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That For Which You Do Not Yearn

Chapter Text

"Nothing troubles you for which you do not yearn." — Cicero, Cato Maior de Senectute.

After a while, it gets easy to eyeball the guys who come in and identify their types. Some come in all wide-eyed and trying not to let on that they're nervous by acting too confident; these are the tourists, usually, the ones who've never been inside a gay bar before and don't quite know what to do about it now that they are. Some of them come back; others do not. Then there are the guys who do know what they're doing, whether they're coming on the prowl or just to dance—there's an easiness in the way they move, a kind of relaxation that says they feel at home here. The married guys are easy to pick out, too; they're always on guard, afraid to look anyone else in the eye lest they be recognized. Some of them look relieved, like they've just set something heavy down.

Kazunari never quite knows what he thinks about the married guys, whether he feels sorry for them or just sort of contemptuous. Shou-chan says that's because he's never felt the need to hide what he is and so it's easy for him to judge. He's right, of course, which is probably Shou-chan's most obnoxious feature, but that doesn't keep Kazunari from feeling any less judgmental sometimes. He's never claimed to be perfect.

It's a slow night when the guy comes in for the first time. Kazunari's sitting at the bar when he does, sipping something that looks like a screwdriver but isn't and kibitzing with Shou-chan, so he gets a good look at the guy when he pauses on the steps down into the club proper and looks out across the dance floor. It's definitely his first time in a place like this. He looks it over like he doesn't know what to think of it, or maybe it's not anything like he expected it to be.

"Fresh meat," Shou-chan says as the guy gets over his moment of hesitation and descends the rest of the way. "What do you think?"

Kazunari studies the guy, watches him skirt the edge of the dance floor and realize what the guys in the alcoves are getting up to, and purses his lips. "First-timer for sure," he decides, squinting at the tense line of his shoulders. "Probably married."

Shou-chan hums over his drink and shakes his head. "Not yet," he says. "Engaged, maybe."

"Same difference."

"That's what you think."

The guy's tall, broad-shouldered, and definitely not dressed for clubbing—he could be fresh from the office if only he had a jacket to go with his tie and button-down, and the creases in his slacks are knife-sharp. He's also making a beeline straight for the bar, which perks everyone up. It's been a really slow night, but then, Mondays usually are.

Kazunari sits up straighter and crosses his legs, the better to show them off and flash a little thigh while he's at it, and is rewarded for his pains when the guy takes the empty stool next to his. Close up he's not hard on the eyes; Kazunari watches him more or less covertly as he orders some liquid courage. He's got a stern mouth and glasses that obscure long eyelashes, and bafflingly, he's carrying a small plastic lizard.

(Kazunari only wishes that this was the strangest thing he's ever seen while working this job.)

He's not sure, but he feels like he's seen this guy before—not here in the club, but somewhere else. He can't recall where, though, so he just gives the guy some time to get his cocktail down and then strikes up a conversation while Shou-chan grumbles under his breath and turns his attention to harassing Nijimura. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone go out drinking with a lizard before."

That nets him a startled look and what, in Kazunari's professional opinion, is a flash of panic before the guy presses his lips together tightly. "It's today's lucky item for Cancers," he says, stiff, and Kazunari would bet a week's take that he has this conversation all the damn time.

"Oh, no kidding." He leans and smiles up at the guy. "What's the lucky item for Scorpios?"

"I have no idea," the guy says, still stiff. "I'm not a Scorpio."

Kazunari allows his mouth to run on autopilot while he regroups; either this guy is so nervous that he's all frozen up, he's just not used to flirting, or he's not interested. Or all three. "Too bad. I could probably use a little extra luck in my life." He props his chin up on his hand and smiles again, friendly. "Are you new around here? I don't think I've seen you here before."

"I am." The guy stares down at his drink and Kazunari is just about to give him up as not interested when he adds, abrupt, "You should listen to Oha-Asa. If you want to know your lucky item."

Okay then, not uninterested, just very awkward. It's a good thing for this guy that Kazunari is fairly shameless. "I'll have to remember that." He hits the guy with another smile and reaches over to trail a fingertip along the plastic lizard's head. "Hopefully Scorpios will get lucky items that are just as cute as this one."

On the other side of him, Shou-chan breaks into a fit of laughter that is poorly disguised as a coughing fit. Kazunari ignores him with the ease born of practice. Meanwhile, his Cancer goes rather adorably wide-eyed for a moment, which is progress. It's very clear that he doesn't have the slightest idea what to say. Kazunari grins at him. "I'm Kazunari," he says. "What's your name?"

The answer is so long in coming that it's almost certainly an alias. "Shintarou," he says, slow. "I'm—you're—Kazunari?" He's looking at Kazunari now, or more specifically, at his dress.

Ah. "That's me." He flicks long hair over his shoulder while he uncrosses and recrosses his legs; his hem creeps a little farther up his thigh, and Shintarou swallows. "A pleasure to meet you, Shin-chan."

That gets Shintarou's attention instantly. "What did you just call me?"

Kazunari grins at him. "Shin-chan," he repeats, relishing the expression on Shintarou's face. "I think we're going to be good friends, you and me. Scorpios and Cancers are very compatible, you know." Not that he really buys into astrology, but a working boy has to use whatever tools he's got.

Shintarou stares at him some more and Shou-chan breaks into another of those nasty coughing fits. Kazunari smiles and drinks the last of his orange juice. "Would you like to dance, Shin-chan?"

That gives the guy something new to react to, anyway. Shintarou immediately frowns. "I don't dance."

Kazunari allows himself to slip off his stool, which is a maneuver that he's practiced enough times to perfect. Done right, it's a move so sinuous that it makes it look like he's made of liquid rather than flesh and bone. It rarely fails him and certainly seems to be effective now; Shintarou looks like he's been stunned. "Don't worry, it's easy." He slips his arm around Shintarou's and draws him to his feet. "Come on, I'll teach you."

The most action in the place tonight is on the dance floor, which gives Kazunari all the excuse he needs to insinuate himself into Shintarou's personal space while he falls into the rhythm of the music. Shintarou has gone wide-eyed again and is all but vibrating with how tense he is, and that's before Kazunari sets his hands on the guy's hips and pulls him even closer. Kazunari pays no attention to this. "Dancing's easy, Shin-chan. All you've got to do is let yourself feel the beat and move with it, like I'm doing." He executes a shimmy in demonstration, and if that happens to mean that he grinds up against Shintarou, well, he does have bills to pay.

Shintarou utters a sound not unlike a squawk and flushes pink; his confusion is honestly kind of endearing, and so is the awkward way he completely fails to move in time to the music. Kazunari tugs on his hips, trying to coax him into a nice, easy movement or at least to loosen him up a little. He's only sort of successful in this; Shintarou is much too stiff under his hands, all his movements halting and jerky, and he looks completely at sea. At least he is moving; that's a start.

Kazunari smiles up at him. "Yeah, just like that. All you've got to do is follow the beat, and that's easy."

"That's easy for you to say," Shintarou mutters. He doesn't seem to know what to do with his hands, so Kazunari catches one and sets it on his hip as Shintarou begins to move a little more easily with him. He doesn't miss the way it makes Shintarou swallow hard, either. He shimmies again, rubbing up against Shintarou again as the song changes, and helps him find the new tempo. As they go on, Shintarou doesn't exactly relax, but he does pick up the trick of bouncing in time to the music. He's not going to be winning any dance competitions with that, but that's not what they're here for. That has more to do with the way Kazunari can feel Shintarou starting to get hard whenever he happens to grind against the guy, which is a positive sign.

When the song changes again, Kazunari smiles up at Shintarou, peeking at him through his eyelashes. "You see? It comes naturally, just like breathing. Or sex." Shintarou loses track of the beat completely and flushes red as he sputters. Kazunari represses the urge to laugh and grins instead. "Well, it is, don't you think?" Shintarou's too tall for him to be able to line their hips up properly, but he makes do and achieves pressure in the right places anyway. Shintarou is definitely getting hard.

And he says, "I'm sure I couldn't say."

Two things occur to Kazunari in rapid succession: Shintarou probably wanted that to sound sarcastic, but it doesn't. It sounds like it cost him something to say. In turn, that suggests that it might actually be true. Huh.

"That's too bad," Kazunari says, "you're missing out." He pulls Shintarou back into the rhythm and casts another glance up at him. "I could help you rectify that, if you want."

It takes all the dexterity Kazunari possesses to keep Shintarou from tripping over his own two feet then. While he's still trying to recover, either because he didn't expect to be propositioned that bluntly or because he doesn't know what to say, or both, Kazunari adds, conscientiously, "For a modest fee, of course."

Shintarou freezes—absolutely freezes—and that panicked expression shows in his eyes again. Damn, he's moved too fast with the guy and he's going to run screaming into the night. Kazunari is in the middle of scolding himself for his own impatience when Shintarou says, "How much?"

Or maybe not. Kazunari glances up at the set line of Shintarou's mouth as he names his going rate, wondering a little about how determined the man seems to be. He's seen all kinds of guys since he started working this job, but he's never seen someone look so grim about hiring himself a hooker.

Shintarou doesn't try to negotiate or anything; he just nods. "Fine." He's lost any trace of the hard-won ease from dancing, maybe from nerves or maybe from something else.

Kazunari just smiles at him, though, and catches his hand so he can lace their fingers together. "Then just follow me, Shin-chan."

He guides them off the dance floor and puts some extra swing in his hips as he leads Shintarou to the back of the bar and the flight of steps up to the next floor. It's a lot shabbier up here, but most of the customers who come this way don't actually mind, being more concerned with other things. Kazunari personally suspects that Shintarou doesn't miss the water stains in the ceiling or the places where the plaster is cracked, but he doesn't say anything even though he frowns at them. He doesn't say anything about Kazunari's room, either, which is just as utilitarian as everything else on this floor.

Kazunari ushers him inside and closes the door behind them before he clears his throat. "I hate to spoil the mood, Shin-chan, but I do like to take payment up front." He grins and tosses his head. "Don't worry, satisfaction is guaranteed."

Shintarou is definitely one of the strangest guys Kazunari has ever encountered to date, because the joke doesn't seem to relax him and he doesn't really seem all that excited by the prospect of getting laid—and he doesn't act much like the usual sort of nervous virgin, either. He simply pulls his wallet out and counts off the appropriate number of bills into Kazunari's hand.

Kazunari tucks them into his bra—not like he has any better use for it—and smiles. "Now that we have that out of the way…"

He can't help feeling that Shintarou is holding his ground when he goes to him and slides his hands up the crisp fabric of his shirt and slips them around the back of his neck, but he allows Kazunari to kiss him, and… huh. The way Shintarou holds still and is slow to respond to the way Kazunari kisses him—slow to change the angle of his head so that their mouths will fit together better, slow to respond to the invitation when Kazunari parts his lips, slow to slip his tongue into Kazunari's mouth—is enough to make him wonder whether Shintarou has had any kind of sex before. It seems unlikely—it's not like the guy is unattractive—but Kazunari has to wonder.

Not that it matters. Shintarou may be slow to respond, but he does respond and even gets into the spirit of things after a little time to acclimate. Kazunari watches him from beneath his lashes—Shintarou has closed his eyes and has furrowed his brow in his concentration—and sucks on Shintarou's tongue encouragingly.

Chalk another bit of strangeness up to Shintarou's account: he doesn't make any move to grab Kazunari, which is unusual in his experience. Hell, it's practically unheralded. It's kind of nice, really. Kazunari doesn't even have to think about smiling when he draws back from Shintarou's mouth once Shintarou has begun to make soft, hungry noises against his lips. "Why don't you come over here and sit down?"

He wraps his hands around Shintarou's wrists and draws him over to the bed step by uncertain step until he can persuade Shintarou to sit. Even then, Shintarou perches on the edge of the mattress, maybe from nerves and maybe just because he's not sure what happens next. Engaged or married or whatever, the guy still deserves a good first time, and anyway, Kazunari finds his awkwardness charming. He leans over and cups Shintarou's face between his palms, tipping it up so he can bestow another kiss on Shintarou, one that's as slow and filthy as he can manage, and he doesn't let him up for air until he's coaxed a muffled groan out of Shintarou's throat.

The guy looks dazed when Kazunari lets him go, his gaze gone unfocused, and he doesn't seem to understand what's happening when Kazunari nudges his knees apart and kneels between them. "What…?" he says while Kazunari gets busy undoing his belt and fly, taking pride in the bulge that Shintarou is sporting.

Kazunari glances up at him, smiling. "Just lean back and relax, Shin-chan. I've got you now." He watches Shintarou from beneath his lashes while he folds his clothes out of the way and draws his cock out.

Shintarou's eyes have gone wide; he gasps when Kazunari first touches him. "You…"

"Shh," Kazunari tells him, running his fingers up and down Shintarou's cock—not all the way hard yet, but filling rapidly beneath his touch. "Enjoy yourself."

He leans forward and drags his tongue up the length of Shintarou's cock, root to tip, and is hard-pressed not to grin at the strangled, startled sound Shintarou makes when he swirls his tongue over the head, coaxing the foreskin back with his lips and tonguing the slit as he slides his mouth down around him.

Shintarou stares down at him, his mouth hanging a little ajar and his breathing turning faster. Kazunari sucks and Shintarou groans; if Kazunari's any judge at all, it's a heartfelt sound.

He hums back to Shintarou and kneads his hands against the insides of his thighs as he works his tongue over Shintarou's head. That seems to work okay, because Shintarou stares down at him, hectic color rising in his cheeks, but he doesn't make any more noise until Kazunari begins to slide his mouth down his cock, letting it move over his tongue. Then Shintarou gasps again, and Kazunari would bet a night's take that he's hanging onto the mattress with white knuckles. He slides his mouth up and strokes his tongue over Shintarou's head while he checks (he's right) and then slides back down again.

Shintarou groans, low and almost helpless, but he doesn't try to move. The muscles in his thighs feel rock hard beneath Kazunari's palms, tight with the same strain Kazunari can see in his shoulders. It's certainly polite of him, but unnecessary. Kazunari draws back and grins. "It's all right if you want to fuck my mouth," he tells Shintarou. "That's kind of the idea, you know?"

To prove the point, he swallows Shintarou down, which elicits a new sound from him, strangled and disbelieving. Shintarou shudders when he hums around him and lifts a hand. Kazunari catches on a second too late—Shintarou's already sliding his fingers into what he probably assumes to be Kazunari's hair even as Kazunari is pulling off.

The wig comes off in Shintarou's hand and his cock jumps against Kazunari's tongue, filling his mouth with the flat taste of precome.

This isn't a job for anyone who can't cope with the unexpected. Kazunari lifts his head and reaches up to untangle Shintarou's fingers from the wig so he can take it off and set it safely aside, and he watches Shintarou covertly while he's ruffling his fingers through his own, much shorter, hair. Shintarou watches him do it, wetting his lips. Kazunari shakes his head, letting his hair settle into place, and slants a smile up at him. "Why don't we try that again, Shin-chan?"

He waits until Shintarou reaches for him again and touches his hair, almost tentative about it, and he doesn't think it's a coincidence that Shintarou moans, all low and hungry, when he slides his mouth down his cock again. This is definitely working for him; he curls his fingers in Kazunari's hair, groaning softly while Kazunari strokes his mouth up and down, sucking gently and humming to him until he says, hoarse, "Please—please, I'm going to—"

Kazunari swallows him down again, and that's all it takes. Shintarou jerks, grunting as he comes and looking stunned by the way it feels. Kazunari hums to him and swallows, letting his throat work around Shintarou's cock until he sags, slumping over and breathing hard. He groans again as Kazunari lets him slip out of his mouth and straightens up. If he didn't know better, he'd almost say that Shintarou looks lost. Well, maybe that's to be expected.

"Like I said," he says while he begins to set Shintarou's clothing back into order. "Satisfaction is guaranteed."

He stretches out his shoulders and back, but Shintarou speaks up before he can rise and send the guy on his way. "Wait."

Kazunari pauses and raises his eyebrows. "Need something else, Shin-chan?"

"You—didn't." Shintarou gestures vaguely, not quite managing to meet his eyes.

"It's usually not the point," Kazunari says, amused and maybe a little charmed.

Shintarou flushes, still avoiding his eyes. "Can you? I want to—I want to see."

It's not the first time a client has asked for a show, but it's the first time one has asked for a show after getting off. Kazunari resists the urge to point this out to Shintarou and settles back on his heels. "All right, if that's what you want."

He chooses his working clothes as much for convenience as appearance. It's easy to hike his skirt up past his hips and to shove the silky panties down his thighs. Shintarou's attention is riveted to him. Kazunari can see the muscles work in his throat when he swallows, and he wets his lips again when Kazunari cups his own cock, lifting it and showing it off. If what Shintarou wants is to see, then he can see all he likes.

He touches himself slowly, blanking his mind deliberately to keep himself from getting hard too quickly, and Shintarou stares openly at the way his cock fills and lengthens against his palm. He passes his tongue over his lips again when Kazunari raises his hand and licks a wet stripe across his palm and begins to jerk himself off, nice and easy, just in case Shintarou decides he wants to go again. He's going to have to spend a little more if he does. Kazunari's generous but not that generous.

When he strokes his fingers over the head of his cock, he moans, nice and breathy. It's enough to make Shintarou look up, eyes gone wide behind the lenses of his glasses. Kazunari smiles at him. "Like what you're seeing?" It's a damn good thing Shou-chan isn't here to laugh at how sultry he's making himself sound. Shou-chan would make him crack up, too, and that wouldn't be any good at all. Clients never seem to believe that the laughter isn't aimed at them.

"Yes," Shintarou says. The raw edge in his voice, something like despair, kills any urge to laugh that Kazunari feels. "I do."

Definitely married or going-to-be-married, Kazunari concludes. Poor bastard.

He drops his other hand to cup his balls and gives Shintarou a smile even though his heart isn't really in it. "Good. I'd hate for you to tell me to stop when it feels this good." He works himself slowly, giving Shintarou a good show, making more noise and rolling his hips more than the knot of heat building at the base of his spine really warrants. Shintarou watches avidly, as though he's trying to memorize every ripple of Kazunari's fingers and every moan he utters. He's breathing almost as fast as Kazunari is when he finally comes, arching his back and groaning while his cock pulses over his fingers, sticky and hot. He draws it out for as long as he can, and then licks his fingers clean for good measure right before Shintarou's transfixed eyes.

"There anything else I can do for you tonight?" he asks when he's done.

Shintarou hesitates, opens his mouth, closes it, and shakes his head. "No… no. I should be going."

This is such a manifest lie that Kazunari considers calling him on it. He decides not to and rises to his feet, shaking his skirt back into place and stepping out of the panties. It startles Shintarou to be kissed again, which is part of the reason Kazunari chooses to do it. "Well, if you change your mind about that, you come back and see me." He pats Shintarou's cheek gently. "Last door on the left is the back way out."

It's the right call; Shintarou looks relieved not to have to go back through the club to leave. He nods as he rises. "Thanks."

"Any time, Shin-chan."

Kazunari watches him go and doesn't shake his head until he's safely alone. "You poor bastard," he mutters under his breath. He shakes his head again, and then gets busy cleaning up and getting back to work.

Chapter Text

It doesn't pay to dwell on one's clients unless they're around, so Kazunari doesn't think about Shintarou again for several days. He doesn't have the time to do it, honestly, between work and classes and studying and socializing with his friends and dropping in for dinner with his family and, oh yeah, sleeping. He's got a lot of things up in the air and the only way he's found to keep them all from crashing down is to compartmentalize as strictly as possible. It's probably not the healthiest coping mechanism, but the way he sees it, it's not long term and it's worked pretty well so far, so he's not going to sweat it.

This time he misses Shintarou's entrance because he's busy upstairs with someone else. By the time he gets that take care of and comes back down, Shintarou has two empty glasses in front of him and seems to be well on his way to being traumatized by Shou-chan, at least if the way he's drawing back while Shou-chan leans forward is any indication. That seems a little out of character for Shou-chan, who usually saves that for the guys who want to be treated that way, so Kazunari wanders over to see what's going on there. He slides in between one of the bar's regulars and Shintarou; Nijimura puts a glass in his hand without being asked.

That's when Shintarou realizes he's there. Relief crosses his face immediately. "Kazunari," he says. "You're here."

"Sure am." Kazunari takes a drink and rolls the sharpness of the cranberry juice and soda water over his tongue, relishing the fresh taste as he smiles at Shintarou. "How are you doing this evening? Shou-chan keeping you entertained?" He cranes his head a bit to cast an inquiring look Shou-chan's way, but Shou-chan's expression is as bland as he's ever seen it. Heaven only knows what's going on there.

Either Shintarou is feeling more comfortable tonight, the alcohol has loosened his tongue, or he's too on edge to watch his mouth, because he says, "I suppose that's one way to put it."

Kazunari raises his eyebrows at that and gives Shou-chan another look. "Just what have you been saying to the poor guy, Shou-chan?"

Shou-chan shrugs, smiling lazily. "I don't recall now." He picks up his glass of tonic and drains it. "I believe I'm going to take a turn on the dance floor. Excuse me, gentlemen."

Kazunari grins at him. "Don't break too many hearts."

Shou-chan chuckles as he slinks off his stool and strolls off to insinuate himself into the crowd on the dance floor.

There's no mistaking how relieved Shintarou is to see him go. His shoulders drop at least four centimeters and he lets out a long sigh. Kazunari's curiosity pricks him, making him wonder what on earth Shou-chan has been saying to him, but he lets it alone for now. Instead he taps a fingertip against the palm-sized statue of Ganesh sitting on the bar. "The lucky item for Cancers, I presume?"

It's the right call; Shintarou's shoulders drop a little further. "Yes, of course." He fiddles with the stem of his glass. "A Scorpio should have a frog plush today."

"I knew there was something I was forgetting this morning," Kazunari says, tongue moving automatically despite his split second of surprise that Shintarou has both remembered his sign and paid attention to the day's horoscope for it. "I guess it worked out all right for me, though, since you're here this evening."

It's not like the club is lit brightly, but there's no mistaking the fact that Shintarou's ears and the back of his neck turn pink. He pushes the glasses up his nose. "Nonsense. If you don't have your lucky item, expecting good fortune to follow is foolishness."

Kazunari props his chin on his hands and grins at Shintarou. "And yet, here you are."

It's really just as well that Shou-chan's out on the dance floor, wreaking his special brand of havoc there. The flush hits Shintarou's cheeks then and he looks aside, saying nothing.

Kazunari sips his drink and watches Shintarou's profile, smiling when he catches the guy glancing at him from the corner of his eye. "So," he says. "You come here looking for anything in particular, Shin-chan?"

Shintarou adjusts his glasses again, though they don't need it at all. "I suppose so."

"Mm, the drinks are pretty good, aren't they?" Kazunari says, mostly to see what he does with that.

Shintarou blinks and actually looks at him, confused; Kazunari smiles back at him, perfectly innocent. "I suppose they are."

"The dancing is good, too," Kazunari presses, amused. "Don't you think?"

Shintarou frowns at him. "You know I'm no judge of that."

Kazunari waves this aside. "Don't be silly, you were doing just fine for a beginner. You'll be great with some more practice." He lifts his eyebrows. "Shall we?"

Shintarou doesn't even try to disguise his distaste, because his grimace is as plain as day. "No thank you."

"Ah, well." Kazunari lowers his eyes and peeks at him through his lashes. "I suppose you're not here to see me, since I forgot my lucky item this morning and shouldn't be expecting good fortune."

Jackpot. Shintarou goes pink again. "Actually—I—" He fumbles to a stop, fidgeting with one of his empty glasses.

Kazunari decides to show mercy. "Or maybe I really am that lucky." He takes a final drink and lays his fingers on Shintarou's wrist. "Would you like to go upstairs?"

It's impossible to miss the way a tiny shiver rolls through Shintarou then. "Yes," he says, so quietly that Kazunari has to strain to hear it.

"My lucky day indeed." Kazunari brushes his fingertips over the place where Shintarou's pulse beats and down into the hollow of his palm. The muscles in Shintarou's throat move as he swallows hard. Shintarou has long fingers, slender and tapering and immaculately groomed. They slot nicely with Kazunari's. "I'm ready to head upstairs when you are."

Shintarou ducks a quick glance at him and then nods, once, without saying anything more.

That's this week's goal for his take met, and it's only Wednesday. Kazunari slips off his stool, feeling generally satisfied with life, and keeps hold of Shintarou's hand while he saunters through the crowd. He catches sight of Shou-chan on the way past the dance floor; he's found someone to dance with who looks terrified by him, but in the productive way, like he's enjoying it. It's shaping up to be a busy night for everyone.

Shintarou stays quiet all the way upstairs, even after Kazunari gets him safely behind closed doors, and his palm goes damp against Kazunari's on the way up. There's no telling what he's taken it into his head to be nervous about, but then, maybe the first time isn't the hardest. The second time, the one that confirms what a person already knows to be true… Kazunari can see how that might be difficult to face.

Nervous or not, though, Shintarou reaches for his wallet without being prompted and then pauses. "How much if I want to penetrate you?" he blurts, all in a rush, going pink as he avoids Kazunari's eyes.

Kazunari suppresses his urge to snicker at the fussy precision of the question. "Oh, that? No extra charge for you, Shin-chan." It never hurts to let a client believe he's special, after all, even if he generally doesn't bother setting different rates for his various favors.

That trick has never failed Kazunari before, so he's frankly surprised when Shintarou frowns. "I have no interest in paying less than what you are due," he says. He actually sounds offended.

Kazunari laughs in spite of his best intentions and shakes his head. "Really, Shin-chan?"

He continues to frown and even manages to look at him head-on. "I assume this is your livelihood," he says, stiff. "I have no wish to cause you any hardship."

Amazing. It's a pretty rare client who actually registers that any of them are more than receptacles for their dicks. It's actually kind of touching, in an awkward, overly formal way. Kazunari finds himself smiling at Shintarou and meaning it. "Don't worry, you're not. I charge a flat rate, okay? Makes the bookkeeping easier."

Shintarou doesn't seem to be buying it. "That would be a very poor way of conducting business," he says severely. "The risk factors of certain sexual practices are much higher than others and you should be fairly compensated for assuming them."

Kazunari stares at him. He'd be very nearly certain that Shintarou is fucking with him, except for the fact that Shintarou does seem to believe what he's saying. "I'm pretty okay with what I'm charging, seriously."

That merely nets him an exasperated huff. "Yes, but not only does anal sex carry the risk of tissue damage and tearing, it carries a greater risk of disease transmission. Not to mention the discomfort involved." Oddly enough, he doesn't blush while talking about the nitty-gritty of fucking.

Kazunari bites his tongue before he can retort that he is perfectly familiar with those risks, thanks so much, does he look like an idiot? "Be that as it may, I don't see any reason to raise my rates. But thanks for the concern."

Shintarou huffs again. "For pity's sake, you're being ridiculous. Why are you so willing to let yourself be taken advantage of like this?"

Something pings beneath Kazunari's irritation. He takes a deep breath and tries to pay attention to it instead of the fact that Shintarou is trying to patronize him—no, there. That's it. "You're not taking advantage of me." He folds his arms across his chest and taps his fingers against his bicep. "This isn't the only job I could be working. I chose to take it because the money is good and the schedule's convenient. As it so happens, I don't expect to be here forever. Once I graduate, I'll move on, so the way I figure it, you don't owe me any extra money if you want to fuck me in the ass instead of the mouth. If that makes you feel bad because you think you're exploiting my generous nature or something, figure out how much it'll take to make yourself feel less guilty and donate it to charity, because I don't want it. Got it?"

It's definitely not the most diplomatic speech he's ever delivered to a client, but Kazunari will be damned if he's going to be condescended to. If Shintarou wants to remember that prostitutes are real people too, then he's gonna have to deal with the whole package. And if he doesn't want to do that, well, it's only Wednesday and there's still plenty of time to make his minimum goal for the week's take.

Shintarou stares at him, the seconds ticking by in silence, before he drops his gaze and counts out the same number of bills as his last session. He offers them to Kazunari without a word.

He accepts that for the concession that it is and puts his irritation aside for later, when he can deal with it properly. For now he tucks his fee away and smiles. "Never had to talk anybody out of giving me money before. Guess there's a first time for everything, isn't there?" He closes the distance between them and spreads his fingers, resting just the tips of them against Shintarou's chest as he smiles up at him. "Sounds like you have some ideas about what you'd like to do tonight. What's your pleasure, Shin-chan?"

Shintarou stares down at him, and the color floods back into his face again. "I—I'm not sure. I… know how the mechanics are supposed to work, but—" He skates his gaze sideways and pushes his glasses up his nose again, flushing darker. "I've never actually—"

Kazunari declines to tell him that he was already well aware of that. He's already made the guy feel bad enough for one night. "No kidding. Well, aren't you just in for a treat?" He slides his fingertips up Shintarou's chest and along the sides of his throat to cup his jaw between his palms and draw Shintarou down for a kiss, putting some effort into making it filthy enough to distract the guy from his embarrassment and get him into the spirit of things. He strokes his tongue along the seam of Shintarou's lips and sucks on the fuller curve of the lower one until he can feel the stern, tight lines of his mouth beginning to relax. He keeps going until Shintarou loosens up enough to lift his hands and set them on his hips, light and tentative. Only then does Kazunari draw back enough to smile at him again. "How about you come over here and let me show you how it's done?"

Shintarou's eyes go wide at that, like he's having second thoughts about what he wants after all, but there's also something like hunger going on there. Kazunari rubs his thumb along the line of Shintarou's jaw, over the faint sandpaper rasp of his five o'clock shadow, waiting the struggle out. It takes less time than he really expects for Shintarou to incline his head. "All right."

"Mm, fantastic." He draws Shintarou down for another of those kisses, flirting the tip of his tongue against Shintarou's, and navigates him over to the bed step by careful step. By the time they're there, Shintarou's color is running high for reasons that Kazunari doubts has anything to do with embarrassment, and it's pretty easy to coax him into first sitting and then lying back against the pillow.

He turns all wide-eyed again and swallows hard when Kazunari slides a knee onto the mattress and swings a leg over his hips to kneel over him. Kazunari smiles down at him and walks his fingers up Shintarou's tie and then his throat. He brushes them over Shintarou's lips and traces the tip of his finger up the bridge of Shintarou's nose to tap the crosspiece of his glasses. "Can you see well enough without these to take them off? Think you'll find it more convenient here in a little while if you do."

Shintarou swallows again and then nods slowly. "I think so. Yes."

