Ennoshita knew he was going to regret letting Hisashi and Kazuhito set him up on a blind date.
C’mon Ennoshita! Narita had urged. It’ll be fun! You can’t really be happy spending all your time alone watching movies, can you?
It’s been twenty minutes now, and Ennoshita’s spent the last ten deeply contemplating the merits of writing a screenplay on the psychological horror of waiting for a date in an overcrowded bar that smells of cheap cologne, beer breath and peanuts.
He’s only vaguely aware of the fact that he’s been scowling at nothing when he hears the bartender drawl, “Hey, you gonna order somethin’ to drink? No offense dude, seems like you could use it.”
Ennoshita cringes and rubs at the circles beneath his eyes. “Is it that obvious?”
The bartender— Futakuchi, his nametag reads—pats Ennoshita on the shoulder. His face is sympathetic, even as his mouth twitches from the effort of restraining his laughter. “You look like you’re gonna hurl.”
Well. At least he’s honest, Ennoshita consoles himself.
“Long day at the office?” Futakuchi inquires. “Wait, hold on, let me guess—you’re one of those businessmen types working a thankless 9-to-5 job.” He snaps his fingers and flashes Ennoshita a triumphant grin that isn’t altogether unendearing.
Ennoshita shakes his head. “Nope.”
“No?” Slowly, Futakuchi leans in and his features are almost foxlike as he as gives Ennoshita a long once-over. “Then you must be a lawyer!”
Futakuchi scoffs. “Salesman?”
Ennoshita steeples his hands beneath his chin and asks, “Is this your way of calling me boring?”
“Not boring! Just…” Futakuchi smiles apologetically. “Respectable? Professional.”
“Boring,” Ennoshita supplies with a polite smile. He looks down at his hands. “Although I guess I can understand the assumption. I was a business student, but I dropped out before graduating. I just started going back to school, but I’m taking film classes now.”
Futakuchi nods. “That’s pretty impressive, though—going back to school, and to pursue what you’re passionate about, no less.”
“I—” Ennoshita blinks in surprise.
“It takes a lot of courage to start over again like that,” says Futakuchi.
Ennoshita blinks at him. He strikes Ennoshita as the blunt kind, the kind that speaks freely and doesn’t soften his words even for miserable-looking strangers. He’s being sincere, Ennoshita realizes, a warm feeling spreading through him as his cheeks tint red. “I, uh. I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
“Well, now ya have.” Futakuchi taps his fingers against the bar. “So what’ll it be? I can make almost anything.”
“Right. Um…” Head tilting to the side, Ennoshita peers over Futakuchi’s shoulder at the rows of brightly colored bottles, each brand sounding less familiar than the last. “I’ll have an apple martini,” he decides. Ennoshita laughs self-consciously and pushes his fingers through his neatly-combed hair. “I don’t usually drink—but I like the sound of ‘apple martini,’ I guess. I’m not sure what people usually order in places like this.”
Ennoshita casts a glance around the room. It’s like any other bar, he supposes. The room’s cramped, the lighting sultry and warm. There’s jazz music playing on low. It’s subtle, but not so quiet that he can’t hear it over the endless murmur of conversation.
“Apple martini’s a respectable choice,” Futakuchi reassures him with an indulgent grin. “Comin’ right up.”
“Thanks.” Ennoshita smiles in relief. “So, what’s your story then?”
“My story?” laughs Futakuchi.
Distractedly, Ennoshita watches Futakuchi juggle the shaker with ease, his movements so strangely graceful and fluid that Ennoshita finds himself openly staring. “The whole bartending thing. Is that a part-time gig for you? I’m thinking of writing a story set in a place like this.”
Futakuchi shrugs. “I’ve been here for a while now, I guess. It started it out as a temporary thing, but then my boss, Moniwa, got promoted from bartender to manager, and Moniwa decided I’d be the new him basically. And I don’t know—this place grew on me.” Tongue flicking out between his lips, Futakuchi stirs the shaker hard, throws it up into the air and snags it between the crook of his neck. He hitches the cuffs of his shirt even higher up his forearms and god, if Ennoshita hadn’t already had his gay crisis in high school, he’d be panicking by now.
“Being a bartender is sort of like being a keeper of secrets,” Futakuchi murmurs conspiratorially. “And a full-time dispenser of life advice.”
Is flair bartending something people seriously do outside of flashy Hollywood movies? Ennoshita muses.
“When you find something you’re really good at, you never wanna let that go, y’know?” Futakuchi smoothly slides Ennoshita his drink. The martini glass comes to a halt just as it touches the tips of Ennoshita’s fingers. “Here you are.”
“Thanks.” Ennoshita takes a tentative sip of his apple martini. “I get that…that’s how I feel about directing, too.”
Futakuchi grins at him. When Ennoshita peers down at his watch for the fifth time, Futakuchi cranes his head and asks, “D’you have somewhere to be?”
Ennoshita shakes his head. “That’s not—I’m supposed to be meeting up with someone. It’s a blind date sort of thing.”
He could still bail. It’s not too late—he could go home, turn on the TV, and order takeout. It’s how he’d planned on spending his Friday anyway.
“Oh, a date. That’s….” Futakuchi sucks in a loud breath, his smile wavering.
