Chapter 1: blue is the warmest color
Over the years, Takemichi had developed somewhat of an obsession with Mikey’s hair. His now countless trips to change the past had showed him every future imaginable, but there were always two permanent features: Mikey either was dead or did not want to live, and his hair was changed. Black, white, silver, combining three different shades of grey or even shaved, he’d tried it all. There was not one future where he had kept his natural hair, and while Takemichi did not believe in breakdown-haircuts, his brain had unconsciously associated Mikey getting rid of his natural hair with Mikey passing the point of no return.
So here he was, combing through the shoulder-long waves of golden hair with utmost concentration and gentleness. He had just turned twenty - in this timeline at least, in the present he was pushing thirty-two - and as everyone was adult and had to make a living now, Draken was spending a lot of time in the bike shop, so the task of doing Mikey’s hair usually fell on Takemichi. It had been stressful in the beginning, and had most definitely contributed to his obsession, but he had learned to appreciate it. The morning quietness as he rode to Mikey’s house before he himself would head out to the DVD store, the soft sunlight peeking into the room and hitting the golden locks of hair he was brushing, the way Mikey always seemed so warm and stress-free in the morning.
It had been several months since he last went back to the present. That last time, he had found Mikey dead on the floor of his luxurious apartment from heroin overdose. His half black half white hair was framing a terrible halo on the beloved face; the still open drawer full of pills and syringes mocking Takemichi for actually believing Mikey when he had assured him a few days before that he was only smoking weed and nothing more. So, as he cried his eyes out and screamed until his throat was so raw he wouldn’t be able to speak for days, he made a decision. He would go back to the past, and not come back. He’d stay there until he figured out what on earth would make Mikey want to live, and if he couldn’t he’d remain in the past timeline to keep an eye on him.
And keeping an eye on him he was. These days, whenever he wasn’t at the DVD store or involved with Toman activities, he was usually spending time with Mikey. The blond boy seemed to have taken a liking to Takemichi’s apartment because he would show up at the most random times seemingly for no reason at all, and spend hours there sprawled on the bed, talking about anything, or curled silently on a chair like a cat, watching Takemichi cook for both of them. He wasn’t getting any closer to figuring out what would save Mikey, but at least, being with him most of the time, he was fairly certain he would see the signs of him going down the deep end when they hit and be able to do something about it. If he ever had to see Mikey die again, or simply be so lifeless that he might as well not be alive, he would lose the last of his sanity.
"I think my hair’s getting too long. I might cut it this week end." Mikey said one morning, as Takemichi was looking for a hair tie in a nearby drawer. He had turned on his heels at record speed upon hearing that, horror on his face.
"No it’s… it’s not getting too long. In fact, it’s still too short. You should stay away from the hairdresser." Takemichi rambled.
Mikey turned around too, fixing him a skeptical look.
"What the fuck? Who even goes to the hairdresser. I’ll just ask Kenchin to trim it like he’s been doing for a decade."
At that, Takemichi felt like he could breathe again. He also felt a little stupid, but hey, better safe than sorry.
"Oh. Yeah, that’s fine. Draken-kun cutting your dead ends. No need for hairdressers! Very cool!"
From the look Mikey was still giving him, Takemichi knew his strange reaction had not gone unnoticed. Wincing, he was getting ready to start making up some stupid fact like hairdressers actually being bad for your hair, fully aware that his obsession for Mikey keeping his natural hair was bordering stupidity. But then, Mikey’s face lit up with something akin to realisation, then mischief, and he broke out into a cheshire cat-like smile. Oh oh.
"Could it be that Takemichy is afraid of the hairdresser?"
"What? No way!" was the much too fast reply, and Takemichi knew that, much to Mikey’s delight, he was blushing furiously.
"You definitely are." Mikey snorted. "Is it the big bad scissors? Do you cry when they cut your hair?~"
"I don’t!" Takemichi cried.
When he finally found a damn hair tie, he made his way back to the sofa Mikey was seated on. He took Mikey’s head between his hands, and turned it away so that the back of the blond boy’s head was facing him instead of his face. So he could resume the hairstyling. Definitely not because his face was still burning.
As it turned out, Mikey took Takemichi with him when he went to Draken’s apartment the following week-end in order to have his hair trimmed. Takemichi was still a little embarrassed about the whole hairdresser thing, especially since it was obvious now that he thought about it that it must have been Draken taking care of Mikey’s hair length all these years, even though it was the first time he was there to actually witness it. No hairdresser would be confident or crazy enough to take him.
Of course, Mikey did not let Takemichi live down the whole thing.
"Hey Kenchin, did you know that Takemichy is terrified of hairdressers?"
"Hah? What’s there to be scared of? Finally being able to see with both eyes?"
"Maybe Takemichy finds it painful when the scissors cut the hair."
"Now who even-"
"Nah, my guess is that he gets spooked when seeing his own hair without gel."
Takemichi huffed and pouted, crossing his arms and turning his back to the two bullies who were laughing openly now. He’d known, honestly, when he’d seen Mikey’s evil smile - this one was going to be following him for a while. But really, he just was pretending to be mad here. He watched from the corner of his eye as Toman’s top two members were still snickering like villains from their bullying, and seeing Mikey so lively and happy, he couldn’t even stop himself from smiling fondly.
Draken finished trimming Mikey’s hair not long after that, and blessedly the only difference was one or two centimetres of length. Draken let Takemichi tie it back ‘to see if his technique had gotten better now’, and when the younger boy reluctantly agreed, nervous to pass this test, Mikey settled comfortably in a chair with his back to him. In the end, he must have truly progressed in the art of tying hair because Draken approved and thanked him for doing this on weekdays since he had to work early now, and Mikey beamed.
On Mikey’s birthday, Takemichi took the day off from the DVD store to take him to a bakery specialised in taiyakis in another district of Tokyo that he had found on the Internet. They rode together to the place on their twin bikes, exhilarated to have the highway almost to themselves during office hours on a weekday. Mikey had insisted they raced, of course, so here they were, going at an unholy speed that would have been sure to get them arrested if Mikey’s quietly dangerous aura didn’t deter any policeman to so much as speak to him.
At 21, Mikey was still presiding Toman, which had grown larger but not overwhelmingly so. The gang was now around 300 members and controlling the entirety of Shibuya undisputed. The recent years had been much calmer than the first ones had been, thanks to Takemichi’s counselling and Mikey and Draken’s trust in his advice given that he knew from the future what would have terrible consequences on the gang. Becoming too large had been one of those things. So Mikey had made the decision to not have numerical growth as a goal, but rather seek and select fewer quality members who were committed, shared Toman’s values, and preferably - could actually handle themselves in a fight.
Although he didn’t participate in fights much these days - his talents were elsewhere, as Draken had politely phrased it - Takemichi was still in Toman, as captain of the first division and with Chifuyu as his vice-captain. His role in the gang was mostly counselling nowadays though, as well as acting as a motivational speaker. Leading Toman during the fight against Tenjiku had provided Takemichi with all the legitimacy needed for the position. Although he had questioned whether it was really the best course of action for him to remain in Toman, in the end, it had seemed like the best way to ensure Mikey would keep him around and he’d have an eye on him. Also, gang meetings and first division activities were now among the rare times where he could hang out with Chifuyu these days, as his job at the pet shop was keeping him quite busy.
When they arrived at the taiyaki bakery, Mikey’s big black eyes shone with intense concentration as he studied intently each variation of the fish-shaped cake he favored. Takemichi let him be, knowing choosing his snacks was no joke for the gang leader. The baker also seemed to sense that, because she left him alone after bowing upon their entry. Takemichi went to lean his back against the wall of the small shop while Mikey made his choice, watching over him the whole time with a fond smile. It seemed to have been a good idea, if the gleam in his eyes was any indication. He just hoped Mikey wouldn’t make the impulsive decision of buying every single taiyaki in the bakery because Takemichi was buying, and he would like to be able to eat food for the rest of the month.
