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a primrose bud and a bonsai tree

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At first, Yuri just assumes the guy is a stalker, prowling around for his coworker, Serena. There had been a couple people like that, with their hands jammed in their pockets and heads low as if looking at their feet would make them less conspicuous in a nursery of all places. So Yuri does what Yuri does best: confronts him head on. Usually, if they were looking for Serena, they would mumble an excuse that she was their ‘friend’ and wanted to know when she would be off, to which Yuri would answer that he can’t disclose that information to a customer. Usually that was enough to get them to buzz off for a while, unless they tried to hang around nearby and catch her when she left-- Yuri rarely let her leave alone in those cases, despite the fact that she could and would easily break someone’s wrist if they so much as gave her a bad vibe. Safety in numbers, right?

 

So Yuri walks over, his lavender apron slightly stained with flecks of dirt around his torso, ready to inform Serena of another lovely secret admirer after the fact. However, there are a few things he notices that give him pause. One: though the guy is dressed in all black like he’s incognito, his head is raised, and he’s actually looking at the plants. His hands aren’t in his pockets. Two: the guy is looking at the plants, so intently that Yuri feels they might start to cower from how he’s practically glaring at them. He seems to have enough common sense not to put his hands all over them, but his fingers hover around the leaves of an orchid, and they just barely brush against the edge of a tiger lily’s petals. Three...

 

…the guy is attractive, okay. Isn’t it a fact or something that stalkers get the short end of the stick looks-wise?

 

Still, there’s a slim chance Yuri’s misjudged him, so he strolls right over to where the guy is inspecting the tiny hairs on a succulent, growing out of gravel beside a couple other kinds in a small decorative bowl. “Can I help you find anything today, sir?” He asks in a tone so sickly sweet he might give the guy a cavity. He smiles welcomingly, or, what he thinks is welcomingly; Serena calls it his “apex predator smile”. The guy glances over at him, straightening up from where he’d been hunched over to scrutinize the plant (looks, height, is there anything this guy doesn’t have?), and clears his throat awkwardly. “No, I’m just… browsing.” He says, his words stilted as if he’s reading them off a cue card. Yuri wonders how someone with such a handsome face can be so... un-suave. The guy coughs.

 

Yuri is nothing if not an expert at being the Atlas of holding up conversations, though. “No problem! Just let me know if you need anything.” He smiles again, a bit more subdued this time, and the guy flashes a weak grin at him in response. And with that, Yuri ambles back to his responsibilities-- plucking the bolting buds from a rather crappy shipment of herbs they’d just got in this morning was first on his list. Out of the corner of his eye, Yuri sees the guy lift the bowl of succulents to eye level and stare at it with the intensity of a grade schooler staring at an exam before them. Call Yuri a hopeless homosexual, but the seriousness of his expression seems kinda endearing, too.

 

His shift passes somewhat uneventfully, and before Yuri realizes it it’s time for him to clock out and head home. The nursery is open for a couple more hours, but Serena can handle closing duties on her own with the early start Yuri has given her via working studiously instead of slacking off. He hangs his apron behind the counter where the register is perched, an old thing that probably hasn’t been replaced since the 90’s. Yeah, yeah, Yuri and Serena may be millennials, but they’ve both agreed that at some point soon that thing was going to croak and take a drawer full of bills and coin rolls with it. Not if their elderly manager could help it, though-- he wasn’t necessarily old-fashioned, per se, he just had a bit of a sentimental heart. Yuri supposes he can understand being sentimental, but over a register? He thinks that’s a bit silly, no offense intended.

 

Still, that’s how it is, and Yuri’s not one to complain about things he doesn’t have any control over. Life isn’t fair, is it?

 

With a productive shift behind him, Yuri fastens the two buttons on the light coat he left in the break room when he arrived this morning (it had been a bit chillier then, considering he got in around seven AM) after slipping it on, tossing his pocketbook strap over his shoulder and pulling his phone out of his pocket as he walks to the bus stop located beside the combo gas station/fast food chain nearby. It’s only about a five minute walk to get there, but Yuri starts to realize he’s a bit more tired than he originally thought as his feet quietly ache during his brisk walk to his destination. He supposes that’s what he gets for standing all morning and even passing on a break in favor of trying to salvage and rescue a couple of dying flowers, planted in pots just a bit too small for their roots to grow into the web usually expected of them. He doesn’t really regret it, though-- humans might not be his favorite thing in the world, but plants haven’t ever done anything to cross him. In fact, they’ve done the opposite, if he’s honest.

 

The bus comes into view only seconds after Yuri stops and sits down on the poorly-welded metal bench slumped beside the sign indicating the bus stop and route number. It ambles down the road slowly like a huffing, puffing, steel beast slinking along the ground for its next meal, yet as soon as it gets closer it almost looks like the driver has to slam on the brakes to get the vehicle to halt at the stop itself rather than twenty feet past it. Yuri taps his bus pass to the terminal and takes a window seat towards the center of the bus, as it’s fairly empty at this time of day. It might seem odd to some that he was able to leave work so early, but then again-- a seven to two shift was still seven hours, and that was usually the most his manager would let him stay clocked in for before shooing him out and telling him to go run along with his friends or something, even if he actually wanted to stay longer. Yuri scoffs to himself. Serena was one of two people he even came close to considering a friend, and she was a coworker before that. The same could be said of him in her mind, though Yuri had no way of knowing that. He had a feeling it was mutual, nonetheless.

 

Yuri wasn’t really the most social pup of the litter as he’d been more introverted than ambiverted his entire life, so when he did “make friends”, it tended to be with extroverts who just sort of picked him up by the scruff and injected him into their friend groups. Yuya was a prime example of this-- though they’d grown closer throughout the years and therefore Yuri was a bit more clear on his myriad of mental struggles than before and not so blind as to believe every smile he gave, he still would liken Yuya to an overzealous kitten rather than a more neutral-personalitied animal any day. It was easy to get him hyped up, too; all Yuri had to do was mention a new show he’d heard of lately or seen an ad for on TV, or perhaps remark that he’d seen an interesting dance routine on Instagram lately, or even comment on whatever his mood seemed like that day (should it be more towards the positive or neutral end of the spectrum) for Yuya to launch into a spiel about the topic at hand. Yuri didn’t mind listening-- really, he actually preferred it to having more of a conversation-- and honestly? It was a bit impressive, not to mention slightly cute as well, for him to be able to make a sunshine-y mountain out of a dimly lit molehill. Yuri thinks he’s a little dim in the head sometimes too, but Yuya is easy to forgive, with his sheepish grins and bad dye job. Not that Yuri’s is much better.

 

Still, he is someone Yuri considers himself close to, though perhaps on the same level as Serena when he thinks hard about it, considering he sees her nearly daily and therefore tends to get in quite a bit of interaction and conversation with her from week to week. Yuya, on the other hand, is still in college-- he’s a year younger than Yuri, who graduated last year and decided to take a gap year before possible graduate school or any vocational studies. He tends to be wrapped up in his assignments and notes more often than not, as he tends to be the type that lusts after A’s more than water in a desert, but he still makes time to meet Yuri for coffee or to make use of the old Wii Yuri splurged on years back that still works, albeit a bit clunkily nowadays. The Wiimotes it came with have lost their cases somewhere in the vastness of his tiny studio apartment, and both are scuffed to hell and back, practically not even white anymore from being thrown around so often and clasped in sweaty hands. The handles that were once attached sit in a drawer below the modest TV along the wall, waiting patiently to be threaded back into remotes again one day.

 

Serena doesn’t really play that many games, however, much to Yuri’s melancholy. The most he’s seen her do is pull up Neko Atsume once or twice during a shift or on break and refill the food bowl, sometimes snapping pictures of the cats that came to visit. He’s come to learn her favorites are Miss Fortune and Whiteshadow, the ninja cat, so he supposes that’s at least some trivia he can supply when prompted for gory details. The most he’s ever really done with her is invited her over a few times, usually when he’d made a meal the night before with a couple too many portions for him to eat on his own before they went bad. She’s petite, but she has quite the stomach, Yuri’s found. He’s the type of person to serve himself way too much to begin with, then be full halfway through the plate-- Serena, on the other hand, has all but taken an oath to polish off every last carrot or bean or what have you before she declares herself full. It’s something he kind of admires about her, what with his horrid reoccuring stomachaches if he attempts to stuff himself.

