“Alright here’s where I’m dropping you off.” Akari stopped her car on the parking lot near the Maimi High School “Just give me a call once you’ll be set to go home.”
“Thanks a bunch sis.” Yuma grinned as he and Michael got out of the vehicle.
“You’re welcome and there’s a journalists seminar close by anyway, so I’ll have something to do.” the red haired woman glanced at her sibling “Now promise me you won’t get into trouble.”
“I pr-promise!” the teen nodded a bit nervously since his sister could be scary when using authorial tone.
“Well if you get in trouble, I can at least count on Michael to get you out of them.” she mumbled while making a U turn.
As Akari drove away, Yuma was filled with a sense of nostalgia when looking around Maiami City, his old home. While he didn’t attend the same school that hosted the festival, the familiarity struck him all the same, remembering the times when he would be returning home from school and his parents will be there to greet him. The two faces he’ll never see again wouldn’t stop appearing in his head so much that his hand visibly started to shake.
Fortunately there was someone to hold it.
Michael gently drew circles in Yuma’s palm, a simple action that worked miracles when his friend’s anxiety attacks would start. The boy took a few short breathes, remembering he was there to have fun with III and to meet some of old friends from Maiami City.
“Are you ready?” the pink haired boy asked to which the other one nodded.
Hand in hand they walked towards the entrance of the huge white building surrounded by a forest and many sport courts, providing more than enough space for the School Festival. Since they got there rather early due to Akari’s journalist seminar, the majority of stands weren’t ready just yet so the two of them just walked around for a while. Michael was glad that he managed to get the butterflies in his stomach under control in the last few weeks, though this still didn’t mean it was that much easier to be around him. Yuma on the other hand just remained his usual self, carefree and even cheerful at times with not a single idea that Michael has been dying to ask him that one question since the sleepover.
“Look! It’s Kaito!” Yuma pointed at his blond haired friend who was busy carrying boxes full of space related props “Let’s go say hi to him.”
Michael didn’t see the reason why not so he let Yuma half-drag him towards the stand where Haruto was colouring the stand sign. Once Kaito’s younger brother noticed them, he joyfully waved his hand, nudging them to check out their stand that was close to being done.
“Yuma!” Haruto threw his arms around Yuma’s waist, making Michael slightly jealous of how the kid like him could hug Yuma so easily “I’m so glad you came!”
“It kinda brings back the memories, not to mention all stands look amazing! Yours included!” Yuma beamed at the black background covered by glittering galaxies.
“Thank you, though this piece was made by someone else. I only made the planets and spaceship props.” Kaito smiled, pointing at the dozens of little models.
As Yuma and Michael eagerly checked all of the Kaito’s handiwork, someone else observed them through binoculars from the other side of the school. Whoever was it, sure hated to see the certain blond haired teen and yet couldn’t see enough of him.
“You sure are a creepy guy, Mizael.” Alito said while chewing onto a dango they’ve just bought from the nearby stand “You could’ve at least dropped the hoodie and sunglasses. Cuz you know… you’re so not suspicious.”
“Shut it.” Mizael barked as he kept zooming the binoculars on Kaito.
“You could’ve at least thank me for the ride…” Alito sighed after swallowing the last dango on the stick “But I guess you have more important things to do.”
The dark skinned teen had had no idea that Mizael out of all people would drag him to the school festival. Of course Girag was more than glad to have his buddy with him since he was dying to see Chono Sanagi, his favourite idol, but Alito couldn’t care less since he knew he would get bored easily. If nothing at least food was decent enough and he could flirt with cute girls to pass the time. Though for some unbelievable reason he was stuck with the blond haired creep who wouldn’t admit he has a hard crush on a former member of their track team ever since the guy switched schools.
“You know if you just swallow your pride and go there to talk with him…” the brunet teen was going to suggest.
“No way, if his brother is around, he’ll make me leave the second I get there. I have to get him somewhere private.” Mizael’s eyes narrowed at Kaito talking with people who came to check his stand.
“Good luck with that, I’m out of here.” Alito sighed as he reached for his cell phone to see if Girag was done shopping for Chono Sanagi merchandise.
Around the same time Ryoga and Thomas arrived as well, the purple haired teen carrying his electric guitar case for the concert. His boyfriend wasn’t far, making sure he didn’t get lost in all of the corridors and not getting too far from Ryoga whenever he was asked to sign a few autographs. The two of them were a rather well-known tag team when it came to Duel Monsters after all. Ryoga preferred not to be seen in only this kind of a light and wished people saw him also as a musician, A-grade student and so many other things than just a Duel Monsters champion.
“Only the staff members are allowed in the music room for a practice, so try not to cause any trouble.”
“But I played drums for two years, can’t they let me in?” Thomas looked hurt when Ryoga blocked him from going in the room “Just for a minute?”
“Fine, but don’t blame me if they kick you out.”
Thomas got a smirk on his face just like he always did whenever something went according to his plan. The room was packed with the members of school band and music club who were all nervously preparing for the performance. The musicians were practicing, playing in different cords and tuning the instruments while singers did the necessary warming up sessions led by a pink haired girl whose hair was tied into two ponytails.
“Now let’s try to go slightly higher at this part…” she instructed all the girls who acted as back-up singers.
“Excuse me… Yuzu Hiiragi?” Ryoga politely asked the girl who turned her focus from piano to the unfamiliar teen “Are you in charge of the concert?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“A friend of mine who was supposed to play the bass asked me to cover for him.”
“Oh yes, you must be Ryoga Kamishiro.” Yuzu nudged towards the group of guys with guitars “Just tell them who you are and they’ll explain you all about the concert. We’ll be performing in a few hours, so you better prepare yourself.”
Ryoga put down his case and started unpacking his electric guitar when the sound of a slap let him know that like always Thomas already got in trouble. Like the paper fan slap wasn’t enough, the rest of the girls gave him a piece of their minds too and without the help of the male members they kicked him out of the music room.
“Hate to tell you, I told you so, but yeah… can’t you keep it in your pants for a single day?” Ryoga texted him.
“I can’t help it if they are all so cute! Well not the pink one or the blonde, but the one with curly blue hair was a pure fanservice! Plus she looked like Rio!”
“You do know that you’re texting this to your boyfriend? I don’t think that’s much of an improvement since the last time we had this conversation.”
“Oh geez, I’m sorry Sharkie! What can I do for your forgiveness?!”
“Well, we can arrange something…” Ryoga smirked once he finished the text and rather focused on tuning his guitar.
In the meanwhile Michael and Yuma found a yakisoba stand and considering they didn’t have much for breakfast they were more than glad to have some. Unlike the regular yakisoba, this version swam in gooey purple substance and veggies that even Michael couldn’t name. Yuma wasn’t that keen on trying it out, but the other food stands nearby were still not opened and the black haired teen was too hungry to look for another.
“Care to try out my excellent venom… I mean dish?” the purple haired boy selling it grinned at the sight of their hungry eyes.
“Eh… what is this exactly?” Michael tried to sound as polite as possible.
“My own personal recipe.” the seller’s grin turned even wider “It’s all natural from the school’s very garden.”
“Natural?” Yuma looked at the noodles that looked more like a biohazard than a popular street food.
“Natural indeed.” he chuckled at their expressions.
In the end Yuma and Michael gave up, buying a single portion that they decided to share. Sitting at the nearest porch, they carefully scooped the noodles with chopsticks and after the minute of hesitation swallowed it.
“It’s actually… not that bad.” Yuma licked his lips for any leftover sauce “It tastes kinda sweet and savoury.”
“He probably used beetroot…” Michael recognized the taste “May look weird, but the taste’s alright.”
“I was a bit worried for a second. I mean the stand is called “Starve Venom” – how are you supposed to attract customers with this?” Yuma glanced at the stand that had more people coming.
“I guess it has its charm.” Michael replied while scooping more noodles with chopsticks.
The two of them finished the rest of the portion in silence while observing more and more food stands being opened. Even though the weird yakisoba satisfied their immediate hunger, their bellies were sooner or later entranced by the many smells of all kinds of foods being prepared. Takoyaki, dorayaki, buttered potatoes and were those candied apples and chocolate bananas? Yuma seriously couldn’t wait to try them all!
