Ryuunosuke saw his friend less often after that. It was perfectly understandable. Asougi had so much on his hands now and Ryuunosuke absolutely didn’t want to be a bother. He studied by himself most of the time. It felt a bit harder to focus, for sure - his mind kept wandering off to things like food and rakugo. After struggling with that for a long time, his thoughts wandered to Asougi. What would he say, if he saw him slacking off? With that thought, suddenly Ryuunosuke was able to study diligently again for a while.
It wasn’t like they didn’t see each other at all. They still had beef hotpot lunches at the cafeteria at least once a week. Asougi, as always, had a lot to talk about every time. He’d recall his court cases, complaining about the mundanity of some and weaving an exciting story for others. Ryuunosuke listened to the best of his ability, though sometimes he’d get lost by his own thoughts, while they were somewhat on topic - thinking about how passionate Asougi was about being an attorney, being this fired up all the time…but by daydreaming about this for a moment, he’d totally lose the plot. It was fine, Asougi didn’t seem to notice. It was apparent that he was trying to talk about as much as he could in the short time they shared. Ryuunosuke actually just needed to smile and nod. Still, he really did his best to absorb as much information as he could. He really appreciated all this effort Asougi went through to share these stories.
One day, his friend caught up to him on the way home, looking excited.
“Partner! You’ll never guess what I picked up.”
“H-huh? Asougi? You’re not staying after today?” Asougi planted a firm hand on Ryuunosuke’s shoulder.
“I’m heading right back after this.”
“Eh-- isn’t this an inconvenience for you, then?!”
“I’ll be quick! Don’t worry about it! Anyway, yesterday…” He reached into his school bag, producing…two tickets? He waved them in Ryuunosuke’s face, grinning. “I got my hands on these.”
“Wha- hey, stop that. What are they?” Ryuunosuke grabbed them out of his friend’s hand, though they were surrendered without a fight. He inspected them properly. “These are…hot spring tickets?? Where in the world did you get these? You bought them?” He passed them back and Asougi shook his head.
“You know, that Karuma - his kid got his hands on them, one way or the other. He wanted to go relax with a friend for the weekend. But his father snatched them away in an instant. ‘Your studies come first! You can go to the hot springs when you’re dead!!’ he said.” Ryuunosuke winced.
“Wow, that’s way too harsh…” His friend shrugged, seemingly used to it.
“It’s just how he’s always been, going overboard when he’s angry. Anyway, these tickets were going to be thrown away. That’d be such a waste, I thought, so I saved them.” He crossed his arms, looking pleased with himself. “So, what do you say, Naruhodou? Do you have time this weekend?”
“Wh- you wanted to go?! W-with me?!” He should’ve pieced that obvious fact together much sooner but that story was just too shocking, his brain stopped working for a second. “Is…is that allowed? I mean, these aren’t…”
“If you’re worried about that kid, I felt bad for him, so I reimbursed him. He’s spending it happily on a luxury lunch date instead, or something.”
“Ah…I see.” Ryuunosuke looked down thoughtfully. “Do you really have time to go to the hot springs? With all you’ve got to deal w-”
“Say no more, partner. I’ve already adjusted my schedule to accommodate. It’s about time we did something fun together, don’t you think? Sparing a weekend to spend with you is no problem for me.” Asougi eyed him cautiously. “Though, we don’t have to go if you’re really busy. Have you been keeping up with your studies alright?”
“Y-yeah, actually, It’s been fine,” he admitted, face flushing a little. ‘If I imagine your exasperated face when you see me slacking off, that motivates me immediately,’ he thought…not as silently as he’d intended, yet again. Asougi blinked at him a few times before bursting into a fit of laughter.
“Really? Well! I’m glad I’m such a great influence!” he guffawed. Ryuunosuke’s face went red, and he covered his mouth as he internally screamed.
“I-I mean- yeah…you’ve always been a great influence. B-but anyway! I can free up this weekend, I suppose. You went through all this effort, after all. And it’s been a long time since I last got to visit a hot spring, I’m pretty eager to go! It sounds like it’d be fun.” Asougi gave him a big grin and two hearty pats on the shoulder.
“That’s the spirit, partner! I’m glad we can finally hang out properly for once. I’ll come by your house on Friday after class, then?”
“Right, sounds good!”
“In that case, I’ll see you then! I need to rush back to the university now.”
“A-ah, see you!! Good luck!!”
With a quick wave, Asougi was sprinting back the way he came. Ryuunosuke stared after him. Sheesh, this meeting really was a major inconvenience for him, wasn’t it? Why’d he go so out of the way for this? Shaking his head, Ryuunosuke turned and continued his walk home. Hot springs…just the sound of it felt relaxing. Not to mention the great food they serve! And being able to spend time with Asougi on top of it all! He was really looking forward to it.
