Building Bridges

 

Summer Love

 

"The north beach is open for swimming today," was Totsuka's greeting in the Homra bar on the first Sunday of the summer break. His smile was bright, and his tone was cheerful. "Let's all go together!"

The beach... Yata raised his head from where he'd slouched against the bar, lazy and slow in the summer heat. "They have surfboard rentals somewhere on the island, right?"

Totsuka beamed at him. "Of course! I'll take you there."

"All right!" He jumped off the stool, feeling a surge of excitement. Waves and sand and surfing - yes! "Let's do it!"

Beside him, Bandou also seemed to have perked up. "Sun, sand, and girls - I'm in!"

"Anything to escape this sauna." Chitose groaned dramatically. "The lack of air conditioning... it burns..."

"I don't see you paying the bills," Kusanagi remarked, and then raised his eyebrows at Totsuka. "I didn't plan to close the bar today."

"It's fine - we can work it out somehow." The concern was waved aside carelessly; Totsuka turned his gaze on the small figure perched on the couch next to Mikoto's large, napping form. "Anna, you want to go swimming, right?"

She blinked at him, glanced at Mikoto, and then curled her hands together in front of her and gave a tiny nod. "Yes..."

Totsuka turned his bright smile on Kusanagi again, who sighed ruefully. "Guess there's no choice, then."

"Yes!" Yata turned to grin at Bandou, who offered him a fist-bump without hesitation. "I hope the waves are good!"

"Girls in bikinis, man! Where are your priorities?"

"Ah... King." Totsuka tapped on Mikoto's shoulder to wake him, not looking phased at all by the narrow look he got for it. "You're coming with us to the beach, right? It'll be fun. We can play beach volleyball, and Anna can build sandcastles. And, if we find a nice spot, we can probably do a bonfire as it gets dark."

"Hmm?" Mikoto returned his gaze steadily for a moment, then raised a hand to his face in thought.

"You don't have other plans, do you?"

"Mikoto..." Anna reached up to tug on the sleeve of his T-shirt, staring up at him almost forlornly. "The beach..."

He turned his gaze towards her slowly, and then sighed. "It's fine." His face softened into a small smile. "Let me make a phone call first."

"Great!" Totsuka clapped his hands together, clearly pleased with himself. "Everyone go get their swimsuits, and we'll meet back here in half an hour!"


"Everyone should return home to pick up a swimsuit," Munakata announced, chin resting serenely on his folded hands as he spoke, "and we'll reconvene in half an hour."

The room was silent as every member of the security team - those who weren't on shift - stared at him.

There is no way... Fushimi could feel the headache already building. He wouldn't really...

Awashima recovered first. "Of course, Professor, but... why?"

"Today's meeting," Munakata responded, fixing her with that even, untroubled smile, "will take place at the north beach, and will be extended until the evening."

Apparently, there was a way, and he would really. "How is that a meeting?" Fushimi muttered, clicking his tongue with irritation.

The beach. Wonderful. Sand everywhere, sweltering heat, and noisy swimmers and surfers all around. It sounded like an afternoon of hell.

Munakata shifted that calm gaze towards him. "Call it a mandatory group outing, if you wish."

There was a certain amount of nervous tittering about the table at that.

"Ah." Munakata blinked then, looking thoughtful for a moment. "Unfortunately, I didn't have any team-building exercises planned... However, if everyone is feeling anxious about not having a schedule outlined, then of course I could - "

"That's all right, Professor!" Hidaka blurted out.

Beside him, Goto was nodding vigorously. "We're fine, really!"

"D-Don't worry about it," Benzai added, with an awkward-looking smile.

"I see. Well, then." Munakata leaned back in his chair, looking satisfied. "Seeing as how we're all in agreement, let's break and reconvene as planned."

As everyone stood and began to file out of the room, Fushimi hung back, coming up to his boss before he could make his exit as well. "How necessary is this beach trip today?"

Munakata smiled, eyeing him with that irritatingly knowing gaze. "Mandatory is an absolute, Fushimi-kun," he responded, and turned to leave the room, unhurried.

Fushimi stared after him for a moment, nonplussed, and then clicked his tongue again, moving to follow.

This is the worst...


The island that the university was built on had a strip of beach that extended around the north edge of it and trailed off into rockier ground to the east and west. Technically it was the only beach on the island, but people still referred to it as the 'north beach' as if there was a south beach or something to be confused with. The stretch of land it covered was actually fairly long, and the beach-goers on that particular Sunday were spaced out, some playing in the water, others sunbathing on towels stretched out over the sand, and a few on boards riding the waves already.

