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Cardboard Bridges 5/?
Uta no Prince-sama, Jinguji Ren/Hijirikawa Masato, PG-13

MASTER POST


His knees feel too weak that he's unable to stay up on his feet so Masato collapses on the bed and just lies there, spread-eagled and staring at the ceiling while willing his thoughts to stop spinning and his heart to stop hammering against his ribcage.

Damn it! Why did I say that? He swears internally as the words he has inadvertently thrown on Ren's face echo in his ears. He curses his filters for failing him yet again. But it's the truth, isn't it? says the voice from somewhere at the back of his mind, reminding him how the green monster has reared its ugly head that night at the hotel. Damn conscience. Damn everything.

Worse is that Ren's blunt confession has raked through his core, leaving him raw and shaken.

I think I've fallen in love with you.

Those words, spoken in Ren's dulcet voice, play on loop in his head, whirling incessantly like a raging cyclone, leaving his emotions in utter disorder.

Masato rolls over and presses his face against the quilt, inhaling the smell of mild laundry detergent and fabric softener. Clearly, the bed is freshly made. He wonders how much trouble Tanaka has gone through to prepare the cottage for them.

With that thought, Masato pushes himself off the mattress. He can't stay inside the room like an ungrateful brat forever. Sooner or later, he'll have to face Ren anyway, whether he sorts himself out and gets his bearings straight. Ren has gone out of his way to help take his mind off of his current predicament with his father and even had their family caretaker take his time to get this place ready.

Muttering a silent prayer that he doesn't implode soon, Masato drags himself out of the room and patters down the stairs, hoping that Ren has likewise shut himself in his own bedchamber. If that's the case, then maybe Masato can make up for his immature outburst by preparing lunch.

The cottage isn't too big, just enough to house a small family that wants to spend the weekend away from the busy city. So it doesn't take long for Masato to figure out where the kitchen is, especially with the enticing aroma of tomatoes and herbs and garlic wafting in the air like some beacon, guiding him to his targeted destination.

Ren is puttering around the small space, donned in white apron, his hair gathered in a ponytail and the sleeves of his shirt rolled up just above his elbows. He must've sensed Masato approaching because he looks over his shoulder just as Masato saunters into the kitchen without so much of the slightest noise.

"Hey," Ren says with a slight curve of his lips that comes off as a reluctant smile. "I hope you're hungry and don't mind Italian. There seems to be an abundant stock of ingredients for meatball spaghetti and some other pasta dishes."

"I don't mind at all." If Masato were to be honest, he likes Ren's cooking, especially his Italian cuisine. "Do you need help?"

"Nah, I got it covered," Ren says then he taps the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot and places it on the small plate sitting at the counter. "You can set the table, if that's okay."

"Sure," Masato acquiesces with a shrug. Ren shows him where the plates, cutlery and chopsticks are so he busies himself while listening to Ren whistling a familiar tune that Masato knows is an Italian love song. His heart flutters at the thought.

Once dinner is set and they're both sitting across each other, saying, "Itedakimasu," in unison, the air around them stills as they fall into a perturbing silence. Masato can feel Ren's eyes on him even though Ren isn't blatantly looking.

Say something, his conscience hisses.

Masato pushes a chopsticks-full of spaghetti into his mouth, savoring the flavor that burst through his taste buds and finds a perfect excuse to break the ice. "This is really good, Jinguji," he says, chancing a quick glance at his companion. His heart does a back flip when he catches Ren watching him with guarded interest.

"Thanks. Glad you like it," Ren says rather timidly, which is a rather rare display because Masato can't recall an instance wherein he'd seen a shy side of Jinguji Ren. It's completely out of character. He chortles at the thought, causing Ren to cock an eyebrow. "What's so funny?"

Masato shakes his head, saying, "Nothing," then takes a quick bite on a piece of meatball in an attempt to evade the conversation. Focusing on his meal proves to be difficult though because he can sense the weight of Ren's gaze boring holes on his forehead.

"By the way," Ren says, eyes glinting. "How do you find my room?"

"Your room?" Masato asks, confused.

A sly smile slides on Ren's lips. "The room you burst into. It's mine, or at least, it's the one I often occupy."

Completely dumbfounded, Masato loses his composure and sputters, "T-that's your r-room? Ah-I'm sorry, Jinguji, I—"

"No, no, it's fine." Ren waves his hand, soft chuckles fluttering out of his mouth. "I mean, it's not like I keep personal effects in there. Like I said, it's just the room I usually occupy. But if you feel comfortable in it, you can stay there."

