Fenneko: You're being a creep
Haida scowled at the message and stuck his phone in his pocket. He wasn't here to argue with Fenneko. And he wasn't, despite what Fenneko was implying, here to spy on Retsuko. He was here to see how her first lesson was - to commiserate, or celebrate, as required. So he waited, leaning against the driving school building, where it was easy to see who was leaving, and call out to them.
Which was how he caught sight of Tadano, slouching his way away from the school.
The shock of it was such that Haida didn't have time to react, to consider calling out, asking for an autograph, or pretending not to notice him (the dude was rich, and famous; he probably hated being recognized in public) before Tadano was gone. The door swung open to reveal familiar red-orange fur, and the moment was over.
"H - hey! Retsuko! Fancy seeing you here!"
"Oh, Haida!" Restuko seemed pleased, but Haida could never be certain. She'd rebuffed him - politely, nicely - but still spoke to him, treated him like the friend she always had (but maybe a little closer? Maybe she thought of him as more than a colleague, like she did Washimi, and Gori). But remembering how she'd acted with Resasuke, Haida kept trying to watch himself, not pushing his company on her. Not being a 'creep', as Fenneko seemed to think. "What are you doing here?"
"Ah." It was perhaps the one flaw in Haida's plan, that he hadn't come up with a good cover. And maybe...he didn't need one? Retsuko knew he liked her, and had still seemed interested in knowing one another. "I was actually waiting for you, Retsuko!"
"Me?" Retsuko's cheeks flushed, ears twitching.
"I - not like that! I - I just thought you might need a friendly ear if it didn't go well! Or someone to talk to about it if it went well."
And Haida held his breath. If she brushed him off, it'd be a clear sign to back off, like a hundred percent, go get blind dead drunk, and whine to Fenneko.
But then Retsuko gave Haida that blinding, bright smile, the one that had first made him sit up and take notice of the nervous panda.
"I'd love to!"
They ended up in a tiny restaurant, Retsuko chattering excitedly about her first lesson, barely touching her ramen until Haida pointed it out to her.
"If you're paying for that, you might as well eat it."
She responded to that with an awkward laugh, but dug in, and Haida felt good, that she was eating, was having a good time.
"So, did you see what Tadano was up to in there?"
Retsuko frowned. "Tadano? Is that someone from work? From legal? Or the administrative pool?"
"No, he's a tech entrepreneur-"
"Oh, so he's in IT! I try really hard not to have to talk to them. Ton yelled at me for an hour the first time I called IT for help with my computer."
Setting aside the further insight into how shitty Ton could be toward Retsuko, Haida shook his head. "No, he doesn't work with us. He owns a big technology company - they make AI - artificial intelligence. He's a genius!" At Retsuko's continued blank look, Haida prodded. "Did you see a donkey in there?"
"Oh, yes." Retsuko looked down at her bowl. "I don't know. He didn't seem - well, he said he's not really working right now." There was a twitch in her right ear that Haida had come to realize was Retsuko trying to avoid speaking her mind.
"Come on, you can say what you really think," Haida pressed. "He's not here - I bet if he wants ramen, he buys out the whole shop so he doesn't have to talk to people."
Retsuko smiled - it was quick, but it was there. But then she was frowning, thoughtful. "I don't know. He seemed - really laid-back. Lazy. And the lady said he's been in the beginner's class for ages without getting any better."
"Well, I can see that," Haida agreed. "If I were rich enough to pay someone to drive me around all day, I might not be that devoted to learning to drive, either." It wasn't just that, Haida knew. Tadano loved talking about how advanced and adaptable his AI was, so there were all sorts of jokes about what he had computers do for him.
"But why is he there at all, if he doesn't need to?" Retsuko demanded.
Which was a good question.
Retsuko thanked Haida for the company when they went their separate ways, which left Haida with a little thrill that carried him home. He counted it a sign of maturity that he didn't obsess over dinner, and that little thank you, all night. Although the fact he spent most of the time wondering what Tadano was doing at a dinky little traffic school probably wasn't much better.
Haida found himself waiting for Retsuko again after her next class, ignoring Fenneko's half-hearted attempts at shaming him for it. He and Retsuko were friends, and looking out for each other was just a thing friends did!
And he couldn't help but notice when Tadano walked out the door, heading down the street as if he didn't have a limo stashed somewhere he could ride. Haida stared after the donkey, wondering if he was just imagining things, seeing the faces of celebrities on random strangers. Because he couldn't think of any conceivable reason why a literal billionaire would be taking driving lessons in an unremarkable corner of Tokyo.
He wasn't so distracted not to notice Retsuko when she emerged, however, and offered her a gentle smile.
"Oh, hi!" Retsuko stepped around Haida. "You didn't come out here just for me, did you?"
Haida shrugged. "So what if I did? I thought - well, obviously you don't need a bodyguard or anything, but it's nice to see a friendly face when you're done with classes or - whatever."
"O - oh. That's nice of you. But I don't think I can go out tonight."
"That's alright. I'll walk you-" Haida did a quick calculation, "to the train station."
Retsuko flashed a bright smile at Haida and they began walking. It was quiet for a moment before Retsuko spoke up.
