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a fool's errand

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The funny thing about “the industry” is that the minute someone’s livelihood becomes even remotely dependent on your work product, a switch is flipped and it’s as if your own words, your own creations, no longer belong to you.

From a young age, Gentaro held onto only the things that could not be easily taken away. A life of frugalness and circumspection kept him from losing anything precious. After all, you can’t lose something you never had.

Funny, how he never thought for a second, never guessed that one day he would fall nauseatingly in love with a guy who stood for everything he wasn’t, everything he had always run from.

* * *

The transition from author to member of Fling Posse had been surprisingly seamless. Used to reading scenes from his books, the performance aspect to the division battles had never been problematic. After all, it was all an act – stepping into another’s shoes and wearing the mask of a stranger. It was just another avenue to escape from the lackluster reality.

Still, even after those first few performances, book debuts remained acutely arduous.

Perhaps it was the intrigue and mystery that bled from the flap that covered his books. People often came prepared with a laundry list of questions, ranging from probing personal interrogations to simple plot-fueled inquiries.

Take this evening, for example. The debut wasn’t superbly noteworthy – it was a short story that hadn’t received the same fanfare and anticipation that his other works had. Even so, the author was expected to attend the book launch, his Editor for this particular piece having stricken a deal with the bookshop owner to get exclusive rights for this. Gentaro preferred to stay out of that part of the business; such blatant displays of greed and flattery were infuriating.

Yet there he was, seated at a rickety table, stacks of his novella blocking most vantage points. Not that it mattered; anyone here that wanted a signature would receive one before the night was over.

That part of the song-and-dance wasn’t the exhaustive portion. No, what was taxing on a man built on introspection and marble walls was the networking that would take place after the signatures were exchanged and the book was ceremoniously celebrated.

Which lead to the present.

His Editor’s wife, a tall and slender young thing, hooked one leg over the other, her bright red stilettos inspiring more plot-lines than genuine interest in the author. That was par for the course, given his penchant for the make believable.

“Ah, Yumeno-sensei,” the woman begins, her champagne glass lowering from her lips, leaving behind a faint smear of pink. “You must get this a lot, but what was the source of inspiration for this one?”

Yes, he did get that a lot. And yes, he had already addressed that earlier in the evening two times prior in two other stilted conversations.

Gentaro’s lips curl up, that twinkle of a manufactured smile distracting from the tightness in his shoulders. “Sometimes ideas simply strike you. There is no real correlation between the event that spurs the idea and the idea that’s born, sometimes. Such is the case here. As much as I would love to weave a tale around this tale, I must admit that it was pure luck that I stumbled upon the plotline.”

The answer was inherently unsatisfactory – people always wanted a story. But it was the truth, and when exhausted at these types of events, the truth came out more often than Gentaro fancied.

“Aha,” says the wife and she exchanges a look with her husband that says more than any words could. “I’ve never heard it put that way.”

Of course she hasn’t. Gentaro figures this is the first brush with the literary folk her husband parades around. He doesn’t want to blame her, not too much, but the petty part of him can’t fathom a life so devoid of the fictitious.

“I hate to disappoint you,” laughs the author, lying through his teeth. “Perhaps next time I will have a riveting tale for my next piece.”

He doubts it.

“Gentaro,” interrupts the Editor who has momentarily stepped aside to speak to the waiter. He’s returned now, holding a flute of champagne in each hand. Gentaro knows he has to begrudgingly accept it even before it’s thrust upon him. “Let’s toast to another great success!”

So scripted it offends his sensibilities as an author. Regardless, Gentaro crafts up another smile and accepts the flute. Fingers curl unnecessarily tight around the stem and he can smell the hangover even from this distance.

He doesn’t drink, not often, and for good reason. Usually, if anything, it’s sake after a particularly long day and that’s only when he’s forced out by Ramuda who refuses to settle on anything short of a celebration. Unlike some authors, Gentaro did not find his best ideas, his best turns of phrases, under the influence. Not that he had anything against it but he was already disassociated enough.

“To another great one!” chimes in the wife and she’s clinking glasses with her husband and then Gentaro.

Second best, as usual. Gentaro thinks nothing of it, has learned not to be offended by it anymore. There’s always a reason – a significant other, a better sense of humor, a larger wallet.

It’s hard to take things personally when you’ve set your expectations low for those around you.

* * *

One glass turns into two turns into four. It’s more than Gentaro has had to drink in quite awhile and he feels it first in his face and then his vision. While the world is nowhere near blurry, movement in his peripherals has become stunted, jittery, out of focus. He is also certain that the moment he tries to dislodge himself from the lengthy conversation he’s trapped in, those too will be evidence enough of his intoxication.

It’s getting fairly late, too. By this point of the evening, only the sponsors, Editors and those intimately tied to the industry remain. Each are paired off with pretty arm candy and haven’t stopped laughing raucously for half an hour.

Gentaro’s gaze sweeps along each couple, some mismatched, some a perfect fit, at least visually so. There’s gentle touches – a hand on a shoulder, a hand bumping against a hand, a warm look exchanged – and Gentaro wants to bottle that up and use it in his next piece. Or, at least, he predominately wants that. A smaller part of him that usually only chimes in at moments like these, when his loneliness is put on display, does he crave some companionship. A relationship would be constricting, suffocating, he thinks, but a person to drive away his boredom and bring to life all the despicable things he’s ever thought up would be different.

Funny how his hand gravitates towards his phone at that thought, thumb finding a familiar number before his mind has time to catch up.

It isn’t until his phone buzzes, tearing him away from his fifth glass of champagne, does he realize that he had actually sent those ruminations. He supposes there’s no take-backs now as his screen lights up with a single message in response to his three that he’s evidently sent:

from: Dice Arisugawa
uh hey yeah i am. kinda. can be. whatsup?

What was the question?

Gentaro frowns, irritated at his own forgetfulness. His thumb scrolls back up the message chain and rereads the conversation. To his dismay, he’s initiated it, and to his further dismay, he finds himself compelled to continue, setting the flute down on the high-table near the entrance of the book store.

The air outside is cold, the beginning of autumn fresh and crisp. Like a phantom, Gentaro moves from place to place, opting out of farewells. The staged and forced nature of them has always been off-putting.

One moment, he’s walking out the door and the next he’s nearing Hachiko. There’s little gaps in his memory already and that last glass certainly hadn’t been his best idea. At this rate, he’ll drop his phone and smash the screen if he keeps trying to type out intelligible answers, so he goes for the next best option.

He calls.

(And he’ll never admit that, in a moment of uncertainty and weakness, Dice is the first person he reaches for to ground him in the present. It’s not a call for help, it’s just not.)

* * *

So the facts, as Gentaro can remember them, are the following:

He had drunkenly texted Dice at midnight.
He had proceeded to call him and ask him to pick him up.
He had drunkenly stumbled through Shibuya’s backstreets with a rowdy gambler at his side.
He had invited him back into his apartment.
And now he was nursing a glass of water that Dice had felt duty-bound to fetch for him.

The memories are less blurry, now, the moment heavier than before. Things don’t feel as if they’re spinning anymore. Now, he’s standing in the safety of his home, hands occupied with something that isn’t his traitorous phone.

Water dribbles down his chin, onto his clothes and the floor, and his face screws up into distaste. All right, so perhaps he had zoned out there again and lost those last few seconds. Alcohol was truly the bane of his existence.

“You should probably aim for your mouth.”

Funny, Gentaro thinks, glaring over the rim of his glass. There’s an unmistakable look of amusement on Dice’s face and Gentaro feels like he’s become the butt-end of some joke.

He should fix that.

Gentaro leans forward and drags a hand down Dice’s face, lingering down near the man’s mouth. It’s such a childish thing to do but Gentaro doesn’t quite care, needing to hide that expression before its sincerity blinds him.

* * *

Again, the next few moments are blurry. Gentaro wouldn’t be able to recount them the next morning beyond the fact they consisted of aimless banter with his teammate.

It’s not until the clinking of glass draws him back to the present. Memories begin to form once again and Gentaro watches himself release the glass, safely placing it on the counter. It nearly falls and that’s just another great indicator of how terribly intoxicated he is.

He would have hated to clean shards of glass off his kitchen floor at one – two – three? – in the morning.

Gentaro’s eyes gravitate back towards Dice who has this peculiar look on his face. The man isn’t flustered, isn’t confused, isn’t indignant and most importantly isn’t laughing at Gentaro’s expense anymore. Rather, he has this look that Gentaro can’t quite place. There’s something distant in those magenta eyes, something alive and Gentaro chases his gaze.

