Actions

Work Header

A Boring Summer to Love Young

Chapter Text

Akira opened the door to the car. His eyes were affronted by the harsh sunlight of the hot, country summer. This was going to be a very, very long summer indeed. He could already feel sweat beading around his forehead and the collar of his issued uniform polo. Behind him, the cab driver popped the trunk and Akira promptly went to the back to retrieve his bags. Two over the shoulder bags—one issued along with the uniform and the other his personal bag—and a large rolling suitcase that carried most of his belongings. He closed the trunk and walked to the driver’s side of the car to pay the driver.

“Thank you,” the driver said. “I hope you have a nice stay.”

Akira watched the driver pull away followed by several other cars and taxis. It had been a long trip out here. A two-hour train ride with a transfer at the end for another half an hour ride. Then he had to catch a car out here for the remaining half hour of the journey. He was just thankful that his parents had allowed him to take a taxi instead of taking the bus. The bus would’ve added an extra half hour to his already far too long journey.

Now, he was very far from home, very far from civilization, and he wasn’t even sure he had any cell signal out in this shithole. He felt a little travel weary and at this point just wanted to lie down. But he knew that wasn’t about to happen. A guy could dream, though, right?

He took a deep breath, gathered his belongings, and started towards the giant sign that read 'CAMP TANUKI' on it in bright red and green letters. Under the sign was a giant tanuki mascot, who was dancing and trying to engage with the other kids entering the grounds. Akira wondered why they even had this mascot. Most of the kids that attended this camp where in high school. There were a couple of kids who were still in their last year of middle school but those were very few. And even those kids would find the tanuki mascot a little childish. He wondered briefly what poor sap had to dress in the costume and if it was the worst job you could get. He ducked his head and scuttled past the mascot quickly, as not to be seen.

Once past, he glanced around and found the check-in table. It was just a folding table set up close to the entrance with a sign hanging from the front that labeled it as check-in. Two girls were sitting at the table and were handing out packets to the kids who were coming up. Akira stood back a bit until the line settled and he was called up. The girl who called him up was a stern looking girl. Her brown hair was chopped to her chin and had an intricate braid over the top. Her camp issued uniform bore the pin of a third year. There was a sharp look in her eyes that just seemed to be part of her average look.

“Hello,” she said with almost too much sweetness to be genuine. “Name.”

“Akira Kurusu.”

Her demeanor shifted slightly. It wasn’t a ton, as if she was at least trying not to change her mood so visibly. It was still enough for him to notice. “Ah. Kurusu-san…” She sifted through the packets on the table and held his out to him. When he went to reach for it, she pulled it back out of his reach. “Just so we’re crystal clear,” she started, “I do not want any trouble from you this summer.” Her red eyes bored holes into him.

He kept his expression as neutral as possible. “Yes, ma’am,” he responded tersely.

She handed him his packet and smiled. “I’m glad we understand each other. Go get settled in, make sure to read your packet, and have a wonderful time here at Camp Tanuki.”

He shoved the packet under his arm and went on his way. He had thought that being labeled as a criminal wouldn’t get to him. There was just something in that slight shift of her posture that had irked him. It was almost like she thought she was in danger from him. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting this summer in regards to the whole criminal thing, but he hadn’t planned on this.

The top page of the packet said he was in cabin number 7. It was on the far side of the grounds, closest to the athletic fields and farthest from the mess hall. What a shame. He had hoped that he’d at least get fed without having to fight other kids for it.

The cabin door groaned when he opened it. The room inside wasn’t small but it wasn’t large either. Both sides mirrored each other. Two bunk beds sat in the back corners. Beside them sat a nightstand for the bottom bunk with the top bunk getting a shelf on the wall to act as the same thing. The foot of the bunk beds had desks on them, one for each side of the room. Chairs accompanied them. There were four separate wardrobes, two on each side to accommodate the four residents’ belongings. The wardrobes already had name slates on them, seemingly hand-written by one of the staff. A plain green carpet sat in the center of the room. Probably the most overwhelming feature was that everything in the room was made out of wood. It’s almost as if the camp had attempted to appear more rustic but in the process tore down an entire forest and had way too much wood to work with.

With a sigh, Akira tossed his bags into the wardrobe, not even bothering to unpack. He didn’t claim any of the beds either. Best to let the other boys fight it out. He didn’t want to get on anyone’s nerves this early on and honestly, he could sleep pretty much anywhere. He wasn’t picky.

He opened the wardrobe next to his. The slate read ‘Sakamoto.’ There was already a shit ton of things crammed in there. Most of the clothing inside that he could see was not issued by the camp. Didn’t they have to wear uniforms most days of the week? How lax was this camp with the dress code? Other things in there included a skateboard, so much manga it lined the bottom of the wardrobe completely, several bags of chips that were all different flavors, cans of soda, and a black bag tucked away in the back that Akira felt was too prying to look into.

“Hello,” a voice called from behind him, making him jump.

Akira turned around to see a small, mousy boy. His shoulders were hunched and he didn’t quite meet Akira’s eyes. Akira noted that the boy was drenched in sweat, even though he appeared to be wearing clothes designed to keep him cool. The hair that wasn’t plastered to the boy’s head was dark and seemed to be scruffy and unruly much like his own.

“Um…” the boy continued softly. “Are you Sakamoto?”

Akira shut the wardrobe quickly and shook his head. “Ah no. Kurusu. Akira. Ah. I was… snooping a little.”

“Oh.”

The boy looked nervous as if he had done something wrong. Something about his demeanor reminded Akira of a puppy that had just been scolded for doing something particularly naughty. Akira figured that him introducing himself had prompted the boy to act this way. So his cabin mates were informed of his criminal history as well. Figured.

“I didn’t mean to snoop. I was just curious if anybody else had been here,” Akira added quickly. “I promise I wasn’t… looking for anything.”

This seemed to set the boy a little more at ease. He shuffled awkwardly over to a wardrobe on the other side marked ‘Mishima.’ He opened it up and started to look through the clothes in there.

“I’m Yuuki Mishima,” he added over his shoulder. “I was outside just now in the—” he cut himself off. “Um… in the… you won’t laugh will you?”

Akira shrugged and said, “I guess not.”

Mishima hesitated a moment. “I was in the tanuki costume out front.”

“Oh shit. I was wondering what poor guy they shoved in there.”

“Yeah, that was me…”

“Sorry.”

Mishima was holding a change of clothes in his hands now as he turned to face Akira. “No worries. Just don’t go spreading it around. Anyway, I’m off for now. Opening ceremonies should be in about an hour, I’d say. We can sit together if you want.”

Akira shrugged again. “Sure thing. What am I supposed to do until then?”

“Eh, anything you want really. Nobody’s really gonna stop you from doing anything. Unless it’s dangerous, but I feel like you’d know that already. I’d just have a look around. It’s your first summer, yeah? Get a feel for the camp or something.”

“Alright. Oh, and Mishima, who was that girl at the check-in with the brown hair?”

“You mean Makoto Niijima? She’s basically top counselor around here. She’s a little scary sometimes if you ask me. I’d stay out of her way if I were you.”

Akira nodded. “Thanks.”

Mishima smiled and exited the cabin leaving Akira alone once more. He sighed. Mishima seemed like someone who might end up annoying him if they spent a lot of time together. Hopefully, it didn’t get to the point where he wanted to kill the kid. He seemed nice.

Akira left the cabin a moment later and looked over the grounds. There were several groups of kids gathered here and there—probably kids who either attended this camp every summer or who went to school together outside of camp. For now, he just wanted a quiet place to record his thoughts in his journal. He decided that if everybody was hanging out on the main cabin area, then the athletic fields would be pretty deserted. He turned to the back of his cabin and headed off towards the fields.

He was mostly right about them being empty. He plopped himself underneath a tree near a sandy volleyball pit where two girls were tossing the ball back and forth over the net. One girl—a tall and skinny blonde whose long, flowing hair was pulled into pigtails—was clearly not very good at volleyball. The other—a shorter, well-built girl with black hair pulled back into a ponytail—was very good at volleyball. He pulled out his journal after a moment but could only seem to focus on the girls. The dark-haired girl was very intently keeping score which Akira could only assume was to make the blonde one mad about it. They were clearly very good friends.

“Shiho!” the blonde said exasperatedly as the ball hit the sand for probably the fifth time since Akira had sat down. “You’re supposed to be helping me get better at volleyball. Not kicking my ass!”

The dark-haired girl laughed. “But Ann-chan, kicking your ass is more fun than making you better at volleyball! Also, if you get better, how will I win?”

Ann placed a hand against her forehead. “I’m gonna kill you, you know.”

Shiho smiled and ducked under the net to Ann’s side. She wrapped her arms around Ann and embraced her tightly. “You’d never do anything like that.”

Ann sighed and patted the top of Shiho’s head. “I hate that you’re always right.” Ann glanced to the side and noticed Akira sitting under the tree for the first time. “Hey! Are you spying on us, you creep?!”

Akira blinked in shock. He was pretty sure that this was a public field and that literally anybody could have caught this scene. Although, these two girls seemed to figure that they’d be alone on the athletic fields much like he did.

When he didn’t say anything, Ann started to march towards him. She looked very angry. Shiho, after scooping the ball out of the sand, followed after her at a more leisurely pace. She seemed much more relaxed and calm. Akira figured that out of the two of them she was going to be the more rational to deal with and decided to mirror her body language instead of getting defensive.

“What are you doing here?!” Ann demanded, towering over him.

“Ah…” Akira glanced at Shiho when she finally pulled up beside Ann. She shot him a smile. “Sorry.”

“That doesn’t answer my question. Who are you?”

“Sorry. I was just looking for a place to get away for a moment. I’m Akira Kurusu.”

Both girls looked at each other and shared a brief look of concern. Ann took a small step back, letting Shiho take the lead. Shiho had gone back to her very casual posture as if whatever had transpired between them hadn't phased her any.

Akira frowned. “Why does everybody keep doing that?”

“Doing what?” Ann asked too quickly and too innocently, her voice pitched way too high.

“You know, getting that look on their face whenever I introduce myself. First the head camp counselor, then my cabin mate, and now you two. Is there something I need to know about?”

Shiho looked genuinely sorry for him. “Everybody knows about you,” she said. “About what you did.”

Akira’s frown deepened. “Oh what did I do?” he growled.

Ann took a step forward again. “Hey, watch it. I’ll report you.”

Shiho put a hand on Ann’s shoulder to settle her. “Ann, don’t.” She looked at Akira again. “Anyway, your court date, the assault charges, everything. Everybody knows about it. I don’t know how so don’t bother asking. But that’s why you keep getting those looks. Plus, what I can only assume are fake rumors are spreading fast. They’re very exaggerated. At least… I hope they are.”

Akira sighed. He should’ve known better. He had expected rumors; that was almost a given. But he hadn't anticipated the whole camp knowing every detail about him.

“But,” Shiho continued, “I won’t judge you based on that.” She held out her hand and he took it. She shook his hand with a surprisingly firm grip. “I’m Shiho Suzui. And my cohort over here,” she jerked a thumb at Ann, “is Ann Takamaki.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

“You seem okay. Even if you were spying on us,” Shiho said slyly, a smirk on her face.

Akira smiled back. “I wasn’t spying. I just wanted to have some peace and quiet. One of my cabin mates seems like he might be a little annoying and I’m not too keen on meeting the rest. You guys just happened to be playing volleyball right in my peace and quiet spot.”

Ann, now a little more at ease with the situation, added playfully, “Your peace and quiet spot? You just got here. How can you claim it already?”

Akira chuckled at that and threw his hands up in surrender. “That’s fair. Fine, you win.”

The group went quiet for a beat before Shiho said, “So you said you met Niijima-san, yeah?”

Akira nodded. “Unfortunately. She seems like she’s going to be more of a pain in my ass than I am in hers.”

Shiho elbowed Ann gently in the side when she burst out laughing from that statement. “Niijima-san isn’t known for her… um… kindness,” Shiho said almost like it pained her to say so. “She cares. But she’s not very nice. Best you just stay out of her way.”

“I’ve heard that.”

“At least he doesn’t have to share a room with her,” Ann groaned. “I hate being with her uptight ass. We've been sharing a room with her since we went to the middle school camp. Literally, if we leave anything out, she gets on our case about it.”

Shiho couldn’t argue with that one and just shrugged.

The group fell into a more casual conversation after that. They chatted about their home life, their school work, and really anything that they enjoyed doing outside of the camp. They sat around the tree talking for the rest of the time until the announcement for the opening ceremony could be heard over the loudspeaker.

“Guess it’s time to get this over with,” Ann said as she stretched. Her head was in Shiho’s lap; and when she stretched, she reached her arms up and around Shiho. “Can we skip?”

“I’d love to,” Akira said, watching her. He noted how attractive she was in her uniform gym clothes. He wondered how good she’d look in clothes that she had actually picked out. “But I think if I skip it’ll just create more problems.”

Shiho was absently petting Ann’s hair. “We should go,” she said. “I also don’t want to get in trouble if somehow Niijima-san notices we’re not there. Because she’s got a, like, sixth sense when it comes to us not being where we should be.”

“True,” Ann said sitting up. “Fine, let’s go.”

The group stood up and started off towards the main grounds again.

~--~

The opening ceremony was held in the camp’s amphitheater. The stage was a circle but the seats only formed a semi-circle around it. They were made of rock and seemed set right into the hill that they sloped down on. Akira grabbed a seat near the back by himself. He hadn’t seen Mishima around anywhere. Ann and Shiho had seemed to straight up vanish once they got there.

It wasn’t a moment before a blond haired boy plopped himself down next to Akira. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt that was definitely not in the dress code and the straight black pants that were from the uniform. He glanced around quickly as if looking for someone then looked at Akira with a smile. “You haven’t seen Niijima around have you?” he asked quietly.

As if saying her name summoned her, Makoto Niijima’s voice came from behind the two. “Sakamoto-san, you know that shirt is not part of the uniform. I expect you to start dressing appropriately.”

The boy smiled sweetly at her. “Yes, ma’am.”

Makoto squinted at him, a scowl on her face. “I’m watching you.” She started off towards the stage without another word.

“Damn,” the boy muttered. He looked at Akira again. “I dunno who stuck a barbed pole all the way up her ass, but I wish they’d remove it. I mean, Niijima is a bitch on a good day. But she’s been on a warpath since she got here. Like full throttle out to kill. Spill some blood, you know what I mean?”

Akira nodded slightly. “Yeah… I’ve been told multiple times today to stay out of her way. Is that your advice too?”

The boy laughed. “Absolutely not. If anything it’s more fun to get her going as long as she can’t actually get you in trouble for anything. Like a write up for dress-code is literally nothing. Anyway, I’m Ryuji Sakamoto.”

“Akira Kurusu.”

“Nice. You’re in the cabin with me.”

Akira nodded, slightly caught off guard that Ryuji didn’t say anything about him being a criminal. Maybe he hadn’t heard yet. Or maybe he was choosing to ignore it. Either way, Akira was pleased by this development.

The opening ceremony started and was pretty much what Akira had expected. The camp supervisor, Kobayakawa, came on stage and welcomed everybody to the camp for the summer. Then he passed the mic off to the camp director, Kawakami, and she continued on with what they’d be doing for the summer. The whole thing seemed pointless. Even though he hadn’t read it, he figured the packet he’d been given would’ve covered most of what was said here. But he wasn’t going to read the packet anyway and that’s probably why the opening ceremony existed. For the most part, he was bored out of his mind though.

Beside him, Ryuji was busy folding paper into cranes. Akira wasn’t sure where he got the paper or why he only knew how to make cranes. But there was already four sitting in Ryuji’s lap and he was working on a fifth.

“You like cranes?” Akira asked quietly as Kawakami droned on about canoeing across the lake or something equally as boring. He wasn’t even sure he was doing canoeing.

Ryuji shrugged. “My mom taught me how to make ‘em. They pass the time.”

Akira felt like there was more to that statement but didn’t pry. Instead, he continued with, “Do you know Suzui-san and Takamaki-san?”

“Yeah, I’ve known them for a while. We went to the middle school camp together before this and me and Suzui went here together last year. We don’t go to the same school, but we all live in Tokyo. We’ve met up a couple of times for lunch and stuff.”

“Takamaki-san didn’t go here last year?”

Ryuji shook his head. “Nah. Her parents are like famous fashion designers or something. They took her to America for the summer. New York or something? I don’t remember or really care.”

Akira nodded, watching Ryuji finish another crane. He watched the other boy fidget with it for a moment before he pulled out another piece of paper and began folding another one. It seemed almost like a nervous habit. At the very least, something to keep his hands busy when he had to sit still. He found it fascinating that none of them were subpar in quality. Ryuji had clearly been doing this for a very long time and kept in practice.

“And that concludes the opening ceremony!” Kawakami called from the stage. Akira could feel the wave of relief from the gathered campers. “You may all head back to your cabins after grabbing a quick meal from the mess hall. Get plenty of rest! You’ll have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”

Akira stood up and stretched. His butt had gone numb from sitting on the rock seat for close to an hour. He watched Ryuji shove his cranes into his pocket before standing up himself.

“Good thing we get to eat. I’m starved!” he said loudly.

Akira nodded with a smile. “Yeah.”

As they headed towards the mess hall, Akira noted that Ryuji loved to talk. And he was pretty loud about it. He had gotten used to Ryuji’s more quiet voice while they were whispering during the ceremony. This must’ve been his normal speaking voice. He was fine with it since he didn’t talk much anyway and Ryuji was definitely carrying the conversation. And it was oddly charming. Ryuji was very passionate about whatever it was he was talking about. Akira was only following about half the conversation. When they’d arrived at the mess hall, gotten their food, and sat down, Ryuji was only halfway through his story.

Mishima came and sat beside Akira. “Hey!”

Ryuji shut up for half a second, more so out of the shock of being cut off than anything else. He quickly bounced back though, “Hey, you’re Mishima, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Ah, so you’re our roommate. But who’s the fourth guy?”

Mishima tilted his head to the side in confusion. “I thought it was just us three. I didn’t write down the fourth nameplate.”

Ryuji shook his head quickly. “When I was in the cabin earlier, next to your wardrobe the nameplate was filled out.”

“What did it say?” Akira asked.

“Kitagawa.”

“Huh,” Mishima said. “I’ve never heard of him. At least, he’s never come to this camp before.”

Mishima and Ryuji continued to discuss the topic while Akira spotted Makoto across the hall standing with a thin, tall boy. The boy’s hair fell well past his shoulders and was braided in a single, loose braid. Akira couldn’t describe the color. It was black with almost a blue hue to it. He was wearing the standard grey polo with the camp’s tanuki logo and the camp’s black pants.

Makoto caught his eye and waved slightly. Then she turned to the boy and said something to him. He bent down slightly to hear her and then his gaze drifted to meet Akira’s. Makoto said something else and then disappeared from the boy’s side.

The boy started forward. His movements were languid as he seemed to almost melt through the crowd of people. He reached the table in almost no time at all but then hesitated as if he didn’t know how to inject himself into Mishima and Ryuji’s conversation. Of course, Akira had been the only one to notice him at this point.

“Excuse me,” he said in a smooth voice that was gentle and polite.

Ryuji and Mishima looked up at the boy now. If they had thought anything about his arrival, they didn’t show it. They just waited patiently for him to continue.

“I’m Yusuke Kitagawa,” the boy continued. “I’ll be your final roommate for the summer. I hope that we all get along well.” He bowed slightly then seated himself beside Ryuji in a fluid motion.

“I’m Ryuji Sakamoto,” Ryuji piped up first. “And same.”

“Yuuki Mishima,” Mishima said quietly, but with a smile.

“Akira Kurusu.”

It was definitely going to be an interesting summer.

Chapter Text

The first week of camp passed by eventfully to say the least. Monday through Saturday all the campers had assigned activities that they were required to go to. Some of them were just mandatory camp activities but others were ones that the campers picked out and were interested in. It had taken him a few days to get used to the schedule. Akira had to say that the worst part was that there was mandatory classwork as well. Since the camp started technically before the summer break did, the kids had to miss about two weeks of school. Which was nice, since not going to school was one of Akira’s favorite activities. But also, it meant doing classwork at camp.

The daily schedule was packed as well. They were required to report to their first activity at eight in the morning. Then activities ran until four in the afternoon with an hour lunch break in the middle. The mess hall opened fully for dinner at five and was open until seven. Everybody was required to be back in their cabins by nine and lights out was by ten. It was a long day and was almost more exhausting than it was fun.

At the very least, he and all his cabin mates were getting along just fine. They’d already all gotten onto a first name basis with one another. Except for Mishima who everyone agreed was better known as Mishima. And Mishima seemed to be just fine being referred to as such; he added something about being their cabin leader and maybe they shouldn't get too chummy. But if they were feeling really playful and wanted to mess with him, they’d call him Yuuki-chan.

Akira was glad that everyone was meshing well. Even Yusuke, though he was a little weird, seemed to be getting on well. Surprisingly enough, Yusuke and Ryuji were actually getting on the best. They often hung out outside of their scheduled together activities. Ryuji was even rubbing some of his delinquent tendencies off onto Yusuke. If he could convince him, the two would pull pranks on Mishima. They never tried to pull anything over on Akira though. They knew better. Despite the two seeming like polar opposites, their friendship had blossomed into something Akira wasn’t proud of but was very fond of. Then again, perhaps what they say about opposites attracting was true.

Akira's morning started early on Sunday. He had been hoping to sleep in on his free day. He could hear the other boys still sleeping in their bunks. The cicadas outside the room were singing loudly and the morning was already hot. He knew he wouldn’t be getting back to sleep any time soon, so he decided just to get up instead. He rolled out of bed and stepped on several of the dozens of paper cranes that littered the floor. He made a quick mental note to make Ryuji pick them all up later. He still wasn’t sure where Ryuji was getting all the paper from, but it looked like some of the cranes were starting to be made out of wrappers and other scraps of paper. He wasn't sure what would happen if Ryuji ran out of paper to make the cranes.

Akira walked to his wardrobe and quickly dressed in the first casual outfit he was allowed to wear. He chose a pair of plain khaki shorts and a light blue, V-neck t-shirt. After looking at himself in the mirror quickly and running his hand through his unruly hair, he put on his glasses and stepped outside into the morning air.

The air was heavy and humid and he knew that his hair was going to be even more of a mess later in the afternoon. There wasn’t much to be done about the swamp monster he was about to become. He wondered if the other boys would maybe want to go swimming with him later at the lake. If he was going to end up being wet today, it might as well be in something that he had chosen for himself.

As he drew up mock plans to tell his friends later, he heard the distinct laughter of Ann Takamaki. He headed around the back of his cabin to see Ann and Shiho heading towards the dance building.

This was the first time he'd ever seen the girls outside of their uniforms. Ann was wearing a red crop top sweater with the word ‘FIRE’ written across in blue letters, a pair of black dance shorts, and a pair of red high-top sneakers. Shiho was wearing a light blue sports bra, a pair of black drop crotch pants that ended just above her ankle, and lighter black sneakers. Both of them looked stunning. Although, with Ann's parents being fashion designers, he highly doubted that she would show up anywhere not looking her best. And Shiho probably just got to tag along being Ann's best friend.

The two girls didn’t notice him as they entered the building on the near side of the athletic fields. Akira, figuring that his friends wouldn’t be awake for a little while longer, headed that way to watch the girls dance.

When he got there, he leaned on one of the open windows. The girls had already started dancing. The song was familiar to him, something that was pop, but it was in English so he couldn’t really place it. They were dancing playfully with one another. He wasn’t sure if this was something serious they were working on or if this is just how they started when they practiced. Both of them were good dancers with Ann being the slightly better one. She seemed to have more of a sense of rhythm than Shiho and her moves were tighter and better executed. Not that Shiho wasn’t holding her own.

The dance continued and when it finally ended Shiho dipped Ann. Ann’s leg went straight up in the air, which Akira found to be quite impressive. The girls stayed like that for a moment, breathing heavily. Just as Akira was about to clap to announce his presence, Shiho leaned in and kissed Ann right on the lips.

“Oh my God,” was what ended up tumbling out of Akira’s mouth, followed by a short clap as his hands involuntarily fell together.

The girls’ heads whipped to the side to see him standing in the open window. “AKIRA!” they shouted in unison. Shiho almost dropped Ann but managed to catch her awkwardly by the arms and lower her to the floor. She stepped over Ann and marched to the window. 

“What the fuck?” Shiho said, gesturing to him with both of her hands. Akira could tell that was pretty much all she could think to say at that moment.

“I’m pretty much always in the wrong place when I see you two, aren’t I?” he responded. His tone was playful but not mocking. Then he added in a more serious tone, “I really did just want to see you two dance. I was awake and saw you heading over here. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Shiho sighed. “No. It’s fine. I’m glad it was you and not somebody else.”

“We don’t want Niijima to find out,” Ann said. She was still on the floor in the studio, her pigtails making a puddle around her head.

“Do you think she’d be mad or something?” Akira asked.

“No,” Shiho said. “But she might separate us. It’s not like we’re doing anything in the cabin or something. But I don’t know…” She shifted awkwardly like this was something she didn’t really want to talk about.

Akira smiled. He pinched his thumb and pointer finger together, slid them across his lips, twisted it slightly at the end, and then made a flicking motion. “Honestly, I didn’t even know you knew the word fuck, Suzui,” he said with a laugh.

“Clearly you don’t spend enough time with her,” Ann called. “She’s got quite the mouth on her.”

“Ann,” Shiho whined. “Don’t tell him that.”

Akira laughed. “Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” Shiho said. She left the window and returned to Ann, kicking her gently with the side of her foot.

Ann grunted softly. She hadn’t recovered all her dignity yet so she wasn’t ready to stand up.

Akira entered the building and sat along one of the walls. He watched the two for a moment. “How long have you guys been… dancing?” He put extra emphasis on the word hoping they’d catch on. "Also, I didn't even realize. I thought you guys were just really good friends."

“We get that a lot, which is kinda the point.” Ann looked at Shiho for a moment. “But we've only been dancing for, like, sixth months. But we’ve known each other and have been best friends since middle school. She told me my art was shit!” Ann lifted her foot up and kicked at Shiho playfully.

“It was absolutely terrible,” Shiho said, looking at Akira. “Like God awful. I thought I’d die after seeing it.”

“Don’t be so rude!” Ann protested. “You’re so mean to me.”

Shiho ignored her. “For someone whose parents are fashion designers you’d think this girl would have even a shred of artistic ability.”

Ann kicked Shiho in the butt, leaving a dusty footprint. This only made Shiho laugh. She patted the back of her pants to wipe off the dirt.

Akira smiled at them. “You guys seem to get along very well,” he commented.

“Some might say too well,” Ann said with a wink.

“Gross,” Shiho laughed. “Anyway, Akira did say he wanted to see us dance and we haven’t even really done anything yet.”

Ann groaned and picked herself up off the floor finally. “I hate dancing early. I’m more of an afternoon dancer.” She flipped one of her pigtails over her shoulder. “I deserve better.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t say you’re a nighttime dancer,” Shiho said, which earned an eye roll from Ann. “Anyway, it’s the only time we get to use the space alone so suck it up.” Ann made a pouty face at her while she started up the music from the beginning. Then both girls jumped back into their routine.

Akira watched them perform the whole routine at least three times and parts of the routine more times than he could. It wasn't boring but it was more time than he thought he'd be spending there. With each attempt, Shiho would match Ann a little more beat for beat. When they finished the routine, Ann would give Shiho notes and then count them down again. After the fourth full time, Ann called for a break and Shiho went over to Akira and sat down beside him.

