He was successful. Unbelievably successful. He earned master’s degrees in economics and business finance. He became CEO of his company when he was only 20. He was incredibly wealthy, known for his competent, frugal nature—but also for his frequent philanthropy. His reputation was sparkling. He stayed out of politics and away from scandals. He lived alone in a neat, functional condo and drove a neat, functional car to work.
He had everything he needed.
But Io Naruko wasn’t happy.
It wasn’t something he thought about often, or so he told himself. The sharp longing in his chest came and went more often than he was comfortable admitting—when he saw happy families as he drove to work, when his subordinates took time off for weddings and honeymoons, when he laid in bed at night—alone, staring at his ceiling in the dim light of the moon, filtering through his cheap, paper curtains.
He wasn’t happy, but he told himself he was fine. Content, even. Or at the very least, he wasn’t miserable—neutral, maybe.
At this moment, however, he wasn’t thinking about that at all. Instead, Io was irritably glancing down at his wristwatch, and wondering how his careful planning could’ve fallen apart so spectacularly.
Well. He was being hyperbolic. He was irritable, though.
Io was currently sat in an uncomfortable, cramped theater chair, trying not to glance at the state of the seats around him—the fabric was dingy, stained, torn in places. It sent a shiver of disgust skittering over his skin. But he paid for his ticket.
His ticket to...Io checked his stub...to Hamlet. Io was at a production of Hamlet. The reason? He had a client who adored theater, and Io, knowing nothing about the subject, decided it would be useful to attend a show. The ticket was cheap, the show wasn’t long, and the little theater was on his way home from work. He’d never seen the place before, and marveled at the thought, thinking it a nice surprise before he walked into the building. It was falling apart, that was for sure. And even still, as Io looked around him, the seats were almost bare, a few scattered pockets of people. Io thought, cynically, they were only there to support their struggling actor friends. He might have been the only one there without a connection to any of the cast.
The show was running fifteen minutes late, and counting. Io was punctual, scheduled, and he wasn’t going to spend his once-in-a-blue-moon day off sitting around in a dark, ratty theater with a spring digging into his lower back through his seat.
Except he was. Because he paid for his ticket.
Io crossed his arms. He was just about to take out his tablet again when a spotlight suddenly shined onto the stage. It blinked to life, and a young actor emerged from the curtains and welcomed the audience.
There was light, polite applause as the curtains opened.
Io sunk into his seat, prepared to continue to regret his decision.
He didn’t. In fact, he didn’t know his opinion could’ve changed so quickly.
Io wasn’t expecting to be interested in the show, but then—their Hamlet took the stage, and Io was enthralled by his performance. Io found it difficult to relate to people in his daily life, but this actor, in a run-down old theater, actually made Io feel for him, for his character. The actor’s passion seeped into his every movement as he dominated the stage with his presence. His expressions, his voice—it all felt genuine in a way Io didn’t think he could appreciate.
They ran the show without intermission, and Io sat at the edge of his seat, completely invested. The other actors were good, but Io kept searching for, waiting for Hamlet when he wasn’t on stage.
By the end of the play, Io just barely restrained himself from leaping to his feet as he applauded. The cast members were all grinning ear-to-ear, despite the low turnout, despite the condition of their theater. Hamlet stood at the center, bowing deeply alongside his castmates. His character melted from his shoulders, and all Io could see was exuberance in the eyes of a talented young man.
The actors filtered off backstage, and Io wondered if he could stay behind and...and talk. Tell Hamlet how moving his performance was, how something warm and bright had stirred in Io’s chest for the first time in a long time.
Then, however, Io’s phone rang.
He swore under his breath—completely unprofessional—when he realized he had to leave. There wasn’t a playbill, so Io couldn’t even get Hamlet’s name. He left the theater with a glance over his shoulder, hoping to see movement from behind the curtain, if, by chance, he could catch the actor as he left.
Io’s phone buzzed against his palm.
No luck. Io left to his car, disappointment curdling in his stomach.
The next day, he found himself distracted at work for the first time in his career.
His mind kept drifting as his pen skittered across his mountain of paperwork. He kept thinking about that actor—the vibrance in his expressions, the way his voice carried so confidently. The theater didn’t make a lot of money—Io checked—so the actor was...wasting his talents, wasn’t he? The risk-benefits were lopsided...but he looked so happy up on that stage. Like there was nowhere else he’d rather be.
Someone knocked on Io’s door, and he realized with a start he’d been daydreaming, doodling stars and swirls at the edge of his papers. Io sat up straight, taking his elbows from off his desk (unprofessional!) and called out.
The door opened, and Io pushed aside the doodles in his margins.
He took a lunch break for the first time, too.
Io usually ate in his office, with his cost-efficient packed lunch. He often worked while he ate, or simply forgot to eat. It saved time, it boosted his productivity.
It wasn’t for today.
Io felt the eyes on him as he strode out of his office.
