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Matsukawa Issei’s laughter resonates even through the radio as the radio jockey’s question lingers, unanswered.

“Who would I least like to work with…?” Matsukawa repeats. He hums thoughtfully. “Ah, maybe… Hanamaki Takahiro-senpai?”

Hanamaki blinks, his car’s tires screeching as he abruptly turns into an empty parking space.

“Yeah,” Matsukawa says, affirmation. “I think Hanamaki-senpai. He’s not very impressive. Definitely not—”

The radio clicks off and Hanamaki stares out the front window, contemplative, as he tugs his keys out of the ignition.

He’d like to think he’s a mellow person without much reason to act otherwise and he really doesn’t want to admit he has a shit list but—but.

There are exceptions to everything these days and Hanamaki thinks idly that Matsukawa Issei’s definitely just earned a spot on it.

“Alright,” Hanamaki says to absolutely no one in particular. “Alright.”

The silence in the car is almost stifling as he sinks in his seat, closing his eyes, and folding his hands atop his stomach.

“Matsukawa Issei,” he says aloud, letting the name sit in the air like a toxin, maybe. Eyes still closed, Hanamaki lifts a hand to point a finger in the air, swooping it in the kanji for Matsukawa’s name. He finishes with his signature.

He drops his hand again.

“Newly inducted to this year’s shit list of cocky rookies. We welcome you, we welcome you.” Hanamaki claps once. “Congratulations.”

#

Chill could be defined as a lot of things, if Hanamaki thinks about it. He considers chill to be a relatively broad term, an umbrella concept basically denoting a person whose mellow knows no ends—who is as cool as a cucumber (wherever the fuck that phrase came from and ignoring the possibility of lukewarm cucumbers, he supposes). Most importantly, he considers himself to be the poster child of chill, transcending all cucumbers everywhere because seriously, really, genuinely.

Hanamaki is a chill guy.

He’s the furthest thing from spiteful, the complete opposite of hateful without warrant, and, though he hates to toot his own horn, he’s a pretty fundamentally good person.

“You’re making it seem like the end of the world,” Iwaizumi sighs out, rudely interrupting Hanamaki’s humble mental tirade, arms crossed against his chest as he looks at Hanamaki, scrutinizing. There is exasperation written into every premature wrinkle on his face. “You hate the guy or what?”

He’s the furthest thing from mean and to be accused of hating someone he’s never met in person or had the pleasure of speaking to is a challenge to his pride, is genuinely uncalled for, and—

Hanamaki grumbles.

“Well?” Iwaizumi asks.

Hanamaki is confirmed cool and to be accused of hating someone he’s never met in person before is… is…

“I don’t hate him,” Hanamaki announces finally, waving his hand flippantly as he closes his eyes for a few seconds. “I just think he’s kind of overrated and not worth the hype, I mean—seriously? Have you seen his damn eyebrows?”

“’I don’t hate him,’” Iwaizumi mocks obnoxiously.

It’s the undeniable truth, Hanamaki admits to himself. He, the representative, textbook definition of cool, calm, and collected is starting to thaw from the inside out from the flames of pure hatred, born from hellfire itself, re: Why The Fuck Does Everyone Care About You When You Look Half-Awake?

(ABRIDGED: Fuck Matsukawa Issei)

“I don’t hate him,” says Hanamaki, though he can tell Iwaizumi is already staring into the depths of his soul, wading through the abysmal amount of pent-up aggravation Hanamaki has from seeing Matsukawa’s name, literally, everywhere these days (from the tabloids to his god damn dreams) (—not his dreams) (no dreams).

“Dreams, huh,” Iwaizumi murmurs idly, and Hanamaki wonders when his brain-to-mouth filter will start working the way it should be.

“Nightmares,” Hanamaki corrects.

“I don’t really want to know.”

“Hey, you know—you should take a vacation these days. Somewhere far, far away from me.”

Iwaizumi only stares, ignoring Hanamaki with ease. “So you don’t hate him?”

“I don’t,” Hanamaki repeats.

“Then it’s no problem.” Iwaizumi is in manager mode and this is the first indicative sign of Hanamaki’s impending defeat. He does not usually lose to Iwaizumi, who is as competent as managers get but unfortunately weak with regard to the verbal battlefield, but he’s been under Iwaizumi’s care ever since he made his debut in the voice acting world and these signs—they’re as undeniable as Miyano Mamoru’s babe status (presumably).

He sits down across from Hanamaki at the dining room table. Primly, Iwaizumi folds his hands atop the surface, nudging forward an unholy stack of papers with his elbow.

“Then it’s no problem,” Iwaizumi repeats, and he moves on to engaging Hanamaki in the second indicative sign of Hanamaki’s impeding defeat: a daring staring contest that’s unfair by all means because contacts make it a little too hard for Hanamaki to keep his eyes open for extended, unblinking periods of time (and this isn’t an excuse, fuck excuses and fuck Iwaizumi too). “Right?”

Hanamaki sighs. Loudly. Obnoxiously.

“Can’t believe I have to find a new manager,” he announces. “One that isn’t mean and doesn’t have arms as big as my head.”

“Kinda specific requirements, don’t you think?” Iwaizumi snorts. He steels his expression again, looks expectant.

“Fine,” Hanamaki grumbles without much further protest, petulantly accepting the stack of papers, the script that Iwaizumi pushes forward again. “I’ll look through it.”

“Great,” Iwaizumi grits out with a faint smile, exhaustion peeking through his words from the adrenaline of barely winning a mental and psychological battle against Hanamaki. “It won’t be too bad. I heard Matsukawa isn’t that bad—”

“Don’t say that name in this holy place,” Hanamaki says in warning. He gestures about the state of his apartment. “My abode is pure and I don’t need his name tainting that.”

Iwaizumi rolls his eyes. “You’ve never even met him.”

Hanamaki shrugs.

“You’ve never even talked to him.”

“He’s overrated,” Hanamaki says, by way of explanation. “As a true artiste, I can’t stand to have rookies riding the coattails of irrelevant things.”

“Like his face, maybe,” Iwaizumi murmurs distantly, sagely. “I can almost recall another burgeoning voice actor whose popularity soared when the world found out what he looked like.”

“I’m sure that voice actor is also very talented and probably also two seconds away from firing his manager.”

“Yeah, he’s a real artiste,” Iwaizumi snorts out with exaggerated air quotes that Hanamaki spites with every fiber of his being.

“One second away.”

“Stop being a baby.” Iwaizumi grabs his jacket from the back of his chair without batting an eye, “Matsukawa’s probably a good guy and you’re just being an idiot because you think he’s going to be better than you. Realistic concern, but also fat chance because there’s a long queue of people wanting to work with you and if that isn’t a testament to your talent, I’m not sure what is.”

Hanamaki falls silent, hand hovering over his chest. “Iwaizumi…” he trails off. “Are you… complimenting me?”

Iwaizumi scowls, shoving his hand in Hanamaki’s face before jostling past. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Hey, Iwaizumi. No need to be embarrassed. If you want an autograph or something—”

Don’t be ridiculous!

“—free of charge. I’ll even let you take pictures with me and—”

“Shut up!”

“—do you want me to write one for your mom?”

The door slams and Hanamaki grins wickedly, sinking in his seat. The grin fades from his face almost instantaneously when his gaze falls on the daunting script sitting in front of him, living proof of what he’s positive is going to be a terrible idea and a terrible experience to boot.

