The weekend is far away when Langa (unknowingly) turns the world on its axis.
It's lunchtime and the weather's nice - a soft breeze, sun poking through clouds - so they've snuck onto the rooftop, their backs to the safety gate against the exterior wall. Reki's sitting cross-legged, his knee pressed against the meat of Langa's thigh. He’s unpacked his food, taking large bites of his sandwich, while Reki troubleshoots a wheel friction issue out loud. He uses his injured arm to gesture while the other grabs at Langa to direct his attention when necessary.
During a lull, once Reki’s seemingly resolved his crisis and has pulled out his travel mug of tea to rehydrate, that’s when Langa strikes.
“Hey, Reki. How long have Joe and Cherry been dating?” It’s an honest question, he thinks. He takes a bite of his sandwich after. Casual.
Reki upends the entire mug over Langa's lap. "W-what?"
Langa looks down and sighs.
Later, during class - Langa wearing his gym pants while his school pants dry in the bathroom - Reki pokes him with the eraser end of his pencil. He tries to do it subtly below the desk line, but his face betrays his lack of sneakiness and their teacher narrows his eyes at their corner of the class.
Valiantly, Langa tries to ignore him, so Reki tries again. And again, and again, each time attracting their teacher’s attention as he winds his way across the classroom, narrating aloud from their math book.
"Langa,” he tries, a hoarse whisper, leaning almost fully across the aisle. “What did you mean by dating?” He’s rewarded with a smack on the shoulder courtesy the math book, and smiles beatifically at their instructor.
"After school," Langa mutters, acquiescing, once the teacher has his back turned to them and has wandered a reasonable distance away, and Reki groans.
Even later - they've made their way to Reki's home, lying on his bed together. Reki's wrapped himself around Langa, resting his head on his stomach while they watch the video of a new trick Miya's tried out. Langa is propped up against all of his pillows, an arm thrown over his friend's shoulders. He’s beyond comfortable, and he hopes Reki is too.
"So," Reki says, and Langa can feel his mouth move against his stomach as he talks. "What’s all this with Joe and Cherry?"
"I was wondering when their anniversary was." The tiny version of Miya on Langa's phone screen is gathering momentum in the bowl, winding his way up and down the ramps. Reki looks up at him.
"But Joe and Cherry aren't dating." He tries to sound confident, but it comes out almost like a question.
Langa keeps watching tiny Miya grind along the edges. "Are you sure?"
"What makes you think they're dating?"
"They always show up at S together, they almost kissed in front of us that one time…” He looks up at Reki’s ceiling like he can find the answers there, the memory of their interactions written in the sky. “They always know where the other one is - like when Cherry brought us to the restaurant?”
When Reki sighs he does it with his full body, a full body inhale that moves his head, shoulders, chest, and presses him deeper into Langa. “That’s just normal friend stuff. I don't know what to tell you." Langa tightens his arm around him. He’s silent for a while.
"It's normal friend stuff to almost kiss?" he asks, and Reki sputters.
"Cherry was demonstrating the love hug, Langa!"
Frustrated, he maneuvers Reki until they're actually making eye contact, the redhead up against his shoulder. "They really looked like they were in love," he presses.
Reki pouts, but then his eyes widen as an idea comes to him. He bolts upright, and Langa briefly mourns the loss before Reki's knocked the phone out of his hands and grabs his shoulders, shaking him. "Langa!" He says. "What if they're dating but they're keeping it a secret from us? Cherry got so mad at me when I found him that one time."
"We're their friends though; wouldn’t they tell us?”
With a groan, Reki collapses back onto the bed - and more importantly, back onto Langa. They sit like that, lost in thought for a while, before an idea suddenly comes to Reki.
“Let’s have a beef about it! But instead of skating, it’s about whether or not they’re dating!”
“Reki, how does this help?” Langa asks.
“It means we have some stake in finding out the answer! If they’re dating, you win - what are your terms?”
Langa thinks for a minute. What could he possibly want from Reki that he doesn’t already have? He looks at his friend, who seems to be waiting - almost not breathing - for his answer.
“If I’m right,” Langa starts. “You have to buy them an anniversary gift. From both of us. And it has to be good, you can’t cheap out.” Reki deflates.
“An anniversary gift? Fine. And if I’m right… and they’re not dating…” Reki sighs. “Let me get back to you on that one. I didn’t really think ahead.”
Langa hums in lieu of a response. He reaches out his arm instead, wraps it around Reki, and draws him close to his chest. This, he thinks. This is happiness.
“Shadow!” Reki texts, later that night. “I did something dumb.”
“Some of us need our beauty sleep,” Shadow replies. “Not me, but you should go to bed.”
