It was a gorgeous autumn afternoon, bright and warm and beautiful, and their chosen lunch time stopping point was by a lovely sparkling lake, with a light scattering of trees around. And Nana was in a good mood.
Off to the side, Senri was contemplating a patch of purple and yellow flowers, and somewhere beneath the surface of that clear water, Husky was catching fish for their meal. Cooro sat beside her, and his face was mournful as he studied a bare apple core in his hand. His stomach growled.
"You can have the rest of mine if you want!"
Good moods made Nana feel generous.
"Thank you!" Cooro's whole face brightened up as he snatched the apple from her outstretched hand, tossing away his finished one with a certain carelessness.
Nana sighed, but not seriously. Some things never changed - and especially not Cooro.
"Hey, Nana?" This came out sounding more like 'Aiy a'a' around a mouthful of apple, but one become adept at translating such things after traveling with the older boy for any extended period of time. "What do you think of Husky?"
Nana blinked. Husky? What a strange thing to ask. Hadn't they been traveling together long enough for her opinions about her friends to be obvious? "He's a good friend, even if he's grouchy," she said, after a moment of thinking about it. "Why are you asking?"
Cooro took another bite of apple and smiled toothily at her before moving right into his next question. "You think Husky's pretty?"
Ohhh. He meant what did she think of how Husky looked. Nana offered a secret little smile, eager to be in on this. "He does sort of look like a pretty girl sometimes. Maybe that's why he likes pearls so much."
"So you do think he's pretty?"
"I guess he is." Now she was starting to wonder where this was going. There had to be a reason he was asking. Was he trying to tell her something? Cooro could surprise a person at times. "What does it matter if Husky's pretty?"
"No~othing!" Cooro positively beamed at her, as if she'd just answered that a town made entirely of food with warehouses full of apples was going to be the next stop on their journey. "Everything is just right!"
Nana was starting to get suspicious now. "Just right for what?" she demanded, giving him her sternest look.
Those didn't generally work on Cooro, but she had to try something.
The crow +Anima's eyes were bright. "Because you agree with me!"
Nana blinked. "Everything's just right because I agree with you that Husky is pretty?"
"Yup! Hey, you think he's caught a lot of fish yet? I'm hungry!"
Switching topics again. Did he just not want to tell her, or was he really just not thinking again? Nana pouted a bit, watching petulantly as Cooro jumped up to go hover around the pond in anticipation of lunch. Maybe it didn't mean anything. Cooro's mind did a lot of jumping around sometimes, so the thought might've just come to him, and he'd said it out loud.
But he did seem awfully concerned with whether or not Nana agreed with him…
It couldn't be…
Nana gasped, one hand rising to her mouth as a flush rose on her cheeks. Did he mean… Could he have meant…?
Oh dear… That would certainly explain why Cooro was so anxious to get her opinion on whether or not Husky was pretty. And it would explain how happy he was when he got her response.
Husky couldn't have a crush on her, could he?
That has to be enough. Husky eyed his bundle of fish critically. If Cooro wants to eat more than this, I'll toss him in and he can catch them himself!
It was nice to have that sorted out.
Time to head back to the surface.
He came up by a cluster of rocks that would hide him from Cooro's line of vision and thus prevent a repeat of the time when the feathered idiot had pounced on him as he was coming out and startled him into letting all of the fish go.
"… Husky's pretty?"
That was enough to freeze him in the act of pulling himself out of the water.
Cooro's voice. Cooro talking about him? About him being pretty or owning something called 'pretty', or some crazy, convoluted thought that only Cooro would understand. Husky told himself that his face wasn't growing hot, and he was only stopping because he needed to rest before being attacked by a hungry crow +Anima - not to listen in.
Nana's reply invoked a bit more of a response.
"He does sort of look like a pretty girl sometimes. Maybe that's why he likes pearls so much."
Husky dropped the fish.
She… Ack! In the next instant, he realized his mistake, diving back into the water before his entire catch escaped him.
There was no denying that his face was hot now, but the reason was quite different.
Like a pretty girl…
Like a girl! Husky clenched his teeth. Like a pretty girl! He wasn't a girl! Just because he liked pearls… What did she know about him and pearls? Nobody knew the whole story about that except -
Husky's eyes went wide. He told! He must have told her! The fish he hadn't yet managed to recapture were abandoned; his fingers clenched around the makeshift net.