“Kenji,” snaps the blonde man behind Futakuchi who’s wearing an apron. “You know you have other customers, too, right? If Moniwa sees you slacking off, he won’t be happy.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Futakuchi waves him off. “I’ll get right on it, Kamasaki.”
When Ennoshita peers around him, he’s surprised to see all of the seats around him now occupied by customers, all of which appear to be waiting for Futakuchi to acknowledge them.
With a loud tsk, Kamasaki gives Futakuchi one final warning glare and then stalks off again.
Ennoshita nods his head at the lady beside him who has started anxiously tapping her fingernails against the bar countertop. “You should probably…”
“Ah, you’re probably right,” Futakuchi says, smiling—there’s a regretful twinge to it that has Ennoshita’s cheeks flushing for more reasons than just the alcohol. Maybe it was a good thing he decided to stay after all. “If there’s anythin’ else I could do for you…?”
“Ennoshita,” Futakuchi repeats. His fingers drum against the bar, his impish smile broadening. “Well, Ennoshita, if you need cheering up, I’d be more than happy to set your martini on fire.”
Ennoshita snickers. “Now noble of you.” The anxious feeling in his chest is almost an afterthought now. Emboldened both by the alcohol and by Futakuchi’s conspiratorial grin, Ennoshita shifts forward in his seat. He imagines himself as the hero in one of the films he’s directed, imagines he’s as smooth, charming, confident.
Yeah, actually there is one thing, he pictures himself saying. Could I get your number? Ennoshita steels himself with a quiet exhale and opens his mouth to speak when suddenly someone slides into the stool next to his.
“Hey, are you…Ennoshita?” Someone waves Futakuchi over to the opposite side of the bar and Ennoshita slumps back down in his seat. The moment’s lost.
“Yeah,” Ennoshita answers, without any enthusiasm. “That’s me.”
“Fuck,” Futakuchi mutters with feeling when Ennoshita’s out of hearing range. I need a drink. He can’t drink on the job, for obvious reasons.
Number 1: It would probably be the slightest bit taboo, he reasons, for a bartender to crack open a bottle of wine and down it right then.
Number 2: If Moniwa caught him, Moniwa would have an aneurism. And then he would fire Futakuchi, bartending skills be damned.
Futakuchi knows this, but, god, he wishes he could anyway. With a sigh, he slumps back against the bar and steals another look at Ennoshita and his date. His date that happens to be male. Futakuchi tries and fails not to take this piece of information as encouragement.
Kawasaki frowns at him. “The hell are you doing? Do I need Aone to babysit you now?”
“This is—it’s unfair! He’s attractive and sarcastic,” Futakuchi groans. He scrubs a hand down his face. “What am I gonna do, Kamasaki?”
“Don’t know, kiddo. Don’t particularly care, either. Look, about those drinks—”
Futakuchi peeks at Ennoshita again, and this time their eyes meet.
Help, Ennoshita seems to be silently saying, his smile noticeably forced when his date slides his hand up Ennoshita’s thigh. Well. Futakuchi is nothing if not accommodating. With a subtle nod, Futakuchi smirks and fills one of the shot glasses with their least expensive alcohol.
“Futakuchi,” Kamasaki says, having caught onto the gleam in Futakuchi’s eyes. “Don’t.”
“Too late~” Futakuchi sing-songs. He casually strides across the bar, gaze still locked with Ennoshita’s when he winks and makes a show of tripping. He pretends to look shocked when the shot spills across the lap of Ennoshita’s date.
Ennoshita’s date stares at the crotch of his cargo shorts in distress.
“Shit, my bad. So sorry, I’m such a klutz sometimes!” Futakuchi lies. He winces convincingly and gestures across the bar. “There’s some paper towel in the washroom if you need to clean up.”
“I—” His date purses his lips but hesitantly stands. “Fine. I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” Ennoshita tells him. He watches with thinly veiled amusement as his date shuffles his way to the washroom, and then he turns back to face Futakuchi. “You didn’t have to do that, y’know.”
“I know,” Futakuchi confirms, smiling. He swipes a towel across the oak tabletop where some of the shot had spilt. “I wanted to, though.” At Ennoshita’s disapproving brow raise, he explains, “You looked like you needed rescuing.”
Ennoshita takes a sip of his martini. Judging by his grimace, it’s too bitter, but he’s too proud to say it. “Maybe a little,” he admits. “He shows up fifteen minutes late and then spends the entire time talking about himself. Can you believe it?”
Futakuchi snorts. He could believe it. He’d seen worst dating catastrophes during his time as a bartender.
Ennoshita peeks up at him through his dark lashes, his lips tilting in the slightest of smiles. “You must really take your customer service duties seriously, huh?”
Shrugging, Futakuchi haughtily replies, “What can I say? I’m a man of the people. I’m dedicated.”
“And that’s the only reason?”
Futakuchi’s about to answer when he feels Kamasaki’s glare boring into him, causing the hair to stand up along the back of Futakuchi’s neck. Kamasaki is probably preparing to ream him out for pouring a shot on a customer—to ask out a customer right in front of Kamasaki would be bold, even for him. Instead, Futakuchi laughs nervously and sifts his fingers through his hair. “Nope, ‘course not.” Smooth, Futakuchi, smooth. “Your date’s probably gonna be back soon,” he warns.
