Drowning in monotony had left Ren equally overwhelmed with a deep, nigh-unidentifiable yearning that threatened to consume his entire being. There wasn't any other way to describe it. He wasn't miserable, exactly, not debilitatingly depressed; he just… yearned. Something was missing. Yet, he couldn't quite place what it was that he was yearning for. He wasn't unhappy with his choice of major, and he didn't regret moving to Tokyo for school… but there was still something, something he wished were different that he just couldn't grasp.
He turned the topic over in his mind one night as he went down a rabbit hole of live performance videos on his phone in lieu of the studying he should have been doing. Maybe he just needed to socialize more; make some new friends. Find a new hobby. Change up his wardrobe, even. Anything to break up the repetitive loop he currently felt stuck in would be good, surely.
Letting out a sigh, he decided to shelve the idea for the time being and actually get some of his assignments done before he went to bed. It's fine, he assured himself, for good measure. Maybe tomorrow something will change.
The next afternoon, the subject was once again on Ren's mind as he made his way to the café near his campus after class. He'd never been there before, despite its proximity; usually he just headed home and made his own coffee if he wanted some. Today, though, he thought it'd be worth giving a shot. It was, at the very least, something new to try amidst the stifling fog of sameness, and he tried to ignore the part of him that knew a café could only be so exciting.
He looked around when he walked inside, considering the interior. It didn't seem particularly special, though the atmosphere was welcoming enough, and it was more spacious on the inside than he'd expected. Large windows at the front of the place let in a tremendous amount of natural light even through the cellular shades, which was nice. The handwritten chalkboard menu behind the counter caught Ren's attention as he came to a stop at the end of the line, and he continued to read it over until it was his turn to order.
All his thoughts were out the window, decision forgotten, the moment he looked back down and made eye contact with the barista in front of him.
Messy, silver hair nearly obscured the guy's eyes, but nevertheless his gaze was utterly piercing. Coupled with the scowl on his face, he looked downright menacing, and he leaned heavily on the counter as he glared at Ren. The contrast between his demeanor and the entire rest of the shop's vibe couldn't have been more stark, to the point where it was a bit startling. Above all, though? The man was stunning. Ren's heart pounded.
He mentally scrambled to remember what he was planning to say, each passing second feeling more and more awkward. He looked up to reread the menu as he tried to pull himself together.
“Listen.” The sound of the barista's voice—intense, he sounded kind of angry—startled Ren right back out of his head. “Everything here is terrible. Hurry up and order.”
Huh? “S-Sorry,” Ren stammered out. “I'd just like a, um….” He glanced down, then back up, then down again. “…A cappuccino? Please.”
The barista had snatched up a cup before Ren had even finished speaking, already scribbling something on to it. “Name?”
“Uh. Nanahoshi.” He'd reflexively given his last name in his panic. Great.
There was silence between them for a moment as the silver-haired guy finished writing and rung up the order. Ren didn't even listen to him read the total; he paid as quickly as possible and scurried away to wait.
From where he was standing, Ren could see the barista moving around behind the counter. It was easier to look at him now that he was staring daggers at his work instead of Ren, and Ren found himself newly transfixed as he studied the man. He really was striking. Even just making the coffee, he looked incredibly focused, biting his lip just a bit as he prepared it with practiced movements. In no time at all, though, he was done, and Ren felt almost disappointed that he couldn't watch him for longer. He felt his heart skip a beat when the barista glanced up to make eye contact with him again.
He still called out Ren's name despite the fact that he was looking directly at him. Ren hurried forward to take the drink from him, grabbing it before he'd even put it down, and his heart skipped another beat as he squeaked out a “thanks”.
“Uh-huh. Come again.”
The following day found Ren heading to the same café after class again. He glanced down at the receipt for his cappuccino as he neared the entrance, reading over the name printed at the top of it. Nayuta.
