Chapter 7

Yokozawa peeked into Hiyori’s darkened room, creeping close to her bedside by the light streaming in from the hallway. Turning on the light near her pillow with a soft click, he carefully examined her pallor; her cheeks that had been flushed darkly had once again returned to their usual pale pink, and she looked leagues healthier than she had. Even her breathing now as she slept, previously labored and wheezing, had calmed compared to her state earlier that afternoon. From the looks of things, it was clear she’d at last recovered, and Yokozawa felt a wave of relief wash over him.

He gently peeled away the cooling sheet from her forehead and tugged the futon, which had begun to slide off her body, up around her shoulders. Sorata, who’d been curled up at the foot of the bed, rose to his feet to make his own inspection.

“She’s sleeping well now, so don’t you dare wake her up.” Apparently she’d walked home in a sudden shower that had struck on Friday afternoon and wound up catching a summer cold. Summer this year had been absolutely sweltering, but Hiyo hadn’t seemed affected in the least–and yet as soon as summer vacation let up, it was as if all of the exhaustion that had been building up inside of her hit her in one fell swoop.

He’d heard that she’d taken with fever fairly often when she was little, but this was the first time Yokozawa had ever seen her laid up in bed like this since he’d started coming by the Kirishimas’ apartment. He’d been out of his mind with worry, but the doctor had assured him that if they just made sure she got plenty of proper nutrition and rest, she’d be good as new in no time.

Her school was going to be holding an outdoors session later on at the end of the month, and she’d been supposed to spend the night that evening with some friends from the same classroom group to practice preparing the curry they were going to cook during the outdoors session, but it had now been rescheduled for the next weekend. Hiyori had been over the moon with excitement and seemed heartbroken at not being able to spend the night, but she needed to recoup her strength first. If she pushed herself too hard and wound up not being able to attend the outdoors session altogether, that would’ve been just intolerable.

“Sorata–don’t sit there, you’re crushing her.” The cat had settled his paws against her shoulder to peer down into her face. Sorata had originally been his own pet, but after having the Kirishimas look after him when he wasn’t feeling well, the cat had wound up making this place his new home. Yokozawa had hesitated to drag Sorata back to his own place, seeing how well he and Hiyori were getting on, and before he knew it, Sorata living here had become almost a given.

It helped that Kirishima and Hiyori both had assured him that it was fine for Sorata to stay here forever, even, fawning over the cat–and Sorata had to be enjoying himself more in his new abode, no longer left alone for long periods of time as he had been at Yokozawa’s place.

However, he couldn’t let the animal bother Hiyori now that her condition had finally settled, and he scooped Sorata into his arms to carry him back into the living room–at which point Hiyori sensed him and opened her eyes. “Oniichan…?”

“Ah, sorry–guess I woke you up. Was I too loud?”

She shook her head slowly, eyes reflecting her just-woken state. “No… I think it’s cause I was thirsty.” She wasn’t coughing anymore, but her throat did sound a bit scratchy.

“Then how about a drink? Can you lift yourself up?”

“Yeah.” Sorata, having been set back down on the bed by Yokozawa, once again took his place at Hiyori’s side, and Yokozawa took his own seat in a chair beside the bed, helping Hiyori sit up.

“All right, now take your time drinking.”

“Thanks.” He passed a mild sports drink to Hiyori after she’d arranged herself in a sitting position. She must have been parched indeed, as the moment the straw touched her lips, she downed half the contents in a single gulp.

She liked to call him Oniichan, but they were by no means blood-related siblings as the term suggested; she was, in actuality, the daughter of Yokozawa’s partner. Between being invited into her home and treated to dinner, even having her look after his sick cat–somewhere along the way they’d grown rather close, and he and Sorata both enjoyed an almost familial relationship with her now. “How are you feeling?”

“I don’t feel bad anymore at least, and my head doesn’t hurt now.” She’d lost much of her appetite due to the cold leaving her feeling out of sorts, so she hadn’t taken in much solid food today at all. She’d managed to take a good three bites of the vegetable gruel Yokozawa had prepared, but that was all she’d seemed able to keep down.

“Not hungry, are you?”

She shook her head gently at his question. “I had some jello earlier, so I’m not hungry.” Yokozawa now recalled Kirishima mentioning earlier that he’d had her eat some jello when she’d woken up.

It had become something of a tradition now for Yokozawa to head straight over to the Kirishimas’ apartment every Friday after work, and picking out treats for Hiyori every week was something Yokozawa took great joy in. This week, he’d brought her jello with chunks of real fruit in it from a famous fruit stand; he’d wavered between the jello and roll cakes, but he was glad now to have ultimately gone with the more refreshing of the two.

“How’s your fever? Do you feel hot?” When he laid his hand gently against her forehead, he could tell her fever had come down quite a bit. At this rate, she’d be back to as good as new by tomorrow morning.

“Not so much anymore. But your hands are chilly, Oniichan–they feel good!”

“You think?”

“Hehe, and Sora-chan’s paws are soft and feel good, too,” she chuckled, gently squeezing Sorata’s front paws as he sat atop her lap.

“I’m gonna take your temperature, just to be safe. Do you mind?” He slid the thermometer into her ear and pressed the button, greeted moments later by a soft beeping. “..36.8, huh. It’s come down quite a bit; at this rate, you’ll be good as new by tomorrow, I’ll bet. You’re probably bored out of your skull laid up in bed like this, but it’s only for a little longer.”

“Yessir~”

Yokozawa’s eyes crinkled with mirth, and he patted her head at the polite response. While Hiyori could certainly come off more mature than her age suggested, she also could show a rather childish side at times as well. Perhaps because she’d been feeling under the weather, today she was being a bit more needy than usual.

“…Hey, Oniichan–where’s Dad?”

“He was in here not too long ago–but he’s in the bath now. Want me to get him for you?”

“Nah; I’ve got you and Sora-chan here, so I’m fine. Will you stay with me a little longer…?”

Yokozawa felt an unconscious smile twitching at his lips at the way she looked with her eyes turned up at him, leading him to wonder if this feeling was what they meant by the phrase “the apple of one’s eye”. “Don’t you fret; I’ll stay right here until you fall asleep.”

“Thank you, Oniichan–Sora-chan.”

“Now get some rest and get your strength back.”

“Okay.” She settled back down, and Yokozawa pulled the covers up around her again, turning the light down a notch. However, just sitting silently by Hiyori’s bedside left him feeling a bit bored, and he offered, “…You want me to read you a book?”

“…Oniichan, isn’t that something a little more appropriate for younger children?”

“…Well now that you mention it, I guess so.” When he stopped to think about it, he realized that fifth graders were a bit too old to have books read to them, and he flushed in shame as Hiyori snickered softly at him. Hiyori was the only girl her age that Yokozawa knew, so he often found himself at a loss as to just how to deal with her appropriately.

“Mmm, you know, on second thought, maybe I do want you to read me something. Will you read me a picture book, Oniichan?” she prodded, teasing obvious in her tone; it seemed she hadn’t missed his embarrassment from her earlier pointing out of the inappropriateness of his suggestion.

“Don’t tease your elders.” If she was feeling well enough to joke around like this, though, it suggested she was doing quite a bit better indeed. “I won’t read you any books–but I’ll make you anything you you want to eat tomorrow. Got any requests?”

“Hmm, theeeen…pudding! I want to try that one we saw on TV the other day!”

“The other day?” He rifled through his memories at her description. “Oh–the one with apple slices in it?” If he recalled correctly, it had been a baked pudding stuffed with caramelized apples. If he checked the program’s website, he could probably find the recipe, and he began pondering whether or not he could manage it with the ingredients on-hand in the apartment.

“You…think it’ll be too hard to make?”

“Hmm, I think I’ll manage somehow. But I better not hear a peep of complaint out of you even if it tastes like crap, got it?”

“But everything you make is delicious!”

“If you say so.”

“The hamburg steak you made before was really good too!”

“That’s because you helped out with it–you kneaded the meat and put together the sauce, too, remember?” All Yokozawa had done was slice up the onions and tend to the parts of the recipe that required working the stove; he’d mostly only been watching from the sidelines.

“Let’s cook again together, ‘kay?” Her words took on a slight lisp now, probably because she was getting tired, and her heavy blinking made it seem as if her lids could slide shut at any moment. Her speech trailed off, and a short while later, the room was filled with the sounds of her quiet breathing.

“…Night,” he offered softly, rearranging the covers once more. Recognizing that having Sorata by her side would help keep her from feeling lonely when she woke, he gave up trying to remove the cat from the room. “Take care of her, will ya?”

He silently pushed himself up, being careful not to make a sound, and exited the room. As he stepped out into the hall, he found that Kirishima had come to check up on his daughter. Yokozawa had encouraged him to relax while taking his bath, but it seemed he’d only jumped in and quickly gotten out. “How is she?”

“Her fever’s gone down, and she’s feeling much better. She just went to sleep, though, so keep it down.”

“I see…” He peeked in through the crack in the door to check her features before quietly closing it again. This was Kirishima Zen, acting Editor-in-Chief of Marukawa Shoten’s monthly magazine Japun. He was the leading hit-maker in the entire company, well-respected by all his subordinates. In private, though, he was a doting father to his daughter, and despite losing his wife to illness some years before, he’d raised Hiyori into a fine girl. “Still, it’s been years since she got a fever–really caught me off guard.”

“Really? You seemed perfectly even-keeled to me.”

“Well I can hardly let myself go to pieces in front of Hiyo. I’m just glad it was only a cold–some people can catch the flu in summer, after all.” The small mercy with the whole affair had been the fact that she’d fallen ill over the weekend; thanks to that, they’d been able to nurse her back to health without any distractions, at her side constantly. “Thanks, really. For everything. It really helped, having you here. I probably couldn’t have handled it all on my own.”

“Just returning the favor; you helped me out back then with Sorata, remember?” Yokozawa was certain that even if he hadn’t been there, Kirishima could have always sought help from his own parents, who lived just around the corner; but…it still filled him with a swell of happiness knowing he’d been the one Kirishima depended upon.

“Yeah, but…still, thanks.”

“…Well, how long are we gonna stand around here for? We don’t want Hiyo waking up.” He knew he should have just offered a you’re welcome, but being shown such honest gratitude was somehow strangely embarrassing. He could feel Kirishima smiling at him from behind, but knew that if he turned around to confirm as such, he’d reveal himself in his own expression, and therefore kept his back to the guy, heading straight for the kitchen.

It had been one stormy night that had so suddenly brought together Kirishima and Yokozawa, who’d never before traded more than a few words outside of meetings. Heartbroken and desperate for some outlet for the emotions pent up within him, Yokozawa had tried to lose himself in bottles of booze when Kirishima had approached him. Despite rarely sharing more than the occasional greeting at the office, Kirishima had forced the drunk Yokozawa to grant him a seat beside him and proven a rather irritating conversation partner–and when Yokozawa had regained his senses, he’d found himself sharing a hotel room with the man. He’d been shocked enough to find himself sleeping in the nude–but his heart had almost stopped in his chest when Kirishima had stepped out of the bathroom, fresh from the shower.

Since then, they’d been through more than a few adventures–but perhaps the most surprising of all had been finding himself starting a relationship with Kirishima. Truthfully, it was still kind of hard to believe that he’d find himself so intimately involved with someone he’d previously almost never interacted with in the office.

Rest assured, though, that this sense of disbelief was not out of some sense of unease in their feelings for each other or any sort of mistrust–it was simply…that it made him think sometimes that this whole situation was like something out of a dream, and Yokozawa’s inability to shake that feeling was likely because he was just so damn happy right now.

His time spent at Kirishima’s place was laid back and enjoyable; his only daughter, likely at a difficult age herself, had taken to him quite fondly, and they treated him like a member of their own family. It was truly a dreamy life.

And perhaps that was why he still occasionally found himself being caught off guard by Kirishima’s words and actions; this kind of life had become normal, expected to him now, perhaps best described as something of a ‘windfall’, a stroke of luck.

He tugged open the refrigerator door, checking whether or not they had the ingredients for the pudding Hiyori had requested, when he felt someone draw up close behind him, refusing to step away to leave him any room and rousing feelings of irritation. “You really didn’t have to follow me all the way in here, you know.”

“I just came to get a drink, that’s all; what, are you that sensitive to my presence?”

“H–hell no.”

“Yeah right.” A knowing leer spreading over his handsome features, Kirishima brushed past Yokozawa to reach into the fridge and retrieve a bottle of oolong tea. The kitchen itself was actually pretty big, but with two men pushing 180 cm in height standing next to one another in it, the space felt kind of cramped. “What’re you doing?”

“Hiyo said she wanted to eat some pudding, so I came to check the ingredients.”

“Your pudding’s her favorite food now, you know.”

“Pudding is pretty much any kid’s favorite food. She said she wanted some with apple slices in it; are there any left?”

“Plenty; I actually tried peeling one myself earlier, but geez–I suck at it; hardly any was left when I finished.”

“Oi–what the hell were you thinking? What if you’d hurt yourself?” The guy could barely wield a knife properly; he had to be out of his mind. He really wished Kirishima would try things like that where he could monitor him.

“Oh? Worrying over me?” His lips quirked into an amused smile, leaving Yokozawa to realize his error in phrasing.

“Hell no–if you fuck up your hand, it’s gonna come back to bite me in the office, though. The sales force is who’ll have to pick up the slack for you not pushing out books at a proper pace!”

“Classic tsundere response, right there.” The sight of Kirishima’s shoulders shaking with repressed laughter sparked Yokozawa’s irritation further.

“Th–that’s not what I…”

“All right, all right–I’ll cut you a break. So–what’re your plans for tomorrow?”

Having Kirishima apply any interpretation he damn well pleased to Yokozawa’s words left him with a bit of indigestion, but he knew full well there was no way he could win against the guy like this. He’d learned well over the past six months or so that it was best not to join any fight he knew he couldn’t hope to win to begin with. “Nothing in particular; with Hiyo like that, it’s probably best we don’t go out shopping.” They’d discussed heading out on Sunday to pick up everything she would need for the outdoors session, but it wasn’t a very good idea to push their luck when she’d just recovered from an illness.

Weekends with no plans in particular were by and large spent at the Kirishimas’ place these days. Sometimes they went out as a trio, and other times Hiyori would go off to play with friends and the pair would head out shopping on their own; still other times, they would simply sit around the house all day.

“True; can’t have her cold coming back, after all. Might be a good excuse to clear out the DVR, then.”

“She didn’t really eat much of anything today, so I’ll have to make sure I prepare something nice and nutritious. What about you? Anything you wanna eat? Which reminds me, I’m starving… Maybe I’ll make a late-night snack.”

Yokozawa had made vegetable gruel earlier for Hiyori, who hadn’t had much of an appetite, and he and Kirishima had enjoyed that for dinner–but as expected, it just hadn’t been enough to satisfy completely.

“As a matter of fact…there is something I want. But I’m gonna hold back for now.”

“Why the hell would you do that? What–worried about your waistline?” He recalled here that Kirishima had been grumbling a few days earlier about gaining too much weight, and while Yokozawa couldn’t tell where he’d put on any pounds, if anywhere, he supposed Kirishima was at an age where that kind of thing bothered him.