“Right.” His smile slips slightly. The disappointment Futakuchi reads on his face is probably just imagined he tells himself as Ennoshita lifts from his stool. “Futakuchi?”
Futakuchi’s traitorous heart leaps. “Eh? No problem, really.” He watches Ennoshita leave, then sags against the racks behind him when Ennoshita disappears completely out of view. Exactly how many of Moniwa’s rules had he broken today? ‘Don’t hit on your customers’ is no doubt at the top of the list. God, he’ll be lucky if he’s not out of a job by the end of the week.
Fortunately—unfortunately, Futakuchi corrects—he’ll probably never see Ennoshita again anyway.
“Apple Martini!” Futakuchi greets when Ennoshita returns three days later. “You came back.”
Ennoshita flushes and scratches at the back of his neck. “It’s Ennoshita, actually.”
“Oh, I remember,” Futakuchi says with a simpering smirk. Without asking for Ennoshita’s order, he starts preparing Ennoshita a drink that looks suspiciously like another apple martini. “Got another blind date?”
“Not this time,” answers Ennoshita. He’s not even sure why he came back to the Datekou bar again, besides to satisfy his own curiosity and growing interest in the bar staff.
Futakuchi purses his lips. “It’s probably for the best. “Blind dates always seemed to me like a nightmare waiting to happen. Isn’t it sorta risky? I mean they could be anyone,” Futakuchi continues, “—a creep, a murderer, a dentist—” he shudders.
“…Or a shameless bartender?” Ennoshita suggests with a dry smile.
“Hey, if I was your date, you’d know it.” Futakuchi winks and rolls the shaker across the bow of his shoulders before catching it again in his palm in a move so fluid Ennoshita would have missed it had he not been openly ogling him. He smirks, his whiskey-colored eyes gleaming. “I wouldn’t have kept you waiting.”
Ennoshita bites the inside of his cheek. “Really? ‘Cause you don’t seem like the punctual type.”
“That’s probably ‘cause he’s not,” Kamasaki interrupts. “But he knows that if he’s even a minute late, Moniwa would probably fire his ass on the spot.”
Futakuchi squawks and swats at his coworker. “Lies. Moniwa would never fire me—I’m his best bartender! And the only one who can do this—” With a grin, he flips the jigger between his fingers, tosses it, and catches it behind his back without looking.
The waiter rolls his eyes, clearly tired of Futakuchi’s antics. “He fired you a month ago, remember? Something about you nearly setting the bar on fire,” he says and Futakuchi laughs nervously. “But you keep showing up to work anyway.”
Futakuchi waves him off. “Look, Kamasaki, that bar thing was a total misunderstanding. It was just a little bit of accidental arson. It happens! I’ve perfected my technique since then! Besides, if Moniwa was really serious about firing me, he would have stopped paying my paychecks by now.”
Kamasaki’s frown only deepens. “Whatever ya say.” He shakes his head and slings a washcloth over his shoulder. “But boss isn’t gonna be happy to his best bartender flirting up a storm while he ignores the other paying customers,” he murmurs.
“What—I was not—” The tips of Futakuchi’s ears turn a bright shade of pink. Perhaps the bartender’s not entirely shameless after all, Ennoshita thinks as he takes a long sip of his apple martini. “It’s called customer service skills, duh! I’m servicing him. I mean wait, no. Shit.”
Hands risen in defeat, Kamasaki scoffs and says, “Whatever man, just serve your costumers before they start leaving.”
“Jeez, fine!” Futakuchi turns back to Ennoshita with an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. Kamasaki’s a cranky old man.”
Ennoshita chances a look at Kamasaki. The tall, surly blonde seems only a few years older than Futakuchi, at best.
With a smirk, Futakuchi clarifies, “At heart.”
“I’m all for you getting a life outside of work, just…do it outside of work,” grunts Kamasaki.
“Okay, okay! So mean.” To Ennoshita, Futakuchi grins and mouths, “I’ll be right back!”
“Okay!” Ennoshita mouths back. He watches Futakuchi go, painfully aware of both the butterflies in his stomach and how thoroughly screwed he is.
The thing is…Ennoshita keeps coming back.
And Futakuchi’s starting to lose his mind.
“Do you even like alcohol?” Futakuchi demands when Ennoshita claims the stool directly in front of him, just as he had the day before. And the day before that.
“I guess.” Ennoshita shrugs. “I don’t mind alcohol, I just don’t want it to taste like alcohol.”
“You realize nothing you just said makes any sense, right?” Futakuchi asks, even as he starts to prepare a drink he’s confident Ennoshita will like. This one is simple and fruity—sweet, not bitter. The taste of the pineapple should be enough to mask the aftertaste of the rum. With a grin, he pushes the martini towards Ennoshita. “Here.”
Ennoshita glances between Futakuchi and the glasses in front of him. “This isn’t an apple martini,” he observes.
Futakuchi folds his arms. “Nope.”
“Hey, is this like one of the scenes in the movies where the suave bartender—” Futakuchi preens at being called ‘suave’ “—guesses what kind of drink their customer wants just by looking at them?”
Futakuchi smiles crookedly and rolls his eyes. “Just drink it.”
Obligingly, Ennoshita takes a tentative sip. He licks his lips and Futakuchi tracks the movement. “It’s…not terrible.”
