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Kojiro's not really the jealous type but he can do math, and two turning to three changes things.

If he was the kind of of guy who thought of things in storybook terms it would be something like this: you have this best friend, who you've known since you were kids, since bullies broke his skateboard and he cried into your shirt while insisting that he was not crying, who you carried home on your back even though he was too heavy and made your arms hurt, and you've been together ever since. And being together, it's not just side by side – it's together. It's fists bumping together and your palm meeting the ghost of his on a concrete wall covered in graffiti, several feet off the ground and wind in your hair as you touch your hand to the space where his was (well – almost, because Kaoru managed to fly a fifth of a centimeter higher and he won't let you forget it, insists on the margins and fractions, and smiles smugly in a way that catches the light on his piercings and Kojiro doesn't argue because Kaoru will just find a way to win anyway. Kaoru always measures things even in fractions, because behind the piercings and the confident grin and that skinny body that flies the moment he gets on a skateboard, Kojiro knows that inside this is still the same Kaoru who called him a dumb gorilla even while wiping his nose on Kojiro's shirt).

So it's a story like that, though Kojiro doesn't bother much with stories about unrequited love or pining over best friends. He has to be practical because he's not a dazzling sort of guy and anyway Kaoru isn't the kind of guy who's easily dazzled. Kaoru likes to be the one dazzling, hitting higher heights than anyone – one fifth of a centimeter, probably less if Kojiro felt like arguing, which he didn't. When they started skateboarding most people figured Kojiro was the guy in charge and Kaoru was the hanger on, the fancy boy with his pink hair and his Cherry Blossom, a nickname like a girl's, and Kojiro enjoyed watching Kaoru prove them wrong almost as much as Kaoru did. Sometimes it was annoying, maybe, when Kojiro tried to step forward and Kaoru would stretch just a step ahead of him – (one wheel, maybe, a fifth of a centimeter) – but Kojiro was perfectly capable of matching that stride if he wanted to. He considered it something of an unspoken agreement between them, sealed by bare palms smacking against a cold concrete wall, higher and higher every time until no one else could match them.

And then Adam appears, who doesn't wear their school uniform and doesn't know any Kaoru or Kojiro, only Cherry Blossom and Joe, and they understand immediately that this is just fine. It doesn't upset the balance at all – or if it does it's momentary, like a beginner stepping on a skateboard and wobbling just a bit before finding their center. 

Balance – and Kaoru's skateboard wobbles unexpectedly and he tries to stabilize, and Kojiro doesn't move quite fast enough. It wasn't like they needed a center, Kojiro thinks later on, because there was never a space between him and Kaoru before big enough for a third person. But Adam's hood falls back and Kaoru is looking up into his eyes, and Kojiro knows him well enough to read that expression without even needing to see it himself.

Adam smiles, and Kaoru is dazzled.


It's afternoon in the summer and Kojiro touches the sky easily.

There's a bit of an audience today, a mix of passersby and actual enthusiasts and a handful of high school kids wearing the same uniform Kojiro is. He's not doing anything fancy, at least not right now – just an easy back and forth on the ramp, get some height and slide back down, up the other way and down again.

When he hits the height on the far side he can almost see above the trees and make out where Kaoru is leaning against a stone pillar underneath an overhang, talking to Adam. Adam's hood is off and Kaoru laughs at something that he says.


Back up the other way and he gets some serious height this time. A few people cheer his name, members of their group, and there's a couple girls in their school uniform watching him. One's clutching something that looks like a letter.

Down, and up.

The sunlight's catching off Kaoru's piercings and it's a little blinding. Kojiro thinks he needs to focus on his leg muscles next or he won't be able to get high enough to see – he's already surpassed that fifth of a centimeter and Kaoru didn't even argue about it. Kojiro's been focusing on his muscle training recently because he'd noticed that he wasn't doing well matching Kaoru and Adam's pace, with his naturally bigger frame against those two with their smooth bird bones, all the better to reach the skies. It's not something he intends to get upset about because Kojiro's not the kind of guy who gets frustrated – he's not the kind of guy who lets himself be left behind, and Kaoru is laughing there in the sun – so he decided to make himself work for himself and it's not so much trading speed for power as making one turn into the other.


