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Misinterpreting Confessions 101

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Aren had a plan.

Well, it wasn’t so much a plan as a guideline. Today was the last day of school before the summer break started, so he was setting himself a deadline.

Before the next school year started, he would tell his best friend, Kaido Shun, that he was in love with him.

It was foolproof. Couldn’t go wrong.           

-

The houses lining the street passed by in a blur as they raced by on the motorcycle, a light breeze chasing away the heat of the sun shining overhead. Aren wouldn’t have felt so hot if it weren’t for Kaido clinging to him, wrapping his arms around him and nuzzling his face into his neck – Aren could scarcely breathe, not wanting to do anything that would scare him away, as if approaching a shy fox.

Bikes were one thing they had always bonded over. He still remembered the day they agreed to get their licenses together; Kaido, crouched down in the garage, marveling at the bike, saying it’s so cool! in that enthusiastic voice of his, and Aren replying, I knew you’d get it, Shun, because it was the undeniable truth.

Kaido got him like nobody else did. He got excited about the bikes, even if he must have twisted them into his fantasy world with Dark Reunion somehow, and he never judged Aren for anything, even though he knew that he used to be a delinquent. Aren had never met anyone he clicked with so well, so it felt natural to call each other by their first names, names no one but their families and each other used.

So, Aren was putting his plan into action. Today, he would ask Kaido to go out with him.

Maybe some light conversation would be helpful to start him off.

“Shun, when are you getting your own motorcycle?” Aren asked, raising his voice over the din of the engine. “We should ride together.”

“We are riding together.”

“You know what I mean.”

Kaido hesitated. “I don’t think my mom would let me get one. It was hard enough to convince her to let me get the license. But… I guess getting a motorcycle might make it easier for me to fight Dark Reunion.”

The conversation was going to get seriously derailed if he let Kaido start talking about Dark Reunion. “I have something to tell you.”  

“About Dark Reunion?” His eyes widened. “You have information about them!”

No. Um—” Aren cleared his throat and pulled the motorcycle over to the side of the road, getting off before it grinded to a halt. He looked at Kaido, who was now getting off the bike with a quizzical look. “I like you, Shun.”

Kaido cracked a bright smile. “Aw, I like you, too, Aren.”

“No, I mean, I like you a lot.”

“I know what you mean. Me, too.”

Aren felt relief wash over him. So Kaido did understand. Maybe there was nothing to be so scared of; after all, Kaido was still looking at him as normal, as if nothing had changed. That was a little strange, but he supposed it was normal for new relationships. It wasn’t like Aren would have known. He had never even had a crush before this, let alone a relationship.

Maybe Aren should ask again, just to be sure. “So we’re taking our relationship to the next level?”

“Oh, sure!”  

That was perfect. They would finally be boyfriends—

Kaido raised a fist triumphantly. “We’re officially sworn friends.”

Aren blinked.

Fuck. This was going to be harder than he thought.

-

Maybe he was going about this the wrong way. Maybe jumping straight into a love confession would spook Kaido so much that he would be spurred straight into denial about the whole thing.

He set his second attempt into motion when they went to a fireworks festival together. It was the perfect atmosphere, the air lively with people chatting and the scent of delicious street food. Even in the small pavilion, the place bustled with energy, and the candles strung up everywhere on the trees flickered gold against the night sky.

Aren looked over at Kaido, who was happily diving into a stick of cotton candy. The sugary halo of pink came off and stuck to his cheeks, flushed from the heat.

When he noticed Aren looking at him, he held out the cotton candy. “Want a taste?”

Aren didn’t like cotton candy, but he leaned forward anyway to take a bite of the dessert. It was far too sweet for him, but it was worth it for the way Kaido smiled at him proudly, as if the dessert was his personal creation. With his cheeks dusted with pink and his eyes shimmering, he was cuter than ever.

“Shun,” Aren said, entranced. “I think I’m in love.”

Kaido looked at him with oblivious eyes. “With this cotton candy?”

He had to resist the urge to groan. Yes, confessing his love outright wasn’t the right approach. Obviously, stating the words was too simple for someone like Kaido. Aren would have to convey it through other methods.

They wandered around the pavilion until the fireworks display started, then huddled together to stare up at the sky as the explosions of color lit it up in a thousand vivid hues, dancing into intricate patterns. Majestic as it was, Aren found himself looking back at Kaido, whose face was illuminated with the reflections of color from the fireworks as he gazed at them in awe.

Aren’s face softened. Something squeezed his heart tight and wouldn’t let go. “You’re beautiful.”

Kaido glanced back at him and pointed at the sky. “Yeah, the fireworks are gorgeous, right?”

Okay, this was getting ridiculous.

-

His next idea was to try out a pick-up line. Maybe that would work.

“Hey, Shun,” Aren said casually. “That shirt looks great on you. I bet it would look better on my floor.”

Kaido tilted his head to the side, scrunching up his nose a little. “But that would wrinkle it.”

Oh, well. At least he tried. Back to compliments.

