The Suguro Family Inn offered very few things for the son of Satan to do. When Rin was certain he’d be nothing but a nuisance in the infirmary, the front desk, or the storerooms - if nothing for his incoordination and inability to follow directions without knocking something over and not even needing his tail whipping around to do it - and there was no task offered to him in any other room but lighting the occasional candle, he occupied himself with wandering the gardens instead.
The gardens on the estate were relatively vast, it being located in the outskirts of the city and with as much land as was inherited in the open courtyard space being devotedly tended to by all of Myodha. There were paths of white gravel that wound in such a way that made it easy to drift into thought, trees that provided dappled shade from the partly cloudy skies and sun, and several benches and boulders nestled prettily between the shrubbery that he could occasionally stop and have a sit at.
On hotter days like this one, Rin kept his hair clipped and away from his face. The look had grown on him since using it to better pore over his comic books without his fringe getting in the way, and he even thought that wearing the clip might help him think a little bit better.
Perched upon a particularly comfortable rock beneath a cherry tree, he put himself to just that. The past three days had been more than enough to keep his mind occupied for the rest of the year - probably the rest of his life. Now, even as little as twenty-four hours separated from them, the timeline was starting to fuzz a bit, but there were things he would always remember clearly, he was sure.
Like being so totally, completely, publicly friendzoned. The realization hit him with embarrassment like a demon with a club until he was awkwardly kicking the chalk-white pebbles underfoot.
There was also, he realized, as it was and never had been in his nature to remain embarrassed for long periods of time, a distinct lack of sorrow. Probably, it was closer to the shame of being so thoroughly friendzoned - and then immediately after, the shame of having the event spread through his class like a fed fire - than the idea of only being friends with Shiemi that made him lose his spark for a few hours. There was nothing really to be upset about after everything was said and done. He quite liked the idea of being friends forever and ever.
A smile to himself proved the issue completely resolved, so he jumped up from his rock and traipsed through the gardens with all the countenance of a quarter machine bouncy ball, in search of someone that might indulge him in a game of tail tag.
Not much work happened in the gardens where he wandered, but despite everyone being occupied indoors with whatever chores were assigned to them, Rin diligently searched until his roving eyes landed on Konekomaru, who was busy crossing the garden like it was the street on his way to enter the Inn.
“Huh? O-oh, Okumura. Hello.” Konekomaru tended to observe Rin - more so recently in a fascinated sort of way, as if every time they met Rin had sprouted some sort of new limb or strange curiosity from his face.
“Wanna play?” He sounded like Kuro, but that probably wasn’t a bad thing. Kuro was awesome.
“Oh. Well, I probably can’t, on account of my arm and all. But I can sit with you and chat if you like.”
No sooner were they seated than an awkward silence heavier than a Bariyon fell over them, and Rin has never regretted anything more. But Rin was nothing if not amicable, or at least he liked to think so. Social awkwardness was nothing in the face of the bottomless optimism of the future paladin.
“So anyway, how was your day?” he began. A good enough start. Koneko looked as though the tension in his shoulders had a single chance of dissipating, so Rin continued, “Mine was pretty good, but I’ve been bored outta my mind! You don’t even know how hard it is to find stuff to do around here, or, I guess you do since you kinda used to live here, but jeez man, it’s like so boring , no offense. I mean I was looking for anybody to hang out with but they’re all doing chores , can you believe it?”
Unexpectedly, the next thing Konekomaru does is laugh. Not at him, probably, but in a completely non-tense sort of way. Rin deemed himself successful.
“Man, even Shiemi’s hard at work,” he said.
“Oh, right. You have a crush on her, don’t you? Shima told me she ‘friend zoned’ you yesterday. Shame I missed it.” Konekomaru snickered, the bastard, while Rin sat there and sputtered for a moment. He’d have to reconsider his definition of success. For whatever reason though, Shiemi was a wound that refused to open. In fact, it felt more like a paper cut.
“Actually you know what, her rejecting me made me realize we’re way better as friends. I’m mature like that.”
“Haha! That’s what they all say, but I’ll take your word for it.”
“What about you?” he tried. A bit of teasing back was in order.
“Hm? What about me?”
“You must have a crush on somebody. I’ve seen the way you look at some of the nurses~”
Konekomaru turned red as a tomato before it was his turn to sputter.
“N-no way! You’re confusing me with Shima!” He cooled, much more easily than Rin had. “There’s, uh, no one I’m interested in right now, except for my studies.”
“Aw, that’s such a thing you would say.”
The short pause that followed proved much more comfortable than the first.
“But, there is someone you’re interested in though, isn't there?”
“Hm? What gives you that idea?”
Aside from Shiemi, Rin tried to think of anyone he could even theoretically be attracted to. None came to mind.
“Well, I don’t know anything about crushes or anything, since I guess I’ve never had one, but Shima’s had plenty, and the way he describes it, it’s pretty easy to tell when he’s really fallen hard.” He stopped to think a moment. “And I guess what I’m saying is, you just seem that way to me. Like you’re into someone.”
Rin ogled for a moment. “ Huh?? Really? You can just tell that ????”
“I guess so. You’re kind of an easy guy to read. Unless I’m wrong…?”
“I don’t know. I guess I don’t really know what a crush feels like? I’ve only ever really liked Shiemi, and after thinking about it a whole lot, I don’t think I really felt that way about her at all…”
“Hm.” Konekomaru put a hand on his chin, a habit Rin noticed he used when he was deep in thought. The whole class had their fun quirks like that. Perhaps it would be fun to find each one - collect them like cards or coins. Rin wondered what Bon’s was.
“Well, at least with Shima, he always says that when he’s around this person, he feels like he’s walking on air.”
Rin remembered being in Kyoto tower. Perhaps it hadn’t been the best moment of his life, but it was certainly in the top three. There had been a moment when Bon had approached him to block a security guard’s view of Kuro. He’d asked if Rin was having a good time while petting the cat demon to get him back into the bag. Rin had felt pretty light then. Probably because they’d been so high up. The view was certainly amazing from up there.
“… and he can stop thinking about his troubles when they’re around…”
Rin thought of how easy it had been to forget his own doubts to think of how much Bon had needed him back on the mountain. How much blue fire consuming him would have felt like air compared to letting him down. How completely innate the impulse had felt - the need to protect , because he’d been needed, and because he’d been trusted. “Okumura. I trust you.” Friends could do that to you too, couldn’t they? For sure. He’d also thought about Shiemi, Yukio, and all of his classmates at that moment. And he certainly didn’t have a crush on any of them.
“… their touch makes you nervous, or like, fluttery I suppose…”
Rin thought of Bon. He couldn’t be blamed for that, Bon was a cool guy, of course it would make him nervous.
“… and everything they say sounds like magic or gospel to you…”
Rin thought of Bon - the moron always had to sound so dramatic was all.
“... and you start finding these little things about them attractive instead of meaningless…”
Rin thought of Bon. Well, that dumb rooster hair used to look so stupid , but it… didn’t, exactly anymore.
“… and well, this might just be a Shima thing, but he’s constantly drifting off thinking about them… even in the most inopportune moments…”
Rin thought of Bon. And it was only because -
“AH! You do have a crush on somebody! I knew it!”
“Haha! Don’t worry, I don’t gossip. I don’t even know who it is. Seems like you didn’t even know until two seconds ago.” Maybe to Konekomaru, this was all very humorous. Rin admitted that maybe the timeline of events from yesterday to this very moment might seem a little funny. A little sudden and shocking in an almost amusing sort of way. But he certainly wasn’t laughing.
“No no nonononono, I mean really, really , no way--!”
“Hey, don’t worry about it, Okumura. It happens.”
Rin tried to convey the thought with his eyes, but looks weren’t enough to cover it. “No… no, you don’t understand Konekomaru… you really don’t get it… I want to die.”
Konekomaru responds with a look of his own. One very calm and rather wise. “Listen, in all seriousness, I don’t know anything about crushes, or love -”
“ WHO SAID ANYTHING ABOUT LOVE!?”
“-But what I do know is that you can’t help what you feel, and whoever it is, I’m sure that it’ll work itself out. I think it’s good that you can admit your feelings, even if you don’t like them.”