When the door’s bell chimed, Takemichi’s head turned automatically to assess the new client; partly, out of habit, but mostly because they were currently out of Toman territory in Shinjuku and having the president and captain of a rival gang wandering another gang’s territory could turn very quickly into a disaster. However, the two people coming in the bakery were most definitely not delinquents. In fact, one was everything but. But as he made eye contact with his ex-girlfriend, Tachibana Hinata, Takemichi found himself thinking that he might have preferred it to be a two-meters tall gang member from Shinjuku.
"Takemichi?" Hina asked out of surprise.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Mikey’s back stiffen, but he did not turn around. However, as they were the only customers in the shop currently, Hina would definitely notice him, if she hadn’t already.
"Uh. Hi Hina." Takemichi cringed a little at his own awkwardness. "How have you been?"
"Pretty good. I’m studying social sciences at Waseda University now. The campus is very close-by, so Etsuko-chan and I come here often. The taiyakis are the best in town!" she winked at that. Sweet, sweet Hina, never one to make others uncomfortable. "But it’s quite far away from Shibuya. What are you guys doing here?"
At her phrasing, he noticed that Mikey had silently made his way to come stand beside him. He waved at her and she smiled back. Her friend - a schoolmate from college, Takemichi assumed - bowed to both of them.
"It’s, er, Mikey’s birthday today. So I took him here since this shop has insane reviews on Google."
Takemichi winced internally at having to explain the situation, and cursed the universe for having him meet Hina now of all time. But the brown-haired girl wasn’t phased at all.
"Is that so! Happy birthday Mikey-kun! I do remember that taiyakis were your favorite, even back then. You have to try the sweet potato ones here, they’re to die for!"
"Really? Okay then. What about the chocolate one?"
"Delicious too. They’re all so good, half of my monthly allowance is going here!" Hina beamed.
Her happy nature was contagious, and Takemichi felt himself relax without even realising it. Upon hearing her advice, Mikey turned to him.
"Then I want one of each flavour. Ok, Takemitchy?"
The taiyakis were not cheap and a dozen of them would definitely amount to quite a sum, but it was nothing Takemichi had not planned on spending for Mikey’s birthday. He sighed before agreeing. Mikey broke into a big smile at that, and turned back to the baker to have her pack what he wanted. Hina watched the whole exchange with a soft smile and Takemichi felt a sting of nostalgia at the expression.
"It’s sweet of you to do that for his birthday. I’m sure Mikey-kun appreciates it very much."
"Erm, well. It’s nothing much." Takemichi squirmed.
"Always so modest!" Hina teased him. "In any case, you seem to be doing well too. I’m happy to see you without any bruises. That’s why I barely recognised you!" she joked.
They both laughed at that. Hina was still Hina, kind and caring to the core. Then, Mikey called him at the checkout, and Takemichi excused himself.
"I better go pay for that. It- It was good to see you, Hina. Good luck with uni."
"You too. Say hello to everybody for me!"
Takemichi payed for the taiyakis, and then he and Mikey left the bakery, waving one last time to Hina and her friend on the way out. They got back on their bikes to head to a seaside spot to eat the snacks. Mikey did not talk at all during the whole way back, seemingly deep in his thoughts, and Takemichi was thankful to have a little time in his own thoughts too after the unexpected meeting with his one and only ex-girlfriend.
"You never really told me why you and Hina split up." Mikey commented once they were seated on a low wall facing the sea, each munching on a different taiyaki.
Takemichi was well aware of that. Because he was starting to know Mikey very well, he knew that the other boy always took all possible burdens on his own back, and he had not wanted him to have to carry this one as well. Leaving Hina had been his choice, three years ago, and although it had hurt a lot, he had not regretted it. It had been the only thing to do. He knew Mikey would disagree, though, and probably blame himself.
"Because there was nothing much to tell. We just both agreed it was not working anymore. Hina was going to college, and I was staying in Toman, and it was just better this way."
Mikey was silent at that, first looking at him before turning his head to stare at the sea for a while, quietly munching on his red bean taiyaki. That lasted for so long Takemichi thought Mikey had dropped the topic, but after a few minutes, still looking at the water, Mikey spoke again.
"You don’t want to tell me?"
That caught Takemichi by surprise. Because Mikey was either quiet or playing the spoiled kid when he was not in his Toman leader mode, it was easy to forget how observant and mature he actually was. Takemichi thought he really needed to remember that although there had been a time where he was a twenty six years old dealing with teenagers, Mikey was now an adult too, and had the emotional maturity of one. If he wanted to hide things from him, he had to do it carefully, because the last thing he wanted was for Mikey to stop trusting him.
"It’s not that. It’s the truth that things were no longer working out between us, and we wanted different things in life, so although we still loved each other at the time, we had to call it quit. It’s true that there were a few more things on the table, but those are between Hina and me."
Mikey had turned his head back to look at him, and he seemed to evaluate his words and his sincerity. After a few seconds, he nodded.
"Do you still love her?" he asked.
Takemichi thought it over for a moment.
"I thought I might. Because when you still love the person during the separation, it feels like there is no closure in a way, you know?" Mikey nodded. "But after seeing her today, I realised I no longer love her in the romantic sense of the word. She’s still a person I care about and wish happiness to, but we were right to split-up back in high school. We’re both happier now."
Mikey inspected his face for a long while after the reply, and when Takemichi met his eyes and gave him a calm smile, Mikey nodded again and went back to watching the sea. They stayed there until the sun had set and all the taiyakis were gone, before heading back on their bikes to Shibuya to celebrate Mikey’s birthday with Draken and the others.
A few weeks later, Takemichi was in the kitchen of his small apartment putting together a curry for him and Mikey while the latter sat on the countertop watching him silently. He passed wordlessly the ingredients to Takemichi when asked, and from time to time, dipped a chopstick in the sauce to taste it, only humming in response. Having Mikey watching him in silence for sometimes hours on end like that used to unnerve Takemichi, but not anymore. After years of it, being at the receiving end of the blond boy’s intent focus was still a little intimidating but also comforting in a way. Having those big black eyes on him came with a feeling of safety and familiarity now; he was very fond of them.
He was adding the carrots to the curry sauce when Mikey broke the silence.
"You haven’t gone back to the future in a while."
Hearing Mikey call Takemichi’s present timeline the future made sense, but it startled Takemichi to realise that he himself was starting to think of it this way. He had been spending so much time in the past, he was starting to view it as his present too. The too many different futures he had gone back to didn’t help, either: it was hard to think of them as his reality when they were all so different and utterly changeable from one trip to another.
"Yeah. Probably won’t be going any time soon."
"Was it that bad?"
He hadn’t told Mikey about his corpse on the floor and the syringes and the drawers full of various drugs from the last future. He had stopped a while ago telling them the details of the futures he went back from. If he was back to the past, they knew it must be bad, so they didn’t ask either. He simply nodded.
"It’s because of me, isn’t it? That you won’t go back."
Takemichi stopped what he was doing to turn to Mikey, unsure how to go from there. He didn’t want to add that to the list of things Mikey would want to take responsibility for, but at the same time, he thought it might be more productive to tell him the truth - at least partially.
"I’m not blind, you know. I can see that you’ve stopped changing things in the life of the others, so it must means they’ve achieved a good future, right? But you’re still here, and you’re spending all your time with me. So I’m guessing I’m the one who keeps having a sad end."
"Yeah." Takemichi simply replied, his voice coming out a little strangled because really - Mikey had no idea. He might have guesses, but he had no idea what if was like to have seen him dying or wanting to die over and over again. To see those beloved eyes lifeless no matter how much things were different around him. Mikey nodded.
