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Meal Ticket

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Zenitsu looked at the clock hanging over the doorway to the kitchen. Twenty-five minutes past the agreed time. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t stop glancing between the door and the clock. His eyes felt like they were circling in different directions.  He tapped his fingers in a nonsensical beat on the table top. 

She knew, right? She remembered, right? He had made sure to tell Aoi-chan. Maybe she overslept?

Did she get the day wrong? Did she think it was next Saturday? 

Zenitsu was beginning to sweat as the clock hand took one more trip around the face. The waitress, Makio-san, shot him a pitying look. She looked down at the two waters still sitting there. Zenitsu had gone through two refills while he was waiting. He wasn’t sure he could keep telling her he’d wait to order. Just when he was going to get up, maybe ask Makio-san for a slice of cake to-go so he could go home and cry into the crumbs, someone busted in through the entrance of the diner. 

Not just someone, Zenitsu realized with growing dread. Inosuke

Inosuke, who still couldn’t go around with his shirt buttoned properly.  He was wearing socks with sandals, and clean looking jeans. Inosuke with the mismatching toned body and a face prettier than a girl’s. Inosuke who had fixed his eyes right on him and was coming over , Zenitsu thought in a panic.

“PONITSU!” Inosuke yelled from the entrance. He ran over, laughing loudly as he hopped over a table and a crouching Makio-san sweeping up a broken glass. Zenitsu felt his stomach drop.

“W-W-What are you doing here??” Zenitsu yelped.  “And it’s Zenitsu .”

How could he get his name wrong?? They shared all their classes together. 

From the side, Makio-san was shooting a vicious glare at him and he wilted. Inosuke dropped into the seat in front of him. He guzzled the other glass of water loudly. Then, he looked at the near empty table quizzically.

“Pigtails told me you would buy me food,” Inosuke said. “Where’s the food?”

“Why the hell would there be food for you??”

“Because that’s what you do on a,” Inosuke paused. He screwed his expression up for a moment; He smiled when he seemed to remember. “A date . Whatever that is. Pigtails said that since Zenitsu asked then Zenitsu buys.”

“Yeah but I didn’t ask you .” 

Inosuke snorted. “That’s not what Pigtails said.”

What a mess. He’d been working up the nerve to ask Aoi-chan out all week. Saving up the meager allowance Gramps gave him to take her out to eat lunch together. It had been hard, too! Aoi-chan was always around Kanao-chan for lunch. They were practically joined at the hip. Always holding hands. Despite how quiet she was, it had been hard to ask Aoi out with an audience. Now look where he was. All of it ruined so quickly. 

How had Aoi-chan misunderstand? Where had he gone wrong?? This was it, he was going to die alone then. Sixteen years old and Zenitsu would die without ever having a Spring romance??

“Soooo. Are you ready to order now? Since your date is here and all.” Makio raised an eyebrow as she slipped them both a menu. 

“He’s not my -”

Inosuke gasped. “TEMPURA.” 

“Hey now, wait just a -”

“And whatever this is. And this. This, too,” Inosuke said. “Monkitsu is paying.”

Makio-san shot Zenitsu another pitying look and took the menus. “Coming right up.”

“I didn’t even get to order!” Zenitsu cried when Makio had disappeared towards the kitchen. He put his face in his hands. Of all the places to have a disaster first date. Right where that bastard Uzui would hear about it. At the very least, Kaigaku wouldn’t know. Hopefully. 

Makio slipped a plate of yakitori on their table as she passed by. Zenitsu didn’t even get to nab one before Inosuke was stuffing his face with them. Zenitsu  could only gape. 

Gritting his teeth, Zenitsu slammed his hands on the table. “Oi! This is a date, you know? You have to share!” 

“Wha? Share? Why ? You’re supposed to buy me food!” 

“Why wouldn’t I want to eat, too!”

Uzui popped his head out from the kitchen, a knife raised. “STOP YELLING.” 

Inosuke glared down at the last skewer. Half a piece of meat still on it. With a scowl, Inosuke thrust it towards Zenitsu. “Here, Cheese-stick.”

Zenitsu inhaled; He saw Uzui’s dead-stare from the kitchen window and let out a deflating sigh instead. He took the offered piece with a mumbled thank you. Inosuke was strangely quiet. He only grumbled under his breath when Makio would appear, but would take a plate of food to someone else. Zenitsu really looked at him, this time.

