In Love and On Fire chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Man it’s dark in here, Adachi.”

Tsuno’s words made me look up with a gasp, and there was a woman I didn’t know sitting in the chair opposite me. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No, nothing…”

Tsuno wasn’t necessarily anything to look at, but he did have a certain skill at getting into women’s shirts. The sterner their expressions, the smoother he got.

It was supposed to be just him and me out drinking today, but he’d called up some lady friends of his, and before I knew it there were four of us.

“Adachi’s just been given the cold shoulder. You’d be doing me a personal favor if you’d comfort him as best you can.”

Engendering people’s sympathies was his strong point, and not just with women. I was his senior, and he’d slipped into my sympathies easily enough. The only one he didn’t take that attitude with was Niimori, probably because Tsuno’d seen right through him.

Tsuno was the only other person who knew Niimori’s true character. He and Niimori were apparently fellow alumns. He’d told me Niimori was pretty stormy in his school days.

“To dump someone with a body like that, there must have been something wrong with her,” the girl in front of me said, rather politely I thought, and smiled.

“Well, she was married, so I guess it’s probably a good thing it didn’t go anywhere. Right, Adachi?”

What he said was true. I’d been pining for the woman who lived in the apartment building next door, and had gotten my heart broken.

After she’d learned I was a firefighter, she gave me a protection charm she’d bought especially for me while she was on a trip, and she used to bring me leftovers sometimes, too. By the time I knew what was going on, we were more than neighbors, but less than friends. I could never quite confess. Then the other day, with the two of us still in this holding pattern, I heard gasping and moaning noises from her window, and I knew it was never going to be anything more than an unrequited love.

When we met in the hallway later, she told me her husband had been away on a business trip but had temporarily returned home.

She apologized, shy. “I am so sorry. That must have been annoying.” She blushed in the most attractive way.

Not that I hadn’t been dejected about having my heart crushed like that, but what I really felt down about was how I’d dropped the victim in training the previous day.

Tsuno must have been mad at me, too, but there was no mention of my dragging him down, and the night unfolded with an old man’s favorite game – “Guess the Underwear Color,” the sexually harassing nature of the game evident from the name – with women we’d just met.

“What color do you think they are, Adachi?”

“I don’t care what color they are. Don’t play a game like that in public.”

Tsuno’s grasp of modern civil servant public morals was tenuous under the best of circumstances, so I urged caution, and brought my beer to my lips.

“Sorry, guess it doesn’t take much to get a virgin riled up, does it.”

“No way, Adachi, are you really? How old are you?”

“That’s got to be a joke. With a body like that? You couldn’t be.”

The ladies had very different reactions to Tsuno’s loose-lipped comments.

People had always called me carnivorous and beast-type since way back, but what Tsuno said wasn’t a joke. The truth was, I’d never even had a chance, even as a joke, but I was not about to have the truth revealed in a place like this, so I grabbed Tsuno’s head.

“Shut up,” I said, in a harsher tone than usual. I gave his head a rough shake, and he let out a yelp.

Maybe I’d hurt him, because he jumped away from my hand, and beer spilled out of the mug he was holding.

It made a wet splashing noise, and slushed all over the table and Tsuno’s sleeve.

“Ah man, what are you doing, Adachi? Now my clothes are all soaked. If Niimori were here, you’d be hearing it from him again.”

“Niimori has nothing to do with it. Stop mentioning his name in front of me, you’re making the beer sour.”

Scowling, I wiped the table with a towel that had been sitting beside me.

“That’s my line.”

I turned to see who’s sullen voice had suddenly descended upon me. Niimori was standing right next to me.

“If you’ve got a complaint, say it. Although I’m the one constantly being harassed. If either one of us has anything to complain about, it’s me.”

We’d gone to a bar some distance from the office, too, but I couldn’t avoid meeting Niimori, even in my private time.

“I can’t avoid meeting you even outside of work,” Niimori said, looking down at me with an expression of complete disgust on his face.

That, I thought, is my line, but remembering that Niimori had said the exact same thing only a few seconds ago, I swallowed my words.

The fact that things always slid in a negative direction like this was one of the reasons I hated him.

“Don’t pick a fight, Niimori,” Harikawa chided, coming up behind him.

“He started it.”