"So you’re staying here because you want to save me?"
"Yes. I will save you. I promised it to the Mikey-kun of the future. So I’m not going back until I know for sure you’ll be alive and happy."
He half-expected Mikey to tell him to forget his promise since the version of him he made it to technically didn’t exist anymore, or try and convince him with a big smile that he will be fine and that he’s not Takemichi responsibility. Takemichi was ready to counter any argument coming his way because really, his determination to save him no matter what had not decreased even a little over time; if anything, each horrific future had only made it stronger. But Mikey surprised him by only humming in response. He dipped his chopstick in the curry once again and licked it, contemplative.
"How will you know, though? That you’ve made it, if you don’t go back to the future."
"I- I’ll just know. I’ll only leave when… when it feels right."
"Do you have a plan then?"
"So what, you’re just gonna save me like this, one curry at the time?" Mikey asked mischievously.
"N-No! I’ll definitely figure something out, just you watch, Sano Manjiro!" Takemichi was once again blushing.
"You sure? Cause at this rate I might die from how bland this curry is."
"Don’t joke ab- huh? Bland? Really? Shit, let me add some more chili."
He stopped adding the carrots to the sauce mid-way to grab the chili powder Mikey was handing him. Once he was done, Mikey dipped the chopstick in the pot again and tasted it as Takemichi observed his reaction intently. After a few stressful seconds, the blond boy licked his lips like a satisfied cat, a clear signal that the curry was to his taste. Takemichi sighed and added the rest of the carrots, and then the potatoes to the sauce.
They were eating silently, sitting across from each other on the small table in Takemichi’s living room, when a thought crossed his mind. He might not have any idea what to change to ensure future Mikey is happy but - wasn’t the person best placed to know the answer to that sitting in front of him? Takemichi stared at the blond boy for a solid five minutes while he was eating, trying to figure out how the fuck do you ask someone what would make them not want to die, when Mikey finally lifted his eyes to meet his, apparently sick of the staring. The irony.
"Nothing." Takemichi replied defensively.
"I’ll push your face in your curry if you keep staring creepily for no reason, then."
The nerve of this man.
"Hey! I wasn’t staring creepily! I was… trying to figure out how to ask you a question."
"It’s just. I figured. Maybe I should ask you directly if… if you know what would make future you happy."
"You figured?" Mikey snorted. "You never asked future me in all the dozens of times you went back?"
Takemichi had, actually. But the Mikey of twelve years ago was always so far gone, so ruined that he had never been able to tell him what exactly had gone wrong - usually, it was the addition of everything, every person he had lost, the loneliness that came with his strength and rank, his own demons catching up to him from being fed incessantly by the violent nature of being a gang leader. None of those were things in Takemichi’s power to change. And he certainly would not steer Mikey away from the gang life; for one, he doubted he’d even manage to even if he wanted to. But mostly, Takemichi knew that Toman was Mikey’s life, his goal, his pride, his joy. Ensuring that it remained so by removing poisonous elements - like Kisaki - had been his mission. The problem was not coming from Mikey being in Toman, of that Takemichi was certain. But future Mikey had never been able to pinpoint where it had all gone wrong. There may have been something but… the thought was fleeting.
"I did. It never amounted to much." he didn’t elaborate. Mikey got the message.
The blond boy was silent for a while after that, drawing on his plate using his chopstick and the remnants of curry sauce from the finished meal. Takemichi watched him wordlessly. He thought he could make out the dragon of Draken’s tattoo in the drawing but knowing Mikey, it could also very well be the bug he had killed this morning or the tree he had climbed once when he was four.
"There might be a way." Mikey eventually said, so quietly that had Takemichi not being paying the utmost attention, he might have missed it.
"Really? There is?" Takemichi asked, his blue eyes shining with hope.
"I said, might be." Mikey corrected, looking uncharacteristically shy.
"Still, that’s great news! I didn’t think it would be that easy, honestly!" Takemichi beamed. "So… what is it?"
When Mikey didn’t reply, he cleared his throat.
"Mikey-kun? We’re not playing a riddle here are we?" he played it out as a joke, but this was Mikey he was dealing with. It was a very real possibility.
However, the other boy did not seem to be in a mischievous mood right now. He only seemed… pensive.
"I can’t tell you. You have to figure it out yourself, otherwise it won’t work."
"Huh?" So he was making it a riddle. Of course he was.
"It won’t work if I tell you." he simply repeated. "So you better figure it out, Takemichy."
And at that, he got up, taking his now empty plate and Takemichi’s, before heading out to the kitchen with a secretive smile.
That exchange didn’t leave Takemichi’s mind for days. On the one hand, he was overjoyed to hear that there was a way to make sure Mikey would grow and stay happy twelve years from now. He knew Mikey wouldn’t give him false hope, or make that claim lightly either. So there must truly be something he hadn’t tried before, and that was within his reach. That was great, great news. On the other hand, he was still dumbfounded at Mikey’s refusal to tell him. He had tried again on two separate occasions to ask him, thinking he must have been playing some kind of game with him, but the other’s reply had never changed. Takemichi was… puzzled, to say the least. It wasn’t unlike Mikey to make him grovel a bit for something, but he always gave in before long. That, and the fact that Mikey was not looking mischievous while refusing him - only secretive.
So, could it be that there was truly such a thing, that would work only if guessed and be ruined if explicitly said? Couldn’t Mikey give him a hint at least, then? Takemichi had been thinking about every possibility non-stop, but his mind always came out blank. He had even been scolded twice as much as usual by his boss at the DVD store because he was so deep in his thoughts he kept misplacing the movies. Finally, a week after the discussion at his apartment, Takemichi decided to try and ask the next best person: Draken.
He stopped by his bike shop one evening after work. It was usually the simplest way to meet with Draken, as he spent an insane amount of time there. But he seemed truly in his element and as happy as he’d ever seen him like this, so Takemichi always loved coming to the store. It was also a good way to see Inupi who was otherwise hard to catch now that Koko was back in his life. That had been Takemichi’s doing too - he had more or less brought back the black-haired boy clawing and biting from a lonely future as a gang admin, and had forced him and Inupi to talk through their issues. It had been quite the plan and had taken almost a year, but looking at how radiant Inupi was looking now, he didn’t regret it one bit. Koko and him had had an insane amount of issues and about a decade of unspoken feelings to go through, but they had made it. And now, they were back to being joined at the hip, except even more so than when he first met them because now they were also living together.
Takemichi found Draken sitting on his usual stool, fixing something motor-related on an old-looking bike that was unfamiliar to him. When he noticed the blue-eyed boy entering the shop, he waved his less busy hand at him and after saying hello to Inupi, Takemichi made his way towards Toman’s vice-president. Draken greeted him with a big grin once he joined him.
"Hey Takemichy, what’s up? It’s rare to see you without Mikey clinging to you these days."
Mikey was not, in fact, clinging to him; from Takemichi’s point of view, it was even kind of the opposite. Sure, it was usually Mikey that sought him out, but when in came down to it, Takemichi was the one who had decided to dedicate his time to the blond boy. He was the one offering to take him places, and to stay at his place at night so he wouldn’t have to ride back all the way to his house in the cold. And maybe because it reassured him a little to be able to keep an eye on Mikey as much as possible. He didn’t say any of that, though.
"Mikey took Sanzu to go deal with something this afternoon."
It was unusual for Takemichi to not know what exactly a plan involved, and if he did know, it would be even more unusual for him to be that vague with the vice-president, who would most likely be aware of it. However, "business with Sanzu" was a special case. The guy’s loose screw and extreme protectiveness of Mikey and his interests usually got him gruesome yet essential jobs that Takemichi did not care to know about. Sanzu’s loyalty did not need to be proven anymore, so he trusted him to handle the job - and was glad to know as little as possible. Draken was the same, so he nodded in understanding and did not ask for details.