"That's good." Kazunari plucks the glasses off Shintarou's nose and reaches up to set them safely out of the way on the shelf over the bed. Shintarou looks different without them, his face naked and vulnerable. Kazunari smiles at him again and bends down; his wig falls around them like a curtain. He pauses over Shintarou, their faces close enough that their breath mingles, looking at him. Shintarou doesn't say anything, looking back at him, a trace of uncertainty in his expression, until Kazunari leans the rest of the way down to press their mouths together.

Shintarou closes his eyes as Kazunari watches him, shifting the angle of his head and kissing him, eager despite that moment of hesitation. Kazunari hums encouragement to him and sucks on his tongue until he feels Shintarou reach up and settle a hand at the nape of his neck.

They both go still at the same moment. Kazunari recalls their previous session well enough and murmurs the obvious question against Shintarou's lips. "On or off?"

Shintarou sucks in a sharp breath. "On."

His voice lacks conviction. It's really none of Kazunari's business to question what a client asks for, but even so, he says, "You sure?"

Shintarou presses his lips together until the color flees them and nods. "Of course."

He's not the first guy who's fucked Kazunari while pretending that he was fucking a woman. He probably won't be the last. Seems like a shame, really, but that's just how it goes sometimes. Kazunari shrugs it aside and applies himself to kissing Shintarou some more, coaxing him out of that moment of indecision and making up for it by loosening the knot of his tie and undoing the top button of his shirt. Shintarou remains still beneath him and his hand weighs lightly against Kazunari's nape until Kazunari presses his fingertips against the notch between his clavicles. His skin is smooth and warm, and his pulse picks up beneath Kazunari's fingertips. "What…?"

Kazunari presses his mouth against the underside of Shintarou's jaw and undoes another button. "Said I was going to show you how it's done, didn't I?" He presses another kiss against Shintarou's throat, parting his lips to flick his tongue against the skin there and tasting the lingering spice of his cologne as he unbuttons Shintarou's shirt. He refrains from leaving any marks, though, since Shintarou would probably find it awkward to explain those.

Shintarou leans his head back against the pillow, breathing faster. He's squeezed his eyes shut. Kazunari refuses to wonder what the guy is imagining as he strokes careful fingers through the long strands of the wig and fans the fingers of his other hand against the bare skin of Kazunari's back. It would only depress him to know. Instead he hums to Shintarou and slips his hands under his shirt. The guy's got a pretty good build, sleekly muscular beneath Kazunari's questing fingers, and he arches up against his hands with a fairly gratifying groan as Kazunari sweeps his hands over his torso.

Kazunari smiles and keeps going, lapping at the hollow of Shintarou's throat and kneading his abdominals. Then he drops his hand farther down, cupping it against the front of Shintarou's slacks and pressing just so.

It's a simple gesture, but it has an electric effect on Shintarou: he groans again and lifts his hips into the pressure of Kazunari's hand. Kazunari can feel him getting harder just from that and bears down harder on his cock, rubbing him through his slacks until Shintarou shudders. "You sure know how to make a person feel appreciated, Shin-chan." He plants slow kisses from the hollow of Shintarou's throat and down the center of his chest as he works on getting his slacks open.

Shintarou clutches at him, closing his hands on Kazunari's back and hanging on tightly as Kazunari dips his hand into his underwear and curls his fingers around his cock. He's still got his eyes shut tightly, and he pants for breath as Kazunari strokes him all the way hard. Kazunari would shake his head over that if he thought it was prudent, but it's not. Instead he rubs his thumb over the slit of Shintarou's cock until he groans breathlessly and is rocking his hips up into his hand.

It really does seem like an awful waste, though.

Kazunari slips his hand free and smiles as Shintarou groans in protest. "No, don't stop—"

"Mm, be patient, Shin-chan." Kazunari sets his hands on Shintarou's hips and begins dragging his slacks and underwear down. "Handjobs are fun and all, but I seem to remember you having an agenda for the evening. Here, lift up for me." Shintarou obliges him and Kazunari hums to him, all approving, as he pushes them down his thighs. "Good, good."

The shelf over the bed where he keeps his supplies is just high enough that Kazunari has to sit up in order to reach for them. He loosens Shintarou's hands from his shoulders and reaches up for a condom. When the wrapper crinkles as he opens it, Shintarou actually opens his eyes to see what's happening. It's really more gratifying than it ought to be. "What are you—oh…" Shintarou's entire expression goes slack as Kazunari unrolls the condom down his cock.

Kazunari chuckles softly and squeezes him, gentle. "Just doing our part to cut down on that disease transmission, Shin-chan." It's pretty good odds that right now his words are just so much noise in Shintarou's ears, because his eyes are starting to look pretty glazed. That's okay, though. They're still open and they stay that way as Kazunari slides his palms up his own thighs and under the hem of his dress. He doesn't hike it all the way up, not tonight, and instead tugs the bows that ride low on his hips loose.

Shintarou's brow is just beginning to wrinkle, like he's trying to figure out what's going on, when they come untied and Kazunari draws the panties out from beneath his skirt. He dangles them in the air until Shintarou opens his eyes wide in recognition. Then he tosses them aside while Shintarou passes his tongue over his lips.

One thing is for sure: he's definitely got Shintarou's full attention right now. It's even possible that Shintarou has forgotten all about pretending he's with someone else.

Kazunari slides his palm up Shintarou's chest as he leans forward again, this time for the lube. He can feel Shintarou's heart pounding under his palm as he slicks his fingers. When he sits back again and reaches behind himself, Shintarou makes a hoarse sound, one of realization. Kazunari slants a smile down at him and gives him a good show, arching his back and uttering a soft moan as he opens himself up. Breathing fast, Shintarou stares up at him as though he wants to devour Kazunari with his eyes, and Kazunari has to admit that it's a little hot to have someone so rapt for him. He moans again, low and breathy, while he works slick fingers into his ass. That's not all for show. The familiar burn and stretch in his muscles feels good; it's not all for Shintarou's sake that he takes his time with the job.

By the time he slides his fingers free, he's getting a little hard, too. Shintarou is panting beneath him, hands curled into fists at his sides. He groans, deep in his chest, when Kazunari wraps slick fingers around his cock. "Oh… oh, please…"

"Shh," Kazunari says, guiding Shintarou's cock into place as he raises himself up. "I've got you, Shin-chan. Just relax and enjoy the ride."

He sucks in a breath through his teeth as he first sinks down on Shintarou's cock, hissing at the aching stretch of his muscles as he takes Shintarou in. Beneath him, Shintarou cries out and arches off the mattress, squeezing his eyes shut as he tries to sink his fingers into the mattress itself. Kazunari half-expects him to come right then and there and holds himself steady, panting a little with the full, heavy weight of Shintarou's cock inside him. Shintarou's chest heaves as he gulps for breath; sweat slicks his skin and darkens the hair at his temples. "Oh," he gasps, "oh, oh..."

He has to chuckle at that, a little. "You think this is good, huh?"

Shintarou opens his eyes, but the look he turns on Kazunari is dazed, not quite focused. "Please…"

Kazunari reaches down and touches Shintarou's cheek with his clean fingers. "Anything you like," he says, punctuating it with a slow circling of his hips that makes Shintarou groan again and reach up to close a hand on the pillow. Kazunari laughs again, a little breathless, and sets about giving Shintarou what he wants.

He sets an easy pace, steady as a heartbeat, rocking his hips up and down so that every stroke is a long, slow slide of sensation, just as much for himself as it is for Shintarou. Shintarou groans every time Kazunari slides down his cock, gripping the pillow so hard that his knuckles are white, and the flush spreads down his throat and chest. It's easy to see his pleasure; every time Kazunari sinks down on him, Shintarou's lips part for the sound he makes. On each slow stroke up, he closes his eyes and gasps for breath.

Kazunari doubts he'd be working this job if he didn't like to see people enjoying themselves, but he starts to wonder about Shintarou's endurance by the time his thighs have begun to burn with the effort of fucking himself on Shintarou's cock. He really wouldn't have expected the guy to be able to hold out for so long. "Shin-chan…" It doesn't take all that much acting to turn that into a moan, one that's just a little desperate. "Oh, Shin-chan…" He changes positions to ease the strain in his thighs, leaning over Shintarou to take some of his weight on his arms, and covers it up by kissing him. "Shin-chan, please…"

It doesn't occur to him what a miscalculation this might be until he feels how his dress has worked its way up his hips. The head of his cock drags over Shintarou's belly; Shintarou goes taut beneath him. Shit. Kazunari's mind freezes for a split second as he tries to come up with a way to salvage the situation, if necessary. His body, on the other hand, doesn't hesitate at all; he's rolling his hips down again, faster and harder, in response to that new friction and the pleasure it brings.

Shintarou gasps and bucks up against him, flailing an uncoordinated hand and closing it on Kazunari's hip. He groans Kazunari's name when his cock slides against his stomach again.

Kazunari bites his lip—is that how it is, then?—and goes with it, groaning into Shintarou's mouth and rocking himself down to meet Shintarou's hips. Sensation sings up his spine as he rubs himself against Shintarou, his body deciding to get fully involved in the act, until he can feel the wetness he's smearing against Shintarou's stomach. "Fuck," he says, "fuck, Shintarou…"

Shintarou arches under him, shouting as his back comes off the mattress and his cock pulses inside Kazunari. His throat makes a long, pale line as he throws his head back against the pillow and shudders through his orgasm. Kazunari has to bite back the groan of disappointment and remind himself just who is paying whom to get off here.

It's just as well to have a moment to compose himself, anyway. By the time Shintarou comes back down far enough to open his eyes and look at him again, Kazunari has gotten himself back under control and is able to smile at him. "Well, how was that?"

Shintarou blinks at him—his lashes are absurdly long and thick—and surprises him again. The first thing out of his mouth, all husky and breathless, is, "You didn't come."

"Well, no," Kazunari says. He tips his head to the side, considering it and their last session. "You want me to give you another show?"

"Yes," Shintarou says. Then he immediately corrects himself. "No, no—I want to—" He begins to sit up; Kazunari has to sit up as well. They both shudder as Shintarou's cock slips free of his body. Before Kazunari can begin to decipher what Shintarou wants or even find a more comfortable position than kneeling awkwardly across Shintarou's lap, Shintarou reaches for him. He pauses with his fingers a bare whisper away from Kazunari's cock. "I… can I?" He shoots a hesitant glance at Kazunari, almost shy.

There are so many ways Kazunari might answer that, but he chooses to stretch his legs out, wrapping them around Shintarou as he nods and smiles. "Sure, Shin-chan. Go right ahead."

Shintarou bites his lower lip and sets his fingers on Kazunari's cock, and damn, it feels good even if Shintarou's touch is light and uncertain. Kazunari moans his appreciation and winds his arms around Shintarou's shoulders for better balance, letting Shintarou touch him—explore him, really, tracing his fingertips up the length of his cock and over the soft skin of his head, then back down the underside. The light touch is teasing, the pleasure that accompanies it too delicate to do more than make Kazunari's breath hitch. He doesn't say anything, not when Shintarou's got his eyes fixed on Kazunari's cock and the paths he's mapping over it with his fingertips.

He doesn't know what to make of Shintarou's expression, the intent focus and the—longing, perhaps, or maybe it's despair—except that it's the kind of private thing that makes him feel as though he's trespassing to see it. It's a relief when Shintarou finally closes his hand around him. Kazunari groans again and closes his eyes, leaning into the firmer touch. "Oh, yes… yes, please, Shin-chan…" The rising pleasure is a whole lot simpler to deal with and so he gives himself over to the deliberate, slow friction of Shintarou's hand and the way pleasure knots low in his belly, and he groans for Shintarou until orgasm hits him. He hunches over himself as pleasure floods his senses, clinging to Shintarou until it recedes again.

When Kazunari opens his eyes, Shintarou is still watching him. There's a line drawn between his eyebrows, unhappy. Kazunari lets out a breath and finds a smile for him. "Mm, that was lovely." He leans in and kisses Shintarou, slow, trying to chase away some of that unhappiness. "Thank you. You can do that for me any time you like."

It may or may not be the right thing to say. Shintarou simply nods before glancing down at the mess on his fingers and grimacing faintly. Well, that's easy enough to deal with, anyway.

Cleaning up is good for a lot of things, actually, including dispelling awkward moments. By the time Shintarou is all buttoned up again and has had his glasses restored to him, his tension has left him, or he's figured out how to hide it away. Either way, Kazunari feels okay about hooking a hand around the back of his nape and kissing him again. "Come back and see me any time you like, Shin-chan."

Shintarou sets his teeth on his lower lip then as Kazunari lets him go. "You're not here all the time," he says, almost like an accusation.

Kazunari does his best not to raise his eyebrows. "Well, no. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays." Did Shintarou come by one of the nights he wasn't working? Huh. Interesting. "If I'm not around one of those nights, I will be, long as you don't mind waiting."

Shintarou opens his mouth, seems to change his mind, and nods. "Understood."

Kazunari grins at him. "Good, good. Guess I'll be seeing you around, Shin-chan."

Shintarou doesn't respond to that, really, and lets himself out with another word. Kazunari lets him go without taking offense as he stretches his back out. What's the point in being annoyed? He knows the guy's type now—Shintarou's going to be back, whether he really wants to or not.

Chapter Text

The next time Shintarou comes in, it's another slow Monday night. Shou-chan is upstairs with one of his special cases and Kazunari is making small talk with a guy who's been dragging his feet for a good twenty minutes, refusing to go ahead and seal the deal. Kazunari suspects him of either having cold feet or having more fun stringing him along that he expects to find in bed. The only reason Kazunari hasn't given up on him yet is that the only other people at the bar are either regulars or other working boys, and it's a way to pass the time.

It's still getting on his nerves, so he hails Shintarou's entrance with real pleasure. "Excuse me," he says when he sees Shintarou's tall figure coming down the steps into the club. "A friend of mine just came in. I had better go say hello."

He doesn't wait for a reply, sliding off his stool and heading over to where Shintarou is carefully threading his way through the people who are hanging around at the edge of the dance floor. "Shin-chan!"

Shintarou's wearing a suit coat tonight, probably because of the way autumn has decided to come on fast and strong in just the past few days. It's still carrying the cold, crisp scent of the air in its folds when Kazunari slides his hands inside it, curving them around Shintarou's waist and smiling up at his surprise. "It's good to see you."

Shintarou blinks down at him, still looking a little taken aback by the warm greeting. "Kazunari. You're looking well."

"Naturally." Kazunari slides his hand around to the small of Shintarou's back, easy and familiar. "So are you. Care to come and have a dance with me?"

He laughs at the pained look Shintarou gives him and the way he wrinkles his nose as he says, "No, thank you."

"Are you sure?" Kazunari wheedles. "Not even one little dance?"

"I would really rather not," Shintarou tells him.

It's not as firm a refusal as it could be. With a little more coaxing and maybe the application of a pleading look, Kazunari could probably get him out onto the dance floor. Maybe he will, later. For now he laughs and raises himself up onto the tips of his toes in order to kiss Shintarou. "In that case, you'd better come and have a drink with me instead," he says, pretending to take no notice of how the casual display of affection startles Shintarou. "Come on."

Shintarou does go along with him, at least after Kazunari inserts a hand into the crook of his elbow and uses it to steer him over to a pair of empty seats at the end of the bar. "How've you been, Shin-chan?" he asks while they wait for Nijimura to finish his conversation with Himuro and attend to them. "Haven't see you around in a while."

Shintarou rouses a little from his surprise and shifts position on the stool. "Work has been very busy," he says. "And I've had commitments that have occupied much of my free time."

It's Kazunari's policy never to get too personal. He doesn't want to know what his clients do for a living or what goes on in the parts of their lives that exist outside the walls of this club. It's better not to know or to even want to know, so he doesn't ask what's been keeping Shintarou so busy at work or what kinds of commitments he's referring to. "I hate it when life gets all hectic like that, don't you?" Offering sympathy is always the better bet, anyway.

Shintarou sighs. "Yes, I do."

Nijimura comes strolling over just then to take his drink order, during which time Kazunari looks Shintarou over, taking stock of him. He does look sort of tired around the eyes, and there's something missing—oh. "Where's today's lucky item?" he asks while Nijimura gets busy with the cocktail shaker.

"Oh." Shintarou lifts his hand and touches his jacket, right over the place where the inside breast pocket ought to be. "I have it right here. It was a fortune from a shrine today."

"Oh, well then." Kazunari leans his cheek against his palm and smiles at him. "I was worried there for a second. Wouldn't want you walking around, courting bad luck."

"No," Shintarou agrees. He says the next part under his breath. "I already have quite enough of that."

Kazunari doesn't think that was meant for his ears, but a little lull in the music allows him to catch it anyway. He pretends he didn't and smiles at Shintarou as Nijimura sets their drinks down on the bar top in front of them. He takes up his tumbler of juice and salutes Shintarou. "Here's to good fortune for the both of us."

Shintarou rolls with it and even clinks his glass against Kazunari's as he mutters, "Cheers." He still looks tired, but he relaxes as Kazunari continues not to pester him for details about his busy life or his bad luck.

They drink; when Kazunari feels that the moment has drawn to a natural conclusion, he leans in closer to Shintarou, conspiratorial. "I'm glad you came in tonight. I have been dying of boredom, let me tell you."

Shintarou raises his eyebrows. "And you're glad to see me?"

That's an interesting response; Kazunari wonders just what it is that makes Shintarou think of himself as the boring sort. "Of course I am. I'm never bored when you're around."

Shintarou takes a drink instead of responding to that. When he does speak, he says, "You're quite the flatterer."

Huh. Shintarou is getting more interesting by the second. Whatever else he's been doing since the last time he came in, he seems to have spent some time thinking or something. He seems more certain of himself, anyway, or certain of what he's here for. Kazunari chews on the end of the cocktail straw Nijimura dropped into his drink, reflecting on this, and ends up shrugging. "Well, yes, I am," he admits, candid. "But that doesn't mean it's not true."

"Mm." Shintarou sips his drink, all noncommittal.

"Right now you are by far the most interesting person in this room," Kazunari says, meaning every syllable, because this is a new mood on Shintarou and he's always had a taste for mysteries.

There's something rather sardonic in the way Shintarou smiles then, faint as a shadow. "I'm sure I am."

Someone seems to have been doing a lot of thinking, and it doesn't seem to have been a completely positive experience, either. It's a pity, really, because he had kind of liked how innocent Shintarou had been, all willing to take him at face value. Not to mention that he has his pride. "You're lucky that I like you, Shin-chan," Kazunari tells him, swirling the drink in his glass. "If I didn't, I'd have to take offense at that and throw my drink in your face. Just so's you know." No one likes being called a liar.

"Would you really?" Shintarou asks.

Kazunari raises his eyebrows. "What, are you testing me? Because if you are, I'm gonna have to hope you know a good drycleaner."

Shintarou looks at him, really looks at him, and the sardonic edge of his faint smile might be aimed at Kazunari, or it might be aimed at himself. "I don't think you can really blame me for it," he says. "Considering."

Technically, he can't. On the other hand, one of the reasons he's managed to keep everything balanced is that he may sometimes shade the truth a bit, but he refuses to lie outright. It's not always sound business practice, maybe, but Kazunari figures the trade-off in being able to live with himself is absolutely worth it. "You're terribly young to be so cynical," he says. "It's tragic, really. But your loss. Later, Shin-chan."

He slides down off his seat, fully intent on taking his drink down to the other end of the bar, and of course that's what makes Shintarou say, "Wait," and catch his wrist.

Kazunari does, but only so he can cock an eyebrow at him. "What?"

Shintarou fixes a searching, uncertain look on him. "Do you really think I'm interesting?"

"I said so, didn't I?"

Shintarou continues to stare at him, uncertain, until he releases Kazunari's wrist and looks aside. "I'm not very good at this, am I?"

It's an apology and an explanation all in one. Kazunari barely knows himself why it makes him relent. "You really aren't." He resumes his seat, leaning back against the bar so he can watch Shintarou's face more easily. "We're going to have to work on that."

Shintarou ducks his head and can't entirely hide that he's relieved.

Silence unfurls between them then, because Kazunari is watching Shintarou and wondering why he's bothering, why it's so easy for Shintarou to raise his ire and then mollify it again. Shintarou seems to have sunk into thought, wrestling with something and drinking his cocktail absentmindedly. At length he looks Kazunari's way. "Do you still want to dance?" he asks, abrupt.

That must be why, Kazunari concludes. Awkward as he may be, Shintarou also tries to get it right. And it's endearing when he does. "Another night," he tells Shintarou. "I was just thinking about going upstairs once I finish my drink."

Shintarou's throat moves as he swallows and straightens his shoulders. "May I come with you?"

Kazunari tosses back the rest of his juice and casts a grin at Shintarou as he sets the glass down. He extends his hand to Shintarou. "I'd be delighted if you did."

This time, at least, Shintarou appears to take him at his word.

Upstairs, Shintarou hands over Kazunari's fee without saying anything or any of the fuss he'd raised last time, which Kazunari takes as a good sign while he's tucking the bills away. "What's your pleasure this evening?" he asks once they've gotten the business portion of things out of the way.

Shintarou looks at him and then averts his gaze just as quickly, toying with one of the buttons on his jacket. Kazunari wonders what that means, whether Shintarou is having an attack of shyness or indecision, or is simply trying to work himself up to being able to say what he wants. He thinks that maybe it's the last, because he knows what Shintarou looks like when he's feeling uncertain. This isn't it.

Shintarou squares his shoulders once he's finished muddling through whatever it is that's keeping him quiet. "I'd like to penetrate you again." Kazunari has to suppress a smile at how prim he sounds, at how he had to nerve himself up just to say it, but it turns out that Shintarou's not done yet. "This time I want to prepare you."

Well, how about that? Kazunari purses his lips. It's a risky proposition, turning that responsibility over to someone else, much less someone as inexperienced as Shintarou. "I don't know—"

"I know how the mechanics operate." Shintarou raps the words out, staccato. "I will be careful. I'll respect your guidance as I go." The tips of his ears are going pink, and there's an edge of urgency to his tone. Shintarou really wants this, Kazunari realizes. He wants it very badly.

Maybe he's just a soft touch or soft in the head, because what the heck. "Okay. I guess we can give it a shot." It's almost worth it for the surprise and the anticipation that cross Shintarou's face. "How do you want me?"

Shintarou nudges his glasses up his nose, and his voice drops in pitch. "Lie down."

"All right," Kazunari agrees, turning towards the bed and hitching up the hem of his skirt—

"Wait," Shintarou tells him before he can get too far with that. Kazunari glances at him, arrested with his skirt hiked up around his hips and his fingers in the waistband of his panties. Shintarou clears his throat; there's color painted across his cheekbones. "I want to do that."

Hmm. Kazunari accepts this philosophically enough and lets his skirt fall back down into place. "Sure thing." He settles himself on the bed, stretching out against the thin mattress and twisting the long hair of his wig up and out of the way. "I'm all yours."

From where he's lying, it's plenty obvious that there's something about this situation that really works for Shintarou; he's already hard enough to be pitching a tent in his slacks. He doesn't hurry, though. He removes his jacket and hangs it on the peg provided for that purpose, takes off his tie, and even rolls up his sleeves. Kazunari is halfway to asking him whether he thinks he's a surgeon prepping for an operation when Shintarou finally approaches the bed. He stands over it for a moment, looking down at Kazunari, who forgets about making sarcastic comments in the face of Shintarou's expression. It's impossible to be sarcastic with Shintarou looking down at him like he thinks Kazunari is—is—he doesn't even have the right words to describe how Shintarou is looking at him, except that it almost makes him want to hide away from Shintarou's eyes. It's too heavy; no one should be looking at him like that. He's just a hooker, for crying out loud.

Kazunari does the next best thing, since hiding is out of the question. "Whatcha looking at, Shin-chan?"

It doesn't—quite—work. "You," Shintarou says, but the moment is passing. He joins Kazunari on the bed, which turns into a brief scuffle as the two of them try to figure out how to reconcile their differing ideas about how to make the narrow bed accommodate the both of them. Shintarou is thoroughly pink by the time he ends up kneeling between Kazunari's thighs with his hands planted on either side of Kazunari's head.

"Supplies are on the shelf." Kazunari keeps it businesslike, or tries to, but Shintarou doesn't seem to hear him. He's gone back to looking down at Kazunari, all solemn about it. Kazunari opens his mouth—to say what, he does not actually know—but Shintarou forestalls him by touching his cheek, cupping it. It's a move Kazunari recognizes from having performed it himself.

It occurs to him that he's no longer fully in charge of this session, which is an alarming thought to be having while Shintarou is looming over him like this. "Shin-chan—"

Shintarou stoops over him and kisses him, slipping his tongue into Kazunari's mouth.

That's much easier to cope with; Kazunari seizes on the simplicity of kissing back, opening himself up to the slick tangle of Shintarou's tongue with his. This is much better ground on which to be standing. He drops his eyelids, using his lashes to veil his gaze as Shintarou kisses him, and clasps his hands behind Shintarou's neck as he hums his approval.

It's a little disconcerting that Shintarou continues to cup his cheek, even rubbing his thumb along the crest of it, but whatever. Kazunari is a professional and can roll with it, no problem.

One thing is definitely certain: Shintarou's not in any hurry tonight. By the time Kazunari feels Shintarou's other hand sliding over his hip, his lips are tender, tingling with how long they've been kissing—making out like a pair of teenagers. He hums against Shintarou's mouth when he feels that light touch, encouraging him to go on—which is when Shintarou draws back. His mouth is red and wet, and his eyes are very dark behind the lenses of his glasses. He doesn't say anything as he sits up, and he continues to rest his hand on Kazunari's hip, very lightly.

Kazunari smiles up at him. "What are you waiting for?"

Shintarou shakes his head—at what?—but skims both hands over Kazunari's thighs, down to the band of bare skin beneath his hem and above his stockings. His palms feel warm and Kazunari tells him so, though he's not sure Shintarou is actually listening to him. He seems to be more focused on looking down at his own hands, watching himself stroke them up Kazunari's thighs, pushing the skirt ahead of his touch. Kazunari raises his hips up, and Shintarou doesn't stop until the skirt is bunched up around his waist. Then he pauses with his fingertips resting just above Kazunari's hipbones, just looking at him.

Kazunari honestly can't remember the last time he felt shy about his own body (or anyone else's, for that matter), but the way Shintarou is staring at him gives him an absolutely ridiculous urge to blush. For pity's sake, he isn't even really naked yet…! "Shin-chan…"

Shintarou flicks a look up at him and then, moving so carefully that it seems like he thinks he's handling something infinitely fragile or something, he cups his hand over Kazunari's cock without even bothering with the panties.

It feels nice and Shintarou does seem to enjoy a certain amount of spectacle, so Kazunari moans, throaty.

He's not expecting the way Shintarou says, sharp, "Don't."

What? Kazunari stares at him, startled. "Eh?" Does Shintarou want to play dominance games tonight? He wouldn't have figured him for that kind of guy, but—

Shintarou presses his lips together. He shakes his head. "Don't—I don't want to be flattered."

Kazunari is thrown by this. What does he mean, he doesn't want to be flattered? "I—you—what?"

Fortunately, Shintarou doesn't seem to care about intelligibility at the moment. "Don't fake," he says, harsh. "That's not—you don't sound like that when you mean it."

What the fuck, Kazunari thinks, because he doesn't even know where to begin with that. He's a prostitute, for crying out loud, it's not like he ever really means it, even when he's coming. It's his job to make the guys who fuck him feel good about the experience so maybe they'll consider repeating it. Also, it's been like a month since Shintarou came by, and Shintarou's only ever fucked him twice. How can he possibly tell when Kazunari's exaggerating for effect? He props himself up on his elbows, staring at Shintarou. "You can't seriously tell the difference."

Shintarou frowns—he's glaring, actually. "I was paying attention," he says. "I can tell. Don't flatter me."

Kazunari doesn't know what to make of that; a part of him can't believe that Shintarou is even serious, despite all evidence to the contrary. He's never had a client who didn't like to believe (or at least pretend) that he was the world's greatest lover. It's also difficult to believe that Shintarou can be that detail-oriented and anal retentive, honestly, but Shintarou's still sort of glaring at him… and still cupping his hand over Kazunari's cock. The inherent ridiculousness of that catches up with Kazunari all at once, and he can't stop himself from snickering. "Okay," he says between snorts of laughter. If Shintarou wants to play it that way, then fine. He'll stop exaggerating. Never let it be said that he doesn't accommodate his customers' tastes. "Okay, fine, if that's the way you want it." He flops back down, grinning. "I have never met anyone like you in my life." Most of the people he sees like this want to make things simpler, not more complicated.

"I don't see what you find so hilarious about my request," Shintarou says, all stiff with annoyance.

Kazunari grins some more and rocks his hips up against Shintarou's hand. "You can't?"

Shintarou blinks and glances down, like he's forgotten what he's got his hand on, and looks disconcerted. He clears his throat. "…ah."

"No, you're fine," Kazunari says when it seems like he's about to snatch his hand away. "And… okay. No flattery, I promise. Nothing but pure, unfiltered Kazunari from here on out, just for you."

Shintarou looks at him, frowning faintly. Maybe trying to divine whether he's serious about that, Kazunari figures, which fits with his current request and their little tiff at the bar. After a moment, he nods, just the barest tip of his head. "Thank you."

Kazunari permits himself to snort, inelegant. "Dunno, you might wanna wait on saying thank you until you've had a chance to see whether you even like the unfiltered version."

"I don't think that will be necessary," Shintarou says, grave about it, really, and palms his cock before Kazunari can figure out what to make of that.

He sucks in a quick breath with the slow pressure of Shintarou's hand and the friction of his panties sliding over his cock. "Ah, geez, Shin-chan…"

Shintarou rubs him through the panties, slow. "That's good?" he asks, as if he can't feel the way Kazunari's cock is filling and swelling against his palm.

Kazunari laughs a little, lifting up against his hand. "Yeah, it's great, but weren't you after something a little farther back than that?"

Shintarou goes pink and sputters at him. "That's vulgar!" He doesn't stop stroking Kazunari, though.

"Yeah, that's kind of the point." Kazunari grins at him, which makes Shintarou lower his eyes. It's beginning to be difficult to keep things light-hearted as his cock hardens, leaving him light-headed… but maybe Shintarou won't mind it too much if he loses the thread a little. It's tough to say. Shintarou certainly seems absorbed in what he's doing, between rubbing his hand over Kazunari's cock and sneaking little glances up at Kazunari's face.

This certainly isn't the weirdest thing he's ever obliged a client by doing, but it might be the strangest.

