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count to ten and fr(ease) my pain

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Reki fell while he was learning to skate.

That in and of itself wasn’t unusual—everyone fell while skating, he wasn’t anything special. But Reki kept letting himself get drawn into challenges, kept letting taunts get to him, kept losing at S. He kept letting himself fall.

Reki’s left arm was the arm he always braced with when he fell. It was the one that, by extension, got injured the most.

Maybe he’d been fooled by naivety, by the vague idea that he’d be fresh and able-bodied forever, but limbs weren’t meant to be sprained or fractured or broken as often as his left arm was. Each trip to the hospital, he was tempting fate more and more. Really, he should’ve seen it coming:

Nerve damage.

(The build-up of scar tissue around his healed breaks and fractures definitely didn’t help, either.)

There was a constant, never-ending ache in his arm. A dull throbbing that he eventually learned was easy enough to ignore (except, of course, when it burned like the fucking sun and he couldn’t sleep and he just curled up in his bed wishing for anything to make it stop-). It was always there, but always ignorable. He was good at ignoring his problems.

It was impossible to ignore, though, when he dropped his books because of a flare-up in class, or when he couldn’t hold his fucking skateboard in his left hand anymore, but he learned how to keep those quiet and pretend for the others around him. He didn’t want to drag them down.

So he would laugh and rub the back of his head, saying he zoned out for a moment before picking up his books with trembling hands. He’d casually switch his board to be tucked under his other arm, stuffing his hand in his pocket so that nobody could see the way his fingers cramped up pitifully around nothing. He passed off the Advil in the bottom of his bag as just something he kept around for occasional headaches, hoping no one noticed the rapid pace at which the bottle was replaced (why did he even have it, it barely blocked out anything-).

And if he knew the back of the bottle where it told him what the maximum dosage was like he knew the back of his hand, well, no one needed to know.

He made sure the electric heating pad and compression sleeve that sometimes helped ease the pain on more moderate days were hidden away whenever Langa came over to his house. He made sure to always gesture wildly with both arms, even when it felt like his bones were made of white-hot iron, so nobody noticed anything was off. He made sure most of all to ignore the worried looks and concerned glances that Langa gave him when the other boy thought he wasn’t looking.

It was only natural that it would all come back one day to bite him in the ass.

“Reki,” Langa said one day as he doodled in his notebook, forever grateful that his right arm was still mostly functional.

“Mmm?” he said distractedly, shading the deck of the skateboard without much thought.

“Do you want to learn how to do a Casper Slide?”

Reki dropped his pencil.

“Eh?” he said, like any intelligent human being.

Langa just shook his head with a small smile, and god, Reki was weak. How could someone born in snow and ice smile with a warmth that reflected the sun? Langa was cold, except when he wasn’t, and by god did Reki live for when Langa smiled like a twinkling star. Maybe Polaris, specifically. Because the Northern Star and Canada and Langa’s soft blue eyes and-

“Don’t look at me like that. It was obvious.” Reki almost flinched, startled out of his reverie.

“What… uh… what was obvious?”

“You were drawing one in your notebook,” Langa said, nodding towards his now-discarded drawing. Reki swallowed. Of course.

He was glad he focused on detailing the skateboard first before the person so that Langa couldn’t see that Reki was drawing him.

“Come on,” Langa said, breaking Reki out of his thoughts before they had time to spiral, “grab your skateboard. I’ll teach you.”

Right. Langa could do a Casper Slide. He could do one so well within a matter of a couple months that he thought he could teach Reki one. Reki. Reki, the disaster, who hadn’t been able to do one in his entire life, because it wasn’t that easy, it was an extremely advanced trick—

Or maybe it was that easy. Maybe the effortlessness that Langa seemed to exude whenever he stepped onto a skateboard was real, and Reki was just a failure too weak to step away from the blinding snow when it shone in the sun. Maybe Reki was just weak like his body, weak like the way he trailed after Langa just to pull him down and make him think he needed to teach Reki how to catch up.

He picked up his skateboard and chased after Langa’s footsteps.

Langa was waiting for him by the front door.


“So you just,” Langa flipped his board in a perfect display of a Casper, “like this.”

Reki nodded, not really getting what Langa was trying to tell him, but at least showing off the steps while at a standstill instead of in motion helped. A little. Kind of. “So like an impossible ollie. Got it. The board goes vertical, okay.” Just break it down into little pieces and work through it step by step. Right.

