Chapter 1: Don't Panic
Otone brought her hands together in a loud clap to call the class to attention.
“Alright everyone, listen up! We have a new transfer student joining us today, let's all give him a warm welcome, ‘kay!”
She turned to the sullen figure standing beside her.
“How about you introduce yourself?”
His voice was soft.
“And have you got a first name or...?”
She quizzed him gently, accompanied by giggles throughout the classroom.
“Put them together and you get..?“
The giggles continued.
“...Kuji, Toi… ma’am.”
“See, that wasn’t so hard now was it! Hmm let's not get ahead of ourselves asking about your interests etc because I have a feeling we’ll be here all day!’
Otone laughed amicably, but with a hint of mischief.
“You've suffered through the cursory embarrassment long enough! Have a seat, uh...”
She paused to check the chart in her hands.
“...over there, right behind Kazu- I mean, Yasaka-san.”
Toi, glad to be released from every teenager’s worst nightmare, promptly headed for the empty desk by the window as directed. In his haste, he didn’t notice the glare from a bespectacled boy sat in the front row. Really, Toi thought to himself, he should be used to this by now. This was the fourth different school he had been to in the past five years. Ever since their parents had been killed in a freak car accident (from which, due to some complications, they had received very little insurance money), his older brother had become his legal guardian. Moving around constantly had just become normal. They were supposedly going to be staying in Asakusa indefinitely, but Toi wasn't interested in making friends. Connecting with others didn’t matter to him, as long as he had his brother.
It was all he had left.
Kazuki was staring out the window, like usual, absorbed in imagining himself on the soccer field below, like usual, when his attention was diverted by the cheerful voice of the homeroom teacher announcing the new arrival. He dragged his thoughts away from goal-scoring strategies to focus on the front of the classroom. Kazuki had lived in Asakusa his whole life, had no trouble making friends, and relished being the center of attention, so he couldn't imagine exactly how awkward it must be to start over at a brand new high school in your second year, halfway through May, but he could sympathize. Kazuki immediately felt sorry for him. Upon closer inspection, the boy meekly accepting Otone's playful teasing actually had quite the wild, intimidating air about him, which just made Kazuki all the more curious about what his deal was.
He tried to catch his eye and flash a smile in the mysterious transfer student's direction as he made his way to sit down behind him, but Toi didn’t notice that either.
Enta was in a cheery mood, ruminating over the excellent assist (if he may say so himself) he had pulled off that morning in practice. Kazuki had looked sooo cool, perfectly positioned to receive his pass, slamming the ball confidently into the upper left corner of the goal. Bam! Enta’s hand was still warm and buzzing from Kazuki’s high-five. Or maybe that was just his imagination. Regardless, he wished he could have held it for a little while longer... fingers clasped together, sweaty palms rubbing against one another...... oh, now somewhere else was starting to feel a little warm. Enta was sharply brought back to his senses by the homeroom bell’s piercing ring. He would have to continue that train of thought another time perhaps. It took him a moment to realize they apparently had a transfer student starting today. Enta gave the fresh meat a once over; the boy was lithe but not gangly (as teens can often be), dark hair covering one of his downcast eyes, shuffling his feet. Enta craned his neck to glance back at Kazuki to share a look, but he was too busy staring intently at Kuji, his face arranged in a strangely compassionate, yet obviously intrigued expression.
He felt a kind of dull stabbing pain in his gut, and a sudden surge of distaste rise up when he saw the characteristically brilliant smile Kazuki was sporting as Kuji approached him; Enta’s own face twisted into a frown.
Chapter 2: Brothers & Sisters
It’d been a week since they’d moved into this shabby apartment in Asakusa, situated above a soba shop run by a nice elderly couple. Tomorrow, he was supposed to start attendance at Honjo High, over on the east bank of the Sumida River. He let out a sigh, flopped down on the bed, closed his eyes, and raised his arms to rest over his face. Toi was tired. He was tired of shuffling boxes, tired of the same old small talk, tired of having to fake being interested in other people.
“Toi! Can you come here a sec?”
A gruff voice shouted out. Toi begrudgingly slid off the bed and went out into the living room. He found his brother awkwardly holding something rectangular against the wall.
“What the fuck you doing?”
“Watch your language, young man!”
