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Say goodnight and go

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Rin hefts his bag back into the sweet-spot on his shoulder, frowning as it instantly starts to creep down again… like it wants to be back home in his apartment just as much as he does, tucked away forgotten under his desk while he checks out in front of the TV. While he stretches out on his big couch, the one piece of furniture in the place that qualifies as an extravagance, cozy under a fleece blanket with a steaming teacup on the floor next to him. While he sends a big “screw you” to the rest of the evening, basically.

But he’s not; it’s like his body has always had an implant controlling him, forcing him to do things even when he fucking loathes them, shoving him forward like those guys who cram commuters into the trains at rush hour. He doesn’t know when his dissertation went from love to loathe, when exactly he went from talking everyone’s ear off who was unlucky enough to ask him “…so what are you studying?” to going mute. Having absolutely nothing to say. Yet he plods along, pulling his body to the library and check-ins with his advisor, as she watches him with her soft concern.

“Matsuoka-san, where do you like to write?” she asked him kindly at their last meeting, leaning intently towards him on her cluttered desk, and while they look nothing alike there’s something about the way she pinned him with her eyes that reminded him of his mom. Deceptively “gentle.” Their meetings have become more and more… informal lately, creeping from nice neutral topics like analytic and argumentative strategies, that he just can’t wrap his brain around anymore, to way more personal areas that he’s equally unable to handle. Always in that gentle voice.

He shrugged stiffly. “Home, mostly. It’s comfortable there.”

She pointed at him with a knowing smile. “A-ha. Remember your theory on motivation, now! Comfortable is bad. You need the unfamiliar, to shake yourself up. You can’t keep working alone.” She reached to squeeze his wrist; the similarities to his mom didn’t end at appearance. “I think it will make a big difference for you.”

Motivation. That mysterious thing that somehow keeps you coming back and back for more – even when you’re frustrated or scared or hurting. That distracts you from yourself, basically. Rin could dig that.

So here he is, walking up to the cute hipster coffeeshop a few blocks down from his place, somewhere he’s been refusing himself because he doesn’t have the time to try it. He pauses at the big front windows, forgetting the stupid weight dragging his shoulder down for once. The contrast between the gathering dusk he’s in and the warm light spilling out from the shop is so dramatic, it’s like an ocean thermocline in the air.

The scene inside is so homey and comfortable, it could be staged – the cover spread of Hipster Coffeehouse Monthly, maybe. It’s packed, every table occupied by at least one person, all seeming totally content doing… whatever they’re doing. There’s a huge table overflowing with high school girls working on some project, uniform ties thrown over their chairs and hair twisted up and out of their way. Other people are deep in discussion and playing chess and poring over newspapers spread over the table.

The couples get to him the most. There’s a man and woman right along the window at a little counter, stools pulled close. They’re just staring down at their phones, not even talking, but the way the woman leans casually in to show the man something on her screen totally gives them away.

Just imagine that… Rin thinks. Having the time to date and just sit on your ass doing nothing at all. I can’t even fathom it. Not even talking to each other. What a waste – !

<<<cause you’re STELLAR at this whole “use your time wisely” thing, aren’t ya, guy?>>> his deeper voice whispers, and Rin yanks the door open.

A few heads lift up at his arrival and he feels eyes on him, as he scans the room awkwardly. It’s different inside – it’s loud, the shared murmur blending into a sort of half-assed Tower of Babel. He doesn’t even know where’s gonna sit. What looked so homey before seems almost hostile now, the little tables with their extravagant spreads of stuff a defiant statement of territory, however temporary. No room for him.

He spots a dark-haired guy sketching in the corner, his table bare, but hesitates, not wanting to fuck up somebody’s inspiration. The next table up is more promising, with a big guy staring down at a laptop but otherwise plenty of space for Rin and his ridiculous towers of books and assorted crap. Perfect.

It’s almost funny, how long it takes the guy to notice when Rin’s standing right in front of him. He intends to introduce himself like a normal person, and not the kind of guy who likes to mouthbreathe at people in public places. But the guy is just so into whatever it is he’s looking at. Rin could probably sit down across from him, drag the guy’s half-eaten plate over (carrot cake, looks like), and polish it off making aggressive “mmm” noises and still nothing. Finally he can’t take it anymore.

“Excuse me,” Rin says. He doesn’t think his voice is particularly loud. But the guy jumps back from the table like Rin’s a scare at a haunted house, and gives a little involuntary peep. It’s totally embarrassing and at the same time hilarious and Rin feels his mouth crick up in a half-smile.

The guy stares up at Rin for a few beats, eyes wide behind fashionable glasses, and presses a hand dramatically to his chest. Rin gets a feeling he doesn’t intend the gesture to be dramatic, it just is.

“Uh, hi. Sorry to scare you. Is this seat taken?”

The guy has already relaxed into a polite smile of his own. He pushes the chair beside him at Rin. “Please, go ahead. Crazy tonight, huh? And on a Thursday, too. Which group are you with?”

Rin just blinks down, and the man waves a hand, fast – almost flails it at him. “Oh, talk about rude, I’m sorry. None of my business! Have a good night.” He squints up, like a wink with both eyes, then turns back purposefully to the cool glow of his screen.

“Oh, no, no. I’m alone, I’m looking for someone to sit with. Is that okay?”

This time when the guy looks up, the gladness on his face is unmistakable, and Rin prepares to decline him and try elsewhere. He’s spent too many flights trapped next to people who’ve given him their life-story when all he wanted was to drown in a book. Not that he’s excited to remind himself of how little he’s done on his dissertation, either. But he’d actually prefer helping the girls across the way with their Romeo and Juliet skit than painfully small-talking with this big weird excitable guy.

…even if he is male model (stripper??) material, judging from his face and the little of his body he can see crouched over the table.

But the next time Rin blinks, he wonders if he was imagining everything – the guy is just smiling politely again, and he’s nodding to the free seats. Rin nods back curtly and drops his backpack with a hollow clunk, reaching up to work his numb shoulder and hissing under his breath. Tingles rush in and he frowns. He feels the guy watching him intently, leaning on his elbows on the table, and he’s this close to telling him to quit it.

“Have you had their carrot cake?” he suddenly asks Rin from nowhere, and his look has gone from neutral to almost “stern,” which is so weird and sort of funny Rin feels like laughing.

“I’ve never been here before,” he answers instead.

For some reason Rin can’t fathom, that gets the guy pushing up from the table and heading for the counter. He’s mortified when the guy comes back with a slice of carrot cake in his hand. Rin’s stalled out on a chair – his bag open but abandoned – and the guy puts the plate in front of him with a little bow. The cake is four levels tall and smothered in white goo and dotted with little frosting carrots, and it’s everything Rin doesn’t like. Oh, God.

“You didn’t have to do that! What do I owe you.”

The guy leans his chin in a hand, just watching him with this satisfied look. “Your honest opinion. They do something different with the frosting, and I can’t work it out. Yogurt, maybe – ? Ugh, it’s been driving me nuts.”

Rin pulls his wallet out. “I’m giving you a thousand. Keep the change.”

He leans over and into the soft circle of light over their table, and his eyes are green, Rin finally sees. No, saying they’re green is like saying the bullet train is pretty fast; he’s never seen green eyes like this before. He finds he can’t look away.

“You may as well quit, ‘cause I’m not taking it. Seriously, you’re doing me a favor. I’ve been staring at my screen for the past hour and I don’t think I’ve read a word. I think just having someone sitting here being productive will whip me into shape.”

