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Actors Always Lie on Their Resumes

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If he concentrates hard enough, he thinks he can count the exact number of water droplets hitting the window. They're falling from the bottom of the air conditioning unit outside—an old, noisy thing that's a veritable relic of the past—and Kaoru absentmindedly wonders if that means it needs to be fixed. Most things in this building need to be.

One drop. Two. Three.

Including Rei, honestly.

Kaoru taps the side of his face in time with the water.

Rei's still going on and on in that low, drawling voice of his (half of the time Kaoru thinks it's an affected one—Rei's manner of speaking sure is) and he leans forward now, seeing that Kaoru's attention has strayed, but Kaoru just slumps back in his chair and continues to count.

Four, five, six, seven.

It falls in an irregular rhythm—sometimes slow and sometimes so fast two drops seem like one—but he thinks he catches them all, marking each off in an invisible tally in his head.

"Kaoru-kun."

Ugh.

Kaoru scrunches up his nose and does his best to keep his attention on the water, but hearing his name jars his concentration. It's twenty-three years of ingrained response he's fighting against here and, honestly, who wouldn't reflexively snap to attention when hearing their name even if they weren't necessarily the one being called.

Eleven.

Twelve.

Thir—

"Kaoru-kun," Rei says again, this time punctuating it with a light smack of papers against Kaoru's face.

Ow.

He really should have seen that coming, but he guesses that's what he gets for trying to divert all his attention to the 15-and-counting water drops falling against the window instead of just listening to the B movie vampire impersonator in front of him.

He cups his cheek and pouts in a gross exaggeration of a normal reaction. (Hammy. Overdone. Refund please, an invisible audience member asks.) "How could you do that to my face, Sakuma-san. It's the only asset this company has."

"Your face is far from our only asset, Kaoru-kun," Rei says, leaning back comfortably in his chair once more. "We have Adonis-kun as well. Not to mention, our dear Wanko." He taps a finger against his lips and smiles. "And me, of course."

Kaoru scoffs.

Really?

Gross.

Spitbucket please.

If Rei wants to get his ass kissed, all he has to do is step outside and wait for the world to catch wind of the fact that famous recluse Sakuma Rei has suddenly reappeared in society. Simple as that. Kaoru sure as hell isn't going to do it for him. "Only you would consider Wan-chan an asset," he says, ignoring Rei's (warranted and deserved, to be honest) ego stroke, and Rei only shrugs in response, as if to say Koga's an asset few people would be foolish enough to discount.

He knows Rei's right, of course. That smug bastard always tends to be, much to Kaoru's annoyance. Good-looking. Talented. Owner of a supposedly great and charming personality according to fans, journalists, critics, and everyone else that really matters.

At least he has awful personal relationship management skills.

Though Kaoru can't really talk.

Koga's better than the both of them on that front, even if his idea of managing potential problems is to yell about them loudly and probably spit more than necessary in the process. He still isn't the better actor, but even though Koga might stumble over his words and sometimes spit out the wrong lines, the kid has raw talent and ambition in spades to back it up. Kaoru thinks he'd claw his way up to stand on top of the world just so he could look down at Rei below and shout "Look at me now, ya vampire bastard!" all sharp teeth and wild eyes.

And if it's Koga, he'll probably manage it one day, too.

Kaoru snaps one of his bracelets against his skin. "How's he doing, by the way?"

"Wanko's doing well. He came by earlier today, woke me up, then demanded I hand over all the casting calls I had in my possession."

"And?"

"He took most of them, told me to stop sleeping at the office, brought me tomato juice, and made a rude comment about your hair in your latest photoshoot."

Kaoru frowns and tugs at the ends of his hair. "Like his is any better."

"But do not worry, Kaoru-kun," Rei continues, ignoring Kaoru's comment. "With great effort, I managed to save your audition materials." Rei straightens in his seat and pushes the stack of papers he had previously used to smack Kaoru with across the desk.

Kaoru picks them up and flips through the script. His lines for the audition have already been highlighted—not by Rei, Kaoru guesses, but Koga—and they seem simple enough. One of those new hero shows. Meteor Rangers from Yumenosaki Productions. He's never heard of it, but, knowing Rei, this role is probably a nice continuation of the ever popular "bad boy but wait he's actually nice and kind and helps old ladies with their groceries" image Rei had built up for him with his previous gigs and magazine spreads. He might be annoying sometimes and enjoy acting like a low-rent villain and has a coffin sitting in his office to back it up, but he hasn't led Kaoru astray yet.

He knows what he's doing.

And Kaoru trusts him.

"Alright," he says. "When's the audition?"

"In two days."

Kaoru puts down the papers and stares at Rei. "Two days."

"Yes."

"And you've had this for how long?"

Rei makes a vague hand gesture.

Scratch that "sometimes."

He's annoying all the time.

Kaoru really wants to flick something at his perfect face right now.

He takes in a breath. "And you didn't think to tell—"

"Now, now, Kaoru-kun. I have faith you'll do wonderfully; you always rise to the occasion; you certainly wouldn't have looked at any of the materials until now even if I had given them to you earlier; I've heard nothing but good things about you from the people you've worked with; and I have complete confidence in you and your talent." Rei smiles.

Kaoru is slightly appeased.

Actually, wait, did he sneak an insult in there somewhere?

"Here's the magazine you featured in this month. Wanko insisted I tell you that he thought your hair on page 33 was truly atrocious."

"Atrocious. Does Koga-kun even know what that means?"

"Ah," Rei lifts a hand to his mouth, "let's just say he didn't exactly phrase it that way. Our Wanko is, as you know, quite vulgar." Rei shakes his head. "Children are so very impressionable." He sighs. "I wonder where he picked that up from. "

Yeah.

Wonder where.

Kaoru shoves his audition papers into his bag and snatches the magazine from Rei's hand. He flips to page 33.

Koga's handwriting is scrawled across the page. What the fuck is this??? it says. Kaoru's head is circled three times around so violently that the pen marks almost rip through the paper.

Kaoru doesn't get it. What's so bad about it? It's just his hair! His hair with a copious amount of gel in it, but Koga really can't talk! Kaoru doubts that he even brushes his hair every day, that ass. Koga's image might be all rock and roll and ripped clothes and being so wild he might as well just go feral and be done with it, but that didn't excuse him from basic hygiene. He's a person, not a dog, for God's sake, even if his nickname is Wanko and all resulting variants.

Kaoru grumbles and shuts the magazine.

What the fuck is this? It's your senpai's hair, you mangy asshole.

Whatever. He's always liked Adonis-kun better, anyway.

Floor dragging incidents aside.

"Okay, but my hair isn't bad," Kaoru says, turning around, desperate to defend himself for some reason. "It's very stylish. The height of fashion. Girls love it. The photographer's assistant said I looked very handsome."

Rei waves Kaoru away with a sweep of his hand, not saying a damn word.

Die.

Kaoru closes the door behind him.

(Then opens it back up to say, one last time, "It's not bad!" and closes the door halfway before sticking his head in and saying, again, "It's not!")

-

"Your hair looks awful."

Kaoru snatches the magazine away from Izumi. "Stop, it does not!" He shouldn't have given Izumi an opportunity to insult him. He should have known Izumi would gleefully take it.

Izumi rolls his eyes and sits back down on the couch. "Don't be so fucking touchy, Kao-kun."

"I'm not!"

"Did you insult the stylist before the shoot? It looks like she took out a lifetime of frustration on your head."

"I did not!"

"So, you flirted with her," Izumi says, flipping through channels. Kaoru catches a glimpse of one of Rei's old shows on the screen.

"No." Kaoru sits down next to Izumi and grabs the remote.

Izumi clicks his tongue, but lets Kaoru change the channel back to the rerun of Rei's old show.

"So, you flirted with her," Izumi repeats.

Kaoru sighs. The show is one of Rei's earlier works, relatively speaking, but he's still magnetic on screen. Ugh. Kaoru hates his damn screen presence. Kaoru's isn't a joke by any means—the camera loves certain people and those "certain people" happen to include him—but Rei's entire performance makes all of Kaoru's efforts look amateur in comparison. It's even more annoying that Rei elevates the people he shares the screen with instead of overpowering them and drowning them out.

He makes them better by just being there.

Kaoru chews on his bottom lip. He thought he'd gotten over his inferiority complex to Rei a long time ago—ever since Rei had retired and personally invited him to join his new agency—but he's starting to think that it's just something that will never go away. The sun rises; the sun sets; the sky is blue; the grass is green; Rei Sakuma quit acting but is still better than he'll ever be.

"Helloooo," Izumi says, waving a hand in front of Kaoru's face. "Stop spacing out, moron. I'm trying to belittle you here."

Kaoru shoves Izumi away and snaps back to the reality of the two-bedroom apartment he shares with an irritable model who puts labels on all of his food and always complains about how dirty everything is even though Kaoru's the one who does most of the cleaning and is still, somehow, his friend.

"Oh, shut up, like you look any better in your shoots, Senacchi." It's a lie and Kaoru knows it, but it still feels good to say. "Your cowlick will never disappear, no matter how many stylists get their hands on it."

Izumi shifts slightly and kicks Kaoru. "My cowlick is my charm point, thank you very much, and maybe if you stopped hitting on every girl you saw, you'd have a charm point too, instead of a rat's ass on top of your head that ruins your face. Seriously, it's the only good thing about you and it doesn't even save the photo."

"I don't hit on every girl I see," Kaoru says, indignant—rightfully so since it's just not true—and grabs Izumi's ankles, so he can't kick him anymore. "And my hair doesn't look bad!"

Izumi slumps back onto the couch. "Right, and I'm straight."

Kaoru parrots Izumi's words back at him mockingly and almost gets a foot in his face for it. Enough. Hands still on Izumi's ankles, he pivots Izumi so he's facing forward once more, then drops his feet back down onto the floor. Kaoru points at the TV where Rei's face is taking up the entire screen in a close-up. "His brother coming over tonight?"

Izumi changes the channel with much more force than necessary. "No," he spits out.

"Ah, trouble in paradise," Kaoru says airily and laughs despite himself. Izumi and Ritsu have been together longer than he and Izumi have been roommates, but they've broken up more times in that space of time than Kaoru can count.

"Oh, shut up, Kao-kun. You haven't been in a relationship that's lasted longer than a month for as long as I've known you. And none, actually, in the past two years, so you really can't talk."

Kaoru scoffs. "I'm a celebrity. No time for dating, though that doesn't seem to be the case for models. That's the difference between you and I, Senacchi."

"The difference between you and me, Kao-kun, is that I actually have a career while you could walk around outside all day and come back home without one person recognizing you."

"Not true," Kaoru says, frowning. "I'll have you know that old ladies and elementary schoolers love me and regularly recognize me and ask for autographs." He pauses, letting his significant celebrity and sprawling fanbase sink into Izumi's small, puny mind. "And," he emphasizes, "they send me letters."

"You know they love everyone, right."

"Not you."

"Because my fanbase has more sophisticated taste."

"Yes, the very sophisticated demographic of teenage girls."

"That's where the money is, Kao-kun. Not that you would know."

Kaoru rolls his eyes. "Whatever. If you and Sakuma-san's little brother aren't going to subject me to a night of terror and horror because one of you has done something stupid and cracked the other's fragile ego, why don't you help me learn my lines for an audition."

"What do you mean fragile ego," Izumi says, standing up and throwing a pillow at Kaoru's head.

Ah. So it'd been Sakuma the younger who'd done something to offend Izumi this time.

"Nothing," Kaoru says. He reaches over and picks the script for the audition scene off the sidetable and gives it to Izumi. "Read the lines that aren't highlighted."

Izumi scans the pages. "What kind of shit is this? You doing a kids' show? This looks like the kind of stuff Chii-kun does."

"Just read. I know you aren't the greatest actor, but beggars can't be choosers."

"Oh shut up. I could be an actor if I wanted to." Izumi points at the middle of the first page. "From here?"

-

The only person present at the audition is a small woman with shoulder-length brown hair and pretty blue eyes. She smells nice too, though Kaoru can't place the scent. It's definitely not a perfume he's familiar with, but it's light and fresh—floral but not overly so—like springtime in a bottle. He can tell he'll like her already.

She introduces herself simply as Anzu and Kaoru has to wonder if she's going for the whole "single name recognition" thing or if she just forgot to tell him her last name. She does seem pretty distracted during his entire audition, glancing up at him for just a second before looking through a pile of papers on her desk and marking something off then looking back up at him and repeating the entire process.

From Kaoru's guess, she's around his age or just a bit younger. He'd be surprised to find out if she was older, judging from her appearance and the way she speaks—polite but so unwaveringly deadpan that Kaoru wonders if she's actually a comedian in her spare time—but her youth is surprising in other ways as well. Like the fact that she's in her early 20's and already a producer of a TV series that started production a few weeks earlier.

It really doesn't make sense.

"Here," she says, standing up and leaning across her desk to wave a piece of paper at Kaoru. A chunk of her too-long bangs falls into her eyes and she brushes it aside. "Read from line 42."

He acts out some half-baked villain's monologue with as much conviction as he can muster and he swears that he catches stone-faced one-name-Anzu muffle a laugh against the palm of her hand as he reaches one of the more ridiculous lines about the villain going after the heroes for violating his Creative Commons Copyright, but it's gone as soon as it came and she's back to her expressionless default before he can even blink. When he finishes the marked off scene, she has him turn around and asks if his height on his headshot is his real height—don't even try lying.

"Yes," he says, smothering a laugh. "179 centimeters."

Anzu nods and says, "Well, Hakaze-san." She takes in a deep breath and says, in a monotone rush, "I'll be honest with you. We're behind in filming, but our overlords told us that they wanted to pull up this arc so half of what we've filmed so far has to be scrapped and we have to rush film the content for the next three episodes and even though luckily the only role we needed to cast was the villain, I don't even do castings normally—I'm much more comfortable with supervising on set and helping out in Wardrobe—but Nazuna-san got sent out of the country for some reason nobody will tell me, so I got stuck here." Anzu exhales.

Kaoru blinks.

Her face is slightly pink.

"Are you sure it's okay to tell me that?" he asks hesitantly.

Anzu shrugs and tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear. "You're not a journalist—you're an actor—and I'm about to give you a job, so I'd say you have no incentive to snitch about production problems. Besides," she adds, curtly, "I have a feeling it would hurt you more than it would me in the long run." She motions for him to step forward and holds out a script.

Kaoru smiles and reaches forward, relaxing into his stance and looking at Anzu in what he knows is a very charming, open way. She looks down before she can get the full effect, but that's fine. His fingers brush against her's, a light graze as he grabs the script, and it's all very planned out.

Accidental.

Accidental, that is.

Very accidental. A pure chance touch. But before he can execute the second half of plan number four on his list of smooth moves guaranteed to charm the ladies, Anzu jerks the script away with a flick of her wrist.

"Mmm, no," she says. "Don't try that." She doesn't even look up from the documents on her desk.

Kaoru freezes. He can't have been found out. This is Advanced Technique™. There's no way she could have noticed. Nobody notices it. He blinks and tilts his head, furrowing his brow slightly. Time to try for some slightly bewildered innocence. "Ah, sorry? Try what?"

"You're a good actor, Hakaze-san, but I'm not a 16-year-old schoolgirl anymore." She looks up at him and raises her eyebrows. "Nice try though. That would have really freaked me out in high school."

Kaoru's sure he's gaping.

"Thursday. 8 am. Lot A. Don't be late."

He closes his mouth and swallows. "Ah, yes, thank you. See you there."

-

"See you there," turns out to be a minor mistake.

When he arrives at Lot A on Thursday at 8 am, Anzu is nowhere to be seen.

The only person he's greeted by is a pink-haired guy with a pinched face who quite thoroughly assures Kaoru that he has an absolute plethora of better things to be doing than measuring Kaoru and fitting a costume for him under the banner of Yumenosaki Productions which, by the way, is owned by the Tenshouin Group and overseen by Eichi Tenshouin, himself—that awful, terrible, horrible, no-good stain on humanity who can just go die already—but that's beside the point.

Is this too tight?

The designer's name is Shu Itsuki and he's quick to tell Kaoru that he doesn't actually work for Yumenosaki Productions and therefore the Tenshouin Group and Eichi Tenshouin—may he rot in hell for all eternity. He's here as a favor to his friend who's too busy trying to catch up with the backlog of costumes needed for the next few weeks of shooting.

"Ordinarily," Shu says, jabbing a pin into the mannequin in front of him with such force it makes Kaoru flinch slightly, "I would be glad to see a Tenshouin-affiliated production crash and burn, but I do not have the luxury of enjoying such an outcome when Yumenosaki is involved." He pulls Kaoru forward and measures his arm from shoulder to elbow then jots down the number on a piece of cloth. "Hence," he gestures to the studio with his chalk, "this."

"What's so special about Yumenosaki?" Kaoru asks as Shu shapes the sleeve of a jacket.

"In general or personally to me?" Shu sews up the sleeve and attaches it to the body of the jacket and hands it to Kaoru to put on.

"Is there something special about it in general?"

Shu examines a few areas of the jacket on Kaoru as he answers. "Of course there is. Everyone knows Yumenosaki Productions is run by a bunch of inexperienced 20-somethings and that it is the pet project of Eichi Tenshouin." Kaoru thinks Shu would have spat then if he was one for spitting and if they weren't indoors. "Well, I say inexperienced, but that's simply the judgement of outsiders not involved in production." He sniffs and takes the jacket off Kaoru. "In my opinion, the people working at Yumenosaki are extremely professional and they wouldn't be having any production problems if Eichi Tenshouin hadn't decided to swoop down like the demon he is and ruin everyone's hard work by changing the schedule to fit his own whims."

