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a madness most discreet

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There’s finesse to a natural slink-and-hitch.

The slink— the stride, rather— can’t stutter. If it can’t flow from an easy step it’s too forced and looks like a covered up stumble. No good. He envisions a bearing ball rolling down a halfpipe. That’s what it should be. One fluid, fully rounded progression into the hard stop of part two: the hitch.

Kick the hip up too high and he’s just a slut. Not enough and it turns into what he calls a plumber’s lean. The sort of strained lower-back posture taken on by the blue collar class when they draw up overcharged invoices for o-ring replacements at the fake marble countertops of suburbia’s finest kitchens. Nu-uh. Not him. It needs to pop right in the middle, weight over one leg, ass swung just so. I’m so interested, he wants it to say in conjunction with a coy palm propping up his chin as he makes himself comfortable, do go on.

“Yeeeaaah,” Sousuke draws out like he’s breaking bad news, “again, that’s not a thing.”

Rin looks up from his squat in front of the craft paint. “And just how the fuck would you know?”

Sousuke stays Rin’s suspicion with a lazy palm outwards. “Actually finally asked. Makoto, then Gou, and both accused me of being high. You made this up. Gou said there’s a bend-and-snap, not a slink-and-hitch.”

“Bullshit,” Rin protests. “What the fuck is a bend-and-snap? This one I learned it from Shigino way back in first year. Never steered me wrong.”

“Ah. Yes. Why didn’t you say so. I’m sure the fabled slink-and-hitch has been passed down the Shigino family line for generations. You must’ve earned his trust for him to reveal it to you.”

Sousuke’s being a sarcastic piece of shit, but then again, when isn’t he? Rin rolls his eyes and gets back to the paint. But no matter how long he stares at it, it isn’t getting any cheaper. He sure needs it though.

“How much more did you have to paint on that vendor stall prop?

Sousuke hums in mock-thought. “Basically the entire thing.”

“Okay, honestly,” Rin groans, and swipes the largest tubes of red, yellow, and blue before he changes his mind. “What do you even do? You’ve had that thing for a week.”

“I work. I have a relationship other than to you. I don’t want to do it. To name a few key reasons.”

“Work?” Rin parrots, baffled, standing straight and dropping the paint into the basket on Sousuke’s arm. “You—”

“Don’t—”

“You jack off for money. It’s not work.”

The only other patron in the store chooses to walk by as Rin says it. She stares at Sousuke with a creased brow of almost-recognition, until Sousuke tosses a cocky wink down the aisle to confirm her suspicions, lighting her up like a bonfire when it connects and sending her scurrying quickly away. It’s only ten in the morning and Rin wants to strangle him already.

Sousuke drops his camera act as quickly as it came on. What a great use of his respectable, expensive, formal training. “Every time, Rin? Do you have say it every time?”

“I jack off for free!” he whisper-shouts through clenched teeth.

Sousuke opens his mouth, thinks better of it, then shrugs one shoulder. Annoyance devolves to boredom again. “Something about that statement makes my argument for me better than I can.”

“Oh, shut up.” Rin eyes the basket. They have the nice paint, some shitty paint, glue, a new brush set, a pack of craft foam, and more sandpaper. Already, it’s probably one thousand yen. He sighs.

“Need cash?”

No,” Rin protests. “I am not the one in need of charity, you two-bit.”

Sousuke takes on that smirk Rin loathes; mischievous and vaguely predatory. Definitely got it from Makoto. Before they were officially dating, Makoto turned that same smirk on Rin all the time when Sousuke wasn’t looking back during their obnoxiously cheesy courtship days. Makoto always knew what he was doing when he was trying to get with Sousuke, contrary to the doe-eyed fawn of the forest vibe he gave off back then. Makoto is a beastslayer. The smirk said it all.

“You could try that curbside prostitute move for a discount instead of a date… he’s working today.”

He. Haru. Of course Sousuke noticed. Rin saw him through the window before they even stepped inside, slumped at his register over a fashion magazine chomping down on chewing gum like a barn cow with an attitude, as he always is. He dresses like a pastel-goth sixteen year old girl and has the sneer and hobbies to match. You can’t miss him even if you’re trying; he just sticks out, one annoyingly handsome pillar made up of bad fashion decisions and the most frigid, stand-offish personality Rin’s encountered since the one and only time he stole food off Makoto’s plate without asking.

Rin’s a goddamn moth to a flame about him. What’s his thing? Can any one person be that boring and pissy all the time and simultaneously? Wearing those colors? Looking that hot? As an arts man, as a man moved by the human condition, Rin has a gnawing need to get to know him.

And, fine. Maybe it’s a crush. Maybe he went looking and found an Instagram account and told Sousuke about it and maybe he’s only felt emboldened since he saw that other than tons of damnably well-taken selfies, it consisted largely of chat screenshots of horrible Tinder matches Haru agreed to go out with solely to con free shit from, using captions like: two dinners. shoes. houseplant. total: ¥31,020. Accompanying screenshots typically depicting the barrage of sexual harassment messages he had to endure solely for swiping right.

Meaning in short that he’s single.

“It wasn’t for a date, I needed to use that move to convince him to let me hang the help wanted poster.”

“Well,” Sousuke grins, pushing the basket at Rin until he’s forced to take it, “if it’s as good a move as you say it is, it should convince him to do literally anything, right?”

“You’re a sadist, you know that? You like to watch people suffer.”

“Nah. That costs extra to watch and Makoto isn’t always down. It can feel like, too real, you know?”

“Ugh!” he screeches. “Gross! I don’t want to know that much about you!”

Sousuke sighs, claps him on the shoulders, and spins him around towards the front of the store. “Stop stalling and go pay for your shit so I can get on with my day,” he urges with a short shove. “I have to be at the bar by two to meet the delivery guys and Makoto will gut me if I’m not there for it again. Reminder: we open Friday.”

Rin points his toes up to dig his heels to the floor, halting Sousuke’s shove. “I need a minute, you heartless ogre. I can’t just go talk to him without thinking it through!”

“Sure you can. Reach for the stars, Rin, don’t let him get away, he’s the one, et cetera.”

“Is it too much to ask that you not have ulterior motives beneath everything you do?” he accuses, pulling out from Sousuke’s grasp and straightening out his twisted up t-shirt.

“Yes, when it comes to something I’m trying to get out of. Now go. Seriously. You need the help and we’re out of time to find it.”

Irritatingly enough, he’s right. Sousuke helping out with Rin’s sets was always a temporary solution to Rin’s underfunded dream chasing and he’s stuck around longer than Rin could’ve asked him to with everything else in his life going on. A few months ago, Makoto got a bug up his ass to take over the bar he’s been working at for years when the owner announced plans to split, and that kicked off a shitstorm that never felt like it was going to end.

Nothing like that is ever so simple as paperwork to change the owner. No, Makoto wanted to remodel it and restructure it and remarket it; how very thorough of him. Sousuke splits his time between whatever the fuck it is he does to make money, helping Rin, and helping Makoto. Now suddenly the place opens on Friday and Sousuke needs to be done with his twenty to thirty hours a week helping Rin as close to immediately as can be achieved. They pushed it as long as they could.

