Title: A Kinda Sorta Fairy Tale
Characters & Pairings: Midorima/Takao; Akashi
Summary: This isn't a fairy tale, Takao knows better than that.
Notes: Teen, because yakuza AU. Based on a set of pictures from setting up Midorima as a yakuza lawyer and Takao as a low-level member of a different clan. 10931 words; beware of Feels.

A Kinda Sorta Fairy Tale

Kazunari knows that Shin-chan has an apartment somewhere—he has to, right? It's not like he's a robot who goes back to the closet to recharge at night, at least Kazunari doesn't think he is, but sometimes with Shin-chan it's tough to make that call. He could be a robot, maybe, but Kazunari is pretty sure he would have noticed if that were the case. There would be an off-switch or something, maybe a discreet USB port somewhere. Possibly there would be glowing red eyes, too—look, Kazunari watched the first Terminator movie at a tender age; it was a formative experience, okay?—anyway, Kazunari's pretty sure that Shin-chan is not, in fact, a robot and probably hasn't been sent from the future to kill anyone and therefore, logically, he must have an apartment somewhere.

(He's also pretty sure that the blood loss has made him even loopier than usual, and the painkillers aren't helping with that fact.)

The point is, Shin-chan has an apartment somewhere, or maybe a house for all Kazunari knows, the guy is clearly doing well for himself on the financial end of things, but Kazunari hasn't ever seen it. Hasn't ever expected to see it, or hoped for it really. When he and Shin-chan run into each other, it's on the street or in bars. Clubs sometimes, pachinko parlors, once in a back alley where Kazunari had just finished beating a guy's knees into jelly with a baseball bat. They run into each other when they're out and about on business, is what he's getting at, and if they fuck, well. They get a room in a love hotel or Shin-chan pulls him into a back room and bends him over, and that one time in the alley, well, put it like this, Kazunari doesn't know what the hell was on the ground but it sure did for that pair of jeans.

One memorable time, they were in Shin-chan's fancy car, doing something like 130 km/h, and Kazunari leaned over and sucked Shin-chan off like that. The really amazing part had been that Shin-chan hadn't missed a single shift of gears.

So sure, Shin-chan probably has an apartment somewhere that is almost as nice as his car (it's a pretty sweet car), but up till now Kazunari would have sworn that there was no way in hell that he'd ever lay eyes on it himself. For one thing, Shin-chan's high up in Teikou, whereas Kazunari's a no-name Shuutoku punk. For another, they're not like that, him and Shin-chan. He knows that and Shin-chan knows that and Kazunari's not into telling himself pretty stories. Neither is Shin-chan, which is what Kazunari likes best about him—they're all of 'em corrupt, sure, steeped in blood and lies and betrayal, and Shin-chan's no better than he is, but somehow, fuck knows how he does it, Shin-chan manages to be honest about it. He's the most forthright member of the yakuza Kazunari has ever met, practically pure in his pragmatism. 's probably why Kazunari keeps coming back to him, like a needle that can't help swinging around to point at its lodestone.

They're not like that, Kazunari knows this for a fact, but it's beginning to occur to him to wonder whether Shin-chan knows this. Or whether Shin-chan has maybe changed his mind, or something, because right now Kazunari is huddled in the passenger seat of Shin-chan's fancy car with a wound in his arm that aches, distant and fuzzy, where the doctor Shin-chan dragged him to see dug the bullet out, and Shin-chan is pulling into a parking garage beneath a gleaming chrome-and-steel tower. Kazunari's head is swimming, foggy with blood loss and opiates, and Shin-chan's mouth is set and unsmiling as he kills the engine.

"Come on," Shin-chan tells him, brusque, and Kazunari does his best to obey. He's down to one good arm, and his knees have turned traitor on him, wanting to wobble and knock together; by the time he unbelts himself and fumbles the door open, Shin-chan has already come around the car. He's not particularly gentle about it when he hauls Kazunari upright (more or less), but his grip is sure and that's all Kazunari really asks for as the garage spins around him.

"Shin-chan," Kazunari says when they've managed to lurch their way over to an elevator. There's a keypad there; Shin-chan taps a code into it before the lights over the elevator begin to move. "Shin-chan, where are we going?"

He doesn't really expect Shin-chan to answer. The elevator dings and the doors slide open; the car is softly lit, mirrored, and filled with the soft strains of violins and piano. When they step in, an infinite series of reflections stretch away on all sides—Shin-chan painfully upright and Kazunari leaning against him, pale and bloody and dazed. Shin-chan taps a button and the elevator begins its ascent, so smooth that the only way Kazunari can tell that they're moving is the way his stomach drops and he has to fight to keep from puking all over the lovely tile at his feet. At least it's over fast; the car stops on the fourteenth floor and the doors slide open again, this time onto a quiet hall with a few identical, anonymous doors and a potted plant. Looks kind of like a hotel, maybe, the fancy kind that show up in the movies rather than the kind Kazunari is more familiar with.

Shin-chan steers him to a particular door and taps another complicated code into the discreet little keypad by the door. The lock clicks and he draws Kazunari inside, and only then does he say, simple, "Home."

It's been a long damn day and Kazunari's more than ready to be done with it. He looks up at Shin-chan, wondering at that just a little, and catches Shin-chan looking at him. Maybe there's a hint of something new in the stern line of his mouth, or maybe Kazunari's just stoned on the stuff the doctor gave him. He's beyond the point that he can deal with any of this, so he nods at Shin-chan. "Okay," he says, leaning against Shin-chan's steadying arm.

"Okay," Shin-chan agrees, and guides him through the place—big and expensive-looking, not that Kazunari can really devote his attention to any of the details, which is a real pity—and into a room with a bed. He strips the clothes off Kazunari and puts him into the bed, and unlike any other time he's troubled to get Kazunari out of his clothes, does not join him. Instead he stands over Kazunari, looking down at him, and finally says, "Go to sleep."

Kazunari doesn't need to be told twice, is already starting to drift off anyway and hoping vaguely that Shin-chan isn't into somnophilia, so he closes his eyes.

The last thing he thinks before unconsciousness claims him is that he can feel someone stroking the hair back from his forehead, but the only person around who could be doing that is Shin-chan. Must be pretty good drugs from the doctor, he decides vaguely, and resolves to sort everything else out—Shin-chan's weird new expression, the doctor, Shin-chan's apartment and his presence in it—when he wakes up.

It'll all make sense in the morning, right? Right.

Things do not, in fact, make all that much more sense when Kazunari finally claws his way back to consciousness.

