It was a staff party.
Granted, not all who attended were faculty--Shinobu joined them because it was her house and she’d mixed the drinks (a responsibility Giyuu hoped no one would entrust to her again)--and not all faculty attended--Himejima stayed home--but at heart, it was a staff party, celebrating their principal’s birthday, even if he couldn’t attend himself.
Giyuu wasn’t invited.
“Ah, Tomioka-sensei!” Shinobu smiled sweetly. “What brings you here--could it be you looked up my address? Should I be concerned?”
“I…" Honestly, Giyuu had forgotten she lived here. “Your sister. She sent out an invite.”
“Is that so? She must have forgotten to remove you from the email list. How embarrassing!”
A gruff voice called from inside. "Just let him in, Kochou. The damage is done."
Shinobu turned around. "I beg to differ! Tomioka-sensei hasn't had the opportunity to ruin our party yet and I don't intend to give it to him."
"Really it's the grown-ups' party, though. You're just a guest."
Giyuu turned to make his leave, but before he could, someone grabbed his shoulder.
"Get in, dumbass," Shinazugawa said. "Don't say I never did anything for you."
"Aah, Shinazugawa-sensei!" Shinobu wiggled out from where Shinazugawa had shoved her against the doorframe. "How confident to think you're that much more popular than Tomioka-sensei to begin with! I admire your--"
"Don't you have people your own age to shove in lockers?"
Kanae emerged from the kitchen. "Snacks are in the oven! I--oh!" She danced to the door. "Tomioka-san, there you are! I'm so glad you could make it! Come in, come in!"
And the night began. Truthfully, Giyuu couldn’t say why he had come in the first place--maybe he had wanted to prove to himself that the invitation hadn’t been a fluke--but after he arrived, he found himself at a loss for what to do with himself. After Kanae fluttered around in a whirlwind of hospitality, she left him sitting criss-cross at the foot of a couch already full of his already tipsy coworkers. The only ones not drinking were Rengoku, who proudly announced that his family had a history of alcoholism and declared himself designated driver, and Shinazugawa, who proclaimed he had only come to celebrate Principal Ubuyashiki, the drinks were probably poisoned, and the rest of them were “fucking stupid.” Giyuu decided to nurse a cup of whatever Shinobu had made--if it killed him, at least he’d die fitting in.
At some point, they did end up video-calling the actual reason for the celebration, Principal Ubuyashiki, who seemed equal parts amused and endeared by their antics. Giyuu couldn’t imagine why: Uzui had two pencils stuck up his nose for the entire call. Giyuu spent his time taking slow sips, watching it all unfold, but he had to admit that he didn’t have a superb tolerance to alcohol, so by the end of the call, he had passed the point of tipsy. Someone stood up.
“Ah, Shinazugawa-san,” Kanroji cooed, “you’re leaving already? Tell Genya-kun I said hi!”
“Yeah, right. He’d probably have an asthma attack if he found out a cute girl told him ‘hi.’” He kicked Giyuu on purpose on the way to the door and put on his shoes. “See you assholes on Monday.”
Kanroji blushed. “Ah! Y-you… You think I’m cute?”
Iguro, whose cup Kanae had forcibly replaced with water a few minutes ago, looked ready to pounce.
“Holy shit. I'm obviously gay, you moron."
Without thinking about it, Giyuu grabbed his pant leg. “Shinazugawa-san.” His own voice sounded foreign. “Please stay.”
“Did anyone else forget Tomioka was there?” someone voiced.
“I’m gay as well! Bisexual, actually!”
“We know, Rengoku."
"Waah! Me too, Rengoku-san!"
“Shinazugawa’s a downer," Uzui crowed. "We’ll have more fun without him, anyway.”
“No, I’m fucking not!” Shinazugawa pointed across the room. “Look--Kanroji's not drunk either!”
“What? Eek! Everyone stop looking at me…!”