"I see. So what brings you here? Something wrong with your CB250T?"
"No, no, it’s as great as ever." Takemichi quickly reassured him. Draken treasured that bike. "Just wanted to talk with you for a while if that’s okay."
Draken raised his gaze from the motor he was fixing at that and met Takemichi’s blue eyes with curiosity, before resuming his task.
"Sure. Grab that stool over there and sit. I got some time before the guy comes to pick up that one. He’s lucky I even accepted to deal with it, honestly. That shit is prehistoric. I told him it would definitely die on him anytime soon, but he wouldn’t hear any of it. Vintage, he called it. Stupid-ass rich boy."
"At least scam him a bit, then." Takemichi snorted.
"You bet." He got a sharp, very Draken-like grin in response. "So what’s up with you?"
Takemichi took his time looking around as he was bringing the additional stool next to where Draken was working, thinking on how to bring the question he wanted to ask.
"You might have noticed, but I haven’t gone back to the future in a while." he started. Draken nodded, letting him pace the conversation. "I’m sure you can guess by now, but Mikey was not exactly doing well there."
Draken nodded again, his face darkening a little at that. Takemichi was especially sparing him the details of the terrible futures he went back to - not because he thought the tattooed man couldn’t handle it, but because he knew him to be extremely sensitive. Takemichi would deny it if someone told him it was ironic of him to reproach Mikey for always shouldering all the responsibilities himself instead of asking for help, but he genuinely thought of the need to save Mikey from himself as his own responsibility. He refused to burden the others more than necessary. He may suck at fighting, but he was definitely good at helping others, so he’d do just that. There must be a reason why him of all people had been granted the ability to travel through time after all. He was just thankful for Naoto’s ever willingness to give him a hand - literally.
"I couldn’t take it anymore, I guess. Seing him die over and over again and not being able to do anything… I don’t want to see that ever again."
"That’s more than understandable. Honestly, I don’t know how you’re still holding up sometimes, man. I get why you want to help Mikey. And I’m infinitely grateful for that. But…" Draken seemed to be picking his words cautiously. "If you want to give up, no one will blame you, you know. You’ve done so much for all of us, we’ll be busy repaying you for many of our next lives."
"There’s nothing to repay." Takemichi replied without hesitation, and meant it.
"Still. What I mean is, you don’t have to stick around forever 12 years from your own timeline trying to save Mikey. He’s an adult now, and if the decisions he makes always lead him there… maybe there’s nothing you can do about it."
"Thank you, Draken-kun. I know you’re looking out for me by saying this but I promise you - I’m fine. And I will save Mikey-kun. Even if it takes me another six years. Or twenty. I’ll save him. And I’ll go back to a future where Sano Manjiro is alive and well. I’m never giving up."
Draken studied him for a bit, before simply asking:
The question took Takemichi a little by surprise. But he didn’t have to think for long.
"Because… because Mikey-kun is the reason I could become who I am. He found me, accepted me into Toman even though I had nothing to offer, gave me true friends and a purpose. And he stuck with me all these years, opening up to me and let me in close, even though I still don’t know why, but he’s always with me and… Mikey-kun is just very important to me." Takemichi added that last bit shyly, expecting Draken to tease him.
"Okay." was the surprising reply. Draken seemed like he was battling a smile though, but ended up turning his head back to the motor so Takemichi couldn’t be sure. He was glad for it though, because he was fairly certain his own face was a little red. "So do you have a plan?"
"That’s the thing. I was just going to stay here forever, trying to figure out whatever it is that could make Mikey-kun grow into a happy and… at least somewhat sane adult. But a few days ago, Mikey-kun and I were talking about that and I ended up asking him if he had any idea what could work. I only figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask and didn’t really expect anything but… he told that there might be something."
Draken, who had been moving around to grab a different tool, stopped mid-movement to turn his head back to face Takemichi. He looked bewildered.
"Yes! I was so excited! But…but then! I asked what it was and… and he said he couldn’t tell me. Said something like I had to figure it out by myself otherwise it wouldn’t work. He’s messing with me, isn’t he?"
Draken had turned his back again to Takemichi to rummage through his numerous tool in search of the one he wanted, and did not speak for a while, apparently contemplating the new information. When he finally turned, this time the smile on his face was unmistakable.
"No." he said finally. "I don’t think he’s messing with you. I have my guess as to what he meant, actually. And… sorry to say but he’s right, Takemichy. You’ll have to figure out this one yourself."
Takemichy gaped. Not him too!
"Draken-kun, you can’t be serious. You want me to believe that there is truly a way to save Mikey, and that you both know what it is, but if you told me it would jinx it?"
"Yeah, pretty much. But the good news is, you’re definitely on the right path. I think you should figure it out in the upcoming months, or something." He thought a little at that, and then, because he was Draken and he could, added with a grin: "Or a bit longer. You’re kind of slow, after all."
Takemichi huffed and groaned but his friend only laughed and wished him good luck. He stayed for another half hour of so catching up with Draken before excusing himself when Mikey called him to tell him he was back from wherever he and Sanzu had been. Draken had a secretive smile too when he told Takemichi to go, and come back more often.
Despite how disgruntled Takemichi was upon Mikey and Draken’s refusal to share what the miraculous secret was, he also couldn’t help feel excited. Having Draken confirm that there is a way to save Mikey and hearing that he’s on the right path gave him a boost of confidence in his plan. He would definitely figure it out sooner or later, they were trusting him to do so.
Having no clue as to where to look though, Takemichi decided to stick with his initial plan for now: spending as much time possible with Mikey. The other boy somehow didn’t seem to tire of him so far. Takemichi would call him when he got out of work, and then either Mikey was out and would join him somewhere, or Takemichi would come pick him up at his house and they’d ride together to his apartment, or any place they wanted to go.
Takemichi had had the growing suspicion that Mikey didn’t like to be in his own house - undoubtedly too empty, and a reminder of all the people he had lost. He hadn’t found a way to bring up the topic, though. After all, it might also be a comforting space for him to spend time with his deceased loved ones, in a way. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like for Mikey, therefore he decided it was not his place to make suggestions for him to move out. So instead, he offered to Mikey to come to his place whenever he wanted. For some reason, the blond boy seemed to find his crappy apartment to his liking. Much like he had found beaten-up and pathetic Takemichi to his liking all these years ago - Takemichi had long ago stopped trying to make sense of Mikey’s tastes.
These days, Mikey was around more often than not. Takemichi had ended up giving him a spare key to his apartment, and he would sometimes come home to find the blond boy lounging in an improbable position on the sofa, or raiding the fridge looking for snacks. He stayed the night more and more often, too. Now that they were of age, they would drink together and chat well into the night, and Takemichi was not about to let Mikey ride back while drunk. It was still too cold, anyway, and his bed was so huge that he was barely even aware that he wasn’t alone in it.
The others sometimes joked about how nice and patient Takemichi was and that he was totally letting Mikey walk all over him and steal his apartment. Takemichi didn’t know how to tell them that he didn’t feel like he was giving any of himself up by doing that - he simply enjoyed being around Mikey, taking him places, seeing him get excited over little things or talking with him for hours even though he’d be sleeping on his feet at work tomorrow. He would die of embarrassment before he had to admit that being with Mikey made him feel special, always had. And he definitely wouldn’t be telling them the relief he experienced every morning he would wake up to see beloved long, golden locks of hair on the other side of his bed.
However, despite spending virtually all of his free time with Mikey now, Takemichi wasn’t making any progress of his quest. He had tried asking Draken again, even for hints, but the tattooed boy had been as tight-lipped as Mikey, only repeating that he was definitely on the right path. Which could mean anything, really. So this time Takemichi decided that he would seek the help of the person who was always on his side no matter what - his partner in crime, his acolyte in all plans, his most trusted friend.
