1 Short Story (2)

Adjusting his grip on the plastic bag he held with both hands, Yokozawa Takafumi stepped off the elevator onto the 5th floor, on which were situated the shounen and seinen manga editing departments of Marukawa Shoten’s main offices.

While the lights almost never seemed to dim on this floor-that-never-sleeps, the reason there were a particularly large number of people still hanging back tonight was because this was the final day of the cycle—and from the looks of things, this was going to be yet another long night.

Yokozawa called out to Hitomi, who passed dazedly just in front of him. “Great work today; how are things looking?”

“Huh? Yokozawa-san? Didn’t you just head home earlier?” The workpace being perhaps the cause of his vacant expression, Hitomi seemed more shocked than expected at Yokozawa’s sudden reappearance, appearing as if he’d just been jolted awake.

“I brought some snacks.”

“Seriously?! Thank you so much! I was just thinking that I was crazy hungry!” Hitomi peered into the plastic bag curiously, his expression seeming to positively dance with glee. Yokozawa had bought gyuudon—the late hour had meant that a chain restaurant had been the only place close by that could prepare an order for a large number of people decently quickly. “Kirishima-san! Yokozawa-san brought us all some dinner, so how about taking a short break?”

Kirishima Zen, Editor-in-Chief of Japun, had been staring grim-faced down at his desk as he worked—and he new glanced up at Hitomi’s comment. Catching sight of Yokozawa here, he hazarded, “What’re you doing here, Yokozawa? Didn’t you already head home?”

Yokozawa felt a swell of irritation when Kirishima asked him the same thing Hitomi had, as if he didn’t know fully well the reason Yokozawa was here now. “You… Who the hell was it who called me up after I’d already gone through the ticket gates at the station whining that he was hungry?!”

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been annoyed at what had seemed like a prank call initially, but he’d wound up coming back here regardless, dinner in hand, because he’d felt pity for the guy not having anything to eat this evening.

“Oh, that… I was just venting because I was hungry, that’s all.”

Yokozawa snapped at the casual manner with which Kirishima delivered his response, and he immediately regretted feeling the remotest bit of sympathy for the guy. “Know what? You get no dinner now. Katou—you can have two servings instead.”

On hearing this news, Katou—who’d been milling about picking at the gyuudon containers—glanced back and forth in confusion between Yokozawa and Kirishima. ”Eeh?! Wait, even if you tell me I can, I still…”

“Whatever—I’m leaving now.” With sore feelings, Yokozawa turned on his heel and headed back toward the elevator—when Kirishima burst into a jog to chase him down.

“Ah—wait, I’m getting on too.”

“What the hell are—don’t follow me!”

“I’m just going to get a drink, geez; it’s not like I’m following you on purpose.”

“Then—get one from the vending machine right over there!”

“What’s it matter what floor I buy my drink on?”

“………”

The pair boarded the elevator in silence, and as Yokozawa worked to hide his discomfort with a serious mien, Kirishima dipped to the side and gently bumped their shoulders together.

“Thanks. For the meal.”

“…It was just a whim.”

It felt awkward, having Kirishima thank him properly like this, leaving Yokozawa with a complicated mess of feelings at how narrow-minded he’d been for getting so worked up over a simple casual remark.

“I never actually thought you’d come back—so I was just…really happy. ”

“That’s because you always do confusing shit like this!”

“Well it’s gonna be an all-nighter here tonight. I just wanted to hear your voice a little.”

“You idiot—stop behaving like a child.”

“Yeah yeah, I’m sorry~”

Their comfortable conversation was slowly settling his feelings again, and with Kirishima so honestly sharing his intentions, all desire to stay angry was melting away. No matter the age, everyone had their moments where they just wanted to be needy with someone else. Children often misbehaved on purpose, rousing their parents’ ire, with full faith and trust that they were loved above all else. Perhaps Kirishima’s own teasing in this way was how he showed his affection.

As Yokozawa reflected on how childish he’d behaved, he caught Kirishima softly calling his name. “…Yokozawa.”

“Huh?” Glancing over at the sudden comment, the space before his eyes darkened, and something soft brushed over his lips, wiping his mind blank.

“Charging complete~”

It took a moment to process what had just happened, but everything came together when he took in Kirishima’s smile staring back at him from point-blank range. “What—the hell are you thinking, at work?!”

“‘S your fault for letting your guard down.”

“Don’t try to pass the blame, asshole!” At the moment he raised his voice, though, the elevator doors opened, and Yokozawa breathed a sigh of relief that no one had boarded on their way down. If someone had spotted them…he’d never be able to show his face in this office again.

The lights on the first floor had already been doused, with only the way leading toward the rear night entrance dimly lit. Thankfully, it seemed the security team were off on their rounds, leaving no one around to catch sight of them.

As Yokozawa headed toward the rear entrance, for some reason, Kirishima turned in the same direction—despite the fact that there wasn’t a single vending machine on this side of the building. Drawing up short before he reached the exit, Yokozawa bit out, “There’s no vending machines this way! What the hell’re you following me for?”

Kirishima grinned back coolly, “Seeing you off, of course.”

“Idi—don’t treat me like a kid.”

“Geez you’re thick—I’m treating you like a lover.”

“…!!”

Flushing deeply and groping for something to say, Yokozawa realized this must have been what they meant with the phrase at a loss for words. He felt filled not so much with embarrassment as sheer frustration.

“G’night. Take care going home.”

Somehow gathering his wits about him again, Yokozawa returned, “Just—hurry up and finish your cycle and get your ass home,” and casually plodded on toward the exit, stepping out into the night air. The evening breeze felt chillier than it had earlier—maybe because his face felt like it was on fire.

Shit…just you wait…” he muttered to himself before breaking into a jog headed for the station.

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