5 Chapter 3

These past two days, Yokozawa and the other sales reps had been working harder than draft horses. Of course, they were always diligent and serious in their jobs, but this was the first time they’d ever experienced such a bloodthirsty atmosphere.

However, thanks to their hard work, they seemed to have finally spotted the finish line to overcoming the problem staring them in the face, and Yokozawa felt comfortable admitting that they’d made it out of the danger zone. With the word having finally come down from their superiors, all that was left was to see everything through safely to its end.

Tomorrow he’d be out and about on his feet all day making calls, but with the prospect of finally resolving everything bearing down upon him, he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Granted, the reason they’d been able to resolve the situation had been due in no small part to the cooperation of a great many people, and he’d have to pay them back with his hard work in the future.

While there were still a few small, irritating matters that required his attention, he’d likely be able to take care of everything provided he attended to them as they came, and although there was still some underlying resentment to the lovely parting gift the employee had left them all, he was mostly just glad that the guy had left the sales department for good. If his work ethic had continued unnoticed, things could have been a hell of a lot worse.

More to the point, everyone coming together as they had to solve this problem had greatly improved the camaraderie among the group, he felt. They all had their individual talents, to be sure, but Yokozawa was glad to have experienced for himself how working together like this just improved the group’s overall potential even further.

Still, he hoped to never soon repeat something like this. On the heels of this issue, a new rule was being instated requiring all members of the department to be sure to report the status of the projects in which they were involved. It had become achingly apparent that attempting to take on too much by oneself resulted in serious errors, and none had voiced any opposition to the new measure.

“We’re currently holding a sales campaign on our newest product! Please try out this free sample!”

Shoved along with the crowd as he exited the station, a young woman pressed something into Yokozawa’s hand.

“What’s the point of giving me something like this…?” It seemed to be some sort of deodorant towelette for mopping away sweat, but the pink packaging and “peach mint scent” made it clear that this product was marketed toward women. Deciding he’d have to just foist it on Hiyori later, he slipped the sample into his pocket and weaved his way through the crowd toward his destination.

With the sun setting, it was thankfully a bit cooler now, but the breeze snaking around his body was still faintly warm. He sighed to himself, lamenting that the sweltering nights would surely be cooler if they could get a shower or two to come along.

He trod along a path he knew all too well, headed for Books Marimo—but not for work, today, instead hoping to find a cookbook that might help him plan the menu for Hiyori’s birthday party.

Figuring the store would have a wide range of books to choose from, he hadn’t given his trip much forethought, but it probably hadn’t been the best idea to visit a store packed to the gills with people who were bound to recognize him. How on earth was he supposed to explain himself if someone spotted him scouring the cooking section?

While he was considering that maybe it would be best to just give up and try for another shop, though, he arrived at the stop before he realized it. “…Maybe I’m over thinking things…”

Just because there were a lot of people he knew working there, it didn’t mean they were bound to notice him. Plus, at so large a bookstore as Books Marimo, there were probably more employees who wouldn’t recognize him. Convincing himself thusly, he girded his loins to enter the shop—when his phone began buzzing in his pocket with a call from Kirishima. He’d mentioned earlier that the’d be out of the office on a meeting and had left some time that morning.

“Yes, this is Yokozawa.”

“It’s me. Can you talk right now?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. What’s wrong?” Kirishima tended to opt for a direct phone call rather than a simple text when he wanted a favor. Stepping off to the side so as not to get in the way of other customers entering and leaving the shop, Yokozawa turned his attention to their conversation.

“Seems like work’s gonna take a little long this evening, so I don’t think I’ll make it home in time for dinner. Sorry about it—but would you mind going ahead and eating with Hiyo?”

“Weren’t you supposed to go straight home after you finished up your business with an author? Did something happen?” If Yokozawa recalled correctly, Kirishima was supposed to be meeting with Ijuuin today. Maybe things hadn’t gone the way he’d suspected they would with the author.

“Oh—no, it’s nothing like that really. Just—I had some other work to take care of after it that’s taking longer than I expected. I’ll be sure to bring Hiyo a treat home with me, so apologize to her for me?”

“All right—then, give me a call when you get to the station. I’ll have dinner waiting for you then.”

