Meta (Or, Build God, Then We’ll Talk)

by Chikamichi Tano (近路 楽)
illustrated by halcyonjazz

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/46355.html)

Itami has never been one to believe in something without some sort of proof, of evidence that he can see, feel, touch. He’s been that way as long as he can remember – he lives for truth and for verifiable fact. He loves science and math for the solid facts they provide but is basically indifferent to anything having to do with religion and its wishy-washy attitudes.

So it’s kind of a surprise that he and Maya have been friends as long as they have. Maya loves the unknown; she’s obsessed with it, really. Ouija boards, crystal balls, supernatural manga, books on various kami, Shinto chants and prayers– she has it all, and she swings between obsessions like a cracked-out pendulum. And Maya loves showing off what she’s learned. Usually Itami nods when it’s appropriate and lets her have her fun, no harm done. It’s probably why they get along so well; he may have somewhat of a volatile temper with most people, but with Maya it never seems to flare. He just goes along with it.

She tackles him– literally– with her new obsession after the last bell one warm day towards the end of June. “Tarot cards!” She grins, brandishing them at him like a weapon.

“Sure,” he shrugs, like always.

But this time is the one that really gets him into trouble.

*
When Itami arrives at his apartment later that night there’s something. . . off about it. He can’t really put his finger on what it is, but somehow things seem cleaner without actually being any cleaner. He finds he can move around easier, without tripping over something every few steps. It’s like someone broke into his apartment and reorganized.

It’s damn creepy, is what it is.

Itami mentions it to Maya the next day at lunch. “I think someone broke into my apartment last night,” he says, picking at his bread. He feels he should bring it up, because on the subway that morning he had felt someone watching him the entire way, though no one had stood out when he’d glared suspiciously around.

Maya grins at him. “Really? That’s so cool!”

Itami chokes.

“I bet it was him.” His best friend tells him, conspiratorially. She doesn’t need to mention who ‘he’ is.

“So you’re saying the–” he pauses briefly, “person those cards told you I’m destined to be with is stalking me?” Itami feels like yelling, he’s felt like yelling since Maya’s reading the night before had apparently mentioned he was connected by a red-thread to another guy.

Maya raises an eyebrow at him. “The cards did say he was close to you.”

Itami grunts. He’s not really hungry. “Yeah, well, I’d prefer him not to be that close, thank you very much. In fact, I’d prefer it if he were as far away as humanly possible.”

“Perhaps you should pray to the gods to change your destiny.” She says, sounding mysterious. Itami knows her well enough to tell she’s playing the tone up, no matter how natural it may sound. He also knows she absolutely believes in what she’s saying, which is more than he can say about himself.

*
The stalking continues. At the supermarket, Itami catches glimpses of a figure out of the corner of his eye, but no one’s ever there when he turns to look. Several times he feels like someone’s leaning over his shoulder, or breathing down the back of his neck. On the subway he always feels like someone is watching him intently.

The last straw comes the night he’s studying for a History exam. The sample essay he’s trying to write is going nowhere, resulting in several balled up pieces of paper littering his floor. He finally heaves a sigh and gives up for the moment, heading to the kitchen for some cookies and a soda.

He’s balancing an open soda and a huge plate of cookies when he walks back through the room, and out of the corner of his eye he spots the remnants of one of his failed essays, right underfoot and ready to trip him. Itami swerves and saves himself a painful fall, but when he looks back, ready to kick the paper ball out of the middle of his floor, it’s not there any more. It’s like someone moved it for him.

He decides it’s time for drastic measures.

*
Itami skips last period the next day and takes Maya’s advice. That is, he visits the nearest shrine. He figures it can’t hurt; the only thing it will do is make him feel stupid, and he can live with that. Besides, he has to admit there may be something to it; Maya’s tarot reading certainly did something, though the outcome wasn’t exactly desirable.

The shrine grounds are mostly deserted; there are only a few foreign tourists around. Itami planned it that way, because he certainly did not want to be seen by anyone he knew from school.

He stands in the front of the tree for a moment, and thinks of making a wish. Instead, he turns to the shaden house and the large bell it holds, thinking if he’s going to do this he might as well go all the way. Standing there in the middle of the shrine, though, the absurdity of his situation creeps up on him– praying to the gods to get rid of a stalker. He thinks maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

It is at this moment that he hears a group of giggly schoolgirls coming up the steps to the shrine, and knows it’s now or never. Their heads may be full of mush and they probably don’t know him anyway, but it’s a matter of pride.

He rings the bell, claps his hands together, says a quickly whispered “help me,” and makes a run for it.

*
A loud crash wakes Itami from the restless sleep he’s finally fallen into. He flails awake from troubled dreams where he’s constantly being pursued, and stares blearily into the darkness of his apartment.

There’s someone in his room. Somehow, Itami knows that his stalker for the last week has finally decided to show himself.