So much that he didn’t notice that he grabbed the same set of noodles that Michael did and only realized it when they were face to face, their lips less than an inch apart.
In a moment of panic Michael failed to back off and instead moved his head even closer. For a brief second Michael's lips brushed against Yuma's, feeling their softness. Yuma was staring at his friend in confusion, not entirely sure what was going on. As much as the pink haired teen wanted for the moment to last forever the storm of butterflies in his stomach turned him into a blushing mess, so the poor guy excused himself under the pretense that he needed to use the bathroom.
All alone Yuma finished eating the rest of yakisoba, thinking about his friend. Ever since they went to movies together, Michael has been acting rather weird. Well if you could call his actions weird if not worrisome. Michael would dodge every time they were too close, finding the most clichéd excuses possible or looked like he was so lost in his thoughts that he couldn't hear Yuma talking to him. Whatever it was it certainly made the black haired teen worry. They only ate together, what was so wrong about that?
Fortunately someone interrupted his train of thought before his head started hurting from all the thinking. The same guy from the yakisoba stand gave him a flyer covered by more glitter and rainbows than an actual text.
"I forgot to give you this before. It starts in two hours." the yakisoba stand owner was about to head back.
"Smile...SMILE UNIVERSE????!!!!" Yuma exclaimed.
"Gee, you don't need to shout twerp."
"Wait..." Yuma looked at the flyer again, particularly at the photo of the cast "Is this you? Will you play the main role?"
"Nah this is my brother. Theater is more of his thing."
"But your faces look identical..."
"You wouldn't be the first to say that." the teen sighed in annoyance as he headed back to his stand "But for some reason everyone overlooks the fact that we have... you know completely different hair color."
"Don't sweat it, but make sure to see the show. You'll surely make my little bro happy. He really worked himself to the bone to make it happen."
In the meanwhile Michael was going through a love crisis of his life. How, just possibly how did he manage to kiss someone he hasn't even confessed to and on the lips for that matter??? The festival hasn't even properly started yet and he managed to screw up this much already?
"Curse my life..." Michael mumbled, his hands going through his short curls to calm himself down.
This is not how their first kiss was supposed to go. It should've started with small, innocent pecks on each others’ cheeks, not with something so straight forward. He remembered seeing his brother kissing Ryoga on many occasions since Thomas wasn't shy at all to show affection to his boyfriend in front of everyone.
Why couldn't he have as much guts as his brothers? Sure Chris wasn't in a relationship at the moment, but even if he was, the eldest member of Arclight family would probably react much better than him. Only he would be nervous enough to accidently kiss his crush without asking. Just so so... stupid.
Of all times, Michael couldn't be happier to see Thomas. The youngest member of Arclight family threw himself into his brothers' arms, crying hysterically.
"Wow, wow, wow." Thomas nearly lost his balance due to Michael's impact "What kind of an apocalypse is coming?"
"I messed up so bad!" Michael sniffed "Yuma probably hates me now!"
"Okay, you just... can't believe I'm the one saying this... you just take few deep breaths and then tell me what happened."
Michael wiped his tears in the sleeves and slowly told him about the little accident he had earlier. As much as his brother would love to tease him about it, the situation was far too serious for Michael, not to mention he promised to help him out.
"Look, from what you told me about this guy, he doesn't seem like a person capable of hating anyone. So you just go there, apologize and move on with your day." Thomas supportably patted his shoulder "It's your date after all."
"Date attempt then." his sibling grinned "I know you have a hard crush on this guy, but if you continue to avoid him, you'll do more harm than good. Just go with the flow and enjoy the day like you would with me."
"Every time I'm with you, you tease me!"
"With V then... geez." Thomas sighed even though he knew he only had himself to blame for such reaction "In all cases the two of you are here today to have fun."
The pink haired teen managed to calm himself by now. His brother was right; he shouldn't make such a mountain out of a molehill. He'll go back and clear things up.
"Will you be okay?" Thomas playfully ruffled his hair to which Michael nodded "Good, because I have to get Shark something to eat."
"Did you get in trouble again?"
"Heh, what gave it away?" Thomas laughed nervously.
"You never buy him food, he always does it for you so I figured."
"You know me." his older brother winked before heading towards the food stands.
By the time Michael plucked out the courage to get back to Yuma nearly all the stands were ready and from the long distance he could tell that his friend has either already forgotten about the accident or didn't mind it.
"Look III! Smile Universe show starts in two hours! We so have to see it!" Yuma excitedly jumped around with a flyer in his hands.
"Great. So we still have some time to check the other stands. Any suggestions?" Michael did his best to drown down his anxiety with Yuma's excitement.
“Kaito recommended his friend's stand that has birds that you can pet! And there is also a cosplay cafe and Millenium Research stand!"
"Let's get going then."
Kaito's friend stand turned out to represent their own family's shelter for avian species. There were tons of photos of the shelter and birds that were living there. Of course majority of the animals lived there only temporarily, but there were some that were domesticated or unable to live in the wild and those were the ones that you could pet or take a picture with. Yuma's eyes gleamed with joy when a black haired girl named Ruri showed him how to feed several domesticated birds that gladly dug into the fistful of sunflower seeds.
Michael's anxiety was gone the moment the teal haired senior student named Shun allowed him to take a picture with a falcon. The bird of prey's eyes were injured to the point of not ever being able to be released in the wild, so just like Ruri's birds, the falcon was completely domesticated as well. Yuma was a bit squeamish when Michael convinced him to hold the falcon as well, but they ended up with some really good pictures so it was worth it. They bought three of them, one with Yuma with dozens of smaller birds on his head and shoulders, one with Michael and the falcon and another one where the two of them were together with the bird of prey.
"Thank you for your purchase." Ruri smiled when handing them the just printed photos.
"If you consider donating or volunteering, here's the card." Shun handed them two wing shaped cards that said Kurosaki Shelter for Avian Species.
Then the two of them headed towards Millenium Research stand that was covered by all sorts of artefacts, photos of research sites and posters presenting the every day life of ancient civilizations. Their eyes wouldn't look away from the brilliance and art of world histories. Michael and Yuma didn't even notice the time passing until the owner ushered them away after half of an hour so other people could check the stand. A bit sad since they couldn't continue reading and adoring more of the exhibited items, but they instantly cheered up when they found another series of stands near it, this time with games.
Due to advancing technology, the board games were nearly forgotten at this point. But not this stand. There were boxes and boxes of games, the most traditional ones like shogi to the modern ones such as Duel Monsters. In fact, the card game had an entire stand dedicated to it where cards were exhibited.
"Do you play Duel Monsters Yuma?" Michael asked while examining Aztec based archetype.
"I used to, but I was never really good at it." Yuma mumbled "I would only play it with my dad...
"Do you want to play it with me?" Michael quickly changed the topic.
"You play it too?"
"Yeah, I'm not that good at it either, but I'd like to play it with someone other than my brother who happens to be regional champion."
"Wow this is so amazing! Think you could get me his autograph?"
"I'm pretty sure he'd be more than glad to give it to you himself in person..." Michael replied while looking at different things sold at the stand "Say what is this?"
A boy wearing a grey beanie who appeared to be couple of years older than them, and seemingly also a person in charge of the stand, moved closer to them in order to give them a flyer.
"Custom made cards or entire archetype?" Yuma read.
"Yes, we can create cards based on anything you want. We can also adapt them for your existing deck or create an entire deck for you." the boy replied, nudging at the desk behind the stand where various drawing tools and sketches were set "I'm in charge of designs."
"And those cards can be used in official duels at the Duel Arena?" Michael observed the finished products.
"It takes couple of days for Illusion Industries to approve them, but yeah you can use them in contests and hologram duelling around a week after they are created." the stand owner showed a catalog full of pictures depicting various custom made cards "Depending on difficulty, I need from twenty minutes to an hour to create them."
