Wakefulness comes to Kojiro in fits and starts. The first few times he’s still drunk, probably, based on the way the bed seems to spin beneath him. Eventually the dizziness gives way to a dry mouth, a headache, and then a pressing ache in his bladder. He still resists waking up, because he’s warm and comfy.
When he does finally manage to rouse himself, it’s to a mouthful of hair. He spits it out, mildly grossed out until he recognise the colour and realises it’s Kaoru’s. It’s not quite as bad, if it’s him.
Waking up in bed with Kaoru is nothing new — they’ve shared beds countless times over the course of their friendship, especially when travelling, like now. The fact that Kaoru is snuggled right up, head pillowed on his chest and drooling (which is equal parts gross and cute, much to Kojiro’s dismay), well, that isn’t so strange either. Kaoru likes to cuddle, although he’d probably rather die than admit it, and Kojiro does too. They’d long since come to an understanding on the matter and no longer felt any shame — it helps, probably, that they’ve both seen each other at their absolute worst. A little bit of platonic cuddling is nothing compared to to the stupid shit they’ve seen each other do over the years.
It’s a little bit masochistic on Kojiro’s side, because he’s loved Kaoru probably as long as he’s known him and he would very much like to wake up with Kaoru in his arms every morning for the rest of his life, drool and all, but, well… there are limits, after all, and they might be best friends who cuddle platonically, but that’s all it is.
He’ll take best friends over nothing, though.
Kojiro carefully untangles himself from Kaoru, who grumbles and wraps his arms tight around the pillow Kojiro shoves into his embrace. He buries his face into it, sighs, and falls back asleep.
He must have really drank a lot, if he’s sleeping that deeply.
It’s only when Kojiro’s in the shower, lathering himself up, that he notices the ring.
He doesn’t wear rings. He doesn’t own any.
It’s a gold band with a massive dark stone. It’s hideous and looks like something from a cheap mafia thriller.
He’s wearing it on his ring finger.
Kojiro stares at it, letting the water rinse over him.
When did he get that?
Worryingly, he can’t remember. Worse, he finds he can’t remember anything from the night before, no matter how hard he tries. He remembers going out with Kaoru for dinner, and then heading to a bar, leaving said bar, and then…
Alright, it’s not the first time he’s drunk himself to oblivion. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Kaoru usually fills him in on the sordid details. So he’ll ask Kaoru what the hell happened and, as usual, Kaoru will let him know about the myriad ways in which he embarrassed himself. Nothing new.
But the ring is new. And they’re in Vegas. He has a bad feeling about those two facts and worries that they might, in fact, be related.
He rinses off quickly and dries off equally fast, uncaring of the way his hair still drips against his shoulders when he slips back into the bedroom.
Kaoru is awake. His hair’s a disaster and he’s wearing one of Kojiro’s shirts, which is slipping off his shoulder. Ordinarily Kojiro would take a few moments to enjoy the view, but today Kaoru is looking at his left hand, at something that sparkles on his finger.
“What happened last night?” Kojiro asks, terrified of the answer.
Kaoru looks up at him, eyebrows arched in surprise.
“You don’t remember?”
Kojiro tries once more, but, no, nothing.
“Nothing after leaving that wine bar we went to… Do you?”
Kaoru squints at him.
He looks around for his phone, hoping that they’ll at least have photos to try and piece everything together. Instead, finds the certificate buried under Kaoru’s jeans. A marriage license, dated yesterday with Kojiro Nanjo and Kaoru Nanjo written in English.
Kojiro falls into the chair then, stunned. He kind of wants to cry.
They… really got married in Vegas.
Nanjo! Kaoru! His brain screams at him.
He buries his face into his hands and laughs, maybe sobs, once. Nanjo fucking Kaoru. It was like every single one of his stupid daydreams from high school had come alive.
“…What’s wrong?” comes Kaoru’s voice, hesitant.
“I think we got married last night,” Kojiro blurts out, before he can even think about breaking it to Kaoru in a calm and reassuring manner. This is exactly the sort of thing that Kaoru will freak out about.
But Kaoru doesn’t say anything and when Kojiro looks, he’s staring at the ring again.
“…You think?” Kaoru asks, calm. He’s wearing an inscrutable expression on his face. Either that or he has a migraine, it’s hard to tell.
“Uh, well, I know,” Kojiro admits, picking up the certificate gingerly. “There’s… a certificate.”
Kaoru squints in his direction. He probably can’t read the writing from this far. The fact that he isn’t screaming yet is nothing short of a miracle. It’s a matter of seconds now, for sure.
“…Let me see it,” Kaoru says, slipping out of the bed. He’s got no pants on, just Kojiro’s shirt and a pair of underwear. It’s so appallingly domestic, especially in light of recent developments, that Kojiro worries he really might cry. Kaoru plucks the document from his fingers, and then Kojiro drops his head into his hands, massaging his stinging eyes.
Kaoru doesn’t say anything, not even about the way he’d written his name—Nanjo Kaoru, his brain helpfully reminds him—and the ensuing silence is worse than any of his yelling could ever be.
“We don’t have enough time to get divorced,” Kojiro mumbles against his hands. They’re flying home that afternoon.
“It’s not a big deal,” Kaoru says after a moment. He’s remarkably calm. “It’s not like this is valid in Japan, anyway.”
It’s true, but it hurts to hear nonetheless. Equally painful to know that Kaoru is unbothered by the fact that he accidentally married his best friend while under the influence. Kojiro doesn’t know if it says more about the depth of their friendship or the complete lack of interest Kaoru clearly has in him as a romantic partner.