He closes his eyes again and chants a mantra in his mind: I do not hate Matsukawa Issei I do not hate Matsukawa Issei I do not hate

He sees, in flashes, the first internet article he ever saw about Matsukawa Issei, featuring his face (stupidly handsome in the worst ways) next to the face of Kaburagi from Jormungand, his best known role to date; MONSTER ROOKIE, it had read, and Hanamaki distinctly recalls the exact cadence of the exact sigh of exasperation that had left his lips when he thought to himself, ‘great, another stuck-up asshole to deal with.’ He sees, in yet another flash, the Radio Interview That Will Go Down in Infamy (ABRIDGED: What the Fuck, Matsukawa?)—or maybe he hears it, and Hanamaki feels no need to make an anecdote about that one.

Iwaizumi doesn’t know enough about the actual social circles within the giant mass of voice actors currently trying to climb the ranks in Japan but Hanamaki does and he sustains one last sigh as he thinks, remorsefully, that he’s going to have to be preemptive about this.

He definitely hates Matsukawa Issei.

#

He falls asleep before he remembers the script and by the time Iwaizumi’s banging his fists on Hanamaki’s bedroom door, demanding entrance and, more importantly, demanding that Hanamaki “get your fucking ass out of bed, you idiot,” it is too late to even spare a ten second glance to the stack of papers waiting, lurking on his kitchen table.

“Fuck,” Hanamaki says, eloquent as always as he sinks in the passenger seat of Iwaizumi’s car. “I didn’t even look at it.”

“Great,” Iwaizumi replies dryly. “Good to know I’m managing the most responsible person in Japan.”

“Your sarcasm is cute but I don’t appreciate it half as much at ass o’clock in the morning.”

“No wonder you woke up late. Your sense of time is fucked.”

Hanamaki pulls a pair of shades that definitely belong to Iwaizumi over his eyes and waves his hand flippantly in Iwaizumi’s direction. “Please don’t speak unless spoken to.”

“You’re lucky your mom sends me fruit baskets to remind me that there’s a silver lining to even the most insufferable people.”

“Are you calling my mother insufferable?”

The car skids to a stop in front of a building that Hanamaki will spend the next few hours trapped in, probably. Iwaizumi exhales sharply, an exasperated sigh slipping past his lips as he parks the car.

You’re insufferable and you’re late.”

“You’re not coming in with me?” Hanamaki asks when Iwaizumi makes no effort to move. “No supervision. This is a startling amount of freedom you’re giving me.”

Iwaizumi narrows his eyes threateningly. “The writer’s working under a penname apparently so unless it works out with you and Matsukawa, I can’t meet them.”

“I see.”

They sit in silence.

“Hanamaki.”

“Yeah?”

“Get out of the car.”

Hanamaki sighs, moving to unbuckle his seatbelt. “Fine.” He’s not really looking forward to this and he thinks it’s justifiable why he isn’t (there are a lot of reasons, some unreasonable—most unreasonable—and some kind of sort of almost reasonable) but he’s just recently finished his most recent series and it’s about time to start branching out and getting back into the swing of things. “For the record, I’m going to have to hold this against you for the rest of your life.”

“Have a nice day at school,” Iwaizumi calls out dryly as Hanamaki slams the door shut. The window rolls down and Iwaizumi leans over from the driver’s seat. “Don’t be mean to anyone.”

Hanamaki gasps. “Me? Be anything but the pinnacle of respectably polite? I’m offended.” He wipes at his eye. “I’m crying. You can’t see it but I’m crying.”

“Save it. Go away. I’ll be taking phone calls while I’m parked here but call me if you need anything—anything important.”

“Yes, mother,” Hanamaki sighs out, lifting his hand in a wave as he turns his back and marches straight into the building.

The building’s security is moderate and Hanamaki has no issues getting to the elevator promptly. He jams his hands into the pockets of his pants and gazes dully as the elevator dings monotonously, descending from the twentieth floor to the lobby. He should practice, maybe—practice speaking cordially, being polite.

Instead, he stifles a yawn, tears welling up at the corners of his eyes as he rubs at them blearily.

“Is this going up?” someone asks from beside him.

“Yeah,” he informs them easily, kicking the toe of his shoe against the tiles idly before glancing up—

And regretting it promptly.

“Oh,” the stranger, who is actually not a stranger at all says, a startled admission reflecting the look of muted shock on his features. He dips into a halfhearted (not really, but Hanamaki’s allowed to be critical) bow. “Hanamaki-san, it’s nice to finally meet you.”

Hanamaki falters before mirroring the bow and extending a hand out in response. “Drop the formalities. We’re going to be working together so no need.” Matsukawa has a firm handshake but Hanamaki is relatively positive he could beat him in arm wrestling. “Nice to meet you too.”

“Just Hanamaki then?”

“Yeah, and no bowing.”

“Then just Matsukawa’s fine.”

They stand there awkwardly, waiting for an elevator that never comes. Hanamaki wonders if this is, potentially, hell or something worse, but he’s a little too caught up with noticing how much taller Matsukawa is comparatively to even consider the reality of the situation.

“Great,” Hanamaki mutters.

“Great,” Matsukawa echoes.

“…Great,” Hanamaki repeats, because he’s not petty but he figures the last word should be his anyway.

The elevator finally comes, the doors parting agonizingly slowly. It’s empty, and they’re going to be going up to the fifteenth floor so there’s another stilted conversation to be had. Fantastic.

Hanamaki presses 15 with feeling.

“Have you read the script yet?” Matsukawa inquires, politely. He’s been avoiding direct eye contact for some time now, not that Hanamaki’s complaining.

“Uh, no, not really,” he says honestly. “Not at all, actually,” he adds, just to go all the way with this whole transparency thing.

There’s another lull in conversation, but there’s a faint smile on Matsukawa’s face—like he’s amused or something.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.”

Another lapse into silence. Hanamaki looks down at the packet of papers with lines he was supposed to look over tucked under his arm and then sneaks a surreptitious glance at the side of Matsukawa’s face. He’s unconventionally handsome, Hanamaki supposes; tall, too, and seemingly mild-mannered, a stark contrast from what Hanamaki was low-key expecting.

(Then again, he was hoping slash expecting Satan in human form, so maybe he’s being a little too hard on himself.)

“So.” Hanamaki stares ahead. “Usually quiet or what?”

“Yes, I’m very shy,” Matsukawa replies. “Endearingly so.”

Hanamaki accidentally (read: fuck I didn’t mean to) laughs. “How convincing, a self-endorsement.”

“You can take my word for it.”

“Great, I’ll keep that in mind. ‘Basically-a-stranger promises he’s endearing.’ Sounds like a solid headline.”

Matsukawa has an easy smile on his lips, one that looks like it genuinely belongs. “You sound doubtful. And sarcastic.”

“Yeah to both.”

“I’m a little hurt but it’s nothing I won’t recover from.” He hardly sounds affected. Matsukawa is kind of infuriatingly calm about everything. “Endearing and an optimist. How do you feel about me now?”

“Try-hard,” Hanamaki manages to say before a yawn slips out. “Boring, too, evidently.”

“You have a terrible personality,” Matsukawa muses.

“So I’ve heard.” Hanamaki pauses. “Kind of rude to point out the glaring truth to a senior though, isn’t it? The youth is so rambunctious and rowdy these days. They ought to quarantine you guys.”

“The youth,” repeats Matsukawa, sounding unconvinced.

Hanamaki yawns again. “I’m here on business, so you’ll have to pay if you want me to enlighten you on the follies of youth.” He holds up a hand, stretches out five fingers. “Five payments of 12,000 yen, tax not included.”

There’s a vaguely entertained expression on Matsukawa’s face but he doesn’t say anything, and Hanamaki takes this as God’s gift to him for trying to be cordial and refraining from being outwardly mean. He’s a pretty good actor, and it doesn’t take much to refrain from pointing out Matsukawa’s eyebrows.

“So,” Matsukawa starts, “you hate me?”

