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When Kaoru wasn’t looking, they apparently acquired three children—two idiots, and a Japanese national team hopeful who was too precocious for his own good.

“Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on Reki and Langa?” Kojirou asks late at night when Kaoru tells him this, laughing a little.

Kaoru slumps over the bar. He’s had—a lot of rosé. He received it as a gift from a client, and Kojirou is always after him to bring booze instead of freeloading on restaurant stock, so he brought it with him when Kojirou closed up for the night. “I’ve never really wanted kids,” he finds himself saying.

“They like you,” Kojirou says. When Kaoru turns his head to look, Kojirou has this smile—this smile that seems new, and soft, and does something treacherous to Kaoru’s heart that he prefers not to think about.

“I really don’t know why,” Kaoru says blankly. “All I do is yell at them to do their homework.”

Kojirou laughs again. “Give yourself a little more credit,” he suggests.

“Give me more wine,” Kaoru says, grumpy. “I’ve suddenly become a parent and I don’t like it.”

“That was the last of the bottle,” Kojirou says. “You’ll be mad at me in the morning if we open another.”

“I’ll be mad at you anyway,” Kaoru grouses.

“Probably,” Kojirou agrees. “It’s late—you want to stay over?”

“Ugh, what,” Kaoru says, and then looks up at the clock. He really hadn’t thought it was that late.

“Come on, you don’t want to pay for a taxi this time of night,” Kojirou says, cajoling.

“Mmf,” Kaoru says. “Fine. But I’m not sleeping on your ratty guest futon.”

“Of course not, Princess,” Kojirou says, and just barely avoids the kick Kaoru aims at his shins.

Miya has taken to coming over to Kojirou’s restaurant after school, when it’s closed before dinner service. That Kaoru is also frequently there at the same time is coincidence—he just has some dead time between clients and it’s not worth it to go back to his apartment or his studio.

Their older idiot children come by when they’re not working at their part time job, which is why it takes comparatively so long for Kaoru to discover that Langa is functionally illiterate.

“How have you been passing any of your classes?” Kaoru demands.

Langa just shrugs. “Reki reads me the kanji I don’t know.” He pauses to consider it. “I guess it’s most of them.”

Kaoru glares at Reki, who winces, as he should. “All right. That’s enough of that. You’re going to learn enough kanji to function as an adult, starting right now.” He pulls out a sheet of paper that is frankly too nice for after school tutoring, and writes fifteen basic kanji across the top. “I’m going to teach you the readings, you’re going to practice writing, and Carla will drill you on flash cards until you memorize them. Clear?”

Langa nods obediently, which proves he has at least some sense. Kojirou is trying not to laugh and failing, which Kaoru will take out of his hide later.

An hour later, Reki and Langa leave for home. Well, skateboarding and then home, which is close enough and fine, as long as they don’t hang around with delinquents.

“We were delinquents,” Kojirou reminds him, pouring him an annoyingly excellent cup of coffee.

“You were?” Miya says, wide-eyed.

“Don’t give him ideas,” Kaoru scolds.

“He had a lip piercing. Never had his tie done up right,” Kojirou says conspiratorially, leaning over the bar.

Miya looks at Kaoru, considering. “I bet you looked pretty. Can I get a lip piercing?”

Kojirou laughs. “I don’t think the national team is going to go for that. But you’re right—he was the prettiest.” He holds Kaoru’s gaze, and his expression is—sincere, Kaoru thinks.

He only knows one thing to do in response, which is to turn up his nose and say, “What do you mean ‘was’, you lummox.”

“You’re still very pretty,” Miya hastens to assure him. “Except when you don’t sleep and get terrible bags under your eyes.” He pauses. “And when you get mad at Joe and your face gets all blotchy.”

Kojirou’s shoulders are shaking with laughter.

“I’m going to end you,” Kaoru informs Kojirou, but before he can expand on that, Carla announces that it’s time for him to leave for his next appointment. “Miya, go home for dinner. And don’t play video games all night.”

“Yes, Mama,” Miya says sweetly, and then ducks out of the reach of Kaoru’s fan.

“Will you be back tonight?” Kojirou asks as Kaoru checks his work bag.

“Probably not until much later,” Kaoru says absently. “My clients are taking me to dinner. It’s kaiseki, so it’ll take forever.”

“Your favorite—fussy and free,” Kojirou says with a sly smile.

“Watch it,” Kaoru says, aiming a half-hearted glare at him. “Well, we’re going.”

“I’ll see you when you get back,” Kojirou says cheerfully, and Kaoru herds Miya out the door.

If Kaoru happens to duck into a store to buy a very high-end eye cream, it’s no one’s business but his own.

He spends more nights at Kojirou’s apartment than his own, ever since he was discharged from the hospital. On the day of his discharge, he expected to get into a taxi by himself, go home alone, and hope that Carla’s lullaby could soothe his fast-beating, anxious heart to sleep.

Instead, Kojirou picked him up from the hospital, listened very intently to Kaoru’s discharge instructions, and then took him back to Kojirou’s apartment, just a few minutes away from his restaurant. And then he just—took care of Kaoru. He made Kaoru food that was easy on his stomach, changed his bandages, ran him baths, and kept track of when to switch the icepacks on his bruises. When Kaoru complained that he was cold, Kojirou wrapped one of his unnecessarily muscled arms around his shoulders and pulled him in against his side.

It was nice. Maybe too nice.

There was absolutely zero discussion on the sleeping situation, for which Kaoru was intensely grateful. Kojirou just plugged Carla in to charge, then got in on what has always been his side of the bed, through high school sleepovers and cheap rooms in European hostels and nights crashing at each other’s apartments after skating into the early morning hours.

