Days like this are rare.
An early morning, late in August, a lazy day teetering on that tipping point where summer and autumn meet. Inui spends much of his time watching Kokonoi's back, but seldom like this—earringless, messy-haired, shoulders loose and relaxed. There's a pastel green scarf hanging around his neck, the ends fluttering in the air behind him as he walks. Inui is following so closely that he could reach out and touch it easily. He can see the faintest strands of Kokonoi's hair falling over his nape. A tiny pink bandage is plastered there, right over his spine.
"Do you want anything to drink, Inupi?"
"No, I'm good."
Kokonoi turns his head just enough to look at Inui and smiles slightly, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards. "Your loss," he says lightly. He punches Inui's face gently with his bandaged hand, which is wrapped up to his knuckles. The cloth scrapes against his cheek. "What's the long face for? I thought you'd be happy that we finally get a day off."
Inui nudges Kokonoi's hand away, cocking an eyebrow. "I am happy," he replies, completely deadpan.
Kokonoi laughs and pivots back around, stirring mown grass. He capers down the road, bare feet scattering gravel and dust. Inui feels it against his ankles. "You sure don't act like it," Kokonoi calls, already several paces ahead of him. He bounds over cracks in the sidewalk like he's walking on clouds, floating between steps. Inui forces himself into a quick trot, following as swiftly as he can without breaking into a run. Kokonoi's shoes knock against the side of his leg as he quickens.
Kokonoi eventually reaches a crosswalk, and Inui grabs the back of his jacket before he can run off. "Put your shoes on," he says, tossing the loafers onto the ground in front of them. "I'm sick of carrying them, and you're going to cut up your feet." Kokonoi rolls his eyes and plants one hand on Inui's shoulder for balance, and they both sway as he shoves his shoes on haphazardly. "Why did you even take them off?" Inui asks.
Kokonoi finishes squishing the backs of his shoes under his heels and straightens, flicking hair out of his face with his bandaged hand. "I felt like it," he mutters. His elbow jabs Inui's ribcage, so subtle he's not sure if it was intentional or not.
"That's not a reason." The light turns green, and Kokonoi begins to cross the road. Inui trails close behind, eyeing the convenience store across from them.
"There doesn't have to be a reason," Kokonoi points out. Inui doesn't bother replying.
A gust of wind blows past them. Inui glimpses a circular orange bandage stuck on the shell of Kokonoi's ear as the breeze lifts his hair away from his face. They're all over his body, littering his forearms and neck, marking the curve of his left wrist. It's unpleasant to look at, neon squares and lines of color crisscrossing his body. Ugly, abstract, strangely fascinating artwork pasted onto pale skin.
They cross the road and Kokonoi beelines for the vending machine by the doors of the store. Inui takes a seat on the sidewalk at his feet. "Do you want water?" Kokonoi asks, peering down at him. A fluorescent yellow stripe hangs off of the bridge of his nose.
"No, thanks," Inui tells him. He leans his cheek against Kokonoi's leg, tugging at the dangling end of his scarf. He pulls and it slips a little, sliding further down Kokonoi's back. "Just get something for yourself."
"I'm buying you water," Kokonoi says. Inui sighs through his nose and closes his eyes, releasing Kokonoi's scarf as he moves away to operate the vending machine. The breeze almost feels nice, brushing his hair out of his face, tickling his cheek, and he feels himself start to relax. "Or do you want a soda?"
"I don't want anything."
"Water it is."
Inui looks up in time to catch the bottle Kokonoi tosses at his face. "I'll pay you back," Inui offers, shifting to one side as Kokonoi flops down right next to him. They're blocking the door, but neither of them move.
"It's okay." Kokonoi cracks open his can and takes a sip. Inui, reluctantly, unscrews the cap of his own drink. "Don't worry about it. I owe you for the drink you bought me last time."
Inui peeks at Kokonoi out of the corner of his eye. The scarf has fallen enough to reveal a collage of mismatched colors and shapes painted onto his collarbone. "I didn't think you'd ever pass up the chance to make money," he remarks.
Kokonoi scoffs and wipes away a bead of sweat with his sleeve. "You're special. You get benefits."
Inui's heart seizes. He nearly drops the water.
Oh, I get it. I'm in love.
He watches Kokonoi watch the road in front of them, shoes dangling off of his toes, lips parted enough for him to catch a hint of a pink tongue. The circle on his ear is peeling off, leaving the tiny cut exposed. Inui presses it back into place with freezing fingertips, and Kokonoi doesn't even flinch. If anything, he smiles at Inui, a minute crinkling of the eyes that fades almost immediately. It's weirdly adorable.
He has a crush. It's not a new realization, but it still brings him a bit of a shock every time.
"I'm bored," Kokonoi announces. He grasps the collar of Inui's shirt and drags him up as he stands, forcing both of them to their feet. "Let's go do something fun."
"You don't have to bring me with you," Inui complains. (He's not really complaining.) "You'll just do whatever you want on your own, anyway."
"I want you to come with me," Kokonoi says, almost indignantly. "You're going to come with me."
Inui's ears burn, just a little. "You don't know that."
Kokonoi heads down the street without another word, and Inui sticks close to his left shoulder, twisting the cap back onto his bottle as he walks. The other boy glances back at him with a smirk bordering on unbearably smug, but the glint in his eyes suggests he's pleased. Maybe he's glad that Inui's here, or maybe he's just delighted to have won another one of his little contests. He's proven his point, and Inui's happy to let him.
(Of course he follows Kokonoi, where would he be if he didn't?)