She rested her head against his shoulder. She smelled like sweat. “God, she’s tough on me.” She rubbed her knee gently, wincing a little at the tension she found there.

“You know you could offer payback in the form of tough volleyball practice,” he said quietly. He glanced at Ann but she was too busy running a few moves through by herself to hear him.

“You know you’re right.”

“Yo, Akira!” The door was pushed open by Ryuji. He was dressed in the same bright yellow shirt that he was wearing when Akira had first met him and cargo shorts. “Whatcha doing hanging out with these losers?” He clearly wasn't being serious.

“Can you be any more annoying, Ryuji?” Ann asked. Akira saw her roll her eyes so hard he thought she could’ve hurt herself. “We’re having dance practice if you couldn't tell.”

“Oh, sor-ry,” Ryuji said back. He waved a hand at her and turned back to Akira. “Anyway, Niijima is looking for you, for some reason. She seemed pissed that you weren’t in the cabin this morning when she came around. I said I’d go find you just so that I didn’t have to deal with her. I’m afraid she might’ve killed Mishima, though. Poor kid never had a chance.”

"May God rest his soul," Shiho muttered.

“Why is she looking for me exactly?” Akira asked. 

“Man, I don’t know. She wouldn’t say. But you better hurry and go to the counselors’ office before she puts a camp-wide alert out and they detain your ass.”
Akira stood with a sigh. Being called to talk to Makoto was probably going to end badly for him. “Wish me luck, guys,” he said to them all. He heard a chorus of ‘good luck’s and ‘I’ll miss you’s as he left.

He crossed the campgrounds to where the counselors’ office was. It didn’t look much different from the cabins, with its only defining feature being its door sign that marked it as the office.

Akira opened the door and entered an air-conditioned room. It was small with rows of desks much like the faculty offices back at school. Makoto was sitting at one in the back. She was still wearing her uniform. Her body language suggested that she was very stressed about something. Wasn’t camp supposed to be fun?

He made his way gingerly over to her, much like a person would approach a tiger. “Excuse me, Niijima-san,” he greeted as warmly as he could. “You were looking for me?”

She shuffled a few papers on her desk before turning to look up at him. Her red eyes were fiery and she had a big frown on her face. “Where were you this morning?”

“I was with Takamaki-san and Suzui-san. They were at the dance studio early practicing. They invited me along. Plus, it’s Sunday and those are our free days, aren’t they?”

Her expression hardened and Akira knew he’d royally fucked up. “Yes, but you’re not a normal camper here. Don’t you know you’re supposed to report every Sunday to the counselors’ office and check in with me?”

“No?”

“It was in your packet that I gave you on the first day.”

Akira silently cursed himself. He knew he should’ve at least skimmed the whole thing instead of just looking at his schedule and cabin assignment. He said nothing.

“You didn’t read it, did you?”

He smirked a little. “I skimmed it. A little."

Makoto sighed and rubbed her forehead. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Let me off with a warning?” he suggested.

“Oh ha ha. That’s very funny.” She sat back in her chair and stared at her desk, her arms crossed over her chest. “No. I want to make sure this is the last time you fail to report. Listen, Kurusu-kun, I don’t want to be hard on you. But I also have a job to keep the campers safe. That includes you. Do you have any idea what’ll happen to you if you mess up this summer?”

Akira shifted, the air between them tensing. He knew exactly what would happen if this camp decided he wasn’t cut out to be there. If he screwed up even once, it could mean the end of his life as he knew it. This camp was basically the gift that the judge had given him. He could attend camp while on parol. If he did well, he would get off parol and become a somewhat normal kid again. If he failed, he would get sent off to a juvenile correctional facility. He couldn't screw up here. Makoto knew this as well as he did, apparently.

“I’m very sorry, Niijima-san,” he said sincerely. “I should’ve read the packet. Whatever you have to do to me, go ahead.”

Makoto looked at him again. “You and I will do cooking duty this afternoon, okay? It’s not as fun as it sounds so it’s still a punishment. But not as bad as cleaning the bathrooms.” She smiled to herself for a moment as if laughing at a joke only she understood. “Go change into your uniform. I don’t want you getting your clothes dirty since I can get you a new uniform if need be. Meet me outside the mess hall when you’re done. Don’t be any later than eleven, okay?”

“Of course,” Akira said. “Am I dismissed?”

This got another small smile out of her. “Yes, you are.”

He left the counselors’ office feeling a little jittery. He wasn’t sure if it was leftover nerves for thinking he was about to get in serious trouble or what. But it was nice that Makoto seemed somewhat on his side. He felt like she could almost be his friend.

Chapter Text

Akira arrived fifteen minutes early to the mess hall. Makoto had given him almost forty-five minutes to get ready. He had taken that extra time to actually try to tame his hair and clean his glasses. He was still feeling a bit on edge if he was being honest. Although, he couldn’t quite place why. Perhaps the thought of hanging out with the head counselor was getting to him. Or the fact that he had gotten in trouble still hadn't shaken itself off yet.

When he arrived he tried the front door to the mess hall, but it was locked. Makoto hadn’t really specified where he was supposed to be going. He rounded the building to the backside. There were several dumpsters piled high with trash and between them another door, propped open with a brick. He could hear people talking inside but wasn’t sure exactly who. One of them was definitely a female voice.


He pulled open the door slightly. All that he could see was a long hall lined with closets and a doorway at the end. He called in, “Hello? I’m supposed to be helping out with cooking duty.”

A girl’s head poked through the doorway at the end of the hall. Her fluffy, light brown hair was contained underneath a hairnet. Akira had thought he'd seen her around camp a few times but had never actually met her. She smiled brightly at him. “Come in! You must be Kurusu-san. Makoto told us that you would be coming to help. The more the merrier!”

“Us?” Akira asked, walking towards her.

“Ah yes! Sakura-san makes all the meals here. I just help. But he’s teaching me a lot of things! I’m Haru Okumura, by the way.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Okumura-san. I’m Akira Kurusu.” He reached the end of the hall and gave Haru a slight bow as he passed.

The kitchen wasn’t very big. Most of the space in the mess hall was occupied by tables now that Akira thought about it. It was almost surprising that a kitchen this small could feed all the kids that attended this camp. Especially Ryuji. That boy ate a ton. On the stove was already a giant pot of something that smelled amazing. A man was at a counter chopping more ingredients and putting it into a second large pot.

“What are we making?” Akira asked neither Haru nor the man in particular.

“Curry,” the man responded gruffly. “Curry and coffee are served for lunch every Sunday.”

“Curry and coffee?” Akira asked, sounding a little skeptical.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it,” Haru said. “Sakura-san makes the most incredible curry I’ve ever had. I think that any kid at this camp has ever had.”

The man laughed. “You kids flatter me too much.” He turned from the vegetables and eyed Akira. He stroked his small beard thoughtfully. Akira did his best to stand still under the prying gaze. “So you’re Kurusu-kun, huh? Not much to you, eh? Hard to believe you’re the criminal everybody is talking about. I’m Sojiro Sakura.”

Akira bowed slightly to him. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Why don’t you help Haru-san with the coffee and then finish chopping what’s left over there.” He gestured with his knife to a pile of vegetables.

“Will do," Akira answered.

Akira got to work with Haru. She was babbling about something related to how brewing coffee was an art and she was going to master it someday. She sounded a bit like Yusuke if Yusuke was passionate about coffee. He didn't understand much of what she was talking about, but at least he felt he could follow the conversation. Haru also had a very polite way of talking, much like Yusuke. Akira liked it. It suited her very well.

“Sorry, I’m late!” Akira recognized Makoto’s voice as she called from the hall leading to the back door. “Kurusu-kun was supposed to meet me and—” She stopped dead when she rounded the corner and saw him. “Oh.”

“I got here early and kind of let myself in,” Akira said, looking up from the coffee he was brewing with Haru. “Sorry. You didn’t really specify where you wanted to meet.”

“That’s fine,” Makoto said. She still seemed a bit stunned but was recovering. She must’ve been ready for a whole rant about him and it was now just caught in her brain. “That’s my fault. Thank you for being early.” Without another word, she went over to Sojiro and started to help.

Akira got back to his own work with Haru. The kitchen was a little tight with four people occupying it, but they managed as best they could. Akira almost wondered if Makoto hadn't fully thought out this punishment, as he was more in the way than anything else. He might've even been hindering their progress on certain things. The time passed quickly, though, and soon enough there was plenty of coffee and curry to go around. Haru left the kitchen to go unlock the mess hall doors.

“We’ll eat after everyone else,” Makoto told him. “Then we’ll wash all the dishes. That’s the actual not fun part of helping in the kitchen. The cooking actually isn’t all that bad.”

Akira nodded in agreement. Cooking with Sojiro was actually incredibly fun. The old man was grumpy for sure. But he had a softer side to him and he gave praise and encouragement to the three youths often while they worked. He had taken a moment to talk to Akira about his record and learn a bit more about it. He was curious, but he wasn’t judgmental. And Akira felt that he could actually vent truthfully to the old man. He’d said some things that he’d maybe not even mentioned to his parents about the situation. He was honestly wondering if he could come and cook with Sojiro more often. Or at the very least, catch him when he wasn’t working and talk to him some more.

The kitchen started to bustle again as Sojiro put them into a line and had them start making plates to serve. Akira was set up with putting the rice in the dish. Sojiro showed him the proper way to do it and he tried his best to recreate it every time.

Once all the dishes had been served, Makoto pulled Akira aside with two plates in her hands. “Let’s go out back and eat.”

“With the trash?” Akira said with a smirk.

“There’s a table a little beyond that!” Makoto protested. “I wasn’t trying to insinuate that you’re trash or anything.”

Akira laughed. “Whatever you say, Niijima-san.”

“Listen, I don’t have to give you this dish, you know.”

“What happened to you protecting all the campers here including me, Miss Head Counselor?”

“Oh my God. You’re absolutely impossible to deal with.”

This made him laugh again and she actually smiled at him. “I’m sorry. Let’s go eat. I’m starved.”

They made their way out back and further away nestled back near a few trees was indeed a picnic table. Makoto sat down on one side and Akira chose to sit beside her instead of on the other side. She scooted a bit further away from him and then started to eat. They ate in silence.
“So,” Akira started, once the silence got a little too heavy for him, “can I ask you a pretty candid question that only close friends would ask each other?”

Makoto stopped eating for a second to consider it. “Can you ask the question first and then I answer it?”

“Sure. Do you have a boyfriend?”

She nearly choked on her food. “K-Kurusu-kun that’s not… I… What the fuck?” Her face had flushed bright red and she refused to look at him.

“I told you it was candid.”

“Yeah but that’s… not even something I’ve… I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Why do you even want to know?”

“I’m just trying to have a conversation.”

“There are much lighter conversations to have, you know.”

Akira shrugged and ate more of his curry. His pause was strategic. It gave Makoto a little time to think since she’d just been thrown way off her game. He wanted to let her think that she was back in control of the conversation as to not scare her off. She needed the control, he knew that much.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked now. She sounded more composed.

“No,” he responded simply. It was an answer and a small one. No context needed. She could respond the same way now.

“I don’t either.” She paused. “I mean, I don’t have a boyfriend. I mean, I don’t have a girlfriend either but I meant I don’t have a boyfriend.” She turned away again and played with her curry. Still out of control but she hadn't gotten mad at him. 

“Hm. Interesting. Do you know any gossip?” He sipped his coffee.

“Not really? Most people tend to not tell me anything juicy since they think I’ll get them in trouble for it. Not that I want to be in on gossip and rumors. But…” She shrugged.

Akira nodded. “I feel like you still know stuff. Shiho said you have a sixth sense for knowing when she and Ann are not where they’re supposed to be.”

“She’s just exaggerating. Generally, whenever they should be somewhere, I’m also in the same place. So if they’re not there, it’s pretty easy to notice. And what gossip do you have for me?”

“Nothing at all,” he said smoothly. He glanced over at her and she was staring intently at him. “I know a lot of things though. I’m very observant.”

“I don’t like the way you say that.”

Akira smiled. “Got something you’re hiding?”

“Not at all,” Makoto said sternly. She had finished her curry at this point and was messing around with the scraps on her plate.

“Should we get back to washing dishes?” Akira leaned back slightly away from the table. He was satisfied with how this conversation went.

“Yeah probably.”

The two went inside. Haru and Sojiro were nowhere to be found but there was a large stack of plates next to the sink to be washed. Akira felt a little daunted by the task. Makoto delegated him to wash the dishes and herself to dry since as she put it, “He was the one in trouble and not her.”

He put on some gloves and go to work washing. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t the worst work he’d ever done. And Makoto, despite not being the most welcoming presence, was at least making the task less lonely. After their conversation outside, Akira had also come to appreciate her more. She really wasn’t that hard to uproot and make uncomfortable despite her tough looking exterior. He decided that Ryuji was right. She was a lot of fun to fluster if she couldn’t get you in trouble for it. And really, he’d done nothing wrong. He was beginning to really like talking to Makoto. 

He started to hum the song that Shiho and Ann were dancing to that morning. He still couldn’t place how he knew it, but it was familiar to him. Makoto gave him a weird look prompting him to ask, “What?”

“Nothing. I just… are you a fan of that song?”

“Not really. Shiho and Ann are dancing a routine to it and I heard it roughly eight times this morning. It’s just stuck in my head.”

“Oh. That makes more sense.”

“What is it? I can’t place it. It’s in English so I don’t really know the lyrics that well.”

Makoto smiled. “It’s by Carly Rae Jepsen.”

“Oh! That explains why I know it. She was really popular at my school. Thanks.”

They both went back to doing the dishes, quietly humming the song together.

When the dishes were finally done, Makoto let Akira go back to having the rest of his free day. Not much was left of it at this point. Dinner would be starting in another two or so hours at this point. He checked his phone and didn’t see any messages from his friends. Although, his service was very shoddy here and he could’ve just not received them. Either way, he kind of wanted to spend the rest of his afternoon alone after spending so much time around other people. A short walk by himself on the walking trails would do.

It didn’t take him long to be somewhat far from camp. He was still on a marked path, but campers rarely ventured out this far on their own. Large trees shot up into the sky and dappled the sunlight that reached him. The day had cooled off considerably and now a light breeze rustled the leaves of the high branches. Perhaps it was going to rain soon. A little rain wouldn’t be so bad.

He headed off the trail a little bit and sat down at the base of one of the trees. He pulled out his journal and started to write down things that had happened throughout the day. He left out a few key details in case anyone who wasn’t supposed to happened to read the journal. He doodled little pictures in the margin once he was done recounting his day.

Akira heard a soft meow from somewhere and looked around quickly. He couldn’t see anything around. “Hello?”

Another meow answered him. It was longer this time and more stressed.

Akira stood up and started looking around for the source of the meows. He continued to call out for the cat in hopes that it would keep meowing in response to him. He felt a little silly like he was playing Marco Polo with the animal.

Finally, he found a small black and white cat on the lower branches of a tree. It had white on its muzzle, all four paws, and the tip of its tail. It must have been feral because it looked fairly small and ragged. How had it ended up so close to the camp, though? When it caught sight of him, it meowed loudly. It paced to the end of the branch it was on and looked like it wanted to jump down then hesitated. Then it went back to the trunk of the tree and made another attempt to come down. When it hesitated again, it meowed.

“Well you got yourself stuck up there,” Akira responded. “What do you want me to do? I can’t get up there.”

He watched the cat pace a few more times, trying to decide what he could do to help it down. It wasn’t terribly high up, so perhaps if it just leaped down he could catch it. It might hurt a bit, but it was pretty much the only option he had.

He stood closer under the cat and patted his chest. “Just jump down to me,” he said. “I’ll catch you.”

The cat paced on the branch a few more times before steeling itself. It leaped down from the tree and hit square into Akira’s chest. Despite the cat being small, the force of it knocked him down. He gripped the cat tightly as he fell backward as to not drop it.

When he had settled himself again, he opened up his arms. The cat was shaking slightly as it sat there. He scratched it behind the ears and smiled. “Hey there,” he said gently. “You’re okay.” He held the cat out in front of him. “How about you come back to camp with me? I’ll get you something to eat. And it looks like it's about to rain.”

Chapter Text

Akira woke with a start. The cat’s loud cry pierced the air. Akira shot out of bed, trying to find where the cat was to try and shut him up. He felt several paper cranes get crushed under his feet. The other boys wouldn’t even start getting ready for activities for at least another hour. Akira was fairly certain they would not take kindly to being woken up by the cat. He tripped over something and cursed loudly. 

“Dude, shut that effin’ cat up,” came Ryuji’s tired voice. He was leaning over the edge of the top bunk. Akira could just make him out in the dim lighting.

“I’m trying. I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Akira responded. He had finally found the cat and scooped it up. He desperately tried to quiet him down with little success.

The cat squirmed out of his arms and fell gracefully to the floor. Then he ran back to the door and started to scratch at the frame. He turned in several circles before scratching again. All the while, he was screaming.

“Just take him outside, man. Maybe he’s gotta go to the bathroom,” Ryuji said. He was watching the whole scene but made no attempt to get off the bed.

“You think this cat I found in the woods is house trained?” Akira shot back. “He’s not a dog.” He didn’t mean to sound so defensive but he was just as frustrated with the cat as Ryuji.

“Well, I dunno! Just take him out of here!”

Akira scooped up the cat again and left the cabin. Once outside the cat seemed to calm down considerably. He carried it over to where a small patch of woods backed up to the edge of the manicured lawn. The cat jumped down from his arms and scooted around into the underbrush.

Akira waited. He wasn’t too keen on going in after the cat. He wasn’t much of a fan of bugs, and it would probably be hard to find the cat again if he went in after it anyway. If anything, it would be almost better if the cat just kind of disappeared. He sat on the grass, which was still a bit wet from the night's rain, and started to pull some of it up while he waited.

He quietly hoped that the cat wouldn’t just disappear on him. He had grown rather fond of it overnight. He’d brought it back to camp and convinced everyone in the cabin that he was going to try and keep it. Yusuke was surprisingly the most on board with it, but Akira figured that he just wanted to paint the cat. Mishima had been reluctant since he was their cabin leader and counselor after all. But he begrudgingly agreed not to say anything. It seemed he was also fond of having a camp pet. Ryuji had been the most stubborn. Akira wasn’t sure if he just didn’t like cats, or if specifically didn’t like this cat. Either way, the cat was staying.

He had given the cat some food from the mess hall. Then he snuck it into the showers to bathe it, which it didn’t enjoy in the slightest. And then last night, the cat had slept curled up next to his face. It was both adorable and annoying since the cat had a lot of dreams. He also shook whenever there was a crack of thunder in the sky. But Akira had enjoyed having the cat's company anyway.

“What are you doing up so early?”

Akira looked back to see Makoto Niijima standing behind him. Of course. He was starting to believe that Shiho had been right. Any time he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to be she was there. It was almost magical.

“Good morning, Niijima-senpai,” he responded politely. “I could ask you why you’re up so early as well, but I’m sure you’d have a better answer than I do.”

She squatted down beside him, arranging her skirt as she did. He noticed that she looked unusually tired, dark circles under her eyes that she’d yet to conceal. Her hair hadn’t been taken care of either. It hung loosely around her face with pieces sticking out. She must’ve just gotten out of bed and thrown on clothes to go for a walk, much like he had. He wondered what was going on with the head counselor behind closed doors. Maybe Ann or Shiho had some more insight into it.

“That’s not always true,” she said. “Sometimes my reasons for being awake this early aren’t good ones.”

“That sounds suspiciously vague,” Akira responded. “Do you want me to pry deeper or not?”

Makoto shrugged. “I don’t know.” She plucked a blade of grass and twirled it in her fingers. “To be honest, I do wish I could talk to someone about things. I don’t really have a lot of friends here.”

“I’m not sure how much this would help but I could be your friend.”

Makoto laughed. “Kurusu-kun, you don’t have to pity me.”

“I’m not.” His tone was dead serious, making Makoto’s hands stop tearing at the blade of grass she had. “Let’s get dinner to go. We’ll go back to my cabin and hang out. Sound good?”

“I-I couldn’t impose—”

“You wouldn’t be. Let’s just be normal for a little bit and have dinner as friends. Meet me outside around five-thirty.”

Makoto stood up quickly. “O-Okay. I’ll see you at dinner then.” She shuffled away quickly towards her cabin.

He watched her go. She seemed caught off guard by the request. He had figured not a lot of campers were asking the head counselor to eat dinner with them, but she had to have at least one friend here. Right? He was a bit worried that he might be the only person to ever ask her to eat dinner with him.

The cat sprung out of the woods as soon as she left, almost like he’d been waiting for her to leave to reveal himself. He rubbed his face against Akira’s knees. He was also licking his lips a lot.

Akira picked up the cat underneath its armpits and held it out straight in front of him. He stared it straight in its blue eyes. “Did you kill something and eat it?” 

The cat blinked slowly at him. 

“You monster. But I supposed that’s better than me sneaking you a bunch of human food. You still need a name.”

The cat meowed softly.

“Morgana it is!”

Chapter Text

07:15
Akira to Ryuji, Ann, Shiho, Yusuke, Mishima, Haru

 

Akira: Yo let’s meet up before dinner. I gotta talk to you guys
Ryuji: Dude why not just come to the cabin and tell us???
Akira: Does it look like the girls live in our cabin?? They’re in this chat too
Ryuji: I mean with how much u see them it’s almost like they do.
Ann: I'm glad we’re included but why do you need to see us? Also, Ryuji, shut it.
Akira: It’s a surprise!
Akira: You won’t be disappointed ;)
Ryuji: That doesn’t make me feel good about it
Ann: Yeah the emoji is definitely untrustworthy.
Akira: You can trust me!! See you guys later!

 

Akira quickly got ready for his activities and bowled Morgana into the cabin. He gave the cat strict instructions to stay out of sight. It was pretty much pointless to mention this, as he was just a cat, but either way, the cat jumped onto Ryuji’s bed and tucked itself away in the back corner. Akira prayed that Ryuji wouldn’t be mad about this and that the cat could hold out until lunchtime to be let outside again.

He caught up with Yusuke on their way into the art building. Akira wasn’t much into art himself, especially not at eight in the morning. Yusuke made the whole experience somewhat worth it. The eccentric artist was blunt and had plenty of honest opinions to share. He made Akira laugh with his responses to people and things more times than Akira could count.

“Good morning,” Yusuke said. His hair was in its usual braid over his shoulder and he was wearing a silver camp polo that hung loosely on his long frame. He was looking particularly chipper this morning.

“You seem happy this morning,” Akira noted. The boy's overwhelmingly happy aura made him smile.

“It’s always a fine morning to get out and paint,” Yusuke responded. “I’m feeling a lot of inspiration and I can’t wait to start painting.”

Akira smile broadened and the two entered the art room together.

It was a long hour before Akira finally dropped his pencil because he just couldn’t bring himself to try anymore. He wasn’t very inspired to draw anything. He also didn’t consider himself any good at it. And he was finding it hard to focus when Yusuke was right beside him muttering and splashing paint onto a canvas like he was Da Vinci or something.

Not to mention, Makoto was plaguing his mind. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for her. It was very clear that something was bothering her. He just wasn’t sure what that something was. He wasn’t even sure that something could be fixed with his help. But she was in pain, he could tell that much. If the way she looked this morning was any indication of her state, it wasn’t great. And something about the way she laughed at her own expense of not having friends at camp rubbed him the wrong way.

08:59
Akira to Ann

 

Akira: Hey, Ann. Do you have any insight as to why Niijima would be sad?
Ann: What do you mean?
Ann: Also shouldn’t you be creating beautiful art this morning?
Akira: Too tired to make beautiful art. Also, Yusuke is hogging all the spotlight rn. I don’t think anybody is going to notice me slacking off over here.
Akira: image2354.jpg
Akira: This is all I’ve gotten done this morning.
Akira: Anyway I saw her this morning and she looked like she’d gotten hit by a truck.
Ann: It’s not great. Don’t show that to Shiho.
Ann: But I don’t really know. She usually wakes up very early and then goes out. Then comes back before activities start to gather her stuff. Doesn’t really talk to us in the morning.
Akira: Does anything weird ever happen?
Ann: You’ll have to be more specific. I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly normal about Niijima…
Akira: Idk. Anything like. That seems like something she wouldn’t do?
Ann: I guess the weirdest thing is that she’s been getting these weird phone calls every night at like 8. She’ll leave the cabin for like half an hour and then come back. And she usually looks pretty unhappy after every one. I’ve roomed with her before and I mean she used to get calls but nothing like this.
Ann: I’ve tried asking about them before but she doesn’t say anything. She’ll just blow you off if you ask. Usually goes right to bed afterward as well.
Akira: That is… kinda weird.
Ann: Why do you care anyway?
Akira: I'm just. Worried about her I guess. Like she looked really worn out this morning. Idk how to describe it.
Ann: Okay. If you say so.

 

Finally, art ended and Akira left the room. He couldn’t believe that it was only 9:30 at this point. It was going to be a very long day. The heat was already starting to build up. The rain the night before hadn’t done much for the humidity. It was definitely going to rain again. He walked towards his next activity, somewhat keeping his eyes peeled for Makoto. But he wasn’t doing anything wrong, so the chances that she would show up were slim.

His next activity was fishing. This was a shorter activity at the very least. Not that time would pass very quickly here, but at least he’d have peace and quiet to think for a little bit.

He grabbed all his equipment from the instructor and went to sit down at the edge of the dock by himself. He didn’t have any friends in this activity, unfortunately. Ryuji had said that he had been kind of interested in it at first but ultimately didn’t sign up for it. Akira couldn’t blame him. The instructor was Kawakami and she could be a bit of a pain to be around.

After casting his line, he set the pole in a holder beside himself and pulled out his journal. He jotted down the date and then titled the page “Niijima Fixes?” He brought his pen to his mouth and bit the end thoughtfully.

After a moment, he wrote down, “weird phone calls” and underlined it. There could be so many possibilities of who was on the other end of the line. Makoto had said she was single, so he figured it wasn’t a boyfriend who was missing her. Although, she could have lied about that. It seemed unlikely to him that she would lie about that though. The more probable option was a family member calling her. Her parents maybe? But Makoto was an exemplary camper. Why would her parents call her often and why would she be upset about it?

“Kurusu-kun,” said a voice from behind him. He felt a light hand touch his shoulder.

“Yes, Kawakami-sensei?” He turned on his bucket to face her.

“Please keep your eyes on the water. No doodling here.”

“Sorry.”

He put his journal away and grabbed the pole in his hands again. He tapped his foot impatiently. Maybe there wasn’t much to be done at this point. He’d see how tonight went before trying to fix Makoto’s whole life. He wasn’t even sure she wanted it fixed. Also, perhaps he should think about getting his own life in order before meddling in the affairs of others.

~--~

“WHAT?!”

Ryuji’s jaw had dropped when Akira told him that he had invited Makoto over for dinner. His group of friends was surrounding him now outside his cabin. The group consisted of all his cabin mates, Ann, Shiho, and Haru.

“That’s the surprise you had in mind?” Yusuke asked.

“I knew I didn’t trust that emoji,” Ann added.