He doesn’t say anything for a moment.

There’s a hunger that’s been brewing from the start of the evening. From the first sip of champagne, only growing and aching with the painful reminders of his own inability to connect with others. The hunger had grown and had begun to gnaw away at him, keeping him from his usual stilted banter at his debut.

Wouldn’t it be funny if he called attention to it? Wouldn’t it be hysterical if he remarked on his own flaws, his own mortality?

There’s a hunger there and he wins either way – either Dice flusters and provides some more entertainment for a drunken man or, or he accepts and feeds that hunger, dragging Gentaro from this dreary, drunken plane into the unknown.

He isn’t the gambler of the two of them but with champagne and bitterness in his veins, his eyes fall to half-mast and he leaps.

“Let’s have sex.”

Dice’s expression doesn’t tell him much. Surprise, expected, speechlessness, all equally likely. It’s hard to tell in the lighting if Dice is turning red or not.

In his books, the heroine would usually blush, prettily biting her lip, and then accept the offer. The hero, then, would sweep her up in his arms and carry her to the bed to demonstrate carnally how deeply he cared for her. A strange sort of bile begins to fill his throat and Gentaro’s hand flies to his hair to drag through it, to focus on that instead of the bubbling anxiety.

“I want you to fuck me, actually,” Gentaro speaks again, adding to the absurdity of this. A joke, a lie, it’s so very clear that he’s lying. But Dice still hasn’t reacted so Gentaro purses his lips, hand on his hip now for the effect, and adds, “Preferably dry, but I don’t think you’ll go for that.”

No, he wouldn’t prefer that. He isn’t sure what he’d prefer but the hunger in his chest keeps begging him to find out. His pride tells him to keep lying, to keep making the request less and less plausible, the walls around him re-erecting themselves.

“That’s…” Ah, Dice’s voice, finally. “Man, you can’t do that shit to me.”

Gentaro thinks, perhaps, that Dice is blushing now at the vulgarity. It’s as good of a reaction as Gentaro could hope for with how catastrophically bad the night had been. The words are a tad confusing and Gentaro wonders if he’s bluntly turning him down or if he’s reacting to the joke for what it is.

So he presses on, conjuring up the most ridiculous and lewd response he possibly can, “Why not? Besides, you’re the one doing things to me, per say.” A beat. And he has to know Gentaro isn’t serious when he adds, “I don’t think you’re one for foreplay, but I could be wrong about that. Am I?”

Dice is unreadable beyond that scarlet his face has turned. It’s frustrating and Gentaro’s temper is harder to control in this intoxicated state.

The author leans back against the counter, arms crossing to his chest. Why can’t he get the usual reaction out of Dice? Is he broken? Is he exhausted? Gentaro’s lips further purse and he tries to parse through all of the information he has at his fingertips. Admittedly, it’s harder than usual considering how badly his head is starting to ache.

(At least he can ignore the hunger in his chest that is slowly quieting.)

“Ooookay,” says Dice. “We’re gonna get you to bed and get you more water and uh… probably a bag to barf in.

A protest begins in Gentaro’s throat and he can’t remember if he gets it out or not because all he can remember is that Dice’s arm is around his waist, guiding him away from the kitchen towards the hall that would eventually lead to his bedroom.

Dice’s touch grounds him. Dice brings him back to the present, that buzzing dying in favor of a substantial heat climbing up his face and neck.

The hunger wins.

He wants Dice’s hands on him in no particular order or location. He wants Dice to push him back against something, anything and press every single inch of them together, the weight hopefully enough to end this painful disassociation. It isn’t emotional, but it’s sensual and Gentaro feels that hunger and urge building with each second.

He wants Dice Arisugawa to be the one to pick away at his walls – his layers – and to bring pages to life in the form of silk sheets and sweaty gasps.

He’s never felt more lustful in his life and –

And before he can get that train on the tracks, before he can proceed with this realization and decision, his stomach churns. No, that’s not nerves – he wouldn’t be nervous about this, it’s simply an exchange of favors. The churn brings a clamminess to his skin and he stumbles, hand clutching at Dice’s arm in all the wrong ways.

He hasn’t vomited in five years but he feels that bile from earlier return and he’s seconds away from ruining any possible erotic image he’s made for himself in the gambler’s mind.

Funny how that works.

His memory blacks out after that.

But the memory of Dice’s arm around him, of Dice’s warm breath close but not close enough, remains burned into him like a brand.

* * *

The memory of Dice’s touch persists, as does the hunger that he’s been unable to shake. He’s dogmatically refused to bring it up again, deciding that if it were a good idea, Dice would have acted upon it. After all, the man is the textbook definition of an impulsive hedonist so Gentaro takes that as a probable ‘pass’.

Frankly, their conversations remain familiar and untainted by the drunken jest. Perhaps Dice still thinks it’s a joke. That would be a more logical conclusion. It isn’t every day that Gentaro mentions anything scandalous. That, coupled with his tendency to not swear, is enough proof for that hypothesis.

Even so, it doesn’t help the hunger.

With time to parse through it, to analyze it for what it is, Gentaro is comfortable with the admission that he’s finally victim to his own hormones and fascination with the unknown. Dice would always be an inevitable target for that journey.

It made all the sense in the world, didn’t it? The last friend Gentaro had had was bedridden and shirked away from any emotional or physical advances early on. Since then, Gentaro had expertly avoided striking any meaningful connection with another human being.

Fling Posse had been a chaotic meeting of strangers and forces and circumstances. It’d be inevitable that he’d grow close, partially fond, of the others. That was the fallible nature of the human experience.

Wanting Dice Arisugawa to be the one to see Gentaro stumble off the dock and into the deep-end hadn’t been part of the equation. Though, Gentaro wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea – he was handsome with a voice that calmed him without ever meaning to and above all else, Dice stamped out the boredom that filled most of Gentaro’s days.

So having Dice be that person that he could trust with this little glimpse behind the curtain seemed as natural as breathing.

The hunger would have its time and place, Gentaro decided, but with most things in life, it couldn’t be rushed.

* * *

“What’s uh… a four letter word for hunger?”

Gentaro doesn’t need to look up from his writing desk to know that Dice is shoving his face into a crossword puzzle. He doesn’t need to look over to know the man’s chewing the end of a pen, perhaps the cap, and is wearing the most puzzled of looks. Gentaro thinks Dice is most attractive like this, in these rare glimpses where he’s not on stage and thinks no one is looking.

“Lust.”

There’s an awkward pause, and Gentaro is nearly certain that he can hear the intake of Dice’s breath.

“Don’t think that’s what they meant… it ain’t fittin’ anyway,” mutters Dice as he chews audibly on the pen.

Gentaro curses himself, just once, his own handwriting slanted to the side and messier than usual. “Where does it need to fit, then?”

Dice joins him, plopping down on his knees beside Gentaro. He offers up the puzzle and Gentaro makes silent note of the little doodles littering the corners of the page. He hadn’t known Dice had a single artistic bone in his body, but the sketches aren’t half bad, and Gentaro thinks selfishly this is something only he knows.

“Ah. Try urge,” says Gentaro and a single finger drags along the little, empty boxes.

“Huh.”

Dice scratches his head, tip of his pen hitting his cheek and getting a streak of blue on it. Gentaro notices – how could he not? – and a smirk takes shape before he can hide it behind his sleeve.

“…What’s so funny?”

“Ah, nothing, nothing,” hums the author and his hands fold together, a sparkle in his eyes, “You just always seem to leave quite the mark.”

“Thanks?”

“Perhaps I’ll pen something about it later.”

“Okay?”

“Most definitely in ink.”

Dice’s face screws up, this little nose scrunch as the man grips the edges of the crossword puzzle even tighter. “You’re makin’ fun of me, aren’t you?”

“Me?” Gentaro gasps, his voice jumping octaves as a hand daintily presses to the center of his chest. “I would never. I’m deeply offended.”

Dice just gives him a look.

“I’m so offended,” Gentaro continues as Dice gets to his feet and heads back over to the couch, now clearly ignoring the jester, “that I’d only possibly accept an apology from you if you get on your knees and beg for forgiveness.”

Dice’s back is to him, across the room, when he answers, without missing a single beat, “Name the time and place, Gentaro.”

Gentaro shuts the hell up for the rest of the afternoon. Dice finishes the puzzle in record time.

