Chapter 2: Shark Tank
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Ken fucking hated that toothbrush.
He hated it.
He didn’t say anything because, really, what kind of person begrudges another person, a supposed friend no less, the 2 square inches of apartment space required to keep an extra toothbrush. Ken was determined not to be “that guy.”
But that didn’t mean that he didn’t really, really hate that fucking toothbrush.
Ken reached for his own toothbrush, knocking Daisuke’s just far enough to leave it teetering on the edge of the sink, tilting precariously over the small rubbish bin beneath. This would be fate’s decision.
Ken frowned when the cup steadied without falling. Why did fate always seem to favor Daisuke? And what kind of grown man kept his toothbrush in a cup decorated with duckies and bunnies?
Apparently the kind who also insisted on using only strawberry scented shampoo and who wore Gundam themed PJs to bed.
It wasn’t like Daisuke didn’t deserve to have his toothbrush “accidentally” fall in the trash can or on the floor or even out the apartment’s third story window and into the dumpster below. Not after the stunt he had pulled earlier.
Ken told himself that it was only natural he was feeling this way. After all, it’s not like his tiny one bedroom apartment had been overflowing with space even before Daisuke has wheedled his way in to staying over a few nights a week.
Sure, it made sense to keep a few duplicate “necessities” over here rather than Daisuke having to tote them back and forth between apartments. And sure, Daisuke really did spend most of his time at his new food cart, as he had promised. And sure, if Ken was being honest, it was kind of nice how, now that Daisuke had a stand so close to the university, Ken’s favorite yakisoba always managed to show up at the little office he used to prep for his associate-professor duties, warm and ready to eat, right as he was getting hungry.
Still. None of that meant that Ken had to like Daisuke’s intrusion into his life.
Take this morning, for instance. It was damned hard to wake up on the right side of the bed when you didn’t even have a bed. For lack of other options, Ken had been sleeping on a couch that was a hand-me-down from a professor in his department who had received it as a hand-me-down, years earlier, from yet another professor, long since retired.
The thing was a monster. Or, perhaps, some sort of medieval torture device. Everything sagged in the strangest of places and there were springs, sharp, sharp springs, that seemed to move about under their own volition to assault Ken in his most delicate places when he least expected it.
He had tried sleeping with his head on the left. He had tried sleeping with his head on the right. He had tried sleeping with his head in the middle and his knees hanging hooked over the edge. (That had only resulted in his waking up with both legs numb and an utterly miserable 5 minutes spent dragging himself across the floor has they came back to life via an excruciating case of pins and needles).
He had actually found somewhat respectable sleep lying on the floor next to the couch but Ken would be damned if he let Daisuke catch him doing that. Again, anyway. The red-headed man had laughed entirely too hard.
So that was how Ken had started his day, being sucked from behind into the god-forsaken depths of a couch older than he was, as supernaturally tensile springs tried to dig their way into both his ribs and his hip.
And. As if all that were not enough, when Ken had finally managed to fight himself free from the damnable beast’s grasp, he only managed a half step before tripping and landing, without aplomb, across Daisuke’s sleeping bag.
Fortunately for Daisuke, he was not inside.
Unfortunately of Ken, Daisuke was standing just inside the door to the kitchen, watching the whole thing as he sipped a steaming cup of coffee.
“He is beauty, he is grace,” Daisuke teased, unable to contain his chuckle even as he took another small sip.
“He will punch you in your face,” Ken muttered to the large mecha he was now nose to toes with. Why did they even make adult-sized Gundam-themed sleeping bags?
And why did Daisuke have to put his sleeping bag right here, of all places? This was a one-bedroom apartment. That is to say, it actually had a bedroom. Granted, Ken would be hard-pressed to fit a real bed in there, what with all his books and the like stacked about, but there was more than enough room for a sleeping bag. Why didn’t the red-headed man set up camp in there? Why did he have to sleep right next to Ken’s couch? Always, right under Ken’s feet?
Ken sighed, rolling over. God, the floor was so much more comfortable than that damned couch. Maybe he would go get his own sleeping bag that afternoon and move into the bedroom. There had to be a sporting goods store within walking distance.
“And to think, this is all it takes to get you in my bed.” Daisuke must have set his coffee cup on the kitchen counter before coming over. He reached out a hand to pull Ken up but Ken ignored it, sitting up on his own, unable to contain his wince when he felt his back knot up. God-damned couch.
“Hey, woah,” Daisuke was on his knees next to Ken in seconds, “Did you hurt yourself?” he asked, his hands squeezing up Ken’s arms and across his shoulders as if that would somehow tell Daisuke what hurt.