“Sir, is there something wrong?” A manager was waiting for en elevator when she saw Io’s approach. Her voice was concerned. Io realized what he must’ve looked like: the elusive, work-minded boss leaving his office in a hurry.
“No, nothing is wrong. I am just...going out for lunch, today.” Io stepped into the elevator, fighting to keep the flush from his face. He was acting out of character, he knew, but that wasn’t stopping him. “Thank you for your concern, Kurokawa.”
The manager looked surprised—whether her shock was towards Io’s strange behavior, or the fact that he remembered her name (he remembered all of their names, of course), Io couldn’t tell.
His pulse skipped in his chest as he walked to his car, his gait uneven as he rushed across the parking lot in his almost-too-tight dress shoes.
Io drove back down to the theater. He didn’t even know if it would still be open. He....he forgot to check. But there he was, standing in front of its humble double-doors.
When he entered this second time, Io saw the little theater in a new light. No longer was he focused on peeling paint, or off-color support beams. This time, Io took note of how clean the lobby was—no dust, no trash.
There was no one at the front desk. Io thought he should leave, but even as he was thinking about going, his feet were walking him in the opposite direction, through the doors to the main auditorium.
Io saw movement—but it didn’t belong to who he was looking for. Instead, there was an older man, the actor who played Claudius, holding a broom as he maneuvered through the seats.
“Hello, son.” Claudius looked up when he heard the door open. “What do you need?” His voice was kind. And at his question, a million and one answers swam through his head.
He needed to find Hamlet. He needed to show his appreciation for the play. He needed to unwind the tense tangles of his muscles from sitting at his desk all day. He needed to call his mother. He needed to splurge on shoes that fit him, and on a coffee machine that worked more than half the time. He needed a friend.
“I...I don’t know.” Was his spoken response.
“That’s alright, son; I don’t think any of us know what we need.”
“I—I mean…” Io tried to compose himself, all of a sudden feeling very, very young. “I came to a play, yesterday. I...it was very good.” Io cleared his throat, his face burning. He could talk the Queen of England into selling him Buckingham Palace, but at this moment, all his carefully selected words evaporated into smoke. “Very moving.” Io finished lamely.
Claudius just smiled. He was so different from the character he played, genuinely open and trusting.
“We’re doing Hamlet again, next week,” Claudius said, the invitation clear in his voice.
“I…” The memory of a broad smile, and earnest brown eyes flitted in Io’s mind. “Okay.” Io nodded quickly, almost breathless.
He scurried out of the theater.
As he sat in the driver’s side of his parked car, Io gripped the wheel, hands shaking.
He...he was excited. He had something to look forward to.
Next week. Okay.
He was going to see Hamlet next week.
Io walked into the office smiling.
Io saw Hamlet, and then waited an agonizing month before he was able to attend their next show. It was another Shakespeare production, likely so they could reuse the props and costumes. This time it was A Midsummer’s Night Dream. This time, Hamlet played Puck, and though Io didn’t know the actor at all—he somehow felt the mischievous spark in the actor’s eye fit much more than Hamlet’s tragedy.
Io saw all three performances of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, one after the other, each week. With each performance, Io caught something he hadn’t before, saw how the actors changed up their reactions. They breathed life into the play, and each incarnation was a different being. It took Io’s breath away to see.
Between the last performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and the preparation for the next play, Io scoured the internet for any scrap of information he could find about the theater. He found a few mediocre Yelp reviews, a blog post talking about a production from three years prior, and the theater’s official website.
Io began following the theater’s website almost religiously. The site, unlike the building itself, was sleek, and modern. Io wondered if one of the young actors designed it.
The site was scant for information. It gave a brief overview of the theater’s history, the premiere date of the next show, and a gallery of pictures. The quality of the photos varied—some were professional, while others were obviously taken with a cellphone from an audience seat. Io saw the actor—Hamlet, Puck—in some of the photos, dressed in costume, still shining with that passion, with that shine in his eye Io had come to admire.
The next show was Little Women. Io had searched up the brief synopsis out of curiosity when he saw it announced on the website. It was a play with a small cast. Io wondered who would be on stage when he went to see it.
Occasionally, Io would look at the funds set aside for play tickets and hear a scolding voice in his head admonish him for wasting his money. After all, the theater-loving client Io had gone to the original play for wasn’t interested in chat when they’d had the opportunity to meet. Io wasn’t going to the theater for...for any good reason, anymore.
But then, he’d remember the thump of his chest, the anticipation thrumming in his veins, and he’d push his guilty conscience down.
Io sat in his seat, with the spring digging into his back, his hands folded neatly in his lap.
He gasped when he saw the actor—Hamlet, Puck—taking on this new role. He played the outspoken, willful Jo. He worked the stage as beautifully as he always had, pulling Io in and making Io understand what his character was going through. As Jo, he glided across the stage in his layers of heavy skirts, with grace and power and a barely restrained sense of urgency, of desperation, indicative of Jo’s bold character. Io was completely immersed in the story, in the way Jo had sold the character.