A sort-of half kickflip. Alright. He could do that.

And make sure he caught the nose of his board by getting his foot underneath it.

And land behind the back truck to act as a counterweight.

And keep balanced on the tip of the tail that acted as the hinge between his board and the ground.

Yeah.

He could do that.

Definitely.

Reki exhaled as he hopped on his board, doing a few pushes to gain speed. Half kickflip. Catch. Land. Balance. Kickflip back. That wasn’t so hard.

His first attempt to dip his foot under his board had him accidentally kicking it out from underneath his feet, and he landed on the track with a rough “oof” being pressed from his lungs.

(His arm ached-)

“That wasn’t too bad!” Langa called to him as he raced after his skateboard.

(It was worse than usual-)

“Try again!”

(He wanted to lie down-)

Reki sighed and dropped his board back on the ground, shaking out his bad arm a little to try and disperse the dull throb that resulted from landing on it. It didn’t work, but the thought was there. He took a few more pushes back towards Langa. 

He took a deep breath, flipped his board, caught the nose but slipped on the back truck-

-and bailed hard and ate the pavement, throwing his left arm out on pure instinct.

A mistake.

He gasped as pain shot through his arm and into the rest of his body like the worst kind of poison, flinching and curling into a ball around his wounded limb (like that would even do anything, dumbass-). He couldn’t help the immediate sob that wracked his body as he felt his hand jolt by its own volition, spasming and seizing up in a blaze of hot, branding wildfire that left him choking and lost for breath all in one seethingly painful moment.

Fuck, if he had nerve damage, why did this hurt more than it ever had before?

He clutched his arm to his chest as though it were a (broken, blood-spattered, useless-) lifeline, forcing himself up on shaking limbs when he heard Langa drop his skateboard and come running over. He couldn’t show the pain and weakness, he couldn’t, he couldn’t, Langa would worry, no, no, no-

“Are you alright?”

Fuck. No, he wasn’t.

“Yeah!” he said as convincingly as he could muster, a little too breathless to be real. His chest hurt, his arm screamed, he needed air-

“Reki?” Langa was a lot closer than he had been a minute prior, concerned expression hovering just inches away. “You’re pale—you’re not sick, are you?”

Reki waved Langa away with his right hand, left arm still being held uselessly to his chest as he gave a wobbly laugh. “Nah, man, I’m totally fine!” He turned around, forcing himself to move towards where his skateboard had rolled away. His fingers still wouldn’t flex, damnit. “Show me again?” Buy time to try and come up with an excuse to leave. “I think I almost got it down.” No, he was even further behind.

“You’re shaking.”

Reki froze in his steps. His heart rate ratcheted up. His mind raced.

His arm burned.

Reki could feel tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, and he hissed out a breath through his teeth.

“Reki?” Langa sounded worried. Fuck. Reki had worried him.

He wanted to play it off, to make a stupid joke and try and make Langa smile, but his tongue felt heavy and his body wasn’t listening. His breath shuddered as he forced himself to not verbally react to the heightening pain.

“Reki, did you hurt yourself?”

Reki hunched in on himself slightly, the shake of his body escalating more and more as everything suddenly became too much. The pain that seared his nerves like nothing else, the frustration at failing another Casper Slide, the making Langa worry-

Reki’s body gave out on him, and he simply sat there in the middle of the track, curled up and ignoring Langa’s increasingly panicked voice as he struggled to steady his own breathing.

The pain in his arm was enough to light the rest of the nerves in his body on fire as his natural circuitry overloaded, a full-body shiver down his spinal cord resulting in goosebumps across his skin and leaving a prickling coldness that had nothing to do with the air temperature. He could feel Langa’s hands on his shoulders, he could hear Langa’s voice calling out to him, begging him to respond, to say something, anything-

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t move, couldn’t respond, couldn’t think, because the pain was all-consuming.

Reki wished he was in bed. At least then he could ride out the waves of agony alone, without worrying someone who had better things to do than fuss over him. Tears continued to prick at his eyes no matter how fast he blinked them away, his breaths coming in sharp gasps instead of whatever a normal person’s were supposed to do.

He never had a good sense of time whenever he had a flare-up, especially one this fucking bad. He didn’t really process anything, he just— was. The pain was always like a sea, with him like a quiet sloop bobbing in the waves as they pushed him carelessly this way and that. Maybe hours passed, maybe it had only been seconds. It still hurt all the same.