Reki doesn’t bring it up again for a few days. Langa can tell, sometimes, that he’s bursting to talk about them again. It’s on the tip of his tongue in the way he curls forward, rests a hand on his chin or reaches out to Langa, the way his eyes seem focused on a point far away from them - but he always stops himself. He redirects to a different topic and it’s as sudden and jarring as it would be if they had actually been discussing them - at least, it is to Langa.
He’s disappointed every time Reki doesn’t bring them up, but he doesn’t know why.
It takes the weekend - a sunny, cloudless day of helping Miya record tricks for his instagram to make his sponsors happy - for Reki to finally crack.
They’re taking a break after Miya finally nailed a rail grind shot, although Miya blames it on Langa’s lack of sense when it comes to framing. If Reki hadn’t still been injured, he’d be the one holding the camera and they would have finished ages ago, Langa thinks.
Reki had been sent on a quest to a convenience store to grab drinks (read: Miya’s preferred brand of protein milk and whatever is on promotion for him and Langa), so it’s just Langa collapsing on the sidewalk in a sweaty, exhausted pile while Miya edits the videos.
When Reki returns, he’s haloed by the setting sun and Langa is almost too distracted to notice the expression on his face. He looks a little lost in thought, eyes somewhere far away, a fresh and red scratch on his cheek -
Langa is moving before he can even think of what to do, grabbing at Reki’s shoulder and touching his face gently with just the pads of his fingertips, outlining the cut. “Reki, what happened?”
Startled at his touch but recovering into laughter, Reki explains that he was lost in thought and accidentally tripped. He scratched his face on a signboard, ultimately. A nearby shop owner gave him some bandages but “I still need some help putting it on,” he says, and Langa touches the outer edges of his injured wrist. Reki shakes his plastic shopping bag at him. “Help me, please!!”
As he peels off the bandage - it’s bright blue and covered in tiny Doraemon - he can feel eyes boring into the back of his head. When he checks out of the corner of his eye, Miya seems to be focused entirely on his phone.
“What distracted you?” He asks instead of focusing on the phantom feeling.
“Haah?” Reki responds. Langa runs a finger across the bandage to smooth it across his face, and Reki’s eyes track the motion.
“When you fell, what distracted you?”
Reki rubs the back of his neck, nervously. “I was just thinking about what you were saying before, about Cherry and Joe,” he mumbles.
“What, that they’re dating?” Langa tries to go for casual, but really he’s elated that his friend is finally bringing it up again so his voice is a little too loud. Behind him, Miya perks up, cat-like, and makes eye contact with Reki.
“Dating?” Miya asks. Reki starts making frantic but incomprehensible hand gestures at him, and Miya’s eyes narrow in confusion.
“Yes, dating!” Reki says, punctuating words with unclear gestures. “Cherry! And Joe! Langa! Thinks! They’re! Dating!” He’s emphatic about it, and Langa, fearing a hint of sarcasm, deflates a bit.
“You don’t have to say it like that, Reki,” he mopes, turning away from him and missing the glare Miya levels at the redhead.
Reki wraps his arms around him, caging him in from behind, shuffling the duo forward. "Don't go! I wasn't making fun of you, Langa! I was making sure Miya understood what the situation was!"
The teen in question raises an eyebrow, but before he can say anything Reki's grabbed the still-cold protein milk from the bag and holds it against Miya's neck. He hisses.
"Miya, what do you think about Cherry and Joe?" Reki asks as Langa roots through the bag, pulling out a lemonade. Even though it's still so hot out - the setting sun doing no favors for an Okinawa summer - and even though his shirt is sticky with sweat, Reki's koala grip is fine to him.
(More than fine, even.)
Miya, meanwhile, having wrestled his drink away from Reki, is considering the question. "On the one hand, Langa, I see where you're coming from. They're together a lot, seem very close, and definitely have a strong bond."
Langa smiles, triumphant. "See Reki, I told you so-"
"But," he interrupts after a drag of his milk. "The same could be said for the two of you. So who's to say," he shrugs.
Behind him, Langa can feel Reki still. "Miya…" he chides a little, as Reki disentangles from him. They stand side by side now, the gap between them incalculably wide. A rare breeze hits Langa's back, but instead of taking respite in the cool air he misses Reki's comfortable warmth.
Speaking of, Reki is almost vibrating in place now that he's let go of Langa, torn between moving towards Miya and running away.
"Why are you two so invested?” Miya asks.
Looking toward Reki, who is trying and failing to rescue his drink from his bag, Langa answers for the both of them. "We have a beef riding on the answer."
"Oh?" Miya purrs, glancing sideways at Reki. "And what are the stakes?"
"If I'm right - that they’re dating - Reki has to buy them an anniversary gift from the both of us," Langa explains as he tucks his own lemonade under his arm, fishes for Reki's drink, and opens it while his friend flushes. Summer would do that to you.
"And if Reki's right… actually, I don't think we ever decided."
