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baby, you're my open road

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Adam's been gone for a week the first time Kojiro ever picks a fight.

"Where have you been?" Kaoru asks when he rolls into S after two. "You look like shit."

"I look disheveled." Kojiro runs a hand through his hair and doesn't bother tugging his shirt up over his shoulders again. "Maybe you should try getting laid once in a while, see the difference for yourself."

There's a glint in Kaoru's eyes at that, one that Kojiro hasn't seen since the accident on the curvy road over by the rest stop, the one that happened two days before Adam flew halfway around the world. His eyes stand out even more when he wears his Cherry Blossom mask, making what's already beautiful into goddamned artwork. "Maybe some of us are just more discerning."

"Funny way of saying virgin," Kojiro says and grins dangerously when Kaoru grabs him by the pendant he gave Kojiro for his sixteenth birthday. Kojiro hasn't taken it off in over a year.

This close, Kojiro gets a whiff of Kaoru's shampoo, some expensive flowery junk all tangled up with the salt air. He feels his heart pound and he's almost grateful when Kaoru pushes him away to grab his board.

"We'll see if you still talk big when I beat you to the bottom of the hill."

"Like hell you will," Kojiro retorts but he can't stop grinning as he chases after him.

Kojiro has known Kaoru for his whole life. Okay, so probably he'd get corrected and smacked if he said that out loud because technically they didn't meet till the first year of middle school. But Kojiro really feels like his life began when he met Kaoru.

Kaoru was the one who put his first board in his hands, one from his very own collection. Kojiro took meticulous care of it to the point that Kaoru got embarrassed and said he only gave it to him because he was desperate for someone, anyone to skate with him.

He didn't get anyone, though. He got Kojiro.

Every time he was at Kaoru's house, his mom commented that they were like peas in a pod, going everywhere together and sharing everything. Kojiro always liked Kaoru's house, the quiet ambience, the meticulous routine, the careful strokes his mother made with her brush as she worked on a piece for a client. Kaoru rolled his eyes every time he had to pass through Sakurayashiki Calligraphy on his way to the living quarters, calling it stuffy and old-fashioned.

When they were sixteen, two months away from Adam turning their lives upside down, Kojiro watched as Kaoru tinkered with his newest project, some remote-control road analysis software. "When I take over the calligraphy shop," he told Kojiro conspiratorially, "I'm gonna update the hell out of this place."

Kojiro liked the traditional stuff, but it wasn't his place to speak up. Besides, if updating things meant another hole in Kaoru's ear, then maybe it wasn't that bad anyway.

He doesn't know if Kaoru remembers the first night they met Adam, and he's afraid to ask. The thing is, Kojiro really doesn't. He remembers when it was just the two of them, then a couple more hangers-on, and then Adam was there, too, looming large. Time hasn't really dulled the memories of seeing the first time Adam caught air and spun right over them, though. His breath catches whenever he thinks about it. He wasn't immune to Adam then— he still isn't really, even now.

"Joe," Adam asked one night when Kaoru was running late, "what do you think about love?"

Adam had this way of getting in everyone's space that should have annoyed Kojiro, but didn't. He stepped in close in a way that no one but Kaoru ever did, and Kojiro couldn't help it: he felt his heartbeat quicken. Adam smiled.

"Love?" Kojiro ran his hand through his hair and looked away. "I don't really know much about it." He tried his biggest smile, the one that made all the girls in his class giggle. "I'm more interested in the physical stuff than all those feelings, if you know what I mean." He glanced back at Adam, whose smile grew.

"Physical and emotional expressions of love are inextricably intertwined," Adam said. He raised his hand, fingers close to Kojiro's face without touching. "But I think you already know that, Joe. How do you think Cherry feels about love?"

At the mention of Kaoru, Kojiro's face heated up. Adam was still so, so close, but his hood was pulled up over his head, and Kojiro hoped it was dark enough that he didn't notice. "How should I know how Cherry feels?" he asked. "Ask him yourself."

Just then, Kaoru shouted for them both. Kojiro's head turned in the direction of his voice unthinkingly and he sucked in a sharp breath as Kaoru skated down the hill toward them with his usual grace and fire.