-

Light streamed through the windows of the small café, casting gold patterns across the table where two half-finished parfaits lay. In the early afternoon, the atmosphere was calm and tranquil, with only a few others seated at the nearby tables. Aren and Kaido had brought their notebooks here so they could study together, but a conversation about the manga they wanted to create together distracted them so much that Aren didn’t even realize three hours had passed until he caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall.

Aren leaned over to Kaido, who was doodling paper airplanes on a napkin. He was dangerously adorable, his blue hair pastel in the sunshine, his lips a breath apart as he focused on his idle sketches.

“Hey, Kaido,” Aren said, turning his face away a little. Shyness had never taken him over before, so the coil of warmth in his stomach and the heat in his cheeks was an entirely new feeling. “You’re really cute.”

To his surprise, Kaido looked… irritated? “Stop mocking me!” He crossed his arms before a panicked Aren had a chance to explain himself. “My mom says I’m a very handsome man.”

“Of course you are, you’re—”

“Is this about that stupid spirit guy saying my spirit guardian was a chihuahua? Because he’s definitely lying! I just know it’s something super cool, like a—like a superhero, or a black mamba.”

Aren paused. “A black mamba? Aren’t you scared of snakes?”

It was the wrong thing to say. Kaido sniffed and, to Aren’s horror, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand before jumping up from the table and running out of the café. Aren had made him cry.

How the hell could this go so terribly wrong?

-

When Kaido returned, slinking back with a pout, Aren immediately jumped into apologies. “Shun, I wasn’t calling you cute—I mean, I was, but not in a bad way! A good way.”

Kaido lowered his gaze to the floor, pressing his lips together. Had it finally gotten through his head that Aren had been trying to confess to him for the past few days? “I’m not scared of snakes.”

Aren sighed. That had been too much to hope for. “I know you’re not.”

“I came to pay you back for the parfait.”

“Don’t. I just like spending time with you.”

He smiled at that, his cheeks reddening slightly. A good sign. Right? “I like spending time with you, too.”

Maybe this was another opportunity. Aren would take it. “I can’t imagine living without you.”

Kaido beamed.

This was it. This was it, for real, this time. He finally understood—

“Thanks, buddy!”

Aren was going to jump in front of a truck.

-

Meanwhile, in his bedroom at home, Saiki was staring at the ceiling and cursing Kaido’s obliviousness.

Aren. Your dumb gay thoughts are bothering me. You both need to get your shit together.

-

The summer went on. Aren was starting to lose hope that he would ever get to confess to Kaido when the blue-haired boy was thwarting every single one of his attempts. There was no way it was humanly possible for one person to be so oblivious; this had to be cosmic karma for all the bad deeds Aren had committed when he was a delinquent. It was all coming back to bite him now.

It couldn’t get any worse than this. At least, he thought so until a group of his old delinquent acquaintances—re: idiots—stopped him when he and Kaido were walking home from an ice-cream shop.

“Hey,” Idiot A said in a tone that made it clear that he was trying to be menacing. He was unsuccessful in the endeavor. “Kuboyasu, it’s about time you come back to the gang.”

“No,” Aren said evenly while Kaido shrunk back in the background. Irritating him was an offense he could tolerate, but scaring Kaido was unforgivable. “Leave me alone.”

“Come on. This isn’t the real you.” He gestured at Kaido. “And this guy looks like he wouldn’t survive a winter without three thick coats.”

That was it. Within a minute, Aren had all four of the delinquents groaning in pain on the floor, clutching their knees and elbows as if it could dull the pain.

“He would survive just fine without any coats,” Aren spit at them. “He might need some hot ramen, but who doesn’t, in the winter?”

“I don’t need ramen,” Kaido said indignantly.

Aren spun around to look at him, making sure he didn’t accidentally hit him. Taking this opportunity to get closer, he ran his hands down the sides of Kaido’s arms, feeling the goosebumps on his skin. “Are you okay?”

“Why is your voice so intense?” he mumbled.

Aren let his voice darken. “I will always protect you, Shun.”

Kaido shrugged off Aren’s arms and crossed his own, turning his face away with his nose turned up. “I was just about to activate my power! You didn’t need to help me.”

Aren considered pressing further, but instead he gave up. Today was a lost cause. Another day.

-

Another day happened to be a week later when they were sitting on the floor of Kaido’s bedroom, playing video games. Kaido was losing, badly, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration and his mouth ajar as he focused on the game. Aren couldn’t stop looking over at him, and it made him lose his winning streak. He had never liked losing in video games, but he found that he didn’t mind it when he was losing to Kaido. Aren would smash his console to pieces with a baseball bat if it was what Kaido wanted.

When another level ended, Kaido set down his controller and stretched his arms behind his head, yawning. “Man, what happened, Aren? You were so good! You’re totally terrible now, like you’re not even paying attention. Are you lovesick or something?”

Aren choked on his saliva. “Uh, no, no, I’m just—” Wait. This was an opportunity. “Actually, yes. I am.”

Kaido’s eyes widened. “Really? Who do you like?”

“Well. It’s a person in our class.”

“Who is she?”

“This person,” he corrected, “is really cool. They have blue hair, and they’re really smart and funny. They’re really oblivious, too. And they’re obsessed with fighting Dark Reunion.”

Surprise flickered over Kaido’s face. Aren was beyond the point of assuming any of his confessions would get through to Kaido, but really, this one was as good as explicit.