“…God you are really thick,” Kirishima murmured, a sigh laced in his words. “You’re not playing dumb on purpose, are you?”

Yokozawa’s brows drew together at the insinuation. “Playing dumb about what?”

“…You seriously don’t get what I’m saying?”

“Saying about what, dammit?” he pressed again, irritation rising when Kirishima refused to give him a straight answer.

“I’m talking about you, idiot.”

“Me?” He couldn’t connect this response with the initial question in any way, and he raked his gaze over Kirishima, confusion evident on his features.

“…If still don’t get it now, then I guess that means you’re really not playing the adorable airhead, huh? How about I put it this way: I want you.

“………?!” Yokozawa’s heart took a direct hit from the words dropped like a bomb before him. Reflecting back on their conversation, Kirishima’s innuendo had been far from subtle–and Yokozawa couldn’t negate the fact that he was, indeed, quite thick.

“I’d really love for you to start being able to read between the lines a little better… You’re ruining my strategy here.”

“You…don’t need any stupid strategy.”

“Is that your way of saying ‘just come and get me’, then?”

“You know that’s not what I m–hng.” Kirishima took him by the chin and stroked a thumb over his lips suggestively. A shudder jolted up his spine, and Yokozawa took a leap backwards.

“Geez, you don’t have to react like that–I’m not gonna just jump you.” With a flirtatious rake of his gaze over Yokozawa, he downed the rest of his oolong tea in one gulp before sauntering out of the kitchen.

“Wha…” Yokozawa felt a flash of irritation rise up within–what was with that attitude after having the nerve to rile someone up the way he had?–but he knew if he protested the departure in any way, he’d just be fueling Kirishima’s fire. Besides, with Hiyori laid up in bed with a fever, they couldn’t afford to disturb her.

He could still feel Kirishima’s fingers on his lips–but before he let himself get swept away by memories of his kisses, he shook his head fiercely to disperse the thoughts. He felt a familiar heat threatening to rise from inside himself, but he forced himself to ignore it and instead dove into preparing Hiyori’s pudding.


“…Tsk,” Yokozawa tutted in irritation at the umpteenth typo he’d made that day. The state he’d been in since the beginning of the week was starting to affect his work now, but despite understanding this, he’d found great difficulty in changing his attitude.

He knew fully well why he was feeling this way; he didn’t want to admit it…but it was all because he hadn’t gotten to spend any time alone with Kirishima in the past week. On top of their mutually hectic schedules, Kirishima had been spirited away out of town for some anime/manga-related event over the weekend, and then Yokozawa had been called to attend an autograph event on the following Monday’s holiday, leaving the pair just passing each other on their days off. Add to that the fact that he hadn’t gotten to see much of Hiyori or Sorata either, and he just simply hadn’t had time to sit down and relax.

He’d thought they might perhaps at least be able to have lunch together, sending off a text message that morning suggesting as such, but apparently today marked the end of the cycle, and Kirishima had responded that he couldn’t spare the time to leave the office.

“Yokozawa-san–do you have a moment?” Henmi called out, interrupting his sighing to himself, and after closing the window displaying the proposal that just wasn’t going anywhere right now, he slipped back into ‘work superior’ mode.

“What is it?”

“The sample promotional materials for the next campaign came in; they actually look quite nice!”

“Yeah; these are bound to stand out in stores.”

“Indeed! Then–I’ll take these up to the editing floor!”

“Thanks. Ah–wait, no. I’ve got an errand I need to run up there, so I’ll just take care of the delivery while I’m at it.”

“Huh? Are you sure?” Henmi squawked in surprise at Yokozawa’s offer. He could hardly be blamed; Yokozawa generally had Henmi run errands to the editing departments to avoid accidentally running into Kirishima around the office, after all.

“I need to discuss something with them–and they helped us out before by asking one of their mangaka to draft an illustration for the campaign, so I’d better give my thanks, too.” Having an excuse like this would keep unnecessary questions from popping up when he dropped in to check things out.

“Understood. Oh–then when you get back, would you mind looking over my project proposal?”

“Sure. It shouldn’t take long, so I’ll be back soon.” He snatched up the envelope with the promotional materials and left the sales floor, stepping onto the elevator and heading up to the fifth floor–the Japun editing division. He peeked into their area from the hallway, judging the condition as best he could.

“………”

The place was more sluggish and stagnant than he’d imagined, an oppressive atmosphere permeating everything in sight, and he froze in place before stepping one toe into the area. Kirishima had been muttering about how things were going particularly roughly this cycle, and he now recalled that the guy had seemed more frustrated than usual. Kirishima hardly ever wore a sour expression around the office, but he’d been decidedly tense today–perhaps because of the general atmosphere of the editing department being in the sad state it was.

All of the editors seemed to be on death’s doorstep, leaving Yokozawa to rethink his decision to visit and consider dropping by some other time. Just as he’d turned on his heel to head back down to the sales department, though, Kirishima’s head shot up–

“!!”

–and their eyes locked, setting an expression of agitation on Yokozawa’s features. He grit his teeth in frustration as he realized he’d just handed Kirishima a golden opportunity for teasing. He’d been relatively adept at maintaining a poker face around the office lately, but unexpected blows like this still did him in.

Kirishima shot to his feet, approaching in a ghastly state–but when Yokozawa took a hesitant step back at the intensity of his attention, Kirishima grabbed his arm and ruined any plan of escape. “Perfect timing, Yokozawa.”

“Wha…t?” He blinked several times in succession at the statement, struggling to wrap his head around the words.

Ignoring the altogether confused Yokozawa for a moment, Kirishima offhandedly called out to the nearby Katou, “I’m stepping out for a moment,” and the pair departed the editing floor.

With his arm still tight in Kirishima’s grip, Yokozawa found himself dragged out into the hallway, still unsure as to what the guy had meant by perfect timing. If there was something he’d needed Yokozawa to check, then why leave the editing department? Even if it were something more akin to a ‘discussion’, all they needed to do was head to the meeting space available on every floor. “What’s the big idea?”

“Just shut up and follow me.” He maintained his grip on Yokozawa’s arm, heading down the hall, and his long legs quickly had them sprinting up a staircase.

Yokozawa’s legs nearly buckled underneath him at being jerked along at such an awkward angle, but he shortly found himself being shuttled into an empty meeting room. “Geez, what the hell are you doing–?!” Kirishima ignored his question, instead silently locking the door behind them before turning a dark expression on Yokozawa. “Ki…Kirishima…-san…?” The grave expression suggested they’d fucked up something yet again, and Yokozawa’s chest clenched at the possibility of what lay ahead. “Was there another issue with–” he started, but his words were quickly stopped with a kiss as his lips were devoured greedily without even the grace of a breath granted.

Yokozawa’s mind went blank at the unexpected action, and when he finally snapped back to his senses after a few beats, he found a tight grip around his hips. “Nn…hnm–!” He thumped his fist along Kirishima’s back in protest, but the kiss only deepened in response. A tongue slipped through his lips to make a sweep of his mouth, and the slick sounds of their kissing and their labored breathing quickly roused a heat within him whether he liked it or not. “Hnn…nn…”

He fiercely clamped down with the last bits of his good senses on the part of him that desperately wanted to give in to the moment–this was an office meeting room. With the door locked as it was, hardly anyone was likely to barge in–but there was still a slim possibility. More so, though, there was the fact that they were on the clock, and it was unforgivable for working adults to engage in this sort of act on company time.

However, while Yokozawa would’ve liked to have given Kirishima a piece of his mind on such matters–the lips he needed to do so were otherwise engaged at the moment. Just as he was considering biting the guy’s tongue to get him to let go, though, Kirishima finally released him from the kiss, perhaps sensing himself in some mortal danger.

You…!”

“You have no idea how fucking glad I am to see you. I was seriously going out of my mind, I was so damn horny,” Kirishima cut in, his words lacking any grace and stalling Yokozawa in his gasping, wheezing attempt to chew him out.

“…Huh?”

“I never thought I’d get blue-balled for three whole weeks. It’s been torture.”

What the–you’re not trying to tell me this is all you dragged me in here for, are you?”

“Yeah, why?”

Where the hell do you think we are?

“A meeting room at work. And I made sure to choose one with thick walls, so don’t you fret.”

“Then practice a little self-restraint since you seem to understand where this is!” Maybe a few screws had come loose from the guy’s head in the wake of the destruction wrought by the end of the cycle.

“No can do–if I don’t get a little pick-me-up right this instant, there’s no way I’m gonna make it through tonight.” He slipped a finger into the knot holding Yokozawa’s necktie in place, tugging it down insistently, and before Yokozawa even realized it, the guy had gotten two of his shirt buttons unsnapped and laid his teeth along the strip of bared neck. “Ngh–don’t…bite there, dammit!”

“It’s fine; no one’ll notice so long as you keep your tie tight.”

“That’s not the issue–” He shuffled backwards in retreat, legs eventually bumping against the edge of a desk, and with nowhere left to run, he started to settle his weight on top of the desk.

Kirishima hadn’t once stopped his roaming hands while quibbling with Yokozawa, who still couldn’t divine just how serious or not the guy was being, and continued to nip at Yokozawa’s nape. The sensation of Kirishima’s fingers sliding along his spine seeped down through the layers of his suit, and the hands soon dipped down to his hips, slipping under the light suit jacket he wore and brushing against the muscles of his lower back. “Cut…it…ngh…”

Using a knee to force Yokozawa’s legs apart, Kirishima turned his attentions to his groin now, using his free hand to pinch at a nipple, twisting it cloth and all. Yokozawa’s brows drew together at the faint pain–his breathing was growing labored now, and conscious thought was starting to fade away. He tried to avert his attention from the actions being wrought upon his body, but it was futile.

“I said…cut it…ngh, out!” Summoning the last of his strength, he shoved Kirishima away with all the might he could muster–if this went on for even a moment more, there would be no turning back. He could already sense a buzzing throbbing deep within his core, and his groin was begging for more attention. “Just…so we’re clear, I’ll ask once more: You do realize we’re at work and are on the clock right now, right?” He made sure to phrase his question clearly, as if reprimanding a child–but Kirishima only responded with a roll of his eyes and a forced sigh.

“God, you really are way too stiff sometimes.”

“No, it’s just your brain that’s too soft!” he snapped, correcting the obviously peeved Kirishima. He needed the guy to understand just who was the one behaving ridiculously here.

“I didn’t have time for lunch today, so what’s the harm in taking a break for a few?”

“You haven’t eaten anything all day?”

“Well–one of the girls from the department next to us gave me a chocolate bar.”

“You really need something more nutritious than…” Sure, it might do in a pinch for an emergency supply of energy, but there was no way a grown man could make it through the day on a single little chocolate bar for lunch. But busy as he may have been, it still didn’t excuse such misconduct in the office.

“Weeeell, if a certain lovely wife would make me a bentou now and then, maybe I could have a delicious, nutritional lunch…” He capped this wish with an innocent glance about the empty room.

“…Oi, are you trying to tell me to make you a boxed lunch?”

“Ooh, you caught on! I knew you’d get it!”

“I never said I’d make shit,” Yokozawa warned Kirishima, who stood there nodding to himself in satisfaction; he couldn’t stand having a casual remark mistaken as an offer like that. “Why the hell should I, anyways? I have to be up before you already–you trying to tell me you want me to get up even earlier now?”

In the face of Yokozawa’s irritation, Kirishima returned, gravely somber, “Why don’t we wake up together, then? I’m totally game for helping out if you just point me in the right direction. Ah–wait, waking up early tomorrow might be a bit tough…”

Yokozawa sighed to himself as Kirishima stood there making plans all on his own and pointed out something which had obviously slipped the man’s mind: “You didn’t even read the text I sent you this morning properly, did you? I can’t go to your place tonight anyway. I told you in the message that I have a business reception this evening.”

“What’s more important to you, then? Work–or me?”

Yokozawa’s irritation flared at the chidishly playful response; he couldn’t put up with these suggestive jokes right now. “You really want to bring that up right now? When you’ll probably be stuck here until morning finishing up your cycle?”

“Work and family and my lover are all important to me–plus, it’ll make the overtime easier to get through knowing you’re waiting for me at home.”

“Yeah, right.” It was useless trying to keep up with this guy, and while Yokozawa cast a frosty glance his way, it seemed to have no effect on Kirishima, who immediately changed tacks and tried a different approach, face brightening.

“Ah–then how about tomorrow? You’ll be there tomorrow for sure, right?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Who’s forgetful now? Hiyo’s going off on her little outdoor school adventure starting tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah…” Now he remembered–tomorrow Hiyori would be gone for three days and two nights on school camping trip. She’d completely recovered from her cold two weeks prior, and Yokozawa now recalled that she’d sent him a text about it that morning. He’d gotten a bit carried away and made a huge portion of the pudding she’d asked back then, but she’d eaten almost the entire thing by herself. When she’d finished, she’d worriedly pondered, “I wonder if I’m gonna get fat…”, but given her build, she could probably stand to put a little more weight on her bones. Plus, Yokozawa had always thought girls looked cuter if they had a bit of roundness to them.

“It’ll be the first time we’ve had some time alone in a while…”

“…So what?”

So we can be as lovey-dovey as we want.”

“Idiot!” It was hardly language befitting a man his age.

“What, you don’t wanna be lovey-dovey with me?”

“Are you seriously asking me that with a straight face?” Was he just imagining the headache he felt forming from this exchange? His reflexes just couldn’t last going all out against this guy. There really had to be something going on with Kirishima today–and maybe it spoke to just how much pressure he was under with work right now.

“Hey, I find it quite important to ascertain these sorts of things. I wouldn’t want to do something you objected to, after all.”

“Yeah right–says the man who gets off on teasing the shit out of me.”

“It’s your fault for looking so damn cute when you’re pissed.”

“Don’t try and push the blame onto me!”

“Ooh, I love it when you make that face.”

“………!” Yokozawa’s face exploded into a flush at the words whispered right next to his ear. Try as he might, he was always doomed to failure in situations like this. He’d do his best to cleverly maneuver through Kirishima’s childish pranks–but he always found himself ultimately beaten down by the man’s mature coolness.

“I was crazy lonely without you last week…”

“………”

“You were too, weren’t you, Takafumi?”

Sometimes silence was consent–and just as Yokozawa braced himself, ready this time to accept Kirishima as his face drew close again…the sound of a cellphone ringing wrent the air.

Dammit–guess our time’s up. Yes? Kirishima speaking.” He slipped back seamlessly into work-mode, and over the speaker, Yokozawa could hear a voice frantically crying out Kirishima-san, where did you GO?! From the sound of his speech patterns, it was probably Katou.

“I was just about to head back. Give me another minute, geez.” His air made him seem like some cranky soba vendor making excuses for his slow service, and when Yokozawa mouthed silently You liar, Kirishima reached over and pinched his cheek as if ordering him to keep quiet.

“Cut that out!” he hissed angrily so as not to be heard over the receiver, slapping at Kirishima’s hands as he continued his childish teasing. But Kirishima proceeded to poke and prod wherever he could reach despite Yokozawa’s clear indignation, all the while continuing his phone conversation. Despite continually having his hands batted away, Kirishima never ceased his efforts, obviously enjoying Yokozawa’s reactions.