Rin snorts with disdain, but somehow it feels good, not the sour spike those words usually give him. “Uh, yeah. ‘Productive.’ You may wanna ask that artist guy to sit with you if you want ‘productive.’”

The guy actually turns, apparently looks Artist Guy over for a long moment. He has a sly look when he turns back.

“What, you trying to set us up?” He tilts his head and it’s unbelievably coy. More teen girl than grown man. Rin’s cheeks heat up stupidly. “But I just met you!”

We haven’t actually met, he could say. But that would take him down a path even more unbelievable than then one he’s currently on, and he just starts scooping books out of his bag instead, setting them into their specific (almost ritualistic) configuration, getting out highlighters, keeping his eyes anywhere but up.

When the silence gets too thick in their little bubble, he finally chances a look … and the guy is gazing serenely at his laptop, scrolling with a big thumb. Rin squints at him and the guy glances up as he reaches for his mug. He doesn’t seem surprised to find Rin ensconced behind a wall of books.

“…I could be a Bond villain,” he says wonderingly, and Rin’s busting out laughing, the goofy bray surprising both of them. He shakes his head and the guy grins back.

And somehow, that’s the last either of them say as a comfortable silence falls, as somehow, somehow, Rin finds himself opening the last book he’d flagged in his outline. It’s been so long since he slipped back into things that it’s like they’re someone else’s notes… and it doesn’t come easily, at first. He hunches forward and slowly the burble of the people around them, the reggae on the sound system, turns way down. The gentle tap of keys across the table, the other man’s deep breathing and little sounds as he reacts to whatever he’s looking at, are so soft they just barely nudge against Rin’s awareness. And they’re… nice. Like hearing his mom laughing on the phone to her sister when he was drifting off to sleep as a little kid, her voice low to not wake him but sneaking through his bedroom door (and into his dreams) all the same.

Just that sense of another person nearby in case he might need someone.

“…hey,” Rin finally hears – voice low like it doesn’t want to bother him – and he almost yells, he’s so startled. The guy is leaning against “his” side of the table, messenger bag and coat on, ready to go. Rin blinks around, and he’s amazed to find the place empty. The barista’s over in the other section mopping the floor with the intensity of someone who can almost go home, all the chairs (but theirs’) upended on the tables.

“Oh my God,” Rin marvels, losing the last word in a big yawn.

The guy smirks, this funny thing that looks like he’s highly amused by Rin but at the same time is letting him share in the joke. “You were working so hard I didn’t wanna wake you,” he says and Rin snorts at him. Then the guy is setting a take-out box on top of his book-mountain.

“The cake. Try it. You won’t be sorry. And now I’m so sorry, they’re closing and if I don’t hurry I’m gonna miss the train.” He pauses. “You – you wanna ride with me?”

“No, thanks,” Rin answers – and he doesn’t know why those words should stick in his mouth, but they do. “I’m just down the street.”

The man brightens, like that’s fabulous news. “Oh, cool. Does that mean we might run into each other here again?”

Rin blinks. “I… sure, I think I’ll be back.” He smiles up, easily, the first comfortable smile he’s had all night, and maybe that’s why his traitor mouth finishes his thought without his permission. “But you have to tell me your name if we’re gonna keep doing this.” Real good there, Matsuoka. Come for the coffee, stay for the pickups.

The guy looks surprised – but it’s a good surprised, like somehow Rin’s awkward quasi-flirt or just attempt at friendliness is flattering. “Tachibana Makoto. What can I call you?”

“Call me Rin,” and they share a stare before Rin can quickly amend, “Matsuoka Rin.”

“And call me Makoto,” the other man says hurriedly, bowing his head. He glances back up at the clock over the door and looks a little panicked. “Ah!! And I’m running. Goodnight, Rin. It was great to meet you.”

“You too,” Rin blurts at Makoto’s back, broad and impressive, sort of bearlike. The door sighs shut behind him and Rin sighs too, a long one that reminds him how late it is and how tired he is. But it’s a good tired, for once.

He takes an experimental bite of the carrot cake when he gets home and immediately inhales it, leaning against the counter in his tiny kitchen. It’s fucking delicious.

Chapter Text

“Rin!”

Makoto’s voice is loud in the coffeeshop, and bright, like he’s seeing his brother at the door instead of some random guy he’s been randomly sharing a table with the past week. He’s waving his arms madly too, sitting on the opposite side of the room this time, and Rin hurries over.

A middle-aged woman coos, “Ahh, young love” to her friend as he goes by, and he stumbles a little, and almost goes over to set them straight. But Makoto is suddenly there, grabbing his arm and diverting him to the line at the counter before he can even put his stuff down… and taking his bag off his shoulder, putting it on his own instead.

This, Rin cannot allow. “Okay, Lancelot, you are not holding my damn bag! You’re gonna hurt yourself!”

Makoto scoffs. “Oh, please. I used to do backstroke, I better be able to handle a little extra weight.” He nudges his free shoulder into Rin’s. “How are you tonight?”

“…eh,” Rin grunts. It’s been a week of coming home exhausted from work, voiceless from the nonstop talking he’s done for eight hours straight, telling the hordes of interchangeable American and English and Canadian tourists that the Great Buddha statue was cast in 1252 and no, not all women in kimono were geisha. The thought of sitting in the soothing lighting at the coffeeshop, Makoto across from him quietly letting him do his thing, has been the carrot dangling at the end of each day getting him through. Even the nights he’s just ended up frowning into space.

He shoots a look up at Makoto.

He’s taller than Rin, not by a huge amount, but enough that Rin has to look up when they talk. His offhand comment about the backstroke makes sense – Rin’s backpack looks almost funny hanging off his well-rounded, well-built shoulder, like when he accidentally tries to put his sister’s house-slippers on instead of his own when he visits. He stands there so... quietly, just watching Rin with his big tan hands in the pockets of a pair of navy jeans, and his face says plenty. That he somehow knows the impossible universe contained in Rin’s monosyllable.

“Hey, what are you working on, anyway?” he asks, ashamed he never thought to ask before now, wrapped in his own layers of dull misery. He’s surprised when Makoto’s warm gaze pulls away, down to their feet, the first time he’s seen him uncomfortable in the (short) time he’s known him.

“Can I help you?” the barista asks, a gorgeous black woman with an explosion of dreadlocks and a heavy American accent to her smooth Japanese. Rin tsks at Makoto’s profile then is struck by sudden inspiration.

“…what’s good tonight?” he asks the apparent dessert hound, and – yes – Makoto flicks his head up again, meets Rin’s eyes happily, and –

Rin’s happy. Just looking up at this lovely, open face, excited to share something he loves, is enough to blow the gloom of Rin’s week away like a kid making a wish on their birthday cake, and his own eyes widen back.

“…can I recommend something?” the barista nudges in on them gently. “The Chocolate Diablo torte. It’s fabulous.”

Makoto erupts in a little waterfall of a laugh, a ringing thing just as light as the look on his face, and he turns to her. “Oh, that’s funny. I was just going to tell him the same thing.”

The barista laughs then, and Rin snorts, and before he knows it he’s following Makoto back to the table with a chai tea in one hand and the cake in the other.

“…so I’m sorry about that, I didn’t mean to blow you off,” Makoto tries again when they’re situated. They’re repeating their usual configuration – lone laptop against a medieval keep’s worth of reading material – but they’re sitting in the two free seats for now, facing each other with just their cake and drinks separating them. Rin pulls another mouthful of the nicely-spicy dessert off his fork and shakes his head. No offense taken.

