better with you (until it kills me)
notes: it’s always missing baji hours here </3 fluff, angst; alternative ending: always, always you
summary: four times you think you are in love with baji keisuke, and the one time you tell him.
You’re reasonably sure the only reason he chooses you to pair up with for the Japanese literature project is that you sit next to him, but it surprises you all the same. You don’t think you have much of a presence in class, but you don’t think you can say the same about your new partner, Baji Keisuke.
His slicked-back ponytail and thick frames make his presence seem extremely studious, but there’s something about his bruised knuckles and his fierce aura that makes him feel wild. You’ve noticed him hang out with the school delinquent on multiple occasions. You also think you’ve seen him laugh wildly as he beats up some of the local thugs who crowded around the said delinquent he’s friends with.
He isn’t who you expect him to be at first glance, and that intrigues you more than you like to admit. You’re too nervous to openly ask, so you settle for stealing glances at him from the corner of your eyes.
So, when he really decides on you and submits the partner form, you don’t know what to think.
In the time that you two are partners, you’ve discovered a couple of things about him. First, his handwriting and kanji absolutely suck. It’s kind of endearing when he pouts at the complex characters that he often gets wrong, and it’s even more so whenever you show him how to write it correctly.
(“Oh, thanks! I would probably fail my kanji tests without you and Chifuyu.”)
Second, he’s genuinely an unexpectedly good partner in terms of being punctual about meeting up. However, despite being on time, there is little progress on the project. Your work times often end up in discussions about random life topics rather than the project itself.
(“Do you like cats?” he asks out of the blue one day.
“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” you humor him because you’re tired of researching Japanese literature.
“Wanna see my cats? They’re all strays,” he sits up suddenly, eyes lit and smile bright.
You nod, and he proceeds to take out his phone to show you pictures of his cats. You note his lock-screen is a picture of all his cats, and his camera roll is just full of his friends, motorcycles, and the said cats. With shining eyes full of excitement, he tells you their names and their personalities in detail.
“Do you think cats recognize their names but choose to ignore us whenever we call them?” he resumes the conversation after he finishes showing you his gallery. He leans back as he balances his pencil on top of his pursed lips.
“Maybe. Depends on the cat? Maybe they just hate you?” you mimic his pose. You suppose thirty minutes of work is enough progress for the day.
“Ouch,” he grimaces as if it shatters him directly in the heart.)
Third, sometimes he comes with his hair down and without his glances, with stains on his clothes that he claims are ketchup, despite it not smelling like that at all.
(“Uh, hey, sorry I’m late today,” he offers sheepishly as he runs a hand through his unbound hair.
“Oh, it’s okay,” you finally say after you take in his shaggy appearance. “Are you… okay?”
“All good! The ketchup bottle just randomly exploded,” he laughs nervously and awkwardly. “Anyways!!! The project!!”
You stare at him dubiously but nod anyway. “Okay, if you say so…”)
Fourth, he has an extremely charming smile, especially when his fangs are in full display. To some, it may look fierce and menacing; to you, it looks cute, especially when his eyes are always brimming with life and his laugh is full of vitality.
More often than not you catch yourself staring at him because he’s just so interesting.
You try to ignore your racing heart when your stolen glances become shared ones, and he flashes you a grin softer than the smiles you’ve seen.
“Uh, hi.” You say shyly as you enter through Baji’s window. It’s not frequently you seek out Baji at his own home, especially without Chifuyu, especially through the window he keeps open almost exclusively for stray cats to seek shelter.
“What the fuck?” Baji drops the stray cat he’s cuddling as you give a slight wave, causing the cat to meow loudly at the sudden change in demeanor.
“Sorry to drop by unannounced. I, uh, just wanted some company.”
You feel vanishingly small as you awkwardly laugh and piece together some words that make sense. Home is supposed to be full of warmth, but your home is more of a house with people than a home with love. It’s a truth you’ve long accepted, but some days, it feels a little extra cold.
Therefore, you run, and somehow you end up here, in the comforts of Baji’s room.
Maybe you are currently a stray cat, feeling a little more lost than found. Maybe you find that he’s the sort of comfort that warms you a little when your heart feels heavy. Maybe you are just a little bit in like with him, and he is the first person you want to see whenever you’re feeling down.
