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“You should know that we are very impressed by the designs you’ve provided us.” Moriyama smiles placidly, dabbing a handkerchief to the sweat beading on his forehead. “But I’m afraid… we may have to go in a different direction for this particular project.”
 
Kaito can feel his fist clench reflexively at his side. His nails dig into his palm as he struggles to keep his expression passive. We may have to go in a different direction is a new one as far as vague rejections go.
 
“Moriyama-san, if this is about the incident with VonTech, they have assumed full responsibility for – ”
 
“Oh yes, yes, the president is well aware. We know your work is top of the line, Suzuki-san. But our shareholders, I’m afraid, are easily swayed by gossip.” He levels Kaito with a look so falsely sympathetic it makes his skin crawl. “And we cannot risk upsetting them. You understand, don’t you? This is a very precarious position we’re in.”
 
Tell your shareholders to pull their damn heads out of the sand, is what he’d like to say. Maybe grab this obnoxious man by the collar and shake him as he does so.
 
But instead, what he says is:
 
“… Of course. Perhaps you might consider me again in the future.”
 
He stops at a payphone a block down from the building; it would make more sense to dial Sakura’s number, he supposes, but he dials his own instead, with an inexplicable feeling in the back of his mind that someone will be there to answer.
 
“Hello?” her voice says a moment later. “…Kaito?”
 
He sighs into the receiver.
 
“Ah. I guess it didn’t go well, then?”
 
“No, not particularly,” he says, scrubbing a tired hand across his face. Strange, how with each progressive rejection he seems to feel a little less disappointed and a little more weary. “They’re still hung up on VonTech. Just like everyone else.”
 
She makes a quiet noise of sympathy – actual sympathy, without any superficiality to it, and it’s calming to hear. “I’m sorry. But this is no reason to give up, you know. I’m sure some company out there will be intelligent enough to look past it.”
 
“…Yeah,” he says after a moment of uncertain silence. “Let’s hope.” He stares out through the slightly grimy glass of the phone booth, at the dusty sunlight filtering through, and remembers the view from the highrise he just left. This place is no good anyway, he supposes.
 
Can’t even see the ocean from here.
 
“Are you taking the next train back?” Sakura asks. “Because I think I have something here that might cheer you up.”
 
He can hear a hint of an amused smile in her voice.
 
“Something?” he echoes. “That’s a little suspiciously vague.”
 
But Sakura simply laughs and tells him to have a safe trip, as the sound of some guitar-heavy American pop song (the kind of music she never listens to) plays muffled and staticky in the background.
 

 

 
As it often seems to go, Kaito hears him before he sees him.
 
A drawn-out, sing-song “Hi~” assaults him right as he steps through the door, and his messenger bag slips through his fingers, landing on the floor with a thunk, as he turns to look with a kind of tired resignation. Some part of him (a deep-rooted sixth sense, of a sort) already knows what he’s in for.
 
Hiromi waves at him brightly from behind the kitchen partition.
 
“…You thought this would cheer me up?” Kaito asks, leveling Sakura with a look that he hopes conveys his message of “traitor.”
 
“Hey, since when am I a ‘this’?” Hiromi asks, but Kaito pointedly ignores him.
 
“Oh, come on, Kaito,” Sakura says with a knowing smile, glancing up from the paperwork she’s reading over. “I think we’re all pretty well past the point of dishonesty, aren’t we? You can stop pretending you’re not happy to see him. And he really did need a place to stay.”
 
Hiromi takes a break from whatever he’s cooking – curry, most likely, judging by the heady smell of spices – to awkwardly maneuver his leg up high enough for Kaito to see, revealing a plaster cast around his foot.
 
“Wh – how did that happen?
 
Hiromi grins. “Good question. So I met this girl, right? Really hot, and smart, too. I think you’d like her. Anyways, so it turns out her dad is a yakuza, and – ”
 
“You know what?” Kaito says, lifting a hand to cut him off. “Nevermind. I don’t even want to know.”
 
“Whaaaat? It’s a great story!”
 
“It is pretty good,” Sakura says.
 
Kaito frowns at both of them in turn. “I’ve sworn off getting involved in any more of your weird escapades,” he says, jabbing a finger in Hiromi’s direction. “You telling me too much could make me… implicit in your crimes or something.”
 
Hiromi raises an eyebrow and mouths the word overdramatic to Sakura, who has to hide a laugh behind her hand. She shuffles her papers together and gets to her feet.
 
“I’m afraid,” she says, “that I have a meeting to get to. And after that I’m having dinner with a friend, so. I’ll see you two tomorrow, probably?”
 
“Aww, Sakura-chan.” Hiromi pouts at her. “The food’s almost ready, too.”
 
“Sorry, sorry,” she says, raising a hand in contrition. “But you two probably have a lot of catching up to do anyhow.” She puts a hand on Kaito’s arm, then, pulling him aside and lowering her voice. “Is this okay with you? Bringing him here without asking? I just – when he called from the hospital I couldn’t exactly ignore him, you know?”
 
“No, it’s – ” He breaks off, glancing back towards the kitchen, where Hiromi is busy rummaging around through his cupboards and putting everything back in the wrong place. Kaito sighs – half-hearted, without any bite to it. “It’s fine. I get the feeling he would’ve ended up here no matter what.”
 
