Author's Notes

This story pairs Atsushi Murasakibara (purple hair in the pic above) and Tatsuya Himuro. It's a breezy "friends become lovers" plot that I'm going with this summer, like my "Haikyuu!" fic in the last post. It's also a character exploration with Himuro and Murasakibara. This takes place after the last season (post-Winter Cup), so if you haven't seen the whole series, be aware that there are MAJOR SPOILERS!


With the end of the Winter Cup, the high school basketball players who had played to represent their prefectures returned to normal life. Adrenaline and ambition both receded into hibernation for the season, especially in the snow-chilled prefect of Akita.

Tatsuya Himuro woke up and stretched lazily. He had never gotten used to the low Japanese beds since leaving America, so he had a western-styled one that rose up from the floor. He climbed out of it and crossed the room to peer out the window. They had only been back from the trip to compete for the Winter Cup for two days, but already a heavy snowfall had blanketed Akita in white. Tatsuya sighed, thinking, I miss California more than ever today.

Nonetheless, the youth went about his daily routine. Though Yōsen High had lost the Winter Cup, he was in good spirits. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he had finally reconciled with his old friend from America, Taiga Kagami. Perhaps it was impossible not to be inspired by what Seirin High School had miraculously accomplished to win the Winter Cup. Whatever it was, Tatsuya felt ready to face the world and the rest of his basketball-playing years head on.

Tatsuya's spirit was dampened when he showed up to practice after school, however. The rest of the team was as quietly determined and inspired as he was, but there was one glaring absence. A six-foot-ten absence, to be precise.

Don't tell me he's still sulking? Tatsuya wondered with a frown. He wanted to practice desperately, but he skipped it. If he did not deal with this problem now, he knew he might not get a chance to later. What a pain that guy can be.

Tatsuya went to a local grocery before heading to the suburbs. He bought a bag of things, and was asked by the cashier whether he was planning a party. A little embarrassed, he only said the things were for some kids he knew. On the snowy street, he read the receipt as he walked. Hell of an expensive friend, he noted.

Out in the suburbs, Tatsuya found a fairly large house he had visited a few times before. He knocked on the door. There was no answer. He glanced at the driveway and saw that none of the cars or bicycles belonging to the large family were there. The others were busy with work or afternoon activities, but he knew his friend would be there lazing about. He knocked again, loudly and insistently this time. He heard the heavy footsteps a full half a minute before the door was flung open.

"Oh, it's you," his missing teammate muttered. "Muro-chin. What do you want?"

Tatsuya Himuro was a tall man, standing six feet, but he had to lean his head back to meet his teammate's violet eyes. Atsushi Murasakibara towered over him, face obscured and shadowed by his long, lank lavender-colored hair. He normally had a dull, bored look on his face, but today Tatsuya thought he saw a hint of guarded wariness there. On one cheek, there was the lightest trace of a fading bruise. Tatsuya felt a twinge of guilt when he saw it, and lifted the shopping bag.

"I brought you some snacks," he said affably. Murasakibara instantly reached for the bag, but he whisked it behind his back. "Can I come in?"

"Hm. All right," Murasakibara said in his somewhat drawling way. Though bright when it came to basketball, he was childishly simple the rest of the time. "If you want to."

Tatsuya handed him the bag as he stepped past him into the house. The Murasakibara household was dark and quiet. It was mildly cluttered with the possessions of a seven-person family, but neat-until they reached Atsushi's room. Tatsuya snorted in amusement. He always felt like he was stepping into a tornado-hit wreck when he came in here. There were a few small UFO catcher prizes, some posters on the wall (most hung up a little crooked and over-taped), and many bags and boxes of snacks randomly sitting on the bed, shelves, and the hardly-used computer desk. Empty wrappers filled the trash can, and there were some on the bedside table. Other than the largeness of the bed and furniture, the room looked like it belonged to a child. The huge platform bed was made of thick lumber, crafted to last, and had a lot of pillows stacked on it. As Murasakibara sat down on it among a few childhood plushes, Tatsuya was reminded of the surreal fact that the giant actually was still technically a boy at sixteen; in fact, Tatsuya was the elder of them at seventeen. Murasakibara pawed through the shopping bag and began laying out the snacks on the bed to examine them. Sometimes he does look like a kid, Tatsuya thought. Just ... a freakishly overgrown one. Even by American standards, he's huge.

