefully, lifting a hand from the water to pet his head, carefully avoiding displacing the clips.

Hasumi and Kiryuu come to a stop by the trio, wearing measured looks of acceptance. Kiryuu frowns a bit at the sight of Shinkai’s RYUSEITAI uniform soaked through, but he’s been adjusting for that since Morisawa and Nagumo had first approached him about sewing their stage costumes, so he drops it with a helplessly amused shake of the head.

“Hello, you three!” Morisawa spouts cheerfully. “How were your lives! We were on in short intervals, so we didn’t get to see many of the others perform.”

“They went well,” Hasumi says with an appreciative nod, “We passed by in the middle of one of RYUSEITAI’s performances. You attracted quite the crowd.”

Viewing Morisawa’s answering smile head on is kind of like looking directly at the sun, and that, coupled with Shinkai’s bubbling recognition of the clips nestled in Kanzaki’s hair sparks a recollection. Hasumi gestures vaguely at where Kanzaki is tipping precariously towards the fountain’s surface to show off his hair and turns to Kiryuu.

“CPR,” he says, entirely serious and apropos of absolutely nothing. “Do you know how to?”

Kiryuu picks up on his train of thought faultlessly, though he looks as though he’s trying very hard not to laugh.

“’Course, danna,” he affirms, tugging Kanzaki back a little. “You do too, yeah?”

Hasumi nods.

“Well, then,” Kiryuu says, the curve of his mouth teasing, “Guess we don’t have to worry about, ah, what was it? ‘Spending the rest of our lives fishing our underclassman-slash-son out of bodies of water before he drowns?’”

The air quotes are heavily implied. Hasumi folds his arms, returning Kiryuu’s ribbing with a signature look of quiet disdain.

Shinkai and, surprise of all surprises, Morisawa have gone quiet, watching their exchange with wide, unreadable eyes.

Hasumi, perturbed, stares back at them, and Kiryuu and Kanzaki tilt their heads in a charming echo of one another’s confusion. The two RYUSEITAI third years turn to each other, evidently communicating with that semi-telepathic confidence earned from what Morisawa would probably term something ridiculous like “the power of love” and Hasumi would put into a concise, clinical and well-sourced paragraph that could be summarized by: “the power of love.”

They grin at each other, then at the members of AKATSUKI stood in a loose half-circle around them, Shinkai’s mouth curving small and pleased as Morisawa breaks into one of those blinding megawatt smiles that warms those around him and makes him singularly impossible to say no to.

(With the notable exception of Eichi, of course, who regularly speaks horribly disturbing things Hasumi has never asked to hear into existence in that sweet, passive voice of his. He could say no to Morisawa Chiaki if the situation called for it. Hasumi’s fairly certain he has.)

Morisawa leaps up from his seat and slings an arm each around Kanzaki and Kiryuu, chattering their ears off as Shinkai pushes himself into a sitting position and lazily climbs free of the fountain to make up the rear of their little group with Hasumi.

He reaches a dripping hand out as they walk, and Hasumi barely prevents himself from flinching away in surprise. Water drips onto the fur shoulder piece of the AKATSUKI costume as Shinkai’s fingers brush the tiny purple turtle gem still hooked in Hasumi’s hair.

He smiles, and Hasumi feels frighteningly transparent for the space of a breath, then Shinkai withdraws and settles his gaze forward. They part ways at the entrance to the main building, Morisawa wrapping his arms around Shinkai’s neck as Kiryuu visibly cringes at the thought of more water damage. Shinkai returns the embrace, somehow managing to appear ethereal in the glowing light of a flickering lamp as his waterlogged clothes created a puddle around them. Hasumi briefly considers the thought that Shinkai really might be a vessel for some sort of Lovecraftian eldritch sea horror but does away with it just as fast. Even if it’s true, he just — doesn’t want to know.

Warm fingers circle his wrist, tugging him gently forward into the warmth of the entrance hall, the ember-like glow of Kiryuu’s matching pin winking in the fading light.

-

Eichi calls at midnight.

More accurately, Hasumi is notified of Eichi’s re-admittance at midnight, and Eichi calls fifteen minutes later.

“Sorry, Keito,” he murmurs softly, “It’s always worse the colder it gets.”

Hasumi knows. He isn’t upset.

Not because of this, at least.

“I know. Take your time to rest up before returning to us, Eichi. I’ll hold down the fort.”

Eichi’s soft laughter crackles and grates over the line, Hasumi’s reception up in the mountains not to be trusted.

“You always do.”

He hangs up.

Hasumi stays where he is, sat on the cold stone steps by the temple entrance, not far from where his room is located, and tries to ignore the frosty bite to the wind that whips through his thin pajamas. He regrets leaving his glasses inside when he’d scrambled awake to the familiar trill of Eichi’s set ringtone, laid carefully on the low table he’d pushed to the side in order to make space for Kiryuu and Kanzaki’s futons. The world that meets his eyes is dark and unforgiving, bleary shapes and shadows that form and dissipate in the weak light emanating from one of the lanterns left lit on the grounds at night.