“Ye of little faith,” Futakuchi tsks. He tilts his head in consideration, his fingers tapping against the bar. “Y’know, you’ve been comin’ here a lot lately.” He could just leave it be, but his curiosity’s been nagging at him.
He brings it up because he can’t not ask. Every time Ennoshita slides into the stool in front of him, his heart races. He can’t help but notice how time passes differently when Ennoshita’s around—more than once, he’s caught himself wishing his shifts were longer. And honestly, what the hell?
When Ennoshita offers only a shrug, Futakuchi flashes a charming ‘customer service’ smile and asks, “You doing some kind of documentary on handsome bartenders or somethin’?”
“Why?” Ennoshita asks with mischief in his eyes. His face splits in a shit-eating grin. “Do you know any?”
“You—you just.” Futakuchi clutches a hand against his chest and gasps. He can’t even bring himself to feel properly feel insulted when Ennoshita’s grinning at him like, dark eyes glimmering and honestly, it’s a good look on him. “That’s it,” Futakuchi says, “no more free drinks for you!”
Ennoshita snickers. “None of my drinks have been free.”
“Yeah, well. Now you’re definitely not getting any free drinks.” Futakuchi’s heart pounds harder in his chest and he’s well aware that he’s got this ridiculous, goofy, love-struck look on his face and but he can’t seem to make himself stop. Every muscle in his face rebels against him and suddenly he’s like a high-schooler dealing with his first crush again. Only somehow, this is worse.
Congratulations, Futakuchi thinks, you played yourself.
Kamasaki materializes behind him and Akaashi straightens instinctually. “Hey, whenever you two are finished with whatever this is—” Kamasaki gestures vaguely between them, his expression stony. “Think I could borrow our bartender for a few minutes? I’ll give him right back.”
Ennoshita glances between them.
“Facetiousness doesn’t suit you,” Futakuchi mutters.
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot you have the monopoly on being a smart ass around here,” says Kamasaki. “My bad.”
“He loves me, really,” Futakuchi whispers to Ennoshita before following Kamasaki into the storage room.
Kamasaki closes the door behind them. He narrows his eyes at Futakuchi and folds his arms. “I don’t get why you don’t ask him out—after hours, when you’re not supposed to be serving paying customers.”
“Because I—” Futakuchi forms a perfectly irrefutable argument in his head—something about not wanting to chase away his favorite customer, about not wanting to blow his chance, but what comes out instead is a unintelligible, derisive noise. “Tch. Whatever, I’m not taking life advice from someone who wears muscle shirts to work every day!”
Futakuchi props his elbows against the bar and leans in. “So what’ll it be today?” He doesn’t bother mentioning that this is the fourth time he’s seen Ennoshita that week. It’s only been a few weeks or so, but Ennoshita’s already close to achieving ‘bar regular’ status.
“I’d like…” Ennoshita strokes a thumb along his jaw, “a flaming Spanish coffee and, uh, make it dirty?”
There’s something so endearingly rehearsed about it that Futakuchi has to bite the inside of his cheek to stop from saying so. “Make it dirty, huh?” He waggles his brows and fetches his long-handled lighter from the lower shelf of the bar. “That can be arranged.”
Under the dim, warm lights of the bar Futakuchi sees Ennoshita’s face color. Not for the first time, Futakuchi catches Ennoshita watching his hands with interest.
Ennoshita’s lips crook in a sly smile as he draws his finger in a loose circle around the rim of his coaster. “You know, in the movies it’s usually the customer flirting with the bartender, not the other way around.”
Futakuchi lightly dusts the cusp of the mug with sugar. He licks his lips and smirks when he sees Ennoshita’s dip down to the bow of his mouth. The way they’ve been dancing around each other feels about as dangerous as lighting hard liquor on fire, but Futakuchi’s never been one to play it safe anyway. He arches a brow and points out, “Maybe. But you’re flirting back.”
When Ennoshita makes no move to deny it, Futakuchi asks, “You sure you want me to light this on fire?” He was, after all, there when Kamasaki explained what happened last time.
Ennoshita nods and cranes his neck to get a better view of what Futakuchi’s doing with his hands. “It’s for research.”
Truthfully, Futakuchi’s been looking for another opportunity to try for weeks now.
He casts a look over his shoulder, and then does a quick, cursory glance around the room just to be sure Kamasaki and Moniwa aren’t nearby. Satisfied, he drizzles in the Galliano with one hand, pours in the Brandy with his other and then tops it off with whipped cream. The scent of cinnamon mixes with the rich aroma of roasted coffee and Futakuchi can already see Ennoshita inching closer in interest.
“Careful now, you don’t want me to burn your eyebrows off,” Futakuchi warns. He snickers when Ennoshita scoots his stool back.
Futakuchi flicks on the lighter and then tentatively lowers his hand to dip to flame into the glass. He tears his hand away just as the alcohol starts to burn. A bright blue flame catches along the bottom glass, then bursts higher, crackling to life as it engulfs the liquid Futakuchi poured in seconds ago.
Ennoshita stares, mystified.
“Now we just wait for it go out again,” explains Futakuchi as he attempts to not look visibly relieved at not having set the rest of the bar on fire. The fire withers again, leaving the warm scent of burnt sugar still lingering in the air. Their eyes are still locked when Futakuchi smiles lopsidedly and hands him the glass.