“Akira,” that was Shiho now, “why this all of the sudden? Like, I mean, sure Niijima can hang out with us. I’m okay with that and I’m sure that everybody—” she gave a pointed look to everybody in the group—“else is okay with it as well. But I kinda thought we all agreed that she wasn’t really…” She was having trouble grasping for kind words to say.

“She’s a goody two shoes bitch,” Ryuji said outright. “And I don’t want any trouble from her hangin’ around us.”

Shiho made a gesture that said Ryuji was right but he shouldn’t say it. “And if you invited her,” she said, “shouldn’t you hang out with her by yourself?”

“Well, I could,” Akira said. “I just wanted us all to do it. More people for her to make friends with.”

Ann tapped her foot impatiently and crossed her arms over her chest. It looked like she had something to say but chose not to throw it out there. Instead, she went with, “No offense, but why is Okumura-san here? I didn’t even know you were friends.”

“She seems like the only one who actually is Niijima’s friend,” Akira said.

“It’s true!” Haru said brightly. “Mako-chan and I have been friends for a while.”

There was a pause from most of the group. Ryuji, Yusuke, and Mishima had never heard anybody call Makoto Mako-chan at any point in their lives. Even the other girls, who lived with Haru and Makoto, were dazed by the nickname. Akira was the only one who didn’t seem bothered by it. He moved on quickly.

“I really do understand, guys,” Akira started, picking his words carefully. He knew he was fighting an uphill battle with them. He was basically asking them to hang out with a girl they didn’t like just because he wanted them to. “I just… I think she needs this really badly. Like she’s a third-year camper here and she has one friend that she barely talks to. And she’s constantly in a sour mood. I don’t really know how to explain it but I want to help her out a little bit.”

Haru nodded in agreement. “Mako-chan is usually more agreeable with me. Even I’ve been having a tough time getting her to open up about anything. I’ve offered on multiple occasions to walk with her in the mornings and she refuses. She also hasn't been coming to help in the kitchen like she used to. It's always a lot of fun when she comes around. I do agree with Akira. Something is wrong.”

“I hate when you’re right, Akira,” Ryuji said.

“Fine,” Ann said. “Because it’s you.”

Ryuji sighed. “If we make it through this night it’ll be a miracle!”

The group headed towards the mess hall. Akira hung outside the door waiting for Makoto. They had all arrived a bit earlier than he had said to meet him. He rocked on his heels while he waited. There was absolutely no telling how this was going to play out. He just prayed that his friends could play nice for the evening.

He saw Makoto round one of the cabins and head towards him. She wasn’t wearing the camp uniform and Akira was stunned to see her outside of it. She was wearing a plain white cold-shoulder top that was billowing around her. Her legs were covered by a pair of tight black pants that ended before her ankles. Akira couldn’t help but think she looked beautiful.

“U-Um…” Makoto said as she pulled up next to him. “Hello.”

“You look really good,” Akira said, without thinking. “I mean, I’m sorry that I didn’t bother to change out of my uniform for this.”

Makoto seemed embarrassed, her cheeks starting to redden. “I knew I should’ve just come in my uniform. Is this weird?”

“Absolutely not,” Akira assured her with a smile. “Should we go get dinner?”

“Please,” was Makoto’s response.

They entered the mess hall together. Akira spotted his friends in line getting food. Ryuji and Mishima were already almost on their way out. Ann and Shiho were being served. Yusuke and Haru were still waiting in line to be served. Perfect. None of them were close enough to him to blow the surprise.

Akira hopped in the back of the line with Makoto beside him. He didn’t really know what to say. He was still a little in shock about her not wearing a uniform. He figured he had to say something eventually. First, though, he pulled his phone out of his pocket to send a text to his friends. Makoto looked down at her feet when he pulled it out. She must’ve thought he was ignoring her. He typed as quickly as he possibly could then slid his phone back into his pocket.

“So Niijima-senpai,” he started, “what do you like to do for fun?”

“I do aikido,” she answered blankly.

“For fun?”

She paused for a moment while considering this. “I suppose it’s not for fun specifically… But I have fun doing it sometimes. A lot of my time is booked up doing not fun things….”

“Like what?”

“Studying mostly… I’m the student council president at my school. And I have to get into a good school after high school. So yeah. I don’t really do much outside of school.”

“You get to come to camp though, yeah?”

She scoffed. “This isn’t fun for me. If anything, this camp makes my life a living hell for six weeks.”

“That bad, huh?”

Makoto paused and caught herself. “Sorry… I didn’t mean to vent to you.”

Akira waved a hand. “It’s fine. The reason I invited you over tonight was that it seemed like you could use a little fun and a break.”

“Kurusu-kun,” Makoto said quietly.

“I know you’re going to try and say something about how I don’t have to do this, and you’re absolutely right about that. I want to do this.”

“Thank you.”

Once the two had gone through and gotten their food they headed back towards Akira’s cabin. When they got closer, Akira spotted Ann and Shiho walking in the front door. They had changed, thankfully, into more casual clothes. He hoped the rest of his friends had gotten his text and done the same. He didn’t want Makoto to feel out of place when she was trying to fit in with them.

“Did I just see Takamaki-san and Suzui-san?” Makoto asked. Her pace faltered a step, as she suddenly felt unsure about what was about to happen.

“Oh,” Akira responded. “Um, yeah. Don’t be mad but I kinda invited everybody from your cabin and mine to have dinner with us also. I just wanted everybody to chill.”

“What?!” Makoto stopped dead in her tracks. “That’s not what—that’s not what you said… I thought it was just going to be us two. I-I’m not…”

Akira turned to her with a gentle smile. “Niijima-senpai, it’s all okay. I promise there are no other surprises. Just everybody from our cabins.”

She sighed. “Fine… But please don’t ever trick me again, okay?”

As they started walking again, Akira said, “I thought you might not agree if you knew what I was planning. Also, I thought of it after the fact.”

They finally arrived at the cabin and Akira shouldered the door open for them. Inside, the gang was already digging into their meals. Ryuji and Yusuke were sitting close together talking about how much they wanted to eat really expensive sushi. Ann and Shiho were sitting beside them. The girls were sitting across from each other and picking at each other’s plates. Haru was sitting close to Ann and Shiho but wasn’t fully engaging with them. Mishima was sat at one of the desks reading one of Ryuji’s manga.

Akira took in the scene and then placed one thing he had forgotten about. There was Morgana, his throat pressed against Ryuji’s arm, as he tried desperately to get at the plate of food. He didn’t make any noise but his eyes were pleading to be fed.

“What’s that?”

Of course, Makoto’s first words were asking about the cat that wasn’t supposed to be there. Everybody in the room froze, except for Morgana. He took the opportunity to snatch a piece of meat from Ryuji’s plate and make off with it. For once, Ryuji didn’t yell about it and only stared at Makoto.

“That’s… Morgana,” Akira said. “Um… he’s a cat.”

“How long has he been in here?”

“Since last night.”

“Is that why you were up so early this morning?”

“I’m not going to answer that without a lawyer present.”

“What the fuck.” Makoto plopped onto the floor without another word on the subject.

Akira took that as a sign to let it die and sat down beside her on the floor. Gradually, everybody followed the lead and went back to dining and talking. The cabin quickly became flooded with mixed conversations. Mishima started to play some quiet music on his phone. The scene was chill and very casual.

Makoto didn’t participate much in the conversations but wasn’t disconnected either. It was almost like she was sad about something; it just wasn’t enough of an issue to actually have overt emotions over. She was listening and eating, occasionally offering her opinion on any given subject. She seemed to be fitting in quite nicely with everyone. None of the others in the group seemed upset by her presence either, which Akira took as a good sign. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves as much they could.

When they all finished up, Mishima gathered any trash and dishes that the group had made. He left the cabin to drop everything back off at the mess hall.

“So,” Ryuji said, once everybody had settled in again, “spin the bottle or truth or dare?”

“What is this, middle school camp?” Ann said. “Also spin the bottle seems risky. I might have to kiss you.”

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “It’s not like you haven’t before.”

“What?” Shiho gasped. She had been leaning against Akira’s wardrobe but she sat forward suddenly. “You kissed Ryuji?! I thought we made a pact!”

“It was a weak moment!” Ann protested.

“You guys made a pact to not kiss me? For real? Who does that?!” Ryuji exclaimed.

“I was just questioning a lot of stuff back then,” Ann said, trying to explain. “It’s not like I liked him or anything. He was just…”

“Oh my God,” Shiho said, throwing her hands up. “I can’t believe I’ve indirectly kissed Ryuji. That’s gross!”

Ann was about to say something then paused when she realized what Shiho had just said. It seemed that the rest of the gang caught on as soon as she did and all eyes drifted to Makoto.

Makoto was taking a sip of her drink. She looked over the top of her cup to see everybody staring at her. She pulled the cup away and swallowed hard, glancing around at everybody. “What?” she asked. “You think I don’t know about these two? I mean, it’s really cute that they think they’re being sneaky. I know.”

The air eased. Ann and Shiho looked incredibly embarrassed.

“You didn’t say anything, Niijima-san,” Shiho said quietly.

“Not much to say. There’s no rule or anything that says you can’t date people at camp.” Makoto shrugged. “And I don’t particularly mind that you guys share a cabin. I feel it’s better this way. Ann might cry if you were separated.”

“HEY!” Ann said incredulously.

Shiho snickered and gave Ann and pat on the back.

“Since we’re already spilling some truths,” Akira said to turn the conversation away from Ann and Shiho, “why don’t we just do truth or dare?”

“Fine,” Ryuji said, taking the lead again. “Akira, truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Akira responded simply.

“Did you really assault a guy?”

The room grew silent again. Apparently, Ryuji wasn’t fucking around when he was playing truth or dare. Akira paused for a moment, considering how he wanted to play this. He knew what the rumors said about him, though they were mostly off base. There would be an easy lie to tell here if he just went along with the rumors. But these were his friends, and he felt he could share with them easily. Just how much of it he wanted to share, he wasn’t sure.

“It was a false accusation,” Akira said smoothly. His tone was chilly but not entirely unwelcoming. “I was there. He fell because he was drunk. I got in trouble for it. End of story.”

“That’s effed up, man,” Ryuji said. His arms were crossed and he had a sad frown on his face.

Akira shrugged in response. “I’m over it. I’m just trying to fly under the radar at this point and get off parole. Anyway, Shiho, truth or dare?”

“Dare, I guess,” Shiho responded. “But please go easy on me.”

“I dare you to… give Ann a big kiss!” Akira said. He smiled as if that was something naughty and Shiho laughed at him.

She turned to Ann and kissed her for a few seconds before turning back to the group. “Niijima-san, truth or dare.”

Makoto shifted uncomfortably. She must’ve thought they wouldn’t include her in the game. “T-Truth.”

“Who do you talk to on the phone all the time?” Shiho asked.

The question was innocent in and of itself but Makoto’s reaction said that it had hit a nerve. Akira felt her tense beside him. Her jaw was set and he noticed the killer look in her eye. It was almost like a switch had been flipped inside her. Suddenly, she was on the defensive. The entire group caught her energy. They were now trapped in the room with a pissed off tiger with no foreseeable exit.

“That’s none of your business,” Makoto said shortly. “And I don’t intend on answering that.”

Shiho put her hands up in surrender quickly. “That’s fine,” she said, trying to diffuse the situation as best she could. “Sorry. I didn’t know it was a touchy subject.”

“It’s not touchy!” Makoto shot back. “It’s just not any of your guys’ business.”

“Niijima-san, it’s fine,” Shiho tried again.

“Why do you guys always care so much about it anyway? I’m not snooping around in your personal business. I swear, we’ve only been here a little over a week and every one of you has asked. Why don’t you give it a rest, already?”

Makoto was worked up well past something Akira knew he could handle from her. She was furious. She wasn’t even this mad when he had gone to see her about not showing up for his check-in. This wasn’t the fun kind of working up anymore. This was the Makoto that would actually get you in trouble.

“I’m leaving,” she said. She stood up abruptly and headed towards the door.

“Niijima-senpai,” Akira called after her.

It was too late. She was already at the door. She nearly knocked Mishima over on her way out. He narrowly avoided a collision by jumping out of the way. He looked stunned as she passed and looked at the rest of the group for answers they didn’t quite have yet.

“I’m sorry,” Shiho said. She was looking at her hands awkwardly. “I didn’t know she’d get so defensive about it. I was just curious.”

Akira waved a hand at her. “It’s not your fault.”

The group sighed.

"I don't remember middle school camp being this intense or emotional," Ryuji said, falling backward. He stared at the ceiling. "Why does being a teenager suck?"

"I don't know," Akira mumbled. "But I wish I knew what those phone calls were about. Maybe we could help her out if we could listen to them."

“I might have a solution,” Yusuke said. “I know a girl.”

Chapter Text

06:58
Akira to Makoto

Makoto: Sorry about last night.
Akira: It’s fine. Nobody’s mad at you or anything. A lot of us are a little concerned more than anything.
Makoto: Don’t worry about me, okay? I know I was a little out of line. I shouldn’t have exploded like that. I definitely shouldn’t have stormed out the way I did either. I’ll apologize when I see Suzui-san next.
Akira: Sorry all the girls slept over. Shiho wanted to give you some space. It was already lights out before we knew it and we didn’t want to risk them sneaking out.
Makoto: I won’t say anything. Have a nice day at camp.
Akira: You too.

Akira, Yusuke, and Mishima walked along the lakefront. It was lunchtime and the air was heavy with humidity. It wasn’t exactly raining, but there was a falling mist in the air. It was more irritating than anything since it wasn’t refreshing and was just getting Akira’s glasses wet and making his hair curly.

“She’s the camp cryptid,” Mishima was saying. “She’s a really short girl with long orange hair. At least, that’s what people say. I’ve personally never seen her. Apparently, you can only see glimpses of her at night or on rainy days.”

“Why is that?” Akira asked.

“Nobody really knows. But if you’re in the woods past the lake, you’ll hear her humming and see her skipping around. Almost like a ghost in the forest. She’s usually by a small stream that cuts through the woods and feeds into the lake. If you ask me, it sounds really creepy. I'd be a little freaked if I saw that in the woods! That is if she actually really exists. I mean, she’s been a cryptid at this camp since before I got here. A couple years at least.”

Yusuke, who had been listening patiently, finally spoke up, “She’s not a cryptid as you call her. She really exists. I’ve met her. Her name is Futaba Sakura. I can only assume she lives with Sojiro Sakura. Since he comes to the camp every summer to cook food, Futaba accompanies him. I think.”

“Why doesn’t she attend camp activities then?” Akira asked.

“I believe she’s too young. I don’t know her exact age but she seems very young just by her size and demeanor. It's hard to tell anything about her but there is one large issue…”

The group had pulled up to a cabin that was nestled far on the campgrounds, backed up to the woods and close to the lake. It was slightly larger than a normal camper cabin but looked roughly the same. It was clear that the cabin was split into at least two separate rooms. Maybe even three. Akira noted that all the windows were covered by heavy looking curtains. It was impossible to see inside.

“What issue would that be?”

“She doesn’t like people that much,” Yusuke responded. 

Akira nodded. “That might be a problem.”

~--~

Later on, when it was fully raining and the sun was beginning to set, Akira walked along the lakefront again. He was wearing a light jacket to help keep some of the rain off now. He finally made it to Sojiro’s cabin and passed by it into the woods beyond.

Yusuke had recounted his tale from two nights before. He had gone to the cabin beside the lake to paint the quaintness of it. When the sky had opened up and started to rain, he started to pack up. It was once he’d finished packing that he had heard the soft hum from a girl. It had come from around the back of the house. He described it as something that would open up a horror movie. But ever the curious being, Yusuke followed the hum into the woods.

It wasn’t long until he found the source of the humming. A small girl was on her hands and knees in the muddy bank of a small stream, lifting up rocks as if searching for something. She was wearing an oversized green jacket that covered her from her head to about her mid-thigh. Some of her bright orange hair was falling forward as she searched around. Since Yusuke couldn’t actually see her head as it was covered by a hood, he figured the rest of her hair had been tied back. Her large, thick glasses were sliding down her nose and were already covered in water droplets.

“There you are!” she exclaimed. Her hand shot out and when she sat back on her heels she held a small lizard. She pet its small head gingerly as it tried to crawl out of her grasp. “Silly salamander.”

Once she was satisfied with it, she set it back down as gently as possible and watched it go on its way. She rinsed her hands in the stream and stood up again.

Yusuke, now aware of what was going on, attempted to leave. As he did so his foot caught a fallen branch and he tumbled to the ground with a loud thud, crashing into the bushes around him.

“Wh-Who’s there?!” the girl cried out. 

Yusuke sat up, a little shaken from the fall. He had mud on his pants now and was sopping wet. His bag was also starting to get wetter than he would’ve cared for and he was beginning to get worried about the work inside.

The girl approached him now, holding a stick out in front of her. She pointed it at him and shoved her glasses up her nose. He wasn’t entirely sure she could actually see him with how much water was on them.
“Who-Who are y-you?! Explain yourself!”

Yusuke could see her shaking and it wasn’t from the cold of the rain. She was clearly terrified of him, though, he wasn’t quite sure why. He didn’t make any effort to move as he was afraid it might get him whacked.

“I’m terribly sorry,” he said to her. “It was raining and I heard you humming. I was curious as to who would be out here in this weather.”

“W-Well, you are too! What’s your excuse?”

“I accidentally got caught up in the rain. It was never my intention to be out here.” He shifted slightly. She moved the stick quickly to match him and he paused. “I’m very sorry to startle you. I’ll be on my way now.”

“Okay,” she responded. She was still wary, but she lowered the stick and took a few steps back.

Yusuke stood up. He realized now that he was very tall compared to the girl. He towered over her and it was very clear that she did not like this fact. She took several more steps away from him once he was fully stood up.

“Perhaps you should go back to your cabin too,” Yusuke said. He’d grabbed his stuff and was starting to walk back the way he’d come.

The girl followed him, several paces behind. It was easy since Yusuke’s stride was so much larger than hers. She swung the stick lazily in front of her, whacking bushes and trees as she went along. Yusuke found it quite childish but wasn't about to say anything about it.

“I'm not a camper here. I don’t have to follow their dumb rules.”

“You don’t?”

“No.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“My guardian brings me here when he comes.”

“Who is that?”

“Classified.”

“Ah… What’s your name?”

“…What’s yours?”

“Yusuke Kitagawa.”

“Futaba… Sakura.”

They reached the cabin again and Futaba stopped at the side of it. “Bye,” she mumbled.

“Farewell,” Yusuke responded. He continued on his way back to his cabin.

Yusuke then mentioned that he had gone back out to the cabin the next morning. It was shortly after Akira had gone out with Morgana. He walked out to the cabin and started to continue his drawing of it. It had thankfully not been damaged by the rain, though his other works weren't as lucky.

Futaba had come out of the house and approached him. She didn't talk much at first and just watched him paint. Then she started to talk. He humored her a little bit and that was really all she needed to start talking about the things she liked. It was then that he learned about her hobby as a hacker. Yusuke didn’t fully understand what that meant but he’d told Akira that he was fairly certain that Futaba could help them listen to Makoto’s conversations.

Akira heard the humming as he got deeper into the woods. Futaba was hunting for salamanders again and she was close. Perfect. He followed it along until he found the stream from Yusuke’s story. And there he also found Futaba, on the ground looking under rocks.

“Excuse me,” Akira called gently.

Futaba startled and went head first into the stream. She scrambled backward, sputtering. She was completely drenched now. Akira watched her take her glasses off with shaking hands and try desperately to wipe them off. When they got back onto her face, they weren’t much better.

“I’m so sorry,” he called again. He stepped out from the bushes and Futaba crawled backward away from him.

“St-stay away from me!” she practically screamed.

“I just wanted to talk,” Akira pressed. He didn’t want to scare her but he also needed her help. “Yusuke said you would know how to help.”

“Y-Yusuke?” she asked. Clearly, the name was familiar to her and seemed to set her a little at ease, though she was still shaking. “You know Yusuke?”

“Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. He told me about how you hack sometimes. I was wondering if you could help me out with something.”

Futaba looked at the ground. “Oh… Um… I…”

“I’ll help you look for salamanders,” Akira offered.

“R-Really?” She sat forward a bit now, clearly interested in this. It at least made her not seem so afraid of him. “Um… okay…” She got up again and gingerly made her way to the stream.

Akira followed her lead without getting to close. He’d already spooked her once; he didn’t feel the need to do it again. He started to look under rocks and other debris in the stream for the amphibians. 

They stayed like that for at least ten minutes. He wasn't having any luck finding any salamanders along the stream. Futaba wasn't having any more luck than he was either. They moved a little farther in. Futaba seemed to be warming up to his presence now.

“So,” Futaba said quietly, “what do you need?”

“I want to listen to someone’s phone conversations without them knowing,” he responded.

“That’s easy enough. But I’ll need the phone.”

Akira paused. “That might be a little difficult.”

“Then you might not be getting to listen to any conversations.”

“If I get you the phone, how fast could you get it done?”

“Mmm… It’ll take at least a few minutes. I already have the software. It’s just a matter of installing it on the phone you want to wiretap.”

“Tomorrow morning,” Akira said. “Is it possible for you to meet me closer to where it’s going to happen?”

Futaba hesitated. “Can it be really early then?”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

21:57
Akira to Ann

Akira: Ann, can you do me a huge favor?
Ann: If you were normal I’d say yes but since I know you’re not there’s no way this is going to be a good request.
Akira: I need you to steal Niijima’s phone.
Ann: UM????? SHE’LL KILL ME????? I'm going to have to RESPECTFULLY decline
Akira: It’ll just be for a minute. I just need to get an app installed and then we can listen to her conversations. She'd never even know.
Ann: Akira I don’t know how to tell you this kindly. But you’re actually insane. You do realize what you’re saying right?? You want to wiretap Niijima’s phone to listen to her conversations that she doesn’t want you to know about.
Ann: Listen I don’t like Niijima being upset either but I don’t think listening to her conversations without her knowledge is the BEST way to go about this.
Ann: How about just. Trying to get to know her like a NORMAL person first. And then maybe she’ll open up to you.
Ann: Just a thought.
Ann: Akira??
Akira: Sorry I just. Realized you’re probably right. Fuck.
Ann: If you want me to, I can try and talk to her tonight and see if she wants to hang out with you. But I’m not fucking stealing her phone so you can bug it.
Akira: Sorry… I'm just not thinking… right. I’m really worried about her and I want to help but she doesn’t want my help. Or anybody’s for that matter. And it just fucking worries me more.
Ann: ...... Akira……
Akira: What?
Ann: Do you… Like Niijima???? Like like her??? I mean don’t get me wrong but your concern is a little too deep for casual friends. Like if I was her friend yeah I would care about her mood but not bug her phone and fix all her problems care.
Ann: You know what you should do?
Ann: Ask her to the Midsummer’s Night Ball!
Ann: It’s coming up in 2 weeks. You should see if she’ll go with you.
Akira: I don’t… like her??? At least I don’t think. But….. taking her to a ball seems nice… Fuck.
Ann: Dude… I like. Don’t know how to tell you this but. You probably like her.
Akira: She’s basically my parole officer!!! Our relationship is strictly professional!!!
Ann: Oh is it now???? … and I mean. You didn’t ask her if she had a boyfriend right? That was just for fun??
Akira: How did you know about that?!
Ann: Dude… you’ve got her kinda fucked up. She took you asking if she had a boyfriend seriously! We dissected the convo as girls.
Akira: …… wait….. really??
Ann: YES!!!!!! dsjkalfhjhafkshlfdsj
Akira: What do you mean?!
Ann: OMYGOD DO I HAVE TO SPELL THIS OUT FOR YOU
Ann: SHE DRESSED UP NICE LAST NIGHT BECAUSE SHE THOUGHT YOU WERE ASKING HER ON A DATE YOU FUCKING MORON
Ann: AND THEN YOU INVITED US ALL ALONG. AND SHE FELT WEIRD PROBABLY.
Akira: Why didn’t you tell me?!? WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP ME
Ann: I THOUGHT YOU WEREN’T COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS AND I WASN’T SURE YOU ACTUALLY LIKED HER YET. AND YOU SPRUNG THE WHOLE THING ON US AND WOULDN’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.
Akira: So does she like me back or ????
Ann: I don't really know tbh. But anyway, just stop being so weird and just talk to her like a real human being for a hot second. You might find out some interesting stuff.
Akira: You don’t even like her?? Why would you know that?
Ann: Just because I think that Niijima is a little testy doesn’t mean I don’t necessarily not like her. We’ve roomed together past summers. Idk I’ve always been more of a fan of Shiho. That’s why Haru knows way more about her than I do. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never had a conversation with her. It’d be impossible.
Akira: So you’re friends?
Ann: I wouldn’t say that.
Akira: So you’re not friends?
Ann: Not exactly that either.
Akira: Hm... There’s open swim on Sunday. We should all go
Ann: Sure. But Shiho is guarding so she won’t be swimming.
Akira: Guarding what?
Ann: Our lives idiot. She’s a lifeguard.
Akira: She’s a lifeguard???? Wtf???
Ann: YES. GOD. She looks great in a swimsuit. It shows off her arms really well. She kills me. Shiho can like,,,,,,,,,,, get it.
Akira: …………. Ann………..
Ann: Hey listen if we go swimming I’m probably going to have to listen to your gross ramblings about Niijima. Let me have this.
Akira: Don’t…… call me out like this……..
Akira: Called out?? In MY text convo?? More likely than you think.
Ann: Lmao. Okay, I’ll ask Niijima to go swimming tomorrow. But rn I’m going to bed. Good night.
Akira: Good night.

Akira set his phone down and reflected on what just happened. Ann was right. He was crushing on Makoto. He knew it full well too; it was just harder than he expected it to be. When he first saw her, he thought she was really pretty. But he also had thought Ann and Shiho were really pretty too. Then he realized it when he’d been called to the office. He’d felt nervous because he was talking to Makoto. Not because he was in trouble with her. He wanted to get closer to her. He wanted to help her. There just wasn’t a good way to go about it. But again, Ann was right. He should just try being her friend first. It might open up doors he didn't even know existed. He picked up his phone again and sent a text to Futaba.

22:49
Akira to Futaba

Akira: Plan’s off. No need to bug a phone.
Futaba: Your loss :3
Akira: We can still look for more salamanders sometime tho. It was fun.
Futaba: Sounds good ( ̄ー ̄)b

Chapter Text

Akira spent the rest of the week silently stewing over his conversation with Ann. Makoto had agreed to go to the lake with them on Sunday. She hadn’t expressly said she was going to swim, but she said she’d wanted to hang out with them again. That alone made Akira very happy and excited. She also agreed to hang out with just Akira but that she agreed to in private messages.

Early in the morning when he was taking Morgana out for his morning walks, Makoto would come to sit with him. It was clear that most mornings she was quite tired. Akira was worried that she still wasn’t sleeping well. She’d sit with him until Morgana returned from his hunt. They’d talk about things that weren’t important. Each time she left, Akira wished they had longer to spend together. By the third day of this routine, it seemed as if he was making little progress in his efforts to find out what was wrong and also get closer to her.

They were playing tug of war at this point. Makoto was winning. Every time he gained an inch, she’d take a mile. It felt like he was losing knowledge about her. He basically had to remind himself of the very few details of her life that he actually knew. It was torture.