Footsteps pad lightly over the ground, the sound of them eaten away by stone until they’re close enough to startle Hasumi from his thoughts. He whips around, squinting, but there’s no way he’d misplace the crimson of Kiryuu’s hair as the lantern light turns it to fire. Kiryuu holds something out, and Hasumi takes a moment to recognize the thin frames of his glasses pinched carefully between his fingers.

“Thought you’d want these,” he says with a shrug, and Hasumi accepts them wordlessly, relief settling over his shoulders like a blanket as the world comes into focus.

They’re wrapped in silence filled by the night’s music; the whistling of the oncoming winter wind, the jingling of chimes somewhere in the temple’s depths, the crackling of fire encased in glass. Crickets chirp and trees rustle and Hasumi tries to breathe. His chest compresses and his lungs ache and the wind steals his breath away. He drops his head into his hands, fingers sliding into the space between his eyes and his glasses, covering them like maybe if seeing the world in blurry, unfocused frames is equally as terrifying as clear-cut crystal images, then the darkness will be better.

The weeds grow and twist and tangle in his throat, and he doesn’t have the words to uproot them, he doesn’t, he never will

Kiryuu settles down beside him with a soft, barely-there rustle of cloth, tugging one of his hands free and lacing their fingers together.

The silence creeps back, sinking its claws into the overgrown knot of words in Hasumi’s throat. Finally, finally, it bursts.

“I don’t know how to live for myself,” Hasumi spits, and tries to quell the rising sense that he’s going to empty his stomach if he keeps talking.

Kiryuu thumbs mindless patterns into the back of his hand, traces the ridges of the protruding bones thoughtfully, nodding him along.

“When we were kids I don’t — I don’t know what dreams I had. I liked drawing, considered aiming to be a mangaka. But in all honesty, I thought I’d grow up in the temple and become a part of it, carry on my family’s line of work without question like my brother. It wasn’t a bad future. I didn’t mind it.”

A huff of laughter, whisked away by the wind.

“Always the practical one, hm?” Kiryuu says, tone light even as he squeezes Hasumi’s hand encouragingly.

Hasumi snorts. “I suppose. Do you remember when we did the Shinsengumi event with Mikejima? What I said about Eichi and I when we were young?”

Kiryuu shakes his head. “I was late that first day, remember? Mikejima already had his plan in the works.”

Hasumi makes a face at the reminder but presses on. “Right. Eichi showed up with Trickstar rambling about how nostalgic visiting the temple again made him and all that. He always was such a spoiled kid, showing up whenever he’d decided he wanted to play and demanding I stay when I paid him visits while he was ill and bedridden.”

The creases of his frown soften some, fondness filling the cracks in Hasumi’s crumbling mask.

(It’s not a very well-constructed mask, in Kiryuu’s opinion. Hasumi has always been easy to read.)

The next careful, controlled breath rattles free of his chest.

“It was Eichi who decided he wanted to be an idol, and even though he didn’t ask it of me, I followed.”

Hasumi brings their joined hands to his forehead, leaning his weight into them like he could physically press the cruel, malformed edges of his thoughts into Kiryuu’s understanding.

“I was strict with him, monitoring him constantly, trying to keep him from overworking himself. We had that falling out over DEADMANZ, but we patched things up, and it was right back to normal. Even the Quarrel Festival,” Hasumi sighs, frowning apologetically as Kiryuu’s grip tightens. “He just … threatened to disband AKATSUKI to teach me a lesson. But, even if it worked out for the better, look at us now. Thick as thieves.”

His tone is dry, self-deprecating, and Kiryuu frowns.

“Hasumi,” he murmurs, “what are you getting at?”

The leader’s expression goes pinched. “So many of the decisions I’ve made up to now have been for Eichi. How I ran the student council in his absence, how I scheduled and prioritized my idol training, how I formed my unit. AKATSUKI was a tool for Eichi’s dream, something for him and fine to use and dispose of as they pleased. I let him use me. I let him use you. I — I used you.”

The lines of Kiryuu’s frown deepen. “Danna, we’ve talked about this. No more apologizing for that, not anymore.”

“I know, I know. I just mean — the more I think on it the less I’m convinced I’ve actually made a decision since Eichi decided on Yumenosaki that’s my own. I don’t mean to say I’ve lost the ability to be my own person, but I gave everything over to his whims, to his revolution. And now he’s — since the student council’s loss to Trickstar things have been changing for the better, I believe that. But what am I going to be, when this is all over? I have no intention of leaving AKATSUKI, you know that, but I —”

He exhales roughly, attempting to suppress the rising feeling that he’s simply overdramatizing his concerns, creating strife where there is none and burdening Kiryuu with his nonsensical and childish deliberations.

