There isn’t an excess of table space in his lab. Most of the flat surfaces, the shelves, the desks, the display cases, are filled to the brim with insect specimens. (Deceased specimens, of course; Korekiyo prefers not to keep live insects in captivity if he can help it, especially not in such a contained space. And for so many different times of insects to attempt to coexist in what can only be one climate… no, it wouldn’t do. Better just to look at the ones that have already passed away.) There is one desk, where he has spent a large amount of his time taking notes, doing experiments, and recording the entrance of new specimens into his collection, but he doesn’t like that desk for making diagrams, or sketching.
If he can help it, Korekiyo likes to do his diagrams in full colour. Coloured pencils work fine, but he wants his work to be as close to the actual specimens as possible, so it takes some time to find the proper colour combinations, and as such he needs a lot of space for a lot of coloured pencils. There isn’t a lot of space at the desk in his lab (since that desk is also where he stores files-- at least, the ones he’ll have to look over in the immediate future; the ones that he won’t go into the filing cabinet) so on the occasions when he has to get work done of that sort, he’ll seek refuge in an empty classroom, or the library.
He prefers using classrooms though, because the library is dusty, and, if Korekiyo is being honest, a bit claustrophobic. He isn’t claustrophobic, but he’s also adverse to clutter. Rather, clutter in excess. (Admittedly, when he’s been thinking too hard and for too long, his own surroundings will get rather cluttered.) The library is a prime example of this. Too many books stacked on the floor, or else in piles all over the place. And the lighting in there is awful, too. A dim, old yellow light that is somehow only replicated in old libraries. He likes it, perhaps, when he wants to fall asleep reading a book. But for insect diagrams, it isn’t preferable.
On this occasion, Korekiyo has managed to snag a classroom. It isn’t the classroom that he learns in during the day. He actually isn’t sure whose classroom it is, perhaps one of the upper classes. The specifics don’t really matter. The important thing is that Kokichi won’t be able to bother him here, since Kokichi won’t know where he’ll have gone. (And he left his student handbook in his room, too, so he can’t even be tracked this time. He’s learning.) He really needs the recess from Kokichi’s company too, since it’s the anthropologist’s fault that he’s even sketching this diagram now to begin with.
Korekiyo is rather fond of this species of hornet; its latin name is vespa mandarinia, but he’s heard it referred to as the yak-killer hornet, or else simply the Asian giant hornet. (This is a fair description, as it is Asian, giant, and also, a hornet.) Hope’s Peak actually had a specimen for him when he first came to the school, but Kokichi somehow got his hands on it and decided to perform a dissection. Without permission, by the way, and although Korekiyo had been sorely tempted to introduce the brat to the different kinds of insect venom stored in his lab, he settled for asking the higher ups at the school to let him take a field trip to a nearby temperate rain forest and collect a new specimen. He would’ve taken a restraining order too, but alas.
Leaning closer to the desk, Korekiyo thanks himself from the past for having the good sense to braid his hair today, because the detail-work that he’s doing right now would certainly have his hair draping all over the page. It wouldn’t be much of a hassle to deal with, but it’s been a problem enough in the past that he’s noticing the lack of it now. He angles his hand to draw the curve of the hornet’s rear, gaze flickering back and forth between the specimen and the page now and again.
“Oh, wow, you have a really steady hand.”
Thankfully, the person who remarks this is not Kokichi; his voice is far too low for that. Korekiyo lifts his pencil tip from the paper and turns his head, raising his eyebrows at Rantaro when they make eye contact. The boy in question is smiling, unapologetic at having crept up on him, and as he was leaning over Korekiyo’s shoulder just now to peer down at his work, their noses are only a few inches apart. Korekiyo’s lips curl up under his mask, though he doubts Rantaro can tell by the crinkling of his nose alone; his hat is sure to cast a shadow over his eyes.
“Sorry for sneaking up on ya, I was just wondering why you weren’t at dinner.” The apology seems genuine enough, despite the fact that Rantaro hasn’t stopped smiling since they made eye contact. Korekiyo delicately places his pencil down on the table and straightens up, glancing at the clock in the corner of the room. It’s half an hour past eight o’clock. Tsumugi usually tries to have dinner on the table by six. Huh. Strange that he didn’t notice time passing so quickly.
“I wasn’t aware of the time,” Korekiyo replies, closing his eyes for a moment. “It isn’t an issue, I suppose I will have to stop by the kitchen and fix myself a sandwich before ten.” He pauses, and then asks, “Have you been looking for me long?”