Chikai was only scolding him halfheartedly; he was quite the potty-mouth himself.
“Just shut up and grab the other side of this would you. I’m trying to get it level.”
“Alright, alright, where should—”
Toi stopped mid-sentence. It was only then that he noticed what the frame actually contained. It was an old photo, from back when his parents were still alive. The four of them at some local summer festival. He was riding on Chikai’s shoulders, a red toffee apple grasped tightly in one hand (Toi’s favourite), sticky cheeks, grinning from ear-to-ear, expression in sync with the rest of his family’s. He felt his stomach clench.
“Why are you hanging this up?”
“Oh, I found it hidden away in one of the boxes in the storage container. You might have been too young to remember but we would go to this festival every year and you loved the—”
Toi abruptly interjected, words tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them.
“That’s all in the past! We already have a photo of them on the shrine, that’s enough, isn't it...”
“Well excuse me! I thought it might be nice to try to make this place a little homier, y’know, since we’ll be staying here for a while.”
“You always say that! Until inevitably, one day you tell me that you’re being relocated and we have no choice but to pack up all our shit and start all over again!”
Toi wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt so upset. It had been like this for years. He knew his brother hadn’t done it on purpose, it was all his stupid work’s fault. He could feel his face burning in a mixture of embarrassment and anger as he choked back a sob.
“I’m fucking sick of it!”
“There there, calm down.”
Chikai put his hands on his younger sibling’s shoulders, his tone gentle.
“Look, I’m sorry we’ve moved around so much these last few years, but I promise… no, I swear , I’ve done my dues and we’re going to be able to stay in Asakusa for the foreseeable future. Nothing to cry over!”
Toi didn’t care if it was a lie or not; as long as he could continue to live with his brother he would put up with anything. Or, so he thought. Maybe he’d finally reached his limit. He was supposed to be in the “prime of his adolescence” after all (Chikai often ribbed him about it)... and what did he have to show for it? What was a “regular” teenager supposed to even act like, or think, or do? What would his parents say if they were still around?
They would probably be disappointed in you.
Toi tried to stop his thoughts from spiralling further and re-concentrate on the task at hand.
“…whatever, my bad. I’ll help you hang the damn thing up.”
Kazuki had just gotten home from afternoon soccer practice. He’d been too lazy to take off his shin pads when he’d changed back into his street shoes, so his socks were extra smelly by the time he removed them. His mother made sure to let her displeasure be known.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry, won’t happen again!” (It would.)
He stood in the shower, the hot water soothing his overworked muscles. He was still thinking about the new boy that had transferred into his class today. He had planned to invite Kuji to have lunch with him and Enta, but Enta had said he had to run an errand for a teacher, and Kuji had managed to slip away somewhere before Kazuki could even get so much as a “hello” in. His attempt after school had similarly failed. In fact, despite their close proximity, his only interaction with Kuji that day had been when he’d accidentally knocked his eraser off the desk, and Kazuki picked it up for him. Kuji had offered a curt “thanks” in response , his eyes (well, the one his lopsided fringe wasn’t obscuring, at any rate) averted.
What would it take to get him to look at me?
He finished up and headed back to his room. Haruka, his little brother, was sitting on the lower bunk bed. Kazuki glanced over at the Azuma Sara clock hanging on the wall.
“Home from physiotherapy already are you? Sorry I couldn’t make it today. How was it?”
“Great! I managed to walk a whole step with only minimal assistance!”
Kazuki was thrilled to hear it. Ever since Haruka had been involved in a traffic incident that severely injured his legs many years ago, he’d been confined to a wheelchair; not that he considered it a handicap, nor would his effervescent personality ever lead you to suspect anything tragic had happened in the past. Kazuki lived for the day he could kick a ball around with his brother again; the same went for Haruka.
However, there had been a dark period of time in his life when Kazuki had unrelentingly blamed himself for what had happened. He was the one that had insisted that the two of them go play at the park that day. He was the one who had gotten distracted by an ice cream truck and wasn't paying enough attention to the energetic figure chasing behind him… but with the support of his family, and an excellent trauma counsellor, he had finally come to accept and find peace with the situation. Now his energy was fully focused on helping his beloved younger sibling heal too. Well, mostly focused, at least.