“Sounds like me,” Kaido said thoughtfully. Aren held his breath—was this it? “But we’re just friends.”

Aren almost broke the controller. “Did I mention oblivious?”

“Yeah, why?”

He exhaled through his teeth. “Just making sure.”

-

At least there was a bright side, hard as it was to find. Declaring that he had a crush on someone might have been enough to drive Kaido into thinking about who it could be, and maybe he would finally arrive at the conclusion that Aren liked him.

Regardless, it came as a surprise when Aren arrived at Kaido’s house to play video games again and Kaido opened the door with the declaration, “I figured out who you like!”

Aren perked up. “Really?”

“Yes. There’s only one person it could be.” He spread his arms to make the announcement. “Teruhashi!”

Aren stared at him in horror. This couldn’t be real. There was definitely some deity conspiring against Aren because it wasn’t possible for someone to miss so many hints, let alone multiple direct confessions.

“I didn’t know Teruhashi was a fellow fighter against Dark Reunion, though,” Kaido mused. “I have to go talk to her and find out if she has information!”

Before Aren could grab him by the shoulders and shake him until the coin dropped, Kaido had run off.

Aren rubbed his temples. He could feel a headache coming on.  

-

A hundred meters away, on a rooftop, Saiki watched a resigned Aren with pity.

Kuboyasu, try harder. Kaido, if you don’t get your act together, I’ll have to take this into my own hands.

-

Okay. This had to work.

Aren knocked on the door of Kaido’s house, stepped back, and waited. When Kaido opened the door, ready to greet him, Aren held up a sign.

A huge sign with I like you, please date me scribbled across it in neon highlighter.

Kaido grinned, holding up two thumbs. “Great sign, dude. Just show that to Teruhashi and she’ll definitely want to date you.”

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.

Aren just shook his head wearily. “I don’t like Teruhashi like that.”

“Oh, really? But you said—” he scratched the back of his head, averting his gaze. “Uh, never mind. Well, you didn’t write a girl’s name, so you could use it for any girl you want!”

“I don’t like girls,” he blurted out.

Kaido blinked. “Seriously? Our class just doesn’t have a great selection. Maybe there are some freshmen—”

“I don’t like any girls.”

“There are so many girls out there, there’s got to be one you like.”

“There isn’t,” Aren said, frustrated. “I just like you, Shun.”

The surprise cleared from Kaido’s face, giving way to comfortable amusement. “I like you, too. You’re my best friend.”

Aren had enough of this. “I like you romantically.”

Kaido’s cheeks flushed red and he stammered out, “H-hey, that’s a dumb joke to make, Aren! You’re almost going to make me think you actually do like me.”

Aren gave him an unamused stare. If this were a sitcom, he would be looking into the camera. “I do like you.”

He laughed, giving Aren an all-too-friendly nudge on the shoulder and an exaggerated wink. “Yeah, yeah. Stop messing around, I have bad news. I think Dark Reunion is planning to attack the school!”

His head hanging low, Aren walked alongside Kaido as they strolled down the street, the blue-haired boy chattering away eagerly about Dark Reunion yet again, oblivious to his very frustrated, rather embarrassed best friend.

Yes, some cosmic deity definitely had it out for Aren.

-

Saiki pinched his nose. To be fair, that one really wasn’t your fault, Kuboyasu.

-

The next time they met up at a café, Aren didn’t wait for Kaido to speak before blurting out, “Shun, I love you and I want to be with you. Understand what I’m saying.”

Kaido tilted his head to the side with an… offended look? “You hate me?”

Aren stared at him hopelessly. “Where the hell did you get that?”

He pointed at a calendar on the wall. “It’s Opposite Day.”

Aren groaned and put his head in his hands. This was never going to happen.

-

Aren was planning on asking Kaido to go out on a motorcycle ride again, but the plan changed when Kaido called him first to let him know that the Occult Club was going to explore a haunted forest at night and asked him to come along.

Aren would have followed Kaido straight to hell across a field of fiery coals, so it didn’t take any deliberation at all to agree on the spot. Besides, he wasn’t afraid of ghosts. He really wasn’t. He wasn’t, okay?

They started off the night by trailing around the forest in a group; Yumehara suggested splitting off into pairs, with a suggestive look at Kaido that really came across as desperate, but that creepy girl Arisu objected, stating that the spirits would be less likely to approach them if they travelled as a group. Aren had no idea why she would join an Occult Club if she wanted to avoid spirits, but it wasn’t his business.

Toritsuka Reita, pervert and spirit medium extraordinaire, proved to be more perceptive than Aren would have expected him to be. When Kaido was out of earshot, busy regaling Yumehara with tales of Dark Reunion, Toritsuka sidled up to Aren.

“Hey, Kuboyasu,” Toritsuka said, not bothering to keep his voice low. “Do you have a thing for Kaido?”

“Huh?” Aren shook his head quickly. “I—no. Of course not. No. No. I don’t.”

“You said no, like, fifteen times. It’s okay, I’m an expert in love. I’ll get you your man!”

“Please don’t.”