Rin took a deep breath in. Even without experience on the matter, Konekomaru sounded very sure of himself.
“I’m still going to make fun of you though.”
“Anyway, I should get back to the infirmary. I’m sure they could use some snacks in there if you wanted to help out.”
Rin sighed. He’d have to deal with this on his own, it seemed. He watched Konekomaru stand with a mild smile. Regardless of the contents, having a conversation with him put Rin at even just a little bit of ease. He was glad they were friends again.
“Nah, they don’t want me in there.”
“After how hard you saved all of their lives? Haha, I’m sure they won’t mind! Ask one of the priests, they’ll give you a job.”
“See you, Konekomaru.”
Before he realized it, Rin had been sitting beside the boulder on the pale pebble path for a good twenty minutes, reeling. It was nearly eleven when he decided to get up.
Regret wasn’t exactly the right word - not yet anyway. It was more akin to a greater humiliation than he thought he’d experience in his life. Not only was he the son of Satan, but he was also possibly in love with his best friend? What on earth could be more embarrassing than that? Certainly not getting friend-zoned by a cute girl. That didn’t even come close.
And who on earth, in all of heaven or hell was worse to have a crush on than Ryuji Suguro? He was as romantic as a brick, and a million times as stubborn as he was smart. Foregoing all that, liking him was out of the question - the list of reasons practically infinite.
If he knew, Bon would probably hate him, for a start. Yukio wouldn’t approve, and neither would Bon’s parents. And what of the rest of the class? What would they think? That he was gross? Or foolish, or blind, or-
“God this is the worst !”
Instinctively - Rin seemed to be doing a lot of things on instinct recently; he wished he would stop - he reached up to touch the clip that held his fringe out of his face and took a very, very deep breath.
All he needed to do was think. It was just a shame he’d always been so bad at it.
Aimlessly, his first thought was to wander. Though he didn’t make it very far before stopping again. He’d reached the herb garden nestled in a corner of the courtyard that shared an edge with the interior hallways of the Inn, and Shiemi and Izumo kneeled rustling through the herbs, having a perfectly fine day and completely ignorant of Rin's plight. Diligently, they plucked small sprigs from the bushes and lay them gently in a basket they shared between them.
Perhaps Shiemi - after all a much faster learner than Rin was - might know more about relationships than he did. And Izumo always had something smart to say. He approached them awkwardly.
“Um, are you guys really busy?”
Izumo scoffed without looking his way. “Yeah.”
Shiemi seemed accustomed to Izumo - certainly worthy of congratulations if Rin had had the energy. “We’re just gathering some herbs for Miss Suguro!”
“Yeah, so what do you want?” said Izumo.
“I just.. Had a question, is all. Maybe some advice?”
Shiemi smiled, as kind and open as a flower - as she always was. “If you help us collect and take these herbs to Miss Suguro, then you can ask away.”
Rin moved to kneel beside her. After she had decided that they would be friends, “forever and ever” she’d said, Rin was inclined to feel a sort of peace around her. A sort of familiar comfort, akin to the kind that a warm, floral tea would bring. Izumo rolled her eyes, but if she objected to Rin’s presence, she didn’t say so again. She’d always been a big softie anyway. Just on the inside.
“Thanks,” said Rin.
“So what’s this problem that’s so important?” said Izumo. Rin took a deep breath and held it for a second, willing himself to make it into words.
“I, uh. Ithinkihaveacrushonsomeone.”
“I said I… I think. I have a crush on someone.”
Shiemi stopped picking abruptly and gasped like Rin had just shared the best news she’d heard all month - perhaps even all year.
“ You do?!”
Izumo sighed. “Here we go.”
“Rin, that’s great! That’s amazing! Do we know them? Is it someone in our class? Have you ever had a crush before?!”
Rin tried and failed not to become a red jumbled mess of a person. He’d been aware saying “crush” aloud would make the feeling reality in a place outside of his head. And now Shiemi was insistent on thrusting it into an entirely brighter spotlight.
“I-it’s not-! I mean-!”
“Jeez, Moriyama, give him some time to answer the first question before you go jumping around like that!” said Izumo. She hadn’t stopped picking herbs for even a second since Rin had sat down. At the very least, he appreciated her unwavering stability.
Shiemi didn’t lose an ounce of her ecstatic smile. “Sorry. Go ahead, Rin. You were going to say something.”
Rin tried to slow his pulse but found it completely unlike his flames and totally resistant to control. Even more so with Bon in his head. Perhaps it would be best not to answer Shiemi’s questions.
“Well, it’s just. I mean… I’ve never… considered this person as more than a friend. And now that I’ve realized it, I can’t stop thinking about them differently. I don’t know if I want to feel this way. I don’t know what to do.”
There was a pause in which it seemed that Izumo had nothing to say, and Shiemi needed to think very carefully.
Softly, she began with “Can I still ask who it is?”
Ryuji Suguro was as romantic as a brick, and a million times as stubborn as he was smart, and Rin amended one more thing; he had the worst timing in the world. He appeared in the walkway between the Inn and the garden the second before Rin could utter another single word of confession. And thank God for it.
Bon leaned against a post, and Rin wondered what it was like to live without knowing that people around you were going through grueling mental crises. It looked rather nice. He longed desperately now for no more than an hour ago when he too was so oblivious.
“Hey, guys - hey Okumura - my mom told me to come and take the herbs you got. She asks if you can go ‘round back and fill up the containers that are back there with water. I’ll come and get those too when you’re done.”
“Sure!” said Shiemi. She held the basket up for Bon to take “Here you go.”
The basket was full of chamomile, rosemary, bay laurel, and lemongrass. The smell of the sprigs, fresh-cut, drifted right past Rin when Bon reached over him for the basket, and the feeling of wanting to sigh at the pleasantness of it and hold his breath at how close Bon was to touching him nearly made Rin choke.
When the basket finally pulled away after an eternity of suffocating Rin with the scent of proximity, he felt a brush against his face that was somehow closer to knocking him out than any hit he’d ever received in battle or any sweet-smelling plant. The lemongrass and bay lingered in the air the most, like the echoes of laughter teasing Rin without mercy or sign of relent.
Bon went on his way like nothing had happened. To him of course, nothing had. But…
“Rin?” said Shiemi. “Are you alright?”
Izumo scoffed again. “Oh my God.”
“Oh my, it’s not-?”
Rin was still red - he could feel it in his face, even hotter than his flames. He reached up, control of his own body completely lost to him for even just a second, touching the place on his cheek that was buzzing from where Bon - without realizing it at all - had touched him. He wondered if that had ever happened before; if he had ever felt like he was burning without a single flame to be seen after being touched. Like a candle had been lit and the wax was let to drip down onto his skin.
“ It is! ” Shiemi cried. Her smile was completely restored. “ It’s Bon! You have a crush on Bon!”
Rin’s concentration snapped.
“ Shhhh, Shiemi, not so loud! ”
“I can’t believe it.” Izumo’s head was in her hand. “The two dumbest people in our class. Of course it’s him.”
As a trio, they stood and began walking towards the back of the building, but Rin’s mind was elsewhere, spinning like an amusement park cup ride- off in the stratosphere like a lost, confused bird. Shiemi talked as they walked.
“But Rin, you said you didn’t know if you wanted to feel that way. Why not?”
He wanted to answer. Rattle off the long, long list of reasons, but Izumo didn’t let him.
“Because he’s an idiot, that’s why!”
“Hey!” said Rin. Izumo ignored him.
“How many times do I have to say this to you people before you understand? You’re always so gung-ho about doing things one hundred percent and achieving your goals and doing things for your own reasons and this and that, only to let everyone else’s opinions get in your way. It’s pathetic. If you really like someone, there’s nothing getting in your way except yourself.”
Is that true? Rin thought. Is this… fear?
Shiemi’s hand fell on Rin’s shoulder.
“Rin… how come you don’t want to tell him how you feel?”
“I don’t know how I feel!” He was certain that “fire” wasn’t a feeling.
“Well, how about when you look at him? Start there.”
