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We Make a Great Team, Don't We?

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“Seriously, where’s Ibushi? He’s an hour late.”

Nakazawa flips open his phone. The little yellow letter icon blinks—new messages from his wife and a couple of physio clients, but none from Ibushi. “He said he was on the way,” he says. Omitting how that text had arrived right when this meeting was scheduled to start.

oi where are you?

He types, and hits send.

President Takagi sighs. “This guy. Whatever.” He mouses over to the video and clicks ‘Play’. A small wood cabin appears, its deck railings striped black and yellow like a bee, surrounded by the sort of space you’d never find in Tokyo: wide, freshly-mown yard and lush green everything. The scene cuts to a bald white man in a bathrobe playing video games, and Nakazawa looks down at his phone. He’s already watched the match four times this morning.

As Takagi commentates the action for the fifth time today, Nakazawa answers his clients’ questions, and gets into a discussion with his wife about where to take his mother-in-law for her birthday. Just as he’s sent her a list of nice sushi restaurants, his phone chimes. It’s Ibushi:

sorry sorry i am coming m(_ _;m)

are you lost? did you take the express train by accident?

Nakazawa texts back. The message flies off to wherever Ibushi is, hopefully still somewhere in the city.

“Did he get lost again?” Takagi says. Office chair creaking as he swivels away from his computer. On the screen, the bald guy whips another man into a chain link fence. 

No yellow letter icon. “I think he is,” Nakazawa says. 

“We need to get him a handheld GPS.”

“He’d end up in Kobe, somehow.”

“And he wouldn’t even realise. He’d wander into DragonGate and kick the piss out of CIMA.” Takagi sighs louder and turns back to the video. “This guy.” He clicks ‘Play’ for the sixth time.

Nakazawa’s about to call when Ibushi finally texts back:

please tell president

tell him what

Nakazawa replies. Right after he’s sent that, an MMS pops up in his inbox. What has Ibushi done now? He opens it, expecting to see Yokohama train station or, worse, the shinkansen to who knows where, but a blurry photo of a puppy appears instead. Scrawny and dirty, swaddled in a grey sweatshirt.

what the hell??????

he types, and is halfway through the fourth row of question marks when the office door opens.

“I am here,” Ibushi says, “good morning. Sorry I’m late. I met trouble.” He sets his bag on an empty desk, taking care not to jostle the matted lump of fur he’s cradling to his chest. 

“Good morning,” Takagi says. Eyes glued to his computer screen.

Nakazawa points at the puppy. “Why did you bring it here?” he mouths. Silently, behind the president’s back.

“It was alone,” Ibushi whispers. He motions to its front paw, wrapped in athletic tape. “It needs the doctor.”

The lump of fur whines. Ibushi strokes a finger between its ragged ears, and it quietens. Luckily, Takagi doesn't seem to have heard.

“Ibushi, do you like Canada?” Takagi says.

“Is it in Australia?”

“This Canadian guy challenged you to a fight, so I booked him in a match with you at the Beer Garden show. Falls count anywhere, best two out of three.” Takagi taps his screen as a blond man thunders across the cabin’s deck and launches himself over the railings, arching in a perfect tope con hilo. “Kenny Omega. I think you’ll like him.”

"Nice form."

"If it goes well, we can invite him back. Maybe for a longer singles program."

Ibushi comes closer, leaning over Takagi's shoulder to watch. Two men grapple on a dock, a vast lake sprawling behind them. "Maybe."

"You're right, depends on the in-ring chemistry."

"Mm." Ibushi nods. Focused on the screen.

The bald man staggers at the edge of the water, dazed. Kenny Omega crouches in a half-squat, hands cupped and pulled to his side like he’s holding an invisible ball. “HAAAADOKEN!” he yells. Smashing his palms into the other man and shoving him into the lake.

Ibushi grins. “Funny.”

“Never wrestle anyone who’s afraid to look silly.”

Nakazawa glances up from his wife’s competing list of sushi restaurants. "He’s fast. And athletic. Almost as athletic as you, Ibushi."

Omega leaps off the dock, diving feet-first towards his opponent with the velocity of a missile.

Blue light stipples Ibushi’s face. “Equal.”

“Nice dropkick,” Takagi says. “Nakazawa, when he comes, will you translate for him?”

“Yeah, sure,” he says. Busy texting his wife the name and address of the restaurant that had appeared on both of their lists. His brain catches up to what he’s just agreed to. “Wait, what? But my English isn’t good.”