Makoto sighs, deeply. “So, I’m here because I lost my job. And my mind, for a while there.”

Rin puts his fork down with a clink! He covers his mouth. There’s something… particularly cruel about that, about someone as straight-up nice as Makoto with more people skills than Rin could ever dream of being let go. “Oh, man. I’m so sorry. What’d you do?”

“I was your standard corporate drone,” Makoto answers with this note of sarcasm in his voice that jars. “I was in HR, I interviewed people, asked them what their biggest strengths and weaknesses were. Then I would do the exit interviews too – ‘What didn’t you like about working here?’ I should’ve been paying closer attention for when it was my turn.” He lifts his mug for a long drink.

“Those stupid fucks,” Rin says, low, almost a growl, and Makoto drops the mug. “They had you as bait getting people into the company and they let you go? Please. I could run a company better and you can see what a total fuck-up I am.”

Makoto’s such a perfect picture of befuddlement by the time he’s done ranting, Rin collapses in helpless giggles.

“You know, it’s not nice to make fun of people,” Makoto says with his “stern” look on again and Rin corrals his laughter with great difficulty. “…no, I’m kidding. Thank you, Rin. I’m sorta over the ‘I want to kill these people’ stage of grief but hearing that is… helpful. Thanks.”

Rin points at him with his empty fork, feeling like it’s safe to eat again. “Liar. You neverhave violent thoughts like that. You’re too good a person.”

That’s when Makoto does it. When he reaches forward without hesitation and takes the fork from Rin’s limp fingers, and touches it to Rin’s lips. He doesn’t stay long, pulling the sharp points over his chin and – leaning in further – drawing a long line down its underside and then his neck. When he gets to the soft hollow of his throat framed by his V-neck t-shirt, he pushes in carefully, so the sensation is less a hint and more a promise.

Then he lets go and returns the fork to Rin’s plate, and takes a giant bite from his own plate. He glances up innocently.

“Okay, you’ve made your point,” Rin says irritably, and he’s not flushed all over like someone having a dangerous allergic reaction, and he isn’t struggling with a full-blown hard-on, not at ALL. “What, they fire you for threatening someone? With a fork?”

This time Makoto’s giggling, hard, leaning over his plate and hiding his face and shaking, and Rin feels it again – that power from before, that simple thrill he gets from making this guy happy. He licks his lips and leans in. It feels like a long look over a cliff.

“You… you know, the topic of my dissertation is motivation,” he says, fast, and Makoto lifts his head, the corners of his eyes wet from his laughter. “Well, I’m in sports psychology, but the concepts are pretty universal. I’m looking at how athletes – people – keep going when they fail, when they get hurt, stuff like that. And I’m obviously not doing too well on it which is pretty damn ironic, but – if I can help you with your job-hunt, or anything else, you have to let me know.” He feels his heart, thudding too-loud in his throat.

Makoto smiles. “Rin, you already are.”

*

His apartment is big when he gets home, too big, too empty and quiet and dead. He’s glad it’s a Friday night so he can get away with turning on his stereo, and that helps a little. Makes it feel like he isn’t alone.

Three hours at the café, and he didn’t crack a book and Makoto didn’t even touch his laptop. Neither of them got a single fucking constructive thing done.

But somehow, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like the last three hours were full of more challenge and thoughtfulness and surprise than he’s had in a year of required seminars and roundtables. Makoto almost reminds him of his advisor – in the way he talks with his eyes, the way he can soften them to let Rin know he’s teasing, the way they light up when Rin makes a connection. Ebullient, is the right word. Even in the throes of all the shit he’s put up with.

…for a year. Makoto’s been jobless for a whole year, slowly working through the money he socked away at his decent corporate sham of a job, and slowly getting more desperate every week nothing panned out.

“I finally realized I had to do the job-search out of my apartment because I was gonna lose it,” he told Rin, their mugs on their third refill. He didn’t meet Rin’s eyes, keeping his own on the table instead where he was tearing a napkin into careful strips. “My folks offered me to come back to Iwatobi – that’s the little town I’m from, on the coast. But I knew that would be the ultimate defeat for me, to burden them. Then I was reading some article about hip hangouts in Tokyo. And they raved about the desserts at this place, and I was sold.”

Rin was deeply amused at the way Makoto’s cheeks pinked (in embarrassment, apparently). “Hey, that’s legit! We aren’t too far off from dogs, you know. We need rewards to do anything. So if you figured out that cake floats your boat, good for you.”

“What’s your reward, Rin?” Makoto asked him then, giving him an intent look like he was done joking. “What gets you dragging that stupid bag here even though you’re stuck?”

YOU, alright?? You, you, you.

But it wouldn’t come, and he just made some lame joke about how the place was crawling with babes, which was sort of worth it for Makoto’s laugh but not for the purposeful way he glanced up to notice the time. Yet again.

Another “Goodnight and go” and now Rin’s stretched on his couch in sweats and a t-shirt, trying to focus on a book… but the words mean nothing, and he finally closes it and closes his eyes.

The space behind his lids is dark for a while, as he just breathes, lets the evening go as he lets his clasped hands relax down to his sides, lets his mouth fall open. And in that mysterious space, somewhere between awake and fully asleep, his mind lazily drifts into a fantasy.

Rin sees himself, leaning into the stubborn door of his apartment and forcing it open, spilling in and almost falling… if Makoto wasn’t behind him to snag his elbow and catch him first. They’re laughing hard at something, their cheeks a matching pink from the cold outside and being out of breath and maybe the newness of Makoto being here, in Rin’s little space.

He missed the train, Rin’s drifting brain decides. They were so caught up in what they were doing at the café, maybe so deep in conversation Makoto didn’t even think to look up at the time. And Rin offered his place, easiest thing in the world, saving Makoto from spending money he doesn’t have on a cab ride across town.

Rin’s mind’s eye floats to the side, watching Makoto carefully deposit his bag (so unlike Rin, who just dumps it like it offends him) and collapse onto the couch like a falling tree… legs sprawled out, hands laced behind his neck, like he lives there. Watches him grin over to the kitchen where Rin’s calling out drink options, and then somehow, somehow, they’re nestled on the couch together, sharing a six-pack Gou brought over forever ago and he assumed would never leave his fridge. Rin doesn’t drink alone.

Talking like they’ve known each other – like they’ve been friends – forever.

Then it’s late, and they’re both punchy and bleary-eyed, and Rin goes to get the spare pillows and a blanket from his bedroom closet… only to turn, and find Makoto at the door, smiling at him. To watch him stepping forward, wrapping his long arms around Rin with the bedding between them like some cushiony chaperone. To nod at Rin’s double bed, a question in his face.

The Imperial March from Star Wars blasts into the room, tinny and loud, and the warm press of Makoto’s arms around him vanishes, along with his fantasy bedroom and fantasy-him.

It’s just Rin, blinking rapidly at the sudden truckload of adrenaline spiking his veins, alone on his couch with – he glances over at his phone on the floor, muttering “…shit” – his sister ringing him.

He scoops it up and swipes the screen open.

“…Gou?”

She pounces in like she’s been looking forward to their call all night, which must mean things were particularly fun-filled at the hotel. “Heyyy, big brother! Did I get you from something? You sound a little… altered.” Her laugh echoes; she must be in the parking garage.

He snorts. “Nah, not really. I was just reading on the couch and I must’ve passed out. So I’m glad you called. You do not wanna try to sleep on this thing.”