“Sorry for the trouble—I’ll see you later.” Seemingly relieved at Yokozawa’s reply, a flustered Kirishima quickly cut the call short. In the Japun offices, there were always plans floating around for anime or drama adaptations of series. When one rose up the ladder to the position of editor in chief, one’s work became less about managing authors and running around picking up manuscripts and more about sitting in on meetings and discussions, work as the representative for the editing department only increasing.

Yet Kirishima managed to complete all of his own work as well as guiding his subordinates, all the while never neglecting his role as a father. When did the guy manage to find the time to take a breather?

Firing off an e-mail to Hiyori to let her know when he’d be home, Yokozawa stepped into the bookstore, nearly boarding the down escalator out of habit. “Oops—my apologies,” he muttered as he hastily turned around and weaved his way through the people waiting behind him. Tamping down his embarrassment, he glanced over to review the map hanging on the wall. Taking the escalator up the second floor, where the cookbooks were organized, he headed for the shelves he was concerned with.

“So, guess this is it…” As expected, Books Marimo offered quite the impressive lineup of products, with more books than he could possibly count lined up on the shelves. From specialty texts aimed at professionals to introductory texts full of pictures aimed at beginners, it was impossible to determine where to even start. Yokozawa took one long sweep of the shelves, scanning for anything that popped out, before his gaze drew to a stop on a magazine aimed at housewives. It seemed to be the previous month’s issue—and boasted a collection of recipes for children’s parties on the cover.

Taking the magazine in hand, he flipped through to scan the contents, relieved to find that the recipes included within didn’t seem all that complicated. Given the range of dishes and the visual impact, he decided to buy the magazine, and considered that it might be best to practice a few of the dishes at his own place, out of sight of Hiyori, to avoid the possibility of screwing up on her big day.

Returning to the first floor, he scouted out a register on the far end not manned by anyone he knew and finished up his business. But just as he was about to make his way home, relieved that he’d managed to find what he needed without issue, he caught a voice calling out to him.

“Huh? Yokozawa-san?”

“O—oh, hey…Yukina.” Perhaps because he’d had his guard down, his tone came out rather suspicious-sounding, but Yokozawa’s strange demeanor didn’t seem to ping the radar of the Books Marimo part-timer in the least, and Yukina Kou greeted him without a care in the world.

“You should have mentioned something if you were here!”

“I just came for some personal business as a customer today, that’s all. I didn’t want to disturb anyone.” It was nothing more than a flimsy excuse—but he could hardly say he’d explicitly avoided the comics floor so that he wouldn’t be caught by anyone he knew.

Despite being a full-time art university student, Yukina was in charge of the shoujo manga book racks here, making excellent use of his almost maniacal knowledge of the genre. There were none in the sales department who didn’t know Yukina, as he was quite famous among the sales reps for inducing huge leaps in sales of any titles that he pushed to customers. Plus—he was the only one who could dream up such passion-filled promotional displays. While none intended to interfere with whatever his plans might be, many a sales rep fervently hoped he’d find formal employment with Marimo Books in the future.

“You done with work for the day?”

“I am; I had the morning shift, today. If you’re headed out now, would you mind if we walked to the station together, Yokozawa-san?”

“You sure you wouldn’t rather head out with one of those girls ogling you over there?” The guy had looks that made him seem as if he’d jumped out of the pages of a shoujo manga himself, garnering quite a following of ardent fans. It was commonplace to find gaggles of high-school students hanging around in front of the shop, and he wound up with a mountain of chocolates every Valentine’s Day.

“Well, I’m not on duty now—so it wouldn’t do to give them any false hopes,” he responded with a gentle smile. He seemed to not only be well-equipped on the outside but in personality as well, amicable with coworkers and obedient with his superiors. While he might be aware of how popular he was, he obviously hadn’t let it go to his head. His parents must have raised him well.

Yokozawa couldn’t remotely imagine what kind of person might found themselves hitched to a guy like this. “Well then…shall we head out?”

Eager to avoid the high-school girls following them, they rushed to cross the street before the light changed, somehow managing to slip into the crowd and heading back up the path that Yokozawa had just traveled.

“Still, it’s quite warm today! I was inside the shop all day for work, but I’m sure you sales reps must have it rough!”

“I suppose. I’ll admit that it’s tough making rounds in this weather, though; the difference in temperatures inside and outside really take their toll on you. But—truthfully, a desk job never suited me.”