“Are you having nightmares?” Kojirou asked as he got ready to turn out the light.

There was no use denying it, when he was probably going to wake Kojirou up with one. “Yes,” he admitted.

Kojirou nodded, with a gentle understanding that almost made Kaoru furious. How dare he know Kaoru so well, how dare he not make a fuss about it—

“Come here,” Kojirou said, and Kaoru squeezed his eyes shut, and heard the lamp click off before he carefully rolled closer. He hissed as he put weight on different bruises, and Kojirou said, “Tell me if this hurts.”

And then he gathered Kaoru in his arms, and it was so gentle and so comforting that Kaoru wanted to cry.

And well, he did. But Kojirou was good enough not to say anything about it.

Kaoru isn’t having many nightmares now, but their sleeping arrangements are mostly unchanged. He’s not at Kojirou’s every night, but he’s there often enough that he has some yukata in a drawer and his preferred toiletries in the bathroom. He’s always had a spare toothbrush and a pack of hair ties at Kojirou’s—and Kojirou has always had a hair dryer, because while he doesn’t sleep with as many women as his public image suggests, he does like to make sure he gives them everything they need when he does.

There is zero excuse for Kojirou still washing Kaoru’s hair. It was a necessity in the first week, when he really couldn’t lift his arms up to do it himself. But Kaoru is completely uninterested in saying anything to stop it. When they walk back to Kojirou’s apartment that night after closing up the restaurant, Kojirou starts the bath, and Kaoru strips down to sit on the cheap plastic bathing stool and wash himself down with the hand shower.

He always has a washcloth draped over his lap for modesty, but it doesn’t prevent Kojirou from having a full view of his ass—not that it’s much to look at right now, bruises gone green and yellow. And not that Kojirou has ever evidenced much interest in any guy’s ass anyway.

Kojirou taps on the door before pulling it open. “Which shampoo do you want tonight? The lavender one?”

Kaoru nods, and hands Kojirou the hand shower so he can wet down Kaoru’s hair and then work the shampoo in.

It feels so good that it makes Kaoru melt, every time. He doesn’t know when or how Kojirou learned to give such excellent scalp massages, but he’s very happy to benefit from the knowledge. Kojirou has strong hands, but it’s never too much, and he’s very careful with the mostly healed cuts and bruises on Kaoru’s head.

By the time Kojirou rinses out the conditioner, Kaoru’s ever-clamoring brain has quieted. Kojirou says what he always says on his way out: “Don’t fall asleep in the bath, okay?”

Kaoru has only done that a handful of times and does not appreciate the reminder.

There’s a can of strawberry milk waiting for him on the bathroom counter, which he would like to protest, except that it’s his favorite after a bath, and besides, he’s not supposed to have caffeine this late because it’s an anxiety trigger.

Kojirou knows that, of course, and somehow there’s always a couple of cans in the fridge for him.

Kaoru is finished drying his hair by the time Kojirou is out of the bath, and lets Kojirou have the sink to brush his teeth while Kaoru pats in the new, very expensive eye cream.

“You know—” Kojirou starts, looking at him in the mirror.

“Shut up, do not say one single thing,” Kaoru says crisply.

Kojirou holds up his hands in surrender. “I’m just saying, I don’t think you need it.”

“That’s because you think UV damage makes you hot,” Kaoru says, before putting on his usual lip mask.

Kojirou has the nerve to flex one tan bicep and grin at Kaoru, before strolling out to turn off the lights in the rest of the apartment.

They both read in bed for a little while before turning out the lights—Kaoru is usually working his way through a novel, while Kojirou is honest to god still reading Shounen Jump. It’s embarrassing.

“Well, is Luffy the Pirate King yet?” Kaoru asks dryly when Kojirou closes the most recent volume of the One Piece manga, which has been running since 19-goddamn-97.

“Nope,” Kojirou says cheerfully. “Do you want to know what happened?”

“Absolutely not,” Kaoru says firmly, putting his novel on his bedside table and taking off his glasses.

Kojirou turns off the lamp and reaches for him. “Are you sure?” he says in Kaoru’s ear. “Because they found this island with a guy who has a Devil Fruit that can—”

“I will kick you out of your own bed,” Kaoru threatens.

Kojirou just holds him tighter in his stupidly muscled arms. “Like to see you try.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Kaoru huffs, and tries not to think about how good it feels to have Kojirou wrapped around him.

They’re quiet for a long moment together, and then Kojirou says softly, “Good night.”

Kaoru swallows. “Night,” he says, and lets himself relax into Kojirou’s arms.

He wakes up a little the next morning when he feels the mattress shift, and Kojirou murmurs, “Hey, go back to sleep,” and pulls the covers up around Kaoru’s shoulder.

Kaoru sighs in response and does as he’s told. He thinks he feels Kojirou brush his bangs back gently as he slides back to sleep, but it could also just be a dream.

The next time he wakes up, Kojirou is back from the gym in a sweat-soaked tank top and shorts that don’t hide what he’s packing, and looking annoyingly energized. “Morning,” he says cheerfully, and then strips off his tank before turning away to look through his closet. “What do you want for breakfast, bread or rice?”

Kaoru should theoretically be immune to the sight of Kojirou’s bare muscled back by virtue of seeing it all the time, but, well. He is very gay, and Kojirou is annoyingly attractive. He clears his throat, and then says, “Rice.”

“Bread is easier for me, you know,” Kojirou says with good humor.