Huh.

He really should keep up more with industry news, shouldn't he.

All in all, Shu Itsuki doesn't seem like such a bad guy even if he did go on a rant about croissants and pastry lamination and the importance of proofing while pinning Kaoru's shirt and even if he couldn't stop cursing the air Eichi Tenshouin breathed. Not that Kaoru really cares either way about this Eichi Tenshouin. As far as Kaoru's concerned, Eichi Tenshouin is the one paying him, so it doesn't matter if he's God or the Devil himself as long as Kaoru gets his paycheck.

He doesn't mention this to Shu, though.

No need to make an unnecessary enemy out of somebody whose job involves sticking pins into things.

It's near the end of the fitting when Kaoru's cellphone rings and he goes to silence it, apologizing, but Shu brushes it off. "We might as well take a break now," he says and Kaoru steps outside to take the call.

"Hello?"

"Oh my, Kaoru-kun? Is this working? Can you hear me? Should I speak louder?"

Kaoru sighs. "How much longer are you going to act like you're a 90-year-old who's never seen a cellphone before in their entire life?"

"Now, now, Kaoru-kun. You shouldn't be so critical of your elders."

"You're a year older than me. You're hardly elderly. It's annoying."

"According to Wanko, I am an ancient artifact."

"Koga-kun thinks that yesterday's take-out is an ancient artifact—of course he thinks you're one too."

In the background, Kaoru can hear Koga practicing lines with Adonis.

Kaoru kicks at the ground. "So? What did you call for? I'm gonna have to go back in soon."

"Hm? Oh nothing. I just got a bit lonely since Wanko and Adonis-kun are ignoring me."

Kaoru hears a loud, frustrated noise on the other line. Must be Koga. "Ignoring? You're the one—" His words are lost in the sound of fabric brushing against the mic. "—That we should just—" There's noise of a scuffle and Kaoru assumes Koga has launched himself at Rei, as per usual. "—It ourselves! You said!"

"Manners, Wanko. I'm on the phone with Kaoru-kun."

"Screw that pervert! Don't use him as an excuse!"

Kaoru switches his phone to his other ear. "I'm not a pervert," he says even though no one is paying attention to him anymore

There's some grunting and noises of a struggle and a "Let go Adonis!" before Rei's voice comes back on the line. "Ah, Kaoru-kun are you still here?"

"I have to go back to work," Kaoru says flatly in an unintentional impression of deadpan one-name-Anzu.

Rei manages a final sing-song "Work hard, Kaoru-kun!" before Kaoru hangs up on him without another word.

He deserves that for letting Koga draw all over Kaoru's magazine like a 5-year-old.

When he walks back into the studio, he finds Shu crouching in front of a doll with blonde, curled hair. The doll is sat on the edge of a table, legs hanging over and hands folded properly on her lap, and Shu brushes a ringlet away from her face and smoothes down the red fabric of her skirt.

"She's pretty," Kaoru says. Shu snaps to attention and looks over his shoulder at Kaoru."Is she for a different show or is she yours, Itsuki-kun?"

Shu sniffs and picks the doll up delicately, setting her on his arm. "Her name is Mademoiselle and she is a precious antique who is far above your ability to appreciate but..." He clears his throat. "Thank you, Kaoru-kun," he says in a falsetto without moving his lips. He frowns slightly afterwards, like he's not quite happy with how it came out.

Ah, ventriloquism. This guy sure is something.

Kaoru smiles at the doll. "No problem, Mademoiselle-chan," he says then looks back up at Shu.

Shu raises his eyebrows slightly then diverts his attention back to Mademoiselle, adjusting her feet and skirts around his arm with practiced care. "I used to be better at it," he says, pausing for a beat before he places the doll back on the table. "But then it turned out I didn't need her anymore."

Kaoru doesn't question him further—it's none of his business, after all, and he has to get back home to make sure he has his lines memorized—and Shu picks up the various pieces of Kaoru's costume off the table and dumps them in Kaoru's arms.

"Put them on. I have no doubt they fit perfectly, but actors always do find the funniest things to complain about."

-

Sure, the costume fits.

Sure, it fits perfectly.

But boy does Kaoru have more than a few complaints about it that he's sure as hell has nothing to do with the fact that he's an actor.

It hadn't seemed so bad in the studio with Shu, but on set under the lights with all the added weight of whatever the hell they'd sewn onto the fabric and attached to his head and back to make him look like a cross between a turtle and a fish—some kid named Souma's idea, apparently, and honestly Kaoru could throttle him for it now, just show him the way—it's unbearable.

Anzu was on set earlier and when he'd asked why they hadn't just gotten a suit actor for this half of the role and let him just look villainous and cool in his other outfit, she'd looked at him blankly and said that the casting call had been for actors who were comfortable with stunt work. Not to mention he'd put it on his resume.

"Everyone here is their own suit actor," she said flatly, absentmindedly gesturing towards the other sound stage. "It's one of the selling points of Meteor Rangers. Publicity is having a field day with it. Besides, you're not doing anything too strenuous, the audience can still see your face, and you're only in it a third of the time." She tapped on her clipboard and looked up at Kaoru. "Or are you saying you can't handle it?"

His "I can!" probably came out a little too forceful and a touch too indignant, but Anzu moved on too quickly to notice or that's what Kaoru hoped.

He grimaces and adjusts his headpiece. Sure, parts of his face are still visible behind the goggles and the ridiculous fish head strapped to the top of his head, but he doesn't quite buy that he'll be recognizable behind all of that.

Well, whatever.

He's not in this particular getup for the entire shoot and besides, he can deal with it—fish head be damned. The job pays well and it's nice to have his act together for once or, at least, together to the point where he doesn't feel a sinking guilt in the pit of his stomach and a urge to just let his phone ring to voicemail when his sister calls him to see how he's doing.

(Which is good, by the way. Never been better. Everything is great. Completely fine. More importantly, how are you, Nee-san? Still lovey-dovey with Hasumi-san?)

"Hakaze-san, we're moving out to the backlot now."

Kaoru looks up to see the timid blond production assistant who'd shown him around the studio earlier in the day. He nods. "Uh, thanks…" Shit. What is his name?

The PA stares at Kaoru, mouth open slightly like he's about to supply his name, but no sound actually comes out. Really. Did he forget his own name? Kaoru raises his eyebrows and tries to make an encouraging facial expression. Apparently he's not good at it because the PA just shuts his mouth and presses his lips together so tightly they turn white.

Well, that's what he gets for trying.

"Okay, uh, Glasses, lead the way."

The blond PA nods, seemingly at ease with being called Glasses, and guides Kaoru to the backlot where the Rangers are already assembled and ready to start filming.

He hadn't been introduced to them earlier—production had been too keen to get a chunk of his solo scenes finished and out of the way—and with their helmets on, they could be anyone.

Which is the point, he supposes.

The first scene gets done pretty quickly and they're in the middle of the second when Kaoru starts to wonder if any of them are going to take their helmets off. Aren't those things super stuffy? How are they even breathing? There's being professional and there's dying for your art and Kaoru's not sure if he wants to be surrounded by a bunch of idiots who think that staying in character on a hero-themed TV show is an art worth dying for.

It's not soon after, though, that the first ranger breaks and pulls off his helmet. It's the green one and he looks exactly how Kaoru figured he'd look, stuck under that helmet for an ungodly amount of time. Sweaty, out of breath, and on the verge of death. Kaoru hadn't thought they'd actually push themselves to the point of collapsing, but that's exactly what the green guy does next.

Collapses.

Just falls face first into the dirt and lies there, brown hair matted to his forehead with sweat.

Kaoru's kind of annoyed to notice that even though somebody in his situation should really just look like shit, the green guy looks like he's crawled out of a photoshoot that involved dousing him with five hoses and only needed him to act as if he'd collapsed after some great act of heroism. Unfair. He figures that Green will get up soon, but after he doesn't even move after a few seconds, Kaoru's left to wonder if he'd really passed out or if he was just content to lie on the ground until somebody picked him up. The Red Ranger kneels next to him, shouting something undecipherable but still audibly loud from within his helmet until the Black Ranger takes off his helmet and lightly hits the top of Red's with his fist.

"Nobody can hear anything you're saying with that on, Taichou," Black says then crouches down next to Green and shakes him slightly. "C'mon Midori-kun, get up. S'no use just lying there feeling sorry for yourself."

Red manages to pull off his helmet after some difficulty and starts to speak in a loud, clear voice. "That's right, Takamine! You'll feel better if you stand up and have some water, I promise!"

Green's voice doesn't carry as far as the other two's so Kaoru only sees his mouth move before Red starts speaking again. "Don't say that, Takamine! What do you mean you want to die and take me with you!"

Kaoru looks around and sees that Glasses is jogging over with a bunch of water bottles in his arms while the director tells everyone to take a break. Kaoru's more than happy to take a break. Maybe he'd get to talk to Anzu again. She's fun to talk to even if she likes brushing him off and staring blankly at all of his attempts to be charming and witty and make her laugh.

Or, well, that's exactly what makes talking to her so fun.

The set's mostly empty already—just the small crowd around the Green Ranger left—and Kaoru turns around, trying to figure out where Anzu would mostly likely be, but the tip of his right shoe gets caught around his left ankle and he—

Falls straight to the ground.

Great.

Smooth move, Kaoru.

Well done.

Really impressive.

He gets up as fast as he can, brushing dirt off his knees and adjusting the ridiculous fish helmet thing on his head. Surely nobody saw that. Surely all the people left were much too concerned with Green over there, whispering his dying words to his closest companion co-workers, to have seen.

Surely.

He glances over at the crowd—casually, of course—and is relieved to see that he was mostly right: Glasses, Red, Black, and now Yellow are all still prodding at Green and getting him to drink some water. But Blue.

Blue.

He's staring right at Kaoru. Or that's what it feels like, since he still has his helmet on—please God just take it off already—and Kaoru can't quite tell where he's looking, exactly. Kaoru cracks a hesitant smile and holds a finger up to his mouth, hoping that whoever was under that helmet would get the hint.

Let's keep this between us, okay?

Blue reaches up to grab his helmet and pulls it off much more smoothly than anybody else had, revealing a soft-looking guy whose hair curves around his face with the exception of one curl that sticks straight up on the top of his head. There's no tugging or struggle at all and unlike Green from before, he looks completely unaffected by the amount of time he spent with a helmet on his head.

Kaoru wonders if he got the Blue Ranger part because of his hair color.

The guy lifts a finger and presses it against his lips in imitation of Kaoru. He smiles, eyes curving pleasantly.

Well, guess that's a yes then.

"What are you doing just standing here?"

Anzu. Kaoru relaxes and flashes a smile at her. "I was about to go find you, Anzu-san."

"Yeah, it really looks like you were." She peers behind him to look at the other actors and Glasses. "Is Midori-kun okay? I came as soon as I heard."

"Midori-kun?" He laughs. "Is Green's name really Midori?"

"Yeah," she says. "Nazuna-san thought it was clever. I think it's going to haunt him for the rest of his career. If he's even interested in having a career beyond this, that is." She starts walking towards the now-standing Midori-kun and Kaoru follows her, giving her his undivided attention. "You haven't been introduced to the others have you?" It's a question, but she says it like a statement, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

Kaoru shakes his head. "Nope. Though maybe I'll stay in character better if I just keep calling them by their colors."

"Don't be stupid."

"Okay."

When they reach the others, Anzu folds her arms across her chest. "Feeling better, Midori-kun?"

He nods.

She stares at him for a few moments then says, "Next time tell somebody you don't feel well, okay?"

He nods again.

Anzu smiles and Kaoru's eyes widen (who knew all he had to do to get Anzu to smile was act stupid and almost die?) and she stands on her tiptoes to ruffle Green's hair.

Damn.

Lucky.

"Great," she says, then gestures to Kaoru. "This is Kaoru Hakaze. He'll be with us for the next month. He's a—" She looks at him and lets out a small sigh, quickly motioning for him to remove his goggles and fish head headpiece. "Oh, take those off, Hakaze-san."

He pulls down the goggles, but keeps the headpiece on. "Sorry, Anzu-san, can't take this off. What if I accidentally ruin it? What would Itsuki-kun say? What would he do? Though if you're willing to stand up for me, I think I'd be able to weather anything." He smiles. "By the way, you can just call me Kaoru, you know."

"Shu-san doesn't work here. Besides, he didn't make that head…thing. If you break it just go to props and they'll fix it, Kaoru…-san." She places an emphasis on the honorific that follows his name and Kaoru shrugs. It was worth a try.

After Kaoru takes off the offending fish head off and runs a hand through his hair, Anzu introduces him to the rest of the cast. "This is Shinobu Sengoku-kun, Meteor Ranger Yellow, and Tetora Nagumo-kun, Meteor Ranger Black," says Anzu, gesturing to each of the actors with both of her hands as she introduces them.

Tetora greets him first, bowing and shaking his hand firmly. Shinobu smooths down the hair covering his left eye nervously then nods at Kaoru before reaching forward and shaking his hand.

"Midori Takamine-kun, Green Ranger." He nods like Shinobu and lets out a small "Nice to meet you."

"Chiaki Morisawa-san, Red Ranger."

Chiaki reaches out and shakes Kaoru hand vigorously with both of his. "Glad to have you on board, Hakaze!" He stops shaking Kaoru's hand up and down, but doesn't let go of it.

"Thanks?" Kaoru says, trying to extract his hand from Chiaki's grip.

"If you have any questions or need anything or just want to talk or make a new fr—"

Anzu tugs on Chiaki's sleeve. "Chiaki-san."

"Right!" Chiaki lets go of Kaoru's hand. "Right. Save it for later."

Kaoru feels slightly winded, like he's just run a marathon.

Exhausting.

Anzu nods then moves onto the final actor. "And last, Kanata Shinkai-san, the Blue Ranger."

Kanata waves then holds his finger up against his lips like he did before, mouth open slightly as he lets out a small laugh.

Kaoru tries to shake his head as inconspicuously as possible.

It wasn't as inconspicuous as he thought.

"Oh! Do you two know each other?" Chiaki asks, slinging an arm around Kanata's shoulders, jostling him slightly, and looking back-and-forth between him and Kaoru. "Work together before?"

"Uh, no," Kaoru says.

Kanata shakes his head. "We have 'not,' Chiaki."

"Huh, really?" Chiaki stands up straighter so he's not leaning on Kanata and lowers his hand from Kanata's shoulder. "But it looked like you two were—"

"Hey," Kaoru blurts out, trying to distract Chiaki and steer the conversation clear away from any direction that might incline Kanata to tell the story of how he'd fallen flat on his face. He points at the glasses-wearing PA hidden behind Chiaki and Tetora. Thank God he's still here. "What's your name?"

Anzu leans to the side slightly and squints at the PA. "Oh, Makoto-kun, you were here. Didn't notice you."

"Haha…yeah…," Makoto says, laughing weakly. "Surprise."

Anzu looks back at Kaoru and raises her eyebrows. "Shouldn't you already know his name?"

"Are you saying that I was introduced to him just earlier today and already callously forgot his name?"

"Yeah."

"Well," Kaoru takes a step back, "you're right. And I have to go to props now, goodbye." With that, he turns around and swiftly walks towards the building.

"Hey! His name is Makoto Yuuki-kun! Don't forget it!"

He looks over his shoulder at Anzu. "I won't," he yells, smiling, then turns back around and mutters under his breath, "I probably will."

-

The next time he sees Anzu is at the start of lunch the next day.

She's reviewing the footage they shot earlier in the morning and he taps her on her shoulder, avoiding the hand that half-heartedly swats at his head afterwards. "Hey, Anzu-san," he says and she covers her mouth as she yawns and pauses the video.

"Thought you'd've lapsed into calling me Anzu-chan by now," she says, leaning back in her chair and looking up at him. "You seem like that kind of guy."

Kaoru almost succeeds in biting his tongue. "What do you mean 'that kind of guy?'" he asks, somewhat indignant.

Almost.

Almost succeeds.

"Oh, you know exactly what I mean," she says, giving him a look. "But, proven wrong, I guess." She stretches her arms up in the air and looks at Kaoru expectantly. "Well, what do you want? There's a couch in Dressing Room A that's calling my name."

"Just have a question."

She waits for him to continue, not saying a thing.

Okay.

"Uh, why is there no Pink Ranger?" he asks. Wasn't there always a pink one on these shows? A pink one played by a cute actress. And sometimes yellow was a cute actress color too, right? But there was no chance of that happening on this particular show since Shinobu-kun had that color covered.

Anzu gets out of her chair, stares him dead in the eyes, and says, flatly, "Not our demographic."

Ah.

"Enjoy your lunch, Kaoru-san," she says over her shoulder as she walks away. She gives him a small wave goodbye.

Oh, well. As much as he would have enjoyed eating lunch with a cute actress in a pink suit—flirting with her and making her smile and listening to her talk—it's not like he's the same person he was a few years ago. Sure he flirts here and there, but it's never anything serious. It's more just a bit of fun. A good time for everyone involved. He gives the women on set attention and they return the attention.

Just that.

Only that.

And, most of all, it never left set.

(Or, well, there's fanservice, but that's a completely different thing.)

