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In Other Words (I Love You)

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He wasn't sure how it ended up like this.

It had started with a harmless bet: that he could take Rei on the most incredible date he'd ever been on. But things had escalated some since then. At first, all Kaoru wanted to prove was that he was the best at his game. No woman would be able to resist his charms.

Now, somehow, one thing led to the next and they all bled together and now he was kissing Rei on the steps leading to the Sakuma residence. It was scary, because that meant Kaoru was kissing another guy in a very visible place.

More frightening than that? Kaoru liked it. Rei's lips were soft, and his hair felt like silk between his fingers. His heart lurched when Rei swiped his tongue across his lips. Kaoru was no stranger to kissing, of course, but this was not the same as a kiss from any girl. This was dizzying.

Air . He needed air.

He cursed himself for the gasp that escaped his lips as they parted. Rei looked a little dazed, too.

"My, my, Kaoru-kun," He sounded breathless; or maybe it was the sound of Kaoru’s blood rushing in his ears. "I wasn't expecting such an... intense goodnight kiss. You've surprised me."

"I…" It took him a minute for his brain to catch up and re-assemble itself into the charade he'd presented for the evening thus far. He smiled – he hoped it was a smile. "As long as you enjoyed it, kitten. That's all I need."

Something flashed in Rei's expression, and Kaoru couldn't place what he'd seen—sadness? Disappointment? (If so, then why?)—but it was gone as soon as it came.

"You've given me a night I won't soon forget," He said. "Thank you for walking me home. I trust I'll see you tomorrow?"

Kaoru's heart sank, though he refused to acknowledge it. "Of course. Sleep well, Sakuma-san."

"You, as well, Kaoru-kun. Get home safely."

"Right."

After that night, things felt tense between him and Rei.

Kaoru had tried to maintain a...somewhat normal schedule. As much as he could, at least. He tried to skip practice to go on more dates with cute girls—you know, to put the moves he'd flaunted to Rei to good practice—but each one felt emptier than the last. So, he'd been going to practice more. And it wasn't too bad, not really. Sure, he didn't like sweating so much or being around other sweaty guys for so long. But mostly, he didn't like when it ended, because he never had much of an excuse to hang around. Dates were great, because he could be out for longer and get home late enough to avoid...certain conversations with his family. With practice, he was usually too gross and tired to do anything else, and hanging around school was way too lame.

Really, it wasn't like Rei was trying to make things awkward. It was just that Kaoru found himself hyper-aware of even the slightest touch between the two of them. His entire body was electrified by the end of practice.

Which would have been easy to ignore if Rei didn't say something about it.

"You seem...different, Kaoru-kun," Rei said, once Koga and Adonis had left. "Is something wrong?"

"What? No!" Immediately, it was his instinct to deflect. "I'm fine. Just a little under the weather."

Rei stepped closer, and alarm bells sounded in Kaoru's mind at a hundred thousand decibels. He sucked in a breath when Rei pressed the back of his hand to Kaoru's forehead. This was a mistake, he cursed to himself. How was I supposed to know he'd do this?!

"Hmm, you do feel a little warm. Shall I walk you to the infirmary? I would hate to see you sick under my watch—"

"No!" Kaoru protested, a bit too forcefully. "No, sorry, but I...I think I should just go home."

He tried to ignore the guilt twisting in his gut as he ducked away from Rei and escaped. He couldn't help but feel like he'd just made things a whole lot worse than before.

As always, going home proved to be the worst decision he'd made that day.

"Where have you been?" The question pierced Kaoru's chest like a spear of ice. He froze, already partway up the stairs.

He didn't look at his father. "...Practice."

"You're still going to throw your life away as an idol?" He scoffed. "You know, Kaoru—"

"Can we not do this right now?" He snapped, instantly regretting it. "I feel sick."

"Good. Then you know how I feel when I look at you every day."

Kaoru huffed, taking himself the rest of the way to his room before tears could prick the corners of his eyes. He didn't have the energy to deal with that today.

His homework went painfully slowly that night, and when he finally collapsed into bed, he found his mind kept drifting in ways he hoped it wouldn't. No matter how he tried to steer it, his thoughts always came back to Rei. Rei, and his silky hair and soft lips and warm hands. Rei, and the way he rolled his hips during their choreo and the seductive, mysterious look in his eyes meant for their fans, but Kaoru wished…he wished that look was just for him.

...Oh. He was hard. Heat flooded to his cheeks. I shouldn't do this...I need to just roll over and go to bed.

Yet, something else—something a bit desperate for a distraction—won out, and he snuck his hand beneath his waistband and gave in to the fantasy playing out in his mind. He'd stay behind at practice, like Rei asked, but it would be for an extra lesson. Maybe something like...learning a dance move. Rei could stand close, roll his hips just right, and Kaoru would feel him against his ass.

He gasped, softly, but it sounded way too loud in the quiet of his home. He rolled onto his side, burying his face into the pillow to keep quiet while he stroked himself, agonizingly slow.

At some point, his fantasy of Rei escalated to them, kissing, bodies pressed together, Kaoru clumsily unzipping Rei's pants and Rei doing the same to his (though fantasy-Rei was far less clumsy than fantasy-Kaoru). Kaoru imagined the feeling of Rei's cock sliding against his own, and he bit back a moan. Would Rei wrap his hand around them both at once? Maybe he'd swipe his thumb across their tips, mixing the precum that threatened to drip down their shafts.

Kaoru quickened his pace, heat pooling in his stomach. Ah, Sakuma-san, he'd say in the fantasy, warning Rei of his oncoming release.

And maybe...maybe Rei would lean in close to his ear, close enough so Kaoru could feel the smile on his lips. Go ahead, Kaoru-kun. Be a good boy for me, and cum.

Kaoru bit down hard on his lip to keep from groaning when he spilled into his hand.

...Ugh. Where his arousal faded, shame took its place. He just got off to a fantasy about another guy. It was a new low, for Kaoru. He spent most of his life avoiding any thoughts about guys in the first place, let alone...thoughts like this.

But Rei wasn't just another guy, was he?

Their date...Kaoru’s stomach twirled just thinking about it. They had gotten so smooth in their charade, passing compliments and small, romantic touches back and forth like the world's most dangerous game of tennis. 

Somewhere along the line, Kaoru's feelings got caught in the fray, and now he felt very much like he was walking across a tightrope over an abyss, no net to catch him if he fell.

So a balancing act it is, then. He sighed, pushing himself out of bed to wipe his hand clean with a tissue. There was no way he'd risk going to the bathroom—it was late, sure, but someone might wake up, and then confrontation would be unavoidable. When he finished cleaning his hand off, he collapsed back into bed, burying himself under the covers as though he could hide from his still-sinking shame and fast-beating heart.

Kaoru woke up the next morning feeling sluggish. He dragged himself out of bed, taking as long as humanly possible to get ready. Maybe he won't be downstairs when I leave. Being a little late to class would be fine.

His heart plummeted to his stomach when he found his father waiting for him downstairs.

"Are you always this disrespectful of others' time?"

"Good morning to you, too," He grumbled. "Shouldn't you be at work by now?"

"I have a meeting later with some executives from the company, so I wasn't leaving until later. I thought it a good opportunity to take you to your school, but you've wasted my time. I wouldn't make it out there and back before the meeting begins."

"You didn't tell me."

"You stormed upstairs last night in a hurry. How could I tell anything to a petulant child who ignores his parent? Would you have ignored your mother?"

"Leave her out of this," he frowned. "That's got nothing to do with it."

"Oh, so you'll ignore either one of us, then. Your lack of respect is astounding, Kaoru. Between this and throwing away everything I've built for you, it's a wonder if you'll ever amount to anything."

Kaoru felt the pain flare in his chest before he could try and brush the comments off. He clenched his jaw, silent.

"The silent treatment, I see. Always such a child." He turned on his heel, to go put his coat on. "Go to school, see how those girls you cart around treat you today. I'll never understand why anyone would love a philanderer like you."

It started raining on his walk to school, and Kaoru was glad for it, since it masked his tears.

Class was already in session by the time he arrived. Seeing as he'd forgotten an umbrella, he would need to dry himself off in the restroom before going anywhere else. He couldn't risk having anyone see him like this, least of all Anzu-chan. That, and it was freezing at school, so in quickly rounding the corner, he completely shoulder checked someone on his way into the bathroom.

"Ah, sorry, 'scuse me—"

"Oh, no, it's alright...Kaoru-kun?"

Kaoru froze. He should've kept walking, but he settled for keeping his face out of Rei's direct line of sight.

"Are you alright? You're soaked," Rei said.

"M'fine," Kaoru rubbed his arm. "Just got caught in the rain."

He moved to go to the bathroom, but he felt a delicate hand snatch his wrist. He tried to pull away, but Rei had to choose this moment to be inhumanly strong. He turned Kaoru around.

"There’s a slim chance the paper towels in the bathroom will help. You feel cold. Shall I accompany you to the infirmary?"

"N-no, Sakuma-san, I'm fine," He insisted, rubbing his nose a little to hold off the urge to sniffle. He met Rei's gaze to make it clear. "I'm late enough as it is."

Rei tilted his head, and Kaoru cursed to himself. "Late…?" His gaze became more scrutinizing, and suddenly Kaoru regretted looking up. "Your eyes look swollen, Kaoru-kun. Are you quite certain you're okay?"

Why did Rei have to notice everything? He tugged his wrist away, and this time, Rei let go.

"I'm fine, just...I'll see you at practice later, okay?"

Kaoru didn't see how Rei's expression tightened with concern. "Sure, Kaoru-kun. I'll see you later."

The rest of the day dragged. Kaoru could barely focus in his classes, and he got tired fast from deflecting his classmates' honest and genuine questions if everything was okay. It was easy enough, saying he was only down because he was rejected by Anzu-chan yet again. It kept their eyes off of him, and that's all that mattered.

Practice, however, was a different story. He wanted to skip, he really did. Just...slip out the door when no one was looking and bolt as fast as he could to avoid Adonis' wrath.

