Ryuji loves watching hands work.
Bony, lithe, elegant and careful. He wonders what’s it like to be the owner of those hands, to be so perfectly calculated in everything they do to the point of perfection. He watches those hands work – the right-hand curling around the wooden handle of the long, serrated knife, the left pressing against the blunt edge as the blade cuts through fluffy, moist cake.
He watches the cake fold slightly under the pressure of the knife, quiet in the moment as a song he thinks he knows but can’t quite identify plays in the background.
Those hands are going to be the death of him.
Like a practiced swordsman, those hands move the large piece of cake from the round, baby-pink board to the smooth and polished surface of the plate. It’s amazing how anyone has such dexterity, and Ryuji is sure that he’d botch the process of serving the cake from the very beginning.
(He’s done it before, in a more casual setting. His mother will never fault him, but Ryuji is sure that he’ll never forget the sight of that unfortunate slice of her favourite chocolate cake, smashed against the wooden parquet of his apartment, sitting miserably among the multicoloured balloons bobbing gently against each other.)
This is Ryuji’s favourite café. Ann’s the one who dragged him here after a long, bad day at the track. He remembers it like it happened yesterday – training had not gone well, and his coach kept saying shit about how ‘Olympic runners shouldn’t slack off in training!’
“I have the perfect solution,” She says, after hearing Ryuji grumble to her over the phone. It’s been a long day, and Ryuji can feel his feet begin to stick to the ground the longer he keeps himself standing upright, “There’s a cafe that I go to a lot with Shiho and Yusuke, it’s only down the street, so it won’t take long!”
Ryuji hears the low hum of a crowd on Ann’s end of the line. He knows she’s probably at a photoshoot right now, and he can easily picture her sitting on those high chairs that he’s always seen in Hollywood movies too, having her blond locks teased over and over again by her stylist. He never sees a difference anyway, so he’s not sure why it matters so much.
“Y’not gonna drag them along, are you? The last thing I need to see is you making heart-eyes at another person while I’m upset!”
Ann laughs, the signal making her voice crackle on the phone as he feels the sulk on his face grow stronger.
“I’m not, I’m not. I promise. It’s gonna be you, me, and my favourite lemon meringue cake!”
Ryuji looks up from his spot next to the vending machine, and he feels the weight on his shoulders get heavier. His break is over, and he has another hour of being yelled at before he can take a shower and fuck off to wherever he so pleased.
“I gotta go,” Ryuji says, already pushing the empty bottle of sports drink into the nearby trashcan. He wipes the water on his hands against the fabric of his shirt, and he’s sure the sweat-soaked fabric does nothing to get rid of the moisture on his hands, “I’ll take ya up on that offer.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at the stadium in an hour. I’ll see you later!”
As his feet hit the rubber of the track, he slides his phone into his pocket, and he hopes to survive the next hour under the hot sun, dashing forward as the coach barks more orders at him.
“I need a break,” Ryuji whines as he leans on the oak table separating him from Ann, “I’m beat.”
Ann only looks at him in (what definitely was) pity, leaning her perfect tiny chin into her pale hand while she pats her friend on the head. At least he shampooed his hair before he left, or Ann would’ve started to lecture him on hair hygiene and whatnot. Being an athlete is not an excuse, you need to keep yourself in good condition!
“The Olympics are almost here, I’m not really surprised that your coach is being extra hard on you,” She thoughtfully mutters, free hand beginning to tap gently on the wooden surface as they wait for their food. “It’s only for a couple more months, right?”
“Yeah, but I’m exhausted, all we do is focus on timings and records! Where’s the fun in that?!”
“Mm, if you’re ever looking for a career change, the movie I’m in is looking for understudies. I’m sure you’ll make a great Jack Dawson.”
“From that Titanic remake you’re filming?!” Ryuji sits up, his face scrunched in disgust as he keeps his hands pressed against the edge of the table, fingers curled in and digging into the wood, “Ew, no, I’d rather not. Go ask Yusuke, I’m sure he’d love to paint you naked.”
“Um, rude,” Ann goes red, leaning back into her seat as she crosses her arms across her chest, looking incredibly flustered over Ryuji’s nonsensical discussion over bringing in their friend on set, “Besides, he’s busy, he’d never accept.”
“You say that just cause y’don’t wanna admit that you’ll get the hots for him! He’s a good-looking dude! Just go for it!”
“Ryuji, no—” Ann’s looking like she’s about to slap him into next week, but his friend’s embarrassment only encourages him even more.
“I’ll never let go, Jack—” Ryuji starts to pucker his lips together, clasping his hands together and pressing them against his chest while he wiggles his torso, making smoochy noises much to Ann’s fluster. He knows she’ll probably kick him under the table, but he’s ready this time, well-prepared after last December’s grape incident.
“Um, here’s your order?” The soft voice interrupts them, like a bubble being popped. Ryuji quickly sits up, feeling his cheeks grow warm from how childish he was acting in public. He wouldn’t have cared, once upon a time, but they were twenty-one now. People grow up, and the pair of friends are no exception.
“Ah, thank you!” Ann smiles up at the waiter, twirling a lock of platinum blonde hair around her finger as she watches him place their items on the table. Ryuji can’t deny it, the food and drinks look really good. A thick slice of cake with moist-looking yellow chiffon, covered in pearly-white icing tinged slightly golden.
The ice in their drinks crackle against each other, making that sound that Ryuji really likes, and he’s sure that the sound only makes their coffees look even more delicious. He’s sure he can smell the syrup in Ann’s, seeing how she ordered the most sweet-sounding one on the menu (for real, who in their right mind orders a sugarberry white chocolate frappuchino? Not Ann, that’s who), and he has to be honest – he’s pretty amazed at how high quality the food looks.