His eyes had squeezed shut at some point and his jaw ached from clenching his teeth (with his luck, he’d crack a tooth and make everything worse like always did-), so he didn’t register the sound of the car and the motorcycle pulling up. He didn’t process multiple voices asking him what was wrong. He didn’t notice much of anything outside of the searing cold pain that wracked his body; at least, not until a hand brushed through his hair and he was snapped out of his daze. His breathing stuttered for a moment with a gasp as his eyes shot open to stare into Cherry’s concerned ones.

“Reki,” Cherry said quietly. “Langa said you fell and hurt yourself. I need you to talk to me so I know how to help you.”

“C’mon, golem,” Miya said, head popping up over Cherry’s shoulder. “Use your words, talk to us.” That was all the youngest managed to say before Joe was leading him off to the side with a quiet shushing noise to stand with Shadow by the car. Out of his peripheral vision, he could see the way the young boy still glanced back over his shoulder with pinched brows and a worried set to his lips.

Reki wanted to respond, he did, he really, really did, but when he opened his mouth, his arm reminded him of its existence with an agonizing jolt that forced a hiccuping sob out of his throat. He let out a pitiful whine instead of actual words, hugging his arm closer to his chest as though it would do anything to alleviate the burn.

Cherry, ever the astute one, narrowed in on the motion. “Did you hurt your arm?” he asked. “There’s no blood-”

“Reki,” Langa interrupted, leaning into his space, voice cracking slightly and face looking lost and hopeless. “Did you break your arm when you landed? Is that what’s happening?”

Why were they worrying so much about him? He got hurt all the time.

Then he heard Joe returning and murmuring something to Cherry about taking him to a hospital, and Reki felt the crushing guilt in his chest double. He didn’t want to go to a hospital. He didn’t want them to waste their time on him and his stupid problems. He’d be fine. He didn’t need that, and neither did they. He shook his head, and the people crowding around him paused.

“You didn’t break your arm?” Cherry asked. Reki nodded. “Sprain? Fracture?” He shook his head. “Reki, you’re in a lot of pain, that much is clear. Please let me examine it so that we can be sure-”

Why did he do nothing but cause other people problems?

Reki curled up even further around his arm, burying his head in his knees so no one could see the tears dripping down his face as he managed to force raspy words out of his throat. “Not hurt,” he wheezed. There was a pause in the hushed, panicked clamor around him when he finally spoke. He swallowed roughly, shuddering as a fresh bout of pain shot from his arm through his spine. “‘S nerve damage,” Reki admitted quietly with a gasp, the words wrenching themselves out of his gut. “Gets bad like this sometimes.”

There were a few moments wherein the only noise that broke the silence were his own shaky, labored breaths.

Surprisingly, Joe was the first one to fit the pieces together. “You have chronic pain?”

Reki nodded miserably, feeling the fight drain out of him as the secret he’d worked so hard to hide was laid out bare in the open with just four simple words. He still refused to look up; he didn’t want to know how they were taking the discovery that his body could just make him dead weight on a whim, that sometimes even the very thought of skating filled him with dread.

He froze in surprise when something was draped over him instead.

He blinked as something was gently tucked around him.

Reki looked up into Cherry’s face in confusion, meeting eyes that were softer than he’d ever seen them as the man wrapped Reki in his haori.

“It’s not much,” Cherry said, “but I doubt the cold is helping your pain any.”

Reki hesitantly used his good arm to grip the haori tightly around himself. It was warm, soft, and smelled like tea and ink. It was comforting, in some selfish way of his.

Langa had scooted close at some point while Reki had hidden his head away, almost pressed right against him but not quite, a hesitant look on his face. Reki’s mind was too muddled to think too deeply about anything, and he simply let himself sag into Langa’s side instead of contemplating this turn of events.

Joe kneeled down on the track next to Cherry, giving Reki a gentle, understanding smile. “My mother has chronic pain, so I kind of know what’s happening,” he said softly. “What do you usually do to cope with it?”

It took a few moments for Reki to get his tongue to move again. “Pressure. Heat. Ice.” He shrugged. “Doesn’t help much at this point.” He paused, swallowing thickly as he forced back the tears that were threatening to fall again. “Nothing does.”

