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Adachi Kiyoshi was 29 and a half years old when Yamamoto Shota joined the Tokyowa sales team. At first Adachi didn't pay him much mind, the sales team would occasionally get new members, and it usually didn't affect his job much. Yamamoto seemed to be a capable person. He was good looking, went to a good college, and appeared to be well connected. From what Adachi heard from Urabe and the other people on his team, Yamamoto had been a successful salesman with his previous company and had been recruited to join Tokyowa's sales department by one of the higher up managers. He seemed to quickly settle into his new position, closing new deals within a short period of time after joining the company. He was about the same age as Adachi. It made him feel a little inferior to see someone similarly aged doing much better than he was, but really, shouldn't he be used to that by now?

He didn't have many chances to speak to Yamamoto directly and so he didn't know much about him. When he first overheard Yamamoto mention his personal life while he was setting up for a routine sales meeting, he was a little surprised.

Yamamoto was making small talk with Kurosawa while Adachi and Fujisaki were passing out the meeting materials. The department chief was late, having been held up in another meeting, so they were killing time until he arrived.

"I seem to have stolen another one of your admirers," mentioned Yamamoto. He leaned into Kurosawa with a knowing smile. "One of your fan club members confessed to me a little earlier. Do you want to guess which of them it was?"

Kurosawa didn't look up from the meeting materials Adachi had just passed him. "I expect you are going to tell me anyway. You did the last two times this happened," he replied evenly. From what Adachi could tell, Kurosawa seemed to be acting cool. He guessed this is how popular men behaved in this kind of situation. He certainly wouldn't be one to know. Adachi never had any admirers to begin with.

Yamamoto raised an eyebrow and smiled mischievously. "Come on now, you're being so boring. Why don't you try and guess? I'll give you a hint, she has short hair."

Kurosawa seemed unphased by Yamamoto's teasing and turned to Fujisaki, "Do you happen to also have last quarter's numbers in here as well?" Fujisaki nodded and guided Kurosawa to the information he was looking for in the packet.

Yamamoto huffed at being ignored. "Don't be like that. There's no reason to be a sore loser. I already told this one I was gay. She'll be back in your court in no time."

"Eh?" Adachi let out a surprised noise. This was new information to him. He didn't know much about Yamamoto but no one had mentioned this about him yet, so it caught Adachi off guard. Yamamoto seemed to take notice of Adachi for the first time. He turned to him, smiling confidently. His smile was bright and white. It was striking, similar to a snow covered mountain or an ice field.

"Didn't you hear it from the others around the office already? I expected the news would have traveled fast, but it seems a lot of people still haven't heard. I prefer to date men," he said proudly. "I know it's not fashionable to say these things at work, but I prefer to keep things like this in the open. I certainly hope this doesn't change your opinion of me."

Adachi shook his head vigorously. "Of course not!" Adachi practically shouted in response. "I don't gossip with others, so I simply hadn't heard yet. It doesn't change my opinion of you at all, I was just surprised."

Adachi noticed that Kurosawa seemed to be staring at him rather intensely. Did Kurosawa think that Adachi would be so traditional he wouldn't be open to having a gay coworker? That stung a little. Granted, Kurosawa and he hadn't interacted much, so maybe he really didn't know Adachi that well.

Yamamoto cocked his head and gave Adachi an evaluating look. He appeared to approve of what he found because he smiled again. "Hey, Adachi-san, right? I think this is our first time talking. I've heard good things about you though. I'm looking forward to working with you closely."

Adachi nervously nodded and tried to smile back. "I heard about the work you did on the Miji account. It sounds like you are doing well at your new job already, that's impressive. I look forward to supporting your efforts."

Yamamoto's smile seemed to widen. He reminded Adachi a little bit of a tiger when he smiled like that. "Hey, Adachi," he said, leaning forward, continuing to smile. "You really aren't bad, are you? Have you ever considered dating men?"

Adachi frowned at the sudden change of topic. He didn't mind getting teased at work by Urabe on occasion, but it felt different coming from someone he had just met.

Before he could say anything Kurosawa interrupted them, saying he just got a text from the department chief. He needed an update on their week's sales progress. Yamamoto huffed, complaining about the last minute change and immediately seemed to lose interest in Adachi, much to his relief.

The rest of the meeting went normally. Adachi and Fujisaki stayed behind after the others left to clean up. Adachi offered to take the box of supplies back to the office and Fujisaki thanked him before heading back to her desk.

As he left the meeting room, he passed by Yamamoto and Kurosawa talking in the hallway. Separately, each of them were intimidating enough, but together they looked like they were posing for a stylish businessware photoshoot. Adachi realized they weren't doing anything special, they were just talking together, but he couldn't help but feel the sting of disappointment as he compared himself to them. They were both tall, talented, and well-spoken. They had handsome faces and fashionable tailored suits. They were really on another level from him. Adachi shuffled past, just wanting to get back to his desk and bury himself in his work.


Adachi turned to the sound of his name. Yamamoto was grinning at him with a teasing look. "I didn't forget that you never answered my question. What would you say to dinner tomorrow night? It will give us a chance to get to know each other better."

Adachi scoffed at the sudden request. What was this guy doing playing around while they were at work? Adachi was quickly learning that Yamamoto initially gave the impression of being respectable, but liked to push things too far.

"No, thank you," Adachi grumbled. "I'm going back to work now."

Adachi half-expected Yamamoto to keep teasing him, but he seemed to have already turned all of his attention back to Kurosawa. Kurosawa was facing away from him, so he couldn't tell what Yamamoto was looking at, but he could tell Kurosawa's hands were balled up in fists and his knuckles were turning white. Yamamoto initially looked surprised, but his face quickly switched back to the tiger-like predatory smile as he looked at Kurosawa.

Adachi got a cold feeling in his stomach, but he couldn't tell exactly why. He got the impression something bad had just happened, but he wasn't sure what it was. He didn't know what else he should say so he just turned and started walking back to his desk. Whatever had just happened probably had nothing to do with him, he'd let the two of them figure it out.

The next few weeks progressed forward as normal. Adachi was asked by Urabe to take on some extra tasks and had to work more overtime than usual. He worked so late he had to miss his monthly dinner meeting with Tsuge, which put Adachi in a poor mood. However it wasn't the first time this had happened and it was unlikely to be the last.

As Adachi expected, Yamamoto turned out to be a decent salesman, but a frivolous person. He would say outrageous things to other people in the office on occasion, but never seemed to mean any of it. He continued to tease Adachi especially, pretending to flirt or doing things to draw his attention while they were in meetings together. It was very distracting. Adachi tried his best to ignore him and focus on his tasks.

Yamamoto was still popular, but he had gotten a reputation of being a bit of a clown. Most of the women in the office seemed to like him better for it. They thought of him as both good-looking and funny. They would often crowd around his desk, joking with him about one thing or another. The men in the office liked to play around with him, taking his ridiculous flirty statements in stride. Certainly there were a lot more jokes and laughter when Yamamoto was around, but it always seemed to rub Adachi the wrong way. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about Yamamoto really bothered him.

Oddly enough the only other person who seemed to also dislike Yamamoto's jokes and teasing was Kurosawa. Adachi noticed a noticeable change in Kurosawa's demeanour whenever Yamamoto was around. Kurosawa, who was always so kind and thoughtful, who was always willing to help, seemed to be avoiding Yamamoto. He would make a point to leave meetings early whenever Yamamoto was in them. He would redirect Yamamoto's questions to other people in the sales team rather than answering himself, something Adachi had never seen him do before. Considering how closely they worked together, Adachi had to imagine it was uncomfortable for him.

In a particularly uncomfortable meeting where Yamamoto had been winking at Adachi from across the table then pretending to go back to listening to the presenter, Kurosawa seemed to notice what was going on and called him out in the middle of the meeting.

"Hey, Yamamoto, can you repeat the last part of the slide we just went through?"

Yamamoto shrugged impassively and replied, "Sorry, my mind was somewhere else. What did I miss?"

Kurosawa was uncharacteristically annoyed. "We were just talking about the sales strategy for the next month. We are going with one of the suggestions you had made earlier on. We are expecting you to take charge of this. You need to pay attention."

Yamamoto smiled back and nodded. "Of course, you have my full attention. Let's continue. Actually, you know what would help? Perhaps Adachi could take over the presentation? I'd be interested to hear his take on it."

Adachi spun at the mention of his name. "Eh?! Why me?"

Yamamoto shrugged again. "You helped compile this data, you must have some good insights. Plus I'd rather look at you for a nice change of pace. It always helps when the presenter is cute."

Adachi stared at him agape. He turned to the sales manager giving the presentation and gave him an incredulous look. "We can't be serious right now, right?"

The sales manager looked a little confused, but eventually said, "At least for today, you'll have to continue to deal with looking at my uncute face. However, if Adachi can, he can lead the next meeting and we can get his insights if you think that would be helpful."

Adachi couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had never been asked to lead a meeting before. He had no idea where to start. However, from the chatter around the table, it seemed like it was already decided. Adachi would have a week to prepare the next presentation. He had no idea how it had turned out like this.

Adachi felt a ripple of fear spread up his spine. He had no idea how to prepare for this presentation. He hated talking in front of people. He always tried to get out of situations like this, but it didn't seem like he could run away from this.

He saw Kurosawa looking at him with a pained expression. He looked a bit guilty, like this was his fault. Obviously it wasn't, Yamamoto had just been playing around and it had ended up like this.

After the meeting Kurosawa pulled Adachi aside. He smiled kindly at Adachi. "I'm sorry it turned out like this. I know this isn't something you would normally be asked to do, but I think you should give it a try. I know you have some good ideas, and this would be a good chance to bring them up. I can help you prepare, if you like?"

Adachi looked down at his feet and shifted his weight. "I can't ask you to do that, you already have so much work of your own. I can probably figure something out on my own."

Kurosawa took a step forward. "It would really be no trouble at all. I've prepared for countless presentations like this before. Plus I'm ahead in my work so I have the time. What do you say?"

Adachi looked up at him anxiously. "As long as you are sure it's no trouble then, yes, please. I could use all the help I can get. I'm terrible at talking in front of people and I don't have the first idea of how to prepare a presentation like this. If you don't mind, I'd really like your help."

Kurosawa gave him one of his signature blinding smiles. It caught Adachi a bit off guard, but he managed to shyly smile back. If he had Kurosawa helping him prepare, maybe he wouldn't completely humiliate himself.

Kurosawa continued, "Are you free today after work? I can stay afterwards and we start working on this together."

Adachi nodded sharply. "Yes, I'm free. I'll make sure I finish up my other assignments on time so we can get started on it right away."

Kurosawa nodded back and looked at him kindly. "I know this isn't an ideal situation, but perhaps we can make the most of it. This could turn out to be a good thing. Let's try our best, okay?"

Adachi nodded seriously in return. "Thank you again for helping me. I'll do my best not to be a disappointment."

Kurosawa frowned. "You won't be a disappointment. You don't need to think like that."

Ah, Adachi thought, I am already making this awkward by saying heavy things. He nervously rubbed at the back of his head. "Sorry, you are offering to help me and I'm already saying weird things. I promise to do better."

Kurosawa regarded him for a lingering moment then smiled tightly. He nodded and waved a short good-bye, heading back to his desk. Adachi mentally kicked himself for being so awkward. He didn't know exactly what to expect, but hopefully he would be able to get through this without putting his foot in his mouth again.

Good to his word, as soon as 5pm came around Kurosawa waiting for him by Adachi's desk. Adachi motioned for them to move into a conference room and Kurosawa followed. As they walked through the hall, they passed by Yamamoto who was heading out with a group of co-workers. He didn't say anything, but seemed to take particular notice of Kurosawa and Adachi together. He nodded at Kurosawa as he headed towards the elevators. His expression hadn't been anything unusual, but it seemed more severe than the situation called for. Adachi felt like he just swallowed an ice cube. If he was any judge of Kurosawa's expression, he felt similarly.

They got into the conference room and started talking about some ideas for what Adachi could do for his presentation. Adachi pulled out some of the notes he had taken in his lunch hour while he had been brainstorming topics. To his surprise Kurosawa was very supportive of his ideas and seemed genuinely interested in Adachi's opinions. Up until then, whenever Adachi came up with an idea, he just passed it along to Urabe so he could talk about it in the meetings for him. They didn't always get good feedback, so Adachi wasn't keen on bringing them up himself, but according to Kurosawa, most of his ideas seemed pretty good. Adachi flushed under the positive feedback. He wasn't used to receiving this much praise, especially at work.

Even after the first day, they had a rough draft for what Adachi could do for the presentation. Adachi was amazed how efficient Kurosawa was in helping him put the outline together. If it had just been him alone, Adachi would have spent far more time overthinking and second guessing everything. It really helped to have Kurosawa there to help him focus.

They finished up and started heading out to the elevators. Adachi was profusely thanking Kurosawa for his help again and Kurosawa was good-naturedly telling him it wasn't a big deal when Adachi's stomach growled. They hadn't gotten a chance to grab dinner before they had started working on the presentation. Kurosawa took notice and asked if Adachi had plans for dinner.

"No, I'm likely just going to grab something at the convenience store. That's what I usually do for dinner. You should get home and eat as well. You must be hungry," replied Adachi.

Kurosawa gave Adachi a concerned look. "That's not very healthy. You shouldn't eat at a convenience store every night. Do you cook for yourself at all?"

Adachi shrugged as the elevator door opened and they both got in. "I can make most simple dishes, but I usually don't bother. Convenience store food usually tastes better than anything I can make myself anyway."

Kurosawa stared ahead for a bit without saying anything. Suddenly he turned to Adachi and said "Would you like to come to my place for dinner?"

"Eh?" Adachi was thrown by the sudden invitation.

"I had family come over this weekend and I have a lot of food left over. It's more than I can eat by myself. It would be a favor to me if you came and helped me eat it. I'd hate for it to go to waste."