There weren't actually that many people, considering it was summer already. Some of them went home for the break, probably. Not that it mattered. The waves looked high, and there was plenty of room for everyone. Perfect, in Yata's opinion.

"Doesn't seem like there's that many girls," Chitose noted regretfully, glancing around as they made their way onto the beach.

"Doesn't matter," Dewa murmured, with a meaningful tilt of his head. Behind them, Kamamoto's unusually lean form had lagged behind, drawn into a conversation with two young women. "We brought that guy, remember?"

Bandou was staring at the sight in anguish. "He even has a girlfriend now..."

Akagi patted him on the shoulder, consolingly. "There are other girls around, you know."

"I think you know that one," Fujishima added quietly. He was staring past them, in the direction they'd come from.

Yata followed his gaze, and had to do a double-take. What? No way...

"Th-The ice princess!" Bandou grimaced, deflating a bit. "Why...?"

That's what I wanna know. It wasn't just Awashima Seri - it was what looked like most of campus security, all in casual beach wear. And, near the outside edge of the group... Saruhiko!

Of all the places to run into his roommate, he wouldn't have predicted that the beach would be one of them. Yata set the end of his rented surfboard down, debating whether to go up and say something. His skin had prickled up when he'd noticed that Saruhiko was there - but with all those security guys around...

It was kind of stupid, but he felt awkward about it.

Saruhiko was wearing shorts, too - maybe even swim trunks. The button-up shirt he had on over them wasn't undone, but it was short-sleeved and left his collar open, and Yata didn't remember having seen it before. Not that he really paid that much attention to clothing. But still... seeing Saruhiko dressed so casually...

It's weird. That was probably why his cheeks felt hot and his heart was suddenly pounding. Yata moved to look away, frowning to himself - then stopped when he noticed the taller figure talking with his roommate as they walked, and the frown shifted to a scowl.

That Munakata guy... His fingers clenched on the side of his surfboard, and he could feel his eyebrows coming down. Saruhiko hadn't even looked over to notice him - too busy talking with his boss.

The rush of heat that abruptly flooded Yata's head had him changing his mind about the 'awkward' part.

"Be right back!" he announced to his friends shortly, and then braced the surfboard in the sand and jogged over towards the approaching group. "Oi! Saruhiko!"

At that, his roommate did look up, blinking at him with obvious surprise. "Misaki?"

Yata did his best to ignore the fact that he was getting a few curious stares, focussing on meeting that startled gaze instead. "What are you doing here? Didn't you guys have some kind of meeting or something?"

Saruhiko's expression settled into an annoyed look; he clicked his tongue. "We did," he muttered.

"Oh, Yata-kun." Munakata spoke before he could wonder about that unhelpful answer. The professor smiled placidly at him when he turned his head. "Good afternoon. It's certainly been a while, hasn't it?"

Not long enough. Yata frowned back, wondering if he should answer with something rude, but he was interrupted by a hand clamping down on his shoulder from behind.

A large, familiar hand. "M-Mikoto-san?"

Mikoto wasn't looking at him, though. "Munakata," he said slowly, the edge of a little smirk tipping on his lips.

A similar smile was forming on Munakata's face. "Suoh," he responded. "What a coincidence, meeting you here."

Mikoto made a low, amused-sounding 'hmph', withdrawing his hand from Yata's shoulder. "Yeah," he agreed. "Coincidence."

Yata blinked, looking and back and forth between the two of them. He wasn't sure why, but the exchange felt a little off...

Somewhere to the side, Awashima let out a sigh, sounding almost resigned. "Find us a spot to set up," she ordered crisply.

"Right!" one of the guys called back, and the group started to disperse.

What's that about? Yata quickly looked up at Saruhiko again, hoping maybe he'd have some clue.

The gaze that met his was just as baffled and annoyed as he felt. "Why are you here?" Saruhiko mumbled, shooting a quick, irritated glance at his boss. His eyes darted to Mikoto briefly as well, and his frown deepened before he settled back on Yata.

The fuck? I really don't get any of this. Yata rolled his shoulder a little reflexively where Mikoto's hand had been. "Why the hell do you think? To have some fun, of course!"