“I can ask ghosts to find out information about him. Do you want to know what color—actually, I promised Saiki-san I wouldn’t ask them that anymore.”

“I don’t need you to ask them anything,” Aren told him. “Don’t say anything.”

“Are you going to tell him?”

Aren huffed. “Don’t get me fucking started.”

Toritsuka gave him a strange look. “…Okay.”

Despite Aren’s assurances that he didn’t want Toritsuka to interfere, it came as a relief when the spirit medium enticed Yumehara into a conversation, guiding her away from Kaido. Aren walked up to Kaido, who was shivering by now, looking around in a panic.

Kaido visibly relaxed when he saw Aren. “Oh, great! It’s you. I’m so—I mean, I’m not scared at all, but I was worried you might be scared.”

Aren had to hold back a smile. “It’s okay to be scared.”

“I’m not—” He looked away, cheeks red. At least he wasn’t crying. That was a first for him. “Anyway, it makes me less nervous when you’re here, Aren.”

Aren steeled his nerves. “As an ex-delinquent, I’ve always thought of myself as a confident person, but you… you make me nervous, Shun. When I’m with you, I feel stronger and weaker at the same time. I feel excited, and at the same time, terrified. The truth is that I don't know what I feel except that I know what kind of man I want to be.”

Kaido stopped walking and turned to look at him, shock painted across his features. A red blush spread across his cheeks. “Is that—is that the speech from Spiderman?” 

He frowned. “What? No, I just came up with that. It’s how I feel.”

“It’s the speech from Spiderman.”

“It’s not from Spiderman!”

“It definitely is. Don’t you watch foreign films?”

“I just watch yakuza films, mostly—but that’s not the point! Spiderman must have stolen it from me.”

Kaido was unconvinced. “How would that happen?”

It was official. The topic was diverted too far for Aren to recover it—and he had been so close this time, too. All he could do was shrug and keep walking. Kaido didn’t ask why Aren had said the speech in the first place, so Aren didn’t bring it up again, despite the fact that he was desperate for a response.

“Aren,” Kaido said abruptly, averting his gaze. “I’m cold.”

Aren pulled out his phone and looked at the temperature, perplexed. “It’s thirty degrees celsius.”

“Uh, suppressing my Black Beat power makes the Jet Black Wings susceptible to feeling chilly!” He flexed his fingers, barely inches away from Aren’s. “My hands are cold.”

This was something Aren could fix. He was damned if he would let the guy he loved feel cold without doing anything about it, regardless of how hot the weather felt to Aren. He knelt down to start gathering sticks, taking off his jacket and using it as a bundle to carry the kindling while Kaido stared at him with a faintly puzzled look. “Don’t worry, I’ll build you a fire, Shun!”

“You—you don’t have to do that,” Kaido yelped. 

“But you’re cold! Leave this to me.”

While Aren raced around to find the materials to build a fire, Saiki watched him, unamused. You’re dense, too, Kuboyasu.

-

As hopeless as the whole ‘confessing his undying love’ situation was, the summer was still going well. Aren met up with Kaido most days, sometimes with Saiki and Nendo coming along, and they spent their days trying out a variety of activities, from going to the beach to having a picnic in the park. Back when he was a delinquent, Aren had never had a real friend, and it was still hard to adjust to the idea that he had so many now.

All the same, it would be even better if he managed to get it through Kaido’s thick skull that Aren liked him. He had a feeling the confession wouldn’t be unwelcome, from the way he caught Kaido staring at him sometimes to the blush on his cheeks when Aren complimented him, so there was no explanation for this ridiculous extent of obliviousness except for two possible options; either Kaido had supremely low self-esteem, or was supremely dumb when it came to social interactions.

There was only a week left until school started again, and Aren was at the beach, trying to set up an umbrella while Kaido dipped his toe in the sea, accompanied by Nendo, who wouldn’t stop teasing him, and Hairo, who was trying his best to motivate him. Meanwhile, Saiki was sitting on a towel, staring at them with a blank, vaguely irritated look in his eyes as usual.

Kaido brushed his sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes and scowled at Nendo. “I can totally swim!”

“Last time we came to the beach, you nearly drowned,” Nendo pointed out. For someone so dumb, he never missed an opportunity to mess with Kaido.

His eyes welled up. “That’s not true!”

Aren strolled over to them, feeling rather bad for Kaido, who was evidently upset. “Nendo, lay off him.”

Nendo just gave him a dopey smile. “Aw, you’re always ready to defend your little buddy, just like me and Saiki. It’s almost as if—” Nendo furrowed his eyebrows slightly. “Wait a minute…”

“Almost as if what?” Kaido interjected.

Aren flushed red. “Nothing! Nendo’s just being stupid.”

“Oi! I’m not stupid!”

“Almost as if what?”

Hairo popped out of nowhere, clenching his fist as if preparing for a challenge. “Kaido-kun, I challenge you to run as far as you can along the beach in five minutes.”

Kaido scuffed the sand around with the side of his foot, staring at the ground. “Oh, I don’t know—unless Dark Reunion might attack this beach! I need to scout the area to make sure we’re safe!”