“Yeah yeah, I know. First, sit. Then drink.”

Harikawa made Niimori sit down in an empty seat at the bar with an accustomed phrase.

Unfortunately, however, that seat was right next to our table.

I tried not to pay him any attention, but the ladies we’d been drinking with seemed to be more interested in Niimori than either Tsuno or me, looking his slender figure up and down. “You guys know each other?” they asked. “We don’t mind if you want to invite him to join us.”

“You’re kidding, right,” I spat out, wondering to myself if I could even drink with him around. Niimori must have heard me, because he turned to Harikawa. “The atmosphere in here is awful, you wanna find some place else?”

He said it a bit too loudly, and I watched the employees behind the counter run around turning on ventilation fans.

“Niimori,” Harikawa said, in the tone one uses for scolding small children. Niimori reluctantly did as he was told and ordered a drink.

Harikawa checked to make sure Niimori was going to behave himself, and then ordered a ridiculous amount of food.

Almost everybody in the department ate more than your average person, but Harikawa’s stomach was abnormal even for that. He ordered twice what I would eat.

I was watching the bartender tear off two order slips, half-incredulous, half-impressed, when I heard my name. “Adachi?”

“What?”

“What? Were you even listening?”

“Sorry, I wasn’t. What were you saying?”

The woman pouted, a sullen expression on her face.

My middle and high schools both had been all-boys schools, and there hadn’t been that many women in my university classes either, since I majored in phys ed, and then I’d gone into the firefighters academy right after that, and ended up in my current post. Point being, I really didn’t know how to handle girls.

I always ended up accidentally talking to them like they were one of my guy friends, and it killed the mood.

“Oh, nevermind.”

The result being, I was indeed a virgin.

Since my friends from my hometown and from my college days knew the whole story, I kept having to hear about it, like, “Hurry up and graduate, even if you have to pay for it,” or “A guy’s virginity isn’t something to be protected, you’re supposed to toss it overboard.” Well, I figured your first time was something you’d remember your whole life, and I wanted it to be with somebody I liked. Of course, I hardly ever met anyone I could even stand, so finding someone I like that much was a rare event. And even when I did meet someone, they were already taken, like the woman next door.

“This is a drag, I’m going home,” one of the women said.

Tsuno desperately tried to intervene – “Oh don’t say that!” – but she ignored him, looking bored, and told him off. “It’s Adachi’s fault. That’s why he’s still a virgin, you know.”

I wasn’t annoyed so much as worried that Niimori would overhear what she’d said, but when I looked over in that direction, he and Harikawa were hot on some discussion of high culture – “It’s Sesshu.” “It’s a Daruma.” 1

They didn’t seem to be paying us any attention at all, thank God. Not that I necessarily wanted to hide the fact that I was a virgin, but if Niimori found out, it’d be one more thing he could mock me about.

“Whatever, it’s fine.”

It definitely was my fault – I hadn’t been listening to her at all – but the mood hadn’t exactly been lively to begin with. I mean, come on, we were drinking with some girls Tsuno just happened to call up, I’d never even met them before.

The pointed stares both women turned on me in a display of that peculiar female solidarity just made me want to go home all the more.

As it turned out, though, that was going to be difficult. I was still worrying about having to drink with Niimori right next to me and wondering how to get back into Tsuno’s good graces, when Harikawa suddenly called out to us, cell phone in one hand. “Adachi, Tsuno!”

I turned around to find Harikawa carrying all the food the staff had lined up for him over to our table.

“Sorry, but could you guys and Niimori finish this for me? I got a call from the bride, gotta get home.”

“Oh? What happened, Chief?”

“The kid’s just got a cold, I guess. Anyway, I don’t think Niimori can finish this all by himself, so you guys take care of it? Here’s my part.”

Harikawa put a ten thousand yen bill down next to a huge serving of hard-baked soba, and turned to the bartender. “The tab’s at this table.”

I didn’t intend to refuse, but Harikawa rushed out of the place before we could say anything anyway.

“Oh. Well, you’ll be eating with us too, then, Niimori?” Tsuno said, taking the opportunity to change the mood. He invited Niimori over, borrowing one of the chairs from the next table and setting it down at our table. The seat of honor, right next to me.

“No, I–”

“Let’s all have a drink!”