A shaggy head pops up at the foot of the bed, looking around hesitantly, as if the owner has just been slapped over the head with a large, freshly caught salmon and wasn’t expecting it. “Ow,” says the someone. “What the hell–”

Itami somehow finds enough sense through his shock to pick up the nearest large object, which happens to be a phonebook manga, and throw it at the intruder’s head. The intruder goes down with a loud thud and an indignant squawk.

Itami is out of bed the next second, another manga held at the ready. The guy looks up at him as he approaches, looking dumbfounded and not a little scared. Which is stupid because it’s Itami who should be scared of this person who has broken into his apartment.

“Wait! Kei!”

How the hell does this guy know his name? “Who the hell are you?” He shouts, throwing the second book, and stares as the guy flinches and the manga passes right through him. “What the hell are you?”

The guy– really, he looks the same age as Itami is– looks up at him with puppy-dog eyes, cradling his head in his hands. “Kei?” He asks. “What did you do?”

“Who are you?” Itami demands again, glancing nervously around for something else to throw.

The guys stands up, causing Itami to back away quickly, casting about for something large and heavy. Itami stares–up, damnit, the guy’s taller than him– as the intruder holds up his hands in the universal gesture for “hold on.”

“Hey, hey,” he says, trying not to make any sudden moves. “Kei–”

“Stop calling me that!”

“Ok, fine.” The guy winces, then bows his head and makes an attempt at a polite smile. “I’m a guardian spirit.”

Itami freezes, trying and failing not to stare. “You’re a what?” The guy’s crazy. A crazy stalker. He’s being stalked by a crazy stalker.

“I’m a spirit,” he repeats adamantly, and reaches out. Itami flinches, but the guy’s hand goes right through his shoulder, like the manga earlier. “See?”

illustrated by halcyonjazz

Itami shudders at the strangely pleasant tingling sensation that radiates in his shoulder from where the guy’s hand touches. When he pulls his hand back Itami recoils like he’s been slapped. He sits down hard and the end of his bed and stares at the guy– the spirit– in his house. He looks like a J-rocker, with razor-cut, blond-streaked hair, leather boots and pants, a silver necklace, and a number of bracelets on each arm.

Great. He’s being stalked by a crazy stalker Hyde-wannabe spirit. “Why are you here?” Itami asks, rubbing a hand across his face tiredly. He can’t believe he actually believes the guy, but what else can he do? The spirit made himself incorporeal, for god’s sake. There’s not much than can explain that.

“I told you,” the guy says. “I’m Ryan. I’m a guardian spirit. To be precise, your guardian spirit.” He grins. “Nice to finally meetcha.”

“You don’t look like a guardian anything to me,” Itami says, giving Ryan’s appearance a dubious once-over.

Ryan looks down at himself, then gives Itami a curious look. “I look like a pop star.”

Exactly, Itami thinks but manages not to say. “You know what?” He says instead. “I can’t deal with this right now. You.” He points at Ryan. “Out. I’m getting some sleep.”

“Aww,” says Ryan. “Where am I supposed to go?”

“I don’t care, as long as it’s away from me.” Itami says, pushing him out the bedroom door and then closing it firmly. “Good night.”

“‘Night,” comes the forlorn reply.

*
If he has any hopes for the next morning (like maybe Ryan was some sort of crazy dream created from extreme stress), they’re dashed hopelessly when he opens his eyes and sees the spirit floating over the foot of his bed. Ryan is, curiously, sporting a large bruise on his face.

“Why the hell are you still here?”

“You know you’re just as violent asleep as you are awake?” Is the first thing that comes out of the spirit’s mouth, which makes no sense.

Unless– “Did you try to cuddle with me?” At the thought, his skin tries to shrink inside itself.

Ryan give him a carefree grin, like he didn’t try to cuddle with another guy during the night. “Hey, it gets cold in here at night.”

Itami refuses to admit he literally runs to the bathroom.

When he emerges Ryan is still where he left them, the look on his face like a kicked puppy, determined to gain some affection.

“So are you just going to school today? Because it’s really boring there, and I can’t even talk to you.”

“Why do you need to talk to me? Just go away.” Itami replies, straightening his school uniform in front of the mirror. He swears he sees the spirit visibly droop.

“It gets lonely having no one to talk to,” Ryan replies, flopping onto his back while still floating. “At least the kappa will usually talk to me, but they’re always freaking out about me getting too close. Afraid I’m gonna spill their bowls.” He sighs. “The zashiki-warashi are super-nice, so they’ll talk to me, plus they’re total babes. The karasu-tengu don’t like me so much, though, so I hardly ever get to talk to them. The karasu-tengu have really sharp beaks.” He winces and rubs his head, as if recalling a painful memory. “No one else will even look at me.”

Despite how annoying and not right this situation is, Itami can’t help himself. “Why not?”

