Life, Death and Food
Going on a date with Sasayama was weird . Dating another guy in general was weird, but Sasayama added an extra layer of weirdness to the situation. And yet, here Karatsu was, sitting on a bench in a Shinjuku park and smoking a cigarette, waiting for his boyfriend to show up. Kashiwagi Park was mostly empty aside from him, with only an occasional businessman walking through on the way to the nearby train station. Normally, they wouldn’t meet in such a public location, but Sasayama had insisted on taking Karatsu on a date, and there were plenty of options near the ward’s offices.
Karatsu slumped lower on the bench, rested his head on the back as he blew smoke skyward. The string of lanterns above him suddenly came on, making him squint and pull the brim of his hat lower. They were nice touch to the park, though, and he mentally congratulated Shinjuku for turning this tiny area into something of a green space. Okubo Park was bigger and had some decent trees, but this spot had a nice view of the surrounding buildings. There was even a graveyard across the street, which just showed that death was never far away, even in a city as massive as Tokyo.
The familiar tap of a cane announced the city official’s arrival as he strolled up a few minutes later and sat down on the bench next to him, immediately plucking the cigarette from Karatsu’s fingers.
“Hey, that’s my last one!” he protested, but made no move to take it back. His boyfriend looked like he needed it more than Karatsu did.
“We can grab some more later,” Sasayama said between puffs. “You hungry?”
“Always.” Sitting up, Karatsu stretched and sighed. “How was work?”
Sasayama shrugged and blew out a mouthful of smoke. “Normal, I suppose. Paperwork, phone calls, meetings, dealing with little old ladies and more paperwork.”
“And you managed to get away before midnight? Your work ethic is slipping, old man,” Karatsu teased, both of them knowing how hard Sasayama worked.
“You young people can work all night. I don’t care anymore.” The man finished the cigarette and crushed the butt with his heel before rising. “Tempura ok?”
“Then tempura sounds great!” Karatsu had been living off of instant ramen for the past week, so anything sounded delicious at this point.
Sasayama snorted, rolled his eyes and led the way out of the park and down the street next to the graveyard. They made quite the pair, Karatsu thought, trailing after him. The city official looked like he stepped out of a bad yakuza movie with his scar and pegleg, and passersby probably assumed Karatsu was an underling of some kind. He smiled to himself at the thought, trying to imagine what it would be like working for Sasayama. It would probably be pretty boring, but at least he’d get a steady paycheck.
“What are you grinning at?” Sasayama asked gruffly as he caught sight of Karatsu’s face.
“Thinking about life with you as my boss,” he shot back, quickening his pace to walk beside the man.
“Oh yeah? Has my so-called shoddy work ethic influenced you to change careers?”
“Hell no, I’d rather be broke than be a government man.” That would be worse than being tied to a temple, since he’d have to answer to actual humans instead of the spirit of the Buddha. Sasaki was strict enough as it was, he’d hate to think of what someone like her with actual power would be like.
Sasayama snorted. “Aren’t you already broke?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault we haven’t had any clients lately! Numata’s been slacking off!”
Karatsu pretended to sulk as they crossed the street, more interested in looking at the graveyard as it continued down the next block behind some buildings, but he could tell Sasayama was only amused by his silence. The man abruptly stopped at a small door flanked by a miniature rock garden and flowering plants, and he realized they had reached their destination. A sign next to the door read ‘Tempura Tenhide’, and Karatsu smirked, wondering how his boyfriend had found the place. It was a bit far from the municipal offices to stumble across accidentally, and he doubted Sasayama liked to go for walks on his lunch break.
He managed to keep his mouth shut as they entered, finding himself in a small but cozy restaurant. They nodded in response to the chef’s welcome and were directed to a table in the tiny adjoining room. Karatsu settled on the far side, amused that the graveyard was literally a few feet from his back, and watched as Sasayama lowered the curtains that hung from the ceiling to create something of a private booth for them.
“Feeling romantic?” he taunted as his boyfriend settled himself.
“No, I just don’t want the other patrons to lose their appetite because of your ugly mug.”
“Says the guy with the scary scar on his head.”
They glared at each other for a moment, then grinned, Sasayama going so far as to chuckle. The waiter arrived with menus, and they spent the next few minutes debating on whether to split something or not. To Karatsu’s cash-strapped eyes, the prices were a bit much, but since he wasn’t paying he decided not to worry about it. They finally settled on a tempura set for each of them, with Karatsu having sake to drink and Sasayama going with plum wine.
“So things have been quiet, eh?” Sasayama asked after their drinks arrived.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough month so far.” The group had one client at the start of the month, but they hadn’t earned much, and odd jobs were difficult to find at the moment.
“If anything comes up, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Thanks.” Karatsu flashed him a smile, truly thankful that his boyfriend didn’t mind looking after him and his friends. Best not to make a habit of it, though.
“So, uh, do you have any hobbies?” This was technically their first dinner date, having met previously at bars for drinks, and he was at a bit of a loss as to what to talk about. They each knew what the other did, so there was no point talking about work, so maybe their personal lives would be a good place to start.
“Hobbies?” Sasayama echoed, raising an eyebrow.