To top it off, Ann said that Makoto hadn’t received a phone call since the night before their little truth or dare game. While Akira assumed that this would be good news, Ann had told him that it had put Makoto into an even weirder mood than she was before. At least before, everybody was on the same page. Makoto was angry and upset. Now she was… sad? Maybe? Ann couldn’t tell and even Shiho and Haru were stumped. They just watched her mope around the cabin every night, silently checking her phone while she studied or read. It had caused the cabin to become unbearably uncomfortable at points. 

Ann was also pressuring him to ask Makoto to the Midsummer’s Night Ball. One night while he and his friends were eating dinner in his cabin he jokingly asked if anybody got turned into an ass. To which everybody responded by looking away awkwardly. It was explained to him that one camper was selected to wear the tanuki costume until a puzzle was figured out. Depending on the camper, it could be five minutes or the rest of the night. He was not excited about that. He had a strong feeling that if he went, he would end up in that costume.

Akira had gone to visit Sojiro, and by proxy Futaba, a couple times as well. He asked Sojiro for advice about his current situation. The old man thought on it for a while as he made coffee. As it turned out, Sojiro was absolutely useless when it came to women. His advice was atrocious and unhelpful as ever. As much as he liked to talk big he had absolutely nothing to show for. He couldn’t keep a girlfriend if he’d tried. The closest thing he’d ever had to any sort of relationship was Futaba’s mother. And he wasn’t even Futaba’s father, Akira learned.

And for as much as he thought Sojiro's advice was bad, Futaba’s advice was even worse. She barely had any relationships outside of Sojiro and she’d definitely never had a significant other. She tried to assert that she had lots of dating knowledge since she had played a lot of dating sims. Akira was not convinced. When she got to the part about how he should make sure to touch Makoto in her favorite spot, he quickly ended the conversation there. She did offer to bug Makoto’s phone again, which was about as useful as she got. But Akira was trying to stick to his guns that he could do this without spying. Although, he kept Futaba’s offer in the back of his mind just in case.

Akira went to the counselor’s cabin to go in for his Sunday morning check-in. Makoto was sitting at the corner desk again. She was reading a book, her face thoughtful as she did. She was biting the nail on her thumb, her eyes flashing quickly across the page. For once, she actually looked well rested and alert. Akira felt a small wave of relief from that.

He approached her easily now. It was nothing like his encounter last week, although the jittery feelings he had still lingered. He knew that was from something entirely different now.

“Morning, Makoto” he greeted.

She looked up from her book with an annoyed expression. “And when did I say you could call me that, Kurusu-kun?”

He raised an eyebrow at her, his head slightly tilted to the side. “Yesterday?”

She chuckled. “Just teasing you.”

He smiled slightly, his heart racing now. Her small bits of laughter were few and far between and each one was a gift. “You're as funny as ever. Are you still in for swimming later? Ann said that you’d agreed but that was a few days ago. I don’t know if anything came up or… you know.”

She glanced at the book in her hand then back at him. “I suppose I could squeeze it into my busy schedule.”

“Why are you teasing me like this?” he asked with a smile.

“Something about…” She tapped a finger to her chin as if she was thinking about something. “It being fun to fluster you if it’s something I can’t get in trouble for.”

Akira’s cheeks flushed. How did she know about that? He didn’t particularly mind that she was teasing him if he was being honest. She seemed to be in a good mood for once. Apparently, a Makoto that had slept was a bit more playful and charming than one without. But he didn’t know that she knew about his very basic way to handle her. He’d repeated it to all the girls at least once, so any one of them could’ve slipped up. It was most likely Ann though if he had to guess.

“I… um…” He was having trouble coming up with words. She was definitely winning this round. It seemed she was doing that more and more. Were his feelings for her really dug this far into him where he couldn’t think of a witty comeback? God, he was weak for her.

“Yes, I’m going swimming,” she said now. “But first I have to hear your weekly update and fill out your paperwork. All the boring stuff.”

Akira nodded slightly. Then it dawned on him how he could win this conversation back. Sure, Makoto could have her wins. But he wasn’t going to give this up without a fight. He leaned against the desk casually, crossing his arms over his chest.

Makoto looked up at him, her eyes showing her mistrust of his new body language. She wasn’t sure what he was going for.

“So, Makoto,” he started, “Ann’s been telling me about this dance happening next weekend. And well, I wasn’t sure if you were—”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Makoto cut in. “No.”

“I didn’t even say anything yet!”

“You’re trying to ask me to the dance, are you not? The answer is no. I’ve never been to any of the dances that are held at the camp. I don’t particularly want to break that streak now. And also, our relationship is a working one, Akira. I’m basically your parole officer.”

Akira frowned. “Well, I mean, it doesn’t have to be just us, you know,” he said trying to keep his voice even. “Since you don’t want to go with a criminal.”

“I didn’t say that,” she shot back.

“Then what did you say?”

“I said that I don’t want any sort of outside official to think that any of my reports are influenced by any feelings I may or may not have towards you.” She was doing a much better job at keeping her voice even than he was, but her eyes burned into him. 

Akira grunted and rolled his eyes. “Ugh, whatever. You don’t have to make up a bullshit excuse to not go out with me. I can take a rejection.”

“Clearly not.”

His fists balled at his sides. God, she was so annoying sometimes. He knew she was right though, which was even more frustrating. He was furious that she didn’t want to go with him. He wished he knew what Makoto actually thought about him without the whole criminal thing looming over his shoulder. It was clear she didn’t mind him. But did she actually like him? And would he ever be able to get close to her while he was on parole? He hated every second of it. And not even because of her. Because of himself.

“If you don’t want to go to the dance, that’s fine,” he said after releasing a breath of air to steady himself. “I just thought it’d be fun for the group of us to get together and go.” He pushed himself off the desk and reached into his pocket. He flung his weekly notes onto the table for her. It was the abridged version of his journal and detailed his week.

“There’s my notes. Go crazy. I’m out of here though.”

He left the office without another word. He didn’t hear Makoto call after him either. Nobody had won that round.

12:48
Akira to Ann

 

Ann: Bitch what the fuck
Akira: That seems rather uncalled for.
Ann: We’re supposed to be going swimming and playing nice with Niijima. She just came storming in here ranting about how Akira is so rude and can’t be bothered to think of anybody but himself.
Akira: Has she met herself?
Ann: What happened?
Akira: Just a little quarrel between lovers.
Ann: You guys are a hot mess. But fyi being mean is not how you get girls to like you.
Akira: But…. Ann. Shiho. Became your friend. By telling you your art was shit.
Ann: Shut up. That’s different.
Akira: I don’t see how.
Ann: Why are you being so moody?
Ann: Wait.
Ann: You asked Niijima to the dance?
Ann: I would’ve hoped you’d done it with more tact.
Akira: I definitely should’ve but we’re well beyond that. Can you believe I keep digging my own grave?
Ann: That’s impressive honestly.
Ann: Should I try and smooth things over and we still go swimming?
Akira: If you think you can work some magic and make her less mad at me that would be. Ideal.
Ann: I’m on it (ง •̀ω•́)ง✧

Akira arrived at the lake with Ryuji in tow. They were both in their swimsuits already. Ryuji was already groaning about not wanting to go swimming because it was "too damn hot out today." Which Akira had told him was kind of the point of going swimming. Although, Ryuji had been adamant that he bring his black bag that Akira had spied on the first day of camp. And he still wasn’t sure what was in the bag. Akira just ignored him mostly. He was still mad about the morning and was focused on not giving Makoto a glare when he saw her again.

They spotted Shiho and Ann farther along the beach and walked up to them. Shiho was wearing a bright red one-piece suit with the word 'Lifeguard' written in blocky white letters. A fanny pack was secured around her waist and a whistle was hanging lazily out of the corner of her mouth. Ann had been right about Shiho looking good. It showed off her arms amazingly. Ann, on the other hand, was dressed in a spotted bikini. She also looked lovely, but Akira expected nothing less from her.

“Afternoon, girls,” Akira greeted. “You both look good as always.”

“Some might even say hot,” Ryuji added. “I mean, daaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.”

Ann crossed her arms over her chest. Shiho rolled her eyes and blew a small puff of air through the whistle.

“Ann told me you'd be guarding,” Akira said.

“I’m on the off rotation right now,” Shiho explained. “I’ll go up when it’s time to rotate. Which, by the way, if any of you go under while I’m on stand I swear to God I’m gonna let you drown. Natural selection at its finest.”

“I hope you’re joking.”

The group looked over to see Makoto Niijima coming across the sand towards them. She was dressed in a white two-piece suit with flowing fringes. Akira’s mouth fell open slightly at the sight of her and Ann elbowed him in the side. It wasn’t fair that she looked so good and he basically forgot to be mad at her.

“Of course I’m joking,” Shiho said, rolling her eyes once more. “I didn’t get my certification just to watch someone drown.”

“Good to hear,” Makoto responded. “Where’s everybody else?”

“Yusuke and Mishima are gonna be a bit late,” Ryuji said with a defeated look on his face. “Mishima was trying to pick out a swimsuit. Don't ask me why he has more than one. Yusuke is just Yusuke so that’s his excuse. We finally got away because we wanted to meet you guys here on time.”

“Also, Haru’s on cooking duty,” Akira added. “But you probably knew that.”

Shiho looked at her watch and sighed. “I go on stand in five minutes. Behave yourselves or I will fucking kick you out of the water.”

“It’s probably a bad time to say I can’t swim,” Ryuji said with a smirk.

“Ryuji, you mother fucker I know you—”

“Shiho,” Ann cut her off quickly before she could really get the profanity rolling. She grabbed Shiho by the shoulders and spun her around towards the lifeguard stand. “We’ll behave just fine. And I’ll kill Ryuji on your behalf okay.”

Ryuji snickered but said nothing else.

After they watched Shiho get on the stand and settled all of their stuff on a spot on the beach, the group entered the water. Ann and Makoto went in about waist deep while Akira and Ryuji swam out to the buoy lines that marked the edge of the swim area. Ryuji had called it a race, but Akira pulled ahead of him early on and reached the edge long before the other boy did.

He turned back towards the beach and spotted Ann and Makoto talking. Akira couldn't make them out too well in the distance without his glasses. But they seemed to be having an intense conversation.

Ryuji finally pulled up beside him and followed his gaze. “Spying on the girls?”

“Hardly,” Akira responded. “Makoto is driving me up a wall. I can’t get a read on her.”

Ryuji chuckled. “You need to loosen up, man. Chicks aren’t that hard. They want good guys who aren’t creepy. Easy. Guys on the other hand… much harder.”

Akira gave him a look. “That seems like a gross generalization of half the population.”

“Can you tell me I’m wrong, though?”

“Well… no… but I’d think guys would want the same thing, yeah?”

Ryuji looked pensive. “I thought so too… But like, I don’t know, man. Like with Yusuke. What does he want?”

“I wouldn’t say Yusuke is a particularly normal sample,” Akira commented. “Perhaps not looking at his perspective would be best. Mishima, perhaps?”

Ryuji didn’t seem satisfied with that answer. “But I want to know Yusuke’s…”

Akira nodded. “Well, if I had to guess, he’s always looking for something beautiful.”

“Right…” Ryuji ducked his mouth under the water.

Ann swam out to them now, lazily moving her body through the water. When she finally made it out there, she hooked her arms around Ryuji, nearly dragging him under before he adjusted for the new weight.

“Makoto wants to have a word with you,” she said to Akira. “But be nice, you fuck.”

“Whoa, language,” Ryuji said giving one of her arms a gentle smack.

Ann rolled her eyes. “Go ahead. I want to talk to my favorite boy.” She ruffled Ryuji’s hair and he frowned.

Akira nodded and swam back to Makoto. What could Makoto possibly want from him? To yell at him more? He felt like he’d already gotten enough of that from her this morning. But Ann had talked to her and her body language didn’t indicate that she was ready to murder him from what he could tell. His heart was pounding in his chest and not from the exercise. She was going to kill him before the end of the summer, he could tell. If she didn’t physically wring his neck from him irritating her, then she was going to kill him on pure mystery and his attraction towards her. God, he was hopeless.

He made it to where he could easily stand up and walked over to Makoto with a sheepish smile on his face.

“I’ve reconsidered,” she said abruptly. Her arms were folded across her chest and she stared at the water past him to where Ann and Ryuji were.

“Reconsidered?”

“Your offer to go to the dance. Ann convinced me to go with you guys. She’s very persuasive when she wants to be. It’s almost scary.”

Akira couldn’t argue with that. He silently thanked Ann and made a mental note to give her his serving of dessert for the next week. “It’ll be loads of fun,” he said. “I hope. I’ve never actually gone to it since this is my first summer. But with all of us going, it should be good!”

Makoto nodded. “I do have one request though…”

“Anything.”

“If you want me to go, which I will as I always keep my promises, you have to do two things. First, you have to help me set up for the dance since I know I’m going to get roped into doing it as I always do. Second, I plan on doing morning jogs for the entirety of this week. You have to come with me. Morgana can come too.”

“Seems easy enough. Gladly.”

“It’s a deal then.” She stuck out her hand he shook it.

Akira heard Ryuji shout and he looked over to see Yusuke and Mishima finally showing up. Mishima tossed his things onto the sand and jumped right into the water, swimming out to where Ryuji and Ann were. Yusuke sat on the beach with their things and pulled out a sketchbook.

Akira chuckled. His friends were very weird but he was very grateful for them. He glanced at Makoto and she had a soft smile on her face as she watched the two boys in the water splashing each other. Ann would yell at them if they accidentally splashed her but the two would just laugh.

“Honestly,” Makoto started softly, “you guys have been making this one of the better summers for me, despite how I may act. I’ve never really been invited along to any of these things and watching you all have fun is amazing.”

“Are you having fu—”

Akira didn’t get to finish his sentence as he was promptly tackled into the water by Ryuji. When the two resurfaced, Makoto was doubled over laughing. Akira watched her, his breath catching. She seemed to almost sparkle with the water and her laugh was incredible. He started to laugh along with her. He couldn’t help himself.

Ryuji laughed too and stood up. “Come on, Niijima,” he said with a wide smile. “I’ve got something I want to show you.” He lunged forward and grabbed Makoto’s wrist and towed her back towards shore.

She shot a confused look at Akira and he just shrugged and waved a hand at her. Ryuji was harmless and whatever he was going to do would be fine.

Akira watched them get to the beach and Ryuji bent down on the sand. He opened up the black bag and showed it to Makoto who was crouched down beside him. Akira couldn’t see her reaction from this distance but she put a hand to her mouth and nodded enthusiastically. Ryuji jumped up and probably said something along the lines of, “Hell yeah!”

By this point, Mishima and Ann had come to stand beside Akira. They both looked equally confused.

“What are they doing?” Mishima asked.

“Ryuji just pulled her away saying he had to show her something,” Akira responded. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Ryuji and Makoto both took something from the bag but it was too fast and too far away to make out clearly what they grabbed. Akira started towards the beach to see what they were doing. Ann and Mishima followed after him.

As they neared the beach, Ryuji and Makoto entered the water again, their hands held behind their backs. It was clear they were hiding something, but Akira didn’t know what. Ryuji had a large grin on his face while Makoto was keeping more of her composure.

The two groups met and stared at each other for a moment.

“What are you guys up to?” Akira asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Makoto said.

Akira leaned over to see if he could spy what Makoto was hiding, only to get shot with water square in the face when she moved suddenly. He stumbled backward a few steps and wiped his face off. Makoto was standing with a water gun in her hands pointed directly at him. Around him, he heard Ann and Mishima shout as he assumed Ryuji pulled out his own water guns and began attacking them.

He and Makoto were locked eye to eye. He wondered if she was seeing the same thing he was. A criminal and his officer in a standoff. Still, with the scenario the way it was, he felt giddy. He brushed his arms through the water, sending a big splash over Makoto. He took off running as fast as his legs could get him through the water.

“Get back here!” Makoto yelled. She started to chase after him laughing.

He made it to the beach and scrambled over to the black bag. Inside there were two more water guns. He pulled both out and hid behind Yusuke while he checked if there was water in it. It was fully loaded. Perfect.

“What are you doing?” Yusuke asked him. “Please don’t get me wet.”

“Promise I won’t,” Akira assured him. “We just entered a war unarmed.”

Yusuke just made a noise and went back to what he was doing before.

Akira peeked out from behind him and surveyed the beach. Makoto was standing on the edge of the water waiting for him. Further out he could see that Mishima had gotten ahold of one of Ryuji’s guns and was using it to protect Ann. So it was just him and Makoto. He could handle that.

He rolled out from behind Yusuke and started to sprint across the beach, firing as he did. Makoto retreated back into the water a bit, trying her best to stay out of the line of fire. It didn’t take him long to get close enough to be hitting her with both of the guns. She let out a short scream, followed by endless giggles.

“Cease fire!” she shouted through her giggles. “Please!”

Akira let up but charged up to her and managed to scoop her up. She was heavier than he expected and he didn’t get her very far before he dropped her into the water and fell down beside her. They both burst into laughter and she splashed him.

“You’re a criminal,” she joked. She sprayed him in the face with the water gun.

“Guilty as charged,” he said with a half-smile.

They sat silently in the water. Akira felt lighter than air. He couldn’t believe he was having this much fun with Makoto even after their little spat that morning. She even seemed comfortable with him around. She was at least comfortable enough to let her guard down beside him. He saw her shoulders fall and her body loosen as she sat, her hands drifting through the water and making tiny waves. He smiled as he watched her. He could watch her for hours.

He wanted to kiss her. It was a bold thought that entered his mind. He wondered what her lips would taste like after they’d just been swimming in the lake water. He wondered if she’d taste like sunshine and warmth. He wished that he could just lean forward and find out for himself.

The rest of the group joined them. They seemed tired out from sprinting around in the water, spraying each other.

“Let’s lounge,” Ann said. “I want to soak up some sun!”

Akira felt content doing that. He stood up and held out his hand to Makoto. She took it without a second thought and he pulled her to her feet.

She seemed to realize that they were holding hands once she was on her feet again. She pulled her hand away quickly. “Thanks.”

He nodded. “No problem.”

The afternoon was starting to come to a close. They had all made dinner plans with each other and were just giving themselves a little time to relax before they went and ate. The beach was calmer now and the sun was far along the sky. It had been a tiring day.

Shiho, who had just gotten off shift, was tossing a volleyball around with Ann. Yusuke was drawing in his sketchbook as he usually was. Ryuji was folding cranes with borrowed paper from Yusuke. Mishima was on the side of the other side of Yusuke just lying in the sand and soaking up some sun.

Makoto was lying on her stomach beside Akira. She was using her arms as a pillow and her eyes were closed. He knew she wasn’t fully asleep, from the way she still moved and reacted to the conversations and people around her. But she wasn’t fully with them either. He was feeling a little drowsy himself, but not enough to fall asleep on the sand. Although, he definitely wasn’t about to complain about it. He never would’ve thought that Makoto would be comfortable enough around the group to doze off like this.

Akira couldn’t take his eyes off her, committing every detail of her to memory. He noticed how fit Makoto was. She was not joking around about the aikido thing. Every muscle in her body was toned. There was no doubt in his mind that she could kick his ass; he hoped she would never have to. She was beautiful, strong-willed, and sharp. He was insanely attracted to her. It drove him crazy that he had no idea how she felt about him.

For the second time that day, a swift elbow to the side broke him out of his thoughts.

“Dude, you’re practically drooling,” Ryuji said very quietly. “Chill. I said girls like guys that aren’t creepy. Staring her down like that is a little creepy.”

Akira rubbed his side and dug his feet into the sand to think about something else. Ryuji was right, but he couldn’t help that Makoto was right there being perfect.

“I know,” he said quietly.

“Heads up!” Shiho called. 

The boys looked over and Akira had just enough time to react as the ball came flying towards Makoto. He reached himself over her and got hit squarely in the head, knocking him forward onto her.

She let out a startled yelp and Akira quickly moved off her.

“Are you okay?” Shiho asked quickly. She was quickly on the sand by his side.

He waved her off, rubbing his head. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Makoto had sat up at this point. She looked Akira over a couple of times before finally saying, “Thank you for not letting that hit me.”

He smiled. “All in a day’s work.”

Shiho sighed and pat his head. “If you have any pain tomorrow, please go see the nurse. I think you’re going to live, though.”

“I can only assume,” he responded. “But if I die, Ann gets to keep Morgana.”

Ann pumped her fist in the air.

“Perhaps it’s about time to end our beach trip and get dinner,” Yusuke piped up. “I’ve had about as much excitement as I can handle for one day.”

“You’ve barely done anything, Yusuke,” Mishima said from the end.

“I’ve finished three sketches, so I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he responded. He stood up and gathered his things.

The rest of the group followed suit and left the beach. Akira all in all felt very happy about how the day had played out, even if he did get hit with a ball at the end of the night. He felt like he'd gotten closer to Makoto for once. Plus, he was about to spend an entire week jogging in the morning at her request. Things were finally looking up for him.

Chapter Text

Monday morning started bright and early for Akira much to his dismay. It seemed that his entire summer was going to be comprised of him waking up early when he'd rather be asleep. This time he was awoken by his phone vibrating on his side table. Who could possibly be calling him at this hour? He picked it up with a sleepy, “Hello?”

“I’m waiting outside,” Makoto said on the other side.

“What time is it?” he responded quietly.

“Five thirty.”

He hung up abruptly and rolled out of bed. Morgana chirped softly from the end of the bed. It seemed even he also wasn’t aware they’d be waking up this early. Akira walked to the door and there was Makoto standing in her camp gym clothes, her hand in the air ready to knock. She frowned at him.

“You hung up on me,” she said dejectedly. She crossed her arms and looked away from him, pretending to be more hurt than she was.

“You didn’t tell me we’d be doing this this early,” Akira said with a yawn. He stretched and his back cracked in several places, prompting her to look back at him. He noticed her staring and gave her a soft smile.

She looked away again. “Already giving up? I guess you don’t want to go to the dance with me, huh?”

“No, no, not at all. I just didn’t mean to inconvenience you,” he said quickly. “I’ll be ready on time tomorrow. You’ll have to give me a moment though.”

“Go ahead.” She gestured back towards his cabin then leaned against the side wall.

Akira ducked back inside and quickly pulled on his gym clothes. He tried to be as quiet as he could as to not wake the other boys. He scooped Morgana up in his arms and carried the cat back outside with him.

“All ready,” he said with a smile. He set Morgana down on the ground. The cat ran over to Makoto and rubbed against her legs in greeting.

The three of them jogged over to the athletic fields. They hopped onto the track and started to do laps. Akira fell into step with Makoto and let her choose the pace. She seemed to be going a little bit slower than he would’ve been going. Morgana kept pace with the two of them almost perfectly.

“It’s so weird,” Makoto commented through sharp inhales. She clearly didn’t run often. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s a human trapped in a cat’s body.”

“Yeah, I know,” Akira said, eyeing the cat.

“And you just found him in the woods?”

“Stuck up in a tree.”

Morgana swerved in front of Akira’s legs and nearly got himself kicked. Akira stumbled a few steps trying not to step on him.

“Sorry,” Akira said. “He was perfectly capable of getting down himself. I was just the better option at the time.”

Morgana ran ahead of them with his tail held high. He bounded off of the track and disappeared into the woods just beyond. Akira sighed.

Makoto laughed. “Well, at least he’s well-behaved. I don’t know how easy he’d be to hide if he wasn’t as relaxed as he is.”

Akira shrugged in response.

The two kept jogging around the track. They didn’t talk much, but Akira was okay with that. Both of them were not in the best shape for running and their heavy breathing filled the silence between them. Makoto was slowly starting to lose stamina he could tell. Her pace was slowing every time they made a loop. He wondered if he should feign being tired to save her the embarrassment of having to stop. He also wondered if she’d even let herself stop. She was prone to pushing herself past her limits.

“We should take a break,” she said. Her breathing was so hard he didn’t think she was going to get the whole sentence out. She stopped abruptly and took in a long, deep breath.

Akira stopped a few steps ahead of her and turned back. “Yeah, that would be good.”

They walked to the center of the track which was just an empty field. Akira figured they used it for soccer or other field sports. Makoto flopped down in the middle of the field. She stared up at the sky, her chest rising and falling heavily as she finally started to catch her breath. Akira stood beside her and looked down at her.

“So, how are you doing?” he asked. He kicked her shoulder gently with his foot.

Makoto shrugged. “I’m a bit tired. I could be in a better mood too but that’s a little less on my mind.”

Akira nodded. He lay down on the grass beside her and the two of them looked at the sky. He watched the clouds float by and wished that the two of them could stay like this forever. It was so quiet and peaceful. The wind was blowing across them and the sounds of cicadas hummed in the air. Neither of them had any obligations. He wasn’t a criminal here. He was just Akira. And she wasn’t the head camp counselor in charge of keeping him and everybody else in line. She was just Makoto. It all felt... Amazing.

“Akira, can you speak honestly with me for a moment? Humor me.” Makoto sounded tired. She scooted a bit closer to him, their hands just barely touching. Akira sucked in a sharp breath.

“What about?”

“Why do you want me to go to the dance with you?”

Akira looked at her for a long moment. She was looking back at him waiting for an answer. She looked beautiful. He knew he could tell her the real reason right then and there. It would be the truth. He could just say that he liked her. Then it would all be over. He could move on. If she didn’t like him back, he’d be okay. If she did, then maybe they’d move forward. It would be so easy.

“I want you to have a good summer and make friends,” Akira said. It wasn’t a total lie, at least.

Makoto gave him a half smile. “That’s such a stock answer. How could I possibly think that’s the honest answer?”

He smiled back at her. “It’s the truth though. You never have fun here and you've said it yourself that this summer has been one of the better ones.” He grabbed her hand and held it in the air. “Let’s make it the best summer ever!”

“Mm…” She gave him a bigger smile. “Okay. Should we get breakfast with everyone then?”

“We could do it every day this week,” Akira offered. “If they wanted to, they could come jogging with us.”

Makoto nodded. “True. But I want to keep that between us if that’s alright. I really don’t need the rest of the group realizing how out of shape I truly am.”

Akira laughed. “You truly are not built for jogging, huh?”

She gave him a sharp look which made him pause instantly. “I don’t want to hear it from you.”

“Ah, sorry.”

She laughed. “Got you.”

He chuckled. “Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of that look in your eye. It’s terrifying when you’re mad.”

“Good. That’s what I want.”

Morgana sprung out of the woods and dashed over to the two. He climbed onto Makoto, purring madly. He butted his head against hers and Makoto scratched between his shoulder blades.

“I guess we should head back,” Makoto said.

“I guess we should,” Akira responded.

 

The week continued on similarly to how Monday went. Akira would wake up early in the morning and jog with Makoto. They’d chat about nothing that really mattered as they usually did. Then after their jog, Akira would wake the boys and Makoto would wake the girls. They’d all go to have some breakfast together. It was fun. Makoto was officially part of their group now. Everybody had gotten onto a first name basis with her. She seemed to genuinely be enjoying herself.

Of course, that didn’t last long. Nothing good ever did for them. Akira received a message from Ann on Wednesday night.

20:34
Akira to Ann

Ann: We have a serious issue.
Akira: I don’t like that.
Ann: You’re definitely not going to like this.
Ann: Makoto got a call from whoever was calling her earlier this summer. And… she’s not happy about it at all. She’s been wrapped up in her blanket all night and hasn’t said a word to anyone since then.
Akira: Oh no.
Akira: Fuck.
Ann: Let’s see how she is tomorrow and then figure out a plan. I don’t want to bother her tonight. Seems like a bad idea.
Akira: Agreed. As far as I know, we’ll still go jogging in the morning. I’ll keep you updated.
Ann: Same.

