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Issei grows up with a close reminder of death around the corner and the faint smell of formaldehyde wafting in the distance, despite his father's best efforts.

It isn't until middle school when he really starts to realize that this is different from other kids' childhoods.

"This family has requested an open casket visitation before cremation," Issei's dad tells him. "The poor guy has been through quite a lot. So I've got some work to do today."

Issei is laying on his stomach on the floor of the family funeral home, flipping through manga and only half listening to his father.

"Do you ever think that it's kind of dark for you to talk to your kids about dead bodies?" he asks. None of his classmates know what an aneurysm needle is.

His father shrugs. "When you lose the shock of 'dead body' and start looking at them just as people who need your help, that's when this all starts to make more sense. That's not very dark to me. Why, is it uncomfortable for you?"

This explanation makes sense to him. He shakes his head. "No, not really."

"I talk to you about this because I want you to understand what I'm doing, and why. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Um. Yeah?"

"That's good," he says. "You know, one day, Issei, I'll need someone to take over the home, and someone will have to take care of me. And it isn't going be your mother."

"Make Aoi do it," Issei says passively.

"Aoi can barely take a step inside the building without shaking."

Issei knows. He hides in the funeral home when ever he has something of his brother's and doesn't want to give it back.

"Nee-chan, then."

His father gives him a look. "Sueko is a toddler."

"She won't always be."

"Yes, but she might be," he says. "When it matters."

Issei pauses. "You planning on dying soon?"

"No, I'm not, but that's life, isn't it? I see it everyday."

"That's morbid, Dad."

"It's life," he repeats simply. Then he shrugs. "Or death, I suppose."

"Why can't you get another one of your funeral friends to embalm you in this hypothetical sudden death scenario?" Issei wonders. "Why does it have to be me?"

His father sighs and pushes back his hair. "One day, when you're older, I think you will discover that it is much better to be taken care of by someone who loves you."

Issei goes back to his manga. "No, I'll be dead."

"I mean that in more than just embalmment, Issei."

"Oh, sure. Cremation. Burial. I'll be dead for that, too."

His father glances at him, chuckles, and ultimately decides it isn't worth it. "Okay, Issei-boy. You'll see later. Years working here will do that to you."

Issei chews the inside of his cheek and returns to his manga again. Then he sets it back down. "What if I don't want to?"


"I mean, what if I grow up and don't want to work here?"

"You'll work for another funeral home? Issei, I'm hurt. What does Yoshida-san have that I don't?"

"Dad. Seriously. What if I'm an... accountant, or something?"

"Son, I sincerely hope you don't have high hopes for an accounting job," his father says. "Math has never been your strong suit."

"You know what I mean."

"I do." He looks at him. "Do you want to do something else?"

Issei bites the inside of his cheek. "I don't know."

"You're young," says his father. "You have plenty of time. If you grow up and don't want to work here, that's fine."

"Sure, you say that now, after all that about someone taking care of you—"

"I wouldn't make you do that either," he says. "I hope you'll do what you want to do, and to your own comfort levels. If you don't want to work here, that's okay."

He rolls over so he’s flat on his back. "I don't know what I want."

"I know, I know. And you've got time. Lots of time. I'm sorry Issei-boy, I don't mean to stress you out."

Issei runs his finger along the spine of his book. "It's whatever. I guess I just... I don't know. It's like, why me, you know?"

"Why you," his father echoes absently.

Issei nods.

"You want to know why I talk to you about this more than your brother? It's because I think you get it. And I think you'd be good at it because of that. It's more than just getting over that fear that your brother deals with. I don't know if you realize how empathetic you are, Issei. We need empathetic workers in this business, not desensitized people."

Issei gestures to their surroundings and the casual nature of their conversation. "Aren't we kind of desensitized, though?"

"No," he says knowingly. "This is just what we do to survive."

Issei's instinct is to make another joke or comment, but he suddenly feels like all his actions are under a microscope. He refrains.

"Well, I still have to prepare the workspace. Would you like to come with?"

"Yeah, I'll come," Issei says, setting down the manga. "But for the record, I wouldn't rule out Sueko so quick. Who knows, she might grow up and be a funeral prodigy. Then you'd feel dumb for leaving her out now."

His dad chuckles. "If that were a real thing, I really hope I would've heard of it by now."

Issei graduates and his friends scatter to the winds. Issei stays at home.

