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I Can't Ask Him First

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“Are you ready to go?” Atsushi was asking.

“Mm?” En asked, as if he'd forgotten.

“It's curry day" Atsushi gestured down the street in the direction of their place.

En shot a look behind Atsushi's shoulder and saw Kinshirou talking with Arima, apparently not paying attention to their conversation, but also clearly not going ahead without Atsushi.

“Oh, sorry.” En made himself huff a laugh “I forgot that was today. I promised Yumoto that I'd go shopping for a new phone case with him.”

Although him forgetting about curry day was a blatant lie; taking Yumoto shopping was not. He'd specifically planned it for curry day so that Atsushi would be free to spend time with Kinshirou. En knew that he had to cover for at least the most basic fact check, just in case Atsushi asked questions.

“Oh" Atsushi said, and En saw the confusion steal across his face for a second. “Right. I suppose I thought you were doing that after?”

Yumoto saved him from this line of questioning as he ran out into the school commons yelling “En-chan-senpai!” and waving frantically. En stuck up an arm to give a lazy half-wave and turned back to Atsushi as Yumoto made his way over. Atsushi sported a fond half-smile as he watched Yumoto run up to En.

“Next week then" Atsushi said. “Don't forget: it's been almost a month since we did curry day.”

It had been exactly three weeks, actually. The last time they met to go on their usual curry run, En had caught sight of Kinshirou behind Atsushi, looking deeply troubled. En had unknowingly driven a wedge between the two friends once; he wasn't going to knowingly do it again when Atsushi was finally getting reconciliation from such an old hurt. He'd begged off curry day every week since then. He was waiting for the day that Atsushi stopped asking him, so that Atsushi could spend time with his childhood friend instead. Maybe cutting it off cold turkey was too drastic though, maybe he had to phase it out slowly. Stop kidding yourself a dark part of his psyche whispered to him you're just being selfish.

“Of course," En offered a soft smile. Atsushi returned it, and turned with a wave to stand by Kinshirou's side, as he should be.

En sighed, but mustered a smile for Yumoto. The shopping trip turned out to be pleasant enough and Yumoto was as energetic as ever. It was hard to stay in a melancholy mood around him.

They were on the train back, car nearly empty in the late afternoon when Yumoto brought it up.

“Are you and Kinugawa-senpai fighting again?” Yumoto sounded very small and even a little scared.

“No" En assured him gently, not opening his eyes from where he rested his head against the wall. “I'm just giving him some space with the school council president.”

“Why are you giving them space?” Yumoto kept bothering him, although he sounded brighter again when he learned En and Atsushi weren't fighting. “Did they tell you they wanted space?”

“No.” En could not be bothered to lie, most of the time; it was too much work. “But it's been a long time since they've spoken casually. They need the time to get to know each other again.”

“I still don't really understand.” Yumoto was saying. “If you and the president want to spend time with Kinugawa-senpai, why can't you all hang out together?”

“The things Atsushi does with the president are different from the things he does with me.” En explained, and privately thought that if things kept going the way they seemed to be, then that statement would only become truer with time. When Atsushi realized Kinshirou had been pining for him all this time, it would only be a matter of time before they ended up together…

En sighed and sunk further into his seat. There was just no way for him to compete with a childhood friend. Someone who fit Atsushi's refined and proper personality a lot better than En ever had. Once they had that all figured out, then En thought he might be able to find a place as Atsushi's friend again. If Kinshirou were Atsushi's boyfriend, then En and Kinshirou would be in different categories. He wouldn't have to compete. He'd take whatever he could get with Atsushi. Atsushi was like air to him; En could not exist without him. He would wait as long as he had to and be whatever Atsushi needed him to, if only in exchange for Atsushi's company.

“You all like taking baths together.” Yumoto offered.

“mm-hmm" En said, dozing a little, thinking of Atsushi in the bath.

“But even then, you sit far away from them.”

“I'm giving them space so they can get used to each other again.” En said again. “When they're used to each other, and the president isn't trying to navigate Atsushi's other relationships as well as theirs, then I might be able to hang out with them again.”

He imagined seeing Atsushi and Kinshirou holding hands while walking toward one of their homes and felt the tiniest jolt of jealousy, but when he imagined how happy Atsushi would be, gazing at his childhood sweetheart, the jealousy faded immediately.

“But you're still going to hang out with Kinugawa-senpai, so why not just all hang out together so the president figures out how to hang out with both of you?”

“Mm, maybe" En said. Once Atsushi had a boyfriend to pour all his time into, En's time with him might be limited. This distancing was as much for him as for Atsushi and Kinshirou. Quitting Atsushi cold turkey wasn't going to be easy. Cutting out the things that Kinshirou -and, eventually, probably Atsushi as well- found most distasteful first would give En time to adjust to how his friendship with Atsushi would look once Kinshirou and Atsushi were together.