“Ah–well I’ll leave that to you, then. Yeah–that’s fine. I trust your judgment. All right. I’ll be right there.”

“………!” Yokozawa was nearly at his limit, and he gripped a tight fist around Kirishima’s wrist when the man reached forward to get one last good cheek-poke in. He squeezed with all his might, and though Kirishima’s face showed his pain clearly, he still seemed to be enjoying himself. 

“Gotcha. Get started with it for now.” He cut the call and leered at Yokozawa, who still kept his tight grip on Kirishima’s wrist. He was running out of ways to react when the guy just seemed to enjoy everything Yokozawa threw at him. “C’mon, it’s nothing to get that pissed over.”

“I’m not pissed; I’m shocked. Now put the phone away and get your ass back to the editing floor!” 

“Geez, you’re no fun. Try putting yourself in my shoes and thinking about how hard it is for me to leave you right now.”

“DON’T GROPE MY ASS.” He didn’t want to deal with that kind of thing at home–but he certainly didn’t want to be subjected to such sexual harassment at the office either.

“All right, you win; we’ll save the rest for tomorrow–but you’ll need to take care of yourself on your own for now; this is tough for me, too.”

“Don’t play the victim!”

“Hahaha, all right, all right. I’m heading out then–oh, and don’t worry. I won’t lurk in the toilets on this floor, so feel free to use them if you need to.”

“…Whatever, just…get going!” There’d be no recovering if he ran into anyone in his present state; he’d have to wait it out and hope he cooled off soon. But as he took a deep breath–he suddenly remembered. “…Ah!”

He’d completely forgotten to thank Kirishima for his help with the campaign materials and neglected to get him to okay the new adverts.

Recalling how he’d gotten swept up in the moment, he couldn’t bring himself to lay all the blame on Kirishima, but when he thought about having to drag himself back up to the editing floor once again…he felt quite depressed.


Yokozawa ducked his head into a bow as he saw off the taxi carrying his client, and after ensuring the car had rounded a corner and was well out of sight, both he and Henmi finally breathed a sigh of relief.

“Good work today.”

“Whew! Today really did a number on me. I never expected him to drink so much…!”

“And here I was praying you wouldn’t lose your head with booze.” The client for today’s business meeting had been quite the alcohol connoisseur, and on top of easily drinking his way through several bottles of wine without batting a lash, the man had gone out of his way to encourage Yokozawa and Henmi to partake as well, forcing them both to drink a bit more than they could feasibly handle.

“I couldn’t let myself get tipsy tonight! But to tell the truth, I couldn’t even make heads or tails of the taste of the meal itself…” Their client tonight had been the manager of the main branch of a large chain bookstore Marukawa would be doing business with for the first time. Given that the man would be throwing his full support and cooperation behind the upcoming manga fair for Japun, Yokozawa had invited him out to dinner to express his gratitude as well as pound out details.

“What’re your plans now? Care for another drink?”

“Ah–no no no, I’m headed home now. If I drink any more tonight, things might get ugly.”

“That’s rare coming from you; feeling the summer fatigue already?” Henmi was usually the first to pipe up with a hearty “Absolutely!”, so he really must have been exhausted today. With all of the drinking parties last week and having to come in to the office for autograph events over the holidays, his fatigue must have been building up for quite some time.

“Perhaps–or maybe I’m just getting on up there in years!”

“Yeah, right. You’re still young; but I can’t have you wrecking your body, so enjoy your rest.” With that, the two parted ways; it was certainly no laughing matter considering what might happen should Henmi be out of commission during such a busy period.

Yokozawa was just as exhausted himself, but he didn’t feel like heading straight home just yet. “Guess one more drink won’t hurt…” he muttered to himself, recalling that he was near a bar he’d frequented quite a bit in the past, and he headed for the establishment in question.

Welcome!

“One beer, please.”

Perhaps he was loath to return to his apartment simply because he hated the fact that there was no one there waiting for him. Perhaps he would’ve been better off not being so damned stubborn and just agreeing to go on ahead to the Kirishimas’ place. But then–given that Kirishima himself would be late coming home, there was a very good chance that his mother was spending the night looking after Hiyori, and while he was on friendly terms with the woman, having met her on several occasions, he couldn’t bring himself to saunter into the apartment when the owner himself wasn’t even home.

He settled at the counter, nursing the drink he’d ordered and checking his cell phone for any texts that might have arrived recently–when he caught the sounds of two people arguing just behind him.

“You don’t care about me at all, do you?!”

“Just calm down–this isn’t the kind of place you can make a scene in.”

“You’re always so damn caught up in what other people think of you–I hate that! So you’re telling me you care more about what a bunch of strangers think than me?”

“That’s not it at all–I’m just saying, give a bit of thought as to where we are right now…”

Yokozawa casually glanced over his shoulder at what he took to be a lovers’ spat–when the woman doused him with the contents of a cup of water she’d thrown. She’d likely been aiming for the man sitting across from her, just behind Yokozawa, but he’d taken the brunt of the blow himself, and now the coat he’d had hanging across the back of his stool was soaked.

“You should just marry your job if you love it so much!” she spit out with finality, slinging the door open as she stormed out and leaving the entire bar in a spoiled mood.

“I–I’m so sorry for the inconvenience…” the man apologized awkwardly, whipping out a handkerchief as he began to pat down Yokozawa’s soaked jacket.

“Oh–no, it’s nothing. This’ll dry off soon enough, I’m sure. Please don’t worry about it.” When he glanced up, he felt a sense of familiarity from the man–as if he’d seen him somewhere before, and after picking through his memories, trying to place the face, he finally realized: “Ah!” This was Iokawa, the uncle of Hiyori’s classmate who’d brought her a birthday present recently.

Iokawa’s expression waxed confused at Yokozawa’s exclamation, but after a moment glancing at Yokozawa’s face, he reacted in much the same manner: “You’re…the man I met at Kirishima-san’s place, correct? If I recall, your name was…”

“Yokozawa,” he supplied before the man could struggle to remember.

“Right, right–Yokozawa-san! My apologies; I’m mortified you had to witness that…” He seemed even more embarrassed at what had just transpired now that he was faced with someone who knew him. Surely anyone would be in much the same state if an acquaintance had witnessed such a scene.

His interaction with Iokawa now was removed from the severity of his earlier tiff, leaving him much more agreeable now, but they could neither of them shake the heavy gazes of those around them. “Uh…would you like to head somewhere else? Your glass seems about empty, anyway.” It was a hastily offered suggestion, but luckily enough, Yokozawa’s own glass was nearing empty itself, and they’d likely have trouble enjoying a relaxing drink in this establishment now.

“Ah, y-yes, you have a point!” Iokawa seemed to have noticed the eyes of the other patrons on him at Yokozawa’s suggestion, and with an apologetic duck of his head to the onlookers, he hastily gathered up his wallet. Perhaps in an effort to make it up to Yokozawa, Iokawa attempted to pay for their drinks together, but Yokozawa refused, clearing his own debt before the two stepped out of the bar.

“I really am sorry for getting you involved in my affairs, Yokozawa-san,” he apologized again, bowing his head and leaving Yokozawa a bit uncomfortable at being apologized to so much over so insignificant a matter.

“Think nothing of it; I’d already been considering leaving soon, so it’s really not that big a deal.” He’d only intended to have one drink, so it had been a good excuse to head home.

“Would you…mind if I accompanied you as far as the station?”

“By all means.” He had no reason to refuse, after all, and it would’ve been awkward to purposefully split up when they were heading in the same direction. But the fact remained that Yokozawa had caught him in a rather embarrassing private scene, so he wasn’t quite sure where to go with the conversation.

“So…do you go to that bar often, Yokozawa-san?”

“Eh? Ah…well, I used to. I haven’t dropped by lately, though; tonight was the first time in a while, actually.”

“I see–then all the more reason for me to apologize for spoiling a moment you’d surely been enjoying.”

“No no no, really please–don’t fret over it.”

“If I’d know things would erupt like that…I would’ve chosen a different shop…” he allowed with a wry smile, muttering to himself that he’d never be able to show himself in that bar again. Yokozawa could think of nothing to say to console the man, so he instead fell silent. “…I’m sorry, for saying such strange things. I do believe I may be a bit drunk. I’m sure you’re feeling rather put-out listening to me go on like this.”

“Oh, no–that’s not… I mean, I can lend an ear if you need it?” Sometimes it helped talking things out with someone completely removed from the situation, and while Yokozawa would have balked if genuinely begged to offer advice, it was always better to give voice to these feelings rather than keeping them bottled up inside.

“I thought…well, that she might react more calmly if we were in a public place. Guess that backfired, huh? We’d been dating since our school days, but we’ve kind of drifted apart since graduating. Then, when I got really busy with work and couldn’t make time for her…she cheated on me.”

“Wha…?” If that was the case, then she should’ve been the one being attacked tonight; Yokozawa couldn’t wrap his mind around the logic that had her so mercilessly chewing out Iokawa instead.

“She said that it was my fault for pouring myself into my job and making her lonely; which, well…we haven’t gotten to see much of each other at all over the past few months, so…”

“But still–isn’t that kind of ridiculous? Even if you were in the wrong for making her feel lonely, it’s hardly grounds to cheat on you.” Yokozawa knew full well the loneliness that came with not being able to find time to be with your lover; however, that hole in the heart was not one that could be filled by spending time instead with someone else. If she’d been able to satisfy her needs via adultery, then there had to have been issue with her feelings for her boyfriend to begin with.

“…You’re a really good person, Yokozawa-san.”

“Huh?”

“Well, this is only our second time ever speaking, and yet you’re being so patient in listening to my problems. Only truly kind folks can do that sort of thing. Most would sooner run away than lend an ear to a guy who just got dumped.”

“I…suppose so.” He couldn’t help agreeing, as if they were discussing someone else. Sure, it was human nature to want to avoid getting drawn into annoying situations, but he’d never really given it that much thought until Iokawa pointed it out.

“Hahaha–I see you didn’t even realize it yourself. But still–thank you very much. Thanks to you, I think I’ll be able to get back on my feet after this.”

“Oh, no, not at all. I said I’d just listen to your woes, and then I opened my big mouth.”

“No–I’m truly grateful. I’m sure I’ll be able to pour myself full-force into my work tomorrow now. I’m afraid my job will have to be my lover for the foreseeable future,” Iokawa announced indifferently, and while he probably hadn’t completely recovered from the evening, it was good that he didn’t seem too shaken. The smile he wore may have been forced, but even so, time would heal all wounds.

Uneasy about continuing a discussion of loves lost, Yokozawa groped for some other point of conversation they might share, recalling the day they’d first met. “That reminds me, why were you the one to drop by the apartment the other day, Iokawa-san?”

“The other day? Ah, Hiyori-chan’s birthday, you mean? Yeah–I suppose it seemed a bit strange for an uncle to go along with his nephew rather than the parents.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say strange, but I did wonder.”

“Well, I live in the same apartment complex, for one, but I think he was mostly shy about talking to his parents about a girl he liked–he’ll be hitting puberty soon, after all–so I offered to hear him out. He’s an only child, too, so I’m something like an older brother for him.”

Yokozawa could kind of understand how the kid must have been feeling; having his parents completely and enthusiastically support his efforts would likely only prove embarrassing, but it would be unbearable to be teased for it, too. As such, he might find himself wanting to place his trust in an uncle somewhat removed from the situation.

“He was planning on going alone originally–but got cold feet at the last minute, so I wound up accompanying him.”

“I see… So that’s how it was.” It had been glaringly obvious how nervous the poor kid had been, though Hiyori hadn’t seemed aware in the least of his crush. The girl could prove amazingly mature on occasion–but when it came to matters of romance, she was still very much a child. Granted, Yokozawa wasn’t sure he could handle her growing up too quickly, so unfortunately for Iokawa-kun, he hoped she stayed just the way she was.

“By the way, Yokozawa-san–are you by any chance employed at Marukawa Shoten…?”

“I am–but how did you…?”

“Oh, no, just–I heard from my nephew that Kirishima-san is the editor-in-chief of Japun, and you introduced yourself as his subordinate when we met the other day, so I wondered if you weren’t perhaps an editor maybe…?”

He could see the logic in Iokawa’s train of thought; Kirishima wasn’t the type to go about announcing his line of work, but it was hardly strange for parents and guardians to know some level of personal information about others.

“Well, no–actually, I’m not his subordinate, per se. I work in sales,” he corrected. While such information might invite curiosity as to why two people so removed in age were as close as he and Kirishima seemed in their time off, he couldn’t bring himself to keep up the lie.

“Oh, really? I’m actually a salesman for a publishing house myself! Though we’re nowhere near as grand as Marukawa-san, of course.”

“Are you? May I ask who you work with, then?” It was rare that Yokozawa found opportunity to converse with someone else in his line of work, and sheer curiosity pressed the question.

“Fujino Books.”

“I see–so you’re in sales for Fujino Books, then? I’m a mystery fan myself, so I’ve read quite a few Fujino pieces.”

Fujino Books was a mid-ranked veteran publishing house, vending not only science fiction, mysteries, and foreign literature but also housing a rather impressive library of picture books and children’s literature as well. Hiyori’s own bookshelves were stacked with more than a few Fujino titles.

“Wow, I’m thrilled! Ah–but of course, I read Marukawa-san’s pieces, too! Usami-sensei’s recent new release really was a novel idea; I quite enjoyed it!”

“Then thanks very much for your patronage; though I’m afraid I’m not in charge of the literature department myself.”

“What genre do you deal with, then? Ah–seeing how close you are with Kirishima-san, I suspect it would be…manga?”

“Indeed. I deal with all manner of comics.”

“I’m afraid I don’t read too much manga, but I’ve got all the volumes of Za Kan. I can never figure out where the story’s going to go, so I’m bowled over every time. I even broke out into tears with one of the recent chapters!” Iokawa may have seemed quiet on the surface, but it seemed he had quite the talkative side to him as well. From the looks of things, the guy would probably flip if he found out that Kirishima was Ijuuin Kyou’s managing editor.

“Oh–I realize it’s a bit late for this sort of thing, but could I give you my card?”

“Sure, thank you–I’ll give you mine as well, if that’s all right?” Yokozawa never would’ve thought he’d find himself in a position exchanging business cards on a city street in the middle of the night.

“I’m thrilled to have gotten to meet someone like yourself, Yokozawa-san. I hope we can grab a drink together some time…? I’ve always wanted to chat with salesmen from other firms.” His words were likely little more than social niceties, but receiving such praise definitely didn’t leave Yokozawa with a bad feeling. Most people tended to avoid him altogether, and he was often mistaken for being in a bad mood if he didn’t say anything to dispel the misconception. The fact that Iokawa was treating him so nicely on only the second occasion of their meeting was likely due partly to the alcohol–but also due to Yokozawa’s relationship with Kirishima as well. Such connections tended to make people open up more.

“Yes, let’s.” And pulled along by Iokawa’s own smile, Yokozawa’s expression relaxed.


Yokozawa began ticking off items on his internal checklist; he’d finished prepping most of the materials he would need for the following week’s print-run decision meeting, and the lineup for the upcoming fair was ready to be discussed as well. All that was left was to give everything a thorough re-check and hand it off to his boss for confirmation.