It was tough regulating one’s body temperature forever darting in and out of the baking heat outside and the air-conditioning inside. While few businesses set their thermostats to freezing these days, with the advent of energy conservation measures in recent years, it still put stress on his body’s core temperature.

“Ah, you have a point. The really cool trains feel like heaven when you first board, but if you spend too long riding them, your sweat starts to chill and it’s a whole new problem. Still, once you get off, it’s like diving into hell again.”

“It never used to bother me, though; guess that’s age for ya.”

“‘That’s age for ya’—what’re you talking about? Wait—just how old are you again, Yokozawa-san?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“EH?” Yukina’s expression froze as if he’d just seen a ghost, and Yokozawa’s brows drew together in a frown—it wasn’t as if he didn’t understand the reaction, but really, there was no need to act so surprised.

“…What’s with that face?”

“Ah—no it’s just, well you remember that editor you introduced to me a while back? I was just shocked you were actually younger than him…”

“Ugh—why the hell did you have to go and compare me with him?” Yokozawa was well aware of the fact that he looked old for his age, but he never wanted to be compared with the biggest babyface in the company. It wasn’t going too far to state that how on earth that guy managed to stay looking so young and vivacious was one of the seven mysteries of Marukawa Shoten.

Perhaps thinking that he’d offended Yokozawa, Yukina frantically rushed to change the topic. “O—oh right! The publishing companies have summer break periods also, don’t they? I suppose around Obon or something?”

“Nah—we don’t have set vacation periods. Everyone has to apply in advance to take time off when they want.”

“Wow…that’s actually nice! If you aim for a period apart from most companies, you can plan a trip for a time when it won’t be as crowded!”

“Our department head’s off on a trip overseas for just that reason. Oh—wait, no…I think he’s due back today, actually.”

“That must be nice, taking a trip overseas!”

While it certainly was nice being able to take a vacation during periods other than peak season, it made it difficult to actually find the time to do so. That drawback was the whole reason he hadn’t really gotten to take a proper vacation last year, and when he’d confessed to Kirishima that this year was looking to be the same, the guy had thrown a fit.

“Well, if you can find the time, at least.”

“Can’t you take off whenever you like?”

“Sure, but…it’s not so easy when you consider your workload.” He trailed off as they entered the station proper, and the cool air flowing from a nearby department store played across his skin, mixing with the warm breeze around him.

Any time he thought about taking a vacation, his thoughts always tended to drift to the work that would be waiting for him when he came back. He fervently wished he were more adept at turning his work mode ‘on’ and ‘off’, but it was no small matter.

“You’re very hard-working, Yokozawa-san. You should stop worrying about work and just relax, at least when you’re on vacation!”

“Well, if you have any tips on how to do so—I’m all ears.”

“Haha, you have a point.” They started down the stairs, when Yukina made a sound of surprised confusion. “Hey—isn’t that…Kirishima-san over there?”

“Huh?” Turning his gaze in the direction Yukina was gesturing, he caught Kirishima’s figure, sure enough. He was standing in front of a department store guide map with a woman—a beautiful one with long hair bound up and wearing a pants suit. He couldn’t see Kirishima’s expression from this angle, but the woman had a warm, friendly smile turned his way. They traded a few words as they wandered into the underground market area of the station.

“You didn’t want to call out to him?” Yukina curiously questioned Yokozawa, who’d frozen in place, unable to react.

“Well—we shouldn’t bother him during work.”

“That was work? That woman looked quite happy speaking with him; I just assumed she was his girlfriend.”

“Huh? Why would you think that?” he bristled unthinkingly, voice edged with irritation. Yukina likely had meant nothing by the comment, and it was natural for Yukina—who knew nothing of his and Kirishima’s relationship—to assume that the pair were dating.

Despite understanding this, though, he couldn’t keep his heart calm. Yukina, to his credit, seemed oblivious to Yokozawa’s roiling emotions, and continued to himself, “I’ve only really met Kirishima-san formally that one time at the autograph event, but he seems so cool… Man, I hope I can be like him when I grow up.”

“………” Kirishima had said he was doing work, and Yokozawa didn’t doubt that was the truth. He wasn’t doubting the guy—the reason he was feeling so out of sorts…was simply because he was jealous. It was exactly as Yukina had said: they made an attractive pair.