“I want a full Japanese breakfast,” Kaoru says, just to be difficult. “With salted salmon and—”

“Crispy bottom rice, yes, princess, I do actually know what you like at this point. For nobody else would I make rice in a donabe instead of the rice cooker first thing in the morning after I’ve worked out.”

Kaoru tries to determine if he should be upset by that, but he’s still half asleep and Kojirou is still half naked.

And Kojirou is just—staring at him.

“What,” Kaoru demands shortly. He self-consciously wipes at the corner of his mouth in case he drooled while he was sleeping.

“Nothing,” Kojirou says, turning back to his closet. “I’m going to take a quick shower and then get started on breakfast, so you can sleep a little more, if you want.”

“Oh I can, can I,” Kaoru says under his breath, and then pulls his pillow over his head.

Kojirou clicks his tongue. “You’re so spoiled,” he says, and Kaoru wonders if he imagines the fondness in his voice.

Breakfast is delicious, which he has no problem telling Kojirou. He’s progressed leaps and bounds since the food he made for Kaoru in his first apartment, a shitty 1K with worn tatami and a single futon they shared whenever Kaoru stayed over.

Adam took one look at the place and declined to step foot in it, but even then, they’d known he was a rich kid just slumming it—he was nothing like them.

After breakfast, Kaoru does his face—a lightweight foundation, some gel in his brows, and a bit of sheer gloss on his lips—while Kojirou takes some clothes out of the washer to hang up on the balcony. He comes back and watches Kaoru finish up, and says, “You know, I think most people wear more makeup as they get older.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, muscles-for-brains?” Kaoru narrows his eyes in the mirror.

“You used to wear more, is all. Way more in high school.”

“I suppose so,” Kaoru says. He was the grandmaster champion of putting on winged eyeliner while on the bus back then.

He checks the gloss on his lips once more, and sees Kojirou still looking at him in the mirror. “What,” he huffs.

“It looked good on you, is all,” Kojirou says quietly, sounding unexpectedly sincere.

Kaoru doesn’t know what to do with that, or with the sudden thump of his heart. “Feeling nostalgic?”

Kojirou shrugs a little and shakes his head. “The kids just have me thinking, I guess.”

“That’s a first,” Kaoru says, and then turns and thumps Kojirou on the chest. “Move, I’m going to be late.”

Kojirou does obediently get out of his way, but says, “Let me give you a ride?”

“Absolutely not,” Kaoru says. “The wind will make my hair a disaster—hey, moron! Listen when people are talking to you!”

“Hold on tight,” Kojirou says, giving him a shit-eating grin over his shoulder as he revs his stupid motorcycle’s stupid engine.

“I’m not one of your girls,” Kaoru grouses from behind him. “We both know that’s the only reason you got this thing, so they can cling to you and shriek in your ear.”

“I don’t need a bike for that,” Kojirou says, grin turning into a smirk that Kaoru would love to smack off his face. “And don’t lie, you like it.”

He does, but he’ll be damned if he’ll admit it. He has a bike of his own, but it’s not the same as riding behind Kojirou. Going fast and leaning into the corners together is exhilarating, like the closest they’ll get to skating on the same board.

And, alright, fine: so he likes feeling Kojirou’s muscles under his hands.

Kojirou does actually follow the speed limit on the way to Kaoru’s appointment. Kaoru’s hair is still going to be fucked up when he gets there, but he supposes it might be worth it. Might.

He makes Kojirou drop him off around the corner from his client’s house.

“Ashamed to be seen with me?” Kojirou asks, sprawling on his bike, looking like a couple of magazines that Kaoru will not admit to owning.

“Ashamed to be looking like you just gave me a different kind of ride,” Kaoru mutters, and hurriedly runs a brush through his hair before securing it again over his shoulder with a hair tie. He tugs at his yukata to make sure it’s lying straight, and then says, “Well?”

Kojirou gives him a once over that shouldn’t make a shiver run down his spine, but it does. “Beautiful, as always,” he says after a moment.

“What would you know, you skirt-chasing idiot,” Kaoru says, and turns on his heel to walk to his appointment as the demure, respectable calligrapher that he is.

At least half of Kaoru’s work consists of drinking tea and making polite conversation with his clients. He’s cultivated a reserved, professional persona for work purposes, which one would think might discourage emotional entanglement, but it actually only seems to encourage some of them. The less he gives them, the more they want, which leads to his current predicament.

This client has more money that he knows what to do with, and an interest in Kaoru that goes far beyond his skill with a brush. It’s flattering, but nothing is going to happen for three reasons: one, he doesn’t cross that line with clients. Two, this guy is at least two decades older than him and his comb-over is very bad. And three, he only wants refined, polite Sakurayashiki-sensei—if he knew that Kaoru was destroying people with his skateboard on the weekends, he would be appalled.

It’s why Kaoru sticks to hookups and very short-term casual relationships these days—he would never risk his respectable career for someone from ‘S’, and he would never give up skating for anyone else.

That, and his anxiety usually makes him run the opposite direction anytime someone catches feelings. He’s not ready to share that part of himself. What grown man needs an AI to play him a lullaby to calm him down enough to sleep?

But without his anxiety, he might not have turned to calligraphy to manage it; might not have discovered that he had genuine talent, one that people would pay for. He might not have discovered another way to communicate with the world, to make art that gave him a sense of purpose.

Anyway: he’s not going to bang this guy.

His client leans closer over the low table, and says, “Would you allow me to treat you to lunch, Sakurayashiki-sensei? I’d be happy to discuss the project further.”