He hadn’t had any rounds to make today, so the day had wound up being used for nothing but materials prep. Truthfully, he wasn’t all that fond of desk work, but he couldn’t exactly avoid it, and after ensuring that he’d put in his necessary hours on the task, he started to tidy up his desk area.

Kirishima had a meeting with an author in the afternoon, apparently, so he’d informed Yokozawa earlier that morning that he’d just head straight home from there once he’d finished. Middle of the week though it may have been, Yokozawa was heading over to Kirishima’s place this evening–since Hiyori would be off on her three-day-two-night school camping trip.

In other words, they were finally going to get their long-awaited time alone together.

Yokozawa hadn’t been able to relax since that morning–not because he had his head in the clouds like Kirishima, rest assured, but rather because he was just plain nervous. It would hardly be the first time they’d been alone in that apartment, and yet having the fact that they’d finally be alone for the first time in ages underscored so severely set him on edge.

As Yokozawa stood, glancing about to be sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, his subordinate Henmi turned to him with surprise. “Oh–you’re heading home already, Yokozawa-san?”

“Got a problem with it?”

“No–not at all; I simply thought it rare for you to head home at quitting time on a Wednesday… Ooh, do you perhaps have a date?”

“Idiot–hardly. I’m going home because I’m done with work. That’s all.” Flinching would only pique Henmi’s curiosity all the more, and seeing as this was most assuredly not a “date”, he wasn’t lying.

“Then…that means you don’t have a girlfriend right now?”

His brows furrowed at the unexpected point Henmi chose to zero in on. “Why the hell would you bring that up all of a sudden?”

Henmi explained himself, “Weeeell, I was kind of…asked to find out, see. Whether or not you’re seeing anyone. You’ve gotten pretty popular lately, you know, Yokozawa-san!”

“Who the hell’s asking that kind of thing?” he turned back on Henmi, easily sidestepping the teasing–but Henmi refused to respond.

“I can’t possibly reveal that, on grounds of privacy!”

“Then I’m not telling you shit either.” If the person inquiring had their right to privacy–then so did Yokozawa.

“Eeeh?? But I promised to find out without really thinking it through–please tell me!”

“Who admits to that kind of idiocy?”

“So–can I just go ahead and tell them you’re not seeing anyone?”

At this irresponsible suggestion, Yokozawa deemed it best not to continue the line of conversation with Henmi any further. “Say whatever you like; I’m heading out. Good work today.”

“Wai–Yokozawa-san!!”

Breathing a sigh of relief at having somehow managed to escape Henmi’s interrogation, Yokozawa headed straight for the elevator–“…Hm?”–when his cell phone began buzzing in his pocket; it was a text from Kirishima, who was out of the office at the moment.

/Finished my meeting, so I’m heading on home./

If he was going straight back to the apartment from wherever he’d had the meeting, he’d almost certainly get there before Yokozawa. He punched out a message that he was leaving the office as well and slipped the phone back into his pocket just as the elevator doors opened.

“Ah, good work today, Yokozawa-san,” called out the elevator’s occupant–Hatori. Given the envelope he held in his hand, it was clear he at least was not heading home just yet.

“Same to you. Burning the midnight oil again tonight?”

“Indeed; are you off now, Yokozawa-san? Quite early for you.”

“Mm, well…yeah.” He and Hatori were two birds of a feather with regard to their workaholic ways, so neither were often seen leaving work on time. They were both capable sorts, able to do pretty much anything once they put their minds to it, and received a sense of worth from a job-well-done. As such, the time often got away from them while seated at their desks. Kirishima, in turn, always left the office as soon as was humanly possible after finishing his work for the day and hardly ever brought work home–partly for Hiyori’s sake, but also because he didn’t like his career eating into his personal life.

“…Did something nice happen?”

“Wh–what do you mean ‘something’? Why would you ask that?” he shot back.

“Oh–no, just a feeling I got.” First Henmi had pestered him about a ‘date’, and now this? Was it that obvious from his expression…? Maybe he ought to check himself over in the mirror…

“Nothing really. Though new release sales are going pretty well this month.”

“Indeed; it sounds like the recent three-day weekend gave us quite a boost. That reminds me–I wanted to thank you for your advice on that matter the other day.”

“Oh–no, I should be thanking you. So…how’s Yoshikawa-sensei doing these days? Her recent new release got some pretty rave reviews, and I hear her serialized piece is doing pretty good.” He glanced at the advertisement papering the walls of the elevator.

“Thanks to you, quite well. Though she’s lagging behind in her schedule, as usual…” Hatori’s expression went deadpan, and he stared off into space; it seemed he had his hands full with Yoshikawa Chiharu, and Yokozawa had just brought up a touchy subject.

He groped for words, hoping to lighten the mood. “Well–that just shows how in-demand she is, right? Sounds like she’s really doing her best, that Yoshikawa-sensei. It’s a blessing for us in sales, too, that she’s always so eager to help out with our campaigns. Maybe…you don’t have to be so rough on her?”

“Out of the question; if I give her an inch, she’ll take a mile, and if I can’t get her to do what she needs to when she needs to do it, she’ll never finish her manuscript.”

“I…I see…” He’d heard that Hatori and Yoshikawa were childhood friends, and from his attitude, Hatori struck Yokozawa as more of a guardian than a managing editor–perhaps it was that longstanding relationship that had him reacting that way. While a large part of the reason Yoshikawa-sensei always refused offers of autograph events was because she herself was on the shy side, Yokozawa suspected that Hatori didn’t want to show her off all that much either. If greeting the public ran the risk of exhausting her, Hatori had explained, he’d rather just have her focus on finishing her manuscripts on time.

His iron fist with his authors showed just how much importance he placed on their success; he was the type to fight back with all he had, heedless of any damage he might sustain himself, if ever there were anything that might prove unfavorable to his authors.

Back when Emerald had been struggling to get back on its feet, its editors had had to face more than their fair share of tough situations, but all of the difficulties they’d been through back then were the reason they were the division they were now.

“If there’s ever anything we can help with again, please feel free to let me know. Yoshikawa’s more than happy to do whatever she can to be of assistance.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I’ll do my best to sell the shit out of her next book.”

“I’ll be counting on it.”

“All right, I’m off. Good work today.” They parted ways on reaching the ground floor, and after passing the reception desk, Yokozawa exited the office building. The summer heat was still brutal, but once they’d reached mid-September, the evenings at least had become rather pleasant. The sun hadn’t quite set by this hour, but the breeze brushing over his cheeks was welcome relief, and with a slight spring to his step, Yokozawa headed down the hill.


Yokozawa couldn’t help feeling some sort of inability to relax as he walked the familiar road–one he usually traversed while carrying treats for Hiyori–empty-handed, and in no time at all, he’d reached his destination. He’d fired off a text message just in case asking Kirishima if he needed to pick up anything, but all he’d received in response was a terse, /No, just hurry up and get your ass home./

Punching in the passcode he’d been given, he opened the auto lock at the entrance and headed for the elevators. “…I wonder what he intends to do about dinner, then…” he pondered to himself, just now realizing he was quite famished. He’d been so concerned with the fact that they’d be alone together this evening that thoughts of eating hadn’t even passed through his mind. But given that he hadn’t been instructed to pick up anything–maybe Kirishima was making something himself?

He pressed the intercom button, still as yet unable to bring himself to use the spare key he’d been entrusted with, and was immediately greeted by the sound of the bolt being unlatched as the door was shoved open from the inside.

“Welcome home.”

“…I’m back.” He found it a bit awkward saying this sort of thing after all this time; why was it he had no issues with the greeting when it came to Hiyori and yet couldn’t help being overly conscious of everything when faced with Kirishima?

“So–want some dinner? Or a bath? Or perhaps…me?”

“………”

Any discomfort or nerves that had been plaguing Yokozawa about the evening…were completely and utterly dispelled by the purposefully disgustingly cheesy comment.

“….What? Geez, say something, would you?”

“…Well, I’m pretty hungry–so I guess it’s dinner, then.” Any over-the-top reaction would only encourage Kirishima, after all. He’d always assumed that the guy resorted to these types of comments in an effort to rile up Yokozawa, but then again, maybe he just had an affinity for really corny jokes.

“Yeah right–you obviously mean me, right?”

“Huh?” At this, Kirishima locked the door to the foyer behind Yokozawa, giving his back a soft shove before he could even toe off his shoes.

“C’mon, snap it up.”

Hey–what’re you doing?” He frantically tried to kick off his shoes, knowing he shouldn’t wear them inside the house, but his bag and jacket were quickly snatched away from him as he was herded toward Kirishima’s bedroom. “The hell kind of a joke is…”

“Who’s joking?”

“Uwah–!” At the nonchalant response, a hand came up and gave Yokozawa a soft shove to the chest, robbing him of his balance and sending him toppling backward onto the bed. Before he could right himself, though, Kirishima slid onto the mattress and over Yokozaw’s body, straddling him in victory. “W–wait, just hold on a second–”

He knew the guy had been in strange spirits since the previous day, but he hadn’t seriously expected him to have Yokozawa on his back in bed within mere moments of stepping through the door.

“Just give up, would you? You’re not gonna tell me you didn’t see this coming, right?” He quickly tugged loose the necktie and then proceeded to unbutton Yokozawa’s dress-shirt; Yokozawa was baffled as to how the guy couldn’t manage to peel an apple and yet demonstrated surprising finesse with tasks such as this.

“I told you I was hungry!”

“Yeah, and I’m starving for you. So without further ado…”

Oww–don’t bite me, dammit!” he snapped as Kirishima grazed his teeth over the neck bared for his appraisal, but Kirishima simply laughed merrily in response.

“You say that like you don’t like it–which we know is utter shit. Besides, a little pain’s kind of a turn-on, isn’t it?”

“Enough with the filthy commentary.” He could very much do without Kirishima making him sound like some sick pervert.

“Hey–don’t look at me; I’m happy admitting I like it when you do it to me.”

“When the hell have I ever bitten you?”

“You’ve never bitten–but I have felt your nails. You wouldn’t believe the work I have to go through to keep Hiyo from seeing the marks.”

“That…I never meant to…” It wasn’t as if he’d been consciously clawing at Kirishima; it was simply that, in the face of so much overwhelming sensation, he’d been known to cling to Kirishima’s back. Claw marks were merely a byproduct of such pleasure.

“Then I don’t mean to do it either–it’s just when I’ve got you here in my arms, I can’t help myself.”

“Nn….hng…!” His subsequent kiss turned into a rough nip as well, his tongue darting between Yokozawa’s teeth and sweeping about his mouth. Yokozawa’s brows drew into a furrow as their tongues slid together. The paralysis freezing his mind reverberated down his spine, headed for his very center, with Kirishima’s fingers following down along in its wake.

Stroking Yokozawa’s hip, his fingers slipped down his thighs and eased into the space between, stroking his inner thigh and drawing out a sharp, slight jerk of his body. “At least…let me change…” At this rate, his slacks were going to wrinkle–and he just couldn’t stand on some level getting carried away so easily like this. He hardly objected to the act itself–he simply didn’t like being so one-sidedly teased this way.

But Kirishima was having none of it. “No way; stripping you of that suit’s part of the fun.”

Wha…” Before he’d even realized it, all the buttons on his shirt had been undone, and Kirishima whipped off his belt, going straight for the fastener now.

With one hand trying valiantly to keep his underwear from being jerked down along with his pants, Yokozawa fixed a glare on Kirishima. “Why the fuck am I the only one getting stripped here?”

“What–you wanna see me naked that badly? Kinky~

“Just shut up and get your clothes off.” Blushing or getting flustered was just inviting Kirishima’s amusement, so Yokozawa did his utmost to maintain a calm mien.

“This is good enough, isn’t it?” Kirishima stripped off the t-shirt he’d been wearing and tossed it aside haphazardly, immediately yanking Yokozawa’s slacks and underwear off with his free hand in one movement. Suddenly stripped and laid bare without warning, Yokozawa let out a yelp. “C’mon–you’re young and virile; try showing a little more enthusiasm.

“Wh–what’re you grabbing all of a sudden?!” Kirishima had his fingers now wrapped around Yokozawa’s still-limp cock, and Yokozawa swallowed thickly. Not granting him the time to even consider protesting, Kirishima quickly began working the shaft, sending heat pooling into Yokozawa’s center.

“There you go, that’s the spirit…”

“Nngh…hn….” Kirishima’s skillful fingering had little difficulty in exciting Yokozawa, and while he might have wanted, on some level, to tell the guy off, he felt any unnecessary opening of his mouth would instead leak out some embarrassing sound, so he instead grit his teeth and focused on riding out the sensations welling up between his hips–when Kirishima, without warning, curled himself up and–

“!!”

Yokozawa’s hips jumped when Kirishima’s tongue touched his tip, his hand still feverishly working the shaft as he lifted it to lave a long stripe from stem to stern on the underside. “Y’don’t…have to…do th…ngh…”

“Except I want to. How many times do I have to remind you?”

“St…o…hnn!” Kirishima eagerly swiped his tongue around the bits he could fit in his mouth, teasing Yokozawa’s balls with his free hand and stabbing the slit with the tip of his tongue from time to time, setting Yokozawa’s hips to trembling with tiny little jumps on each pass.

The warm, inviting wetness wrapped around him left Yokozawa feeling as if his hips were just going to melt away, and he thrust almost painfully into the embrace of Kirishima’s mouth. “St…o–let…go, I’m…”

His mind was a roiling mess of shame and pleasure, and he buried his fingers in Kirishima’s hair, trying to prise him away, but he couldn’t muster any strength to do so, and the caresses Kirishima favored him with only grew all the more passionate. Loath to release any sort of embarrassing sound, he grit his teeth with all his might, but nevertheless, sounds he couldn’t believe to be his own seeped from his throat. “Hnn…ahn…!”

“Go on–just come already.” With this, he took Yokozawa deep into his mouth and inhaled sharply.

“……Ahn…ngh!” Yokozawa’s vision went white, and unable to clamp down on the urge, he climaxed as a great shudder rippled through his body. He was weak to fellatio in large part because Kirishima drank down his release with such a cool, collected expression, and despite Yokozawa’s continued demands not to do so, he never paid him heed.

Lifting his gaze, he swiped a finger along his slick lips in a gesture so graphic it forced Yokozawa to glance away.

“When am I gonna get you used to that, huh?” Kirishima prodded with a chuckle.

Shut up,” he returned, albeit without much bite, his body sluggish from his recent climax and robbing him of the strength to so much as glare at Kirishima. He allowed himself a few long moments to recover his breathing, sprawled out on his back–but this proved a mistake.

Unprepared as he was, Kirishima snatched off the slacks and underwear still tangled at his feet, even pulling off his socks as he went with quick, precise movements, leaving Yokozawa to catch up to what was happening a few seconds later. “Hey–wait a minute–!”

“Is that all you know how to say? Why not change up your lines now and then?”

“Wai–” But his words were cut off as lotion-coated fingers slipped down between his legs, and he swallowed thickly at the slick, cool sensation. Even as he was still working to mentally prepare himself for what was coming next, the fingers pushed inside.

“That h–ngh…”

“It doesn’t hurt–not with all this lotion, surely? Or is this your way of begging me to be more gentle with you?”