Waking up isn't entirely his idea, really; he wakes up because his arm hurts, a steady, throbbing ache that rouses him by reluctant degrees, until he makes the mistake of trying to stretch while still half-asleep. The movement sends a sharp stab of pain up his arm, driving him back to full consciousness before he can really appreciate the coziness of the mattress or the satin-smooth sheets against his skin. Kazunari therefore greets the new day by curling up in a ball and stringing together several incoherent profanities while his eyes water.

The flare of pain ebbs when he holds himself still and eventually it dawns on him that he is not in his own bed. That's not the strange part—he's woken up in a whole range of unfamiliar places in his lifetime for a whole bunch of different reasons, from being too drunk to get up off a friend's broken-down couch and go home to needing to avoid certain parties who might expect to find him at his apartment.

The strange part is that this is definitely the nicest bed he's ever slept in—a mattress that hits the sweet spot between too-soft and too-firm and sheets with a thread count so high that they might as well be made of satin, deep soft pillows and bedroom furniture that looks like it's constructed from real wood instead of particle board and a painted veneer.

Memory comes filtering back as Kazunari carefully eases himself upright and looks around—pulling courier duty from Miyaji, clashing with the punks from Seihou, getting fucking shot for his troubles, and then—Shin-chan.

Everything that happened after running into Shin-chan is jumbled together in Kazunari's head, more like a bunch of vaguely connected images than a coherent sequence of memories. He recalls Shin-chan's face, looking almost shocked, and he remembers sitting on a table, watching a back-alley doctor probing around in his wound, and he really wishes he didn't have the mental image of the extracted bullet, resting in a little puddle of blood, but he does.

And there's the sense memory of leaning against Shin-chan while Shin-chan guided him—here, Kazunari supposes, looking around at what he guesses must be Shin-chan's bedroom. It's too lived-in to be a hotel room, even the fancy kind, because there's a closet door that's ajar enough to show the clothes hanging inside and a chair with clothes draped across the back and a litter of personal detritus on the bedside table and on top of the dresser.

He doesn't know what to think of the place or his presence in it, so Kazunari doesn't try to make any sense of it yet. He's here and that's enough to be going on with. Shin-chan probably has a perfectly good reason for bringing him home with him, and will no doubt explain it to him in itemized detail.

In the meantime, now that he's awake, there are certain necessary urges making themselves known, and he might as well get up and see to them.

Kazunari sets his good hand under his elbow, cradling his injured arm against his chest. It looks like his dressing needs changing, but the blood on it is dark and dry. That's probably a good sign. When he swings his feet over the side of the bed and stands, his knees hold him up. Also a good sign.

His clothes seem to have gone missing, but he recalls there having been a lot of blood on them, so that's probably just as well. There is, however, a yukata lying across the blankets of the bed, probably for him. Getting it on is an adventure in careful movement and creative profanity; Kazunari does his best to get himself decent and waits for the sharp ache of jostling his injured arm to ease off before letting it rest inside the yukata instead of trying to get it through the sleeve. That's like a makeshift sling, almost. Good enough, right?

Then he sets off to see what's outside the bedroom. A bathroom would be nice; so would some painkillers.

He's always known that Shin-chan does pretty well for himself, financially speaking. Even so, the rest of Shin-chan's apartment kind of staggers him: Shin-chan has a truly ridiculous amount of space available to him. The place is huge, and Kazunari's pretty sure that's not just his own biases talking. Heck, Shin-chan has enough room for a piano, and it doesn't look out of place, put it that way—the place is just that big.

(Shin-chan owns a piano; Kazunari tucks that incongruous tidbit away to marvel over later, because he would never in a million years have imagined such a thing of the man.)

He finds the man himself first of all; as Kazunari stands in the living room area, stunned, Shin-chan emerges from another room, speaking briskly into his phone—issuing orders, by the sound of it, all of them in the legal gibberish that sails right over Kazunari's head. He carries on speaking without a hitch when he catches sight of Kazunari, but he stops moving and just kind of looks at Kazunari, one part surprised to two parts constipated. Or something like that; Kazunari is used to Shin-chan looking exasperated around him, but this is something else.

Kazunari wraps his good arm around himself more securely, not quite sure what he's supposed to do or say here, and contrives to escape Shin-chan's gaze by ducking into the bathroom. Hey, it's hard to be completely cool and poised with an injured arm and a full bladder, and retreat is the better part of valor, right? He's heard people say that, anyway, so it must be true.

Shin-chan is off the phone when Kazunari emerges again, and he's managed to smooth his expression over, too—just looks calm and unruffled and untouchable in his expensive dark suit. Kazunari clears his throat and figures it's up to him to get the ball rolling, because Shin-chan is still just standing there, watching him.

"Hey," he says, clearing his throat when it comes out kind of rusty-sounding. "Nice place, Shin-chan."

Shin-chan glances around himself—what, he lives here, hasn't he ever seen it before?—and says, "Yes, I suppose it is."

They stare at each other for a bit, awkward—most awkward morning after ever, Kazunari thinks, which he guesses he should have seen coming. Then Shin-chan pushes his glasses up his noses and points towards the dinner table. "Sit down," he orders, abrupt. "I should look at your dressing."

"It looks okay to me," Kazunari tries, and then shuts up and goes to sit down when Shin-chan glares at him.

And Shin-chan goes and gets an actual first-aid kit of some kind, one that looks like it's kept in good order and never actually gets used, and pulls the yukata out of his way to inspect Kazunari's dressing. Kazunari sits in silence, not sure what he's supposed to say as Shin-chan cuts the old bandages away and cleans the wound, not exactly gentle about it but certainly efficient. He'd like to say Hey, Shin-chan, you took care of me or maybe Why are you doing this or perhaps just Shin-chan, I don't understand, but he doesn't quite know how to take any of those things and put them into actual words. They haven't ever been much for intimate heart-to-heart conversations, him and Shin-chan.

Instead he watches Shin-chan work, the way he bends his head over Kazunari's arm and the precise movements of his fingers as he ties the fresh bandages off, the stern, unsmiling line of his mouth and the way Shin-chan's hair falls into his eyes. It gives him the strangest urge to reach out and brush it back, but that would be weird, wouldn't it? They aren't like that—are they?

Kazunari doesn't know. He's not sure he knows anything anymore.

When Shin-chan finishes, he straightens up and looks at Kazunari again, and he's got another strange, unreadable expression on his face.

Kazunari wets his lips. "Thanks, Shin-chan."

Shin-chan looks away. "Don't mention it," he says, and begins packing up the first-aid kit.

...right. Yeah. Okay. He can do that. Kazunari clears his throat. "I guess I should be going, get out of your hair, right?"