"You weren't at practice today," Tatsuya said. He knelt down beside the low bed. "Why did you skip?"

"I told you, basketball isn't fun anymore, and I'm gonna quit," Murasakibara said sullenly. He tore open a bag of chips and shoved several into his mouth, crunching. "I don't want to lose like last time. It feels bad."

"I know, I felt bad, too, but-"

"I'm not gonna play anymore," Murasakibara said mulishly. "It's just a stupid game."

"You don't really feel that way," Tatsuya said. "I know you don't. If you did, you wouldn't have finished the Winter Cup match."

"I just did that because I didn't want to lose," Murasakibara pointed out. "And we lost. And it sucked. I don't want to lose again."

"Then, you have to keep playing," Tatsuya said slyly.


"Quitting because you lost is the biggest failure of all," Tatsuya reasoned. He got up and sat on the bed next to Murasakibara. "It would be like letting Kuroko win against you twice."

Murasakibara actually stopped chewing for a moment. He then licked his lips and swallowed. He narrowed his eyes at Tatsuya. The room was very quiet. Outside, Tatsuya noticed snow beginning to fall again.

"That's an annoying thing to say, Muro-chin," Murasakibara finally said. He put a chip in his mouth slowly. "I'm not going to get stupidly fired up the way you do. But ... I guess I could go to practice. Sometimes."

"Well, that's a start," Tatsuya said. He thought a moment, then shook his head. "What am I saying? Okamura said that I'm going to be Captain once he graduates. I really have to be stricter with you."

"Don't get excited, it's annoying," Murasakibara said. There was a glint in his eyes. "I could crush you, too, you know."

He said 'could', Tatsuya thought. He usually says he 'will' crush people.

"You wouldn't crush a friend."

"Are we?" Murasakibara asked very quietly.


"Are we still friends, Muro-chin?"

"Uh, of course we are," Tatsuya said, surprised. "Why would you think-"

Tatsuya saw Murasakibara touch his cheek briefly, and understood.

"I can't apologize for punching you, because I'm not sorry," Tatsuya said carefully. He saw Murasakibara frown and his mouth turn downward glumly, and reached out to touch the side of his bruised face. "But, I am sorry that I had to hurt you, Atsushi."

Murasakibara didn't fully understand what Tatsuya was trying to say, but he could tell the other youth felt a little bad. He looked down at his friend, at his unnecessarily handsome face, and was very aware of the warm palm on his face. Blushing slightly, Murasakibara shrugged and resumed eating his chips. Tatsuya withdrew his hand.

"Whatever," Murasakibara drawled. "I hardly felt it, anyway. Your hands are too small."

"They're not small! Anyone's would be compared to yours!"

Murasakibara smiled a little. He had finished the chips, so he opened a box of Pocky. He stuck one in his mouth, letting the coating melt onto his tongue. Tatsuya had taken off his coat by now, and he was fetching his homework from his schoolbag. Murasakibara was glad that Tatsuya had decided to stay over a while, he had been pretty bored after coming home before practice.

"You should do your homework, too," Tatsuya said, opening a book. He settled back down on the bed beside Murasakibara, getting comfortable.

"I don't want to," Murasakibara said in his juvenile way. "It's boring."

"Atsushi." Tatsuya took a candy he had saved in his pocket and waved it in front of Murasakibara. "Eh?"

Murasakibara snatched the candy. " ... Fine."