Even if his friends like acting as if all he ever thinks about is girls and Koga, in particular, likes acting as if he's constantly just looking to get in someone's pants, that's not how it is at all. Sure, maybe in high school and college—back before he actually knew what he wanted to do or had to even think about it—he'd been more careless and maybe he'd only wanted to think about girls and—

Nothing else.

Think of nothing else.

Confront nothing else.

It was never about sleeping around.

He's really not that asshole.

Once he decided to go into the industry for real, not just dip his toe in for a quasi-celebrity status on campus, he stopped thinking about relationships. Got his affairs under order. If he was going to do this—which he was, no matter what his family said—he was going to do it properly. So, no girlfriends. No dating. Not even those dates he liked going on regularly in school.

Not that they were real dates in the first place. If anything they were just an excuse for him to take nice, pretty girls out to nice, pretty places that would bring out their nice, pretty smiles. There was nothing better than watching a girl break out into one of those special genuine, kind smiles because of something he did.

There still isn't.

He wonders if he'll be able to get Anzu to smile like that before his time on set is over.

"Hakaze!"

Oh…great.

Kaoru turns around and sees Chiaki waving at him from a table where he and some other people are eating lunch. He has a heaping pile of rice in front of him and Kaoru assumes that there's a plate underneath it all, but honestly he's not all that sure.

"Come sit over here, Hakaze! There's plenty of space." To emphasize just how much space there is, Chiaki scoots over, the legs of his chair knocking into Tetora's (who makes an annoyed noise at Chiaki, mouth full of rice), and pats the seat next to him.

Kaoru has to admit that there certainly is enough space there for him to sit comfortably without constantly having to lean out of the way when Chiaki would inevitably move in way too close to his face, but, still, the thought of having to spend all of lunch next to somebody as energetic as Chiaki especially when he didn't exactly feel up to socializing with a bunch of guys sounded seriously exhausting.

Yes, Green, that face exactly.

That's the exact feeling.

"Sorry, uh, I've got to go...look around." It sounds lame even to him and Kaoru cringes slightly, following up with a weak "Maybe next time," to hopefully soften the blow.

For his part, Chiaki doesn't look all too bothered by the rejection. "Whenever you feel like it Hakaze!" he says, beaming. "You're always welcome here with us."

Wow. What a great guy. He managed to say all that with the utmost sincerity and not the slightest bit of sarcasm. If Kaoru was a girl, he's sure his heart would have skipped a beat there and he'd be running to claim the seat next to him.

Now that's a guy who probably has a girlfriend at home.

After picking up one of the lunchboxes provided by production, Kaoru walks up the stairs, wondering if the roof of the building is closed off. He's always liked rooftops. Lots of sun, nice breezes, and, where he grew up, rooftops also meant a nice view of the sea. The studio isn't that far from the beach, but Kaoru doesn't think there'd be any view of the sea here. The building is too low and it doesn't have the advantage of a hill to help it either. But maybe it's just close enough for the wind to carry over that tell-tale smell of saltwater.

Just maybe.

There's no sign on the door to the rooftop, so Kaoru assumes it's free game. It looks as if there was once a plan to finish it up nicely, maybe with a small garden and seating, but it apparently never went farther than installing railing around the perimeter, sectioning off various chunks of the roof for the plants, and cleaning up the flooring.

That's good enough for him, though.

Kaoru walks around the walls of the stairwell once, judging the amount of sunlight and breeze each side has to offer, before he sits against the one he deems the best.

He takes a deep breath in.

No saltwater.

Kind of disappointing, but not the end of the world.

He's about halfway through his lunch when he hears the door to the roof open. Instinctively, he freezes, listening until the door closes again and whoever it is walks around to the wall adjacent to Kaoru's and sits down. The footsteps sound like just one person and there's no talking, so he assumes they've come up alone like him. He slowly scoots over to the corner and, taking care not to make any noise, Kaoru carefully looks around the edge. The person sitting there has their legs stretched out in front of them and their lunchbox on their lap. Their blue hair curves inward, blocking their face, but one curl on the very top of their head sticks straight up.

Huh.

Kanata Shinkai.

That's unexpected.

If somebody had asked him earlier where he thought Kanata would be at lunch, well, he wouldn't have really cared enough to answer, but if pressed, he would have just assumed that Kanata would be with Chiaki and the rest of them. They all seemed close enough by his observation. Should be, since they've been filming together for months.

But, no. Kanata is here, alone, like him and not downstairs together with them.

He watches as Kanata pulls out a glass soy sauce bottle (seriously, where did that even come from) and pours it onto his food. Kaoru takes a drink of water. He's still pouring. Kaoru eats some rice. Still pouring. A bird flies by and Kaoru watches it disappear into a tiny black dot in the sky. Still—okay, holy shit, he's still going? Stop. Stop it! What is he doing? That's at least a quarter of the bottle! Is this a joke?! A hidden camera prank? Kaoru quickly looks around. The roof is empty. No cameras. No people besides them.

He feels like crying.

Kanata's still pouring.

When Kanata reaches the halfway point (how is all of that soy sauce even fitting in his lunchbox!!), Kaoru can't take it anymore. He throws his chopsticks down. Picks up his stuff. Stands up, walks around the corner, and stops in front of Kanata. "How much soy sauce are you going to pour!!"

His voice cracks.

He is so stressed.

Kanata blinks. He looks at the bottle then up at Kaoru. He doesn't seemed fazed at all. "Oh, heh," he smiles, "does Kaoru 'want' some?"

No! No, Kaoru doesn't! No, Kaoru definitely—

Oh.

Kanata had used his first name. First name, no honorifics.

Not Hakaze, not Hakaze-kun or Hakaze-san or even Kaoru-kun.

Just Kaoru.

He hadn't been called just Kaoru in years. The last time must have been in school when he was still taking out girls to nice restaurants and dessert cafes. Not that he hadn't asked after that, but his stylists and the writers and all the other women he was close to on sets always seemed to take it as a joke.

Or just flat-out refused like Anzu.

It didn't really matter, especially since he always did pass it off as a joke—laughing and smiling and pretending to be mock-wounded—or passed over it altogether, but he hadn't realized how much he'd missed hearing his name, plain and simple, until Kanata had said it out loud.

It sounds nice, coming from him.

Kaoru supposes it has something to do with how he speaks. All slow and spaced out with elongated vowels. At first, he thought it was only a voice Kanata was putting on for his character, but turns out it's all him. Just his regular voice.

A few years ago, he might have told Kanata to knock it off. To stop using his first name like that. Or… Kaoru doesn't know. He's not that person anymore. Now, he just blinks and shrugs internally. If that's what Kanata wants to call him, then he can.

Why stop him?

But Kaoru's not using that soy sauce.

"No thanks, Shinkai-kun," he says.

When Kaoru says his name—his last name, Kaoru thinks—Kanata looks up and stares at him for a moment and even though Kanata's expression barely changes, if at all, something seems off.

It makes Kaoru freeze, a deer caught in the headlights, but then Kanata looks back down at his food and starts picking at his soy sauce soaked fish with his chopsticks and it's all over. An uncomfortable feeling starts to brew in Kaoru's chest. Part of him wonders if he's reading too much into it. It wasn't much of a reaction at all—really nothing out of the ordinary—and this is the first time he's ever talked to Kanata, so he doesn't know anything, not really, and it's a bit presumptive of him to just assume things, all things considered, but he can't quite shake the feeling that Kanata doesn't particularly like being called by his last name.

It's irrational—he's heard other people on set call Kanata by his surname after all—and he knows it, but Kaoru can't help but feel that he's right. Right, at least in some instinctive, lopsided way. Right, because he himself is no stranger to that sentiment.

He gets it.

He gets pausing when you hear your last name because it doesn't feel right. He gets biting down on your tongue and telling yourself to just let it go. He gets hearing your last name and wanting to say that it isn't yours; that you don't ever want to hear it again; that you don't want this name that connects you to people who look at you like they don't know where they went wrong, like you're a mistake they can't scrub out, like you're their failure.

He gets not wanting the name—the thing that connects you to your family.

Kaoru had learned to hide it. Wanted to hide it, desperately. And so he did. He hid it behind smiles and laughs and jokes and a casual insistence that the girls he spent most of his time with call him Kaoru.

For him, not hiding it was never an option.

It still bubbles up, sometimes. Even now, when things are a lot better than they once were.

Looking at Kanata, Kaoru decides to sit down next to him. His back rests against the wall and he crosses his legs beneath him. Kanata doesn't even glance up from his food.

Kaoru tilts his head up and looks at the sky. "You really like soy sauce, huh, Kanata-kun?"

That catches Kanata's attention. Kaoru can feel his eyes on him, but he doesn't turn his head.

Then Kanata visibly relaxes and Kaoru finds himself relaxing too, tension he didn't know he was carrying flowing out of his shoulders.

"Yes," Kanata says, "and 'fish,' too." Holding out his lunchbox in front of him, he leans forward, knees drawn up slightly and pressed against his chest, and looks back at Kaoru. "Does Kaoru 'like' fish?"

"Yeah." Kaoru smiles. "Grilled fish is great."

"I am 'glad' Kaoru likes fish," he says, returning the smile. He starts to sit up again and, by the time Kaoru's finished drinking the last of his water, he finds that Kanata is facing him and holding up a piece of soy sauce soaked fish in his chopsticks. "Here, Kaoru," he says. "Eat 'this.'"

Kaoru stares at the fish.

How is he supposed to eat that with all the soy sauce.

Well, okay, just like any other piece of fish, but how.

Kanata looks at him expectantly. Kaoru feels his throat close up in protest.

Do not, it says.

And he doesn't want to, not really (who would?), except he also doesn't really want to hurt Kanata's feelings or insult him by not eating the fish especially since he's known him for all of two seconds and already fucked up a little.

Kanata moves the fish closer to Kaoru's mouth.

Kanata does seem like a nice guy, though, so maybe it'd be fine to just move away and refuse the fish. But, also, Kaoru does kind of like him for some inexplicable reason and, on the off chance that Kanata decides to make him his mortal enemy for not eating his soy sauce fish, he'd hate to never be able to come back up to the rooftop for lunch because he's avoiding Kanata, who would be impossible to avoid in the first place seeing as there's still four weeks of shooting ahead of them.

So.

So, he opens his mouth and leans forward and eats the fish.

Kanata smiles. "Isn't it 'good'?"

Good isn't what he'd call it, but hey. Whatever floats Kanata's boat.

Kaoru chews and nods, giving Kanata a thumbs up.

He swallows.

He—Wait.

Wait, wait, wait.

Did he just? Did he just let this guy feed him? He just got fed, didn't he. He totally just got fed as if he was one half of some lovey-dovey couple having a picnic lunch except the other half wasn't a cute girl in a pretty sundress that he could compliment—nope! Not at all! Just some guy! And he just casually leaned over and ate soy sauce disguised as a piece of fish off said some guy's chopsticks like it was no big deal (which, well, it isn't, but you know—still) just because it was offered to him and that definitely just—

"I wanted to 'grill' fish over a 'fire' at lunch," Kanata says, interrupting Kaoru's parade of justs, "but Chiaki told me I 'couldn't.'"

Kaoru blinks. So he's just going to.

Okay.

Yeah, that's the spirit. Kaoru'll let it go too. He's moving on. Not paying it any more attention. Obviously wasn't a big deal to Kanata who clearly did not care at all, so it's not going to be a big deal to him.

Goodbye thoughts.

"He 'said' it was too 'dangerous.'" Kanata makes a face. "All I 'wanted' was to 'start' a fire here. On the 'roof.' I 'almost' did it anyway, but Chiaki 'caught' me." He lets out a small laugh and smiles, biting his bottom lip. "Chiaki is a 'funny' boy."

Kanata's voice is warm and fond and, Kaoru thinks, exactly the tone he would aim for in a scene where a character is talking about someone they love. Rei says he's terrible at those sorts of scenes, but Rei can go shove it, honestly. All of his romantic scenes make Kaoru want to die laughing.

It's one thing he and Wan-chan agree on.

Kaoru looks at Kanata's face as he finishes up his lunch, studying his expression. It's not like he makes it a habit to guess at his costars private lives, but Kanata isn't being particularly subtle, at least in Kaoru's opinion. Guy is practically shouting he likes Chiaki. Maybe that's why he hadn't given feeding Kaoru any attention. When you like someone, after all, every action with them feels significant and every action with anyone else means nothing at all.

He rests his head on his palm and listens as Kanata continues on about various things Chiaki's done during filming, all in that nice, slow voice of his and all with a nice, fond smile. Kanata had picked the sunniest side of the roof to sit on and now, the warmth of the sun combining with the sound of Kanata speaking, Kaoru feels content.

At ease.

Like he's alone in the middle of the ocean on his board and nothing can touch him.

Kanata laughs softly again and draws his knees up to his chest, resting his cheek against them. When Kanata's shoulders rise in an inflection then fall, the piece of hair sticking up from his head moving as well, Kaoru is suddenly reminded of how Chiaki had touched Kanata yesterday during Anzu's introductions, hand on his shoulder before dropping lower to his back.

Huh, maybe the affection goes both ways.

The more Kanata talks and the more Kaoru runs over how Chiaki had touched Kanata, the more convinced Kaoru becomes of their relationship. Even if Kanata's on a tangent about something else right now—anglerfish?—with vaguely the same expression and tone he'd had when talking about Chiaki and even though Chiaki's a touchy guy—Kaoru had already figured that much out—the way he touched Kanata was different.

Somehow.

Kaoru's not really sure in what way.

But it was.

He smiles and nods at something Kanata says before he quickly backtracks and shakes his head when he realizes Kanata was talking about something surprisingly morbid involving dead bodies and the ocean with an alarmingly cheerful expression on his face and he shouldn't have been smiling and nodding along like an idiot when—no, Kanata-kun, absolutely not. Don't you think that's a warped way of seeing things? Why are you smiling and laughing like that—no, stop it—

Well.

They're together.

Sometimes, you can just tell.

He knows what's up. His roommate is dating a guy. He doesn't discriminate. In fact, he'll even tell Izumi next time he sees him.

-

Izumi thinks he's full of shit.

"You're full of shit," says Izumi.

Why did Izumi always think he was full of shit? Kaoru needs a new roommate.

And a new friend.

"Oh, shut up. You didn't hear the way Kanata-kun talked about him. Seriously. They're together. I can just tell."

Izumi breathes in, slow and steady. He presses his lips together and carefully sets the magazine he'd been reading down on the table. He massages his temples for a few seconds, seemingly trying to collect himself, and for a second Kaoru thinks that's the end of it, but then he turns on him, holding up a finger.

Kaoru braces himself.

"One, why are you even telling me this? Just because you know I'm gay doesn't mean you have to tell me about every single gay person you meet, dumbass. Do you think I care? Do I look like I care? You gonna bring me to the wrap party and introduce me to them like 'Hey, this is my super gay roommate and I'm assuming you guys are also super gay, so clearly you'll get along because you all want to fuck guys'? No.

"Two," he holds up a second finger, "what do you fucking know about anything? You wouldn't know if two guys were dating if it smacked you across your dumb, straight face. I literally introduced Kuma-kun to you as my boyfriend, remember, and you still screamed like an elementary school girl you came home early—without fucking telling me, by the way, so your fault—and saw us fucking."

"I didn't scream," Kaoru insists, overcome by a sudden need to defend himself.

Izumi rolls his eyes.

He goes on. "Look, anybody would be surprised to come home and find their roommate"—being fucked, his brain supplies unhelpfully—"and some guy just going at it in the living room." On the couch, his brain supplies again very unhelpfully. The one you're sitting on now.

Right. Thanks.

Really needed that.

"Why couldn't you have just gone to a love hotel like a normal person?"

Izumi shoots him a look of pure disgust in lieu of a verbal answer and says, "Shut up, I'm not done yet." He holds up a third finger. "Three, I don't give a fuck. Did I already say that? I don't care. I just don't care, Kao-kun."

Kaoru opens his mouth to speak.

"Actually, four! It wasn't 'some guy,' you asshole. You knew Kuma-kun. As if I would just bring some random guy home." Izumi scoffs.

Kaoru sighs. "Oh shut up, you know what I meant."

There's a brief silence as Izumi leans his chin on his hand and looks at Kaoru critically, brow furrowed slightly. "You know what?" he says slowly, his expression distorting as if he's just eaten something he hates or at least something very sour. "It's none of my business and I really don't want to think about it, but maybe you should give your hand a rest."

"What?"

"I," Izumi makes a vague hand gesture and looks at Kaoru with a mixture of pity and disdain, "promise I'll be nice to whatever…girl you bring back here and you know what? I'll even spend the night at Kuma-kun's." Izumi nods to himself like he's just done his one (1) good deed of the year. "Honestly, you're not going to get a better deal than this. I'm being extremely generous out of the goodness of my heart. You should be grateful."

Kaoru looks at Izumi with the most incredulous look he can produce and says, in his most horrified voice, "I do not want to hear this from you."

Izumi shrugs. "Just thought that if you got some you'd spend less time obsessing over someone else's love life. You don't even know the guy. Weirdo."

"Okay, but—"

"No buts. I don't want to hear it. You're a weirdo." Izumi picks up the magazine again.

"I'm not."

"You are."

"I'm not."

Izumi throws the magazine at him instead of replying.

"Okay, but," he rushes forward so Izumi wouldn't be able to interrupt, "at the very least, Kanata-kun's into the other guy. At the very least."