The girls cheer and he throws them a smile. He's been more popular since he started doing the muscle training. Kaoru definitely noticed, making sidelong comments during lunch period, smirking back at Kojiro as if Kojiro had done all this on purpose. Kojiro had only shrugged and smirked back, had mocked Kaoru for being less popular and had enough sense not to misplace mockery for jealousy just because it would make himself feel better.

Up, down, up again. Kaoru runs a hand through his hair and Adam leans back, head tilted towards the sun. He doesn't wear his hood as much anymore and Kaoru seems to like it that way. Kojiro doesn't mind either way, doesn't really see the sense in it when you get right down to it – it's not as if they would recognize him, not like Adam's Batman pulling down his cowl to reveal the young rich boy everyone in town would know. They don't know his real name and even from this distance Kojiro can see the way Adam's mouth fits around the word 'Cherry.' Not Kaoru.

Down, a little faster this time, and he does a flip on the far end. The crowd cheers and he adjusts his balance a little, to account for the wind picking up.

Up again, and he can see the whole world. Adam's hood has blown back up around his head and Kojiro can see part of Kaoru's face disappear behind that fabric as he leans in – the tip of his nose, his lips. Maybe just a moment too long, and if skateboarding didn't come as easily as breathing by now Kojiro might have lost his footing.

He doesn't though, flies even higher instead, and looks up at the sun when he goes back up. He slides down again, slowing, foot down and using his lower body to slow the board to a stop. That's enough for today.

“N-Nanjou-senpai...” Ah, her. The girl with the letter steps forward, eyes down. She's got long hair, wood-brown instead of Kaoru's sakura-blossom mess, and she's not wearing earrings (he remembers vaguely with a smile, sitting in his room surrounded by bloody tissues and Kaoru insisting that Kojiro put in the next piercing because he doesn't trust the new girl at the piercing shop and besides, they said he'd cried last time when the hole was made when he had not, and Kojiro was going to watch and prove it). She shifts, uncomfortable, sweaty hands on that crumpled letter, and Kojiro thinks about Kaoru, vanishing behind Adam's hood. “I wanted to ask you something, if – if you have the time.”

“Sure.” Why not, really. Honestly he likes the attention a little, standing out, and besides he's got nothing else to do. “Let's go somewhere private.”

Kojiro doesn't really think of himself as a playboy – he's giving her cover, since he'll have to turn her down (why 'have to'? He doesn't really think about that, it's just a knowledge in his bones, the same as the sky is blue and water is wet and skateboard wheels turn, that he's not available). Still, he puts an arm around her and she blushes a little – it reminds him of when Kaoru gets angry, and he thinks again about his room and the bloody tissues and Kaoru staring at him with extreme indignance and very clear wet eyes and red across his nose. The girl leans into him a little, letting him support her and it's easy, easier than carrying Kaoru on his back, and Kojiro figures the muscle training is definitely paying off. 

As they exit the skate park they walk right by Adam and Kaoru entering, and Kojiro gives them a smile and a wink. Adam smiles back blandly, like he isn't entirely sure why Kojiro's winking and doesn't know how to hide it, but Kaoru's just staring. Kojiro lets their eyes meet and keeps his arm around the girl and even as they move past he is absolutely sure that Kaoru is still watching them.

(He's not a jealous person, and he's not the kind of person who takes his own feelings out on others. But there is definitely a small part of him that feels a bit triumphant, knowing that Kaoru was watching.)

Kojiro turns her down, of course. Gently, and he lets her cry a little and she promises to keep watching him skate even though he knows she won't. Later he goes out for burgers with Adam and Kaoru, and Kaoru makes several pointed comments about him and a girl until Kojiro admits he doesn't even remember her name. Kaoru calls him an uncouth gorilla even as he leans just slightly against Adam's arm.

There's probably some sort of saying about this kind of thing, Kojiro figures as he eats his meal. Something about skateboards, and how they don't work right with three wheels.

Kaoru huffs at something Adam said and the earrings in his ears clink together quietly. Kojiro smiles to himself.

Well, that's true. But a two wheeled skateboard doesn't work either and if you take the third wheel out the balance is all off, so it's fine.


