Richard had never specified a ‘no phones at work’ rule. Seigi had just assumed, and there was always something to keep him busy on slow days, even if it was just cleaning or talking to his employer. But he had something on his mind that could only be solved with some intense internet searching.
He did at least have the decency to wait until his lunch break. Richard was still hidden away in his office dealing with some paperwork, so while Seigi waited for him to finish, he leaned against the kitchen counter and set to work. That was where Richard found him several minutes later, scrolling and typing and scrolling some more.
“Now what could have happened to put such a frightening scowl on your face?” Richard’s voice made him jump, and he fumbled to keep hold of his phone. His employer stood in the doorway, not looking quite so stern as his voice might have suggested. Another man might have leaned against the doorframe, but Richard always seemed to retain his elegance whenever he was in the shop, customers or no.
“I’m looking for recipes,” Seigi told him. “I’m trying to find something that I can cook for you.”
For a moment, it seemed as though Richard wanted to reach out, either for the phone or for Seigi himself. But then his hand dropped. The surprised smile on his face lingered long enough for Seigi to enjoy it.
“What did you have in mind?” he asked, suddenly seeming to become entirely soft, as if he was no longer made to be in such sharply tailored clothing.
“I was looking at recipes for English food.” Seigi lowered his phone, finally admitting defeat. “But everything needs to be baked in an oven, and I don’t think a toaster-oven would do.”
That, at least, soured the softness on Richard’s face, and he made a noise that communicated his understanding.
“While I’m pleased that you wanted to cook something special for me, I really wouldn’t recommend English food as the best place to start.”
“Why do you think I left England?” It was impossible for Seigi to tell if Richard was entirely serious.
Richard opened up the fridge, his smile returning when he found the two bento boxes Seigi had put in there that morning. He took them both out, and carried both back out into the main room of the shop, with Seigi following along behind.
“Then what should I make?” Seigi asked, as Richard set out the boxes, chopsticks and napkins for them both. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Richard eat anything that wasn’t a dessert, unless it was something Seigi had prepared for him. And he knew Richard couldn’t actually have an aversion to savoury foods, because he always ate the lunches Seigi brought on weekends, plus the few meals they’d cooked together at Richard’s place, and never once complained about too many vegetables or too much meat. But he wanted to do something extra special.
Richard had done so much for him, not just in the few months since they’d confessed their true feelings for each other, but in the whole time that Seigi had known him. There had been meals in fancy restaurants that Seigi would never have imagined visiting, but also everything that Richard had taught him, and all the times that Richard just happened to have been there when Seigi needed a friend. He wanted Richard to know that someone was thinking of him when he wasn’t around; that there was someone who felt Richard was special enough to deserve such kind gestures.
He watched Richard raise a hand to his chin, deep in thought for a moment.
“I think it’s possible to make a range of different cakes in a toaster oven, or even in a microwave.”
“I want to make a meal,” he shot back, “some real food that we can eat together. For someone with such a knack for languages, you say things that are really vague and hard to understand sometimes.”
That earned him a smile, as Richard recognised the admonishment for the gentle teasing it was meant to be.
“I’ll eat anything you prepare,” he told Seigi, and while Seigi could have swooned at the compliment, he knew that Richard was still being evasive.
“Well, I’ll prepare whatever you ask me to,” Seigi said, then held up a hand before Richard could respond. “But it has to be a meal, not a dessert!”
Richard picked up a piece of seasoned tofu and popped it into his mouth.
“I like what you’ve made today,” he said, and flashed a quick smile.
“And I like it when you compliment my cooking, but you’re still not helping.” Seigi sighed, and took another bite. “I wanted to make something special, that I haven’t made before. Something that would make you happy.”
Richard set down his chopsticks, looking up at Seigi from under his eyelashes.
“I’m sorry for teasing,” he said. “I suppose I’m just used to choosing from menus or eating whatever someone else has prepared. It’s not often I get complete free reign to choose.”
Seigi felt his shoulders slump a little at the unexpectedly sad tone in Richard’s voice.
“There’s no rush,” he said. “How about you take some time to decide, and let me know when you’ve chosen something?”
Over the next few days, Seigi received a surprising number of text messages from Richard. Sometimes they were just pictures of food that he must have found online; sometimes they were comments on foods Richard had seen on restaurant menus or billboards. It was pleasing to think that Richard was taking Seigi’s little project so seriously, but it wasn’t making his choice any easier.