“It’s better than ours. Ibushi, say something nice in English.”

Ibushi's male model features screw up in intense concentration. “Ca-mem-bert.

“See? We’d cause an international incident. A Japan-Canadian war. Please do it for us, Nakazawa. Do it for the Japanese people.”

“Okay, okay,” he sighs.

Takagi bobs his head. He hasn’t looked away from his computer, where the two Canadians are now trading blows at the peak of a massive dirt pile. “The nation thanks you. Here comes the finish.”

Omega swings his opponent upside-down onto his shoulder, silhouetted against the sky, and then drives his head and neck into the dirt.

“Ohh!” Ibushi says appreciatively. “That looks fun.”

The bald man ragdolls down the slope, Omega sliding close behind him, and they roll to a stop by the cameraman. Cover. One, two, three, and the referee lifts Omega’s arm, declaring him the winner. The video ends.

Ibushi goes to clap, remembers his arms are full of puppy, and so he scritches its head instead. “Can you play again?”

“Good use of environment, right?” Takagi is already moving the cursor to the ‘Play’ button. “You should see the beginning where they’re fighting in a kitchen.”

“I want to fight in a kitchen.”

Tagaki swivels towards Ibushi. “Didn't you want to fight in—” He stops and points. “Is that a dog?”

---

Nakazawa sips his coffee, cardboard sign with ‘Kenny Omega’ written on it tucked under his arm. He’d woken up early to get to the airport on time, as have most of the people waiting with him at the gate: a teenager in green contacts, twirling his bleached hair as he texts; a chic mother with her identically-dressed twins; several sober-suited men holding name signs like him; and a tuxedoed young man, the red rose in his lapel matching the bouquet in his hand. 

This is the first time he’s been tasked with an airport pick-up. It’s also the first time he’s been tasked with minding a foreign wrestler, and even though Kenny seemed friendly enough during their email exchanges, you never know what someone’s really like until you meet in person. He’s heard the horror stories. Trashed hotel rooms, run-ins with the police, drugs, vice, and worse. But Kenny’s more interested in Akihabara than Roppongi, and he doesn’t drink anything stronger than Coke, so it should be okay. He hopes.

His cup gets lighter. The coffee cools. Looks like there’s a delay. A crowd mills around the gate, heads craning between the baggage claim exit and the Arrivals board. Nakazawa watches it flicker from Japanese to English and back.

“Excuse me,” someone says to him. It’s Mr. Tuxedo. “I’m sorry to bother you, but this is for the 8 a.m. from Vancouver, right?”

“Yep. Zone A.”

“Okay, thank you.” Mr. Tuxedo goes back to staring at the gate. Flicks his phone open, then snaps it closed, then flicks it open again. Despite the air-conditioning, he’s sweating, clutching his bouquet so tightly that the crepe paper is beginning to rip, and he pats a ring box-shaped lump in his trouser pocket.

“Good luck,” Nakazawa says.

The young man gives him a small, sheepish smile. “Am I that obvious?”

“Every man has felt what you feel.” He offers him a breath mint.

The young man takes it. “Thank you again. I need it.”

Trolleys finally wheel out. Reunions pop off: the teenager chatters excitedly with an old woman and takes her suitcase; a grey-suited businessman presents two identical sea lion toys to his delighted family; and wading through the stream of sleepy arrivals, a man with a curly blond mop scans every pickup sign, searching for his name. 

Nakazawa waves and lifts his sign. Kenny Omega spots him and lights up in a grin. In jeans and an Atari T-shirt, he looks shorter than he did in his video, but he’s twice as broad as the people walking next to him. Definitely a wrestler. Being crammed into an economy seat for 11 hours must’ve sucked.

“Good morning, Mr. Nakazawa,” Kenny says, “sorry to have kept you waiting.” 

His Japanese is accented but the words dismount smoothly. Nakazawa’s impressed. Maybe his translation skills won’t be needed. 

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “How was the flight? Have you had breakfast? I can drive you straight to the DDT dorms or we can stop along the way for food.”

“Uh.” Kenny’s grin goes glassy, eyes rounding into marbles. “Uh.”

Never mind. “It’s okay, ” Nakazawa says in English. “You want breakfast? Or sleep?

Breakfast sounds great! One second, though. ” Kenny kneels and fiddles with his suitcase locks. The crowd is thinning. At the gate, the lonely figure of Mr. Tuxedo waits with his bouquet.