“I’m going to help carry the food.”

The two women interrupted Niimori’s attempt to decline and carried the rest of the food from the counter over to our table. They’d been awfully sullen a minute ago, but as soon as they realized they had the chance to drink with Niimori, they put on their brightest smiles.

Tsuno joined in, too, ignoring my opinion. “It’s not every day we get a chance to drink with Niimori, this’ll be great. We always invite him, you know, but he never comes out.”

“Ah, fine.” Niimori seemed reluctant, but having been invited by three different people, there wasn’t much he could do but take his seat.

Well, he was a guy too, I figured. When a lady talks to you, you don’t just ignore her.

Watching as the two women instantly got into battle formation and started lobbing questions at Niimori, I suddenly realized that this was the first time he’d been out drinking in a while. He’d been to our graduation party, but only the occasional office get-together since then.

Niimori answered their questions with a disinterested attitude. The only hedging was when they asked about his job – “I’m office staff.” No doubt it would only get annoying and complicated to tell them the truth.

Civil servants can get mixed up in some strange stuff. You wanted to avoid getting dragged into some discussion of favoritism, or becoming indebted to someone you barely knew. Ours isn’t a business that needs a network of contacts, so it’s rare, but there was a thing once with a firefighter down near Kyushu, he was in his 40s, took some peeping tom photos or something and ended up arrested.

Niimori was by my side that day, too. We were leaving the office after our shift was over, and somebody started yelling at us from the street.

“Our taxes pay for you people. You’ve got nothing to do if there’s no fire, is that it? You have to go out and commit crimes!?”

Niimori’s expression didn’t change, but I could see the wrath oozing out of him.

There are people who mistakenly imagine that a firefighter doesn’t work except when there’s a fire, but of course that’s not our only job. Niimori managed to send the guy packing without having to mix it up by cleverly boiling the problem down to its bare bones and stating the whole thing directly. “Your complaints aren’t going to account for much if you don’t voice them in the municipality that has jurisdiction over the firefighter in question. Stop taking it out on us – we didn’t have anything to do with it.”

That was the first time I ever felt grateful for Niimori’s smart mouth.

But the feeling faded quickly. For whatever reason, that mouth always rubbed my nerves the wrong way.

“If you wanna leave, Adachi, that’s fine by me,” Niimori said, rehashing my rudeness from a few minutes ago and mimicking the women who’d told me off. “Just hanging out with this guy pisses me off.”

“Will you…” I started. “Enough, already, will you quit coming for me.”

“I’m only telling the truth.”

“Yeah, I remembered you saying that like seventy percent of the trouble in that office is related to me?”

“And it’s true, isn’t it? Like that time we got that messy complaint tying up the general affairs department, that was because you damaged that one car.”

That was last year, during a fire at a bar.

“That was an Act of God no matter how you look at it. First off, the guy’s car was parked right in front of a fire hydrant, it’s his own fault. Look, the main point is, if we couldn’t put out the fire, that car was gonna go up in smoke, too.”

I remembered perfectly well the formal apology I’d been stuck writing after that incident, but it had been hard enough trying to get the hose hooked up with that car parallel parked right next to the hydrant, and there hadn’t been any time to think about it until after it was done.

“That guy in General Affairs had to listen to the owner complain for two straight hours, that’s what I heard.”

“Well I certainly apologize to General Affairs, but I was a firefighter on duty, and I didn’t do anything wrong. If I’d taken too much longer, we wouldn’t have been able to rescue that girl,” I objected, and then put my fingers to my forehead. “Shit.”

I’d exposed the whole nature of our jobs, which Niimori had so carefully covered up. Just as I was regretting it, though, the woman next to Tsuno said, “You guys are firefighters?”

“Amazing! Niimori, you don’t even look like you’d have the body for it.”

The girl next to me looked Niimori up and down, sizing him up without waiting for a response to her friend’s question.

Niimori’s always been the type to look slender in his clothes, but today he was wearing a long-sleeve shirt. His body was almost entirely covered.

Compared to Tsuno’s muscles, he probably didn’t look like he could do such a physically demanding job.

“Do you really jump into the flames and stuff?”

“Niimori just left the line a few months ago,” Tsuno said. “He used to be quicker on his feet than I am.”