“Stop looking at her, assholes,” Iguro slurred from Kanroji’s lap.
“That’s because Kanroji’s got a liver of steel,” Uzui said. “You’re probably just embarrassed cause you’re a lightweight.”
“Like hell I am! Iguro’s right there!”
Iguro waved lazily.
“At least he owns up to it.”
“I don’t have anything to prove to you pricks. Fuck you. I’m leaving.”
Shinazugawa shrugged on his jacket and stormed out the door, slamming it. About six seconds of silence passed. The door opened again. He stormed back in.
“You should take your shoes off,” Giyuu chided.
“Fuck this.” He threw his jacket on the floor. “Kanroji. You and me. Shots.”
“Um, I don’t think that’s--”
“Ambitious!” Rengoku declared. “A drinking contest! I love it!”
Giyuu didn’t consider that something a responsible designated driver would say.
Shinazugawa lost. Twice. But at least no one called him a downer anymore.
Giyuu found himself holding Shinazugawa clumsily by the shoulders when he challenged Kanroji to an arm wrestling match instead, even though he couldn’t sit up without listing over. He lost that, too. Then, Iguro threw up and they all decided it was time to go home.
They managed to cram into Rengoku’s car with Uzui dozing up front and Kanroji, Iguro, Shinazugawa, and Giyuu packed in the backseat. Iguro was small enough to squeeze in the middle, but Shinazugawa sat practically on Giyuu’s lap, and as they took off (not without an enthusiastic announcement from Rengoku that they were “blasting off,” which Kanroji and Uzui cheered) Shinazugawa melted into him like a weighted blanket. Giyuu couldn’t help but sink into the seat. He perched his head against the window and watched the night blur past.
As quickly as Giyuu could get drunk, he found he sobered just as quickly, which was the only reason he trusted himself to drink in the first place. After ten minutes of watching the street lights flicker by against creamy blue twilight, he found the numbness in his mouth replaced by dryness, and grew increasingly aware of, and subsequently uncomfortable with, the stream of drool slickening his collar. Dead to the world, Shinazugawa couldn’t yell at him for using his jacket to wipe his mouth.
Uzui stumbled out of the car when they reached his place with a mumbled “thanks.” Kanroji carried Iguro inside his own house, and Rengoku must have taken her “Thank you for driving, Rengoku-san!” to mean she meant to stay with him, because he left her there without a backward glance. They drove for another fifteen minutes, long enough for Giyuu to clear most of the fuzz from his brain, before Rengoku rolled to a stop.
“Here we are: Casa de Shinazugawa!”
Giyuu frowned. “This is Kochou’s apartment complex," he said. "We’re back where we started?”
“Yes! They're neighbors--I forgot!”
They made eye contact in the mirror.
“Well, have fun! I’ll wait for you out here!”
Giyuu wondered how well he could trust Rengoku to drive him home in a timely manner even with direct instructions, but he kept his mouth shut. Instead, he jostled Shinazugawa upright, wrapped his arm more securely around his neck, opened the door, which was uphill from the way they had parked, and propelled forward with all the momentum he could gather.
Giyuu’s legs had fallen asleep. That, or he hadn’t sobered as much as he felt, because they stumbled awkwardly back against the car, and the door shut on his sweater, and he had to gather Shinazugawa’s splaying limbs against him like a bundle of spilling tresses. He knocked on the window as well as he could with one elbow.
“Rengoku-san, I could use some--”
“I’ll wait for you here!”
Giyuu managed to get them above the curb. Then, he managed to make it to the door. He found it hard to tell how much of Shinazugawa was asleep and how much of him just didn’t feel like walking; he’d already mistaken him for unconscious twice that night. Giyuu debated just slinging him over his shoulder and hoping neither of them threw up, when he realized his eyes were open, lazily watching the carpet.
“Shinazugawa-san.” He examined the wall of buttons and brainstormed how to get inside without someone to buzz him in. “Stand up, please. I need your key.”