Tah dah! ” Kenny holds out a bottle of maple syrup bigger than his bicep. "Canada's finest! "

Holy shit.”

You said in your email that it’s hard to find in Tokyo, so I brought you some.”

Thank you, but. No need to give!”

The bottle is raised higher. “Please. There’s more where that came from.

Nakazawa glances at the suitcase. Dozens of smaller maple syrup bottles are shoved into its mesh pockets and fill the main compartment, and he laughs and accepts the gift. “Your family own farm?”

Kenny laughs with him. "Nah, just a Costco card.

“But your gear? Where is it?

“I’m wearing it under my clothes.”

Applause breaks out behind them. Two tan arms are flung around Mr. Tuxedo’s neck, and a young woman is sobbing into his white shirt. A thin gold band glints on the ring finger of her left hand. He’s crying too. Holding her close, roses fallen by their feet.

That’s cute,” Kenny says. Watching the young couple wipe each others’ tears. Smiling in a world of their own, complete. He sounds almost wistful.

Nakazawa thinks he’s probably imagining it. He taps his maple syrup bottle. “You have so many. Give one to them. For a sweet marriage,” he jokes.

To his surprise and delight, Kenny actually does. Ambling over and presenting a bottle to the baffled couple. “Sweetest felicitations from Canada!” he says with a bow, scooping up the bouquet and returning it with a flourish. As Kenny helps the future Mr. and Mrs. Tuxedo take a photo, their arms around each other and the maple syrup, what remaining doubt Nakazawa had held evaporates. He and Kenny will get along just fine.

---

The Beer Garden match goes better than fine. It’s spectacular. Ibushi and Kenny brawl in the ring, and when the violence spills outside, the sell-out crowd runs after them into the carpark, screaming themselves hoarse when Kenny swings Ibushi upside down and drives him neck-first into a pile of metal folding chairs, and again when Ibushi climbs onto a vending machine and takes flight, corkscrewing above their heads to slam a prone Kenny through two tables. Even Nakazawa loses himself in it. For a few minutes, he’s a kid again. And pro-wrestling is realer than real.

The three of them stumble onto the subway platform as the train jets away. Thankfully, they had left the bar early enough so it’s not the last of the night. But they would have made it if President Takagi hadn’t kept ordering celebratory rounds, and if Ibushi hadn’t downed every drink that Kenny had declined. What's usually a 12-minute walk had turned into a nearly hour-long odyssey, Ibushi a deadweight as they’d half-dragged, half-carried him to the station. 

Though, if Nakazawa is being fair, he wasn’t much help. Because he’s also wrecked. He’d left it up to Kenny to piggyback Ibushi down the escalator.

“I want to sit,” Ibushi says. He slides off Kenny’s back and sinks bonelessly to the floor.

Kenny slings Ibushi's arm over his shoulders and pulls him up. “Upsy-daisy.”

“Oi, go there,” Nakzawa says. He points to a bench, actually succeeding on the second try.

“Here is fine,” Ibushi says.

“Over there is more comfortable.”

“Comfortable here.” He sags again, but Kenny tightens his grip around his waist and holds him up.

Nakazawa slips under Ibushi’s other arm. “Kenny, help move, please. To chairs.

They fall in a pile on the bench, bracing Ibushi between them.

“There,” Nakazawa says, “better, right?”

“Eh,” Ibushi replies. He gently pats Nakazawa’s face. “Soft.”

“You’re welcome.”

Ibushi swivels to Kenny. “Warm also.” He nestles his head onto his shoulder and closes his eyes. “Winter will be nice.”

Don’t mind,” Nakazawa says to Kenny. “When he drinks too much he likes hugging.”

Kenny waves this concern away. “I'm always designated driver, so I’m used to this. It’s kinda cute that he’s a cuddly drunk. Like a big cat.”  He ruffles Ibushi’s hair.

Ibushi nuzzles closer, pressing his flushed face into the other man’s neck. Kenny doesn’t seem to mind at all, and Nakazawa thinks he’s being extremely patient. Nice guy.

His skull feels suddenly heavy, so he rests it in his palm. “No fireworks today. Good.

Literally, or?”

Ibushi love fireworks. Fireworks love Ibushi. Together they go crazy.

Kenny rests his cheek against the crown of Ibushi's head. "He can’t be that bad."

"You don't know what he do in Osaka. We cannot go back." Nakazawa pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to forget. "My ass is never same."