"Still," said Adachi hesitantly, ruffling the back of his hair nervously. "I can't impose on you like that. Especially after you went out of your way to help me…"

"Then consider this your repayment," said Kurosawa kindly. "I promise, it'll be better than anything you can get in a convenience store."

"I mean, I can't just, if you put it like that," Adachi stumbled over his words.

Kurosawa smiled brightly. It reminded Adachi of sunshine and summer. Still it was too bright for him to look at directly, so he winced a little. Kurosawa put his hand on Adachi's shoulder and directed him to follow him. "Let's do that. Come on!"

And that is how Adachi ended up at Kurosawa's stylish and suave looking apartment eating what was likely the best food he'd ever tasted. Each time he took a bite, he exclaimed excitedly how delicious the food was. Kurosawa smiled good-naturedly in response, insisting it wasn't as good as Adachi was claiming but was glad he liked it. Adachi was even more surprised when Kurosawa admitted he had made all the food himself.

"My parents don't tend to cook much, but my grandmother did. I spent a lot of time with her growing up and I learned how to cook from her. I've never been able to get her dishes to taste just like hers, but hopefully they are still palatable."

"This is incredible! We never had food this good when I was growing up. My mother was usually too busy with work to cook, so I was usually left on my own to make meals. I never tried to do anything too complicated though. I usually just made whatever was quick. Ramen, scrambled eggs, instant soup, that kind of thing. If I had food like this growing up, I'd be much fatter."

"You are welcome to come and eat here whenever you like," said Kurosawa with a grin. "It's nice to be able to cook for other people. I don't get the opportunity too often. This is a treat for me."

Adachi nodded awkwardly in response to the invitation and smiled politely. "You certainly don't have to go out of your way for me. If anything, I owe you for your help today."

"Oh? Are you going to give me some kind of reward for helping you out?"

Adachi choked on his food and looked up.

"A reward? What do you mean?"

Kurosawa chuckled and replied, "I'm just joking. You don't have to do anything. I know you've been working hard this whole time and most of your best ideas get attributed to Urabe instead of you. You do a lot for everyone else, so it just seems fair that someone finally helps you out instead. I'm happy for that person to be me. Let's just do a good job, sound good?"

Somehow, being teased by Kurosawa didn't feel so bad, thought Adachi.

They finished up the meal and Adachi insisted on doing the dishes as repayment. Kurosawa gave him a very odd look when Adachi helped himself to Kurosawa's apron and started soaping up the dishes, but he didn't say anything, just watched Adachi clean up and pointed to where Adachi could put the cleaned dishes.

Adachi headed out shortly after as it was getting late and he had to catch the train back. As he was walking out the door Kurosawa asked if he wanted to meet again the next day after work. Adachi was in a great mood after eating a delicious meal and getting so much work done that day so he smiled back widely at Kurosawa and happily accepted. His enthusiasm appeared to surprise Kurosawa, who just stared at him for a few seconds before he returned the smile and wished him good night.

As Adachi walked to the train station he gave some thought to Kurosawa's teasing remark about giving him a reward for helping him out. Adachi let the thought roll around in his head. He knew he didn't have to do anything, but that made him want to do something even more. He didn't know what he could do that Kurosawa would appreciate. He didn't have any idea what Kurosawa would like. Kurosawa wasn't just helping him with work, but he had also given him a home cooked meal.

Actually, Adachi thought, that did give him an idea.

He smiled to himself as he considered it. Yeah, if it was Kurosawa, he would probably like it. Adachi headed home and started putting his plan into action.

The rest of the week passed quickly. During work, they would do their regular tasks and afterwards, Adachi and Kurosawa met to prepare for the presentation. With Kurosawa there, the work went quickly and soon they were having Adachi practice speaking in front of people. Kurosawa surprised Adachi by asking Fujisaki and even Urabe one evening to stop by so there were more people in the room when Adachi practiced, just so he'd get used to it. Fujisaki seemed very impressed with the topics Adachi had picked and gave some good feedback on details he could improve. Urabe was delighted to see Adachi trying to put himself out there and joked that he should start giving him his ideas to bring up in meetings instead. Adachi didn't think he was ready for that, but was pleased by his co-workers' support.

Each evening Kurosawa brought in bento boxes for them to eat for dinner while they worked. He claimed that each day's meals were just simple leftovers, but each dinner was something new and amazing. Adachi couldn't praise Kurosawa's cooking enough.

By the time the presentation came around, Adachi was almost sad. He felt very prepared, but he would miss working with Kurosawa and the others in the evening. And really, this hadn't been nearly as hard as he had expected. With everyone helping him out, it had actually been kind of fun.

The presentation went over well. Adachi felt he had stumbled over some of the details, but by the time the managers were asking questions and asking him to elaborate on the details, he felt like he had already prepared for all the answers. The whole time, Kurosawa had looked up at him with a very pleased and proud expression. It made Adachi feel warm inside and it helped relax him.

Adachi had made a point of trying to avoid looking over at Yamamoto the whole time. That turned out to be wise since whenever he did happen to look in his direction, Yamamoto was looking at him in an uncomfortably intense way. He seemed to be... mad? Adachi wasn't sure, but maybe Yamamoto didn't expect for Adachi to do a good job and was disappointed he couldn't tease him about it? Adachi didn't care at this point, he was just glad it was over with.

The managers in the meeting were very impressed with the presentation. "Adachi," said one of the sales managers. "I'm surprised we haven't had you present before. You brought up some good points. This was a good way for us to get a new perspective. Say, what do you say to doing this again? Maybe not every week, but we could schedule this into the regular meeting program."

Adachi initially felt like grimacing, but after giving it a second for the thought to settle in, he realized that he probably could do this again. Especially with more time to prepare, he could do more. He took a breath and agreed. "But maybe every other month," said Adachi. "It took a lot of overtime to prepare for this one. I'll need more time to prepare for the next one."

He glanced over at Kurosawa who gave him a winning smile. He smiled back widely.

He could feel Yamamoto's eyes on him, willing him to look over at him but refused to glance in his direction.

As they filtered out of the meeting, Yamamoto put his hand on Adachi's shoulder as he walked down the hall. "Hey, you did a pretty good job in there. Kurosawa really saved your ass this time. You thinking of doing something real nice for him? He made you look good up there, you are pretty deep in his debt."

Adachi shrugged off the hand. "Kurosawa was very helpful, but we already have it settled between us. Don't worry about that."

Yamamoto leaned and whispered, "You should really be sure to show him your gratitude. Kurosawa is a man of refined tastes. You know all good-looking men are the same, all they care about is their looks. Kurosawa is no exception. I happen to know which cosmetics he likes, they are expensive, but he would probably really like it if you gifted him…"

Adachi rolled his eyes and hissed back, "Kurosawa isn't like that. I've got it handled. Just drop it, this doesn't concern you."

Yamamoto looked annoyed for a second before he smiled that icy blinding smile again. "I'm just trying to look out for you. I've been working closely with Kurosawa recently, so if you are interested in knowing what Kurosawa is really into, just ask me." He winked at Adachi again before sauntering off.

Adachi stopped for a second. A flash of indecision came over him. It was true that he didn't really know Kurosawa that well. They had been co-workers for awhile, but they hadn't really worked closely together until this last week. He thought he had come up with a good idea for what to give to Kurosawa in return for his help, but maybe it wasn't a good idea after all. After all, Kurosawa had said that Adachi didn't owe him anything. Shouldn't he just listen to what Kurosawa said? Maybe by giving him a gift he would annoy Kurosawa?

He walked back to his desk, his head in a mess. He tried sinking himself back into his work, but had trouble focusing. He didn't know what he was supposed to do.

He had trouble concentrating for the rest of the day and ended up not getting as much work done as he would have hoped. As it came time for most people to leave, he felt like he owed it to himself to stay longer and finish up. Urabe and Fujisaki both came by his desk before leaving to congratulate him on finishing the presentation and doing a good job. He smiled stiffly at their kind words, feeling like that wasn't the biggest challenge he had to face today.

He looked over to Kurosawa's desk to see if he had left yet and didn't see him there. He felt a pang of disappointment, realizing that he had missed his chance. If he tried again tomorrow, it would probably seem like it was too much. Perhaps it was just as well, he thought. He had been relieved of the decision by his own bad luck.

He kept working for an hour or two before he felt like he had done enough for the day. He packed up his backpack and started heading out to the elevators. As he was walking out of the office, he noticed someone had left a light on in one of the meeting rooms. Since he didn't see anyone else around he went to go turn it off.

In the hallway, he found Kurosawa, looking tired and distressed. He was leaning against the wall, his hands covering his face. His shoulders were hunched, making him look smaller than he usually appeared. Adachi quickly realized this was the side of Kurosawa he usually kept hidden. His vulnerable side. He had been allowed to see it once, years ago when he first started at the company, but Kurosawa had never let his guard down around him again. He wasn't sure at first if Kurosawa would be okay with him seeing him like this, but he looked so unhappy, Adachi didn't think he could ignore this.

"Kurosawa, are you okay?" Adachi called out.

Kurosawa snapped his face out of his hands and looked up. He was very surprised to see Adachi in front of him, so much so, he didn't bother to pretend he wasn't in the best of moods."Adachi, what are you still doing here? You should have left by now."

Adachi shrugged awkwardly in response. "I just had some work to do, so I stayed behind. Did something bad happen? You look terrible."

Kurosawa chuckled darkly, pushing away from the wall and straightening his vest coat. "Yeah, I bet I do. No, nothing bad has happened. I'm fine, I just…" he paused for a second. "I let my thoughts get the best of me. It's nothing."

Adachi hummed his agreement. He knew exactly what that felt like. Still, he wouldn't have expected for him and Kurosawa to have that in common.

"Are you still working here? I was just going to shut off the light before going home myself."

"No," Kurosawa replied. "I was done a bit ago, I just got held up by something." Kurosawa grimaced. Adachi guessed it wasn't something pleasant.

"Is it," Adachi started. "Is it something I can help with? You know you can ask for help, when you need it. You have people that care about you."

Kurosawa tried to smile at him, but it just made his face look tight. "I know, I don't need anything right now. If anything, I just want to say…" Kurosawa paused. He looked up at Adachi's face, apparently considering what to say next. "I had fun helping you out. Feel free to ask me for anything anytime, I'd be happy to help you with whatever you need."

Finally a real smile came through. This one reached his eyes, making them crinkle up. It was different from the smile Adachi was used to seeing around the office. This was less blinding, but seemed warmer than usual. It made Adachi feel more relaxed and comfortable than he had been in a while. Suddenly, Adachi realized what he had to do.

"Here!" Adachi exclaimed, rushing to open up his backpack, as if he was afraid he was going to lose his nerve if he didn't do this quickly. He pulled out the large envelope. "This is for you. Please use it however you like."

Kurosawa took the envelope and looked at it curiously. "What is this?" He asked.

"It's um, it's, that is, it's your reward. For helping me. And making me food. I wanted to do something for you. I know you said I didn't have to, but I wanted to do this for you. And also, I wanted to thank you, properly." Adachi gave him a curt bow. "Thank you. You really went out of your way to help me. And what's more, you made me feel like it wasn't so bad. I feel like I will be able to do things like this again and it won't be so terrible. And that's amazing to me. I usually get so nervous when I have to try something new and I just run away," he said, realizing that he was just babbling now. He took a breath and tried to get back on topic. "I feel like I can try harder now. And that is because of the help you gave me. So, thank you."

He had kept his eyes on the ground while he had been talking. When he finally looked up, he was surprised by how touched Kurosawa looked. Adachi glanced back down, not sure how to react. He listened to the sounds of paper crinkling as Kurosawa pulled the gift out of the envelope. He heard Kurosawa gasp and he looked up. Kurosawa was staring intently at the paper. His eyes wide and his mouth hung open a bit. Adachi could see his eyes move rapidly over the sheet, taking in everything.

"Adachi," Kurosawa said hoarsely. "Did you draw this?"


Kurosawa looked over at him, his eyes wet from emotion. Adachi scratched his neck awkwardly and looked away. He hadn't expected Kurosawa to get this emotional and he didn't know what to do with himself.

Kurosawa stepped forward and turned the picture around. "Can you describe to me what this is? I don't know much about trees."

"Ah, it's a ginko tree. There used to be one in the neighborhood I grew up in, and I liked looking at it on my way to school. I used to use it to practice drawing back when I was younger. After a while it became one of my favorite things to draw. It symbolizes peace and hope. So, I thought it would make a nice gift. Do you like it?"

Kurosawa nodded, not saying anything. He stared down at the picture, seemingly trying to take in all of the details and commit them to memory. "I really like it. It's one of the best gifts I've ever received."

Adachi looked down as he shuffled his feet, trying to hide his blush. "It's not that nice. But you were making me homemade food, so I wanted to give you something handmade as well. It just seemed fair."

Kurosawa chuckled, "I already told you not to worry about that. I like cooking for other people. If you want, I can keep bringing you food whenever I have extra. It'll be much healthier for you than eating convenience food for every meal."

"You don't have to, I mean, I'll take whatever you want to give me, but please don't go out of your way."

"It's settled then," Kurosawa said decisively. "I will keep bringing you meals to eat."

"Aish, why do I feel like I'm still getting the better end of this deal?" Adachi squirmed a bit, taking a step back. "Kurosawa, you really are too nice."

"Ha, don't worry. I'm not this nice to everyone, just people who deserve it," Kurosawa said with another eye-crinkling smile. Adachi really had no idea how to deal with that. He rubbed the back of his neck and took another step back. He motioned over his shoulder towards the elevators.

"Well, it's getting late, and it sounds like we are both done with work, so I'm going to head home now. You should go home soon as well. You seemed pretty tired before. You should be sure to take good care of yourself. You have a lot of people relying on you."

"Don't worry about me," Kurosawa replied. "I'll be heading out shortly as well. I'm already feeling a lot better." He held up the drawing. "This gave me all the energy I needed. Thank you again."

Adachi nodded his head sharply and spun around to leave. "Good night!" He called out over his shoulder.