He sees Shin-chan's hands still, just for a moment, in the act of gathering up the soiled bandages. Then Shin-chan says, "Don't be stupid. You're in no shape to go anywhere right now." He glares at Kazunari and jerks his head towards the broad, soft-looking couch. "You may as well make yourself comfortable. I'll get your medicine. I suppose you'll need to eat, too." The orders come out kind of choppy. Gruff, even, as though Kazunari's very presence is the most irritating thing Shin-chan has ever had to deal with.

Except that this is Shin-chan, the most ruthless, forthright sonuvabitch to ever practice law in the service of a yakuza clan. Barring direct orders from his oyabun, Shin-chan doesn't do anything he doesn't damn well want to do.

It's almost too much to comprehend, all these things he knows about Shin-chan's complete lack of regard for anything that does not benefit him set against the fact that he is here, in Shin-chan's home, and that Shin-chan is looking after him in his own brusque fashion. Kazunari takes a moment, breathing carefully against the sudden destabilization of everything he thought he understood, and nods. "Okay, Shin-chan. If you insist."

Shin-chan just fixes another one of those unfamiliar looks on him and nods. "I do," he says, and as far as he's concerned, that seems to be that.

Kazunari is much less certain that it is, but hey. The couch turns out to be even softer than it looks, and Shin-chan is unexpectedly good at opening packets and reheating their contents. When the painkillers Shin-chan gives him really start to kick in and the world goes fuzzy at the edges, Kazunari gives up trying to figure out what the fuck is going on and drowses over the last of his breakfast, content to enjoy the moment for however long it lasts.

Kazunari must doze off or something after a while, maybe because of the drugs or maybe just because being shot takes a lot out of person. Or maybe it's just because Shin-chan's couch is just as luxurious as the rest of his apartment, all deep, soft, overstuffed cushions and supple leather. It practically wraps itself around Kazunari and seduces him down into its embrace. He doesn't remember drifting off, but when he wakes up, he's curled up in the corner of the couch and there is a blanket draped over him.

Shin-chan is sitting in one of the chairs that match the couch, his fingers dancing over the surface of the tablet he is scowling at. Kazunari leans against the arm of the couch and watches him for a long time, drifting in that half-awake state that comes with being half-stoned on whatever meds Shin-chan's doctor has him on. It's funny; even though Shin-chan is at home, he's still wearing one of his suits, all buttoned up and formal. But then, Shin-chan hasn't ever really struck him as the type to lounge around in casual wear, either.

It actually takes Shin-chan a while to notice that he's being watched, which doesn't say great things about his survival skills. But then, that's not what Shin-chan's job tends to be about, far as Kazunari knows. Shin-chan's more the kind of guy who comes in after the heads and kneecaps have been broken and delivers terms to the survivors. Takes all kinds to make up a world, or so Kazunari's mother always said. Whatever it is Shin-chan's doing, it wholly absorbs his attention. It must be an accident when he glances up and meets Kazunari's eyes; he startles just a bit. "You're awake."

"Sort of, I guess." His cheek peels away from the leather, gone hot and sticky under his skin, as he thrashes his way up. His mouth feels dry, like cotton, and tastes foul; Kazunari makes a face at it right before he catches sight of the glass of water sitting at his elbow. There's a coaster beneath it, the corners aligned with the little end table's edges, and it's nowhere near where Shin-chan is sitting. "Guess I dozed off."

Shin-chan doesn't say anything, not when Kazunari reaches for the glass of water and sips it. His fingers have gone still on the tablet, except for the arrhythmic tap of his thumb against the edge of it, and he watches Kazunari closely. Kazunari can't even tell what he's thinking, not with his head all fuzzy like this... not that he always does that well when his head is perfectly clear, either. So he sips his water carefully and gets the taste out of his mouth. It's a small improvement, but hey. He'll take what he can get.

He's close to the bottom of the glass when Shin-chan finally says anything else. "Your arm?"

It still aches, but the throb of it is dulled and distant, probably thanks to the drugs. Kazunari glances down at where it's tucked against his side, loosely cradled by the yukata, and shrugs his good shoulder. "Okay, I guess." He sneaks another look at Shin-chan, not entirely sure what he's supposed to say here. Or do. Or what he's even doing here, sleeping on Shin-chan's couch, under Shin-chan's blankets.

Maybe he doesn't have any room to talk about Shin-chan's survival skills, but it's not until then that it actually occurs to Kazunari that he really ought to check in with Miyaji or someone else with Shuutoku. Someone who might care about the fact that Seihou's thugs jumped him on his way back from dropping off whatever it was that had been in that discreet little package he'd delivered into Seirin's hands. That's the kind of thing the higher-ups like to know about, and he's just spent—fuck, a day, maybe?—stoned out of his head or asleep.

This is exactly the kind of thing Kimura means when he talks about how far Kazunari still has to go.

It's not until Shin-chan says, "What is it?" that Kazunari realizes he's started to panic.

"Yesterday, with Seihou—I need to tell someone—" He tries to throw the blanket off and stand up but only succeeds in jarring his arm and spilling the last of his water down his front when the pain of that jolts through him. He hunches over his arm, eyes watering, and then Shin-chan is there, taking the glass out of his hand and pressing him back into the couch's deep cushions. It barely makes sense, what Shin-chan is telling him. Kazunari stares up at him, confused. "What do you mean, it's taken care of?"

There's not a lot to get off Shin-chan's expression, the flatness of his mouth or the grim look in his eyes. "I mean that it's taken care of. Shuutoku is aware of yesterday's events."

Okay. Okay, that's something, anyway, kind of a relief to know that much, but—"Did you tell them?"

It's a dumb question, he knows it as soon as it leaves his mouth. Of course Shin-chan must have been the one to get word to Shuutoku. Teikou probably has all kinds of guys he can tap for that kind of errand.

Shin-chan says, "Yes, I spoke with Ootsubo about the matter. He has assured me that he will give it his fullest attention."

The thing is, he says it so casually. Like it's not a big deal that he just... got in touch with one of Shuutoku's biggest dogs, the guy who'll probably take over when Nakatani finally kicks the bucket, to let him know that one of his runners got into it with some Seihou punks. Maybe for Shin-chan, it really isn't a big deal.

Kazunari laughs—what else can he do?—and shakes his head. "Sure he will, Shin-chan." It's not like Ootsubo doesn't have half a million more important things to be doing or anything. He's definitely going to drop everything and remind Seihou just who the kings of the east are, all on Kazunari's account.

Shin-chan stands over him, looking down at him, nearly expressionless. "You don't think so?"

Kazunari leans his head back against the couch, since he might as well be comfortable if Shin-chan is gonna insist on looming over him like this. "I think that no one's ready for there to be an actual war yet," he tells Shin-chan. "Yesterday was just business as usual."