The end of the week couldn't come sooner. Ryuunosuke had a hard time focusing in class but he did his best. He notified his family and packed what he needed as soon as possible to get it out of the way. It seemed like Asougi was working extra hard that week to make up for the weekend’s break - they didn’t even get to have lunch together. This was the first time their streak was broken since the time Asougi was sick. Ryuunosuke barely even saw him around at all. But, as promised, they met up on Friday after class. It was strange to see Karuma absent from Asougi’s hip. Obviously, it’d be a bit awkward to bring a weapon to a bathhouse - his friend assured him that it was in Mikotoba’s diligent care.
This particular hot spring was just a short train ride away. It was a local and smaller one, clearly on the cheaper side. That was to be expected of a teenager’s budget. Still, going to any hot spring at all was nice. The rotten egg-like scent of sulfur was somewhat nostalgic. It brought Ryuunosuke back a bit to his last visit - it had to be several years ago, with his parents and grandparents.
“Hey, Asougi, when’s the last time you’ve been to one of these?” he asked when they were walking up to the entrance. His friend gave a thoughtful hum.
“Professor Mikotoba took us a few times before. Though the last time must’ve been a good amount of years ago,” he mused.
“O-oh, so it’s the same for you then, huh,” Ryuunosuke acknowledged. He knew Asougi said once that they were as close as family, but he still didn’t expect that. He gained a clearer picture of their bond from this information alone. Evidently he was staring, as his friend raised an eyebrow at him.
“Why do you ask?”
“N-! No reason, really! I was just curious!” He paused, looking down at the ground as they walked. “I’ve never gone to one without family before, if I’m honest…”
“…Technically, me neither. Hah. So, how is it, partner? Feeling like a true grown-up now?”
Ryuunosuke blinked. He couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Not really! I feel exactly the same.” Asougi gave a snort.
They checked into their room, setting their things down before heading to the bath. Somehow, there weren’t any other customers around. Maybe it was because of the off-season random weekend. They washed up on opposite sides of the washroom - Ryuunosuke was in the middle of scrubbing his hair when he heard the sound of water being dumped. He blinked. Asougi sure washed quickly…before he knew it, Ryuunosuke found himself peeking over at his friend’s back.
He’d never seen Asougi without…uh…clothes. He himself had a towel wrapped modestly around his waist, but his friend didn’t even opt for that. As he probably should’ve expected, the body of a swordsman was quite toned. Ryuunosuke felt a little embarrassed at himself, thin as a stick, a bit of belly fat, nowhere close to the physique of his friend. Somehow, he couldn’t look away, watching Asougi brush his soaked hair back and out of his face and stand to full height, stretching his legs. It wasn’t until his friend started turning around when Ryuunosuke jumped, realising he’d been staring for way too long. He averted his gaze quickly, feeling his cheeks burn up.
“…Hey, partner, what’re you staring off into space for over there?” Asougi asked, and Ryuunosuke started again, looking over blankly, acting? Was he acting right now? Well, he didn't want any weird misunderstandings…or something like that?
Asougi’s hair stayed brushed back - his cheekbones and strong brow were fully visible for once, though said brow was furrowed slightly as he gave Ryuunosuke a concerned look.
“You’re gonna get soap in your eyes.”
Right as Asougi said that, he felt it. A drop of diluted soap finally finding its way into his eye, bringing on an immediate burning sensation. Ryuunosuke let out a little shriek, fumbling for the face towel floating in his wash basin. He heard Asougi’s laugh and felt his cheeks grow hotter, though he could only sputter.
“Well, I’m going on ahead - you better hurry up before you catch another cold.”
“O…okay,” Ryuunosuke groaned after struggling and failing to think of any kind of comeback fast enough. “Wait-- that was your cold!” Yeah, it was too late - Asougi had left the room. Sighing, Ryuunosuke rubbed his hot face with both hands, still feeling the sting of soap in his eye. Sheesh, what was wrong with him right now?
He finished washing up hastily, because he was starting to feel a bit too chilly. The sky was darkening and someone had lit the lanterns by the outdoor bath by the time he shuffled out there. He spotted Asougi soaking with just his head above the water, resting against a big rock, and as he carefully made his way over there, he could hear his friend humming a quiet song. As Ryuunosuke approached and eased himself into the steaming bath, he blinked. Asougi’s eyes were closed, and seeing him now with his head leaned back…he looked genuinely tired for once.
“Asougi, are you alright?”