Michael and Yuma would more than gladly get themselves some new cards, but once they looked at the time, they had to change their minds. Smile Universe was going to begin in less than ten minutes and they should’ve hurried up in order to get good seats. They thanked the stand owner by taking his business card, which read Yuuki Designs, before racing towards the main school building, looking for the theater stage.
Luckily they still managed to find some good seats with a good viewing point since quite a lot of people came to see the show. Michael has never seen Smile Universe play, but from what Yuma said it was an amazing play that was quite popular years ago in Maiami City.
The lights went out and the audience welcomed the cast with a loud applause. The curtains went up to reveal two boys on the stage, one wearing goggles and the other one whose face was concealed by a mask.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the show that will take you to brand new universe!” the boy wearing goggles greeted with a bow “Smile Universe!”
“Buckle up and get ready, you’re up for a fabulous ride!” the other boy added “Show must go on!”
For the next hour it really felt like they were taken to a whole new world. Every scene was enhanced by a colourful background, actors in extravagant costumes and amazing special effects. Yuma felt like he was taken back to the time when his parents would take him and Akari to the park in Maiami City to watch weekly shows known as Smile Universe. They were mostly meant for little kids, but even adults would stop by to check them out. Yusho Sakaki surely knew how to entertain people and from the looks of it, the next generation of performers followed his footsteps well.
Especially the main actor. The boy really looked just like that other boy who was selling the noodles and the way he performed was nearly identical to Yusho Sakaki if not better. The story was about Sky Magician that would travel through galaxies only to find out that no one is smiling anymore. He tried to cheer up people by dancing and joking around, yet still no one smiled. Then he met a dragon and a juggler who were intrigued about his idea and all of them began spreading happiness everywhere until the whole universe was filled with smiles.
The moment the show was over, audience burst into a set of loud clapping and cheering. All the actors politely bowed before them, thanking the audience for coming to see their show. Yuma wouldn’t stop clapping, even praising the actors as loud as he could. Michael watched his friend in a gleam and awe, not wanting to take him away even though the people were already leaving. It made his heart melt whenever Yuma got more joy in his eyes, smiling and enjoying life like he should, so to take him away from it all truly was a struggle.
"Wow this was really amazing!"
"Told you! It wasn't completely the same as the one I saw as a kid, but I surely liked that they brought the dragon back. I didn’t expect it would be played by a dog!”
"So where should we head next?"
"I wanted to see cosplay cafe. From what I've heard, a lot of waiters will be dressed up as Duel Monsters characters!"
The two of them eventually found one of the bigger classrooms that was turned into a cafe. Fortunately there was still one table left and as soon as they sat down, a familiar face came to serve them.
"Welcome to cosplay cafe. Would you like to draw a card or do you prefer the menu?" boy with black and purple hair, dressed up as a butler-like Duel Monster greeted them.
"It's you!" Yuma exclaimed "You were the main character in Smile World! You were so good!"
"You must be talking about Yuya." the boy smiled "I'm his brother Yuto."
"Then you don't only have the stand with noodles, but you help at cosplay cafe too?" Michael asked, impressed at his multitasking.
"Ah you must mean my other brother Yuri. There's four of us and people tend to mistake us for one another." Yuto chuckled while handing them menus.
"Bummer..." Yuma sighed in disappointment "I really wanted to meet the main actor..."
"Well the Drama club is done for today so you might come meet him sooner or later." Yuto assured him "So what do you wish to have?"
"How does the card drawing work?" Michael asked once he noticed the same thing that Yuto mentioned on the back of the menu.
"You draw a card from my hand and you get a chance of getting special dishes that are not on the menu." the boy already set the full hand of six cards "Feeling lucky?"
Both Yuma and Michael ended up drawing cards from Yuto’s hand. Yuma got the card with a picture of something that looked like stuffed pancakes while Michael got a glass of a colourful drink.
“You got Pancake Sandwich and Rainbow Slushy.” the boy took the cards with a polite bow “Your food will be served right up.”
While they waited for the food and drinks, the two boys observed the rest of cosplay café. A small part of it was concealed by drapes, most likely serving as the makeshift kitchen where a boy a sandy haired boy with a pink strand was preparing food. There was another male waiter that was much taller and had silver hair, dressed up as the knight-looking Duel Monster and was currently serving to a group of girls. Other than that there were majorly girls dressed up as Spell casters or Fairy type Duel Monsters.
“Your pancake something and mixed slushy.” a girl, dressed up as the Warrior type Duel Monster literally dropped the food on the table, scaring the duo who nearly fell off their chairs.
“Serena! I told you to be gentle with plates even if they are plastic!” the silver haired waiter shouted “And don’t be so bold.”
“Yeah yeah, I hear you Reiji…” she sighed, fixing her crescent shaped mask and put on a forced smile “Enjoy your wonderful meal and let the slushy draw a rainbow in your lives.”
Michael was a bit dumbfounded at the girl’s speech that was obviously learned by heart and found it even more awkward once she threw a fistful of confetti and glitter at them before storming off with the boy Reiji calling her out to behave herself. Yuma on the other hand was having way too much fun and didn’t need to be told twice to try the food. The meaty filling sandwiched between two pancakes tasted amazing, so much that he nearly forgot to leave some for Michael. He fortunately left some and the pink haired boy got to enjoy the flavour of the sandwich.
For slushy they got two straws so there were no worries one would drink too much. As they slurped the rest of remaining drink their cheeks briefly touched, but this time Michael played it cool. Even though they noticeably turned redder the youngest member of Arclight family kept it together, knowing that Yuma was most likely too engulfed with the slushy to notice. He was going to confess soon, he just knew it. All he needed was the right place and right time.
“Excuse me.” Yuto stopped by their table again “You said you were interested in meeting the Drama Club members?”
“Yeah!” Yuma exclaimed right away.
“Well I’ve just checked and they are all at their stand outside. If you want I can give you directions.”
Yuma couldn’t be happier when Yuto described the way there and before he knew it, Michael was dragged there right away.
“This sucks!” Yugo sighed so loudly that Rin really had to restrain herself from smacking him “I clearly wrote Fudo Technologies that we will have a HARDWARE stand not SOFTWARE!”
“Would you just chill? It’s better than nothing.” the green haired girl said while fixing the screen “And besides we can get to try VRAINS system.”
“But we could get virtual reality motorcycle ride simulator! Or the presentation of the newest parts or even engines with the experienced mechanics!” the boy glared at the other end of the stand “Instead of that we got two newbies who won’t shut up about video game avatars and a virtual reality system suitable for kindergarten!”
All the hype that Yugo had about getting a chance to meet the engineers behind his favourite engines and glancing at the newest designs was reduced to zero when two trainees with a VR gear and foam swords showed up, clearly from a software department. For the rest of the day Rin and Yugo were stuck handling the fliers from the company while the Fudo Technologies duo was instructing the visitors on how to use the VR gear to log into VRAINS in order to have a battle with swords to promote new virtual reality system set.
“So how exactly this works?” Alito who had just come by asked, the sword fighting game clearly piquing his interest.
“It’s eh…” Yugo thought but just waved to the trainees “Hey ehm Revolver…”
“It’s Ryoken.” the white haired trainee grumbled.
“This guy wants to try the sword fight. Care to explain?” Yugo did his best to act polite towards the trainee but it was rather hard since he appeared to be only a few years older than him.
“Sure, but you’ll have to cover for Yusaku. He had an important phone call to make so you’ll be the opponent this time.” Ryoken explained and only now Yugo noticed that the other trainee was nowhere in sight.
“Fine…” the blue haired teen sighed as he started putting the VR gear on.
“Try not to kill him.” Rin whispered to him though she doubted Yugo listened. He was far too pissed off at the all the stuff that happened throughout the day.
Alito on the other hand couldn’t wait to finally do something interesting on the festival. Ryoken instructed him how to choose the setting and the moment he spotted ancient coliseum he clicked it right away. The people from the other stands and visitors noticed something was happening and all of them began to gather around the space circled by a tape and VRAINS system. A group of girls were especially fond of Alito who wasn’t shy to show off his muscles and they wouldn’t stop drooling whenever he looked into their way. But Alito didn’t care about them. His eyes were solely set for a certain blond haired teen with red strands who was currently checking a stand next to Fudo Technologies.
