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Hook, Line, and Sinker

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Shōta glares down at his phone screen.

Hey, sexy. I don’t normally go for stubble, but you make it work.

The message is followed by a winking emoji, and Shōta doesn’t even hesitate before unliking the man’s profile. Not for the first time, he wonders if Nemuri had actually made him this profile to get him a date, or if she’d just done it to mess with him.

At the very least if she’s going to like someone’s profile for him, she should pick someone halfway decent.

“There’s nothing wrong with being single,” Shōta mutters to himself, but instead of closing out of the app, he continues to scroll through the profiles. Unfortunately, he knows that if he doesn’t make at least a superficial effort, Nemuri will start setting him up on actual blind dates, and he’d much rather spend five minutes avoiding conversation by rejecting profiles than waste precious hours of his free time on terrible dates.

Thankfully, it’s easy to speed through the profiles when half of them are just shirtless chests. It’s not as if he’s not interested in sex, and on a rare occasion he finds himself pausing an extra second to take in a particularly well-proportioned picture, but sex always seems to be more work than it’s worth.

Part of Shōta wants to ask Nemuri if she’s just trying to live vicariously through him, but unfortunately he is well aware of how often she gets laid, if her drunk, oversharing texts are any indication.

A minute and twenty profiles later, Shōta’s about to exit out of the app when a certain profile catches his eye.

There’s something familiar about the photo.

He frowns at it for a moment, taking in the man’s artfully disheveled blond hair and angular sunglasses, neatly groomed mustache hovering over his grin. He’s not shirtless, Shōta notes idly, although the white t-shirt clinging to his chest doesn’t differentiate him that much from the other profiles, and Shōta’s about the reject him when an ad banner pops up at the bottom of his phone screen.

Shōta stares. After all, he hadn’t thought someone would be enough of an idiot to try to use superstar singer Present Mic’s face to catfish people.

Slowly, a smirk spreads over his face, and he likes the profile.

And, a moment later, the app congratulates him on a match.

For a moment, he considers sending the first message, but in the end, he just inspects the man’s profile. The rest of the photos don’t differ much from his profile picture: him posing with a Starbucks Frappuccino, lounging on a couch with an acoustic guitar, shirtless at the beach.

Yamada Hizashi, 27. Likes music and caffeine. Looking for someone to have fun with!

Shōta snorts as he reads the profile. It could practically be a parody account.

Out of curiosity, Shōta finds himself closing the app and opening up Instagram instead. Like the dating app, Nemuri had made an account for him, and briefly, Shōta wonders if he should start worrying about whether or not Nemuri is the type of person to commit identity theft.

A bit of searching later, he finds himself on Present Mic’s profile, full of dimly lit photos that somehow manage to make harsh stage lighting look good, interspersed with the occasional soft, daily life photo probably intended to make him look like a normal person.

To be entirely honest, Shōta’s never really understood the hype. Present Mic’s stage getup makes him look like some sort of bizarre parrot, with what is probably a hazardous amount of gel holding his hair up in a massive spike. He looks better in his ‘off’ mode, blond hair turned into something soft and silky-looking as it frames his well-ordered face, but his eyebrows are still angled a little weirdly and his mustache is ridiculous at best.

It probably wouldn’t be hard to find photos of someone just as good looking and less well-known to use for a catfish, Shōta thinks idly.

A little bit of scrolling through Present Mic’s Instagram reveals the photos from the dating profile. They’re entirely unedited, and Shōta lets out a little snort as he wonders just how gullible the catfish thinks he is.

Then again, the person hasn’t actually messaged –

Shōta phone buzzes with a notification.

Hey.

Shōta lets out another snort.

His phone buzzes again and he taps over to open up the app, bringing up the new message which says, There’s not much on your profile.

There had been a lot, actually, but Shōta had deleted most of what Nemuri had written for him, starting with, I’m 27 and need to find someone to share my life with before I start referring to my cats as my children.

For a moment, Shōta hesitates, but then he types out, I’m new to this.

He hits send and then wonders if it comes off as innocent and gullible or just awkward.

Me too! ‘Hizashi’ replies. Well, sort of. I’ve had the app for a while but I haven’t matched with anyone.

Briefly, Shōta considers replying with, Maybe you’d get better results if you found someone less famous to catfish with, but instead he says, My friend forcibly downloaded the app onto my phone and made me a profile.

You’re not much of a technology fan, are you? ‘Hizashi’ replies.

The corners of Shōta’s mouth twist up into a smirk.

I like it when it serves a purpose. I don’t have the time for Instagram and Twitter and dating apps.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to respond. In fact, Shōta almost thinks that he’s not going to respond, when another message pops up in the chat.

I feel that. The reason I decided to try a dating app was because my job keeps me too busy to meet people irl.

“I’m sure it does,” Shōta mutters to himself as he taps his fingers against his phone screen.

What sort of work do you do?  he asks.

This time, the answer comes quicker.

I dabble in a few different things, the new message reads. Another message pops up in the chat, which says, I’m mainly involved in music, though.

“Music,” Shōta repeats dryly. “You can’t even come up with your own backstory? I could report you for identity theft.”

Before he can reply, though, his phone buzzes with another message.

What about you?

Shōta hesitates for a moment, wondering how much he should say. It’s already abundantly clear that this is a catfish, but at this point it’s a little hard to tell if it’s just an attempt to get nudes from gullible idiots or if it’s a larger scam.

I’m a teacher, Shōta types out. Hopefully that’s vague enough to keep him out of trouble, but enough information that it’ll make him seem appropriately duped. I don’t really know anything about music.

It’s not really a lie. Although he’s aware of Present Mic, he can’t name any of Present Mic’s songs off the top of his head. The only reason he recognized the catfishing photos in the first place was because the train he takes to work has been plastered with Monster energy drink advertisements for the past month, Present Mic’s face displayed in all its photoshopped glory.

Shōta’s phone vibrates again.

And I don’t know anything about teaching! We’re a perfect match :)

At least it’s better than, Hey, sexy.

---

Bubble tea. Thoughts?

Shōta glances down at the new message that’s lit up his phone screen. Another text pops up a moment later, a photo this time, and Shōta looks at it until the screen goes dark again, before turning back to his computer.

“You’re not going to answer that?” Nemuri asks, leaning over the boundary of their desks.

“We’re at work,” Shōta answers, tapping at his computer keyboard.

“It’s summer break,” Nemuri huffs. She plants her elbow on the edge of Shōta’s desk, leaning further into his personal space as she tries to get a look at his phone screen, and Shōta’s glad he had the foresight to put his phone on the opposite side of the desk from her.

“And I’m trying to finish inputting absences into student records,” Shōta replies, reaching over to flip his phone over, so Nemuri can’t see the screen.

“You have more than a month to do that,” Nemuri complains, petulant. “You disappeared for an hour yesterday and I know you were taking a nap somewhere.”

Shōta doesn’t dignify her with a response.

“So, have you matched with anyone yet?” Nemuri asks, once it’s clear Shōta isn’t going to say anything more.

Briefly, Shōta considers telling her about ‘Hizashi,’ but she’d probably complain about him not taking things seriously and try to match him with someone else, so instead he says, “None of your business.”

“So you have,” Nemuri replies, a smirk spreading across her neatly pained lips. “Is that who was messaging you?”

Shōta shoots her a glare.

“Alright, alright,” Nemuri sighs, finally retreating back to her own desk. “You don’t have to tell me the details as long as you’re at least putting in an effort. You’re not going to find love by sitting at home and watching cat videos every weekend.”

“You sound like my mother,” Shōta snorts.

Actually, that’s an insult to his mother. She’s much less nosy.

Thankfully, Nemuri gets absorbed back into her own work fairly quickly. As annoying as her meddling can be sometimes, the only reason Shōta became a teacher was because of her incessant prodding, and he doesn’t regret it in the slightest.

Not that he’d ever actually admit that to Nemuri. She’d just become more insufferable.

About an hour later, Shōta closes out of the spreadsheet and stretches, office chair squeaking as he shifts his position. His coffee mug has long since gone empty, and he snags it as he gets up from his desk, and after a second of hesitation, he grabs his phone too.

There’s no one else in the staff kitchen, everyone either working or on break. There’s no lukewarm coffee remaining in the pot, so Shōta busies himself with making more, before plopping himself down at the table to wait.

Then, he turns to his phone.

Other than the, Bubble tea. Thoughts? and the photo, ‘Hizashi’ hasn’t sent him any new messages. The photo is one of Present Mic, grinning around a straw as he shows off his drink to the camera, dark tapioca pearls visible through the murky brown liquid.

Shōta exits out of the conversation and switches over to Instagram instead, tapping around until he gets to Present Mic’s profile. Sure enough, the first image that pops up is the one ‘Hizashi’ had sent him, posted only about fifteen minutes before Shōta had received the message.

The caption reads: Nothing better than brown sugar milk tea after a long recording session! 100% sugar to satisfy my sweet tooth, of course.

An idea pops into Shōta’s head, and he switches back to the dating app.

It’s fine as long as it’s not too sweet.

He sends the message and then locks his phone again, looking back over at the coffee maker. However, his attention is drawn back only a few seconds later, when his phone buzzes with a new message.

What?! What’s the point of bubble tea if it’s not sweet? It’s 100% sweetness brown sugar milk tea or bust for me.

Shōta can feel his eyebrows raise as he reads the text. The way ‘Hizashi’ had talked about working in the music industry had seemed to suggest that his plan was closer to full identity fraud instead of simple catfishing, and ‘Hizashi’ reciting Present Mic’s full drink order only confirms it.

Tea shouldn’t be sweet, Shōta types out. If it’s sweet then it’s just juice.

It takes a little longer for ‘Hizashi’ to reply this time.

Tea is made from leaves. Juice is made from fruit. Sweetened tea is just tea with sugar in it, therefore it is still tea and not juice.

The corners of Shōta’s lips quirk up into the barest hint of a smile as he reads the text, the indignant tone coming through clearly. Either ‘Hizashi’ is a method actor or he really does prefer sickeningly sugary tea.

It’s a good thing this isn’t a date.

Barely a second after sending the text, ‘Hizashi’ replies with a, ?

I wouldn’t be able to go on a date with you at a bubble tea shop, Shōta clarifies.

So you’re fine with arguing about tea sweetness over text but not in person?

Shōta’s smile turns into something more akin to a smirk as he types out his reply and hits send.

I wouldn’t be able to kiss you afterwards.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to respond. Briefly, he wonders if he should have left out the flirting, but this is a dating app after all, and he’s trying to appear appropriately catfished.

Eventually, though, his phone buzzes with another message.

I’m offended that you think I’m the type of guy who puts out on the first date.

Shōta lets out a soft, amused snort as he reads it, a teasing tone lacing the words despite any concrete evidence to suggest that ‘Hizashi’ is just messing around, and not actually offended.

You’re not?

‘Hizashi’ replies with a sad face emoji.

I’m a pure man, just looking for love, he adds in another text.

Your profile says “looking for someone to have fun with,” Shōta replies. It also has a picture of you shirtless.

So you’re just trying to get into my pants, ‘Hizashi’ says, following it up with another sad emoji for comedic effect.

I only like the profiles of men with shirtless photos. Yours was borderline.

“Ooh, are you texting the person who was blowing up your phone earlier?”

Shōta locks his phone before the message has even finished sending and looks up to glare at Nemuri, who’s sauntered into the kitchen and is grinning at him wide enough to rival the Cheshire Cat.

“It was one text,” Shōta snorts, slipping his phone into the dark depths of one of his tracksuit pockets.

Well. Technically it was one text and one photo.

“Uh huh,” Nemuri replies, sounding very unconvinced. “And you’ve been sitting here replying to that one text for how long?”

Shōta resists the urge to check the clock.

“I was waiting for the coffee maker,” Shōta finally says, grabbing his coffee mug and standing up from the kitchen table. He pauses, and adds, “And it’s summer break so I can take my time.”

“Take all the time you need,” Nemuri laughs, plopping herself down at the kitchen table. Shōta doesn’t dignify her with a reply, instead picking up the coffee pot and pouring himself a fresh cup.

It’s gone a little lukewarm.

---

He and ‘Hizashi’ have been talking – a lot, actually.

It’s nothing serious, just little snippets of conversation about whatever ‘Hizashi’ decides to pester him about. He’s gotten into the habit of sending Shōta a photo whenever he gets bubble tea, in a vain attempt to convince Shōta that sugary tea is not an abomination, and although Shōta suspects he knows that it’s never going to work, he seems to like the argument too much.

Not that he’d ever admit it aloud, but Shōta kind of likes the argument too.

Their messages never go deeper than that, though. It’s a bit of a relief, because at least it means that ‘Hizashi’ isn’t fishing for information, and despite how many stolen photos ‘Hizashi’ sends, he never demands any in return.

Shōta’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he reaches for it on instinct.

Think I’d make a good model?

A photo follows it a moment later, and Shōta has to bite the inside of his cheek to suppress a grin. It’s of Present Mic, of course, sitting in what looks like a dressing room, yellowish lighting illuminating the glitter painted across his cheeks. Shōta may not know a lot about makeup, but he’s fairly sure that’s eyeliner caked around Present Mic’s eyes too, making his bright green color-contact eyes pop.

Is that what you’re dabbling in nowadays? Shōta replies.

A moment later, his phone buzzes with a reply.

I haven’t quite broken through yet. The stylist keeps trying to shave my mustache.

The message makes Shōta actually grin this time, and part of him wonders if this whole thing is supposed to be an attempt at a Present Mic parody account.

Good riddance.

As he sends the message, he can almost imagine the offended look on Hizashi’s face.

Well, Present Mic’s.

Blocked, is all ‘Hizashi’ replies with.

Before Shōta can think of a proper retort, though, he’s broken out of his thoughts by the feeling of something bumping up against his calf.

“Sorry,” he says, glancing down to find that the scrawny black alley cat he was feeding has finished her food and is now demanding proper attention.

She continues to rub against his leg, so he sits down on the stairs leading up to his apartment building, before reaching down and hefting her up into his lap. She doesn’t seem to mind the manhandling, a little unusual for a stray cat, but Shōta supposes that maybe the past few months of feeding have softened her up to him.

“At least you’re slightly bigger than before,” Shōta snorts as he pets her, feeling the slightly less bony contour of her back underneath his fingers.

In reply, the cat bumps her head against his stomach and starts to purr.

Shōta’s just started stroking under her chin when he feels his phone buzz with another text.

What are you up to on this fine Friday night?

The text makes Shōta pause for a moment, and he starts to type out a reply, before changing his mind and deleting it. Instead, he switches to the camera app and snaps a photo of the cat curled contentedly in his lap.

The cat presses her head up against his hand, and Shōta dutifully resumes petting her, although he keeps his other hand free to hold his phone.

You know, your profile pic makes you look a little bit like a serial killer but now you’ve lost all your street cred.

“Serial killer?” Shōta snorts as he reads the message. Then again, his profile picture is a slightly blurry image Nemuri had stealthily taken of him at graduation, one of the few days of the year he actually bothers to shave, and had managed to catch him at the precise moment he’d started wishing that the ceremony would just be over already.

Another message pops up in the chat.

Part of me wants to ask how many cats you have and part of me really doesn’t want to know.

Briefly, Shōta considers replying with a ridiculous number, but instead he says, None.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to reply.

… then why is there a cat in your lap?

A smile tugs at the corners of Shōta’s lips and he brings up his camera app again, reangling his phone to capture an image of the four other stray cats wolfing down dry food from the bowls lined up against the side of the apartment building.

‘Hizashi’ responds with a message that says: So you’re being extorted for food by the cat yakuza. Got it.

Shōta lets out another little snort, somewhere between amusement and annoyance.

My apartment building doesn’t allow pets so I feed the strays, he explains.

So what you’re saying is that the only reason you’re not a cat hoarder is that you’re not allowed to be one.

One cat is not a hoard.

Unless I’m miscounting, there are four cats in the photo you just sent me, plus the one in your lap. Five cats is sort of a hoard.

Shōta doesn’t dignify that text with a reply, instead locking his phone and going back to petting the cat in his lap. Her purring gets louder, a steady rumble underneath his palm, the warmth of her small body seeping into his thighs through the fabric of his tracksuit.