"If you want to come by to see me, I'm sure you could wait inside."
Haida waved his hand. "I wouldn't want to bother anyone."
Retsuko laughed. "You wouldn't be a bother! The only person who's ever there is the girl at the desk, and Mr. Tadano."
Haida shook his head. "Even if I'm right and he is Tadano, he doesn't want strangers coming up and talking to him. He's a big-name businessman!"
Retsuko hummed. "He didn't seem to mind me talking to him."
"Well, who would mind a cute girl talking to them out of the blue?" Haida retorted. "Not that I - I mean, obviously you're cute, but-"
"And he is Tadano. I asked," Retsuko said, either ignoring or oblivious to Haida's blustering. "Even though I'm still not sure I believe it. He's nice, but…" She trailed off, still embarrassed to voice an unkind thought about someone.
"Still don't believe he's all that?"
"I looked him up on the internet, and he doesn't seem...like he made something that important."
Haida shrugged. "Well, sometimes there's more to people than meets the eye."
He slowed, paused, when he realized Retsuko wasn't walking beside him anymore. She was standing a few feet back, watching Haida carefully. When she saw him looking, she flushed, before smiling.
"I guess you're right," she decided with a nod.
But on Retsuko's suggestion, the next time Haida went to visit her at the traffic school, he did so inside, settling on one of the many squat plastic chairs. It was, as Retsuko predicted, empty, although it was empty even of Tadano. So Haida gave the woman at the counter an awkward wave and settled down, plugging in his phone to listen to some music.
A few minutes in, Tadano ambled out of the back and dropped into a chair - not next to Haida, but closer than the dozens of free seats would allow. Haida spent a few minutes debating whether Retsuko was right, or if Tadano was only chill with strange attractive women randomly talking to him. After that, he spent another ten trying to psych himself up to actually talk to Tadano.
It was almost anti-climactic, when Haida finally waved at Tadano and got a brief smile in return. And then, miracle of miracles, Tadano tilted his head at Haida, questioning.
"They're not that scary in there," he said.
"What?" Haida glanced at the receptionist, who was playing something on her phone. "No! I'm - waiting for a friend. Red panda? Looks like sunshine?"
"Oh, yeah." Tadano nodded his head. "She thought I was an unemployed slacker."
"Nah, I don't mind," Tadano said, waving his hand, dismissive. He grinned at Haida, winking. "I sort of am a slacker. If I didn't have Enio to keep me on track, I'd never get anything done."
"O - oh." Haida settled back, chest tense, wondering if that meant Tadano didn't want to hear about work. "So. Um. Why are you taking driving classes?"
Tadano hummed. "Well, I've got a pilot's license. It shouldn't be that hard." He smiled again, easy (how did people like Retsuko and Tadano do that? Smile like it was nothing?). It didn't sound like the whole truth, but Haida was some rando; Tadano didn't owe him anything. "How about you? Are you considering learning to drive?"
"Ha, no. I don't really have the money to buy a car, so I don't see the point."
"Hm." Tadano glanced away, staring at the clock overhead. It was quiet between them for a minute, and Haida wondered if that meant the conversation was over. "So would you do it? If you didn't have to worry about money?"
"Nah. I like Tokyo, and it's a waste of money keeping a car around here. But oh man, I'd get myself a nice place to live if I had your kind of money."
When Haida looked over, Tadano was watching him, the half-lidded look in his eyes gone, replaced by an intense focus. Haida bit back a yelp (barely) and edged back, the beginnings of a flush on his cheeks. He wasn't sure what to do with that sort of focused attention; it never meant anything good at work.
And then Tadano glanced up, to the side, and waved. "Hey, Retsuko. I was just talking to your friend…" He paused, turning to Haida with an awkward scratch at his head, a slanting smile on his face. "I don't think I ever got your name."
"Haida," Haida said.
"Great!" Tadano dropped down out of his chair in a fluid motion. "So, now that we're all acquainted, how about we get some ice cream? My treat."
Somehow, Haida left that impromptu gathering with Tadano's number in his phone. It consequently ended with Haida's number in Tadano's phone, and the discovery that Tadano really didn't have enough to do. Haida had thought he'd made it clear he couldn't text during work, but Tadano sometimes got excited and forgot.
Haida's phone buzzed again; he eyed it, wondering if he could get away with an early coffee break just to get Tadano to leave him alone until lunch.
"You should tell your girlfriend not to text you during work," Fenneko said in passing.
"I don't - it's not-" Haida protested.
"Is that Tadano?" Retsuko asked, oblivious to how Fenneko would react to such a tantalizing hint.
"Hm? Who's Tadano?" Fenneko wasn't grinning, but her ears were perked up, almost vibrating, a clear sign that she'd caught wind of gossip and would not rest until she'd pieced it all together.
"He's a guy taking classes at the driving school," Retsuko replied. "Haida and him hit it off waiting for me to get out of class."
"So not a girlfriend," Fenneko concluded, but her eyes were brighter than they usually were at work, driven, curious, and Haida resigned himself to the inevitable scrutiny as Fenneko tried to wheedle out every aspect of his friendship with Tadano (were they friends? Haida showed up at the driving school and they, or them and Retsuko, got coffee or a drink or whatever. He wasn't certain if it qualified).