They continued to happily chat away as the sun sank over the horizon. Haruka had a vivid imagination and loved to regale Kazuki with tales of whatever wild adventure he had dreamt about the previous night. Before long they heard their mother call out for them from the kitchen.
“Dinner’s ready! Go wash your hands and then come sit at the table please!”
Enta checked his phone for the umpteenth time, but there was still no reply from Kazuki.
Don’t “read” the messages if you’re not gonna respond, you jerk!
He scrolled back through their chat history; it was pretty one-sided.
What a perfect parallel of our relationship . Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother.
Enta sighed, again. He’d actually been in a sour and self-deprecating mood since yesterday. Since that guy had appeared to cast an unwanted shadow on his life. When Kazuki had suggested they have lunch with Kuji, he’d spontaneously made up some flimsy excuse to avoid them, and instead sat by himself in one of the west block stairwells, stewing. Kazuki’s incessant rambling about Kuji whilst they were doing short pass drills that afternoon had only made it worse.
He’s only been here a single day and by all accounts you barely even talked to him! Why are you so interested??
Enta didn’t like to think of himself as the jealous sort, but they called it the “green-eyed-monster” for a reason. He was especially possessive of Kazuki. After all, Kazuki had saved him. Had chosen him. If that wasn’t fate, what was?
Enta rolled over and stared at the empty, unmade futon next to his. As if it wasn’t insult enough that his older sister happened to be his homeroom teacher this year and the assistant coach of Honjo High’s soccer club, he also had to share a room with her. Their parents were still working overseas so they currently lived with their grandmother in her tiny old house. Otone kept saying she would move out and get her own place now that she was a “respectable adult” and “needed her own space” but nothing ever eventuated.
I’m the one that needs my own space! Teenage boy in the midst of puberty here y’know!
Finally giving up on his phone and letting out one last sigh (for good measure), Enta started getting dressed for school. He went out into the kitchen to find the unusual sight of his sister making breakfast.
“Wow, now this is a rare occurrence!”
Otone returned his taunt with a poke of her tongue.
“I just wanted to make sure my adorable little bro starts his day off with all the right nutrients so he can grow up big and strong!”
She'd said cloyingly, placing several dishes on the table. Enta rolled his eyes. Though he had to admit, the food did look appealing.
“C’mon, eat up! Make sure you leave enough for grandma, she’s at the park doing yoga. Oh and I can give you a lift to school if you’re ready to go in the next 5 mins.”
“Like I’ve told you before, I’m happy to walk. It only takes 25 minutes, you’re the lazy one who drives.”
Enta conveniently neglected to mention that the real incentive behind walking was that the route went right past Kazuki’s house...
“Fine, suit yourself.”
Enta scoffed down the offerings. It was good.
“...thanks for breakfast.”
“Wait what was that, could you say it again a little louder please? I must be hearing things.”
“Shuddup, you ‘eard wha’ I said!”
Enta’s mouth was still full. Otone broke out into laughter as she waved her goodbyes.
“Okay, I’m off! See you at school~”
Ugh. School. Where Kuji would be.
Chapter 3: Square One
Toi knew that his brother’s sales job wasn’t exactly what most folks would consider “above board”. Toi was young, not stupid. In fact, he’d even helped out (and earned some pocket change) on the odd occasion his brother had needed a cute kid to soften up a “client”. He didn’t resent him for it; Toi understood that Chikai had been forced to take whatever work he could get to make ends meet. However, he’d come to realise he was fed up with being shuffled around and although he didn’t want to get his hopes up, he was warming to the idea of staying permanently in Asakusa. He’d spent the first few days after they moved in aimlessly wandering around the town, observing the locals and the tourists battle it out. Toi liked the hectic yet serene, modern yet old-timey atmosphere; the interesting mix of people; the breeze off the wide river; the criss-cross of peculiar alleys. He was currently walking down one such alley on his way to school. His first day had gone by pretty quickly, a blur of unfamiliar faces. One such unfamiliar face was currently chasing after him.
“Kuji! Hey, Kuji, wait up!”
Toi was startled to hear his name being shouted this early in the morning and had no clue who it might be. The voice quickly caught up with him and soon they were face to face.
“Sorry to yell, I saw you crossing the street but I didn’t make it before the lights changed again!”
There was a pause as Toi racked his brain.
