In Love and On Fire chapter 6

Chapter 6

We had to submit written notification to our supervisors if we wanted to go on an extended vacation.

It wasn’t as strict as it sounds, we just had to give them our contact information, in case they needed to contact us on our day off.

It wasn’t really what you’d call “extended” either, actually, but we turned in the forms anyway.

There was this place that had been featured in a magazine, almost on the outskirts of Tokyo, so I put “Tokyo” as our destination on the form, but it wasn’t set in concrete. I was the one who asked him out, but I hadn’t had any particular place I’d wanted us to go.

If I had to give a suggestion, I’d like to go mountain climbing, or to one of those indoor climbing gyms, but whenever we’d decided as a class to go mountain climbing before, Niimori had announced to the coordinator that he wouldn’t be participating. “I’m not interested in training on my days off.”

No matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a suitable place, so with no other choice, I’d consulted Tsuno as he was washing the rice next to me – we’d been on meal-prep duty for dinner.

“Who’s your partner?” he’d asked, smirking broadly.

“No, I mean, with anyone.”

“Well, what does she do? Where’d you meet? Is she beautiful? Do you have a photo?”

“There is no photo. We met through work. Are you happy now.”

“You’ve gotta tell me more than that, come on. I can’t give you any advice without any information on her.”

“We’re the same age, we’ve known each other a while.”

I deceived Tsuno as best I could, and he ate it up better than I’d have thought. Of course I didn’t mention that “she” was actually a “he” wearing a headset on the floor above us. Niimori would murder me if I spilled it to Tsuno.

“Well, the only advice I can give is the basic stuff. You shouldn’t go too far on your first date. And places with long lines are out. It’s best to avoid outdoor type stuff on a first date. And sports matches, too. And barbecues, or ramen joints, any place where the smell sticks to your clothes.”

“Those’re the basics? It’s just a lot of stuff not to do. Where are the concrete things I’m supposed to do?”

“Movies, or fireworks, or how about taking a drive? Well, if it’s your first time out, you should go somewhere safe. And absolutely no funny business.”

But I couldn’t think of a single place Niimori and I could have fun together. I mean, I knew his sexual orientation, but I didn’t even know what kind of movies he liked, or what his hobbies were.

I lapsed into thought, and Tsuno said, “I’d love it if you’d give me a report. You should text me, tell me what’s going on while you’re actually there.” He dumped the cleaning water down the drain.

“That’s not happening.”

Maybe it was a mistake to ask this guy in the first place, I thought with regret, and we continued our preparations for the meal, with me sidestepping more of Tsuno’s leading questions as he tried to get information out of me about my date partner.

Eventually, and with me still worrying about it, I got with Niimori to rub our schedules together, and then consulted a magazine I had laying around at home. We drove out to the suburbs in a car I’d borrowed from my little brother.

I went to pick him up, and as we drove – at a fair clip, too – Niimori didn’t say a word. There should have been something we could talk about, but I was lost in my thoughts, too, so the only thing chatting in that car was the radio. Keeping tabs on the weather and traffic reports, even on our days off, was like an occupational illness, so we listened to a soft, female voice as we went along.

To tell the truth, I had no idea how I was supposed to act towards Niimori as he sat there in the passenger seat. My line about wanting to find out whether I really liked him or not had also been half a confession, I realized at this late hour, and it left me at an even greater loss about what to say. Niimori, for his part, had seemed genuinely confused when I’d come to pick him up, and now he sat uncomfortably in the passenger seat.

He hadn’t even asked where we were going – probably didn’t care.

Probably regrets making all those threats, I thought, stomping on the accelerator. Eventually we made it to our destination, both of still so quiet I wondered if it wasn’t the first time I’d seen Niimori like this since we’d met.

When we arrived at our first destination – a boat dock – Niimori seemed to have finally recovered his usual tone. “Why would you take us here?”

“What?”

Just as Niimori was about to say something, the guy at the boat rental shop called out to us. After we’d listened to his explanation of how to use the boats, paid him, and turned back to each other, Niimori shut his mouth without ever finishing what he’d started to say.