Rin considered even just a minute ago, seeing Bon in his casual clothes, wandering around comfortably and with ease as he should have been when he must have felt so finally at home. His hair pulled back out of his face with a chip clip, the bracelets and a chain necklace adorning him. The slight smile that lingered on him that proved his day was going well. The sun on his face.
Izumo rolls her eyes. “How do you know what you’re feeling isn’t just admiration? You should at least be sure of that before you go around bothering everybody about being in love.”
Finally, the back of the building greeted them at the turn of a corner. The containers and hose rested in the gravel beside the steps to the walkway, patiently waiting just as Bon had said. Shiemi took the hose and started filling.
Rin thought. It was starting to get exhausting, but he thought. He’d always known that Bon was a good-looking guy, even when they’d been rivals when they first met. It was a kind of subtle attraction Rin knew girls would go crazy for if he weren’t so unapproachable.
He still knew that, but that wasn’t what he’d imagined when he saw him earlier. Bon looked… pretty. Beautiful, even. He carried himself just so carelessly, because he didn’t have to think about how he looked. He didn’t want to. He was at home in himself in a way that Rin was not. How could a person be like that?
Rin thought of the way that he’d felt the urge to keep Bon’s hands on him after he’d brushed his cheek. How the buzzing warmth on his face had felt so much like absence. How nice it would be for Bon to hold him. How much he’d want to just… reach in and…
“No.” He sighed and put his head in his hands to muffle his words and hide his face. “I definitely love him.” The admission felt like acid poison, if acid poison tasted like lemon meringue.
Shiemi and Izumo shared a look Rin didn’t bother to decipher. He was busy.
“Well,” said Shiemi, softly and carefully. “Then why don’t you tell him?”
“Are you kidding? He’d never be cool with that! He’d just think… He’d just think I’m weird .”
“How do you know?” said Izumo, tone unchanged. Shiemi had passed her the hose, and she stood like a brick wall with her free hand on her hip. “Have you ever even asked him about his love life?”
“Exactly. He doesn’t talk about that kind of stuff. So there’s no way you know what he likes. I think Suguro is a bonehead, just like you, but obviously, you like him right? You think he’s a good person.”
Shiemi smiled like she had caught Izumo being nicer than she intended to be.
“Then you have no reason to believe he’d reject you like that. The worst case is that he doesn’t reciprocate and that’s that. Gosh, you’re both so stupid.”
“Miss Kamiki, you’re so smart!” Shiemi said as she shut off the water, the third and last container filled. Izumo blushed testily, but only crossed her arms to assert her point as if a gesture could be used as a punctuation mark.
“B-but… well… he’s a priest! A demon liking him would probably be the worst thing ever!”
“Lord, again with being concerned with other people’s opinions! If you’re holding back because you’re afraid being in a relationship with him would ruin his career, just say that!”
Rin paused. “R-relationship…?”
Slowly, Shiemi had migrated the three of them to the steps, until they were all sitting on them, scattered slightly by level to let Shiemi conquer the height difference between them and look Rin directly in the eye. They leaned on the steps behind them, taking some of the weight off of themselves. Maybe it helped a bit, Rin wasn’t sure.
She placed another comforting hand on his arm.
“Rin,” she said. Her voice was a lullaby. “Suguro is a pretty stubborn guy. Just like you! I’m sure if he wanted to be with you, he wouldn’t let something like that stop him. And there’s a much better chance that he does than you think, I just know it!”
Izumo nodded sagely, agreeing with only an occasional “mm-hm, mm-hm.”
“I think you should just go for it and tell him!”
“Tell who what?” said Bon.
Rin jumped up off the stairs and away from him like he’d been electrocuted. Someone had to tell this idiot about his timing issues.
“ NOthing, nothing at all! I was just - uh you know - asking Shiemi for help with something but I got it and I’m sure you’re busy so I’ll go now, bye!”
He felt like a fool, and he was about to run away and dig a hole to hide in for the next millennia or so before Bon called out after him.
“Hey, spaz, hold up. I could use your help with these.”
Rin sighed, contemplated killing himself, and turned around before meeping out, “sure,” in a pathetic little voice he didn’t know he was capable of when not under scrutiny from Shura. He watched Bon lift two containers, one in each hand, noticed for the trillionth time how strong he was- but now with the entirely new context of perhaps finding it a little bit more than attractive, noticed how obvious it was that he worked out constantly because those arms, Jesus Christ .
Despite wanting to shrivel up into a little raisin and die, he approached the last container and fired one last-ditch “help me, please” look at Shiemi. She threw back a smile and a thumbs-up.
“I’m sure they could use our help in the store room. See you boys later!”
What the hell are friends good for?
“A’ight. See ya,” said Bon. He started off down the walkway, and Rin could do nothing but follow. How easy would it be for Bon to lead him anywhere, he wondered? Now that he knew that he liked him, would he follow more easily, or less?
“Hey, so where ya been? I haven’t seen you all day but Ms. Kirigakure told me you weren’t training.”
Of course. Bon hadn’t a single clue.
… Good, Rin would keep it that way.
“U-um, oh you know. I’ve just been. Around.”
“You know if you’re bored I’m sure Mom would be glad to give you some stuff to do.”
“Uh, yeah sure. I’ll ask her.”
Bon didn't stop walking, but he did turn to look at him. Rin wished he wouldn’t.
“ Yeah! Yeah, why wouldn’t I be? ”
“I dunno. You’re just actin’… kinda weird.”
Bon’s mother was waiting for them where they ended up - beside a storeroom near the kitchen. It seemed wherever Rin saw her stand within the Inn, she looked like she belonged there, as a part of it. Removing her would be like tearing up a floorboard or punching a hole in the wall. She smiled when they approached.
“Thank you, boys. Ah, Rin, I haven’t seen much of you today.”
“Y-yeah, sorry. I guess I’ve been wandering.” He braved a look at Bon. He wanted to punch himself, but carried on anyway, “I was actually, um, wondering. If I could maybe help out some more?”
“Oh, such a nice boy!” Without hesitation she yanked Bon down to her level by the ear. “ Ryuuju, why can’t you be more like him?! ”
Bon looked assaulted. “ Wh - ma I’ve been doing your chores all day! ”
Miss Suguro released him with a huff. Rin nearly forgot what he was upset about to suppress a laugh.
“Well,” she said. “Since you’re both ready to do some more work, here-”
She procured a paper from her pocket. Rin sometimes wondered if she was magical. She was certainly no exorcist, but she wasn’t without her quirks. With his limited experience with mothers of any kind, Rin found her rather amusing.
The paper, she handed to Bon.
“We’re almost out of coals for the sauna, so go there first and pick up a few bags, then go to the general store and get everything on that list there-” she pointed to a spot on the paper, indeed containing a list, “-and when you’re done with that go talk to Mr. Sato down the road and tell him to get his ass down here to fix our third-floor lights. He’s been putting me on hold for days and the tenants are starting to complain. You can take the cart if you need help carrying anything. And here.” She pulled one last thing, a little bit of cash, from her pocket and transferred it directly into Bon’s. “Get yourselves lunch.”
Before Rin could ask her to repeat a single word of what she’d just said, Bon sighed and shoved the paper into his pocket, opposite the cash. Of course, he wouldn’t need it repeated.
“Message me if you need anything!” she called as they meandered towards the front door, Rin counting on his fingers the things she had asked for, in order, until he was certain he’d gotten it right.
The outside of the Inn was just as quaint as the inside. There was the sign with the family name in simple letters hanging over it, and the fanciful old roof tiles that were probably original to the building. The door was flanked by two statues - two tigers with oni faces, perched protectively on their stone plinths and surrounded by carefully curated shrubbery. There was even a welcome mat.
Tending diligently to this lovely Inn-front was a worker Rin at first hardly recognized until he looked up to wave them goodbye - Bon’s father.
Master Tatsuma gazed observingly at Rin, then Bon, then the space between them. Once he’d come to his conclusion, whatever that was, he shot Rin a wink and the second thumbs-up he’d gotten today, both of which Rin vehemently ignored.