Masato can feel his cheeks heating up in embarrassment. "Thank you. I haven't actually unpacked, so I can move to the guest room later."

"Well, we probably won't need them if we are to camp out later," Ren says, eyes flicking over to the window. "The weather seems fine, if you're still up to it."

Truth to tell, Masato don't think he's ready to be in close quarters with Ren at any given moment, but he finds himself nodding in agreement, even seals it with, "Okay."

Despite having issues left unresolved in Masato's imbalanced psyche, the dark cloud that's been hovering above them seems to slowly dissipate. They manage to pass time without another word exchanged between them.

Once they're done eating, Ren makes an attempt to take Masato's plate but he blocks his friend's hand and says, "You cooked, so let me do the dishes."

Ren shrugs, says, "Okay," but still helps in clearing the table and sticks around while Masato works on the sink.

The lack of interaction is becoming rather awkward so Masato digs around for something to say. "This is a nice place," he says and chooses his next words carefully, hoping not to blurt out anything offensive. "Not too large and extravagant, so it's… homey, I guess."

Ren's leans beside the sink, resting his elbows on the tiled surface, head tilted at an angle so he can peer into Masato's face. "Not something I expect from a Jinguji is what you'd like to say, I suppose?"

Guilt jolts through Masato's body because those were the exact thoughts skirting around his head. How Ren can read him so easily is beyond him. Has he dropped his shield somewhere along this trip that he's left himself bare and transparent?

"Hey." Ren nudges him on the arm and that split second skin-to-skin contact sets an electrifying shiver to course through his body. "I was only teasing," Ren says, voice dropping to an octave that causes Masato's innards to plummet down his feet.

"I'm sorry," falls from Masato's lips. "I uh… I was indeed thinking somewhere along those lines."

Ren pushes off the counter, says, "There's no need to apologize," grabs the kitchen towel and starts drying the dishes. "This cottage technically doesn't belong to the Jinguji side of my family. This is my mother's. My brother told me she bought this from her friend so she can have a place to run to whenever she wants to escape from home. But my father found out and lay claim on this when my mother passed away."

"I'm sorry," jumps out of Masato's mouth once more. He reaches out to get a towel he can dry his hands with but Ren wraps the one he's holding around his hand and dries them for him.

"Listen, Hijirikawa. About what I said earlier, I uh…," Ren says, practically breathing out the words, hands still on his and… is Ren trembling?

Ren lifts one hand and hooks a finger under Masato's chin so he's coaxed into looking straight at Ren. It feels as if the floor has been pulled out from under him when he sees the emotions brimming on the surface of Ren's soulful eyes. "I meant every word. And it didn't just happen over the week, it's… I've been turning a blind eye on it over the years. But I can't ignore it anymore. I have to stop denying to myself that I've fallen for you. You may think it's weird because we're both guys but…"

The rest of Ren's words fade and all Masato can hear is the clear resonance of his own heartbeat. Every thread of emotion entwines with another until all the feelings that have been spiraling in him flows in a serene harmony. Their proximity doesn't throw him off like he thinks it should. Being this close to Ren is solacing somehow and he basks in the comfort. The warmth emanating from Ren wraps around him like a security blanket and Masato feels like he's… like he's home.


***


Ren expects to see convoluted conflict flicker on Masato's eyes the way he did after he kissed him in Narai. But what he witnesses is a calm façade and no signs of potential rejection whatsoever. It's not enough for him to be overwhelmed with relief but it's enough to dispel the dread that has settled in his gut.

Masato curls his fingers around his own – the ones still holding the other's chin – and squeezes his hand in a reassuring way. "I," he says and leans into Ren, resting his forehead on Ren's shoulder. "Can you… can you give me time to sort this out? I mean I…."

"Of course." Ren presses a kiss on the top of Masato's head just to test the waters and his heart stutters when Masato doesn't even flinch. That's a good sign, he thinks and decides that a healthy change of ambiance is needed. "Do you want to help dig around the storage room and look for camping gears?"

"Yeah." Masato lifts his head, a soft smile gracing his lips, and then he squeezes Ren's hand before letting go. "Lead the way."

Ren's glad that Tanaka is as organized as ever so their search doesn't take long. Everything is arranged strategically that all camping gears are on one side of the storage room.

The sun is partially hidden behind thick clouds by the time Ren is able to set up the tent just a few meters away from the lake shore. He's grateful it's not the complicated kind that requires an army to install.

The outdoor temperature is liable to sudden unpredictable change at this time of the year so Ren isn't too surprised when it starts to get chilly at sundown. He volunteers to start a campfire while Masato offers to find anything that can be categorized as camping food at the cottage.