It was the guy who had been sitting in front of him in class yesterday; the distinct silhouette of his hair gave it away.
“S’all right. Uh, so, what d’you want?
“Well, since we’re heading to the same place, I thought it’d be nice to walk together instead of me like, awkwardly stalking you.”
The boy laughed. Toi noticed he had something caught in his teeth and wasn’t sure if he should point it out or not. More importantly, he didn’t even know this guy’s name.
There was another pause.
“Oh my god, sorry! You’re probably wondering who the heck I am!”
“Kazuki Yasaka, I’m in the same class as you. Just ‘Kazuki’ is fine though! Can I call you Toi?”
Toi was caught off guard. Unintentional or not, his resting bitch face usually made people wary of approaching him but Yasaka’s overbearing presence had left him without room to refuse. He was flattered that someone had made the effort to chase him all the way down the road though, if he was honest.
“…s-sure, I guess.”
‘Awesome! C’mon let’s go, don’t wanna be late do we!”
Kazuki couldn't believe his luck. He' d actually been in the midst of rehearsing conversation starters with an imaginary Kuji when he'd spotted the real one.
This is my chance!
After a bit of somewhat awkward back and forth, they were now somewhat awkwardly walking side by side. For all his “rehearsal” earlier, the conversation stalled. Kazuki had worked up a sweat rushing to catch
Kuji Toi, and in the lingering silence his endorphin-filled brain was suddenly paranoid he might smell gross. He always made sure to wear (extra) deodorant when he had practice but alas today was not one of those days. He attempted to casually sniff himself but was not quite as subtle as he thought.
“...uh, you alright?”
Kazuki’s ears burned at the question. He quickly diverted the topic back to the other boy.
“Hunky dory! So, you just moved to Asakusa recently? Where abouts?”
“...near Orange Street.”
Toi was not particularly forthcoming.
Weird. I’m sure I don’t have this much trouble talking to anyone else... I mean Enta is always blabbering away about something or another.
“So, you live with your family I assume?”
Another pause. Kazuki glanced at Toi in time to catch the fleeting grimace that flashed across his face.
“...yeah. But it's just me and my older brother now.”
“Oh, I see.”
Toi’s tone hinted that he didn’t want to continue down that line of questioning so Kazuki went for a different approach.
“So, do you play any sports? I’m on the soccer team at school, it’s really fun, and not to brag but we’re pretty strong! Made it all the way to the quarter finals last year!”
Yet another pause. Yet another loaded topic. You could cut the air with a knife.
“...I used to play. But... not anymore… we move around too much.”
“Oh, that sucks.”
Damn, this poor kid seems even more troubled than I thought. I wish I could help cheer him up.
“Well, if you ever feel like kicking the ball around for old time's sake, Enta and I-, oh, Enta is also in our class and on the team, I’ll introduce you! Yeah so Enta and I often do some casual practice at this spot near the river, you’d be welcome to join us!”
Toi’s reply seemed genuine, but Kazuki couldn’t be sure.
Enta’s morning had not gotten any better. He was currently awkwardly stalking Kazuki and Kuji down the street.
Why? Why are they together? Did they plan this or was it just a coincidence??
He really wanted to interrupt but Enta was so flustered he had kind of just ended up silently following behind them. They were almost at school anyways.
It’s okay, I can just hang with Kazuki at lunchtime...... that is, if he isn’t too busy cosying up to Kuji.
Enta truly was his own worst enemy. He’d been friends with Kazuki long enough to know that this was just his personality; indiscriminately kind and friendly to everyone. It was one of the reasons why he fell in love with him after all. That and his brilliant smile, the one that always made Enta’s stomach swarm with butterflies. Well, almost always.
Ugh. Maybe I’m just overreacting. Maybe Kuji isn't all that bad. I should give him a chance. His freckles are kind of cute, I guess.
Enta managed to keep his emotions in check until he sat down at his desk and Kazuki came over to greet him.
“Enta! You’ll never believe it but I ran into Toi on the way to school and.. oh that reminds me, were you running late or? I didn’t see you at our usual meeting place?”
“A-ah yeah, I had to, uh, help my sister with something, sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, its fine! I got to chat with Toi instead—“
Enta was worried about it.
‘Toi’!? Don't tell me they're already close enough to be on a first-name basis? Dammit, I knew I should have interrupted them!