He begins by buying replacement makeup products when he's asked. Then he's doing flower arrangements. He starts processing paperwork. Then he's sitting in the passenger seat of the hearse for retrievals and speaking to grieving families.

"You're good help, Issei-boy," says his dad, again and again over the years. "Want to learn more?"

After so many years of this, the best course of action is the most logical one. "I'm thinking of going to mortuary school," he tells him one day. "Think I'll find a job?"

With tears in his eyes, his fathers hugs him. "Oh, I'm sure something will come up."

The first time Hiro quit his job, they drank champagne. Issei framed it as a celebration. Now Hiro was free to do as he pleased and ultimately find a career he enjoyed more. The first time
he got fired, they drank saké and tried not to wallow more than necessary. The third and fourth and fifth time Hiro found himself "in between jobs," they just drank. Anything. Somewhere along the way, it made the most sense for Hiro to move back to Miyagi and in with Issei.

In Issei's living room, slightly tipsy, he kisses Takahiro for the first time.

Hiro barks out a laugh. "Ha! Random." Then he presses his fingers to his lips like he's holding in something precious. Issei watches his eyes panic.

"Don't overthink it," Issei rushes to say. "It doesn't have to be hard. But it makes sense, yeah? This can be easy, if you want it."

Hiro slowly lowers his hands. "Yeah," he nods. "It makes sense."

They kiss again.

Shockingly enough, it's Hajime who ruins it.

"Fuck you. You're dating?" Issei yells into his phone. "Dating? Like dating-dating? Each other?"

"Is it really so hard to believe?" He watches Hajime roll his eyes through the screen.

"It's just.... You're dating. Now? Like you had to do it now?"

Hajime scratches the back of his neck. "Kinda feels like we waited a long time as it is..."

Issei rolls his eyes. "Ugh, you guys are going to be even more annoying than before."

"I thought you'd be happy to hear this."

"Yeah. I'm... happy for you guys, or whatever."

"That sounds really convincing."

"No, I mean it." He glances up at Takahiro, curled up in a ball and sleeping at the foot of his bed. "Just... thinking."

"Don't think too hard, you might hurt yourself."

"Ha ha." He returns his gaze to the screen. "I'm kinda surprised I didn't find out from Oikawa. How did you buy his silence?"

"Well, he's sort of planning a big reveal next time we see you, so act surprised, if he doesn't give in and tell you sooner."

"Why the fuck would you tell me then?"

"I didn't mean to!" Hajime insists. "It just happened! You're my friend, it just slipped out."

Aw. "How're you going to buy my?silence?"


"Can you Venmo that to me?"

"Look, we're thinking there's sometime next month where we'd both be able to come visit. What're you thinking?"

"I'm thinking of leaving the country next month. Oh, wait."

"Very funny. Will you and Makki have room for us or should we stay somewhere else?"

Takehiro's old bedroom is now a home for Nintendo Wii games and one old marionette puppet they don't like to look at. "We can squeeze you in."

"Great. I'll let you know once we know more. How is everything over there?"

"Oh, you know," Issei looks again at Takahiro, still sleeping like the dead and curled up like an animal, "exceptionally normal."

Hajime lifts an eyebrow. "Right. I wouldn't expect anything else from you."

"I've got to go. Congrats on the sex," he says, and quickly hangs up just as Hajime begins to yell.

Issei throws his phone to the side and leans in close to Hiro's ear. "You're having a nightmare."

He inhales sharply and jolts awake. "No."

"Welcome to the land of the living," says Issei. "Oikawa and Iwaizumi got together."

"You're joking."

"I'm not."

"Am I still asleep?"

"Not unless I've entered your dreamscape."

Hiro rubs his eyes sleepily. "Do you think it was volleyball that made us all gay?"

"I personally choose to believe it was something in the water," Issei says. "We're not supposed to know yet. Iwa blew it."

"I see. Did you drop our little bombshell?"

"Not yet." He brushes back Takahiro's bangs. "I don't know how yet, but there has to be a way to use this against Oikawa."

Hiro shoots a devilish smile. "I like the way you think."

3 days before their visit, Tooru facetimes them for the 4th time that week. He hasn't given up his "secret," but he's become fixated on the idea of setting them with someone since he himself is a so-called "love expert." He refuses to elaborate on his credentials, which Issei could almost applaud him for if he weren't so busy rolling his eyes.

They position themselves for the call by having Hiro sit in the "v" of Issei's legs and resting back on his chest. Somehow, Tooru thinks nothing of it.