Kaido took off running along the shore while Aren watched him in faint amusement. As ridiculous as the whole Dark Reunion thing was, he still liked how passionate Kaido was about the idea of protecting them. When they were building their treehouse, Kaido often talked about Dark Reunion for hours while Aren listened to him without interrupting, content to hear him rant about secret powers, gesturing wildly with his hands.

Hairo turned to Aren with a sympathetic look. “Kuboyasu-kun, you’ve got it bad.

Aren held his hands up, stuttering out his reply. “What do you mean?”

“It’s obvious that you have passionate feelings for Kaido-kun—”

“What?”

“—As your rival!” Hairo declared, raising his voice like a sports announcer. “You long to get your hands on him—in a wrestling match!”

 Aren blinked. “Eh?”

“Maybe his flexibility attracts you to him?”

His face burst into flame. “F-flexibility? I—I wasn’t thinking anything improper—”  

“You must envy it,” Hairo said confidently. “I should ask him to join the gymnastics team! Then you could watch your rival flourish, and it could fuel your fire to beat him!”

Aren was fairly sure he was about to faint. “I…” 

“Kuboyasu-kun? Kuboyasu-kun, why do you look so faint? I was just kidding! I know you have a crush on him!”

Aren was nearly hyperventilating; maybe his best friend’s habit had rubbed off on him too much. He gave a nervous laugh and dragged a hand down his face, trying to calm himself.

“Okay, I might like him,” Aren whispered.

Hairo laughed. “Might?”

“…I may have planned out the names of our future kids.”

“There it is.”

“I keep trying to tell him but he doesn’t understand. He’s so clueless, I don’t know what to do.”

Hairo patted his shoulder and gave him a motivational-captain-of-the-baseball-team smile. “Don’t give up! I’m sure it will happen for you guys.”

As Aren was about to reply, Kaido returned, his legs streaked with sand up to his thighs and his hair a wild mess from the heat. He was still wearing his shirt and it was soaked with sweat, clinging to his body. Aren was floored, gaping at him like an idiot.

Stop thinking those disaster gay thoughts, a voice that sounded distinctly like Saiki stated nearby.

“I’m so hot in this shirt,” Kaido groaned, pulling the hem of his shirt away from his body.

“You’d still be hot without it,” Aren said instantly. Kuboyasu Aren was many things, but never let it be said that he wasn’t an opportunist.

“I know,” he complained. “The sun is just way too strong!”

Aren facepalmed internally while Hairo snorted. Nearby, Saiki and Nendo (Why are you of all people looking at me with so much pity, Nendo?!) were giving him a look of pity. Great.

-

A few days later, the five of them went to the pool together. Nendo insisted that he wanted to meet some girls, while Hairo declared with far too much aggressive passion that he was going to complete a thousand laps. They ran off ahead, leaving behind Aren, Kaido, and Saiki; the latter slunk away not-so-subtly to leave the two of them alone, a few paces behind the group.

“Shun, it’s been a really great summer,” Aren said, looking over at Kaido, who was wearing swimming trunks patterned with pineapples with sunglasses. “I hope you managed to get your homework done even with me dragging you around like this.”

Kaido smiled, making Aren’s heart twist. “This is much better than the homework. I’ll do that later.”

“Really?”

“My Black Beat power will give me the supreme strength and willpower I need to do math,” he assured him. Aren was pretty sure superpowers didn’t work like that, but he didn’t comment on it. “Uh, did we really need to go to the pool, though?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you how to swim,” Aren promised him.

Kaido didn’t bother insisting that he knew how to swim, bowing his head in resignation. “Sure, I guess. If that’s what you want. But only for you!”

When they arrived at the pool area, Aren dumped his towel on a lounger before grabbing the back of his shirt to pull it off. Kaido didn’t make any move to remove his own, staring at Aren with his mouth ajar and his cheeks a brighter shade of red.

Aren frowned. Maybe this weather was too hot for Kaido. “Shun, are you feeling okay? Your face is very red.”

For a moment, Kaido looked as if he was about to reply, then he ran past Aren at a sprint and cannonballed into the pool.

Aren watched him in confusion. That was weird. He dove into the pool before swimming over to where Kaido was struggling to stay afloat in the water and put his hands on his arms, helping him up to the surface.

“W-what are you doing?” Kaido squeaked.

“Helping you swim,” Aren replied, getting more confused by the minute.

Teaching Kaido to swim was a long process, namely because he was absolutely hopeless. He started panicking whenever he had to swim on his own, and kept zoning out in Aren’s direction. Maybe he had taken in too much sunshine after all.

Aren climbed out of the pool and held out a dripping hand to help Kaido out as well. “You should get some rest.”

Kaido was stammering out words he couldn’t understand, so Aren grabbed his hand and pulled him up. Once Kaido was kneeling on the tiles by the edge of the pool, Aren realized he had just grabbed Kaido’s hand. He had touched his bare shoulder. He practically prepositioned the poor guy, who was probably too focused on trying not to drown to even think about Aren.

His face red with embarrassment, Aren let go of Kaido’s hand. “Um, sit down, I’ll get you a drink.”

Despite Kaido’s protests, Aren rushed off to get him a drink. Everything seemed to have way too much sugar in it and he knew Kaido wouldn’t like that, so he got him a bottle of water from the vending machine. However, it didn’t seem like enough, so he got him three different mocktails that seemed to suit his tastes.