“—and he agreed he’d come by our secret practice spot sometime! He likes soccer too. Awesome, right?”
Enta did not think it awesome.
Our secret spot? How could Kazuki just invite some random so casually? Didn’t it mean anything to him?
“Ahaha, yeah, sure. Awesome.”
Enta mentally took back all the nice things he’d thought about Kuji. Deep down, he knew his loathing was irrational, but that didn't stop him from getting swept up in it.
Oh, God. What did I do to deserve this betrayal? This suffering? Is it because of my impure feelings? Is this karma for all those pervy daydreams?
Enta was not in fact being punished for harboring gay thoughts. Puberty is just a bitch. But, try telling a hormonal teenager that and see how far you get.
Chapter 4: What If
Speaking of hormonal teenagers.
Toi closed his eyes in anguish. How it had come to this, he didn't know, but he wasn’t exactly complaining either.
“…ah- Yasaka- ah, s-stop, I’m close-”
“Nope. Not until you say my name properly.”
Toi wished he could wipe that devilish smirk off Yasaka’s face, but he didn't want to give him the satisfaction.
“Only good boys get rewarded.”
Fuck. Yasaka was such a tease… aghhh whatever. I’m already at my limit.
“P-please.. ah- K-Kazu… Kazu… ki. Please.”
With a final hearty thrust, and a flick of the wrist, Yasaka tipped Toi over the line.
“See, that's better isn't it.”
Toi felt his body subconsciously relax as he was allowed to come at last. His mind was hazy. He looked up at Yasaka as he pulled out, still with that damn grin on his face. Toi didn't know if he wanted to punch or kiss it. Instead he settled for lying down, trying to regain his composure.
“Naww, no need to get angry. You came didn't you?”
“…t-that's… beside the point.”
Toi could feel the redness of his face, the sweat on his body, Yasaka’s breath against his neck. Toi thought back to only a few weeks ago when his life wasn't quite so crazy. How had it come to this? Actually, he did know the answer. If only he hadn’t run into Yasaka in that fucking alleyway.
No, not that alley. Sure, it had all started with a harmless conversation on the way to school. However, the alley in question was a week after that chance meeting, a time when neither had been wearing their school uniforms. After they had gotten a bit more familiar with each other. Toi had been on his way home from grabbing some late night snacks from the convenience store, ducking down a shortcut he had already memorized, when he came across some chick taking a selfie against the backdrop of some bar. He didn't think much of it (other than that she was kind of cute) until their eyes happened to meet and a hint of recognition ran through both parties.
Wait… is that… Yasaka? No, it can't be… my eyes must be playing tricks on me.
Oh, but it was.
Kazuki was so startled he blurted Toi’s name without thinking.
Shit. Now he's totally gonna know its me.
The wig, makeup and skirt only disguised so much.
“Yasaka? Wh-what are you…”
Even though he’d been doing this for a while, he hadn’t come up with any contingency plans for this kind of situation. It was too late to pretend they didn’t know each other so Kazuki decided to just follow some choice advice that Coach often quipped; the best defense is a good offense.
“What are you doing out at this hour, Toi?”
“…it's only 11pm!”
“Still, good boys are usually in bed by now, hmm?’
“I’m not- wait, stop trying to bury the lede, what the fuck are you doing, dressed like that?”
Kazuki sighed and grabbed Toi’s hand, dragging him further down into a darker, more deserted section of the alley.
“This is my hobby okay, got a problem with that?”
“…Hobby? What’dya mean by that?”
I guess he's already caught me in the act, no point lying about it now.
Kazuki looked Toi straight in the eye.
“I like to dress up as a girl, take suggestive pictures, and post them on the internet, so men send me money.”
Kazuki could almost see the wheels turning in Toi’s brain as his processed this information.
Great, now he's going to think I’m some kind of pervert...
Toi’s reply wasn’t what Kazuki expected.
“…can you actually make money that way?”
Oh. Maybe I underestimated him.
“Yeah, you can. Well, if you're cute like me anyways.”
It was at that moment that Kazuki noticed he was still holding Toi’s hand. It felt clammy. The lighting was dim but Kazuki could have sworn Toi was blushing.
Kazuki licked his lips.
“Wait... do you think I’m cute, Toi?”