When Masato returns, a blue and teal scarf is wrapped around his neck – simple yet striking enough that it arrests attention and has Ren blurting out, "Nice scarf. Brings out the color of your eyes."

"My mother gave this to me," Masato says in a rather impassive manner while he pulls at the fabric until it hangs loosely over his shoulders. He lays a package of sausage and a small food container between them, reaches out, saying, "Now hand that over before you burn yourself," then grabs the stick from Ren and starts poking on the burning wood.

Ren cocks an eyebrow. "So you do know how to work a campfire?"

The teasing earns him an eye roll from the other, which Masato executes so adorably with a hint of a smile on his lips. "I do know how to work a grill and it's basically the same theory," he says while pushing a few bits of wood into the flames. "So this isn't elementary at all. Make yourself useful and stick some sausages, onions and bell peppers on the skewers."

"Why do I feel like you're trying to play the dominant role in this domestic scenario?" Ren gripes but does what he's told anyway.

The crackling of the fire fills the silence that quickly follows and Ren keeps stealing glances at his companion, wondering just when he started seeing his friend in a different light.

Maybe it was when Masato's fist connected with his jaw back in their academy days. Or perhaps it was when they were at summer camp, at their shared cottage, when he just came out of the shower and the mere sight of Masato's ethereal figure leaning against the doorway and gazing out into the sea with the color of the sunset serving as a backdrop stole his breath away. Or maybe… maybe it has always been there since he first laid eyes on the blue-haired boy who looked distant and misplaced at that banquet in Paris.

When they both declare they've had enough fill of sausages, Masato keeps the leftovers aside in a food container while Ren sets up a blanket over a grassy part a few feet away from their campfire. He lies down with an arm tucked behind his head then flicks his eyes over to Masato who is watching him with curiosity.

Ren pats the spot beside him in silent invitation, surprised when Masato does settle beside him. Hoping that Masato doesn't really mind close comfort, Ren stretches his arm for Masato to use as a pillow and he nearly combusts when Masato yields, soft blue hair splaying on the white sleeve of Ren's jacket.

"You've been too quiet," Masato says, pulling Ren out of his reverie. "What are you thinking?"

Thinking of you, is what Ren wants to say but doesn't want to throw Masato off by spouting cheesy lines so he settles for an otherwise honest, "I thought you'd appreciate the silence for a change."

"Not really." Masato snuggles closer, arms crossed over his own chest. "The quiet side of you is rather unsettling. Makes me wonder what's brewing in that pretty head of yours."

Ren throws a side glance over to Masato, one corner of his mouth curling up. "You think my head is pretty?"

Behind Masato's stolid expression, Ren notices the miniscule curve on his lips when he says, "That's not what I meant. But since we're in the subject, yes, I think you're pretty," then he gnaws on his lower lip before adding, "Or the more appropriate adjective would probably be beautiful."

Heat spreads over Ren's cheeks and his heart swells at Masato's candid remark but he masks the giddy feeling with an overdramatically enunciated, "Aww, that's so romantic."

"Oh, shut up." Masato smacks him lightly on the chest and just as he's sitting upright, a sudden gust of wind sweeps past them, snatching Masato's scarf in the process.

"I'll get it," Ren says, springing up to his feet and dashes after the fabric that's fluttering in the air.

Masato hollers, "No wait, Jinguji! Leave it," just as Ren is jogging close to the gentle slope that leads down the shore. His foot lands on something soft and slippery that he loses his balance. Masato crying out, "REN!" barely registers in his mind just as gravity claims his body and he's rolling down the misty grass and pebbled ground. He stops just as his forehead hits something solid then he's lying flat on his back.

His consciousness almost leaves him but Ren is able to keep a tight grip around it, his vision growing blurry by the second. There's a buzz in his ears but above all the hiss and hollow noises, he hears someone yelling his name.

A figure hovers above him and something cold–a hand?–touches his face. Ren blinks until his vision is clear enough to see Masato who seems to be surveying every inch of his body.

"Shit, Jinguji. You're bleeding. You must've hit your head on a rock or something," Masato says, trailing a finger on Ren's forehead, the touch sends shivers down Ren's toes. "Can you get up? Can you even move? Does your neck hurt? Is your back in pain?" spills out from Masato's mouth.

"Yes I can move, and no my neck and back don't hurt. And I think I can get up." With Masato's help, Ren tries to push himself up but the ground seems to tilt and everything around him starts to spin. "I…." Ren shrinks down, his backside sinking back into the grass. "I feel kinda dizzy."