“I’m fine,” Ken promised, brushing at Daisuke’s hands, “I’m not so feeble I’d hurt myself just tripping.”
“Then what is it?” Daisuke leaned back on his heels, giving Ken the once-over just for good measure. Ken considered his options. One. He could lie and say nothing. Daisuke would press, he could stone wall, Daisuke would continue to press and Ken would eventually give in and tell him the truth. Or two, Ken could just tell Daisuke the truth.
“Nothing.” Ken rolled his eyes, “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Daisuke insisted before staring that strange squeezing thing again, “Tell me what hurts.”
“Nothing hurts,” Ken tried pushing him away again but Daisuke wasn’t as easily thwarted the second time, “Let me up.” Daisuke was squeezing down his legs now. What could he possibly be hoping to find?
“What about this?” Daisuke asked, reaching up and giving Ken’s shoulders a gentle twist. Ken could not help flinching as the muscles in his back tightened further.
“It wasn’t the fall,” Ken insisted when Daisuke gave him his most disapproving glare, “It’s always like that. It’s because of that damned couch.” At least now, Daisuke was scowling at the couch.
“Here, lie down,” Daisuke demanded, pulling his pillow around so that Ken could lie face down in front of him.
“Oh, stop being such a baby,” Daisuke complained when Ken gave him a skeptical look.
Whatever. It would probably be quicker just to let Daisuke do whatever miracle cure he seemed to think he could do and then Ken could declare himself fixed and they could both move on with their day.
Never mind the danger to his sanity.
Ken didn’t know what was more distracting. Having his face pressed into Daisuke’s pillow, being inundated with the scent that was clean Daisuke: strawberry shampoo, soap and just a hint of the ever-present peanut oil and flame? Or the fact that Daisuke was now straddling Ken’s body, his weight heavy against Ken’s thighs even as fingers pressed and kneaded along his back. Oh wait. Ken already knew that answer.
God-damned. What kind of Japanese man put his hands under another man’s tee-shirt like that? And when the fuck did Daisuke learn how to do this?
“Tell me when I hit the right spot,” Daisuke asked, his weight shifting as his hands made their way down Ken’s back. Ken was unable to contain his groan as Daisuke’s hands began working over his lower back.
“Never mind.” Ken tried to pretend he didn’t hear the laughter in Daisuke’s voice, “Found it.” Ken really wanted to tell Daisuke to shut up but he didn’t trust his own mouth right then.
Ken had not realized how tight his back had been until the muscles finally began to give way under Daisuke’s ministrations. It was almost as if Ken was getting first easy breaths he could remember having in months. He felt his entire body relax and sighed in relief.
Daisuke huffed, and for moment Ken tensed, worried he had somehow upset the younger man. Ken hated that feeling. And so he forced himself to let go of it. It reminded him too much of when they had been kids and when he had been so afraid of inadvertently doing something that would cost him the only friends he had. He had spent the first several of years around the other digi-destined walking on egg shells, afraid they would wake up one morning and decide that Ken wasn’t holding up his end of the friendship-bargain. After all, there was a lot of red-ink in Ken’s life ledger. And no one knew that better than the other digi-destined. No one had reason to hate him for it more than the other digi-destined.
So Ken had found himself continually chasing the idea of what a perfect friend was supposed to be, always putting their needs first, always trying to that open ear, the helping hand. Never bothering them with his own worries or fears. He wanted to be a mirror that only reflected the best of what the other digi-destined sent his way. In a hundred years, he probably wouldn’t be able to make up for the damage he had managed to do before he was twelve. But he wanted to try. And maybe, if he did it well enough there would be someone left at the end who he could actually call friend.
It was exhausting.
And after a while, he just couldn’t do it anymore. He didn’t want to do it anymore. He wanted to be Ken and he was pretty sure that Ken wasn’t who the other digi-destined wanted him to be.
So Ken pulled back. You can’t disappoint anyone if there isn’t anyone in your life to disappoint. Or, at least, that was Ken’s theory. And it had been working pretty well too, until Daisuke decided he needed to futz it all—“Ow!”
Daisuke had slapped Ken’s ass, hard, knocking Ken out of his ruminations, “That hurt! What’d you do that for?” Ken complained.
“Because you deserved it,” Daisuke answered matter-of-factly, his raised hand threatening a second smack.
Ken wasn’t having any of that. He quickly squirmed his way out from under Daisuke, declaring, “The hell I did,” before reminding Daisuke, “I’m not the one who left his sleeping bag in the middle of the floor.”
“Yeah?” Daisuke smarted back, clearly not impressed by Ken’s argument, “What happened to it being that ‘couch’s fault’?” Daisuke asked, using his fingers to quote Ken. “Or did you finally admit to yourself that it’s actually your fault for sleeping on the damn thing in the first place when you know good and well that you should be taking better care of yourself?”