"Don't you have work to do?"
"Don't you?" Fenneko retorted, as Haida's phone buzzed again. If Fenneko had been one of the guys, instead of slightly sinister, possibly some sort of witch, Haida would have flipped her off. Instead he sat down and grabbed the nearest stack of papers.
At lunch, he scrolled through a string of texts that seemed to be Tadano's stream of consciousness during some sort of business meeting before sending a reply.
Haida: You need to stop sending me these text essays or whatever when I'm at work.
Tadano: What? Why???
Tadano: I know you can't answer right away
Tadano: But what if I forget what I wanted to say?
Haida: I get weird looks when my phone's going off every ten seconds. Fenneko thinks I have a clingy girlfriend
Tadano: I cannot get over how dystopian your office is
Tadano: But if you insist
Tadano: I will restrain myself.
Haida snorted, because he could almost imagine the huff in Tadano's voice, his nose wrinkling at the thought of his brilliance being curtailed by someone's humorless boss.
"So." Haida stiffened at Fenneko's sudden interruption, as she circled to his front, that tiny, predatory smirk on her face that meant she had some dirt on someone. "Retsuko shared some 'deets' on this Tadano."
"And?" There was literally a zero percent chance Fenneko didn't know exactly who Tadano was, meaning it was certain she was trying to make Haida sweat. It irritated him that it was working, that his throat felt a little tight, that he was nervous. Which was ridiculous; it wasn't embarrassing to have a friend. But Fenneko could do that, make Haida feel mortified about the most innocuous things.
"Your new friend's filthy rich," Fenneko said.
"Yeah? Rich people need friends, too," Haida retorted.
"Hm, I suppose," Fenneko replied. "But I've seen your posts - you've been checking in at some nice places."
A confused whine escaped Haida instead of a coherent response, because he didn't have an idea how to respond.
"I'm just saying it sounds like you've got a sugar daddy thing going on."
"A what?" Haida sputtered.
"Sugar daddy," Fenneko repeated. "It's when a guy buys you stuff-"
"I know what it means!" Haida hissed, dropping down to Fenneko's level. "And I'm not - it isn't like that!"
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha," Fenneko chuckled. "Of course it isn't; I'd know. The look on your face, though…" She left Haida then, the stuttering of her laughter echoing even after she was gone. The laughter, and her comment, ate at Haida for the rest of the day. Obviously Tadano wasn't his sugar daddy, but the implication he was taking advantage of Tadano made Haida feel worse; at least a sugar daddy would know what was going on.
Tadano was out of town on business, otherwise they might have had plans to meet up after work. But with Fenneko's accusation on his mind, Haida could barely bring himself to respond to Tadano's texts, much less plan to hang out once Tadano was back in Tokyo.
It took two days before Haida realized he'd been kidding himself, imagining he could just vanish without any explanation. Tadano's texts slowed in their normal pace and energy only at the end of that time, with a plaintive 'Are we done?'
It was blunt, clear, and, seeing it, Haida couldn't answer 'yes'. He liked Tadano, who was smart, driven in a way that only came from doing what he loved, and attentive to things most other people never seemed to want to hear from Haida.
So at last he answered.
Haida: No. Things have just been
Tadano: Well, if you want to talk about it
Haida: Don't say it
Tadano: I'm all ears.
Haida: I could ruin your image
Haida: Telling people how terrible your sense of humor is.
Haida fell back onto his couch, a smile tugging at his mouth. It felt demeaning to suggest he was merely used to talking to Tadano; still, the routine of it was reassuring, the rhythm of their conversations comfortable.
Haida's phone beeped, announcing the arrival of a long, semi-coherent rant from Retsuko about her speed-dating event. Haida swiped it aside, knowing it'd wait. It was almost stranger than his budding friendship with Tadano, this new orbit he and Retsuko had reached. He wasn't certain if she thought he was still making romantic overtures, or if she thought the whole matter had been settled at Christmas. Regardless, they were talking more regularly, more casually, than they ever had before.
Haida's phone beeped.
Tadano: Bankrupt me so I'm desperate enough to work at your office?
Tadano: You can just ask to see me more
Haida stared at the screen, gnawing at his lip. This would be a good time to bring up his concerns, right? But how did you come out and say something like that?
Haida sighed; he was going to have to talk about this. The only upside was that he wouldn't end up heartbroken and drunk in the gutter, no matter how the conversation went.
Haida: Can we head out for drinks or something?
Haida: I sort of want to talk about it
Haida frowned at the message as it sent. There was something missing here, and he wasn't sure what.
Tadano: Sure! Where?
There it was.
Haida: There's a bar right near my apartment, and I'm buying.
Tadano: Whatever makes you happy.
Haida beat Tadano there - aside from Tadano likely never having been there, Tadano insisted on driving everywhere, enough that Haida wondered if Tadano actually knew how to use public transit.