Izumi shakes his head. "Whatever. I don't get why you even care so much."

"I don't care that much," he says.

He doesn't.

Not really.

Not at all.

No.

"Sure. And you haven't spent all of tonight talking about this which is more than you talked about that producer, by the way, and I didn't spend a year of my life putting together a scrapbook of Yuu-kun in high school and Kuma-kun didn't try living in the closet of his friend's room for a month and his brother didn't follow us around on dates for two until Kuma-kun threatened to never speak to him again."

"Uh, how are any of those the same?"

"Just saying," Izumi tries to kick him off the couch, "the seeds of obsession are there."

"No they aren't," Kaoru says, trying to keep his seat.

"Funny. Denial."

"Me talking about people I work with isn't the same as you taking out all of your issues on some poor kid you knew when you were 10."

Izumi sighs. "I was exaggerating to make my point, moron."

"Well, they're dating."

"Ok."

"And I'm going to prove it to you."

"Ok." Izumi gets up and walks towards the kitchen.

"And you'll realize that I was right the entire time."

"Ok," Izumi says, voice muffled by the walls.

"And you'll be sorry."

"Alri—Wait." Izumi sticks his head out of the kitchen. "Why the hell would I be sorry?" he says, sounding annoyed.

"You know. Just because. Figure of speech."

Izumi looks at him, unamused.

"Let's just…say I started saying my lines for tomorrow, then."

Izumi rolls his eyes. "Fine. Know them all?"

"Just about." Kaoru looks at his phone. One missed call.

Home, the screen says.

He locks the phone and sets it on the table face down.

That can wait.

"Hello?" Izumi says, waving his hand around. "The script? Where is it?"

"What?" Kaoru swallows then reaches down and turns his phone off.

"To help you?"

"Oh. Yeah, okay. It's, uh, over there." Kaoru gestures to the small kitchen table.

"Seriously, Kao-kun," Izumi says, snatching up the script, "get it together. Sometimes you're soooo annoying."

Kaoru laughs like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard.

-

The next day, when Kaoru climbs back up the stairs to the roof, he's surprised to find Kanata there. He waves Kaoru over with a smile and Kaoru's treated to a first-row seat of Kanata's soy sauce obsession once again.

Then it happens again and again and by day four, Kaoru's accepted that rooftop lunches with Kanata are just a regular thing now.

One hour a day, every day.

There's a lot you can learn in one hour a day, every day.

Day five, Kaoru learns Kanata loves the sea and all its creatures. It's easy to tell, since Kanata likes talking about the ocean and all related subjects so much, but on day five, it turns into a full-blown conversation when Kanata asks Kaoru if he does too. Kaoru replies that he does—he loves the beach and the sea and sure, whatever lives in it too, although he prefers seeing them behind thick glass and can take or leave the weird, ugly fish.

Kanata says if Kaoru really loves the sea, he'd love everything in it too and pours soy sauce on Kaoru's food as punishment. After mourning the loss of his soy sauce free lunch, Kaoru relents and admits that he shouldn't write off the weird, ugly fish just because they're weird and ugly.

Kanata nods.

Who knows, someone weird out there might like them. Might even be their favorite.

Kanata nods again, slowly. He couldn't choose just one favorite out of so many friends, but it's good if Kaoru has one, he says. What is it? Kaoru's favorite?

Jellyfish, maybe.

Jellyfish are 'good,' Kaoru, but they aren't really 'fish.'

Ah. Right.

They aren't really 'jelly,' either.

Ha. Ha. Very funny.

On day six, Kaoru learns that Kanata's love of the sea extends to just water in general. Apparently, one of the other plans of his Chiaki had shot down was to have an inflatable pool on the roof. Chiaki had pointed out that there was no easy way to get that amount of water on the roof and Kanata had countered by saying that he'd just make it on the ground floor then, right next to the hose, but Chiaki shot that down too.

Kanata looks at Kaoru's water bottle forlornly. He really wants to soak somewhere right now.

Kaoru doesn't end up drinking any of his water.

(Kanata shows up downstairs slightly damp and Kaoru shows up slightly dehydrated.)

Day seven, Kaoru learns that Kanata likes making small charms of sea creatures.

He also learns Kanata can hold a grudge.

I would 'give' you one, says Kanata, but you don't 'like' weird, ugly fish.

Kaoru laughs and Kanata sticks his tongue out at him.

Sorry, sorry, Kanata-kun. What can he do to make it up to him?

Kanata says he'll think about it and tell Kaoru later.

Anything you want, Kanata-kun. Anything at all.

(When Kaoru's phone rings and he doesn't answer, Kanata watches and reaches up to pat Kaoru on the head. He says Don't worry and Kaoru says nothing, mouth dry. There had been nothing to notice. Nothing at all. But he thinks about how there had been nothing to notice before, when Kaoru had said Kanata's last name, and he thinks that maybe, the two of them aren't as good at hiding things as they think they are.

(He swallows and lies anyway. It's nothing, he says.

(Kanata pats him on the head again.)

Of course, it doesn't take a week for Kaoru to learn that Kanata is strange. Weird. Eccentric.

Odd.

He's all of the above or one or the other—take your pick—but he doesn't seem to care what other people think of him. He does what he likes. He does what he wants. He does it all regardless of what people want of him. What they expect of him.

He simply lives—

In his own way.

Freely.

Kaoru gets it. He respects it. Of course he does.

Since he and Kanata are alike in that way.

What Kaoru doesn't learn is if Kanata and Chiaki are actually dating. They must be and they are, as he insists to Izumi (who still isn't interested in hearing any of it), but he never asks, directly or otherwise.

He just…forgets.

Next time. Always next time.

Every day, without fail, on the roof.

Sometimes Kaoru makes it up to the roof first and sometimes Kanata beats him—though, strangely enough, they never manage to meet on the single flight of stairs that leads up there. When Kaoru brings it up one day after he stops counting, lying down on the ground and using his hands as a makeshift pillow, Kanata simply smiles and laughs and picks a stray feather out of Kaoru's hair. Kaoru doesn't see what's so funny and says as much, but Kanata shakes his head and insists it is.

He says of course it's funny. He lifts the feather up to his mouth and blows it away. Of course it's funny, when he's been following Kaoru this entire time and Kaoru hasn't noticed—not even once.

But what about the times when Kanata arrived before him?

"You were 'following' me, too," Kanata says, lifting his face up towards the sun. "You just didn't 'notice.'"

Kaoru squints up at Kanata. "I think I would have noticed if I was following you."

"I am very 'good' at being 'sneaky.'"

Kaoru doesn't think he's that unobservant, but he believes that Kanata has the skills to be as undetectable as he wants to be. He's so full of surprises, Kaoru's stopped being surprised by them. With Kanata, Kaoru's found it easier to just go with the flow.

Easier and—

Easy.

That's another thing he's learned.

"Be less sneaky," says Kaoru.

"I don't 'want' to," retorts Kanata.

"Guess I'll have to get better at noticing you then."

"Why?"

"So I can walk up here with you, Kanata-kun. Don't you ever get lonely?"

"No," Kanata says. "Do 'you,' Kaoru?"

Kaoru closes his eyes. "No," he says. "I never do."

-

One day, a fountain shows up outside on set.

Of course, it doesn't just "show up" like that. Someone had to buy it, someone else had to move it—for something to "show up," there has to be a whole chain of events that leads up to the "showing up." It's just a figure of speech. Something people say.

"'Boo.'"

Kaoru jumps slightly and looks over his shoulder to find Kanata soundlessly snickering at him. He faces forward again. Point A leads to Point B and Kanata had to have come from somewhere, but Kaoru fully believes that out of everyone on Earth, if someone is capable of showing up out of nowhere, it would be Kanata.

"Kaoru 'hasn't' gotten 'better,' yet," Kanata says, resting his chin on Kaoru's shoulder. He sounds like he's holding back another laugh.

Kaoru shrugs him off. "Better at what?"

"'Noticing' me."

"Well, it's only been a few days, Kanata-kun—what am I supposed to do?" He pauses. "You know you could try not being so sneaky to help me out."

"I do not 'want' to." He reaches forward and hugs Kaoru from behind, placing his chin on Kaoru's shoulder once more. "I 'want' to be 'sneakier.'"

What a pain.

Aren't you dating someone?

Go cling to your boyfriend instead.

Kaoru tries to step forward, but Kanata holds him back. "You…," Kaoru says, trying to pry Kanata off him. "You're surprisingly strong, aren't you?"

"Heh." The exhale of air tickles Kaoru's cheek.

Kaoru squeezes his eyes shut. Kanata really doesn't care about personal boundaries, does he? Not that Chiaki does, either.

Kaoru can't imagine what their relationship is like.

"Does Kaoru 'want' to 'arm wrestle'?"

"No, thanks. I'm not all that confident in my arm wrestling already and I'd hate for you to take me down another peg."

Kanata laughs. "I am 'sure' Kaoru would 'do' fine." He pauses and Kaoru thinks he can picture exactly what kind of devilish smile must be on Kanata's face. "Against 'anyone' but 'me.'"

"Thanks, Kanata-kun."

"You are 'welcome,' Kaoru."

Kanata could be such a little shit sometimes.

Kanata lets go then, his attention caught by something more interesting than making fun of Kaoru, and he walks towards the prop fountain in front of them. "Ah!" He looks back at Kaoru with excitement. "They've 'filled' the 'fountain.'"

Kaoru squints slightly and can see that Kanata's right—water is inside the fountain, reflecting the sunlight that hits it. "So?" he asks.

Kanata grabs his wrist. "Let's 'go,' Kaoru," he says, dragging Kaoru towards it. "Let's go 'in.'"

"What?" Kaoru stumbles slightly as Kanata picks up his pace. "Go in where?"

They stop in front of the fountain and Kanata turns to Kaoru, pointing at the water. "In 'there.'"

Kaoru laughs. What was he expecting? "Sorry, Kanata-kun," he says, amused. "Can't get my clothes wet. Wardrobe will get mad at me."

Kanata shrugs as if to say Your loss and moves to climb into the fountain.

"Ah, wait!" Kaoru dives forward towards Kanata's leg and grabs it, throwing Kanata off balance and making him grab onto the back of Kaoru's shirt.

"What?" asks Kanata, irritated. He pounds Kaoru's back lightly with the side of a fist.

"At least take off your shoes."

Kanata slumps down on Kaoru as he considers Kaoru's proposition and Kaoru wobbles slightly with the added weight. Then, finally, he says, "'Fine,'" like a sulky child and disentangles himself from Kaoru. He takes off his shoes and socks, placing them aside on the ground, then steps into the water.

Kaoru sits on the edge of the fountain and sticks a hand in. The water on top isn't very cold, having been warmed by the sun for, by Kaoru's guess, an hour or so, but it's still cool to the touch.

It's cool to the face too, as he finds out.

Kanata grins at him, not an ounce of guilt on his face, and Kaoru laughs as he splashes Kanata back. "I'm going to have to get my makeup redone because of you," he says.

"'Good,'" Kanata says, bubbling underwater for a moment. "You probably 'like' it anyway."

"Of course I do. The ladies there are very nice."

Kanata submerges half of his face in the water once more then comes up and says, "I hope 'Hajime' does your makeup."

Kaoru puts his hand on top of Kanata's head and pretends to push Kanata back into the water. "So mean. You know all I want is a bunch of nice ladies fawning over me."

"And to go to a dessert cafe with you."

"Yeah, that too. They're really not the kinds of places you can go to alone."

"Hmmm," says Kanata, sinking back into the water.

"Who knows. Maybe I'll just ask Hajime-kun. He has a cute enough face."

"Don't 'bully' Hajime. I'll 'bully' you."

"Ah, ah. It was a joke, Kanata-kun." Kaoru starts to stroke Kanata's hair. "You know, your hair is really soft."

Kanata only bubbles in response.

A breeze blows by and Kaoru can smell saltwater on the air. He breathes in. It's so strong it's almost like he's at the beach—sand between his toes and sun warm against his skin, drying up the water that clings to him.

Funny.

He shouldn't be able to smell the sea from here.

Kaoru moves his hand to casually bat at the lone curl that sticks up from Kanata's head. It bounces back and forth and Kaoru smiles, amused, while Kanata continued to simply bubble, mouth beneath the water.

"Ah! Kanata!"

Chiaki's voice comes booming from the building some twenty feet away.

Kanata immediately dunks his entire head into the water and Kaoru stares at him for a moment, bewildered, before he looks over to see Chiaki running over to them at full speed.

"Kanataaaaaa!"

Boy, his voice was loud.

It doesn't take much time for Chiaki to reach them and Kaoru watches as Chiaki attempts to pull Kanata out of the water. At first, he grabs him by the back of his collar but then, when that doesn't work, he tries to hook his arms beneath Kanata's shoulders. It seems to be going better than his first attempt, but he looses his footing on the water that's splashed out out of the fountain and ends up slipping and falling on his ass.

Kaoru stifles a laugh.

Maybe Chiaki should try his hand at comedy.

"Kanata, please," pleads Chiaki, undeterred by his setbacks. "You have to get out—Kuro's gonna kill me for letting you get your costume all wet again." He reaches back in and Kaoru wonders how long Kanata can hold his breath. "Kanataaaaaaa."

Kanata's head pops out of the water. Ah. So that's how long. "I don't 'want' to," he says, childishly. "I 'want' to 'soak' more."

Chiaki manages to pull Kanata up and Kaoru moves out of the way of the water that comes splashing down. "Kanata," Chiaki says, "we've talked about this."

They stare at each other for a few seconds before Kanata gives in, standing up on his own and climbing out of the fountain.

"It is 'fine,' you know," he says to Chiaki, sitting down on the edge of the fountain next to Kaoru. "It will 'dry.'"

Chiaki shakes his head. "Stay right there. Hakaze," he looks at Kaoru who just points to himself with his eyebrows raised as if Chiaki could be talking to somebody else, "can you keep an eye on him while I get a towel?"

Kaoru shrugs. He wouldn't stop Kanata if he wanted to get back into the fountain, but Chiaki seems to his answer as an affirmative and goes running back into the building.

Kaoru looks over at Kanata. "Are you going to go back in?"

Kanata considers it for moment then shakes his head. "No. I will 'wait' for Chiaki."

Kaoru nods absentmindedly. "You sure like Morisawa-kun, don't you?"

Kanata is silent for a moment too long and Kaoru almost apologizes for accidentally upsetting him, somehow, but Kanata speaks up before he can.

"Chiaki…," Kanata starts, trailing off. He presses his feet together. "Chiaki 'gave' me a place to 'belong.' He 'helped' me, a 'bad child'—a 'child' of a 'monster'—because he is 'kind.'" Kanata pauses for a moment. Kaoru waits.

"And even though 'sometimes' it is 'suffocating' and 'sometimes' it is 'hard,' I am 'grateful' to Chiaki. I will 'always' be 'grateful.'" Kanata looks up at Kaoru and smiles. "He is very 'special.' Not 'just' to me. But to 'everyone.'"

Kaoru swallows.

Kanata reaches out and pats Kaoru on the head. "Heh. 'Thank you' for 'listening,' Kaoru. You are a 'good boy.'" He tilts his head slightly then says, almost as an afterthought, "Your 'hair' is 'soft,' too."

Kaoru opens his mouth to say something, anything, but before he can come up with anything at all, Chiaki comes back, towel in his hands, and sweeps in with a flurry of motion.

"Ahhh," Chiaki groans, trying to dry Kanata off as fast as he can. "I thought the sun would dry you off more."

Kanata laughs and Chiaki drapes the towel over his head and starts working on his hair.

"Don't you dare say you're getting sleepy. I already had to give Kuro a lame excuse for the towel and I don't think he bought it."

"Don't 'lie' to 'Red Ogre'-san. He won't get 'mad.'"

"Yeah, but I don't want him to see my bad sides."

"He 'already' knows your 'bad sides.'"

Chiaki laughs. "That's true, but I want to try a little harder so he won't notice them." He grins and vigorously rubs the top of Kanata's head.

Well, that's enough of that.

Kaoru knows when he's an extra.

He tries to leave unobtrusively. Chiaki and Kanata are so stuck in their own world he figures they won't even notice him stand up, but he's proven wrong when Kanata lifts up the edge of the towel and looks up at him, brows creased slightly.

"'Where' are you 'going'?" he asks.

Kaoru steps back and jerks a thumb at the building. "Back to set," he says.

"Oh-ho! Working hard, Hakaze!" Chiaki says with enthusiasm, making the towel drop over Kanata's face again.

"Ha. Yeah, yeah," Kaoru says, walking backwards towards the studio. He smiles. "Have fun, you two."

"See you later, Hakaze!"

He turns around.

A breeze passes by.

It smells like nothing at all.

-

They've been doing shooting on location for the past few days—they being Kaoru and Chiaki, alone. While everyone else gets a few days off, they're sweating it out under the summer sun, filming the surprisingly elaborate one-on-one showdown between Meteor Ranger Red and Kamegorou Kamezaburou Thing-From-the-Sea.

Yeah.

It's a mouthful.

Sometimes Kaoru wonders why Rei thought this role would be a good idea.

Not that Chiaki seems affected much by the heat—if at all—judging by the way he's powering through everything. Kaoru doesn't know how he does it. Take after take, he keeps up his energy level—yelling his lines and hitting all his marks—even as Kaoru can see his sweat start to soak through the scarf tied around his neck. Kaoru feels exhausted just looking at him, but also, at the same time, he starts to get why Chiaki got the lead role in something like this.