As the cast took their bows, Io realized, once again, how talented this actor was. After all, he’d had Io convinced he was a teenage girl, despite so obviously being a man. Looking at him now, even as he stood in costume, Io could see the strong line of his jaw, the long curl of his fingers, the bony wrists peeking out from his long sleeves. His hair fell in shiny, fuchsia-pink layers down against the nape of his neck. His bangs softened his face, but he was still unmistakably masculine, even as his lips curled into a playful grin as his costar spun him around on stage, his skirts flaring up in a wave of fabric. The image of him up there, his hair a mess from his abandoned bonnet, skirts flying around him, an exhilarated look in his eyes.
In eyes that had, suddenly, met Io’s.
Io’s heart skipped a beat.
The actor held his gaze, inquisitive, playful, for a heartstopping moment—before he was pulled away by a cast member. Io watched him go, and only barely noticed how he looked back at Io as he was hidden away by the curtain.
Io checked his phone, and his tablet...halfheartedly, because his eyes kept glancing up towards the stage. Cast members were slowly filtering out, but not the one Io was...well, the actor Io was looking for.
Io stood, ready to make his way to the door. He straightened out his jacket, made sure he didn’t leave anything behind, and all-in-all wasted just a few more seconds before he turned to the door.
Io stopped in his tracks. His chest filled with something warm, tentative.
He turned around, and...well, he couldn’t describe what it was like. There was the actor—Hamlet, Puck, Jo, except also, none of them, just himself—bounding towards Io.
“Hey,” he said, grinning. He held out a hand. “I’m Ryuu.”
Io took the hand on instinct, his voice struggling from where it was stuck in his throat.
Io looked at him, and repeated the name, Ryuu, Ryuu, Ryuu, over and over, seeing how it fit to the face he’d come to know over the past few months.
It fit well.
“I noticed you coming to our shows, so, like, thanks for that! Really! It’s nice seeing someone who likes us—even when we totally flub lines and whatever.” Ryuu laughed, open and just a little self conscious.
“Y-yes!” Io replied, too quickly, “I’m not...I’m not a theater person, but...these shows are…” Io glanced at Ryuu, hesitating, distracted. He cleared his throat. “...They’re great.”
“You’re not a theater person?” Ryuu asked, his eyebrow quirking up. “I wouldn’t have guessed! I’m glad you like the shows, dude!”
Io felt the need to say something—anything—rise in his chest, but he couldn’t find the words. He fumbled for something, fiddling with his wristwatch.
Ryuu filled the gap for him. After a moment’s hesitation, he said:
“Do you want to, like, hang out or something?”
“What?” Io knew his bewilderment was clear on his face.
“I just thought you seem like an interesting guy, Io.” Ryuu shrugged.
“I have work tomorrow—” Io almost rejected him, out of habit. “But I’m free this weekend, if you want to, do...something.”
“Sweet!” Ryuu took out his phone. The case was hot pink, and the little charms hanging off of it rang like bells. “Do you want to exchange numbers, then?”
Io fumbled with his briefcase, pulling out his phone. His contact list was full of clients, work associates—but then Ryuu put his name in, with a “( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/ “ emoticon next to it.
“Cool!” Ryuu exchanged phones with Io. “I’ll text you, dude! I have to get home, now, but it was really nice meeting you, Io!”
And then, in a flurry, Ryuu was gone. Io held his phone to his chest, Ryuu’s voice echoing Io’s name, again and again.
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
hey dude!! check out this cool butterfly thing!!
Io blinked. For a second, he was confused—before he realized. He’d given his number to Ryuu, and now Ryuu was texting him screenshots from the website of a butterfly pavilion. Io glanced around his office, even though he was clearly alone, before texting back.
I know of it.
He more than knew of it; his contributions practically built it. His name was front and center amongst the plaques of donators. He didn’t say any of that, though.
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
omg ur one of those people who texts all proper and stuff
ANYWAYS I was wonderinf if youd like to go
Despite his donations, Io never personally visited the pavilion. He quickly pulled up ticket prices on his computer, scanning the costs, weighing the risks—
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
its cool if u dont!!
I just always wanted to go and I thought
perfect time to try!!
Io looked down at his phone.
When would you like to go?
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
Really?? dude!! I’m SO glad you want to go!!
I don’t really care when tho, just anytime after 10 is good :D
I bought us tickets for 2PM
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
WOAH!! You didn’t have to do that for me!
but thanks :)
Io’s workday was suddenly...much more vibrant. Since giving his number to Ryuu, he found the other enjoyed sending inane, chatty texts about whatever crossed his mind. Io didn’t mind, of course—on the contrary, he couldn’t stop smiling at his phone, even if he was concerned Ryuu spent too much time glued to his. He didn’t hesitate telling Ryuu this, either, and he didn’t even mind when the response was a cheeky “:P”.