“I don’t know how to live for myself,” he repeats quietly, expression twisting painfully as the truth bears down on him. “How — how do I learn to do that, after all this time?”

Is it too late? he doesn’t ask, doesn’t want to know.

“I think,” Kiryuu says slowly, contemplating, “you already are. Learning, that is.”

Hasumi lifts his head, meeting Kiryuu’s eyes for the first time since he’d joined him on the steps. His friend and unit-mate considers him, turning over and discarding words in his head, trying to find the right phrasing to address Hasumi’s anxiety.

He asks, “When Tenshouin disbanded Trickstar and had Isara transfer to AKATSUKI, what did you do?”

Hasumi blinks. “I … discouraged it, but he went through with it regardless.”

“And Isara? You put aside your duty to the student council and Tenshouin and your position as leader of AKATSUKI and told him to pursue Trickstar’s revolution. Why?”

“…I didn’t want him to end up with the same regrets as I have. There’s so much of us in each other it just … after everything I’ve been through, everything I’ve put others through, it didn’t seem right, to let him blindly follow the same path.”

Kiryuu nods.

“And the Quarrel Festival? What happened there? You pulled yourself together and fought the Emperor with us, didn’t you? To protect our AKATSUKI, not the one you made to protect him. You said yourself you weren’t his slave, that you’d give him hell if he wasn’t makin’ any sense.”

“I definitely did not say I’d give him hell,” Hasumi corrects, a flash of a crooked smile gracing his features at Kiryuu’s embellishment. “I also remember saying I might have given in to his mandate if you and Kanzaki hadn’t been under fire with me.”

“But we were,” Kiryuu reminds him, “and you didn’t.”

And Hasumi — understands, he thinks, what Kiryuu is trying to get across. The Quarrel Festival had been a decisive moment in his and Eichi’s relationship, a clashing of wills and a youthful temper tantrum, Hasumi freeing himself from what Eichi had described as the consumption of Hasumi’s dreams to fuel his own. Even if he disagreed with the wording on principle, he understands Eichi’s intention to give him his life back, to stand on his own two feet and have Hasumi stand across from him as a friend and rival, not a member of his supporting cast.

Picking their way through the colorful array of booths that night, ensuring Kanzaki and Anzu didn’t lose themselves in the crowd of attendees, Hasumi had felt free. He’d acknowledged Eichi’s strength, fought toe-to-toe with him for the right to exist as AKATSUKI, the crimson moon drenched in the dawn light of new beginnings, forfeiting their past as fine’s stepping stool.

But freedom was harder earned than a night floating through food stalls and game booths and the firefly glow of string lights above, high on their narrow win. As eye-opening as the Quarrel Festival had been in a positive light, it had forced Hasumi to confront certain realities about the way he’d chosen to live his life these past few years, and the fear that he’d never truly climb his way out had gripped his heart like a vice.

“It’s not going to come all at once,” Kiryuu says, reaching through the fog of his thoughts and guiding Hasumi back to the present. “But that’s how change is, Hasumi. It’s never going to be too late, because you’re learning every day. And what kind of comrade would I be if I didn’t reach out and lend a hand now and then?”

“Like when you threw me onto the mikoshi stage?” Hasumi recounts dryly. “Or perhaps when you let the transfer student dump a bucket of water on me to shake me out of the shock of Eichi’s decree?”

“Calculated risks,” Kiryuu says with a laugh, “I’d say they turned out pretty well.”

“Incorrigible,” Hasumi mutters, even as he tightens his grip on Kiryuu’s hand in thanks.

“Hasumi-dono? Kiryuu-dono?” a tired voice calls behind them, and Hasumi turns to see Kanzaki leaning against the platform railing leading back to Hasumi’s quarters, rubbing sleepily at his eyes. “Has something happened?”

“Relax, kid, nothing’s wrong,” Kiryuu soothes, eyeing Kanzaki’s ever-present sword warily, “Danna was having some trouble falling asleep, and I came out here to keep him company. Put the sword away, we’ll be back inside in a minute.”

Kanzaki nods, mollified, the pitter-patter of his bare feet on the wooden floors trailing him back to the room.

Kiryuu snorts, shaking his head, and turns to Hasumi.

“You good? We can stay out here longer, if you want.”

“No,” Hasumi says, pulling Kiryuu to his feet alongside him as he stands and stretches. “We should try to salvage what sleep we can. There’s a lot to do tomorrow.”

He’s not okay, Hasumi is learning, and that’s something he must acknowledge in order to overcome it, which is, like all situations not subject to his control and scrutiny, a massively frustrating thorn in his side. But like this, with Kiryuu’s warmth bleeding into him and their fingers tangled in silent, mutual support, it’s a manageable pricking he will gradually learn to triumph.

“Thank you, Kiryuu,” he says as they approach the sliding doors to his room. “Not just for this.”