Shin-chan frowns and turns away; he's still got the glass in his hands—oh, he's going to the kitchen to fill it up again. He brings it back and sets it on the coaster at Kazunari's elbow, not saying a word about it, and then pauses for a second, almost like he's not sure what to say or do next. He's frowning when he sits down again; he picks up his tablet but he just stares at it, unmoving.

He might be waiting for Kazunari to jump in with something to say. Kazunari usually does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to their conversations, when they're bothering to have 'em. Most of the time they have better things to be doing with their mouths. Thing is, right now Kazunari really doesn't know what he should be saying, and when that happens, well, he's learned that sometimes it really is better to keep his mouth shut.

He looks down and rubs his fingers along the satiny edge of the blanket, trying to sort out his thoughts, which isn't the easiest thing to do when they're moving at half-speed and are fuzzy at the edges. But here's what he knows: his bosses are aware of what happened yesterday. The bullet is out of his arm and he should heal up just fine. Shin-chan is the one who has been looking after him.

It's that last that he just can't quite get past, really. Maybe he's an idiot for not leaving it alone, but that's always been his problem. He's never learned when not to poke things with a stick to see what happens. Kazunari looks up from the blanket and catches Shin-chan watching him; they stare at each other for a little bit before Kazunari says, "I could probably call someone and get them to pick me up."

Shin-chan makes a minute adjustment to one of his cuffs. "I doubt you know anyone besides me with his own transportation."

Kazunari laughs, maybe in spite of himself. "You see, that's what I like about you, Shin-chan. You're such an asshole. You never pull any of your punches."

Shin-chan gives him one of the blank looks that means that Kazunari has said something that he doesn't fully understand. "Of course not. Why would I do that?"

Why indeed, but that's a question for another day. "I do know people with their own transportation. Just for the record. People who are not you."

"My mistake." There's a sort of dry undertone to it, like Shin-chan is humoring him or something, but that's nothing unusual really. Not for them.

Kazunari is about to give him some grief for having admitted to making a mistake when it occurs to him that maybe that would be a bad idea. Not because he doesn't give Shin-chan merry hell on a regular basis, but because it would be getting them off the topic, such as it is. "Yeah, well. Who knew, right?" He rubs the satin edge of the blanket between his finger and his thumb, keeping an eye on Shin-chan. "Anyway, I could call around. See who's free to come get me."

Which he guesses he'll have to follow through on if Shin-chan takes him up on the offer. Kazunari's honestly not sure whether he will or not—twenty-four hours ago, he'd have assumed that Shin-chan would pounce on the opportunity to boot him out the door and into the welcoming arms of whichever one of his buddies could be prevailed upon to collect his sorry ass. Twenty-four hours ago, he never would have imagined the possibility of being allowed inside Midorima Shintarou's apartment, let alone being allowed to sleep on his couch. Or in his bed. Twenty-four hours ago, Kazunari had thought a lot of things that he's not so sure about any more.

Shin-chan does the thing where he adjusts the position of his glasses while he buys himself a little time to respond. Then he shrugs. "I hardly see the point of bothering. You're relatively little trouble here." It's not the same thing as no bother, but before Kazunari can make that point, Shin-chan carries on. "I would just as soon not broadcast the location of my home, in any case. I value my privacy, you realize."

"But how do you really feel about my friends, Shin-chan?" Kazunari says. "Don't hold back now, be honest."

Funny, that makes Shin-chan's mouth go tight and strange for a second. "I don't have time to drive you anywhere today," he says. "You'll have to stay here for the time being."

"Careful, Shin-chan," Kazunari says, as lightly as he can when there's a strange twisting curl of something working inside his rib cage. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say that you wanted me to stay right here with you."

Shin-chan gives him a very flat look indeed and immediately begins swiping at things on his tablet. "Don't say stupid things," he says, and Kazunari has to be content with that.

The thing that surprises Kazunari most, aside from the fact that he's here and still breathing and all, is that Shin-chan isn't all that bad at looking after him. He doesn't fuss and he doesn't coddle, sure, but he makes sure that Kazunari gets enough water and takes his painkillers, and is as comfortable as a guy with a bullet hole in his arm can be. Shin-chan feeds him again before it even occurs to Kazunari that he's getting hungry, rice and soup, bland things to cushion the painkillers. When Kazunari wakes up from another impromptu nap, Shin-chan wordlessly provides him with a toothbrush, still in its original packaging.

"Trying to give me a hint about something?" Kazunari jokes, but Shin-chan doesn't take the bait.

It's good to have clean teeth, anyway, though he looks like hell in the mirror—too pale and unshaven, and a lost, puzzled look in his eyes that won't do at all. Kazunari lingers in the bathroom, practicing smiles and trying to find one that doesn't make his face hurt and looks like it might actually be real, but in the end he's not very satisfied with his efforts. They're more exhausting than anything else, and isn't that ridiculous? He hasn't done anything but sit around and sleep all day.

Getting shot really takes it out of a person.

When he finally leaves the bathroom, he discovers that they're no longer alone in the apartment. Shin-chan's standing in the living room, every line of him taut as a coiled spring. He's talking to someone else, a man that Kazunari has never personally laid eyes on before but whom he recognizes right away. Everyone knows what Teikou's oyabun looks like, like knowing that cherry-red steel is dangerous and that the glitter of a knife's edge is meant to wound. Teikou's head has scarlet hair like a splatter of blood across snow and a gold-and-red gaze, which he turns on Kazunari now as Kazunari stumbles to an uncertain stop on the threshold of the living room.

The first semi-coherent thought that Kazunari manages to string together is tinged with hysteria: Akashi Seijuurou is a lot shorter in person than he would have expected. Fortunately, he has at least enough self-preservation instinct to keep himself from blurting that out. "Um. Am I—interrupting?"

It's a ridiculous question—of course he's interrupting—but at least it breaks the awkward silence. Sort of.

Akashi takes his time looking him over, scrutinizing him until Kazunari feels hot with the acute awareness of the mess of his hair and the dark circles under his eyes, the sloppy way he's wearing Shin-chan's yukata and the stubble on his chin and the way he really doesn't belong here in Shin-chan's fancy apartment. Akashi does belong, so subtly that Kazunari is hard-put to be able to say what it is, precisely, that makes that so clear. It could be the lines of his dark suit or the arrogant angle of his chin, or maybe it's just the way that he seems to assume that he has the right to go anywhere he pleases and that the world will bend itself to accommodate him.

The world has never bothered to do any such thing for Kazunari.

Akashi purses his lips. It feels like an eternity later, though it's probably only been a second or two. "So you're Takao." Summation and dismissal all at once; it stings like a slap.