“Besides,” Kaoru says, tapping the paper against Kojiro’s head. His vision is blurred when he drops his hands to take the certificate back. “I don’t want to be divorced before I’m thirty.”
Kojiro laughs then, a strangled sort of sound, but it’s not really funny because he doesn’t understand how Kaoru is so calm. They got married! Neither of them remember it! They don’t have enough time to get divorced!
“How are you so calm? I’m gonna be real, I expected a lot more screaming.”
Kaoru grimaces for a moment, and there, it is bothering him!
“…It’s just …whatever. It’s not a big deal,” he says again, turning away to rummage through his suitcase. “It’s only an issue if we make it one.”
He’s not wrong. But still.
“It feels like it should be a big deal,” Kojiro argues. “It’s a big deal for me, I’m freaking out.”
“I can tell,” Kaoru mutters.
“We don’t even remember what happened! How are you not freaking out?”
“Because what’s done is done, and we don’t have time to undo it!” Kaoru snaps, shooting a glare at him. “I’m sorry you’re legally stuck with me in this one country, I didn’t realise the idea was so abhorrent.” He sneers, and before Kojiro can even begin to unpack that, he storms off into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
Silence, and then the running of the shower.
Kojiro drops his head back into his hands and wonders how the fuck they’re supposed to come back from this.
Kaoru takes so long in the shower that Kojiro has packed both their suitcases, even though he knows Kaoru will repack his own. He waits around a bit longer, but Kaoru still doesn’t emerge, so he goes down to the hotel buffet and waits for Kaoru there.
He doesn’t know what to do about the whole marriage issue. He’s clearly offended Kaoru, somehow, which wasn’t the intent, but he also can’t cope with the fact that they’re legally married and how much he would like to be actually married. His short-term solution is to either ignore it or laugh about it, because the only other option is to curl up into a ball and cry, and, well, he can’t do that until he gets home.
He does nearly lose it when it finally occurs him to check his phone, which, fuck, is full of photos from the night before. He can’t look at them, not now, when Kaoru could come down at any minute. So he swiftly closes the app, looks at his messages, nearly screams, and then just puts his phone face down on the table and pretends like none of the last five minutes have happened.
He’s finished eating by the time Kaoru finally slinks into the dining room, looking ridiculously overdramatic with his oversized shirt and shades. It just screams I’m hangover!
“Thanks for packing,” he mutters when he joins Kojiro at the table. It’s peace offering, and Kojiro gladly grabs hold of it. He then immediately fucks it up.
“I think we sent photos to people.”
Kaoru looks up from his eggs, expression unreadable with the huge sunglasses covering his face. All Kojiro can see is his own reflection.
“Only Kimiko?” Kaoru asks, even as Kojiro sees another, far worse name, next to his sisters.
“Uh… and Koichi.”
Kaoru’s mouth presses into a thin line.
“Shit,” Kojiro agrees weakly. Kimiko can keep a secret, but Koichi …well, clearly he hasn’t told anyone, yet, but it’s only a matter of time before the entire extended family, including Kaoru’s mother, find out.
“I feel like I should warn my mother,” Kaoru sighs. “But I also don’t want to initiate that conversation.”
“Send her a message right before we board,” Kojiro suggests. “Then she’ll have a solid day to absorb it before you get home.”
“She’ll be happy for us, even if I say it was an accident,” Kaoru says absently, stabbing his fork into his eggs. “She thinks I can’t take care of myself.”
“You can’t,” Kojiro points out, grinning at little at the glare Kaoru shoots him. “You barely remember to eat, and when you do you set things on fire.”
“That was one time!” Kaoru snaps. “Anyway, it’s not like I’m moving in with you just because of this. Nothing changes.”
That’s both depressing and comforting.
“Seriously though,” Kojiro says. “This doesn’t change anything, right?”
Kaoru frowns, a delicate little line appearing between his brows. Kojiro resists the urge to reach over and smooth it out with his thumb.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…” What does he mean? “This …getting married …we’re still friends, right? We just happen to be legally married in a country we don’t live in.”
“We’re still friends,” Kaoru agrees, turning his attention back to his food, although he doesn’t eat. “As much as it pains me to admit. Your family is going destroy you, though.”
“That’s okay,” Kojiro says, even though he’s already dreading it. Kimiko agreed to pick them up from the airport, but he can probably put off seeing the rest of his family for at least a week. “I mean… it’s a good story?”
Kaoru snorts, derisive.
“If you say so.”
“Typical us,” Kojiro sighs. “Getting blackout drunk and marrying.”
“Yeah, so typical,” Kaoru drawls. “Two best friends getting drunkenly married in Vegas. A tale as old as time.”
“Shut up!” Kojiro says, tossing a packet of salt at Kaoru, who bats it back at him. The ring on his finger glints. Kojiro hadn’t realised he was still wearing it, although he hasn’t taken his off either. “Show me your ring.”
Kaoru huffs, but extends his arm across the table so Kojiro can look. He takes Kaoru’s hand in his own, admiring the soft skin, before turning his attention to the ring.
It’s pretty. A bit feminine, given the pink stones set in it, but it’s very pretty. Very expensive looking.
“Man, yours is way nicer than mine,” Kojiro whines, turning Kaoru’s hand in his, so he can see the gems sparkle.
“Yours is hideous,” Kaoru agrees, pulling his hand back. “You must have chosen it yourself.”
“I would never choose something like this,” Kojiro says. He looks at his ring and sighs. “I feel like I’m in the mafia. Or the yakuza.”
“You would totally choose something as ugly as that,” Kaoru says.
“Not sober. How did you end up with the luxury ring and me with somebody’s ugly cast-off?”
