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Summer Tides

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Haru's small corner bakery 'Ever Blue', located in his seaside hometown with a good view of the ocean, isn't much, but it's all Haru needs. Inherited from his grandmother, every tile and crack radiates 'home' to Haru.

He's acquired a small amount of fame, sometimes needing to ship his pastries all the way to Tokyo or Hokkaido, which gives him enough money to comfortably run the bakery and live a modest life on his own. And being in such a small town like Iwatobi, life never changes much. The daily life pulses at a slow and steady rhythm to match the ocean tide, unchanging for decades, and it's a sleepy kind of comfortable.

Haru never cared much for change anyways, so that suits him just fine.

That said, there are times that Haru has to admit that even he could do with a little bit of change, especially when he's unboxing marscapone for his fifth batch of tiramisu that week and can feel his eyes starting to glaze over a little.

He thumps the box onto the prep counter with a heavy thud and wipes at his forehead. It's five in the morning, which means for a bakery things are in full swing, and the kitchen is rather warm from all the ovens baking treats right now. He's got at least five minutes before he has to check on any of them, so takes a moment to lean against the counter.

Maybe he'll close early today and go swimming. It's the tail end of summer, so it's still plenty warm. A good swim would help to clear his thoughts and maybe relieve a little bit of the odd sluggishness he's felt lately.

Yeah, maybe he'll do that.

A timer dings, and Haru straightens up. Back to work.

Things proceed as routine from then on, Haru opening the bakery at six-thirty on the dot to serve the morning commute. Doughnuts and scones fly off his shelves and he refills the tea and coffee machines at least three times each. A brief lull from around ten to noon, and then it's the lunch crowd – well, what constitutes a crowd for Iwatobi.

It's still enough to keep him plenty busy, however, and the next time he's able to stop for a moment is around two, idly wiping down the service counter.

If he wants to close early, he should probably be ready by four. So he should start shutting down the ovens and such now, to save time since he's fully stocked right now and doesn't need to bake anything else today.

The door chime rings, and Haru looks up, setting the rag to the side.

It's a man, fairly tall with tea-brown hair in a shaggy cut. He's dressed fairly fashionably, or so Haru thinks – he doesn't pay much attention to such things, but the man wears the outfit with more grace and confidence than the high school teens that show up in similar fashions do, a t-shirt with some band name on it and snug jeans, with a long beige coat despite the heat and Haru can see the glint of accessories around his neck. His eyes are blocked by a pair of expensive-looking sunglasses.

He looks towards Haru, and gives a smile that's surprisingly kind for his rather large, imposing presence. Haru nods in return – he's never shouted 'welcome!' like other shopkeepers, but people say it's part of his charm, or something.

“It's hot today!” The customer greets Haru anyways, his voice light and airy despite his size. Almost cute.

Haru pushes that thought out of his head. No hitting on customers! Even if this one is rather attractive.

He instead raises his eyebrow. Says the man with a coat on, despite the summer heat. Haru personally wouldn't call it hot – it's around thirty outside, which is certainly warm, but Haru rather likes the heat. It takes a lot more to get him uncomfortable.

The man apparently reads the silent eyebrow lift even through his glasses, and his smile turns slightly sheepish as he walks up to the pastry shelves. “The coat is a little much, I know. But I wasn't expecting to go outside much today anyways! So I'll be fine.”

Haru makes a non-committal noise. Well, it isn't his problem anyways. Warm means he can go swimming.

The customer – Haru decides to mentally call him 'Hot Man' in his head to enjoy the pun – leans down in front of the shelves, looking over all the baked goods with all the seriousness of a man trying to decide on some big purchase like a car or house. Haru doesn't think deciding between a truffle or a macaroon warranted such seriousness, but he's not about to judge his customer's life priorities.

Hot Man straightens up, crossing his arms and staring with the same serious expression for another minute with a faint frustrated 'hmmmn'. After another minute of this – admittedly cute – display, he sighs and slumps with a whine. “They all look too good, I can't decide!”

Hot Man reaches up to remove the sunglasses, turning to give Haru another sheepish smile. “Suggestions?”

Haru doesn't answer for a moment, because okay. Wow. Hot Man is now upgraded to Sinfully Hot Man. He'd obviously been attractive, but taking off the sunglasses reveals kind eyes that are a spectacularly vibrant shade of green and wrinkle gently at the corners with his smile. It's definitely an overall package – each piece great on its own, but together they're devastating.