He sighed. Maybe if he just...threw himself into giving his all, putting on his best performance, maybe it would serve a good enough distraction. Maybe then, he'd feel less like he was throwing his life away.

Somehow, Kaoru doubted it.

Rei started them out with stretches and a warm-up dance to shake off the stiffness. This was the kind of tedium he didn't always enjoy, but he knew it was necessary if they were ever going to perform well together. So he played along. Rei was liberal with complimenting them today, commenting that they were totally in sync for the first time in months, and it was so nice to have the whole unit together, and that everyone was going to love their next live if they kept this up.

Kaoru tried to ignore how warm it made him feel. Was he just being extra nice because Kaoru bothered to show up? Probably. It couldn't be more than a trick to get him to keep coming back. No way it would work.

As it turned out, throwing himself headlong into practice was good enough to get his mind off of things at home, for a little bit. But the closer it got to the end, the more dread pooled in the pit of his stomach. He really didn't want to go back home; the morning was certainly just a taste of what would be in store for him later today. Unfortunately for Kaoru, he couldn't stop time, and eventually Rei called the end of practice.

Kaoru sighed, gathering up his things. Maybe he could take a really long shower before heading home...or try to go on a date with one of the dozens of girls on his contact list. You're throwing your life away, the persistent voice of his father rang in his mind. You'll never amount to anything if you keep this up. Did it even matter what he did now…? 

"Ah, Kaoru-kun, would you mind staying back a moment?"

The question should've sent his heart into a panic, but instead, he felt more relieved. Maybe curious? His fantasy from the night before flashed in his mind, and he immediately felt his face heat up. This is the absolute worst time to have thought of that. He busied himself with reorganizing his clothes in his bag before standing and turning to face Rei.

They were alone for the first time since this morning, and a tense air settled between them.

Rei moved closer. Kaoru stepped back. But Rei didn't let up, determination sharp in his eyes. He snagged Kaoru's wrist, pulling him close— Too close, too close! —and cupping his cheek, thumb resting idly on his cheekbone. Kaoru flinched at the touch, but said nothing. He let Rei scrutinize him. He looked...so worried. A traitorous part of Kaoru sorely wished he could close the small space between them, to kiss the concern right from Rei's lips. The rest of him wholly rejected the idea. It's your fault he looks so upset, he berated himself. If you'd been more careful, he wouldn’t have seen you earlier.

"Tell me, Kaoru-kun. Do you trust me?" Rei asked.

Kaoru's heart stuttered. Did he? Did he trust Rei? He was so close, it was hard to look away from his piercing stare. Again, his mind drifted to last night. He clenched and unclenched his jaw. I stand corrected. Now is the worst time to have thought of that.

"I, um…" He stammered. "Wh-why are you asking this so suddenly?"

“Answer me, please.”

It took Kaoru a moment to gather his thoughts. On one hand, he wanted to trust Rei. He hadn’t told anyone about their kiss, nor their fake date at large, and that was reason enough to trust him. On the other, he knew startlingly little about Rei beyond the face he showed to everyone at school, and if he knew anything about the students at this school, it was that they had a flair for the dramatic and were almost always hiding something.

He himself fit into the latter camp.

“I guess? Sometimes?”

Rei frowned. “Trust is not something you give only sometimes. Do you trust me, or don’t you?”

Kaoru frowned back. “Maybe I would be less hesitant to answer if I knew what you were talking about, so suddenly.”

Had Rei been across the room, maybe he could have hidden the subtle flash of heartbreak in his eyes. But Kaoru noticed, and at once guilt flared hot in his chest.

“You look better than when we met earlier,” Rei changed the subject, keeping his gaze carefully trained on Kaoru. “Though I worry for you. You’ve been...off, lately.”

Kaoru chuckled, a self-deprecating grin left behind. “What, are you suspicious because I’ve been coming to practice regularly?”

He was met with narrowed eyes. “That’s not it, Kaoru-kun. You told me you were fine earlier, but here…” His thumb trailed delicately under his eyes. “They’re still puffy. What would your adoring fans say, if they saw you looking so sad? They might wonder...have you been crying?”

Bitterness clawed its way up his throat. “So what?” They wouldn’t care.

“An idol should be a pillar for their fans, someone they can lean on in their time of need. To see an idol sad, it makes their fans weep for them.”

“My ‘fans’ won’t see me like this.” There was something Rei wasn’t saying, but Kaoru couldn't decipher it.

“So you admit, you were crying?”

Ah. A trap. “What are you going to do if I was?”

“Would you confide in me, Kaoru-kun?”

It was such a sharp turn in the conversation that Kaoru was rattled. A hundred questions bubbled to the surface, all popping before he could bring himself to ask any of them. It should’ve made sense that it came to this point, since this started with Rei asking if Kaoru trusted him. Still, his head spun. Was it right? To confide in Rei, at a time like this...what good could really come of it? Nothing. Like everything else, wouldn’t it just be a waste? Rei deserved better than to have himself exposed to a bitter, grotesque heart like Kaoru’s.

So, in the end, his eyebrows drawn together, he averted his gaze, shaking his head.

“I see.” The heartbreak that flashed in Rei’s eyes now seeped into his voice. His hand fell from Kaoru’s cheek, and he hated how cold it felt in its absence. “That was all. You may go.”

Kaoru felt wobbly as he gathered his things. If the air was tense before, now it was stifling, threatening to suffocate him. On his way out of the room, he barely heard Rei’s voice.

"Kaoru…”

He paused, hand hovering over the door handle.

“I won't make you tell me anything if it makes you uncomfortable. But know that...if there is something weighing down on you, I'm happy to help ease that burden."

No one had ever told him something so kind. No one had seen right through him like Rei had just then. Kaoru knew, deep in his heart, that he needed to take Rei’s offer. Confide in him, and cry, and allow himself to be consoled.

But he didn’t.

“Thank you, Sakuma-san,” His voice shook from the tightness in his chest. He pushed down hard on the door handle to cover a sniffle. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

On the way home, just as on the way to school, he couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. This time, however, there was no rain to mask them. There was no way he could go home in this state. So he stumbled away from the school gates, grateful that no one else was around, and made his way to the only place he felt safe.

Kaoru sat with his knees pulled close to his chest, head buried in his arms, back against the seawall, and sobbed. His lungs ached from heaving breaths, his eyes stung, but he couldn’t stop. He was grateful for one thing: the waves were high, so the tide crashed against the shoreline aggressively, drowning out any of the noise. The sun was setting fast, and he felt crushed by the weight of his emotions.

He wanted to be held. He wanted a delicate hand rubbing small, comforting circles on his back. He wanted someone’s voice, gently, telling him Shh, it’s alright, Kaoru-kun. I’m here for you.

He wanted Rei.

And it was wholly unfair, and terrifying. It was that damn date that had sent Kaoru’s heart over the edge. With girls, all the dozens of girls he’d dated, everything was practiced and poised. Rehearsed to a degree that it was hard for it to be genuine. Every flirtatious smirk, wink, and comment was timed, placed, and expertly executed so the girl he was with had a wonderful time. One at a time, they always did have fun. But it was only ever once, maybe twice. Each date was fleeting, and Kaoru was flighty. He never committed to anything serious, like getting too involved was forbidden.

After his fake date with Rei, it was clear enough why. One unpredictable smile, one small unplanned gesture, had sent Kaoru careening downward, and before he knew it, he was having fun . Genuine fun. Their back-and-forth teasing, sharing food, walking together, talking...it had all been so blissfully easy. Kaoru felt his own mask slipping farther and farther away, and that was when he’d kissed Rei on the doorstep to the Sakuma house.

To be so wrapped up in someone like Rei Sakuma...it wasn’t fair to Rei. Kaoru was...largely directionless, and his father was right about him. He was going nowhere, fast. He’d agreed to debut as a pair of idols alongside Rei when they graduated, but how long would that last? Sure, Kaoru knew he was talented and handsome, but if he kept pushing Rei away like this, they’d never be in sync enough to succeed. Could he trust himself to put in the work Rei deserved?

Love was stupid. Kaoru had never meant to fall in love.

His breathing began to even out as the sun disappeared over the horizon. The waves calmed, too, lapping quietly at the sand. Kaoru lifted his head, staring out at them. The ocean was excellent at keeping his secrets safe. It would accept all of his aches and sadness and swallow it whole without swallowing him. While comforting, it didn’t replace what his heart sought.

Lifting himself up, he brushed the sand off his pants, beginning the trudge back home. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sighing. I have to think of something to say to Rei, he thought. I don’t think I’ll survive much longer if I don’t.

In his pocket, he felt the weight of his phone. A text...it could always work well as a conversation starter, but the conversation would end as soon as it began. Sakuma-san, for all he was good at, was terrible with technology. So there went that idea. It wasn't like he could just knock on the door to the Sakuma house, either. Who knew who would come to the door, and how would Kaoru explain that? Hello, sir/madam/Ritsu, I'm here to confess my love for your son/brother. Could you let me in? Tell me which room is his? Thanks.

Kaoru sighed. Yeah, that wasn’t realistic at all. It wasn’t like he’d ever show up at Rei’s door and meet his parents unannounced.

He wound up curled under the covers at home, pillow pressed against his ears to drown out the insistent knocks at his door. Eventually, they faded, but the following slam down the hall reverberated around his skull for hours.

In the end, he tossed and turned all night.

When Kaoru woke up, his neck was sore and the house was eerily quiet. Sunlight streamed in through his window. He was up earlier than his alarm, too late to go back to sleep. A shame.

He rolled out of bed, stumbling to his feet. He rubbed his eyes. For some reason, he had the feeling that today was going to be a rough day.


He skipped practice. His track record of attendance had been far too good lately, and he couldn't have Rei thinking that their date-bet from a couple weeks ago had really changed his tune. Weirdly, something kept him on campus, and he found himself milling about (hiding whenever Adonis was on the prowl) until long after practice was over.

That same something brought him back to the door to the practice room, and he was pushing it open before his common sense could kick in and stop himself.

