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Monsters

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He drinks his coffee black.
“Sugowaru?” the young barista squints at the paper cup in his hand. “One large straight Suicide Colombian for Sugowaru?”
“Ah, Sugawara, that's me.” He gets up from his seat and walks over.
He smiles, gently, radiantly, hazel eyes twinkling from beneath a mop of grey hair, and accepts the cup before retreating to his table.
He’s been coming in every evening for the last two weeks. He enters at around eight, orders the Colombian and sits in a corner by the window, next to the emergency exit.
He drinks his coffee black, and he likes Colombian. Tendou Satori knows this much.

Mister Sugawara delicately sips from his cup and looks at the street.
He always carries a newspaper, though Tendou has never seen him actually read it.
People watcher, he assumes, though who the guy’s supposed to watch at night, he doesn’t know.
Maybe the man’s a journalist researching youth culture, a writer looking for a story, a philosopher seeking inspiration on the inherent state of mankind, or maybe he’s just a serial killer hunting for his next victim. That would be just his luck, Tendou thinks.

Sugawara orders three large coffees while he sits there, and usually he leaves at four am, just before the morning crew comes in.
He looks slightly out of place in this coffee shop, but not enough to rouse suspicion.
On second thought, he might be an impresario, or some indie band manager, Tendou muses.
Or he's just a salaryman with no home life.
Whatever it is, Tendou really, really doesn’t know and it kinda kills him that he can’t figure it out just by looking at the beautiful man currently blowing into his black Colombian.

He wears a tailored suit, finely made if slightly unfashionable. The kind people like to call 'timeless': gray pinstripe and straight pants, with soft soled, immaculately polished black shoes.
It’s refreshing, to say the least, especially since Tendou’s shop usually attracts a more rugged crowd.
Mister Sugawara has a presence to him, something calm and unassuming, but at the same time razor sharp and just very obviously there.
Tendou isn’t quite sure what to make of it but he sure as hell wants to be near it.
He wants to unwrap it and, if at all possible, put his greasy hands all over it.
His tongue too, if given the chance.

It’s the care, he thinks, the neatness in the way this man sits, sips coffee, the way he dresses, too.
Mister Sugawara has a few different shirts that Tendou has seen. A clean one every day.
There's a few gray ones, with prints of leaves and one with birds. There’s at least one crisp white one and a shirt in a weird greenish colour.
Good fabric. Silk, possibly, or very fine linen. Classy stuff.
Tendou is intimately familiar with Sugawara's shirts, because he tends to look at them longingly every other evening or so, wondering what's underneath.
Imagining, also, how that man would whimper or sigh if he put his lips on that delicate, pale skin.

But that’s about all Tendou knows about the mysterious mister Sugawara, because so far he hasn’t worked up the courage to talk to him.
This is, in itself, a small miracle and something that should probably worry him.
Tendou does not make it a habit to be bashful and he certainly doesn't care what people think of him, usually.
According to Kawanishi, that’s his whole thing.
But apparently he cares a lot about what this mister Sugawara might think if he suddenly started chatting him up.
Kawanishi finds this hilarious.

 

“Goshiki, be a dear and chase the rodents and cockroaches out of the kitchen,” Tendou says loudly, nodding to the three dishes in an otherwise spotless room. “It will be your own personal quest to make you a Man. I’ll keep an eye on the front.”
“The whole of the front or like that one table,” Kawanishi snorts.
Tendou looks down his nose at his day manager-slash-friend, who’s perched on a stool by the bar, scrolling through his phone.
“Why are you still here? Girlfriend kick you out again?” Tendou says, smiling in a way that shows all his teeth.
“We’re fine, boss. I have tickets for Front 242 tonight, just waiting for her to show up.”
Tendou whistles. “Spending money on her? What's next, being faithful?”
“Shut up, Tendou, that was one time.”
“Mmm hmmm,” Tendou hums and Kawanishi rolls his eyes.
“Just keep quiet, you ass.”
As if on cue, a young woman enters the shop and cheerfully lays an arm on Kawanishi’s back.
“Hey!” she says, waving at Tendou.
“Hana, don’t you look lovely today,” Tendou intones. “It’s good to see you’re back again. I was getting tired of the sound of Kawanishi's broken heart.”
He resists the withering glares of his staff member and idly wipes the counter.
“Thanks for taking care of him, mister Tendou,” the girl smiles back.
“Crickety crack, crickety crack,” Tendou hums.
The past few weeks really have been exhausting, with an annoyingly grumpy Kawanishi souring up the place.
More grumpy than usual. And that’s saying something.
“Shut up,” Kawanishi says, sliding off the chair and pocketing his phone.
“Honestly, though, you can do better, darling,” Tendou says, mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“I swear I will punch you right in your damn mouth one of these days,” Kawanishi grumbles, slinging an arm over his girlfriend’s shoulder.
“Not if you want to keep your joo-hoob,” Tendou sing-songs.
“Let’s go,” Hana says, gently tugging her boyfriend along. “Have a good night, mister Tendou!”
“Yeah yeah, have fun, you lovebirds.”
The couple walk out and join the line forming in front of the concert hall across the street, Kawanishi never letting his girl out of his grasp while she chats animatedly.
Tendou smiles and shakes his head, then goes back to wiping tables and thinking of ways to start a conversation with the mysteriously handsome man in the corner by the window.