Ryan’s quiet for a moment. When Itami glances over in the mirror he sees the spirit is not looking at him. “I’m different,” Ryan finally replies. “I don’t know what I am.”

Itami runs the brush through his hair once more, then sets it down, thinking. “C’mon,” he finally says, with a small sigh. “Let’s go.”

Ryan sits up with a jolt, looking both eager and wary. “What?”

The shorter boy manages a small smile. “I’m going to school. You’re my guardian spirit, aren’t you? So guard me.”

*
With all the commotion, Itami has completely forgotten that the History exam is that day. He glares daggers at the spirit. Being nice to him is already becoming more trouble than it’s worth. On the subway he discovers, to his embarrassment, that no one else can see Ryan. This leads to a hissed conversation that goes something like:

“If you’re making yourself invisible to them, make yourself invisible to me, too!”

“I can’t. Whatever you did at that temple, Kei, it invoked a higher power than me.”

“Stop calling me that! And I don’t believe in higher powers.”

“You didn’t believe in spirits, either, until you met me.”

To which Itami has no reply, simply because the spirit should not know so much about him, and it’s making him distinctly uncomfortable. So he is not in the best of moods when they reach school and Itami discovers the forgotten History exam is being handed out first thing.

Ryan gives him a pitying look that just makes Itami even more angry, though he can do nothing about it without looking like he is crazy, which already happened on the subway.

“I know you didn’t study.” Ryan whispers, as if he needs to. Itami glares daggers at him, whose fault is that? He turns to his paper and tries to ignore Ryan.

The spirit seems unfazed as he pats Itami on the back and leans in closer, glancing at the exam over Itami’s shoulder. “I could help you, you know. I basically lived all this stuff. ”

“Shut up, damnit!” Itami hisses, as quietly as he can. The teacher looks up sharply.

“Is there a problem, Itami-kun?”

His head hits the desk. “No, Sensei.” It’s going to be a long day.

*
Maya gives Itami curious glances all throughout the first part of the day, so by the time lunch rolls around he’s decided he should tell her, despite the fact it validates many of the things she’s always believed in and he’s always scoffed at. Besides, he’s looking forward to her reaction.

He sits down at their spot on the grass, where she’s already started to eat. “Hey, Maya-chan.” She looks up. “You know how you said there was someone close to me? You were right. His name is Ryan.”

He can tell Ryan’s made himself visible by the fact that Maya’s eyes widen and she drops her chopsticks. “This is him?” She asks, sounding almost breathless, and stands up, clasping Ryan’s hands in her own. “You’re his guardian spirit?”

“Yep!” Ryan replies happily, while Itami chokes on air.

“You knew?” Itami manages after a moment of open-mouthed gaping. Maya turns to him and gives him a very frightening smile.

“The cards told me.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought it would be a nice surprise. Now,” she turns to Ryan, giving him an intense look, “do you love him?”

Ryan blinks at her, glances quickly at Itami. “Uh. . . Sure?”

Itami, oddly enough, feels like fainting.

“Good,” says his traitorous best friend, smiling brightly. “Don’t hurt him.” She turns back to Itami. “He’s good for you.”

Why God why?” Itami wails, and goes to find an empty bathroom stall or something to hang himself in.

*
“I love you,” Ryan, invisible again, tells him next class break, sounding as if the words are a new and unexpectedly pleasant taste in his mouth.

Itami closes his eyes and counts to ten. “That better be a platonic statement.”

The spirit runs slow eyes over him, from head to toe, and finally answers. “No, I don’t think it is.” And then he goddamn leers.

Itami bristles, not caring who’s watching. “Did you just give me a once over? Goddamn it, get the hell away from me!” He stalks off, and tries to make it mean as much to him as his words imply.

*
After the last bell Maya catches up to them as he and Ryan are walking past the school gates.

“May I borrow him for a while?” She asks, looking like the cat who got in the cream. She clasps her hands together in gesture of pleading. “Please please?”

Itami glances and Ryan, who doesn’t look opposed to the idea, and shrugs. “He’s not mine, he can do whatever he wants.”

To which the spirit immediately replies, “Sure!”

“Great,” Maya smiles. “I promise to return him unharmed.”

“Whatever,” Itami replies, but he’s kind of hoping that Ryan will like his best friend better and will decide to be her guardian spirit instead. He’s not sure how likely that is, though, since from what Ryan has told him the spirit has been guarding him for quite a while.

It’s kind of a surprise, then, when Ryan doesn’t come back that night. Itami almost expected him to try to sneak in his bed again.

He’s not there in the morning, either, and Itami gets dressed and goes to school in silence. It’s strange how in one day he’s gotten used to Ryan’s excessive energy. But, if Maya’s charmed him, all for the better, he thinks. He certainly needs a hyperactive gay stalker spirit like he needs a hole in the head.

Maya’s not there when he get to school. He’s not too worried, though; it can take her hours to decide how she’s going to do her hair and accessories, even if she usually just goes with what she always does. He’ll never understand girls.

