After a full week of work, Yoichi is exhausted.
He’s had to rehaul three different engines in as many days, fix a housewife’s car with a battered suspension, and replace the alternator in a car that doesn’t look like it should be running electrics. There’s still probably grease under his fingernails, and he should eat something. But he’s tired, damn it, and he’ll eat something when he wakes.
There’s a noise that sounds like thunder coming from upstairs. It’s music—clearly music—but Yoichi is so tired he’ll probably sleep through it. Once he falls asleep, if he can.
It’s looking less and less likely while the music continues, but at least it’s a song he happens to like. That’s the only saving grace: Yoichi groans and rolls over, places a pillow over his ear and hopes to high heaven that somehow, something upstairs will break.
He won’t get any sleep this way.
Yoichi sighs and hauls himself upright, shoving his feet in a pair of battered sneakers while he climbs the stairs to apartment 3C, the one right above his. His body protests as he climbs the stairs, scowl already growing on his face.
He raps on the door, once, twice; nobody answers. He pounds his fist on the thing, damn it, this asshole who lives in this apartment is trying his patience today—
Shit, he’s cute. “You,” Yoichi starts, irritation blending with his shock, clogging his mouth. “The music,” he clarifies. “It’s really loud.” His upstairs-neighbor looks mildly confused. “I’m from downstairs.”
“Oh. Was it bothering you?”
The hell? Yoichi thinks, furrowing his eyebrows together as he searches for the appropriate level of rage at the guy’s innocent-sounding question. He opens his mouth to say, Yes, it was. I was going to take the nap I deserve to have after a week like mine, but I can’t, because I can hear the dulcet sounds of death metal from your house.
But the guy has soft pink hair and thin eyes, and he worries his bottom lip a little. Because he has soft-looking pink hair, nothing Yoichi thinks even remotely makes it to his mouth.
“Oh, no,” he laughs, the sound projected awkwardly while the guy crosses his arms. “I just. wanted to know if—” You could turn it down? Never play music that loudly again?
The crook of his mouth when he smiles is really, really something else.
“I don’t meet a lot of fans of that band,” Yoichi hedges, blinking. “Could we—I’d like to talk to you a little? You seem like, uh, you have good taste. In music.”
Still smiling slightly, the guy crosses his arms, leans against the doorway. “You’re not mad?”
“What?” Caught out, Yoichi laughs, loud and awkward, “What, no way. What makes you think that?” The guy has such a nice smile, cheeks kinda round and his height just petite enough for Yoichi to look down the slope of his nose.
“Normally,” his neighbor grins, “People tell me they don’t like what they’re hearing, and to turn it down.”
“I am,” Yoichi replies, “Most definitely telling you neither.”
His neighbor tilts his head up, mild amusement still soft on his mouth while Yoichi tries not to divert his eyes away or stare for too long. He gets the feeling he’s being gauged, like the guy can read people’s minds, or something. “You really like it?”
Sensing an opportunity, Yoichi hastily nods. “I do! I really do. Um—and if you want, uh—we can talk about the band? And metal? If you have recs—”
“Oh.” Yoichi’s neighbor frowns a little, mouth smoothing out in a straight, flat line as he furrows his brows. “I’m actually on my way out to work soon.” Yoichi manfully refuses to let himself deflate, playing it off as if it were no big deal to him; his neighbor studies him carefully, before adding, “It’s just down the road, though. And I’m out at seven.”
“Oh. I can,” and Yoichi fumbles for words while the guy waits for them. “I can pick you up when you’re done? To talk. About, uh. Music.”
“That sounds like fun. You’re from downstairs, 2C?”
“Kuramochi Yoichi.” He bows a little. It’s good, he reasons, to make a nice impression—even if he’d stormed up a flight of stairs to tell an unexpectedly nice-looking guy to turn down his death metal. Yoichi squints at the nameplate on the door. “Kominato-san?”
“Ah.” The smile on his face brightens again. “Ryosuke.”
Yoichi does sleep for a few solid hours.
When he wakes, he wonders if the guy in 3C was even real—if he’d dreamed up, somehow, its smiling occupant upstairs.
His name is Ryosuke. Ryo-san. Ryo-san is soft-spoken and works down the road, at the only bookstore in town: a clean, neat place with white bookcases that run top to bottom with just books. No tapes, no DVDs. He has a little stall of stationery near the front, but it’s mostly books. Yoichi’s never seen as many as these crammed in one place.
Yoichi walks down the road, hands shoved in his pockets as the sun sets. By seven o’clock, the restaurants are drawing people in while the other stores on the street slowly shutter closed. He hums a song under his breath, something tuneless and fast; he feels much better after sleeping a bit.
In the frame of a clean, large window, Ryo-san is reading a book, chin propped up against both hands.
He barely looks up when Yoichi clangs the door open, only smiling when he sees who it is. “Nice place,” Yoichi says, and he means it.
His place is nice, too: there’s always something for him to do in the garage, even if it’s just cleaning up spilled transmission fluid. There’s always a CD playing—usually something from Kanemaru’s collection, that tall bastard having claimed the stereo after replacing its speakers last year. It’s a loud place, with the occasional shower of sparks and flurry of curses, punctuated by the clatter of wrenches and power tools.
Here, there’s soft jazz on the radio. Yoichi’s never felt so out of place before in his life, as if he’s visiting some fastidious grandparent. He doesn’t touch a thing, doesn’t even put his elbows on the store’s clean countertop—at least in the garage, he could do something with his hands—but he doesn’t have anything to do in the bookstore at all, just watches Ryo-san turn the pages of a novel.
When he registers Yoichi’s compliment, his hand stills. “I know,” Ryo-san smiles. He does that a lot, and every time he does, Yoichi can’t look away. It’s a good thing he’s not driving anywhere—there would most definitely be an accident.
But the funny thing is, even with soft jazz in the background, it’s not the song stuck in his head. Yoichi watches Ryo-san lock up the storefront and tuck his keys in his pocket. The space beside him is invitingly empty.
“I’ll walk you home,” he blurts out—as if they didn’t live in the same building, and that wasn’t the plan all along. But Ryo-san just turns that smile on him, doesn’t say yes or no, and keeps walking.
Yoichi scrambles to catch up.
“It’s a nice day,” he hedges—how lame is that, Yoichi, talking about the damn weather—and Ryo-san hums, nodding.
It feels a little like music, how Ryo-san walks like soft jazz but on the inside, Yoichi knows, he’s so much more. Ryo-san tucks his hands behind his waist and moves smoothly, easily, totally comfortable with himself. He smiles like he’s hearing some private joke that Yoichi tells.
Their apartment block is a regretfully short way away. Yoichi holds open the door for Ryo-san to breeze through, doesn’t even punch in the elevator for floor two. “I said I’d walk you home,” he says with a straight face, and Ryo-san doesn’t say anything at all, just breezes past him, nodding his thanks.
He takes the stairs, like Yoichi does, and isn’t even out of breath at the end of it. “What kind of bands do you usually listen to?” Ryo-san asks, over his shoulder, and Yoichi thinks about Kanemaru’s collection.
“Depends,” he says truthfully. “At work, there’s some hard rock. And whatever’s on the radio.”
The third floor arrives so much faster than he’d expected; Yoichi follows Ryo-san right to the door and Ryo-san doesn’t tell him to go away. He unlocks his apartment door and toes off his shoes, leaves the door wide open for Yoichi to follow.
So he does.
“I see,” his voice floats out to Yoichi’s ears, and he’s sitting on a comfortable-looking couch for two. Yoichi eyes it nervously, and shuffles off his shoes as he shuts the door. “That’s cool, though. Variety.”
Cool, Yoichi thinks, amazed. “Ahahaha—yeah, I guess so.”
It’s just chatting, really. Getting to know a neighbor.