Hanamaki tenses momentarily, staring at Matsukawa with an expression of incredulity laced with something else, maybe annoyance. “Do I, a pure denizen of this city, look capable of such an evil thing?”

“Well.”

“I’m here on business,” Hanamaki says before Matsukawa can go further. “Paid to like you.”

“How honest of you.”

“Are you patronizing me, monster rookie?”

Matsukawa is pensive. “Sure.”

“You should consider not doing that.”

“Doing what?”

Everything about Hanamaki’s features is fixed neutrality. “The being annoying thing,” he states. “Take it as a tip from a veteran to a rookie.”

The elevator dings loudly, the number 15 lighting up to indicate their arrival. The doors part promptly after and Hanamaki steps out first, folding his arms behind his head and walking ahead as Matsukawa trails behind.

“It’s my reverse charm,” Matsukawa explains, still a couple steps behind Hanamaki. “Maybe you’ll be endeared eventually.”

“Eventually,” Hanamaki echoes. “Perhaps never. The world might never know. What a thrilling cliffhanger.”

“Someday,” Matsukawa amends. “We can make a bet out of it. Loser names conditions.”

“This is kind of a reach for a giant ego trip, isn’t it?” Hanamaki inquires, slowing to a stop in front of the door of their destination. He raps his knuckles against the surface of the entry. “You’re oddly bent on hearing me call you cute. Trying to flirt?”

There’s a rustling on the other side of the door, indistinct chatter.

“No,” Matsukawa says distantly. There is a faint smile still lingering on his lips. It’s borderline a smirk. “Just getting into character.”

“What do y—”

“They’re here!” a chipper voice announces, practically yelps when the door swings open. The owner of the voice is startlingly handsome, kind of blindingly radiant as he opens the door wider. “Come in quick! You kept us waiting, you know ☆~”

Someone rises from their seat behind the greeter. “Welcome to the studio. It’s a little small, but it’ll do for what we have planned. I’m Ukai Kenshin, the producer and this idiot that didn’t introduce himself is Oikawa Tooru, pen name Sakura, the writer of the script and the original novel.”

Hanamaki and Matsukawa dip into similar bows.

“We’re in your care then,” Hanamaki says politely.

“We most certainly are,” Matsukawa murmurs a beat later.

#

He should have known that there was a Specific Reason™ why it was so absolutely vital that he and Matsukawa specifically meet for a reading of the script. He should have known that there had to be some evil catch beyond sitting in a tiny, cramped studio with his newly sworn enemy.

Hanamaki stares at the title of the script he’d so gracefully neglected the night before.

FORBIDDEN PARADISE

“Excuse me,” he starts, raising a pen in the air while staring blankly at the packet in his free hand. “Just to clarify, you want me to record a boy’s love CD with Matsukawa?”

“Yeah,” Ukai replies. “Depending on the reception, there’s a pitch for a full-length animation series in the work as well.”

“Great.” He can feel the makings of a protest bubbling at the very base of his throat. “Fantastic. Just need a second.”

Ukai, Oikawa, and Matsukawa look rightfully confused as Hanamaki picks up his phone and dials a number he’s memorized by heart.

“Just a second,” he says again, in explanation.

After a while, the line clicks. “What? Aren’t you still in the middle of your—”

“Hey,” Hanamaki interjects. “Iwaizumi? Yeah, uh, just wondering but, what the fuck?”

“Two weeks,” Iwaizumi responds steadily.

“What?”

“You heard me.” Iwaizumi pauses. “Two weeks. Unlimited. At your beck and call.”

“No fucking way, you stingy old man,” Hanamaki grits out. “My pick?”

“Your pick.”

“Hey, Hanamaki, are y—” Ukai is cut off.

“Three weeks,” Hanamaki amends, lowering his voice into a whisper. “Three weeks from whatever bakery I want them from. Three weeks and I’ll cooperate.”

Iwaizumi grumbles incoherently. “Three weeks if you get off the damn phone and apologize to them.”

Hanamaki ends the call and clears his throat, turning his attention back to Ukai, to Matsukawa, and to the shockingly handsome (it’s going to take a while to get over this, evidently) Oikawa. He smiles as pleasantly as he can manage.

“Sorry,” Hanamaki apologizes. “Just needed to clear something up. We’re good to start the reading now.”

Matsukawa raises a brow and looks pleasantly amused. Hanamaki pointedly avoids making eye contact.

FORBIDDEN PARADISE,” Matsukawa recites. “Interesting concept.”

“Great concept,” Hanamaki replies smoothly. “Carnal desire and palm trees. My type of drama.”

Ukai lets out a sigh, evidently relieved. “We have some paperwork for you two to fill out before you leave—just confidentiality agreements, since Sakura-san, as you both know now, is Oikawa-san’s penname and we value the anonymity of our writers.”

Oikawa, the stupidly handsome writer, beams. “Makki and Mattusn seem dependable! I’m glad! You picked good ones this time!”

“…Makki?” Hanamaki echoes to himself.

Matsukawa stares. “Mattsun?’

Oikawa is pleasantly unabashed. “Let’s start with the reading? I think we should start with this scene where they find each other on the deserted island, all pent-up with passion and—”

Hanamaki finds himself looking longingly at the exit as Oikawa speaks, suddenly filled with the strong desire to run far far away and leave everything, including three weeks’ worth of cream puffs from his favorite bakery, behind.

Matsukawa clears his throat, steeling his expression as he gets into character.

“Ryou-san! Is that… is that really you? (Indistinct coughing and hacking) I’m so relieved… I’ve missed you so much Ryou-san. You and your… warm hands.”

There it is again, the compelling urge to throw this entire stack of papers into Oikawa’s face.

“(VOICE-OVER) I was shocked and happy to find Taichi again. I did not want to seem weak but… I missed the warmth of another huma—”

“Makki!” Oikawa cuts in, complaining, arms crossed against his chest as he leans back against his seat. “You’re seeing your high school love for the first time in years on a deserted island! Some more emotion, please!”

Hanamaki stares at the ceiling. “More emotion,” he repeats hollowly. He looks back down at the script with the most spite he can manage to draw out from his eyes. “More emotion,” he says again.

Matsukawa stifles a small laugh behind his hand and Hanamaki decides that yes, Matsukawa will probably die by his hand someday.

“(VOICE-OVER) I was shocked… shocked and happy to find Taichi, Taichi of all people again. I didn’t want to seem weak—not in front of him but… I missed it. The warmth of another human.”

There’s an amused smile on Matsukawa’s face, still lingering and still aggravating. Hanamaki kicks his shoe.

“Ryou-san…? Are you alright? You’re not sick, are you?!”

“No, not sick…”

Hanamaki’s gaze flickers to the next line and he suppresses a scream. He has to wonder if perhaps Iwaizumi hates him. If the years of duress and stress were too much to handle. Oikawa is looking at Hanamaki eagerly and Matsukawa, Matsukawa is biting his lower lip to suppress what Hanamaki is assuming is laughter.

He sighs.

“Or maybe I am. Maybe I’m sick with relief—sick with lov…”

He wonders how angry Iwaizumi would be if he backed out now, if he brought up his one (1) literature class from university to cite every example of terrible writing in the script thus far.

“Lo…v…?”

“No, no… it’s too soon for that. I’ve missed you, Taichi. More than you’ll ever know.”

He clenches the script in his hands and reminds himself of the cruel unforgiving nature of the real world.

They are startled out of character by Oikawa jumping from his seat, the clipboard and script in his lap falling to the ground gracelessly. He’s bright-eyed as he looks from the producer to Hanamaki and Matsukawa.

“Ukai-san,” he says to the producer slowly, “I think we’ve found our lovers in paradise!”

Matsukawa hums thoughtfully and Hanamaki finds himself pondering the futility of life.