 

They also tend to go out for coffee, too, if their shifts end around the same time. Yuri doesn’t own a car though he has his license, so most of the time they shuffle over and squeeze into Serena’s itty bitty 2003 Volkswagen Beetle, a garish thing colored bright pastel green. It’s neither of their favorite colors, but she’d explained once with distaste that it was the best bang for her budget at the time, and for better or for worse, the thing’s lasted her since her very first car (a hand me down jalopy from her mother that she got maybe two years out of) breathed its last bit of exhaust and ascended to the Great Used Car Dealership Beyond. She begrudgingly told him she’s just grateful the Bug didn’t have many an issue, if at all, that needed to be addressed by an actual mechanic, unlike her previous vehicle. That thing had been practically spitting smoke and dripping oil the day she first held the keys in her hand. So however annoyingly, it’s their usual mode of transportation to the Starbucks, the crown jewel of a shopping center a mile or so from the nursery where they work. Yuri usually opts for a simple fruit tea, while Serena, blackened goddess that she is, orders a small coffee with zero cream or sugar. If she’s feeling frisky, she’ll get a red eye, but those are usually reserved for days she can barely keep her eyes open after stumbling out of the plant-infested greenhouse.

 

Yuri would make some comment about something or some one keeping her up all night, but a slight feeling in the back of his head tells him that’s a recipe for a bloody nose, so he keeps it to himself. He never asks, and she never elaborates.

 

The bus’s tinny speaker echoing the smooth voice of a middle-aged man informing him of the next stop rouses him from his thoughts, and Yuri realizes he’d spent the whole commute daydreaming without even putting in his headphones. He shrugs inwardly and stands, slinging his pocketbook over his shoulder once more and pulling the cord hanging tightly against the window as he stands, vomited up by the hissing beast once again today. The bus seems to speed away at first, then laze into a mellow pace as it ambles towards the highway just east of Yuri’s apartment complex. He watches after it for a quick moment, then walks inside.

 

If Yuri had to rate the nursery and his apartment above or below each other on a certain scale, he’s pretty sure his apartment would hover just barely above his workplace. The place is overflowing with green growth, leaving a barely sweet scent in the air in the spring and summer, and the fall too if he had enough pocket change leftover from his usual expenses to turn up the heat so early in the cold seasons. Upon entering his humble abode, there’s a couple plastic coat hooks Command-stripped to the wall for visitors’ outerwear, and Yuri’s usual tennis shoes are lined up neatly beneath them. Dress shoes and anything else are stored on the top shelf of his closet with a couple other rarely grabbed garments. The kitchenette is directly to the right as soon as you take over two steps inside, with only a bit of space to maneuver around in between the counter that surrounds the sink on one side and the stove, the oven directly below it, and the bit of counter between the burners and the fridge, a shorter freezer space stacked on top as is usual with most refrigerators. A dish rack somewhere between empty and full sits a little lopsided beside the sink basin, steadfastly holding dishes Yuri’d washed the night before, and an amaryllis stands tall right beside the short overhang that separates the counter and sink from the living area. Lining the overhang are various, cute little pots of succulents, more often than not thrifted from pieces that had fallen off shipments that came into work that he’d slipped in his pocket and grown at home himself. Two live in chipped mugs he knew he’d never use again-- one of the mugs reads “Cat Mom” in loopy, childish handwriting, and inside a bear’s paw grows happily in ignorance. It almost looks like it’s waving at him when he’s washing the dishes sometimes, but perhaps it’s a trick of the fading sunlight.

 

Past the kitchen space is the living area, where his TV, which he’d picked up as an extremely lucky find at one of the thrift stores in the area, is perched upon a rather rustic looking, short and long chest of drawers with only two thin rows and two fat columns of drawers. The bottom left is chock full of old DVDs he’d collected when he was much younger and still lived in his childhood home, though he didn’t really give them any thought anymore unless it was because someone he’d had over had dug one out and asked to watch it. He was still a little attached to them, yeah, but they didn’t really spark his interest like they used to, though the nostalgia factor was definitely still there-- even in some of the older and sometimes shittier movies he’d scavenged. The bottom right drawer is filled to the brim with absolutely nothing; except, of course, the long since fallen-off Wiimote handles. A lone screw that must’ve fallen out of the woodwork somewhere rolls around every time he opens it, and he can never find where it came from even when he tries, but he still keeps it handy on the off chance he does. 

 

The top two drawers are a bit more miscellaneous, housing a small yet nicely rounded collection of Wii games as well as the two remotes, some random HDMI cables and other connection cords he’s forgotten the purpose of to be honest, a single Ethernet cable bound tightly with a twist tie implying it’s never been used, as well as a stash of double A batteries in a plastic bag and a few triple A’s. One has a couple CDs as well, but they’re similarly leftovers from his childhood, back before Spotify was a thing and everyone was still in awe over iTunes digitizing a music library. The Wii itself sits to the side of the TV, positioned a little bit behind the screen as if cowering from foreign people who’d come in and fiddle with it. Yuri doesn’t really use it by himself, as most of the games he’s accrued over time are multiplayer and also, he doesn’t really enjoy playing games by himself. Even just two is better than one when it comes to gaming, in his opinion.

 

Keeping the TV and chest of drawers from being the only actual things in the room is a scuffed brown coffee table, similarly thrifted but from a different store. Two small pots and one medium one are huddled towards the center, the medium one cradling a Chinese evergreen on a somewhat deep plate due to the monstrous amounts of water it could handle. The two smaller ones are two of the same plant, apparently similarly Chinese in origin-- a pancake plant, or sometimes known as a money plant, for a reason Yuri’s never bothered to Google. Cheap plastic dishes sit below their pots instead; he didn’t have quite the budget to fit each of his pots with its own ceramic, thank you very much. In foot-propping range is a grey pleather sofa, not big enough for over three usual sized people and a bit ugly, if Yuri were to scrutinize it. A mysterious stain coats the underside lining of one of the cushions, but as Yuri rarely cleans between those unless Yuya’d been particularly messy with any junk food he’d brought with him, he doesn’t pay it much mind. The armrests are slightly deflated towards the center, as if someone’s sat on them one too many times, which makes sense seeing as it’s a used piece of furniture. As if a nursery employee pretty much fresh out of college could afford a brand spankin’ new couch.

 

Being a studio apartment, his bed isn’t separated from the living area by a wall, but Yuri has purposely placed a folding screen you might see in a dressing room between most of it and the rest of the space for some semblance of privacy despite being the only inhabitant. It has lotus blossoms printed on it in a faux-vintage style, but the background is too yellow to be naturally degraded. He’d found it on sale while discount furniture hunting back when he first moved in, and figured it might be a worthy investment. Plus, it was only around fifteen hundred yen-- a bargain for something of its size. He supposes it’s because the design becomes worse and worse the longer you look at it from all the obvious errors, but he finds the mistakes add to its character. Plus, it had flowers on it. What more could he ask for?

 

His bed itself is fairly modest, just with plain greyish linens pulled over the sheets tucked around the mattress itself and encasing the pallid yet soft pillows he may have snatched from the house he used to live in. He’d tried fluffing them up in the dryer in little laundromat-type area in the basement of the complex countless times, but to no avail, so now he just lived with it. A thickly knit quilt colored with blues and greens lies a bit messily on top, looking as if he’d thrown it back and not bothered to fix it when he woke up that morning, which he had. On a nighttable beside where his head would lie sits a dim desk lamp with purple metal surrounding the bulb that heated up enough to burn Yuri if he touched it after it’d been on a while, and beside that, a couple out of place pairs of contacts as well as his glasses, which he should really put into a case in his pocketbook just in case. He forgets to every morning and remembers every afternoon, but is too easily distracted to actually follow through every time. An orchid he’d actually grown from a bulb he bought from work a while back stands with its bloom high and petals open lavishly on the table, maybe just to drive home the whole plant freak thing. It puts plenty of his other houseplants to shame, which might be why he’s isolated it to behind the divider, but who’s to say?