She swings in just as the bell rings, looking entirely too pleased with herself for the fact that her hair is, as usual, exactly the same curly ponytail it always is. The look on Maya’s face sends shivers up Itami’s spine, and he sits up sharply, giving her a wary look. She gives him a blindingly sunny smile in return, which is not normal.

At that moment, he fears for his life.

“Class,” says Yun-sensei, “We have a new student today. He’s from America.”

Itami looks up just as Ryan is saying, “I’m Ryan Seacrest, nice to meet you,” and gracing the room with a bright smile.

He obviously watches too much television, Itami thinks. As if that’s the only thing that’s wrong with this picture. As if his best friend (traitor) didn’t just conspire to get his crazy stalker gay spirit into his class.

“You can sit over there, in the seat next to Itami-kun,” says Yun-sensei. Ryan grins and takes the seat happily, smiling at Itami. Itami avoids his eyes and wishes for the day to end.

*
At first class break Itami finally looks over only to find that the spirit has been surrounded by a gaggle of girls.

“Seacrest-kun, how is America?” says one.

“How long did you live there?”

“Can I have your cell number?”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“What kind of girl do you like?”

Great, the girls in his class are acting like Ryan’s a rock star already. Itami buries his head in his arms and tries to ignore everything around him.

It’s kind of hard to ignore when Ryan throws an arm around his shoulders, though. “Sorry, girls,” says the spirit, grinning at Itami while something in the shorter boy is yelling run away, run away! “I’m already taken.”

The girls look from Ryan to Itami for a moment, and Itami refuses to look away. He doesn’t know quite what to say, but looking away would prove it in the girls’ minds, so he absolutely cannot do that. So he just sits there, frozen. His face feels hot. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Maya smiling a secretive smile. He thinks he wants to die.

Ryan leans in. “You’re blushing,” he whispers, which of course makes Itami blush harder. He swears he hears the girls collectively squeal.

*
During math Itami looks over and sees something odd. He leans across the walkway between desks, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. “Hey!” He whispers. Ryan looks over, smiling when he sees it’s Itami.

Itami points down. “Try not to be so obvious,” he says, nodding when Ryan looks down and sees that he’s actually floating about a centimeter over his seat.

“Right, OK.” The spirit says, grinning at him. “Thanks.”

Itami shrugs. He wishes he hadn’t said anything, though, when Ryan whines at him after last bell has rung.

“Kei, why’d you make me do that?” Ryan demands, looking put out. “Now my ass is sore!”

*
Ryan follows him home that night. “I assume Maya-chan’s done with you?” Itami asks dryly, tossing his book bag on the couch.

The spirit grins at him nervously. “I guess.” He says. “Are you mad, Kei?”

Itami sighs. “Not really. I said you could do what you want.”

“Good,” says Ryan, shrugging out of his uniform blazer. “Want help with your homework?”

Itami considers for a moment. He really shouldn’t act like this whole situation is all right, but he’s had a headache all day, and the thought of puzzling out complicated math problems and detailed history essays is making the pain worse. “Maybe later.” He says, heading towards the bathroom. “You want to go grab something to eat?”

A slow smile builds on Ryan’s face. “Sure.”

*
That night Itami again locks the spirit out of his room, though it’s more because it makes him feel better than because it works, because it obviously doesn’t. After the previous night and that day, Itami dreads what the night will bring.

His dreams are filled with dark eyes, blond hair, and firm hands. He dreams that Ryan’s kissing him, tenderly, lips moving softly over his without pushing deeper. There’s the scent of leather and the rough slide of bleached hair over his cheek. Ryan trails a light hand down his arm, then clasps his wrist and leans back.

“Now my ass is sore.” Ryan says, irritated tone of voice at odds with the tender expression on his face, and Itami wakes up. He’s inexplicably hard, and there’s a solid weight at his back.

He does not shriek like a little girl, despite what Ryan informs him later.

*
“You’re staying here,” Itami tells Ryan the next morning, glaring at him as fiercely as he can manage. The spirit looks like a kicked puppy, but Itami’s sticking to his guns, no matter what excuses Ryan might come up with about needing rest because he’s staying solid for most of the day.

“You want rest? You can stay here and sleep in my bed when I’m not in it.” Itami says, and that’s that.

The fan girls Ryan had collected in the single day he’s been enrolled in school are severely disappointed, but Itami manages to fend off most of their questions by just ignoring them until they shut up.

Maya isn’t so easy to deal with. At lunch she gives him a knowing look. “Where’s Ryan?”

“At home,” he says shortly, then winces. It sounds so. . . domestic. “He is entirely out of his mind if he thinks I’m going to put up with his antics.”

Maya raises her eyebrows. “You like him, otherwise you wouldn’t have put up with him thus far.”