While the conversation—if it could even be called that—was a welcome distraction from the pain coursing through his body, it didn’t change the fact that Reki knew his treatments, and he knew that whatever he tried wouldn’t do shit when it hurt this badly.

“It’s better to try than do nothing,” was all Joe said before holding his hands out in offering. It took Reki almost a full minute to figure out what Joe was implying. He cuddled tucked himself further against Langa before slowly, hesitantly sliding his left arm through the sleeve of Cherry’s haori. He’d hoped they wouldn’t notice the violent way his limb trembled, but when Langa wrapped his arm around his side, Reki knew it’d been a futile wish.

Still, when Joe grasped Reki’s arm in both hands, squeezing gently, Reki had to admit the man had had a point. The instant relief and distracting sensation made him feel like he could melt. Joe’s hands were warm, and the pressure grounded him, kept him from drifting off and floating aimlessly amongst the pain.

It still hurt, but knowing—knowing someone was there, the soft tea and ink scent of Cherry’s haori, Joe’s warmth grounding him in reality, Langa’s arm wrapped around his body… Well, it made it a little easier to bear. His breathing slowed as an odd, muggy sort of calm took hold of his mind. The dissonance between the pain of his fucked-up nerves and the comfort from the people around him left him in a weird state.

He felt tired.

“Come on. It’s getting late. Let’s head to my place while we get this all sorted out,” Cherry chimed in, turning back to Shadow and the car expectantly.

“Yeah, yeah. Get in the car. You’re driving next time, Cherry-” Shadow started, but his protests were drowned out by Miya’s groaning about not getting shotgun for the second time in one night. Cherry’s withering gaze shut him up laughably fast.

That was how Reki found himself being loaded into the backseat of Shadow’s car next to Langa, Miya clambering into the far back with an annoyed-but-not-really huff. The sounds of Miya’s Nintendo Switch slowly filtered through the car, clashing with whatever rock music Shadow had decided to put on from the front, and Reki was struck by an awful sense of normalcy as they began to drive down the road. Like this was no big deal, like this was any other day and he wasn’t dragging five people to waste their time at someone else’s house because he couldn’t get a proper grip on his stupid fucking nerve damage.

He wasn’t even actually injured. Why did they care so much?

He hissed when they drove over a large bump in the road, his arm hitting the seat with a thump and an electrifying wave of pain. Langa was over him in an instant, carefully tucking Reki’s arm back closer to his chest in the same position that he’d found him after his fateful bail earlier. Reki purposefully neglected to look up into worried blue eyes, knowing that Langa probably wanted to say something and absolutely refusing to give him an opening to do it. His heart wasn’t ready for that. Sure enough, when he eventually chanced a glimpse up, Langa had turned away with a sigh. Reki caught the ears of Miya’s hoodie quickly turning back down to their game as though caught in turn, and his heart wrenched at the thought that he’d worried the boy enough to drag him out of the zone of his video game.

Five people. He was worrying five people because he didn’t manage to keep his pain under wraps.

“Shut up, golem, I can hear you overthinking from here,” Miya suddenly piped up, not looking up from his Switch. “Pain isn’t something to be ashamed of. You should be more worried about your lack of talent on the skateboard.”

Reki swallowed with a nod. “Yeah. Okay.”

It was his lack of talent on a skateboard that’d gotten him so messed up to begin with, so he really did need to worry about it, he supposed.

Suddenly, something bapped him on the head, and his eyes focused in on Cherry leaning back from the passenger seat with his fan held up threateningly. Miya was glaring at Cherry behind him, so Reki supposed he must’ve gotten whacked as well.

“Reki is a talented skater, Miya,” Cherry said in a reprimanding tone. Miya grumbled a sulky agreement as Cherry turned his attention onto Reki. “And don’t listen to him. You’re a skilled young man, and you’ll go far. Understand?”

He was skilled, sure, but was he skilled enough? Enough to keep up with all the amazing people who kept putting up with him for no discernable reason?

He gave Cherry as genuine a smile as he could muster. “Gotcha.”

(He didn’t, but that was okay.)


Cherry’s apartment was nice, Reki decided quickly. It had the same strong smell of tea and ink that clung to the haori he was swaddled in. It was warm. Comforting. It felt vaguely like home.

Joe had disappeared into the kitchen almost immediately upon their arrival, not even pausing to ask where it was.

"You best not burn down my kitchen, you insolent gorilla," Cherry called after him, only to be met with a hearty laugh and yells of reassurance. Cherry huffed and followed the sounds into the kitchen, leaving the rest of them in the entryway.