"Nak," Ibushi says. Softly, eyes still closed. "Can we keep him?"

"What?"

"Can we keep him? Kenny."

"That's my name, " Kenny smiles, but Ibushi's too plastered to notice. "What's he saying? "

Nakazawa runs the question through his internal Ibushi Kota translation filter, sodden with half-a-dozen highballs. "He ask if you will come back to DDT."

"I want to!" Kenny says, jostling Ibushi off his shoulder. "Oops, sorry. I want to. Your splash off the vending machine was awesome! "

"Is he talking to me?" Ibushi says.

"He said your Phoenix Splash was amazing," Nakazawa translates.

"Auuu-saaa-maaa," Ibushi attempts in English, and he does a two-fingered running Phoenix Splash off Kenny's thigh, complete with sound effects. He smacks into his other hand, flipping it over and making it spasm like a dying spider. "That one is you."

Nakazawa cracks up and Kenny does too, and Ibushi gives them a goofy grin, rosy and handsome as a movie star. 

He turns woozily back to Nakazawa. "Can we ask the President if we can keep him?"

"He's not a dog. He's an adult Canadian man."

"But Canada is an animal?"

Nakazawa bursts into a laugh. "No!"

"It is." Ibushi is utterly serious. "There is a brand of jacket called it."

"That's Canada Goose!"

"I understand that ," Kenny says, "Canada Goose. You have that here? "

Nakazawa shakes his head. "No, import only. Very expensive."

"Want me to get one for you ? I've got a friend who works in an outlet mall. She could get us the goods."

"Too much money. Maple syrup is more than okay. But." Nakazawa strokes his chin. "Maybe we start resale business."

Kenny taps his temple. "Now we're cooking with gas. "

A tug on his shirtsleeve. "I don't want to fight him," Ibushi says. Low and urgent. "If he stays here, tell Kenny I don't want to fight him. Please." 

"That's my name again," Kenny says, "does he want in on the jacket biz?"

"Uh." Nakazawa tries, but the Ibushi Kota translation filter has completely collapsed. " He say if you come back to DDT, he won't fight you ."

Kenny pales. His smile drops.

"No, no!" Ibushi's been watching him, and he grabs Kenny by the arm and slaps his palm. "Tag!" he says in English.

Surprise blooms on Kenny's face. "Really?" he says. Eyes wide and blue.

Ibushi nods so violently his head might fall off his neck. He sits up ramrod straight. "Partner."

"Partner," Kenny repeats. "Yeah! Hell yeah!" He shakes Ibushi's hand. "Together."

He doesn't let go and Ibushi doesn't pull away. They stare at each other, glowing. Whether from the booze or from the hard bumps, Nakazawa can’t tell. He clears his throat.

"Tomorrow you say to President Takagi, okay? " he says.

The two men start, like they've realised they aren’t alone and are still in public. Kenny releases Ibushi and brushes his curls back from his forehead. “I don’t know if I have that kind of pull.

Don’t worry. Takagi like him.” Nakazawa pats Ibushi’s back. “Hey, Ibushi. When you ask the boss tomorrow, you’d better bring the good stuff.”

“Blue Label?”

“Better buy two. One each from you both.” A rumble from the subway tunnel, crescendoing into a roar. “Train’s here. Kenny, help move him, please?”

“I can stand,” Ibushi insists. He doesn’t.

Come on, partner.” Kenny hoists him up, and Ibushi clings to him, unsteady on his feet. “Let’s ride.”

---

The Johnnie Walker Blue works. Kenny returns on another excursion, and the Golden ☆ Lovers step into the ring. President Takagi doesn’t seem to mind that the duelling rivals feud he’d planned has been shelved, and waves it away with a spiel about artists needing to be free to make their art—as long as it gets over. Nakazawa thinks it’s strange that Ibushi doesn’t seem to care about his singles career, and he really isn’t sure about the BL-angle, but the front rows at shows are packed with starry-eyed girls waving Lovers towels, so there’s no denying they’re a draw.  

There’s also no denying—as Ibushi and Kenny leap off the top turnbuckle together, twisting through the air, perfectly in sync—that they’re the best tag team he’s ever seen. One soul in two bodies. It’s weird. He says so to his wife one Saturday as he trails behind her in the supermarket, a yellow basket hooked in the crook of his arm.

Hiromi places a bottle of ponzu in the basket and crosses it off her list. “Isn’t that normal? They’re a team.”