"Good night, Adachi!" He heard in reply.

Adachi got into one of the elevators and let out a giant sigh of relief. He had done it. He had been able to give Kurosawa the gift. Not only did Kurosawa not get mad at him for going out of his way even when he told him not to, but he seemed to really appreciate it. Adachi had given some of his drawings to his mother and Tsuge before, but never to a coworker. Somehow it seemed too personal. But what better way was there for him to show how much he appreciated everything Kurosawa did for him?

He was so happy he didn't let his insecurities get the best of him. He would have been really disappointed if he hadn't gotten a chance to give the drawing to Kurosawa. Perhaps in addition to gaining more confidence in his presentation skills, he was also becoming more confident with other people as well? If that was the case, did that mean he could become better friends with Fujisaki and Urabe as well? Adachi smiled to himself at the thought. He took out his phone and texted Tsuge.

Adachi: Something really good happened today. I'm very excited. Hope your day was good as well.

Tsuge: Your presentation went well? You were really worried about that.

Adachi: Yes, that went fine. I was able to give a gift to my co-worker who helped me with it. He seemed really moved by it. I think we may start becoming friends.

Tsuge: Congratulations! Glad to hear you are finally opening up to your co-workers. My day was good as well. I got the new release date for my new book.

Adachi: That's great news! I hope this one does well for you!

Adachi headed out of the building towards the train station, feeling better than he had in months.

True to his word, Kurosawa did continue to bring in meals for Adachi. It wasn't everyday, usually it would be after a day when he didn't need to go on a sales trip, but each time he did, they would eat lunch together. It was a big change to Adachi's normal work schedule. Typically he would just grab lunch whenever his work allowed it. Having Kurosawa stop by his desk with a bento box ready for him right around lunchtime meant that his eating patterns became a lot more regular. He rarely skipped meals because he was too busy and forgot to eat anymore.

Eating lunch with someone else regularly was also a big change. Especially someone as popular as Kurosawa. People he had rarely spoken to before would come up to them and start talking about things going on with work or people at the office. He rarely got to spend lunch with just Kurosawa, nearly every day there was someone new joining them to eat. Kurosawa seemed to take it in stride, but Adachi was a little disappointed, he had wanted to try making better friends with him, but felt too shy when others were around.

Instead he started over-hearing a lot more office gossip and updates about how certain projects were going. Normally he kept his head in his work and ignored any office chatter. So when his boss suggested he should finish up his current task by the next day, meaning he would need to stay late, he realized that he knew that another part of the project was delayed and his part wouldn't be needed until the next week. He told his boss what he had heard and his boss quickly confirmed he was right, he didn't have to stay late. As he left that day, unusually on time, he realized there were a lot of benefits to knowing more about what other people were up to.

Not to say all of the new information he was hearing was useful. Most of the office gossip was about petty personal things. Adachi tried to tune those things out since they weren't any of his business. Kurosawa generally glazed over whenever the people eating with them started talking about such stuff, so Adachi felt confident he felt the same.

One thing that did stick out to him was the general consensus of Yamamoto's sales work. While most of the office still liked talking with him and joking around, there were a lot of complaints about his shoddy paperwork and his lack of product knowledge. From what Adachi could tell Yamamoto rarely did his research on the products he was selling and only did the bare essential follow up work. He seemed to rely mostly on charming the clients to make most of his sales. When complaints like this came up, Adachi noticed Kurosawa would frown and look especially displeased. Despite Kurosawa and Yamamoto initially giving off similar initial impressions, they clearly had wildly different approaches to their work.

For the next few weeks after his presentation, Adachi had made a point of avoiding Yamamoto. He could only do so much since they had a few meetings together, but it did seem like Yamamoto wasn't trying to antagonize him as much these days. For the most part he would joke or pretend to flirt with other people in the meeting, leaving Adachi alone for the most part. That was a relief. If it wasn't for Adachi's new found friendship with Kurosawa, it was as if everything had gone back to normal.

And then there was a quarterly review meeting, where the sales managers went over the recent sales numbers. Kurosawa was still in the lead, but Yamamoto wasn't terribly far behind. It was especially impressive since he had started at the company so recently.

"You've really shown your worth in such a short amount of time," exclaimed one of the sales managers. "You've only been here for a handful of months and already you are showing up some of our veterans. Kurosawa, you better watch out! You finally have some good competition for the number one spot."

Kurosawa nodded politely. "It all benefits the company, so it's good to see so many deals getting closed. I'll continue to do my best to do my part."

Yamamoto leaned back in his chair. "You aren't worried about losing to me? I'll be catching up to you before you know it. Hey, let's make it interesting and we can make a wager. Whoever wins gets a wish from the loser."

Kurosawa initially stiffened but quickly covered it with a blinding smile. "That won't be necessary. We should just try our best and see which of us prevails."

Yamamoto rolled his eyes. "Ugh, so dull. Really you are no fun at all. Let's at least bet dinner on it, whoever loses buys the other a meal."

Kurosawa shook his head politely. "There's no need for any of that. It's enough to do your best and know that you tried your hardest."

Yamamoto pouted, "Maybe for you, but I need more motivation than that."

"Tell you what," said the sales manager. "Whoever wins will get an all expenses paid weekend trip for two to an onsen. I can see about asking the department chief for the funds. How does that sound for motivation?"

"That does sound pretty good," said Yamamoto, clearly considering the offer. "Though how special the trip will be is heavily dependent on how good the company is."

The sales manager tutted his tongue. "Well, we can't do everything for you guys. You'll have to find your own dates. I'm sure you'll figure something out."

Yamamoto shrugged and smiled mischievously. "I'm sure we can manage. Sounds good, boss. Let's do it that way. What do you say, Kurosawa?"

Kurosawa smiled politely. "It's a nice idea. It will give us something to look forward to." He turned to Yamamoto. "Best of luck."

Yamamoto shook his head. "You'll be the one needing luck. Don't worry, if you fail, I'll be sure to invite you along as my date. You can wash my back as thanks."

Kurosawa's expression soured but he managed to keep his voice polite. "That won't be necessary. Just focus on your work for now."

Yamamoto gave Kurosawa an annoyed look. He glanced around the table and noticed Adachi quietly taking notes. "If I'm going to have a fair shot, I'll need some better resources. Kurosawa has been taking up all of our best analyst's time, obviously it's helping his numbers. Let's level the playing field. I have a two day trip up to Sendai scheduled this week. Let me take Adachi with me. He should be a big help to me."

Adachi head snapped up at the mention of his name. He glanced over at Kurosawa who looked pale and strained.

"What are you talking about? I've never been on a sales trip before. I've barely ever interacted with the clients before. Why would you want me along?" Adachi's head was spinning. A presentation in front of the managers was one thing, but going out on a sales pitch and talking directly to clients? Complete strangers? And he wouldn't even have a chance to prepare? This was a nightmare.

"Adachi makes a good point. Why do you want him in particular with you. I'll agree he's always kept up with his work, and he shown some significant improvement recently, but he isn't on the sales team. What do you think he'd do for you out there," asked the sales manager.

Yamamoto sat up straight and said, "Haven't you noticed Kurosawa spends every lunch break he is in the office with Adachi. From what I hear, they talk about how their work is going, passing information back and forth, and look at how much Kurosawa's numbers have improved since then. Obviously Adachi has been giving him some personalized analysis information and Kurosawa is getting all the benefit from it. All I'm asking is that I get a chance to get his insights for this one trip. I don't think that's asking for too much."

"So you just want Adachi to come with you, listen to the pitch, and give his opinion to you?" The sales manager didn't sound convinced.

Yamamoto nodded. "Exactly. He doesn't even have to talk, just listen. It's no skin off his back and I get to have any analysis we need done on the fly. It's worth a shot, right?"

"It's certainly unprecedented but I don't see why we can't give it a shot," said the sales manager, mulling it over. "What do you think, Adachi?"

"I mean, I don't think, it's not like there's anything special I can do on a trip like this. I deal with trending data and such, individual trips don't tend to have a lot of analysis involved," Adachi said, stumbling over his words.

"Still, it couldn't hurt right?" The managers looked at each other and seemed to shrug. "We can consider it a pilot effort. If it doesn't work out, we just won't do it again."

Kurosawa cleared his throat. "What about the accommodations? We'll need to let the booking team know we'll need to get another train ticket and hotel room. Are there funds for that?"

Yamamoto smiled widely. "No need to sweat the hotel room, Adachi and I can split a room for the night. We are both adults, we can share nicely."

Adachi just rolled his eyes but Kurosawa seemed to get even more frustrated. "Are you really taking this seriously? This isn't a vacation. You are going up there to work."

"Of course I'm serious. I'm serious about taking that 'ace of the sales team' title from you. And for that, I need Adachi's input. It's not fair for you to keep him all to yourself."

"I'm not keeping him from anything," Kurosawa insisted but was interrupted by the sales manager.

"Look, I don't get exactly what's going on between you two, but a little competition is good for the company. We can give this a shot and we'll see how it goes for Yamamoto's numbers. Adachi, make sure you pack for cold weather. It's supposed to get colder as the week goes on."

Adachi looked around the room, his mouth slightly ajar. From the looks on everyone's faces, it seemed to be a done deal. He really didn't want to go, but it didn't seem like he had a way out. "Yes, okay." He said in a defeated voice.

Yamamoto gave him a sly smile. "Glad to see you are as excited as I am."

Kurosawa didn't look at him, he just stared down intently at the papers in front of him.

"Great, now that that's out of the way, let's move on," said the sales manager, pushing the meeting on to the next topic.

Adachi sat there in vague disbelief. He'd have to go on an overnight trip with Yamamoto. He couldn't imagine what to expect, but there was no way it could be pleasant.

As the meeting ended, he tried to grab Kurosawa's attention, but he immediately grabbed his papers and walked out of the room. Adachi was caught a little off guard. He had hoped to talk to him and figure out what he should expect. Instead it was Yamamoto who came over to him. He waited until everyone else had left the room before he spoke to Adachi. His expression made him seem more serious than usual.

"Hey, sorry for putting you on the spot, but I do think this will be a good thing. Just let me do all the talking, okay? All you have to do is sit there and listen. If they ask you any questions, I'll try to field them. Got it?"

Adachi was taken aback by his sudden change in demeanour. He wasn't quite meeting Adachi's gaze and he sounded a lot kinder than usual. Adachi had never seen this side of Yamamoto and wasn't sure how to react.

"Um, it's okay. We'll figure it out. I'll try my best not to get in the way."

Yamamoto nodded, still not quite meeting Adachi's gaze. "I know I've been a bit annoying, especially around you, since I started at the company. But maybe this will give us a chance to talk, just the two of us. I think we have more in common than you think. I promise, this won't be that bad. I'll meet you at the train station at 6am, okay?"

"Mm," Adachi agreed. He wasn't sure why Yamamoto was acting like this. Maybe this is how he acted when he was alone with someone and not showing off in a group? That would be different than he expected, but he was a lot easier to deal with when he was being nice. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

They both left the room and Adachi headed back to his desk. He got an email from his boss saying that if he was leaving early tomorrow morning, he could head out now. He packed up his stuff and started to head out towards the elevators. He gave a glance at Kurosawa's desk before he left, but he still wasn't there. He felt another pang of disappointment but tried to swallow it down. It would have been nice to have asked him some questions about what to expect on the sales trip, but he supposed he couldn't rely on Kurosawa to help him out everytime he got himself into a new dilemma. He got on the elevator and headed down. He'd just have to see how he would fare on his own. If what Yamamoto said was true, maybe it wouldn't be the worst.

Adachi woke up early the next day and headed out with time to spare to meet Yamamoto at the train station. He was the first to arrive and he used the time to try and get himself mentally prepared for this trip. It would just be two days. And he wasn't even supposed to talk. He just had to listen and maybe give his opinion to Yamamoto once everything was done. Maybe this wouldn't be that bad. He really hoped so. He could imagine a lot of ways he could mess this up and land them both in hot water. He could feel his heart rate start to speed up in panic. Just as he was starting to get really worked up, he saw Yamamoto arrive. He was yawning, walking leisurely up to him.

"You're here already? You sure like being punctual. I can barely keep my eyes open this early."

Adachi gave a twitchy shrug. "Just didn't want to be late." He gripped the handle on his luggage. "Are you ready to go?"

Yamamoto yawned again and waved his hand for Adachi to follow him. They boarded the train and settled into their seats. Yamamoto fell asleep almost immediately. Adachi wished he could do the same but he was far too worked up to think about sleep. He tried listening to music, then reading stuff on his phone, or staring out the window, but nothing he did could hold his attention. Eventually he pulled out a notepad and started sketching. Drawing always calmed him down and helped him focus his energy. He didn't like doing it in public, but since Yamamoto was asleep and no one else was paying attention, he figured it was fine.

He was making good progress when he heard Yamamoto ask, "What are you writing?"

Adachi looked up and saw he was finally awake. He was rubbing his eyes drowsily, but seemed to be aware of his surroundings.

Adachi fluttered nervously, making a defensive motion to cover up his drawing, but realized he didn't really have anything to hide. It wasn't like he was doing anything embarrassing. He muttered in response, "I'm just sketching the landscape. It's nothing impressive."

Yamamoto leaned forward and looked over Adachi's protective arm. "Oh, that actually looks pretty good. I didn't realize you were so talented."

Adachi shifted his weight uncomfortably. "It's not that impressive. I was just doing it to pass the time."

"Still, it's pretty cool. I can barely draw at all. So it's cool you can," Yamamoto said with a shrug. He leaned back, making himself comfortable again. "It won't be long now, we'll be there in 10 minutes."

"Already?" Adachi hadn't realized how quickly time had passed. He had just been trying to focus on his drawing to keep himself from freaking out about the sales pitch.

*Yeah, don't worry so much. I've got this. At worst, we'll ask you some questions about the productivity metric improvements we've seen with other companies who've bought our products. That shouldn't be so bad, right?"