Yumoto thanked him again as they went separate ways from the train stop. En let his mind swirl around and around Atsushi, as it usually did. He loved Atsushi, without question. He wasn't sure when it had started, but over time it had just happened. En couldn't stomach the idea of life without him. All he wanted from him was moments shared between them. Smiles over shared jokes and meandering discussions about the best oden toppings.

Briefly, in the last few years, he had entertained the idea of something more. He allowed himself to imagine kissing Atushi in greeting when he would come pick En up for school. He allowed himself to imagine their friendship being so solid and strong that that kind of casual physical affection would be simple and easy. That it wouldn't feel like his stomach was trying to crawl up his throat when he thought about it, that a glimpse of pale leg as they dressed after a bath didn't send blood rushing to his face, or depending on the day, other places. He drank in the sight of him whenever he was near, he thought about him as soon as he woke up, and right before he went to sleep. Despite all of this, En had never once noticed even a fraction of the attention he gave to Atsushi returned back to him. It was fine. He had thought that it was unlikely the intensity of his feelings would ever be returned.

His satisfaction with seeing Atsushi every day, and being the primary reservoir for Atsushi's care and concern outweighed any upset he might have felt. He assumed Atsushi didn't feel that way about men. En couldn't even really say that he felt that way about men per-se. The only person he'd ever wanted to hug and kiss like that had been Atsushi. (and briefly, horrifyingly, during what they now referred to as the 'glasses episode' he'd also contemplated the fact that Yumoto might actually be pretty open to platonic hugs and kisses. En had found himself bewildered and discomfited by that train of thought, and it had forced En to accept the fact that the hugs and kisses he wanted from Atsushi were definitely not the result of a desire for platonic skinship, but something else entirely.)

En had made peace with the idea that Atsushi just wasn't into him like that. It didn't bother him; because he still got to stay by Atsushi's side. He still got to share lunch with him and walk home with him. The first time he'd seen Atsushi with Kinshirou after Kinshirou's confession; En had realized that was right: Atsushi wasn’t interested in him that way, but it wasn't because Atsushi didn't like men, he just didn't like En. He'd seen the blush on Atsushi's face when he talked to Kinshirou, the way he longed for their lost friendship, the way he stumbled over himself when he talked. He wasn't like that with En; he never had been.

Between En and Atsushi everything was easy. Conversation flowed easily, they never struggled to find things to do together, or say to each other. En valued that ease more than anything in the world, but he knew how to admit that it was clearly no contender for the intensity of feelings Atsushi and Kinshirou had for each other. To both carry that torch for each other for so long, (albeit in very different ways) was something that En clearly could not make any sort of intrusion into. Kinshirou had been there first and En had only ever been an interloper.

En stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom, having walked home and up the stairs to his bedroom on autopilot. He truly, desperately wanted Atsushi to be as happy as he could be, he wanted him to find the love of his life, and be taken care of for the rest of his life. He wanted this for Atsushi, even if it wasn't with En.

__________________

Kinshirou looked up from his mountain of paperwork to look over at Atsushi doing his homework at the coffee-table. Arima and Gero had cleared out suspiciously quickly when Kinshirou had mentioned that Atsushi would be having lunch in the clubroom today. Kinshirou had half expected that he wasn’t going to get any work done with the noisiness of all of Atsushi's friends tagging along. It seemed, however, that once again they were all absent as well. Kinshirou and Atsushi had spent the entire lunch sitting in tense silence and doing their work.

Kinshirou looked down at his page and realized he'd filled out the form wrong again. He sighed, retrieved a fresh copy and started again.

He looked up at Atsushi. Atsushi was looking at him. Kinshirou startled and felt his face heat. Should he ask? He didn't want to upset Atsushi, but it was really strange. He looked down at the form and realized he'd somehow messed it up without even starting to fill it out. Okay, that's enough.

“Um, At-chan?”

Atsushi looked up immediately from his homework and indicated he was listening.

“How long do you think that Yufuin-san will… hate me?”

Atsushi looked confused by this line of questioning. “En-chan doesn't hate you.” A soft smile stole over Atsushi's face and made Kinshirou's heart pang in his chest. “hating anyone is really too much of a bother for En-chan.”

Kinshirou thought back to all the times he'd made Yufuin's life unnecessarily complicated, within the other man’s knowledge or not. “He would have every reason to.” Kinshirou said “I've not been kind to him.”