“I can fuckin’ walk,” he insisted, doing nothing to prove it. “Um…” He slurred something out that might have been helpful, but went into Giyuu’s shoulder instead of his ear. Giyuu hated to nudge him out of it.
“What was that?”
“Door’s broken. Anyone can get in.”
Giyuu tried. It was.
“Thank you,” he said, and Shinazugawa snorted like he’d told a joke. As he pushed the button for the elevator, he couldn’t keep the small, proud smile from his lips; it almost felt like someone might actually enjoy his company. Granted, that someone was too drunk to stand and Shinobu would probably laugh if he used this as proof someone liked him, but steeling himself like a knight in shining armor, Giyuu decided to make this last.
Maybe Giyuu was a little bit pathetic.
Shinazugawa gave a well-timed hiccup, threw up in his mouth a little, and conspicuously swallowed it back. He wiped his mouth with a sleeve.
At least he had company.
“What number is your apartment?”
“Tell you when we get there.”
“You have to tell me where you live, or we won’t get there. What floor is it on? Tell me what button to push.”
Shinazugawa squinted at him then, the closest thing to a normal glare he’d seen in hours.
“I,” he spat, meaningfully, “hate elevators.”
Giyuu didn’t frustrate easily, but certainly something bubbled in his chest.
“I’m not dragging you up the stairs.”
“Fuck elevators. We have to save it... for the people who need it.”
“We need the elevator,” he urged, “unless you live on the first floor. Do you live on the first floor?”
“No. We don’t need it.”
Shinazugawa leaned his weight in one direction as if to force them towards the stairs, but only succeeded in listing out of his newfound center of balance, forcing Giyuu to catch him around the waist again. Giyuu racked his brain for tactics Tanjirou used when dealing with cranky children.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll carry you up the stairs if you give me your keys. Deal?”
“I just said I can walk.”
“Okay. Give me your keys and you can walk up the stairs yourself like an able-bodied adult.”
Shinazugawa seemed satisfied with this and coughed up the keys. Giyuu steered them towards the stairs.
The apartment was all the way on the seventh floor and Shinazugawa set the pace torturously slow. Each step echoed throughout the white-brick-walled stairwell and each movement seemed to force another lungful of musty air into his lungs, though he couldn’t tell how much of the smell belonged to the stairway and how much to Shinazugawa’s panting breath. True to his word, Giyuu walked behind him, offering no support. Even leaning against the wall, he swayed back and forth.
Finally, by the third flight and the seventh horrifying stumble, Giyuu gave up.
“Shinazugawa-san,” he said, “I’m going to pick you up now.”
He sputtered much less than he would have sober when Giyuu scooped him up, bridal-style, with ease, which was to say, not at all. He blinked until his eyes settled on Giyuu, and his face erupted into an unnerving grin: unnerving, not by a level of traditional unnervingness, but due to a complete lack of malice.
Giyuu felt weird about it.
“Hi. Can I start walking now?”
Shinazugawa didn't answer, but he tipped his head back and didn’t look sick, so Giyuu took it as a “Yes.”
“Ugh,” Shinazugawa grunted after a few moments. “E’rything’s spinning.”
“Should I put you down?”
“No…” He frowned, and bent his neck at a funny angle to squint up at him. “Fuck. Tomioka… I think I’m really drunk.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
Shinazugawa only frowned deeper. “You… you didn’t?"
Giyuu adjusted his grip, hoping to hide his own face. “I was joking. Sorry.”
They started the sixth flight.
Shinazugawa had grown quiet and looked close to nodding off again when they reached the hallway. Giyuu studied each door they passed, looking for 721. Abruptly, Shinazugawa smacked his arm and struggled to sit up.
"You're almost home, Shinazugawa-san. Go back to sleep."
He only struggled harder. "Lemme go. I gotta act sober."
"Please relax. You're embarrassing yourself more than usual."