"I think I will," Adam said, and Kojiro looked at him again, questioning. "Ask Cherry about love, I mean. I think his answers will be enlightening."

And even though he hadn't moved from his spot, Kojiro remembers he felt like he crashed into a guardrail, chest first.

A month after Adam goes to America, a letter Kaoru mailed to the address he gave them comes back with return to sender. It's like he dropped off the face of the planet, leaving their lives as quickly as he arrived.

"I'm gonna prove that I'm the best skater this hill's ever seen," Kojiro declares at S that weekend. A small crowd of girls shouts for Joe, and he throws them a wink. "Not that I have any competition, right?"

Kaoru is there. Or rather, he's physically present, all dressed up with his mask covering up his pretty face. But mentally he's somewhere else, paying Kojiro's antics no mind. Physical and emotional expressions of love are inextricably intertwined, says the Adam voice that still sometimes rattles around in his head.

Kojiro goes up behind him and wraps one arm around Kaoru's waist, leaning down to rest his chin on Kaoru's shoulder. His last growth spurt exaggerated their height difference, and Kojiro has been spending more time working out lately, thinking better musculature will help him with his skating. He guesses it's paying off.

"Kaoru," Kojiro murmurs, and he feels it when Kaoru goes rigid against him. Then he raises his voice. "Cherry Blossom, you're the only one here who gives me any competition," he shouts to the crowd, "not that that means much." He can hear the girls cheering, but it seems far away, now that he has Kaoru this close. "I challenge you to a beef, right now."

"Get off of me, you big oaf," Kaoru says, elbowing Kojiro in the solar plexus and making him double over. When Kojiro manages to raise his head again, Kaoru turns around and flips his ponytail over one shoulder, looking down his nose at him. "I accept. Carla," he says, holding his phone to his mouth like a walkie-talkie, "street mode."

Kojiro straightens up and tilts his head, watching in awe as Kaoru's skateboard flashes a deep pink. What Kojiro thinks is: Kaoru is a genius, a straight-up technological mastermind, and it's amazing he walks among us mere mortals. What Kojiro says is: "You gave your weird skateboard robot a girl's name? Gross."

"Don't talk about Carla like that," Kaoru says, shoving him back. "So, what do you want if you win?"


Kojiro hadn't thought that far. All he was trying to do was distract Kaoru for a while, and he's already succeeded at that. Everything he wants from Kaoru is something he can barely admit to himself, let alone say in front of everyone at S.

Instead, he bows mockingly. "You first," Kojiro says.

Kaoru grins, the glint in his eyes so alive and beautiful that it makes Kojiro ache. "You owe me a favor, one I can call on whenever I want."

Kojiro swallows. He knows he's probably going to just have to clean Kaoru's room or something, but his imagination can't help but run wild. "Same thing!" he blurts. "That's what I want, too!"

"Fine," Kaoru agrees. Kojiro can tell he's grinning behind his mask, which makes him grin, too. He grabs his board and walks to the start line. "Let's go."

They go back and forth like that for months. Sometimes Cherry Blossom will win over Joe, and sometimes Joe triumphs instead. Kaoru stops thinking about Adam so much, or at least he stops mentioning him, and it feels like Kojiro's spontaneous idea is working. Not that this doesn't have its downsides. Kaoru is merciless when he wins; he seems to have a sixth sense for exactly when Kojiro is just getting to the good part with a girl, or sometimes a guy, because that's always when his phone starts buzzing in his back pocket.

"Is that your girlfriend?" whoever it is will ask, eyes glazed over and breathless with Kojiro not doing much better, and he'll shake his head as he shrugs his shirt back on, not even bothering to button it up.

"It's complicated," he always says before running off. It's even complicated to himself, since he knows he'd still leave whenever Kaoru asked, whether or not he'd lost. How do you accept the truth that you'll always put your best friend ahead of yourself? And it's not like Kojiro would ever lose on purpose, but sometimes it's a relief when he does. Because when Joe crosses the finish line in the warehouse before Cherry Blossom, Kaoru is all his. No, that's not right— Kaoru isn't his, as much as admitting that makes Kojiro's stomach hurt. So he doesn't ask Kaoru for what he really wants when he's the one owed a favor. Instead, he usually calls Kaoru over to his tiny apartment, close to the restaurant where he works part-time, and he makes him taste test his new recipes.