He thought of , when the incident only a few weeks ago, when Kinshirou had overheard Atsushi and Yufuin planning their usual meet-up and hadn't been able to contain his sour expression when it reminded him that Atsushi wasn't just Kinshirou's anymore. He thought of how Yufuin seemed to be going out of his way to avoid Atsushi when Atsushi was with Kinshirou. It seemed like a lot of effort from the man who held the record for most classes slept through in the entire history of their school.

“It's okay" Atsushi was assuring him. “That's all in the past now. En-chan doesn't really hold grudges.”

“You two are very close.” Kinshirou finally found the courage to bring something up that he'd been wondering about. Usually he wouldn't dream of asking, but seeing Atsushi talk about Yufuin now, it seemed that this would be Kinshirou's best opportunity.

Atsushi hummed in agreement.

“Did you ever... date?” Kinshirou watched carefully as a blush creeped into Atsushi's cheeks. He fixed his glasses and played with his hair so it would cover most of his expression.

“N-no. Why would you ask that, Kin-chan? Isn't that sort of thing… weird?” Atsushi was a stuttering mess. Kinshirou held a hand over his lips and giggled. Atsushi boggled at him.

“Do you really not know?” Kinshirou could not fathom how someone as perceptive as Atsushi hadn't noticed by now.

“Know what?”

Kinshirou tried in vain to hold back a more undignified explosion of laughter. “At-chan, at least a third of the boys in this school have a boyfriend or have had a boyfriend. How haven't you noticed?”

“Really?” Atsushi said loudly. “A third? How would you know?”

“I'm the Student-Council President, I know everything.” Kinshirou flicked his hair behind his ear imperiously.

“Do they have to fill out paperwork or something for it?” Atsushi shrieked. He had never been noisy like this until he started hanging out with Yufuin. Honestly, Kinshirou quite liked when Atsushi would be noisy. He liked knowing that he could make him react. He liked learning all these new things about Atsushi. Things he would have known if he'd just stuck around… but that was in the past, and he got to discover them all piece-by-piece now, and that, too, was exciting.

“No" Kinshirou sneered. “But I'm expected to watch out for everyone and build a rapport with as many students as possible. I learn things. Aren't Io-san and Ryuu-san together?”

“No" Atsushi snapped. “Or, well, not yet anyway, not that I know of.”

“But they like each other, don't they?” Kinshirou dug through his memories of them in and out of uniform. Vesta and Sulfur had always seemed protective of each other, and Ryuu and Io seemed to spend all their time together. He supposed Arima was more familiar with them, maybe he knew.

“Er…” Atsushi seemed to be thinking. “They're best friends. I think… maybe it's possible that they like each other that way, but Ryuu is always dating a new girl every weekend and Io doesn't really take time off from his stock trading for anyone. Except Ryuu, I guess. I don't think they're dating though… yet.”

“Mm" Kinshirou acknowledged. “Yet. What about you then? Will you ask out Yufuin-san?”

“What?” Atsushi’s face darkened again. “No! He's… he's not like that… I think. He always says dating seems like such a bother when Ryuu talks about it.”

“If anyone was managing a different partner every week, I imagine it would be a bother.” Kinshirou muttered uncharitably. “Would you want to date him?”

“I- I- I- Uh, I mean… it hardly matters, what I want, if he doesn't want t-to date me.”

Kinshirou had not spent nearly enough time around Yufuin to know whether he held romantic feelings for Atsushi or not. He seemed to be a hard man to read, in all honesty.

“I think it matters" Kinshirou said.

“I- He's my best friend.” Atsushi managed, which was not an answer at all, but he didn't seem like he had finished. “When I had that fight with him… because of the Kotatsu Monster-"

Kinshirou winced when he remembered how thrilled he'd been to see Atsushi and Yufuin on the outs.

“I was s-so scared. After what happened with you….”

Kinshirou turned his face away in shame. What a wonderful way to apologise to your friend, you dumbass, drive a wedge between him and his new best friend. Brilliant.

“I didn’t think- I wouldn't have been able to do it again. I didn't know what I was going to do. I thought there must be something very wrong with me, that all my most precious friends would leave.”

“I'm so sorry, At-chan" Kinshirou muttered into his own shoulder, knowing that he wouldn't be able to maintain his composure if he looked at Atsushi right now. He could already feel how tight his chest was, just from talking about this.

“You were being manipulated by Zundar. Besides, you couldn't have known En-chan would go in there. I forgive you.”

Kinshirou didn't admit that he knew very well that Yufuin-san often visited that Konbini on his way to school and had picked it on purpose, for that very reason, hoping to catch Yufuin in his crosshairs.