“Thanks.” Ennoshita takes a sip, his tongue darting out to lick the cream off his lower lip. “Tastes…warm.”
Futakuchi snickers and quirks an eyebrow at him. “…As if it was just on fire?”
Ennoshita raises both brows at him as if to say “Really?” but the smallest of smiles playing at the corners of Ennoshita’s lips doesn’t escape Futakuchi notice.
“You know, I’m actually closing tonight,” Futakuchi mentions as casually as he can, and it takes a tremendous amount of self-restraint not to even look up to read Ennoshita’s face as Futakuchi swipes a washcloth along the table.
“If you want,” continues Futakuchi, shrugging, “you can stay. Help me close, I mean.”
Ennoshita makes a thoughtful noise like he’s considering it. “That sounds like a questionable idea.”
“Oh.” Futakuchi tries his best not to visibly deflate. “Is that a no then?”
“No, I didn’t say that,” Ennoshita says. His lips purse like he’s weighing his words heavily. “Yeah, I can…I’ll stay. But just this once—I don’t want you getting fired.”
“Aw, see, I knew you cared about me,” simpers Futakuchi, his grin unwavering even when Ennoshita gives him an exasperated eye roll.
“Okay yeah, there’s no way this is allowed,” Ennoshita says as Futakuchi twirls the bar keys around his index finger.
Futakuchi bites his lip. “What Moniwa doesn’t know what won’t kill him. Probably?” At Ennoshita’s skeptical expression, Futakuchi shrugs. “We don’t ever get to hang out just the two of us. Besides, how else am I supposed to prove I can drink you under the table?”
“How, indeed,” Ennoshita snarks. “You know, I think there actually other bars we could have gone to.”
Futakuchi interrupts him with a scoff. “I like this bar, though,” he says as he pours them both mint-flavored shots. “Clearly you do too, unless there’s some other reason you spend so much time here?’
“That, or I’m a masochist,” Ennoshita mutters dryly under his breath.
“And you don’t have any alcohol at home?” presses Ennoshita.
Futakuchi’s eyes glint. “Chikara Ennoshita,” he enunciates slowly, “did you just…invite yourself back to my place?”
“Eh?—I didn’t—” Ennoshita sputters. It takes a full minute for his brain to catch up with his mouth.
Futakuchi takes a secret pleasure in watching him squirm. A masochist and a sadist. How fitting, he thinks as he watches the realization finally dawn on Ennoshita’s face. “It would be a pretty cheap date,” hums Futakuchi.
Ennoshita swats at Futakuchi’s shoulder. “Oh, shut it, that’s not what I meant and you know it.”
Futakuchi smirks back. Guilty. But I wouldn’t mind if it was, he’s about to say when Ennoshita reaches past him for the shot glass and downs it one thick gulp.
Gagging, Ennoshita fumbles with the shot glass. His whole face contorts in a wince as he coughs and sticks out his tongue. “Burns. Blehh, yuck.” After a deep inhale through his nose, Ennoshita holds out his now empty shot glass and stares expectantly. “Okay. I’m ready for another.”
“You want another shot?’ Futakuchi laughs incredulously. “I was ready to cut you off at one. You look like you just licked a lemon!”
“No way, we’re doing this! For real. I’m telling you, I can handle it,” insist Ennoshita. He juts out his chin stubbornly and Futakuchi shakes his head, bemused but smitten. “Sure, it tastes gross—the mint doesn’t help by the way—” Ennoshita continues, “but I’m not the lightweight you think I am.”
“You’re really takin’ this seriously, huh?”
“Just think about it. I’ve been here how many times? And have you ever seen me drunk?” Ennoshita points out.
Futakuchi pauses and thinks back to each time he’s seen Ennoshita. He gasps when he realizes he hasn’t seen Ennoshita wasted before, not even once. “You—”
“I’m gonna wiiin,” sings Ennoshita.
Clucking his tongue, Futakuchi turns and fills another shot glass. “It’s always the quiet ones.” When Ennoshita reaches for the glass, Futakuchi nudges his hand away. “This one’s for me. I need to catch up, remember?”
“You’d still be behind,” reasons Ennoshita. “I had the Spanish coffee earlier, remember?”
“All the more reason, then!” Futakuchi downs the second right after the first. It burns in his throat worse than he’d been expecting. It tastes like mouthwash—no, worse than mouthwash. It tastes like he’d just tossed back a full bottle of Irish Spring body wash. “Oh god,” Futakuchi says as he wretches. “S’disgusting. Yeah, it’s…definitely not just you.”
“Told you so,” hums Ennoshita. He smooths his hand along Futakuchi’s shoulder in a way that’s somehow both consoling and mocking, his lips twitching up in a smile. They both dissolve into a fit of giggles, the sound of Ennoshita’s laughter more intoxicating than the alcohol. They lean their foreheads leaning together as Futakuchi catches his breath. He can feel the warmth radiating off Ennoshita’s skin as the stray strands of Ennoshita’s bangs tickle Futakuchi’s cheek.
Futakuchi makes the mistake of glancing down and finds his eyes drawn to the bow of Ennoshita’s lips, the proximately of it dangerous as Futakuchi considers leaning in and—
“Kenji?” Ennoshita wags his empty shot glass at Futakuchi. “I need a refill.”