"But don't you get lonely all day, Mattsun?" Tooru cannot leave it alone. "With only dead people to talk to."

"I don't mind when it's quiet," Issei answers truthfully. "And they're better company than you, anyway."

Tooru sputters indignantly. Hiro laughs.

"Just let me find someone for you, I know I can do it."

"Hm..." Out of frame, Issei pinches the side of Hiro's thigh. He curses under his breath. "Maybe. But I have very specific tastes."

Tooru's eyes flicker. "Finally! Try me, Mattsun. Bring it on."

"Well, he should be rich." Hiro snorts under his breath. "That's a given. I'd like someone who cheats at Mario Kart even when he's playing alone. Poor cooking skills, can't drive, beautiful eyes. Nonsensical music taste is a plus."

"That's a good one," says Hiro.

"And he shouldn't know anything about wine. Absolutely stupid when it comes to wine. Foot fetish is a maybe. Not a total dealbreaker, but I do have concerns."

Hiro jabs him in the side and he squirms.

"I don't think any human beings exist like that, Mattsun."

"I think he sounds sexy," says Hiro.

"I thought you were an expert, Oikawa," Issei says. "Aren't you going to help me?"

"Of course I am," says Tooru.

"Well, think on it, I want an answer by the time you get here." He wraps an arm around Hiro in what he hopes is a more obvious way, "By the way, Hiro and I got together before you and Iwa did."

Tooru's face contorts into an inhuman expression. "Mattsun—!"

He hangs up.

On a Tuesday morning, Issei talks to an elderly widower for the better part of an hour. She communicates mostly in disjointed statements with varying emotions. Around the 45 minute mark, she begins asking for her husband. Issei doesn't have the heart to remind her that he's on display in the other room. He and his dad had spent the week prepping her husband for this very event.

Luckily, her daughter arrives shortly afterward. She is so sorry.

"Mom gets confused sometimes," she tells him.

They speak for another hour and a half. Her mom lives with her and her family now. Her dad had been really good to her throughout everything, but now that he’s gone, she's worried her mom is deteriorating faster. Her oldest son just started school, he's very scared to be at the funeral home today. He doesn't really understand what's going on. The youngest is too little to remember anything from this day or anything before it, but he was always doted on by his grandfather.

She is so sorry, she didn't mean to cry again. It'd just been a really stressful week, thank you again for everything.

Issei doesn't ask for any specific details, he just tries to listen and receive with grace.

"I'm very sorry for your loss," he tells her. Again and again and again, sometimes in different words. He means it.

On a Tuesday afternoon, Issei comes home a muffled voice in the other room.

"Just so you know, I've done nothing all day and I don't plan on starting now."

Hiro is under the under the covers all the way up to his chin. His hair is visibly greasy. He had been sleeping still when Issei left that morning.

Issei knows this nothing and knows that it is not a restful break, but a fit of anxious, useless energy that can’t muster up enough courage to propel the body or mind in any way. Instead, it swarms in circles around one's head to dizzy them and sits on their chest to weigh them down, all the while muttering intense humiliations in their ear. Issei knows this nothing and knows even more that Hiro is its intimate friend.

He starts at the end of the bed near Hiro's feet and lifts up the covers, throwing them over his head and inching forward until he and Hiro are face to face.

It brings a slight smile to Hiro's lips. "What're you doing?"

"Bad day?" Issei murmurs.

The smile shifts.

"You wanna tell your old pal Issei about it?"

"Please don't call yourself that. And no. Not really in the mood for talking right now."

"Me neither." He adjusts his head on the pillow and closes his eyes. "Let's sleep. I could really use it."

Issei's arm around his waist, Hiro's head in the crook of his neck. There is nothing else.

Aoi's house is not exceptionally large, but it's spacious and clean. Aoi is 28, married, and father to 2 very strange babies. Aoi says they're normal children, Issei insists they're unnaturally alien. His parents live with them at Aoi's house now.

His dad moves his rook 3 spaces to the left. He likes to play Shogi with Issei when he visits. He says it's to keep his mind sharp as he ages.

Issei pushes his bishop directly forward 2 spaces. He was taught the rules once. He does not know how to play. He takes his best guess at how the pieces are supposed to move and his father accommodates.

"Interesting, interesting," he mutters. Pawn forward one space. Promotion.

"Oh. Yeah." He flips over his own pawn and promotes it.