“I’ve lived here for a few years,” Ryo-san says, shrugging. “It’s a nice place.” And it is: the building is in a pretty quiet area of town, with fair rent and decent transportation. Those qualities had appealed to Yoichi too, when he’d struck out own his own for the first time after going to college.
Ryo-san rises to his feet smoothly. “Would you like something to drink?” I think there’s cold barley tea in the fridge.” And Yoichi sweats a little, mouth dry since he’d seen Ryo-san idly turn pages at his bookshop. “Don’t worry,” he adds, “I’ll get it.”
Ryo-san is graceful, and poised, and it makes Yoichi think about his apartment downstairs. He’s rolled up his shirtsleeves to pour cold tea, but Yoichi doesn’t have much to say to him apart from I think you’re kinda hot, are you free to talk about music?
But it’s about good first impressions. Yoichi, fully expecting Ryo-san’s apartment to look like his, turns right from the living room to find the washroom. He’s a really cool guy, Yoichi thinks, curiously eyeing the framed posters lining the walls as he turns the bathroom’s doorknob—
There’s a tightness in his face that doesn’t suit him at all, Ryo-san’s knuckles whitening as he grips the tray with two glasses of cold tea in his hands. Silence crackles. “It’s my brother’s room,” he quietly says, and Yoichi lets go of the doorknob immediately. “He uses it when he comes home.” Ryo-san clarifies. “Bathroom’s down the hall, to the left.”
Yoichi watches him leave, morbidly curious—like a deep freeze, the harsh burn of ice. When he comes back to his seat in the living room, Ryo-san looks as if he’s forgotten it.
“About that band you were listening to,” Yoichi starts, and watches the smile blossom on Ryo-san’s face.
The only other person Yoichi knows in the entire building is the guy he shares laundry detergent with: Miyuki Kazuya, on the same floor in 2F.
Since graduating college, Miyuki isn’t the same guy as he used to be; working at an uptight jeweler’s will, Yoichi supposes, does that to a person. He works long hours and brings back weird stories about incredibly prissy, pissy customers—Yoichi can always tell when he’s had one of those days when he sees Miyuki do weird shit, like iron and vacuum and cook.
It’s a pretty set routine. In college, Miyuki used to smuggle in a hot plate and the kids in the dorm would pool enough money to eat hotpot; he was really good at it, even if he had nothing but a half-sized shoebox for salt and pepper.
Yoichi knows his way around Miyuki’s place well enough, invites himself over with beer as a preemptive offering as he filches slices of braised meat, scoops up fresh, steaming rice with bare fingers. He looks the same as he always does: pissed off, until Yoichi offers him a fresh beer.
When Miyuki does actually cook, Yoichi makes sure to open up all the windows in the tiny space, just to make sure that everybody else in the neighborhood knows that Miyuki (and he, by extension) will be well fed for the night. They make a night of it, Miyuki bitching openly about the shitty customer of the day while Yoichi laughs at his misery—but tonight, he has a story of his own.
Ryo-san had clearly had some heavy shit on his mind when he’d said my brother, in his quiet voice, and Yoichi picks beer that Miyuki likes while trying to think of better things: the way he’d looked at Yoichi in interest when he’d mentioned some bands Ryo-san hadn’t heard of, and the sound of his laughter when he’d admitted that maybe—just a little—the sellouts on the radio weren’t half bad.
At Miyuki’s, Yoichi never asks what’s for dinner. That’s almost like giving away the plan; the fun of it is seeing Miyuki scowl at him while he cooks for two, even if he usually cooks for more than one anyway. Sometimes it’s a real surprise, some foreign food that Yoichi’s never heard of; other days, it’s just solid Japanese fare, fish and miso and rice.
The surprise of the day is, however, not what’s for dinner.
There’s a tall kid slouching over the sink, washing vegetables and grumbling to himself as Yoichi toes off his shoes by the door, beer in hand. He throws his jacket over his usual chair and waves, putting his six-pack down on the dining table.
Miyuki looks over his glasses at Yoichi, stirs the pot a bit. The kid doesn’t even notice that there’s another person in the house. He’s grinning to himself while washing vegetables, dark brown hair and ragged jeans in Miyuki’s apartment.
The noise Yoichi’s bottle makes is silent in the tiny place, swallowed up by the noise of bubbling water and potatoes thunking in the sink. “Who is that?” Yoichi finally asks, pointing a finger at the mystery visitor—Miyuki has to know that kid is there, right—and an unusually sharp scowl appears on Miyuki’s face as he picks up the cutting board.
Immediately, the kid turns around to pipe up, “I’m Sawamura Eijun! I’m a Taurus, and I’m turning twent—” Miyuki hisses, pointing at him with a broad, pointy knife until he subsides into quiet.
“He’s Eijun,” Miyuki says, turning a bitter, frozen smile in Yoichi’s direction. “Sawamura Eijun.”
“...right. And why is he—”
“He burnt my stuff,” Miyuki says shortly, which doesn’t pique Yoichi’s curiosity at all. “And now he’s doing manual labor to make up the difference.”
Beer bottle halfway to his mouth, Yoichi frowns. “Uh.”
“IT WAS AN ACCIDENT,” the kid roars from the sink, dropping a carrot from his hands.
“You can shut up, or you can be quiet.” Miyuki takes clean carrots and— even if Yoichi’s seen this before, never fails to impress him—his knife is a blur as he chops in neat, efficient moves. From the sink, he can see the kid repeatedly mouth Miyuki’s suggestion, shut up, or be quiet. Shut up, or be quiet.
When the realization hits him, his head whips around. “Miyuki Kazuya!” he huffs, and Miyuki gathers a handful of carrot pieces in his hand before shoving them in the kid’s mouth. “You—”
“Shut up,” Miyuki says cheerfully, the kid looking more and more explosive with every begrudging chew. Yoichi takes another swallow of beer. “You should have done that meditation after all.” He goes back to cooking, only to throw casually over his shoulder, “That’s what he was doing before he committed arson today.”
Yoichi nearly spits out his drink.
“I did not!” Eijun protests, and Miyuki coolly raises an eyebrow before raising his hand, fistful of carrot at the ready. “Okay,” he concedes, ignorant to the obvious threat in front of him, “It wasn’t on purpose.”
Miyuki sighs, and shoves another handful of chopped carrots in his face. “It wasn’t on purpose,” he repeats scornfully, and turns to Yoichi with his arms crossed. “You know that thing I have for hanging laundry on the veranda?”
“Yeah?” Yoichi hazards—it’s probably that weird round thing with plastic clips dotting it at even intervals, something Miyuki had picked up at the supermarket a few months ago. Whatever that thing Miyuki is talking about, it feels like Yoichi who’s in trouble for it. “What happened?”
A tic slowly forms on Miyuki’s forehead; his eyebrow twitches a little as he talks, grip tightening around the handle of his knife as he pivots sharply on his heel back to his vegetables. “We-ll,” he starts, drawling, “Somebody bought a handful of candles and was using them for—what was it again? Meditation?”
The vegetables on the cutting board are starting to look a little too finely-chopped.
“Only that someone—I can’t imagine who—” Yoichi considers telling Miyuki that his vegetables are turning into puree (a word he hadn’t known existed before he’d met the guy), but can also see how confident Miyuki is with sharp objects. “Purchased emergency storm-ration candles, with a flame that reached, let me get this right—it’s five feet from your balcony to mine, I think—and, with the help of some strong wind, set fire to my socks.”
“He lives here?” Yoichi blurts out, before addressing the question to the kid. “You live here?”
“Apartment next door,” Miyuki replies for him, without missing a beat. “I live next to an arsonist.”
“I’m not an ars—”
Miyuki looks busy. Yoichi, being the kind and thoughtful friend he is, gets up, cracks open another bottle of beer, and deposits it right next to Miyuki’s cutting board before kicking at the back of the kid’s legs. Eijun makes a pitiful whine at the back of his throat when Yoichi kicks him, and looks as if he’ll protest.