Not to mention Sousuke has about as much creative tour de force as a bag of dry lunchmeat. Rin may as well be making his sets himself for all the instruction his friend requires. Problem number two is it begrudgingly isn’t Rin’s strongest suit either. He’s a producer, director, and actor; not a Picasso.

Meaning he needs to find the mythical being somewhere out there who both knows what they’re doing and will accept peanuts for payment.

And there’s the rub of it with Haru in the middle; Sousuke still dons that all-knowing smirk. He’s got it in his head that Haru is that mythical being and has made no effort to cover that up by goading Rin into bringing his help wanted poster here in particular to catch his eye. Sousuke thinks he’s so clever, some exalted matchmaker. A two for one deal! A personal and professional relationship in one nicely contained pissy package. The man’s always been about consolidation.

But, Rin thinks as he rolls his eyes and stalks off defiantly for the register, what Sousuke doesn’t know about Haru is that he is by far the laziest, most unmotivated creature that ever crawled out of the primordial-millennial swamp of their age group. He would be the absolute worst possible option to help a perfectionist busybody like Rin with real, honest work. Crush or no crush, Haru is no hard worker. A date is a separate affair from a professional relationship.

Haru doesn’t look up as Rin stalks towards him and leaves Sousuke in the paint aisle to tend to text novellas he’s neglected this morning from Makoto and likely Gou about whatever new problem has cropped up with the bar overnight. He’s handled those two livewires impressively well and levelheaded, Rin admits. He would’ve told them to chill the fuck out months ago, and that’s saying something coming from him.

Even with a basket on his arm, Rin thinks he can still make this audacious slide work. There’s a second angle to it he had the restraint not to share with Sousuke, for once. That being, he knows he’s caught Haru staring at his ass. It happened. So today he’s wearing a black low cut shirt to quickly lay the Ass Man versus Tit Man question to rest early on, and to shape his approach going forward. Makoto’s advice. Rin always told himself as they grew up that whoever was able to pin down a nearly feral Sousuke into something resembling domestic monogamy would be a person worth listening to. It did not make the sort of abominably tight pants Makoto flaunted back then any easier to weather knowing the social science behind his bad choices.

Step. Slide. Hip kick and a lean. Not too far into Haru’s space but enough to put them deliberately face to face. Confident. Let him know Rin knows Haru wants him, too. Not too aggressive, no toothy grin. Boy next door. Easygoing. Take on the role. Become a calm person. Do it for the production. Do it for his phone number. Rin Matsuoka can have it all.

He has one elbow planted on Haru’s counter before he knows it, ass up where it needs to be, basket effortlessly set off to the side with his other hand. His chin is perfectly centered on the heel of his palm. His out of body eagle eye interpretation of the movement rates himself nine out of ten, docked for the basket when his free hand would’ve been better suited to rest on the curve of his waist.

Haru raises his eyes just as Rin delivers, silky smooth: “Hey.”

“Rin. Why are you standing like that.”

Rin makes a quick assessment whether Haru’s gaze drops to where his shirt’s open or back to his rump. Neither. He just looks confused. “This?” he remarks casually. “‘S’just how I stand.”

“Okay… are you checking out?”

“Sure am.” He cocks his head and clicks his tongue towards his basket. “You know I got a play coming up. First big one. Romeo and Juliet?”

Haru slowly closes the cover to his magazine. To Rin’s horror, it’s a Cosmo. He can only persevere and hope against hope that Haru does not take advice from it lest he end up with a pipecleaner down his dick at the end of their inevitable first date or whatever flavor of the month sex act they’re pushing this time. Is that presumptuous of Haru’s feelings towards him? Well, maybe. More a genuine fear he’s had for some time.

“I’ve heard of it.”

“I’m building the entire thing up from scratch.”

Bright yellow suddenly divides them, Haru having snatched the package of foam from the basket to wave tauntingly in front of Rin. “With craft foam?”

Rin pushes it out of the way and smirks. “Don’t you know? It’s how you use it, Haru.”

“And how do you use it, Rin? That school glue you have in there won’t hold foam together very well. The surface is too smooth.”

Shit. Sousuke said that too. Rin changes tactics. A little vulnerability never hurt his chances for sympathy. “Funny you should hone in on my crafting weaknesses right away,” he says, reaching for his back pocket for his flyer and giving it a shake to unfold it. “I was hoping I could leave this here with you to tape up. I’m a busy guy, being in charge and all, and you’re always so...” Well, he’s not helpful. Don’t say helpful. “... so here.”

Haru watches him slide it across the counter before he lifts it to look at for himself. “You couldn’t even convince a high schooler to help you with this flyer much less someone with… ‘three to five years experience or bachelors in fine arts and or media studies preferred’.”

Rin frowns and straightens up a bit. The bow in his back is beginning to ache. “But you’ll hang it up anyway, right?”

“I guess so…” He contemplates it further, and looks between it and Rin until the silence gets awkward. “... I could show you how to put together something better, though. If you want.”

Rin scoffs in response at the implication. As attractive and alluring as Rin finds Haru to be for some godforsaken reason, an ecstasy pill popping candy raver alumni having an opinion on design aesthetic is something he’s run into a million times in his circles and all to varying degrees of abysmal failure. Even if he had the work ethic. Which he doesn’t. “No offense Haru, but I trust a guy my age consistently dressed in unicorn vomit about as far as I can throw him with something as serious as this. I’ll take my chances.”

Haru leans back from where he’s subtly inched forward during the conversation, and resumes that irritatingly loud gum gnashing. “Suit yourself.”

“Now that business is out of the way, what are you doing later?” Rin tries next. He may as well, considering he’s put his best slink forward here.

Haru takes his time to blow a neon pink bubble that takes up half of his face, all while plucking Rin’s items from his basket and sliding each over the scanner without breaking deadpanned eye contact. The bubble pops, he resumes smacking, and the unamused air to the entire thirty second act is not lost on Rin. “You don’t get to say I look like horse puke and then ask me out.”

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing!”

He punches a key on his register more dramatically than is explicitly necessary. “Horses can’t puke. 12,400 yen.”

Twelve thousand?!” Rin squawks. “No way in hell.”

“The foam is no longer on sale. Full price plus an inconvenience fee. Cash or credit?”

“Ugh! Okay. Okay. I’m sorry, Haru. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I run my mouth like all the time and don’t mean anything bad by it, I swear.”

“Credit then,” Haru assumes. “And I’m not going anywhere with you until you can afford a place that takes reservations.”

Rin perks up; it’s a light in the dark, a tiny campfire on the expansive tundra that is Haru Nanase. It goes beyond the ass glance and levels him up for an Instagram drag. “I knew you liked me.”

Haru reaches in front of his register where there’s a row of assorted candies. He sets a dark chocolate bar on top of Rin’s things after passing it over the scanner. “12,600 yen.”