 

 

The place is called Monster Coffee and it is the self-proclaimed ‘only punk coffee shop in town’.
The name amuses Sugawara Koushi, even if it's a bit of a stretch.
The walls are bare brick and the barista’s have ear gauges and piercings and tattoos, but all of that is pretty standard fare these days. The main difference seems to be the pictures of musicians on the wall, the sheer amount of band name puns on the menu and the choice of background music, which is... interesting.
Also, if you ask for the 'My Chemical Ristretto', they draw devil horns in your foam. Depending on who draws them, they're even recognizable as such.
It's a little tacky, Sugawara thinks, but they do have some of the best coffee in this neighbourhood. They are seemingly always open, and the place is pleasantly calm at night, when it's just some goth kids reading, and the occasional party goer needing a coffee fix to keep going.
He rather likes it.
He happily sips his coffee and watches the street outside.

The line in front of the club is moving. The concert goers tonight are mostly older people who have dug up their old black clothes out of whatever attic box they were hiding in. They look a bit like a flock of crows, Sugawara muses as he watches them file inside.
He smiles at the thought.
Across the room, the man with the flash of red hair is starting a conversation with his young-looking employee about some horror movie he saw.
His name is Tendou, Sugawara has learnt, and he appears to own the place.
It's hard to tell how old he is, because he looks 22, but acts like he's thirty or something.
“And then they EAT her!” Tendou shouts and he laughs at the mildly disgusted face on the boy.
Okay, a very immature thirty.
But still.
The man intrigues Sugawara in ways not a lot of people do. He has a strange aura to him and he’s prone to using loud statements and big gestures. His knowledge of mildly creepy and very disgusting factoids and anecdotes appears to be endless as well.

Sugawara suspects, hopes for, perhaps, some well-hidden depths.
But what interests him most, is how Tendou doesn’t use any of his usual blunt statements and bad jokes on him.
It’s not like this coffee shop owner respects his customers. Sugawara once saw him go on a three minute rant on the symbolism of a girl’s earring while her coffee grew cold.
But when he glances at Sugawara, and Sugawara smiles back, there’s only a quick dilating of the pupils and a small dusting of pink on his cheeks.
It’s cute.
It amuses Sugawara to no end and he’s very tempted to go along with it, to start a conversation and see how far he can take this, to find out what lies underneath all the boasting and banter.
He would love to see how vulnerable he could make that man.
But Sugawara is a professional, so he sips his coffee and looks out the window instead.

 

At eleven thirty, the show across the street is over, and a rush of people floods the coffee shop.
They chatter, forming a line that leads outside. Tendou just interrogates everyone about the concert while his young barista (Goshiki, his name tag reads) rushes around nervously, making coffees and teas.
Sugawara watches the place fill up, all seats taken except for the table where he sits.
People tend to leave him alone.
And just as fast as the crowd poured in, they are gone again.
Like the tides, Sugawara thinks.

A few hours later, the shop is empty and the young barista has gone home.
Tendou is talking at length about some anime to a tall, broad shouldered kid sitting at the counter. The you man only seems mildly responsive but that doesn’t stop the redhead from explaining the lengthy plot in detail, doing some of the voices. The main character's best friend gets an especially shrill rendition.
The broad shouldered boy nods and occasionally smiles into his coffee.
Sugawara wonders what his story is.
It’s just the three of them now, against a background of experimental protest songs.
Sugawara finishes his coffee and looks out at the street.
It is calm now, the crowd dispersed, save for a few drunken stragglers and a homeless guy rifling through the trash.
That's probably it for the night.