 

Walking directly away from the bed leads one to the bathroom, which is, well, a bathroom. A medicine cabinet with a mirror for a door hangs above the porcelain sink, and a drab cream shower curtain direly in need of a replacement (evident from the dye stains on the inside of it) hangs in front of the bathtub, concealing his armada of shampoos, conditioners, soaps and shower gels. Sometimes even Yuri forgets what some of them are even supposed to do in the first place. Bobby pins litter the crevices between the tiles, hidden from the naked eye, or perhaps not-- perhaps he’s just too lazy to pick up every last one he drops. A wastebasket with a couple tissues at the bottom and a snapped hair tie slouches boredly beside the toilet. Along the wall beside the bathroom is a set of double closet doors, behind which Yuri’s clothes practically spew out of. He invested in a hanging organizer a while back that holds on for dear life from the top of one of the doors, but Yuri being Yuri filled it to the brim with garments and miscellaneous things he absolutely did not and does not need then promptly began to ignore its existence. A couple spare sets of sheets sit on the shelf above his head with the aforementioned dress shoes and such, and there’s at least five or six sweaters balled up at the bottom of the closet. Maybe he’ll fold them later. Probably not.

 

Still, no matter how shabby or thrift chic his apartment looked to some, to Yuri it was home, possibly the first place he’d ever actually thought of as such. The plants aren’t the only thing he likes about being here, either, though they’re definitely a plus. The spider plant hanging from a hook he’d managed to screw into the ceiling without alerting any of his neighbors is one of his favorites, if only for its aerodynamic positioning. But just the assurance that he had a place to return to after a long day, silent sans the rare muffled voices from next door or above, gives Yuri a sense of peace. He had originally planned to sift through his fridge for stirfry ingredients when he got home, but he feels very drained the moment he takes his shoes off at the door, and flops down into his bed, socked feet sticking up in the air for a moment before thudding onto the quilt below him. He barely remembers to dig his phone out of his pocket and plug it into the charger snaking out from behind his bedframe before passing out, completely oblivious to the slew of texts from Yuya that pour in only about four minutes after Yuri has descended into slumber, awaiting a rude awakening from the alarms he’s set on his clock app.

 

Yuya > yuri!!!

 

Yuya > yuri

 

Yuya > yuri omg answer

 

Yuya > :(

 

Yuya > >:(

 

Yuya > ok youre probably napping or something lol

 

Yuya > call me when you wake up!!! i have News :p

Chapter Text

It’s still dark outside when Shun stirs. Normally he’d be a bit confused and try to head back to bed until the sun was at least peeking from behind the horizon or something, but since it’s become commonplace these days, he doesn’t question his circadian clock like he had before. The curtains hanging over the sliding glass door that leads to his balcony are cracked somewhat, fluttering from the vent below them circulating air not hot nor cold throughout the space. He leaves his nightclothes on as he quietly closes his bedroom door behind him while heading towards the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee, one Ruri would surely be grateful for when she woke up later on, though by that time he’d likely have turned off the burner since he’d be gone for work already. Their schedules tend to clash, they’ve both found, but Shun is quite satisfied with their living arrangements, and he believes Ruri is, too; if she isn’t, she’s never voiced nor even implied it. So he feels comfortable assuming that.

 

He sips his coffee (a dash of cream, three sugars) from a mug emblazoned with the logo of the library Ruri works at and steps out onto the tiny balcony that came with their apartment, sliding the door shut slowly behind him so as not to make too much noise. Out here they have two white plastic lawn chairs and a small outdoor table, which holds upon it a modest flowerpot with a couple pansies flowering off two separate stems. Shun leans against the railing lazily and takes another swig of joe, watching with half-lidded eyes as the sun slowly but surely pokes up over the horizon. Cars putter by below, but there aren’t many out at this time of day-- only the occasional police car and a handful of commuters getting an early start on their drive.

 

Shun’s days usually go like this: wake up at a morning hour too ungodly to even be considered an early start and go through the motions of properly eating and caffeinating himself, then spend the five or six hours he has to himself before going into work sketching new designs or perfecting old ones. Around 11 he usually forces himself off his tablet and showers, dresses, changes his piercings if necessary, and throws a bit of spray into his hair once he gets it to sit the way he wants. Today is a day like any other, yet Shun decides to take a bit more time to himself this particular morning, unplugging his tablet from the charger in his room and pulling up YouTube. His most-frequented channels pop up in his feed with the videos they’ve posted in the past week or two, but he doesn’t pay them much mind and opens the search bar instead.

 

It really shouldn’t be this embarrassing, he thinks. Everyone has hobbies and interests, and so does he. It’s not embarrassing, he tells himself for the third time as he types out, ‘cute bird compilation’. YouTube, ever the enabler, supplies without a word, and Shun is grateful. He settles into the beanbag chair in the corner of his room, slightly lumpy from use, and dives in.

 

By the time he glances up at the clock on the top of his screen, three and a half hours have already passed.

 


 

While most of the other artists Shun works with at his job have more experience than he does (given their older age-- he was one of the two artists there still in his twenties), he prides himself on still being well-known enough in the community around here that regulars and first-timers both came in and asked for him by name. Or by Instagram handle, if they hadn’t made it as far as his bio. Shun wasn’t picky-- to have anyone that enjoyed his art to the point they wanted to have it permanently inked onto their skin was compliment enough.

 

If it wasn’t obvious from looking at his portfolio in the shop or his Instagram, then Shun’s own body was evidence enough for what his favorite animals are. His left arm, affectionately known to his friends as his “jungle arm”, is probably his favorite-- a sleeve starting at his shoulder and ending on the back of his hand, it’s comprised of a medley of his favorite breeds of birds and tropical plants both, with bamboo rising up around a cockatoo and hibiscus blooms beneath the talons of a toucan, as well as a finch holding an amaryllis in its beak and a bird of paradise with the similarly named flower tucked into its wings. Across his shoulderblades is a pair of black, feathered wings drawn vaguely enough to be a number of different birds, but Shun likes to think they’re that of a raven. He’s got other non-bird-related tattoos, yeah, but Shun is biased, so he thinks those two in particular are the coolest. A poodle moth is perched steadfastly on his mid-thigh, for example, and a quote from his favorite novel flows across his inner forearm like a droplet of water.

 

Of course, Shun wasn’t only about tattoos-- what tattoo shop only did ink and not body piercing, anyway? A straight, black barbell sticks out either side of the bridge of his nose, and two silver studs poke out of his cheeks right where his dimples would be, if he had any. His ears are both full of metal, with industrials on either side as well as traguses, gauges he’d stretched to the point where the hole in the center was the size of his pinky fingernail, and multiple helix piercings. On his left he has a ring in his daith, and on the right he has a short, curved barbell for an anti helix. Most of the metal is plain black, but a couple of parts are silver (probably newer piercings that hadn’t healed enough for him to replace the jewelry yet). The newest one was the daith, though he was planning on a barbell in his tongue soon enough, too.

 

After the slim two hours Shun spent sketching up new designs has passed, he rises from his desk chair and finally starts to freshen up, grabbing a change of clothes from his closet and slipping into the bathroom directly across the hall from his room. Ruri’s makeup is scattered across the counter, making it evident she was running late yesterday and didn’t have time to pack it all back into her makeup pouch that never left the bathroom. Two electric toothbrush chargers and their respective brushes sit flush against where the counter meets the wall, the lights on them flashing green to indicate both were fully charged. A purple bottle of hairspray stands proudly beside the mirror, emblazoned with a promise of “It’ll Stay-- Won’t Stray!” on the side.