Kiryuu, who has yet to release his hand, says only, “Don’t mention it.”

Warmth flowers and blooms in Hasumi’s chest, painting his cheeks and neck in a dusting of color mercifully hidden by the night.

Oh, he thinks, as it sputters pathetically when Kiryuu lets go, rises with a vengeance when he settles into his futon and smiles over at Hasumi.

“Come with me to my mother’s grave tomorrow before work?” he whispers.

“Of course,” Hasumi answers easily, caught up in the way Kiryuu’s expression smooths into gratitude.

Oh, he thinks, Oh no.

-

Hasumi doesn’t remember the door to the light music room ever presenting this much of a challenge. Challenge in the sense that Hasumi really, really does not want to open it, but he has a feeling that of his frustratingly short list of choices on who to approach about his problem, Sakuma Rei is somehow, impossibly, the most likely to help.

He lays his fingers across the tarnished knob, willing himself to just grip it properly and open the fucking door, before his issue is solved by the door swinging violently open from the inside, hinges creaking in anguish.

Oogami, framed by the clubroom’s dim interior, looks entirely nonplussed.

“I was going grey-haired listening to you fucking twiddle your thumbs out here,” he says, and Hasumi eyes the unruly mess of his naturally grey hair skeptically.

Oogami colors, sputtering, “You know what I fuckin’ meant! Just — get in here, already, the vampire bastard’s getting unbearable.”

Sighing, and, against all odds, remarkably more at ease in the face of Oogami’s familiar belligerent blustering, Hasumi follows him into the room, letting the door swing shut behind them.

Sakuma waves at him where he’s sat upright in his coffin, arms folded comfortably over the edge.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Hasumi-kun?” he drawls, sharp-toothed smile in place.

Behind him, Oogami kicks one of the foldable chairs clustered in the corner over at Hasumi, straddling his own and draping his arms over the back of it.

“I have a problem,” Hasumi says matter-of-factly. “It’s highly unbecoming, and if you speak a word of it to anyone, I’ll put an arrow through your eye and stake you. You too, Oogami.”

“If I can be of help,” Sakuma hums, unfazed as he gestures for Hasumi to continue, “I will do my utmost.”

“I won’t,” Oogami pipes up unhelpfully, but Hasumi has begun to understand the nuances of Oogami’s antagonism since their time together in DEADMANZ and their later reconciliation, and as such, ignores him.

“I think,” Hasumi starts, feeling his cheeks heat, “Without my conscious input or realization, I may have developed … feelings for someone. Of the non-platonic variety. Maybe. Possibly.”

Oogami stares. Sakuma’s lips part in hard-won shock.

“Holy shit,” Oogami breathes. “Oh my fucking god. You’re so godamn repressed I didn’t think that was possible, but here we are.”

“Hasumi-kun,” Sakuma entreats, concern and amusement warring across his delicate features. “It’s not … Tenshouin-kun is it?”

Oogami wheezes and Hasumi makes a half-choked noise of disagreement, waving his hand in front of his face.

“No, god no,” he says, “Not for a very long time, now.”

Sakuma smiles, a little relieved. “I did not think so, but I am glad. I mean no insult to the Emporer, but you two may have consumed one another in your love, should it have come to pass. For both your sakes, I would have discouraged it, though I suppose I needn’t have worried. Tenshouin-kun has been quite wrapped up in Wataru for some time now, and I have a feeling your affections lie elsewhere.”

Hasumi, whose blushing discomfort had faded at the mention of the long-haired disgrace, feels it return full force under Sakuma’s knowing look.

“I don’t — I’m not certain I would — How exactly would you define ‘affections’?” Hasumi stutters, wondering if this desperate last ditch of a plan to help him understand his feelings was possibly even more ill-begotten than he’d originally thought.

His blustering is bad enough, evidently, that Oogami feels it necessary to step in and save him from himself. He’s kind of like, the poster boy for emotional incompetence, and Hasumi genuinely considers giving up on this pathetic attempt at life of his and subjecting himself to Kanzaki’s unrelenting curiosity to cut someone up with his sword. Surely, surely, it would be less painful than this.

“Jesus fuck,” Oogami mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Sakuma-senpai, shut up for a second. Just — let me take this one.”

Sakuma looks vaguely surprised but nods obligingly. Hasumi wonders when exactly he lost control of the situation, and decides it was when he came up with this idiotic plan in the first place.

“When you think about him,” Oogami starts, raising a silencing finger when Hasumi opens his mouth. “Shut the hell up. Of course it’s a him, we’ve got two whole girls in this entire course and probably a statistical anomaly’s worth of not-straight dudes for classmates. Anyways.

“When you think about him, does it feel like, fuckin’ —” Oogami makes a kind of bursting gesture with his hands, “someone poured an entire bottle of sake down your throat and then threw a trillion sticks of lit dynamite in after?”