Adachi nodded tersely. "Yeah, if that's all they want to know, I can help with that."

Yamamoto yawned and closed his eyes again. "Just try to relax. It'll happen anyway, so there's no point in dreading it."

Adachi considered his words and did feel a little calmer. He tried to lean back as well. He wasn't doing a good job of relaxing, but at least his breathing was more regular now.

He felt his phone go off in his pocket and looked to find a message from Kurosawa.

Kurosawa: The hotel will have a separate room for you tonight. It will be under your name. You'll do fine, you can do this.

A wave of relief swept over him and he felt a small smile on his face. Kurosawa had been looking out for him. That made him feel a lot better. He felt some of the tension in his shoulders dissipate and he leaned back into his seat.

He replied quickly.

Adachi: Thanks for letting me know. We are almost there. Best of luck with your work today.

He felt much better now.

They got off the train and headed over to the client's office.

The client meeting went about the same as Yamamoto described. He did most of the talking, usually flattering and charming the client while sprinkling in a few pieces of information about their products, and Adachi was mostly just there to listen. It was a long day full of meetings and Adachi was exhausted by the end of the day. They still had to meet with the client again in the morning, but at least they would have the evening to rest up. Yamamoto casually suggested they grab some dinner together before they checked into the hotel and Adachi didn't have it in him to refuse.

They ate at the hotel restaurant, an upscale type of place that would normally put Adachi on edge, but he was too tired to care. Yamamoto seemed more familiar with the items on the menu and offered to order for them and Adachi let him. He just sat there, leaning against his hand, staring out the darkening window, grateful to not be in any more sales meetings.

Yamamoto also seemed tired. He was probably worse off than Adachi since he had done most of the talking. However, he seemed to be trying to keep the mood light and make small talk. "What did you think of your first sales trip? Thinking about switching departments?"

Adachi snorted in response. "Definitely not," he replied. "I have to hand it to you, I could never do what your team does. That was a lot of work. I'd much rather be at my desk all day."

Yamamoto cocked his head. "You didn't like it at all? It's nice to get out and see new places and new people."

Adachi shook his head. "That's the part I don't like. I'm not good at talking to strangers. I don't know how you do it. I'd much rather just deal with the numbers and do the analysis."

Yamamoto chuckled. "That's the part I hate the most. Talking to people is easy, as long as you know what to say to make them like you. I couldn't handle staying at a desk and staring at spreadsheets all day. I think I'd go insane."

Adachi shrugged. "It's not so bad, but I guess we are different that way."

The waiter brought their food out and they started eating. It was quiet for a while before Yamamoto looked up with a smile. "You realize this is more or less a date right now, right?"

Adachi gave him a stern look. "Don't start with that again. You've been remarkably well behaved this whole trip. I was actually starting to think I had the wrong impression of you."

Yamamoto took a sip of his wine. He looked thoughtfully at Adachi. "Has anyone told you what happened to me at my last job?"

Adachi shook his head and took another bite of his food.

"I was outed by a male coworker who I had fallen in love with and got fired."

Adachi looked up, surprised Yamamoto could say that so casually. "Seriously? That sounds awful. Why would they fire you over that?"

Yamamoto shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "The situation was a bit complicated, and I definitely acted pretty foolishly. Looking back on it," he said, covering up his face with his hand, "I deeply regret it all. I can't believe how stupid I was that whole time. I really thought things would work out for me and him, but I was obviously deluded. Do you want to hear the whole story?"

Adachi nodded hesitantly. "You don't have to say anything if it's still a painful memory to you. You don't owe me anything."

Yamamoto shrugged. "I think I at least owe you an explanation for why I act the way I do at the office. Out of everyone at the office, you are the one who seems to hate it the most. Maybe if I explain, we can understand each other a little better."

Adachi watched patiently as Yamamoto took another swig of wine before he started talking. "I was at my previous company for about 5 years. I didn't want my sexuality to complicate my job there, so I didn't mention it to any of my coworkers. It didn't really matter. Occasionally I'd be asked if I had a girlfriend or something, but I was left alone for the most part. Shortly after I joined, the president's son started working there as well. He was, and I can not stress this enough, everything I had ever wanted. He was perfect. Good-looking, stylish, well-spoken, funny, he was just all around amazing. I think I spoke to him maybe two or three times before I realized I was completely in love. I knew from the beginning that he was very straight. He'd have a string of girlfriends that I would occasionally meet when we got drinks after work. It hurt. It really hurt to be so close to him, to become friends with him, but never be able to tell him how I felt. It felt like I was dying almost every day I was with him, but I didn't want it to stop."

Yamamoto paused to take another sip of wine. Adachi shifted his weight, waiting for him to continue.

"I was good at my job. I was respected there. I was made a team lead and he was placed underneath me. He wasn't the best at sales, but his father wanted him to get the experience. Shortly after I was put in charge of the team, he had a nasty break up with one of his girlfriends and he wanted to drink to blow off steam. He invited everyone out, but it ended up just being the two of us. We got very drunk that night. We went hard. He eventually got sloppy drunk and I took him back to my place. When we got there, he started getting handsy. I don't know if he forgot he was with me or if he thought I was his ex, but I was too far gone and too much in love to fight him off. We didn't even do that much, from what I can remember we just made out and I had reached into his pants. He was into it until he started to sober up. Suddenly he was screaming at me and it turned really ugly. I tried to tell him we were both drunk and we could just put this behind us if we wanted. I was still a little drunk and very upset and I confessed that I had feelings for him and I didn't want him to hate me. He didn't want to hear that. Suddenly he is claiming I had gotten him drunk on purpose and it just got worse from there. He left and he must have told his dad because the next day I got pulled into HR and asked about how I was using my position as team lead to take advantage of one of my subordinates. They also mentioned that since I had been trying to hide my sexual orientation, I had been aiming to ambush unsuspecting men. I was fired shortly after."

Adachi looked at him. Yamamoto was breathing heavily and was starting to turn flush from the wine. His face twisted in pain and guilt. Adachi said sympathetically, "That sounds awful."

Yamamoto huffed out a dark laugh. "Yeah, it was terrible. I was out of work for a while, just spent the time feeling sorry for myself. What hurt the most, what really stung, was that I was still in love with him. I would have forgiven him. If there had been the slightest chance I could have been with him, I would have gone right back to him. That's the part I hate the most. I cared more about losing him as a friend than about losing my job."

Adachi watched him finish off his wine and wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked up at Adachi with a surprisingly fierce gaze.

Yamamoto continued, "I was able to use my connections to get this current position, but I promised myself, I wouldn't be put in the same situation again. I came out to everyone in the office immediately. I didn't want anyone to use it as a weapon against me again. I made a point to clown around with everyone so they wouldn't take anything I said too seriously. If they all believed I was just a harmless goof-ball, then maybe they wouldn't turn on me when anything unsavory came out. I know it's not perfect, but it's the best I could think to do. Do you see why it has to be this way?"

Suddenly, all of Adachi's prior interactions with Yamamoto made a little more sense. His weird comments took on a new context. Adachi cocked his head and said, "It's all a performance. Everything you say in the office, it's part of a persona you've created to protect yourself."

It made sense in a way, Adachi supposed. Certainly if he had been in a similar position, he didn't think he would do the same, but that didn't mean it was the wrong choice for Yamamoto. It also made sense why Yamamoto had always rubbed Adachi the wrong way. Adachi had never cared for fake people. He could never be comfortable around them. He wasn't sure if he liked Yamamoto any better now, but he thought he at least understood him better.

Yamamoto nodded slowly in response. He leaned in with a fiery expression and hissed, "So you understand why I can't let the same thing happen to Kurosawa."

Nope, Adachi thought. I definitely don't understand this guy.

"Eh?! What does Kurosawa have to do with any of this?"

Yamamoto stared at Adachi with a scorching gaze. It was as if he was trying to use the heat of his gaze to burn him alive. "Are you joking right now? Are you really saying you don't know what's going on with him?"

Adachi shook his head vigorously. "I have no idea what you are talking about! I only became friends with Kurosawa recently. We barely talked before this. I mean, he was always nice and polite, but he is that way with everyone. Even now I've barely gotten a chance to talk with him alone. We definitely haven't talked about our personal lives."

Yamamoto scoffed in a disgusted tone. "Are you seriously that oblivious? Kurosawa is in the exact same situation I was in."

Adachi blanched. "He is? How would you know?"

Yamamoto banged his fist down on the table. "How could I miss it? It's so obvious! He is crazy in love and the man he is in love with is a hopeless oblivious mess."

Adachi nervously rubbed at the back of his neck. "Even if that was true, is this really any of our business? Kurosawa is a very capable person. He's popular and well-liked. If he wanted to be with someone, he could just ask them out. I don't see why anyone would refuse him. We shouldn't be talking about this, especially since he isn't here to speak for himself."

Yamamoto rolled his eyes and hissed, "What the hell are you saying? 'He can have anyone he wants?' Do you really mean that or are you just trying to say it's not your problem?"

Adachi gaped at him. "Of course it isn't my problem. None of this has anything to do with me. Why are you so…"

"It's you, Adachi! Kurosawa is in love with you!"

".......................... EH?!?!?!"

"You are telling me you never suspected how Kurosawa felt about you?"

Adachi stared at Yamamoto with his jaw hanging open. He tried to process what Yamamoto just said, but the idea just seemed completely…

"Impossible," said Adachi definitively.

Yamamoto raised an eyebrow and scoffed. "Are you serious? You are refusing to acknowledge his feelings for you?"

"No, I'm saying it's impossible for Kurosawa to like me like that. You are mistaken," said Adachi. He wasn't the most confident person, but he felt prepared to put down money that Yamamoto was making all this up for some weird twisted reason.

"I'm not mistaken, I am sure of it," insisted Yamamoto. "All the signs are there. The way he constantly stares over at your desk, the way he treats you nicer than everyone else, the way he jumps to your rescue whenever you get out of your comfort zone. It all fits. You can't think that someone would be that nice to you for no reason, can you?"

Adachi narrowed his eyes at Yamamoto. "Of course I can," he replied sternly. "He helps everyone. He is always kind and thoughtful. It would be rude of us to assume he has some kind of ulterior motive when he is just being a nice person."

Yamamoto ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "So, what? You are just going to ignore everything I just told you?"

"Yes, I am. It's the right thing to do. If Kurosawa had something he wanted to tell me, I would listen to him, but it's not your business to tell others how he feels."

"You are just being a coward! Here I've told you that this insanely good-looking clean cut guy is head over heels in love with you and you shrug it off. Do you know how much I would do to be in your position?"

Now it was Adachi's turn to raise his eyebrows. "Yamamoto, are you saying that you have feelings for Kurosawa?"

"Yes! Obviously! Thank you for finally figuring it out! Seriously, Adachi, you can be amazingly dense. It's a miracle you've ever gotten anyone to date you before."

Adachi blushed deeply and fidgeted with his napkin. He thought he could mention to Yamamoto that he had in fact never dated anyone before, but it honestly didn't seem like any of his business so he just coughed uncomfortably and pressed on.

"So, what? You think if you get me out of the way, Kurosawa will become your boyfriend? I'm not saying I'm the most observant person in the office, but even I can tell that Kurosawa doesn't like working with you. Why do you think he would be willing to date you?"

Yamamoto shrugged. "Birds of a feather flock together. He is good looking, I'm good looking. We are both good salesmen. We both fell in love with men who didn't appreciate us. We have too much in common for this to just be a mere coincidence. The only problem is that he is hung up on his hopeless dream of dating you. So how about this? You only like women, right? So there's no reason to keep stringing him along. Just tell him right out that you don't want to date him. He'll be sad, for sure, but I'll be there to help him out. You get to stay friends with him and the two of us will get to finally start something between us. We all get what we want in the end. Don't you agree?"

Adachi shook his head in disbelief. "I really don't think Kurosawa is just going to start dating you just because his supposed crush turned him down. He's not that kind of person."

Yamamoto jeered at him and said, "What the hell do you know? You didn't even notice his feelings for you. How well do you really know him?"

"Well enough to know this conversation is going nowhere and I'm tired. I'm going to check into my room now."

Yamamoto eyed him reproachfully. "Aren't you forgetting something? The company didn't book us two rooms. We are splitting a room tonight. Also, I doubt the reservation got updated, so we will only have one bed." Yamamoto raised an eyebrow at him.

Adachi got up from the table and started waking away. "I have it on good authority that I have a room in my name here."

Yamamoto groaned and got up to follow him. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I know for a fact the booking team already turned down the request for the second room. I very much hope you don't snore, because I definitely need my beauty sleep," he said teasingly.

They arrived at the front counter. Yamamoto gave a sudden blinding smile to the receptionist. "We are here for the Tokyowa reservation. Can you please confirm how many rooms are on the reservation for us, please?"

Adachi was taken back by Yamamoto's ability to switch his demeanor so quickly depending on who he was talking to, but was snapped out of it when the receptionist said, "It looks like we have only one room with a king sized bed on this reservation."

Yamamoto looked triumphant but Adachi cleared his throat and said softly, "Could you please look for a reservation under the name of Adachi Kiyoshi?"

The receptionist keyed his name into the computer. After a long second he said, "Yes, we do have a reservation for you here. I can get you your keys now. One second."

"Wait," called out Yamamoto. "For his reservation, can you check to see if it was made with the same company card as mine?"

The receptionist looked at the records again. "No, the room for Adachi Kiyoshi was reserved by a personal card, not a company card."

"Let me guess, the name on the personal card was Kurosawa Yuiichi," asked Yamamoto darkly.

The receptionist looked over his shoulder then turned back. "I'm not really supposed to give out that kind of information to people not on the reservation but since you two are together, yes, it was booked by Kurosawa Yuiichi."

Yamamoto scoffed angrily. He turned to Adachi and whispered, "You still don't believe me?"

Adachi didn't know what to believe. He just wanted to go to sleep. He took his key and walked away from Yamamoto. Whatever nonsense he wanted to spout at him would have to wait until morning.