“Just you wait Akihiko… you’ll see how strong I’ve become…”
The boy he was referring to was a couple of years older than him and used to attend Heartland Academy just like him. Akihiko was one of those students who was perfect at everything, from excelling at tests and sports, to participating in contests and attending student council meetings. Ever since the first time he talked with him, Alito had a hard crush on that guy but he knew that the guy was way out of his league for someone like him. For that moment he just wanted to show him his athletic skills, the only thing that could catch up to Akihiko greatness.
The second the game began, Alito charged at the blue haired boy who was completely caught in surprise. Despite the quick blow, Alito’s opponent picked himself up fast and proceeded to hit him back. The blue haired boy didn’t seem like he had any fighting experience other than simple fist fights. He just waved the sword around, hardly giving Alito anything that was even remotely considered a challenge. In fact the boy looked so inexperienced that he was afraid he’ll hurt him. Knowing Akihiko might be watching him, Alito rather just dodged and slightly brushed his opponent with the sword. He didn’t want to look like he was giving the poor kid a hard time and yet he still wanted to show off his skills in hopes his crush notices him.
He sparred with the boy for the next ten minutes until he could no longer keep himself back. The second he let his whole strength out he accidently knocked the boy on the ground. The scene switched from coliseum to real world and the image of Alito popped up, declaring him a winner. Yugo grunted while getting up, obviously annoyed at his loss though he had to admit that guy had some skills. Well, considering Alito was a captain of his high school kendo team, his sword skills were top-notch.
Full of excitement, he looked up, hoping that his fight was seen by Akihiko, but unfortunately, the teen was nowhere in sight. As disappointed as he was, Alito still helped Yugo up and took Fudo Technologies badge and VRAINS flyer as a thank-you for promoting the VR system. He took one more glance at the crowd, hoping to spot Akihiko before heading towards the stage where he was supposed to meet up with Gilag before Chono Sanagi concert.
Just as Alito left, another teen approached the stand, carrying two big paper bags that smelled deliciously.
“What did I miss?” Yusaku asked while placing one bag on the stand “That call took forever and then Kusanagi's truck passed by.”
“That junior just got his ass kicked.” Ryoken laughed as he took a sip of his drink “Good thing you had that phone call, otherwise you’d be like that guy on the ground.”
“Aren’t you supposed to fight instead of me?”
“I do, but the banana boy doesn’t need to know that.”
“You could at least give him a hot-dog if you don’t want to admit that you didn't feel like swinging that sword around.” Yusaku bit into his hot-dog while Ryoken put all extra sauces on his own.
“You know well I prefer guns.” the white haired trainee grinned.
“There they are!” Yuma exclaimed when noticing a group of familiar faces.
The members of drama club were gathered around their stand, passing around fliers for their next show and promoting Smile World with various merchandise. Even the dog that played the dragon was there, wiggling its tail and friendly greeting passers-by. The main actor, whose face was identical to the noodle stand seller and cosplay waiter, passed around stickers with smiley faces with almost the same grin.
Before Michael could say anything, Yuma was already at the stand, excitedly telling the main actor, whose name was Yuya according to his brother, how much he enjoyed the show. To say Yuya was bashful was understatement. The boy was nearly on the verge of happy tears when Yuma highlighted all the acts that he loved the most and compared them to the performance from when he was a kid. Michael nearly got a feeling he was seeing two Yumas at once, each of them happier than other when talking about Smile World. Yuma also couldn’t get enough of the dog’s soft orange and white fur, petting its head like there was no tomorrow.
“So how it is going?”
The youngest member of Arclight family nearly jumped ten feet high when all too familiar voice whispered in his ear.
“Brother!” Michael squeaked when seeing Thomas next to him “What are you doing here?! Aren’t you supposed to be with Ryoga?”
“He’s getting ready for Chono Sanagi concert, so I didn’t want to bother him and rather wanted to check how is my baby bro doing.” the older teen snickered.
“Good... I guess. We went to see Smile World and Yuma wanted to meet the actors.”
“That I see, but was there any, you know.” Thomas started making kissy noises.
“Stop it!” the younger sibling dragged him away “He’s going to see it!”
“Nah relax, he is too busy fanboying with that guy. To be honest, your crush seems dense.” Thomas rested his hand on his chin while observing Yuma “So whatever you have in mind must be as clear as possible.”
Michael nodded while observing Yuma, passionately talking with Yuya. He was smiling so much, more than he ever did since he met him. Smile World truly seemed to cheer him up and if Yuma was happy, Michael would gladly let him stay there as long as possible. Eventually Yuma must’ve realized that his friend was feeling a bit left out, so he nudged for them to get closer with a reassuring look.
“Do you want to go to Chono Sanagi concert? Yuya’s girlfriend will act as one of the backup singers!” Yuma announced which made Yuya blush brighter than tomato.
“Sh-she’s not my girlfriend!” the red haired boy uttered.
“Well, MY boyfriend will be playing in the band, so sure let’s go!” Thomas smirked while throwing his arm around Michael’s shoulder.
“III, who is that?” Yuma blinked in a confusion, having not seen this person before.
“My brother, Thomas.” Michael mumbled.
“Wait, Thomas? As Thomas Arclight? IV?” Yuya’s eyes gleamed when recognizing a familiar face from Duel Links magazine.
“At your service” Thomas bowed with a grin.
“Can I have your autograph?! I’ve only just started playing Duel Monsters, but I follow your blog!” Yuya shouted while dragging a pen and a notepad out of nowhere.
“I would like one too!” other members of drama club exclaimed, bringing out more pens and pieces of papers.
“Now, now there is more than enough fanservice for everyone.” Thomas acted like he was smitten by all comments.
Michael just sighed as Yuma joined the group of fanboys wanting an autograph from his overly charismatic brother.
“Do you have your cell phone? And your water bottle?” Kaito nervously checked over his little sibling.
“Brother, I’ll be fine.” Haruto smiled in a matter-of-facty.
“That’s right, I’ll make sure of it.” black haired girl smiled while holding a hand of another little boy “The origami workshop shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
“I know Ruri. I trust you, but I can’t help worrying about him all the time.” Kaito leaned against his stand “Make sure to come back right after the activity is over, okay?”
“Right!” Haruto replied in his ever so cheerful tone as he gave his brother a goodbye-hug and went to his classmate.
Reira, Ruri’s little brother, shyly outreached his hand that Haruto gladly took and the three of them were off to the origami workshop. Besides volunteering at Kurosaki Shelter for Avian Species, Ruri also led many creative workshops for children. Haruto has witnessed Reira making various origami creations during the school breaks many times and was eager to learn how to do it. Kaito could hardly resist Haruto’s pleading eyes and let him join the workshop. If Chris was there, he’d go with him, but since he was away he gave up and let Haruto be with others for a change.
With Chono Sanagi concert about to begin, the majority of visitors were gathering around the stage, leaving almost entire school yard empty. Kaito had stayed up later than usual the night before, getting ready for the festival so he was really craving coffee by now. He was going to get it before, but he didn’t want to leave the stand or Haruto alone while there was a lot of people everywhere. Now it looked like a better time, with not a single visitor around and vending machine just the entrance of the school building. Just in case he left a little “I’ll be right back” note and with a few coins headed towards the machine.
Luckily there was still a few cans of coffee left, but what Kaito didn’t expect was a person that seemingly appeared out of thin air, glaring at him like he has just drowned his goldfish.
“We meet again... Kaito Tenjo...” the person said with a deep voice in an overly dramatic manner.
“Do I know you?” Kaito asked with zero interest while picking up his can of coffee.
“Do not pretend that you don’t know me!” he barked, stepping right in front of him, facing him directly in the eyes.
“I don’t?” the blond haired boy gave him a confused look as he opened the can “Look, I don’t know what you’re aiming at, but I have to get going.”
“Do not ignore me!” the other person shouted and grabbed Kaito by his shoulders which made him drop his coffee.