* * *

Dice shows up at his place at midnight, drenched to the bone and with a nasty bruise under his eye. Gentaro wants to comment that the fans will be so disappointed, and maybe some riled up, but it all dies in his throats before the lies can blossom on his lips. It’s late, he’s been writing, and he’s wearing nothing more than a robe. He clutches it tighter, the folds near his throat, keeping that distance between them.

“Sorry I didn’t call. Phone died… mind if I crash here?”

“I figured it was something like that,” muses Gentaro and he steps aside, allowing Dice to step aside.

Dice is quick to toe off his shoes and coat, setting them both outside the apartment in the hallway so they won’t ruin the pristine apartment. Gentaro wants to look into that, read into that, but he doesn’t. Instead, he heads over to retrieve his tea and put on a new kettle. Dice never takes him up on the offer, but a good host always tries.

“Wasn’t supposed’t rain tonight,” Dice explains, throwing his hair up into a messy ponytail as he closes the door and follows Gentaro around the kitchen like a kicked puppy. “And I wasn’t gonna be out that late but… y’know how the luck goes.”

“Certainly.”

He doesn’t.

Dice laughs and he’s at Gentaro’s side as he puts on the kettle, watching and mentally taking notes if the way his nose wrinkling is any good indicator. “You really don’t hafta. I’m probably just gonna crash and go to bed.”

It’s then when Gentaro notices the smudged ink on the back of Dice’s right hand. A smirk takes shape – it hides that ugly emotion that takes root – and he can’t help the way he reaches out and seizes the man’s wrist, bringing it more to the light of the lamp so he can decipher what is written.

“Phone number,” explains Dice.

“Of another gambler? I didn’t know you swung that way.”

“—Huh? Not one of those burly-ass guys. One of the girls with one of ‘em liked me more than her dude, I guess, so she wrote it when he went to take a piss,” Dice explains and Gentaro is acutely aware of the fact that Dice isn’t arguing about being into guys. He stows away that information for (another) rainy day.

“What a shame. She – Ai – seems sweet, by the little curls in her writing,” says Gentaro and his tongue feels heavy with the lie.

“Eh. Don’t care.”

Dice moves, then, to wash his hands at the sink, the rest of the number washing away. Gentaro watches the ink flow down the sink, the possibility of a quick and easy lay gone just like that. Hope and uncertainty war in his chest. He’s known Dice for a good amount of time now and he’s still no closer to understanding how the impulsive man works.

“Would you like me to send Ramuda a text that our wayward stray is safe and not returning home for the night?”

“If ya don’t mind.”

Gentaro doesn’t mind whatsoever, the company more of a pleasure than he’d care to admit aloud. He heads over to the other counter to grab his phone that’s been charging, quick to pull up Ramuda’s number. While he’s finding their text thread, Dice has rejoined his side and his grimy little hands are giving a playful tug to the strap knotted around Gentaro’s rope.

“This is cute. Don’t think I’ve seen ya in something like this before.”

Gentaro refuses to acknowledge the heat in his cheek and the inexplicable desire to have Dice rip it off him.

“I was preparing for bed and had just taken a shower,” answers Gentaro, the honesty dripping from his lips tonight without a single qualifier unnerving. Dice is bad for his health, he thinks, and worse for his dick. “It would be awfully silly to wear something formal to sleep, don’t you think?”

Dice snorts and his hand remains holding the end of the fabric strap, eyes cast down upon it. “If I hadn’t been the one to tuck you in when you got shit-faced, I woulda thought you slept in a coffin or some shit.”

The blush only worsens and Gentaro tosses him the most unimpressed look to grace the streets of Shibuya in years. “I’ll trust that you won’t spread that nasty little rumor, hm?”

“The coffin or the fact you’re cute in a robe and with wet hair?”

A lump forms in Gentaro’s throat and he says, without even meaning to, without thinking about all the possibilities tied up in those words, “You should see me without the robe.”

And Gentaro is stepping away to finish preparing the tea, the sway to his hips not at all intentional, the matter dropped as quickly as the rain falls outside, threatening to dampen their spirits. But it won’t, Gentaro realizes, because banter and companionship with Dice is as easy as breathing and he has to wonder what that means.

The hunger grows.

* * *

Defeat stung worse than any of his plentiful cuts.

Defeat at the hands of a crew of mismatched mishaps stung even worse, especially when one factored in the point that the exuberant and insulting host was among them. Gentaro had never claimed to have an inordinate amount of pride, but the pride he did have was shorn to shreds.

It was a small miracle that their leader was taking the defeat just as poorly. The usually loud and vibrant gremlin had slunk away after their defeat, muttering that they’d regroup in a week and not to bother him until them. As usual, when the man was in a moody spell, his words carried a darker heaviness to them; this time, Gentaro didn’t blame him for it.

Much like Ramuda, Gentaro wanted nothing more than to be alone. The defeat would take time to get over. It’d take longer to convince himself that it wasn’t a sign of their own inherent weakness, their own incapability as a team. No, this wasn’t something that could be forgotten overnight. Some things one simply needed to stew over before they could move on.

Of course, that plan was ideal on paper, but as it turns out, Dice Arisugawa didn’t get the memo.

By the time Gentaro had made it back to his apartment, disassociated for over half the walk, it had occurred to him that he wasn’t alone. Lagging a few feet behind him, lumbering along, was a weirdly silent gambler. Perhaps if he had more energy, he’d ask.

He doesn’t.

It’s near mechanical, unlocking his front door and heading to the small bathroom to tend to his wounds. There’s a few nasty gashes down on his sides and thigh. The battle wounds join a litter of other scars, from time spent in bad situations and accidental misfortunes. While the clothes do a great job of covering those, preventing prying questions, it still never feels like enough.

He doesn’t take the logical leap that, perhaps, those very scars are part of the reason he’s closed himself off both physically and emotionally.

When he returns to the kitchen, wounds disinfected and with a healing gel smeared across them, he finds Dice. The man hasn’t done much in the way of cleaning, too busy shoving his phone in his nose. Again, Gentaro wants to blame him, but his own bruised ego can’t find fault in Dice’s evasion and slothfulness.

“Dice.”

Dice looks up, thumb hovering on the lock button on his phone. There’s a question in his eyes – or maybe it’s an answer – and Gentaro feels as if he’s missing half the script.

“What’s up?” asks Dice with only half his heart.

“You’re going to get an infection and end up in a hospital. That’s not a lie,” mutters the author, voice betraying how drained he is.

“…Eh,” is all Dice answers, shoulders shrugging more of an answer than the words themselves. He looks off to the side, nose wrinkling, and adds, “…Ain’t really used to it. The scraps I get into at the gambling dens usually ain’t this bad.”

“Oh? And are you usually on the side of victory with those?”

Gentaro doesn’t mean to lash out, to strike so close to home, and he silently curses himself for it as his feet carry him to the sink to grab a washcloth and a few other medical supplies he leaves in the kitchen. They aren’t as large in volume as the ones down the hall, but he thinks they’ll do.

“Duh,” Dice says, giving them both the out they need for an awkward misstep. “You should see ‘em sometimes, Gentaro. They’re chicken-shits and beg me not to beat the crap outta ‘em. Maybe they shouldn’t start shit they can’t finish.”

There’s a laugh, the first one in a few hours, as Gentaro dampens the cloth. “I’ll pass. Perhaps you can have it recorded and we can watch it over popcorn?”

Dice laughs, too.

They’re quickly seated on the stools in his kitchen, Dice silently obliging Gentaro’s need to distract himself with his hands. If it isn’t writing, it’s something else, and the fact that Dice is so all right with that, never prying, makes Gentaro’s chest tighten all over again.

As he cleans the cuts on Dice’s face, the hunger speaks up again. This is likely as close as the other man will allow him, the most he’ll get to feel of his soft skin and strong presence. There’s something bittersweet about this, this strange form of comfort, and Gentaro thinks it’s a good start for a novel.

Dice keeps fidgeting and Gentaro keeps reprimanding him, trying to simultaneously make this last and speed up the process. The author is keenly aware that he’s walking a tightrope each time he spares a glance into those honest magenta eyes.

Dice should have questions, really. Gentaro is awfully precise and adept at cleaning wounds and he’s got a steady hand that begs questions. But Dice never once asks, he just sits there, wincing and making catty remarks when prompted.

It’s comforting, even in the face of something as painful as defeat. For a moment, Gentaro forgets what had just happened, lulled into this weird stability that a chaotic gambler brings.

The thought makes his eyes close and a laugh for only him, only them, flutter in his throat, never reaching his lips.