Stupid Daisuke and his stupid logic. Who asked him anyway?
“Oh, what do you care?” Ken muttered, using the side of the couch to lever himself up from the floor, ignoring the hurt look that flashed across Daisuke’s face. Served him right for thinking he could just haul off and smack Ken like Ken was some wayward child. And his backside still stung. The red-headed man had not held back at all. He deserved whatever barbs Ken threw his way.
“Of course, I care,” Daisuke sighed, “I—” he began before breaking off with a shake of his head.
“You’ve always been such a grouch in the morning, I swear,” Daisuke chided. “No wonder all the gossip around the noodle cart about Ichijouji-sensei involves him castrating any student crazy enough to approach him before noon.” Daisuke was up and moving towards the kitchen again, “Coffee?” he asked like the previous 15 minutes had not even happened.
Ken paused. It was true that his afternoon classes always filled up much quicker than his early morning ones. And it was exceedingly rare to have a student drop by during his AM office hours. Still...
“That’s not true,” Ken insisted, hoping more than believing that Daisuke was pulling his chain. Daisuke just smiled in response.
“It would have come on my course evaluations before now,” Ken reasoned.
“I think you underestimate just how terrifying you can be, Ichijouji-sensei,” Daisuke teased. He held a fresh mug of coffee in Ken’s direction but Ken only waved him away, his thoughts elsewhere. Daisuke seemed to sense how much this revelation was bothering Ken and approached, still carrying the steaming mug
“Look,” Daisuke promised, sneaking a quick sip before holding the cup out to Ken, “Don’t worry about it. From what I can see, the students view surviving you is something of a badge of honor.” He caught Ken’s eyes and winked before taunting Ken with a grin, “Can’t say I disagree.”
Murder. Ken’s first thought was of murder. But then he forced himself to take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Leave it to Daisuke to simultaneously make Ken want to strangle him and laugh with him and, yeah, maybe even kiss him—if it meant he would get the opportunity to knee him mercilessly in the groin.
Thankfully, the deep breath worked and Ken did none of those things. Instead, he pretended to ignore the red-headed man as he made his way towards the apartment’s small washroom, muttering only a half-hearted, “I hate you,” as he walked past Daisuke.
“No, you don’t,” Daisuke called over his shoulder as Ken continued to walk away.
“Yeah well,” Ken answered, maybe a bit too honestly, “I wish I did.” He slammed the washroom door shut before Daisuke could respond.
Unfortunately, the thin, hollow-core door wasn’t enough to block out Daisuke’s quiet response. “...That,” Ken heard his oldest friend reply as he walked away, “I actually believe.”
God damn it, Ken sighed. Of course. Leave it to him to make even the happiest-go-luckiest person in the world miserable.
As if any of this was his fault.
As if any of it wasn’t.
This was his apartment, his space and he had done everything he could to protect all the digi-destined, but especially Daisuke, from himself. And yet. Here he was anyway. Practically asking Ken to hurt him.
Ken stared at Daisuke’s toothbrush in its little ducky and bunny decorated cup and seethed.
What man, in his right mind, would force his way into a shark tank and then try and make the shark feel bad about taking a bite out of him? It was ridiculous!
Ken reached for his own toothbrush, knocking Daisuke’s just far enough to leave it teetering on the edge of the sink, tilting precariously over the small rubbish bin beneath. Would it fall? Maybe. Not Ken’s problem.
This would be fate’s decision.
But after only a second or two, the cup steadied without dropping. Ken frowned. Fate had always been entirely too kind to Daisuke.
Maybe one more nudge, Ken thought, just a small one? Give fate a second chance? Maybe she had changed her mind? Fate was said to be a fickle creature. Let’s see what would happen the second time Ken offered fate a choice, see if maybe she found herself as indecisive in the face of Motomiya Daisuke as Ken found himself to be.
Ken reached out a hand, his fingers ready to give just the smallest flick. It wouldn’t take much—only a small nudge, easily mistaken for an accident.
But he couldn’t bring himself to do actually do it. Ken sighed.
Better to just brush his teeth and ignore the things it was too late to change anyhow because “accidentally” knocking Daisuke’s toothbrush in the trash wouldn’t change anything.
Even Ken knew that much.
So, in the end, Ken finished brushing his teeth, rinsed out his toothbrush and hung it back in the little holder he kept suction-cupped to his mirror. Then he quickly pushed Daisuke’s cup back to where it had been, safely ensconced on the side of the sink, away from the edge, before reaching for a comb and beginning the arduous task of straightening out his sleep-worn hair.