Even as we got in the boat, turned towards the middle of the lake, and paddled out, Niimori maintained an expressionless silence.

“Do you want to paddle?” I asked.

Niimori looked at me and let out a candid sigh. “No. I want to know why I’m out on a lake in a boat with you.”

“The hell. I asked you to go on a date with me, didn’t I?”

My voice sounded less certain than I’d meant it to. But Niimori didn’t make fun of me. “Have you ever seen two guys on a boat ride together? This is where people take their girlfriends, or their families,” he said, in an unusually angry tone.

“In other words, it’s a perfect date spot.”

“People will absolutely think we’re gay.”

“Which is true, though.”

It was the middle of a weekday afternoon, so there wasn’t anybody else out on the water – we certainly were conspicuous.

There were a lot of people walking the promenade that encircled the lake, maybe that was what he couldn’t stand.

It did seem to be making him uncomfortable, so I slowly rowed the boat into the shade of a tree where not too many people could see us.

“Are you trying to harass me? If that’s what you’re after, say so from the start.”

The sun’s rays were strong today, too, and the lotus flowers floating on the lake were just budding.

It was the perfect spot for enjoying a boat ride, but Niimori was hanging his head, almost like he was hurt.

That was unexpected. I hadn’t thought he was someone who cared about other people staring at him.

“Maybe a night cruise would have been better?”

“Get me off this boat. Although honestly we could be in a helicopter and it would still be awful.”

“Well I didn’t know what would be okay. You liked boat practice, didn’t you?”

“Until you capsized us, sure, but that doesn’t mean I like boats,” Niimori muttered, half groaning.

“If there’s somewhere you’d rather go, let’s go there. Or, if you don’t want to go anywhere, we can go home?” I asked. I didn’t mean it as anything that would have made him uncomfortable, but it did end up coming out that way. I just didn’t want to see Niimori worrying about people staring at us. He was shrinking back.

“Could you not harass me, at least?”

He was apparently quite suspicious indeed. I calmed down a little bit, wondering if he really did hate it that much.

“I said at the start that it was just a date. And I explained my reasons.”

“How long have we known each other, there’s no reason for us to meet like this.”

“I don’t know anything about you except you’re hateful.”

Niimori’d seemed so uncomfortable until just a second ago, but he now got to his feet with a dangerous look in his eyes. I was afraid I was going to take another sharp roundhouse kick to the face, or that he and I both were going to go overboard.

“That’s not– I didn’t mean it like that. I just don’t know anything about you outside of work,” I corrected myself. “I don’t know you except as my rival. Well, that’s not exactly… I want to know the normal you. I want to see your smile, and what you look like when you’re having fun. I feel like if I could do that, I–”

–I’ll like you even more, I started to say, but I realized that Niimori was looking down at me with a surprised expression on his face.

I like this guy? I asked myself. Even as I asked it, though, I knew my face was going red.

I’d asked him on this date to figure all that out, but I’d gotten my answer during the opening gambit.

“Just– Sit down, for now. I don’t want to capsize again.”

“Last time we capsized, it was your fault,” Niimori said, but he did sit obediently back down. “Anyway, aren’t you in some kind of unrequited love affair with that married woman next door? Did she give you the cold shoulder? No luck with the ladies, so you’re switching to guys, is that what this is?”

“I’m over it with the married lady. And it’s not about switching teams, it’s just that right now I want to know more about you.”

I was irritated at him for stubbornly refusing to acknowledge my feelings, but it would be pointless for us to get in a fight and go home now.

But Niimori didn’t actually seem interested in starting a fight – his shoulders suddenly relaxed.

“Is it okay if we don’t go home?” I asked.

“You remember your promise,” Niimori said in his usual haughty tone. “If I go out with you today, you keep quiet to the higher ups.” It was like his earlier meek attitude has all been a lie. “Speaking of, is it possible this is your first date?” He was smirking like Tsuno.

“What’s so bad about that?”

“At his rate, I’m going to take up all your firsts.”

“Like I said, what’s so bad about that?” I answered calmly, and the smirk slipped off Niimori’s face.