However, a moment later he’s broken out of the moment by the buzz of his phone.

When he glances at the phone screen, he sees that it’s a photo instead of a text this time. Briefly, he considers ignoring it, but in the end curiosity gets the better of him, and he unlocks his phone again, tapping over to open the conversation and bringing up the picture.

It’s of a cat, a Scottish Fold from the look of its ears, coat a lovely dappled orange.

However, it’s the framing of the picture, more than the contents itself, that makes Shōta pause. Unlike all of the other photos ‘Hizashi’ has sent him, it’s a little angled, clearly devoid of a filter or any other editing for that matter. The cat is lounging on a plush carpeted floor behind a series of floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and Shōta’s forehead creases as he wonders if the photo was taken from the balcony of the building across the way.

Slowly, Shōta starts to wonder if this is the first original photo ‘Hizashi’ has sent him, instead of just scavenging from Present Mic’s social media accounts.

Another text pops up into view.

My neighbor’s cat.

Shōta hesitates, but then types out, Your neighbor has a beautiful Scottish Fold.

A what now?

The breed.

How can you tell what breed it is?? I thought all cats were the same.

The ears, Shōta replies. He doesn’t mention that Scottish Folds and Munchkin Cats are about the only breeds he can reliably recognize.

Wait the ears are supposed to be like that?

The ears are what makes them so expensive.

Expensive???

Up to 300,000 yen.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to reply, and part of Shōta wonders if he’s googling the price to confirm.

So between one ridiculously fancy cat and five mangy alley cats, you chose the five alley cats. And you’re not a cat hoarder in the making?

Shōta takes ten more cat photos and sends them to ‘Hizashi’ out of spite.

---

“So,” Nemuri says over barbeque, licking sesame sauce off her lips. “Is that the same guy?”

Shōta relocks his phone and shoves it into his pocket without replying to the new message that’s popped up in his chat with ‘Hizashi.’

“None of your business,” Shōta huffs. Unfortunately, for Nemuri that’s as good as a ‘yes.’

“Are you going to finally show me a pic?” Nemuri presses, leaning further over the table, her breasts swelling up under the low neckline of her shirt. Shōta does the gentlemanly thing and pretends not to notice.

“No,” Shōta replies curtly, snagging a piece of beef off the grill before it crosses over to the wrong side of crispy.

“Well, if you’re not going to show me his picture then you have to at least tell me what the sex is like,” Nemuri huffs, pushing out her lower lip in a pout.

Shōta promptly chokes on his beef.

“I mean, it must be good if this guy has got you grinning down at your phone like an idiot all the time,” Nemuri continues, absentmindedly pushing a glass of water over towards Shōta. “He’s even got you sneaking off to the kitchen and bathroom to check messages.” A smirk curls the edges of her lips. “You’re not sexing during work hours, are you?”

“We haven’t had sex,” Shōta grits out, once he’s finally managed to clear his airway again.

Nemuri blinks at him, looking caught off guard.

“You’re joking, right?” Nemuri asks, her eyebrows disappearing up towards her hairline.

Shōta glares.

“The whole reason I downloaded that app on your phone was to get you laid!” Nemuri exclaims, like she’s personally offended that Shōta’s using a dating app for dating purposes, instead of quick hookups.

(Not that Shōta’s actually using it for dating either, but she doesn’t need to know that.)

Shōta almost says, My right hand works fine, but then thinks better of it.

“I’m not going to hook up with some stranger from the internet,” he says instead, snagging another piece of meat from the grill. “We had an assembly warning the students not to do that last month.”

Technically the assembly was more about not meeting shady internet ‘friends’ than about hookup apps, but the same principle applies.

“You’re an adult with fifteen years of judo training,” Nemuri replies, waving off his protests. “And you need to get laid before you become so much of a workaholic you start fucking your desk instead.”

“You’re disgusting,” Shōta says flatly.

“Studies suggest that sex reduces stress and helps people sleep,” Nemuri counters, snagging an onion off the grill. “And you could use both of those.”

Shōta can’t really argue with that.

The conversation progresses to other topics from there, but it still lingers in the back of Shōta’s mind. It’s been longer than he’d like to admit since he last had someone in his bed, but it doesn’t bother him usually, not when he has so many other things to occupy his time. He does like sex, though, likes the rush of endorphins and the heat of another body pressed flush against his, skin salty with sweat in a way that should be unappetizing, but somehow isn’t.

Of course, it’s not like he can actually have sex with ‘Hizashi.’ ‘Hizashi’ is exactly the sort of shady catfish they use in examples when talking to kids about internet safety, and as much as Shōta enjoys talking to him, there’s no way for him to justify meeting up with someone who he knows is lying about their identity.

Still, a small, small part of him thinks that sex with ‘Hizashi’ might be nice. He’d probably be fun in bed, at the very least.

You’ve been ignoring me all night :(

Shōta’s slumped in a seat on the train home when he finally digs his phone out of his pocket again to check his messages.

I was at dinner with a friend, he starts to type, but then pauses.

He deletes the message and drafts a new one.

I was looking to see if there were any new profiles with good shirtless photos.

He hits send before he can think better of it, and then wonders if half a beer with dinner is enough to impair his critical thought nowadays.

Mine isn’t good enough for you anymore?!

The text is followed by an emoji crying very dramatically.

There’s only one, Shōta replies.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ longer to reply this time. Shōta’s starting to wonder if he’d gone too far with the flirting, although it’s not anything worse than things they’ve said to each other in previous conversations, and the train reaches his stop before he receives a response.

As he walks the few blocks back to his apartment, part of Shōta wishes that he had some cool night air to bring him back to his senses, but the atmosphere is stifled by the heavy warmth of summer, and Shōta can feel a bit of sweat bead against his skin.

When he finally gets back into his apartment, he tugs off his shoes and then makes his way over the bed set up in the corner of the single room, collapsing down onto it.

Then he picks up his phone again.

‘Hizashi’ has sent a photo.

How’s this? the following message reads, and Shōta feels his heartrate kick up a notch as he taps on the photo, blowing it up to full size.

It doesn’t seem like one of Present Mic’s photos, at first glance, but the person’s face has been carefully cropped out of the frame. The person’s chest isn’t very muscular, but it’s not terribly weak looking either, slender and clean-shaven, except for the light dusting of hair leading down under the elastic of the person’s sweatpants.

Shōta feels a rush of arousal pool low in his stomach even though he knows the photo is a fake.

You cropped out your face, Shōta finally manages to reply.

I’m in the entertainment industry, ‘Hizashi’ replies. I can’t risk any compromising photos getting leaked.

For a split-second, Shōta’s mind superimposes Present Mic’s face onto the photo, and he pushes it out of his mind the moment he realizes what he’s doing.

You think I’d leak your photos?

No. The reply comes without hesitation. But technology is scary and Google owns everything.

A laugh escapes Shōta’s mouth before he can stop it.

I suppose it’ll do, he types out.

‘Hizashi’ sends him a winking emoji, but doesn’t ask for a shirtless photo in return.

Shōta’s almost disappointed.

---

Getting off to shirtless photos of ‘Hizashi’ doesn’t really change their relationship, somehow.

Then again, it’s not like it was actually a photo of whoever it is on the other end of the phone, and by the time Shōta had let himself slip fully into the fantasy, he’d ended up coming to an image of Present Mic with ‘Hizashi’s personality.

He’d felt guilty for approximately five seconds before reminding himself that Present Mic has done plenty of provocative photoshoots before, and it’s not like they’d ever meet anyway. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

It hasn’t happened again, though. Their conversations turn flirty occasionally, but they always turn mundane again soon enough.

Shōta collapses onto his couch as soon as he gets home.

Then, he digs his phone out of his pocket.

There’s a new message from ‘Hizashi,’ as there always is. It’s a photo of his neighbor’s cat this time, and Shōta smiles slightly as he looks at it, the orange cat stretched out in a pool of sunlight. ‘Hizashi’ has been sending him a new photo of the cat nearly every day now, and they’re by far Shōta’s favorites, a small peek into the life of whoever’s really behind this account, instead of just photos stolen from Present Mic’s Instagram.

Now which one of us is going to turn into a cat hoarder? Shōta replies.

He switches over to Instagram after he sends the message, bringing up Present Mic’s profile with practiced ease. Lately he’s started to play a game where he tries to guess what photos ‘Hizashi’ will send him, and he tries to memorize the captions to give him something to make questions out of, to see how deep ‘Hizashi’s commitment to this scam actually goes.

It’s strange, actually. ‘Hizashi’ always seems to choose recent photos, ones that could easily expose him as a catfish, but whenever Shōta asks him a question, he answers flawlessly.

“Maybe he actually is Present Mic,” Shōta mutters to himself. The corners of his lips twitch has he tries not to laugh at the thought.

Finally, his phone buzzes with a text.

Yeah, she’s so cute :)

The message makes Shōta pause.

He’s never seen ‘Hizashi’ use a regular smiling emoji before, instead of something more flashy.

So you agree that you’re going to turn into a cat hoarder, Shōta replies, his mouth twisting down into a frown.

It takes a little longer than usual for ‘Hizashi’ to reply.

Sometimes you just can’t fight human nature.

Shōta stares.

Loving small animals seems pretty intrinsic, ‘Hizashi’ adds a moment later.

Shōta hesitates, but then types out, Are you alright?

Again, it takes ‘Hizashi’ longer than usual to reply.

No, I’m not alright. You’re turning me into a cat hoarder!

It should come across as light and teasing, like their usual banter does, but there’s something about the phrasing that makes it seem heavy in Shōta’s mind, and his forehead creases to match his frown.

Are you alright? he asks again.

Another pause.

Do you have some sort of sixth sense? ‘Hizashi’ finally replies.

Is that a “no”?

Just had a rough day.

Shōta can almost hear the soft, self-deprecating laugh that accompanies it.

Tell me.

It’s not a request.

Just some reporters trying to rile me. I can handle them, though.

Briefly, Shōta wonders if this is still part of the whole Present Mic act, but something tells him it’s genuine. Maybe ‘Hizashi’ really does work in the music industry, although it’s probably something less glamorous, like a PA or manager.

Then again, it seems like he lives in a building across from a fancy high rise with tenants who own spoiled Scottish Fold cats. Maybe he’s an executive instead.

If you need to vent, then vent, Shōta says, typing out the message with careful taps. I don’t know anything about the entertainment industry so I probably won’t understand it anyway.

A few long seconds stretch on as he waits for a response. Eventually the seconds morph into a minute, and a minute into two, and Shōta’s about to put away his phone and accept that ‘Hizashi’ doesn’t want to talk when a very long message pops up on his screen.

It was just stupid people writing stupid articles. And I know it’s not true and I know everyone else knows it’s not true but if I get mad about it then that’s just another article for them to write and so I just have to deal with it. And then on top of that work went long today because the schedule got delayed because there was a big accident on the expressway which made people late.

Another shorter message appears below it.

And now I’m at home alone trying to figure out if I have enough energy to cook or if I’m going to order takeout for like the fifth time this week.

The business executive theory is getting stronger. Of course, that also means that ‘Hizashi’ is probably a balding fifty-year-old instead of a twenty-something popstar.

Order takeout, Shōta finally replies.

Thanks for taking one decision off my plate, ‘Hizashi’ says. He follows it up with a smiling emoji.

Shōta pauses for a moment, searching for something appropriately comforting to say. Before he can find the right words, though, his phone buzzes with another message.

Wow, I feel way better.

Shōta’s forehead creases.

I guess I just needed someone to notice I wasn’t doing well. Usually unless I make a scene out of it, people assume I’m fine.

So not arguing with me is your way of crying for help, Shōta types out, hoping his dry tone comes through in text form.

I wouldn’t say it was a “cry for help.” I just didn’t have the energy for it.

A small huff of laughter escapes Shōta’s mouth and his lips quirk up into a smile.

Clearly you’re fine now. He pauses, then adds, You should get a cat.

???

Barely a second later, You really are trying to turn me into a cat hoarder, pops up in the chat, and idly Shōta wonders how it’s possible for someone to type that quickly.

Pets are good for lonely workaholics, Shōta explains.

So now you’re calling me a lonely workaholic, ‘Hizashi’ replies, and Shōta can practically hear the indignant huff in his voice.

Am I wrong?

‘Hizashi’ doesn’t dignify his message with a reply.

Taking care of the stray cats in my neighborhood improves my mood when I don’t have the time or energy for human interaction, Shōta continues, typing out the text with careful movements. And if you vent to a cat, it’ll understand about as much of it as I do.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a little longer to reply this time, and Shōta wonders if he’s googling “the benefits of cat ownership.”

Finally, ‘Hizashi’ says, I don’t have the time for a pet.

Shōta lets out a little snort. Aren’t famous popstars supposed to have personal assistants who are employed solely to carry around their poodles and Persians?

You don’t have to take cats for walks, Shōta replies. They just need a bit of attention every day.

He pauses.

Or you could just get two cats to occupy each other.

A couple moments pass before Shōta’s phone buzzes with another message.

If I end up with seven cats, I blame you.

If Shōta laughs, there’s no one to hear him.

Chapter Text

So I got some cats.

The message pops up on Shōta’s phone, and for a moment, Shōta wonders if he’s somehow lost the ability to read.

A photo follows shortly after.

I didn’t think you’d take me seriously, Shōta types out slowly, eyeing the photo. There are two cats in it, juveniles judging by their size, small balls of white fur with black patches sniffing around a fancy looking couch curiously.

You targeted me when I was emotionally vulnerable, Hizashi replies. This is your fault.

I wouldn’t have made the suggestion if I’d known you had a leather couch, Shōta says, sinking back into the cheap, faded fabric of his own couch.

I bought a couple of scratching posts and stuff! Shōta can almost hear the indignant edge of Hizashi’s tone. This wasn’t a complete impulse decision!

The corners of Shōta’s lips quirk up slightly as he reads the message.

I should hope so. You’re in charge of keeping two living creatures alive now.

I’m going to spoil them so much. They’ll be the most pampered kitties in the world. No more tough street life for them.

The last part of the text makes Shōta’s forehead crease slightly, and he repeats, Tough street life?

It takes a moment for Hizashi to reply this time, but eventually a website link pops up in the chat, followed by another message which says, I figured it would be better to get two cats for the price of one from a shelter than one of those super expensive droopy eared cats. A pause, then another message. Even though the ears are really cute.

A strange warmth heats Shōta’s chest as he thinks about Hizashi not only following his advice and getting cats, but also going to a shelter to adopt them. It’s something he’s wanted to do himself, but he can’t afford a pet friendly apartment this close to a train station, and a small part of him feels pleased at the thought that Hizashi is doing this for him.

Instead of admitting that, though, he says, You’ll still have twice the medical bills.

I already said I was going to spoil them! Hizashi replies. If they so much as cough, they’re off to the vet.

They’re going to hate you, Shōta says, his smile turning into something dangerously close to a grin.

There’s no way they could hate me. I’m nearly as cute as them.

Shōta lets out a little snort and starts typing out another message, but before he can finish it, another photo pops up in the chat.

This one makes Shōta’s good mood abruptly disappear.

It’s of Present Mic again, holding up one of the cats and leaning in to kiss it on the nose. It’s a ridiculously cute picture, and normally Shōta wouldn’t have minded seeing it, but it very thoroughly destroys the fantasy he’s been building up.

He closes out of the app and switches over to Instagram instead, navigating to Present Mic’s profile. Sure enough, the first post is a series of photos of Present Mic with his new cats, complete with the link to the shelter he’d adopted them from in the description.

Shōta suddenly feels like an idiot for thinking that a catfish would adopt two cats just for him.

For a moment, he considers locking his phone and ending the conversation there, but instead he switches back to the chat and types out, What are their names?

The reply comes almost immediately.

Taylor and Swift.

They’re exactly the same as the names listed on Present Mic’s post.

Are you sure you want to subject them to those names for the rest of their lives? Shōta asks, trying to push aside his disappointment and immerse himself in the conversation again.

Oh come on, it’s clever, Hizashi replies. Shōta wonders if he looks as petulant as his text sounds, but then realizes that the image that has popped up in his mind is one of Present Mic.