A small shove broke through the fog of pain clouding Reki's head enough to drag him back into his body, and he turned around to see Shadow huff and gesture towards the living room, where Miya was already headed. He forced his legs to march himself numbly in the same direction, Langa quietly hovering next to him as though afraid to let him out of his sight.

"What movie do you want to watch?" Miya demanded the minute they entered the room, already looking far-too-comfortable splayed out on one of the couches with a remote in hand. Langa directed Reki towards the other one, and he slumped down next to him the moment they reached the cushions.

It took him several seconds to process what Miya had even said.

Since when did he ask for people's opinions on anything?

"I'd like-" Shadow started, but Miya tsked immediately.

"Not you. Him." He nodded at Reki, who almost did a double-take. Miya wanted his opinion? Since when?

"I, uh- whatever you'd like is fine," Reki mumbled as he made himself comfortable on the couch, eager to please and not at all certain that he’d even be able to pay proper attention to whatever he chose due to the throbbing in his arm.

Miya nodded, apparently satisfied with this answer, and proceeded to flick through Netflix at lightning speed like a man on a mission.

Shadow coughed. “So are we just going to ignore my suggestion then, or-?”

Miya gave him an unimpressed glare for at least five seconds before sticking his tongue out at him like the thirteen-year-old he was. The opening notes of a movie score began playing as Shadow spluttered in indignation.

Reki couldn’t help but let out a small, breathy laugh at the exchange, but he paused when all three of his companions turned to him at the sound. Was it not as funny as he thought it was? Had he done something wrong-?

Then they broke out into relieved expressions, and most of the tension in the room immediately evacuated. It was as though they had all been holding their breath waiting for him to give some sign that he was still Reki underneath all of the doom and gloom of the night, and now that one was given, could relax. Miya returned his attention to whatever action movie they’d started watching, Shadow reclined back in his seat, and Langa’s shoulders visibly dropped at least two inches.

Reki allowed himself to lean sleepily against Langa as the movie progressed, finding himself lulled by the sounds of water boiling and plates clinking filling the apartment. Reki could vaguely register the soft, muffled noise of Cherry and Joe having some sort of conversation in the kitchen, but he was too tired to focus much on it—or anything else, for that matter.

His arm still felt tight and cramped, but he could move it with some degree of effort, and it no longer burned like a white-hot knife was being dragged through his tendons. It was more like the steady burn of a stove, or the insistent thrum of a migraine. Not great, but an improvement, at the very least. He wiggled his fingers absently, if only to have something to prevent him from drifting off into dazedness once more (and to reassure himself that he still could, and hell, what would happen if he lost that ability someday)-

A hand steadily found its way to his shoulder, and he looked up into Langa's concerned eyes to realize that his breathing had picked up again. Langa’s own breathing was steady, and Reki focused on matching the intake of their breaths to try to calm and re-ground himself. After a few minutes, he took one final large, shaky inhale before pushing himself up slightly with his good arm, offering Langa a small smile of gratitude while he carefully wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans.

"Dinner's ready," Joe announced a few minutes later, prompting Miya to sit up and pause the movie that Reki had half-forgotten was playing. Reki moved to stand up, only to be gently pushed back down and given a plate by the chef himself amidst furious exclamations that “pasta is not to be eaten over carpet, you muscle-brained ape”.

He glanced down at the meal. It was, indeed, some type of pasta, albeit he would be hard-pressed for even the slightest idea as to what the name of the dish was. Most importantly, though, it could be eaten with just one hand. He glanced up at Joe, wondering if that was intentional, only to be met with a knowing smile that was far, far too soft and understanding.

He choked on air and stared back down at his food to avoid it.

What was this? What was any of this? This entire night was a disaster. The casual murmurs of dinner conversation that rose around him, the action movie that was playing again in the background, the comforting weight of Langa next to him, it was all so weirdly domestic and normal. Why? Why were they acting like this all was normal? He’d ruined the night for everyone. The only reason they were even here was because of him

He knew Miya disliked tomatoes, yet here the boy was eating them without a single complaint. Shadow always bemoaned using his car to drive the gang around, yet he didn’t seem to have a single problem with the fact that he was undoubtedly going to have to bring them all back to their homes in due time. Cherry had literally offered his entire house, and Joe his signature cuisine. And Langa—well, Langa didn’t have a single thing to say about being used as a human pillow on and off for the last several hours, which, admittedly, had never come up before, but still seemed like something that would be talked about at least once.