Fuck no.” He tossed a glare at Kirishima, who smirked down at him, a bottle of lotion in one hand–but it didn’t last long. Just as Kirishima had boasted, it didn’t hurt–but it nevertheless felt strange. He grimaced at the fingers scissoring about inside of him, feeling not so much like a carp on the chopping block as like he was sitting in a dentist’s chair, waiting. “Hngh…”

The fingers brushed against him from inside as Kirishima worked him open, preparing this place which wasn’t meant to accept intrusion. He fought back the sighs that bubbled up as the fingers slid in and out, and when he unconsciously clenched his teeth tight, he clamped down on the fingers.

Kirishima brought his face near Yokozawa’s whispering softly, words like a faint breath, “It’s all right; just relax…”

“Nn…” He made every effort to distract himself from the fingers and their probing, but it simply wasn’t working. “‘M…fine, just…go ahead…” Playing fine was simply a cover for his discomfort; he’d rather be ridden rough a thousand times over than coddled like this–at least that way, he could lose the lingering reason still clinging to his consciousness.

Kirishima slipped his fingers free and pressed Yokozawa’s legs open, and his hip joints shortly mounted a protest at the backs of his knees being pressed forward and down, bending him practically in half. “Ow–dammit, they’re not gonna open any wider!”

“Y’know, I’ve thought this before, but: you’re really stiff.”

“Shut up… This’s hardly the time to bring that up.”

“You can always just say ‘I want you now‘ when you’re trying to butter me up, you know.”

“Wha–who the hell would–” But he didn’t get a chance to finish his rebuttal, breath catching in his throat as Kirishima pressed the tip of his cock, covered in a thin condom, inside, easing forward deeper and deeper and sending sparks flashing just before Yokozawa’s eyes.

“…Nnaah…ngh!” Kirishima braced his hands against Yokozawa’s hips, lifting them up with all he had.

No matter how many times he experienced it, the sensation of something hard pressing its way into Yokozawa’s body would never not feel strange–and knowing how it would lead to pleasure simply made the human body all the more fascinating in his eyes.

He didn’t dislike being able to share this experience with Kirishima in the least–but he couldn’t help the faint resistance that still welled up within him whenever he found himself pressed down, legs splayed wide. Maybe it was because he simply found the awkward, defenseless position utterly humiliating. He only allowed it because it was Kirishima–he wasn’t bottoming here because he wanted to, he didn’t want to be fucked like this. It was simply that he could find no reason to deny Kirishima as he so fervently sought Yokozawa this way.

Or maybe thinking up excuses like that in the middle of such an act was the only way he could find refuge from facing reality. He struggled not to lose himself in the urge to just die from shame, even as he was assaulted with pleasure–how much longer would it take before he was able to accept this as normal?

“Hngh…”

“Open your eyes. Look at me.”

“Don’t…tell me what to…do.”

“Look at me, Takafumi.”

“Sh…ut up…” He struggled to lift his lids, gulping down a haggard breath and locking eyes with Kirishima as he stared back–and in that instant, he couldn’t have torn his gaze away if he’d wanted to.

“There you go…”

“Don’t have to…sound so damn…cocky–ahngh!” His spine twisted up on a particularly deep thrust and his fingers buried themselves in the sheets with startling strength. The thrusts came more punishingly now, sealing off all protest and leaving Yokozawa feeling as if he’d just been drawn into a storm.

The thrusts began to push him further up on the bed, but the hands at his hips dug in, yanking him forward again as Kirishima sought deeper and deeper penetration, and with each pass, he found himself clamping down on the shaft piercing him.

“Aah–ah!” His voice broke, breath ragged. He’d long since lost track of how often he’d wished to be free, once back to himself, of any memories of what he did in the throes of passion. Unfortunately, though, the reality was that he could recall such moments as vividly as if reliving them in a dream.

“I keep…telling you…let me hear that voice of yours even more.”

“Haa…ah! Nggah!” Jolted and juddering as he was in the wake of the onslaught, Yokozawa found himself at last slipping his arms around Kirishima’s back, and clutching his shoulders as he did brought them into an embrace. The lips that pressed kisses to his temple and nape burned almost.

Kirishima softly whispered his name against his ear–and the impact sent him over the edge, the urges he’d been fighting finally bursting free and releasing his passion in a brilliant explosion. “———…!!”

Kirishima found his own release in nearly the same instant, peaking–and then collapsing atop Yokozawa in an inelegant heap as he released the breath he’d been holding, their labored breathing mingling between them both.

As the fever slowly seeped from his body, the reason that had all but abandoned him moments before gradually began to take shape again, filling Yokozawa with shame at their state.

“…Just, get the hell off me; you’re heavy.”

“C’mon, it’s not that bad.”

“I feel like I’m gonna get crushed. Getting a little porky, are we?”

“Hey–just what part of me is porky? If we’re gonna point out each other’s flaws, I could mention that you’re putting on a little extra weight right around here–”

“Don’t pinch me!” he snapped, slapping away the hand that had reached out to grab a bit of the flesh around Yokozawa’s waist. He was quite sure he hadn’t gained any weight, but he was a bit sensitive about losing definition.

“I know just what’s caused it, too: not enough exercise.”

“…You just wanted to say that; now get off.”

“Huh? Surely you must be joking–you don’t seriously think we’re done here, do you?”

“Wh–but, we both have work in the morning!” Surely Kirishima had to be the one joking, suggesting something like that with such a serious mien–it was the middle of the week, so he really needed Kirishima to do a bit of long-term consideration here.

“You’re young; have some balls. It’s too soon for you to wimp out on me now.”

“Don’t try to suggest this is just a matter of being up to it or not!”

“Then let’s discuss this leisurely–later. We’ve got a long night ahead of us.”

“There’s nothing to discuss!”

“Look on the bright side–it’ll be a great opportunity to get in that exercise you’ve been lacking.”

“……!” But naturally, Yokozawa’s protests fell on deaf ears, and the night stretched on…


“Ugh, I’m starving…”

“Gee, I wonder whose fault that is.” Yokozawa’s current state of utter exhaustion could be entirely chalked up to the fact that he’d been dragged straight into the bedroom on arriving home from work, not even granted the pleasure of an evening meal. He could hardly be blamed for the irritation that flared up when Kirishima complained about the empty state of his own stomach.

The guy had far too much energy for his age; he’d even been stuck at the office until well into the evening the previous night due to the end of the cycle bearing down upon him. Why hadn’t Yokozawa been able to stop him? He knew it was too little, too late, but he couldn’t help going over things in his mind.

He vowed to himself to use this as a learning opportunity for the future, but he couldn’t help but suspect he’d find himself being dragged along like this again eventually.

“…That reminds me, what’d you get for dinner?”

“Pork and cabbage.”

Huh?” Those were ingredients–not a proper dish. Was Yokozawa just imagining things, or was this not a good sign…?

“Well, I wanted ginger-fried pork.”

“You’re not trying to tell me you made it?” he hazarded–and the expression he received in return was shocked.

“Hell no. I’d slice off my fingers if I tried to chop cabbage, you know that. Oh–but I made sure to soak the rice and put it on to steam. And I learned my lesson after last time and got the thin-sliced pork. So–it should be fine.”

“You say that like it’s something worth being proud of…” Kirishima’s excuses left him exhausted, sapping any and all will to drag himself from the bed. When he’d asked Kirishima to pick up groceries a few days prior, the guy had come back with a whole block of meat. He’d explained that he’d just assumed meat was meat and this was as good as any but had seemed genuinely hurt when Hiyori had expressed her disbelief at his purchase.

“The rice is probably done steaming now, though–c’mon, let’s go make dinner. I made sure to pull out that apron for you, too.”

“………”

There was no way Yokozawa even remotely had the strength left in him to prepare a meal–which meant his only other option now was to sulk in bed, and he wordlessly shifted over on the mattress and placed his back to Kirishima.

“Oi–Yokozawa? Wait–are you tired? Hellooooo–?”

Maybe he assumed if he just kept calling, eventually Yokozawa would respond–but instead, Yokozawa just squeezed his eyes shut with all his might.


“Are the bentous finished? They look tasty.”

“I’ve got them chilling right now, so don’t go poking around trying to taste anything.”

“I haven’t touched them!”

“That’s why I said don’t do it.” Kirishima had peeked into the kitchen just as Yokozawa had placed the finishing touches on the lunch boxes he’d prepared, slapping away the hand that had reached forward before any damage could be done. The boxes featured ginger pork as the main dish–the very meal that Kirishima had requested the previous evening.

Exhausted in body and mind from being dragged into the bedroom the moment he’d set foot in the apartment the night before, he hadn’t been able to muster the strength to prepare any meals, and while he would have been happy to let his attempt at feigned sleep to throw off Kirishima turn into genuine slumber, his empty stomach had refused to allow him such freedom. But even after dragging himself out of bed, he still hadn’t had the energy to prepare anything of merit and had wound up satisfying his hunger with leftovers, leaving the unused pork to become their lunches for today.

Somewhere along the way, Kirishima had rummaged up two bentou boxes, reassuring Yokozawa that, “I made sure to find two different ones, so no one’ll be the wiser.” Yokozawa, however, would’ve rather he applied such discretion in other matters–but that was probably too tall an order.

“Not a finger on these, got it?” he reminded

“Yes sir~ I understand,” Kirishima allowed, and with that, Yokozawa headed back into the bedroom the change. Given that he did on occasion sleep over during the week, he’d made sure to leave a spare suit and dress shirt hanging up. After all, no salesman worth his salt could show up at work wearing the same thing as he had the day before. He tore off the protective plastic cover and slipped on the work shirt, followed by his slacks. He’d just begun work on a tie he’d picked at random, though, when Kirishima felt the need to offer commentary

“I wouldn’t wear that tie if I were you.”

“It’s the same tie I always wear with this suit.” Besides, he only kept three ties here, and neither of the other ties really went with what he had on.

“Change things up once in a while; how about this one?”

“…That’s yours though.” The tie Kirishima held out for him was a rather gaudy shade with a pattern Yokozawa never would have chosen for himself. It might suit Kirishima, but Yokozawa didn’t believe he could quite do the thing justice.

“And like I said–it’s fine. Besides, you’re supposed to wear something of your lover’s whenever you stay the night at their place.”

“Says who?”

“Just trust me. You’ll look great in it–here, I’ll even tie it for you; face the mirror.”

“…Have it your way.” The guy still seemed to be riding high from the previous evening. He slipped his arms underneath Yokozawa’s, forcing Yokozawa to lift his arms away from his body so as not to get in the way while Kirishima went about his business tying the tie.

“…It’s tough tying someone else’s tie…”

“Then I’ll do it myself, geez…”

“What the hell–it was just a comment. I’m almost done, so just pipe down and let me finish.”

“Yeah yeah…” He likely wasn’t used to fastening ties given that Kirishima himself hardly ever wore one. Yokozawa couldn’t help thinking that it would be quicker just to get it over with himself, unable to relax properly as he watched Kirishima go through the motions and closing his eyes to distract himself. The body heat seeping through his back, the weight of Kirishima’s head resting just at his shoulder, the presence of his fingers near his chest–they all worked in concert to keep Yokozawa alert and on edge. How were you supposed to describe this feeling of unease…?

“There–whadya think?” At Kirishima’s prompting, he opened his eyes again, staring into the mirror, and while loath to give Kirishima a bigger head than he already had, he had to admit he didn’t actually look half bad.

“…It’s fine, I guess.”

“C’mon, don’t be shy–you look great, I’m telling you.”

“Whatever–how long are you planning on hanging on me? If you’re done, get off me.” He reached down to peel away the arms Kirishima had placed on his waist by the fingers, finally releasing himself from the embrace. A weekday morning was hardly the time to get carried away. “You know–there’s no reason for you to come into the office with me. Why not relax a bit once in a while?” Unlike the sales division, editors worked flexible schedules, so given that Hiyori wouldn’t be back from her outing until tomorrow afternoon, Kirishima could afford to go in a little later than usual.

“What? You don’t want me going in with you, then?”

“I couldn’t care less; I’m not a kid who needs a chaperone though.”

“What an idiot–being a kid’s fun. What’s so bad about reliving your childhood?”

“You’re a hell of a lot more idiotic than I ever could be.” The guy had to be sprouting flowers in that head of his, but when he returned the comment, he was met instead with an amused laugh.

He stepped into the bathroom, running some of Kirishima’s product through his hair before heading back into the kitchen, where he found the bentou boxes already out and sealed with lids.

“Ah–I wrapped up our bentous.”

“…Yeah, I can see that.” The ends of the kerchief holding each box had been tied into granny knots, which while not pretty, were passable. The guy must’ve really wanted to help out somehow. “All right, Sorata–we’re heading out. Take care of the place while we’re gone,” he called out to the cat, who sat atop his little tower erected in the living room, staring out the window. The piece had been an impulse buy by Kirishima when the three had visited a home furnishings store a short while before. Sorata had been more than a little wary of the tower initially, but now he seemed to have taken to it quite thoroughly.

“Hey, have you seen my watch, Yokozawa?”

“Of course not–did you leave it in the bedroom? And snap it up–we’re gonna be late. I’m gonna take the trash down ahead of you.”

“Oi–wait a minute for me, would you?”

“I’ll wait–downstairs.”

“No–wait for me in the genkan!”

Yokozawa ignored the plea, snatching up the bag of burnable garbage and the bundle of magazines to be tossed out as he exited the apartment. The Kirishimas’ apartment complex allowed material to be placed in the garbage area on any day of the week, with Kirishima in charge of normal garbage and Hiyori in charge of separating out the recyclables.

Stepping onto the elevator, Yokozawa let out a sigh; Kirishima’s high spirits this morning had already gone a ways to exhausting him before the day even got started. If pressed to admit it–he was far from unhappy that they’d finally found some time alone together. It was simply that he didn’t know how to respond in the face of such energy. “…Geez…”

He tugged open the door to the garbage bin and set the bag and bundle in their respective locations–but just as he moved to close the door again, a voice called out to him from behind.

“Good morning.”

“Oh, good morning–Iokawa-san?” For when he turned around, there was Iokawa, whom he’d just encountered only two nights prior. It seemed he had come to toss his garbage as well, and Yokozawa stalled the door from closing, pressing a hand to keep it open.

“Ah, sorry–thanks very much.”

Running into the guy again like this suggested that coincidences tended to repeat themselves. “I see you must’ve spent the night at Kirishima-san’s place last night, then?”

“Oh–ah, yeah. Kind of had a little too much to drink, so…” Iokawa’s assumption, given Yokozawa’s appearance here at this hour of the morning, wasn’t far-fetched, and overreacting to every little comment would only arouse suspicion. If they were close enough that Kirishima invited Yokozawa into his home from time to time, then it stood to reason that having Yokozawa stay the night wasn’t too far a stretch. There was no reason for Iokawa to suspect anything untoward of their relationship at all.

“Is your hangover all right, then?”

“I don’t really tend to get hangovers that much. So, do you always head to work at this hour, Iokawa-san?” he asked innocently, in an attempt to switch topics.

“I usually head out a bit later than this, actually, but I woke up early this morning for some reason. Except I seem to have forgotten something in my apartment and have to head back, so now the early start I got is about to go to waste.” He chuckled at his own state, and Yokozawa was reminded, as he had been those few nights before, that the guy seemed a little ditzy. “Oh–and I’m sure you don’t really want to hear this, but…I talked to my girlfriend on the phone after the incident the other night, and we decided to formally break things off.”