“Couldn’t tell you.” It almost sounds like a question, and Kojiro narrows his eyes.
“Do you remember anything?”
“No!” It’s nearly a shout. “I just …mine looks way nicer. Even if it’s pink.”
“It suits you,” Kojiro points out. Kaoru grunts.
It occurs to Kojiro that he should probably check his bank account at some point, to see exactly how much he spent on Kaoru’s ring (presuming, of course, that he paid for it, but he has a feeling he did, and an even worse feeling that the ring was exactly as expensive as it looks).
He sighs, drains the rest of his coffee, and takes in Kaoru’s half-finished plate — he’s going to need buy snacks for him once they’re at the airport. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Kaoru sighs. “Time to go home and meet our doom.”
Midway through the flight Kaoru falls asleep (courtesy of two mini wine bottles, a sleeping pill, and Carla playing lullabies) and snuggles up against Kojiro’s shoulder. He’s sweet when he’s asleep, a warm and comforting weight, and like this, Kojiro can pretend that they got married on purpose.
“Let me see!” Kimiko exclaims when they enter the arrivals hall, bleary and jet-lagged to hell. She doesn’t even hug them, just gestures impatiently. Kojiro doesn’t look at Kaoru as he sticks out his hand, but Kaoru does the same, inexplicably still wearing the ring (Kojiro is grateful, because he’d taken a look at his bank statement and the ring was expensive as hell). Kimiko stares for a moment, and then bursts into loud laughter, drawing looks from pretty much everyone else in the airport.
“You two are so fucking stupid!” she cackles, turning on her heel and leading them out of the airport. “Married in Vegas, I can’t believe it!”
He and Kaoru do look at one another then, and Kojiro is sure the exhausted look on Kaoru’s face matches his own. He shrugs, Kaoru sighs, and they trail after her to where Koichi is waiting with the car. Fuck.
“They really did it!” Kimiko exclaims as she opens the passenger door. He can hear Koichi guffawing as the trunk pops, and Kojiro throws his bag in before taking Kaoru’s and placing it with a bit more care. He lays their boards on top even more gently.
“You two are so stupid!” Koichi yells, echoing Kimiko. Kojiro slams the lid closed with maybe a little more force than necessary and climbs into the back seat with some difficulty, where Kaoru is already buckling himself in with a long-suffering expression on his face.
“Why are you here?” Kojiro asks, maybe a little aggressively, as he grapples with the seatbelt. Koichi smirks at him in the rearview mirror.
“My baby brother got married, the least I can do is give you two lovebirds a ride home!” Kojiro dies a little inside and out of the corner of his eye sees Kaoru drop his head into his hands.
“Shouldn’t you both be ashamed that your younger brother got married before you?” Kojiro tries, buckling himself in as Koichi pulls out of the parking space.
“Nah,” Koichi says. “It’s very on brand for the two of you to do this. Honestly, nobody is really surprised, only that it took this long.”
Well, that’s embarrassing. About a hundred times worse that Kaoru is here to witness it.
“Anyway,” Kimiko swiftly cuts in, turning in her seat. “Other than the wedding, tell me about the rest of the trip. Where else did you guys go?”
Thankful for her timely intervention, Kojiro launches into a detailed narrative about the rest of their trip, which had consisted mostly of a few days in Los Angeles and then a road trip up to Vegas. Kojiro does most of the talking, with only a few interjections from Kaoru, which doesn’t escape him. He’s uncomfortable, probably, and tired — he never deals well with jetlag. Kojiro manages to keep up the conversation over the twenty-minute drive to the apartment Kaoru still shares with his mother, even when Koichi pointedly asks why they’re not going back to Kojiro’s place together. He has, quite honestly, never been more thankful to have to say goodbye to Kaoru.
He clambers out fo the car to help Kaoru with his suitcase, even though Kaoru wearily argues that he doesn’t need help. But he stands aside and lets Kojiro drag it out anyway, and then it’s time to part.
Kojiro is acutely aware of his siblings, who are mostly certainly watching their every move from the car, and he sighs.
“I’m sorry,” he says. This grabs Kaoru’s attention.
“All of this,” he says, gesturing between them. “And the twins.”
“I’m used to them,” Kaoru says with a shrug. “Anyway, it’s fine. It’s no big deal, right?”
“Right,” Kojiro says, like Kaoru hasn’t just twisted the knife lodged in his side. “Get some rest.”
“You too. Tell Koichi thanks for the ride,” Kaoru says, and with that he turns away, slipping around to the back of the building, where the entrance to the apartment is.
He doesn’t look back.
Kojiro climbs back into the car, feeling about a million years old.
“Seriously? You’re really not going home with him?” Koichi asks, yelping when Kimiko slaps him on the back of his head.
“Do you have any tact, idiot?” she asks. They start arguing, then, and Kojiro just slumps against the seat, tuning them out as they bicker the rest of the way to his place.
Later, once he’s unpacked and showered, he allows himself to look at the photos.
Most of them are terrible, blurry and unflattering. There’re a few, though, that someone else clearly took for them, and Kojiro doesn’t know if he wants to delete them or print them and hang them on his living room wall.
They look happy. Kaoru looks happy. They both look so ridiculously, unbelievably happy, beaming at the camera, and Kojiro hates it.
They’re drunk, of course. It’s hard to miss — they’re falling over one another in the photo, eyes glazed, faces flushed. They look like two very drunk people. But they also look like two very happy drunk people, and when Kojiro finds one of them kissing —
Well, he loses it then. He kissed Kaoru and he doesn’t even remember it.