Haru also gets just the slightest niggling worm of familiarity, but he can't place it. He knows he's never seen this guy around town before.

Haru licks his lips, trying to get his mind back on track. He did ask Haru a question... “...What do you like?”

The other tilts his head, putting a finger to his cheek in thought. “Well...just about anything, haha! It's kind of embarrassing, but I really love sweets of all kinds. It's not fitting, I know!” He laughs, more of a soft giggle really, and Haru wants to scream –not fitting, how? Everything about this guy screams soft and sweet like marshmallow fluff.

Well, aside from the sculpted chest and biceps Haru can see even through the fabric of his coat, but well. There are plenty of hard candies, right?

“Oh, I am pretty partial to anything chocolate, though!” Hot Man adds with another smile. Chocolate fits, Haru thinks.

Haru purses his lips in thought. He has plenty of chocolate items, of course. Haru himself doesn't have much of a preference though, since – despite his profession – he's actually not much a fan of sweets. He loves creating them, but eating them, not so much.

He turns and bends over, pulling open the door to his cheesecake display and grabbing a slice of one of his bestsellers. It's a whipped chocolate cheesecake with a crumbling cookie crust and a layer of coffee cream in the middle. Chocolate ganache is drizzled over the top, with a slice of strawberry as garnish. He puts it on a plate and scoots it across the counter to Hot Man. “This one sells well. Whipped chocolate and coffee cheesecake.”

Neither of which Haru likes, and it's almost disgustingly rich – he serves it in small slices for a reason. But he sells several pieces a day for some reason.

And, judging by the way Hot Man's face lights up, it's warranted. “Oh my god, that looks amazing! I'll take it!”

Haru nods and starts punching in the order on the register. “For here or to go? Anything to drink?”

Hot Man hums slightly. “Ah, I should probably have it to go, please. And...hmmmn, maybe your green tea with peach flavoring?”

With another nod, Haru adds that to the order and turns to grab a to-go box and cup. “That'll be eight thousand and five hundred yen, please.”

“Oh, that's only...” Hot Man starts, before smiling and rubbing the back of his head, pulling a wallet out from under his coat. “Of course.”

Haru raises an eyebrow, but Hot Man doesn't elaborate and pays with a ten thousand yen bill. Haru makes it into change and then works on the tea – which is flavored with actual peaches, because Haru despises the syrups and additives. Fresh peace juice blended with sugar tastes much better in his opinion, and he adds a few fresh peach slices to the drink as well. Boxing up the cake and making sure the lid was fastened securely, Haru places them down on the counter and Hot Man takes them with another dazzling smile. “Thanks a lot!”

Haru will really need that swim to cool down after this. That was almost as warming as the summer sun itself.

The door chime rings again, and both Haru and Hot Man turn to look. It's a man in a full professional suit, black despite the heat. He's tall, even taller than Hot Man, and rather stoic and dour looking with cropped black hair. He fixes teal eyes on Hot Man and his stoic expression turns into a more pronounced frown.

Hot Man winces, hunches his shoulders like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He turns to give Haru one last smile and another unnecessary 'thanks' before he heads for the door. On his way out, two schoolgirls come inside, and the stop and watch him pass with shocked gasps, before quickly turning to each other with whispered giggles and exclamations. It's a little weird, but well, if Haru thought he was hot, surely others would as well, and teenage girls would be like to gossip about hot guys on the street, surely.

The door closes after Hot Man, the girls still standing there watching his departure with mouths and gossip hidden behind their hands. Since they're not ordering yet, Haru feels justified in watching as well, a little curious. The sour suit man leaves with him, and they round the corner of Haru's shop, out of sight.

A few moments later, a black shape drives by Haru's front windows. And keeps driving. A limousine?

Haru blinks blankly when the fancy black vehicle passes his storefront.

Tough-looking guy in a suit as company, limousine, very trendy-looking...

Who did Haru just serve cheesecake and tea to?

Well, in the end, it doesn't matter. It's not like they'll meet again, if it really is someone famous.

Giving a mental shrug, Haru turns to the teens who have finally come forward, still giggling, and fills their orders for strawberry chiffon cake and lemon ginger cookies with matching strawberry lemonades.