Hasumi blinks. It feels exactly like that.

Oogami seems to understand, nodding grimly. Sakuma looks highly entertained. They both ignore him.

“You think about him when he’s not around? When you’re supposed to be focusin’ on something else?”

No, Hasumi intends to say, except.

Except, well, that’s not true. He thinks about Kiryuu plenty, whether he’s in the student council room or class or archery practice. He’s learned how to work around the invasive thoughts, completing his work as efficiently as is typical for him and ensuring he isn’t falling behind. The frequency though is kind of concerning, now that he’s faced with it, and while Hasumi has possessed these types of feelings before, he doesn’t quite remember it being like this.

When he’d realized how he’d felt about Eichi, all those years ago, he’d resolved himself to a quiet, unobtrusive pining that had eventually run its course and settled into unwavering platonic friendship. But Kiryuu is different.

Eichi had been unobtainable and inadvisable, but Kiryuu is — well he’s certainly not inadvisable, with his kind touch and gentle words and protective nature. Obtainable is another matter altogether. Obtainable is what has Hasumi’s emotions in shambles, because even as Oogami’s questioning crystallizes the nature of Hasumi’s own feelings, he has no indication as to whether those feelings are reciprocated in Kiryuu.

Again, Oogami simply nods, evidently reading the answer in Hasumi’s expression.

“That shit you’ve got going on with your face,” he determines, “plus the fact that you came to us for advice, tells me you’ve got it pretty bad, four eyes. And, if the vampire bastard’s leering means fuck all, probably for the red ogre.”

Sakuma makes a pleased noise, and Hasumi is reminded of Shinkai and Morisawa’s exchange the night of the guerilla lives. The words “power of love” echo through his mind in some approximation of Morisawa’s animated way of speaking, and he tries very hard not to give in to the desire to throw himself out the window.

“Congratulations,” Oogami says flatly. “Welcome to love. It’s a fucking nightmare.”

Hasumi makes a haggard noise of agreement.

He stays in the light music room for another half hour or so, exchanging goings-on with the two as he tries to regain his composure. When he finally leaves, he makes an effort to awkwardly thank Oogami for his help. The two of them stare at each other and mutually agree to never mention it again.

Darkness falls upon the room as the sliver of light from the hallway disappears behind the door. Sakuma holds his arms open over the coffin’s edge, his smile soft-edged and teasing.

Oogami slumps into his hold begrudgingly, burying his face in Sakuma’s neck and inhaling deeply.

“Sake down your throat and lit sticks of dynamite,” Sakuma muses, “Is that how you feel about me?”

Oogami lifts his head with a grunt.

“All the fucking time,” he snarls. “It’s godamn unbearable.”

Sakuma’s lips curve at the corners, and he pulls him in for a kiss.

“If that’s the case,” he murmurs against Oogami’s mouth, “then I’ll gladly burn.”

-

Kiryuu glows under the shifting multi-colored beams of the stage lights, skin suffused with pinks and oranges and yellows, with the striking tones of a sunset fading into the cooler shades of night. The robes of his costume flare as he spins to the front of their triangular rotation, the deep, musical lilt of his voice carrying over the audience’s cheers. His fan snaps closed in time with Hasumi and Kanzaki, and he yields the lead to Hasumi, stepping back gracefully and to the side, flanking him as they enter a difficult series of steps and their voices weave into one another, a well-worn tapestry of color and sound.

The lilting notes of the final sequence echo through the auditorium, a sea of luminous red, and the three idols dip into a bow as their performance comes to a close. The curtains draw and the mics cut and Hasumi laughs, adrenaline curling through his veins as he turns to face his teammates.

“That was perfect,” he praises, giddy with success, “We were perfect.”

Kanzaki makes a pleased noise, always eager for his seniors’ approval, and Hasumi reaches a hand out to ruffle his hair, no longer worried about their appearances for the stage. Kiryuu laughs, setting his bangs to rights when Kanzaki’s gauche attempts to straighten them only rumples them further.

“We were pretty good, weren’t we? Could’ve taken on the fine guys at their best in that condition,” Kiryuu says, unable to smooth the satisfied grin from his face.

His canines peek out of the corners of his smile, and Hasumi swallows thickly, hoping the flush on his cheeks will be written off as the product of their only just-finished set.

The soft murmur of familiar voices reaches their ears, and Hasumi turns in time to see Otogari and Sakuma join them where they’d retreated to the wings of the stage, decked out in UNDEAD’s typical dark aesthetic. Oogami and Hakaze are likely set to enter from the opposite side, and Hasumi despairs for the stage managers responsible for handling that particularly unfortunate pairing, unit-mates or not. Sakuma reads his look and chuckles, waving a hand dismissively.

“Worry not,” he assures, “I’ve warned both the pup and Kaoru-kun to be on their best behavior. This is a big show for all of us, I won’t have their antics causing disruptions.”

