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Mujintou

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1.

The weather forecast had claimed a full week of sunny skies, so when the storm rolled in no one was expecting it. Sho had been the first one to make the joke--even after ten years, he still got a kick out of the pun. "You can't get more appropriate than this," he'd said with a laugh.

Nino doesn't care about it. It's hard to when his stomach is rolling with the rhythm of the ship and nothing seems willing to hold still under his feet. The rain that splatters on the decks only makes it worse; it means he can't stand at the rail without risking a cold. He doesn't join in the filming.

When Ohno comes back, Nino is slouched on the cabin floor hugging a green plastic bucket to his chest. Lightning flashes outside when Ohno closes the door.

"Early," Nino says, not bothering to waste words on the rest of the sentence.

"They said it's gotten too dangerous," Ohno says. It's dark in the cabin, but Nino can still see the worry lines creasing Ohno's forehead.

"This was a stupid idea," Nino complains, his gag reflex making his stomach churn.

Ohno doesn't argue, which Nino takes for agreement. He sits himself down beside Nino, his palm a warm presence at the nape of Nino's miserably curved neck. "They're trying to turn us back towards land," he says eventually, when Nino hears the shouts of the crew and the pounding of feet running by the door.

With the way the waves are crashing, Nino is not surprised. He'd only managed to swallow a rice ball for lunch, but it comes back up when the boat starts rocking enough to give his stomach a thrill like he's riding a roller coaster. That's when he starts to get scared.

"Satoshi," he says, seeking out Ohno's steady gaze in the dark. Ohno helps him sip on some water, and Nino tries to focus on that instead, and on Ohno's presence. Ohno isn't using words, but in SK language he's still saying everything will be fine.

Lightning flashes, turning Nino's vision blinding white. Thunder follows without even a pause.

Nino hears the deep, echoing sound of a crack that makes the ship shudder under him, and says, "Shit."

The next ten minutes are a blurred scramble. Even with his limbs made sluggish from his seasickness, he still manages to get from his cabin to the deck, only to be hit by a frenzy of panicking people, some of them passengers and some wearing the white shirts of the crew. His hand is laced tight with Ohno's, and that's the only thing that grounds him. He can't remember where the lifeboats are, but Ohno pushes at his back, so he goes without direction. No one looks at them twice, even though Nino is searching for his manager, for the producer, for Sho and Aiba and Jun.

It's the woman with the librarian glasses that does it. Nino gets a face full of her as she comes flying at him from the wrong direction, and the image of her open mouth and her white eyes are still stuck with him as she barrels by, shoving him against the rail with enough force to knock the wind out of him. The ship lurches. He loses his grip on Ohno's hand, and then everything is water, hard and black and cold.

*

When Nino's hand is wrenched from his, Ohno is pulled against the rail hard enough to knock away the little breath left in him. But his body has always been good at moving before his mind does, and Ohno is jumping over the side before he even realizes it, leaving the panicked voices and footsteps behind as he crashes into the water in a perfectly arced dive.

It's freezing, a shock. There's water in his eyes and ears and the world has stilled to into immediate silence, like someone hit the pause button. Then he's breaking the surface of the water, gasping to fill his lungs, noise from the ship assaulting his ears once again.

He can't see anything for the first minute, but then there's a pale thread of white under the swell of a wave and Ohno finds himself thanking whatever stylist put Nino in light coloured clothes today. Ohno pushes his way towards him, ducks under the rushing water, and catches Nino around the waist, pulling his head up and getting immediate sputters and a heavy, watery cough, along with a gasped word that sounds like his name. It's only then that his mind catches up with what he's done, and he realizes how full of adrenaline he is. His heart is throbbing.

But he has Nino, and Nino clings to him.

It's hard to kick and keep afloat, and harder with the crashing, angry waves around them, trying to pull them down underwater. When Ohno finally looks up, the boat has turned, half sagging into the ocean. Somehow it's gotten farther and farther from them.

Or maybe that's because of the waves, Ohno thinks. Another one pushes at them, taking them up up up and away, and then slams them back down to suck the air from their lungs for disorienting moments filled with bubbles and furious kicking.

They'll notice we're missing, Ohno thinks. The rest of the members and their managers will surely notice, they'll catch sight of them over here. Ohno waves his arm overhead, trying to be seen through the turbulent night, but it's not even a minute before he's exhausted. Nino's fingers are tight and desperate, like he's afraid to be torn away from Ohno again. It's an entirely valid fear. There is water dripping in Ohno's eyes, splashing from below and raining from above; he keeps trying to blink it away, and spit out the salt from his mouth, to no avail.

The boat grows even farther away.

*

They hold onto each other forever, or at least it feels that way to Nino. He has accidentally kicked Ohno six times, and after a while he worms around to unzip his boots, letting them disappear into the whirling waters.

The boat has long since vanished into the fogged gray ether of the storm, and not even the branches of lightning that cascade across the sky help him to see it anymore. He has no idea which way they are being pushed and pulled by the waves; for all he knows they're swimming in circles that converge and cross over each other in dizzying repetition.

It's only Ohno's fingers tight in his that keeps Nino going. He's ready to give up, but he's not ready to leave Ohno alone.

Somehow, they make it through the end of the storm, until there are only tired out charcoal clouds layered over the sky. Nino has no sense of time anymore, except that it's probably still daytime because he isn't drowning in darkness. He cares about that less than he cares about the heaviness of his clothes, the fact that his teeth are chattering, and the way his arms and legs feel like lead weights.

That's when they see land. Nino spots it first, a smudge that looks like a dirty promise on the horizon, and when he points Ohno understands. It's slow, slow work, but the smudge becomes a silhouette of trees, and eventually Nino can even make out a beach.

Nino's lips are salty and swollen and his clothes are sopping when he pulls himself from the sea, stumbling like he's a merman on his first legs. He almost slips on some seaweed but Ohno's hand keeps him upright when he lurches, until they can't go any further and collapse into the gritty sand.

Ohno doesn't let go of his hand, and solid grasp of their fingers is the last thing Nino sees before his body gives in to sleep.

2.

When Nino wakes, Ohno is already awake too. He's sitting up and staring out over the ocean, looking more tired than he did during UtaOni, more tired than he did during Maou. He's hunched over, his face set, lips in a line.

"Oh," Nino groans. His stomach is jumping up and down and squeezing into knots, but he sits up anyway, clumsily as a child, and tries to brush sand from his hands and chest and eyes.

"Good morning," Ohno says.

He looks kind of ridiculous, that's the first thing Nino thinks. He still has a skinny blue tie wrapped around his neck, loose but knotted hard enough with salt to look like a leash. With his sleeves rolled up past his elbows (Nino does it too as soon as he notices--it's warm, he's sweating) and his bare feet and the sandy wildness of his hair, he looks nothing like an idol and completely like a castaway.

Because that's what they are, Nino realizes, and his stomach clenches again with something that's not hunger.

"I am never getting on another fucking boat, ship, wave-racer--nothing. Nothing, not ever again," Nino vows. "No water skis either, or inner tubes. Nothing."

Ohno laughs, puffy chuckles that sound way too relaxed for two men that have found themselves stranded on an island.

Nino wants to say "I'm sorry," but Ohno wouldn't hear of it, so he doesn't. Instead they watch the ocean and wait for some sign of life, even a ship or a boat, though Nino is privately praying for an airplane. Nino keeps squinting at low-scudding clouds, but they don't coalesce into anything important. Gulls dive by and cackle madly at each other, jumping along the shore and running away from the waves that are piling over each other in a futile effort to climb the beach.

And as they sit there, Nino is thinking. He's noticed already that the curve of the island is quick, which means it must be small. He sees nothing to indicate that people have been here, which is one of the many things he's found to worry about. Maybe, though, maybe if they walk a little ways around the beach, they'll find a wharf, or a town. Maybe they're just looking in the wrong direction.

It's hard to not be scared. There is a small, rational part of his mind that is saying "Things will be fine," because it's not like Johnny's is going to give them up for lost, but that part is struggling valiantly against the part of him that is saying Holy shit what the hell just happened? Work gets Nino out of his house nearly every day, but this isn't work anymore and he just wants to go home and hold his PS3 controller and chew on dried squid while he plays games till his eyes go dry.

The sun is dipping towards the horizon when Nino's nervous energy and thirst get the better of him.

"Leader," Nino finally says, his voice sticking dry in his throat. "If anyone's coming, they're not coming now. And I really... gotta drink. Something. Eating would be nice too, but..."

Ohno nods. His faraway look recedes, and he stands up and offers Nino a hand as powdery sand falls from his designer pants to be caught by the breeze. The disconnected part of Nino's brain says, He is so going to be paying for those, and the cynical part comes back sharply with If we even get off this damn island, that is.

Nino doesn't tell any of his fears to Ohno as they walk along the shade at the top of the beach. In all likelihood Ohno is thinking some variant of the same thing anyway, and Nino knows by the way Ohno's thumb is stroking his knuckles that Ohno recognizes he's close to falling apart. That's enough.

*

The sun here is hot. Ohno's clothes had been dry when he woke, and the sand had been itchy enough between his toes to make him wonder if he'd been bitten by something.