Watching that much desired coffee spill on the floor make Kaito even sleepier than he was before and dealing with enraged stranger was the last thing he wanted to deal with at the moment. Couldn’t he just have that coffee and stay at the stand until Haruto gets back? According to this weird guy, it was a big fat no for him.
“Don’t you really remember anything?! All those years we trained together!? How we won that relay race?! How we aimed for nationals!?” the guy shouted, still holding onto his shoulders “You just left without a single word!”
Only now when he was literally face to face with this person and some light coming from the window shone on his face, could Kaito see it more clearly. Long blond hair that was usually in a ponytail, that one streak of hair shaped like a wing and those piercing blue eyes that glared so much on him.
“…Mizael?” Kaito muttered in confusion.
“Oh, now you actually know my name?! Were you planning to pretend like you always did?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb!” Mizael dug his fingers in Kaito’s jacket “You just left! Leaving entire team behind!”
Kaito tried to think back, tying to remember just why a former classmate would throw a fit over something that supposedly happened years ago.
“What do you mean I just left? I’ve told entire class I’ll be moving to Miami City weeks before.”
“That’s not the point! You stopped talking with everyone! You left me half-assed texts! You even skipped the last few training sessions and never showed up for that tournament!”
“Mizael…” Kaito tried to reason with former classmate who just continued to throw raging sentences at him “I thought you were angry with me.”
This time Mizael actually stopped and let go of Kaito’s jacket. He didn’t understand what the other teen was trying to say.
“When I told everyone that I’m going to move to another city, you just stopped talking to me. I thought you didn’t want to hang out with me anymore so I kept my distance for however long you needed.” Kaito said, thinking about elementary school “And to be honest, I was being distant myself at that time so I didn’t really talk with anyone unless it was school related.”
“Th-then what about the tournament!?” Mizael visibly shook at learning something he believed for years might not be true.
“Haruto was rushed to a hospital a day before.”
Mizael gripped his fists, trying to come up with whatever he planned to throw at Kaito’s face. But learning all of this, he simply couldn’t. He was well aware just how much Kaito cared about his little brother and if something like this happened, then he knew his former classmate wouldn’t be the same for days.
“It’s alright, that was ages ago.” Kaito went off to pick the dropped coffee can “And I completely understand if you’re still angry with me about it.”
“Not really angry…”
“The whole reason why I moved was because I wanted to be closer to Haruto. His health was declining at the time and the only treatment that could help him out was in Maiami City. I know I could still attend Heartland Academy during his treatment, but I was just so worried that rather decided to switch to a school that was closer to my family in Maiami City.” Kaito threw the can in the recycling bin “It was a hard decision to make and I didn’t want to trouble you or anyone else with my problems. You especially.”
Mizael looked at slowly turning Kaito who gave him a sad smile.
“I always had hard time talking with people, but you helped me open up and even introduced me to track which I still love. When you started avoiding me I didn’t know how to respond, so I just waited and eventually let it be. I thought you didn’t want me around anymore.”
“Yeah, you were always shit with feelings that’s for sure.”
“Is that the whole reason you came here?”
“Not really… just wanted to give you a piece of my mind.”
“Well, you succeeded in that.” Kaito brought out a wallet looking for some change “Proving I’m still bad at reading people.”
“That you are… but geez… you should’ve at least said something. I thought you got scholarship and got accepted to some elite school. Or that you were avoiding everyone because you were so darn perfect at everything that you felt too important to interact with anyone.”
“And what made you believe that?”
“Isn’t that the first thing you taught me not to believe in?”
Kaito chuckled at that.
“Hey, don’t make fun of me!” Mizael grumbled but let it go once realizing not much has changed since elementary school. The blond haired teen felt like yelling at something for practically wrapping himself in this mess that was pretty much a result of his own denial. Alito did call him out on it many times, to at least text him or something if he wanted to just clear things out. No, for some reason he believed throwing a tantrum would magically fix everything.
“Did you really come all the way from Heartland for this?” Kaito asked, still digging through his wallet for change.
“Yeah… but I came with Alito and Girag…” Mizael mumbled as he reached for his own wallet “Here, let me. It is sort of my fault you dropped your coffee.”
Later they were back at Kaito’s stand, sipping on drinks from vending machine. Mizael was still a bit reluctant about being there, but with Kaito and a can of green tea latte he was more relaxed, especially when his former classmate told him more of what was going on with his life.
“Here, my phone number and my VRAINS account.” Kaito said when returning Mizael’s phone.
“You play VRAINS?”
“Not that much to be honest, but some of my friends do and they tend to invite me for group missions. You can use an existing Duel Monsters account too, unless you deleted it.”
“I didn’t actually, I still have all dragons we’ve traded back then.” Mizael downed the rest of his drink “I haven’t played it in the last few years… or went back to track to be honest.”
Kaito brought out his own phone, scrolling through several websites until he found what he was looking for.
“Temple Draghos?” Mizael read under what appeared to be Chinese-looking building.
“It’s a sport and recreational facility with a lot of outdoor running tracks. I go there at least once a week.” Kaito clicked on photos which showed the outside more “It’s right in between Maiami City and Heartland. You can get there by train in less than an hour.”
“Why are you showing me this?” the blond haired teen observed the photos.
“So we can go for runs together again. If that’s what you want, that is.”
Mizael was rather lost of what he should say, especially after the whole rant. He didn’t expect for Kaito to be so cool about it which only confirmed that his former classmate just wasn’t that good at reading people and never meant to intentionally hurt him or others. Mizael was still a bit angry but mostly at himself for giving into it too fast. He was going to say something about it when a little voice interrupted his train of thought.
“Brother!” a little ruff of cyan hair jumped in Kaito’s arms, happily giggling with an armful of paper crafts “Look! I made all of these myself!”
For an eight year old, the origami dragons, birds and flowers surely looked impressive. Kaito always knew Haruto liked to watch and learn, but he never thought he was that good at it.
“Ruri isn’t with you?” Kaito asked once he noticed that black haired girl and her little brother weren’t around.
“Oh, they needed more waiters at Cosplay Coffee so she just walked me to the doors!”
“You walked through entire school yard on your own?!” the older Tenjo brother nearly panicked.
“Yeah and it was nice!” Haruto giggled and then turned his head towards Mizael “Are you my brother’s friend?”
“You could say that…” Mizael replied a bit nervously since he still hasn’t properly apologized.
“You look really pretty! Here! To make you even prettier!” the little boy smiled which made the blond haired teen blush bright red as an origami flower was placed on his head.
Kaito hardly held himself back from laughing as Haruto continued to put more origami flowers on Mizael, saying how pretty he looked. His former classmate was just utterly dazzled at Haruto decorating his head and couldn’t really stop Kaito’s brother from having fun.
“I didn’t know my brother had a girlfriend!” Haruto giggled innocently which made the teen blush in embarrassment even more.
“That’s not it, I’m not…” Mizael tried to explain but not before two familiar faces showed up in front of the stand.
And one of them just snapped a photo of his flowery head.
“Well, I didn’t expect something like this.” Alito chuckled as he snapped more photos and Mizael just wished he could crawl under a rock and die.
“The concert is about to start!” Yuya shouted to the group following him “Come on, I know the perfect spot!”
Yuma and III along with IV and the rest of drama club followed Yuya’s lead through a crowded area around the stage. A lot of spectators wore Chono Sanagi merchandise like shirts and hats with her logo and all of them barely hid their excitement as the backup singers and members of the band were coming on the stage. Michael instantly recognized Ryoga who was setting his guitar and trying not to murder IV who kept whistling, wishing him luck. Eventually they found a place in the back that was a bit furter away, but it was higher so the stage was easier to see. There were also a few boxes on which they could climb on to see better and III helped Yuma on without a second thought since he was the shortest in the group. The black haired teen blushed slightly when III took his hand and asked him if he was okay since he did notice Yuma growing a bit anxious ever since they got to the concert area.
“I-It’s fine…” Yuma stuttered a bit.
“Are you sure? We can still leave if you don’t-“
“I-I really want to see it!” the boy uttered, almost a bit too loud, but fortunately the crowd was louder “I-I’ve n-never been… to a c-concert… before.”