Why Chiaki's not just the leader in the script, but on set as well.

He has a way of motivating the people around him. It's motivation by example, Kaoru supposes, and while it can seem suffocating or overwhelming at first, once you let yourself be dragged into his pace, you start to understand why the people around Chiaki act the way they do.

How they're able to keep up with him.

Why they want to keep up with him.

He has fun with Chiaki, filming. They might be shouting nonsense at each other and running around in ridiculous costumes and sweating and sweating more and doing it all over again, but it's fun.

His enthusiasm and attitude are contagious and it seems like it's never-ending—Chiaki's natural state of being—but Kaoru knows it's got to be hard work, keeping it up. Chiaki's way of influencing people is most definitely not of the Rei Sakuma School of Sly Tactic. Chiaki's influence is felt. It's motivational speeches and physical pushing and pulling and it's obvious—so glaringly, in-your-face obvious—but that's part of why it works. He leads by example. Motivates the people around him by so obviously trying his best.

It's different with Rei. With Rei, it's undetectable. He encourages people, brings out their best, and pushes them to their goals, sure, all like Chiaki, but he does it carefully. Cautiously. Meticulously.

And if he gets his way, you won't even have anyone to thank at the end of it all.

Kaoru doesn't know which method he prefers more. He thinks he understands Rei's better. He certainly appreciates it—the subtlety and thought and charm involved—but he thinks that he might admire Chiaki's more.

Maybe because it's just so much more foreign to him.

He kind of feels guilty, actually, looking at Chiaki mop the sweat off his brow and smile at someone who offers him water. He'd kind of written him off before. Saw him, decided they wouldn't get along, and avoided him. Kaoru knew he was a good guy, sure, but knowing somebody's a good guy and actually experiencing it up close are two different things.

He gets it, now.

Why people stick with him.

Why people crowd around him.

Why people like Takamine-kun show up to work every day despite saying they're tired of it and want to quit.

Why Kanata-kun likes him so much.

Kaoru takes a drink of his water.

Meteor Ranger Red really is the perfect role for Chiaki. Kaoru has to give credit to Casting.

Chiaki starts jogging over to him and Kaoru smiles. "You holding up okay, Red?"

Chiaki more than returns Kaoru's smile. "I am if you are, Kamegorou Kamezaburou Thing-From-the-Sea!"

Kaoru cringes. "Let's not."

Chiaki laughs. "Sure, sure, Hakaze."

"Really, I don't know how you manage to say it without tripping up every time."

"I practiced saying it so much at home before filming I almost lost my voice!"

Kaoru raises his eyebrows. "I can't imagine Anzu-san was happy when you came in the next day."

"Haha, you're right about that. Kuro and Kanata weren't very happy either. I took advantage of the fact that he wasn't home, you see, and went a little overboard." Chiaki empties his water and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before smiling lopsidedly. "Got scolded pretty bad after that. Had to promise I wouldn't do it anymore. But it's not like he's not guilty of the same thing either, you know? Working overtime all the time and trying to do everything himself, all while telling me not to take on too many things—can you believe that? So I had to make him promise he'd hold ask some other people for help, too, and take a break sometimes."

Kaoru blinks.

Huh?

What?

Who?

Kanata?

Had to be right? Well, to be honest, Kaoru got lost somewhere in there, but if Chiaki was dating Kanata, it made sense that they'd be living together too.

Kaoru takes another drink of water.

"You sure are loved, aren't you, Morisawa-kun?" he says, hoping it'd gloss over his split-second of noticeable confusion.

Not that he's sure Chiaki would notice anything right now, still pink from his little speech.

Chiaki ruffles up the back of his hair sheepishly and smiles. "More than I deserve, really."

"Oi," Kaoru says, shoving Chiaki slightly, "don't say that so sappily. It's making me embarrassed."

"You? Embarrassed? Didn't you ask Anzu for a kiss just yesterday?"

Kaoru groans. "It was a joke. A joke!"

"Was it?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"You sure?"

"Yes!"

Chiaki laughs.

"Besides," Kaoru says, "being shamelessly embarrassing and genuinely embarrassing are two different things."

"Are they? Huh! I have to commend your bravery, though, asking Anzu something like that. For a second, I was sure she was gonna dump her lunch on your head."

"I wouldn't have asked if I knew it'd make her that mad! Anyway, she wasn't! She wasn't that mad! She knew it was a joke—that's why she made the joke about—" Kaoru cuts himself off. "Why are we talking about this!"

Chiaki laughs and claps Kaoru on the back. "I knew you were a funny guy, Hakaze! You'd really get along with one of my friends, actually. I should introduce you two sometime."

"A girl?"

"Nah, a guy."

"I'll pass then."

"See, there you go again! I meet up with him for drinks every so often. You should come with next time. He's in entertainment too, kinda. A model."

Kaoru finishes up his water. "My roommate's a model."

"Nice! Bring him along too. Maybe they know each other."

Kaoru shrugs. Izumi knows a lot of people. He wouldn't be surprised if he knows Chiaki's friend too. "Yeah, sure. I gave you my number, right?"

Chiaki pats around for his phone for a few seconds before he realizes he doesn't have it on him.

"Here," Kaoru says, pulling out his own, "I'll just message you from mine and you can message me back from yours."

"Wow! Nice save, Hakaze!"

"Please don't sound so impressed by something so ordinary. It makes me feel like I'm forcing you to praise me," Kaoru says.

"But it really is impressive! Really quick thinking!"

"It's common sense."

"I'll go find my phone right now! It's gotta be around somewhere. I wonder if Kuro has it. But, ah, costuming isn't here today," he trails off, muttering to himself. "I'll be right back, Hakaze!"

He jogs off, waving, and Kaoru returns his wave, smiling to himself.

"What's this? Making friends, Kaoru-san?"

Anzu stands in front of him, right hand loosely holding a clipboard at her side. Her hair is tied in a low ponytail and her bangs look like they were trimmed recently. He wonders if the hair department got to her yesterday night.

She smells nice, as usual.

He grins. "What? Are you jealous? Don't worry—you'll always be number one in my heart, Anzu-chan."

"Oh really? Somehow I don't quite believe that."

"I'm being very earnest right now, Anzu-chan."

"And that is the second time you've called me 'Anzu-chan' in the span of three seconds."

He wants to point out that her sense of time is kind of warped, but she continues on. "Don't worry. Because you've worked hard today, I'll let it go this time." She pauses and says, flatly, "Also because I feel sorry for you in that dumb costume."

"And here I was, thinking that I've gotten pretty handsome in it. Kanata-kun told me he liked it."

"Kanata-san likes anything that has to do with fish. Try not to get devoured by him. I'd hate to have to replace you this far into filming."

"Oh? Have you gotten attached, Anzu-chan?"

"Excuse me," she says, sounding genuinely confused, "who are you? Have we met before? Outsiders aren't allowed in this part of the studio."

"Ah! I'm sorry, Anzu-san! I won't do it again!"

Anzu lifts a hand to her mouth and breaks out into ill-concealed laughter. "But, you know," she puts her hand down and shrugs, "I don't really mind it."

She smiles.

It's soft and amused and it matches her very well. A nice smile. A warm smile. Just the sort of smile he loves. He's not stupid enough to think that this is special, though. She's certainly special, but this? This is her sharing her specialness with him—her letting her guard down and letting him see what the others already do.

And he's grateful for it.

She's not going to fall in love with him and he's not going to fall in love with her and that's just how it is.

And he doesn't mind. Not at all.

He smiles back at her. She's a good person, one-name-Anzu.

Kaoru's glad he met her.

"Ah, Anzu-chan, don't say that," he teases. "I might get the wrong idea."

She laughs.

"Laughing before I can even say 'Just kidding,'" he says, mock hurt. "Ruthless. What a rejection."

Shaking her head she says, "Oh, just go to Makeup, Kaoru-san. They're waiting for you."

He salutes her. "Right away."

-

Kaoru doesn't know how he missed the smell of the sea the first time he came up to the roof. Maybe he really is a moron. (Sure are, a voice that sounds suspicious like Izumi says.) He likes to think he's quite good at discerning smells. His go-to gag specialty is telling apart girls by their scent, after all, and it certainly wouldn't be as funny if he couldn't actually do it anymore.

Or, you know, maybe it would.

Comedy in failure and all that.

Though Kaoru would rather have the image of a flirty playboy than an idiot.

Today was the first day Kaoru managed to catch Kanata on the way up to the roof. He was rather proud of his non-accomplishment and Kanata insisted that Kaoru had only been able to do it because he had let Kaoru catch him.

"I've been trying really hard, you know," Kaoru had said as they walked up the stairs. "Praise me. Tell me I did a good job."

Kanata had laughed and smiled then, opening the door to the roof. Sunlight streamed into the stairwell, acting like spotlight on him, and Kaoru had to blink a few times to adjust to the sudden light. But when he saw Kanata—saw the sun catching the wispy ends of his hair in a halo and lighting his face so perfectly, it was as if this was the way Kanata had always been meant to be seen—he thought if he was in charge of lighting he'd never let Kanata be seen in any other way.

He was, well.

He was beautiful.

Kanata was beautiful, he thought, and his chest tightened in a way he'd never anticipated.

Warm and bright; weird and wonderful—Kanata reached out to pat Kaoru's head, eyes soft and fond, saying Good boy in that soothing tone of voice that always, without fail, transported Kaoru into the middle of the sea and the tightness in his chest grew.

Guilt.

He still feels guilty now, like he had seen something he wasn't supposed to have seen—thought something he wasn't supposed to have thought—and he can't quite meet Kanata's eyes. What had he been doing? What has he been doing?

The touching. The joking. The lunches on the roof.

It couldn't have meant anything to Kanata.

It couldn't. It can't.

He wouldn't have done it otherwise.

And it couldn't mean anything to him.

It can't. It doesn't.

He wouldn't have done it otherwise.

He pushes it away. Swallows it.

He doesn't want to think about it—the implications of Thought A leading to Thought B leading to a place, a conclusion where he shouldn't go.

He opens his mouth. He puts on his best face and his best voice and says, "Why don't you ever have lunch with Moricchi?" His nickname for Chiaki feels heavy on his tongue.

Kanata makes a happy humming sound. "Moricchi? You two are 'getting along' well. I might 'get jealous.'" He looks at Kaoru, smiling, and Kaoru can't help but look away.

Kanata's face drops.

(The guilt starts to creep back up, climbing up his ribs, crawling up this throat.)

"Kaoru?" Kanata asks, carefully. "Is everything 'okay'?"

(He pushes it down again. Finds his voice. Find his smile. Steady.)

"Yeah," he says and by the way Kanata looks at him, he knows he's failed.

They sit in silence for a few moments and it's everything Kaoru hates. Tense. Awkward. Confusing.

Nervous.

"I just thought…," Kaoru starts, throat dry. He clears it and tries again. "I just thought you two would eat together if you're…," he swallows, "dating."

Kanata blinks.

He turns to stare at Kaoru and he stares and stares and Kaoru doesn't know where to look, fumbling with his things and feeling his pulse race beneath his skin because Oh God, he's done it—he's really done it now, but then Kanata's shoulders start to shake slightly.

A barely contained laugh escapes his lips.

He covers his mouth and starts laughing and laughing and Kaoru can't do anything but just stare at Kanata in bewilderment.

What is going on?

"Kaoru," Kanata says, moving his hand away from his mouth and sounding very amused, "I am not 'dating' Chiaki."

Oh.

Okay.

That makes sense.

Not dating Chiaki. Cool.

Cool, cool, great—

Wait, what??

What??

His expression must really be something. Kanata can't stop laughing.

Kaoru wants to die.

This can't be happening. He was so wrong.

What did I fucking tell you, Kao-kun.

Dear God, he can't tell Izumi. Izumi would rip him apart. Rightfully so.

He was an idiot.

He is an idiot. He's such an idiot. His new image might as well just be an idiotic moron because clearly that's what he is.

Holy shit.

"Chiaki is 'special,' but he is 'special' as a 'person' and as my 'friend.'"

Just kill him. Kill him now.

Why didn't he ask sooner? Why didn't he just put two and two together instead of confidently leaping 5 hundred thousand kilometers in the opposite direction to reach the wrong conclusion?

Kanata still looks supremely amused. "Kaoru, you are very 'red' right now. You 'match' Chiaki's 'uniform.'"

Kaoru covers his ears and bends over so Kanata can't see his face. "Don't look at me," he whines.

"Heh," Kanata starts stroking the back of Kaoru's head. "It's 'okay,' Kaoru."

It's not okay! He's made an ass out of himself! He's—

Kaoru wants to scream.

"Kaoru is so 'embarrassed,'" Kanata says, as if Kaoru isn't there. "It's 'okay'; it's 'okay,'" he coos. "I won't 'tell.'"

Thank God.

At least he has that going for him.

Kanata laughs and lets his hand trail down to the back of Kaoru's neck. "Even your 'neck' is 'red,'" he says, running a fingertip along the curve of Kaoru's nape, and Kaoru immediately throws himself back up into a sitting position.

He sits up so quickly Kanata barely has time to pull back his hand—so quickly, in fact, that he hits the back of his head against the wall behind him.

He winces.

Really, today is just a growing collection of his not-so-finest moments, isn't it?

Might as well bundle them and sell them as a limited edition DVD.

Kanata reaches towards him, but Kaoru shakes his head vigorously and holds up a hand between him. "It's fine. Totally fine, Kanata-kun. Don't worry."

Kanata puts his hands back down in his lap. "Okay," he says, but Kaoru can tell he's not totally convinced.

"It's fine, really," he repeats. Then, because he's a full-fledged Izumi Sena approved Idiot, he says, "So, you and Moricchi really aren't dating, huh," and, because he's an even bigger Idiot than Izumi could have ever imagined he adds "That's great," like it's a completely normal thing to say to somebody after confirming that you've been a dumbass for the past three weeks.

Kanata looks at him, brow furrowed. "Great?"

"Uh, great, yeah. Um. You know. Like that means, uh—" He doesn't even know what he's saying anymore. "So, Moricchi's single?"

What is he asking?

What is coming out of his mouth??

"No…," Kanata says slowly, "he is 'dating' 'Red Ogre'-san."

"Right. Right. Okay. I see. Not single, then."

"Do you 'like' Chiaki'?"

"Yeah, yeah. He's a gr—Wait, no. No! Not like! Not like that. No. I mean—" He swallows. "I like girls," he says, out of habit.

Or something.

Kanata blinks. "Yes. I 'know.'"

Kaoru rubs his arm. "So, uh, who's 'Red Ogre' anyway?"

"'Red Ogre'-san is Kuro Kiryu."

-

The story goes something like this:

Kuro used to be a suit actor.

And Chiaki used to be nobody.

He wanted to be somebody. Desperately. Overwhelmingly. He had all these ideas, you see, of heroism and heroics and heroes—the kind of ideas chronically sick children in hospitals cling to. Ideas of a world where good wins over evil. Ideas of a world where the strong protect the weak until the weak can become strong.

He wanted to be a hero.

But somewhere along the way, he'd lost confidence. Confidence in himself. In his ideals. In the likelihood that his dream would one day come true. In the people around him and in his dream itself.

(Huh. Moricchi sure changed, huh?)

(Of 'course' he has. 'Everyone' changes.)

Somewhere along the way, Kuro had lost confidence too. Confidence in himself; confidence in his heart. In his ability to make the right decisions. To keep his promises.

They met by chance, one day. When Chiaki was trying not to give up and Kuro was trying not to feel anything at all. They met on a roof during lunch.

(Haha, nice one, Kanata-kun. You sure you're not getting confused?)

(I am 'not' confused.)

(Just sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?)

(Yes. It 'does.' Now be 'quiet,' Kaoru.)

Chiaki was crying and even though Kuro thought he couldn't be kind anymore, he asked him what was wrong. And even though Chiaki thought he couldn't talk to anyone anymore, he told him. And Kuro listened.

He wanted to help.

He saw something in Chiaki. And maybe because he saw this or maybe because Kuro wanted to do something good—something that didn't leave him with a bad taste in his mouth or maybe because Chiaki was simply kind to him, he helped Chiaki. He trained him. Talked to him. Got closer to him.

And, soon, Chiaki didn't need him anymore.

(Are you 'paying attention,' Kaoru?)

(Yeah. I am.)

Kuro admired him. Chiaki, who could pick himself off the ground and face forward once more. Chiaki, who could chase after his dreams without shame. Chiaki, who gave him hope.

And Chiaki admired Kuro, too. If Kuro thought Chiaki was the best person he knew, Chiaki thought the same of him. Kuro helped Chiaki get his world back and Chiaki thought the world of him.

Somewhere, sometime, their admiration for each other evolved. Grew. From kindness to respect to admiration and friendship, it moved from normal feelings—regular feelings to feelings of specialness.

("Specialness"?)

('Listen.')

The feeling of being special, of specialness—people can be special in many different ways. To the world, in general. To a country. A group. They can be special in friendship. They can be a special person—extraordinary in some way, in some quality. Or they can be special to someone. Special for specific reason. Specifically special.

Special in a way that when someone is special to you, you want to be special to them.

Kuro and Chiaki wanted to be special to each other.

And, one day, they found out that they were.

"So they started dating," Kaoru says, looking at Kanata for confirmation.

"Yes."