Kaoru is, as expected, waiting behind the usual restaurant, back against the graffiti-covered vending machine that hasn't worked in years. Some of those marks are theirs, Kojiro recalls – somehow instead of spray paint Kaoru had brought the sort of ink that was normally used for calligraphy and they'd written down successful tricks and the speed of turns and the height of jumps. Kojiro had felt like something of an idiot carefully painting messy characters on top of all the splattered symbols from others who had gotten to this spot before them but Kaoru had taken it oddly seriously, insisting Kojiro put the right numbers and not get even a digit wrong (it wasn't a fifth of a centimeter anymore, more like two centimeters and Kojiro was on the better side this time, so Kaoru made certain to write that he had been faster by a good three seconds because Kaoru never liked to fall behind in anything).

Kaoru wasn't practicing tricks today though, didn't even seem to have brought his skateboard along for that matter. Kojiro approaches with a hand in his pocket, other arm wrapped around his own skateboard, and leans back against the vending machine so that he's standing side by side with Kaoru.

“This is the kinda thing you do when you get your heart broken, huh?” 

“W-who got their heart broken? Idiot gorilla.” Kaoru is immediately on his feet, indignant, but his eyes are definitely red and it takes all Kojiro's self control not to push Kaoru's hair away so he can get a better look at that face.

“I suppose Adam's already in America by now.” He changes the subject instead. “Wonder what kind of school he was attending anyway? Shouldn't he stay for graduation at least? Or maybe he was one of those smart guys who graduate early.”

“....Who knows.” Kaoru's hands twitch and Kojiro just stands there calmly, there if he's needed to be something to grab onto. “Who knows anything that goes on with him.”

The words are slightly too fierce and Kojiro's eyes slide back to look at Kaoru even though his face is still turned away. 

“Shouldn't you know?” Idly, not accusing. He wants to know, but he doesn't want to get punched in the head either.

“What exactly is that supposed to mean?” Kaoru gives him a cold glare, but one finger is twisting in his hair and Kaoru never plays with his hair unless he's trying to avoid saying things. They've been together so long that Kojiro knows every one of those habits, from the way Kaoru bites his nails when he's nervous to the fact that he still sleeps with his old doll with the tinny music box inside that plays a lullaby when you squeeze it.

“Weren't you two...” He pauses – Kaoru's face, half disappearing behind Adam's hoodie, eyes half closed and a smile on his face that's almost gentle, awed, dazzled – and Kojiro considers his next words carefully. “...friends?”

Kaoru actually pauses at that and his face is coloring slightly, but it's cold and it could just be from the wind hitting his cheeks. Kojiro keeps his tone even and doesn't think about how he and Kaoru are friends too, have been friends forever, and still it was Adam that Kaoru was drawn to so easily.

“...Idiot. You were friends with him too.” Kaoru can sidestep a subject as easily as his skateboard flies over an obstacle and Kojiro almost wishes he'd used the other word instead, except he didn't want to hear Adam referred to 'that' way any more than Kaoru did, apparently.

“He pulled away from you last.” That's true too, and not jealousy talking. Things had been strange with Adam for some time before everything really broke. Those easy days when they'd been three – or two plus one and who the 'plus' was depended on who you asked – had gone by too quickly, and Adam had started skating with them less and less. Kaoru's mood had gone with him, growing darker and more dour, irritable, and if Kojiro wanted to be kicked he might have said something about 'a woman scorned.' Not that Kaoru had said anything of course, but Kojiro saw more than he let on. When they'd started hearing those rumors about a man in a mask and hood taking people out to dangerous areas of the city and doing the kind of skateboarding that landed less skilled people in the hospital they both had known right away who it had to be.

And even so Kojiro had seen Kaoru's face, when he'd looked up at Adam as they crouched by their onetime friend's newest 'victim.' There had been an expression of something like betrayal there and Kojiro suspected it wasn't just because Adam was skating in a way they didn't recognize anymore.

Kojiro didn't know a lot about what had gone on after that. Adam had mentioned going to America and had left them behind and as far as Kojiro was concerned that was that. He knew though, that Kaoru had gone after Adam one last time, skateboard in hand, determined to either talk or skate out their frustrations, whichever he could manage.