Tatsuya finished his homework first. Murasakibara struggled, so he helped him. He had been over several times before, and always seemed to end up tutoring Atsushi. Murasakibara had once said that he didn't care about his grades, but he liked the praise the teachers gave him when he had Tatsuya's help. Murasakibara had a bad habit of denouncing almost everything as 'boring', 'unfair', and most strongly, 'stupid', yet the youth's hunger for approval drove him to make an effort. It was a rather complex personality paradox for such a simple man, Tatsuya thought.

"Ahhh, this is stupid," Murasakibara complained churlishly. He put the last Pocky stick in his mouth. "Even basketball is better than this."

"Hey, Atsushi," Tatsuya said. He reached over to take one of the boxes of candy, but Murasakibara pushed him back. It was a light shove, but Tatsuya almost fell back. Annoyed, he forgot what he was going to say, opting instead for, "You can be a selfish brat, you know that?"

Murasakibara only shrugged the remark off.

"How did you get into basketball, anyway?" Tatsuya asked, remembering his original question. "You keep saying it's stupid and unfair, so why did you start playing it in the first place?"

"Well ... when I was a real little kid, there were a lot of games that I couldn't play," Murasakibara said. He crunched the Pocky stick and opened a box of cookies with chocolate dip. "I was too big. I kept hurting the other kids, and they wouldn't let me play with them anymore. But then when I was a little older, they started asking me to play street basketball. Even though sometimes I was dangerous, other kids kept asking me to be on their teams. Even high school kids started to ask me, when I was in the last year of elementary school. All games are stupid and unfair, but basketball is fair for tall people, not against them like all the other games. So I played it."

"You can't expect life to be fair, Atsushi," Tatsuya told him gently. It was a saying he used so often that it had become a personal motto.

"I know, and it's stupid."

"Sometimes it is stupid, but not always," Tatsuya said. "We've had some good moments playing basketball. You're really telling me you haven't enjoyed it at all?"

"No. I only like winning," Murasakibara insisted.

"Being your captain is going to be a real hassle, isn't it?" sighed Tatsuya. Referring to the bamboo training sword she often struck her players with during training, Tatsuya added, "Maybe I'll borrow Coach Araki's shinai. Again."

He was only half-joking, and they both knew it. Murasakibara frowned angrily at him.

"I could always crush even you," Murasakibara said through a mouthful of cookie. He reached out and put one large hand atop Tatsuya's head, partly affectionate and partly menacing. "Just don't hit my face again, Muro-chin."

"I don't plan to, Atsushi," Tatsuya assured him. He was surprised Murasakibara was still so upset over the punch; it had been good for him at the time. He lifted the heavy hand off his head and gripped it. "I won't. Okay?"


Murasakibara looked pleased. He squeezed Tatsuya's hand back, and then returned to eating and doing homework. Tatsuya reached up to pat his head, and then stood.

"Since you're almost done, do you mind if I turn on the TV?" Tatsuya asked. "Since we missed practice, it's still pretty early."

"Sure. But don't put on any of those American shows you like," Murasakibara said. "The English confuses me and I hate reading subtitles."

Tatsuya sighed, but resigned himself to putting on local shows. Murasakibara was not easily satisfied, however. He did not want to watch a drama show, and he did not like the anime on at that hour. They debated over channels until they settled on a cooking show.

"Food is the only thing you never call 'stupid'," Tatsuya observed. He had been gifted with one of the bags of chips he himself had bought Murasakibara and sat crunching beside the other boy. "Maybe that's your real passion."

"Mm hm," Murasakibara agreed. "I want to be a pastry chef."

Tatsuya nodded. He had seen Murasakibara bake a cake once. He had expected the man to be clumsy and make a mess of the kitchen, but he was amazingly competent. The only thing he had not been able to do was add decorations with the small tubes of frosting, so Tatsuya had helped him with that. Tatsuya wished that he could get Murasakibara to put that kind of care into his basketball playing-without punching him to do it, of course.

"If you got to go pro at basketball, you could make a lot of money," Tatsuya said. "You could even open your own restaurant one day."