Reki, face already pink, purses his lips. "I still haven't..."
"Fascinating," Miya replies flatly, unimpressed. "An open ended beef. You must be fairly confident then, Langa. Reki could ask for anything." Reki coughs.
"It's okay! I trust him," Langa says, and Reki squeaks. "Besides, I know love when I see it!"
"Are you alright?" Miya grins. "Need a cough drop?"
Reki leaps at him.
After an impromptu chase - Langa standing guard over their skateboards while Reki snagged Miya in a headlock - they come to some semblance of a plan.
They'll spy on Cherry and Joe to find their answer - Miya will help them. If they don't get an answer in two weeks, they both forfeit the beef and no one wins.
Ideally, they'd get a direct answer from Cherry or Joe, but in the absence of that, proof of kissing or other romantic behavior (witnessed by at least two of them) will be sufficient.
They also, Miya claims, need to bring in Shadow.
"He's knowledgeable about romance," Miya claims. "He reads shoujo all the time."
“Miya!” Reki texts later. “You’re so mean!”
“And you’re a stupid slime,” he replies.
Shadow leaves their texts on read, so they ambush his shop the next day.
"Hiromi-nii, please!" Miya whines.
"How do you know my name." Shadow angrily whispers at Miya, who has his arms wrapped around his waist. If he weren’t holding a large vase of zinnias aloft, he’d be reaching down to disentangle his newfound leech from his body. “And why do you look like that.” Miya’s eyes are stretched wide, shining with unshed tears.
“We just need your help so much, Hiromi!!” he wails in lieu of answering.
Behind the counter, Shadow’s manager laughs behind her hand; somehow, to Langa, they sound like bells. Reki is laughing too, but he’s hiding it in the crook of Langa’s neck; he can feel his friend’s smile pressing into the meat of his shoulder with every chuckle.
They’re watching from closer to the door, outlined by buckets of yellow acacia, blue violets, and forget-me-nots.
“Ah, so romantic!” The manager exclaims suddenly. “Hiromi, don’t you think it’s just like that manga you were telling me about? What was it called…?”
Shadow’s face takes on an abnormally cute expression as he answers her. Reki, meanwhile, laughs even harder into Langa’s shoulder, gripping him even more tightly to muffle the sounds while he leaks tears.
The room turns toward them.
“Ah,” Langa says, rubbing Reki’s back. “He finds it so romantic that he’s… crying.” There. Covered.
The manager smiles, keeping her gaze on the teen skaters. “You should definitely help them, Hiromi!” Miya’s eyes, head turned away from her, seem to flash with malevolent delight.
“I… definitely will! I’ve always believed in love!” Shadow says, in his feathery and soft voice. Miya releases him and cheers. “Please message me tonight about this, and have a good day!” He dismisses them.
Once they’re out the door, Reki wiping tears off with his shirt sleeves, they all break into laughter.
“It looks like you were right about the manga, Miya! But how did you know?” Reki asks, between laughs.
Miya just looks smug, and refuses to answer.
“I’m never going to lend you my Horimiya doujin,” Shadow hisses.
“Your manager will!” Miya responds.
That evening Reki and Langa are back at the Kyan family home, loosely entangled together on Reki’s bed. Their homework is half completed around them, and Reki is paying rapt attention to a compilation of winter X-Games clips - “I want to know where Langa comes from!” he’d said.
Langa is content this way, idly running his fingers through Reki’s hair so he can feel it when he gasps after a particularly skillful or risky trick, bodies pressed against each other, weirdly soothing for how warm it can get. He’s almost lulled into sleep by the mix of English speaking announcers in the clips, the familiar way the board grinds through fresh powder, the way the smell of Reki’s bedroom seems to envelop him, when both of their phones ping simultaneously with a text.
[^=Miya=^ ] Joe seems like he’d overshare on social media. Let’s start there.
Right, for the beef.
[S|H|A|D|O|W] Mission Number 1 -> Facebook stalking? Feels juvenile.
[^=Miya=^ ] It’s low effort so even a slime could do it. Reki can do it easily.
[Reki] Hey!!! o(；△；)o
[Reki] Langa and I will get on it!
[Reki] I’m not a slime!
Reki frantically typing at his phone, still curled into Langa, so the light from his screen is painted onto his face, casting highlights into his loose hair that aren’t normally there. He nudges Langa.
“Hey, Langa. I’ll check Twitter first? You see if you can find them on Facebook?” Reki suggests, and Langa agrees.
An hour later, they have precious nothing to show.
If Joe’s an oversharer, it’s somewhere anonymous. He accepted Langa’s friend request almost immediately but his Facebook is woefully bare of anything except for crossposts from his restaurant’s account and the usual birthday messages. His liked pages are a mix of nonsense from a decade earlier, and his friends list is small - mostly family, some people who seem like former classmates, and even worse, no sign of Cherry.
