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Ken pulled the pillow over his head and tried not to listen to any of the sounds drifting through. He needed a thicker pillow. If anyone had ever told him that sharing an apartment with three other people would have been so noisy – especially in the morning when he really needed his sleep – he wouldn’t have bothered.

And still the noises trailed in.

He hadn’t lived here more than a couple of weeks and he mostly recognized his apartment-mates on sight. Takeru was the blond who wanted to be a writer, Iori was the brunet who spent just a bit more time in the study of swordplay than most people did in this day and age – not that Ken could really protest because he studied judo himself – and the third…

The third Ken could only identify as the redhead, because most of the time their schedules didn’t cross enough for Ken to spend more than a few minutes with him, and most of the time the third guy was doing something that made anyone in the area facepalm. Ken hadn’t ever met someone who could pull that often as much as this guy could and did.

The noises weren’t quieting down. Ken ground his teeth and grabbed for another pillow. He had to study. He wasn’t going to get the grades his brother did without working for it. Osamu could get good grades just by walking by a class. He had to study.

No sleep, no studying. He refused to avoid sleep. That wouldn’t do him any good at all. He’d seen that the hard way.

The noise kept on going. He thought it might even be getting louder.

He was going to have to get up. He didn’t want to. But unless he asked them, they weren’t going to stay quiet, and that meant he wouldn’t get his sleep and that meant that he wasn’t going to pass the next couple of tests.

He wasn’t going to let that happen. Not on his life.

Ken drew in several deep breaths in the hopes that this would help him. He at least managed to roll out of bed and find his bedroom slippers. He ran a hand through his hair, knowing it would be a lot spikier than he preferred wearing it. He had the worst bed-hair. People told him more than once that he kind of looked like his big brother when he first got out of bed.

He’d never seen it himself.

But now he stalked his way out of his tiny room and toward the noise, that only got louder now that he didn’t have the insulating pillows and closed doors between him and it. That made him even more annoyed.

“All right, say it again.” Takeru’s voice was the first one he recognized. “How did you do it?”

“I told you already! Three times, already!” That one he didn’t recognize. Clearly the other roommate, the one who wasn’t Iori.

“Yes, but I didn’t believe you the first three times myself.” That was Iori.

Whatever was going on, part of Ken started to want to know what it was. The rest of him just wanted them all to shut up or take their argument somewhere else.

The kitchen didn’t have a door to it. Ken stalked through the opening with all the fury of a slammed door anyway. He’d always had a knack for drama and he put it to full use right now.

“I am trying to sleep,” he snarled, his voice low and dark and full of rage.

He always got like that when he missed out on his sleep. Osamu teased him more than once that if he didn’t get his afternoon nap, he spent most of his time snapping at anyone who got in his way.

Ken wasn’t going to argue that point. It was, after all, correct.

All three of them turned toward him. Takeru and Iori looked more than a little surprised. The third…

This was really the first time that he’d seen their other roommate and been anywhere close to a mental condition to really let his looks or his name sink into him.

He was a redhead; Ken recalled that much. He had deep warm eyes like cinnamon and a mouth that was wide open, either because he’d been about to say something or just in shock at someone stalking into the kitchen as if he owned it.

Ken technically rented it, just like the rest of them. That was good enough for Ken.

Ken now set his hands on his hips and glared even harder. “I’m trying to sleep,” he repeated. He didn’t think he needed to say anything else. Iori and Takeru tried to stammer something but he just shook his head.

But the third one moved closer. “Uh, sorry about that. It was kind of my fault.” He waved one hand as if that would help explain anything.

Ken didn’t care. “Whatever it was, don’t do it again.”

Takeru and Iori were looking up at the ceiling. So was the other guy. Ken knew he’d been told his name, but it wasn’t coming to mind, not right now.

Maybe if he got some more sleep.

He turned on his heel, intending a dramatic departure to go back to bed and forget this happened for another couple of hours.

At least he so intended until something wet and goopy fell on his head. He stopped where he was. He reached up to touch it with the tips of his fingers. Then he turned around.

“Why is there an uncooked pancake on my head?”

Takeru coughed. “That’s what we were yelling about. Daisuke was making breakfast and he kind of got a little overenthusiastic.”

Ken’s eyes cut over to the redhead: Daisuke.

“I want this pancake off my head.” He also wanted to pretend this morning hadn’t happened and maybe meet Daisuke under better circumstances.

Because Daisuke was cute. Very cute. Especially when he looked like he wanted to melt into the floor under his feet.