“Uh, believe me, I remember,” she commiserates. There’s beeping and the sound of a car door, and then she sighs tiredly in his ear. “I’m really glad you picked up. Two people didn’t show tonight, so it was just me and Emiko at the desk. And there’s a convention at the hotel. Some… anime thing, I think.”

“…Whooo!” he says sarcastically, smiling up at the ceiling as he imagines his little sister facing down a rowdy horde of Stormtroopers, or something.

“Um, yeah. So I need you to keep me awake on the drive so I don’t crash and orphan my kid, okay?”

“Jesus, sis. Morbid.” He heaves himself off the couch and zombie-walks to the kitchen. Before he knows it he has the fridge open and one of her beers in his hand. “You’ll never believe what I’m about to drink.”

“If it’s your own urine I’m no longer your sister,” she says gravely, and he’s giggling as he knocks the bottlecap off against the counter and takes a long swallow. It tastes sharp, and very cold, and unexpectedly good.

“Seriously though, you’re in a good mood!! Are you on Ecstasy? Do I have to tell Mom?”

He shuffles back to the living room and falls on the couch, leaning his head back against the overstuffed cotton. “Empty threat. I’m just drinking a beer and I spent the night studying at a coffeeshop.” …close enough.

But his sister knows him far too well, has pushed through too many painful calls and (even worse) lunch dates with him lately to recognize when something is different.

You weren’t ‘studying,’” she announces in her ‘Watson, the game is afoot!’ Sherlock Holmes voice that would piss him off if it wasn’t so damn cute. “You met someone!”

Pssssh,” Rin scoffs, in some unknown defense mechanism, though he doesn’t know if he’s protecting this whole… thing from his sister or himself.

“You did! You finally did! Oh my God! Whatever happened to ‘I don’t have time to date, my work is what’s important right now, I don’t need anybody’?”

“Maybe I changed my mind, okay?” he snaps, sharp, and bites his lip. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just – weird, to hear my own words back to me, do you know what I mean?” He runs a hand restlessly through his hair; it’s gotten long, too long over the past months. “God, I sound like a fucking jerk.”

“Oh, no, no Rin,” she replies, and her voice is soft, the tone that always seems to get him every time when he’s sad. “No, those are all true things! Nobody has to date, you don’t have to date. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a person.” A horn honks near her, and he pictures her in her smart Hilton uniform, the first few buttons on her blouse undone and a red traffic light glowing across her thoughtful face.

“But I’ve felt so bad for you, ‘cause I think you’d be really good with someone. Even though you’re an asshole.”

He huffs a laugh. “Thanks.”

“So, who is it? Gimme the eyewitness description.”

Rin swallows, gathering his thoughts. “Well, Makoto is really tall, taller than me. Brown hair, nice glasses. The most-beautiful green eyes you’ll ever see.”

Gou takes advantage of his drawn-out pause to interrupt. “I’m guessing Makoto is a dude?”

Rin bursts out laughing again. “Uh, sorry, yeah. He could probably bench-press me.”

Reeeally,” she says thoughtfully, and he knows he’s speaking her language now, what with her muscle-thing.

“Yeah. But – but the thing that’s special about Makoto isn’t that he’s hot, though that doesn’t hurt… he’s just so… nice.” And that’s where he stops, mortified at how lame he is. But it’s true. Makoto is nice. He’s a lot of other things – dangerous, mysterious, gregarious, confident, funny, oh my God he’s funny – but he does it all in a way that’s just nice. Kind. And it feels so good.

Gou takes possession of yet another lull. “Dammit, Rin, you have this gorgeous guy and you haven’t told me? I’m trying not to be pissed, here. How long have you two been dating??”

Rin climbs out of the couch and stalks to the kitchen, tossing the last half of his beer down the drain. He doesn’t want it anymore. “We haven’t.”

“You. Haven’t. Been. Dating,” she repeats back to him in a “lemme get that right” tone.

“No. We. Haven’t,” he drones back, flicking the light switch as he leaves with a little too much violence.

“I’m not getting you, Rin,” she sighs, and he’s a kid being lectured by the teacher, and he’s mad, suddenly – at himself. For being so smart in some ways and so fucking dumb in others.

“Don’t worry,” he tells her, turning into his bedroom. He doesn’t bother with the light, just heads for the bed standing empty for him and falls in. “I don’t get me either. Is – is it okay if I hang up? I’m really beat, my first tour meets at 7:30 tomorrow.”

“We need real jobs, brother,” she grumbles. “Well, someday. I’m happy for you, okay? Who cares if you’re boning each other or not. He sounds great.”

“THANKS, sis. You always had a way with words.” He smiles fondly into the phone. “Drive safe. Love you.”

“Love you more,” she replies – fast – and then she’s gone.

Chapter Text

Makoto isn’t there when Rin goes to the coffeeshop Saturday night. He stands in the doorway, scanning the room to be sure he hasn’t missed him – and the déjà vu is so thick he feels like he’s choking on it. All the tables are claimed by the usual suspects, book clubs and chess-players and people holding mugs staring contemplatively into space.

He notices the artist in the corner, sitting with his sketchpad as always, and hurries over on impulse. His déjà vu bumps up a notch when he gets there: he stands over the guy, practically looming, having all the time he wants to appreciate the way his dark hair shines in the mood lighting, the lean muscle of his arms in his sleeveless shirt, his long legs propped up on a chair. But the sight doesn’t grab him the way it would’ve, before the past week and its unexpected events.

Finally he gives up and says “Ahem,” exactly like a cartoon character. Artist Guy finally peeks up, giving him a blank look. Rin blinks down, the guy blinks up and Rin sighs.

“I’m looking for someone, and I wonder if you’ve seen him here tonight,” he tries, as polite as he’s capable of. The guy nods once and turns back to the tin of pencils open on the table.

“Makoto hasn’t shown up yet.”

Rin just stares mutely. “…you know him?”

“Sure. Nice guy.” He starts to shade something in, and Rin’s stomach wants to feel normal, but it’s sour and pinched instead. Artist Guy looks up at Rin then, and somehow his eyes are kind, too. “We’ve just been small-talking here and there. I haven’t really talked to him. Not like you.” He adds a tiny smile.

Oh, GOD. Is the whole world in some Save Matsuoka Rin’s Lovelife campaign and I don’t know about it?? He turns away, awkwardly, and wants to laugh his ass off at the utter lack of seating anywhere else. Exceptat this guy’s table who’s too attractive and more importantly knows fartoo much about Rin.

But he has mercy, and lets Rin sit with him, on the same side of the table facing the door so he’ll know if Makoto does manage to show up. Amazingly, the guy – Haru – is good company, quiet for the most part until Rin mentions he’s a former swimmer and they devolve into an argument over the merits of freestyle versus butterfly. It’s practically violent, but he can tell from the light in Haru’s eyes he’s having fun, and strangely enough he is, too. A blast, in fact.

It isn’t what – or who – he was expecting tonight, which is the problem. He can’t hold back a little expectant perk-up whenever the door opens, only to be let down each time it isn’t the big lumbering guy. It’s exactly like a dog waiting for his owner to get home, and he can’t believe what he’s been reduced to. This. THIS is why I’ve never had a thing for anyone. This is so fucking stupid.

His brain may be on the high ground but his body is beyond help, so he spends a solid hour like that, trapped in a swirl of jacked-up feeling and anticipation and bitter disappointment. The interrupted fantasizing he did last night adds its own particular edge, too. Eventually he lets out a jagged growl and stands up from the table, stretching a kink out of his neck from staring motionless for so long.