Kaoru summons a polite smile. “I’m afraid I have another appointment. But I think I have a good sense of what you’re looking for—I’ll be in touch in a few weeks to show you the finished piece.”

The look of frustrated longing on the guy’s face is both annoying and gratifying. Kaoru bows and takes his leave.

He means to go find a nice cafe to have lunch and read a book on his tablet, but somehow finds himself back at Kojirou’s restaurant, at the corner seat of the bar that always seems to be open. Kojirou raises an eyebrow when he sees him, but makes him something off-menu without a word.

He tries not to bother Kojirou when he’s working; instead he drinks a pot of tea and reads until lunch service is over and their terrible children show up.

Miya is first, and helps himself to the chair next to Kaoru. He pulls out his homework, and says, “Mama, can you help me with English?”

“Don’t call me that,” Kaoru says automatically. “And you’d be better off asking Kojirou.”

“Asking me what?” Kojirou says as he comes out of the kitchen.

“Papa, help me with English,” Miya says, with a kind of weaponized sweetness that Kaoru can only applaud.

Kojirou’s face goes through an incredible series of expressions before he lands on bemused, and comes around the bar to stand behind them, and look over Miya’s shoulder. He has one hand on Kaoru’s shoulder, presumably for balance, although the big gorilla doesn’t need any assistance in that area. The slow stroke of his thumb over Kaoru’s shoulder is far more distracting than it should be.

It doesn’t seem like Miya needs all that much help—but he brightens when Kojirou praises him and ruffles his hair. He’s clearly starving for affection, and Kaoru wonders again what the hell is going on at home that Miya has to come to the two of them to get it.

Which is to say, he doesn’t shove Miya away when he finishes his homework and drags his chair closer so he can lean into Kaoru and play video games.

Kojirou mouths, “He likes you,” when he drops off tea and snacks on the bar. Kaoru gives him a stink eye, but only removes his hand from idly petting Miya’s hair to take a sip of tea.

It’s all very peaceful until their other two idiot children arrive, and then Miya blinks wide, emotionally manipulative eyes up at Kaoru and says, “Mama, can we go to the festival tomorrow?”

Langa looks up from his remedial kanji practice and says, “Festival?”

“Oh right,” Reki says, looking enthusiastic. “You probably don’t know—the big shrine near our school has its annual festival this weekend, it’s super fun!”

Langa looks politely skeptical.

“There’s lots of really delicious festival food,” Reki tries again. He looks away, a distinct blush on his cheeks. “And it might be nice. To go together. If you wanted to.”

Miya makes a gagging noise from Kaoru’s lap, and Kojirou gives him a conspiratorial smile, as though Kaoru is in any way invested in the stupidity of teenage romance.

To his credit, Langa does not eat metaphorical pavement on his response. He just says quietly, “I’ll go, since it matters to you.” There’s a long pause while they stare into each other’s eyes instead of doing what they clearly want to, which is probably to kiss with too much spit and an incredible lack of technique. “Ah, but I don’t have a yukata. I’d feel bad about asking my mom to buy one.”

“Oh,” Reki says, sounding far too disappointed. “Well, it doesn’t matter, you can just wear street clothes—”

“Oi, Kaoru—isn’t he about your height?” Kojirou asks, leaning over the bar and waggling his eyebrows obnoxiously. “Lend him one of yours, will you?”

Suddenly everyone is giving him puppy eyes. He huffs. “I suppose,” he says reluctantly, already mentally flipping through his wardrobe. There’s a blue and grey one with a bamboo pattern that might suit.

“So we’ll all go together!” Miya says, still clinging to Kaoru’s lap. “We’ll meet at your apartment, right, Mama?”

“Still not your mama, and like hell I’m giving any of you my address,” Kaoru snaps.

His idiot children at least show up at his apartment on time. Reki is wearing an unobjectionable yukata with a geometric pattern. Miya is—definitely not leaving Kaoru’s sight tonight, because his yukata reads very feminine and creeps are everywhere.

“Mama, you’re beautiful,” Miya says, eyes wide.

“Of course I am,” Kaoru says. He’s not an amateur. “Langa, come here and strip.”

Langa looks very uncertain, which is a sign that he’s not quite as foolish as Kaoru has initially suspected.

“Everything but your underwear, and put this on,” Kaoru says, and holds out the bamboo-pattern yukata.

Face flushed, Langa does as he’s told, only occasionally darting a look at Reki, who to his credit, is averting his eyes.

The length is fine—maybe a few centimeters long, but not worth taking up at the waist. Kaoru does up his obi, then tugs the shoulders to make sure everything is sitting correctly.

“Not bad,” Kaoru pronounces. It makes Langa look a little older, even a touch regal. He supposes that if he were a teenage dope, he would probably be into it.

Reki’s mouth is hanging open and his cheeks are very pink, so Kaoru concludes that his job here is done.

“Where is Kojirou,” he mutters, grabbing his fan for the evening and resisting the urge to check his flawless makeup again.

Kojirou does not bother to knock or excuse himself when he comes in. His yukata is one he’s had for a few years—dark grey with narrow stripes, and it makes his shoulders look impossibly broad.

He stops in his tracks in the doorway. “Kaoru,” he says, his voice almost hoarse.

Kaoru is plagued by sudden, gnawing uncertainty. Maybe his yukata, a deep violet with a pale fan pattern, isn’t as becoming as he thought. Maybe the winged eyeliner is too much. Maybe he should have left his hair down and not tried to show off the nape of his neck.

