Aim for the Sky!, The Thought That Counts

Title: The Thought That Counts [Tsukada/Kichida, etc]
Rating/Warnings: NC-17 over all, most sections are PG-13-ish
Summary: Captain Tsukada sets up a Secret Santa exchange to promote team bonding, but most of the bonding (and the presents) are really not what Tsukada had in mind. Meanwhile, Kichida has a crisis, Asakawa is a slut, Sato nearly quits, Tachiki gets laid more than even Asakawa, Kobayashi meets Kazuhiro’s brothers, Misaki gets lit, and the nameless freshman somehow dominates the whole fic.

Pairings include: Tsukada/Kichida, Sato/Asakawa, Tachiki/Misaki, Kichida/Kichida, Sato/Asakawa/Misaki, Tsukada/Tachiki, Sato/freshman unrequited, Sato/Oishi unrequited, Marty-san/Harada, Kazuhiro/Kobayashi, Tachiki/Kichida/Tsukada. There’s others, I’m just tired of typing.

AN: Posted daily from Dec. 1-25, each piece is between 600-1000 words for the most part, topping out at about 28k in all.

The Thought that Counts

Day 1: In which Misaki is grumpy and names are exchanged.

“Oi, viper, quit pushing!”

“You quit it!”

“Do you two mind!” Misaki snapped at their yearmates, leaning around Asakawa in the line. “Some of us are trying to get lunch here! Honestly,” he grumbled, taking Asakawa by the shoulders and steering him around the other two, who were grabbing at each other’s shirts and shaking each other like idiots. On the way by, Misaki casually stuck out a foot and tripped the one with the spiky hair that was in Asakawa’s class, sending both boys crashing to the ground, one on top of the other.

They didn’t seem to notice.

“What are you so grumpy about?” Asakawa asked with a raised eyebrow, which was Asakawa-code for ‘race you to the haunted bathroom.’

“Nothing,” Misaki ruffled Asakawa’s hair as they shifted forward with the line. “I’m just not looking forward to practice after classes.”

“Really?” Asakawa blinked slowly, brown eyes filling with disbelief. “You don’t want to play?”

“I just don’t like practicing inside!” Misaki added quickly, not hankering for an ode to lacrosse at that particular moment. “Plus, Harada said Tsukada wants to give us some lecture again.”

“Oh.” Even Asakawa’s sport fervor dimmed a bit at that. “I know what that means.”

“Oh yeah,” Misaki sighed, because for once Asakawa wasn’t referring to blowjobs.

*********

“Team bonding!” Tsukada announced over his clipboard, eyeing the team one by one. “That’s what you need!”

Oh god, let it end, Misaki begged internally, trying not to clench his jaw at the way Kazuhiro was squeaking the toe of his sneaker against the auxiliary auxiliary gym’s floor.

“Yo, Captain,” Tachiki said as he strolled in, ten minutes late, and Misaki gave up all hope of this lecture having a timely conclusion when Tachiki saluted Tsukada with his crosse. “Not to interrupt, but the last time you wanted us to bond, Kazuhiro’s hand got bonded to Kobayashi’s ass for 36 hours.”

“38 hours!” Kazuhiro chirped helpfully, raising his voice when Kobayashi’s splutters threatened to drown him out. “And actually, that was the practice after that, Tachiki-kun.”

“So I have decided,” Tsukada seemed to have figured out that the best thing to do was just to keep talking, getting louder as necessary, “that we’re going to do a group activity.”

A chorus of groans met this announcement, followed by Harada telling everybody to PIPE DOWN.

“Given the season, it’s going to be a Secret Santa exchange,” Tsukada finished. Asakawa looked vaguely disappointed. “Everyone will write their name on a piece of paper, and then we’ll draw names. You will have to become acquainted with your teammate’s likes and dislikes in order to give a suitable gift.”

“I’ll collect the papers,” Tachiki volunteered, smiling winningly at the captain.

“The hell you will,” Kichida said. “When you collected the names for our class drawing, everybody’s strip had YOUR name on it in the end.”

“I’m a popular guy!” Tachiki protested indignantly, before Tsukada told him to can it.

“Here.” Kobayashi started ripping strips of paper out of his notebook and passing them around. “Let’s just get this over with.”

They all duly scribbled down their names, circulating the pencils borrowed from Tsukada and Kobayashi and pressing the strips of paper awkwardly against their thighs and each other’s backs, then Harada marched around to collect the strips in Marty’s winter hat.

“All right.” Tsukada jostled the hand in his hands, shifting the papers around. “Come forward to draw a name one by one, and check to make sure you don’t draw your own name. If you tell anybody who you have, it’s ten laps!”

Tachiki drew first, since he was standing nearest Tsukada, and looked at his slip of paper for a second before making a noncommittal noise and shoving the paper in his pocket. Harada bounced up next and came away looking pleased, followed by Sato, who looked far less pleased. Asakawa beamed at his name and Kichida shrugged, and finally Misaki shuffled forward and grabbed a strip.

Marty-san? Misaki stared at his strip a second longer, then sighed. Nothing against Marty-san, but who knew what those crazy foreigners gave each other as presents, especially on a holiday as weird as Christmas.

“And I’ll take the last one,” Tsukada finished, pulling the last piece of paper out and tossing the hat back to Marty-san. His bland expression didn’t change as he tucked the paper under some others on his clipboard. “Now, let’s get to practice!”

“HO HO HO, BABY!” Harada said.

Day 2: In which Yutaka likes to talk and Kinsho thinks about what he’d like to exchange.

Yutaka was sprawled across his bed, relative for all values of ‘his’, thumbing his Gameboy Advance with his tongue stuck out in concentration, when Kinsho got home. Kinsho’s knees ached from sprints and his shoulders ached from lifting, since the baseball team was taking advantage of the bad weather to work on their conditioning.

“So guess what happened at practice today,” Kinsho purred, tilting his head backwards to get a better look at his twin and tossing the GBA aside.

“I don’t care,” Yutaka grunted, letting his bag, or ‘the’ bag, drop to the floor with a muffled crash. “And stop hanging out with Tachiki, your face’ll get stuck like that, and then I’ll have to make it too.”

“You’re the worst liar ever.” Yutaka rolled over and patted the bed beside him. “Come listen to your nii-sama.”

“Fuck off.” Kinsho stripped off his shirt and threw it at Yutaka’s stupid head, then stomped off to the shower to warm up.

His mood improved slightly when he wasn’t freezing and was mildly less achy, enough so that his guard was lowered by the time he shuffled back into their room, holding his towel around his waist.

That was his biggest mistake, it turned out, since it gave Yutaka something to grab when Kichida walked by, but the second biggest mistake was not kneeing Yutaka in the groin immediately after he tumbled Kinsho down onto the bed, because then Kinsho might have actually had a chance at escape.

“What do you want?” Kinsho just sighed instead, while Yutaka sprawled out on top of him and pinned him securely to the bed. He kicked a little, but it was way too late. “Leggo, I’m tired.”

“You want to hear about this, trust me, little brother.” Yutaka smirked again. He got comfortable, propped up over Kinsho on his elbows. “We’re doing a Secret Santa exchange.”

“Fun,” Kinsho said blandly. “Who’d you get?”

We,” Yutaka suddenly had a strip of paper dangling between two of his fingers, “got our illustrious captain.”

“Tsukada?” Kinsho swallowed and hoped Yutaka hadn’t heard the little half-breath he’d just caught, or felt the completely unwanted twitch of attention from his cock underneath the towel. “That’s…that’s not too bad, right?”

“You tell me.” Yutaka shifted, and for a split-second Kinsho thought he was going to let him up, but then Yutaka pushed himself up just far enough to yank Kinsho’s towel out from between them. “Cause it looks like you already have an idea what you’d like to give him.”

“Quit it,” Kinsho mumbled, turning his head to the side to try and hide his blush, but he gasped when Yutaka rocked his hips down against Kinsho’s.

He didn’t fight it when Yutaka rolled them both onto their sides, facing each other, then wrapped a hand around Kinsho’s cock, already mostly hard.

“That fast, huh?” Yutaka laughed. The smirk was gone suddenly, and Yutaka was looking at him like he used to before baseball and lacrosse and all of this, nothing but lazy affection and conspiracy. “Didn’t have any fun in the shower?”

“Too sore,” Kinsho said, leaving the “without me” that Yutaka had hung unsaid between them without an answer. His eyes fluttered half-shut when Yutaka shifted his grip the way he liked. “Besides, I like it when you do all the work.”

“That’s just how things should be,” Yutaka said, and Kinsho shivered at the gruff possession in Yutaka’s voice, more emotion than his twin usually let show even here, like this. If Yutaka regretted letting that slip out, he covered it by letting go of Kinsho to fuss with his jeans, yanking at the button fly until Kinsho reached over and helped him force the buttons through the stiff fabric.

Yutaka’s patience appeared to be at an end by the time Kinsho finished, and he didn’t waste any time wrapping an arm around Kinsho’s hip and pulling him close enough to press both their cocks together and get a hand around both of them.

“Sure you…don’t want help?” Kinsho teased when Yutaka’s hand didn’t quite make it the whole way around, but it was more than good enough to make Kinsho rock up into the touch with a groan.

“Thought you wanted me to do all the work?” Yutaka asked. He pulled away when Kinsho leaned closer to press their lips together. “Nn, I’d rather hear you.”

“Hear me?” Kinsho’s brow knitted for a moment, before the slide of Yutaka’s hand made him groan and clutch at Yutaka’s shoulders.

“You wanna tell me, right?” Yutaka edged closer, brushing his nose against Kinsho’s temple, and Yutaka’s breath over his damp hair made Kinsho shiver. “How you want to give it to the captain?”

“I don’t,” Kinsho started, but even the thought made everything tighten up, made him slide his arms tight around Yutaka’s neck.

“In the locker room?” Yutaka was saying, voice low and rough, ignoring Kinsho’s half-moaned pleas to quit it. “Or in the office? Mm, on the desk, just push him down, spread out over his papers for you…”

“No, it’s not,” Kinsho started, but then it was all too much and he gave a whimpered “fuck” and pressed his face tight against Yutaka’s neck as he came.

It took him a long, light-headed second to realize that the shaking wasn’t all his, and that Yutaka’s limbs were trembling as well where they pressed up against him.

“Worst liar ever,” Yutaka repeated lazily after a deep yawn, and Kinsho let himself be rolled over and gathered in tight against Yutaka’s chest, thinking about how in his mind, it had been him who was spread out over the papers on Captain Tsukada’s desk.

Day 3: In which Sato accomplishes nothing and Asakawa completely knows it

Sato was trying very hard to finish his math homework, and not to be completely obvious about staring at Asakawa over the library table.

He was failing at both, he knew, firstly because his sheet of paper only had one problem half-done on it, and also because Asakawa looked up and caught his eye once in a while, grinning, making Sato flush and jerk his eyes back down to his homework.

It wasn’t his fault, Sato sighed to himself. Asakawa was utterly aware of how good he looked with his uniform jacket unbuttoned and askew, his skin pale from indoor practice, and his tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. If all that weren’t adorable enough, Asakawa was swinging his feet back and forth under his chair; Sato knew because the tips of Asakawa’s sneakers brushed his shin every couple seconds.

“Just give up,” Asakawa said sagely after he’d made Sato look away for the second time in two minutes.

“I can’t,” Sato grumbled, scratching down a few numbers on his paper. “Because after this we’re going to your house, and your mother won’t be home because your mother is never home, and…well,” Sato’s cheeks heated even more, “you know, and then I won’t ever get this done.”

Asakawa laughed, bright and clear and just a little too loud for the library, but anybody who happened to look over at them got distracted by Asakawa’s grin before they complained.

“You could help me with this form instead?” Asakawa asked hopefully, and his sneaker’s brushed Sato’s shin for just a second longer than usual.

“No, I can’t,” Sato said firmly, making sure his eyes were glued to the math book before Asakawa started the pout. “We aren’t supposed to tell each other who we got.”

“But there’s so many questions,” Asakawa whined, and Sato had to agree that the form Captain Tsukada had given them to fill out about their Secret Santa recipient went a bit overboard. Favorite color, fine, favorite candy, sure, but favorite baby animal? Favorite JE idol? Sato thought that their captain might have gone just a tad off the deep end this time. “How am I supposed to find out this stuff?”

“You’ll just have to be subtle,” Sato shrugged, then chuckled and added, “which you’re so good at,” and Asakawa stuck his tongue out at him.

“I bet I could help with yours…” Asakawa wheedled.

“Nngh.” Sato scowled at his book. He had no doubt that Asakawa could tell him plenty about Tachiki, whose name happened to be written on Sato’s piece of paper, most of which was not a question on that sheet, and none of which Sato really wanted to know.

Asakawa kicked him under the table, for real this time, and when Sato looked up, Asakawa was eyeing him.

“I don’t like that face,” he said. Sato sighed and ran his hands through his hair.

“Sorry.” Sato flipped his book shut. “Let’s just go, huh?”

Asakawa was already out of his chair, jamming the Secret Santa form into his bag and bouncing on the balls of his feet until Sato was up too.

“Okay, okay!” Sato laughed when Asakawa grabbed his sleeve and started yanking to hurry him up. “You don’t have to be so—the entrance is in the other direction, you know.”

“That’s not what I’m looking for.” Asakawa peered down a row of stacks, then shoved Sato down it in front of him and kept pushing until Sato was backed into the corner in the Quarto CP 538.2-DB 81.8 section, a Salvador Dali artbook poking him right in the small of the back.

Sato swallowed when Asakawa cuddled up against his chest, casually flicking open the buttons of Sato’s uniform jacket. He glanced around nervously, but there was nobody around since it was getting late and most students were heading home for dinner. And they were pretty deep in the stacks…

“Asakawa,” Sato protested, despite the fact that he couldn’t quite get his hands out from underneath Asakawa’s uniform jacket, “we’re going to your house anyway! You can’t wait twenty minutes?”

“No,” Asakawa purred, which surprised Sato even less than the fingers cupping his zipper.

******

A couple hours later, Asakawa was still diligently filling out the form, on his stomach on his bed, kicking his feet back and forth a little. Sato had given up all pretense of doing anything besides running his palm across Asakawa’s bare back.

“You sure you don’t want to help?” Asakawa sighed. He shivered when Sato’s fingers brushed a sensitive spot, dropping his pencil. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

“You’re going to earn yourself ten laps with that offer,” Sato pointed out, then gave an “oof” when Asakawa rolled over onto his chest suddenly.

“Doesn’t really sound like punishment to me,” Asakawa said, then ran his tongue along the edge of Sato’s jaw.

Day 4: In which Harada explains about the good kind of laps, and Sato runs a lot of the bad kind.

Despite Asakawa’s best efforts, Sato still refused to reveal who his Secret Santa recipient was, and Asakawa was forced to resort to the process of elimination.

“I’m not telling you who I have,” Harada said, bemused but firm.

“Aw, come on!” Asakawa slid a bit closer on the locker room bench and bumped shoulders with Harada. “I won’t tell, I promise.”

“Sorry, senpai.” Harada patted Asakawa’s hand. “Tsukada-captain said we’d get laps.”

“But you like laps!” Asakawa protested.

“I like the good kind of laps,” Harada explained, and when Asakawa just stared at him, added, “the kind where Tsukada-captain runs too, and he doesn’t say ‘I’d better never see THAT again’ at the end.”

“You do a pretty good Tsukada impression,” Asakawa had to admit, and he grinned in spite of himself when Harada beamed and threw his arms around Asakawa in a tight hug.

The door swung open, and Asakawa and Harada turned to see Asakawa’s pet freshman leaning in the doorway. He glanced around for a second, then his face lit up when he caught sight of Harada.

“Did you find it?” Harada asked, letting go of Asakawa. His freshman smiled and nodded vehemently, and Harada hopped off the bench. He rushed out the door, tugging his freshman behind him and chattering away.

Asakawa twiddled with the strings of his sweatpants for a few seconds, swinging his feet under the bench, then scooped his stick off the bench and headed out to warm up for practice.

Practicing in the auxiliary auxiliary gym kind of sucked, since it was boring to run on the concrete floor, which made Asakawa’s knees hurt more than the grass, and also because it smelled kind of funny. But practice was still practice, and when Asakawa got there, arms goosebumped from even the minute outside in the cold, the others were all warming up.

Except for Sato, who was already running laps. Asakawa frowned a little.

“What’s up with that?” he asked Tachiki, who was nearby and doing the laziest set of stretches in the history of lacrosse.

“Sato came out here and said he was my Secret Santa,” Tachiki explained with a shrug, leaning into his stretch first one direction and then the other. “He started asking me all those stupid questions from the form, and then the Captain caught him at it and said he had to run a lap for each question he had left.”

“Favorite Kamen Rider of all time!” Sato hollered as he came around the corner, sounding out of breath but determined.

“Kick Hopper Rider from Kabuto,” Tachiki answered, smirking at Sato’s pain.

“It would be,” Sato sneered, then he was past, sneakers squeaking steadily on the gym floor. Asakawa caught a whiff of the strawberry shampoo Sato insisted his mother was forcing him to use because his sister didn’t like it.

“Asakawa!” Tsukada bellowed right behind Asakawa, making him jump a few inches. Tachiki chuckled. “Five laps for being late to practice and slacking off!”

Asakawa whined a little, but jogged off and caught up to Sato, keeping pace with him.

“How many questions do you have left?” he asked.

“Seven,” Sato grunted, and Asakawa watched sweat trickle down Sato’s neck. “Too bad one of them isn’t ‘how many inches of Tsukada’s dick would it take to shut you the hell up?’ ”

“Too bad,” Asakawa echoed. He was getting a little short of breath already; he’d have to ask Sato about working on his stamina later. He shook off thoughts of Tsukada shutting up or not shutting up with his mouth full and noticed that the others were mostly finished stretching. “Guess we’ll be warm-up partners. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not.” Sato flashed Asakawa a puzzled smile. “Why would I mind?”

“Well, the last time you had me bent nearly double was a little different…” Sato stumbled suddenly, and Asakawa laughed even though it made his breath catch short in his chest.

Day 5: In which Kobayashi worries for no reason and Kazuhiro buys him ramen.

“Come ooooon, Kobagin!” Kazuhiro stretched his arms over his head and rocked on his heels, the soles of his feet squeaking against the tiles of the shower floor. “Stop being such a girl!”

Kobayashi turned his head to squint at Kazuhiro over his shoulder. “I think you have us confused.”

“I’m not the one who won’t get out of the shower because it’s just a little cold outside.” Kazuhiro laughed when Kobayashi flipped him the bird and went back to shampooing his hair. “Come on, everyone else is gone!”

“You don’t have to wait for me, you know.”

“I know.” Kobayashi heard the squeak of Kazuhiro turning around, but not the subsequent noise of him actually leaving the showers.

“And stop staring at my ass!” Kobayashi turned again, fully expecting to see Kazuhiro grinning at him, and hiding his own smile behind the curve of his shoulder, but instead Kobayashi found himself staring at Kazuhiro’s back and frowned.

Whatever, he thought, shampooing perhaps a little harder than was strictly necessary, and swearing when he got soap in his eyes.

“Want to get something to eat?” Kazuhiro asked while Kobayashi pulled on his pants, then started layering T-shirts. “Or would you rather just go straight to the North Pole while you’re dressed for it?”