The next morning Adachi came downstairs to meet with Yamamoto and head over to the client but didn't see him downstairs. He waited there for ten minutes, but still didn't see him. He texted Yamamoto and got a reply back that he had already headed over to the client without him and to come meet him there. Adachi was a little annoyed, but figured he should head over before it got any later.

As he walked into the meeting room, he saw the client there waiting, but no Yamamoto. The client looked up with interest. "Ah, good morning. Is your partner joining us? I had some questions for him about some of the products we discussed yesterday."

Adachi flustered at first, giving his excuses for Yamamoto's lateness, but could feel his heart sinking as he realized what was going on. Yamamoto had played a trick on him and Adachi was going to have to work with the client alone until whenever Yamamoto finally did show up. He didn't even have time to get properly mad before he had to try his best to pretend to be a salesman. "I can try my best to answer your questions while we wait for my colleague to join us. Shall we sit down?" Adachi did his best to keep his voice calm, but he could already feel himself starting to sweat in a panic.

"We have been using these pens in our offices for awhile," said the client, "but they aren't the best for writing with. We need stationary that makes a crisp line that doesn't smudge. We looked over your corporate selections, but we haven't been pleased with your inventory. Can you make a better recommendation?"

Adachi had at least carried the sample box with him and he looked through it, giving the client a few to try.

"Hmm, none of these are working quite like we would like them to. If we are getting these for all of our worksites, we need something that looks more like this." She pulled out a pen from her purse and drew a line across the paper.

Adachi recognized the pen she was using. It was a calligraphy pen that he had added to his stationary collection a few years ago. He had used it a few times for drawing. He did know of a few of their products that worked similarly. He reached into his personal bag and pulled out the art supplies he had brought with him. Several of them were Tokyowa products. He showed the client the pens he thought would work best and demonstrated how they worked and showed her where in the catalogue she could find the listing. They started talking about why he carried around his own pens and about drawing for leisure. As it turned out, she was a hobby artist and they compared stories about taking art classes. By the time Yamamoto finally showed up, they were chatting comfortably and already had the order forms filled out.

Yamamoto initially looked surprised to see Adachi doing so well on his own, but he quickly masked his emotions and went back to flattering the client. There wasn't much else to do in the meeting so they ended early and Yamamoto and Adachi headed back to the station.

On the ride over to the station, Adachi looked over at Yamamoto and said, "Even if it did turn out fine, that was a mean prank to play."

Yamamoto met his gaze and replied, "You have a surprising amount of talent for a hopeless oblivious mess. You give impressive presentations, you can take over sales pitches and close the deal, and you can make men who are widely out of your league fall in love with you. You really are full of surprises, Adachi. Should I be worried about falling for you too?"

Adachi groaned and put his face in his hands. "Enough with your stupid ridiculous statements. No one is in love with me. And don't you dare start pretending that you want to date me again. I like you a lot better when you aren't pretending to flirt with me."

"I wasn't just pretending," said Yamamoto with a sly grin. "You aren't bad looking, Adachi. Anytime you want to blow off some steam, just let me know. But no, I don't want to date you. You are a little too dull for my taste."

"I'm fine with being dull, it suits me. And I promise I will never ask you to help me 'blow off steam'. Why do you keep your flirting to people who would appreciate it," Adachi grumbled.

Yamamoto chuckled. "That's the nice part about being so good looking, everyone appreciates me flirting with them." He flashed Adachi a blinding smile.

Adachi squinted at him, unable to take the icy blast. "You really are delusional."

Yamamoto gave him a dismissive hand wave. "I'm not going to take criticism from someone who clearly has no taste. If you actually recognized a good thing when you saw it, you'd already be dating Kurosawa. So I guess it's to my benefit that you are so pedestrian in your tastes."

Adachi scoffed but didn't feel like playing along anymore. The train ride back was mostly quiet. Adachi texted Tsuge the highlights of his trip and got back his sympathetic texts.

Tsuge: Yeah, that guy doesn't sound trustworthy. I'm glad the trip went well, but hopefully you can avoid him going forward. It's best not to get mixed up in office drama.

He also texted Kurosawa to thank him for booking the room and offered to pay him back.

Kurosawa: Don't worry about it, I've already submitted the travel expense to the company. It'll get covered eventually, this was just a faster way to take care of it. I hope the trip went well. Will see you soon back in the office.

Hearing that Kurosawa didn't go out of pocket for a hotel room for Adachi simply so he wouldn't have to sleep in the same room as another man lifted a giant weight off his shoulders. See? Yamamoto clearly had no idea he was talking about. Kurosawa was just a good person and a considerate friend. Adachi felt comfortable enough to nap through the rest of the trip.

When they arrived back at the office, Yamamoto split off to chat with some of the other people while Urabe gave Adachi a warm welcoming round of applause for completing his first sales trip. Adachi shyly accepted the praise but vigorously protested when Urabe suggested he tried transferring to sales.

Urabe was teasing Adachi about doing some extra overtime to make up for the work he missed when Kurosawa showed up at his desk and asked to speak with him. Adachi happily followed Kurosawa into an empty meeting room. Kurosawa closed the door behind him.

"How did the trip go? Did everything go smoothly," asked Kurosawa.

"Not everything, but we did close the deal. That's all that really matters," Adachi replied offhandedly. "Thanks again for handling the room. I really needed to get away from Yamamoto by the time we had to sleep. I don't want to think about how much more annoying he would have been if we had to share a bed."

"He didn't do anything inappropriate, did he?" Kurosawa sounded concerned.

Adachi twitched his shoulders in half-shrug. "He is always inappropriate. But he at least seems to realize it? I think that makes him more annoying. He did play a nasty prank on me this morning, sending me over to the client's office alone. I thought my heart was going to stop once I realized I had to talk to the client by myself."

Kurosawa asked, alarmed, "Did he really? What happened with the client? Were you put in a bad situation?"

Adachi nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. "It seemed pretty bad at first, but she was asking about calligraphy pens, which I happen to know about and once we started talking, it wasn't so bad. By the time Yamamoto finally showed, we had already settled everything. I got really lucky, it could have been a disaster."

Kurosawa beamed at him, looking impressed. "That's wonderful, Adachi! You were able to think on your feet and you managed the client on your own! That's very impressive for your first sales trip. I knew you could do it!"

"Ha, well, I sure didn't. I felt like my heart was going to stop. It really was dumb luck but at least it's done now."

Kurosawa chuckled in reply "Does this mean you'll be coming out to more sales pitches? I could use some dumb luck on my next trip to Osaka, want to tag along?"

Adachi huffed out a laugh. "No thanks! I think I'm done with that for now. I should go write up my report now to give to the managers. Oh, sorry, that this will mean Yamamoto just got another deal over you. You'll need to close another deal if you want to beat him for the top salesman award."

Kurosawa made a dismissive movement with his hand. "He will have to try a lot harder if he wants to beat me, don't worry about that. He may be good at charming clients, but he doesn't have the relationships I've got."

Adachi nodded curtly and looked towards the door. "That's good to hear. I'll leave you to it then."

"Adachi, wait."

Adachi turned back to Kurosawa. Kurosawa looked a little strained. He was opening and closing his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but couldn't bring himself to do it.

"Are you okay, Kurosawa," Adachi asked.

Kurosawa looked down at the ground, seemed to find his resolve when he looked back up at Adachi and said, "Did Yamamoto say anything to you about me?"

Adachi froze up a bit. He wasn't sure what to tell Kurosawa. He didn't trust Yamamoto and he was pretty sure that he was lying about Kurosawa liking him, but maybe something more was going on. What if Yamamoto knew something about Kurosawa that he didn't want anyone else to know? And if he was lying to Adachi about Kurosawa's feelings for him, then perhaps he thought that separating them would benefit him somehow? He really didn't know what Yamamoto was thinking but he knew he didn't want to play into his hand. The best way to avoid that was to work with Kurosawa.

Adachi fidgeted with his hands and kept his eyes on the ground. "He, um, he said a lot of things. Mostly he talked about himself, but, yes, he did say some things about you too."

Kurosawa paled. He took a step forward and lowered his head as he asked, "Adachi, can you please tell me exactly what he said. I need to know what he told you."

"He, um, he said that you liked me. A lot. Romantically." Adachi couldn't raise his eyes to meet Kurosawa's, but he imagined he could feel Kurosawa's gaze burrowing into him. There was a long pause before Adachi finally looked up and saw Kurosawa's expression. He had expected shock or a grimace, but instead Kurosawa looked sad. He looked sad and tired. Adachi felt a weird sinking feeling in his stomach. He didn't quite understand what was going on, but he knew he didn't like seeing Kurosawa upset.

Kurosawa reached up and covered his face with his hand and sighed. His voice sounded tight as he said, "I was afraid of that." He let his hand fall back to his side and stared off into the distance for a bit before saying, "What do you want to do now?"

Adachi didn't know how to answer that. "What do you mean," he asked, confused.

Kurosawa looked back at him and studied him for a while with an oddly vulnerable expression on his face. "Now that he told you that, how do you want us to behave together? Do you want me to keep my distance? Would you still want to be friends? Or would you prefer…"

Adachi exclaimed, alarmed, "Of course I want to be friends! Kurosawa, I don't trust him. I didn't fall for anything he said. He is clearly up to something. I told him to mind his own business and to stop spreading weird rumors about you. I don't know exactly what he is doing, but he seems to really want us to misunderstand each other. I don't know if it's because he wants to try to sabotage your work, if he thinks he can convince you to date him somehow, maybe even both, but whatever he is doing, I want to stop it. You don't deserve any of this. And if you want me on your side, I'm here for you. I can do whatever I can to help. You can depend on me."

Kurosawa let out an odd gasp and his eyes started to tear up. His arms lurched forward, but he seemed to be restraining himself. Whatever internal struggle Kurosawa was dealing with, he seemed to resolve it and he reached out to grab Adachi's shoulder. He smiled down at Adachi, a warm wet smile that felt like a summer day and made Adachi feel an odd tingling in his stomach. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, but it was an unusual one.

"Thank you, Adachi. I am very glad we have gotten closer. I am very lucky to have you by my side. You are a good person," said Kurosawa softly. Then he laughed mirthlessly before continuing, "And if it wasn't clear before, I definitely don't want to date Yamamoto. He has approached me a few times, both in and out of work now, asking me out and I have rejected him each time, but he doesn't know when to stop. It isn't entirely surprising that he is taking a new tactic, but I was hoping it wouldn't get you involved. Though I have to say, now that you are involved, it doesn't feel so lonely anymore."

Adachi smiled back, but he felt pretty embarrassed. He hadn't expected Kurosawa to be so touched by his words. He couldn't imagine what Kurosawa must have been going through on his own, having to deal with the unwanted advances from a colleague and keeping quiet about it. He remembered back to when he had seen Kurosawa tired and distressed the day he gave his presentation, right before he gave him the drawing. He could guess what had put Kurosawa in such a mood and it made his stomach twist in fury. He cleared his throat and continued. "So, what do you want to do about Yamamoto? He keeps messing around and causing problems for both of us. How do we get him to stop?"

Kurosawa looked thoughtful for a second and asked, "Did he tell you anything else while you were on the trip? If we know what he wants, we could come up with a plan."

"He told me about how he got fired from his previous job. The thing that happened with the president's son…"

Kurosawa nodded. "Yes, I heard about that from a friend of mine who used to work with him. It was a bad situation, but it seemed like Yamamoto wasn't entirely without blame. He was forcing himself on a drunk friend, there are lines that shouldn't be crossed."

"Exactly! It doesn't excuse him. I don't know all the details obviously, but it did sound like he wasn't blameless. Yet he acts like he was the victim. It's frustrating…"

Kurosawa frowned and replied, "Yes, he is the type of person who always thinks his actions are justified. I've heard him say similar things. It's very irritating. Did he tell you anything else?"

"Yeah," Adachi said. "He said the same situation would eventually happen to you too. He was trying to make it sound like he was looking out for you. Yamamoto told me I had to 'reject your feelings' outright. It would be the best way to protect you. He said it would help you get over me and then you'd be available for him to pursue. He claimed it was the best scenario for everyone. I don't know if he thought that me rejecting you out of nowhere, even though we are just friends, would throw you so bad you'd start messing up at work or if he thought that he would swoop in after I had rejected you and made himself a shoulder for you to cry on. Then he'd play at being your friend before trying to date you? I can't figure out what he is thinking. He is pretty twisted."

Kurosawa shifted uncomfortably. "He told you to reject me? That's a little… That would have been a big shock. Especially if it came out of nowhere. He does seem to know how to get under other people's skin."

Adachi looked up at Kurosawa, who was pursing his lips and thinking hard. His normally cool demeanour was ruined by his furrowed brow. His usual kind expression was replaced by one of concern. Adachi didn't like to see him like this. Adachi was struck by a thought. It seemed strange at first, but as it settled in his mind, it seemed more and more feasible.

"Hey, Kurosawa, what if we tell Yamamoto we are dating?"

Kurosawa's eyes snapped up to his. Loudly, Kurosawa said "Eh?"

Adachi continued, "Whatever weird plan he has seems to involve the two of us misunderstanding each other. So if we told him we are dating, maybe that would throw him off. Plus it would hopefully stop him from asking you out all the time. It would involve the two of us pretending to be closer than we are, just for appearances obviously, but if that isn't too much trouble…"


Adachi was taken aback by how quickly Kurosawa agreed to his half-thought out plan. Adachi had just been spitballing suggestions, he didn't expect for this thought to be taken seriously. He still wasn't too sure of it yet, but Kurosawa seemed completely resolute.

"Are you sure? I mean, it will mean we could be put in an uncomfortable situation if other people find out and misunderstand us. I don't want this to be worse for you than whatever Yamamoto has planned," said Adachi hesitantly. "Not to mention, he might spread even more weird rumors that could cause more problems."