Kazunari moans outright, no shamming it at all, when Shintarou finally lifts his hand away. By that point he's completely hard and his cock is putting the structural integrity of his panties at serious risk. He lifts his head from the pillow to protest, but stops when he sees how Shintarou is looking down at him, hungry. He must be just as hard as Kazunari is, because his slacks are stretched tight over the bulge of his cock, but he doesn't make a move towards undoing his fly yet.

After a moment of this that feels like it lasts forever, Shintarou wets his lips and sets his fingertips against the waistband of Kazunari's panties. He looks up, meeting Kazunari's eyes as though he's asking permission.

"Go ahead," Kazunari tells him, quiet even to his own ears, and lifts his hips just a bit.

Shintarou nods and begins to ease them down, taking particular care not to snag them on the heels of Kazunari's shoes as he draws them off. Kazunari splays his knees wide against the mattress in order to give Shintarou a nicely lewd view since he seems to enjoy looking so much.

It works; Shintarou closes his hand on the scrap of silk and lace that he's holding like he's forgotten all about it, and his shoulders rise and fall with the deep breath he takes. Kazunari gives him a moment to enjoy the view and then draws a knee up. "Supplies are on the shelf."

Once again, Shintarou ignores the hint. This time he sets his hand on Kazunari's ankle, rubbing his thumb along the hollow just about the strap of his shoe, and runs his palm up the inside of Kazunari's leg, the touch warm through the sheer stuff of his stockings. Kazunari has to take a breath of his own by the time Shintarou hits bare skin, the tender, vulnerable skin of his inner thighs, and strokes his thumb over it lightly. "Shin-chan," he says. His voice is rough in his own ears.

Shintarou strokes his hand higher to cup his balls; he handles them gently, and Kazunari's breath stutters with the sensation. Hey lays his head back against the pillow as Shintarou keeps going, cupping and holding him, dipping his fingers down behind his balls and pressing them against his perineum. Kazunari can't help the way he jerks his hips against the firmness of that touch and the flare of sensation, or the sound he makes, either. Damn, wherever Shintarou got his understanding of the mechanics didn't miss any of the details.

"Good?" Shintarou asks again.

Kazunari gasps, "Yes," meaning it wholeheartedly. And that's before Shintarou closes his other hand around Kazunari's cock to pump it slowly. Kazunari's groan comes up from his toes without his even having to think about it. He reaches up and closes his hands on the bed's frame, gripping the bars of the headboard for purchase as Shintarou keeps working on him. "Shintarou…"

Shintarou's hands go still on him for a moment. Then the mattress dips and creaks beneath the shift of his weight as he leans forward, reaching over Kazunari's head for—oh, right, the lube. Pretty important stuff, Kazunari reminds himself, definitely much more important than the handjob Shintarou was administering with frankly admirable skill for a beginner. He draws his other knee up while Shintarou is slicking his fingers, spreading them wide and smiling at Shintarou.

He sets his teeth against his lower lip as he settles back again. "Tell me if I'm going about this incorrectly."

"Pretty sure you're gonna be fine," Kazunari tells him. "You're doing great so far."

Shintarou shoots a searching look at him—gauging his sincerity?—but Kazunari totally means that. After a moment, he sniffs and dips his fingers underneath Kazunari. They're cool and slick—plenty slick; Shintarou hasn't stinted with the lube. His touch is tentative at first, careful and exploratory, as if he's not sure about applying too much pressure. It feels nice, but in a teasing sort of way. "Go ahead," Kazunari tells him after a moment. "It's okay."

Shintarou hesitates a moment longer, and then nudges a fingertip up against him and presses. He makes a sound, startled, as his finger slides into Kazunari.

Kazunari laughs at his surprise, a trifle breathless at this first easy stretch. "Told you that it was okay." It's not as though his body isn't accustomed to this sort of experience by now.

"You did." Shintarou's voice has dropped in pitch; he works his finger against Kazunari slowly. "I'd forgotten how hot you were…"

Kazunari grins at him. "Get me ready and you can remind yourself."

Shintarou looks up at him; Kazunari doesn't know what to make of his expression, but he's starting to be aware that it always means something interesting is about to happen when Shintarou gets that look on his face. He's not surprised when Shintarou draws his finger aback and he feels the pressure of two fingers sinking into him. The stretch of that is harder, burning in his muscles, but it's a good feeling. Kazunari hums with it, letting himself relax into the familiar sensation—Shintarou really does seem to know what he's doing, for someone who's pretty much a novice. "Doing good, Shin-chan," he murmurs, lazy with the slow pleasure of being opened up by someone else, now that he's reassured that Shintarou knows what he's doing.

Shintarou doesn't respond at first. He's looking down, preoccupied with something—maybe the sight his fingers make as he slides them in and out of Kazunari's ass. He's certainly staring at them like he can't quite believe they're his fingers, or like he can't believe he's doing this to Kazunari (or, as Kazunari figures is much more likely, that he's doing this to another man, full stop). Then he turns his gaze away from that, looking up the bed at him. "Yes?" he says, a question and not a statement.

"Oh, yeah," Kazunari says, or tries to say, but Shintarou interrupts him by crooking his fingers and pressing them against his prostate with pinpoint accuracy. Kazunari loses track of what he's saying as the blaze of sensation punches up his spine. He may even shout with the surprise of it, and the bed's frame rattles with how desperately he clutches it. "Fuck," he gasps when the pressure from Shintarou's fingers eases abruptly. "Fuck, Shin-chan, what was that?"

The bastard actually frowns at him. "I find it difficult to believe that you're unfamiliar with the prostate and its role in homosexual anal sex." The prissiness of that is diminished somewhat by the rasp in his voice and the fact that he's got two fingers buried in Kazunari's ass.

"Of course I know that!" Kazunari snaps, breathless and a little shaken. "What do you think you're doing with it, that's what I—fuck!"

Shintarou's curving his fingers again, rubbing tiny little circles inside Kazunari that make fireworks go off behind his eyelids. He hears Shintarou say something, but he doesn't have any idea what it might be—how could he? He's a little distracted by each minute shift of Shintarou's fingertips against his prostate and the way his spine is on fire with sensation. Kazunari groans and rolls his hips up, responding to the stimulation on sheer instinct, and groans again when Shintarou plunges his fingers deeper, sinking them in all the way up to his knuckles. He pants for breath and pries his eyes open. Shintarou is watching him, avid. "Good?" he asks, soft and hoarse.

"So good," Kazunari breathes. "You can go ahead and fuck me any time now."

Shintarou wets his lips and begins to draw his fingers back—and then changes his mind and crooks them again, dragging them over Kazunari's prostate. He cries out from the unexpected shock of that, arching up, taut with the ferocity of the sensation, which doesn't let up as Shintarou rubs little circles inside him. He's conscious, dimly, that Shintarou is continuing to watch him. He's certainly getting his money's worth on tonight's show. Kazunari's knuckles ache with how tightly he's hanging onto the headboard. "Fuck," he gasps, "fuck, fuck...!" He sinks his teeth into his lips until he tastes iron and copper. "Fuck, Shintarou, you've got to fuck me now."

Shintarou's answer to that is to run his thumb up and press it against his perineum again as he curls his fingers. The simultaneous pressure, inside and out, drives a cry out of Kazunari, one that's ragged and hoarse, as his orgasm sears through him, melting him beneath the white-hot wave of pleasure. It leaves him dazed, dizzy with the way every fiber of his body throbs even as the first burst of pleasure begins to recede. He sprawls out in the aftermath, his chest heaving as he fights to catch his breath.

It feels like it's an eternity later when Kazunari finally manages to pull himself together enough to open his eyes again. "Holy fuck," he groans. It requires marshalling every bit of willpower he possesses to make himself raise his head and look at Shintarou—

Shintarou, who is staring at him. If Kazunari didn't know better, he'd say that the man is awestruck. Not that that's particularly likely; Kazunari chalks that impression up to the loopiness that comes of having his whole system flooded with endorphins. He meets Shintarou's gaze for as long as he can stand to do it and then lays his head back down again.

It seems to serve as a kind of cue for Shintarou, because it's only then that he begins to ease his fingers free of Kazunari's body. Kazunari groans again, shudders of sensation running up his spine as the slow drag of Shintarou's fingers against his body fires along every nerve in his body. Man, he would not have thought Shintarou would have had that in him. "Condoms are in the box on the right," he says.

"What?"

"Condoms," Kazunari says. "Box on the shelf to the right." He raises his head again and finds that Shintarou is looking confused. It's reassuring, actually, like they're back on familiar ground. "You did want to fuck me, right?"

"I—yes—but—" The little gesture Shintarou makes must be meant to encompass the fact that he just got Kazunari off (and how). Or maybe he just really enjoyed the show—no, there's still an impressive bulge in his slacks when Kazunari checks. "You would likely become sore if I pursued my original goal."

Kazunari blinks at him, but no, Shintarou seems to be in earnest. He laughs, a little helplessly, because how can one man be so adorably naïve? "Trust me, it takes a lot more than that to leave me sore, Shin-chan."

Shintarou does not appear to be convinced by this argument, though he does seem to be a little tempted by it. "I don't think—"

"Your problem is that you think too much," Kazunari informs him. He forces his sluggish body into action, levering himself up and groping over his head for the box in question. "Sometimes you need to just let yourself go with it." He knocks the box over while feeling around for it. A shower of condoms patters down onto his head.

Shintarou does a really terrible job of pretending that the sound he makes then is actually him clearing his throat, not him laughing.

Whatever. Kazunari plucks one of the condoms out of his décolletage and flicks it at Shintarou, congratulating himself when he bounces it off his chin. "Seriously," he says. "Put that on and fuck me already. I don't have the energy right now to climb on top of you and do it myself."

Shintarou favors him with another one of his grave, unreadable stares. "I begin to see what you mean about the unfiltered experience."

Kazunari cracks up. "Can't say I didn't warn you."

"No, I cannot," Shintarou agrees. There's a faint smile hovering on his lips. It changes his whole aspect. Fortunately for Kazunari, Shintarou misses the way this makes him stare while he's retrieving the condom. "You're sure?"

"Absolutely," Kazunari says, and Shintarou finally gives in and reaches for his belt. Kazunari whistles once he's undone his fly and worked his slacks and shorts down his hips—how in the world hasn't Shintarou already come in his pants? "Looks like you're beyond ready for this."

Given how gingerly Shintarou goes about unrolling the condom down the flushed and dripping length of his cock, he seems to agree. He groans softly as he handles himself, and when he slicks his fingers with more lube and runs them over his cock, he has to close his eyes to just breathe for a minute. Kazunari doesn't begrudge him the time it takes him to compose himself and uses it to exert himself into pulling his knees up.

Shintarou groans at the sight he makes once he opens his eyes again and gets a look at him. "Kazunari…"

"Come on," Kazunari tells him. "I'm waiting."

"I see that." Shintarou has his teeth gritted as he shifts forward, setting a hand on the back of Kazunari's thigh to push it up. He lines himself up with Kazunari and hesitates a moment—going to ask whether it's all right one more time? Kazunari wonders—and then exhales as he begins to push inside.

Kazunari grunts with the feeling of the blunt weight of Shintarou's cock, stretching him hard, but he's far more taken by the picture Shintarou makes leaning over him, arched taut and groaning as he sinks home, pleasure sweeping his expression open and bare. It's definitely a good look for him, Kazunari thinks, watching him. "Yeah," he says, soft and encouraging, when Shintarou is finally seated inside him and is breathing fast. "Yeah, you're good." It takes some careful maneuvering to pull his knees up far enough that he can rest his ankles on Shintarou's shoulders without kicking him in the face, but that's why Kazunari gets away with charging the rates he does—he's that good. Shintarou closes his eyes as the slow, easy movements Kazunari makes shifts his cock inside Kazunari's ass—yeah, he's pretty sure this isn't going to last long at all. "Come on, Shin-chan, it's all right if you want to move."

Shintarou opens his eyes, but the look he turns on Kazunari isn't entirely focused. Kazunari smiles at him anyway and makes a pleased sound when Shintarou slides his hands up the backs of his thighs, catching him behind his knees as he leans forward. He sighs as that stretches his hamstrings, and then finally, finally, Shintarou allows himself to move, a short little roll of his hips that draws a low moan out of his throat.

Kazunari hums to him, enjoying the slide of Shintarou's cock against the sensitive, tender skin of his ass, and stretches a hand up, reaching for him. He can just barely touch Shintarou's wrist to stroke it lightly. "Yeah, come on, don't hold back on me now."

Shintarou groans again, squeezing his eyes shut, and lets go, as though all he really needed was permission. He rocks himself into Kazunari hard and deep, gasping as he does. Kazunari gasps too, reaching up to brace himself against the bed's frame. "Oh… oh, yeah," he breathes, nowhere close to getting off again but still enjoying the harsh jolts of pleasure from the way Shintarou is fucking him. It's a pity that he's not—it'd be good to do this again sometime when they're a little more in sync with each other.

As he'd expected, it doesn't take Shintarou long to hit the edge. He tenses when he does, his hips jerking against Kazunari's as he throws his head back and shouts, one part triumph and one part something else—defiance? Kazunari doesn't know which it is, but Shintarou is magnificent, regardless, and he enjoys the way Shintarou's expression breaks open, bright with his pleasure. When it finally releases him, he slumps over Kazunari, gone boneless. It takes quick reflexes for Kazunari to keep Shintarou from sprawling across him and the jizz that's drying in a sticky pool on his stomach. (Somehow, he just can't see Shintarou wanting to have to explain that to his drycleaner.)

Shintarou allows himself to be handled as Kazunari sees fit, his entire body lax as he breathes hard and trembles with the aftermath of his release. Kazunari eases him over to his side and gropes for the wet wipes to clean up with.

He dispenses with most of the cleanup before Shintarou opens his eyes again, blinking and bleary. Kazunari smiles at him and plants a kiss on the tip of his nose. "How was that?"

"Good." Shintarou's voice is hoarse. "Very good."

"It was, wasn't it?" Kazunari props himself up on his elbow and looks down at Shintarou. "One of these days you've got to see whether you can't make me come that hard again, but around your cock instead of your fingers, yeah?" He takes the guttural sound Shintarou makes at that suggestion as agreement and grins. "Good. It's a date, then. Don't stay away so long next time, all right?"

"All right," Shintarou says, his voice pitched low. "I won't."

Kazunari has no doubt at all that he means it.

Chapter Text

As the year starts winding down and Kazunari begins to see the looming threat of exams on the horizon, he really comes to appreciate Shintarou's request for no flattery. It's not as if Kazunari can't handle the demands of meeting his clients' needs while juggling the additional study load—in fact, he feels that he does this with grace and aplomb—but that doesn't mean it's not hard work sometimes to keep himself smiling and attentive and always ready to flatter a client's ego. Shintarou makes it easy by not wanting any of that extensive performance, whether Kazunari is flirting with him over drinks at the bar or hooking his ankles over Shintarou's shoulders and letting himself be fucked.

It's a sort of paradox that Shintarou's willingness to put up with Kazunari's genuine (if less enthusiastic) responses makes it a lot easier to respond with actual eagerness and no pretense, but go figure. Life is funny like that sometimes. Kazunari chalks it up to the intrinsic weirdness of his job and meanwhile doesn't think much about it thereafter, except to look forward to Shintarou's regular visits. As he tells Shou-chan, it's nice to have such a dependable, easy-going repeat customer.

Shou-chan just sort of purses his lips at that. "Reckon it's something, all right."

"Jealousy doesn't become you, Shou-chan," Kazunari tells him and then heads over to catch Shintarou while he's still close to the dance floor and see whether he can't coax the guy out for another dance lesson before they head upstairs. (The answer is no, as it pretty much always is, but half the fun is in the asking and the other half is in the various reasons Shintarou comes up with for not wanting to dance.)

Shintarou's other dance lessons come along just swimmingly, of course. The guy's like some kind of sexual prodigy. For a guy who first came into the bar without any experience whatsoever, he develops the ability to take Kazunari to pieces remarkably fast. Maybe it's because he's insanely detail-oriented or something. Kazunari doesn't know, but it only takes a couple of sessions of practice before he finds himself with his legs wrapped around Shintarou's waist, coming his brains out while the bedsprings shriek every time Shintarou slams into him.

And that's only the beginning. Shintarou wants to try and see everything. He takes Kazunari from behind, holding his ass in the air and sliding his cock in and out of it with a truly scientific methodology, one that has him testing all the different angles and depths for each roll of his hips and their effects on Kazunari, who simply pillows his cheek against his folded forearms and moans until he's hoarse. He learns, or teaches himself, how to finger Kazunari until he comes, and then keeps him there on that edge until every part of Kazunari feels as though it's been rubbed raw and he begs for mercy. And then, one extremely memorable evening in November, Shintarou says, "I want to—to—" He stops and clears his throat. "I want to fellate you."

Kazunari grins at him, since Shin-chan has finally learned to accept that he pretty much laughs at everything and that it's nothing personal. "Shin-chan, where do you even come up with these things? Can't you just say you want to blow me?" He'd add something else, like you know, the way normal people do, but he's learned how that's sort of a sensitive subject for Shin-chan.

Shintarou frowns at him. "That would be crass."

"Of course it would." Kazunari rolls his eyes, smiling. "Silly question. Forget I asked." He moves on to more important concerns. "So you want to blow me. You sure about that? Normally I do all the cock-sucking around here, remember?"

There's no saying for sure what it is about that that makes Shintarou tuck the corners of his mouth in, but it hardly matters. It's in both their best interests for Kazunari to keep that fact squarely front-and-center. "Yes, I'm certain. Please lie down."

What Shintarou wants is what Shintarou gets. Kazunari settles in on the mattress and folds the pillow under his head—there's no way he's going to miss this show—and gestures regally at the space between his knees. "Be my guest, Shin-chan."

"Thank you," Shintarou says, all grave and formal about it, and climbs onto the bed to join him.

He likes to be the one to take Kazunari's clothes off, when necessary, and tonight he starts at Kazunari's feet. Kazunari doesn't resist when Shintarou lifts his foot and works the buckle of his shoe loose, but he does raise his eyebrows. "You got an agenda tonight?"

"I suppose I do." Shintarou lowers his foot again, gently, and drops the shoe over the side of the bed. "Is that a problem?"

Shintarou's sense of humor is a very subtle one, just about as shy as the man himself, and Kazunari is only just beginning to get the hang of recognizing when he's being playful. This is one of those times, because they both know that he's always up for whatever Shintarou wants. "Naw, I'm good. Carry on."

"If you're sure," Shintarou says, starting in on Kazunari's other shoe.

Kazunari wiggles his toes at him. "Oh, yeah. Are you kidding? It feels great to take those things off." Heels may do wonders for how his legs look, but they're a real pain to wear.

Shintarou pauses in the act of dropping the other shoe off the bed. "Does it?"

"Damn straight it does." Kazunari flexes his feet, stretching them out. "We have to suffer for our beauty sometimes."

Shintarou doesn't say anything about that, but the next thing Kazunari knows, Shintarou is picking up his foot again and running strong thumbs right down the arch of it, smoothing them over the plantar fascia and then squeezing the heel.

Kazunari groans with the sheer sensuous relief of having those tense and aching muscles coaxed loose. "Fuck, Shintarou, you can do that all night long if you want."

Shintarou manipulates his foot with a sure, careful ease, flexing it back and forth and digging his thumbs into the places where the muscles and tendons are tightest. "Standing all day is hard enough wearing men's shoes," he says. "I don't know how women do it."

So whatever Shintarou does involves a lot of standing; Kazunari makes note of that and immediately tries to forget it. He moans happily as Shintarou switches feet and repeats his treatment. He'd try and talk to Shintarou, really he would, but it would be a shame to interrupt a master at his work. By the time Shintarou sets his other foot down, Kazunari is lolling against the mattress, wishing he could purr like a cat. "You want a refund, Shin-chan?"

Shintarou stills in the act of reaching for the hem of Kazunari's skirt. "I beg your pardon."

Kazunari grins lazily at him, not bothered by Shintarou's clear consternation. "Pretty sure I owe you a freebie for the footrub, y'know?"

Shintarou relaxes. "I see." He lowers his eyes and begins carefully folding Kazunari's skirt up. "Perhaps I'll collect on that someday."

"I'll remember that," Kazunari says and enjoys the moment of Shintarou's reaction when he finally gets the skirt up over his hips. (Shintarou's reactions are always great; Kazunari can't help putting in a little more effort on the nights he expects Shintarou to come by. It only makes sense to keep one of his best clients happy.) "You like that?"

Shintarou touches a finger to Kazunari's garter belt and follows one of the straps down to where it clips to the top of a stocking. "You were sitting down there the whole time… like this?"

Kazunari grins at him. "Sure was. Why else do you think I was trying so hard to get you to put your hand up my skirt?" Letting Shintarou figure out that he's not wearing panties tonight would have been if they'd done it that way, but this is pretty good, too.

Shintarou goes all flushed and his eyes turn dark. It's not difficult to see that he's thinking about that and how Kazunari could have been his to handle, if only he'd taken him up on all those hints. "You're insane," he says, husky.

"I know. Isn't it fun?" Kazunari says. Starts to say, anyway, before Shintarou leans down just like that and runs his lips down the slowly filling length of his cock.

His breath is warm and unexpected against Kazunari's thighs. He has to gasp with the sudden, shocking heat when Shintarou takes the head of his cock into his mouth and sucks on it gently. "Shintarou!" he says, stunned by the hammer-blow of sensation and the way his head swims with how quickly all the blood in his body rushes straight to his cock.

That seems to be exactly the reaction Shintarou is going for; there's a certain way his eyes crinkle at the corners when he's feeling pleased but not wanting to do anything so overt as actually smile. They crinkle that way now as he drags the flat of his tongue over Kazunari's head, so softly that Kazunari can barely feel it except as a ripple of pleasure. He groans with it, watching his own cock harden between Shintarou's lips and the way Shintarou lets it slide over his tongue. That's a pretty spectacular sight in its own right, even before Shintarou strokes the tip of his tongue along the underside of Kazunari's cock. He finds the places that are most sensitive like he has a map for it and exploits them ruthlessly as Kazunari groans and fights to hold his hips still. Shintarou's eyes crinkle up even more, and he tries sucking. Kazunari shudders with the pressure of his mouth and reaches a hand down. He stops short of grabbing Shintarou's hair. "Can I?" he gasps, just about praying that Shintarou will say yes. "Please?"

When Shintarou reaches for his hand, he thinks the answer is going to be no—which, hey, no big deal, Kazunari's not about to complain—but Shintarou guides it to the back of his head as he slides his mouth a little farther down Kazunari's cock. Kazunari sinks his fingers into Shintarou's hair to cup the back of his head, doing his best to keep himself from pulling on it or pushing Shintarou to take even more. There's nothing fun about tripping a guy's gag reflex. "Fuck," he says as Shintarou drags his mouth back up, slow, and sucks hard on the head. "Fuck, how did you get so good at this?"

Shintarou doesn't say anything, of course, because it's rude to speak with a full mouth, and slides up and down Kazunari's cock, taking him a little deeper with each pass and smiling with his eyes. Kazunari rubs his fingertips against Shintarou's scalp as he holds himself steady for him, and each time Shintarou's mouth glides down his cock, he groans with the frisson of pleasure that accompanies it.

Then Shintarou strokes his mouth down and stops abruptly; his eyes go wide, a little worried—well, no wonder, Kazunari's pretty sure he's nudging against the back of Shintarou's throat now. "You okay?"

Shintarou hesitates and then hums something that sounds affirmative. It makes the sweat break out on Kazunari's forehead as he struggles not to move or thrust into that toe-curling buzz of sensation. He groans when Shintarou begins to ease back, half in relief and half in disappointment, and does it again when Shintarou pulls all the way off. "Shin-chan…"

Shintarou's voice is rough at the edges, husky and low. "Will you—you can—I want—if you want to move, that would be… good."

Kazunari takes a quick breath at the way his stomach twists hard on the rush of heat, and his cock twitches with it. "Damn, Shin-chan." He strokes his fingers through Shintarou's hair and touches his jaw. "Seriously, how are you so fantastic?"

Shintarou clears his throat and avoids meeting his eyes. "Never mind," he says and bends his head over Kazunari's cock again.

No, that's not suspicious or anything. Kazunari groans with the wet heat of Shintarou's mouth as it folds around him again and even rocks his hips up into its welcome pressure, but a part of him steps aside from that, wondering who else Shintarou has been seeing. It explains his proficiency, anyway. There's no point in being piqued that Shintarou has more libido than he cares to have Kazunari deal with. This is just business, and Shintarou hasn't signed any non-compete contracts with him or anything.

Kazunari reminds himself of all these things, cupping Shintarou's jaw and rocking his cock between Shintarou's lips, but some of the fun has gone out of it. The building knot of tension lying at the base of his spine feels perfunctory, businesslike, and so does the way he has to breathe faster. "Getting close," he warns Shintarou, but he has to immediately correct himself when Shintarou hums around him. "Real close, Shin-chan—" He lets go of Shintarou's jaw and presses his knuckles against his own teeth, holding himself back and waiting for Shintarou to go ahead and pull off.

Shintarou slides his mouth down again, as far as he can go, and hums again.

Kazunari figures he knows what he's doing and lets go. "Fuck!" He squeezes his eyes shut as his orgasm rakes up his spine, dragging a groan out of him, and only hears the startled noise Shintarou makes as he floods his mouth.

The mattress catches him afterwards. Kazunari opens his eyes to breathe his way through the first few moments of the afterglow and stare at the ceiling.

"What did I do wrong?" Shintarou asks abruptly, before Kazunari even catches his breath.

"Huh?" He raises his head. Shintarou looks back at him, wearing a frown and apparently unaware that he's also wearing a little bit of come on his chin. "What are you talking about? You did great." Shintarou frowns harder, hard enough that grooves bracket the corners of his mouth. "No, seriously. That's the truth, you did fine! Who's been teaching you how to do that?" That's a dumb question; he holds a hand up before Shintarou can do more than look confused. "No, wait, never mind, that's none of my business."

Shintarou sits up slowly and looks down of him. Some of the frown dissipates—the grooves around his mouth aren't as deep, anyway. "You think… someone else taught me that?"

Kazunari grins, though he's not really feeling it. "Speaking as a professional here, Shin-chan, I'll eat my own wig if that was your first time blowing a guy."

Shintarou's expression goes blank; he stares down at Kazunari and blinks several times, slow. "That is likely to cause you severe gastrointestinal distress," he says eventually. "I wouldn't recommend it." He pushes his glasses up his nose and clears his throat. "I know how to use the internet for research. And I practiced. A banana is not an ideal substitute, but—"

There's color running high on his cheeks, and he can't quite keep his gaze on Kazunari… who feels very silly all of a sudden. "Oh," he says, because what else is there to say, really? Except—"That sounds kind of hot, actually. Were you thinking of me when you were practicing?"

Shintarou shoots an incredulous look at him. "What?"

Kazunari grins at him and slinks his way upright. "Were you thinking about my cock when you were sucking off your bananas?" He leans in to swipe his tongue over Shintarou's chin and groom it clean. "Did you ever get hard doing that?"

This close to Shintarou, he can see the way Shintarou's pupils dilate as he catches Kazunari's meaning. "I—yes," he says, hoarse. "Yes, I did."

"Did you ever touch yourself while you were practicing fellatio and thinking of me?" Kazunari murmurs, close enough now to feel Shintarou's lips brushing against his.

Shintarou swallows audibly. "Oh, yes."

"Good," Kazunari tells him and then kisses him, hot and demanding enough to taste himself on Shintarou's tongue. Shintarou reaches for him, catching his shoulders, and groans when Kazunari reaches down to unfasten his slacks.

The real thing seems to have worked for him just fine; Kazunari kneads Shintarou's cock a couple of times while he sucks on Shintarou's tongue and listens to his groan. "Now let me show you the advanced tutorial."

He presses Shintarou back against the foot of the bed. Shintarou sprawls back onto his hands, flushed, and groans again as Kazunari drops himself between his thighs and slides his mouth down Shintarou's cock, swallowing him down as Shintarou hisses between his teeth. Kazunari hums around him as he walks his fingers up Shintarou's thighs and spreads his hands over Shintarou's hips, holding them down. Shintarou groans again, straining his hips against Kazunari's palms, as Kazunari slides up his cock to swirl his tongue over the head of him. "Kazunari…"

Kazunari kisses the tip of his cock. "Just relax and enjoy the show." He slides his mouth back down, deliberately slow, humming as Shintarou's cock slides over his tongue and nudges at his throat. Shintarou sags back on his hands and groans like a lost soul. He holds Shintarou steady and watches closely as he bobs his head up and down over Shintarou's cock, listening to the sounds he make and feeling the tension in his body as his muscles turn to rock under his hands. Shintarou has his eyes closed, too caught up in his pleasure to watch this time, but that's all right. His groans turn breathless, desperate; Kazunari pulls off him when he feels the first quiver of Shintarou's cock against his tongue. Shintarou's eyes fly open then, but his protest is inarticulate, caught up in the strangled cry he makes as he comes, splattering jizz across Kazunari's mouth and face. His cock pulses again when he realizes what he's seeing and stripes Kazunari's face from forehead to chin, and he groans Kazunari's name like he can't believe his own eyes.

Kazunari grins at him and passes his tongue over his lips. "That's the advanced version," he says over the hoarse rasp of Shintarou's panting. "What do you think of that?"

Shintarou's hand trembles visibly as he reaches it down to Kazunari and touches his fingers to the mess on his cheek. "That was—that—you—"

Kazunari turns his face and darts his tongue over the pads of Shintarou's fingers. "Pretty much, yeah." He kisses Shintarou's fingertips. "Consider that homework for the next time, hm?"

Given the way Shintarou's cock twitches at that, it would be difficult to say which of them likes that idea the most.

Chapter Text

The worst possible thing happens right at the start of the new year: Kazunari gets the flu and spends a week in bed, feeling like he's been beaten with a baseball bat and praying for the sweet release of death in between fretting over the studying he's not doing and chasing his medicine with lots of clear liquids. Of course he doesn't make it into work, either, though that's much less important to him than the thought of failing his exams and having to repeat all his classes again. He's already had quite enough of that (fucking organic chemistry), and besides, he puts money back for emergencies. If feeling like a sack of hammered shit isn't an emergency, Kazunari doesn't know what is, so he spends the week huddled in his bed or at his kotatsu, moaning at all the wasted study time and cursing his luck.

Shou-chan stops by to see him after the worst of it is past—"Just to make sure you're not dead and having your face eaten by cats," he says, to which Kazunari replies, "I don't even have a cat"—and shakes his head over Kazunari's misery. "Don't you have any sense?" he asks as he plucks the notes out of Kazunari's hands. "I don't figure you're going to get better any faster if you give yourself a migraine trying to study—whatever this is."