And somehow, texting Ryuu brightened not only Io’s mood, but the mood of his company, too. Io found himself venturing out of his office more often, smiling at his coworkers, stopping to chat a little more. He found himself seeking contact in a way he hadn’t realized he missed.
His work was still spectacular, of course. Io just...took some breaks from it every once in a while, stretched his legs, used the new coffeemaker in the break room.
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
do u want to meet me there or should I pick u up or are u picking me up or…?
I can pick you up, if that’s no bother.
I’ll be getting off work soon, anyways.
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
I’ll be getting out of rehearsal, so u can jus pick me up at the theater :p
Io walked out to his car. He caught his own reflection in the rear view mirror: his work suit, his tie, his uncomfortable shoes. He sighed.
Do you mind if I stopped by my house to change? It won’t take me long.
Ryuu ( ﾟ▽ﾟ)/
Tht’s totally fine!!
Io drove home, quickly, and threw open his closet. Good lord...he hadn’t dressed casually for an embarrassingly long time. Io always liked dressing nice, even in high school—where other students tried to break dress code, Io found comfort in the uniform.
He found an old pair of darkwash jeans in the back of his closet, thankfully, and paired them with a white button-up shirt and a light, casual brown cardigan, and some brown loafers. They were on sale, and much, much more comfortable than his work shoes.
Io went back to his car, somehow feeling both overdressed and underdressed.
He drove up to the theater, seeing Ryuu chatting with a pair of girls. Ryuu was dressed well, from what Io could tell, though Io didn’t need to know fashion to at least have an opinion (he liked it). Ryuu had a fitted, black v-neck shirt, dark maroon skinny jeans with rips in the knees, short black boots, and a black and white checkered shirt tied around his waist.
Ryuu saw his car driving up and waved, quickly saying goodbye to the girls he was talking to before jogging up to the passenger side of Io’s car.
Io didn’t remember the last time someone sat in that seat. Usually, it was occupied by Io’s briefcase, or his lunch.
“Hey, what’s up?” Ryuu slid into the car easily.
Io didn’t know how to respond.
“My stocks are up today,” Io blurted. He was expecting laughter, or confusion. What normal twenty-something talked about stocks?
“Stocks?” Ryuu asked, curious, “You know, I just realized I have no idea what your job is—though I figured it was something, like, official, with all your nice suits and stuff.”
“I, yes, you could say that.” Usually, Io would be ready to preen, show off his success. But for some reason, he felt...nervous, around Ryuu. Ryuu, who texted him about cute pens from dollar stores and gleefully performed plays at a run-down theater like it was his life calling.
“Me, though? I’m just a manager at Pizza Hut. It’s not the best job in the world, but it helps pay for classes and stuff.”
“You’re in school? What are you studying?”
“Not sure yet, honestly. I, uh, had to take a gap to save up, and I hadn’t even decided in that time, so, here I am, undeclared major.” Ryuu chuckled nervously. “I need to make a choice, though. Nana wouldn’t be happy if I spent all that time just to not graduate with something.” Ryuu laughed. He talked about his Nana, before, in their texts. “Just a few days ago she sat me down and told me she’d be happy if I had a degree in horse cosmetology—just as long as I had a degree!”
Io couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped him, and from the corner of his eye, Ryuu beamed at him as if he’d done something amazing.
When they arrived at the pavilion, Io realized, with stark clarity—he hardly knew anything about Ryuu, aside from little snippets, and yet, they still somehow eased together as if they’d been best friends for years. Io wondered if that was just Ryuu’s personality, if he meshed with everyone, like the social butterfly he was.
Io laughed quietly at his own pun. Ryuu, of course, noticed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Ah,” Io blushed, “It’s nothing. It’s silly…”
“Of course it’s silly! It made you laugh!” Ryuu stopped them next to a big bush of pink flowers. Butterflies fluttered around him, landing in his hair, only making Io giggle more (giggle!). “Oh now you have to tell me—c’mon, Io!”
“Fine, fine…” Io braced himself. “I just thought, you’re like a social butterfly, and, you know, here we are, and here you are.” Io gestured to where the butterflies had settled in Ryuu’s hair.
Ryuu looked up, but of course, he couldn’t see on top of his own head. He smiled.
“You’re right; that is pretty silly.” Ryuu held a butterfly on his finger. He reached forward to place it on Io’s shoulder. “But I like silly! Say cheese!"
Before he knew it, Ryuu had taken out his phone and snapped a picture of him, unsuspecting.
“Now take one of me!” Ryuu pushed his phone into Io’s hands. The butterfly on Io’s shoulder flew away, but Io didn’t really notice.
It turned out, Ryuu loved taking pictures, lots and lots of pictures. It shouldn’t have been surprising, in hindsight. The pictures of Io Naruko tripled in that one day, not that he minded, not when Ryuu was so excited to show him the filter apps he had. Io wasn’t impressed by having dog ears, suddenly, but Ryuu found it hilarious, so Io let it slide.