Yokozawa often found himself wary of the gazes of those around them, but he highly doubted that anyone would look at the two of them walking together and suspect that they were lovers. And yet despite being so sure that no one would ever suspect the two of them to be dating…here he was getting jealous of some girl for just looking like Kirishima’s girlfriend.

“…Yokozawa-san?”

“Sorry—think I got a little woozy from the heat.”

“Are you all right? You might have heatstroke!”

He felt bad for making Yukina worry, but he could hardly confess he’d just made something up on the spot now. “Yeah… I think I’m gonna grab something to drink first before heading home.”

“Would you like me to get something for you?”

Yokozawa nipped the matter in the bud before Yukina could offer to stay with him until he felt better. “I’ll be fine: it’s no big deal. I’ll just get something from a vending machine on the train platform. Your train’s that way, right? I’m taking the subway.”

Despite still wearing a worried expression, Yukina obediently took out his train pass case and headed for the ticket gates. “Well then—be sure to rest up today! Take care!”

“Thanks; you take care going home as well.”

“Right! If you’ll excuse me now.”

With the effort of keeping up appearances with his hastily made-up excuse, Yokozawa’s throat had actually become really parched, and after passing through his own set of ticket gates, he passed up the line waiting to board the train and instead headed for the vending machines.

Passing his IC card over the sensor, he pressed the button for a bottle of mineral water, and with a clunk, the bottle came clattering down. Reaching down to take the bottle in hand, he gulped down the cool water.

While the chill worked to cool his flushed body by several measures, though, it couldn’t sooth the unease that had settled over his chest.


“Ugh…” For some time now, Yokozawa’s mind had been full of nothing but what he’d seen back at the station.

It was beyond narrow-minded to jump to conclusions like this just because Kirishima was walking around with some woman, Yokozawa’s conscience was quick to remind him, but he just couldn’t shake that sense of unease.

The fact that the treat Kirishima had brought home for Hiyori was an assortment of gelatin desserts from the very station department store Yokozawa had spotted him at only strengthened the flights of fancy in his mind. He’d probably bought it when Yokozawa and Yukina had seen him, and Yokozawa desperately wished there were some way to wash from his mind the image of the pair merrily shopping together.

So overcome was he with these feelings of irritation and frustration, he stepped out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette at Kirishima’s apartment for the very first time. Naturally, he’d at least made sure that Hiyori was already asleep, but he’d have to put off his goal of quitting smoking for a while yet at this rate.

“God, I’m pathetic…”

Part of the reason he was having such difficulty settling his feelings on the matter had been due to the fact that Kirishima had been so vague in speaking about his work today. He’d been upfront about the fact that things had gone well with Ijuuin but had returned nothing but ambiguous responses when pressed about the second work matter.

Yokozawa had known right away he was being lied to; after all, if it had been something Kirishima actually wasn’t at liberty to discuss, he was always quick to say so. Poker face though he may have had, Kirishima wasn’t actually very adept at hiding things. He had no problem offering faint praise with a smile on his lips, but when he was hiding something, he became absurdly suspicious in his mannerisms.

Yokozawa stuffed the cigarette butt, now short and hardly smoked at all, into his pocket ashtray and headed back into the room, breath drawing short as he wandered into the cool, air-conditioned living room. Perhaps part of the reason he hadn’t been able to organize his thoughts had been the sweltering night air draping itself around him.

Kirishima was sitting on the couch watching the business news while paging through what looked to be a literature piece. He flipped through the pages swiftly, reading at a rather quick pace.

“What are you reading?”

“Usami Akihiko’s latest piece. They got the samples in today, so I borrowed one.”

“Oh, that…” There had been talk around the office about the flighty author’s editor finally managing to catch him and holing him up in the hotel he’d cloistered himself in until he finished the manuscript. Given the way the literature sales reps’ eyes had seemed to be almost brimming with tears as they expressed their relief that the book had been finished on time, there was likely a grain of truth to the rumor.

“He really is something… It’s only the prologue, but it just pulls you right in. Just goes to show you his skill as an author to be able to suck a reader in right from the start.”

“Well I haven’t gotten to read it yet, so don’t spoil anything.”

“Yeah yeah, I know.”