“So the bet’s on, right, Ryou-san?”

“Don’t speak to me,” Hanamaki says quietly, covering his face with his hands. “Don’t speak to Ryou-san.”

#

He and Matsukawa end up exchanging numbers to become “closer” and it is an idea that Hanamaki hates for multiple reasons:

1. There’s no good reason for them to be cordial if Hanamaki genuinely and thoroughly plans on cutting off all ties once this entire fiasco is done and over with. (There are a lot of sub-reasons for this like (a) this project is about to be the most humiliating thing ever and Hanamaki is not sure if he ever wants to see Matsukawa or Oikawa ever again and (b) Matsukawa is annoying and definitely enjoying Hanamaki’s suffering and hardly deserving of his companionship.)
2. There’s no good reason for them to be cordial if Hanamaki genuinely and thoroughly has to steel himself from making a snide and, admittedly untruthful, remarks about Matsukawa’s eyebrows whenever he sees him.
3. There’s no good reason for them to be cordial because fuck being cordial.
4. Why
5. Why why why why why why why
6. Why why why why why why why why why
7. W h y

Hanamaki stares at his phone, at the thumbs up emoticon Matsukawa had sent right outside of the studio doors just hours prior to indicate that Hanamaki’s contact information had been saved. His fingers hover over the keyboard and, precariously, meticulously, he strikes like a lion lurking in the savannah.

Send.

Hanamaki Takahiro: ok let’s try this being cordial thing

Not too long after, his phone pings.

Matsukawa Issei: You kind of seem like the only person having any difficulty? Lol

Aaaand he frowns.

Hanamaki Takahiro: some rules, first
Hanamaki Takahiro: 1. I make the rules
Hanamaki Takahiro: 2. do not speak unless spoken to
Matsukawa Issei: Lol

He frowns again, just for good measure.

Hanamaki Takahiro: can you not read
Matsukawa Issei: Lol

Great. He loves talking circles with smarmy assholes. It’s a specific pastime of his. Still, there’s a flicker of amusement floating around somewhere in his brain as he types out a responsible and professional response, tongue poking out from the corner of his lips throughout the process.

Hanamaki Takahiro: anyway have you looked at the whole script yet
Matsukawa Issei: What’s this? The question game?
Hanamaki Takahiro: what
Matsukawa Issei: Yeah, I have. My turn. What’s your favorite pastry?

It’s a shame, really, that professionalism and all futile attempts at it have to go out the proverbial window as soon as he tries to step out of character—as soon as he tries to be a Good Person™. He’s a little confused, a little annoyed that Matsukawa is deflecting all of Hanamaki’s attempts at being cordial with distracting ease.

Hanamaki Takahiro: wtf

He stares at the screen, contemplative.

Hanamaki Takahiro: cream puffs
Hanamaki Takahiro: but not the pt we aren’t playing this dumb game
Matsukawa Issei: I see
Matsukawa Issei: What’s your least favorite color?

Hanamaki all but glares at his phone screen.

Hanamaki Takahiro: ok… so I don’t even get a turn
Hanamaki Takahiro: what’s your favorite color
Matsukawa Issei: Pink?
Hanamaki Takahiro: fuck pink there’s my least favorite color
Matsukawa Issei: Isn’t your hair pink
Hanamaki Takahiro: who gave you permission to look at my hair
Matsukawa Issei: You’re right. I’m terrible

This time, he laughs, and he’s mildly scandalized by his own voice.

Hanamaki Takahiro: next question: why are you a smarmy asshole
Hanamaki Takahiro: inquiring minds would like to know
Matsukawa Issei: Societal expectations, maybe

He grits his teeth, bites his tongue, and tries not to let Matsukawa Issei get another laugh out of him.

Hanamaki Takahiro: I hate this
Matsukawa Issei: My turn. Want to talk over the script in person?
Hanamaki Takahiro: no
Matsukawa Issei: “ok let’s try this being cordial thing”
Hanamaki Takahiro: .
Hanamaki Takahiro: fine.

#

They meet at a bar, and it’s a slight on Hanamaki’s part because he doesn’t drink too frequently thanks to his shit tolerance but he’s also too proud to admit it to Matsukawa’s face.

So. They meet at a bar.

Matsukawa’s already there by the time Hanamaki forces himself in and he is as cool, as chill as it gets as he walks up to the counter casually. “Sorry,” he apologizes by way of greeting. “Did you wait long?”

“Hardly,” Matsukawa replies, tilting his head up from the glass in his hands before settling it down, angling his body to face Hanamaki properly. He props an elbow on the counter’s surface and rests his cheek against an open palm.

There’s a startling amount of familiarity already between them from just a single in-person encounter prior and a text message conversation that even Hanamaki has to admit went on way longer than intended. He considers calling Matsukawa out on it—asking why he’s treating Hanamaki like an age-old friend but he remembers in the nick of time that he’s the one who said he hated formalities anyway.

He seats himself in the stool next to Matsukawa and drops the script, the dauntingly embarrassing stack of papers, in front of him.

“So,” he starts. “Taichi, my companion in more ways than one.” Hanamaki waggles his brows.

Matsukawa sits up straight, reclaiming his drink. “Please don’t do that.”

“Don’t be afraid of true love, Taichi.”

“Not afraid, just terrified.” There’s a wry smile on Matsukawa’s face as he lifts a hand to beckon the bartender over. “What’ll you have?”

The bartender greets them amiably and Hanamaki stills. “Something strong,” he says, his mouth moving on its own, the first act of betrayal. “But smooth.” There’s no doubt or incredulity on the bartender’s face so Hanamaki takes this as a small victory.

“So you read the script?” Matsukawa asks when they’re alone again.

“Yeah. You?”

“Unfortunately,” Matsukawa says. “No rest for Taichi or Ryou-san, apparently. It gets increasingly worse.”

“Unsurprising,” Hanamaki mutters. “Let’s get this over with. I wasn’t put on this planet to waste my Friday night at a bar with you.”

Matsukawa laughs lightly. “Sure,” he responds smoothly, taking an idle sip from his glass before pulling out his own copy of the script. “We can talk through dynamic then.”

The bartender returns with a tiny glass of suspiciously amber liquid, sliding it across the counter to Hanamaki. He sighs.

Hanamaki downs the small shot glass amounting to the liquid equivalent of Hanamaki’s Trust in the Bartender™ and finds that, to his chagrin, his taste for alcohol is still as shitty as it was the last time Iwaizumi dragged him out to drink and this drink is not smooth enough.

He grimaces. Winces. Coughs and hacks when it finally goes down his throat.

Matsukawa stares, trying very hard to suppress a smile. “Smooth?”

“Very smooth,” Hanamaki rasps out, willing his eyes to stop watering. “Like antifreeze.” He coughs again, just for good measure. “As for dynamic, I think it’d be easier if we just got more familiar with each other first. You’re annoying and I am undoubtedly going to block your ass on LINE when this is done, but for now, we can get to know each other.”

In response, Matsukawa hums, contemplative. “Is this a date?”

Hanamaki coughs again and slams his hand down on the counter. “This is business, Sparta, and bartender, please get me another shot.”

“Impressive,” Matsukawa comments, likely sarcastically due to his observed nature.

“Talk, Matsukawa. Stop being a child and lead the conversation.”

There is a brief silence, one in which Matsukawa stares at Hanamaki in mild amusement, mild disbelief. All while Hanamaki pointedly glares at the second shot presented to him by the bartender.

And then,

“You like cream puffs.”

Hanamaki is quiet. He stares. “You’re seriously using my favorite pastry as a conversation topic.”

“I wanted to direct the conversation away from work and onto something you’d enjoy,” Matsukawa replies with an offhanded shrug of the shoulders.