“Hey you might want to have this.” Thomas showed up with two glowing sticks in his arms “I was going to use them to cheer for Sharkie, but he probably won’t like it.”
“Oh I’ve seen those on concert streams.” Michael turned his on “And it’s even in my colour!”
Yuma confusedly eyed his before switching the button that made it glow in brilliant crimson colour. Just like the stick, even Yuma’s eyes slowly turned crimson, bringing that fire in them again. Thomas gave his little brother a wink before disappearing who knows where (probably as close to the stage as possible in order to take photos of his boyfriend up close) and Michael knew this was the time when they were supposed to enjoy the most, feeling the energy of everyone there. Just in case he gently took hold of Yuma’s hand which the other boy didn’t mind one bit and even squeezed it in return.
All of a sudden the lights turned off which revealed dozens and dozens of glow sticks. Then drums were heard, along with guitars and the sound of keyboard. The stage lights revealed a red haired girl with two pigtails, dressed in a puffy pink dress with a huge yellow heart.
“Hello everyone! Thank you for coming!” she greeted, the crowd instantly responding back with loud cheering “Let’s Heart Duel!”
Neither Yuma nor Michael ever heard about Chono Sanagi except for the fact that she was popular for creating songs inspired by Duel Monsters. Almost every other sentence in lyrics had to do something with duelling and while it wasn’t really clear if she is a duellist or not, she surely loved to write songs about it. The backup singers nicely added to her angelic voice and even though her songs sounded cutesy and sweet, the rock music of the band was in complete sync with her. Through all this cheering Michael could hear Yuya shout his friend’s name and maybe he even heard his brother’s obnoxious cheering for Ryoga.
Not visiting that many concerts, Michael admitted this one was rather enjoyable and even Yuma who seemed to have trouble being around too many people looked like he was having a lot of fun. His crimson eyes were filled with life and his stuttering was nearly non-existent when he shouted the expressions connected to duelling.
And as he did, he kept remembering playing Duel Monsters with his dad and how excited he was about every move, even if he was about to lose. How he shouted attacks despite there being no holograms or VR gear to see them. That didn’t matter since his dad always made it look real no matter how impossible it was.
The thought of his father nearly made him drop his glow stick, but fortunately Michael was there to catch it for him. For a second Yuma was afraid the anxiety was getting best of him again though his friend only smiled and placed the glow stick back in his hand. He didn’t worry over it at all, showing a complete trust in him to get through the concert.
Yuma couldn’t be more grateful for a friend like Michael, a person who could see his pain and still treat him the same. The time he spent with him certainly helped him get through the emptiness he has been feeling ever since he lost his parents. At first he wasn’t really sure why Michael was so determined to help him out, but with time he slowly got to know him. Just like him, the pink haired teen had also felt the same emptiness before and he didn’t want another person to go through it alone.
“III…” Yuma mumbled as he slowly looked towards his friend who was happily swinging the glow stick around, just enjoying the melody of the song.
Ever since he transferred to Heartland, Michael has been there for him, helping him with studying and keeping him company as much as he could. Even though they talked a lot and spent time together, Yuma still didn’t know that much about Michael. Well he knew all about his interests, his hobbies and what he dreamt of becoming. But deep down he was still clueless about the little things he has been noticing lately.
Why would he sometimes be reluctant to hold his hand? Why would he flinch when they were close even though they spent many nights under the blanket together when watching movies? Why would he sometimes just excuse himself and come back like nothing was wrong?
Yuma tried asking him many times, but every single time Michael would change topic or got away with yet another excuse. To be fair, Yuma would sometimes do the same thing though not as obviously. He would also avoid hand holding despite needing a little bit of comfort from his friend. Yuma mostly explained it as “getting used to being more independent” and yet it didn’t explain why he still had a need to hold Michael’s hand.
Could it be…?
He almost dropped the glow stick for the second time, though this time it didn’t slip out of his hand. Still, thinking he might have… no. It couldn’t be, he never had guts for something like that.
And yet now he felt like he did.
But how? He never been in love with anyone. His family never really gave him the proper talk, well his sister did, saying how romantic partners are a waste of time if they are not contributing to a relationship. Then again Akari was a type of a woman who focuses more on self-reliance than seeking companionship with benefits, so he wasn’t really sure what to take from her advice.
Still… with Michael… it just felt right. Like he could go through anything with him by his side.
But how could he possibly entrust him his feelings?
“Heart Duel! Heart Duel!” Chono Sanagi sang, the crowd excitedly repeating the lyrics “I’ve set a Spell Card just for you! I hope I get to show it to you!”
Yuma looked towards Michael who was still caught up with the concert.
“My heart won’t reach you unless I attack you directly!”
That was it! He had an idea.
Alito with an armful of Chono Sanagi merchandise again questioned why he even came here. Sure Mizael the Elf Princess was hilarious to see, but still he was bored out of his mind. He checked every single stand by now, spent more than he should on snacks and pretty much gave nearly every activity as try, some even twice. He could go hang with Kaito but he rather not be around Mizael after taking so many photos of him. Well, it will be at least a nice bribe if he will ever need something from him.
Girag on the other hand headed straight for the concert, handing him all the merch he bought without a word. He’d gave an arm for his buddy, but even he had to admit that the guy was a bit too enthusiastic when it came to his idols. Girag had dragged him to many concerts before, though Alito would usually just wait somewhere else and perhaps get him all the limited stuff. If anything, the dark haired teen was always up for a competition and there was nothing like running towards the stand that had the last limited item available.
Though the pile of posters, shirts, hats and albums with Chono Sanagi’s face plastered everywhere was a serious overkill. At this point a slight imbalance could cause him to drop something and much to his luck this is exactly what happened.
A round metal case containing one of the many posters not only landed on the ground but rolled away too.
“You come back here!” Alito shouted like he was expecting the thing will magically roll back to him like obedient puppy.
With all other stuff he couldn’t really go fast so he kept his eyes on the ground, following the poster like a hawk. Eventually it stopped, hitting against someone’s leg. Whoever it was, they picked it up right away.
“Hey, could you please pick it up?” Alito said politely, only for his jaw to hit the ground.
Out of however many of people at the school festival, it had to be him.
Akihiko stood there in all of his brilliance, the sun shining through his blond and red locks like he was some godly desire wished upon peasants. Well, at least to Alito it looked that way.
And he couldn’t found him in more awkward situation.
Out of all times he presented himself in his manly image, Akihiko had to see him with a handful of idol merchandise. Not when he got that nice win at the VR battle or when he did all strength based games on the stands. No, it had to be him covered by pink posters and heart shaped junk. That’s probably how Mizael felt with all the flowers on his head and Alito was pretty sure karma was biting him in the ass right now.
“Alito?” Akihiko gave him a confused look which made the other teen even more embarrassed.
“Please don’t look… Just give me the poster.” Alito mumbled trying to think of a way to get a hell out of there “So I can lock myself in the basement and swallow the key.”
“This is your friend’s, right?” the teen handed it back with a smile “I saw you carrying them for him.”
“You… did?” the dark haired teen gave him a confused look.
“Yeah, I’ve been seeing you with him the whole day.” the teen smiled “Do you like the festival?”
“It’s cool I guess…” Alito tried his best to hide his blushes.
“You’re bored out of your mind aren’t you?” Akihiko laughed while patting the other teen’s shoulder.
“Thought so, you never really were the kind of a guy for festivities other than competitions.”
“But how do you know all this?” the dark haired teen’s got confused “We’ve barely talked.”
“Oh, but when we did, I got to know you enough.” Akihiko playfully fixed Alito’s lock off his blushing cheeks “I’ve missed you, you know.”
Alito was practically in trance seeing the senior student so close to him and actually touching him. How was this happening? There was no way Akihiko was actually interested in him. No, his grades were barely average, his social skills were questionable and despite being a captain of kendo club, his athletic skills weren’t enough to impress someone like Akihiko. No, Alito wouldn’t be good enough for him, his senpai deserved only the best.
“And why would you think like that?”