Eventually they exited the pavilion, only after some workers coaxed the butterflies away from Ryuu with sugar water.
“I think they like my shampoo,” Ryuu said as they walked out. The pavilion was at the edge of a park, and Ryuu just...started walking. And Io walked with him. “That was really fun!”
“Yeah...it was.” Io couldn’t keep the smile from his voice.
He and Ryuu kept chatting, or, well, Ryuu mostly. Io added to the conversation much less, but still.
After a while, Ryuu saw something.
“Oh, dude! Ice-cream!” Ryuu started walking towards the ice-cream truck. “Let’s go get some!”
Io followed, a little more cautious. His eyes narrowed at the prices.
“These are...overpriced,” Io muttered.
“Yeah, well, you’re just getting one, right? It’s not that big of a deal.” Ryuu stood in line, Io hanging behind, suddenly uncomfortable.
“I mean—there’s...it’s useless, isn’t it? It’s expensive for no reason.”
“Dude, it isn’t useless.” Ryuu stopped looking at the menu, and instead looked Io in the eye, innocent, honest. “It’s not useless if it makes you happy, right?”
Happy. The statement was so...so simple. And all of a sudden, Io realized he hadn’t been taking his own happiness into account in his calculations. That’s why his condo had lamps he had to hit to make turn on, and sheets with holes in the corners, and that’s why his shoes didn’t fit quite right, and why he always declined invitations to his coworkers’ parties. Io hadn’t taken his own feelings into account in a long time. Not since he went back to the theater, since he kept going back to the theater even when seeing plays had no benefit to his work. Since he texted Ryuu in between lulls at work, and left his office to chat with Kurokawa and Takamatsu and whoever else he found loitering in the breakroom.
Io just stared at Ryuu. Oblivious Ryuu, who had no idea he just shattered Io’s entire world.
Io ordered a cookies and cream ice-cream bar.
“You want to go hang out at my place?” Ryuu asked. They both just finished their ice-cream.
“I—you can’t just invite me over, Ryuu! I don’t have a gift to bring!”
“Dude, you’re so old fashioned! It’s fine! Let’s just go hang out—I got a new game I’ve been itching to play.”
Ryuu opened the door to his house and yelled:
“NANA! I’m home and I brought a friend!”
“I didn’t bring a gift! Ryuu—please,” Io hissed. He wasn’t expecting to meet Ryuu’s beloved grandmother empty handed.
“A friend? A new one, again?” An older woman shuffled down the hallway, and Io’s heart thudded in his chest, even as he stiffened and tried to smooth the distress from his face.
“G-good afternoon, Ms. Zaou.” Io said, hoping his voice didn’t sound as nervous as he felt. Io had met with people as influential as gods, but they weren’t the grandmothers of his...his friends. “I apologize for showing up out of the blue like this. If I had time to prepare I would’ve brought a gift.”
“Oh! A polite one, he is! Ryuu—you could learn a thing or two from him!” Ryuu’s Nana laughed. “Just call me Nana, sweetheart, no need for formalities around here. Now what should I call you?”
“Nana, please…” Ryuu whined, “This is Io.”
“Oh! Is this the Io you’ve been talking about, Ryuu?” Nana Zaou smiled, just a little smugly, if Io wasn’t seeing things. “He’s much more handsome than you’ve made him out to be, Ryuu!”
“I’m just teasing, dear. Now you two go along and have some fun, alright?”
“Okay, Nana!” Ryuu started pulling Io down the hall, his ears pink. Io had just barely toed off his shoes before he was being tugged along.
“Keep the door open, Ryuu! You know the rules!”
“NANA.” Ryuu sounded absolutely scandalized. And if that didn’t pull a laugh from Io…
Ryuu’s room was...well, exactly what Io was expecting, but that didn’t mean it...wasn’t more real, to be in there. Ryuu’s room was a little messy. His closet door was open, clothes strewn on the floor next to it—just like how Io’s looked at home, as if Ryuu had as much trouble with his outfit as Io had.
Ryuu turned on his TV and handed Io a game controller, which Io held in his hands with vague discomfort.
“What’s wrong? Has Mr. Stuffy never played a video game before?” Ryuu’s voice was teasing, joking, so he wasn’t expecting Io’s reply to be a shy shake of his head.
“You really haven’t?” Ryuu’s eyes widened. “Well, I think...the game I wanted to play might be a little advanced for you, grandpa. So I’ll start you off with something easy. Have you at least heard of Super Mario?”
Io’s head popped up. For some reason, he was expecting Ryuu to...he didn’t know...be weirded out or something, to kick him out. When he was young, Io never really had an interest in what his classmates were playing, and that lack of a….connection...always put a distance between Io and the other children.
Of course, he should’ve known Ryuu wouldn’t have been like that.
It was a grueling process, all things considered, to try and teach Io what video games were. But Ryuu smiled and nudged him forward and congratulated him when he finished a level, and Io felt warm and happy all over.