“Yes, I like cream puffs,” Hanamaki states robotically.

Matsukawa nods, understanding. “I’ve only had them a couple of times.”

“Kind of sad.”

“Have you had them frozen?” Matsukawa asks.

Hanamaki takes a leap of faith and downs the second shot, making a face completely opposite of cool, calm, and collected, but, in the very least, not choking or coughing or seeing spots like the first shot. “No, I haven’t actually, because I’m not an inhumane monster, unfortunately,” Hanamaki grits out.

“They taste like ice cream.”

“Get ice cream then.”

“Hm,” Matsukawa says instead of responding. He glances at Hanamaki, gaze flickering from the top of his head to the bottom of his torso thoughtfully. Hanamaki almost frowns, almost asks aloud what do you want but Matsukawa speaks first. “So your hair’s pink.”

He gets a laugh this time, a small scoff mixed with amusement slipping from Hanamaki’s throat. “Now you’re just mocking me,” he accuses.

“Yeah.” The omnipresent smile on his lips is unapologetic in nature and maybe it’s the alcohol kicking in, but Hanamaki doesn’t hate it as much. “I am.”

He laughs again, and this time Hanamaki can’t bother with trying to hide it.

The conversation they have is mundane for the most part, foolish banter traded and hardly substantial in the technical sense. Time passes quickly though, minutes crammed full of idle chit-chat until it’s well past midnight and Hanamaki should be headed home. But with a couple more drinks under his belt, there’s nothing warmer, more pleasant than being an inch away from Matsukawa, listening to him talk about what Hanamaki thinks might be “tiny kitchens and tiny meals.”

Nothing really makes sense anymore, just like the way the world’s kind of spinning whenever he tries to move. He feels fuzzy, a little less prickly around the edges as he folds his arms atop the counter and rests the side of his head against them.

“Wanna hear a song?” he asks out of nowhere.

Matsukawa looks at him and there is something odd about it—the way he’s gazing at Hanamaki like he’s amused, understandably, but almost fond.

“Sure,” Matsukawa says before Hanamaki can focus.

“Okay,” Hanamaki mumbles, lifting his head. “This one’s called—”

And everything goes black.

#

He wakes up at one in the afternoon in his own apartment, on his kitchen table. His head and back are aching and his belt is digging into his hip bone uncomfortably but he’s mostly, tentatively alive.

Hanamaki moves and curses. Right. He’s mostly, tentatively alive, but the terrible hangover he has is making him wish he wasn’t.

It’s with dread that he picks up his phone, noting a couple of missed calls from Iwaizumi and a single Are you alive? text from Matsukawa of all people. He inhales sharply, squinting his eyes at the screen to tap out a simple message.

Hanamaki Takahiro: arguably no
Hanamaki Takahiro: what did I do last night
Hanamaki Takahiro: tell me in detail

He treats himself to a giant carton of water and painkillers, flopping over onto his bed and burying his head under the pillows soon after. This is punishment, and maybe he had it coming. Hanamaki groans incoherently, barely budging when his phone pings.

Matsukawa Issei: You started singing a song called ‘snow halation’? So we left the bar to avoid disrupting other guests. and then you accepted a bunch of mints from the bartender and put every single one into your mouth. As it turns out, you don’t like peppermint and you also hate littering, so you said, “Matsukawa, let me see your hands,” and spit them out into my hands.
Hanamaki Takahiro: o
Hanamaki Takahiro: Ok please stop

Matsukawa is still typing and Hanamaki notes this with a sense of terror.

Matsukawa Issei: You told me to walk you home and on the walk there you told me you hated me a couple of times for being “insufferably charming” and also asked me fifty times why I don’t think you’re talented
Hanamaki Takahiro: STOp
Matsukawa Issei: It was a good talk. I do think you’re talented, by the way. I’m not really sure what gave you the impression that I don’t

He covers his face with his hands, drags them down his cheeks in muted agony. If he weren’t suffering from the world’s worst hangover he’d likely bring up Matsukawa’s radio interview and utilize it as justification.

Instead, he eloquently types out a reply and shoves his face into his pillow.

Hanamaki Takahiro: agh
Matsukawa Issei: :)
Hanamaki Takahiro: shut up
Matsukawa Issei: :(

#

(Un)fortunately, the random bar meetings and unnecessarily long text message conversations don’t come to an end. They’re given a date. In a week’s time, they’ll be meeting Oikawa and Ukai once more, this time with their managers, for the first official read-through. From there, they’ll work out the final schedule and the project will officially begin.

It’s an intensive process for such a low-key project but Oikawa is remarkably finicky, exceedingly meticulous about little details because he’s positive the project’s going to grow into something bigger, and Hanamaki has no real complaints because he likes keeping busy when he can, and the company isn’t as bad as he’d like to think it is.

In fact, the company isn’t bad at all and Hanamaki frequently forgets why he was so hell-bent on kicking Matsukawa’s ass into the proverbial ground in the first place.

(It happens in phases, really. Like—

Phase 1: What the Fuck is Wrong with Matsukawa Issei?

Phase 2: I Was Right, He’s Really Annoying

Phase 3: What Kind of a Monster Freezes Cream Puffs

Phase 4: Kind of Indebted to Him, Fuck Karma

Phase 5: Oh Shit, He’s Kind of Cute

Phase 6: Hel(l)p)

Their first bar escapade ends terribly but it doesn’t stop them from embarking on two more afterwards. For professional reasons—studying purposes, Hanamaki insists. Two main characters who are supposed to be in love? They need to establish a dynamic, and no better way to do that than to actually interact.

Admittedly, he can’t remember the first two times they meet at the bar in vivid detail, but he is almost fifty-one percent positive that they were both relatively OK experiences, subjectively speaking.

Matsukawa, at least, is tolerant and patient enough not to insist otherwise, and maybe this is when Hanamaki begins to realize that if this goes on for much longer, he might end up being totally and irrevocably fucked by karma. Because, well, it’s kind of true—petty details for preemptive hatred aside, Matsukawa’s an impressively good guy with less than a fragment of a bad bone in his body. He’s annoying and he’s smug and ridiculous when he wants to be, but he never means any harm. That, and he’s remarkably well-versed in the art of dealing with Hanamaki’s shit and really? Whose heart doesn’t skip a beat when someone replies to fuck you with so what’s your favorite bakery?

(Iwaizumi’s voice acts as temporary conscience and whispers, at the back of his mind: What is wrong with you?)

Hanamaki stares at the sky.

Perhaps this is Fate’s cruel way of getting Hanamaki back for that time in third grade when he skipped school to play video games. Maybe it’s divine retribution for all of the eggplants he’s surreptitiously thrown in the garbage to avoid eating.

It’s not really his fault though. It happens too naturally—just while getting to know each other. Familiarizing themselves with one another, it’d started off as a professional thing for the sake of the project. It still is, technically; there’s nothing wrong or compromising about hating someone less and liking them more throughout the course of work after all.

Plus, Matsukawa is surprisingly endearing (true to his word). He willingly stays at bars with Hanamaki until well past midnight despite how terrible the experience must be on his end and regularly combats Hanamaki’s less than sweet text messages with cute animal emojis (though they’re cryptic, so Hanamaki isn’t actually sure what they mean). Despite his mannerisms, he’s kind of childish too in weird ways—like his recent interest in a YouTube channel specializing in making tiny meals for reasons beyond Hanamaki.

(Matsukawa Issei: It’s just good. For the soul or something. Just like Digimon.)

So he’s kind of weird, a little eccentric. The type to humor Hanamaki despite calling him out on his terrible personality and—

And…

He likes that? He likes… all of that? About Matsukawa? He likes… that… a lot?

He likes—

Hanamaki stares at the sky again.

“Jesus fuck,” he says aloud, “why.”