Like the ocean tide, Haru's normal life floods back, as if Hot Man's departure left a gap to fill.


 

Interruptions, though, leave ripples, and Haru discovers this when he walks up to Ever Blue at four next morning and there's a small news crew camped out his door.

Haru stops and stares, rather nonplussed. Did someone die overnight on his doorstep? He really doesn't want to deal with that right now.

But no, there's no corpse – and it turns out Haru's there target, as when one of the photographers notice him, they all quickly bustle over.

“Excuse me, sir, you're the owner of this establishment, correct?” The female reporter asks far too energetically at four in the morning.

Haru stares, feeling the corners of his mouth starting to tug down. What the hell? He's half-tempted to say no, but he still has to run his bakery for the day. “...Yes.”

The grin on the reporter's face is almost demonical. “Then is it true the Tachibana heir appeared here yesterday? Is he really back in the country? What did he order? Please, tell us everything!”

There's really only one response Haru can muster to the utter nonsense he's hearing. It's almost like hearing a foreign language – he knows she's saying words, but none of them make any sense to him. “...What?”

The reporter blinks, clearly not expecting that answer. “You know, the Tachibana heir! Tachibana Makoto! Heir to Sunshine, Inc.? Actor, singer, model? Japan's current most eligible bachelor?”

This conversation might as well be astrophysics for all Haru understands it. Does he even know any actor names...? “...Who?”

She stares at him for a minute with the same blank surprise Haru is feeling, before she sighs and rolls her eyes, reaching out to take a magazine from one of her technicians, shoving it forward into Haru's line of sight. “This man! Did you serve this man yesterday?”

Haru looks at the cover, and things suddenly click. It's Hot Man.

It's some teen gossip magazine, but the figure on the front is unmistakable – Hot Man, smiling with considerably more smoldering heat than Haru remembers yesterday, dressed in a dark suit with faint pinstripes and shaggy hair slicked back into a more controlled look.

And yet, despite the photo literally oozing sex appeal, Haru's memory flashes back to those genuinely sweet smiles from yesterday, and the cover almost looks fake. Which is real, he wonders.

Well, apparently Haru now knows who he served cheesecake and tea to. And why he looked familiar – thinking about it, he feels like he's walked past a lot of magazines like this, and passed by televisions playing in shop windows with this face.

The reporter shakes the magazine, clearly getting impatient. “Did you serve him? What did he order, what was he like? Any odd things you remember? Please, let us know for our readers!”

Haru snaps back to the present, and the frown he was nurturing turns into a full scowl. He doesn't follow any current social events at all, but even in his bubble he's seen the tabloids and such revolving around their lives. Why do people care? Haru doesn't understand it, and he's not about to give them any ammunition to ruin Hot Guy's image.

“I don't remember,” he says flatly, moving to walk past towards the doors of his bakery. “Customers are customers.”

“Ah, wait, please–“ She tries, but Haru doesn't listen, opening the door and stepping inside, locking it after himself. He leaves the reporter and her crew looking flummoxed outside, heading into the kitchen away from their questions and cameras.

Really, it's such an awful practice. Who cares how good or handsome or rich someone is? They're people too, and deserve their privacy. Leave the spotlights and splendor to their jobs, not their homes.

Haru stops and looks towards the coolers, and the chocolate coffee cheesecake within.

Tachibana Makoto, huh?

Did he like the cake?

Shaking his head, Haru gets rid of that fanciful thought and starts his morning routine.

He won't see him again, after all. His normal life tide continues.


 

Haru can't help the scowl as he finally locks up Ever Blue for the day, shoulder feeling equally like they weigh a hundred kilos and are tenser than springs.

The news crew had refused to leave for a good four hours, and Haru had been forced to call the police when they resorted to stopping almost every customer to see if they knew anything. And the customers themselves brought their own problems because, as one helpful business lady showed him, someone had caught this Tachibana Makoto leaving Ever Blue with their phone, and now the front of Haru's bakery was splashed across nearly every gossip mag in Japan.

Wonderful.

So this meant both a lot of regulars were eager to know if he had really met the Tachibana Makoto, and new or infrequent visitors pouring in out of curiosity.

Well, in the end, Haru's wallet can't complain, as he sold about double his normal stock. But this meant both that he'd been slaving in the kitchen all day to keep up, and he'd basically drained any remaining energy on having to answer the same useless questions over and over again.