"Tell me what you think," he asks, sitting with Kaoru in his little eat-in kitchen, the one with the table so small that their knees touch.

Kaoru finishes his tagliatelle with mushrooms in record time, and after it's gone, he looks like he's weighing the pros of licking his plate versus the cons of Kojiro watching him do it. Not that Kojiro would mind, but it's not like he can just say so.

"It's passable," Kaoru says, still staring hard at the plate.

Kojiro laughs. "You're such a liar."

Kaoru pushes up the wire-rimmed glasses he started wearing all the time after he took out his lip ring. Of course he's still beautiful like this, but it's a more dignified beauty. Refined. Out of Kojiro's league. "You asked what I thought, so I told you."

"Yeah and you lied." Kojiro kicks Kaoru's shin underneath the table. "That's not part of the deal. You need to be honest so I know which recipes work, and which ones I should trash."

Kaoru nods, suddenly serious. "Don't trash this one. Kojiro," he says, and it's hard for Kojiro to ignore how good his given name always sounds from Kaoru's lips, "what are we doing here?"

"What do you mean?" Kojiro asks, voice too shaky for his liking.

"With the food," Kaoru clarifies, and Kojiro nearly melts through the floor in his relief. "Everything you make is good, but it's all Italian food. You work part-time in a soba shop. Don't you want to do this kind of cooking all the time?"

Kojiro nods before he can even think about it. "I want to open up my own restaurant," he confesses. "Before you can say it, I know how that sounds. I'm too young, I don't have enough training, and most restaurants fail, but I can't help it. I want what I want." That's always Kojiro's problem.

"Is that all?" Kaoru says, rolling his eyes. "First, you're going to get old one day. Second, we'll get you training— culinary school or working at an actual Italian place or, I don't know, I have some money saved up, maybe we can go to Italy together to—"

"Wait. You'd do that for me?" Kojiro interrupts. His whole chest fills with warmth at the thought of them traveling the world.

"Don't be stupid, of course I would," Kaoru retorts. His cheeks are pink. He looks down at his plate again. "And get me more of this mushroom thing; it's one of the best things I've ever had in my life."

Kojiro can't help grinning as he leaps from his seat. "Bossy," he says as he gives Kaoru seconds.

After he's finished eating, Kaoru slumps down in his seat, patting his full stomach. "I can't believe this is all you want me to do. Why do I get off so easily?"

"Oh, that's not all that I want from you," Kojiro says, leaning forward.

Kaoru, maybe without realizing, widens his eyes and swallows a bit. "So?" he asks haughtily. "What else is there?"

"I also want you to do the dishes." Kojiro stands up and throws his napkin in Kaoru's face. He's still laughing at Kaoru's spluttering as he leaves the room.

Inevitably, time moves on. Weeks turn into months, months turn into years. Kojiro works out more, feeling noticeably stronger with every passing day. He cooks for his dates sometimes, but mostly for Kaoru still. They go to Rome and Paris and Los Angeles together, where people mistake them for a couple and Kojiro is glad his Italian and English are better than Kaoru's. He understands his feelings, but he never wants to burden Kaoru with them. It's okay, usually. They're in each other's lives still, which is all Kojiro has ever needed.

When they're home, they both wind up at S often. They still fight most of the time while onlookers cheer and swoon, but the races grow beyond the two of them. The course is self-sustaining in a way Kojiro never would have guessed when it was just them and Adam. There are new strong skaters now and, for them, Adam is more of a myth than a road bump that sent Kojiro's teenage crush careening in an unattainable direction. He's a legend to them, but he was never a friend. There are formalities, too— a wait list, a starting signal, and cheap webcams precariously placed at the hard curves, letting onlookers watch every skater's moves and wipeouts.

When neither of them are there, there are still skaters who beef and show off new tricks, ones who get into fist fights and wear stupid costumes, ones who never would have met if they didn't have skating to bring them together.

"Carla," Kaoru says, interrupting Kojiro's thoughts, "is this idiot incapable of paying attention to me?"

"I don't have that information, Master," Carla responds pleasantly as Kojiro reaches over to tug at Kaoru's ponytail.