He returned to the lounger and set the array of drinks down on the small table. “I didn’t know what you would like, so I got a bunch of stuff.”

Kaido blinked. “Oh, this is a lot—thanks, Aren.”

“Do you need anything else? An ice pack? An electric fan?”

“No, I—”

“I’ll get you a fan,” Aren said, running off to search for a fan. It took a while (All I want is a senpuki, how hard is that to find? Why are there nothing but air conditioners here?) but he eventually procured a handheld fan from the lost and found department after rummaging through a cardboard box of old swimwear and dusty swimming goggles.

Kaido looked up with wide eyes. “Aren, you didn’t have to find a fan!”

“I couldn’t find an electric one,” Aren said, sitting beside him. “So I’ll just wave this one for you.”

“No! Don’t do that! I’m fine.”

Aren furrowed his eyebrows, leaning closer to inspect the flaming blush across Kaido’s cheeks. His eyes were too bright, like he was feverish. “But you’re so red. You look like you have sunstroke.”

“I don’t have sunstroke,” Kaido managed to say. “Just—if you get too close to the Jet Black Wings, my power may be unleashed! So… you should probably stop touching me. For—for those reasons.”

Aren took a deep breath and nodded, wandering away to the poolside before diving in again, letting the cool water take him under. He was so frustrated. He just wanted to take care of Kaido, but he wouldn’t let him. When he protected Kaido from the gang of delinquents, instead of realizing that Aren cared about him more than anything and wanted his safety above all, Kaido just complained that he didn’t have a chance to defend himself.

It seemed like none of his efforts to demonstrate that he could be a good provider were getting through to Kaido. Maybe it was ridiculous, but it was important to Aren. He knew he might have to quit school to get a job to provide for them, after all. If they started dating, they would get a nice house together, a cozy place they could turn into a home. They would get cats. Kids, eventually.

That would all be possible if Kaido weren’t so damn oblivious.

It weren’t as if Aren had ever missed a massive hint.

On his lounger, Saiki pinched his nose. I thought you were the sensible one.

-

On the way back home from the pool, they got to talking about crushes. It was all Nendo’s fault, who nudged the conversation in that direction.

“I could get any girl I wanted,” Nendo announced, confident, “but if you guys had a chance to date anyone from our class, who would you pick?”

Hairo’s eyes glimmered. “My true love is sports! I don’t have time to date right now, I’m too focused on developing my muscles and pushing myself further.”

Kaido, meanwhile, was flushing red as usual, flustered. He got flustered way too easily; it was one of the cutest things about him. “I—um, I don’t know—I can’t say!”

“Give us a hint,” Nendo prompted.

“Uh… one of their initials is K.” Kaido lowered his head. “They have straight hair and their uniform is always tidy. They’re always calm, even when weird stuff happens, and they’re always nice to me. They’re also good at cooking and… they have a lot more to them than people think.”

There was only one person that description could fit. Aren realized it with a dim flicker of displeasure. Teruhashi Kokomi.

Nendo thought it over, scrunching his forehead as if the effort pained him. He brightened. “K… Kokomi! It has to be Teruhashi-san. She’s the only person in our class that fits that very specific description.”

Kaido coughed. “Um, okay.”

Aren tried to swallow his disappointment. He wasn’t surprised that it was Teruhashi, but he had been hoping all the same. Oh, well. A guy could always have two crushes. There was still a chance Kaido liked him back. Aren wasn’t going to give up. He hadn’t known that Kaido admired Teruhashi so much, though. It was disheartening.

“Aren?” Kaido said tentatively. “What about you?”

“I would date you, Shun,” Aren said without hesitation.

His eyes widened and he gave an awkward laugh. “You can’t pick one of your friends, that’s cheating.”

“But I would date you! That’s my answer!”

“Yeah, sure, totally. If you don’t want to answer, just say so.”

Dejected, Aren let his gaze fall to the floor and strode on. He could feel Nendo’s surprised stare on him, while Hairo and Saiki were radiating waves of pity.

Hairo jogged up beside Aren. “You’re down bad, dude.”

Aren didn’t bother denying it. “I know.”

-

Rows of machines with glowing screens and bright illustrations lined the arcade, ranging from claw games filled with stuffed toy prizes to racing games and dance pads. The sound of beeping, explosions, car engines and kids laughing surrounded Aren as he followed Kaido across the arcade while he tried to decide which game to try out first.

Aren raised his voice so he could be heard over the chorus of gunfire and jubilant chimes. “Shun, have you decided yet?”

Kaido pointed at the motorcycle simulator. “Let’s race! I bet I can beat you.”

Kaido did not beat him. He declared he wouldn’t give up until he beat Aren, and Aren may have been hopelessly in love with him but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to be merciless when it came to virtual motorcycle racing. Kaido slammed his hand against the side of the machine in frustration when Aren beat him for the fifth time, and during the next game, he was so concentrated that he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the screen at all, even when a kid spilled a can of soda over him.

When the race ended with Aren winning yet again, Kaido huffed in despair. He looked down at himself, and his expression shifted to confusion. “Why am I wet?”