“Will you put something on before you get pneumonia!” Kobayashi snapped in reply. He dropped his towel over Kazuhiro’s head. “At least dry your hair off, or it’ll freeze again when you get outside.”

“I think the little curls are cool,” Kazuhiro mumbled from underneath the towel, but reached up to rub it against his head. Kobayashi hadn’t realized he was still staring when Kazuhiro pulled the towel down and caught him with a grin. “Buy you ramen? It’ll be waaaaarm…”

“You’ll use any excuse to get ramen, is the truth.” Kobayashi rolled his eyes, but didn’t say no.

*******

Kazuhiro’s favorite ramen shop, which Kobayashi had to admit did a mean house special, was bustling because of the cold weather. They squeezed by a kid with bleached bangs hollering at the top of his lungs at another kid about their age and found two seats together at the counter.

“Two house specials!” Kazuhiro called over the noise, then he snapped apart his chopsticks and poked Kobayashi with them until their food arrived.

It smelled amazing, and Kobayashi was starving after practice. He dug in with a hurried “Let’s eat!” and didn’t come up for air until he couldn’t see out of his glasses from the steam.

“Wha?” Kobayashi asked around a mouthful of noodles when he noticed Kazuhiro grinning at him. He slurped the rest of the noodles into his mouth.

“Warm enough now?” Kazuhiro asked. He reached over to push Kobayashi’s glasses up where they’d slipped down his nose from the steam.

“Kazuhiro!” Kobayashi brushed Kazuhiro’s hand away and glanced around to make sure nobody had seen.

It was too packed to really hang around and talk. When they were through eating, Kazuhiro slapped down some money on the counter before Kobayashi could protest and pushed him back through the crowd. The blast of cold air slapped Kobayashi in the face when they got to the door, making his glasses fog yet again.

“Hey,” he said while they were waiting for his glasses to clear off. “So a couple weekends from now, there’s a national shougi championship getting televised, and you know about my dad and sports on the TV, but I beat him two games out of three in penalty kicks, so I can watch what I want.”

“You were playing soccer with your dad?” Kazuhiro asked, clearly amused. “Didn’t he think he might have a better chance playing a board game, since you’re in conditioning for a spring sport?”

“Kazuhiro, have you met my father?” Kobayashi raised an eyebrow, making Kazuhiro laugh. “Anyway, it’s the weekend after next. Do you want to come over and watch it with me?”

“Sure, I…” Kazuhiro’s smile faded suddenly. “Oh, I can’t!”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” Kobayashi shoved his hands into his pockets and glanced away. His glasses were almost clear, but there were still halos around the streetlights that were starting to come on.

“No, I want to!” Kazuhiro protested. He lifted a hand like he was going to touch Kobayashi, but at Kobayashi’s panicked glance, let it drop to wrap fingers around his other wrist. “But my brother’s coming home from university that weekend, so my mother is making a big dinner and stuff. She made Nori cancel cram school and everything.”

“That sounds…” Kobayashi tried to imagine five people like Kazuhiro crammed around a table, trying to have a formal meal. In his head, they were all naked, except for Shiyouji-san in her apron. Then he thought about dinner with his own parents. “It sounds nice.”

“You should come!” Kazuhiro exclaimed, startling Kobayashi out of his thoughts. Kazuhiro was beaming at him with his “I have a brilliant idea” expression, which in Kobayashi’s experience could either go really well or really poorly. “My brothers want to meet you!”

“They want to…” Kobayashi’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “You’ve been telling them about me?!”

“Kobagin,” Kazuhiro’s grin softened around the edges, “of course I have,” and it made Kobayashi’s chest tighten with something that wasn’t ramen, and made his cheeks sting with something that wasn’t wind.

Kobayashi knew he should probably ask Kazuhiro exactly what he’d been telling his brothers, but when he opened his mouth, the words that came out were, “Who’s at your house right now?”

“Nobody.” Kazuhiro shrugged, watching Kobayashi’s face from under his eyelashes. “Want to come over?”

“Kazuhiro,” Kobayashi imitated him, “of course I do,” which made Kazuhiro laugh, warm and delighted, and he put a hand on Kobayashi’s shoulder to turn him in the right direction.

Halfway home, Kazuhiro said casually, “I was totally staring at your ass,” and Kobayashi’s glasses fogged up again.

In which Misaki and Tachiki argue about pirates and ninjas.

“Mom!” Miski hollered down the stairs, leaning out his bedroom door. “Tachiki’s spending the night!”

“Stop yelling! Your sisters are asleep!” Misaki-san yelled back, then after a second added, “Did he call his mother?”

“Yes, Mom!” the lie slipped easily off Misaki’s tongue, and he ducked back inside his room and kicked the door firmly shut.

Besides, he reasoned, it wasn’t worth very much as lies went, since at this point in their relationship Misaki wasn’t even sure that Tachiki had a mother, and he certainly wasn’t going to ask him about it when Tachiki was sprawled across Misaki’s bed on his stomach, wearing nothing but a worn pair of Misaki’s pajama pants and leafing through this month’s Shounen Jump.

“You’ve got January’s already?” Tachiki raised an eyebrow, looking up. “I mean, are they just trying to get rid of you as fast as possible or what?”

“Shut up.” Misaki came over to his bed and shoved at Tachiki’s shoulder until he could flop down on the bed. “Turn back a few pages, I didn’t finish Naruto yet.”

“Naruto sucks,” Tachiki said, flipping forward, in blatant disregard of the fact that he’d been reading Naruto until about ten seconds ago. “I’m reading One Piece.”

“You’re picking pirates over ninjas?” Misaki asked skeptically, reaching over to tug the magazine closer. “You idiot.”

“Bendy pirates!” Tachiki replied, yanking the magazine back, and that started a scuffle which ended up with the magazine in a heap on the floor and Misaki in a heap on Tachiki’s chest.

“Hey,” Misaki said as Tachiki slid hands down the back of his pajama pants to cup his ass, “are you gonna—oh—stay until morning?”

It was a fair question; sometimes Tachiki did, and others Misaki would wake up sticky and shivering because of the open window. With the weather turning cold, though, Tachiki was staying marginally more often than he was disappearing.

“You’re such a girl.” Tachiki bit Misaki’s lower lip and didn’t answer the question.

“I’m asking,” Misaki pinched a nipple to get Tachiki’s attention, “because tomorrow morning I’m going to go to Akihabara to try and find something for my Secret Santa person.”

“You mean Marty,” Tachiki said, running his palm up Misaki’s side like he did when he was satisfied with himself.

“How did…” Misaki fought valiantly against the closing of his eyes.

“I went through your pockets.” Tachiki grinned until Misaki bit his earlobe. Tachiki retorted by digging his fingers into Misaki’s sides until he was twitching with muffled laughter.

“Look, do you want to go or don’t you?” Misaki interrupted Tachiki’s smug display.

“Eh, sure,” Tachiki shrugged, yanking Misaki’s pajama shirt off and tossing it aside. Misaki figured that was good for about a fifty-fifty chance of him not waking up sans bedwarmer.

Day 7: In which Misaki finds a gift for Marty-san and Tachiki nearly gets sent to the Shadow Realm.

It just figured Misaki would be some kind of morning person, Tachiki grumbled to himself, fighting to keep his eyes open and swaying with the motion of the train. Even after the workout Tachiki had given him at 4 AM, Misaki had still woken him up at some ungodly hour to catch the early train to Akihabara.

“We’ve got at least another forty minutes,” Misaki said, turning over a page in his slightly crinkled Shounen Jump. “You could just go back to sleep.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Tachiki yawned hugely. “I have to make sure the perverts don’t get at you.”

“The perverts?” Misaki finally lifted his head just enough to raise his eyebrow.

“Yeah, perverts!” Tachiki repeated, making a few early morning shopping obaasans turn their heads and tut at them. “You’re still all…sparkly and shit.”

“I…” Misaki’s mouth worked for a second. “I am NOT!”

“Mmhmm.” Tachiki crossed his arms and settled back against his seat. “Perverts can see that sort of sparkle from three cars away.”

He let his head thunk back against the window, and watched from under his lashes as Misaki peered at his reflection in the window across the way, clearly looking for traces of sparkle.

******

It was still pretty cold when they got off the train, stretching out stiff limbs and yawning, although at least the sun had actually risen enough to warm them up just a little where it touched their faces and coats.

“Where to?” Tachiki asked, shoving his hands in his pocket and watching idly as Misaki struggled to get his arm through the tangled strap of his backpack. Misaki blinked at him. “I mean, this is your idea and all.”

“I don’t have any idea what to get Marty-san,” Misaki admitted, finally shrugging on his bag. “I thought we’d just wander around for a while, see what was interesting.”

“Wander around?” Tachiki scowled. “It’s like ten degrees out here!” But Misaki was already heading down the block, glancing at the outdoor tables on which some shopkeepers were already setting their wares.

He trailed Misaki for a few tables, flexing his fingers in his pockets to try and keep his circulation going and debating about wandering off to find a vending machine with hot coffee. He paused for a second in front of a game shop, the one with the turtle inexplicably painted on the front of it.

“Hey.” he caught Misaki’s collar and yanked on him, making Misaki give an undignified “Urk!” “Doesn’t Marty-san play that monster duel card game?”

“You mean Duel Monsters?” Misaki knocked Tachiki’s hand away and straightened his coat. “Idiot.”

“Whatever.” Tachiki really could have cared less so long as they got to go inside someplace marginally less arctic for a few minutes.

“Yeah, he does, but he doesn’t play much here cause Harada has to read him the text of all the cards, and the rules are all different than his so it doesn’t help him learn much of…” Misaki looked thoughtful for a second. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Do they sell PC games here?”

“Sure, probably.” Tachiki shoved Misaki in the door without further ado, sighing in relief as a blast of warm, or at least warmer, air blew over them.

“Welcome!” called the shop owner, a tiny old man with the most improbable hair spikes Tachiki had seen since Asakawa’s KAT-TUN phase. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Do you sell Dating Sim games?” Misaki asked, and Tachiki gave a “Che” and glanced away when a slight blush crossed Misaki’s nose.

“Hmm.” The store owner tapped his nose. “It’s not something we usually carry much of, but I think…” he bent down behind the counter and thumped some boxes around, and finally straightened up, not that it made him much taller, with a cardboard box with bent corners. “A customer sold me this whole box of PC games, and I haven’t had time to sort it yet. Have a look through here, you might find just what you’re looking for.”

“Thanks!” Misaki beamed, and hefted the box up and over to a clear space on the counter the man waved at. He flipped open the flaps on the box and started shifting around the contents. After about twenty seconds, Tachiki got bored and came over too.

The aisles of the store were kind of narrow, so Tachiki squeezed in behind Misaki and got an arm around him on the pretense of looking through the box. Mostly he just brushed his hand against Misaki’s and murmured a few choice things in his ear, until Misaki’s whole neck was bright red.

“Do you need any help?”

Tachiki and Misaki turned to find a kid about their age, who could only be related somehow to the owner of the shop, given his own completely ridiculous hair-spikes. Misaki elbowed Tachiki hard in the stomach to shove him backwards, out of the way.

“Yeah,” he said. “See, my friend is an exchange student, and I was thinking maybe a dating sim, one that had lots of dialogue, would help with his conversations.”

“That’s a pretty good idea!” The kid nodded, blond and purple spikes bobbing. He leaned over the box and flipped a few cases out of the way. “Ah, sorry, some of these are a little…hmm…”

That got Tachiki’s interest, and he watched carefully which cases the kid shuffled hurriedly off to the side.

“This one looks good,” Misaki finally said when the kid held up a few choices. He picked it up and flipped it over to read the back.

“That one’s pretty good,” the kid agreed, then looked a touch embarrassed. “Well, anyway, there’s a Duel Monsters mini-game in that one, so…”

“Duel Monsters is why we came in here in the first place!” Misaki interrupted. “I only thought of this because we were talking about how Marty-san—he’s from Canada—can’t play Duel Monsters here because he can’t read all the cards.”

“The rules are different too,” the kid agreed, lighting up.

It was the perfect opportunity. While Misaki and the kid blathered on and on about fusion rules and star points and green-eyed black whatevers, Tachiki reached over and casually slipped the game out of Misaki’s hand, on the pretense of looking at it. The other two were so engaged in their conversation, that they didn’t take any notice of Tachiki pulling a few of the more questionable cases from the box and making a cursory examination.

Gifted with a good eye for such things, it only took him a few seconds to choose Kansaiben Whispers as the best option, and then Tachiki casually thumbed open both cases and switched the discs.

“Looks good,” he interrupted, slipping the case back into Misaki’s hands. He gave him a little push towards the register. “Go pay for it so we can get out of here and get something to eat, huh?”

Thanking the kid for his help, Misaki gave Tachiki an irritated glance, but did head over to the old man.

“I saw that, you know,” the kid said, only his voice sounded different, deeper, and when Tachiki looked back at him, he seemed kind of tall all of the sudden.

Hadn’t he been like four feet high a second ago? Tachiki frowned. “What?”

“You know what.” The kid crossed his arms. “Tricking your friend. It’s not very honorable. In fact, I think it’s time for a Shadow—”

“Okay, let’s go!” Misaki said, holding up his bag triumphantly. Tachiki strolled off to join him and to exit the store, tossing a little wave over his shoulder at the scowling kid.

What was really weird was that after a second, the kid seemed to shake off something, then waved goodbye to them cheerfully.

“So, lunch?” Misaki asked.

“Sure, whatever.” Tachiki glanced around, then a shop a few doors down caught his eye. “Let’s just go into this magazine store first, though.”

Day 8: Where Sato threatens to quit and Harada’s pet freshman has a convincing counter-arguement.

“Just listen to what I’m saying,” Sato said. “It’ll be tournament season in a couple months again.”

“Sato…” Kobayashi tried, but Sato interrupted.

“Tsukada only made me Vice Captain because there wasn’t any other choice,” he said. “Now there’s choices. Even aside from the fact that Tachiki is never going to do it despite being the best choice by far.”

“That’s not…” Kobayashi sighed when he was interrupted again and just turned back to his math homework, making a noncommittal noise once in a while.

“You’d be a much better choice than me,” Sato rolled his pencil over the desk with his palm, the clack of the wood echoing a little in the empty classroom. “I hate giving your plays to Tsukada-captain all the time, and you analyze games better than any of us.”

“Tsukada knows I’m giving you the plays,” Kobayashi insisted, exasperated. “He’s only not telling you he knows because he doesn’t want you to get all upset about it, and, shockingly, here you are getting all upset about the fact that he won’t tell you he knows!”

“Look, it doesn’t matter.” Sato brushed off Kobayashi’s woods, making Kobayashi grind his teeth a little. “The point is, I’m not the best player, or the best strategist, or the best anything! All I do is stand in front of the net and knock the ball out, which isn’t even that hard because my stick is like four times the size of anybody else’s!”

“Sato, listen to me…”

“No, it’s okay.” Sato stood up and pushed his chair in. “I’m going to go find Tsukada and tell him that I…”

Sato trailed off when something tugged sharply on his sleeve, and he looked down to find Harada’s pet freshman holding onto his uniform tightly, staring up at him. The freshman was already changed for practice, wearing a green sweatshirt over his club t-shirt and red track pants that was nearly swallowing him.

“Er,” Sato blinked down at him, “are you coming to get us for practice?”

The freshman’s face was very serious, his eyes very large, and he tugged sharply on Sato’s sleeve again, both hands clenching the fabric tightly. He kind of looked like the kittens that Sato saw on the way to school sometimes, peering over the edge of their cardboard box and begging to be picked up or stroked.

“Here,” Kobayashi paused for a second, then shrugged, “you, let me ask you something. Do you like Sato-senpai being your Vice Captain?”

The freshman nodded fervently, the bowl-ish haircut that somebody’s mother was clearly giving him swinging at full speed. Sato blushed a little.

“Thank you very much,” he said, “but…”

“Why?” Kobayashi asked the freshman, and Sato shut up because he wasn’t sure whether Kobayashi really wanted an answer or was just trying to figure out whether the freshman could actually speak or not. Sometimes Kobayashi-kun reminded Sato just a tiny bit of Inui-senpai from the tennis club, that way.

But instead of speaking, the freshman let go of Sato, giving him a steely glance as if to warn him not to try anything, and pushed up one sleeve of his enormous green sweatshirt to show one of his elbows had been bandaged neatly. He tapped the bandage, wincing a little, and gave Kobayashi a satisfied look.

“He tripped while he was picking up balls this morning,” Sato explained, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly but not really sure why he felt embarrassed about it. “He scraped up his elbows, and I cleaned it up for him. It wasn’t much, really.”

But the freshman turned back to Sato and shook his head again, still enthusiastic, but looking a little shy about it this time.

“Being a Vice Captain isn’t really all about strategy and stick size, Sato,” Kobayashi said, getting up and putting his books into his school bag. “You had a Vice Captain in tennis, too, right?”

“Oishi-fukubuchou,” Sato said immediately, so quickly that Kobayashi raised an eyebrow and Sato cleared his throat.

“You liked him, right?” Kobayashi pressed as he slung his bag over his shoulder and started walking to the door. The freshman, who Sato had forgot about for just a second, reached up and grabbed Sato’s sleeve again, tugging him along as if to make sure he didn’t get lost. “I mean, they didn’t make that tensai guy do it, or the freshman everybody’s always going on about, so that must mean something.”

“It’s just that Oishi-senpai worries about everyone,” Sato explained as they walked, thinking about how Oishi-senpai had always made them feel better even before he was Vice Captain, when Vice Captain Tezuka had yelled at them for not cleaning up quickly enough, or given them laps. “He works so hard, and wants everybody to improve and be happy. That’s why…oh.”

“Mmhmm,” Kobayashi said, and by then they were finally at the club house.

“There you are!” Tsukada barked at them. He glanced down at the freshman still hanging on Sato’s sleeve. “What took so long? I sent you after them fifteen minutes ago!”

“It was my fault,” Sato said quickly, stepping in front of the freshman, and not missing the way the freshman’s look of hurt was replaced with one of surprise. “I’ll do ten laps in apology for making both Kobayashi-kun and…uh, ichinen-kun late.”

Tsukada stared at him for a second, and Sato had the feeling that he was trying not to laugh. “Okay,” he said finally.

The freshman was still standing next to Sato, staring up at him, and Sato carefully tugged his arm free and gave the freshman a push towards where Harada was gathering equipment. The freshman scampered off readily, glancing over his shoulder with a bright grin, and Sato tried not to think too hard about how, when he was a freshman, a smile from Oishi-senpai made just about any number of laps seem like nothing.

“Sato,” Tsukada said, “did you have something to talk to me about?”

“No,” Sato said, turning back to Tsukada and giving him a wry smile. “I was worried about something, but…it’s okay now.”

Day 9: Where Kinsho, Marty-san, Asakawa, and Kazuhiro cause trouble at the mall.

“I hate shopping,” Asakawa whined. “My feet hurt.”

“We’ve been here for like five minutes,” Kichida pointed out, shouldering his way past a clot of giggling high school girls who were taking up almost the whole mall walkway. Marty-san sneezed violently in their wake, his gaijin nose not capable of withstanding such high volumes of perfume and hairspray. The other three of them just sniffled.