"You're in check, Issei."

"Right, right." His gold general moves diagonally 3 spaces and captures the offending pawn. His father groans.

"I've been thinking," his dad says eventually.

"I can smell the smoke."

"Very funny." He makes his move. "I've been thinking it's time to retire. Officially."

Issei pulls his hands into his lap. "I see. You're firing me."

"Funny boy." Issei makes a counter move. "I'm getting older. You know I'm not as fast as I used to be. And I'd like to spend time with my grandkids now. I live here, so close to them, and still leave them. Doesn't really seem fair, does it?"

"I don't think they're too offended by that," Issei says as his father moves a piece. He immediately counters without paying attention to what he's grabbing. "I think they're pretty preoccupied by Hana Kappa and crapping their pants."

"Maybe so. But soon they'll be old enough to start forming memories, and I'd like to be in them. I hope you do, too." He takes his turn. "Also, if your brother doesn't get some help keeping them entertained, I think the kids won't be the only ones crapping their pants, if you catch my drift."

Aoi and his wife, both famously high strung, stressed out, career-focused individuals. They were constantly worried their children weren't receiving enough mental stimulation and emotional care, even though they put all of their resources into ensuring it. Every time Issei saw his brother these days, there were bags under his eyes.

He moves his silver general to the other side of his bishop. "I do."

"Before you know it, they'll have more, despite themselves, and you and Sueko, too, I'm sure." Another move and counter. Issei swallows uncomfortably. "And I'm getting older."

"I'm only going to say this once, so enjoy it. You're not that old, Dad."

"Every second, I'm older than the last." His piece moves. "Work is not so easy, anymore."

Issei has been taking the lead with most of their clients for months now. He slowly slides a knight across the board. "I guess I can't argue that."

"It's time, Issei-boy." A very firm placement of his father's lance. "It's time for me, and it's time for you. You do good work. I know you do."

"I guess."

"You do. I'd like you to take over. Officially. Think you can handle it?"

"Haven't killed anyone yet," he answers. Luckily, his father laughs.

"Good. You'll make more money, too. Probably good for you and your roommate, huh? Unless you're thinking of moving out. Probably good for that, too, if you are."

"I'm not."

His father hums. Issei still hasn't taken his turn.

"Dad, I'm not going to move out," he reiterates.

"Alright, son. Don't forget to take your turn."

"Takahiro is very special to me." He moves a piece. "I want you to know that. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

His father's eyes widen. "Holy fuck."

Issei flinches at his rare use of a curse. "Dad."

His father stares at the board. He won't meet his eyes.

"Dad, c'mon."

Fuck. Fuck. Why didn't he ask Hajime how to make this easier?

"There's no way this is the most disappointing thing about me. Dad. I'm still your son."

His dad glances up at him. "What? What... No, Issei, you won."


"You just won."

"That's impossible. I don't how to play."

"I know!" With shaking hands, he walks him through each piece. "Checkmate. You win."

Issei leans back. "Holy fuck."

His father bows politely. "Congratulations on your win. Maybe we should've focused on Shogi instead of volleyball, huh?"

"Maybe," he says. "But volleyball had its perks."

His dad's expression shifts as he returns to their previous conversation. "Issei-boy, that was not a very nice thing to say about yourself."


"No, no, I mean it. I trust you, Issei. That's why I feel good about leaving the home in your hands. I'm proud of you. You think I'm not?"

Issei fidgets. "I don't know, Dad, sometimes I just say things."

"I'm proud of you everyday," he repeats firmly. "And if Takahiro is special to you... Correct?"

He nods. "Yes."

"Then I'm proud of him, too. Okay?” He makes direct eye contact. “You'll always be my boy."

"Yeah, Dad." Issei relaxes. "Thanks."

He clears the board and begins resetting. "Another game?"

"Sure," Issei says, "but you should know, I play to win."

For 7 days, Issei prepares a service for a man with no family and few friends. At the end of a very long week, Issei recruits his father and sister as professional mourners.

He elects to leave his mother, Aoi, and Hiro out of it. He does tell Hajime about the service over text, in passing, but offers no details.

When the burial is over, his father takes each of their hands and squeezes. Tightly.

"These ones," he says, like he might say more, but doesn't. His father could handle the most intense mourning and the worst of grief with comparative ease. It was lonely people he couldn't work through. Issei realizes he may have been wrong to disturb his father's retirement for this.