Miyuki takes a deep drink and watches, an amused gleam coming into his eye. “Thanks,” he murmurs to Yoichi—for the beer or the kicking, he’ll never know—and goes back to cooking.
It’s stir-fry today.
“Hey,” Yoichi laughs, blatantly ignoring Eijun when he also looks wistfully at his beer, “I met someone who lives here, too, today.”
A week after Eijun burns his laundry, Miyuki clocks out with an unusual amount of frustration built up in his shoulders. He can recount, with perfect clarity, how it’d gotten there: a total clusterfuck of a client who’d thrown a screaming fit after receiving her custom princess-cut diamond because, oh no—
Miyuki rolls up his sleeves and slams down a frying pan, flicks on the flame at ‘high’ with practiced ease. Her best friend, who she’d met in college, who’s marrying the vice president of a tech company has, as it turns out, a bigger diamond by zero-point-three carats and it’s yellow.
He inspects the sharp blade of his usual chef’s knife with a critical eye before ducking down, a handful of herbs in each palm chopped together, twisting down the flame to a pleasant medium without looking.
“It’s not,” he growls to himself, “As if it wasn’t a fixable problem, but nooo, it’s a plain white brilliant—” The scent of roasting herbs fills his apartment while Miyuki irritably carries out vegetables in his arms from the fridge, bell peppers and onions and a bag of peas. “And I guess some people just have to have screaming fits in public, since everything’s ruined, the diamond’s not big enough.”
Miyuki hoards chicken stock by the cupful, but he’ll need it. He measures it out in an empty glass and seethes as he slices an onion in half, bell peppers diced neatly in colorful handfuls. But rice pilaf won’t enough to take the stress out completely. While Miyuki waits for the onions to sweat, he considers how red the girl had turned when she’d seen the ring in Miyuki’s hands, nestled beautifully in a velvet-lined box.
He turns on his heel and opens the fridge again, frowning at the single stick of butter left in the package—it would have to do, he decides, and shuts the fridge door again. There’s flour and sugar already in the house; Miyuki doesn’t think twice about what he’ll make, just snags the good vanilla extract from the cupboard and goes to work.
In the end, the harassed-looking fiance had paid for a pink diamond, zero-point-five carats larger than his original order. Un-goddamn-believable. Miyuki grits his teeth and cuts his last stick of butter, with a clean knife, into cubes.
In two hours, he’s bled out all his stress. Miyuki’s apartment smells like roasted herbs and rice pilaf, his oven slowly emitting the distinctive, sweet scent of shortbread.
It is, he realizes, entirely too much food for one person.
The only person Miyuki even knows in the entire building is the guy who pays for his food in bottles of beer. Sighing, he stares at the heaps of aromatic rice, neatly plated and quickly cooling, on his dining table.
i have too much food
i cooked too much
come eat something
In apartment 3C, Yoichi’s phone buzzes in his pocket.
“So you’re free on Saturday? For a movie?” Yoichi manages, turning the notification off without looking down. Ryo-san regards him thoughtfully, smile ever-present on his face.
“For a movie, yes,” he agrees, and Yoichi feels like he could fly. The expression on his face stays sweet, but a little sinister, when Ryo-san says, “Can I pick the movie?”
Yoichi blinks. It could be some weird shit, he guesses—Ryo-san has odd, randomly specific taste in things—like a documentary, or something. “Oh, sure. Yeah.” But Ryo-san laughs a little, approving and happy, when Yoichi acquiesces; truth be told, he hadn’t known that Ryo-san was into movies at all. “What were you thinking of?”
“There’s a new film by a director I like,” Ryo-san admits, turning to the TV in the living room and pointing at the DVD shelf. “I have all his other ones already.”
“Damn,” Yoichi whistles, as his eye alights on the spines of the DVD covers. They’re horror films, with terrifying black-and-grey motifs and red, bloody letters. “Ryo-san,” he calls, grinning, “Which one of these is your favorite?”
i have a date
gotta go bye
you unreliable shit of a friend
go eat with your right hand
your usual date friend
The only other other person Miyuki even knows is the kid who’s sitting in his house right now, chewing rice pilaf with an open mouth and an amazed expression dawning on his face.
“This,” Eijun mumbles, eyes far-away and misted over, “Is the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.”
Miyuki stares at him eat, spoon halfway to his own lips. “Sawamura,” he frowns, “Chew with your mouth closed.”
Eijun is kind of skinny for his age, and Miyuki only notices this when he realizes how fucking poor the kid really is. It’s not hard math: he thinks about how much waiters usually earn, and puts that estimate against the amount of rent he has to pay per month—and winces. His job as a server clearly gets him by, and after half a year at it he’ll pick up on how to keep it, provided he learns how to deal with asshole customers and stay not-fired.
But it’s not hard to cook food and have Kuramochi over, since he mooches but brings beer in the meantime. Eijun doesn’t look like he could tell an IPA from a stout, and Miyuki would be cooking anyway.
Eijun does, though—to his credit—try. He peels vegetables when he’s asked, washes rice well, and moves out of Miyuki’s way in the kitchen fast enough when prompted. He’s not a total novice, and eating with Miyuki and Kuramochi would stretch his monthly budget some. It’s not all bad—and the face he makes when Miyuki cooks a new dish is hilarious.
Generally speaking, Eijun probably feels kind of bad about his comparative lack of cooking skills. He’s still banned from refilling the pepper grinder, Miyuki finding stray peppercorns rolled on the floor days after the incident. “Those who don’t work,’ Miyuki quips, while Eijun goes for his usual place by the sink, “Don’t eat.”
“You’re a terrible dictator,” Eijun scowls, peeling carrots and trying not to bleed over the stock of freshly washed vegetables.
Miyuki stir-fries quickly, snorting over the sound of sizzling food. “Get back to me when you can spell dictator.”
Cooking is about method to him; growing up, it was always fascinating how he could turn something plain into something delicious. He likes refining technique, putting into place the little details—and takes a bite out of his food every once in a while with a self-satisfied grin.
“Mm,” he mumbles, licking sauce from the corners of his mouth, “That’s not bad.” Eijun tilts his head toward him, curiously eyes the pan and its contents. “Not yet,” Miyuki grins.
For Eijun, Miyuki reflects, cooking would be about patience. But he’s easily distractible, and eager to learn stuff: so Miyuki just talks, talks about how in Hong Kong he could eat pork and noodle soup and be surrounded by people who just appreciate good food; how in Tokyo he could take a walk and see a ramen stall every three blocks. Eijun soaks it all in, hums and exclaims at all the right parts, enthusiasm oddly contagious.
It’s something to do with how brightly energetic he looks—he’d looked that way since day one, when he’d set fire to Miyuki’s socks on the veranda and shouted his apology while Miyuki had doused the flame.
Lunch tastes pretty good this time around.
But after a month of this, doing little jobs around Miyuki’s kitchen and figuring out how to pour in peppercorns correctly, Eijun’s starting to feel more than a little guilty.
Besides, how hard could it be, shopping for produce?
“Who does that guy think he is,” Eijun grumbles, poking morosely at a package of pork, a sheet of paper in his hands. “He’s not the only one who can cook food,” he continues, picking it up after squinting at the printout. “Even if,” and Eijun sneaks a quick peek over his shoulder—you could never tell with total sadists like Miyuki Kazuya, who’d shoved an entire hot pepper into his mouth after Eijun had admitted he couldn’t eat spicy things—just to see if Miyuki Kazuya’s devil horns were nearby. “Even if his cooking is kind of really good.”
The recipe he’s holding calls for ginger, too, and he doesn’t even know what that looks like. Eijun heaves a huge sigh and inwardly curses Miyuki Kazuya while he pulls out his phone to search for pictures of ‘ginger’.