For a moment Langa thought he’d hit the jackpot, beckoning Reki over to view his screen. In one of Joe’s tagged pics, posted by his aunt, he’s shorter and smaller - clearly a schoolboy - with his arm slung around - “Cherry?!” they both gasp.
In the image, Cherry - also much younger - has his ears and lip pierced, a streak of black dyed into his otherwise pink hair. He’s not wearing glasses, and he’s edgier than they ever thought he could be, temper aside.
Joe, meanwhile - “Was Joe a twink?” Reki wonders aloud.
Beside him, Langa chokes. Why does he know what a twink is? But before he can say anything, Reki continues.
“Is he a muscle hunk now? I don’t think he’s a bear. And Cherry is an otter, maybe? I don’t think he’s a twink.” Reki’s clearly lost in thought, while Langa hits him with a pillow to get him to stop.
After a break for a pillow fight, they regroup. The picture - though fascinating, and immediately sent to their group chat - doesn’t lead anywhere further. Cherry isn’t tagged and doesn’t seem to be on facebook at all, actually.
The rest of their investigation is very much the same - Joe’s instagram is all pictures of food he’s prepared mixed in with shirtless selfies, while Cherry’s contains examples of his delicate and powerful art and reposted videos of his public demonstrations. Bafflingly, they don’t even seem to follow each other.
One bright spot - and another one that gets shared to the group - is Reki’s discovery of Cherry’s forgotten Deviantart account from early in high school. It’s mostly embarrassingly artful selfies of the man, dressed nearly entirely in black, interspersed with a few paintings. Those, at least, exemplify the skill and grace he’d come to demonstrate later in life.
But other than those blips and fun facts - Joe’s high school sporting record, Cherry stan twitter - there’s precious nothing to go one, and definitely nothing to extrapolate into a relationship.
Mission 1: Failure.
[^=Miya=^ ] S isn’t legal, so it makes sense that they’d be pretty private on social media.
[S|H|A|D|O|W] Shouldn’t you be sleeping Miya? Go to bed, twerp, or else you’ll never get strong like me.
[^=Miya=^ ] Big like you, you mean.
[Langa ⁷₍⁽՚ᵕ՝⁾₎₇] This wasn’t a success, but I think we learned a lot and we can proceed in a new direction tomorrow.
[Langa ⁷₍⁽՚ᵕ՝⁾₎₇] Reki, when did you change my display name?
[Reki] Isn’t it cute? （‐＾▽＾‐）
They’re sitting side by side now, Reki’s head tucked into the same curve of his neck he’d laughed into earlier that day. Langa looks down at the tufts of his hair - this close he can smell the jasmine in his shampoo. He fiddles around with his phone for a while.
[Langa ⁷₍⁽՚ᵕ՝⁾₎₇] It’s better now.
[Reki ♡´･ᴗ･`♡] ???
[Reki ♡´･ᴗ･`♡] o(^◇^)o
[S|H|A|D|O|W] Don’t you have homework?
[Reki ♡´･ᴗ･`♡ ] We do! Thanks for the reminder, dad!
[S|H|A|D|O|W] I AM NOT OLD ENOUGH TO BE YOUR DAD!
Putting their phones down, Reki and Langa collapse into giggles together. They’ll try again another day.
Across the city, Kaoru feels a dark chill cross his shoulders.
They know, he thinks, and spends an hour digging out old email addresses to finally delete his account.
Mission two fails before leaving the starting gates.
“The plan,” Miya begins over a midweek dinner at A&W, “is to follow them around for a while, see if you can find anything that proves they’re dating or at least closer than they seem. Maybe they kiss when no one is watching.”
“Miya, are you sure you’re not the one who watches romance anime?” Reki asks. Instead of answering, Miya throws a fry at him. It lands between spikes of his hair, nestled right on top of his headband.
Langa can almost see the thought process in the way Reki’s body moves - the way he braces himself against the table, the way his good hand inches slowly toward his fries, how his eyes are locked with Miya’s narrowed ones. They’re heading toward a food fight - which isn’t ideal, since Langa wants to know more about this plan.
To diffuse the tension, Langa plucks the fry out of Reki’s hair and eats it.
Three things happen simultaneously.
On his left, Reki flushes - his face so bright it almost matches the color of his hair.
Across from him, Shadow, with his arms crossed, presses a finger to the newly formed furrow between his brows, and groans.
And Miya, meanwhile, pulls a face. “Disgusting.”
“What do you mean by follow them, Miya?” Langa asks, willfully ignoring all of his friends.
Miya and Shadow share a look, before Miya explains.
Reki and Langa will trail behind Joe one day and Cherry the next, following them from location to location in disguise, seeking any possible information.
“The technical definition of all this,” Shadow decrees, “is stalking.”