“And it’s freezing in here!” Kazuhiro agreed, throwing an arm around Asakawa. Asakawa yelped as Kazuhiro slipped fingers under his collar. “Hey, you’re pretty warm!”

“We told you to wear a coat!” Kichida said, rolling his eyes and stepping around the kiosk where some woman was trying to convince him to let her buff his nails with some blue square thing.

“You’re lucky we’ve kept him in a t-shirt this long,” Asakawa pointed out, then yelped again, louder. “KAZUHIRO!”

“Perhaps we should turn our eyeballs away,” Marty-san said, and Kichida was forced to agree, if Kazuhiro had found someplace to bury his hands that had even Asakawa shocked. They turned to look in the nearest window instead and found themselves looking at the display for a bookstore.

“Who do you have again?” Kichida asked, more to drown out the sound of Asakawa getting over his shock than anything else.

“Kobayashi-kun,” Marty answered. “I don’t really have any idea what to present him with.”

“What to give him, you mean,” Kichida corrected absently, thinking. “You’ve got a tough one. Kobayashi-kun doesn’t really like anything besides shougi.”

“And Kazuhiro-kun,” Marty offered, like he wasn’t sure whether Kichida would snicker or not. Behind them, Asakawa let out another yelp. “Who do you have?”

“Tsukada-captain,” Kichida said, voice still a little distant. “I haven’t come up with anything good either.”

“Bookstore?” Kazuhiro said, behind them suddenly, and when he flung arms around both of their shoulders, his hands were disturbingly warm. Asakawa trudged up beside them, hands shoved in his hoodie pockets, looking rather disgruntled and chilled. “Does Sato-kun read? I have no idea what to get him.”

“Manga, sometimes,” Asakawa answered, shrugging. “He’s got the Kyou Kara Maou novels hidden under his bed.”

“Okay!” Kazuhiro bounded into the store, leaving the others to shrug and trail along after him. They got inside just in time to hear Kazuhiro asking a startled salesgirl to recommend something really good from the BL section. Kichida and Asakawa cracked up.

“What’s so funny?” Marty leaned over to ask Asakawa, apparently having trouble keeping up with the stuttered response of the poor employee. Asakawa started to answer, then cut off with another burst of laughter as they heard the words “Koi ga Bokura wo Yurusu Hani.”

“Thanks!” Kazuhiro beamed and bounced off, towards the manga. The salesgirl heaved a relieved sigh, but looked after him with open curiosity.

Kazuhiro looked very pleased with himself when they left the store, his shrink-wrap manga volumes safely tucked into the store’s plastic bag.

“I still don’t really understand what’s so interesting,” Marty whispered to Kichida, and Asakawa could not stop giggling.

“What’s so funny,” Kichida corrected, fighting to keep his voice even. “Think about it, Marty-san. Why would they shrink-wrap books?”

Marty-san thought about that hard for a long second, then turned bright red.

“There you go.” Kichida slapped Marty-san on the back. Asakawa wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. Then Kichida caught sight of a specialty games and sports shop. “Hey, let’s check that one out, maybe there’ll be something interesting to get Kobayashi-kun.”

“We’re gonna sit down out here!” Asakawa called, plopping himself down on the bench outside the store, next to some incredibly plastic plants and a giant, lit-up star of David. He yanked Kazuhiro down beside him.

There was a few shelves of shougi paraphernalia, although it was impossible to guess what Kobayashi might or might not have, really. Kichida left Marty-san browsing there and wandered about the rest of the shop, until he stumbled across a small display of gifts for coaches.

Most items can be personalized for the lucky special memory! the sign above the display read, and suddenly Kichida had a brilliant idea.

“Nothing really seemed correct,” Marty-san sighed when he came, empty-handed, to find Kichida at the counter. Kichida was grinning and tucking a sales receipt into his pocket.

“Seemed right, you mean,” he said. “I found something perfect. Two down and two to go!”

They got to the doorway of the shop and took a long look at Kazuhiro and Asakawa, and the incredibly plastic plant, remembering far too late that neither one of them should be left alone for any longer than five seconds in a public place.

“I think we should maroon them,” Marty-san said, and this time Kichida didn’t correct him.

Day 10: In which Natsumi is perceptive and the freshman is obvious.

“I think that’s the last of them!” Natsumi exclaimed, letting the basket of balls thump onto the concrete floor of the storage shed. She rubbed her palm where the basket handles had dug deep, red lines, and watched Harada lean an armful of spare crosses against the corner with a clatter. His freshman trailed after him, lugging the other basket of balls.

“That’s it! Thanks, Natsumi-chan!” Harada beamed at Natsumi, slapped the other freshman on the shoulder hard enough to knock a few balls out of his basket, and took off towards the locker room at top speed.

Natsumi heard a quiet sigh and looked over to find the freshman setting down his basket with a long-suffering expression.

“I’ll help you!” Natsumi offered quickly, kneeling down to help scoop up the wayward balls. It only took them a minute to toss them back in the basket, and then Natsumi and the freshman were back outside, securing the padlock on the shed’s door and hunching their shoulders against the wind.

The freshman offered Natsumi a smile of thanks, but it looked much smaller than his usual smile, and Natsumi eyed him critically.

“Are you okay?” she asked as they started walking back towards the locker room.

He nodded, blowing on his hands for a second, then letting the sleeves of his green sweatshirt slip over them to keep them warm. Between that and the coincidental red of his track pants, the freshman looked kind of like he was being eaten by a knitted Christmas ornament.

“You just look kind of sad,” Natsumi prompted. The freshman looked at her out of the corner of his eye for a second, then shrugged.

Natsumi was just about to let it drop, since there was really nothing she could do if he didn’t want to talk about it, but by then they were back at the locker room, and she was just about to ask him if he would grab her bag from inside since she couldn’t go in when all the boys were changing, when the door swung open suddenly.

It was Sato, with his hair flattened by water and just his T-shirt on over his track pants, and Natsumi kind of caught on when the freshman’s face lit up immediately.

“Did you guys see my notebook when you were cleaning up in the gym?” Sato asked, looking just a touch panicked, and when they shook their heads, Sato tore off across the dead grass towards the gym, heedless of the fact that he wasn’t even wearing his jacket.

Natsumi cleared her throat, making the freshman jump a little as if he’d forgotten she was there.

“So,” she said, trying to sound innocent, “Sato-kun’s really nice, huh?”

The freshman nodded quickly.

“And he’s really been working hard, huh?” The freshman nodded again. Natsumi lowered her voice a little. “And you like him, right?”

The freshman scowled at her and tugged his sweatshirt sleeves a little tighter around himself.

“I won’t tell anybody!” Natsumi said quickly. She lowered her voice a little bit more. “I’ll tell you a secret too, okay?”

The freshman’s eyes were still narrowed, but he took a step closer and tilted his head curiously.

“I like Misaki-kun,” she said, blushing and looking at her feet. “That’s why I became the club’s manager! He doesn’t pay me too much attention, but it makes me happy to be near him, you know?”

Glancing over his shoulder in the direction Sato had disappeared, the freshman gave another small sigh and nodded.

“Hey, I have an idea,” Natsumi said, mostly because she wanted to do something to cheer both of them up. “Let’s set up a party for the day of the Secret Santa exchange! We can have streamers and balloons, and maybe Marty-senpai will dress up as Santa-san if we tell Harada-kun to talk him into it. And I’ll bake cookies!”

The freshman had been nodding until the last statement, which made him give Natsumi a cautious glance.

“And we can have our own gift exchange!” Natsumi continued; then she laughed at herself. “Although it won’t be much of a secret. Sounds like fun, right? We’re part of the team too!”

That got another enthusiastic nod, and Natsumi felt much better about everything. In fact, she felt so much better that she threw her arms around the freshman and hugged him suddenly, making him squawk.

“Awww,” Tachiki drawled as he came out the door, making Natsumi and the freshman spring apart, blushing furiously. “True love. Good job, tiger, train ’em young.”

Natsumi’s cheeks felt like they couldn’t get any hotter, and then the freshman flipped Tachiki off. Although it would have been much more dramatic if his hands weren’t still stuck in his sleeves.

Day 11: In which Sato is mocked soundly by Misaki and Asakawa does the worst Oishi impression ever.

“Saaaato,” Asakawa said, grinning from Misaki’s bed. Sitting beside him, Misaki looked up with a glint in his eye that Sato did not like one bit.

“What?” Sato asked defensively.

“Saaaaaaato,” Misaki chimed in, sharing a conspiratorial glance with Asakawa.

“What!”

“Is there something,” Asakawa broke off with a giggle, then regained his composure, “that you wanted to tell me, Sato-kun?”

“Don’t you dare start,” Sato warned them.

“Oishi-senpai!” Misaki said rapturously, sliding from the bed to kneel in front of Asakawa. “I have a confession!”

“Don’t you DARE!” Sato roared.

“I like you, Oishi-senpai!” Misaki whimpered, folding his hands and bowing his head like a shamed schoolgirl. “Please accept my obligation gift of sake and over-the-counter lubricant!”

“I want you to die!” Sato howled, kicking at Misaki, who was laughing too hard to feel much pain.

“I would love to,” Asakawa said solemnly in the worst impression of Oishi-senpai humanly possible, “if I weren’t already doing it up the butt with Kikumaru-kun…”

Roaring incoherently, Sato launched himself at Asakawa, landing on the bed with enough force to bounce it back off the mattress an inch or two. Asakawa tried to scramble away, giggling hysterically and shouting, “And Tezuka-buchou! And Momo-chan!”

“I’ll save you, Oishi-senpai!” Misaki hollered, crawling up off the floor and tossing himself into the fray.

“I’m going to beat both of you to death with my bare hands!” Sato shouted over the laughing and the kicking and the exclamations of other tennis club members’ names. And then Asakawa got a hold of one of Misaki’s pillows and started whacking Sato across the back of the head with it while Sato dragged him back within reach by his ankles.

“Leggo of my senpai!” Misaki exclaimed, crawling onto Sato’s back and getting him in a minimally successful headlock.

“I’VE GOT YOU NOW,” Sato boomed, rucking up Asakawa’s shirt and tickling him mercilessly. Asakawa kicked and slapped at Sato, but Sato kneed Asakawa’s legs further apart and just kept right on tickling.

“What’s going on, Ayaka-chan?” a small voice said from the doorway, and all three boys froze and turned to find Misaki’s sisters staring at them with wide eyes. Shuuko tugged on Ayaka, demanding an answer.

“You’re too young to see this,” Ayaka informed her, putting her hand over Shuuko’s eyes, but making no move to actually leave the doorway.

“RAADAA,” added Miss Momo from behind them.

“Would you two get OUT of here!” Misaki scrambled off the bed, tugging his shirt down and rushing towards them, sending them scattering out into the hallway. He slammed the door shut and pressed his back up against it, panting.

“RAADAA,” repeated Miss Momo, now sitting in front of him, tail flicking.

“We weren’t calling you, you twit!” Misaki snapped, flinging the door back open and pointing out into the hallway. Miss Momo sniffed and stalked out the door, tail held high.

He kicked the door shut again and turned back to Sato and Asakawa on the bed. They were both still breathing hard and disheveled, but now Asakawa was cuddled up against Sato’s chest, not seeming to mind being pinned underneath Sato in the slightest.

“Ugh, you two,” Misaki grumbled good-naturedly. “Not in my bed, huh?” Misaki went back to his bed, shoved Sato off Asakawa, and crawled onto the bed in between them. He winced when something crumpled under his back, and reached underneath himself to yank out his now completely crippled Shounen Jump issue. He tossed it aside, despairing of ever finishing that month’s Naruto.

“Not without you, you mean, right?” Asakawa grinned, suddenly pressed tightly against Misaki’s side.

“I’ll give you an obligation gift,” Sato growled from the other, making the hair on the back of Misaki’s neck stand up.

Day 12: In which Tsukada has vices and Tachiki is an apt pupil.

Tsukada finished locking up the locker room and headed back to the office with a feeling of vague relief. The indoor practices took a lot more patience than the outdoor ones, what with the confined space and the hard ground and the echoes off the gym ceiling and the fact that everything smelled like sweaty gym mat. All in all, Tsukada wouldn’t be sorry to see the ass end of winter retreating, no matter how many nights of tournament paperwork it meant.

He shouldered the door to the office to find Tachiki there already, leaning out the window with a telltale curl of smoke blowing back inside the window anyhow. Tsukada didn’t really enjoy having the principal stop by every now and then to demand to know who was dropping ashes on his parking space, but on the other hand he wasn’t really up for a fight either, not after he’d had to step in between Misaki and Kichida catfighting over whose sock Kazuhiro was using as an obscene hand puppet.

Fortunately Kazuhiro hadn’t had any other clothes on to cloud the issue.

Tachiki’s bag was sitting on Tsukada’s chair, so he just set his down beside the desk. He looked down at the two-inch stack of paperwork that needed filling out, before turning away with a sigh, leaning his butt against the edge of the desk and watching Tachiki stretch farther out the window to get a better angle for flicking his ashes away.

“Will you knock it off,” Tsukada finally said, scrounging up very little of his usual commanding voice. Tachiki didn’t reply, but held up the cigarette, the dry heat of the radiator making the whole room smell of it in only a few seconds.

After a moment, Tsukada reached out to take the cigarette from Tachiki’s fingers. He should have stubbed it out immediately and disposed of it, but instead he took the two steps towards the window and elbowed Tachiki over to lean on the windowsill as well.

“Thought you’d quit?” Tachiki needled him, fingers limp over the windowsill now that he didn’t have anything to hold. Tsukada answered by hollowing out his cheeks and blowing a perfect smoke ring, lazy and fat.

Tachiki’s eyes were jealous, despite his disdainful snort, as they watched the smoke break apart in the cold air.

“It isn’t hard, you know,” Tsukada said, feeling rather lazy himself as he flicked the cigarette, watching the ash drift like dirty snow. “I could teach you.”

“You aren’t my fucking sensei,” Tachiki answered without any real heat. The window wasn’t that big really, and their shoulders were pressed tightly together so they’d both fit.

“Let your mouth go slack,” Tsukada said, and Tachiki rolled his eyes but gave it a half-hearted attempt. Tsukada stubbed the cigarette out on the windowsill to free up his hand and reached over to grab a hold of Tachiki’s chin.

“It’s more like this,” he said, squeezing his fingers until Tachiki’s jaw loosened, and then Tsukada reached over and pressed his mouth to Tachiki’s.

Tachiki tasted like smoke and strawberry gum, and Tsukada leaned forward until Tachiki was pressed back against the side of the window, giving a muffled protest when Tsukada pushed his head back far enough to crack dully against the sill. Tsukada ignored him and slid his tongue against Tachiki’s, forcing his mouth into surrender until his ears were stinging from the cold air coming in the window.

“I’m leaving,” Tsukada said, pulling away, turning around and reaching for his bag, but Tachiki was in front of him suddenly, grabbing his wrist and yanking it up and shoving Tsukada back against the desk with enough force to make the mug that held his pencils rattle.

“You really didn’t teach me anything yet,” Tachiki pointed out, wedging a knee in between Tsukada’s legs. Tsukada used Tachiki’s grip on his wrist to force Tachiki’s hand behind his own back.

“You’re not a very sharp pupil,” Tsukada shrugged.

“Then you aren’t paying attention.” Tachiki pressed himself tight against Tsukada, his erection brushing over Tsukada’s, and Tsukada tightened his grip on Tachiki’s wrist and ground back, making Tachiki curse when his shoulder stretched too far. “I won’t be much of a midfielder if you dislocate my shoulder, Captain.”

Tsukada didn’t answer, busy working his free hand in between them to tug down Tachiki’s zipper and then his own, and wrapping his hand around both of them as best he could when he had both of their cocks free.

“I’m sure we can find something for you do with just one hand,” Tsukada said, stroking and pushing up against Tachiki’s hot, soft skin. “You don’t really need hands at all for what I have in mind.”

“Fuck, stop talking, you pervert,” Tachiki hissed, but his voice was thready and his free hand was hooked in Tsukada’s belt, yanking him closer, as close as they could get.

“Just your mouth really,” Tsukada drawled, leaning back when Tachiki tried to shut him up with a kiss, “unless you’re offering something else…”

Tsukada thrust again, hard, and Tachiki moaned “Fuck,” again and came all over Tsukada’s hand.

“Pervert,” he said after swallowing for a second, voice rough. Tsukada smirked, wrenched his wrist out of Tachiki’s hand, then pressed down on Tachiki’s shoulder until his knees gave out.

Day 13: In which Misaki helps his sisters decorate and his kouhai express himself.

Misaki was ankle-deep in Christmas tree lights, with another strand wrapped several times around himself in a heinous parody of a cat’s cradle, when the phone rang.

And rang again. And rang some more.

“Can you get that, sweetie?” Misaki’s mother called from the kitchen, where she was doing something completely interruptible, probably spooning cookie dough onto the baking sheets.

“I’m kind of busy!” Misaki hollered back, and his mother told him not to be difficult. Misaki turned pleading eyes to his sisters. “Ayaka?”

“We’re not s’posed to answer the phone,” Ayaka intoned, not looking up from where she was meticulously counting the number of each color of plastic balls for the tree.

“TOO LOUD!” Shuuko exclaimed, clapping her hands over her ears.

“Okay, okay,” Misaki grumbled, kicking his way free of enough of the lights to struggle over to the table with the phone on it, his cord trailing after him.

Just as he got there, Miss Momo, who had stationed herself on the table to supervise at the beginning of the decorating, batted the receiver off the base with a brutal swipe of her paw.

“RAADAA,” she informed the phone in no uncertain terms. Misaki sneered at her and snatched up the phone.

“—upin?”

“Harada?” Misaki blinked. Harada had his number? “Er…hi.”

“Oh, Misaki-senpai!” Harada exclaimed, and Misaki used his thumb to nudge the volume wheel down a few notches. “Am I interrupting anything?”

Off to the side, Ayaka told Shuuko that they had one too many red balls, and Shuuko gleefully picked one red ball up and hurled it to the ground, giggling at the crash and the scatter of the shiny ornament fragments on the hardwood floor.

Misaki sighed. “Nothing rational, no.”

“Oh good.” Misaki could hear Harada beaming over the phone. “Senpai, I wanted to ask you…”

Just then there was a click on the line. “HELLO?”

“Hello?” asked Misaki.

“HELLO?”

“MOM, I’M ON THE PHONE!” Harada answered. Misaki pulled a phone a few inches away from his head.

“DON’T YOU SPEAK TO ME THAT WAY, YOUNG MAN.”

“GET OFF THE PHONE, MOM!” Harada bellowed, and if Misaki hadn’t been completely deafened at that point, he would have heard the click of someone dropping off the line. “Sorry, senpai.”

In the background, on Harada’s end, Misaki just barely heard somebody ask “WHAT’S ALL THE YELLING ABOUT?” over the ringing of his ears.

“Is there something you wanted, Harada-kun?” Misaki asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. Shuuko was standing in front of him, he realized, and she gave him a toothy grin before bending down to grab the end of the string of lights. Misaki ignored her.

“I have Asakawa-senpai,” Harada explained, and Misaki was on the verge of asking what Harada wanted for ransom, when he figured out that Harada was talking about the Secret Santa exchange.

“Oh.” Misaki twirled the phone cord around his finger. “Are you asking for advice?”