Yokozawa headed for the fridge, intent on quenching his parched throat. As he filled a glass with some barley tea he’d made earlier, he caught the sound of a cellphone ringing—and it wasn’t his. But while Kirishima had to have realized that it was his own, he made no move to answer it, a fact with drew Yokozawa’s curiosity.

“Hey—your phone’s ringing. You’ve been getting a lot of calls tonight, huh…” Indeed, it had been ringing on and off for a while now, and for some reason Kirishima never made motions to check who was calling.

“It’s just a text; I’ll glance over it later.”

“If it’s just a text, then why not check it now? What if it’s one of your subordinates needing help with something urgent?”

“I make it a point not to do work at home. Plus—even if it were urgent, I couldn’t do anything about it until tomorrow.”

“I…suppose not, but…” he started—but then his own phone started to ring. “…I just got a text from Katou—asking if I know where you are. What the hell—why is he asking me?!”

Kirishima let out a laugh at Yokozawa’s irritation here. “Maybe because he’s convinced you know me better than anyone else?”

“I don’t…really know all that much…” Indeed, while he might know things like his favorite foods or birthdate, he knew far less than he didn’t—but he immediately regretted the petty tone he’d taken. He really was behaving childishly tonight—and it was all out of an immature, selfish desire to monopolize.

“Really? I think it’s more than enough knowing each other’s body temperature.”

“Wh—you, cut the dirty talk! And just respond to Katou already!” He reached out for the cell phone when Kirishima continued to refuse to answer it, and the moment his fingers brushed the screen, a familiar image popped into view.

There on the screen was a picture of Kirishima and Hiyori in high spirits along with three of a theme park’s mascots and a very sullen-looking Yokozawa. It was a picture they’d taken together on a recent outing. “…How many times do I have to tell you—stop setting pictures like this as your wallpaper!”

“C’mon, don’t act so pissy—it’s just a family portrait.”

“I sure as hell am gonna get ‘pissy’ over that!” He could hardly remain calm given that there was no telling when someone might catch sight of it.

“Don’t you think being upfront like this is better than sneaking around and making others curious?”

“People are already plenty curious! And by the way—you did delete those pictures from before, right?”

Kirishima had a nasty habit of flashing private shots of Yokozawa around for all and sundry to gawk at. When Hiyori had begged Yokozawa to buy her a ring at the theme park, Yokozawa had done so—going so far as to buy Kirishima his own as well, knowing the guy would just sulk over it later if he didn’t. After he’d somehow found himself bullied into lining up for a picture of himself and Kirishima wearing their matching rings together, the next thing he knew, the picture had made its way around the company.

“And what does ‘from before’ mean? The time when Sorata was sitting on your chest and you were grumbling in your sleep? Or the one with the matching rings?”

“The matching rings of c…wait. Wait a minute—what was that first thing?” This was the first time he’d heard about this Sorata matter, and despite knowing that it was in bad taste to fiddle with someone else’s cellphone, he quickly navigated to the data folder. Opening the folder dated around the time Hiyori had gone off on her trip, he found an image of Sorata sprawled on top of Yokozawa, who slept with a deep frown on his face.

At a loss for words, he stood trembling in place—when Kirishima snatched the cellphone back from him. “What was it—right before Hiyo came back, I suppose? I woke up around dawn to use the bathroom—and when I peeked into your room, I found Sorata sleeping on top of your stomach. It was such a great image, I couldn’t help myself.”

Yokozawa felt a wave of light dizziness wash over him, and he massaged his forehead. “…You know, you ‘can’t help yourself’ a hell of a lot.” The guy’s thoughtless actions invited suspicion, and Yokozawa shuddered with fear over potential worst-case scenarios. Kirishima liked to call Yokozawa a worry-wart, but he simply maintained they needed to be as careful as possible to ensure that the worst never happened.

“C’mon, don’t worry so much—if anyone seriously had any suspicions, those chicks certainly wouldn’t be all giddy with joy.”

“They’re another matter altogether…” Given that Marukawa Shoten had an entire BL division, there were no few employees working at the company whose preferences ran in that direction. Many a new hire had labored under the misconception that the reason so many of the women had turned their attention in their direction was because they were just that popular.

“It’s a perfectly good front—plus, it could work to our favor around the office, so all we’ve gotta do is give them a little fan service now and then.”