The room is silent aside from the soft paps of cats moving around and the periodic meow. Then, he pats the spot next to him, and you make your way there. As soon as you sit down, he hands you a cat.
“Here, hold her. She’s nice,” he comments as he places the calico cat he dropped earlier in your lap, petting her as she adjusts to her new position on you.
She narrows her eyes and softly purrs in your lap as Baji pets her, and this makes you feel more in the moment than in your head like you’ve been. Your initial baffle turns into a smile as she purrs louder when you pet her, and just like that, you feel a little more found than lost.
You lean on his shoulder as you continue petting the calico cat in your lap. You keep your eyes on her as she climbs onto his lap and nuzzles him in an attempt to hide your burning cheeks and your drumming heart from your proximity.
“Thanks for giving me a home when I don’t want to be in my own,” you tell him softly, airly, almost as if you’re letting him in on a secret.
He stops playing with the cats for a moment and pauses. Feeling his intense stare, you peek through your lashes up at him. His broad grin and sharp canines are in full display, and his smile looks a little more boyish than wild. He tousles your hair as he laughs aloud boisterously before he props his head on top of yours.
“You’ll always have a home here.”
It all started when a group of thugs looked at you inappropriately and made some comments that made you uncomfortable. You grip the ends of his sleeve just a little harder and press yourself behind him, trying to make yourself impossibly small. Baji, seeing your small form and downcast eyes, removes your hand from his sleeve and places it in his hand. Knowing Baji and him knowing you and your every mood, he does not stand for it. He simply flashes you a reassuring grin before he squeezes your hand and runs straight at them.
He throws the first punch, and you could just stand there in shock as he pummels through them and beats them up. He has cuts and bruises everywhere, and you’re certain he’s taken on a few nasty hits on his ribs. Though you’re equally confident that these thugs are absolutely 100% in worse shape than he is.
“Oh my god,” you sob frantically as Baji wobbles back to you, wild smile on his face softens as he sees you. He pats your head when he notes your teary eyes. You’re not even sure when you start crying, but the tears just don’t seem to stop. “Are you okay? Oh my god, I’m so sorry. Are you -”
He clutches your tear-stained face in his hands, “Look at me.”
Your eyes meet his, but you can barely see him over your tears as you continue your incoherent rambling.
“Hey,” he tries once more, voice more frantic as he struggles to find words. He finally just squishes your cheeks and yells, “Do you think I care about anything else right now but you?”
Your eyes widen, and the tears forming fall freely onto his hands. Oh, oh, oh, you think to yourself as your beating heart rapidly thumps at an exponential speed, maybe he’s also falling. When you meet his steady gray eyes, the shocking realization that maybe you’re not the only one dumb and possibly in love stops your tears.
He sighs in relief when your tears gradually stop, and as if all the tiredness accumulated in his body hit him all at once, he falls down onto the ground.
You try to catch him as best as you can, and with the combined effort of mostly himself and partially you, he breaks his fall. He lays sprawled out on the ground. After you check for wounds and find none too serious, you sit with your knees tucked under you by where he lays and moves his head onto your lap.
All around you are the battered bodies of the thugs you’ve encountered, but all you can see at the moment is him and his gray eyes that disappear into crescent moons as he flashes you a grin. He’s too tired to move, but he raises a fist up into the air in victory anyway.
“I got you.”
“Wanna go on a ride?” he texts you.
It’s almost midnight when he texts you, and it’s probably way past when you should stay up. But your heart flutters at the thought of adventure, at the thought of him, so you quickly respond, “Okay, but be quiet! Don’t wake my parents up again, stinky!!!”
You can already imagine his sheepish smile when he sends you a “that was once!!! my bad” back.
After sending him a quick “:p”, you silently put on some clothes more fitting to go out than your pajamas. The sound of his motorcycle announces his greater-than-life presence long before his text does. Grabbing two scrunchies, you sneak out your window.