Haida took a few minutes to settle himself, ordering himself a beer and Tadano scotch on ice (it wouldn't matter if the ice melted; Tadano always forgot his drink until the drink was lukewarm and diluted anyway). Rather than taking in his surroundings, enjoying his drink, or even thinking, Haida found his gaze fixed on the entrance. He couldn't say what left him so anxious, only that some horrifying possibility was looming over him.
And then Tadano slunk into the bar, and Haida's chest eased. Tadano didn't look stressed or worried, as if Haida's behavior had left him sleepless and anxious. He just smiled, easy, at Haida, and strolled to their table. Tadano's eyes crinkled at the glass of scotch and he looked to Haida, grin easing into something...gentler.
"You really are buying," Tadano said, settling into his chair. He picked up his glass, tilted it at Haida as if to toast, and took a long draught. "Huh," he said. "Something's different."
"Well, it's not some thousand-dollar-a-bottle scotch," Haida replied, cheeks heating as he realized how dumb it had been to suggest he pay - Tadano was used to expensive shit, stuff Haida couldn't hope to afford-
"A thousand dollars? Who spends that much on alcohol? No, it's very-" Tadano coughed, "strong. And...cold?"
"Well, there's ice in it."
"Who puts ice in scotch?" Tadano demanded.
"You do. When you order it on the rocks."
"I…" Tadano lifted his glass, staring at the cubes swirling around the bottom. "Huh."
"What did you think it meant?"
"I don't know; it's what my dad always ordered." Tadano took another sip before scowling, his face crumpling as he did, and setting his glass down. "Well, that is just undrinkable."
Haida snorted. "You order that every time we get drinks."
"No," Tadano protested. "I always get mild, room-temperature scotch."
"You get scotch on the rocks and forget about it until the ice has melted," Haida corrected.
"Huh. You live and learn." Tadano leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. "So...what's the big talk about?"
"I." Haida glanced down at his glass, now empty, and considered ordering another. But that had rarely made him more composed or coherent, so he took a deep breath and sucked it up. "My friend called you my 'sugar daddy', and-"
"Enio, what's a sugar daddy?"
Haida's heart stopped as Tadano's phone spoke up.
"Sugar Daddy can refer to a caramel lollipop, which seems unlikely, given the context; or a man who offers financial support to a younger romantic companion."
"Oh, god," Haida groaned, letting his head drop to the table. He was going to die of embarrassment in his favorite bar.
"Wow, that is - do people really do that? Be with someone just because they give them money?"
Tadano was frowning at his phone, scrolling through whatever detailed discussion of sugar daddies he could find with a three-second search on the internet. He looked - distressed, Haida guessed, at the suggestion. Which of course Tadano was concerned about people using him for his money.
"Well, yeah. People do a lot of things for money - when you need to pay rent, buy groceries, medical care-"
"Hey! Just because you're richer than - God, doesn't mean you can judge people who have to make a living."
"What?" Tadano's eyes widened only slightly before his ears fell back, face scrunched anxiously. "No. I - if you had all the money you needed, would you still want to be an accountant?"
"Why?" Seeing the intensity of Tadano's gaze, Haida felt a slow, uncertain squeeze of his chest, and then a sudden shock of realization. "You aren't suggesting-"
"No! I - no." Tadano's cheeks were flushed, and he only met Haida's gaze for an instant before dropping his own to the table (Haida could feel his cheeks heating himself, only hoping Tadano couldn't see it). "I was trying to make a point," Tadano muttered. "There are a lot of people doing things they don't want to, just because they need to make a living." He took a quick breath. "Do you know why I'm taking driving lessons?"
Haida shook his head.
"My car is self-driving." He glanced at his phone, ducking his head. "Or, I mean. I programmed Enio, who can drive my car, among other things."
"You pay someone to drive it - you bring him doggy bags," Haida protested.
"Well, self-driving cars aren't technically legal, so I need someone to pretend to drive the car. And actually drive it, if Enio can't."
"And you want to cut that expense out of your budget?"
"No!" Tadano had been embarrassed at the suggestion he wanted to be Haida's sugar daddy; at this suggestion, he looked horrified. "I want to be able to support him without making him do work. Someday I want...to do that for everybody."
"Huh. You don't meet a lot of Communist billionaires."
"I'm not a communist," Tadano retorted. "With Enio's help, I want to transform the economy - build a world free of labor, where people can pursue dreams without worrying about how to put food on the table."
It sounded a little like Communism, but it was clearly a sore point, so Haida let it drop. Especially because he had something else to discuss.
"Anyway, my friend said - and I don't think she really thinks I'm trading sexual favors for rent or whatever. But it made me worry I - you're a nice guy. You don't deserve people taking advantage of that just because you've got money."
"Oh, man, really?" Tadano shook his head, expression giving way to a soft grin. "That's sweet, Haida, but I'm pretty sure I can figure out for myself who's using me for free helicopters."