They made plans for Seigi to go to Richard’s place after his shift the following Saturday. Seigi used his lunch break to go grocery shopping, refusing Richard’s offer of a bundle of notes to pay for it. When he returned, the ingredients were stashed in the shop’s kitchen, and Richard was under strict instructions not to peek at any of it. Together, they rode the train to the stop nearest Richard’s apartment, and walked side by side through neat quiet streets, through the front door with its digital lock, up several floors in the mirrored lift, and through the door to the apartment that still amazed Seigi with its elegance and style.
Richard’s apartment looked as though it could have been a show-house. It could probably have fit Seigi’s whole apartment into the living room, and everything was modern and new and probably expensive. But Seigi had noticed, after just a couple of visits, that it bore little trace of Richard’s personality. Seigi’s place had his college schedule pinned to a noticeboard near the genkan, and photographs stuck to the fridge door with magnets, and a colourful but worn rug that Hiromi had bought for him when he first moved in. Richard’s place had black-and-white photographs on the walls and a handful of ceramic figurines on display and an up-to-date entertainment system, but those things could have belonged to anyone. He wondered, sometimes, what Richard did when he was alone in his apartment. There were a few books on a shelf, but they didn’t look like the well-read novels Hiromi kept at home. There were no CDs or records, no magazines, and certainly no personal photographs.
Some part of Seigi felt an urge to change that. He wanted to put things in Richard’s apartment that made the place feel more like a home. Souvenirs from trips they might take together, postcards from galleries and museums they visited, or maybe even a photograph of the two of them.
For the time being, he settled for filling the kitchen with the foods he’d bought earlier, knowing that his shoes were sitting right next to Richard’s in the genkan as proof that Richard wasn’t alone anymore.
Richard watched him set out flour, eggs, milk, and a few other things on the worktop.
“I thought you weren’t baking,” he asked Seigi, his voice curious.
“I’m not. I’m making crépes.” He watched the way Richard’s eyebrows shot up, knowing exactly what Richard must have been thinking. “Savoury ones,” he clarified. “I’m going to do some with spinach and cheese, and some with mushrooms, so they’ll be at least a little bit healthy. Sorry to disappoint you.”
Richard, standing just behind him as he emptied the last bag, placed a hand right between Seigi’s shoulderblades.
“Impossible,” he murmured, making Seigi’s face flush, and he smiled before he left the kitchen to put away his suit jacket.
He came back a minute later in just his shirt and trousers, already starting to roll up his sleeves.
“What can I do to help?” he asked, prompting Seigi to remember what he was supposed to be doing instead of staring, as he did whenever he got the chance, at Richard’s bare freckled forearms. Seigi was about to tell Richard that this was his treat, and that he ought to go relax in the living room, but he knew that Richard liked doing what little he could when they cooked, as if determined to prove that he wasn’t entirely inept in the kitchen. And if it meant Richard was close enough to put his hand on Seigi’s back or shoulder or arm some more, then that was a bonus.
Seigi got him started on weighing ingredients for the batter, while he set about prepping the mushrooms and spinach, ready to cook in two separate pans. He took over to whisk the batter, and Richard hovered close by as he ladelled it into a hot frying pan and filled crepes with the cooked spinach, mushrooms and some grated hard cheese. He plated the food while Richard set the table, and soon they were sitting down ready to eat.
Throughout the meal, he watched Richard’s face for his reactions to the new tastes. Even after they’d started dating, Richard was as sparing with his compliments as ever, but Seigi had learned to watch his eyes and his mouth for the subtle tells that gave away when he was truly enjoying something. Sure enough, his eyes widened at the first bite of a spinach-and-cheese crépe, and the mushroom one caused both corners of his mouth to twitch upwards. Richard clearing his plate was probably the best compliment, though, and Seigi gave himself a silent congratulations when he cleared the table at the end of their meal.
Unsurprisingly, Richard brought out something for dessert, and they moved to the couch to share a plate of cookies, or at least for Seigi to hold the plate while Richard ate most of them. Seigi marvelled at the sheer number of small ways in which Richard’s behaviour seemed to shift when they were alone in his apartment. It was almost as though, when he took off his shoes and his suit jacket, he took off a part of his personality too, and changed it for something more comfortable. He would sit on the couch with one leg up and tucked under the other, and his shoulders would slump as if tired from holding himself upright all day. His hands became more mobile, gesturing as he spoke, and after enough time, his speech would lose some of its formality, as though he no longer had the energy to be so eloquent. Seigi treasured each of those things, enraptured with the way Richard revealed that side of himself to no one else but him.