Then his expression turned half angry, half troubled, and he stared openly at me.

“I didn’t say it was anything bad,” he said. “So what’s next?”

His attitude made me suspicious but we got off the boat and headed for a restaurant where I’d made reservations. Maybe it was the mood, or maybe it was just from where we were stood, but all the customers were women. There certainly weren’t any two guys at a table except for us, so I was worried Niimori was going to complain again, but he took a seat at the table we were guided to without saying anything, and even asked the waiter about the menu.

Eventually I ordered the course the waiter recommended, and then considered my plans for the afternoon. I’d been thinking we’d go to the aquarium first, and then have dinner, and then go home, but maybe an aquarium was the wrong place for two guys.

I had thought it was an occupational hazard that I always felt calmer next to water but when I’d mentioned it to Tsuno last night, he’d laughed at me. “Only you, Adachi.”

Even so, making sure of your escape routes when you went into a building or large institution definitely was an occupational hazard. The restaurant was in a multistory building attached to an art gallery and a theater, and Niimori’s eyes had joined mine on the emergency lights the second we’d set foot inside.

I’d noticed it, and I was just about to ask if he really didn’t have any lingering attachment to going out on calls, when the waiter brought our first plates.

Nabe?” 1

A sort of bowl was placed in the center of a plate lined with various types of vegetables. The bowl was filled with a bit of cloudy soup, and under the bowl was a cake of fuel that had been ignited.

The waiter hadn’t mentioned anything about this. Did nabe-type dishes even exist in Italian cooking?

Plus, if it was nabe, I doubted the bowl was big enough to hold all these vegetables.

“It’s bagna cauda. It’s like a salad,” Niimori said, a dumbfounded look on his face.

“A salad?”

I still had no idea what to do, so Niimori grabbed one of the vegetable sticks with his bare fingers, dipped it in the sauce, and put it in his mouth. Moments like that made me realize how thoroughly prepared Niimori always was.

Even eating with his fingers, he didn’t come off as vulgar. Was that because this was a dish meant to be eaten with your fingers?

“Don’t pick a restaurant you’ve never been to for your first date. It’s too easy to mess something up when you’re not familiar with a place. Especially for you.”

To be fair, I wasn’t used to the mood in there. Even the menu had been half-gibberish to me.

“I’ll be careful next time.”

I took a bite and realized that the cloudy soup was the same crap they put on pizzas sometimes, only it felt a little delicate here. I didn’t like to leave leftovers, so I ate it all, but my spirits sank at the stinky fish taste.

“Next time, come with a lady. Even you can manage that once, then you can stop saying such dumb shit.”

Suggesting other people in the middle of our date – was there really no hope? I heaved a sigh at my apparently troubled future prospects, and shoved the remaining vegetables in my face without bothering to dip them in the sauce. After Niimori’s mention of “a woman,” even the main dish felt like I was chewing sand.

We finished the meal without much conversation. As we were leaving, Niimori asked, “What’s next?”

“I thought we’d go to the aquarium.”

“The one they just finished? Subway’s probably the fastest.”

He knew the route pretty well, he must visit the suburbs a lot.

Then I realized he’d probably been out here on dates before, and I found myself jealous of people I’d never even seen.

Niimori took off first, and I was just following him – the feelings of love I’d only just come to realize still wounded – when I noticed a woman staggering down one side of the footpath, slouched over.

“Niimori,” I said, and he didn’t even turn to look at me before approaching the woman.

She tipped over just as he reached her, and he quickly grabbed her around the shoulders.

After he turned her around, I saw that her belly was oddly expanded, and I realized she was pregnant.

“What’s happened? Are you alright?”

“Ah… Yes, uh.”

The large bag that had been hanging from her shoulder fell to the ground.

The pedestrians who passed by all glanced at us, but none of them stopped.

Niimori was closer, and picked up the wallet and notebook that went flying as the bag fell.

“I don’t,” the woman said, “feel very well. My stomach, I feel so stiff.”

“Should we call an ambulance?”

“No, I think I’ll be fine, I just…” the woman started, but then looked around and gasped.