"But you always pay when we go out-"
"Because I can afford it," Tadano said. "And I don't want you to worry about whether you can afford to spend time with me. We're friends, right?" Haida nodded quickly, not wanting there to be any confusion on that fact. "Well, that means we're supposed to have a good time together. I don't care what we get up to, but I'm not letting you stress about it if we want to do something that needs money." He reached out and patted Haida's hand before drawing his own back, settled next to his glass. Tadano glanced at his glass and tried another sip, nose wrinkling at, Haida supposed, the lingering chill. "But it's sweet," Tadano repeated. "If I didn't know that from Retsie already-"
"Retsuko," Tadano replied. "Once you get past that shy exterior, she's really - vibrant."
And Haida knew that, but how did Tadano? A familiar jealousy bubbled up in Haida's thoughts before Tadano grinned at him and the emotion died in a flash. What was he mad about? Retsuko and Tadano were his friends, were each others' friends.
"Yeah," Haida said, nervous chuckled worming into his voice, "She is."
"So," Tadano said, after a moment of silence, "are we good?"
Haida slammed his phone down just as Tadano slipped around the nearest table. Tadano's brow wrinkled, frowning at Haida, who was glaring at the offending device.
"Is everything all right?"
"I have three new e-mails from him!" Haida growled. "I talked to him for thirty seconds today!"
Haida turned his glower from his phone to Tadano, who ducked a little under the force of Haida's irritation. "No," Haida replied.
He continued glowering, silent, until Tadano kicked his foot under the table.
"Is this a talking problem or an 'angrily drinking' problem?"
Haida huffed and dropped his head, lightly, against the table. "You're rich; you can have people killed, right?"
"I think you're confusing 'wealth' with 'having connections in organized crime'," Tadano retorted. "But it sounds like you want to talk about it."
Haida shoved his phone across the table. "I don't. Read it."
"You really should lock your phone," Tadano said, pulling up the last e-mail from Anai. "Huh. Also, according to this, treat your coworkers with more respect."
"Ugh, seriously?" Haida demanded, shoving himself back up. Tadano was frowning at Haida's phone, and Haida felt a twinge of worry. Anai's e-mails had a tendency to make the target sound like an unrepentant monster; surely Tadano wouldn't take that to mean Haida was secretly a jerk. "He does that to everybody, and only like one or two people deserve it!"
"Hm, poor kid," Tadano muttered.
"Poor kid? He's terrorizing the whole office!"
"Well, sure, but." Tadano shrugged. "He's probably heard horror stories about how offices like yours work. Bosses setting people up for failure, using grudges to ruin people's careers. I mean, from the way Retsie talks about your manager, I'm surprised he didn't tell you to put this kid through the wringer before he got there."
"Well," Haida admitted.
"God, I don't know how you put up with that." Tadano slid Haida's phone back to him, and Haida expected to see the other man roll his eyes, but his expression was soft, sympathetic, and it occurred to Haida that Tadano might not like that his friends went through so much shit at work.
"We don't have much choice."
Haida shrugged. "Still."
"It's a shame about Anai, though," Tadano said. "It sounds like he's trying to protect himself from all that office politics nonsense."
"By pissing off everyone in the office?" Haida demanded. "Everyone's too petrified to talk to him!"
"Well. I can't have him killed, but I could-"
"Don't bother," Haida grumbled. "He'd probably leave a scathing indictment of you trying to bully him on your Facebook page or something."
"Well," Tadano said uneasily, "if you're sure."
"Yeah, just. Commiserate with me."
Tadano shrugged and raised his hand to order another round. "If you say so."
Three drinks later, Haida was feeling better about the whole thing. His inbox was still full of hate, but he was fuzzily drunk, and hanging with his friend, and there was some sort of crunchy chip thing he could eat.
"So you never told me," Tadano said over his second glass of scotch (which he was not drinking because the ice hadn't melted yet), "What you'd do if you didn't have to worry about money."
"I don't know," Haida replied. "I learned to play the bass guitar in college."
"So you'd start a band?" Tadano asked. "I can see it - crooning about the girl who never notices you."
"Fuck no, I'd play punk," Haida growled. Tadano didn't reply, and when Haida looked up, Tadano was just...smiling at him. "You think it's stupid."
Tadano shook his head. "No, you...that's the most passion I've heard from you since we met."
"Well." Haida shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable at the attention. "It's better than putting up with Ton."
"Sure," Tadano agreed, but he was looking at Haida oddly, leaving him feeling off-balance somehow. Maybe it was because Tadano was the first person who hadn't made Haida feel bad about being passionate about something - unproductive. Who hadn't immediately asked how Haida could expect to make a living off that, or chide him that it would distract from more serious matters.
Who just wanted to know what excited Haida.
"Well, here's to your punk band," Tadano offered, lifting his glass in a toast.
"My punk band," Haida agreed. It was dumb; that hypothetical band was never happening, but he was drunk and feeling good-natured enough to play along.
And it was...nice. To think about.
"Mm?" Haida asked around the cold leftover dumplings he'd brought for lunch. Retsuko was staring at her own lunch, untouched, and he felt a brief worry someone had convinced her to go on some sort of fad diet.
"You and Tadano are close, right?"
"I mean, I guess," Haida hedged. He couldn't say how close he and Tadano really were; sure, he knew Tadano's dream, and talked to him slightly more than he did Fenneko. But Haida couldn't be sure he was seeing the real Tadano, or just the face he put up for the public. "Why?"