“I mean, you don’t work all the time, right?” he pressed, suddenly worried that the man did nothing in his spare time.
Sasayama crossed his arms and thought for a moment. “I suppose watching cop shows and laughing at how wrong they are is a hobby?”
“Oh yeah? What’s your favourite one?”
“Akai Reikyusha is probably the best of the bunch,” Sasayama said with a smile.
Karatsu straightened, nodding rapidly. “Hey, I’ve heard of that one! It’s set in Kyoto, right?”
“Yep. I started watching it back when I was on the force, and kept watching afterwards.” Encouraged by his reaction, the man thought some more. “I like listening to music and reading as well.”
“Same here. Makino’s gotten me hooked on some recent pop music, actually. It’s kinda catchy, alright?” he added, thinking he was about to get laughed at. He had avoided that genre growing up, preferring rock music, but he had to admit he liked some of the tapes Makino lent him.
Surprisingly, his boyfriend agreed with him. “Her stuff’s not pop, but I like what I’ve heard of Onitsuka Chihiro.” Karatsu nodded, recognizing the name from magazine covers he had seen.
“I’ll have to check her out,” Karatsu said, making a mental note to ask Makino if she had anything on her. Their food arrived then, and he focused on it, breathing in the rich aroma of the deep fried fish and vegetables.
“Thank you for the food!” they said together, chopsticks poised to grab the first piece of food.
- - -
Karatsu groaned and tried not to trip over his own feet. He stumbled anyway, fingers digging into Sasayama’s shoulder as he flailed and awkwardly caught his balance. “Why’d I suggest going to a bar?” he mumbled, more to himself than to his boyfriend.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Sasayama replied lightly, steering him around a corner. “Although isn’t there a rule against monks drinking?”
Karatsu lowered his head and focused on his feet. Bastard was having way too much fun seeing him drunk.
“For the last time, I only got my guala-quala-” He paused and took a breath. “Qu-a-li-fi-cat-ions,” he sounded the word out slowly, pleased with himself. He wasn’t that drunk, he could still speak! “I can work at a temple, but right now, I ain’t a monk. No jobs, anyway.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Too many graduates, not enough temples.” Sasayama adjusted the position of Karatsu’s arm over his shoulders. “So, your place or mine?”
“Uh...” He squinted, trying to think. “Yours? It’s closer?” He had the feeling he should lie down soon, and his place was a long train ride away.
“Mine it is.” His boyfriend steadied him as they descended the stairs to the train station, said train arriving a few minutes later. Sprawled in a seat, Karatsu closed his eyes, finding the light too bright. The rocking of the train was nice, though. Soothing. Sasayama would get mad at him if he fell asleep here, though.
To keep himself awake, Karatsu hummed to himself. They were the only people in the car, so no one would care. Vaguely, he realized he was humming a pop tune, but whatever. It was catchy. Sasayama glanced at him and laughed, sliding closer to him so their knees touched. Yeah, yeah, Karatsu was a riot alright.
He kept humming as they left the train and began the slow walk to Sasayama’s apartment.
- - -
“Hey, deadbeat!” Sasayama called from the entryway, “Dinner’s here!”
Karatsu set his book down and pushed himself up off the couch, strolling into kitchen to find several paper bags on the counter. “Take out?” he said curiously, poking his nose in one. “Sweet, you got Chinese!”
“Yep,” Sasayama replied, hanging up his coat with a sigh and pulling out his cigarettes. “Want one?”
“Later. It’ll ruin the taste of the food.” Karatsu took the bags into the main room and emptied them before sitting down, Sasayama dropping onto the cushion across from him.
“You mean you actually still taste stuff? I thought all the dead bodies you deal with would have killed that long ago.”
“My sense of taste is just fine, thanks. I’m more worried about yours,” Karatsu countered as Sasayama balanced his cigarette on the edge of an ashtray.
“Shut it, smartass, or I’ll make you pay for your half.”
Karatsu just grinned and picked up his chopsticks. “Then thanks for the food!” The man across from him echoed his words, and they began to eat. Halfway through a mouthful of chow mein, a thought struck him.
“You don’t mind me staying here on the weekends, right?” They hadn’t actually talked about it, Karatsu had just started spending Friday nights with Sasayama, which led him to lounge around on Saturdays, and suddenly he was waking up Sunday mornings beside his boyfriend.
Sasayama stared at him. “Of course not. Besides, it saves you some money on bills, doesn’t it?”
“Well, yeah...” Karatsu shifted, stalling for time by eating some rice. “But it drives your bills up instead.”
The tip of Sasayama’s pegleg bounced off of his knee a moment later, making him wince. “I’m barely here since I work so much,” Sasayama said. “Hell, I could afford a bigger place, but I like this spot. A couple extra hundred yen out of my pocket at the end of the month won’t kill me.”
Karatsu nodded, catching his point. Sasayama was more concerned about his boyfriend’s situation that he would say out loud, and this was his way of helping out. “Alright, just thought I’d ask.”
“How considerate of you. Now pass me the sweet and sour pork.” Sasayama’s tone was sarcastic, but his smile told Karatsu that he was pleased that he hadn’t made a fuss about the matter. As if he would – Karatsu was just grateful that Sasayama was willing to help him and his coworkers.