In a moment of frightening clarity, Husky had visions of Nana, with a bright and cheerful smile on her face as she described to total strangers - in its complete and humiliating entirety - his dark secret.
"… and when Cooro met Husky, he was the mermaid princess in the circus! With long flowing hair and pearls, and looking so pretty, everyone thought he really was a girl! What? No, he really is a boy… No, of course I'm not lying, he's a boy, see?"
… The vision was all too real.
My life is over.
Someone was definitely going to suffer for this.
"But… but lunch…!"
One would think that the word 'lunch' was a deadly curse. Husky's eyes practically bulged out of his head, his face red with some unexplained fury as he glared at the whimpering Cooro. "Lunch? You want LUNCH?"
Cooro didn't seem to catch the dangerous tone. "Yes, please!"
If anything, the aura of extreme anger around the younger boy only increased in strength. "You think I'm going to get LUNCH for you?"
"Weren't you catching fish?" Cooro reminded him hopefully, his eyes pleading.
It was the wrong thing to say, although Nana wasn't quite sure how. Husky whipped an arm up furiously, pointing toward the lake in a manner that was almost accusing. "GET IN THERE AND CATCH THEM YOURSELF IF YOU WANT LUNCH!" he bellowed.
"Wah! But… but Husky!"
Nana shook her head and moved away from the bickering pair, seating herself primly down beside Senri. "Husky's even more grumpy than usual; I wonder what's wrong."
Senri glanced at her, and then at where Cooro was trailing desperately after a huffy-looking Husky, and didn't reply.
Oh… what if it's my fault?
This possibility hadn't occurred to Nana, but now, with the revelation of Husky's unrequited feelings for her, she could see it all too clearly. He must be so tense, keeping such a thing hidden! It would be wearing on him, certainly…
"Oh, Senri, what should I do?"
"…do?" Senri repeated - reminding Nana that of course Senri wouldn't know of her dilemma.
Should she tell him? Husky might be embarrassed, having his feelings bared to the entire group… But Cooro clearly knew, and now Nana herself knew, and Senri would not say anything to him, in any case. So it was probably all right.
"I think Husky has a crush on me," she confessed, blushing a little as she admitted it. "I was talking to Cooro, and it seems like that's what he was getting at. Do you think it's my fault that he's so cranky today? You think it's because he can't handle his feelings?"
Senri said nothing, which Nana took as a 'yes, probably'.
"I just don't know what I can do," she sighed, bringing up her knees and setting her cheek against one hand with the elbow resting on them. "Of course, I don't feel the same way, but I'll have to break it to him gently…"
The silence offered in return seemed to indicate that she should indeed pursue that course of action.
"That's what I'll do!" Nana smiled, feeling much better. "I'm sure it'll be better if he knows. He'll get over me one day - it'll be hard, but everyone will help, right? You and Cooro can be extra nice to him in the meantime!"
Senri reached down for something on his other side, and gravely turned to hand her a small purple flower.
"Thank you, Senri!" Nana beamed, taking the offered plant in both hands. "I'm so glad we talked about this! It makes me feel much better!"
At least, she considered, getting to her feet to go in search of Husky and Cooro, she would have Senri's support in this.
It was sure to be difficult, though…
"Husky! Huuuuuuusky! Where'd you go?"
Cooro was still wandering around in the forest somewhere - or so it seemed. Husky wasn't about to go back and check. That moron could fly himself in circles for all he cared.
"Idiot," he growled, under his breath, storming back out into the clearing where they'd originally planned to have lunch. It looked like Nana had wandered off too; only Senri was still there, carefully pressing a flower into that strange book he carried.
I'll bet Cooro doesn't even bother checking to see if I came back here. The thought of the other boy wandering around searching for him while he sat and fumed was somehow satisfying.
He started it. He told her. Granted, Husky had never specifically asked Cooro not to tell Nana or Senri about their first meeting, but it had been understood between them. Understandings between them weren't really anything he took lightly.
So maybe it bothered him that Cooro didn't seem to care.
Why should I care what that idiot thinks anyway?