“When I found out it was a monster making him like that, I was so relieved.” Atsushi continued to expertly dodge the question of his romantic feelings, or lack thereof, for Yufuin. “I admit I thought for a moment, hoped really, that the same thing had happened with you. Of course, I realized that didn't make sense. There were no monsters around back then.”

Atsushi stopped for a moment and looked confused. “Although, I suppose that if Gora-san was about our age when he was the Guardian of Love, that there actually might have been monsters around that we just didn't know about.” Atsushi shook himself. “Still, I suppose that doesn't change the fact that in our case, it wasn’t. I am sorry. You know. About not talking to you then. I was… sad, and scared of what you might say. I didn't think I could take it, if you told me that you just didn't like me anymore, or that you never had. I thought, then, that it would be better to just not know and hopefully things would go back to normal one day. Obviously, that didn't happen…”

“It was much worse.” Atsushi continued, thankfully not waiting for Kinshirou to respond. Kinshirou didn't think he could speak past the tightness in his chest and the lump in his throat. He was breathing too quickly, he knew, and he could feel his eyes stinging, but he owed it to Atsushi to hear him out. Right?

“It was much worse, not ever speaking to you again and not knowing what went wrong. I'm glad we're speaking again.”

“It was so stupid.” Kinshirou manages to speak. “For me to be so mad about you having a new friend... I was stupid. I'm sorry.”

Atsushi just shot a beaming smile his way and Kinshirou found his breath fleeing again. He was beautiful.

“It's okay, Kin-chan. I'm sorry you didn't know that I would never have abandoned you.”

Kinshirou swallowed painfully. He thought of Yufuin, again, pulling away from Atsushi and putting himself on the outskirts. Did Yufuin feel like Kinshirou had, back then? Was he afraid that Atsushi was one day going to pick Kinshirou over him? As much time as Kinshirou had spent hating Yufuin, his heart still panged with the idea that Yufuin might be hurting unnecessarily, just as Kinshirou had been.

“We should invite Yufuin-san to hang out with us next time we meet up.” Kinshirou announced, suddenly needing to speak to Yufuin and unsure how to get him alone to do it without Atsushi as a convenient excuse.

“Yes!” Atsushi exclaimed. “I've wanted to hang out with both of you for some time.” Atsushi frowned a bit. “I didn't expect it to be so hard. En-chan is usually never busy, but now…”

Kinshirou hummed in acknowledgement, wondering how Atsushi hadn't yet put the pieces together that Yufuin was avoiding Kinshirou.

“Maybe the council should join you all at Kurotama" Kinshirou suggested. “Then all of my friends can hang out with all of your friends? Maybe you and I and Yufuin-san can go out to eat after that.”

“That's a great idea Kin-chan!” Atsushi practically glowed with happiness at the suggestion. Kinshirou felt his face heat and shifted awkwardly in his seat, feeling like he needed to be doing something so he wasn't just staring starkly into Atsushi's radiant expression.

“I thought you guys wouldn't like that sort of thing?” Atsushi continued.

“Er, well Kurotama is a little…. Provincial compared to our usual places, but we all like onsens well enough. They're hard to dislike.”

“We're going this afternoon, will you come?”

“I'll ask the others and see if they're busy. I'll let you know before school is out.”

Arima and Gero agreed, although they had shot him questioning looks that Kinshirou had not entertained by inquiring after. Kinshirou found Atsushi after his next class to inform him, and then they had all met at the door to the Defense Club clubroom to head out after school. Ryuu had quickly started up a conversation with Arima, with Io peppering in comments and Gero nodding along as he listened. Yumoto had gone on ahead to prepare his family’s bathhouse for one of the largest groups they regularly had come there.

Kinshirou had tried to walk next to Yufuin to ask him what he intended to ask, but Yufuin had done a rather impressive bit of footwork that shepherded Kinshirou to walk next to Atsushi and left Yufuin sauntering along behind them, rolling steps too wide and confident for Kinshirou to turn that little do-si-do back around on him. Kinshirou huffed out a sigh, and stewed over how he was going to corner Yufuin into talking about his feelings -or lack thereof- for Atsushi.

Once they were all seated in the bath, Kinshirou tried to secure a position next to Yufuin to maybe speak to him, but as the others had all crowded in, Yufuin had somehow managed to isolate not only himself from Kinshirou but all of their other friends on one side of the bath, leaving Atsushi and Kinshirou on one side by themselves again.

Kinshirou's face burned at the knowing looks they were all shooting them. Kinshirou shot a nervous, desperate glance over to Atsushi and saw a mirroring look of discomfort and exasperation on his face. Kinshirou pressed his lips together tightly while his face heated and tried not to let out an undignified snort of laughter. Atsushi, who looked to be doing much the same, seemed alarmed by the sound of his own arm splashing in the water when he lifted his fingers to his lips to stifle a giggle.