The outcome of that talk, Kojiro had no idea. Kaoru hadn't come to school after that so eventually Kojiro had skipped class after lunch and made his way here, where he'd found Kaoru as expected.

Kaoru's hands suddenly twitch again and Kojiro nearly jumps as Kaoru's fist hits the concrete wall behind him.

“H-hey, calm down, I was just saying! Wait, did you hurt your hand doing that?” Kojiro leans in to look and Kaoru glares at him, clutching his hand and looking somehow even more irritated. Kojiro sighs, running a hand through his hair. “You could have just said no. He didn't want to skate with you?”

“It doesn't matter.” Kaoru reaches out with his unbruised hand and touches the wall, gaze traveling upwards along the marks and lines they'd made, more tracks of their training together. Kojiro takes a step forward, sliding his own skateboard under his feet. The soft scratch of wheels on gravel almost drowns out Kaoru's words and Kojiro can just barely catch the sound of his voice. “....Not his Eve.”

“Eh?” He's fairly certainly he'd heard wrong, and Kaoru doesn't repeat himself. Instead he turns away and strides towards Kojiro, face set and determined.

“Kojiro. Have a beef with me.”

“W-what? Now? You don't even have your board...”

“I'll just use yours. We can take turns.” Kaoru reaches down as if to pull the skateboard right out from under Kojiro's feet and he barely manages to push it away.

“That's not how a beef works! Where did you leave your skateboard anyway? H-hey, Kaoru, wait!” It takes some fancy footwork to avoid Kaoru's pounce at his board and Kojiro's lucky Kaoru's a little slower than normal today.

“Fine. I'll go get my board and then we'll have a beef.” It's the old determined Kaoru, the one who won't be left behind by anyone, and the way his mood can change on a dime is one of the things Kojiro's gotten used to with Kaoru, turning his sail towards the wind regardless of which way Kaoru was blowing today.

“All right, all right, I'll have a beef with you. It's getting late, why don't we eat first?”

“Hmph. If you're too scared.” Kaoru starts to walk away and Kojiro pushes gently on his skateboard so that he can follow without quite overtaking.

“Geez, you...”

“...Am I boring?” Another shift in the wind, and Kaoru's eyes slide away from his.

“Boring?” Kojiro gives that all the consideration it deserves, which is none, and he laughs. “You? Who said that kind of thing to you?”

He knows who said it and he's sure Kaoru knows that he knows, but Kaoru smiles back at him anyway.

It's 100% truth, besides. Kaoru is never boring, and the kind of guy who would say so, well...he's not the person Kojiro thought he was, that's for sure.

(In a way, it's a bit of a relief.)


“This is all your fault.”

Kaoru is leaning over a plate of...Kojiro thinks it's supposed to be a carbonara but the noodles are limp and the sauce is so thick it looks like it could be used in building houses, and if he wasn't distracted by the way Kaoru's robes were falling off his shoulder every one of Kojiro's chef sensibilities would be mortally offended.

“What? I thought you liked Italian.”

“I do not.” Kaoru crosses his arms and looks away, which means he's lying, and if their food smelled better Kojiro would be grinning about it. “We are never listening to your intuition again.”

“My intuition is good! If you hadn't been complaining about your feet hurting we could have kept looking for a place and my intuition would have found a better restaurant.” They've been in LA for two days and Kaoru's already acting like Kojiro asked him to traverse the desert in search of a skateboard park.

“I'm not even sure what kind of meat that is on your plate. Just because you can eat anything doesn't mean I can.” Kaoru smacks his fan lightly on the table and Kojiro shrugs even as he pokes at a meatball with his fork. It's definitely a ball of meat, that's for certain. What meat he doesn't know, but it's meat.

“Just relax a little. This is supposed to be a rebound trip.”

“I told you there's nothing to rebound from!” Kaoru glares coldly over his glasses. Honestly it's still hard to get used to those, Kaoru hasn't worn glasses since elementary school. 

“Adam rejected your beef.” Kojiro says it plainly, reaching over to taste Kaoru's carbornara. The sauce is too thick and the noodles are too greasy, and he's already considering just walking back into the kitchen and offering to give everyone a lesson on how to properly cook an Italian meal.

“He rejected yours too.”