“…I see.” Perhaps he’d thought Yokozawa deserved to hear how things had panned out after getting dragged into being involved. From his expression, at least, Iokawa seemed refreshed, relieved compared to two nights before.

Everyone dealt with love differently, and Yokozawa hardly had enough experience in the act to go about doling out advice to others, but he suspected Iokawa would find someone much more suitable in the future.

“I’ve been a bit preoccupied with this matter lately, but now I can put all my focus into my work. I intend to go on a selling spree, just so you know–I’m not going to be losing to you, Yokozawa-san!”

As they headed back to the complex entrance, Iokawa’s declaration in his ears, Kirishima stepped out of the elevator. “Dammit, Yokozawa–I told you to wai–ah, Iokawa-san?”

“Oh, Kirishima-san. Good morning.”

“Good morning. Are you headed to work as well, Iokawa-san?” His inquiry reflected Yokozawa’s own from earlier. This was probably the only kind of conversation one could easily hold with someone who only amounted to a casual acquaintance.

“No–I’ve forgotten something in my apartment, so I was just about to head back. And after I was doing so well in getting an early start too–I’m such a klutz! Oh–thanks so much for letting my nephew drop by the other day. He was absolutely thrilled to get a gift in return.”

Iokawa’s nephew had brought Hiyori a present for her birthday, and on being consulted by the girl as to what sort of gift in return a young boy might like, Kirishima and Yokozawa had both wracked their brains to come up with something appropriate.

“That’s good to hear; sounds like it was the right choice in choosing something together with Hiyori. By the way–when did you and Yokozawa grow so close?”

A shudder ran up Yokozawa’s spine at the question; they’d only been chatting, certainly nothing suspicious.

“Oh, we ran into each other at a bar the night before last–he was sitting in a chair right behind my own.”

“Night before last?”

“Ah–it was after the business dinner I mentioned; we just happened to bump into one another.”

“I see–though it’s the first I’m hearing of it.” His eyes, though, accused You never told me.

I just didn’t have time to bring it up.” He hadn’t done anything untoward in the least–but bringing up the fact that he’d been present when Iokawa had been arguing with his girlfriend would violate Iokawa’s privacy.

“He kind of got dragged into some trouble of my own, and I’m afraid I greatly inconvenienced him. But after we chatted for a bit later, I was quite shocked to find out he’s a salesman like me!”

“Salesman?”

“Apparently Iokawa-san’s a salesman for Fujino Books.”

“Is that so? My daughter’s an avid reader of your children’s books.”

“Really? That’s great! I rarely have opportunity to get to know others in my line of business, so I just kind of got carried away with conversation when I found out Yokozawa-san was in sales as well.”

“Well now that I can’t miss out on–what’d you two talk about?” Kirishima had a smile plastered across his features, but his eyes weren’t laughing in the least, and Yokozawa got the distinct feeling that the guy was jumping to ridiculous conclusions–but any attempts to correct the misconception here would mean exposing their private lives to Iokawa.

“Just business,” Yokozawa reassured; Iokawa was simply making a bigger deal out of their conversation than it had truly been–nothing special had passed between them. They’d discussed little more than common issues they met on the job, irritations they dealt with.

“Hmm…just business, huh?”

“I’d love to chat again if we ever have opportunity.”

“Oh me too, by all means–I’m ever so curious as to what sort of things Yokozawa chatted about.”

“And I told you it was nothing special.” A cold sweat dripped down his back as he fought down panic that Kirishima might actually blurt out something about their relationship–he couldn’t let the two converse any further, he determined, and quickly ended the exchange. “Oh–would you look at the time! We really need to get going–gonna be late for work!” he suggested, glancing pointedly to his watch.

“Yeah, you’re right–shall we?”

“Oh–my apologies for keeping you!”

“Not at all; it was a pleasure seeing you again. Well then, we’re off.” Kirishima offered Iokawa a short nod of his head before heading off.”

“Hey–wait up! Ah, I’m sorry, I must be going!” Yokozawa nodded to Iokawa as well before jogging to catch up to Kirishima, flustered. Drawing up beside the man and wracking his brain as to just how to explain himself, he noticed that Kirishima was in a decidedly bad mood now.

“…You were awfully friendly with him,” he noted peevishly, sparking Yokozawa’s irritation. He didn’t recall being particularly friendly to Iokawa, nor had he done anything he thought deserving of Kirishima’s ire.

“It was sheer coincidence when we met up before–which just led us to chat a bit–and this was coincidence as well. Most people would greet a casual acquaintance when they ran into them, right?”

“Seemed closer than ‘casual acquaintances’ to me.”

“We’re both in sales; of course we’re going to feel affinity for one another.”

“Maybe. But–it wouldn’t have killed you to have told me, at least.” Perhaps he was simply irritated that something had happened and he hadn’t known about it–and Yokozawa did feel a twinge of guilt for what amounted to keeping the meeting from Kirishima, but really, it was hardly anything worth such blame.

“And like I said–I just didn’t have the chance to bring it up. You’ve been really busy lately…”

“You could’ve mentioned it yesterday.

“And whose fault was it I didn’t get a free moment to do that?” The previous evening had hardly been the time for conversation; Kirishima ought to have known that better than anyone else.

“It wouldn’t have take more than five minutes to mention that you ran into him.”

“God you’re annoying; it’s none of your damn business who I associate with.”

None of my business?”

“……!” The error in his choice of words hit home–he shouldn’t have used such language. Even if it didn’t concern Kirishima, that wasn’t the kind of thing you said to someone you were in a relationship with. He knew full well that Kirishima’s behavior was simply product of petty jealousy–but being harassed like that had just pushed Yokozawa over the edge. “I mean…just–it’s nothing you need to worry about…is what I was trying…to say…”

“…I’m not worried. I’m just irritated.” Yokozawa, more than most others, could understand what jealousy could do to a person–but he hadn’t done anything, never would, to betray Kirishima, and such over-the-top reactions in the face of casual banter were simply annoying.

Or was he really that untrustworthy? “…Fine, then be pissed if you want,” he spit out, pulling the silent treatment on Kirishima for the rest of the commute.

It had been such a small thing–but now they were on completely different wavelengths.


Neither Yokozawa nor Kirishima spoke another word to one another for the remainder of the commute, silence stretching between them until they reached the office. Being as they were headed to the same location, they could hardly separate at any point along the way, and so the unbearably awkward commute commenced.

They’d just seen each other again during the meeting that had just finished, but they hadn’t traded a single word during that time, and sparing a fleeting glance over at Kirishima, busy chatting with the other editors, Yokozawa stood in place, preparing to leave.

He knew situations like this were better resolved sooner rather than later, but he was loath to be the first to break, and besides–he hadn’t found any moment to strike up a conversation even if he’d wanted to. He would just wait things out a bit longer, and as he released a soft sigh to himself, he twitched as a hand came down on his shoulder from behind, surprising him.

“A word, Yokozawa?”

“…Oh, it’s you, Masamune.”

“What’s with you today? It’s not like you to just space out like that.”

“Am I? Maybe because I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Which wasn’t a lie–he’d burned the midnight oil trying to keep up with Kirishima, who just hadn’t seemed inclined to slow down any time soon.

“You feeling okay?”

“Yeah; if I can just make it through this week, I think things’ll be fine.”

“Well–don’t push yourself too hard. …Hey, did your taste change?”

“What do you mean?” His brows furrowed at the comment, out of the blue as it was.

“No, just…your necktie; not really a pattern I’ve seen you wear before. You never used to wear stuff like this before, right?”

“…Oh, I just…had it lying around…” None of the other sales staff had mentioned it, so he’d completely forgotten that he was wearing Kirishima’s necktie today. He never would’ve expected Takano of all people to notice, and now he found himself rather flustered.

“Hey, what’re you getting worked up for?”

Trying to come up with an excuse would just seem all the more suspicious, and after a moment’s hesitation, he brushed it off with an innocuous, “…You think it looks weird?”

“…I guess it’s fine? Doesn’t look bad at all, actually.”

“O–oh, okay…” His lips unconsciously twitched up into a smile at the compliment–but on realizing this, he quickly schooled his features again. They hadn’t been fighting that morning when Kirishima had helped him into the tie.

He brought his fingers up, brushing them over the knot Kirishima had fastened.

Why…had they fought over something so seemingly insignificant…?

“Oh–sorry, got side-tracked. About the fair we’ve got coming up…” Yokozawa let himself slip back into work mode, turning his full attention to the discussion with Takano–but soon felt as if someone was watching him, and on flicking his gaze casually to the side, he found Kirishima staring at them, expression steely.

“……!!”

“…Yokozawa? Are you listening to me?”

“Of course I am,” he snapped back, but he couldn’t shake Kirishima’s appearance from his mind. In all honesty, none of the feelings he’d held for Takano before lingered now, and while he still felt some embarrassment at how he’d acted before, all he felt for Takano was the simple affection of a friend.

Kirishima’s reassurance that you don’t have to forget how you loved him had allowed him to come to terms with his own feelings. If he’d been convinced he absolutely needed to forget, to move on, it would’ve likely only made the rejection hit all the harder, and he very likely might not have been able to recover.

What on earth was going on with Kirishima today…? Just when he’d thought the guy had been in high spirits, his mood had taken a sudden sharp dive–surely there was some limit to the term ’emotional instability’.

“So–I’ll be counting on your help in that respect.”

“Oh–yeah, sure. Leave it to me.”

“…What’s wrong?”

“It’s–nothing.” Without his realizing it, Kirishima had slipped out of the conference room. The usual Kirishima would’ve likely just sauntered over and deposited himself squarely in the middle of their conversation with So what’re you two talking about?

“All right then; I’ll drop you an e-mail when I’ve got the details.”

“Sure, got it.” Takano took his leave here, and Yokozawa now realized he was the only person left in the empty conference room. The eerie quiet was rather bleak, and he quickly exited the room.

If he left things between himself and Kirishima the way they were, the situation would only worsen, he was starting to feel–and yet he still hadn’t the faintest clue how to go about resolving things. At the very least, he felt he wasn’t the one who ought to apologize. He wasn’t aware that he’d done anything wrong, after all, and while he did feel bad for hurting Kirishima’s feelings with his comments, the man’s reaction had been far too narrow-minded in the first place.

But what had driving Kirishima to get so irritated about Iokawa to begin with? He’d been strangely on-edge that first time they’d met as well.

“Ah, welcome back! I was planning on having ramen for lunch–how about you, Yokozawa-san?” Henmi called out to him, wallet in hand, when he returned to the sales floor.

“Oh–lunch time already? I’ll have my lunch here today.”

“Rare for you to have bought lunch to eat!”

“Uh, yeah…well.” It wasn’t so much bought as prepared himself, but there was no reason to go out of his way to announce this fact.

“That reminds me…when I dropped by the Japun editing division earlier, Kirishima-san was showing off his bentou! I wonder if his daughter made it for him. Man, that sure sounds nice…”

“…Yeah, I suppose so.” With no small measure of relief that Henmi didn’t seem to suspect that Yokozawa had prepared it, he opted against pulling out his own bentou where Henmi could see it.

“Maybe I’ll try fixing myself one sometime! Huh? Where are you going, Yokozawa-san?”

“None of your business.” He hastily rewrapped the bentou box and gathered his things, standing to leave in search of some place where he could eat in peace. Deciding he’d take care of his rounds after finishing his lunch, he slipped the necessary materials into his bag as well.

He first considered heading up to the roof–but he couldn’t discount the possibility of someone from the office having the same idea, so he decided to head outside instead. There was a large shrine located only a short distance from the office; it would have benches and likely few visitors, given that it wasn’t the season for flower-viewing. The sunlight was still quite brutal, but the heat at least was no longer oppressive. Sometimes it was nice to get out of the office for lunch.

He paused along the way to grab a drink from a vending machine before seeking out a sparsely populated corner of the temple grounds and settling in. Glancing around, he was surprised to find not only sight-seeing couples and parents walking with their children, but also the odd businessman or two taking a break. It was likely easier to relax out here than in the confines of the office.

“Wha…” A shudder jolted through Yokozawa when he finally lifted the cover of his bentou. He knew he hadn’t placed anything on top of the rice that morning…but now there was a layer of nori on top fashioned in a rather clumsy manner. It had obviously been torn apart by hand…and placed on the rice in the shape of a heart. “That bastard…”

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This could only be Kirishima’s doing. He’d thought the guy had been sneaking around with the bentous–and it must have been to do this. He found himself at a loss for words with how ridiculous Kirishima could be. If they hadn’t fought this morning…he might have been able to laugh it off, but right now, all he was left feeling was drained.

“Why the hell am I the one who’s sitting here feeling all anxious…” His shock quickly shifted to irritation; he’d been sitting here worrying over this situation on his own, but after muttering to himself over the contents of the bentou, he couldn’t help feeling a little pissed off as well. “Dammit–like hell I’ll be the first to break.”

He knew this was sheer childish pride, but he vowed to himself that, this time at least, he wouldn’t be the one to yield any ground.


“Ugh…”

What was Yokozawa doing out here? Killing time in a park because he couldn’t bring himself to go home–he was acting like a child afraid of being scolded by his mother.

Kirishima had informed him in no uncertain terms the day before that he was to come to the apartment today as well, but he hadn’t reminded Yokozawa of the promise yet today–as such, he’d been planning on just going back to his own apartment.

And yet…without realizing it, he’d stepped off the train at the station nearest Kirishima’s place. He wavered for a moment, toying with the idea of getting back on the train, but his feet stalled in place. Perhaps it was this inability to make up his mind that had him sitting here on a park bench killing time.

He’d checked to see that Kirishima wasn’t around when he’d left the office–given that he hadn’t had any meetings scheduled, that likely meant he had already headed home.

At his umpteenth sigh in as many minutes, though, a feral cat came wandering up, rubbing itself against his legs. “…Oi, I’m not in any mood to play with you, so go on. Get,” he growled, but this only seemed to draw out even more cats. It wasn’t as if he was carrying around any treats or anything of the sort–cats just seemed to like him. “Ugh fine, do whatever you want–Ah!”

His cell phone began buzzing in his pocket, giving him more of a shock than it typically would have, perhaps due to his distracted state. He jerked up, sending the cats about his feet skittering away. “Dammit…don’t scare me like that…”

He cautiously checked the caller ID screen…and as expected, there was Kirishima’s name. Unable to bring himself to answer immediately, he stared at the phone buzzing insistently in his hand for a few moments–but it never stopped, continuing to badger him for attention.

He half-considered just cutting the call off, but in the end, he steeled himself and pressed the ‘talk’ button. “…Yes.”

“So you finally answered. You’d better not tell me you’re not planning on coming over tonight, Yokozawa. I’ve already ordered in for two, so hurry and get your ass over here.”

“………”

The arrogant tone sent an flare of irritation through Yokozawa; as he’d suspected, it really would have been best if he’d just canceled the call before answering–and then, Kirishima continued, a thread of awkwardness laced in his tone.

“Just…if you don’t come home, then…I can’t explain myself.”

“…Huh?” It was as stupid a response as Yokozawa had ever given–but it was all he could muster.