“Asakawa-senpai takes such good care of us!” Harada said, and Misaki just barely managed to choke down the obvious response. “He takes us out for ramen and teaches us drills and gives us advice!”

“No, Shuuko, that’s the boy end,” Ayaka said. “We need the girl end.”

“Are we talking about the same Asakawa who lost three pairs of underwear in the same day last week?” Misaki inquired.

“He’s a good senpai,” Harada insisted. “How do I tell him that in two thousand yen or less?”

“Big brother,” Shuuko yanked on the tail of Misaki’s T-shirt. “The cord’s caught!”

“Listen, Harada,” Misaki said, turning in the direction his sister was pushing him, until the Christmas lights were a little less tangled but the phone cord was completely a lost cause. “Asakawa is really easy to please.” Misaki paused. “I mean, really. So long as you’ve put thought into it, Asakawa will understand what you’re saying.”

“Really?” Harada asked.

“Here, Aya-chan! It’s a girl end.”

“Really,” assured Misaki.

“Thanks, Misaki-senpai.” Harada actually did sound relieved, and Misaki suddenly felt a lot less grumpy. “You’re a good senpai, too.”

“Thanks, Harada-kun. See you at school tomorrow.”

“Bye!” Harada chirped. “MOM, YOU CAN HAVE THE—”

Just as the line went dead, a sudden burst of color washed over Misaki, and he yelped as dozens of tiny light bulbs heated against his skin, and yanked the phone off the table with a crash.

“They’re supposed to go on the tree!” Misaki shouted over Ayaka and Shuuko’s giggles.

Somehow, Misaki knew, when his mother said that she was going to be lit for as much of the holidays as possible, that she really hadn’t meant anything like this.

Day 14: In which Kichida gets the shaft and Tachiki laughs about it.

“Kichida-kun.”

The manager’s glasses gleamed in the weak winter’s sun, making Kichida swallow nervously. “Yes, Murata-kun?”

“I’ve noticed your performance lately has been rather…” Murata tilted his head, making his glasses gleam brighter. “…variable, shall we say. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Er, no.” Kichida pushed his fist into his mitt a few times, the worn leather creaking. “Thank you for your concern.”

“Because spring is just around the corner,” Murata continued, and really, the creepiest thing about it was the way he kept smiling casually. “And we want the whole team to be completely focused, ne?”

“Of course, Murata-kun,” Kichida said weakly. He glanced towards the infield, hoping to see something, anything, to distract Murata and send him on his creepy way. Unfortunately, everybody else on the team seemed to be focused on practicing, those overachieving bastards.

But then, miraculously, there was a buzz from Murata’s pocket, and Kichida had a split-second to be indignant about the hypocrisy of Murata having confiscated his phone last week before Murata was tugging his own phone out of his pocket and thumbing it on.

“Ah, Shibuya!” Murata said, then sauntered off, leaving Kichida to heave a small sigh of relief.

However, after a few minutes of standing around in the outfield, waiting for something to happen, Kichida thought ruefully that at least Murata’s meddling had distracted him for a few minutes from how cold he was. Practicing in the auxiliary auxiliary gym did suck, but baseball in December sucked a lot more.

“You’re a gigantic tool,” said somebody behind Kichida, and he turned to find Tachiki leaning against the chain-link fence. In his nice, warm, winter coat.

“Your mom is a gigantic tool,” Kichida grumbled, flipping Tachiki off and turning back around.

“My mom isn’t the one skipping practice to come to some other practice,” Tachiki said.

“Your mom is a whore,” Kichida responded, brain to occupied with Tachiki’s statement to come up with something better. Kinsho was skipping practice? What the hell was that about?

“I’m sure Tsukada-captain will be interested in this little development.”

“Tachiki,” Kichida rolled his eyes, “you’re skipping practice too, you asshole.” The hand that wasn’t in his glove was losing all feeling, and Kichida sized up the next couple batters, trying to figure out if there was any chance any of them might hit something to the outfield. “I bet Tsukada will be much more interested in that development.”

“Hmm, I have a pretty good handle on what Tsukada develops usually,” Tachiki drawled, which finally did make Kichida turn around in disgust.

“Could we go five seconds without discussing what either you or your mother take up the ass?” he demanded.

“It’s not likely, no,” Tachiki shrugged. Kichida gave him a final withering glare and turned back around.

“STRIKE THREE!” called the coach.

Nobody was hitting out here, Kichida decided, and he stripped off his mitt and stuck it on his other hand.

“Obviously you take this sport just as seriously as the other one,” Tachiki commented. Kichida ignored him and wiggled his fingers, wincing at the prickle of pins and needles in his fingertips. His feet were starting to get numb too, and jesus, how many damn people had to bat this inning?

There was the crack of the bat suddenly, followed by a shout of “POP FLY!”

“Motherfucker!,” Kichida swore, trying to keep his eye on the ball and force his frozen feet to move and switch his glove all at the same time. Behind him, Tachiki was cracking up, the son of a bitch.

The ball was coming down, just barely too far, and Kichida stopped cursing to save his breath and ratcheted his speed up another notch. Just as he thought he might actually make it, despite the fact that he couldn’t seem to jam the fingers of his right hand back in his mitt while he ran, his foot slipped on a patch of frozen grass.

Down Kichida went, skidding across the ground on his stomach, mitt clutched ridiculously in his hands.

“Fuck,” he swore dully when the ball thwacked him right in the small of his back. Tachiki was clinging full-body to the fence, insensible and howling with laughter.

“Kichida-kun,” Murata said, strolling up in front of Kichida and slipping his phone back into his pocket. “I think we need to have a talk.”

Kichida spit out some dead grass and thought about how much Kinsho was going to pay for this.

Day 15: In which Yutaka finds Kinsho occupied in questionable electronic pursuits.

Yutaka was numb all over by the time the captain called practice quits for the day, aside from his chin and his elbows, which were still throbbing from their intimate acquaintance with the frozen ground earlier. Tachiki had drifted off at some point, after several more exchanges about the size and quality of his mother, leaving Yutaka to wonder exactly where his brother was instead of at lacrosse practice.

He jogged off the field with the others—his teammates, really, but Kinsho’s emo woez were apparently starting to rub off on him since Yutaka rarely found himself applying that term to anybody he played baseball with lately—and was the first person into the showers, wincing in pleasure at the sting of the hot water.

While he shampooed his hair, he tried to figure out where Kinsho might have got to instead of practice. He hadn’t mentioned anything this morning about skipping, or any errands he had to do. There wasn’t a movie coming out that Kinsho really wanted to see, and there was just about no way he was going out with a girl or anything.

Kinsho was kind of a loser that way, Yutaka sighed to himself. It made being Kinsho hard and kind of boring sometimes, and Yutaka thought, not for the first time, about setting up a date with someone and then forcing Kinsho into being the one going.

At any rate, though, they still had something of a cover going, in that nobody knew they were switching identities back and forth on a regular basis, and that plus Tachiki’s mistaken assumption that he was Kinsho, just visiting his old baseball club, precluded asking any of the lacrosse members if Kinsho had said anything that day about going someplace.

“Wanna go for ramen?” Daiwa and Mori asked when Yutaka struggled out of the shower, shivering and with his towel clutched tightly around him.

“Nah, can’t,” Yutaka waved them off. “I’ve gotta baby-sit my brother.” Well, it wasn’t a lie really, although perhaps the sarcasm had been a little obvious.

“What’s with you lately?” Mori asked, handing Daiwa a spare shirt out of his locker. “You never go out with us anymore, and half the time you look like you’re about to murder somebody.”

“Oh, do I?” Yutaka forced a casual laugh even as he cursed internally. He groped for something suitably grumpifying. “Winter blues? I’ve been worried about exams; my parents are going to skin me if I don’t bring home top marks this time.”

“Mine are the same way,” Orida chimed in from the next bench over, and Yutaka let out a silent sigh of relief. “I tried telling them Seigaku is an elevator school and it didn’t even matter, but they’re all ‘blah blah blah’…”

A few more guys started talking about it too, and Yutaka finished yanking on his clothes and strolled out of the locker room, shouldering his bag, as quickly as he could go without evoking comment. He should have dried his hair, he realized, as the wind quickly froze the tips of his hair.

“Kinsho, you ass,” Yutaka grumbled, then shoved his hands into his pockets and started walking.

Kinsho wasn’t at the oden shop they stopped at sometimes, and he wasn’t at the sports’ equipment store, or at the sneaker store, or in the park, or any of the other places they hung out sometimes. Yutaka was just thinking that he might have to actually call Tsukada, confess everything, and ask him if he knew anything, but as he was pulling out his phone, he happened to glance inside the arcade he was standing in front of, and the crowd shifted just then to reveal a familiar haircut. Grumbling some more, Yutaka stuck his phone back in his pocket and shoved his way inside the arcade.

Of all things, made even more bizarre that Yutaka couldn’t remember Kinsho going voluntarily into an arcade since they were ten, Kinsho was involved in the DDR game. And ‘involved’ was a pretty weak word for the situation, because he was actually dominating the game, and a small crowd had gathered to watch, with half a dozen people lined up as challengers. Kinsho was only wearing a T-shirt, and Yutaka glanced around and saw his coat and bag tossed off to the side.

“Anybody could steal that, you idiot,” Yutaka sighed, shoving past some more people to get to Kinsho’s things. He was about to shout at Kinsho to knock it the hell off so that they could go home, but as he was straightening up with Kinsho’s bag’s strap in his hand, Yutaka took another long look at Kinsho, then at the screen of the game.

Kinsho was racking up a string of As and Perfects, completely focused, and even though his hair was stuck to his skin in damp ringlets and the back of his T-shirt was clinging with sweat, Kinsho looked…serene. Not like he was, as Mori had said, about to murder somebody.

Yutaka sighed, set his bag down beside Kinsho’s, and went to get in the challenger line.

Ten minutes later, Yutaka was climbing up onto the platform and suddenly remembering that he wasn’t really that great at DDR. Although he didn’t really remember Kinsho being some kind of DDR ace either, so maybe they could get some of that collective twin consciousness going and Yutaka wouldn’t make a total fool of himself.

Of course the song that came up was “In the Navy” by Captain Jack, which Yutaka reflected sourly was a perfect soundtrack for his humiliation. It was only after a particularly heinous string of BADs that Kinsho finally did look over, eyes widening at the sight of his brother. Yutaka gave a rueful little wave.

Kinsho kicked the crap out of Yutaka handily in the minute and a half allotted to him, and Yutaka sighed in relief when the whole thing was over.

“I can’t believe you skipped practice for this,” Yutaka said over the hooting of the crowd. “Are you ready to go?”

Kinsho ran a hand through his hair, making it spike, and looked at the ground. “Not really. Go without me.”

“It’s dark, you know.” Yutaka reached over and tugged Kinsho’s sleeve. “Come on, already.”

“Hey!” Kinsho snapped when Yutaka pulled them off the platform, glancing over his shoulder at the two people taking their places. The crowd gave a disappointed ‘aaww’ and started breaking up. Kinsho jerked his sleeve out of Yutaka’s fingers. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“Tachiki came by and asked what I was doing at baseball practice instead of lacrosse,” Yutaka answered, slipping his coat back on and giving Kinsho a pointed look. Kinsho scowled harder.

“Tachiki should mind his own business.”

“That’s not the point.” Yutaka held out Kinsho’s coat. “Put it on already, it’s freezing outside. You’re going to get sick.”

“What do you have to nag at me all the time for!” Kinsho exploded suddenly, yanking his coat out of Yutaka’s hands, then storming out of the arcade, shoving people aside.

Yutaka stared after him for a long second, jaw dangling, then cursed as Kinsho slipped out of sight in the crowd, and tried to follow despite the crush.

Kinsho was gone by the time Yutaka got outside. He cursed again, out loud, as the wind froze his hair again, then he shouldered both his bag and Kinsho’s and started for home as quickly as possible.

Day 16: In which Sato tries to wrap a gift and there is bloodshed.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to dinner with us?” Sato’s mother asked for the fifth time.

“I’m sure,” Sato said from the couch, looking for all intents and purposes completely invested in Pokemon World Domination GX. He wasn’t even bothering to turn around at this point. “Have a good time.”

“Can we go?” Sato’s father demanded, standing by the door and shaking his mother’s coat impatiently. “Honestly, Kaori, when the kids were little all you wanted to do was go out for a nice dinner without them, and now…”

“All right, all right,” Sato’s mother said, and finally the door slammed.

As soon as the house was quiet, Sato heaved himself off the couch and trotted to his room. He knelt down beside his bed and reached way back underneath it to pull out a plastic grocery bag.

It had really been a hassle to shake Asakawa and Misaki to buy the oranges, on the pretense of running feminine errands for his mother, and even then they had immediately demanded to see the bag as soon as they got to the burger place where Sato had agreed to meet with them.

And It was a good thing he had only bought the oranges, instead of some of the other things Sato had debated purchasing. But, honestly, it wasn’t like they had a “Fukubuchou Obligation Gift” aisle at the Shop N Park.

Misaki had just laughed at him, and Asakawa had laughed too, but Asakawa’s laughter hadn’t had the mean lilt of Misaki’s. And then Asakawa had dug in Misaki’s bag for a sharpie, and they spent twenty minutes drawing smiley faces with fang-shaped bangs on the sleek orange rinds of the fruit.

He was debating whether wrapping the oranges was worth it, or whether he should just hunt up a bow for the grocery store bag, and at exactly what point it became weird for him to worry this much about giving a gift to an ex-senpai, when his door whooshed open over the carpet.

He turned around to find his sister leaning in the doorway, crunching on an apple, and eyeing him from under roughly a metric ton of eye shadow.

“That for your boyfriend?” she asked, smirking.

“That for yours?” Sato shot back, eyeing her mini-skirt. “And no, it isn’t.”

“Sixth graders don’t have boyfriends.” She crunched off another bite of apple. “So you’re cheating on him?”

“No!” Sato took a deep breath. “Anyway, get lost, I’m busy.”

“I’m bored.” His sister dropped to the floor beside Sato, not bother to tug her skirt back down, and rolled a few of the oranges over with her acrylic nails. “Whose face is this?”

“Nobody’s.” Sato plucked the orange out of her hand and dropped it back in the bag.

“The guy you’re cheating on your boyfriend with?”

“It’s nobody.” Sato glared at her. “And I’m not.”

“He cheats on you, doesn’t he?” She rolled over onto her stomach and kicked her feet in the hair. Sato just barely refrained from reaching over and yanking on her stupid little-girl pigtails.

“What do you know about it anyway?” he said, tying the top of the plastic bag shut. The loops sort of looked like a bow. It was definitely weird that he was still thinking about it.

“I saw him,” she announced with relish, sitting the apple core on Sato’s floor firmly, clearly having every intention off leaving it right there. “Up against the wall, with some other guy. He was kind of badass, I’d have dropped you for him in a Shibuya second.”

“Kaira, you absolutely did not…” When his sister nodded smugly, Sato paused for a second and thought about that a little harder. Then he smiled thinly. “You were at the junior high.”

“Um.” Kaira’s eyes widened and she scrambled back up to her knees. “No, I was just…”

“You were at the junior high,” Sato repeated, sure now that he could see the blush springing up on Kaira’s cheeks underneath the strata of foundation and blush. “You DO have a boyfriend! And he’s older!”

“I don’t, I don’t!” Kaira shot back, trying and failing to look fierce. “You can’t prove anything!”

“Dad’s going to kill you,” Sato intoned, and Kaira gave a screech of rage and launched herself over the oranges to tackle Sato, nails out.

“What happened to you?” Sato’s mother asked when his parents got home. Sato was back to sitting on the couch, his position unchanged but the TV now blaring Ultra Gundam Rabu Rabu. She grabbed him by the chin and tilted his face up to eye the scratch across his cheek.

“Nothing.”

Before his mother could ask anything else, the phone rang. The portable, which Sato was holding in his lap, shrilled, but Sato made no move to answer it. From upstairs, there was the distant “I GOT IT” from his sister’s room.

Sato waited to the count of ten, then clicked the portable phone on.

“What do you think you’re doing?” his mother demanded, but Sato held up a finger for her to wait a second. He listened to the conversation on the phone for about forty-five seconds, shaking his head when his mother tried to speak again. Then he clicked the phone off and went back to watching the TV.

“Just wait,” he said at his mother’s impatient noise. A few seconds later, Kaira came clomping down the stairs, tugging a coat on and hurrying past Sato and his mother without even a greeting. She paused only long enough in the shoe alcove to jam her feet in her clogs.

“I’m going over to Hikari-chan’s!” she hollered, and then the door slammed.

“Kenji,” his mother said, in her not fooling around any more voice.

“Hey, Mom.” Sato leaned his head back on the couch to give his mother a creepy sort of smile. “Want to go for a drive?”

Day 17: In which Asakawa enjoys chores and Tachiki is a distraction.

Asakawa didn’t mind having classroom cleanup duty, not even after that incident with the tennis senpai. Sato and Misaki had made a big deal out of it for a few weeks after, one of them always coming over to stay if it was Asakawa’s turn to sweep or put chairs up or clean the boards, but after a while other things came up, and they couldn’t trade their own chores forever, and nothing had happened since then.

Asakawa didn’t even mind it when the other people in his class skipped out, even though Sato always rolled his eyes and said he should turn them in for punishment, but Asakawa just laughed and said that Sato was watching too much Kyou Kara Maou or Death Note or something. He liked the sweeping especially, liked the steady whush whush of the broom on the tile, liked doing it alone so he could do it at his own pace and think about things on his own for a minutes, before he had to run to practice where everybody was running around and yelling and being naked.

He was a little surprised when he heard the door open behind him, since nobody ever came late to classroom clean-up, they either stayed or skipped. But when he turned, it wasn’t Momoshiro-kun after all, it was Tachiki, blowing a huge pink bubble and hands shoved in his pockets.

He snapped the bubble with his tongue and sucked the gum back into his mouth. “Yo.”

“I’m almost done,” Asakawa said, pushing at his dust pile with his broom a little. “You’re coming to practice today, right? Because Tsukada-captain said he’d pound the hell out of you if you weren’t there on time after yesterday.”

“I bet he did.” Tachiki pulled one of the chairs down from its desk and plonked it on the floor, then sat in it backwards, arms folded over the back.

Asakawa shrugged and went back to sweeping. He didn’t mind if somebody watched, and he even went back to humming a little under his breath in time with the swish of the broom. He could smell Tachiki’s gum, strawberry, over the classroom smells of old books and chalk.

He’d got the whole way over to the windows, almost done, and sat the broom against the wall to go get the dustpan, but on his way by Tachiki, Tachiki grabbed his wrist and tugged on him.

“Tachikiii,” Asakawa heaved a long-suffering sigh, because Tachiki was interrupting like always, but he didn’t resist as Tachiki pulled Asakawa into his lap and yanked his t-shirt untucked. Asakawa settled awkwardly in between Tachiki and the back of the chair, which was likely just as uncomfortable for Tachiki as it was for Asakawa, but Asakawa ignored the chair poking his back in favor of tilting his head to the side as Tachiki pressed teeth against his neck. “Lemme finish.”

“You’re a tool,” Tachiki mumbled, making Asakawa laugh and squirm pointedly in his lap, and then he got a hand in Tachiki’s hair and pulled his head back to kiss him.

