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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