“Of course I like him.” Says Itami, “He’s way too likeable. And cute.” He pauses and looks up, realizing his mistake. “–like a puppy, damnit! Cute like a puppy!”

“I see.” The look on Maya’s face is one of smug satisfaction.

“Goddamnit, don’t tell him I said that!”

“Sure.”

“I mean it!”

The next day Itami is jumpy as hell, just waiting for the moment Ryan ups the flirting ante. Maya may be his best friend, but she’s not the best at keeping her mouth shut when she’s excited about something. And she’s obviously very excited about (him and) Ryan.

Surprisingly, the moment doesn’t come. Itami’s so tensed up, waiting for it, that he doesn’t hold back when Ryan stretches his arms over his head and glances over when school’s finished, asking “Are you all right? You seem. . . twitchy.”

“I’m fine, damnit.” He snaps, slinging his book bag over his shoulder. “Are you coming or not?”

Tears instantly spring to Ryan’s eyes. “Kei? What’s wrong?”

Nothing.” Itami reiterates waspishly. “We’re going.”

By that night he’s cooled off some, and unwound enough to realize that he should be, and is, grateful that Maya didn’t mention anything to Ryan. Perhaps he can get through this trial yet.

*
He dreams of Ryan again. They’re making out, Ryan’s tongue in his mouth and Ryan’s leg between his knees. He’s backed up against the wall, but although he would usually feel trapped there he instead feels comforted. Ryan’s hand is clutching his shoulder like Itami’s a lifeline and Ryan’s lost at sea, and Ryan is pushing slightly against him, making these little noises, grunts and moans, that has Itami’s entire body standing at attention.

Itami finds himself clutching at Ryan, fingers finding the smooth slickness of Ryan’s fake leather jacket and the rough texture of his dyed hair. There’s a hand snaking slowly down the back of Itami’s shirt, rubbing meaningless circles like sacred text onto his skin.

Ryan pulls back slightly and looks at him, bringing Itami’s encircled hand up to his lips and kissing the limp fingers. “Kei. . .”

It’s the most cliché move Itami has ever seen. He’s not a woman, and he doesn’t want to be treated like one. But it’s been a long time since anyone has used his given name in that tone.

He wakes up with emotions warring in the pit of his stomach, his eyes uncomfortably wet. Ryan’s not in his bed. Itami thinks it’s a blessing; in his state of mind, he might have done something he’d regretted later. Like cuddling, or. . . something.

*
Itami gets suspicious when Ryan pops up while he’s waiting in line for lunch that day and drags him outside to proudly present him with a boxed bentou. “I made you lunch,” the taller boy says excitedly, forcing the box into Itami’s hands and then pressing down on his shoulders. “Here, c’mon, sit down and eat.”

Itami glares suspiciously at Maya, who is calmly eating the bentou she always brings from home. “Did you tell him?” He hisses, as Ryan busies himself setting up Itami’s food.

Maya finishes chewing. “Tell him what?” She asks blandly. “I didn’t tell him anything in particular. Should I have?” She takes another bite.

“Eat up, eat up!” Chirps Ryan, finally settling down next to Itami to stare at him expectantly. “Tell me what you think.”

Itami stares at the open box with trepidation. It looks harmless enough, in fact it looks like standard bentou fare, but with the spirit involved Itami never knows. When he glances back at Ryan the spirit grins at him expectantly.

“C’mon,” he says. “I made it with love.”

Itami’s head whips around so fast he almost gives himself whiplash. “You did tell him!”

“I did not,” Maya states calmly, taking another bite.

Ryan looks interested. “Tell me what?”

Itami pales. “Never mind,” he says quickly and, bracing himself, takes a bite to distract the taller boy. This has Ryan’s focus back on him and the lunch in seconds.

“Is it good? Is it?”

Itami swallows and looks thoughtful. “This is store-bought,” he accuses finally. Ryan deflates somewhat.

“. . . I bought it with love.”

The shorter boy stares at him. “What is with you and this ‘with love’ crap?”

The spirit brightens. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” It sounds like he’s repeating something someone told him. And Itami only knows one person who would give stupid advice like that (well, besides Ryan himself.) Maya smiles at him as he glares.

Are you giving him advice on how to woo me?

“Perhaps,” she says, and takes another bite.

“I hate you both,” Itami declares, and, trying to ignore them, starts to eat. They smile knowingly at him.

(Ryan ends up bringing him lunch every day. The upside to this is that Itami continues to get free lunches. The downside is that he’s actively aware he’s being wooed, and he doesn’t quite know how to react to it. Especially if Ryan ever finds out about the dreams.)

*
The dreams continue, although to Itami’s relief they don’t progress much beyond slow, leisurely kissing. They’re comforting, in a way, as long as Itami ignores who’s actually in the dream with him. That soon becomes more difficult to do, as a week, and then a month, passes, and he, Maya, and Ryan fall into a routine. The more time Itami spends around Ryan the more attached to him he becomes.