Murasakibara's violet eyes widened at the thought. Then, he gave Tatsuya a reproachful look.

"I'm still not going to get passionate about basketball, Muro-chin," he said knowingly. "It wastes too much energy."

"It was worth a try," Tatsuya said. "What will it take to get you to admit that you do like playing basketball, Atsushi?"

"Stop-" Murasakibara dipped a cookie in chocolate frosting and shoved it into Tatsuya's mouth. "-talking about it, Muro-chin."

"All righ', all righ'," Tatsuya said, struggling to chew the unexpected cookie. He stood up, brushing crumbs off his pants. "I'm going to get some juice."


At the doorway, Tatsuya glanced back at his friend. Atsushi had the largest bedroom in the house, due to his size, so he was able to sprawl out in front of the TV comfortably. With his long legs spread out before him straightly, studiously eating cookies and watching the cooking show, he really did resemble a gigantic kid. Tatsuya shook his head with a smile, heading for the kitchen.

When Tatsuya returned to Atsushi's room, one of the cans of cold juice slipped from his hand. It rolled behind a bookcase. He swore, handing Murasakibara the first can. Murasakibara didn't even notice as Tatsuya reached behind the bookcase to retrieve his own can, his eyes were fixed on the cooking show, which was focusing on dessert pastries now.

Tatsuya pulled out the can, and also a book his hand had closed on. He brought both back with him, sat down next to Murasakibara, and opened his juice. After a moment, he idly looked at the book he had rescued from behind the bookcase. It was a manga, he realized, and on the cover-

"Where did you get that?!" Atsushi suddenly burst out. He grabbed the manga out of Tatsuya's hands, pushing him as he did. Tatsuya was knocked flat on his back by the force. "That's mine!"

"Ow! Hey! Be careful," grumbled Tatsuya, sitting up. He rubbed the back of his head, glaring at the bigger youth. "You've got to be more careful, or you really will end up crushing me."

Murasakibara said nothing. He was staring at the manga in his big hands, and his face was a little red. Tatsuya thought about the cover image he had glimpsed, and then realization dawned on his face. Not knowing what to say, he turned to the TV and sipped his juice.

"Hey, Atsushi."

Murasakibara looked anxious. "What?"

"Why do you add '-chin' to people's names?" Tatsuya asked. It was not the question on his mind, really, but he wanted to ease the tension. "You shortened my last name, Himuro, to 'Muro' and added '-chin'. Kuroko is 'Kuro-chin', Akashi is 'Aka-chin', and all the others."

"Oh. That." Murasakibara's face relaxed in relief. "I'm not good at remembering names. So when I was really little, my parents taught me that trick. Whenever I want to remember someone, I make their name simpler, so I can learn it."

Tatsuya nodded thoughtfully. The conversation lagged back into silence. Murasakibara soon claimed an anime he liked was on, and changed the channel. Naturally, it involved food and cooking. They watched together for some minutes. Tatsuya noticed he had the manga still clutched in one hand, as the other scooped a fresh chips into his mouth.

Tatsuya pretended to watch the anime, but he was really trying to figure out the best way to approach the subject of the manga. It was strange to find any sort of book in Atsushi's room, as he preferred visual media over anything else. It was even stranger that the manga was quite obviously from the Boy' Love genre.

Well, he never has expressed interest in girls, come to think about it, Tatsuya considered. But he's never expressed interest in guys, either. He's sixteen, and mentally he's even younger than that. I just assumed he didn't think about things like that. Was I wrong?

"It's not mine," Murasakibara said suddenly.


"This." Murasakibara held up the manga. He leaned back on his elbows. "Some girl dropped it at school. I was going to give it back to her."

"But you lost is behind the bookcase?"

"Ah ... Yeah."

"You know, it's okay if-"

"It's not mine!"

"Okay, okay!" Tatsuya tried to let it go, but couldn't. He moved to kneel in front of Murasakibara, blocking his view of the TV. "Look, Atsushi, I was in America for a long time."