“And message received,” Rin mutters. He stands totally straight and fishes his wallet from his other back pocket, forks over his credit card, and offers a short prayer to the accounting gods that it goes through. Did he make a payment this month? Or is he merging memories with a spontaneous pizza order?

The crafting and art supply store uses one of those tiny card readers, the ones that beep forever like an old dial-up modem and spit out a receipt line by agonizingly slow line. It has its own built in will-it-or-won’t-it-go-through suspense plot.

Haru tears off the receipt for Rin’s signature; looks like the card lives to indebt him another day.

A crinkle of wrapper catches his attention before he can walk away to regroup. Haru offers him half of the bar with a shrug and, if Rin isn’t suddenly seeing shit, a light dust of pink on his cheeks to complement his lavender sweater.

“I used to do theater,” Haru reveals. “It’s a pain in the ass. I know what you’re dealing with.”

Briefly speechless, Rin takes his peace offering, careful not to move too fast and startle Haru off like some twitchy bird. “Why’d you stop?”

He shrugs again. “Got bored.”

Unfathomable. It’s the last thing from boring in Rin’s life. Suddenly he needs to know way, way more. “What sort of hacks you work with? Audition for one of mine and you won’t be bored. I’ll put you to work for once.”

“No thanks,” Haru dismisses abruptly, and sets aside his candy to bag Rin’s items. “Don’t act.”

“Well what did you do?”

“Everything else. Makeup. Costumes. Props.” He hands Rin his bag. “... Sets.”

Sousuke’s heavy hand slapping between Rin’s shoulder blades and his deep voice grating too close to Rin’s ear startles a stunted yelp from him. “Sets, huh?” he interjects. “Hear that, Rin?”

“Fuck off, Sousuke,” Rin groans.

Sousuke ignores him. Haru’s expression is something nearing exasperated but not necessarily disinterested in the attention shift. “And costuming! Did you see the flyer, Nanase?”

“I did.”

“Interested?”

“I’ll think about it.”

Rin breaks away with his bag and glowers at his friend. “Sousuke! Goddammit!”

Sousuke crosses his arms across his chest, puffed out and all proud of himself, the ass. “Was that so hard?”

He turns to Haru, giving up on knocking any common fucking decency into Sousuke for now. “No offense, Haru, but—”

“Ahp-ahp-ahp,” Sousuke interrupts again as he swipes the bag off the counter, shushing Rin and taking a step towards him to body block him towards the door, “we’re leaving it there. Give us a call, Nanase, there’s plenty to work on. You know that bar down on seventh—”

“Sousuke!” Rin hisses. Almost forced out the door, he makes to break from Sousuke to tell Haru not to bother. But Sousuke steps in front of him again, face much less amused this time, shit-eating smirk vanished. Rin stops in his tracks, a child admonished in a single look.

“Rin. I know this is hard for you, but I need you to think about me just for a second, okay?”

He uses that tone Rin can’t outright say no to. Where it’s quiet, gentle, and understanding yet inarguably firm. Sousuke generally avoids telling Rin what to do, but there’s a mutual unspoken understanding after a lifetime together that sometimes Rin maybe doesn’t place value on certain variables as much as he should. A little bit. Like having realistic expectations of people. And sometimes Sousuke will remind him of it. Though Sousuke could stand to respect Rin’s preferences and not drag Haru into this in the first goddamned place, couldn’t he? Yet, Rin sighs his begrudged defeat on this one.

“Thank you. It’s for you too, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Sousuke picks up where he left off with the smirk, and assumes the half candy bar still clutched in Rin’s hand as payment for his own goddamn meddling.


 

They return to Sousuke and Makoto’s to work on the vendor stall, where Rin left it in his care. Makoto brings over lunch by way of apology for some panic he had earlier Rin wasn’t privy to. Sousuke had no idea what panic he was talking about either, but Makoto insisted he was too snappy on the phone and Sousuke’s never one to turn down a free meal. Where he puts it, Rin doesn’t know, because no one who eats as much as shit as he does should be so ridiculously in shape. He figured Sousuke’s metabolism would’ve slowed by now like any other mortal human their age, but here he sits, shoveling the last of a second serving of battered cod into his maw and not a trace of regret to be found.

They made progress on the vendor stall in the last two hours before Makoto showed up unexpectedly. Sousuke did at least sand it down and have it ready for paint, so there’s that. Too bad Rin wants three stalls in total.

“Why don’t you just rent props?” Makoto tries.

“Not good enough,” Rin says decisively. “Plus, I can reuse these down the line and not have to keep paying for them or made up damages like I’d have to if I rented. It’s just because this is my first big thing that there’s so much to do.”

“And this Haru you met works fast?”

Rin makes it a point to glare at Sousuke as he answers. “No he doesn’t! Which is why I didn’t want him to help, Sousuke. He barely runs his register without falling asleep at it, Sousuke!”

Sousuke gestures to Rin like he’s a stray dog he doesn’t know what to do with, but doesn’t want to keep. “Do you see the abuse I endure for being a good friend, Makoto?”

Unconvinced, Makoto sits back and pulls his mouth to one side before speaking. “Well, you did meddle when Rin asked you not to.”

Rin throws his hands up. “Thank you.”

“But Rin, just because he isn’t enthusiastic about one thing doesn’t mean he might not work hard doing something else. It’s a convenient lead that he has the experience, you should at least give him a chance.”

“He said he quit originally because he was bored. What can I expect out of someone who’s bored? You know I run a tight ship on this shit.”

“Guess you’ll find out,” Makoto shrugs. “Sousuke’s boring and sleepy all the time but he works hard so I keep him around.”

Sousuke nods his agreement, either indifferent to Makoto’s insult or too distracted to pick up on it. “Plus I’m sick to death of those fuck me eyes you throw at each other every time we’re there. Put up and put out already. Do you a world of good to get laid.”

Makoto’s eyes widen in interest. “Oh wait- do you like him, Rin? Wow, this is rare. He must be special.”

“He dresses like a teenager,” Rin dodges. “I can’t take him seriously at all.”

“So what?” Sousuke sighs. “Makoto dresses like a fucking religious missionary named Chad and I still like him.”

The delayed retort is nothing short of perfectly delivered. Rin can respect that craft; Sousuke was always best at improv. Even Makoto, while quickly red at the neck, doesn’t protest too hard.

“I like wristwatches, okay? They’re convenient and you have to get over it.”

“The word is obsolete,” Sousuke says. “And I was ragging on the short sleeved button downs, but you’re right, it’s sort of a package image.”

Rin snorts as Makoto rolls his eyes. “You wear jogging shorts and costume sunglasses in public unironically so I don’t have to listen to you.”

“Guess we’re even, Brother Joseph,” Sousuke laughs easily, causing Makoto a shy smile in turn.

Rin wrinkles his nose but lets them have their insufferable flirting without comment just this once.

“See Rin, look at what a catch he is beneath all that sass and cotton. I wouldn’t wingman for you if I thought Nanase was truly as lame as he looks. You’re the best at this and you got high standards; I know that. I got a good feeling.”