“Not the same.” It isn't, even after all these years. Sure, Kojiro isn't happy about what Adam's become, what little they've seen of him. And Kojiro would be perfectly happy to settle a few scores with a skateboard, if it came down to that (“Am I boring?”). But Kaoru was angry. The way he talked about Adam and settling grudges, outsiders would think that Adam had done something terrible to him.

Right. Something terrible. So much time has passed, and he and Kaoru have stayed together, and it's still a little bitter going down his throat. He's seen more sides of Kaoru than anyone and there's still a side that Adam got to first and took with him when he left. 

“He has to face me someday.” Kaoru's face is set and determined, eyes staring down at his plate but clearly looking at something far away.

“Sure.” Kojiro shrugs, as if he believes it, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head. “But Kaoru...even if he doesn't, we can still move forward. We don't need to settle that grudge to move on.”

“Speak for yourself, muscle gorilla.” Kaoru's hands clench around his fan and he suddenly takes a deep drink of the wine he'd claimed minutes ago was 'glorified grape juice'. “I intend to make him take responsibility.”

“For your broken heart, huh?” Kojiro says it lightly, teasing, and Kaoru's face goes red.

“He did not--”

“The holes are closing.” Kojiro leans forward again in his chair, fingers outstretched to brush Kaoru's earlobes, and Kaoru actually drops his fan in surprise.

“What are you--”

“You don't wear the earrings at all anymore, huh?” Come to think, Kaoru had stopped wearing them around the time Adam had left.

“Of course not. Some of us need to grow up, oaf.” Kaoru's already composing himself, posture proper and straight in a way it never was in high school. Kaoru's winds had shifted again, headed towards an opposite shore, and once again Kojiro had turned his sail to catch the breeze. 

“Too bad, I kinda liked them.” Kojiro puts his thumb in his mouth and then presses it along the curve of Kaoru's ear. One of the holes has closed completely but the other is still slightly visible, if a person knew where to look. 

“Responsibilities change.” Kaoru's voice is dour but he doesn't flinch back from Kojiro's touch, posture loosening instead, not entirely passive but not quite leaning into either.

“But still 'S', right?” That still hasn't changed. Kaoru's piercings have closed and he ties his hair down now, and Kojiro's muscle training has paid off in spades. But even with all of that there was still skateboarding, still the feeling of wind whistling past their ears and the slap of hands against concrete walls, boards flipping under feet, sharp turns, new tricks. S gets more spectators every month and already everyone knows the names 'Joe' and 'Cherry Blossom.'

The other thing that hasn't changed, too – he's still by Kaoru's side, the way it's always been.

“Of course. I'm not planning on retiring from that.”

“Not until you've had your beef with Adam?” Kojiro's still touching Kaoru's ear and playing with his hair a little, and he's pretty sure neither one of them care that they're sitting in the middle of a reasonably crowded restaurant (come to think, they did this kind of thing at the bar in Paris, too. That one had also been his intuition and the beer had been good, and Kaoru couldn't even complain that he'd somehow managed to pick out one of Paris's better gay bars and that half the clientele were looking at Kaoru like he was the evening special. It had given Kojiro a good excuse to flex his muscles anyway, pretend he was playing protector when really he was just enjoying the blush on Kaoru's face, and they hadn't even needed to talk about Adam at all then).

“I'm certainly not losing to you either, not with those wasteful movements of yours.”

“My skating's not wasteful! Just because you've started using that fancy whatever AI watch to get your timing down--”

“Her name is Carla.

“You named your watch after your old doll?

“That has nothing to do with it!” A few heads turned towards them and Kaoru gives a steadying cough. “In any case, if Adam won't respond to my beef I will just have to make it so that he has no choice but to acknowledge it.”

“Yeah. Do that.” There's a sinking feeling in his gut and Kojiro isn't entirely certain that this is old jealousy either. After all, the only beefs they've seen Adam answer so far have ended with his opponent in the hospital.

“Kojiro. I will win.” Kaoru's eyes meet his and Kojiro gives a rueful smile.

He doesn't wear the lip ring anymore either. Kojiro leans down and Kaoru's neck tilts up, almost naturally, and even if their rhythm is the same as it's always been Kojiro thinks the tune's started changing, bit by bit.