Daisuke hurried over and tugged the pancake off before it could actually start dripping into Ken’s face, babbling apologies the whole way. Ken just shook his head, reaching up to see how badly he needed a shower. He usually preferred to clean up in the evening, but he wasn’t going back to bed with pancake batter in his hair.

He was going to need a shower. A nice long hot one.

He might not even be able to get back to sleep at this point. If he’d slept all the way he would’ve been fine. But now he’d woken up. He’d gotten out of bed. He’d interacted with people. He would have to take a shower. Not only did all of that eat up precious sleeping time, but by the time he got back to sleep anyway, it would more than likely be time for him to get up anyway.

This just did not look like one of his better days.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Daisuke said, his back to Ken as he dumped the pancake remains in the trashcan. “I cook when I get nervous.”

A stress cooker. Just what he needed in his life.

A cute stress cooker. He’d encountered worse people to spend any amount of time with.

“What are you nervous about at this hour?” Ken wasn’t sure of how much he wanted to know, but the question came nevertheless.

“I’ve got a test later and I’m not sure if I’m ready for it,” Daisuke confessed. He glanced toward Ken, then blinked, eyes going beyond him. “Where’d they go?”

Ken turned to see Takeru and Iori were no longer there. He tried to breathe. “I think they went back to bed.” Jerks. Doing what he couldn’t, since their classes started later than his.

Not that he wouldn’t have done the same thing if their positions had been reversed.

“I really am sorry,” Daisuke said. Ken looked back at him the moment he started talking.

Their eyes met.

Whatever Daisuke was saying, he stumbled to a halt, the words choking in his throat, his cheeks flaming red, and he ducked his head, staring now at the floor.

Ken could feel heat creeping up his own cheeks, and he swallows, trying to make sense of this and not knowing anything else to say but, “It’s all right. You weren’t doing it on purpose.” At least he hoped not.

He swallowed. “I’ll be back.”

He didn’t wait for a moment but hurried to the shower, not wanting to be seen in the blue shorts he sleeps in and with pancake goop drying in his hair. Not anymore.

He showered. He scrubbed from top to bottom and then carefully combed his hair until it was back in the style he preferred, looking less like a wild man and more like a civilized human being. He even got dressed. He’d get by without sleep. As much as he disliked it, he’d done it before and he knew that he would do it again.

There was someone to talk to. Someone he’d never talked to and yet even with those few words exchanged, he felt like they were just kind of picking up from a start he didn’t remember having.

By the time that he made it back into the kitchen, Daisuke had cleaned up all of the mess and even finished a proper breakfast. If one liked pancakes, that was.

“I made some for you,” he said, as soon as Ken was in the kitchen again. He hesitated. “I didn’t know if you’d want some, but...”

Ken smiled. No sooner did the expression appear on his lips than Daisuke relaxed.

“I’ve never had them, but I don’t mind trying.” He’d never been much for Western-style cooking, but after all of this, he thought it would do no harm.

The two of them sat down and started eating. Daisuke still had pancake mix stains, not just on his cheeks and lips, but on his arms and shirt as well. Ken wasn’t sure if he wanted to brush them off or just stare at them.

He’d never, ever in his life experienced anything like what being around Daisuke made him feel. He’d dated a few people over the years, but nothing all that seriously. His goal of being an architect came first. So he’d focused on his sleep and his studies and whatever minor bits of relaxation he couldn’t actually put off, and as far as he was concerned, that had been more than enough.

Until he met this pair of amazing eyes that went on forever and laughed and he didn’t feel as if they were laughing at him, but invited him to share the joke, even if he didn’t know what the joke was.

They talked. Ken couldn’t have said who asked all the questions. They took turns and he learned. Daisuke was taking mostly business classes with a few extra courses in home economics and cooking: his goal was to start a ramen chain of his own one day. He hadn’t decided between having a solid physical store that was in one place or between a portable cart.

“When I was a kid, I liked the idea of going from place to place,” he said, tracing a finger in his pancake syrup. “But the more I think about it, the more I’m not sure how that would work with building up a clientele and being able to stay dry.”

Ken nodded; being dry would be a major factor in his choice of where to eat. There was something to be said for watching rain or snow fall behind the safety of four walls as well.

Before he knew it, he’d offered to sketch out a few ideas for a potential shop structure. Daisuke's eyes lit up at once.

“That would be amazing! Takeru says you’re really, really good at that kind of thing!”

Ken’s cheeks tinged a bit pink once again and he ducked his head. “I’ve always liked the idea of building things. Creating things.”

“I’ll make you some of my very best ramen,” Daisuke promised. “You like ramen don’t you?”