"Well spoken, Yata-kun," Munakata responded, irritatingly calm. He glanced at Saruhiko sideways. "Fun is important. Wouldn't you agree, Fushimi-kun?"

Saruhiko clicked his tongue again, turning his gaze from Yata to glare somewhere off to the side.

"That side of you hasn't changed," Mikoto commented, sounding dry. He looked from Munakata to Yata and then to Saruhiko, and sighed. "Let's go back, Yata."

"Huh? Y-Yeah, okay." It really felt like there was something he was missing about this conversation, but it made his head hurt trying to piece it together. Whatever, it probably doesn't matter. Yata looked up to meet Saruhiko's eyes once more, feeling that now-familiar little shiver at the pit of his stomach that he was starting to associate with his roommate. "Later, Saruhiko."

"Yeah." Something in those eyes seemed to shift - he couldn't quite place it, but being the focus of it intensified the shivery feeling. "Later."

When he turned away, a bit reluctantly, Yata found that he'd been left behind. "Ah - wait, Mikoto-san!" He broke into a jog.

Towards the center of the beach, Kusanagi was setting up the umbrella over what seemed to be a kind of haphazardly-created station for their things, guarded over by a pair of cheap lawn chairs. Someone had apparently brought his surfboard over, and Yata could see Totsuka hovering over Anna closer to the water, where she was building a small construction out of sand. The others were not in sight.

Maybe they're in the water already. Either way, that was where he was going.

Mikoto glanced sideways at him when he managed to catch up. "You shouldn't let that guy get to you."

It was such an unexpected comment that Yata just blinked at him for a moment, caught off-guard. "Eh? Who, Saruhiko?"

"No." His instructor faced forward again, and his hand moved for the pocket where he kept his cigarettes before he jerked it back, probably remembering the 'no smoking' rule belatedly. "Munakata."

Even the name was enough to sour his mood again. Yata scowled, making another soft 'ch' from the corner of his mouth. "He's not getting to me."

"Yeah?" They'd come up to the 'camp' by then; Mikoto raised a hand and ruffled Yata's hair unexpectedly, then moved past him towards one of the chairs. "That's good."

I really don't get it... Yata reached up to scratch his head reflexively, but managed to summon up a grin, spirits buoyed by the unexpected advice he'd been given by his instructor. But! He balled his free hand into a determined fist. I definitely won't let you down, Mikoto-san! There's no way that jerk is getting to me!

The waves were definitely calling, though - Yata tucked that thought into the back of his mind, pulling off his T-shirt and tossing it at the mess of bags and towels and personal belongings before hurrying to grab his surfboard so he could get the most out of the afternoon.


"Fushimi."

Awashima's voice had him looking up from the edge of the castle he'd been shaping in the sand (which he'd started on more for something concrete to do than out of any real desire to build it). She was standing next to him, straight-backed and confident in her bikini, holding out a wide-brimmed straw hat.

Fushimi turned his eyes from the hat to her serious expression, frowning. "What?"

"Take it," she instructed, firmly. "You spend too much time indoors - your skin is pale, and I doubt you're used to being exposed to the sun." That came with a short sigh, and a small smile that looked unusually soft on her face. "Even if you use sunscreen, it's best to wear a hat."

He couldn't exactly deny the logic in it. "... Thanks."

"It's fine - that's why I brought extras." She turned to march back up the beach, toward the towels.

It's not like you have to do me any favors, though. Fushimi watched her go for a moment out of the corner of his eyes, then settled the hat comfortably on top of his head. It cast a much-needed shadow over his face; suddenly, it was a lot easier to focus on his task.

Still, I guess I won't turn it down.

A loud, familiar whoop drew his attention back out to where the waves rose up; Misaki was surfing, balanced on his board with apparent ease, his face split by a wide, excited grin. The spot where Fushimi was sitting gave him a good view, so even at a distance he could see the play of the light in Misaki's hair, the water splashing around him... his thin, toned arms and chest exposed to the sun and the waves...

Somehow, it was mesmerizing, watching the lines of his body shift as he moved, naked skin just tanned enough to protect him from burning swiftly. As Fushimi watched, sitting back on his heels with the sandcastle mostly forgotten in front of him for the moment, the wave seemed to swallow Misaki up from behind as if embracing him - and then gradually subsided, leaving him perched low on his board. He laughed, loud and carefree as always, dropping back down to start the paddle back out.