Ryan’s perched on the edge of his bed when Itami gets out of the shower one Saturday night. “Hey, Kei,” he says, sounding thoughtful, “wanna go see a movie tonight?”

Itami, relaxed from the hot shower, thinks about it as he towels his hair dry. He doesn’t have any studying that needs to be done immediately, but– “Maya’s working,” he replies.

“That’s OK,” Ryan grins at him.

After a moment Itami nods, tossing the wet towel on the towel rack. “Sure. I’ve been wanting to see that new movie.”

“Great!” The spirit’s grin grows wider, more cat-like. “It’s a date.” At Itami’s look, he continues, “Don’t worry, sunshine, I’ll pay,” and winks at him.

Itami wonders what he’s gotten himself into.

*
The so-called “date” goes surprisingly well, actually. The movie’s as good as advertised, and Itami feels generous enough to allow it when Ryan reaches over and puts a hand over his about five minutes into it. (He does not blush, damnit. Not at all.) The spirit gets a hand in the face when he leans over to steal a kiss, however. Itami’s not feeling that nice.

After the movie they stop for food at a little shop next door to the apartment. They talk. It feels nice, hanging out and making small talk, not having to worry about being molested at every turn (or about the fact that he thinks he’s starting to like it).

About halfway through his double-fudge sundae, Ryan pauses, looks at Itami thoughtfully for a second, then begins eating much more slowly. When Itami sends him a curious glance, he lowers his lashes, stares at Itami, and oh-so-slowly licks the ice cream and syrup from his spoon. It’s a deliberate attempt to look sexy, and an idea he obviously got in his collaborations with Maya. Itami bursts out laughing and nearly falls out of his chair, which causes Ryan to pout. (Itami will not admit that the look is, indeed, sexy.)

When Itami finishes his fries, Ryan grins at him and taps a spot on his own face, near the jaw line. “You have some ketchup,” he says conspiratorially. When Itami reaches a hand up, Ryan leans over, grabs his chin, and licks it off for him.

Itami chokes, turns bright red, and decides that Ryan has way too quick of a recovery time. He also decides that they’re done with the public displays of affection for the day, and drags Ryan home, cursing at him all the way.

Ryan never does stop looking pleased with himself, no matter how much Itami yells.

Itami’s dreams that night are suddenly a chaos of urgency, all hard and wet and fast. Ryan’s tongue is everywhere, licking him in areas he didn’t even know he had, lighting him up from the outside in. They’re both finally, finally naked, and Ryan’s fingers are everywhere too, rubbing and grasping and pumping, and Itami can do nothing but give in. It’s all he wants to do.

He’s startled awake when he feels his bed dip. There’s a nose in his ear, and he’s incredibly hard.

“Kei,” says Ryan in a sing-song voice. “What are you dreaming about?”

“Mrph,” Itami mumbles, completely and totally mortified. Ryan shifts and rolls until he’s leaning over Itami, who can see his smirk even in the dark of the room.

“You said my name in your sleep,” Ryan says, and leans forward until they’re nose-to-nose. “Were you dreaming about me?”

Itami swallows and can’t speak. He tries to glare, but he has the feeling the look is more like a deer in headlights.

“I think you were,” Ryan answers his own question, and moves his head down to slide his tongue slowly over Itami’s still lips, not quite a kiss. “You know why?” Ryan suddenly lets himself drop, and he and Itami are lying body-to-body, in perfect alignment. Itami can’t suppress a groan at the contact, knowing that his arousal is obvious.

And then Ryan’s hand is on his dick, sending heat spiraling through his body. Itami flails his arms and narrowly misses clocking Ryan in the head with a fist. He doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or relieved. He just knows that Ryan’s hand is working him to full arousal, and it’s the best thing he’s felt in a long time.

“God.” Itami manages to find his voice again.

Ryan presses their foreheads together, hot breath spreading in urgent pants over Itami’s face. “I’ve got news for you. Maya-chan doesn’t have to tell me everything. I know how to do this already.”

The thought of just how Ryan’s learned this– he’d been invisible to Itami most of Itami’s life, watching him, watching him when he hit puberty, watching him when he jerked off in this very bed– sends Itami over the edge.

When he comes down from the high Ryan is looking at him intensely and running a finger slowly up and down his cheek. “Kei?” He says. “I lied. All you said in your sleep was ‘two forks of chicken and a pastrami sherbet.'” Ryan grins. “Are you hungry?”

Itami takes a moment more to catch his breath, then shoves Ryan to the floor. Ryan goes down with a loud crash.

“Ow! Kei! What’d you do that for?”

Itami leans over the edge of his bed at the disgruntled Ryan. “You’re sleeping on the couch.” He says, and glares Ryan out the bedroom door.

He has a real problem.

*
Despite Itami being unusually irritable, Ryan looks decidedly smug the next day. And from the looks Maya’s giving the two of them, she knows something is up.