“Isn’t my son nearby? He’s only four…”

“Can you tell us his name, and what he looks like?” Niimori said, scanning the area.

But the anxious woman tried to scramble to her feet. “What am I going to do?” She lost her balance.

She must have been dizzy, because she fell to the ground, landing on both hands. Niimori spoke to her in a gentle tone.

“Ma’am.” That was the tone he used on victims and anyone in need of rescue, when they wouldn’t listen. “Please calm down. We’ll look for him. Tell us what your son’s name is, and what he looks like.”

The woman was crying she was so worried, but she answered all our questions.

As she was speaking, though, she kept pressing on her belly, and she was hunching over.

“I’ll go look for him, Niimori, you take care of her.”

When it came to calming upset people, Niimori was the one for the job.

“Understood.”

The woman really didn’t seem to be doing well, but I knew Niimori would call an ambulance if she needed one, so I left the two of them to search the area, calling out the kid’s name. There were a ton of pedestrians in front of the station, though – I was never going to find him. I was wracking my brain, trying to figure out where a kid was likely to go, when I suddenly heard ambulance sirens.

They stopped next to the foot path where I’d been a few minutes ago – Niimori must have called them.

In that case, I thought, getting the police involved might be faster than searching on my own, but just as I pulled out my cell phone, I noticed a little boy watching the ambulance through a gap in the fence on the pedestrian bridge in front of the station.

He was wearing a character t-shirt, just like the woman had said, and I didn’t see anyone who looked like a guardian nearby. The traffic lights changed, and I climbed the stairs and found the boy still in the same place.

“Hello there.”

I called his name as I approached, so I wouldn’t scare him, and he turned towards me.

Once, we’d taken part in evacuation training at a nursery school, and I’d made all the kids cry. I remembered Niimori scolding me – “If you don’t wanna scare ’em, look them in the eyes as much as you can. And speak slowly.” – so I paid attention to how I spoke. When I said his name again to confirm it was really him, he nodded.

“Oh good,” I said, smiling in relief. “Your mama’s been looking for you.”

Maybe the boy finally realized that his mom wasn’t around, because he suddenly started fidgeting.

“Where’s Mama?”

“I can take you to her. You want to come with me?”

I took the kid’s small, soft hand and went back the way I’d come. But when we got off the foot bridge, the ambulance had gone. I went back to my starting place anyway, but Niimori wasn’t there. He must have gone alone to serve as a point of contact.

I did the only thing left, and called Niimori. It was a minute before he picked up.

Judging from the background noise, he was in the ambulance, just as I’d suspected.

“Wanted to tell you I found the kid. We didn’t have any contact point chosen, so let me know when you’ve got one. We’ll just be on standby until then.”

“Acknowledged.”

I closed my phone with a bitter smile. This was supposed to be a date, but that exchange had been on an entirely professional level.

When I looked down at the boy whose hand I was holding, he looked like he was about to cry.

“Mama? Hey, where’s Mama?”

“I’m going to take you to Mama as soon as I can. How about you stay here and play with me for a little while?”

“No! I’m not supposed to play with people I don’t know!”

For whatever reason, the kid had finally become suspicious of me.

“No! My hand, no! Let go!”

He started struggling, and I hurried to try and reassure him – “I’m not here to hurt you.” – but the kid started yelling. “No!! I want to go home to Mama!”

I called his name, trying to calm him down, even as he assaulted me with both arms and both legs.

“Hey now, little man, don’t cause trouble for your Papa.”

He must have been really screaming, because an elderly woman who was passing by stopped to chide the kid.

The instant I instinctually felt relief that someone had thrown me a lifeboat, the kid turned on the waterworks and started crying these huge tears.

“He’s not!” His yelling got even louder. “I don’t know him! He’s not my Papa! He said he was going to take me to Mama, but Mama’s not here! I wanna go home!”


  1. nabe is a class of dishes, all made in a single pot, usually heated on a burner at the table. it’s a very casual dish, something you share with family and friends in the dead of winter over the kotatsu, not something you generally find in fancy restaurants.


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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