Futakuchi shakes his head free of his thoughts. “Right, yeah.” He pours himself another shot and takes a swig, forcing himself to ignore the foul taste in his mouth, the warmth of Ennoshita’s hand on his shoulder, the way Ennoshita’s dark eyes keep dipping to Futakuchi’s lips—
“You’re supposed to be pouring us both drinks,” Ennoshita reminds him.
“Pour your own drinks—I’m off duty. Sort of.” Futakuchi frowns. “Y’know, the first time we met? I was totally wrong about you.” He pokes Ennoshita in the chest and slurs, “You…You’re not straight-laced at all.”
Ennoshita gasps. “So you did think I was boring!”
“It was the suit,” drawls Futakuchi. He half-heartedly shrugs and gestures to Ennoshita’s everything. “N’y’know…the hair.”
Ennoshita laughs in disbelief. “What? We practically have the same haircut!”
“That’s—not true.” Futakuchi tugs lightly at a few small strands of his own hair that are just sticking just slightly upright as if it’s a disheveled mess. “And s’not the point. You’re smart, yeah, but you’re also…kind. And witty. And stubborn. You’re even a little bit of a jerk sometimes.”
“Excuse you?” Ennoshita arches a brow at him.
“S’okay though,” confides Futakuchi. “I’m kinda into it.”
Ennoshita tugs at his lower lip as his fingers graze the collar of Futakuchi’s green dress shirt. “My first impression was totally off, too, now that you mention?”
Futakuchi’s eyes widen. He sways forward a little. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I never would have guessed you were a total lightweight,” teases Ennoshita. Then, his expression sobers slightly. “Actually, I thought you were a jerk when we first met.”
“You implied I was boring! You assumed I was a business student.”
“You were a business student!” argues Futakuchi, half distracted when Ennoshita’s other hand brushes against his.
“I thought you were an arrogant jerk,” continues Ennoshita. “But an attractive one! The bowtie and the vest and those stupid pants—they uh, worked for you. Not that you wouldn’t look good out of the uniform,” he muses to himself. “Wait. I didn’t mean—”
Brows waggling, Futakuchi whispers loudly, “So you’ve thought about me out of my uniform?” When Ennoshita swats at him again, Futakuchi says, “Still can’t believe you called me a jerk, though,” he says with a feigned pout.
Ennoshita rolls his eyes, even as a pleasant shade of pink arcs across his cheeks. “I told you—that was before I got to know you.”
Futakuchi breathes in. “And…now?”
“And now….” Ennoshita slowly skims his fingers through Futakuchi’s bangs, his dark eyes searching. Futakuchi can feel him hesitating, as if the question’s hanging between them in the air. “Kenji?” Ennoshita’s voice is so quiet that Futakuchi’s half certain he has imagined it, but it stirs Futakuchi into action and next thing he knows, they’re both surged forward at the same time.
Futakuchi catches Ennoshita’s mouth with his, a wave of heat lancing through him when Ennoshita reels him in by his bowtie. Groaning, he parts his lips and buries his fingers in Ennoshita’s ridiculously well-kept hair.
Ennoshita gasps when they both come up for air. “This is…” His chest heaves, cheeks attractively flushed as he combs his fingers through his own hair and exhales an uneven breath. Ennoshita looks more affected by a few minutes of kissing than by the alcohol and Futakuchi can’t help but be at least a little smug. “Give me a second?”
Futakuchi nods and watches as Ennoshita careful sets the shot glasses and the now-neglected bottle out of reach. With nothing in the way anymore, Futakuchi moves to close the short distance between them, his thighs straddling Ennoshita’s as Ennoshita presses their lips together. The kiss is rough and uncoordinated, their lips meeting again and again while Ennoshita yanks at Futakuchi’s tie until it’s undone, then tossed it aside.
“You really didn’t like that bowtie, huh?” remarks Futakuchi when Ennoshita reaches for the buttons of his shirt.
“It was in the way,” Ennoshita murmurs against his collar.
Chuckling, Futakuchi tips his head down and kisses Ennoshita again. Futakuchi lets Ennoshita guide the kiss into something deeper, both of them panting when Ennoshita parts Futakuchi’s shirt and slides his hands inside to stroke his fingers down over the grooves of Futakuchi’s chest. A pleasant shiver wracks through Futakuchi when he feels fingers dip lower, almost explorative but purposeful as they graze against the splay of Futakuchi’s ribs.
He lets himself get lost in it—Futakuchi nips at Ennoshita’s lower lip, reveling in the hitched moan it draws from him. He bucks his hips, groaning as he draws Ennoshita closer. This is perfect, he thinks. The friction, the way Ennoshita feels against him, Ennoshita’s lips so soft against his own—no, something’s missing.
Futakuchi breaks the kiss and leans his forehead against Ennoshita’s.
“Something wrong?” Ennoshita asks breathlessly.
Yes, Futakuchi answers internally. Because this? This is good—it’s so good, but it’s not enough. If they’re going to do this, it can’t be like this. It can’t be after a night of shots where Futakuchi can’t even tell what’s real or not anymore. If it’s going to happen, Futakuchi wants to damn well remember all of it. He wants to be there the next day to kiss Ennoshita good morning and to make him breakfast. And he wants to go on dates. So many dates. Ennoshita could introduce him to some of his favorite indie movies that he’s always telling Futakuchi about and Futakuchi could tease him about it and pretend like he’s not endeared as hell. If they’re going to do this, it’s got to be for real.
