This needed to stop. Inukawa could stand it no longer.
It had kind of been funny at first, in that so-weird-it’s-funny kind of way. But it’d been three weeks now and they’d been three of the longest, most draining weeks of his life. There was hardly a morning he didn’t find a long wall of texts on his silenced phone from his new “friend”.
If this was going to go on much longer either he was going to snap or something else might.
So Inukawa invited Mob to meet him at MobDonalds’. It was kind of outside the norm. Both of them were living busy lives and they had chances to meet each other less and less.
Something needed to be done, though. Inukawa was at the end of his rope and this was his last chance.
Mob sat across from him, looking like nothing at all was wrong in the world, eating his fries with no worries.
God, he wished that was him. Instead Inukawa’s life was spiraling out of control.
When he looked outside, he could swear he saw a flash of blond hair.
God damn it.
“Look, uh,” he said, unable to summon appetite to touch his burger. “I know this is kind of sudden, but I needed to talk to you.”
Mob lifted his eyes from his fries. Even now, years later, it was still hard to read his expressions sometimes. He didn’t show much of his inner workings on the outside.
Usually that just meant there wasn’t much going on inside either.
“What is it?” he asked.
Inukawa ran his hand though his hair, pulling back a little.
He hadn’t been sleeping well in a while. Because he kept getting long, ranting messages at the dead of night, about poetry and broken hearts.
And if he didn’t respond, sometimes there’s be a knock on his window and he just wanted to get a full night’s sleep.
“I don’t know how to put this, but like…” he ground out. “Is your… is your friend, Hanazawa, okay? Like emotionally?”
Mob stared at him, unblinking.
“Like, maybe you should call him or talk to him or something.”
Muted confusion crossed Mob’s face.
“Why?” he said. “I haven’t talked to him in a while…” He looked down, frowning. “That’s strange. We usually run into each other more often than this. But I haven’t seen him in… in weeks.”
Mob thought about it for a moment, then nodded.
“How did you know?”
“Augh,” Inukawa said, burying his head into his hands and sinking down on his seat.
Three weeks. That checked out. It had been three weeks of hell for him.
Since most of the Telepathy Club gang went to different schools now, it was harder to keep in touch than it had been back in middle school. It would’ve been easy to just drift apart without meaning to, so Tome had come up with an idea to have monthly movie and game nights. They rotated the turn of the person who’d get to host and who’d get to choose an activity, staying over-night at one of their houses every month. It was still hard to find time from their busy schedules and it was a rare occurrence when everyone made it.
Last month’s meeting had been a disaster from the get-go. Nothing new about that. It hadn’t seemed like any different from the usual disasters that sprung up around the times of their meetings. It’d been Saruta’s turn to pick the movie and he had, of course, picked a sappy, romantic comedy. So that had been an immediate loss of Tome, who suddenly had an important doctor’s appointment that took the entire night and the next day too.
Inukawa hadn’t really minded. He actually kind of liked the movies Saruta brought with him. And a good movie was a good movie. He’d thought it was a shame Tome couldn’t come, but there were would be other times. Besides, it would be Tome’s turn to pick an activity next and there was no way she was going to miss that one.
No matter. Like he’d said, not everyone could make it every time. It would’ve still been fine with the four of them. A guys’ night.
But then Kijibayashi had been roped into going to his cousin’s birthday party.
“I didn’t even remember I had a cousin!” he’d said.
And then, the day before the movie night, Saruta had come down with the flu. He’d texted the group chat, miserable as can be, complaining that he only had like a few degrees of fever and his mom wouldn’t let him leave the house.
So in the end, it’d just been him and Mob.
Again, that wasn’t the problem. Inukawa liked Mob just fine. Technically he’d only been an honorary member of the club, but in their hearts, he still counted. Spending time with him was always great. A relaxing experience. Mob just seemed to have such a chill attitude towards the whole world and everything just kind felt less hectic around him. They could do things at their own pace and no one was there to rush them.
Even if they no longer had as much time to see each other as before, Inukawa still thought of Mob as one of his closest friends.
The movie had been pretty good. Mob’s parents had bought way too much snacks for them, thinking that it was going to be the whole five-member crew there. But in the end, with both the parents and his brother out, it’d just been Inukawa and Mob at their house.
Quality time with Mob! Who could complain? Inukawa had found that he’d kind of missed just hanging out with Mob.