Over the dull, unobtrusive noise of the cart, Rin wondered how much he would be agonizing for the rest of the day, and then midway through that, decided that he refused it altogether. The best way out was always through - it had never failed him before, and it wouldn’t now. This crush could just try and take him.
“Hey, your mom’s pretty cool,” he said.
Bon changed his pace until he and Rin were side to side rather than lined up on either end of the cart. It only took a second for Rin to steady himself.
“Yeah. She can be a pain, but she works real hard for everyone.”
“Heh. Guess that runs in the family.”
“Man, I wish I had half her work ethic.”
“You kidding me? You’re like, obsessed with working hard.” And it pays off. Just look at you .
“Well, I got people countin’ on me. Don’t want to let them down, I guess.”
“Yeah… I know that feeling.”
Bon paused for a second. He didn’t often do that, being as sure of himself as he was, but every now and then, he would wait and run his hand through his hair before speaking again. That was his nervous tick.
“I know you do.” He laughed a little. “You know you work pretty hard too.”
“Pfft. I look like a lazy ass compared to you.”
“That’s because you are .”
They laughed, thank God, and just about all the tension that may have lingered was vaporized like water in the sun. This wasn’t so hard. It was just like they always were but… better.
“And hey, now you can light candles. That’s pretty kickass.”
“Oh, shut up. You’re such an ass.”
The confidence had already taken him this far, but Rin grew nervous again considering what it had suddenly occurred to him to ask. He’d force confidence to do this much, at least.
“S-so hey. I was talking to Shiemi earlier and… it occurred to us you’ve never talked about your love life before.”
Bon nearly laughed. “My what?” Then, he really did laugh. Rin feared he’d be addicted to the sound soon, if it wasn't already so. “What were you guys talking about?”
“Oh, y-you know just, ehe. Uhm. Stuff. I mean, you heard about how she totally cut my dick off yesterday, right?”
“Hah! Yeah, Shima told me.”
“Jeez, I gotta tell him to keep his big mouth shut. He told Konekomaru too.”
“You can try. He’s never going to get over this though.” He seemed to realize something. “O-oh, but. Sorry, man. It kinda felt like… you really liked her.”
“Oh- um. It’s ok. Wasn’t really a big deal.” He didn’t waste his energy saying what he’d already told Konekomaru. That he didn’t really like her that way anyway. “But you’re dodging the question!”
“Nah, man. I don’t really… think about that stuff.”
“There’s just nothin’ to talk about. I don’t like nobody. Nobody likes me.”
“Are you kidding me? ” Rin says before he catches himself. He would trade his ability to control his flames with the ability to shut the fuck up in seconds if he could.
“What?” said Bon, like Rin prayed he wouldn’t.
“C’mon, Suguro. You’re like…”
“I don’t know, everything .”
Maybe the earth would swallow him, and he could escape this conversation. Maybe Bon couldn’t tell how red-faced he was?
“Well, yeah.” Please stop talking . “You’re strong, and you’re capable and you do like… cool shit all the time.”
Bon looks at him incredulously, as if he had no idea that anybody could have a positive opinion of him, or maybe just that Rin couldn’t think those things.
“Well gee, thanks, dude. But I know nobody’s got their eye on me anyway.” He looked away from Rin, somewhere down near his feet. Rin couldn’t tell what his expression was. Maybe some kind of… upset? If only Rin were as good at reading people as Konekomaru, life would be leagues easier. “If they did… they’d say it, right?”
Shiemi and Izumo were really smart. Rin wanted very badly to take their word for all they’d said.
He thought about Shiemi and Master Tatsuma’s “good luck” gestures - the ones he’d petulantly refused to accept. He thought about this. Just this.
It was so easy. Even sharing a space with him was easy. Bon had always made it easy. Easy enough that he could… so very simply just…
“Ah, Ryuji!” said a voice. Rin followed it to a shopkeep. He hadn’t even realized they’d come to a stop. “You must be here for Miss Torako’s order!”
“Yes sir,” they both said at once. Rin had spoken to distract himself. Maybe Bon did too. Maybe he was just as desperate not to believe what might have come next if Rin hadn’t been interrupted. What exactly… would have come next?
“Come on back, I’ve got the bags right here!” said the shopkeep. Bon and Rin followed him to the small space behind the counter inside the shop. It was a small, comfortable little place. It seemed all the places the Inn did business with were something like it - traditional, partnerships made through connections and genuine kinship between people helping each other. There were several supplies advertised on the sign outside the store, and a few piles of such things organized neatly outside for show - perhaps for window shopping in lieu of a window to display things in.
Within two trips all six bags of coals were loaded into the little cart, stacked to one side to make room for the groceries.
“Thanks, Mr. Itō,” said Bon as they started to pull away, off towards their next destination.
“Tell Torako I say hello!”
“Will do!” said Rin. He thought to place a hand on the pile of coal bags in the event that Bon hit an unexpected bump and one of them went flying. It was only an added bonus that he got to walk a little bit closer to him.
“So. What were you saying?”
“Hm? Oh, I… I forgot.” He wracked his brain to find something else to say to distract them both from the fact that he’d almost told Bon “I like you” full stop. Maybe Bon didn’t know that, but it was slowly driving Rin insane.
“Suguro. Dude. Did you see that guy’s cat?”
“Holy shit, it was so fat, right?”
“ Right! ”
“My mom said she saw it once when she came to pick some stuff up, and she said it’s one of the cats that come to get fed at the Inn. The thing probably goes house to house for food and nobody even realizes it’s the same cat. He’s got like, ten different families in the neighborhood fooled.”
“Oh my God,” Rin laughed.
Unexpectedly, Bon’s temper shifted to something Rin would almost call nervousness, if he believed Bon was capable of such a thing.
“And, uh. You know… We’re friends, right?”
“Huh? Yeah, of course.”
“Then… you can call me Ryuji.”
Rin’s heart exploded - and there was no other possible explanation for the soaring feeling in his chest.
“Oh. Sure.” He heard the uncontrollable smile in his own voice, but Bon didn’t seem to notice it. Rin let his feet kick up like he was skipping rather than walking. “What’s on the grocery list?”
“The basics - eggs, flour, milk, salt, some snacks. You know, stuff the Inn uses up a lot of.” Bon pulled the list from his pocket and handed it to Rin. “Here, you can have it if you want. I already know what we need.”
Rin took the list. “Your memory is freakin’ ridiculous.”
“Meh. I guess.”
“You guess ?” He let go of the bags. They were perfectly safe, he decided. If he wanted to walk close to Bon, he’d do it just because. “If I had an ounce of it I’d be nailing all my classes like a freakin’ boss. You’re too modest.”
“Well I- oh hey.” He’d spotted something - eyes set on a sign with a noodle bowl painted on it. Rin followed his gaze and found a curious little restaurant, dug deep into the wall of buildings lining its side of the street. “Wanna stop for lunch here? They have really good pork ramen.”
“Oh hell yeah!”
With as much hesitation as was necessary - that being none at all - Rin entered and approached the cashier, ready to order the largest sized bowl of pork ramen available, and a glass of juice.
Bon watched Rin get far too excited over a bowl of ramen and some Ramune in a cute little ceramic cup, watched him eat while he talked, freaking out over every little thing - the old school style of the floors, the mismatched bowls, and cups, the view of the street from the window - watched him smile and freak out over how good the food was. Bon watched Rin be himself and wondered for the millionth time that day what the heck that feeling was…
“Oh, Bon. Good morning.”
Konekomaru had watched Bon emerge into the dining room groggy and freshly awoken at nearly nine in the morning - as late as he’d ever allowed himself to sleep.
“Mornin’,” said Shima.
“Jeez man, you look like shit.”
“ Thanks .”
Konekomaru had adjusted his glasses to observe him. “Did you not sleep well or something?”
Shima had only laughed. “Tch! Couldn’t be me, I slept like a baby last night!”
“Dunno. I think I might be coming down with something. No clue what tho.” He’d sighed heavily as soon as he sat down in front of his breakfast.
Playfully, Shima had poked, “Uh-oh.”
“You have any symptoms?” said Koneko.