It’s probably the most pathetic thing that’s ever happened to him. And he was the third wheel to the Adam phase.
He doesn’t delete the photos. He also doesn’t print them, because he doesn’t want Kaoru to break every bone in his body. Looking at them makes it feel like his heart has been torn out of his chest, and yet he does, over, and over, and over again.
He doesn’t see Kaoru for an entire week, after that. They don’t even message each other, and although Kojiro has been tempted to, Kaoru’s silence is telling. He needs space.
So maybe the whole marriage thing had freaked him out more than he let on. Kojiro can’t blame him for that. It’s not like he’s dealing well with it either. He still hasn’t spoken to his parents, although he’s sure Kimiko has explained the whole stupid situation to them because they haven’t asked too many questions.
Koichi had sent him a message, later, apologising. That was probably Kimiko’s work as well.
So the week crawls by in a haze of regret and anxiety, tinged with a good dose of self-pity. His nights are spent staring at his phone, hoping that Kaoru will text while he absently scrolls through apps, ignoring the requests from his family asking him to come visit.
When Friday rolls around, he debates skipping S, but ultimately decides that maybe what he needs is to skate, to have a beef — to take someone home, maybe, and get it out of his system, although the thought of it makes him feel irrationally guilty.
He shouldn’t be surprised, but Kaoru shows up too. His heart thumps painfully when they see each other.
“Hey,” Kojiro says, aiming for nonchalant, when Kaoru rolls up beside him, which is a good sign. He’s not actively avoiding Kojiro.
“Hey,” Kaoru echoes. He doesn’t make eye contact, though. And Kojiro has to fight to keep the smile on his face. This isn’t the place to hash out the issues in their personal lives.
Except, maybe, it is. It has been before, when words have failed them in the past. And judging by the way Kaoru is restlessly shifting, looking anywhere but at Kojiro, he thinks maybe that it’s what they need this time, too.
“Hey,” Kojiro says again, quiet. Kaoru does look up this time. “Let’s have a beef.”
Something about the way Kaoru’s eyes sharpen makes it look like he’s smiling a little under the mask. Kojiro feels himself grin a little in response.
“What are the stakes?”
“Loser has to buy dinner,” Kojiro says. Something flashes in Kaoru’s eyes, and Kojiro is sure he’s not imaging the grin, now.
“Fine, prepare to lose.”
“You’re on, Cherry.”
Racing Kaoru is always a thrill, regardless of who wins. The wind against his face, the grind of the wheels against the track — the pieces of his life seem to fall back in line when he steps on his board. The knot in his chest looses with every goading taunt Kaoru throws at him, until there’s no room left in his thoughts but the curve of the track and the centimetres between victory and defeat.
Kojiro does lose, but he’s okay with it because they take off immediately after and when Kaoru pulls down his mask, he’s grinning, wild like when he was just a kid. They pick apart each other’s performance good-naturedly until they wind up at the beach, grabbing half-priced bentos and a few drinks from the convenience store along the way.
“You’re so cheap,” Kaoru complains, even as he cracks open a can and takes a long gulp. He’s laid out his outer robe and carefully set his on top, citing the need to keep it pristine. Weirdo, Kojiro thinks fondly, cracking open his own can of beer.
“It’s late, nothing is open.”
“There’s always something open.”
“You didn’t want chicken, or burgers, or ramen.”
Kaoru grins a little, almost sheepishly, and reaches into the bag for his bento of choice.
“I like these anyway,” he admits, like Kojiro doesn’t know this already. If Kaoru were left to his own devices, he’d eat crap every meal of the day. He’d die of scurvy if Kojiro ever stopped feeding him. Which is all the more reason to continue feeding him.
He peels off his gloves and digs around for his fried chicken. It’s cheap and of dubious origin, and he’d never be caught dead eating it in broad daylight, but it’s the perfect midnight snack. He hums with satisfaction and washes it down with a swig of beer.
“You’re still wearing your ring?” Kaoru says after a moment, almost hesitantly. Kojiro glances at him, and then looks down at his hands, where he is, in fact, still wearing the ring, even though it’s not the wisest decision while taking part in extreme sports. But he hadn’t had the heart to to take it off, other than when he’s at work.
He feels himself flush and knows it isn’t from the beer.
“Oh …aha, yeah,” he says awkwardly. Is there a way to spin this without him looking like a lovesick fool? “I, uh… Well, it’s stupid but I felt bad…taking it off?” His voice rises at the end, effectively making it a question, and fuck, way to go, Kojiro.
To his immense surprise, Kaoru doesn’t make fun of him. In fact, he’s quiet for so long that Kojiro actually gathers enough courage to look at him.
He …also looks embarrassed?
“I’ve got mine on too,” he admits in a rush, shocking Kojiro down to his very core. “It’s pretty,” he says defensively, like it’s a good explanation. But when Kaoru pulls off his own glove to show him, like he’s proving a point, he still has it on his ring finger, which surely isn’t necessary?
“Well …good,” Kojiro says, startled by this turn of events. He can’t quite wrap his head around it. “It was fucking expensive, so you might as well get some use out of it.”
“What? No!” Kaoru yelps, fumbling with his hashi. “Shit, how much was it?”
“I’m not telling you that!” Kojiro says, mostly because he’s embarrassed at how much money he spent on a ring for a fake marriage. “It’s your wedding ring!”
Kaoru rolls his eyes so hard it looks painful.
“It’s not a real wedding ring!” Which, ouch, he’s right, of course, but it hurts to hear anyway. “Kojiro, tell me how much it was!”