“…I gotta get his number.”

“I hate phones,” Haru says, rubbing the drawing-related filth from his hands with a little cloth. “You’re better off not knowing.”

Rin looks down at his weird new sort-of companion, half bemused, half horrified. “Jesus. Remind me never to put you down as my emergency contact.”

“Deal.” Haru rips the top sheet off his sketchpad and holds it up to him. “Here, if you want.”

Rin takes it from him and is shocked. There, in dynamic dove gray and charcoal and coal-black and white, is his own face, staring at the door in profile. He’s leaning his chin on one hand, eyes wide and expectant and mouth relaxed, and it’s nothing like what he’s seen in the mirror for so long. It’s a portrait of a man looking forward to something, and Rin is speechless.

“Hope you see him next time,” Haru says, already leaning to find a pencil for his next drawing. Rin finally finds himself and puts the precious thing down to keep it safe, then throws his arms around Haru’s narrow shoulders without warning.

“Oi!” Haru gasps.

Thank you,” Rin smiles, giving Haru a little squeeze. Haru squirms in his arms like a toddler or a cat. “It’s amazing.”

*

Rin doesn’t try the coffeeshop on Sunday, and actually is grateful to have a nice distraction for a change when his mom invites him and Gou for dinner. She all-out spoils them with a boiling, salty pot of shabu-shabu, and breaks the seal on one of her better bottles of sake. It doesn’t take long and they’re both working him over for details about Makoto. It’s the newest news in the family (other than his niece’s latest preschool exploits).

Somehow, this time, he’s okay with whatever they ask (Gou) and breathlessly speculate (his mom). That’s probably the alcohol talking. But it’s also the odd clarity that time provides.

On one hand, he realizes now how much he’d like to have Makoto in his days, in any capacity. It’s his big, warm presence; it’s done more good for him in the last week than any fix he’s tried – and abandoned – over the last year.

On the other hand, he’s slowly realizing that’s not enough. Just being “hangout buddies” with Makoto isn’t enough. Rin thinks he’s ready to want more.

Gou gives him a ride home and kindly leaves him what’s left of his dignity after the emotional strip-search of the evening, bitching the whole way about her useless manager (who likes to hole up in his office playing Fantasy Football, apparently). It’s so nice to hear about someone else’s problems with no expectation to share what’s going on with him, that as they pull up he’s reciprocating without planning to.

“So, do… do you wanna hear something I figured out about my conceptual model?” he asks awkwardly, flicking the little Totoro keychain dangling from her ignition.

“Rin!” she exclaims. She grabs his hand to stop him but surprises him, holding it tight like what he’s about to say is of vast importance. “Duh, of course I do! I can’t promise I’ll get it, but don’t let that stop you.” She beams up at him and even in the darkness between streetlights her eyes are shining.

“I… I really don’t have it figured out yet, don’t worry. I just realized this big – no, huge – mediating variable I was missing. It’s social support! People can’t be motivated to do anything without the help of social support.” He pauses, and has to collect himself around a sudden need to cry, welling up out of nowhere. His sister sits patiently, still holding his hand.

“…and so the reading I’ve started on this, really emphasizes that it’s support from all sources a person has that makes a difference, family, partners and friends.”

He realizes he has nothing else to say and that’s lucky, because now he’s firmly up against the jumbled knot of all that’s been hurting for so long, but he knows that the person in the car with him has kept him going through all of it. He reaches up and wipes his eyes with the heel of his free hand.

“Rin,” she begins, in her take-charge voice no one can deny. “So. What’s your next move?”

He sniffs and she hands him a fast-food napkin from the center console. “Well, I think it’s a little premature to be drafting my acceptance speech to the Nobel committee, so…”

“Dork.” She whacks his thigh. “With Loverboy. Hey, you’re the one who wouldn’t shut up about talking through a goal, how that has like special powers or whatever. Got me to ask Sei out, didn’t it?”

“Uh, I think something a little less intellectual got you to ask Sei out.”

This time she smacks the back of his head, and laughs at his protests. “Okay, Mr. Intellectual. Do it. Wow me with your Grand Plan to sweep Makoto off his feet.”

“I’m – gonnaaa… go, to the café tomorrow.”

“And?”

“In a trenchcoat??”

“Weak!”

“BUT!” He holds up a finger and she struggles to hold her crazy laugh back. “I’ll… go up to him, and like whip it off, and I’ll be totally nude –”

“With a bow and gift tag on your dick saying ‘Special Delivery’!!” she yells, and in the tiny car it’s… ear-splitting, but he’s honking for air so hard he’s almost as loud.

It takes a full ten minutes before he can breathe normally and she can drive safely. She’s mopping the eyeliner off her cheeks with a napkin as he leans in the window one more time.

“Thanks, Gou,” he smiles.

“Anytime. Go get ‘im, Tiger,” she smiles back. She gives the horn a little beep as she drives away, and he waves until she’s gone.

*

“Makoto!”

Rin can’t help his yell, turning every head in the café crowd on Monday night. The man himself freezes in the door, his head swiveling to spot Rin, holding down their usual table and waving. The table is bare of books, though, his bag left back at home, in a sort of half-assed leap of faith. He likes me, he likes me not…

“Rin!” Makoto beams, striding to the table. When he gets there Rin’s suddenly overwhelmed by how solid he is, how real, which is a crazy thought but he almost wants to snake a hand out and lay it on his hip to prove it. Makoto beats him to it, reaching down to squeeze his shoulder, and his hand is firm and warm.

Just like his arms in Rin’s fantasy.

“How are you, man? It’s so good to see you!” he grins up, realizing he’s acting like they’ve been separated for a year instead of a weekend, and not caring. Makoto takes the seat across from him and leans in on his elbows, giving a jaunty little rapid-fire whack to the table with his open hands.

“Guess where I was on Saturday.”

“Getting a sex-change operation,” Rin’s mouth pops off, and he goes ice-cold in quick horror. There’s a quiet little laugh behind him that he knows is Haru’s, and his horror intensifies.

“…which they declined to do on you, ‘cause you’re such a perfect specimen of manhood,” his mouth finishes. It’s better, and he’s amused to see Makoto hasn’t changed his expression a millimeter. He’s just waiting for Rin to be done being a fuckhead, apparently, squinting at him patiently.

“Uh, thanks? I guess?”

“Forget me! Where were you?”

Makoto leans further and grabs both his shoulders this time, like a surgeon giving a family member bad news, but his face is jubilant. “Guess who was being wined and dined by their new employer?”

Rin feels a duh-look pulling his face totally duh-slack. “You’re kidding.”

Makoto shakes his head happily. “Nope. I’m the new HR director for the Japanese Red Cross. Can you believe that?”

“Director??” Rin gapes.

“Yyyyyup.”

“Oh my God! How are you qualified for that?” he demands, then covers his mouth. “Oh, Makoto, I’m sorry, that sounded terrible.”

But Makoto just unleashes his laugh again, and this time it isn’t a waterfall that comes to Rin’s mind, it’s the feeling of a shiver shooting up his spine translated into sound, and pretty, how is a man’s laugh so pretty?

“That’s what I wanna know!! I saw the posting and just figured, hell, this is a total no-go. But they kept emphasizing ‘professionalism and people-skills and commitment to the mission,’ way more than supervisory experience or a fancy resume like you’d see at somewhere corporate.”