“Sure.” He’d never had anything made for him, not like this. Not by someone like Daisuke.

He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone like Daisuke in the first place. This guy was one of a kind.

Ken liked the idea of that. To know someone who was that unique, that rare, that special.

“It’ll be the best ramen. Just you wait and see!” Daisuke promised, and Ken smiled.

“I don’t doubt you at all.”

Daisuke wanted to throw every bit of ramen he’d made into the trash and start over.

“This is just not going to work,” he groaned, staring at the noodles in front of him. They weren’t good enough. They could never be good enough.

Takeru lounged in the living room, close enough to the kitchen so he could hear Daisuke’s complaining and snicker at him. The two of them had known each other since they were eleven and Takeru knew every complaint Daisuke had about his skills in cooking.

“Should I call big brother so he can lend a hand?” Takeru teased. Daisuke jerked upward at that.

“Don’t you even think about it!”

Takeru’s big brother wasn’t the kind of professional cook that Daisuke wanted to be. What he was, was a musician, one of the best in the country – if not the world, if one asked Takeru. But he still knew how to cook and he made certain he and his band-mates didn’t survive off of fast food while they toured around.

He’d tasted Daisuke’s food before. Daisuke had no idea of what he thought about it, because he’d never been able to stick around long enough to find out. Sure, Takeru said he liked it, but that wasn’t necessarily true.

The idea of someone like Ishida Yamato tasting his attempts to make ramen for Ichijouji Ken sent chills all through Daisuke, and not the good kind that looking at Ken sparked off.

He’d seen Ken before in the apartment, but he hadn’t really paid much attention to him. Their schedules made it difficult for them to spend more than a handful of minutes around each other, so he just hadn’t thought about it.

Until the day he’d tried to make pancakes, ended up with one on the ceiling, gotten into an argument with Takeru and Iori over it, and then Ken stepped in there, and everything changed.

He wanted to say things to Ken. He wanted to do things with Ken. He wanted to try every rare recipe he could get his hands on and see if Ken liked them. He wanted to go to movies with Ken and to go on long walks and talk to him, find out even more than they’d somehow failed to talk about the few times they’d had time to talk to one another since that morning.

Now that they’d met one another, Daisuke couldn’t imagine his life without Ken in it. He’d never believed in soulmates but if such a thing did exist, maybe Ken…

No, he couldn’t be that lucky. If the world were kinder to him, then maybe…

Well, it wasn’t, and he would have to deal with it. He would spend what time he could with Ken now and they’d go their separate ways, even if Ken really did design a building for his future ramen restaurant. He would pay for it and say thank you and they’d drift apart over the years.

That was what happened. He’d gotten used to it.

With a deep sigh he pulled his attention back to the ingredients and started to sort through it all one more time with the intent of making the best ramen that he ever had. This was for Ken.

Ken hadn’t strangled him for tossing a pancake on the ceiling and said pancake falling onto his head.

Ken deserved the very best. So Daisuke was going to make sure he had it.

By the time Ken came back into the apartment, he looked ready to fall over where he stood and not move another inch until morning. Daisuke hurried over right away to guide him to the nearest couch. Takeru and Iori were out somewhere doing whatever it was they did when they weren’t at home and were out together.

Daisuke hadn’t ever asked. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“I’ve got the ramen,” he said once he thought Ken was aware enough to listen. “Are you hungry?”

Ken blinked a time or two, then nodded. “I don’t have the plans drawn up yet, though...” He trailed off as if he expected Daisuke to put the ramen away with that.

Daisuke, of course, did not. He just made certain he had a good steaming hot bowl of dinner ready.

“That’s okay. Maybe this’ll help?”

He brought the ramen in on a tray, along with some of the green tea he knew Ken liked. Their schedules still conflicted more than they didn’t, but he’d made a point to have all of this ready tonight. He’d probably regret doing this instead of studying or sleeping, but he didn’t care.

Ken tasted it carefully, his eyes slowly lighting up more and more as the flavors sank into him. He flashed a brilliant smile toward Daisuke.

“This is delicious! What do you call it? I mean… other than ramen?”

Daisuke blushed a deep cherry red at that. “Just ramen, right now. I might think up a name for it later. But you really like it?”

Ken gave him a very deep and serious look. “I love it.” He finished his bowl in just a few minutes, with every indication of having told the absolute truth. Then he asked what almost every chef and cook in the world loved to hear.

“May I have some more, please?”

Daisuke’s heart pattered with delight. “All you want. All you have to do is ask.”


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