"Sakuma-san~" He called, teasingly, into the room. He's likely not even here anymore. Are my hopes up? No. He's not going to be here. "Are you working too hard again?"

Kaoru stopped cold in his tracks when he saw where Rei was—collapsed around a pile of sheet music.

"Sakuma-san?" He called, trying to reign in the panic rising in his throat. Come on. Take a deep breath. It's not like this hasn't happened before.

Kaoru crouched near Rei—he looked really pale. And were those bags under his eyes? Did he always look so tired? Had Kaoru not noticed? Guilt and shame swam around his gut, and he cursed under his breath. Rei was so busy looking out for me and the others, but he completely neglected himself. What an idiot.

His eyebrows drew together, and he couldn't help pushing Rei's bangs out of his eyes to get a better look at him. Yeah, he was really pale. Like, not normal, even for a weird vampire like him. And Koga and Adonis left already, of course, going home to their families like the good kids they were. I bet Rei urged them to leave the minute they tried to ask if anything was wrong, he mused.

Kaoru sighed. "Well, it can't be helped. I guess I'm taking care of you for now."

Gently, he looped one of Rei's arms around his neck, wrapping his own around Rei's waist and hoisting him upright. He stumbled, awkwardly shifting until he found solid footing. For what it was worth, Rei's dead weight was heavy. And Kaoru wasn't sure he could keep Rei's feet off the ground in this position.

He dragged Rei over to a bench and, as carefully as he could, sat him down. Alright. Now what? He couldn’t feasibly allow Rei’s feet to drag along the floor as he hopelessly carried him around the school. There had to be some other way.

And there was, but Kaoru wasn’t a fan.

But, he had no other ideas. So, he got in front of Rei and crouched down, moving the boy’s arms over his neck and wrapping his legs around his torso, hoisting him back up as he stood with a small grunt. Ugh. Yup, this is happening. His premonition from the morning was correct, and he was beginning to think he should have just rolled over and gone back to bed.

The guilt sitting stubbornly in his gut told him otherwise. Because then Rei would have been left like this for who knows how long…? Kaoru shook his head; he didn’t want to think about it too much. He was here now, with Rei on his back, and he had to think of where to go. The infirmary…? No, Sagami-sensei is probably long gone now. Unfortunately, UNDEAD’s practices always went way past the reasonable end time, and the teachers didn’t always stick around during club and practice hours anyway. Which, now that Kaoru thought about it, seemed like kind of a safety issue. Especially considering the classmate he was carrying around.

Having left the school, Kaoru could only think of one place to go that wasn’t his own home. His own home was absolutely out of the question, because if there was one thing he did not want to discuss under any circumstances, it was why he had suddenly (albeit heroically) carried a boy into his room. Besides, he needed someone who would know what to do to get Rei to wake up: that’s why he kept walking, curving down multiple vaguely-familiar streets.

"I hope you're grateful for this, Sakuma-san," he mumbled. "I'm risking a big hit to my reputation, being seen with a boy on my back like this. But maybe most people will mistake you for a pretty girl because of your hair."

He sighed. Talking to an unconscious Rei wasn't really going to get him anywhere, but it helped him feel a little less insane.

"I think I'd hate you for doing the same for me," he said. "I wouldn't want you to see me like this. I'd be afraid...that you'd judge me. But you wouldn't, right? You said so yourself, in the practice room."

Kaoru was startled by a small groan, and he stilled. "S-Sakuma-san…?"

Nothing followed. Well, at least Kaoru knew he was actually alive. Just...sleeping.

So he kept walking, keeping up his one-sided conversation.

"It's hard for someone like me to open up to you so easily, though. So I ran away." He should be telling all of this to a conscious Rei, but this was easier. "I felt guilty, doing that. You know, I've never felt guilty for running away from anyone else, so hopefully you hear this somewhere in your subconscious, so you can feel lucky I said anything about it. But…I'm really sorry. It must have hurt you."

Kaoru thought he felt Rei tighten his grip around his shoulders, but he pushed the thought aside. He re-adjusted, setting Rei higher on his back.

"I'll stop being so afraid one day, Sakuma-san. Then...then, I'll tell you everything you want to hear."

He stopped, looking up as he realized he finally reached his destination. The Sakuma mansion.

Kaoru could almost laugh at the irony from earlier, swearing he’d never show up unannounced, yet there he stood, awkwardly kicking his foot against the door, completely unannounced and carrying precious cargo on his back. He hoped he didn’t look too sweaty, especially if some pretty maid opened the door. Do the Sakumas even have maids and butlers? Kaoru realized he knew very little.

The door creaked open, two curious pairs of red eyes peeking out before opening it fully. They were both older, and Kaoru had to assume they were his parents. His mother’s hair was done up with braids leading into a bun, some curls poking out of it, and his father’s was pin-straight, tied into a ponytail.

Kaoru cleared his throat awkwardly. “Good evening, um, I’m Saku—uh, Rei’s...classmate, Kaoru Hakaze. I, um...he collapsed, and…I was wondering if you could, um, direct me to his room?”

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Sakuma spoke first, worry pressed onto her face. “Of course. Come in.”

Of all the things Kaoru expected the interior to be, nothing could have prepared him for the reality of it. It was startlingly dark inside, though Kaoru didn't know what else he expected from a family of would-be vampires. (Kaoru refused to believe they were actual vampires. There was just no way.) Still, the height of the ceiling was staggering, and the intricately carved details on the pillars struck a haunting, yet elegant mood. A chill stuck to his bones when Rei's parents closed the door behind him.

"Go up the stairs, then turn left, and his room will be straight down the hall. Last door on the right," Mrs. Sakuma explained.

Kaoru nodded, then frowned slightly. "Wait, aren't you staying…? Will he be okay?"

They shared a look that Kaoru felt contained an entire conversation. "Unfortunately, we have research in the field to get to. It's pressing matters, so if you could, would you mind watching over him until he wakes?" Rei's father asked. "We wish we could stay, but...we have a flight to catch, you see. Rei will be fine: he merely looks exhausted."

"You're free to use one of our guest rooms to sleep, if you need it," Mrs. Sakuma added. "Would you like us to call your parents, so they know where you are tonight?"

"N-no! No, that's okay, I'll tell them myself," Kaoru cut in, panic jabbing his chest. It wasn't even worth the effort to correct them, he just needed them to absolutely not talk to his father. "I'll take good care of Rei. Have a safe flight."

Rei's mom smiled, and for a moment she really looked just like her son. "Thank you, Kaoru-kun. You're a very sweet boy, bringing him here like this. We'll leave the rest to you."

Once they left, Kaoru re-adjusted Rei on his back. He was still dead weight, and his arms and legs were starting to ache like crazy. He sighed, heaving them both up the stairs and down the hall to Rei's room. Oddly, it wasn't at all obvious that the room belonged to Rei from the outside: the door bore no decoration on it at all. Not that he expected Rei to decorate his door or anything, but the gothic look of the place was so unsettling that Kaoru didn't know what to expect when he carefully turned the handle and pushed the door open.

He did expect a coffin, and was surprised when there wasn't one in the room. Instead, there a very human bed, with a beautifully ornate black headboard and everything. Kaoru walked to it immediately, lowering Rei down into a sitting position and then gently easing him onto the pillows. Rei shivered, spooking Kaoru momentarily before worry settled on his face. He must be cold… He looked around the room further, seeking a blanket. It was a large room, made to look smaller from the dark-colored walls, and aside from the desk and mannequin in one corner, it appeared largely unlived in. There were, thankfully, a couple of spare blankets folded at the edge of the bed. Kaoru draped one over Rei, hesitantly tucking him in. It was almost scary, how Rei didn't shift or move with Kaoru's movements over him. Kaoru perched on the edge of the bed, gently moving some of Rei's hair away from his eyes, stopping his hand to rest on his cheek.

"I hope you're okay," Kaoru said, barely above a whisper. "I really hope your parents were right, and you're just tired."

Of course, Rei didn't respond. Kaoru sighed, slowly rubbing his thumb across Rei's cheekbone. When his head shifted, almost to nuzzle into the motion, Kaoru froze, eyes blown wide. He waited.

However, Rei didn't come to.

Kaoru gingerly removed his hand, standing from the bed to continue observing the room. He was drawn to the desk—it was truly the only part of the room that looked used. It was covered in a thick layer of various papers and books, some sketches, some choreography notes and even sheet music that bled red with corrections and harshly-written notes.

It seemed private, and Kaoru felt a little guilty for peeking, but...what else was he going to do? Roaming this mansion was out of the question: that seemed like a death sentence. Besides, he was passed out on the floor in the practice room, so it's clear he overworked himself. Maybe if I can organize some of his work, it should help, at least a little. Right…?

He started by separating the papers from the books. He set the books off to the side, then organized the papers based on content. It seemed like the easiest way to go about it. As he flipped, he noticed there were some old remedial class assignments mixed in with other homework and sketches. Kaoru frowned. Is Sakuma-san falling behind…? He cast a worried glance over at Rei (still asleep, though now he'd turned on his side), then continued to sort. He split the homework by subject and placed them on top of the corresponding book. Kaoru diligently sorted for some time, unsure of how many hours had passed, only knowing that somewhere along the way, he had to turn the small desk lamp on to continue working under its warm glow. 

Suddenly, he heard a weak voice from across the room.

“Kaoru...kun…?”

His heart stopped in his chest, and he froze like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Rei’s desk looked immaculate, and he had begun to leave little sticky notes on the homework with tips to where to find the answer or what to do. He spun the pencil, flipping to sit as casually as he could in Rei’s desk chair, pretending he wasn’t just doing that. “A-ah, Sakuma-san...? Are you awake?”

“I…” He moved to sit up, squinting at the light. “I need my…Kaoru-kun, could you help me? There should be medicine…on the nightstand.”

Medicine? Kaoru was on his feet instantly, pencil and work forgotten. Sure enough, there were a few pill bottles sitting diligently on the nightstand. One bottle for iron, one bottle of vitamin D, and a few of the same over-the-counter painkiller. He didn’t know which to hand to Rei, so he passed over all three. “Do you need water?”