That, too, has changed. Kaoru's programming skills have grown and expanded beyond anything Kojiro could have imagined. Carla is integrated into every electronic device Kaoru owns, and Kojiro's out-loud annoyance over her is a little more real now. Still, Carla's less of an interloper than Adam ever was, and she seems to like him okay. Most women do, after all. Sometimes she even obeys one of his commands, since Kaoru programs her to recognize his voice. It makes sense, Kojiro supposes; even Kaoru's blender is controlled by Carla's whims and, though he's never said anything out loud about it, letting Kojiro in a little is probably a fair trade-off for free meals made in his home.

Kaoru's mother retired from Sakurayashiki Calligraphy two years ago, and the last of Kaoru's piercings went when he took over. At least, that's what Kojiro tells himself. If Kaoru has ones he can't see, Kojiro can never, ever know. He likes his mind intact, thanks. Besides, Carla is integrated into Kaoru's work now, too, a tradeoff of metal for metal. Once, Kaoru drunkenly confessed that machines are easier for him than people, and when Kojiro pointed out he was all man, Kaoru laughed and said, oh, I know. Kojiro was too sober to ask what that meant.

Humans are easy for Kojiro. Maybe too easy, but so is Kojiro. Some of his Joe-shaped posturing isn't real, but losing himself for a night or two in a warm body always makes him happy. Plus, seeing Kaoru roll his eyes every time he introduces him to a new lady friend never gets less funny. Kojiro has never introduced him to one of the guys.

When Kaoru invents a whole new art, linking his love of elegance and automation, the calligraphy shop starts doing better business than it did even under Kaoru's parents and he helps Kojiro open up a little Italian place of his own. Carla fills out all of the licenses for him and submits them electronically, sending gentle but insistent follow-up reminders to the town's administration until they're accepted. One of Kaoru's pieces hangs in the kitchen, a simple blessing for luck. They plan the opening together. When he tries to thank Kaoru, he winds up with a sandalprint on his ass, which he knows is Kaoru for you're welcome.

"I'm paying attention," Kojiro tells Kaoru. "When Shadow's done taking this guy down, it's you and me, baby."

"Ugh," Kaoru replies. "Don't call me that."

"Fine." Kojiro rolls his eyes. He turns to Kaoru and takes a step closer. "It's you and me, Cherry."

Kaoru turns and walks toward him; they'd be nose to nose if Kojiro wasn't so much bigger. "Don't call me anything," Kaoru retorts, pulling on Kojiro's pendant like it's a substitute for throttling him.

"You're too close," Kojiro says as Kaoru's knuckles brush his chest, which is true. His traitorous heart has started up a furious thumping and inside his head it sounds like the whirring blades of a helicopter. Then Kaoru's hair starts to whip around and everyone around them looks up as a spotlight sweeps over the crowd.

"The police?" Kojiro guesses as he stares up at the helicopter that wasn't a figment of his imagination after all. He wraps his hand around Kaoru's bicep, ready to pull them both to safety.

"I don't think so," says Kaoru, shaking his head. He frowns as the helicopter door slides open and a man jumps out toward them. The electronic screens at the top of the hill start to flash blue, then red, followed by an enormous logo of a throbbing heart, matching the beat inside Kojiro's own chest. When Kaoru opens his mouth again, it comes out far more breathlessly than Kojiro likes: "Adam."

It is Adam. Adam parachutes toward them, landing on the stage and addressing the crowd. He's dressed like a matador and wearing an elaborate mask, but there's no mistaking him for anyone else. Adam clicks his heels and throws his head back in a laugh.

"My beloved S," he says, amplified like he's miked, "it's so wonderful to see your lovely faces again. It has been far, far too long." A crowd of men in red caps stream out from somewhere behind the stage, walking toward the course to station themselves like identical sentries. Some pull out collapsible ladders from somewhere and begin replacing the course cameras. Kojiro watches the spectacle with some mixture of fascination and disgust.

"Where the fuck did you go?" Kaoru shouts, furious and out of control for one beautiful moment.

"ADAM!" Kojiro shouts. "I challenge you to a beef!"

The crowd erupts around them in rowdy cheering, as Adam smiles benevolently and ignores them both.