"Wow, the cats really hate you, huh."
"No way! I don’t know what you told them about me, but usually cats love m- OUCH! No, no, no need for biting , ouch, ouch, Chifuyu stop laughing and take her away from me already, what have I ever done - OUCH!- to you, you orange demon - no no no I take it back OUCH, OUCH! CHIFUYU!"
Chifuyu finally took the enraged cat away from Takemichi’s almost bleeding arms, laughing hard. And - you guessed it - the monster immediately went calm and cuddly in his best friend’s arms. Takemichi pouted at that because it was true, cats used to love him! So it must have been Chifuyu who had been talking shit about him to them, because to his great misery all the cats in the pet shop he was working in hated him. All, but one. There was this one big, fluffy black cat that… tolerated him. Liked would have been a strong word, but although the cat refused to be picked up, he would go by himself on Takemichi’s shoulders and generally walk all over him. The cat was somehow a little intimidating, so Takemichi let him do what he wanted while breathing as quietly as possible, but he liked the cat. He was also Chifuyu’s favorite - following him everywhere because apparently that cat didn’t believe in cages.
"Alright, alright, let me close the shop for the day and then we can go get dumplings at that place I sent you by text this morning, ok?"
Takemichi agreed and stayed near the door, several feet away from the cats as he watched Chifuyu do the evening routine a pet shop required before closing. After about fifteen minutes, the now black-haired boy was locking the door and leading the two of them back to where their bikes were parked a few feet away. They rode to the dumplings place Chifuyu wanted to try, and picked a corner table after ordering far too much as per usual. They’d definitely leave the place rolling instead of walking, but now that they both had access to adult money, the cheap street food snacks eaten on parking lots and empty parks didn’t do it anymore.
"Really? Kazutora-kun will be getting out earlier?"
"Yeah. Good conduct plus all the testimonies we gave, apparently, so it went down to seven years."
Takemichi had been surprised to learn that Chifuyu had started visiting Kazutora in jail a few months ago. Now, he’d go there about once a week, sometimes twice if work wasn’t too busy. He didn’t know what they talked about - from what he’d gathered, the two hadn’t known each other much before Kazutora went to jail, but Chifuyu seemed to find peace in visiting him. And Takemichi was certain the visits must be good for Kazutora, too - after all, Chifuyu was awesome. Definitely the kind of person that would brighten someone’s day and give them something to look forward to, the kind of person you’d feel safe and comfortable with just a few sentences in. He would know. Takemichi had contemplated going to visit Kazutora himself, but he’d always been secretly scared his presence wouldn’t be welcome by the other boy. He’d see him soon enough though, apparently.
"That’s great news! Kazutora-kun must be so excited."
"Not really. He’s… not excited by much, you know. But… I’ve been thinking for a while about offering him to come work with me at the pet shop. The lady who owns it is getting older, so she’s looking for someone else to help out. That way, he’d have somewhere to go, and I could keep an eye on him, right?"
Chifuyu seemed a little nervous and hesitant to share his plan, and Takemichi realised he must truly care about the other boy much more than he had guessed.
"I think it’s a great idea." Takemichi smiled. He meant it. "That’s probably the thing that Kazutora-kun will need most when he gets out, a place to belong to. And something to do, so he won’t spiral. Let’s just hope the cats don’t end up hating him like they hate me."
Chifuyu visibly relaxed at having his plan approved, and snorted.
"Hopefully not. Besides, Baji-san used to tell me about how the two of them would hang out with all the neighbourhood cats and stuff, so I figured it should be fine."
"Yeah, it will. Think you’ll take over the pet shop once the owner is too old?"
"Definitely, if I can. I don’t think Cutthroat would let me leave, anyway."
Cutthroat was the big black cat always by Chifuyu’s side - or perched on Chifuyu’s shoulder. Takemichi hadn’t told him, or any of them, what it is they were doing at his present timeline, twelve years in the future. He didn’t want to influence them. But everything seemed to go smoothly - Chifuyu would indeed take over the pet shop not long after Kazutora had joined him there, Draken and Inupi had opened the bike shop they’d work in for a long time, Mitsuya’s fashion studies were going well and Hakken’s model career would soon take off if he continued to be the one always trying on and pausing with the outfit his captain created. Only Mikey was left, now.
"Probably not." Takemichi agreed, laughing.
Their dumplings were brought to them then, and they started eating voraciously. They’d ordered about eight different kinds, and they looked amazing.
"What about you?" Chifuyu asked after a while, between two mouthfuls of gyozas. "You told me you were staying there until you found out a way to have future Mikey be happy for sure. Any progress on that?"
"Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about." He’d been so busy catching up with Chifuyu and happy learning the news about Kazutora, he’d forgotten he’d actually asked him to hang out tonight to ask for advice.
"Why? Any news?"
So Takemichi told him about the conversation with Mikey from a few weeks ago, and the one with Draken that had followed. Chifuyu listened attentively, only breaking eye contact to pick his next dumpling. When Takemichi finally finished updating him, his best friend’s green eyes were shining with excitement.
"You’re kidding! So there truly is a way? I’m not gonna lie, I was kinda starting to think it was hopeless but man, if even Draken-kun says so, then it’s definitely possible."
"But they still won’t tell me what it is. And even though I’m always with Mikey these days, I don’t feel any closer to figuring it out." Takemichi groaned. "So I was hoping you’d have some ideas?"
Chifuyu thought long and hard, humming around the dumplings he took to his mouth.
"Honestly, I’m not too sure either. When you took Mikey-kun to Manila last year, I thought for sure that must be it. That it had been the kind of closure he had been lacking all this time. But he still ended up in a terrible way, didn’t he?"
Thinking about the last future-Mikey, dead from heroine overdose all alone in his own house, made Takemichi’s heart ache, so he steered his mind in another direction quickly.
"Yeah." he replied without elaborating. "It’s like no matter what I do, one way or another, his loneliness ends up killing him."
Chifuyu stopped mid-bite at that, his eyes widening.
"Loneliness! That’s it! Then maybe what he needs is… company?"
"What do you mean? Mikey-kun is always surrounded. That’s not the kind of loneliness I was referring to."
"I know. But what I meant by company was… a romantic kind of company. Maybe what Mikey-kun needs is a partner for life - someone that is his equal and not his subordinate, no matter how dedicated."
The idea took Takemichi by surprise. Partly, because he realised he’d never thought about Mikey dating someone - he had simply never seemed interested in anyone in that way, and Takemichi could hardly imagine it. What would even be Mikey’s type?
"Uh. I guess that’s… an interesting idea. I’ll try to suggest it, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Mikey-kun has never seemed interested in anyone. Maybe that’s just not for him." Takemichi ended up replying.
For some reason, the idea of Mikey dating disturbed him a lot, so he changed the topic.
That night, when he got to his apartment at almost midnight, he found Mikey already sleeping in the bed. He was as always hugging his old towel - that Takemichi had managed to convince him to let him wash sometimes - and his long hair was all over the pillow. Takemichi watched him for a bit, feeling his usual relief upon finding Mikey peacefully asleep and with his hair unchanged. Yes, the hair thing was getting a little obsessive. But there were worst obsessions to have, right?
He showered and got inside the bed as well. He didn’t feel tired - his mind was still racing, turning over Chifuyu’s suggestion. Could it really be what Mikey needed? He supposed it was not such an unreasonable idea. Although he himself had put dating behind him when he broke up with Hina in high school, he acknowledged that for a lot of people, finding a life partner was a goal, and often, something that made life worth living. After all, twelve years from now, about everyone around them was either in a relationship or married. And it had seemed to bring out the best in all of them. Maybe that truly was what Mikey needed. But then why not straight up telling Takemichi?