"I'm not sure which class that's for," Kazunari confesses, slumping over the kotatsu and trying to remember what that swirl of numbers and words had meant. "Urology, maybe." His temples are pounding from squinting at his notes and trying to make sense of them, so perhaps Shou-chan has a point.

"Wouldn't think you'd need a class for that, considering." Shou-chan looks around for a safe place to put the notes and grimaces at the drifts of used tissues and mountains of empty instant ramen cups. "You live in filth," he pronounces. "It's no wonder you have the plague."

"Fuck you," Kazunari says, though he doesn't really have the energy to make it stick.

Shou-chan wrinkles his nose. "I'd rather not. You stink."

"Hah. Hah. Hah." Kazunari watches him decide to tuck the notes inside a textbook for safekeeping and hopes that he'll remember where Shou-chan put them later. "If all you want is to mock my misery, you can go now."

"Eh, there's not much sport in that." Shou-chan steps around the litter on the floor and leans over to hoist him to his feet with insultingly little effort. "Come on, you'll feel better after you're clean."

He all but frog-marches Kazunari into his own bathroom, ignoring his protests every step of the way, and strips him off with ruthless efficiency. "You are a terrible person," Kazunari tells him resentfully, shivering and naked, but it only ends up with Shou-chan spraying him in the face with the showerhead.

Shou-chan grins the whole time he spends scrubbing Kazunari down and then promptly deposits him in the bathtub. "Stay here and soak for a while. Try not to drown."

Kazunari sinks down into the steaming water and sticks out his tongue. "I hate you."

Shou-chan only laughs and walks away, the jerk.

Kazunari would probably rather die than admit it to Shou-chan, but the hot bath does feel good on his aching joints. It feels even better to be clean, and this is probably the first time since this whole influenza ordeal began that he's really felt warm. So probably he doesn't entirely hate Shou-chan after all, he decides. This is a conclusion that is only reinforced once Shou-chan gets him out of the bath and he finds that Shou-chan has done a little light cleaning while Kazunari was soaking. He's cooked, too, and puts a cup of spicy soup into Kazunari's hands once he's been bundled into a clean set of pajamas.

Kazunari is just starting to think that Shou-chan is a good person after all when Shou-chan sits down across from him and gets to the real reason for his errand of mercy. "Your friend was in last night."

"Huh?" Kazunari says, trying to figure out which one of his friends would have come into the bar and how Shou-chan would have known them.

Shou-chan, who is resting his chin on his hands, does not seem impressed. "Yeah, your friend. You know, the one who's really tall and answers to the name of Shin-chan?"

Oh, Shintarou. That makes more sense. "Wait, is it already Thursday? Fuck, I am going to have to haul so much ass to catch up on my studying."

Shou-chan lifts his eyebrows, slowly, which just emphasizes his skepticism. "You really sure that's what you ought to be worrying about?"

Kazunari sips his soup and squints at Shou-chan. "I'm sick," he says. "Please don't make me do this right now, Shou-chan. I don't need to give myself another headache trying to figure out your riddles, okay?"

"Fair enough." Shou-chan straightens up and folds his hands in front of him. "He was awful worried about you when we told him you weren't going to be in for a while on account of being sick. And not like a guy who's anxious to get his rocks off, because he didn't want anything to do with me or Tatsuya or Ryouta. He quizzed us all up one side and down the other, wanting to know what was wrong with you and what kind of medical attention you were getting."

Kazunari smiles at his soup; yeah, that sounds like Shintarou. "Sorry, he's kind of anal retentive sometimes. And really awkward about it."

Shou-chan looks at him for a long time and doesn't say anything. "So you're not worried."

"About Shin-chan? Why would I be?"

"I know you're not stupid." Shou-chan's voice is flat. "You tell me."

"What? For crying out loud." Kazunari puts the soup down and presses his fingertips against his forehead. "I think I can spot a creep when I see one, geez. Shin-chan isn't a creep. He's actually pretty sweet, once you get to know him."

Shou-chan isn't even pretending to smile anymore. "And you don't think that makes him dangerous? Come on, Kazunari, I know I taught you better'n that."

"You taught me just fine." Kazunari's starting to get exasperated; that must be what's making the bitter taste in his mouth. "Shintarou's not going to hurt me. He's just another lonely guy looking for a place where he doesn't have to pretend, just like all the other guys pretending to be straight."

Shou-chan uncurls his fingers and slips them up under the frames of his glasses so that he can squeeze the bridge of his nose. "Why don't they ever listen?" he mutters to himself.

Kazunari frowns at him. He can't remember the last time he's known Shou-chan to be worried about one of their clients. Usually the creeps never even make it upstairs. "Tell me. What's got you so damn worried?" He can't really think anything bad of Shintarou, but Shou-chan obviously thinks he's seeing something Kazunari isn't.

Shou-chan lowers his hand and looks at him. "Don't you think he's getting too attached?"

"What? No!" Kazunari laughs at how ridiculous the idea is. "Of course not. He knows exactly where the two of us stand. I've made sure of that, right from the start."

Shou-chan, damn his eyes, doesn't look all that convinced. "He didn't act like a john missing his preferred whore last night, if you ask me."

Kazunari flinches from the blunt, ugly words like he would a slap, which is probably exactly why Shou-chan used them. "We have a cordial working relationship. I'd be curious about how he was doing if I heard that he had the flu, too. So what?"

Shou-chan throws a look at him that's so sharp it could cut. "Suppose I ought to ask whether you're not getting too attached yourself."

Kazunari covers his face with his hands and groans theatrically. "You've discovered my secret. I'm not sick with the flu. I'm pining away over my desperate, unrequited love for the guy who pays me to let him fuck me. How did you ever guess?"

"Cute." Shou-chan isn't smiling when Kazunari peeks at him through his fingers. "Real cute. Now how about you actually answer the question?"

Kazunari drops his hands, annoyed. "What do you want me to say? Do I like the guy? Sure. I like seeing him come in, and I enjoy fucking him. I should like the rest of my customers half as much. But he's still just another john, and it wouldn't matter to me if I never saw him again. There, you happy?"

Shou-chan gives him another long, silent look and then heaves a sigh. "Reckon I'll have to be. Now drink your soup before it gets cold and tell me where you keep your clean sheets so I can make up your bed."

Kazunari embraces the change of topics. "Clean… sheets…?" he says, as though he's never heard of such a thing. "I only have the one set."

"How can you stand to live in such squalor?" Shou-chan demands. "You're a barbarian."

Kazunari shrugs. "I'm a college student," he points out.

"That's what I said." Shou-chan pushes himself to his feet. "I suppose I can do a load of laundry before I go."

Kazunari looks up at him and widens his eyes. "Kaasan? Is that you? Have you had a makeover?"

Shou-chan scowls down at him. "Don't push it, brat. You're weak and slow right now, and I'm not. Remember that."

Kazunari just laughs at him until Shou-chan gives up and cracks a smile, and neither of them mentions the fact that it doesn't really reach his eyes.

 
 
 

Even after the flu passes, Kazunari doesn't feel all that great. Convalescence sucks, not least because he spends it scrambling to frantically to cram two weeks of studying and exam prep into one. He takes another few nights off from work, though it doesn't help as much as he would like. He's still exhausted, run down, and it takes more out of him to sit up late to review than he expects it to. He catches himself up through sheer force of will, but when he comes into work on the Monday after his orgy of cramming, Shou-chan takes one look at him and says, "You look like shit."

"Thanks, Shou-chan," Kazunari sighs as he drops himself into his usual seat. "I can always count on you to shore up my delicate self-esteem."

"He's right, though," Himuro says from the other end of the bar, since it's early yet and no one's started coming in for drinks or dancing. "You look like death warmed over. What are you even doing here?"

Kazunari props himself up on the polished bar top. "Bills, dude." There's only so much money in his emergency fund, and it needs replenishing. Someday he's not going to be a poor student scraping by, and he is going to enjoy the heck out of it once he achieves financial solvency.

Nijimura scoffs as he pours a glass of orange juice and sets it in front of him. "The only way you're going to earn money tonight is if a necrophiliac comes in. Go home."

Kazunari flips them all off and stays right where he is out of sheer obstinacy. As a reward for his determination, the universe or fate or something sends Shintarou in somewhere around the middle of the evening, just about when Kazunari is starting to think that Nijimura might have been right after all. He sure hasn't had any other nibbles yet, and the dance music's insistent beat is making his head pound. Or maybe that's just his exhaustion. Shintarou's arrival comes as a relief—if nothing else, it's going to be a lot quieter upstairs.

Kazunari sits up straighter as Shintarou sweeps over to the bar, looking elegant and out of place in his suit and long black overcoat. "Hey, Shin-chan! Been a while, huh?"

Shintarou looks down at him—even when Kazunari's sitting on a high bar stool, Shintarou stands taller than him, because life just isn't fair—and immediately turns a scowl on Shou-chan. "I thought you said he was recovering."

"Believe it or not, this is an improvement." Shou-chan's tone is bland enough; Kazunari ignores the look that goes with it. "Not much of one, though, I'll give you that."

Oh for crying out loud. "I'm fine," Kazunari insists, laying a hand on Shintarou's arm. "Sit down, Shin-chan, let's catch up."

Shintarou continues to loom over him and changes the focus of his frown from Shou-chan to Kazunari instead. "You should be in bed."

Kazunari opens his eyes as wide as they will go. "I guess you have missed me." He slides off his stool, not quite as graceful about it as he usually manages to be, but he figures Shintarou won't hold that against him. "I'm flattered."

Shintarou looks down at him, still frowning, until he seems to come to a decision all at once. "May I accompany you upstairs?"

Kazunari laughs and slips his arm through Shintarou's. "Have I ever told you how adorable you are?"

"Perhaps you're still feverish," Shintarou says as he navigates them towards the back of the bar. (Kazunari can feel Shou-chan's disapproval following them the whole way.)

"No, really, you are," Kazunari tells him. "Just adorable." The noise level drops off markedly the moment the door to the stairs swings shut behind them, but it doesn't relieve Kazunari's headache all that much. Must be exhaustion, then. Well, there's a semester break coming up soon. He'll sleep then.

Shintarou lays the back of his fingers against Kazunari's forehead when they get to the top of the stairs. "Your temperature doesn't feel as though it's elevated."

"I'm fine." Kazunari smiles at him; it comes easier than it has all night long. "Just a little tired. No big deal."

Shintarou frowns some more as they make their way down the hall to Kazunari's room and he hangs up his overcoat and suit coat. "It's more than just being a little tired," he says abruptly as he's handing Kazunari his fee. "You look like you're in pain."

"It's nothing," Kazunari says as he tucks the money away—that's his groceries for the week, anyway. "Just a little headache." He steps closer to Shintarou and slides his hands around to the small of his back, smiling up at him. "So what's your pleasure tonight?"

Shintarou doesn't say anything at first; he looks down at Kazunari, frowning, and lifts his hand. His palm feels warm against Kazunari's cheek, and he brushes his thumb along the outer corner of Kazunari's eyelid. "How little is it, really?"

How little—oh, the headache. Right. "Eh, it's not a migraine." Kazunari shrugs. "I'm just a little short on sleep, you know? I had a lot of studying to catch on. Stupid flu."

Shintarou frowns a bit more, rubbing his thumb along the crest of Kazunari's cheekbone and over the delicate skin below his eyes, where even the best concealer can't do much for the bags that come from not getting enough sleep. "Before we do anything else, I'd like to do something for your headache."

That doesn't seem like a bad idea at all from where Kazunari's standing. "Sure, sounds good to me."

Kazunari waits for Shintarou to produce a bottle of acetaminophen or aspirin or something, but Shintarou sets his hand on his shoulder and propels him over to sit on the bed instead. He crouches to undo the buckles on Kazunari's shoes—he always makes sure to take them off these days, because he's definitely Kazunari's most thoughtful and detail-oriented client—and while he's doing that, he says, "It would be best if you removed your wig."

Huh. Shintarou hasn't had him do that since their first session. Kazunari's always assumed that it's his sop to his conscience or something. "Yeah, okay." He takes it off carefully and hangs it over the bedpost, a little curious about what Shintarou's planning. "What are you up to, anyway?"

Shintarou glances up at him and simply looks at him for a moment. For all that Kazunari has become very good at reading Shintarou, he can't tell what the guy is thinking just now. Then Shintarou shakes himself and rises from his crouch. "Tension in one's muscles can exacerbate pain," he announces as he sits himself at the head of the bed and tucks the thin pillow behind his back. "I propose to do something about that. Come here and sit with your back to me."

Kazunari finds himself grinning. "Are you going to give me a back rub?" he demands as he wriggles into place, settling between Shintarou's knees.

Shintarou clears his throat; Kazunari would bet that he's adjusting his glasses, too. "I'm going to try to alleviate any unnecessary muscle tension you may be carrying."

"You are going to give me a back rub." Kazunari is delighted. "You are my favorite."

Shintarou clears his throat again and spreads his hands across Kazunari's shoulders, resting his thumbs at the base of Kazunari's neck, and strokes his thumbs in slow, firm circles there.

Kazunari has no idea whether this is going to help his headache or not, but it feels fantastic. He groans, open and appreciative, as Shintarou sweeps his thumbs up the back of his neck and back down again and squeezes his trapezius muscles slowly. "Oh, fuck, Shintarou…"

"Your muscles are like rocks." He's never heard Shintarou sound so appalled. "What have you been doing to yourself?"

"Studying," Kazunari groans, closing his eyes as Shintarou continues to work his hands against his shoulders, pressing his thumbs into the knotted muscles. "Exams are next week. I can't believe I got sick just before exams."

Shintarou hums at this, digging his thumbs in firmly. Kazunari can just about hear the twanging sounds his muscles are making as Shintarou works them loose. It aches a little, but in a good way, one that leaves a warm kind of glow in its wake, like relief. Eventually Shintarou says, "Can't you just retake those classes?"

Kazunari lets his head loll forward as Shintarou starts in on his nape again, sliding his thumbs up and down. "And waste all that time and money? No way." He's already done enough of that.

He doesn't realize that he's said so out loud until Shintarou says, "How so?"

He sounds like he really does want to know, and anyway, he's turning Kazunari into so much putty in his hands. Kazunari goes ahead and tells him. "Oh, you know how it goes. Thought I was hot shit in high school and bombed my entrance exams. Took a couple of years of cram school to make up for being such a slacker. It's not like tuition for that or university is cheap, you know?" And he's getting so close—just these exams, and then it's off to start his clerkship.

"Ah," Shintarou says, and that's all. He slides his hands up into Kazunari's hair and rubs the tips of his fingers over his scalp, kneading that, too.

Kazunari groans. "Fuck, that feels amazing." It really does. Some of the throbbing of his headache really is easing off, and the slow, relaxed loosening of his muscles runs down his spine and through his body, softening him until he's slumping like a half-full sack of rice. He doesn't even think to resist when Shintarou slips an arm around his waist and draws him back to lie against his chest, because Shintarou leaves the other hand in his hair, rubbing circles against his scalp. "You're way too good at this," Kazunari tells him lazily—really lazily, forgetting where he is in the hazy grip of relaxation and dropping the feminine style of speech he uses when he's working. "Oh, wait, I'm sorry—"

"It's all right." Shintarou's mouth is right next to Kazunari's ear, and his voice is soft. "I don't mind—I like it."

Kazunari can't make himself feel too much surprise. Still. "Mm, you sure?"

Shintarou hesitates, maybe because it means letting go of one more scrap of whatever private justification he gives himself for these sessions, but after a moment he says, "Yes."

"'Kay." Kazunari wriggles against him contentedly, just about humming with the relief of his receding headache and relaxed shoulders and the way Shintarou's fingertips feel against his scalp. "You're warm."

"You're cold?" Shintarou asks.

Kazunari has to laugh at how surprised he sounds. "This isn't a whole lot of dress, you know."

"I suppose it isn't." Shintarou lets his hand slide out of Kazunari's hair and runs it down his bare arm, gathering him in closer. "Is this like the shoes?" he asks after a moment, tentative.

"Sort of," Kazunari says, settling into the cradle of Shintarou's body and soaking in the warmth of him without shame. He's trying to muster the energy to steer things towards Shintarou's agenda for the evening, but it's slow going. "I like wearing this stuff, y'know? And there are some guys who like their boys to look pretty. All kind of hangs together." Shou-chan takes care of the guys who are looking for a top and Himuro appeals to the ones who like 'em cool and untouchable, and Kise can be whatever his clients want. That's the key to success, according to Shou-chan. Have a little something for everybody, and they will come. As it were.

"I see." Shintarou sort of sighs against Kazunari's ear and adjusts his arms around him.

Kazunari hums back to him, eyes closed, and feels himself starting to drift—okay, no. He forces his eyes open. "Headache's not bad at all anymore, so what do you have in mind?"

"There's no rush, is there?"

"Mm, dunno." Kazunari smiles at the ceiling. "You'd probably better fuck me before I fall asleep in your lap."

He feels Shintarou's arms flex around him, just a bit. "Do you think so?" Shintarou's voice is soft and his breath whispers across Kazunari's throat. "But I don't want to undo all my hard work."

"Think you'll be fine," Kazunari tells him. "I feel like a limp noodle right now."

"Still, it seems like a risk…" Shintarou murmurs, right before Kazunari feels the soft press of his lips against the side of his throat.

That seems much more like it, but Shintarou holds him when he tries to turn and kiss him. "Shintarou—"

"No," Shintarou says. "I know what I want to do with you tonight." He kisses the side of Kazunari's throat again, and again, slow and soft.

Oh, well then. If Shintarou knows what he's after, Kazunari sees no reason not to let him have it, especially since it currently requires so little effort on his part. He leans against Shintarou's chest and rests his head against Shintarou's shoulder, tipping it a bit to the side while Shintarou mouths the side of his throat. His mouth is wet and soft; Kazunari closes his eyes again when he feels the brush of Shintarou's tongue against his skin. "Mm… gonna mark me up, Shintarou?"

"Maybe," Shintarou says while his cock starts to sit up and take notice of that idea—Kazunari can feel it starting to press against his ass a little. He tries to rub against Shintarou, who tightens his arms and holds him. "Stay still," he says against Kazunari's ear.

Kazunari has less trouble obeying that than he might normally. He settles in, content to let Shintarou suck on his throat until he can feel the tingle of his skin beginning to bruise. Shintarou doesn't seem to be in any hurry at all; he sucks slow kisses up and down Kazunari's throat for a long time, until Kazunari feels like he's no longer lying against Shintarou's chest but is floating instead, somewhere warm and pleasant. It's of a piece with that sensation when Shintarou slips a hand under his skirt and into his panties.

Kazunari groans quietly, wordlessly, as Shintarou handles him with a light, deft touch, jerking him off with such a leisurely stroke that the build of pleasure is almost imperceptible. Its crest is just as relaxed as the rest of Kazunari is—it feels like sinking into a warm sea when he comes, the waves of pleasure lapping over him all sweet and endless and ebbing slowly. He moans softly as they subside, but Shintarou is still right there, warm and solid, cradling Kazunari to his chest. In a moment, Kazunari is going to open his eyes and return the favor for him… in just a little bit, he'll turn himself around to kiss Shintarou… in just a minute…

Kazunari sleeps.

Chapter Text

Kazunari wakes to a hand on his shoulder, shaking him with increasing vigor, and the kind of disorientation that comes of being woken from deep sleep. It takes several disjointed minutes for him to be able to make sense of where he is and why Shou-chan, of all people, should be waking him up, and why he should look so grim about doing it. "Shou-chan?" he yawns, rubbing his eyes. "What…?"

Shou-chan doesn't say anything, not until after Kazunari realizes he's at work, not home (which explains why Shou-chan is there, anyway), and that there's something warm draped over him—it's Shintarou's long overcoat. "We thought you'd had the sense to go home and sleep until Tatsuya came down and told us your things were still here." His tone is detached, expressionless. "Last call was half an hour ago."

The hazy, half-asleep memories come trickling back to Kazunari. Muddleheaded though he may currently be, the long nap has done him this much good: in retrospect he can see how clever Shintarou had been about getting him to rest. "He tricked me," he says, indignant. "That jerk."

"Such a bastard," Shou-chan says as Kazunari pushes himself up and stretches, feeling his bones creak and complain about sleeping on such a shitty mattress. "To put you down for a nap and tuck you in for it. I could just about shake his hand." He doesn't really sound much like he wants to shake Shintarou's hand, though.

Kazunari pays Shou-chan no mind, being too busy fingering the collar of Shintarou's overcoat, which yes, was tucked in around him. "Did he go home?"

"Reckon he did. No one's seen him since he walked you upstairs." Shou-chan drops himself onto the mattress next to Kazunari with a sigh. "So whenever he cleared out of here, he wasn't wearing his coat, and never mind the fact that it's only five degrees out there."

Kazunari rubs heavy, soft wool between his fingertips and doesn't look at Shou-chan. "What an idiot." To just leave such a nice coat behind on a cold night… a guy would have to be really stupid to do something like that, wouldn't he? Stupid or sentimental or—stupid, yeah.

The heavy, warm weight of Shou-chan's hand startles him out of his thoughts; Shou-chan squeezes his shoulder. "Go get cleaned up. We'll take you home."

Kazunari looks up, ready to protest that he can take himself home just fine, thanks, and stops when he sees the look on Shou-chan's face. There's no point in arguing when Shou-chan gets that particular mulish look on his face. "Right," he says, "sure."

He drags himself to his feet and picks up his shoes to pad down to what Kise insists on calling the locker room so he can clean up and change into his street clothes. He gets another surprise there; when he pulls his dress off and unhooks his bra, two wads of cash fall out. One is Shintarou's fee and isn't the surprise—though he's going to have to refund that, all things considered—and the other is a substantially larger sum, one that Kazunari has never seen before. When Kazunari counts it up and adds in Shintarou's fee, the total is about what he'd make on a particularly good night. There's really only one way it could have gotten into his bra without his knowing it, and that is for someone to have put it there while he was asleep. The way he figures it, there are only a couple of people who might have done that.

He ends up standing there, half-naked and staring at the wad of money in his hand, for longer than he realizes. Shou-chan breaks into his reverie with a sharp rap on the doorframe. "You're not ready yet?"

Kazunari turns to him and sees the moment when Shou-chan catches sight of the cash in his hands. His eyebrows go up and his mouth goes flat, and Kazunari knows without having to ask that it wasn't Shou-chan who'd given him that money.

Shou-chan meets his eyes, but all he says is, "I'll take the house cut downstairs for you while you finish getting dressed."

"I can't keep this," Kazunari says. "I didn't earn it."

"Didn't you?" Shou-chan cocks his head. "Wonder if he feels that way about it."

"But I didn't do anything!" Kazunari protests. Is it his exhaustion that makes him feel as though he's come unmoored from reality, or is it just the fact that he's still logy from sleeping? "He's the one who gave me a backrub and jerked me off and let me fall asleep on him."

Shou-chan lifts a shoulder in a lop-sided shrug. "Takes all kinds to make up a world." He jerks his chin at the money. "He did occupy your working hours to suit his whims. Maybe he sees that as compensation for all the other guys you couldn't fuck because you were drooling on your pillow."

There's something perverse in him, there has to be. Even though Shou-chan's argument sounds reasonable enough, Kazunari can't accept it. "I can't keep this." He shakes his head, crushing the bills in his fist, hardly able to say why it feels so wrong to him. "I can't take advantage of him like that."

Shou-chan props himself against the doorframe and folds his arms across his chest. "Why the hell not? This is a business, Kazunari. It's not as though you like each other."

"That's not true!" Kazunari snaps, temper flaring at the utter dispassion in Shou-chan's tone. "I really like him! And he—" Something shifts in Shou-chan's expression; Kazunari catches himself up short, hearing what he's just said and knowing the truth in it. He finds that he needs to sit down on the decrepit old bench where he normally changes his shoes. "I really like him," he says again, blankly, as a bottomless pit opens up in his gut. "Oh, fuck, I really like him." What's more, Shintarou seems to be fond of him. Or he wants Shintarou to be fond of him, which isn't exactly the same thing. "Fuck. I am so fucked."

"At least you can admit it now," Shou-chan tells him, not unkindly. "That's a good first step."

Kazunari looks up at him, hoping desperately that Shou-chan is about to tell him how to fix this mess. "To what?"

"Figuring out what you're going to do about it." Shou-chan snorts at Kazunari's apparent dismay. "What? You think I should know what you should do, brat? This is your mess, not mine."

"Fuck," Kazunari says, deflating and leaning forward to brace his elbows against his knees and rub his hands over his face. "Fuck."

After a minute or so, he hears Shou-chan sigh. "Way I figure it, you've got a few options. None of 'em are very good, so you might as well brace yourself now." Kazunari raises his head in time to see Shou-chan lift a finger. "One, you can go on like you have been until you quit this job or he gets bored or cold feet or wanders off. Hearts will almost certainly be broken, and yours will be one of them." He lifts a second finger. "Two. He takes enough of a shining to you to want to keep you until you graduate or he gets bored, et cetera. Someone's gonna end up hurt and it's just as likely to be you as him." He lifts another finger, apparently oblivious to how appalled Kazunari is. "Three. The two of you try to have a relationship outside this place. It probably ends because he gets married and you can't deal with that, or because he wants you to quit seeing your clients and you don't, or both. Broken hearts all around." He raises a fourth finger. "Four, you call it quits with him now. Both of you smart from that for a while, but eventually you heal up and get on with your respective lives. Those are your options as I see them."

Kazunari looks up at him. "No happy endings, huh?"

Shou-chan shakes his head, though his eyes are sympathetic. "Afraid not. You know how the guys like him are. We're never going to be anything but a dirty secret to them, even when they tell us how much they love us. Even the good ones—and I think maybe you've got a good one—can't ever seem to get over what they'd have to give up to be with us."

Kazunari bites his lip. "Voice of experience, Shou-chan?"

He gets a crooked smile in return. "Happens to even the best of us eventually. No amount of warning ever seems to make a difference, either."

"Damn," Kazunari says; his voice cracks a little. "Damn it."

Shou-chan nods. "Yeah, that just about sums it up." He nods at the money. "Hold onto that and give it back to him next time you see him." He pauses. "And think hard about taking option four. It's your best bet, long-term."

Kazunari looks down and begins to smooth the folded and crumpled bills. "I'll think about it."

"That's all anyone can ask," Shou-chan says. "Be downstairs when you're ready to go."

Kazunari doesn't say anything; after a moment, he hears Shou-chan's footsteps moving away.

It takes him a long time to finish changing, but Shou-chan doesn't complain about it when he finally makes it downstairs. He wishes he could feel grateful for that kindness, but at the moment, gratitude to Shou-chan is not within his capabilities.

Fortunately, Shou-chan doesn't seem to expect him to be grateful, which is the only mercy the night has shown Kazunari.

 
 
 

By the time the end of the week rolls around, Kazunari has spent too much of his time thinking about his options and not reaching any conclusions. He wants to be an optimist, wants to think that Shou-chan's four options aren't the only ones he has. Problem is, he's too much of a pragmatist for that. He has to be; only a pragmatist can do what he does for a living and survive it. He knows himself, too, knows what he wants from his life, and being someone's kept boy or a secret on the side just doesn't fit into his plans. When he settles down, it's going to be with someone just as willing to look right in the eye of social conventions and spit in them as he is himself. Shou-chan is right; Shintarou is a good guy. And aside from his evenings with Kazunari, he's undoubtedly a proper one. So there it is: Kazunari can't see any way to reconcile those things, though it chafes him to admit it.

He consoles himself with the fact that at least this quandary keeps him from fretting too much about his exams, which is probably the only good thing about it.

Saturday is as busy as it usually is, which is good for his pocketbook and good for keeping his mind off things. At least it is until Kazunari, who's taking a breather at the bar, sees Nijimura draw up just a bit, frowning. Kazunari looks around to see what the problem is; it turns out to be Shintarou coming through the crowd.

Well, shit.

Kazunari suppresses the unmanly urge to pretend he hasn't seen Shintarou and drag the nearest warm and willing body upstairs, but that would be a temporary solution at best. Shintarou is perfectly capable of waiting him out. He finds a smile for Shintarou instead while he squares his shoulders—it's not even a fake smile. The club is crowded and Shintarou still hasn't gotten used to that, even after all the time he's spent here. He weaves through the crowd as carefully as he can, trying to avoid touching any bare flesh, and looks as appalled as a cat picking its way across a wet floor.

When they make eye contact, Shintarou smiles—it wouldn't look like much of a smile on anyone else, but everything Shintarou does is understated. His pleasure is as clear as day for anyone who knows how to read him. Kazunari does, which only hammers home the fact that he's gotten in way over his head.

Damn it.

There are already too many people at the bar; Kazunari goes to meet Shintarou. He's wearing an overcoat, nearly identical to the one hanging on a hook in the locker room upstairs. At least Kazunari doesn't need to worry about his walking around in the cold. "Kazunari," Shintarou says, stooping to greet him over the noise of the music and the crowd. "You're looking better this evening."

Normally, this would be his cue to scold Shintarou for passing up the chance to be gracious and complimentary instead of blunt, but Kazunari doesn't have the heart for it. Not tonight. "Thanks, I guess. I didn't expect to see you tonight."

He manages to make that come out as something other than an accusation, but Shintarou ducks his head anyway, almost sheepish. "I… brought you something. I wanted to be sure you had it before your exams began."

Shintarou has brought him something? "Oh, okay… why don't you give it to me upstairs? I have your coat up there."

Shintarou's smile fades a bit, as though he's puzzled by the absence of Kazunari's usual enthusiasm, but he nods. "That might be for the best."

All right. So far, so good. Kazunari takes Shintarou's hand (the one not holding today's lucky spatula) and tugs Shintarou towards the stairs, thereby increasing Shintarou's confusion.

They catch Shou-chan descending, slinking down the steps with a lazy smile. It doesn't budge when he sees who Kazunari's bringing up, but he does make sure to catch Kazunari's eye as they pass. That's more than enough, really. Shou-chan can make silence speak louder than anyone else Kazunari knows.

"Wait up," Kazunari says when Shintarou starts to head down the hall to his room. "I need to get your coat." He stretches up and snags the locker room's key from where it's hidden on top of the lintel and lets himself in. Way he figures it, Shintarou's not the kind to rifle through their stuff on his way out, which is not something that Kazunari can say about all their clients. He retrieves Shintarou's coat and looks up. When he catches Shintarou's look of curiosity, he shrugs. "Locker room," he explains. "It's where we keep our stuff while we're working."