“I’ll...I’ll be okay.” Rei was shaking from the effort of lifting himself, so Karou helped him, shifting the pillows to support his back. He watched, silent, and a little awkward, as Rei took the medicine, handing the bottles back sheepishly. “Thank you.”

“I...it’s no problem.” He replaced them on the nightstand, perching on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel?”

“I’ll be okay.” Rei offered him a tired smile, but it melted into a frown when he looked past Kaoru and noticed his desk. “Oh, my...did you organize all that waiting for me to wake up…?”

He recognized the expression on Rei’s face. It was the all-too-familiar blend of guilt, shame, and fear after getting caught up in a situation he didn’t want anyone else to see, like when Rei had caught him going into the bathroom in tears. Rei had been hiding all of this, all of the piled up work, and not only had Kaoru seen it all, he’d gone and rifled through it, organizing it into neat little piles.

Well, he really felt like an asshole now. He looked helplessly at his hands. "I wasn't...I wasn't going to leave you here alone."

Rei frowned. "Alone…?"

"Your parents left to catch a flight. Research."

He sighed. "Right. And Ritsu…?"

"I-I didn't ask. Or check. But…nobody else seems to be home."

"I see."

Silence fell over them, Kaoru fiddling with his hands in his lap to keep himself from reaching out and holding Rei's. Or brushing the hair from his eyes again. Or leaning forward and kissing the concern off his lips. 

He looked down in his lap.

"I'm sorry. For going through your stuff."

"Huh? Oh, no, I'm not...I'm not angry with you, Kaoru-kun." He assured, though the tightness in his voice suggested something else entirely. "It was a sweet gesture."

The silence that followed felt more tense, and Kaoru was quick to attempt to fill it. "Do you remember... what happened earlier?"

Rei was quiet a moment longer, his eyes dropping to the blanket. "No...I-I'm afraid I don't. I'm sorry. Where did you find me?"

"The practice room," Kaoru admitted. "I was going to take you to the infirmary, but it was late, and I was pretty sure Sagami-sensei had already gone home."

At that, Rei looked up. "Didn't you skip practice today?"

Kaoru's eyes went wide, and he blushed. "Um…yes."

A coy smile played at Rei's lips. "Yet you came anyway, after everyone had gone home. Did you need something?"

"What? No! I just…" How did he say that a funny feeling kept him on campus, drawing him back to the practice room to make sure Rei was alright? There was no way to say that without approaching his feelings, and there were more important matters at hand. "I was around. I thought I'd check in. I'm...glad I did. Are you feeling better?"

Now it was Rei's turn to look shy. "I'm a bit better now, I think. I...why did you stay? Did my parents insist?"

"I already told you," he said, feeling a blush creep up the back of his neck. "I didn't want to leave you alone without knowing you were okay."

"I'm sure my parents would have stayed if they needed to," Rei countered. Kaoru didn't believe it for a second, but his scrutinizing gaze caught him before he could protest. "Allow me to ask a different question, then. You could have easily done anything else to wile away the hours. What brought you to reorganizing my desk?"

"Ah. Well…" Shit. He hadn't brought Rei's attention far enough away from the matter, and he was feeling a bit cornered. There were two ways out of this: both revealed something to Rei that he wasn't sure he was ready to show, but he saw no other choice. He swallowed. "Helping you…seemed better than going home."

Again, Rei fell silent, that same worry pressed into his features. "You carried me all this way, and watched over me while I slept...all to avoid home, hm? Is there something going on…?"

Although Rei hadn't asked directly, but the question was still hanging in the air: Do you want to talk about it? Kaoru worried at his lip, gaze falling to his hands. "You could say that."

Rei hummed. "I understand. You can stay as long as you need."

"Funny, your mother told me the same thing. She offered one of the guest rooms for me to use...I think she thought you'd sleep through the night."

"Through the night?" Rei's eyebrows raised. "Oh, no. I've too much to do."

Kaoru frowned. "Too much to do…? You don't mean to tell me you're seriously going to start in on all of that , do you?"

When he gestured to the desk, Rei nodded at him seriously, and Kaoru debated the repercussions of knocking him unconscious again.

"You're not serious."

"I am."

Kaoru huffed a sigh. "You understand this is your body's way of telling you to stop, right?"

Rei's gaze darkened. "Don't think of trying to stop me."

Was that supposed to be some kind of threat? Anger flared hot in his chest, and he stood, bending over Rei with narrowed eyes. "I will keep you from getting up if it means tying you to this bed."

"My, how kinky~"

"I'm not joking, Sakuma-san!" His glare was met with surprise, which only served to further frustrated him. "You collapsed! You need to rest!"

Rei squinted and shifted some of the blankets off him, but Kaoru caught his wrists in his hands. Rei glowered at him. "Kaoru-kun. Let go of me."

"Not unless you promise to lay back down and rest."

"I have work to finish first."

"It can wait. "

"I don't believe you understand. It really cannot."

"Yes, it can! I'm not going to watch you destroy yourself anymore," Kaoru snapped. "Not after this."

"Then perhaps you should have left when you had the chance, instead of rummaging around where your little nose doesn't belong," Rei snapped, and Kaoru swallowed.

"I was worried, " he defended. "I was only trying to help you."

"I don't believe I asked for your help."

"Well, maybe if you didn't go working yourself half to death, nobody would feel the need to step in before things get worse!"

Rei's voice was cold. "I was fine."

"You were unconscious! How is that not a wake-up call to you!?"

Rei mumbled something Kaoru didn't catch.

"What?"

"I said, " Rei glared, piercing bright red that only served to make Kaoru angrier. "I don't need your pity. Now let. Go. "

His heart was in his throat, thrumming with adrenaline and frustration from Rei's gross misinterpretation. Kaoru gripped his wrists, hating how fragile they felt and hating more how he hadn't noticed until now.

"I don't pity you, Rei! I love you!"

The words were out before he could stop them. Kaoru's breath caught, and as quickly as his adrenaline rose, his blood ran cold, heart plummeting into his stomach. Rei's eyes were blown wide with shock, and Kaoru felt sick. This is not how this was supposed to happen. His vision swam, and he dropped Rei's wrists, stumbling back as though he'd been burned.

"I…" He stammered. "I'm sorry. I...I should go."

As he turned to leave (to run, far far away and simmer in regret at the worst confession imaginable), Rei snagged his shirt and held firm. Kaoru tried to wiggle out of it, but Rei chose this moment to showcase his inhumanly strong grip again.

"No, please...please, don't run away from me again, Kaoru…" The bitterness had been sapped from Rei's voice, its soft quake rattling Kaoru to his core. "I don't think my heart could take it."

Kaoru felt dizzy. Rei was right: he should stay. He told himself he needed to say something to him at some point anyway, and running would likely just make it worse. He half-collapsed back on the edge of the bed, staring pensively at his hands.

"I'm sorry," he said again, lamely.

"It's alright. You don't need to apologize for expressing how you feel." He heard Rei sigh, releasing the grip on his shirt. "I regret that you saw all of this, is all. I'm sorry for snapping at you."

"It's okay. I...I kind of deserved it."

"No," Rei asserted, leaning forward to grasp Kaoru's hand in both of his own. "You didn't. Your point was true—I shouldn't be refusing your help."

"But I should've given you the space to ask for it."

Rei worried at his lip. "I can’t honestly say I would have ever taken the opening."

Kaoru nodded. He understood, probably more than words could express. Minutes passed before he spoke again. "I didn't mean to keep running away, Sakuma-san," he said, much quieter. "I'm just...scared."

"Of what?"

He chuckled, though it sounded empty. “What else? Of this, this...caring about you, wanting you, loving you.” He stared intently at Rei’s hands holding his, and he couldn’t stop the warmth rising to his cheeks. “I couldn’t keep my mind off you, or the things you said. The times you tried to help. It was hard to run away, but...it was getting even harder to stay, you know? It felt like...like everything would break, if I said something.”

Rei was quiet, and Kaoru felt a panic tugging at him, urging him to keep talking. “Though, I guess I kind of ruined it just now, huh? H-ha...aren’t confessions supposed to be a bit more romantic…?” Like when we kissed on your porch after that date. “This just feels pathetic.”

“Oh, Kaoru-kun, of course not,” Rei shifted, scooting close enough to pull Kaoru into his arms. “You’re not pathetic. You have such a sweet, kind heart. Please, please never be afraid of telling me how you feel. I could never think less of you.”

Between the hug and his words, Kaoru found himself feeling a bit overwhelmed. He gave into it, though, allowing his forehead to rest lazily in the crook of Rei’s neck. “What about you, though?”

“What do you mean?”

“I...when I was sifting through your papers, I noticed not all of the music over there was for UNDEAD. Just how many people are you lending your heart out to?”

He was close enough to hear Rei’s breath hitch in his throat, and the subsequent cough to try and hide it. “That’s…I’ve only made a few promises, Kaoru-kun. It’s nothing much.”

Sakuma-san,” he whined. “If I’m going to pour my heart out to you, the least you could do is admit you’ve got too much on your plate to add any more.”

A sigh escaped Rei’s lips, and Kaoru felt his chin rest atop his head. “You simply don’t understand. It doesn’t matter how much work piles up over there. I will always make room in my heart for you.”

“What…? What are you trying to say, saying something like that?”

Rei pulled them apart, cupping Kaoru’s face in his hands. “I’m saying I’m grateful to you for sharing your feelings with me. Because I love you, too.”

His heart stuttered in his chest. “Wa-wait! That’s not fair! You—why do you get to be smooth!?”

For the first time that evening, Rei laughed, and melted Kaoru's anxiety away. "Are your feathers that ruffled by it?"

He pouted—just to be dramatic. "Yes, actually. I think it's totally unfair. In fact, I demand a second chance!"

Rei quirked a curious, amused brow. “Second chance?”