They had all given concessions to him without taking even once the whole day. Even now, they were still continuing. Was it because they thought a weakling like him needed them now that they knew he was damaged goods? Did they pity him? Were those sidelong glances of sympathy and concern going to translate into permanent gazes? Would he become the charity case of their friend group, destined to just always be “the one that hung out with Langa”, the one that couldn’t even win a single beef, the one that had a persistent “lack of talent on the skateboard”-

“What did you think?” Joe asked as he collected everyone’s dishes.

“It was great!” immediately forced its way out of his lips with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes or mind. “Thanks, Joe. And Cherry, too, for letting us crash here for a bit.”

Cherry nodded slowly. “It was my pleasure, Reki. That being said, it is getting late; you should all be heading home-”

“We haven’t even finished the movie yet!” Miya exclaimed, gesturing at the television as though a personal offense had been placed upon his person.

The chill of Cherry’s “mom glare” (as Reki had christened it) promptly shut him up, but the man dropped the expression quickly. “It may be the weekend, but you need to keep up a consistent sleep schedule regardless. Please take good care of yourselves.” That was definitely a pointed statement, but Reki was so tired he barely comprehended it. He had to be physically pulled up from the couch by Joe and pushed towards the door to keep up with the others.

Joe smiled at Reki fondly as he righted his balance for the third time of the walk to the entryway, shaking his head with what sounded like an amused huff and herding the four of them out of the door. “C’mon. Let’s get you all home.”


Reki dozed for most of the ride back to his house. He vaguely remembered stopping by Langa’s apartment building so the other teen could pick up a change of clothes, but it felt like it was only moments before Langa was waving goodbye to Shadow, who was leaving to drop Miya off, and before he was shook back into a more awake state so he and Langa could make it into his house through his window.

Reki wanted nothing more than to collapse into his bed and sink into his mattress, but Langa pushed him towards his dresser and told him to change into pajamas as he headed into the bathroom to do the same. Even then, fully changed and ready to sleep, he wasn’t allowed to pass out in an exhausted slump, because Langa herded him around once more, this time into the kitchen.

Reki, despite having changed into his softer and warmer sleep clothes, kept Cherry’s haori on as he watched Langa drift around his kitchen. He watched the other boy move about fondly, peeking in cupboards and occasionally asking questions as to where his mother kept things stored, which Reki answered readily.

Langa was making something at the stove as Reki wiggled his arm into his compression sleeve and waited for his heating pad to get to a decent temperature, Joe’s words about trying ringing in his ears. Eventually, curiosity got the best of him as Langa moved to the spice cabinet again.

“What’re you making?” he asked.

"Hot chocolate," Langa said with a small smile.

"We don't have hot chocolate mix in the house, though." God, if they did, Reki would know. He'd have devoured it already.

"Yeah. It's a family recipe. My dad… made it for us from scratch back in Canada every time after we went snowboarding, so."

"So…?" Reki prompted tentatively.

"Your mom stocks unsweetened cocoa powder in the kitchen," Langa said, as if it explained anything.

“...Ah,” Reki intoned gently, deciding to just go with it as he wrapped the heating pad around his arm, practically melting as heat worked its way into his bones. He sighed happily, flopping against the counter. He closed his eyes, feeling warm and content, the pain in his arm slowly easing back down to its normal ignorable throb. He listened to the soft clink of mugs, the subtle, quiet noise of the gas and flames on the stove, and the creaking floorboards each time Langa shifted his weight.

It was a quiet and domestic kind of white noise. The smell of something sweet drifted through the air.

Soon enough, before Reki was able to drift off to sleep, Langa was nudging his shoulder and gently shaking him back from his groggy state. Reki blinked up at him with bleary eyes, pulling the collar of the haori up to hide the heat of his cheeks when he saw the soft smile Langa was giving him.

“Come on,” the other teen said gently, coaxing him out of his chair. Reki followed along, barely having the presence of mind to unplug the heating pad before they left the kitchen.

Reki didn’t need to direct Langa to his bedroom, his friend having visited plenty of times to know his way around their house. They entered Reki’s room, and he collapsed onto his bed with a sigh of relief, crossing his legs and hunching over, too tired to sit upright. He stared down at his hand, flexing his fingers absently, relieved that the action brought little more than a subdued ache.