“Well now that you’re finally here, we can get going,” he makes himself say. The kids go out the door and down the stairs to the street below while Kaoru locks up. Kojirou is right at his elbow, which feels a bit like crowding him, and when he turns to complain as much, Kojirou catches his shoulder and holds him in place.

“What,” Kaoru says. He means for it to come out impatiently, but it sounds distressingly vulnerable.

Kojirou is just looking at him, like he’s never seen him before. “Kaoru,” he says, voice deep and quiet. “You look—you look gorgeous.”

Kaoru is all ready to insult him in response, but he can’t muster any words at all when Kojirou gently touches his face, his thumb brushing the hole that still remains from his lip piercing.

There’s a racket from downstairs that breaks the moment abruptly, and Kaoru takes in an unsteady breath.

Kojirou drops his hand, and gives him a rueful smile. “Guess we better go before the kids disturb the neighbors.”

“Right,” Kaoru says faintly, and doesn’t even object too loudly when Kojirou ushers him down the stairs with a hand at the small of his back.

Kaoru and Kojirou have been to this festival many times before—not every year, because Kojirou went to culinary school in Tokyo for two years, and then spent a year in Italy, and Kaoru had been so lonely he could barely stand it. Kojirou always kept their phone and Skype dates, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t enough.

It was probably no coincidence that this was the time that Kaoru really started working on Carla.

Here and now, it’s hard not to be swept away by a sense of nostalgia. They’re not the kids they once were, but then again—looking ahead at Reki and Langa, he’s not sure he misses it. Miya is clinging to him, but Kaoru finds he doesn’t mind. Kojirou is right beside him, solid and sure and his yukata gaping open at the chest in a way that is entirely unnecessary, but—Kaoru doesn’t mind that, either.

They approach the shrine to offer prayers, and Kojirou gives the kids small change to throw in the offering box.

“You’ll spoil them,” Kaoru says, tapping his fan on Kojirou’s arm. “Nobody ever gave us money—we had to scrounge it up ourselves.”

“Might have been nice if someone had,” Kojirou says mildly. Neither of them came from money—they’d ridden their first skateboards into the ground. Adam was always trying to offer them new ones, and didn’t understand why they refused. “It feels good to be able to do this for them, don’t you think?”

It’s their turn to offer prayers at the shrine. They walk up the stairs and throw a few coins in the box, and Kaoru bows, claps, and when it comes time to pray, he can only think of Kojirou beside him, and how he never wants him to leave again.

“What did you pray for?” Kojirou asks.

“Like I’m telling you,” Kaoru says with a sniff.

“Mama, are we doing ema?” Miya asks.

“Don’t call me that in public,” Kaoru says absently. “And yes, if you want to.”

Kojirou buys an ema from a shrine maiden, and astonishingly manages to flirt only mildly with her in the process. Their little group clusters around it, and Kojirou hands the pen first to Miya. “Youngest first,” he says.

Miya narrows his eyes, but writes a little wish for good luck with exams on the back of the wooden plaque, choosing not to write over the design on the front. He hands the pen next to Reki, who squeezes in a little doodle of a skateboard. Langa is next, and Reki seems to be actually holding his breath—but Langa writes a wish to have fun skating a lot with Reki, and all of his kanji are legible and correct, if a little smushed where he ran out of room.

“Okay, time for the big guns,” Kojirou says, elbowing Kaoru in the side. “Leave some room for me when you’re done, Sakurayashiki-sensei.”

“Shut up,” Kaoru says. “You’ll get what I give you and be happy about it.” He wishes he had a brush, or even one of his preferred pens, but he can still make something here to be proud of.

It’s Kojirou’s turn to hold his breath as Kaoru writes out his wish. He hands Kojirou the pen when he’s done, and Kojirou searches his eyes, as if to make sure that Kaoru is sincere in his wish.

Kaoru has never been so sure of anything in his life—in this moment, all of his anxiety melts away and leaves him with this certainty: they’ll face the future together.

Kojirou scribbles out a wish for happiness, with a little heartmark, because he’s ridiculous. And then they give the ema to Miya to hang up with all the others, so the gods can know their wishes.

Langa’s stomach makes itself known with a rolling growl, and Reki’s isn’t too far behind. Kojirou laughs, and hands the kids a few 1000 yen bills and waves them in the direction of the food stalls.

“So spoiled,” Kaoru says again.

“What about you, princess? What’s your heart’s desire tonight?” Kojirou asks, wrapping one arm around Kaoru’s shoulders. “Takoyaki? Yakitori?” He gives Kaoru a look, a little heat in his eyes. “Or are we skipping right to dessert?”

Kaoru feels his face go warm. “You’re disgusting,” he says, hardly able to believe that they might be on the same page, much less that Kojirou is openly flirting with him.

“You started it, with that sexy wish,” Kojirou says.

Kaoru elbows him sharply in the side. “Listen, you illiterate buffon, it wasn’t—”

Kojirou leans down to whisper in his ear, “‘Meet the future, entwined,’ is pretty spicy, you have to admit.” And then he actually has the nerve to nip Kaoru’s earlobe.

“We’re in public!” Kaoru hisses, thumping him with his fan.

“Is that your only objection?” Kojirou asks seriously, pulling back to look at him. “I’m not—I’m not going to push you, Kaoru. I only want what you want.”

And oh, that’s dangerous. Not the wanting—but the idea that his desires could be fulfilled.

“What if I want too much?” Kaoru asks, almost in a whisper.

“Try me, babe. When have I ever said no to you?”