Their friends were so fucking weird.

Whatever awkwardness was happening on their side of the bath did not seem to be affecting the large group of nearly adult men all crowded into the tiny L on the other side.

Someone had brought up to topic of chikuwabu. Kinshirou remembered the very first monster they'd created. When Zundar had told them that he could amplify people's worst feelings and aspects, he had to admit that he hadn't expected anyone's worst aspects of their personality to present as a giant delinquent chikuwabu. He was so deep in thought about how strange that day had been -especially when a bunch of magical girl wannabes had showed up with long-winded speeches and too little pants- that he was unprepared for Yumoto calling him into the conversation.

“Pardon, what did you say?” Kinshirou asked.

“What do you think of chikuwabu?”

“Oh, I quite like it, actually.” Kinshirou responded, although he couldn't stop himself from picturing the chikuwabu monster again. “It is not offensive in either smell or taste, and the texture can be quite pleasant.”

“So, you would actually ask for chikuwabu in your oden?”

Kinshirou coughed to stop himself from immediately bashing on the idea of oden and had to remind himself to have more tact. “Assuming I did have oden, yes I suppose I might ask for it as a topping. I prefer chikuwabu over konjac.”

“What don’t you like about konjac?” Ryuu seemed unable to stop himself from asking, although he looked immediately red-faced when the others all turned to look at him. Kinshirou could only see the sides of Gero and Arima's faces from this angle and they looked disapproving.

“I find the greyish colour unpleasant and the texture not worth it.”

“I love konjac!” Yumoto yelled from where he mopped the floor, not far from them. As always, he was the most normal of the group -or at least as normal as Yumoto got-.

“Especially in Gora-an-chan’s oden.” Yumoto was continuing.

Kinshirou wanted to ask Yumoto about his brother, since Yumoto clearly loved him very much and loved to talk about him, but somehow the others had all maneuvered Yumoto into another topic of conversation so fast and so far gone from where they had been that Kinshirou felt unable to break into the conversation.

He looked morosely over at Atsushi. Why was he so bad at talking to people and making new friends? If he weren't such a social disaster, maybe he, Atsushi and Yufuin could have all been friends from the moment Yufuin had arrived on scene. Kinshirou thinks that would have been nice.

“Kin-chan?” Atsushi was saying. Kinshirou looked at him and indicated he was listening, but Atsushi couldn't seem to think of what to say. Atsushi shot a rather venomous look at some of his friends and Kinshirou had to hold back a snort again.

“It's fine" Kinshirou says “I'm not that good at speaking anyway.”

Atsushi huffs quietly. “They're not usually like this, I promise. I don't know why they're doing this.”

Kinshirou attempts to offer him an assuring smile, he's certain it fails.

“I haven't exactly endeared myself to them before this.” Kinshirou murmurs to him very quietly, counting on everyone else's loud discussion to drown out his voice.

"That's not it.” Atsushi scoffs. “They're just being… weird. No one blames any of you for Zundar’s actions.”

Kinshirou did not bring up that all three of them were fully aware the so-called plan was to take over the world, regardless of the fact that it had all been for ratings.

“I wasn’t that nice in real life either.” Kinshirou mumbled.

Atsushi shook his head adamantly. “No offence, Kin-chan, I don't think you had much of an affect on any of them beyond being…. Kind of a hardass.”

Kinshirou felt his face heat. He also felt light-headed, and wanted to get out of the bath before he got really dizzy. However, he refused to leave until he spoke to Yufuin.

Finally, he caught a stroke of luck. Yufuin announced his need to use the toilet and got up to leave the tub. Kinshirou mumbled that he needed a break from the hot water and left after. He heard Atsushi get pulled into the others' conversation as soon as he left and felt his shoulders climbing to his ears in discomfort. How was he supposed to be Atsushi's friend when all of Atsushi's other friends seemed to hate him?

He was at his rented locker and getting slowly dressed when Yufuin returned from the toilets wearing the light yukata provided by the baths.

“Yufuin-san?” Kinshirou managed to catch Yufuin's wrist as he was walking back to the bath. Yufuin turned startled blue eyes on him as if he hadn't noticed Kinshirou at the lockers. Perhaps he hadn't.

“I need to ask you something. Please.”

Yufuin looked at him a moment longer. The whisper of an expression crossed his face but Yufuin did not know him well enough to identify it. Finally, Yufuin nodded in assent and came over to sit on a bench next to Kinshirou, who was still only dressed in his uniform pants, his hair hanging damply at his waist, wetting the band of his trousers with the tips.