“Mmmm,” Rin hums thoughtfully, fixated on Makoto’s face as he shares his fabulous and improbable news. He can tell it’s improbable to Makoto too, from his own brand of duh-face on display – and in Makoto’s case, that means huge eyes pulled round from their usual sleepy state, and Rin wants to laugh and laugh in unchecked joy.

“What happened at the interview? Oh my God, dude. You must’ve blown ‘em away.”

Makoto sits back in his chair with a little whump! like someone pushed him there, shaking his head in confusion. “You know something? I have NO idea. I have no memory of the interview itself.” He bites his lip. “You know, I do remember picking out a suit – I was so damn nervous, I just like froze in front of my closet looking at all my suits I used to wear to work and worrying that they wouldn’t fit and I had no recollection of what went with what. None. Finally had to send an old friend from school a text asking him and like swearing him not to tell my folks so I wouldn’t jinx it. He’s in the fashion industry, so I figured I could trust his judgment.” He laughs again and Rin’s mouth pounces.

“So what’d you wear? Describe it for me.”

…and the music on tonight does this perfectly inevitable thing at that very moment, pausing between songs so Rin’s possibly-innocent, actually-saucy invitation slides right into the silence and Makoto has nothing to distract him from Rin’s teasing sing-song voice. And it’s so high-school, he wants to die.

But he doesn’t laugh, or even smile, just glances at the ceiling like he’s remembering and back down to Rin. “That’s funny, too. So my friend – Nagisa – kept pushing me to go with a navy suit, red tie. I told him they’d think I was trying to dress like the Red Cross corporate mascot or something. But he insisted. ‘Red’s your color, Mako-chan,’ he kept saying.”

Rin smirks. “’Mako-chan’. Cute.”

“Oh, we go way back, Nagisa and I. Let’s just say we weren’t the popular kids in grade school. So we sorta looked after each other. I tried to act like his big brother, even though I could’ve used someone to ‘big-brother’ me, more like.”

“How could you not be popular?” Rin demands, smacking the table half-jokingly, half-serious like a parliamentarian in heated debate. “You?? You’re like the guy NO one could dislike. You’ve got it all – looks, brains, you could go be a hostage negotiator and they’d all come out going ‘Oops, my bad.’”

“Ha!” Makoto barks. If he’s convinced by Rin’s impromptu best-man speech, he isn’t showing it.

“Were you a late bloomer or something?”

“Oh, Rin,” he sighs, in embarrassed amusement. “Oh, yeah I was. I was the absolute worst of both worlds. You know those little know-it-alls who have to constantly be in your business telling people what they should do and that they should be careful and all that stuff that basically makes other kids wanna kill ‘em? Yeah, me.” His smile is rueful and 100% honest. “But I blame my parents. What the hell were they doing having a set of twins after me. Way to screw me up, Mom and Dad.”

It’s Rin’s turn to go “Ha!” at the same time he knows Makoto’s pain way too well. “Oh my God. I’m the same! I have this little sister and – and, well, I was a bad enough bossy shit to her before my Dad died.” He stops at the sudden surprise of that most-crucial fact in his entire life, tumbling so freely off his lips practically without care – but Makoto doesn’t do the irritating ‘sympathizing-face,’ doesn’t change at all. He just shifts a little and beams his beautiful eyes more-directly to Rin. It’s like he’s acknowledging the importance of the statement without getting in the way.

“…yeah. Well, after he died, I was like 10 times worse. Ugh, I was fucking impossible. But you know what was awesome?” He grins, suddenly, fierce and sharp at the unexpected spike of love he feels for Gou.

“What?” Makoto smiles gently.

“Gou – that’s my sister, a girl named Gou and a boy named Rin, gotta love it – was having none of it. I’d try to horn in on who she was having for a sleepover and she’d flat-out laugh in my face. Tell me I was being ‘dangerously paranoid,’ and I quote. In the fourth grade.”

“I love it!” Makoto caws. “Oh, you have to introduce me sometime.”

His words are a tiny twist into Rin’s stomach, and he loses his grip on their easy conversation, imagines her suddenly there sitting in the vacant seat beside Makoto. Her little hands wrapped happily around one of those firm biceps, maybe; her warm eyes shining up at him. Both of them flirting hard no matter how good her marriage is with Sei. No matter how content Makoto is with … whoever he goes home to.

Who does Makoto love?? NO one like Makoto can possibly be alone, it doesn’t compute. Who has Makoto?

“…Rin?” Makoto prompts.

“You said there were two reasons you weren’t in the popular club and I totally interrupted you,” Rin says slowly. “So you were bossy, and what else?”

Makoto leans forward then – and his face is angry. It’s a foreign sight, on this man who’s so… put together, so careful, and Rin immediately regrets his clumsy question. He pulls in a breath to take it back.

“I was afraid. I was one of those little scaredy-cat kids. Everything that could possibly go wrong, every possible scenario, I had this like special gift for playing it out to the end.” He pauses, his graceful brows a hard line. “My parents are a little late coming home from a night out? Obviously that means they crashed their car, they’re both dead and it’s just me and the twins. The first day of English class is impossible to understand? I’m never gonna get it, I’m gonna be passed by by everyone else in class and I won’t be able to do the things I’ll need to to take care of my family when I grow up.” He pauses again, and Rin’s glad to see his face relax, if only a little. “You know, kids love other kids who act like 80 year olds. One way ticket to getting picked first in gym class.”

“You’re brave,” Rin argues back hotly, not knowing why he’s trying to beat what’s an ancient memory at this point but feeling driven to try. “You’re so brave, you just spent a fucking year beating your head against the wall but you never gave up. You just kept figuring out ways to keep going and putting yourself out there.” He snatches Makoto’s hand, lying limp and empty on the table between them, and raises it up in a lame little victory-gesture.

“And you DID it! It all worked for you, you put all that effort in and you got it back. It’s about time.”

Makoto’s face is wondering, now, and Rin drops their clasped hands fast (too fast) like he suddenly realizes where he is. But Makoto doesn’t let him have his back, pulling it closer to himself on the table. He folds his other hand on top. Rin freezes.

“Oh, Rin,” Makoto says quietly. “Thank you. Thanks for being such a great friend. I don’t think I’m a particularly superstitious person, but if I was, I’d almost say we were meant to meet each other that night. What are the odds, you living here and me coming all the way across town?” He squeezes, and Rin dies, but this time it’s different than before, it’s the best kind of death ever, and he’d happily die again and again if it could be just like this.

Makoto’s expectant look is too much for him, then, and his freeze shatters into a helpless laugh. He squints back at Makoto.

“…Oh, I dunno. I’d put ‘em at… 1000 to 1?”

Chapter Text

The rest of the evening is a wash. A glorious, ridiculous wash. Rin, of course, brought nothing constructive to the café with him and Makoto didn’t either (with a whole lotta nothing to work on now), so they… just… waste their night. Rin buys the evening’s treats over the surprisingly vehement protests of his newly-employed friend (and is surprised at how thrilling such a dumb little victory is). They spread a buffet’s worth of selections from the case on the table between them, sipping the café’s perfectly-bittersweet hot chocolate. And they talk about abso – lutely nothing important.

And it’s heaven.

At some point Rin feels giddy enough to lean back and call Haru over to their table, and while the artist hesitates for an irritatingly long time, he finally stalks over and slides into the chair next to Rin. There’s something about his quiet presence that feels right in a way Rin can’t quite put a finger on; he just feels safe, feels encouraging, like he knows exactly what seems to be going on at this table and is all for it. Makoto is clearly as glad to have Haru there as Rin is, beaming at Haru’s quiet congratulations and shoving a slice of spice cake over with the admonition “Eat this, Haru, you’re so thin! And it’s not too sweet, really!”