Adam sweeps through S like a forest fire, leaving nothing but the memory of him in his wake. That, at least, is the same. He ignores every attempt Kaoru and Kojiro make to call him out, and the snub leaves them both frustrated and short-tempered, their fights for the crowd less for show and more for real.

Kojiro feels like he's a seventeen all over again; Kaoru doesn't look at Adam with the same reverence he had back then, but he's still looking. It's infuriating that someone who abandoned them both has so much power over them.

"Why do you keep challenging him?" Kojiro asks one night after Sia la luce's closed, leaving the two of them alone. Even Carla is out of commission, plugged into an outlet and humming as she runs up the restaurant's electricity bill. Kojiro softens the question by refilling Kaoru's glass and handing over the last of the limoncello tart he made for the dessert special.

"Why do you?" Kaoru throws back. He also asks his question with uncharacteristic softness, finishing half of his wine in one gulp. Sometimes, during late nights like this when it's just the two of them, Kojiro can't help but let himself wonder if his never ever happening is more like a maybe one day.

"I asked you first." Kojiro settles down into the seat next to Kaoru, toying with his own full glass. "I think you owe me a favor from your last spectacular defeat, anyway."

Kaoru snorts. "And you're wasting it on this? Pathetic." He sighs. "Fine. I want him to stop hurting people." His voice sounds small, faraway, and Kojiro longs to grab him by the chin to get his attention, making him stay here with him. "I want him to tell me why he left." Then Kaoru turns to look at Kojiro, meeting his eyes. Maybe he hadn't been so far away after all. "Why would anyone ever leave us?" he asks, but what Kojiro hears is Why would anyone ever leave me?

"I don't know," Kojiro says honestly because how could anyone ever leave brilliant, beautiful Kaoru? Then he grins. "We're pretty great."

Kaoru laughs, surprised. "Well, I know I am," he says, which Kojiro could have predicted. The way his smile softens as he still looks at Kojiro is less expected, and Kojiro feels a little lost as his eyes trace the curve of his mouth. "What about you?"

"Huh?" Kojiro responds, raising his eyes guiltily.

"Snap out of it, pecs for brains. What's your beef about? You haven't told me why you keep challenging Adam."

"Oh." Kojiro fidgets. "You want to know why he left? Well, I'm going to make him tell me why he bothered coming back."

S continues its sea change. People in Okinawa start talking more on social media about the secret scene near Crazy Rock. The tech on the course improves, brighter and slicker than before. Security gets beefed up, badges are required, and anyone new has to come along with someone who's already proven themselves. More and more skaters appear, wanting to see what all the fuss is about, and they always stay when they learn it's legit. The thing about shared secrets is how big they can get; everyone wants to be part of the in-crowd.

Some kid with unruly red hair gets wailed on by Shadow, which isn't notable in and of itself, but the Canadian import he brings with him the next time is. Langa turns everyone's world on its head. Kojiro finds himself at S more than he ever has been except at the beginning, getting drawn in irrevocably again. When he's having fun at the beach or buying high school kids ramen, he can convince himself being back in that orbit isn't Adam's doing, and it works for a little while.

It works until the tournament.

He loses to Snow, but that's not a problem. It was a fair race and Langa is really good, though not so good yet that Kojiro thinks he can't beat him next time. But as Adam pulls first his own name and then Cherry's, Kojiro jumps into the first red cap's car he sees, suddenly seventeen and desperate again, hungry to take on the whole world. Getting back to Kaoru right now is important, possibly the most important thing of all.

Well. That, he guesses, hasn't changed at all.

When Cherry's race starts, everything in Kojiro is drawn up and tense, angry and sad and distraught, but also amazed that Kaoru can still want to save Adam after everything— after leaving, after ignoring them, after hurting Reki and so many people before him, and after knowing that Adam will probably try to hurt Kaoru, too. See, the thing is, people probably assume that Kojiro is the optimist of the two of them. They probably assume Kaoru is the realist. But people are wrong about a lot of things.

Kojiro doesn't even yell out when Kaoru flies off his board, the sickening crunch of his body meeting the road loud enough for them both. But he does use his so-called useless muscles to take off like a shot, ignoring the shouts of his name behind him as he throws out his board and starts out down the mountain for the second time that night.