He’d meant to just do it for a second, to tease Tachiki, but strawberry happened to be Asakawa’s favorite, and Tachiki’s whole mouth tasted of it, sugary and too sweet and perfect, and by the time Asakawa pulled back, Tachiki was pretty much just clutching at him, ass practically sliding off the back of the chair.

“You’re gonna fall.” Asakawa climbed off Tachiki’s lap carefully, holding onto Tachiki’s shoulder until Tachiki had hitched himself up a little. “Now quit bothering me, or we’ll both be late.”

Asakawa had no idea why Sato complained about Tachiki being so uncooperative all the time, because he stayed right where Asakawa told him until Asakawa was done sweeping and had put the broom and dustpan away, and he even flipped the chair back up onto the desk before they left the classroom.

You just had to know how to ask, Asakawa supposed, shrugging to himself and flattening the strawberry gum against the roof of his mouth.

Day 18: In which one Kichida is grumpy and the other is confused.

By the time Yutaka had gotten home, Kinsho had already skipped dinner on the excuse of not feeling well, and had gone to bed early. Their mother had forbidden Yutaka to hassle or roughhouse Kinsho in any way, which meant that Yutaka hadn’t made any headway at all dragging whatever was eating Kinsho into the light by the time they arrived at school the next day.

He even took early baseball practice that morning as a peace offering, but nothing seemed to help, and Kinsho sulked off to lacrosse practice without so much as a good morning.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Yutaka texted Kinsho when he had a chance during an interminable algebra lesson.

Kinsho didn’t send anything back until lunch, and even then it was only the words “Fuck” and “Off.”

“What’s your brother’s deal, man?” Tachiki asked, reading over Yutaka’s shoulder as he reached over to snatch a piece of his bento. “He was a real laugh riot at practice this morning.”

“Who knows,” Yutaka grumbled, slumping in his chair and poking at some of his rice.

Tachiki snorted. “You’re the worst twins ever.”

“Fuck off,” Yutaka growled, because it was true.

“But, I mean, seriously.” Tachiki sucked a stray bit of rice off his thumb. “He picked a fight with Asakawa, for fuck’s sake. Do you know how much of a giant dick you have to be to manage that?” Tachiki paused for a second, head cocked thoughtfully. “Actually if you were a giant dick, Asakawa would just probably—”

“I don’t know what his problem is, all right?” Yutaka interrupted hastily as some girls nearby looked up from their cell phone in interest. “He’s been like this since we drew the Secret Santa names. I thought he’d be happy about me getting Tsukada, but he’s been all Kobayashi about the whole thing!”

“S’that who you have?” Tachiki snitched another bite of Yutaka’s lunch, and Yutaka shoved the whole thing towards him in disgust and slumped in his chair, leaning it back onto two legs. “Interesting.”

“If you think people’s random and self-inflicted pain is interesting,” Yutaka said without thinking, then Tachiki grinned because he totally did and kicked Yutaka’s chair legs out from under him.

******

“Eh?” Misaki said when he yanked open the locker room door and found Yutaka just about to push it open. “Weren’t you just…” He looked over his shoulder to find Kinsho still toweling his hair dry. “Oh, right.”

“Don’t mind me,” Yutaka grinned easily, sauntering inside. “I’m just hear to pick up my baby brother.”

“What are you doing here?” Kinsho demanded, yanking the towel off his head to reveal a fierce glare.

“How long did you really think you could avoid me?” Yutaka asked, sitting on the bench and raising an eyebrow. Kinsho gave a ‘tcht’ of disgust and went back to getting dressed.

They didn’t speak again until they were outside and nearly halfway home, Kinsho hunching his shoulders and hiding half of his face in his scarf.

“There’s nothing wrong,” Kinsho finally said. Yutaka waited another half-dozen steps before Kinsho added, “And it doesn’t have anything to do with Tsukada-captain or the Secret Santa thing.”

“Sometimes I wonder if your little head is going to blow right off from the pressure of holding everything in there,” Yutaka replied. “It’ll be really messy.”

“I’m fine,” Kinsho insisted. “Anyway, don’t worry about it, I went to the mall with Asakawa and Kazuhiro and Marty-san, and I already found Tsukada’s gift, so you don’t even have to think about it.”

Yutaka didn’t answer until they were the whole way home, Kinsho trying to get the front door key in with his cold-stiff fingers, when he said, “You really like him, huh?”

“What?” Kinsho snapped, keys slipping through his fingers and jangling on the ground. His eyes looked comically wide in between his scarf and the brim of his hat. Yutaka bent to scoop up the keys and fitted the right one into the door.

“I mean,” Yutaka eyed Kinsho for a second before he pushed the door open, “you aren’t fooling around. Not like Tachiki is with Asakawa, or even like Misaki is with Natsumi. Not like I am. Are you?”

Kinsho shoved past Yutaka without answering and barely paused long enough to kick off his wet shoes and toss his coat to the ground before stomping up to their room and slamming the door. Yutaka sighed and hung up Kinsho’s coat next to his own, then resigned himself to another evening banished to the living room with only the Xbox for company.

******

“Nngh?” Yutaka asked groggily when his alpha sleep was interrupted by some ass letting all the cold air under his blankets. Kinsho didn’t answer at first, just slid into Yutaka’s bed and wrapped his arms around Yutaka’s waist, pressing his cheek against Yutaka’s chest.

Yutaka grunted and patted Kinsho’s head and was nearly back to sleep before Kinsho said, “I think I might be. I mean, I think I…”

“You should’ve just said then.” Yutaka rolled his eyes because of course Kinsho wanted to have a heart-to-heart in the dead of fucking night.

Kinsho sighed a little and mumbled something that was probably heartfelt and might even have been intelligible if Yutaka weren’t still half-asleep, but since Yutaka was he just got a good enough grip on Kinsho’s hair to pull his head back, and then kissed him instead.

“Yutaka,” Kinsho tried to protest, but Yutaka kissed him harder until Kinsho started going limp against him. Yutaka kissed him slow and thoroughly, like he didn’t usually bother with, but he felt sluggish and warm with sleep, and Kinsho finally seemed to be relaxing, so what the hell.

After he was sure Kinsho wasn’t going to bolt or start crying or something equally ridiculous, Yutaka slipped a hand in between them like usual and ran the knuckles of his index and forefinger up the front of Kinsho’s pajama pants to make sure he was interested before going right for the main event.

Kinsho was interested all right, and made a soft noise against Yutaka’s mouth, so Yutaka didn’t waste any more time before pushing the flannel down out of the way and pulling both of their cocks free. Kinsho pressed closer and pushed up into Yutaka’s hand and wrapped his hand around them too, and neither one of them lasted very long.

“Idiot,” Yutaka said afterwards, wiping his hand off on Kinsho’s hip and already half-asleep again. “That doesn’t have anything to do with us anyway.”

And if Yutaka felt Kinsho shiver a little before he dropped off completely, he just figured it was because he had let in all the cold air.

Day 19: In Which Sato Clause delivers presents and There’s a Asakawa-Rudolph joke in there that I just can’t get to work for me.

Sato looked over in surprise when he heard another pair of sneakers crunching the frost-covered grass beside his, and when he turned he found Asakawa grinning at him.

“You don’t have to come,” Sato said, cheeks turning even pinker than they had already been because of the cold, very conscious of the plastic handle of the bag digging into his wrist and the bump of the oranges against his hip.

Asakawa pouted in teasing hurt. “I like Oishi-senpai too, Sato! Maybe not the way you used to like him…”

“You like everybody that way,” Sato grumbled, and Asakawa’s laughter made cute little clouds in the air. One of them looked like a tiny duck, and Sato wondered if he was getting enough sleep.

It was still early, early enough that the only ones in the Tennis club house when Sato poked his head in were Oishi-senpai and Kikumaru-senpai. Oishi-senpai was already in his regular’s uniform, and Kikumaru was halfway there, track pants on but scratching his bare chest with a yawn.

“Sato-kun?” Oishi asked, tilting his head in puzzlement, and before Sato could say anything heinously embarrassing, Asakawa was shoving him aside and bouncing into the club house with an excited “Kikumaru-senpai!”

“Asakawa-kun!” Kikumaru shouted right back, grabbing Asakawa in a headlock as soon as he came within reach and roughing his hair all up like it owed him money.

“It’s been a while,” Oishi greeted more formally, rubbing the back of his neck and watching Kikumaru and Asakawa whoop and grab at each other out of the corner of his eye. “Was there something you needed?”

“N-no,” Sato felt his face heat up a little and sent desperate signals to his mouth to stop stuttering like some freshman girl. “It’s just, I came, I, uh, brought this and…”

“Give him his present already!” Asakawa hollered, making Sato blush even more furiously. Sato bowed to hide his red cheeks and held out the plastic bag to Oishi.

“Oh!” Oishi looked, if anything, more flustered than Sato when Sato dared to sneak a peek, but he took the bag with a bow of his own. Sato fidgeted with the edges of his coat while Oishi picked open the loose knot Sato had made with the bag handles. “Ah, oranges! Perfect in winter, right, Sato-kun?”

“Yes.” Sato sighed in relief at Oishi’s warm smile. Oishi bounced the bag a little, staring at the oranges.

“Sato-kun,” Oishi looked up, mouth twitching like he wasn’t sure whether it would be polite to smile or not, “are there little faces on these oranges?”

“Er,” Sato started, but Kikumaru was already bounding over and reaching into the bag to yank one of the fruits out.

“Oiiishi!” he laughed, twisting the orange over a few of his fingers. “Look, it’s you!”

And sure enough, when Kikumaru held up the orange between his two pointer fingers, the orange was sporting a smiley face and two curved bangs, styled perfectly~!

This time it was Sato who put Asakawa in the headlock.

“So you are enjoying lacrosse?” Oishi asked as he was tucking the bag of oranges in his locker, excepting the one that Asakawa and Kikumaru were gleefully dissecting on one of the benches. The sweet smell of the juice filled the clubhouse.

“Yes!” chirped Asakawa immediately, and Sato nodded.

“Ah, good.” Oishi smiled again, and Sato really hoped that Oishi-senpai just thought that he had some sort of circulation disorder or something. “I felt badly, as Vice Captain, when all three of you left the club at once. I thought there must have been something we could have done.”

“That’s not true!” Sato burst in quickly, startling Oishi a little. “I mean…you were always so nice to us, Oishi-senpai. Actually, I wanted to thank you.”

“Thank me?” Oishi’s cheeks were a tiny bit pink now too, and Sato felt like his feelings were all bursting out without any kind of permission from him.

“For being such a good vice captain,” Sato bumbled on, hoping to just get it all out and over with. “I’m vice captain for lacrosse now, and I don’t think I’m very good sometimes, but I’m working hard, just like you, and sometimes when I don’t know what to do about something, I just think about what Oishi-senpai would do in this situation.”

“A-ah.” Oishi looked even more startled and embarrassed, but he was smiling too, in a sort of big, crinkly way.

“Oishi, you dork,” Kikumaru said, standing beside them suddenly, still with no shirt, but with one arm draped lazily over Asakawa’s shoulders. He shoved a chunk of orange in Oishi’s mouth. “You’re making the super-lame face again.”

“Stop hanging out with Shishido,” Oishi mumbled around his bite of orange, but Kikumaru just gave him a Look, and Oishi rolled his eyes and chewed his orange dutifully.

“We should go anyway.” Asakawa slipped out from under Kikumaru’s arm, looking a bit wistful. “We’ve got morning practice too!”

“In the auxiliary auxiliary gym,” Sato added sourly, and Oishi made a sympathetic faces while Kikumaru-senpai pointed and laughed.

They slipped out after Oishi had thanked them for the gift a couple more times and Kikumaru pressed orange wedges into both of their hands. They walked back towards their own locker room, not saying much as they sucked on their oranges.

Sato was lost in thought and was caught off-guard when Asakawa suddenly shoved him into the narrow pathway between two buildings.

“Wha—” Sato managed before Asakawa was pressed up against him, standing on his tiptoes to kiss him, mouth cold and sweet. He pressed close enough that Sato could tell that Asakawa was hard too, and suddenly something occurred to him. “Asakawa?”

“Mm?” Asakawa was busy tugging open Sato’s coat.

“You know how I liked Oishi-senpai?”

Asakawa paused for a moment to look up at Sato, brown eyes filled with amusement. “Yeah, Sato, of course. Everybody knows! Marty’s baby sister in Canada probably knows how you liked Oishi-senpai.”

“Did you,” Sato interrupted quickly, “like Kikumaru-senpai too?”

“Hmm,” Asakawa said, smiling secretively, and his fingers were cold and sticky where they brushed over Sato’s stomach, making him shiver. “You know how Oishi-senpai taught you to be a good vice captain?”

“Yeah,” Sato said, breathless at the catch of Asakawa’s fingers against his skin.

Asakawa’s smile curled a little more. “Kikumaru-senpai taught me something different.”

Day 20: In which everything irritates Harada and his freshman may or may not be giving him the silent treatment.

Harada had been having something of an off day.

It all started when his alarm hadn’t gone off properly, or turned off entirely after he’d hit snooze for the third time or something, and Harada had woken up to his mother looming him with a wooden spoon and telling him that if he didn’t get to breakfast in two minutes flat he was going to BE BREAKFAST.

Given the rate at which his mother was consuming food during the final weeks of her pregnancy, Harada was at the table in about a minute and forty seconds.

His father had his head buried in his paper for safety, and didn’t even twitch when Harada’s mother slammed down Harada’s plate of omelet and told him to pick up his freaking sneakers before somebody FREAKING BROKE THEIR NECK.

Of course she was totally different when she leaned out the door as Harada was hopping up and down trying to shove his sneaker on and told Marty-san sweetly that she hoped they had a good day at school.

“Your mother is so nice,” Marty-san said, taking a bite out of the warm muffin she had dropped into his hand.

“WHAT?” Harada shouted, not because he was surprised, but because he kind of couldn’t hear out of that side again quite yet. “LEMME HAVE A BITE OF THAT.”

At school, Harada had barely dusted the muffin crumbs off his shirt before he was being accosted by girls in his class who wanted him to do some ridiculous Christmas decorating, which seemed to involve more than his fair share of climbing up on chairs to staple paper mistletoe to bulletin boards and whatnot.

Harada’s freshman wasn’t even around for him to delegate some of this crap to, or at least to hold his chair steady so he didn’t fall to his death, and that was sort of bizarre in itself, because the only time his freshman had ever missed a day of school the whole year was that time in the fall when Harada had accidentally caught him square in the back of the head with the butt end of his stick and he’d had a minor concussion.

Harada breathed a little sigh of relief when the freshman skidded into homeroom just as the late bell was ringing, slipping into his seat with his uniform jacket slung over his shoulder. Then Harada frowned at himself.

“Where have you been?” he whispered, which for Harada meant only people two rows over could hear. The freshman just shrugged at him, which made Harada frown a little more, and grinned at nothing while picking at the brand-new bandage on his elbow until the teacher snapped at him to put his uniform jacket on already.

Harada felt itchy and out of sorts all through the lessons, although that was nothing new really, but today even the thought of looming lacrosse practice didn’t cheer him up like it usually did. Something was up with his freshman as well, who disappeared before Harada could drag him on some errands for Captain Tsukada at lunch.

The unsettled feeling solidified into definite irritation when the freshman returned to the classroom just before lunch was over, and a few girls from the class next door came over in a tight knot and stopped in front of their desks to stare expectantly.

“Are you here to apply to the lacrosse fanclub?” Harada demanded, eyeing them up. He’d put up flyers a few days ago, but he felt that perhaps these girls were judging themselves rather generously by the qualification guidelines he had listed.

“We’re not here to talk to you,” one of them said derisively, the one with the perm.

“Is it true you know Sato-kun?” the one with the square glasses asked.

The freshman nodded slowly, shifting a glance over to Harada. Harada stared stonily back, offering no help.

“He’s so cute, isn’t he!” the third girl exclaimed, drawing a chorus of “KYA” from the others. “He’s so strong and nice and sweet! Do you know him really well?”

Harada’s jaw dropped when the freshman stripped off his jacket and lifted his elbow with its gauze and tape, slightly creased from being shoved into his jacket, up for display.

“SO LUCKY,” the girls chorused, and one of them reached out to brush the gauze with sharp fingernails, and then the others wanted to touch it as well, and suddenly something inside Harada snapped.

“DON’T YOU HAVE CLASS?” he barked, making all three girls and the freshman snap their heads up suddenly. Having no idea what had made him do that or what to do next, Harada just went on glaring.

“I suppose,” the glasses girl said, letting her hand drop and leading the others away. “Bye-bye!”

“That was really irritating,” Harada grumbled when they had gone, then waited for his freshman to agree. The freshman just slid back on his jacket and slumped back in his chair, staring down at his fingers as he toyed with his pencil.

Instead of feeling better now that the girls were gone, Harada felt even grumpier, and spent all of science class thinking about how the freshman’s eyes had been wide with shock and hurt.

*******

“Is there something wrong?” Marty-san asked at practice, which was a fair question since they’d been there five minutes and Harada hadn’t shouted at anybody yet. Harada glanced around, but Natsumi had snuck off with his freshman to do something or other almost as soon as they’d got out of the locker room.

And anyway, what was he going to tell Marty? That his freshman wasn’t speaking to him? “No, Marty-san,” he said, then gave a little sigh.

During the first break, Natsumi and his freshman showed back up, bringing a basket of extra balls and the water bottles. Harada’s freshman skipped right over to Sato with a water bottle and grinned like a fool when Sato stopped talking to Kobayashi long enough to ruffle the freshman’s hair. Harada felt even more out of sorts and grumpier and wanted to yell a lot, but not the usual kind.

“Asakawa-senpai?” Harada thunked himself down on the bench next to Asakawa after practice and looked plaintive. “I feel funny. I think something’s wrong with me.”

“Funny how?” Asakawa asked, throwing a leg over the bench and turning Harada until he was straddling it as well, facing each other, then pressed a hand to Harada’s forehead.

“Not that kind.” Harada pushed Asakawa’s hand away and wished that Asakawa would put his shirt back on so that Tachiki-senpai would stop looking over at them. “Funny like…twisty. Like here.” Harada thumped himself on the chest, somewhere in between his heart and stomach.

“You didn’t buy the C lunch, did you?” Asakawa eyed Harada critically. “Because sometimes the C doesn’t stand for ‘crab’ if you know what I…”

“Asakawa-senpaiiiii,” Harada protested. “It’s nothing like that!”

“Hmm.” Asakawa ran his fingers through his hair, squeezing out some of the water. “What were you doing when it started?”

“There were these girls in my class this morning, well, they weren’t from my class, but they came over and one had this huge perm and another had glasses and anyway they were asking all these questions and…”

“Aw, Harada-kun!” Asakawa lit up suddenly. “Are you having your first crush?! Do you want me to teach you to make out?!”

“That’s not it at ALL!” Harada said in exasperation. “And anyway, I learned that in like the third grade, senpai!”

“It doesn’t hurt to brush up on your technique,” Asakawa assured, but before Harada could say anything else, the locker room door opened and the freshman strolled in, carrying the sweatshirts that people had forgotten in the auxiliary auxiliary gym, and inexplicably wearing a pair of black, fuzzy, kitty ears. Outside the door, he dimly heard Natsumi-chan giggling.