His face was growing hot again, and Husky told himself it was anger. He marched across the clearing and sat himself down next to Senri, twisting his fingers into the grass and scowling at them as he did.
Why did what Cooro thought make him react so strongly?
It wasn't like Cooro's thoughts were all that important…
But if they weren't, then why did he care so much?
It was just so damn frustrating!
"That stupid…" He let that muttering trail off, not really expecting a response from the older +Anima beside him. "I'll bet he doesn't even know what he did wrong."
Senri turned and caught his gaze, and there was a definite agreement there.
"Well, he should know! Idiot!" Husky let out a short, angry breath, jerking his eyes away and glaring at the pond that time. "He didn't have to tell her about that… He just doesn't care what I think about it!"
Strangely, it wasn't becoming difficult to see which thought was worse: that Nana knew about the incident, or that Cooro didn't think about Husky's feelings before talking about it.
Cooro was just so…
"Stupid," Husky muttered again, bringing up his knees and resting his forehead on them. He was furious with everyone. With Nana for knowing, with himself for caring, and especially with Cooro - because he was Cooro.
Well, maybe it wasn't everyone, then. He wasn't angry with Senri.
That thought reminded him of something. "Hey, Senri?" Husky raised his head again, resting his arms across his knees and looking up at the still-silent figure beside him. "Do you think Cooro can be trusted to keep secrets?"
"Well, I didn't exactly say it was a secret," Husky admitted, frowning. That was the major weak point, and he knew Cooro would argue it when defending himself - probably with wide eyes and an expression of desperate innocence. His fingers twitched. "But he knows it's a secret! He had to know that! That… that stupid… ARGH!"
One tightly clenched fist hit the ground. "How could he not know? How could he tell? He's not worthy of being trusted!"
That was going a bit far, Husky knew. Maybe that was why Senri just looked away from him and said nothing in return.
He started to feel just a bit foolish then. "He probably had a reason, didn't he?"
Silence again. But it seemed like a more agreeable silence that time.
"You think I should let him explain?" Husky didn't wait for an answer. "Maybe that's a good idea. It had better be a good explanation, though," he added through clenched teeth, balling his hand into a fist again. "Or I'll tie him to a rock, throw him in the pond, and let the fish eat him!"
That decided, Husky pushed himself to his feet and set out.
He had two things to do now: listen to Cooro's explanation, and convince Nana to keep her mouth shut. Neither was going to be much fun.
At least Senri understood, though.
Husky was not back at the pond.
Cooro settled on the ground, let out a sigh, and brushed himself off. He wasn't sure why the fish +Anima was suddenly so angry, but flying was only making him more hungry, and with no fish to eat, that was not a good thing.
His stomach growled.
Why did Husky leave like that? It was very confusing. But, maybe he could fix things somehow. Husky wouldn't stay mad at him. That was one of the good things about him.
Only Senri was still in their original lunch time clearing, leaning against a rock and either dozing or thinking. Cooro started over in his direction without hesitation, plunking himself down on the ground beside him.
Senri opened one eye, saw who it was, and went back to whichever of the two options he was currently engaged in.
Cooro rested his arms on his knees and watched the water for a moment, as if it would give him answers. His forehead creased, then he frowned, and then he flopped onto his back for a moment, staring up at the sky with his hands tucked behind his back.
The bear +Anima opened his eyes and turned his head to look at him.
Cooro was silent for a moment, his expression thoughtful. He chewed on his lip, stared up at the sky as if considering his next words very carefully, and then turned back toward the older boy, eyes very serious.
"Do you like to eat strawberries?"
When Nana found Husky, he had somehow managed to lose Cooro - which was perfect, of course, since rejecting him in front of someone else would probably just make him even more cranky.
If she broke it to him gently enough, it was possible that he'd suffer quietly for the rest of the day.
Oh, poor Husky. Nana's eyes grew misty for a moment as she hurried through the bushes to catch up with him. He was clearly agitated, by the way he was moving. What if her reply broke his spirit? What if he moved on afterward with a deep sadness in his eyes and a longing that could never be satisfied?
I hope he doesn't take it so hard…
The fish +Anima stopped in his tracks, and turned to face her. Now that she knew the truth, Nana wasn't sure what sort of expression she expected to see on his face - but the one she got seemed better suited to someone facing an employer they didn't like rather than a girl they had a crush on. "Nana."