His lips meet Kaoru's, slightly bitter from bad wine and worse food, but Kojiro isn't going to complain about that.

Kojiro's really not a violent guy. Sure, he's got muscles for days and all that, but he developed those for a very specific reason: skateboarding (and catching Kaoru when he falls, maybe, if he's being fully honest). He's not the sort of person who uses fists for fighting – Kojiro likes to think of himself as a peacemaker, the kind of guy who steps in with advice and calming words rather than fists.

He's really not the sort of guy who likes to fight. Even so, it occurs to him as they're driving to the hospital with Kaoru passed out and bloody in his arms, that it's really a good thing Shadow showed up when he did with the car and told Kojiro the important thing was getting Kaoru to the hospital.

Because if Shadow hadn't shown up right at that moment, Kojiro is pretty certain he would have punched Adam's fucking face in.

In a way his disappointment mirrors Kaoru's, less of a physical smack to the head (and he's going to be seeing that in his nightmares, the skateboard hitting Kaoru's face and his head snapping back and the momentary terrible thought that being hit at such high speeds could almost certainly snap a spinal cord, or a neck, and Kojiro doesn't like to think about those 'could have beens') but a blow nonetheless. Kojiro's got his issues with Adam – even in the third wheel days Kojiro was still a part of those wheels, him and Kaoru and Adam, and even if it bothered him the way Kaoru had been handily dazzled by this guy with his hoodie and his skateboarding tricks at the end of the day they really had been a trio. Adam had wormed his way into their partnership before Kojiro or Kaoru had even really noticed, and while it may not have been the configuration Kojiro had wanted he'd still held those days precious. Some things were better now (Kaoru's lips, soft against his own, but liable to bite at any moment) but still – three of them on skateboards, ruling the nights, marking high walls with their fingertips, reaching for the skies together.

He didn't hold onto grudges – much – and his attempts at getting Adam to agree to a beef had always been more about settling Kaoru's scores than his own. But was personal now. It was a break Kojiro couldn't forgive. If Kaoru had lost fair and square Kojiro would have been disappointed but it would have been acceptable. To defeat Kaoru in that way though, knocking him off his board and onto the ground, that was dirty play far beyond simple things like Shadow's bombs. It was final, an ending. An Adam who could so easily do that to someone who had once been so important to him, someone who had laughed by his side, someone who had stared at him with eyes that shone in a way Kojiro could only dream of at the time...there was no going back from that. It was clearly, clearly broken.

('...but Cherry was really boring.' He doesn't know what Adam and Kaoru talked about before he arrived, but Kojiro's not going to forgive that either.)

Kaoru stirs in the bed slightly, face pinched with pain despite the medicine he's been given. Explaining what had happened had been a fun exercise in hoping his muscles would distract the nurse from asking too many questions – Shadow thankfully had the presence of mind to go park the car, so he didn't need to explain the man in clown makeup – and Kaoru had been whisked away shortly after. It had been unexpectedly hard to let him go, even knowing he was getting help, and Kojiro could still feel the weight of Kaoru's body in his arms for hours afterward. He'd probably feel it later too, aches that were more than just muscle fatigue after a tough skateboarding match. He'd already nearly forgotten about Snow, beyond an idle wonder if the kid had ever found Reki.

“Don't become alone.” Kojiro had always held on to that ideal. Even when it had been Kaoru and Adam and he'd been the third, he'd made certain to hold his own. He'd followed Kaoru, grown up, and realized the person whose back he'd been chasing was actually walking by his side this whole time. He supposes that's why he empathized with Reki so much.

“Mmm...” Kaoru's eyes flutter and Kojiro leans in, relief washing over him. Part of him wonders, idly, whose name Kaoru will call when he wakes up.


(Not Kojiro. But also not...)




(Honestly, he should have seen that one coming.)

“Carla's fine, idiot.” Kojiro can't help the rush of relief in his voice as Kaoru's eyes blink, gazing vacantly up at the ceiling. He's telling the truth too – Carla has been charging in the corner for the last half hour or so, thanks to Miya having spotted the skateboard during his own beef and going back after to gather it up, nervously dropping it off before heading home. He'd asked how Kaoru was and Kojiro figures he'll need to give everyone an update later. Right now though it's just him and Kaoru, and that's probably for the best.