"I - does he ever - do you think…" Retsuko trailed off, taking a big bite of her lunch rather than continue. Haida gave it a few moments before he waved at Retsuko. She looked up, cheeks flushed (and still bulging from her food, before she swallowed it).
"Are you okay?"
"Yes I'm fine!" she insisted, but dove back into her meal rather than keep talking.
Haida watched her for a moment before returning to his lunch, finishing another dumpling before saying, "If you want to talk to Tadano about something, you should just ask him."
Retsuko sighed, sipping at her water, before replying. "I know - I just wanted some idea before I. He's really nice, but I don't know if he'd. I'm not some glamorous model or anything."
Her ears drooped at that, and in the few moments after the declaration, she didn't look up from her glass.
And it took Haida a moment, because he was in the middle of lunch, and hadn't expected the conversation to go in this direction. But when he did, he felt a combination of - well, he was glad he didn't laugh, because Retsuko would take it the wrong way.
"Tadano doesn't care about glamor," Haida retorted. "He cares about whether he can get along with people, if they're good people. And besides," he added, looking at the ceiling rather than meet Retsuko's eyes, "Whether you're glamorous is just - dressing. Hair and clothes and stuff. You're pretty enough for anyone."
"Oh," Retsuko said, quiet.
"Yeah," Haida muttered to the ceiling, trying to telepathically get Retsuko to leave him to his embarrassment rather than acknowledge the fact Haida had spent years pining after her.
"So you think - if I asked him out-"
"I don't know," Haida said, dropping his head. Retsuko didn't look uncomfortable, so maybe they'd moved on. "We don't talk about dating much."
"Oh." Retsuko nodded once. "Well. Thanks, Haida. I'll - see you later."
Haida watched Retsuko pack up and head to the door to the break room. He felt - listless, he supposed. Depressed, he guessed (but hadn't he gotten over this?).
She paused at the door, turning toward him, and for a moment, Haida thought she looked tense, worried. "Yes?"
"If he doesn't give it a shot, he's not as smart as he seems."
Retsuko gave Haida a brief, bright grin. "Thanks."
Because being a good wingman was part of being a good friend, Haida decided to feel things out, get a sense of Retsuko's chances beforehand.
Haida: Do you date?
Tadano: Sort of missed the keys.
Tadano: Not so much lately
Tadano: Hard to find anyone I click with
Tadano: But if the right person asked.
Haida's hand paused over the keys as he considered a follow-up question. But Retsuko would never forgive him spilling her secret.
Tadano: Is that all you wanted to know?
Fenneko's voice was distant, muted. And there was something wrong with her...tone? Haida twisted his head around and felt his thoughts settle a little, focus narrowing, when he saw his phone just out of reach. Haida fumbled for the phone, but his hand, moving slowly, splashed into something cold instead.
…He was cold. He tugged his wet hand back to his chest, finding that was damp, as well. He shifted the other hand, finding the drag of something rough like sand, or broken glass, beneath it. His back was pressed against something solid, and cold seeped through his jacket to his damp fur.
Haida's hand reached his phone; he clasped a hand around it and pulled it to his ear.
"Haida, do you know what time it is?"
"Hm." Haida looked up, where cold light as bright as the sun dazzled him, forcing his eyes closed. "Bright. Cold o'clock."
"You're drunk," Fenneko said, "and, if I know you, lying in the gutter somewhere."
"Not in the gutter," Haida retorted. "If I was in the gutter, I'd have been drinking for the last - lots of hours - because I'm heartbroken and destined to die alone, and I'm not heartbroken and destined to die alone."
"Haida. You sent me like...six pictures on Snapchat showing the 'slow demise' of an entire bottle of scotch."
"Takes less time if you just mix the water with the scotch right off the bat. I always meant to mention that."
There was a huff on the other end of the line, but no immediate response. Haida scowled at the phone. Stupid Fenneko. Sure he was…possibly drunk, but he wasn't heartbroken. Retsuko had told him she didn't want to date him, and he'd been...disappointed. Maybe dragged some of the guys from the office out a few times to complain about it.
He was over her. He'd told her she was more than good enough for Tadano, hadn't he? If he weren't over her, he'd - have told her Tadano only liked other donkeys or something.
"No, you're too nice for that," Fenneko said.
Haida pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it, a strange roil to his stomach (maybe he was just going to be sick). But his heart was racing, too, so he thought he might be scared.
"For...what?" he asked.
"You wouldn't sabotage Retsuko's relationships," Fenneko said.
Haida didn't reply, because he was busy panicking that Fenneko had finally learned to read minds! If she knew every thought that went through his mind-
"I don't," Fenneko said. "When you drink too much, you narrate your internal monologue; we go through this every time."
"Oh," Haida said. "I'm not heartbroken."
"You aren't objective or sober enough to draw that conclusion," Fenneko chided. "I've gotten enough of these phone calls from you I'm practically the authority on the subject."
"But I'm over Retsuko!" Haida protested.