Clever?

It takes Hizashi a moment to reply.

… you really don’t know anything about music, do you?

Shōta can’t really argue with that. And even if he tried, it would probably just reveal that he’s not as duped by the catfishing as he’s pretending to be.

Thankfully, he’s saved from replying as another message appears, a link to a music video this time. Following it is another text which says, Prepare to have the song stuck in your head all day.

I don’t listen to western music, Shōta replies, partially truthful and partially just to be difficult.

If you don’t listen to J-pop and you don’t listen to A-pop, then what do you listen to?

For a moment, Shōta hesitates, but then he asks, What makes you think I don’t listen to J-pop?

Hizashi’s answer doesn’t come as quickly as it usually does, and for a moment Shōta wonders if he’s pushed too hard. It would be a shame to end this game so soon, especially when he’s started actually enjoying their conversations and he’s getting cat photos out of it.

Call it intuition.

Shōta lets out a little snort at the weak answer.

I listen to some J-pop, Shōta replies. He wonders how much the catfish is squirming now.

Then name five singers.

It’s such a juvenile retort, but Shōta finds himself answering anyway, typing out, Namie Amuro, Hamasaki Ayumi, Yumin, Matsuda Seiko, and Southern All Stars.

Uh huh. Got any under forty?

Shōta narrows his eyes at the message.

All you said was J-pop.

Alright, alright, Hizashi replies. So your music education stopped in the 90’s.

Another message pops up a moment later.

I’ll make you a playlist.

A playlist? Shōta replies.

To bring your music knowledge into the twenty-first century, Hizashi clarifies.

The text makes Shōta hesitate. By all logic, Hizashi should be trying to keep him in the dark about current pop music, not trying to educate him on it. Then again, maybe this is all part of the game, maybe Hizashi is more of a troll than a malicious predator and is just having fun seeing how far he can push this before Shōta finally catches on.

Finally, he types out, I refuse to listen to any group with more than twenty members.

Hizashi just replies with a laughing emoji.

---

Hizashi sends him a link to a YouTube playlist a week later.

It’s pretty good, actually. There are a handful of songs he skips within the first thirty seconds, and some songs he zones out during, but there are a few that he finds himself sucked into thoroughly enough that he doesn’t even realize he’s paused his grading until the song ends.

None of them are Present Mic songs, though. He probably should have expected as much, but part of him is a little disappointed that Hizashi had decided to pay it safe.

Shōta sends Hizashi his thoughts after listening to the playlist, and then prepares to lose the playlist to the depths of the internet, but instead he finds himself coming back to it whenever it gets a little too quiet in his apartment.

He’s never really been one for music, is more happy to focus on his work in silence, and his morning train commute to work is usually spent in a light doze, but he finds the songs nagging at the back of his mind, stuck on a loop in his head until he finally listens to the song instead. There’s something comforting about the background noise, not persistent enough to drown everything else out, but not innocuous enough that he tunes it out entirely.

Briefly, Shōta wonders if this is what Hizashi had been going for with the playlist. After all, there’s no coherent genre to it, and hardly any consistency of mood, yet the transitions never seem abrupt or jarring.

It’s a playlist for people who don’t like music, Shōta thinks.

Shōta clicks through the web browser as he navigates to YouTube and over to Hizashi’s playlist. However, when he gets to the homepage, he pauses.

The first “recommended” video is Present Mic’s new single.

Despite how often Shōta checks Present Mic’s social media accounts for the photos that Hizashi sends him, he’s never actually watched any of Present Mic’s videos – or even listened to his music for that matter. He’s sure he’s heard a song or two before, in the background of stores or in commercials whenever someone decides to turn on the TV in the staff room, but he’s never paid close enough attention for any of them to stick, and for a moment, he finds himself wondering what they sound like.

With that thought, he clicks on the video.

It opens with Present Mic lying face down in bed, his blonde hair a tangled mess. His hair isn’t the only thing that’s a mess, though, with his comforter only half covering him and a single sock covering his left foot, while the other hangs off the edge of the bed, bare.

Shōta waits for the camera to pan out to reveal a scantily clad model on the other side of the bed, but instead the alarm clock goes off. It rings for a long minute, before Present Mic finally manages to reach over and hit it, the beeping cutting off and the music starting.

Present Mic drags himself out of bed and scrambles to get dressed in a sequence that’s more comedic than erotic, before stumbling towards the bathroom.

The bathroom is exactly as Shōta had imagined it – and therefore exactly what he hadn’t anticipated to see in one of Present Mic’s music videos. The countertop is covered in enough cans of hairspray and bottles of gels and mousse that there’s barely enough space for the sink, and the video cuts through a sequence of shots of Present Mic wrestling with his hair as he tries to get it to form his trademark crest.

At one point someone – presumably his manager – calls him to demand why he’s running late, and he stumbles through an excuse about needing to kick someone out of his bed.

Then he accidentally knocks three aerosol cans off the counter and into the toilet.

A snort of laughter escapes Shōta before he even registers it building. He blinks at his laptop screen for a moment, caught off guard as he realizes how thoroughly he’d been absorbed in the music video.

Somehow, he’d thought that Present Mic took himself more seriously than this.

The video’s practically a parody, with the song lyrics going on about partying all night and getting blackout drunk, while on screen, Present Mic coos over his new kittens and attempts to make a rolled omelet, before giving up and ordering takeout.

It shouldn’t be all that unexpected, Shōta supposes. Present Mic’s PR strategy has always been to display softer elements in between the wild popstar persona, with photos of him in fuzzy sweaters sipping bubble tea interspersed with the ones of him on stage in the tightest leather pants known to man.

Still, it makes Shōta a little fond. Maybe it’s because it makes him think of Hizashi.

He spends the next hour going through Present Mic’s music videos. A lot of the music isn’t to his taste, too pop-y and with lyrics about nightlife that he can’t really relate too, but between the top forty hits there are some more experimental songs he likes, jazzy, languid pieces and high-tempo, offbeat things that Shōta doesn’t have the musical vocabulary to describe.

Those he bookmarks, along with one pop single that gets stuck in his head.

(It also helps that the video for the pop song in question is just a series of shots of shirtless Present Mic getting water thrown on him, from buckets to water balloons. Part of Shōta wonders how it managed to pass censorship criteria, between the video and the English lyrics which he’s pretty sure aren’t nearly as demure as the Japanese.

Not that he’s complaining.)

Shōta navigates back over to Present Mic’s YouTube channel, scrolling through for any more music videos he’d skipped over. There are some behind-the-scenes videos that he considers for a moment, but then the background of one video catches his eye, a familiar dimly lit dressing room, and he clicks on it almost before he registers what he’s doing.

An advertisement pops up before the video and he clicks his tongue, waiting for the “skip advertisement” button to appear, but then he registers the content of the ad.

Present Mic is having a concert to debut his new album.

For a split-second, Shōta wonders how much the tickets cost, but he’s broken out of that train of thought as his phone buzzes, a new message lighting up the screen.

So, I have gotten you hooked on music?

A small smile tugs at the corners of Shōta’s mouth, and he starts to type out a reply – but then he freezes as he realizes that when he’d read the text in his mind, it had been in Present Mic’s voice.

It’s not Present Mic he’s talking to. It’s Hizashi.

He closes out of Present Mic’s behind-the-scenes video with a click that’s just on the wrong side of too hard.

---

Have you ever been to a live concert?

The message pops up while Shōta’s in the staff kitchen, waiting for coffee to brew.

No, Shōta replies simply.

I kinda figured so, Hizashi says, and Shōta gives his phone his best annoyed look, hoping that it somehow makes it thorough to Hizashi. Although who knows, maybe you went to Namie Amuro’s debut concert way back when.

I was four.

Maybe your parents took you, Hizashi replies.

Who takes a toddler to a concert?

You’d be surprised.

Shōta mentally adds the comment to his list of evidence that Hizashi might actually have been telling the truth when he said he worked in the music industry.

Although then again, it could just be that he goes to a lot of concerts. His music knowledge certainly seems to suggest that, and it’s not uncommon for Shōta to wake up in the morning to find messages from Hizashi sent at ungodly hours of the morning, well past midnight but not late enough to suggest that he just likes waking up before the crack of dawn.

Another message pops up on Shōta’s phone screen, breaking Shōta from his thoughts.

So, concerts. Thoughts?

Shōta hesitates, but then types out, I don’t like noise.

You thought you didn’t like music until recently too, Hizashi counters.

I never said I didn’t like music, Shōta replies, narrowing his eyes at his phone screen. I just don’t listen to it very much.

Okay but if you liked music then you’d listen to it. Therefore, the fact that you don’t listen to music implies that you don’t like it.

Another message pops up in the chat.

Also the fact that there is a person in this world who can function from day to day without listening to music blows my mind.

I listen to music now, Shōta thinks, but doesn’t type out.

A moment later Shōta’s phone buzzes again, and he checks it, half expecting another teasing comment from Hizashi, but instead the message says, Anyway, the reason I’m asking about concerts and stuff is that I happen to have a couple of tickets to a concert which is coming up soon, but I have work so I can’t go. I thought maybe you could use them instead.

Shōta snorts. Except for someone working in the music industry, he doubts anyone would just “happen” to have a few concert tickets lying around.

What band is it? Shōta asks, more because he’s curious about what it might tell him about Hizashi’s identity than because he has any real desire to go see a concert.

There’s a long pause before Hizashi replies.

Present Mic.

Shōta stares at his phone.

Is this the catfish’s way of saying that he’s done with the game? That he’s gotten bored of waiting for Shōta to figure things out and is just going to tell him and be done with it, so he can move on to someone new? Or does he honestly think that he can give Shōta tickets to a fucking Present Mic concert and still get away with the scam?

Maybe he plans on revealing himself at the concert and asking to continue their relationship without any false identities involved.

Shōta pushes that thought out of his mind as quickly as it comes.

Who’s that? Shōta finally replies. They’re not on the playlist you sent me.

Again, a pause.

I thought his music might be a bit too pop heavy for you. He’s super popular right now, though, and there are some songs on his new album that I think you might like.

“The new album that he hasn’t even released yet?” Shōta mutters to himself, eyeing the text.

Instead of saying that, though, instead he types out, If he’s so popular, wouldn’t it be better for you to just resell the tickets?

Hizashi’s reply comes just as slow as before.

I want you to have one.

Shōta absorbs the message slowly. It does strange things to his insides, makes his heartrate quicken and his chest feel a little too tight.

Another text appears, which reads, It’s next Friday. Can you come?

It takes Shōta a long moment to reply.

I have a work party.

It’s not a lie. The “congratulations on surviving the first week back from summer vacation” party is the same day, and he’d already agreed to go (that is, Kayama had marked him down as “going” and he hadn’t tried to argue). It’s not a serious commitment, though, and he’s sure that if he didn’t show up, no one would bat an eyelash, too used to him avoiding social gatherings unless physically dragged to them by someone else.

So he could go to the concert if he wanted. He just doesn’t want to.

Oh.

Another text.

What about Saturday? Or Sunday?

Shōta clenches his jaw and types out, On Saturday I have to take my mother to her doctor’s appointment. I’m not sure how long it’ll take. And on Sunday I’m meeting with a friend who’s visiting from out of town.

They’re both lies this time, or at least twisted truths. He’d offered to take his mother to her doctor’s appointment, but she’d complained about him treating her like an old person and insisted on going herself. And while Fukukado is in town and has badgered him into meeting her for coffee, it’s at eleven in the morning and shouldn’t take more than an hour, if he’s lucky.

If Hizashi detects his lie, though, he doesn’t say anything about it.

I guess I should have asked you sooner. Next time, then.

Next time, Shōta agrees.

A minute goes by, then two, and Shōta’s about to close out of the conversation when a photo pops up in the chat, followed by one more message.

I’ll give these to the ticket office, in case your plans change. Just give them your name.

For a moment, Shōta just stares at the photo. Somehow, despite Hizashi asking him to go to the concert, it hadn’t seemed entirely real until actually seeing the set of three tickets, one for Friday, one for Saturday, and one for Sunday.

Are you sure about not reselling them? Shōta finally manages to ask.

Hizashi doesn’t reply.

---

Shōta has been nursing the same glass of beer for the past two hours.

“Was the first week with students back from break really that bad?”

Nemuri plops herself down in the seat next to Shōta, who’s become increasingly isolated at the far end of the table, as the rest of the staff has migrated over towards Yagi, who is somewhat bashfully recalling some feat of bravery which may or may not have involved getting hit by a car.

It’s probably a thrilling story, but Shōta’s mind hasn’t retained more than the vaguest outline of it.

“I’m fine,” Shōta replies, half to Nemuri and half to himself.

“You don’t look fine,” Nemuri snorts, reaching out to grab the last slice of pizza from a decimated serving dish. “Did your internet boyfriend finally dump you?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Shōta huffs, shooting Nemuri an annoyed look.

“Right,” Nemuri replies around a mouthful of pizza. She somehow still manages to look unimpressed by Shōta’s protests while doing it. “You two just met on a dating app and talk to each other for hours every day.”

“It’s not hours,” Shōta grumbles. He takes a sip of his beer, and wrinkles his nose as he finds that it’s gone lukewarm.

“But you admit that you talk to him every day,” Nemuri counters, arching an eyebrow at him. Shōta doesn’t dignify her with a reply. “Which for you might as well be hours. If I text you, it takes you half a day to reply.”

“That’s because you always text me drunk at three in the morning,” Shōta snorts, and now it’s Nemuri’s turn to pretend she didn’t hear Shōta’s comment.

For a moment, the two of them fall into silence as Nemuri polishes off her pizza slice and Shōta clutches his beer, as if that’ll somehow make it more appetizing.

“So, did he?” Nemuri finally asks.

“Did he what?” Shōta replies, frowning slightly.

“Dump you,” Nemuri clarifies. She primly licks a spot of grease off her fingertip.

Shōta hesitates, wondering how much to tell her, but eventually he says, “He asked me to go to a concert with him.”

“So you’re finally going to meet him?” Nemuri asks, her eyes lighting up. “I expect all of the details afterwards, including the sex.” She pauses, and then amends herself. “Primarily the sex. When’s the concert?”

“Right now,” Shōta answers, gazing down into the bottom of his beer glass. “I turned him down.”

He can feel Nemuri staring at him.

“You what?” she finally exclaims, her mouth hanging open as she stares at him. “You finally have the chance to meet the guy you’ve been mooning over for months now and you turn him down? You’re not dying or something, are you?”

“Why is dying the first thing your mind goes to?” Shōta huffs, looking up from his beer to glare at Nemuri.

“Because it’s the only explanation extreme enough to explain why you did something so stupid,” Nemuri replies.

The two of them fall into silence again. Nemuri sips at her highball, nose wrinkled as if she’s still trying to figure out why Shōta would turn down a date, and Shōta brings up his glass to try another mouthful of his beer when she opens her mouth to speak.

“Is he that ugly?”

Shōta promptly chokes on his beer.

“I mean, you refuse to show me any photos of him,” Nemuri continues, absentmindedly hitting Shōta on the back as he attempts to cough the beer out of his windpipe. “And you haven’t tried to have sex with him yet. I know love can give you rose-tinted glasses and all, but if you’re really not attracted to this guy, you should stop leading him on.”

Shōta croaks and manages to regain the ability to breathe.

“He’s not – ” Shōta starts, but then cuts himself off. After all, it’s not like he has even the slightest idea if Hizashi’s attractive or not, considering he’s never seen a photo of the man.

Is Hizashi a man?

“Wow, okay, I was half-joking,” Nemuri says, her eyebrows rising up under her bangs. “Now I really need to see a photo of this guy.”

She snatches his phone up off the table before he can get to it and squints at the screen, nose wrinkled as she tries to puzzle out the password. Shōta watches on idly as she attempts a seemingly random combination of numbers, only for the phone to reject her attempt, and he’s about to take the phone back before she locks him out, but then he pauses.

When he reaches over, it’s to press his finger against the fingerprint scanner, not to take the phone from her.

Nemuri blinks as the phone unlocks.

“Are you drunk?” she asks, shooting Shōta a suspicious look.

“I’ve had less than half a beer,” Shōta huffs, returning her look with an annoyed one of his own.