Yufuin made an expression at him that Kinshirou did not recognize until he accompanied it with the command. “Go on.”

“I- I suppose I was wondering...” This was weird. Kinshirou was weird for asking. Yufuin would never get used to him if he kept being so fucking weird.

“Do you… do you like At-chan?”

“Like him?” Yufuin was being dense on purpose, Kinshirou was sure of it. He had to take a breath before he snapped at him to stop looking so stupid. Not helping, not helping.

“You know what I mean. Do you like him? Would you date him?”

Yufuin's face showed no change in expression, and Kinshirou was sure he wouldn't have noticed the tightening of Yufuin's shoulders and then a clearly deliberate relaxing of them, if it were not for the way the blue yukata shifted with his broad really quite broad shoulders.

“I won't get in your way, President Kusatsu. I promise.”

Now Kinshirou was a little baffled. “My way?”

“I know how you feel about Atsushi. I'm not going to get in your way. I know I-" Yufuin swallowed. Kinshirou saw his Adam's apple dip and rise, water dripping down his throat from the ends of his hair. Of course At-chan must like him. Who wouldn't?

Kinshirou waited for him to finish speaking, hoping his face was communicating his curiosity and continued befuddlement.

“I know I can't compete with you.” Yufuin was saying and, for the first time ever, Kinshirou thought he heard a note of bitterness or anger in Yufuin's tone.

“Yufuin-san…” Kinshirou started, not sure how to reassure Yufuin. It would be a lie to say he had no interest in At-chan in that way, because he had often idly contemplated it, but it seemed to him to be no more than an idle interest. He didn't really think he wanted to date him. Not now anyway. The student council had gotten an opportunity to study abroad and would leave in only a month or so. While he might be able to extract a promise of fidelity from Atsushi before he left… he didn't really want to. Mostly because he didn't want to be tied into that same promise while he was in a different country and having new experiences and still sort of unsure about their whole situation.

“I don't want to compete with you.” Kinshirou was able to manage, for it was true enough. “I'm a lot more worried about trying to be At-chan's friend again than I am about trying to be anything else.” This, too was true.

It was also true, though he'd never admit it, that he wasn't so sure Yufuin was right about who Atsushi would pick if they both pressed their suit. Anyone could take a look at Atsushi and Yufuin and see that they had something rare and unique that most people don't find in their lifetimes. Also, Kinshirou was pretty sure that Atsushi, although he still wouldn't admit it, was interested in more than friendship from Yufuin.

Atsushi was like a flower blooming from sheer joy every time he was together with Yufuin. Kinshirou had seen it when he'd witnessed their first meeting and he kept witnessing it throughout the years that he watched Atsushi from the sidelines. He thought Yufuin probably couldn't see it because Atsushi was like that all the time that Yufuin was with him. Yufuin probably thought it was Atsushi's default state. (A Kinshirou that remembered a shy, quiet, and honestly kind of bratty, Atsushi of years gone by knew that he definitely wasn't.)

Yufuin was sending him another indecipherable look. How long had Kinshirou been spacing out? Was Yufuin mad?

“You're his childhood sweetheart. I see what he's like with you.”

Kinshirou had to resist the urge to scoff that no, Yufuin almost certainly didn't, because he avoided Atsushi like the plague whenever Kinshirou was around. Instead Kinshirou restricted himself to scoffing imperiously and tossing his hair before saying. “Sweethearts? We were never sweethearts. We held hands sometimes because I have a terrible sense of direction and a habit of getting distracted and lost. You know that's how we met? I got lost and was crying like a baby and he found me and towed me back to my house when I finally managed to babble the address out to him.”

Yufuin's mouth was curling up at one corner in a lazy smirk that Kinshirou had only seen pulled off by American movie stars. This fucking guy. “We met because we both like curry.”

“I know.” Kinshirou snapped and flicked his hair again. “I was there.”

Yufuin made an expression that Kinshirou could finally identify as Yufuin trying to remember. “I was hiding.” Kinshirou admitted, reddening and shifting in discomfort.

Yufuin gave him another look like he was only holding back from laughing because it would be too much work.

Kinshirou sighed. “Anyway, I just wanted to say; you don't have to worry about me. If you… if you like him, you should ask him out.”

Yufuin's smile disappeared so fast that Kinshirou wondered if he'd insulted him.

“I can't ask him first.” Yufuin huffed.

“Why not?” Was it some kind of machismo thing? Kinshirou wouldn't have pegged him as the type.