"Kiryu-kun's not an actor anymore, though, is he? He's in costuming, right?"

"'Yes.' He 'quit' after Chiaki 'started.'"

Kaoru closes his eyes briefly, thinking for a moment. "Hey, by any chance, do you know if he knows a Shu Itsuki?"

Kanata tilts his head and looks at Kaoru. "Shu? You 'know' Shu?"

"Wait. You know him?"

"Yes. Shu is 'one' of my 'old friends.'"

"Huh," Kaoru leans back against the wall, "he did my fittings, you know. Said it was a favor for a friend. Was that you?"

Kanata shakes his head. "No. 'That' was 'Kuro.'"

"Man, does everyone know each other around here?"

"'Yes,' Kaoru. We 'work' together."

Kaoru laughs and pinches Kanata's nose briefly. "Don't be cheeky."

Kanata makes a face at Kaoru then stands up, offering a hand to Kaoru. "I 'want' to 'look' around."

Kaoru takes it and they walk to the railing. The rest of the cast are outside and in view, vague shapes on the pavement, and Kaoru notices now that next to the blob of Chiaki's brown hair and the red of his outfit is a red-haired guy dressed in dark colors.

"Do you think he'll ever act again?"

"Hm?"

"Kiryu-kun."

Kanata grabs the railing and leans back. "I do not 'know.'" He positions himself upright again and looks down at everyone else. "Tetora 'wants' Kuro to. I think Chiaki would 'like' acting 'with' him, but Kuro 'thinks' Chiaki is 'better' than he ever 'was' or 'will be.'" He closes his eyes in thought. "Maybe 'someday.' For 'Chiaki,' one day. Because even though Kuro 'looks' like a 'scary ogre,' he is very 'nice.'"

Kanata looks at Kaoru and smiles.

"Isn't it 'funny' that Kaoru plays a 'villain' when he 'looks' nice and 'is' nice." He reaches out and pats Kaoru's head. "A 'good boy.'"

Kaoru swallows and tries to laugh. "You sure about that?" he jokes. "Most people don't think I'm good at all."

Kanata shakes his head. "Then they are 'wrong.' Kaoru is a 'good person.'" He stops the motion of his hand on Kaoru's head and lets it slide to Kaoru's neck, pausing briefly before he pulls away, his fingertips brushing against Kaoru's hair. "This," he says, "I 'know.'"

-

"You know, you could have told me you were doing a show with Chii-kun." Izumi looks in the mirror and fixes a piece of his hair.

"I didn't know you knew each other!"

Of course Chiaki's model friend had turned out to be just be Izumi. Of course.

Izumi holds out a hand and Kaoru passes him the hairspray. "That's because you're a dumbass, Kao-kun." He sprays his hair. "Not as much as Chii-kun, though."

"Thanks."

"Barely."

"Wow."

Izumi sets the can down. "I can't believe you went through like, five existential crises because you thought he was dating your 'Kanata-kun' or whatever. If you had just told me like a normal person, instead of not daring to speak the name of your rival in your home as if hearing his name would summon Chii-kun into the living room, I could have told you that he's dating some big red haired guy."

There's too much to respond to.

Kaoru doesn't know where to begin.

"His name is Kiryu Kuro."

That is not the right place to start from.

"Yeah, I know. Kiryu. Big red guy. Same thing. Chii-kun never shuts up about him, honestly. Seriously, how did you spend almost a month with him and not realize that he—"

Kaoru snaps back to attention.

"Also! Hey! Moricchi wasn't my rival! I never—"

"Of course he wasn't your rival. That was all in your head."

"It was never in my head! What do you mean 'five existential crises'? He's not 'my Kanata-kun'!"

There.

A bit backwards but it got done.

Izumi looks at him. Kaoru feels like he's being picked apart. "Okay," he says, "I think you should work on building a little self-awareness."

"I am fully self-aware, Senacchi."

"Could have fooled me."

They stand in silence.

Izumi crosses his arms.

Kaoru wants to deny everything Izumi said and implied again and again and one more time for good measure, but the words dry up in his throat and all he can think is He's not 'my Kanata-kun'—he's not mine; he's not; he's not—

He's not.

He isn't.

Does Kaoru want him to be?

He thinks of how Kanata smiles and the way his eyes, bright and clear and green, crinkle at the edges when he does and he thinks of Kanata's voice and the way he speaks and how it calms him, like the watching the waters of the sea lap gently at the shore, and he thinks of the curve of his neck and his hair, so soft and so blue like the ocean and the way he had looked at the top of the stairs in the sunlight and—

He doesn't want to think anymore.

"Kao-kun." Izumi presses his lips together. "I have to go."

Oh, right.

A date.

Izumi has a date.

Kaoru steps to the side and lets Izumi pass by. He walks to the front of the apartment and Kaoru follows in a daze.

"I'm not going to be home tonight," Izumi says, fiddling with the door handle.

"Ok."

Izumi looks at him like he did before, in the bathroom. Examining. Studying. Contemplating. "Don't worry too much about what I said," he says. "You know."

It's out of character for him—the closest thing to an apology Kaoru's gotten from him in the years they've known each other—and Kaoru shakes his head and forces a smile on his face. "Just go, Senacchi. You'll make Sakuma-kun mad."

After Izumi leaves, Kaoru keeps up pretense for a little longer. He steps into the kitchen. Opens the fridge. He thinks What should I have for dinner? then he can't do it anymore. He can't. He drops down to a crouch on the floor and covers his mouth with the palm of his hand.

His heart beats fast against his chest. Pounding. Hammering. His cheeks grow warm and he feels—

Giddy. Excited.

He feels—

Fear and dread.

Kaoru covers his face with his hands.

He likes Kanata-kun.

He really, really likes him.

-

It's a perfect day. Not too warm beneath the sun, not so cool that an occasional breeze is unwelcome, and the smell of the sea hangs in the air—everything is just right.

He's sitting on the roof, chopsticks in his hand, and Kanata's sitting next to him, happily eating his lunch, legs tucked beneath him. It's familiar—so familiar, but everything seems heightened. Like it was passed through some kind of filter to make everything look nicer. Better. Hyper real.

Kanata looks the same.

He's beautiful.

Kaoru can say it with certainty now—with confidence and utter conviction and none of the usual accompanying mixed emotions. This isn't real. It's okay. His heart beats steadily. He feels calm.

He can say Kanata is beautiful and doesn't have to face any consequences.

A stray grain of rice is stuck on Kanata's cheek and Kaoru thinks he remembers this day. He'd thought it was so funny—how many times does that happen to someone? A grain of rice getting stuck on their face like something out of a script?

"You've got something here," he says like he'd said before in reality. He taps his cheek, next to his mouth. "Right here."

Kanata sticks his tongue out and gets the rice on his first try, just like he actually had. Here, though, when Kanata asks if everything is gone, Kaoru shakes his head instead of telling Kanata the truth.

"Nope," he says, grinning. "Still there."

Kanata tries again, tongue darting out, and Kaoru laughs. "Still there."

Kanata wipes at his face. How about now?

"Nope."

Kanata puffs out his cheeks. Fine! It can stay on his cheeks!

Kaoru smiles wider, not bothering to hide it. Kanata's so cute when he gets all huffy and pouty like this. Warmth spreads in his chest. "You sure?"

Hmph. Why doesn't Kaoru just take it off?

"Alright," he says, leaning forward. Kanata smells so good. Just like the sea. Just like Kaoru's best memories: walking along the shore, shoes and socks in one hand, the other holding his mother's, the water lapping at his feet as she leaned down to speak to him, the smell of the sea mingling with her perfume; floating alone in the middle of the ocean, board beneath him and sun on his back, feeling free for the first time in months; that time Rei took him and Koga and Adonis to his friend's cafe on the beach and they'd talked and bickered and teased and Kaoru felt like he'd finally found someplace to belong.

He leans in.

He can feel Kanata's breath, feel him so close—so, so close.

He leans in.

And he feels sand beneath him, cool and dry.

It's night and the moon hangs over the sea, illuminating the beach Kaoru sits on.

He recognizes it as the one from his hometown. He'd come here often—at night, during the day—always alone. It was an escape. From his family. His father.

Himself.

Everything.

He wanted to be alone—wanted to be left alone so he could do what he wanted without consequence. So he could do what he wished without the lectures and the fights and the creeping, clinging thoughts that imagined a death in the sea, surrounded by the waves and water until there was nothing left.

He wanted to be alone, liked being alone, but liking it doesn't mean that you aren't lonely. He tried not being lonely. Tried surrounding himself with people. Kept himself busy, one date after another, and it worked, most of the time. If he filled his thoughts with one thing, he wouldn't be able to think of another. If he did one thing, he wouldn't have to do another. If he was here, he wouldn't have to be there.

It worked. And he enjoyed it. Enjoyed making girls happy, enjoyed seeing their smiles, enjoyed the fact that they enjoyed him, but—

But, still, he would always end up on the beach.

He closes his eyes.

He picks up a handful of sand and feels it stream through his fingers.

Picks up another and feels a wet hand grip his knee. It's cold, but warms up as soon as it touches him, and he opens his eyes to see Kanata kneeling in front of him, water dripping off his hair, his clothes, his skin.

Kanata.

His eyes glint in the low light, impossibly reflecting the moon like the sea does behind him, and he looks dangerous, almost. Like a sea creature who'd climbed out of the water to claim the remnants of a shipwreck that was theirs and theirs alone. His wet clothes cling to his skin and Kaoru can see the shape of his shoulders, his arms, the dip of his waist and his heart beats faster and faster.

Kaoru, he says, pushing him back into the sand.

Kaoru rests on his elbows, watching as a droplet of water runs down Kanata's neck and drips off his clavicle. He licks his lips.

Kanata moves to straddle him, knees at his waist, and pushes Kaoru all the way down onto his back. His hands slide into the sand on either side of Kaoru's head. Kaoru's chest rises and falls. A droplet of water falls on his face.

Kanata looks at him—looks at him like he's the only person left on Earth, the only person that matters, the only person he wants—and kisses him.

He tastes like the sea and Kaoru can hears the waves roaring in his ears. He feels Kanata's tongue press against his, warm and wet, and his mouth, so inviting, and he reaches up to wrap his hands around Kanata's neck. Kanata's hair brushes against his cheek and he wants to feel the press of Kanata's body against his, feel his skin beneath his fingers, and he wants and wants and wants.

Kanata breaks away briefly before kissing the side of Kaoru's neck. Kaoru's breaths come quicker now, heart racing, and he bites down on his lip as Kanata moves further and further down, sliding off Kaoru and settling between his legs. He pushes up Kaoru's shirt and slides his hands down Kaoru's sides, then he reaches into Kaoru's pants, touching him, and Kaoru stifles a gasp and watches as hair falls over Kanata's face and Kaoru's never seen him like this and he's so, it's so—

Kaoru wakes up.

He wakes up, heart pounding, and covers his face.

Oh God.

Oh God.

Really?

What is he? Seventeen?

He runs his hands down his face.

At least Izumi isn't home.

-

Luckily for Kaoru, Kanata's busy filming on location the next day.

It's not that he's avoiding Kanata. It's just…uh, he needs some time to think.

Really think.

Overthink.

"Oi! Hakaze! Over here!" Chiaki waves at him and Kaoru walks over to the table.

Kuro is sitting next to him and the rest of the kids (as Kanata likes to call them even though they're hardly children) are gone.

Kaoru gestures to the empty seats. "They off on a field trip or something?"

Chiaki laughs. "Yeah, with Kanata."

"Lucky them. They'll be stuck at an aquarium for hours."

"Don't you like aquariums, Hakaze?"

"Yeah. Love them." He turns to Kuro. "Wardrobe doing fine?"

Kuro nods. "Things have died down for now. Itsuki told me to tell you that he hopes you haven't ripped any of his creations."

"Good friend, huh?"

"Yeah, we knew each other as kids. I would have done your fitting, actually, but I had to redo this guy's." He jerks his thumb as Chiaki. "Itsuki hates measuring him. Says he can't hear himself think."

Kaoru laughs as Chiaki protests, loudly. "I just wanted to talk to him!"

Kuro grins. "You always fish him for stories about me as a kid. He can't stand it. Always comes running to me complaining about how if he wanted to talk about me for 5 hours, he would have just joined my fanclub."

Kaoru raises his eyebrows. "You have a fanclub?"

"If you call two people a fanclub."

"One person is a fanclub!" Chiaki declares.

"Oh. Is this you dropping out of my fanclub?"

"Me? Never! I'll fight Nagumo for the title of President and lose all for you!"

Kuro laughs. "You'd never be able to bring yourself to fight Tetsu, you softie." He straightens out a piece of Chiaki's hair then moves to brush something off his face.

Chiaki leans in automatically so Kuro would have an easier time reaching him. "Ah, well, I almost did," he says, sounding vaguely embarrassed. He closes an eye when Kuro's hand brushes against his cheek. "That one time."

"That one time," Kuro repeats. His hand falls to Chiaki's leg and it rests there. "Yeah, I guess you almost did. But I was ready to stop the both of you. Takamine was, too."

Kaoru takes a drink of his water.

God, he's stupid.

Seriously, how did he not notice they were dating before? Just look at them. They're practically married. Not even Izumi and Ritsu are like this and they've been dating on-and-off for years. Or, well, Kaoru supposes it's not a very good comparison. Kuro and Chiaki versus Izumi and Ritsu.

Like comparing a gentle, slobbery dog to the world's most poisonous spider.

"Is something wrong?" Kuro says, looking at Kaoru.

Oh.

Oh, he'd been staring, hadn't he. Shit. "No, no. I just, uh," he wonders if he should lie, but decides against it, "I heard you two were dating yesterday."

"Yesterday?"

"Yeah. Uh, congrats. I guess."

Kuro looks at Kaoru, amused. "'Congrats'?"

Kaoru scratches the side of his face. "Yeah, because, well, I know it's probably not a new thing, but it was news to me and—"

"What?" Kaoru looks up to see Anzu giving him an incredulous look. She raises her eyebrows so high, Kaoru's sure they're going to just go flying off into space. "You didn't know they were dating?"

"No?" Was it supposed to have been common knowledge? Did everyone assume Kaoru would just know? Well he didn't! He thought Kanata and Chiaki were dating like an absolute buffoon and made an ass out of himself and—

"Wow. You must literally be the last person on Earth to know," Anzu says seriously. "And here I thought you were smarter than that. I was actually starting to be a little impressed by you."

Kaoru groans. "Is everyone going to make fun of me for this?"

"Yeah. Forever."

"Well, I guess if it's coming from you Anzu-chan, I can power through it, but I absolutely cannot handle this life of torment from anyone else." He looks at Kuro and Chiaki. "I can't."

Chiaki presses a hand to his chest and says, very seriously and very loudly, "I, Chiaki Morisawa, vow to never torment my good friend, Kaoru Hakaze, for not knowing that I was dating my boyfriend, Kuro Kiryu, for as long as I live."

"I know you mean well, Moricchi, but even coming from you that sounds like a jab."

Chiaki laughs. "No wonder you're roommates with Sena," he says. "I can really see the two of you getting along."

"Ah." Anzu closes her eyes and nods her head. "You're friends with Izumi-san," she says, as if finding out that one fact explained all the mysteries of the universe.

"What is that supposed to mean? And how do you know Senacchi? Does everyone here know him?" Kaoru looks at Kuro.

Kuro shrugs.

Ah, right. Stupid question. Kuro is dating Chiaki who is Izumi's friend so of course they know each other.

"Did Izumi-san have to tell you that they were dating?"

"No," he says. He takes another drink of water.

Anzu must sense his reluctance to answer because she sits down next to him and settles in, propping her arms up on the table. "So, who did?"

"Uh…um…Kanata-kun," he mumbles.

Anzu's unable to hold back a snort of laughter. "Kanata-san had to tell you?" She shakes her head. "Oh, Kaoru-san…"

"Stop," he whines and she laughs.

"Actually, speaking of Kanata," Kuro says, "I made another one of his outfits since there's going to be more water shoots from now on. So don't worry about it, Anzu."

She breathes a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Kuro-san. That'll help a lot."

Chiaki laughs. "He sure loves water, doesn't he? Kanata. Always climbing into fountains and stuff with his clothes on." He looks at Kaoru. "Come to think of it, you were with him last time he got all wet, weren't you, Hakaze?"

Kaoru can feel Anzu's eyes piercing through his skin. "Ah…yeah. I was."

"And you didn't stop him?" she demands.

"No? I mean, I didn't really want to stop him."

She sighs. "I had to run around in circles trying to adjust that scene so he'd be wet because his costume wouldn't dry before filming. Continuity, you know?"

"Well," Chiaki says, "I don't really get his water thing, but Kanata sure just does whatever he wants."

Kuro nods and Anzu just looks like she's trying to ward off a coming headache.

Kaoru taps his fingers against his water bottle. "I mean," he says, slightly surprised that he's speaking up, "what is there to get?"

Everyone looks at him.

"Hm?" Chiaki says.

"I just…" Kaoru's not even sure what the point he's trying to make is. Everyone here knows Kanata. They've known him longer than he has. Of course they know his eccentricities and his habits and of course they've accepted them, even if they don't understand them.

But, he thinks it's kind of simple, really. Kanata loves water. Kanata loves the sea. And that's why he does the things he does.

"Oh-ho," Chiaki says, reaching across the table and punching Kaoru's arm, "you two are pretty close, huh? That's great!"