“Point,” Rin mutters. Sometimes, Sousuke says nice things. Rin won’t give him humility for it since he’s a pain in the ass more than he isn’t, but it’s still nice to hear.

He does feel marginally okay with all of this now, and he does want to get to know Haru better. It’s as good an opportunity as any, so long as Haru agrees to do it and is actually helpful. Rin has no qualms throwing people out on their asses if they’re not helpful, even if they’re gorgeous and occasionally nice to him and buy him candy with his own money and eye fuck him when he’s not looking, apparently. He needs to check later if he ended up on Haru’s Instagram, conned out of three yen for candy.

“Does he really look at me like that?”

“You know how like, cats watch prey from the shadows?” Sousuke answers.

Rin frowns. He’s not immediately sure if that’s attractive or not. “Thanks for making it weird.”

Makoto stands to clear the remnants of lunch, silently urging Rin and Sousuke to wrap it up. It’s after one and that delivery will turn up soon. At the same time, Rin’s phone goes off on the coffee table. He stares over at it as Sousuke does, suddenly nervous. The only two people who text him are in this room, so...

Sousuke looks between the unmoving Rin and the phone that’s since gone dormant again. “Want me to check it for you?”

He’d protest and tell Sousuke to butt out, but his rapidly bouncing knee is a dead and traitorous giveaway. “Maybe.”

There’s not a lot to read on Sousuke’s face as he unlocks Rin’s phone (how did he know it by heart, Rin wonders belatedly) and opens the message. He scratches at an early five-o-clock shadow and hums in thought. “Good or bad news?”

“Bad.”

“So good news is, he wants to help.”

“Bad!” Rin repeats irritably.

“Bad news is, you can’t afford him.” Sousuke leans over and underhands Rin’s phone to close the rest of the distance he can’t reach, because god forbid he stand up or put effort into moving for any reason if it’s not in front of a webcam.

Rin fumbles it for a few uncertain shakes before getting a hold on it, then looks to see what Sousuke’s going on about. It’s from an unknown number, and it’s a photo with the caption: my application.

The photo reveals a gown, some sort of court or casual royal wear. It has a scarlet sweetheart bustier beaded all to fuck, in an improvised damask-esque pattern running a gradient white-gold to orange-gold from top of the top to the goddamned rigid bottom— which puts a sneer on Rin’s lip because it’s a downright nauseating level of detail— all leading into silk or something like it making up the skirts. The skirts are layered like soft petals and are evenly, expertly hand-dyed with an extra level of extra. And finally, the skirt carries over some of the beading pattern from the bustier sporadically until it fades down into a deep, dark red of the final third of the garment. Like stars going out one by one.

“It’s overworked,” Rin dismisses. “Totally inefficient use of his time for a stage outfit. It’s not practical to spend three months on one costume like he probably did for this.”

Sousuke smirks again, the same shitty one from that morning. “I knew you’d love it. I said you agreed already so we can skip the freak out where you try to talk yourself out of it.”

Rin scrolls down the convo past the picture. k, Sousuke sent. How can one person be so active in Rin’s life and yet be so totally useless?

Makoto returns to the room and doesn’t even ask, simply walks over and takes the phone out of Rin’s hand for himself. Rin swears Makoto hears anything remotely resembling gossip from literally anywhere in Japan and teleports to it with a primal need to sustain himself off it. “Wow. This is absolutely gorgeous. That Haru you were talking about did this?”

“We assume,” Sousuke says.

He hands Rin’s phone back and Rin immediately thumbs to his settings to change his lock code as Makoto continues. “You’d be stupid not to take him up on the help,” Makoto declares. “Crush notwithstanding.”

4278 now. In another two weeks he’ll need to change it again. Nosey fuckers. “Well can he come over here? We’re not done with hardly anything and a lot of it’s here.”

Makoto and Sousuke share a look that is more uncertain than it has any business being.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Rin whines. “I’m not gonna go rummaging around in your porn drawer for your gross used shit so I can bang the cashier I barely know in your bed. I don’t have anywhere else to work unless it’s at the bar and since you’re getting those tables today, all that floor space is about to be used up.”

“Calm the fuck down, weirdo,” Sousuke laughs. “We got you a gift we weren’t going to give you yet but it was ready as of yesterday and you found help sooner than I thought you would.”

Makoto takes a long stride towards the front door and plucks a key off the row of hooks where they’ve traditionally kept an eclectic collection of them. It has a temporary tag on the keyring with a #105 scrawled out in a pen that’s just about out of ink. “We rented you a storage garage for a few months. Can keep your things in one place, and it’s air conditioned with lights so you can work there too,” he explains as he offers the key. “Until you’re ready to move into the theater rental after you finish casting.”

Rin springs to his feet, overtaken with joy. They’ve known every spare cent he’s earned through his network of odd jobs has gone towards bills and supplies and saving up for his theater rental, leaving next to nothing in the budget for space or, well, food most days. They, as well as Gou, hook him up with that too. They might not have the overhead to invest heavily, but without them Rin wouldn’t be able to do this at all. He hugs Makoto probably too violently, who laughs nervously and endures, then stoops where Sousuke remains seated and kisses him soundly on the cheek. Sousuke’s all too happy for the ego boost, and squeezes Rin’s forearm in acknowledgement before half-heartedly shoving him away.

“Thank you, fuck, that’s awesome!”

Makoto smiles brightly at him. “You’re welcome, Rin.”

The elation is short-lived, however, as Makoto’s the only one with a car and Rin needs it to move his shit over. He clasps his hands in plea towards Makoto for one last request. “Help me move my stuff? Please, we can do it quick before your thing!”

Makoto looks towards the ceiling, adding times up in his head or thinking of how best to swing it. “Mmm… well Sousuke can drop me off so I can get the delivery just in case it shows up early, then help you move your things, then come back to help me. Is that fine, Sousuke?”

Sousuke stands and stretches out his back and arms. “You know you don’t gotta ask.”

“You are just so effortlessly lovable,” Makoto praises, as the only person on this planet who can utter such a phrase about Sousuke Yamazaki and do so typically bereft of sarcasm.

“Call it an investment in Rin’s social life,” Sousuke jabs. “We’re here to help him dazzle the suitors with his very own storage unit.”

And hey, it’s better than his best friends’ house.


 

They’re off to a questionable start after a day and a half of agonized planning (does no one return texts in a timely manner other than Rin?) when Haru shows up six minutes later than their four in the afternoon start time sporting a ratty faded shirt with FUCK THIS, FUCK YOU in equally faded block letter screenprint with a pair of basketball shorts and beat up Chucks. At least his outfit is covered in paint stains, indicating he has at some point worked in his life, contrary to Rin’s suspicions. It’s a stark and gothy contrast to the coordinated, sparkly lavender monstrosity from the other day. Rin finds Haru looks as frustratingly attractive either way. Must be in the face; symmetrical features, a lunar softness to Rin’s solar edges, and all that placid mysteriousness.

“The hell sort of shirt is that?”