"I know, I know," Murasakibara groaned. "You're always talking about it."

"I have a point this time," Tatsuya said. I don't really mention it that often, do I? he wondered. "My point is, people weren't so embarrassed about sex over there, not where I lived, anyway. I saw boys kissing on the street, guys wearing women's clothes sometimes, even. So, I'm pretty open-minded."

Murasakibara eyed him suspiciously. As usual when he was thinking over something important or difficult, he frowned deeply. He looked down at the book, face uncharacteristically soft for a moment.

"It was the picture on the cover," he finally said quietly. He handed the book over to Tatsuya. "It reminded me of something."


"Nothing." Murasakibara shrugged. "It's stupid."

"Tell me."

"No, it's dumb."

"Just tell me."

"You'll laugh."

"I promise I won't."

Murasakibara heaved a deep sigh. He lumbered to his feet and turned the TV off. His show was over anyway. Tatsuya was flipping through the manga, and he did not look disturbed or embarrassed about it. Murasakibara sat down next to him and resumed eating his chips.

"When I was a little kid, I wanted to be smaller," Murasakibara confessed. "Most kids grow up fastest when they're in junior high school, but I was always very big. Too big. I hurt other kids in games, so even if I won, no one wanted me to play with them. One time, I was playing tag, but I tagged one boy too hard. He fell and broke his ankle. It was the weekend so our parents were there. His father came and picked him up in his arms, like that boy on the manga cover. I thought the kid was stupid for crying so much. He was lucky to still be small enough for his father to pick him up and protect him. I was already too big for that."

Tatsuya was surprised by the depth of the youth's pain. It was easy to only see strength when one looked at Murasakibara; rather, it was difficult to see anything else. The young man did not only have his unnatural height, he was all lean, powerful muscle, despite his eating habits. The childish tendency towards wanton cruelty became menacing in a man of his appearance, and his temper tantrums were frightening. Murasakibara was no gentle giant, so most people were too scared to want to get to know him. Normally, people avoided him at all costs, and no one dared confront him over anything. The only exceptions were Coach Araki, who whacked him occasionally with the shinai she carried to training, and Tatsuya himself.

He would never hit Coach Araki back, because she's a woman, Tatsuya thought. He could have hit me back for that punch, though. I'm a good fighter, but I wouldn't stand a chance against him. He didn't even try to fight me back, though. He respected what I said, he even acted on what I told him. Because he's always been so powerful, people stopped treating him like a child too early. He wanted to be picked up and protected by his father, something all little kids take for granted, but he had already physically outgrown such an act. It must have been lonely. Poor kid.

"A girl really did drop that manga and didn't notice," Murasakibara went on defensively. "I was going to give it back to her. But that picture on the cover reminded me of that day. At first, I hated it, because it reminded me how unfair it is that I had to turn out so big. But then I liked the pictures. They let me imagine what it must be like to be small enough to be protected by someone else. So I just kept it."

Tatsuya decided it would be best if he didn't point out the fact that the manga was stolen, albeit passively. He looked at Murasakibara and was amused to see that the youth was blushing vividly. He frowned sullenly and stuffed his mouth full of chips, most likely in an effort to shut himself up. Atsushi has a real chip on his shoulder when it comes to talking about his feelings, Tatsuya observed. It's probably because no one ever expects someone so big to be sensitive, and when they are, they're usually mocked. So he just stopped letting himself get sad or sentimental.

"I told you it was stupid," Murasakibara muttered self-consciously. He took the manga back and hurled it across the room. It landed back behind the bookcase. "That's why it was there."

"It's not so stupid," Tatsuya told him.

"You should probably leave now," Murasakibara said in his blunt way.

Tatsuya stood, fetching his schoolbag and packing his things in it. Before he got his coat and headed out, he stopped. Murasakibara had the TV on again, but he still looked distracted and troubled. Tatsuya came up behind him and put his arms around the youth's neck. Murasakibara's eyes widened and he scowled.