Kaoru rubs his arm. "Kanata-kun said the same thing about you and me when he heard what I call you. He even joked that he might get jealous. Don't know who of, though."

Kuro looks at him curiously. "Jealous? That guy, really?"

"Did I say something wrong?"

Chiaki shakes his head. "No, no, it's just that's new." He tilts his head slightly. "Kanata being jealous."

"Why are all of you taking this so seriously?"

Kaoru turns his head and finds Anzu looking at him, a strange expression on her face.

Not Anzu too.

"What?" he says.

"Hm. Nothing. Just thinking."

"About me?" Kaoru teases.

"Yes, I'm wondering if, since your character doesn't die, I'll have to see you again after next week."

Kaoru presses a hand against his chest. "Wow, that really hurts, Anzu-chan. You weren't planning on keeping in touch?"

"We'll see." With that, she stands up and waves at the three of them. "See you guys later."

Kaoru stares at her as she walks away.

"You know, speaking of people we don't get," he says, "I like her, but I don't get her at all."

Chiaki laughs. "That's Anzu for you!"

-

He hasn't been able to sleep much lately.

Izumi's worried about him, he knows, in that roundabout way of his and Rei is too, calling him and telling him to not push himself so hard—filming is almost over, after all. Kaoru doesn't know how Rei found out about his sleeping habits, or lack thereof, but he figures it must have gone from Izumi to Ritsu to Rei.

A funny chain of people.

Kaoru would laugh if he wasn't so damn exhausted.

It's not that he doesn't want to sleep. There isn't a single person in the world who doesn't want to sleep, undisturbed and unbothered. It's just that he can't sleep.

He's never really had this problem before or, at least, not this bad. He lies awake at night, exhaustion making his eyes droop shut, but not matter how hard he tries, he can't let consciousness go—his thoughts always racing, worry stuck like a stake in his chest.

It's an exaggeration to say he doesn't get any sleep at all; every night he eventually passes out for a fitful hour or two or three, but when he wakes up, he never feels much better than he did before. He'd like to say he doesn't know why this is happening—why paranoia and sudden dread hit him so hard at night, in bed—but he does. He does, but he doesn't know what to think of it.

He doesn't want to think about it.

He's afraid. Afraid of examining it too closely and realizing what he wants and wanting—desperately, devouringly—to have it.

It's better to keep it as it is. A feeling. A single thought.

He likes Kanata.

Just that. Nothing more. Nothing less.

He likes Kanata.

This, he can handle. This, he can deal with. But anything more and—

He won't think about it.

A hand strokes his hair. Kaoru thinks it must be a dream. Another dream of his mother that makes him wonder if anyone will ever love him as much as she did. He shifts and squirms, moving his hands to a more comfortable position, and that's when he realizes—

This isn't a dream.

He sits up suddenly, scrambling to his feet, and he sees Kanata kneeling on the ground.

"Ah, um." He wants to smack himself. Don't start speaking until you know what you want to say. "Sorry. Thanks? Sorry."

Kanata tilts his head.

"What I meant to say is, uh—," you are so stupid, Kaoru, "—did I sleep for long?"

"Not as 'long' as you 'need,' Kaoru."

"So, not that long?" he asks, hopeful.

"No. Everyone 'already' left."

Shit. Kaoru pulls his phone out and looks at the time. What? That doesn't make sense.

"Everyone?"

"Everyone."

"Shit," Kaoru says. "Did they change the schedule? We weren't even supposed to leave yet."

"Anzu 'said' we could 'walk over' when you woke up."

"Anzu-chan? Is she mad at me? Is she mad at you?"

Kanata shrugs and stands up. "We will 'make' it in 'time' if we 'leave' now."

It's probably Anzu's idea of a joke. Hey guys, let's leave Kaoru behind so he has to walk over to location in half of his dumb costume by himself. Ha ha. He can't imagine Kanata had anything to do with it. He's grateful, though, that he'll at least have someone also in half a dumb costume to walk down to the beach with.

Or, well, that's what Kaoru tells himself.

Kanata's costume might be a little embarrassing to be seen in off set, but it isn't that awful.

It's not awful at all, actually, considering what they could have made him wear. It's the blue version of the scarf uniform Chiaki wore a week or so ago and honestly, in Kaoru's objective opinion, Kanta looks pretty good in it.

Really good.

Actually, don't think about that.

They make their way down to the shore and walk in silence for a while. The sound of the water hitting the rocks makes Kaoru want to just lie down in the middle of the sidewalk and fall asleep again—work be damned—but Kanata tugs on his arm hard, jolting him awake.

"Thanks," Kaoru says, all too aware of Kanata's hands wrapped around his arm. He tries to pull away, but Kanata has other ideas, tightening his grip and pulling Kaoru towards a set of stairs leading down to the beginning of the beach.

"Let's 'go,' Kaoru."

Kanata really is so much stronger than he looks.

He could probably pick Kaoru up like it was—

Stop it.

Kaoru lets himself be dragged right up to the water then manages to slide his arm out when Kanata becomes distracted with the ocean. Kanata looks at the water with excitement in his eyes and Kaoru smiles as he watches Kanata crouch down and stick a hand into the tide.

"You gonna go in? I can't say Anzu-chan will be very happy about it, but it serves her right for leaving us behind."

Kanata turns back around to face Kaoru, smiling, but his smile falls ever so slightly when he sees Kaoru. It's almost unnoticeable—an infinitesimal change of expression—but Kaoru catches it. The pause. The studying look in his eyes. Surprised and—

Curious.

Kaoru freezes.

Panic rises in his throat and for a second, he's sure it's all over. He's sure Kanata has seen through him, somehow—seen the one thing he wants to keep from him, the one thing he doesn't want to tell him—but then he blinks and Kanata's smiling at him like he always has before and Kaoru relaxes slightly.

Normal. Everything's normal.

It's fine.

He must have just imagined it all.

Not sleeping is really getting to him.

Kanata stands up. "'Next' time," he says, a little regretful. "I 'promised' Chiaki I 'wouldn't.'"

They start walking.

"Also," Kanata adds, "'soaking' is 'harder' in the sea. Because I cannot 'swim.'"

Kaoru stops. "What?"

Kanata looks back at him. "I said 'I cannot 'swim.''"

"Are you serious?"

Kanata frowns. "I am 'serious,' Kaoru."

"Sorry, I just—" Kaoru rubs the back of his head and starts walking again. "You sure are a weird one, Kanata-kun. Not that it's a bad thing."

Kanata hums, falling into step next to Kaoru. "You are a 'weird one,' too, Kaoru."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes. Kaoru is 'very' odd."

"What makes you think that?"

Kanata laughs and presses a finger to his mouth. "Secret."

Kaoru blinks, suddenly glad that his hair is long enough to cover his ears and his neck. He looks away from Kanata and clears his throat. "Right, right," he says, pretending like he doesn't feel like his heart just dropped out of his chest and rolled into the sea. "A secret."

"Maybe I will 'tell' Kaoru, one day."

"Will you?"

"Yes," Kanata says, nodding resolutely.

"Guess I'll just have to sit tight until then…then." Kaoru wrinkles his nose at his bad phrasing.

"Heh. 'Then, then.'"

"Ah, there you go, Kanata-kun. Always making fun of me like everyone else."

"Everyone else?"

"Yeah. It seems like it's a really popular thing to do with my friends."

"They must 'like' Kaoru a lot."

"Oh? Not going to ask me how I have friends in the first place?"

Kanata pushes Kaoru. "I am not 'that' mean. I do not want to 'hurt' Kaoru."

Kaoru rubs his arm. "Well, you kind of did anyway," he points out.

Kanata pushes him again and Kaoru laughs.

"Well, you wouldn't have been that far off, anyway, if you'd said that." Kaoru tries to shove his hands into his pockets, but forgets he doesn't have any.

Costume pants.

"I didn't really have that many friends before. Or, uh," he scratches his cheek, "none, really." It's not something he's ever admitted before, out loud. "I mean, I had friends who were girls. But it wasn't really friendship, you know? I'd take them out to places and talk to them, but I wouldn't really tell them anything. I wanted everything that went along with closeness, but I never let anyone…in."

He blinks and swallows. Then he turns to Kanata, smiling apologetically. "Sorry," he says, "I didn't mean to just dump all of this on you. Sounds scripted, huh? If they made a movie out of me, the critics would attack it for being so cliche. Worst screenplay ever." He takes out his phone and checks the time. "We should probably walk a little faster. Wouldn't want to make Anzu-chan an—"

Kanata grabs onto his sleeve and they both stop.

"Don't 'apologize.'"

"Hm? But it was really bad, wasn't it, Kanata-kun? It's okay. I don't expect you to care. Nobody really wants to listen to something like—"

"'I' want to listen," Kanata says loudly, gripping Kaoru's sleeve tighter. "'I' want you to 'tell' me and 'I' want to 'listen.'"

Kaoru's throat feels dry.

"If you 'want' to say 'it,' then say 'it.' I will 'listen' and I will 'care.'"

He's angry—brow creased, cheeks pink.

He's not uncomfortable—not saying "sorry" and trying to awkwardly change the subject or gladly letting Kaoru steer the subject away, his relief palpable in the air. He's angry. Angry that Kaoru thinks he doesn't want to listen. Angry that Kaoru thinks he wouldn't want to listen. Angry that Kaoru thinks what he has to say isn't worth listening to.

Angry that Kaoru thinks he doesn't care.

"I," Kaoru starts and the smell of saltwater and warm sand and wind fills his nose and mouth and it overflows—it drowns him and he feels his throat tighten up and his chest constrict and—

Tears.

He immediately looks away, wiping at his eyes, and he's saying, "Sorry, it's gross, isn't it? It's gross seeing a guy cry, right?" and Kanata's reaching towards him, wrapping his arms around him, and he repeats, "It's 'okay,' Kaoru," over and over again.

He smells so nice.

Kanata.

"You know, my family didn't want me to do this at first," Kaoru finds himself saying into Kanata's shoulder. "My father, especially. We've never really gotten along. He wanted me to be more like him. More like my siblings. But it was," he breathes in, "suffocating. So suffocating. I wanted to do what I liked. I wanted to do what I wanted and have him praise me when I succeeded and still love me when I didn't. But, he just wanted me to follow him. Listen to him." Kaoru pushes Kanata away gently, hand on his shoulder. He looks down at the sand.

"I wasn't the greatest kid, I admit. I made a lot of trouble for everyone without caring much about how it would affect them." He looks up, letting go of Kanata. "My sister… I must have been a real pain to her, always running around and not listening and getting into trouble—I know I was—but she still—"

He shakes his head. "She was the only one who supported me at first. Nobody else believed in me, but she told me that if this was what I wanted to do, she'd help me in any way she could. She didn't tell me I couldn't do it. Didn't scold me for being irrational or selfish or acting stupid. She saw that I was serious and she trusted me. And I'm really grateful for it. She really helped me." He smiles slightly. "I'd do anything for her now."

Looking into Kanata's eyes, he can tell Kanata understands.

That feeling of gratitude. The feeling of wanting to help someone who helped you—someone who helped you more than they can perhaps understand.

The position someone like that occupies in your heart.

"My mom's—" He swallows and breathes in. "She's gone. And I mean, uh, I just—" He rubs the back of his neck and looks out at the sea. "Sometimes I wonder if anyone's ever going to love me as much as she did."

His throat feels tight again.

He looks down and kicks at the sand.

"It's not that I don't think my sister loves me. It's just, well. It's different. There's always going to be a distance between us, because of how things were."

He laughs a little, awkwardly. "I, uh, got kind of confused before. With girls. I mean it's gross to just act all close with girls without telling them anything then to be all like 'Hey, could love me unconditionally like my mom did, just wondering?' after. So of course they grossed out. I would be. So," he looks up and smiles, close-lipped, "no more of that for me." He laughs again for no reason. To fill in space. Silence. "It's seriously embarrassing to think about. What the hell was I doing?"

He closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath. "Well!" he says, turning forward. "That's enough from me. We'd better hurry up before Anzu-chan really tries to kill us."

There's silence for a moment, the two of them just standing on the beach, the breeze blowing past.

Then:

"Thanks, Kanata-kun," Kaoru says, quietly. He doesn't look back.

Gently, Kanata reaches out and touches the nape of his neck then he grabs Kaoru's wrist, pulling him forward. "Let's 'go,' Kaoru," he says, starting to walk forward. He turns to lock eyes with Kaoru. "Will you 'listen' to me, too?"

"Of course," Kaoru says. "Of course I will."

And he does.

To 'everything.'

-

There's a small party at the end of the week when Kaoru finishes filming. He's sadder than he thought he'd be when he first came on set, but he can't say he'll exactly miss all of the ridiculous things he had to say and do and wear.

Well, maybe a little.

(Still, seriously, what was Rei thinking?)

Anzu looks very pretty, hair straight and shiny and draping over her shoulders. She's wearing a nice pink sweater Kaoru's never seen on her before and he compliments it, smiling back when she smiles up at him.

"It's pretty, isn't it?"

Kaoru nods. "It suits you."

She grabs the hem and holds it out, looking at it for a moment, before she lets go. "I really like clothes, actually, but most of the time I'm dressing other people, so I don't get time to shop for myself."

"Was that a gift then?"

"Yeah. Izumi-san got it for me. He said my clothes depressed him."

Kaoru blinks.

He knew Anzu knew Izumi, but he didn't think they were this close. Izumi's never even gotten him a birthday present. Too close to my birthday, is what that asshole always says. Kaoru's gotten him presents! A really nice scarf once! He's Izumi's roommate! He's Izumi's friend! Doesn't that warrant a gift at least once in his life!

"How do you know him so well!" Kaoru demands, trying and failing not to sound a little offended.

Anzu stares him dead in the eyes, face blank.

"I can't tell you. See you later Kaoru-san."

"Don't just walk away from me! I want answers!"

She just waves then gestures to her ear and shrugs as if she can't hear him.

A little devil.

Of course Izumi likes her enough to buy her a sweater.

"Hakaze!"

Chiaki throws his arm around Kaoru and about half his strength and weight as well. Kaoru almost coughs out a lung from the impact.

"Someone's happy tonight," he says, strained.

Chiaki laughs. "Aren't you happy? It's a party, after all!"

"I'm happy I wasn't holding anything. You would have made me throw it all over the ground."

"No harm done; no harm done!"

"Shouldn't you be a little less excited? This is kind of my goodbye party, you know?"

Chiaki sobers up and steps in front of Kaoru, putting his hands on his shoulders. "Hakaze. It has been an honor working with you for the past month. You truly brightened up the set. Put new energy into everyone's step. Touched us with your performance as Kamegorou Kameza—"

Kaoru tries to cover Chiaki's mouth so he can't finish the name, but he fights back, grabbing Kaoru's arms and they teeter back and forth.

"Kamezabu—"

Chiaki accidentally steps on Kaoru's foot and Kaoru's finger almost goes up Chiaki's nose.

Chiaki starts to yell, as if it would help him get the words out.

"KAMEZABUROU THING-FROM—"

A scuffle.

"I SWEAR TO GOD MORICCHI!"

There's some hair-pulling.

"THE-SEA!"

They separate. Chiaki wipes his mouth and straightens himself. He puffs out his chest. "I did it," he says.

Kaoru scowls. "Don't sound so proud of yourself."

"One day, Hakaze, you will come to fully understand the cultural significance of a role like Kamego—"

Kaoru takes a less honorable route to shutting up Chiaki this time. (Not that trying to forcibly shut his mouth was really that honorable.)

He kicks Chiaki in the shin.

"Ow," Chiaki says.

At least it works.

"Where's your boyfriend?" Kaoru asks.

"Kuro?"

"No, your other boyfriend."

"Huh? But I don't have another?"

"Sarcasm, Moricchi."

"Ahaha. Of course, of course." Chiaki scans the room and points to Kuro standing in a corner with Tetora and Midori. "Over there." He waves and Kuro spots him, smiling and waving back.

"Hey, Moricchi."

"Yeah?"

Kaoru bites the inside of his cheek, weighing whether he should actually ask Chiaki what he wants to or if he should just let it go.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, I just…" Kaoru makes a decision. "When did you know you liked Kuro?"

Chiaki looks at him.

"Uh, you don't have to answer or anything," Kaoru says quickly. "I was just wondering."

"No, no. It's fine. Completely fine, Hakaze." Chiaki glances back at Kuro and shrugs. "I don't know. I guess I kinda just knew one day. Like, 'Ah, I really like this guy,' you know?"

Kaoru swallows.

"Do you wanna go outside?" Chiaki asks.

Kaoru nods. They weave their way through the crowd to a door that says EMERGENCY EXIT on it.

"Don't worry," Chiaki says. "It's not going to activate an alarm or anything. I checked earlier." He pushes the door open and they step outside.

The night air is nice and cool compared to the building and they walk in silence for a few seconds before Kaoru speaks up, quietly.

"How did you know you wanted to date him?"

Chiaki scratches his cheek. "I dunno really." He smiles sheepishly. "Sorry if I'm not much help. It just kind of happened, you know?" He kicks at a pebble on the ground. "If I had to say, though…hm. I probably knew when I realized I wanted him all to myself." Chiaki nods. "I wanted him to know I liked him, I wanted to call him my boyfriend, and I wanted to—"

Chiaki stops himself.

"Uh," he says, "haha. Um, you don't need to hear that."