Kaoru opens his mouth to argue, and then stops, and really thinks about it. They argue all the time, sure—but Kaoru has never once asked Kojirou for something important and been denied. At least, not without a good reason.

“You better not be fucking with me right now,” Kaoru says, his throat tight.

“I’m dead serious, Kaoru. I never took a chance with you, and then when I saw you lying on the track—I thought there might be no chances left.”

Kaoru couldn’t bring himself to watch the footage of his last beef with Adam. But over terrible hospital tea, Shadow had told him that he’d never seen Joe look so upset as when he carried Kaoru off the track into Shadow’s car to get to the hospital.

“I never knew you wanted one,” Kaoru says softly.

“By the time I knew I wanted one, you were already looking elsewhere.” The regret in Kojirou’s voice is thick and heavy. He doesn’t say Adam’s name, but they both hear it, loud and clear. “You didn’t know how I felt, and I wasn’t going to bother you with it if you didn’t feel the same.”

“You’d better not be implying something absurd, like that you’ve always been in love with me,” Kaoru threatens, his voice distressingly wobbly.

“I don’t know about always,” Kojirou says, the corner of his mouth crooking up. “But a long time, now.”

It sounds stupid, and impossible, and too good to be true, and Kaoru swallows once before saying, “You could have asked for a chance. For a long time, now, too.”

Kojirou makes a face. “You’re pretty fearsome. Can’t blame me for being scared shitless about losing you.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this to you, but have a little more self-confidence,” Kaoru says, and leans a little closer into Kojirou’s side.

“Look, I was happy just washing your hair,” Kojirou says, trailing his fingers through his ponytail.

“You’re completely ridiculous,” Kaoru says, but the way Kojirou slides his thumb across Kaoru’s sensitive nape makes him gasp.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Kojirou says. “It’s practically like second base with the noises you make.”

“I do not make noises—”

“Mama, we brought back food,” Miya says, appearing suddenly. “And Shadow.”

Their terrible children are indeed all back, with Shadow in tow. Reki has taiyaki shoved in his mouth, and Langa is double-fisting yakitori skewers. Shadow has at least the decency to look embarrassed.

Miya holds out a tray of takoyaki to Kaoru. “Papa said it was your favorite,” he says with entirely too calculating eyes.

“Stop encouraging this,” Kaoru says to Kojirou, and stomps on his foot. Not as hard as he would have half an hour ago, though.

“Ouch,” Kojirou says mildly. “Come on, Mama, say ‘ah.’”

“I’m going to kill you,” Kaoru says flatly, but he does open his mouth for Kojirou to feed him one takoyaki ball.

They eat and then send the kids back for more food, and then stroll around to the various games while waiting for the fireworks. The ring toss is where everything gets deeply stupid, because they’re all competitive fucks, and they’re all determined to get the stupid Pikachu figurine, even though Miya is the only one that actually wants it.

“I’m going again,” Shadow growls, pulling out another three hundred yen. The guy manning the booth looks like he would truly prefer to drown himself in the goldfish catching game next door.

Kaoru wins it in the end, even though Kojirou says it’s not fair because he used Carla.

“Carla could have done the calculations for you, too, but you wouldn’t have known what to do with them,” Kaoru sniffs, before handing off the Pikachu to Miya.

“You can’t use Carla for everything,” Kojirou grouses.

Kaoru opens his fan and looks over at Kojirou. “You sure about that?” he says, and then deliberately licks his lips with the fan hiding his mouth from the kids’ view.

Kojirou almost trips, and Kaoru laughs at him, but not too meanly.

When it’s time for the fireworks, they find a good spot to sit down together. Teenage love is apparently just heating up, because Reki and Langa have progressed to furtively holding hands. Shadow is sprawled on the ground, and Miya is hugging his knees and still holding his Pikachu.

A little ways behind the kids, Kojirou sits down next to Kaoru, and as the fireworks light up the sky, Kaoru moves closer so he can lean against his side. He allows Kojirou to put his arm around him. Then Kojirou murmurs in his ear, “Hold up your fan.”

“What for—” Kaoru starts to say.

Kojirou kisses him.

The fan is the flimsiest excuse for privacy, even in the dark, but Kaoru can’t bring himself to care when Kojirou is kissing him like this—tender and sweet and just a little dirty. The kids are focused on the fireworks, and Kojirou nibbles on his earlobe before moving down his neck, and he should absolutely not allow him to make a horrendous love bite where everyone can see it, but—

Kojirou has mercy, eventually, or realizes that the fireworks are about to wrap up. “Let me take you home,” he breathes in Kaoru’s ear.

It should frighten him. It should make him turn tail and run. There are feelings, mutual, and Kaoru can’t just ghost Kojirou in two days when his brain chases itself in circles while thinking of all the reasons this can never work.

Instead, what comes out of Kaoru’s mouth is, “The kids—”

“Shadow,” Miya says too loudly. “You drove, right? Give me a ride home.” Shadow grumbles in response, but doesn’t outright refuse.

“We’re going to stay a little longer,” Reki says, still clutching Langa’s hand. Kaoru assumes this is code for ‘going to try to find a little more privacy to neck.’

“Have fun,” Kojirou says, and stands up, reaching down to pull Kaoru to his feet.

They neither of them say much on the walk back to Kaoru’s apartment. They’ve been around the world together, but right now, being here with Kojirou in the place they grew up feels like everything he’s wanted.

At Kaoru’s front door, Kojirou says, “You don’t have to invite me in. If you’re not sure. I promise, Kaoru, the last thing I want is to—”

Kaoru seizes the collar of Kojirou’s yukata. “You better be sure,” he says. “If I catch you with any women after this, I’ll feed you your own balls.”