“Yeah, I been getting this weird dropping feeling in my chest - like someone pulled a rug under me. And I’ll get super flushed out of nowhere. Maybe it’s a fever.” He’d put the back of his palm up to his forehead and found nothing. “You know what, Okumura probably gave it to me.”
“Rin?” said Shima. “What makes you say that?”
“I only started feeling it after hanging around with him.”
There had been a pause. Bon had wondered if it was that Koneko and Shima had realized what he had and were considering the best way to share it, but if that were the case they simply would have said.
“I think you’re fine,” said Koneko.
“Yeah,” said Shima. “Maybe it’s just… post-mission jitters.” Koneko had smacked him then.
“You’re fine,” he’d repeated.
“If you guys say so…”
There was that feeling again, watching Rin ramble on and on about nothing. Maybe it was more akin to nervousness than fever? It certainly felt similar. But Rin didn’t make him nervous, he knew that. He was just about as nerve-inducing as a kicked puppy. Except that if you kicked this puppy, he’d probably burst into flames and start crying. So, nothing at all to be nervous about.
He heard Rin stop abruptly. “You alright?”
Rin smiled. “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”
Bon smiled too, despite himself. Rin’s expressions were contagious. And he’d been smiling a lot more lately.
“Not a word.”
“Let’s go then. We still got some stuff to do for your mom.”
With as much energy as he had entered, Rin thanked the chef for the meal and bound on to where Bon had parked the cart outside, and Bon followed.
He thought about when Rin had asked him if he liked anyone. How that feeling had gotten so… big. In the moment, he thought he answered truthfully, but clearly his body was telling him he didn’t. And then Rin called from ahead of him, pulling the cart as if he could do it with a single pinky - and he certainly could - “Keep up, Ryuji!” and he felt his pulse jump just the slightest bit.
They walked all the way to the grocery store with Bon wondering what it was, somewhere in the middle forgetting to think about it when he and Rin fell into their regular banter again.
Rin always made him forget things when they talked like this. Their conversations were like water, raillery like sweet, sweet pop rocks. There was always something to say never any hesitation to say it. Why was it always so easy?
As they walked around the grocery store Bon thought he wouldn’t mind doing this all the time - mundane tasks with Rin around. Even with the “no you idiot, we don’t need watermelon mochi, put it back” and “could you stop shouting, we’re in a grocery store Christ’s sake. ” Even with the way Rin took up so much space just by being himself - something that he knew was dangerous and yet refused to stop doing because that was just who he was - Bon didn’t mind being in it with him. There was something very comfortable about the way they had become.
Somehow, Rin convinced Bon to invest in some ingredients that mother hadn’t included in the list. For some “thank you” feast for the Inn staff, he said. Bon caved only because he knew that every time Rin cooked a fairy got its wings.
“I know everyone tells you, but your food is to freakin’ die for.”
“Chyeah it is! Not to brag but cooking’s like the only thing I’m totally awesome at!”
Bon thought Rin was good at lots of things besides cooking, but Rin’s ego didn’t need to hear it.
“Yeah yeah, with how obsessed you are with food, I believe you.”
“Totally!… Hey wait, are you making fun of me?”
Bon laughed. “I have been for the past few months, but thanks for noticing!”
“Man you suck.”
The journey from the general store to Mr. Sato’s place and back out again had felt like it lasted a second. He’d never wanted chores to last longer than they usually did, but then he’d never been able to do chores with friends before. And this one particular friend had some strange affinity for making him enjoy his time no matter how mundane the task occupying it.
As they walked - taking their sweet time doing it - back to the Inn, Bon realized something.
“Huh…hey you’re really short.”
Rin stopped dead and turned to face him, indignant.
“ What the- What’s with that out of nowhere?! For your information, I am average height! And so what anyway, you’re not that much taller than me!”
He kept rambling on, something about “height doesn’t matter” and “it’s your spirit that counts” but Bon wasn’t paying attention. He’d usually be laughing in a moment like this - they were so familiar to him now - but instead, he was just looking at Rin’s face. Somehow he felt like he was closer to it - the realization he’d been looking for all day.
Even when Rin was pissed, or rambling. Even when he was pouting like he always did. Bon thought he was almost… kinda…
And after all, Rin was right. The height difference wasn’t all that great. But still… Bon would have to lean down to… to…
Wait a second .
“Ugh, let’s just get back to the Inn. If you’re gonna pick on someone for being short pick on Konekomaru. He’s like 4’9. Uh- you ok?”
“Y-yeah I’m fine. Let’s go.”
Delivering everything to his mother was the easy part. It was just splitting from Rin that was at all difficult. He was headed towards the kitchen, a place he always felt at home, and let Bon go with a simple “I’ll see you at dinner.” Bon wished he could go back to twenty minutes ago. He nearly sprinted his way to the garden where Konekomaru and Shima were having lemonade in a perfectly peaceful manner because they hadn't just come to the realization that they were in love with Rin Okumura. Twenty minutes ago, that could have been him too.
“Shima!” he called, with urgency. “What do you feel when you look at a pretty girl?!”
Shima fought not to spit out his lemonade.
“Uht- what?? ”
Bon’s hands raked through his hair. “ Just answer it’s important!”
“Wait, hang on. Bon what’s the matter?” said Konekomaru.
“C’mon… when you see someone you like… what does it feel like? Please.”
“Uh. Well, like butterflies I guess… Like floating and falling at the same time.” Shima chuckled. “Come to think of it it’s kinda awful.”
If Bon were watching his own life through a screen, this would have been the part where he’d start throwing rocks at the television. No , he thought desperately. No. No, no, no. Not this. Anything but this . The rocks he was throwing couldn’t be big enough.
Shima was somehow still talking, but Bon hadn’t heard a word after “awful.” He was right, this was awful. Awful was the perfect word - a grand word to describe what was happening here.
“Guys,” he said, hearing almost comical despair in his own voice. “Guys I know what I have.”
“What?” said Konekomaru.
“I… I think I’m… in love?”
“ Finally! ” said Shima, as if he’d been holding that breath all day.
“ What ?”
“Jeez man, I was starting to think you’d never figure it out.”
“You knew? ”
“Of course we knew! Literally only you would feel the telltale signs of love and think you were sick! You blockhead!”
“Who with?” said Koneko. Bon wanted to bury himself.
“It. It doesn’t matter.”
“Uh, it so does!” said Shima.
“No way! I’m taking this shit to my grave.”
“Bon, come on,” said Konekomaru. “Who can you trust more than us?”
He must have been crazy. He must have been experiencing some kind of love-illness-related lapse because for just a second he thought it might be alright to say it aloud. Unfortunately, that was one second too long.
“Okumura,” he muttered.
“ Okumura?! ” said Shima. “ Rin Okumura? ”
“No, the other one, of course Rin , Shima! ”
Bon hoped the pensive look on Konekomaru’s face that graced the silence they were steeping in was a sign that he was trying to find ways to kill this feeling before it consumed him.
“Hm. Maybe my word doesn’t count for much, but I think it’s best to be honest in a situation like this.”
“Shima! Miwa! Could you boys help me with something please?” Bon mother’s voice carried from down the hall. “It’ll only be a moment!”
As the two of them stood and walked towards the call, Konekomaru threw back a deeply sympathetic look as if that would save Bon from drowning in the kiddie pool.
“I’m not telling you what you should or shouldn’t say,” he called. “Just think about it!”
The two vanished like ghosts behind the sliding doors. Useless ghosts.
Bon’s head fell into his hand again. A mother of a headache was starting to form, and he’d never get it out for the life of him. He wandered back inside, floating as if he were more white sheet than person. In this miserable little way, he moved himself from room to room, haunting the corners and causing the staff to throw strange glances in his direction. He tried drinking some water, sitting down for a while, listening to music, moving boxes from one place to another at his mother’s behest. To no avail. Headaches couldn’t be cured by adamant avoidance. Perhaps he’d change his meister - become a doctor and get to work on that.
Confess or Don’t Confess. There were no bible passages or sacred scriptures that clarified it for him. Or, if there were, he didn’t yet have them memorized. It would be just his luck if the answer to his problems was in the ten percent of text he hadn’t studied. In all of his carefully mapped life goals and paths, a road block like this felt more like a mountain. Bon had never crossed a mountain before.