A hand on his shoulder. "You did the right thing by calling us, nii-san."

Sueko is still young, but she gives him this wisdom as if she is the elder. She handles things with a maturity even he lacks sometimes.  He nods.

At the end of a long week, he attaches himself to Takahiro while the poor bastard tries to cook.

In his defense, it can't be that big of a distraction because Hiro never cooks anything difficult, anyway. He's not capable of it.

"Mm." Hiro leans backward into his touch when Issei's lips find the pulse point on his neck. "You sneaky shit."

"How is this sneaky? I'm not hiding anything."

"Oh, shut up."

"My intentions are very clear, Hiro."

"You are so annoying."

"You're annoying." Issei slides his hands under Hiro's shirt. "We should get a cat."

"What the fuck are you saying?"

"I said we should get a cat."

"Yeah, I heard you." Hiro grabs his hands and stops them from moving any further. "Is this some sort of weird turn on for you?"

"No. I meant it. Why, do you want it to be?"

"A cat."


"And who's going to take care of this cat?"

"You, mostly." A kiss behind his ear. Hiro snorts. "Just being honest."

Takahiro's going to be home with it more often. Issei will, of course, dote on the cat every second that he's there, but Hiro will get prime bonding time. First, they'll have to battle for dominance, as the cat will most definitely fight him for his position as resident drama queen/verified insane person. He knows what kind of animals they attract. After that, though, they'll get along very well, he thinks. When he's at work, imagining their home, he can picture them both there, not just Hiro.

"A cat..." Hiro says, considering.

Issei smirks. He's already won.

On a Sunday afternoon, Issei buries a child for the first time without his father. On a Sunday night, he watches tv with Takahiro.

"She's definitely getting sent home today," says Hiro. He threads his fingers through Issei's hair. "Why do the editors even bother anymore? I know all their tricks."

Issei's feet are curled up underneath him. He nods his head against Hiro's shoulder, where it rests. "Well, you are the expert," he says quietly.

Takahiro turns and very slowly, very deliberately, presses a kiss to his forehead.

He knows. Issei sighs.

"He's going to be the season's villain," Hiro says, pointing at the screen. "Did you hear that music cue? Mark my words."

"I believe you," he says, and Hiro laughs, soft and sweet.

In one of his fits of restless energy, Hiro decides to rearrange all the furniture in the apartment. The old way is making him crazy, he says. He needs to switch it up. It will fix the vibes.

Issei helps. He moves the furniture where Hiro tells him, except when he doesn't want to. Then, he watches Hiro move it back and forth until he gives up and decides it's good enough. Their cat runs in and out of the room every time something is moved. It's an affair that last several days.

Finally, it's over. Hiro is not subdued. He runs his fingers through his hair and makes it stand up straight in the front. "Now what?" he demands. He collapses onto their bed. "Now what?" Smaller this time.

Issei sits next to him. Grabs the string of his hoodie. "Does it matter?"

Hiro rests his hand on top of Issei's. "I guess not."

Sueko studies for her mortuary science exam surrounded by caskets. When Issei looks up at her, he gets an uncontrollable rush of nostalgia and affection. He had completed most of his schoolwork in the same place.

"I was totally right about you, by the way," he tells her.


"Nothing." He holds up two lipsticks. "Which of these do you like better?"

"For me or for a little old lady?"

"Little old lady."

"Hm." She thinks it over. "The left one."

Issei sighs. "The right one mixes with the wax so much easier, though."

"Why do you even ask me if you've already made up your mind?"

He shrugs. "Validation?"

"When this is my place," Sueko says, "I won't need your validation, I'll just know."

Issei feels like crying. Happy tears, but still. She can never know. "Whatever you say, Sue-chan."

"I did that one. And that one." Issei points at another headstone. "A lot of these were me, actually."

"If you don't quit it, people are going to think you're a mass murderer."

Issei wiggles his eyebrows, which only gets him a swat on the arm.

When he finds another and turns to tell him, Hiro is frowning at his phone.

"What is it?"

"Nothing." He shoves it in his pocket. "Parents. It's nothing."

Nothing. Nothing. Issei knows this nothing. He takes his hand. He points. "That one's me, too."

Takahiro smirks. "You have a monopoly on this cemetery. This is probably fucked up of us, right?"


They keep walking. Hand in hand. Issei squeezes. Tightly.

"You know, if you wanted a job at the funeral home, it would be yours in a second."

Risky move. He hopes it's worth it.