Shintarou's expression clears. "Ah, I see." He gestures Kazunari ahead of him down the hall, courteous to a fault. Kazunari does his best not to drag his feet while he tries to decide what he's going to do next—which option he's about to invoke. (That's not true; he knows what he's going to do, he just wishes he didn't.)

The hallway is too short; they're inside his room and the door is shut after them much too quickly. Kazunari takes a breath and holds the coat out to Shintarou. "Here."

Shintarou gives him another of those puzzled looks. "Thank you." He accepts it from Kazunari, eyebrows knitting, and hangs it on the usual hook before shrugging out of the new coat and hanging it over the top of the first. "You said your exams are this coming week?"

He must have done, so Kazunari nods. "That's right."

"I thought so." Shintarou goes sheepish again, nudging his glasses up his nose and clearing his throat. "I gathered that they're rather significant to your program of study and that you're concerned about your performance." He reaches inside his suit coat and takes out a small package, which he offers to Kazunari. "Perhaps this will assuage some of your worries."

"What is it?" Kazunari asks, though he thinks he might be able to guess, knowing Shintarou as he does. He doesn't get an answer as he weighs the little package in his palm. It has practically no substance at all. Kazunari glances at Shintarou, who is shifting his weight from foot to foot, anxious and embarrassed, and then unties the thin red cord and folds the layers of tissue paper back. They reveal a small charm, the kind temples sell for those looking for a little extra good luck. Someone has attached it to a cell phone strap.

Kazunari looks down at it and doesn't know what he should say.

When Shintarou can't bear the silence any more, he breaks it. "It's a charm for good fortune on your exams. You were so worried, so I thought—you can attach it to your phone so you'll be sure to have it nearby. I know you don't really believe—I thought you might welcome it anyway." He stops; his cheeks are red. "I suppose I was foolish."

Kazunari takes the charm from its wrapping, handling it carefully. "No." He touches its surface and finds that it's still warm to the touch. "No, it's perfect. Thank you, Shintarou." He returns it to its wrapping paper again, folding it up carefully and wrapping the cord around it, and turns away to put it on his shelf for safekeeping. It's now or never, he needs to turn around and—

"There's something wrong, isn't there?" Shintarou's voice is unhappy.

There, that makes it easy, doesn't it? Kazunari closes his eyes and fills his lungs. He lets the breath out slowly; when he's as ready as he can be, he turns away from the charm and meets Shintarou's eyes as squarely as he can. "Yeah, there is." Shintarou winces, but a wince is nothing to what happens when Kazunari says, "I think you'd better stop coming to see me."

The color drains out of Shintarou's face until the only color in it is in his eyes, which go wide and confused. He shakes his head, maybe trying to convince himself that he's heard Kazunari incorrectly. "What? I don't understand." The question comes out plaintive, not hurt. Not yet.

Kazunari finds that it's no easier to say the second time. "You should stop coming to see me."

Shintarou could be photographed as a study in bewilderment. He shakes his head again. "But why? Did I do something wrong?" He bites his lip. "Is this about Monday?" He drops his eyes; if he's not careful, he's going to bite right through his lip. "I'm sorry, but if you could have seen how exhausted you were—"

Damn it. Oh, damn it. "It's not you," Kazunari says. He can't help himself; he crosses the few steps between them and takes Shintarou's hands. They feel like ice in his. "It's not you, you haven't done anything wrong. It's just—"

Shintarou looks down at him, so intent that it feels like his gaze is scouring Kazunari's skin. "It's just what?"

Kazunari wraps his fingers around Shintarou's curled fists, trying to warm them. The right words don't want to come; all he can manage to think of are clumsy things like Don't you see what's going on between us? or I like you too much, I'm sorry or No one else has ever cared enough to bring me good luck charms before and none of these are good enough. None of them are the explanation Shintarou deserves. "Monday night," he says while Shintarou hangs upon his every word. "That wasn't—we don't do things like that, do you see? That wasn't business. It was personal."

Shintarou's voice drops low. "I paid for your time."

"Yeah, I know," Kazunari says, hating the hurt and confusion on Shintarou's face and himself more for putting it there. "And that's the problem. I don't—I can't keep that money. I don't want to—"

"Then don't," Shintarou snaps. "Give it to charity."

It hurts, but not undeservedly. Kazunari shakes his head. "You're not letting me finish. I can't keep that money, because I would have been happy to spend the night with you for free."

The hurt was bad, but the sudden bloom of Shintarou's pleasure and hope is infinitely worse. "You would have?" His tone is full of wonder. "Kazunari…"

"Don't," Kazunari tells him. "Don't take that the wrong way. It doesn't mean what you think it does."

"What does it mean?" Shintarou asks, then plunges on before Kazunari can even try to answer him. "You should know, I—"

Kazunari isn't at all prepared to let him finish that sentence. "It means I can't keep doing this with you, because this story doesn't ever end well for the guy in my shoes. The guy in your shoes always goes back to his life sooner or later, back to his family and his wife, and there's no room in that kind of life for a guy like me."

Shintarou recoils at the first mention of family and winces at the mention of a wife. "I don't—I'm not married."

"Yet." His smile probably isn't very cheerful, but then, this isn't a cheerful topic. "But you're going to be. Aren't you?" Shintarou stares at him, looking stunned, and opens his mouth. "How do I know? Because the guys who're married all have the same kind of look to 'em when they come in. Shou-chan and I pinned you for one of them the first time you came through the door."

It looks like Shintarou must have worked pretty hard to forget just what it means that he comes here to pay Kazunari for sex; the reminder makes him look queasy. "It's an arranged marriage. Our fathers work together. She doesn't—I don't—"

"Yeah, I figured it might be something like that." Kazunari releases his hands and steps back, tired. "What'd you do, come in just after the omiai? Some guys do, y'know. Looking for solace or whatever."

The muscle at the corner of Shintarou's jaw flickers, and he looks aside. After a strained moment's silence, he says, "I wanted to prove to myself that I had no real interest in homosexual activities."

Kazunari's laugh grates in his throat. "Guess that worked out real well, huh?"

Shintarou looks at him, grim. "I never supposed that I'd meet someone like you."

"That makes two of us, doesn't it." Kazunari rubs his hand over his face and grimaces when he realizes he's just smudged eyeliner everywhere. "That's why we've got to stop this while we can both still walk away."

"Hah." It's not a laugh; it's far too bleak for that, but there's not much else it could be. Shintarou tips his head back and studies the ceiling. Kazunari watches him think his way through it, maybe looking for a solution or an argument to counter his. He doesn't think Shintarou figures anything out; when he lowers his eyes, he looks even unhappier than before. "You don't think we could…?" He trails off into a silence pregnant with all the possibilities, from keeping on as they have been to trying to make it work in spite of all the circumstances. Kazunari doesn't open his mouth, just to make sure he doesn't say the wrong thing. Eventually Shintarou's shoulders slump. "I suppose you're right."

Kazunari exhales. There. It's done. "Yeah, you know I am." He turns away from Shintarou and retrieves the money from Monday from his cache. "You probably want this back—"

"I really don't," Shintarou says. His voice is gruff. "Keep it. It can be one less thing to worry about." When Kazunari looks at him, Shintarou must see how unwilling he is to do any such thing. "Or let me pay you one last time," he says, too fast. "I want to have you—just you." The gesture he makes is surprisingly eloquent. "No dress or anything else. Just you."

Kazunari bites down on the inside of his cheek until he gets the better of himself. "Do you really think that's a good idea?"

"No, it's a terrible idea," Shintarou snaps. "But I'm asking anyway. Please, Kazunari."

If Shou-chan were here, he'd be waving his hands and shaking his hands and shouting at him not to be a damn fool. Kazunari supposes that it's just as well that Shou-chan isn't here, because he loses the fight with his own common sense in the face of Shintarou's request. "All right," he says. "All right. This is such a bad idea—wait here. I'll be back in a minute."

"Thank you," Shintarou tells him.

Kazunari smiles, though it's not really funny. "Don't thank me yet." Shintarou had better wait to see whether he likes getting what he's asked for, first. "I'll be right back."

It takes more than a minute to duck into the locker room to change out of his work clothes and get himself washed up. Kazunari spends the whole time lecturing himself for being stupid, but that doesn't stop him from hustling himself through the process and pulling on his jeans and t-shirt, either. He's never pretended to be brilliant.

Shintarou is waiting when Kazunari returns; he's used the time to strip out of some of the layers he's wearing and is sitting on the bed in his slacks and undershirt when Kazunari lets himself back in. He's studying the way his hands dangle between his knees, the corners of his mouth tucked down, and he looks up as the door clicks shut. "Oh," he says after a moment of staring at Kazunari. "You look… different."

Kazunari raises a hand and rubs the back of his neck, self-conscious. "I know. Not nearly as pretty this way, am I?" It's amazing how far the right bits of powder and cream can take a guy who knows what he's doing with them.

Shintarou bites his lip. "It's better. I like it… much better." He draws a breath and stands; he takes a step towards the door and stops there, lifting a hand. "Kazunari…"

Kazunari swallows. It's not too late to do the smart thing—"Yeah, okay." He comes away from the door, closing the distance between the two of them, and lays his hand in Shintarou's.

Shintarou sighs and the tight line of his shoulders eases. "Thank you," he says again before drawing Kazunari the rest of the way to him. Kazunari wraps his arms around Shintarou's shoulders and raises his face to Shintarou's.

Kissing Shintarou shouldn't be any different this time than it has been all the other times they've kissed each other, but it is. Maybe it's because they both know that this time, the money is only an excuse for doing what they want. Shintarou spreads his hands against Kazunari's back, pulling him tight against his own body, and kisses him as though the world depends on it. Not that Kazunari is holding back either; he twines Shintarou's hair around his fingers and throws himself into the movement of his lips against Shintarou's, the slick tangle of their tongues and the mingling of their breaths. What begins as slow, deep kisses turns hard, nearly bruising; Kazunari dives into them and refuses to think of anything but the hot beat of desire throbbing in time to the hammering of his heart. He honestly doesn't know how long they stand there, all wrapped up in each other, before one of them remembers that there's a bed right there waiting for them. Kazunari does know that he's breathless by the time they turn to it and that his cock is heavy and hard in his jeans. Though he hates pulling himself away from Shintarou's mouth, he's glad for the chance to peel his shirt off before he flops backward onto the pillow.

"Oh," Shintarou says, looking down at him. "Kazunari…" He stands poised, perfectly still, and then erupts into motion, tugging his undershirt off and trying to get out of his slacks at the same time. He all but tumbles himself down over Kazunari, crawling on all fours over him and looking down at him with dark eyes.

Kazunari tries to smile up at him, but he can't do it. There's too much hanging in the air between them for that. Instead he reaches up and lifts Shintarou's glasses off his nose and sets them on the shelf. He rests his palm against Shintarou's cheek and has to swallow when Shintarou turns against it just enough to kiss his palm, watching him all the while. "Come here, Shintarou."

"All right." Shintarou bends down and kisses him again, sliding his tongue past Kazunari's lips as he places a hand against Kazunari's chest, resting his fingertips over Kazunari's heart. He's never done that before—never had the chance to. Kazunari hums to him, encouraging, and plays his own fingers over Shintarou's spine, counting off his vertebrae one by one as Shintarou traces his fingertips over his chest, as though he plans on learning the topography of it just as thoroughly as he's mapped out the rest of Kazunari's body. Kazunari permits him to do it and groans his appreciation when Shintarou discovers how he likes the slow rub of his thumbs over his nipples. He strokes his hands over Shintarou's back and moves with the slow heat of Shintarou's touch, murmuring Shintarou's name when he draws away from his mouth.

Shintarou pauses, looking at him, and dips his head to kiss Kazunari's throat—no. Kazunari groans and tips his head back when he feels the sucking pressure of Shintarou's mouth against his throat; Shintarou is marking him again, renewing the fading marks from just a few days ago and raising new ones. A souvenir, Kazunari thinks, weaving his fingers into Shintarou's hair and making no move to stop him.

He groans again as Shintarou leaves off and smoothes his hands over his chest before reaching down to pop the button of his jeans. "Oh, yes," he breathes, relieved to have the pressure on his cock eased. "Shintarou…" He reaches down to help, lifting his hips and shoving his jeans down. The bed shakes as he kicks them off.

Shintarou lifts his head from Kazunari's throat, keeps going, raising himself up to gaze down at him and take him in from head to toe. Kazunari has to suck in a breath—no one should look at anyone else like that, like he's both salvation and damnation. It isn't fair. Not that anything about this is fair. Shintarou wets his lips. "You're so beautiful."

There's no doubting that he means it. Kazunari lifts himself up and hooks a hand around Shintarou's neck, drawing him closer, until their foreheads are resting against each other. "Yeah, well, look who's talking." He kisses Shintarou again, open and low, and sets his fingers in the waistband of Shintarou's boxers, tugging them down his hips. "Now come here so I can give you this." He lies back and tugs Shintarou down after him, grunting a little with his weight and the heat of all that bare skin against his, the slide of Shintarou's cock against his and the ache of how much he wants this.

Shintarou groans, the sound of it uneven as Kazunari spreads his knees apart so that Shintarou can settle between his thighs. "Kazunari," he says, murmuring it against his lips, and reaches up for the bottle on the shelf above them.

No, Kazunari thinks; he stops him. "Wait." He gropes for a condom and puts it into Shintarou's hand instead. Shintarou blinks at him, but takes it and unwraps it without question. While he unrolls it over his cock, Kazunari reaches for the lube himself and slicks his fingers generously. "Now," he says, running them over Shintarou's cock and listening to the rumble of his groan, and draws his knees up. "Like this."

Shintarou goes still, shocked. "But—"

"I want you to," Kazunari tells him. "Trust me to know what I'm doing." It's been a busy night already. Besides, he wants to feel this—wants to feel it even after Shintarou has gone. Call it another souvenir.

Perhaps Shintarou has learned to read Kazunari as Kazunari has learned to read him, because he accepts that. He leans down to press their mouths together; their groans blend into one when he sinks himself into Kazunari. The stretch is hard, almost brutally so. Kazunari embraces it, wrapping his legs around Shintarou and shuddering with the roughness of the sensation. Shintarou shudders too, taut against him, panting against Kazunari's mouth, and holds himself there, buried inside him until Kazunari can hardly bear the stillness of him, desperate to feel the solid, heavy weight of Shintarou's cock moving inside him. He breathes Shintarou's name as he slides his fingers over Shintarou's shoulders, clutching at them when Shintarou trembles and the movement grinds his cock deeper into Kazunari's ass. It's hardly enough, and it's almost too much, a promise of what is to come. Kazunari groans and closes the little space between their mouths, wanting that, too, wanting everything that can possibly be wrung from this moment.

Shintarou gasps against his lips, the sound helpless, and the thread of his control snaps at last. He begins to move, drawing back and rocking himself into Kazunari so hard that Kazunari slides up the mattress just a bit as raw sensation explodes up his spine. He cries out with it, muffled against Shintarou's lips, and tightens his fingers on Shintarou's shoulders when Shintarou freezes over him. "Don't stop," he gasps, digging his heels into the small of Shintarou's back. "Fuck's sake, don't stop."

Shintarou moans, shaking, and doesn't stop. The bed shakes beneath them as he pounds into Kazunari and the mattress springs scream every time he slams home. Or maybe that's Kazunari—he knows that he's making some noise himself and is too caught up in trying to drag Shintarou even closer, to wrap himself around Shintarou as completely as he can, to care about that. It aches to be taken like this, fucked hard while his body is still tight; he's already sore and beyond the point of caring about it, because it also feels good to be filled to the point of aching, to feel the friction of worn cotton burning hot against his back as Shintarou moves inside him, taking him so hard that he has to brace a hand against the headboard to keep from driving Kazunari right up against it. Kazunari doesn't care about any of that, can't think of anything but the unforgiving raw edge of pleasure that stabs up his spine every time Shintarou sinks into him, has no room for anything but the ache in his thighs locked around Shintarou's waist and Shintarou's sweat-slicked skin beneath his palms, can only hear the way his name sounds and tastes on Shintarou's lips, the way Shintarou's weight over him feels, bearing him down against the mattress, while his cock rubs against Shintarou's stomach, smearing wetness across his skin. And then it's too much and Kazunari does scream when his orgasm tears through him, shredding him to pieces with its force. He strains against Shintarou, clutching at him blindly as his vision greys out, and so he does not see the moment when Shintarou topples over the edge after him. He feels it instead: the throb of Shintarou's cock inside him and the guttural sound he makes against Kazunari's mouth as he jerks against him, every muscle tense as steel springs until they relax all at once and Shintarou slumps against him, chest heaving as he pants for breath.

Kazunari catches him—can do nothing else but catch him when he feels as though he's been turned inside out and scraped empty. He drops his head back against the bunched-up pillow, breathing hard, and has just enough strength to slip his hand up to cradle the back of Shintarou's head. Every part of him aches or is trembling with the heady mix of exhaustion and adrenaline and endorphins. It would be so easy to close his eyes and let himself doze for a bit—Kazunari resolutely sets his teeth on his lower lip until his eyes begin to water, refusing to allow that to happen again while he listens to the gradual slowing of Shintarou's breath and feels the softening of his cock slipping free of his body.

This was such a terrible idea. He never should have agreed to it in the first place, because now he knows just how good they could be together, if only they weren't who and what they are. Damn it.

Shintarou stirs; he turns his face and kisses Kazunari's throat. "I wish—" he says, voice hoarse, and stops.

"Yeah." Kazunari cards his fingers through the damp strands of his hair. "I know."

They need to untangle themselves, the sooner the better, but Kazunari can't bring himself to move yet. Once he does, there won't be any way to postpone the inevitable.

Shintarou sighs. "I never should have come here, should I?"

"Might have been better that way." Kazunari sighs too. "Or maybe not. Who knows." He takes a breath and steels himself, then nudges at Shintarou's shoulder. "Only gonna be harder if we drag this out."

"Probably," Shintarou agrees, though he makes no move to take the hint, not at first.

Kazunari is bracing himself to be more assertive when Shintarou raises himself up onto an elbow. He pauses there and gazes down at Kazunari; his expression is full of things Kazunari recognizes by virtue of being familiar with them from the inside out. He touches Kazunari's cheek, brushing the hair back from it. "I'm going to miss you."

Kazunari has to swallow before he can say anything. "Yeah. Yeah, me too."

There's not much else to be said—nothing that's safe to say, which Shintarou seems to know as well as he does—and after a moment longer, Shintarou finishes untangling himself from Kazunari.

They clean themselves up and dress in silence, which is a process that hardly seems to take any time at all. Kazunari finishes before Shintarou does and watches him don his suit and shrug on his overcoat—the new one. He pauses over the old one. "I don't suppose you need a new coat?"

"Be a little big on me," Kazunari points out, shoving his hands into his pockets and resolutely not thinking about the thin, worn coat that he's had since high school.

Shintarou glances at him. "Not that big." It's arrant flattery on his part. He leaves the coat where it's hanging. "Well."

"Yeah." Kazunari struggles with himself, but what's the point? It's too late for it to make any difference now. He goes to Shintarou and raises himself up; Shintarou meets the kiss halfway. "You take care of yourself, Shin-chan."

"You do the same," Shintarou says softly. He takes a breath. "Good luck on your exams."

"Thanks." Kazunari steps back, clearing the path to the door, and runs his hands through his hair. "See you around. Or not."

"Goodbye," Shintarou says. He lets himself out quietly.

Kazunari lets him go, but then, there's nothing else he can do but that.

Chapter Text

Kazunari means to get back to work after that, he really does, but when he hits the locker room, he looks at his work gear and just can't quite bring himself to put it back on. He aches all over and isn't that hard up for money. The hell with it—it won't kill anybody if he knocks off early for the night.

The crowd downstairs hasn't begun to thin at all; Kazunari has to fight to get to the bar and fend off a few friendly overtures while he's at it. Takes Nijimura a while to work his way over, too, once he gets there. Nijimura is about as blasé as they come, so he only raises his eyebrows at Kazunari's street clothes. "Changing your approach?"

Kazunari pushes the house cut across the bar. "I'm going home."

Nijimura pockets the money without breaking eye contact. "That so?"

"Yeah." Kazunari waits for him to object to that—a part of him hopes that Nijimura will, will give him an excuse to—to—he doesn't even know what he wants an excuse to do.

Nijimura fails to oblige him and simply nods. "We'll see you after exams," he says and turns back to pouring drinks for the clamoring crowd.

"Right," Kazunari says after a moment, feeling curiously let down by Nijimura's indifference, and turns to make his way back through the crowd.

It makes a lot more sense when he gets out back and finds Shou-chan slouched against the wall beside his bike, smoking a cigarette and lying in wait for him. Kazunari stops short when he sees Shou-chan in the dirty orange glow that comes from the light over the back door. "I thought you quit."

Shou-chan exhales a stream of smoke and shrugs. "Some nights just call for a smoke, you know?" He raises the cigarette to his lips and lets it dangle there while he digs a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket and offers it to Kazunari in silence.

"It's a filthy habit," Kazunari tells him, taking a cigarette anyway.

"Best kind of habits to have." Shou-chan produces a lighter for him and lights him up. He waits for Kazunari to raise the cigarette to his lips and take that first breath of smoke before saying anything else. "Well?"

It's been so long since he's had a cigarette that the first hit of nicotine punches through Kazunari like a shot of adrenaline. Filthy habit or not, it helps clear some of the dull, exhausted feeling that's been wrapped around him for the past few days. He'll pay for it later, during the let down and the cravings for another cigarette, but for now Kazunari welcomes it. "It's over."

"Ah." Shou-chan nods and takes a drag off his cigarette. He exhales the smoke slowly. "Thought that might be the case." He doesn't say anything about the overcoat Kazunari's wearing—it really is a lot warmer than his old jacket, even if the cuffs of the sleeves hang almost to his fingertips—but Kazunari sees him look it over. Instead of remarking on that, he says, "Knew a guy once." Kazunari figures it only seems like it's at random. "Back when I was younger and sweeter than I am now." Shou-chan leans his head back against the brick wall behind him and looks up at the night sky, though there's nothing to see thanks to all the light pollution. "I thought the world of him before it was all said and done, though he didn't really deserve it." He smiles up at the sky, crooked and reminiscent. "He was a mean little bastard, matter of fact. But I still think about him sometimes, even though I know now that he was only ever playing with me." He lowers his eyes again and takes a last drag off his cigarette. "Hurts like hell at first, but it'll ease off. Just takes some time, but then, most things do."

Kazunari laughs at that, sort of. "You know I've had boyfriends before, right?" He knows how breakups go, for crying out loud.

"I know that." Shou-chan doesn't seem to be offended that his little trip down memory lane isn't moving Kazunari. "But there's boyfriends and then there's boyfriends. It's the ones that could mean something if things were just a little different that hit the hardest." He shrugs. "Which is how it just goes, I guess."

Sometimes Shou-chan is just too damn perceptive. Kazunari drops what's left of his cigarette and crushes out with his shoe. "I'm going home. Might as well get some more studying in while I still can."

"You'd probably do better to get good and rested." Shou-chan grins when Kazunari flips him off. "But what the hell do I know?"

"I wonder," Kazunari grunts, brushing past him and throwing his leg over his bike.

Shou-chan snorts and drops a hand on his shoulder for a quick squeeze. "Hang in there," he says. He heads back inside the bar without giving Kazunari a chance to reply.

 
 
 

He's always preferred to compartmentalize whenever possible, so Kazunari throws himself into his exams as much for their own sake as for a reason not to think about other things. Once he's in the middle of them, there's no room for nerves or regrets, which is just the way he wants it. After all's said and done, he doesn't even feel too pessimistic about his chances—that's probably not just the adrenaline and exhaustion talking, either. Of course, by that point, he feels like a rag that's been wrung out, so it's not like he can do much real thinking at all.

So he plants himself in his bed and sleeps twelve hours straight. He would have managed to sleep even longer than that if it weren't for his stomach and his bladder; once he's attended to the necessities he goes straight back to bed. For a couple of days, that's the sum and total of his existence, which is pretty standard even for the semesters when he doesn't have to haul ass to make up for being struck down by the flu. After the stupor begins to lift and he starts to be able to act like a human being again, it's time to do all the things he's been letting slide, like the dishes and his laundry and stopping in to have dinner with his family.

He does all these things without thinking much about Shintarou—hurrah for a strong skill in being able to ignore the shit he just doesn't want to deal with—and thinks he's doing rather well until his mother touches his elbow and draws him into the kitchen under the guise of sending leftovers home with him. "Is everything all right?" she asks while she fills a plastic container with curry.

Kazunari shrugs. "Nothing will be all right until I find out how I did on my exams." The waiting is the hardest part. Well, the hardest part aside from actually taking the damn things.

"Mm." That's never a good sound coming from his mother; Kazunari's very familiar with the way she utters it right before pinning his latest mischief on him. Sure enough, presently she says, "Are you sure? You seem like something has been bothering you."

"Nope, just my exams," Kazunari tells her.

She seals up the tub of curry and looks at him; these days she has to tilt her head back to do it, but it still makes him want to squirm with guilt even when he hasn't done anything wrong. She presses her lips together and shakes her head. "When you're ready to tell me about it, you know where to find me," she says at last.

Kazunari scoffs, fairly sure she's not fooled by it. "Of course I do, but really, there's nothing to tell." What's done is done. When there's no going back, there's no point in dwelling on it. Better to look forward.

His mother rolls her eyes and shoves the tub of curry into his hands. "We'll see you on Sunday," she tells him. "Remember what I said."

"Of course, Kaasan," Kazunari promises.

She probably knows that he's lying, but she lets it go at that.

 
 
 

No one says anything about Shintarou when Kazunari heads back to work, not even Shou-chan, for which Kazunari is grateful. If everyone else is willing to forget the whole thing, he is totally on board with that plan. It saves him a lot of grief, to be honest, so Kazunari gets himself all dolled up and then gets busy coaxing clients upstairs. Lucky for him, there are always willing clients looking for a good time. Business is good; he comes in even on the nights he doesn't usually work, aiming to make up for all the time he's taken off in the past few weeks, and doesn't really have the spare time to hang out at the bar to kibitz with Shou-chan or the other part-timers who work the nights he usually doesn't, let alone the new guys who are making a trial of the working boy's life. (Normally he'd find time for the last, if only so he can gossip with Shou-chan about who's going to stick around and who isn't, but if he's honest, Kazunari just isn't terribly interested in having long conversations with anyone right now.) In fact, some nights Kazunari barely has the time to pause for a drink between trips upstairs, and his take at the end of the week is substantial even after he subtracts the house cut from it.

He's also worn out by the end of the week, but that stands to reason, doesn't it? Of course it does. Hooking really only sounds easy in the abstract; in the concrete, it takes a lot of energy to keep up with the clients. But being tired is good; being tired means a growing bank account balance and a comfortable haze of exhaustion to anesthetize his brain enough to keep him from worrying about his exam scores. He must be doing better, because his mother doesn't ask him any more awkward questions at Sunday dinner.

Kazunari starts the second week of his vacation in a fairly positive frame of mind (except for the lingering question of his exam scores). If anything, it's an even busier week than the last, just the way Kazunari likes it. By the time he sees the last client out Saturday night, he's bone-tired, practically numb with it, and all he can really think about is how good it's going to be to get home, showered, and into his own bed.

Naturally, Shou-chan chooses this occasion to be hanging out at the bar when Kazunari goes down to turn the house cut over to Nijimura. He's helping close things down, in fact, piling up empty glasses for their trip back to the kitchen, but he leaves off doing that when he sees Kazunari come downstairs. "There you are."

Kazunari eyes him warily while he pushes the money across the bar to Nijimura. "Here I am, yeah."

"You've been a difficult man to talk to lately." Shou-chan hands the tray off to Nijimura, who unloads the glassware into a plastic tub that he hauls up onto his hip and carries off to the kitchen.

Kazunari shrugs at him. "Well, you know me, I've got customers to keep happy."

"I noticed that." Shou-chan looks him over—doesn't even try disguising that he's doing it, either. "You're looking a little ragged around the edges."

"It's been a busy week," Kazunari tells him, more short with him than is probably wise, but hell. He's tired. "I'm ready to go home and sack out, to be honest."

"Yeah, I figured." Shou-chan leans over the bar and swipes one of the towels from the bleach bucket to begin wiping the bar down. "You know there are other jobs, right?"

Kazunari looks at him—bent over the bar, apparently wholly absorbed in mopping up the sticky remains of spilled drinks—and rubs a hand over his face. "Yeah, sure, I know that. What's your point?" He likes this job, which is congenial to his schedule and his bank account.

Shou-chan glances at him, sidelong, and turns his attention back to his work. "Just making sure. Have a good night."

"…right," Kazunari says. "Later." He puzzles over Shou-chan's point all the way home and until he falls asleep, but can't figure out what motivated him to make it. It's not like he's in any danger of repeating the mistake he made with Shintarou with any of his other clients, after all.

 
 
 

Exam scores finally go up the Monday after his weird little conversation with Shou-chan. Kazunari prepares himself for the worst and goes to check them out; he's infinitely relieved to see that he's actually passed all his exams, some of them with flying colors.

That puts an end to his coursework, finally, and clears him to start his clinical clerkship. That's a heck of a relief, one less thing to worry about, and rates a celebratory round before his shift that evening. As far as Kazunari's concerned, the week is off to a great start.

Shou-chan finally makes sense to him late Thursday night, while Kazunari's got a client all over him, balls deep inside him and mumbling drunkenly into his ear as he does a piss-poor job of groping him. The guy's so smashed that he can't even keep Kazunari's name straight—he keeps call him Kazuya, for fuck's sake. Not that it really matters what the johns call him, but something inside Kazunari snaps when the guy groans, "Oh, fuck, Kazuya," as he shudders and comes. Maybe it's how tired he is, or how difficult it's been lately to keep focused on catering to his clients' fantasies and egos, or maybe it's just that this guy is too drunk to be considerate and Kazunari was already sore before he brought him upstairs. Whatever it is, suddenly he can't bear having the guy's weight over him for even one more second. He gets his hands between them, planting them in the middle of the guy's chest and shoving until he rolls off. Kazunari wriggles free the second he's able to, rolling off the bed and breathing hard.

The john raises his head, bleary and confused. "Dude, what the fuck?"

"We're done here," Kazunari says. His fingers itch to go for the wet wipes so he can scrub every last trace of the night's work from his skin, but he's not going to do it with this guy still in the room. "Get dressed, it's time to go."