Ohno doesn't mind being in the sun, though. He is used to long hours on rocking boats while Nino is not, and the sun has long gone from being a demon of heat to a pesky nuisance on the level of a snooze alarm: easily ignored if one so chooses to. It's likely that he's getting even more tanned at this very second. Ohno rubs his nose and nearly inhales some sand, but sneezes it out instead. His manager will probably scold him. Again.

Beside him, Nino is sitting like a warm, living pulse. Even as Ohno stares out over the ocean and considers what kinds of fish might be quietly shimmering beneath the ever-growing, ever-melting mountains of waves, he can feel Nino next to him, alive.

It's a twist of fate, Ohno thinks. He hasn't forgotten, years and years ago, saying he wanted to go to a deserted island with Nino, and he's positive Nino must remember it too.

Admittedly, these aren't really the circumstances he would have picked. By now, Aiba-chan is probably stressed out enough to make himself sick, and Jun has just as probably fed him the herbal Chinese equivalent of a tranquilizer. Their 10 year anniversary celebration on the boat had gone far from swimmingly. And the fans, Ohno thinks: the fans. If only they could send some sort of message, one that said they were alive.

There is also the problem that they have no supplies to speak of. A tent at least would have been nice. And water. And a fishing pole. Plus a lot of hooks.

The bait he could probably find by himself.

Ohno remembers how hungry he is when Nino stops fidgeting and starts talking. He looks at Nino finally, for the first time since he's woken, and that's when he sees the pink stain on Nino's cheeks, a gift from the sun. He reaches out and touches Nino's nose curiously, blinking in surprise when Nino bats his hand away.

"It's all very well for you, Mr. Copper Skin," Nino says, not even moderately attempting to disguise his irritation. "But me and the sun are not really on speaking terms."

There's a curve to Nino's shoulders that catches Ohno's attention. The hunch has gotten more pronounced, and the way Nino is looking at him is similar to his gaze after they share showers or do Ohmiya SK skits: sharp and full of unknowns.

"Wanna walk under the shade?" Ohno says. So they do, picking their way around coconut shells and strangely shaped rocks as their search takes them around the curve of the beach. Nino is holding onto his hand tightly, almost as if he might be swept away, but that's silly; they're on land now, walking as humans are supposed to walk, and there's no more to fear from the storm or the irregular waves.

Nino stoops down suddenly, nearly dragging Ohno down with him. "It's whole," he says, holding up his prize: a stringy brown coconut that just manages to fit into his one hand. "We can eat this."

There's something hidden under the surface of Nino's voice, and it takes Ohno a moment to realize that it's desperation. Ohno's own stomach pangs as he watches Nino try to smack the coconut down on a rock, try to break it open.

Nino starts cursing before a piece of the coconut's shell ricochets off towards the beach and the gulls and the waves, but it only leaves a dent, no way to get at the meat. Dejected, Nino stares at it with puckered, soft lips. Even in the midst of his growing hunger and his definite thirst, the pout momentarily catches Ohno's attention.

And then, in the silence of his thoughts, he hears something.

3.

Coconuts, Nino thinks, are total cockteases: all promise and no put out.

"Nino," Ohno says urgently, his vague daydreaminess lost, everything about him pricked and alert as a hound dog: "Nino, there's a river."

Nino scrambles to his feet, hugging the coconut to his chest. He's not leaving the damn thing behind; it owes him. "What? Where?" A quick scan of the fuzzy palm trees surrounding them reveals nothing to him, and Nino can't believe that Ohno is seeing something that he can't.

"Listen," Ohno says.

Nino listens, but all he hears is the frustrating repetition of the waves and the wind in the palms over their heads, and he says as much.

"Hmm," says Ohno, his hand seeking out Nino's on autopilot as he starts crunching through the gravel sand towards some magical invisible river. Nino doesn't think to protest; his tongue is thick against the roof of his mouth, his teeth sticky and dry. Even an imaginary river is better than no river, he thinks.

Only it's not imaginary, and as they struggle their way through reaching, clinging bushes, Nino starts to hear it too: the happy gurgle of a clear, rock-punctuated stream. Nino doesn't even bother to stare at the magical impossibility of it when they break through the brush, he just drops his coconut and falls to his knees, not even wincing when the rocks under his palms scratch and poke. He pushes his face into the water and drinks.

It really is magic, he thinks. Water has never tasted so good, not even halfway through a concert after the most strenuous tumbles and twirls when his body feels like elastic that isn't ready to stop bending. He can feel it twist down his throat and coat the inside of his stomach, cool and sweet and better than life itself, and he doesn't stop till he feels swollen and heavy.

Ohno is looking just as satisfied as he is, his upper lip dewy, his eyes drooping. "I love you," says Nino, aching with relief, and Ohno smiles happily.

They're thoughtless words that fall from his lips the instant he thinks them, words he's said dozens of times before, but he's never said them without planning to. He licks his lips.

This island is doing funny things to him.

He doesn't like that thought, so he tries not to think it. He chases after his coconut instead, finding it cradled between a flat rock and a leafless, broken branch. It's something he can do, something he can focus on that isn't a question like How will we get out of here? and How long can we survive? and What if there really aren't any people here at all?

His hands are scuffed up from his careless collapse against the stream bank, so he takes his coconut gingerly and then rinses his hands, letting the soothing water wash away the dirt and the questions. When his mind is satisfyingly blank and calm, he starts examining his coconut. It's rough against his fingertips, fuzzy like some strange animal.

"There are fish," Ohno says, surprising Nino into looking up. Ohno is peering into the water on all fours, his hands solid on the ground beneath him, expression one of fascinated adoration. And Nino sees them too, now: tiny, shivery silver darts that catch the sunlight like glass in the sun.

"Too bad you don't have a fishing pole," Nino says sympathetically, and for once he really means it. He could temporarily get over his hatred of fishy sliminess and unblinking eyes if it meant he had something to eat.

Ohno doesn't answer him; he's sitting, solemn and contemplative as a monk, watching the fish jitter and dance under the surface of the water, an entire world away. Nino goes back to his coconut.

Fifteen minutes later, he's still knocking the thing against rocks and his cursing is getting more creative. Ohno has even noticed and interjected helpful additions ("Where did you learn a word like that?" Nino asks, and Ohno shrugs in slight embarrassment: "Fishermen have foul mouths.")

And then finally, right when Nino is about to give up and his fingers are red-raw from the rough husk rubbing against his skin, it cracks. It cracks, and bleeds white water all over him.

"Dammit," Nino swears, completely forgetting all of Ohno's curses as he scrambles to not drop the halves of the coconut in his surprise.

His pants are coated with coconut water now, and it looks like he's peed all over his knees.

"You did it!" Ohno crows. He looks delighted, and that makes Nino feel a little less like a damp idiot and a little more like things might not stay turned upside down forever.

4.

Ohno's tummy is happily full of coconut thanks to Nino's hard work throughout the latening afternoon. It had been endearing watching Nino pick his way barefoot through the trees, a sweat patch down the back of his shirt and his hair fuzzy with sea-salt, trying his damndest not to step on any bugs bigger than the head of a pin on his quest to more dinner.

The task has taken its toll on Nino's hands, though, and on something greater that Ohno can't put a name to. Nino's mood has fluctuated with the heat and the hours, but steadily slanted downwards as the sunburn across Nino's cheekbones darkened like a ripe tomato.

Ohno is trying not to be disappointed. There were supposed to be rainbow coloured shells, long ambling strolls on the beach, and nights by a fire before they curled together in their tent, hands wound together loose and warm, sleepy dreamy eyes the last thing they saw before they slept. There aren't any of those things.

And there was even, once upon a time, supposed to be a confession. Ohno had practiced it before he went to bed at night from the time he was 24, imagining the sun on their backs and the sand under their toenails as he wrapped Nino's hand in his and told him. Imaginary-Nino usually laughed at him and told him he was an idiot, but after that, Ohno always drew a blank. The unpredictable entity that was Nino never gave him any resolution, even in the privacy of his own mind.

But they never did end up going to an island, and Ohno had started to treat his fantasy as simply that.

Except that now they're here. Something in Ohno's chest is tight and hopeful as they sit at the top of the beach and the day folds, purples seeping up into wild oranges against the horizon. Nino is slumped against him with one elbow tucked against the inside of Ohno's hip and dusky rose shadows painted over his face, looking vacantly out at a sunset that simply cannot compare to anything Ohno has seen off the shores of Japan. Some of the day's tension fades away with Ohno's worries as he watches and wonders why film can never capture colors so vivid.

There is a silence between them that is wider than Ohno is accustomed to. He is tuned into Nino's mood enough to know that anything that's stirring will just have to wait, because Nino is too insular right now to be honest with himself, much less with Ohno. And even if it means a rejection (it probably does) and even if he's laughed at (he probably will be), Ohno wants it to be as honest as Nino can be.

The sun melts down, slow and steady, until the majesty of colors is absorbed into the sea and the sky is left with a field of dark sprinkled with stars. Ohno has never in his 28 years seen so many stars, so many that he aches with wonder. "Nino," he says, sand falling from his palm as he aims a finger towards the Milky Way. "Look."

Nino looks.

"I bet you can find the constellations," Ohno hears himself saying. "All of them. You're a Gemini aren't you?" But Ohno doesn't know the constellations that other people know, he has no idea what invisible lines to search for. "I should have paid more attention to this kind of thing," he says apologetically.

