Think of Me
[500 Themes: 107]
Bartending was really just supposed to be a hobby – something to put a bit of cash in his pocket on the side, and to entertain him on lonely nights when there was simply nothing else left.
If nothing else, it certainly gave Barnaby a bird's eye view of the nightlife – of the strange individuals that would wander in and out of the bar, of those that obviously cared about their lives and let him call them a cab, or others that simply stumbled out the door against his better advice.
He considered himself something of a hero if he actually managed to keep those particular people from getting into their car on a good night.
Then there were the regulars – those that merely came in after a long day of work, or with friends on a Friday night.
Kaburagi T. Kotetsu was one such person.
Sometimes, he would come with a friend or two and laugh the night away, sipping on a mix of cola and vodka or the occasional beer. Generally, Barnaby paid him no mind – in fact, he only knew the man's name by virtue of his frequent visits. The man would talk to him on occasion, but it was obvious he was in no financial state to leave a good tip, and thus, for the most part, Barnaby served his drinks and left him alone.
That was not the case one night.
Kaburagi T. Kotetsu came in alone, plopped himself at the end of the bar, and Barnaby watched for a moment – waiting for a gesture, a glance, anything. Instead, the man simply sagged forward, hand wiping tiredly over his face, and Barnaby found himself repressing a sigh.
He also found himself preparing Kotetsu's drink of choice without even thinking.
Why was he even asking? The drink was set in front of the older man with a quiet clink, and Kotetsu glanced up, blinking and obviously surprised.
"Ah – uh… yeah."
Barnaby stood uncomfortably for a moment before he turned away, grabbing a dishtowel and a glass to clean, needing something to do with his hands so that he looked busy.
"It's on the house, then."
What was he doing?
Kotetsu seemed to be wondering the same thing, what with the stare the blond could feel upon his back. "That's awfully nice of you." A pause, the sound of the glass lifting as it scraped against the countertop. "Thanks."
And Barnaby merely shrugged.
"You've never been much of a talker – is it because I don't leave you big tips like the pretty girls do?"
It was then that Barnaby realized he had gotten himself up to his neck in that one, simple gesture. He could have smacked himself, but instead he grit his teeth and turned back, faking a smile. "You don't seem like the kind of person that would like to listen to me talk to them."
Kotetsu looked at him, and Barnaby realized he saw right through that smile. It faded right off of his face as a result. "Everyone's got something interesting to say."
Barnaby didn't like that.
He didn't like the way Kotetsu looked at him, didn't like the way he almost smiled, patient and easy, didn't like the fact that it wasn't condescending or that the man didn't look at him like a piece of meat like the women that came through the door (or for that matter, like the especially drunk old men did). It was too close. Too personal. Far too much.
His lips pursed. "Just enjoy your drink, old man."
Kotetsu choked, aghast. "I'm not old!"
"Older than me."
Why oh why did the resultant sputtering make his lips twitch into an almost-smile.
"Look, I'm not that old. I'm just – " Kotetsu sighed, a hand waving in dismissive exasperation. "I'm just tired. It was a long day."
Barnaby knew those words well, but as he looked at Kotetsu, it was obvious – so very obvious – that it was beyond a 'long day.' The weariness dragging down normally bright eyes, the grit of his teeth and the stressed clench of his jaw to follow; it spoke of a far deeper tiredness that bordered on anxiety in its depth.
"… You work too much," the blond deduced without batting an eye.
"I don't have a choice." Another sip of alcohol. "Wife's gone. Someone has to support my daughter – my mother. Ah – sorry," Kotetsu was quick to add with a forced, sheepish grin. "You don't care about any of this."
"Get a hobby, then." Barnaby's head tilted as he set aside the glass he had been cleaning.
"You heard me, old man – a hobby. Something to distract you from work."
There was a long pause in which Kotetsu fell contemplatively silent, nursing his drink and drumming his fingers slowly against the side of his glass.
"… I guess I have been in a rut lately, haven't I."
It was more said to the air than to him, Barnaby realized, and so he simply watched for a moment, somehow not feeling quite as awkward to be looking at Kotetsu – a customer, some man he barely knew – so openly now.
"Hey, uh – what do you do outside of work?"
Barnaby's lips twitched again, and he barely repressed the urge to smile. "Work? This is my hobby."
There was that look again – a mix disbelieving and amused. "Huh. Well, then I guess I'm just gonna have to make it my hobby to visit you."
Unexpected warmth spread from Barnaby's face and down to his neck, bringing him to swallow, surprised at the sudden lump in his throat.
Why were those words so very…
"Think of a better hobby."
And Kotetsu was grinning – this time, far from forced, chin in one hand and his eyes easy and warm. Barnaby sighed and turned away with a shake of his head, using the movement to steadfastly conceal the smile that definitely made it to his expression this time.
"… I suppose that won't be so horrible."