But instead of saying any of that, Futakuchi mutters, “Chikara, wait—I don’t think we should do this.”
“Oh.” Ennoshita’s face closes off as detangles himself from Futakuchi. His voice sounds stiff. “Okay.”
“I mean, I have to close up and—” Futakuchi mentally kicks himself.
“That’s fine! I’ve got an early class tomorrow. I should be headed home anyway.” Ennoshita turns away from him and plucks Futakuchi’s bowtie off the ground before awkwardly handing it to him. “Here.”
Futakuchi scowls. “Wait.”
“Don’t worry about it,” says Ennoshita, waving him off. “I’ll see you around.”
Futakuchi watches, unable to move or get his damn mouth to work as Ennoshita jumps down from the bar and leaves in a flurry without a single glance back in Futakuchi’s direction, as if Ennoshita had just been kicked out of a lover’s bed.
Shit. What the hell did I just do? Futakuchi wonders. “I didn’t mean it like that!” he yells at the door.
Futakuchi keeps an eye out for Ennoshita, keeps hoping that eventually Futakuchi will start his shift at the bar and Ennoshita will be there, inexplicably, miraculously, seated in his favorite stool and he’ll order an apple martini just like always and everything will go back to the way it was before.
Two weeks pass, and Futakuchi is starting to lose faith that that’ll ever happen.
“He’s not here,” Kamasaki informs him when he catches Futakuchi scanning the bar out of habit.
Futakuchi’s shoulders slump in disappointment. “Hmm?”
Kamasaki folds his arms across his chest, mouth tilting down in a frown. “You know, the regular you’re always flirting with. The one who sometimes comes in with filming equipment—he’s around your height—has the same haircut,” lists Kamasaki, as if it isn’t painfully obvious that Futakuchi knows exactly who he means.
“We do not have the same haircut!”
Kamasaki completely ignores Futakuchi. Rude. “So wha’d you do?” he asks slowly. Kamasaki evens Futakuchi with a hard, disapproving look.
“What did I—?” Futakuchi scoffs. “Why are you assuming I did something?”
Kamasaki’s eyes narrow. “Didn’t you?”
“No! I…maybe? I honestly don’t know,” groans Futakuchi as he drags his hands down his face. “Everything was going so well and then I—shit.”
Kamasaki sighs and pats Futakuchi on the shoulder. “Maybe he’ll come around? I was rooting you two.”
The corners of Futakuchi’s lips lift in a half-hearted smile. “Yeah…maybe.”
It’s nearly the end of the shift when someone sits down on the stool directly across from Futakuchi. The man looks around Futakuchi’s age, his features soft and delicate, dark hair curled in short tufts. He watches Futakuchi for a few minutes, almost studying him as Futakuchi swirls a white cloth along the inside of a rinsed wine glass. Beside him are a black camera bag and a tripod. Maybe he’s a film student, too?
“May I help you?” Futakuchi asks, plastering on his practiced customer service smile.
The man regards him for a long moment. “Are you Futakuchi Kenji, by any chance?”
Futakuchi’s brows furrow. “Yes?”
“I’m Akaashi. I’m a friend and classmate of Ennoshita’s,” Akaashi clarifies. Well. That explains the film equipment then.
“Oh,” Futakuchi breathes. He swipes his suddenly clammy hands down the fabric of his green vest. “Is he…” Futakuchi glimpses around the room. His heart pounds against his chest like waves thrashing against the coastline. “Is he here?”
Akaashi shakes his head and Futakuchi deflates again.
“He’s waiting outside,” says Akaashi. “I told him I was meeting up with a friend here to quickly return something they’d left at my place.”
Futakuchi frowns in confusion. “But you’re actually here for…?”
“Ennoshita’s been moping. He says he’s fine but. Well.” Akaashi pulls a face that Futakuchi takes to mean, you know how stubborn he can be.
“He’s been avoiding the place like the plague,” Futakuchi complains with a pout.
“According to Ennoshita, he made some sort of mistake? He says there was a misunderstanding and that he read too much into whatever’s been going on between you and I don’t have the full story, but I have a feeling that’s not the whole story? I know what it looks like when people are jumping to conclusions.”
Futakuchi blinks at him.
Akaashi curls his fingers in the fabric of his own blue plaid scarf. “What I’m saying is—whatever it is you did? Now’s your chance to fix it.”
“Why does everyone keep thinking it’s my fault,” grumbles Futakuchi.
Kamasaki snickers behind him.
“I’ve heard stories,” Akaashi retorts.
“Wait.” Futakuchi braces his hands against the bar counter. “You’re saying Ennoshita’s here—right now?”
“Right outside the bar?”
Akaashi nods again, but slower this time, his curved smile slightly mocking. “That’s what I’m saying.”
“And if I don’t chase after him now, then I’ll miss my chance to fix this and lose my one opportunity at ever truly finding love?” Futakuchi presses.
With a snort, Akaashi replies, “A little bit dramatic, but…”
He can’t really just leave his post during his shift, can he? Futakuchi peers over at his manager, Moniwa, who is standing nearby and watching him with hawk-like vigilance. Screw it, Futakuchi decides.