They had the TV on - Richard enjoyed documentaries, and usually managed to find ones that Seigi could become interested in too, but when the show they were watching ended, Richard began channel-hopping until he found a quiz show. Seigi was vaguely aware of the time growing late, but much more aware of the way Richard was slumping further and further down into the couch, leaning ever so slightly in Seigi’s direction. They’d already been sitting close to share the cookies, but now Richard’s shoulder was most definitely pressed against his, a warm pressure that went all the way down to their elbows. Richard shifted his legs, and one thigh came to rest over Seigi’s, and it was a perfectly natural movement for someone who’d been sitting in the same spot for an hour, but it left them much closer than they’d been together outside of actually kissing, and Seigi was transfixed. It was almost as though a stray cat had decided to make itself comfortable in his lap, and it was warm and heavy but he would not contemplate disturbing it in case it left forever.
Eventually Richard had to stifle a yawn, and Seigi was sure he’d get up from the couch and announce that the evening was over and he wanted to get ready for bed. Instead, his head tipped sideways until it bumped against Seigi’s shoulder. Seigi held his breath, waiting for Richard to realise what had happened and sit back up again.
Neither of them moved.
Richard seemed to realise that Seigi wasn’t about to dislodge him from where he rested, and all at once he seemed to melt into Seigi’s side, letting out a long breath that ended with the faintest little hum of sound.
They sat through the rest of the quiz show, occasionally calling out answers and congratulating each other on correct ones. When the credits rolled, he once again waited for Richard to get up, to announce that it was time for Seigi to leave. But Richard stayed where he was, and the TV played a few minutes of adverts before a serial drama came on and Richard changed the channel once again.
Eventually, Seigi began to feel drowsy. He was comfortably warm, with Richard pressed against his side and the huge L-shaped couch threatening to swallow him if he relaxed any more. He snuck a glance at his wristwatch, and the surprised sound he let out caused Richard to stir.
“What’s wrong?” He sat up, and immediately Seigi felt the cold along the side of his body where Richard had been resting. His face suggested he’d been on the verge of sleep, and it almost caused Seigi to forget why he’d startled in the first place.
“The last train leaves in a few minutes. Even if I run, I might not make it.”
Richard dropped his eyes, almost looking...ashamed?
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I shouldn’t have kept you so late.”
“You didn’t keep me,” Seigi told him. “I could have got up any time I chose. I was just - I think I was just so comfortable that I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving.”
That caused strange things to happen to Richard’s expression, as though he was torn between his guilt and his awe at the thought of Seigi willingly inconveniencing himself to stay on Richard’s couch.
“I can get a taxi,” Seigi told him, sitting forward on the couch. Somehow it still felt too difficult to actually stand up and prepare to leave.
“Stay,” Richard suggested, the word slipping out almost like he hadn’t meant to say it. “That is - I can make up a bed for you on the couch. A taxi all the way back to your place would be expensive, and this way you can travel with me into the shop in the morning.”
Seigi knew his mouth was hanging open, as he tried to process what Richard had offered. The couch was certainly big enough to serve as a bed, and he hadn’t exactly been looking forward to the long journey home late at night.
“Okay,” he answered eventually, still not quite accepting of the intimacy of spending the night in Richard’s apartment. But his answer brought out a small smile on Richard’s face, so he knew it had been the right thing to say.
Richard brought clean towels and allowed Seigi to use the bathroom while he fetched sheets and pillows to prepare a make-shift bed. He even found a pair of pyjama bottoms and an undershirt for Seigi to sleep in, saying something about how unpleasant it was to wake up after sleeping in one’s daytime clothes.
Before he went to bed, Richard instructed Seigi to help himself to anything from the kitchen for breakfast, and not to worry about disturbing him if he needed the bathroom during the night.
At last, they were about to turn in, and Richard seemed to hover in the living room, unwilling to leave Seigi alone.
“Thank you for letting me stay,” Seigi told him, and reached out to take hold of Richard’s hand. Although they had referred to their relationship as ‘dating’ for a few months, such casual touches were still infrequent, as they navigated the changes in the way they could behave around each other when they were alone. Richard smiled at the contact, and tugged on Seigi’s hand, pulling him closer.