“Where were you hurt anyway?”

Gentaro pauses, the hand that’s been cleaning the last of Dice’s cuts stilling. Their unspoken agreement not to pry, to drag skeletons out of closets, dusty and ugly and not funny whatsoever, shattering before him. If he opens his eyes, he’ll give it all away. If he opens his lips, he’ll spill every single horrible thing that’s ever happened to him.

Where do I begin? thinks Gentaro, the ache in his chest mounting.

Yet, there’s something strangely alluring about being dissected, about Dice tearing down all his walls without a single ounce of finesse. The very thought stirs a smile and Gentaro opens his eyes. There’s a hunger burning in his chest and Dice looks fascinated, like he’s said something particularly poetic or profound, and the hunger grows.

It feels like the moment lasts forever. Gentaro weighs the pros and cons, the dangers and the disadvantages to going down this path. If he listens to the hunger, if he pushes this into a place it’s not meant to be, there’s no turning back.

He’s not a fool – things of the purely physical rarely remain that. At some point, he knows, he’s going to want more, he’s going to grow addicted. The brand that’ll be Dice, hot and raw on his body, won’t ever fade.

Or perhaps that’s just the author in him.

He’s tired of this push and pull, this game that ends with painful amounts of tension, of disappointment.

“I’ll show you.”

Gentaro watches the question form in Dice’s eyes. Gentaro watches the confusion spread across the man’s face, the way the man’s foot jerks against the base of the stool, the way his shoulders tense into a straighter line. Gentaro watches it all because it’s something to focus on when he’s taking off the shield, his protection, for the first time in twenty-four years.

Perhaps he’s on auto-pilot, because the hand that comes up to unclasp the hook on his chain isn’t shaking and seems to know what it’s doing. After all, this is part of his routine every night. Inviting Dice into this isn’t too much of a deviation from the norm.

But it’s still not enough.

There’s resolution in his eyes – he knows there must be – as he reaches for his teammate’s hand and guides it to the fraying strands of gold tightly knotted around his waist. Perhaps if he does this, if he gives Dice this power, Dice will change his mind and be the smarter of the two of them.

Perhaps he’s misread this all along and Dice is about to run with his tail between his legs.

But Dice doesn’t.

Instead, Dice’s hands move slowly, helping to remove each and every layer that’s hidden Gentaro from this world for so long. It isn’t particularly monumental or emotional, not really, but Gentaro can’t help but let his mind wander and get away from him. It’s keeping the anxiety at bay.

The clatter of Dice’s stool when he stands, nearly knocking it to the floor, brings Gentaro away from his thoughts and to the present. He thinks Dice’s eyes are most beautiful in this moment, so honest and shining and excited.

Dice pulls him to his feet and Gentaro feels like he’s weightless. Perhaps he can do Dice the honor of turning off his mind, just this once, and breathing it all in.

* * *

When they make it to his bedroom, Dice is gentle, careful, as he eases Gentaro back onto the bed, the man’s knees hitting the edge of it before they both fall together. A laugh escapes Gentaro’s lips and he’s staring up into Dice’s eyes again, no longer seeking an answer but the next instruction.

This ought to be fairly straightforward, Gentaro thinks. Sex isn’t something that needs a playbook and he’d bet quite a bit of money that Dice has gotten around enough to know a thing or two. It’s weird how that thought makes his chest ache not with hunger but an ugly emotion he quickly tries to forget.

“Gentaro,” says Dice, his hand cupping Gentaro’s cheek and drawing his attention back to him. “You with me?”

Another laugh filters through and Gentaro lazily rolls his shoulders, eyes lowering near seductively, “I’m sorry, who is Gentaro?”

“You’re such an ass,” laughs Dice and he skims a strong hand down Gentaro’s side to his bare hip. “But you’re so fucking pretty, so maybe I can forgive you.”

“How generous of you,” hums Gentaro, his body shivering at the faintest of touches. He’s expecting Dice to continue touching, mapping, exploring, to drop that hand between his legs and get to it, but that’s not how this goes.

No, Dice instead spends the next five minutes pressing his mouth, his chapped, cold lips, against each and every scar littered on Gentaro’s body. It’s not as erotic as Gentaro would imagine it could be, and the fleeting thought of worship is what he settles on.

“Will you tell me about them sometime?” is what Dice asks, his head tipped down and kissing a scar near Gentaro’s inner thigh.

Gentaro arches off the bed, just a bit, the sensitivity of that particular region making him shudder to the very core. The question pierces through him and he tries to breathe, to not let that request to go deeper, invade more and more of what makes Yumeno Gentaro tick, scare him.

“Perhaps,” is what Gentaro answers with, surprising neither of them.

Dice doesn’t push. No, he never does. Instead, he drops his head even lower and removes Gentaro’s boxers with his teeth, down to just below his knees. It’s stupidly erotic and Gentaro feels his skin flush a hot red, chills down his spine. Dice is unfairly beautiful and when he does things like that, Gentaro knows the hunger in his chest is justified.

“If you tear those, you’re paying for them,” says Gentaro, the words a nice distraction from the nervous fluttering of his chest.

“Add it to my tab, I guess,” chuckles Dice, warm puffs of air against Gentaro’s bared thighs as Gentaro’s hands weave into locks of blue. “…You can pull, if you want. Ain’t gonna hurt.”

Gentaro’s lips purse, hiding the darkening scarlet high on his cheekbones. “Please,” he says, nearly mocking. “You’re underestimating my ability to know your sensitive spots.”

When Dice looks back up, hovering over Gentaro’s erection, there’s a mischievous glint to his eyes. “I was hopin’ you’d find each and every one.”

God, the brutal honesty of this man is killing him. Gentaro feels another wave of pure desire crash through him, his legs restlessly spreading on the bed. It’s only a few moments later that Dice drops his head down fully and takes just the tip into his mouth.

And it’s so much better than anything Gentaro has ever done by himself. It’s all-too-much and not enough all at once. It’s engulfing and overwhelming and it’s real. Gentaro feels his head tip back, his breath catch, and his heels dig down into the mattress. His hips involuntarily give a tiny jerk. Dice, to Gentaro’s chagrin, notices, and strong hands are securely pinning down his hips moments later.

“As much as I’d like ya to fuck my face,” begins Dice, looking up from where his lips are lingering near his cock, “I wanna be the one to make you come undone this time. Think we can work with that?”

This time. Come undone.

“I’ll hold you to that, Dice.”

He’s fucking weak to it.

Especially when, hours later, exhausted and spent after multiple rounds and positions and getting to know each other’s bodies and shaky breaths, sticky and with lust-blown eyes, the hunger in Gentaro’s chest doesn’t subside. It only grows.

* * *

Ramuda must know, Gentaro thinks, when he’s looping his fingers into Dice’s lapels as he drags them into his apartment and slams him against the front door. The light isn’t even on, the streetlights doing a poor job of illuminating their faces, but it doesn’t matter. All Gentaro needs is the warmth of another body, the press of Dice against him, the intake of breath and deep chuckle that always, always follows whenever Gentaro feels empowered enough to make the first move.

Ramdua must know because during their practice today, performing Stella for the first time, it was clear just how badly Gentaro wanted to be slammed down against the floor and ravished. It had to have been, with the drop of his voice, the speed and chaos of his words, and the way their own styles have bled over into each other’s.

Ramuda has to know, and the fact he isn’t saying anything is terrifying.

But for now, Gentaro just doesn’t care, Dice’s hands in his hair and then brushing along his face as Gentaro cranes his down to mark up Dice’s throat.

“Think we should have banged at Ramuda’s?”

“Heavens no,” mutters Gentaro, a low growl as Dice’s hand squeezes his ass, “There’s far too much pink there. It just wouldn’t put me in the proper mood.”

“Oh yeah? I never seem to have a problem gettin’ you there.”

“I wonder why that is,” Gentaro answers and grinds his hips hard, just once, against him.

Dice doesn’t ask – maybe he already knows.

(Gentaro tries his best not to have hope, to think that maybe, just maybe, Dice is having second thoughts and wants something more.)

* * *

They fall into a rhythm. Or at least, as much of a rhythm as a wayward gambler and chronic liar possibly can when they’re not on stage.

Dice ends up spending far too many nights at his place and Gentaro feels his bank account rapidly depleting. Dice snores when he sleeps, knocks knees in bed, and smells like smoke all the time. Dice doesn’t stop gambling and doesn’t turn into a boyfriend that shows up with flowers or with surprises. Dice is a funny guy, a handsome guy, someone who is loyal and who will always have your back. That had been the case before and hadn’t changed with the added flavor of sex in their friendship. No, apart from the mind-blowing sex, the status quo remains.