Soon, there was a knock at the (open) door, and Nana Zaou was standing in the doorway.
“I was thinking of ordering you boys some pizza,” she said, “Any requests?”
“Pizza?” Io blinked. “Um...just cheese is fine for me.”
“Meat lovers!” Ryuu cheered.
Nana Zaou told them she’d call them when the food arrived.
It was only after she walked out that Io noticed just how dark it had gotten outside. Ryuu whistled, apparently noticing this, too.
“Do you want to just crash here?” Ryuu asked, so, so casually, as if he wasn’t offering Io the first sleepover in his entire life.
“I...are you sure that’s okay?”
“Of course, dude!” Ryuu said, knocking Io’s shoulder with his own. “You’re like, the same size as me, so you can just borrow some pajamas. And we have extra toothbrushes. You know the big packs of plastic wrapped ones you get?”
“Where would I sleep?”
“Uh, I mean...my bed is pretty big,” Ryuu’s voice turned a little sheepish. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “I was thinking we’d play games until we passed out, but if you’re not comfortable with that, you can take the guest room.”
Io kind of stared, trying to process the information. He wondered how this could feel normal, if this was what he was missing out on, growing up. Eating junk food? Staying up playing games until he couldn’t keep his eyes open? It was...it sounded fun.
“Well, if the first option is more authentic to the sleepover experience...I might as well.”
It was surreal, in all honesty. Io was a grown man, and yet, here he was, planning a sleepover like a child...with a friend he’d only properly known for a week. He remembered hearing Kurokawa talk about her children, how they could run up to other kids at the park and decide they were best friends within the minute. Maybe that’s what Io was doing, now, making friends, and making up for lost time. He didn’t mind it.
They ate their pizza when it came, and Io checked his stocks every once in a while, offhandedly telling Ryuu about his company and how the stock market worked. He could tell Ryuu didn’t get all of it, but he was still interested. Io...liked teaching Ryuu. It felt like he was sharing a part of himself, the thing he was good at, and Ryuu approved.
Eventually, the medium half-and-half pizza was devoured, and washed down with bubbly soda that left Ryuu burping between his sentences. And Io saved the Princess. Ryuu vowed to introduce him to more games, and asked him to pick between Kirby and Zelda. Both of the characters on the covers reminded Io of Ryuu, so he had a hard time picking. He eventually went with Kirby, though.
They played and talked until Nana Zaou told them she was going to bed and turned off their lights, and for hours after that. They played until Ryuu started to slouch onto Io’s shoulder. Io hadn’t...well, he hadn’t noticed how touchy Ryuu was—it just seemed so natural for Ryuu. Throughout the day, he grabbed at Io’s arm, his sleeve, touched his wrist, slung his arm over Io’s shoulder. Io wasn’t...he didn’t like people touching him.
He was quickly learning that Ryuu was an exception for a lot of things.
Io was the one to turn the game off and suggest they watch a movie.
Ryuu stood and stretched. His spine popped, and Io grimaced at the sound, much to Ryuu’s amusement. Ryuu tossed the TV remote to Io and told him to pick something from Netflix while Ryuu got them some pajamas.
Io browsed lazily. He wasn’t a movie person, so he wasn’t sure what would be...good. He ended up picking a title he’d seen recommended several times on Ryuu’s account.
Ryuu tossed some fabric at him.
“The bathroom is down the hall, but, uh, don’t take too long.” Ryuu looked away, “I kind of have to use it.”
The pajamas Ryuu gave him didn’t match. Some sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt for a band Io had never heard of. The fabric was soft and well-worn. The pants were just a little too baggy around his hips, and he had to tug the string tighter. He looked in the mirror, and looking back, Io didn’t see a CEO, a busy executive, someone with more money than he knew what to do with.
Io just saw...someone young.
Io left the bathroom and found Ryuu tugging on a tanktop. Io blinked, his brain short circuiting with the sight of Ryuu’s bare shoulderblades, even for the split second he saw them.
“You picked a good one!” Ryuu said. “You can chill here; I’ll be right back.”
Io sat on the bed gingerly. Ryuu wasn’t long, thankfully, and they watched the movie.
Io couldn’t stop making comments, usually pointing out fallacies in the plot, and thankfully, Ryuu seemed to be the same way—pointing out costumes he liked, acting things he saw, trivia he knew.
Another movie was recommended to them, and Ryuu just clicked onto it without thinking.
“How can you just watch a movie without knowing anything about it?” Io asked.
“It’s just a movie. I might not have picked it if I was thinking about it.” Ryuu shrugged. “If it’s good, then it’s good. If it’s not, then we can make fun of it.”
They eventually were recommended a K-drama Ryuu had binged two summers before. Ryuu tried to sleepily explain the plot while they watched, dipping in and out of consciousness.
Again, Io was the one to turn off the TV. He told Ryuu it would save electricity.
“That’s fine.” Ryuu yawned. “We can just talk until we fall asleep, then.”