“I mean…just…I’m sorry.”

“…Sorry for what, then?”

“You know–about…this morning.” It seemed he was trying to apologize for his behavior earlier, but if the guy wouldn’t explain just what exactly he was trying to make amends for, Yokozawa had no real way of responding to his efforts.

“………” As he was wracking his mind trying to decide just how to continue from here, one of the feral cats wandered close again, pawing at Yokozawa for attention.

“Ow–dammit, cut that out, you little–” he snapped at the animal, cradling the phone in one hand and quieting his voice to keep Kirishima from hearing over the line–but he failed.

“Oi–who’re you with? Don’t tell me you’re seriously cheating on–“

“What the–who the hell are you accusing of–?!”

“Then who is it?”

“It’s a cat, you idiot!” He hadn’t really wanted Kirishima to know he had a bunch of cats trying to get him to play with them–but he hardly had any choice now.

“…A cat? Wait, where are you?”

“At…the park, near your place.” Kirishima might have suspected he was at someone’s house, and he really was in no mood to have the guy jump to any more ridiculous conclusions. He was fully prepared to be teased mercilessly now for dawdling and dragging his feet to kill time, but the response he received instead was decidedly unexpected.

“…All right, I’m coming to get you, so wait there.”

“Huh? Wait–coming to get me? What’re you–” But the line went dead with a click. Was the guy serious? Still, after being told to wait here, it was probably best not to leave now. He stared down at the phone in his hand, the call ended, when another cat made a pass at him. “Dammit, I told you I can’t play with you right now, so please–just, enough already!” As he stood there, flustered at how to deal with the insistent feline, someone’s snorting laughter reached his ears.

“Pffft, hahaha!” The laughter wasn’t dying down, and Yokozawa felt a swell of embarrassment at having been caught messing around with a cat. He lifted his head to explain himself–when he found himself staring at a familiar face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh–honestly! I just couldn’t help myself. You really are a nice person, aren’t you, Yokozawa-san?”

“Iokawa-san…”

“Running into each other twice in the same day–must be fate! Almost ‘predestined’ even, don’t you think?”

“I suppose so.” Given the similar spheres they walked in, they’d likely encounter one another more and more now–still, it wasn’t strange to feel some sort of connection, running into each other as often as they had of late.

“Mind if I sit beside you?”

“Feel free.”

As Iokawa approached the bench, the cats all scattered, fleeing their separate ways. “Aww, guess they don’t like me.”

“I’m sure they’re just shy.”

“I hope that’s the case; do you frequent this park, Yokozawa-san?”

“I wouldn’t say I frequent it, but…” He did like to use it as a shortcut on his way the Kirishimas’ apartment heading back from shopping excursions.

“I like to drop by and have a beer on evenings when the moon is nice. The sakura trees over there blossom beautifully in Spring, so I’ll have my own personal flower viewing party. Though the trees behind my apartment complex are quite nice to look at as well.” The Kirishimas’ complex had a few cherry blossom trees planted on its grounds, allowing residents to enjoy the blossoms for a relatively lengthy period, and Yokozawa had seen a fair few families relaxing outside and taking in the view.

“Do you live alone in your apartment, Iokawa-san?”

“Yes–though I must confess, I’m really only house-sitting for my some relatives while they’re out of the country. They’re letting me live here rent-free while they’re gone in exchange for my watching over the place.”

“Watching over someone else’s stuff always tends to make you be a bit more careful with yourself than usual, huh?” Of course there were perks to living rent-free in such an expansive condominium as these apartments, but caring for the place seemed like it would really work your nerves.

“Indeed. I’m only a transient, so I have to take extra care not to dirty or scratch anything. I always eat out, though, so I’ve managed not to mess up the kitchen at least. I’d always dreamed of living in a really spacious apartment like this, but now that I’ve tried it out…I feel like it’s a bit too much for me. What single man needs a 2LDK all to himself?” He shrugged with a wry laugh.

“You’ve got a point–if all you’re doing is using it to sleep in, a more compact place might feel more manageable.” His busy periods left him loath to cook anything for himself, and there were times he couldn’t even muster the will to clean up around his place. In that sense, Sorata and Hiyori had been something of a godsend. Having someone around who needed caring for helped him weather the tough times.

“Do you live alone as well, Yokozawa-san?”

“Ah–yeah, though I do have a cat.” Except that said cat was currently enjoying a comfortable life with the Kirishimas.

“I see–so that explains why you were surrounded like that before. They could probably sense your ‘cat-lover aura’!”

“I dunno about that…”

“I’m quite envious; animals don’t really tend to like me–they give me quite the wide berth.”

“Maybe you’re just too stiff around them?” Animals could sense when someone was approaching them nervously, and convincing yourself that you ‘weren’t good’ with them would only lead them to give you plenty of space.

Takafumi,” someone called to him, his first name slipping out as Yokozawa moved to continue the rambling conversation with Iokawa.

Outside of his family, there was only one person who ever called him that. “………!!” Kirishima had actually come to pick him up, and while he was doing his best to hide it, his ragged breath suggested that he’d run the whole way. He was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, while on his feet he wore the sneakers he favored on his days off.

“Good evening, Iokawa-san. Mind if I interrupt your pleasant little chat?”

“Ah, Kirishima-san! Off on a grocery run?” Perhaps the fact that Kirishima was empty-handed had prompted the question.

But Kirishima didn’t mince any words: “No; I’ve come to pick up Yokozawa.”

ynb4_07

“Wha…!” Phrasing his intentions like that left room for Iokawa to divine the exact nature of their relationship. It was one thing to speak like that with someone who knew that Kirishima liked to banter about risqué jokes from time to time, but Iokawa had no idea of that aspect to his personality.

“Ah, I see. You two really are close, aren’t you?” Iokawa didn’t seem all that fazed by the comment, simply admiring their ostensibly platonic relationship. Yokozawa sent out a silent prayer of gratitude that the guy didn’t seem all that sharp.

“Indeed; we hear that all the time.” He wanted desperately to find some way to shut the guy up, but he couldn’t afford to make any false moves.

“I must say, I’m quite jealous! Ah–if you don’t mind, would you like to have a drink together some time? I’d love to chat with you as well, Kirishima-san!”

“Absolutely, I’d love to. However–in the future, I’d really appreciate it if you went through me first before speaking with Yokozawa. We’ve got plans together for the foreseeable future, so would you mind keeping your distance?”

A shudder rippled through Yokozawa at how glaringly obvious he was being in his attempts to keep Iokawa at bay. “Hey–…!!” he started, turning a furious glare on Kirishima.

“Understood! You almost sound like his manager!” Iokawa laughed, thankfully taking Kirishima’s language as joking and utterly failing to grasp the true meaning of it all.

“Well then, we’ll be taking our leave now. We’ve got quite urgent business to attend to, so–let’s head home, Takafumi.” He grabbed Yokozawa’s arm, tugging him up from the bench, and stalked away.

“……?!” He didn’t even have a chance to bid Iokawa farewell before he was practically dragged off as Kirishima strode away at practically a jog, racing down the path back to the apartment. The fingers digging into Yokozawa’s wrist pained him, and unable to manage to fall in step with Kirishima’s pace, he stumbled frequently along the way. “The hell–stop dragging me!”

When he shook off the hand that gripped his own, Kirishima at last slowed his pace. He’d thought they’d managed to restore their relationship to some degree with the phone call earlier, but now things were just awkward yet again. Biting his tongue here…would only lead to a repeat of that morning, though, and with great effort, Yokozawa spoke up in a normal tone. “What was the point in leaving like that, anyway? He lives in the same complex as you, you know.”

“I couldn’t have lasted another minute with him.”

“Huh?”

“No–sorry, just…talking to myself.”

Yokozawa let out a great sigh at Kirishima’s evasiveness. “Just so you know–the other day and this morning as well were really just coincidences. There’s nothing going on whatsoever that should give you cause to worry.” He made sure to add between the lines that Kirishima had no grounds to be suspicious of anything, which drew an embarrassed grimace.

Kirishima returned, tone a bit peevish as he explained himself, “I know–and I trust you, really I do.”

“Then why–”

“Because–because I can’t help getting jealous! If it makes you feel any better, I’m just as shocked as you are. I never expected I’d turn out to be so–damn, small-minded.”

Realizing that Kirishima also occasionally found himself overwhelmed by an inability to control his emotions…Yokozawa felt the energy slump from his shoulders. Maybe…he’d had unreasonable expectations of the guy all this time.

He was older than Yokozawa, had experienced far more–so somewhere deep inside, he must’ve assumed that he’d be smarter in how he conducted himself. But love robs people of their reason and sense–and if you were able to keep your head in a relationship with someone, then it probably wasn’t true love in the first place.

“Sorry for…being such an ass.”

“You say that like you aren’t an ass all the time,” he snickered, realizing that Kirishima had finally come to understand how childish he could be.

“Yeah…guess you’ve got a point.” Yokozawa had to bite back his shock at how easily Kirishima seemed to accept this as fact–he’d just finished apologizing; wasn’t it a bit too soon to be shifting gears like this?

“Then since you seem to realize it now, try acting a bit more normal. What if he gets the wrong idea about us?”

“Maybe I wanted him to.”

“Huh?”

“Gotta set some boundaries.”

“Why do you have it in for that guy? There’s no reason for you to hold any grudge against him.” When he paused to think about it, that simple question alone lay at the heart of the entire matter. Kirishima was generally pretty easygoing on the outside, and while he had his moments of jealousy, he wasn’t the type to direct his ire against people uninvolved in the matter.

“My gut’s telling me he’s no good.”

“How so?”

“Dunno. Just…I can’t help getting pissed whenever I see you two chatting it up. What’s the harm in a little bit of jealousy?”

“Don’t try to turn the blame on to me.” In other words, it seemed even Kirishima himself didn’t quite understand the reason behind his actions.

“Just–for fuck’s sake, don’t let yourself get hit on in a park of all places. You’re practically defenseless, so I have to sit here biding my jealousy.”

“Who the hell was getting hit on? You’re such an idiot.” It was utterly ridiculous, reading simple chatter as flirtation. If Kirishima got jealous over something that trivial, soon enough, he’d start seeing Yokozawa’s own coworkers as rivals. Besides, Yokozawa had been the one worrying over everything, as far as he saw it; he couldn’t abide Kirishima speaking as if he’d been the only victim here.

“I’m just asking you not to go around thoughtlessly making nice with everyone you see.”

“Acting rude with my features is only gonna scare people away.” He had a rather stern expression to begin with, and it didn’t change much either. People tended to assume he was in a perpetually bad mood unless he opened his mouth to assure them otherwise, so he made every effort to be as polite as possible to those around him.

“So what? I should be the only one who understands how truly adorable you can be.”

“…Dammit, would you just cut that out…!” When he whipped his head around to glance in Kirishima’s direction, the guy was wearing the same expression he always did, likely pleased with himself at having embarrassed Yokozawa. “Don’t laugh.”

“I’m not.” The quaver to his words betrayed the lie, though.

“You sure as hell are.”

“I simply find you endearing, that’s all.”

“How is that any different?!” Kirishima’s grin only deepened as Yokozawa responded to his teasing, and on realizing that he was once again being played for the fool in the palm of Kirishima’s hand, he pursed his lips and fell silent.


“…Mind reminding me why two brawny men have to share a bathtub together?” Yokozawa muttered sourly at their situation.

“C’mon–we’re lovers. I’m cutting you some slack by putting up with just sitting face-to-face, so I don’t wanna hear any complaints.”

“Be reasonable! I just want to take a relaxing bath here!” Kirishima’s tub was relatively spacious, but it hadn’t been made to support two grown men sitting in it together, and they both sat huddled with their legs bent at the knees to keep from bumping into one another.

“Aw, give it a rest; I’ve always dreamed of being able to take a bath together with you, after all.”

“We shared a bath when we went on vacation.” The hotel they’d stayed at over their summer holiday had included a grand bathing area that overlooked the ocean. The vista that greeted them from beyond the glassed-in area looked like something right off of a postcard, and Kirishima had seemed quite pleased with the view.

“That was a bathhouse, though; plus, we weren’t alone.”

“Such a nitpicker; what’s it matter how many people were there? A bath’s a bath.”

“Put a little more thought into the emotions involved, would you? The situation’s important for this kind of thing.”

“Whatever.” This wasn’t some trashy manga; he couldn’t let himself get preoccupied with such measly details at every opportunity. He’d initially assumed that Kirishima focused on these things because he was a father–but maybe it was just because he actually liked such events himself. “Mind if I get out now? I’m starting to get dizzy from the heat.”

“Sure–after you count to 100. You always take such quick baths.”

Yokozawa gaped at the tone that smacked of a parent lecturing a child. “I’m not some little brat; I’m seriously feeling faint here.”

“And you always make me feel faint.”

“Wha…!” Yokozawa groped for words, at a loss for a response to Kirishima’s seamlessly delivered pretentious line. Kirishima let out a light laugh, seemingly satisfied with having successfully ruffled Yokozawa’s feathers, but Yokozawa ignored him, standing to step out of the tub–when Kirishima snapped a hand out to grab his wrist, tugging him back in. “Uwah–!!” Balance lost, he slipped and toppled backward, landing with a great splash supported in Kirishima’s arms. He’d managed to avoid hurting himself, but he was now thoroughly soaked by the water he’d displaced with his fall. “What the hell–!”

“I never said you could leave. And now look…half our water’s gone…”

“Whose fault do you think that is?! Let me go, dammit…” Their position now, with Kirishima’s arms looped around him from behind, was more than a little embarrassing, and Yokozawa twisted in place, struggling to free himself–but to no avail, as Kirishima’s arms coiled about him refused to be moved.

“Oh no you don’t; you’re crazy if you think I’m letting this chance slip by.”

“And I’m saying I don’t like this.” Just touching left him feeling awkward enough, so clinging together like this didn’t suit him at all. Even their bickering was little more than a farce by this point.

“C’mon–use your words properly. It’s not that you don’t like it–you’re just embarrassed. Your body’s a hell of a lot more honest than your mouth.”

“…Ngh, where the hell do you think you’re touching?!” he snapped as a hand snaked down between his legs to slip fingers around his shaft, lazily stroking him to erection.

“Just getting you in the mood, that’s all.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

This guy really left no chinks in his armor. Try as Yokozawa might to restrain him before he could provoke him, Kirishima quickly took the upper hand, tightening his grip along the stiff shaft.

Yokozawa fought down the cry that clamored for release, but the increasing attentions forced sounds from his throat regardless. He grit his teeth and held back a moan, biting out, “You said…you wouldn’t do…anything…” That promise had convinced Yokozawa to grudgingly accede to Kirishima’s request that they bathe together, and while he couldn’t deny that he’d been more than a little naive in his actions, he couldn’t sit silent and just take it.

“And you believed me?”

“That…was low,” he ground out, stalling as Kirishima turned the question back on him. It hadn’t been so much that he’d believed Kirishima as he simply hadn’t thought through to this inevitable conclusion.

“Maybe…but you love that about me.”