“It’s different with them,” Nakazawa says, “they know what the other wants to do without saying anything.”

“They’re reading each other's minds?”

“Sort of. It’s like.” He flattens himself against the shelves to let an old lady pass. “Like walking. The left foot moves and the right is already following. It’s automatic.”

Two flavours of salad dressing are presented to him. “This or this?”

“Sesame. But you like balsamic, right?”

Hiromi shrugs, nestling the sesame dressing behind the eggs. “I always buy that, and I feel bad for not letting you have a choice.”

Nakazawa swaps the bottles. “I choose your happiness.” 

A blush bridges her nose and cheeks, and she smiles at him, as pretty as the winter morning when he’d first asked her out. She looks down at her list. “So. Ibushi and Omega are too good at wrestling, and you find that weird.”

“I think they should be careful.”

“They can be quite reckless.”

“That too. But Ibushi needs to think about his career.”

A pack of choco pies hits the basket. “But he’s DDT’s ace.”

“That’s exactly why. What if the Lovers stuff is taken seriously?” He glances down. “Ooh, sale.”

Hiromi shovels more packs into her arms. “Three-for-one. Why does it matter?”

“It’s a good deal. Eighteen pies for the price of six—”

“Danshoku Dieno wrestles at every show. It doesn’t matter for him.”

“He does comedy. That sort of…” He gestures at the rows of sweets, their packaging a garish rainbow. “Thing is okay for him.”

“But not Ibushi.”

“He’s too good for that.”

She dumps her haul onto the other groceries. “What if our children are like that?” There’s an edge to how she stresses the final word. That . It’ll cut him if he’s not careful.

Nakazawa nudges a teetering pack back into the basket. “That’s different. I’m their father. I’ll support them no matter what. But you can’t pretend that everyone will be like us, or their boss will be as understanding as President Takagi.”

“Maybe so, but it’s up to them to express themselves however they want. Ibushi too.”

“I know, I know. But Ibushi acts without thinking. That’s what worries me. It’s fine for now, but what about later? What if there are consequences?”

Hiromi counts the number of packs in their basket, then grabs one more from much barer shelf. “I think maybe you’re underestimating him.”

“I’ve known him since he debuted.”

“So?”

Plastic handles dig into his skin. He shifts the basket onto his other arm. “Look. Our business isn’t kind. I just think Ibushi should be careful because I don’t want him to find out the hard way. That’s all.”

Hiromi turns away from him. “You know best.” She runs a manicured nail down the shopping list, her mouth a thin flat line.

Nakazawa sighs. “Maybe you're right. I should worry about where to store all these choco pies instead.”

“I'll put some back."

He sweeps the remaining packs off the shelf and bundles them under his arm. "Go big or go home," he drawls in American, and Hiromi smiles at him again.

----

On his last full day in Japan, Kenny takes them ice skating. Or rather, as they’d carefully lined up dominoes backstage at Korakuen Hall, he’d asked Nakazawa if Tokyo had good rinks, and they’d arranged to meet at Citizen Plaza. When Nakazawa steps through the metro gates, he isn’t surprised to see that Kenny has also invited Ibushi—bundled into a quilted leather jacket and buying a sausage bun—but he is surprised when Kenny gets their tickets and waves away their money.

My treat,” Kenny says in English, “thanks for looking out for me.

Ibushi looks to Nakazawa, holding out a 5000¥ note. “Does he not have smaller cash?”

“He’s saying we don’t need to repay him.”

“Huh? But that’s too much.” He waves the note at Kenny.

Instead of taking it, Kenny gently pushes his hand down. “My treat,” he says again, and switches to Japanese. “Present.”

“Then I am buying dinner. Could you tell him that, please?”

“He said he will repay you,” Nakazawa translates, “with dinner.

Kenny grins, white and bright. Ibushi smiles crookedly back, the matter settled.

Nakazawa decides not to mention how they’re still touching.

It’s a school day, so they mostly have the rink to themselves. Kenny glides onto it as if he’d come out of his mother with skates on, and he makes a full lap before sliding to a stop in the centre, the toe of his blade chunk-ing the ice.

He waves, green hoodie and yellow curls bright under the fluorescent lights. “Come on in! Water’s great.

“I don’t know how to skate,” Ibushi says. Clinging to the half-door at the entranceway. “Do you know how to skate?”

Nakazawa tightens his grip on his barricade, the ground already slipping out from under him. “I know how to fall. Let’s try our best.”