His gaze flickers to Kiryuu, then Hasumi, giving the latter a weighted look he dutifully ignores. Kanzaki bounds over to Otogari, babbling excitedly about their live to his patient, obliging friend.

Sakuma’s staring only increases in its intensity, to the point where even Kiryuu has started to notice the irregularity, and Hasumi huffs, wrapping a hand around each of his unit members’ wrists and dragging them backstage, away from the self-proclaimed vampire and his prying gaze.

“Incorrigible, unbelievable idiot,” he mutters under his breath.

Kanzaki breaks away when he catches a glimpse of Shinkai’s RYUSEITAI uniform, bowing at Kiryuu and Hasumi as he trots over to talk to his club president, presumably about the very important business of the marine life club that Hasumi has yet to figure out. The only inkling he’d gotten into their activities thus far was a glance into the clubroom when he’d been passing by a few weeks earlier; Hakaze had been monologuing out the window about the lamentable turn his date the past weekend had taken, and Shinkai had been nodding placidly, up to his elbows in one of the room’s many fish tanks.

Not a striking vote in favor of Hasumi’s confidence, but for his own sanity’s sake, he’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

He’s still walking, Kiryuu trailing passively along in his grip as they make short conversation with some of the other units they pass. Itsuki Shu is as eccentric as ever, grandly proclaiming something or the other as Kiryuu nods along. Hasumi exchanges a few words with Kagehira, stood behind Itsuki, and pats him solemnly on the shoulder as they part.

The Valkyrie second year lets out a confused signature, ‘Nnah?’, but Itsuki is already waving him along to prepare for their stage.

“Danna,” Kiryuu finally says when they’ve left the stifling heat of the auditorium in favor of the cool balm of the night beyond, “where are we going?”

A good question. Hasumi hasn’t thought that far ahead, which in and of itself is highly unusual, and so spits out the first location that pops into his mind.

“The roof terrace,” he answers, the end of his sentence lilting up in question.

“Okay,” Kiryuu says agreeably, sliding his wrist out of Hasumi’s grip to link their fingers together instead.

Hasumi tries and fails not to read into the gesture, fire licking through his insides. He desperately hopes his palm isn’t sweaty, too numb to ascertain the truth of it for himself.

The walk up the stairs is made in companionable silence, Kiryuu humming a melodious jumble of notes lifted from the set list they’d performed earlier that night, a broken, recursive tune warring with Hasumi’s heartbeat, pounding away in his ears.

The terrace is empty, and they make their way around the side to the carefully maintained rooftop garden, the earthy soil scent mingling with perfumed floral hints and the fresh, sharp tang of mint. Kiryuu fingers a bloom of camelia trussed up on one of the wooden trellises he’d helped the gardening club transport, the blood red layering of petals a few shades off from his hair.

Hasumi drops down on the edge of a planter, the weather-roughened wood creaking slightly under his weight. He tugs Kiryuu down with him, and they look out at the sprawling grounds of Yumenosaki’s campus, broken into little chunks by the wiring of the fence running the length of the rooftop. Hasumi feels a contradictory mix of at peace and physically unable to sit still, Kiryuu’s heat at his side blending into the sensation of lava in his veins and smoke in his chest. Kiryuu squeezes his hand lightly, and when Hasumi meets his gaze he’s smiling.

“We’ve come pretty far, huh? The two of us.”

He smiles back, left helpless in the face of Kiryuu’s gentle, yet firm sincerity.

“Yes,” he agrees quietly, “We have.”

He chews at his lip, contemplating his next words, but Kiryuu is speaking before he can settle on them.

“If you’re about to do something stupid, like thank me, keep it to yourself,” he says, “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I chose to follow you, Hasumi. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t. We got here together, so none of that.”

Hasumi, lips parted in surprise, feels his expression morph into a disbelieving smile, and he shakes his head with a puff of laughter.

“How do you always know what I’m thinking?” he murmurs, a scatter-brained thought given life.

He doesn’t even mean to say it, really, except then the quality of Kiryuu’s smile is shifting into something secretive and warm and a little sad.

“I know you, danna,” he says softly, and it feels like an admission, a confession of guilt or — or something else.

So, Hasumi takes a deep, settling breath that burns him on its way in and releases some of the molten heat gathering in his lungs.

“Do you?” he asks.

Kiryuu’s expression furrows a bit in confusion.

Before he can say anything in answer and effectively decimate the brief, shaking swell of courage Hasumi is clinging to, he continues.

“Kiryuu Kurou, do you have any idea how I feel about you?”

Kiryuu exhales, sharp and startled, and Hasumi’s grip on his hand tightens unconsciously, like he’s afraid he’ll pull away.

“Hasumi —”

“No, wait,” Hasumi cuts him off. “Just — let me say this. If I don’t put it into words now, I don’t know if I ever will.”