“A kid spilled his soda all over you.”

“Then that must have been why I lost. It interfered with my concentration.”

He laughed. “You didn’t even realize it happened.”

“Well, it interfered subconsciously!”

Aren just laughed again and resisted the urge to kiss Kaido senseless. “Let’s try out a shooting game.”

Kaido perked up right away, charging at the nearest shooting game without waiting for Aren. Aren jogged up to him and pushed the coins into the slots. Despite Kaido’s assurances that he was fantastic at shooting, he proved to be pretty terrible with a gun. Along with the fact that he couldn’t hit any of the targets, he wasn’t even holding the gun properly.

“Shun, I thought you said you were good at this,” Aren teased.

Kaido pouted. His cheeks were bright red, but at least he wasn’t crying. Aren had noticed that Kaido always took teasing from him more lightly than he did from other people. “What are you talking about? This game is rigged!”

“Here, let me show you.”

Aren stood behind Kaido and put his arms around him to reach the gun, correcting the position of his hands. Kaido’s body felt almost fragile in the circle of his arms, his skin hot, and he gave a little jump of surprise when he felt Aren touch him.

“W-what are you doing, Aren?” Kaido stammered out.

“I’m correcting your terrible grip.”

“But—but this is—” He had stiffened with embarrassment but he wasn’t pulling away, so Aren took that as a good sign. A moment later, he relaxed a little, his fingers loosening on the gun. “Is this right?”

Aren paused. “Nothing in life is just right or wrong. It’s what we make it. But if you don’t want me to—”

“My grip, Aren!”

“Oh.” Aren was glad Kaido couldn’t see his face, because he was certain that it was scarlet. “Yeah. It’s right now.”

Aren’s time as a delinquent may have desensitivized him to many things, but even that couldn’t prevent the onslaught of embarrassment that hit him every time another confession attempt was thwarted.

So he stepped back as Kaido suggested they try out another game, giving Aren a bright smile, and thought that he would take the embarrassment a thousand times if it meant he could see that smile every day.

-

It was the last day of the summer vacation, and Aren and Kaido were at another fireworks festival. It seemed like the best way to close off the holiday – a holiday in which Aren hadn’t even gotten close to achieving his goal of confessing his love to Kaido. Still, despite his frustration, Aren was still grateful that he got to spend this much time with his best friend. Having Kaido Shun as a friend felt like a rare gift he didn’t deserve after his time as a delinquent, but Aren would work hard to become someone worthy of him.

There was still some time until the fireworks display, so they strolled around the festival to check out the food stalls.

Kaido pointed at the candied apples. “I always wondered what those taste like.”

“You don’t like sweets,” Aren pointed out.

“I like some of them. Anyway, my mom never let me have them. She said the sugar would rot my brain and make me stupid, then I wouldn’t be able to get into a good university.”

He laughed and put a hand on Kaido’s arm, who blushed instantly, guiding him to the stall. “I think your brain will be fine.”

Kaido bounced a little on the balls of his feet, looking away as if trying to veil his interest, while Aren paid for a candied apple and held it out to him. Kaido took a tentative bite of the apple and his face brightened. In the glow of the lamps hanging from the trees and the neon signs above the stalls, Kaido’s face was awash in soft gold. Aren wanted to lean over and taste the sugar on his lips. Kaido was too caught up in his dessert to notice that Aren was gazing at him unabashedly, thinking some decidedly sinful thoughts.

“This really does have a lot of sugar, though,” Kaido commented. “If I gain weight, I won’t be in top shape to fight Dark Reunion.”

Aren gave him a hopeful look. “Well, I heard kissing burns five calories a minute. Wanna work out?”

Kaido’s eyes welled with tears. “A-are you calling me fat?”

He raised his hands in a panic, shaking his head so quickly that a bout of dizziness struck him, sputtering out a frantic flurry of denials to console a very teary Kaido. It took more than a minute to make Kaido understand Aren was not calling him fat.

This was the second time he had somehow managed to make Kaido cry while hitting on him. Wonderful.

This was a bit of a setback, but a fireworks festival on the last day of summer vacation was the perfect place to confess his love to Kaido, and he wasn’t going to miss his chance this time. He would try a thousand times if he had to—ideally without making Kaido cry again, though given his track record, Aren wasn’t confident that he wouldn’t mess it up again.

Kaido had cheered up by now, back to his usual self, which meant he was talking about Dark Reunion again. Aren found it endearing. He had grown used to listening to the other boy talk about Dark Reunion constantly, to the extent where he was almost excited to see where he would take the story next.

“So, I’m working out a plan to anticipate their next attack,” Kaido finished.

Aren had decided a while ago that the best way to respond to the Dark Reunion stuff was offering vague agreements. “Sure.”

It seemed to satisfy Kaido, anyway, who had fallen quiet. After a moment of walking together in silence, he piped up. “Aren, your hair looks cool today.” 

Aren grinned, trying to look confident, even as butterflies launched into flight in his stomach. “Bet it would look nicer with your hands in it.”

Kaido tilted his head to the side. In an infuriatingly confused tone, he said, “You want me to… style your hair?”