“Is this a cry for help?” Nemuri presses, still fixated on Shōta instead of the unlocked phone in front of her. Idly, Shōta wonders if he should document this historic moment. “Are you actually asking for my advice for once in your life?”

“Never mind,” Shōta mutters, and reaches for his phone, but Nemuri quickly moves it out of his reach.

“No take backs,” she says, her suspicion bleeding away into glee.

With that, she taps on the dating app and starts to snoop.

Shōta can tell the minute she lays eyes on Hizashi’s profile picture, though, because the grin disappears off her face and her expression slowly morphs to confused, and then outright stony, sharp in a way Shōta rarely sees it.

“Shōta,” she says slowly, serious but not unkind, “this is a catfish.”

“I know,” Shōta replies simply.

Nemuri looks up from the phone to blink at him.

“You know?” she asks, a little incredulous. “Is that why you’ve been moping? You figured out that your boyfriend’s a fake?”

“I’ve known since the beginning,” Shōta snorts. He glares down into the bottom of his beer, avoiding eye contact with Nemuri.

She goes quiet for a dangerously long moment.

“You knew,” she repeats slowly, an undercurrent of anger building in her voice, “but you started talking to him anyway? I was happy because I thought you were actually taking this seriously, but this entire time – ”

“I don’t need to date someone to be happy,” Shōta retorts. It comes out more petulant than he’d like.

“Okay, but you need some sort of human interaction!” Nemuri protests, gesturing at him with a wide sweep of her hand. “You only leave your apartment for work or if I physically drag you out of it!”

For a moment, Shōta considers pointing out that he goes to feed the stray cats too, but he doesn’t think that’d help the situation much.

“I worry about you,” Nemuri sighs, her tone taking an abrupt turn from righteous anger to defeated, slumping forward against the table. “Sometimes I feel like if I leave you alone for too long, you’ll die alone in your apartment from lack of sleep and no one will realize until you don’t show up for work the next Monday.”

The confession catches Shōta off guard.

Nemuri isn’t a maudlin drunk. If anything, she’s usually the life of the party, and the fact that she’s admitting such dark thoughts means that it really has been weighing on her, more than Shōta had realized.

Awkwardly, he reaches over and pats her on the back.

Finally, he says, “You should have just told me that instead of forcibly downloading a dating app onto my phone.”

“I don’t like getting emotional,” Nemuri sniffs.

For a moment, the two of them fall into silence.

Then, Nemuri says, “So, you decided to have fun with a catfish but ended up falling for him instead?”

Shōta suppresses a grimace. He’s not sure how successful he is.

“I haven’t fallen for him,” Shōta huffs, downing another mouthful of lukewarm beer.

“You talk to him literally every day,” Nemuri snorts, giving him an unimpressed look. The effect of it is dulled slightly with the way she’s lying on the table, cheek pressed against the tablecloth and head twisted around so she can see him.

“He messages me a lot,” Shōta replies, although he’s aware of how weak an excuse it is.

“Well,” Nemuri sighs, “if you do decide to meet him in person, I’ll tail you two and call the cops if he does anything weird.”

“I’m not going to meet him,” Shōta snorts.

Nemuri looks less than convinced.

---

The black alley cat meows and rubs up against Shōta’s leg.

The corners of Shōta’s mouth quirk up into a small smile and he obligingly reaches down to pick her up, setting her down in his lap. She’s slowly fleshed out over the past few months, and although she’s not quite as neatly groomed as a pampered housecat, the only thing that definitely identifies her as a stray are her ragged ears.

Shōta reaches down to pet the top of her head, but before he can, she leans up to rub her face against his fingers, all wet nose and whiskers. It’s not the most comfortable sensation, but Shōta waits patiently until she’s satisfied that his hand has been suitably covered in her scent, before moving his hand to scratch her behind the ears.

She starts purring loudly, and Shōta digs his phone out of his pocket with the intent of taking a video, but then he pauses.

He hasn’t messaged Hizashi in five days now.

As much as he’d like to deny Nemuri’s claim that he’s fallen for Hizashi, he’s realized that he can’t, not really. He genuinely enjoys talking to Hizashi, not just trying to trick himself into revealing that he’s a catfish, but all of the mundane conversations too, the arguments about bubble tea and the badly taken photos of his neighbor’s cat.

A message lights up Shōta’s phone screen, breaking him from his thoughts.

I think my neighbor’s cat misses you.

A photo pops up after it, along with a second text.

She won’t pose for me anymore :(

Shōta’s fingers itch as he resists the urge to snap a photo of the cat in his own lap and send it in reply. He’s brought back down to earth, though, as the cat makes a soft trilling nose, and he realizes that he’d been distracted enough that he’d stopped petting her.

“Sorry,” he mutters, stroking his fingers over the top of her head, and a few moments later, her purring resumes.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees his phone screen light up again, but he ignores it.

“How can I like him when I don’t even know what he looks like?” Shōta says, mostly to himself. The cat in his lap kneads her paws against his thigh, and he wonders if that’s her way of telling him to pay more attention to her, and less attention to the catfish sending him photos of other cats.

His phone buzzes again and he clenches his jaw.

In the end, he holds out for about five more minutes before finally giving in and reaching for his phone.

Not to reply, though. Just to check the messages.

The first one is another photo, of Present Mic’s cats this time, and Shōta lets out a soft, derisive snort, but when he lays eyes on the second message, he pauses.

You haven’t unliked my profile.

Shōta doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or not that Hizashi hadn’t come outright and admitted to his scheme, but then again, he supposes this goes both ways. Hizashi could have just unliked his profile, but he hasn’t.

Not yet, at least.

Another message pops up, this time long enough that he can’t read all of it on the lockscreen preview. Shōta hesitates for a moment, but then swipes at it, unlocking his phone and going directly to the chat.

Which probably means you don’t suddenly hate me? I guess? Or that you’ve gotten bored of me and have moved on to some other hot shirtless guy? But it’s also kind of worrying me because now I’m imagining you in the hospital or something and you’re probably just busy but if you’re alive could you at least, I don’t know, leave me on read or something? It’s kind of freaking me out.

A pause, and then, This app needs an out of office setting.

The last comment actually manages to drag a soft huff of laughter out of Shōta, his mouth quirking up into a smile before he can suppress it.

He sobers as he processes the rest of the message, though. Logically, he should have unliked Hizashi’s profile already, if he wanted a clean break, but a small voice in the back of his head reminds him that if he does that, he might never get another chance to talk to Hizashi, his profile lost in the abyss of shirtless people trying to get laid.

He can’t just keep messaging Hizashi like this, though, because as much as he’d like to think that he’s able to keep a distinction between Hizashi and Present Mic, the amount of Present Mic songs he’s listened to recently directly contradict that.

If he’s going to make this thing with Hizashi work, he’s going to need to know the real Hizashi.

And, just maybe, that’s what Hizashi was trying to do too, with the concert tickets.

Slowly, Shōta types out, Are you free next Saturday?

He hits ‘send’ before he can change his mind.

Barely a moment later, a reply from Hizashi pops up in the chat.

What time?

Chapter Text

Shōta does not tell Nemuri before going to meet with Hizashi.

He’ll probably get an earful once she finds out, but she’d probably call the police on whoever he’s meeting with if they have so much as a hair out of place, and he doesn’t particularly want to deal with that right now.

Also he’s been practicing judo since he was twelve. Unless Hizashi drugs him or something, the likelihood of him being unable to defend himself is slim to none.

Shōta decides to get to the café they’re meeting at early and order well ahead of time.

He ends up at a table wedged in the far back corner of the café, watching the door carefully as he waits for Hizashi to arrive. His heartbeat stutters every time a new person comes in, wondering if Hizashi is the petite woman with too many piercings or the middle-aged man whose hairstyle isn’t doing much to hide his bald spot.

Two minutes before their agreed meeting time, a tall, slender man pushes his way through the door, and all of Shōta’s instincts say, Hizashi.

It’s hard to tell anything about him at first glance. This is primarily due to the fact that he’s dressed like someone on the run from the law, a white medical mask covering his mouth and nose, a baseball cap pulled down over his head, and big, bulky sunglasses obscuring his eyes.

A moment later, a message pops up on Shōta’s phone which says, What are you wearing?

Shōta lets out a little snort and types out, Shouldn’t you know what I look like?

A pause, and then, Maybe I just want to know what you’re wearing.

I’m at the table in the back left corner, Shōta replies, not dignifying Hizashi with a proper answer. He carefully avoids thinking about the fact that he’d spent nearly half an hour this morning debating what to wear, whether he should clean himself up a bit to match his profile picture or if he should just throw on the ratty tracksuit Nemuri’s been trying to get him to throw out for the past three years.

In the end, the tracksuit had won out. After all, it’s not like he’s trying to actually impress anyone.

When he looks up from his phone, he finds the possibly-escaped-convict angled towards him, probably staring, although it’s hard to tell with the sunglasses. It makes Shōta’s skin prickle, and he has to resist the urge to fidget, but it only lasts a moment before the man turns away again, back to his phone.

I’m going to order a drink and then I’ll come over.

Shōta opens the message and leaves him on read.

The man doesn’t bother to pull down his mask as he approaches the counter, his voice soft enough that Shōta can’t catch the slightest of it from this far across the room. Briefly, Shōta wonders if Hizashi plans on trying to keep up his catfish façade through their entire meeting, if the mask and sunglasses aren’t just to preserve his actual identity, but props in his performance of Present Mic.

It takes a few more minutes for Hizashi to get his drink, and by the time he starts making his way across the room, Shōta’s heartrate has increased to a rapid beating, his palms sweaty against the sides of his coffee mug.

“Shōta?”

Hizashi’s voice is awkward, a little uncertain, and Shōta wonders if he’s disappointed that his victim has more scraggly stubble than the profile picture had suggested.

“Yes,” Shōta answers simply, which Hizashi takes as his cue to slide into the seat across from Shōta.

“So,” Hizashi says, after an awkward beat. “I’m – ”

“I know,” Shōta interrupts, keeping his tone steady, casual, almost.

“You,” Hizashi repeats, a little haltingly, “know?”

“I figured it out,” Shōta says simply. He nods to Hizashi’s disguise. “You don’t need that.”

For a moment, Shōta thinks that Hizashi’s going to try to back out of this, now that he’s been revealed, but instead he glances around the mostly empty café behind him, and then reaches up for his mask. He tugs it off carefully, revealing a somewhat sharp nose and a blond mustache above lips that are neither plush nor thin, and when he removes his sunglasses, Shōta finds himself staring into round, artificially green eyes.

It takes Shōta’s brain a moment to process the picture.

After all, he’s spent plenty of time imagining who Hizashi might actually be, from a sixty-something businessman to the harried postal worker who drops off his bills every month, but, well.

He’d never imagined that it might actually be Present Mic.

“I thought you said you knew!” Hiza – Present – Hizashi exclaims, because apparently Shōta’s gone quiet for too long. He quickly puts his mask back on, sneaking another look around the café, and adjusts his hat so that the bill obscures his face a little more.

“It’s,” Shōta replies, searching for an answer, “different seeing you in person.”

“Oh,” Hizashi says, his voice a little muffled by the mask now.

The two of them go quiet for a moment.

“So,” Hizashi continues, reaching out to wrap his hands around his coffee mug. It’s filled with something topped in a ridiculous amount of whipped cream and caramel, and normally Shōta would mock Hizashi’s sweet tooth mercilessly, but somehow he just can’t manage to get the words out. “How’re the cats?”

“They’re fine,” Shōta answers shortly.

“That’s good,” Hizashi replies.

They fall into silence again.

“My cats are doing well,” Hizashi says, a little abruptly. “Although you were right about the leather couch. Swift got her claws into it yesterday and so now one arm is kind of worse for wear, but the designer who put together my apartment was the one who picked it out, so it’s not like I was really attached to that couch or anything.”

He finishes his rambling as soon as Shōta brings his coffee cup up to take another sip, leaving them with another awkward pause in the conversation.

“Do you wanna see some pictures?” Hizashi finally hazards. His grip on his own coffee cup has tightened, and idly, Shōta observes that some of the whipped cream has started to melt into the hot liquid.

“Alright,” Shōta replies. It earns him what he assumes is a smile from Hizashi, judging by the way the skin around Hizashi’s eyes crinkles, and he tries to ignore the way his heart skips a beat.

“See, look at her, trying to pretend she’s innocent,” Hizashi huffs, sliding his phone across the table for Shōta to see. The photo’s clearly unedited for once, the lighting a little dull and the angle a little off as it frames the cat, lounging on top of the couch arm that she’s mutilated.

It’s enough to make the corners of Shōta’s lips quirk up into a smile.

However, when he looks away from the photo, he finds Hizashi studying him with an expression he can’t quite interpret, intense in a way that puts him on edge.

“What?” he asks, his voice coming out a little sharper than he’d intended.

“What? Oh. Nothing,” Hizashi replies, his expression breaking into something warm and amicable. “I guess I was just thinking that you’re different than I was expecting.”

The admission makes something go cold in Shōta’s chest.

After all, thinking back on their conversations now, it’s painfully easy to tell that Hizashi was expecting someone naive, a sort of tropey rom-com story where a famous person has a chance encounter with someone normal and mundane. Only the normal person doesn’t know who the famous person is, and the famous person falls in love because the normal person sees them for “who they truly are” and –

And Shōta’s just an asshole who decided to fuck with a catfish.

The rest of the conversation is stilted and awkward, Hizashi putting in most of the effort to move it along, and after an hour, Shōta finally decides that a polite enough amount of time has passed for him to excuse himself.

He doesn’t ask when they’ll see each other again, and neither does Hizashi.

---

“Alright, I’ll bite. What happened?”

Shōta peels an eye open to glare at Nemuri from where he’s slumped over his desk, attempting a brief post-lunch nap.

“You’re moping,” Nemuri says, propping an elbow up on her desk and resting her cheek against her hand. The look she gives Shōta indicates that she’s clearly unimpressed with his antics, although Shōta honestly hadn’t thought he’d done anything that could be categorized as ‘moping.’

If he spent the past ten minutes face-down on his desk, that was just because he was trying to sleep. It has nothing to do with keeping his eyes off his phone.

“Oh, come on,” Nemuri huffs, kicking at Shōta under the desk when it becomes clear he’s not going to dignify her with a reply. “It’s not your boyfriend, is it? Did he do something?”

For a moment, Shōta considers ignoring her, but over the years of their acquaintance, he’s come to learn that a battle of patience between the two of them would last something close to eternity. So, he mutters, “We met.”

Nemuri blinks at him.

“You met?” she repeats, eyebrows rising up towards her hairline. “You met in person?

Shōta shifts so that the back of his head is facing her.

“Wow,” Nemuri continues. She pauses, and then asks, “So he was that ugly?”

For a moment, Shōta considers running with the convenience excuse she’s given him, but a small part of him can’t help but want to talk to someone about this, so he mutters, “He was Present Mic.”

Another pause.

“He what?”

Shōta shifts back around, looking Nemuri dead in the eye and says, “He was actually Present Mic.”

“You mean like,” Nemuri replies slowly, eyeing Shōta uncertainly, “he looked a lot like Present Mic?”

“I mean,” Shōta snorts, “that unless Present Mic has an identical twin, my catfish wasn’t actually a catfish.”

Nemuri stares at him.

“Then why are you moping?” she finally blurts out, jolting up from her chair and slamming her hands down on the edge of Shōta’s desk. It’s enough to make Shōta straighten himself up into a sitting position, wrinkling his nose as his stack of binders slides down in a messy avalanche across his desk.

“I’m not moping,” Shōta huffs, shooting Nemuri a glare.

“You definitely are,” Nemuri replies, unmoved. “You didn’t go to meet him with that terrible stubble of yours, did you? Did he dump you because you weren’t as cute as your profile picture?”

“He didn’t dump me,” Shōta retorts. He breaks eye contact with Nemuri and starts to tidy up his desk again, reorganizing papers with a little too much force.

“So the sex was bad,” Nemuri sighs, plopping herself back down in her own chair. “That’s such a pity. He has a nice face and he always seemed like he’d be that good sort of bratty – ”

“We didn’t have sex,” Shōta says through gritted teeth, trying to pitch his voice low and hoping that the rest of the staff room hasn’t been listening in on their conversation.