“H-huh?! W-why would—”
Yasaka had backed Toi up against the wall. Their bodies were mere inches apart, his heels giving him a slight height advantage. Toi was most definitely blushing as his voice caught in his throat. Yasaka sneaked a hand towards Toi’s crotch and wasn’t disappointed by what he found.
“I think you're lying. I think you like this.”
“Otherwise, you wouldn't be hard, right?”
“I-idiot, that's… just a natural… reaction…”
Toi’s breath was already becoming labored, his mind spinning.
“Yeah, a natural reaction to being turned on. Not putting up much of a fight are we? Have you always fantasized about being assaulted by a cross-dresser in an alleyway?”
“No, of course not! G-get off me!”
Toi could feel his groin pulsing unbearably.
Fuck. I mean sure, I haven't jerked off in a while, but this is ridiculous.
He dared to look up at Yasaka, and gulped at the mischievous grin spread across it. His lipstick was a tantalizing reddish-pink color.
Fuck. He really is cute.
Toi had a sudden impulse to grab that mouth with his own.
“Are you sure that’s what you—”
Toi thrust his face hungrily at the other boy before he could finish his sentence. Prying at Yasaka’s lips with his tongue, he felt them open as a wet warmth flooded his mouth. Yasaka closed the distance between their bodies. All Toi could think was how soft he was and how nice he smelt. After a few minutes of desperately swapping saliva they broke apart, both panting heavily.
“Okay… I was just teasing, but… I guess that really was what you wanted!”
Yasaka’s laugh brought Toi back to his senses.
“I-I’ve gotta go. My brother will be worried…”
The bag filled with snacks he’d been holding was toppled over on the ground. He separated himself from Yasaka, bent down to collect it and rushed away without a second glance.
Kazuki knew that his “hobby” wasn't exactly what most people would consider “normal”. Only one thing had been clear amidst the sea of guilt he found himself drowning in after Haruka’s accident; he desperately wanted to be someone, anyone, else. One internet search led to another and soon he stumbled upon a world of people who held similar thoughts. Their reasons may have varied, but essentially they all felt trapped by their identity. One particular forum caught his eye and whilst he didn't think he wanted to be a girl, like a lot of the others, there was something freeing about the idea of being able to change at least his outer appearance; perhaps eventually his heart would be able to follow suit. (The fact that he could make a profit off a subset of dirty old men who were into that kind of thing was just a side-effect he had discovered afterwards; dressing up as a girl was an expensive undertaking, and it wasn't like he could ask his parents to go shopping with him.)
The only other person who knew his secret was his therapist, who explained that Kazuki had most likely developed a dissociative identity as a way of processing his trauma. He even encouraged the cross-dressing as a relatively healthy coping mechanism, especially compared to other unfortunately common methods like self-harm or substance abuse. Nowadays, bar the occasional nightmare, Kazuki was in a pretty good headspace. He’d only kept up with the shtick because the money was easy… and honestly, he'd grown rather fond of the persona. However, he never imagined any of his friends or classmates would find out about it.
I just can't believe he got aroused, of all things! Oh. T-that was my first kiss too… what a sneaky bastard!
Kazuki slowly made his way back to the bathroom he usually got changed in, then to the locker he stored his supplies in. The blush on Toi’s face kept flashing in his mind.
So cute. I want to tease him more.
It was already midnight by the time he walked through the door. The light was still on in the living room.
“Kazu-kun! You’re back so late, what on earth were you doing?”
His mother’s worried voice made him feel slightly guilty.
“N-nothing, just lost track of time… sorry.”
“Okay well off to be bed now please. You have school in the morning.“
She gave him a pointed look but didn't press further; his therapist had said it was important to give him space. Kazuki changed into his pajamas and flopped into bed, mulling over the night’s events.
Crap… the real question is how the heck am I supposed to face him tomorrow at school?
Toi rolled over and grabbed a pack of cigarettes out of the second draw in the bedside table. He didn’t normally smoke; it was a bad habit he'd picked up from his brother.
Seriously though, how the fuck did I let it get to this point?
Chapter 5: Up & Up
Sorry for the whiplash... let's go back in time a little and find out exactly how the fuck Toi let it get to that point shall we...