#

“You’ve spent the past two days watching Miniature Space videos on YouTube instead of answering my damn calls?” Iwaizumi demands, peering over Hanamaki’s shoulder at his laptop screen. “What is this anyway?”

“Food for ants from a kitchen for ants made by humans. Doesn’t that just fuck you up?” Hanamaki mutters distantly, monotonously.

“Hanamaki.” There is a rustling noise, the sound of Iwaizumi shrugging off his suit jacket—probably with that same old exasperated frown on his face.

He clicks the mouse once and hugs his knees to his chest, resting his chin against them while burning holes through his laptop screen. Mini onigiri. He likes this video.

“What if there comes a day where you become so small and sad that you just become an ant? Then you’ll thank me. I’ll learn to make you tiny food and—”

“Hanamaki.”

“—buy a tiny kitchen just to make tiny things for my tiny friend.”

Hanamaki.”

“I’m losing it, Iwaizumi,” Hanamaki finally announces, clamping his eyes shut tightly. “I’m fucking losing it.”

“No shit,” Iwaizumi replies, spinning the chair next to Hanamaki around so he can straddle it, arms hanging over the back of it while he, too, watches the wonders of tiny kitchen creations.

“Can you believe it? He watches dumb stuff like this on a daily basis—in his free time.” Hanamaki frowns. “How unbelievably and unfairly cute of him.”

“—Are you serious?”

“What’s this supposed to mean? What’s he trying to tell me?” Hanamaki asks aloud. “That he’d prefer if I were ant-sized or capable of making tiny meals—”

“You’re serious.” Iwaizumi turns his head to stare at Hanamaki in disbelief.

“The world’s cruel. Just can’t win no matter how hard I try. Absolutely miserable.”

Iwaizumi sighs. Audibly. “You’re an idiot.”

“Thanks,” Hanamaki says dryly. “I love when you comfort me in my time of need.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Iwaizumi amends.

“Ooh, keep the compliments and warm support coming. I live for this shit.” The mini onigiri that he’s currently watching come to life are kind of big, now that he thinks about it. Hanamaki might have to rescind his prior statement and revise it—food for hamsters, not ants.

“Hanamaki,” says Iwaizumi.

Hanamaki does not take his eyes off of the screen. “Iwaizumi.”

“You’re the biggest idiot I know if you don’t think Matsukawa’s into you.”

“What’ll it be this time? Am I stupid, dumb, ridiculously stupid, or—what the fuck?” The video is neglected momentarily as Hanamaki turns his head to look at Iwaizumi, scrutinizing. He gauges the expression on Iwaizumi’s face, the sincerity of it, and once he realizes that his friend is 100% serious, he chooses to look away.

“You heard me.”

“He’s not.” Hanamaki stifles a yawn. “Tolerates me as a friend.”

“Yeah, you’re right. He just sits with you at bars until two in the morning even though you can’t hold your alcohol for shit—”

“Rude.”

“—and I’m sure he humors everyone with terrible personalities.”

“Are you talking about me? Terrible personality?”

“I could go on.”

“Please spare me. That’s all reasonable stuff for friends to do.” Hanamaki pauses, briefly. “Stop reading into this and focus on your own lonely life.”

“Not really. I wouldn’t go to a bar with you willingly,” Iwaizumi says simply. “That’s also irrelevant. Also not an excuse for you to use.”

“So what. In the off-chance that you’re right, what are you telling me to do?”

“Well.” Iwaizumi reaches over to tap the space bar on Hanamaki’s laptop keyboard, pausing the video. “For starters, stop watching this crap.”

“You’re so ignorant.” Hanamaki frowns. “I think you’re missing the point of the v—”

“You’re the only one missing the point, I promise.” This time, he closes Hanamaki’s laptop altogether. “You can either figure this out on your own and move forward instead of watching videos about tiny meals or I can accidentally sprain your wrist again arm-wrestling sense into you.”

“Stop,” Hanamaki says faintly. “We don’t talk about that fluke of a day.”

“I feel like you already know,” Iwaizumi says instead.

“Know what?”

“What else, idiot? That it’s mutual.”

Hanamaki tugs the hood of his jacket over his head, toying with the drawstrings until his face is barely visible. “Kind of dumb, aren’t they?”

“What?”

“Feelings,” Hanamaki explains with an exhale. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

“Either he reciprocates or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, that’s fine. You’ll find someone else. If he does, that’s fine too. You’ll be happy, I can say ‘I told you so,’ and the CD you guys record will be that much more authentic.”

“You know, I never told you this, but the role I’m playing kind of reminds me of you?”

“Stop changing the subject,” Iwaizumi chides. “I read the script, by the way, so be glad I pity you right now otherwise I’d punch you.”

Hanamaki loosens the drawstrings of his hood again and peeks out from the fabric. “What’s your ulterior motive? Doing this for authenticity purposes?”

It’s with a muted fondness that Iwaizumi pushes the side of Hanamaki’s head. He sighs, exasperated, as he folds his arms atop the back of the chair, resting one cheek against them. “Sure, that’s an upside,” he says, “but don’t forget we were friends before we were co-workers. I just don’t want you to be mopey for the rest of your life.”

“So you care about me,” Hanamaki posits.

“Don’t push it,” Iwaizumi grumbles. “Just stop being an idiot and do what makes you happy… or whatever.”

Hanamaki grins, and it ebbs away into a faint smile. “Yeah,” he says with a small nod of his head. “Maybe.”

#

Hanamaki Takahiro: ok I have a hypothetical situation for you
Matsukawa Issei: Okay
Hanamaki Takahiro: are you ready
Hanamaki Takahiro: mentally physically emotionally psychologically
Matsukawa Issei: Yes
Hanamaki Takahiro: hypothetically I find you endearing
Hanamaki Takahiro: would that mean I lost the “bet”
Matsukawa Issei: Yeah
Hanamaki Takahiro: and if I hypothetically lost the bet
Hanamaki Takahiro: what would y

His phone is ringing and Matsukawa’s name is emblazoned on the screen, smack-dab in the middle of it like it’s taunting Hanamaki.

“What the fuck,” he says aloud, finger hovering over ACCEPT CALL with a dread unfamiliar to him. He presses it, takes an unnecessarily long time putting the phone to his ear. “What the fuck,” he repeats.

“You think I’m cute,” Matsukawa states in greeting. He laughs—honest to god laughs into the receiver, voice raspy and spent, like he’d just run a mile. “The Almighty Hanamaki Takahiro has succumbed to my irresistible charm,” he adds, a forced lilt to his tone to accentuate the teasing.

“Okay, no.” Hanamaki lies down, rolling onto his back. “Don’t be disgusting. I said hypothetically.”

“I’ll humor you and pretend you aren’t easy to read,” Matsukawa replies. There is indistinct rustling in the background and someone says “have a nice day!”

“Fuck you.”

“So, when did you realize you had fallen for me?” He can practically picture the shit-eating grin on Matsukawa’s face and he isn’t sure if it’s endearing or absolutely infuriating. “Maybe when you spit all of those mints into my hands? Ah, the classic ‘pretending not to remember’ stunt.”

“I genuinely don’t remember doing that but I would do it again because you’re an asshole.” The background noise on Matsukawa’s end grows even louder. “Where are you?”

“Leaving the gym. Tripped on the treadmill while laughing at your messages.”

“I’m hanging up. This is evil.”

“Oh, so you’re shy now?”

“T-minus two days until the first official reading and Matsukawa Issei mysteriously disappears, no trace remaining.”

“And now you’re threatening me?”

Hanamaki turns onto his side, hugs a pillow to his chest with one arm while balancing his phone to his ear. There’s a smile trying to break out onto his face and he tries, with much futility, to keep it hidden despite being in the privacy of his own room.