Haru shrugs and offers no origins story. He does offer a backpack to the ground once he steps through the side door of the studio— Rin’s officially declaring it a studio for a bit of professional pizzazz now that he has it set up— and casts an analytical look around the space.

Rin’s set the wooden stall props up against the wall. One’s finished, one’s built but not painted, the third is just a stenciled piece of plywood needing to be cut. All of the bolts of cloth he’s lifted from dubious sources over the years take up a corner. A chest of drawers with all of his art supplies sits in another. A box of thrifted items he plans to repurpose at some point is overflowing and stacked high nearby.

In the middle, he’s been working on a Verona street backdrop to complement the vendor stalls. The muslin cloth has proven a nightmare to get paint onto evenly. He also doesn’t have the resources to get it properly bolted or grommeted, nor the space to keep it out on the floor of the studio if he wants to work on other things while layers dry. As such, he can only fold it back section by section, and his progress on it has been slow.

“This is a mess,” Haru decides. “What are you working on? Everything?

Rin bites his tongue, for now. He knows it’s cluttered, especially to someone who doesn’t know how he operates. “Market drop, vendor stalls. Got the bolts out just in case for details.”

“Do you have a workflow? Checklist? Let me look at it.”

It’s a composition book full of chicken scratch and scribbled penises courtesy of the ever-juvenile Sousuke in the top drawer of the supply chest with contents only Rin can truly decipher. Haru presenting brass tacks all of a sudden has him feeling backed against a wall. “Why?”

“Because you wanted help, and I’m offering it.”

“I don’t need help with my process,” Rin argues. “I need help with shit like painting.”

“Right. I don’t know what the goals are until I see them, though.”

Rin searches Haru’s face for any indication of ulterior motives. This is Rin’s production. In all honesty, he’s selfish about keeping it that way. But Haru doesn’t notice his scrutiny, gaze focused on taking in either what all Rin’s finished or maybe what all he hasn’t. There’s interest in his attention, maybe it’s a passion he keeps quieter than Rin can hear. In any case while he’s stoically businesslike, it’s not for sights set any higher than the props before him.

“Fine,” Rin mutters. He retrieves the book for Haru, flips to his prop list, and hands it over hesitantly.

Haru squints over the first page, then the next, and the one after. His eyebrows knit closer on each turn until he abruptly snaps the book shut somewhere around page eight and hands it back pinched between his thumb and forefinger like he’s pawning off something dirty. “This is a mess,” he repeats.

Rin takes it and quickly shoves it back in the drawer. “What are you talking about? It’s very detailed. Exactly what I want.”

“Too detailed. I’m not using it. You had eight apples specifically listed as a prop.”

“Needs to be enough shit in the background to look like a healthy, colorfully alive Italian street, but not too much to be distracting from the scenes. I’m not making it up. I have a vision.”

“It’s a convoluted and restrictive vision with no compromise.”

“Well it’s how I want it to look!”

Haru sighs a lungful of air, already impatient, which gets on Rin’s nerves further. “Okay. You have to trust me. If you’re going to micromanage my work then you won’t save yourself any time and you may as well do it yourself like you were before.”

Apparently Haru is comfortable enough to walk in and start making demands within the first five minutes. It’s an audacity Rin hasn’t encountered before, even from Sousuke. There’s an inherent right to a person’s domain that shouldn’t be disrespected and it seems Haru has never entertained this concept before.

Rin can feel the scowl overtaking his face and can do nothing to keep it away. This is always the goddamn dealbreaker with anyone Rin has an interest in. They can’t handle him or his ambition and try to change shit about him right away. “What do you even know about it? You don’t understand the play like I do; you just want to finger paint.”

It’s just enough to visibly worm its way under Haru’s skin, flare out his nostrils, and lock them both in a spiralling death glare with each other. Rin’s not going to baby anyone. If Haru doesn’t like it, he can leave.

But Haru takes a step forward and stands up straight, keeping his indignation trained on Rin as he speaks:

“Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears.
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.”

Immaculate.

Perfect.

Intonated and articulated as if the ghost of the Bard himself speaks through him. Accent? What accent? English, meticulous, and thorough. Rin forgets where he is and forgets how to speak, knowing nothing he says is worthy in the wake of it other than Benvolio’s subsequent plea, and Romeo isn’t finished yet.

“Farewell, my coz,” Haru ends with more personal snip than iambic snap, and throws Rin the bird as he walks by. It’s the most beautiful fuck off Rin’s ever been given. Pulled together with Haru’s t-shirt it presents a stunning, living tableau entitled: “Sit the Fuck Down, Rin Matsuoka, You Don’t Know Shit.”

“Soft!” Rin stumbles after him, his stage voice thunders to life. Now Haru’s the one who can’t get away, not without a fight. “I will go along.”

Haru stops with his back to him, step straining to press on against an invisible force keeping him securely in the studio.

“And if you leave me so, you do me wrong.”

A blue peek of interest over a raised shoulder is Rin’s very salvation. Haru looked back.

Rin’s then stricken with a vision of the future. First thing’s first: they make out on top of the muslin. It’s full of passion and absolutely needs to be their first romantic memory or what’s the point. Then they reluctantly part to put their newfound inspiration to work, and paint the stalls together. They guide hands on hands, like Patrick and Demi at the throwing wheel but they’re both alive. Their props are perfectly blended masterpieces of each other’s personalities.

The play is a hit. It catapults them to local fame. Their subsequent productions take them all over Japan. They give couples interviews in matching suits. There’s a New York style penthouse purchased in here somewhere— no. They go to New York. They’re on Broadway. Finally after months of deafening demand, the Matsuoka-Nanase Production Company has made it across the ocean to uproarious reception, tongue-in-cheek clickbait review, and sold out crowds that fist fight each other for access and love the production enough to put their phones on silent. Their original co-written screenplay, a heartwarming story of a love between opposites against all the odds, outsells America’s musicals about dead racists.

Rin gasps. No. Scratch all that. Haru can be Romeo. First thing’s first: they make out on top of the—

“Rin?”

He’s chewing on his lip, and he only feels it because Haru turned back around during Rin’s daydreaming and is currently staring at it.

“That was weirdly hot,” he says. “You wanna admit it now or some time in the next twenty minutes when we try to pretend it wasn’t?”

Haru looks past Rin to the rest of the studio and clears his throat. “Do you want my help or not?”

“Yes. Be my Romeo.”

“I told you I don’t act.”

“The hell you can’t.”

Haru shrugs to dismiss it. It’s sort of infuriating how little his god-given gift registers. “I know I can. But it’s not what I do.”

“I know talent. I know acting. I know this craft better than myself and I’m fucking good at it but you- where did you train?”

He’s restlessly tapping his foot now. “I didn’t. I studied art and volunteered with the theater department. I helped the actors practice lines since I was there a lot and I memorized a bit over the years. So I know the classics very well.”

“Then you’re a natural, like the most natural I’ve ever met.”

“Rin.”

“You were born to—”

“Not act.”