Misaki... The familiar restless feeling stirred in Fushimi's stomach; that strange, aimless urge he felt sometimes in those moments when Misaki seemed particularly blinding. He wasn't sure what to do with the feeling, but in that moment he could vividly picture the water dripping from Misaki's smooth, bare skin, driven into a crooked path by the contours of his muscles, and felt an answering twinge of excitement within his own body.

His mind shied back from the meaning, but he thought that soon... maybe...

"That sandcastle..." A small voice startled him out of his thoughts; Fushimi glanced up sharply, and found a girl, maybe ten or eleven years old and with a head of unusually colorless hair, crouched on the other side of his small construction project. She looked up at him with large, red-tinted eyes. "It's very pretty." One small pale finger reached out to almost touch the edge.

The unexpected intrusion caught him off-guard; Fushimi just blinked at her for a moment, unable to think of a response.

What - ?

"Anna! Don't just wonder off like - oh, Fushimi-kun!" Totsuka's pleasantly smiling face came into view above the girl; he bent down a ways to look at them. "What are you doing, building a sandcastle?"

Immediately and instinctively, Fushimi reached out and swiped an arm across the castle, knocking it apart. "It's nothing," he responded sharply, spreading the sand with both hands to smooth out any traces of the building process.

"Oh... that's a shame..." Totsuka sounded disappointed. "It looked really good, too, didn't it, Anna?"

The girl - Anna, apparently - was still watching Fushimi seriously, not showing any signs of apprehension even as he destroyed the object she'd been admiring. "Yes," she agreed, "it was good." She lowered her gaze then, small fingers running through the damp sand slowly. "It would have been nice to look at it for longer."

"It would've been messed up when the tide came in anyway," Fushimi told her, keeping his tone unconcerned. Something about the way she seemed to quietly mourn the broken castle was disconcerting. He rose to his feet, not wanting to watch any longer. "You can build your own if you want - I'm leaving."

"Ah, well, if you didn't like it, that's fine," Totsuka responded, straightening up to smile at him. "But, you know, it's still possible to enjoy things even when they aren't permanent." He shrugged in a casual, carefree sort of way. "Most things aren't, these days - it doesn't make them any less valuable."

It was really irritating how easily he made that kind of canny observation. Fushimi clicked his tongue, turning away without responding. Clinging to impermanent things... It was a waste of time, in the end - he'd learned that lesson long ago. And those were memories he didn't want to dredge up, either; the past was better off being left behind.

Better off buried, and forgotten.

"Anyway, take care, Fushimi-kun," Totsuka called after him as he started back up the beach. "We'll see you later, okay?"

He didn't bother to answer that, either.

The place where the security team had set up 'camp', of sorts, was at the higher end of the beach, so it was a bit of a walk from where he'd settled down to work - but the location was more or less isolated, and completely safe from the tide when it rose. Someone had apparently set up a foldable table, and there was a covered tray with a ridiculous amount of sweetened bean paste on it.

Fushimi curled his lip with distaste. That woman is a menace.

"Back already, Fushimi-kun?" Munakata smiled serenely back at him when he turned, and for a moment, Fushimi could only stare, unsettled by his appearance. The small, fitted black speedo didn't leave much to the imagination, but he wore it as if it were only natural, shoulders back and posture radiating comfort and confidence. His skin and hair were drenched, glasses replaced with goggles, and he was carrying a rented surfboard under one arm.

Seriously... Fushimi frowned, unimpressed, and decided not to comment. "I'm getting something to drink."

"That's a good idea - with this heat, it's best to stay hydrated." Munakata set the surfboard down, lifting the goggles and reaching for a towel. "Perhaps I'll join you."

Fushimi shrugged, noncommittal, and retrieved a bottle of water from the cooler that Awashima had prepared. It was refreshing even just to hold it. "I didn't think you were the surfing type," he commented, twisting the cap off.

"Ah, yes, surfing." Munakata had replaced his glasses after drying his face off, and reached down to pull out a drink for himself. "I thought it might be appropriate to try it, considering the location... It's quite an invigorating activity. I can't say I'm as skilled as some of those others, though."

The comment had Fushimi turning his gaze back to the water, his eyes finding Misaki within seconds. His roommate was back up on the board again, riding another wave with a bright, stupid grin on his face. It was still just as enthralling to watch as before, the way he moved through the water with his hair clinging to his face and his swimsuit sticking to his body...