“Yes. Strike my first confession from your mind. I want to go on another date with you, Sakuma-san.” Kaoru’s sudden boldness was only egged on by the look on Rei’s face. “A real date. Just you and me. No pretending, no charades, no bets. Just us.”

“I would...love that. Where will we go?”

Kaoru wagged a finger. “Would it be the true best date of your life if you knew all the details? Let me surprise you.”

The way Rei’s laugh danced in his ears made his heart skip a beat. “Kaoru-kun, you’re really going to make my heart give out with all this excitement.”

He laughed, too, and he couldn’t help reaching up to smooth his hands through Rei’s hair. “Then, maybe you should go back to sleep, old man. It’s the weekend, so you don’t have to worry about school, okay? Just rest.”

“Would you still stay?”

The question caught Kaoru off guard, a blush creeping hot up the back of his neck. “I, um. Well. Your mom said it would be fine, so...if...you still wanted me to, I could. I could stay in one of the guest rooms.”

“Oh, no, no, that won’t be necessary.” How urgently Rei pushed the suggestion aside was equal parts worrying and curious to Kaoru. “Those rooms are...well, it doesn’t matter. You can sleep with me.”

Kaoru blinked. The heat from his neck rose fast and ignited his cheeks. Rei’s expression was a mirror of his own as the implications of his statement sunk in.

“I didn’t mean—”

“No, it’s alright, I-I knew what you meant,” Kaoru stuttered, willing his heart to calm down. “Um, you’re sure…?”

“There is plenty of space, as long as you don’t mind borrowing a pair of pajamas.”

Kaoru nodded, allowing Rei to get up so he could fetch some sleepwear to loan. He tried not to notice that Rei’s pajamas were softer than any clothes that had ever touched his skin, and that they smelled faintly of lavender, and that he’d felt Rei’s eyes on his back while he changed.

It was difficult to ignore, though. All of it.

Settling into bed, Kaoru realized how exhausted the day had made him against how perfectly cozy Rei’s mattress was. He supposed it was only right, since vampires seemed to value sleep, that he had such a perfect mattress. Kaoru wondered if Rei’s coffin was even remotely as comfortable. If it is, it’s probably too cramped to enjoy it, he mused to himself.

He found himself hyper-conscious of the space between them, and Kaoru was careful not to cross the middle of the mattress. Flipping to face away from Rei, he pulled the covers up to his chin. “You’d better not use this as an excuse to get up and do work,” Kaoru warned, stifling a yawn.

“With someone so beautiful next to me? I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Kaoru decided he didn’t trust himself enough to dignify that with a response. He began to drift off before anything meaningful came to mind to say, anyway.

Rei's hand slid gently up and down Kaoru's side, leaving a tingling sensation in its wake that pooled hot in his stomach. He played with the hem of Kaoru's shirt, fingers brushing against skin and making Kaoru gasp.

Kaoru felt Rei smile against his back. "Mm, Kaoru-kun, could it be you're a little sensitive? Let's see, then."

Slowly, Rei's hand snaked up Kaoru's torso, settling at his chest. His fingers traced small, careful circles around Kaoru's nipple, eliciting another gasp and a small moan.

"Sakuma-san…"

"Does it feel good?"

" Mm ...mhm…"

He continued for a moment, deftly shifting Kaoru onto his back and hovering over him. Kaoru felt himself blush, wondering how he hadn't noticed Rei was only wearing briefs, and he was already hard, his dick straining against the fabric.

Not that he had much time to admire it, because Rei was upon him in an instant, continuing to tease his nipple while he kissed at his neck. Kaoru bit his lip, sucking in a breath to keep from whining.

"Hmhmhm, now, that won't do," Rei's face was so close, so suddenly, pecking a kiss on Kaoru's cheek. "I want to hear you."

Kaoru was breathless, unable to reply, but Rei didn't seem to need one. He lowered himself again, trailing kisses all along Kaoru's chest and stomach before arriving at his waistband. He ran a playful finger along the bulge in his briefs before pulling them down. Kaoru lifted his hips to let Rei take them off the rest of the way.

"Good," Rei praised. "You're a good boy, Kaoru-kun."

Oh. That turned him on more than expected. Rei seemed pleased, though, helping himself to a long lick from base to tip. Kaoru groaned, arching his back from the pleasure. Wasting no time, Rei slid his hand up Kaoru's thigh, around the curve of his ass to dip between the cheeks. Again, Kaoru sucked in a harsh breath, and Rei soothed him, gently massaging his hip with his free hand.

"It's alright, dear. You trust me, don't you?"

Kaoru nodded, swallowing thickly. Rei licked and sucked around the tip of his dick, and as he slowly pushed a finger in—

Kaoru woke with a jolt, panting, his body feeling...warm. He blinked. This room wasn't his room. Where was he…? Right. Rei collapsed, so I ended up sleeping here.

He shifted, only to notice an arm wrapped around his middle and a pressure between his shoulder blades. Oh, god. Rei. But he was making a noise almost like… Is he whimpering? Kaoru turned his head to look as far over his shoulder as he could.

"Sakuma-san…?"

Great. This felt all too similar to Rei collapsing. Again, his eyebrows were pressed together with worry. Again, Kaoru wanted to kiss it away, his arousal totally forgotten in favor of concern. Again, Kaoru was left wondering if Rei would wake up and be okay.

Awkwardly, he shifted, wiggling himself just free enough from Rei's grip to flip to face him. He cupped his face, running his thumb back and forth across his cheekbone.

"Hey, Sakuma-san...wake up. It's okay. I'm right here."

Rei shied away from Kaoru's touch, so he opted to rub his shoulder instead. After a few motions, Rei woke with a start, and Kaoru had never seen his eyes blown so wide with fear. The hand draped around Kaoru's waist gripped desperately at his shirt. Rei searched his face for a few long moments, as if confirming Kaoru was not a horrid apparition of the night. Then, he relaxed, focused on Kaoru's eyes as he took slow, deep breaths.

Kaoru's hand moved to cup his cheek. "Are you alright?"

Rei's blinks were rapid, almost like he was afraid to close his eyes again; was he blinking back tears? He refrained from answering. Kaoru could only imagine what his dream was about (and he meant it—never in his life had he seen his unit leader so thoroughly rattled).

"Bad dream?"

The small affirming nod nearly shattered Kaoru's heart. He shifted, moving the hand resting under his pillow to sneak under and behind Rei, pulling him to his chest. As he nestled into the motion, alarm bells went off in Kaoru's mind— crap, I'm still a little hard. He carefully kept his hips a safe distance away. Absentmindedly, he carded his hand through Rei's hair.

"Do you want to talk it out?"

The question was met with a few beats of silence, and Kaoru felt Rei take a few shaky breaths. "N-no. This is alright."

"Okay." He continued running his fingers through Rei's hair, mostly because he wasn't sure if he'd have another chance, and it was impossibly soft in his hands. His shampoo must have been floral, too, and Kaoru wondered just how far Rei had to go to get himself to sleep at night. Especially if this is a common occurrence. As much as he wanted to be held earlier, this felt equally nice. Comforting Rei in the dark quiet of morning...well, he hoped it was comforting, at least. He could only assume so, as he could feel Rei's breathing even out against his neck.

Did he fall back asleep, maybe?

"Kaoru-kun," Rei mumbled sleepily, and Kaoru nearly started from the sound. "You're so warm."

"I–um, thank you…?" His stomach flipped from the sudden compliment. "Do you feel better?"

Rei hummed. "Much. Though you’re so comfortable, I don't want to get out of bed."

Kaoru smiled into Rei's hair. "We can stay like this for a bit. It's the weekend."

"But my work…"

Ah, right. The work piled on Rei's desk. Sure, it was a lot, but he'd answered most of the questions already anyway, right? Or at least left sticky notes for Rei to use as reference later. So, really, it wouldn't be hard to get through it all.

"I'll help you finish it."

He could practically feel Rei frowning. "I couldn't ask you to do that."

"You don't have to. I'll help you with your work, but only if you let me take you on a date after," he singsonged. "My redemption date, remember?"

Rei's chuckle sent his heart fluttering. "Of course. It's a deal."

Doing Rei's piled up schoolwork with him turned out to be easier than he thought. They split it by subject, Kaoru insisting Rei took all the ones he'd added notes to already (since there was no point unless Rei got to appreciate his help, right?), and Kaoru managing what was left. 

As they worked, he'd steal quiet glances at Rei, hoping each time he wouldn't notice. He was still worried, of course—he couldn't quite shake the feeling from this morning, of seeing him so rattled. That pensive look had stuck to his face like a bad date, creasing his brows and pulling his lips into a thin line as he worked. At some points, he looked like he was about to cry, and Kaoru wasn't sure if he could handle something like that.

"Are you feeling okay, Sakuma-san?" He asked, eyes glued to one of the last few English worksheets that were left in an attempt to be natural. Ultimately, he failed, sneaking a peek at Rei’s face.

Rei glanced up at him like he’d forgotten Kaoru was there. “Yes. I’m fine.”

Kaoru didn't really believe that, but he felt he was in no position to press the matter. He settled for swinging his feet out, resting them gently against Rei's in a silent show of support.

By early afternoon, all that was left were some composition pieces and finishing choreography for 2wink: both things Kaoru couldn't really help with. He stood, stretching out the soreness that had made a home in his back.

"Phew! Not bad, huh? Feel better about what you've got on your plate?"

Rei's expression was dazed, but a small smile ghosted across his lips. "I don't know what to say, Kaoru-kun. I...thank you. You know you didn't have to help me."

"Don't be ridiculous," he said, giving Rei's head a few pats. "You'd have done the same for anyone else without batting an eye. I'm just sorry I didn't help you earlier."

Rei chuckled, and it set a warmth blooming in Kaoru's chest. "You surprise me more and more each day. Now, I believe you had a date for us…?"

He almost sounded hopeful, which was so cute . No girl had ever sounded like that when he asked them on a date. Kaoru smiled, nodding. "Let me go home and wash up, first. Then, I'll pick you up for the real greatest date you've ever been on."