A slender hand grabbed his and wrapped it around a hot mug, a warm, sweet-smelling drink inside of it. His mattress dipped as Langa clambered on top of it with him.

Reki stared intensely down at the mug of hot chocolate that had been pressed into his hands, focusing on not spilling it on the bed sheets (he’d caused enough trouble today already, he didn’t want to make a mess as well, because he might actually cry if anything else went wrong-). Langa sat cross legged on the other side of the bed, eventually breaking the silence as Reki raised the mug to his lips.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked quietly.

“Mmm?” Reki hummed, swallowing as he lowered the mug and licked the excess off his lip. Langa elaborated before Reki could form a proper response.

“Your pain,” the other teen said, fingernails picking at the hem of his pajama pants. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Reki felt an embarrassed flush rise to his face. Langa looked guilty, worried, upset, and a whole host of things that Reki had been trying to avoid causing the appearance of on his face. He hunched over slightly, burrowing deeper into the haori as he brought his other hand up to wrap around the mug. The pain had receded to a more manageable level—he could at least use his arm again. “I didn’t want you to worry about me,” he said hesitantly after a few moments.

“You were in so much pain, and I didn’t even realize you were hurting until it caused you to cry,” Langa responded stubbornly. He drew his legs up and hugged his knees to his chest, blue bangs falling over his face. “I should have known you weren’t having fun.”

“Langa, no,” Reki interrupted, feeling a stab of guilt. “I love skating with you, I have tons of fun-”

“You weren’t having fun today.” Reki shut his mouth with a click. He averted his eyes from Langa, raising his mug to his mouth rather than giving a response. “Skating is supposed to be fun. You taught me that. I don’t want you to pretend you’re fine. I want you to tell me when you’re hurting so that I can help.”

Reki took another long sip of his drink, savoring the taste of chocolate across his tongue, before he responded. “It, uh,” he started awkwardly, trying to figure out how to respond without making Langa feel bad. “It’s chronic pain. It doesn't go away. I'm always hurting. It's—it's not going to stop, Langa. I'm going to have to be skating in pain, okay? Otherwise I can't skate at all."

“Then at least tell me when it hurts more than usual,” Langa said after thinking for a few seconds, looking up at Reki with a determined expression. Reki felt something inside himself go soft at Langa’s trademark straightforward stubbornness. “Tell me so I know that when we skate, you’re having fun and won’t break apart like you did today, because I-” Langa cut himself off with a choked noise, fingers twisting in the fabric of Reki’s comforter. “I was worried and scared. About you. And—and I don’t want you to force yourself to do anything just because you think you’re not worth the trouble. I don’t want to skate if you’re not having fun too.”

Reki lowered the mug from where he’d been using it to hide the bottom half of his face, staring down into it as the haori slid back down to pool at his wrists. “But I like hanging out with you. It’s not this bad, usually.”

“If you need a break,” Langa said quietly, “we can just hang out here and watch cool skating videos like we did when you were teaching me about all the basics and those fancy tricks. We can watch movies or something.” Reki felt tears begin to prick at his eyes again. “I don’t want to stop skating with you, but if it’s hurting you like it was today, then I want you to at least take a break.” Langa gave Reki a hesitant smile, and Reki felt his last few defenses against the other teen’s worry break away. “You’re always telling me you don’t want to see me get hurt. I just don’t want to see you cry again.” Langa nudged Reki’s foot with his own. “Please?”

It took a few moments, but Reki managed to nod. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Yeah, okay. I can do that.”

Langa carefully pried the mug from his grasp and set it on his side table. Reki followed the motion with wide eyes, confused. The mug was still half-full, so why-?

Two strong arms coming to wrap themselves around him was his answer.

Reki was limp in Langa’s arms, taking a moment to process the sudden embrace. Eventually, however, he managed to weakly loop his right arm around Langa, grabbing a fistful of his shirt as if to keep him from ever leaving. He tucked his head into Langa’s shoulder, breathing deeply. He smelled like pinewood and honey and all of those little ingredients he’d used to make Reki hot chocolate.

Reki loved hot chocolate.

The huff of a smile above him caught his attention, and he looked up to see a softer expression on Langa's face than should have ever been directed at him for any reason. Langa didn't seem to get that memo, though, as he shifted his arm to gently tuck a lock of Reki's wild hair behind his ear.