Unfairly, despite his manners, Inosuke looked as demure as a girl. Zenitsu might even venture to say he looked prettier than most girls at their school. (Minus Nezuko, of course.) He was wearing a different button up than the usual school one Zenitsu saw him in. When he looked closely, he saw little boars printed across the fabric. He wondered if the old lady fostering him had gotten it for him. It was fitting, maybe even cute. 

“Why are you looking at me like that.”

Zenitsu flinched, embarrassed. “Who says I’m looking at you?”

Inosuke frowned. “You were. You were staring at me, Cheese-stick.”

Zenitsu . And I wasn’t staring at you.”

Inosuke bared his teeth. “You were . You have a problem with my face? You wanted to fight last time? Do you want to fight now?!”

“No!”

“Yes you do!”

Makio slid half their order onto the table between them. Her expression was exasperated. One look at the tempura had switched Inosuke’s focus almost instantly.

“There’s nothing wrong with your face! You’re pretty, ok?!” Zenitsu belatedly argued back.

Face full, and crumbs lining his cheeks, Inosuke looked back at him. Unfairly he blinked those big pretty eyes at him. It was a confusing image that made Zenitsu all the more flustered. Suma-san from behind the register gasped too loudly. He could hear her leaning up and over the window to the kitchen to not-so-quietly whisper to Hinatsuru. (And that meant Uzui knew, too, dammit -)

Inosuke dumped half his tempura onto Zenitsu’s plate. He was frowning again, but he was chewing slower, too. “Okay.” 

Huh , Zenitsu thought. That went a little too easy.  

Unfortunately - Zenitsu didn't really know -  the rest of their meal went like that. Inosuke eating most of the food, but remembering last minute to dump some of it on Zenitsu’s plate. Zenitsu had never seen anyone so excited about food or eating. He wondered if Hinatsuru-san who was the talent behind it all would be flattered. When Inosuke was finally done eating, he let his plate clatter down and sank back into his seat with a satisfied burp. 

“This date thing is fun,” Inosuke thought out loud. “Take me on another one, Monkitsu.”

“If you eat like that I'll never have money again!” 

“So that's a yes to another date then-?” Makio-san chirped in. 

She dropped his bill with a smirk. He could see now why she was with Uzui. They were very much made for each other. Zenitsu bit his tongue from saying that, though. He crumpled the receipt into his hand, afraid to look at the end total. Slowly, with his heart in his ear, he unfurled his fist and tried not to cry as the numbers appeared.

Inosuke shot Zenitsu an excited look, banging his fists against the table top as he spoke. “Another date! Let's get more food!”

Zenitsu let out a dying cry, trying to shove Inosuke back down into his seat. “Wait, wait, we aren't even done with this one!” 

Inosuke grumbled. “Then hurry up so we can go eat again.” 

“That’s not the only thing people do on dates, you pig-brained idiot!” Zenitsu sighed. 

He walked to where Suma was. Sheepishly she smiled at him from behind the register. Unsubtly she looked between him and Inosuke, smiling a little bigger each time. Flattening out his receipt on the counter top, Zenitsu begrudgingly shoveled out every last bit of his money. Along with the wrong amount of change, Suma-san handed him a little paper bag. “Hinatsuru put a few tempura away for you. She thought you could use the pick-me-up.” Zenitsu could only thank her.

Inosuke was out on the sidewalk chewing on something Makio had probably given him to get him to leave. Between bites he said, “Chuuitsu. I’m going to do this ‘date’ thing better than you.”

“What. WHAT.” Zenitsu rested his hands behind his ears. Maybe he hadn’t heard right. “Up until yesterday you didn’t even know what a date was!”

“Too bad, now I know. And I’m going to do it better.” Inosuke turned to leave. Mid-step he paused and turned back towards Zenitsu. He dropped a heavy hand to Zenitsu’s head and held him still. “I forgot something.”

Inosuke leaned forward and smacked a loud, quick kiss to Zenitsu’s lips before pushing the other boy away. “Guahaha! There! Gonpachiro said that if you liked the date you might kiss the other person. So there!” He pointed a finger into Zenitsu’s chest. “You’re going to kiss me back when I out-date you!”

“Uh? Eh?” Zenitsu floundered. Hastily without thinking, he could only agree. “Yeah, sure.” 

Inosuke took off down the sidewalk and into the distance, leaving Zenitsu still standing a few paces from the diner’s entrance. A loading screen turned slowly in his brain. The pieces all there but not quite connecting. 

Belatedly, he realized that he’d not only had his first date and first kiss, and maybe his first boyfriend, but also that Inosuke had stolen his tempura.