The guy—Kazunari can't even remember this one's name, he's fucked so many people over the past few weeks—struggles upright, outrage dawning on his face. "Hey, I'm paying you for this."

"And you've got what you paid for," Kazunari tells him. "Now go."

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" The john is drunk enough that he doesn't know whether to be angry or confused, so he does both. "Why are you being such a bitch all of a sudden?"

It's actually a good question; Kazunari would like to know the answer to that, too. Sadly, he doesn't have one handy. "It's that time of the month. Look, would you just get your pants on and leave me alone?"

"Fine," the guy spits, "but you'd better not expect me back."

Kazunari could almost laugh—does this guy think he cares about that?—but he doesn't. He just stands well back while the guy ties off the condom and cleans up before fumbling his way back into his jeans. He slams the door on his way out; Kazunari doesn't even realize he's been holding his breath until he releases it.

He's in the middle of scrubbing himself clean when Shou-chan taps on the door and lets himself in without waiting for an answer. He doesn't say anything when he sees what Kazunari's doing; he just closes the door and leans against it until Kazunari snaps, "What?" He tosses one soiled wipe into the trashcan and reaches for another.

Shou-chan folds his arms across his chest. "Why don't you tell me? There's a fellow downstairs bending Shuuzou's ear about poor customer service."

Great. Just great. Kazunari scowls and casts around for his underwear—oh, right, his drunken client had felt like being macho. He loses more pairs of panties that way. "I didn't want him hanging around to bask in the afterglow, so I told him to leave."

"Uh-huh." It's fairly clear that Shou-chan does not feel that this is all there is to the story.

"Yeah." Kazunari tugs his dress back into order and tosses the panties into the trash, too. "He didn't like that very much, I guess."

Shou-chan snorts. "It seems not." He waits until Kazunari meets his eyes. "I wasn't going to say anything until you figured it out for yourself, but I don't think that's going to be happening any time soon."

This doesn't sound like it's going to be a fun conversation at all. "Figure out what?" Kazunari ask, guarded.

Shou-chan sighs and shakes his head, but his tone is kind, which is an even worse sign. "It's time to stop, Kazunari."

Kazunari stares at him. "Stop what?" He thinks he may know, though. Shou-chan's already given him a hint; he just hasn't picked up on it till now.

"What do you think?" Shou-chan's actually being pretty patient for someone who never enjoys having to explain the obvious. "Your head's a mess right now, and this isn't a job that's safe to do when you're not thinking straight. I know you know that."

Kazunari does, though that doesn't mean anything. "I'm fine."

"Bullshit. You've been working your ass off because you don't like thinking about the guy you can't have." Shou-chan shakes his head when Kazunari tries to protest. "I've known you for what, five years? Six? I think I know what I'm talking about by this point."

"No, you don't," Kazunari mutters. "I'm fine. I don't even think about Shintarou anymore."

"Oh, sure, and it's just a coincidence that you've been nailing every tall, classy guy with glasses who comes through the door. Please."

"I have not!" Kazunari says. Shou-chan stares at him. "Really, I haven't."

"Please," Shou-chan says again. "I've been in fear for my own virtue for days now. And your dissatisfied customer downstairs is tall, expensive, and looks a lot like our dear departed friend Shin-chan. Give it up, brat, you're in too deep to see what you've been doing with yourself."

Kazunari stares at Shou-chan, who looks back, level and serious in spite of the levity. "Fuck," he says. Fuck, Shou-chan may be an asshole in how he does it, but he's never not looked after their best interests, in his own sarcastic way. If he's bothered enough by what he's seeing to intervene like this, he must be worried. And he's never once given Kazunari reason to doubt his good judgment. "Fuck." He sits down on the bed and scrubs his hands over his face. "Great. Now what?"

The mattress dips next to him; Shou-chan says, "You take a break and sort yourself out, that's what."

Kazunari snorts. "Easy for you to say. How'm I supposed to pay my rent if I'm not working?" Rather, where is he going to find a job that pays enough to cover all his expenses and work his clerkship hours once it begins?

"Well, now, it's funny you should ask me that." Shou-chan sounds like he's grinning. When Kazunari looks to check, he finds that he's right. "Just so happens that it's past time this place had another bartender. You ever thought about taking up making drinks for fun and profit?"

For a second, he wonders whether Shou-chan is actually serious—but he seems to be. "No," Kazunari says. "What, you think I should try and persuade Nijimura that he wants to hire me on?" Nijimura's always presided behind the bar in solitary splendor; he has a tough time imagining that changing.

Shou-chan continues to grin lazily. "Convince, hell. He's been whining about being too busy for ages now. He's just about talked me into it."

What—what? First, there's the incongruous image of Nijimura whining, then there's the implication that Shou-chan has any sort of say in running the bar. Kazunari's always had suspicions about what Shou-chan and Nijimura get up to in their off hours, but still.

Shou-chan raises his eyebrows, maybe because of the look Kazunari is giving him. "What, you thought our little arrangement here just happened out of the vacuum? We're partners, brat. He runs the downstairs and I handle the upstairs."

"…oh," Kazunari says, because that does make a few things make more sense. He shakes his head, trying to clear it. There are more important things to worry about. "Wait, why are you offering me this?" Why the hell is Shou-chan going this far out of the way for him?

Shou-chan stands up and shrugs. "Because I want to, that's why." He holds a hand down to Kazunari. "C'mon, let's get you dressed. Then you and him can figure out how you want to make this work."

Kazunari looks up at him; Shou-chan smiles down at him, perfectly bland except for the little bit of softness around his eyes, like affection. He takes Shou-chan's hand and lets himself be pulled to his feet. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Shou-chan tells him. "I've got a reputation to maintain."

 
 
 

No one really says anything when Kazunari starts shadowing Nijimura, either. The new guys haven't been around long enough to know any better (he'd swear they don't even recognize him when he's out of drag) and the ones who've been around a while seem to get it without having to ask. That's what he figures it means when Kise bumps fists with him on his first night and Himuro favors him with a wry little smile that actually makes it all the way to his eyes for once.

None of the bar's patrons seem to pick up on the change; a few of his regulars even ask after him. Kazunari enjoys being able to tell them that the guy they're after is on vacation for a while, and no, he doesn't know when he's coming back. It probably means that Shou-chan was right about his needing to take a break. Whatever.

Not that he's working on getting his head straightened out, whatever that means. Learning how to tend bar takes up a lot of Kazunari's attention, and the overlap in his old job and the new one amuses him. They're both about customer satisfaction, and if anything, working the bar is even more demanding on that front. After all, not everyone who drinks at the Emperor is there to pick up a hooker, and Nijimura expects perfection. It makes for a lot of information to assimilate: drink recipes, Nijimura's finicky preferences for how the bar's workstations need to be arranged, all the different preferences the regulars have. Kazunari doesn't care. He's learned to be good at memorizing lots of new information in a hurry and he's a fucking genius at small talk and besides, he thrives on challenges. And it's a different kind of hard work to stay on his feet for hours on end. Kazunari falls into his bed, exhausted, at the ends of his shifts, and is happy to do it. Best of all, he's busy enough that he doesn't have the time to waste on thinking about useless things. (No, of course it's not healthy, but if he can just get through the remainder of his vacation, he'll be fine. Once his clerkship starts up, he'll be far too busy again to think about anything troublesome. Go long enough without thinking about something, and it stops mattering. The mind routes around it, the way an oyster secretes nacre around a piece of grit or the human body can heal itself around a foreign object. It's still there, but it's insulated and can't cause hurt anymore.)

For a wonder, he manages it: the first day after vacation ends, Kazunari reports to a conference room for the first day of his clinical clerkship and (with any luck at all) the rest of his life with the rest of his classmates who've finally cleared their exams, all without having to spend more time than absolutely necessary dwelling on what's over and done with.

Shuutoku is a hell of a teaching hospital. Maybe it's not Toudai, but it's right up there, Kazunari concludes while he and his cohort make their tour through the campus, looking in on all the different departments and state-of-the-art facilities where they'll be working for the next two years.

"Worth it?" Shou-chan asks Thursday night during a lull in the rush for drinks.

Kazunari shrugs at him. "Yeah, I think it's going to be." He doesn't have any intention of letting it be otherwise. "Doesn't quite feel real yet." There's something kind of surreal about following Miyaji-sensei around as he makes his rounds through the oncology ward (what a place to start, but Miyaji-sensei says that if they can survive this rotation, they can survive anything). It's a whole different kind of learning compared to the classroom work—it's hard to imagine himself being as confident as the doctors and nurses he's observing are. Still. It's definitely worth all the work he's put in over the past few years to get here.

Shou-chan holds his glass out for a refill; Kazunari tops him off with a shot of tonic and a fresh wedge of lime. He raises his eyebrows at the way Shou-chan is studying him, but Shou-chan just gestures with his chin. "Think someone wants your attention."

"That's one way of putting it." Kazunari sighs and heads down to where a kid is well on his way to making his first trip to a gay bar a drunken fiasco, hoping that he's not going to be mopping up puke before the night's out. (He hopes in vain.)

It's like the universe has it out for him or something, though, because no sooner does Kazunari assure Shou-chan that life as a clinical clerk is pretty awesome than everything goes to hell.

The worst part is that he doesn't even see it coming—well, why would he? It's not like Kazunari expects to ever run into Shintarou again, which is why it feels like a punch to the gut when he's at lunch with Miyaji-sensei and the rest of his cohort and sees a guy carrying a giant, overstuffed pink rabbit come through the door and realizes that it's Shintarou.

"What the heck?" Tomita asks, staring across the cafeteria. "I thought you said that this was the staff-only cafeteria."

Miyaji-sensei turns in his seat to look while Kazunari slouches down in his seat, feeling nauseated. "That's Midorima. He's doing his residency with Nakatani-sensei."

"He's carrying a giant pink rabbit." Kaida cranes her head to peer at Shintarou—Midorima? Midorima, geez. "Do you think it's for a patient?" She sounds like she's on the verge of cooing.

"No, he's just a freak." Miyaji-sensei's tone is flat. "That's his lucky item. He's got a new one every day."

"Lucky… item?" Tomita repeats, looking around the table like he's not sure he's heard that correctly. Kazunari could tell him that he has, but his mouth is too dry for that. Shintarou is doing his residency here at Shuutoku? Oh, fuck. Fuck.

"Yeah, he's a really superstitious bastard." Miyaji-sensei shakes his head. "He'd never get away with it if he weren't almost as good as he thinks he is, or his family wasn't part of the Midorima medical group."

"He's one of those Midorimas?" Kazunari is amazed that his voice doesn't come out like a croak, but it sounds normal, even though Shintarou is apparently related to one of the most prestigious medical groups in the area, maybe the country.

"Only son of their director." Miyaji-sensei grimaces. "And he's a real prick, too. Won't talk to any of us lesser mortals if he can help it."

Kazunari bites down on his tongue before he can say anything stupid—Shintarou's not like that, he's awkward and shy, and—he's moving down the cafeteria line and carrying his tray of food to an empty table. He looks tired, like he's been driving himself hard lately, and Kazunari can read tension in his shoulders and the precise way he arranges his dishes before him. He does not look as though he expects to share his table with anyone but the rabbit.

Fuck. Fuck, what is he supposed to do now?

Kazunari is distantly aware that the rest of his tablemates are continuing to talk, maybe about Shintarou or maybe about something else—he isn't listening, frozen between hoping that Shintarou will look his way and see him and terrified that he might. Fuck, what is he going to do—he's not supposed to run into anyone he knows outside the bar, that's why it's clear on the other side of the prefecture from Shuutoku and he wore the drag—and he's definitely not supposed to ever see Shintarou again—hah. Shintarou probably chose the Emperor for the same reason he did, because it's so far from his normal circles. Talk about irony.

He must eat the rest of his lunch, though he has no memory of doing it or tasting it. When the rest of his cohort rises to take their trays over to the kitchen's service hatch and then head back to work, Kazunari follows them, moving on autopilot.

Shintarou never once looks up from his lunch.

Chapter Text

Kazunari skips his usual pre-work nap in favor of heading straight for the bar, which is the only place he knows to find people who will understand his predicament in all its fucked-up glory. (His friends are great and his cohort isn't bad, but he has no intention of letting them in on how he's been paying his way through school, and the mere thought of asking his parents fills him with bone-deep horror. The fewer details his parents know about his sex life, the happier everyone is.)

Miyaji-sensei was all too willing to indulge their curiosity about Midorima Shintarou; over the course of a single afternoon, Kazunari has learned all kinds of things about Shintarou that he wishes he hadn't. Midorima Shintarou is doing his post-clinical-internship residency in surgery, with an eye to specializing in neurosurgery because he really is that good. He's engaged to a young woman whose father is the director of his own neurological clinic, and it's generally agreed that Shintarou is being groomed to eventually step into his prospective father-in-law's position. He comes from money; his fiancée is equally wealthy and quite pretty to boot, and thus Shintarou is widely regarded as being one lucky bastard, much envied and resented. When Kazunari realizes this, he nearly loses control of his countenance—he wants to laugh, or maybe cry, because they don't have any idea.

It just figures that Shou-chan isn't even there when he lets himself into the club. No one's there yet except Nijimura, who's doing prep for the coming evening. "What are you doing here?" he asks when Kazunari looks around—most of the lights are dark and all the chairs and stools are still on the tables. "You're not supposed to come in till eight."

Shou-chan is manifestly not present, but Kazunari asks anyway. "I was looking for Shou-chan. Is he here?"

Nijimura gives him a long look and then goes back to slicing lemons. "Nope. He's not going to come in until later."

Great. Just great. Kazunari considers asking when later is, but there's something about Nijimura's flat affect that makes him stop and take a deep breath. He hasn't really been thinking straight since lunch, too busy running on panic mode to be able to be sensible. He doesn't have to talk to Shou-chan right away—not really. It can wait until the end of shift. Honestly, rushing over here wasn't all that necessary. "Sorry. I guess I'll catch him later. Didn't mean to bother you."

Nijimura grunts at that and tosses a handful of lemon wedges into one of the garnish buckets. Kazunari takes that for a dismissal and turns to go, only to be halted in his tracks when Nijimura says, "Let me guess. You ran into him, didn't you?"

Kazunari turns, but Nijimura continues to cut up the lemons, unperturbed. "What? How did you know?"

Nijimura flicks a glance at him and snorts. "What else would've made you come tearing in here like your hair was on fire, looking for Shouichi?"

That's a fair point, Kazunari has to hand it to him. He returns to the bar and takes a stool down to sit on. "Guess who's working in the surgery unit over at Shuutoku?"

He sees Nijimura's hands still ever so briefly on his knife before he resumes his work. "It's a smaller world than you'd think it ought to be, sometimes."

"You can say that again." Kazunari watches him cut up another lemon and then start in on the limes; Nijimura's work is quick and precise and he doesn't waste any movements. He doesn't ask for any details or even seem all that anxious about what happened, but Kazunari thinks he's listening all the same. The bartender's secret, he'd called it one afternoon when he was showing Kazunari the ropes. Make a patron feel like they're being listened to, and they're more likely to order another drink and to tip generously. Maybe Nijimura is actually listening or is just putting on a good show; Kazunari needs to talk it out and tells him about it anyway. "I don't think he saw me. He's in a different unit and it was at lunch in the cafeteria. But it's not a huge hospital, you know? If it happened once, it'll happen again."

Nijimura bisects a lime and begins slicing it into wedges. "Sounds like you want it to."

Kazunari tries to laugh. "That'd be pretty stupid of me."

Nijimura drops the lime wedges into their bucket. "What's your point?"

"Y'see, it's because you say things like that that my tips are higher than yours," Kazunari tells him, not that Nijimura seems to care all that much about these things. "Why would I even want to see him again? He's ancient history."

"I hope you did a better job of lying to the johns than that," Nijimura says. "Otherwise I'm going to lose what's left of my faith in humanity and go drown myself in the bay." He tosses the last lime into the bucket and rinses off the knife and cutting board.

Kazunari groans and puts his head down on the bar. "Why does he have to be at Shuutoku? This was all so much easier when I didn't know where to find him."

Nijimura doesn't say anything, but Kazunari hears the rattling and clinking of ice against a glass and the soft glug of liquid from a bottle before Nijimura sits something down next to his ear. He raises his head for a look in time to see Nijimura putting the bottle of Laphroaig—the bottle Kazunari is not allowed to touch on pain of death—back into its place beneath the bar. Nijimura returns his look with an impassive stare. "Make yourself useful and sweep this place up," he says, just as if he hasn't just passed Kazunari a glass of his private stock. "After that, you can mop."

Kazunari laughs a little and picks up the glass. He toasts Nijimura and drinks; the alcohol burns down his throat, smooth and smoky. "Sure thing, boss," he says and goes to get the broom. He still doesn't know what he's going to do, of course, and Nijimura sure isn't Shou-chan, but at least he's not on the verge of a full-scale panic attack anymore. At this point, Kazunari is willing to take anything he can get.

 
 
 

Later—several hours' worth of later, in fact—Shou-chan leans back on his stool and says, "I suppose it's too late to transfer to another school?" Kazunari figures that the look on his face must say everything for him, because Shou-chan laughs. "That's what I figured. Too bad, that'd be the easiest way for you to get yourself through this."

Kise, who's propped up on the corner of the bar and has been listening avidly, says, "This is more fun than television. What are you going to do next, Takaocchi? I think you should go to him and threaten to reveal everything unless he gives you enough money to live in the style to which you've become accustomed."

"Shut up, Kise." Kazunari grips the bridge of his nose, really starting to feel the nap he skipped earlier. "I can probably keep from running into him for a while, but given how my luck's been going lately, we're going to cross paths eventually."

"Perhaps you should start carrying the lucky items for Scorpios," Shou-chan murmurs. He smiles when Kazunari flips him off while Kise demands to know more about the lucky item thing. "No? Then I suggest you figure out how you're going to handle the inevitable." His tone is light enough, though Kazunari can see that he doesn't really find this thing funny. Neither does Kazunari, for all the good it does them. "How good are you at pretending never to have met someone before?"

"I can pull that off all right," Kazunari says. He pauses. "Not so sure about Shintarou, though."

Shou-chan taps his fingers against the bar, frowning, but it's Kise who says, "Pretend you've forgotten you've ever met him, then act all surprised to remember him and have run into him again. Like maybe you sat next to him on a train or something one time a while ago." When they both look at him, he shrugs. "That's what I do when I run into somebody I've fucked here."

"Ryouta, you are a man of many facets," Shou-chan drawls. "Always you surprise me." He raises his eyebrows at Kazunari. "Do you suppose that will work?"

"The important thing is to be really vague," Kise says. "Let him be the one to come up with the details. You don't want to say you met him in Hokkaido when he's never left the prefecture."

Kazunari considers it—yeah, he can probably make that work. He's good at reeling off nonsense until Shintarou catches on. Or he was. That can't have changed too much in only a couple months' time. "Yeah… yeah. If it comes to that, I can pull it off." He shrugs. "And hey, who knows? Maybe I'll get through this without ever running into him again."

 
 
 

So much for that, Kazunari thinks when he sees the schedule Miyaji-sensei hands around a couple weeks later. There's Shintarou's name right there in the slot for the consultation Miyaji-sensei has schedule regarding the course of treatment for one of the new patients. Damn it.

There's no helping it, short of trying to call in sick, which Kazunari isn't willing to do. For one thing, he's pretty sure Miyaji-sensei wouldn't buy it and would in fact hunt him down and drag him in by the ear, if necessary. The guy just doesn't have a lot of patience for anything that even hints of slacking. For another, this has to happen sooner or later. They might as well get it over and done with—heck, for all he knows, Shintarou might already be over it and perfectly ready to forget he ever dallied with Kazunari. It doesn't have to be that big a deal. That's what Kazunari tells himself; maybe if he does it enough times, he'll even believe it.

All the same, he's got sweaty palms and a nervous flutter in his gut when it comes time for that meeting. Shintarou and Nakatani-sensei are coming to them, not the other way around, which is a good thing. It gives Kazunari a chance to do a little stage-managing. When the appointed time comes, he plants himself in clear view of the door and busies himself in reviewing his notes. It's not much, but maybe it'll give Shintarou a chance to figure out what he wants to do with himself before the introductions start up.

It goes about as well as it can; Kazunari is immersed in the notes he's made about this case (Miyaji-sensei also likes to spring pop quizzes on them, and no detail is too small to be overlooked) when Nakatani-sensei and Shintarou arrive. He's pretty sure it's Shintarou who makes that tiny, choked-off noise. He gives it a moment, as much to make sure that he has complete control of his expression as anything else, and then glances up, casual, keeping his expression empty of everything but polite interest in the newcomers. Yeah, Shintarou is looking pretty surprised, like he can't believe what he's seeing. Kazunari only allows himself a moment to meet Shintarou's eyes before he's moving on to Nakatani-sensei—now there's a guy who looks like he's seen it all and isn't impressed by any of it. One who doesn't miss a whole lot, either, come to that. He's already glancing at Shintarou curiously.

Kazunari rises with the rest of his cohort for the introductions. There's a few smirks—today's lucky item appears to be a maneki-neko—and Shintarou is still looking pretty out of it when Kazunari's turn comes. Time to try Kise's ploy, he figures, because Nakatani-sensei isn't the only one who's giving them a funny look now.

He introduces himself and then squints up at Shintarou, doing his best impression of trying to remember something. "Hey," he says, "have we met before? I feel like I ought to know you." The irony just about kills him, since Kazunari would be willing to bet that he knows Shintarou better than anyone outside his immediate family. At least for the things that really count. "Didn't we sit next to each other… wasn't it on the train or something?"

Shintarou's eyes go wide behind his glasses at the start of Kazunari's little charade, like he's on the verge of outright panic, but he's not stupid. He catches on fast. "Yes," he says, curt. "Now that you mention it, I believe you are correct. No wonder I thought I recognized you."

Geez, if he's always this stiff with people, it's no wonder Miyaji-sensei thinks he's a prick. Kazunari grins at him, ignoring all this, because he's got a reputation of his own. "I'll be damned. Small world, isn't it?" He shakes Shintarou's hand, which actually requires his reaching out to take it and doing most of the work of pumping it up and down. "How've you been? Hey, I never did buy you that beer I promised you! We'll have to do that and catch up on old times, what do you say?"

"I suppose there's no escaping it," Shintarou says. Kazunari has no idea whether it's deliberate or not, but his distant tone is just right. It sounds exactly like they were thrown together as seatmates and that his shock is a result of his distaste for being forced to renew the acquaintance. Kazunari wants to kiss him for it, because everyone else is looking amused by his discomfiture.

"Great! Man, it's awesome to see you again, you have no idea." He punches Shintarou's shoulder for effect, much to Miyaji-sensei's visible delight.

Nakatani-sensei takes pity on his beleaguered trainee surgeon and clears his throat. "Perhaps we might move on to business? Our schedule is very full today."

That breaks the show up and gets them all back down to business… though Kazunari is hard-put to pay the close attention that he normally does. He feels Shintarou's gaze resting on him several times through the course of the meeting and has to work hard at keeping himself from returning the favor. Not that he needs to. He's already seen the faint purple stains beneath Shintarou's eyes and the little brackets around his mouth. It's probably egotism to even let himself wonder if those signs of stress are because of him. Whatever it is, Kazunari's fairly sure Shintarou isn't particularly happy these days. And it's damned stupid to wish he could do something about that, because those days are behind them both. It's a good thing he's already prepared to be a grown-up about this and pretend like he's had plenty of time to put the past behind him. Yeah.

Later, he tells Shou-chan, "Well, it happened."

Shou-chan doesn't have to ask what. "Yeah?"

Kazunari pours himself a glass of water and shrugs, looking out over the dance floor. "I think we got through it with everyone's cover intact. Kise knew what he was talking about for once, so I guess it's all settled now." He can stay out of Shintarou's way as much as possible, and Shintarou has a clear reason for wanting to avoid him. It'll work.

"Oh, yes, all settled," Shou-chan drawls. When Kazunari blinks at him, he jerks his chin at the door. Shintarou is standing there, looking about as uncertain as he did the first night he'd come in. "Practically laid to rest, even."

Kazunari watches Shintarou take a breath and descend into the club. Well. This is going to be interesting. "There's no need to get sarcastic," he says. "We probably do need to compare notes so we can keep our story straight and make this work."

"Is that really what you're going to call it?" Shou-chan clicks his tongue against his teeth while Shintarou skirts the dance floor. "Can't you come up with something better than that?"

"Shut up, it's been a stressful week." Shintarou is glancing up and down the bar, probably looking for someone in a dress and long wig. Of course, the only one there matching that description these days is Mibuchi (who takes pride in not needing a wig, more power to him).

As Shintarou frowns, Shou-chan says, "Be careful. Nothing has actually changed. Don't forget that."

"Yeah," Kazunari says, watching Shintarou head for the bar, probably planning on waiting for him to come down. "I know. Excuse me, Shou-chan. I have a customer."

Shintarou always ordered himself mojitos; Kazunari makes one now and takes it down to where Shintarou has seated himself, placing it in front of him. This time he gets to see the moment of Shintarou's recognition, the way his eyes go wide and he stares. "Hey, Shintarou. You looking for me?"

Shintarou blinks a couple of times, taking him in—the tidy white shirt and black jeans and apron wrapped around his waist, complete with a bar towel tucked into the top—and says his name, soft and wondering, like he's not sure what to make of Kazunari's career change.

Kazunari shrugs at him, aiming for light and breezy. "It was time for a change of pace."

Shintarou blinks again as he takes Kazunari's meaning. "So you tend bar now?"

"Well, my rent isn't going to pay itself." Kazunari nods his head at the mojito. "Hey, try that out, see if I'm making it right."

Shintarou seems to realize that the drink is there for the first time. He looks at it and then glances up at Kazunari. "…I thought you were going to buy me a beer."

Kazunari laughs. "If that's what you'd rather have—"

"No," Shintarou says swiftly. "This is fine." As if to emphasize the point, he takes a drink.

"Well?" Kazunari prompts him.

He gets one of Shintarou's subtle smiles; it feels like a reward. "It's good."

"Good," Kazunari says, and then realizes he's not sure what to say next. There are things he wants to ask Shintarou, things he wants to tell him, but they're not things he can say right here in the bar, especially not with Mibuchi sitting a couple seats away and making for an apparently avid audience. Really, they're not things he should say at all, because they're all things that run the risk of digging up what he's been working hard to forget.

Shintarou seems to be at a similar loss. He toys with the cocktail napkin beneath his drink, ripping it to shreds with those long fingers of his—surgeon's hands, Kazunari thinks, making that connection and remembering just how precisely Shintarou can use his hands and fingers. That's a memory he really doesn't need to invoke right now. "So, how've you been?"

"Busy," Shintarou says, brief. After a moment, he adds, "I see you passed your exams after all."

"Yeah." Kazunari rubs the back of his neck. "Even did pretty well on them. Thank goodness. Don't know what I would've done if I'd had to repeat those classes again."

"Probably remembered to get a flu shot this year," Shintarou says, dry.

Kazunari laughs at that, awkwardly. This conversation feels like standing on a narrow ledge with a pit looming at their feet, one that they're trying to edge around and which limits every movement they make. "Yeah, I guess I would. So, hey—"

Nijimura looms up at his shoulder, all unexpectedly. "Hey." He whacks Kazunari's shoulder a good one. "If you're going on break, get out from behind the bar. You're confusing the customers."

It's on the tip of his tongue to say that he isn't going on break for a while yet, but Kazunari catches the look in Nijimura's eye before he can make an ass of himself. Oh. "Sorry, boss. I'll be out back."

Nijimura grunts and moves off to attend the customers who are ostensibly confused (and who actually seem to be fully satisfied with their lots). Kazunari shakes his head and glances at Shintarou, jerking his thumb towards the back of the bar and cocking an eyebrow at him. Shintarou nods; when Kazunari comes out from behind the bar, he follows him out the back door.

The alley out back probably isn't the best place to have any kind of serious talk, but Kazunari isn't about to take Shintarou upstairs. That would be a damned stupid move for sure. He finds a nice, comfortable patch of wall instead and leans against it, drawing a knee up and slouching down. "So. Neurosurgery, huh?"

Shintarou lets out a breath, like he's glad that Kazunari has gotten them started. "Yes. I appear to have a talent for such things."

A talent, Kazunari notes, not a desire. Well, that doesn't necessarily mean much. "Yeah, I can believe that. Me, I figure on going into internal medicine. Someday I want to have a little clinic of my own, a nice little family practice, you know?"

He's seen a lot of different expressions on Shintarou's face. This one he'd call wistful, colored with a touch of envy. "I believe that will suit you very well."

"That's what I'm hoping." Kazunari stuffs his hands into his pockets and they look at each other in silence.

After a moment, Shintarou clears his throat and shoves his glasses up his nose. "You showed great presence of mind this afternoon. I'm afraid I was at a loss, myself."

Kazunari doesn't like the note of self-recrimination in Shintarou's voice, like he's blaming himself for not being quick enough to react to the surprise. "Thanks, but you're giving me too much credit. I had the time to brace myself." Shintarou looks at him, sharp. "Yeah, uh… I saw you a couple weeks back. In the cafeteria. It was the day the lucky item was a pink rabbit."

Shintarou frowns. "And you didn't think to warn me? You knew we were likely to cross paths and you let me walk into that without any notice?" He sounds, and looks, irritated.

Kazunari opens his mouth, but even as he starts to defend himself, he can see the justice of Shintarou's point. "Sorry," he says instead. "I didn't think about that—I guess I was hoping it wouldn't happen." That they'd both be able to get on with their lives without meeting again, that they wouldn't have to have a conversation like this one. Shintarou's still frowning, not particularly placated, but Kazunari's willing to let that go, having seen now that Shintarou isn't always at his best in social settings. He must have hated being put on the spot like that. "Really, I'm sorry. I had a plan, but you had no way of knowing that. Must have been a bad couple of minutes for you."

"That would be one way of putting it," Shintarou says, still a little stiff.

Right. Well, fair enough. Maybe it's for the best, anyway, in the long run. "Yeah, okay." Kazunari runs his hand over his face. "Anyway. So where did we meet? Just in case anyone asks." He escaped questions today, thanks to the busy afternoon schedule, but at least a few members of his cohort had looked at him curiously. With any lucky, they'll have forgotten about it by the next time he sees them, but better to have a cover story and not need it than the other way around.

"I told my mentor that it was on a train to Kyoto," Shintarou says. "I went there two years ago."

"Train to Kyoto, two years ago, got it." Kazunari nods. "I was that guy who didn't shut up the whole way, right? And seemed to think that made us long-lost buddies?"