“Can I kiss you goodnight?” he asked, and Seigi nodded before dipping his head to kiss Richard’s mouth. He felt Richard’s other hand on his waist, holding him in place, and the kiss seemed to last much longer than any they’d shared previously. Seigi found himself with both arms wrapped around Richard, holding him close like he could have stayed that way all night if he’d been able, as Richard kissed him with a growing urgency, as if worried that Seigi might change his mind and leave after all.
Seigi only pulled back when he found himself growing short of breath, and a quick glance showed Richard to be in a similar state. They settled instead for pressing their foreheads together, and Seigi listened to Richard’s breath slowly even out, the faint smile on his face doing something wonderful to Seigi’s heart.
Richard left him alone in the living room, turning out the lights as he went, and Seigi slipped into his make-shift bed with his lips still tingling. It seemed to him as though something ever so small had shifted between them, a near-invisible line crossed without them having planned it. He looked for a while at the door to Richard’s bedroom, and wondered if it had occurred to Richard to invite him in. The possibility had, after all, crossed Seigi’s mind on several occasions. He had little idea of the specifics; only that, if he was going to cross that line, he was confident that Richard would take care of him.
He was awoken by sunlight creeping past the blinds, and the unfamiliarity of it had him panicking, briefly, as he tried to work out where he was. Thankfully, he woke before his phone alarm began to blare, and he shut it off before it had a chance to go off.
Remembering Richard’s instructions not to worry about disturbing him, Seigi helped himself to a quick shower, enjoying the way it left him smelling like Richard’s fancy soap and shampoo. He re-dressed in his clothes from the day before, hoping it wouldn’t matter too much at work, and carefully folded up the blankets and set them in a neat pile on the edge of the couch before going to investigate the contents of the kitchen.
He was surprised to find a pack of ground coffee in the kitchen, and figured out the basics of using the French press to brew up a batch. He was in search of cups when a sound in the living room caused him to turn around.
Richard had surfaced, wandering out of his room still in his pyjamas, and the sight made Seigi’s heart clench. His hair was rumpled, his face had pillow-creases, and the blue of his eyes was barely visible beneath sleep-heavy lids. It was a Richard he hadn’t even thought could exist, a Richard who somehow looked so young and so unlike the man who sold jewels worth millions of yen to people from all around the world. He practically stumbled into the kitchen, heading straight for Seigi, and came to stand behind him, dropping his head to rest on Seigi’s shoulder.
“Richard!” Seigi’s hands fumbled with the cup he was holding, and he struggled not to drop it. “You can’t do this to me so early in the morning!”
All he heard from Richard was a faint noise that sounded like it had a question buried somewhere in it. Seigi set the cup down on the worktop and turned; Richard didn’t move, and Seigi ended up with his hands on Richard’s waist to keep him from slumping completely against him. “Ah, this is too much,” he mumbled, as Richard wrapped his own arms around Seigi’s back. “How could you keep this secret from me?”
“Secret?” It was the first word Richard had managed, and it was barely audible.
“The secret that you’re so cute when you’ve just woken up!”
That, at least, made Richard pull back, and he managed a scowl at Seigi’s smile. He stepped away and headed to the fridge, looking inside for a moment before pulling out an egg-box, a pack of sausages and the left-over mushrooms from the night before.
“Do you know how to cook breakfast?” he asked, his eyes still barely open. Seigi looked at the food Richard was setting out on the worktop, suddenly suspicious.
“Why do you have those? Have you been practising cooking?” Richard refused to look at him, instead finding a second cup from the cupboard and pouring himself a small cup of black coffee. “Wait - is that why you let me stay so late last night?”
“You could have left any time,” Richard mumbled, before taking a sip of his coffee and scowling at the taste.
“Did you ask me to stay over so I would make you breakfast this morning?”
“Did it work?”
Seigi felt his mouth open and close a few times, as Richard finally looked him in the eye. With his pyjama collar askew and his golden curls so adorably out of place, there was no way that Seigi could stay mad at him.
“Give it about fifteen minutes, and breakfast will be ready.”
Richard’s mouth tugged upwards at one corner, before he hid it behind his coffee cup.
“You could at least set the table for us,” Seigi scolded, before he began searching the kitchen for a frying pan.