At length, Yokozawa gave up his argument. “Fine—but it’s your ass if things get out of hand.” There was no use arguing with someone as eloquent as Kirishima.

“I’ll be glad to spend the rest of my life taking responsibility then.”

“………” Offhand though the comment may have seemed, it was still far outside of the realm of expected responses, and as Yokozawa stood there struggling with his reaction, Kirishima turned his attention instead to his scheduler, perusing he calendar.

“Enough about that, though—we really need to decide when we’re gonna take this trip. We’re probably gonna be pretty limited in the hotels still available to us, but I’m sure things’ll work out somehow.”

“Don’t just change the subject like that! And I still haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to go!”

“Which means you’ll decide soon enough, though, right?”

“Stop drawing your own convenient conclusions. Besides—don’t you think it’s the least bit strange for me to go with you two?” He’d had similar misgivings at the theme park before, but two men and a young girl running around together definitely stood out, and not in a terribly good way. Plus—it was even further outside of ‘normal’ for the third wheel to not even be a relative.

Waitstaff at cafes and the like often asked if they were siblings, and while he had made do with idle, vague responses thus far, there was no doubt in his mind that they were suspicious of his relationship with the Kirishimas.

It wasn’t like he was doing anything wrong, so he reminded himself there was no sense in paying more attention to the gazes of those around him than necessary, but still—any time he considered what might happen if he were to cause any gossip-fueled rumors to start up about Hiyori, he couldn’t help upping his vigilance.

“You’re over thinking things; Hiyo’s been saying she wants you to come with us, so what’s it hurt? You’re liable to make things more suspicious by worrying so much over it. Be as brazen as you want here.”

“………”

“Besides, you’ll break Hiyo’s heart if you don’t come. If anyone asks, just say you’re a subordinate forced to come along to be his superior’s bellboy. Now c’mon—gimme your schedule.” Without waiting for permission, Kirishima reached over to rifle through Yokozawa’s bag, pulling out his scheduler.

“Don’t just touch shit without asking!”

“Yeah yeah~ I’m sorry.”

Given how easily he was able to snatch the scheduler back, it seemed Kirishima hadn’t been seriously intent on inspecting the contents—he probably was just enjoying getting a rise out of Yokozawa. Any time Yokozawa overreacted to his teasing, it only served to amuse the guy. It was best not to rise to the challenge in the first place.

Perhaps surmising that Yokozawa was reminding himself of this fact, Kirishima leered and suggestively added, “What, don’t tell me you’ve got some little sticker marking the last day you fucked or something?”

“Who the hell would do…!” He immediately regretted raising his voice at Kirishima’s idle banter, chiding himself for so easily letting Kirishima manipulate him in the palm of his hand.

Most everything written in his planner had to do with work, so it was hardly a problem if Kirishima saw it, but he absolutely didn’t want Kirishima to realize he’d made sure to mark his birthday so that he wouldn’t forget it next year.

“C’mon, I’m just kidding. It’s probably nothing but work stuff, right? Just open it up to August—chop-chop!”

“…Fine.” If it was just August, then there shouldn’t be any issue, and with relief on the inside, he reluctantly opened his planner to the appropriate page. Every month of his schedule had his plans clearly noted, and this month as well he had something to do almost every single day. Kirishima’s planner was in much the same state.

After placing the planners side by side and comparing the dates, Kirishima pointed to a period around the middle of the month. “You could probably take some time off around here, can’t you?”

“What—next week? Like hell I’ll be able to get everything in order by then!”

“It’s not impossible, though, if you just ask for help from those around you. You’re already doing more work than most of the others in your division, so you deserve to hit them up for a few days’ vacation.”

“………”

“If it still looks difficult, then do you think you could at least take off the Friday and Monday around that weekend? We could probably manage something then.” With this proffered compromise, it would be beyond childish to continue putting up a fight. It wouldn’t hurt to at least see if he could work something out, so long as he went in without getting his hopes up. That way Kirishima would have no choice but to give up if it still looked impossible.

“…Fine, I’ll ask my boss tomorrow.”

“Want me to put in a good word for ya?”

“Thanks but no thanks.” While it would probably come out eventually, he hoped to keep the fact that they were taking the same days off as secret for as long as possible from the rest of the company.