He wonders if he should put up a sign tomorrow. Don't mention Tachibana Makoto, get a discount. He's tempted.

With a heavy sigh, Haru turns to head home, but is pulled up short.

Standing in front of him is the stoic tall man from yesterday. The one that had left with Haru's unknown celebrity acquaintance. Looking at him now, he certainly screams bodyguard.

He fixes those serious teal eyes on Haru. So, not just passing by, then. “Nanase Haruka?”

His voice is deep and rather bored-sounding. It feels like he's judging Haru for some reason, and haru decides he doesn't like the guy. He frowns in response. “Yes?”

Tall Asshole, newly christened, rolls his right shoulder. “I've been asked to ask if you would care to come meet my employer. I'm sure you were...made aware of his status today. He would like to apologize in person for causing you trouble.”

Haru pauses. That wasn't the first thing he would have guessed Tall Asshole had showed up for. “...Meet him? Tachibana Makoto?”

Tall Asshole frowns, shifting his weight and looking over his shoulder – oh, maybe Haru shouldn't have said his name out loud. But even as early as six, Iwatobi's small streets are empty. Ever Blue is in a quiet residential area, surrounded by a few other shops on a hill overlooking the sea. His grandmother had picked the location since it was close to her – now Haru's – house. There's no one to overhear them.

Realizing this, Tall Asshole's shoulders relax. “...Yes. Makoto's upset he caused you trouble, he's kept up on the situation. So he'd like to offer an apology. And dinner, if you'd like.”

Haru hesitates. He's aware most people would jump at the chance to associate with a celebrity, even if only for an evening, but Haru's never been most people. Fame and money are nothing but nuisances – really, this Tachibana Makoto is just another human, and Haru doesn't necessarily get along with other humans much. Hell, it took Rin years to break his shell, and even now he's the only person Haru interacts with on a semi-regular basis.

So the idea of going to meet someone just for celebrity's sake isn't appealing in the slightest. It's not in his routine. It's change. Haru hates change. He's very tempted to decline, to just go home and enjoy some mackerel miso soup for dinner like most nights and a nice long bath to wash away today's tension.

But on the other hand...Tachibana Makoto was very, very hot. And, despite his images in magazines and movies, the strange gentle warmth he'd radiated yesterday had been...appealing.

It..wouldn't hurt, Haru thinks. To have a dinner with the man. He has been strangely listless lately, like stagnant water with no change.

A drop of fresh water might be the thing he needs.

Finally after this consideration, Haru nods. “...All right. I'll come.”

Tall Asshole nods, and his manner seems to loosen just slightly. “All right. I'll drive you there.”

He turns, and Haru notices the black sedan parked on the curb – not, thankfully, a limousine, Haru can only handle so much change. – but the bodyguard stops. “Ah. Right.”

'What?”

Tall Asshole turns to Haru again, this time clear exasperation written all over his face. “...Do you have more of that cake?”


 

Haru's never been to Iwatobi's nicest hotel. Iwatobi's main export besides fish is its pristine bay and local squid festival, so there's no shortage of hotels in the town. Haru often caters to them when they're holding events.

This one, however, has never sent an order, and Haru's had no reason to go. He's heard it mostly caters to rich businessmen making a layover stop, or the occasional rich Tokyoite or Osakan native seeking a backwater paradise getaway.

The front alone is rather intimidating, ten stories of granite and glass opening into a entrance hall more akin to a ballroom, with crystal chandeliers and plush red carpets making paths across the marble flooring. Haru, still in his work uniform and probably carrying various assorted flour patches and icing stains, feels terribly out of place.

Tall Asshole silently leads them to the elevators, and Haru hopes he knows where he's going – the man had had to follow his car's GPS religiously to get them here, and Haru had to direct him past a street closed by construction when it became obvious he would get them lost otherwise. He hopes this guy isn't Tachibana's regular driver.

The elevator takes them to the top floor, and judging by the large hallway and sparsity of doors when its revealed, these are the suite rooms. Haru feels like he's shrinking into ant size as he follows Tall Asshole – who's now muttering ten-twenty-seven under breath repeatedly – he's never been somewhere so opulent, and the Western theme makes Haru feel even more out of place, with having only grown up in and around traditional Japanese homes.