He should’ve realized his mistake right then and there.
Nothing ever went that well for him.
Now that he was looking back on it, he wondered why there hadn’t been an ominous boom of thunder when Mob’s phone had rung. Things like that deserved a lightning strike. An angry yowl of a cat. A sound of shattering glass, anything.
Instead Mob had muttered and apology and picked it up.
“Hanazawa,” he’d said, speaking out loud the name that was now spelling Inukawa’s doom. “Is this important? I’m watching a movie with Inukawa.”
Inukawa had reached for the remote to pause the movie and excused himself for a bathroom break. Whatever they’d talked about while he was gone was lost to him. He could see Mob smiling a little while he spoke, a soft little thing Inukawa hadn’t seen before.
He’d been grinning a little at that, thinking it was awesome that Mob was finally getting over his hopeless crush on Tsubomi.
When he’d come back, Mob had still been on the phone.
“Oh, Inukawa just came back,” he’d said quietly. “Um. Yes. Well. I don’t remember the name of the movie.”
“It’s right here,” Inukawa said, lifting the DVD-case Saruta had dropped off. “Uh. Tender Hearts Two, Tender Harder. Huh. I didn’t know this was a sequel.”
“It’s called Tender Hearts,” Mob said. He nodded as if the person on the other side could see it. “No. It’s just Inukawa and me.” There was a pause. “No, we’d actually been planning this for a while.” The second pause was longer. Mob started to gnaw on his thumb. “Mmh. I guess. Inukawa is nice.”
He should’ve known it was going to blow up on his face. He hadn’t remembered Hanazawa back then, but he sure as hell remembered him now. Instead he’d just thought that it was so nice to hang out with someone like Mob, who was so open about being friendly. He’d really opened up after middle school and it was just so damn nice to get to throw away all the pretenses and just be… you know, nice to each other. And not have to think that there was anything else to it. Just. Be.
Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy. It never was. Not even with Mob.
Being surrounded by espers, Inukawa had kind of liked to believe that some of that had rubbed off on him. Sometimes, when something really good happened to him, he liked to pretend that it was his sixth sense helping him make the most out of his life.
And then life would remind him that it’d never be that easy and sucker punch him with a weird blond who’d decided based on lacking information that Inukawa was now his rival in love.
Great. Just great.
Inukawa hadn’t realized the bog he’d unintentionally gotten thrown into until the next Monday, when he was leaving school.
There’d been a gathering of people outside the gate. He’d been kind of interested to see what was going on, but like in that way where you’d crane your neck to get a better view while passing by and then never think about it ever again.
He’d been forced to stop when a guy in a different school’s uniform had lifted his hand and waved at him.
He’d looked the guy over, trying to place him. Blond, handsome. Clearly a big people person, since so many students had gathered around him already.
Then it’d hit him.
“Oh, right,” he’d said. “You’re Mob’s friend.” He’d clicked his fingers, trying to remember the name.
Too busy to see Hanazawa’s smile hitch up a little and his eyes grow narrowed.
“Yeah,” he’d said. “That’s right. Hanazawa Teruki. Nice to meet you.”
The handshake had been tight. Maybe a little too tight. Inukawa still hadn’t smelled what he’d stepped on.
The guy had been smiling so bright he rivaled the sun itself. Hard to see deception through something as blinding as that. It was really unfair, how life dealt all the best cards to other players. And Inukawa was left with mediocrity at best.
“So,” Inukawa had said. “Did you come here with Mob?”
Hanazawa’s smile had twitched.
”Ah, Kageyama? No, no, I was just in the area.”
He’d walked to Inukawa, all swagger and sharp smiles.
“And I just so happened to see you here and thought, hey. Don’t I know that guy from somewhere?”
”We never got know each other that well. And any friend of Kageyama’s is a friend of mine,” Hanazawa had said. “Hang out with me today.”
Strange, Inukawa had thought, but not that strange. It had sounded more like a command than a question, but hang out around Tome for long enough and that starts to become meaningless. Sure, the guy hadn’t had the time of day for him before, but people changed. To be honest, Inukawa had kind of always taken Hanazawa as the type of a person who’d have no time for average people. Not unless he had something to gain.
Oh, how right he’d been.
“So,” Hanazawa had said while they were making their way to some café he’d mentioned in passing. “I didn’t realize you were that close with Kageyama.” He’d moved closer to bump their shoulders against each other with just a little bit too much power. “When did that happen, huh?”