He hadn't even thought at first to try to learn the guy's name, but he'd been on Ren's mind incessantly since yesterday, so he'd fished the receipt out of his wallet to see if it might've been on there. Not that Ren would call him by name to his face, unless they were properly introduced; it was just easier to call him Nayuta in his head rather than That Scary Silver-Haired Guy.
He didn't know what exactly it was that he was expecting, today, but if Nayuta was there again, maybe Ren would try to make small talk. He couldn't imagine it'd actually work, and he didn't want to be annoying or cross any boundaries, but he could at least attempt to throw in a harmless “how are you?”… or something. He supposed.
Ren shook his head, clearing his thoughts as he folded up the receipt and put it back. Stepping inside, he was surprised to see there wasn't a line, though he had had a later class today.
To Ren's tentative delight, fierce brown eyes pierced through his very being when he stepped up to the counter.
“Afternoon,” the barista—Nayuta—greeted curtly. “Another cappuccino?”
He was already reaching over to get a cup. “Uh, yeah,” Ren managed through his surprise. “Thanks.”
Ren placed the money on the tray, somewhat blearily. Nayuta had remembered him? Why? Ren wasn't even certain that he himself would've remembered that he ordered a cappuccino yesterday—the coffee had probably been the thing that stood out the least to him. Maybe Nayuta was just… far more passionate about working there than Ren could've ever guessed. Or he just had a remarkable memory. Or… maybe Ren actually left an impression on him.
He dismissed that last one pretty quickly.
Ren brought himself back down to Earth with a sigh as he took his change and the receipt off the tray. Nayuta hadn't waited for him to stop zoning out to leave the register, and he was already putting the lid on the cup when Ren stopped at the end of the counter.
So much for trying to make small talk….
“Nanahoshi,” Nayuta called before sliding the cappuccino across the counter. It was then that Ren realized Nayuta hadn't asked for a name, that time: apparently he'd remembered that, too.
The feeling of Ren's heart skipping a beat was starting to become familiar.
Ren took the cappuccino, his “thanks” sounding just as squeaky as it was last time, and Nayuta's “come again” sounding just as apathetic.
He had a class tomorrow, too. Ren would certainly be back.
Maybe tomorrow something will change.
The next few times were more of the same: Nayuta was there, he remembered Ren, and there was no room in their exchange for Ren to reasonably interject anything. He'd even stuck around for a while, once, trying to do some of his assignments while he was there, but other than that, nothing was different. No, a major development only came after the weekend, when Ren came to his morning class to see Nayuta sitting at one of the tables, chin resting in his hand, like he'd always been there.
For a moment, Ren wondered if he had always been in that class, but he was certain the answer was no. Ren would've noticed. He absolutely would have noticed.
He walked over to the table before he could overthink it.
“Hey!” he called out in greeting, coming to a stop opposite from Nayuta, who looked up at him with that same lethal glare he always had at the café. “It's, uh,” Ren floundered, “it's nice to see someone I know! Not— Not that I really know you, but… um.” A pause. “I didn't know you took classes here!”
Nayuta was giving him a weird look, and Ren already started to feel mortified. This was a mistake! A terrible, terrible mistake! Of course he wouldn't know, it wasn't his business, he didn't know Nayuta, and maybe Nayuta didn't even recognize him—
“S-Sorry.” Ren was apologizing before he could finish his own panicked thoughts. “I know we haven't properly met. I’m—”
“Nanahoshi,” interrupted Nayuta. “Yeah. I remember.”
“Oh!” Ren smiled nervously, desperately trying to think of what to say next and feeling increasingly awkward the longer he lingered in front of the table. “Uh, is it okay if I sit next to you, um…?”
Nayuta simply stared up at Ren for a moment, silent, before glancing away. “Asahi Nayuta. …Do what you want.”