It’s a weird, beige root-looking thing, and Eijun picks up a knobbly one with a frown. He sniffs it—and it smells weird, and like medicine, or something—puts it in his basket and leaves, the scent making his sneeze on the way out.
He can afford this, at least. Especially since he’s been eating at Miyuki’s, dishes for two or three laid out with careful hands and home-cooked food. Eijun thinks about Miyuki’s deadpan, unimpressed face when he’d tried smashing garlic with the flat of Miyuki’s chef’s knife for the first time, and stomps up the stairs to the second floor to find his jerkass neighbor.
Miyuki Kazuya has a little electronic buzzer, too, fitted on the doorway; Eijun always forgets about it. He raps on the door and then pushes the button, but can’t hear anything—so pushes it again, and again, grinning as he listens for footsteps growing closer to the door.
“What,” Miyuki frowns, throwing the door open. “Oh, it’s you.”
Eijun’s smile falters.
Miyuki Kazuya is still in his work clothes, navy blue suit creasing sharply at his shoulders. His white shirt is loose at the collar, and there’s a warm, spicy scent in the air; it hangs heavy in Eijun’s nose while Miyuki quirks an eyebrow at him, over his glasses. It’s cologne.
Sometimes, Eijun forgets what Miyuki Kazuya really looks like. He’s weirdly—and Eijun burns to think about it, pissed off in the worst way at the thought—handsome, and almost looks like he doesn’t know.
Miyuki’s mouth shifts into a familiar, mocking grin. “Is the building on fire?”
Very quickly, Eijun remembers where he is, and that Miyuki Kazuya is an asshole of the highest degree. “Shut up!” he retorts, and practically throws the paper printout at Miyuki’s glasses. “Didn’t you say something about this? Earlier?”
Miyuki plucks the paper off his face and unfolds it, silently noting the name on the sheet and its crumpled corners.
“Even if it was with someone like you,” Eijun continues, begrudgingly shifting his weight from foot to foot, “I’d eat it. You made it sound good.” His grocery bags rustle as he waits for Miyuki to scan through the recipe.
“You found this?” He looks so strange, curious expression glinting keen through his eyes while Eijun tries not to fidget.
“You said you wanted it,” he mutters sulkily, gnawing at his bottom lip and watching Miyuki Kazuya’s face move through a series of fast, subtle expressions. He should be happy, and grateful that Eijun had image-searched ‘ginger’ for his damn noodle recipe—he’d looked happy describing it, after all.
Miyuki stretches out a hand, palm open skyward as he stares at Eijun, paper still clutched in the other. “Groceries?”
“From the list.” It’s like he’s being tested, is what it is. Eijun hands over the bags and Miyuki checks their contents, a slow, fascinated smile growing on his face. Better.
“This,” Miyuki Kazuya declares, pushing the door open wide, “Is gonna be great.” Already fairly at ease in the place, Eijun toes off his shoes and makes for the kitchen. “Oh, wait—” Miyuki stops mid-stride, shutting the door and handing back the groceries to Eijun. “I’m still in this thing.”
In just the right light, a bright streak of evening sunlight shafting across his face, Miyuki Kazuya’s eyes look like molten gold. He unbuttons the blazer, working loose his shirtfront’s buttons and cuffs. Eijun freezes in his tracks.
“You can start prepping, I guess.” Miyuki shrugs off his blazer and heads left, right where his room would be—Eijun’s apartment is exactly the same way. “I’ll be there in a second.”
“Yeah,” Eijun stiffly manages, and forcibly turns away from him. “See you later, Miyuki Kazuya.”
Miyuki’s laughter floats out to him as Eijun unpacks their groceries. “I’m just finding a pair of sweatpants,” he calls. Eijun can hear the grin in his voice. “Don’t burn anything down, moron.”
After the pork and noodle soup night, Eijun grocery shops more frequently. Alone, he tries to bring back weird shit that Miyuki wouldn’t consider cooking: ugly tomatoes and organic bananas—he hadn’t noticed the other ones in the next stall over and paid for their free-range growth at the register—but Miyuki Kazuya never flusters, just inspects them with a crooked eyebrow.
And really, at the end of it, it all tastes amazing.
It’s all fine—he’s even learning, kind of, how cooking works—and Eijun’s figuring out how to mash garlic and cook with peppercorns and that cooking is about timing, sorta, and fast skills with a sharp knife. He’s not going to be shredding cabbage like Miyuki Kazuya any time soon, but his omurice at home looks neater.
“Why are you wearing that,” Eijun blurts out, after the sixth time Miyuki answers his door in a suit. He rotates out of a few, in different shades of navy-blue and deep black that make him look taller, always ducking back to change before washing rice, jockeying for counter space with Eijun. “The—” he gestures down toward his own shirt.
“What, the suit?” Miyuki finishes for him, puzzled. “It’s my job?” He enunciates each word, and Eijun is tempted to throw the potato in his hands right at Miyuki’s face. “I sell? Watches? Jewelry? To people? You know?”
“I know,” Eijun fumes, and peels the rest of his vegetables with a furious efficiency. “I mean,” he finally adds, scraping the peels together, “Why do you keep answering the door. In suits.”
“Well, you jab at the buzzer like it’s broken,” Miyuki points out, grinning. “And I live here, so I have to answer the door.” There must be a storm brewing on Eijun’s face, since Miyuki throws his head back to laugh at his expression. “And you knock right after I clock out,” he adds at last, wheezing for breath while Eijun retrieves the cutting board. “That bother you, Sawamura?”
Eijun chops the potatoes in half, and then half again, blocky and angry. “No!” he grinds out. “Shut up.”
“I’m older than you,” Miyuki reminds him, and looks over at the terrible, chunky mess on the cutting board. “Jeez, stop—stop. This is awful.”
“I’d like to see you do better,” Eijun bites out.
Miyuki Kazuya looks terrible when he smiles. Terrible, or terrifying. “Give a man a fish,” he begins, and wraps his hand around the one Eijun’s using to hold the knife. “And he’ll stay fed for a day.” It’s a warm grip, and Miyuki’s hands are still wet from washing rice—but it’s Miyuki Kazuya’s hand over his, and his voice puffing warm breath over Eijun’s ear. “Teach a man to fish,” the knife moves in precise strokes, Eijun’s eyes fixed on the cutting board. Every inch of his body is so acutely aware of how Miyuki Kazuya moves, how he breathes. “And he’ll stay fed for a lifetime.’
Eijun, for once has no words to spit back. Miyuki still smells like that cologne, that deep, spicy scent that lingers just enough for him to get a whiff when he’s this close—Miyuki’s chest is warm against his back, hand still holding Eijun’s. “See?”
The rice is probably sucking up water, but Miyuki isn’t moving away.
He stares, so Eijun stares back, the air electric and about to crackle alive. Like fire. “Yeah,” Eijun manages, and he can hear Miyuki’s intake of breath, suppressed instinct and a glimpse of something unreadable passing by, too fast for Eijun to catch. He’s so close. “I get it.”
Miyuki draws away, briskly nodding once—as if nothing had ever happened at all. Surprised, his own breath knocked off-balance, Eijun goes back to work himself.
An hour later, he sits cross-legged on the floor while Miyuki broods into his curry. It still tastes good.
Outside, it starts to snow.
There are a lot of things that Yoichi is starting to learn, when it comes to Ryo-san.
He likes horror movies. He is unabashedly unafraid of them, choosing rather to frown at the low-quality effects budget while Yoichi tries not to look too hard at the bloody, mangled zombie corpse onscreen. He likes books—works in the bookstore in town, but Yoichi hasn’t read a book book since he was in school—and it’s nearing the time when Yoichi would very possibly start looking at gifts, for people, since it’s the holidays.
Ryo-san’s is looking mysterious.