But Gentaro tends to really like the mind-blowing sex. Dice is a passionate lover, one that thrives on tending to the other person. That much is obvious after the first two hook-ups. Dice is by no means a king of finesse, but he never, ever gives up, and Gentaro is certain that if things fall apart, no one will ever satisfy him like Dice does.

* * *

The problem with getting a crush on your friend that you’re sleeping with is knowing that it’ll all end. Gentaro often thought how he’d pen it, a novel in Dice’s point of view about his life. The closest he’s gotten is something like:

Leaving was easy. It didn’t matter the destination, Dice’s feet set for a course unknown. He was born to leave, finding it as natural as breathing.

No, the hard part was getting him to stay. Because Dice Arisugawa never stayed; he didn’t know how.

* * *

It’s more often than not that Dice ends up in his bed at the end of the night. Either he’s gone to gamble and shows up late, removing the spare key from under the mat, or he’s just opted to stay in and fool around on the couch, in the bedroom, in the kitchen… the kitchen had been a particular favorite of Gentaro’s, just because Dice had been so into the little challenge Gentaro had proposed of getting off in record time before Ramuda showed up.

Even if it hasn’t been doing it for that long, in the grand scheme of things, Gentaro can’t remember what it’s like to sleep alone. Dice sleeps with his arm around him, always, nose pressed to his hair and warm and solid and real. It had been exceptionally suffocating and uncomfortable for the first few nights, but the solution of a fan and opting not to wear clothes had done the trick.

Dice had the tendency of waking up in the middle of the night and adjusting, holding him closer, pressing soft kisses to Gentaro’s bare shoulder and his head before drifting back to sleep. Gentaro thought, perhaps, he was most affectionate in these moments.

And perhaps… Gentaro dared to think, sometimes, that this was what Dice wanted at his core. This easy intimacy and affection.

“You’re breathin’ heavy,” Dice whispers over the sound of rain and cars splashing puddles outside. “You awake, Gen?”

“No.”

“Oh.” A beat. “Wait a sec…” And then there’s a laugh right in his ear, followed by a warm bite.

Gentaro shivers, the half an hour or so of his nap already recharging him for another round. With Dice, it was never enough – Gentaro always craved more, always wanted to push their limits. It was as if twenty-four years of repression had all been unleashed and now he was determined to compensate for the years spent without this, without Dice.

“You’re so goddamn beautiful,” Dice whispers into his skin, into the nape of his neck, teeth trailing behind as his hand rubs smooth, small circles into his hip. “It ain’t fair, Gen. It’s really not.”

The hunger that’s just been growing, and growing, rears itself again and Gentaro finds himself rolling over to face Dice. It’s hard to see him in the darkness, but there’s enough of his contours to know he’s smiling, looking just at him, like no one ever has, and Gentaro can’t help the smile that takes shape in the darkness.

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Dice.”

“But it’s true,” says Dice, voice a whisper as his hands continued to roam the other’s naked body, “And I already got somewhere tonight. Twice.”

“Are you thinking of a third?”

A famished man in the desert, a man starved of the one thing he craves, Dice moves smoothly and has both of Gentaro’s hands pinned above his head into the collection of pillows they have at the head of the bed, Gentaro’s the squishy one and Dice’s the firmer of the lot.

Dice movements are agile when he hooks a leg over Gentaro and straddles him, towering over him with both power and a delicacy not many have been afforded. Or, at least, in Gentaro’s hazy and sleep-filled mind, he’d like to believe that, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary.

“Gentaro,” Dice whispers again, head inclined down to breathe it just centimeters from Gentaro’s lips.

“Yes?”

“I wanna kiss you.”

“Then go ahead.”

Not like Dice needs permission, not like they haven’t kissed a handful of times during their trysts. It seems weird that Dice is asking but the combination of lust and exhaustion is making Gentaro accept it for what it is. Right now, he just wants his mind to shut-off, to stop thinking so much, and feel every single second of this moment.

Dice kisses him sweetly, wholly, as if he’s trying to touch his soul. It’s breathtaking, even worse when coupled with fingers slotting in the spaces between his own. He’s so weak to it and it’s stupidly sentimental in his mind, in is heart, and it’s so hard not to give in and pretend that’s what it really is.

The kiss turns heavy after a few moments, teeth and tongues entering the fray. Dice kisses with an urgency and dominance that Gentaro easily falls victim to. It’s nice to allow someone else to take the lead, to take control, to entrust that carnal pleasure to. Dice’s kisses always do leave him breathless and aching, even if they’re far and few in-between.

“You’re already hard,” Dice laughs against their mouths and Gentaro would be offended if he didn’t also feel Dice’s erection pressing against his thigh. “God, I want you so bad.”

“Then take me,” answers Gentaro, voice edging on this side of desperate. “Show me how much.”

“Fuck, I love when you talk like that,” Dice groans and he bites Gentaro’s bottom lip, one hand sliding away from Gentaro’s, down between them to brush along his dick and then drop lower. Dice’s index finger juts up near his entrance and glides, the slickness from the lube and cum earlier they had been too lazy to clean up not quite dry. “This is fuckin’ filthy.”

“Is it? I think it’s quite convenient,” Gentaro hums, even if he agrees that it’s so very out of character for himself to allow something so base. “Fuck me.”

“You’re so filthy,” Dice continues and he kisses down Gentaro’s jaw, his throat, the kisses lingering and leaving their own special brand on him for years to come. “But so fuckin’ pretty. I’m never gonna get enough of you.”

The words make Gentaro’s chest ache. In the safety of his mind, he can think all the vulnerable, honest things he’s just too afraid to voice. All the things that aren’t quite the character of Gentaro. The lonely little boy that flitted between homes, weak to bullies and used to loss.

Stay, Gentaro thinks, desperate, as Dice’s index finger thrusts inside of him, making him arch. Stay just like this. Please stay, he silently begs as Dice adds a second finger, stretching him out, making him quake.

“Don’t even… need to stretch you…” Dice pants as he moves his hand away and hastily lines their hips up, nudging Gentaro’s legs apart and up so he can lazily thrust inside.

The thrusts are slow, relaxed, as if they have all the time in the world. Dice’s lips are on his nearly the whole time, his hands in his hair and then threaded with his own. Dice is warm and heavy on top of him, fucking him into his bed, so close to love-making that Gentaro really isn’t sure what the difference is anymore.

He wants to stay like this forever, he thinks. He wants this to be something that grows and matures, that doesn’t just leave him like everything else. Even if Dice always leaves, always runs, never grounded to anything for too long, Gentaro selfishly wants to be that deviation. It’s the most sentimental thought he’s had, but it’s there and he’s known it since this all started, perhaps. That he wants a relationship with Dice Arisugawa and that the sex – the amazing, hot, filling sex – was just the precursor to something so much larger than them both.

“Gentaro, you’re so…” Dice keeps rambling, rolling his hips, going deeper, harder, but never faster, drawing this all out. “Wanna do this…” Dice starts but then never stops.

Gentaro never wants him to stop.

“Harder,” Gentaro orders, squeezing their hands. If he breaks their fingers, maybe it’ll keep Dice from leaving. If he makes it hurt so bad, so good, maybe he won’t be abandoned this time.

“You drive me mad, Gen,” Dice keeps saying and fucks him harder, kissing him even harder.

“Harder, Dice,” he keeps insisting.

“I’m gonna break you, babe,” Dice laughs but does it again, goes harder, goes deeper, just keeps thrusting.

And maybe Gentaro wants to be broken. If he’s broken physically, maybe he won’t notice the emotional break when Dice gets bored and moves on, when he finally leaves.

“Call me that again.”

“Wha—?” Dice is chuckling, interspersed with moans and sharp intakes of breath, “You like pet-names, huh? That’s friggin’ cute.”

It’s not cute, but it’s as close to something real as Gentaro will ever be allowed in this world. It’s silly, it’s dumb, and at any other moment he’d probably cringe, but he’s so drunk on pleasure, on the way Dice keeps fucking him and hitting that spot just right—

Dice doesn’t call him that again, but he does make him come for a third time that night, gasping out Dice’s name like a prayer. Dice doesn’t call him that again, but he holds him close as he comes, as they both come down, as they drowsily fall back asleep in each other’s arms. He doesn’t call him that again, but maybe hearing it once is enough for Gentaro for the rest of his life.