“Ah, no.” Rantaro’s smile becomes slightly sheepish. “I figured you’d be holed up in one of these classrooms. I haven’t been stalking you,” he adds quickly, though Korekiyo actually hadn’t been planning on asking as much-- now, however, he’s wondering if he should be concerned about it, but he dismisses the thought as soon as it arrives. “I asked Hoshi if he had any conjectures, and he mentioned seeing you doing work in some of the empty classrooms from time to time.”
This makes a great deal of sense; Hoshi is a detective. A good one at that, though he won’t be the one to tell you. Korekiyo doesn’t have time to spare trying to boost the self-esteem of his classmates. He’ll leave that job to Kaede, Gonta, and Angie. But it makes sense that Hoshi, at least, would be in the know about where he spends his time. He doesn’t mind Hoshi knowing, either, because the boy is a quiet person, and understands when not to open his mouth. “Well, I would greatly appreciate it if you could keep this information out of Ouma’s hands. I would hate to have to find a new place to seclude myself.” Korekiyo says, a tad briskly.
Rantaro laughs, though, unoffended. Korekiyo can’t stop himself from smiling. He has a splash of paint across the bridge of his nose, and it’s peeling off in places, perhaps because his nose scrunches up when he laughs. “Right, right, my lips are sealed.” He promises. “I’m good at keeping a secret, y’know.”
“I’m sure.” Korekiyo believes him, actually. Rantaro has that closed-off look about him that a lot of their classmates bear. Korekiyo wonders if he appears the same way, and then vanishes the thought. “Was this the only reason you came by?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Rantaro nods. Rather than leave, though, he snatches a chair from one of the desks beside Korekiyo’s, turning it around backwards, and straddles it. Odd way to sit, but Korekiyo’s never been the type to judge. He barely even sits on chairs, just perches right at the end. It isn’t the most comfortable thing, but it helps him focus. Stay awake. And gives him more space to bend over his work. It doesn’t seem like Rantaro is planning on leaving, so he turns back to his work.
The sound of his pencil scratching the surface of his paper fills the room, and Korekiyo absorbs himself in his task after getting used to the initial (slight) discomfort of having Rantaro in here watching him. He supposes it’s a professional interest, that Rantaro is taking in his work; the boy is an artist, after all. It shoes in his paint splattered clothes, the ink and graphite stains on his rough hands, the way his desaturated green eyes flicker about a space, committing every detail to memory for later use. It’s no strange thing, that he would be intrigued by the prospect of watching Korekiyo draw.
Of course, he’s unused to having other people actually show intrigue, when it comes to his passion for insects. It doesn’t bother him. Disinterest is preferable to mockery. An invalidating comment from his elder sister (who is so distant nowadays, but he shoves that thought to the very very corners of his mind and refuses to acknowledge it) is much better than outright displeasure. The distaste wouldn’t bother him, per se, it’s only that Korekiyo can focus much better without jeers and insults. Mean looks. And he likes being alone, too. His own company is his favourite. That way he can hyperfocus without fear of being rude. Zoom in on the insect until it’s just them in the world and nobody else. That would be fine by Korekiyo.
Although, Rantaro’s company isn’t bad. Korekiyo chances a glance at the other boy, whose gaze has shifted over to the hornet. He’s folded his arms underneath his chin, a distant smile on his face. It rests there almost by habit, like that’s just his natural relaxed expression. Korekiyo has never met such a person. (Even Angie’s smiles slip right off her face when she thinks nobody is watching.) He seems peacefully interested. And his presence isn’t unbearable, or obnoxious. Someone like Kokichi would be demanding attention right now, tugging at his arm and ruining his sketch. Even Kaede and Shuichi would be uncomfortable in the silence; they are the kind of people who would find such a thing to be stifling.
But Rantaro seems perfectly content to sit there watching him work. Korekiyo accepts this momentarily, gently rounding out the edges of the hornet’s eye, and then decides that despite the pleasantness of the silence, a bit of conversation wouldn’t bother him at all.
“You are an older sibling, aren’t you, Amami?” he asks. He isn’t sure why this is where his mind goes. Perhaps simply because so many of Rantaro’s paintings, at least the ones he has seen, have depicted younger sisters who Korekiyo has never met before. For a moment he’s worried-- not worried, but concerned-- that Rantaro will be offended by the question, but his face lights up in a broad smile. The expression on his face has become awfully warm. Pride, Korekiyo thinks, though he admittedly isn’t always the best when it comes to identifying other people’s emotions.