"Yata-kun is very impressive, isn't he?" When he jerked his gaze over, Munakata had his eyes on the waves as well; he looked back when he noticed that Fushimi had turned, showing an understanding without any demand behind it. "I suppose a certain amount of natural athleticism comes in handy."

Fushimi clicked his tongue and looked away, embarrassed at being caught. "I guess, being an idiot, he should have some other talents to make up for it," he muttered, deliberately taking a drink from his water. It was almost shockingly cold running down his throat, but the sensation was a nice distraction from his thoughts.

"Inclinations vary from person to person," Munakata agreed. "That's why bonds between people are the most interesting thing about them. You never can tell how things will proceed until you see the different personalities come together." He twisted off his own drink's cap, almost idly. "It really is fascinating to observe."

You say it like people are subjects in a research project of yours. "I guess," Fushimi responded, not bothering to mask his lack of enthusiasm for the topic.

Munakata was still regarding him with that canny gaze. "You don't have any interest in it?"

He shrugged again. "I think it's overrated. People are fickle - those so-called bonds don't last very long most of the time, anyway."

"I suppose that's one way of looking at it." There wasn't any judgement or distaste in the observation. "Personally, I would say that people are driven to seek happiness in different ways." Sunlight glinted off of his glasses as he tilted his head. "Every bond, even a broken or abandoned one, contains a story that means something to those involved."

Fushimi held his gaze for a moment, then lowered his eyes again, staring down at the bottle in his hand. Somehow, those words felt like they soothed something small and anxious within him; it was both comforting and disconcerting at the same time, and he wasn't sure what to make of it.

Seeking happiness... What did that even entail? It wasn't something Fushimi had felt like pursuing; as far back as he could remember, it had always been a hopeless prospect. And even if he seriously wanted to try it one day, he didn't think he'd know how to go about it. 'Happiness' was such a nebulous concept, flighty and uncertain, flitting around his head elusively as he tried and failed to define what it meant for him.

Holding back was easier - safer in the end, too.

"Well, perhaps this is a topic for another time." Munakata's calm, even tone broke apart the silence that had stretched out between them. "I believe I've had my fill of surfing for today, so it's time to return to the locker rooms and change clothing."

"Sure," Fushimi responded automatically, without much feeling or interest. As his boss moved past him, he sat down on one of the towels that were stretched out in the shade cast by the large beach umbrella, turning his eyes back to the water again. Misaki was still clear in his vision - a small, unreachable figure moving with the kind of confidence that could only be born from ignorance.

"Idiot," he muttered under his breath, and didn't bother to consider who it might be directed at.


The sunlight was fading by the time Yata gave in and made his way back to the shore. His stomach was complaining and his limbs were aching, but he was grinning as he carried the board back up to where Kamamoto, Totsuka, and Kusanagi were gathered. Mikoto was sleeping in one of the lawn chairs, looking like he hadn't moved from when Yata had left, and Anna had tucked herself in against his chest, eyes closed with contentment.

The number of people on the beach seemed to have decreased by a lot, too.

"Welcome back, Yata-chan," Kusanagi greeted him as he came up to their 'camp'. "You were out there for quite a while - the waves must've been good."

"It was awesome!" Yata responded enthusiastically. He set the board down, reaching for a towel. "You guys should give it a try sometime, seriously!"

"Ah, I did try surfing once..." Totsuka put a hand to his chin in thought, then grinned, looking a bit rueful. "I couldn't quite manage to stay on the board for more than a second or two."

"Your coordination is a bit lacking," Kusanagi remarked, looking amused.

"You guys are missing out!" Yata toweled his chest off quickly, draping the damp fabric around his neck to catch the droplets from his hair. "It just takes a little practice, that's all." His stomach made a low gurgle as he straightened up; he smiled sheepishly. "Huh, guess I'm kind of hungry."

"Just in time, Yata-san!" Kamamoto grinned back at him. "We'll be starting the bonfire soon. Right, Kusanagi-san?"

"Ah." Kusanagi hesitated for a moment. "Well..."

"Excuse me for interrupting." Awashima's cool voice cut into that momentary silence. She was standing just a short ways from them, wearing a straw hat and a very well-filled-out bikini. "Professor Munakata thought we should invite you to join us at the bonfire pits up top. Apparently they're quite limited, but we've managed to secure one." She fixed Kusanagi with a somewhat severe gaze. "Open bonfires on the beach are not permitted, as I think you know."