Inukawa still hadn’t realized and now that he was thinking back on it, it just filled him with more embarrassment.
”I mean, we’ve been kind of close since middle school?” he’d said. ”We haven’t spent that much time together lately, so that’s kind of a bummer. But every time with him is such a joy, right?”
They’d talked a lot about meaningless stuff. Well. Hanazawa had talked. Inukawa had kind of started to wonder why he was even there. Hanazawa was all smiles, and he was all smiles in sort of a terrifying way. But they both knew pretty strange people, so past Inukawa had just thought this was one of Mob’s strange collection of friends. Everything about him had seemed cheery and sunny, but somehow the end results just came out terrifying. That was fine. People were different.
”I hope you know,” Hanazawa had said, his voice all smooth and smile sharp, arm around Inukawa’s shoulder so he couldn’t get away, ”that if you don’t treat him right, you might just find yourself neck deep in trouble.”
”I, uh. Huh?”
That had been it. The last straw. And then Inukawa had realized just how deep into it he’d stepped.
Hanazawa’s smile was bright and he burst out laughing.
It had kind of been the worst kept secret that Hanazawa had a raging crush on Mob. Based on the phone call and the look Mob had had during the last movie night, Inukawa had assumed that things had been sorted out.
”Just kidding!” Hanazawa had said. ”Hah! You should see your face! No, no. It’s fine. You’re fine. You’ve been nothing but kind to him.” The hold around Inukawa’s shoulder had grown tighter. Painfully so, when Hanazawa jostled him even closer. ”You’ve just been… such a good friend to him. That I didn’t even realize. That you were so close.”
His voice had reached higher and his hold around Inukawa’s neck had grown tighter and the dawning realization of horror had filled Inukawa’s stomach with dread.
”I just. Didn’t see. What was happening. I should’ve known. He’s such… he’s such a great guy, you know. That I should’ve known if I didn’t act soon enough… but I couldn’t… I was giving it time. I thought… But of course, he would make his own decisions.”
And there he’d had it. The beginning of the horror of his next three weeks.
It wasn’t that he felt threatened by the way Hanazawa acted.
It was the fact that the first time he’d actually spent any time talking to Hanazawa Teruki ended with the guy crying against his shoulder, while Inukawa patted his back with his best attempt at comfort.
And Inukawa, he considered himself a standup guy. He wasn’t cruel and he wasn’t going to let the poor guy keep suffering in his delusions. So he’d told him. Simple as can be.
“Oh, actually. Hah. Funny misunderstanding. I’m not dating Mob. I don’t know where you got the idea.”
Right. Like it was going to be that easy.
“No, no,” Hanazawa had said, voice stuffy, eyes puffy and even still managing to look like a member of a top-selling boy band. “You don’t need to lie to me. You don’t need to spare my feelings. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
And then Hanazawa had left, leaving Inukawa to stew with the mixture of the most complicated feelings he’d ever had the displeasure of feeling.
Okay. Yeah. That had been pretty bad. Not really something Inukawa had needed in his life, for sure. But it hadn’t ended there. Oh, it would’ve been just fine had it ended there. Just. Weird, but fine. People were strange. But as it turned out, Inukawa’s hell had just begun.
Turned out that when Hanazawa had said that any friend of Mob’s was his friend too, he’d meant it. And boy was that guy pushy about being friends, even though Inukawa was pretty sure Hanazawa didn’t even like him.
Inukawa had kind of noticed that when they’d still gone to Salt Middle, how Hanazawa tended to pop up at random intervals and “happen to run” into Mob just out of the blue. Inukawa had thought that was probably pretty annoying but surely Mob and Hanazawa had that whole thing planned out in advance and that was why Mob was always so pleasant about it.
No. Turned out that Hanazawa just liked to jump people. “Run into them”, without any plans or worry for what the other person might have had in store for the day. And when Hanazawa showed up, you better pay attention to him.
And the phone calls. Dear Lord, the phone calls.
Hanazawa would call whenever he felt like it. Mostly in the evenings. Sometimes at the dead of the night.
And without a failure, he’d start by being so needlessly mean. He had so much to say about Inukawa, starting from his clothes and then going through his grades and lifestyle and… just… being a total asshat about it. Sure, sure, Hanazawa would disguise it with pretty words and joke about it, but it was pretty clear what he was doing. And then it would devolve into Hanazawa crying about how he was a bad person and how he hadn’t actually grown and he’d never deserved Mob’s attention anyway.
