It starts on an otherwise normal day.
As rare as it is for Arashiyama unit to all be gathered in their operations room, the five find themselves with a surplus of time and a lack of activities to do.
Jun is catching up on his university homework, having put it off for a while now. It’s not the most interesting or engaging worksheet, and as much as he tries he’s slipping in and out of focus.
With a sigh, he gives up. Casting his eyes around the room, he sees Kitora a few seats down, reading something thick and aged; Jun can’t tell whether it’s an assigned text or whether she just reads books like that for fun. She seems extremely engrossed in it either way, and it brings a smile to his face. Ayatsuji is curled up at her desk, looking like she’s about to fall asleep as she looks over their most recent battle logs.
On the further side of the table, Ken and Mitsuru seem to be having a conversation about the lack of things to do. The truth is, the unit is all always so busy that they’re not quite sure what to do with their free time anymore; it feels like there should always be some kind of pressing matter or event to attend to.
Jun catches some parts of the conversation, hearing them discuss possible activities they could do.
“Maybe a board game?” Ken muses, hanging off of the side of the couch.
Mitsuru, who is sprawled on the floor for some reason, shakes his head. “We don’t have any. We need something that we can do without too much hassle,”
Ken sighs, exaggerated and dramatic as he tends to be. “A game or something…” he mumbles, apparently deep in thought. “Truth or dare?”
Mitsuru makes a face. Jun understands.
“That’s only fun when you’re thirteen,” Mitsuru says.
Ken mumbles his assent but seems rather disappointed at his suggestion being turned down.
The room is silent for a while longer.
Then, Ken gasps and sits up straight, his eyes wide.
“The floor is lava!” He shouts.
Jun, working on the instincts built from living with two younger siblings for years, is the first to react. Without preamble or warning, he’s pulling his legs up from where they were resting on the ground, his balance kept precariously on the stool he’s perched on as a result.
Mitsuru and Ken both look at him with wide eyes, and then they’re acting as well.
Ken doesn’t need to move, since he’s situated on the couch but he still clambers onto the top of the couch back, clinging to the wall. Mitsuru lunges onto the space that Ken just vacated, vaulting over the arm of the couch to land with a thud on the seats.
From inside the operator's room, Ayatsuji rolls over in her wheelie chair, legs neatly tucked underneath her.
All of their eyes turn to Kitora.
It’s at that moment she looks up from her book, her feet firmly on the ground, and notices the commotion that just took place.
"What?" She asks.
Ken gasps, casting an arm over his face. “Kitora, no,” He moans, reaching out his other hand at her.
Mitsuru, taking Ken’s cue, shakes his head slowly from where he’s lying down and closes his eyes. Deadpan, he says “She was a truly brave soldier,”
And because Jun has never been able to resist a bit of dramatics, he lowers his head and says “We have faced great tragedy today, my fellow members,”
Ken lets out a fake sob, turning away from where Kitora is still staring blankly at them. Out of the corner of his eye, Jun can see even Ayatsuji shaking her head sadly, even though there’s a smile threatening to appear on her face.
“I’m right here,” Kitora says flatly.
“Oh, the horror!” Ken laments. “How will we live with this loss?”
“I’m right here,”
“Everybody, we must stay strong. She’d want us to go on,” Jun says gravely. Ayatsuji nods her agreement, while Mitsuru has to clamp a hand over his mouth to avoid bursting into laughter. Ken, as always, is perfectly committed to his role.
Kitora has put her book down and is now staring at her teammates with shock, flavoured with a variety of secondary emotions, ranging from accusing at Ken to disappointed at Mitsuru to bewildered at Jun.
She seems to come to a conclusion. Something hardens in her expression and she snaps “Fine. I lose this time,”
The game is on.
It continues on; a tradition built in the unit. Kitora amasses a string of losses, to her endless frustration, while Jun and Ken are consistently tied for first. They formulate the rules: anybody can say it at any time, and the last person to get off of the floor is the loser. If the loser can't be determined, it's whoever touches the floor first after the call has been made.
Kitora’s first breakthrough comes during a practice match.
To keep up their skills and hone their strategies, they’ve agreed to a friendly battle against Ninomiya Unit. The unit is mainly mid-range, which provides more opportunity for Jun’s unit to test their latest strategies as all-rounders.
As Jun is on the move, pushing Inukai into close quarter combat while Mitsuru and Kitora fend off the other two members, he hears Ayatsuji clear her throat.
With no fanfare, she says sweetly, “The floor is lava,”
Jun reacts despite himself, stopping dead in his motions to look around for something to jump onto. He spots a brick wall nearby and swings himself onto it, crouching as he scans the area to look for his other unit members. He can hear Inukai’s steps falter as he realizes he’s not being chased anymore, but the fight with Ninomiya Unit pushed to the back of Jun’s mind
He hears a triumphant shout from Kitora over the comms, and then a following one from Ken. That leaves...
In the distance, Jun spots Mitsuru.