The next morning, Akira was up at his normal time. When he stepped out of the cabin, Makoto wasn’t waiting. It was like a punch in the gut. He set Morgana down and jogged over to the girls’ cabin. Outside, he gave Makoto a call but she didn’t answer. He gently knocked on the door and waited.

Makoto answered the door. She was still in her pajamas. She looked more worn out than usual and her eyes were red and puffy. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “I don’t think I can go this morning.”

“Makoto,” Akira replied softly. “What happened?”

She wiped at her eyes. “N-Nothing.”

“Makoto, please. Let’s go for a walk.”

He took her hand before she could retreat back into the cabin. She made a soft noise of protest but didn’t say anything. He walked her over to the athletic fields and she followed silently. Once they were on the track, Akira let Morgana loose in the woods. He and Makoto continued to walk along the track.

“So what’s up?” he asked gently. Being outside in the light really brought forth how terrible she looked. It was clear that she hadn't slept most of the night.

“Bad night,” she responded meekly. She felt slightly awkward being out in just her pajamas.

“Did you get into a fight with one of the girls?”

“A girl,” she mumbled.

“A girl?”

“My sister.”

“You have a sister?”

“Yeah. She’s… a lot to handle. She didn’t want me to come to camp this summer. She said it was going to be a waste of my time when I could be studying to get into a good college. I wanted to come, though. I worked really hard and saved up money to be able to get here. I do get some money off because I practically work here but the rest I paid for by myself. My sister didn’t pay a cent. When I told her I had the money, she was pissed. I went anyway. She’s been pissed ever since.”

“What about your parents?”

Makoto was quiet for a long moment. “They’ve both passed away.”

“Oh, Makoto… I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head quickly. “No. It’s fine. You didn’t know. My mother passed away pretty much right after I was born so I never knew her. My father passed a few years ago. My sister took custody of me after he died… She was really young to take custody of a teenager. I’m pretty sure she hates me because I ruined her life.”

“Makoto, there’s no way you ruined her life.”

“I did though,” Makoto said, her voice becoming more frantic. Everything all started to tumble out like a dam had burst. “She had to take care of me instead of thinking about herself and what she wanted. And she still does. I’m a burden to her. I’m a burden to everyone. And she told me if I didn’t get into a good college I’d just continue to be a burden. That’s why she didn’t want me to come to camp. She wanted me to be studying. And I said I’d study here. I have been studying. I’ve been working so hard. I can barely think anymore. I don’t know what to do. I just don’t want to be a burden anymore. I want to be useful. I want to—” She was cut off by her own sob choking her up. She put a hand over her mouth and gave Akira a wide-eyed look.

Akira stopped walking and pulled her into a tight hug. She was crying freely now, shaking in his arms. He was trying to process everything that had just happened as well. This was a lot of new information. Makoto and her sister were orphans. Makoto had a sister. There was much more drama between the two than he even could comprehend. He wasn’t sure what he could say to help her now.

“I understand,” he said after another moment. “About being a burden… I got shipped to this camp because my parents didn’t want to deal with me after what happened. I’m nothing more than a criminal to everyone. I’m no longer a teenaged boy. I’m just the criminal. And my parents would rather me go to some strange camp in the middle of nowhere than deal with me.”

Makoto was clutching tightly to his shirt. She was already beginning to settle down but tears were still streaming freely down her cheeks. She took in a deep, shaky breath.

“Akira,” she whispered, “you’ve made me feel like a human for a little bit again. I haven’t felt this way since my dad passed. It’s why I’ve enjoyed spending time with you and with everyone else.” Her voice shook with every word but she pressed on. “This is my last summer I can be a camper here. For once, I actually feel like one. I wish I could help you feel like a human again too.”

Akira smiled sadly. He felt tears burn in his eyes. He wished that he could tell her that she had in a way she’d never even know. That whatever feelings he’d formed for her over the past few weeks were just enough to keep him sane even if she drove him crazy. He couldn’t tell her that. He had to tell her something. “You guys have made this summer worthwhile,” he decided on. “I at least don’t regret being sent here.”

Makoto pulled away from him but kept her fists balled in his shirt. She closed her eyes and took another deep breath. When she opened them again, she stared him right in the eye. Despite having just cried, she looked scarily determined.

“What’s your plan now?” Akira asked. He'd loosened his grip on her now, his arms hung loosely around her waist.

“My sister and I got into a fight last night,” Makoto said. “And… I want to forget about it.” She paused as if considering what she’d just said. It was almost like she was confused about her own rebellious tone that had just taken over. “I want this to be my best summer ever if this is going to be my last one. Despite what my sister may think, she doesn't know what's best for me. She won’t be in charge of me soon anyway.”

“That’s the spirit. We can start with the dance on Sunday.”

“Yes, we can.”

Chapter Text

The next day went as Akira would’ve imagined. He and Makoto kept their promise to go jogging. The entire gang went to breakfast as they had been. Camp activities were attended by everyone, although some with less than ideal enthusiasm—Akira was not entirely sure why Ryuji signed up for canoeing when he could’ve gone to knitting, which was much more his style. He didn’t breathe a word of what had happened between him and Makoto to anyone. He didn’t even really speak about it to Makoto. There was just a silent understanding between the two of them now.

However, with the emotional dam between them already broken, Makoto had become much more open with him about more personal things in her life. After their Saturday morning jog, she spoke more about her father’s death and the impact it had had on her. She talked more about her sister as well. They used to be very close she told him while they lay in the field.

Sae Niijima was older by over ten years, the result of their father’s previous marriage. She was a fantastic public prosecutor with what Makoto could only call a sour attitude. She worked long hours and wasn’t home that often. There were a lot of nights that Makoto spent alone. Being only half-siblings, Makoto sometimes felt that her sister didn’t like her as much as she would a real sister. 

When Makoto was born and her mother passed away, Sae was the one who took care of Makoto mostly. Sae enjoyed it then. She loved her baby sister. Makoto learned everything from Sae. How to walk. How to talk. She gained a passion for learning as she watched her older sister study in college things she couldn’t comprehend. Makoto remembered wanting to be just like Sae one day.

It was when their father passed that things changed. Makoto was just about to turn fourteen when it happened. The few months after were mostly a blur to her. She’d lost almost all memory of that time. She remembered the funeral vaguely. She remembered sitting in on meetings with Sae who was working hard to file all the correct paperwork to keep her little sister with her. She remembered late nights when Sae would be sitting at the kitchen table poring over papers. Then it seemed like it all ended abruptly. There was no fanfare or party that Makoto could stay. She was just now legally under her sister’s guardianship. And that was it.

Makoto did her part in all this however small. She attended school. She stayed out of Sae's way. She learned to cook and do other mundane house chores. She turned fourteen, although she almost forgot since nobody celebrated. Her life continued as it had always gone just with one large missing piece.

It was at this point when Sae had grown tired and angry. Sae put everything into her work to help keep the two afloat. Makoto was left alone more and more. She felt as though she really didn’t get to stay with her family. Perhaps staying in her sister’s custody was really a loss. Some days she wished that she’d died instead. Or that her sister had just given her up. 

Akira listened intently to every word of the story. It was a painful one to hear. He had expected for Makoto’s life to be hard. He figured that’s why she kept herself so guarded. This had blown what he had thought out of the water. He couldn't even begin to fathom how she felt. It seemed like nobody cared about her at home and coming to camp didn't ease any of that pain.

“That story really sucks,” Akira said, staring at the sky. He couldn’t think of much else to say. There was a beat of silence while a breeze blew over them.

“Don’t tell anyone else,” Makoto said. When he glanced over at her he noticed her cheeks were wet, though she hadn’t made any noise while she was talking. She wiped a hand over her face to dry them.

“Your secrets are always safe with me,” he responded quietly.

She looked over at him with a small smile. “Should we go swimming after activities today?”

“Sure.” He quickly followed her lead in changing the subject. “I’ll gather the guys up and I’ll leave the girls to you. It’ll be a nice little get together before we get ready to dance into the night tomorrow.”

Makoto propped herself up on her elbows. “Question though.”

Akira looked up at her with a confused look. “What’s that?”

There was a concerned look on her face. “What happens if one of us gets turned into a tanuki?”

“I’m not mentally prepared for that and I honestly don’t want to talk about it. I’m just praying to whatever God or gods there may be that it isn’t me.”

Makoto nodded. “It’s probably for the best not to dwell on it.” She stood up and offered her hand to pull him up as well. He took it and she pulled him up to his feet. She brushed a couple of blades of grass from his shoulder. “I suppose I’ll be seeing you for swimming after activities then.”

“I suppose you will.” He noticed Makoto was staring past him. She pointed and he followed her gaze.

“You might want to go get your cat though. He’s rolling in something.”

Akira turned around quickly. “Morgana, stop that right now!”

Makoto watched him march away and only got a glimpse of Morgana crouching in the grass as if it could hide him.

9:04
Akira to Ann

Ann: I hear that we’re going swimming later.
Akira: Mhmm.
Ann: Okay, so Akira. Can you be honest?
Akira: Like in general or right now?
Ann: Right now.
Ann: Have you… kissed Makoto yet?
Akira: No.
Ann: Okay.
Akira: Wait. Why?
Ann: I don’t know. I just… Makoto seems like a lot… lighter??
Ann: I guess that’s a way to describe it. It’s hard to put into words.
Ann: I mean happy is definitely a word I’d use to describe her now. And I honestly never thought I’d say that.
Akira: Well I don’t think that’s all because of me. She’s also getting along better with you guys which I think is bringing her a lot of joy.
Ann: True. She's like. Interested in Shiho and I now. It’s kind of weird lmao
Ann: Weird in a good way.
Akira: I’m glad that you guys are all getting along now.
Ann: I’m glad you guys are getting along(○゜ε^○)
Akira: HEY NOW.
Ann: ◕‿↼
Ann: Nah but seriously. Your relationship has really budded the week just from hearing the way you two talk. It’s cute.
Akira: She talks about me? Has she said she likes me?
Ann: Not explicitly. Trust me I’d hint at that if she did. But I mean, I think you’re her closest friend here right now. So she does talk about you. A lot. Akira this and Akira that. Gag me,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ◔_◔
Akira: Hey I can't help it that I'm max level charming. But anyway I want to be her more-than-friend.
Ann: Then you better work it, sister. I have full faith you’ll be boyfriend material at some point. But I’ve gotta go now. See ya later. Love you!

Akira pocketed his phone at glanced at the painting Yusuke was working on a large canvas beside him. It was of a blond-haired boy sitting on a window sill. Rain spattered the window with no semblance of a pattern. Everything that wasn’t the boy, the window, or the faint aura around him was black. It was a more concrete piece than Yusuke’s normally abstract work. Akira could place the boy.

“Found a new muse I see,” he commented gently. He picked up his own pencil again and started doodling a cartoonish version of Morgana if he could stand upwards and had a bobblehead.

Yusuke stared at his painting and seemed to be criticizing it in his own head. “He’s quite the interesting character. It seems I come to admire him more with every day. He might be quite vulgar, but there’s also something very charming in his resolve. It makes for a good painting.”

Akira smiled. He was glad he wasn’t the only one crushing on someone at camp. At the very least, he knew that the pining between these two was mutual. They were both just too oblivious to notice it. “He might make for a good something else, you know.”

Yusuke glanced at Akira. “And what do you mean by that? Perhaps a model for a study? He is quite fit.”

Akira chuckled. “No, Yusuke. Although, he probably wouldn’t say no to being a model for you.”

“What did you mean then?”

Akira shrugged. “If I were you, I’d ask him to dance at the ball,” was all Akira said.

Yusuke turned back to his painting, a new expression on his face. He picked up his brush again and began to add more details.

Akira’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out again to look at who it was from. It was a peculiar sender. Futaba rarely texted him on days it wasn’t raining or expected to rain.

9:40
Akira to Futaba

Futaba: So you guys are all going to the dance right?
Akira: Yeah. You wanna come?
Futaba: I don’t know if I’m allowed. I don’t technically go to camp here. Also, a dance isn’t really my thing. Too loud and too sweaty.
Akira: That’s fair. The group of us are going swimming later. You want in on that?
Futaba: You think there’d be a lot of people there?
Akira: It’s Saturday after activities so it won’t be slow. But it’s probably not going to be packed either. It never really is. And we’re all going to be there.
Akira: Come on it’ll be fun
Futaba: I’ll… think about it. ⊙﹏⊙
Akira: Let me know and I’ll swing by to get you.

Finally, it was lunchtime. Akira snagged a table with Shiho and Mishima. The lunch today was spaghetti and meatballs. It wasn’t a dish Akira was particularly fond of, but it seemed to be a staple at this camp nonetheless. Shiho was gulping down food like this was going to be her last meal. Mishima was watching her, his expression caught somewhere between awe and disgust.

“So, Yuuki,” Shiho said when she finally stopped to breathe, “are you planning on dancing with any girls?”

Mishima blushed instantly and shifted in his seat. It was amazing how easy it was to make him uncomfortable. “Well, that would be ideal, I think…”

Akira raised an eyebrow at him. “Got any particular girls in mind?”

Mishima’s face got even redder. “I mean, not particularly. I would like to dance with a girl, though.”

“What about a boy?” Shiho offered. “You could do that.”

“I think I’ll stick with girls right now,” Mishima responded with a small nod of affirmation mostly to himself. “But thank you for the suggestion.”

Akira chuckled. “Where’s Ann by the way? Aren’t you two usually attached at the hip?”

“She’s dancing her life away,” Shiho said overdramatically. She let out a big sigh and slumped onto the table. “She wanted to teach herself a new routine and has been working on it since. It’s basically been taking up all her time.”

“Poor Shiho. Left all alone. How dare Ann treat you like this,” Akira said with a smirk.

“I know, right? It’s as if dance is more important than her charming, lovable, attractive, smart, funny, beautiful, and athletic girlfriend.”

“Don’t forget modest,” Mishima piped up.

“I’m the most modest, Yuuki.” She winked at him.

“Truly,” he replied.

“Maybe Ann will show you some of those new moves at the dance tomorrow?” Akira offered. 

“She better give me a real show for how much she’s been working on this.” Shiho poked at the remnants of her spaghetti. “I think the dance is going to be really fun either way.”

“I can only hope so,” Akira said.

13:05
Akira to Ann

Akira: Your girlfriend is really sad you’re dancing your life away
Ann: She’s such a drama queen. I love her.
Akira: You better show her a good time at the dance.
Ann: Don’t you worry about that. ˶⚈Ɛ⚈˵


Akira moved onto his next activity which required sitting in a classroom doing pottery with Ryuji. Ryuji was incredible at pottery for some reason. Every piece he made seemed to turn out amazingly. It seemed all hands on crafts were his forte. He wasn’t very fond of any of the pots being dropped, however. It generally made him wince.

“So the dance tomorrow,” Akira said as he worked the clay on the wheel. He was just trying to make a simple pot. Something that he’d yet to accomplish to any useable level.

“What about it?” Ryuji asked. He was busy painting a vase that he’d crafted a few days prior.

“Got anybody you’re planning on dancing with?”

“Shit, dude, I don’t know.”

“Not even a tall artist who would be fabulously amazed at your pot making skills.”

“Dude, no! Yusuke doesn’t want to dance with me.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. I just… I don’t know!” Ryuji threw his hands up in frustration, almost knocking his vase over. He steadied it with the hand that wasn’t holding the paintbrush.

“You should ask him to dance with you anyway,” Akira said, as gently as possible. “He might surprise you.”

 

Makoto caught Akira’s arm as he walked past the counselor’s office on his way to his next activity. “Swimming still on?”

Akira nodded, trying not to let on how hard his heart was beating with her holding his forearm. “Yep. All the boys are in.”

She smiled. “Awesome. I gathered all the girls.”

“We might be having a plus one as well,” Akira added.

Makoto dropped his arm with a confused look on her face. “Who?”

“Futaba.”

“Oh?”

He shrugged. “She seemed interested. I gave her the option if she wanted it.”

“Alright then. I have no reason to say no so she can come if she wants. I’ll see you soon.”

14:26
Akira to Futaba

Futaba: I thought about it and I think I want to go swimming with you guys.
Akira: Positive? I don’t want to force you.
Futaba: Yeah. I think it would be fun.
Akira: Okay. I’ll come to grab you when it’s time.
Futaba: ( ̄^ ̄)ゞ

15:38
Akira to Ryuji, Ann, Shiho, Yusuke, Mishima, Haru, Makoto

Akira: Futaba is coming swimming with us.
Ann: For real?!
Ryuji: Hey that’s my line!
Ryuji: … For real?!
Yusuke: That doesn’t seem like an activity that she’d enjoy that much.
Akira: She said she wanted to and who am I to stop her. So I’ll be bringing her along. I expect everyone to be good.
Shiho: When are we not?
Akira: If I answer that honestly, we’ll be here for the rest of the summer.
Makoto: I wish I could like text messages because I agree wholeheartedly with that.
Ann: Makoto, how rude!
Makoto: It’s not my fault you guys are a bunch of heathens.
Akira: She has a point.
Ryuji: It’s_True_But_She_Shouldn’t_Say_It.jpg
Haru: I believe she’s mostly talking about you guys.
Mishima: I can’t help but agree with Haru. I mean, I’m the head of our cabin.
Makoto: None of you are free of sin.
Shiho: Yikes™. Perhaps we made a mistake in adding her to this group chat.
Ann: We do post a lot of… questionable things in here.
Akira: Guys, focus I just wanted to say I’m bringing Futaba and I’ll meet you guys at the lake when it’s time. Over and Out!
Ryuji: Back to activities. Also, Makoto pretend you didn’t see our earlier conversation about the donkey and the nun.
Makoto: I wish I didn’t have to see it.
Ann: ╥﹏╥
Shiho: Fucking Yikes.
Makoto: Perhaps some of you should fear God just a little more...

After activities ended for the day, Akira changed into his suit and headed to the lake with the boys. Once there he continued onwards towards Sojiro’s house to pick up Futaba.
She was dressed in swim shorts that reached her midthigh and a tank top. She smiled at him when he arrived.

“I’m all ready to go!” she announced as she stepped out onto the front porch.

He gave her a smile. “I’m glad you’re going swimming with us. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

They walked back to the lake and found the group was already altogether. Like he had imagined, there were other people speckled along the beach but it wasn’t very crowded. Haru, Ryuji, and Yusuke were still on the beach sunbathing while the rest of the group was already out in the water. Ryuji had his black bag with him again but didn’t seem as excited to take out the water guns as he was the first go around when they’d all gone swimming.

“Hey guys,” Akira called as they approached.

Ryuji looked up and smiled. “Hey.” He noticed Futaba. “Ah, so this is Futaba. Nice to meet you!”

Futaba ducked behind Akira a bit. “H-Hi.”

“Futaba, this is Ryuji Sakamoto and that’s Haru Okumura. And you already know Yusuke,” Akira introduced them.

Futaba nodded. “Nice to m-meet you.”

“The pleasure is all ours, Futaba-chan,” Haru said with a bright smile.

Futaba moved out from behind Akira and took a seat between Yusuke and Haru. Haru started to talk to her gently and with a motherly tone. She was going to be just fine if left alone with them.

Akira headed into the water. He swam out to where Ann and Shiho were casually floating along on pool toys. He popped up next to Ann’s and hung onto the side of it, leaning it down into the water.

Ann shot him a look. “I’ll kill you if you knock me in, Akira.”

He gave her a devilish grin in response. “I’m not trying to. It’s easier to float on this than tread water.”

She rolled her eyes then sat back again. “So get this, Makoto has a really, really nice outfit planned out for the dance. And Shiho and I didn’t even pick it out or offer it to her. She brought those clothes herself. She definitely wanted to go to the dance.”

“So it’s a good thing she’s going?” Akira asked. “I mean, not a waste of an outfit then.”

“Yes. It just seems like fate that our police academy dream student and our local criminal mastermind are hooking up,” she said whimsically. 

Akira nearly choked. “We’re not!”

Shiho laughed. “But I thought you guys were going jogging every morning.” She put air quotes around the word jogging. “And then you guys make out on the field afterward.”

A deep red blush was creeping up Akira’s neck. “We’ve never even kissed.”

Shiho ruffled his damp hair. “You should really kiss her, don’t you think?”

“You should really kiss my ass, you fucker.”

Shiho burst out laughing. “I’d never kiss your straight ass.”

Makoto had swum up beside them and attached herself to Shiho’s floaty. “What are you guys talking about that warranted that response?”

Akira looked away. “Nothing in particular.”

Makoto frowned but didn’t press the issue. “Akira, you want to swim around with me for a bit?”

“Sure.” He stuck his tongue out at Ann and Shiho as he drifted away with Makoto. It earned him snickers from the both of them.

They had gone closer to the shore. They were close enough that they could sit on the bottom of the lake and have the water only lapping at their chests. Akira wondered what Makoto could want from him. She seemed incredibly calm and in a good mood, for her. She took his hand underneath the water and played with his fingers.

“Akira,” she said softly. He could barely focus on her. Every ounce of him could only feel her hand on his. “Will you save me a dance tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

She smiled at him and he melted. “Thank you. You truly are making this the best summer ever.”

They stayed like that for a while. Makoto was telling him a good story from her childhood. It was the time that her father had taken her on a shopping trip with him and she had bought a Buchimaru-kun pencil case. It was something she still used to this day. He listened quietly not having much to add to the conversation. 

Everything was pleasant. Ann and Shiho drifted quietly along farther out, their hands twined together so they wouldn’t drift apart. Ann was talking animatedly about something. Mishima had returned to the beach and was watching Futaba do something on her phone. Haru was also watching them intently, though the look on her face suggested she knew less of what was being discussed. Yusuke and Ryuji were talking about something while Yusuke sketched in his book. And here he was sitting with the girl he liked as the water lapped against them and she told him a random story from her childhood. Another lovely beach day. Akira felt warm.

As the afternoon wound down, everyone had returned to the beach to relax once more. They were talking about the dance the next day.

“Ann and I have very nice dresses to wear,” Shiho commented.

“I haven’t really decided what I’m wearin’,” Ryuji said. “I didn’t pack anything super fancy to wear. I kinda forgot about the whole thing.”

“It was on the camp sheet that gets sent out before we start,” Makoto said. “It tells you everything you need to bring. I mean, it’s optional to bring nice clothes, but you were informed.”

“Ryuji can’t read,” Ann teased. “So there’s no way he read it.”

Ryuji threw a handful of sand half-heartedly at her. “I can read! I just didn’t read that. Usually, my mom helps me pack. She was busy this time around so I had to do it all myself.”

“That explains so much,” Akira commented.

Everybody nodded in agreement and Ryuji rolled his eyes.

“I hope there’s some juicy drama,” Ann said, changing the subject. “Either some couple gets together or breaks up over this. That’s the only way it’ll be fun.”

“The only way?” Akira asked. 

“Well, it’s a good thing Akira likes—”

Haru was the one to slap a hand over Futaba’s mouth and stop her from talking. There was a pause from everyone. Akira’s mind was already working a mile a minute. He evaluated the situation. Haru slapping a hand indicated she knew who he liked. Or perhaps she was just being a good person as to not out him. It could be deduced that Ann and Ryuji knew the secret as well. They were closest to him. Shiho could probably know too since she and Ann shared everything. Yusuke and Mishima were on the outside of it maybe. Hopefully, they’d play along if asked.

All eyes were on him. He had to play his cards right. He glanced in Makoto’s direction and her expression was one of pure curiosity.

“To spice it up just for you Ann, I’ll reveal who I like at the dance,” he said carefully. Ann and Ryuji shared a glance and he prayed Makoto hadn’t seen it. “But for now, I think it’s time I take Futaba home.”

Futaba looked sheepish as she stood and brushed sand off of herself. “Thank you for spending time with me,” she said with a small smile and a bow. “I had fun.”

Akira walked to her side. “I’ll see you all later,” he said with a wave as he walked away with Futaba.

It was a quiet walk back to Sojiro’s house. Once on the porch, Futaba turned back to him. “Sorry. I didn’t know it was still a secret.”

Akira waved a hand and shrugged. “It’s not your fault and I’m not mad or anything. Just a little embarrassed is all. I’ll live. I’m glad you had a good time today.” 

“Me too. Thank you for inviting me.”

“I better get going though. Have a good night, Futaba.” He smiled and gave her a quick hug before heading back to his own cabin.

22:06
Akira to Makoto

Makoto: Why do I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t know who you like?
Akira: What makes you say that?
Makoto: Well, Futaba knows. Haru probably knows. Ann and Ryuji have to know. That means Shiho knows. And Yusuke and Yuuki might know, but I’m not sure.
Makoto: That just leaves me. I know we only kind of became friends recently. But I thought maybe you’d tell me.
Akira: I said I’d say at the dance tomorrow, didn’t I?
Makoto: I’m just curious why it has to be tomorrow when everybody else already knows.... I’m sorry. I’m prying. I shouldn’t really be digging this deep.
Akira: No, no. It’s fine. I understand. Trust me when I say we’re close enough that I would tell you. And it’s not that I don’t want to tell you. It’s just a little embarrassing still. So I promise I’ll say. But tomorrow.
Makoto: If it’s embarrassing why would you tell Ann and Ryuji? They’d tease you like there’s no tomorrow.
Akira: And they do.
Makoto: That doesn’t surprise me. Well, then I look forward to tomorrow. Also, don’t forget you have to help me with decorating.
Akira: How could I forget? I’m greatly looking forward to spending all afternoon of my day off with my parole officer doing community service (*^∀゚)ъ
Makoto: Ha Ha. You’re SO funny.
Akira: I’m glad you think so. I feel like that really puts me ahead of most guys in your book.
Makoto: I mean you already are.
Akira: No shit? For real?
Makoto: That’s Ryuji’s line.
Akira: It’s rubbed off on us all.
Makoto: Truly. Alright. I’m off to bed! See you tomorrow.
Akira: Good night.

Akira actually slept in for what felt like the first time since he’d come to camp. Even Morgana let him sleep in which in and of itself was a miracle. He woke up just past ten and checked his phone. There was only one message from Makoto telling him when and where to meet. Also, one message from Ann telling him that she was fielding questions left and right from Makoto about who he liked. He chuckled to himself.

Ryuji was in the room, lying on the floor. He was playing a video game on a handheld quietly by himself. Morgana was curled up beside him. Yusuke and Mishima were nowhere to be seen.

“Good morning,” Akira called to the other boy.

“Good morning,” Ryuji said back. He smiled.

Akira rolled off of the bed and joined Ryuji on the floor. He rested his head against Ryuji’s shoulder to see his game better. The presence of the other boy was also just comforting to his frayed nerves. He didn’t think that being asked to tell the girl he liked that he liked her would affect him this much. What he was discovering this summer was that he barely knew himself. Hopefully, when the time came, he would come across more casual.

“Worried about today?” Ryuji asked. He was using his quiet voice which he only ever used for serious moments.

“A little bit.”

Ryuji patted Akira’s head gently. “You’ve got this buddy. I believe in you.”

“I should get ready to go soon. I have to help Makoto with the decorations.”

“Yes, you should. I also took care of Morgana this morning to let you sleep. You sounded like you were having a bad nightmare last night or something. Couldn’t really tell.”

Akira shook his head. “I don’t really remember anything. Thank you though.”

“Sure thing, buddy.”