Ryuu moved to get under the blankets, tucking them up under his shoulders. He looked up at Io expectantly. Io, hesitated, before throwing caution to the wind and getting under the blankets, too. He and Ryuu faced each other. The only light was the moon, filtering through Ryuu's curtains, and the dim glow of a red lava-lamp, too far away to be any use to seeing each other.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Ryuu said, his voice suddenly quiet, as if hushed by the blankets.
“Um, sure…” Io replied.
“I wanted to talk to you since I saw you in the audience the first night,” Ryuu whispered, “I was too nervous, though, the first few times, ‘cause you looked so cool and professional.”
“Oh…” Io swallowed. “I...uh...I only came back because of you. Your acting was...well.” Io closed his eyes. “I was always devoted to my job. I only bought that first ticket because it was cheap; I didn’t even think I would like the show—but then I saw you on stage and I…” Io looked at Ryuu, trying to get across what he felt, that first night. “I felt something. I hadn’t felt something like that in a long time.”
“A long time? You’re so young, though…”
“I am, but it was a long time nonetheless. Thank you.”
“Why are you thanking me?”
“I didn’t realize...I didn’t realize how much I was missing before I met you.” Io smiled, a little self-deprecating, a little sad. “I never did anything just because. I was always running risk-benefit calculations in my head, for everything I did. And then I met you, and I got ice-cream and played video games and saw plays and talked to my coworkers just because.”
“I...wow...Io,” Ryuu’s voice was breathless. “I don’t think my side is as impressive as yours, but...you make me want to be better. Like, I know that doesn’t make any sense, but you’re so put together and I want to be like that, instead of an aimless college kid. But you’re also really, like, sheltered, in a way, and I want to be better for that, too. I want to show you all those things you didn’t let yourself do, like video games and, you know…It seems crazy because we, like, just met, but...I don’t know...you just...feel right for me, I guess…”
“I know what you mean.”
Ryuu just smiled at him. And there was a sort of tension in the air, not bad, just there. Like there was something they hadn’t said, out of all the things they said.
But it felt like enough, for them, for now. And they didn’t know who fell asleep first…
...but they both woke up to Nana Zaou slamming two pans together to announce breakfast.
After the impromptu sleepover, Ryuu convinced Io to drive them back to his condo in his borrowed pajamas.
“You can just change at your place! That way you don’t have to wear the clothes you wore yesterday—and I can see your house!”
“Ah, there it is, your real motivation.”
Ryuu just stuck his tongue out at Io.
“Woah, dude, this place is nice, but it looks a little...lonely.” Ryuu looked around with a small frown. “You should get a plant. Oooh, and some new curtains. And couches to go with the curtains—”
“Maybe I should just get dressed first.”
Ryuu ended up talking Io into buying new curtains, and gleefully dragged him through the home goods store in the mall.
And then dragging him through the rest of the mall.
Ryuu, for all his flashy tastes, also understood Io’s frugality, and didn’t push him into buying the most expensive things. Though he did want Io to find something he liked, not just something that was the cheapest.
They also ended up getting Io new shoes, because even Ryuu noticed how uncomfortable Io’s work shoes were on him. Which was strange, because…
“I never saw you after the plays were over. How did you see me walking in my work shoes?”
“Uh...I may have...watched you a few times, from behind the curtains…”
“You’re saying you were shy?” Io tried to hold back his smile.
“I told you last night I was!”
“You always looked so confident on stage,” Io replied, “I didn’t think it was all that true.”
“Well, on stage is different,” Ryuu explained, “I’m playing a character, with all the parts planned out already. I know what’s gonna happen to that character, so I don’t have to stress. It’s different with people; much more improv.”
They ate chilli-fries from the food court, and Io refused to let Ryuu buy anything, even when Ryuu tried to be sneaky about paying.
Io dropped Ryuu off at home, and when he got back to his condo, he found a little toy cactus hidden in one of his bags. Io smiled.
Ryuu kept buying him things after that, too. Little knickknacks, wall art, throw pillows. They were always cheap enough that Io didn’t feel bad about accepting them, and just colorful enough to give Io’s neat, functional little condo a bit more life to it.
Their texting tripled, as did the pictures Ryuu sent, and the plans they made.
Io was going out more, and more often. And he saw Ryuu’s shows just as often.
He saw Ryuu in Xanadu and Les Miserables before his coworkers said anything about it.
“We’re glad you’re getting out more, sir,” Takamatsu said kindly. He was always worried about Io’s health, always suggesting for him to try the newest health food or vitamin pill. “Whoever she is, she makes you very happy.”
“She?” Io said, puzzled.
“Oh!” Takamatsu colored. “Apologies, sir—it’s just, ah, the rumor mill had been saying you had a new girlfriend is all. Now there’s nothing wrong if it's really a new boyfriend —”
“It’s not like that! He’s just a friend,” Io cut off Takamatsu before someone else could overhear, but knowing the man, the word would be out before lunch.