Ibushi nods, watching Kenny shimmy backwards in time to the music, like he’s studying a tape. “Maybe the trick is to keep falling?” he says to himself.

Nakazawa pulls himself upright and tries to remember what Hiromi had taught him the last time they went skating. Feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing out—or in? Something about inner blades? Walking on baby oil is easier than this. Next to him, Ibushi exhales. Then launches off the door, knees bent and arms flung out for balance, wobbling on his skates.

Yeah!” Kenny gives a thumbs-up as Ibushi shoots past him. “Amazing!” he says in Japanese. And his thumb stays up even as Ibushi crashes into the opposite barricade and nearly flips out of the rink. “We’ll work on how to stop.”

Despite the language barrier, Kenny is a good teacher, and in about twenty minutes he has them skating up and down, and stopping without crashing. It also helps that Ibushi is a quick study, and soon he’s speeding ahead of them, lifting one leg, then the other, then turning to shimmy backwards like Kenny did, face lit by a wild grin.

Kenny lets out a low whistle. “He’s a natural,” he says. Cruising by Nakazawa’s elbow, keeping pace. “Sure he’s not Canadian?”

He’s a star,” Nakazawa says to his skates. He has to concentrate or he’ll lose his balance. “Born in Kagoshima.”

Lotta snow there?”

Maybe once every one hundred years.

Kenny snorts. “What a guy.” 

Nakazawa can hear his smile. He glances up. Kenny’s watching Ibushi, now winging round the rink like a comet, and lingering in his blue eyes is a look Nakazawa recognises.

It’s uncomfortable. He opens his mouth to make a joke, but his skate runs over something and his right ankle crumples, and he slams into the ice.

“Shit! ” A pale face leans over him. “Did you hit your head?”

First day of wrestling training. Chin up, back flat,” Nakazawa says.

Kenny laughs, relieved, and helps him to his feet. “You were doing pretty well until then.

“Nak!” Ice sprays as Ibushi skids to a stop by them. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. But this old man needs a break.”

“We’ll stop with you?”

Nakazawa waves him away. “Go, go,” he says in English.

He manages to totter onto a bench and pry his skates off without killing himself, and he sighs and wiggles his socked toes. Ankle’s fine. Close call. He’ll never take for granted how dry and immovable the ground is, ever again.

A rink attendant greets him as she passes, lugging a disassembled hockey goal behind her. You could do a fun environmental hazard spot with that. Maybe they could wrestle here. In glittery full-body suits with chest cut-outs, flinging pucks, the resurfacer chasing them with Yoshihiko at the wheel.

Laughter from the rink. Kenny drops into a squat and unleashes a hadoken, and Ibushi sells, flinging himself backward and clutching his stomach, both fluent in the universal language of Street Fighter. They don’t need his help right now, though Kenny still does with anything more complicated than ordering food, and Ibushi does too with the, quote, “Canada noises.” But sometimes they’ll volley English and Japanese back and forth, holding full conversations which they shouldn’t understand, except they do. It doesn’t bother him.

They’re conferring now, heads close, blond and brown. Whatever Kenny’s saying is too soft for Nakazawa to catch, but Ibushi quips back, grinning, and Kenny laughs and pats his tag partner’s shoulder.

It doesn’t bother him.

Kenny peels away. Ibushi skates to the door, fumbling with the zipper of his jacket.

Nakazawa joins him. “Taking a rest?”

“It’s hot.” Ibushi’s cheeks are flushed, and he drapes his jacket over the barricade and pushes up his sweater sleeves. “He’s showing a thing.”

At the far end of the rink, Kenny rolls his shoulders. Focused in the way he is backstage, in the moments right before his entrance music hits and he twitches the curtain aside, and Kenny-from-Canada snaps into Kenny Omega, bounding to the ring. 

He glides down the rink, skates whispering, then he pivots, zipping backwards in the same direction, and before Nakazawa can even register it, Kenny leaps. Leaving gravity in a single fluid motion, spinning above the ice. And then he lands, circling backwards on one leg with a dancer’s sudden grace.

“That was cool!” Nakazawa says.

Ibushi nods, following how Kenny turns forward and picks up speed for another pass, eyes never leaving him. Front teeth catching his bottom lip.

It doesn’t bother him. But Nakazawa leans his forearms against the cold metal of the barricade and says, “Kota. You won’t do anything. Right?”