“Hypothetical,” he says again, for added emphasis. “What does hypothetical mean, Matsukawa-kun?”

“Oh, wow. Now you’re patronizing. So many different sides to you. How enigmatic.”

“Kind of a diamond in the rough, not to brag.”

“Anyway—hypothetical,” Matsukawa repeats. “So you hypothetically admit I’m endearing and hypothetically lose the bet and want to know what I’d hypothetically make you do?”

“Yeah,” Hanamaki confirms. “Simple.”

“Let’s see…” He’s humming, faintly, quietly, voice still muffled by the noise of people, of cars in the background. “I’d go—‘Wow, Hanamaki. Giving in so soon?’ coolly, I suppose. And then maybe, if I’m allowed to take creative liberties, the lights would dim and that song from Beauty and the Beast would play—”

“First of all, what the hell. Second of all, I’m the beauty, right?”

“Please don’t interrupt. I’m producing good material right now.” Matsukawa sighs, feigned exasperation. “Anyway, that song would play. And I’d get down on one knee and present to you a frozen cream puff—”

“Okay, fuck you.”

“—and say, ‘You have two choices. Eat this or treat me to dinner.’”

“Damn.”

“Yeah, good stuff.”

“I like the part where you get down one knee,” Hanamaki comments. “Easier to kick you down.”

“A little aggressive, but I can understand you might be overwhelmed by the scenario.”

Hanamaki flops over onto his back again, turning his phone on speaker and letting it rest beside his head. He draws one arm up, covers his eyes with his forearm and smiles, in spite of himself.

“Hey,” he calls out.

“Hello,” Matsukawa replies.

“I’m endeared, I guess.”

“’Hypothetical,’ he says,” Matsukawa muses, much to Hanamaki’s chagrin. “Kind of hassling that I don’t have any frozen pastries on hand, but I guess you’ll just have to get dinner with me after the read-through.”

“I guess.”

“We guess.”

Hanamaki purses his lips together. “Hanging up.”

“I, the cute and endearing Matsukawa Issei, will also—”

He hangs up and sighs, satisfied.

#

The first official read-through is something of the biggest hot mess Hanamaki has ever had the honor of participating in and observing.

The day starts off innocently. He’s in high spirits and Iwaizumi’s in a decent mood too. They walk into the conference room, about five minutes late, and Iwaizumi walks in first, ready to apologize on the behalf of both of them when he stops abruptly. Hanamaki crashes into his back, prepared to question Iwaizumi when—

“…Iwa-chan?” none other than Oikawa Tooru calls out, mystified and starry-eyed as he rises from his seat, taking two wary steps forward toward Iwaizumi.

Everyone in the room aside from Iwaizumi and Oikawa are confused at that point and Iwaizumi is at a loss, muttering something about work and “don’t call me that.” Despite Iwaizumi’s insistence otherwise, however, the first thirty minutes of the first official read-through are spent listening to Oikawa weave a beautiful tale of childhood friends separated after high school by cruel fate. Oikawa claims many of his characters are inspired by Iwaizumi and Hanamaki has to stop himself from laughing.

Eventually, Iwaizumi is the one to corral everyone back into business mode. Since they start late, they end late, and by the time they finish, it’s already well past nine in the evening. Iwaizumi is talking at the far end of the room with Oikawa, voice hushed but expression fixed into that stubborn sort of fond that Hanamaki’s come to recognize distinctly.

“Amazing,” Matsukawa says from behind, pulling up a chair right next to where Hanamaki’s sitting. It’s their first time speaking directly to each other today outside of reciting lines from a script Hanamaki’s begrudgingly memorized. Matsukawa offers a nod, maybe something akin to approval. “They should copyright it. Their story I mean.”

“Moved to tears by it?” Hanamaki asks, leaning back in his seat. His gaze flickers from Iwaizumi and Oikawa back to Matsukawa. “That went well.”

“What did? Their reunion?”

“The read-through, but I’m glad you’re really invested in my manager’s budding love life.”

“Oh.” Matsukawa shrugs. “Ukai-san said our chemistry was ‘terrific.’ Imagine how much worse it would have been if you hadn’t admitted the truth.”

“Don’t—”

“The truth that you think I’m endearing.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. Don’t let me live this down. I love dying.”

Matsukawa smiles. “Still down for dinner? I don’t know what’s open but there’s something invigorating about eating conbini onigiri on an empty sidewalk.”

“Doesn’t take much to please you.”

“I’m a simple guy,” Matsukawa says offhandedly. “Instant ramen and onigiri can be good if you eat it with the right person.” He rises from his seat, stretching his arms above his head before letting them drop.

Hanamaki tries to find the words to comment on what Matsukawa’s said but he opts not to this time—maybe because he still doesn’t know how to retort, and maybe because he’s too hungry to be indignant. So he gets up too, brushing himself off and covering his mouth when a yawn slips out. He figures Iwaizumi can manage on his own. He’s happy in his own world anyway.

Wordlessly, he and Matsukawa make their way toward the exit, quiet all the way to the elevator.

“Nostalgic, isn’t it?” Matsukawa leans against one of the elevator walls. “The last time we were in here together, you hated me.”

“Don’t give me so much credit. I still do,” says Hanamaki. “Can’t forget the slander you directed toward me on a public forum.”

“What slander?”

“Seriously?” Hanamaki frowns, though he hardly means it now—he’s well over the radio interview of the past. “’Hanamaki-senpai, he’s not very impressive.’ You know, speaking of. You should start calling me senpai.”

“What…” Matsukawa trails off, looking contemplative as he stares at the ceiling. “Oh.”

“Oh?”

“You heard me diss you and stopped listening?”

“Well, yeah. Why would I want to listen to some cocky rookie insult me?”

“I’m not cocky,” Matsukawa says first, unconvincingly, “and you didn’t listen to the whole thing.”

“…What?”

“Yeah.” There’s a smile on Matsukawa’s lips and it looks vaguely smug. “Guess you’ll never know the truth. To think we could have started off on the right foot, too” he adds.

Hanamaki stares, dead-eyed, as he kicks at Matsukawa’s shoe. “For being annoying,” he says.

“You win some, you lose some,” Matsukawa replies sagely, bumping Hanamaki’s shoulder when the elevator doors part on the ground floor.

The nearest convenience store is only a couple of minutes on foot and they spend that walk in comfortable silence too, the lack of conversation punctuated with the shuffling of their shoes and the occasional bumping of their shoulders, their arms, their hands. True to his word, Hanamaki’s prepared to buy both of their picks but Matsukawa cuts in last minute and swipes his card instead.

“First date claims,” he says, as though that qualifies as a solid explanation. He swings the plastic bag idly, whistling as he leads them back outside to a set of steps seguing a quieter, residential area with the busier street. “Luxurious, I know,” Matsukawa remarks, sitting down on one of the steps.

“Overwhelmingly so,” Hanamaki continues, sitting down beside him.

The weather’s gross these days, humid and sticky, and Hanamaki would probably prefer to be inside in an air conditioned environment had it been in any other circumstances. But he finds he doesn’t mind half as much when he’s sitting next to someone who’s hell-bent on charming his way into Hanamaki’s life.

“Kind of feel like I’m suffocating,” Matsukawa comments idly. “Because of the weather, I mean.” He’s complaining about the heat but he leans closer, until their shoulders are brushing.

The plastic bag with their food, their drinks, sits at their feet, untouched. They stay there in silence, bodies just barely touching as time passes by slowly, lethargically, like it’s waiting for them.

“Hey,” Matsukawa starts again, tearing his gaze away from some distant spot to look at Hanamaki. “Can I kiss you?”

