Once Shinada has gotten bored of scoring endless home runs at the batting cages, he turns to Takasugi and says, “Wanna get drinks?”
Takasugi looks up from the book he was pretending to read (because he totally wasn’t watching Shinada’s impressive form and amazing skill as he swung the bat perfectly, amazing every other person in the room), and tilts his head. “Huh?”
“You heard me,” Shinada says, holding out his wallet to show the money he won beating the various challenges on offer. “I’ve got the cash. You gonna join me or what?”
Shoving his unread book back into his pocket, Takasugi gets to his feet. He refuses to show any enthusiasm, simply grunting, “Whatever you want, Shinada,” but his chest flutters and he wants to grin like an idiot. Thankfully, he manages to keep a grin off his face, and saunters past Shinada and out of the door.
“Hey, wait up, Takasugi-san,” Shinada says, catching up instantly. He falls into step beside Takasugi, and Takasugi knows those powerful legs could walk a lot faster, but Shinada chooses to match his own pace. “I didn’t even tell you where we’re going.”
“Does it really matter? There are loads of shit bars around here.”
And I don’t give a crap where we go, because all that matters is spending time with you, he adds in his head, but Takasugi would rather jump off a cliff than admit that.
“Aww, stop being so grumpy, Takasugi-san. You’re always such a tsundere.”
Takasugi flinches, humiliated when his cheeks start to burn. He turns his head, glaring at Shinada, and says, “I’m not a tsundere, Shinada. Honestly, you make it sound like we’re a fucking couple or something.”
He wanted Shinada to flinch too, but the idiot just grins and chuckles. “Tell that to Milky-chan. No matter what I tell her, she thinks we’re dating.”
This time, Takasugi stops dead. He can’t look at Shinada, instead staring down at the grubby sidewalk. Did Shinada really just say that?
Shinada chuckles, and Takasugi imagines a bashful smile and his hand rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah, I keep telling her it’s not like that, but she just keeps giving me this knowing smile and brings up all the shit you went through to help me last year, with all that stuff with Dojima-kun and the yakuza. And I was like, ‘Milky-chan, he’s married’ but she didn’t look like…”
Takasugi stops listening, his stomach clenching. He never told Shinada that he isn’t married, that the whole thing was just a lie, but how does he bring that up now?
He snaps out of it when Shinada’s large hand shakes his shoulder, and Takasugi risks looking at him. Shinada appears a bit embarrassed, but still manages to smile, as opposed to dying inside like Takasugi.
“Are you okay, Takasugi-san?”
He swallows hard. Seriously, how are things turning out like this? Shinada’s friend thinks they’re dating, and he has no real way to disprove her theory. After all, he isn’t married, he doesn’t have a girlfriend, and he doesn’t even like women, for fuck’s sake! And he’s certain Milky knows what she is talking about, and if she saw him and Shinada together, would she be able to tell how he feels about Shinada? Probably. That’s it: he’s never letting that woman see him and Shinada stood next to each other.
“Takasugi-san?” Shinada says.
Takasugi swallows again. He has wanted to tell Shinada how he feels, but he has never found the right moment (after all, how does he explain that all his hounding and borderline-stalking of Shinada were more than just trying to get his money back, that he really wanted to spend as much time as possible around the guy as he could?). Would now, with this painfully embarrassing conversation still ringing in their ears, be a good time to bring it up?
But if so, he first must gauge Shinada’s reaction. Shinada doesn’t seem homophobic (he seemed very chummy with that yakuza last year), but he doesn’t want to risk pissing off a guy far stronger than him. And… is Shinada even queer? And even if Shinada is queer, would he want to date a guy like him? Shit, this is hard.
Realising they’ve been stood in the middle of the street for too long, Takasugi starts to walk in the vague direction of a few popular bars, and Shinada scurries to catch up.
“Are you okay?” Shinada asks.
Takasugi lets out a slow sigh, refusing to give in to the sudden anxiety twisting in his guts. He should just go for it; fuck the consequences!
“About what Milky was saying…” he says, finally speaking. “Does her mistaking you for gay… piss you off?”
“What, no, course not!” Shinada says, smiling. “I mean, why would it?”
Well, that’s a good start. “No reason. Just wondering. Some guys get super defensive when people make misunderstandings like that.”
“Yeah, I get what you mean. But I’m not like that. And I’d be a total fucking hypocrite to act like that given I’m bi.”
Shinada says it so casually, without a hint of shame, and Takasugi wonders what it must be like to be so open with yourself about such things.
Not like me, with all the shame and denial and making up a fake wife just to look straight, he thinks, inwardly cringing. He wants to be more open—to be proud—about his sexuality, but too many memories of sharp words and stinging bruises hold him back.
Shinada chuckles awkwardly, giving the most delightful grin as he rubs his neck again. “Uh, I didn’t mean to come out like that. Oh well.”
Takasugi swallows hard, unable to think of a reply, and when he spots a bar on the other side of the street, he hurries to cross so fast he almost gets hit by a car. And as the car’s horn blares at Shinada scolds him for acting so recklessly, all Takasugi can think is:
I wish I were more like him.