"What are you doing?" he complained. "Get off me."

Tatsuya leaned over him from behind, tightening his arms around his neck. Murasakibara put a hand on one of his arms, but he did not move to throw him off. Tatsuya's cheek brushed his shaggy lavender hair, and he was close enough to smell the sugar and salt on Murasakibara's lips.

"I might be ten inches shorter, but I'll still protect you if I need to," Tatsuya told his friend. He brushed Atsushi's hair out of his face to get a better look at him. The youth had actually stopped eating for once, and his eyes were stunned. "Just don't expect me to carry you princess-style like that manga, okay?"

Murasakibara laughed a little. He turned his face, and a hand scrubbed across his eyes.

"Now you're being all mushy," he said, voice thick. "You're really the most annoying person in the world, Muro-chin."

Tatsuya decided to annoy him further and pressed his lips to the youth's cheek. Murasakibara squinted one eye, but did not protest. The kiss landed over the faint bruise Tatsuya had given him some days ago. Tatsuya let the kiss linger, then rested his forehead against Murasakibara's. Finally, he ruffled his hair, and stood again. He was about to go, but then his sleeve was tugged hard enough to make him step back.

"Maybe you shouldn't leave yet," Murasakibara said. He blushed, the sullen look returned, and he looked away from Tatsuya-but did not relinquish his sleeve. "I mean, one of those American shows you like so much is going to be on soon, right? If you walk home now, you'll miss some of it."

"Atsushi … "

Murasakibara refused to look at him again. Tatsuya smiled and sat down next to him again. He took his schoolbag off his shoulder and put it aside, turning the TV on with the remote. Murasakibara still wouldn't meet his eyes, but he had a very small smile on his face.

They watched the American drama show for a while. Murasakibara eventually gave up on it, his eyes tired from the subtitles and his ears irritated by the unintelligible foreign language. He grabbed some floor cushions and used them for pillows, lying on his back. Muro-chin lay at an angle, to see the TV, his head rested on Murasakibara's chest. He was uninhibited about physical closeness, even with other guys, a habit which Murasakibara assumed he had picked up in America. Murasakibara knew he should be embarrassed to be this close, especially after Muro-chin had found that stupid manga, but he wasn't. In fact, he liked having Muro-chin touching him.

A long arm draped over Tatsuya. He smiled, reaching back without looking and ruffling Murasakibara's hair. He could tell that Murasakibara was lonely, although he knew the youth would never admit it out loud. When Tatsuya had gotten to Yōsen High and met Murasakibara on the basketball team, the first thing he had noticed was how alone the kid was. Boys were either intimidated by him or jealous of his natural athletic gifts; girls thought he was too slow, too big, and too strange to be a boyfriend. It had been difficult to break through Murasakibara's taciturn attitude, but a few snacks had done the trick. Tatsuya had always had the feeling Murasakibara was more guarded than reluctant about making friends. Given the way people acted around him, Tatsuya couldn't really blame him.

Tatsuya himself was selective about what guys he befriended, but was exceptionally popular with girls. He knew that he was very handsome, as well as being athletically talented, relatively smart in school, and worldly due to his childhood in America. He had many, many numbers on his phone, and he sometimes went out with this or that girl, but he had not gotten attached to anyone yet. He was young and most of his attention was focused on basketball, so he was only interested in easygoing good times. Lying against Murasakibara so comfortably, he mused that there was no reason some of those times should not be with his teammate.

By the time the show finished, Murasakibara's family had (mostly) returned home. They called to him that dinner would be in an hour. Without even asking Tatsuya if he wanted to stay, Murasakibara called back that he would be joining them for the meal. Tatsuya got up to call his parents and tell them where he was. As he hung up, he caught that awkward little smile on Murasakibara's face again.