“Yeah,” Rantaro agrees, sounding as though he’s attempting to tone down his excitement at having been asked. “I have a whole house full of little sisters. Twelve of them, actually,” Korekiyo turns his gaze back down to his paper as he listens, but he still hears the smile in Rantaro’s voice. “Most of them are step sisters-- can you imagine having twelve biological younger sisters? I’m only sixteen. That would be rough.” He laughs to himself, and Korekiyo can’t suppress a smile. This one he hopes Rantaro notices, sees through the shadow cast by the brim of his hat.
“Well, they could be half-siblings on your father’s side,” Korekiyo muses. It’s much too late to colour this drawing today, unfortunately, so he’ll have to finish it tomorrow, but that’s alright. After finishing with the last couple of legs, he places down his pencil again and turns to meet Rantaro’s gaze. “It would make sense in that case.”
“Ahaha, I suppose you’re right,” Rantaro nods thoughtfully. “My father is that kind of person. Dates around a lot, I mean.”
“I apologise,” Korekiyo says. “I wouldn’t have suggested that if I had known.”
“Oh, no, it’s not a big deal,” Rantaro chuckles, though from his face it’s clear he finds it just the slightest bit distasteful. (Korekiyo decides not to push the subject.) “I have a few biological younger sisters. Most of my sisters, though, are from my father remarrying and divorcing.”
“You still consider them your sisters, though,” remarks Korekiyo.
“Of course. You divorce the parents, not the children.” Rantaro shrugs. “Besides, they all still live with us. My father’s ex-wives. It’s a weird arrangement, but, it works.” Certainly a strange living situation, but from Korekiyo’s understanding, the Amami family is incredibly wealthy, so it’s highly unlikely that anyone would actually be trying to stop them. Not that they need to be stopped, but there are some awfully traditional people still alive. “Do you have any siblings, Shinguji?”
He walked himself right into that one. “One.” He says stiffly. “We aren’t all that close.” Used to be, but-- he shuts that thought down, blocks it off, boxes it away. No use getting into that. No reason to sulk over things that can’t be changed. (Nothing to do but try harder to get better, to stop disappointing her, so that she’ll actually look at him again.)
Rantaro seems to sense that he’s hit an uncomfortable topic. “It can be hard getting along with siblings when you’re a teenager. I have a couple sisters who are only a year younger than me, and they drive me up the wall sometimes.” He sighs, a bit too dramatically, but Korekiyo senses that he’s being given an out.
“You’re a rather patient person. It must take quite a lot to get on your nerves.” Korekiyo remarks idly. “Considering how much you put up with from Ouma.”
“He doesn’t harass me all that much. Usually just uses me as a scapegoat whenever he’s causing trouble.” Rantaro chuckles, shaking his head. “I’d be more worried about Saihara, to be honest. As much as Ouma can be annoying, Saihara is actually skilled in that area.”
“Saihara is kindhearted, which is more than I can say for Ouma.”
“He can also pick locks.” Rantaro frowns. “I don’t trust like that. And he stole a paintbrush right out of my pocket while I was speaking with Toujo about my physique the other day. I didn’t even notice until he gave it back to me.”
“Perhaps this attitude is precisely the reason why he steals from you, Amami. He has never once taken something from me.”
“He’s afraid of you, Bug Man.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to take that back, or need I remind you that I have a giant hornet here with me?” Korekiyo lifts the slide, holding it in front of his face. “Their stingers are quite venomous, you know.” Rantaro starts to laugh, and Korekiyo allows himself to join in. He would never actually use his specimen to hurt anyone else. Nevermind that it’s a waste of a perfectly good specimen, he also just… lacks the energy, perhaps, to attempt such a thing. If he was going to do so, he wouldn’t try anything on Rantaro. Not when this is perhaps the most comfortable conversation he’s had since coming to this academy.
“Should I be afraid of you too, Shinguji?” asks Rantaro as his laughter dies down, rubbing one of his eyes with a hand. “Are you going to use your bug poisons on me?”
“This is an insect,” says Korekiyo distastefully. “It would be insect venom, actually, as it would only be poisonous if it was something you--”
“I’ve seen the meme, I know the difference.” Rantaro interrupts. “It’s still bug poison.”
Korekiyo wrinkles his nose. “You are incorrigible.”
“And you’re fun to tease,” Rantaro shoots back with a grin. The expression, slightly flushed from laughter and bright with mischief, makes Korekiyo’s heart give a heavy thump before stopping entirely. It’s an odd feeling, and very sudden, but the ticklishness in his stomach is beyond pleasant. He appraises Rantaro for perhaps a moment too long, because after a while, his expression relaxes, and then becomes inquisitive; eyebrows quirking as he tilts his head to the side. After a moment, he whispers, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
“I’m sure you would love that,” Korekiyo scoffs. “I ought to commission you so that you will paint a self-portrait for me that I may stare at every night before I fall asleep.” Rantaro snorts, covering his mouth with a hand, and Korekiyo smiles to himself as he begins to pack up his materials. “And when I tire of it, I will invite Ouma into my room, and then allow him to make love to it.”