Takemichi was trying to convince himself that it must not be that, because if he was honest with himself, the idea deeply unsettled him. From his initial position of facing the wall, he turned to face Mikey as the blond boy was still sleeping on his back, and looked at his profile for a while - don’t talk to him about creepiness when Mikey spent the equivalent of a part-time job staring at him, ok -, watching his body rise peacefully with each breath. In many ways, he found the night hours to be the worst ones to think things over. These hours seemed to come with a unique kind of honesty, where even lying to yourself was prohibited. So, ugly truths it was.
He had trouble imagining Mikey dating someone, because that would mean that he’d go from being his priority and place of comfort, back to being just one of his friends. One.
The idea of Mikey finding a partner being the secret to him finally finding happiness hurt, because it implied that Takemichi wouldn’t be the one to make him happy. Two.
Mikey shifted a bit in his sleep, and a strand of hair fell on his face. Takemichi absentmindedly tucked in back behind his ear.
He was obsessing over Mikey’s hair, because that was the only thing he could cling to, the only thing that meant for sure it was his Mikey in front of him, and not someone he had failed. Three.
Takemichi closed his eyes, feeling at the same time both insanely upset and calmer from having been honest with himself. Admitting his own selfishness was hard, but it was better than working against himself; yes, he disliked - hated - the idea of Mikey finding someone, but that did not matter. Takemichi may be selfish deep inside, but he had his priorities straight. If finding a partner was what Mikey needed to be happy, then he’d go look himself for the person who’d meet Mikey’s no doubt insane standards, and he’d marry them himself if it came down to that. And if his heart hurt a little watching Mikey eventually move in and spend all of his time with someone else, it was just a small price to pay if it meant he got to see Mikey happy and blooming. When Takemichi accepted that, although his pain did not subside, he was at least able to find peace, and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Takemichi had loved Hina very much, even as he came to her to ask for a break-up when they were seventeen. It had not come as much of a surprise to the ever observant girl. As they had gotten into high school, and everyone around them had started to find their own path, Takemichi had found himself increasingly focusing on Mikey. As Draken had started working part-time at a bike shop, Mikey would often be waiting outside his school for Takemichi to finish his classes, and they’d wander off together to hang out anywhere that stroke Mikey’s fancy until it was time for the then daily Toman meetings. He’d also been traveling non stop between the past and the present at the time, his growing despair at ever being able to save Mikey making him sometimes show up at the Tachibanas’ apartment in the middle of the night for a handshake with Naoto.
Takemichi had found himself apologising more and more for having to cancel plans with his girlfriend, and Hina’s replies, although always understanding, had gotten sadder and sadder. On the rare occasions they got to hang out and go on dates towards the end, Hina always seemed melancholic and a bit withdrawn. Takemichi had hated to see that, to see someone as lively and sweet as Hina being sad because of someone like him. So he’d had to sit and really think about what his priorities were here, because he couldn’t go on like this. He respected Hina too much to keep treating her like this; if he wanted things to become truly serious between them, he knew what he had to do. He’d have to cut down hanging out with Mikey all the time, cut down on the countless trips between the past and the future, and eventually accept it if he couldn’t save Mikey after all.
So although it broke his own heart to do so, the next day, he broke up with Hina. In the end, when it came down to it, he knew Mikey’s happiness was still his priority. She was not surprised, and thanked him for releasing them from something that was making them both sad. Then, with a sad yet kind smile, she wished him good luck with Mikey.
For years, Takemichi had thought she had meant good luck in your quest to save him. Now he thought that maybe she had meant something else.
Takemichi stalled for a few days, telling himself that there was just no way to just directly ask Mikey whether he’d perhaps like a significant other to save him from eternal loneliness. What if he said no? What if he said yes? Takemichi decided to cut his losses, and ask Draken first. Even though he had refused to outrightly tell him what the way was, surely he’d let him know if he had found it right?
Because it was difficult to see Draken without Mikey coming with these days - he was his best friend after all, so if Takemichi told him he was meeting the tattooed boy, he naturally just came with -, Takemichi ended up showing up at the bike shop unannounced after work once again. This time, Draken was busy with a client though; he made eye contact for a second to let him know he had noticed him and would come to him when he was done, and Takemichi nodded to show he got the message. He went to the back of the shop looking for Inupi meanwhile. When he found him, the white-blond boy was looking at a catalogue of engine pieces, with one Hajime Kokonoi draped over his back, looking at the pages over his shoulder and making comments that were making Inupi snort. Neither of them noticed him, and Takemichi found himself a bit reluctant to disturb them but if would be too awkward to turn back on his heels now.
"Hey there, Koko, Inupi."
The two turned as one, looking as if they just remembered there were other people in the world.
"Takemichy!" Inupi recovered faster, and gave him a kind smile. "It’s been a while. What’s up?"
"Came in to see Draken-kun for a bit, but he’s with a client. How is the house move going?"
The two were leaving their current apartment for a bigger, more luxurious one. Koko’s career as a business advisor was… successful, to say the least.
"Smoothly. If you ever get tired of your tiny apartment, we have a closet twice as big as your place for you to move into, if you’d like." A very Koko-like reply, complete with him sticking out his tongue.
Inupi held back a laugh at that, and as per usual, joined in with Koko to bully Takemichi.
"Now, Koko, don’t be like that. The closet wouldn’t be big enough to fit Takemichy and Mikey."
"You’re right, Inupi. They’re not that tiny, I guess. Maybe we could put them each in their own little closet then?"
Ah, yes, height jokes. It had been a solid minute.
"Dunno about that. They come as a pack these days."
Pretty rich coming from two people who definitely shared the same brain cell if you asked him-
"Then we can give the guest bedroom to Mikey, and Takemichy can visit him when he wants to get out of his closet. How about that?"
"Why do I have to be the one ending up in the closet anyway? Mikey-kun is even shorter than me."
Wrong question, apparently, because the couple smirked like villains. And then, a familiar arm was slung over Takemichi’s shoulders.
"You two need to stop bullying your own captain." said Draken from beside him, good-naturedly.
"Someone has to do it." replied Koko.
"I’m pretty sure everyone does." Draken snorted. Takemichi sighed. Talk about a savior.
"Alright. Thanks for the offer, Koko. I’ll ask Mikey-kun what he thinks about it and get back to you."
That did the trick and wiped the smirk of the duo’s face - even after years, Mikey was still an incredibly intimidating person for most people, even within Toman. Apparently, even them didn’t dare joke about his height in front of him. Takemichi smiled sweetly, and Draken laughed.
"Deserved. Inupi, you got an annoyed client waiting in the front, by the way. I think it’s about those wheels you changed this morning." Inupi winced at that, and went to meet the client, Koko on his heels. Draken turned back to Takemichi. "You wanted to talk, I’m guessing? Let’s go sit over there. I need a break anyway."
They sat on the pavement at the back of the shop, and Draken took out a cigarette. He had picked up smoking a while ago, and it suited so much his image with the head tattoo and the bike shop, Takemichi found it secretly endearing.
"Is it about Mikey?" he asked, lighting up his cigarette. He knew Takemichi well.
"Yeah. I think… I may know what it is, that you guys wouldn’t tell me. The thing that could save Mikey-kun."
Draken turned his face to him at that, eyebrows raised in bewilderment.
"Hah? Somehow, I doubt it. But go ahead, let’s hear it."
His lack of confidence made Takemichi huff, but at the same time, made him hope that perhaps he had been wrong after all. There was no way what Mikey was looking for was a significant other, right?
"Could it be that… that what Mikey-kun would need is… a partner? As in, to- to date someone?"
Draken stopped mid-movement, when he was about to take a drag of his cigarette. He kept staring straight ahead, apparently pondering something or trying to pick his words. He opened his mouth and closed it again, looking suddenly very uncertain. Come on, Takemichi implored. Laugh and tell me this is the most stupid thing you’ve heard all day. But Draken ended up taking that drag, before replying:
"In a way… I guess you could say you’re kind of right."
