Tooru demonstrates the duality of man. When he plays volleyball he’s serious; a respected leader. He ushers in held breaths like a samurai drawing an executioner’s blade. His eyes glow, burnt honey, driven by the fuel of his resolve. And when he’s at home with you he’s something like a whiny brat.
The two of you move in together after high school for university in the city. Your relationship is platonic and stable. If you have to be completely honest, you’re just thankful to be moving away from your parents. It could have been anybody to room with you. Living on your own is too expensive, but sharing with Tooru, your best friend, seemed to be a win-win.
Well, you say he’s your friend, and if you say it enough times you’ll mean it. Right?
You’ve known him for a long time. It’s not like you replaced Hajime, who you’re also quite close with (seeing as he’s the only one who can physically whip your ass into gear). You’re kind of a mess, and Tooru’s somewhat the same. But even with time, you and Tooru remained friends. Just good old pals. So when you see him come out of the shower, shirtless and half-wrapped in his towel, it’s all good. Just two pals.
Anyways, you were thankful to school for keeping you busy enough to not lament over your unrequited heartbreak. But then it became assignments after assignments, papers after papers, tests after tests, and at this rate you can actually feel your brain short circuiting. You’ve lost brain cells for sure. Tooru’s studying something different that you don’t quite understand, even when he tries to explain it to you. You just know that the both of you never talk as much as you used to, both cooped up in your rooms to study. He hasn’t retired from sports either. When he’s not home because of class, he’s not home because of practice. And as such, the tiny box apartment gets lonelier and lonelier.
Until you bring him home.
“We can’t keep that,” Tooru argues, red in the face. You clutch it tighter to your chest, feeling its hot body wriggle against your breast.
“I found him in the street, Tooru! What are we going to do, drop him at a pound and watch him die?”
“He won’t—that’s not how—that’s not what I’m—!” He stops himself to take a deep breath, running both of his hands up through chestnut hair. “Look, our apartment doesn’t allow dogs. We’re going to get evicted.”
“Then I’ll find a new place,” you say coldly. Your hands cage the puppy in your arms protectively as if it’ll fend off Tooru’s exasperation. “It’s not like we see each other at home anyways, so not much will change.”
He’s quiet. When too long passes by in silence, you take that as goodbye. The thought stings, but you understand where he’s coming from. You both signed a contract that there would be no dogs in this apartment, and if anybody found out, it’d be a huge legal issue. He’s busy, and there’s no need for him to get involved with something so stupid that could ruin his career. The puppy in your arms whimpers and whines, wriggling forcefully now.
“I’ll go pack my stuff, so just watch him for a few minutes please—”
You try to keep your tone neutral so that you don’t betray the hurt of having your best friend turn his back on you. But he surprises you by crouching down to where you sit and holds his large hands out.
“Let me see him.”
You hesitate at first, your maternal instinct making you wary. But the look in his eyes is gentle enough that you reluctantly loosen your grip and pass the puppy over. He’s so small, even smaller now in Tooru’s embrace. He’s got soft downy fur, a medley of tan and white patches. On his nose, there’s a tiny pink heart. You can’t tell what breed he is, but he’s heartbreakingly cute all the same. The puppy opens its eyes and squeals, its tiny tiny tail writhing. Finally, he stops squirming and relaxes. He likes Tooru.
“You’re on exam break, right?” he asks suddenly, his eyes snapping up to yours. Stunned, you can only nod. He nods back thoughtfully and you see the intelligent gears whirring in his mind.
“Then you stay home with him. When you have a test I’ll come stay with him. Make sure he doesn’t bark. And God, please make sure he doesn’t pee everywhere.”
He barks out the orders back to back and you’re absolutely shocked. A minute ago he was threatening to take the puppy to the pound himself, and now he was… accepting it? But you see the puppy’s eyes, shining brightly, endless pools of amber—and you think you understand. You fell in love at first sight with brown eyes, too.
The both of you can’t really come up with a good name for the dog. It’s all very sudden and the both of you argue too much over what names are stupid anyways. So you both settle for Gae, because it’s easy and no fuss, even if it is a bit lacklustre. Gae doesn’t seem to mind and responds to it right away, after a copious amount of bribing with leftover chicken.
Although you’d like to gush that your new furbaby is perfect, he’s a troublemaker for sure. Even though you pretty much spend all your unblinking time watching him, he finds a way to knock things over or teeth on things or pee on things. All your things endure horrible torture. At this rate you just accept your chewed-up shoes and walk outside with your toes hanging out.
He used to yap a lot. In the first few days, it was brutal, for Gae would cry and cry the second you or Tooru left him. The walls were pretty thin and there was no way you could pretend like you were just playing clips of puppies crying for no good reason at 3 am. It was kind of like having a human baby; you and Tooru ended up giving into exhaustion and slept on the floor, the puppy resting contentedly (and smugly) between you.
But that phase is over, now. You hope. Your training regimen consists of stuffing his greedy face with snacks until he does what you say. And, after some time passes, Gae really does become the perfect dog.