 

Shun drops his clothes unceremoniously on the toilet seat and turns on the shower, stripping off his bedclothes. As he bathes he notes that the bar of solid shampoo Ruri had insisted on buying him months ago is finally starting to wind down into nothing, now only the size of a 100 yen coin. He sticks a post-it onto the bulletin board that is his mind that reads, in block Sharpie letters, “buy shampoo”, right beside a pink note scribbled with “don’t forget to water Yuto if needed”. Shun breathes out a quiet laugh at that-- he can think of quite the number of occasions during which he might’ve forgotten to do exactly that, but Human Yuto had developed a habit of reminding him during their in-between-tasks text conversations. It’d be morbid if you let plant me die! Yuto’s voice echoes through his head, sounding more concerned than he should about a simple succulent Shun didn’t even know the exact name of the type of.

 

Still, since he can’t remember the last time he did so, and Plant Yuto’s gravel feels dry as a bone to the touch, so when he gets out of the shower Shun fills the old medicine cup by the sink now only used as a watering can and pours it towards the bottom of the plant, the water getting soaked up near instantly but not to the point of being dry again. He pulls on a pair of black skinny jeans with distressed rips in the knees, ankle socks, and a grey long sleeve shirt with black stripes running diagonal and parallel to each other over the fabric. Before he tugs on his shirt, though, he examines his chest in the mirror for a moment, poking gently at one of the two thick, pink scars on either underside of his pecs. He makes a face that looks mostly pleased yet just slightly contemptuous, and sticks his head and arms through the holes in his shirt and pulls it down over his torso. He runs his fingers through his hair as he blowdries it rather than using a brush, and though it still looks slightly damp when he’s done, Shun sprays a couple puffs of hairspray into it anyway, tucking his bangs behind his ear like he always does.

 

When he escapes the bathroom he notices that Ruri’s door at the end of the hall is ajar, meaning his sister is likely finally ready to seize the day, if you can call trudging down the hall and making a beeline to the coffee pot and a clean mug seizing the day. Ruri takes her coffee black, maybe with a dollop of milk foam on top if she were to go to a cafe, and Shun still finds himself in awe of her power every time he sees her pour herself a cup and drink the bitter stuff like it’s nothing. Which, it is, for her, so.

 

He tosses his dirty clothes into the hamper in his room then ambles out to the kitchen again, where surely enough, his sister is leaning against the counter with a mug in one hand and her glasses in the other, as if she wasn’t awake enough to see in 20/20 yet. She nods groggily at Shun when she sees him, yawning into her cup, the handle of which is sculpted shoddily to look like a lopsided swan. “Sleep well?” Shun asks offhandedly, opening the fridge and scanning its contents once he realizes he hasn’t eaten yet, and Ruri shrugs. “Decently.” She answers, taking another sip. 

 

Three-fourths of the way through heating up some leftover miso soup and starting the rice cooker as well as cracking a few eggs into a hot skillet on the stove Ruri slides her glasses on and blinks a little blearily, apparently prepared for the ordeal of being able to see things that aren’t just blob-shaped. “Welcome to the land of the living.” Shun remarks with a small grin, and Ruri rolls her eyes. “I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to perceive things first thing in the morning.” She huffs, and Shun lets out a soft chuckle beneath his breath. “Imagine how I feel.” He jokes, turning off the flame and covering the skillet with a lid so that their eggs can finish cooking while the rice is in the home stretch. He hands her a bowl of miso and two sunny side up eggs on a chipped plate, serving himself afterwards, yet only four minutes later when the rice is done they’ve already finished eating, both having been ravenous. Shun scoops up a paddle’s worth for himself anyway, but Ruri waves her hand and passes, downing the last lick of coffee in her mug and stretching over the back of the chair she’s sitting in before dragging herself back to her room to select an outfit for the day. “I’ll probably be gone when you get out, so have a good day.” He calls down the hall, and though Ruri doesn’t turn around she still raises her hand in a thumbs-up, disappearing behind her door.

 

Shun leaves the skillet, still pretty hot, in the sink for either him or Ruri to wash later when either of them gets home, but he leaves a note on the counter asking for Ruri to put the rice away before she leaves for work, since by that time it’d probably have cooled enough that it wouldn’t make a Tupperware explode from the steam. He doesn’t take much with him to work; just a small knapsack with his sketchbook and a few trusty pens and pencils tucked into it, as well as his phone, a pair of wireless headphones, and his car keys. There’s only one allocated parking space to his and Ruri’s apartment, but it actually works out well considering Ruri doesn’t have a car, though she does have her license. The library she works at is only a ten minute walk from their complex, too, and only if it’s storming or snowing wildly outside will she take the bus, since it has a stop right along the road their complex borders and another one right at the library entrance and drop box (for people to drop their returned books in when it was after hours). Shun, on the other hand, works at a parlor deeper towards the heart of the city-- though he could indeed take the bus to the train station and just commute there a bit faster than via driving himself, he finds that he enjoys the drive, even if it is in the realm of forty-five minutes to an hour depending on traffic. He doesn’t listen to a ton of music (though he has his favorites, he’s not an animal ), so usually he’ll pull up a podcast to play throughout his commute. The one he’s listening to now is one about where modern folktales originated, and how the events that conceived them were slightly scarier than the tales themselves. Shun doesn’t scare that easily, but he always enjoys a good bit of horror.

 

Though today is the same as every other day, or at least, it should be, Shun can’t help feeling a little giddy for his plans after he’s off at the end of the evening. The other day he’d gone to a nursery around twenty minutes from home after he’d left, one that was tucked right beside an abandoned auto shop garage slightly off the main road around that area. Down the road a minute more is a combination gas station/fast food franchise, and after that there’s only car repair shops as far as the eye can see, with a paid lot dominating the cul-de-sac at the end of the road. There’s a couple other nurseries in the area that are less off the beaten path, but Shun picked this one for a very specific reason, and it only took one single visit for that reason to double. One, this is the nursery the community college Yuto attends has partnered with for their horticulture program, and if you showed your student ID at checkout rumor had it you’d get a ten percent discount; Shun, though not exactly living paycheck to paycheck anymore, had retained his love of paying less than full price for anything from his college days, and therefore that alone drove him to come here rather than somewhere else. 

 

Two, and this is partly the reason that Shun is going again today no matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise, this nursery employs a certain someone that Shun had had a slight crush on when they went to said community college a couple years ago. A certain someone that Shun was most certainly over and done with despite lack of action on his part leading to absolutely nothing, and a certain someone that Shun had only learned after the fact was extremely close with Yuya, a guy Yuto had introduced him to when he’d ended up in the same English class as Shun despite being a year younger. They (Yuto and Yuya) had started off on just barely rocky terms, but nowadays their relationship was so great that sometimes Shun wondered if Yuya had surpassed him in Yuto’s Friendship Running yet. He wasn’t jealous or anything, though; it was more like he wasn’t exactly willing to be dethroned by someone who could make friends with damn near anybody when he didn’t exactly harbor that quality. What would Shun do if that did happen, anyway? Give up Hot Topic runs with Yuto for hanging out with Ruri or her friends, when she brought them over? Shun loves his little sister dearly, but no thanks.

 

Despite Shun’s Yuya complex, he had to admit that there had been recent developments on the other guy’s side that he was grateful for, though. Namely that he had extended invitations to Yuto and him both for a party he was throwing at the end of the week for his other friend, Yuzu’s, birthday. Shun only knew Yuzu by proxy from Ruri, as she was one of the girls his sister hung around decently often, and therefore had invited over a few times and met Shun. She wasn’t his favorite person in the world as he’s sure he wasn’t hers, but he did enjoy when she and Ruri and their friend Rin piled onto the siblings’ couch and kicked him to the floor (he didn’t enjoy that part specifically, but) while the four of them played through the games Jackbox 4 offered, his favorite being Fibbage: Enough About You. Ruri’s was Monster Seeking Monster, and he was pretty sure that Yuzu and Rin both were more inclined towards Survive The Internet than the other games. It was pretty funny, to be fair, and what kind of sibling would he be if he gave up a chance to jokingly make his little sister look bad?