Ren internally rejoiced and externally shot Nayuta a small smile as he carefully made his way around to the other side of the table. He put his things down delicately while he sat down, trying very hard to keep a respectable distance between himself and Nayuta. “Thanks,” Ren said, turning to face him, “Nayuta-kun.”
Nayuta's only response was a quiet huff, and Ren took a moment to look him over. He hadn't expected Nayuta to accessorize quite so much—he was wearing several rings, bracelets, a necklace… lots of zippers, too, on his jacket and his jeans and his boots. Plenty of flashy, shiny things that suited him, if Ren was being honest. He was awestruck all over again, like he was seeing Nayuta for the very first time.
“Did you transfer?” Ren decided to ask. “How long have you been taking classes here?”
“Since today,” Nayuta answered, without making eye contact. “Moved here a little over a week ago.”
Cool, good, so Ren hadn't somehow just failed to notice Nayuta all this time. “From where? I-If you don't mind me asking.”
“Ah, really?” Ren leaned forward onto the table as he spoke, propping himself up with his arms. “I'm from Hakodate. I moved at the beginning of the year. I never would've thought we were from the same prefecture! I'm still not really used to the heat here… isn't it hot? And it's so humid, too….”
He was rambling, on and on as they waited for class to start, Nayuta mumbling short answers to whatever questions Ren asked him: “yeah, it's hot”, “law”, “Shinjuku”, “a cat”, “Nyankotarou”, “only child”, “September 12th”….
Somehow, finally having some common ground with Nayuta had destroyed every reservation Ren had had about trying to get to know him. He was as brusque as he'd always been, but the fact that he actually seemed to be listening and willing to answer Ren's onslaught of questions made Ren incredibly hopeful about his chances of getting closer to the man. He was ecstatic.
And then Nayuta mentioned that he sings.
“You sing?!” exclaimed Ren, with such enthusiasm that it caused Nayuta to turn and look at him with surprise. “Wow! Really?! I love to sing! I always thought it'd be cool to be in a band, but I'm so busy with school and stuff, and I don't really think I'd be good enough at it to be in a band anyway, but— Are you in a band? Or, like, a choir? Do you—”
“Nanahoshi! Shut the fuck up for a second.” Ren went quiet, but continued to look expectantly at Nayuta for answers. Nayuta-kun is a vocalist, too! “I make music, but I'm not in a band right now.”
Right now?! “Oh, that's so—”
Ren was interrupted, before he could continue his bevy of questions, by their professor coming in to get the class started. Nayuta glanced at Ren, briefly, before turning to get his notes and things out, and Ren forced himself to do the same.
Class, he insisted to himself. I've got to focus on class.
It was easier said than done.
No matter how hard he tried to keep it on the lecture, Ren's attention kept getting recaptured by Nayuta. He wasn't even doing anything—he was just sitting by Ren and writing stuff down, and yet Ren was captivated. It was similar to how he had felt watching Nayuta work, before: it was easier to look at him without those sharp eyes looking back, and the longer he looked, the more he was mesmerized. God, he wanted to talk to him more. He really hoped Nayuta wanted that, too, at least a little bit.
The rest of the period went by in a bit of a blur. Ren never quite managed to focus entirely on the material, instead half-listening and taking haphazard notes while he stole glance after glance at Nayuta. He felt almost disoriented when the class ended and Nayuta moved to gather his things up.
“Ah, Nayuta-kun,” Ren called, when Nayuta stood to leave. He shot Ren a quizzical look, but stopped, readjusting his posture to lean against the table as he waited for Ren to continue. “Um… do you have another class after this?”
“I've got work.”
“Oh.” Ren mentally scrambled for what to say next. “M-Maybe I'll see you there.”
Nayuta continued to look inquisitive, and Ren suddenly felt painfully awkward, like it was far too presumptuous of him to think he could go see Nayuta again. Or whatever. But, then—Nayuta's expression softened, the corners of his mouth upturned in the slightest, near-imperceptible smile.
“I'll make a cappuccino for you.”