Sakura smiles gently. “That is the way it seems to go with you two.” She leans in to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth, palm warm against his cheek, and then heads for the door with a parting wave. “You boys try not to get into trouble while I’m gone, alright?”
 
That, Kaito thinks, as he eyes the bulky plaster boot encasing Hiromi’s foot, might actually be achievable.
 
“You two still don’t live together, huh?” Hiromi says as Kaito joins him at the kitchen counter. Hands still wet from washing, he hastily rolls up his sleeves and pulls a stack of peeled potatoes towards himself, beginning to chop without even really thinking about it. Cooking together with Hiromi is simply ingrained in him at this point, the motions familiar and comforting.
 
“We both like our space,” he says with a shrug. He has no reason to doubt that Sakura is unhappy with their relationship as it is. She could have and would have left him a long time ago if a bit of distance bothered her.
 
Hiromi shakes his head, taking a thoughtful drag of his cigarette. “I still can’t believe she’s put up with all your bullshit for this long.”
 
That, Kaito can’t quite believe either.
 
“Here, try this,” Hiromi is saying, offering a spoonful of the curry sauce to him, and Kaito leans in to taste it.
 
“… That’s good.” Rich and thick with spices, mild at first but gradually infused with a simmering heat as the flavors linger on his tongue.
 
“Right?” Hiromi winks at him. “I’ve been improving on my secret recipe lately.” He goes back to stirring the pot with a grin, humming something that sounds suspiciously like the Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan theme song. “Eagle, shark, lion,” he sings under his breath, adding another handful of sliced carrots.
 
For a time, Kaito says nothing – simply watches him out of the corner of his eye. Odd, how he never seems to change at all. His hair is still the exact same length as when Kaito saw him last, soft against the sun-browned nape of his neck.
 
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
 
Hiromi gives him a suspicious look. “I’m injured, remember? I just told you five minutes ago.” He points down at his leg. “And obviously I had a whole bunch of people I could’ve called up, but I thought of course my best friend in the world Suzuki Kaito would want to see me after all thi – ”
 
“You know what I mean.”
 
Hiromi’s smile falters almost imperceptibly before settling back into place.
 
“…Things just didn’t work out in Oita,” he says with a half-hearted shrug. “Couldn’t find anything that felt right, y’know?”
 
The part of Kaito that is awful and petty and needlessly competitive is glad to hear it. He’s not sure if he could stand it, knowing that Hiromi had found his ocean while Kaito was still left floundering. He watches him try to balance two plates of curry in his hands while also trying to keep weight off his injured foot and shakes his head.
 
“Give me that, idiot,” he mutters, swiping the plates from him. “Shouldn’t you be using crutches or something?”
 
Hiromi waggles his eyebrows obnoxiously. “Hmm? Are you worried about me?”
 
“As if.”
 
It’s a blissfully non-humid day today, and so Kaito slides open the balcony door in the desperate hope that some gust of cool air might blow in. The windchime that Sakura hung out there clinks faintly.
 
“How’s the, uh. The engineering business?” Hiromi asks as Kaito joins him at the table. “Or whatever it is you’re into now.”
 
“How much did Sakura tell you?”
 
Hiromi grins at that. “Nothing much. Just that you’d run into ‘some setbacks.’ Which I guess means it’s not working out.”
 
Kaito huffs out a weary laugh, massaging his temples tiredly. “Not so much, no. It was going alright. Until the company I was working with decided to blame my blueprints for their error during production, and now my reputation is as good as gone.”
 
Hiromi winces sympathetically around a spoonful of curry. “It’s rough out there even for you elite college-educated types, huh?”
 
Kaito leans back in his seat with a sigh in lieu of an answer, glancing over at the paperwork from the hospital that’s lying haphazard on the tabletop. At Hiromi’s name – “wide ocean” – written there in his familiar, messy scrawl.
 
Isn’t it perfect for this place? Hiromi’s voice says, faded and distant. A memory that resurfaces from time to time, as if it were being swept out and brought back by the tide. Our names are alike! Yours has “ocean” in it, too.
 
Kaito wonders if a person can be an ocean.
 
“Why is it,” he says, “that nothing ever seems to go right when you’re not around?”
 
Hiromi seems to ponder this. “Dunno,” he says. He presses one hand to his heart and extends the other to Kaito, his expression one of mock seriousness. “Maybe you and I are simply fated to be together, my dearest. It's the universe telling us that we should not be apart.”
 
He breaks down into laughter as Kaito rolls his eyes, feeling the tension in his shoulders lessen a bit for the first time in weeks.
 
“It’s panther,” he says offhandedly.
 
“Huh?”
 
“Sun Vulcan. It went ‘eagle, shark, panther.’ There wasn’t a lion.”
 
Hiromi gives him a skeptical look. “He was yellow, though. What sense would it make for him to be a panther?”
 
“That’s – I don’t know! He just was!”
 
“Sounds like bullshit to me.”
 
“Are you kidding me?” Kaito pinches the bridge of his nose, fingers drumming angrily on the tabletop. “How are you always so completely wrong about everything?”
 
(You missed this, says a voice in the back of his mind, and this time around he can't deny it.)