He’s in the middle of the road, with no platforms within easy reach, and the Ninomiya Unit attacker coming down on him fast. The rest of Ninomiya Unit have regrouped, with Inukai and Ninomiya sending Arashiyama Unit extremely puzzled looks as they all sit on their various perches.
“It seems Tokieda has lost this round,” Ayatsuji announces, her voice grave as she watches the faceoff. That’s the sign for Arashiyama Unit to kick back into action; when the loser of the round is announced, all bets are off.
“Ken, go for Ninomiya, he’s distracted right now,” Jun instructs, swinging back over the wall and pulling out his asteroid gun. “Mitsuru, I’ll cover you, teleport out and wait for Kitora to come around,”
There are sounds of affirmation from all of the other members, and then for a moment, the only sound is the thud of footsteps.
Then: “Hey, technically, doesn’t this mean Ninomiya Unit are all dead? They’ve all been taken by the lava,”
It’s Ken over the comms because of course, it is.
“Just focus on sniping, Satori-senpai,” Kitora replies cooly, as if the delight from not losing this time isn’t obvious in her tone.
Jun laughs despite himself. He then hears a confused shout from Ninomiya and a resulting cheer from Ken.
“I’m the one and only twin sniper, Kitora! I always produce results!” He crows.
Jun doesn’t need to have Kitora within sight to know that she’s rolling her eyes, and he figures it’s time to put an end to this battle before his unit can find another way to make things fall apart.
They keep the game and subsequent competition running for a long, long time. While some people suspect, and most people definitely realize that something is going on, nobody really comments on it.
That is, until one day, they’re sitting in a meeting. Director Kido is present, which is already terrifying, but this time it’s augmented even more by the fact that Director Shinoda isn’t there. It’s just Director Kido and Netsuki, which means that this meeting is serious business.
And it is. The meeting looks over the hits to reputation that Border has taken recently as a result of the invasions and discusses new ways to combat civilian questions and concerns. It’s a heavy weight that they carry, and while none of them ever forget it, there are times when it is felt anew. Times like this, with C-ranks still missing and the future in turmoil.
It’s with this in mind that, during one of the breaks where Netsuki takes a moment to get a drink and Director Kido takes a moment to… loom some more, Jun coughs.
He coughs something that sounds suspiciously like “The floor is lava,”
Four pairs of eyes turn to him. He smiles.
Kitora, this time, is the first to react. Jun can hear the creak of her chair as she draws her legs upwards while trying to maintain her stony expression. It’s not working; there’s a hint of a smile on her face but she’s trying very hard to keep it together.
Ken is the second person, drawing up his knees so quickly that he hits them on the table, giving off a loud thud that seems to echo around the room.
Mitsuru and Ayatsuji are more subtle as they follow, but the damage has been done. Director Kido looks over at them, eyes narrowed as he takes in their mostly passive faces.
Mostly passive, because they all have to hold their legs off of the ground, in states of varying comfort.
“Is there a problem?” Director Kido asks.
While everyone else shakes their heads, Jun gives a reassuring smile and says “Everything is fine, Director,”
Halfway through saying this, it occurs to him that, for the intents and purposes of the game, Director Kido would be dead, and he has to exert the most self-control he’s used in his life to not burst out laughing.
When Netsuki enters the room again, all of their eyes go to him. He takes unsure, swaying steps on the floor and as his unit hangs onto each step, it’s obvious that they’re all thinking the same thing. Kido and Netsuki are both dead.
This apparently proves too much for Ken, who lets out a quiet snicker.
This sets off Kitora, who can’t quite keep the smile off of her face anymore. Ayatsuji too is sporting a smile of her own, though she hides it expertly behind a hand hovering over her face. Jun is just barely holding on; both with the smiling and the keeping his legs up, while Mitsuru seems to be mostly unaffected.
Netsuki and Kido give them all strange looks, but press no further.
In the end, it’s Jun who gives out first. The position he was holding his legs in was uncomfortable, and he could feel a cramp building up in his calves. It was time to give up while he was ahead… sort of.
When his feet hit the ground, it seems that his whole unit hears it. They’ve all been staring at each other, waiting for the first person to give in, and the relief that crosses all of their faces when Jun finally caves is palpable. The meeting is almost at the end, and if they all had to wheel themselves out of the office, Kido and Netsuki would’ve lost it.
Not that that isn’t a funny image in and of itself, but Jun would probably like to keep his job.
It’s with a collective sigh that the rest of his unit gives in, finally setting their feet back on the ground. The change in the air is obvious, and Netsuk is staring nervously at all of them while they try to hide their grins.
Then, Director Kido says “Ah, Arashiyama, you lost,”
Six shocked pairs of eyes turn to him.
Kido allows himself a smirk. “It wasn’t hard to overhear your statement earlier. I thought it would be interesting to join in,”
They all gape. Jun meets the eyes of his teammates, all sporting incredibly disbelieving expressions, and then he locks eyes with Ken.
Before Jun can stop the inevitable bad decision that he can see building in Ken’s eyes, the sniper slams his hands on the table and shouts “The floor is lava!”
Absolute chaos reigns.