If Kaoru knew one thing about Rei, it was that he didn't get the chance to go out much. That wasn't to say he'd be easy to impress as much as it meant Kaoru had more freedom to revisit old, popular date spots without seeming as cheesy as it truly was. He wavered between whether he should hold Rei's hand, and in the end, settled for offering his arm. Just in case anyone sees. Even after all they'd been through, he couldn't bring himself to accept something so...public. I hope Rei isn't hurt. He shook the thought from his mind. But, we aren't even dating. Why am I worried about this?

"Kaoru-kun, are you nervous?"

He whipped his head to face Rei so fast he thought he'd give himself whiplash. Kaoru smiled. "N-no! I’m just fine, Sakuma-san."

The smile on Rei’s face mirrored his own, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “If you’re sure. So, am I allowed to know where the best date of my life is going to be?”

“Soon, Sakuma-san. Soon.” They rounded the corner into town, and his destination came into view: the local arcade. “You know, you don’t get out very much, so I had to make sure to pick an exciting place for our first date.”

“Is that so?”

“Yup! There’s nothing more important than a first impression for your crush, you know?” His cheeks felt warm, but the building was close by, so he ducked away from Rei to grab the door and hold it for him. “After you.”

“A gentleman, too. Like last time, you really know how to put the moves on me.” His tone was playful, and he even ruffled Kaoru’s hair as he passed him to get inside. “An arcade, hm? Interesting choice. I can’t say I’ve ever actually been here.”

Kaoru smirked from behind him, walking up to loop their arms together again to walk around. “Exactly. There are a ton of different games here, but I’m best at these.” He gestured to the crane games. “If you see something you like, just point it out and I’ll win it. I’m that good.”

Bravado practically sparkling off him, he was surprised Rei stayed silent. Kaoru frowned, looking at Rei. “Hello? Sakuma-san?”

Rei had detached himself from Kaoru’s grip, pressed against the glass of one of the crane games, staring intently… Ah. There was a small plush bat inside with big, adorable red eyes.

“Kaoru-kun.”

He couldn’t help but smile. Rei’s eyes are almost as big as the bat’s. “Yes?”

“I...I...it’s so adorable. How...how do I get it?”

“That little bat? Come on, Sakuma-san, weren’t you listening? I’m a pro at these games. Let me get some coins, I’ll win him for you in one shot.”

He left Rei glued to the crane game to get some coins – way more than strictly necessary for the crane game, but he didn't want to trek back and forth the whole time. He'd rather just let Rei pick whatever he wanted to play and just have a good time. He peeled Rei away from the crane game’s window to play, only for him to latch onto Kaoru moments later. T-too close…! His heart stuttered in his chest, and he shakily put the coin in the slot, closing his eyes and sighing. Come on. Just focus.

It was hard to focus with Rei attached to his back, his breath catching whenever Kaoru got close enough to the prize. “S-Sakuma-san, don’t be so nervous! I’ll get him for you, just watch.” With surgeon-like precision, Kaoru maneuvered the crane over the plush toy. He waited for the crane to stop bobbing back and forth, and then... wham! He smacked his thumb down on the button to lower the crane. Now, came the agonizing part: waiting to see if he’d been successful. Luckily for him, the bat was a good shape for crane games. Easy to grab and not prone to falling out of the sides of the grabber. It wasn’t huge, but there were other, more lucrative prizes to be won.

But not for Kaoru.

The crane lilted over to the drop area, bat still clenched in its jaws. Kaoru grinned. Yes! It dropped the bat into the container and Rei practically leapt at it, pulling the small plush out and smiling at Kaoru, eyes glimmering.

Kaoru’s face heated up; he didn’t know Sakuma-san could look this cute. He tried to be suave with a grin, though. “See? I told you I could get it in one try!”

“Thank you, Kaoru-kun,” Rei pulled Kaoru into a hug, burying his face into Kaoru’s neck. “I’ll treasure him for as long as I live.”

Tensing up, Kaoru hesitantly hugged him back. “R-right. Don’t mention it! Really! Listen, that’s just one game, right? So… we should play some more!”

They bounced from game to game, playing anything they had enough tokens for: skee ball, basketball, pinball, air hockey, and even a round of those weird coin-pusher gambling games. All told, they’d amassed an insane amount of tickets, despite Rei being horrible at every game he touched. It was almost cute, and Kaoru always felt cool swooping in and winning a long row of tickets for Rei to hold on to. He’d drop compliments, too, calling Kaoru “skilled” and “agile” and “cool.” Kaoru was sure some of it was teasing, but every time he checked for a playful glimmer in Rei’s eyes, all he saw was a genuine smile.

It made his ears burn.

After running out of tokens and exhausting the most fun games to play, Kaoru led them to the prize counter to trade their tickets in. Rei placed them on the counter and the attendee took them reel by reel, feeding them into a ticket counter.

Kaoru leaned over the prizes in the glass case. “So, Sakuma-san, anything catch your eye?”

“Hmm. Shouldn’t we wait for the tickets to be counted before choosing a prize? It’s bad luck to count your chickens before they hatch, isn’t it?”

“This isn’t the same thing! We can aim big for a nice prize, and if we don’t have the tickets we can just pick something else.”

Rei hummed again, crouching in front of the counter to get a closer look at the prizes. “These look cute, don’t you think? The matching rings.”

Quirking a brow, Kaoru followed Rei’s finger until he saw what he was referring to: a pair of medium-sized looking rings with fox mask settings and a wispy-looking filigree around the shanks.

“If you want those, boys, you’re in luck,” The attendant said, smiling. “They’re 500 tickets for the set, and your total is 514.”

“Let’s get them, then. Can we redeem anything with the last 14?”

“I’ll check.” She disappeared into the back room, emerging with a couple of bins of trinkets. “Each of the items in these bins would be worth 5 points each. You can take three.”

“Three? But we only have 14 points,” Rei questioned.

She waved it off. “You two are cute together, so consider it my treat.” Bending down to unlock the glass case, she retrieved the rings and set them on the countertop. "Here are these, too. I've gotta help some other kids, but you two have a good night, okay?"

"Yep, sure, thanks!" Kaoru said, grateful the moment she left. He picked through the small prizes in the bins – it was mostly erasers and weird-looking pens.

"Oh, Kaoru-kun, look!" Rei laughed, lifting a dog-shaped pencil topper from the bin. "Doesn't this remind you of Koga?"

He smirked. It was tacky and ridiculous and glittery and Koga would hate it. But Kaoru couldn’t help how badly he wanted to see the look on his face if Rei gave it to him as a gift. "Oh, for sure. He'd probably love something like that."

"We should keep it for him, then." Rei continued pilfering through the bin, smiling broadly when he discovered another trinket. "And this for Adonis!"

It was another pencil topper, shaped like a cute bear. Kaoru laughed. "Man, even now, you're thinking of our juniors. What a good leader you are."

"Well, we would have never found these if not for your wonderful playing, Kaoru-kun. You'll have to be the one to give these to them."

Kaoru could imagine how the scenario would play out when he'd give them the toppers—Koga might hit him, but he knows he'd hide a smile. Adonis might be confused at first (Kaoru tried not to make a habit of giving gifts to any boys, cute juniors or not), but he'd accept it and probably use it every day.

"I don't know," he hummed, picking through more of the bin's mysteries. "I've never been good at that sort of thing."

Rei caught his hand, placing the toppers in his palm and closing his own around it. He met his eyes with an earnest smile. "It's never too late to start being the kind of person they can look up to."

The affectionate gesture combined with that open, honest gleam in Rei's eyes made Kaoru's chest tighten affectionately. "Y-yeah, maybe," he admitted, barely audible as he pocketed the dog and the bear. "W-we should pick another trinket before it gets too late! There's somewhere else I want to take you."

"Oh, is that so?" Rei gestured. "Your pick, then."

Kaoru had no honest aim as he sifted through the rest of the bin, pushing aside some of the more gaudy accessories and especially cheap-looking trinkets. Eventually, though, his eye caught a fluffy, purple pen – just stupid enough for him to grab and flourish to Rei immediately.

“For you.” He motioned to the small bat nestled in Rei’s arms. “It matches your new best friend, there.”

The light in Rei’s eyes when he noticed the connection was unmistakably adorable, and Kaoru wanted to bottle it up and keep it in a locket near his heart so he could look at it whenever he needed.

“I’ll be sure to treasure it forever, as a reminder of our first date.” Rei smiled, and it took all of Kaoru’s energy not to melt on the spot. He couldn’t believe how sheepish one remark made him – Rei already knew his feelings, after all, but the feeling of his heart about to leap out of his chest was insistent.

He distracted himself by scooping up the rings in his hand. “We can’t forget these, either.” He raised a sly brow to Rei. “Want to wear them?”

Kaoru was met with the kind of smirk reserved for a challenger, his voice dropping. “Only if you’re the one to put it on my finger.”

A nervous laugh slipped past his lips before he could think to stop it, his cheeks blooming red. “Man, when you know what you want, you really pounce for it, huh? Give me your hand.” He couldn’t keep the grin off his face, quietly sliding one of the fox rings onto Rei’s finger – it would only fit on his pinky, since these prizes were clearly made for kids. Kaoru couldn’t help but chuckle – they looked silly, with their gaudy prize rings on matching pinkies. Still, his hands lingered over Rei’s. “Sorry it’s the wrong finger…”

Now it was Rei’s turn to blush. He squeezed Kaoru’s hands. “If that’s what’s on your mind, trust me – it’s the sentiment that counts.”

The conversation was treading toward dangerous commitment territory, and equal parts warmth and panic fought to see which could make his chest more tight. Both won, and he was left not wanting to meet Rei’s eyes. “R-right. H-hey, let’s get out of here, okay? I think we’re getting too mushy for all the kids here.”

As they made their way back toward the front to leave, Kaoru made sure to hold Rei’s hand.