Reki flushed immediately. The gesture was… intimate in a way that he wasn't sure Langa truly understood. They'd been toeing a thin line for months, with comments like "I want to skate with you every day" blurring it further with every breath, but… but Langa wouldn't want that. He couldn't mean that. Right?

The boy in question only glanced at his blush with an even wider smile before his face grew closer and quietly pressed two cool lips against his forehead.

Oh.

Oh.

So Langa did understand what he was doing. Probably.

Okay. Don't panic. Just completely reassess and rethink every single interaction and aspect of their friendship leading up to that moment, don't panic -

A soft laugh drew his attention.

"What?" Reki whined, his furious blush probably reaching his neck and ears by that point, because the asshole had the audacity to laugh at him.

"Your face," Langa said simply.

"Hey!" Reki protested, turning even more red if possible. “What about it?”

"It's cute," Langa continued, and oh.

Reki was dead. He'd officially died and moved onto the afterlife, because that could not have possibly been real, Langa just called him cute-

Then Langa glanced down at his lips and leaned in, and Reki would deny that he squeaked until the day he died, considering the sound was swallowed by the smallest, most gentle kiss he'd ever experience in his life, and, yeah, that was probably for the best, because otherwise he likely would've combusted on the spot.

"Was that okay?" Langa whispered after pulling away, because of course he would.

"Yeah," Reki croaked an octave above his usual voice, barely coherent. "Yeah."

“Okay,” Langa responded. “That’s good.” Reki nodded blankly, mind slowly starting to reboot.

Okay. Langa kissed him. That definitely meant something, at least. Langa liked him, right? Or did kisses mean something different in Canada? He’d heard that French people kissed platonically or something, and wasn’t there a French part of Canada? Was Langa from there? Was that platonic or did Langa like him? Well, like-like him. Oh god, he was thinking like a grade schooler, he was such a mess.

“Reki?” Langa asked, breaking him out of his spiralling thought process.

“Yeah?” he responded, voice still coming out oddly high-pitched.

“Did, uh,” it was Langa’s turn to have a soft little blush spread across his cheeks. “Did you like it?”

Reki was only able to nod dumbly.

Langa nodded in response, and they sat there, like two idiots, just nodding at each other for no good reason.

Eventually Reki managed to speak. “Um,” he squeaked out. “Can we… do it again?”

Instead of a proper response, Langa just leant forward and kissed him again. His lips were soft, and the kiss was a little more bold, but still gentle. So, so, so incredibly gentle, and Reki could feel his blush returning in full force, his heart beating faster than it had in his entire life.

It barely lasted a few seconds, but Reki still felt breathless when Langa pulled away with a similar flush to the one that was surely on Reki’s own face. Reki bit his lip awkwardly, trying to figure out what to say next. Luckily, Langa and his ever present bulldozer-esque straightforwardness came through for him.

“So does this mean we’re dating?” Langa asked.

Reki fiddled with the hem of the haori. “I, uh,” he stuttered, eyes flicking to everything in his room except Langa. “I mean, I wouldn’t say no, exactly.” He glanced at Langa shyly. “Do you wanna date me?”

“Yes,” came the immediate response. It was said so intensely and so confidently that Reki really couldn’t do anything but believe Langa.

Reki tried to emulate as much of that effortless confidence as he could. “So we’re dating?”

“I think so.”

“Okay.”

They lapsed into silence, neither of them exactly sure what to say next. Exhaustion, however, didn’t have exceptions for sudden confessions, and Reki yawned, earning a chuckle from Langa. “Come on,” he said quietly, shifting them to lay down on Reki’s bed without breaking their embrace. “We should sleep.”

Reki could do little more than hum absently in affirmation as his head sank into his pillow and Langa held him close. 

He felt like he should say something, that he should do something to savor his first time cuddling with his boyfriend (they were dating, so they were definitely boyfriends, right? Holy shit, Langa was his boyfriend-), because it was definitely what movies and TV shows made him feel like he should do. But he was so tired.

He was tired, and he was comfortable. He felt warm and soft and fuzzy, and wanted nothing more to just fall asleep in Langa’s arms.

So, with his breathing slowly beginning to even out, that’s what he did.

The hot chocolate lay forgotten on the side table, but that was alright. Reki’s dreams were filled with its sweet scent regardless.

His arm didn’t hurt at all.