(PS please go back and read the updated end of ch4 if you haven’t already)
Despite Kazuki’s best efforts, and thanks to a series of increasingly unbelievable excuses, Enta,
who probably had fantasized about being accosted by Kazuki in an alleyway had somehow managed to evade the both of them for several days after the stalking incident. (Otone had been bewildered by Enta’s sudden willingness to catch a lift with her.) However, his lucky avoidance streak had finally come to an end; he’d been paired with Kuji for their next Social Studies project. The task was to conduct an interview with a local business about the changes they’d noticed in the Asakusa neighborhood over the last 10 years, specifically since the Skytree had been built, and give a short presentation on it. Enta took a deep breath and decided that maybe it wouldn't kill him try to get along with Kuji… at least for the duration of their assignment. (He knew his sister would threaten to bench him if his grades slipped.)
“Right, everyone clear on what they need to do? Please make arrangements with your partner, I’ll put up a schedule for the presentations on Monday next week. Class dismissed.”
The bell rang to signal the end of the school day.
“Enta! Come over here and join us!”
His pretense of anger lapsing, Enta’s heart skipped a beat when Kazuki called his name.
Tch. I’m such a sucker. C’mon, pull it together man.
After packing up his things as slowly as possible, he headed over to the rear corner of the now mostly empty classroom. Kazuki was sitting backwards in his chair, facing Kuji. Enta perched on the neighboring desk, his face inscrutable.
“I’ve been trying to introduce you to Toi all week! What a coincidence you guys got paired up for this interview thing, huh!”
Ignoring Kazuki, Enta jumped right in to interrogation mode.
“Hey. Sorry, I’ve been, uh, busy… name’s Jinnai. You’re Kuji, right?”
“Kazuki mentioned you like soccer. Are you interested in trying out for our club?”
“No… I mean, yeah, I used to play… but I don’t wanna join any teams...”
“Do you keep up with the League?”
“... I try to.”
“Who’s your favorite player?”
“…… Lionel Kappa.”
“What’s your opinion on the new video referee—”
Kazuki cut him off, his voice jovial but firm.
“—let’s cool it with the Soccer Inquisition okay?”
But Enta’s innate sense of competitiveness spurred him on. Once again forgetting his futile attempt to stay angry at Kazuki, he leaned forward, slinging an arm possessively around his shoulders.
“Y’know, Kazuki and I go way back. Been playing soccer together ever since we were little kids! We’ve even become known throughout the land as the ‘Golden Duo’ and it’s our dream to represent Japan one day, we’re gonna take the World Cup by storm—”
“—Enta, quit it. You’re being embarrassing.”
He motioned to shrug him off and Enta hastily withdrew his arm. Kazuki’s uncharacteristically cold tone made him feel painfully self-conscious.
… Huh!? Kazuki doesn't usually bat an eyelid at this kinda stuff… is it ‘cause of Kuji? Is he just trying to look cool in front of Kuji? Am I really that embarrassing to be friends with?
“My bad, just messing around like we always do…”
Enta nonchalantly laughed it off, but he couldn't quite disguise the hurt in his voice.
Maybe it's time to try a different tactic… like coach says, the best defense is a good offense.
Whilst Toi may have maintained a steadfast disinterest in anyone apart from his brother, having no one to talk to inadvertently makes you a very good listener. Other’s words tend to fill in the absence left by your own. Chikai was always telling him that one of the most important life skills to cultivate was the ability to read people.
“If you know what someone wants, you can manipulate them to your advantage.”
Akin to how one might watch fish in a tank, Toi watched the world around him. Right now, he was keenly observing the two boys he’d found himself caught between. He suspected that Yasaka had “saved” him out of some kind of misplaced sympathy for his tragic, soccer-less childhood, but there was something… off about Jinnai’s reaction.
If I didn't know any better I would swear Jinnai has like… a thing, for Yasaka. Nah… can’t be. Probably just reading too much into it. Though, he does seem unusually clingy for a high school boy…
(Toi was not in a position to lecture others about being too clingy for his age.) Regardless, he was reluctant to get in the middle of whatever it was.
“Anyways, when are you free to meet up for the project, Kuji?”
“…uh, whenever is fine with me.”
“Actually, we don’t have practice this afternoon so how about right now?”
Toi wondered if Jinnai was as aggressive on the soccer pitch as he was with making plans.