Kenny leaps again. Ibushi drops his gaze, shrinking like a child caught doing something he should not. Pop beats warble as Kenny hits the ice, steel blades flashing, and Nakazawa feels like he may have overstepped. But this is for Ibushi’s own good.

Haven’t done that in a hot minute,” Kenny says, skating up to them. “Kenneth’s still got that fancy footwork.”

Nakazawa breaks into applause. “Very nice.

Kenny performs a shallow curtsey.

Aww-sum,” Ibushi says quietly. Fringe hiding his eyes.

Hey, what’s up?” Kenny glances at Nakazawa. “Did something happen?”

Nakazawa shrugs.

Hey,” Kenny tries again. Then he switches into Japanese. “Ibushi, you okay?”

As an answer, Ibushi hurls himself away and hooks his arm through Kenny’s, pulling him towards the centre of the rink. He twirls his free hand. “Please. Teach.”

Oh, uh. Yeah, sure !” Kenny’s surprised, but doesn’t extract his arm. “Let’s go!”

Nakazawa watches them leave.

---

Your uncle and his friend leave you in the snow?” Nakazawa says, as the sliding doors release them back into Shinjuku. The sun has set but the streets are bright with electric light. “They never help you?

I'd botched the Terminator Dive,” Kenny says. Like that’s a reasonable explanation. “They wanted to help me help myself.”

But why you train outside? In winter?”

Endurance. Like how marathon runners train with ankle weights.”

A gust whips the foyer and sends the awnings across from them fluttering. Nakazawa tugs his hat down over his ears. “But you twelve years old?” 

Toyota Manami debuted at sixteen.” Kenny sticks his hands into his hoodie pockets. Despite his lack of a coat or jacket, he doesn’t look cold at all. “Anyway, I lay there crying on the ice, like, ‘Ahhh! My back is broken! Fuck!’ I even pissed myself, I was so scared. But then I thought, wait, if I can move my arms and legs, then my back isn’t broken. It’s all in my head. So I dragged myself over to my uncle and Don. And they picked me up, dusted me off, took me to Tim Horton’s, and bought me a 20-pack of Honey Cruller Timbits, frozen piss-pants and all.” He laughs like he’s recounting a funny story and not horrific childhood trauma. “Good times.

This explains a lot about Kenny, but Nakazawa doesn’t say so. “Good times,” he echoes, and changes the subject. “What you want to eat?”

His choice.” Kenny slings an arm around Ibushi’s shoulders. “Since he’s paying.

Ibushi surfaces from whatever was occupying his mind. “What happened, sorry? There was too much English.”

“He’s saying that since you offered to buy dinner, you pick the restaurant.”

“Oh. Um. Cow?” he says in English.

Always!

Ibushi nods, avoiding Kenny’s grin. He shrugs off his arm and crouches to re-tie his shoelaces. “There’s a good grilling place nearby—”

A big furry blur bowls him over. 

“Bert!” A burly man sprints into the foyer—President Takagi, in track pants and a DDT sports jacket. “Camembert! Heel!”

A bushy tail wags furiously. Under a small mountain of dog, Ibushi flails as his face is licked. 

“Agh!” he giggles. “Wet!”

Takagi pries Mt. Dog off him, its nails scrabbling against concrete. “Sit. Camembert, sit! Good boy. Please excuse my dog and its owner, Ibushi. He’s not usually so rude.”

Ibushi gets up, adjusting the strap of his messenger bag. “It’s no problem. He’s nice.”

Camembert jumps towards him again, but Takagi tugs its harness and it sits back down.

Nakazawa eyes the dog. If it stood on its hindlegs, its paws could rest on his shoulders. “The puppy’s grown huh?” he says to Takagi.

“You wouldn’t believe how much he eats. My wife thinks he’s some kind of sheepdog mix.” The president pats its shaggy head, the long fur between its ears tied back in a ponytail like an aerobics instructor from the 80s. “Sheepdog and bear.”

The dog whines, dark button eyes looking up at Ibushi, pleading.

"Huh." He takes out the sausage bun, squashed flat in its plastic bag. “You want to share?”

It whines harder.

“I have to ask your dad first.”

“Everyone loves snacks,” Takagi says, “but tell him ‘shake’ before you give it to him.”

Ibushi squats and holds out his left hand. “Shake.”

A big white paw plops into his palm.

“Clever man!” He beams, tears the bun in two, and offers both halves. “Eat and get strong for ice skating.”