He’ll certainly try.

Funny how when things are at their best, they fall apart near instantly.

* * *

“So guys,” Ramuda begins, lollipop ejected from his mouth with a lewd popping noise. One leg throws itself over the other and he bounces his knee.

“Yes, Ramuda?”

Gentaro doesn’t look up from his newspaper and Dice continues playing whatever game he’s playing on his phone.

Gentaro knows them both well enough to know Dice is avoiding the situation and Ramuda has finally caught on. Perhaps he’s known all along and he’s finally just fed up with it all. Either way, Gentaro knows when he’s been had, how to read other people, and there’s equal parts excitement and fear that roots in his chest.

“How long has it been?”

“Since?” Gentaro asks, just to humor him.

“Hey, Ramuda--“ Gentaro hears Dice say but he doesn’t really notice the expression he’s wearing.

Instead, Gentaro stares squarely at Ramuda, brow lifted, as if daring the other to take that plunge, to ask the question, to pry open this dirty little secret that’s been a thing for far too long now.

“You two started dating, duh! Don’t think I didn’t notice. Gentaro’s hair is always messy and Dice looks like he’s gonna pounce on Gentaro every two seconds.” But he just doesn’t stop. “Like, way to not tell your beeeest friend in the entire world!” laments Ramuda, dropping his chin to his palms, pouting.

There’s a myriad of ways he could play this, but in no universe does it end with the status quo remaining the same. There’s a large likelihood that Dice will be back in his bed laughing about this later, and there’s an even larger chance that they just won’t mention it and will focus on the fucking and feeling good.

If Gentaro lies, if he says this is something it’s not, he’ll lose Dice.

And that’s not a gamble he’s willing to take.

“We aren’t.”

And he’s never felt like the villain in his own story until today, because hearing it aloud is worse than he thought it’d ever be.

* * *

Gentaro barely keeps his hands to himself. They’re outside the diner, alone at last, and all Gentaro wants is to pull Dice close against the nearest surface and have sex with him. He wants to forget about the ache, about the loneliness. He wants to just indulge in this and pretend that Ramuda hadn’t emotionally destroyed him with words.

Gentaro is on auto-pilot again, disassociating. He’s asking about dinner, about their plans, because he just can’t focus on anything. If he doesn’t pretend it’s normal, if he doesn’t just do what he’s always done, he’ll let on that Ramuda had shaken him to the very core.

Dice isn’t an idiot, that Gentaro knows, and the very real possibility of Dice figuring out he’s caught feelings is a daunting one.

“See ya around.”

Gentaro doesn’t tune into their conversation, the one that he’s only a halfway participant in, until Dice’s words register. By the time they do, Dice is already leaving, shoulders tense and expression guarded as he’s turned away.

Gentaro’s hand reaches out without his permission. Everything around him slows down, the world coming into a sharper focus. Smells, sights, sensations. It’s all so crystal clear and the retreating form of his most trusted companion is impossible to rip his gaze from.

“Hm?”

It’s out of his mouth before he can stop that, too. But Dice is far too gone, he’s too far away, and Gentaro feels a chilly, early winter wind rush past him, rustling every single layer that he thought had been finally, finally disposed of.

A bad day, he tells himself, watching as Dice disappears into the crowd. His mind refuses to label this as anything more. Dice had a bad day, got irritated at his teammates, and now was going to blow off steam at the parlor. It didn’t need to be anything more than that.

“Hm,” Gentaro reiterates, eyes flicking down to his outstretched palm.

He walks home alone, pretending. Always pretending.

* * *

Dice doesn’t return that night.

It’s the first night in far too many where the other side of the bed remains cold, tidy, quiet. Gentaro leaves the door unlocked, the kettle on the lowest setting, just in case. But Dice doesn’t return.

Dice doesn’t return the second or the third, either.

By now, the realization that he’s done something to upset Dice becomes obvious. Torn between assuming it was Ramuda calling them out, or Ramuda implying and highlighting how close they were, Gentaro just isn’t sure. Leave it to the soulless gremlin to interfere and point out the one thing the wanderer hates most: attachment.

By the fifth night, Gentaro has grown acutely aware that Dice’s absence is detrimental to his health. He’s sleeping a full eight hours, he’s writing countless pages, and he’s eating healthy. But by god does his body ache and his mind, stuck on auto-pilot, dwell on all the could be’s and should be’s and –

And he’s in love.

A man of tropes, a man of literature and clichés, realizes that he’s in love with Dice Arisugawa while taking a drag of his cigarette, standing on his small balcony, looking out at the city. He realizes he’s in love with his only friend the second he’s gone.

And if that isn’t some twisted sort of fate, Gentaro thinks, he couldn’t pen a better one.

* * *

The sixth night is the worst. At this point, the chilling recognition that he’s been abandoned has begun to sink in. They never had anything – this was strictly no strings attached and Dice would always be chasing the next thrill. It was foolish to hope for anything else growing from that.

You can’t hold water in your hands – it’s always going to slip through the cracks in your fingers, leaving you with remnants that quickly dry and no evidence that it was ever there.

* * *

On the seventh night, Gentaro tries to take his mind off the loss of a muse and entertain the wild, angry hunger in his chest.

Gentaro’s hand, quick to undo the knot of his hakama and dip down between the folds of fabric, makes swift work. He’s already half hard from his imagination alone, so by the time his hand curls around himself, a shudder escapes his breath without further ado.

If he lays in a certain way, he can picture Dice doing this to him. If he closes his eyes and breathes in deep, he can still smell the faintest mix of nicotine and bad cologne that had stained his sheets.

”You’re so cute, Gen. I love it.” He can hear him whisper, warm breath tickling his neck.

“I love you,” Gentaro chokes out, shuddering, shaking.

He gets close, but he never comes, his fingers speedily gripping his dick and jerking up and down. The addition to lube doesn’t help and Gentaro is frustrated, palming at himself, desperate to just forget and reset.

He doesn’t come, giving up once even a lubed touch makes him chafe. He falls back against the sheets, unsatisfied and empty and staring out the window of his bedroom. He lays there, half undressed, chest rising and falling quickly, hand twitching as his erection begins to fade.

He’s tired of this.

from: gentaro yumeno
We need to talk.

The response is surprisingly quick, Gentaro expecting a ding of rejection and not an actual message.

from: dice arisugawa
gimme some more time man.

Perhaps silence would have been better. An irrational anger fills the emptiness in his chest and he’s narrowing his eyes at his phone as if it’s the true culprit. Time? Dice needs more time? For what? To forget what he tastes like, to forget how good the sex was, to forget him?

Gentaro doesn’t realize he’s drawn blood until he tastes copper.

from: gentaro yumeno
I may not be the wisest when it comes to social interactions that aren’t on paper, Dice, but I know when I’m being avoided. I don’t know what I did that upset you so deeply, but I’d like to hear about it. .

His hand is trembling when he presses send but he just doesn’t care. He stopped caring about facades and masks when it came to Dice weeks ago. He stopped caring about the pristine little image he had crafted when they first met.

The funny thing about love is that it forces you to become the person you really are, and it’s rough and it hurts and it’s not at all like the fantasies and books he’s written.

By the time the answer comes, Gentaro is contemplating the merits of calling Dice to tell him exactly what he thinks about this overreaction.

from: dice arisugawa
just forget it. if ur worried about practice ill be there. i aint quittin.

This time, Gentaro takes longer to respond. While the words aren’t comforting in the least, the fact that Fling Posse isn’t disbanding is a consolation prize. A shitty one, but one nonetheless. The confirmation should bring him some form of joy, but it just makes him feel empty all over again, reaffirming that this had just been an exchange, a thing spurred by boredom, between the two of them.

from: gentaro yumeno
The team is the furthest thing from my mind. Believe it or not, I’m asking about you. Isn’t that what friendship is?

If Dice wants to play this game, so can Gentaro. He had long since abandoned the tendency to be passive aggressive, but in moments of rawness, in moments of weaknesses, old habits die hard and he’s more like an emotionally stunted teenager than a grown man. He’s tired of pretending, of playing at perfect.

from: dice arisugawa
that’s the friggin point ugh just stop k? don’t wanna say somethin i don’t mean. gnight gentaro.

And by god does that last text, staring at it in the dim light of his room, piss him off.

He doesn’t respond. Neither to his phone or the ghost of Dice in his bed, whispering all the things Gentaro thought he had wanted to hear.

Just a friend.