Even as the afternoon fell onto the Inn, and the warm smell of old cedar and bamboo lit by the sun graced each room on the west side, even as the rays of light shining yellow through the windows from the garden lit up the dust motes that almost reminded Bon of fire in the air, even still, there was nothing Bon would have enjoyed more than an abrupt end to the dull, viscid headache that lingered on him as he meandered back and forth.
Then, eventually, the natural scent of the Inn was joined by another, much more intriguing smell. That of Rin making himself at home in the kitchen. Bon wondered if that was his problem - if he was just hungry. Then he heard Shima’s voice going “only you would feel the telltale signs of love and think you were sick! Blockhead!” and huffed at the imaginary Shima saying it.
Looking at Rin was what had made him realize his plight. Maybe looking at Rin would turn it back off.
He made his way to the kitchen - the only room left unhaunted - and stopped dead in the doorway.
Not all theories were good theories.
Rin by himself was already so much - even more so now that Bon knew what he did. But watching Rin moving from place to place and doing every task so very fluidly and competently and looking so comfortable while he did it. Watching Rin be happier than he was in his regular state because he was doing something he loved. Even worse, watching Rin do it because he knew it brought others joy. Bon swore at himself for even having the idea.
He tried to slip away unnoticed before Rin’s eyes happened to fall on the doorway as he zipped from one side of the kitchen to the other, but found a body in his way. Yukio Okumura’s.
“Oh, Hello Suguro. Were you looking for my brother?”
The hissing sound of ingredients being poured into pots and fire being stoked covered the sound of his voice from entering the kitchen.
“M-me? Oh no- nah I was just-”
“I’m sure he’d appreciate a hand. Hey, Rin .”
“ No hang on- ”
“ Yeah, what? ”
There was a silence, in which Yukio looked expectantly to Bon, waiting for him to announce himself. Bon wondered if it would be all that strange of him to simply collapse, but decided that he wouldn’t. He didn’t want to block the foot traffic to the kitchen.
“Uhm. I- I just wanted to see if you needed any help in here?”
“Oh, hey Ryuji! Yeah, come on in here!”
God, there he goes again with the name …
Bon heard Yukio mutter, quietly and to himself, “Ryuji?” before he stepped into the kitchen.
It was hotter there than it was outside, even an open doorway just about enough to block the warmth of the stoves and the divine smell of the steam in the room. Rin had stopped moving between pots and over tables, and Bon approached him standing uncharacteristically still and holding up a spoonful of the contents of a simmering pot. A glance proved it was some kind of soup.
“Taste this for me, wouldja?”
“Do you have to feed it to me?”
“ It's more authentic this way, just eat it! ”
“Heh, alright alright.”
Bon tried his best not to look too tortured when Rin fed him the spoon.
“Holy shit, that’s fucking amazing.”
“Yeah, oh my God.”
“I thought maybe it needed a little more green onion.”
It was then that Yukio decided to stop lingering in the doorway and enter, donning a tone of voice Bon was sure was intended to convince Rin to oblige him.
“Can I try?”
“No way! I already got a trusted opinion! You have to wait for dinner just like everyone else!”
Bon thought it best to excuse himself while they argued.
The sun set in a matter of five or so minutes, each of which felt like a million years of uphill crawling with a load of bricks chained to his legs. Bon had taken a position on the bottom step of the patio and started counting the leaves on the bay laurel plant. And then, when he’d run out of bay laurel, he’d moved on to counting the little white rocks in the gravel. He reached one hundred and fifty before giving up and allowing his thoughts to flood like his skull was a cup for the dumb universe to drink out of.
Not even one was worth entertaining.
Konekomaru found him with his hands clasped tight behind his neck, arms cradling his head, eyes fixed on the ground, looking like he’d lost a battle he always thought he would win. That was, after all, what it felt like. Koneko wasn’t deterred by it one bit. He took his seat beside Bon completely unafraid of the cloud of misery he had apparently become.
For a little while, they only acclimated to the air that surrounded them. Of course, Bon was souring the atmosphere significantly, but the garden turning pink with the last glimpses of the sun did its best to cancel him out. The moon presided when Koneko finally spoke.
“I was starting to think you’d never fall for anyone,” he said. He leaned back on his hands, like this was the easiest thing to say in the world. Maybe to him it was. The plight of love was Bon’s, not his. “It just wasn’t your thing. And that would have been fine too, of course.” He turned fondly to Bon. “But this? This is good for you, I think. He is.”
Bon felt his hands tremble a bit - only a bit - before he schooled them back into the tight grip he’d gotten around his neck. His hair brushed over his knuckles like an apology to himself.
“… But why did it have to be him , Koneko?”
Konekomaru considered the question.
“… Because he’s the son of satan?”
“Because…” Bon breathed. It hurt a little bit. “Because he’s one of my best friends.” It seemed to take Koneko a moment to absorb it, but he did. “I… I trust him. And he trusts me. Why did I have to go and mess everything up?”
“I don’t think that’s true. You haven’t messed anything up.”
“I won’t. If I don’t tell him.”
Koneko allows there to be a decisive pause.
“Bon. You and I have known each other a really long time. You’re like a brother to me. You and Shima are my best friends. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, Koneko. Of course I do.”
“Then I need you to listen and trust me, okay?”
“You’ve always been one of the most stubborn guys I know. I always admired that in you. That you were strong when I wasn’t. You were decisive when I wasn’t. It was my job to protect you, and I swore I would do that. You know how you made it easy for me?”
“You were honest.”
Bon stopped. Koneko had told him to think about it before. It had sent him into an impossible standoff - do or don’t. He thought he’d reached a conclusion, but then, why was he so upset?
“Even when it was rough,” Koneko went on. “Even when you thought I didn’t want to hear it, you were always honest. You’re like that with everyone you care about.”
“Bon. I’ve never seen you like this. So happy. He makes you happy. He makes you strong. That’s the truth. Whether or not things turn out the way you think… I know you’ll be alright. Because you’ve never been scared of it before. If you ask me, I don’t think you should start now.”
With nothing more to say - Bon wouldn’t imagine what else there was to say in the whole world - Koneko stood up and walked back into the Inn, so easily and with such an unwavering expression of reassurance, Bon wondered if the interaction wasn’t entirely hallucinated.
“Tch. Like it’s that easy,” he said stubbornly. What did he know anyway. “Alright fine.” He looked at the moon for her opinion. She floated impartially on her way. “Then I’ll be honest.”
The moment he reentered the building the smell of absolutely divine food smashed him in the face like a warhammer. He’d have started drooling if he weren’t so preoccupied. The hallway to the dining room felt longer every step he took down it. The sharp turn at the end was taunting him in the most confusing way. “Go to the food but also to your doom,” it said. He stopped just before it, placing a hand on the decorative table that rested there to steady himself. There, anchoring himself to the material world like a leech, Shima caught him.
“Hey man, you look like you swallowed a rattle, what’s up?”
Bon took the deepest breath he’d ever breathed. “I’m. I’m gonna. C-Confess. To. To Um.”
“Woah, for real ?” He gave Bon a slap on the back. “Nice, man! Good luck!”
When Bon gave no reply, because he was busy trying to remain stiff so as not to fall over, Shima laughed - the audacity of him.
Shima sighed with a smile.
“Bon. My guy. Look at me.”
“You are thinkin’ about this. Way too hard.”
“Thanks, but I doubt you’ve ever ruined a friendship with a confession, Shima.”
“Okay, first of all, you don’t know that. Second of all, “ruin”? See, man? You’re worried too much. Ya think Okumura’s the kind of guy to let something as silly as unrequited romantic attraction ruin a friendship? He’d bounce right back and you know it.”
“… I. I guess.” I know. Okumura would never let me ruin anything .
“Yeah, see? Nothin’ to worry about.” Shima stood and assumed a regular laid back demeanor, prepared to march himself down the hall towards the best dinner they’d have all week. “Now c’mon let’s eat. This freakin’ out really isn’t like you.”
As Shima waltzed away like a ponce, Bon stopped shaking. He’d been acting like a complete fool.