They stayed like that for a while. They didn’t say much besides Akira asking a few questions here and there about the game. It was nice to decompress with his best friend and his cat for a little while. Finally, he had to get ready to go.

The dining hall was what was being converted into the party space for the evening. After Sunday’s curry and coffee was when the real decorating would begin. It meant they only had a few hours to put together the whole place. Dinner was going to be served before the dance, but not in the dining hall. For that, they were having a picnic out on the athletic field. Sojiro had been complaining about it for days. The dance was his least favorite time since it inconvenienced his work. He also said something always went missing from the kitchen.

Akira met Makoto in the counselors’ office. She was sitting at her desk as she usually was, dressed in casual clothes.

“You didn’t come in for your check-in,” she commented.

Akira looked blank for a moment. Then it dawned on him. “Oh, shit. Sorry. I slept in late and then kind of spent the last hour hanging out with Ryuji.”

She smiled. “Nothing to worry about. I did stop by earlier when you weren’t here and hadn’t responded to my text. Ryuji told me what happened. I still need to write up your report though. So before I can help you out, do you have your rundown?”

He tapped his pockets and pulled out his journal. He flipped it open, took out the loose abridged pages, and handed them to her. “Thankfully, I do.”

She took them. “Alright. If you could head to the closet over there and start loading up the golf cart out front while I do this quickly that would be great.”

Akira nodded and got to work. As he walked back and forth through the room, he watched Makoto when he could. She was focused on her writing and didn’t seem to really notice him walking about. He’d never actually watched her write up her report before. She seemed to take it very seriously. He wondered how she even got put in charge of this. It was a little odd that an adult, like the camp director or coordinator, wasn’t taking care of his case. Of course, they were busy people and perhaps didn’t have the time. It took her about fifteen minutes to write the whole thing out and then put it in an envelope. She tucked the envelope into a drawer in her desk.

She stood up and stretched. “Alright. That’s taken care of. Time to get this party started.”

The two of them packed up the rest of the supplies into the golf cart. There wasn’t much space but somehow they managed it. Makoto hopped into the driver’s seat. “Sorry, you’ll have to walk.”

Akira shrugged. “Used to it. See you over there in a minute.”

He watched her drive away.

13:33
Akira to Ryuji, Ann

Akira: Question.
Ann: Go ahead.
Ryuji: Shoot.
Akira: Do you think it’s odd that I do my check-ins with Makoto and not an adult counselor here?
Ann: Um I guess it could be a little weird. But she’s also really responsible so it doesn’t seem unlikely that she would be asked to do it. Why? Did something seem weird today?
Akira: Not in particular. I just stopped by to help her set up because she asked me to. And she reminded me that I was supposed to do my check-in. It’s just that in the past it seemed more urgent and today she seemed really relaxed about it?
Ryuji: That could just be chalked up to her liking you more now. Less threatened?
Ann: Or maybe she’s just going easy since it’s a special day today and she already knew you were coming to help?
Akira: Maybe. I don’t know. It’s just like. The last two times we’ve literally almost gotten in fights over this. Today I was late and barely remembered my notes and she seemed fine? I’m just overthinking this, aren’t I?
Ann: Perhaps you are.
Ryuji: Could be but if you think something’s fishy maybe look into it?
Akira: Fair point. Maybe I’ll look into it more after the dance. Just to see.
Ann: Do you want me to mention anything or?
Akira: Nah. That’d just make her suspicious I think. She’s smarter than that. I was just wondering your thoughts.
Ryuji: Well if you need anything just let us know
Akira: Of course.

Finally, after finishing up the rest of the day, it was time for the dance to begin. Akira and the boys arrived at the dining hall. It was already bustling with activity and the music was thumping even outside. Kids were filing in and out of the front door as they met up with friends or went out to find more. It was definitely a lot more lively than Akira had thought it was going to be.

Yusuke and Mishima were actually dressed in full suits. Ryuji had decided that he was just going to go in his camp uniform. It was probably the nicest thing he’d brought with him to camp. He did, however, put on a tie at the very least. It was Mishima’s. Akira was dressed in the camp’s long, black pants but had chosen to wear a blue polo that wasn’t part of the camp’s uniform. He’d also brought a tie. He vaguely remembered his mother packing it for him and saying he was going to need it for a dance. He had not put two and two together.

The first girls to be spotted were Ann and Shiho. They, of course, looked absolutely stunning. Akira wondered if there was ever going to be a time when he wasn’t blown away by these two. Ann was in a tight red dress that has plenty of ruffles on the bottom. Shiho’s was a much looser maxi dress in black with a floral pattern in white. Ann had chosen to let her hair down and add loose curls to it. Shiho went with just her more usual style.

Akira approached the two with a smile. “Girls, you always look lovely,” he shouted over the music.

Ann gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek. Shiho did the same.

“Where’s Makoto and Haru?” Akira asked.

“Makoto was trying to decide what to do with her hair before we left," Ann responded. "She wanted us to go on ahead so that we could meet you guys. She didn’t want you to think she’d ditched you.”

Akira laughed. “Okay. Should we start dancing then?”

Shiho cheered and pulled Mishima and Yusuke out onto the dance floor. Ann took Akira and Ryuji. 

Once out on the floor, Akira grabbed Ann’s hands and danced with her. He spun her around once before letting her go and turning to Ryuji. It had never come up before and Akira was surprised to learn Ryuji was a god-awful dancer. There were a lot of arm and leg movements that made little to no sense and it was as if Ryuji couldn’t even hear the song that was playing.

Ann could barely contain her laughter. She jumped in with him and started to mimic his movements. He laughed along with her as they danced, almost like he also knew he was a terrible dancer. Akira jumped in with them.

Finally, Makoto and Haru arrived. Haru was wearing a very elegant silver dress that had a jewel-studded belt. Akira wondered if they were real gems of some description. Makoto was wearing a white floral sundress and black leggings underneath. Her hair was still down and a little more tame than usual. In place of her normal braided headband, she’d chosen a white headband with flower beads along the top. They both looked amazing.

Akira bounced over to them practically buzzing. “You both look great!”

Makoto flushed a bit. “Thank you. You look good too.”

“Should we dance?”

She nodded and he led both Haru and Makoto back to the dancefloor.

Everybody was dancing now in various styles of terrible dance. Shiho and Ann broke out a small routine that they had learned together. Ryuji showed off his one skill which was flossing. Ann didn’t even know how he learned that. Mishima was mostly a jump around and call that dancing kind of guy. Yusuke had some weird interpretive bullshit going on that Akira wasn’t even surprised about. Haru was apparently classically trained in ballet. Akira had also taken some ballet when he was a kid but mixed it in with a more modern style. Makoto was stiff and sharp in her movements but she was definitely trying her best.

Everytime We Touch by Cascada came on. Ann and Shiho practically screamed and started to dance with each other.

Akira laughed and pulled Makoto aside to dance with her. She smiled as they danced together and he again felt the warm feeling he’d felt earlier. He wished camp could last forever. Who knew what was going to happen when the summer ended. He decided to not dwell on it. That was three weeks away. Now he was dancing with the girl he liked and all his friends. 

Suddenly, the music cut out. There were some boos from the crowd as a boy jumped onto the main stage and looked out over the audience.

“Settle down you hecklers," he called into his mic. "Anyway, good evening. I’m your MC. It is about time we choose a tanuki for the evening. My esteemed collogues are currently perusing the dance floor. If you are suddenly pulled on the arm, you have been chosen. Thank you!”

The music started up. Most of the kids started dancing again but there was now an uneasy air. Apparently, nobody wanted to be turned into the tanuki. His friends seemed incredibly uneasy. He wondered if one of them had been turned into a tanuki in past years. If everybody was this nervous there was no way this was going to end well.

Akira felt a rough tug on his arm. His eyes widened. Of course. He looked at his friends. They all had matching looks of horror mixed with pity.

“It’s you,” a boy whispered into his ear. 

Akira was dragged into the kitchen. He didn't even have any time to tell his friends that he was being dragged away. Inside the kitchen, another boy and the MC were in there holding the tanuki costume. It was such a sad costume and Akira didn’t want any part of it. 

“Guys, come on. Be reasonable,” Akira pleaded. “I won’t be able to see shit without my glasses in there.”

“Sorry. This is tradition,” said one boy. "This happens every year and every year it sucks. It's just what we do. Be a good sport."

The second boy grabbed Akira and the two boys practically shoved Akira into the costume. Unfortunately, he had to take off his pants for this and he hadn't expected to be in his underwear in front of strangers. Getting over the embarrassment, he was suited up and zipped in. Then the boys pushed him back into the main dining area. The MC guided him up onto the stage.

“Alright, boys and girls!” said the MC. “Tonight’s tanuki has been chosen! We're gonna make this an easy year for you since the hour-long puzzles get complaints I guess. You know we put a lot of hard work into those. Anway, there's only one way to turn this tanuki back into a real boy. What is that you might be asking yourself? Well, I'll tell you. The only way to change him back to human is a kiss from a lucky girl.”

Akira was glad that he was hidden inside the tanuki because his face flushed red. He stared out over the audience in horror. What if someone he didn't even know volunteered? And he was right about barely being able to see. He didn't even know where his friends were. Everything was completely silent in the room. Akira was afraid they'd be able to hear his heart beating.

A hand popped into the air without hesitation. He could just barely make out the bouncy blonde hair.

“Looks like we have a volunteer!” the MC called. "Guess this tanuki will be turned back into a human quite soon!"

“I thought she was gay,” whispered one of the boys holding Akira up. He wanted to elbow him so badly.

Akira was swiftly pulled off the stage and dragged back into the kitchen. He stood pressed against the wall. At least it was Ann. He could handle kissing Ann. She already had a girlfriend. She probably volunteered to save him the embarrassment.

He felt incredibly flustered. More than he felt he should be. He could barely describe the feelings he was having. Was he really about to have his first kiss with Ann Takamaki? The Ann Takamaki who was dating Shiho Suzui. The Ann Takamaki that was one of his first friends at camp. A girl that, while he definitely found attractive, wasn’t the one he had imagined saving his first kiss for. He had really been hoping for a certain brunette with a stern look in her eyes.

The lighting in the room had been dimmed and it made seeing out of the tanuki costume almost impossible. He heard the door open and two girls whispering, though he couldn’t make out the voices through the head. There was a long pause of silence. He heard the door close. Then he felt hands on his chest. They moved swiftly up and grabbed the bottom of the tanuki head. Slowly, it was lifted off. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and when they did he couldn’t have been prepared for what he saw. His breath caught.

“M-Makoto?” he whispered. “I thought Ann…”

Makoto looked away from him for a second. She shook her head and looked up at him. Her eyes were unclear and unfocused. It was almost like she didn’t know what she was doing there either. “Akira…” She moved a hand behind his neck and pulled his face closer to hers. Her voice was barely above a whisper. He’d never heard her get this soft before. “I just want to help you turn into a real boy again…” She pressed her lips to his.

Akira’s heart stuttered. He didn’t kiss her back immediately, too caught up in the fact that Makoto was kissing him. The girl he’d been dreaming about almost since the beginning of the summer had her lips pressed against his. Once his brain finally caught up with what was happening, he kissed her back. He leaned into her and was abruptly stopped by her hand being placed on his chest. She didn’t pull away but made no attempt to pull him closer.

She pulled away first. He didn’t expect anything else. He definitely wasn’t going to be the one to end the kiss. He stared at her. He could tell that his breathing was hitched and uneven.

“Akira, I…”

“Makoto,” Akira started. He paused not knowing where he wanted to go. “Makoto, listen… I… really like—”

“Are you two lovebirds done yet?!” came a very loud and very obnoxious voice. It wasn’t any of the people running the dance but instead the loud voice of Ryuji. There was a slam on the door. He must’ve punched it. “Get out of that damn tanuki costume and let’s dance already, dude!”

“RYUJI!” That was Ann’s voice now. “I told you to leave them alone!”

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Bitch! Don’t—ow!”

Makoto had moved away from Akira now. She was staring at the ground. The look on her face wasn’t exactly the one he was hoping to see after he’d just kissed the girl of his dreams. She looked pensive. “We should get back.”

“Could you help me out of the suit?” he asked. “It zips in the back.” He took a step towards her then turned around. He felt Makoto’s hands on his back and it sent a chill up his spine. He turned her around facing away from him once she had unzipped it fully.

“What were you going to say?” she asked. 

“What?”

“You said, ‘Makoto, I really like,’ and then you were cut off by Ryuji. Were you finally going to tell me who you like?” She glanced back at him and caught sight of him in just his blue polo and boxers. She looked forward again quickly, a blush creeping up her neck.

“Um… yeah,” he responded quietly. “But it can wait. We should really be getting back to our friends.” He found his pants and pulled them back on quickly.

“If that’s the case, then I’ll be going,” Makoto said gruffly. She left the room. He was pretty sure she didn’t but it felt like she slammed the door behind her.

He felt awful. He should’ve said what he was going to say. He just couldn’t get the nagging out of the back of his head that she wasn’t going to like him back. He had so many opportunities to just say it. Why couldn’t he just say it? It was too late to take it back now. He’d dug his own grave. Now he was just going to have to lie in it. He exited the room and returned to the dance.

The rest of the dance went as smoothly as possible. He had fun dancing with everybody some more. Makoto would barely look at him, however. She still danced with him somewhat but it wasn’t with as much enthusiasm as she had had in the beginning. It seemed that everybody else caught wind of the weird mood between the two.

Ann pulled Akira off to the side during a slow song. She looped her arms around his neck and leaned closer to him. “What happened?”

“I fucked up again,” he said sadly. “I almost told her I liked her and then took it back.”

“Dude…”

“I know. I know. Don’t worry about it, though, okay? Don’t dig me out of this one. I can do it myself.”

She nodded knowingly. “Alright, Akira. Good luck.” She bounced away back to Shiho.

Akira moved over to Makoto who was standing along the side of the room with a drink in her hand. He stood beside her and looked out onto the dance floor.

He made his tabs on everybody. Mishima was dancing with a girl Akira had seen a few times around camp. Ryuji and Yusuke were dancing together. Ann and Shiho were together. He couldn’t seem to find Haru around.

“Do you want to dance?” Akira asked quietly.

Makoto looked down at her drink. “Akira, if you don’t want to be my friend, don’t pretend that you are.”

“What?”

Her grip on her cup tightened. “I just… I thought we’d gotten closer and it’s like everybody knows who you like and you won’t tell me. It’s not a big deal or whatever. It just honestly makes me feel like you don’t want to be my friend and tell me stuff you’d tell your other friends. Like I’ll never be your real friend.”

“Can we talk outside?” he asked.

She looked up at him. He could see tears in her eyes. He took her free hand gently and guided her outside.

The night was quiet and calm outside of the building. The crickets were chirping and the stars were bright in the sky. Akira led Makoto farther away from the building. They didn’t say anything but she followed willingly. They reached his cabin. He’d gone there just out of habit. He opened the door and took her inside. He flipped the light on and then sat on the carpet. She followed suit.

“So Makoto,” he started. “I really like you. You’re the person I’ve been thinking about all summer. It’s why everybody knows but you. They all know I have a huge, gigantic crush on you. Literally not a second goes by that I’m not thinking about you.” He pushed through the whole thing in one short burst, practically running out of breath partway through. He waited for her response with uncertainty. 

Makoto stared at him for a second then frowned. “What the hell? You brought me all the way out here to make fun of me?” She stood up abruptly.

That surely wasn't the response he had expected. “Wait, what? No. That’s the truth.”

She stared down at him. He couldn't read her expression. “Really?”

“Yes. I really like you. It’s why I didn’t want to tell you. Because I was afraid you weren’t going to like me back. You basically already told me off for just wanting to go to the dance with you.”

“Oh, Akira. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize....”

“Wait, what did you mean 'make fun of you'?”

She took several steps back. “Sorry… Akira… I-I have to go.” She hurried out of the room.

“Makoto, wait!” He stood to follow her but she was already too far gone.

Akira lay back down on the ground and stared at the ceiling. What had just happened? He just told a girl he liked her and she ran out of the room. His heart was in shreds around him. He felt Morgana move in beside his head and curl up. He buried his face into the side of the cat. Tears pricked at his eyes but he held them back. He didn’t want to cry over this. He felt like it would be stupid. She never even liked him in the first place. How could he have his heart broken by this?

His head was swirling. 

What was that?

Chapter Text

Akira woke up later that evening to the sounds of his friends all filing back into his cabin. There was a quiet murmuring that he couldn’t really make out. They seemed distraught by the fact that he was lying face down on the floor and not moving. He hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep, his face pressed into Morgana. Morgana’s side was slightly damp. He must’ve been crying. His memory was a bit dazed after Makoto had left.

Haru, surprisingly enough, was the first to make a move towards him. Morgana growled quietly as she approached. Akira had to pet his head to calm him down enough to let Haru by without him swiping at her. Haru sat down beside Akira and gently pulled his head into her lap. She picked his glasses up off the floor, folded them neatly, and handed them off to one of the others. She ran a hand through his tangled mop of hair to brush it out of his face.

The rest of the group moved in to sit beside him now. Akira had moved Morgana to his chest, clutching him tightly and all the while petting his head to keep him calm. It seemed as though he was upset that more people were here. Perhaps he thought that they were also here to hurt Akira.

“We didn’t realize,” Ann said. She stopped abruptly as if searching for words. Her voice faltered a bit when she started back up. “We-We thought you guys disappeared because you-you wanted to be alone. We figured we’d stay at the dance and let you have that at least.”

Akira nodded as much as he could. “No… I mean, we did. I pulled her out here to tell her how I felt. And then she… I don’t really know what happened to be honest.” He clenched his hand in Haru’s dress. “She just kind of stormed out of here and I had no idea what was going on.”

Haru brushed through his hair again and he leaned into her touch, his grip relaxing. At least someone was being gentle with him this evening. She smiled softly and continued to pet his hair.

“We should call it a night,” Haru said gently. Her voice was soothing on Akira’s grated nerves. “We can reconvene in the morning. I think Akira could use some downtime.”

There was no disagreement there. Without a word, everybody stood again and started to part ways. The girls all left with soft goodbyes and strict instructions to not say anything to Makoto. Akira didn’t want to dig anything up that didn’t need to be. The boys helped Akira to bed and then went to bed themselves.

 

The sun had already risen well into the sky by the time Akira woke up again. The light coming in past the curtains was nearly blinding. He didn’t even know how he'd slept in this late with how much light pollution there was. He leaned over and checked his phone. The time was already 12:00 pm. 

“Oh shit!” He launched himself out of bed—much to the dismay of Morgana who was basically flung off the bed—and started to dig through his wardrobe. It wasn’t until he held a bundle of clothes and turned back into the room that he noticed Haru sitting at the desk at the end of his bed.

She had a cup of coffee in one hand while the other held open a book. She looked almost like she didn’t even realize he was there. A brief flash of horror flooded him as the thought that he might be in the wrong cabin hit him. Then he remembered he’d just pulled his clothes out of his wardrobe. As soon as he noticed her, she turned and looked up at him, a bright smile already lighting up her face. “Good morning, Akira. You slept in quite late.”

Akira glanced around and noticed nobody else in the cabin. The whole thing felt almost dream-like. “Um… yeah. I’m way late to activities, aren’t I?”

Haru shook her head, her light brown hair bouncing as she did. “Activities are always canceled the day after the dance. It’s because we’re actually allowed to stay out late for once. Activities will also be canceled tomorrow. Tonight is a large bonfire that we have for the middle of summer. We’ll be staying out late for that as well.”

“Right, I forgot… I’m sorry, Haru, if this sounds weird, but am I asleep right now?” He pinched his arm and winced. Maybe not.

“I can assure you you’re very much awake. At least, I hope you are because if you aren’t then I’m not either.”

He nodded once. “Okay. Thank you for letting me know. Um, why are you here exactly?”

“You had a rough night,” Haru said, adjusting herself in the seat. It was almost as if she just realized that she was alone with a boy in his cabin and hadn't thought about that beforehand. “I wanted to make sure someone was here when you woke up. Everybody else went out to the athletic fields to play games and such at the festival before the bonfire tonight. There’s a whole thing going on.”

Akira nodded once more, his face taking on a more thoughtful look. “Why are you specifically here? Nobody else wanted to stay with me?”

Haru shook her head. “Not that at all. I volunteered and let them go on ahead. They are also concerned but I thought there would be no reason for us all to stay. I also wanted to talk to you about Makoto before anybody else got the chance to.”

Akira’s heart dropped as the evening’s memories flooded back to him. “Ah. Of course.”

Haru took on a more serious look, her smile fading and her eyes becoming darker. “So you said that you confessed to her last night.”

“I did,” Akira responded.

“And then she ran out on you.”

“She did.”

“And did she say anything weird?”

“Yeah. She said I was making fun of her.”

“I was afraid of that.” Haru looked down at her hands folded in her lap now.

Akira snapped to attention. “What do you know about it?”

Haru patted the table beside her and Akira moved to lean against it. She didn’t meet his eyes as she spoke. “So, back in middle school camp, there was a boy that Makoto liked. Makoto’s not one to develop these kinds of feelings for people easily and she truly fell head over heels for this boy. It was probably a lot of emotions for her to handle at the time. I’m not sure how she was processing it all. Either way, she had almost convinced herself that she was in love with this boy.”

Akira nodded. “And what does that have to do with me?”

“Well, quite a bit,” Haru continued.“You see what ended up happening was Makoto told the boy that she liked him. I feel like you understand her well enough to know why she had to tell him. The boy let her down gently at first. She had caught him off guard one day and told him that she liked him.

“He said that he didn’t feel the same way and that they could be friends if she wanted. But he didn’t really have any romantic feelings for her, although he did like her as a person well enough.

“It was a fine let down in my opinion. And to be frank it was middle school camp. It’s not like things would’ve progressed at all. All of that would’ve been well and good had Makoto not pressed the issue farther.”

“What do you mean by that?” Akira asked.

“They became friends. I think fairly good friends. Makoto just kept on pushing him a bit, though. She asked him again later if he liked her and he said no again. It was at this point that he started to spread very nasty rumors about her. He mocked her for having confessed to him at all. And she became the laughing stock of the whole camp.

“The next summer Makoto and I moved up to the high school camp. Those rumors were pretty much left back in middle school camp. But it had really broken her spirit. She and I became really close that summer. She opened up a lot of wounds in her heart that I never even knew that she had. I did my best to help her but we were both in middle school. What could I do to really truly help her?

“The summer after that, Makoto and I roomed together along with Shiho and another girl. This was the summer that Ann had gone to America. Shiho and the other girl were a year younger than us and still knew about the whole confession thing. They didn’t really tease Makoto about it, but they definitely didn’t let her forget they knew about it. It was especially heartbreaking because Makoto was actually doing better. She was having less trouble at home with her sister and school was going well for her.

“There was specifically a time when I overheard Shiho talking to Ann on the phone and laughing about how she was rooming with Makoto again. Something about how she hoped that Makoto wouldn’t fall in love with her while Ann was away.”

“Wow… I didn’t even realize,” Akira said in a bitter tone. He hadn’t realized there’d been so much infighting between his friends before. Perhaps that was some of the reason they were hesitant to befriend Makoto. “So everybody knew. All of them knew and they practically egged me on to ask her out. They knew full well what had happened and let me get my heart and Makoto’s broken over it.”

Haru nodded slowly. “But I don’t think that they wanted you to ask her out with malicious intent. Honestly, I’m sure they didn’t think it’d phase her like that. I mean we are talking about something that happened a long time ago. I’m sure they thought she’d be over it by now. And we’ve all seen how you two are together. It would’ve been for the best for you to tell her that you liked her. I mean, if anything they probably figured you’d both be happier for it.”

Akira sighed. He ran his hands through his hair. He wasn’t even sure what to think anymore. “You’re probably right….”

“I’m sorry, Akira. I should’ve warned you sooner. I knew that you liked her and I figured you were going to tell her that. I just didn’t want you to think less of her because she was already broken… And it seemed like she liked you back so I figured that if you told her you liked her then she’d be okay since it was mutual.”

Akira nodded slightly. “So she thought I’d heard about this confession story and took her back here to fake confess to her. After she already thought I didn’t want to be her friend because I wouldn’t tell her who I liked.” He buried his face in his hands. “Shit…”

Haru touched his leg gently. “I’m really sorry, Akira. That’s unfortunately how she probably took it.”

“Did you guys see her last night?” his voice muffled through his hands. He dragged his hands down his face with a soft sigh then looked at Haru again.

“She was already curled up in bed when we got back. We didn’t say anything. When we woke up, she was already gone. I don’t think anybody has seen her since.”

“Thank you for telling me all this, Haru.” He gave her a soft smile.

Haru still had a serious expression. “Akira, I’m very worried about her. I don’t think she’d do anything drastic, but things are very hard for her right now. I don’t know what kind of headspace she’s in and if she’s even okay or not. I’m… begging you to help her.”

Akira placed a hand on her shoulder and nodded. “Don’t worry, Haru. I’ll figure something out. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get dressed for the day.”

Haru stood up and hugged him tightly. He hugged her back trying to offer what little comfort he could to her. He knew that she as Makoto’s closest friend outside of him. He could only imagine how worried she was if she felt half of what he was feeling. She pulled away and left his cabin with a less than cheerful goodbye.

Akira pulled on his clothes. Should he call Makoto? Or text her? Would she even respond if he did?

12:44
Akira to Makoto

Akira: Hey… I’m sorry about last night. Can we talk about it? Preferably in person but text will do if you don’t want to see me.

He set his phone aside while he waited. There was something else he wanted to check on. He went into the desk drawer and pulled out the packet with his name on it. He sat down and started to flip through the pages. There was his cabin number, his schedule, a list of events that happened, emergency numbers, general camp information, safety information, and other things that pertained to staying safe in camp or what things there were to do. He read every word of the packet. What he didn’t find was a single page about visiting Makoto every Sunday to check in with her. He didn’t even see anything in his packet about checking in with anybody.

He sat back and stared at the ceiling. First of all, he was impressed with her skills to read him. She clearly knew enough about him to know he wasn’t going to read that packet. It was an easy lie to get away with at that point. He also figured she had a plan b if for some reason he had read the packet. Second, he wondered why she would lie about it in the first place.

There had to be some intent behind it. But what? And when did she craft this lie that she was going to have him visit every Sunday? He rubbed his temples. There wouldn’t have been any reason for her to want to spend time with him that first week. They’d barely even held a conversation sans the check-in table when she handed him the packet. They shared two study halls together but he hadn’t noticed her that much in them. She even skipped a couple of times.

Perhaps the page had gotten lost. Well, that would’ve been her excuse had he read the packet. He knew that for a fact. But maybe that was the case? Like, maybe Ryuji had stolen a page to make a paper crane out of. Akira knew full well that Ryuji had turned his entire packet into paper cranes. Maybe he snuck a page out of Akira’s.

No. No. He had to stop making excuses for this. There was a reason why Makoto did this and he had to know. At least, he was fairly certain there was a reason. Unless he was wrong. 

He checked his phone. Makoto hadn’t responded but he really hadn’t expected her to. He sighed and left the cabin, shooting a text to Ann.

1:05
Akira to Ann

Akira: I’ve got 99 problems and Makoto is all 99 of them.
Ann: You’re telling me. How are you today?
Akira: Not sure. I’ve got a lot of things on my mind rn.
Ann: Need to talk?
Akira: I’m heading to the festival. Let’s meet up there.
Ann: Sounds good.