It was the perfect time to bring Rei out to the beach – the sun was starting to set over the horizon, most of the crowd had thinned, and the sea offered a blissfully cool breeze. They’d abandoned their shoes and walked along the shoreline, just above the tide since the water was too cold to enjoy the feeling of it lapping at their feet. Walking hand-in-hand felt nice enough for now, anyway, now that Kaoru had pushed past the initial panic of holding Rei’s hand in the first place. He turned his face to the sea breeze, taking a deep breath and enjoying the sound.

“You truly look like you belong here, Kaoru-kun,” Rei’s voice floated over to him, snapping him out of his daze.

“Maybe I do,” Kaoru joked back. I can’t tell him that it’s because I come here to avoid all my problems. Or cry about them. He brushed their shoulders together. “What, don’t tell me your jealous? Do you think the sea is my only love?”

“You’d trust those waves with your life, I think,” Rei said, a glimmer in his eye Kaoru couldn’t quite read. “That counts well enough as love, in its own way. Don’t you think?”

For a minute, Kaoru was quiet. It wasn’t like Rei was wrong – as a surfer, he had to trust the waves, but he knew there was a second meaning to what Rei was saying. He squeezed the hand he was holding, running his thumb over Rei’s knuckles. The tide rose, forcing their walking path further up the beach. It was almost like it was daring Kaoru to stop running toward it, and into Rei, instead.

He sighed, watching their feet. “I think you’re partly right,” he admitted. “But I think those definitions of trust and love…they’re different. I trust the ocean not to swallow me when I ride the waves, right? But I also trust it to…swallow up my secrets, I guess.”

“Secrets?”

Kaoru nodded. “The ocean will always listen to me. I can talk to it, scream at it, cry at it, and it’ll never judge me. You can’t be in trouble with the ocean, y’know? It’s…safe. It swallows up everything you don’t want to show to the world and takes it far, far away. It doesn’t hit you, or tell you that you’re worthless, or that you won’t amount to anything.”

“Kaoru…”

“But for all that it listens, it doesn’t give that much back,” He continued, looking to face Rei fully. “It won’t ask you if you’re doing okay. It won’t notice when your eyes are puffy from crying. And it won’t snuggle against your back while you’re asleep.”

Rei looked fit to cry himself, so Kaoru tried for a smile. “Get it? Sure, I love it here. I love the beach and the ocean is relaxing. It’s better than being at home. But my heart is with you.” Yeesh, it’s hard to maintain eye contact. He let go of Rei’s hand to cup his cheek, instead. “I think it has been for a while. I wish I’d accepted it sooner.”

When did their faces get so close? Had he really been leaning in this whole time? When did they stop walking? His heart was pounding. Should I kiss him? He really, really wanted to - their lips were so close, he could feel Rei’s breath against his. Threading his fingers through Rei’s (soft, soft) curls, he gave in and closed the gap.

He hardly realized how much he missed the way their lips fit together until now, kissing Rei again for the first time since their fake date. This time, it was real, and he wanted to pour every ounce of love into this one kiss, this singular moment, so he could be sure Rei knew how he felt.

When Kaoru pulled away, he hadn’t even realized that he’d dropped his shoes in the sand to cup Rei’s face with both hands. He smiled again, his heart feeling as warm as the sun. “I love you, Rei.”

Rei’s breath hitched, his eyes scanning all over Kaoru’s features like he couldn’t decide where to look. “K-Kaoru-kun, you—my—I-I…” He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “You’ll make my poor old heart give out, with all that. Are you sure this is what you want?”

Kaoru swallowed. He wanted to be mad at the suggestion, but Rei had a point – even after all this, he could think Kaoru was just following the whims of his heart. Maybe he even thought Kaoru would dump him and move on after he was tired of it. As if I was ever the one doing the dumping, hah.  

He dropped Rei’s face and wrung his wrists, idly spinning the toy ring on his pinky. “Remember when you asked me if I trusted you? If I’d confide in you?”

Rei nodded, so Kaoru went on. “I didn’t say anything, then, but part of me wanted to. Knew that I should’ve taken you up on it. But I ran away. You…I didn’t want you to get wrapped up in what I was going through. I came here. I sat against the seawall and I…you know what I wanted? More than anything else? 

“You. To run back to school, barge back into the practice room, and throw myself into your arms. I wanted you to just—just pat my head and tell me everything would be okay. That it would all be worth it. That I was worth it. Worth anything. I—” His chest was tight for a whole different reason, and focused on the sand between his toes and sucked in a breath. “I knew you cared and you were trying, and I pushed you away. But, Rei, I’m so tired of running. I want this. I promise, I want this. To be with you. D-do you…Is that okay?”

For a minute, no matter how hard Kaoru looked, he couldn’t grasp the emotion on Rei’s face, but he was quiet – even though he said he loved him earlier, Kaoru knew it came from an adrenaline-inflused place. He could just as easily take it back now that Kaoru’s laid more of himself bare; it’s not like he’d blame him. Still, he continued to nervously twist the toy ring around his finger, waiting.

Then, Rei laughed at him. “Why do you look so nervous? Of course it’s okay. I told you, didn’t I? I’ll always have room in my heart for you.” His free hand settled on Kaoru’s waist, rubbing up and down as the tide came and went, pushing Kaoru’s anxieties away. “I want to be with you, too.”

Kaoru’s heart fluttered; then, he frowned. “Okay, but I do have one condition. I can’t be doing all the leaning. You’re going to have to lean on me, too, got it? You’ll make my heart give out if I find you passed out somewhere in school or at home again.”

“Fair enough. I will.”

“Promise me. Right now. Say that you promise you’ll come to me when you get overwhelmed.”

“I promise,” Rei said, gaze piercing. “I will let you know when I’m feeling overdrawn and could use a helping hand. I’ll do my best for you.”

“Good.” The sun was setting fast, now, and the beach was starting to feel a little cold. He scooped up his shoes, offering his hand to Rei’s again. “Let me walk you home?”

The evening turned brisk, but the walk back to the Sakuma residence was peaceful. They kissed again – no date was complete without a goodnight kiss, after all – and Kaoru felt warm the whole way back home. He took the longest path he could, to hang on to the happiness and to make extra sure everyone at his house was asleep by the time he got back.

He turned the key as quietly as possible, sliding in and closing the door with a soft click. Carefully, he removed his shoes, keeping an ear open for any noise throughout the house. Nothing. Good. I think everyone went to sleep.

When he rounded the doorway to the living room to get to the stairs, an imposing voice stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Where the hell have you been.”

Kaoru nearly jumped out of his skin – his father was sitting in his lounge chair, arms crossed, glaring daggers at him. His keys clattered on the floor and it was like setting off a hundred tiny fireworks. He bent down, scooped them up, and shakily shoved them into his pocket.

“Answer me.”

“I-I was out.”

“You didn’t come home last night,” His father stood, crossing the room with inhuman speed and looming over Kaoru. “Where is so far out that you can’t even come back home?”

He couldn’t tell the truth. But what’s the best lie…? “I got a call. I had to help at school, so—”

“Bull shit.” His hand slammed the wall, and Kaoru jumped. “I used some of my local connections to see where you were. What you were up to.”

Kaoru’s heart slammed its way to his throat. He didn’t know where to look – he tried to back away, but his father seized his wrist and yanked. He knew better than to fight back, but it was an instinct, trying to pull away. It only made his father grip his wrist tighter. He was squinting at Kaoru’s hand, and following his gaze, Kaoru’s eyes blew wide: he forgot to take off the ring.

No, no, no…!

“Philandering is one thing, Kaoru, but whoring yourself out for men?!” He ripped the plastic ring off Kaoru’s pinky leaving scrapes in its wake, and crushed the fragile plastic along with it, throwing the pieces down to the floor. “I should’ve figured you were this pathetic. Do you care about this family’s reputation at all?”

Kaoru forced himself to swallow around the lump rising in his throat. “I wasn’t with—”

“Don’t you dare try to lie your way out of this, you filthy piece of shit.” He growled, throwing his wrist down and pulling him up by his shirt collar. “My sources saw you with that Sakuma boy, making eyes at each other like you couldn’t wait to get it on.”

Kaoru grit his teeth. “What are you going to do? Kick me out?”

“Hah!” He barked. Kaoru winced. “You wish I’d do that, don’t you? Then you could go live your little dream life with your boyfriend. I’m not kicking you out because I won’t have a scandal over our good name. You are going to be on watch every moment you’re not at school or here. If you step one toe out of line, you’ll be under house arrest and homeschooled my way. You understand?”

“You can’t control my life like that!” Kaoru bit back at him, immediately regretting it when he saw his father raise his fist. He knew what was coming next, but he hardly had time to brace himself before his father’s fist connected with the side of his skull. He must have let go of his shirt, because Kaoru’s back collided with the wall, his shoulder erupting in pain that sparked down his back. Dizzy, he crumbled to the floor, holding his head.

“You lost control of your life the second you thought fucking around with men was the right answer.” He kicked Kaoru’s stomach, shoving him harder against the wall as he cried out in pain. “You’re disgusting.”

Kaoru’s head swam with pain – his fingers felt wet where he was holding it, too. Maybe he was bleeding? And he was still dizzy, but he had to get up. His everything hurt and he was shaking and he felt like he couldn’t breathe, but he had to get up. But he couldn’t: his limbs weren’t cooperating. All he could do was stare at the pieces of the ring he’d won only hours ago, scattered on the floor across from him, and cry as his father walked out of the room.

“And don’t even think about running away.”

Somehow, Kaoru made it to his bed. When he woke up the next morning, his shoulder stung and his head ached, but the full-body throb had died down considerably. He was up before his alarm and it was still dark outside. If he was lucky, his father would still be asleep. If he wasn't…

Well, he'd have to figure it out, then.

Learning what the aftermath looked like in the mirror wasn't a surprise, but he still had to keep from groaning. Great. I have to cover this. It had been...a long time since he had to put makeup over a black eye, but he at least remembered the advice Izumi had given him. Unfortunately, there was also a cut near his eyebrow, which would be almost impossible to hide. Especially from Rei...ugh, crap. It stung as he pat the makeup down over his eye, and he settled for a band-aid over the cut. His hair would cover most of it, and the rest he tried to blend out with makeup.