Tatsuya rubbed Murasakibara's arm affectionately. Murasakibara looked down at him curiously. Tentatively, he touched the side of Tatsuya's face. When he was not rebuked, he leaned down, and clumsily kissed Tatsuya.

"You don't mind, do you, Muro-chin?" he asked, still bent over to keep their faces level. "You kissed me first."

"I did."

Murasakibara smiled and Tatsuya gave him a brief kiss on the lips. He rustled a hand through his hair, and then settled down next to his bed on the floor. Murasakibara put a stick of rainbow-striped hard candy in his mouth and collapsed on his bed. Though it wasn't late night yet, he looked sleepy. Tatsuya never understood how anyone could sleep as a hobby, or would want to, but Murasakibara was serious about his naps. Tatsuya got onto the bed to go over his homework, lying against Murasakibara, while the other dozed before dinner.

Tatsuya noticed Atsushi had fallen asleep with the candy stick in his mouth. He chuckled to himself, taking it from the youth's mouth and putting it in his own. Murasakibara reached out for it instinctively in sleep, but ultimately yawned widely, turned onto his side, and resumed sleeping. Tatsuya put his books aside and stretched out on the bed. He put his arm around the larger teen, and lay close to him. Apparently Murasakibara was unused to sleeping next to anyone, because he stirred and woke.

"Humm? Muro-chin?" he murmured sleepily. "What are you doing?"

"Well, you said you always wanted someone to hold you," Tatsuya said.

"S-stop saying such stupid-stupid … "

Murasakibara's voice caught and he turned his face into the pillow. Tatsuya turned his face back forcefully to look at him. Atsushi looked humiliated, his face streaked with tears. Tatsuya held his face in both hands to keep him from looking away again. He wanted to ask Atsushi who had made him so afraid of strong emotions, and he wanted to tell him it was all okay. Instead, he gripped his face tightly, and kissed him. This time, he kissed his mouth fully. Murasakibara sniffed, and kissed him back heartily. By the time Tatsuya pulled back, he had stopped crying.

"No one's ever ... wanted to kiss me before," Atsushi murmured. "Muro-chin, why would you want to? So many girls like you. If you like guys, probably a lot of cute guys would like you, too. So, why?"

"Why not?" Tatsuya said in his typical carefree way. He took a pack of Pocky from the nightstand, opened it, and fed one to his friend. He popped another into his own mouth. "I'm not serious about any girl yet, and I like you. This is nice, isn't it? We can have some fun if we get the chance, right?"

"Well ... Okay, I guess, if you want to," Murasakibara said, obviously trying not to smile. He dried his eyes on his sleeve, as Tatsuya kissed his face. "Just don't make a big deal out of it. It's too much of a pain to be in love or anything like that."

"All right, all right, I won't make a big deal out of it," laughed Tatsuya. He gave the other boy another Pocky stick. "Here. I promise I won't be a pain."

"Hmm. I hope not, Muro-chin. When you're not being stupidly passionate, you're okay," Murasakibara informed him. He paused, chewing thoughtfully. "I like you. Kind of."

"I like you, too, Atsushi," Tatsuya said. He roughly tousled the youth's hair. "Kind of."

Murasakibara grinned, and rolled onto his side again. Tatsuya settled down beside him. All too soon, they were called to dinner. Just before they left the room, however, Murasakibara shocked Tatsuya by embracing him.

"I do like you," he repeated. "A-a lot, Muro-chin."

"I like you a lot, too, Atsushi," Tatsuya said softly. "Ha ha, and I ... I love breathing a lot, too."

"Sorry." Murasakibara released him with a sheepish smile. He put a hand atop Tatsuya's head a moment, then opened the door to the room. "Let's go already. I'm starving."

"You've been eating this whole time!" Tatsuya exclaimed. "Do you ever stop eating?"

"Snacking isn't eating. It's different."

Tatsuya shook his head at the flawed logic, but laughed it off. They joined the rest of the Murasakibara household for dinner. The rest of the evening passed into a normal winter night, as outside the snow continued to fall.