He’ll always be just a friend.

* * *

The eighth night feels final. With over a week since they last saw each other, Gentaro knows that whatever good thing they had going had been completely wrecked. Whatever brought it to a head, whatever caused Dice to run away, it was final. There was no fixing something now that the wayward gambler had moved on. Just like the novels Gentaro penned, it’d be another tragedy for the ages and he’d just have to move on like he always did.

Dice’s spare clothes don’t leave his apartment, tossed idly over the couch and on chairs and stools. Dice’s cologne is still in his bedroom, Dice’s socks in his wash, and Dice’s cigarettes on his nightstand.

Gentaro doesn’t move any of them, because part of him hopes that he’s overreacting and that Dice will just come home and try this one more time. Funny how it’s the liar that wants the honesty this time.

Either way, he needs to eat, and with a week of moping and ignoring reality, his kitchen is largely depleted. It’s a quick trip to the convenience store down the street to grab a few essentials and he’s on his way home.

At least now he can see through the hazy stupor. At least now he isn’t drowning himself in bad literature and television to compensate for the Dice-sized hole in his life. God, when did Yumeno Gentaro become a romantic in the first place.

“Rain…” Gentaro murmurs, opening his umbrella as he turns the corner to head back to his apartment. Of course it’s raining, like some sort of scene from one of his own pieces, where the hero finally understands his fate and the rain has come to wash away the past and start anew.

It sounds so simple on paper and Gentaro is realizing that nothing in life is ever quite so easy.

“Hm,” he mutters to himself, trying to juggle the bag of fruit and the umbrella as he fishes for his keys in his pocket. It’s late enough where the building is locked and he won’t be allowed to just buzz himself in. Frustrating, but he supposes security is worth it.

Before he can find that key, his eyes drift up and over the street, as if to check that he isn’t being followed. What he finds there is so much more than that confirmation.

“…You’re back.”

He finds, through the mist and the rain, magenta eyes that look right through him. Dice looks identical to the last time he saw him. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given the little amount of time that’s passed, but it still unnerves Gentaro. Part of him wants to say that Dice is clearly winning the breakup, but what was there to breakup from in the first place? He clears his throat, either way.

“Sorry,” mumbles Dice and he tugs his hood up to keep his head from getting any wetter. “Not stayin’ just… turned around. I guess.”

“Mm.” He tries to hide the heartbreak, the disappointment, knows that’ll just cause Dice to run all over again and he can’t lose a friend, can’t lose it all. “Where have you been staying?”

“With Ramuda.”

“I see.”

“Was at a parlor near your place so… kinda just old habits.”

“That does make sense, yes.”

Dice is still standing there, still caught in the rain, feet glued to the pavement. There’s no running, there’s no dodging, just Dice with his hands in his pockets, looking at Gentaro like he just wants to come inside and stay awhile. Gentaro feels heat rise up his neck, along his collar and throat, and he adjusts his umbrella in order to keep himself from doing anything worse.

There’s a leap of faith that needs to be had. There’s a pressure, a tension, that needs to be addressed and Gentaro has just been so lonely for so long, “So, you’re not staying.”

“I could. If ya want. I ain’t got plans.”

The words rush over him like spring. That hunger – no, he shouldn’t call it what it isn’t anymore – that need for love bubbles inside his chest, hope clinging to it like a life raft. A smile etches itself on his face and he laughs, words warming and soul not quite as empty as it’s been the last week, “I would hope not. It’s nearly one in the morning.”

Dice doesn’t turn and run. Dice doesn’t give him a weird look. Instead, Dice steps off the pavement and closer to Gentaro, ducking his head so he can stand under the umbrella with him. “Then what’s your excuse? Late night munchies?”

Gentaro’s moving the umbrella to cover them both, as automatic as ever, and he feels their eyes lock, that electricity returning. He wants to touch him, wants to kiss him, wants to grab hold of his collar and scream every single desire he’s ever had, to make it clear that he wants this.

“As if,” Gentaro laughs, clutching his bag tighter to his person, allowing Dice even more room, all the room he wants, all the room he can take if he wants. “It’s pornographic material, actually,” Gentaro goes on, the familiar sensation of a rouse, of a playful jest, spilling from his lips like this past week hadn’t been hell on earth, “Since you’ve left, I’ve found myself with a lot of free time, and not enough—”

The last of his joke (and really, it’s a good one) dies against Dice’s mouth.

Dice’s lips are warm against his, familiar, and it’s no surprise that Gentaro drops his bag in favor of threading them into the messy, wet hair he’s missed so much. It’s no surprise that he presses closer, leans into that warm hand on his cheek, closes his eyes and kisses back because he’s a dying man and this is his last meal, his last chance at happiness.

“What was that for?” Gentaro asks, the hope in his voice betraying him, as his eyes open to peek ahead.

“Because I don’t do it enough.”

Dice’s words crash into him.

And then Dice is kissing him harder, desperate, all teeth and lips. His hands are clutching desperately at Gentaro’s hips now, holding him close, and Gentaro feels dizzy, cold, wants to go inside and never leave, so he breaks the kiss to grin, to allow Dice inside once more.

“The neighbors already are petitioning to have me move out because of our wild sex, let’s not give them more fuel for that fire,” says Gentaro and Dice stares at him, probably looks as afraid as he feels, because Gentaro’s smile is beautiful when he says, “…. Just kidding.”

And Gentaro’s hands are going for his belt.

* * *

“We’re gonna… stain the wall or somethin’,” Dice laughs.

Gentaro’s in the midst of methodically tugging him by the flaps of his jacket inside, up the stairs, down the hall. They only make it halfway before Gentaro is backing them against a wall, pulling Dice close, lips at his throat and jaw all over again. He can’t wait. He doesn’t want to wait anymore.

“That’s what we have a cleaning crew for,” crows Gentaro and he slams his head back harder against the wall so Dice can assault his neck and renew each and every fading, purple mark. “They’ve been awfully bored lately without a gambler here to muck everything up.”

“You’re the worst,” says Dice as he tends to those marks, brings color back to them, and Gentaro swears he hears him whisper, “No new ones, huh?”

Gentaro doesn’t give him the courtesy of answering such a foolish question. Instead, Gentaro’s hands tighten in Dice’s hair and he’s panting, breath heavy and fast and quick, “Do you think I’d be evicted if we fucked in the hallway?”

“Definitely.” But Dice wedges his knee between Gentaro’s legs and pushes, grinds just teasingly a few times, as he kisses back up his neck to the corner of his mouth. “Open your front door before I suck you off out here.”

The words send another wave of arousal through him. Gentaro pulls away just enough to stumble the last few feet towards his front door. He fishes out that key, unlocks the door, and drags Dice inside by his belt loops.

They’re kissing again, like fire, slamming into the kitchen island, the wall, and everything else on the way to his bedroom. The lights are off and neither are making a move to fix that, Dice’s mouth hot on Gentaro’s as he bites his lips and makes him bleed.

“I missed you,” is what Gentaro thinks he hears Dice breathe into his mouth, hands on his ass and hoisting him up in the air.

It’s remarkable how little effort it takes to carry Gentaro across his bedroom and onto his bed. Gentaro doesn’t answer him even though he aches to, because if he had misheard, he’ll certainly fuck this up all over again, and he’s just gotten at least this much back.

“I want more,” Dice gasps into Gentaro’s ear as he brings his pretty hands up above his head, holding him down, weight barring down on him like so, so many times before.

Gentaro can’t think straight, just assumes he must mean the sex, has to mean the sex, because he’s so addled from the desire and pent-up frustration. So maybe he overcompensates when he says, “I suppose we could try something… new. I’m not opposed to it. Well, that depends on what it is,” trying his best not to sound as needy and whiny as he thinks he does to his own two ears.

And then suddenly the mouth is gone, suddenly, Dice’s delicious presence is gone and the man is straddling him, staring down at him, eyes serious and expression guarded and Gentaro feels his heart skip a beat for all the wrong reasons.

“I want to move in,” Dice clarifies.

Gentaro, for once, is without a script. He blinks, uncertain, “You already were. So to speak.”

“I wasn’t. Not really.”

Gentaro’s chest aches and he feels like his emotions are being thrown in his face. Did Dice always know? Has Dice known from the start and he’s just been mooching, just been indulging in this and trying to take all he can get?

“You were.” So his hands fall down to the bed. Maybe he won’t be getting lucky tonight after all. “Would you have preferred to start paying rent?” he mutters and he has his head tipped to the side, “Though, I suppose that would have been a terrible idea.” He would have let him. He would have given him anything he wanted… “After all, Ramuda mistaking us for a couple was enough to have you running.”