His eyes follow the hands that skilfully balance the black tray while the waiter places the items in front of them, and as he pulls his gaze up his arms, he’s shocked to see what he considers to be one of the most beautiful people that’s ever graced the Earth.
Beautiful deep-grey eyes in focus, soft lips (is that gloss?) curved into a slight smile in the man’s hospitality, and black, wavy locks that hang over his eyes. He’s sure if he runs his own hand through them, they’d feel like clouds.
His gaze moves down to the man’s chest, and he catches the black-and-gold nametag hanging off of this person’s black apron, so big for him that the ribbon’s wrapped around his waist twice. His name is Kurusu Akira, and Ryuji’s pretty sure he’s fallen in love.
“Can I get you anything else?” Akira inquires, pulling the tray to his chest once he’s done placing everything down neatly in front of them. Ryuji thinks it’s an art, being able to place everything so neatly with barely any effort.
“Did you make these?” Ryuji asks without thinking, so focused on keeping the other man talking. His voice is intoxicating and refreshing like a cool drink on a hot day, and he finds himself wanting more of Akira, wanting to keep him close a little longer before he has to go.
“The drinks? Yes. The cakes? No.” Akira chuckles, and Ryuji feels like a puppy being rewarded with a treat. The waiter looks down to his feet for a moment, a shy smile pulling at his lips as he quietly fumbles with the tray.
Duh, Ryuji finds himself thinking, of course he doesn’t make the cakes!
“That’ll be all,” Ann cuts in before Ryuji can embarrass himself any further, and he’s not sure whether to feel relief or disappointment, “Thank you so much!”
Akira bows towards them before he turns his heel, quickly hurrying back to his counter where he’s sure to make more orders.
“What was that all about?” The woman turns towards Ryuji after watching Akira leave, a coy smile on her lips as she clearly understood what just went on. Ann’s always like this. In the long years that Ryuji’s known her, Ann’s always been the type to be able to dish it out and take it, even as a young girl who could barely tie a knot.
“What was what all about?” Ryuji turns back to her after his eyes finally lose track of Akira’s fluffy head behind the employee door, and he gazes at her with genuine confusion. Ann rolls her light-blue eyes, like Ryuji was stupid.
“You were making heart-eyes at him. What? Cupid shot you in the heart that quick?”
“I WAS NOT!” Ryuji’s quick to defend himself, but the pounding heart in his chest betrays his brain. He thinks about how beautiful that man was, how nice it’d be to get to know him, how even more awesome it’d be to actually go out on a date with him.
But Ann doesn’t have to know that.
“You know, I’m sure he’s into you too. I’ve been here lots of times, I’ve never seen him act so shy before. He’s usually pretty confident,” She reaches out and grabs the shiny silver fork resting against the porcelain plate. She’s already slicing through the tip of the neatly cut triangle, too impatient to wait as she deals with a newly diagnosed case of love-sickness. The music in the café isn’t loud enough to interrupt Ryuji’s thoughts of Akira, and he’s sure the gushy lyrics serenading the whole place made his head even more muddled.
The entire world,
Becomes colored when I’m with you
Oh, everything gleams,
“It won’t hurt if you went for it, y’know.” Ann innocently slurps her sugar-bomb of a drink through the plastic straw wedged in perfectly stained lips, “I’m sure he might like you too.”
As if on cue, Akira leaves the room hidden behind the door boldly marked with EMPLOYEES ONLY, and Ryuji catches his eye. He wonders if it’s a trick played by his mind, but under the fluorescent lighting, he sees Akira’s pale cheeks lightly dust with a faint pink as the man smiles, shyly waving at Ryuji from behind the counter.
Behind him, a much shorter girl with thick lenses and straight orange-brown hair rolls her eyes as she looks at Ryuji, placing a finger in front of her mouth as she makes a clear gagging gesture.
“Huh,” Ryuji thinks, allowing his thoughts and gaze to linger on Akira a little longer before he looks back to his friend, picking up his own fork as he moves to try a bite of the cake that Ann was inhaling at a monstrous rate, “Maybe I should.”
“A lemonade and a chocolate cake to go!” Akira calls out as he places the neatly packaged box on the serving counter, but he knows he doesn’t have to. It’s only a formality for his job, but the customer leans over the display case, having been watching him this entire time.
“Thanks,” Ryuji winks as he quickly shuffles three steps to the right, hand looping through the cardboard handle of the box. “Mom’s gonna love it.”
“I’ll catch you later at your house, I need to pick up the meat before I go,” Akira leans over the counter, gazing up at his boyfriend with so much adoration in his eyes. “Can’t visit the birthday girl without her favourite dishes.”
“That’s why my mom loves you more than she loves me, ‘Kira!” Ryuji laughs as he reaches out, tucking some of those gorgeous soft locks behind his ear, before cupping his cheek momentarily, allowing his hand to drop after a few seconds.
“Nonsense, she loves you just as much as she loves me. Probably a little more. Maybe.”
Ryuji laughs, already making a move to leave, shooting a smirk at Futaba who rolled her eyes and laughed, busy waiting for the blender in front of her to finish another customer’s order.
“Sir, wait, you forgot something!” Akira suddenly stops him, standing up fully as he smiles brightly, and Ryuji knows that look. It’s his mischievous smile, the one that said I have something cheesy and dumb planned. Ryuji turns back, cocking an eyebrow up as he tilts his head in curiosity.
“Oh? What did I forget?” He approaches him, stepping forward and placing the cake box on the counter again.
“This.” Akira says, and he places his nimble fingers behind Ryuji’s ears, drawing his head close to meet his lips with his own. He feels Ryuji smile against his lips as rougher hands rest on the back of his neck, and the both of them can hear Futaba playfully gagging at the side.
Forget his hands, Ryuji thinks, this guy’s gonna be the death of me.