“My life would be a lot easier if I wasn’t so turned on by you being mean,” Kojirou says, and kisses him against his front door.

“Inside, you stupid gorilla,” Kaoru says when they break for air.

They slip off their footwear in the entryway, and Kojirou herds Kaoru directly to the bedroom.

“Shouldn’t we shower first?” Kaoru asks between kisses, grasping for familiar routine.

“I’m not one of your hookups,” Kojirou says. “We can if you want to, but you’ve gotta know I’m into you, just like this.”

He feels his face heat up at that. “You—you don’t need to feed me lines.”

“Furthest thing from it,” Kojirou assures him, grabbing Kaoru’s ass with both hands to grind against him. The hard line of his cock against Kaoru’s hip is extremely promising.

“In that case,” Kaoru says, and then attacks the knot of Kojirou’s obi. Kojirou shrugs out of his yukata the second he can, leaving him in his underwear.

“Like what you see?” Kojirou asks, and Kaoru sort of wishes he weren’t basically drooling over how good he looks, but on the other hand: it’s nice not to be disappointed.

“It’s not like I didn’t know you have a big dick,” Kaoru says, and then tries to reclaim a haughty tone. “Whether you’re any good with it remains to be seen.”

“You’ve been looking, huh?” Kojirou asks, a little tease in his voice as he picks apart the knot of Kaoru’s obi.

“It’s sort of unavoidable,” Kaoru says, and gasps when Kojirou goes for his ear again. “Baths aside, you’re always—ah—taking your clothes off.”

“And you are always covered up, so proper. I feel like I’m going to lose my mind when you wake up in my bed, all rumpled and your hair mussed,” Kojirou says, and slides Kaoru’s yukata off to let it puddle on the floor. He grins when he sees Kaoru’s underwear, which are admittedly on the slutty side. “You didn’t have to sweeten the pot,” he says, playing with the waistband.

“Who says it’s for you?” Kaoru asks, trying not to feel self-conscious and only half succeeding.

Kojirou kisses him again, and then brushes one finger against the corner of his eye—probably smudging his eyeliner. “Just a feeling,” he says. “A hope, maybe.”

The way Kojirou is looking at him is unbearably intimate, and Kaoru doesn’t know what to do with that, aside from kiss Kojirou again and pull him down onto the bed.

Kojirou is more gentle than he expected when he settles down on top of Kaoru, putting one knee between his. “You let me know if anything hurts, okay? I’ll do my best to avoid your bruises, but—I just need this to be good for you.”

“You don’t have to be so careful,” Kaoru says, and bites his lip.

“I do,” Kojirou says, voice so low that Kaoru shivers. “I want to take such good fucking care of you, Kaoru.”

He’s looking at Kaoru with aching tenderness, like Kaoru is something precious.

“Then go on,” Kaoru whispers. “Take care of me.”

Kojirou does, and how. Normally his hookups are pretty goal-oriented, but Kojirou explores his body with kisses and touches like this is the point, like making Kaoru sigh and moan is exactly what he’s here for.

It isn’t until Kojirou slides both of their underwear off that it occurs to Kaoru to ask if he’s done this before.

“With a guy? No,” Kojirou admits. “But I’ve done anal, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I’m not worried,” Kaoru says, but truthfully, Kojirou’s dick is big enough to be a little concerning.

“Hey, I did my research. I’m just going to finger you until you beg,” Kojirou says, giving Kaoru’s cock a few lazy strokes. “And then give you everything you need.”

Still hardly able to believe he’s allowed, Kaoru wraps his hand around Kojirou’s dick. It’s mouthwateringly thick, and god, he wants it in him so bad. Kojirou groans when he touches him, and Kaoru says, “You better not be all talk—if you come right away—“

“Oh princess, I can last,” Kojirou says, with a smirk Kaoru would find absolutely infuriating under any other circumstances. “For once in your life, you’re not going to have any complaints.”

“We’ll see,” Kaoru says imperiously.

He’s used to prep being perfunctory, but Kojirou drops kisses on his shoulder as he slowly pushes one lubed finger in, and stares into Kaoru’s eyes while he does it. Half of Kaoru would like to hide his face from Kojirou’s focused, hungry gaze; the other half absolutely refuses to back down.

“You ready for another?” Kojirou asks.

“You could just put your dick in me, already,” Kaoru says, giving into the urge to cross his arms in front of his face.

“With as tight as you are? Nice try, babe, but absolutely not,” Kojirou says, and slides another finger in. “Besides, I haven’t found your sweet spot yet. And you’re not even close to begging for mercy.”

“Like I’m going to do that,” Kaoru says shakily.

Kojirou twists his thick fingers inside him, and it already feels so good, and maybe it’s beginner’s luck, but he crooks his fingers and Kaoru sees fucking stars.

“God, you’re gorgeous,” Kojirou breathes reverently.

Kaoru doesn’t know why he thought he’d hold out, or even why he wanted to in the first place, because by the time Kojirou has three fingers in him, all he can do is pant for breath and try not to moan too loudly. He’s sloppy with lube and the noise from Kojirou fingerfucking him is obscene.

“Can you come from this?” Kojirou asks, looking curious.

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Kaoru spits. “Get your dick in me right now.”

“Not exactly begging, but I’ll take it,” Kojirou says wryly. He takes out his fingers and rolls on a condom, and kisses Kaoru again. It’s deep and messy and Kaoru feels half out of his mind.

