When they were young, they broke wishbones.
It cheered Riku up whenever he won; his face would light up, earnest and crayon-bright, and it warmed Ten down to his very core. It was no coincidence that Riku won though - he won every time. Ten made sure of it.
Ten doesn’t believe in wishes or luck. But for Riku, he’d gamble anything. He’d gamble everything.
These are the ways that Riku has stayed the same: his keen sincerity and energetic enthusiasm, the puppyish tilt of his head when he’s confused. He is open arms and open doors, the sort of defenseless naivety that drops down guards and shakes up hearts. He will knock down all your defenses and there is no stopping it because he epitomizes the truest, purest part of you - an unwavering childish faith that pierces people to their very core.
These are the ways that Riku has changed: he’s taller and leaner, the softness of prepubescence streamlined into sinewy sweetness. His eyes are clearer, brighter; his steps more assured. But there’s also this - the uncertain quaver in his voice when he says Kujou-san, as if the name isn’t the grenade pin to his bomb-battered heart. Riku has always worn his heart on his sleeve, but this is the first time Ten has seen it bleed.
Logically, Ten knows that Riku has grown up; it’s been years since they saw each other last. Riku is no longer baby-faced and nine, pillowed against Ten’s stomach like a clingy anchor. He wasn’t exactly helpless then, but when Ten looks at Riku now, he thinks maybe not so helpless anymore. Riku is stronger now - Ten can hear it in bright clarity of his voice. It’s not enough, not yet, but one day Riku will be strong enough to stand across the stage as an equal. One day, Riku may be strong enough to surpass him.
The thought is disconcerting; Ten has never felt so disjointed.
(And then, the darker side of discovery: the revelation that Riku, too, is a man.
Once Ten notices, he can’t stop noticing - the broad slope of shoulders, the shifting planes of muscle, the pale gleam of flesh when Riku’s shirt rises. In these moments, Riku almost looks like a stranger.
Ten’s throat grows dry. A feeling, too deep and dormant to name, rumbles restlessly in his chest.)
Ten always thought he would know Riku; after all, what were twins but mirror images of the same soul? But now, Ten can’t recognize his own reflection.
“You’ve been gone for too many years. You can’t expect everything to be as if nothing’s happened,” Gaku says.
Ten swallows back words; he wants to protest that it’s not he, but Riku, who expects everything to still be the same. Riku is the one, who with every fiber of his hopeless and endearing naivety, believes that after all this time, they can still stand as brothers on the same stage. But inside the deepest, darkest corner of himself, a voice traitorously whispers who is the one asking questions about his brother’s health, who is the one with all their childhood photos on his phone? Isn’t it you who can’t move forward? Isn’t it you who can’t let things go?
Ruthlessly, Ten crushes the voice down.
“Don’t speak about things you know nothing of. You understand nothing.”
Across the stage, Riku looks at him. His eyes are plaintive.
Ten-nii, come home.
Ten turns away.
In a way, distance is easier. It’s easier to brush off phone calls and texts, all the unsaid changes and unmentioned differences. That way, Riku stays perpetually small and gangly-limbed, nestled against him with their arms linked, side pressed against side.
It’s easier to lie too - that nothing has changed, that there's nothing to change, that there's no need to change. After all, Ten is an expert liar; he can almost convince himself that this is the truth. But some nights, loneliness creeps in and wears him down to the bone. On those nights, Ten looks at pictures of Riku.
If he wishes hard enough, presses against the screen hard enough, could he could melt through pixels and touch skin? From the moment he left his family, a phantom pain ached deep within him. Being away from Riku felt unnatural, like losing a limb. Ten calls it homesickness, but deep down, he knows better; it’s something rawer, earthier, and older still – the cardinal sin of wanting.
He is of the same flesh and blood as Riku. Every cell yearns for him.
Whenever they meet, Iori eyes him with cool distaste, as if Ten has failed a test. Ten can’t bring himself to disagree; he knows full well that he has.
Ten lies and lies and lies. He calls his half-lies honesty but with his wicked tongue, everything is a weapon. Time has molded him into a certain kind of coldness - the slick flick of a switchblade, a sharp-still kind of numbness. He knows well the cruelty of kindness.
But now, it may be kinder to be cruel, but cruelty is a kindness he cannot afford. The truth lies cold and hard in his mouth. He will swallow it whole, even if it will tear him apart.
(We are brothers. We are not brothers.
I am your keeper. I am not your keeper.
I miss you. I don’t miss you.
I need you. I don’t need you.
I love you. I don’t love you.)
In his dreams, Riku lies underneath him, pale and bony, a perfect y. Branches of a tree, from a common trunk. Antlers of a deer, from the same head. Arms opening, legs spreading. Y. Why.
With pin-prick certainty, Ten knows that Riku will be his undoing. All it will take is the softest graze of touch and Riku will peel him open, without softness and without warning, to reveal the bleeding pulp of his pomegranate heart. Nothing has ever been his the way Riku has, but Riku was never his to begin with. That is Ten’s fatal flaw.
One muggy summer’s day, Riku collapses on stage.
Immediately, Ten snaps into motion. All his uncertainties and hesitations steel themselves into bullet-biting clarity. There was never any question – the answer was always Riku.
“You came for me!”
“Was there any doubt,” Ten says. He swallows down his worries, but they still rattle inside his chest like broken glass. “Don’t worry me like that.”
He closes his eyes and presses his forehead against Riku’s. Riku lets out a sharp inhale of surprise. Ten doesn’t need to open his eyes to know Riku is smiling; even after all these years, he would know Riku without sight, without sound. No matter how much they’ve changed, some things will aways stay the same.
“Ten-nii,” Riku says. When Ten doesn’t respond, Riku nudges him with his forehead.
“Ten-nii,” Riku repeats more insistently. Their noses bump. Ten didn’t realize he was bracing himself until he let himself breathe.
“Yes?” Ten opens his eyes. Riku, sun-browned and freckled with light, stares back. Sunlight catches on Riku’s eyelashes, rimming them in burnt gold. Ten doesn’t know whether he’s blinded by Riku or the rising sun. Is this what it feels to be like uprooted? But this feels less like upheaval and more like surrender - an inevitable return, the gentle fall back down to earth. Perhaps this too is inescapable.
Riku’s arms envelope him. Even now, it feels like home.
Years later, they break a wishbone.
For the first time, Ten holds the bigger piece in his hands. It rests in the hollow curve of his palm, warm and unbearably fragile, and he reels with the bewildered wonderment of it all.
“Ten-nii, it’s time for your wish to come true.”
Riku’s smile is blinding. Ten can’t look away, couldn’t even if he wanted to. His heart is in Riku’s hands. It always has been. It always will.