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three hundred and sixty four other days

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Kaoru wakes slowly, sun creeping in through the window and a kiss pressed to his bare shoulder.

"I should go in," he mumbles, and he can feel Kojiro huff.

"No," he says firmly, and Kaoru wants to roll his still-closed eyes about his tone. There are gentle fingers carding through his sleep-tangled hair, brushing it back from his face. "You took the day off. The studio isn't even open on Sunday, I don't know why you want to go in."

Kaoru stretches languidly, Kojiro’s kitchen-rough palm on his hip. "I have work to do."

"Kaoru," and his name paired with a long suffering sigh makes him smirk even as he rolls over to drape his arms over Kojiro’s shoulders, ready to doze off again against his throat. "Would you please let me spoil you for your birthday? I can't believe I have to ask the biggest princess in the world to play hooky."

Kojiro smells like faint cologne and his soap, the same soap he's used since they were teenagers, vanilla and cedar and home. Kaoru's very close to falling back to sleep that way, wrapped around Kojiro with his clever clever hands tracing circles into Kaoru’s back.

But he's intrigued. "What did you have in mind?"

"You'll have to haul your lazy ass out of bed to find out."

And Kaoru can't help that he pouts. "I have to get out of bed for you to spoil me?" and he can practically hear Kojiro’s wolfish grin slide across his face.

Kojiro ducks out of his hold, pressing kisses to Kaoru’s chest, and flicks his tongue over the metal bar threaded through Kaoru’s nipple. Kaoru whines.

"Well, your highness, if you insist," he says, burning kisses pressed ever lower onto Kaoru’s stomach.

Those clever clever hands work him expertly, the way Kojiro handles kitchen knives and lovers alike. Sweet words whispered breathlessly into the crease of his hip -tesoro, beautiful, kaoru,- before Kojiro’s mouth is too occupied with other things to say them anymore, and Kaoru is too distracted to appreciate them.

~

He's tossed his wet hair into a sloppy braid over his shoulder, damp ends soaking into the shirt he's borrowed from Kojiro. It’s too big, because of course it is, barely skimming the mid of his thighs, and if he has his way, it’ll be the only thing he wears today.

It’s his birthday after all.

He gets to choose.

Kojiro is in the kitchen, clad only in sweatpants, and if that’s any indication, Kaoru bets that he’s right, and he won’t have to get dressed today.

It’s a relief.

He doesn’t mind celebrating his birthday, but this has been the first year in some time that anyone has made a fuss over it.

The kids had swung by the studio after school on Friday, and asked if they could use his supplies for a project. He doesn’t remember actually saying yes, but then Reki and Langa had presented him with their best attempts at calligraphy to wish him happy birthday before he could complain too much about them overtaking his studio. He’d had to cover how touched he’d been by teasingly correcting their handwriting.

They don’t need to know that he’d hung their work in his office as soon as they’d left.

Miya had tackled him around the waist at S that night, and had it been anyone else, Kaoru might have gotten violent. But as it was, he hadn’t felt right about fighting thirteen year olds when he’d been thirteen himself, and it certainly wouldn’t be right now that he was more than twice that. Miya had grinned up at him with that unsettling cat-like smile of his, grabbed Kaoru’s arm by his bracer, and dropped a tiny wrapped box into his palm before Kaoru could say anything.

“You’re getting so old, Mama Cherry,” Miya had said, squeezing him tightly and ducking out of the reach of Kaoru’s half-hearted swing at his head. “Slow in your twilight years, aren’t you?”

He’d opened the gift later, when Miya had been skating against Shadow in a no-stakes matchup and couldn’t watch his reaction to it. If anybody had noticed that he’d arrived at S without earrings, and suddenly had a silver cat-shaped cuff curled around the shell of his left ear, they wisely kept it to themselves.

Even Hiromi had gotten in on it, delivering a very pretty bouquet of purple irises to the studio Saturday morning. He’d shrugged it off and told him it’d seemed like the thing to do, since he’d meant to bring flowers during Kaoru’s hospital stay, and ended up there himself before he could even bother.

He’d debated for a while about taking the flowers home with him, and was ultimately swayed by the fact he was sure they’d wilt too much to enjoy if he left them at the studio alone.

They looked rather nice in his kitchen.

In his kitchen, where Kojiro is currently standing, barefoot and shirtless, humming absently to himself as he cooks. Kaoru never bothered keeping a stocked pantry until…well, recently, when Kojiro had started spending the night and had looked at him aghast when he’d opened the fridge that first morning to find a takeout box graveyard, and very little else.

“How are you alive?” he’d asked, dragging a hand down his face in exasperation.

Kaoru had shrugged. “Why would I cook? I have you.” and he’d immediately stared down at the floor, because saying such things now had such weight to them, a heaviness that had never been there before…well, before.

And Kojiro’s eyes had softened in that damnable way of his, reaching out to tip Kaoru’s face back towards him, and he’d smiled. “You’ve always had me, Kaoru.”

Disgusting.

Kaoru wants him to say that sort of shit forever.