Takemichi felt his heart fall in his chest. He tried to cheer himself up, because that was great news, when you thought about it! He now knew for sure what it was that Mikey had lacked all these years! He only had to find the perfect person to make him happy, and take him away from him, and he’d have finally kept the promise he’d made to that future Mikey all these years ago, and the promise he made to himself too. It was great. It was fucking fantastic!
He wanted to cry.
"Oh. Looks like I figured it out sooner than you had bet then, huh?" he tried to joke, but even to him, it sounded empty and lame. Draken probably noticed.
The tattooed boy kept silent for a while, consuming his cigarette and looking at the street activity in front of them.
"You look awfully down for someone who just learned he finally found the way to fulfil his goal and keep his promise."
"What? No, I was just under the sho-" he didn’t got time to finish his lie.
"Could it be that Mikey was just one more mark on the list to fulfil your saviour complex and now you feel empty at loosing your purpose in life?"
Now that took him by surprise. Takemichi’s eyebrows shot up, his blue eyes widening dramatically.
"Huh? No way, Draken-kun, you know that I’d never view-"
"Are you sure? Because that’s what it looks like, to me. Someone who finally overcame their biggest challenge yet, and feels hollow after so much time focusing on it."
"Mikey-kun is not a challenge to me! I just wanted to make him happy! What’s so wrong about that!" Takemichi couldn’t believe he’d yelled at Draken, but there were some things he would never allow anyone to say.
"So why aren’t you excited?" Draken asked calmly, taking another drag of his cigarette, and it only made Takemichi angrier.
"Because it means I won’t be the one making Mikey-kun happy! Someone else will get to make him happy, and blooming, and I’ll be all alone in the sidelines genuinely wishing them happiness, because Mikey-kun is the most important person to me in the world, and I’ll do it, but I don’t have to be happy about it, damn it."
There was a long silence after that, and Takemichi wondered absently if Draken would get angry too for being snapped at. But the other man once again bewildered him when he laughed quietly.
"I knew you to be dense, but really, Takemichy, you take the word ‘oblivious’ to a whole new level. It’s basically an olympic sport, at this point."
Takemichi was getting whiplash after whiplash here from all the unexpected turns the conversation was taking. Sometimes, he forgot that Draken could be as unpredictable as Mikey.
"Huh?" was the intelligent reply that came out. Draken sighed.
"Tell me, Takemichy. Do you think Mikey is gonna be saved by dating one random-ass person just for the sake of it?"
"No, of course not. But-"
"So, then. Who the fuck does Mikey spend all his time with, who does he trust with his life, who does in confides in, who does he always indulge, who takes him on fucking taiyakis dates for his birthday, who lets him sleep in his bed and basically live at his place rent-free just because, who has kept Mikey from going off the deep end all these years and managed to make him happy despite loosing so much?"
Takemichi gaped at his friend. No words came to his brain, and even less to his mouth. He processed all that, but his mind kept thinking No way. There was no way that the person whose company would make Mikey want to live, could be him. There was simply no way. Yet, he wanted it to be true very badly.
As if sensing the chaos he had caused in his mind, Draken snorted as he crushed his cigarette on the pavement next to him.
"You’re unbelievable. This shit has been going on for literal years, and yet you look like I just dumped the biggest news on you right now."
"Draken-kun, you must be mistaken."
"Nah. I don’t need to have been in the futures like you to know that in all of them, you probably ended up with Hina or someone else, and that when you left Mikey to eventually go your own way, he probably got crushed with loneliness." Draken thought a bit at that. "Probably not very healthy, but hey, it’s Mikey we’re talking about. And god forbids someone steals his beloved Takemichy away from him."
That set Takemichi’s face aflame. Sure, Mikey was a little possessive of him but… Suddenly, one image came to his mind, one image from the future he perhaps hated the most, because it had been the first one he had seen Mikey in, the first time his Mikey had died in his arms. His mind took him back to Manila what felt like a decade ago, where a black-haired Mikey had asked him with a terribly sad smile why he had left him. And then he’d told him… I wanted you to stay with me.
Had it been there all this time?
"Look, you need time to process that, I get it. Ask around if you want - hell, what do you think Inupi and Koko were teasing you about earlier?" Takemichi looked at him, confused, and Draken sighed again. "Whatever. Figure it out. But once you do, please, fucking finally do something about it. It’s been a long six years for the rest of us, watching you guys dance around each other like idiots. At least Mikey was aware of it, I guess."
"Mikey-kun talked to you about it?"
"He quietly told me to shut the fuck up when I asked him, once. If that wasn’t answer enough, his red-ass ears were."
Takemichi couldn’t imagine that.
"What… what should I do, then?"
"You two are basically doing all the things a couple does by now, so I dunno. Just start kissing him when you get home, or something, and he’ll get the hint."
Kissing him! Kissing Mikey! Just like that! No way! He’d need at least a century before he’d be ready to do that! He couldn’t just do that. Or could he? Him, kissing Mikey! No way!
Probably sensing Takemichi was going to need a lot of time to digest that, Draken got up.
"I need to get back to work. Sorry for testing you back then, by the way." At least he looked a little sheepish about it. "Once you’re ready, don’t make Mikey wait longer - he’s been waiting for a while already, you know."
He ruffled Takemichi’s dark brown hair on the way back, unaware that he had turned upside down his whole universe in the space of a conversation.
In the end, it kind of happened like what Draken had jokingly suggested. After getting confirmation from not only Koko and Inupi but virtually the whole gang that yes, he was an idiot, obviously Mikey was in love with him, and Takemichi better be in love too cause they didn’t want to deal with a rejected Mikey, Takemichi had slowly adjusted to that new reality. Mikey loved him. And he loved Mikey. It made sense, really, now that he thought about it. He thought back about Hina’s knowing smile back in the taiyakis bakery, and thought that really, he must have been the only one it had not been obvious to. Okay, to be fair, Chifuyu hadn’t guessed either. But Chifuyu was a dumbass, so it didn’t count.
He had only stopped for a very short time to wonder if he was up to the task - being Mikey’s life partner was no small feat after all, and neither was being the guardian of his happiness. But there was no hesitation there, really. He’d do it. No matter how, he’d make Mikey happy. They’d spend the next twelve years together, catching up to the present timeline, while learning everything about each other and discovering what love was together. The idea made his chest feel so warm, he knew it was right.
So as one day Mikey was lying on his back on the sofa, his head in Takemichi’s lap, face up, Takemichi suddenly decided he, too, had waited long enough. Mikey was telling him about his plan to prank Draken by dying his hair bright orange - his most hated color - in his sleep, and Takemichi was listening to him trying not to smile and to reason with him that there friend would burn the whole city down, when the fondness in his chest grew too big, and Mikey was just there, beloved big black eyes staring up at him mischievously, so something had to be done.
Instead of replying, he just leaned down, angled his head, and kissed him. The angle was a bit awkward, but in that moment, it had seemed inconsequential compared to the imperative urge to finally know what his kiss felt like.
When he moved his face away a little to gauge Mikey’s reaction, in the seconds where neither of them said anything, he started praying to all listening gods that Draken hadn’t played a joke on him the whole time.
Black eyes were searching his blue ones, looking as shocked as Takemichi felt. He had kissed Mikey! Holy shit, he’d done it. The realisation made him blush madly, but he refused to back away now - he didn’t want Mikey to think that it had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, and that he regretted it. No, he intended to do that again - if Mikey wanted it too, that is. So, they searched each other’s gaze for what seemed like an eternity. In the end, Mikey must have found there whatever he was looking for, because at some point his eyes sparkled with something akin to warmth, and he took Takemichi’s face in his hands, smiling a little, before getting up from his lap, pushing him against the back of the couch, and kissing him back.