Itami gets chills whenever he looks at the spirit, which he constantly tries not too. He tries and fails to convince himself they’re not the good kind of chills.

*
“He drives me crazy.” Itami rants, steaming. “He follows me everywhere, flirts all the goddamn time. I had to bribe him with chocolate to stay home so I could talk to you. He wanted to come over and ‘help’.”

Maya nods, her brows furrowed in concentration. “Who are you?”

“Did you know he licked me yesterday? Actually licked me.” He pauses, adds, “It was disgusting.”

“Why are you here?”

“And then you insist on giving him ludicrous advice on ‘the key to a man’s heart,’ and I have to put up with that nonsense.”

Nod. “Do you have a message for us?”

“And I keep telling it’s not gonna happen, dreams or no dreams, but he just keeps on pushing like I haven’t said a word, goddamnit.”

Nod. Itami sighs as the table suddenly begins to rock violently, then just as suddenly stops.

“I don’t know how to get him to back away. He’s so clingy.”

Maya looks up for the first time, actually looks at him. “You’ve been leading him on. You say one thing, but you don’t protest nearly enough when he pushes. You eat his lunches. You seem,” she smiles, “more lively since he’s been here.

“He chose you. He’s watched out for you your entire life. He knows all your bad points, and still loves you. You two are tied by destiny.” She removes her hands from the planchette. “You can let go now.”

Itami does so. “Did you get what you wanted?”

She gives him a soft smile. “Yes, it was very satisfactory, thank you.” Maya clears the table, not saying anything more. Itami rubs his face tiredly, knowing she’s giving him time to think.

He sighs. “I should talk to him, shouldn’t I?”

“You should apologize.” She says, balancing a plate. “You know how he feels about you. More importantly, you know how you feel about him.”

Itami knows she’s right; she usually is. Sometimes, girls suck. He sighs again. “. . . You’re right. I’ll do it.”

“Besides,” she says, giving him a knowing look, “when you two get together, I want pictures.” This time, her smile is decidedly more like a smirk.

illustrated by halcyonjazz

*
Ryan tackles him when he gets back to the apartment. “Kei!”

Itami manages to pry Ryan off him. “Bedroom, now.” He says, and enjoys the look on Ryan’s face at the words. He makes a stop at the bathroom to grab some things before following Ryan into the bedroom.

Itami joins Ryan where he’s sitting on the bed, and sets the lotion and tissues down beside him. Ryan’s eyes go wide as he glances between them and Itami’s determined face.

“We’re not going to be stupid.” Itami begins, then pauses at Ryan’s eager face. At least, I’M not going to be stupid. “If we’re going to fuck, we have to be prepared.”

“Okay!” Ryan replies, a little breathlessly. He’s nodding emphatically.

“Stop that.”

“Okay.”

“All right,” Itami steels himself. “You have to prepare me first. That’s what the lotion is for.” He points. Ryan starts to nod, then stops and looks at him guiltily.

“You’re gonna need to use at least three fingers.” Itami continues. “And don’t just dive right in, got it? You need foreplay before penetration.”

“Penetration, right.” Ryan agrees, face getting slowly redder and redder.

Itami picks up the tissues. “You also have to clean up once we’re done, otherwise there could be–”

He’s interrupted by Ryan lunging at him and pressing their lips together. It’s technically their first real kiss, outside of dreams and inappropriate licking. It’s also awkward as hell, because after Itami recovers from the shock of being kiss-ambushed, both of them are trying to take the lead.

Their teeth clack together when they both open their mouths at the same time. Ryan pulls back and laughs. “You remember that girl in junior high named Aya? When you kissed her she cut your lip, and then you thought kissing was always gonna be painful.”

Itami frowns. “Shut up,” he says, reaching his arms around Ryan’s neck and leaning in again. But Ryan leans away, starting to grin mischievously.

“And then Machi, the next year? She was so timid you had to coax her into a kiss. It was so funny watching you flail–”

Itami gives as good as he got, and cuts Ryan off with another kiss. Their noses bump painfully, but Itami presses forward, rolling Ryan’s jacket down his shoulders.

“Mmph,” says Ryan through the kiss, and Itami suddenly has a lapful of a very naked Ryan.

“Urgh,” Itami agrees, and pulls back. “What the hell?”

Ryan waggles his eyebrows at him. “I’m a spirit, remember? I don’t have to have clothes if I don’t want to.”

Itami stares at him. “Right.” He pushes Ryan off his lap.

Ryan flails his arms and squawks. “Kei!”

“Hold on,” says Itami, pulling his t-shirt over his head. “You’re too far ahead, I need to catch up.”

He’s suddenly tackled and forcefully pinned to the bed. “Nononono!” Ryan exclaims. “I wanna do it! Kei!”

“Fine, go on, whatever.” Itami says with a long-suffering sigh.