“Just keep it as a gift,” Kojiro argues. “You like it anyway, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“I didn’t drain my savings,” Kojiro cuts in. “It was a lot, but nothing I couldn’t afford. But since I bought it for you and we can’t return it now, just wear it for me, as a gift. That’s all I want from you.”
Kaoru is silent for a moment. Kojiro fiddles with the tab on his beer can, wondering if he’s given too much away, when Kaoru finally sighs.
“Fine. But I’m getting you an extra good gift at Christmas.”
“We don’t do Christmas,” Kojiro points out. Kaoru glares at him.
“We do now.” It comes out sounding like a threat, and Kojiro laughs, despite himself. Kaoru pins him with a glare, but after a moment his irritation melts away and then he’s laughing too.
The whole situation is more than a little ridiculous, but at least, Kojiro thinks, they still have this.
It gets a little easier after that. Things mostly go back to normal, except Kojiro still wears the stupid ring when he’s not at work, and Kaoru still wears his too. Kojiro wants to think it means something, but it doesn’t, because he’d told Kaoru to wear the damn thing. He’s probably still wearing it out of guilt.
Kojiro finally replies to his family, but strategically avoids answering any questions about Kaoru besides generic platitudes about his well-being.
This only works for so long though, and he eventually finds himself at a dinner table with his mother, Kimiko, and Kouta.
“I thought you said this was going to be a girls night, plus me,” he says, eyeing his younger brother warily. Kouta shrugs, not looking up from the menu he’s buried his face in.
“I’m just here for the food,” he mutters, in typical teenager fashion. Kimiko shrugs as well, and their mother simply continues browsing the menu.
“He’s just here for the food,” she agrees. “Kojiro, have you eaten here before?”
They chat a little, asking how work is going for Kimiko, and then Kojiro. It’s deceptively normal and Kojiro is almost lulled into a sense of safety. Maybe this won’t end up being a Conversation about Kaoru, their marriage, and Kojiro’s stupidity after all.
His relief is short-lived, because once the waitress has taken their orders, his mother pins him with a stern look that makes him feel all of ten years old again.
“So,” she says with forced casualness. “Why haven’t I seen my son-in-law since you got back from your wedding?”
“Mom,” Kojiro groans, rubbing a hand down his face. “First of all, he’s not your son-in-law, and second of all, it’s not a real marriage!”
“That certificate looked pretty legitimate,” his mother says, and Kimiko wordlessly points at his hand, where he’s still wearing the damn ring.
Kouta, thankfully, doesn’t look up from his phone.
“Yeah, sure, it’s legally valid in the US, but not here. And we were …a little drunk,” he says, not entirely willing to admit just how drunk they were in front of his mother. She probably suspects, of course, because she’s not stupid and from what their father says, she was a bit wild herself back in the day, but still. It’s the principle of it. “Anyway, we agreed we’d get divorced the next time we go to the States.” Not true, they haven’t spoken about it at all, but Kojiro intends to. One day.
“Kojiro.” He’s momentarily saved by the waitress bringing their drinks, although he’s starting to feel like he should have ordered something stronger than a beer. A whiskey, maybe. Or like five tequila shots, even.
His mother shoots the waitress a winning smile as they thank her, but when she leaves she’s all business again. “Kojiro. You have been in love with Kaoru for about half your life. You’re not telling me you want to get divorced?”
“Could you maybe not say that so loud?” Kojiro asks, glancing around just in case Kaoru has decided, for some unknown reason, to frequent this particular establishment tonight. He hasn’t, because Kojiro had checked when they arrived. “And it’s not a valid marriage, it’s not like he wants to be married to me!”
“He was wearing the ring when we picked you guys up from the airport,” Kimiko points our, sipping at her drink.
“It was expensive, I told him he had to wear it.”
“So he’s still wearing it?” Kojiro glares at her.
“I just told you, he has to, it was really expensive.” Kimiko turns to their mother and raises her eyebrows, as if to say see?
“Kojiro,” his mother says, gently now. “Have you considered that Kaoru might want to wear the ring because you gave it to him?”
Kojiro is pretty sure that’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. Kaoru doesn’t wear anything Kojiro gives him outside of the house. Mostly because Kojiro gives him pizza-themed socks and other equally dumb gifts, but still. Kaoru wouldn’t wear anything Kojiro gave him, even if he considered it to be socially appropriate, because he loves nothing more than pissing Kojiro off.
“Kaoru wouldn’t wear something just because I gave it to him,” Kojiro tells her. “I think we just got lucky and he likes it.”
“He likes it enough to wear it on his ring finger?” Kimiko asks.
“It’s the finger it fits,” Kojiro replies, taking a gulp of his beer. He’s going to need a second one, fast.
“He could also wear it on his right hand,” Kimiko points out. This is… true. Maybe. Kojiro doesn’t know if Kaoru’s hands are the same size, and has honestly never even considered it before. He’s not sure he wants to continue considering it.
“Look, I don’t know what he’s thinking.” Raised eyebrows from both his mother and Kimiko at that. “Seriously! I know him but if you think I know exactly what’s running through his weird little mind at any given moment, you are sorely mistaken.” This is a lie. He does usually know exactly how Kaoru’s brain works, but he also can’t fathom what Kaoru seems to think about the marriage, except that it was a funny mistake. He’s convinced that the only reason Kaoru didn’t freak out is because it’s not legally valid.
“Kojiro,” his mother sighs. “Don’t you think I might know what I’m talking about? I’ve been watching over the two of you for nearly twenty years.”
“I’m the one that’s been friends with him for nearly twenty years,” Kojiro argues. “I think I know him a little better. Besides, I’m not his type.”