"I can't ask him first because the self-sacrificing idiot would say 'yes' no matter how he felt about it. Either he asks me or I don't say anything. I can't be... I would love anything he can give me, even if it's just days like today.” Yufuin gestured vaguely upwards, indicating the bath, Kinshirou supposed. “Even if it's just friendship. But I can't take- I couldn't take it if he was with me out of obligation, or some sort of messed up sense of duty.”

Kinshirou was pretty sure Yufuin was right that Atsushi would give him anything he ever asked for, but he didn't think that it was because that's just the way Atsushi was. He rather thought it was a more specific Yufuin-related response.

“You're a fool.” Kinshirou did not bother with tact for this. “You're a fool for not grabbing something like that with both hands and holding on tight and you’re a fool to think Atsushi wouldn't do the same if he knew it were on offer. At least from you.”

Yufuin blinked lazily at him, but their conversation was halted by Atsushi appearing at the door to the bath. He was so obvious in his relief when he made eye contact with Kinshirou and saw him sitting next to Yufuin, that Kinshirou didn't dare speak for fear of disturbing him.

“I was wondering where you two went.” Atsushi said and crossed by them to go to his own rented locker, pulling out his clothes and beginning to change back into them. Kinshirou looked politely away and caught Yufuin sneaking a glance before he also turned away, face red.

“The heat was a bit much for me.” Kinshirou said. “I'm not used to it like you two are.”

“I was tired, m'gonna head home soon.” Yufuin said.

“Oh, I'll come with you. The heat is a bit much for me too, today, must be hotter than usual.” Atsushi said, glancing over at Yufuin.

Kinshirou was watching Yufuin, and saw him shoot a glance at Kinshirou. Kinshirou could see on his face that the cogs in his head were working to come up with another excuse to leave Atsushi to Kinshirou but Kinshirou interrupted before the little weasel had a chance. He'd had plenty of time with Atsushi lately and he would have plenty more, he was sure, but these two idiots pining uselessly after each other was not dignified at all.

“I forgot some of my paperwork at the school today anyway, so I'll have to go back before heading home myself. How careless of me.” He shot a glare at Yufuin. Your move, Cerulean. He couldn't insist that Atsushi go with Kinshirou when Kinshirou was backtracking so far out of Atsushi's way.

“Sure thing.” Yufuin finally answered Atsushi. “I, uh, I actually have a new game we could play, if you've got time?”

Atsushi beamed. “Of course! Is it the new Deadly Fight game?”

Yufuin and Atsushi started talking about a game that Kinshirou had heard of but certainly never played. Yufuin looked instantly a little brighter, his eyes lighting up as he talked with his friend.

What an absolute dumbass. Kinshirou thought, ignoring the irony.

He finished dressing, letting their chatter wash over him, and headed out, turning to go back to the school, as he'd said he needed to. Having a nice walk by himself was actually kind of nice. It was a luxury he hadn't appreciated until suddenly his every waking moment consisted of Atsushi's friends foisting him off on Kinshirou. Kinshirou amused himself by telling them all off for their presumptions in his own mind. They were all satisfyingly astonished by his wit in the safety of Kinshirou's own head.

------------

En dropped the game controller, having lost the 4th round in a row of Deadly Fight.

“Hey, uh, Atsushi?” En began. He couldn't get Kinshirou's advice out of his head. The President's words ran around and around in his mind. He still thought that Kinshirou must be crazy. Atsushi didn't stutter or blush when he hung out with En. How could Kinshirou possibly miss the love-struck expression Atsushi kept sending his way. He couldn't ask Atsushi out, he couldn't. He was certain it would only result in rejection and awkwardness, and even if Atsushi accepted his feelings, how could En ever trust that Atsushi really loved him back? How could he trust that he wasn't just being his usual selfless self and doing whatever he thought En wanted of him.

Atsushi was looking up at En, who was sat on the bed while Atsushi himself sat on the floor. His eyes were gorgeous and En couldn't stop himself from trailing the line of Atsushi's throat with his gaze as it disappeared into Atsushi's collar. En tried to swallow, finding his throat had fallen dry at the sight.

“What do you… what do you think of Kusatsu-san?”

Atsushi furrowed his brows at En in confusion. “We're friends, of course. He's maybe not so good at talking to people one-on-one, but if you guys could just give him a chance…”

“A chance?” En thought they were giving Kinshirou a chance. They all actively encouraged his relationship with Atsushi. En was sure they were all rooting for them. I wonder if they would root for me like that? He thought miserably. He doubted it. Atsushi's and his relationship was not nearly so compelling; everything between them was always so easy.

“You're all so weird around him. You always cut him off when he tries to talk and you all seem to avoid him. He's really not a bad guy.”