“Mm.” His friend opened his eyes, blinking slowly at him. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Er, I shouldn’t even have to warn you not to fall asleep in here, right?” Asougi gave a little snort and flashed somewhat of a roguish(?) grin.
“You’ll make sure I stay awake then, won’t you?”
“I mean- yeah, of course. It’s dangerous, after all!”
“Right, I’m counting on you,” Asougi huffed. Somehow, it felt like he was silently laughing about something. He reached out for a wooden basin floating nearby - Ryuunosuke’s gaze followed his movement and he blinked owlishly, wondering how he totally missed seeing it earlier.
“Eh-- did you order sake?!”
“I certainly did,” his friend said proudly, pouring two cups out and handing one over. “I thought it’d feel luxurious.”
“…You’re not wrong,” Ryuunosuke mused, automatically accepting his share. Though after gazing into the clear alcohol for a second, he shook himself out of the tangent. “B-but!! Sheesh, right after what I said…you’d better not drink too much, either! I absolutely don’t have the strength to drag you out of here!”
“Hmm.” Asougi frowned into his drink and stared at him, like he was assessing this fact for himself - the gaze made Ryuunosuke’s face flush.
“I don’t!! I really don’t! Be careful!!”
“Alright, alright! Don’t worry so much, Naruhodou.”
‘I’ll worry all I want after the last time,’ Ryuunosuke mumbled.
“Wh- nothing!!” He already felt like he was overheating and took a big sip of sake before reminding himself to heed his own warnings. Though after that, he started to relax, looking up at the stars. He realised that the two of them really didn’t get many opportunities to just sit and enjoy each other’s company. It felt like they were always catching up on something, or just too busy in general. But…this moment of silence was nice.
And then, as he thought this, at the corner of his eye he saw Asougi nodding off again.
His friend started, very close to spilling his drink but saving it just in time. He had a stunned look about him, staring blankly at Ryuunosuke for a few seconds before he could get his bearings again. Then he sighed, smiling wryly at himself as he shook his head - his hair that had stayed up this whole time seemed to fall perfectly back into its usual place.
“Sorry. It’s too relaxing in here, I suppose.”
“You really are tired, huh,” Ryuunosuke frowned, giving a concerned look. “We could go back early for tonight, if you need to.”
“Hmph, early…I wanted to spend more time with you, though.”
“Well, we’d still be together. And we still have the weekend! Besides, you shouldn’t force yourself. It’s no fun if only one of us is having a good time, right?” He recalled those words exactly, from a few months back. That got a faint smile out of Asougi.
“Yeah, you’ve got a point there.” He set his cup back onto the basin, though he sunk back further instead of getting up. For a moment it looked like he was going to completely submerge himself. “Just a little longer. This feels really nice after today…don’t let me drown, partner.”
“L-like I said, of course I won’t!”
There was a ghost of a smile on Asougi’s lips as he closed his eyes again. Ryuunosuke couldn’t help but watch him for a bit, partly because he was concerned, but also because his friend just looked so peaceful right now. This kind of look was a bit rare on this guy, somehow. He always seemed at least somewhat on guard in public - it was only times when they were completely alone where he would relax this much. That was what Ryuunosuke noticed, anyway. It made him a bit happy to be someone Asougi could be that comfortable around. He sat back as well, letting the water rise to his neck as he enjoyed the soak.
While he also felt on the verge of nodding off at some point, no one drowned that night. He woke himself up by smacking his cheeks, though the loud slap consequently startled Asougi. Ryuunosuke apologised sheepishly as his friend gave him a look that asked “What the hell was that?”
"I think it's a good time to get up now," he added at the tail end of that apology. Asougi let out a snort.
"Hah, that's what that was all about, then? Fine, you're probably right." With a faint sigh, he rose carefully to his feet. Ryuunosuke did the same, pushing off of a rock with one hand. The other, he instinctively held out as an offer of support to his friend - or maybe it was a request for help. But in any case, Asougi took it without hesitation and they pulled each other out of the water.
After that soak, walking around in a yukata felt so refreshing. What a luxurious experience - Ryuunosuke forgot just how great it was. He wolfed down dinner, happily eating his fill. Not even worrying about money could bring him down. Alright, maybe it did a little. Asougi had to reassure him for a bit there as he sat and hung his head shamefully at the bill. But that moment passed quickly - Ryuunosuke could shake it off more easily when he had his best friend to chat with.
There was one true low point, though, and that was when they were settling in their shared room. Digging through his belongings, Ryuunosuke spotted something that made a dismayed cry escape him.
“Partner? What’s wrong?”