A quick argument about the dangers of jaywalking later, Takasugi practically shoves Shinada through the doors of a bar neither of them have visited before, wishing he could stop his stomach clenching with anxiety. Shinada orders for them both, making a show of buying more expensive beer than usual, and then joins Takasugi in a booth, slumping backwards whilst Takasugi hunches forwards with his elbows on the table.
Once their drinks have arrived, Takasugi takes a long sip, wondering how to continue their conversation (and wondering how much easier this would be if it was Shinada wanting to talk about this, not the other way around).
“Are you sure you’re okay, Takasugi-san?” Shinada asks. “You’ve been kinda spaced out ever since we left the batting cages.”
“I’m fine.” Takasugi swallows. “And you can call me Kouichi.”
Shinada blinks, but his expression softens into a smile. “O-Okay. Kouichi,” he says, his voice so bashful Takasugi wants to lean across the table and kiss him. “I guess you can call me Tatsuo.”
Momentarily at a loss for what to say, Takasugi clears his throat. “Heh. Tatsuo, huh?”
“Seriously, though, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. Just what you said about Milky kinda threw me a bit,” Takasugi says.
“Don’t blame you,” Shinada says, chuckling. “It threw me too. So… is there something you wanna talk about?”
Takasugi takes a long swig of beer, and as he slams the glass down onto the table, he blurts, “I’m not married.”
“Huh?” Shinada says, and then it hits him. “Wait, what?!”
“Yeah. I’m not married, I haven’t got kids, and I don’t even have a girlfriend.” Takasugi stares down at the table, expecting to be mocked…
But Shinada just leans forwards and says, “Why’d you lie?”
He shrugs a shoulder. “It’s not just with you. Everyone thinks that. I’ve been making up shit like this for twenty years now.”
“Take a wild guess,” he says, raising his eyebrows as his face twists into an awkward smirk.
Shinada stares at him, taking in his words. Takasugi cringes, suddenly getting an intense urge to run away and never come back. Part of him hopes Shinada is too dense to read between the lines (after all, other than baseball and the sex industry, Shinada isn’t exactly knowledgeable about a lot of things), but that thought dies when Shinada smiles awkwardly, face going red.
“Oh… are you gay?”
At a loss for what to say, Takasugi lets out an awkward chuckle. His face burns, his clammy hands smearing the beer glass with sweat. “Uh… yeah…” he eventually manages to mumble.
“You don’t need to be embarrassed—”
“I know!” Takasugi snaps, and Shinada flinches. He sighs heavily, and mumbles, “I fucking know. Doesn’t make this any easier, though.”
Avoiding looking at Shinada’s face, he drains his glass and puts it back on the table, clenching his hands into weak fists to stop them shaking.
“Kouichi, it’s okay,” Shinada says. “I mean… I, uh…” He chuckles. “Fuck, I don’t know what to say.”
Join the club, Takasugi thinks.
An awkward silence hangs in the air, until Takasugi breaks it with a strangled gasp. Because Shinada just fucking grabbed his hands.
Shinada covers both his hands with his own, his palms hot but not disgustingly clammy like Takasugi’s, and squeezes gently. Takasugi’s stomach flips, and part of him wants to yank his hands back, but he can’t seem to move. He’s stunned, his brain only able to process that Shinada is queer too and Shinada is trying to comfort him and Shinada is fucking holding his hands.
“I just… um… Taka— I mean, Kouichi… Do you have a crush on me?”
Trust the fucking idiot to phrase it like a twelve-year-old would. Takasugi doesn’t reply, but he relaxes his hands and moves them, allowing Shinada to take the hint and properly clasp his hands. Shinada must be able to feel his sweaty palms, but says nothing, just squeezing with those warm hands.
Finally, Takasugi looks up. Just as he thought, Shinada’s face burns, and when Shinada meets his eyes, he can’t help but return an equally stupid smile. “Fucking hell… I guess so. I liked you back during your baseball days, and… that never faded, I guess. Didn’t always act like it, though,” he adds, remembering all those threats he yelled at Shinada as he tried to get back his money.
Shinada laughs. “That doesn’t matter. Things are different now. And… I’ve gotta say… I like you too.”
“Shit, how old are you again?” Takasugi mutters.
Shinada just snorts with laughter, squeezing his hands tighter. “Shut it. I’ve never been very good at this stuff.”
“Really? Well, you’re better than me,” he says.
“This isn’t a competition, Kouichi,” Shinada says. “It’s just, uh… what do you wanna do from here?”
Takasugi blinks. “How d’you mean?”
Shinada clears his throat, eyes darting away before meeting his again. “C’mon, don’t make me say it. It’s embarrassing.”
“Tatsuo, there is no way in fucking hell this can get more embarrassing,” Takasugi says, glancing at their hands and Shinada’s flushed face and the fact they’re in the back corner of a busy bar right now.
That makes Shinada laugh; he has such a lovely laugh. “Good point. So, uh… do you wanna… go out with me?”
Despite the overwhelming embarrassment, Takasugi snorts. But then he squeezes Shinada’s hands and says, “Sure, why not?”
And as Shinada grins like an idiot, he has to wonder: how will their relationship go from here?