He only greets you with a goofy smile and a wave, hair free-flowing in the wind. Under the moonlight, his gray eyes twinkle with vigor and youth. It knocks the air out of your lungs as you glance at him because he’s beautiful, ethereal, and alive. He smiles smugly when he catches your stare, but he holds his hand out for you to take.
“Hi,” you whisper under the twinkling stars as you put your hand in his.
“Hey,” he whispers back as he curls his fingers around your hand before adjusting to interlace your fingers together.
The quietness and intimacy of this moment drown out the world - the sound of cars driving by, of cicadas flying, of the world standing still. The only thing keeping you from floating is his hand and the sound of your heartbeat.
“I got you a hair tie.” You offer softly with an equally soft smile, eyes pointing to the scrunchies on your wrist.
“I got you a hoodie,” he responds as he nods to his motorcycle. “Because I knew your dumb ass would, once again, forget to dress for the winds.”
“I’m dressed decently enough. You, though… please tie your hair… It hurts like hell when it whips in my face,” you laugh lightly.
He rolls his eyes. “That’s also what you said last time before you ended up stealing my hoodie, and I ended up being cold!” he complains, but there’s a certain fondness in his voice.
You only stick your tongue out childishly at him. You would rather bite your tongue than admit that you are always slightly underdressed for the occasion so he would keep giving you his hoodies.
He tugs your interlaced hand and pulls you closer, and as you stand so close to him, you think close isn’t quite close enough. The two of you linger in that position for longer than what should be appropriate for friends, but you think you have been tiptoeing around that line for a while now. Your heart races, and you’re sure your erratic heart is beating fast enough to generate heat to keep you warm against the cold winds.
He pulls away first, moving to grab his hoodie before he roughly puts it on you. He laughs when you complain about your ruffled hair, but as his hoodie and scent engulf you, you could only shyly smile. He takes a scrunchie despite complaining about how poofy it is. As he settles in his bike and you settle in behind him, arms tight around his waist, you think this is probably what holding the universe in your arms feels like.
He rives his bike loudly despite your warning, but you find that you could care less right now as he takes off. You are young and dumb, but the wind is running through your hair as the two of you are chasing the moon, and it makes you feel so alive. Neon lights and soft moonlight blur together as he speeds through familiar roads, and the brisk winds drown out your loud laughter. It feels like you’re feeling everything at once, but your head is so clear.
You think you can understand why he loves riding so much because the only thing that you can hear is your loud heartbeat, and the only thing that matters is you’re living.
He finally stops at a local 24-hour diner. The moonlight shines through the window by your table. You are still feeling the wild wind in your hair, cold air on your face, and the warmth of Baji’s back on your arms. It’s way past midnight now, and the yellow lights of the diner feel a little more homey than dingy. He’s munching on some fries, occasionally waving one in your face whenever he’s trying to make a point about something. As you watch the various expressions on his face, a smile makes its way to your face.
“Hey Keisuke,” you grab a fry and jab it at him in the middle of his sentence. He stops his mid-word as he stares at you, head tilting slightly and mouth still gaping. There is a particular word that you keep thinking of whenever you think of Baji, a feeling that lingers and fills your heart up. You know what it is. You think you know at least, and in moments like these when you’re just watching his goofy self munching on fries while boisterously laughing at something dumb, all you can think of is those four letters.
“You’re my best friend,” you whisper before you eat your fry. Best friend, you think, encompasses a lot of things and feelings as you stare at his childlike grin, heart fluttering and mind blanking because all you see is him. You hope he knows, hope he gets that best friend is a loose term because he is so much more.
When he meets your eyes and his gray eyes crinkle in mirth and laughter rolls off his lips, you think he does.
“I know,” he smugly nods before he drops another fry into his mouth. “I guess you’re pretty cool too.”
You stick your tongue out at him and feel a warmth in your heart that matches the pinks of his cheeks. Maybe it’s adrenaline still in your blood, maybe it’s the moment, but it makes you devious, brave even, as you lean over and chomp down on the fry he’s holding.
He stares at you with his mouth wide open, looking absolutely flabbergasted and offended. “Hello? That was my last fry!”