He felt Asougi drape himself over his back, chin resting on his shoulder. Ryuunosuke was busy trying to wipe a pocket watch clean. The once silver exterior had become dotted with dark, ugly blemishes. Whatever these were, they seemed to be melded with the metal. He gave up with a groan, lifting the watch for Asougi to see clearly.
“I have no idea what happened to this thing. My grandfather got it for me as a gift when I got accepted into the university, and it looked really expensive, and now it’s ruined??” He could feel the vibration of Asougi’s thoughtful hum.
“Maybe you could ask him about it.”
“Eh?! And show him it in this sorry state?! No way!” Ryuunosuke groaned, leaning back against his friend. A large part of him was filled with stress and guilt. “I don’t wanna upset him with the fact that I somehow destroyed his nice gift…” Asougi gave a snort.
“It’s not destroyed, don’t be so dramatic. If a gift gets damaged or worn, it just means you used it a lot, right? He should be happy that it was useful to you. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Besides…” He paused for a second, adjusting himself so that he leaned his back against Ryuunosuke’s, laying his head back. Ryuunosuke could feel his silky strands of hair tickling his neck. “…Maybe your grandfather was scammed, buying something that can be so easily ruined.”
“That’s not something I’d want to tell him either,” Ryuunosuke grumbled, trying to throw Asougi an exasperated look but failing at this angle.
“Then just don’t.”
“You keep saying these things like it’s so simple…”
But maybe Asougi was right. Ryuunosuke needed to stop fretting over this - if his grandfather found out, then so what? He’d own up to it. That was the right thing to do, after all. The watch still worked perfectly too, so he’d continue to use it. The blemishes weren’t so bad, after how Asougi described it. Ryuunosuke could live with them. Of course, he didn’t know that they’d continue to get worse, but that was beside the point.
While he told himself these things, he still kept staring at the watch, turning it over in his hands and fussing over it. As he did this, Asougi gradually increased the weight against his back. It was subtle, and Ryuunosuke failed to catch on - that is, until he found himself practically laying right into his own lap. Asougi’s breathing seemed to be growing deeper and slower as well. Ryuunosuke squirmed a bit, trying to push back, but his friend was heavy.
“Hmmm?” He sounded drowsy.
“You…shouldn’t we set up the futons, if you’re falling asleep??”
“This is fine.” As if to prove a point, Asougi rubbed up against Ryuunosuke’s back obnoxiously like he was trying to get comfortable. While he was clearly being annoying on purpose, Ryuunosuke couldn’t help the heat creeping into his cheeks at the feel of his friend’s well-toned back muscles. For a second, he felt okay about staying like this, actually, before he lightly smacked a hand against his cheek to snap himself out of it.
“I-is this even comfortable?!” he questioned, wincing as his flustered feelings seeped into his voice, making it crack. Asougi made a little thoughtful noise.
“It’s…like lying on a jagged rock,” he gave his blunt answer. Ryuunosuke let out an exasperated groan, squirming under him desperately.
“Hurry up and get off of me, then!!”
Asougi let out a loud laugh. It felt like it was reverberating through Ryuunosuke’s whole torso, but then it was gone as his friend mercifully pulled away. Ryuunosuke breathed a sigh of relief, sitting up and rolling back his shoulders. Freedom. The pain of getting squashed was gone, but along with it came a sense of emptiness? He shook his head - pull yourself together. He heard Asougi dragging the futons out behind him and sighed, climbing to his feet to go help. The pocket watch rolled out of his lap and he paused, glancing at it. All his stress about it felt evaporated now, thanks to…
He picked it up and tucked it into his pile of belongings before going over to his friend. As he helped straighten the futons, he looked to Asougi with a grateful smile.
“For what?” His friend asked innocently, but there was a faint knowing grin on his lips.
When the lights were out, Asougi seemed to pass out the moment they laid down. This guy had really been fighting tooth and nail to stay awake, huh? Ryuunosuke sighed quietly, staring at the outline of his friend’s form. He felt like he should’ve been concerned - he didn’t know exactly how hard Asougi had been pushing himself these past few weeks, but he did know how this guy functioned. No matter how amazing he was, he was still human.
Well, because of that, Ryuunosuke was extra glad that they could have this weekend of rest. Asougi surely needed it. And during this time, if he tried to get up at the break of dawn like he usually did, Ryuunosuke was prepared to drag him back to bed for some extra hours of sleep, no matter the excuses. Even if he had to lose miserably at wrestling, he’d put in the effort.
And that he did. Squabbling, relaxing, getting drunk, talking loudly, passing out next to each other - so their time at the hot springs went, the two of them tossing aside their worries. It was quite the restful weekend, in the end.