“I didn't realize he was trying to talk with us.” En searched through his memories of their interactions with Kinshirou. The president had always seemed happy to remain on the outskirts of the conversation. Perhaps they had all been a bit too zealous in their attempts to push him towards Atsushi. In hindsight, En could see how Kinshirou might think they had been pushing him away from the rest of them.

“Sorry. I'll try harder to include him from now on. I didn't realize. That was really shitty of me.” En promised again.

“It's okay. I know you don't know him like I do, he can be hard to get to know, at first.”

“Right.” En said, remembering why he'd started this line of conversation in the first place. “But you and him. You… know each other pretty well, right?”

“Probably better than I know anyone, other than you.” Atsushi said, looking up at En again and En had to look a little to the side not to be swept up by Atsushi's face again.

“You were, uh, you were childhood sweethearts, right?”

Atsushi made a face like he'd eaten a lemon, very briefly. “Sweethearts? We were childhood friends, yes, but… that's what you meant right? Childhood friends?”

“Yeah, sure" En agreed easily. “Friends. That's what I meant. I bet you would have been cute though, you two, if you were sweethearts.” En forced a laugh to allow the line of questioning to seem innocent, even though it was anything but.

Atsushi made a much less severe lemon-face. “I guess so, that's always cute, but I don't really think about him that way.”

En could bask in the mixed shock and relief of hearing this for only a moment before he watched a series of expressions cross his friend's face that only years of familiarity allowed him to interpret.

Confusion, thoughtfulness, shock and realization and then a sick sort of queasiness that En had only seen Atsushi make in the middle of exam season when he'd been struggling with math.

“Do… do you like Kin-chan… that way?”

En did not know what his face was doing, but he imagined he had a much greater understanding for Atsushi's lemon-face of moments earlier.

No” En said emphatically. “I barely know him. And he's not really my type.”

He had been so shocked by Atsushi's question that he couldn't contain the last bit of that statement, although he knew immediately which question would follow it.

“Your type? What is your type, then?” Atushi asked.

Yep. There it was.

En had only a brief moment to struggle and come up with some answer, that was not so obviously Atsushi and only Atsushi, before Atsushi continued.

“I thought you said dating was too much work?”

En felt his face heat as he thought of the many times that he'd declared that in an attempt to stop Ryuu’s stream of babble. It was true enough; dating did seem like a lot of fuss, but nothing was too much fuss if it was for Atsushi. Besides all that, everything with Atsushi was so easy, all the time. En wanted that ease in a relationship. He didn't want some weird awkward tensity to arise in their friendship if he confessed his feelings. He liked things as they were now, and while he'd gladly suffer through a bit of intensity for Atsushi's sake, he really just wanted to skip to the part where they were already an old married couple who didn't need to think twice about offering up easy affection for each other.

“I- I think, with the right person, it might be…” En couldn't finish his sentence. We would be alright, amazing, wonderful, everything I'd ever dreamed of.

“Who's the right type of person?” Atsushi kept pressing. En realized that Atsushi had misheard him. Not right ‘type’ of person. Right person. Singular. And he's sitting right in front of me.

“Y- you know. Someone you really- really connect with. Someone you don't want to spend a moment without.”

Shut up shut up shut up shut up. You're so sappy.

“Do you- do you already have someone in mind?” Atsushi just kept pressing. En found he didn't mind. He wanted Atsushi to press, he wanted him to weasel a confession out of En so it didn't sit lodged in En's throat, eating away at him.

“Yeah, Maybe." En offered. Would Atsushi ask who? Could En tell him the truth if he did?

Atsushi was silent and En felt his stomach squirm around in mixed fear and relief that Atsushi’s curiosity seemed sated by that.

“En, you're my right person.”

En's heart stuttered, because of course Atsushi would end up braver than him, in the end, and then it started pounding because of course Atsushi had been braver than him in the end. Oh, thank Fuck.

“Me too." He babbled, to the back of Atsushi's head. Atsushi had turned away from him during his confession and was keeping his eyes focused away.

“I mean, you, for me. You're my right person. I was talking about you.” En reached out a hand, wanting to touch Atsushi. Wanting to touch him all over. He wanted to touch that long pale throat and that beautiful hair and the brows hidden behind his sharp glasses. He wanted to kiss him. Now, and tonight when he left, and tomorrow morning when he saw him again, and after Curry on Thursdays. He wanted all of it, right now, but he resisted. He could wait. He could court Atsushi, properly, like Ryuu did with all his girls. He could take it slow, and take whatever Atsushi could give him.

Atsushi turned back to face him. He must have seen the intention in the line of En's arm because he reached a hand back and grasped En's fingers in his own, looking up at him with shining eyes.

“Really?”

“Absolutely.”