He sighs and gets up.
“Goodnight,” he says, nodding to the other two on his way out.
Tendou just waves, mild look of disappointment on his face.
Maybe next time, Sugawara thinks, smiling to himself as he steps out into the night.
Nearly three in the morning. He pulls out his phone.
“Daichi? Yeah, no luck,” he whispers as he huddles against the cold.
“Ok, take a break Suga,” the man on the other side of the line says.
“I will find him,” Sugawara answers, and he closes the call.

 

 

“What's your name?” Tendou Satori asks the boy with broad shoulders, knowing full well that it's scribbled on the paper cup standing between them.
“Wakatoshi,” he says and he looks up, hazel eyes piercing Tendou's gaze.
The boy's face is always this side of bored. Tendou doesn't know if it's because he doesn't feel, or because he feels too much.
But he's a gentle sort, he suspects. Quiet, stoic.
It's not the first time he's come in. From what Tendou remembers, he shows up only when there's specific concerts across the street.
“You're from out of town, aren't you Wakatoshi?” Tendou says, leaning over his counter and putting his head on his hand.
“Mm.” Wakatoshi nods and Tendou ponders.
He considers the ruggedness of the boy’s hands, a sign of physical labour.
He studies the shift of muscle underneath Wakatoshi’s overly baggy sweatshirt, contemplates the warmth of skin and the texture of lips.
Tendou is restless. He's on edge and annoyed and maybe a tiny bit frustrated at the lack of progress he's making with mister Sugawara.
“You know, the first bus isn't for several more hours,” he drawls, waggling his eyebrows. “I'm off work in a bit, do you want to crash at my place?”
And the boy looks at him, thinking it over for a second.
One second longer than Tendou would like.
He nods. “Mm,” he says.

 

Tendou walks Wakatoshi two blocks to his apartment, through the icy cold.
It's quiet and foggy, damp air clinging to Tendou's jacket like it's trying to drown him in it.
Next to him, the boy's breath makes little puffy clouds and his cheeks go rosy in the late autumn air in a way that Tendou finds endearing.
“And then they EAT her!” he says enthusiastically, finishing his story.
Wakatoshi nods obligingly.
“And here we are.” Tendou opens the iron gate to his apartment building.
He takes the boy upstairs and silently slips him through his door.
“Anyway,” he says, putting away their coats and turning up the thermostat a bit, “we'll need to be quiet because my neighbour over there is a complete cunt, but you can take a shower if you want to heat up.”
“Tendou.”
The boy's voice is surprisingly soft, a low rumble near his ear.
He turns around and Wakatoshi leans in. His lips feel exactly like Tendou had imagined.

 

 

Sugawara Koushi steps out of the subway and crosses the street to his apartment building, fishing his keys out of his pocket with one hand while the other holds a white plastic convenience store bag.
He briskly climbs the steps and enters his home, closing the door with his foot and walking the length of the hallway before dropping the bag on the kitchen table.
“Hello Princess,” he says to the long-haired white cat twirling around his legs. “Did you miss me?”
The animal’s reply is a long, drawn out meow.
“It seems like your papa spent another night getting nowhere closer to his goal,” Sugawara says and he opens a cupboard. To the loud pleas of his pet, he pulls out a can, emptying it into a bowl before placing it on the floor.
Then he takes a box of treats out of the plastic bag and drops some into a small saucer he also gives the cat.
“Sorry I've been neglecting you, sweetheart,” he says gently, scratching her on the top of her head. Princess makes a sound halfway between a purr and a ‘nomnom’.
He smiles mildly.
Then he stands up and pulls some ramen out of the bag. He puts them in the microwave, making the rounds of his plants as he waits for his food to finish cooking.
He pulls some dried leaves off the Hawaiian palm and tops up the water for the peace lily. Then he frowns, takes a small pair of scissors from a shelf and trims an errant twig from a bonsai tree.
Pleased with his work, he returns to his kitchen table and eats the ramen while reading the mail.
He carefully puts away his dishes and takes a long shower before falling into bed, cat curled up to his side.