Nino moves, his long arm and short fingers reaching out towards a cluster of stars that looks like any other cluttered space of sky, and carefully points out something shaped like a warped 'U'. "It's there. And what were you, again?" Nino mutters. When Ohno looks at him sideways, he can see all those spots of light, multitudinous and tiny, reflecting off of Nino's irises. "Ah, Sagittarius, right? I'm not sure it's in the sky right now."

"It's okay," Ohno assures him. He's happy just that Nino even remembered. Nino has a mind like a trap for things he cares about, but anything else filters through the cracks; Ohno likes knowing he's the former. "My favorite constellation is the Arashi constellation, anyway."

"There's no such thing," Nino scoffs, but there's a pitch in his voice like he's waking up from the other side.

"There is," Ohno insists, sketching those lines between the dark places with his fingers, showing Nino until Nino can find it for himself.

They search for other stars then. Nino knows the real ones, but he accedes to Ohno's new suggestions, and together they find the Newspaper, the Six Vs, the Infinity Symbol and the Skull and Crossbones set that they make finger guns at for at least five minutes. ("I'm out of ammo!" Nino laments, and Ohno mimes handing him a bazooka. The Skull goes out in a blaze of glory.)

After a while, Nino goes back to the Arashi constellation. Ohno can tell because Nino is stroking his fingers along his thigh in just the right pattern, gazing into space, wistful and serene. "Captain," he murmurs, and Ohno strains to hear over the rhythm of the waves. "If this sounds corny, you can laugh at me, okay? But I..." He stops. "I wonder what they're doing."

Nino's voice has that tone that means he changed what he was going to say halfway through a thought, and Ohno's not sure what was supposed to sound corny but he knows he's not going to find out. "Matsujun is probably directing traffic at the airport runway," he suggests. The little Matsujun in his mind is wearing a bright orange vest and waving a stick, sending airplanes off into uncharted pockets of sky to search for them. He knows that Matsujun is really probably just drinking too much coffee and checking his phone every ten minutes for missed calls, stressed but smiling for the cameras that are undoubtedly asking him countless times over about Nino and Ohno.

But the image makes Nino smile, and that was the point. "And Aiba--Aiba's got all the dolphins in the ocean tracking our scent, hasn't he?" Nino muses. "No, wait, dolphins don't smell things. What am I saying?"

"That sounded like something I'd come up with," Ohno says appreciatively.

"Is that a compliment?" Nino asks, and Ohno can hear the hidden laughter.

"And Sho-kun," Ohno goes on gamely, encouraged by his success, "Sho-kun the news reporter is tapping into his super secret news network and televising a live information feed. And wearing a fedora." Probably with a feather, Ohno thinks, and adds a red plume to his mental image of Sho.

"You're an idiot," Nino says, which really means, Ohno knows, thanks. Though sometimes he wishes it would mean I love you instead.

5.

It's day two. Nino has figured out enough to realize that rescue is not imminent, and every single we're-stranded-on-a-deserted-island movie he's ever seen has stressed the necessity of building a shelter. He gets why, now. Not only are the nights surprisingly cold when compared to the day's heat, but there are dozens and trillions and kajillions of tiny, irritating bugs.

That, and the horizon is sporting low-hanging clouds that are creeping closer, and Nino's not keen on sitting through a rainstorm without some version of a roof.

The site he's chosen (because Ohno is busy, of course, attempting to net fish with an impromptu device made out of his shirt and a burly stick) is near the life-giving stream, but far back enough to be sheltered by the rustling, waving palm trees. Nino has pointedly turned the entrance away from the ocean.

He can't say that shelter building is going to rank high on his list of enjoyable experiences, though it will definitely be up there among his memorable ones. His sunburn has gone from hot and irritating to insistent fire under his skin. He's already found an earthworm between his toes (and he has to agree with Ohno, he totally screamed like a girl) and he's having trouble keeping any of the long branches upright to balance together, much less finding any branches in the first place. After his makeshift lean-to topples over on his head the second time, he stops and thinks, shaking sand and dirt out of his hair like dandruff.

A light bulb flickers on in his mind (he will never take light bulbs for granted again after this) and he starts gathering stones, waddling to and from the tiny clearing while trying not to trip. Sweat is prickling in his armpits and his hands are coated with dirt, but slowly, a small wall comes into being, growing higher in time with the path of the sun in the sky.

He has a good length of wall up to his knees after what he estimates is a few hours--the watch still on his wrist is half drowned, the display bubbled with water, but he can't bring himself to take it off. It reminds him of Sho and Christmas Eve four years ago, and the memory has only grown dearer these past few days.

Sho, he thinks, finding himself a spot in the shade to collapse after checking around for ant trails and beetles and things that squirm. One of his biceps is twitching with exhaustion and he burns, though his nose burns the most. He wants a towel, or an air conditioner, or even better, a bed and a roof he doesn't have to build. But his thoughts wind back to Sho, inevitably.

No matter how he tries to avoid it, he can't help but remember the poster smile on Sho's face when he'd made the announcement of their 10th anniversary cruise. A smile like that was wasted without a camera around, but it was lucky there hadn't been one, because the curl of disbelief Nino's mouth had shaped itself into had been pretty frightening according to Aiba.

Of course it had been perfect. A perfect idea and a perfect weather report and Nino wasn't going to let his opinionated stomach get in the way of his work.

And now he's stranded on a deserted island. Perfect.

But at least, Nino temporizes, he's not here alone.

At least, he thinks, forcing himself to sit up, stand up, get back to work: at least he's got Ohno.

He follows Ohno's subtle footprints in the powdery dirt, heading down to the riverbed. Before he even gets there he can hear quick, explosive splashes above the delicate gurgle of water running over rocks, and at the edge of the trees he stops.

Ohno is perspiring, lines of sweat streaking down his neck and shining in the sun. What's left of his once-was-a-shirt that isn't worked onto the stick in his hands has been tied over his head like a bonnet, and the whole length of him down to his waist is a toasty gold that still never fails to be surprising.

He works quickly with the makeshift net, darting it into the water with the speed he dedicates to dancing, and his face is so serious, his eyes so dark and focused under the crinkle of his brows that Nino knows he sees nothing else.

What would Nino do without Ohno? Nino almost can't answer that, because Ohno has always been there, the silent foil to his sharp mouth. The mote of fear that's been crawling around under his ribs since the first flash of lightning on that damn boat works itself a little tighter, and he feels his heart beating.

"Captain!" he calls, and then: "Leader!" until Ohno finally looks up and squints near-sightedly into the garden of trees that hides Nino in its dappled shade. He waves his stick around like a banner and hops off his rock perch, trotting over in bare feet painted with drying mud. "I need help, Leader," Nino informs him when Ohno is in hand-holding distance and he's surrounded by the unwashed smell of him.

Ohno blinks a lot when he comes close, trying to see Nino through his sunspots. "Your sunburn is getting worse," Ohno murmurs, a perfect non sequitur. He leans on his stick, looking like a native, still shining inside and out with the happiness of fishing.

"You don't need to tell me that, I can feel it," Nino says irritably. "Did you catch anything?"

"Not yet," Ohno says in a way that sounds more like a promise than defeat.

Nino more or less expected that, and it's probably just as well; they haven't tried to make a fire yet, and without a knife the idea of sashimi is disgusting at best. "Well, take a break and come help me mud up our new home. Or temporary new home," he qualifies. He refuses to think of this as a permanent situation.

"Mud?" Ohno's confused face is rather charming; Nino likes the way it makes Ohno's lips pucker up like a puppy dog's.

Nino explains his brilliant idea and how the mud works into it, and they spend the next long while companionably bringing back coconut shells full of mud from the river to squish and drip all over Nino's height-challenged wall as mortar. Nino is pressing his fingers between crevices and not mentioning just how erotic the squelching sound is when suddenly there is a very cold, very heavy plop on the back of his neck. It starts oozing downwards.

Then there's another one in his hair.

"Does that feel good?" Ohno says with distracting nonchalance. "They say that mud is good for--HEY!" A bright splatter like paint blooms on his chest, almost indiscernible from the color of his skin. Nino ignores the vaguely sulky expression (he'd totally asked for it) and launches another for his head.

Of course Ohno ducks, more out of instinct than actual skill, but he still gets clipped with a drizzle of brown over his forehead and one eye like a battle scar. Nino cheers triumphantly, complete with the necessary double-fist over the head, before he has to scramble to his feet and flee from Ohno's retaliation, because Ohno's sulk has changed to the glint of mischief that Nino loves to provoke in him and he's got enough mud in his coconut shell to cover Nino from top to toe.

They play a game of chase around the trees, mud balls lobbed both accurately and awkwardly, until Nino gets a stick in the fleshy, tender underside of his foot and has to hop around on one leg temporarily. Ohno comes crashing into him, and Nino's hands slide over his mud-slick skin as they drop down onto the sandy dirt floor.

Nino's almost pinned completely to the ground but he keeps trying to wriggle; his heart is rabbiting with exhilaration and adrenaline, and Ohno is smiling and alive, scrunching muddy fingers through Nino's hair shamelessly.

There is no way Nino will let him get away with that. Ohno's coconut is almost within reach and Nino lunges for it, getting a good gloppy handful and smearing it heavily down Ohno's heaving abdomen. The next handful is obviously destined for Ohno's pants: Nino gets his fingers wedged under Ohno's belt and yanks it away from his skin, revealing the pale tan line that separates his top from bottom.

