Jealousy. Plus panthers. Reiji/Naoya, written for lazulisong.
It was absurd to be jealous of a whelp and Reiji was not. Jealous. He demonstrated his unjealousy by doing Naoya against the hallway wall the minute he got home. The wall was apparently tolerable in a way the kitchen table wasn't (they never ate dinner on the wall, for one thing), since Naoya put up almost no fuss--unless small satisfying "ah" noises counted as fuss--either there or in the bedroom after.
Later, facedown in a smashed pillow, Naoya said, "Next weekend I'm taking him to the zoo."
It was a faint mumble. Reiji's contentment dispersed like blown smoke. "The zoo."
"I thought it might be fun, but...too bad Aoe-san is...too busy...to come with."
Reiji looked down sharply. Naoya's eyes were shut, his hands burrowed under the pillow. The mumbles were a measure of his sleepiness. When properly awake he censored any talk that could in theory be construed as selfish. He was an idiot like that.
Reiji waited until Naoya was dozing outright before he stalked to the living room and phoned Kashima.
"Next Sunday," he said. "Clear my schedule."
Wataru glared over the top of his cherry popsicle and sucked on it resentfully. "Why'd you bring him."
"Aoe-san works very hard. He needs to have fun once in a while, too."
They stood in front of the panther cage. The zoo had no lions, and the tiger exhibit was closed for repairs, so the panthers were the biggest big cats on display. At Reiji's approach one of them stopped its pacing and sat down directly across from him to stare through the bars. Reiji stared back. He narrowed his eyes. The panther's tail lashed. When the stalemate showed no sign of ending within the hour, Wataru made a fuming sound and bit off the tip of his popsicle. He shouted around a mouthful of red.
"HEY YOU OLD GUY. Naoya's bored and stuff."
Reiji's head swiveled. "Bored?"
"Ah, I'm not--I like the--"
"He wants to go see the tanuki."
"C'mon, this way!"
Wataru scuffled backward, pinwheeling his arms, and bungled straight into the path of a woman carrying bottles of Qoo from the concession stand. Naoya and Reiji both lunged, but Naoya was closer; he grabbed Wataru by the wrist and hauled to ease the impact. The woman bounced and yipped, but she righted herself, still clutching her Qoo.
Nothing had fallen except Wataru's popsicle. No one was hurt. Naoya shifted his grip to Wataru's ear and barked.
"Watch where you're going! What do you say to the lady?"
"Sorry! Ow. Sorry ma'am."
"Please excuse us, he has no manners." Naoya smiled (as if pained) at the woman, who smiled back and said no no, not at all. She went on her way. Wataru squirmed under the deathgrip on his ear. Naoya snapped again. "Stop fidgeting."
"Ow! Sorry! I'll be careful I swear."
When Naoya let Wataru loose, he found Reiji regarding him blankly, as if taken aback by the reflection in an unexpected mirror.
According to the map, the tanuki lived at Tanuki Mountain. Tanuki Mountain turned out to be a dung-splattered rockpile encircled by a moat, a wall, a guard rail, and Please Do Not Feed The Animals Thank You signs posted every two meters. Wataru wanted to walk all the way around the Mountain, in case more tanuki were hiding on the opposite side. Naoya told him to go ahead, then stood by uncertainly while Reiji lit a cigarette and leaned against the rail.
The shadows were starting to lengthen. The tanuki drowsed on the rocks, uninterested in their audience of voyeurs. Reiji pocketed his lighter and nodded in the direction Wataru had gone.
"He does need training." He exhaled slowly. "You're doing well."
The praise was indelible dye. Naoya turned colors. "It's not that I mean to--it just sort of keeps falling to me. I guess." He looked at Reiji with the sun in his eyes. "I'm really glad Aoe-san could come today. Since we don't usually get to do d...date kinds of things."
"Date things, is it."
Naoya glanced at the heap of rocks and excrement. His shoulders sank. When Reiji said to find a babysitter next time, they drooped lower.
After a minute Reiji turned. He did not touch Naoya, but Naoya held as still as if he'd been seized by the nape. "Listen. If you want to go out, I'll take you. You want to watch tanuki, we'll watch. You want me to put up with the brat, I'll do that, too, but not every weekend, all the time." Reiji prowled two paces along the railing and pivoted, frowning hard. "Well? Am I being clear?"
"Clear," said Naoya, in the sturdiest voice he could muster, which was not very.
Reiji grunted, turned again. He draped his forearms across the rail.
Presented with his backside, Naoya blinked and thought of lashing tails. He shuffled forward until they stood elbow to elbow, not quite close enough to jostle. He curled his fingers around the railing. The painted steel bar was warm from the sun.
"I like the panthers better," he said.