His eyes don’t ever leave the television screen, hands occupied by Player 2 controllers as Yoichi tries not to let his knees bump against his too frequently.
“Ryo-san,” Yoichi says, Ryo-san humming in reply. “What are your hobbies?” He tries not to skid off the rainbow track while Ryo-san blazes past him, but his eye is drawn so quickly to how the question brings a smile to Ryo-san’s face, open-mouthed and cheerful.
“Books,” Ryo-san replies, and Yoichi isn’t even looking at the screen at all when Ryo-san tilts his head up, shoulders brushing against his.
Yoichi’s Yoshi never sees the blue shell coming.
A few days after Yoichi’s calendar changes, the last month a sad, floppy page left in the year, he finds out who Ryo-san’s little brother is. Ryo-san’s little brother is Kominato Haruichi.
Ryo-san’s little brother is the Kominato Haruichi, the shortest guy to make it to national-level baseball in three years.
Ryo-san’s little brother is—
—surprisingly shy and kinda sweet.
“Um,” he tries, slim fingers knitting together in anxiety as he tries to get his brother to look at him. “Aniki?” But Ryo-san is staring, staring up until he must be forming a crick in his neck, staring at Furuya Satoru’s impassive face like he’s about to bat his notorious fastball.
(Somewhere back in time, five-year-old Kuramochi Yoichi shivers in joy and doesn’t know why.)
“Haruichi! What a—” the expression on Ryo-san’s face really is kind of terrifying. He swings his gaze from Furuya to Haruichi at last, the expression melting a little at the edges as he reaches for the door. Yoichi watches Haruichi hoists up his bag with a nervous smile, Furuya grabbing the rolling suitcase beside him. “Pleasant surprise. Come in!”
Under his breath, Ryo-san turns to Yoichi and mutters, “If he does anything to him, I’ll kill him.”
And that’s how Yoichi knows he’s screwed, because Ryo-san looks very serious about committing the premeditated, cold-blooded murder of the national baseball team’s pitcher with his bare hands, and the only thing Yoichi can think is: I’d help you bury the body.
“I’m sure,” he says instead, since there’s no appropriate way to say I’d go to jail for you. “It won’t be that bad.”
The fridge is depressingly empty while Haruichi settles back in his room. “We can double up,” Haruichi offers, while Furuya carts his stuff into his room behind him. Yoichi watches Ryo-san’s face darken.
“Uh. You hungry?” Yoichi ventures, and Ryo-san purses his lips in a little frown.
“I could eat,” Ryo-san finally replies, and Haruichi shuts the door behind him as he leaves his room, leaving Furuya there.
“We can go out and get something,” Haruichi offers. It’s weird to see someone so famous just lounge around in comfortable clothes; some permanent part of Yoichi from his childhood has to uninstall itself to accommodate the sight of baseball players without uniforms. Haruichi tucks his hands in his sweatshirt’s pockets while he crosses the living room, pokes his head in the fridge. “Ah, definitely.”
Yoichi considers it: Ryo-san probably hasn’t had that much time with his brother—the guy who’d put such a tight, locked-down expression on his face. “I think I’m heading home, Ryo-san,” he speaks up, grinning when Ryo-san turns to look at him. “You guys have fun at dinner.”
The door of Haruichi’s room cracks open at the word. “Is it time to eat?” Furuya Satoru looks weirdly placid in a large sweater and jeans, poking his head out to study the living room’s occupants intently. “Can we go now?”
Yoichi winces. He’d meant to let the brothers have some time together, and maybe earn some low-key good guy points—but Ryo-san turns stiffly back to Yoichi and smiles, ice-cold. “I guess we all are.”
It’s getting chilly outside already, winter biting at Yoichi’s nose and cheeks as Ryo-san locks their apartment door. Haruichi doesn’t look too happy about the cold himself, bundled up in a thick jacket. Furuya looks as blank-faced as before, dressed the warmest out of them all for the wind chill; somehow, he radiates the sense of contentment.
The place is just a few blocks off, and everybody but Furuya looks as if they know where they’re going; Ryo-san takes the lead and Yoichi follows. “It’s a nice place,” he can hear Haruichi say to Furuya, even if he doesn’t reply back—at least, not on any wave that Yoichi can pick up.
Yoichi can see, out of the corner of his eye, Haruichi shiver. Furuya takes off his scarf to bundle it around Haruichi’s head and face, nodding with satisfaction as Haruichi pinks in the cheeks.
It’s probably from the wind.
Haruichi takes Furuya’s hands and blows hot breath across his knuckles, a secretive smile across his face while he warms Furuya’s fingers.
Acutely aware of how grossly cute that is, Yoichi tries to keep Furuya alive for the day by asking Ryo-san questions, directing his focus toward himself. He might, after all, get some albums that Ryo-san would like—as a gift, from one friendly neighbor to another. Ryo-san is proving kind of opaque about it, and it’s not like Yoichi can come out and ask, what do you want me to get you for Christmas?
He sits next to him, too, Haruichi across from him while Furuya drapes his coat over the back of his chair. Ryo-san doesn’t seem to have noticed the scarf, just hums and carefully looks over the menu.
Furuya is asleep with his head on the table, slumped over. “The hell,” Yoichi breathes, and Haruichi tries to shake him awake before someone comes to take their order.
Ryo-san’s mouth pinches together, tightness lining his face again as he watches Haruichi’s mouth move in closely to Furuya’s face. It must be too close, since Yoichi can feel Ryo-san’s leg brush past his to kick Furuya awake.
“Ready to order?”
Yoichi pastes a grin on his face while Ryo-san shuffles together everyone’s menus. “Uh, yeah,” he coughs. “I guess I’ll go first.”
Furuya pays for the food. Maybe, Yoichi thinks, that guy isn’t half-bad after all.
Two weeks before the twenty-fifth, Yoichi still has no idea what to get for Ryo-san.
But he’s pretty sure he knows how to find out. The only unused resource left is upstairs, after all. Yoichi is pretty sure Ryo-san is out, minding the bookstore—and he’d come home himself, just an hour ago, after a long night of replacing people’s snow tires for the season.
He still climbs the stairs to knock on 3C. It’s Furuya Satoru who answers the door.
He shuts it in Yoichi’s face.
Beyond it, he can hear Haruichi’s panicked voice admonishing him, ah, you can’t do that—
It’s weirdly silent behind the door for a while and Yoichi has the horrifying, terrifying, soul-crushing realization that they are most likely kissing behind this door, behind this door there is a reason for me to go to jail, I am going to jail because Furuya is most likely kissing Ryo-san’s little brother—
When Haruichi opens the door, he’s flushed and his mouth is kind of wet. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, goodbye, it was nice knowing you, Furuya Satoru. Yoichi plasters the fakest, widest smile he can manage on his face just to keep from screaming.
“Kuramochi-san!” Haruichi looks politely delighted to see him. “How can I help you? Aniki isn’t home—”
“Actually,” Yoichi cuts in, and tries not to let his smile shrink despite the terror of his imminent future as a criminal. “I was hoping to talk to you.”
Furuya insists on sitting between Haruichi and Yoichi on the couch. He doesn’t move a muscle while Yoichi tries to lean back, then forward, trying to get his face through to speak to Haruichi directly. It’s hard to do anything with someone as tall as Furuya blocking the way, and Yoichi would push him down off the couch—but he’s pretty sure that Furuya’s entire body is insured until the day his professional baseball contract expires.
“Um,” Haruichi clears his throat, and presses a hand against Furuya’s arm. Furuya rises from his seat and moves, perching on the the arm of the couch closest to Haruichi. He’s looming over him. He hovers. “Furuya-kun,” Haruichi smiles, “Remember we went out to restock the fridge yesterday? Could you get Kuramochi-san and I something? Anything is fine.”
Dimly, Yoichi can start to see how they’re related.