Shima was right, he and Koneko were both right. Everything would be fine and he knew it. He’d already made up his mind and nothing was gonna deter him from it, so what the hell was he acting like a wimp for?
Right. Let’s freaking go.
Every single familiar face passed him by and entered the dining hall before Rin appeared. He looked through the screen wall to see their silhouettes forming an organized seating arrangement, eventually missing only two places. At the very tail end of the crowd was Rin, carrying a smile and two massive plates piled with food fresh off the pot.
He’d changed out of whatever clothes he’d been wearing to cook and do chores. It was just a white ¾ sleeve shirt with a little narutokami graphic on it and a pair of clean gray sweats. Stay focused .
Rin noticed him with a smile.
“Hey! I think everyone’s in. What are you waiting for?”
“Um. Can I just. Talk to you for a second?”
“Oh. Sure, let me just…” He looked around until glancing at Bon’s lifeline table and setting the plates down on it. The food looked like he’d plucked the pictures out of a master chef recipe book. “What’s up?”
“Okay so.” Bon paused, holding his breath without meaning to, waiting for himself to find the words that came next and forgetting to breathe the entire time he waited, until he gave up and let it go. “Guh, shit this is harder than I thought. Okay.”
Rin gave him a completely justified look of confusion, but said nothing. Bless him.
“Alright. Look, I’m… what I’m about to say might… maybe change how you think of me. But it’s only fair to tell you the truth.”
Rin’s expression changed, to one of slightly concerned anticipation. Maybe he knew what Bon was going to say. Maybe Bon had been completely transparent, even before this afternoon. He pressed forward, with very little to lose but Rin’s good opinion and his own dignity.
“Rin Okumura… you’re… somethin’ else.” Fantastic start . “I mean, you’re strong, you’re determined, you push everything down because you want everyone to feel safe and you always run off and do things yourself because you think you don’t need or deserve help, even when you do.”
Rin is staring. His expression, Bon couldn’t even hope to decipher. Focus .
“… A couple days ago, up on the mountain… I thought for a second that maybe… I was going to lose you.”
“And I kept thinkin’ about it. And it sucked so bad. Thinking of losing you. And there you were scared outta your mind and still trying to be strong because of me.”
Rin had involuntarily started clutching the hem of his shirt. The narutokami on his chest was all warped.
“A-and you’re way brave, Rin. Way braver than most people I know. And you’re stubborn and reckless.” He almost laughed. “I mean, seriously, you’re a lot .” He looked at the ground, barely holding the nervous smile on his face. He felt like he could crack any second, a frail egg of a man. “And you’re cute.”
Rin completely rosed over and started sputtering non-words, but with a hand clasped suddenly over his mouth, allowed Bon to continue.
“Jeez, this is already a mess. What I’m tryin’ to say is-! ”
Everything was finally quiet for the smallest moment. Bon cherished it.
“I like you. Uh, like you, that is.”
When he finally looked back up again, Rin was gaping at him, at a complete and total loss for words probably for the first time in his life. Bon was entirely unsure of the situation. He’d thrown himself out to sea without a paddle, or more like into fire without an extinguisher.
“S-so yeah, u-uhm-”
“Dinner…” said Rin. Bon didn’t know he could sound so small.
“Dinner. They’re waiting for us.”
“Oh.” Bon tried not to let his head hang. “Right.”
“Can we talk after?”
Bon paused for a second.
“Y-yeah. Yeah, sure.”
Neither of them moved and it felt like an eternity. Then both of them were scrambling around each other and Rin was reaching for the plates he’d set down and there was a chorus of “right” “yeah” and “okay” everywhere. Bon couldn’t remember a time when he’d had less control of a situation in his life.
There was a chorus of applause when Rin finally entered the dining room carrying the last of the dinner everyone had been looking forward to. Bon took his regular place between Shima and Konekomaru, and Rin sat between his brother and Shiemi.
“It’s ok. Wasn’t really a big deal.” That’s what he’d said about her. Bon wondered what it meant - no, let himself hope about what t meant. “I didn’t really like her anyway,” “My love life is open, just so you know.” Bon cursed himself in his head. Perhaps there was a scripture to read to exorcise irritating thoughts. He’d have to hit the books later and find out.
As soon as the chef was thanked for the meal, conversation erupted over the table, overlapping words and thoughts and recalling of days and expressions of gratitude falling over people serving themselves generous helpings of meat and potatoes. With so much noise, Konekomaru finally leaned in while Bon plated himself some soup.
“So? How did it go?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” chimed Shima from the other side. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. We’re talking after dinner.”
“Oh,” said the both of them, like Bon had told them he got shot in the leg and would never walk straight again.
“Is that good?” said Shima. “Bad?”
“… I don’t know.”
There was more he’d wanted to say after his first bite of dinner, but as soon as he put anything in his mouth he forgot all about it. He had to put his head down and hit the table a few times to stop from crying out loud that he never thought you could do anything to a potato and bit of meat to make them taste like angels had been singing to them.
“Haha.” Rin sneered over the table. “Good?”
“ Freakin’ incredible. I hate you.”
Shima followed Bon’s example with just as much surprise as the first time he’d ever tried Rin’s cooking. “Seriously, you should consider quitting exorcism to become a housewife.”
“I don’t see why I can’t do both,” said Rin, serving Yukio’s plate of rice. Bon nearly choked on his soup.
It took hours before the conversation began to die down. When food tasted better and the company was good, people tended to stay longer. Bon found as he caught eyes with Rin across the table very occasionally, amidst conversations with anybody but him, it didn’t matter how long it took. First, it was 8, then 9, and then suddenly 11 pm before small groups started to disperse from the table, floating off like fleeting afterthoughts.
As soon as Konekomaru and Shima made their exit - with far more dramatic, theatrical sleepiness than was strictly necessary - Bon realized he was alone in a room with Rin.
“Hey,” he said, as good a start as any.
“Hey,” said Rin. The next few words out of his mouth would be agony, Bon was certain of it. The atmosphere here wasn’t exactly right for it.
“Let’s… go out into the garden maybe?”
They walked the pretty gravel paths in silence not quite comfortable, but which they both allowed to settle over them, like a blanket they were sharing to protect from the temperate summer night breeze. They landed under a cherry tree that was just starting to bloom after strolling through, aimlessly - deep into the gardens. A petal or two fell around them, drifting more softly than rain, and much warmer than snow.
Rin fumbled with his sleeves, dragging the narutokami around again.
“S-so,” he said.
“So.” said Bon. If at least he didn’t feel like the steady stone he wanted to be, he could try to look like it.
Rin’s grip tightened and loosened a few times. “... Did you prepare that speech you gave me at all? Because it sounded way better than what I got right now.”
Bon laughed. “Dude it sounded like word vomit to me.”
“Heh. What’s worse than word vomit? That’s how I feel like I sound. All the time.”
“Nah,” said Bon, letting some fondness, perhaps too much fondness, slip through. His head lolled tiredly to one side so that he could look at Rin from a different angle. Still frustratingly perfect. “You sound fine.”
“Yeah, so what. It’s true.”
Bon occupied himself by looking at Rin’s hair, blowing softly in the breeze. He’d felt it once or twice before - soft as silk. Rin’s eyes were turned down. Bon wished he could see them - they were such a charming blue - but he knew he’d only stand it for a moment before losing face again.
“I’ve thought you were cool from day one, you know. Since you bad-mouthed me the first week of cram school.”
He poked his hands in his pockets and looked insistently down at the floor. The height difference was made apparent again, as Bon gazed at the top of Rin’s head.
“I uh. Don’t like the idea of losing you either,” said Rin, muttering through his teeth. “Ugh, I’m not really a words guy, am I?”
“I really just need those last four.” Bon said, braver than he’d ever been, braver than when fighting the ghoul during the exwire authorisation exam, braver than when carrying the lantern through the forest and wading through a swamp full of centipedes, braver than when watching Rin fight the Impure King with the thought in his mind as his eyes shut him away from the conscious world that he might open them only to find Rin gone forever.