Nemuri blinks at him.

“Why not?” she asks. “Is that why you’re moping?”

“It’s not – ” Shōta starts, frustration welling up in his voice, but then he cuts himself off. He tries not to think about the time Hizashi had sent him a shirtless photo – one which, in retrospect, probably was real – and he can’t help but wonder if maybe Hizashi was disappointed when they’d met in person, if he’d been open to the idea of having sex until he’d seen who was actually on the other side of the screen.

Not that Shōta actually cares about whether or not Hizashi finds him attractive. If anything, it’s Nemuri’s fault for posting such an unrealistic profile picture of him.

“The only reason I was talking to him in the first place was because I thought he was a catfish,” Shōta finally says. “Meanwhile, he thought we had a real connection. It was awkward.”

For a moment, Nemuri’s quiet.

“Are you some sort of idiot?”

Shōta blinks at her, caught off guard.

“Clearly you had a real connection!” she huffs, exasperation evident in every line of her face. “You talked to him every day for months! For hours at a time! You’d reply to him within minutes and sometimes even wake up from a nap when you heard a notification!”

“I wasn’t – ” Shōta starts, scowling at her.

“You are ridiculously into him, and now that I know he’s actually Present Mic and not some serial killer, I am fully willing to support this relationship,” Nemuri interrupts, giving Shōta an unimpressed look. “So go jump him before he thinks you hate him or something.”

“Just because he’s famous doesn’t mean he’s not a serial killer,” Shōta grumbles, trying to ignore the way his face heats at the thought of ‘jumping’ Hizashi. “What was he even doing on a dating app?”

“You could just ask him,” Nemuri points out. Shōta kind of hates when she’s logical.

For a moment, Shōta’s quiet, mouth pressed in a tight line as he glares down at the papers and binders he’s still trying to rearrange back into a stable formation. Then, he says, “I don’t know how to talk to him.”

“You don’t know how to talk to anyone,” Nemuri snorts, and Shōta shifts his glare to her. “But judging by the amount of texting you’ve been doing, you seem to be able to communicate with Present Mic better than most people you attempt human relations with.”

Part of Shōta wants to grumble about her making him sound like an alien, but instead he mutters, “That was before.”

Nemuri looks at him like he’d just said he doesn’t like cats anymore, bewildered and a little suspicious.

“Shōta,” she says, “you are the absolute last person on this planet I’d expect to get dazzled by a celebrity.”

“It’s not – ” Shōta huffs. He pauses, and then continues, “I thought I knew what I was doing.”

The expression on Nemuri’s face shifts from suspicious to something dangerously close to fond, and she reaches over to pat him on the shoulder.

“You know what they say,” she replies, a grin spreading slowly over her face. “Love comes when you’re least expecting it.” She pauses. “Although I think people usually mean that in the ‘meet cute’ sense, and not the ‘I tried messing with a catfish only the catfish wasn’t actually a catfish and now I’ve fallen in love and don’t know what to do with my feelings’ sense.”

Shōta gives her a blank look.

“Just talk to him,” Nemuri sighs. “He’s still the same person.”

He really isn’t, but Shōta knows better than to try to argue.

---

Hey.

The message pops up while Shōta’s in the middle of deciding if he should attempt to cook dinner, or just make a trip to the convenience store instead.

Judging by the fact that he hasn’t even gotten up from the couch yet, neither is terribly likely.

A second message pops up, which reads, Are you free this Saturday?

For a moment, Shōta hesitates. He and Hizashi have still been talking, sending back and forth the occasional cat photo or attempt at small talk, but it’s been stilted, much more awkward than before. Part of Shōta’s been wondering if he should just unlike Hizashi’s profile already and be done with it, but there must still be at least a small part of him clinging to the idea that he and Hizashi might be able to get back into the grove they were in before, teasing jabs and easy conversations that make Shōta lose track of how long they’ve been talking for.

Finally, he types out, Why are you asking?

The reply comes almost immediately.

I have another concert coming up. There’s a ticket for you, if you want it.

The message makes Shōta hesitate, an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach that he can’t confidently identify as good or bad.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t tempted. Although he’s never been to a concert and is pretty sure he wouldn’t like it, with all the noise and the people, he enjoys a handful of Present Mic’s songs, and he’s watched more of the music videos than he’d like to admit. It might be fun to watch Present Mic prance around on stage, despite or maybe even because of his ridiculous hairstyle and tendency towards pants tight enough to cut off his circulation.

But it’s awkward now, uncomfortable with the knowledge that Present Mic is actually Hizashi, that he knows Present Mic personally, or at least as personally as you can know someone after unknowingly texting them for a handful of months.

Another message pops up in the chat.

You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but I really want you to come.

Shōta hesitates, but then types out, I’ll think about it.

As soon as he sends the message, though, Shōta realizes that he knows what his answer is.

Which, consequently, is how he finds himself sitting tensely in a seat a scant few rows away from the stage in a concert hall full of screaming fans. He’s suddenly glad that he’d at least decided to shave, although he still feels out of place, sandwiched in between two women in their early twenties with more makeup on than he’s seen outside of Nemuri’s bathroom.

Briefly, he wonders if they think he looks like the sort of basement dweller who covers his walls in Present Mic photos and sleeps with a life-size Present Mic dakimakura.

“I really shouldn’t have come,” Shōta mutters to himself, slouching a little deeper into his chair.

As soon as the words leave his mouth, though, the stage lights dim and a booming voice exclaims, “Hello, my lovely listeners? Are you ready for tonight’s concert?!”

The responding screech is so loud it leaves Shōta’s ears ringing.

Present Mic – Hizashi? – bounds out onto the stage a moment later, a bright white spotlight following him and making his gelled-up hair glimmer. It’s amazing he can see anything when he’s wearing those sunglasses, Shōta thinks, between the blacked-out audience and the over-bright spotlight. Present Mic doesn’t falter, though, making his way to the center of the stage with smooth, easy movements as the bass of whatever pop song he’s about to sing thrums in the background.

Somewhere in the middle, Present Mic’s walk melts into a dance, the change in his rhythm so subtle that Shōta doesn’t realize they’ve entered the first song until Present Mic’s voice rumbles through the microphone. It’s rougher than the studio recordings, not exactly grainy, but almost like static, and Shōta feels his heartrate increase, beating fast in his chest as his eyes track Present Mic across the stage.

At some point the backup dancers appear, although Shōta’s not conscious of the exact moment they come onstage, too focused on Present Mic to pay them much heed.

Somehow, Shōta had thought that Present Mic’s performance would be just as ridiculous as his appearance. The slightly high pitch of his voice and the awkward slant of his eyebrows should lends themselves more to comedy than sex appeal, but when Present Mic finally throws his sunglasses aside to wink at the crowd, Shōta feels hot in a way that he wishes he could pass off as a side effect of the amount of people packed into the stadium around him.

And then, almost before Shōta realizes it, the song is over and the crowd is shrieking their praise again.

“Thank you, thank you,” Present Mic laughs, breaking Shōta from his trance. “I’m so grateful that all of you guys came out to watch my performance tonight. I’m gonna give you my best show yet, alright?”

He shifts his head slightly, and for a moment, Shōta could swear Hizashi’s looking right at him.

“I promise you won’t regret it,” Hizashi adds, softer, and a shiver travels down Shōta’s spine.

Then the music starts up again and the moment is broken.

Shōta wouldn’t say that the rest of the concert passes in a blur, but his perception of time does seem to warp a bit while Present Mic is onstage. He was right when he’d predicted that he wouldn’t like the crowds and the noise inherent in concertgoing, and he finds himself grimacing whenever the screams get too loud or someone waves a glowstick too close to his face.

But despite all the distractions, it’s surprisingly easy to get caught up in Present Mic’s performance. It’s different than watching his music videos and scrolling through his Instagram account, more personal somehow, despite the fact that Shōta’s only a spec in a crowd of a few hundred people.

Sometimes, he can almost swear that Present Mic is looking at him, but then the teenagers two rows behind him start screeching about making eye contact with Present Mic, and he wonders when he’d become that sort of fan.

Then again, he doubts many people are here with tickets given to them personally by Present Mic.

It’s almost a shock when the concert ends, the last song finishing with a flood of glitter and screams loud enough that Shōta’s almost surprised they don’t rock the foundation of the building. Everyone around Shōta is in gushing hysterics, but Shōta finds himself just sitting in his seat, a little dazed as he wonders how an airheaded idiot who thinks that cats and leather couches mix can work up a crowd like this.

Shōta’s brought back down to earth when he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket.

For a moment, he hesitates, but then digs it out, checking the screen to find two new messages from Hizashi. The first looks like the pin for a nearby late-night café, and the other says, I’ll be here once I wrap things up backstage.

Shōta stares at his phone blankly.

Another handful of additional messages appear in rapid succession.

If you want to join me, I mean.

You were at the concert, right? My PA said someone picked up the ticket.

But I guess this isn’t really your scene so you’re probably tired?

If you need to go crash I totally get it.

Honestly I’m probably about to crash too.

But I’ll be there!

If you want.

Almost before he realizes what he’s doing, Shōta’s already typed out and sent, You’re a lot more eloquent onstage.

A pause, and then, So is that a yes? No?

Shōta hesitates, but then says, I suppose it’s not too far past my bedtime.

I promise I won’t keep you out all night, Hizashi replies, with an added smiley face emoji.

Shōta’s suddenly glad they aren’t speaking face to face, because if they were, he might have accidently replied with, “I wouldn’t mind.”

---

The café is small, and cuter looking than Shōta had been expecting for a late-night hangout. There aren’t many people at this hour, although there’s still a university student sunk into an armchair, half-asleep, and a middle-aged woman typing out something furiously on her laptop.

Shōta sips his coffee and tries to soothe out his nerves.

The coffee probably isn’t helping, actually.

A quick check of his phone reveals that it’s been about an hour since the concert ended. Hizashi hasn’t sent any more messages or updates on his progress, but he’s probably too busy doing… whatever it is popstars do after a concert.

Shōta frowns as something occurs to him.

He’s barely finished processing the thought, though, when a familiar voice says, “Hey.”

Hizashi’s voice is a little breathy, and Shōta tries to ignore the uptick in his heartrate as he looks up from his coffee to find Hizashi standing next to the table, his concert getup shed in favor of a baseball cap and disposable medical mask.

“Don’t you have an afterparty or something?”

The question slips past Shōta’s lips before he can catch it.

“I ditched,” Hizashi announces, plopping himself down into the chair across from Shōta and tugging down his mask. “Sorry it took me so long. I had to shower and stuff and then lose my PA.”

“Lose your PA,” Shōta repeats slowly, testing the words out in his mouth.

“Good kid,” Hizashi replies easily. A few strands of somewhat damp looking hair spill out of the edge of his baseball cap, and Shōta finds his eyes tracking them. “Also thinks I should go to afterparties even though I’m terrible at parties when I’ve just had a concert and am dead on my feet.”

“Do you want me to get you a coffee?” Shōta offers.

“Yeah, that would be great,” Hizashi answers, looking pleased and a little surprised. “Maybe a mocha or – ”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find you the drink with the highest sugar content,” Shōta snorts as he stands up from his chair. It’s strange how easy the quip comes, considering how stilted their conversation was the last time they met face to face.

“You know me too well,” Hizashi coos, a grin spreading over his face.

As Shōta waits for the drink, he tries to steady himself again. The time he spent waiting for Hizashi to arrive has allowed the post-concert exhaustion to start creeping in, and it seems like it’s made his lips looser, sentences spilling out of his mouth that he would have suppressed if he was in more of a state to be careful.

Even though it’s Present Mic sitting in the café with him, somehow, his tired brain is automatically defaulting to the more familiar.

And that’s Hizashi, not Present Mic.

“Salted-caramel mocha,” Shōta says as he sets the cup down in front of Hizashi. There’s a disgusting amount of whipped cream piled on top of it, and Hizashi looks delighted.

When he takes his first sip, whipped cream smears on his nose, and Shōta tries to remind himself that a grown man eating with the table manners of a five-year-old is not cute.

“You have whipped cream on your nose,” Shōta snorts, giving Hizashi his best unimpressed look.

“That’s how you know they’ve given you enough, right?” Hizashi replies with a grin, and Shōta must make a face, because he laughs.

“Your teeth are going to rot,” Shōta says, taking another sip of his coffee. It’s very black.

“I take very good care of my teeth, thank you very much,” Hizashi huffs, wiping the whipped cream off his nose with the back of his hand. “My dentist says I’m a joy to work with.”

“I bet he tells that to all of the five-year-olds,” Shōta replies dryly, and Hizashi sputters out an offended, “Hey!”

The two of them fall into silence for a moment as Shōta sips at his coffee and Hizashi sucks another mouthful of whipped cream off the top of his mocha.

“So,” Hizashi says. There’s a tense undercurrent to his tone that puts Shōta on edge. “You came to the concert.”

“I did,” Shōta replies simply.

“What did you think?” Hizashi asks casually – too casually to actually be casual.

Shōta hesitates, but then says, “I’ve never been to a concert before. I don’t think they’re really my thing.” He pauses. “But it was a good concert.”

“Yeah?” Hizashi replies, his face lighting up. “What was your favorite part?”

“Your third song was good,” Shōta answers. He has to resist the urge to fiddle with his coffee cup as he says it. “I don’t like the pop-heavy ones that much.”

“I really like that one too,” Hizashi says, smiling in a way that does uncomfortable things to Shōta’s insides. “The songwriter I worked with originally wanted us to put the lyrics to something more pop-y to make it into a sure-fire charted single, but it just wasn’t coming out right, so we got to play with it a bit.”

“Do you help write all your songs?” Shōta asks, propping his elbow up on the table and resting his cheek against his hand.

“Most of them, yeah,” Hizashi answers. “The label also finds songs for me that they think would work well with my style, and sometimes I pick from that pool, too. It just depends on if something catches my attention or if I decide it’d be better to make something from scratch.”

For a moment, Shōta’s quiet, studying Hizashi, and then he says, “You sound like a real musician.”

“I am a real musician,” Hizashi sputters. He sounds indignant but not offended.

“It was hard to tell,” Shōta replies, breaking eye contact to look back down at his coffee. “When we were talking online.”

The two of them fall into silence, and Shōta wonders if maybe he said too much.

“I’m sorry.”

Shōta looks up form his coffee again, his forehead creasing and his mouth turning down in a frown.

“For messing around with you,” Hizashi continues, one hand rubbing at the side of his neck awkwardly. “I didn’t mean to – I mean. I just made the account because I thought it would be kind of funny, you know?”

“Funny?” Shōta repeats, the creases in his forehead deepening.

“No one would expect a celebrity to have an actual account on that sort of dating app, right?” Hizashi explains with an awkward little shrug of his shoulders. “And it was kind of amusing whenever someone would report my account and I’d have to send in proof that I wasn’t a catfish or something.” He pauses. “But then you honestly didn’t know who I was.”

Shōta stares.

“I know I should have said something sooner, but I honestly thought you’d figure it out pretty quickly,” Hizashi groans, resting his elbows on the table and holding his head in his hands. “I mean, I guess you did, when you went all radio silence for like a week? And then asked to meet in person?”

He peers tentatively over at Shōta from under soft blond eyelashes, and Shōta feels more than a little dumbfounded.

“I,” Shōta says haltingly, “thought you were a catfish.”

“Yeah – ” Hizashi sighs.

“From the start,” Shōta interrupts, before Hizashi can start confirming his own bias. “From the start, I thought you were a catfish.”

Now it’s Hizashi’s turn to stare.

“Like,” he says, “the start start?”

“A friend made the profile for me and was pestering me about using the app,” Shōta says, avoiding Hizashi’s eyes. “When I came across your profile, I thought I could just mess with a catfish instead of having to deal with someone actually looking for a date.”

Hizashi’s quiet for a dangerously long moment.

“So you liked my profile because you thought I was a catfish,” Hizashi clarifies, slowly, carefully. “Only I’m not a catfish, and I made my profile because I knew people would think I was a catfish, only I thought you didn’t think that? But you actually did?”