“Yes. Isn’t it romantic?” Miya says flatly, as Reki sputters.
“How is it romantic, Miya? Please explain, we're all waiting!" But Miya ignores him, going on to say that Reki and Langa will likely have to take a couple of days off school so that they can catch Joe and Cherry unaware.
Langa, sipping his root beer, thinks about skirting around the streets of their city, wrapped up in trenchcoats too hot for summer and covering their hair with bandanas and baseball caps.
It would be very sweaty, the two of them waiting around a corner watching Joe unlock the door to an apartment that doesn't belong to him with an air of comfort and familiarity.
Or maybe they'd catch Joe and Cherry wrapped around each other in the alley behind Joe's restaurant, frantically making out and making the most of their short break, Langa and Reki's stomachs growling loudly in unison.
He can even imagine them in the late evening. Cherry waiting for Joe at a corner, lamplight haloing his pink hair. The threads on his kimono shine in the starlight as the two of them hide behind a bush.
Reki would step back, suddenly, right into Langa's space to avoid Joe getting a glimpse of him. They'd be pressed against each other, chest to back and shoulder to knee. Langa's arm would wrap around Reki's middle and he would be able to feel the choked off inhalation of breath he'd make, so summer sweet in a cherry red mouth. And then Langa could easily lean his head forward, just a little bit, softly exhale on Reki's neck and outline the curve of his ear with his ton-
Langa gasps suddenly, and chokes on his drink.
He's at an American chain restaurant with his friends, not wherever that was.
Shadow looks grossed out, but Reki is immediately blotting the table where he'd spit out some soda with napkins and knocking his shoulder against Langa's. It's a comfort, even as he can feel his own face flooding with warmth.
Across the table, Miya looks weirdly triumphant. "So what do you think, Langa? About the plan?"
Looking down at the mess of napkins, and looking out of the corner of his eye to see the full power of Reki's earnest and trusting gaze upon him, Langa makes his decision.
"No, it's impossible," he says.
No, because I'd embarrass myself beyond belief, he does not say.
No, I'm beginning to think that I might like Reki too much, he refuses to say.
No, but maybe you were actually right, Miya, when you said that Joe and Cherry were a lot like us, he barely has the nerve to think.
Beside him, Reki nods. "We really have to go to class. I think Langa's failing math."
"Well then," Miya says, looking smug. "We'll try something else."
Shadow squints. "What do you mean Langa is failing math."
“I’m not failing math, Shadow, I’m just late on homework,” Langa says.
“Langa,” Reki says carefully, “you told me a derivative was when you find the area of a circle.”
The next mission comes to them when they’re skating at the mine that weekend. Shadow just won a beef and is resplendent with anarchic joy while Miya’s trapped at an exhibition for potential national team skaters outside of Okinawa. Cherry and Joe, meanwhile, are engaged in an escalating game of skate trick H.O.R.S.E that their fans are keeping an eye on.
It's entirely accidental, and maybe Miya has no idea that they're doing it, but it's their beef and that's what matters, right?
Langa is upside down, caught in an invert on one of the taller vert ramps, when he catches sight of Reki. He’s not watching him, as he expected, and as he skates down the ramp and up again, invert on the opposite arm, he feels disappointed - missing the familiar and comforting weight of his gaze.
When he goes back again and gets a better look at Reki, he can see that he’s actually in the midst of Joe’s army of fangirls. He blends in a little, hair short but still as bright as the women surrounding him, his oversized zip hoodie falling off one arm to reveal a corner of his tank top, the curve of a strong shoulder.
Another arc, another glance. Reki has his board out and one of the women - she’s short and cute, her red bob curling into her face and what Langa hopes desperately are fake copies of Joe’s tattoos on her shoulder - is spinning the wheels with her hand while he talks. The rest of them are paying rapt attention to whatever he’s saying.
Once more around, wind whipping his hair into a frenzy. This time he can see a blonde woman lean towards Reki, reach out with her manicured hand to wrap her fingers around Reki’s mostly bare shoulder, and -
Langa can feel himself lose balance, so he bails out in the middle of his run and the next skater in line takes his place. He considers heading towards Reki - wants to peer over his shoulder and wrap his arms around his middle, stake a claim - but then he notices that Cherry’s fans are milling around, looking at their phones.
Cherry and Joe seem to have disappeared, abandoning the rail they were playing on and leaving their fans to focus on anything else. Joe’s seem to have - somehow - latched onto Reki, although who wouldn’t?
Instead of interrupting them, Langa heads toward the group of dark haired women - blush matching Cherry’s hair painted heavily on their cheeks.
It’s time to gather intel from the people who’ve watched Cherry the most. Langa can only hope Reki is doing the same.
He wonders how to make conversation with them when one girl - the one with a sakura hair clip - looks up from her phone, and gasps. “Snow!” she exclaims, waving him over.