They stop in front of a room – Room 1027, Tall Asshole's muttering makes sense now – and the bodyguard opens the door.

It's definitely suites, as the door opens to nothing more than a large living area, decorated richly with large sofas and an expensive huge television.

Tachibana is seated on the couch facing away from the door, and at the sound of the door he looks over his shoulder, before standing up to greet them.

“You came! I'm so glad!”

And he does look glad, beaming brightly totally unlike that magazine cover. Haru finds it's hard to look at directly, to have that much sheer joy directed at him, so he drops his gaze to the carpet, mouth dry. What does one even say in this situation...?

Tall Asshole clears his throat, nodding towards the box in Haru's hands. “Got more of that cake, you should put it away before it starts melting or something.”

“Oh! Right! Thank you, Sousuke!” And with that Tachibana is suddenly in front of Haru, holding out his hands with a gentle, expecting smile. “Thank you, Nanase-san! This cake was really, really delicious, I just really couldn't wait for more!”

Haru feels...dazed, is the best term. Tachibana is just so handsome, smile bright and welcoming, like an exceptionally well-made boy-next-door, but surrounded by the Western opulence of the hotel room makes Haru acutely aware he's standing in a different world, one that Tachibana breaths and lives. What was he thinking, coming here? What about Haru's company could Tachibana find remotely interesting, with a life like his?

“It's...it's fine,” Haru mutters, holding out the box so Tachibana can take it. “I'm..glad. You liked it.”

Tachibana takes the box with a light, happy laugh. “Liked isn't a strong enough word! I've never tasted a cake this good! You're an amazing baker, Nanase-san, just like your grandmother!”

Haru looks up at that, surprised. “What?”

His grandmother? Did Tachibana...when would he...?

Tachibana pauses, tilting his head. “Oh...um, well...this isn't the first time I've had Ever Blue, I could say?”

He inexplicably goes bright red all of a sudden, scratching his cheek with his free hand. For an actor, he's shockingly decomposed. “Uh...um. It's...a long story. Over dinner? Ah! If-if you want to stay, of course! I won't keep you!”

Well, now Haru has to know. And he is hungry...and Tachibana is being rather intriguing. It's a rather alien feeling, to want to stay in someone's presence. Haru wonders why Tachibana has such an effect on him. “...I'll have dinner.”

Tachibana brightens up, giving Haru another sunshine smile. “Great! I'll have dinner sent up right away then, let me go put this in the fridge, make yourself comfortable!”

Tachibana disappears through an archway that presumably holds the rest of the suite, and Haru is left standing in the living room, blinking. Tall Asshole – Sousuke, was it? – is leaning against the wall next to the entryway, eyes closed and looking for the world as if he's sleeping, so no help there. Not that Haru particularly wants help from him.

After a hesitant moment,, Haru inches to sit on one of the couches. He sinks into it with a surprised sound, it's way softer than it looks. Almost too soft. The red velvet crunches under his fingers.

Tachibana comes back out after a moment, sitting on the couch across from Haru, and it feels like the situation is reversed when Tachibana begins to shyly fidget with his fingers, blush returning.

“U-Um...so, about your grandmother, um...I don't know if you'll remember this at all, we were both pretty young, but when my father's business was starting to go really well we came here for a vacation once. Me and my mom always loved sweets, so we looked up bakeries and found Ever Blue. So we went! And I had a slice of chocolate cake, I remember, and it was the best thing I'd ever eaten...in fact, you could probably say that's what made me really like chocolate the best. We never got to go back, but I always asked my parents to order from here when we could. But then Grandma Nanase died...and I kinda...gave up on tasting something like her cooking again...”

Tachibana looks down at his fingers, and Haru feels a sympathetic pang. He hadn't been able to cook for a year or so after she died, too distraught that he wouldn't be able to taste her cooking again. He'd finally regained his feet when he realized that passing on her recipes, her memories, by making them himself would help keep her love and memories alive better than silently mourning. That was when he'd decided to take over her bakery too.

Tachibana looks back up then, giving a shy, happy smile. “But then, we're filming a commercial here, and I noticed Ever Blue was back in business! And with even better reviews! And I went a looked a few times, and I saw you...uh, I remember seeing you when I went when I was little, just glimpse...”