Harada’s heart seemed to thud louder than usual against his ribs, like it was trying to get the cook’s attention at the ramen counter. His mouth went a little dry and his brain felt kind of fuzzy too, and his fingertips sort of itched, and his freshman was beaming up at Sato and Harada’s whole skin prickled in irritation.

“Ooooooh,” Asakawa said suddenly, snapping Harada out of it. Sort of. “You aren’t having your first crush, you’re having your first YAOI.”

“It’s not my…” Harada started, only half of his attention back on Asakawa-senpai, but Asakawa-senpai was already grinning and blathering on at full speed about school romance and boys’ uniforms and Gravitation, and distantly Harada wondered when Asakawa-senpai had learned to breath with just his nose like that.

This,” Asakawa-senpai declared, eyes practically making little kira-kira noises, “calls for burgers!”

That got a small grin at least, because no matter how grumpy and twisty Harada felt, there was nothing that burgers on your senpai’s yen couldn’t fix just a little.

Day 21: In which Kazuhiro takes Kobayashi home for dinner

“Are you sure there’s nothing I have to help you with?” Kobayashi asked Tsukada, trying to look like he was just being helpful and not ready to start pleading in earnest at any moment. “Anything at all? Tournament season is coming up soon, Captain, and we really should start…”

“Nice try,” Tsukada said, patting Kobayashi’s shoulder just as Kazuhiro bounced up, bag on his shoulder and shirt in his hands, and asked if Kobayashi was ready to go or what.

“It’s two degrees outside, put on your shirt or we aren’t going anywhere!” Kobayashi snapped, then tore his gaze away to the floor and grumbled when he realized he was both showing concern and admitting their plans publicly.

“Have fun, you two,” Tsukada-captain said, his amusement very poorly concealed, and he slapped Kobayashi on the shoulder a last time and sauntered over to where Sato was pointing at something in his playbook that was making Misaki and Asakawa nod enthusiastically.

“Kobagin,” Kazuhiro started, in that low, warm way that meant that Kobayashi wasn’t fooling anybody, and Kobayashi told him to shut the hell up and get dressed already.

The bus ride to Kazuhiro’s house seemed to take a lot longer than usual, but then again Kobayashi was usually taking it alone and could read or draft plays or something. Kazuhiro didn’t seem to notice anything strange, pressed close to Kobayashi on the bus seat and chattering about his brothers.

“You aren’t nervous or anything are you?” Kazuhiro asked suddenly, making Kobayashi start a little. His grin was amused but sympathetic, and his knuckles brushed the back of Kobayashi’s hand where it was curled around the edge of the bus seat.

“No!” Kobayashi said reflexively. He shoved his hands in his coat pockets, then swallowed when his fingers brushed the small, wrapped package hidden there. “Of course not! Why would I be?”

“It isn’t every day you meet your boyfriend’s much cooler, much bigger, very protective older brothers, Kobagin.”

“Stop trying to freak me out.” It was kind of working though, because it took Kobayashi a full two seconds to finish processing the other parts of the sentence, the parts that were making the girls across the aisle giggle and the man in the trench coat next to them smile creepily. “And don’t say stuff like that in public!”

Kazuhiro laughed and pressed even closer, and Kobayashi hated himself for knowing that this was exactly the seventeenth time Kazuhiro had called him his boyfriend out loud.

At Kazuhiro’s house, Kazuhiro’s mother bustled out of the kitchen as soon as she heard the door, but said “Oh, it’s you,” when she got there and just found Kazuhiro and Kobayashi.

“Not that I don’t enjoy seeing you, Kobayashi-kun,” Shiyouji-san amended a second later, cheeks pinking a little when she realized her rudeness.

“It’s okay.” Kobayashi bowed and finished kicking off his shoes and tried not to think about how Kazuhiro’s mother’s apron had been present every time he tried to imagine Kazuhiro’s family eating. “That’s a nice dress, Shiyouji-san.”

“Why, thank you!” Shiyouji-san beamed, flattening her apron against the folds of her dress. “I wish Kazu-chan would be more polite like you.”

“Mo-om,” Kazuhiro whined, putting hands on Kobayashi’s shoulders and pushing him towards the stairs. “You know you’re pretty, you just want to hear it all the time! We’re going up to my room until big brother gets home.”

“Put a nice shirt on!” she called after them, then added, “and keep it on!”

At the top of the stairs, the door opposite Kazuhiro’s was closed as usual, but this time there were television voices drifting out of the room.

“Nori studies too much to play a sport,” Kazuhiro explained, planting a hand in the middle of his ‘Pants Optional’ sign and pushing his door open. “So he always beats me home. Want to play Katamari?”

“I have something for you,” Kobayashi blurted out as soon as he was inside and the door was shut, and he hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that, but he really couldn’t wait any longer, hand curled tightly around the package in his pocket and heart skipping a little.

Kazuhiro looked up from where he was untangling the PS2 controllers and cocked his head. “A present?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Kobayashi knelt cautiously next to Kazuhiro on the floor when Kazuhiro patted the spot next to him. “Look, I have you for the Secret Santa exchange, but I didn’t want to give you just something stupid and I didn’t want to give you this in front of everybody.”

“This sounds pretty good, Kobagin,” Kazuhiro said, leaning forward, and Kobayashi mumbled that he shouldn’t get that excited about it and shoved the slightly-squashed package into Kazuhiro’s hands.

Kazuhiro stripped off the crinkled wrapping paper with sure fingers, and Kobayashi tried not to make it too obvious how closely he was watching. It was hard not to stare, though, when those long fingers were tangled around the silver chain that had been in the box, letting the silver dogtags dangle and sway in the air.

“It’s kind of silly,” Kobayashi said, feeling stupid after all. He felt stupider the longer Kazuhiro didn’t say anything, just stared at the silver tags. Downstairs came the sound of the door opening and closing, and Kazuhiro’s mother yelling at Kazuhiro’s father not to take his tie off.

“Drunken elephant,” Kazuhiro finally did say, eyes pleased and dark and sweet, and the tag spun slowly in the air to show the suizo character.

“You remembered.” Kobayashi’s shoulders slumped a little in relief, because those early shougi lessons had been a long time ago, long before secret left hand moves and mismatched sandcastles and rushed locker room blowjobs.

You remembered.” Kazuhiro slipped the chain over his head and fingered the bumps of the chain. “Kobayashi-ginsho.”

It was only the second time Kazuhiro had ever called him that, and Kobayashi was trying to work out exactly what that meant and why he felt so good about it when Kazuhiro reached over and hooked fingers in the silver chain that was hiding underneath Kobayashi’s collar and tugged him closer by it until they were sitting thigh-to-thigh.

“I’m gonna roll your ass, Kobagin,” Kazuhiro announced, flipping on the Playstation and dropping a controller into Kobayashi’s hands. “And it won’t be in clover.”

“Dream on, idiot,” Kobayashi retorted, getting a little preemptive elbowing in and hoping that Kazuhiro was too busy setting the Katamari options to notice Kobayashi’s grin when he got elbowed back.

Day 22: In which Kobayashi meets Kazuhiro’s brothers and Kazuhiro gets a surprise.

Kazuhiro announced as they started playing that the loser had to kiss the winner, and it took Kobayashi two and half games to realize that Kazuhiro was completely losing on purpose. The third game took a lot longer, since they were both trying to lose.

Kobayashi was so involved in elbowing Kazuhiro and rolling things into balls that he almost didn’t hear the front door open and shut again, but it all came rushing back in a jolt of nerves when he heard Shiyouji-san shout “Isao! Welcome home!”

Tossing aside his controller mid-katamari, Kazuhiro hopped to his feet and offered Kobayashi a hand up. “Ready, Kobagin?”

“Yeah,” Kobayashi lied, but let Kazuhiro yank him to his feet and straighten his collar, and then shove him out the door.

“Isao-nii!” Kazuhiro hollered when they were halfway down the staircase, and he took the last half-dozen stairs two at a time to fling himself at his brother, Kobayashi trailing reluctantly behind.

“See, Nori?” Isao said, making the other boy standing next to them snort. “Kazu-chan isn’t too old to hug his big brother.”

“Kazu-chan isn’t too old for dolls either,” Nori replied, folding his arms.

“They’re action figures,” Kazuhiro pulled away from Isao just enough to stick his tongue out at his other brother. “Get over here, Kobagin! What’re you waiting for?”

Everybody was looking at Kobayashi as he came down the last few steps and stepped away from the staircase. He pushed his glasses up nervously and thought that maybe he should have worn his contacts or a nicer shirt or just should have never agreed to this at all. “Nice to meet you,” he said, bowing.

“This is Kobayashi-kun,” said Kazuhiro said, and Kobayashi swallowed a bubble of nervous laughter because Kazuhiro had never ever called him that before. He reached out and yanked Kobayashi forward the last two feet when Kobayashi seemed to get stuck a few steps away. “These are my brothers, Isao and Nori.”

“Nice to meet you,” Isao said, giving a casual sort of bow to Kobayashi, which was a bit awkward because Kazuhiro hadn’t exactly stopped hugging him yet. Isao was tall, taller than Shiyouji-san even, and long-limbed like Kazuhiro. His hair was just a touch long to be respectable and bleached in the same style as Kazuhiro’s, only somebody had done a better job of it and it wasn’t half-grown out like Kazuhiro’s usually was. Kobayashi tried not to stare while he was thinking that if he had a brother that looked as cool as Isao-san, he would hug him a lot too.

“You know, we thought Kobayashi was some girl in Kazu-chan’s class at first,” Nori remarked. He was tall too, although not as tall as Isao, and Kobayashi suddenly realized that Kazuhiro almost certainly had at least one more good growth spurt in him. He was wearing reading glasses underneath his very proper, very non-bleached haircut. He looked Kobayashi right in the eye and said, “We thought you were his girlfriend.”

“Nori!” Kazuhiro protested, and when Nori continued to stare evenly, tugged on Isao’s sleeve. “Isao-nii!”

“Aw, don’t be a jerk,” Isao said, making Kazuhiro beamed, and he reached over to ruffle a scowling Nori’s hair.

“Hmph.” Nori slapped Isao’s hand away, then turned his stare to Kazuhiro. “And you should call me big brother too.”

“Your mother says dinner is ready,” Kazuhiro’s father said, and they all turned to find him in the doorway, looking rather disgruntled about the fact that his suit jacket and tie were still on, if a bit loosened. “Welcome home, son.”

He put out his hand to shake, but Isao rolled his eyes and pulled his father into a hug, complete with manly backslapping. “Come on, let’s eat before Mom freaks out.”

Kobayashi padded along beside Kazuhiro in his socks and tried not to get a complex about something as stupid as how cool Isao’s bare feet sounded as they slapped the hardwood floor.

He ended up sitting in between Kazuhiro and Nori, across from Kazuhiro’s long-suffering father, who was just reaching up to pull on his tie some more when Kazuhiro’s mother came out of the kitchen with the rice and slapped his hand down.

As she was sitting down, Nori’s cell phone shrilled in his pocket. He reached for it, only to have the back of his hand thwapped with Shiyouji-san’s wooden spoon.

“Don’t you dare answer the honorable telephone!” she warned.

“Mo-om,” Nori groaned, just as Isao protested that he did live there and there really was no need for the formal language and all.

“We’re having a nice family dinner!” Shiyouji-san gave them all a steely glance, and Nori grumbled and pulled his hand away from his pocket. A second later he twitched, making his plate clatter.

“Voice mail’s on vibrate,” he grunted at his mother’s look.

Dinner was much more normal that Kobayashi had imagined that people related to Kazuhiro could possibly be, with Kazuhiro’s father asking Isao about his soccer team, and Isao teasing Nori about studying too much, and Kazuhiro’s mother forcing seconds and thirds on everybody.

“But your season’s starting up again soon, right?” Isao asked Kazuhiro eventually, when the topic of Kazuhiro’s brief soccer stint had come up, making Nori wrinkle his nose in embarrassment.

“Yup!” Kazuhiro beamed under the attention. He reached over to steal a bite of Kobayashi’s yakisoba, and Kobayashi kicked him under the table. “Kobagin’s been writing plays so we’ll be ready when tournament season starts!”

“Kobagin?” Isao asked, amused, and Kazuhiro shut his mouth suddenly, looking uncertain about letting the nickname slip out. “What’s the ‘gin’ for?”

“Silver general.” Kobayashi cleared his throat when Kazuhiro didn’t answer right away. “I was on the amateur shougi circuit before lacrosse.”

“Really?” Nori asked, looking interested for the first time all night. “We used to play all the time, before Isao left for university.”

“You did?” Kobayashi blinked when Isao nodded, grinning nostalgically. Then Kobayashi turned to Kazuhiro with a scowl. “You knew how to play shougi all along!”

“Yeah,” Kazuhiro admitted, snickering when Kobayashi kicked him again.

“Pfft,” Kazuhiro’s father said. “You boys and your board games. I bet none of you can challenge your old man at a real sport!”

“You got something in mind, Shiy-ojisan?” Isao teased, yanking his napkin off his lap and slapping it down on the table in challenge. “Cause I think there’s a basketball net in the backyard that says it’s time to hand things over to the eldest son!”

“Hey, there’s still dessert!” Shiyouji-san protested, but Kazuhiro’s father was already out of his chair, pushing his tie and jacket into his wife’s hands, and then Kazuhiro and Isao were dragging Nori and Kobayashi to the genkan to shove their sneakers back on.

“We’ll even give you a handicap, old man,” Isao said, hopping a little in his hurry to tug his shoe on. They were all jammed into the alcove at the same time, which for some reason made Kazuhiro giggle as they all elbowed and shoved at each other, and the laughter, for some reason, was contagious. “We’ll play two-on-three.”

“I don’t need your handicap!” Shiyouji-san blustered, shoving them out the door, not a single one of them wearing anything warmer than a long-sleeved T-shirt. “I’ll take Kazu-chan and Kobayashi-kun!”

“I’m not that good at basketball,” Kobayashi tried to protest, but none of the Shiyoujis would hear it.

It took about three minutes for the Shiyoujis to get too warm for their shirts despite the fact that there was snow on the ground, and when Kazuhiro’s mother came out about a half hour later to check on them, Kobayashi was flailing his arms uselessly in front of the net, trying to block a hoard of half-naked males from scoring the final basket.

He had the feeling that it was only his presence that was keeping them from being a lot more than half-naked.

“Will you look at yourselves!” Kazuhiro’s mother yelled in exasperation over Isao and Nori’s victorious whooping. “No coats, no shirts! You’re going to catch your deaths out here! Get inside this instant!”

The boys let themselves be reluctantly herded inside and wrapped into blankets, then not-so-reluctantly took the mugs of hot chocolate and sweet bean dumplings that Shiyouji-san had colored like soccerballs for dessert. Kazuhiro happily volunteered to share with Kobayashi when they came up a blanket short.

“I found this too,” Kazuhiro’s mother said, laying a battered yellow box on the coffee table that said Lucky Family Shougi! on the side. Kazuhiro made an inarticulate noies of glee and yanked both Kobayashi and Nori down to sit on the floor with him.

******

“Good to see you haven’t lost your touch, Kobagin,” Kazuhiro teased when they got back to Kazuhiro’s room. Their game was still paused from hours earlier, and Kobayashi flipped the power switch off without a second thought. “You’re staying over, right?”

“I don’t have anything with me,” Kobayashi said, but with the air of a man who knew that protest was useless.

“I’ll let you borrow my toothbrush,” Kazuhiro assured with a lazy smile, grabbing Kobayshi by the wrist and yanking him close.

“What about pajamas?” Kobyashi teased back, pressing Kazuhiro against the door. Kazuhiro was still shirtless, his skin still cool under Kobayashi’s palms. His mouth was warm though, and tasted like hot chocolate when their tongues slid together. Kazuhiro wrapped chilled arms around Kobyashi’s neck, making him shiver, and didn’t bother to answer his stupid question about wearing things to bed.

“Careful, Kobagin,” Kazuhiro laughed when Kobyashi sank thumbs into the ticklish skin just over Kazuhiro’s pelvic bones. “You don’t want my brothers thinking you’re my girlfriend, do you?”

“I guess we’ll have to prove I’m your boyfriend instead,” Kobyashi said before he could stop himself, feeling his cheeks heat up but not dropping his eyes from Kazuhiro’s.

Not like he could have looked away if he wanted to, not with the way Kazuhiro’s face had just lit up in surprise, making it clear that Kobyashi wasn’t the only one keeping track of how many times who said which words.

Day 23: In which the not-so-Secret Santas are revealed.

When they showed up to practice on Monday afternoon, Natsumi and Harada’s freshman were already in the locker room, covered in glitter and pieces of crepe paper and grinning like fools.

“Wow, it looks terrific!” Sato said, glancing around at the perfectly twisty streamers criss-crossing over their lockers and the balloons stuck up around the “Marry Chrismasu” banner. “You should’ve have.”

“And I made cookies and punch!” Natsumi announced, pointing proudly at the tray sitting on one of the benches.

“Wow,” Misaki said, “you shouldn’t have.”

“Everybody get out your Secret Santa presents,” Tsukada ordered, “and prepare to present what you’ve learned about your teammates.”

“We have to do it in front of everybody?” Tachiki asked, leaning a casual elbow on Misaki’s shoulder. “And say what we got them?”

“Of course,” Tsukada said; Misaki looked down at the package in his hands with a frown. A chorus of “Not It!” ran around the locker room, and Tsukada rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, I know better than to let you organize yourselves. I’ve got somebody else to do that. Marty-san!”

There was a second of silence, during which everyone realized that Marty-san wasn’t standing next to them, and then finally there was a voice from the showers.

“I’m not sedentary with this,” Marty-san said plaintively.

“Not comfortable, you mean!” Tsukada hollered back. “Get your foreign ass out here!”

Marty-san tromped out of the showers to reveal his bright red suit, his fur-trimmed bobble hat, his ‘sack’ (a Kamen Rider 555 pillowcase), and his decided lack of holiday cheer.

“I’m immensely dis-happy about this,” Marty-san said.

“Pipe down, Santa-san,” Tsukada brushed him off, “and get everybody’s present in your sack there.”

As Marty-san held out his pillowcase for everyone to drop their gift in, he grumbled something in French about reindeer that only Harada understood enough of to giggle at.

“Okay,” Tsukada said when everybody was set, “Santa-san here will pull out a present one at a time and hand it over, at which point you’ll explain why you got your teammate that. Clear?”

“Yeah, yeah,” everybody said.

The first gift Marty-san pulled out of the pillowcase had Misaki’s name on it, and was flat and square and covered in red-nosed reindeer.

“It’s from me!” Asakawa said when Misaki had torn the reindeer aside to reveal a Secret Dragon Hero Mission artbook. “Misaki’s been watching these bootlegs for ages, he’s a total addict,” he explained.

“It’s in Chinese,” Misaki pointed out, flipping a few pages over in the artbook. Tachiki was leaning on his shoulder again, trying to look nonchalant.

“I know,” Asakawa shrugged. “But pictures are pictures, right?” He looked uncertain, and Misaki laughed and had to agree.

Sato’s name came up next, and his face when he discovered the shrink-wrapped volumes of Koi ga Bokura wo Yurusu Hani was nothing compared to the face he made when Kazuhiro casually announced the secret location of his Kyou Kara Maou novels.

“YIKES,” Harada said when he got a good look at his present, which was a stack of Big Mouth magazines, noticeably also shrink-wrapped.