“Ugh, no, that’s so gross,” Rantaro groans, running a hand through his hair. “Ouma reminds me of a little kid. I get paternal instincts around him. Not even fraternal instincts, Shinguji, paternal. I could never. I want to ruffle his hair and give him a lollipop and maybe guide him through the world or teach him how to shave. I could never.”
“Awfully wise words on parenting from a sixteen-year-old,” Korekiyo smiles. He tucks his pencil case underneath his arm and carefully balances his hornet and his sketch in the other hand. Without asking, Rantaro takes the slide from him, holding it as though it’s something sacred, and when they make eye contact, he smiles but says nothing else. To distract from how dry his throat is becoming, he clears it and speaks again. “What happens if you have a daughter? Surely your first instinct won’t be teaching her how to shave.”
“Well, that depends on if she asks.” Rantaro muses, appearing to take the question seriously. “I think I’d try to teach her that her body is beautiful no matter how hairy it is, though.” He pauses, and then grins. “Of course, I’d be a bit of a hypocrite, considering that I shave my legs, too.”
Korekiyo opens his mouth to tease him, and then closes it, remembering that he as well shaves his own legs. “I see we’ve come to something of a standstill.”
“Guess you’ll have to stop bullying me then.” Rantaro says, nudging him with his elbow, and when they exit the classroom, he holds open the door for Korekiyo to walk through. The comfortable chatter keeps up all the way until they reach Korekiyo’s lab, and Rantaro helps him put the specimen back in its proper place, looking around the room with an appreciative expression on his face. After a moment, when Korekiyo raises his eyebrows at him, he only says, “I’ve never been in here before.”
Which is fair. Most people don’t make it their first course of action when they attend a new school, to visit the bug room. Korekiyo busies himself with finding the proper place for his coloured pencils while Rantaro looks over a display of butterflies, a soft smile on his face. Figures he’d go for the butterflies. They’re colourful, and he’s a painter. He likes painting things with all sorts of bright colours, too, if the stains on his jeans and sweater are anything to go by.
“Hey, Shinguji,” Rantaro interrupts his train of thought, and Korekiyo turns around, meeting his gaze. “You should let me cook you something for dinner. I’m no Shirogane, but I do alright.”
Is it an offer, or an invitation? Korekiyo appraises him for a moment. Awfully appealing, is what it is, but after contemplating for just a second longer, he shakes his head. “I’m rather tired, Amami. I will probably just fix myself a sandwich and head to sleep. But,” he adds, before there can be any hurt feelings or misconceptions, “I would love a rain check on your offer.”
And if Rantaro were anybody else, he might be offended, or hurt, but he just smiles, a soft look on already soft features, and nods his head. Bits of green hair fall in front of his eyes when he does so and Korekiyo thinks that he’d like to tuck it away, and perhaps run his fingers through it as well, because it looks quite soft. “Sure. Cash it in at any time,” he says, as though a rain check is a tangible thing. And perhaps it can be.
They make their way out the door, but as Korekiyo is starting to head in the direction of the kitchen, Rantaro stops him with a hand on his arm, and he turns to look down at it. Rantaro’s fingers are long, round at the tips, and heavily callused. His fingernails are cut short, but there are flecks of paint underneath what bits hang over the edge. He seems to take good care of them though, because his cuticles are well treated. (Korekiyo knows how to tell.)
“I’d love to watch you sketch again some other time. I know you don’t necessarily do it recreationally, but…” Rantaro pauses, and then says, “I enjoyed it. You’re good company.”
Well, it wasn’t so much of a two-sided operation, but Korekiyo nods his head anyway. He wouldn’t mind that, Rantaro joining him on some other occasion, sitting there silently like he did today. Most people, their gazes are heavy, they weigh a million pounds, but not Rantaro’s. Rantaro’s gaze is soft and gentle and light, and friendly too, in ways what Korekiyo hadn’t noticed before. So no, he wouldn’t mind that, not at all. “You are too, Amami.” He says simply, and Rantaro shoots him another smile before dropping his arm to his side.
(This smile is a bit more awkward, more uneven, than the one on Rantaro’s face when he’s distracted. Korekiyo thinks it might be his favourite.)