“These two are the ones who jump onto the line when there’s a fire,” Niimori said. “There’s more than just that to the job,” he added, picking up his beer. He must have wondered now what the point of his earlier obfuscation was.

“Not that it does me much good now.”

I wondered if he meant that he couldn’t use that skill as long as he was at his current post, or that he wouldn’t be using that skill ever again, but I couldn’t tell by looking at his face.

“You’re not going to come back then? Your injuries must be healed by now, though. Please do try and come back. You’re the only one who can control Adachi on a call, Niimori. He just disobeys orders whenever he wants. And then I’m the poor sap who gets sucked into the whole mess and has to eat a penalty like a trainee.”

I wanted to object to Tsuno’s cheeky grumbling, but kept quiet. I was more interested in how Niimori would respond.

“Maybe if this guy disappears, I’ll come back.” Niimori smiled sardonically and pointed abruptly at me.

For an instant, I felt like something had an eagle grip on my chest.

“Besides, he never listens to anything I say anyway. Although, he was relatively obedient when we were trainees. Once, I told him trainees were forbidden from taking care of themselves, you know, personally, and he believed me. He was quite stoic about it.”

Niimori trotted out his favorite funny story about me, apparently trying to clear the serious mood that had come over the table, and I followed blindly after him. “You can only trick me so many times before I stop believing everything you tell me,” I yelled.

Actually, it was a true story. The lie was that I didn’t listen to Niimori. In fact, I always obeyed him, even to this very day. It was only that once I had contradicted him. But that one time had been lethal.

“It’s not enough just to make it out with your life still intact. I learned that the hard way last time. You, on the other hand, seem to have trouble learning it no matter how many times you go through it.”

“I apologized to you afterwards, didn’t I? I even knelt down in front of you in the hospital.”

I had marched right into that room and bowed my head, but it hadn’t seemed like enough, so I ended up getting down on my knees, too. Maybe Niimori couldn’t stand making a scene in front of the people he’d been sharing the room with, or maybe I’d just irritated him, but chased me out with a single word. “Enough.”

“I’m not just talking about this last accident. I was awash in your little mishaps well before that. When our lifeboat capsized, that was all you, start to finish.”

“Don’t come at me with stories from the academy! Anyway, there was no way to win that one in the first place.”

“You’re the one that made that bet with the other team that the loser would have to clean the toilets and then rushed through your class work trying to win.”

“And I ended up cleaning them all by myself, just like I said I would! Anyway, that was your fault, not mine.”

We were interrupted by Tsuno explaining that it was because I’d been turned down by the few women at the firefighters academy.

“Anyway, that’s enough, you two,” he continued. “Could we please drink and be friends today? The girls are going to leave. And Niimori, would you please go back to being the cold, collected command center employee you normally are.”

“Who’s cold?”

Niimori glared at Tsuno, who went stiff with surprise for a moment. Then he thought better of it, and ordered more drinks.

“Ever onward. Let’s make a toast. Uh, good beer, great ladies! Cheers!”

Tsuno forced mugs into our hands.

Niimori and I reluctantly held our mugs up. “If you two are going to insist on fighting,” Tsuno said, thunking down several cans of beer each on the table in front of us, “how about you confine it to a drinking contest, please.”

“What was this, some kind of punishment? We ruined the mood, you bought us drinks?”

“No. There were three guys. I was going to get one of you drunk, and then it’d be two on two.”

My face said that it was more than I’d expected from Tsuno, and I rubbed the bridge of my nose.

It was one in the morning, long past last call, and there were only a few customers left in the bar.

“You’re adults, I didn’t think you’d both end up completely smashed.”

“What do you mean both of us,” I asked, a shocked look on my face. “Niimori’s the one who doesn’t know when to stop. I’m fine.” My eyes dropped to my colleague, who’d fallen face first across the table.

He was bright red, including his ears and the nape of his neck.

I’d never seen him like this at any of the get-togethers at work. It was surprising, but also refreshing.

I seemed to recall Niimori’d been on nursing duty at our graduation party, too. And he’d been the brake on guys who were getting too loud.

“Take responsibility, Adachi, and take him home with you please.”

“What? Why me?”

“I’m going out to look for some more girls. If you’re feeling so guilty for ruining the mood, consider that your punishment. Anyway, Niimori’s totally plastered. You can’t just leave him here.”