He's rounding the first big corner when he hears beeping. Shadow drives up alongside him, the windows rolled down as he shouts Joe's name. Kojiro, his jaw set and heart rattling inside his chest, glances to his side.

"Get in. They were almost to the end of the course, so this is faster," Shadow calls. Miya blinks from the passenger seat, wide-eyed and worried. "Besides, what's your plan? You gonna run to the hospital with him in your arms?"

"If I have to," Kojiro says, but he slows down as the car does, climbing into the back of Shadow's borrowed pink nightmare. Adam's gone by the time they make it there, which is a small blessing because Kojiro doesn't trust himself around him right now. Besides, he has bigger things to worry about.

Kojiro climbs out of the car almost before Shadow can brake. "Move," he tells the crowd of worried onlookers kneeling around Cherry Blossom. To their credit, they take one look at his face and scatter. He leans over and gets his arms beneath Kaoru, lifting him up so, so carefully, different from the last time he did this. Throwing Kaoru into the water at the beach while laughing at his toothless insults feels like a million years ago now.

"You can say it," Kaoru manages once Kojiro has a good handle on him, leaning his head against Kojiro's chest.

Kojiro gathers Kaoru close, relieved that he's still conscious. "Say what?" he asks softly. The onlookers part again as Kojiro walks slowly back to Shadow's car.

"I told you so," Kaoru says, and winces as Kojiro lays him out in the backseat.

"Not gonna do that. Who do you think I am? You?" Kojiro asks, climbing in with him. "Stop talking," he adds.

"Mm. Okay," Kaoru agrees easily, which is the most worrying thing of all. "Kojiro, I'm glad you're here," he mumbles as he settles his head into Kojiro's lap, closing his eyes while Kojiro strokes his hair.

When Kaoru shows up at the restaurant that night, Carla-modified wheelchair and all, Kojiro does the responsible thing and yells at him. He even does the expected thing and argues with him. But inside he's thrilled, his heart doing somersaults over Kaoru doing something stupid and ill-advised, just to see him.

Kaoru doesn't seek Adam out to punch him or kiss him. He doesn't go home to be with his Carla-fied appliances. He doesn't even sensibly stay in the hospital, where he's meant to be overnight for observation. Kaoru finds Kojiro instead.

Kaoru finds Kojiro the same way he did when they were twelve and gave him his hand-me-down board.

Kaoru finds Kojiro the same way Kojiro always finds him.

He opens the bottle of Lafite anyway when he finds Kaoru asleep at the counter, adrenaline finally wearing off after a scary night. There's no cause for celebration with the bandage wrapped around Kaoru's head, his arm in a sling, and his leg in a cast. Kojiro doesn't want to even think about the recovery time required to get Kaoru back to his normal annoying self. But he toasts to them anyway, clinking their glasses because they're not alone and, if it's up to Kojiro, they never will be.

Kaoru stays asleep as Kojiro finishes his glass of wine, snoring and drooling a little on the countertop. Kojiro tries to be annoyed that he's going to have to disinfect that in the morning before the restaurant opens, but he would have done that anyway, and Kaoru looks too cute for him to be irritated. Instead, he stands up and puts away the bottle, returning to Kaoru's side as quick as he can.

"Sorry, Carla," Kojiro apologizes, "but I can't get you both up the stairs. It's my turn to take over for the night."

"As you wish, Joe," Carla trills and it's stupid how warm that makes him feel.

For the second time that night, Kojiro bends down to lift Kaoru into his arms. Without the panic of wondering if Kaoru will even survive, he's able to enjoy the experience a little more this time around— but only a little. He's still careful to avoid Kaoru's sling, and now without all his focus on Kaoru's immediate safety, he entertains the idea of throttling Adam just to show him how it feels.

He won't, of course. But a man can dream.

Kaoru is warm against him, so warm, and Kojiro gets a whiff of his expensive shampoo, a sense-memory connected to all of the happiest moments of his life. The trek up to his apartment right above the restaurant is slow, cautious and he's able to take in the little things as he forgets to breathe. Kaoru's chest rises and falls steadily. His eyelashes flutter as he dreams. His hair in its messy side-ponytail tickles Kojiro's nose.