I guess he must be worried about facing me… "I need to talk to you," she said earnestly, coming to a halt beside him.
"I was just looking for you, too." With that tone in his voice, he might as well have been saying 'I was heading out to paint myself red and get locked in a small room with a bunch of angry bulls'. "Nana, you - "
"I know what you're going to say." She raised a hand to silence him, lifting her chin as she nobly spared him the agony of confessing. "I had a conversation with Cooro today, you see, and - "
"You can't tell anyone!" he blurted immediately, interrupting her. When she looked up, startled, his face was red. "I mean it! Don't tell anyone! Understand?"
Nana blinked. She hadn't expected that. "Husky…"
"It's just… embarrassing. That's all." Now he wouldn't meet her eyes. "I didn't want anyone to know," he muttered, still red.
"Oh!" A fresh wave of sympathy hit her. "Oh, but I don't mind… really I don't."
"It doesn't matter if you mind!" he snapped, suddenly glaring at her again. "No one else can find out about this! You have to swear you won't tell!"
"I… I won't." This wasn't going at all the way she'd thought it would. I already told Senri… "But - "
"No! No 'but's!" Husky thrust a finger in her face, eyes fierce. "This is beyond any kind of shame you could think of, and I never, ever want anyone else to hear about it!"
Beyond any shame!? "Just what do you mean by that?" Nana demanded indignantly, setting her hands on her hips and glaring right back. "Are you trying to insult me?"
"What?" His forehead creased; he stared at her in bafflement. "What do you have to do with it?"
Nana couldn't believe her ears. "What do you mean, what do I have to do with it?" She leaned forward, eyebrows coming down. "I have everything to do with it; I'm what this is all about!"
Husky looked completely taken aback. "Wha…?"
"Well… anyway." Now that they were back on track, Nana was prepared to carry on with the original plan - more than prepared, actually, with her irritation to act as fuel. "I know about it now, so I feel I have to tell you…" She paused for dramatic effect.
"What?" He sounded wary now.
She sighed, and put on her kindest smile to soften the blow. "I'm so sorry, Husky, but I just don't feel the same."
Silence was her answer. Husky looked stunned.
I knew it; I've hurt him terribly. Nana bit her lip and clasped her hands nervously, watching her friend's face for the response she dreaded. He must feel awful; I'll bet he doesn't even know what to -
"What the hell are you talking about!?"
Nana's mouth dropped open.
Husky looked annoyed, not hurt. "What's that supposed to mean, you 'don't feel the same'? So you're not suffering humiliation, and that's supposed to make me feel better?"
"No!" Didn't he know anything? She frowned. "It means I don't have feelings for you! I don't have a crush on you! None! Nothing!"
He reeled back, expression a comical mix of shock, horror, and incredulity. "What does that have to do with anything!?"
Honestly! Sometimes he was as dense as Cooro. "If you've got a crush on me, you must want to know if I like you back. Don't you?"
The mix on Husky's face shifted into a higher shock/horror ratio, his eyebrows twitched, and the red shade increased to a near purple. Somehow, Nana didn't think it was from embarrassment any more.
Unconsciously, she took a couple of steps back.
"I DON'T GET CRUSHES ON GIRLS!"
Eep! Nana held up her hands, slightly alarmed. "But… but…"
"How did you even start thinking like that, anyway/" Husky's eyes blazed. "I thought we were talking about what Cooro told you when I was catching fish!"
"We were!" Nana felt just a little foolish, and hastily tried to defend herself. "It's what he said that made me think you… well, you know." She blushed.
The fury seemed to drain out of him; he looked positively poleaxed. "He wasn't telling you about when he and I first met?"
"Um… I don't think so." She didn't really feel sure about anything now.
Husky grabbed her by the shoulders, eyes going scary again. "What did he say? Tell me!"
"H-He asked if I thought you were pretty!" Nana squeaked, a little frightened. "That's all! I said I guessed so, and he acted happy. I though it meant he knew you liked me and was trying to set us up. He didn't say anything about when you two first met; we've never talked about it."
At that point, it was impossible to decipher the expression on Husky's face. Nana was starting to expect his head to explode, his face had been red for so long.
"What did happen when you two first met?" she asked curiously.