At some point during our drinking contest, both the women had gone home.

I hadn’t been paying either of them or Tsuno the slightest bit of attention while Niimori and I were in the thick of it, I had no clue when they’d left.

I’d been so wrapped up in it, actually, I’d probably ignored them even if they had been talking to me. Course, maybe they’d just been amazed by two boring guys doing nothing but drinking and ignoring them, and decided to pack it in.

“I get it.”

If I just up and left him here and one of the employees thought he had alcohol poisoning or something and decided to call an ambulance, the chief would find out he’d been drinking with us and that we left him here, and I’d get slaughtered.

“I don’t know where he lives though.”

“In Sugame-cho. It’s a brown condo, right next to that huge gym.”

I wasn’t an engineer – the guys who drive the emergency vehicles – but a map of the outskirts of our jurisdiction did pop into my head.

I knew immediately which condos he was talking about. They were about a twenty minute drive from here.

Once again, my gaze fell to Niimori.

Unconscious, but still breathing. When I gently shook him, he responded with a muffled groan.

I wasn’t going to be able to get him on the subway, so I asked one of the bar staff to call us a taxi. Tsuno was worried about missing the last train, so he didn’t wait around. I was left with no choice but to carry Niimori outside by myself.

I put my arms under his from behind and dragged him out. It was a perfectly efficient method of removing an unconscious person, but the drawback was that their heels dragged on the ground. I felt no duty to be considerate to Niimori.

He regained consciousness as I was stuffing him into the taxi, but the way he leaned against my shoulder made me think he was a long way off from being back to his normal self. He shook as the cab turned and his hair fell across his cheek and then back again.

For a guy, he smelled pretty damn good, and I leaned over without thinking, but instantly realized what I was doing.

I quickly turned my face away from him. Apparently I was pretty drunk after all.

When we arrived at our destination, the driver asked me, “Should I wait?”

I glanced at my watch. It was long past the cut-off for the trains, and even the buses. But it was only about ten kilometers 2 to my house. It was a little far to walk, but I was off-duty the next day, and it would be just right to sober me up.

“No, that’s alright.”

I paid the fare and we got out of the taxi. I took the receipt – I was going to make Niimori pay his half when he sobered up – and I put my hands around his hips as he staggered along. I couldn’t tell whether his obedient acceptance of my hands was because he was aware that he couldn’t walk by himself, or because he wasn’t in any position to make his normal judgement calls.

“You normally this bad with alcohol?”

“I never drink.”

He was only barely articulate, and there was a huge gap between his normal tone and this long, drawn out one.

“Where’s your apartment?” I asked as we set foot in the building.

“Third floor,” he said in a sleepy voice, “fifth door on the right.” He suddenly started tipping over, so I rushed to put my hand on one side and catch him.

As we got into the elevator, Niimori leaned more and more of his weight on me.

I felt his body touch me through the thin cloth of his shirt, and man was he ripped. But I wondered if he hadn’t gotten a little weaker, what with working in the command center. It made me depressed. We did nothing but hate on each other, and no one would say we were friends even as a joke, but it was such a waste for him to have to leave the line. Course, what was I talking about, it was my fault to begin with.

That feeling of a cold hand with an eagle’s grip on my chest that I’d had at the bar, that was the sense of guilt that stuck with me even now.

What was I going to do if Niimori really couldn’t come back?

“Niimori.”

He’d been dozing off, but when I called his name, he lifted his head a little. “What.”

I opened my mouth, but the elevator chimed our arrival and I lost my chance.

Not that it was anything you could ask a drunk person anyway.

“Pay me back for the taxi later.”

What I eventually came out with had nothing to do with what I’d been thinking. He nodded without saying a word. His docile manner was infuriating.

We exited into the hallway and started looking for Niimori’s apartment, but I quickly realized that this building had not been constructed in such a way that such simple instructions as “fifth door on the right” would be useful.

I asked him again where his apartment was, and he pointed towards the end of the hall. “That way.”

We followed his directions, and stopped in front of the door he indicated. I watched as he twisted the knob back and forth without ever having unlocked it. “The key?” I asked, and he pulled it out of his pocket and offered it to me.

So, I was supposed to open it.