“How do you want this?” Kojirou asks.

Kaoru nearly snaps at him to stop dawdling and fuck him, but it’s actually a good question. He has a deep bruise on one knee, and several on his torso that might make some of his favorite positions tricky. “Side, maybe?”

Kojirou maneuvers them both so that he’s spooned up behind Kaoru. “Tell me if you need me to stop, or switch positions.”

“In the event that you ever actually fuck me, I’ll be sure to do so,” Kaoru grumbles.

Kojirou huffs out a laugh. “God, I love you, I can’t imagine why I thought this would go any differently.”

“Seems like a you problem,” Kaoru says flippantly, but that I love you rings in his ears.

Kojirou pushes his cock in, agonizingly slowly. Kaoru has no interest in flattering his ego by telling him how big he is, how Kaoru feels stuffed full of him, but it’s true. He feels surrounded by Kojirou, his chest pressed to Kaoru’s back, one muscled arm around his chest, his breath stirring Kaoru’s hair.

“Fuck,” Kojirou says, sounding winded. “Fuck, Kaoru, you feel amazing.”

He’s as close to Kojirou as he’ll ever be, and it’s not enough. “Kojirou,” he says, and he’s begging now. “Please, I need—“

“Shh, I got you, babe,” Kojirou says, and starts to fuck him, slow and gentle. And he won’t stop talking, keeps saying these things that are too much, like that he wants to give Kaoru everything, that he wants to be together, that he wants to make him happy.

It’s unbearable, and Kaoru never wants it to end.

But it does, mostly because Kojirou jerks him off so damn good, and fucks him at an angle that has Kaoru clawing at the sheets and making, god, so much fucking noise. “Come on, babe, give it up for me,” Kojirou says in his ear, and for once, Kaoru doesn’t argue. He comes hard, nearly whining with pleasure.

Kojirou considerately gives him a few moments before he asks quietly, “Should I pull out?”

“You should come in me,” Kaoru says, and makes Kojirou moan when he purposefully clenches around him.

Kojirou starts fucking him again, and it’s deep and a little harder, and Kaoru is just on the edge of oversensitivity, but he wants it, wants to be as close to Kojirou as this, wants Kojirou’s unsteady final thrusts, wants the way Kojirou holds him tight and makes soft, desperate noises, wants the way Kojirou gives it up for him, in the end.

They lie there together in the afterglow; Kaoru rolls over to face Kojirou, in a vain attempt to get out of the wet spot. Kojirou curls one arm around his waist, and he’s stroking Kaoru’s hair gently—and also, probably getting jizz in it. Kojirou runs hot under normal circumstances, but he’s like a furnace now where their skin touches, and sweaty besides. It should be disgusting; Kaoru would probably have pitched a fit already if it were anybody else.

Instead, he says, “Make me breakfast in the morning.”

“Mm,” Kojirou says, pressing a kiss to his lips. “Bread or rice?”

“Bread,” Kaoru says, and smiles when Kojirou looks surprised. “I want what you made me the first morning I visited you in Italy.”

“You really don’t believe in making things easy on me,” Kojirou says, and holds him tighter. “You know I was trying to impress you, right?”

“Impress me again,” Kaoru says, and they rest their sweaty foreheads together for a moment. And then he says, “You can start by getting a washcloth.”

“...Fucking incredible,” Kojirou says, laughing, but obediently gets up.

Kaoru watches him go, and enjoys both the view, and the certainty that he’ll come back.

It’s a few more weeks before Kaoru goes to ‘S’ with the intent to race. He’s gone to support Kojirou and the kids, but the idea of bailing on his bad knee is enough to keep him on the sidelines until he’s fully healed.

The kids all want to challenge him to a beef his first night back.

“I want to show you my new trick,” Langa says earnestly.

“We can take it easy and just have fun!” Reki says.

“Mama, I’m your favorite,” Miya says, clinging to him and managing to look both cute and feral.

Shadow says nothing, but he did silently hand Kaoru a lovely bouquet of pink flowers when he arrived, like that was normal and completely in keeping with his image as self-proclaimed anti-hero of ‘S.’

“Sorry, kids,” Kojirou says. “Cherry promised his first race back to me.”

Kaoru had done nothing of the sort. He gently disengages Miya and walks toward Kojirou. “Oh I did, did I?” he says.

Kojirou winces a bit. “Can you just let me have this? I know you’re okay. I know you’ll be fine. I just—I don’t know if I can watch someone cheapshot you tonight.”

“Besides you, you mean,” Kaoru coolly.

Kojirou’s jaw clenches, and then he exhales slowly. “Babe, come on. Please.”

Kaoru sighs. “Fine,” he says. “But if I win, I get to pick our next vacation.”

“Deal,” Kojirou says, looking relieved.

“And in the unlikely event that you win?” Kaoru prompts.

Kojirou leans close enough to whisper in his ear, “I’m going to eat you out until you cry.”

Kaoru breathes in sharply and says, “You can have that one for free.”

“It’s a little early to ask you for what I really want,” Kojirou says, rubbing the back of his neck and looking more uncertain than Kaoru cares for.

“Because the tirades against my kitchen are so subtle.”

“It’s really bad, though,” Kojirou says. “And you’re at my place all the time, anyway. And you like saving money!”

“If you win, I’ll think about moving in with you,” Kaoru says. He looks up through his lashes. “I’ll be collecting on your first offer, regardless.”

Kojirou grins, looking like he’s already won as they set up at the starting line.

Taking off down the track together feels like flying, like joy—like meeting the future, entwined.