Furuya disappears at once, nodding furiously. Haruichi clasps his hands together on his knees and keeps smiling—Yoichi is impressed, and mildly scared of the younger brother, too.
He can hear the clink of glasses from the kitchen, the noise of poured liquid and Furuya’s monotone, contented humming.
“I need a gift for Ryo-san by Christmas,” Yoichi blurts out. Haruichi nods in understanding.
“Aniki does like books.” Haruichi taps a finger against his chin as he thinks aloud, “But it’s the only bookstore in town, right? Hm. But I’m sure you can,” and his smile is cotton-candy sweet, “Find some authors he likes. Lovecraft?”
Haruichi smiles at him in sympathy while Furuya reappears, with a tray holding three drinks. Furuya sits back down on the couch arm closest to Haruichi, having apparently made up his mind to stick around, hovering, and hands Yoichi the cold glass of juice without comment.
“Thanks,” he says by reflex, and Furuya shrugs.
“He’s an American writer,” Haruichi clarifies. “He’s quite prolific in the horror genre. Aniki likes his short stories.”
“Oh.” Yoichi fumbles with the thought, and then speaks it entirely, letting the clumsy words tumble out. “And he’d—he’d like that, right?” Shit. He backpedals. “I mean, I wouldn’t wanna get him a book he already has.”
Haruichi offers him a lopsided smile. “Kuramochi-san, I suspect that if it’s something from you, he’d like that particular one better, anyway.” The smile turns sharp, something slightly more familiar; if it were Ryo-san wearing it, Yoichi would be burning a little. “And I’d like to have you on my side when I tell my brother about—”
Haruichi’s fingers reach up to twine with Furuya’s, without him looking for Furuya’s hand at all. “About him.”
Yoichi miraculously manages not to say I think we all know—nor does he say I’d advise against it, because the day you do will probably be the day Furuya mysteriously disappears. “Oh,” he says instead. “Yeah. Sure. Congratulations,” he adds, and Haruichi blushes.
Slightly unsettled at how fast his future as a criminal accomplice is speeding toward him, Yoichi leaves 3C quickly. It’s strange anyway, being there without Ryo-san.
At least, now he knows exactly how the Kominato brothers are related. Furuya hadn’t detached his hand from Haruichi’s once.
Online, he buys an annotated version with super creepy illustrations. It has like, freaky gold-foil tentacles and centipedes and something that looks like a half-formed demon baby on the cover: stuff that Ryo-san will study fascinatedly and quirk an eyebrow at. It can ship in time, and Yoichi wonders if it’ll move and come alive or something if he touches the cover—he’s seen Harry Potter, he knows that books can be creepy.
Yoichi most definitely does not dance a little when he buys it.
(He might, a little, when the delivery guy shows up.)
In the flesh, the book cover is appropriately scary. Yoichi gift-wraps it like a boss, mans up and tries not to look too hard at the demon baby on the front.
He’s admiring the excellent job he’s done, considering how to hide it and keep its secret for the rest of the month, when his phone buzzes.
what do you want
DO YOU HAEV GIFT WRAP
WELL MIYUKI KAZUYAS BEEN
his entire life? lately?
AND I THOUGHT
YOU KNOW HES BEEN RLY
SURPRISINGLY ALMOST DECENT
ABOUT THE COOKING THING AND
HE WORKS A LOT SO I THOUGHT
I COULD HELP HIM OU T
I LIKE HIS COCKING
HES GOOD AT IT
I MEANT COOKING
He should have known not to give his number to Miyuki’s idiot quasi-arsonist neighbor. But the kid’s locked himself out of the building too frequently, and it’s not as if Kuramochi’s benefited from Sawamura’s grocery excursions.
A loud knock on the door jolts him back to real life—Sawamura’s distinctive, enthusiastic punch to his apartment’s front door. When Yoichi opens it, Sawamura hefts up a large, square box in his hands. “I brought it!” he cheers, grinning.
“Did you bring tape?” Yoichi inquires, but lets him in anyway. There’s what looks like a—a slow cooker, a crock pot—on the face of the box, and Eijun himself looks a little nervous, jittery.
“Of course,” Eijun puffs up, setting the box down on the floor. He waves the little dispenser in front of Yoichi’s face. “I brought it myself! I had it in my hands when I texted you!”
“You didn’t really ever plan on buying gift-wrap yourself, did you?” Yoichi sighs, and hands over the roll of sparkly, thick paper. If there’s even one thing he’s learned in the entire time Yoichi’s known him—starting from the day he apparently set fire to Miyuki’s clothes—he’s kind of dense.
He, Yoichi thinks, likes Miyuki’s cooking.
Eijun looks so delighted as he measures it all out, painstakingly slow and strangely eager, scissors shaking a bit in his hands while he cuts out a large piece of paper. Yoichi crosses his arms over his chest and watches him do it, like he’s supervising an engine refit—Eijun has learned some things from Miyuki, clearly, in patience. It’s evident in the way he smoothes the paper over, creases it heavily between his fingertips.
It looks nice.
There’s something too self-satisfied in the way Eijun surveys his work, too—it puts a tic on Yoichi’s forehead just to see it, this kid with the sheer cheek to ask for gift-wrap. Even if Yoichi has kickass taste in gift-wrapping paper.
“Doesn’t that look nice?!” Eijun lifts up the wrapped box like it’s a trophy. Yoichi’s had enough.
His old wrestling moves from college are still good; Eijun shrieks, half-delighted and half in pain, putting down the box as carefully as he can in his state while Yoichi locks his arms over Eijun’s head. Eijun pounds at the floor with his fists, screaming into the nubby, cheap carpet, I give! I give!—but a man shouldn’t give up that easily, so Yoichi nearly bends his arms off in retaliation.
He might cement the life lesson in with a little Mario Kart.
But there’s really no way to celebrate Christmas when the garage doesn’t take a break and Yoichi is mostly single, trying to alleviate that by impressing his attractive upstairs-neighbor. And Miyuki always cooks a lot over the holidays.
“Isn’t it nice to see people eat your food?” Eijun’s eyes are shining, and he just kind of radiates happiness while Miyuki twitches his mouth into a smile.
“They don’t appreciate me enough,” he agrees, leaving to go attend to something on the stove, and Eijun deflates a little at his remark. But in a way, Yoichi kind of gets it. Eijun is just too easy to fuck with, and horribly flexible for a guy who should be in pain after his champion wrestling moves.
When Miyuki comes back, spoon in hand, the other cupping lightly underneath it, Eijun jumps a mile. Miyuki smiles, blowing on the spoon before shoving it into Eijun’s mouth “Good?”
The light in Eijun’s eyes is back, Yoichi realizes, with a vengeance.
“It’s hot!!!” Eijun sticks out his tongue, eyes widening as he points angrily at it.
Miyuki moves away, apparently satisfied with Eijun’s response. “Shut up, you big baby,” he quips, and goes to switch off the burner.
“MIYUKI KAZUYA TRIED TO BURN ME—”
“What goes around,” and Miyuki’s laugh is a horrible cackle emanating from the kitchen, “Comes around, Sawamura.”
The established pattern of the holidays has revolved around one particular theme: Furuya’s been bringing Ryo-san various things, like cats seeking approval, just to get him to look a little less cold when Furuya tries to hold Haruichi’s hand. It used to be little things, like team-related merchandise that he could probably get from his brother anyway (and Yoichi notices that there isn’t anything on display in the apartment at all), and then personal items like cake and souvenirs. Yoichi’s counted at least four different boxes from various upscale bakeries in their area in the fridge.
But Furuya looks as if he’s about to buy some land in his hometown just to show that he’s serious—Yoichi only knows this since he’s seen Furuya look at real estate listings online, and Furuya Satoru is apparently the kind of guy who falls asleep reading a restaurant menu. He doesn’t breathe a word of it to Ryo-san, since the glint in his eye becomes incredibly murderous at any mention of Furuya within a three-meter radius of his little brother.