This finally gets a reaction from Kouta, who snorts so loudly the people the table over look a little offended. His mother dips her head in apology.
“What?” Kojiro demands. He’s beginning to feel very attacked.
“Dude, friends don’t look at each other the way Kaoru looks at you.”
It takes Kojiro a moment to respond, because honestly? That’s not what he was expecting.
“Dude’s in love with you,” Kouta says simply, deigning to look up from his phone. “He laughs at all your stupid jokes, and he looks at you all emotionally when you’re not looking and sighs. It’s kinda gross.”
“Kouta’s right,” Kimiko jumps in. “Well, not about it being gross, it’s actually pretty cute, but he’s right about Kaoru. Platonic friends don’t look at each other like the way you and Kaoru do.”
“Kaoru looks at me with disdain and disgust most of the time,” Kojiro says faintly, after he’s managed to recover from the shock. Dude’s in love with you, as if. “He calls me a gorilla like thirty times a day.”
“But when he isn’t looking at you with disdain and disgust, he’s looking at you lovingly.” Kojiro downs the rest of his drink, manners be damned. He can’t take this. “Besides, I thought he was calling you a gorilla with affection.”
He does, usually, unless Kojiro’s really pissed him off. He doesn’t admit to that.
“See?” his mother says, much more gently than either of his two very annoying siblings. “Even Kimi and Kouta have noticed.”
“Forget me and Kimiko,” Kouta says. “Dad and Koichi have a bet going about how long it will take for you two to get together. So far, Koichi’s losing.”
“Oh god,” Kojiro says, weakly. If his father and Koichi have noticed …well, that says a lot. Neither are particularly observant.
“They’re not here tonight because they have absolutely zero tact,” Kimiko explains. Kojiro shoots her a look.
“And you two do?”
“Kojiro.” His mother, again, stopping the squabble before it can really begin. “As much as I love Kaoru, what I really want is for you to be happy.” She pauses and reaches out, her small hand covering his own. “Don’t you think it might be time to talk about it with Kaoru? Especially the marriage part? It may have been an accident, but it’s eating you up inside.”
His throat tightens, but before he can either make a fool of himself or say anything in response, the moment is interrupted by the waitress, who comes bearing their food. Kojiro doesn’t know if he’s relieved or resentful for her timing. At any rate, the topic is dropped. They spend the rest of the meal chatting about more benign subjects, like what classes Kouta is failing at school. They don’t raise it again until it’s time to leave, and even then his mother only squeezes his arm with an affectionate smile and asks him to just think about it.
He does, of course.
He thinks about it, but he doesn’t act on it, not right away. It’s a lot to consider, that his family seems to think Kaoru has …romantic feelings for him. It is, quite frankly, unimaginable, because Kaoru has never once suggested he might be even remotely interested in Kojiro that way.
And besides, he’d had a point: Kojiro really isn’t Kaoru’s type. He’d fallen hard for Adam, back in high school — tall, lean, charming Adam with a grin like the blade of a knife. Kojiro had been little more than a bumbling fool who hadn’t quite grown into his body then, and there was just no competition — Adam was in a league of his own. After that, Kaoru didn’t date often, but when he did, it was men of a similar type: sleek, polished, and charming. Kojiro was charming, probably, but the rest? Not so much.
He thinks about it, of course. He thinks about it at work, at Crazy Rock, alone at home, and of course, when he’s with Kaoru. He can’t stop thinking about it, because he’s been in love with Kaoru for like his whole life, and while he’s done a very good job of keeping his romantic feelings for Kaoru separate from their friendship, they seem to become more mixed with each passing day.
Or maybe they’d always been mixed up. He doesn’t really know anymore, doesn’t know anything except that the more time he spends with Kaoru, the more he wants him. It’s like the marriage finally broke the dam inside of him, and it’s rapidly becoming more and more difficult to keep those feelings tucked away. At they rate he’s going, it’s only a matter of time before they boil over and make a mess of everything.
That day comes sooner than he expects.
It starts like this: Kaoru, waiting outside for the end of Kojiro’s shift, dressed casually, with two plastic bags in hand. Kojiro doesn’t need to look inside to know they’re filled with beer and snacks. They skate back to his place, bickering good-naturedly on the way. Kaoru is wearing his ring, and Kojiro is wearing his. Neither of them comment on this, which somehow makes it even more noticeable.
It’s Kaoru’s turn to choose the movie, so they continue some drama Kaoru chose a few weeks ago and has refused to stop watching, regardless of how boring it is. They make fun of each other, and the show, while gorging themselves. Kaoru has bought just enough beer that Kojiro can feel a light buzz coming on — enough that Kaoru passes out some time around midnight, slumped against Kojiro’s side.
All of this is normal, a typical weeknight for them. It’s equally normal for Kojiro to carefully scoop Kaoru into his arms and put him to bed. Kaoru may or may not wake up and grumble a little—it usually depends on how much he’s had to drink—but he’ll let it happen and let himself be tucked in regardless. Kojiro will tidy a little, turn out the lights, and join him shortly after.
Tonight, though, it doesn’t go like that. Kojiro brushes some hair out of Kaoru’s face, adjusts the blankets around him, and then the glint of Kaoru’s ring catches his eye. His heart stutters in his chest and without thinking. he reaches out and gently takes Kaoru’s hand in his, thumbing at the ring.
Married. He wishes, dearly, that he could remember something from that night, but it remains frustratingly blank.
Did they even say wedding vows?
He sighs. It’s difficult to tell what would be worse: knowing or not knowing.