But he doesn't get there, because Ohno's fingers wrap around his wrist and suddenly there's stillness. Ohno is looking at him seriously, incongruent to the mud print the shape of Nino's hand on his cheek and the stupid shirt-bonnet on his head. It's so seriously that Nino's already quick-beating heart palpitates and he comes to a sudden realization of just where he is and just what he'd been about to do. The grittiness of the ground is rough and uncomfortable against his back, and his sunburn is throbbing again now that reality has swooped down on them.

"Nino," Ohno says, brows in a line and breath in his voice.

Nino is abruptly certain that he doesn't want to know what Ohno has to say. Not now. Not here. He tries to open his mouth to stall, but Ohno beats him: "I like you."

Something twists and squeezes in Nino's chest, and Ohno is close, far too close. "Shut up," he says, and shoves Ohno's weight off him, sitting up. "I don't want to hear things like that."

He can feel Ohno next to him as he starts to brush off the drying mud and the clinging sand, but he refuses to look. The sole of his foot is smarting, and he drags it close to himself to make sure he didn't break the skin. Ohno doesn't say anything, which makes it easy to pretend he's not there.

Nino knows he's being a prick because the angel of his good conscience that's sitting on his shoulder is radiating consternation, but it's muted, as if caught behind glass, and he can't find it in himself to care. He's sprung tight as a wire and all he wants is to go home. All his wants is for everything to be normal.

He stands up and walks away.

6.

Ohno doesn't even need melancholy reflection time staring out over the beautiful wide aquarium of the sea to tell him that he's done something unfathomably stupid. He knows, and he'd known before he'd said a word--he'd known since they washed up on the yellow ribbon of beach, and before that still, since they first made out the hint of island between sea and sky and felt the currents push them here.

Though when he thinks about it, really thinks about it, it's been far longer than even that--he's known since he's first wanted to say it that he shouldn't. And that, more than the fact that they could never reasonably schedule time off together to visit a deserted island (which would never, ever be Nino's first pick for a vacation, anyway), is what's kept his mouth shut all these long years.

Ohno thoughtfully walks up to a long strand of kelp, the leaves of it crumpled together in a complicated knot that rustles when he lifts it. Small beach bugs scamper away from its shadow. He drags it behind him like a ducky on a drawstring as he moves farther up the beach and it slithers a path in his wake, just loud enough to be heard over the crash and boom of the white-tipped waves.

Nino's face had been like a light going out. The image comes to his mind so easily, and Ohno knows he won't be able to forget it.

And he can imagine Nino now just as easily. When Nino is upset he throws himself into doing things, and 'things' usually means games, or magic tricks, or less frequently now, his guitar. But Nino has none of that here. All he has right now is the steadily-growing pile of stone. In Ohno's mind's eye he's intent, his body hunched in uncomfortable ways as he stacks them even higher, being careful, his eyes barely visible beneath shining lashes.

Ohno's stomach growls, and his mind turns longingly to the fish in that stream, impossible to catch as ghosts. Or maybe a coconut, he thinks, trying to remember how Nino had finally coerced one open as he scans the top of the beach.

When his eyes catch instead on a rock shaped vaguely like a turtle, he frowns.

In Matsujun's movie, hadn't he...?

Ohno starts moving around the beach, collecting things and throwing them closer together. The kelp he'd abducted earlier joins the collection, as well as some broken shells and some pristine ones, rocks of different densities, and pieces of unfortunately empty coconut shells.

The sun is a heavy touch on his back as he works, and he can feel dirt in his pores. At first he doesn't know how large he wants to make it; what will be enough for a helicopter to see? And does he really have enough material for that? He doesn't even get all the way through the 'H' before he stops and sits down in the sand, wiping sweat from his upper lip.

He might have enough if he fits it together creatively and ranges a little farther out to search for more stuff. The kelp was a great help, and there's sure to be more of it.

But he hesitates.

He thinks of Nino's face, closed and imperfect, and in his mind it floats alongside the complimentary and contrasting glow of happier times. He thinks about the mud that had coated Nino's left nipple and made a patch on his shoulder that looked like Aiba's birthmark, and the way Nino's fingers had clutched as he shoved.

There needs to be more time, Ohno thinks, heaving himself up, wincing as his back cracks. His knee has already gone stiff, and he shakes it out as he starts picking up pieces of his unfinished masterpiece, chucking them away to the beach, to the waves.

He can't take back what he's said. And if he's honest with himself, which he always is when he can be, having unlocked the truth for Nino has brought him more relief than anything else. He doesn't regret saying it.

When the beach is clean he goes on, leaving his kelp behind.

He's getting hungrier, and starts dreaming of barbecue grills and sizzling meat with Matsujun holding the tongs authoritatively. Aiba would probably forget the plates, and Sho-kun, of course, would be laughing it up while documenting everything with his high-speed camera. In the corner would be Nino, legs tucked under him like a little boy, half of his being focused on his pixel screen and the rest of him paying attention to things Ohno can't notice even when he's looking straight at them.

Maybe Nino's got more coconuts open, Ohno thinks. Maybe he'll have saved some, because even if Nino is angry--is he angry? Possibly upset is a better word--he's not heartless.

The sky is going periwinkle, the sun lazy and heavy in the sky, and Ohno can see the first few shy stars over his head. It's probably time to start going back.

But they haven't been out this far along the beach, not yet, and Ohno can see something. His curiosity gets the better of him and his stomach and his daydreams of Nino, and he walks a little farther along the strand until it resolves into something he recognizes.

Tidepools.

All of a sudden he wishes he had his shoes with him. He climbs up onto the rocks and steps on slimy, half-dried seaweed, and feels his face contort into something that would probably get several camera clicks. Ohno searches through the pools, stepping more carefully so as not to slip and fall in, his arms arched out for balance. The sun is coating him and everything else in a deep golden glow as it starts to kiss the horizon, so it's harder to see into the pools than it should be, but he can make out the scuttling crabs and the bright, fluffy bursts of color that mean anemones. And, he thinks with satisfaction, mussels.

His toes hook over the edge of his pool of choice as he crouches down, tugging the scrap of his shirt off his head and cradling it in his lap. He's not so careful when he starts trying to break the mussels off the rocks. The shells are smooth and in some places sharp, and it's hard to get a grip and even harder to convince them to come free, and Ohno lands on his ass a few times with a squelch before he gives up on trying to keep himself dry.

When the sky has gone from periwinkle to warm violet Ohno ties his mussels into a bundle and looks up. The clouds that have been threatening are lined along their rims with electric pinks and oranges, beautiful ships sailing closer with their cargo of rain. He really should be helping Nino make a roof, or something to keep them dry.

He slips off the rocks and tells himself he'll bring Nino here tomorrow night if the tides are good.

On the way back he marches through the froth of the waves, leaving no footprints behind him.

7.

Nino has finally figured out how to make a proper roof. Their new home is not quite as tall as he is, but it's long, the wall curved until it reaches a solid boulder that makes up one whole side. Over the top is a framework of branches all worked like a net, and it had taken Nino several hours and a lot of scraped skin, plus some cracked and splintered wood, before everything had finally fit together without looking precarious.

He's stopped cataloguing his aches and bruises. There are too many, and lingering on them only makes them hurt more.

Besides, he's had other things to think about.

Ohno has been gone most of the day. The icy wall of shock that had hit him when Ohno had said that--when Ohno had said I like you with such solemn honesty that it seemed almost like an apology--has started to thaw, and Nino knows exactly how much of an asshole he was. The knowledge of it is a stab to his own heart, because it isn't Ohno's fault.

As he gathers up hand-shaped leaves that are almost large enough to mask his face, he wonders where Ohno is, and when he'll come back. The night has started to chase the day away, and for each shade darker the world turns, Nino feels a little lonelier.

He pointedly ignores the twinge in his foot as he drops his bundle of greenery by the side of their shelter. For all he hurts, he's probably hurt Ohno more.

He doesn't stop to wonder why he's never noticed. Ohno is an enigma at the best of times, and no matter how well Nino sees into people's hearts, he's never cared enough about himself to think twice about others' affections for him. That's no mystery, and it's just as useless to ask why? and when? and how?, because those answers are superficial at best, and even if Ohno could answer, Nino doesn't really need to know.

The point that matters is that Ohno does, and the question is, what am I going to do about it?

The leaves are cool in his hand, thick and glossy, and it's not easy to attach them to the frame that he's spent the later hours of the afternoon constructing, but he doesn't stop even as he thinks. The fixed leaves multiply one by one, a single row turning into double and triple, like fish scales crawling upwards.

"Nino?" Ohno's voice comes out of the settling darkness, and when Nino looks up he can see an indistinct shape moving uncertainly through the trees. If Nino had expected some sort of tension or discomfort, he feels none of it; only a brief rush of relief that Ohno has come back to him.

"Better not be a bear, or I'll punch you," Nino says, carefully tying off yet another leaf.

Ohno finds his way out of the bushes. The moon is pale and bright and straining through the canopy of foliage above them, spotting over Ohno's skin like wide, soft fireflies, leaving the rest of him tied up in shadows.