He tracks the way Kiryuu’s Adam’s apple bobs when he swallows and dips his head in a jerky approximation of a nod.

“You are,” Hasumi says, looking out over the grounds and trying not to crumble under Kiryuu’s itching stare, “everything I thought I could never have. You’re — strong, reliable. You’re always there to hold me up before I’ve even realized I’m falling. You’re hardworking and far more intelligent than you give yourself credit for and I can never hide around you, which is honestly a source of frustration sometimes.”

Kiryuu lets out a choked little half laugh, raising an eyebrow at Hasumi’s phrasing.

“I don’t feel like the student council vice president around you. I feel like — Hasumi Keito, a semi-closeted otaku, an idol-in-training, an eighteen year-old kid. You walk into a room and suddenly it’s easier to breathe. Well — not recently. Recently, that’s actually been quite difficult around you, but —”

Kiryuu doesn’t let him finish. His free hand slides up to cradle Hasumi’s jaw and he tips his head down and to the side, pressing their lips together. It’s soft and wet and Hasumi’s lips are a little cracked with the frequency at which he’s been biting them lately, but he loses himself to the pressure nonetheless. Kiryuu nips at his lip, swallows down Hasumi’s gasp and licks into his mouth, as remarkably neat and precise with kissing as he is with everything else. Hasumi appreciates the sentiment. A lot. Enough that he’s going to take great offense if Kiryuu does something immeasurably stupid, like stop kissing him.

He hums against Kiryuu’s mouth, tangling his free hand in his hair. Kiryuu groans when he tugs lightly, pulling away to cast a searching glance around the terrace. Hasumi makes a questioning noise, put out at the distance between his lips and Kiryuu’s, but then Kiryuu is guiding Hasumi’s arms around his neck, gripping at his waist and thighs as he stands and lifts Hasumi with him. The punched-out wheeze of a breath Hasumi releases isn’t his most graceful moment of the night, but the muscles in Kiryuu’s arms flex and he thinks he’s more than justified. The martial artist walks them back against the fence, the chain links pressing into Hasumi’s back through his clothing. The position is probably a hazard and a half, but Hasumi has learned to trust in Kiryuu’s unwillingness to let him fall, and when he dips forward to kiss him, the complaints drop away like flies.

He tightens the grip of his thighs at Kiryuu’s hips, hooks a hand in the fence behind him to steady himself, and gives back as good as he gets, biting and kissing and licking until he’s short of breath. Kiryuu draws back only far enough to press their foreheads together, their breath mingling in the scant space between them.

“I’m going to take that as a sign that I didn’t misread the situation,” Kiryuu huffs, his hair a mess between Hasumi’s fingers and his voice low and rough, the edge of a growl that sparks heat down the length of Hasumi’s spine.

In hindsight, there are a number of suave responses Hasumi could’ve chosen in that situation.

Instead:

“You didn’t let me finish,” he points out petulantly, words choppy and breathy as he pants, but Kiryuu laughs anyways.

“Oh?” he murmurs, a wicked curve to his smirk that makes Hasumi want to curl into a ball and scream. “Finish, then.”

He shifts one of his hands out from beneath Hasumi as he says it, reaching up to resettle his glasses where they’d been knocked askew and drag his knuckles gently, adoringly over the curve of his cheek.

Trying desperately to focus past the fact that Kiryuu is currently supporting most of his body weight with one arm, Hasumi shifts his hands up to cradle his face, feeling starry-eyed and disbelieving and invincible.

There was a speech, he remembers, that he’d only managed to speak a few, disoriented thoughts from before Kiryuu had kissed him. Actually, there were many speeches, crumpled up balls of paper filling his wastebasket and unfinished drafts on the notes app on his phone.

All that comes from the hectic planning and selective phrasing he’d agonized over is:

“You make me want to live.”

It’s whispered, lost to the night, but not to Kiryuu, whose eyes widen and whose breath freezes in his throat.

“You make me want to live,” Hasumi repeats, petal-soft, against his lips. “For you, for our future as AKATSUKI, for our friends and allies, and for me.

Kiryuu’s held breath leaves him in a rush, and he strokes a thumb across Hasumi’s cheek, kissing the corner of his mouth.

“I’m not good with words,” he says, slow and searching, “But I — me too. You walked into my life and changed everything, Hasumi, dug up what I thought I knew and helped me become someone with a purpose. You taught me what it meant to live for yourself and for others besides my sister. Seems right I return the favor, yeah?”

Hasumi combats the urge to bite his lip by tipping forward to nip at Kiryuu’s instead, soothing over the sting with his lips and tongue.

“Well, there you go,” he says, pulling back. “You had the words after all.”