Alito quickly shut his mouth, not even being aware that he was mumbling. Darn, was he really mumbling now as well? Great, perfect just perfect. His crush finally got where he wanted him to be and he was going through one nonsense after another. Come on, focus you manly bastard, Alito screamed at himself from the inside.
“Why me?” the dark haired teen looked up “There are so many better options than me.”
“Oh, I bet they are.” Akihiko gently ruffled Alito’s locks “But they are not you. They are not even close to the almighty gladiator champion.”
“Wait… YOU ACTUALLY SAW THAT?!” Alito nearly dropped everything, hoping at least something went according to the plan.
“You bet I did. You’re not captain of kendo club for nothing.” his senpai grinned, even digging his phone out to show him all the photos he took of him during the VR sword battle “I wanted to congratulate you, but just then a classmate of mine called me for something important and by the time we were done talking, you were gone.”
At this point, Alito couldn’t believe it, slipping down on the nearest bench and trying to sort his thoughts out. He couldn’t even hold all the merch anymore and just set it aside so he could cover up his terribly blushing face. However, Akihiko being his princely self, took a seat next to him and patiently waited until his kohai calmed down.
“All those years… you really thought of me this way?” Alito uttered, to which the other teen only gently wrapped his arm around his shoulder.
“Well, yeah. Tried telling you that for a while, but you always got away in some way or another.”
“T-that’s b-because I-I didn’t want to ruin your reputation!” the dark haired teen uttered, too embarrassed of his memories “You were perfect in any way possible… I was just a blockhead who got in trouble on a daily basis.”
“A handsome blockhead that is.” Akihiko slowly got on Alito’s level, his eyes meeting with the ones of the other teen “Alito… you are so much more than you think. You’re honest, loyal and you’re so free-spirited. Not many are capable of such positive traits and you live by them every single day. Believe me, I know. Girag made sure to inform me.”
“Yeah, you gotta give it to your friend. Before I switched schools, I never got to ask you for your phone number so I was looking for other ways to contact you. By coincidence I met your friend at animal sanctuary where I volunteered when he came to help with orphaned tanukis. He was reluctant to tell me about you at first, but eventually he told me more about you.”
Well that would explain all the hints Girag was giving him for the last few weeks. And like Akihiko wasn’t perfect enough, he was also volunteering at animal sanctuary? Was there anything this guy wasn’t capable of?!
“If it makes you feel better, I suck at playing harmonica.” the older teen chuckled as a response to another set of mumbling.
“But still, I’m not good enough for you… I’ll ruin it before-“
“Alito.” Akihiko suddenly cupped his face, the lips only inches away from his own “It’s alright.”
“I-I don’t think we should… what about…”
“I don’t care what others think, you are the one I love.”
“B-but… what if you lose your student council president title? What if they kick you out of your teams? What if you lose scholarship for that university? What if I’ll ruin your image? What if-“
Akihiko gently placed a finger on his mouth, instantly making him shut up.
“Even if I do, I don’t care. It just means I’ll have to work that much harder to change the world we live in.” the older teen gently caressed Alito’s rough lips “And the only world I want is where I can be with you.”
Alito couldn’t prepare himself for the moment when Akihiko’s soft lips touched his own, sending him in utter bliss. No fantasy came even close to what he was feeling right then and there. He never got kissed before, but he witnessed many couples kissing and he could only imagine how it must’ve felt. What it actually was didn’t come even close.
Akihiko’s hand gently stroke Alito’s messy curls as the other one kept him in a warm embrace. He really did love his little gladiator and this time he wanted to really prove to him that he cared about him and that he was ready for commitment Alito was so afraid of.
Once the kissing stopped, Alito couldn’t help but dig his face in Akihiko’s shirt, tears streaming down his face. He remembered all about the first year he transferred to that school in Heartland. Like the fact that he was new was not enough, he was the only kid besides Girag whose skin was tanned since he was originally from Spartan City that was located far south. Luckily Girag took him under his wing, introducing him to Kaito and Mizael who didn’t care about his appearance and the four of them ignored the judging looks with their love for track. But then he met Akihiko, the true prince of that school. The moment he saw him, he knew he was in love, but unlike the number of fangirls that would follow Akihiko literally anywhere, Alito knew he had to express it properly.
So he left small hints and messages, wanting to make it as unique as possible. It had to look genuine, not copy-pasted from the internet. Girag tried to get him to talk with Akihiko, Alito however insisted that he has to make a good impression on him first and that’s exactly what he did. He joined more sports, breaking records and taking part in contests. He could see Akihiko was impressed when watching him, so he kept going. As long as he could see those brilliant blue eyes watching him, it was enough for Alito. He knew well he was far below his level and he couldn’t possibly ever be with him. This was made clearer when Alito started seeing his things going missing or getting mysteriously damaged. All of his friends insisted that he should report it, but Alito brushed it off as not much of a big deal.
And yet deep down, he knew. He knew almost entire school despised him for trying to get noticed by Akihiko. The girls were jealous while the guys didn’t want him to outshine the prince of the school. Alito tried to ignore it, but every year it was harder since the bullies dared more until they finally snapped. It was one thing for some nobody from Spartan City to break a few school records and participate in competitions, but him being picked as the captain of kendo club instead of the perfect Akihiko? And Akihiko being fine with it and even personally passing him that title? Now that was going too far!
Alito didn’t know how serious it was until a group of unknown teens surrounded him on his way home from school and beat him up until he passed out. Fortunately, Girag found him and took him to hospital for numerous fractures, broken ribs and heavy bruising. Alito couldn’t see their faces, so he didn’t report it, but once he got back to school and found his locker literally overflowing with papers, he knew exactly who did it.
Go back to Spartan City!
We don’t want you here!
Stay the hell away from him, you f*t!
The only reason Alito remained the captain of the kendo club was because the majority of members were relatively young and didn’t care about who he was. And the fact that Akihiko switched schools for family reasons soon after the incident. Alito would still get hate, but there was less of it each passing day. Girag urged him to report it to principal, to school board, to anyone who could put those guys in their place. But Alito didn’t since he knew well all the guys were either members of important sports teams or had parents on high places. He just let it be and gradually he stopped thinking about Akihiko. He didn’t bother to try to find out to which school he went, find him on social media or get his number. Well, that is until Girag told him he went to Maiami Middle School before dragging him to school festival.
Alito didn’t care of Akihiko would return his feelings or not, he just wanted him to watch one more time.
And that he did.
The fact that he was in his arms, bawling his eyes out like the biggest baby while Akihiko patiently rubbed his back was still so unreal to him.
“It’s alright, it’s alright. No one is here now.” Akihiko’s voice sounded so heavenly, just like an angel “No one can hurt you now.”
“Y-you… knew?” Alito sobbed.
“I did, but I couldn’t do much. School board just didn’t care.” the older teen gripped his fists “Others did even less and I knew the only way for them to leave you alone was to get away from there.”
“You didn’t….” the younger teen gulped down at the realization “You switched schools because of me?!”
“And I don’t regret it one bit.” Akihiko embraced him even tighter just to prove his point “That school had way too many issues anyway. I just didn’t want you to give up on it.”
“But what about you?”
“I’ve gathered enough credits to be enrolled in any high school I want the next year. It doesn’t matter where I study as long as you’re safe.”
Alito couldn’t help but bury his face in Akihiko’s shirt again. All he ever wanted was for his senpai to just notice him and not only he got noticed, he got embraced by his wings of protection.
Now he was definitely convinced that coming here was not a waste of time and once his tears finally dried, he got the courage to give his angelic prince a return kiss.
“I’m sure it was here…” Yuma looked around in confusion, trying hard to convince himself that he wasn’t lost.
After excusing himself to Michael, assuring him he will give him a call as soon as he will be done with checking a particular stand, Yuma ventured through practically empty school yard since the majority of visitors were either at the concert or were already heading home. It was like a ghost town and despite feeling anxious in the crowd, the complete isolation wasn’t that much better. The black haired nearly reached for the phone to call Michael when he accidently bumped into someone.
“Hey careful!” the teen around his age struggled to keep the balance while carrying three boxes on top of each other.