"Look," he says, and Nino can see the flash of his teeth, white in his dark dark face. Something clacks together as Ohno unfolds the bundle in his hands, grimy fabric that Nino can tell once used to be Ohno's shirt. How easily the wilderness steals away the pampered luxuries of living, Nino thinks, and glances inside. All he can see is black lumps. "They're mussels," Ohno explains, sounding proud. "I'm kind of hungry."

"You did good," Nino says, feeling secretly warm and a little guiltier than before when Ohno brightens at the compliment.

The only problem is figuring out how to make a fire, because they can't eat them raw. Nino understands the basics of rubbing sticks together, but he seems to remember there's some sort of trick to it. He wishes he had more knowledge outside of movies, and that Ohno had come back before the sun had set and left them in a maze of nighttime forest.

But somehow Ohno finds tinder--dry grass which he puts into a coconut shell--and Nino finds a rock that's flat and wide (he has plenty to choose from). Ohno sits down to start working at it without either of them even talking about it. Nino goes back to his roof, smoothing out the leaves and overlapping them with care, because he can't afford to put it off. Both of them know of the storm creeping closer on elephant feet, if not because they saw the low-bottomed clouds, then because of the curling wind that smells of the sea is making Nino's job harder each moment that passes.

As he works, part of him is focused on Ohno. In his peripheral vision, Ohno is hunched over the coconut, legs curled in semi-circles around the rock, all of him attuned to the high-speed twist of stick within kindling. Even without speaking, Nino feels more settled, more solid knowing Ohno's there.

Ohno figures out the fire finally when Nino is closing in on the top of the roof. The moon is both helpful and not, spotlighting down on where he needs it only to jump away when the wind catches the branches overhead, leaving him blinking at shapes in the dark. He looks up when Ohno cries out triumphantly, holding a rock in each hand now instead of his two sticks: though the wind is hindering Nino, it's only helping Ohno, blowing over the bright orange ember that's sparked in the coconut, caressing it like a mother. Nino feels another weight lift off his shoulders.

Things are an excited flurry for the next few minutes as they feed the baby fire some sticks, leaves (dry ones, not Nino's carefully harvested tropical ones), and grasses until it's shooting up devilishly, hissing and spitting in the wind. Ohno, his lean chest dyed orange and glowing by his proximity, is carefully trying to poke the mussels near enough to the fire to bake, and Nino hands him a stick so that he'll stop getting his fingertips toasted.

Nino can't remember eating mussels before. He's had clams, of course, because his mother makes them in a butter sauce that she always hopes will to plump him up; he's had octopus and squid like anyone else, and he's eaten scallops, usually when Jun-kun takes him to a nice French restaurant and recommends them. It's just food; it's always just been food.

But tonight, taking the yawning shells from Ohno's hand and chewing wordlessly at the meat, unsalted and unreasonably delicious, he understands why people love their food so much. He has never enjoyed eating quite like at this moment, sitting alongside Ohno in the bright-dark night, knowing that he's alive and that eating will keep them alive longer.

Ohno is sitting two steps away, plucking scraps of meat from his mussel shell with his pinky nail, his forehead unconsciously wrinkled. There's space between them that Nino is more sensitive to now; he's always been aware of where Ohno is, like a dot of warmth on his sonic radar. He slides a little closer, shortening the distance more deliberately than he's ever done before, even in front of thousands of screaming fans and with Jun over his shoulder telling the audience to cover the children's eyes.

Nino's knee bumps against Ohno's, and when Ohno looks up, he offers him another mussel, which Ohno takes with a faintly confused, if appreciative, smile.

Nino realizes then that he doesn't really need to answer Ohno. There's nothing to figure out. He still doesn't know if he wants what Ohno wants, but it doesn't matter; they're there for each other, and it will all work itself out eventually.

Right now, Nino is just going to hold onto the comfort of Ohno's presence, come what may.

8.

The storm comes on them that night when Ohno is sleeping, but it's not that which wakes him: it's Nino. The space in their shelter is cramped and small, and even before either of them had properly sunk into dreamland, Nino had cast one bony arm over his chest, nearly knocking the wind out of him. So when Nino jerks awake, Ohno feels it down to his marrow.

When he opens his eyes everything he sees is fuzzy, and there's no longer a moon to cast silvery light or shadow to help him resolve anything. The shape of Nino is all shades of charcoal gray, sitting up at Ohno's side like a statue. Ohno can still hear the last lingering drumbeat of thunder; it must have been the crack of it that woke Nino.

He reaches out to find Nino's wrist, planted near his shoulder, and curls his hand around it. Nino's fingers are digging into their bed of palm fronds. They're wet, Ohno realizes groggily: the roof is dripping. "Nino?"

Nino shivers, as if Ohno's voice has reminded him of where he is. Ohno can see his eyes flash even through the dark as he turns his head. "I thought I was on the boat."

Ohno's not really good at saying things and everyone knows it; he's lost count of how many times Sho has been outwardly startled by him speaking up on set. Ohno's even worse at giving advice, so he doesn't bother trying--he just relies on that healing presence everyone always says he has, sitting up quietly to scoot the two and a half centimetres closer to Nino that he can.

A few minutes go by, both of them staring out into the heavy, fat-dropped rain. There are rivers forming in the sandy dirt, creeping and crawling like confused snakes in this direction and that, and the hiss and patter of water against earth is a wild kind of music to Ohno's ears.

Eventually, Nino sighs the windy sigh of someone that's letting out all the weight from their heart. "Come on," he says, and starts scooting forward out of their shelter.

"Huh?" says Ohno. "What--you're going out there?"

Nino already is out there, and he spreads his arms apart, soaked. His hair is plastered to his skull, and he looks completely bedraggled, almost worse than when they first pulled themselves onto the shore of this island. But even through all the gray rain, Ohno can see the pull at the corner of Nino's mouth: he's smiling. "I like rain. I don't like lightning anymore, but I like rain, and walking in the rain. Besides, even with the roof, that place is turning into a soggy mess. If I'm going to get wet, I might as well get the fuck wet."

He has a point. And there's something entrancing about Nino standing in the rain, dripping and soft edged. Ohno pulls himself out of the shelter in an awkward tumble, getting his hand in a squelching patch of mud, his already damp self soaked through within moments.

Nino laughs, pulling Ohno to his feet, his small hands like talons against Ohno's bare arm. "Let's go for a walk," he says, so they do.

The night welcomes them, and the trees, whose branches and leaves are bowing, heavy with tears of rain. Nino shows him a path that he'd found earlier and walks a step ahead, guiding Ohno around gnarled roots, impressing Ohno with his memory, because they're almost impossible to see. Eventually the trees thin out and they can walk almost anywhere--they're back near the river, and Ohno isn't quite sure how they got turned around enough for it, but he's never been good with maps or directions and so he doesn't question it.

There's water in his eyes, against his scalp, and dripping from his earlobes; water has gotten down into his pants, and his underwear is clammy. But somehow, the discomfort has faded. Sleeping on palm fronds put a lot into perspective, he realizes. And having Nino's hand back in his, guiding him unerringly towards the edge of the river, is enough to keep him from minding most anything.

"The fish are gone," Nino says, words quieter from being sliced through with rain.

"Under the rocks, probably," Ohno says, and then feels his eyes grow wide. He stares at Nino.

Nino stares back. "Where's your Princess Guard?"

Now Ohno is staring for a different reason. "My what?"

There's a line of rain tracking down Nino's forehead, over his eyebrow, making him squint one eye in irritation. Ohno reaches back and strokes away Nino's shining hair, and the stream reroutes itself down the bridge of his nose. Nino blinks. "You really need to play Final Fantasy," he says. "Your spear thing, the fish catcher. Net, whatever. Where is it?"

They fetch it together, tripping through the underbrush in their haste, arriving back at the river with new mud-splatters on their shins and breathless expectancy in their hearts. Nino is hovering, trying to see into the ripple-stained eddies of the swollen river, but Ohno doesn't wait: he darts in his branch, the piece of his shirt still twisted on the end. In and out again, quick as a flash, hurling his catch up onto the bank.

Nothing.

He tries again, and again, first under the large crooked slate stone that's set near a small waterfall, and then a seal-toned one further up the bank.

It's there, on try three, that he gets something: two somethings, in fact, little darts of life that are slipping and flipping at the edge of the water now, mouths as wide as their eyes. He can hear Nino whoop behind him.

~

The storm blows over just past dawn, the smiling sun crawling forth from her bed into a pearl gray sky, chasing away the rain clouds like a watchdog herds sheep. It's strange, Ohno thinks, how quickly storms come and go here, whistling through with the wind and then gone.

But their shelter is a lost cause, at least for now: it's waterlogged and sad, and Nino looks at it darkly. "So much for that," he mutters, plucking one of his leaves out of a mud puddle.

The only thing to do is distract him, and Ohno knows just how to do it. He takes Nino's hand and leads him to the ocean, in the direction of the sun.

Nino is unusually quiet as they walk with the sand shifting under their feet. Not that Nino is normally loud, because he's not--nine times out of ten, when the cameras are off, he's nose deep in a manga, a game, or a magic trick. But this silence is different than those silences, and different again from the melancholic silence from a few nights before. Ohno has a gut feeling that it has to do with him.

Not that Nino's been different around him. In fact, despite the outburst, on the outside it's almost as if Nino's forgotten all about the confession.