“Please don’t make my brain hurt,” Shōta replies with a grimace.

“I’m just trying to figure this out,” Hizashi says, wrinkling his nose in contemplation. “We’re kind of a mess, huh?”

“At least you weren’t actually looking for a boyfriend,” Shōta snorts, taking another sip of his coffee. “I’d feel bad about leading you on.”

When Shōta looks up from his coffee, though, there’s a strange expression on Hizashi’s face, but it’s gone so fast that Shōta wonders if he’d imagined it, replaced by an easy smile.

“Yeah,” Hizashi laughs. “I was starting to feel like an asshole for messing with you. Glad to know you’re not actually some gullible kid who’s never heard of Present Mic before.”

“Mm,” Shōta replies, trying to ignore the way his chest feels too tight.

After all, it should be a relief that Hizashi hasn’t actually fallen for him, but somehow it… hurts, a little. It’s not as if he feels betrayed, or anything, now that he knows that Hizashi was messing with him just as much as he was messing with Hizashi, but maybe a part of him had been hoping that Hizashi had accidentally fallen for him along the way, just like he’d –

Shōta shoves the thought out of his mind before he can finish it.

They’re friends, probably. Friendly. It may not be the sort of rom-com where the celebrity falls for a normal person, but Hizashi does seem a little lonely and, as cliché as the notion is, maybe he needs a friend who’s gotten to know him as a person first and a popstar second.

And making a new friend would probably soothe some of Nemuri’s worries about him dying alone in his apartment too, so it’s not a bad end result.

“So,” Hizashi says, once they’ve finished their drinks and are heading back out into the night. “I’ll see you around?”

“I don’t think we exactly run in the same circles,” Shōta snorts, as they step out into the warm night air.

“You know what I mean,” Hizashi huffs, his lower lip pushing out into something dangerously close to a pout. “We could grab dinner together sometime or something like that. Or go to a cat café. You like cat cafés, right?”

“I thought celebrities were always busy,” Shōta says, but it’s not an outright rejection.

“I’m pretty good at ditching my PA,” Hizashi replies, shoving his hands into his pockets in a way which should look casual, but instead just makes him seem tense.

“You have my contact info,” Shōta says, an indirect answer.

Hizashi beams at him.

For a moment, the two of them fall into silence, standing outside of the café. Hizashi hasn’t put his mask back on, and idly, Shōta wonders if he should remind him of it, but before he can, Hizashi leans in.

On instinct, Shōta takes half a step backwards.

“I guess I should be going,” Hizashi says, pulling back abruptly. “Are you alright to get home? The trains probably aren’t running at this hour.”

“It’s fine,” Shōta replies, trying to ignore the hot burn of the blood rushing to his face. “I can walk.”

“Are you sure?” Hizashi asks, frowning slightly.

“My mother told me not to get into cars with strange men,” Shōta says dryly.

Hizashi blinks at him, and for a moment, Shōta thinks he’s taken the joke the wrong way, but then he laughs and says, “I guess this is goodnight, then. For your mother’s sake.”

“Goodnight,” Shōta echoes.

His heartrate doesn’t steady itself again until he finally arrives back at his apartment.

---

Shōta doesn’t wake up until noon the next day.

When he does finally wake up, it’s a slow process that has him grumbling about sunlight and burying his head back under a pillow. Eventually, though, his bladder determines that it’s time to get out of bed and he reluctantly drags himself out from under his comforter, shuffling across the small apartment and to the bathroom.

Once that’s taken care of, his second priority is the coffee maker, and he sets it up with practiced movements, effortless despite the fact that he’s still groggy with sleep.

Then, he picks up his phone.

Normally when he looks at his phone in the morning, it’s only to check the time. It’s rare that he has a missed call or message, beyond the occasional 3 AM drunk text from Nemuri – and now Hizashi too, he supposes.

Today, his screen is covered in notifications.

The most recent one is from Nemuri and says, Not gonna lie, though, I honestly didn’t believe you when you said your catfish was actually Present Mic. Sorry for doubting you!

The next one is from Hizashi and just says, I’m so sorry.

Shōta wonders if he should wait for his coffee to finish brewing before he tries delving into these.

In the end, though, the sheer number and urgency of them makes him unlock his phone. He navigates over to Hizashi’s messages first, mainly because they sound more panicked in comparison to Nemuri’s gossip-mongering, and he scrolls through them slowly.

I’m so sorry about that photo. I should have been more careful.

I talked to my publicist and unfortunately it doesn’t seem like there’s anything we can do about it? I guess the article’s claims aren’t strong enough to warrant a libel suit.

At least your face isn’t visible so there’s that.

And the photo quality’s kind of shitty so we have plausible deniability and all that.

Not that there’s any need for plausible deniability because nothing actually happened.

Please text me when you see these.

I’m so sorry.

A crease appears between Shōta’s eyebrows and he frowns as he reads the messages. ‘Article’ seems to imply that something was published about them last night, probably with scandalous photos, but Hizashi hasn’t linked him to the actual article itself.

Shōta switches over to Nemuri’s messages and is gratified when the first one that pops up is a link to a gossip rag.

PRESENT MIC DITCHES AFTERPARTY TO FOOL AROUND WITH MYSTERY MAN!

The title of the article makes Shōta grimace, and his frown only deepens when the picture underneath it loads. It’s from the previous night, him and Hizashi standing out in front of the café, only partially illuminated by the streetlights. Shōta’s back is turned to the camera, thankfully, but Hizashi’s face is mostly visible as he leans in close, the photo probably taken the moment before they’d parted ways, a split-second before Shōta had stepped back.

With the angle and the lighting, it looks a lot like Hizashi’s going in for a kiss. Shōta curses himself for not telling Hizashi to put his mask back on when they’d left the café.

Shōta sighs as he exits out of the article, switching back to read the rest of Nemuri’s texts.

Oh my god.

The reason you’re not answering my messages had better be that you’re too busy fucking Present Mic.

Because if that’s the reason I’ll forgive you.

But I expect all the details later.

And I mean all of them.

I’d ask for photos too but you should probably hold off on a sex tape until things settle down a little.

Not gonna lie, though, I honestly didn’t believe you when you said your catfish was actually Present Mic. Sorry for doubting you!

Shōta glares down at the messages and types out, We just had coffee.

A new text pops up almost as soon as he’s sent it.

Is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?

We’re just friends, Shōta replies, tapping against his phone screen with maybe a little too much force.

Uh huh, Nemuri says. That’s how I look at all of my friends.

Knowing Nemuri, she probably does, but Shōta keeps that thought to himself.

You should know better than to believe that garbage.

I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t already know that you’ve been pining over him for months. All it does is confirm my suspicions. So, is he a screamer?

This time, Shōta leaves her on read.

Instead, he switches back over to his chat with Hizashi.

It’s fine, he types out, suddenly glad that they’re having this conversation over text and not face to face. I’m not identifiable in the photo. Well, except to Nemuri, but she’s a special case. He pauses, then adds, Are you alright?

It takes longer for Hizashi to reply than Nemuri, but it’s still only a handful of minutes before Hizashi replies with, Yeah, of course, don’t worry about me.

Another message follows.

I’m used to it.

The uncomfortable tightness squeezing at Shōta’s chest comes back full force. Logically, he knows that Hizashi’s probably referring to paparazzi stalking him and writing gossipy trash about him, but although Present Mic’s not exactly known as a playboy, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a romantic scandal or two. Shōta hasn’t read about them in detail, but he’d skimmed Present Mic’s Wikipedia page a while ago, back when he was trying to test the accuracy of Hizashi’s catfishing, and hadn’t entirely been able to ignore the ‘personal life’ section.

Really, if Hizashi were photographed with anyone else out late at night, leaning in at such an intimate distance, the article would probably be accurate. Shōta’s not an up-and-coming starlet, though, and if Hizashi was interested, that really would have been a kiss, not just an accidental moment of closeness.

I guess we should meet somewhere private next time.

“Don’t say misleading things,” Shōta mutters as he reads Hizashi’s message.

He still replies with, Okay.

Chapter Text

Hey.

So.

Shōta eyes the messages warily as they pop up on his phone screen.

Do you wanna meet my cats?

The message catches Shōta a little off guard, and he blinks at it for a moment, before typing out, What do you mean by that?

I mean that you could come over to my place, Hizashi replies, and play with my cats for a bit. A pause, and then, I need something to occupy them before Swift starts going after my couch again. I trimmed her claws and put catnip on the scratching post but she’s decided it’s her mission in life to destroy fancy Italian leather.

Shōta lets out a little snort, half amused and half exasperated.

I told you so.

Hizashi sends him a sad emoji.

A moment later, another message pops up which says, So are you coming over or not?

Shōta looks down at his ratty sweatpants, threadbare to the point of translucence in some places, and grimaces as he remembers that he’d crashed in bed without showering the previous night.

Give me an hour, he finally replies.

He takes a slightly longer shower than usual, half in an attempt to make himself presentable and half because he nearly falls asleep under the stream of warm water. Eventually he manages to drag himself out, though, and he throws on a pair of new-ish jeans, along with a dark t-shirt that miraculously seems devoid of stains.

Briefly, he wonders if he should go with a button down instead, but that might make it seem like he’s reading too much into Hizashi inviting him over.

It doesn’t mean anything. They’re just hanging out.

The train ride to Hizashi’s apartment isn’t exactly short, but it’s not too far either. Shōta tries to doze off like he usually does, but he finds himself too tense, wondering if he and Hizashi will be able to talk naturally like they had last time they met, or if they’ll revert back to their initial awkwardness.

He really hopes that the gossip article doesn’t make things weird. It’s already difficult to keep his mind off the shirtless photo Hizashi had sent him without thinking about what it would be like to actually kiss Hizashi.

Thankfully the train ride ends before he can sink too deep into those worries.

Hizashi’s apartment building is a fancy high-rise, surrounded by other fancy high-rises. The entryway is sheltered from view, probably for resident privacy, and Shōta eyes the fancy monitor next to the door for a moment, before carefully punching Hizashi’s room number into the keypad. It rings a couple times, but then the lock on the door clicks and he hears Hizashi’s increasingly familiar voice say, “The door’s unlocked! I’ll be down in a sec.”

 Shōta doesn’t get a chance to reply before the speaker clicks off again.

He hesitates, but then pushes the door open.

The lobby – because there’s really no other word for it – looks like it should belong to a fancy resort instead of an apartment building. Shōta can feel the security guard eyeing him as he sinks down into one of the plush couches, and he reconsiders his decision to wear a t-shirt instead of a button down.

Maybe he should have shaved too.

The elevator dings, and Shōta’s a little surprised at the relief he feels as Hizashi steps out of it.

“Hey,” Hizashi says in greeting, a friendly smile on his face. “You made it.”

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” Shōta asks as he gets up from the couch.

“I thought the whole paparazzi thing might scare you away,” Hizashi answers, and although his tone is light, there’s an undercurrent of relief to it which catches Shōta off guard.

“As long as I’m not identifiable, it’s fine,” Shōta says simply, falling in step with Hizashi as they head back towards the elevator.

Hizashi lets out a small laugh as they get in the elevator. He swipes his key card against the monitor and then hits the button for the top floor, and before he can stop himself, Shōta asks, “Are you sure this is an apartment building and not a hotel?”

“Well,” Hizashi replies, a thoughtful look on his face, “I guess there’s not really any difference between an apartment building and a hotel except for how long people stay, right? But yes, this is technically an apartment building.”

Shōta makes an unconvinced noise.

“I guess there’s no room service either,” Hizashi muses. “And no housekeeping. Also you can keep pets, although I guess there are maybe hotels that allow pets? I’ve never really looked into it. Maybe I should, now that I actually have cats to take care of.”

“You’re planning on bringing your cats on vacation with you?” Shōta asks, his eyebrows rising up towards his hairline. The elevator finally slows to a stop, and he follows Hizashi out the doors and down the hall.

“I’m not sure yet,” Hizashi replies. Idly, Shōta realizes that there’s only one door on this floor. “I mean, I should be in town for a while, but I tend to be gone for long periods of time when I’m touring and such. I’d feel bad about leaving them alone.” Hizashi pauses in front of the apartment door, glancing back at Shōta. “Unless you’d be willing to cat-sit or something?”

“I haven’t even met your cats yet,” Shōta says, trying to ignore the way his heartrate has increased ever so slightly.

“I better introduce you, then,” Hizashi laughs, a grin spreading over his face.

With that, he pushes the door open.

The apartment looks like something out of a design catalogue. The furniture is all sleek and modern-looking, white and black and made up of minimalistic geometric shapes, leather interspersed with metal and glass.

Two blurs of black and white fur leap across the coffee table and the illusion is broken.

“Oh god,” Hizashi groans as he tugs off his boots and steps into the living room. “I hope they haven’t broken another set of wine glasses. Open cupboards were a mistake.”

“You should have gone for a pair of older cats, then,” Shōta snorts, toeing off his own shoes and following after Hizashi.

“I thought they’d be okay since they’re not technically kittens anymore,” Hizashi replies, his tone dangerously close to a whine. “And, you know, I have the space to let them run around so I thought I’d get more energetic cats.”

“Well,” Shōta says, as the cats do another lap around the room, “it’s not like you can’t afford more wine glasses.”

Nails clack on the hardwood floors and Hizashi grimaces.

“You can make yourself at home while we wait for them to tire themselves out, I guess,” Hizashi finally says, gesturing towards the couch. “Do you want something to drink? I have tea, soda, orange juice, beer, wine. Although if you choose the wine, you’ll have to drink it out of a scotch glass or something.”

Shōta’s not sure he even knows what a scotch glass looks like, much less have issues with drinking wine out of one, but instead he says, “I’m fine with beer.”

“Alright, I’ll be back in a sec then,” Hizashi replies, shooting Shōta a little smile before heading for the kitchen.

Shōta hesitates for a moment, but then sits himself awkwardly down on the couch.

The cats finally seem to notice him and slide to a halt in front of the couch, their ears perked and their tails swaying as they watch him with big eyes. They’re still for a second, but then one of them jumps up on the couch, walking towards him with more confident curiosity than wariness, and Shōta extends a hand for the cat to sniff.

The cat practically shoves its entire face into his hand, sniffing at his fingertips and rubbing against him with its wet nose, and soon enough it’s climbing into his lap, paws a soft pressure against his thighs as it inspects him.

It doesn’t take long for the second cat to follow, and whatever nervousness Shōta was still holding onto evaporates instantly.

“You look comfortable.”

Shōta looks up from the cats to find Hizashi making his way back over to the couch, carrying two beers. They’re the fancy type in glass bottles, and probably taste a lot better than the cheep cans in the back of Shōta’s own refrigerator.

“Thanks,” Shōta says, accepting a beer from Hizashi. He looks back at the cat rubbing its head against his stomach and asks, “This one’s Swift?”

“Yep,” Hizashi replies, reaching out a hand to scratch behind Swift’s ragged left ear. “Or, as I’ve been calling her lately, Couch Destroyer.”

“It’s your fault for having a leather couch,” Shōta snorts, but there’s a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

“That’s victim blaming,” Hizashi says primly.

They fall into silence for a moment, Swift continuing her examination of Shōta while Taylor climbs over to curl herself up in Hizashi’s lap, paws in the air and fluffy belly exposed. Hizashi scratches under her chin, smiling as she squirms a little and then starts to purr, and Shōta finds himself entranced by the sight until Swift starts kneading at his thighs, breaking him from his thoughts.

Shōta reaches for his beer and takes something that’s more akin to a swig than a sip.

Maybe getting photographed by paparazzi would actually be better than hanging out with Hizashi in private.

---

Shōta isn’t drunk, he’s tipsy.

Although he’s starting to wonder if the distinction actually makes any difference, the fifth time he finds himself staring at Hizashi’s mouth.

Shōta tries to convince himself it’s because he’s judging Hizashi’s terrible mustache. He’s not very successful.

“Do you want another?” Hizashi asks. He seems much closer than he was a moment ago, and Shōta’s heart beats fast in his chest.

“What?” Shōta replies, hoping that his voice comes across less breathy than it sounds to him.

“I can get you another beer, if you want,” Hizashi clarifies, nodding to the empty beer bottle on the coffee table.