Akira headed to the athletic fields. He was surprised to see that the whole thing was actually set up much like a festival. It was much larger and grander than he would’ve imagined. There was even a couple people in yukata, not many but enough to make it feel like a real festival. There were plenty of stalls set up. Food, games, fortune telling, and much more. If he'd seen it at a festival before, there was a stall for it now. A lot of people had come from off the grounds to make this happen.

He started down the first row of stalls watching the other campers play games and have fun. Some of them even seemed to be on dates. He ducked his head and moved down farther.

It wasn’t long until he spotted Ann and Shiho. They were on the volleyball court tossing the ball back and forth. Several other girls were playing with them, although Akira didn’t recognize them by name. Shiho was dominating the court as she always was. Akira strolled up to the sideline just as she jumped up and spiked the ball. It landed just out of Ann’s reach. Ann kicked the sand and turned to Akira.

“Sorry, guys. I have to go!” she called as she bounded off the court. She seemed happy to have a reason to leave while Shiho rolled her eyes in response and didn’t say anything. The rest of the girls shifted position to make up for the loss of their player.

Akira and Ann walked down the way through the stalls. She had her arm looped through his casually. There were probably others who thought they were together especially after they saw her raise her hand to kiss him at the dance. If he didn’t have so much other shit on his mind, he probably would’ve asked Ann if he was covering for her. They walked a little farther in silence. He was still trying to figure out what he wanted to say.

They finally decided to sit down on the edge of the track where the stalls ended. “So, you guys never told me that you were absolute assholes to Makoto at one point,” Akira said quietly. Smooth.

Ann’s grip on his arm tightened. “It’s not something I’m particularly proud of… Especially getting to know her this summer. I always kind of… assumed she was weird and I… I don’t know. That’s not a good reason. I also can’t speak for everyone else on the matter.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

Ann sighed. “It’s not a story that makes anybody look good. I didn’t think it would’ve mattered either. I mean, Makoto has always been closed off. Seeing her almost open up because of you, well, I thought she had gotten over it. I guess I could’ve vaguely warned you but then you would’ve wanted the full story…”

“Ann… I think I really hurt her. I don’t even know if there’s a way to fix this.”

“There are still three weeks left of summer. If you guys have gotten this close in only three weeks imagine what you can do with another.” She tried to sound hopeful for the two of them, but Akira wasn’t sure if it was fake or real.

“I don’t think it’s that easy, Ann.” He was starting to get frustrated, his voice rising a bit. How could she not understand what was happening here? He blew it. Big time. “She’s never going to trust me. There’s no way that she will.”

“You don’t know that, Akira,” Ann protested. “She did trust you on some level. You can earn it back.”

Akira frowned. “I doubt it. But whatever.” He didn’t have the energy to fight her on this. He also didn’t want to make any more of his friends hate his guts.

Ann rested her head against his shoulder, cuddling up close to him. “I know you’re just angry because your heart’s not whole right now and you’re really hurting for Makoto as well. I know you’re not particularly a fan of things not going your way, either. So I know you’re just taking it out on me.”

“I’m sorry… You’re right. I have a lot of things swirling around in my head right now.”

“That’s fine, Akira.”

He took a deep breath and calmed himself down again. Ann was still cuddled up to him and he focused more on her calming presence than how upset he felt. After another beat of silence, he spoke again, “The other thing that I found out was that I never had a sheet that asked me to go visit Makoto every Sunday. I actually read through my entire packet. There was nothing in there.”

“Did it get lost?” Ann looked up at him with an eyebrow raised.

He shrugged. “Maybe. But also, imagine if I had read it when I came in and Makoto tried to pull that with me. Wouldn’t that have been her excuse?”

“So she was banking on you not reading it?”

“I think so. But I just don’t know why.”

Ann shook her head slightly. “I can’t say I know why either. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.”

“I think I need to visit Futaba.”

 

Later in Futaba’s room, Akira was sitting on her bed while she typed away on her computer. Things always seemed to go this way when he was over. She was always busy doing something and couldn’t seem to put it down when he got there. He’d brought Morgana along since he seemed to enjoy visiting Futaba. He was sitting peacefully on her table. Occasionally, she would reach out and pat him on the head.

“So what did you need?” Futaba asked without turning to look at him. Her fingers were flying across her keyboard.

“I know I asked you not to spy on Makoto but what do you know about her?” Akira asked.

Futaba spun around in her chair. “How dare you accuse me of spying!” She adjusted her large glasses indignantly.

Akira raised an eyebrow at her.

She folded her arms across her chest and made a disgruntled noise. “Fine. But you might be more interested in what I have to say about Sae Niijima.”

“Her sister? Why would I be interested in that?”

“Her sister is a public prosecutor, wouldn’t you know.”

“Okay?” Akira said trying to prompt her forward.

She leaned forward, resting her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand. “She didn’t directly work on your case, but she works in the same office as those who put together your case and prosecuted you.” She waved her in the air as if gesturing to a law office building.

“Still not following.”

“Do I have to spell this out for you? Basically, her sister knew about you. She knew about your plea deal to be sent here. Makoto knew about you before you even got here.”

“Well, I mean that’s a little bit old news, isn’t it? Everybody knew about me before I came here.”

“Who do you think spread that information when there were only two,”—she held out two fingers—, “people who knew that information besides the director and supervisor?”

“… What?”

“I can’t confirm it wholly, but I do have these.” Futaba went back to her desk and pulled a small stack of papers out from under Morgana. She handed them to him. “Chat logs. Makoto and her sister.”

“How did you get these?”

“I’ve been doing my own digging because I was curious what was going on and figured you’d come to me at some point when you caught on. These are from three days before camp started.” She pointed at the page. “It’s a brief conversation talking about you. It seems that her sister was not too keen on her attending camp with you. I don’t know if it was because of the assault charges or what. I also managed to record Makoto’s last phone conversation with her sister.”

“I told you not to wiretap her phone. And how did you do it anyway? You said you needed the phone to do it.”

Futaba pat Morgana’s head, a devilish smile on her face. “I have my ways. Do you want to listen or not?”

Akira sighed. “Just play it.”

Futaba turned back to her computer. After a few clicks, she had the file opened up. She pressed play. 

“Hi,” Makoto’s voice said. It was jarring to hear her voice coming from Futaba’s computer.

“Hello,” another voice responded. Female and older. It must’ve been Sae. “I know I didn’t call in a few days. I’ve been a bit busy. After our last call, I thought you might’ve needed some space as well.”

“Right… What do you need?” Makoto’s tone was cold and uninviting. It was clear that she wanted this conversation to end before it even began.

“I just wanted to check in on you.”

“Well, I’m doing just fine. Is that all?”

“Have you still been hanging around Akira Kurusu?”

“As I’ve told you before, he’s not as bad as you think he is. And he told me he was wrongly accused. I don’t think he’s the one who’s lying here.”

“So you’re just going to throw an entire prosecution under the bus because you personally don’t think he’s lying?”

“You always tell me to think for myself. That’s what I’m doing. You’re the one who won’t give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s very nice and kind.”

“You’ve only known him for a couple of weeks. How could you make any judgments on his character?”

“You don’t know him at all and you have! I’ve at least spent time with him before I passed an arbitrary judgment on him.”

“My judgment is not arbitrary! It is based on evidence brought forth in the case. Why do you not understand that? If you had seen some of the materials—”

“Just stop already! You don’t know him and you never will. And I feel like my opinion of who I want to spend my time with is more important than yours.”

“I can make you come home, Makoto.”

There was a brief moment of silence. One of them sucked in a sharp breath. Akira figured it was Makoto.

“Wait. I’m sorry, sis. Please don’t make me go home. This is my last summer here. Just let me have this.”

“Then stop hanging out with that boy. And I fully expect you to be keeping up with your studies while you’re there.”

“Okay…”

“Sometimes I wish you wouldn’t act like such a child. You’re about to be an adult and take care of yourself. I don’t want to be worrying about you.”

“You won’t have to…”

“Well, as long as you’re doing alright, do you need anything from me?”

“Not particularly.”

“Alright. I’ll speak to you soon. Have a good rest of your night.”

The phone conversation ended. Akira’s nails were digging into the palm of his hand. He hadn’t realized just how controlling Sae was. He figured she held the opinion that what she was doing was for Makoto’s own good. It just didn’t match up with what was happening in reality.

He watched Futaba close out of the file and turn back to him. She uncurled his fist for him so he wouldn’t hurt himself.

“So you think that Sae Niijima or Makoto spread the rumor about me?” Akira asked Futaba quietly.

“It was one or both of them I’m almost positive, although I’m not sure what’s true. Sae Niijima may be… strict and judgmental but I don’t see what she’d have to gain by everybody knowing about you. It’s not like it would’ve scared Makoto any. Makoto also doesn’t have anything to gain. Although, if she did spread the rumor, I could hypothesize that it was to judge your reaction to it.” Futaba shrugged. “Do with this information what you will but I can’t give you any solid answers.”

Akira nodded. “Thank you a lot for this, Futaba.” He scooped Morgana up in his arms and used his paw to bop Futaba on the head. “Also, please stop spying on people… This was helpful but I can’t condone it.”

“I only spy on people I’m curious about,” she said with a sly grin. “You might want to filter what kind of messages you send to Ryuji, though.”

Akira frowned. “Futaba. Stop reading my personal messages.”

 

Akira’s next stop was to visit Kawakami. Akira liked Kawakami well enough. She was just an overworked school teacher who spent her summers out in the boonies teaching kids how to fish. She was at least passionate about what she did and seemed to genuinely care about the kids that attended camp. She was especially sympathetic to his plight. And he’d actually learned a lot about fishing from her.

He found her in her office going over a couple of documents. She seemed lost in thought when he gently knocked on her open office door. Her head jerked up at the sound of his knock.

“Kawakami-sensei,” he called. “If I could, I would like to have a moment of your time.”

“Sure, Kurusu-kun. Come and have a seat.” She gestured to the seat on the other side of her desk. He moved over and sat down in the chair. “What can I do for you?”

“I was just curious if there were any special terms for me coming here. Like do you have to make any reports about me? Or keep any records of my behavior?”

She put a finger to her lip and looked thoughtful. “Nothing explicitly. We did ask Niijima-san to keep an eye on you. Not in a spy on you sort of way of course. Just to make sure that you were adjusting okay to camp life and let us know if you were having any trouble.”

Akira nodded slowly. “Okay. That’s really all I wanted to ask. Thank you so much.”

“Is everything going alright, Kurusu-kun?”

“Yes. Absolutely. I was just curious about what me staying here entailed. I wanted to ask sooner but I’ve been kind of afraid to ask just in case you thought that was a weird question.” He stood up from the chair.

She smiled and shook her head. “I don’t think so at all. You can talk to me about anything that’s troubling you.”

“Thank you again,” he said with a slight bow as he made his way back to the door. “I’ll be going back to the festival now.”

“Feel free to come back any time you need.”

He nodded once more and headed back out of the office.

 

Akira stewed on his new information. So Makoto was at the very least asked to keep an eye on him. Perhaps her notes every Sunday were her way to keep up on that. She was a diligent student and always wanted to do her best. She was probably just trying to keep everything in line for herself. Although, he did think that it was a little too far. As he entered the festival grounds again he stumbled across Haru.

“Haru,” he called out to her. She paused and turned to look at where her name had just come from. She smiled when she saw him. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes. What do you need?”

“Did Makoto spread the rumor that I was a criminal?” He figured it best to be blunt about it.

Haru looked surprised. “That seems like quite the accusation. I don’t believe she did anything of the sort. What would she have to gain from telling anyone?”

“It’s what I’m trying to get to the bottom of. So she didn’t tell anybody?”

“Well, she did tell me...,” Haru said thoughtfully. “We were pretty much the first to arrive at camp. She said something to me about it. Kawakami-sensei had told her to keep an eye on you. She was venting a little to me about how she didn’t want to watch you during camp. I believe her sister knew about your court case so Makoto already knew you were coming here.”

Akira nodded along with this information, having already gathered that much. “Right… So she did say something to you?”

“Yes, but only to me as far as I am aware.”

“Interesting. Have you seen Makoto today?”

She shook her head with a look of disappointment. “Not yet. She did send me a text though. I asked if she was okay and she said she was fine.”

Akira rested a hand on her shoulder. “Thanks again, Haru. You’re the best.” After that, he took off back into the crowd. He thought she called after him but he didn’t stop to see if she had.

Things were still in full swing at the festival. He snuck his way up and down the aisles of stalls, seeing if he could catch Makoto anywhere. He didn’t know why she’d be out here, but he also didn’t think she’d be back in the cabin alone. If she was avoiding the other girls—and more importantly him—it would be much easier to hide in the crowd than in her cabin.

He swung through the stalls absently until finally, he saw Makoto eating a candy apple by herself. She was tucked away behind a fortune-telling stall probably thinking she was well hidden. He had to admit if he had come from the opposite direction he probably wouldn’t have caught sight of her. She looked fairly down, her head hung low. She’d barely touched the apple. He wondered if she was thinking the same thing as he was. Going to the festival together and with all their friends would’ve been very fun.

He went towards her and tried not to creep up on her while she went through her phone absently. “Good afternoon, Makoto,” he said lightly.

She startled anyway, nearly dropping her apple. She glanced up at him with wide eyes, shoving her phone in her pocket as if to pretend she wasn’t just using it. “Um. Hi.”

“You never responded to my text,” he said. It wasn’t an accusatory or malicious statement. He tried to sound as casual as possible as to not make her think he was mad at her.

She was staring firmly at the ground. “Sorry... I didn’t know what to say.”

“Do you want to hang out now?”

Her head snapped up. “You... want to hang out? With me?”

“Well, yeah. We’re still friends after all.” He smiled and offered her his hand.

She took it and stood slowly. “Akira... I... After what happened last night I thought...” She looked down at the ground again. Her hand still rested in his.

“Makoto, there’s a lot I don’t know about you. I definitely thought I’d figured everything out in these past few weeks. We have a lot of things to talk about and I can’t let them just sit. I’d rather us talk it all out if we can. But one little misunderstanding isn’t going to make me stop being your friend.”

She held onto his hand tighter now. She sighed and looked back down at the ground. “I have a lot of things to explain to you, don’t I?”

“Yeah, I learned some interesting things today.”

She nodded. “I thought so. We should go somewhere quiet. It’s going to be a long story..."

Chapter Text

Makoto was eating breakfast with her sister one morning. It was late spring already, summer coming just around the corner. It wouldn’t be long until summer break was starting for all the kids. For Makoto that meant attending camp.

Her sister was actively working on something, although Makoto rarely saw her not working on something. Makoto would have to head off to school soon. Just as she was standing to clear the dishes, her sister finally said the first words she’d spoken all morning.

“You’re still going to that summer camp, correct?” her sister asked.

“Yes, I was planning on it,” Makoto responded slightly caught off guard.

Makoto had attended Camp Tanuki every summer since she was in middle school so it wasn't like it was news that she was going. This was going to be her last summer that she was able to attend as a camper since she was a third-year high school student. Camp Tanuki had some rough memories for her, but it also held a very special place in her heart. She loved the camp and she couldn’t wait to see all her friends there. Well, singular friend. Her only real friend at camp was Haru Okumura. But even so, she still wanted to see her. She had every intention of attending.

This summer she’d been asked to be the head camp counselor as well. It didn’t mean too much in terms of the hierarchy at the camp, but it did look good on college applications. She would also be given a couple of extra responsibilities so she wouldn’t always be stuck in a rut of going to the same activities every day for six weeks.

Her sister nodded. There was a hard expression on her face that Makoto couldn’t read. What could Sae Niijima possibly be thinking about?

Makoto didn’t say anything else, not sure where Sae had wanted that conversation to go or where it should end. She cleared the rest of the dishes and brought them to the kitchen.

“What if I told you not to go?” Sae said just as Makoto began washing the dishes.

“I suppose if you had a good reason then I wouldn’t be opposed to not going,” Makoto said. She was scrubbing the dish thoughtfully. “Is there something that you wanted to do over summer?”

“I just think you should be more focused on your studies,” Sae said. Her tone of voice implied that she was pulling that reasoning out of thin air. 

“I can study plenty at camp,” Makoto responded without missing a beat. “And as I told you before, I was asked to be head camp counselor. It’ll look really good on a college application.” Makoto finished the dishes and set them on the drying rack. She went back over to the table where Sae sat. “What’s the real reason you don’t want me to go?”

“There’s a boy…” Sae said with a sad expression. 

That was a confusing statement. There were plenty of boys that attended camp; it was co-ed after all. Or was her sister talking about a boy in her life? Makoto waited another second, but Sae seemed unwilling to give up more information. “I might need more explanation than that,” Makoto pushed.

“There’s currently a case going on at the office. It’s an assault case. There have been whispers that the boy charged in the case will be sent to a summer camp instead of spending time in a correctional facility. If he does well there he will get off parole and will be able to live somewhat normally again. However, the camp in question is yours.”

Makoto took all of that in. A criminal was being sent to her camp. Of course, he was just a teenager. Makoto wasn’t sure how much of a danger he actually would be. Plus, she was trained in self-defense. She felt as though she could handle herself.

“Well, if they’re letting him attend camp, he can’t be that dangerous,” Makoto said. “I think I’ll be okay.”

Sae turned to her sharply. “I don’t think this is a matter that you can push aside like that. This is about your safety for the summer. Makoto, if you don’t take this seriously, I fully intend to keep you home from camp.”

Makoto faltered, caught off guard by her sister’s sudden change in attitude. Was this boy really that bad? “Sis, I don’t want to miss my last summer at camp. I’m not taking what you say lightly. I just… also don’t think it’s as serious as you seem to think that it is…”

Sae stood up from the table. “Fine. Go to camp then. But I won’t be paying for it. I’m going to work. You should head to school.” Without another word and without letting Makoto say much else, Sae stormed out of the house.

Makoto stood there for a moment in stunned silence. It took her brain a moment to catch up with what Sae had just said. If she wanted to go to camp, she’d have to come up with the money herself. There wasn’t much time until camp started for them either. She was going to have to bust her ass to pull this off. Makoto heaved a big sigh to steady her nerves. She did still have to go to school after all. She couldn’t show up in tears.

The next few weeks were exhausting. Makoto spent all of the free time she could at work. Day after day, she’d go to school and then to work. Thankfully, Sae was busy with other things and didn’t have time to pay attention to what Makoto was doing. If she did, she might’ve put a stop to it. 

Makoto had the money on hand now. She put in her registration for camp only a week before it would start. She breathed a sigh of relief when the application went through. She had communicated earlier that she was going to be late registering, which both the director and supervisor said would be okay. They trusted her.

At dinner that same night, Makoto put the registration down on the table. Sae glanced at it then did a double take.

“What is this?” Sae demanded. “I told you that you weren’t going.”

“You said that you weren’t paying for it,” Makoto corrected her. “You didn’t have to. I did.”

“What? Where did you get that kind of money?”

“I worked for it. Now I’m registered for camp and I paid my own way. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

“Makoto… That is not what I…” Sae didn’t have much of a defense here. In reality, she didn’t think that Makoto was actually going to be able to come up with the money. When she’d threatened that, it was under the assumption that she couldn’t pay for it. Now here was the registration slapped down on the table in front of her.

“I can’t miss my last year of camp, sis,” Makoto said. Her tone was chilly with a hint of sadness. “I believe in my own decisions here. I know you’re worried about my safety, but I think I’ll be okay.”

Sae shook her head slightly. “I’m going to eat dinner in my room.” She stood and carried her plate off to her room. Makoto heard the door slam.

The sendoff to camp was less than enthusiastic. After barely talking for a week, Sae didn’t break that when Makoto left. Makoto had her bags by the front door and walked to her sister who was sitting on the couch reading.

“I’m off to camp,” Makoto said. “I’ll be back in a few weeks.”

“I’ll keep in touch,” Sae said coldly. “Goodbye.”

Makoto turned and left quickly. She didn’t want Sae to see the tears that were pricking at her eyes.

 

Makoto was one of the first to arrive at camp. She was asked to come in earlier to help with check-in and anything else the adults needed her help with. She threw herself into the work she was given as to try and forget about what had happened earlier that morning. At some point in the day, she was pulled aside by Kawakami.

“Niijima-san,” Kawakami said in a hushed tone, “I need you to do us a huge favor for the first few weeks.”

Makoto nodded. “Of course.”

“We’re having a… troubled kid attend this summer. His name is Akira Kurusu. He has a bit of a rocky past and I want to make sure that he adjusts to camp life. Instead of one of us adults breathing down his neck, would you be so kind as to keep an eye on him?”

“If that’s what you’d like me to do, I will happily keep an eye on him,” Makoto responded.

“Thank you, Niijima-san!” Kawakami said happily. “That’s a load off of my shoulders.”

So that’s what this summer was going to be like. She had to keep an eye on the criminal kid who was attending camp on parole. God, her sister would hate that if she found out that Makoto was expected to interact with this boy. 

Makoto sighed. No need to worry about her sister at this point. She might as well have gotten disowned. She went back to her work.

It wasn’t long until Makoto received a text from Haru announcing that she had arrived. It was still rather early for campers to start showing up. Makoto abandoned her post for a moment to go and greet her friend.

“Haru!” Makoto called when she finally found the girl near the front entrance.

“Mako-chan!” Haru called back. She was busy telling other people where to take her stuff. Makoto half wished that she could live a life like Haru’s, although she knew Haru's home life wasn't that much better. Haru turned her full attention to Makoto. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been better,” Makoto said truthfully. “My sister has been… bad.”

Haru looked distraught. “Oh no. What is it this time?”

“She didn’t want me to come to camp.”

“Why not?”

“There’s a boy coming here. He was on trial a while back for some assault charges or something. My sister was afraid for my safety.”

“Is he dangerous?”

“I don’t know. She wouldn’t go into too much detail about the trial. But she seemed concerned.”

“Oh goodness. Well, I hope all goes okay.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much, Haru. If he was truly dangerous, they wouldn’t send him to a summer camp.”

Haru nodded. “That’s very true. Well, since I’m here early, is there anything I can help with?”

“Absolutely.”

Later, Makoto was stuck at check-in. Check-in was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because she got to learn all of the campers’ faces. Some of them she would even remember by name later. The curse part was handing out packets that she knew half of them would never even read past page two. She wasn’t even sure why they still gave out such a large packet. It was just a waste of paper at this point.

The line had died down a bit and she noticed a boy loitering by the entrance, ducking his head to avoid being seen by the tanuki mascot. He’d arrived in a taxi. He was a fresh face to camp, someone that she’d personally never seen around before. A mop of dark hair hung over his large rimmed glasses. He was a little on the tall side and skinny for his size. He looked hounded by something, but she couldn’t tell what.

It wasn’t even a few minutes later when she called the boy up to her table. He was attractive, she thought. A boyish handsomeness made him seem younger than he was but his large, round eyes seemed to carry a weight far beyond his years.

“Hello,” she greeted him. “Name?”

“Akira Kurusu,” he responded.

Makoto tried to keep her face even, but she knew it twisted some. So this was the boy her sister was worried about? He looked more like a lost child in a store than someone convicted of an assault charge. Now she knew the face to the name.

“Ah. Kurusu-san…,” she mused as she sifted through all her packets. She tried to be as quick as possible and finally found his. She held out his packet to him then pulled it back again when she remembered something she wanted to say. “Just so we’re crystal clear, I do not want any trouble from you this summer.” She stared back at him, waiting for his response.

“Yes, ma’am,” he responded tersely. Perhaps she’d said that a little too harshly. He might’ve taken it as her being rude to him. She hadn’t meant it like that. Or perhaps he’d caught the slight look on her face when she said his name. That wasn’t good either.

She held out the packet again and tried to give him a warm smile. “I’m glad we understand each other. Go get settled in, make sure to read your packet, and have a wonderful time here at Camp Tanuki.”

He snatched the packet away from her and stalked off towards the cabins. Well, that wasn’t exactly how she’d expected their first encounter to go, but she supposed she could make it up to him later.

The girl who was at the table with Makoto leaned over and whispered, “Was that the criminal boy?”

Makoto blinked in surprise. “Excuse me?”

“You know, the boy who like assaulted someone. I heard that he nearly killed the guy.”

“What? Where did you hear that?”

“It’s the news around camp. I’m surprised you haven’t heard yet.”

Makoto nodded slowly. “Yeah… Guess I don’t get a lot of the gossip… I need to take a break. I’ll be right back.”

The girl shrugged and turned back to help a person who had just come up. 

Makoto got up quickly and went off to her cabin. Haru wasn’t in there unfortunately but her other roommates were there. Ann Takamaki and Shiho Suzui were quietly putting their things away in the cabin. They weren’t exactly who Makoto wanted to see, but she supposed they weren’t too much of a bother. They seemed almost finished unpacking.

“Um, have you two heard any… rumors about camp?” Makoto asked. 

“Rumors?” Ann asked. “Like that boy everybody’s talking about?”

Makoto bit her lip and nodded slowly. “That would be the one.”

“We heard it but it sounds really exaggerated,” Shiho said. She shrugged. “I mean, how bad can he be? Why do you care anyway?”

“Well, I just heard about it and… was checking to see if you-if you knew anything else,” Makoto lied. She was trying to figure out how far this rumor had gotten. Well, a half rumor. He was convicted of assault but he didn’t almost kill a man.

“Can’t say that we do,” Shiho said. “But we’ll let you know if anything relevant comes up, I suppose. If you need to know, that is.” The last part was added as a nod to the fact that Makoto was head counselor and that was not a secret. Makoto wondered if Shiho said it to purposefully distance herself. Like, any information shared between the two was going to be on a strict need to know basis. As in, Makoto needed to know it because she was head camp counselor.

“We’re heading over to the volleyball court if you need something from us,” Ann added.

Makoto nodded. “Thank you. I’ll see you later.”

Makoto watched the two of them leave and make their way over to the volleyball court. What was she going to do? How had this rumor spread so fast and far? She’d only told Haru. She couldn’t imagine that the heads of camp would say anything. Kawakami had been pretty vague with her. This had most definitely come from Makoto. She could’ve single-handedly ruined Akira’s whole summer by complaining one time to Haru. That hit her like a punch in the gut. She didn't want to have everyone judge him as her sister had. It just wasn't fair.

Well, there wasn’t much that she could do now. She’d just have to let this play out. He wouldn’t find out it was from her anyway, right? He probably just figured that it had gotten passed around beforehand. She just had to play it cool.

After she’d returned to her post and finished checking everyone in, she’d milled about the grounds to see if she could spot him again and to hear if the rumor had grown any more outrageous. She didn’t see him and the rumors stayed around the same level of crazy.

Makoto didn’t see Akira again until the opening ceremony started. He was sat at the top of the amphitheater with Ryuji Sakamoto. She noticed Ryuji still hadn’t changed his shirt, something she’d already told him two separate times to do. Normally, she’d let this one go, but since he was sitting right next to Akira she decided to bring it up. Akira was going to have to abide by the camp’s rules after all.

“Sakamoto-san, you know that shirt is not part of the uniform. I expect you to start dressing appropriately,” she said to him.

Ryuji looked up at her with a sweet smile. She barely kept herself from rolling her eyes at it. “Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Makoto squinted at him knowing full well her face was now screwed up in a scowl. She’d never particularly liked Ryuji’s antics and he was being extra annoying today. Or perhaps she was just very on edge about the whole rumor thing and he was getting on her nerves that way. “I’m watching you,” she finally decided to say. She stalked off down the stairs towards the stage.