Ohno knows he hasn't, though. He watches Ohno more often, his eyes as unreadable as a foreign alphabet. Ohno's not sure if that's a good thing or bad, but it is what it is and it's not like he can undo the knot he's tied, so he tries not to worry about it too much.

The place Ohno takes Nino to isn't the tide pools, but it's close: a curve of beach where the water licks at the shore in aquamarine curls with froth like lace. It looks like something out of a fantasy world, the beach white powder.

Nino looks at him suspiciously when he starts unbuttoning his pants.

"I thought we could take a bath," Ohno explains, fingers perched on his zipper. They've been here for days, and Ohno isn't the most cleanly person in the world, but even he's starting to feel the grime. And as wet as they'd gotten in the rain, he still smells.

Nino doesn't even look like himself anymore. There's hair growing on his upper lip and tiny whiskers on his chin, and Ohno thinks it looks completely out of place even though it kind of fascinates him. His nose has started to peel and red blotches war with darker bronzing skin all down his arms. Nino's never liked the sun, so Ohno's never had a chance to see him tanned gold. He's nowhere near as dark as Ohno is, and he never will be, but Ohno thinks it would look kind of good on him if it evened out.

Nino doesn't like the ocean, either, and his suspicious look is transfered there as Ohno nearly tips over while trying to get his pants off. They're still damp from the rain and cling stubbornly to his legs, and it's more of a relief than he thought possible when they're a sodden lump dusted with white sand at his feet.

He lets Nino stew over the decision--he'll probably come, Ohno hopes he'll come--and walks himself down to the water's edge, naked as naked can be. The water that kisses at his toes and then swirls around his hot, abused feet is so soothing that he just stands there for a minute, temporarily forgetting about Nino and everything else.

The waves come and get him with a lazy, sweet dance, and he follows them as they slide back out, towards the deeper water. It's not really deep at all, though, since it's a cove, and he gets in up to his waist without even feeling any dangerous tugs of an undertow. The water around him is inexplicably flecked with gold, and he can see all the way down to his toes, wobbly through all the ripples.

He hears Nino splashing towards him a few minutes later, and turns around to watch him come. "You look ridiculous," Nino says, picking his feet up higher than he needs to. Ohno has seen Nino naked hundreds of times; it's nothing new, and there's nothing different now than any of the times they've visited an onsen and Aiba-chan has lurked through the water pretending to be a shark. But he still can't help looking at Nino's cock, soft and swinging as his weight shifts back and forth. Ohno has always privately been impressed with Nino; they've never openly compared sizes, but everyone knows Nino trumps.

Whether or not Nino notices him looking (and he probably does) he doesn't comment on it. "You've got an equator on you. Look." He points, indicating somewhere below the water. "Your southern hemisphere is like an ice age under there, and your northern's gotten charred. Bet you there are dinosaurs and volcanos."

Nino is really one to talk. He looks equally ridiculous, and Ohno notices now as Nino draws up alongside him that he even has the same ring around his waist. He's too distracted to mention it, though, because there are spider webs of light crawling all over Nino's skin under the water.

Nino splashes him. Ohno has to blink away the brine, and finds Nino smiling at him when he does. "This was a good idea, though. Thanks."

"Hmph," Ohno says, flicking some water at Nino in pathetic retaliation. He doesn't want to start a water fight this time.

But that doesn't mean they can't play as they bathe, kicking out gently at each other under the water, competing to see who can stay under longest without having to laugh. Ohno can't see; he doesn't open his eyes. He lets his legs feel for him, finding Nino and slipping off his water-smooth skin. Nino's own advances are ticklish and sometimes dangerous: his toes glance along Ohno's thighs and low on his belly, and once Ohno feels a swish too close for comfort. He wonders just what parts of Nino he's hitting, and whether or not Nino minds.

When they finally struggle back to the shore Ohno feels lighter than he has since they landed here, and he can see the same thing echoed in Nino. The lines around his eyes have softened and each smile brings the corners of his mouth higher than before.

They wash their clothes, trading rain water for the ocean, and trudge back to their little home where their meal of fish is waiting.

~

Nino's eyes are two different colours. One is the pure bluebell of the sky on a summer morning, and the other is the deepest dark of the universe, so infinite that Ohno feels like he might be sucked into it.

"We have to go," says Nino, taking Ohno's hand.

"Where?" Ohno tries to say, but all that comes out is a wordless song that he has never sung before.

There are stairs. Ohno doesn't know where they lead except it's somewhere comfortable, and Nino is walking up them, so Ohno does too, except that his legs are short and stunted and the going is difficult. When he falls back a step, Nino looks at him sadly, his one blue eye glowing eerily.

"You can't go back," Nino says, and his arms wrap around Ohno's, swift and tight like octopus tentacles. Nino is stronger than he looks, and Ohno is starting to lose his breath--maybe he'll fall down the stairs after all.

"Ni--"

~

"--no?" Ohno's own voice has woken him up. He can hear the waves crashing down the beach, and Nino is wrapped around him and breathing in time with the ocean, holding on fiercely as he sleeps.

For a moment, the image of Nino with fae-coloured eyes remains imposed over the Nino lying against him, like a glaze, and Ohno feels his body stirring, tightening. Even when the vision clears and Nino is no longer magic, (nor angelic, what with his wrinkled brow and the way he's drooling on Ohno's shoulder), his arousal doesn't subside.

Nino snuffles and shoves his knee further between Ohno's thighs.

Ohno gives up on going back to sleep.

9.

Nino wakes up surrounded by Ohno. He hasn't even opened his eyes, but his sense of Ohno is so strong it could almost be his entire world: Ohno smells of sea salt, tangy and masculine, and his chest rises and falls under Nino's weight like a lullaby. He's comfortable, if bony, but Nino's used to that, so he doesn't think before he tucks his arm closer around Ohno like he's a teddy bear.

In retrospect, he really should have expected the morning erection before his hip found it.

Nino comes fully awake (he's really good at that when he wants to be) to find Ohno staring awkwardly at the leaf-laced ceiling, his bristly chin stubble right in front of Nino's eyes. Ohno is breathing carefully. He looks like he's trying to distract himself by counting backwards from 100, or cataloging the pairs of socks he has in his drawer.

"You've got the patience of a saint," Nino comments, finding his voice hoarser from sleep than he'd expected.

"Not really," Ohno says, his eyes blinking in a twitch.

And Nino knows, now. He finally knows just what he thinks of Ohno and his confession. Looking at Ohno brings him only a fondness so deep that he can't find the end of it. It's not just the island; it's not just being thrown together and depending on each other for survival, even if that's been the catalyst. It's not the fanservice that they do to make people scream; it's not Ohmiya SK, with shiny uniforms and ridiculous feathers and socks that make his legs look even skinnier.

It's just natural, like Ohno loving the ocean.

And maybe it's a little weird; Nino didn't see this coming, but that's what life is, anyway. Unknown variables and miracles and surprises that tie the future to the past in one long personal tapestry.

Nino has always liked to let his tapestry flow where it would. "Ohchan." He touches Ohno's chin, tracing the shape, the short hairs of Ohno's goatee prickly against his fingertip.

He can feel the question etching into the lines of Ohno's body, Ohno attuning himself to Nino's voice, waiting for whatever rebuke or distraction might come.

Nino kisses him, instead. Right under the jaw, a wet mark to seal his decision.

Ohno turns to him, his eyes opening in one surprised flash where Nino can see the ring around his irises, like he's not quite sure if he should believe it. But whatever he sees in Nino's face seems to be enough: his pupils contract, and the stress in his cheeks softens, and Nino can feel the tentative puff of breath coming closer.

It's the first kiss they've ever shared where neither has been laughing.

It's not perfect. Neither of them have brushed their teeth in days, but the thin line of Ohno's mouth is smooth and dry, easing against Nino's without demand. It's almost sweet, and just like Nino thought Ohno would kiss, the eagerness building with each soft, moist sound their mouths make.

When Ohno rolls over on top of him, elbows planted in the palms and his hand delicately circling Nino's neck, Nino gives way. He can feel Ohno's cock even through their water-stiffened pants, crooked against his hip, and his balls tighten in answer.

Nino learns things about Ohno's mouth he hadn't known before: the way he barely parts his lips to flirt with his tongue, as if he's shy; that kissing the corner of it makes Ohno's breath flicker; that his teeth are narrow and sharp but careful not to bite when Nino presses deeper, wanting to know more.

And that he's a really good kisser, as confident with his tongue as he is with his sleek fingers.

Nino forgets about kissing completely, though, when Ohno jolts down against him with a flick of his hips that's as controlled and sharp as his dancing. Nino's cock starts to swell, the zipper of his pants holding him in too tight. He hasn't masturbated once on this damn island; he's been too busy considering rain clouds and coconuts and the way Ohno's gaze strays to him even when he knows Nino is looking. Even through two layers of unforgiving fabric, Ohno has gotten him hard in record time.

Ohno's hands are sandy and pushing through Nino's hair, holding his head down, his naked chest brushing carelessly along Nino's when Nino tries to squirm; there's a rock to the left of his spine in the small of his back that's stealing precious attention each time Ohno sinks roughly into him.