"Right, of course." Kusanagi spread his hands, looking a bit rueful. "Thanks for the reminder, Seri-chan."

"We'd love to join you for a bonfire, though, wouldn't we, guys?" Totsuka turned his smile from Kusanagi to Kamamoto to Yata, untroubled as always. "The more the merrier, right?"

"Y-Yeah..." Yata couldn't quite look at Awashima - he didn't know where he was supposed to put his eyes. Saruhiko will probably be there, too, won't he? That thought was enough to warm him to the idea. "Right, sounds good."

Kamamoto looked a little dubious; he glanced over at Kusanagi as Awashima was leaving. "Is Bandou gonna be okay with that?" he asked, in an undertone.

Kusanagi shrugged, looking mildly amused. "He'll have to be, I suppose."

"It'll work out fine," Totsuka assured them, waving a hand as if to brush aside the concern. "Put a shirt on, Yata-chan, and let's go gather everyone else."


It was a good half an hour before they managed to get all of their things together and make their way up towards the outskirts of the university grounds. As Awashima had promised, the security team was gathered around one of the bonfire pits, with two open coolers full of drinks and a table stacked with food. A few of the members had started what looked like an impromptu game of volleyball with a makeshift net; the rest were casually chatting and eating or drinking around the cheerily burning fire.

Yata's eyes found Saruhiko without much trouble; he was sitting off towards the side by himself on one of the logs, a half-eaten plate of food beside him and his eyes on his phone.

Heh. Figures. "Oi, Kamamoto." Yata tucked his hands into the pockets of the hoodie he'd thrown on over his swimsuit. "D'you think it's okay to have some of the food? I'm kinda hungry."

Kamamoto shrugged. "Why not just ask?"

The idea of going up to Awashima was unappealing - Yata could see her standing near the pit, talking with a woman he thought he'd seen before but couldn't quite place. But the alternative... "I don't see that professor anywhere."

"Just go ahead, Yata-chan," Kusanagi told him, with a bit of a smile. "We were invited, after all."

That was just what he wanted to hear. "Awesome - thanks, Kusanagi-san!"

Saruhiko hadn't even moved by the time Yata sank down beside him, fully stocked plate in hand. "Shouldn't you be socializing with your teammates or something?"

"I wasn't aware that there were rules for bonfires," Saruhiko drawled, but lowered his phone, meeting Yata's gaze willingly enough. "Anyway, it wasn't exactly my idea to come here." He frowned a little. "And don't you have friends you need to be spending time with?"

"I don't need to spend time with them." Yata frowned right back, not really serious about it, and positioned his plate for better access. "Besides, I'm here with you right now, right?"

Saruhiko was quiet for a bit. Yata took that as his cue to dig in, and busied himself with filling his stomach while his roommate sat beside him in what felt like companionable silence.

It was a pretty good atmosphere, actually.

"We never did come up with a name," Saruhiko murmured, just as Yata was setting aside his plate.

"Huh?"

"The game we made." A small smile had formed on Saruhiko's face when he glanced over; his glasses reflected some of the light from the bonfire, making it difficult to see his eyes. Which was kind of a shame. "I don't think we ever came up with a name for it."

He was right. "Huh." Yata frowned a little, straightening in his seat. "You have any ideas?"

"Not really." Saruhiko shrugged, looking unconcerned. "As long as it's not something lame, anything is fine."

"Hah - as if I'll come up with something lame!" Yata grinned, leaning forward. "I'll give it a great name, just wait!"

Saruhiko hummed low, sounding amused. "If you say so."

Yata drew himself up to respond, but was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. "Yata-chan," Kusanagi said, offering an apologetic smile when he turned his head, "can I borrow you for a bit?"

"Oh - yeah, sure." He glanced quickly at Saruhiko, who was watching the exchange without much expression. "What is it?"

"We seem to have misplaced our resident welding instructor." Kusanagi shrugged, looking a bit rueful. "I'm not too sure when he wondered off on his own, but did you want to go see if you can find him? Anna seems to be a bit worried."

"Mikoto-san's missing?" Yata pushed himself to his feet immediately, offering a grin. "Right, leave it to me - I'll find him!" He looked back down at his roommate, expectantly. "You'll come with me, right, Saruhiko?"

The light that reflected off of Saruhiko's glasses was making his face hard to read. He was frowning, though. "Wouldn't you rather find him by yourself?" he mumbled.