“I better not,” Shōta mutters. Idly, he wonders if he should put a little more space between them, but he can’t quite manage to pull away. “I still have to be able to get back to my apartment and I don’t know the trains around here that well.”

“You don’t have to go home,” Hizashi says, and Shōta’s pretty sure his heart stops for a moment, but then Hizashi adds, “I have a guest bedroom.”

Shōta tries not to label the emotion he feels ‘disappointment.’

“You have a guest bedroom? Why?” Shōta snorts. He suddenly becomes aware of where his thigh is pressed up against Hizashi’s, and he can’t for the life of him remember when that happened, and if it was him moving closer to Hizashi, or the other way around.

“I don’t know,” Hizashi replies, frowning slightly. It’s unfairly cute. “For guests, I guess.”

“Do you have a lot of guests?” Shōta asks, his voice dipping low in a way he hadn’t entirely intended.

Hizashi blinks at him for a moment, as if processing the question, and then says, “Not really.”

The answer satisfies something in Shōta that he hadn’t even realized was there, but then he can’t help but feel guilty. After all, he should want Hizashi to have people over, instead of just turning into a recluse with only cats for friends.

“Do you?”

Now it’s Shōta’s turn to blink at Hizashi.

“Do you have people over a lot?” Hizashi clarifies. He worries his lower lip with his teeth and it takes more effort than Shōta wants to admit to focus on the question instead of how much he’d like to press their mouths together.

Shōta pauses as he thinks about it.

“Sometimes,” he finally answers. Mainly because Nemuri likes to invite herself over a lot.

“Oh,” Hizashi replies, sounding almost disappointed.

“I could stay over,” Shōta offers. “If you want me to.”

The whole reason he and Hizashi became friends was because Hizashi’s lonely, and needs someone who likes him as a person instead of as a celebrity. Shōta doesn’t mind being that person, as long as Hizashi doesn’t notice his little crush, or at least is polite enough to ignore it.

However, as soon as the thought has crossed his mind, Hizashi leans forward and presses their mouths together.

It startles Shōta little, but the alcohol makes his body loose, and instead of tensing up, he relaxes into the kiss, lips pliant against Hizashi’s. Apparently Hizashi takes that as an invitation to continue, because he presses against Shōta harder, deepening the kiss.

It’s a little disorientating, being kissed like this, warm and wet and just right. Part of Shōta wonders why Hizashi is even doing this, but the feeling of Hizashi pressed up against him is far more enticing than thoughts about motivation and consequences, and it’s easy to let himself ignore the doubts in the back of his mind.

But then one of Hizashi’s cats meows, and the moment is broken.

“Would you, uh,” Hizashi says, his voice gratifyingly breathy, “wanna continue this somewhere without cats climbing all over us?”

All Shōta can manage is a nod.

Hizashi leads him back to the bedroom, although Shōta doubts he could recreate the path on his own, too distracted by Hizashi, by the warmth of Hizashi’s fingers around his wrist, the bright green of Hizashi’s eyes, the way his hair has somehow become a little tousled, although Shōta can’t remember messing it up himself.

The bedroom itself is nice, decorated in the same modern style as the rest of the apartment. Shōta doesn’t have much time to contemplate the décor, though, as Hizashi closes the door and then drags him into another kiss.

Shōta’s a little bolder this time, pressing against Hizashi in a way that drags a soft, needy sound from Hizashi. It makes heat pool low in Shōta’s stomach, and he doesn’t hesitate to drag Hizashi down onto the bed with him, reveling in the warm weight of Hizashi on top of him.

Their hips press together and now it’s Shōta’s turn to moan.

Before they can start rutting against each other, though, Hizashi pulls away. There’s a complaint on the tip of Shōta’s tongue, but before he can get it out, Hizashi tugs his shirt off over his head, revealing a slim, lightly muscled chest, hipbones peaking up from under the waistline of his low-cut jeans.

“So that was a real photo?” Shōta asks, his voice rough as he takes in the expanse of Hizashi’s bare chest.

“Is it as good IRL?” Hizashi counters, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips as he sits straddling Shōta’s hips.

“It’s nice to have a face attached to it,” Shōta replies. Hizashi blinks at him for a moment, looking caught off guard, and for a moment Shōta wonders if he’s said too much.

“So you’re not disappointed?” Hizashi presses, and it should sound teasing, but somehow it doesn’t.

“You’re regularly featured on billboards,” Shōta snorts, looking up at Hizashi from under his eyelashes. “Why would I be disappointed?” He hesitates, and then asks, “Are you?”

“What? No!” Hizashi blurts out, leaning forward a little, hands braced against Shōta’s chest. “But, I mean, I knew what I was getting, while you thought I was a catfish.” He pauses, then adds, “Although you never did send me any shirtless pictures. I will get to see you shirtless at some point, right?”

Shōta feels his face flush a little as Hizashi looks down at him with intent eyes, anticipatory, almost.

“I can’t exactly take off my shirt if you’re pinning me to the bed,” Shōta says dryly, trying to ignore the flush on his face and the rapid beating of his heart in his chest.

“Right, right,” Hizashi replies quickly, taking his hands off of Shōta’s chest and leaning back to let Shōta lift his upper body up enough to get his shirt off.

It only takes a couple of moments for Shōta to remove his shirt, and when he looks back up, he finds Hizashi staring at him, a heat in his eyes which sends a shiver down Shōta’s spine. It’s a strange sensation, Hizashi looking at him like this, considering how many times he’d fantasized about Present Mic before learning that Hizashi and Present Mic were actually one in the same.

Before he can overthink the situation, though, Hizashi leans in to capture his mouth in a kiss.

Wet sounds echo through the otherwise quiet room as they kiss, languidly at first, and then more heated, open-mouthed and hot. Hizashi’s an excellent kisser, not too forceful and not too timid, but it’s not quite enough to completely distract Shōta from the fact that Hizashi’s still straddling his waist, and every little shift of his body creates uncomfortable friction between them.

Not a bad friction, of course. But it’s not exactly satisfying, just a light little tease, and the next time Hizashi adjusts his position, Shōta finds himself bucking his hips up, chasing the sensation of Hizashi pressed up against him.

Hizashi moans against Shōta’s mouth, and Shōta decides he’s tired of kissing.

With that, he reaches down to unbutton Hizashi’s pants.

It doesn’t take him long to get his hand around Hizashi’s cock, already well on its way to hardness, and Hizashi lets out another breathy little sound as Shōta strokes him. He fucks into Shōta’s fist, precome sticky against Shōta’s palm, and heat pools low in Shōta’s belly as he wonders what it would feel like to slide his cock up against Hizashi’s.

Hizashi rocks forward a little, the new position making his ass brush up against Shōta’s cock, and Shōta decides that he wouldn’t mind sliding into that either.

“Hizashi – ” Shōta starts, his voice so low and rough he almost doesn’t recognize it.

“I have supplies somewhere,” Hizashi interrupts, his tone breathy and his pink lips hanging open. He sounds a little distracted as he says it, pushing himself up off of Shōta’s hips to go fish around in the top drawer of his bedside table.

Shōta can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the loss of contact, even though he knows that it’s all for the sake of moving things along, but he doesn’t reach out to pull Hizashi back.

A moment later, Hizashi makes a triumphant noise and comes up with a bottle of lube and a condom.

“How do you want – ” Shōta starts, but Hizashi cuts him off with a kiss, brief but a little rough this time.

“I’ve got it,” Hizashi murmurs, and then tugs off his pants.

Now that Hizashi’s fully naked, it’s even harder for Shōta to keep from staring. Then again, Hizashi’s probably used to people staring, because although he might not typically grace the “hottest celebrity” polls in the gossip rags, he still puts a lot of effort into his appearance.

Part of Shōta wonders if he should have at least cleaned up his stubble a bit, but, well, if Hizashi cared, they wouldn’t have gotten this far already.

A soft sound breaks Shōta from his thoughts, and he realizes that Hizashi’s slipped a finger inside himself, biting his lips in an attempt to stifle the noises he makes as he starts to open himself up. Shōta’s jeans feel even tighter than before – something he hadn’t thought was possible – and he finds himself reaching out to grip Hizashi’s thighs, something to occupy his hands so he doesn’t become restless with how much he wishes it was his own fingers fucking into Hizashi.

It seems to take forever for Hizashi to prep himself, although it actually only takes a handful of minutes. He keeps making half-bitten off little sounds, moans and pants, as he works himself open, and finally Shōta says, “You don’t have to be quiet.”

“What?” Hizashi asks, blinking down at Shōta dazedly.

“Stop trying to be quiet,” Shōta repeats, his voice firm. “It’s weird.”

Hizashi looks a little caught off guard, but then a smirk spreads over his lips and he says, “If you want me to be loud, then you better give me something to be loud about.”

With that, he slides his fingers out of himself and reaches for the button keeping Shōta’s cock trapped in his jeans.

Shōta’s breath hitches as Hizashi undoes his fly and pulls him out, stroking him slowly. Not that there’s any need for it, when Shōta’s already so hard that it’s almost painful, and part of him is worried that he’s going to come before he even gets inside of Hizashi.

Hizashi starts guiding him back, and Shōta’s heart pounds in anticipation.

“Wait,” Shōta chokes out as his cock brushes against Hizashi’s ass, his grip on Hizashi’s thighs tightening.

“What is it?” Hizashi asks, his expression sobering and his body freezing.

“Condom,” Shōta answers through gritted teeth.

“Shit, sorry,” Hizashi mutters, his face flushing as he fumbles for the condom packet lying on the top of the bedside table. “I swear I’m not usually this – ”

He cuts himself off, and Shōta opens his mouth to press for the rest of the sentence, but then Hizashi wraps a hand around his cock again to roll the condom down onto it and all that Shōta can manage is a moan.

When Hizashi sinks down onto him, Shōta forgets everything else.

“Oh god,” Hizashi gasps, his hands braced on Shōta’s chest, fingertips digging into Shōta’s pecs. He tightens around Shōta a little and Shōta fucks himself up into Hizashi on reflex, dragging another whine from Hizashi’s throat. Shōta grits his teeth and tries to keep still, giving Hizashi enough time to adjust, but apparently Hizashi’s decided he doesn’t want to take things slow, because he lifts himself up slightly and starts to rock against Shōta’s cock.

The lube makes a wet, slick sound as Shōta’s cock slides in and out of Hizashi, and Shōta finds himself tightening his grip on Hizashi’s thighs, torn between wanting to fuck up into Hizashi himself, and just lying back and enjoying the view.

It’s a really nice view.

Eventually, though, Hizashi’s rhythm starts to falter. It’s clear he’s getting tired, thighs straining with the effort, and it’s making his movements shallow and teasing, more like he’s grinding himself on Shōta’s cock than fucking himself on it.

“I, uh,” Hizashi pants, “think I need a moment to – ”

Before Hizashi can finish, Shōta pushes himself up into a sitting position. Hizashi squeaks as he finds himself sitting in Shōta’s lap instead of straddling Shōta’s hips, and Shōta captures his mouth in a kiss before he can protest the rough handling. It doesn’t take long for Hizashi to relax into the new position, though, and Shōta kisses him open-mouthed and wet until he’s satisfied that Hizashi’s not going to tense up on him.

Then, he starts thrusting.

Shōta,” Hizashi groans, his legs, now looped around Shōta’s stomach, tightening a little, as if trying to get Shōta deeper.

Shōta obliges and starts fucking up into Hizashi harder, driving himself into the tight heat of Hizashi’s body. Every little sound Hizashi makes, each moan, pant, and whine, emboldens him, and he pulls Hizashi close enough that their chests are pressed together, a firm embrace as he buries himself as deep as he can in Hizashi.

It also has the benefit of trapping Hizashi’s neglected cock between them, creating friction, and it’s not long before Hizashi comes, clenching hard around Shōta as he spills against Shōta’s skin.

His thighs squeeze against Shōta’s hips, and Shōta can feel him shiver as he comes. A smug, self-satisfied emotion floods Shōta, and he grins against Hizashi’s mouth as he fucks into Hizashi with sharp thrusts, dragging a desperate, staccato, “Ah, ah, ah,” out of Hizashi, still squirming on his cock.

With the weight of Hizashi in his arms, tight around him, it’s not long before Shōta’s coming too, spilling into the condom.

For a moment, they just stay like that, panting against each other’s mouths.

“I think I’m gonna pass out,” Hizashi finally groans.

Shōta huffs out a soft laugh.

---

Shōta’s broken out of his slumber as he feels the bed dip.

He cracks his eyes open, squinting against the sunlight streaming through the windows until his gaze settles on Hizashi, slipping out from under the covers.

“Close the curtains,” Shōta croaks, his voice scratchy with sleep.

Hizashi squeaks, apparently not having realized that Shōta was awake, and shoots Shōta an apologetic smile as he says, “Sorry, did I wake you up?”

“The sun woke me up,” Shōta lies, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling in his chest at the thought of Hizashi sneaking out of bed. It could just be out of gentlemanly politeness, but there’s something strained about Hizashi’s smile, and Shōta wonders if he’s having regrets about what happened last night.

“Do you want breakfast?” Hizashi asks, breaking Shōta out of his thoughts. “I don’t really have much in my fridge but I’m pretty sure I have rice, at least. I would suggest going out, but, you know. I mean, we could? If you really wanted to?”

He rubs at the back of his neck awkwardly, posture tense, and Shōta clenches his jaw. At least now he knows that last night was just the result of Hizashi acting on a tipsy impulse, and not an actual prelude to a relationship. Not that he’d expected it to be.

(A small voice in the back of his mind argues that Hizashi might not want to go out just because he doesn’t want to give the paparazzi more ammo, but he stifles that voice quickly.)

“I don’t care,” Shōta finally replies. “I’m going back to sleep.”

With that, he rolls over and buries his face in Hizashi’s very soft pillows.

“Alright,” Hizashi says. At least he’s polite enough to let Shōta monopolize his bed a little longer. “I’ll be in the kitchen, I guess. The bathroom’s across the hall, and you can use the shower if you want.”

Shōta just grunts in reply.

Soon enough, he hears the sound of the bedroom door clicking closed, and the remaining tension drains out of his shoulders. The pillows smell like Hizashi, and a little bit like sweat, and Shōta takes a moment to breathe it in, the tang of floral shampoo and the artificial sharpness of whatever hair gel Hizashi uses.

Well, he assumes that it’s Hizashi’s scent. It’s not as if they’ve spent enough time around each other in person for him to be able to identify such things, despite the intimate position they were in last night.

He spends the next half hour or so drifting in and out of consciousness, soothed by the warmth of Hizashi’s bed, but restless with the knowledge that he shouldn’t linger longer than appropriate. Then again, the polite thing to do would probably have been to leave immediately, instead of occupying Hizashi’s bed, clinging to the fantasy of what it would be like to have Hizashi cuddled up next to him.

Eventually, though, he drags himself out of bed.

It takes a bit of wandering to navigate his way through the apartment, but eventually he finds Hizashi sitting at the shiny marble island in the middle of the kitchen, absentmindedly munching on a piece of toast as he stares at his phone screen.

“I thought you said you only had rice?” Shōta says, sidling up to the counter.

Hizashi startles and chokes on his toast.

“Oh my god,” Hizashi wheezes, once he’s no longer being strangled by his breakfast. “I need to put a bell on you. You’re worse than my actual cats.”

One of the cats – Swift? – meows loudly, and Shōta glances up to find her perched on top of the refrigerator.

“But yeah, I popped over to the store while you were sleeping,” Hizashi continues, drawing Shōta’s attention to the eclectic spread of food on the counter, everything from chocolate muffins to grilled mackerel. “I wasn’t sure what you’d like so I just kind of, uh – ”

“Got everything?” Shōta snorts.

“Pretty much,” Hizashi says with an awkward little laugh. “Help yourself, I guess?”

Shōta contemplates the food for a moment, before snagging a piece of bread for himself and sticking it in the toaster.

With that, he takes a seat across from Hizashi.

“I made a salad too,” Hizashi adds. “If you want.”