Haru’s firm. There is no room for argument here, and Rin’s the type that can typically shoulder his way in for the last word no matter how small the opening left him. He’s flustered by it. Most people like hearing they’re incredible at something, or at the least they’ll humor it. It’ll take time to get that conversation going in earnest. Some deeper trust building. Rapport. And worst of all, Rin’s worst nightmare: patience.

So tit for tat, as it’s said. This calls for investment and risk taking. If he trusts Haru now, then maybe down the line, he can bring it up again. Out the gate, Rin’s overbearing by default, but he’s also nothing if not tenacious in the long run. He’s more than warmed to the idea of keeping Haru around now even if the whole prop thing doesn’t pan out solely for that reason.

“Dropping it,” Rin assures, hands up to disarm any tension. “... For now.”

Haru sighs, but it’s unlike the others he’s suffered for Rin. It’s beaten in and weathered like he’s already been dealing with Rin for half his life. Good. That’s just the lasting impression Rin strives to leave on the world. Haru’s not running for the door again either. Rin’s onto something.

“So how about five apples, as a compromise?”

There’s a twitch of a smile in agreement just prominent enough to acknowledge their shift towards jest. “How about as many as I feel fits the composition?”

“At least three.”

Haru runs some analysis of his own over Rin; is this back and forth worth the trouble? They both know inherently it isn’t the end of it. They’re arguing over fake apples, for fuck’s sake. Argue about that, argue about anything. For a moment, Haru isn’t sure, but eventually he’s convinced of something. Rin hasn’t stopped to ask himself what all Haru gets out of this arrangement other than a headache, and forgets it all to his excitement anyway when Haru agrees next.

“Fine.”

Rin resists the urge to pump a celebratory fist. As far as wins go, losing over fifty percent of his apples is some medieval measure of losing. But he is accomplished just the same.

“It’s settled. Let’s get some shit done.”

Despite the truce, Haru moves to leave again anyway. “Changed my mind. First, we’re going out for a bit.” 


 

Rin can no longer let this go on without comment.

“I have to say it.”

“No, you don’t,” Haru replies. “Whatever it is, you don’t have to say it. You can just be quiet, even.”

“Have to. This is a good way to get arrested.”

“Being in a park?”

“Watching kids.”

“Observing teenagers.”

Rin tears his eyes away from the group of five of the little sociopaths all congregated and scheming around a park table in the now hazy late afternoon. “How is that better?”

Haru doesn’t answer him. He picks his phone off the bench and takes his time to center, zoom, and focus a photo of the group from their distance that is not far enough away in Rin’s opinion.

“Haru! You can’t do that!”

He takes three from varying phone angles to add to the dozens he’s already taken while they’ve been out. Streets, buildings, plants, store aisles, people at random, vehicles, pigeons. Tons. “Stop squawking in my ear. It’s to capture atmosphere.”

“Why kids?!”

“Teenagers. Like Romeo and Juliet.”

Rin’s learned two things from hanging out with Haru one on one in such a preciously short amount of time. First, every answer he gives is actually ten additional quagmires stacked in a trench coat. Second, he operates on the assumption that Rin either picks up what he‘s laying down if he answers at all or he doesn’t give a shit if the answer makes sense to begin with so long as he made the attempt. This answer is suspiciously fitting the latter explanation.

“So… are you just unsure what a teenager looks like? Because,” Rin nods to Haru’s shirt, “I think you have a decent grasp on that fashion strata.”

“It’s about…” Haru looks up from his phone to the mid distance in focused thought. “Expanding the stage beyond its physical boundaries.”

“Nope,” Rin sighs. “Try again. That made no sense.”

Haru shrugs. “Then forget it.”

“Just tell me! I really want to know why we’re creeping on strangers. Whatever the reason it can’t be weirder than two anonymous adults intently watching five kids in a park before dusk.”

“Teenagers.”

Laughter carries over from the group of students. They fix to part ways for the evening, all tactile and boisterous in their departures as kids are. Once dispersed and the area falls quiet, Haru inches over on the bench to a phone screen sharing distance, which is close enough for Rin to jut his leg out at the last moment and set them thigh to thigh solely because he thinks he can get away with it. He doesn’t have a name for this move. It’s only him and his big, dumb crush making split second decisions without his consent.

There’s an image Haru must’ve pulled from the internet of some rustic European city on a river. “Verona, I guess, given the context.”

“Yes,” Haru confirms. “You guess. But you don’t know, right?”

“Not technically, I’ve never been.”

“Exactly.” There’s an electric excitement to the statement that catches Rin’s attention, like he just walked into a dark room and turned the light on by admitting he can’t know for sure. Haru thumbs to his growing gallery of stalker photos. “You want Verona, but you don’t know what Verona is. Neither does the audience. Especially not Verona in 1600. So, what’s the point of making it look foreign? It’s just sacrificing your audience’s immersion for authenticity’s sake.”

“But it needs to be Italy.”

“Mmm,” Haru disagrees. “It needs to be a familiar Italy. There’s a difference. So…” He begins swiping through the photos slowly as he speaks. “We find colors, and lighting, and composition in the most familiar place first. Here. Home. And we take those elements, and that’s what we use and blend to build a foreign place. So there’s… you know. A connection. Your audience subconsciously connects. It eases you into a new place, it’s not so different that you’re distracted trying to figure out where the scene is… you already know it, somehow. It’s familiar in a way you shouldn’t be able to name but can, well, feel. That way, there’s emotional buy in. You care more about what’s going on up stage.”

Rin gawks between the photos and Haru until they’ve gone through them all. An Iwatobi-Verona. He’d never considered trying to engage an audience quite like that. “Does it really make a difference?”

“I think so. I guess I can’t be sure though. How would you really measure it? I know it makes my work come more naturally to me, since I’m not making something only from reference, I’m making it from experience.”

Rin sits back on the bench and contemplates the sunset glittering through the trees. Like traveling with keepsakes from home can ease homesickness, maybe that’s what Haru’s getting at. The focus can be more on the characters and the story this way. The stage build is always about subconsciously setting the mood, but this is something evolved beyond that. “... Huh. Shit. You’re real fuckin’ smart.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“Where’d you figure that out? Never heard it in my life and this is all I’ve ever done.”

Haru shrugs. “My own tricks over the years. I like what I know. Most people do. New ideas are easier to take in if it’s not all new.”

“Sousuke was right,” Rin marvels. “Wow, that’s like... unheard of. He is never right.”

“Your amateur camboy friend? What did he say?”

Rin turns to him, and the inquisitive tilt to his head is almost too much for how close he’s still sitting. “That you were hiding raw genius underneath your juniors’ department sweaters. And, yeah, Sousuke— is he seriously that popular?”

“Not a lot of guys do it. He’s pretty good, too. It gives him a natural foothold.”

Rin is still basking in a mood of peaceful enlightenment and nodding along with this new angle of information before all ten tons of its implication can catch up with him. “Wait. He’s taken. Like, super taken, at stage ‘they only own one dining set and it all matches’-taken. Don’t get any ideas.”

“I didn’t,” Haru denies.