 

It wasn’t the fact that it was Yuzu’s party that he was happy about, however. Yuto, ever the Kurosaki mind-reader, had only told him about the invite after confirming that a certain friend of Yuya’s would be there too, and it only took the mention of his name to get Shun to relent, though both of them were fully aware Shun would’ve gone even if he hadn’t known and Yuto had just insisted. At the mention of the (former) object of Shun’s affections Shun had raised an eyebrow, asking how Yuto had managed to figure that out without giving anything away, to which Yuto had crossed his arms and said that subtlety wasn’t lost on him.

 

Meaning, he had asked Yuya point blank. At least he hadn’t mentioned Shun’s name.

 

When he pulls into one of the employee parking spaces at work, he notices that he doesn’t see Shingo’s car anywhere-- Shingo was one of his fellow artists, the only other under-thirty employee aside from Shun. Maybe he carpooled or something, Shun wonders absentmindedly as he throws his bag over his shoulder and walks in, ignorant to the gentle breeze that swirls past him thanks to the dark-navy suede biker jacket he wears nearly daily. His platform boots make clunky noises against the asphalt as he walks around the side to the door.

 

It takes all of ten seconds for him to learn that Shingo called out early this morning when he’d woken up with a fever, and all of twenty seconds to learn that while nobody could blame Shingo for being sick, everyone was still definitely blaming Shingo for being sick. Shun hurries to the area he’d been handed the first day he was officially employed here (he’d originally been an apprentice to one of the older artists, a kind and spunky lady named Yoko who’d rode out the entirety of his three years of apprenticeship with him until he got his license) and stuffs his bag into the small shelf of necessities he keeps as well stocked as he can. He’s just barely sat down on his stool when Reiji, the owner of their shop, calls out to him and pulls him towards a pack of four teenagers that walked in only about a minute after him. Shun sighs inwardly and plasters on his customer service face, smiling just enough to make a customer comfortable but not wide enough to look like he’d eat them if they said something wrong. He can feel it’s going to be a long day.

 

By the time ten PM rolls around and Reiji locks the front door, a collective sigh of relief can be heard amongst Shun and his fellow artists. Dennis peeks out from behind the door to his space, one of two areas that’s secluded from the rest of the parlor because of Dennis’s affiliation as a piercer. Crow had occupied the other room for most of the day today with his continuing work on a man built like a brick house who’d been coming in session by session lately to finish a massive piece that spanned all the way from the outside of his thigh up his side and onto the underside of his arm, so that it could only be seen in full if he got naked and raised his arms above his head. Obviously, since they were doing color on the part on his thigh today, the pants had to come off, so Crow had ushered him into the back room and got down to business immediately. Luckily for Shun, though the day had been crazy-busy and he hadn’t had any time to scan any of the new designs he’d made into the computer kept in the shop as a portfolio database, he hadn’t been the drinks runner for today; that role had been bestowed to Kaito, much to his displeasure. Only after cleaning up his space thoroughly and disinfecting his chair from the last client he’d had does Shun take a moment to breathe, and it is at that moment he realizes all he’s ingested today has been his morning coffee, breakfast, and a Monster he’d stowed away in his bag just in case as well as half of a Snapple he’d asked Kaito to buy earlier. His stomach growls in annoyance as if driving the point home, and Shun slings his knapsack over his shoulder, shuffling towards the door. “Hey, Dennis, can you lock it behind me?” He calls out for one of the others similarly cleaning up-- only Crow, Reiji, Dennis and him were still working on their own damage control after a productive day, seeing as both Edo and Asuka had had short shifts today and it was Yugo’s day off. “Yeah, yeah.” Dennis waves him off. “See you tomorrow!” 

 

Shun waves back weakly and wanders back outside the building and to the parking lot where his faithful Prius waits patiently. The tires carry him assuredly towards the nursery, and he downs the last of his Snapple before he walks in, which somehow makes his throat feel drier than before. He resolves to eat out tonight rather than cook something himself-- he’s too tired to handle a knife well right now. Not tired enough to flake on boy-watching, his brain singsongs, and Shun has to restrain himself from putting on a sour expression. He forces his mouth into a straight line rather than a frown and unfurrows his brows, then walks in.

 

“Welcome.” A girl with indigo-colored hair thrown up into a high ponytail looks up when he walks in, smiling in such a small way that Shun has to take a moment to figure out if she’s actually smiling or if that’s her resting expression. He nods to her in acknowledgement and shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans as he begins to prowl the aisles, praying to any higher power that the man of his affections is working right now and he didn’t just stop by for effectively nothing. The girl’s gaze sticks to him for a moment as if she’s trying to place where she’s seen him before, but when he starts to feel the back of his neck tingle and he turns around slowly so as to be subtle, she casts her eyes downward to the list before her, probably for inventory or something. Shun bites his lip, hoping he doesn’t look too out of place before wandering over to the herb section. He does cook, so maybe he should actually buy something over here this time. Neither he nor Ruri have green thumbs, but hopefully with Human Yuto’s help he can keep something alive this time. Plant Yuto’s still kicking, and that’s a good sign, right?

 

A flash of pink and purple out of the corner of his eye draws his attention to the end of the aisle beside him, and there in all his dirt-flecked glory, is Yuri, otherwise known as The Guy Who Made Shun Realize He Was Gay After Twenty Years Of Blue Balls to Yuto. Shun feels his face heat slightly at the reminder that that nickname is, indeed, a thing, and forces his eyes down to the rows of different types of basil on the table before him. He pointedly does not look up again, keeping his gaze intently trained on a cilantro’s leaves and then on a rosemary that looks reminiscent of a tiny, table-sized tree, not looking up even when he picks up on footsteps languidly walking closer. “Hello!” Yuri smiles widely at him with his hands folded in front of his apron, and Shun notices dimly he’s wearing a pair of surprisingly clean gardening gloves. Maybe they’re new. “Need any help finding what you’re looking for today?” 

 

Shun clears his throat and flicks his eyes to Yuri’s face for just a moment before manhandling himself mentally into looking back down at the herbs. “No, um… I was just looking.” He curses his brain for the lame response, practically a carbon copy of what he said the other day. Say something else, dimwit! “I was thinking about starting an, uh, herb garden.”

 

Yuri brightens the second Shun gives him a topic to work with. “Great!” He says, taking a step closer and standing beside Shun as he, too, looks out among the sea of leaves and stems stretching out before them. “Do you cook?” He asks, to which Shun nods and swallows the anxiety balling up in his throat. When he sneaks a look at Yuri and meets his eyes again, the other man’s gaze is warm with interest, yet Shun has to will himself to not cower away from his toothy smile. “What herb would you say you use most often, if any? Or what cuisines do you usually make?”

 

Shun glances around helplessly, and rubs the back of his neck. “Probably chives?” He guesses, hoping he doesn’t sound stupid for naming one of the few fresh herbs he does use. The spice cabinet back home was full of dried herbs and spices for the most part, as fresh ones were packed into portions slightly too large for two people to cook fast enough with before it went bad. Hence, they didn’t buy them often, though every now and then Shun would cave and buy a small container of garlic chives. Not that he knew they were garlic chives. Or that he knew there was even more than one type of chive.

 

Yuri nods, and reaches out to grab a grassy-looking plant in one of the biodegradable “pots” the nursery had switched over to recently, the previous apparatus being plastic ones. He hands it to Shun, and his fingers brush Shun’s through the gloves he’s wearing, though only Shun seems to take note of that. “I’d say to start it inside in a pot about… maybe this big?” He draws a circle for what a good diameter would be. “Keep it by a window or in a place where it can get sunlight for around half the day, and make sure it’s draining every time you water it! Chives like moist soil, but no plant likes to have water hanging around at the bottom of its pot.” At Shun’s lost expression, Yuri laughs and pats him on the shoulder. “If you forget, just ask Google.” He winks at the taller of the two, whose cheeks, despite his best efforts, color the faintest shade of pink.