Shin-chan flinches almost as much as Kazunari does. That seems odd, like something Kazunari is going to have to puzzle out later, but he doesn't have the luxury of doing that now, not when there's so much clear danger standing in front of him and wearing a suit that undoubtedly costs more than Kazunari earns in a month. He straightens his spine and lifts his chin, because even gutter punks have their pride. "Yeah, that's me."

"Indeed." Akashi turns away from him, back to Shin-chan, whose entire body radiates tension. Or something like that, something Kazunari doesn't know how to name. "Really, Shintarou." It's one part amusement and two parts gentle condescension and three parts reproof.

There's no reason to jump to conclusions—who even knows what they were talking about before he came out of the bathroom? Akashi could be talking about anything—but Kazunari knows, he just knows, that Akashi's derision is all for him and his awkward, out-of-place presence here in Shin-chan's home, maybe even in Shin-chan's life. He goes hot and shaky, because Akashi might as well have said, I suppose he might do for some, but don't you think you can do better than this? Which, of course, Shin-chan could, any time he liked, and no doubt will just as soon as he gets tired of whatever it is that Kazunari has to offer—

Shin-chan does the thing where he compresses his lips until the color flees from them and they turn into a flat, angry line. "Yes," he says. "Really."

Coming from him, that sounds a lot more like fuck you than anything else.

Akashi studies him, frowning faintly, as though he is puzzled by something he's seeing, something he has not expected. He looks Kazunari's way again, the glance quick and searching, and his frown deepens. Whatever he's looking for, he doesn't seem to find it. "Honestly, Shintarou. I have the highest respect for the work you do for us, but—forgive me for saying so, but I must ask—have you really thought this through?"

Fuck—fuck, getting shot has nothing on the way this hurts, and Kazunari should know. He's never let himself harbor any delusions about him and Shin-chan, because he's not stupid even if all he is is a punk from Shuutoku's lower ranks. Stupid punks don't last long, and he's a survivor. But fuck, this hurts, the way Akashi makes it clear that the thing he and Shin-chan have shouldn't really have even started to begin with. He doesn't belong in Shin-chan's world and Shin-chan only ever passes through his on other business. It was nothing but luck that drew them together in the first place, and it's frankly a miracle that they've managed to stick together this long. Kazunari opens his mouth to say that it's okay, he gets it, he'll clear out and go away to trouble them no more.

Shin-chan beats him to it. "In fact, I have." There's an edge in his voice, one that ordinarily only comes out to play when he's laying down the law for someone and does not wish to be misinterpreted or underestimated. "My mind is made up."

Akashi looks at him again, silent for long seconds, and then shakes his head. "And I gather that you have no intention of changing it." He sighs. "I suppose you had better fetch the sake then."

"He's on pain medication." Shin-chan's voice is still sharp. "He can't have alcohol."

Wait, Kazunari thinks, having lost track of precisely what is going on here. Wait, what? Sake?

Akashi frowns. "It really doesn't have the same meaning without the sake." The edge of complaint is jarring; it's nearly petulant and completely at odds with the chilly arrogance of just a few moments ago. He huffs a bit. "I suppose it will have to wait until he's recovered."

Kazunari finds his voice, uncertain. "What will have to wait?"

Akashi glances at him. "In the spirit of goodwill and good faith, I am exchanging one of my men for one of Nakatani's in order to foster the relationship between our two organizations and, not incidentally, keep my favorite lawyer happy." There is a faintly sardonic edge to his smile. "Welcome to Teikou."

It doesn't even make sense, and Kazunari's pretty sure that isn't the fault of the painkillers he's on, either. Welcome to Teikou? A trade? Keeping—keeping Shin-chan happy? "I don't understand." He hates the plaintive note he hears in his own voice, hates himself a little for the way he looks to Shin-chan, seeking some kind of explanation there, and he really hates the way Akashi looks at him, distant and superior, as though he's no more than some kind of toy or game that he's giving to Shin-chan to keep him pacified. Some kind of stray, maybe, that Akashi is allowing Shin-chan to keep now that it's followed him home.

Akashi gazes at him. "So I gather." He glances at Shin-chan, smiling faintly. There's an edge of mockery to it. "I imagine that you and Shintarou have a few things to discuss with each other. I do so look forward to hearing how that goes." He inclines his head to Shin-chan and leaves without anything more than that.

Shin-chan doesn't try to stop him, just looks after him with an expression that is—almost weary. Resigned, perhaps, but also determined, like what he'd said before is true: his mind is made up.

Kazunari doesn't understand any of this anymore. When Shin-chan takes his gasses off and wipes his hand over his face, he finds his voice again. "Shin-chan, what's going on?"

It's almost like Shin-chan forgot he was there, the way he starts. Kazunari might be offended by that but for the fact that now that he's met Akashi Seijuurou, he can see how that might happen. Shin-chan's apartment feels smaller now, emptier in the absence of Akashi's vivid, powerful presence. Like Akashi was somehow larger than his slender frame, more present and real than ordinary people.

Shin-chan looks at him now, restoring his glasses to their place on his nose. He's normally very good at explaining things in simple, blunt terms, uncompromising as granite. Just now he seems to be at a loss for what he should say.

Kazunari would have maybe tried to help him, but he's not sure he's feeling it just now.

Shin-chan chooses to lead off with something simple. "We may as well sit down." He suits action to words, doing something frankly bizarre in the process—he takes his suit coat off and drapes it over one of his armchairs before he sits. He loosens his tie, too, and undoes the top button of his collar.

Kazunari has had Shin-chan coming down his throat and has never seen him so undone as he looks now.

He only realizes that he's staring and not moving when Shin-chan looks up at him and gestures at the couch. "Sit."

He moves on something like autopilot, half-wondering whether he hasn't fallen asleep again and is dreaming this whole surreal encounter. The couch welcomes him, soft beneath him when he sinks into it, and he can't quite help relaxing into it, just a little bit. That may be part of the reason Shin-chan has invited him to sit. "What did he mean, Shin-chan?" Sometimes there's only one thing to be done—go right to the attack. "About—me. And Teikou." And all the other things, too, but those were clear enough to anyone with half a brain.

Shin-chan looks at him, just looks at him, then looks away. Kazunari can't tell whether it's because he's uncomfortable or embarrassed or what. "It's as he explained." His voice is nearly toneless. "Shuutoku and Teikou will have a personnel exchange. It will foster the connection between the two clans."

"And I'm one of the personnel to be exchanged?" It's outlandish—it's preposterous. He's never heard of anyone doing something like this, ever. It doesn't make sense. "What am I, a side of beef? Do I get any say in this?"