The impulse is unbidden, unthinking — he lifts Kaoru’s hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles, wishing that he could remember sliding the ring onto his finger. His eyes sting a little, and he figures that’s enough torment for one night, so he rises to leave.
The hand that wraps around his wrist keeps him from going far.
“What was that?” Kaoru asks, soft. Deadly. Kojiro struggles to breathe for a moment.
“What was what?” He manages, feigning ignorance. He lets Kaoru pull him back down to the bed, but doesn’t look at him.
“That. This. All of it. Why did you do that?” Kaoru hasn’t unwrapped his hand from Kojiro’s wrist. His grip is strong, bordering on painful.
He doesn’t know what to say.
“You always do this,” Kaoru says, voice tight. “You always treat me like this.”
His voice catches a little, just enough that Kojiro checks to see if he’s okay. He’s staring down at the blanket, hair falling into his face. Kojiro resists the urge to brush it aside.
“Like what?” Kojiro asks, for lack of anything else to say. Kaoru laughs a little, but it sounds hard, unhappy. His hand flexes around Kojiro’s wrist.
“Like you love me.” Quiet, hushed, like it shouldn’t be said, and for a moment it feels as though the ground has fallen out from beneath Kojiro.
“You always do this!” Kaoru exclaims, shoving himself upright. His eyes are bright, burning. “You cook for me, you take care of me, you indulge me, but you act like it doesn’t mean anything! It’s just what you do! You take me on trips and you tell me we should get married, but then you fucking forget about it! You put me to bed and kiss me and don’t fucking say anything about it! Why don’t you ever say anything?” The last part comes out mournful, hurt, and punches into Kojiro’s chest like a dagger.
“You’re so fucking annoying,” Kaoru mutters, dropping his gaze to the sheets. He doesn’t say anything more, but he doesn’t relinquish his grip on Kojiro’s wrist either. It’s like he’s waiting for something.
If only Kojiro knew what, exactly, he was waiting for.
“Kaoru… I…” He struggles to find the right words, wonders if this is the moment where he finally has to admit to it, whether he needs to trust that their friendship can survive this hit. “I …wait.” He pauses. Thinks about what Kaoru just said. “…I said we should get married?”
Kaoru does look up then, shock giving way to …guilt?
“…It was your idea,” he mumbles, looking back down. Even in the dim light Kojiro can see his face turning red.
“You said you didn’t remember!” Oh god, does that mean he remembers everything? Kojiro doesn’t even know what there is to remember, but if they were drunk enough to get married on a whim, there must be a hell of a lot.
“Well, yeah! You didn’t remember anything!” Kaoru says defensively. “It was fucking embarrassing.”
“How much do you remember?” Kaoru looks away, guilty.
“Everything, mostly. I was drunk too!” He says it like it’s an excuse. Kojiro stares at him in disbelief.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was embarrassing!”
“Don’t you think it’s more embarrassing to have absolutely no memory of getting married to your best friend?”
“It’s more embarrassing getting married to your best friend and not having him remember!” Kaoru shouts. “Trust me, I lived it!”
“Why would that be embarrassing? You’re the one that remembers every single stupid thing I said and did that night!”
“Because you were happy!” Kaoru yells, even louder. “And I was too! And I didn’t think you would fucking black out and forget everything. I thought… I thought…” his voice trails of then, small, and Kojiro realises then that he’s hurt that Kojiro didn’t remember. They’re getting into dangerously emotional territory here. He’s going to need to tread lightly.
“Why did I suggest it?” Kojiro asks, quiet, in case Kaoru clams up and refuses to speak. Kaoru shrugs his shoulders.
“I don’t know, you just said we should get married.”
“And you agreed?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Kaoru mutters. He glances up at Kojiro, baleful. “I was drunk,” he says again.
“Right.” That doesn’t exactly explain why Kaoru agreed to it, or even why he decided it had been a good idea.
“Why did you ask?”
“Why did you ask me to marry you?” Kaoru repeats, still watching Kojiro.
“I don’t remember,” Kojiro says, because, well, he doesn’t. Although he knows the reason, and Kaoru seems to know this too, because he frowns.
“Surely you know why you would ask me to marry you, even if you don’t remember actually doing it?”
“Why were you happy about it?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question, dumbass!” Kaoru snaps. “Why would you ask me to marry you?”
“Why wouldn’t I ask you to marry me?”
“Kojiro! Answer the fucking question!”
“Because I wanted to marry you!” Kojiro yells, the words exploding out of him with so much force that it actually hurts. “I want to marry you. I want to be married to you. I wish I really was married to you. I fucking love you, okay? Does that answer the question?”
Kaoru blinks at him, and then his eyes grow suspiciously shiny.
Kojiro hasn’t seen Kaoru cry in years. Probably not since Adam fucked off and broke his heart.
He doesn’t, though. Just sniffles a little.
“I was happy because you asked me,” he says. Kojiro sits perfectly still, afraid to even breathe.
So that means…?
“…Just to make sure I’ve got this right,” Kojiro says carefully. “That was your roundabout way of saying you have romantic feelings for me and actually want to be married?”
“Ugh, yes, you buffoon,” Kaoru groans, shoving at him. He brings his hands up to cover his face. “I was happy even when I woke up.”
Oh. He thinks about that morning again, the way Kaoru had been so eerily calm, how he’d barely reacted.
“I’m sorry,” Kojiro says, wanting to reach out to Kaoru but unsure — where did this leave them, now?
“For freaking out. I thought I’d roped you into something you didn’t want.”
“I agreed to it,” Kaoru points out, peeking out a little from behind his fingers.
“You were drunk.”
“So were you!”
“Still, you were stuck with a legally binding decision we made when we were drunk!”