 

Yuri walks him over to the register to ring up his purchase since Serena’s strayed from her post to help another customer. Shun pulls out a wad of bills from his back pocket and hands Yuri a 1000 yen note, dropping all of the change into the glass jar on the counter with Sharpie scribbled on it reading, “Afraid of change? Leave it in the jar!” Yuri thanks him for the tip and waves as he leaves, calling out to him, “Come again!” before the door swings shut behind him. Shun climbs into his car and places his new child on the passenger seat, and only as he’s composing a text to Yuto does he realize he forgot to buy a pot for it.

 

He sighs and resigns himself to Home Depot’s selection. He can practically already hear Yuto and Ruri snickering.

Chapter Text

“Serena. Hey, Serena.” Yuri stage-whispers, elbowing his coworker in the side once the door stops swinging back and forth and shuts with a quiet click. Said coworker gives him a slightly miffed look, but she doesn’t say anything to cut off the chatter that is undoubtedly about to spew from Yuri’s mouth, so he blazes on full steam ahead. “Did you see the guy that was just in here?”

 

Serena raises an eyebrow, unsure of where this is going. “Yes?” She says tentatively. And, just to confirm, she adds, “The scene dude?”

 

Yuri swats her on the arm. “He’s not scene!” He pouts, as if that’s a reflection on himself. “Definitely edgy and kinda goth, but not scene .” 

 

Serena sighs exaggeratedly. “Thanks for the clarification. Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

 

“Okay, okay!” Yuri whines, jutting out his lower lip. “He was here a few days ago, right?”

 

His partner in conversation looks at him blankly, unaware of what he wants her to say. “Maybe?” She guesses, shrugging. “I don’t keep track.” She does look to consider it for a moment, though, and her eyes lighten with a hint of recognition. “Actually, yeah, I think he was. He didn’t buy anything.”

 

Yuri claps his hands together in giddiness. “Do you think he’s here for me or you?” He wonders aloud in a joking tone, but before Serena can groan and walk away he keeps talking. “I mean, I know most guys that aren’t customers are here for you, yeah, but like, does any straight man dye his hair a color that isn’t black if he dyes it at all? I’m betting he’s gay. If he’s not then he’s definitely at least bi, no doubt. My point is that whether or not he likes women, he definitely likes men. I’m calling it.”

 

Serena takes a seat at the stool behind the counter and props her elbow up on the wood, leaning her chin in her palm. “And how many times have you talked to this guy?” She asks, her tone dripping with sarcasm. Yuri crosses his arms over his chest then, and hmph! ’s at her. “Twice, including today.” He admits, but his eyes soon turn back to being starrier than the night sky. “I can already see it now. Our wedding will be in spring and I’ll be a stay-at-home plant mom.” He sighs contentedly at the daydream budding in his head while Serena rolls her eyes. “Whatever you say, dude.” She says with mild disinterest, but Yuri can tell that the topic of his love life has dredged up something she wants to talk about from the way she’s worrying her lower lip between her teeth. “Any moves on the romance front for you then, hmm?” He laces his fingers together as he leans his elbows on the counter and perches his chin in the dip between his hands, smiling devilishly. Serena pointedly does not answer, instead looking over at the tiny analog clock sitting on the register. “Oh, would you look at that, it’s time to water the hanging flowers.” She stands abruptly and stalks over in the direction of said flowers, while Yuri trails after her mentioning that oh, you are so full of shit, we have timed sprinklers you useless lesbian--

 

Their manager sticking his head out from the break room and calling across the greenhouse for Yuri to quit slacking is enough to get him off Serena’s back for now, but the moment they’ve both clocked out for the day Yuri is practically on his knees begging for a Starbucks run, no doubt to squeeze any possible gossip out of her. “Pleeease!” He whines, touching his hands together in a prayer symbol as Serena proceeds to ignore him. “I just want to know who! I probably won’t even know them!” 

 

“Why would it matter if you knew who, then.” Serena says exasperatedly, sitting down in the driver’s seat and shoving her key in the ignition with more force than necessary. She realizes she didn’t lock the doors as soon as Yuri hops into the passenger’s side and curses herself for it once he buckles his seatbelt without further ado. He smiles sweetly at her, gesturing to the radio. “Do you mind if I take AUX?” He asks innocently, and Serena barely manages to restrain herself from slamming her head against the steering wheel. “Whatever.” She mumbles, resigned to her fate as she reverses out of her parking spot and starts toward Starbucks despite herself. Yuri plugs in his phone to the cord hanging out of the center console and within seconds, Mindless Self Indulgence is blasting through her speakers. Yuri immediately starts headbanging and mouthing lyrics in tune, and while Serena knows she should be annoyed, she can’t keep her fingers from drumming against the steering wheel to the beat. She hopes Yuri doesn’t notice, but she’s known him for long enough that she realizes little to nothing gets past him. Perks of being simultaneously the most narcissistic yet anxious person you’ll ever meet.

 

They pull into the shopping center within minutes, and Yuri opens his door and flounces out before Serena can turn the car off, allowing Jimmy Urine’s voice to scream when I was young and dumb and full of fucking cum to all the people now staring at her and her unlikely companion, who’s made his way over to her side to open the door for her. She looks up at him dubiously as she reluctantly unbuckles her seatbelt and lets him help her out of the seat, but she gets nothing other than a toothy smile. Not necessarily his apex predator smile, but something in the same ballpark nonetheless.

 

Despite the chill in the air outside rattling the glass windows of the shops lining the center’s sidewalks, Yuri struts into Starbucks and orders a venti mango dragonfruit lemonade with light ice, as if that makes it better. Serena’s almost tempted to wait a moment before getting into line behind him to insinuate that they do not in fact know each other, but Yuri stands to the side of the register when she orders rather than heading to the pickup counter, so she begrudgingly resigns herself to her fate and orders a grande black coffee. Yuri has to wait a solid three more minutes for his drink while Serena sips hers casually as she puts out a fresh can of Ritzy Bitz in Neko Atsume.

 

Once he acquires the dessert in a cup Starbucks has branded a “refresher”, she follows his lead to a table angled towards the corner of the shop a yard of so away from the cold case of prepackaged sandwiches and snacks and bottled drinks. Yuri, ever the gentleman, pulls out a chair for her; Serena, ever refusing to be the enabler, pointedly walks past him to the other chair and plops herself down in it, not even bothering to look at Yuri’s undoubtedly surprised and betrayed expression. “You know, ignoring my chivalry isn’t going to shake me off.” He says with a mirthful tone, sliding into the seat himself and sipping his drink quietly. Serena raises an eyebrow, but she doesn’t deny it-- she knows how Yuri gets when he locks onto something, whether it be a game, a plant, or a topic. She tries to keep herself from reacting, but ends up sighing anyway, and Yuri holds his head high like he knows he’s won.

 

Releasing her coffee from the vise grip she has on the sleeve, she stares down at the small hole for her to drink from as she speaks, her tone more abrasive than usual. “Fine, there’s some girl I’ve been eyeing. The end.” She doesn’t elaborate further, even when Yuri leans in, expecting more. “And?” He prompts, his eyes wide with intrigue. “What’s she like? Have you talked to her yet? How’d you meet?” 

 

Serena holds up a hand to stop him. “Slow down, Poison Ivy.” Yuri rolls his eyes at the reference, but he stops talking and leaves the silence be so she can gather her thoughts for a moment.

 

After a tense two seconds, Serena opens her mouth to speak again. “Her name’s Yuzu.” She mumbles, popping the lid off her cup and taking another sip while steam still wafts off the surface. “She works here, and,” she pauses for a moment, as if debating what she wants to say next, “...she wrote her number on my cup.”

