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“I’m not gonna fit, Asougi!”

“Nonsense, partner.” Asougi laughs, his breath hot against Naruhodou’s skin. “You just have to put your heart into it!”

The warmth that spills from every syllable that Asougi speaks is almost enough to distract Naruhodou from the sheer absurdity of their current situation. Another press forward, this time a little more insistent. Naruhoudou’s skin flares with heat where Asougi’s fingers are curled around his shoulders.

“T-That isn’t going to make me any smaller!” Naruhodou stutters out, breathless despite having done nothing of substance in the past ten minutes. Okay, so maybe he’s being difficult—but it’s not everyday that he ends up half shoved into a trunk. Who even owns trunks this big unless they were smuggling something suspicious?

“Maybe not, but it will give you the determination to try. Are you even trying?” Asougi huffs, closer still. Naruhodou doesn’t think this is necessary in the slightest, but Asougi insisted on helping.

“I am, thank you very much!” Naruhodou heaves with exasperation. He hasn’t the slightest clue how he’s going to fit his torso in, let alone his legs. “I’d like to see you do better.”

“...” Asougi’s deadpan stare is enough to have Naruhodou backpedalling on what he said. Even still, Asougi’s gaze wanders away from Naruhodou’s face and down the line of his neck, only coming to a stop at his chest. “I’m considerably bigger than you.”

Naruhodou doesn’t even have to look and see for himself. He’s well aware of how much broader Asougi’s shoulders are, how the muscles of his arms strain against his uniform every time he swings Karma around. Compared to Asougi, Naruhodou’s arms are like limp noodles; sore and aching after little more than lugging stacks of English textbooks around.

“You’re right, that was stupid. Nevermind,” Naruhodou says with a cough, turning his attention away from how close Asougi is right now. They don’t have much time before the boat departs and he’s barely inside the luggage.

Naruhodou squats down, settling his bottom squarely inside the trunk while his legs hang over the perimeter. It takes a bit of awkward shuffling to rotate himself so that he’s facing the right way, grumbling underneath his breath all the while. Something on his face must set Asougi off because Naruhodou’s ears are abruptly graced with the melody of his partner’s laughter.

“W-What?”

“Nothing,” Asougi says, mirth laced throughout his speech. “I’m just surprised at how you look more stressed now than when you were being accused of murder.”

“Well, that’s because you were there, and you kept going on about how you believed in me.” Naruhodou mumbles. He blinks, debating whether or not it’d be easier to fit his head or legs in first.

Asougi’s laughter fades away, drifting off into a thoughtful hum that nevertheless leaves his lips curled up in a wry grin. “I’m here right now, aren’t I?”

“That’s not what I—never mind. Point is, I didn’t do it and I’m glad you were there with me, so I didn’t have to face the court myself.” Naruhodou decides fitting his head in first is the right play, and tucks his chin against his chest, lowering himself down until—

“Careful there, partner. I need you at your best.” Asougi is suddenly a lot closer than he was previously; the rough skin of his callused palm is scratchy as it slips underneath Naruhodou’s head, cradling his neck a few millimetres above the lip of the trunk. Any further and Naruhodou would’ve certainly hit his head against it. “So don’t go carelessly damaging the goods, hm?”

“Wh—”

“Let me help you,” Asougi soothes, shifting the angle of Naruhodou’s head ever so slightly before lowering him down, bit by bit until his head is nestled against the bottom of the trunk. “Good, now stay there.”

Asougi’s voice is no louder than a low murmur—smooth and skirting along the edge of husky—and if he weren’t so damn close, Naruhodou is certain his every word would be drowned out by the sound of rushing blood in his ears. Asougi’s hand retreats from the base of Naruhodou’s neck, the pads of his fingertips ghosting across Naruhodou’s cheekbone in a move that feels way too deliberate to be an accident. Asougi moves with purpose, angling Naruhodou’s limbs this way and that way to ensure that he’ll fit. Asougi is strong, but it isn’t necessary here, for Naruhodou goes along with every unspoken order.

Naruhodou sucks in a nervous breath. It ends up doing more harm than good though, because Asougi’s scent is too obvious to ignore when he’s this close. He smells of incense and ink, of clove oil and spiced tea. Naruhodou wants to tug Asougi down by the collar of his freshly pressed shirt, to breathe in the scent that he’s only had the pleasure of savouring from a distance.

He doesn’t do that, though. Much as he wants to, his body remains paradoxically frozen yet somehow loose enough to be like clay in Asougi’s hands, soft and pliable as he’s neatly being pushed and pulled into place. Asougi’s hand wanders lower until the flat of his palm is flush against Naruhodou’s chest. Even through the fabric of his shirt, Asougi’s hand feels warm, bleeding through until it feels like Asougi’s palm is against his bare chest. Asougi pushes him deeper into the luggage, stopping only when Naruhodou’s back hits the back edge.

His right thigh falls into place after the left, now angled about forty-five degrees away from his chest. Naruhodou’s eyes flicker up towards Asougi’s face, equal parts curious and afraid of what sort of expression his partner is wearing now. It turns out to be something that Naruhodou can’t quite make out, his brows furrowed and his lips pursed like he’s pondering the sight before him, like he’s pondering Naruhodou.