Aren didn’t dignify that with a response, instead focusing on the way Kaido’s cheeks were still tinged pink from his excitement, his eyes sparkling. Unable to resist it for any longer, Aren stepped closer and reached up to brush his thumb over Kaido’s cheekbone, feeling his smooth skin. Their eyes met, locked in each other as Aren gazed at him. He had never thought of calling a boy ‘beautiful’ before meeting him. For a long time, it felt like his hands were nothing but tools for violence, but touching Kaido so softly made him feel like he didn’t have to be a weapon. He could just be a normal teenager.

Kaido smiled at him. “Oh, did I have an eyelash on my cheek? Thanks for getting it.”

Aren internally screamed. If there were any psychics nearby, he felt bad for them. (A voice that sounded strangely like Saiki responded, you should feel bad. I’m sick of hearing about your stupid problems and that scream was the last straw). He wanted to go home and yell into a pillow for ten minutes. However, his feelings weren’t Kaido’s burden to bear unless he wanted them, so he just smiled and did a thumbs-up gesture. A thumbs-up.

Yeah. It was hopeless.

As Aren walked home with Kaido at the end of the evening, he thought that maybe it was time to give up on this. Maybe this was the universe telling him to step back and let Kaido make the first move. Maybe the reason none of these hints were working was because Kaido was subtly rejecting his advances.

He was so caught up in his thoughts that he barely noticed they had arrived at Kaido’s house. The moon hung low in the sky, a perfect crescent, bathing the street in soft, pale light. Kaido scuffed his shoes in the grass, not making any move to go inside.

“Aren,” Kaido said, his tone hesitant. “Uh, I have something to tell you.”

He tried not to get ahead of himself. “Is it about Dark Reunion?”

“No.”

That was abnormal. “What is it?”

“I kind of… I think I…” He flushed, covering his face with his hands. “I can’t say it!”

Aren held his breath. For the first time in a while, he dared to hope. “Say what?”

“Um… the moon is beautiful tonight, right?”

“Nowhere near as much as you,” he told him. Kaido was more beautiful than everything in this ridiculous world. Aren would destroy it all for him. He would make him pancakes and build treehouses with him. He would create anything Kaido wanted.

Kaido blinked. “Really?”

The words came to Aren as naturally as breathing, like they were already alive in his mouth. “Shun, I love you.”

His eyes widened. “W-what? What do you mean?”

“I literally could not be any more explicit. Kaido Shun, I’m in love with you. I’ve been in love with you for most of the time I’ve known you and I keep trying to tell you but you misinterpret everything I say. So, here it is. I love you in a very gay, very non-platonic, very romantic, over-the-top, surprise-you-with-roses-and-candles kind of way. All I want is to be with you.”

Kaido’s expression melted from frozen shock to joy. “You do?”

“I do,” Aren confirmed. “And I’m going to need explicit confirmation that you understand what I’m saying.”

“You love me,” he said, dazed. “In a gay, non-platonic way. In a boyfriend way.”

Aren could have gotten on his knees to thank all the deities of the world for letting the stars align for this to finally take place. His heart was hammering in his chest, a wild bird, desperate for flight.

Kaido’s face was alight in a furious blush, and he was looking at the ground as he stammered out, “I—I like you, too, Aren. I have, for a long time. I just didn’t think you liked me back.”

“I have no idea how you could think that. You’re everything to me.” Now that the hard part was over, Aren realized he had no idea how to do this. “Can I…” His voice went a little softer. “Can I kiss you?”

His eyes widened, but he took a little step forward and rested a shaking hand on the side of Aren’s neck before nodding and whispering out a shy, “Yes.”

Aren leaned in and closed the space between them. He was kissing Kaido Shun. He was kissing his best friend, and it was soft and sweet and so much better than what he had imagined it to be. When they broke the kiss, Kaido looped his arms around Aren’s shoulders and buried his face in his neck for a hug. Aren gently ran his fingers through soft strands of blue hair and kissed the top of his head, affection swelling in his chest.

After a moment, Kaido looked up at him, maroon eyes bright under his long eyelashes. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? I thought you didn’t like me because you missed all my hints.”

Aren gaped at him. “Are you insane? Like, clinically?”

It took a few minutes of explaining before Kaido sheepishly admitted, “Okay, that’s my bad. But you’re not blameless, Aren. I told you my hands were cold in thirty degrees weather and you built a fire.

“I wanted to provide for you!”

“You could have held my hand,” he pointed out. “When Nendo asked for my crush, I described you word-for-word and you thought I was talking about Teruhashi.”

Aren’s mouth fell ajar. “You did the same exact thing!”

“…That’s fair.” Kaido pouted at him. “You’re going to make fun of me for this forever, aren’t you?”

Aren smiled at him and leaned down to kiss him again. The teasing could wait. For now, he could enjoy having the boy he loved in his arms while fireworks went off in the distance, marking a new beginning.

-

In his bedroom, Saiki let out a sigh of relief. The torture could end. Finally. He shut his eyes and settled in for a peaceful sleep.

A moment later, he shot upright when his mind was invaded by a surge of thoughts that had a distinctly different tone, followed by imagery. A lot of it.

End my suffering. Please.