“Well, whoever he is, we’d all love to meet him!”
The theater was given a generous, anonymous donation.
With the way Claudius—or, Mr. Nakai—smiled at him knowingly the next time Io came in for a show, sitting in his new, refurbished seat, Io was sure his donation wasn’t as anonymous as he expected.
Especially with the way Ryuu had come barreling into him after the second performance of Grease, his hair still slicked back in that incredibly charming style, at least in Io’s opinion.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were a bigshot CEO!” Ryuu said, after sweeping Io up into a hug.
“I didn’t try to keep it a secret…”
“Yeah, but you let me, Pizza Hut manager, totally think you just had a normal desk job!” Ryuu’s voice was playfully frustrated, like he wasn’t really angry at all. “Your net worth is through the roof! And you were the third most eligible bachelor four years ago—how do I not remember that! I still have that same magazine!”
“To be fair, I forgot about the bachelor thing, too.”
Eventually, finally, Io brought Ryuu to a work party.
They were celebrating a successful merger of one of their sister companies, and the party was a casual, daytime, family friendly affair. They’d gotten into the habit after Io joined the company, fresh-faced, and quickly worked his way up. He’d been too young to drink, but he was well-liked for his good manners and work ethic, so they tried to keep him engaged. The habit stuck around because Io encouraged the “no hangover” part, and his coworkers appreciated being able to bring their children. Even if those children were, in some cases, old enough to be Io’s mother, and they were really looking out for the grandchildren.
Ryuu was a big hit, of course, the social butterfly he was, and hit it off with everyone.
“You two are good for each other,” Kurokawa mused, “I wish you two the best, we all do, really!”
“Yeah, I...I’m lucky to have met him.”
After that, Io was properly introduced to Ryuu’s acting buddies. Unlike the PG work party he brought Ryuu to, Io had tagged along to a casual after party to celebrate the end of a successful play.
With the renovations to the theater, they’d started pulling in more crowds. It also helped that Io had finally become comfortable enough to recommend the theater to his coworkers.
“You know, Ryuu used to be the biggest flirt,” Yukie said offhandedly. Ryuu was off getting them drinks, and Io felt Yukie had waited until Ryuu was gone to say this. “If he wasn’t at a cast party, he was out on a date. A different person every time—” Person? Something in Io thought the phrasing was important. “—but then you come along and, well...he seems more confident in himself. You’ve really helped him.” Yukie smiled at him.
“Not to mention, he never stops talking about you.” Yukie pitched her voice down to mimic Ryuu, “Io just took me out here. I told Io to get that new jacket; doesn’t it look nice on him? Io really liked the show. Io Io Io.” Yukie dropped the voice. “You know, that night he finally got the guts to talk to you? He told us to stop you if you tried to leave before he was ready—he wanted to talk to you that badly.”
Io looked over at Ryuu, who held their drinks in his hands, even as he was distracted talking to his costar and her sister.
“But, yeah, he hasn’t been on any dates like he used to. Unless, you know...outings to butterfly pavilions, fro-yo, and amusement parks don’t count as dates…” Yukie’s voice went playfully sing-song, and it took only a second before her implications sunk in.
Io blushed, but quickly forgot his embarrassment the second Ryuu came back.
It had been the best year of Io’s life, truly. He wouldn’t change a single thing—but…
“Ryuu…” Io asked. Ryuu’s head was tucked against Io’s shoulder. They were lounging on the couch they picked out together a month prior. Ryuu hummed.
“Have we...been dating this whole time?” Io felt the way Ryuu stiffened up against his side. Io thought about...what he thought he was making up, all of those hesitations, the looks, the way Ryuu would grin shyly whenever Io would imply how he wanted to be with Ryuu for years—because in such a short time, Ryuu had become that important to him.
“That depends on if you want to be…” Ryuu mumbled, burying his face against Io’s side.
“What would it change if I said yes?”
Ryuu’s lips curled into a smile against Io’s arm.
“Well, we practically live together, at this point. Half of my clothes are over here. You take me on dates. My Nana loves you. Your mom loves me. And you’re thinking of naming the Pomeranian we want to get ‘Yen,’” Ryuu listed, “I think the only thing would change would be the amount of kisses I can get from you...and other things...if you’re okay with that.”
Ryuu untucked his head from against Io. “Yeah?”
“I’m more than okay with that.”
Ryuu’s smile was absolutely blinding.
“You want to start with the kissing thing, now? Because frankly I’ve been wanting to kiss you for so long, and if I have to wait another minute I’m gonna explode.”
Io cleared his throat, suddenly shy. Ryuu’s eyes were so bright, and Io couldn’t look away, didn’t want to look away, but as Ryuu slowly began to lean closer, Io found his own eyes slipping shut.
The kiss was chaste, and sweet, and sent Io’s heart into a frenzy of butterflies. He felt Ryuu smile against his mouth, and he didn’t have to do a single calculation to know that every risk he took with Ryuu was absolutely perfect.