"He could spread weird rumors regardless, we can't do much about that." Kurosawa frowned and asked Adachi, "Are you okay with pretending to date me? You wouldn't normally want to date a man, right? So this would be a little awkward for you. I'll make sure we don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but if you are okay with it, I am too. I want to give this a try."

Adachi was a little stunned. He couldn't believe the situation he was in. Just a few months before, he and Kurosawa were just colleagues. They had been friendly with each other, but they had rarely interacted. Adachi had been happy when they had recently become friends, but now they were going to join forces and pretend to date in order to undermine Yamamoto? And it was at his suggestion! It was so different from what Adachi was accustomed to. What ever happened to his simple boring work life?

Adachi nodded stiffly, looking up at Kurosawa from under his lashes. "Okay, let's do that. I can pretend to be your b-boyfriend." Adachi's mouth got caught on the word. "I should tell you though, I've never dated anyone before."

Kurosawa's eyes went wide. "Eh?! Really?"

Adachi smiled embarrassedly and he took a step back. "Yeah, I mean, as you can see," he said, motioning to his body, "I'm not very popular, so I've never had the opportunity. So I'm very inexperienced. If we are going to do this properly, I'll need you to show me what to do. To show me how to be a good boyfriend."

Kurosawa stared at him briefly before replying. "We can figure out what we'd like to do, but I don't think you'll have any trouble. It's not hard to do."

Adachi laughed nervously. "If you say so, but first things first, how should we tell Yamamoto that we are together now? Do we wait until tomorrow morning or…"

Kurosawa pulled out his phone, tapped out a quick message and hit send. "No need to wait. I just texted him. Here, come closer." Kurosawa wrapped his arm around Adachi's shoulder and held up his phone to take a selfie of them together. "Smile! Try to look happy." Adachi gave the camera a shy smile and Kurosawa snapped a few pictures. He brought his hand back down and showed Adachi the pictures he just took. Adachi looked nervous and tense in all of them, but Kurosawa had a broad genuine-looking smile and clear eyes. Adachi thought they didn't look too bad together. Kurosawa tapped at his phone briefly before he nodded and said, "Okay, I just sent him a picture. That should be enough for now. We should talk about how we should act together in the office going forward. Do you want to come over to my place tonight after work and we can come up with a battle strategy?"

Adachi stuttered. This was all moving a lot faster than he had anticipated. "I guess? If that's okay, I don't want to impose."

Kurosawa smiled widely and said, "Of course you aren't imposing. I can make us dinner as well. You prefer Japanese food, right? I'll be sure to make us something good. We can think of it as a practice date."

"Date?!" Adachi sputtered.

Kurosawa nodded seriously. "Yes, we'll have to get used to being together to be convincing. We need to look natural together, otherwise he'll suspect we are just pretending and this will all be for nothing. This also means we'll have to touch each other more often, like a pat on the shoulder or touching each other on the arm while he is around. Don't worry, I won't do anything that makes you uncomfortable. If anything makes you feel weird, let me know and we can stop. Is that okay?"

Adachi hesitated, but eventually nodded. "If it's with you, I think I'll be okay."

Kurosawa's smile somehow got brighter. He said kindly, "Thank you for doing this with me, Adachi. You have no idea how much this means to me. Let's try to have fun with this as well, okay? We can make the practice dates things we would want to do anyway. Think of things you've wanted to do but never made the time for and we can work that into our plans."

Adachi nodded again, not quite sure what he had just gotten himself into. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket and saw he had a text from Yamamoto that was just a string of question marks. He felt a mischievous grin grow on his face and turned his phone to show Kurosawa. As they laughed together, Adachi did actually feel like this could be a little fun.

As they left the conference room and headed back to their desks, Adachi felt Yamamoto glaring at him from across the room. His face was remarkably sour. Adachi felt a blush building up on his face and glanced back at Kurosawa who was beaming across the room, making direct eye contact with Yamamoto. He looked remarkably happy without any hint of self-consciousness. Adachi was jealous of Kurosawa's self-confidence. He tried to play his part and flashed a smile and touched Kurosawa's arm unnecessarily as they parted to go back to their respective desks. He didn't look over at Yamamoto to see his reaction, but he caught Kurosawa's eye once he was back at his desk from across the room, who gave him a cheeky wink.

Adachi tried to keep his head down and focus on his work for the rest of the day. He was mostly successful, which was good since he had a lot to get done, but he kept getting distracted. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do about his new situation. He had never dated anyone before, so he wasn't sure how to make this a convincing performance. He found himself glancing over at Kurosawa's desk more than usual, wanting to see if he was as affected by their scheme. From what he could tell, Kurosawa was doing his work with his usual attention and focus. Perhaps his soft expression seemed a little brighter than normal? Was it just Adachi who was feeling nervous about this?

Oddly, he noticed Fujisaki looking over at him more often than usual with an excited air. When he accidentally caught her eye, she gave him a friendly smile and a cheerful thumbs up. He had no idea what that was about. He gave her a little wave back and returned his attention to his computer. Did he look so nervous she thought he needed cheering up? He'd really have to work on looking a bit more cheerful at work, he was supposed to be acting like someone who just started a new relationship.

As soon as work was done, Kurosawa was by his desk, looking calm and collected with a fond look on his face. Adachi was impressed with how natural he looked given the situation. Adachi felt like there were bees in his blood. He collected his things and followed Kurosawa out of the office, casting a quick glance towards Yamamoto, who was glaring knives at the two of them. Adachi felt his blush return and hurried his pace.

Once they were outside, Kurosawa turned to Adachi and said warmly, "That was perfect! You are doing great! He definitely believes us."

Adachi ran his hand through his hair. "Are you sure," he asked anxiously. "I don't know if I'm doing enough."

Kurosawa shook his head. "We want to keep this subtle," he said, reassuringly. "The arm touch you did earlier was exactly what you needed to do. When we are in the office, we can keep focusing on work, but we can make some subtle signs when he is around. After we spend more time together outside of work, it'll come more naturally. You'll see."

Adachi bobbed his head in agreement, trusting Kurosawa to know best.

There is something to be said about a job done by a capable man. Kurosawa was not a person to do anything halfway. Adachi had not thought through the implications of his suggestion of them pretending to date, but Kurosawa seemed to have everything already figured out. He had plenty of suggestions for where they should go on 'practice dates', ideas for ways to subtly show Yamamoto that they were a couple, and was very willing to make any adjustments Adachi requested. Initially Kurosawa had wanted to have an anonymous gift of flowers sent to Adachi's work desk, but Adachi put his foot down hard on that one. His face turned tomato red at the thought of getting a romantic gift like that showing up in front of everyone. Kurosawa quickly took a step back and readjusted the plan to be for them to go out to eat lunch together whenever their schedules would let them. Adachi was much more comfortable with that plan.

By the time they had finished the delicious dinner Kurosawa prepared for them, they had a battle plan ready. They wouldn't do much different while they were working, but they would try to spend as much time with each other as possible, both in and out of work.

The next few weeks saw a lot of changes to Adachi's regular routine. It was a little overwhelming at times, but Adachi was surprised to find himself enjoying himself more than he expected.

He found himself looking forward to his lunches outside of the office alone with Kurosawa. Without having other coworkers inviting themselves to eat with them in the cafeteria, they could have more personal conversations while eating. Adachi was amazed to find out Kurosawa also read manga and in particular liked his favorite, Ranga Crimson. They had more in common than he realized. He always saw Kurosawa as an elite person, someone who enjoyed high class and stylish things. He was pleased to find out they shared similar tastes in special edition snacks and tear-jerker stories. He loaned Kurosawa a few of Tsuge's novels which he read at terrifying speeds, insisting that Adachi give him another as soon as he was done.

The 'practice dates', as Kurosawa called them, were more like well planned out hang outs. Adachi had felt a bit apprehensive at first, but once they got into it, he found it easy to relax around Kurosawa and they would always have a good time. They would go out to movies or to dinner at nearby casual places. They even went to an amusement park together. It had been forever since Adachi had gone to one and it had been a ton of fun to go on the rides. Kurosawa had taken up the role of being the designated photographer, documenting everything they did together. He said he was collecting "proof" of them dating for the sake of their scheme, but the more time they spent together, the more it felt like they were just spending time together because they wanted to. It certainly was a lot more lively than the quiet solitary life that Adachi had become used to.

Sometimes it was a little more than Adachi could take, the park would be too loud or he'd get in his own head about one anxiety or another, but Kurosawa seemed to have become adept at noticing when Adachi was getting overwhelmed and would take immediate measures to put him at ease. They would go sit somewhere quiet for a while or Kurosawa would distract him with some idle chatter and a soft smile. He had a very comforting presence that Adachi quickly learned to appreciate. All the things that Adachi used to find hard or stressful were just easier when Kurosawa was around.

Yamamoto continued to be a problem at work, fake flirting or making ridiculous statements in meetings. Granted, most of his unprofessional behavior wasn't directed at the two of them, which was a nice change. He did seem to be more than a little upset when he saw the two of them leaving for lunch together or seeing Kurosawa brushing his shoulder against Adachi's as they looked over some spreadsheets together. However, he didn't say anything about it directly to either of them, leaving them alone for the most part. Kurosawa and Adachi congratulated themselves on implementing a well-formed scheme.

It took a few weeks before Adachi had the misfortune to be assigned the task of picking up some pastries for a sales meeting and Yamamoto was asked to pick up some supplies in the same area. It would be the first time since their sales trip together where they would be alone together.

Once he realized that, Adachi looked over at Kurosawa across the room, who gave him a concerned look. He picked up his phone and sent Adachi a quick message, asking if he was going to be okay. Adachi tapped out a quick reply, saying he could handle it.

They headed out of the office, in the direction of their respective tasks. Yamamoto seemed to be biting the inside of his cheek rather than engaging in conversation with Adachi for most of the trip, which Adachi was perfectly happy about. By the time they had gotten off the train and were walking down the street, Adachi had hoped it would be an entirely quiet trip.

Which, of course, was spoiled by Yamamoto saying, "You must be pretty pleased with yourself."

Adachi sighed, he knew this had to come up eventually. "Yes, I am. Everything is great, thanks for asking."

"You have the hottest guy in the office as your boyfriend. And you aren't even into men. That's pretty impressive."

"Hm," replied Adachi succinctly.

Yamamoto sighed in annoyance. "Even after your insistence that I was lying about Kurosawa's feelings about you, you still went ahead and just nabbed him as soon as we got back to the office."

"Yeah, turns out you were right and we are dating now," Adachi lied. He was impressed with how natural it came to him. He was usually so nervous about lying, but considering Yamamoto's personality, he didn't care if he was telling the truth or not.

Yamamoto gave him a discerning look. "I'm still not convinced."

Adachi stopped walking and turned to him. "What the hell do you mean? We are dating, leave it alone. It's none of your concern."

Yamamoto smiled ruefully. "Is it not?" He asked. "You wouldn't have gotten together if I hadn't let you know about Kurosawa's feelings for you. You'd still be ignorant. Granted, I had assumed you were completely straight and wouldn't be into him. That was my bad. I misread you. You are full of surprises, Adachi. I'm serious, if you ever need to blow off steam…"

"Enough, we are still on the clock," Adachi interrupted. "Let's just focus on getting our tasks done correctly, okay?"

"Ugh!" Yamamoto exclaimed embarrassingly loudly, drawing the attention of other people on the street. "Do you know how frustrating you are? Everytime I try to talk to you, you shut me down or ignore me. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?"

Adachi blushed, realizing that more people on the street were looking over at them. However, he didn't want Yamamoto to know how off balance he felt. "I'm not the frustrating one. I just want to go to work and do my job. You are the one making unprofessional or personal comments all the time. We aren't close enough for you to be asking me about my personal life. Whatever either I or Kurosawa do isn't any of your concern."

Yamamoto huffed at him. "You know exactly why I care what the two of you do. I am in love with Kurosawa and you stole him!"

Adachi stammered in response, "I didn't steal anything. He can do whatever he likes. If he wants to be with me instead of with you, then you would do best by respecting his decision."

Yamamoto gave him a steely glare. "I seriously underestimated you, Adachi." He sighed and ran his hand through his hair in frustration. Out of nowhere, he made another loud noise of annoyance and kicked at the air. Adachi shrunk back at his sudden actions.

Once Yamamoto appeared to have gotten that out of his system, he started walking in the direction of their tasks without looking back at Adachi. Adachi followed him slowly, allowing plenty of distance to build up between them. People were still staring at them on the street, which made Adachi more self-conscious than usual. He kept his eyes on the ground, trying to ignore their gaze.

To try and distract himself, he pulled out his phone and started texting Tsuge.

Adachi: This guy is bugging me again. Ever since Kurosawa and I started fake dating, he has been leaving me alone, but now he is getting even scarier. I just want things to go back to the way they were before he joined the company. I hate office drama.

He put his phone away. He already felt a little better after venting to his friend. Tsuge was probably in the middle of work and wouldn’t get back to him anytime soon.

He picked up his pace and headed over to the pastry shop. Yamamoto was already inside. He pointedly ignored Adachi when he walked into the building, hanging back to allow Adachi to pick out and pay for all the treats. As soon as Adachi got all the boxes, he immediately walked out of the room and Adachi followed him to the next stop, still keeping his distance. The atmosphere was tense, but as long as Adachi didn’t have to talk to him, he didn’t mind.

Yamamoto’s attitude immediately switched as soon as they got to the supply store, smiling widely at the clerk and cheerfully creating the order. Adachi was still a bit creeped out by how easily Yamamoto could switch his personality depending on who he was talking to. The order took awhile to prepare and Adachi hung back, waiting for Yamamoto to finish up. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket and he fished it out. Tsuge had gotten back to him faster than he anticipated.

Tsuge: It’s not all bad. It’s because of him that you and Kurosawa were able to become friends. At least be grateful for that.

Adachi was considering how to reply when he felt movement behind his shoulder. Without him realizing, Yamamoto had moved quietly behind him and was looking at his phone over his shoulder at his phone screen, with the entire conversation history in view. Adachi quickly turned off the screen and shoved his phone back in his pocket but from Yamamoto’s growing predatory smile, it would seem the damage was already done.