“Care to tell us what you found out about Harada that would necessitate dirty magazines?” Tsukada inquired, not sounding particularly amused.

“I found out that nobody in their right mind wouldn’t like a copy of December’s centerfold,” Tachiki drawled. “I have two words for you: Candy. Cane. Lemme borrow them when you’re through, hm? If they’re still in decent condition, that is.”

“LET’S MOVE ON,” Tsukada said, filling in for Harada since the freshman still seemed a little speechless. He elbowed Marty-san, who pulled out a rather squashy package with red leaves on it.

“It’s for you,” he said to Kobayashi, handing it over, “from me.”

Kobayashi thumbed open a flap of the wrapping paper and stared inside the package for a long moment before Kazuhiro hassled him into pulling the gift completely free to show everybody. It turned out to be a bright yellow jersey, with Kobayashi emblazoned on the back in green and the Nathan’s hot dog logo on the front.

“He just won his sixth title,” Marty-san explained. “And this’ll be your sixth Shougi amateur tournament this year, right?”

“I…yeah.” Kobayashi smiled, surprised and pleased. “Thanks, Marty-san.”

“Plus you have the same name.”

Kobayashi grit his teeth. “Thanks, Marty-san.”

The next package was a couple of CDs from Tsukada to Kichida.

“ORANGE RANGE!” Kichida beamed. “I love those guys. Little bit of a miss with the Origa though, Tsukada-captain.”

“Is it? Sorry,” Tsukada said, but he didn’t look any less satisfied with himself, and Kichida tucked both CDs carefully into the front pocket of his bag.

“That’s from me,” Misaki said when Marty-san pulled out the neatly wrapped green box. “It might, uh, seem a bit weird, but we, I mean I thought that it might, um.” Misaki took a deep breath. “Just open it.”

“Um,” Marty-san said when he had peeled the paper off to reveal a game case with two blushing schoolgirls on the front. “I’m not sure I’m aged enough for this.”

“I think we’re having a ratings system for presents next year,” Tsukada commented.

“You have to talk with lots of characters!” Misaki exclaimed quickly. “I thought it might help with your conversational Japanese, Marty-san.” Marty-san’s confusion turned into a bright grin at that explanation, and he told Misaki that it was a very accurate gifts.

Nobody was surprised when Kazuhiro’s gift turned out to be from Kobayashi, least of all Kazuhiro, and he was very pleased with his novelty T-shirt that made it look like he was naked.

“That one’s from me, Asakawa-senpai!” Harada was practically bouncing on his toes as Asakawa tore into the wrapping paper with abandon and came up with w-inds.’ newest single.

“How’d you know?” Asakawa asked, looking slightly chagrined as Misaki and Kichida hooted and pointed at him.

“I had a little help,” Harada admitted, and Sato coughed. “THEY’RE GOOD, RIGHT?”

“They’re awesome,” Asakawa said, grabbing Harada around the neck and mussing his hair all up. Harada laughed and twisted and generally failed to break free until Asakawa suggested they watch every w-inds. PV in order together after this.

“Here,” Sato said shortly when Tachiki’s gift appeared. Rectangular and kind of large, Tachiki stripped off the paper to find the biggest assortment of flavored bubble gum that had ever been produced by man. “That should keep you happy for a while.”

Tachiki, for once, didn’t have a smartass comment, and after staring at the package for a second, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his house key to make a big slit across the top of the cellophane. He picked out all the packages of strawberry gum, about half a dozen in all, and dropped them into Sato’s hand.

“You don’t like strawberry?” Sato asked skeptically.

“You’ll like it more, trust me.” Tachiki shrugged, and Sato slid the packs of gum into his pocket with a raised eyebrow.

That left only one box in the pillowcase, which was marked ‘Tsukada-captain’ and came from Kichida.

“You guys had each other?” Kobayashi asked. “Hmmm.”

“You’re one to talk,” Tsukada retorted, “and anyhow, you all saw us both draw, fair and square.”

“You’ve gone through three clipboards this year,” Kichida explained when Tsukada tore off the paper to find exactly that. “Try and make this one last a little longer, huh?”

Tsukada flicked a glance from the clipboard up to Kichida and back down again, rubbing his thumb over the lines of his name etched into the silver clip. “Thank you.”

“So are we gonna have a party here or what?” Tachiki wanted to know, and Harada’s freshman flipped on the stereo at that point to deafen them with the w-inds. version of “O Christmas Tree.”

Misaki was trying to maneuver his way around people to put his present into his bag, when suddenly he bumped into Natsumi-chan.

“Oh, sorry!” he said. Natsumi was staring at him, blushing lightly, and Misaki started to blush too without exactly knowing why. “Er, it was really nice of you to set this up for us. The cookies look really good, and…um…”

Natsumi just waited for him to wind down, and when he finally was almost through mumbling, she simply pointed up. Misaki was not surprised at all to tilt his head back and find a sprig of mistletoe taped to his locker.

“Ah,” he said, and looked back down to find Natsumi-chan with her hands behind her back, eyes closed, leaning forward expectantly.

Well, it was Christmas, Misaki supposed, and he clutched his book to his chest for protection and leaned forward with lips pursed.

“HEY,” Harada said on the other side of the room, making his freshman look up from where he was diddling with the knobs on the stereo. The volume of the music didn’t seem to be affecting him at all, and he cocked his head at Harada’s approach and rather flustered expression. “I GOT YOU SOMETHING.”

His freshman blinked at him a moment, then reached out and took the small packaged that Harada was offering him with both hands. When he peeled it open, however, his face lit up right away. He immediately stuck the bright, silver whistle in his mouth, Seigaku lanyard dangling in the air, and blew a shrill FWEEEEET that made everybody in the locker room jump six inches.

“It’s for when you’re Vice Captain,” Harada explained quietly, and the freshman’s jaw dropped a little, whistle still stuck to his lower lip, and Harada beamed because for the first time in weeks his freshman was staring only at him.

“Yo, Tsukada-captain.” Kichida sauntered up to Tsukada with his hands in his pockets. “There’s another part to your present, you know.”

“Oh?” Tsukada asked. His face looked rather pinched, but he had just drank a cup of punch that Natsumi had forced on him.

“Yeah, I left it in your office.” Kichida lifted his eyes to Tsukada’s and raised an eyebrow. “You might wanna go check it out, yeah?”

“Hmm,” said Tsukada, setting down the punch cup.

Behind them, Tachiki glanced around to make sure nobody was watching, and then slipped out the locker room door.

Day 24: In which…well, there’s 2500 words of porn, really.

Kichida was leaning on the edge of Tsukada’s desk, not quite sitting on it, hands curling and uncurling around the edge of it. He had stripped his sweater off when he came in, breathless from the long hallways and nerves, but now his arms were prickling underneath the short sleeves of his T-shirt since he hadn’t bothered to turn on the ancient space heater that always filled the office with the reek of kerosene.

He should maybe put the sweater back on, or turn the heater on, or clear off the desk, or take a few deep breaths before he passed out, or maybe just throw himself right out the window.

If only Tsukada’s office weren’t on the first floor, Kichida thought sourly, and then jumped six inches in the air when the door handle turned with a loud click.

“Oh, fuck, it’s you.” Kichida slumped against the desk when Tachiki came in and kicked the door shut behind him. He had to swallow a few times before he felt like his heart wasn’t trying to choke him. “Tsukada-captain isn’t here, so get lost, huh?”

“Could say the same thing to you.” Tachiki’s smirk sent a pulse of irritation down Kichida’s spine, which his already frayed nerves promptly misfired as excitement. “Not too subtle, are you two?”

“What do you know about it anyway?” Kichida retorted, looking at his feet and willing his body to chill the fuck out already.

“I think,” Tachiki’s voice was suddenly much closer, and Kichida sucked in a breath when Tachiki was sliding arms around his waist and hands into the back pockets of his jeans, “that I know more than enough about it.”

Kichida jerked his gaze up to argue, but only had time to open his mouth before Tachiki yanked their hips flush and shut him up with a rough kiss. He tried to fight back, but grabbing two fistfuls of Tachiki’s unbuttoned uniform jacket and shoving him backwards didn’t do much more than push himself back harder against Tsukada’s desk, and that’s what Tachiki seemed to be shooting for anyway. Kichida tried to turn his head away, but Tachiki let go of his ass with one hand and wrapped it in Kichida’s hair, jerking his head back the way he wanted it.

He’d just gotten a knee in between Kichida’s thighs when the door clicked again, and Tachiki released Kichida’s mouth to look over his shoulder, lips smug and wet.

********

Tsukada stood in the doorway and stared for a long second before speaking. Aside from the obvious, what he was most confused about was how Kichida and Tachiki had beat up him here.

“If this is supposed to be my present,” he said, running a hard gaze over their heaving chests and Kichida’s hands fisted in Tachiki’s shirt and Tachiki’s thigh between Kichida’s, “I hope you kept the receipt.”

“Now, now,” Tachiki said, talking right through Kichida’s frustrated snarl, “don’t pretend this wasn’t in your letter to Santa, Captain. I’m just engaging in a little product testing, is all.”

“Let me go,” Kichida finally snapped, shoving at Tachiki harder now that the shock was wearing off. His cheeks were flushing bright red, embarrassment and anger warring with the rub of Tachiki’s leg along the seam of his jeans. “You win, okay, just let me get out of…”

“Wimping out, huh?” Tachiki clicked his tongue, turning back to brush his cheek along Kichida’s and murmur in his ear, “Such a shame, since what you really want is—”

Tsukada took a few steps forward and reached out to yank Tachiki backwards by the collar, forcing him back a couple of inches. “He said let go,” Tsukada said. He flicked an uncertain glance towards Kichida when Tachiki started laughing.

“Not even Santa could sort you idiots out,” Tachiki said, then laughed harder when Tsukada yanked on his collar again, hard enough to make the material of his T-shirt dig into his throat a little. Tachiki tugged Kichida forward suddenly, fingers hooked in his belt loops, and Tsukada was opening his mouth in a snarl when he found himself face to face with Kichida, hair mussed and lips puffy and brown eyes wide like the practice field in spring.

Tachiki re-curled himself along Kichida’s back, eyes half-slit and sharp, cheek sliding against Kichida’s hair.

“Still running away?” Tachiki asked, and Tsukada wasn’t sure which one of them he was asking. After a second of not getting an answer from either of them, Tachiki shoved Kichida hard in the back, forcing him forward until his mouth smacked into Tsukada’s.

“Ow,” said Kichida, but he didn’t pull away, and Tsukada leaned forward that last inch again to kiss him a little more successsfully.

“There we go,” Tachiki encouraged, voice still disturbingly close, but Tsukada ignored him in favor of licking the blood off the split in Kichida’s lower lip. It was probably a mistake, since it gave Tachiki the illusion that he was in charge, and the next thing Tsukada knew, Tachiki was grabbing Tsukada’s hands, which had been dangling at his sides, and sticking them to Kichida’s sides.

“Uhn,” Kichida said, skin warm through the thin material of his T-shirt, and his shiver buzzed over Tsukada’s palms. Kichida pressed closer, backing Tsukada against the desk, and Tsukada didn’t really fight when Tachiki pushed them forward a little more, his hands on Tsukada’s thighs urging him up to actually sit on the desk.

“C’mere,” Tachiki said, wrapping an arm over Kichida’s chest, and Tsukada and Kichida blinked at each other for a second when Tachiki pulled Kichida back, breaking their kiss, far enough to whisper something in Kichida’s ear.

Tsukada couldn’t make out what Tachiki’s suggestion actually was, but Kichida was giving him darting looks and chewing on his lower lip.

“You want to,” Tachiki finally raised his voice again, loud enough for Tsukada to hear, and his palm was flat against the stripe of bare skin where Kichida’s T-shirt had ridden up. “Trust me.”

“You’re,” Tsukada had to clear his throat, “you’re bleeding again.”

“Oh.” Kichida reached up to touch his lip, then ran his tongue over the cut. Tsukada tracked the movement, swallowing, and then Kichida was stepping closer again, giving him some look that Tsukada couldn’t read at all before kissing him. He tangled both hands in Tsukada’s hair, breathing in nervous pants against Tsukada’s mouth, and Tsukada’s hands found their way to Kichida’s back on their own this time.

“Hey!” Tsukada gasped when Kichida’s hand slid across his crotch, and then “Hey!” when Tachiki was grinning at him over Kichida’s shoulder and there were suddenly two sets of hands on his crotch, undoing his pants and tugging his cock free. There were definitely too many fingers involved, and then Kichida was leaning his head back to break the kiss and giving Tsukada the look again.

“For fuck’s sake,” Tachiki said, rolling his eyes at Tsukada. “Tell him it’s okay for him to suck you off.”

“It’s okay?” Tsukada said automatically, then backpedaled when Kichida’s expression hardened. “I mean, it’s aaah!” Tsukada nearly bit his tongue in half when Tachiki thumbed his balls none-too-gently in warning.

“You could at least be polite about it,” Tachiki purred, and his hand was under Kichida’s T-shirt now, creeping upwards and making Kichida’s eyes flutter.

“Please.” Tsukada licked his lips and hoped that look Kichida kept giving was not the result of anything Tachiki had done to him. “Please?”

Despite the fact that there were a limited number of things that he could have possibly been asking for, Tsukada’s breath still caught in surprise when Kichida dropped to his knees in one fluid motion, wincing when he hit the tiled floor.

Tsukada opened his mouth to say sorry on reflex, but it came out nothing but a gasp when Kichida wrapped lips around the tip of his cock and sucked. He glanced up at Tsukada, lips stretched wide and eyes unsure, and Tsukada had to grab at the edges of the desk for support.

“Shit.” Tsukada shivered when he realized that, despite being on the same team as Tachiki and Asakawa, apparently Kichida hadn’t given a whole lot of blowjobs. “You don’t have to…I mean, don’t…”

Kichida let Tsukada slip free and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He swallowed, watching Tsukada’s face, then asked, “What?”

Tachiki was running fingers through Kichida’s hair and down the side of his neck, watching Tsukada expectantly. Tsukada shuddered. “Don’t stop.”

“Good to see everybody being cooperative,” Tachiki said as Kichida went back to work, drawing a sharp “Goddamn” out of Tsukada. Then Tachiki reached into his pocket and pulled out a tube.

“What’re you…” Tsukada tried to get a hold of himself long enough to put on his Captain face. Not that Tachiki, who was busy coaxing into Kichida into standing up, ass sticking up awkwardly in the air and elbows on either side of Tsukada’s hips for support, was really looking at Tsukada’s face. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m not really engineering this scenario out of the goodness of my heart,” Tachiki commented as he executed a perfect one-handed dispensing of lube. The other hand was busy undoing Kichida’s jeans and shoving them down, out of the way. Kichida groaned and squirmed when Tachiki stroked him, Kichida’s cock already curling towards his stomach.

“Oh fuck,” Tsukada said, half because Tachiki was still using four-syllable words when Tsukada could barely think, and half because Kichida had just discovered that he could use his hand on the spit-slicked part of Tsukada’s shaft that his lips weren’t reaching.

And then Tachiki slipped a finger into Kichida, making Kichida sink fingers into Tsukada’s thighs and rock forward, nearly choking himself.

“Careful.” Tsukada shot Tachiki a glare and put his hand on Kichida’s shoulders to push him back. Tachiki shrugged and added a second finger. Kichida was shaking, fine trembles crawling up his spine and under Tsukada’s palms, and Tsukada slid one hand over to brush through the soft hair curling against Kichida’s neck.

“Ready enough, are we?” Tachiki chuckled when Kichida thrust back against his fingers and gave a whining moan. His eyes were closed though, and even if his mouth was open on a moan around Tsukada’s cock, Tsukada could still see the way the corners were pinching when Tachiki moved.

“Wait,” Tsukada protested when Tachiki tugged his trackpants down out of the way and gave his cock a few strokes to cover it in the lube. “Wait, you can’t just…”

“And yet I’m going to,” Tachiki said, and then he was lining his cock up and pushing Kichida forward, and Kichida was clutching at Tsukada hard enough to leave bruises, eyes squeezed shut.

“You’re such a fucking bastard,” Tsukada growled, stroking Kichida’s hair and trying not to move even as Kichida panted around his cock and clutched at him.

“Don’t worry,” Tachiki slid out and back in, holding Kichida’s hips steady. “This won’t take, mm, very long, so just…just try and control yourself.”

“About up to your usual standards,” Tsukada commented, catching Tachiki’s eye; Tachiki’s groan shuddered through Kichida as well. “At least, in my rather extensive experience.”

Kichida’s panting stuttered for a second, and Tsukada looked down, ready to stop everything until he realized that Kichida was actually laughing silently. He brushed his thumb over Kichida’s cheek and shared a predatory smile with him before lifting his gaze back to Tachiki.

“Not even going to last five minutes, are you?” Tsukada asked, voice silky and skeptical; Tachiki groaned and thrust hard, breaking his rhythm. “I’m surprised you get off on fucking somebody else, frankly, given how much you like taking it up the ass from me.”

“Fuck, quit it,” Tachiki said, half-moaning and half-laughing, throwing his head back and just rocking into Kichida hard, and it really did only take another minute for him to spend himself inside Kichida, even if Kichida’s whimpers made the moment seem to stretch like the last five minutes of the school day for Tsukada.

Tachiki pulled out after a few seconds, swaying just a little, and gave Tsukada a sharp, if slightly lop-sided smile.

“Ready for the main event?” he asked, and before Tsukada could ask him what the hell he was talking about, Tachiki was pulling Kichida up and pushing him forward, up onto the desk.

“Hey,” Tsukada protested, but it was sort of hard to protest when Kichida was sinking down on him, slow and trembling and still slick from Tachiki. Kichida’s thighs gave out and he slid the last two inches to land hard on Tsukada’s lap, hissing.

Tsukada was struggling not to just thrust up and come right then as Kichida wrapped arms tight around his neck, shivering and clutching at Tsukada’s shoulders. Then Kichida gave a soft, shaky, “Tsukada-captain?” and Tsukada realized he’d had it all backwards all along.

“Kinsho,” Tsukada said, then because he was only 95% sure, added, “Right?” and buried his nose in the damp hair at Kichida’s temple when Kichida laughed, voice breathless and thin.

“Yeah,” Kichida said, pushing himself up an inch or so, then letting himself slid back down. He used Tsukada’s shoulders for leverage and said “Yeah” again, and this time he managed two or three inches, and Tsukada whimpered and sank fingers into the small of Kichida’s back as he slid home.

Behind them, there was the creak of Tachiki collapsing in Tsukada’s chair, but Tsukada didn’t pay any attention to what he was doing back there, whether he was just watching or getting off again or who knew what. Instead, Tsukada was occupied with the uneven breath brushing his ear and the taste of salt on Kichida’s neck.

When he peeled one hand off the edge of the desk to wedge in between them and wrap around Kichida’s cock, Kichida moaned “Tsukada-captain” in the sweetest, hoarsest voice that Tsukada had ever heard, and Tsukada’s whole body seemed to throb at once, making his fingertips tingle and his hips snap.

“I can’t,” Tsukada tried to warn, growling when there was a laugh behind them and another creak from the chair, but Kichida didn’t stop moving, fingers twisted tight against Tsukada’s shoulders.