“And you can’t watch him if you know him and work with me because then you’ll meet Makoto too and that’s... Well, you can still watch but it’s just weird, man. It’s too weird. Don’t tell me if you are.”

Haru snorts. “Relax, I haven’t watched since I saw him with you the first time.”

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t relieved. “This is such a normal conversation between new colleagues.”

Haru chooses then to deliberately press his leg firmer into Rin’s. “Colleagues now.”

Rin hesitates a beat, then presses back. Why the fuck not? The guy has it all. It’s just as annoying as it is titillating. Rin’s not supposed to have time for this so-called personal life everyone raves about, but ever since Haru looked at him like he was the scummiest sewer rat to ever grace his craft store, Rin’s been slowly working through how that hypothetical concept could work for him. And damned if he wasn’t expecting— what does Sousuke call it again? Consolidation, so to speak. A true partner in every sense is what he wanted, he just didn’t expect anyone to clear a bar that high.

“Yeah, you should stick around. Can’t pay you shit, though. I don’t even pay myself. Sou also said I can’t afford you.”

“You can’t,” Haru teases, spurring Rin to elbow him lightly. “But I didn’t show up for money… I just thought it might be fun.”

Rin turns a blinding grin on him. For all Rin’s invasive romantic daydreaming today, he’s more ready to grab Haru by the arm and break into a dead sprint for the studio and get to work. What else is more attractive and alluring than working hard for a passion with someone who shares it? Nothing comes close to that feeling.

Sensing Rin’s spike in zealotry, Haru leans away. Rin chases his lean just enough to be too much and force a reaction. “It can be. You gotta keep up with me, though.”

Haru tilts his chin up, eyes rising to the challenge in Rin’s. “Be worth my time, and I will.”

Rin never wants to get used to this shiver.


 

There is such thing as a work hangover, and Rin is a lifelong bedfellow with the affliction. Today is an exceptional case; he wasn’t able to drag himself over to the bar until an uncharacteristically late three in the afternoon when the opening was at five, and found it difficult to help decorate for the opening event without a lot of whining. Makoto decided not to go with a loud and flashy event; Gou insists the best and most likely to return will be the lowkey sort, and they shouldn’t scare them off out the gate.

It’s only just beginning to get busy. Rin christened the place and bought a shot of tequila right at five to be Makoto and Gou’s first transaction lest the honor go to some unfavorable fuck like Sousuke.

He did not tip; Gou is still glaring at him periodically.

As the ebb and flow of the crowd permits, Makoto, Sousuke, and Gou loom over his phone as he shares photos of his and Haru’s otherworldly success. They worked well past midnight, next to wordlessly, and yet with an intensity thick enough to choke. No glamour, no starlit eyes of wonderment, no Patrick or Demi. Just elbow grease and a newfound joint-vision that needed to be brought into existence then and there before it escaped them. Exhaustion forced them to a stopping point, a quick goodbye and a promise of tomorrow carried them home. He’s confident to say they have the best vendor stalls and market backdrop for a Romeo and Juliet production in all of Japan. As promised, there are even three apples. His dream finally has shape he can touch.

“But you didn’t get laid,” Sousuke points out. Gou giggles.

Rin yanks his phone back. “This was bigger than that, idiot. Like, I got laid cerebrally, which you wouldn’t get because for that you need a brain.”

“Good one. How will I ever go on knowing I can’t brain-nut.”

Rin catches Makoto’s gaze, lays his hands over Makoto’s where they’re folded on the bartop, and says with all of his gravitas: “Listen to me, Makoto. I hate him.”

Laughing, Makoto frees one hand and sandwiches Rin’s between his reassuringly. “I know. We’re stuck with him.”

While that goes on, Sousuke stumbles over a dramatic step when Gou hip checks him back and out of the immediate area. “Sousuke that’s disgusting.”

“It looks incredible, Rin,” Makoto diffuses and fills in for Sousuke’s off-color remarks. “You’ll have to show us in-person soon.”

Sousuke retakes his place between Rin and Gou and nods his genuinely vehement agreement. Earnest Sousuke is back from whatever hell pit he fell into. “Seriously, it’s some of your best work. This is way better than I could ever do for you.”

“I know that. You’ve been soundly replaced.”

“Thank fuck.”

Visibly at peace with one less thing to worry about, Makoto smiles between them all. “That’s more my line at this stage.”

Gou taps the bar top to get everyone’s attention. “But Rin, are you okay with never living it down that Sousuke set you up with him? Because I still don’t get to live down a one-touch can opener he talked me into upgrading to three fucking years ago.”

“A pragmatist’s wet dream,” Sousuke confirms.

“Shit.” Rin thinks on it. It will truly haunt him, likely beyond the grave. Around every corner. At every social function. On every play set. Forever, whether Haru is around for that long or not. “One year statute of limitation?”

Sousuke’s cracked whip of a laugh is equal parts jolly and threatening. “Not a goddamned chance.”

“All right,” Rin sighs. “Well he’s that good, Gou.”

She nods her acceptance and wanders away to quickly bus a high top table as two guys leave after their few rounds.

From his stand at the end of the bar, Rin turns out to give the place a look-over now that there’s a few patrons, the lights are low, and the music is on. All the installation and remodel looks great. Modern, new, sleek. Dark woods and convincing knock-off stone. They did a good job fixing the bar up on a budget, and Rin knows Makoto is proud of it by the smiles he hasn’t kept off his face lately. The dopey eyes Sousuke keeps on Makoto when he does are way, way worse than usual. A well-timed thought, as a sidelong glance proves another round of that has started.

He’s happy for them. “The Tonic Shark is finally real.”

Makoto’s mouth bunches to one side. “You know it really doesn’t have the ring to it I thought would sink in by now. I just think of dead sharks, not drunk sharks. And a drunk shark is a dead shark. It’s dead sharks all around.”

“Sort of morbid,” Rin agrees. “Maybe somethin’ better will pop up down the line.”

Gou hurries by to dump the beer glasses into the sink and reappears, a heavier urgency on her step the busier it gets. “So where’s Haru anyway? Please please please tell me you invited him.”

Rin turns to his pleading sister, already mentally kicking himself. “No. Fuck.”

“Rin,” Makoto pouts. “We want to meet him.”

Suddenly thick with smug, as he has clearly been waiting for the chance to be, Sousuke leans an elbow on the bar to set his chin on the heel of his palm and raises one eyebrow. It looks a lot like a slink-and-hitch, Rin notices. Thieving bastard. Salt to wound, Makoto’s eyes widen just enough and trace every curve of him. And they made fun of him. Rin makes plans to disown them both. “Sure, I’ll be that guy again. Stopped by his store on the way over this morning ‘cuz I saw him dozing at his register. Dropped the info. Should be here.”

Rin glowers at him. “I don’t care for how indebted you’re making me feel lately.”

“You do not know the half of the home improvement projects I have lined up for us now that this bar is open,” Sousuke grins with help from his real BFF, the devil. “Hope you like tiling.”