“I’m sorry!” Yuma quickly apologized “I was sorta lost.”
“Yeah, you kinda looked like it.” the teen’s head peeked from behind the boxes, giving him a goofy smile.
“It’s you!” the younger teen exclaimed when recognizing the face “Actually no, Yuya was still at the concert when I left… Yuto right? Eh no, Yuri?”
The blue haired teen was obviously annoyed by the last name, but kept his piling rage in check.
“Don’t you dare say it!” Yugo seemed like he was about to shout, though he muffled it out in the last second so it just sounded like gibbered noise
“Okay…” Yuma winced, not sure what say.
“Anyway, what are you looking for?”
“Oh, you see…”
Five minutes later they were at the stand Yuma visited with Michael previously. It looked like it was partially closed due to lack of people, but the part he needed still seemed to be open. Yugo was actually headed there as well, though only to drop a few things before getting back to his own stand. From what he’s seen, a vast majority of people at the stands took a short lunch break and Yuma surely hoped he won’t be interrupting anything.
Much to his luck, he found the person at the separate desk, munching on honey covered crackers while talking to someone on the phone.
“Eh… e-excuse me…” Yuma said rather quietly as he wasn’t sure if it was the right time.
Contrary to his believe the person responded immediately, turning to Yuma right then and there.
“Sorry, dad I gotta go, I have a costumer. Say hi to Johan.” the teen with a beanie stuffed the rest of the cracker in his mouth before turning to Yuma “Hello, how can I help you?”
“For custom Duel Monsters cards… how does it work?” the younger teen asked shyly.
“Just come over here.”
Yuma gave the older teen a confused look that quickly turned into a surprised one when he saw the biggest tablet ever. His sister got quite a lot of monitors for her job, but this tablet was at least twice the size of his sister’s average monitor.
“Here this is how it works.” the teen smiled as he turned it on, huge white canvas showing up along with drawing tools “You can choose pre-existing monsters, classic bases or just tell me what you have in mind and I will do my best to sketch it for you.”
For the next ten minutes Yuma’s eyes were glued to the swift movements of stylus pen held by a teen who introduce himself as Olmi Yuuki. When he and Michael visited the stand before Smile Universe, he couldn’t remember where he heard Yuuki Designs. Now seeing some exhibited works it finally clicked. The company wasn’t only in charge of Duel Monsters and many other card based games and graphic designs in general, but also produced a lot of superhero comics. In fact he owned an entire collection of ESPer Robin comic books which was also created by someone whose surname ended with Yuuki, though unlike Elemental Heroes, Neo Space Squad and Gem Beast Knight, it wasn’t by Judai Yuuki but… this guy apparently.
“Did you create ESPer Robin?” Yuma blurted out, too curious to care.
“Yeah…” Olmi slightly blushed “I kinda wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps.”
“Wait…. your dad?! As in Judai Yuuki?!” the younger teen’s jaw nearly hit the floor “Wow… I didn’t know…”
“I was adopted actually.” Olmi smiled as he continued to sketch out Yuma’s commission “But he is my dad regardless.”
The mention of the word dad brought Yuma more memories of times he spent with his own father, especially when playing Duel Monsters. He was never really good at it, but his father urged him to never give up and the fact that he actually stopped playing the game kinda felt like he broke that promise. Still, he was trying to change now and he’ll go back to the game with brand new personalised deck.
“Is this okay?” Olmi brought Yuma back from his thoughts when showing him all the sketches.
Yuma was rather impressed that Olmi was done so fast and with not only one but several sketches. He went off to choose the stats, archetypes, colours and all other technical stuff, until he noticed the time and realized he has been away for nearly an hour. A single look at his phone let him know that Michael tried calling him at least five times and sent him a dozen texts. Yuma quickly filled out the form for where the cards should be sent once they will be done and paid before rushing back towards the concert area. About halfway there he regretted not asking Olmi for an autograph though he was sure there will be another chance and letting Michael know that he was okay was the priority right now.
At last he finally got back to the concert area from which the music was still heard.
And right there was Michael running towards him the second he saw him. The pink haired teen looked drained and out of breath as his hand was gripping his cell phone. But the moment he got to Yuma he threw his arms around him, pressing him close to his chest.
“I know you said you’ll be okay, but when you didn’t pick up I just got so worried…”
Yuma honestly found Michael’s mother-hen mannerism comforting so he let him be kept in his arms for a while. Only his mom would give him such hugs, the ones where he felt like the most protected being on the planet. The music coming from the concert might’ve been loud, but through all of it he still heard Michael’s heartbeat. A simple bumping sound that was like a lullaby.
“Yuma… are you alright?” Michael gently stroke the back of Yuma’s head. His friend looked both tired and relaxed at the same time so he couldn’t really tell what was going on.
“Yeah… just a bit dizzy.” Yuma smiled as he nuzzled against his friend’s jacket “Say… could we go eat something? Or drink? Or just sit down somewhere? I don’t feel like going to the concert…”
“Of course we can.”
It didn’t take them long before they found a small crepe stand and a bench next to the vending machine. Yuma apologized for all the trouble, saying how he got lost and then got distracted though Michael didn’t really care as long as he was safe and sound. The two of them eagerly wolfed down ice cream covered crepes along with bottled ice tea from the vending machine until they got approached by drama club who again thanked them for checking their show and said goodbye as they needed get back to their stand. Yuma and Yuya also exchanged social media info since Yuma was eager to see another Smile Universe.
With more people gradually coming from the concert, the duo decided to check some more stands before it would get crowded again. Though the more stands they checked, more tired Yuma was feeling. He wasn’t sure why he was so tired as he would usually be either too excited or too anxious at such events and he hardly walked by the time they found Kaito’s stand again.
Luckily, Kaito had enough chairs for them for which Yuma was grateful and the second he got one, he curled up and took a nap, putting his head on Michaels’s lap next to him. The pink haired teen was a bit surprised when he found Yuma sleeping so peacefully out in the open and yet he treasured it since he got to be with the black haired teen this close. Kaito was busy explaining something about his stand to visitors while Haruto was teaching Mizael how to make origami dragon. Other than that not much was going on and if it were just for the two of them, Michael would call it a successful date.
True there was no confessing or kissing and by now Michael knew it didn’t matter as much as he thought it would. There was no rush and certainly no need to force it, especially with how much calmer he felt around Yuma now. The whole romantic thing could freely wait because the sheer feeling of it was just right.
Michael would take a nap himself if the vibrations of his phone wouldn’t keep him in the world of living. It was Yuma’s sister, letting them know she was done with the seminar and she can come to pick them up soon unless they wish to stay longer. With the two of them literally camping out on chairs, Michael could confirm they both had enough for the day, so he said goodbye to Kaito, Haruto and another friend by the name of Mizael who gave him a goodbye nod. Waking up Yuma turned out to be mission impossible so the only option left was to carry him. It wasn’t much of a big deal since despite all the food he would eat, Yuma was surprisingly slim and light to carry on his back.
Akari wasn’t that dazzled when Michael showed up with sleeping Yuma and just helped him get in the car, gently setting the safely belt around his body. The pink haired teen politely asked how the journalist seminar went to make a small talk during the drive home. The older Tsukumo sibling grumbled something about half of journalists not being journalists but just Jack Atlas fans in disguise since the person who hosted the seminar was his wife. Other than that she enjoyed it and even considered getting camera to add some of her own photos to the articles. Michael again thanked her for the ride before falling asleep as well.
Akari couldn’t help but keep glancing at the rear-view mirror, seeing her little brother’s head resting on Michael’s shoulder. She could remember the times when Yuma was younger and he was always peacefully sleeping on the long rides, but only if his mother was next to him. Many times she was annoyed how cuddled Yuma was and was convinced he would never learn how to handle being without his parents. But ever since this sweet Michael kid started coming to their house, it was like Yuma’s own guardian descended from heavens. Yuma no longer lurked in his attic room, he got back to eating normally and he even improved his grades. This way Akari could focus on her work, providing for her remaining family without a worry.
She couldn’t stop thanking him in her heart and deep down she also knew.
Knew that their bond was much more than just friends.