…ahhh. So THERE’S the Big Brother, Rin smirks. God, good for Makoto, he has someone around here to baby.

“Okay. If you guys could be fish, which kinds would you be?” Haru asks them at some point, leaning wayyy back in his chair on the theoretical edge between balancing and falling over. Rin’s surprised Makoto hasn’t yelled at him to sit forward yet. His cake plate sits empty of all but a few crumbs.

Rin flicks a maraschino cherry from the Black Forest cake at him, aiming for his crotch like the adult he is, and is sorry to watch it sail in a neat parabola over him. Makoto frowns across the table.

“Why the hell would we wanna be fish? Have to dodge boats and try not to get eaten all day? Lord.”

Haru reaches over without losing his balance at all and sadly pats his knee. “You have no imagination, Rin. School beat it out of you, I get it.”

“Seahorse,” Makoto says suddenly – practically blurts. They both quit their petty squabbling and look over in surprise.

“Seahorse. Huh.” Rin picks another cherry off and this one flies right to its target (Makoto’s heart, this time, and whether that’s violent or sappy he can’t decide). Makoto absently picks it out of his lap and pops it in his mouth.

“They’re great dads,” Haru notes.

Rin swivels to stare at him. “…what? Are you National Geographic now?” He scoffs. “Great dads.”

“It’s true!” Makoto says, narrowing his eyes at Haru in some kind of I know what you’re doing you little troublemaker glare that Rin can’t… quite… translate, though he tries his best. “They’re gentle, and like ancient, we don’t know much about them. I just think they’re really neat.”

“They’re also beautiful. And graceful. Don’t forget that,” Haru adds, and Rin almost gives himself whiplash looking over this time but Haru has his calm blue gaze fixed firmly on him instead of their seahorse-loving friend. He’s smiling. And Rin’s blushing, the blush that he knows if he can’t get a hold on it will run away entirely from his cheeks to the rest of his face, just one of the many delightful things he and Gou inherited from their mom.

“Well, fine. Then I’d be a moray eel. Happy?” he huffs. “Get to be this crazy-looking thing going –” He leans around the table in his best moray eel impression, jaw drooping and eyes bugging out, and Makoto covers his mouth and giggles exactly like a six-year-old. “BUT, best thing, I get to live in some choice spot under a rock, not have to run around looking for food or finding mates.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fit you at all,” Makoto says with authority.

“Oh really?” he grins. “Then what am I, O Great Fish Profiler?”

“I’d actually say you’re… a clownfish?” He’s tentative, like he’s afraid Rin will be offended.

Rin’s intrigued. “You mean, like Finding Nemo?” he asks curiously, and Makoto nods, pleased.

“My brother and sister – the twins – got an aquarium for their birthday one year; they were so obsessed with the movie, it was the only way to shut them up, actually. And my parents made them read up on all the fish they wanted to get, so I found out all about ‘Nemo.’” He smiles. “Clownfish are obviously really flashy, like you. But did you know, clownfish are really smart. They do this elaborate dance when they find a sea anemone they wanna live with, just getting used to it and getting comfortable. And when they actually ‘move in’ they do all this stuff to protect it, fight off other fish, stuff like that.” He stops abruptly and Rin and Haru stare, Haru in fascination and Rin in tongue-tied disbelief.

“Oh! Yeah. They also can change from male to female and be the head of their clan, or whatever. But I guess that’s permanent so it’s a pretty big decision in clownfish circles.”

“Good to see we’re back to sex-changes,” Haru says in this weird approving tone. “Full-circle.”

“Well what about you, Mr.I-Love-Fish-So-Much-I-Should-Just… Go Marry One?” Rin finishes lamely. “I’m gonna go ahead and say you’re a lamprey. ‘Cause you suck.”

“Are we two??” Makoto demands, and Haru’s actually bent over and laughing, which Rin’s pretty sure he hasn’t heard out of him and is sorry to admit to himself is fucking adorable. Real shame the guy’s a Grade-A asshole, he muses with surprising fondness.

“Nah, I got nothing,” Haru finally says when he’s upright and verbal again. “I do just love fish in general. I guess I have a thing for mackerel but I don’t really play favorites.”

“Weirdo,” Rin mutters, then something he can’t exactly identify (a piece of napkin?) is flying across the table and hitting him between the eyes, and Makoto’s doing a little victory dance over his great shot.

…and then the barista finally comes past their table as he puts up the chairs, reaching in to give the tabletop a little knock. “So sorry gentlemen, we’re closing,” he says apologetically.

They look around at other a little dazedly like they’re coming out of the same dream, sharing smiles: Rin’s big and almost painful on his face, Haru’s teeny-tiny, Makoto’s… beautiful.

“…well, what are you guys up to tonight?” Haru asks, stretching (again, like a cat) as he stands. He stares back and forth between them with creepy intensity.

“Uh, you aren’t coming over to my place, if that’s what you’re asking,” Rin laughs. “Weirdo.”

“I wasn’t,” Haru says coolly. “Makoto?”

“Hey!” Rin protests, but it’s all for show, the warm blanket over their table unfrayed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Makoto answers, offhandedly. “The usual, in other words ‘nothing.’ Probably just watch some TV and go to bed.” He gazes up. “What about you, Rin?”

“Oh, you know,” Rin feels his mouth saying in a polite dinner party voice. “The same.” The same???

“Mmmm,” Haru says. He turns back to his table and starts carefully stowing his materials. “Hey, Makoto. Wanna ride the train home together?”

“Sure,” he says slowly, standing up and bussing their empty dishes despite Rin’s offer to help. He hurries back to shrug into his neat fall windbreaker. “Better hurry so we don’t miss it. Rin,” and suddenly he’s pulling Rin up by the hand, and Rin’s falling into a full embrace, no stupid no-homo-handhold between them to get in their way. It’s just his chest against Makoto’s, warm and soft underlined by his strength, and Rin puts his nose against Makoto’s neck for the moment they’re together and just breathes.

Makoto lets him go, but grabs his shoulders again when they separate. “I’m so, so glad you were here to celebrate with me tonight. You were the most important person I wanted to tell.” Rin blinks up mutely and Makoto gazes down, and Rin senses Haru far off to the side, smiling.

Rin still can’t muster up a word, but Makoto just nods and squeezes his arms before gently letting him go. “Well, have a great rest of your night. Oh!!” He dips hurriedly into the breast pocket of his jacket, pulling out a little notepad and a pen. “I am SO old-fashioned about some things, it’s sad. Here. Please take my number.” He’s fast as he writes, enough that Rin’s almost worried he won’t be able to read the precious digits, but he just takes the paper with a nod.

“Thanks. Hopefully I’ll see ya here sometime…?” he asks, the differences in their trajectory suddenly painfully clear. Why would Makoto come all the way over here again? He’s the third year graduating and going on to better things. Rin’s just a remedial first year who keeps getting held back.

Makoto smiles down at him, like he’s trying to pack as much unspoken… feeling into the simple expression as he can. “Don’t worry. You can’t keep me away.” He turns his head to Haru. “Ready?”

Haru nods and they quietly head out, walking fast.

…and that’s when Rin makes his non-decision decision. They’ve hardly let the door close behind them when he’s following them, walking as quietly as he can and keeping a safe distance back like some wannabe spy. He’d laugh, if he was watching it in a show, but since he’s the one suddenly in the middle of it he has no choice but to fully commit, and be the best stalker he can.