The other girls look up too, and gasp - “So elegant!” the woman in glasses says, but Langa is just covered in sweat. Their gazes are welcoming, kind and friendly, hands wrapped around their phones delicately. He waves at them.
“Hello!” he says, and winces internally. He feels absurd, approaching a group of strangers like this, with such obvious ulterior motives in mind.
Hair Clip saves him. “You’re Cherry’s friend, right?” She smiles. “You’re so talented! Watching you skate is almost as fun as watching Cherry.”
“Thank you!” Talking to strangers is easy. He’s nailing it.
“So what do you want with us?” She presses. He pauses. Gulps. Hair Clip continues. “You’ve never spoken to us before, and your friend is with them,” she flaps her hand dismissively in Reki’s direction. “So what do you want?”
Looking at the group, now their eyes seem to be sharper, full of venom. Of course Cherry cultivated an intelligent, observant, analytical fan base. He’s a viper, always ready to strike beneath an elegant veneer. Joe is frivolous, but more open somehow - easier to talk to, or so Reki says. He looks over at their group, briefly, wishing he had just wrapped himself around Reki instead so he wouldn’t have to listen to anything other than his friend’s pulse and the soothing cadence of his words - confident, intelligent, and bright as the sun.
“I, um. I just wanted…” he scratches his chin, and suddenly - like a lifeline - Reki turns over to him, mid word. Their eyes connect for a second that feels like an eternity, before Reki winks and him and grins. The blonde woman still has her hand on Reki’s shoulder, but suddenly Langa feels fulfilled, like Reki shared some of his confidence and faith - who would he be without his best friend?
“I wanted to know what you all think about Joe. About… Cherry and Joe.” He says, and the woman in the hat seems to catch his meaning.
“Cherry and Joe? ” she repeats after him, grinning impishly. “Isn’t that a picture.”
Hair Clip rolls her eyes. “Joe is a buffoon. A gorilla, as Cherry would say. But,” she hedges. “Cherry is very fond of him even if he doesn’t say it.” She grits that sentence out from between her teeth like it hurts to say, but he’s grateful for her honesty. He thinks that Shadow might like her.
Touching her cheek, the woman - why didn’t he ask for their names before this conversation went off the rails - in the hat builds on that point. “Even though he doesn’t say it, it’s clear in their actions toward each other - there’s a passionate feeling, but it can’t be hatred if they’re always around each other. And they’ve always been together, even if they’re not Together, you know?”
Somehow, Langa can hear the difference in her words. “What do you think it would be like if they were Together?”
She closes her eyes for a second in thought. “I think it would be a lot of the same, honestly. I don’t think they’d be demonstrative in public - it’s not their nature. When they’re together they behave like children. It’s only when they’re apart that Cherry’s elegance shines.”
“And before you ask,” the glasses wearer cuts in. “If they were together, nothing would change about us - we’re Cherry’s loyal fans, attracted to his elegance, mystery, and character. We don’t want to - “ she wrinkles her nose in lieu of finishing her sentence, waving her hand in the air to simulate something provocative.
The woman on her right - long bangs, with a high and ruffled collar - giggles and wraps an arm around her. “Forgive Reiko,” she says. “She’s my girlfriend, and she’s very serious about being a fan.” Reiko melts into her.
This, more than anything, relaxes Langa, and he’s able to break into a real conversation with them, getting their names and discovering that their analytic minds extend to skating as well.
He learns that they’re all into sports like this - Reiko is a former national team figure skater, and her girlfriend - Hana - does roller derby, while the other three do a mix of skating and inline. They ask him a lot of questions about snowboarding, and he gets added to one of their group chats so he can send them links to videos demonstrating some of the tricks he tries to describe.
Joe and Cherry are just re-emerging from wherever they had disappeared to - he can see their familiar figures approaching in the distance - when he feels the air behind him move and a sudden weight on his back. He stiffens, but relaxes when he catches the familiar scent of the jasmine shampoo Reki shares with his mom.
“Langa!” Reki smiles in his shoulder, wrapping his legs tightly around his waist. Langa readjusts to grab hold of them, letting Reki koala on his back again. Reiko smiles at him and her girlfriend winks.
“It was nice talking to you, Snow! We’ll leave you with your Friend!” Hana says, and Langa wonders why they’re all able to communicate like that, in capital letters. The group turns to await Cherry’s impending arrival.
“I’m glad you’re making friends!” Reki whispers in his ear. “What were you talking to them about?” He asks, clambering down from Langa’s back. Langa doesn’t want to let him go.
“Stuff about Cherry and Joe, and then snowboarding and stuff” he says, before he remembers earlier. “You were getting cozy with Joe’s fans earlier. What was that about?”