He’s shown his cards, shown his hand, and Dice has to fucking know by now what this all ended up meaning for him. That Dice had done the impossible, had finally gotten the liar to tell the truth.

“The fuck, Gentaro,” is what comes out, rough and shaky, and Gentaro feels stricken, cold to the core, “The fuck.”

Perhaps if he kicks Dice out now he can save some face. Perhaps if he thinks up some cruel joke he can save them both the awkwardness and pain of forgetting this ever happened.

Why can’t he just turn it off? Why can’t he just let Dice fuck him and make him forget? Why does he have to want to have Dice hold him when he sleeps, wake him up with his snoring, laugh at his jokes, brush his hair back when he writes, sing to him when he thinks he’s already sleep—

“I assure you, I didn’t give him the idea,” Gentaro deadpans, because right now, lashing out is the only way to make the ringing in his ears stop.

“That’s pretty obvious. You were pretty quick to correct him.”

That’s off script, too. Gentaro is about to lash out again, to cut down Dice with pretty words and icy walls, but he takes a moment to process what that means. Is Dice – upset that Gentaro had been quick to correct Ramuda that they weren’t dating?

Was there a modicum of a possibility that Dice had thought that they were? And that was why he had reacted so poorly?

Gentaro blinks, his expression softening, and he lets his hands flatten against the bed sheets. “Dice.” God he’s missed saying that name.

“Gentaro.”

“You aren’t upset that Ramuda mistook us for a couple.”

“Of course I’m not,” Dice agrees and just like that, Gentaro can breathe again.

There’s a lightness to him that he hasn’t felt in weeks. Dice is here, angry, upset, hurt, because Gentaro had told Ramuda the truth and hadn’t inferred that they were dating. Dice is upset because he’s likely thinking he had been tossed aside, too. It’s funny, far too funny, and Gentaro begins to laugh, the weight of the world falling off his shoulders and gathering in the corners of his eyes as he does so.

Could he really be this lucky? Could someone really care enough about a cruel liar to want something real?

When Gentaro clears the laugh-induced mist from his eyes, he feels Dice starting to pull away, that same sort of kicked expression he gets when he’s at the short-end of a joke. With all the fondness in the world, Gentaro reaches out to grab his wrist, keeping him there, holding him there.

Stay, he thinks, and means it this time. Just stay.

“Kiss me again,” Gentaro orders, the words a prayer more than a demand.

Dice’s face goes through an array of emotions Gentaro can’t label when he sputters, “—Wait, Gentaro.”

“Kiss me again,” and his hand is climbing its way into Dice’s hair, and that’s not even enough, and Gentaro can’t figure out the right words for this, the right meaning, so his hands are everywhere, trying his best to convey it all, landing on Dice’s boxers and straining to palm him through it, “Kiss me until I tell you to stop.”

“Gentaro,” Dice keeps sputtering and he’s trying to scramble off the bed but Gentaro’s grip in his hair tightens.

Don’t go. Not again, not ever again.

“Kiss me until I come just from that,” whispers Gentaro, mouth pressing to Dice as he breathes him in, pushes up against him, tries to tell him how much he’s in love and how fucked up they both are. He wants him to tear him apart, to make him come undone like he had promised, to make him come from the emotions and passion alone and when he’s spent and exhausted he just wants Dice to, “And then kiss me again,” kiss him again and never let go.

He feels Dice easing into it, relaxing, staying. He feels like the haze is clearing and there’s a chance, a reason to stay, to stop running.

“You can have all you want, Dice. I thought I had made that clear, but it’s obvious that you needed to hear it,” Gentaro just keeps saying, trying to move this act on to its conclusion.

“….Gentaro, can you just—can we just—”

When Gentaro realizes he isn’t making sense, isn’t getting the point across well enough, he finally moves his head away from Dice’s mouth and throat, long enough to look him in the eye. He’s restless, horny, but more importantly he’s drunk on love and he thinks, just maybe, he understands this for what it is now and he’s finally had the fates do him some good.

“I’m listening.”

Dice nods, and then says, a bit confused, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Perhaps a lot confused.

It’s endearing, and the fact that Dice hadn’t melted into him, hadn’t been upset that Gentaro had told Ramuda they weren’t together, perhaps he’d be scared and uncertain. But Dice had come here, had allowed his feet to carry him back home, had whispered to him sweet songs and kissed him when no one was looking. Dice had been everything and more and perhaps words were never really needed.

Gentaro does them both the favor, finally, and takes the plunge, “Allow me to rephrase, then. I only told Ramuda we weren’t in a relationship because we weren’t. I never said I wouldn’t like to be.”

The grin that paints itself on Dice’s face is worth all the pain, all the money, in the god damn world. “For real?”

And he knows, he just knows that Dice finally gets it.

“Yes, Dice. I thought allowing you to stay here every night, buying your dinners, and only sleeping with you would have given you a hint that I was interested in more if you were, but you know what they say about assumptions.”

Perhaps they both had been blind to the possibility of it.

It doesn’t matter now, though.

“I just – thought we already were…Or, uh. Actually, whatever, it doesn’t matter.” He tips his head forward to kiss Gentaro once, hard. “Be my boyfriend.”

And here Gentaro was thinking he’d have to do the honors, to clasp their hands together and take them down the inevitable path. Dice’s kiss is hard, warm, and he wants more, needs more.

“How could I turn down such an eloquent request?” laughs Gentaro and he falls back onto the bed, hands tangled in Dice’s hair, dragging him back down on top of him. An impish spark appears in his eyes as he mouths against Dice’s, “Now, remind me what it’s like to have you inside of me. I think I’ve forgotten…”

Dice slams their mouths together again, hot and heavy, drinking Gentaro in like he’s all he’s ever needed. Dice’s hands are on his hips, tugging him closer, hips already grinding back against his boyfriend’s.

“We’re so fuckin’ stupid,” laughs Dice and Gentaro couldn’t possibly have put it better, hooking his ankle over Dice’s so he can rut up against him.

“An author and a gambler, who would have thought neither had a way with words,” mutters Gentaro and he has both hands in Dice’s hair and is pulling, tugging, as they shamelessly grind against each other, too busy kissing every two seconds to do more than that.

“Isn’t that in the definition of what you do?” Dice snorts and he’s kissing his mouth, then his temple and then his cheek and Gentaro feels drunk of it all again.

“Keep that up and you’ll be the one to break the news to Ramuda.”

“Ouch. ‘kay, I’ll stop,” Dice chuckles as he slams his hips forward again, harder, making another moan bleed from Gentaro’s lips. “You’re so beautiful, Gen. The fucking sounds you make I just…”

“Don’t you dare ever stop,” Gentaro interjects, nails scraping at the back of his head, ignoring the latter part of Dice’s ramblings. His legs spread further, allowing for more friction, and he’s swallowing the air that he’s nearly choking on. “Dice,” he all but begs.

“Keep saying that,” Dice says, breathless, voice raw and husky and with an edge as he crushingly holds Gentaro’s right hip to keep the angle just right, “God, keep fuckin’ saying that.”

“Only if you stop bringing God into this,” teases Gentaro, laughing, as he arches into that strong hold, whining at the end when another lance of pleasure shoots through him.

“Gentaro,” Dice is laughing through it all, delighted and present and warm and, “You’re a piece of…work or somethin’… I love it.”

“I love you,” is what Gentaro answers with, his body aching and the hunger finally, finally put to bed as he comes just from grinding, clothes barely off. His mind goes blank, body pleasantly numb, and he’s only acutely aware of the fact that he’s hasn't confessed his biggest sin for the world to hear. It's just between them, just here now, just for Dice to hear.

He doesn’t even notice Dice coming apart from the tightening of his grip and then the eventual lax hold. The man’s face is buried in his neck, chest heaving up and down, and he hasn’t made any effort to separate yet. It’s as if two grown men hadn’t just gone at it like horny teenagers getting off for the first time, learning what friction was.

There’s a hand on his cheek, guiding his face to the right, forcing his eyes open. Gentaro slowly obeys, lazy, content, and the softness in Dice’s eyes is something he knows the world isn’t meant to see. It’s just them, always just been two fuck-ups in this world finding some sort of happiness and home.

“The moon’s beautiful tonight.”

A ghost of a smile appears on Gentaro’s face, expression brilliant and soft, and Gentaro has never been happier in his entire life.