 

Yuri’s hands fly to his mouth, and for a split second she swears she can see crocodile tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. “You got picked up by an employee here? ” He gasps, louder than necessary, and Serena immediately reaches out to pinch at and pull his cheek in annoyance. She only lets go when he starts to make a sound like a dog whimpering. “Don’t say that so fucking loud, I don’t know if she’s working right now or not!” She whispers hurriedly, in an irritated tone that doesn’t faze Yuri in the slightest. If anything, it makes him even more interested. “Have you texted her yet?”

 

Serena stares down at the dark lake of caffeine in her cup, which suddenly looks very placid. “No.” She admits, already anticipating the near-scream that’s going to rip from Yuri’s throat at that. Both surprisingly and not, though, it never comes, and when she looks up at him he’s got his chin perched in his palm and his elbow resting on the table, gazing at her with a thoughtful expression. “What?” She asks, feeling a little self conscious, and rubs at her cheek. “Something on my face?”

 

Yuri shakes his head silently and, though he looks like he wants nothing more than to sigh and seem disappointed in her, he smiles a small, encouraging grin. “Just don’t leave her hanging.” He advises sagely. “She probably was hoping for a message if she gave you her number, you know?” 

 

His companion nods glumly, then throws her head back and downs the rest of her coffee as Yuri continues to sip his own drink daintily. “Yeah.” She agrees, and she reaches for her pocket to pull out her phone and set it on the table in front of her. She hesitates before turning it on, but when she looks to Yuri for confirmation he nods excitedly, straw still in his mouth. Holding her phone up for a moment so Yuri can’t see the screen (it’s not like he’d try to see her passcode, but more like he’d notice it and wouldn’t forget. Yuri having access to her phone is the last thing she wants, so), she then lays it back on the table and clicks the message icon for a contact simply named yuzu from starbucks. “No heart emojis?” Her coworker asks jokingly, and she fixes him with a death glare. “Don’t make me regret this.” Serena warns. Yuri holds up his hands placatingly, but he doesn’t say anything further, letting her pull up her phone keyboard.

 

Her fingers twitch in the air over the text box, unsure of what to say. Yuri looks like he’s about to give his two cents when he notices, but before he can get a word in edgewise she speedtypes a quick message, one reading hey, this is serena, from starbucks . Short and sweet and to the point, Serena thinks, and doesn’t leave any room for Yuzu to think she’s receiving texts from strangers. Except for the fact that that’s basically what Serena is. Never mind that, though. “There.” She leans back in her chair, exhaling a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Yuri makes a hmm sound and sips up the last of his refresher, making an obnoxious noise with the straw for a moment before popping off the lid and utilizing said straw to dig out the pieces of dragonfruit sitting at the bottom with a couple leftover ice cubes. 

 

What neither of them expects is to hear a high-pitched, enthusiastic-sounding squeal from behind the door labelled authorized personnel only as an employee opens it and slips through with perfect timing. Serena and Yuri are stock-still for a moment, and they both slowly turn their gazes down to the phone between them, where a typing bubble has appeared on Yuzu’s side of the screen. Without further ado they both stand abruptly and bolt from the shop, barely leaving the barista at the register time to call out have a nice rest of your day! They only catch their breath once they’ve piled into Serena’s car and she’s thrown the key in the ignition, turning it and zipping away without another word. Yuri laughs the entire way to his apartment, falling to absolute pieces in her passenger seat.

 

He invites her inside to chat a little longer or share a quick meal, but Serena finds her Yuri-meter is already chock-full for the day and declines. Yuri looks a touch melancholy at that, like he’d been hoping to squeeze some more intel out of her on the developing Yuzu front, but he doesn’t complain-- he just waves goodbye and walks into the lobby of his building. Serena holds her hand up in a peace sign in response, then drives home to her own place. 

 

She only lives around ten minutes from Yuri’s complex, and only fifteen or so from their workplace, but she doesn’t inhabit an apartment like Yuri does. Instead, she lives with a couple her age; Rin, a senior who goes to the private university twenty minutes from here, and her boyfriend, Yugo, similarly a senior at the same school. In any other case if she’d been asked to room with a straight couple in a townhouse where she usually confined herself to her own space (the basement), she’d have laughed haughtily in the face of whoever had offered and surely declined. Yet that wasn’t the entire case-- Yugo and Serena met a couple years back when she was a sophomore and he a freshman at the community college most of the people she knows (seeing as they’re too broke to afford anything else) go to. She had still been dabbling in auto body at that time (practically the stereotypical opposite of how she ended up with an associate’s in gender and sexuality studies) and taking only one class relating to such, but Yugo was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed then, overzealous and excited to a fault for all the things he wanted to and was bound to learn in that department. Hell, his motorcycle-slash-workshop is what takes up their measly amount of garage space that came with the property, but Serena doesn’t really mind leaving her car in their little driveway. The three of them didn’t live in a nice area per se, but it wasn’t so dangerous as to have her fixing broken windows weekly, so.

 

It did help that neither of them were straight, too. The pin that still stays hooked onto Yugo’s bookbag and has since Serena met him boasts the pansexual pride flag, and Rin makes too many jokes about ‘swinging both ways, violently, with a bat’ for Serena to be none the wiser. She has to admit, though, that she only knows for sure that Rin’s bisexual is because she told her one day, inexplicably as soon as Serena had shrugged off her jacket and shoes after a date with a girl she’d met on Bumble on a certain afternoon. Maybe that was her way of being supportive to her lesbian roommate, or maybe that was just something she’d been wanting to say. Either way, Serena hasn’t forgotten, and still sticks up for Rin and Yugo both when mutual acquaintances refer to them as “straights”. Biphobia never sleeps, she’s noted, with cynicism clouding her tone.

 

When she arrives home today she notices that the garage door is wide open, showcasing a Yugo covered in oil and grease to their neighbors whilst sporting nothing but a pair of baggy basketball shorts and a plain black wifebeater. And his work shoes, of course, splattered with mud and oil and gasoline that’s dried out of the material by now. Though the temperature was starting to break free of the lingering tendrils of winter day by day, the cement was likely still too cold to walk on barefoot. Of course, not like anyone would do that regardless, considering Yugo was the type to leave the garage exactly as he’d found it: with bolts scattered every which way, some of them beginning to rust, and with the overhead light on. Rin had scolded him for wasting their electricity on more than one occasion, but the duty still fell to Rin and Serena 99% of the time to turn it off whenever Yugo finished tinkering for the day.

 

“Ah, welcome back!” He greets her as she walks from her car to the garage door so as to not have to dig her house key out of her bag. “Yo.” Is her simple answer. Yugo smiles at her brightly and turns back to his motorcycle (probably adding yet another modification-- would he ever be satisfied?), but as if a lightbulb appeared over his head he swivels back around before Serena heads inside. “Hey, do you mind getting me a soda?” He grins sheepishly. “I don’t want to track grease inside, Rin’ll kill me.” 

 

Serena makes an affirmative noise, toeing off her shoes and dropping her bag on the kitchen table when she walks in and grabs a can of Sprite out of their halfway-filled fridge. Maybe Rin went grocery shopping , she wonders, eyes skimming over the vegetables now inhabiting their perpetually empty fruits and vegetables drawer. She probably has plans for dinner, then.  

 

Yugo perks up at the sound of the door opening again, and Serena tosses him the can from the doorway so she doesn’t have to slip her shoes on again. He catches easily and cracks it open, and surprisingly, it only fizzes in his face a little bit.

 

Back inside, she pours herself a glass of water from the tap and swings her bag back over her shoulder, ambling downstairs to the basement where she tends to spend her time. A door blocks the stairs down from the rest of the house, one that Rin and Yugo had originally agreed that Serena could put a lock into if she chose (they had a lock in the doorknob on their room, after all), but she’d honestly never gotten around to it and had found she didn’t really need it, either. Yugo, though easily excitable, was still a gentleman at heart, and made a point to knock every time. Rin did too, but that was to be expected from a fellow girl.