“One of them - Kazue, the one wearing the hat? She recognized me from the shop and wanted to ask some questions about wheels. She’s a derby skater, but we all ended up talking about friction and board shapes for a while.” Reki says all this with no sense of artifice, no unearned confidence, just the air of a man who knows exactly what he loves and what he’s discussing. Reki’s amazing and intelligent and incredibly friendly too, and Langa loves that about him.
Loves, he thinks. Where did that come from?
“Oh! More importantly,” Reki continues, ignorant of the exact nature of Langa’s current internal crisis, “Kazue thinks Joe is bi!”
Mission 3? Accomplished. Take that Miya.
“Kazue-chan!” Hana calls from across the rink as she laces up her skates. “Those two boys!”
“They’re so in love!” Kazue wails in return. “But they’re very stupid!”
The week passes in a haze of quizzes, practice, and wondering how they could possibly find the answer to their question before their self imposed deadline hits that weekend.
Each morning, when Reki skates downhill to meet Langa, that’s when Langa really wakes up - when the sun is shining so bright in his eyes he can’t help but rise to answer the call.
And each evening, when they part ways, Langa wishes he lived above the Arctic circle, where the sun would shine all the time.
Suddenly Friday evening comes, and with it panic - even if Reki and Langa don’t show it.
“We never figured out terms for what happens if we don’t get an answer,” Langa says idly, lying face up on Reki’s bed while the redhead sits up against the headboard, knees tucked up against him. He’s texting someone, but Langa doesn’t know who.
“I guess that means neither of us get what we want,” Reki says, and something in his voice makes Langa look at him - really look, instead of just letting his gaze land on him. There’s something in his eyes that seems almost sad - resigned, maybe is the word he would use - and he’s not smiling. Lit from below by the light from his phone, he looks washed out - like the last two weeks have taken something from him. Even the little character in his headband looks depressed.
“Reki,” Langa says, pushing himself up so they’re sitting side by side. “You never told me what you wanted if you were right.”
He turns his head away from Langa so he can’t see his face. “It doesn’t really matter now,” he says. “We’re probably not going to get an answer.”
Langa’s struggling to think of how to respond - how to comfort Reki, when his sadness is written so plainly across his face - when Reki’s phone pings with a message. Then another. Then another.
[Tadashi] I do not know anything about them.
[Tadashi] My apologies.
[Tadashi] Good luck with your endeavors.
“Who is Tadashi?” Langa asks, and Reki gasps. He looks down at the messages, sighs, and responds quickly before turning to Langa.
“Um.” He says.
“I thought I knew all your friends?” Langa presses.
“He’s not really my friend,” Reki admits.
And for a moment, Langa catastrophizes. If he’s not his friend, who is this man to Reki? A boyfriend? A lover? A partner? A secret? He didn’t think they’d keep secrets from each other - although, Langa has been keeping something a little hidden from him, he admits - but not something like this, a whole other person in Reki’s life.
Is this envy? Langa wonders, or jealousy? He could never remember the difference.
Regardless, a wave of heat pours through him - something like passion, something like how he feels when he’s skating at the highest speeds, when he’s catching the highest air, when there’s fresh powder on the mountain and he’s the only one who can go as fast - go as high - breathing in crisp, winter air. It’s something like when he skated against Adam - the wheels almost frictionless below him as he sped toward that imposing figure on the horizon. But now, instead of trying to skate around him - catch that air and fly - he wants to careen, desperately, into whatever this feeling is.
An unstoppable force into an immovable object. Langa and Reki.
“-anga, Langa?” It’s the shaking of his body that transports him back into the here and now. Reki has his arm around his shoulders and is jostling him, but stops now that Langa’s looking at him. “Thought I lost you for a second! You wanted to know who Tadashi is?”
Langa can only nod, nervous of what might come out of his mouth if he spoke.
“This is embarrassing, really. Tadashi is Adam’s assistant - he stopped by my house and left his card with my mom the day after I got out of the hospital. ‘Just in case,’ he said.”
Just in case, Langa wonders.
“I thought I’d text him to see if Adam knew anything, but I guess he doesn’t.” Reki shrugs, like it’s no big deal.
“You reached out to Adam,” Langa croaks, not knowing why his throat feels heavy, “for me?”
“I’d do anything for you, Langa,” Reki smiles, small and soft and private, just for him.
There’s something incredibly intimate - it just strikes Langa - about sharing a bed with the boy you like, about curling together so closely you can’t tell where one person begins and the other person ends. Something personal about smiles between the two of them, about the secrets they don’t have to share and the secrets that they do. It’s something in the promises they make to each other - the ones Langa almost breaks, the ones he knows Reki will keep and fix and repair for him.
There’s something incredibly intimate about love, Langa thinks, and just as he’s about to say something, both of their phones chime with a text from Miya.
[^=Miya=^ ] You’ve made no progress. At this point, I think you have to just ask Joe and Cherry outright if you want an answer.