"Hm. Then it's a coincidence you're halfway to drinking yourself into a coma right after all those pictures of Retsuko and Tadano showed up everywhere. 'Wedding bells for Tadano and this unnamed woman?'"
"Yes," Haida snapped.
"Yes to the wedding bells, or-"
"It's a coincidence!" Haida snarled.
Because he hadn't thought Tadano and Retsuko were that serious. Sure, they'd been on three or four dates, and Tadano seemed distracted, but-
He didn't think for a minute anyone writing those articles knew anything Tadano hadn't told Haida. But what Tadano had told him was how he'd flown Retsuko to Hokkaido for ramen. He was trying to impress her, and that sort of thing totally would.
"Okay, Haida, you need to remember you're basically saying all of this out loud," Fenneko said. "And second, you sound heartbroken."
"I'm not heartbroken. I just...miss him."
"Too busy now that he's dating Retsuko. Which. You know. I get - Retsuko's cool."
Haida sighed into his phone; Fenneko was quiet in response, which was fine. Haida couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Anyway, I gotta go."
"You need to stand up and go home," Fenneko said, voice suddenly sharp, stern. "Or you're going to end up with pneumonia again."
And because Fenneko would hound him relentlessly if he didn't, Haida let himself be bullied up and back to his apartment, where he threw himself into bed and curled up in anticipation of a nightmarish hangover.
That premonition proved correct, as Haida woke with a sharp pain around the crown of his head, an ache to practically every joint, and the suggestion that he might throw up any time he moved.
But so, too, did pieces of the previous night return to him, including Fenneko's insistence Haida was heartbroken over Tadano's and Retsuko's blossoming romance, and Haida's insistence he wasn't.
Finally sober, and somewhat rested, Haida could say with certainty he wasn't still pining over Retsuko.
It didn't change the fact he still felt the clench of jealousy in his chest, the slog of depression imagining Retsuko and Tadano getting married.
...Not that he could fault her. Tadano was smart, and while a little flaky, was nice. He was a good listener, and didn't seem to have a judgmental bone in his body (he'd been right about Anai, although it had taken a gentler hand than even Tadano's to give Anai the support he needed to stop pre-emptively lashing out at everybody). His money obviously didn't hurt, and he was clearly good-looking, especially when he really smiled-
"Oh," Haida murmured to himself mid-thought.
Because Fenneko was right, and Haida only half-right.
He was jealous, and heartbroken. But not about Retsuko.
It was an uncomfortable emotion to feel toward Retsuko - the same way he'd felt anytime another man had seemed to express interest in her. Feeling the boil of frustration and simmering anger toward Retsuko added a dull layer of guilt to the mess of emotions, because Retsuko didn't deserve it. She deserved to be happy, and it wasn't her fault Tadano made her happy.
So Haida kept his distance, hoping if he left it long enough, he'd get over his anger and be able to talk to Retsuko without having to bite back his snarl.
Retsuko, however, seemed to have other ideas, as three days after Haida's drunken breakdown, she cornered him during his morning break, which was not cool - they were supposed to stagger breaks because Anai had a tendency to panic if he got a call from anyone who sounded remotely unhappy.
But there was Retsuko, a tiny panda standing between Haida and the dubious freedom of the main office. She shifted anxiously from foot to foot, gaze fixed just above Haida's eyes.
"Are you...mad at me?" she asked.
"Of course not - why would I be?"
Retsuko faltered, gaze dropping to her feet. "Oh." There was a moment of quiet before she shook her head. "No." She stood up to her full height, hands clenched at her sides, whole body tense, like she was facing down Ton. "Because - you haven't talked to me at lunch for a week, even though you've been sad, and Fenneko wouldn't say what's wrong-"
"Well Fenneko doesn't know everything," Haida sniped; he realized only as Retsuko grit her teeth and stepped closer, eyes focused, resolute, that his response was unnecessarily cruel.
"Maybe not. But I know something. And Tadano knows something. And I think between that - it's clear something's wrong."
It was - Haida wasn't certain how to feel, realizing that Retsuko had cornered him because she was worried about him. He knew they were friends, but it hadn't occurred to him that might mean she cared about him. It made him feel worse about being mad at her.
But there was an intriguing piece of information in there.
"You talk to Tadano about me?"
"O - oh." Retsuko took a hurried step back. "Well. Tadano talks about you a lot."
"What, even on your dates?"
"Our…" Retsuko fiddled with the hem of one of her sleeves. "A little. But we only went on two dates. I think…" She trailed off, shrugging. "We aren't really right for each other."
"Not right?" Haida demanded. "Why not? Tadano's great! He's fun, and supportive, and, and-"
Retsuko shrugged. "He's just...not right for me." She nodded at Haida, anxiety vanishing into a gentle smile. "But as long as you're not mad at me, I'm happy."
She turned to leave.
"Wait!" Haida called out. Retsuko paused, and was still smiling when she looked back at him, like he hadn't been glaring at her all week. "The way I've been acting, I shouldn't-"
"It's okay, Haida. It really is. But you should talk to Tadano, too. He's been worried."