Giyyu took a deep breath. He reminded himself that, like most things, a brief moment of docility with Shinazugawa would never last. He loosened his hold enough for Shinazugawa to wrestle free and stumble to his feet, only to stagger and lean against the wall. He slid down until he was sitting. He didn't get up.
"Your apartment is a few doors down," Giyuu tried. "Don't you want to go to bed?" Giyuu kind of wanted to go to bed. It was only a little while past midnight, but it felt like early morning.
"I can't walk," he admitted, closing his eyes again. "Sleeping here."
Giyuu felt tempted to leave him, but the idea of following through on such a huge favor, maybe even being thanked later, won out.
"Um. I'll carry you. I just did it up four flights of stairs."
"Then everybody'd see." Shinazugawa pulled his knees to his chest. "They already think I'm a deadbeat."
"By 'everybody,' do you mean your neighbors, or your little brother?" Giyuu crouched down, uncertain if being at eye level would make things better. Probably not, because now he had to focus on wobbling on his toes so as not to touch the dirty carpet. "They're both probably sleeping."
"Four little brothers," Shinazugawa corrected, "'n two little sisters. Finally got custody last week--two weeks--fuck."
Giyuu raised his eyebrows. That was news.
"... That's big news."
"Yeah, and they all hate me. Shuya doesn't even remember." He sniffed. "'S good."
Giyuu sat down fully next to him.
"Well, I'm sure your siblings are very happy, at least, to have someone permanent looking out for them. It's a big change." He wasn’t sure exactly what had happened to Shinazugawa’s family. He wasn't sure whether to reach an arm around him; they'd been glued together all night, but this felt different, somehow, so he rested his hands in his lap. "I'm sure they're all sound asleep."
"Weren't asleep when mom came home." He didn't elaborate.
Shinazugawa closed the gap between them and laid his head on Giyuu's shoulder. Giyuu had never been the best at talking. He especially had never been the best at comforting. The best course of action, he decided, was to sit here until Shinazugawa fell asleep and carry him to bed against his will. They had already taken a ridiculously long time; Rengoku could wait a few more minutes. Then, Shinazugawa sniffed.
He'd never called him that before. Giyuu reprimanded himself. He didn't mean it. He was drunk. Giyuu didn't answer.
"I'm glad you're my friend."
Giyuu's breath hitched.
The last time he'd implied that the two of them were friends, he'd gotten chased out of the faculty lounge with the sharp end of a compass. Looking at Genya, though, Giyuu had always assumed Shinazugawa distanced himself from the people he really cared about, so he figured if Shinazugawa really wanted him to leave him alone, he'd punch him in the face. After all, he did everything he could to make Giyuu hate him except show any sign of weakness or cause him real physical harm, just like he did with Genya.
Just like he was doing to Genya now.
"Oi… Hey, put me back down...!"
Giyuu thought of his older sister, and the days she'd told him secrets when they were young. He'd always loved it when his sister spoiled him, giving him extra salmon from her plate, taking care of him when he got sick, or carrying him on her back. But the nights she confided in him--when she'd messed up, when she'd broken a rule, when she'd gotten drunk at an office party and needed a desperate coworker who had nothing better to do to drag her home in the middle of the night--had always been the nights he felt closest to her. He loved being spoiled, but he loved his sister even more.
Giyuu looked down--really looked at Sanemi. He was a wreck: something crusty had caked itself around the corners of his mouth. The flickering fluorescent lights made his complexion sicklier than it should be. A halo of sweaty hair glued itself to the sides of his temples and, for some reason, Giyuu wanted to brush it aside. He didn't have a hand free.
By the time they reached the door marked 721, Sanemi had given up struggling and something new had bloomed in Giyuu's chest. Shadows flickered underneath the door. Thanks to his efforts to wriggle free, Sanemi ended in a position, slung over Giyuu's shoulder, that left one of his hands free to use.