Shōta’s never had any particular love for salad, but it feels rude to refuse, so he nods, and Hizashi gets up from his chair to busy himself with preparing Shōta a bowl. Briefly, Shōta wonders if the salad was just an excuse to avoid having to talk to him, and he hopes that their relationship hasn’t reverted back to that brief, awkward period when they’d first met in person, where they could barely exchange a few words without an uncomfortable pause in between.

“There’s coffee too,” Hizashi says, glancing back at Shōta. “Cups are above the sink.”

“Thanks,” Shōta replies, dragging himself up from his chair again. The mugs are on a relatively high shelf, and even with his height, he has to push himself up onto his toes to reach them, shirt riding up slightly.

He manages to snag one, though, and then turns back to search for the coffee maker, but he pauses as he finds Hizashi staring at him.

“Uh, the coffee maker’s over here – ” Hizashi says quickly, waving vaguely at the counter, his cheeks flushed pink.

Shōta blinks at Hizashi slowly, taking in his expression, and then takes a few steps forward, pressing up into his personal space. Hizashi’s cheeks seem to become even redder, and it emboldens Shōta, makes him start to wonder if last night wasn’t such a mistake.

“You could have stayed in bed with me,” Shōta murmurs, his voice dipping low. There are only a scant few centimeters between them, but he doesn’t close the distance, waiting for Hizashi to come to him instead.

Hizashi hesitates, but then takes a step back.

“I shouldn’t,” Hizashi replies, avoiding Shōta’s eyes. “I have an interview in the afternoon and I probably shouldn’t look like I’ve been, you know. In bed all day.”

It’s a clear rejection, and Shōta tries to convince himself it doesn’t hurt.

“Alright,” Shōta says, turning towards the coffee maker. “I’ll head out after breakfast to give you time to get ready, then.”

“You don’t have to – ” Hizashi starts.

“It’s fine,” Shōta interrupts, forcing his tone steady. “I have things I need to do anyway.”

It’s not a lie, but it’s certainly not the option he’d go with if given a choice.

---

It’s been three days since he and Hizashi slept together.

At first Shōta had been expecting their text conversations to peter out, but Hizashi still contacts him regularly, everything from rants about work to a simple, “Good morning!”

It’s a little frustrating, actually, and sometimes Shōta finds himself wondering if their one-night-stand had meant anything to Hizashi at all. Hizashi seems to like him as a person well enough, and clearly there had been at least a little physical attraction there, but apparently a single tryst was all it took to satisfy that urge.

Shōta’s kind of disappointed they hadn’t even managed a round two.

“I didn’t think it was that bad,” Shōta mutters to himself as he stares at his computer screen. His email has been open for the past ten minutes, but he still hasn’t managed to actually open any of the messages, thoughts of Hizashi making him too restless to concentrate properly.

With a sigh, he opens a new tab and switches over to YouTube. He unconsciously starts to navigate over to the playlist that Hizashi had made for him, but then he catches himself, huffing out a frustrated noise. He highly doubts that particular arrangement of background music would help take his mind off of Hizashi, but beyond to listening to Hizashi’s own music, he hasn’t bothered to do much exploration of his own, so he really has nothing else to listen to.

Instead of staring blankly at his email, now Shōta finds himself staring blankly at the YouTube homepage.

A newly uploaded video catches his eye, and he pauses.

PRESENT MIC SPILLS THE DEETS ON MYSTERY DATE!

It’s a clip from some interview show, Hizashi sitting in a plush-looking armchair across from an attractive young host. Hizashi’s expression is somewhere between awkward and wistful, almost, and Shōta finds himself hovering over the video with his cursor, masochistic curiosity warring with the uncomfortable memories of his recent rejection.

In the end, curiosity gets the better of him.

The interview starts with some pleasantries, some idle small talk, and a few soft questions about Hizashi’s new album. Shōta mostly zones out during it, more distracted by the easy smile on Hizashi’s face and the attentive way he leans in towards his interviewer.

In fact, it’s not until the interviewer says, “It seems like you’ve been having a lot of fun lately, particularly after your most recent concert, if the rumors are to be believed,” that Shōta finally starts registering the conversation again.

“Well, concerts are always when I have the most fun, so I’m not sure after the concert was any more fun than the concert itself,” Hizashi replies with an awkward little laugh.

“Really?” the interviewer presses. His eyes are sharp in a way that Shōta doesn’t particularly care for. “I always have the most fun when I’m with people who are fun to be around.”

It’s a clear prod for information, without directly asking the question.

“Yeah, I feel that,” Hizashi agrees, his tone amicable, although Shōta doesn’t miss the way his posture has become a little tenser. “I’m always so busy, it’s hard to find time to hang out with friends, but I try to work things out with the time I have.”

“So the man you were photographed with is a friend of yours?” the interviewer asks, his tone innocently curious and his body language open.

Hizashi hesitates for a split-second and Shōta finds himself unconsciously holding his breath.

“Yeah,” Hizashi replies. “We’re friends.”

He’s smiling, but it’s different than his usual smile. Shōta doesn’t know if it looks strange because it’s artificial, though, or if it’s just a smile that he hasn’t seen before, considering how little he and Hizashi have actually interacted in person. The ache in his chest has returned, a small voice in the back of his head berating himself for clicking on the video even though he knew that this was going to be the end result, and he’s about to exit out of the tab, but then –

“Really?” the interviewer says. “You seemed pretty close for friends.”

“Well, if it was up to me we wouldn’t be friends,” Hizashi answers, his smile turning wry. “But he told me up front that he isn’t interested in dating, so.”

“He rejected you?” the interviewer clarifies, blinking at Hizashi, looking caught off guard. Shōta understands the feeling.

“Pretty much,” Hizashi says, rubbing at the back of his neck, betraying his discomfort. “Which, you know, I get. There was a sort of miscommunication when we first met and he didn’t realize I was a celebrity, so even if he was on the market, it wouldn’t be weird to be intimidated by – ” Hizashi waves his hand vaguely. “ – all of this.”

“I thought most people would jump at the chance to date you because you’re a celebrity,” the reporter muses, leaning back in his chair as he studies Hizashi. “I mean, you’ve got the money, the looks, a great voice.”

“A horde of paparazzi following me,” Hizashi adds dryly. “Honestly, at this point in time, I just want to be able to maintain our friendship without him being scared off by the media.”

“I suppose that’s understandable,” the interviewer concedes.

The conversation gradually shifts to other topics from there, but Shōta doesn’t hear a single word of it, staring blankly at his computer screen as he tries to process what Hizashi had just said. No matter how many times he replays it in his mind, though, it doesn’t make sense, and before he can think better of it, he picks up his phone.

Are you home now?

His heart beats fast in his chest as he hits “send.”

It only takes a couple minutes for Hizashi to reply with, Almost? I’m heading back and should be there in about half an hour.

A pause, and then Hizashi adds, Why?

I’m coming over, Shōta answers.

With that, he shoves his phone into his pocket and heads for the door.

The train ride over to Hizashi’s apartment seems to take both forever and no time at all. In reality, it’s only about twenty minutes, and Shōta finds himself standing awkwardly in front of Hizashi’s apartment building, wondering if he can loiter for the ten minutes until Hizashi arrives, or if the security guard will try to get him to leave.

In fact, the security guard has just started eyeing him suspiciously, and looks like he’s about to get up from his seat, when a slightly breathy voice says, “Shōta!”

Shōta glances back to find Hizashi standing behind him, face a little flushed and breathing heavy, and Shōta’s heart skips a beat as he wonders if Hizashi had run to get to him.

He opens his mouth to say something, although what, he’s not quite sure, but before he can get the words out, Hizashi blurts out, “Are you alright? Did something happen? Did the paparazzi – ”

“Date me.”

Hizashi blinks at him, looking thoroughly caught off guard.

“What?” Hizashi finally manages.

“I said,” Shōta says slowly, taking a step closer to Hizashi, “you should date me.”

Hizashi stares.

“Uh,” Hizashi replies, his breath hitching a little as Shōta presses up in to his personal space. The flush on his face seems to be more due to their proximity now, instead of exertion, and idly Shōta wonders how he’d missed this before. “Not that I’m not happy, but did, uh, something happen? I mean, this is just kind of sudden – ”

“It really isn’t,” Shōta snorts, giving Hizashi his best unimpressed look. He pauses, then adds, “But I did see that interview you gave.”

“Interview?” Hizashi repeats, his forehead creasing.

“Some talk show,” Shōta clarifies. “You said I rejected you.”

From this distance, it’s easy to see the way Hizashi’s eyes widen, face flushing even darker red than before, and he sputters, “You saw that?”

“I’ve been watching a lot of Present Mic videos lately,” Shōta replies dryly. He reaches out to slide a hand down Hizashi’s forearm, guiding Hizashi’s arm around his waist, and although Hizashi startles a little, he doesn’t try to pull away. “It popped up in my suggested videos.”

“Oh,” is all Hizashi manages, his voice a little strangled.

“I don’t remember rejecting you, though,” Shōta continues, looking Hizashi dead in the eye. “If anything, you were the one who rejected me when I asked you to come back to bed with me last weekend.”

“You said you only like the profiles of guys with shirtless pics,” Hizashi blurts out.

Now it’s Shōta’s turn to blink at him, caught off guard.

“And you said you were glad I wasn’t actually looking for a boyfriend,” Hizashi adds, clenching his jaw slightly. “Because you’d feel bad for leading me on.”

“That was a joke,” Shōta huffs, although he can feel his face flushing hot.

“Which one?” Hizashi asks, frowning slightly.

“The shirtless photos one,” Shōta answers, giving Hizashi a look like it should have been obvious. He hesitates, then mutters, “And I did say I’d feel bad about leading you on, but I never said I wasn’t interested in dating you. If anything, I thought you were the one who wasn’t interested in dating.”

“I message you every day!” Hizashi sputters. He tightens his grip on Shōta’s waist, probably an unconscious move, and it makes Shōta’s breathing hitch. “I gave you special concert tickets! I skipped out on the afterparty for you! I got cats for you!”

“You,” Shōta starts, a little awkwardly, “seemed like you needed friends?”

Hizashi gives him an incredulous look.                                                    

“You didn’t want to have sex with me a second time,” Shōta adds. Saying ‘sex’ aloud suddenly reminds him of the position they’re in, pressed so close, and idly, he observes that although they’re roughly the same height, Hizashi’s a centimeter or two taller than him. It’s hardly enough to be a hinderance, though, and instead Shōta finds himself glancing down at Hizashi’s lips, judging their position in relation to his own.

“I – ” Hizashi starts, breaking Shōta from his thoughts. He swallows thickly and says, “I like you too much to have a casual relationship.”

“When did I ever say that night was something casual?” Shōta snorts, giving Hizashi an unimpressed look. “For someone who talks for a living, you’re really bad at using your words.”

“Hey!” Hizashi huffs. “I sing for a living!”

“Are you going to sing me your feelings, then?” Shōta asks dryly.

Instead of complaining about being teased, though, Hizashi’s face turns a fascinating shade of red, before he mutters, “I might be working on a song or two.”

“So you were planning on singing sad, pining songs about me instead of talking to me directly?” Shōta says, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips.

“Shut up,” Hizashi groans, and he starts to reach his free hand up to hide his face, but Shōta catches his wrist before he can.

With that, Shōta leans in to press his mouth to Hizashi’s.

It’s not like the previous kisses they’d shared. Instead it’s soft, slow, and chaste, more than a brush of lips but nothing heated, nothing to suggest ulterior motives. Shōta’s whole body feels pleasantly warm, pressed up against Hizashi like this, and he shifts to move his mouth against Hizashi’s in a series of little kisses, light pecks that make Hizashi relax into him, half content and half relieved.

“Date me,” he repeats, murmured against Hizashi’s mouth.

“Yeah,” Hizashi replies, his arm still looped around Shōta’s waist in a tight embrace. “Yes, absolutely, of course.”

“Is this you trying to use your words?” Shōta snorts, but he isn’t quite able to suppress the smile threatening to overtake his mouth.

Instead of replying, Hizashi kisses him again.

---

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

Shōta gives Hizashi a flat look.

“It’s a little late to ask me that now,” Shōta snorts from where he’s sitting next to Hizashi in the back of a sleek car.

“We’re not actually there yet,” Hizashi points out. He’s been fidgeting with his cufflinks for at least half an hour now and Shōta reaches over to put his hand over Hizashi’s, stifling the movement.

“You got me a ticket. You bought me a suit. We’re a minute away from NHK Hall,” Shōta replies. “I’m not going to back out now.”

“You don’t have to force yourself,” Hizashi says weakly. He bites at his lower lip, looking at Shōta with those big eyes of his, and Shōta has to restrain himself from leaning over and kissing him. The last thing they need is for Hizashi to show up to his performance on the widest-watched television program in Japan looking rumpled.

Then again, the makeup artists can probably fix all of that backstage.

“It’s not like I’m going out on stage with you,” Shōta says instead, trying to ground himself in the current conversation. “We won’t even be seen together much, with you backstage and me in the audience.”

“Well, yeah,” Hizashi agrees reluctantly. “But someone could still get a photo.”

“I thought you were the one who wanted me to watch you perform live at Kōhaku,” Shōta huffs, the corners of his mouth turning down in a slight frown. “I could have just stayed at home and seen it on TV.”

“Oh my god, do you want to be here or not?” Hizashi groans, slumping against the seat.

“I do,” Shōta says, his voice steady and firm. “Because I want to support my boyfriend.”

Hizashi blinks at him, eyes a little wide.

“But I reserve the right to sleep through the other acts,” Shōta adds, making Hizashi let out an indignant squawk.

“Do you know how hard it is to get tickets to this?” Hizashi complains, reaching up to rub at his temples. “And I know for a fact that you like at least a couple of the other artists. They’re on that playlist I made for you.”

“The show is four hours,” Shōta says flatly. “How is anyone supposed to stay awake through the entire thing?”

“How did I end up dating you?” Hizashi sighs, more to himself than to Shōta. “Fine, whatever. Sleep when you want. But if you sleep through my performance I’m going to be really upset, okay?”

“When do you go on?” Shōta asks, digging his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll set an alarm.”

“You’re a heathen,” Hizashi complains. “A monster. Uncultured swine.”

“Maybe I will go home, then,” Shōta replies, arching an eyebrow at Hizashi.

“No, no, no, no,” Hizashi says quickly, grabbing Shōta’s hands again and holding them tight. Their knees bump together, despite how spacious the back of the car is, and it’s very hard to not get distracted by the warmth of Hizashi’s body next to him. “I’m sorry, that was mean, please don’t go. You can sleep through the entire show, but just be aware that the people next to you will probably complain.”

“I suppose I can try to stay awake, then,” Shōta says.

For a moment, Hizashi hesitates, but then he leans in, pressing their mouths together. It’s not a long kiss, but it’s not exactly brief, either, and when Hizashi pulls away, Shōta’s lips feel a little tingly, slightly sticky with Hizashi’s chapstick or whatever he’d put on his mouth to make it so soft.

“Incentive to behave tonight,” Hizashi murmurs, his face only a scant few centimeters away from Shōta’s.

“So you think that the two of us arriving together, looking suspiciously rumpled is going to be less conspicuous than me sleeping in some corner of the theater?” Shōta asks dryly, trying to suppress the smile threatening to spread over his lips.

“We’re not – it was just one kiss!” Hizashi sputters, his face flushing. It’s an unfairly cute look on him.

Shōta makes a noise that could pass as either agreement or disagreement, and reaches out to restraighten Hizashi’s bowtie. Not that it actually needs to be straightened out much, but it has the bonus effect of making Hizashi fret, straightening out his shirt and checking his buttons, before taking out his phone to check his appearance in the camera app.

Then, the car comes to a stop.

“Do I look okay?” Hizashi asks, as if he hadn’t just checked for himself.

“You look like you always do,” Shōta answers, twisting to glance out the tinted windows of the car.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hizashi huffs, but he puts his phone back and straightens his suit out one more time, before reaching for the car door handle.

“Do you have anything after the show?” Shōta asks as Hizashi gets out of the car.

“If I do, I’ll figure out how to get out of it,” Hizashi answers, shooting Shōta a grin. “Watch for my text, okay?”

“I’ll be waiting,” Shōta replies, smiling ever so slightly.