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something's gotta stick

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Such a tiny creature shouldn't be able to drag anyone around, especially since it was more fluff-ball than dog, but there Kyoutani was, being yanked about on an absolutely sweltering summer afternoon.

"Oy, Yasu, cut it out!" Kyoutani grumbled.

Anything but peaceful, the golden Pomeranian panted as he pulled the leash taut to sniff at a cluster of flowers before moving on to the next thing that caught his interest. Which happened to be a bee he'd dislodged from a petal.

I'm the one being walked, Kyoutani thought. He tried to steer Yasu away, but the dog showed no sign of slowing down, trotting to and fro in search of the insect, blissfully unaware of the danger it presented.

Luckily, it flew off before Yasu could spot it again, and Kyoutani sighed in relief.

It was also a lucky thing that Kyoutani was a dog person to begin with. When Nakamura-san asked that Kyoutani keep the convenience store open and dog sit for him, Kyoutani was quick to accept, promising to keep things running smoothly until his landlord returned. He'd already fixed the broken step at the bottom of the stairs that had sent Nakamura-san two prefectures over, to where a specialist would treat his fractured wrist.

But his landlord had left in a hurry, unable to spare any time to give Kyoutani specific instructions, so there was a lot of guesswork involved.

Managing the small corner store had turned out to be pretty simple, since Kyoutani already worked the counter some evenings to help pay for the upstairs room he lived in. Summer days were slow, which meant plenty of time for reading and breaks to take care of Yasu...who was another animal entirely.

Kyoutani crouched and pulled out Yasu's water dish from his backpack once the ball of fluff plopped down in the shade of a tree, little pink tongue curled and lolling. Yasu watched as Kyoutani poured water into the bowl, not making any effort to move.

“You are not a real dog.” They stared at each other until Kyoutani straightened up and pushed the bowl closer with the toe of his shoe. "There you are, Your Highness."

Once the dish was at the appropriate distance, Yasu began to lap up the water with gusto. Satisfied that His Royal Highness would be alright, Kyoutani took a swig from the bottle, silently cursing the heat.

Too distracted to notice the sound of approaching footsteps, Kyoutani was nearly startled by the voice at his back.

"Hey, sorry, do you have any water to spare?"

With the bottle still to his lips, Kyoutani turned to look at the stranger as he continued talking. A fellow dog-walker. He looked about the same height and age as Kyoutani, with dark spiky hair, kind brown eyes, and a slight pout to his lips. He was clearly athletic, if the cut of muscle under his fitted t-shirt said anything. His muscles had a lot to say, honestly. So much so that Kyoutani only caught the tail end of what he was actually saying.

"—gave her the rest of mine but she's still dying of thirst—not literally!" he amended when Kyoutani’s eyes widened in alarm.

Kyoutani forcibly pulled his attention away from the stranger’s biceps, instead focusing on the black and tan Shiba Inu he was walking. She looked as overheated as Kyoutani felt—and his shirt was plastered to his skin.

"Uh, yeah, of course," Kyoutani finally said, handing over the water bottle.

"Iwaizumi," the man offered. He had his own dish ready, and his dog didn't wait for him to finish upending the bottle before she was noisily lapping up the water.

Kyoutani was struck by the grittiness of Iwaizumi’s voice...because now that he was listening, it was actually quite nice.

"Kyoutani."

He wasn't sure whether the burning in his cheeks was from the heat, how Iwaizumi’s muscles rippled as he bent to stroke the dog's head while she drank, or both. Everything. But heat stroke was imminent.

"You're a real lifesaver, Kyoutani." Iwaizumi's smile nearly beat out the sun with its luminosity. The corners of his eyes crinkled with it. It was annoyingly endearing .

Absolutely dazzled, it took a moment for Kyoutani to react to the praise, which kindled something unfamiliar in his chest. It puzzled him—the water wasn’t a big deal—but since he couldn't detect any sarcasm, he settled for a simple nod.

Once both dishes were empty, the dogs approached each other, Iwaizumi's dog wary of Yasu, and for good reason. But Yasu only trotted around her, tangling their leashes into a twist of purple and green in the process, and sniffed her briefly before returning to playfully hop in front of her, yipping for her attention. She tilted her chin up and away, and Iwaizumi chuckled.

It was the friendliest that Kyoutani had ever seen Yasu, who was typically both bark and bite (getting him into his harness was...a task). The other dog tolerated Yasu with grace, looking up at Iwaizumi with nervous eyes a few times. Her perfectly curled tail was wagging, though, which Kyoutani took as a good sign.

Iwaizumi moved closer to detangle their leashes.

"She's super shy, but I think she likes him."

"She's probably the only one who likes Yasu, aside from his owner, honestly," Kyoutani said, feeling a jolt of pleasure at the gentle roll of Iwaizumi's laughter.

"He's not too bad," Iwaizumi said, bending to reach out to Yasu, who barked at him until he pulled back, hands up in surrender. "Easy, Yasu-chan. He’s feisty!"