Haida wound his way around the tables in the restaurant Tadano had invited him to. It was a nice place - not super fancy or weird, but they wouldn't be here if Haida were paying. But when he saw Tadano, Haida stopped. Tadano was tapping at his phone, a glass of scotch with half-melted cubes in it sitting next to him (Haida vaguely remembered something he'd wanted to tell Tadano about his drinks, but the memory was hazy and overshadowed by the realization he was into Tadano).
Haida watched Tadano for a moment, stomach tight with worry. Tadano was his friend, but-
Haida had thought he'd come to terms with his newly-discovered attraction to Tadano, but seeing him in person was like a blow. His cheeks flared hot, chest fluttered, and, well. It was easier to acknowledge the attraction part of his feelings with Tadano in front of him, frowning in concentration at his phone, tip of his tongue sticking out as he swiped at it.
Oh god. Haida was self-aware enough to realize he'd been a...little weird around Retsuko before he'd cleared the air and they'd settled into their current friendship. And that had been - infatuation. Imagining what it'd be like with someone he knew well enough to actually like was…
He was embarrassed for himself already.
But then Tadano saw Haida and his resulting smile was-
Saying it 'lit up the room' sounded cliche, but it made Haida feel warm and energized.
Oh, he was fucked.
"Haida," Tadano said, bright, and there was nothing to do but join him, sitting down across from Tadano. Haida tried a smile, but couldn't remember the difference between a 'friendly' and 'lovestruck' smile, so it probably came off as creepy.
"Um. Hey," Haida offered. "You, um. Haven't been around much."
Tadano shrugged. "I was working on my planned economy pilot. I told you about it, right?"
...He had, Haida remembered. Haida had just been so wrapped up in feeling jealous and sorry for himself he'd forgotten Tadano not only had a perfectly good reason to be unavailable, but had warned Haid about it.
"Oh. I guess I forgot," Haida replied, laughing, even though he was certain he sounded like an idiot. "How have you been?"
"Good. Which you'd know if you'd been answering your texts. Are you okay?"
"Huh, yeah. I was just - forgot you'd be out of touch. It was dumb." Haida scratched at his head, chuckled, before panicking that he must have sounded weird, laughing so much. "I mean - I missed you."
Fuck - that sounded weird, didn't it?
But Tadano's grin back suggested he hadn't noticed. "I missed you, too. And I was...a little worried, too. Retsie said you were acting weird."
"Well, I…" Haida couldn't just say what had been bothering him, but couldn't think of another way to explain that wouldn't be a complete lie. So he just let his gaze fall, fixed on his own glass (and of course Tadano had already ordered him something). Silence sat between them, uncomfortable, and Haida cursed himself for making things weird.
"I didn't do anything, did I?"
"No!" Haida's panic resurged at the thought Tadano would think he'd made things weird. But no, Tadano's ears were half-drooped, worried. And there was, damn, only one way to explain that wouldn't make Tadano feel worse. "I was being weird. You're great, Tadano. I was - jealous, I guess, of the time you were spending with Retsuko."
"Hm." Tadano gave Haida a careful stare, frowning...thoughtfully. "Only the first two times were dates. It was actually a novel experience, having someone tell me it wasn't going to work out. So you're still free and clear if you want to ask her out again."
"That wasn't - I'm over Retsuko, I think." Haida ducked his head again. "I was - just angry at myself for not realizing how much I liked you before it was too late to do anything about it." And then he held his breath, waiting for - he had no idea what to expect from Tadano, this not being the sort of thing that'd come up in their conversations.
"Huh. That's quite convenient."
"W - convenient?" Haida risked a look up at Tadano, who was-
Smiling. Fuck, smiling fondly. At Haida.
The smile widened, and Tadano nodded. "Well, I like you a lot, too. You didn't seem interested, so I wasn't going to bring it up." He shrugged, as if keeping quiet about this sort of thing had just been - another thing, not a trial at all. Haida's frustrated internal rant sputtered out, though, when it occurred to Haida Tadano was saying-
He liked Haida. Except.
This was not the sort of thing Haida wanted any doubts on.
"When you say 'interested'," Haida tried, "what sort of things would you think I was interested...in?" His voice squeaked, which was embarrassing, but he needed an answer.
"Oh, pretty much whatever you thought Retsuko and I were up to," Tadano replied.
"Flying me to Hokkaido?"
"Well, if I want ramen," Tadano said.
"What? But you said she-"
"Oh, she wanted ramen, but I wasn't about to have any here. I just haven't found any in Tokyo that's as good as the miso ramen at my favorite shop."
Oh god. Haida began laughing, because for all the speculation by Fenneko, and the media, it was just - Tadano.
"I don't really want to be pushy," Tadano said, over Haida's helpless laughter, "but I'd like to know if we're on the same page. You know, with the whole - interested - thing." Haida glanced up, and Tadano's cheeks were-
He was blushing, and that silenced Haida in a moment.
"Um." There was something that made the whole question more real, seeing how the discussion discomfited Tadano. "Well." That if Haida said yes, he and Tadano could be dating.
"Yeah," he said breathlessly. "Yes. I'd like that a lot."
I expected this to be shorter, which anyone who knows me knows that's what I always think. I hope you enjoyed it - I had fun writing it.