Rin smiled - all the way, with his canines and everything. Before saying a thing he leaned in - leaned up - and got a fraction of an inch away from Bon’s lips. Bon held steady, fighting every urge in his body not to lean forward just a bit. Rin’s breath on Bon’s skin was like fire.
“I like you too.”
Finally, Rin allowed the distance to close. The feeling was worth every second before, and a million times that. It was the key in the lock, the match to the candle, the bright echo in the darkness. It was the touch of a petal to his lips, softer than rain, so much warmer than snow, and accompanied by a feeling of elated relief unknown to Bon to fit any other occasion in his life. How whole, it was. How complete. How wonderful.
How he’d managed to go so long in his life without it, Bon hadn’t the faintest. But he had it now. And for the moment, he intended not once to let it go.
Until he had to breathe of course.
“You know I found out I was in love with you like, today,” said Rin. Bon leaned in once more.
He wasn’t sure how long they spent there, under the dripping blossoms simply enjoying each other. Long enough for Rin’s arms to come up around his neck and for Bon to think up and also resist the urge to dip him slightly because perhaps they weren’t quite there yet. Yet. Long enough for their shared breathlessness to get a little dizzying, the job of pulling away again one that neither of them wanted. Long enough that when at last they decided kissing was enough and became content to simply look at one another, Bon had forgotten every word of the conversation that had preceded this. His whole world was Rin’s blue eyes before he knew it.
It never occurred to Bon as they walked - having returned to the world of mortals from nirvana - that they would have to separate eventually. Even as they approached the hallway, which had stilled to match the nightly atmosphere and carried the sounds of crickets coming alive into the Inn. Holding Rin’s hand and knowing that he had successfully traversed the mountain in his way was entirely distracting.
“So,” said Rin, looking in the direction he was to go in to reach his room, opposite the direction of Bon’s. “Goodnight.”
Using the last of the grip he had on Rin’s hand, Bon pulled him back just once more - once more before he’d start worrying himself that this was all a dream or wild fantasy - and plastered the feeling of kissing Rin all over his memory.
“Night,” he said again.
The morning, which brought singing birds and bright, persistent sun, woke Rin with a fervor unlike most he’d experienced. Already by default, he disliked mornings on principle, and yet events that disrupted this dislike - a class he was late for or a morning coffee he awoke to - could jar him into tolerating them, perhaps even liking them. His last morning in Kyoto, apart from the birds and sun, also brought a wonderment at the memory of the day and night before. He allowed himself to know it was not a dream, though it felt like the most whimsical thing that had ever happened to him, and as he dressed for the day, tying his uniform tie with only a mid-level of efficiency, he thought that if he dwelled too much on it, he’d lose all ability to function.
“Rin!” said Shiemi, approaching him as he walked out of the Inn and into the sun, beside the rest of the exorcists who were about to be loaded onto a bus. She straightened his collar for him while giving him an expectant look.
“Thanks,” he said.
He spotted Bon at the end of the crowd opposite him.
“Thank you so much for having us,” Shura said to Ms. Suguro as they approached the crowd together. Master Tatsuma walked behind them, moseying along in a relaxed way as one who’s had a burden of sixteen years lifted off his shoulders ought to have.
“Not at all. Thank you all for your service. Myodha and Kyoto are forever in your debt.”
The staff of the Inn - most of whom Rin had begun to recognise by looks and a few by name - all bowed respectfully. Rin remembered, his pride swelling up until his smile hurt his cheeks, that all of their lives had been saved thanks to him. He’d done that. With help, of course. But they were thanking him too.
Becoming an exorcist was one of best decisions he’d ever made - second only to kissing Bon. It was a split even tie, in fact. Though, Yukio had once tried to explain recency bias to him and though he hadn’t entirely understood, he wondered if this was something like that.
The exorcists, lined up roughly by rank in the fancy, organized, professional way that they were, bowed in return, a resounding “thanks for your hard work!” shoved in the Inn staff’s face before the crowd finally began to disperse and board the bus in pairs or small groups. Master Tatsuma approached Rin amicably.
“Well,” he said. “I bet it feels pretty good to get this all behind you, huh?”
“It wasn’t all bad,” said Rin. Since his first ever interaction with the man, even before he’d known his identity, he’d felt a certain familiarity with him. It was most certainly the way he reminded him of the old man. They were quite similar, the two of them, though perhaps Master Tatsuma had more of a softness to him. “We did get to save everyone. That was pretty cool.”
Tatsuma laughed. “Quite the understatement!”
Before Rin could continue, a hand fell on his shoulder which felt unmistakably like Bon’s, and Rin’s temperature rose even without the flames appearing.
Somehow, still, proximity to Bon still made him nervous. He began to wonder if he’d ever get used to the feeling only to find it had already started growing on him. It was a good type of nervousness, if there was such a thing.
“Son.” Tatsuma turned to him. Perhaps to Bon he looked a bit strange without his monkly attire, but Rin thought the Inn uniform suited him better. “I’m proud of you. Both of you.”
“Even though this isn’t the path you wanted for me?” said Bon, a little humorously. That whole problem was behind them by then.
Bon’s hand hadn’t left his shoulder, and Rin found that if he had removed it at any point, he would have felt at a loss somehow. He’d traded one kind of lovesickness for another. Only this one was better.
“Yo! Okumura! Suguro!” Shura’s high heels stomping on the metal bus step drew Rin’s attention more than her shouting. “Time to go!”
“I know you’ll be busy at school,” said Tatsuma, as they turned to go. “But write me, if you get the chance, alright?”
The bus took them as far as the train station, and there was a bit of walking to be done between then and the terminal they were to board their train from. Throughout its entirety, a significant portion of the class had been glancing nervously in a few directions - between each other, occasionally, between Bon and Rin the most. Even Rin noticed, and his attention was half occupied by the view of Kyoto tower from the outside, as he’d been when they arrived.
The other half was focused on the do or don’t situation of reaching his hand out for Bon to take. He’d kissed the man but somehow holding his hand felt like an overstep. They’d reached the train and boarded before he managed to decide, all the while dodging Shiemi and Shima’s intense gazes, and even Koneko and Izumo’s poorly disguised pointed looks.
Shima made it an impressive ten minutes into the train ride before he turned in his seat to face Rin.
“Alright you guys, what gives?! ”
“Are you guys just friends now, or what?? ”
Rin looked to Bon, who was midway through rolling his eyes. Out of his periphery, he caught Shiemi leaning over the armrest of her seat to listen in.
Bon sighed. “No, Shima. We’re dating.”
Rin’s heart stopped. “ WE ARE?!”
Bon turned to him, utterly disbelieving. “ We kissed like three times you idiot!”
“ Well you never said “dating” how was I supposed to know?! ”
“ Ok dumbass, go out with me then!”
“ Ok, fine!”
“ Fine!! ”
No sooner had Rin crossed his arms to pretend his face wasn’t on fire - perhaps even slightly literally on fire - than he heard Shima, Koneko beside him, and Shiemi start laughing. Even Izumo was aggressively suppressing a grin. Rin refused to acknowledge the vague snickers and snorts from most every other exorcist within earshot and ignored especially hard the open laughter from Shura’s seat.
“You guys are both idiots,” said Shima. Rin did nothing to deny it. He was probably right.
With apparently nothing more to say and the news they had been waiting for thoroughly confirmed, the class turned back into their seats, and back into their leisure activities that would occupy them for the rest of the trip.
Rin looked to Bon who was smiling and gave up - public humiliation was entirely worth it just for that sight alone.
“I can’t believe you,” said Bon. He leaned across the armrest until he bumped his shoulder against Rin’s. “Dumbass.” It was too affectionate to be serious. Rin concluded that yes, this feeling wolud definitely grow on him. He braved laying his head on Bon’s shoulder.
The train ride - from ten minutes out of Kyoto, all the way back to Academy Towne - remained entirely uneventful after that. It felt almost like a portal, transporting them slowly but surely back into a regular state of affairs, familiar to them after the extremely eventful anomaly of Kyoto. Somewhere between the two points, Rin had fallen asleep, content in knowing that the only thing different being cemented into this familiar state was that his hand and Bon’s were finally clasped together, and would remain that way until he woke up again. And perhaps, he hoped, long after that.