Over the course of the next week, Makoto kept a close eye on Akira. They only had a few activities and study halls together and she was pulled out of some of them to help with other things around camp so she didn’t have much actual activity time to watch him. However, she ducked out of her own activities from time to time to watch him in his as well as finding ways to keep an eye on him during meal times.

He seemed to be getting along well with his cabin mates. At the very least, Makoto hadn’t heard any complaints from Mishima. She knew full well that if there was a problem Mishima would jump up and tell her. Things must’ve been going well in cabin number seven. She wished she could say the same about her own cabin.

Haru was getting on her case about the phone calls with her sister. She’d been getting calls almost every night of her sister practically begging her to come home, which she’d have to repeat over and over again that she was fine. Then her sister would dredge up some old drama and make Makoto feel worse than when the conversation started. The only light at the end of the tunnel was that soon enough her sister wasn’t going to be legally in charge of her anymore. Then Makoto could move out and live on her own. Ironically, her sister wanted Makoto to get into a good college so she could have a better future while Makoto wanted it to get away from her sister which was the better future.

On the flip side of Haru, Ann and Shiho didn’t talk to Makoto at all. They actively avoided her as much as they could. If Makoto was in the cabin, they wouldn’t be there. If she entered the cabin while they were there, they’d suddenly leave. It seemed the only time that they ever occupied the same space is when they had to be in their cabin for the end of the night.

On the first Wednesday night, Makoto attempted to have a conversation with Shiho. “So how are activities going?” Makoto figured that was the most generic and non-threatening question she could ask. It was something so casual that Shiho couldn’t refuse to answer.

“They’re fine,” Shiho said. She was lying in bed holding her phone over her face. She and Ann usually texted each other from across the room while they were in the cabin for the night. Makoto guessed it was because they didn’t want to say anything out loud where Makoto could hear them.

“What’s your favorite one so far?” Makoto pressed.

“I don’t know. I guess the dance class that Ann and I are doing is fun.” Shiho shrugged slightly.

“Oh, are you guys working on a routine with the class? Are you good dancers?”

“Um… yeah,” Shiho hesitated and finally looked past her phone at Makoto. “And I guess Ann’s pretty good. I’m not really as good as she is.”

Makoto just caught the death glare that Ann shot Shiho just before it turned into an overly bright smile. Perhaps she should just let the conversation die. They definitely weren’t in the mood to talk to her. “Cool… Well, maybe I can watch you dance sometime.”

“Sure…” Shiho responded. 

Makoto nodded and climbed into her bed. She got under the covers and looked at her own phone. There wasn’t a message on there that she wanted to see, only three new ones from her sister. She sighed quietly. Maybe if she just slept things would feel better in the morning.

Sunday morning Makoto woke up early. She got dressed and headed out into the already warm morning air. She was pretty sure she was up before every other camper, which was fine. She needed all the alone time she could get to think. She’d been stewing on an idea for the past few days.

Akira Kurusu was certainly an interesting kid. He was incredibly charismatic and seemed to draw people to him. He’d somehow enchanted all the boys in his cabin and Ann and Shiho. Makoto also felt herself being more and more drawn in by his looks. His large glasses accenting his puppy-like eyes made him appear more soft and available than he was. She couldn’t help but start to think that she was starting to develop a few feelings for him, which in and of itself was a scary thought. She wanted to become his friend—which may or may not have also been to spite her sister just a tiny bit—but first, she had to spend time with him to get to know him better. She had a few options here. 

One was just to outright ask him to hang out. She figured that plan would fall flat on its face. He’d been spending a lot of time with most of the group that didn’t like her all that much. Mishima was maybe the only one who would vouch for her, but she figured even he hadn’t said super nice things. Not to mention this was the group that had among others teased and taunted her in middle school camp. She wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of having to get close to them to reach Akira, but she was willing to bite the bullet.

Option two came in the form of tricking him into hanging out with her. She was head counselor. Kawakami did technically task her with keeping an eye on him. So if she lied and said that he was supposed to meet with her every Sunday then he would have to come to see her at least every Sunday. And today she could fake punish him when he didn’t show up to the meeting he didn’t know about, forcing him to spend more time with her that way. It was brilliant.

But how would he have received this information in the first place if it was supposed to happen? She stopped in her tracks as the idea hit her full force.

The packet.

There was no way in hell that Akira had read the packet. Nobody ever did. She could just say that it was in the packet and he was supposed to report to her on Sundays. And if by some miracle he had actually read the packet, she’d just say that the page had gotten lost somewhere then. She did make the packets after all. And what reason would the head camp counselor have to lie to him?

The plan seemed foolproof. Now she just had to get the ball rolling.

It was almost time. Makoto was sitting at the back desk in the counselor’s office. She’d laid the bait pretty well she thought.

She’d gone to the boys’ cabin a little while ago and knocked politely on the door. The one to answer was Mishima. He greeted her with a half-hearted reply to which she responded by asking where Akira was. Mishima said he didn’t know. That Akira had been gone all morning. That’s when Makoto pretended to be very mad. She started to go off until Ryuji said that he’d go and find Akira for her and send him to the office. She thanked him and left right after he did.

Just as she had thought, Akira entered the building. He seemed a little on edge, but at the same time very casual. He must’ve been nervous about getting called to the office but wanted to keep his not-giving-a-fuck attitude at the forefront. Now she just had to pull off lying to his face. She took a deep breath. She could do this.

“Excuse me, Niijima-san,” Akira greeted her softly. “You were looking for me?”

She shuffled a few papers on the desk to make it seem like she was actually doing something before he came in and not just waiting for him. She gave him her most convincing frown. “Where were you this morning?”

His head cocked to the side slightly. “I was with Takamaki-san and Suzui-san. They were at the dance studio early practicing. They invited me along. Plus, it’s Sunday and those are our free days, aren’t they?”

Makoto took in a deep breath. Okay, this was the money maker. “Yes, but you’re not a normal camper here. Don’t you know you’re supposed to report every Sunday to the counselors’ office and check in with me?”

“No?”

“It was in your packet that I gave you on the first day.”

Akira froze and stood silent for a moment. Makoto couldn’t contain her excitement. Everybody at this camp was so predictable. She couldn’t believe she had him now.

“You didn’t read it, did you?” she pressed just to rub it in.

“I skimmed it. A little.” He had a smirk on his face. At least he found a little bit of humor in the fact he hadn’t read it.

She sighed and pretended to be irritated with him. “What am I going to do with you?”

He shrugged and fell into a more relaxed body language. “Let me off with a warning?”

“Oh ha ha. That’s very funny.” She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “No. I want to make sure this is the last time you fail to report. Listen, Kurusu-kun, I don’t want to be hard on you. But I also have a job to keep the campers safe. That includes you. Do you have any idea what’ll happen to you if you mess up this summer?”

She could see the tension in his body. Perhaps she’d pushed him a little too far there. But she also wanted to make a point that he had to come and see her. That was the final push he’d need to think she was important to him. He’d have to spend time with her now. This conversation was coming to a close. She just had to hold out for a little while longer.

He gave her a slight bow now. “I’m very sorry, Niijima-san,” he said. He sounded incredibly sincere and it almost caught her off guard. “I should’ve read the packet. Whatever you have to do to me, go ahead.”

She stared at him. She didn’t mean to break the boy. She wasn’t actually going to get him in trouble for anything. Granted, he didn’t actually know that. “You and I will do cooking duty this afternoon, okay? It’s not as fun as it sounds so it’s still a punishment. But not as bad as cleaning the bathrooms.” She was smiling to herself. This had been almost too easy. “Go change into your uniform. I don’t want you getting your clothes dirty since I can get you a new uniform if need be. Meet me outside the mess hall when you’re done. Don’t be any later than eleven, okay?”

“Of course,” he said. “Am I dismissed?”

She smiled at him. He was incredibly charming. “Yes, you are.”

She waited until she was absolutely sure he was gone and jumped up out of her chair. She’d done it! She’d essentially set up a hang out with Akira. Although, he didn’t know it was a hangout. She’d have to tone it down if she wanted him to like her. On the plus side, Haru was going to be there. Haru actually liked her so maybe that would be helpful. Things were starting to look up for her.

The rest of the day went pleasantly enough. Akira was just as he thought he would be. He was quick-witted, handsome, and all around pleasant to be around. He even teased her like they were good friends. She could see how he’d made friends so easily. She couldn’t imagine that he’d assault someone.

The more time that she spent with him the more she realized her sister couldn’t have been more wrong about him. He wasn’t a danger to anyone but himself. She could tell he had demons, but who didn’t? She sure did and she couldn’t judge him based on that. She wondered more and more how the case had gone. Who would convict him? And what had been the evidence against him? She had more questions than answers about it.

The phone call with her sister that night had put her in a sour mood. Her sister, as always, was draining and Makoto just wanted to sleep. Her rest was fitful, her mind swirling with thoughts of Akira, her sister, and the court case. None of them fit together in a way she could comprehend. She ended up being awake early again and just wanted to go for a walk.

She saw Akira out just as early as she was. He was sitting in the grass next to a patch of woods that backed up to the lawn. She wondered what he was up to. She wondered if she should even approach him. She must’ve looked like a mess. She’d barely slept and she’d just rolled out of bed to go for a walk.

“What are you doing up so early?” she heard herself say. She’d been thinking it but hadn’t thought it would actually come out of her mouth.

He looked up at her with sleepy eyes. He hadn’t put on his glasses and he was still wearing what she assumed were his pajamas. What could he possibly be up to?

“Good morning, Niijima-senpai,” he greeted. “I could ask you why you’re up so early as well, but I’m sure you’d have a better answer than I do.”

She squatted down beside him in the grass. He looked tired too at the very least. Without his glasses, she could fully see his eyes. They were dark grey and the look in them was much more intense and serious than she would’ve thought. She shied away from his gaze a bit, adjusting herself and picking at the ground.

“That’s not always true,” she said finally. “Sometimes my reasons for being awake this early aren’t good ones.”

“That sounds suspiciously vague,” Akira responded. “Do you want me to pry deeper or not?”

She paused for a moment. Would Akira even understand everything going on with her sister? And wouldn’t that just complicate things for them at this point? It’s not like he even knew she had a sister. And how could she explain that her sister hated him for no reason? That the problem that she was having with her sister was because of him. She felt like it would open up a can of worms. At the same time, she wished he would pry deeper. She wanted him to. She wanted to share something that personal with him. Maybe he would care about her. It just didn’t seem right.

She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She plucked a blade of grass and twirled it in her fingers. “To be honest, I do wish I could talk to someone about things. I don’t really have a lot of friends here.” 

“I’m not sure how much this would help but I could be your friend.”

The statement caught her off guard and she couldn’t help but laugh. “Kurusu-kun, you don’t have to pity me.”

“I’m not.” He sounded dead serious and Makoto stopped playing with her blade of grass. It sent a chill up her spine. She couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes. She knew if she met his gaze, it would be too intense for her to handle. “Let’s get dinner to go. We’ll go back to my cabin and hang out. Sound good?”

“I-I couldn’t impose—”

“You wouldn’t be. Let’s just be normal for a little bit and have dinner as friends. Meet me outside around five-thirty.”

Makoto stood up quickly. Let’s be normal, he said. As if it was that easy. “O-Okay. I’ll see you at dinner then.” She didn’t want to wait for a reply and she didn’t want to look at him either. She shuffled away back to her cabin as quickly as she could.

Isn’t this what she wanted? She wanted to be his friend. But dinner alone with him? That seemed a little too much for her to handle. Especially since he had just asked her if she had a boyfriend the day before. What was she going to do? What was she going to wear? She did have a nice assortment of clothes to wear. Should she dress up or go casual?

She stepped into her cabin and the other girls were now awake, getting ready. She saw Ann hiking up her skirt, her top still missing and her hair flowing loosely around her. She was clearly showing off, but not for Makoto or Haru’s sake.

Makoto tried to not make it obvious she was watching Shiho’s reaction to the spectacle. Although, with how intensely Shiho was staring at Ann, Makoto wasn’t sure Shiho even realized that she’d returned. Of course, none of this was a surprise. The girls thought they were being sneaky about it, but they’d done everything short of making out in front of Makoto. It wasn’t hard to figure it out and they were terrible actresses.

“Um, guys…” Makoto finally said. All attention turned to her and she straightened up a bit out of habit. “So… Kurusu-kun just asked me to eat dinner with him…”

That sure got Ann and Shiho’s attention. Ann turned to her, her hands on her hips while Shiho just seemed to stand there in stunned silence. 

“He asked you to dinner?” Ann asked.

“Well, yeah…” Makoto said, her tone becoming more defensive. “He can have more friends than the two of you and it’s not like I’m so unlikeable it’d be impossible.”

Ann rolled her eyes. “Jesus, that’s not what I meant. I was more curious as to what prompted him to ask. It’s not like you two are like… really close or anything.”

Makoto tried to calm herself. Ann still made it sound like it was Makoto’s fault that Akira asked her to dinner, but Makoto just had to let it go. Ann probably didn’t mean it like that anyway. It’s not like she had a ton of tact. “Well, he said that he could be my friend and I kind of laughed at that. Then he asked me to dinner and to be normal.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Haru butt in now. “I’m so happy for you. Is it going to be just the two of you?”

Makoto stiffened up as the thought of being alone with him was reintroduced to her. Then she just started talking and couldn’t seem to stop herself. “Well-Well, he didn’t say that specifically. And, well, I mean-I mean the two of us would be… nice I guess. I don’t really know. I mean, can I really spend the evening alone with him? He did say that it was going to be at his cabin. He does have roommates so it’s not like we can take up the whole space all night alone. They’d be back at some point. I didn’t… ask the details.”

Ann came over and looped her arm around Makoto’s shoulders. She’d only just put a shirt on, which Makoto was thankful for. “Listen, Niijima-san, we’ll tell you what to do for this thing. It’s just Akira, though. He’s… a very simple boy.”

Makoto tried to smile at her. “Um… thanks.”

“A makeover!” Haru cheered. “I can’t wait.”

Makoto was on edge for the rest of the day. The girls had come up with a plan for what she was going to wear and it was a nice outfit, she thought. Even so, she still wasn’t sure how the evening was going to go. What was she going to do if he asked her more questions about things? She spent as much of the day as she could actively avoiding him.

Finally, the time came to have dinner. Makoto went back to the cabin and got changed into the clothes that had been picked out earlier. It wasn’t necessarily not in her style but also not something she’d wear casually. Then she made her way to the mess hall.

It was an awkward encounter with Akira getting dinner. He clearly didn’t know what to talk about with her and it wasn’t like she had a clue either. He tried to ask about her hobbies but she could only blurt out that she did aikido. And then she said that she didn’t even like being at camp. That wasn’t even fully true. She liked coming to camp. It just wasn’t necessarily fun for her.

After that agonizing process, they finally were on the way back to his cabin. It was then that she learned they wouldn’t be having dinner alone. She saw Ann and Shiho walking into the cabin as she approached. Akira explained that he had invited everyone. Makoto was both slightly disappointed and relieved by that. Although, Ann and Shiho might find it a little weird since they already knew about this.

Makoto's second surprise of the evening was a small black cat inside the cabin trying to steal food off of Ryuji's plate. Akira explained that the cat was named Morgana and had been in the cabin since last night. At this point, Makoto just kind of wanted the night to end. She pretty much said fuck it and sat down to eat dinner.

Dinner was very casual with everyone. Mishima had started to play quiet music to have some background noise. The conversations were lively and Makoto picked up that they all got along very well. Makoto didn’t participate much. She felt awkward hanging out with pretty much all the people who hated her the most. Sure none of them minded that she was there. She was sure that Akira had convinced them that hanging out with her would be a good idea. But she still knew that none of them were her friends and she was still very much an outsider to them.

After dinner, Ryuji suggested they play a game. It boiled down to truth or dare. Makoto wasn’t a fan of truth or dare but didn’t think that she’d actually be included in the events.

Ryuji started with Akira. “Did you really assault a guy?”

The room grew quiet. Makoto looked at Akira, who had visibly tensed. This was an answer she was curious about as well. Although she would’ve used a bit more tact to ask about it than blatantly in a truth or dare game. 

“It was a false accusation,” Akira said. His voice was icy and meant to not prompt any further questions on the matter. “I was there. He fell because he was drunk. I got in trouble for it. End of story.”

Makoto’s mind kicked into high gear. So her sister really was wrong about everything. He didn’t actually assault a man. To top it all off, his entire life was ruined by a false accusation. Or perhaps more along the lines of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She couldn’t believe that everything that she knew about the entire case was a lie. Did her sister know about it? Or was her sister just being a good attorney and believing the facts brought forth in court? It was making her sick just thinking about it.

“Niijima-san,” Makoto snapped to attention when she heard Shiho address her, “truth or dare?”

“T-Truth,” Makoto said, shifting awkwardly. She hadn’t wanted to play. Truth seemed like the safer option here.

“Who do you talk to on the phone all the time?” 

Makoto tensed, her mind being taken over by overwhelming feelings of anger. Why did that have to be the question? Why couldn’t something normal just be asked in this game? They didn’t need to know all this deep personal shit about her.

“That’s none of your business,” Makoto said in a quiet, furious tone. “And I don’t intend on answering that.”

Shiho threw up her hands in surrender. “That’s fine. Sorry. I didn’t know it was a touchy subject.”

“It’s not touchy!” Makoto yelled. “It’s just not any of your guys’ business.”

“Niijima-san, it’s fine,” Shiho tried again.

“Why do you guys always care so much about it anyway? I’m not snooping around in your personal business. I swear, we’ve only been here a little over a week and every one of you has asked. Why don’t you give it a rest, already? I’m leaving.” She stood up quickly and headed towards the door.

“Niijima-senpai,” Akira called after her.

She ignored him and continued on her way out of the door. She nearly knocked Mishima down as he was returning. Normally, she would’ve apologized for that, but she was too worked up and could already feel tears forming at the edge of her eyes.

She went back to her cabin and climbed into bed. She hadn’t meant to get so mad at Shiho over it. She was more mad at her sister. Shiho had just been the punching bag for the evening. She felt horrible. And she’d probably ruined her chances with Akira. Why couldn’t she just be normal for one evening?

The next day she texted Akira to apologize for her behavior. She also apologized in persona to Shiho explaining that she had been mad over something else and she took it out on her. Shiho assured her it was fine and they were still on good terms. Makoto found a little solace in that. Perhaps she hadn’t completely ruined everything for herself.

Another week passed by and Makoto spent more time with Akira than she thought she would’ve. She would see him most mornings when he was out walking his cat, as she now knew. They even spent a little more time talking in the couple activities they shared. They would also often eat lunch or dinner together with at least one other member of the friend group and never alone.

As much as she wanted to be his friend, she found keeping him at a distance worked best for her. She had too much to tell and it almost seemed they were hanging out under false pretenses. She also couldn’t get out of the back of her mind how angry her sister would be if she found out that she was hanging out with him. She half wondered if she’d even be allowed back home.

Speaking of which, her sister hadn’t contacted her. It was fine, she guessed. At least she wasn’t getting into an argument every evening. At the same time though, she didn’t like when her sister was actually mad at her. And it seemed that her sister was very mad at her this time. Things were going to just be more and more awkward the more time that passed between them talking.

Probably the scariest thing of all was Makoto was starting to like Akira more and more. He was almost too good to be true. She fantasized about him walking her to activities and eating dinner alone with him. She wanted to hold his hand while they did things together. She wanted to receive his hugs in a more than a friend kind of way. 

Probably most embarrassing was that she wanted to kiss him. She wanted him to sweep her off her feet and place his lips gently against hers. Every time she watched him talk she heard a small voice in the back of her head screaming about how much she wanted to kiss him.

What she hadn’t expected was Akira asking her to the dance. He was leaned up against her desk during his Sunday check-in, probably thinking he was going to be slick about it. He basically blurted it out in the tackiest fashion he could’ve. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go to the dance with him; she’d just never been to the dance before. Honestly, the thought of going kind of scared her. She felt like she might get made fun of if she went. She had brought an outfit, yes. But she brought one every year. This year didn’t have to be different. 

He was frowning now after she gave him a somewhat bullshit excuse as to why she couldn’t go. “Well, I mean, it doesn’t have to be just us, you know. Since you don’t want to go with a criminal.”

“I didn’t say that,” she shot back.

“Then what did you say?”

“I said that I don’t want any sort of outside official to think that any of my reports are influenced by any feelings I may or may not have towards you.” It was a stupid answer and really didn’t make sense. Plus, the whole thing was fake anyway. She was just a liar. She’d never be his friend. He’d never love her. What was she thinking?

After a few more exchanged lines of Akira being mad at her, which she felt he was justified in, he stormed out. He’d tossed his papers on the desk in front of her and she flinched, though she was sure he hadn’t seen it.

It took her a few moments to settle herself. She didn’t want to cry about this. She stood up from her desk slowly then made her way back to the cabin.

Inside, Ann and Shiho were lazing in Ann’s bed. Shiho was curled up on Ann’s side and Ann was brushing her hand through Shiho’s hair. Makoto felt a small twinge in her heart. Would it be so much to ask for Akira to do that for her?

Haru was sitting on the floor, a book laid across her lap. She was looking at something on her phone, however. She looked up when Makoto came in. Something on Makoto’s face must’ve been off because she unprompted asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Akira,” Makoto grumbled. She walked to the center of the room. “Why does he think he’s such… such… such hot shit?!” She started to pace. “He’s not.” He was. “He’s so self-centered and rude.” He wasn’t. “He only thinks about himself and his goals.” He definitely didn’t. “Like who does he think he is?! He’s not my boyfriend or something.” Well, that part was at least true. “He can’t just get mad at me like that. Throwing his papers down on my desk like an animal. What the hell…”

“What happened?” Shiho asked.

“He asked me to the dance and I politely declined!” Makoto said, gesturing widely with her arms. “And then he got mad at me for turning him down. I don’t owe him anything and he has the audacity to get mad at me.”

“But don’t you want to go to the dance with him?” Ann asked. “I mean, you guys have been spending a lot of time together. And I’m fairly certain we’re all going.”

“That’s beside the point,” Makoto cut in. “I mean, maybe I do want to go with him. So what?”

“Then why did you turn him down?” Ann pressed again, clearly confused.

Makoto stopped pacing and looked at Ann as if she'd just heard herself as well. “Well, I…” What could she say? She was scared to go out with him? That she couldn’t take the rejection when ultimately he didn’t end up liking her. And the reason she told him wasn’t a good one either. Ann would probably know better. “I don’t know…”

“We’ll talk while we’re swimming,” Ann said. “Which we’re still going to.”

“Well, yeah,” Makoto said. She could feel her face getting hot. Now that she had cooled down for a moment, she just realized that she’d gone on a rant about Akira. 

“Shit, I have to guard,” Shiho muttered. She nuzzled her face into Ann’s side. “I don’t want to.”

“Sorry, babe,” Ann said. “You have to.”

Shiho groaned in response.

And things moved forward as if Makoto storming in and ranting about a boy was normal fare. Things certainly had changed this summer. If she’d thought about doing that before, Ann and Shiho would’ve probably talked about it behind her back. Now she almost felt like the two girls were on her side. It was weird.

They ended up at the beach later. Makoto had taken a little extra time getting ready, sending Ann and Shiho on ahead. Shiho was going to be late if she didn't leave. Makoto assured Ann that she could find her way to the beach and that she would indeed show up and not back out.

The first thing Ann did after they'd sent Shiho off to the stand was pull Makoto waist deep out into the water. Ryuji and Akira had swum out to the edge of the swim area and were both looking back at her and Ann.

“Go to the dance with us,” Ann said.

Makoto swished her hand through the water. “I want to but Akira…”

Ann shook her head like she didn't understand. “What’s wrong with him? Is it his past? Is it him? Did he do something to you?”

Makoto shook her head quickly. “No, no. It’s not him… It’s me.”

“What do you mean?” Ann asked. She turned slightly towards Makoto, giving her her full attention.

“I don’t want to be rejected by him," Makoto admitted quietly.

“Trust me you won’t be," Ann said in an almost annoyed tone.

“What?”

Ann paused for a moment. “I think he likes you too much to reject you. And I mean like, even if he did I think he’d let you down really gently.”

“Well, I… don’t even want that.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to kiss him.” Makoto blinked in surprise that she'd admitted that out loud to Ann. How could she be betrayed by her own brain like that?

“Then do it.”

“Ann, I can’t just kiss him…”

“Rig it then.”

“What?”

“At the dance.”

“Excuse me?”

Ann had a deadly serious look in her eye. She was clearly scheming up something very large here. Something Makoto was sure wouldn't end well. “Turn him into the tanuki. Rig the game. Make it a kiss. You’ll go to the dance with us. Then you rig the dance. You kiss him at the dance.”

Makoto was stunned that Ann had come up with that so quickly. As much as she thought that was a good idea, wouldn’t that be fake? Not that her and Akira’s relationship was built on a ton of honesty to begin with.

“That doesn’t seem…”

“It doesn’t get any better than that," Ann cut her off. "I guess you don’t have to take my idea. But, at the very least you should give it some thought.”

Makoto looked down at the water. Would she really go through with all that? “Can you send Akira over here? I want to talk to him.”


 


Akira was sitting in stunned silence. He and Makoto had walked into the woods and sat down on a fallen log a little ways off the trail. 

Makoto had been telling him about the events of the summer. Every interaction they had and things she had thought outside of him. He didn’t know she felt that she wasn’t good enough. He didn’t know that she was so scared of him and not for the reason he would've thought she was afraid of him. He didn’t know that she just wanted to be close to him.

It was weird finding out she was one step ahead of him all summer. That some things were far out of his control. That she’d almost preplanned how she’d become his friend. He knew it didn’t change the feelings he did have towards her. He felt those were genuine because he’d felt them before things had gotten out of hand. Still, it was all strange.

“So the dance too, huh?” Akira asked finally.

Makoto nodded, her head hung low. “Y-Yeah. Ann has some good ideas sometimes.”

“Makoto…”

“Listen, I know that you probably don’t like me right now. It’s understandable. I did do a lot of things to get your attention. I mean I practically lied to you all summer just to get you to spend time with me. So, if you want me to stop, I get it.”

Akira nodded slowly. “I think I’ve come to understand you a lot better. Thank you for telling me all this.” He knew that wasn’t exactly the answer she would want to hear. Still, he had to think about a few things before he came to a conclusion of how he felt. “I do have one question though.”

“What’s that?”

“How were you really feeling when I told you I liked you? You didn’t quite get there.”

Makoto tensed a little, her hands clasped together firmly in her lap. “I thought that you didn’t really like me. That you were just saying that to humor me. Saying that because you thought it was what I wanted to hear. Maybe you thought you should be nice to me to get on my good side so I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. I don’t know… I had a lot of thoughts going through my head. If I’m being honest, I didn’t want it to be true because even if I like you as well I… don’t feel like I’m good enough to be with you.”

Akira nodded slowly. “Why do you think that?”

Makoto glanced over at him a look of confusion on her face. Perhaps she thought he’d take that confession at face value. “I don’t… I don’t know…”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “If you find that answer, please let me know. I’m curious.”

“Can we still be friends?” she asked sheepishly.

“Of course, Makoto,” he responded. “Let’s get back to the group now if you’re done.”

“I think you know the rest up until now,” she said. “So I think I’m done.”

Akira nodded and the two of them stood up and headed back to the grounds.