Hiro gives him a look. "You want me to work at your family business?"

"You are," he says simply. Hiro flushes. "You could, if you wanted."

Hiro lets it linger, fingers loosely interlocking before he squeezes back. "You know me, Issei. I'm a free agent."

"Of course."

"I love you." It's both hesitant and firm, casual and committed, distracted and surgically precise. A common phrase and yet its essence screams Takahiro. "I'm going to do something, Issei. I don't know what yet. But I will."

Issei shrugs. "You've got time."

Hiro scoffs. "No, not really."

"You do," Issei pushes, because this is one thing he will not let slide. "You know, I basically talk to old people all day, and trust me, you are not as old as you think."

He also talks to the families of young people who died with too many things they wanted to try and a matching list of regrets.

"I want you to do what you want to do," Issei continues. "Not making yourself miserable with what you think you should be doing."

Hiro sighs. "I don't know what I want to do, Issei. I don't think I'm cut out for anything more than this."

"You've got time," he repeats. "If this is what you need right now, or forever, or whatever, then who gives a fuck about anything else? I say it's fine. And I'm really smart."

Hiro smirks at the ground. "You're so conceited."

There's no malice or truth in the statement.

"Maybe so."

Issei leans in to kiss him on the cheek. Once he's started, he can't stop; He kisses him once, twice, three times. Hiro's smile widens.

"Have you no shame?"

"For what?"

"For... you know. Flaunting your life. In a dead people garden."

"Oh." Issei looked around. He learned to ride a bike on this very pathway. Today, he stands there, looking at him, in love. "No, not really."

Hiro laughs. In that moment, it’s a better sound than ever before.

Issei opens his front door and sees two old friends in person for the first time in far too long.

"What's the password?" he asks blankly.

"Mattsun!" Oikawa cheers.

"Sorry, that's not it. Better luck next time."

He closes the door only to find Hajime's foot wedged in the entryway.

"You dickhead."

"That's closer," Issei says. "The password was actually 'you fuckwit' but I guess I'll let this one slide."

Tooru wraps him in a tight embrace before he's even finished talking. It nearly knocks him off his feet. Hajime's grip is similarly strong. Issei should really work out more.

"There's my girl!" Hajime cheers when their cat, Goku, comes to investigate the noise. "Wow, she got big."

She had been much younger the last time they'd visited. Issei still thinks back fondly on the early days before she'd grown and figured out how to get into their bedroom at night.

Hajime crouches on the ground and she runs into his outstretched arms, lovingly accepting his scratches behind the ear. She hasn't forgotten him.

"Dammed beast," Tooru said, crouching next to Hajime.

"Wait until she goes super saiyan," Hiro says. At this exact moment, she lunges at Tooru's hand and bites until he yells. Hiro rewards her by lifting her into his arms.

"Good job, Goku-tan," he coos in an exaggerated voice. "Just like we taught you."

Tooru rolls his eyes and tends to his wounded hand. "That is an animal, not a human child."

Normally, Issei would have something to say about this (something along the lines of She's more human than the two of you put together) but Hiro cuts him off.

"Um—! What the hell is that?"

Issei looks where he's pointing. There on Tooru's finger is a new gold ring. On Hajime's finger, a matching band.

"How come you didn't get any for us?" Issei wants to know.

"You'll have to get your own, I'm afraid!" Tooru flaunts the ring as he talks. "These are exclusive."

"Sorry we didn't say anything sooner." Hajime suddenly looks sheepish. "We weren't really planning it or anything... It just felt like the right time, and we were already coming here to see you..."

Issei turns to Hiro with a thousand ideas already forming. If there's a ceremony, what's the weirdest thing they can wear, how do they convince Tooru to let them give a speech, which childhood story is the most embarrassing. The pinched look on Hiro’s face gives him pause.

Hajime notices as well. “What’s wrong?”

“This is good news, Makki!”

“I know it’s good news! Shut up!” Hiro barked. “I’m just… I’m glad you’re here, okay? Now shut up about it.”

Tooru’s eyes widen before he bursts out laughing. “Oh, Makki! It’s good to see you, too!

He crowds him in another hug. Hajime joins them. Who is Issei to resist? Everyone else is doing it.

“This is a cruel and unusual punishment,” comes Hiro’s voice from somewhere in the middle.

“Oh, stop,” says Tooru. “You know you love us.”

He doesn’t answer, but Issei smiles. He does. They do.