Hanamaki purses his lips, one hand reaching out to curl into the fabric of Matsukawa’s shirt. “No, you can’t,” he says steadily, “but I will.”

It’s hardly anything like the dumb shows he’s voiced for insist it should be, but the way Matsukawa’s lips ease into something simple, something sweet from initial shock is enough to have Hanamaki reeling, inching closer and closer. There’s a hand on his waist, steadying him, and he can feel Matsukawa leaning in too, trying to make the most of this singular moment.

When they pull away, they’re as sticky, sweaty as they were moments prior. The only difference is the stupid smile on Matsukawa’s face and the embarrassing grin on Hanamaki’s. It’s easy—easier than it looks, to fall into silly, punch-drunk laughter after that. There isn’t a lot that makes sense (where they go from here, how they got here in the first place), but there isn’t a lot that Hanamaki finds the need to make sense of in the first place.

“Still don’t like you,” he declares. “You taste gross, by the way,” he continues.

“Cinnamon,” Matsukawa answers, tugging out a wrapper for a gum brand Hanamaki hates from his pocket. “Wasn’t bad though.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Hanamaki replies.

“I guess,” Matsukawa echoes. “Lots of guessing.”

“I guess.” Hanamaki shrugs.

They’re both still smiling, cheeks aching.

#

It’s when he’s exiting the elevator of his apartment building that he decides to call.

“Hey,” Hanamaki says as soon as the line connects, “what the hell are we?”

“Hey,” Matsukawa greets amiably in response. He pauses, abruptly. “Uh. What?” There is another pause, the sound of something, maybe the television, in the background. It ebbs away into nothing. “Like—what do you mean?”

“Are we…”

“Dating?”

“Yeah.” Hanamaki stills, phone clenched between his ear and his shoulder while he tries to procure his key from his pocket. “Are we?”

“Huh,” says Matsukawa. “Didn’t really think about that. I guess we are. Any protests?”

“Not really,” Hanamaki replies, nearly dropping his phone by the time he finally gets his door open. “What about you?”

“None here.” Matsukawa hums.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“What’s supposed to happen now? Clichéd ‘I love you’s?” Hanamaki closes the door behind him, presses his back against it. “On second thought, we’ve already gone over that.”

“Yes, Ryou-san,” Matsukawa recites. “I have loved you for many years already.”

“Great, ruin the mood.”

“My specialty.” Matsukawa laughs, quietly. “A couple of weeks of hard work and I’m being rewarded.”

“What?”

“Lots of visits to the bar, babysitting you. A bunch of text conversations where all you did was scold me. We made it, everyone. We’re finally at the top.” Another laugh, this time, even softer. “You know, I really did admire you a lot. I thought you were really talented and when my manager said we’d be working together, I was excited.”

“Were you disappointed?”

“More like, shocked. There was a lot more life in you than I expected and despite how terrible your personality is, for some reason, I felt even more compelled to latch on.” He pauses. “Like a parasite.”

“Romantic,” Hanamaki comments. “You’re kind of hard to hate for some reason. I was pretty set on it but you convinced me out of that too quickly for your own good.”

“And now you’re endeared by me. How far we’ve come.”

Hanamaki laughs. “No comment.”

“Now you choose to be quiet,” Matsukawa chastises idly. “Now that I think about it—people usually go on multiple dates before calling someone their boyfriend, don’t they? Does that even matter?”

“Not really,” says Hanamaki. “Don’t think so, at least. Who knows? We’ll figure it out as we go.”

“Good idea. I put my faith in you, senpai.”

“We’ll make up the rules as we go along.”

#

“Who would you least like to work with?” the radio jockey asks.

Matsukawa hums, thoughtful as always. “Who would I least like to work with?” he repeats. “Ah, maybe… Hanamaki Takahiro-senpai?”

The hostess of the radio show gasps, almost scandalized.

“Yeah. I think Hanamaki-senpai. He’s not very impressive. Definitely not much…” There’s a long pause before he laughs good-naturedly. “I’m kidding, naturally. There isn’t anyone in particular that I wouldn’t want to work with. I would like to work with Hanamaki-senpai though. He’s really talented, I think, and I feel like there’s a lot to learn from him.”

“Oh goodness, I almost took you seriously!” she says quickly. “It’s good to know you admire him though! How about a quick message to Hanamaki-san?”

“Ah—just… I hope to meet you soon.”

//

Recording days are long and tedious and Hanamaki frequently finds himself seeking a warm pillow in the form of a human—more specifically, his boyfriend.

“Stop,” Hanamaki grumbles, clinging to Matsukawa’s waist, chest to chest. “Stop moving.”

“Awfully clingy for someone who claims to hate me,” Matsukawa remarks.

“I do. I’m buttering you up, easing your weaknesses out of you for the inevitable end,” Hanamaki murmurs, cheek pressed against Matsukawa’s shoulder petulantly. “It’s delicate, so don’t rush the process. I promise I’ll make you cry someday.”

“Hm…” Matsukawa trails off.

Hanamaki sighs, detaching himself from Matsukawa. “Fine, I don’t hate you,” he says. “What do you want me to do now? Sacrifice the rest of my pride and dignity just so you know I love you?”

“Say that again?”

“What?”

“You what me?” Matsukawa smiles wickedly.

“I love you,” Hanamaki says, direct as always as he looks Matsukawa in the eyes, easing closer again until they’re just centimeters apart. He cups Matsukawa’s face with both hands. “Wanna hear it again?”

Matsukawa falters, stills, obviously miffed at his own plan backfiring. “You have a terrible personality,” he comments instead.

Hanamaki grins, leaning in to peck Matsukawa on the lips quickly. “Yeah, too bad you love it.”

This time, it’s Matsukawa who leans in, closing the gap between them once more for another kiss, lingering and slow. When he pulls away, there’s fondness written into his eyes.

“Yeah,” he says with a chuckle. “Too bad.”

#

R: Taichi… What’s the meaning of this?
T: Ryou-san... The… the truth is! (FLUSTERED) I’ve been in love with you for many years now…! Still!
R: (SHOCKED) Still…? It’s been so long—you’ve waited, all this time?
T: (SOFTLY) Well… I don’t mind it being a one-sided thing…! I’ve spent my time admiring you from afar, knowing nothing might come out of it and… I’m fine with that. I’m fine with being allowed to love you for you.
R: Taichi—
T: So please, just don’t hate me! For being foolish—for loving you even after you stopped loving me…
R: You’re wrong.
T: Ryou-san…?
R: You aren’t the only one who’s been pining all of these years.
T: Y…You…?
R: I love you, too.

“This is shit,” Iwaizumi declares, squinting at the script critically.

Oikawa frowns, pouts, indignantly. “Iwa-chan, how mean!” he huffs. “Not everyone is as emotionally constipated as you are, you know. There will be plenty of people who understand the heartfelt confessions of Ryousuke and Taichi!”

“What’s the point of them confessing to each other at the very start, right after they reunite?”

“Well,” Oikawa starts, “it’s important! Because they meet again, former lovers… and then fall back into routine and spend the rest of their time… learning to love each other again!”

Iwaizumi looks at Oikawa, at the way he is sulking, obviously particularly defensive of this justification in particular. He clears his throat, tugging at the collar of his shirt.

“Fine,” Iwaizumi says, grumbling. “Fine, it makes sense.”

“You think?” Oikawa brightens almost immediately. “Well, I knew my writing would convince you!”

“Yeah, sure.” Iwaizumi rolls his eyes, but he sneaks a glance at Oikawa, at the way he’s puffing his chest with pride, bragging about his stupid love stories, and he can’t help but smile. “Still as stupid as ever, I see.”

“Wh—Iwa-chan! Why can’t you say you missed me like a normal person, you big bully!”

Anyway, back to work.”