"Hah? Why would I?" Yata raised an eyebrow at him. "It's better to have company when you're looking for something, right?" He scratched at the side of his jaw, starting to feel a little awkward about it. "Plus, I guess I kind of... want to keep talking with you... or something."

Saruhiko stared at him for what felt like a really long moment. Yata could feel the heat rising on his cheeks, and hoped it wasn't obvious with the poor lighting. Say something, why don't you?

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, his roommate pushed himself slowly to his feet. "Let's go, then," he murmured, not quite looking in Yata's direction.

The smile that built on his face in response was part relief and part gratification. "R-Right!" Yata did his best to ignore the sudden fluttering in his stomach, offering a quick, "We're off, then!" to Kusanagi and turning to follow Saruhiko from the fire pit.


Despite the earlier mention of "talking" with him, Misaki was surprisingly quiet as they walked towards the path that would lead them back down to the beach. The silence wasn't really uncomfortable, though - Fushimi felt like he'd had his fill of people talking at and around him, so it was nice to just be able to feel Misaki's presence beside him and let the darkness slowly close around them as the light and the noise from the bonfire dimmed.

He was the one who asked me to come with him. The thought gave him another mostly-pleasant tingling sensation. That was kind of nice, being wanted. Even if it was to help look for someone he didn't particularly care for.

Maybe they wouldn't find Mikoto, though. Fushimi considered that, his gaze following the path idly as they joined it in its downward slope. It wasn't like he even had to be at the beach, necessarily. Maybe he'd wandered off somewhere else, and he'd end up back at the fire pit before them. The two of them could spend the whole night looking around for him, and never find him at all.

He was surprised how much that idea appealed to him.

"It's kind of weird being here in the dark." Misaki finally spoke up then, his voice unusually hushed; when Fushimi glanced over, he was rubbing at the back of his neck, a bit nervously. "I dunno, everything just seems totally different, somehow."

The motion shifted the hoodie he was wearing; Fushimi's attention was drawn to the line of bare chest and stomach that was exposed from his neck downward. Even in the dim light, he could make out the clean, slim lines of muscle and flesh. It was distracting, somehow, and he felt a little weird about it, so he turned his gaze forward again and deliberately swallowed before answering. "Don't trip."

"I'm not gonna trip!" Misaki was scowling; he could see it out of the corner of his eye, and it was somehow relaxing. This was good - normal. "I'm just saying it's different - it's not like I'm scared or anything, just... you know..."

"I didn't say you were scared." Fushimi half turned to raise a meaningful eyebrow at him, allowing himself a tiny smirk. "Are you compensating for something, Misaki?"

"O-Of course not! Shut the hell up!" Misaki let out an annoyed-sounding huff of breath, marching ahead with a kind of aggravated determination. "And hurry up, or I'll leave you behind."

Fushimi smiled to himself, increasing his pace a little to make up the distance. You're too simple, Misaki.

The path wound a bit; around the corner, Fushimi could see the dark outline of the changing rooms, with the lighter shade of the sand visible just beyond. The dull crashing of the waves against the shore was getting gradually louder as they moved downward; he could smell the ocean even from there.

It really was different at night, he had to admit, although he didn't feel like saying it out loud. As they finished rounding the bend and the rest of the beach came into sight, it was a little surprising to see how everything had transformed into soft shades of dark blue and grey, accentuated by moonlight. The beating of the waves against the shore seemed less harsh - like the ocean was just breathing deeply, rather than crashing fruitlessly into the sand.

That's stupid, though. Fushimi turned his head to the side, irritated by the thought, and his eyes caught on the unmistakeable sight of two figures standing together behind the change rooms.

He recognized Munakata first, eyes catching on the low gleam of moonlight against his glasses, but the broad figure of Suoh Mikoto standing opposite his boss was also immediately identifiable. They weren't far apart, and it looked like they were talking casually about something - obviously the sound of their voices was drowned out by the waves, although he wasn't sure if he would've been close enough to make it out regardless. It didn't seem like a conversation they wanted overheard.

Found him, then. This would be the time to say something to Misaki - that was the whole point of them coming down here, after all - but his earlier thought about how it might be nice to not find Mikoto at all was still lurking at the back of his mind, so Fushimi hesitated, caught in a moment of indecision.

As he slowed his steps, the shadow-edged figure of Munakata stepped forward, bracing a hand on Mikoto's shoulder, and then -

... and... then...