“Where...Kojiro...?” It's not quite as good as being the first name on his lips, but it'll do.

“Hospital. You've got a concussion, a sprained wrist, an injured leg and some bruises. Not bad for a guy who took a skateboard to the face at full speed.”

“That was...” There's a slow understanding dawning in Kaoru's eyes, face scrunching up slightly and his one good hand starts feeling around aimlessly on the sheets. Kojiro doesn't bother handing him his glasses, just getting up and sliding them onto Kaoru's face instead. This close he can see the edges of marks underneath the bandage on his cheek, the border of a deep dark bruise that's marred the skin. Kojiro's fingers brush just slightly along the edges as he puts Kaoru's glasses on, and he manages a slight smile as the fuzziness clears from Kaoru's eyes and they focus on him. “So I lost.”

“Yeah. We both did, I guess.” Kojiro tries to be lighthearted about it. Kaoru's voice is low and serious but there's a slight choke in the back of it that Kojiro recognizes immediately from the days of schoolyard bullies and scraped knees.

“...If you would just take my advice maybe you would have actually managed to beat him.” Kaoru huffs and Kojiro sighs, shaking his head. Of course, even in a hospital bed Kaoru has to be superior. 

“How's your head feel?” He changes the subject instead, wondering suddenly if he should be calling a doctor.

“Heavy.” Kaoru's hand presses against the bandage and his wrist looks thin, and pale. They've known for so long, that all of Adam's opponents end up in the hospital, but Kojiro had let himself think it wouldn't come to this. Not with Kaoru.

“You should probably rest. I'll bring you something tomorrow so you don't have to complain about the hospital food, all right?” Kojiro stands and there's a sudden tug on the sleeve of his jacket. He pauses and looks down at Kaoru's hand, clutching tightly to his sleeve even as Kaoru's face is turned away, teeth slightly clenched and eyes somewhere else entirely.

“Can't sleep yet?” Carla doesn't have enough charge to play much of a lullaby, but he figured the painkillers would have soothed some of the anxiety away. He never really knows with Kaoru though – the face he shows other people isn't the face he shows to Kojiro, and winds change.

“I'm fine. Idiot muscle gorilla.” Kaoru's voice is low and sullen, and his untied hair falls loosely over his shoulder. Kojiro finds himself reaching out with a force borne of habit, pulling it back for him and looking for something to tie it with. Kaoru isn't looking at him but his hand is still clutching Kojiro's jacket.

“I gotta say, that was some fine skating though. You had him on the ropes for a while.” Kojiro manages to find a tie in his pocket, probably put there idly at some time or another when he was untying that hair and letting it splay loose on a pillow. It's easy, natural in a way, and he carefully starts combing Kaoru's hair back with his fingers, mindful of the bandage around Kaoru's head.

“I lost. The manner doesn't matter if the results are poor.” There's pain there, something deeper than what a skateboard to the face could cause. Kojiro wonders again, what Adam said to Kaoru while they were skating, before the back of Kaoru's head hit the ground.

“That's bullshit and you know it.” Kaoru's hand slides down a bit to touch the bottom edge of Kojiro's jacket, freeing Kojiro's hand to keep tying up his hair. “You were enjoying yourself for a while there.”

“If we had made it to the factory I would have won.” Kaoru's hand twitches, tightening against the fabric of Kojiro's jacket. 

“Sure you would have.”

“I would!” Kaoru sits up a bit straighter and Kojiro's hand gets momentarily tangled in his hair.

“H-hey, calm down, will you? This is a hospital.”

“I didn't ask you to visit me.”

“You were unconscious, you couldn't ask anything you know.” Kojiro shakes his head, disentangling his fingers and looping Kaoru's hair through the tie. 

“...My head hurts.” The words are slightly drowsy and a little strained, and Kojiro figures the painkillers are still doing their work. He's nearly done anyway, and Kaoru's hand finally drops away from his jacket.

“Just rest up. You want to watch the next beef, right?” It probably wasn't a good idea to bring Adam up again, now that he thinks about it. Kaoru responds well this time – or better, anyway, than expected. He leans back against the pillow, eyes half closed, and once Kojiro finishes tying back Kaoru's hair he removes the glasses too and sets them aside.