With each passing second that Asougi’s hand stays pressed up against his chest, Naruhodou worries that he’s going to overheat. There’s no way that Asougi isn’t aware of the way his heart races in his chest, beating frantically against his ribcage for no apparent reason. It’s not like they haven’t been close like this in the past—Naruhodou still remembers going home one night with bruises all over his body because he thought it’d be a good idea to challenge Asougi to a wooden sword fight.

That ended up with him on the floor, his chest straddled by Asougi and a wooden blade at his throat. Their proximity hadn’t been weird then, and Naruhodou can’t figure out why it’s different now. It’s almost as if the air between them is thick with tension, filled with unspoken promises and actions that were never meant to be carried out.

“Hm,” Asougi hums, breaking the silence. “That won’t do.”

His palms find their way to the underside of Naruhodou’s thighs next, fingers dancing across the smooth, black fabric of his uniform pants until they’re just beneath the insides of his knees. Asougi’s warmth sears itself into Naruhodou’s skin, his touch wandering into places that no one else has ever gone before. All it would take is the slight turn of his wrists, a shift of his fingers, for Asougi to be prying his legs apart, carving out a space for himself between them.

Instead, Asougi pushes. He pushes and pushes until Naruhodou’s thighs are folded neatly against his chest. “Better.”

Asougi has this look on his face again, one that tells Naruhodou that he’s thinking about something and the words won’t come out unless Naruhodou pries them out himself. “What is it now?”

“It isn’t too late. You can still turn back, if you want—”

“Hey, hey. I’m not going to bail on you now.” Naruhodou shakes his head—or well, a close approximation of it, given his limited mobility. “I already agreed, didn’t I?”

Tension bleeds from Asougi’s frame. “So you did.”

Asougi’s hands encircle Naruhodou’s ankles next, and he’s grateful that he’s wearing longer socks today because he doesn’t think he’d survive the sensation of Asougi’s strong grip against his bare skin. First, his left leg gets tucked into the trunk, the bend of it coming naturally as it’s folded in. The hand on his ankle guides him to rest the sole of his foot against the inner wall of the trunk. It’s a little more comfortable this way, now that his ankle isn’t tilted at an awkward angle.

His right leg follows soon after, with Asougi gently placing it atop Naruhodou’s other leg. And just like that, Naruhodou finds himself completely squished inside the trunk. He has a surprising amount of wiggle room at his feet, but that’s about all the space that he’s afforded.

“...It would seem you’re a bit smaller than I expected,” Asougi says after a beat. There’s something in his gaze that Naruhodou can’t discern, but it sends a shiver down his spine all the same.

“What do you mean? It feels like I barely fit as is!” Naruhodou shuffles around to prove his point. Rather, it’s less of a shuffle and more of a wiggle that results in him bumping his back against the trunk and letting out a dramatic yelp.

“No, I mean this here.” Asougi’s hand slips into what little space there is between Naruhodou’s face and the edge of the trunk. It’s close enough that he goes cross eyed trying to focus on the various bumps and calluses that litter Asougi’s otherwise pristine hands.

“And here.” Asougi slides his hand along the edge until it’s right next to Naruhodou’s knee. A small flick of his wrist and his fingers are curled around the knob of Naruhodou’s knee. As always, Asougi is right. There is also enough space for him to slightly uncurl his legs. It isn’t much, but it’s something.

“Hey look, I can move my arms around too—!”

“Actually.” It’s Asougi’s turn to look hesitant. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls something out—a bundle of rope? “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“W-What? Why not?” Naruhodou’s gaze darts between Asougi’s determined features and the rope that dangles between his hands.

“Think of it like this.” Asougi gestures towards the gaps in the trunk. “When you pack things that are too small into a container that is too big, it’ll slide around and get damaged. Unless, of course, it’s secured somehow.”

“...and you think that’ll happen to me.” Naruhodou worries at his lower lip, disregarding the sudden flash of heat that flares within Asougi’s gray eyes. “I thought you said that you weren’t going to let them be rough with your luggage!”

“I won’t, but you’ll still be moved around a lot and the last thing I want is you getting hurt in there. I don’t know how quickly I’ll be able to get you medical supplies if you do get hurt.”

It’s sound enough logic, and Asougi speaks with such conviction that Naruhodou finds himself offering his hands up before he realizes it. The relief on Asougi’s face is damn near palpable, and for a moment Naruhodou wonders if there’s something else to Asougi’s intentions. He doesn’t question it though, and watches quietly as Asougi ties the rope.

His wrists are being held still by Asougi’s hands, no, hand. Singular. Because apparently Asougi’s one hand is big enough to fit around both his wrists. Granted, the hold is more of a suggestion than an actual grip, with Asougi’s fingers stretched out, pinky wrapped around one wrist while the other has a thumb curled against it. All the other fingers are simply there to support it, though Naruhodou doesn’t doubt it that if Asougi leaned a bit of his weight into the hold, he would be well and truly pinned.