[S|H|A|D|O|W] You can’t ask them outright, you have to do something sneaky. Like ask them where their favorite date spots are, or what the most romantic restaurant in Okinawa is. They give the same answer, then boom you’ve got them.
[^=Miya=^ ] That is shockingly intelligent, Shadow.
[S|H|A|D|O|W] I have a lot of life experience.
[^=Miya=^ ] We know you’re old.
Langa and Reki both sigh, untangle their arms from each other, and send a text. The moment is broken - Miya is a taskmaster, a teenage terror - but part of their intimacy is knowing they’ll come back to this.
They always do.
“Kaoru, why did Reki just ask me what the most romantic restaurant in Okinawa is?” Kojiro asks, stealing a tomato away.
“Probably the same reason Langa just asked me what my favorite date spot is,” Kaoru responds, stabbing at his thieving hand.
Suddenly the thought connects, and they look up at each other and lock eyes. Unspoken, they know what’s going to happen.
They’re going to confess.
In lieu of answering, Joe tells both of them to meet him at the restaurant in the morning.
When they get there, both Joe and Cherry are waiting for them, heads pressed close together. Twinkling fairy lights are lining the bar, soft pink rose petals are scattered around, and a plate of elegantly carved fruit is set out alongside two glasses of juice.
“Oh!” Joe says, before Reki and Langa could say a single word. “Thanks for coming!”
“You came just in time, actually,” Cherry continues. “We need to run an errand together - could you watch Carla for me? She’s charging.” He gestures toward his board, plugged into the wall. 27% her screen reads.
As they skirt past the two boys, Joe pauses to let them know they should help themselves to the food and drink. “As thanks for keeping an eye on the place for me!”
Before they go, though, Langa grabs at Cherry’s wrist - instinctively, he smacks his hand away and Reki grabs it to soothe it. Cherry stops, raises a manicured eyebrow.
“Cherry,” Langa starts. Then stops. Talking to Cherry about this is really awkward. He looks at Reki for support, guidance, anything he can offer - and squeezes his hand to really ask.
“We were just wondering,” Reki says. “Are the two of you, you know, dating? Each other?” He trails off at the end, looking down at the floor, awkward.
Joe sighs at him. “Sorry to disappoint you guys, but we’re not.” Cherry nods.
“We’re woefully single,” he proclaims, and pulls at Joe’s shirt. “Let’s go,” he demands, and they do.
“Was that suspicious?” Kaoru asks, as he watches Langa and Reki through binoculars, while they’re tucked away in the building across the street.
“Incredibly so,” Kojiro responds, running his fingers just below the neck of his boyfriend’s kimono. “In our defence, though, we’re incredibly obvious.”
“They should have just asked us first.”
Langa is picking at the fruit plate forlornly and slowly, rooting through it, and after about twenty minutes of this Reki cracks.
“Why did you want it to be true?” He asks. “Why did you want Joe and Cherry to be dating so badly?”
Sighing, Langa considers his answer before responding. He can honestly say he didn’t really think this through. At first, it was just something he thought was obvious, and he wanted to be a good friend
And then, slowly, it became wrapped up in something more. The seed inside of him - his friendship with Reki - blooming into something beautiful and secret.
There’s no model for love in his mind - no way to let something stand on its own, and be good for the sake of doing it. To get better - to be the best - at skating, at love, at friendship, he needs something to compare against. A rival to compare against, a measuring stick to surpass.
He had his dad when he was snowboarding in Canada. Here, in Okinawa, he has Adam to skate against. But who is there for love?
And so he wanted it to be true - wanted Joe and Cherry to be dating - so that he could bring Reki into his arms and love him openly and passionately and think, yes, we’re doing better than you. We’ve surpassed you in love. The two of us. Together.
But how can he put all that in words? He sits paralyzed in silence, as Reki watches him.
And then, just like always, Reki catches on - to the minute changes in his body, the way his eyes are glassy with worry. There’s no one who can read the language of Langa the way Reki can - how he moves through space, how he inhabits himself and the world, the afterimage he leaves behind.
“Langa,” Reki says, reaching over and curling his hand over his wrist. “Ask me what I want. Since I won the beef, ask me what I want.”
He waits for a long moment, arrested by the feeling of Reki’s hand around his wrist. He turns it over - palm facing palm - and entangles their fingers together in an unbreakable grip.
If Reki can read Langa so well, then Langa is grateful that Reki graces him with the chance to return it this way. He doles out the casual intimacy of trust so freely to Langa.
“Reki,” he breathes. “What did you want?”
And Reki’s eyes, when they meet his own, are shining. “I want to take you on a date.”
When they kiss, Langa can taste the bite of blueberries, the sugar chill of watermelon, the heady end of mango.
Sweet summer fruits.