He's known Shin-chan long enough, interacted with him enough, to know what it looks like when Shin-chan doesn't understand something he's just said. Shin-chan is wearing that look now, staring at him like Kazunari isn't speaking in plan terms. Rather uncharacteristically, this time he admits to it. "I don't follow."

"Do I get any say whether I got to Teikou or not?" Kazunari demands. "Do I have any choice?"

Shin-chan frowns. "Do you want one?"

Kazunari opens and closes his mouth, trying to make words come out and not managing it. Does he want a choice? "What the fuck kind of question is that?"

"A fairly clear one, I should think." Shin-chan is testy about it. Well, Kazunari's feeling a bit testy himself.

"It's a stupid question!" He's never yelled at Shin-chan before. He's never particularly wanted to, before. It makes Shin-chan rock back, almost like a blow. "What do you even think I am, some kind of pawn who doesn't care how he gets pushed around? Of course I want a choice! You think I sat down and drank Nakatani's sake on a whim or something?" And now he's supposed to, what, do the same thing with a guy who looked at him sort of like he might have looked at something he'd scraped off the bottom of his shoes? Fuck that.

Shin-chan scowls. "Of course I don't think that. Are you saying that you want to stay with Shuutoku?" It couldn't be clearer that he can't imagine why Kazunari would want to do that. Why anybody would.

"...fuck you, Shin-chan. Fuck you so much." Kazunari struggles out of the deep cushions of the couch, hissing when he jolts his injured arm and not caring. He's got to get up, find some clothes, and get the fuck out of here, because playtime is over. Was fun while it lasted, maybe, but it's not fun anymore at all. But that's what a person gets for getting ideas above himself, right? He's known all along that messing around with Shin-chan wasn't ever going to end anywhere good for him. That's not the way it works. This isn't a fairy tale.

"Don't be so stupid." Shin-chan's not injured or running on painkillers and adrenaline; by the time Kazunari gets to his feet, he's already there. He gets a hand on Kazunari's good arm and holds him, and fuck, that means that Kazunari can't even punch him. It's not fair. "Damn it, what's the point of going back to them? They let you get shot and they weren't even going to do anything about it!"

Kazunari stumbles and comes up short on that, because—"What?" He stares at Shin-chan, thrown by this, the very last thing he would have expected to come out of Shin-chan's mouth. It doesn't dissipate his anger, far from it, but Kazunari's besetting sin is and always has been an overly developed sense of curiosity. He can't help the way it flares up now in response to this unprecedented behavior of Shin-chan's.

Shin-chan actually looks angry, not irritated or exasperated or annoyed or any of the thousand shades in between, but actually angry. "You said it yourself. You got shot on Shuutoku's business and you didn't even expect Shuutoku to do anything about it. Why would you want to stay with a clan that won't even defend its own?"

Kazunari laughs—he can't help himself. "Why would I expect them to?" he asks. "Shin-chan, it's not like I matter. No one's going to start a war over me."

"I would," Shin-chan snaps, and promptly turns red to the roots of his hair.

"What—what?" Kazunari can't possibly have heard that correctly—cannot possibly have heard Shin-chan say that he would start a yakuza war for him, of all people. Shin-chan doesn't give a crap about anything that doesn't benefit him directly and materially. Shit, most of the time, Shin-chan barely seems to tolerate him. "Shin-chan, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that—you matter." The words come out stiff, awkward, and Shin-chan goes an even darker shade of red as he fumbles them out. "You're important."

"Not to Shuutoku." He feels dizzy, like the room is spinning around him or his painkillers have just kicked in, though it's been a while since the last dose.

Shin-chan's mouth goes tight. "To me." It's almost like he's grudging Kazunari the admission, but when Kazunari abruptly sits down he immediately screws his expression up into what Kazunari distantly recognizes is Shin-chan's version of concern. He's seen it before, after all—Shin-chan had been wearing it all last evening when he'd rushed Kazunari to the doctor.

He's not stupid—he may have barely scraped through his middle school graduation and certainly hadn't bothered with high school—but he's got the brains to put things together when all the pieces are laid out for him. It doesn't actually make any sense—Shin-chan thinks he's important, Shin-chan has been taking care of him, Shin-chan seems to care about him—but he can see what the shape of it is now. Kazunari stares at Shin-chan, who is settled on his haunches and is peering at him worriedly, and shakes his head. "But you don't even like me."

There are these little grooves at the corner of Shin-chan's mouth that forecast where he's going to have wrinkles in a couple more decades; they turn deeper now as Shin-chan frowns. "You say such stupid things."

"But you don't," Kazunari says, sitting on Shin-chan's couch and surrounded by the material evidence that Shin-chan cares at least enough to make sure he doesn't die and has a safe place to rest. "I'm not—I'm just—"

The grooves at the corner of Shin-chan's mouth go even deeper as he frowns harder. "Takao," he says, halting and uncertain. That's a change. Shin-chan is never uncertain. Kazunari watches him take a deep breath, the rise and fall of his shoulders as he lets it out again. The words come slow when he starts talking again. "I didn't know," he begins. "I didn't think I did like you, not until I saw you standing there with blood all over you. I didn't even know why I put up with you before that."

"And I'm the one who says stupid things?" Kazunari says, because that one is easy. "'s called sex, Shin-chan."

Curiously, this glib answer makes Shin-chan shake his head. "If it were that, I'd be fucking someone who's less trouble," he says, impatient. "And yet I'm not, because I'd rather have you."

Taka doesn't even know what to do with all this—can't even be sure that it's real. "What the heck is in those pills you've been giving me?" he asks, all bemused. Or maybe—"Have you been getting into them, too?"

"Damn it, would you just listen to me?" Shin-chan grabs his good hand and wraps his fingers around Kazunari's wrist. "You got shot. You could have died, and it would have been—there wouldn't have been anything I could do about it. And I would have—you can't die. I won't let you. And you shouldn't—you deserve to have a clan that will watch your back and take care of you. So you will, now."

Kazunari listens to that disjointed tumble of words, the aggregate of which is almost like a confession, and a number of things vie for his attention. There's the anger that Shin-chan thinks that he can so easily be plucked out of Shuutoku and given to Teikou without so much as a by-your-leave, and there's his bafflement that this conversation is even taking place between the two of them, and there's the disorientation that comes of the fact that Shin-chan, cold, callous, self-interested Shin-chan... isn't cold at all. "Was it... were you the one who... wanted Teikou to take me?" Because that must be what Akashi meant about keeping his favorite lawyer happy.

Shin-chan makes an impatient sound. "Of course it was. Who else would it have been?"