Yoichi is clearly honor-bound to pick a side, and he wants it to be Ryo-san’s—but he’s pretty sure that he’s also going to be promised a quiet knife in the night by either Kominato brother. Miyuki is still cooking, trying to scald Eijun with some soup, and Furuya is looming over Haruichi again, Ryo-san’s grip on his chopsticks relaxed and loose despite looking as if he’s considering the merits of using them as blunt stabbing instruments.
Maybe, Yoichi thinks, he and Ryo-san should let up a little on the horror movie marathons.
It would really be a shame to kill Furuya at Christmas, over dinner—but Ryo-san’s placidity looks as if it’ll shift to something really terrifying as Furuya leans in toward Haruichi’s face, Haruichi smiling and talking animatedly in his ear. Yoichi makes a big show of getting his coat. Furuya better appreciate his sacrifice when he lives to see old age.
“Ahahahaa, Ryo-san, can I have a moment?”
Ryo-san is so graceful in movement. He tears his eyes off Haruichi and Furuya at the last possible second, following Yoichi out at last while Yoichi grabs the Gift, right through Miyuki’s door and into the chilly hallway.
It’s cold out here, cold as a bitch and Yoichi shivers. Winter is a cold-fingered mistress, but it’s still worth it to be alone with him.
Ryo-san isn’t even wearing a coat. Yoichi hides the large, heavy book behind his back like a doofus and stammers a little, “Ahahaaa, Furuya’s getting along well with him, isn’t he—” like he’s Haruichi’s preschool teacher.
“Too well,” Ryo-san hums, and this is not going the way Yoichi needs it to.
“I think he makes Haruichi happy,” he hedges, sweaty palms slipping against the gift wrap.
“Does he?” Ryo-san tilts his head, frowns just a little bit, the expression tugging at the slight corner of his mouth. “For now, if he does at all.”
If Yoichi weren’t holding a book the heft and weight of a coffee table, he’d rub at the back of his head. “Ryo-san,” he laughs, “You’re quite the cynic.”
“Happiness doesn’t last,” Ryo-san replies, and Yoichi’s hands tighten up against the paper. It crinkles minutely. “I’ve been where he is before.”
Intrigued by the idea—the idea of Ryo-san dating someone else sickening in his gut—Yoichi still pushes at the subject, like a loose tooth. “Really?”
Ryo-san’s face is unreadable. “Lessons learned.”
Yoichi might fucking hack up a lung right at Ryo-san’s feet. “I—” the word catches in his throat. “I got this for you.” He thrusts the book right at Ryo-san’s chest, and drops it in his surprised arms. “It’s a book.”
“I sell books.” But Ryo-san is curiously eyeing it, looking down at the object in his hands before turning his eyes up to Yoichi’s face. The tiny frown on his face is gone, replaced by a soft-looking ‘o’ of surprise. “And this is for me? From you?”
“Just me. To you.”
Ryo-san opens it carefully, paper crinkling under his hands the way it had under Yoichi’s seconds ago—Yoichi watches his face carefully, for any sign of displeasure—but it’s all good, it’s all good, the soft-looking ‘o’ is shaping itself upward, into what looks like a smile. “Yoichi,” and his name falls from Ryo-san’s mouth in a single, pleased exhale. “You didn’t have to.”
“I know, I know,” he says, and it all comes out in a rush. He doesn’t say, you’re right, Furuya is kind of too close to Haruichi at all times, and if you kill him I will absolutely help you dispose of the body and also be your alibi and also go to jail for you. “But I wanted to. I mean, if you wanted it—I’ve heard you like—if you wanted to, earlier,” he tries. “Earlier, you said. It sounded like. Like nobody’s destined to be happy, and I—” He hopes Ryo-san gets it all anyway, as he usually does, telegraphs is clearly as he can, how much he’d meant to say.
“Fate?” Ryo-san’s mouth lifts itself into a colder smile, wider but somehow plastic-looking. “I don’t know anyone weak enough to be subject to it.”
“So—so when you said—we’re not—we won’t end up—” Yoichi subsides in the face of Ryo-san’s silence. “It’s cold,” he finally sighs. “Maybe we should go back inside.”
“We should.” Ryo-san hoists up the book with one hand, despite its weight. He stretches out the other to smoothe out the collar of Yoichi’s coat, rumpled in his haste to leave Miyuki’s apartment. Through two layers of fabric, Ryo-san’s fingers are just a gentle pressure on Yoichi’s skin. “It’s freezing.”
Neither of them make a move. Ryo-san, for once, looks conflicted: he doesn’t remove his hand from Yoichi’s collar, just rests it there, thin eyes searching for something that Yoichi maybe doesn’t have. Ryo-san looks tentative, unsure, and it’s so wrong; he’s usually so confident, Ryo-san who’d left his door wide open for Yoichi to follow that first day he’d met him, who laughs at horror movies and rolls up his shirt sleeves to read books at work. Ryo-san, who is as punk rock as they come, buttoned up in a slender, tight-waisted package of sass and cynicism, who’s accidentally turned Yoichi into a poet the same way Miyuki’s turned him into something of a food connoisseur.
“I think,” Ryo-san finally says, pausing. “I meant,” he corrects himself. “It’s been a while, since I’ve.” A rare, bright smile, tender and genuine, unlike anything that Yoichi’s ever seen before, dawns across his mouth. “You’re very honest, Yoichi.”
Yoichi’s face burns a little.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as happy as I do with you,” Ryo-san continues, and Yoichi is burning actually, for real, a lot.
But because he cannot let anything resembling a good thing go, Yoichi bursts out, “The book? “It’s fine?”
“The Lovecraft? I like him,” Ryo-san confirms. “But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking.”
Fuck. “Uh. No.”
“Then, Yoichi,” Ryo-san challenges, with the Gift in his hands and Yoichi’s heart in it, “Ask.”
“Okay,” Yoichi manages, shit, shit, this is it, Yoichi, don’t fuck it up— but he forgets to ask, to actually say it, with Ryo-san leaning up and Yoichi’s head bending down, all at once, simultaneous and slow, icebergs moving and crashing together while Ryo-san presses Yoichi up against Miyuki’s door, the book stuck between them. His mouth is hot, and wet, and his lips are as soft as they look, Yoichi’s hands wrapping around his perfect waist as Ryo-san sighs quiet contented noises against Yoichi’s mouth.
His hand fists in Yoichi’s collar, drags him down with a touch of force, Ryo-san tilting his head up, waist and hips lined up against Yoichi’s. Fuck, it's good, cold and freezing but good, “Ryo-san,” torn from Yoichi’s lips between kisses while Ryo-san leaves no room for him to breathe,
—and he stops. Yoichi is still kind of dazed, and confused, and Ryo-san looks a little smug when he says aloud, “Furuya,” jolting Yoichi out of his haze, “Has had enough unsupervised time with Haruichi.”
“Aniki’s been gone a long time,” Haruichi comments, but doesn’t even look concerned. “It’s probably good.”
Furuya just pokes at the food before him. It’s rare for him to lose his appetite at all, and Miyuki-san had worked hard to cook it. “Something wrong?” Haruichi asks; Furuya shakes his head furiously. “Okay.”
Under the table, Haruichi’s hand creeps over Furuya’s, his left ankle linked with Furuya’s right. He rubs his thumb over Furuya’s palm, turns it over, fingers skating over his flexible wrist and the calluses on his hands.
He’s happy this way, with Furuya so easy to read and permanently invested, heavy focus never too much for Haruichi to bear or understand. They’re a work in progress, and Haruichi knows how fiercely protective his brother can get—but it’s not as if he feels that way, too, about Furuya and how happy they are.
Besides—and Haruichi allows a private smile to sneak up on his face, Furuya already looking at it in interest, mouth brushing a quiet kiss to his cheek—Kuramochi-san could be good for him.