“Hiyo and I’ll take care of figuring out where we’re gonna go.” It was more trouble than it was worth to get on to the guy for treating this trip like it was a given they were all going to go, so Yokozawa settled for simply sighing to himself.

Maybe he was getting too worked up over every little thing. It was the same with the woman from before—if he was going to be this concerned about it, he may as well just go ahead and ask. Sure, the chances were high that Kirishima would laugh in his face, but that was pretty much an everyday occurrence by now.

“Hey—” But just as he’d worked up the nerve, hoping to casually bring up the incident, Kirishima’s cellphone once again interrupted them.

“………” When he glanced at the screen, Kirishima’s face seemed to wrinkle into a sharp scowl for a moment.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, just…”

Yokozawa had considered briefly that it was simply Kirishima losing his temper at Katou once again trying to contact him, but Kirishima would never make that kind of face with a subordinate. Thinking he might ask who it was after Kirishima had finished his conversation, the ringing ceased before Kirishima could even answer it.

“…Why didn’t you answer?”

“The number was blocked, so I wasn’t sure if I should. But seeing as they hung up right away, I guess it was a misdial? But enough about that—what were you about to ask me?”

“Huh? Oh—nothing. It wasn’t a big deal. I’m…gonna go take a shower.” He wavered when Kirishima turned the conversation back on Yokozawa—this was hardly a topic he could just pick up and try to broach again just like that. In the end, having lost the proper timing, he headed off to the bathroom like he was turning tail and running.

“…Dammit,” he hissed, cursing himself and his lack of self-respect. Sure, it was best to just stop worrying and move on from this whole thing, but the longer he let these doubts fester, the bigger they grew. He’d hoped to be able to get his thoughts together once he found himself alone, but his worries only grew more and more pronounced. Why couldn’t he get better at dealing with this kind of thing? He knew perfectly well what route to follow in his head, but his emotions and actions just wouldn’t submit to his will.

With a soft sigh, he began to strip—when a sense of unease settled over him. “Oh—crap, I forgot.” He only now remembered the sample packet he’d received at the station, still stuffed in his pocket. He’d meant to give it to Hiyori but completely forgotten. Just as he was considering passing it off to her the next day, though, a knock came on the door to the changing room.

“Mind if I ask you something before you get in the shower?”

“What now?” Perhaps because he was making such an effort at sounding cool and unruffled, his voice came out sounding particularly irritated, and while he was mostly glad it hadn’t broken at least, he probably sounded far colder than he really felt.

Kirishima stepped into the changing area and locked the door behind himself, staring long and hard at Yokozawa’s face.

“Fine, wh—what do you want, then?”

Kirishima crossed his arms and spoke. “There’s…something you want to ask me, isn’t there?” It was less a question and more of a realization.

“Not particularly. What the hell would give you that idea—”

“Man’s intuition.”

“The hell, intuition…” It was as if he was speaking with all the confidence in the world and not a single shred of evidence—and at Yokozawa’s exasperated expression, Kirishima came back at him with an air of discontent.

“You’re making fun of my intuition, aren’t you? I’ll have you know that it’s rarely led me astray.”

“Well unfortunately, this is one of those times—sorry, but I’d really like to take a shower now, so would you mind? Or if you’re going to take one first, then I’ll leave.” Relieved he seemed to have thrown Kirishima off the scent for now, he attempted to change the subject—but Kirishima wasn’t about to give up so easily, it seemed.

“Does it have anything to do with what you’ve got there in your hand?”

“Huh? Ah—oh, it’s just some sample I got shoved on me by the station. I thought I’d give it to Hiyori, but I forgot about it, that’s all.” Maybe the guy had the idea that someone had given it to Yokozawa out of affection? Kirishima did on occasion engage in these little bouts of jealousy, after all—but Yokozawa was quite certain he was much more the jealous type than Kirishima. While he went to great effort not to show it in his expression, he hated the fact that he even found himself paying more attention than was necessary to the way Kirishima interacted with other members of the Japun editing team.

“…You really don’t have anything you want to say to me, Yokozawa?”

“………”

The more Kirishima pressed him on this matter, the more difficult it became to give voice to his feelings, and much as he might have wanted to exclaim Just whose fault do you think it is that I’m worrying about shit like this in the first place, his pride stilled his hand.

His chest throbbed with shame when he immediately adopted a stance to shove him away as Kirishima stepped closer—it physically hurt to realize that it was reactions like this, this kind of attitude that worried Kirishima.