A loud, already half-drunk sizeable group enters just then, pulling Makoto and Gou away in their dedicated efforts to please and make good first impressions. Sousuke rounds the bar and pulls two amber beer bottles from the fridge, then diligently tucks a yen bill off to the side to pay for it later.

He hands Rin one of them after he pops the cap, and they silently clink a cheer at the necks.

“Thanks Sou.”

“Anytime.”

More silence settles in, the uncomfortable sort that makes booze taste flat. Rin knows what comes next already. It always circles back when there’s a bottle in hand to confess into.

“I’m sorry I can’t be on stage with you anymore.”

Nearly two years since he quit and he still can’t shake the guilt Rin tripped him on for doing so. “Don’t be. It’s in the past. You don’t have to be sorry all the time still. I was the sorry one for making you feel shitty about it for so long.”

“All right,” Sousuke settles customarily, shelving it until they need to say it out loud again in the future.

Rin sips and smirks as a thought finds him. “You’re still my first choice for Mercutio. Holding it in your honor until the end.”

Sousuke smiles fondly and in approval of Rin’s choice. “A pun man after my own heart.”

“I miss sharing the stage with you,” Rin confesses. “But not enough to be worth your happiness now. So don’t worry about it.”

“I won’t, then.”

“‘Sides, Haru’s got serious chops. Just gotta convince him to do it.”

“Be careful,” Sousuke warns.

“Hey, I do learn lessons sometimes.”

“Sometimes.”

Now their shared silence is easy, and the beer is cold and refreshing.

In the intervening moments, the bar seems to have picked up ten additional patrons. It’s bustling now, pushing Rin and Sousuke closer to the end and off the stools to be out of the way. Rin throws his head on a swivel looking for Makoto and Gou as they effortlessly navigate the crowds and run the bar with muscle memory and years of familiarity from the previous ownership. Gou sticks to tables, Makoto plays the bar.

It’s all so distracting, he doesn’t see Haru until he’s well settled in and on the last stool on the bar next to him, pointing to something in the fridge for Sousuke to retrieve for him. He startles on his doubletake. Today, Haru’s in a painful blue paisley jacket, absolutely hideous, and he’s still a sight for tired eyes. It’s a good look for him, sitting at their bar that is. He fits and adds the finishing touch Rin thinks the night needed.

“Oh, shit. Haru. Hi.”

Haru yawns. “Worked late.” He winces belatedly. “Loud in here.”

“I have a headache too,” Rin deciphers.

He hums. Sousuke slides him a lager then motions to Rin with a beckoning hand. “Pay up, Rin.”

“Yeah yeah,” Rin groans.

Haru drops a few yen down from his pocket before Rin can get to his wallet. Rin doesn’t want to jump the gun and assume he’ll stay off Instagram given that motion, but he’s definitely jumping the gun and assuming he’ll stay off Instagram. “It’s fine.”

Sousuke cashes him out. “I’m gonna grab Mako and Gou to say hi before we lose ‘em for good.”

He leaves, and Haru follows him with an inquisitive gaze.

“They want to meet you,” Rin mumbles, only now realizing how embarrassing it sounds. “I sort of got excited.”

Haru turns back to him and blinks quickly in surprise to hear of it, a thoughtful draw on his mouth.

Rin slouches onto an elbow to get to Haru’s level so he isn’t towering over him as he stands. With Haru turned on the last stool and Rin standing at the end of the bar, it places them close. Haru looks him over with some degree of captivation and wonderment Rin isn’t sure what to do with but can’t ignore. “... My friend and sister? They own the place.”

As if on cue, Makoto and Gou hurry to them. Sousuke covers the bar, or at least agreed to watch it while they greet their hopefully permanent newcomer.

“Haru!” Makoto calls hurriedly. “Thank you for coming!”

“I’m Gou,” Gou cuts in. “It’s nice to meet you!”

“Right, I’m Makoto,” Makoto corrects. “I hope you enjoy it, and you did great work with Rin!”

“Really something! You’re so talented!”

Haru sits patiently until they’re done jamming ten minutes of introductory conversation into thirty seconds, then offers a friendly smile. Rin chooses to watch on and see how Haru prefers to get acquainted. He can tell Makoto and Gou have already absorbed him into their collective consciousness like the weird sunshine amoebas they are. Rin knows them well enough to read they think he fits here, too.

“It’s Haru. And the place looks nice.”

“Really?” Makoto beams. “Thanks so much! I’m still unsure about the name…”

“Makoto,” Gou groans. “Worry about it later. Stop obsessing, no one is thinking about dead sharks but you.”

“I am,” Haru says. Rin coughs and nearly sputters over a swallow of his drink.

Makoto gestures out with both hands towards Haru. “See! I told you. It’s horrible.”

They begin to bicker about it. Rin notices Sousuke’s frazzled glance pleading for relief as his already preciously low energy for managing a raucous crowd begins to peter out.

“It’s Iwatobi,” Haru raises over them, giving their argument a full pause. “Why not something like The Wayward Penguin or better, The Rockhopper?”

Makoto and Gou exchange a stony, stalwart glance. Rin hides a laugh; that’s the one that’s eluded them.

“Well shit,” Makoto states. “Shit!”

“Sousuke!” Gou calls as she turns on her heel and stalks off. “We need paperwork right now!”

Makoto looks to Sousuke as well, and Rin sees his friend has finally communicated the silent distress signal successfully. “Ah! I need to save him, I like him alive.” He begins to peel away too, but turns back. “Oh, come back soon Haru! I hope I see a lot of you. You’re very welcome with us any time. I’m sorry I’m too busy tonight for a proper conversation.”

Haru waves him off without consequence. He doesn’t even look a little bit tossed in the wind for having weathered a Gou-Koto Panic Hurricane. No doubt about it that he’ll fit in just fine.

“They all like you a lot,” Rin is prideful to say.

Haru rotates back to face Rin again. “I’m glad.”

“I’m sticking around for a bit but, we can split a little later if you wanna.” Then, feeling daring, he inches his hand forward and brushes the back of it to Haru’s resting forearm, down the sleeve of his jacket until their knuckles touch.

His answer is brief, but purposeful. Haru draws Rin in by insistent and chilled fingertips behind his ear, hesitates a fraction of a second once it’s already too late, and kisses him soundly, fully round. Long enough for Rin to close his eyes and flood with warmth, short enough that it doesn’t last one full inhale to savor.

“Forgot to do that yesterday,” Haru states and shrugs, dropping back. He cracks his beer can open as an afterthought and takes a moderate drink.

Rin’s not as shell shocked as his inner-self is screaming at him to be. If Haru wasn’t going to do it, Rin certainly was. “That was half-assed. I thought you could keep up?”

Haru smirks, can’t hold it for long, and huffs amusement over the hollowed top of his can instead. “Don’t think we’re not working again tonight. I’ll full-ass it later.”

Rin considers the muslin; it’s close enough to dry by now. “I know the perfect place to get started.”

“... And then I’m taking out one of those apples.”

“Over my goddamned dead body, Nanase.”