“Kojiro,” Kaoru says firmly, lowering his hands until they’re only covering the bottom half of his face. It does nothing to hide the flush dusting over his cheekbones and nose. It’s adorable. “If I really hated it, don’t you think I would have had Carla figure a way out of it by now? There were other options. And you really think I’d keep wearing the ring just because it was expensive? I would have paid you back. Besides,” he adds on mulishly. “You were also stuck with it.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to be married to you. I would have wanted to even while I was sober.”
“So did I!” Kaoru’s face goes redder. “I wanted to be with you too, even before you asked me to marry you. I wouldn’t have said yes otherwise, idiot!”
Kojiro has nothing to say to that, mostly because Kaoru’s words have sucked all the air out of his lungs. Kaoru buries his face back in his hands. He’s trembling, Kojiro notices, but he still can’t bring himself to reach out.
“So what now?” he manages after a few moments. Kaoru shakes his head, but does’t lower his hands.
“I don’t know,” he mutters, voice low. “What do you want to do?”
Kojiro is about to ask what Kaoru wants to do instead, but pauses. Haven’t they wasted enough time, at this point?
“I want to be with you,” he admits. “I want to marry you properly.”
“We haven’t even dated,” Kaoru points out, like that matters at all.
“I can fix that,” Kojiro says, finally reaching out and tugging at Kaoru’s hands until he drops them from his face. His eyes glimmer. “What do you want?
Kaoru doesn’t meet his gaze.
“I want the same, I think,” he says, quiet. “I’d like to go on a date at least,” he says with a little more certainty.
“Noted.” He reaches up, finally, and tucks some of Kaoru’s hair behind his ear. Even the tips of his ears are red. “Can I kiss you?
“Ugh,” Kaoru says, but he leans in anyway and tips his face up so that Kojiro can catch his mouth in a kiss.
It feels like coming home, like something missing has just slotted into place, and Kojiro can’t help but smile against his lips.
“You’re so stupid,” he murmurs. Kaoru makes a disgruntled sound and pulls away.
“I’m the stupid one?!”
“If you just told me what happened we probably could have sorted this out weeks ago.” Now that he can, Kojiro puts an arm around Kaoru and snuggles in close. His hair smells like his stupidly expensive shampoo and Kojiro loves it.
“That would have been way worse,” Kaoru says. “We would have talked about feelings and I would have been humiliated.”
“So you think languishing about it for a month was better? Believe me, I could have gone without the intervention my mother staged.”
“Your mom staged an intervention?” Kaoru lets himself be manhandled back down into bed, flattening himself against Kojiro’s side much like he usually did, except Kojiro felt none of the usual guilt for enjoying it. That was nice.
“Yes, with Kimiko and Kouta. It was horrible. Much worse than talking about our feelings, believe me. You don’t know real humiliation until your younger brother starts roasting your love life.”
“…I suppose that does sound marginally worse,” Kaoru relents.
“And you could have moved in with me already,” Kojiro points out. “We could have been doing this every night.”
Kaoru grunts and throws an arm over Kojiro’s chest, which he accepts as a victory.
“You still wouldn’t remember anything,” Kaoru grumbles. “Which is still deeply humiliating, by the way.”
“You’re the one with all the memories and blackmail material, I should be the one who’s embarrassed. You’re just emotionally constipated.” Kaoru kicks him. “I apologise, you’ve been very open about your feelings tonight.” He presses a kiss to Kaoru’s forehead, and then his mouth, which shuts him up fast.
“You’re so annoying,” Kaoru mutters after a moment. Kojiro smiles.
“We could get married again, you know. Have a second ceremony. One we’re both sober for. And actually invite our families.”
“We haven’t even dated and you’re already talking about a second marriage?”
When he puts it like that, it does sound weird. Kojiro also doesn’t really care.
“So we’ll wait a few months, or a year, whatever. We can have a test-run and then do the ceremony again, properly.”
“You’re gonna fly everybody out to the US to get married again?”
“No, we can have a ceremony here. There’s gotta be a gay-friendly priest somewhere in this country.”
Kaoru hums, but doesn’t say anything else, which is good enough for now. Kojiro can ask again later. Maybe actually propose properly, this time.
Speaking of which…
“So, since you actually remember everything, what the fuck is up with this ring?” he asks, flapping his hand. Kaoru blinks up at him, and then his faces splits into a guilty-looking grin.
“Oh …we couldn’t find any nice ones big enough for your stupid gorilla hands on such short notice, so it was just a temporary one. I was going to buy you a real one when we got home. Uh… but you didn’t remember, so I didn’t bother.”
“You’re such a little shit,” Kojiro says, unable to disguise the fondness in his voice. “I told you I wouldn’t choose this for myself.”
“I mean you did. It was also just the only one available.”
“I can’t believe I want to stay married to you,” Kojiro says, teasing, and Kaoru pinches him.
“You’re not divorcing me now. Not after all this,” he warns. Kojiro laughs and wraps both his arms around Kaoru, squeezing him until he starts slapping at Kojiro.
“You’re not getting away from me that easily,” Kojiro tells him, pressing another kiss to his head, now that he can. “You’re stuck with me forever now.”
Kaoru groans, but Kojiro can feel the curve of the grin he buries against his side.
When they show up for the monthly Nanjo Family Dinner hand in hand, Kojiro is sporting the new wedding band Kaoru had custom-ordered for him. It’s a significant upgrade from the mafia ring — Kaoru had had Carla take his measurements, at some point, and the ring is a perfect fit..
He still has the old one, though, because it’s grown on him, maybe. Just a little.