“Hell yeah, go get ‘em ya beautiful bastard!” Kamasaki hollers after him as Futakuchi leaps over the bar.
“What did I ever do to deserve any of this,” bemoans Moniwa.
Futakuchi sprints through the room and weaves through a throng of customers, nearly knocking over a waiter holding a tray of shrimp, just barely managing to duck around the wobbling waiter as he wrenches open the door. The air is crisp and burns to inhale as it lashes against Futakuchi’s face but he keeps running until, finally, Futakuchi sees him.
Ennoshita is leaning against the wall of the bar, a black scarf peeking out beneath the collar of his peacoat, his ears delightfully red. He’s clutching a cellphone in his hand and pacing in place. “Akaashi, where are you? If you want to stay, that’s fine, I’ll just head home, but I need to know—” Ennoshita trails off when his eyes meet Futakuchi’s. They both stand there, staring openly. “Oh. I’ll, uh. I’ll call you back?”
Ennoshita hangs up. Still staring, he slides his phone back into his pocket.
“Hey,” Futakuchi says, suddenly uncertain.
Ennoshita takes a small step forward. “Hey.”
“It’s been awhile,” Futakuchi points out lamely.
“I—I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me again?” Ennoshita admits with a wince. “Because of, y’know, what happened. I hate to think that I was making you uncomfortable or harassing you at work.”
“What? No. If anyone should be sorry, it’s me,” interrupts Futakuchi. “I took advantage and you were drunk and—”
Ennoshita arches a brow at him. “Kenji, I wasn’t drunk, you were drunk.”
“Wait. Seriously?” Futakuchi stops in his tracks. “Huh. I guess that means you really did win then—which is not the point,” Futakuchi backtracks when Ennoshita’s brows inch even farther up his forehead. “So wait, the kissing then…that was real? I— You really meant it?”
“I did, but I didn’t think you meant it,” Ennoshita says, some of the hurt creeping back into his tone and Futakuchi mentally kicks himself.
“I meant it! It just—it wasn’t how I planned it.” Futakuchi makes a frustrated noise and explains, “I was supposed to ask you out properly, y’know, when we’re both sober. It was supposed to be romantic and I…was supposed to be smoother than this. It was supposed to be like this.” Futakuchi surges forward and cups Ennoshita’s face in his hands and crushes their mouths together. The knots in his stomach untangle when he feels Ennoshita’s lips curve in a smile against his.
“Kenji,” Ennoshita murmurs between kisses, “You could have just told me that, don’t you think?”
Futakuchi caresses Ennoshita’s neck in apology, pressing soft kisses along the line of Ennoshita’s jaw. “I wanted to, but you were out of there so fast.” He strokes the pad of his thumb down along the slope of Ennoshita’s cheek. “I missed you. It’s been weird without you around—Moniwa hasn’t yelled at me in a full week.”
Ennoshita’s chest rumbles with laugher. He lifts a hand to the collar of Futakuchi’s dress shirt, his lips grazing Futakuchi’s pounding pulse. They’re both standing beneath the soft glow of a streetlight. “Sounds boring.”
“So boring,” Futakuchi groans, his face splitting in a grin. He dips his head down and tilts Ennoshita’s chin with his thumb, silently taking triumphant pride in the minor height difference between them as he kisses Ennoshita again.
Ennoshita leans his forehead against Futakuchi’s shoulder. “I don’t even like bars.”
Futakuchi snickers and presses a soft kiss to the part of Ennoshita’s hair, the tip of his nose, the shell of his ear, the red flush of his cheeks, then, finally, the bow of his lips. Ennoshita yanks him closer, his hands gripping at Futakuchi’s waist as Futakuchi turns lightheaded.
This time, it’s Ennoshita who breaks the kiss. His grip loosens on Futakuchi’s waist. Ennoshita’s lips quirk in a small, sly smile and Futakuchi’s instantly rendered defenseless. “So, can I buy you a drink sometime?” Ennoshita asks dryly.
“It’s a tempting offer, but I think I’d like to treat you to dinner first,” Futakuchi says, his eyes glinting as Ennoshita twines their fingers together.
Ennoshita’s smile broadens. “Dinner sounds perfect.” Then his eyes widen. “Wait, shouldn’t you be working right now?”
“Ah, yeah. I should probably get back before Moniwa fires me. Again.” This time it might actually stick.
“That’s probably a good idea,” Ennoshita agrees with a sardonic smile.
Futakuchi turns to go when he feels a hand at his wrist. He looks over his shoulder, brow raised in question. He’s not expecting when Ennoshita leans in again and kisses him. It’s painfully short and chaste, but it feels like a promise. “Wait.” Ennoshita fetches a pen out his pocket and writes his number across the palm of Futakuchi’s hand in black ink. “There. So that you can call me.”
“Right.” Futakuchi flexes his hand, already planning on calling the moment his shift ends. “I’ll see you soon?”
“See you soon,” Ennoshita murmurs. His dark brown eyes are fond as he waves Futakuchi off. “Try not to give Moniwa a heart attack—he’s trying his best.”
Futakuchi smirks. “No promises!” When he looks his down at his palm, he can’t help beaming to himself. Even if Moniwa does fire him, at least it’ll all have been entirely worth it.