Husky stiffened, eyes widening. "Nothing!"
"So, 'nothing' was beyond shame?"
He scowled, the coloring on his face back to a less extravagant flush. "Well, if I never wanted you to know in the first place, why would I tell you now?"
"I guess you wouldn't." Nana was a bit disappointed. Still, it was a relief to discover that he didn't really have a crush on her… "I wonder why Cooro asked me that?" she mused out loud.
"It's weird," Husky agreed, frowning.
What was Cooro thinking, anyway?
"I got strawberries!"
Husky stared blankly at the beaming face of the friend he had nearly accused of betraying him. Cooro held out his makeshift basket - filled to the brim with the juicy red fruit - as if it were some sort of trophy.
"For lunch," the crow +Anima added helpfully.
"Th-That's good, Cooro," Nana said, looking a bit confused but managing to throw together a smile. "So… I guess we're eating now!"
"Yay! Finally!" Cooro bounced in place and almost ended up spilling the basket. Senri got up and relieved him of the burden before disaster could strike.
This was maddening. Husky blinked at the boy in front of him, trying to make sense of everything that had happened over the past little while. He'd thought Cooro was telling Nana about the 'mermaid princess' incident - and was wrong. He'd gone through a very frustrating conversation with Nana, thinking that she was talking about something entirely different than what she thought she was talking about. Cooro had asked one of his friends if she thought Husky was pretty, and now he was bearing strawberries and smiling like the idiot he was.
Husky also refused to acknowledge the blush that was spreading across his cheeks at that last thought. At least as a response to the thought itself.
What the hell was going on?
When he went to ask the question, though, all that he got out was, "Why?"
"Huh?" Cooro blinked at him - and then, of course, missed the focus of the question. "I figured since you always have to catch us lunch, maybe it'd make you feel better if someone else did it for a change. So I did." He beamed.
Because of me? Husky looked away, caught between embarrassment and a slightly guilty pleasure that he didn't really feel like acknowledging. Probably because I yelled at him - but… "Th-That's not what I meant!"
Cooro stared at him blankly. In the background, Husky noticed Senri and Nana watching curiously. He swallowed and pressed on, determined to get to the bottom of all this.
"Why were you asking Nana if she thought I was pretty?"
"Oh!" One could almost see the light that turned on in Cooro's head at that moment shining out of his eyes. "Because I wanted to know if she agreed with me."
Husky opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
Cooro blinked again, then leaned forward - just a little too far into Husky's personal space. "Did I say something wrong?"
"N-No!" Husky was uncomfortably aware of his heart pounding hard against his chest, the heat on his cheeks, and Cooro hovering bare inches away - sending all sorts of conflicting feelings and confusion all through him.
What… What's wrong with me? He couldn't bring himself to look up, concentrating on the ground or the trees, or Nana and Senri gawking at them from off to the side.
"Oh, good!" As usual, Cooro took him at face value. "Because," he added, a bit more quietly, leaning forward even more, "I think you're pretty."
That was all the warning he got before something soft brushed over his lips, and Husky realized he was being kissed. A crackling rush - like electricity - went through him, over every inch, and he shook.
A shock… but he couldn't help but admit it was a good one.
All too quickly, Cooro pulled back and it was over.
"How was that?"
"A-a-a-a-a-h…" was about all Husky was capable of emitting - either out loud, or in his head.
"You just kissed Husky!" Nana exclaimed, her eyes wide, and one hand pressed over her mouth. She was blushing too - it seemed to be something going around at the moment.
Cooro was beaming again, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. "Because Husky's so pretty!"
What… What… What…? Husky's thoughts had graduated from meaningless syllables to actual words - his voice hadn't quite gotten there. "Ah…" He raised a hand to his lips, still thoroughly stunned.
Somewhere outside of his thoughts, Nana was grilling a more-or-less oblivious Cooro - who seemed more interested in the strawberries than what he'd just done - and Senri was standing unobtrusively off to the side, watching them.
He'd just been betrayed, rejected, confused, and then given his first kiss - all in the space of a quarter of an hour.
Husky lowered his hand and let out a long breath, blinking rapidly - then, amazingly enough, felt the corners of his mouth turn up.
A pretty successful lunch hour, all in all.