Kaoru shoots him an exaggerated look of disgust that's really pretty hypocritical of him considering he's been thinking about Kanata pretty much every night and—

He clears his throat and pushes that thought down.

"Yeah. I really don't." He peers ahead of them and sees the outline of the fountain prop that had been there a few weeks ago. He wonders if Kanata's there. He hasn't seen him since the beginning of the night.

"Come on Hakaze. You're a guy, too. You must—Hey, where are you going?"

Kaoru runs towards the fountain, heartbeat thudding in his ears. He thought it looked weird, the way the shape inside of fountain was positioned, and as he gets closer he realizes he was right to be suspicious. Kanata's in the fountain, arms draped over the side, but his face hangs dangerously close to the water and, without thinking, Kaoru immediately pulls him up and out, splashing water over the sides.

"Is everything alright?" Chiaki had quickly caught up to him and he looks between the two of them now, brow creased in concern.

Kanata has his arms draped over Kaoru's shoulders and his cheek rests against Kaoru's collarbone. He opens his eyes to look at Chiaki drowsily. "Hmm? What is 'going' on?"

Kaoru's breaths come at a more normal pace now, though his heart has yet to slow down. "What were you doing?" he says, trying to adjust the distribution of Kanata's weight against him.

"I was 'soaking' in the fountain and then," he yawns, "I got 'sleepy.'"

"So you just decided to sleep there? In the fountain?" Kaoru tries not to sound too incredulous, but he can't help himself. For a second there, he really thought. He really thought something bad had happened.

"I didn't 'mean' to, but," he yawns again, "I 'did.'" He nuzzles his face into Kaoru's shirt and breathes in. "You smell 'nice,' Kaoru," he says, turning his face so his cheek rests against Kaoru once more. "Hi 'Chiaki.'"

"You gave us a scare there, Kanata," Chiaki says, reaching out and ruffling Kanata's hair.

"Mmmm. 'Sorry.'" He lifts his head and looks at Kaoru. "I 'want' to 'sleep' more."

"What am I supposed to do about that?" Kaoru says.

"Sit." Kanata pushes him down until he's sitting on the ground, then rests his head on Kaoru's lap. "Goodnight," he says, curtly, and promptly falls asleep again.

Kaoru looks down at him and shakes his head.

"Kanata sure is a handful, isn't he?" Chiaki says, crouching down next to them.

"A handful? Well, I mean, I guess." Kaoru reaches down and brushes aside a stray piece of Kanata's hair. He looks younger when he's asleep, the curve of his cheek round and smooth. "Sometimes he is. Like who just falls asleep in a fountain? And sometimes he's so stubborn and demanding and doesn't think things through, but," Kaoru starts to stroke Kanata's hair absentmindedly, "I don't mind it, really."

Chiaki looks at him curiously. "I know I'm kind of tactless sometimes, but uh, your questions from earlier… Do they have anything to do with Kanata?"

Kaoru entertains the idea of lying to Chiaki, but he quickly dismisses it. Chiaki's a good guy and he's his friend. He wouldn't feel right avoiding the question when Chiaki's been nothing but honest with him.

Chiaki licks his lips, clearly searching for a clarifying, non-offending follow-up question, and asks, "Do you…like…?" trailing off at the end.

"I don't know," Kaoru says, mostly to say something. Anything. Easier to start with filler and find your way than search endlessly for the right start. "I mean, I've never really liked a guy before. I guess I've never really liked anybody before like this. Everything else was all kind of…," he searches for the right word, "misguided."

"Hm…"

"He's special," Kaoru says, realizing that he's echoing the words Kanata used when telling him about Kuro and Chiaki. "He's special to me."

"I see."

There's silence for a moment, then Chiaki gets up and smiles down at Kaoru. "Thanks for telling me, Hakaze. I mean it."

Kaoru shrugs.

It's all kind of embarrassing.

"I'll see you around, okay? And," his smile grows softer, "take care of Kanata for me, would you?"

Kaoru opens his mouth to tell Chiaki not to say something so presumptive—really just what was he assuming? Does he think he can read the future? You're not a miracle worker, Morisawa. But Chiaki's already too far away to hear anything but a half-yell and Kaoru doesn't want to wake up Kanata.

Jeez.

"Take care of Kanata for me"—just what does Chiaki think is going to happen? That everything is going to just fall into place and that just because Kaoru wants something with Kanata, that Kanata's just going to automatically reciprocate?

Kaoru's not that optimistic. He won't let himself be.

He thinks he'd be happy just being Kanata's friend for the rest of his life.

Or, at least, he'd learn how.

He has to.

It's a bit uncomfortable, having someone sleep on your lap. The sleeping person is free to move however they like, but the owner of the lap can't move at all, for fearing of waking up said sleeping person. The material of the fountain digs into his back and Kaoru tries to adjust his position without disturbing Kanata. It's a slow operation, one that involves more minute stretching than Kaoru had first anticipated, but he eventually gets there, removing his hand from Kanata's hair to support his last final twist.

All of his hard work turns out to be for nothing, however, when Kanata opens an eye and looks up at Kaoru.

He woke up anyway.

Of course he did.

Kaoru can't bring himself to be mad, though.

Kanata adjusts himself, turning so he's facing up and looking at Kaoru.

Kaoru brushes the hair out of Kanata's eyes. "Look who's fallen asleep on set now," he says, teasing. "Guess you did choose a better time to do it than me, though." He closes his eyes and scrunches up his nose as if he's thinking really hard. "But, I think I did a better job for safety and general location, so I win. Sorry." Kaoru smiles down at Kanata.

Kanata reaches up and touches his face. He runs his fingertips down the curve of Kaoru's cheek and brushes his thumb against Kaoru's lower lip and Kaoru freezes, not even daring to breathe. "I 'love' Kaoru's smile," he says.

Kaoru's heart goes into overdrive—beating faster and faster until he's sure it must be audible in the silence. "Do you?" he asks and Kanata smiles and Kaoru feels his chest squeeze tightly.

"Yes," Kanata says, "I 'really' do."

Just do it, a voice in his head says. Tell him. Tell him that you like him.

He could just do it now. He could pull the stopper from his throat and just let the words flow out, free, unrestricted. I like you, Kanata-kun. I like you a lot.

I like you. I like you. I like you.

Kanata's hand drops from Kaoru's face. "I'm really 'glad' we met, Kaoru." His smile is blinding. Beautiful. Kaoru loves his smile, too. "I'm really 'glad' we are 'friends.'"

Friends.

Kaoru feels his breath get knocked out of his lungs. He feels the wind out of his sails, feels his throat go dry, feels his entire body tense up.

Friends.

That's right.

Just because he likes Kanata, just because he likes Kanata so much—too much, just because Kanata is special to him and he wants Kanata to think of him as special as well, doesn't mean that he will.

Kaoru knew this.

He knew this from the very start.

He just didn't know how much it'd actually hurt.

Friends.

That's how Kanata sees it.

(For a split second—he thought. Kanata had opened up to him. He'd told him things. Shared them with him. And then, now. He thought. For a moment—he thought, just maybe.)

Friends.

(He was wrong.)

Kaoru smiles.

"I'm glad we are, too."

-

Kaoru wishes he had somewhere else to go besides Rei's office.

Koga and Adonis are both there—Koga's attempting to lecture Adonis about the dumb card game he's into and Adonis is politely listening—and Rei is as well, though he's currently holed up in his coffin.

Kaoru had gotten kicked out of his apartment earlier when Izumi had unceremoniously shoved him out of the door and thrown his shoes out after him. "Get out! Get out of here!" he'd shouted, while pulling a reluctant Kaoru down the hallway to the door. "I can't stand looking at you all mopey and disgusting! I cannot! I won't take another second of it!"

Kaoru could have overpowered Izumi easily and pushed him aside to go do more Not-Moping, thank you very much, in his room, but the grip Izumi had on him was way too strong and he'd really grabbed Kaoru at a weird angle and—

Okay, so maybe Kaoru really should try to work out more.

He doesn't really want to think about that right now, though. All he wants to do is slump down over this desk and listen to the broken air conditioner that's still dripping water, the taps loud and insistent on the windowpane. Rei's office might be a shithole, but at least in this shithole, nobody cares enough to bother him. At least in this shithole, there is no Izumi to grab him and throw him out. At least in this shithole—

He spoke too soon.

Koga, apparently having tired of teaching Adonis about his card game, stands next to Kaoru and looks down at him, arms crossed over his chest. "Oi," he says, "you look like shit." He sniffs. "Even more than usual."

Kaoru sighs and moves his head so he doesn't have to see Koga. He bangs his forehead against the table. "Shut up, Wan-chan," he says.

Koga makes a disgusted noise and jabs Kaoru. "What's up with you?"

Kaoru swats at his hand. "Go away. I don't want you comforting me. Adonis, you comfort me."

He hears Adonis walk over to the desk. "Hakaze-senpai? Are you okay?"

Kaoru sighs. "No," he says and it feels good to say out loud. "No, I'm not okay. I'm not okay, I'm really not okay, and that," he sits up and points at the window, "fucking air conditioner is still broken!"

Koga blinks. "Yeah of course it is. Everything in this fucking office is broken, including this guy." He walks over to Rei's coffin and kicks it. "Oi," he says, kicking it again, "get up, ya Vampire Bastard. Aren't ya embarrassed sleeping in a fucking coffin at 4 pm when you're a fucking grown-ass adult?"

Kaoru wants to point out that Koga's a "fucking grown-ass adult" who's still seriously calling Rei a vampire, but instead he just groans and slumps over Rei's desk again.

Koga kicks the coffin a third time. "Can you fucking hurry up?!" he says, speaking more loudly. "Fix Hakaze……-senpai. I'm seriously getting depressed just by fucking looking at him."

"That's not how it works," Kaoru mumbles.

"I think Oogami has a point," Adonis says, seriously. "If the people around you are happy, you feel happier. If the people around you are sad, then you feel sadder."

"Adonis-kun."

"Yes, Hakaze-senpai."

"Have you ever killed anyone?"

"No."

"Would you like to try?"

"No."

Kaoru sits up. "Then you are useless to me."

"Now, now," Rei opens the top of his coffin and smiles pleasantly at Kaoru and Adonis, "let's not fight, children."

"You are a year older than me," Kaoru says, jabbing a finger in Rei's direction. "One! Single! Stupid! Year!"

"Ah, Kaoru-kun." Rei clicks his tongue. "A year may not seem like a significant amount of time to someone as inexperienced as you, but," he pushes a piece of his hair out of his eyes, "to those of us who have experienced the world and what it has to offer, a year is a lifetime."

"Ugh," Koga snarls in disgust, "stop babbling, you senile bastard!"

Rei turns towards Koga then smiles and pats his leg. Koga jerks away eventually, but not as soon as he could have. Kaoru wants to gag. "My apologies, Wanko. I did not mean to neglect you. Were you perhaps feeling lonely?"

"Like hell I was," Koga says angrily.

"Oh my. It seems you were lonely. Frightfully so." Rei gestures to Koga. "Here, Wanko, come closer and I'm sure I can find a way to make it up to you."

Koga flushes red and Kaoru decides he's had enough.

"Please don't flirt right now," he says in a monotone. "I'm depressed."

Koga turns redder. "We are not flirting!" he half-yells.

Kaoru's mildly surprised that being accused of flirting with Rei still manages to set him off, considering how often he does it.

Rei looks at Kaoru for a moment before he speaks again. "Does this, perhaps, have to do with Shinkai-kun?"

"Don't call him that. He doesn't like it," Kaoru says automatically, then shuts his mouth tightly.

Really? All it took was one comment from Rei to expose himself? Really?

"I see. So this is about him."

No, you don't see. You don't see anything, Kaoru thinks uncharitably to himself, but he's never been predisposed to being charitable when it comes to Rei.

"How do you know him?" Kaoru says instead.

Rei makes a big show out of thinking about his answer—tapping his chin and um-ing and ah-ing—for a small, short reply of "We are old friends."

Old friends.

Kaoru's reminded of how Kanata talked about Shu.

"By any chance, do you know Itsuki-kun too?"

"Oh my, well done, Kaoru-kun. Yes, we all know each other. Old friends, like I said." Rei props his elbow up on the edge of his coffin and rests his chin in his palm. "You know, Kaoru-kun," he says, "as an old friend of his and a friend of your's, I will tell you that he likes to hang around on the beach on his days off. Days like today, for instance." He smiles. "But you must have already known this, right, Kaoru-kun? I'm not telling you any new information. I am simply telling you what you already know."

"Really?" Kaoru asks, ignoring all of the filler in Rei's answer. "Is he really there right now?"

"I never lie," Rei replies.

"Yes, you do," Koga mutters under his breath.

Rei ignores him.

"Yes, you do," Koga repeats, louder, not content to just let it go.

"Now, now, Wanko. Just what are you accusing me of—"

Kaoru makes a decision.

He stands up.

And he runs out of the room.

-

By the time he arrives at the beach, the sun has set and night has fallen.

It takes Kaoru some time to find Kanata—Rei may have told him where Kanata was in general, but he, as usual, omitted the ever-so-important specifics—but when he finally does find him, he pauses for a moment, just looking at the silhouette of Kanata's back.

He collects himself.

Don't be stupid, he thinks.

Don't jump to conclusions, he thinks.

He thinks—

Don't run away.

He takes off his shoes and socks and steps forward onto the sand, feeling it shift beneath him. Steady. One foot in front of the other.

Kanata has his knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs and toes buried in the sand. He stares out at the water and he breathes in time with the waves rolling into shore. In and out.

In and out.

Kaoru sits down next to him and he can see Kanata's chest rise and fall.

Inhale. Exhale.

His own breaths fall into time with Kanata and the sea. It calms him. The silence. The waves. The presence of Kanata next to him—close enough to feel, close enough to touch.

He doesn't want to break the moment.

He wants to stay here, like this, with Kanata for as long as he can. He wants to burn it into his mind. The atmosphere. The warmth. The still. The calm.

He'd been jittery before—heart beating erratically, nervous energy and worry and self-consciousness clouding his mind and making his limbs feel cold and numb, a stiffness settling into his joints—but now he feels wholly at ease.

Soothed, completely.

He thinks he's found it—what he's been searching for. Not someplace to belong, but—

Someplace to simply be.

Kanata gets up.

He silently reaches out a hand to Kaoru and Kaoru takes it; he lets himself be pulled up off the sand and lets Kanata pull him into the water. He lets Kanata intertwine their fingers and lets Kanata rest his forehead against his own.

This is real. Kanata is here, solid and present and real, and Kaoru feels the water lap at his legs and smells the saltwater in the air.

Kanata opens his mouth. His voice is quiet, low but clear, and Kaoru closes his eyes and it's like they're the only people in the entire world.

He says, "I have 'always' thought the 'sea' was a 'lonely' place."

He says, "It is 'easy' to be 'alone' in the water."

He says, "In 'there,' no one can 'reach' you. In 'there,' no one can 'touch' you. In the 'sea,' you can 'escape.'"

He breathes in.

"But it is 'lonely.'"

The dull roar of a wave rushing into shore.

The spray of brine.

The moving sand beneath their feet.

"It was 'lonely,' but," he grips Kaoru's hand tighter, "it isn't 'lonely' anymore."

A place to escape. A place to run away to. A place to be alone.

But wanting to be alone and loneliness aren't mutually exclusive feelings.

"No," Kaoru says and he feels the crash of a wave in his heart—the tide coming in, pulling the sands from the shore, "it's not."

And Kanata moves a hand up to Kaoru's arm, slides it up his shoulder and neck until it rests against his jaw, fingers falling in place as if the curve of Kaoru's cheek was made for his hand, and he whispers, breath hot against Kaoru's ear.

"Do you 'love' the sea, Kaoru?"

Kaoru holds Kanata's other hand in his. He holds it close to his chest, warms Kanata's cool fingertips against his skin.

Do you 'love' me, Kaoru?

"Yes."

Yes.

"Is it 'special' to you, Kaoru?"

"Yes, you are."

Kanata breathes in. "Do you 'remember,' Kaoru? The 'favor' you 'owe' me?"

Kaoru blinks, trying to think—trying to remember, and then he finds it. He'd promised to do something for Kanata, weeks ago. Jokingly promised to make it up to him.

And Kanata had remembered.

He swallows. "Yeah. Yeah, I remember."

"Good," Kanata says and then he kisses him—presses his lips against his and Kaoru can taste saltwater and the sea and it's all Kanata. It's all him. Real. Present.

This is not a dream.

Kaoru breaks away, looking at Kanata, breaths starting to get deeper and deeper.

This is real.

This is happening.

And all of a sudden, everything comes crashing down on him. He licks his lips as his mind tries to catch up to his actions and Kanata—all of Kanata there in front of him, on his lips, holding him, being held by him—words falling out in a nonsensical babble. "I thought. Didn't you say—? I thought. I," he blinks rapidly, "I'm sorry. I just. When did it happen? Did it? I'll get jealous if you hang on people like you did with me and I'm sorry I'll get jealous—I didn't think I was jealous person before, really, but thinking about it now I'm. I'm just—"

Kanata pushes him down onto the damp sand, smiling, and Kaoru shuts up, just watching Kanata. He climbs on top of Kaoru as the tide flows in and water wets Kaoru's back. He touches Kaoru's chest and leans down close to whisper in his ear:

"You are 'special' to me, Kaoru."

A calming voice. A soothing one. Slow and steady, with elongated vowels.

I 'love' you.

And he kisses him once more.