“Sorry,” you giggle, not feeling all that sorry at all. You know he’s not truly that offended because he has that stupid grin on his face, because he’s always soft with you. A part of you does feel a little sorry when you see the small pout that arises on his face. “I’ll treat you to yakisoba later?”
He turns away from you, face still slightly sulky as he huffs silently.
“No? You don’t want yakisoba?” you ask. You still find it amusing that Baji Keisuke, the first division captain of the Toman Gang who would punch someone on the streets for no reason other than just because he feels like it, is pouting because you stole his last fry. If anyone from any rival gangs sees Baji Keisuke now, they probably wouldn’t believe this is the same person.
“Fine,” he huffs softly, “But don’t think one yakisoba is enough.”
“Then,” you begin, your heart pounding loudly in your chest as you work up the courage, “What about this?”
He turns to you in confusion, and before your courage runs out on you, you crash your lips onto his before you pull away.
“Repayment,” you mutter meekly, eyes avoiding his because you’re sure he can feel the heat radiating off your cheeks from where he’s sitting.
“Hey,” he tugs on your hand under the table. When you finally look at him, he continues, “Just one isn’t enough.”
He kisses you again.
Home is supposed to be the place you come from, but you think it’s more like a place you find, pieced together from scattered bits of feelings, emotions, people along the way. Somewhere along the lines, home becomes less of a place and more of a person. Your home becomes the boy with the sharp canines and long hair that gets tangled by the stray cats he keeps, the “I love you” declared loudly with kisses and the longing looks in between, the comfortable warmth of his body next to yours as you chase sunsets and live in your own infinity. Your home is Baji Keisuke and the constant image of him in your mind and the infinite pieces of him in your heart.
Infinity, though, is awfully short, you think, as you see him lay surrounded by bouquets, eyes closed in eternal slumber. He’s always looked good in white, but when his tan complexion is nearly as pale as the white roses surrounding him, you think white is an awful color on him. His eyes always shine with possibilities and promises, and while you’ve always joked that his sleeping face is cute because he always looks so innocent, adorable even, all you want now is to see him awake.
His heroism and love for his friends are always something that you love about him, but in turn, it feels so incredibly cruel to you now. For as short as he has been in your life, he becomes pieces embedded so deeply in it that it makes you whole. You cannot imagine a world where there is no Baij, where he isn’t there to punch a hooligan on the streets or feed stray cats at night or hold you when your world is crashing. You cannot imagine a life where he isn’t here to shine a bright light in your life without his laughter and goofy personality. Suddenly the world blurs around you, and you can’t breathe as droplets of water hit your clenched hands on your lap.
You hold his hands. Cold, cold, cold, when they used to be warm enough to light a fire in you. There are so many things you want to tell him, say to him, but the speech you prepare in your head drowns in silence as your voice gives out on you. All the words in your head just come out as broken sobs. You feel the sympathetic and equally broken glance of his mom as she embraces you, but all you can think about is that he won’t open his eyes.
Baji Keisuke has always been bigger than life, you think, because he becomes a part of everything in your life. There are traces of him everywhere - him with his cats on your lock-screen, the random memes he sends you at night, the little notes he leaves you written in his ugly penmanship with love. When you think of these things, you feel like your heart is breaking all over again.
People tell you to be strong, and while you want to retort because how can you when he’s gone?, you find that you cannot say a word without crying. You’re tired of crying too because your eyes are already so, so raw, but it seems like all you can do is cry. When you think you’ve finally run out of tears and your tears finally stop, a new batch takes over even at the slightest things that remind you of him. You feel so pathetic because you can’t do anything without water leaking from your eyes, and you hate yourself for being so weak.
You tune out the somber tone of his friends and the broken tone of his mom because you don’t want to accept a reality where he isn’t here. But luck is never on your side because he never opens his eyes again, and you never get to tell him how much you love him. All you get are flashbacks and memories of him and emptiness in your heart and soul. You tell yourself you have to be strong and smile and live for the both of you, but you can’t. Not when he isn’t here, not when he isn’t with you anymore. Every time you think about that fact, your heart breaks again.
“Hey, stupid,” your broken sobs ring loudly in the deafening silence, “I love you.”
The words you’ve wanted to tell him for so long are finally in the open, but there is no answer.