I wanted to tell him to do it himself, but he was so drunk that getting into an argument with him was just going to be obnoxious, so there wasn’t much choice except to take the key and open the door into his entryway. The instant I caught a peek inside, though, I stopped short. “You’re kidding,” I muttered to myself.

In the academy, keeping tidy was driven into us until we were all sick of it. A lot of guys, and some of the women too, got chewed out about it. But Niimori had never even gotten a warning, and the rest of us wondered if he wasn’t just fastidious by nature. Plus, his desk was constantly tidy, and even his locker was shockingly neat. When we used the nap room together, not even a speck of dust made it to the floor.

The scene that stretched out in front of me now, on the other hand, was a disaster.
“Atrocious…”

Plastic umbrellas and shoes were scattered in the entryway, and a flashlight rolled around. His hallway was stuffed to the ceiling with a mess of cardboard boxes. If this had been a store, he’d have been cited by the fire marshall.

Looking past the hallway into the interior rooms was just frightening. To be honest, I wanted to get home as soon as I could, but suddenly I really had to pee.

I considered waiting until I got home, but I didn’t think I could make it that long.

“Can I borrow your bathroom?”

I don’t know if Niimori actually understood what I said or not, but he nodded and then crouched down right there in the entryway.

I got him home, I thought as I took off my shoes and opened the door off the entryway. It wasn’t my job to do anything else. As I’d hoped, this door led to the bathroom, and as I’d expected, it was also filthy.

“Spider webs…”

I spotted the ruins of a web dangling from a corner of the ceiling, and my eye caught the corpse of the spider face up on the window sill. I realized again just how much Niimori’s outward appearance contradicted his true self.

“Clean up, will you.”

Utterly shocked at a guy who wasn’t even in the room, I pulled down my zipper.

I finished a longer pee than usual – I drank so much beer I could have bathed in it – and then washed my hands in the little sink on top of the tank and went back outside. I couldn’t even open the door all the way because of the boxes.

“How the hell do you live like this.”

I stepped into the hall, scolding him, but he was in the entryway with his back to me. He was saying something.

“Hey, what’re you doing?”

But as it turned out, his eccentricities really got started only after he was drunk, because there was someone else standing outside the entryway door.

Rationally speaking, it was a bit late to be visiting, and the other guy apparently had the same thought. The minute he saw my face, his expression stiffened.

“Who’re you? Mihaya! You’ve already got another guy?!”

The visitor grabbed Niimori’s shoulders. I opened the door wider and the guy’s body came fully into view.

His stocky torso was even wider than mine. He looked fit, though, closer to a pro wrestler than a sumo wrestler. The muscles on his arms, plainly visible through his t-shirt, were about the size of a woman’s thigh.

“I’m going home, Niimori,” I said. The fact that he’d used Niimori’s given name, and that they seemed to be in the middle of some argument, told me they must be awfully close. I intended to get home however I could.

“Okay, bye.”

If Niimori’d been sober, he probably would have spit out something closer to, “Are you still here? Get out already.”

His personality seemed to do a 180 when he got drunk. If he was going to be like that, I’d like to get him drunk constantly.

But even after I’d been told goodbye, I stood stock still in the hallway, not making any move to start down the filthy room. Suddenly, the guy threw his face into Niimori’s shoulder and started moaning. Or– Was he crying?

I watched as he let all his tears out, pleading with Niimori, me right there behind them.

“Don’t leave me. I won’t cheat anymore. If you tell me you don’t like something Mihaya, I won’t do it, I won’t do anything to hurt you. Please, let me stay!”

I watched him cling to Niimori, my simple brain in complete chaos.

Was this a jilted lover come back to beg for reconciliation?

So the pro-wrestler type was a lady? No, wait a minute, he was hairy, and he had an adam’s apple, that couldn’t be right.

” ‘M’tired, go home, y’bother me.”

Niimori seemed as indifferent to the man’s tears as he was to my confusion, and cut him off in one sentence. Maybe it was how drunk he was, but he’d sliced off every unnecessary word with Occam’s razor.

The man started to cry louder. Seeing an adult man sobbing like that was strange enough, but seeing Niimori act even colder towards this guy than he’d ever been to me was really weird.

“I don’t wanna break up!”