The bed was left unmade that morning in Kojiro's haste to start the day, and it makes him a little smug to know how much Kaoru would hate that. He lowers Kaoru to the mattress with painstaking care, allowing himself a single wistful thought about how he wishes this was under better circumstances. But of course he'll let Kaoru have the bed to himself; Kojiro's sofa is fine for a night— two, even, if Kaoru wants.

Kaoru grumbles drowsily as Kojiro pulls his glasses off and arranges his limbs so he won't bother his injuries much during the night, and he sighs but doesn't wake as Kojiro pulls the covers over him, leaving his arms outside the blankets just like Kaoru would do for himself.

"Don't ever scare me like that again," Kojiro admonishes. In his sleep, Kaoru frowns, a line appearing between his eyebrows, and Kojiro laughs at his own powers of annoyance. Then, indulgent, he bends to brush his lips against Kaoru's forehead. It's barely anything; even calling it a kiss is a stretch, but it makes Kojiro's heart beat fast all the same. It's funny how something he's done a million times before can seem all new under the right circumstances.

He starts to straighten up again, but something stops him: Kaoru's hand wrapped around the cord of his pendant— and Kaoru's open eyes.

Kojiro gulps, feeling like a trapped animal. "Did I wake you?"

"I gave this ratty thing to you years ago. When are you going to take it off?" Kaoru asks instead of answering, his voice rusty and low as he tugs at the leather cord.

"Never," Kojiro answers instantly.

The beginnings of a smile twist the corners of Kaoru's mouth. "Good," he says, lifting his head from the pillows just enough to press a quick kiss to Kojiro's waiting mouth. It's such a surprise that Kojiro's mouth hangs open when Kaoru lets go of Kojiro's pendant and falls back again.

"Did your painkillers just kick in big time?" Kojiro finds himself asking as Kaoru smiles up at him, looking way too pleased with himself.

"Sometimes it takes getting hit in the head to realize you've been an idiot," Kaoru says. "I've been a very big idiot."

"I could have told you that, idiot," Kojiro says.

"Listen," Kaoru says, wincing as he pats the open spot next to him on Kojiro's bed, "are we going to fight, or are you going to kiss me again?"

The choice is obvious.

Sunshine streams through the window the next morning, waking Kojiro up long before his alarm would. In his sleep, he'd been careful not to touch Kaoru anywhere that might hurt him, leaving him aching in more than one way, but it's nothing compared to what Kaoru must be going through. Even though he's still asleep, Kaoru's face is furrowed in pain, and that look marring his striking features is enough to spur Kojiro into action.

He jogs downstairs to the restaurant and plugs Carla into the wall so she can tell him where Kaoru put his prescriptions, briefly wondering how much she's going to drive up his electricity bill in her wheelchair form. But he doesn't worry about it much, the thought of Kaoru's hand tight around his pendant and the feel of his mouth against Kojiro's last night still bright and shiny in his mind. As soon as Kaoru is all better again, Kojiro is going to show him exactly how often he's thought about this moment.

Instead, he gets to work on breakfast, okayu and green tea, knowing Kaoru likes the comforting foods from his childhood when he doesn't feel well. It's nice cooking something he hasn't in a while— nice, too, cooking for Kaoru just because he feels like it. He puts everything including Kaoru's medication on a tray.

Kaoru is awake and struggling to sit up when Kojiro comes into the room. "I thought you left."

"Where would I go?" Kojiro laughs. "You're in my bed."

"Don't remind me," Kaoru groans.

"You love it." Kojiro places the tray over Kaoru's lap so he doesn't have to look him in the eye.

"Maybe," Kaoru says. He allows it when Kojiro fusses over him, putting an extra pillow behind his back and smoothing his hair off of his forehead, so maybe he does. "Thank you," he adds after a moment. "Not just for this. For— for everything."

Kojiro perches on the edge of the bed. "You're being so nice," he says, flashing a flirtatious smile. "And here I was looking forward to an early morning argument."

"You make it sound like fighting with me is foreplay."

"Oh yeah, baby." Kojiro leers at that. "Biggest turn on I know of," he says, and it's not even a lie.

"Pervert," Kaoru says, but a smile twitches at the corners of his mouth.

"Yeah, but I'm your pervert," Kojiro says.

Kaoru sighs and rolls his eyes. "I suppose that's true," he agrees.