Shintarou frowns just a bit. "That doesn't seem to be very flattering to you."

Kazunari has to smile at that. "Don't worry about it, my reputation can take it. Kaasan says I can make conversation with a fence post, and besides. This'll give you an excuse for avoiding me." There are definitely more ways to use his outgoing tendencies than just paying the bills.

Shintarou frowns some more and looks aside, adjusting his glasses again. "…I suppose it will." It's clear that he doesn't care for the idea.

Kazunari knows what he's thinking—hell, he's thinking it, too, wondering what it would be like to try being friends—but it doesn't take a genius to spot a bad idea of that magnitude. Shintarou doesn't look like he's over it yet, and Kazunari knows for a fact that he's not. It would be all too easy to go from being friends to being fuckbuddies, and that's not going to end well for anyone. "Yeah, it should. We should be able to—" In his pocket, his phone buzzes. "Hang on a second."

When he checks his phone, he sees that Shou-chan has texted him: You had better not be blowing him in the alley.

Oh, for pity's sake. Sometimes Shou-chan is too much of a mother hen. A sarcastic, evil-minded mother hen. Kazunari types the reply (NO!) with more violence than his poor phone really deserves, since Shou-chan isn't there for him to smack.

"You kept it." Shintarou's voice sounds peculiar, quiet and surprised. He's staring at the charm dangling from Kazunari's phone. Then he looks up; there's a question written in his expression that Kazunari can read all too easily. Shit.

Yeah, he wants to say, of course I kept it, you gave it to me. But he's not going to say that. He's going to be responsible about this. Kazunari shrugs and clears his throat. "It got me through my exams, didn't it?" Which it did, though that's not why he's still carrying the damn thing.

"I hoped that it would."

Kazunari tries not to notice how disappointed Shintarou sounds. This is for their own good. If he can make it clear that they're over, then Shintarou can move on, hopefully sooner than later. "Well, yeah, I mean, if nothing else, the placebo effect probably kicked in." There, that strikes just the right note of casual indifference.

After a moment of silence, Shintarou clears his throat and changes the subject. "I suppose I see now why you were reluctant to repeat those courses."

"Tell me about it," Kazunari says, leaping for the safer topic. "The joys of having expensive tastes in schools."

"Mm," Shintarou says, noncommittal. But then, he probably went to Toudai—no, that's unkind. Kazunari stops that train of thought before it can leave the station.

The money thing is good, though. Gives him a reason to cut this conversation short. Kazunari straightens up from his slouch. "Yeah, well, anyway, speaking of money, I'd better get back to work before Nijimura decides to dock my pay."

Shintarou looks at him and bites his lip. After a moment, he says, "You don't want me to go back inside, do you?"

That's not true at all, but it doesn't really matter what Kazunari actually wants. "I think it's probably better if you don't."

Shintarou chews on his lip some more and finally nods. "I suppose I'll see you around."

"Yeah, see you around," Kazunari echoes, careless and easy-going, the way he'd take leave of any of his casual acquaintances. They look at each other for a moment longer, then Shintarou nods and goes, walking away swiftly.

Kazunari lets him go, teeth set against his tongue to keep it from betraying him. When he goes back inside, Shou-chan gives him a long look and claps his shoulder, like he's proud of Kazunari for being sensible or something.

At least someone is, Kazunari thinks grimly, and gets back to work.

Chapter Text

Turns out there's a problem with the whole Kazunari-and-Shintarou-avoid-each-other plan, and that's the fact that all of a sudden, their schedules seem to have synced up. Four days running, Shintarou ends up taking his lunch about the same time Miyaji-sensei herds them down to the cafeteria. Kazunari spends four lunches in a row embroiling himself in a heated argument with Tomita, debating the relative merits of Waseda and Keio's teams in order to avoid looking at Shintarou sitting at his table in all his solitary glory, pretending that he isn't aware of the fact that Shintarou is watching him.

On the fifth day of this, he runs out of things to argue about, probably to the relief of the rest of their cohort. He also runs out of self-control. Kazunari's down to his dessert when he decides that he'd better do something about this, so he grins at the rest of the table and stands up. "I'll catch up with you later. I've got to go say hello to a friend."

"Don't be late," Miyaji-sensei says, absently, before he remembers that Kazunari is acquainted with Midorima Shintarou. He grins then. "Have fun."

Kazunari doesn't much want to smile back, but he does before taking his tray up to the counter. He tosses his apple from hand to hand as he makes his way over to Shintarou's table. (He really needs to get into the habit of thinking of him as Midorima, but so far he just hasn't been able to make it happen.)

Shintarou freezes when Kazunari approaches his table and pulls out a chair. Kazunari smiles at him, conscious that there are plenty of curious eyes watching them, and sits down. He hooks an arm over the back of the chair and bites into his apple. "All right, Shin-chan, what gives?" Shin-chan is just the right touch for the cover they've concocted, Kazunari feels.

It certainly makes Shintarou wince visibly. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Takao-kun."

The formality is good, or would be if Kazunari believed it was for real, but Shintarou is too guilty around the eyes for him to buy it. He grins at Shintarou some more, trusting that Shintarou will be able to read some of his meaning in it. "This your idea of avoiding me?"

Shintarou's mouth goes so flat that Kazunari figures his point gets across just fine. But what he says is, "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."

"I've seen more of you this week than I have in a month of working here." Kazunari raises his eyebrows. "That's not strange to you?"

Shintarou's not backing down at all. "Am I supposed to go without sustenance all day?"

Kazunari munches on his apple, studying him; Shintarou's jaw is set. "You shouldn't do this to yourself."

"I believe that is my choice to make," Shintarou says, stiff, and turns his attention back to his meal.

Kazunari bites down on the urge to tell him that it's not just his choice. There's no point in encouraging him, and letting Shintarou know that this is bothering him will only reinforce the fact that Shintarou's strategy is working. "Suit yourself," he says. "What on earth are you drinking?"

This throws Shintarou. He glances at the can sitting on his tray, blinking and puzzled. "Shiruko."

"What, seriously?" Kazunari wrinkles his nose. "Takes all kinds, I guess."

Shintarou purses up his mouth, all prim. "It's good." He lifts the can to his lips to underscore the point.

He does seem to enjoy it, Kazunari will give him that. He thinks about that, as well as Shintarou's taste in cocktails and the wedge of cake on his tray, and draws a few conclusions. "Someone has a sweet tooth, doesn't he?"

"A properly regulated diet and exercise regimen includes allowances for a modest intake of sugar," Shintarou says, sober as a textbook.

"A big sweet tooth," Kazunari decides, grinning. "Never would have seen that one coming, Shin-chan."

Shintarou frowns at him. "There's nothing wrong in indulging oneself occasionally."

"No, of course not." Kazunari slouches lower in his chair. This is getting into dangerous territory; better make sure they don't get into things better left alone. "It's just that I'm having trouble matching serious doctor Shin-chan with an enormous sweet tooth, that's all."

It doesn't really work. Shintarou frowns at him; there's trouble in his eyes. "What are you doing?"

Teasing you seems a little too obvious, even for Shintarou. Kazunari chews on a bite of apple, thoughtful, piecing his answer together. "Told my cohort I was coming over here to pester you, so I'm making it look good."

Shintarou frowns and stabs his fork into his cake. "I would imagine that you've accomplished that."

In other words, he might as well leave. "Yeah, but I only have a few minutes until it's time for afternoon rounds." Maybe he's an idiot and a masochist, but he'd rather spend them sitting across from Shintarou than not. No, he's definitely an idiot. Maybe he'll just not tell Shou-chan about this.

Shintarou looks at him, then past him—probably to where his cohort is sitting. "Your first rotation is in oncology."

Kazunari nods. "Yeah. Miyaji-sensei may be a tyrant, but he's like an encyclopedia. I can't believe how much I've learned already."

Shintarou gives him another long look. "Of course," he says, between one methodical bite of cake and the next. "He's excellent in his field."

There's something else he'd like to say, Kazunari can tell, but he doesn't know what. Doesn't quite dare to press for it, either—as long as he can keep the conversation light, they'll probably be able to get through this okay. Probably. "Yeah, he really is. Keeps threatening to hit us with pineapples, though. What do you figure is up with that?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say," Shintarou tells him.

"Maybe he had a traumatic experience with a pineapple as a young child," Kazunari says.

He spends the remainder of his lunch spinning out implausible pineapple-related scenarios for Shintarou's amusement. Shintarou tolerates this in stoic silence, but Kazunari catches one of his tiny, subtle smiles before he excuses himself and feels ridiculously gratified by it.

No, he's definitely not telling Shou-chan about this. What would be the point? He already knows what Shou-chan would say.

 
 
 

Kazunari tells himself that he hopes Shintarou will do the sensible thing and stop taking his lunches to coincide with theirs, though it's not really true. It would be for the best, which is why he tells himself that he hopes Shintarou won't be there the next time he goes into the cafeteria. And he tells himself that he's exasperated by the fact that Shintarou is there after all, though he's not really exasperated at all. Shintarou can do what he wants, because it's not as though Kazunari plans on a repeat performance of their lunch together.

Then the day of the fish happens.

Kazunari got used to the whole lucky items thing early on, because honestly, the life of a working boy had long since inured him to the bizarre tics and quirks people could have. Really, the only remarkable thing about the lucky items is that Shintarou should be so open about his quirks.

But then Shintarou comes to lunch lugging a large ceramic sculpture of a trout leaping from a stream. People all around the cafeteria stare as he deposits the statue on his usual table and then goes to purchase his meal.

"Where does that guy come up with this stuff?" Tomita asks, full of mirth. "I mean, is he for real?"

"Do you suppose that there's something… not quite right about him?" Kaida asks, and the delicate pause makes her point abundantly clear.

Miyaji-sensei snorts. "We could fill a book with all the things that aren't right about that guy."

"He's not that bad." Kazunari almost doesn't recognize his own voice when he speaks up in Shintarou's defense. No, that's definitely him talking; everyone's attention swivels to him. He thinks fast. "Can you blame him for wanting as much luck on his side as he can get? I mean, think about what he's learning to do for a living."

That gives enough people pause to stop them from laughing, but Miyaji-sensei rolls his eyes. "Maybe, but that doesn't mean he's not still an arrogant prick."

He should let that go. He really needs to let that go—"I never noticed that," Kazunari says. "Hang on."

He doesn't really know why he's doing this, except that he knows that Shintarou really isn't as bad as Miyaji-sensei seems to think he is. It's just not fair to let him trash Shintarou when the guy isn't even there to defend himself. Yeah, that works; this is about justice for Shintarou's good name. Totally. (He is such an idiot.)

Kazunari goes over to Shintarou's table to wait for him. Up close, the trout statue is even more atrocious; Kazunari is honestly a little awed by it. "Hey, Shin-chan, why don't you come sit with us? There's plenty of room," he says once Shintarou gets close enough to hear him.

He's surprised that Shintarou doesn't drop his tray; he gives Kazunari a look that's full of disbelief. "I beg your pardon."

Kazunari scoops up the trout—oof, heavy—and gestures. "Come on, I'm dying to hear where you found this thing. It's amazing." He makes for his cohort's table, fairly confident that Shintarou will come along, if only to get his lucky item back. He drags a chair over from an empty table and makes room for it next to his—Tomita scoots his own chair over obligingly enough, looking amused—and sure enough, Shintarou sits his tray down there. His face is expressionless, but Kazunari can see that he's tense—it's all in the tightness of his shoulders.

Kazunari plants himself next to Shintarou and taps a finger on the trout. "Okay, you've got to tell me. Where did you even find it?"

Shintarou adjusts his glasses and cracks his can of shiruko open. "From a shop near my apartment," he says. "The owner purports to be running an antiques shop."

Kazunari laughs. "What, really? This thing is supposed to be an antique?"

"Supposedly," Shintarou says, his tone dry. He's watching the other people at the table, who are all listening in on their conversation with unabashed curiosity. "I do have my doubts."

"No, really?" Kazunari nudges him in the ribs. "This thing is so ugly that it's beautiful. I love it."

"Your approval means a great deal to me," Shintarou says; his tone is utterly flat.

Kazunari grins at him, because Shintarou's tone doesn't necessarily mean anything at all. To know what he really means, a person has to watch his eyes, and right now they're smiling faintly. "Aww, you say the sweetest things to me."

Which is totally the wrong thing to say, he knows it before it even finishes leaving his mouth. Fortunately, his cohort rescues him. "Is that thing really supposed to bring you good luck?" Ishida breaks in.

Shintarou glances at him and then the trout. "According to Oha-Asa, yes."

Kaida purses her lips. "Has it?"

"Objection," Ichinose says before Shintarou can answer. "You can't measure a thing like luck empirically. Any anecdotes he supplies will be full of confirmation bias."

"So what?" Tomita says. "If you think you're having a lucky day, it makes as much sense to give credit to a fish as anything else."

"What sense?" Ichinose demands. "There's no rational reason to believe in luck. It's completely illogical."

"But the placebo effect does have a demonstrable basis in reality," Ishida says, probably just to wind Ichinose up to further heights. "Maybe luck is the same thing as a placebo—all in the mind. In that case, the fish does bring good luck."

"But that's not quantifiable," Ichinose protests. "It can't be."

"It could be," Kaida says, thoughtful. "You'd have to design the study very carefully…"

"And now we're all the way down the rabbit hole," Kazunari tells Shintarou in an undertone. "They'll be arguing about double-blind studies and control groups for the rest of the week."

"I see," Shintarou says; he looks a bit baffled and overwhelmed by all the friendly wrangling going on around them. Ichinose is already scribbling on a paper napkin while Ishida and Kaida argue over instrument design.

Tomita, meanwhile, leans closer and addresses Shintarou directly. "You never said—has it brought you any luck today?"

Shintarou unwraps his sandwich and swallows a bite from it before he answers. "I'm not sure," he says at last. "Maybe."

Tomita nods at that and settles back into his seat, apparently satisfied.

Shintarou doesn't say much for the rest of his meal—probably because Ishida and Ichinose between them make that nearly impossible—but Kazunari enjoys sitting next to him more than he should anyway, even if he has no idea whether having Shintarou sit with them has really done Shintarou's reputation any good in Miyaji-sensei's eyes. (Miyaji-sensei has been quiet since Shintarou first sat down, though his eyes never stop moving around the table, watching the rest of them interacting.) He doesn't realize the extent of his miscalculation until the next day at lunch, when Tomita waves a hand at Shintarou and points at the empty seat at their table. "What are you doing?" Kazunari asks, even before Miyaji-sensei can speak up.

Tomita continues waving at Shintarou. "I saved him a seat," he says, as though it should be obvious what he's doing. "Don't you feel bad watching him sit alone all the time?"

"No," Miyaji-sensei mutters, but no one pays any attention to that. And it sounds sort of half-hearted to Kazunari's ears, though maybe that's just wishful thinking on his part.

Well, shit, Kazunari thinks as Shintarou veers over to their table. Shit, now what is he supposed to do?

In retrospect, Kazunari can see all too clearly that the whole fish thing was a terrible mistake on his part. It's really damn hard to maintain the proper mental boxes for all the different pieces of his life when two of those pieces insist on overlapping so much. It's impossible to make himself not think about Shintarou once Shintarou becomes a regular feature during lunch—his cohort thinks that the guy is weird, there's no doubt of that, but for the most part they're pretty good-natured about it and admit Shintarou to their ranks in the face of Miyaji-sensei's evident confusion. Shintarou seems just about as confused himself, like he doesn't quite know what to do with their casual camaraderie.

Kazunari tries hard not to think about that, about what it means that Shintarou is so ill-prepared for casual socializing over a meal, but he does anyway. Now that he knows who Shintarou is, who his family is and what expectations are resting on his shoulders, it's easy to figure out. Take one introvert and put him under a lot of pressure to succeed, add in a dose of acute intelligence and subtract a certain amount of social confidence, throw in a dash of isolation and sprinkle the whole thing with a taste for guys and a heavy layer of superstition, and it all comes out to Midorima Shintarou. Maybe no one else can see that, but Kazunari can, because he's had the privilege of getting to know the guy in a place where the normal rules don't apply.

And he can't help putting that to use, turning himself into a buffer between Shintarou and the rest of their tablemates, drawing him into the conversations when he can and covering for him in the moments when Shintarou finds himself at a loss. Honestly, it works well enough to worry Kazunari—surely this can't be good, he thinks the day Shintarou cracks one of his dry, understated jokes and everyone, even Miyaji-sensei (however unwillingly), cracks up. No, it's good—it's good for Shintarou, anyway, good for him to be able to interact with ordinary people in an ordinary way. He's looking better these days, less tired and less strained. Which is just great for him, because Kazunari feels like he's going to fly apart at the seams if something doesn't give.

He's a hell of an actor—he's had to be—but sitting next to Shintarou at lunch without letting on that they're anything more than casual friends is exhausting. No, they are casual friends now, nothing more than that, and the past doesn't matter anymore. Really it doesn't, maybe if he tells himself that enough times, he'll even believe it and stop waking up with the memory of Shintarou's mouth on his and his cock aching and hard. Maybe.

Maybe he should look into transferring to another teaching hospital after all. In the meantime, Kazunari sets his expression in a smile and endures.

 
 
 

It takes longer than he expects before Shou-chan decides to corner him. He declines to be subtle about it and sits himself at the corner of the bar after closing, right where he can pin a hard stare on Kazunari. "So have you started fucking him again yet?"

For a moment, Kazunari contemplates playing dumb. Then he abandons that notion as being utterly futile and slumps over the well. "No. We're just friends."

Shou-chan props his chin on the palm of his hand and frowns at him. "How often are you seeing him?"

Kazunari engrosses himself in wiping things down so that he doesn't have to meet Shou-chan's eyes. "Most days. He eats lunch with us."

"Oh, for the love of—are you crazy?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Kazunari admits. He scrubs hard at a particularly stubborn patch of dried syrup. "I didn't mean for it to happen—our schedules synced up—" Shou-chan's snort of disbelief is magnificently full of derision. "—okay, he started showing up for lunch when we did, and then there was this lucky fish statue and—he just sits with us now."

When he takes a peek, he sees that Shou-chan has removed his glasses so that he can rub his eyes. "Kazunari, why are you doing this to yourself?"

"Believe me, I keep asking myself that." Kazunari sets his rag down and braces himself on the edge of the bar. "I've been playing it cool. I'm hoping he'll get over it soon and move on." Shou-chan stares at him. "Look, he has to give it up eventually, because I'm not encouraging him, I swear!"

Shou-chan stares at him, silent for so long that Kazunari begins to squirm. "The only one who's changed anything is you," Shou-chan says. Kazunari squirms some more. "He's still exactly who and what he was before."

It's like Shou-chan thinks that he hasn't been over this himself a thousand times already. "I know." Kazunari goes back to cleaning up. "Why do you think I've been pretending like I don't want to fuck him anymore? He would go for it if I just gave him any encouragement."

Shou-chan sighs. "You're going to break your heart."

"Yeah, well, I guess that's my choice to make, isn't it?" Kazunari grimaces at how sharply that comes out. That's not okay. "Sorry, man, you're just trying to help."

"Starting to think there's no helping you." Shou-chan shakes his head. "Fuck. Guess I'll lay in some booze so we can get you good and shit-faced when it all goes smash."

Kazunari actually manages to smile at that. "You're a good friend."

"Don't say things like that," Shou-chan protests. "You're going to ruin my reputation."

It feels good to laugh and really mean it, for once.

Fuck, but Kazunari hopes that Shintarou catches a clue sometime soon.

 
 
 

Neither Kazunari nor the rest of his cohort really gets what Miyaji-sensei meant about surviving their oncology rotations until Saiga-kun dies. Sure, they lost a couple of patients in the first few weeks of their rotation, but both were older individuals who'd been sick for a very long time. It was sad when they finally slipped away, and not a one of them wasn't sorry to see them go, but in the end it was really just sort of inevitable.

Saiga-kun is different. Saiga-kun is fifteen years old and, when they first meet him, perfectly healthy-looking except for the bruising and the broken arm. He's an athlete, in fact, and popular with his teammates and classmates. His friends are constantly visiting; they bring his homework to him and make reports about their training like a talisman against the horrible specter of the stage four acute lymphoblastic leukemia that is ravaging Saiga-kun's body. Kazunari hears them laying plans with Saiga-kun, plans for the tournaments they're playing in and plans for high school after that, and not one of them seems to believe that Saiga-kun will do anything but beat his disease. Kazunari can't blame them for it; even when his body begins to waste away and turn frail with the aggressive course of his treatment, Saiga-kun blazes with determination and even optimism. He never gives up, not when his body begins to shut down on him, nor even when he slips into unconsciousness for what turns out to be the last time. The kid goes down fighting, and Kazunari can't think of anything more genuinely unfair than when Miyaji-sensei shakes his head and tells Saiga-kun's parents, "I'm so very sorry."

It's not fair for something like this to happen to kids, not fair that they can know so much about the science of cancer treatment and still not know enough to help the ones who need it most. And if they can't do that, then what the hell is the point of it all, anyway?

They're a silent, grim group at lunch—no one wants to talk, or really even eat. They're all just picking at their trays when Shintarou brings his tray over and joins them, as usual. Today's lucky item is not in immediate evidence; sometimes that's because it's a small item that fits into a pocket and others it means that it's a mundane item, like a pair of socks. Today Kazunari can't quite bring himself to care which it is.

Shintarou has grown more comfortable about greeting them; he murmurs his hello as he sits, gets a few half-hearted greetings back, and seems to realize something is amiss. He busies himself in arranging his lunch to his satisfaction; without looking up, he says, "Did something happen?"

"Lost a patient," Miyaji-sensei says, brief and to the point.

Shintarou lifts his eyes from his food at that; his mouth tightens. "I see. I'm sorry to hear that. That's never an easy thing." It may be the longest voluntary speech he's made in one go since he began joining them for lunch.

Miyaji-sensei's laugh is short and grim. "You can say that again."

Of course, Shintarou doesn't; he nods his head and begins eating.

It's a very silent lunch after that. It's only afterwards that Miyaji-sensei addresses the issue. "That guy made a good point," he tells them on the elevator ride up to the oncology floor. "It's never easy to lose a patient. You're always going to wonder if there was something you missed or something more you could have done. You can get angry or depressed about it, but that doesn't do much good. It's better to use that energy on getting better, so that next time, you don't lose." He delivers the speech looking forward, not looking at them. He finishes as the car comes to a stop at their floor and chimes softly. "Now come on and get back to work."

It's not the most comforting speech Kazunari's ever heard, but then, Miyaji-sensei isn't much for warm and cuddly. It does, however, make sense, and that… maybe that helps, a little.

What doesn't make sense is the slip of paper Kazunari finds tucked in his shoebox at the end of the day. It's a note, a phone number and a single phrase: If you would like to talk about it. Kazunari doesn't recognize the precise, elegant handwriting, but he doesn't think he needs to. There's pretty much only one person he can think of who would leave him a note like that, and his name is Midorima Shintarou.

Maybe it's because the day has already been difficult enough, or maybe this is just the last pebble falling into place and precipitating the landslide. Kazunari doesn't know and doesn't care, because he's done. Just done with this, done with his ability to pretend that everything is just fine and that it doesn't bother him to be in close proximity to Shintarou, wanting him and knowing that he can't have him the way he'd like to. He's done, and he's going to end it, this time for good.

He doesn't remember much of getting home from the hospital, which probably means that he's lucky not to have turned himself into a traffic statistic, and he punches the number into his phone with entirely unnecessary force, leaning hard on his anger and frustration to stiffen his resolve.

Shintarou answers after only one ring; his greeting is polite and noncommittal. "Hello?"

"You've got to stop doing this to me, Shintarou," Kazunari says; the words spill out of him in a rush. "I can't deal with this anymore, I just can't."

There's a beat or two of silence before Shintarou says, his tone entirely different, "Kazunari."

He hates the way he reacts to how his name sounds in Shintarou's mouth and the way he wants to lean into the softness of it. "That," he says. "Things like that. You've got to stop it, I can't do this anymore."

"I'm not entirely sure what you mean," Shintarou says after a moment. "Will you be a little more specific?"

Kazunari grits his teeth, because none of his neighbors will appreciate it if he starts yelling. "You know damn well what I mean. You have to stop treating me like there could be something between us, because it's killing me to behave like there isn't. I'm never going to be able to get over you as long as you're hanging around being everything I want and can't have!" Okay, so he ends up yelling a little after all. Hopefully his neighbors will forgive him.

He hears the way Shintarou takes a quick breath. "You do still—want—me?" he asks, and Kazunari just knows how he must look right now, the hesitation and uncertainty that are in his eyes and the way he'd be nudging his glasses up the bridge of his nose if they were face to face. "Really?"

It's so far from the point that it's not even on the same continent anymore. Kazunari growls with his frustration. "Isn't that what I just said?" he demands. "Fuck, Shintarou, there was a damn good reason why I had to stop seeing you." For all the good it's done him. Though maybe if the universe hadn't been a bastard about it and they'd managed to keep up not seeing each other—well, the universe is a bastard and that's all there is to it.

He hears the way Shintarou sighs then. "I wasn't sure," he says. "I'd hoped, but I wasn't sure."

Kazunari grits his teeth some more, to keep from screaming. "You're not even listening to me, are you?"

"No, I'm listening." Shintarou's voice drops. "I always listen."

Great. Just great. Even when he's angry, that does funny things to his heart. Not that it matters. "Then listen to this," Kazunari tells him. "Stop it. Leave me alone. For fuck's sake, have a little mercy on me and stop being so—so perfect."

The silence on the other side of the line sounds almost shocked. "…no one has ever called me perfect before." Shintarou sounds legitimately startled. "Not like that." He sounds like it makes him happy.

Kazunari squeezes his eyes shut and draws a ragged breath, wondering why he'd thought that this conversation was going to go as smoothly as he'd hoped it would. Shintarou isn't good at obeying standard social norms. He's never had to be, not with Kazunari. Time to be as explicit as possible. "Please. I'm begging you. Being around you—all I can think about is all the things I want with you that I'm never, ever going to get to have. I'm only human, do you understand? Eventually I'm going to lose what self-respect I have left, just so I can have the crumbs of your life, the leftovers from what you'll give your family, and I'll hate myself for it. Please don't do that to me, Shintarou. Please, I'm begging you."

He hears Shintarou swallow. "What things?" he asks; his tone has shifted again, turned hoarse and taut. "What things do you want?"

Fuck. Kazunari's never been able to deny Shintarou when he turns urgent like that. He laughs, though it hurts. "What don't I want? I want to fall asleep in your arms and wake up next to you, I want a life with you, I want to introduce you to my parents and argue about what movies to watch and trade doing the dishes for getting out of cleaning the bathroom and fuss over each other when we get colds and complain about all your bad habits to my friends even though I really love them, and all of that—I know that all of that is impossible, okay? I know and I still want it, and it's only gotten worse now that I know who you are when you're not patronizing your friendly local gay hooker. But I'm not going to get that, so I want you to give me the space to get over you. Can you give me that? Please?"

Shintarou is silent on the other end of the line for such a long time that Kazunari half-wonders whether they've been disconnected before he speaks again. "All right," he says, softly. "You'll get what you want, Kazunari. I promise."

There. It's done. Kazunari takes a breath; it shudders in his lungs. "Thank you," he says, hoarse, his throat tight and aching. "Thank you for that."

"I am sorry to have caused you this distress," Shintarou says. It sounds like he means it. "It was not my intention."

"Didn't figure it was." Kazunari scrubs his hand over his face. "Look, I've got to get a nap before work, so I'm just gonna say goodbye now, okay? Take care of yourself, Shintarou."

"You do the same," Shintarou says quietly. "Sleep well." He disconnects, and that's that.

"Yeah, sure," Kazunari says, lowering the phone from his ear. "You bet I will."

Even though he doesn't sleep, there's a certain animal comfort in curling up beneath his blankets for a few hours to lick his wounds. At this point, Kazunari will take whatever he can get when it comes to being comforted.

Chapter Text

Of course Shou-chan has to comment on Kazunari's admittedly-less-polished-than-usual appearance when he finally gives it up and heads into work early. He leans over the bar and inquires, "Is there trouble in paradise?"

"There is no paradise," Kazunari says, flat. "Paradise is over and done with, and I'm really not in the mood to talk about it, so can we just not do this? As a special favor to me?"

Shou-chan whistles. "Guess that answers my question. You all right? Is it time for me to break out the booze I stocked up on?" Kazunari shoots a look at him that makes him hold his hands up. "Okay, stupid question, forget I asked."

"I will," Kazunari tells him before heading down the bar to assist Nijimura with a flock of guys just coming off the dance floor and looking to slake their thirsts.

Working is good; working is something that he can use to stop the relentless circle of his thoughts. Mixing drinks and keeping up a steady stream of patter to entertain everyone at the bar probably doesn't require all the focus Kazunari pours into it tonight, but so what? As coping mechanisms go, this one is pretty successful. Lucrative, too, both in terms of selling drinks and in terms of collecting tips and phone numbers scrawled on bar napkins. The money is probably the only thing that's worked out well for Kazunari all day; he'll get rid of the phone numbers later, discreetly, because that's the last shitty decision that he needs to be making right now. It helps that it's a busy night, the way Fridays always are. It also helps that Shou-chan honors his request and doesn't bother him for all the gory details. Instead he holds court at his end of the bar and trades caustic comments with Nijimura whenever they happen to be in earshot of each other. That's always fun to listen to, anyway, and it keeps people at the bar to enjoy the show, which is also excellent for business. Kazunari can totally work with that. By the time the crowd is at its height, Kazunari is close to dead on his feet, which is what he wants. Part of it is the long day and the nap he missed, and part of it's the level of energy it takes to maintain his focus for so many hours at a stretch, and the rest is just the emotional wringer he's been through. It's good, though. He doesn't have to wonder whether he's going to be able to sleep whenever he gets off work.

He's in the middle of checking in with Nijimura about what needs to be pulled from the back when he sees Shou-chan sit up straight, frowning. Kazunari knows what he's going to see even before he follows Shou-chan's stare to where Shintarou is coming down into the club. "What the fuck," Kazunari says, because seeing Shintarou when the guy has only just promised to leave him alone feels like taking a fist to the gut.

Nijimura looks, too, and grunts in comprehension. "You want me to throw him out?"

It's certainly a tempting thought; there's definitely a part of Kazunari that wants Nijimura to call for their bouncer, would enjoy seeing Murasakibara toss Shintarou out on his ear. But if he indulges himself, there won't be any way of finding out what the everloving fuck Shintarou is playing out. "Let's keep that option in reserve," Kazunari says, grim. "Be out back, boss."