“Doesn’t matter,” he panted, pushing into Tsukada’s hand and down onto his cock, “me either,” and true to his word, Kichida gave one last moan of Tsukada’s name and spilled over Tsukada’s hand, forehead pressed tight against Tsukada’s neck.

Tsukada slid his hands down from Kichida’s back to the curve of his ass, and while Kichida was still pliant and clinging in the aftermath of his orgasm, Tsukada slammed up into him once, twice, and let the sharp pulse of his own release white everything out for a few seconds.

“Like your present?” Kichida murmured after Tsukada’s breath had evened out, but before their heartrate had dropped back to normal; he was still curled tight against Tsukada’s chest.

Tsukada ran his hand down Kichida’s spine, fingering the soft material of his T-shirt where it clung to his skin, and thought that he hadn’t even got him unwrapped the whole way.

Day 25: In which just about every regular pairing has a one-shot and the ending is disgustingly adorable.

“We should go out,” Asakawa said as he and Sato were helping the freshman take down the balloons and streamers. Everyone else had already gone; Tachiki and Tsukada had disappeared kind of fast, followed shortly by Kichida, then Kazuhiro dragged Kobayashi off to do Trigonometry homework, then Marty-san had slunk off to nurse his gaijin pride, and in the end, even Natsumi-chan had talked Misaki into walking her home and carrying her bag. “You guys up for sushi?”

“ABSOLUTELY!” exclaimed Harada.

“FWEEEEET!” agreed his freshman.

Kawamura Sushi was packed even though it was still a little early for dinner, salary men and office ladies skiving off work a few minutes early because of the holiday season and shopping. Asakawa stood on his toes to wave over the crowd to Kawamura-senpai, who was wiping off the sushi counter, and he grinned back and found them some space at the counter.

“What’ll it be?” he asked when they were squeezed onto their stools, the freshman wedged in between Sato and Asakawa to keep them from getting swept back into the crush of the dinner crowd.

“THE SENPAI ARE TREATING!” Harada announced, and Kawamura laughed and gave Sato a wink, saying he’d find them something suitable.

“Feeling better?” Asakawa asked Harada after Kawamura-senpai had laid a huge tray in front of them. Harada, mouth full of eel, nodded vigorously, and Asakawa slapped him on the back. “See, I told you it would work out! Hey, try this one,” he said quickly to distract Harada when he saw over Harada’s shoulder that Sato and the other freshman were fighting over a tuna roll with their chopsticks, the freshman giggling.

Sato let the freshman win and popped a bite of salmon in his mouth instead. “It’s kind of funny that we’re the senpai now, isn’t it?”

“Funny like awesome,” Asakawa grinned, shouldering Harada a little to get another piece of eel. Harada spluttered and shoved him back. “And we’ve got another whole year to go!”

“We’ll be senpai in the spring too!” Harada said, elbowing his freshman and nearly making him choke as he tried to swallow. “That’ll be so cool, won’t it, won’t it?!”

The freshman narrowed his eyes a little and reached over while Harada’s eyes were too starry to see anything and shoved a chopstick-tipful of wasabi into the center of the sushi that was sitting in front Harada.

Asakawa and Sato nearly cried laughing when Harada bit down casually on the whole thing, then shrieked and clapped hands over his mouth, and his freshman helpfully whistled for the Kawamura-senpai to bring them a glass of water.

******

Just come to the back door, the note stuck to the trunk of the tree read, and when Tachiki went around the corner of the house, he was disgusted to find the back door unlocked, and Misaki snoring on the couch just inside, blanket kicked mostly off.

“You idiot,” Tachiki sat down on the couch and shook Misaki’s shoulder. “Are you trying for the perverts or what?”

Misaki woke up halfway when Tachiki bit down on his neck and stretched lazily. “I told my mother I would keep Miss Momo away from Santa’s cookies and milk.”

“Nice job,” Tachiki said, eyeing the perfect bite taken out of each one of the half-dozen chocolate chip cookies.

“I like watching the tree lights,” Misaki yawned. “I got a little tired.”

“I think I can help you with that.” Tachiki kicked off his sneakers and crawled over Misaki, settling on top of him.

Tachiki unbuttoned Misaki’s pajama shirt, and Misaki pushed Tachiki’s leather jacket off his shoulders, and somehow they got turned around so that they were jammed in side by side on the couch, pressed too close to even take a deep breath.

That was definitely a problem. “Here,” Tachiki grabbed the back of Misaki’s shirt and yanked him on top, one hand on his waist to keep him from overbalancing and actually tumbling the whole way off the couch. Misaki braced himself with both hands on Tachiki’s shoulders as Tachiki tugged his pajama pants down far enough to get a hand around his cock.

“Ask you something?” Misaki panted, pushing into Tachiki’s hand and reaching down to flip open Tachiki’s jeans so his balls wouldn’t be scraping against the denim of Tachiki’s jeans. “You do this with Kichida this afternoon?”

“Exactly this?” Tachiki’s raised eyebrow shot even higher when Misaki yanked his jeans down. “No.” Tachiki stuck two fingers in his mouth and sucked on them.

“What was, ah,” Misaki squirmed as Tachiki pressed cool fingers into the cleft of his ass, “different?”

“The lighting wasn’t this good,” Tachiki answered, eyeing the spill of red and green lights over Misaki’s sweat-damp skin, and then he pressed his fingers inside Misaki to cut off whatever he was going to say next.

Not that it worked. “Not a lot of fun to sit in Tsukada’s chair with your pants down, either,” Misaki cut off with a curse and dug nails into Tachiki’s chest through his T-shirt. “Vinyl clings and all.”

“You been intimate with that particular chair?” Tachiki asked, pulling his fingers out of Misaki and shuffling around on the floor to find the pocket in his jacket that had the lube. “I don’t like not knowing where you’ve been.”

“And yet I still let you stick your cock up my ass,” Misaki said, then reached under himself to hold Tachiki steady and pushed himself down. “Fuck!”

“What the hell—aaaaah—are you doing that for?” Tachiki clutched at Misaki’s hip with one hand and at his jacket with the other one. “Dammit, just wait a second, can’t you?!”

“Mmm,” Misaki shook his head and pushed down further, breath stuttering, “who knows, mm, where you’ll get off, nnngh, get off to if I give you a, mmm, a second.”

Tachiki finally yanked the lube out of his jacket pocket and brought the tube up to squeeze over his fingers. “Will you shut the hell up?” he growled, spreading lube over the base of his cock as best he could and trying to shove Misaki into rocking up so he could work it in further up.

Misaki fought him for every inch, and finally Tachiki growled and rolled them both off the couch. They both grunted as they landed hard on the floor with only the crumpled blanket and Tachiki’s jacket breaking their fall. Tachiki had slipped out of Misaki when they rolled, but now Misaki was on the bottom, and Tachiki lost no time in slamming two slick fingers back into him.

“Don’t do shit like that,” Tachiki ordered, using his other hand to pin Misaki’s wrists up by his head. Misaki stared up at him, panting and mouth swollen, skin flushed in the warm light from the tree. Tachiki ran fingers over his cock and then hooked his elbow under Misaki’s knee to hitch him up high enough to slide his cock along Misaki’s ass. “And don’t say shit like that either,” he growled.

“Okay,” Misaki said, then rocked up so Tachiki slid in deep and hard.

Afterwards, it was way too fucking cold, in Tachiki’s words, to go outside for a cigarette, so Tachiki had to make due with a post-coital half-eaten cookie instead.

“Are you staying until morning?” Misaki asked, sprawled on his back with his head tilted back to watch the Christmas tree upside-down.

“Why?” Tachiki crunched off another bite and brushed crumbs off his jacket. He eyed the zipper imprint running over the side of Misaki’s hip. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere,” Misaki answered.

******

“Wake up!” Yutaka said, landing on Kinsho’s bed hard and bouncing a few times. “It’s Christmas!”

“We don’t celebrate Christmas, you twit,” Kinsho growled, pulling his covers tighter around him. “Get lost!”

“Oh, come on,” Yutaka wheedled, yanking on Kinsho’s covers until he had a corner loose and could worm his way underneath. “Even after I helped set up your present yesterday?”

“Was Tachiki the bonus surprise?” Kinsho rolled onto his other side and stared at the wall.

“Tachiki?” Yutaka wrinkled his brow and shook Kinsho’s shoulder. “What are you talking about?”

“Are you kidding me?” Kinsho flopped back over onto his back and glared at Yutaka. “Like you didn’t know that Tachiki found me in Tsukada’s office before Tsukada-captain got there!”

“He what?” Yutaka blinked, then shrugged. “How the hell would I know that? And what do you look so pissed off for?” Kinsho’s glare only got fiercer, and Yutaka started feeling uneasy. “I mean, what happened? He rag on you? Tell Tsukada about your secret, and yet clearly obvious, crush on him?”

“No,” Kinsho dropped his eyes and went sort of slack. “No, he didn’t do that.”

Yutaka swallowed, a tiny bubble of unease working its way up his chest at Kinsho’s sudden surrender. “Kinsho, what did Tachiki do?”

“It doesn’t matter, really.” Kinsho started to roll over again, but Yutaka grabbed his wrist to stop him and yanked down the blankets to look Kinsho over.

“What’s that?” he asked, catching sight of a dark smudge just above the waistband of Kinsho’s pajama pants. Kichida sighed and tugged them another inch or so down his hip, revealing several long, thin bruises. “Are those finger marks?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Kinsho said again, grabbing Yutaka’s wrist and pulling his hand down to cover the marks. “It’s not like it was my first time or something.”

“Hmph.” Yutaka hitched himself up on his elbow to look at Kinsho more carefully, thumb brushing back and forth over Kinsho’s hip. “So you got what you wanted?”

Kinsho chewed his lower lip for a second, then winced when he re-opened the split that was half-healed. “Yeah, I did.”

“Did Tsukada know it was you?” Yutaka asked, and Kichida blinked at him, because the last time Yutaka had asked that question, the answer had definitely been no and Kinsho hadn’t spoken to him for three days.

Akiko hadn’t spoken to either of them ever again.

“I…” Kinsho shrugged a little, smiling helplessly. “I think so. Not at first, but…in the end, yeah. I think so.”

“Good.” Yutaka let go of Kinsho’s hip and rolled over to rifle around in his bag on the floor. “Then I have something for you.”

“What…” Kinsho sat up a little when Yutaka dropped a CD on his chest. “Hey, Origa! Thanks!”

“Thank Tsukada.” Yutaka flicked Kinsho lightly between the eyes. “That’s your half of his Secret Santa present to us.”

Kinsho didn’t seem to have much to say to that, but that was okay with Yutaka, who yawned and curled up against his brother’s side to get a little more sleep until their mother called them for breakfast. Kinsho was still tapping the flat of the jewel case when Yutaka dropped off, but the tension that had been holding Kinsho together for weeks was completely gone from the shoulder Yutaka’s cheek was pillowed on.

******

“Is there something wrong?” Kobayashi asked, looking next to him where Kazuhiro was chewing on the lime green eraser of his Bulbasaur pencil

“Wrong?” Kazuhiro looked up from where his math book was laying on the coffee table, tilting his head. “Like what?”

“Like, I don’t know.” Kobayashi took a deep breath and wondered when he was going to stop blushing like a total girl. “It’s just…you asked me over here to do Trigonometry.”

“So what?” Kazuhiro laughed and reached over to poke Kobayashi in the forehead with the damp eraser. “I do that all the time.”

“Yeah, but we’re actually doing Trigonometry!” Kobayashi exclaimed.

Kazuhiro laughed again, then tilted his head and looked at Kobayashi for a few moments. “Can I ask you something, Kobagin?”

“Is it about inverse functions again?” Kobayashi sighed. “Because I already told you that I don’t know why they don’t call it un-sine and un-cosine.”

“Did you like my brothers?”

“Did I…” Kobayashi blinked and leaned back against the couch. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, did you like them?” Kazuhiro dropped his pencil and wriggled around on the carpet to stretch out between the coffee table and the couch, head in Kobayashi’s lap. He still had his eyes on Kobayashi’s face, and his even gaze made Kobayashi squirm a little.

“Yeah, sure,” he finally said.

“They were cool, right?” Kazuhiro asked, and when Kobayashi said “Sure” again, said, “And cute?”

“Ye…where are you going with this?” Kobayashi asked.

“It’s funny how we all look alike, huh?” Kazuhiro dropped his gaze and picked idly at the lint from the carpet stuck to the stomach of his T-shirt.

“You idiot,” Kobayashi said when he figured out what they were talking about, and he slid a hand into Kazuhiro’s hair and tugged. “Are you actually worried about whether I’ll think you’re cute or not when you’re in college?”

“Nah, that’s like a decade away,” Kazuhiro tilted his head back to grin at Kobayashi, and Kobayashi thought that the cutest thing about Kazuhiro right at that second was how badly he lied. “You think I’ll grow out of this haircut?”

“God, I hope so,” Kobayashi sighed, “because if you’re going to turn out like Isao in the end, I’m going to have to give up shougi to beat off perverts 24-7.”

“Kobagin!” Kazuhiro exclaimed, cracking up. “What is it with you and Misaki and the perverts lately?” And then he crawled up into Kobayashi’s lap and kissed him until Kobayashi ran fingers up his spine and asked how long they had before Nori got back from cram school.

******

“That’s interesting,” Marty-san said when he popped the game’s case open. “The disc in here says something different than the front.”

“Really?” Harada tsked. “That’s what happens when you get stuff used at shady places. Apparently we’ll be playing Kansaiben Whispers instead.”

“You sure you don’t mind playing this with me?” Marty asked as the game loaded up, flexing his fingers around the controller. “Won’t it be boring?”

“It’s a dating sim.” Harada shrugged, settling in beside Marty-san and tearing open the bag of wasabi-flavored cheese puffs. “All you really do is hit the circle button over and over even if you are playing. If the story’s any good, it’s pretty much the same.”

They scrolled through the opening screens with a minimum of fuss, and Harada filled in the few words that Marty-san didn’t know to explain that they were playing a new transfer student to a prestigious school in Kansai.

“Hmm,” said Harada when they hit the phrase ‘all-boys.’

“What?” Marty-san wanted to know.

“Nothing.” Harada shook his head. “Hit circle.”

The next screen presented them with a list of names and asked them which classmate they’d like to sit beside on their first day.

“Pick Nagano,” Harada suggested. “Last time I played a sim with a Nagano in it, she was totally hot.”

Marty-san clicked the button agreeably, and blinked at the screen when they were presented with a shy, bespectacled classmate.

“I’m Nagano-kun!” he said. “Nice to meet you!”

“Um,” said Harada.

“The dialogue is kind of…funny,” Marty-san tilted his head a little as he clicked through Nagano-kun’s questions about whether or not Marty-san played sports.

“I think we might have a BL game,” Harada said, cheeks turning pink.

“No, I mean, the vowels are all…” Marty-san turned away from Nagano’s excited request for Marty-san to come to soccer club with him. “What’s a veal game?”

“No, BL,” Harada laughed suddenly, interrupting himself, “Marty-san, that’s their Kansai accents! That’s why there’s ‘Kansaiben’ in the title. You’re recognizing accents!”

“If by ‘recognizing’ you mean being completely not able to investigate them,” Marty-san chuckled.

“Understand them,” Harada corrected, as he hopped to his feet. “Want a soda to celebrate?”

“Sure, Harada-kun.” Marty-san was back to squinting at the screen, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration.

Harada had really been figuring that there wasn’t much trouble Marty-san could get himself into in the ten minutes it took him to go to the bathroom, get the sodas, and then come back up the stairs, but when he came back in the room, Marty-san was staring speechlessly at a shot of Nagano-kun spread out over the bench of the soccer club locker room, glasses still on and blush going all the way down.

“I just kept pressing circle,” Marty-san said weakly. “Whose fingers are those in his, um…”

“I think they’re yours, Marty-san,” Harada fought down giggles to answer, sitting down next to Marty-san. He handed over a soda, and both he and Marty jumped when their fingers brushed. Then they both cracked up at how red each other’s faces were.

“I have no idea whether to press x or circle,” Marty-san gasped in between snorts and Harada reached over and jabbed the circle button before Marty-san could stop him.

“Captain Yamashita!” Nagano-kun gasped, eyes wide but not making any move to cover himself. “Isn’t there any way we can convince you not to tell the coach about this?”

Marty-san and Harada both blinked at the screen, then at each other, then reached for the circle button at the same time.

******

“Your mom can sure cook,” Sato said as he blew over his bowl of soba, eyeing Asakawa through the steam curling out of his bowl. “So we know it can’t be genetic.”

“Fuck off,” Asakawa reached over to punch Sato in the thigh, “KAT-TUN is on.”

“Aren’t they just KT-TUN now that Jin is on hiatus?” Misaki asked, and Asakawa almost dumped his bowl of noodles over Misaki’s head before Sato convinced him it was a rhetorical question.

After the Red and White Song Festival was over, they went up to Asakawa’s room and played video games until all their eyes started to droop, despite the exorbitant amount of soda they had all consumed with their soba.

“How much longer until sunrise?” Misaki asked around a yawn.

“Three hours,” Sato answered, poking Asakawa’s head off his shoulder despite Asakawa’s sleepy whine. “Maybe we should try DDR.”

“Maybe I have a better idea,” Asakawa said, and stripped off his shirt.

It was a pretty good idea, for about two hours, and then it turned into the worst idea ever as all three boys were snuggled into a warm, sticky heap.

“Hey,” Sato shook both Misaki and Asakawa out of their doze. “Get up, it’s almost sunrise.”

“Did Sato wake up before us?” Asakawa mumbled, cracking an eye open. “That’s just shameful.” He yawned. “Shameful.”

“Come on,” Sato laughed, tugging both of them by their wrists.

They slipped back on pajamas and bundled up in blankets, then went downstairs to pour themselves bowls of the most sugary cereal they could find.

Sunrise found them on the back steps, huddled close for warmth and practically shaking from sugar shock.

“Hey,” Asakawa asked through chattering teeth, bumping shoulders with Misaki. “Did you make a resolution?”

“Nah,” Misaki laughed. “Aren’t we too old for that stuff?”

“Too old?” Sato reached around Asakawa to scrunch Misaki’s hair up even wilder. “What are you, Tezuka-buchou?”

“We should all make one!” Asakawa exclaimed. “Together!”

“What should we resolve then?” Sato asked, letting his arm drop across Asakawa’s shoulders.

“Let’s work hard this year,” Misaki offered, sliding closer and putting his arm around Asakawa’s waist.

“Perfect!” Asakawa beamed at them, smile brighter than even the lucky first sunrise of the year. “Ganbatte, us!”

“Ganbatte!” Sato and Misaki echoed, sharing a glance over Asakawa’s head, and then they turned on Asakawa and tickled him until he nearly threw up on the lawn.

******

“Hey,” said Tsukada when Kichida opened the door.

“Hey,” Kichida answered, dropping his eyes to his bare feet, and Tsukada was pretty sure he had the right twin.

“I brought a New Year’s card for you,” Tsukada said. They stared at each other for a second, Tsukada’s breath steaming in the air, and Kichida starting to shiver with his bare feet on the concrete of the front step.

“Whose name is on it?” Kichida asked, folding his arms over his chest. Goosebumps were rising on his arms.

Tsukada chuckled. “Yours,” he answered. “Yours.”

Kichida smiled, just a little. “Maybe you should come inside.”

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