“Well well,” said Yamamoto, with the scent of smugness dripping off of him. “Looks like the surprises never end with you. I was curious to see what kind of lovey dovey texts Kurosawa would send his boyfriend, but it looks like even you wouldn’t know, huh? The two of you are fake dating? That’s pretty rich.”

Adachi sputtered, unable to form a coherent response. Yamamoto looked down at him, like a tiger who just caught a rabbit in his claws.

“What’s that? No self-righteous statements? Nothing morally superior to say?” jeered Yamamoto. “You really think you are that much better than me now?”

Adachi could feel the color rapidly filling up his cheeks. He stared down at the floor and stuttered out, “W-we aren’t doing anything wrong. We just wanted to be l-left alone. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Yamamoto sneered at him. “How dare you. I told you how Kurosawa felt about you, and the first thing you do is take advantage of him? You are just using him, admit it. You don’t actually care about him, you just want things to be easy for you. He always makes things easy for you, doesn’t he? How pathetic you are.”

Adachi shook his head vigorously. “I’m not using him. You don’t know what you are talking about. He doesn’t like me like that. You are making all of this up for some weird selfish reason.”

Yamamoto’s eyes went dark with rage. “You sad pathetic little mess. Did you even ask him? Did Kurosawa tell you he wasn’t in love with you? Or did he just say whatever would make you feel the most at ease?” Yamamoto huffed in frustration. “I honestly thought you were a good person, Adachi, or at least that you were trying to be. But this is low. This is awful. You are making someone who wants you pretend to be close to you but you are still keeping him at a distance. Do you have any idea how difficult this must be for him? And this was all for what? So you could avoid a little office drama?”

Adachi could feel his jaw moving, but he wasn’t saying anything. He thought back to when he talked to Kurosawa after the sales trip. He never denied any of Yamamoto’s claims. If anything he confirmed all of them. He never said that he didn’t like Adachi. He only asked him how Adachi wanted to act around him in the future. It hadn’t occurred to Adachi at the time, but Kurosawa had been considerate of Adachi’s feelings.

Adachi felt a spike of shame shot down his spine. The possibility that Yamamoto was telling the truth had never been a real consideration to him before. But if he was right, then Adachi was truly…

“Pathetic,” Adachi finally managed to whimper out. “I’m truly pathetic.”

Yamamoto seemed taken aback for a second, but then his eyes shone with victory. “You finally realize it then. That I was telling the truth the whole time?”

Adachi couldn’t respond to him. Yamamoto had been right all along. Kurosawa was in love with him. Popular handsome Kurosawa who was nice to everyone and was willing to help anyone. Adachi had envied him for all of his talents and success, but had been so happy to make friends with him. His food had been delicious. His manner had been so comforting and refreshing. His company had been so enjoyable. Kurosawa had been trying so hard to make Adachi feel comfortable with him. Adachi has misinterpreted all of his intentions and had blatantly ignored his feelings, even after being informed of them. He had used Kurosawa to avoid Yamamoto. He was, without question, a terrible person.

He felt like there was a lump in his throat. His vision started to go blurry and his head felt light. The lights in the room were too bright and he could feel his breath painfully rattle in his chest. He couldn’t stay in that room anymore.

He pushed past Yamamoto and rushed out the door into the fresh air. The air had been cool on the trip over, but now he felt hot and stifled, even in the open air. He gasped, trying to suck in air, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t draw a proper breath. He felt like he was drowning.

Adachi had experienced panic attacks before. His anxiety had always caused problems for him, but it had been years since he had an attack this bad. He dropped the boxes he was carrying and leaned up against a tree. He tried to remember his breathing exercises. Count in, 1, 2, 3, 4, Count out, 1, 2, 3, 4. It seemed to take forever before he felt like he could breathe again without forcing it. He was drenched in sweat and his chest and head hurt. Once he had calmed down a bit, he became aware of his surroundings again. The boxes were strewn about on the sidewalk. He appeared to have stepped on one of them in his haste. Cream and fruit filling were spilling out of the crumpled cardboard. It was a mess.

Yamamoto was outside now, carrying the supply bags. He appeared to be watching Adachi with a satisfied smug air. It made Adachi’s stomach twist in hatred to see him get so much enjoyment from his situation, but he couldn’t muster up the energy to tell him off. Yamamoto had been right afterall. All of this was on Adachi.

“You finished yet? We need to get back to the office. Though, I don’t think they are going to like what you did to the pastries,” said Yamamoto cooly.

Adachi felt his throat tighten, but didn’t respond. He looked down at the mess he made.

“You better fix this up, we have to head back now,” Yamamoto said.

Adachi nodded meekly in response, picking up the box and throwing it out. He picked up the other boxes. He started heading back to the pastry shop, Yamamoto smiling his cruel smile down at him.

“You should probably pay out of pocket for the replacements,” suggested Yamamoto in a teasing tone. “Afterall, it was all your fault.”

Adachi didn’t look back up at him, but nodded again. He got the replacements and paid for it with his own money. It was more than he usually budgeted for a day, but it had to be done. He couldn’t expect for the company to cover for his mistake. He’d just have to eat instant noodles for dinner a few more days of the week instead of his usual convenience store food.

They made it back to the office and Adachi dropped off the pastries in the meeting room before heading to the bathroom. Yamamoto called out to him as he hurried off, but Adachi blew him off.

He closed himself off in the stall and felt himself come apart again. He was a bad person. He had taken advantage of someone who liked him. He felt the tears well up in his eyes and failed to catch himself from sobbing out loud. He felt his body quaking but couldn’t stop it. He let himself go for a bit. Once he felt like he was coming back to himself, he opened up the stall and went to clean off his face.

Kurosawa was standing there by the sinks, apparently waiting for Adachi. He saw the tear stains on Adachi’s face and the state of his sleeves, which Adachi now realized were covered in the jelly and icing from the crumpled box. Adachi felt like a true disaster at that moment.

“Adachi, what on earth happened? What did he do?” demanded Kurosawa. His expression was so full of concern, Adachi could hardly look at him. Adachi moved around him and went to the sink to clean his face and sleeves.

“He didn’t do anything. This was all my mistake,” said Adachi, not looking at Kurosawa.

Kurosawa came up behind his shoulder. “Adachi, what is wrong? What did he say?”

Adachi shook his head. “He didn’t say anything new. I just realized, I mean, I finally understand. I get it now, I made a mistake. I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” Adachi moved past Kurosawa again, opening up the door to the bathroom.

Kurosawa grabbed onto his arm, holding him back from leaving. “What do you mean? What are you saying? Why are you so upset? How can I help?”

“You’ve helped enough!” Adachi exclaimed angrily. He immediately regretted it, but he couldn’t take it back. The painful expression on Kurosawa’s face almost made Adachi cry again. “I need to get back to my desk,” Adachi muttered, trying to get away as quickly as possible.

Kurosawa didn’t try to stop him again. Adachi got back to his desk, pulled up a spreadsheet, and pretended to look at it while his head raced. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He looked down and saw a message from Kurosawa.

Kurosawa: Let’s talk after work. Meet me by the corporate park outside.

Adachi’s breath caught. He couldn’t avoid this conversation forever. At least this would give him a few hours to prepare his thoughts. He looked over at Kurosawa’s desk and saw him sitting there, staring at him with a concerned expression. He nodded at him, holding up his phone to show his agreement to meet. Kurosawa seemed to understand and turned his attention back to his work.

Adachi tried to focus his thoughts, but the more he tried to think about his current situation, the more his head spun. Before he knew it, it was the end of the day and it was time for him to meet with Kurosawa. As he got up from his desk, Fujisaki walked past him, muttering something that sounded like “Fighting!”, but maybe that was just Adachi’s imagination.

Kurosawa was already waiting for him when he arrived, looking more nervous than Adachi was used to seeing him. He was sitting on a bench, his leg nervously jittering and his head in his hands. When he heard Adachi approach, he quickly rose to his feet and approached him.

“Adachi, what the hell happened today? Why are you so upset? Please, tell me what’s wrong,” Kurosawa said, concerned. His eyes were full of worry, but there was a softness to them that Adachi finally recognized. It made his stomach twist with guilt.

“Kurosawa,” Adachi asked in a hollow sounding voice. “Are you in love with me?”

Adachi had spent the past few hours trying to figure out what he should say to Kurosawa. Anyway he thought about it, he realized he needed to know for sure if Yamamoto was right about Kurosawa’s feelings. Everything would depend on that.

Kurosawa’s eyes widened. He gasped out a breath and shifted his weight on his feet. Then he steadied himself, looked Adachi directly in the eye and said, “Yes.”

Adachi let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He didn’t know what to say next. His emotions were a mess. He could hear his blood rushing through his ears. He had always imagined what it would be like if someone ever confessed to him. He had imagined that he would feel a thrill of exhilaration. However, whatever feeling was twisting around in his stomach, it felt much more like guilt.

Kurosawa saw his hesitation and he took a step forward. “Adachi, are you okay? You don’t look well. Do you want to sit down?”

Adachi didn’t respond. He lowered his gaze down to the ground. He pursed his lips.

Kurosawa said softly, “I’m sorry, Adachi. Are my feelings disgusting to you? I never expected anything from you, I just wanted to get closer to you. I never wanted to burden you with how I felt. I have felt this way for some time. I always tried to keep my distance so you would never feel uncomfortable, but when you offered me the chance to date you, even if it was for pretend, I couldn’t resist. I just wanted to know what it would be like, even if it was just for a little while. What it would be like to date you.” Kurosawa let out a shuddering breath. “I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be so weak. It wasn’t fair to you.”

That finally broke Adachi out of his stupor. “No, that’s not it. You did nothing wrong, it was me!”

Kurosawa looked down at him, his face full of surprise.

Adachi continued, “He told me, he said you had feelings for me. And I didn’t believe him. I didn’t even ask you, not really. I didn’t even try to know your true feelings. When I suggested that we pretend to date, I had thought you felt the same way as me. Instead I was taking advantage of you just so I could avoid that jerk. It must have been painful for you, I can’t imagine. I forced you into that situation, I hurt you!”

Kurosawa listened to him patiently. A wave of painful understanding crossed his expression. “The same way you felt? Yes, I knew that you didn’t feel the same way as me. After all, Adachi is a person who likes nice, pure women, correct? I’ve known that from the beginning. I used your misunderstanding of the situation to my advantage as well.”

“It was my idea,” Adachi insisted. “I should have tried to understand you first, instead I put you in a painful position. I’m not blaming you for anything.”

“But you should,” said Kurosawa sadly. “If anyone got more out of this arrangement, it was me.”

Adachi marveled at him. Why was Kurosawa so set on taking the blame?

“Kurosawa,” Adachi said slowly. “Are you trying to take the blame so I won’t feel so bad?”

Kurosawa stared down at him, not saying anything.

Adachi let out a mirthless laugh. “Even in this situation, you are trying to make this easy for me. Incredible.”

Kurosawa continued to stay silent.

“You don’t owe me anything,” said Adachi. “You know that right? Someone told me how you felt about me and I ignored it and then I made an inconsiderate suggestion. Are you telling me that while we were going on pretend dates, you weren’t wishing that I would feel the same way as you? Didn’t pretending to be close to me hurt you?”

Kurosawa’s eyes started to water, but he remained quiet.

“You can’t care more about my feelings than your own,” Adachi said. “It’s not fair to yourself.”

A few tears fell from Kurosawa’s eyes. “If you keep worrying about me, I’m going to misunderstand,” Kurosawa finally said in a strained voice.

Adachi didn’t respond. His feelings were a mess inside of him. He tried to organize his thoughts, but nothing seemed to make sense anymore.

“Kurosawa,” Adachi finally said. “I don’t want you to be in pain any more. Do you understand?”

Kurosawa gave him a sad smile and nodded. “Yes, I understand. Tomorrow, everything will be back to normal.”

He gave Adachi a short bow and started to walk away, leaving Adachi alone in the park. Adachi watched his back as he left, getting smaller and smaller. He felt a sudden urge to call out to him and stop him from leaving, but he knew he couldn’t do that. He turned back and started walking in the direction of his house.

When he got home, he showered and changed into his sleeping clothes. He flopped on his bed and stared up at his ceiling. The events of the day swirled in his head. His feelings welled up in his throat and he choked back a sob. He covered his mouth with his hand, trying to physically suppress his feelings. He didn’t deserve to be sad. He didn’t deserve to feel sorry for himself. He had been willfully ignorant and these were the consequences of his actions.

It took a long time, but he finally drifted off to sleep. He woke up with his pillow wet. He tried not to think about how long it had been since he had last cried in his sleep. He was pretty sure it had been right after his father had passed away and he had spent the days trying to put on a brave face for his mother, only allowing himself to feel his feelings at night, alone in his bed.

He didn’t have time to think about why he was so sad. He had to get to work.

As soon as he got to work, he wanted to leave. Yamamoto was looking over at him with the most annoyingly smug expression. He immediately noticed Adachi’s foul mood and looked delighted about it. He even stopped by Adachi’s desk a few times in the morning just to cheerfully ask him how he was doing today, in a voice that carried across the office, forcing Adachi to acknowledge him. Adachi wasn’t sure he had ever disliked a person more in his life.

Adachi forced himself not to look over at Kurosawa’s desk. He didn’t think he could handle it.

Urabe seemed to notice Adachi wasn’t feeling his best and gave him plenty of space. Around midmorning he placed an energy drink on Adachi's desk without saying anything. Adachi wanted to appreciate the kind gesture but didn’t think he deserved any kindness at the moment.

Around 2 he had a meeting that would have both Kurosawa and Yamamoto in it. He approached his boss before the meeting and asked if he could skip this week so he could focus on his other work.