In contrast, Kyoutani had no problems stroking Iwaizumi's dog. She was soft and warm and cute, with tan spots above her eyes, like little eyebrows.

"What's her name?"

Iwaizumi had straightened up. He quietly cleared his throat before answering, and Kyoutani’s ears pricked up.

“I'm...not sure. Someone dropped her off at my parent's vet clinic a few days ago, said she was a stray, and I decided to take her off of their hands. I've been trying some more common names but she hasn't taken to anything yet."

“She reminds me of a burnt marshmallow, if that helps any.”

Iwaizumi looked at him and quirked a brow, then smiled again, big and breathtaking. Then, he said, “I thought the same thing.”

Kyoutani looked down at the dogs, willing the blush away. It was futile, really, with so much heat consuming him from outside and within.

“We don’t know who her owners were, but I put a few notices out.” Iwaizumi sounded…wistful for a moment before his cheer returned. “She’s staying with me for now, though, so something’s gotta stick.”

She was leaning against Iwaizumi’s leg, nuzzling into his palm almost as if in forgiveness. It was obvious how attached they’d grown to each other already, so Kyoutani hoped it worked out where Iwaizumi would be able to keep her.

“Yeah.”

"Well, I’m sorry to take your water away. Can I get you another? There’s a corner store nearby, I think."

Break time was nearly over, and there was no harm in bringing someone back to the store, so Kyoutani obliged, heart hammering in his chest the entire walk back. He’s just being nice, you idiot.

Iwaizumi mercifully kept back-and-forth conversation to a minimum, telling Kyoutani about how he grew up around animals and wanted to take over his family’s clinic when the time came. He didn’t seem to mind that he was doing most of the talking.

And Kyoutani was content with listening, wishing that he too had a noble goal like Iwaizumi’s. He hastily unlocked the store’s front door and let the other three inside ahead of him.  

“I live upstairs, and I’m working here by myself for now,” he explained, terse to his own ears. “Drinks are over there.”

Both dogs were grateful for the air conditioning, Iwaizumi’s dog splaying out on the cool tile while Kyoutani put Yasu behind the counter to give her a break.

Iwaizumi walked up with two waters and a wide grin. "So, I’ve been wanting to ask...where'd you get them pierced?"

"Huh?"

In reply, Iwaizumi pointed at his chest, and that's when Kyoutani remembered that his white shirt was damp with his sweat, which made his piercings very conspicuous.

It was a wonder that Kyoutani didn't combust on the spot, but he schooled his expression into nonchalance. "Oh, there's a place down the street from here. They do tattoos and piercings and stuff.”

“I might check it out,” Iwaizumi said, winking cheekily. “Been wanting to get inked.”

Kyoutani focused on ringing up the water, ignoring the totally inappropriate uptick in his heart rate.

“So...you know a lot about animals, right? Dogs?”

Iwaizumi nodded, switching gears readily. “Some stuff, yeah.” He opened his water and motioned for Kyoutani to continue.

“How do you…” The question felt heavy on Kyoutani’s tongue. Watching Iwaizumi’s Adam’s apple bob as he drank was hardly better than looking him in the eye. “How do you comfort them when their owner’s away?”

“That’s easy. Do you have anything of the owner’s, like a shirt or jacket? Their scent is reassuring even when they’re not around.”

“Yeah, makes sense. Thanks.” There were plenty of things Nakamura-san had lying around in the back, seeing as he lived there, too.

“Anything else?” Something like hope thrummed under Iwaizumi’s words, glinted in his eyes.

“No, but, uh, thanks for the water.” Kyoutani took his bottle and bumped it against Iwaizumi’s. “I gave you the family discount, so yours is free.”

Iwaizumi’s eyebrows shot up, voice airy with mock indignation. “No fair, I was supposed to pay you back you for saving my nameless marshmallow’s life!”

Kyoutani couldn’t help but snort, lips curling into a grin as he rose to the challenge. He set the bottle aside and leaned forward onto the counter, into Iwaizumi’s space.

“I said yours was free. And you just gave me some good advice.”

“Well, I still feel indebted,” Iwaizumi said, mouth falling into a pout. Then it melted away, something softer taking its place. “How ‘bout I, er, give you my number in case you have any more questions?”

It was the first note of hesitancy that Kyoutani had detected from Iwaizumi. The blush was back in full force now, but at least it was mutual this time.

Kyoutani grunted a laugh to mask his nerves and keep up his cool attitude. “If I give you mine, won’t you still owe me, Iwaizumi?”

“We could always work something out later, can’t we?” Iwaizumi had recovered—his voice had somehow dropped even lower, making the hairs stand up on the back of Kyoutani’s neck.

Kyoutani—desperately, he realized—wanted to see where this would take them. His composure was about to crack, heartbeat like thunder in his ears, but he still managed to arch a brow at Iwaizumi.

“I suppose we can.”