The thought alone makes Naruhodou’s throat go dry. He should’ve asked for a sip of water beforehand. Maybe it’s not too late. Something trips up between his brain and his mouth, because he ends up saying something else entirely. “Why didn’t you just help me get into this in the first place?”

Asougi pauses briefly, considering Naruhodou’s words. After a moment, he says “...well, because it was fun watching you squirm.”

Of all the responses he was expecting, that wasn’t one of them. Naruhodou almost wants to scream, but he bites his tongue and stays still, willing himself not to flush with embarrassment at being teased, lest he give Asougi any further satisfaction. 

Asougi weaves the rope around Naruhodou’s wrists, the motions of his fingers fluid, practiced. It doesn’t look or feel like any fisherman’s knot that Naruhodou knows, but nonetheless the knots settle flat against the inside of his wrists, snug and secure.

“Not too tight?” Asougi asks, fingers tugging one last time at the edges of the rope.

Naruhodou wriggles his wrists a little, pleased to discover that, while he isn’t going to escape these ropes any time soon, they aren’t harsh either. It feels no tighter than his arm guard does, and he wears that pretty much all the time. What does surprise Naruhodou, however, is how breathless his voice sounds when he speaks again. “...’s good.”

“Good.” Asougi smiles faintly. He looks pleased with his work, and really, Naruhodou can’t blame him. The rope wraps itself around his wrists almost seamlessly, the knot hidden away at the bottom so there’s nothing but a smooth, continuous line of rope at the top.

“Oh, one more thing.”

“Are you going to gag me too or something?” Naruhodou jokes.

Much to his own peril, Asougi actually seems to consider his words. “I trust that you can stay quiet, right, partner?”

“Y-Yes! My lips are sealed. Will be sealed. You won’t hear a single peep out of me!”

“I better not,” Asougi’s steely features break out into a wide grin. “Or else I might actually end up gagging you.”

“H-Haha, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” Naruhodou’s laughter is strained at the edges. Mercifully, Asougi doesn’t comment on it.

“Indeed,” Asougi says, bending down to presumably address the one last thing he was referring to. He reaches behind Naruhodou, grasping at something out of sight until two, pale straps are tugged over his frame.

Oh good, Naruhodou thinks. More bindings.

“Hush, this’ll be the last of it. I promise.” Asougi’s voice is soft, smooth like silk and tinged with a bit of annoyance.

These are tightened much more than the rope around his wrists, so much so that he can feel it dig into his arms and across his legs. His clothes are going to be irreparably wrinkled after this, aren’t they?

Asougi finally steps back, giving Naruhodou enough room to breathe without every breath filling his senses with Asougi’s scent. His gray eyes rake over the entirety of Naruhodou’s form, leaving him feeling oddly exposed all throughout it. He can’t shy away from it, stuck in place as he is. It doesn’t help that Asougi has gone completely quiet too, the weight of his gaze lingering in too many places at once.

“Um, Asougi?”

“Hm?”

“A-Are we, uh. Are we done? I can’t see the time but I’d imagine we have to depart soon.”

“Ah, you’re right. Forgive me, I was a little lost in my thoughts there.” Asougi seems to shake himself out of whatever daze he got himself into, and bends down once more. His hands are on the lid of the trunk, a tentative look on his face.

“...do you want to talk about it?” Naruhodou asks despite already knowing the answer.

“I’ll tell you when we’re on the boat,” Asougi murmurs absentmindedly. His fingers are fiddling with the metal clasps now. “You’ll notice that I poked little holes along the sides so you can breathe.”

Asougi tilts his head. “Won’t do you any good if you get thrown overboard, but at least you’ll have a constant supply of fresh air.”

“D-Don’t joke about that!” Naruhodou splutters.

“What, you don’t think that I can fish you out in time?” Whatever weight Asougi was carrying in his shoulders seems to melt away as they fall into the familiar rhythm of their snappy banter.

“I’ve never seen you fish before, so yeah, maybe!” Naruhodou fires back.

“I thought you’d learn by now to always believe in me. Especially after that acquittal we pulled off in court.”

“Fine, fine you win. Just hurry up and shut the lid on me! The suspense is ki—”

Of course, Asougi chooses then to slam the lid down, cutting Naruhodou off mid word and muffling the rest of his sentence. Cast into darkness, Naruhodou feels his heart leap into his throat. It’s too late to start regretting things now, but still—

“You’ll be fine, Naruhodou. I’ll get you out of there as soon as we’re clear.”

“...okay,” Naruhodou says, swallowing his nerves. He trusts Asougi.

He shuts his mouth as promised and even lets his eyes slide shut. He’s going to be here for a while, so might as well relax if he can. True to his word, Asougi handles him with great care and save for the slight bump here and there, Naruhodou doesn’t feel much of anything the entire way to the docks.

After an indeterminate amount of time, Naruhodou is startled out of his thoughts by the sound of knuckles rapping against the exterior. “It’s me. I’m about to hand you off soon. I put a ’this way up’ sign on the outside so hopefully they do just that.”

“Don’t respond,” Asougi says just as Naruhodou opens his mouth. “I know you were going to respond there. I look absurd enough as is, crouched beside all my luggage whilst murmuring to myself.”

“I’ll see you soon, partner.”