“Ah, no, no. He's part-land bear, not ice-bear. We went for walkies while waiting for my daughter's dance class to finish. Is that what you three were up to?”

Nakazawa jerks a thumb at Kenny. “He gave us a private lesson.”

“I can hear the OLs screaming in jealousy,” Takagi chuckles. When he sees that Kenny hasn’t understood, he tries again, enunciating every word. “Do you like dogs?”

“Dog I like.” Kenny replies slowly. “Cat I like also.”

“You have pets at home?”

“Two cat. More, more small the dog.”

“Small is good. Big dogs are big trouble.

“All dogs are good,” Ibushi says, letting Camembert lick his fingers clean. “They bring goodness to the world.”

As much as he tries, Kenny can’t keep himself from smiling. “Ibushi and me think samely.”

Takagi coils the leash around his hand. “Inside and outside the ring.” A wry eyebrow arches.

The corners of Ibushi’s mouth quirk up, but he catches Nakazawa looking at him. He hugs the dog, its pink tongue lolling, tail happily thumping the ground. Presses his face into its coat. Says nothing.

The sliding doors swoosh open, disgorging a mob of teenagers in oversized white T-shirts and sweatpants, led by a tiny, pug-nosed tomboy in a pink bucket hat.

“Dad!” She swaggers up to them with the confidence of someone twice her size. “There’s—” Her expression twists into a familiar bulldog scowl. That’s the President’s daughter, all right. Good thing there are no steel chairs nearby.

She plants her fists on her narrow hips. “Bert’s my dog.”

“Mr. Ibushi rescued him,” Takagi explains. “Found him under a bush with a broken leg, and then brought him into the office. Be nice, Reiko. It’s because of him that we have a dog in the first place.”

“Sorry for the trouble," Ibushi says, “I’m happy to see him.” He raises his head.

Reiko turns brick red. Her friends behind her cover their mouths and giggle, whispering to each other, and the lone boy among them stares, also turning pink. Because Ibushi lives a ridiculous charmed life—Hiromi once said he’s so handsome that he bends reality around him—it begins to snow, fluffy flakes blowing into the foyer and nestling into his hair. Nakazawa bites his cheek to keep from laughing.

“Ghrk,” she replies. More giggles ripple through her friends.

Takagi pretends not to notice the effect Ibushi is having. “Your crew needs rides, Rei?”

She snaps out of her stupor. “Nah. We’re gonna catch a movie.”

“Will he join us?” one of the girls behind her says.

“Shut up!”

“Dibs on the seat next to him!” another girl says.

“Don’t be stupid!” Reiko drags them away, chest puffed like an angry sparrow. “We’re wasting time, let’s go.”

“Are you having dinner at home?” Takagi calls after her.

“Nah.”

“But it’s curry night, your favourite.”

“I’ll eat it tomorrow. See ya!”

Takagi waves goodbye. “I’m eating your portion,” he mutters under his breath.

Kenny nudges Nakazawa. “Teens, am I right?”

You're right,” he replies, even though he’s not sure what Kenny is right about.

The president sighs. “I know it’s good she has her own friends, but sometimes I miss when she was a kid.” He zips up his jacket. “At least she’s not sniffing glue.” 

“Or wrestling,” Nakazawa says.

“I pray to Lord Buddha she never starts.” Takagi glances down at his dog, still being hugged. “Hey, Ibushi. Camembert and I need to go home now.”

Ibushi buries his face back in its fur. “Okay.” 

“You’ll see him again soon.”

“Okay.”

Grilled beef is calling,” Kenny says, “come on, partner.

Ibushi hugs the dog tighter.

Nakazawa taps his shoulder. “Stop playing around. People are looking.”

Takagi checks his watch. "Come by the office next Tuesday. I have meetings all day, so someone needs to take Bert for walkies. I was gonna ask Matsui, but he's a useless shrimp. Would you help me out?"

There's a long moment. The flurry has passed, snow melting into the concrete and asphalt around them like it had never been there. And then Ibushi nods. "Okay," he says, muffled by dog. He doesn’t move.

"Next Tuesday." Takagi's normally gruff voice turns coaxing. "That's not too long, right?"

Ibushi nods again. His fingers card through white fur, petting it one last time, and then he lets go. "I'm happy to see him."

He stands, quickly wiping his eyes. His nose is red, and not, Nakazawa thinks, from the cold or allergies. The back of his hand is wet.

"I'm happy to see him." Ibushi repeats. He bites his lips together.