Kazunari stares at Shin-chan, because it doesn't make sense—it just doesn't make sense, no matter which way he tries to look at it. He can't quite make it fit. "I don't get it," he says, at a loss for what to do and what to say. "Shin-chan, what would you even do that for? I don't—" He stops and tries to make a gesture at the apartment around them, all the space and understated wealth of it, but of course he can't, not when Shin-chan has a hold on his good hand. "Look around, Shin-chan. I don't belong in your life. I don't fit, I'm just—you know I'm just one of the guys they send on errands that don't really matter. I'm just a low-level punk, and that's probably all I'm ever going to be." Maybe if he lives long enough and doesn't fuck up, he'll climb up a rank or two, but he's enough of a realist to recognize that he's not one of the guys who's ever going to rise to the top. It's just not his style.

Shin-chan gives him a disgusted sort of look. "You're not an accessory, you idiot." He grimaces, clearly annoyed. "Do you think I give a damn whether you're one of Nakatani's errand boys or his right hand? You'd still be you either way, wouldn't you?"

Kazunari opens his mouth and finds that he's not sure what to say to that. There seems like there ought to be something, somehow, but he can't figure out what it is.

Shin-chan pushes on, irritable, which is just normal enough that it makes the whole thing feel completely surreal. "You're not like anyone else I've ever met—you don't ever stop laughing at the world, you see how ridiculous it is and how awful it is, and you don't try to deny it or pretend it's not what it is. You look at me and you know what a bastard I am and you don't care—you like it, you call it being straightforward, and you never flinch back from it. And you're still—still one of the better people I know. You still laugh."

Kazunari blinks at him, not entirely sure that he recognizes this portrait of himself. "How can you not laugh?" It's better than any of the alternatives that Kazunari can see, better by a long shot.

Shin-chan's smile is thin. "Most people seem to manage it."

He has a point there; most people do take things too seriously. It's too bad, really. Life's too short to waste that way. And that's the kind of philosophical line of thought that Kazunari would be all too glad to pursue, if only he weren't self-aware enough to recognize it for the change of topic that it is. They need to have this one out, whether he likes it or not.

He frees his hand from Shin-chan's and rubs his forehead, trying to think. It's not easy, not when his arm aches and his head is fuzzy and he's still angry. And now he's reeling from finding out that his one-sided, hopeless crush on Shin-chan is neither as one-sided or as hopeless as he'd thought it was. He's always counted on Shin-chan to be the ruthless one, the practical one—so much for that. "How do you even think this is supposed to work?" he asks when he lowers his hand again.

Shin-chan frowns at him. "What do you mean?"

This time Kazunari can wave his hand, so he does. "This, Shin-chan. How's it supposed to work?" Shin-chan gives him a blank sort of look; Kazunari sighs. "Okay, I'm not—not a pet, for one thing." There's no saying what Shin-chan is thinking, at least in terms of the longer term, but the faintly guilty wince when Kazunari adds, "You can't just keep me here like I'm a puppy that followed you home," suggests a lot. "I mean, I doubt I could even afford to cover the utilities for a place like this, let alone half the rent."

"I wouldn't expect you to," Shin-chan says, and that clears that right up.

"Yeah, well, I would expect myself to." Kazunari shakes his head when Shin-chan, predictably enough, opens his mouth to argue. "No, you don't get it, Shin-chan. Even gutter punks have their pride." And that leads them to the other thing. "And what do you think is gonna happen when you drop me right into the middle of Teikou, anyway? You think those guys are just gonna scoot over and make room for me? Like they're gonna welcome me with open arms?"

"If you've shared sake with Akashi—" Shin-chan begins.

Kazunari stops him. "I'd still be the guy's who's only around because the oyabun wants to do his favorite lawyer a favor. I'd still be a pet." He knows that the way he smiles then isn't cheerful, but it's not really a cheerful subject, is it? "If I'm lucky, people would tolerate me because the higher ranks want me around. If I'm not, well. At least I probably wouldn't have to worry about it for long."

Shin-chan isn't dumb—more innocent than Kazunari would have expected him to be, considering, but not dumb. He gets the drift pretty fast and scowls. "They would be your clan—"

"No, they wouldn't." He's less angry now, seeing how Shin-chan just doesn't get it, seeing how it fits in with—other things. Shin-chan's hand is resting on his knee, light; Kazunari, a little amazed with himself and his own daring, settles his hand on top of it. Shin-chan lets him do it. "I'd still be Shuutoku, y'know? Because they're my people. They're the ones I chose, even if—Nakatani probably doesn't even remember my name, I get that, but he's still the one who looked after my neighborhood when I was growing up and he's the one who made sure we didn't starve after my dad died. I owe him, Shin-chan. That's not something I can just walk away from."

Shin-chan stares at him, his mouth gone tight again. Kazunari tries to recall whether he's ever told Shin-chan any of this, but he doesn't think he has. He hopes it makes sense to him. "So I'm just supposed to let you go back to them to get yourself killed running errands for them?"

"If that's what my clan needs from me, yeah." Kazunari smiles, a little wry. "I mean, it's not like I'm in hurry for that to happen, don't get me wrong, but that's how it is." He hesitates and squeezes Shin-chan's hand. "I'm sorry, I know you were trying to—" He nearly trips over the words, they seem so strange to associate with Shin-chan, with this thing between them. "—take care of me."

It doesn't do much to soothe Shin-chan. "But it's so stupid," he snaps, only Kazunari thinks that the reason he's so angry now is because that's an easy way to deal with other things, the softer feelings that Kazunari is pretty sure Shin-chan doesn't have a lot of experience with.

"Sometimes life is kind of stupid," Kazunari says. He shrugs before he can think about it and agitates his wound. He grimaces.

That distracts Shin-chan immediately and he frowns again, in a different way from before. "It's time for your medicine," he declares, which Kazunari is pretty sure is a deliberate change of subjects. He slides his fingers out from beneath Kazunari's and stands, turning away from him and heading for the kitchen.

It takes on an entirely new dimension now that Kazunari has a grip on why Shin-chan is doing all this. It makes him almost dizzy, thinking about it, and he can't keep himself on the couch. He trails after Shin-chan and watches him hold up the vials of pills, squinting at the labels and checking the time before he counts out the ones that are for pain and the ones that are to prevent infection. Those have to be taken with food; Shin-chan is in the middle of pulling things out of the freezer before he realizes that Kazunari is watching him. "What?"

"I've always liked you," Kazunari says, because he's not sure whether Shin-chan knows it, and it seems like it's a good time to go ahead and be candid, given the circumstances. "I never figured that you'd do more than put up with me, y'know? I wish it hadn't taken getting shot to figure it out, but... I'm still kind of glad that it did."

"You're an idiot," Shin-chan says after staring at him for a moment. "Sit down and stop talking nonsense." He turns away and busies himself with breaking into the packages he's taken from the freezer, weighing a package of frozen dumplings in his hand and muttering under his breath.