“I know the perfect shop to ask. I’m their best customer, heh. You’ve gotta try their croquettes, Kuji!”
Jinnai appeared to have perked up at the thought. Yasaka excused himself, saying he had to go straight home today. And just like that the two newly-acquainted boys were left alone in the rapidly darkening classroom.
…I guess that's settled then.
It wasn't a coincidence. Enta was well aware that Kazuki had plans with his family this afternoon. He did every Friday, in fact. He told himself that he didn't necessarily want to spend time with Kuji, but if Kazuki thought he was soooo cool, then Enta wanted to find out what the fuss was all about.
It’s no use simply avoiding him. You have to know your opponent’s weaknesses if you want to defeat them.
Secretly, Enta also hoped that maybe Kazuki would get a little jealous, too.
“So, which side of the river do you live on?”
Enta casually enquired, as if he didn’t already know.
“Uh... the other side, over near, uh, Hanaya..something?”
“Hanayashiki! My place is near there too. So is the shop I was talking about. Works out great then, let’s go.”
“... yeah. Cool.”
The boys silently made their way downstairs to leave, Enta naturally taking the lead, Kuji following behind. They stopped at the lockers to change back in to their outdoor shoes. It was almost the end of May. Summer was fast approaching, but first, rainy season. The sky had started off a pleasant Spring blue, but had grown more grey as the day wore on, and now a storm seemed imminent. The boys paused at the main gate to assess their options.
“Shit. The weather was so nice this morning, didn’t even think about bringing an umbrella!”
“…I don’t have one either.”
“Should we just make a run for it and hope it holds off until we get across the bridge?”
“…doesn’t bother me.”
Enta was irritated by how unexpectedly agreeable Kuji was being.
Ugh, it’s no fun if I’m the only one with a bone to pick. Wonder if I can rile him up a bit.
"Well, I mean I have no problem running all the way… don’t know about you though, your legs may be long but they look pretty scrawny.”
Kuji’s blank expression immediately turned indignant.
“H-huh!? Screw you! I’m perfectly fit!”
Having gotten exactly the reaction he was aiming for, Enta smirked.
“You sound confident, wanna bet on it? Loser has to buy the croquettes.”
“First one to the Maneki-neko sculpture on the other side of the Azumabashi wins. Ready, go!”
And with that, Enta took off down the street at full speed; Kuji’s face comically aghast.
“Thank you, thank you! How kind of you to shout me~”
“…I hope you choke on that, cheater.”
Having “lost” the race, Toi had coughed up for the croquettes as promised, but Jinnai was pushing his luck with the snarky comments.
He was right though, these are pretty tasty.
The boys hadn’t quite made it all the way to the finish line before the rain started. Their uniforms were soaked through. They were currently taking shelter around the corner, drying out and waiting for the shop to finish trading for the day so they could chat with the owners (who had indeed readily agreed to the interview; Jinnai wasn’t lying about being their best customer). Toi was glad for the break, he wasn’t as fit as he’d claimed.
Even without the head start, I don’t think I could have beaten him. He must train pretty hard.
Toi couldn’t help but notice how sleekly muscular the boy next to him was; rolled up sleeves showing off toned biceps, the damp opaqueness of the material clinging to the buffness of his chest. He could even see the outline of his nipples pressing against the fabric. It was practically indecent. Toi, thankful his own hoodie covered any such areas, felt his face flush and had to look away.
“Yep, these are deffs the best croquettes in town!”
Jinnai looked very satisfied. Toi’s earlier thoughts were still nagging at him.
“So, uh, you’ve been friends with Yasaka for a long time then?”
The other boy seemed taken aback by the question. His eyes clouded over, as if he was recalling something.
“Yeah, I have. Maybe… for too long.”
“I’ve… only talked to him a few times, but he seems like a nice guy.”
“Yeah, he is. He truly saved me, y’know. He’s my best friend and I owe him my life. But also, maybe… he doesn’t think the same of me.”
The wistfulness of Jinnai’s words made Toi reopen his internal argument.
…okay, there is definitely something going on here. No. Don’t get involved. Remember, Nii-san is the only one who matters. Just get this interview thing over and done with.
Toi wasn’t sure how to steer the conversation back to more trivial matters. Luckily, the old lady from the shop came to his rescue with perfect timing.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, you fellas can come in now.”