“Obnoxious. Get out.”

The instant the man lifted his tear-soaked face, Niimori shoved him a little on the shoulder.

He didn’t even wait for his late night visitor to slink off down the hall, either, he just slammed the door in the guy’s face and locked it without a second’s hesitation.

I stared at him as he started back into his apartment with a sleepy yawn. I couldn’t believe it.

I’d known him for a long time, but I’d never known him to have a male lover. I’d never even heard any rumors that he was gay, and I’d definitely never seen him make eyes at another guy.

“Niimori?”

“I’m going to bed. Sleep wherever you want.”

Niimori ignored my shock and headed into the interior rooms.

“Hey, wait a minute. Are you, I mean, gay?”

That question made Niimori stop.

I’d winced at the entryway and the hall, but the living room was even worse. Confronted with that mess, I completely forgot my question, and just sat there dumbfounded.

“I’m not laying my hands on you,” Niimori said.

“Ah, no, I didn’t ask because I was worried about that.”

My denial seemed to settle the matter.

I wasn’t necessarily concerned for my own person, or even worried about trouble with the landlord, but I did feel a certain resistance to staying over.

On the other hand, I could still hear occasional sobbing from outside the apartment. Apparently, he was still out there crying.

I was not currently brave enough to leave via the front door. I wanted to avoid being thought of as Niimori’s “next guy” and whatever escalation of their dispute that would bring. And for another thing, dealing with a guy who’d just had his heart broken by my coworker was too much for me to handle.

If I’d had a rope, I would have climbed down from the balcony.

“Hey, is it alright to leave him like that? Isn’t he going to bother your neighbors?”

Either Niimori hadn’t heard me, or he was acting like he hadn’t heard me, but he disappeared into the room off the living room without any answer. I could see a bed through the open doorway. Apparently, that was the bedroom.

Whether I went home or spent the night here, I would not be leaving the house until that man disappeared.

With nothing else to do, I looked around. There was no space to sit down, nevermind sleep. The room was in such chaos, I had to admire the fact that he could leave a single room such a mess. I wondered if he kept the bedroom clean, at least, but when I stepped expectantly into it, that room was in the same awful condition. There wasn’t any place to sit down except the bed.

Niimori had stretched out on his king-sized mattress without even changing his clothes.

It was easy enough to figure out why he needed a king-sized bed even though he lived alone, I thought, remembering the size of the guy from before.

“Hey,” I called out, but there was no response. Hesitating, I sat on the corner of the bed.

The instant I did, fatigue and drowsiness suddenly pressed in on me. I had drunk a lot, and my body felt heavy. Looking at Niimori’s profile, with his eyes closed and looking like he was having a perfectly good time, just made me even drowsier.

“Eh, whatever.”

It was a filthy apartment, and I’d be laying down right next to the one colleague I couldn’t get along with, who turned out to be gay to boot, but meh, I could stand it for one night.

But when I actually tried laying down next to him, my mind was perfectly clear, not a bit sleepy, despite my exhaustion.

I found myself imagining Niimori, the same Niimori with his back to me now, being pushed down on this very bed by that guy from before, and I had a feeling I couldn’t quite name. It wasn’t like imagining some guy having his way with Niimori – even if that’s what he’d temporarily agreed to, even with a partner he himself had chosen – it’s not like that was fun.

But at the same time, I wanted to know, on a purely intellectual level, what kind of expression Niimori might make during the proceedings.

#on a purely intellectual level. of course.


  1. Sesshu was a painter and Rinzai Buddhist Priest who lived in the latter half of the 1400s. A Daruma is a round figurine, usually bright red, that are supposed to bring you good luck and encourage you to persevere.
  2. ~6 miles


In Love and On Fire

In Love and On Fire

Koishite, Enjou, 恋して、炎上
Score 9.2
Status: Completed Type: Author: Artist: , Released: 2013 Native Language: Japanese
Virgin Firefighter Adachi learns one day that his disagreeable co-worker Niimori is gay, and prefers the lowest type of guy. Thinking he’s found something he can lord over Niimori, he ends up attacked himself, but quickly turns the situation on its head and ends up embracing Niimori himself…!? Special Electronic Edition short story, “In Love and Purehearted” is included, which tells the story of that night from Niimori’s perspective.

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