He grows up right in front of your eyes. You can hardly believe he used to be so small. It’s volleyball season and exam season, so Tooru is almost never home. But Gae keeps you company now, always pleased to play or snuggle whenever you need to. Tooru jokes that he’s jealous of Gae stealing you away, but you know Tooru loves the dog just as much as you do. You see it in his eyes whenever Gae rushes to the door when he comes in, the way he smiles to himself as he scratches the puppy behinds its floppy ears.
Gae’s got a lazy tongue that always flops out the right side of his mouth, even if you try to straighten it. Gae loves to eat anything and everything and jumps up on you and Tooru no matter how hard the both of you train him not to do that. (But maybe you just aren’t trying hard enough since it’s so cute to see his paws scratch the end of the table and his black snout sniff around). Gae doesn’t bark to beg; he puts his face on your thigh and sniffles, knowing full well you will never say no when you see it. When he wants to play he runs to the toy box and waits, head cocked. He’s smart, but he’ll still chase his big fluffy tail. Oh, and laser pointers never get old. He’ll chase it down forever, running into corners and walls and chairs just to go after the little red dot.
Gae also brings you and Tooru closer as the both of you work hard to keep your little secret. When Gae was littler, Tooru used to shove him into your shirt and pretend you were pregnant. The idea honestly worked best and the both of you got one of those strollers with the hood so you could hide the dog every time you needed to leave the apartment. Some of your neighbours congratulated you on the new baby, visibly confused on when you had gotten pregnant. You say it was an adoption, which, technically, it was. Everything was looking up.
But something’s wrong now.
Gae’s tired, much too tired. He lies lethargically and won’t eat, even if you press his nose right up to his favourite treats. He won’t drink or move, either. You call Tooru frantically and he rushes home immediately, showing up within minutes, pale-faced and sweaty from running. When he drives you all to the vet, you have to ask meekly,
“What were you doing when I called?”
“Nothing important. This is worth it.”
“Tooru… aren’t the interviews for the national volleyball team today?”
He glances over when he rolls up to a red light and gives you a soft smile. “Gae is worth it.”
Love springs in your heart. It was very easy to love Gae, and you loved him the minute you saw him mewling for help on the side of the road. But as the days grew, you started realizing more and more that you couldn’t move away from loving Tooru, too. You feel awful that you hadn’t just figured out how to get Gae to the vet yourself, but Tooru’s presence makes you feel so relieved that you just have to live with the guilt.
When the both of you get to the vet, Gae lies on the table, eyelashes fluttering as his eyes keep drifting shut. The tightness in your chest is overwhelming. You can’t imagine what it’d be like if you hear that something’s happened to him. You can’t imagine having to spend a day without your baby anymore. The panic attack sets in slowly, feeling like a burning hot wave that starts in your gut and then rushes up and down to your head and feet, and when it feels like you can’t breathe you—
Tooru is the one that grabs onto your hand, working his fingers under yours so you stop gripping your fists so tightly. He massages the palms and gets you to look up at him. When you meet his eyes you can see the worry weighing down his dark beautiful lashes—but he nods. It’s just a simple nod. ‘He’ll be okay,’ it says. ‘We’ll all be okay’. He looks the same as he did in high school, comforting the team mates that wept by his side even though his own heart lay in pieces. The thought that he hasn’t changed much comforts you.
Later, the vet tells you that Gae had gotten some sort of stomach bug. But, with a few meds he’ll be perfectl healthy again and back to his normal self. The news makes you cry instantly—the ugly cry kind of cry—and with relief you thank the vet through blubbers and sink to your chair. Gae’s tail thumps somewhat on the floor when he sees you like this and he whines quietly in his throat. Tooru sits besides you and without a word, wraps you up in a tight embrace. For a minute you wonder why he’s doing something so intimate when the both of you still haven’t said much about your relationship; but it feels so good that you don’t say anything that might end up. You cry your eyes out into Tooru’s shirt, thanking God for smiling down on Gae.
When you finally calm down and pull back, Tooru’s grinning at you. You figure it’s because you look like a mess, snotty and puffy-eyed and god knows what else. You glare, wondering if you look like a haggard witch or mashed up potato, and get embarrassed by your actions.
“What?” you snap, “I’m just happy Gae is okay.”
“I’m just thinking that the love of my life is a sweetheart.”
Tooru is Tooru—he’s gotten used to dropping these flirty lines like no big deal. You know this. Yet your heart explodes in your chest anyways, leaking childish butterflies all over the place, and your mind wheels with an attempt to come back with something. Before you can, Gae lifts his head up and plops it down in your lap, gazing right up at you with his bright brown eyes. You look down at him and then up at Tooru, who has the same eyes and same goofy expression. It makes sense, really, and you kind of hate yourself for being so predictable. But this is it, isn’t it? A trial and a tribulation and then the reward? Well, if this is the reward, you must’ve just died somewhere along the way and gone to heaven—because this is perfect.
But it’s been an emotional day. Your sigh trembles and you shake your head. You need a shower and a nap after all that stress. Picking Gae up into your arms, you tuck him close to you and straddle him on your waist. Without hesitating this time, you reach your hand out.
“Let’s go home, Tooru.”
He clasps onto it tightly. With Gae’s warmth on your front and Tooru’s by your side, you never felt so complete.