What the hell did he have to do to make it so he could properly express himself? What use was pride at times like this?

As he stood there silently, lips tightly pursed, Kirishima let out a long sigh. “…You can be so damn stubborn sometimes, you know? But what can I say—I kinda like that about you. If you ever feel up to talking about it, you know where to find me. I’ll be waiting for you.”

“……!” Yokozawa’s hand unconsciously snapped out to Kirishima as he turned his back to leave, but before he could grab him by the shoulder, he froze in place, hand instead gripping into a tight fist.

What was he intending to say just now if he stopped him? But just as he’d dropped his gaze, chiding himself for acting so impulsively, Kirishima whirled on him with, “And there’s the chink in the armor!”

So sudden was the turn that Yokozawa couldn’t react, and he reflexively glanced up—only to find his lips captured by Kirishima’s.

“—!”

In contrast to Yokozawa’s wide-eyed expression, Kirishima’s own gaze was simply cool and cocky. Yokozawa felt blood rush to his head at the sensation of his lips being devoured, and the moment their tongues brushed, a throbbing chill rocketed up his spine.

While far from used to these types of interaction, he’d at least finally stopped rejecting any throwing up resistance simply from a spinal reflex. Just as the strength was about to leave his legs entirely, he found himself supported at the hip as Kirishima brought their bodies snugly together, and his heart skipped a beat at the body heat passing through their thin summer clothes.

“Ngh…!” His tongue, held fast, felt disturbingly as if it were about to melt away—he knew it was there, but every time their tongues touched, the points of contact melded together and it felt like everything was falling apart.

The core of his mind was melting, leaving him feeling as if he were drowning in some thick, drunken sensation, but he retained the sense of self to reach up with both hands and bury his fingers in Kirishima’s hair and tear himself away bodily.

“I said—enough!”

“I was just getting started…” Struck by the glare that Kirishima turned on him, Yokozawa faltered for only a moment—and seizing the opportunity, Kirishima moved to capture his lips once more.

“You just—never learn!” At this rate, he was bound to lose all sense of self and propriety, but Kirishima continued to press in, heedless to Yokozawa’s dismay.

“C’mon… Just a little more…”

He braced his hands against Kirishima’s forehead and chin and glared from close quarters. “No. Hiyo’s here.”

Kirishima, however, was not about to be cowed by this expression and instead sniped, “She’s asleep; what’s it matter?”

“A whole hell of a lot—so no.” On this, he was firm. It wasn’t a matter of simply making sure they weren’t found out—if he gave himself an inch, he feared he’d take a mile.

Perhaps Yokozawa’s conviction in this respect reached Kirishima, for he at last relented with, “…Geez, you’re such a wet blanket. How much longer’s it gonna take before you’ll actually put your arms around me of your own accord…?”

“You just never think things through!”

If Hiyori ever found out about the two of them, he’d never be able to just saunter into this apartment again. Their situation was abnormal enough as it was; he didn’t want to increase the awkwardness any further.

“Fine… I suppose I’ll be patient; until the evening of our trip, at least. But in return—” He whipped a finger out and thrust it into Yokozawa’s face just beyond his nose, “—you’d better be prepared.”

Shaken, Yokozawa returned in a broken voice, “Pr—prepared…for what?”

“For something you can’t even imagine. Though feel free to attempt to do so to your heart’s content until then.”

“Wha…?!” And with a knowing smile and outrageous parting words, Kirishima immediately exited the changing area.

Yokozawa was certain there’d been nothing wrong with how he reacted, but…he couldn’t shake an ominous feeling. What the hell did the guy mean with something you can’t even imagine?

They neither one of them had any particular fetishes, he was quite sure—while he had a modicum of knowledge that came with being an adult, he’d never experienced any particular desire to do anything out of the ordinary.

But…maybe Kirishima was different. If he’d been holding back some ludicrous, unimaginable sexual request…

“…the hell’s the point in me wracking my brain with this kind of shit?” The only reason he’d phrased his ultimatum had been because he wanted Yokozawa to go out of his mind with imagining the worst-case scenario. The more he worried, the more he’d just be playing into Kirishima’s hand, and intent on being his plaything no further, Yokozawa forcibly cut off the train of thought.

 

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