Ryan grins at him. “Great!” He leans in and kisses Itami.

Between deep, lingering kisses that gradually grow more heated, he makes short work of the rest of Itami’s clothing, while Itami tries to relax and enjoy it. The next thing he’s really aware of Ryan’s palming his arousal and looking up at him like he’s the most beautiful thing in the world.

“Kei. . .”

“God, Ryan,” Itami says, bucking up into Ryan’s hand. “C’mon, don’t stop.”

And then there’s finger at his entrance. Itami tenses. “The lotion, don’t forget the lotion!” He hisses.

The finger disappears. “R-right!” Ryan stutters, making a grab for the bottle. His hands are shaking as he pops the cap and pours a generous amount onto his hand, and then the finger is back at Itami’s entrance, rubbing.

“Slowly. . .” Itami eases, trying not to tense. It feels way too big, and it’s not even in him yet. When he looks at Ryan the expression of intense concentration he sees almost makes him laugh, but Itami manages to hold it in.

He feels the finger slowly push in, and it’s the strangest feeling he’s ever had. It’s smooth and slick, and Itami forces himself to relax around it.

“Okay?” Ryan asks after a moment. Itami nods, and then there’s another finger easing into him. By the time Ryan gets three fingers inside him the intrusion is not so intense, and Itami can breathe normally. It’s still uncomfortable, almost unbearably so, but Itami tries to think about the spot Ryan’s fingers are brushing inside him instead, the feel of his hair against his cheek and the smooth skin rubbing against his own.

“Yeah,” he says, “yeah, that’s good, that’s enough.” Itami wants to get on with it, wants to feel Ryan inside of him. He’s wanted it for a while now.

Ryan slowly pulls his fingers out, and grabs the bottle for more lotion when Itami mentions it. Itami takes the bottle from him and pours lotion onto his hands, then reaches for Ryan. Ryan’s mouth finds his as Itami massages the lotion over Ryan’s erection, feeling Ryan grow harder under his hands.

“God, okay,” Itami pulls back from the kiss despite the enjoyment he’s getting from hearing Ryan’s aroused whimpers and moans.

“Kei,” Ryan smiles at him. “Roll over.” His hands are pulling at Itami even as he says the words, easing Itami onto his stomach. Itami goes willingly, shifting to get comfortable. The sheets are warm beneath him.

“Lift your hips,” Ryan says gently, nudging his legs apart. Itami feels exposed, wanton and wanting. His back and thighs are cold

“Ryan, c’mon. . .”

A solid weight settles over him, and Itami can feel Ryan’s arousal against him. “Kei. Relax.” Ryan’s mouth is near his ear, breath and voice caressing him. Itami shudders and pushes back, feeling Ryan slowly enter him. It’s definitely bigger than the fingers, and Itami stops to catch his breath. Ryan runs soothing hands over Itami’s arms.

After a moment Itami takes a deep breath and nods. Ryan pushes forward gently, using his hands to hold Itami open to him. The slide into Itami is excruciatingly slow, and when Ryan’s finally all the way in they both groan at the feeling.

They both lose their voices at that point, and the conversation degenerates into grunts and moans. Itami pushes back when Ryan pushes forward, feeling the thickness slide within him and reveling in the strange feeling. It’s nowhere near enough to bring him over the edge, though, and he tries to voice that fact. His attempts are no more than Ryan’s name, but somehow Ryan realizes what he’s trying to say and reaches in front of Itami.

His grip is firm on Itami’s arousal, pumping in erratic strokes. Itami can hardly breathe from the pleasure that’s spiraling through him, the heat and touch and sweat. He can taste Ryan in the back of his throat form the kisses earlier.

“Kei,” says Ryan, “Kei, I love you, god, I love you.” His thumb slips over the head of Itami’s arousal and catches, and Itami loses it. He feels himself clench around Ryan, and feels a warmth spreading inside of him.

Through his daze Itami feels Ryan gently pull out and reach over him for the tissues. Carefully Ryan cleans them off, then tosses the used tissue off the side of the bed. Itami would protest, but he’s too blissed out to care.

Ryan pulls the sheets over the two of them while Itami catches his breath, because although Ryan probably just used it as an excuse, it does get cold in the apartment.

“Are you all right?” He asks when Itami shifts and winces. “Was it okay?”

“Shut up.” Itami snaps after a moment, but there’s no real heat in his words. “I’m basking in the afterglow. You should do the same, bastard.”

Ryan’s arms slip smoothly, comfortably around him. “Ok.”

Itami frowns. “Stop cuddling, damnit. I’m not a woman.”

“I’m basking.” Ryan replies. His arms definitely do not move. Itami twitches.

“I hate you.”

“I love you. Go to sleep.” The arms tighten. Itami feels too content to move, though. Instead he rolls over, closes his eyes, and drifts into a dreamless sleep.

*
Maya takes one look at them the next day and demands pictures.

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