Nino moans, his heart full of hummingbirds. He pushes up against Ohno, their stomachs pressed flush and tight as he shoves them over, fleeing the unpleasant scrape of stone. Ohno loses his rhythm, his eyes open and owlish in the face of Nino's surge of control. It's probably a fact that he's not used to sleeping with anyone that's not malleable and submissive from start to finish. Ohno doesn't seem like the type to take a tiger to bed.

Not that Nino is a tiger. He's just not a girl, and he's going to remind Ohno before he forgets. "Help me," he rasps, his sleep-voice clinging on long after it should be gone. He's unbuttoning his pants, shoving them down his hips, and it only takes Ohno a moment to overcome his disorientation enough to get his fingers into Nino's waistband and shove them down to his knees. Nino doesn't bother kicking them off the rest of the way; he's sprung free, his erection aimed in Ohno's direction in a slow arc of impatience.

Ohno's pants come next, Ohno doing an ungraceful little jig to try to get them out of the way, and his cock peeks into view between the v of his zipper, the head of it just pushing out of his foreskin. Nino has actually seen Ohno erect before, and more than once, but those times were all while watching group porn and pointedly not looking into each other's laps. Nino doesn't pretend not to see, this time. He looks, soaking up as many details as he can in the five seconds Ohno takes getting his clothes most of the way off. It's hard with the way Ohno's cock bobs, but Nino can see enough: Ohno's skin is pale between his legs, and with all the blood flowing Nino can see dark veins that travel along its length in sinuous patterns.

He doesn't wait for Ohno to settle properly back against the palm fronds. He climbs right on top of him, pressing the burn of his erection alongside Ohno's. The feel is entirely different now that he has Ohno against him in sharp relief, the blunt heaviness of their cocks not shielded by their pants or their inhibitions. When Nino rocks, Ohno's mouth opens in a soundless moan, his mouth red and inviting.

They both struggle and shift, legs kicking out as they realign time and time again. Ohno's hands are so tight on Nino's ass as to leave bruises, and it makes him buck all the harder.

When Ohno flips them again, Nino's lost any sense of rationality and he just doesn't care anymore who's on top or where they are or that the palms are scratching up his arms. His stomach is tense and tightening with every slip of Ohno's hips, and Ohno's mouth is panting something unintelligible into his ear in heavy, guttural rhythm. His cock is on fire like sunlight, so sharp that it makes him curl his toes and jerk until he comes, sticky gobs that Ohno spreads between them like paint with the push of his belly.

It takes Ohno a little while longer. Nino's shudders have slowed and calmed by the time Ohno groans, his back arching towards the ceiling and all his muscles spasming against Nino. His come is thick, sporadic bursts over Nino's stomach, but Nino is already dirty--a little more hardly matters. Nino pets through his hair as he rides it out, sucking in air in little gasps like he's forgotten how to breathe.

Stillness settles over them, thick and comfortable, and Nino knows one more knot has been twisted into his tapestry, one that is only the start of an unending ocean of blues.

10.

Enough days have been and gone that Ohno has re-discovered something he knew all along: time is only a child of society. He's forgotten what day of the week it's supposed to be, though that's something he's never been solid on from the beginning. He's forgotten what day of the month it is, except that it's probably creeping towards the end of September, or maybe it's already October by now. It's probably not November, but he wouldn't rule it out.

Surprisingly, Nino doesn't know either, or at least he seems not to. He just shrugs and smiles each time Ohno asks, but his eyes get a faraway look that Ohno doesn't like to induce, so he's stopped bringing it up.

They've tried the giant 'HELP' on the beach, but that, Nino points out after a few days of hope and another day of resignation, only works if the airplane gets close enough.

Now it's time for a smoke signal. Nino keeps muttering that they should have thought of this before, but Ohno reminds him that they've had enough rain showers to make it impossible anyway, and he looks mildly satisfied by that rationale.

Nino emerges from within the forested section of the island, dragging two handfuls of branches through the sand to where Ohno has been making a teepee of wood, all of it crisscrossed and somewhat intimidating in size. It's up to Ohno's shoulders, and broad enough that he couldn't work his arms around it if he tried.

"Here," Nino says, dumping the wood unceremoniously at his side. "Think that's enough?"

"I don't know how long it'll burn for," Ohno says, scratching between his eyes with a frown. "But isn't it good enough for now? We just have to keep adding more."

"For however long it takes," Nino agrees, determined. He squats in the sand and watches as Ohno works with the stones, cracking them together enough to scare the birds away before he finally gets a glow of orange in the kindling.

The fire doesn't take long after that. Ohno blows, coaxing it gently, and it feeds off the oxygen enough to start eating at the wood, growing and growing, climbing greedily towards the sky.

The smoke is dark and thick, and climbs even higher, a signal to anyone near or far that they're waiting, still waiting.

~

Nino looks even rougher around the edges now, but Ohno isn't as worried as he once was. They've both gotten used to the biorhythm of the island, and Ohno's been able to catch enough fish to keep them going so long as Nino gets them coconuts and they visit the tidepools every other day or so. Nino's even found some birds' nests a time or two.

Between them, little has changed, and yet everything has changed completely. Nino holds his hand the same as ever: on a whim, and without apology. He still brushes away affection like a prickly cat half the time when Ohno tries to touch him.

At night, he lets Ohno push into his space, and pushes right back, his palms hot on Ohno's skin and stroking him till he's tangled in internal knots, finally unraveling all over the both of them. Sometimes they do it frantic and fast, eating each other's kisses in sharp bites and making a mess of themselves. Sometimes, Nino lets him take it slow, lets him map out all the angles of his body from the valleys and mountains of his face and neck to the sinew under his skin, long hours spent learning just what makes Nino's heartbeat quicken.

They don't talk about it. Ohno is too busy cataloguing all the new sides of Nino he's allowed to touch and taste, and Nino seems content without conversation. Besides, they have more immediate things to worry about, like getting off the damn island.

"What if we make a raft?" Nino says a couple days after they've started their fire, tossing more sticks on it idly. There are charred cinders in a wide ring around the base now, but they haven't let it go out yet. Ohno is grateful that the rain seems to be staying away now. Even today is clear, the clouds all fluffy and friendly as sheep.

"And go which way?" Ohno says, squinting at the sun.

"You'd know better than me," Nino says miserably. He brushes sand off his ankles in a pointless show of fastidiousness. They both know how quickly he'll be dirty again. "Can't we follow a star, or something?"

"That works if you know there's something in the direction of the star," Ohno says. In truth, he doesn't know much about the nautical side of boats, he just gets on them so he can fish, but he's picked up a few things anyway. "We don't know what direction any of the other islands are in."

"And we can't just row into open, empty sea," Nino finishes for him, squinting at the fire as if it's personally offended him.

Nino doesn't mention his seasickness at all. Ohno takes that as a sign that he's desperate. He's starting to feel despairing himself, so he understands.

The next day finds them out on the tidepools, Nino picking his way on tiptoe through a narrow section that takes him to one of the deeper pools. The tide is farther out that Ohno's seen it before, and there's no crashing spray to contend with as they hunt. Ohno catches his own reflection on the surface of the water as he peers inside, taking note of the scuttling gray crabs and their tiny pincers. They've caught a few of those, and they're good, if a little small.

He's got himself three of them, and is feeling wonderfully proud of himself when Nino gives a shout. Ohno looks up, but he already knows what Nino is pointing at, because he can hear the propellers:

There's a plane, and it's coming closer.

 

 

Epilogue

The airplane ride is longer than Nino wants it to be and yet not long enough; there are crowds of people in the airport when they get there, and Nino is more overwhelmed than he can ever remember being in front of so many eyes and so much muttering noise. Even the cameras bother him; he's gone so long considering cameras as something to purposely get in front of that wanting to avoid them and their intermittent flashing is disorienting. The staff that help them off the plane shield Nino's and Ohno's faces as best they can, and they flee the clicks and calls, making their way towards for the hospital for checks.

He hates hospitals, and the amount of tests they put him through this time to check his lungs, his skin, his reflexes, his retinas, and all the rest, doesn't help a bit.

It also doesn't help that there are doctors and a handful of short-skirted nurses between him and Ohno. He sticks his tongue out for a depressor and tries not to think about it.

He's declared as healthy as can possibly be hoped for under the circumstances and sent straight home to rest with a reminder that they'll re-start activities in two weeks' time, please be ready, and finally gets a chance to call his mother in the car on the way home with a company phone ("Yours got lost in the storm," said manager number one, his eyebrows pulling together like charging caterpillars. "Use this till you can get a new one.") She's too overwhelmed to say much of anything coherent, but gets herself together enough to tell him that she loves him before they hang up.

When Nino gets through his front door with his landlord's spare key he stops and stares, seeing everything familiar and dear that he's wanted to see for days upon days, and feels more lonely than ever. Ohno was sent home in another car, at another time, with another manager, and they didn't get a chance to exchange so much as a goodbye.

Nino sighs, pulling his feet out of his borrowed shoes to shuffle into his apartment. He puts his new phone on his tiny dining table and looks around, the familiarity of everything soothing but also strange.

His coffee maker has dust on it, but his cups don't; he starts up the machine, wondering idly just how much of a kick caffeine will give his system after so long without.