Inukawa was so done. He just wanted to sleep. He just wanted to be able to go buy manga and not get accosted on his way home.
He wasn’t even dating Mob! Mob was great! He was the best! But Inukawa wasn’t into him like that.
Even if he had been, he wasn’t sure if this was worth the trouble.
Hanazawa just wanted to hear none of it. Because in his little world, who wouldn’t be into Mob?
“Inukawa?” Mob said.
He shook his head, pulling free from the torment of his memories.
“If you could just… maybe talk to him. Just talk to him, please? He’s going to drive me insane if he keeps calling me in the middle of the night.”
“Oh?” Mob said, tilting his head. “He does that with you too? He stopped when I asked him to. Maybe you should try that.”
“Please, just… just tell him we’re not dating. Just tell him we’re not romantically involved. I’m begging you.”
“We’re not dating,” Mob said, sounding confused.
“Yeah, no, I know. But just. He thinks we are.”
“Oh.” He thought about it for a moment. “That would explain it then.”
“Mmh. He called me the other day to congratulate me and I wasn’t sure why. He didn’t really explain.”
Inukawa groaned and placed his head into his hands.
“I…” Mob started slowly, clearly thinking his words carefully, “appreciate the sentiment. I care about you a lot. But I don’t see you that way.
“No, it’s – Yeah. The feeling’s mutual. But he’s not listening to me and I don’t think he’s ever had to deal with jealousy before and he’s not taking it well.”
“Jealousy? Why would he be jealous?” Mob asked. Then his eyes grew larger. “Unless…”
“Hanazawa isn’t interested in me either,” Inukawa cut in before he could reach the wrong conclusion and pat himself on the back.
“He’s not?” Mob frowned again, deeper. “But that would mean… Oh.”
“Oh. I see.”
There was a slight dusting of pink on Mob’s face and Inukawa would’ve been more than happy to celebrate with his friend under any other circumstances. He leaned forward and reached for Mob, desperation leaking through.
“Look, I know you like to take things at your own pace, but could you please, please talk to him about this? If I have to listen to him swallow sobs one more time, I’m going to lose it.”
“Okay,” Mob said slowly and patted Inukawa’s hand reassuringly.
The door to MobDonalds’ crashed open against a wall and suddenly there was a third person sitting there with them. Inukawa groaned and sunk down deeper, pressed into the seat by Hanazawa Teruki next to him.
“Oh, hey!” Hanazawa said, smiling bright. “What a coincidence! I was just passing by and saw you sitting here! On a date, huh? That’s nice. Although, I think you could do a lot better than fast food at MobDonalds’!” He laughed uproariously, pushing Inukawa further into the corner between the bench and the wall.
Inukawa pulled his hands down his face, stretching the skin of his cheeks. This would’ve been so inappropriate had they actually been on a date and he didn’t know if he should be mad or just accept it as his reality now.
“It’s not a date,” he grumbled.
“Now, now,” Hanazawa said, smiling just a bit too widely. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed. If you’re embarrassed about this, maybe you’re not ready to commit to a serious relationship.”
“It’s. A. Friendship.”
“I’d say all the best relationships start that way. Just two people. Getting each other. Feeling like they belong together. Wanting to take things to the next level. Like. The best relationships start with friendships, right? Or rivalries.”
Seriously? Inukawa was going to dig out his own eyes. It was the only escape. Hanazawa was very unsubtly gazing at Mob while he spoke, yearning and sharp words mixing together into a blend that just made Inukawa feel bad for him.
And Mob was just nodding along as if that was the greatest wisdom there was.
Inukawa cared for Mob. He really did. But the two of them deserved each other. And he didn’t consider that to be a compliment.
“Tell him, Mob. Just tell him.”
“What Kageyama wants or doesn’t want to tell me is up to him to decide,” Hanazawa said, admonishing him with all the sanctimony a human being could carry. “You should take this more seriously or someone might just… swoop in and grab what you take for granted.”
“There’s no need to do any swooping,” Inukawa explained slowly, “because there’s nothing to swipe. Just. Mob, please.”
“Inukawa says that you think we’re dating,” Mob explained with endless patience. “Which doesn’t make any sense. Why would you think that?”