Tachibana goes bright red again, before coughing and continuing his story. “...S-So um! Since you were her grandson, I wanted to try your baking, to see if it was similar, since I've never liked anything else quite as much as hers...and it was amazing, I think yours is even better! You're really talented, Nanase-san!”

Haru feels his own cheeks go red to match Tachibana's, unused to such direct praise. Sure, he's overheard people gushing about his desserts all the time in his shop, but it was usually to their company, never directly to Haru himself. Having all that appreciation directed straight at him was a little overwhelming. He averts his eyes, trying to find a way to divert it. “...You can probably eat anything in the world, surely there's better bakers.”

“Mmn..” Tachibana straightens up, putting his finger to his cheek in that thinking pose again. “Yeah, I've eaten tons of desserts. France, Italy, New York...probably all the world's best patisseries. But you know, I think food's not just about how well it's made. Anyone with enough practice can make a delicious recipe. But you, and Grandma Nanase...I don't know how to put it, but it's like...you really love baking, don't you? So, Ever Blue's desserts always taste like...home. They have that sort of love in care in them. And that makes them taste better than anything else, don't you think?”

Tachibana smiles at Haru yet again, that damned tender, gentle upturn and Haru is going to die here. He is going to just straight-up combust into flames and melt into this probably tens-of-thousands-of-yen sofa. He glares at his knees, willing the temperature in his cheeks to dissipate. Does he act like this with everyone? Haru can see why it would make him so popular – unconscious or not, it feels like sincere, gentle flirting.

Tachibana is dangerous.

Haru doesn't know what to say, so he blurts out the first thing on his mind, trying to flush the embarrassment from his system. “I have a delivery service, you didn't need to come in person.”

Tachibana blinks for a moment, before red rushes onto his face and he makes the cutest squeaking sound, covering his cheeks. “A-Ah...th-that's right! Ahaha! I f-forgot! I probably should have done it, so you wouldn't have been accosted! I-I'm so sorry about that, I really should have just ordered! But I just...wanted...aaaah! I'm sorry!”

Tachibana flails in place for a moment, looking like he's about to die from mortification – join the club, Haru thinks rather uncharitably – but the two-sided puddle of shame is interrupted by the doorbell ringing. Tachibana looks up, eyes wide. “Oh! Dinner must be ready!”

Sousuke is the one who answers the door, taking the heavily-laden trolley from the hotel staff and rolling it into the room. Tachibana stands up to follow, giving Haru another timid smile. “Sh-Shall we eat?”

Haru can only nod and follow his lead, still too blown over by Tachibana's whatever-it-is that makes Haru feel like goo.

Sousuke rolls the trolley into the archway, which is revealed to be a combo dining room and kitchen. It's glitzy, but thankfully not a giant dining hall like in movies. Haru thinks he would have just turned on his heel and walked out if it was, there's only so much...lavishness he can take at one moment.

Still, as he finds himself seated at the square table that only seats four, across from Tachibana and closer than the sofas, maybe the huge dining table would have been the better choice.

Because now it feels dangerously like a date. Haru doesn't handle dates well.

Sousuke unloads the trolley contents onto the table – it all smells delicious and a bit exotic, curry maybe? Even if Haru's stomach is tied in nervous knots.

“Ah...do you want to eat with us Sousuke? I ordered a portion for you too!” Tachibana asks his bodyguard – is it normal to ask your bodyguard to eat dinner with you? – and Haru is torn between wanting the buffer between him and Tachibana and not wanting to feel immensely awkward being watched by the dour man as they ate.

Sousuke, fortunately or unfortunately, waves his hand in dismissal. “I'm not gonna third-wheel. I'll be in my room. Save my leftovers.”

“Okay, if you're sure!” Tachibana turns his smile onto Haru. “Let's eat? Um, I don't know what you like, I'm really sorry if you don't like Thai! It's just one of my favorites, so I can at least eat it all if you don't like it and I'll order you something different, it's really no problem–“

“Thai is fine,” Haru says to interrupt Tachibana's babbling. Not that he's had much Thai, but he smells seafood of some sort and he'll generally always appreciate fish. “If there's a dish that's milder, I would appreciate it.”

“Oh! Okay, that's fine! Um, there's some pad thai, that shouldn't be too spicy. I'll take the green curry, it's pretty spicy and my favorite anyways! So you don't need to force yourself to eat anything, really!” Tachibana pulls a bowl closer, opening it to reveal the green curry he'd been talking about. “Um, dig in, I guess? Feel free! The pad thai is...here, I think?”