Two weeks is a long time. In truth, he doesn't like it. It's too long, and Arashi has already been out of service because of him for enough time that he knows they can't really afford to wait. Their manager has assured him that the publicity from the rescue is enough, and he gets it, he really gets it, but he doesn't want Arashi to be remembered for that--that's not what Arashi is: they work for their fans. Nino feels like he's cheating somehow, and it sits crookedly in his chest.

Not to mention the fact that he needs Arashi up and running, maybe even more than the fans do. It's his dirty little not-so-secret: he hasn't got anything if he doesn't have Arashi. He could care less about 'full recuperation'. Management never cared about them being in perfect health before, why are they caring now, right when Nino needs Arashi around him and smiling the most?

Nino waits for the coffee machine to do its magic, wriggling his feet against the carpet and appreciating the fact that it's not gravel digging into the soft space between his toes. The fact that he's home is slowly starting to penetrate. He tries to remember where he left his DS last, but realizes he had it on the boat--it's long gone now.

When he has his coffee in his Smurf mug with three sugars and a teaspoon of cream, his phone beeps a series of notes as shrill as a fire alarm, nearly startling him into dropping the whole cup into his trash. "Catfish whiskers," he swears, putting it down before he burns himself.

It's a text from Ohno, asking if he can visit. It's completely naked of exclamation points and emoji and would be foreboding if Nino didn't want to see his face so badly. He types something back, making too many mistakes with the new interface on the impersonal black company phone, and promises himself he'll buy his old one again as he hits send.

After he sips down a third of his cup and gives up on the rest, leaving it in the sink to go cold, he takes a shower. He'd had one at the hospital, but it was too quick to be satisfying, just enough to clean the dirt out of his cuts for the antiseptic. The faucet squeaks as he turns the handles, and when he steps under the stinging water he feels like ten years have been lifted off of him. Hot water, he thinks, is an even better invention than video games.

Soap is pretty awesome too, and so are washcloths. He takes his time, relaxing properly for the first time since he saw the airplane on the horizon glittering like a diamond in the sunlight.

When he gets out, he luxuriates in the feeling of having a bone fide bath towel for longer than seems reasonable, rubbing his hair and going to get a change of clothes that will actually fit him. Sweat pants are called for.

Another text comes before Ohno shows up, the siren wail of it making him grit his teeth. It's Aiba-chan: I'm coming over, with Sho-chan. You don't get a say in the matter, either, so don't bother replying! Nino doesn't. He frowns, and pokes through the menu options on the phone to try to get it to shut up just in case anyone else wants to inflict their presence on him.

The doorbell rings as he's cleaning out his ears. Ohno doesn't bother waiting for him to get all the way to the door, though--he just comes right in, poking his head around the door frame first before the rest of him follows. His hair is properly brushed and his clothes clean, his t-shirt the same one he's worn for six years that has a hole in the armpit that Nino likes to stick his fingers into. "Nino?" he says. He looks around, as if he's not sure where he is. "I thought you'd be playing games by now."

"I can't quite bring myself to turn on the TV yet," Nino admits, letting his towel hang around his neck. "I'm not used to it."

He gets Ohno a glass of water with a couple of ice cubes, because he doesn't trust anything else in his fridge except the beer, and he's not quite sure how he feels about that yet, especially after coffee.

That's when Aiba-chan shows up, his motorcycle helmet under his arm and Sho in tow behind him, looking a bit ruffled. Nino doesn't blame him--he's seen how Aiba rides a bike, and he's vowed to never be his passenger, ever.

"Nino! Captain, you look--" And Aiba pauses, eyes roving over them both before giving up on finding a polite word and throwing his arms around Nino in the most lung-crushing hug Nino has ever suffered. It feels wonderful.

"Satoshi," Sho says, equally ineloquent with his words, but the feeling filling up all the space between the letters enough so that Nino is almost awash with how relieved he is. He gives Ohno a hug in a manner that doesn't look quite so suffocating. "Matsujun is on the way over, I hope you don't mind, I know you need some time to rest and--"

"But we have to see them," Aiba interrupts, putting his hand in Ohno's and holding on tight. "Just to make sure they're okay."

"What are you, a doctor?" Sho laughs, seeming more at ease now that he's gotten physical proof of their existence.

"Don't give him ideas, Sho-chan," Nino says, filling more glasses and getting an extra one ready for Jun.

"I couldn't be a doctor, I'm in Arashi," Aiba says. He doesn't let go of Ohno all the way to the couch. "That's too much studying. Keio-boy could do it, though."

By unspoken accord, none of them bring up the topic of the island or the rescue until Matsujun gets there, looking harried, the circles under his eyes deeper than Nino can remember them ever being before. Matsujun's never been one for physical affection, which makes the fierceness of his embrace pull at Nino's heart far more than it should.

"Have you eaten anything?" Jun says, pulling back to look at Nino's face as if he can tell from the fullness of his cheeks, or lack thereof. "I can make you something. Just tell me what you want. Something simple would probably be best, like eggs, or rice--you keep your rice in the bin next to the sink, don't you?"

Nino pulls Jun closer to where they're sitting. "Don't worry about it, they fed us at the hospital--it was crap food, but I'm full, and if you make anything it'll just go in the trash."

"They're okay, Matsujun," Aiba says, though he hasn't let go of Ohno yet, like he's not sure if Ohno might disappear if there's not something there to hold him down.

Jun looks stubborn, but he still half-settles into his spot on the armrest of Nino's chair, his legs kicked out in a sprawl, arms crossed over his chest. He looks poised, like he'd be ready to jump up and do something for them at any moment.

It's Sho that starts filling them in on what happened while they'd been gone, and Aiba starts interjecting his own commentary, but Jun remains silent and watchful on his perch. Nino discovers that they'd gotten back to Hawaii safely in a life raft, and that Arashi hadn't halted individual activities while the search for them went on--and there was a search.

But none of them ask what happened to Ohno and Nino, so Nino brings it up, telling the story in sketchy detail and leaving out anything he thinks is irrelevant, which is most of it. Ohno, unlike Aiba, doesn't help him narrate the story; he listens to Nino as if he's hearing it all for the first time, too, his expression vague but interested.

"Wow," Sho says when Nino finishes. "That must've been hard, figuring out how to get a fire going. You've never done that before, have you? ... Satoshi, have you?"

Ohno jerks a little, like he's just realized someone was talking. "Huh?"

"...Somehow I feel like very little has changed," Jun remarks dryly.

"It hasn't," Nino says, firm. Jun's expression flickers, as if he's about to apologize, but Nino butts in before he can: "Sticking Leader and me on a deserted island doesn't change who we are. We're Arashi, and we ride out storms."

"We'll make a storm throughout the world," Aiba says, soft, the corners of his mouth creeping into a hesitant grin.

"And still be ourselves in the center of it," Nino says, knowing it's true and wanting the others to know, too.

Sho is looking a little damp-eyed, and Aiba-chan has already started to cry: he wipes inelegantly at his eyes. "See?" Nino says, pointing at Aiba, scapegoating him like he always does: "This guy hasn't changed either."

"You're an ass," Aiba laughs through his tears.

They have to go before it gets too late. There's still work for them, and Nino feels guilty, but Sho won't hear of it. "We're doing this for Arashi, not for you, so if you want to help Arashi too you'll take your time off seriously. Otherwise Matsujun will probably give himself an ulcer from worrying too much, and nobody wants that."

"Me?" says Jun, incredulity written all over him. Ohno gives him a comforting pat on the back.

Nino grudgingly agrees. He still wants to get back to work, to have the rhythm of his life back to normal, but his friends are at his side and that's what he needs the most.

"Captain, are you coming?" Aiba says. Ohno is hanging back in the hall, hands in his pockets, watching them all get on their shoes and Aiba and Sho take up their helmets, his manner so nonchalant it almost seems like he's standing in his own apartment.

Nino doesn't want him to leave. "No, he's staying," he says.

"Oh, I get it," Aiba says, looking between them in the manner of someone who's trying to read between the lines. "You guys got used to being together, didn't you? All the time, I mean. It must be sort of weird to be apart, now."

"Yeah," Ohno says, smiling sheepishly.

"C'mon, Aiba-chan," Sho says, hooking his hand through Aiba's elbow. "Let them sleep. You can see them next time you have time off."

"Bye bye, guys," Aiba says, his smile glowing as only Aiba can as he lets himself out.

And then he and Ohno are alone. Nino looks at him, and Ohno looks back, his posture radiating tiredness. "Wanna get in bed?" Nino says, and Ohno just nods.

Ohno already knows the way, but Nino leads him there anyway and climbs into his bed, reveling all over again at how good civilization feels. The sheets whisper against each other as Ohno climbs in beside him.

But he holds himself apart.

"Nino," he whispers, and Nino turns over, squirms in place to face Ohno. Ohno's expression is carefully blank, not a smile or a frown, his hand curled by his chin and all of him lit by the streetlights through Nino's not-completely-closed curtain. "Is this okay?"

Nino understands what he's asking. The world they're in now is a different one, not private in the way only a deserted island can be. They can go back to normal, to how they were before, where before means that they can pretend they've never chased seagulls together, never made their fingers bleed pulling mussels from stone, and that they never kissed or went through nights naked with the sweat of their sex drying as they slept.

Ohno is letting him change his mind. Ohno is giving him the chance to erase it all.

But Nino doesn't need it. His tapestry has been knotted, and it's a knot he loves.

"Yes," he says, and closes the distance between them.