Nijimura nods. "Yell if you need me." He moves off purposefully, catching Shou-chan before he can leave his seat and intercept Shintarou.

Kazunari lets himself out from behind the bar and heads for the back, not bothering to check to see whether Shintarou is following him or not. He's not entirely sure he cares, because he's humming all over with anger. Where does Shintarou get off, playing with him like this? He's supposed to be better than this—he's supposed to be one of the good ones who actually listen to and comply with the requests made of them. Kazunari was so sure that Shintarou was one of those guys, but here he is now—what's he doing here, gloating? Planning on leaning on him to change his mind? If he is, Kazunari really is going to call Murasakibara in. And he's going to enjoy the show.

As it turns out, Shintarou does follow him out the back of the bar, close enough on his heels that Kazunari doesn't have too much time to fume. "What are you doing?" Kazunari demands the moment Shintarou steps outside, before the door even slams shut behind him. "I thought you were going to leave me alone."

The door thumps shut behind Shintarou; he stops in the circle of orange light from the buzzing light bulb over the door. It casts strange shadows on his face, makes the lines and grooves of it harder, makes him look haggard. For once, it doesn't really move Kazunari to see him looking so tired. "There's something I need to tell you."

Kazunari folds his arms across his chest. "Yeah? What in the world could you possibly have to tell me that's so important you felt like you had to ignore what I asked you to do not eight hours ago?"

Shintarou wets his lips, opening and closing his hands at his sides. "I've ended my engagement, and I've explained to my parents why there won't be another one."

What? What? Kazunari stares at Shintarou; silence hangs in the warm summer air, thick as the humidity. He can't have heard that correctly. "You did what?"

Shintarou lifts his chin a little higher. "I'm not going to marry. My parents know that it's because I prefer men."

Maybe it's not just the way the light is falling across his face that makes him look so wrung out, after all. Kazunari stares at Shintarou, feeling as though he's been punched again. Why would Shintarou do something like that after it was too late? Why would he come here to tell Kazunari what he'd done? "Why would you do something like that?" he asks. It comes out strangled, breathless. "That's—do you realize what that's going to do to your career? To your life?"

"Yes." Shintarou looks aside and pushes his glasses up. His voice is quiet. "If I hadn't already known, I assure you that my parents made it extensively and painfully clear."

Kazunari steps back until he stumbles against the wall, comfortingly solid against his back. He leans against the building and still feels as though he's reeling. "Why would you do that?" he asks again, hoarse, trying not to think of what this could mean—no. No, he's not going to let himself go there. "Have you lost your mind?"

Shintarou huffs, soft. "My family seems to think I have." He draws a breath and squares his shoulders, lifting his gaze and meeting Kazunari's eyes. "You kept the charm I gave you, so I hoped… but I wasn't sure. The way you acted… well. I wasn't sure. Not until this evening. But the things you want—I want those things, too. I want them with you. It was an easy trade to make, after all."

It's a damn good thing he's already braced against a brick wall, because Kazunari's pretty sure he'd be sitting on the ground otherwise, and this alley isn't the cleanest in the world. "Shintarou—" His voice cracks; he has to clear his throat before he goes on. "You're joking. You've got to be joking." This isn't how the story goes, not for guys like him. Not for guys like Shintarou. There's no way he can be serious about this, no way he can actually think he really wants to upend his whole life for Kazunari's sake. It's just not possible.

"I'm not joking," Shintarou says, very quietly. "That night you sent me away, I went—and I was so miserable, but I believed you were right to do it. That it was for the best, even though it hurt. I thought that it would stop, eventually, but it never did. I hadn't realized how much I'd come to rely on you, and there were so many times I was on the verge of coming back here to beg you to reconsider…" He shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair. "I don't think you realize how different you are from everyone else in my life. You make me feel like I really am a part of the human race, did you know that? There have been times when I've wondered whether I was."

The enormity of what Shintarou is telling him is almost too much for Kazunari to comprehend, so he focuses on the one part of it that makes sense. "You must know an awful lot of stupid people," he says, not entirely steadily.

Shintarou smiles, sardonic. "That's what I used to think, but not in the sense that you mean it, perhaps." He shakes his head, dismissing that. "I was already on the verge of—this decision—when all I knew of you was what we had here. And then I walked into an office at work and you were there. I didn't need anything more than that. Not really. It seemed like fate…" His voice trails off for a moment. "When I saw that you'd kept the charm I'd given you, I knew it was."

"How could you assume that?" Kazunari objects, shaking his head, because it's such a ludicrously thin thread to hang a hope on. "I told you—"

"I know when you're faking it," Shintarou says. "I know, Kazunari. After that…" He shrugs. "I waited."

He says it so easily, like it was as simple as waiting in a line, when the past few weeks have been hell on earth as far as Kazunari is concerned. "And you couldn't have said something?"

"I knew what I wanted," Shintarou tells him; his voice is quiet and very certain. "I wasn't as sure that you knew what you wanted. Whether you were sure you wanted to get over—" He waves a hand, gesturing between them. "—this, or not."

And because he was Shintarou, and not certain, he waited for a sign to indicate how he should act, one way or the other. Of course he did. "You jerk, do you have any idea what this has been doing to me?" Kazunari demands, though he can't quite muster the amount of heat the question really deserves. Maybe he'll be able to work up a proper head of steam later, but… not right now.

Shintarou smiles, small and subtle. "Nothing it hasn't been doing to me." He clears his throat. "If you'll forgive me for that… I would like to try again. Would you?"

Kazunari stares at him and bites down on his lip until it stings, and he convinces himself that this is real. It takes a moment for him to be able to speak. "Yeah," he says, throat tight. "Yeah, I'd really like that."

They stand for a minute, looking at each other; afterwards, Kazunari never can decide which of them moved first. It's entirely possible that they both move at the same time. All that Kazunari knows is that he has to get his arms around Shintarou, and Shintarou seems to feel the same way. They meet in the middle of the alleyway, colliding with each other. Objectively speaking, it's a horrible kiss—they manage to click their teeth together in their haste, and Kazunari feels his lip sting like it's split, but that doesn't slow either of them down. Kazunari wraps his arms around Shintarou, tangling his fists and kissing Shintarou desperately. Shintarou sinks his fingers into his hair and holds him close, returning his kisses with equal fervor, until they're both breathless and Kazunari is dizzy from the lack of oxygen, or maybe just with how glad he is to stop pretending that this isn't everything he wants most in the world.

Eventually Kazunari remembers that he's still on the clock, reluctantly, though he hates the thought of going back inside. That's not wholly due to the fact that he and Shintarou have been making out like teenagers, either. He has absolutely no chance of getting by without accounting for himself to Shou-chan and possibly also Nijimura. Given the note he left them both on, the only question is going to be whether he's going to be able to talk fast enough to explain before Shou-chan cuts Shintarou dead with a glance.

Well, there's no helping it. He's going to have to face the music at some point; he might as well get it over with. "I need to go back to work," he tells Shintarou, murmuring the words into his mouth. "Maybe before Nijimura sends a search party looking for me."

Shintarou makes a discontented sound and makes no move to release him. "Do you really have to?"

"Yeah, I really do," Kazunari says. "It's Friday night, you saw how crazy it was in there." It amazes him that Nijimura managed to keep up with the crowds all by himself for as long as he did. He begins the process of untangling himself from Shintarou. "Come inside, I'll make you a drink." He smiles at Shintarou. "If you're lucky, I might even let you take me home."

"I do have today's lucky item with me," Shintarou says softly.

Kazunari laughs and steals one last kiss from him. "That sounds like a good sign to me." He steps back, at least as far as he can make himself go—he can't make himself let go of Shintarou's hand, not yet, so it's not that far. "All right, here goes."

After the relative quiet of the alley, the din of the club is almost overwhelming. Kazunari catches Shintarou's little grimace and squeezes his hand, and it melts away as easily as that. Kazunari squeezes his hand one final time before he lets go to duck behind the bar.

"I hope you don't expect to get paid for that half hour," Nijimura says, phlegmatic. "Now get back to work. I need a couple of gin fizzes."

"Sure thing, boss," Kazunari says, because what's half an hour off his paycheck compared to the fact that right now, he's got everything he wants?

Nijimura glances at him, sidelong, while Kazunari sets out a shaker and starts his pours. Then he shakes his head and gets back to what he was doing without saying another word. Kazunari privately suspects that it's not that the man doesn't have any curiosity so much as it is that he knows Shou-chan will tell him all about it later.

Shou-chan certainly is watching Shintarou insinuate himself into the crowd around the bar and claim a stool for himself the moment its previous occupant gets up. He's frowning and shooting glances back and forth between the two of them, and it's just too bad that Kazunari needs to be mixing drinks instead of answering questions. Shou-chan must come to the same conclusion; Kazunari looks down to strain a drink into its glass; when he looks up, Shou-chan is up and threading his way through the crowd, heading for Shintarou.

Crap.

Kazunari goes for sugar and the mint and makes Shintarou's mojito as quickly as he can. He manages to get it into Shintarou's hand right before Shou-chan reaches him. "You're gonna need this," he says while Shou-chan deftly inserts himself into the gap at Shintarou's elbow. "Shou-chan, don't break him. I'm planning on keeping him, okay?" That's about as much as he cares to say out loud in this crowd; with any luck, Shou-chan will catch his meaning from that alone.

Shou-chan flashes another quick look between the two of them. "Are you, now? That's a neat trick."

"Seriously," Kazunari says, sharper than he intends, but it gets Shou-chan's attention. "It's okay. Everything's okay."

Shou-chan looks at him, intent, and then raises his eyebrows. "You don't say." He turns that intent look on Shintarou, and Kazunari can't blame him for looking hunted. "You fascinate me." He flaps a hand at Kazunari. "Run along now, I'll be careful with him."

"You had better be," Kazunari says. Then he goes to deal with the most impatient-looking cluster of patrons, hoping that Oha-Asa has predicted good things for Cancers today.

There's far too much noise in the bar for him to be able to tell what Shou-chan and Shintarou are talking about, but Kazunari can read their body language just fine. Shou-chan's lounging on his tool, deceptively casual about it, and Shintarou's wary at first, then maybe intimidated. Kazunari has to tend to his customers for a bit at that point, and loses track of the two of them while he's doing it. When he checks in again, Shintarou is sitting bolt upright and his mouth is tight—outrage or just anger? Kazunari can't decide and knows full well that it could be both. He knows how Shou-chan can be, after all. The man is just incredibly gifted that way. Whatever Shintarou says to Shou-chan then is curt, and—Shou-chan laughs. He's sitting up and clapping a hand on Shintarou's shoulder by the time Kazunari works his way back over to the two of them. Shintarou is frowning, though his confusion shows in his eyes. "I told you to be careful with him," Kazunari snaps at Shou-chan.

He could have saved his breath; Shou-chan just grins at him. "Don't you think I was?" he drawls. "Calm down, brat. He's fine." He glances at Shintarou, his smile turning crooked. "It's enough to make a man wonder whether there's something to this fate thing after all." He slides off his stool with that and strolls out to the dance floor without bothering to excuse himself.

Kazunari exhales, and Shintarou resorts to his drink. Then he turns to Kazunari, and his expression says that he's hoping for an explanation. Kazunari shrugs at him, helpless. "Shou-chan's been a friend for years," he says. "He gets protective."

He's not sure whether that'll be enough explanation, but Shintarou's expression clears. "I see."

Kazunari can't help smiling at him, at least until Nijimura passes behind him and pokes him in the ribs while yelling at him to get back to work.

The great thing about being busy is that it makes the time fly past—Kazunari doesn't know how Shintarou feels about the time he spends waiting for last call, but he doesn't seem to mind. Every time Kazunari snatches a moment to check in with him, he's watching Kazunari at work, wearing one of his small, quiet little smiles. Every time, they make a little curl of warmth unfurl in Kazunari's chest.

For some reason, people do a lot of smiling in his direction for the rest of the night. It doesn't click for him why that might be until Nijimura finally rolls his eyes and says, "Okay, get the hell out of my bar before you two give me cavities." He snorts at Kazunari's surprise. "If I have to watch the two of you making eyes at each other for another minute, I'm going to go into diabetic shock." He points at the door. "Out."

It's late enough that the crowd has thinned out, so Kazunari doesn't waste any time second-guessing the order. "Fine by me. See you tomorrow night." Technically, he'll see Nijimura later in the day, but he's long since found it's best to keep the days separated as much as possible. He strips out of his apron and gets out from behind the bar; Shintarou joins him readily enough that Kazunari figures he's been just waiting for this. Kazunari takes his hand without even thinking about it, and they exchange smiles.

"Out!" Nijimura yells at them. Kazunari laughs, and they go.

"So," Shintarou says once Kazunari's clocked out and they're outside. "You said something earlier about me taking you home. May I?"

Kazunari smiles at him. "Yeah, you can." He laughs a little, just for the joy of it. "You certainly can."

Shintarou squeezes his hand. "Good. I'd like that."

Kazunari is just wondering about the logistics of this when Shintarou adds, "I've parked a block over." Which solves that problem rather neatly.

They throw Kazunari's bike into the back seat, and Kazunari tackles the next question himself. "Your place or mine?"

The light in the car isn't great, but he can see well enough to catch Shintarou's wince. "I think I would prefer your place," he says. "I would rather not be surprised by my parents, come morning." There's a lot he's not saying; it hangs in the air, heavy as a thunderstorm on the horizon.

Kazunari takes a breath. He'd forgotten, briefly, that everything has its cost. "Was it bad?"

Shintarou sighs and puts the car into gear. "It was not pleasant." He might be trying to pass it off casually, but his tone is a little too bleak to make it work.

Kazunari reaches over and lays his hand on top of Shintarou's. "I'm sorry."

Shintarou glances at him; the dashboard lights highlight his little smile. "I'm not. He'll come around."

"Be crazy not to," Kazunari says, tucking that away for later consideration. But Shintarou doesn't really seem to want to talk about it, so he lets the topic drop for the time being. "Okay, turn left up here at the light."

It's a quiet ride over to his apartment, but Kazunari doesn't mind that. The silence is companionable, and he's with Shintarou. It doesn't mean that everything's going to run perfectly for them after this, but they've got a shot. What more can anyone ask than that?

"It's not much," he apologizes as he lets Shintarou into his apartment and flips on the lamp. "But the rent's cheap and the location is pretty good for me, so…"

Shintarou doesn't really even look around. "It's perfect," he says quietly.

It's enough to go to a guy's head, really, Kazunari thinks as he takes Shintarou's hand again. "Let me show you around," he says, as if Shintarou can't see perfectly well that there's only the one room, with Kazunari's bed peeping out from behind the screen that separates it from the rest of the room.

Shintarou inclines his head gravely, almost courtly about it. "Please do."

Laughter bubbles up in Kazunari's throat, the kind of giddy laughter that comes of not quite believing that something wonderful is real. "To your left, the kitchen," he says grandly, which is giving his little kitchenette way more credit than it deserves. He gestures. "To your right, my living room, study, and recreation room."

Shintarou glances down and raises his eyebrow. "All that in one table?" he inquires, straight-faced.

"We're very into multitasking around here," Kazunari says, airy. He draws Shintarou forward a few steps. "And, of course, here we have the master bedroom." And thank goodness that he made time the other day to change the sheets on the bed.

Not that Shintarou is looking at the bed; he has his eyes on Kazunari. The way he's smiling, all soft and private, puts a strange little flutter in Kazunari's stomach. It's not as though he has reason to be shy with Shintarou, who knows more of his secrets than anyone else Kazunari can think of, but there it is nonetheless. He takes a breath. "So. That's the grand tour. And here we are."

"Here we are," Shintarou agrees, softly, stepping closer and reaching for him.

Kazunari sighs and reaches back, sliding his arms around Shintarou's shoulders and meeting his kiss halfway. It's not urgent, not the way it was earlier. Now it's easy to lean into Shintarou and twine his fingers in Shintarou's hair as he parts his lips for the sweep of Shintarou's tongue, easy to savor the slow movement of Shintarou's mouth on his, just as sweet as he remembers it being, even when he was trying his hardest to forget. Shintarou strokes his hands down Kazunari's back, following the line of it down to his hips and pulling him closer. Kazunari is happy to do it; he spreads his hands against Shintarou's shoulders, humming into his mouth with the lazy unfurling of the heat between them. Shintarou hums too and drags his lips along Kazunari's jaw. "I've missed you," he says, soft against Kazunari's ear. "I've missed you so much." He presses his lips against the place just below Kazunari's ear, where the skin is most sensitive, and brushes his tongue over it when Kazunari groans. "Tell me what you want?" He shapes the words against Kazunari's throat. "Tell me what you'd like."

His voice is curiously intent, but the little ripples of sensation that run down Kazunari's spine with every brush of his lips make it difficult to figure out what Shintarou is thinking. He tilts his head to the side, kneading his fingers against Shintarou's shoulders. "You know I'm not that picky."

Shintarou tightens his hands on Kazunari's hips. "That's not really true, is it?"

Kazunari opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling without really seeing it as Shintarou's meaning sinks home—has it really been that long since he took a lover instead of a client to his bed? That long since he's had sex with someone without shaping the encounter to their tastes? He laughs, a little shaky. "You know, I'm not even sure?" That's not entirely true. He realizes it even as he says it. "I want to have you inside me. But you don't need to hurry."

Shintarou draws back and looks at him. "Is that all?"

Kazunari smiles at him and smoothes his thumb along Shintarou's jaw. "It's a good place to start, isn't it?"

Shintarou smiles back. "I suppose it is," he agrees, turning his face to nuzzle Kazunari's palm.

It sounds like a promise—no, it is a promise. Kazunari crowds against Shintarou, breathless with the enormity of that, and kisses him again as he slides his fingers down to loosen the knot of Shintarou's tie.

The business of getting undressed takes them longer than it really ought to, but then, how can it not when neither he nor Shintarou can bring himself to stop kissing or touching the other for more than a moment at a time? There's no hurry, anyway, no need to rush, not when they have all the time in the world now. Kazunari fills his palms with the texture of Shintarou's skin, relearning how warm and sleek it is, and Shintarou kisses him like he wants to drown himself in Kazunari's mouth.

By the time Kazunari manages to kick the last of his clothes off and they've begun to migrate the last few steps to his bed, he feels like he must be glowing with just how good it feels to have Shintarou's skin bare against his once again. He laughs against Shintarou's mouth when he feels the mattress hit the back of his legs. He lets himself fall backwards, bouncing a little before he squirms his way up the bed to lean back against the pillows.

Shintarou groans and shudders a little before he climbs onto the bed after him. "I can't believe how fortunate I am," he says softly, leaning over Kazunari and gazing at him with eyes that are dark.

"That makes two of us," Kazunari tells him, reaching up to pluck the glasses off his nose. "Come down here and kiss me."

Shintarou does, and Kazunari wraps his arms around him to draw him the rest of the way down, groaning as Shintarou's weight settles against him. He rolls his hips up into that welcome pressure; they both groan with the friction of that. Shintarou draws back from his mouth just far enough to say, "Where…?" and for Kazunari to answer, "Top drawer."

Kazunari groans again as Shintarou grinds against him while reaching over to the bedside table, groping through the drawer for the bottle of lube and the box of condoms Kazunari keeps there. He draws his knees up and spreads them wide, aching with how much he wants Shintarou. "I think I've changed my mind," he says while Shintarou is unwrapping the condom. He laughs, breathless, at the way this makes Shintarou freeze. "I don't think I want you to take your time after all."

"That wasn't funny—ah!" Shintarou's peevish tone melts into a moan when Kazunari plucks the condom from his fingers and unrolls it over his cock, taking the time to squeeze him gently. "Kazunari…"

"Come on," Kazunari says, stroking him slowly. "You're not going to keep me waiting, are you?" He hopes not, not when Shintarou is flushed and gorgeous over him and need is knotted tight and heavy in his belly.

"I should," Shintarou breathes, hoarse, but he's already slicking his fingers and reaching down, and oh, he hasn't forgotten a single thing about what Kazunari likes best. He catches at Shintarou's shoulders and groans when Shintarou presses those long fingers into him, stroking them in at just the right angle to slide over his prostate and send starbursts of sensation up his spine.

"Oh," he breathes, lifting his hips into the stretch of it, seeking more. "Oh, yes…" He's missed how careful Shintarou is, how detail-oriented and conscientious. "Shintarou, please…"

Shintarou shudders; his shoulders are tight beneath Kazunari's hands. He whispers Kazunari's name, husky and reverent, crooking his fingers until Kazunari arches into the rush of sensation.

Kazunari flails a hand out for the lube and slicks his fingers; he reaches for Shintarou's cock and strokes it. "Please," he says as Shintarou groans. "Please, I want you so much…"

Shintarou shudders again and bends to kiss him, open and hungry, shaping words against Kazunari's lips as he finally settles against him, sinking into him. Kazunari can't—quite—track what Shintarou is whispering to him, not when there's pleasure flaring up his spine. It doesn't matter—he can guess, and if he's right, it's nothing that Shintarou won't repeat later. For now he wraps himself around Shintarou, kissing him again and again and groaning with how good Shintarou feels sliding in and out of his ass, moving over him relentlessly, until Kazunari is on the verge of being washed away by the lapping waves of his pleasure. Then Shintarou reaches down and folds his fingers around him; Kazunari dissolves beneath the cascade of pleasure, crying out as it sweeps him down beneath its crest. He arches beneath Shintarou, straining against him, and feels Shintarou follow after him, shaking as his orgasm rolls through him.

They subside, lying tangled with each other and panting for breath. Kazunari can't quite open his eyes, too relaxed in the afterglow to muster the energy for it. Shintarou seems to feel the same way; after a minute or two he manages to press his mouth against Kazunari's throat, but that's as far as he goes. Kazunari hums to him softly and doesn't stir, even though they really ought to at least clean up a little. But it feels too good to lie like this, with Shintarou's skin warm against his, to bother with any of that yet. There's no rush, either. Not this time.

Kazunari smiles at that thought, and he's still smiling when he slips into sleep.

 
 
 

Most Saturdays, Kazunari doesn't wake up until his stomach or his bladder forces him to it. This Saturday, it's the angry growl of his stomach that finally wakes him. He does so to the feeling of Shintarou's fingers stirring through his hair. He's curled up around Shintarou, in fact, with his cheek pillowed on Shintarou's stomach.

That does more good in waking Kazunari up than a strong cup of coffee would. He raises his head and stares, stunned by the fact that Shintarou is in his bed, a little disoriented by this and absolutely pleased by it. "Hey," he says, vaguely aware that he must be smiling like an idiot.

Shintarou's smile is somewhat more dignified. "Good morning," he says. Then he corrects himself. "Rather, good afternoon." He sounds amused and actually chuckles softly when Kazunari groans in embarrassment and buries his face against his chest.

"Fuck," Kazunari says against Shintarou's pectoral muscles. "I can't believe I fell asleep like that. I'm so sorry—"

"I didn't mind," Shintarou tells him. He settles his fingers in Kazunari's hair again. "I like watching you sleep."

Kazunari peeks up at him. Shintarou's smiling and seems to mean it. "Do you really?"

"I really do." Shintarou pauses; his smile turns wry. "Especially when I have the right to do it."

The right to… oh. Oh. The night with the backrub and the unexpected nap. Kazunari clears his throat. "You, um… watched me?"

Shintarou colors a bit. "For… quite some time," he admits. "I didn't want to disturb you—of course, that was before I discovered how heavy a sleeper you can be."

Kazunari laughs and flails his way into sitting up—yeah, looks like Shintarou took care of the aftermath last night. Shintarou is the best. "Sorry—good grief, how long have you been awake?" Shintarou simply shrugs, declining to answer. "Geez, you should've woken me up."

Shintarou catches his hand and laces their fingers together. "I didn't mind," he says again. "Truly."

Kazunari suspects that he's wearing another of those stupid grins, and he can't even make himself care. "This is real, right? I'm not dreaming, am I?"

"I feel as though I should be the one asking that question," Shintarou says softly. He squeezes Kazunari's fingers. "I never thought I'd meet someone like you."

"Well, I didn't see you coming, either, so I guess we're even," Kazunari tells him. He raises Shintarou's hand so he can kiss his fingertips.

Shintarou's eyes go dark and he wets his lips. Kazunari grins at him, delighted by the reaction, but before he can act on it, Shintarou's phone buzzes. A grimace replaces the heat in his eyes. Then he picks up the phone and looks at the message, and his grimace turns pained.

"What is it?" Kazunari asks him, though he has a pretty good idea already.

Shintarou puts his phone aside. "I fear my parents may make things unpleasant for a time," he says, looking aside rather than meeting Kazunari's eyes. "If you would rather not—"

Kazunari reaches out and lays his fingers on Shintarou's lips, stopping him. "I don't care," he says. "They can be as unpleasant as they want. There's no way I'm going to give up on this…" A horrible thought occurs to him. "Unless you'd rather not put up with the grief—"

"No," Shintarou says, harsh. "No, this is—you're—I never thought—I never believed I'd find someone like you. Do you understand? I never though I could have anything even half as good as this. I'd be a fool to give it up for anything."

Kazunari has to swallow a couple of times before he can find his voice again; even so, it's a little hoarse. "Oh… Shintarou…"

It feels like it's a pitifully inadequate response, but Shintarou seems to understand all the things Kazunari can't quite manage to say. He smiles and reaches out, pulling Kazunari into his arms. Kazunari goes to him readily, wrapping his arms around Shintarou, and there is honestly no other place in the world that he can imagine wanting to be.

Chapter Text

Kazunari is so focused that he doesn't even hear Shintarou come in. He's hunched over his notebooks, frowning furiously at them. His lips move occasionally, silently, as he rehearses a fact or definition, committing it to memory. There are three different coffee mugs scattered around the table, all of them half-full of cold coffee, because Kazunari is constitutionally incapable of finishing a cup of coffee before it goes cold, and he is equally unable to see the utility of simply emptying out the cold coffee and refilling the same mug. His immersion in his work is complete; Shintarou is able to stand in the doorway for quite some time, observing Kazunari's study fugue without disturbing it in the slightest.

He shakes his head over Kazunari's wretched posture—really, he ought to know better than to do that to himself. (Shintarou knows he knows better, because he's helped drill Kazunari on human anatomy, both in theory and in practice, so to speak.)

When it becomes clear that nothing short of a bomb going off beneath his chair is going to break Kazunari's concentration, Shintarou comes away from the door and sets his hands on Kazunari's shoulders, which are tight enough that he feels his own muscles twanging in sympathy.

Kazunari yelps; the pencil he's been spinning through his fingers goes flying as he throws his hands up. The mugs of coffee wobble as the table shakes, but fortunately they don't tip over. "Fuck," Kazunari says; Shintarou is hard-pressed not to laugh. "Fuck, Shintarou, you nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"That seems unlikely for a young man in good physical health," Shintarou says calmly.

Kazunari leans his head back, glaring up at him. It loses some of its effect because he's upside-down from Shintarou's perspective. "You're such a jerk sometimes."

"Am I?" Shintarou asks. He presses his thumbs against the knotted muscles at the nape of Kazunari's neck. They're hard as rock; Shintarou frowns. "How long has it been since you've had a break?"

Kazunari is too busy groaning to answer right away. "Mm, I don't know, I got up a little while ago to get some more coffee."

Shintarou manages to tear his eyes away from Kazunari's dreamy-eyed pleasure long enough to look at their coffeemaker. As he suspects, the power button is off—it shuts off automatically after ninety minutes—and he frankly suspects that he'd find that the coffee itself is stone cold if he were to check. "I see." He digs his thumbs into Kazunari's muscles more firmly. There's no other way to describe the sound Kazunari makes than as a whimper. "I believe you are overdue for another break."

"Nngh," Kazunari says. Shintarou chooses to interpret that as agreement and continues to knead Kazunari's nape and shoulders. Kazunari squirms in his chair, making sounds that are one part pain, one part pleasure, and two parts sheer relief. Shintarou watches the faces he makes, ridiculous and exaggerated, and smiles over them.

He keeps working on Kazunari's shoulders long after the worst of the tension has bled out of Kazunari, purely for the satisfaction of touching Kazunari and giving him pleasure. It catches him off-guard when Kazunari opens his eyes and directs a sweet smile up at him, the kind that still makes Shintarou's heart skip a beat. "I take it back. You're wonderful." He reaches up and curls his hands around Shintarou's wrists, smiling at him.

Shintarou swallows and brushes his fingers along Kazunari's jaw, struck speechless by him all over again. Kazunari's eyes go soft, and he turns his face to kiss Shintarou's palm.

They stay like that for a while. It's these little moments of tenderness more than anything else that Shintarou couldn't have imagined before Kazunari. Couldn't imagine living without now.

After a bit, Kazunari stirs. "Get all your errands run?"

"Ah. Yes." Shintarou brushes the hair back from Kazunari's face. "I found something for you while I was out." That is, perhaps, an understatement, given that the little package he takes from his pocket was the sole point of his errands, but no matter. He takes a seat and slides the package across the table to Kazunari.

Kazunari raises his eyebrows. "What is it?" he asks, even as he's untying the cord and unfolding the layers of paper to reveal the charm within. He goes still, looking at it, still and quiet as he realizes what it is.

Shintarou finds himself compelled to explain. "The old one is getting beaten up. I know you don't need any extra luck on the licensing exam, but I know how worried you are and thought you might find this reassuring." He bites his lip as Kazunari continues to be quiet. "I, er. May have been mistaken."

Kazunari looks up at that, sharp. "No," he says, vehement. "No, it's perfect." His voice goes soft. "Just perfect." He reaches for his phone. Really, it's beyond time to replace the battered old charm, which has seen a couple years of hard use and shows it. Kazunari doesn't remove it, though, and merely affixes the new charm to the same strap. He looks up and smiles—Shintarou realizes he must be showing his confusion. "You gave me this. I wouldn't get rid of it for anything."

Shintarou has to look away, though he's sure that Kazunari can see what the does to him even so. "I see." He clears his throat. "Are you hungry? Have you eaten?"

Kazunari wrinkles his nose. "Um…"

Shintarou sighs. That's an answer in and of itself. "Of course you haven't."

He rises, meaning to start dinner, but Kazunari catches his hand and tugs him down for a kiss. "I love you," he says against Shintarou's lips. "So much."

Shintarou rests his forehead against Kazunari's. "Me too," he says. "I must be the most fortunate man in the world."

Kazunari reaches up and strokes his cheek, smiling at him. "That makes two of us, then," he says.

It takes some time before Shintarou finally goes about starting their dinner, but neither of them really mind that at all.