He scoots a platter towards Haru, and Haru obligingly opens it. Being as unfamiliar with Thai food as he is, Haru can't say if it's the so-called pad thai or not. It doesn't look too spicy, though he knows that can be deceiving with Thai, but it doesn't smell spicy either, so Haru cautiously ladles some onto his plate. There's rice as well, and Haru at least can always eat that, though he doesn't feel adventurous enough to try anything else yet.

There's a nervous sort of silence as they finish serving themselves, Tachibana pushing chunks of fish around in his curry without eating it yet. Haru decides to use the silence to taste his food.

It's not too bad, and isn't spicy at all – presumably, one is meant to add more flavor to it, judging by the array of small bowls of various other items, but Haru's just fine eating it plain. He was never the most adventurous person when it came to food anyways. It's enjoyable at least, and Haru relaxes slightly. He can just eat, and go home, and put this whole mess behind him–

Tachibana sets down his spoon with a clang, face setting into a determined expression. “I can't do this!”

Haru pauses, fork hovering halfway between his plate and mouth. “....Huh?”

Tachibana groans, resting his elbows on the table and burying his face in his hands. “I'm so sorry, Nanase-san! I feel like I tricked you! I-I mean, I definitely didn't plan for you to get harassed by the press, that's all my fault, I really shouldn't have taken off my glasses but I just wanted to see you, and...and now you're here having dinner with me because of it, I feel so bad, I'm sorry...!”

Haru, for the second time that day, feels like he's having a conversation in a foreign language he doesn't actually know. His brow furrows and he lowers the fork more. “...What?”

Tachibana peeks at him through his fingers, but a third voice interrupts whatever Tachibana had been planning to say.

“What he means, is, ever since he saw you as a kid that one time he's been sickeningly in love with you and is ashamed of himself for being happy his apology dinner feel like a date,” A dry voice drolls in from the entrance way as Sousuke sticks his head in, looking incredibly non-plussed.

Haru vaguely feels his fork drop from his fingers.

“Sousuke!” Tachibana yelps, turning such a dark shade of red Haru is vaguely worried. “I-I-I, that's...! I'm not sickeningly in love, he was just really...! Who'd forget those eyes!? I just wanted to get to know him again, that's all, don't...d-don't say weird things!!”

Sousuke rolls his eyes, showing exactly what he thinks of Tachibana's vehement denials, and pulls his head out of the doorway with a mumbled announcement of going to bed. Tachibana continues to stutter through them, turning to apologies towards Haru because 'Sousuke is too forward' and 'he likes to read into things too much'.

Haru can only sit and slowly work through everything.

Tachibana...loved him? No, Haru doubted it was that intense, but a childish crush he's remembered after all these years...? Haru can't say he remembers Tachibana, but then again he would have been just another customer in and out of the shop like every other day. He might not even consciously seen him.

But still, it's kind of a sour feeling, to know that someone like Tachibana, beautiful and incredibly sought-after, has remembered him all these years and Haru didn't even recognize him in his present capacity...

Maybe it was yesterday's musings, of feeling tired and sluggish, like that stagnant water, but Haru says the next things out loud without really meaning to. “I wouldn't mind.”

Tachibana freezes in his babble, arms held as if he couldn't quite decide to reach out to Haru or cover his face again. “...E-Eh?”

“I don't...know anything about childhood crushes or any of that, and you're stupidly famous, and rich, and I'm covered in flour in your hotel suite that probably costs more than what my entire bakery makes in a day..but, if you, wanted to know me better...I. Wouldn't mind.”

Well, Tachibana is hot. And something about his smile makes Haru feel warm in places even the summer sun can't touch.

Even the ocean's tide had changes, right?

Suddenly, Tachibana laughs, bright and clear like a bell. It's a stupidly pretty sound. Haru wouldn't mind hearing it more.

“Ahaha...! You're...really amazing. I...I would like that, I think.” The laugh turns into that gentle sunlight smile. “Then, let's start over from the start and do this properly, right? I'm Tachibana Makoto, it's nice to meet you, Nanase-san!”

Haru huffs out slightly, turning his head from that dazzling display but feels the corners of his mouth turning just a bit upwards on their own.

“Call me Haru.”