Fushimi stopped in his tracks and stared, momentarily dumbstruck.

They can't be...

"Saruhiko?" Misaki's confused voice reached his ears just seconds before the sound of a few hurried footsteps moved back in his direction. "What's wr - HNG?" His words abruptly cut off into a sudden, sharp gasp. "Wh-Wh-Wha - ?"

That was enough to snap him out of his trance; Fushimi turned abruptly, took in Misaki's incredulous face, and clicked his tongue. "I'm going ahead," he muttered, moving hastily past his roommate in the direction of the beach.

If he kept moving, there would be no visibility of the two behind that building. For now, that seemed good enough.

"O-Oi..." The protest came out weak; Misaki didn't even bother to argue, and after only a split second of hesitation, Fushimi heard a soft curse and the sound of footsteps scrambling after him.

Kissing behind the change rooms - seriously! He felt a mix of irritation and disgust rush through him, filling in all the cracks between the shock, and his fingers twitched reflexively, pace increasing even as he hit the sand and his sandal-clad feet sank in. Are you grade-schoolers, or what?

Now that his thoughts were starting to clear, it felt as if this revelation fit neatly into place, like a missing puzzle piece. All the references to Suoh Mikoto in connection with Munakata... the awkward smiles and the funny looks... those comments about what a coincidence it was, Munakata's TA rooming with one of Suoh's students...

Everyone knew about this but me. How annoying. Fushimi clicked his tongue, lips curling down into a scowl.

"Oi, Saruhiko!"

Well. Probably not everyone...

"Stop already!" Misaki grabbed his wrist suddenly, bringing him to an abrupt halt, and Fushimi turned to meet his baffled, frustrated gaze. "Where the hell are you even going?"

Fushimi frowned back at him. "Why, did you want to stay and watch?"

"O-Of course not!" Even in the dim light, he could tell that Misaki was blushing, clearly flustered. "That - that's not the point! Don't just go wandering around aimlessly in the dark!"

What did you expect me to do? Fushimi turned fully, shifting his wrist in Misaki's grip. It occurred to him that he could probably pull free, but for whatever reason, he didn't want to do it just yet. Anyway, it wasn't like Misaki was letting go, either. "I didn't feel like getting caught spying on them, did you?"

"... 'Ch!" Misaki scowled, obviously acknowledging the logic despite his annoyance. "You still didn't have to run off by yourself like that," he grumbled, and then let out what sounded like an aggrieved sigh. "Man, that surprised the shit out of me! Mikoto-san and that guy... Seriously! What the fuck?"

"You're telling me," Fushimi muttered, and clicked his tongue again, the fresh memory of his boss leaning in towards the man he'd instantly disliked playing again in his head with a little too much vivid detail to be comfortable. He could see it way too clearly: the moment their lips had made contact... when they'd kissed...

Kissed.

Misaki's flushed face, swollen lips, eyes burning with want - and he was leaning in again without stopping to think beyond the unexpectedly fierce desire...

The sudden assault from a memory he'd thought he'd buried a long time ago had a rush of heat flooding up over Fushimi's neck and onto his face. All at once, it was difficult to think - even to breathe.

What it felt like... he thought he remembered...

"I guess I never thought about it, though," Misaki was saying, somewhere outside of all of that. He was staring off to the side, smiling with what looked like a mix of wistfulness and regret. "I mean, Mikoto-san's been kind of like my hero, the guy I looked up to... I never really thought he'd have his own things to worry about."

Something in Fushimi's chest tightened in response; he drew in what felt like an unreasonably painful breath. Don't let me see an expression like that. His wrist felt clammy under Misaki's fingers; the callused skin wrapped around it was almost too warm for comfort. But he didn't pull away.

Didn't want to pull away.

"Well... I'm an idiot, though, right? You're always saying that." Misaki made a small, amused-sounding 'heh' and looked up, meeting Fushimi's gaze with eyes that seemed to glow, impossibly bright even in the darkness. "Saruhiko?"

The storm in his chest had reached the breaking point; all of a sudden, it felt like an impossible task to hold in the emotions that were clamoring against the inside of his skin. "Misaki," Fushimi murmured, too overwhelmed to even recognize the familiar edge of panic that was scrambling at the back of his head as he let his strongest desire drive him forward.

Pulling Misaki forward by the grip on his wrist, he leaned in and pressed their lips together.

 

Next