He’s kind of hoping to hear some of it when he pads up behind Kojiro, hooking his chin over his shoulder and wrapping his arms around his waist. And Kojiro doesn’t disappoint, acknowledging him by turning so slightly to brush the barest whisper of a kiss to Kaoru’s cheek. “Amore,” he murmurs, and Kaoru’s heart stammers.

Goddamn the entire Italian language. One little word should not make him feel this way, never mind the rest of it.

Kaoru chooses to ignore what hearing that has done to him, and instead focuses on what Kojiro is doing. “Are you feeding me carbonara? For breakfast?” he asks, surprised.

“It is well into lunchtime, you lazy bum,” Kojiro says, amused. “And yes, just this once, you can have dinner for breakfast. You heathen.”

“Hmm, really? If we’re throwing all the rules out, can I have dessert first, too?” Kaoru nips at Kojiro’s shoulder, the barest sinking of his teeth into tender flesh, and he relishes in the way that Kojiro shivers.

“Quit that, you’ll make me burn your lunch. And I know you’re just being horny, but there is actual dessert in the fridge if you do want to sample it.”

“You’re no fun,” he says, giving Kojiro’s waist a squeeze before he lets go to investigate the fridge.

“Bold move to insult the man making you food,” Kojiro swats at his hip as he passes by, and seems to realize for the first time exactly what Kaoru is wearing. “I’m never gonna get that shirt back, am I?”

"This has always been my shirt," Kaoru lies blatantly. "Do I need to look presentable today?" he asks, fingers stilled on the fridge handle, remembering his earlier thoughts. If Kojiro has plans, he doesn't want to ruin them by not playing along properly.

Kojiro huffs a laugh, and there's so much affection in it, Kaoru can't look at him. "No. I figured you'd want a sloth kind of day."

"Mm. You're lucky I even put on underwear."

"That's a matter of perspective," Kojiro says, and tosses a wink at him for good measure. Kaoru rolls his eyes and opens the fridge.

He doesn't know how Kojiro managed to sneak a strawberry shortcake into his apartment without him noticing, because it definitely wasn't there last night. His best guess is that he'd snuck out sometime this morning to retrieve it, and very clearly added fresh cut strawberries to the top so they wouldn't soak into the sponge under the pink glaze if they were left overnight.

Kojiro knows how much he likes strawberry shortcake, and he also knows how he hates the way strawberry juice can make it soggy.

Something about the quiet way Kojiro cares about the little things like that, the things that Kaoru knows no one else would bother noticing…it steals all the air from the room and Kaoru feels a hurricane in his lungs, a sudden rush of gratitude and love and pain, because he spent so long refusing to look at what had been right in front of him in favor of wallowing in the past.

And he’s aware that plenty of it is just the fact that they’ve known each other for so long, through decades and arguments and heartbreak and distance and with all of that working against them, they’ve still managed to hang onto each other tightly.

Kojiro knows Kaoru, and in spite of that, likes him anyway. Loves him, even.

He isn’t quite close to tears over the thought, but he bites down on his lip to stay the quiver in it before it can start.

“Your thoughts are so loud,” Kojiro complains from the stove, but there’s a genuine note of concern in his voice. “What’s wrong with you?”

And Kaoru snorts, straightening back up from the fridge and shutting the door on that silly, perfect cake that made his brain go all wavery. He leans against the counter next to the stove, hands resting on the edge to prop him up before his knees decide to give out.

And he can’t help reaching out to tuck a loose curl behind Kojiro’s ear. “I know I don’t say it enough, but I love you.”

And Kojiro rolls his eyes. He sets aside the spoon he’s been using to keep the sauce moving, and reaches out with both hands for Kaoru’s jaw. He presses the most obnoxious kiss to Kaoru’s forehead right at his hairline, where Kaoru knows he’s got a faint red scar from The Incident, and while normally he’d try to squirm away from such affections, he lets Kojiro do it.

“You’re ridiculous; you tell me all the time,” and at Kaoru’s skeptical look, Kojiro continues, grinning widely. “You say ‘hey, stupid gorilla, I fixed your espresso machine, make me coffee’ and you say ‘Joe, your trucks are loose, you’ll fall and die and then no one will make me pasta’ and you say ‘Carla, set Joe’s rent to autopay before he forgets again’ and-”

“I get it,” Kaoru interrupts dryly. Kojiro leans in again and kisses the bridge of his nose. This time, he pushes him away as Kojiro laughs at the blush he knows is painted across his face. “You’re determined to out-sap me no matter what I say, aren’t you?”

“Not like it’s all that hard,” Kojiro says, going back to his cooking. “I call you caro and you’re useless for like ten minutes.”

And Kaoru doesn’t have to take this teasing, he doesn’t, it’s his day, he can go sit at the table and leave Kojiro in silence if he wants, but as he pushes off from the counter, Kojiro reaches out to snag him around the waist, his arm wrapped comfortingly around Kaoru’s hips.

“Hey,” he whispers, pressing his forehead to Kaoru’s. “Happy birthday, Amore,”

If Kaoru melts into that kiss, then that is between him and Kojiro.