Hanazawa’s look wavered and suddenly he looked very hurt.
“You,” he started. “No, Kageyama. You don’t have to hide it from me. I understand. And I would never judge you for it. I – I mean, it’d be pretty hypocritical coming from me.”
“No, but really,” Mob said, even more perplexed now. “We’re not dating.”
“Like I’ve said,” Inukawa muttered, feeling like a side character in a bad romantic comedy. Maybe he could just slip away and leave them to it.
Ugh. But knowing these two, they probably wouldn’t be able to reach the right outcome if someone wasn’t watching over them.
So here he would be. Trapped between Hanazawa and the wall.
“You’re… not?” Hanazawa said slowly, staring intently at Mob as if he was going to be able to force the truth out of him by just staring hard enough.
“No. No, we’re not,” Mob said, the red on his cheeks returning. “I, um. Well. Um. Actually, I have, um, someone else I was thinking about. Mm. If he was interested.”
Finally. Inukawa stuffed his face with fries. Sweet mercy.
When he looked up, he could see pure heartbreak on Hanazawa’s face. Mob was blushing down at the table, very clearly inching his hand closer to Hanazawa’s.
“Oh,” he said, absolutely miserable. “Well. I… I’m happy for you. I hope the person you like… likes you back.”
“Oh my God!” Inukawa cried out. “Just ask him out! Just ask him out, Hanazawa!”
His face turned as read as a tomato.
“I – I – I –! That’s – completely uncalled for! When did I ever –? I – This is very clearly none of your business, and quite frankly – “
“I’m done sitting here and watching this thing waddle on. Please! Hanazawa! Ask him out, or I swear to God, I will.”
“I appreciate the thought,” Mob said. “But I don’t feel that way about you, Inukawa.”
“No, I – Yeah. I got that. It’s good. It’s fine, I’d like to be just friends with you too, Mob. But I’m talking to Hanazawa right now.”
Mob frowned a little, then they both turned to Hanazawa.
He was still looking like he had second thoughts.
“He hasn’t said no yet,” Inukawa tried to coax him.
“Um,” Hanazawa said. “I. Uh. Hm. Kageyama. I know we kind of started on the wrong foot. But I’ve come to admire you a lot. And. Uh. I really. Really. Admire you. And. Hm.”
“I really admire you too, Hanazawa,” Mob said.
“Oh, heh. Thank you, Kageyama. That means a lot to me.”
And then they were both silent.
Oh, for the love of –
Inukawa wanted to bash his head against the table to see if the pain would go away.
“Look here,” he said. “Hanazawa likes you, Mob. Like more than a friend. And he was really torn up by the idea of you dating someone else.” He turned to look at Hanazawa. “And Mob really likes you too. I think the times you call him are like, the highlights of his days.”
Now they were both blushing.
“So could you please like… try to make it work?” He made vague gestures with his hands. “I mean, it won’t hurt to try, right? Just, here. Let me just scoot out from here…” Inukawa pushed past Hanazawa and off the table. “Here. You two are now out on your first date. Great. You two have fun, right?”
“Oh, um,” Mob said. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Hanazawa said. “You’d really be… okay with this? I mean sure! Yeah! That’s great, actually!”
Suddenly MobDonalds’ wasn’t that shabby of a place to take someone out on a date, huh? Whatever. As long as it meant this whole debacle would be behind them. Inukawa nodded at Hanazawa, wishing him all the luck in his head. Hanazawa barely even spared him a glance.
Good. Better that way. Inukawa was ready to go back to living his good old regular life. With no additional drama and rivals and whatever. Those fit into Saruta’s romantic movies, not real life.
Inukawa made it home, did his homework and ate dinner with his parents. Tome was already planning on the next club night and she had some weird cult classic movie about alien abductions she wanted to share with them and Saruta was already working up an excuse not to come.
He’d just made it to bed, when his phone started buzzing.
Dreading what he’d see when he picked it up, sure enough, it was Hanazawa’s name that was blinking there on his screen.
Inukawa groaned and debated just throwing the whole thing out.
He was really happy for the guy. Really. But. Just. They didn’t have to be friends. They’d been doing just fine before this.
He held the phone and looked at the window.
What were the chances if he threw the phone out that Hanazawa would just climb in through the window and gloat about his date anyway?
Inukawa was going to say that they were high enough for it to be a problem.