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Yokozawa abandoned all efforts to refute Kirishima’s brazen boasting and instead began to actively mount his revolt, bracing his hands against the bathtub edges as he struggled to lift himself from Kirishima’s embrace–but he simply hadn’t the strength to follow through, at the mercy of Kirishima’s expert attentions. “Cut…it..!” The remaining water splashed up around them in time with Yokozawa’s resistance.

“Now that’s just bad manners.” Fingers skittered over his skin, outlining the shape of his abs, and lips pressed against the nape of his neck sucked against the skin there. At length, Yokozawa gave up on trying to remove himself bodily from the tub and focused instead on removing Kirishima’s arms, gripping tight with his nails as he went on the offensive–but the fingers stroking along his shaft never ceased their attentions.

“Just give up and play along nicely; it’s for your own good,” Kirishima murmured into Yokozawa’s ear, his extremities pinned. He sounded like some cop from a television show, trying to prompt a perp to confess to a crime. Still, Yokozawa had no intention of giving himself over so easily, and even if he wound up putty in Kirishima’s hand in the end, it just wasn’t in his nature to duck his head and go about things dutifully.

“Who’s…gonna do whatever you say…?” He tried to tell himself that the dizzy wave sweeping over him was just from the bath–and it was all he could do to bite back the moans that threatened to seep from his throat.


“Good morning!”

“Morning.” With a great yawn, Yokozawa dragged himself over to his desk. Kirishima had kept him up late again, burning the midnight oil the previous night and leaving him utterly exhausted. That was two nights in a row now he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep, and pushing himself like this, at his age, had left him physically drained. It was great that he’d finally resolved things with Kirishima, but in return, he’d had to once again deal with a rather high-spirited Kirishima as well, and while he’d staunchly refused another bentou-making session or commute together, he’d had a ‘goodbye kiss’ forced on him in the genkan as he’d taken his leave.

He definitely shouldn’t show his weak side to Kirishima, he was starting to realize; once the guy got going, there was no stopping him from getting carried away.

Hiyori was supposed to get back from her field trip today, but he was set on heading straight back to his own apartment this evening; he couldn’t deal with three straight days of such a giddy Kirishima. He was looking forward to hearing Hiyori regale them with tales of her adventures, but he desperately needed his rest first–ensuring one’s own physical health was one’s duty as a member of society.

He pulled his planner from his bag, checking the day’s schedule, when Henmi glanced over, chuckling lightly. “Yokozawa-san, I see you’re wearing another cute tie today! Was it a gift from your girlfriend?”

“Yeah, right–idiot.” He’d been wrangled into another necktie coordination session that morning as well, ending up with one of Kirishima’s, but he was quite sure it wasn’t so strange a pattern it merited Henmi’s laughter. However, while it might not have been a shade that really suited him, if he let his discomfort show, it would surely only invite more probing questions, and so he shrugged off the comment–when Henmi’s expression shifted to one of complete shock.

“Wait–you don’t mean to say you bought it yourself, right?”

“What’s with that shocked tone?”

“No, it’s just…” Henmi’s gaze honed in on the tie, and as Yokozawa followed the gaze, glancing down to get a better look at the tie, he noticed that a portion of the fine pattern was made up of bear-shaped silhouettes. Seeing as the images were only perhaps a few millimeters in size, he hadn’t even noticed until Henmi pointed them out.

“………” As he’d heard it, the tie Kirishima had chosen today had been picked out by Hiyori and her grandmother for Father’s Day the previous year. He’d confessed he hadn’t had much opportunity to wear it before–likely less due to his line of work and more due to this pattern. He now realized that this had been the reason Kirishima had been grinning like a loon when he’d seen Yokozawa off that morning–and the reason the high school girls standing in front of him on the train had been snickering, too. While it might have suited someone as baby faced as Henmi, there was no way it was doing any favors to someone like Yokozawa.

The tie he’d borrowed the day before had been rather gaudy but still of relatively normal design; he’d let his guard down regarding his chest area when leaving the apartment that morning, though, and shame began to well up from within.

“So…did you really pick it out yourself?”

“I–I borrowed it, of course! There’s no way in hell I’d buy something like this for myself!”

“Borrowed it? From whom? Takano-san…wouldn’t own something like that, probably. Ah–then perhaps Kirishima-san?”

“…I’m going to return it.” He pulled out the back-up tie he kept in his desk drawer and stood to leave. Nothing would’ve happened if he hadn’t noticed it, but now that he’d realized the reason he’d garnered so much attention all day, he couldn’t possibly keep it on.

“Aww, what’s the harm? I think it’s quite fetching, really cute!”

“…Henmi. You’re smiling.” He fixed a sharp glare on his subordinate, who’d directed his attentions elsewhere, expression betraying his attempts to fight back his laughter. “Dammit.” He quickly departed the sales floor, tugging off the tie as he headed for a bathroom with a mirror in it.

32 Responses to Chapter 7

  1. Jae on July 4, 2013 at 4:18 pm says:

    That was too cute!!! Oh Kirishima should’ve just pounced on you Yokozawa!

    Thank you for this! There may be a verb tense error here: “she’d been supposed to spend the night”

    • septemberscans on July 7, 2013 at 7:25 am says:

      No error 🙂 Unless you can find some error in “She had been supposed to spend the night”? (“She’d” = contraction of “She had”)

      • Aya on July 18, 2013 at 5:28 pm says:

        First of all, thank you very much for the translations! I just recently got into the fandom and I really love reading about Yokozawa! It’s very interesting to read a novel rather than manga!

        Anyway, regarding Jae’s comment… Sorry for butting in, but I believe Jae mentioned that sentence in particular because of the way the sentence itself sounds. “She had been supposed to spend the night” — “had been” typically indicates the progressive, but “supposed” is simply in the past tense, so they don’t seem to jive together, versus something like, “She was supposed to spend the night” or “She was supposed to have spent the night”.

        My apologies if I am incorrect on the matter. Once again, thank you very much! Yokozawa and Kirishima are so interesting as a pair.

        • septemberscans on July 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm says:

          Close! ‘had been’ does indicate the progressive here: the past perfect progressive. You have to remember that this story is written in the past tense already, not the present, so you have to use sequence of tenses properly to place verbs in their proper tense with respect to how they’re to be taken in context.

          If I used ‘was’, it would be only past progressive and indicate present action occurring at that moment. See:

          “It was dinnertime in the Kirishima household, and Yokozawa was peeling potatoes while Hiyori talked about her day.”

          The action is taking place at that moment in the story.

          But I wanted to indicate that something took place in the past, even though the story is written in the past, so I had to use a tense even ‘further back’ but still in the progressive to indicate an ongoing action/state of being even in that point in the past–ergo, past perfect progressive 🙂

          Make sense? I’m an editor by profession, so I’m quite confident in my grammar here XD

          • Jae on July 20, 2013 at 4:33 am says:

            Yep, I think what caught me of guard was the contraction since “‘d” I usually take to mean “would” so having it as “had” made more sense.

            “Hankerchief” can also be shorten as “ker hief”?

  2. Lumi on July 7, 2013 at 4:38 am says:

    Omg this series is so good! And the translations are perfect! Thank you so much for translating it! Does anyone happen to know how many volumes are out in Japan? Is it still going on in Japan or has this series finished?

    • septemberscans on July 7, 2013 at 7:26 am says:

      Well, seeing as this is Volume 4…how about 4 volumes? 😛 We live in Japan, so we’re always on top of things quite literally as soon as they’re released. There’s no suggestion as to whether this is the final volume or not, though (it doesn’t have any sort of definitive ending).

  3. F.G on July 12, 2013 at 5:35 am says:

    I am wondering about something… is the main author: Fujisaki Miyako or Nakamura Shungiku? …Cause only of of them is the author publishing the manga counterpart – the manga is not a co-author work, is it?

    Also, is the work actually published as a book or as a part of a magazine? Each volume seems to be too short to be published as a book on its own (Im just curious about it).

    Thanks for the translation! Hope your sunburn is healing well (though that means going back to work xD) =)

    Hmmhh…. I wish they would start to call each other in first-name basis since Yokozawa does with Takano.

    • septemberscans on July 12, 2013 at 8:11 am says:

      The main writer is Fujisaki, but Nakamura tells her what to write. As I understand it, she gives a general outline, the plot and all, and Fujisaki actually writes it, fleshing everything out. Nakamura is solely in charge of the manga, no help.

      While the Yoshino Chiaki no Baai novels were published piecemeal in the magazine, all of the Yokozawa Takafumi no Baai novels are published in one big chunk (though bits of them have shown up as special short stories in the magazine once or twice). The novels are 200 pages long, approximately, which is standard length for light novels in Japan.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Meliya on July 12, 2013 at 4:46 pm says:

    Thank you3x so muchhhhh for the update translation

  5. Kara on July 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm says:

    Thank you for your hard work. I really love this couple. I will be waiting for the next chapters XD

  6. JEn on July 14, 2013 at 2:37 am says:

    Thank you so much for your hard work! Seriously, i am having so much fun reading this novels. Omg… and the translation is just perfect and also help me with english as well.
    I gotta say I love this couple to death!!
    Anyways thanks for your hard work and ganbare!

  7. loveneko on July 14, 2013 at 5:57 pm says:

    Thank you very much <3
    I love your scanlation

  8. V on July 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm says:

    Hi! Thank you for the translation! I love it. Trifecta is really the best!
    I think there is an error in this translation (but I could be wrong). This sentence was in the translation: “Yokozawa knew full well the loneliness that came with not being able to find time to be with your loved” shouldn’t it be ‘Yokozawa knew full well the loneliness that came with not being able to find time to be with your loved ONE’?
    I don’t want to nag, I’m very very happy to just have the translation, but I thought you wanted to know.
    Thank you for the hard work! ~V

    • septemberscans on July 17, 2013 at 12:54 am says:

      It should have been ‘lover’, so thanks for pointing it out! Fixed it now :3

  9. Jae on July 22, 2013 at 11:30 pm says:

    Oh! They are making ut so difficult to resolve such an insignificant issue.

    In regards to this: “…he was starting to feel–and yet he still…,” is Yokozawa supposed to feel something or was it intentionally cut to match his thinking process?

    • septemberscans on July 23, 2013 at 12:23 am says:

      I think you’re just getting confused by the layout of the sentence; replace ‘feel’ with ‘understand/realize’:

      “If he left things between himself and Kirishima the way they were, the situation would only worsen, he was starting to (realize [the things just stated]).”

      Better?

  10. abraxas on July 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm says:

    The word is ANYWAY not anyways. It’s driving me nuts so will you please stop it, dammit! As slang you can get away with using “anyways” for, maybe, one character who is a hick from the sticks. Strewing it all over the places is incorrect.

    On the other hand, “she’d been supposed to spend the night,” is perfectly fine.

    Pick on something that’s actually wrong for crying out loud.

    • septemberscans on July 29, 2013 at 12:50 am says:

      Your ‘hick from the sticks’ comment was very much unappreciated, and if you’re going to pick apart SPAG somewhere, you’d better have impeccable SPAG of your own, which you don’t 😛 (being a professional editor, the errors in your comment makes me cringe) ‘Anyways’ is a perfectly acceptable and common spelling in North America, where our translators were born and raised, so I say to you: “pick on something that’s actually wrong”. Further disparaging comments will not be tolerated; if you have something to discuss, please find a way to do so which doesn’t involve ascribing stereotypes in the future. If you do so again, you’ll be barred from further commenting.

      • May I? on July 30, 2013 at 12:44 am says:

        I totally agree to that… Always is the right spell but when you said it out in the open, you don’t always hear the S sounds so is a little… hell tongue?

  11. BM~ on August 1, 2013 at 9:14 am says:

    Is it just me or does it look like Yokozawa’s got a HOT haircut???
    In the picture with Hatori, and MAINLY the one after with Kirishima, doesn’t it look like Yokozawa’s hair got shorter? .. hot!

    I wish I could see the both of them with their hair above their forehead and Spiked up if you know what I mean :p Specially kirishima, like maybe Yokozawa could just check his temperature or something lol.

  12. abraxas on August 10, 2013 at 5:24 am says:

    “Anyways” is a colloquiallism, but hahaha. I still love you. I find your stubborn pride endearing, and, boy, are you lively! I guess I’d better watch my step around you! It would break my heart if I got all banned and censored by you. Don’t scare me like that!

  13. ann on September 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm says:

    aah, i kinda wished Kirashima had seen Yokozawa surrounded with playful cats >_< <3 …too bad.

  14. Shh kit on September 23, 2013 at 4:22 pm says:

    Arrgg ! I tried to read so slow ! Dx just ending up running thru it :\ . .GOSH I love this couple ! <3 TokoXKiri <3
    ***Thanks for this !***

  15. Lilly on October 16, 2013 at 4:48 pm says:

    Thank you very much for the translations ^_^
    Read all four volumes in a roll so I’m sure I’ll have some withdrawal symptoms!!!

  16. Dave on December 18, 2013 at 5:05 am says:

    Thank you so so so so much. I read the first two volumen in two days. Had a final, read the third one, another final yesterday, and now I’m reading this one. I don’t want them to be over 🙁

    Btw I was like omg he has kirishima’s tie when he’s eating his Bentou in the park, but in the drawing, he had a normal black tie!

  17. Flex32 on March 15, 2014 at 7:53 am says:

    This chapter was especially cute!
    Omg!! Jealous Kirishima is the best thing ever xD
    I was kind of reading this at 3am in the morning with discretion in absolute silence, and in the part where Yokozawa is in the park with the cats waiting for Kiroshima and Iokawa-san appears I couldn’t stop myself from making a very soundly AAAAH! My father woke up and asked me what happened xD
    Thank you very much for the translation, it is just perfect!
    Sorry about my english, my native language is Spanish xD

  18. sachi on May 6, 2014 at 12:07 pm says:

    Nya~ so cute! >////< i hope they have more bath scenes…:3 nice job sept.scans!i have always adore you're jobs this past 4 years now…hihi~ 😀 its so cute when kirishima is jealuos.i can't help screaming at the park scene..kyaaaaa~

  19. Clauren on June 3, 2014 at 9:18 pm says:

    Gosh
    I really love this chapter xD
    Kirishima is a little bit narrow minded which is a good thing for some reason….
    and Kyaa the two of them will be out in the public in no time for sure <3 <3
    I guess Yokozawa will be Hiyori's mom in no time I hope that Yokozawa and Kirishima will get married xD …..
    They should marry in a country that provide/offer Same sex marriage :3

  20. yukina kaoru on September 23, 2014 at 12:21 am says:

    this chapter is so cute… that cats part reminds me of that 4-koma-like in the manga about yokozawa from ritsu’s POV. i can only wish i’m as good as yokozawa regarding cats. i love cats but the feeling’s not mutual. at all.
    thanks for the translation~

  21. Tora on October 20, 2014 at 3:31 pm says:

    Honestly, thank you so very much for the wonderful work you’ve done! The translations are top notch and just make an already great story that much more vivid and intriguing to read. By golly i love this couple XD So darn endearing! i was really relieved that the writer included the scene that has Yokozawa’s thoughts- relating that he really is over Takano. Such a relief, i can sleep well now! Again thank you.

  22. Maya1109 on January 31, 2015 at 2:17 pm says:

    I loved this chapter! Kirishima being all jealous is totally adorable. This couple is definitely my Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi OTP 😀
    BTW your translations are amazing!

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