 

She nudges the door shut with her foot and turns on the light in the stairway, illuminating a set of off-white carpeted stairs that match the rest of the space down here aside from the small area Serena uses for cooking when she doesn’t feel like going upstairs to use the actual stove above the oven. A gas stove more equipped to a campsite than a basement sits on the table she’d scavenged from some guy on craigslist, one with an added shelf installed below the surface of the table itself-- she keeps an modest and mismatched assortment of plates, bowls, and mugs under there, as well as three plastic containers (leftover from when she’d bought lunch meat for wraps for lunch and sometimes dinner) that house a handful of spoons, forks, and knives respectively. On top of the gas stove sits a clean saucepan; she doesn’t have anywhere to put it, so for now, that works.

 

She tosses her bag on her scuffed, out-of-style-yet-still-charming coffee table and settles into the linen couch against the wall beside where the stairs end, kicking her socked feet up and plucking the remote from where it’s stuck between the cushions, the end sticking out like the sharp end of a nail in a woodshop. Her TV, something not exactly large but not really small enough to be small either, doesn’t host a variety of channels, nor does it host cable at all-- she doesn’t have the money for that kind of subscription, and to be honest she doesn’t really watch much TV, anyway. If she really wants to catch a show live, she’ll ask Yuri if she can hang out at his and see it there, considering he has Verizon. How he can live alone, afford a cable TV and a Netflix subscription, and go out of his way to buy slightly more expensive groceries, I will never know.

 

After browsing YouTube for a quick moment and finding nothing suiting her tastes, she switches over to Spotify and streams a playlist she made herself a while back instead. The juxtaposition of Laura Jane Grace’s clear yet rugged voice scream-singing from the speakers at a low volume makes her feel some type of way, but no matter.

 

A passing glance at the clock hanging from an old nail in the wall reveals that the time is edging towards six PM, and Serena quickens her pace without thinking. She has an hour before the get-together she’d RSVP’d to officially kicks off, and with regards to the exact type of get-together it was and that Serena was still in her work clothes, she doesn’t have much time to spare, if any. She slips down the short hallway to the left of the living space, where the door to her bedroom (and attached bathroom) sits on the right, while on the other side facing it is the door to the laundry room (i.e. the only room Yugo and Rin had a right to use, in addition to Serena, down here). A solitary lamp stands proudly at the end of the hall so that she doesn’t feel like she’s in a horror movie every time she walks through here, shining as bright as a fluorescent bulb can through its bluish grey lampshade. She rarely, if ever, turned it off.

 

Before she hops into the shower to rinse off the dirt that had no doubt accumulated in her hair and under her nails and anywhere else it could nestle itself, she opens her closet to select her outfit. To the left she has her extra uniform shirts and slacks as well as shorts hung up for when she heads to work, but what she enjoys the most is the assorted blouses, dress pants, skirts and dresses held on plastic hangers that take up the majority of the closet space. Since it’s happening at seven, I should wear something more night-oriented, right? She pulls out a dark grey blouse with a cluster of ruffles down the front and lining the ends of the sleeves, debating it. I could probably use that one skirt with this… She lays the blouse out on her bed and tugs down the aforementioned skirt-- a black one with white silk thread embroidered near the hem, sewn into a design that looks like twinkling streetlights. It ends right above her knees, and she’s tempted to go for knee highs for a moment before considering the decreasing temperature and her sensitivity to cold. She opts for tights instead, choosing a pair of white ones that are plain aside from a thick black stripe where the seam would be. I need a coat, too.  

 

On the door to the closet itself hangs a few of her often reached-for overcoats, the rest hung in the far right side of the closet towards the back. She debates between a lighter grey garment that’s somewhat of a cross between a pea coat and a shawl that only comes down to the bottom of her bust, and a black garment designed in the same vein with a set of two gold buttons above another two and a pair of pom-poms that hang from shoelace-type material around the collar. It’s trimmed at the hem and the collar both with matching faux fur, and while the other has no extra warmth factors aside from the clothing itself, she finds herself drawn to the extra “color” in her monochrome look. Still, she decisively goes for the latter, knowing she’ll regret her choice if she doesn’t bundle up slightly in the night air.

 

After showering and changing then tying a fat, light grey and slightly bluish ribbon around where her hair is pulled up as it usually is (this time she’s braided it and curled it around itself into a tight bun) and set a black headband with silver studs poking out of it into place squarely on top of her head, she pulls out a pair of black mary janes trimmed with white details around the holes and the opening where her feet slide in. Serena isn’t usually one for makeup-- Yuri had lamented this loss plenty of times before, especially complaining how she didn’t even need foundation nor concealer to begin with-- but she throws some brow mascara into her eyebrows to keep any straggly hairs in place and a somewhat thick, just barely pointed at the outer and inner corners, strip of eyeliner on her lids. After that she smudges some black pencil liner into her lower lashline and brushes on a rather overzealous layer of mascara. If my lashes don’t look like spider legs, what’s the point in wearing mascara? Since she’s not one for lipstick, either, especially when the meetup is at a restaurant tonight, she swipes on a layer of clear gloss over a quick bit of chapstick. After examining herself in the mirror for a moment she reaches for her jewelry box, sliding an obnoxiously large onyx ring onto her right ring finger and a simple silver band, engraved with a wavy pattern, onto her left. Serena doesn’t have pierced ears, so she doesn’t own many dangly earrings (as dangly clip ons tended to be heavy and slip off without her noticing), so she positions a pair of silver star-shaped ones over her lobes where the holes would go. Deeming this acceptable, she slips out the shoddy sliding glass door to the right of the TV in the living space, with a heart-shaped pleather backpack containing her phone, wallet, keys, headphones, and the tube of lip gloss thrown over her shoulder. 

 

Luckily for her, it’s nearing six forty-five when she tiptoes out to the front where her Bug still sits in the driveway, and since the sun has begun to set Yugo has closed the garage door in a valiant attempt to keep a bit of the lingering warmth from earlier around. She heaves a sigh of relief before sliding into the driver’s seat for the third time this afternoon, putting her key in the ignition and slipping away before Yugo or Rin can notice. It isn’t like her fusion of gothic and classic lolita is something to be ashamed of, but she can’t help imagining the shock that would paint their faces if they saw her come upstairs looking like she does now. Femininity has never suited her, a fact that hadn’t really bothered her until she’d done a bit of self discovery towards the end of high school and throughout college, one that led her to a gender distanced from binaries like male or female. Sure, she still considered herself a lesbian, but she wasn’t exactly… a girl, per se. Usually, if she thinks about the correlation between her gender and sexuality too much, her head starts to hurt. Hence the small bottle of ibuprofen in the center console in her car.

 

When she arrives she’s a couple minutes early, but she uses that time to find parking and walk over to where the rest of her friends (can she even call them that? Sure, she’s met up with them a few times, but weren’t they still more of acquaintances?) are gathered outside the restaurant. A girl who’d joined them recently waves to her, and Serena racks her brain for her name. “Hi, Serena!” She smiles warmly at the other, taking in her outfit at the same time. Serena nods at her, not really one for greetings. “Ruri.” She says, hoping she sounds less icy than usual. 

 

Ruri’s outfit isn’t quite as extravagant as some of the others that are waiting for the rest of the stragglers to arrive, seeing as she’d admitted at their last get-together that she’d only recently gotten into lolita, and therefore hadn’t assembled many coords yet, but Serena feels a sense of respect wash over her when she notes her apron-like dress looks well taken care of, and she’s clearly (though not badly) bulked up her outfit with Bodyline purchases, namely her leggings, socks and shirt. In her hair she wears a purple bow, similar in color to the highlights in her otherwise black hair. Serena knows she looked like a hot mess when she first started, so she feels rather proud that Ruri’s already looking this good. That, and Serena’s just a huge lesbian, as she feels herself turn the least noticeable shade of pink beneath Ruri’s gaze. She can probably tell, too, Serena thinks, from the foxlike look in Ruri’s eyes when she turns away. 

 

A shiver runs down her spine. She tugs her coat-shawl closer, and within minutes the group heads inside.