“Mmm...” Kaoru's obviously nodding off now, which means his work is done. The rush of adrenaline's already worn out on his end too, the fear and anger that coursed through him when he saw Kaoru fall. It's been replaced with something softer, more familiar, and he can't stop himself from running his hands through Kaoru's hair one last time as he stands.

“I'll be back tomorrow.” And the next day, and the next. It doesn't matter what distance is between them, not really – from the starting line of S to the finish, or a fifth of centimeter on a concrete wall. They've always been side by side, and that won't change.

“Kojiro...” Kaoru's voice floats to him before he can quite step out of the door and Kojiro pauses. There's an unspoken question on the air and Kojiro can't help the rueful smile.

“You're not boring.” He isn't sure, but he thinks Kaoru smiles before settling back into sleep.

It's not really the same, now, and the way they were then. Winds change, wheels turn. They were two and then three, and then two again, and Kojiro likes to think that they're maybe more than that now – maybe six now, once Reki figures himself out. Either way, they aren't alone, and they never have been.

Kojiro isn't the kind of guy who dazzles people and Kaoru's not the type that's easily dazzled but that's really all they need to be, as long as they stay together. 

“Because we aren't alone. Right, Kaoru?”

The sound of Kojiro's voice is soft, almost gentle, and it rings in Kaoru's head with the beat of his heart, his own steady breathing. His head aches – and perhaps it wasn't the best idea to sneak out of the hospital so soon, having Carla calculate the exact route that would have the least amount of personnel so he could leave without being spotted, but he couldn't sleep in the hospital bed with the stiff sheets and hospital smell. That was when he'd decided that as it happened he was hungry for something besides hospital food and he would like something to drink besides water and anyway, hadn't Kojiro said he was coming back and yet he hadn't stopped by at all and looking at things that way this was really all the idiot gorilla's fault anyway.

Even with his eyes closed he can hear Kojiro shift in the seat beside him, the rustle of clothes and the soft scratch of chair legs along the floor. The smell in the air is familiar, cozy in a way, Kojiro's stupid restaurant that Kaoru only frequents because no one else in the town knows how to make a proper carbonara. And anyway it's easier to charge Carla at Kojiro's, where he doesn't have to explain anything and can get something to eat while he's at it.

(He's always welcome here and he knows it, deep down.)

“Hey, Kaoru. You need to get back to the hospital, c'mon.” Kojiro gives the lightest touch against his shoulder and Kaoru makes sure to keep his eyes closed, his breathing even. He isn't ready to go back, not just yet. His head hurts and his heart is beating fast like turning wheels, like Adam's feet dancing on the board, but Kojiro being so near makes breathing feel a bit easier.

He had a grudge, and he failed. That stings and maybe it will always sting but somehow it doesn't hurt quite so much when he's lying like this, head on the table surrounded by the familiar smell of pasta, garlic – and Kojiro, really, who always has that faint smell lingering around him even when he steps out of the restaurant.

Aren't alone, huh? Maybe it's the concussion but Kaoru can't bring himself to sneer at that, to argue that he doesn't need an idiot muscle gorilla next to him to tell him how to skate. But really he knows Kojiro is, for once, right – it's always been the two of them, even when it was three and Kaoru's back was turned, even when he was fraction above the ground and Kojiro was below. They don't get along, he tells everyone he can, but he isn't really sure where he would go if Kojiro wasn't here, how he would sleep. Even Carla's lullabies can't calm him quite like this, the sound of Kojiro's soft exasperated sigh colored with fondness and the familiar place he knows all too well (the restaurant, maybe, or maybe just at Kojiro's side).

Kojiro's always been here, a rock in a storm. He's irritating and always wrong about almost everything, and too certain of his skills, not willing enough to take Kaoru's critiques or admit his inferiorities which are clear. He's infuriating and impossible to understand entirely and an open book, all at once. He's nothing like Adam was, soaring high, dancing at top speed, the sort of person who would certainly be amazing no matter what he put his mind to. Kojiro isn't that type of person at all.

But Kaoru knows, if he's being honest – when it comes to Kojiro he is perhaps, deep down inside, just a little dazzled.