Kazunari smiles at his back and perches himself at the bar that separates the kitchen from the living area, and watches him.

Most of what Shin-chan is assembling seems to be in the pre-packaged reheat-and-serve vein, which Kazunari finds amusing—isn't that sort of down-market? He asks as much and gets an exasperated look from Shin-chan in return. "Do I look like someone who cooks very many of his own meals?"

There's a certain justice to that, Kazunari thinks, as Shin-chan puts frozen dumplings in to steam. It's just funny to see him being domestic in the same bachelor kind of way he is himself. Then Shin-chan adds, "It's too much effort to cook for one, anyway."

There's something about the way he says it, with the corners of his mouth tucked down and an edge of bitterness to it, that pings Kazunari, makes him think of the seismic shift in how he understands where things between him and Shin-chan stand. It makes him wonder just what has been going through Shin-chan's head these past twenty-four hours, what kinds of things Shin-chan has been thinking of and planning. It all feels like too much, too fast, like he's trying to grope his way forward through unfamiliar territory while wearing a blindfold. But he's never been one to back down from a challenge, and he's not about to start now. Kazunari runs his fingers along the edge of the bar, keeping one eye on Shin-chan, and says, "Well, you can cook for me any time you want."

"You're not too proud for that?"

Kazunari could be hurt by the acid edge of that, but he chooses not to be. Shin-chan has been insulting him for as long as they've known each other, for one thing, and for another, he has a whole new way to read Shin-chan now. "Hey, have I ever been too proud to bum a free meal off you?" It even has the virtue of being true. He's badgered Shin-chan into buying him ramen a time or two, or takeout to keep up their strength after a vigorous round in the sack. That sort of thing. This isn't the same, but that's also kind of his point.

He hopes Shin-chan can see that.

Shin-chan makes an awful lot of noise with the dishes when he pulls a pot out of the dish rack, probably to make more soup with. Kazunari is tempted to say that he's deliberately banging things around out of pique. "My apologies. I wasn't aware that there were such fine distinctions in the levels of your pride."

Guess that's a sign that no, Shin-chan doesn't get it. Maybe that's just as well. They've never talked about any of this stuff before, and clearly that was a mistake.

Kazunari leans his good elbow on the bar top and props his chin up in the palm. "I just don't want to be kept, Shin-chan. I didn't say that I didn't want to stay." He can't help the way he looks around himself, looking over all the luxury and space of Shin-chan's home, or the wistfulness in his voice when he adds, "I've never been anywhere as fancy as this. It's definitely a lot nicer than the shithole I live in." Roaches would probably be embarrassed to show their faces in a place like this.

Shin-chan bangs the pot down on the range briskly enough that the noise makes Kazunari wince. "Then stay," he snaps.

From the look he gets then, sort of a cross between embarrassment and horror that immediately shades into irritation nearly as fast as Kazunari can blink, he guesses that Shin-chan may not have entirely meant to say that. He looks at Kazunari and just as quickly looks away again, color rising in his cheeks as he shoves his glasses up his nose.

Kazunari takes a deep breath and lets it out again, slow and careful. "You'd have to let me put money towards the rent or buy the groceries or something."

Shin-chan stops and glances at him, frowning. "Surely you know there's no reason to do that. I can more than afford to cover the living expenses for two people."

It occurs to Kazunari, who never has been able to remain wholly serious for any extended length of time, that it must be love if Midorima Shintarou is offering to spend money on anyone but himself. "Yeah, I know. But that's not the point." Maybe he's crazy to take this line, to refuse to take what Shin-chan is so clearly willing to give him, but—he just can't see that lasting. Can't really see this lasting either, if he's entirely honest, but it definitely won't get anywhere if he can't at least get Shin-chan to look at him as someone with sort-of equal standing. It's just a hunch that he has.

Shin-chan makes a sound of pure aggravation—Kazunari's very familiar with that sound and has taken a lot of pride in learning how to elicit it—and bangs a cabinet door open. As he hunts through the cabinet for a soup packet, he says, "I wish you would make up your mind what you want."

"Same thing I've always wanted," Kazunari says. "You, however I can have you." Shin-chan fumbles with the packet and drops it, but he doesn't seem to notice it fluttering to the floor as he turns and stares. "I told you, didn't I? I really like you." He reflects on it. "I probably love you, actually. Which, wow, that's something I never figured I'd get to tell you to your face."

He wouldn't have thought that Shin-chan could look any more shocked than he had yesterday, walking in on him and finding him with blood all over him, but Shin-chan manages it somehow now. He stares at Kazunari now, looking positively dumbfounded. "Takao..."

This time he remembers to shrug only his good shoulder. "Well, I guess it's true. On both counts." He clears his throat; coming close to dying may have a way of clarifying matters, true, but it's still embarrassing to say this stuff so baldly, especially without the excuse of being drunk or stoned on painkillers. "I just—also want to be able to hold onto my self-respect, y'know? I'm kind of dumb that way."

He sees Shin-chan swallow; slowly, he stoops to pick up the soup packet. He keeps his face turned away as he measures out the water for the soup and turns the range on. The water is beginning to steam before he says, "We could split the cost of living here proportionally, based on our respective incomes."

Kazunari lets out his breath and nods, though Shin-chan isn't—quite—looking at him. "Yeah, that could work."

Shin-chan also seems to sigh, sort of. "I suppose you're determined to stay with Shuutoku."

"Yeah, pretty much." Kazunari can't help the snort of laughter that bubbles out of him, thinking about it. "Gotta be honest, Shin-chan, I really don't think I'd get along too well with Akashi." He's also pretty sure that's a mutual feeling.

"You could learn." But even Shin-chan doesn't sound too convinced by that, and he goes on to say, "I suppose it's moot, anyway."

"Very moot," Kazunari says. "Sorry."

Shin-chan shakes his head, rips the soup packet open, and stirs it into the water. "I don't know if I can say that it's mutual," he announces, funny and awkward and abrupt. "But—I know I've never felt like this before. For whatever that's worth to you."

Kazunari kind of has to clear his throat before he can say anything. "I think it's worth a lot, actually."

Shin-chan stirs the soup, nodding at it and not him, and then turns and looks at Kazunari. "Then—stay. Please."

Kazunari takes a deep breath and smiles at him, wondering if this is what it feels like to step off a cliff and take flight instead of falling. "Yeah," he says, watching Shin-chan begin to smile, faint and true. "Yeah, okay. I will."

It feels strange to lie in bed next to Shin-chan, with Shin-chan's hand resting warm and heavy against his chest, but Kazunari thinks that he might just be able to get used to it.


As always, comments are lovely!