Kiryuu snorts, shaking his head fondly as he leans in to kiss him, again and again and again, until the buzz of his phone interrupts them. Hasumi squawks when they get a look at the time, and Kiryuu lets him down with a curse, sliding his thumb across the screen to pick up Itsuki’s call. Hasumi scrolls through the barrage of texts from Eichi, who had evidently discerned where he’d gotten off to about halfway through his stream messages and decided to be a supportive best friend in the somewhat embarrassing, slightly horrifyingly-worded way only he was capable of. There’s a series of emojis Hasumi hopes is from Hibiki, because if the theater club menace had hooked Eichi onto emoji use, Hasumi would end his pathetic existence with little to no hesitation.

He looks up at the sound of Itsuki’s clipped voice filtering through Kiryuu’s speaker, something along the lines of ‘your child is distressed, please come collect him,’ and they sigh in cadence.

Kanzaki is mostly fine when they return to the auditorium, protesting Itsuki’s wording and insisting that he was simply worried when he hadn’t caught sight of them and had asked Kiryuu’s childhood friend to get ahold of him. If he notices the slight displacement of their clothing or any disarray with their hair, he says nothing, but Hasumi receives a cat-got-the-cream-esque stare from Sakuma and a cackling thumbs up from Oogami. His fingers itch for the presence of his bow.

Kiryuu’s lips part as the realization strikes him, and he turns to Hasumi in a mixture of awe and uncontainable amusement.

“Sakuma and the runt?” he questions, near-incredulous. “You went to them for advice?”

“Right?” a soft, indignant voice pipes up as Eichi walks over.

This is it, Hasumi thinks, the nightmare scenario.

Kiryuu either pities him or is simply aching for a reason to touch (Hasumi understands deeply), slinging an arm around his shoulders as he and Eichi strike up an easy flow of conversation. Hasumi tips his head onto Kiryuu’s shoulder for a moment and relaxes a bit, letting the overlapping sounds of the stage crew moving about and his classmates’ chatter wash over him.

Morisawa and Shinkai pop their heads out of the RYUSEITAI dressing room a few minutes later, scanning about for one of their lost members, perhaps, and catch sight of Kiryuu and Hasumi shaded in one of the backstage corners talking to Eichi, Kanzaki, and a few others. They meet each other’s gazes, grinning, and Hasumi remembers their silent exchange, Shinkai’s fleeting touch against Kanzaki’s borrowed clip in his hair.

So, he’d been obvious even then.

He smiles wanly at the two of them, directing them over to a flash of yellow stumbling sheepishly out of a different unit’s dressing room. Their attention drifts over to collecting Sengoku and straightening out whatever mayhem he’d caused, and for once, Hasumi feels no desire to interfere, content to be simply a member of AKATSUKI mingling backstage instead of the imperious vice president.

Directing clean up takes an appreciable length of time after the guests shuffle out, and Hasumi is bone-tired when it finally ends, emotionally and physically drained from the course of events that night.

He shucks his stage outfit in favor of sweats, struggling to keep his eyes focused elsewhere as Kiryuu does the same at his side. Kanzaki bounces down to the main entrance with them, still possessing an ungodly wealth of energy Hasumi does not, for the life of him, understand. Kiryuu keeps him occupied, though, and they part ways with their junior at the gate as he heads in a different direction.

A good distance from the school, away from potential prying eyes and lurking tabloid reporters, Kiryuu presses him into a shadowed alley and kisses him, slow and languid and sleepy, Hasumi sighing against his mouth.

Eventually, they make it to the diverging path where Kiryuu will have to walk straight on to reach his house and Hasumi will make the turn for the train station to return to the temple.

“Hey,” Kiryuu says as they come to a stop, lingering at the intersection.

“Hm?”

Kiryuu leans in to steal a peck, and, when Hasumi flushes and protests the public setting, reaches into his practice bag to retrieve one of their performance fans. Hasumi eyes him curiously as he flicks it open and raises it to cover the lower portion of their faces. It does exactly nothing to hide what they’re doing, but it’s vaguely charming and there’s no one around, so Hasumi relents.

“You’re very affectionate,” he observes when the fan is stowed safely away and Kiryuu steps a few feet in the direction of his house.

His declaration does nothing to offset the simmering heat under his skin, but Kiryuu, dusted in the yellow-orange glow of the streetlamps, just smiles.

“I didn’t think I’d get to have this,” he admits, “any more than you did.”

But they do, Hasumi thinks, and this time he’s the one who yanks Kiryuu in for a kiss, muffling his surprised grunt against his mouth.

A different sort of heat unravels in his chest, a steady, ember-like warmth that suffuses his limbs and sings in his blood, spreads from the point of contact where their lips touch to the tips of Hasumi’s toes.

This warmth is not alcohol and dynamite, fracturing heat and stifling smoke, fire in Hasumi’s chest and blood in his cheeks.

This warmth is a carefully tended hearth of words and looks and touches and smiles, and losing himself to the rhythm of Kiryuu’s pulse, the brush of his fingers, the bitten-off sounds in his throat, Hasumi thinks it feels like forever.