Four feet away, in the kitchen, Eijun corners Miyuki when the soup is done. Or, at least, when it seems done. Eijun never knows how Miyuki does it, has some kind of supernatural sense of knowing when it’s ‘done’ at all; soup just boils.
“Miyuki Kazuya.” He pokes at the soft part beneath Miyuki’s rib, fingertip jabbing into him while Miyuki tries to manage the large stack of used dishes in the sink, piled up during their pre-dinner cooking session. “How long does it take you to cook food?”
“What, like on average?” Miyuki doesn’t lift his eyes from the stuff he’s scrubbing in the sink, little spoons he’d used to measure out spices. Until this year, Eijun hadn’t even known there was more than one kind of spice—he’d assumed that ‘spicy’ was just a matter of degrees.
“Sure,” Eijun shrugs.
“An hour? Takes longer, if I go grocery shopping, I guess.” Eijun flaps his mouth open in shock, and Miyuki takes the opportunity to flick suds in his face. “Shut it.”
“An hour?! You’d starve to death!”
Miyuki snorts. “Only if you’re an incompetent dumbass who can’t cook, with a penchant for arson.”
Eijun turns red, flailing as he mashes his finger against Miyuki’s side again. “Shut up! Stop bringing that up! It was just the one time—”
“You burn something of someone’s and they tend to remember, even if it’s once.” Miyuki washes out the smallest spoon Eijun’s ever seen and puts it out to dry, crooked grin affixed to his features. “It’s not too late to report you as a fire hazard.”
“I take it back, I’m not giving you anything anymore,” Eijun grumbles, before freezing up and remembering: that was supposed to be a secret.
“Oh?” Miyuki shuts off the water and wipes his hands dry, sensing blood in the water. “Giving me what?” The red on Eijun’s face darkens further. “Could it be, Sawamura, that you’ve gotten me a gift? For the holidays? Little old me?”
“NO,” Eijun says hotly. “I didn’t! And even if I did—which I didn’t—you’re not getting it now!”
“You’re really bad at keeping secrets,” Miyuki snickers, and holds out an open hand. “Come on. Cough it up.”
“You don’t deserve it!!” Eijun protests, but he’s already hip-checking Miyuki out of the way, opening up the cabinet doors underneath the sink to retrieve a large, colorful package. Miyuki watches curiously as Eijun lifts it up, shoves it in his direction. “Here is the. The thing.”
Miyuki goes soft and gentle as he tears off the paper. “A slow cooker,” he says with wonder. “I’ve wanted one of these.”
“That’s good,” Eijun grumbles, anger seeping out of him immediately. “You spend a lot of time cooking. And I mean, you’re busy. Uh. Working. At your job.” The sharp, wicked glint in his eyes is muted by something else entirely, and Eijun casts around to stare at anything else, fingers twisting together and pulling apart. “Just. You know. I guess. If it helps.”
“Sawamura,” Miyuki says slowly, “This is a really, really nice gift.” He laughs, and it’s not like Eijun is even the butt of his own twisted, off-brand joke. “I didn’t get anything for you,” he admits.
“That’s okay.” Eijun shuffles while Miyuki laughs, at him—very slightly at him, at how sheepish he looks. Eijun wrinkles his nose and steps closer to Miyuki, looks oddly cagey. His eyes dart from side to side. “Did you, uh, did you work today?”
“Hm? Yeah. Holiday sales.” Eijun is clearly wrestling with something, and it puts a wrinkle in his brow that’s so fierce it looks like he’s got permanently slanted eyebrows.
“I mean,” he starts, and growls a little under his breath at his own hesitance. “I guess there is something you can do. I guess. If it’s—if you wanna.”
Curious, Miyuki prods Eijun’s foot with his. “Fine. Go.”
“Can you—you need to,” Eijun starts, mouth curling into a scowl. “God, just—stop confusing me!” he explodes.
“... What.” Confused himself, Miyuki tries to understand what it is that Eijun’s saying.
“Fuck,” Eijun sighs, and scrubs at his hair, scowling down at the floor before lifting his head, burnt amber-brown flickering, shifting. ”You—you answer the door and look like you do and smell good sometimes? But you are always terrible to me? But you cook well? I hate you! You’re always so close all the time and when you are I don’t really remember how to do anything, and then you call me dumb when it’s your fault, I just want to be able to—you confuse me so much, Miyuki Kazuya—”
“Sawamura,” Miyuki says loudly, but Eijun just keeps going.
“—and sometimes you really are almost a decent person and then you’re not, you just keep giving me shit, but I mean, I did that one thing you told me about with this one fucking awful customer and it worked, so I feel like sometimes? I should thank you? And then you do something and I don’t want to! You’re like the world’s most sadistic person on the planet—”
“Sawamura,” Miyuki repeats.
“—and I know you just wear glasses at home because you feel lazy and you don’t like keeping your contacts in at home, but then I end up wondering if that’s also another game? To you? Because I just—I don’t know—I don’t want your glasses to be important to me! I thought I saw you the other day at work and I nearly gave myself whiplash, and died, and if I’m fired because of you, you will absolutely be the world’s worst—”
Miyuki sighs, putting the crock pot on the floor and stepping right into Eijun’s space. He grabs him by the shirt, but the kid is still running his mouth.
“See—see, this is exactly what I’m talking about! What do you think you’re doing, getting all up in my face, with your glasses and your cologne—”
“You like it that much, huh?” Miyuki tilts his face in close toward Eijun’s, centimeters away. Eijun doesn’t get it.
“Yes?” he ventures, and Miyuki resists the urge to headbutt him right then and there.
“Eijun,” Miyuki begins, taking in deep breaths. “I’m gonna kiss you, real fast, right now, unless you shout otherwise, because I’m starting to get the big picture.”
“Now?” Eijun asks, eyes wild, clearly still mid-rant. “Wait, a kiss—”
“Yes, now. I’m getting a headache because of you.”
“Well, I’ve had sleepless nights because of you—” and Miyuki’s had enough. It’s true, he’s flirted just a little, but Eijun is easy to flirt with: deadly honest and raw and open, all the time. Eijun had set fire to Miyuki’s clothes, and crashed in to disturb what Miyuki had expected to stay a comfortable life trajectory. He’s incapable of lying, and that had interested Miyuki so much, the steel-willed quality of someone so dumb to be this authentic.
He’s that way, too, at times. Eijun makes it so easy for Miyuki when he messes with his head, but his genuine curiosity, his energy, they spark something in him that’s surprising in its ferocity. Miyuki had always known that people could feel this way, simultaneously irritated and fond about someone, but he’d never known it could bloom, given time.
Eijun makes whimpering noises muffled by Miyuki’s own mouth, and kisses like it’s a personal challenge. He’s eager, lips mashing against Miyuki’s, but that’s what makes it so fun—he’s moldable, like putty in his hands, Miyuki pulling in him so much closer to open up his mouth. Eijun makes contented sighs when Miyuki pulls back, dips his head down to kiss at his jaw, skin hot against Miyuki’s lips.
“Finally,” Eijun groans, and Miyuki laughs right in his face.
“It really has gotten quiet,” Haruichi comments, and Furuya starts in on his plate.
After Christmas dinner, Ryo-san has clearly had a Talk with Furuya, since Furuya doesn’t hover when Ryo-san is around.
Even when he and Yoichi are sending Haruichi back to Tokyo, Furuya holding large plastic tubs of Miyuki Kazuya’s home-cooked winter stew in his hands, he doesn’t loom. Yoichi waves as they board their train, Ryo-san’s pinky wrapped around his.
They stay like that even while walking home, winter chill already feeling a little more like spring.
When Yoichi takes a nap these days, he can still hear Ryo-san’s music, loud death metal playing tinny and quiet over Ryo-san’s headphones.
That isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s pretty good.