A familiar voice yelling, "Ren-sama!" resonates through the air and soon enough, Tanaka comes into view, apprehension evident on his face. "I came to check if you boys needed something and I saw you fall just as I was peering out the window from the kitchen." He bends down on Ren's other side. "Are you oka—holy shit! Ren-sama, you're bleeding."

"We need to bring him to the hospital," Masato blurts out, voice thick with overt trepidation, his arm firm across Ren's back, and his other hand is curled around Ren's forearm in a gentle grip.

"I don't think that's necessary, Hijirikawa," Ren says while willing his head to stop whirling, damn it!

"But you're bleeding!" Masato argues in a desperate manner. "You could have a concussion, for all we know."

"Maybe we can ask a doctor to come over?" Tanaka suggests, and Ren can sense the concern from the old man. "I can call the doctor that Jinguji-sama used to summon when they're on vacation here."

"Can you do that, please?" It's rare to see an emotion linger on Masato's face, though the anxiety he has on blatant display is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to witness.

"Of course, Hijirikawa-san. But let's bring him indoors first." Tanaka slides an arm around Ren's waist while holding Ren's elbow with his other hand. "On three," he says and Ren puts all his weight on his feet whilst Masato and Tanaka support his upper body.

There's a sharp pain on Ren's ankle and a spot on his forehead stings but other than that, he's able to move well enough that they make it into the house and all the way to Ren's room without any untoward incident. Tanaka places the call as soon as Ren's safe in bed and it doesn't take more than fifteen minutes for the doctor to get there.

Ren is actually feeling better but he lets the doctor prod and peer into his eyes and he answers every question ("What is your full name?" and "Who are you with?" and "What day is it?") that the doctor throws at him dutifully.

Then the doctor checks his wound, says, "It isn't too deep, just a break of the skin, but will require a couple of stitches." He seems to carry his own clinic in his bag because he starts pulling out everything he'll need for the procedure.

"There's no sign of severe concussion," the doctor tells Masato half an hour later. "But make sure to watch out for other symptoms like vomiting or even nausea, headache, seizure, loss of balance, disorientation. I'll give you a list." The doctor rummages inside his bag and pulls out a notepad where he starts writing. Then he tears a page and hands it to Masato with further instructions before bidding them good night.

Ren attempts to slide off the bed just as Masato returns to the room after seeing the doctor out.

"Where do you think you're going?" Masato rushes to his side. Firm grip on his shoulders and a stern look render Ren motionless.

"Well, we obviously won't be able to camp out for the night so I was thinking of bringing all our gears in," Ren says and it isn't a lie, though that's just an excuse so he can escape from being confined in bed.

"Tanaka-san is already taking care of that." Masato sits on the edge of the bed, eyes fixed on his hands that are resting on his lap. "And he got my scarf back as well, so it's now in the washer."

"Glad to hear that." Ren struggles to keep a teasing lilt when he says, "So Tanaka-san steals the hero role from under me," that comes out strained because he can feel the anesthesia he was given before having his wound stitched wear off.

"Oh, shut up." Masato casts him a reproachful glare. "I told you not to run after it."

"But it's important to you, isn't it?" Ren knows it's a risky chance but he takes Masato's hand in his nonetheless and relief blossoms in him when the other doesn't shy away.

Masato's gaze falls on their joint hands. "Yeah but you're more important," he mutters under his breath. "You have no idea how terribly scared I was when I saw you fall. And when I saw the blood on your face, I…"

Ren's heart is doing somersaults as he listens to Masato recount the earlier incident. Is this Masato's way of confessing? No, Ren can't possibly push his hopes up, but he does want to hear more. He strokes the back of Masato's hand with his thumb. "Sorry if I made you worry."

"Yeah, well…" Masato squeezes his hand. "You better make up for it by getting some rest." He seems to hesitate, but after going through what seems to be an internal debate for a while, he leans closer and plants a kiss on Ren's cheek. "Take a nap. I'll wake you up after a couple of hours to make sure you're not deteriorating or slipping into a coma or something."

But the doctor says I don't have a concussion, is what Ren intends to say but his tongue seems frozen in his mouth and the tingling on his cheek is distracting so what slips out instead is a cursory, "m'kay." Masato is about to leave the bed but Ren grabs his wrist. "Stay. Please?"

"I'll just help Tanaka-san clean up and I'll come back, I promise." Masato makes his way to the door, walking backwards, eyes still on Ren. "Now get some sleep."

Even though his heart is racing and a giddy thrill is rushing through every vein in his body, Ren can sense the sandman slithering close so he doesn't fight it when sleep gradually claims him.


tbc...

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