It hardly matters. Makoto is so engrossed in conversation with Haru, he could probably drift up to them and hang an arm around their shoulders and it would take him a few sentences to notice. “We just small-talk,” my ASS, Rin thinks sourly. But there’s nothing at all romantic in their stance or gestures, which is all he has to go on with no idea what Makoto’s saying.

And it’s Makoto doing 90% of the talking, too – if Haru was quiet when he’s alone with Rin, he’s apparently near-comatose with Makoto, which is strangely cute and makes Rin snicker as he slips along behind them. But Makoto seems to be getting plenty out of the conversation even so, nodding emphatically and squeezing Haru’s shoulder, at one point.

Rin’s proud of his careful timing when the train comes, edging unseen into the next car down from them, and quickly grabs a discarded newspaper off a seat. He shakes it out in front of him, leaning casually in the corner, and peeks through the windows between their cars as the stops reel off. It doesn’t take long for Haru to leave, and he gets bolder, openly peering at Makoto. His eyes are closed as he leans his head back, his face relaxed, and it’s the calm that impresses Rin. This is it, the look Makoto has when he can just be him, and not worry about anyone at all.

Then Makoto’s lumbering to his feet as they shudder into the next station, and Rin drops the paper and waits impatiently at the door. Luck is on his side when they all spill out, Makoto turning away and heading towards the escalator, and Rin falls in behind him, following the shaggy head towering above the crowd.

It’s when they’re out on the dark street, glistening with a fall rainburst that must’ve come and gone while they were in the café, that Rin is shocked by the sight before him.

Makoto is dancing.

He has his earbuds in, apparently, and he’s dancing down the street, this… surprisingly formal thing, like a samba or cha-cha for one. His head bobs and his shoulders swivel and his hips saunter forward, and it’s definitely not Shall We Dance? quality, but that couldn’t matter less. He’s just so happy. Happy, and confident, and FREE. Rin can only imagine feeling like that.

It isn’t far to Makoto’s place, just a few short blocks. With the sparser crowds and no one distracting him it’s harder to be discreet so Rin’s eternally grateful for the mystery music (Latin…? Jazz?) singing Makoto to his door, which turns out to be a charming little four-plex with huge windows. Rin instantly covets it.

And there, leaning against a phone pole just outside, Rin is officially out of ideas.

What the fuck was he planning to do when he got to the end of this little adventure?? How would Makoto feel about essentially being followed home by a guy he’s known for all of a week? Even if he did give Rin a hug and his number? How would RIN feel?

…well, if Rin’s being honest – which he apparently is, more honest than he has in months – he’d be flattered, and surprised, and glad. And hopefully Makoto might, too.

He’s reaching into the pocket of his ragged jean jacket for Makoto’s number when the big picture window in one of the ground floor units pops alight in a sudden blaze, so bright he hisses involuntarily. His eyes widen. It’s Makoto’s.

He’s all alone, that’s the thing his eyes seize on and wave in front of his brain first, like a victory flag. It’s just him wandering into a comfortable living room, peeling his trim windbreaker off and letting it drop carelessly to the floor, a beer bottle in his hand. And Rin can only blink at the show-room perfection of the view before him, the curtains thrown wide and the darkness outside keeping him totally hidden, while Makoto is practically on display for the whole world to see… or, in this case, for Rin, like some kind of innocent, sweetly domestic peepshow.

Matsuoka Rin, this is MAKOTO’s life.

And then his peepshow thought goes from abstraction to headshaking reality, Makoto setting the bottle on the coffee table and lifting his black sweater over his head, and his plain white t-shirt, dropping both on the floor with the same carelessness he treated the jacket. His fingers drop to his fly.

No. No way. No.

But OH yes, the jeans follow and there he is, taller than makes sense and all confident curves and lines as Rin has felt and only imagined, dropping heavily onto the couch in a pair of black boxer-briefs. He leans forward to snag the remote and his bottle and eases slowly back, popping on a TV that must be in the corner under the window and tilting his head for a long pull of beer. The colors from the screen play across his skin.

What, is it a sauna in there?? What the fuck? How can I be this – lucky??

Then he drops his head and looks out, in Rin’s direction.

…and his face goes from relaxed to dumbfounded, as he shoots forward on the couch to stare right at Rin.

Who’s wearing his championship-best Duh-Face, standing woodenly in the dark like the world’s biggest creep.

Makoto vanishes from the cozy scene so quickly Rin doesn’t even have time to change his expression, and he’s left boring a hole into the empty room. Then his frantic heart kicks his ass into gear, and he’s scrabbling in his jacket pocket for his phone.

He has the first three numbers in when the front door opens wide, and the completely surreal sight of Makoto in a bathrobe and sweatpants greets him.

“…Rin??” he calls incredulously, taking in the sorry sight of Rin with his glowing phone in one hand like a dog with his head in the treat jar.

“…yyyeah?” Rin tries.

“What are you doing here?” Makoto asks, and it’s unfair, that he has to do this in the light while Makoto gets to hide in the backlight from the entryway. So he shuffles sheepishly forward to face him.

Makoto gazes down from the single step, leaning on the open door with his hands in the pockets of his robe – and it’s one of those super-thick, fuzzy ones, Rin sees now. One that would be so nice to slip into on a chilly winter morning, to scurry out of the bedroom just long enough to start a pot of coffee before hurrying back to bed.

He stutters a little. “I – I. Fuck, Makoto.” The sigh he lets out feels like it weighs 10 kilos. “I have no fucking idea.”

Makoto’s smile is brighter than the light from his window. “Ah. Well, let me help you figure that out.”

And he descends the single step, taking Rin’s face into his hands so completely with hands so warm, Rin’s overwhelmed by the sudden change in sensation. His face is there, right – there, as big as Rin’s landscape but like nothing he’s ever seen.

Their kiss is brief, but it’s soft, and warm, and sweet, and it’s everything that reminds Rin of Makoto, somehow. Somewhere in the middle of everything Rin closes his eyes, feeling he’s surrendering a last fight he doesn’t know why he kept up for so long. So he doesn’t know who pulls back first. Makoto’s just watching him when he finally opens them, one hand wandering up to slowly tuck his hair behind an ear.

“…so?” Rin asks, breathless.

“So,” Makoto smiles, eyes wide. “Do you want to come in?”

“Please,” Rin says hurriedly. “Save me from this stalking bullshit. I am terrible at it.”

***

“Goodnight and Go” – Imogen Heap <3

Skipping beats, blushing cheeks I am struggling Daydreaming bed scenes in the corner café And then I’m left in bits recovering tectonic tremblings You get me every time

Why d'ya have to be so cute? It's impossible to ignore you Must you make me laugh so much It's bad enough we get along so well Say goodnight and go

Follow you home, you've got your headphones on and you're dancing Got lucky, beautiful shot you taking everything off watch the curtains wide open Then you fall in the same routine flicking through the TV relaxed and reclining And you think you're alone...

Why d'ya have to be so cute? It's impossible to ignore you Must you make me laugh so much It's bad enough we get along so well Say goodnight and go

One of these days, you'll miss your train and come stay with me We'll have drinks and talk about things, any excuse to stay awake with you You'll sleep here, I’ll sleep there, but then the heating may be down again at my convenience we'd be good, we'd be great together

Say goodnight and go, why's it always always goodnight and go Darling not again Goodnight and go