 

 

Tendou Satori wakes up to the light of day creeping through his heavy drapes.
It’s barely different from night time, since in fall, the fog is so heavy in this city that the sun never breaks through anything lower than the fifteenth floor.
Tendou lives on the third.
But still, it's there, invading his eyelids. Tendou whines and buries his face in his pillow.
Next to him in bed lies a young man with broad shoulders.
What was his name again? Wakatoshi, he'd said.
Piercings though his nose, chipped black nail polish and a bad taste in music.
But a sweet kid. Earnest. Innocent, in a way.
Pity about the bad taste in music, and the bad taste in men.
Tendou stretches and swings his legs over the side of the bed.
The whole room smells funky.
He wrinkles his nose and picks up the condoms scattered on the floor, opening a window on the way to the bathroom.
The sound of traffic flows into the room and the boy gives a muffled grunt.
Tendou steps into his bathroom to take a shower.

By the time he's out and clattering around the kitchen, Wakatoshi appears in the doorway, looking bleary.
Tendou puts a plate of toast and eggs down on the small formica table.
“Eat up, kid,” he says, calling his guest over, “do you want coffee too?”
Wakatoshi nods his head and ambles toward the table, not even bothering to put on his boxers.
He looks paler than last evening, weaker, like he’s had a really rough night.
But he scarfs down the offered food and chases it with some freshly brewed coffee.
“Thank you, Tendou,” he says.
“No prob. There's still warm water if you wanna take a shower. I need to get to work in about an hour.”
The boy nods again and shuffles to the bathroom. Tendou steals a final glance at that ass before it disappears behind the door.
Miracle boy Wakatoshi, he thinks, and he hums appreciatively.

He clears the table while the small tv on his kitchen counter goes over the list of missing persons, showing pictures of teen girls and boys, old men and women, one disturbingly young kid.
There's new ones every day, and it's not clear to Tendou if they're ever found or if people just give up looking for them.
It's just part of the daily life in this city.
This is the kind of town where people disappear.
The dad who went out to get cigarettes and never came back, the teenager tired of dealing with abusive parents, that kind of thing.
Or, Tendou assumes, the ones that take a wrong turn, and are just never heard from again until their body washes up somewhere. There’s probably a lot of those as well.
Tendou strips the bed, picks up his own stray clothes.
The anchors on tv have started prattling on about some sporting event he doesn’t care about.
He does the dishes. Dries them. Checks the clock.
“You ok in there?” he shouts at the small bathroom.
Wakatoshi opens the door and leans against it, half dressed.
“Sorry,” he says, “the heat is making me a bit light-headed.”
Steam drifts into the living room while Tendou hands the boy his clothes, occasionally helping him in them.

“Why don't I walk you to the bus station,” he says and he carefully, almost lovingly wraps a shawl around the boys neck. “This is a dangerous town. Don’t want you to get lost and kidnapped or something.”
Wakatoshi gives him a blank look, but Tendou pulls his jacket straight and accompanies him through the morning fog, to the bus station two blocks away, telling a story about how as a child, he once voiced a commercial for cereal.
Turns out the cereal had some carcinogenic chemical in it, so Tendou, sadly, never made it big as a child actor.
It’s not like he had the kind of face to make it in that world anyway.
When they arrive, he buys Wakatoshi a few power bars and a bottle of water.
“You gonna be ok?”
“Riding a bus isn’t a difficult task, Tendou.”
“Alright then.”
“Thank you for letting me sleep in your apartment.”
“No problem, pretty boy,” Tendou says, and he waves him off.
Cute kid, he thinks.
He'd been so honest, so willing.
Miracle boy Wakatoshi.
Tendou shrugs and turns back, walking off towards his coffee shop to start his shift.

 

 

On a bus on the interstate, a young man named Ushijima Wakatoshi watches the grey buildings flit by.
He has headphones on, blaring metal into his ears, but he can barely keep his eyes open.
He feels weak, like last night took too much out of him.
It’s weird, he thinks briefly, because it is far from the first time he’s done something like this.
The boy falls asleep, head gradually lolling until it's resting against the cool glass.
Over several dozen kilometres, the swaying of the bus makes his scarf sag.
The bus hits a bump and Wakatoshi snorts and absent-mindedly scratches at two small scabs on his neck.