He kept his head down throughout the rest of his morning routine, and walked the shortest route to school. The periodic employees from his father’s work were positioned just obviously enough to show Kaoru that his father meant business; it sent a chill down his spine.

School felt worse, somehow. His class was eerily quiet - not that they usually badgered him with questions, but it was almost like they knew what happened, which made Kaoru feel grossly exposed.

Practice came and went in a flash. Throughout the day, it felt more and more like he was going through the motions, not really paying attention. Koga and Adonis left, and he thought maybe he waved to them. He didn’t have their pencil toppers, but he wasn’t sure he was in the mood for gift-giving, anyway.

He was staring absently into his gym bag when a hand appeared atop his, which he immediately jumped away from, heart leaping into his throat.

“Kaoru-kun, love, it’s just me,” Rei pulled back, crouching beside him. “You’re shaking. What…what happened?”

His vision swam. “My dad,” he whispered. “He found out.”

“About…”

It was almost like Rei didn’t want to say it. “About us,” Kaoru confirmed.

“And did he…” Rei swallowed. “Did he do this to you?”

Kaoru nodded. “I probably have to go straight home. If he suspects anything…he’ll homeschool me. I-I’m sorry, Sakuma-san, I…it’s all my fault. I got careless. I can’t we can’t be together like this. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Oh, Kaoru-kun, no, it’s not your fault,” Rei scooted closer, wrapping his arms around Kaoru in a hug, and Kaoru sank into it, shakily breathing in the familiar lavender scent. “Just focus on school and practice. We graduate soon, right? We’ll move away, you and me, to debut as an idol pair. You’ll never have to look back.”

Rei was smoothing down his hair, rubbing small circles on his back, and he felt so warm and it wasn’t fair that he didn’t get to have this without consequence. There were so many ways this could go wrong, and Kaoru felt his eyes welling up with tears before he could stop them.

“What if we don’t succeed? If the company kicks us out, I’ll have to have to come back,” He wept.

“I’ll do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. Even if it did, you could just live with me. You’re an adult, Kaoru-kun. He won’t have any say in how you live your life.”

“He’ll try to find a way.”

“And I won’t let him succeed.” Rei’s tone shifted to something darker. “I won’t let him get away with hurting you so deeply. I love you, and I promise you I’ll do absolutely everything I can to keep you safe. Do you trust me?”

The last time Rei asked Kaoru if he trusted him, Kaoru dodged around the answer like it was going to burn him. Now, for some reason, he believed Rei. Maybe it had something to do with how securely Rei held him; maybe Kaoru just wanted this to work so much that he didn’t mind putting his faith in him. He worked really hard to ensure UNDEAD’s success, after all – why wouldn’t it be the same for them as a pair?

“Yeah.” Kaoru sniffed. “I trust you.”

He could feel Rei’s smile in the kiss he pressed to the top of Kaoru’s head. “Good. Do you feel a little better?”

Kaoru pulled away, nodding. “Thank you.”

“Don’t even mention it,” Rei assured. “Just get home safely and rest up.”

He reassured Rei he would be fine, even though he wasn’t sure of the truth behind the sentiment. To his surprise, Kaoru found the house quiet. It was the same the next day, and the day after. All month long, he was left largely undisturbed: if not for the semi-obvious employees keeping watch on him, he’d have thought he hallucinated the whole scenario with his father. Still, he mostly stuck to his room, doing homework and picking up tasks for UNDEAD’s lives, per Rei’s request. It’ll help keep your mind off things, he’d said. He was right, of course, and while it was kind of a drag initially, Kaoru really found himself enjoying it by the end.

When he was positive nobody else was home – typically midday on Sunday – he would pluck some notes down on an acoustic guitar he was borrowing from the light music club. He couldn’t go out without getting in trouble, so he’d come up with something to keep himself busy at home. Writing a song wasn’t as easy as Rei made it seem, but there was a lot welling up inside him right now, and expressing it through music was...surprisingly calming. Hah. If this works, Rei won’t even know what hit him when he hears it. He was working on a duet, hoping Rei would like it enough to include it on their debut album. 

The months passed like a long blink; Kaoru treaded carefully and kept his head down, working hard enough that even Anzu-chan was complimenting him by the year’s end, and Souma had stopped glaring at him so fiercely. The graduation lives were more akin to a festival of emotions, and most of it was too mushy for Kaoru to partake in. He couldn’t help but feel proud of Koga and Adonis, though: they’d grown a lot over their last few months together, and all of UNDEAD was really in sync.

After the dressing room had cleared, he caught up with Rei in the hallway. “Is this how you feel all the time?”

Rei simply quirked a brow.

“This…I dunno, this pride. Koga and Adonis…they’re gonna be fine without us, aren’t they?”

Rei got a wistful gleam in his eye, staring straight ahead at their two juniors, talking excitedly. “They will. Isn’t it a wonderful feeling? Now, you and I can focus on making our debut something to remember.”

Kaoru smiled wide. “It is. And we will. I have a surprise for you about that, actually,” he fished around his pockets and held out a flash drive. “Listen to it when you get home today.”

“Listen…? Kaoru, what is this?”

He rubbed the back of his neck, suddenly sheepish. “Um, it’s a song. For us, if you like it.”

“You wrote us a song?”

“Wh-why do you sound so shocked?!” He laughed nervously. “It’s not like I had anything else to do!”

“I’m happy,” Rei laughed back, ruffling his hair. “You know, starting today you’re a free man. Why don’t we listen to it together in the light music room once the festivities are over?”

Kaoru’s cheeks bloomed red. “U-uh, I don’t know, m-maybe it’s best for you to listen on your own, you know?”

“Kaoru-kun,” Rei cupped his cheek, leaning close and only making him blush harder. “If you can’t even listen to it with me, how would you be able to sing it beside me onstage? Don’t be silly.”

“I—”

“Oi, grandpas! Quit bein’ all rosy with each other and catch up already, will ya?! We’ll leave you behind!”

“We’ll meet in the music room later, then,” Rei said, walking ahead to catch up with Koga and Adonis, leaving Kaoru to trail behind, a flustered mess.

Rei sat thigh-to-thigh with Kaoru in the music room, which he thought to be a little excessive. Nobody else was around; students had spaced out to a trickle, and anyone who hung around was part of the student council. A borrowed laptop was in front of them, and Kaoru had connected his flash drive and loaded up the song.

“Well? Are you going to play it?”

“Yes. I am.”

Rei brushed their shoulders together. “Alright, are you going to play it today?”

“It’s more nerve-wracking than just sending you home with it, Sakuma-san!”

“Ah-ah-ah,” Rei chastised, reaching over to hold Kaoru’s hand. “No more of that. We’re graduated, and beyond that, we’re going to debut as a pair of equals. It’s only you and me here. Please, won’t you call me Rei?”

“Sorry. Habit, you know? I’ll try. That said, please enjoy the song…Rei-kun.”

He pressed play, and the soft sound of his acoustic filled the space. Then, his voice joined, low and soft toward Rei’s register. Looped over top was his actual part of the song. It was an upbeat duet, softened by the lack of layered instrumental backing. Kaoru tried not to watch Rei’s face for the whole song – like he said, the whole reason he tried to pass off a USB with the file on it in the first place was so he wouldn’t have to feel so nervous about how Rei reacted. Is he smiling? He’s tapping his foot a little…I guess that’s a good sign. He was still holding on to Rei’s hand, so he focused on that instead. He threaded their fingers together, wondering how long they would be able to last like this. They made plans to move out to an apartment together already, and Rei let him know he’d been speaking with a company for them to debut under that would accept Koga and Adonis back into the mix once they were done with school. But...was he just running away? Was his song worth singing, with Rei? He anxiously ran his thumb across Rei’s finger as the song faded, reaching over to tap the spacebar so it wouldn’t play again.

Kaoru didn’t want to speak first, so he waited, staring at their hands and how well they fit together. I really want this to last. I hope you feel it too, Rei.

He was starting to think Rei hated it when he heard a soft sniffle come from beside him, drawing his attention to Rei’s face at last. He was blinking back tears, but he was smiling.

“I’m so proud of you,” Rei laughed, wiping at his eyes. “I never thought you’d come to me with something like this. You’ve grown so much as an idol, now you’re passionate enough to write such beautiful music. For us.”

“H-hey, don’t cry so much. You’ll make me cry, saying sappy stuff like that.”

“Listen to yourself,” Rei said, pressing the spacebar and letting the acoustic start up again. “Really listen. Tell me, don’t you hear your emotion? Your love?”

Kaoru tried to remove himself from his process of making the song – trying not to think of how he struggled to string some of the notes to make the bridge smooth into the chorus, but instead trying to listen from Rei’s perspective. He could hear it, if he thought about it: the emotion Rei was talking about. At the time, he’d chalked the sound up to his frustration and desperation to leave, but Rei had a point.

Still. “You’re being a little dramatic, Rei-kun.”

“How could I not? It struck a chord,” He said, cupping Kaoru’s cheek in his free hand. “I can’t wait to refine it together and bring it to our producer.”

“Y-yeah,” Kaoru said, suddenly feeling a little breathless. “Me, too.”

They held each other’s gazes in the almost-quiet of the music room, and it hit Kaoru then that he was really free. Free. And he was going to move out, to live with Rei and start something brand new together. It was nerve-wracking and exciting and grossly, domestically romantic all at once, and Kaoru reeled at the feeling. It swelled in his chest and made him warm and airy all over, like he had to hang on to Rei just to stay grounded in the music room. There was a thought that nagged at him; sure, maybe something wouldn’t work. He was sure it wouldn’t be perfect.

But they’d figure that out together, wouldn’t they? Kaoru was sure of it.

He leaned forward, so close that he could feel Rei’s breath on his lips, and he asked, “Will you be my boyfriend?”

Rei caressed Kaoru’s cheek and smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”