"So you did figure it out." Mikey pointed out, grinning, between two kisses.
He looked so utterly happy, it set Takemichi’s heart racing even more. His favorite face, paired with genuine happiness, was a truly unmatched sight. At last, his right hand tangled in Mikey’s golden blond locks, and everything felt incredibly right.
It’s a few weeks later when Mikey comes back to the apartment later than usual. Upon hearing the front door opening and the familiar sound of his boyfriend’s shoes being taken off, Takemichi lifted his head from the bed where he had been moping - or, as he told himself, relaxing. He wasn’t afraid anymore when Mikey wasn’t home when he hadn’t mentioned any plan to be out; he simply missed him. He had not gotten over what it was like to kiss Mikey yet, and doubted he ever will. So naturally, when he came home from work, that’s what he wanted to do. You can’t blame him.
"Mikey? Where were you?" he had meant to sound casual, but he knew the blond boy would definitely hear the pout in his voice and tease him. As if he wasn’t just as clingy.
He heard the familiar footsteps leisurely make their way from the living room to the bedroom where Takemichi was.
"Hmm. Suddenly wanted a change, so I went to the hairdresser."
Takemichi felt his heart stop. No. No, that couldn’t be happening. He had figured it out, hadn’t he? So why? Why now? Had Mikey been wrong about what could change his future? Was there truly nothing he could do, then?
When Mikey entered the room, Takemichi’s brain stopped working.
His hair was a bit shorter, and it was a vibrant shade of blue.
In every future he had seen, Mikey had had a different hairstyle - white, black, silver, half-half, shaved - and dead eyes. But right now, this Mikey was nowhere in sight. The Mikey in front of him looked more alive than he’d ever seen him, and his eyes were sparkling with a warmth that seemed to have never left ever since they’d first kissed. Takemichi felt his heart calm down, and then start racing for a whole other reason. Mikey was so, so stunning.
The blue had been unexpected considering his usual choices. But for whatever reason Mikey had picked this specific shade of ocean blue, it suited him perfectly, as if it had been made for him.
Takemichi decided he liked the blue hair.
Chapter 2: epilogue
the soft epilogue we deserve
someone suggested I write some takemikey fluff, so I thought an epilogue was the perfect occasion to do so :-)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I am not wearing a dress for our wedding, Mikey-kun."
Predictably, that earned Takemichi a pout from his gang leader, enemy of the state, twenty-five years old boyfriend. But he had learned to steel himself against it over the years, and therefore did not budge.
"Why not? You’d look pretty in one."
"I-" He was not going to fall for that one. He held off his blush through sheer force of will. "T-Then. Why don’t you wear one yourself."
"Takemitchy~" Mikey was draped over him the next instant, looking like a delighted cat. "Are you calling me pretty?"
"I-It’s not like you don’t know you’re pretty." There was no fighting back the blush now. Thank god they were having this conversation in the privacy of their bedroom at home, and not, say - at a Toman admins’ meeting. Yes, it had happened before. "Besides, d-don’t flirt with me while we’re arguing!"
"Huh? We’re not arguing. I’m merely making a suggestion to my fiance."
"Well, suggestion denied."
"About about we both wear dresses then?"
"Now you’re just being unreasonable."
Pouting intensified. Somehow.
Damn it, the pout got the better of him every time. Takemichi sighed fondly and squished Mikey’s face between his hands - a gesture born of years of familiarity and comfort that his fifteen years old self would never have dreamed of ever do to Toman’s leader.
"We don’t need dresses to make the day special." Takemichi pressed a gentle kiss to his boyfriend’s temple. "It’s gonna be magic no matter what."
Somewhat mollified, Mikey curled around Takemichi from behind him, his head resting in the crook of his neck.
"Fine. But you’re refreshing my hair dye the night before. I want the color to be the brightest for our wedding day."
"What?" Takemichi whined. "But then I’ll have blue hands for our wedding! Your hair dye is the worst!"
Mikey did not reply and simply nuzzled Takemichi’s neck, a clear message that he couldn’t have cared less. Takemichi knew there were some battle he would just not win, and that was one of them. Mikey was adamant about his hair.
"Fine." he conceded in turn, sighing again, resolving himself to put three pairs of plastic gloves on top of each other and hope that the cursed hair dye wouldn’t make it to his skin. "Why do you use this specific brand anyway? The quality is not great and plenty of brands make blue hair dye now."
"It’s the only one that has the right shade."
"Is that so?" From Takemichi’s point of view, the shade in question was nothing rare or special - just a vibrant ocean blue. Of course, after four years of Mikey wearing it, it had now become a very special color to him; but he still failed to identify why his boyfriend was so obsessed with this specific shade. He figured now was as good a time as ever to ask him. "Why this specific shade anyway?"
His question was met with silence. After several long seconds, Mikey lifted his head from Takemichi’s neck.
"…you’re joking, right?"
"Huh?" Takemichi turned his head around to look at his boyfriend, surprised by the reply. "What do you mean?"
"You seriously don’t know why I’ve been wearing blue hair for four years?"
There was a specific reason? Takemichi was embarrassed to admit he had no idea. Frankly, knowing Mikey, he had always thought the other boy had just woke up one morning wanting blue hair and that had been it.
"It’s, uh, your favorite color?"
Mikey blinked at him.
"All this time I thought you were just pretending to be stupid."
"Hey! Don’t be mean! Y-You just arrived one day with blue hair and you didn’t say anything. How can I guess!"
"You really are a dumbass."
Takemichi huffed, his face now aflame. Mikey was not being fair. He was not a psychic! He tried hard to think about any past mention of the color blue that might have arose in a conversation, but nothing came up. And he was pretty sure Mikey would bonk him if he tried his only guess (that he liked the ocean?).
"S-So you’re not gonna tell me?" he asked, still red in the face, when the silence stretched; Mikey still staring at him unimpressed.
"F-Fine. Then I’ll ask Draken-kun."
"Kenchin won’t tell you shit. He’ll laugh at you and will tell Inupi. Then Koko will join them and laugh at you too."
Takemichi whined and turned around fully to face Mikey who had pulled away a little, sitting behind him on the bed with his legs and arms crossed. Takemichi encircled his neck with his arms and made both of them topple over on the bed, lying face to face. Mikey was visibly trying to give him the cold shoulder but luckily, he was terrible at it - especially when Takemichi was peppering his face and neck with little kisses while carding his fingers through his hair at the back of his neck. Mikey liked to be petted too much.
"Mikey-kun~" Takemichi murmured as he planted a soft kiss on his boyfriend’s jaw.
Mikey didn’t reply, but turned his face a little bit to give him better access.
"Manjiro~" he tried again and held off a smile when he saw the tip of Mikey’s ears redden a little.
Just when he thought he finally had him, Mikey turned his face as Takemichi was going for a cheekbone kiss, and caught his lips instead. The blue-haired boy got on top of Takemichi, taking control of the kiss. When they finally pulled apart, Takemichi was flushed -for a whole new reason- and his eyes a little glazed. Mikey’s deep black eyes bore into his blue ones for a few moments as he traced his features with a finger.
"I’m not telling you." he said finally.
His voice was soft, barely more than a murmur, but this time Takemichi could hear a hint of mischief in it - reminding him of a similar conversation in the very same apartment a few years ago.
"You’ll have to figure it out yourself."
what can I say? I love oblivious takemichi and mikey being ridiculously whipped for him :))
i used to have blue hair and that stuff was a NIGHTMARE. my hands would stay blue for a whole week after the dyeing day, the pillows were blue, my shirts were blue, my hairbrush was blue. so. stay strong, takemichi!
thank you for all your comments and kudos, it means so much to me <3
see you (very) soon for more takemikey and kokonui stories :D