“We all have things we’d rather be doing, Adachi,” said his boss. “And yet somehow, we still expected to go to meetings. Besides, we are going to be talking about the analysis you did last week on Mitsubi Corp. You need to be there in case there are questions about the data.”

It was a very predictable answer, but Adachi felt like he had to try regardless.

He gathered up the documents he prepared last week, feeling a certain pang when he remembered it was Kurosawa who had helped him with this task. They were trying to look especially close since Yamamoto was in the same room. They had leaned in especially close, close enough so that Adachi could smell Kurosawa's cologne. It smelled nice. He had meant to ask Kurosawa what scent he used, but he had never gotten around to it. Now he’d likely never have the opportunity to have a casual conversation with him again.

When he arrived in the conference room, his eyes immediately were drawn to Kurosawa and Yamamoto. Kurosawa looked pale and drawn, with large bags under his eyes. He clearly had slept just as poorly as Adachi. He was looking down at the table, shuffling through the documents in front of him. Adachi almost greeted him out of habit, but forcibly restrained himself. Yamamoto was sitting next to Kurosawa with a self-pleased expression. He saw Adachi walk in and gave him a wink. Adachi felt bile raise up in the back of his throat.

Yamamoto must have noticed Adachi’s reaction because he smiled at him as he sat, then pulled in far closer to Kurosawa than could be considered appropriate and started talking softly into his ear. Kurosawa’s expression didn’t change, but Adachi noticed he had goosebumps growing on his wrist and hands. Adachi felt a wave of nausea grow within him, realizing that now that Yamamoto knew they weren’t actually dating, he wasn’t going to hold back on any of his inappropriate workplace behavior. He wanted to scream when he saw Yamamoto causally reach out and touch Kurosawa’s arm. He expected Kurosawa to shrug him off, but instead he just seemed to accept it without reacting. Adachi glared at Yamamoto, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything. It wasn’t his place, after all. He had lost that privilege when he had taken advantage of Kurosawa in his own way. It didn’t matter if Kurosawa had agreed to go along with the fake dating scheme, Adachi was at fault for ignoring his feelings and trying to use Kurosawa for his own purposes.

The meeting started as normal. One of the sales managers scrolled through the slides and droned on about sales metrics. They finally got to the material that Adachi was responsible for and Adachi tried to pull his attention away from the two of them so he could focus.

“Are we sure this data is correct,” asked Yamamoto, sounding innocent and curious. “These numbers look a little unusual to me.”

Adachi couldn’t control himself and he snapped back, “Of course they are correct.” He felt the gaze of everyone else at the meeting move to him. He had never sounded like that in a meeting before, so he likely looked very foolish in front of everyone. He saw Kurosawa had finally lifted his eyes and was looking at him too, but Adachi pointedly tried to avoid his gaze.

“Ah, okay,” said the presenting sales manager. “Obviously if Yamamoto is going to claim there’s a problem with the numbers, he must have a reason. What evidence do you have that these numbers are off?”

Yamamoto leaned back in his chair, “I just remember what my previous company's sales numbers looked like with Mitsubi Corp. They had a completely different profile. We had some really excellent sales analysts at my old company. I still have a couple of their numbers. I could pull some favors and see about having them do an independent analysis. You know, just to be sure. Adachi doesn’t always do the best work, remember back when I first started, we had that comparison between the napkin company and…”

“Adachi’s work has always been excellent,” said Kurosawa, cutting him off. “I trust his work.”

Yamamoto looked over at Kurosawa in surprise. An expression of fake concern twisted his face as he replied, “Are you so sure about that, Kurosawa? From what I understand, you have been getting the worst from Adachi for some time now, you don’t have to cover for him anymore. Go ahead, let the sales managers know about all the bad data he has been passing you for the past few weeks. It’s time they knew how bad it’s really been.”

Adachi squinted in confusion. “What are you…” he started to say, then it hit him. Yamamoto was trying to get him fired with false allegations of incompetence. He was going to get him replaced and he wouldn’t be a threat to him anymore. If that happened, Kurosawa would never have to worry about Adachi making him uncomfortable in the office. Adachi wanted to stand up for himself, but considering what just happened with Kurosawa, perhaps it would be better if he just…

“Enough, Yamamoto. Adachi is a great worker. He has never made any mistakes like that. Even just a few weeks ago you were calling him our best analyst, get your story straight. I've never complained about him. He has always done his best for me.” Kurosawa spoke in a low but determined voice. Adachi marvelled at Kurosawa. Even after everything they said yesterday, Kurosawa was still standing up for Adachi. Adachi felt touched, even though he knew he didn’t deserve any kindness from Kurosawa.

“I’m not lying, you were just telling me the other day about how Adachi had messed up with the sales metrics…”

“ENOUGH,” bellowed Kurosawa. “I’ve had enough, just drop it. Don’t you have your own problems to worry about?”

Yamamoto glanced around the room, realizing he was losing ground quickly. The sales managers were frowning at the two of them, clearly displeased with the disruption. Yamamoto cleared his throat and turned back to Kurosawa with a determined look.

“Hey, no need to lash out at me. I’m just trying to look out for you, you know, being a good teammate,” insisted Yamamoto. His smile twisted into something predatory. “Kurosawa, I know you are going through a hard time. Falling in love with a coworker and then having to work with them after you just fell out is more strain than a person can take. Trust me, I know how that feels…”

“You goddamn hypocrite, are you seriously going to act like that, after what happened to you at your last job?” growled Adachi. “Shut up, Yamamoto. You don’t know what you are talking about, mind your own damn business.”

An icy silence settled over the meeting room. Perhaps the most surprising thing that happened to Adachi today was that Yamamoto actually seemed to look a bit guilty and was staring down at the conference table with a shameful expression. Kurosawa was looking over at Adachi with an intense look. Adachi had trouble meeting his gaze, but he was determined to look back.

“Well, I have no idea what’s going on here,” said the sales manager, cutting through silence in the conference room. “But clearly the three of you have some personal business you need to sort out. Let’s try to keep things professional, shall we? Yamamoto, do you have any actual proof that Adachi has been giving us bad data?”

Yamamoto didn’t look up from the conference table or answer him.

“Okay, I’m going to take that as a ‘No’. Kurosawa, do you have any proof that Yamamoto has been lying or spreading false rumors,” asked the sales manager.

“Yes,” said Kurosawa. “I’ve been keeping a list with dates and data to back it up. I haven’t wanted it to come to this, but I think it’s clear that the problem is only going to get worse if it isn’t addressed.”

Yamamoto looked up at Kurosawa with a hurt expression, but still didn’t say anything. Adachi pursed his lips but remained quiet. He had helped Kurosawa with the data portion of the list, but they had only agreed to use this method to attack Yamamoto if he became truly incorrigible. If Kurosawa was choosing to use the list, it meant that he was at his limits.

“Okay, it sounds like this is an issue we will have to relate to HR," said the sales manager. "We’ll break here for today and we can catch up next week. Kurosawa forward that information to me and I’ll get it to the right people. Adachi, Kurosawa, and Yamamoto, head home for today. We don’t need any more disturbances at work. We’ll reach out to let you know when you can return. That’s it for today.”

Everyone in the meeting filed out the door. Adachi headed back to his desk and packed up his backpack. Urabe gave him a curious expression, but Adachi shook his head, nonverbally letting him know he didn’t want to talk about it. He saw Kurosawa and Yamamoto also heading to the exit. They all stood in front of the elevators together, silently waiting for the doors to open.

“You didn’t have to prepare a list of all the things I did wrong. That was low of you,” said Yamamoto quietly to Kurosawa.

Adachi tutted his tongue loudly. “You didn’t have to sexually harass Kurosawa until he was forced to use it,” he hissed.

Yamamoto spun his head over to glare at Adachi. “You are the last person I want to hear self-righteous statements from.” He turned back to Kurosawa. "We could have worked things out between us. If you had just given me a chance…" he said in a pleading voice.

The elevator doors opened, and Kurosawa walked into the elevator. The other two followed him inside. They were silent as the doors closed.

“If it hadn’t been the lies,” said Kurosawa in a low, even voice, “then it would have been the sexual harassment. If it hadn’t been the sexual harassment, than your poor work ethic would have been the problem. There wasn’t any chance that I would have ever fallen for you. You are everything that I despise.” He turned to look Yamamoto in the eyes. “Leave me and Adachi alone. We aren’t any of your concern anymore.”

Yamamoto opened his mouth to argue, but the elevator doors opened and Kurosawa was already walking out. Adachi followed him, leaving Yamamoto gaping in the elevator.

They walked outside together, feeling the sun on their faces and the light breeze drifting past them.

“I’ve never been suspended from work before,” said Adachi lightly. “I’m not sure what to do with myself now.”

Kurosawa turned to him, surprised that Adachi was talking to him. “I never have either. Obviously I wanted to avoid having to use the data we compiled together about Yamamoto, but I think you have to agree…”

“You did the right thing,” interrupted Adachi. “I saw how you reacted when he started harassing you again. The goosebumps on your hands. I wanted to reach across the table and slap him, but that would’ve just caused more trouble.”

“Adachi, I have to thank you.”

Adachi whipped his head around. “Why, I haven’t done anything worth thanking me for.”

“You stood up to Yamamoto in the meeting. You called him out on his behavior. It was because of you that I was finally able to say something about the list we made to the managers. If you hadn’t been there, I don’t think I could have done that,” said Kurosawa.

Adachi felt his cheeks redden. “You stood up for me first," he said softly.

Kurosawa shook his head. "It's easy for me to stand up for you. If it's happening to somebody else, it isn't so hard. It was hard for me to admit that I wanted him gone because of what he was doing to me. All the inappropriate comments, all the emotional manipulation, everything he was doing, I thought I could handle it. But, in the end, I needed you to help me find the strength to do something. So, thank you."

Adachi felt his blush grow. "I was touched when you stood up for me. Even after everything we said last night, you still defended me. I thought for a second that it would be better for you if I were gone. Then you wouldn't have to feel awkward around me.”

Kurosawa’s expression turned serious. “I would never want you to leave like that. I wouldn’t stop you if you ever wanted to leave for your own reasons, but trust me when I say, I will always be on your side. No matter what happens.”

Adachi felt the strange tingle in his stomach again. He was starting to think he knew what that feeling meant, but didn’t know how to put it into words yet.

Kurosawa stopped on the curb and said, “Adachi.”

Adachi also stopped and looked back at him. “Yes?”

Kurosawa’s eyes were bloodshot and he looked drawn and pale, likely from not sleeping well the night before. However, he still looked wonderful to Adachi. Adachi wondered when he had started to think of Kurosawa as attractive. It’s likely he always thought that way, but just hadn’t understood what that meant. However, after fighting with Kurosawa the night before, he realized that it wasn’t just his friendship that Adachi had missed. It was also the small affections they had shared together. At times they had touched each other on the arm or leaned in close even when they weren’t trying to put on a show. They had just done it because it had felt nice. It felt natural. Adachi felt a calm emotion spread through his body as Kurosawa approached him.

“Would you like to date me?” asked Kurosawa. “Not just for show, but so the two of us can continue to enjoy each other’s company? I liked everything we did together. I would like to keep doing things like that with you.”

Adachi looked up at him with a doe-eyed expression. “Kurosawa, are you sure that is what you want? I was selfish before. I didn’t know how I was affecting you. I don’t want you to feel pain because of me.”

Kurosawa laughed softly. “If it's you, I can handle anything. I just want to be near you. I want to have you by my side. Whatever you are willing to give me, I will take. I shouldn’t have let you misunderstand my feelings before, but I want to do the right thing now. I like you, Adachi. I don’t want to be just co-workers or friends. I want you”

Adachi felt a thrill of jubilation shoot through him hearing Kurosawa’s confession. It was the bright delightful feeling he had always imagined. “Yes,” said Adachi. “If you will have me, I will try my best.”

Kurosawa coughed out a sigh of happiness and quickly closed the distance between them, pulling Adachi into a warm hug. Adachi stiffened at first self-consciously. He looked around the street to see if anyone was looking at them, but the street was clear of passersby in the middle of the work day afternoon. He relaxed into the hug, lifting up his arms and wrapping them around Kurosawa’s back. He felt a bright warm feeling growing in his chest and smiled into Kurosawa’s shoulder.

He could finally admit it to himself, he had fallen for Kurosawa as well.

It took a week before Adachi and Kurosawa were called back into work. They used the time off to their advantage, exploring their new found intimacy. Spending long, lazy days in each other's company, sharing new experiences, and getting to know each other better. Adachi had expected to feel more nervous, being in his first relationship. However, after going through the practice dating they did before, every day with Kurosawa felt natural and calm.

Once they got back to work, they learned that Yamamoto had been transferred. His replacement was a young man who had put in for a transfer months ago, but had to wait for an opening to become available. His name was Rokkaku Yuuta. He was an energetic young salesman who immediately took to Kurosawa. Kurosawa happily took him under his wing, frequently praising him for his hard work and dedication. At first Adachi didn't know what to make of his boundless energy, but eventually he realized how good of a person Rokkaku was and they became friends.

Adachi's 30th birthday was coming up. Kurosawa said he had a big surprise planned for him, but he refused to give Adachi any hints or clues about what he was planning. It did sound like it would involve an overnight trip. The plan was to leave the day before his birthday and then spend the day somewhere Kurosawa had picked out. Adachi didn't mind where it was, but he did feel a little nervous about staying overnight with his new boyfriend.

Now that they had been together for a bit, Adachi felt his attraction to Kurosawa changing into something more. He would linger closer to Kurosawa when they sat together on the couch. He would resist letting go of Kurosawa's hand when they went on walks together. He would find himself making more and more excuses to touch Kurosawa, casually or otherwise. Kurosawa seemed to notice the change in Adachi, but never pushed him. He always let Adachi pick the pace. He was so considerate to Adachi, and Adachi loved him all the more for it.

After taking his feelings into consideration, Adachi realized it was time to move forward. This was something he wanted and he knew Kurosawa wanted it too. Adachi would ensure that he didn't enter his 30's as a virgin.